The Last Chase (1981)

‘I can give you anything, but I can’t give you gas.’

Private transportation was banned twenty years after a global pandemic decimated the population. A one-time racing car driver rebuilds his vehicle and sets out for California with the authorities in hot pursuit…

Dystopian sci-fi adventure starring one-time ‘Six Million Dollar Man’ Lee Majors in a rare big screen role. Character actor Burgess Meredith joins in the fun for co-writer and director Martyn Burke.

Life isn’t much fun anymore for former racetrack hotshot Franklyn Hart (Majors) in 2011. These days he takes the subway to work, where he’s the mouthpiece of the Mass Transit Authority. The days of private car ownership are long gone in the wake of oil supplies being restricted by the government. Haunted by a past crash and the death of his family in the pandemic two decades earlier, he’s beginning to unravel, going off script in a talk to a room of boarding school kids, which includes Ring (Chris Makepeace).

Under investigation by sinister government official Santana (Diane D’Aquila), Majors secretly rebuilds his race car. After a nocturnal visit from Makepeace, who is on the run after hacking into government systems, the unlikely duo hit the road and head West, inspired by fragmented transmissions from an organisation called Radio Free California. When D’Aquila’s efforts to contain the situation don’t pan out, Washington spook Mr Hawkins (George Touliatos) takes command. He brings decorated hero Captain J G Williams (Burgess Meredith) out of retirement, sending him after the two fugitives in a recommissioned jet.

Originally planned as a novel by screenwriter Christopher Crowe, this odd dystopian drama pulls in several different directions at once to the severe detriment of the final results. Director Burke and writer Roy Moore also get script credits, and it’s tempting to think that differing takes on the material prompted the confusion. It’s a shame because there’s the seed of an interesting idea here with plenty of potential.

Proceedings start well, introducing Majors, first in the chaos of the pandemic and then twenty years later as bitter, disillusioned drone mouthing platitudes about the efficiency of Mass Transit to bored corporate types and school kids. In the evenings, he drinks and watches old news film of his last crash. Sometimes he ventures out to steal auto parts from abandoned junkyards. This last activity has brought him to the attention of D’Aquila, and he compounds the problem with his behaviour at work. His supervisor, Jud (Harvey Atkin), warns him he could be heading for jail, but Majors is beyond caring.

It’s a strong opening, with Majors in particular, displaying a naturalism and quiet charisma that’s as welcome as it’s unexpected. Unfortunately, there are story problems already that seriously impact the credibility of events later on. There’s no real explanation of the new society that has grown up after the pandemic or how it works. Reference is made to the oil running out, which is why all private transportation is banned, but it’s delivered in such a way as to suggest that the government is lying about it. It’s also heavily inferred that the pandemic led to this situation, but it isn’t easy to see how one thing led to the other.

Things go further awry when Majors hooks up with misfit tech wiz Makepeace. The thoughtful quality of the opening scenes is sacrificed to the familiar tropes of a surrogate father and son bonding exercise. Majors does sell it with his measured performance, but it’s predictable as all hell and nothing that hasn’t been seen a thousand times before. Just as standard is their layover in a remote rural community and our hero’s romance with attractive widow, Eudora (Alexandra Stewart). By then, what initially seemed to be a unique meditation on ageing and a vanishing way of life is but a dim memory.

It’s also unfortunate that director Burke is no George Miller. For those looking for parallels to midnight movie sensation ‘Mad Max’ (1979), the pickings are slim indeed. It’s highly likely that both stories were originally inspired by the oil crisis of the mid-1970s and the resulting shortages and ballooning prices, but that’s where any similarity ends. Burke’s film has almost zero vehicular action and stuntwork, and the little that exists is awkwardly presented. Burke has no eye for the poetry of the road, and it often feels that Majors is just out for an afternoon drive.

However, there are much bigger problems for the film to overcome. In the words of Touliatos, Majors’ breakout is ‘undermining the entire balance of this country’, and yet I fail to see how. Even if his rebellious act is that significant, who knows about it? The few dozen people at the settlement where they stop, and the voice of ‘Radio Free California’. No other media outlets exist. Also, it’s only clear toward the end of the film that the radio broadcasts are not just some crank with a ham set-up. No, the entire state of California is outside government control. Again, how that works I don’t know, but making it clear in the first place would have helped.

