Thirst (1979)

Thirst (1979)‘An ancient evil is now a modern industry.’

A brotherhood of vampires kidnap a successful young businesswoman because she is the direct descendant of the notorious Countess Elizabeth Bathory. At first she refuses to embrace her deadly heritage, but they isolate her at their secret facility and try to persuade her otherwise…

Unusual Australian cocktail of blood sucking and science fiction that never really develops beyond its intriguing initial premise, which was quite original for the time. These vampires have adapted to the modern world, running an isolated ‘Blood Farm’ to ensure a constant supply via live donors, and testing the quality scientifically to ensure they only get the finest vintages. This cutting edge approach is combined with a suitable reverence for tradition, with organised rituals and an obsession with their unholy lineage. This last matter is actually a little bit of a problem here as the real life Elizabeth Bathory was most definitely not a vampire, despite Ingrid Pitt’s appearance as the character in the misleadingly titled ‘Countess Dracula’ (1970). Instead, she merely bathed in the blood of virgins in an effort to retain her youth. Which is obviously far more reasonable.

Although this isn’t an insurmountable problem, it does highlight the film’s main weakness: the script. The whole story revolves around the brotherhood’s efforts to turn Chantal Contouri to the dark side, but we never really find out why. There’s some references to ‘reuniting two great houses’ but that’s as far as it goes, and if the original intention was to bring Dracula into the mix, it never happens. So there seems little motivation behind events, and the underdeveloped characters are simply one note ciphers. These include British actor David Hemmings as the strangely sympathetic lead scientist and U.S. ‘rent a villain’ Henry Silva, who appeared memorably in mainstream hits like ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ (1962) and ‘Oceans Eleven’ (1960). He was also pretty much a fixture on the cult movie circuit, thanks to films like ‘Alligator’ (1980), ‘Bronx Warriors’ (1983) and the disastrous ‘Megaforce’ (1982). There were also many TV roles in shows such as the original 1960s version of ‘The Outer Limits’, ‘Mission: Impossible’, ‘Buck Rogers In The 25th Century’ and ‘Voyage To The Bottom of The Sea’.

Thirst (1979)

Do you come here often?’

The film actually does have some good points, with the scenes of the ‘blood cows’ lining up to make their regular donations being particularly effective. There’s also a very good performance from Shirley Cameron as the sadistic head nurse who is determined to break Contouri’s resistance by any means necessary.

Unfortunately, events play out in a rather unconvincing manner, and there’s not much of a climax. Even with a couple of crude shocks and some bloody scenes, the whole thing has the feel of something made for television, rather than the big screen. There’s also a terrible stunt double in a helicopter sequence, which is so silly that it’s more comedic than horrifying.

After a long career in Australia, director Ron Hardy packed his bags for Hollywood in the 1990s where he ended up working extensively in television, helming episodes of ‘The X-Files’, ‘Supernatural’, ‘Battlestar Galactica’ (the new incarnation) and ‘Doll House.’ He also brought us ‘Nick Fury: Agent of Shield’ (1988), the TV movie that featured David Hasselhoff as the title character, long behalf he joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the person of Samuel L Jackson.

A passable horror with a few interesting ideas, but with characters that lack depth and a story that’s never fully developed.

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Teens In The Universe/Otroki vo vselennoy (1975)

Teens In The Universe (1975)‘Who can tell a pulsating homunculus from a twinkling octosaur?’

An expedition from Earth lands on one of the planets in the Cassiopeia constellation to investigate an emergency distress signal. The ship was expected to take 27 years to reach its destination, but an accidental diversion through hyperspace means that the crew are still the teenagers they were when they left Earth, rather than the adults they were supposed to be…

Rather than a sequel to Russian science fiction film ‘Moscow-Cassiopea’ (1974), this is instead essentially the second half of that story, no doubt filmed at the same time.  Boy genius Sereda (Misha Yershov) and his half dozen crewmates are now approaching their destination after the hardcore trials and tribulations of the first film, most notably establishing the identity of the girl who passed him that romantic note in class before they left. Of course, the whole point of having such a young crew in the first place was they would be in their early 40s by this point, but due to hilarious madcap stowaway Lobanov (Vladimir Basov MI) sitting on the main control panel by mistake, they’ve taken a diversion through hyperspace and arrived 26 years early.

