Titan Find / Creature (1985)

Titan Find (1985)‘l saw a movie once where a group of people were trapped in an ice station by a carrot from another planet.’

A team of archaeologists are sent to Titan to investigate artefacts found by a previous expedition from which no-one returned. After crash landing, they meet the sole survivor of a rival team who warns them that the find is a zoo of alien creatures, one of which is still very much alive…

Although some commentators have offered the opinion that this is not a knock-off of Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ (1979), it is hard to imagine the film existing without that earlier masterpiece. Matters open with helpful captions explaining that space exploration in the future is in the hands of two rival corporations, one from America, one from West Germany (I guess unification didn’t work out in the end). But it’s the Americans who have an expedition on Titan from the get-go, with two astronauts taking a few holiday snaps while sitting on the strange alien caskets they have uncovered. Shining a light into one of them reveals a being with far too many teeth and in urgent need of orthodontic assistance, but not to worry, it’s been lying there for centuries, so it must be dead, right? Umm…no. The last man standing after these gory shenanigans manages to escape being turned into lunch but flies his spacecraft into a model from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968) instead.

Dispatched to Titan to pick up the pieces is Captain Mike Davison (Stan Ivar) and his crew of working stiffs, most of whom are archaeologists. Ok, senior company man Lyman Ward is also along for the ride and he has brought security expert Diane Salinger with, but it does seem as if they could have had a few more military types, given the mysterious demise of the first expedition. Ward isn’t sinister at all, of course (he might as well have ‘hidden agenda’ stamped across his forehead) and orders Ivar to land the ship without carrying out any surveys or safety procedures. This turns out to be sound leadership indeed, as the ship falls part-way through the moon’s fragile crust and is seriously damaged.

Titan Find (1985)

‘What did Werner call me?’

On their way in, they’d noticed a rival West German vessel, so it seems like a good idea to nip over for tea and maybe scrounge a few spare parts. Unfortunately, there’s a strange and dangerous lifeform on the loose; a halfway demented survivor of the German crew. Or perhaps he’s completely sane. As he’s played by Klaus Kinski it’s kind of hard to tell. Oh, and there’s that monster thing with far too many teeth that I mentioned earlier.

This production is a fairly typical example of what you would find at your local video rental store in the 1980s. Ok, this feature did get a theatrical release in many markets but, really, it’s only the presence of a name like Kinski and some decent model work that make it stand out from dozens of similar projects of the time. The creature itself is not badly realised, and its method of reanimating its victims to kill everyone else is a clever notion, especially given that the man in the monster suit doesn’t look too mobile. Actually, the film’s main FX team went onto work on ‘Aliens’ (1986) just a year later, and it is possible that it was their contribution here that caught the eye of director James Cameron. After all, he started his own career doing production design and visual effects in low-budget science fiction flicks, such as ‘Galaxy of Terror’ (1981).

Titan Find (1985)

The neck massage        therapy was not a great success.

So, technically the film is a little above average. The main problem here is the script and dialogue. The situations are familiar, and the characters flat and uninteresting. There’s almost nothing for the actors to work with and the audience has no-one to invest in. There is a pleasing repetition of the blue collar aesthetic of the Ridley Scott movie, particularly in the spacecraft’s functional interiors, but it’s really just for show; the crew never really engage in any ‘work’ as such, although some effort is made to give them specific roles within the team.

Lighting is also an issue. Whether it was down to practical limitations or budget, the action largely takes place in shadows and semi-darkness, which may be good for atmosphere but becomes a little wearing over an hour and a half. Unsurprisingly, the only cast member to make a real impression is Kinski, even though he’s little more than a generic ‘nutter’ and probably filmed all his scenes in a couple of days. This was probably good news for everyone else, as his questionable behaviour on film sets was notorious. The only example here is the scene where his character heavily gropes Salinger, something that was not in the original script. Pleasingly, she gets her own ‘Ripley’ moment late on, which is probably the highlight of the entire film.