To make matters worse, apparently, the U.S. government has only three options to stop our heroes. Send in a dozen troops from Denver to machine gun the peaceful settlers, haul an old Coca-Cola truck across the road (real subtle product placement there) and use an alcoholic, cantankerous old pilot (Meredith) who hasn’t flown since Vietnam. Oh, and one laser gun turret by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. To add insult to injury, Meredith goes up in a jet that’s been out of commission for as long as he has, but it’s fine after a 5-minute refit and a new spray job. Eat your heart out, ‘Battlefield Earth’ (2000)!

And there’s more. Touliatos enters the film as a polite, soft-spoken observer before he takes over from D’Aquila when Majors and Makepeace avoid her brilliant Coca-Cola roadblock. By the end, he’s cackling sadistically as technician Morley (Ben Gordon) blows up cacti with the laser gun, and the troops shoot the settlers in their mountain village. Then he goes off on a rant about ‘the desperate quest for the impurities contained in mobility,’ which is supposed to explain why the government doesn’t want anyone to own a car. The script does cover Majors’ petrol requirements, though. Apparently, a ‘special pump’ can extract the last few inches in the underground tanks of abandoned service stations. We never see him use such a thing, and after 20 years, it wouldn’t be useable anyway. Still trying to figure out where Meredith gets his aviation fuel.

It is interesting viewing this film at a time when government interference in daily life is increasingly utilised as a political football. Curiously, the film seems to foreshadow concerns with the ’30-minute city’ concept and its perceived threat to free movement. Ironically, of course, these very fears are some of the building blocks used by populist figures to further their own political ambitions. The notion of a car-free world as a bad thing and petrolheads as the last great bastions of freedom and individual expression is not an agenda pushed by the film. However, it is strongly implicit, although, in the filmmakers’ defence, it was a whole different world back in 1981.

Despite his appearance in the laughable adventures of ‘The Norseman’ (1978), Majors’ popularity on television meant he still had a shot as a big-screen star at this point. However, this project was made outside the studio system and was distributed by Crown International Pictures, whose only big-time credit was their involvement with Disney’s ‘Tron’ (1982). Even if the film had been good, it might have struggled to find an audience. Worse still for Majors was that while he was stuck filming on location in Canada, the news broke of the relationship between his wife, Farrah Fawcett, and actor Ryan O’Neal. In the days before celebrity culture and social media were so pervasive, actors had little experience dealing with such public scandals. Whether it was that unhappy circumstance or the film’s box-office failure, Majors returned to television and, after the embarrassment of ‘Starflight: The Plane That Couldn’t Land’ (1983), secured the lead in massive hit ‘The Fall Guy’ which ran for five years.

Some interesting ideas are badly fumbled at the script stage and can’t be saved by such indifferent execution.

The Killings At Outpost Zeta (1983)

‘As the situation develops on Zeta, we will adapt our behaviour to meet the situation.’

The authorities on Earth are keen to start the complete colonisation of a remote planet after the original survey team have been resident there for two years. However, communication with them is suddenly lost. Two rescue missions vanish, so a crack team of scientists and military personnel is assembled to investigate…

Low budget science-fiction and horror mash-up from the early days of video home rental. The co-producer-director team of Allan Sandler and Robert Emenegger also originated the story concept and followed it with more than half a dozen similar pictures over the next two years.

Commander Craig (Paul Comi) is not a happy man. The top brass is pushing for colonisation of the inhospitable but strategically important planet Zeta. The problem is that he’s lost contact with the pathfinder team preparing the way, and the two subsequent missions sent to find out why have also disappeared. So it’s time to put together a team of ‘the best of the best’ headed up by Commander Clark Young (Gordon De Vol). The scientific part of the team comprises ‘genius-level’ biologist Carol Sisko (Hildy Brooks), engineer Paul Gerry (James A Watson Jr), medical officer Linda Sands (Jacqueline Ray). Riding shotgun is security chief Sigmund Stewart (Stan Wojno) and his wingman, Gore Stadt (Jackson Brostwick).