Back home Earthside, crew member Aleksandr Grigoryev’s family are busy holding his 40th birthday party, which is promptly gatecrashed by the mysterious A.S.A. (Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy). Like in the first film, he seems to have the ability to materialise and dematerialise at will, something which doesn’t seem to faze his hosts in the slightest. It’s also convenient for the audience as we get a recap of the story so far and an explanation of Einstein’s theories on time dilation.

Teens In The Universe (1975)

Buying glasses over the internet wasn’t always a great idea…

Eventual planetfall finds Lobanov suggesting a game of football (he’s so wacky!) while Grigoryev and Olga Bityukova carry out more serious enquiries. A couple of the locals make the scene; strange grey men in black PVC with very large flares who communicate by whistling. These are representatives of the planet’s robot overlords whose only aim is to make everybody happy.

So everything seems tickety-boo for our trio of space pioneers. They get to laugh hysterically while sitting on bouncy chairs and get free fruit juice. All a bit of a change of pace for the uptight Bityukova who wasn’t even happy earlier when Yershov decided to name the planet after her! It all seems great, except what they don’t know is that the robots’ plan for their permanent happiness involves robbing them of all human emotions and desires. Meanwhile, the last few survivors of the robot’s final solution contact the rest of our heroic crew to explain what’s going down and mount a rescue mission.

There’s far more going on in this second film than in the first part of the story, and so far less time for inane romantic complications and painful comedy. Yes, it’s still a little juvenile, but it was aimed at young teenagers so some of the lamer plot developments can be forgiven. These include robots that find riddles a fatal pastime, and a ‘nanny bot’ complete with apron and pram. On the plus side, some of the visuals are quite surreal, although the silliness of certain aspects do make it hard to take the drama seriously. A strange climax sees the reappearance of the mysterious A.S.A. Who exactly is he supposed to be, and why does no-one ever seem to question his presence? The character’s name seems to differ according to various sources as well! Something lost in translation perhaps.

It would be easy to take a hard line against this project; it’s dumb, a little puerile and never properly explores any of the dramatic possibilities inherent in the storyline. But it was designed as an entertainment for kids and, although that’s not a sufficient reason to forgive all its shortcomings, it does serve to mitigate criticism a little. The greatest point in its favour is that it’s far less aggravating than the first instalment of the story.

Not the finest example of 1970’s Soviet Science Fiction though…

 

Morel’s Invention (1974)

Morel's Invention (1974)‘Why don’t we talk about the construction of the tennis court?’

A shipwreck survivor washes up on a rocky, barren island. The only sign of habitation is a group of strange buildings, which appear to have been abandoned years earlier. Later on, he sees couples dancing to an old gramophone on the edge of a cliff, but when he approaches one of the group, she simply ignores him.

Unusual Italian science fiction project directed by Emidio Greco and based on a novel by Adolfo Bioy Casares. From the very beginning, the film refuses to pander to the audience, providing no information to pinpoint the story location, time period, or the identity and circumstances of main protagonist Giulio Brogi. lt’s an approach that’s quite refreshing in an era where films often open with lots of exposition, provided either via captions or a narrative voiceover. Here, not a word of dialogue is spoken in the first half hour of this film, and it’s a tribute to Greco’s talent as a director that he keeps the audiences invested in our castaway’s plight.

Part of the credit for this has to go down to the ‘look’ of the film and its technical accomplishments. The Maltese location is quite striking and its timeless quality is emphasised by the superbly crisp photography of Silvano lppoliti, whose long career involved projects for directors such as Riccardo Freda, Sergio Corbucci and Tinto Brass, including the notorious ‘Caligula’ (1979). Whether the buildings were constructed specifically for the purpose of the film or already existed is unclear, but they are certainly impressive and credit should also be given to Amedeo Fago for the production design of the interiors.