The post-release history of the film is a little curious. VHS and DVD releases by different companies over the years seemed to infer that it had fallen into the public domain, but director William Malone released a Blu Ray in 2013, apparently believing that he owned the rights. Unfortunately, MGM’s legal department disagreed, and the release was withdrawn, meaning second hand copies now fetch high prices on the internet. This is probably because Malone released a longer, widescreen director’s cut, which added at least 5 minutes to the running time. I have not seen this version, but its existence might explain a few disjointed moments and odd editing choices during the climactic action scenes. Malone went on to direct the interesting (and unfairly maligned) remake of ‘House On Haunted Hill’ (1999), but followed that with the execrable ‘Feardotcom’ (2002).

This isn’t a bad variation on the horror/science fiction template pioneered by Ridley Scott, but neither it is a particularly remarkable one. A watch of Malone’s own cut would be desirable, of course, to give a more informed opinion. But who doesn’t want to see Kinski as a living dead astronaut on a murderous rampage? There’s always that.

 

Nightmare City / City of the Walking Dead (1980)

Nightmare City (1980)‘Aim for the brain. We must be very specific about that.’

A military transport makes an unscheduled landing at a big city airport. When the authorities surround the plane, they are attacked by the passengers, who have turned into flesh-eating mutants. And they’re a bit peckish…

Cheesy Spanish-Italian ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1978) rip-off that is never anything but a lifeless copy of the George A Romero classic. Director Umberto Lenzi provides almost no explanation for the deadly outbreak, apart from an early reference to a serious radioactive spill and the fact that one of the hungry passengers is a scientist who was being brought in to investigate the accident. After that, it’s just the usual mixture of survivors on the run (who will be next to get eaten?), serious military types in a bunker (move our forces to zone 7), and lots of extras covered in ketchup overacting outrageously.

Heading up the armed forces is General Mel Ferrer, a respected and serious actor, who had appeared mostly famously in ‘Lilli’ (1953), ‘War and Peace’ (1955) and ‘The Sun Also Rises’ (1957). He was also married to Audrey Hepburn for 14 years. But that had all been quite a few years before and his late 1970’s credits had been consistently embarrassing. For TV, there were guest slots on ‘Logan’s Run’, soap juggernaut ‘Dallas’ and a prominent part in Irwin Allen’s dreadful mini-series ‘The Amazing Captain Nemo’ (1978). On the big screen it was even worse; appearing alongside Lee Majors in chucklefest ‘The Norseman’ (1978), having a ‘close encounter’ with bonkers ‘first contact’ rip-off ‘The Visitor’ (1978), turning up in Italian horrors ‘Island of the Fishmen’ (1979) and ‘The Great Alligator’ (1979) and even headlining for Lenzi before in cannibal shocker ‘Eaten Alive!’ (1980).

However, at least Ferrer doesn’t get directly involved in any of the silliness on display, remaining firmly on the sidelines of the main action. Perhaps it’s telling that the only member of the bunker staff who interacts with anyone outside is Major Francisco Rabal and that’s limited to scenes with his girlfriend Sonia Vivani and a fleeting appearance in a helicopter. Yes, this is ‘patchwork’ filming making at its finest, with the main plot (such as it is) focusing on TV reporter Hugo Stiglitz and his wife Laura Trotter. Unfortunately, the film tells us almost nothing about the pair so there is no audience engagement with their eventual fate. Characters are introduced simply to be killed, while Ferrer and his buddies in the bunker look grave and make decisions to ‘clear sector g’ and ‘pull back from area 5’ etc. etc.

Nightmare City (1980)

🎶..and now…the end is near…🎵

The ‘Z’ word is never mentioned, and our flesh-eaters move at normal speed, which predicts some more recent developments in the genre. However, although gore is plentiful and detailed, it’s not particularly convincing, and the ‘twist’ ending is desperately poor, leaving the distinct impression that either there was no budget to film a notable climax, or the production simply ran out of money.