Our heroes jet off into the great beyond and, considering the era and budgetary constraints, the SFX and miniatures are surprisingly acceptable. However, we run into our first problem when the crew reach Zeta. It arrives in the form of a signal beacon they discover in orbit. Not only do they take it intact onto their flight deck with no apparent decontamination protocols, both Watson Jr and Brostwick touch the ‘strange substance’ inside the canister to see what it might be, and no one bats an eyelash. As it happens, this doesn’t have any consequences, but it’s a fair indication of the quality of the film to come.

Once on the planet, things rapidly begin to deteriorate, both for the crew and the audience. José Louis Mignone’s cinematography does give the barren landscape an otherworldly quality, but any virtues imparted by this are offset by our heroes less than convincing attire. You can just about forgive the cheap, scarlet and white spacesuits, but the moon boots and motorcycle helmets take a fair bit more suspension of disbelief. Yes, Peter Dawson’s script does establish that the atmosphere of Zeta is not lethal, just toxic ‘like smog’, but it’s still a bit of a reach to accept this piece of headgear as interplanetary issue, even when worn with a thick neck scarf!

Before planetfall, the aggressive Wojno has laid down some pretty strict ground rules, including no going out at night and always staying in pairs. But, of course, everyone ignores these rules throughout the film, with Brooks proving her’ genius level’ intelligence by being the first to wander off alone with a torch to become monster munch. Because, yes, if you hadn’t guessed it already, the film is broadly following the template of Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ (1979). Wojno is the next one to get up close and personal with one of the creatures, who ‘melt’ their victims leaving just their empty space suits behind. How nice of them to bear the film’s SFX budget in mind!

There are other obvious parallels with Scott’s classic shocker. Firstly, there’s the ongoing attempt at crew camaraderie. This mainly consists of getting each other coffee. On the one hand, it’s good to see the humble coffee mug taking its rightful place on our journeys to the stars, but it does suggest that the whole alien thing might just part of a massed caffeine-induced hallucination. Better still, though, are the scenes where De Vol and Ray delve endlessly into the station’s archives. This involves leafing through dozens of spiral-bound reports. Handwritten reports. I guess even the invention of the typewriter had passed Zeta by.

These lengthy research scenes serve a couple of purposes, the most important of which is to pad out the running time. When you’re trying to make any kind of feature-length film without much money, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll need to include a lot of chat. Dialogue scenes are inexpensive to shoot. The key is to make these scenes significant in terms of plot development, and the filmmakers do try that here, with more information on the monsters divulged as time passes. The problem is that none of it provides an escalation of the threat they pose or a sense of raising the stakes. The creatures began their killing spree immediately after the team land, so the audience is already in possession of all it needs to know. So the film bogs down completely under the weight of all this unnecessary exposition instead. When the climactic scenes finally arrive, it’s all much too little too late.

Sandler and Emenegger began their career as documentary filmmakers, most notably with ‘UFOs: Past, Present and Future’ (1974), narrated by ‘Twilight Zone’ creator, Rod Serling. Researching that project meant contacting the military authorities, and Emenegger claimed that he was given a tour of Holloman Air Force Base. There he was shown a location where ‘officials conferred with extraterrestrials’ on a regular basis.

His fictional projects with Sandler often included appearances by some well-known actors whose best years were arguably behind them. Cameron Mitchell starred in ‘Captive’ (1980), ‘Warp Speed’ (1981) and ‘The Perfect Woman’ (1981) and Adam West was in front of the camera for ‘Warp Speed’ (1981) and ‘Time Warp’ (1981). The latter also featured Kirk Alyn, who played the title role in the movie serial ‘Superman’ (1948). They also managed to secure the services of b-movie legend Marie Windsor for ‘The Perfect Woman’ (1987). She’s best remembered for cult items such as ‘The Jungle’ (1952), ‘Cat-Women of the Moon’ (1954), ‘Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy’ (1955), ‘The Story of Mankind’ (1957), ‘The Day Mars Invaded Earth’ (1962) and ‘Chamber of Horrors’ (1966). She also turned up in Tobe Hopper’s famous TV adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot’ (1979) and ran up an extensive list of other small-screen credits.