As the film progresses, Brogi becomes more and more bewildered, the island’s occupants seeming to be a weekend party who dress in 1920s fashions, look right through him, and carry on the same conversations over and over again. They even dance to their gramophone in the middle of a rainstorm. All the while, he is falling for the beautiful Anna Karina, who also seems to be the target of their host, the steely Morel (John Steiner).

After some time and no further story progression, the audience can be forgiven for suspecting that nothing is going to be resolved and what they are witnessing is an exercise in pretension, which will need intellectual film critics to explain. But this is not the case. The answer to the mystery does come, and it is surprising and quite original. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really leave the story with many places to go afterwards.

Morel's Invention (1974)

The Ritz had gone downhill since his last visit…

Greco was undoubtedly aiming for a very slow burn and, while the film has a strange fascination, it doesn’t really have enough story for its 110 minute length, and some judicious tightening would have helped. The lack of information about our leading man (we don’t even find out his name) and a low key performance from Brogi makes emotional connection with him a little difficult, and that’s crucial considering the film’s last act.

Karina was famous as a muse for 1960s ‘new wave’ film director Jean-Luc Goddard, appearing in ‘Alphaville’ (1965), ‘Bande à Part’ (1964) and several of his other films. Steiner was an English actor based in Italy and has an incredibly diverse filmography, credits including the afore-mentioned ‘Caligula’ (1979), horror maestro Mario Bava’s last film ‘Shock’ (1978), Dario Argento’s ‘Tenebrae’ (1982), and many ‘direct to video’ projects in the early 1980s. He also stole the show as the over the top villain in the wonderfully ridiculous ‘Sinbad of the Seven Seas’ (1989) with ‘Incredible Hulk’ Lou Ferrigno.

An intriguing setup and some memorable images make this one well worth seeking out. However, the slow pace means it’s certainly not for everyone.

The Island At The Top Of The World (1974)

Island At The Top Of The World (1974)‘You did some very interesting work in Greenland.’

1907: A rich industrialist looking for his son bankrolls an Arctic expedition in a giant airship. After braving many dangers, they discover a volcanic island at the pole, which turns out to be occupied by a lost tribe of Vikings. Unfortunately, their high priest is not that keen on visitors…

Big budget, high concept, boys’ own drama from Walt Disney studios that attempts to tap into the long tradition of family friendly ‘lost world’ adventures. Wealthy blowhard Sir Anthony Ross (Donald Sinden) has driven son David Gwillim away with unreasonable expectations and the lad is now missing in the frozen wastes near the North Pole. Sir Anthony finances a rescue mission using the airship of eccentric Frenchman Jacques Marin, recruits archaeologist David Hartmann to help, and picks up native guide Mako along the way.

lt’s a potentially interesting setup, with the unusual location providing a welcome break from the more familiar jungle setting usually encountered in this sort of enterprise, although it does mean the film bears a passing resemblance to the ‘The Land That Time Forgot’ (1974) from the same year. Unfortunately, we’re aware only too soon that we’re in the bland, safe territory of a Disney production (nothing changes there, eh?) with airship captain Marin the stereotypical, ‘wacky’ Frenchman, who brings his dog along for the ride. What breed of dog is it? A poodle, of course, because obviously Frenchmen don’t own any other kind of dog. What’s it’s called? Why, Josephine, of course, what else?

Sadly, the plot develops on the same, predictable lines, with no real surprises in store at any stage. What the film does have going for it is the production design and sets, which were nominated for an Academy Award. Yes, the backgrounds often resemble the matte paintings that they are, but they still display a degree of creativity and invention that is sorely lacking elsewhere. Having said that, it’s painfully obvious that most of the time we’re in the studio, rather than the great outdoors. The SFX are a seriously mixed bag by today’s standards, although things have moved on a bit since Vincent Price took to the skies in his giant airship in ‘Master of the World’ (1961).