Director Umberto Lenzi began his career by jumping on the ‘Hercules’ bandwagon in the  early 1960s but then switched to ‘Bond’ when that became popular a few years later. After that, it was Gallo thrillers and ‘Godfather’ pictures throughout the 1970s before horror took over and he started shooting films about cannibals. Nothing wrong with working in different genres, of course, but Lenzi seems to have been little more than a journeyman director with an eye firmly fixed on commerical possibilities, rather than anyhthing else.

Hurried, cheap and undistinguished horror flick aimed squarely at the home video market of the early 1980s.

The Demons of Ludlow (1983)

The_Demons_Of_Ludlow_(1983)‘Oh my god, that’s it! Efram Ludlow’s ghost is in the piano!’

A small town’s bicentennial celebrations are enlivened by the arrival of an old piano sent from England. It once belonged to the founding father of the town and his descendants have returned it as a goodwill gesture. Or was their motive something slightly more sinister?

Bill Rebane is what is rather euphemistically called a ‘regional filmmaker.’ In other words, micro-budgeted productions shot entirely on a small-town location, usually with the co-operation and sometimes the participation, of local residents. Rebane’s stomping ground was rural Wisconsin and he is best remembered amongst enthusiasts of low-budget films for his epic monster fest ‘The Giant Spider Invasion’ (1975). Although the title infers lots of outsized critters, there was in fact only one, and it bore an unfortunate resemblance to a furry Volkswagen with some legs stuck on. No matter. By the 1980s the emerging video craze meant a ready-made market for low-budget horror and Rebane dived right in.

This film tells the tale of a rural community, blighted for the last 200 years by a curse placed on them by founding father Efram Ludlow. He was packed off to England after some unspecified activities that incurred the displeasure of the local populace. Perhaps he was wearing black t-shirts and listening to heavy metal? We never really find out. Anyway, his descendants send back his old Joanna and, despite the town elders seemingly in the know about this curse thing, they put it on the stage in the Town Hall. After that, some weird stuff starts to happen, mainly involving an out of control smoke machine and some garish, multi-coloured lighting…

Things go from bad to worse when a young girl is dismembered, and there’s no local law enforcement to help. The Mayor seems disinclined to ask for any official assistance either, on the grounds that no-one can help. Apparently, this is entirely up to him! In the best tradition of ‘Jaws’ (1975), he’s worried about what all these pesky demons will do to the local tourist industry, even though there’s six feet of snow on the ground, and not even a glimpse of one single, solitary holidaymaker. Hell, the town doesn’t even seem to have any streets!

It’s easy to forget that some of the things that we take for granted today, even on low-budget projects, probably weren’t available to a filmmaker like Rebane back then. Things like a decent colour process, fluid camera movement, slick editing, and a good sound mix. All are noticeable by their absence here. But some of the other deficiencies aren’t so excusable. The ghostly piano is a white upright model, but sounds an awful lot like a harmonium, and one of the characters refers to it as such, which probably means the prop department didn’t really deliver. They also come up short with the ancient manuscript, which is a large scrap of tatty paper. We never see what’s written on it, because it’s only ever filmed from behind with characters holding it up!

The_Demons_Of_Ludlow_(1983)

‘Son can you play me a memory? I’m not really sure how it goes…’

Also there’s an obvious lack of available interiors for filming, so we get a parade of repetitious scenes, and a snail’s pace. ‘Do you know anything about that piano?’ asks nosey reporter Stephanie Cushna, to which the scintillating answer is ‘No, l’m sorry I don’t.’ End of conversation. Yes, the script is desperately poor, and never gels into anything remotely approaching logic or common sense. There’s a ghostly girl in period dress, floating pokers, some homemade gore, and sword wielding soldiers (or are they pirates?), but nothing really works.

lt’s fairly clear Rebane was aiming for something in the ballpark of John Carpenter’s ‘The Fog’ (1980) but you won’t be surprised to hear that he doesn’t even come close. To be fair, some of the cast give credible performances, including Cushna, and Carol Perry is a surprisingly natural presence as the bullying piano player, but there’s little they can do to make sense of it all.

A more fully developed storyline and a better script would have helped immensely, but the obvious lack of available resources and expertise were probably always going to be too great a challenge to overcome.