Island At The Top Of The World (1974)

‘I wondered why this budget airlines were so cheap…’

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect is the Vikings themselves. They do little but throw a few spears and scowl, and there is little interaction between our heroes and the villainous old priest. Instead of speaking Old Norse, they converse in a variety of Scandinavian languages, depending on where the individual actors came from!

Even worse, this involves endless translating of what they say, which really bogs the film down in the middle third. Ok, it would have required a major suspension of disbelief to accept them all speaking English, but it would probably have been preferable in terms of pacing and entertainment value.

The film was based on a novel by James Vance Marshall (writing as Ian Cameron) called ‘The Lost Ones’ but the action was switched from modern times to Victorian, and the mode of the expedition’s transportation from helicopter to dirigible. The reason is pretty obvious; after big box office success with ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ (1954) and ‘In Search of the Castaways’ (1962), Disney were going for that ‘Jules Verne‘ vibe again. The screenplay was actually the last by veteran scribe John Whedon, whose grandson Josh reached a marginally higher level of notoriety with his work on TV’s ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and Marvel’s ‘Avengers’ franchise.

A sequel was planned, but rapidly abandoned after the poor box office returns of this effort. However, a replica of the airship is on display at Disneyland Paris so it wasn’t a complete washout.

Completely disposable, but an adequate time passer if you’re in the mood.

Outer Touch/Spaced Out (1979)

Outer Touch/Spaced Out (1979)‘The ones with the flat chests have these strange appendages…’

Three alien women are forced to land on Earth due to their malfunctioning spaceship. They kidnap the four individuals who witness their landing and take them into space. Complications arise when it turns out that three of them are men, a species with which the aliens are unfamiliar…

Lame British Science Fiction sex comedy from low-budget director Norman J Warren, whose next foray into outer space turned out to be the somewhat infamous ‘lnseminoid’/’Horror Planet’ (1981). Luckily, we’re spared any gory alien glove puppets here, our extra-terrestrials coming in the much more acceptable form of leather clad Skipper (Kate Ferguson), pretty navigator Cosia (Glory Annen) and quirky engineer Partha (Ava Cadell). They’ve been running freight across the galaxy but have come a cropper, due to Cadell’s rather cavalier attitude towards repair and maintenance. Meanwhile bespectacled square Oliver (Barry Stokes) is trying hard to get it on with whiny fiancée Prudence (Lynne Ross), but she’s more interested in carpet samples and wallpaper patterns. Along with these two live wires, our sexy space aliens hoover up Jack-the-Lad dog walker Cliff (Michael Rowlett) and seven stone weakling Willy (Tony Maiden). lnevitably, hilarity and hi-jinks follow.

Except they don’t. The main thrust (ooo-err) of the plot finds the space babes carrying out in-depth biological investigations (ooo-err again) into these strange, flat-chested beings they’ve acquired and, yes, of course that means sex. In typical repressed British fashion, none of the action is strong enough to take the film into porno territory, proceedings being just slightly naughtier than the later ‘Carry On’ films, with a bit more nudity of the bare breasted variety. Indeed, the film has little else to offer than that, with predictable one-note characters, a joke free script and cheap sets that look like they’ve been rejected by the local school disco and were probably left over from another film anyway. Sure, it’s not as big a disaster as ‘Zeta One’ (1969), the UK’s previous stab at the genre, but it’s simply stuck on the launching pad with little more than the basic technical expertise to get the film in the can.

The cast deserve some credit for putting in a brave innings, but fame and fortune in the thespian arena was not forthcoming. This is Rowlett’s only film credit and Maiden appeared just once more, eventually jumping from a tall building to his death in 2004. Stokes and Annen, who both appeared in Warren’s earlier science fiction project ‘Prey’ (1977) and give the strongest performances here, carried on for a few years before quitting in the mid-1980s. Ferguson’s career followed a very similar trajectory. The one exception to this roster of disappointment is Cadell, but her path to fame and fortune was not as an actor. Appropriately enough, she became a Hollywood sex therapist, going on to found the Lovelogy University and make numerous appearances on U.S. Network Television.

Outer Touch/Spaced Out (1979)

‘It’s not what you think, I buy it for the Sports coverage…’

One curious aspect of this enterprise is the SFX. The spaceship model shots look like they were produced on ten times the budget of the rest of the project put together. Which obviously means they’re from a different source entirely. Commentators have speculated that these are leftovers from Gerry Anderson’s ‘Space: 1999’ TV show and that may well be the case, but I’m inclined to believe they may originate from another Anderson project.

After the first series of those TV adventures had wrapped, Anderson launched a pilot for another show, presumably in case the former was not renewed. ‘Into Infinity’ (aka ‘Day After Tomorrow’) (1975) featured Nick Tate (Eagle Pilot Alan Carter from ‘Space: 1999’) taking his wife and kids on an interstellar mission on the orders of Brian Blessed, who had also dropped into Moonbase Alpha for tea and biscuits on one occasion. Now I could be wrong, because it’s been a few decades(!), but the space babes transportation looks a lot like Tate’s family vehicle to me.

A very cheap and cheerful UK sex comedy that doesn’t raise many laughs but may have raised something else with a certain demographic.

lsland of the Fishmen/L’Isola Degli Uomini Pesce (1979)

Island of the Fishmen (1979)‘This island is inhabited by zombies! The Living Dead! That’s why the graves are empty!’

1891: A prison ship is wrecked in uncharted waters and the few survivors wash up on an empty beach. The island’s owner isn’t pleased to see them and it becomes obvious that he has more than one secret to hide. What is his connection to the strange, amphibious humanoids that live out in the swamps?

Cast adrift in a boat with no food or water and only convicts for company, it would seem that things can’t get much worse for ship’s doctor Claudio Cassinelli. Unfortunately, he’s also got to deal with arrogant autocrat Richard Johnson, whose household consists of pretty young wife Barbara Bach, and native servants who seem more interested in voodoo than their household chores. Oh, and he’s keeping elderly Professor Joseph Cotten in a secret laboratory under the stairs.

Yes, what with the murderous fishmen out in the reeds, it seems we’re back in ‘Dr Moreau’ territory again for another round with H.G. Wells’ classic novel. But what’s that lying in the depths offshore beneath the coral reef? Why, it’s the lost continent of Atlantis, of course, which puts rather a different spin on things. As well as that, Johnson’s housekeeper Shakira (Beryl Cunningham, not the pop star) is carrying out strange ceremonies in a cemetery in the woods. This tropical boneyard has been abandoned by everyone, including the residents! Questions pile up for Cassinelli as he investigates, inevitably falling for Bach along the way as his convict charges becomes fish food one by one.

This all sounds like quite a heady mix with lots of possibilities, but it all falls rather flat under the direction of journeyman Sergio Martino, whose only real cinematic claims to fame are the controversial ‘Slave of the Cannibal God’ (1975) and delirious Mad Max ‘homage’ ‘2019: After the Fall of New York’ (1983). The main problem is the lack of originality in the script and the sheer predictability of events. Barely a quarter of an hour has gone by before the local volcano starts rumbling, effectively signposting the way to the climatic conflagration and inevitable stock footage. What is it with these mysterious islands and their volcanos? It seems one isn’t complete without the other. And there’s little else in the way of real action either; with the voodoo subplot going nowhere and our amphibious friends doing little until some aquatic shenanigans in the final act. To the production’s credit, the creatures don’t look particularly ridiculous, just a little unconvincing.

Island of the Fishmen (1979)

Bach’s choice of boyfriends wasn’t always perfect.

Bach was a Bond Girl in the era when it was a double-edged sword. Although it brought instant fame, it could also be a career curse and she struggled to escape the shadow of ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (1977). Subsequent projects were less than stellar Eurotrash such as ‘The Great Alligator’ (1979) and ridiculous ‘Star Wars’ (1977) knock-off ‘The Humanoid’ (1979). She met Ringo Starr on the set of prehistoric comedy ‘Caveman’ (1981), became his wife and virtually retired. It was probably for the best, as she is a distinctly vapid presence here, and her dialogue seems to be dubbed.

Spare a thought for Cassinelli too, whose part entirely consists of looking rugged and asking endless questions. So acting honours go to Johnson, who gives a performance so dastardly you expect him to start twirling his moustache at any moment. Cotten, on the other hand, is obviously just picking up a cheque, and probably wasn’t on set too long to get his brief scenes in the can.

This has all the ingredients of a cult classic but fails to deliver on almost every level. lt’s not so bad that it’s good, and not good enough to be very entertaining.

Ivan Vasilievich Changes Occupation / Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future (1973)

Ivan Vasilievich Changes Occupation (1973)‘Why did you hurt this Boyar woman, you lowly man?’

A young research scientist experimenting with a time machine opens a doorway to Imperial Russia 400 years into the past. A minor official and a petty criminal accidentally switch places with Tsar Ivan the Terrible and, when the machine goes wrong, it looks like the trio are marooned in their new time periods.

An opening caption sets the tone for this Russian comedy by informing us that the film is both ‘Not Quite Realistic’ and ‘Not Historically Accurate.’ As if we needed to be told. From the off, we’re in the company of nerdy egghead Aleksandr Demyanenko, whose experiments in the 4th dimension are leading to power cuts in his building and incurring the wrath of minor official Yuriy Yakovlev and his wife Natalya Krachkovskaya. Burglar Leonid Kuravlyov is busy working in the flat next door during one of their arguments and, when the machine starts working, he and Yakovlev find themselves part of history while the ‘Tsar of All Russias’ (Yakovlev, again) winds up in modern day Moscow.

It’s fair to say that humour doesn’t always cross national boundaries and the ‘madcap’ and ‘wacky’ antics on display here are a case in point. The opening sequence features Demyanenko alone in his flat, hoovering up his cigarettes and shoelaces by mistake while the cat goes for a swim in the fishtank. Some of the footage is speeded up for comic effect and, unfortunately, this technique is repeated ad nauseam throughout the rest of the film. Demyanenko also needs to cope with feckless wife Natalya Seleznyova, who is intending to leave him for film director Mikhail Pugovkin, a fact which doesn’t impress the newly-arrived Imperial Leader. Unfortunately, Tsar Ivan doesn’t get to do a lot else apart from bully various people and earn the attention of representatives from the local funny farm.

Similarly, back in simpler times, Yakovlev and Kuravlyov never leave the throne room, the humour of their situation revolving around the slow-witted lookalike trying to impersonate the Tsar and the thief’s attempts at making a quick buck on the side. Pretty much all we get are lots of soldiers running about when speeded up and a pie fight. To its credit, the film never pretends to be anything but a silly farce, with character talking direct to camera and plenty of energy directed into the various pratfalls. Obviously, any humour inherent in cultural references will pass over the head of a Western audience, but the physical humour is the kind that was old a good twenty years earlier and, more appropriately, belongs to film’s silent era.

Ivan Vasilievich Changes Occupation (1973)

Russia’s Greatest Love Machine was having an off day…

There are plenty of comedic opportunities in the setup, which vaguely resembles ‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ (1989), but the double culture clash is never really explored, pretty much because the action almost never leaves Demyanenko’s flat or the imperial throne room. This is more understandable when you realise that this is an apparently fairly faithful adaptation of a 1935 stage play by Mikhail Bulgakov. However, a little effort to open out the action would probably have been a good idea.

The film was a big domestic hit, with over 60 million tickets sold, and, rather surprisingly, managed an international release in Europe, Scandinavia and the U.S. It’s also been sold stateside with the ‘Back to The Future’ suffix, although I suspect this might only have occurred after the success of the cinematic exploits of a certain Marty McFly.

A badly dated comedy, which might raise a few laughs amongst those who understand all the cultural references.