A slow plod through familiar territory, obviously restricted by resources but showing little creativity and few ideas.

Evil Spawn (1987)

Evil Spawn (1987)‘Remember that scientist who went crazy a few days ago and then was crushed by a jeep?’

A fading Hollywood star finds leading roles harder to come by, and, in her desperation, resorts to an experimental anti-ageing treatment. Unfortunately, this has been derived from Venusian spores, and she transforms into an alien creature with a lust to kill…

Welcome to the world of Grade-Z movie mogul Fred Olen Ray. This micro-budgeted, uncredited remake of Roger Corman’s ‘The Wasp Woman’ (1959) may be credited to writer-director Kenneth J Hall, but it’s Ray who seems to have been the moving force behind the production. His name might not appear on the screen, but he produced the film and even directed a little of the finished product.

The film opens with a caption informing the audience that a probe has returned from Venus bringing alien spores and that the following story we’re about to see involves the misuse of these extra-terrestrial germs. We’re even shown a less than wonderful spacecraft model approaching Earth (probably sourced from one of Ray’s other productions). After the drawn-out opening credits that follow (never a good sign), a bearded man in a laboratory (Gary J Levinson) is attacked by a nasty orange glove puppet. He gets sick and lurches out to an alleyway where he interrupts a couple of bickering lovers and ends up caught between a jeep and a hard place.

Evil Spawn (1987)

‘I’m not sure this mud pack is working…’

This incident’s been arranged by Evelyn Avery (Dawn Wildsmith, billed here as Donna Shock), who works as the assistant to mad skin specialist Dr Zeitman (John Carradine). He’s too busy dying to know what she’s up to and hands over his great work to her before he finally expires. Wildsmith, who seems to have the same hairdresser as Elsa Lanchester’s ‘Bride of Frankenstein’, then takes the serum from Carradine’s research and offers it to over-the-hill film star, Lynne Roman (Bobby Bresee). She’s desperate to regain her youth so she can be cast in the prestigious lead of a new production by director Mark Randall (Mark Anthony). Bresee takes the injections, of course, and the inevitable transformations follow.

If the finished film has more than a touch of the ‘home movie’ vibe around it, then that’s for a good reason. Most of it was shot in Bresee’s real-life Beverley Hills house. Her character only leaves it twice; to go to a party with Anthony and to visit the office of her slimy agent Harry (Fox Harris). Of course, we don’t see her and Anthony at the party, or her travelling to the agent’s office (basically a desk he sits behind with a few posters on the wall from other Ray productions, including ‘The Tomb’ (1986) also with Carradine). At least Bresee didn’t have far to go after filming finished every night.

‘Damn, these aren’t my reading glasses!’

Carradine’s one scene in the picture was his conversation with Wildsmith (Mrs Fred Olen Ray, at the time). Ray directed it and made the dialogue as non-specific as possible so that he could insert the footage into subsequent movies, as and when required. He also supervised a different version of this film, hiring director Ted Newsom to add extra footage with actor Richard Harrison so that he could reissue it as ‘The Alien Within.’ Sadly, it doesn’t look as if Carradine had to do much research to get into character as the dying scientist. He seems to be having difficulty breathing and delivering his dialogue. This could have been great acting, of course, but, if so, it’s remarkably convincing.

If this all sounds like it makes for a terrible movie, then, yes, the film isn’t very good. However, surprisingly, there are a few compensations. To begin with, Bresee is quite good as the fading actress. Perhaps too good, if the intention was to present this as a comedy, which is possible given some of the corny dialogue and Wildsmith’s campy performance. The commentary on the problems of an actress ageing in Tinseltown is not exactly subtle, but it’s still valid. Bresee is betrayed by her agent, gets the brush off from director Anthony and finds that boyfriend, Brent (John Terrence) has traded her in for younger model, Tracy (Leslie Eve). Her only real friends are biographer, Ross (Drew Godderis) who can’t help with her career, and secretary Elaine (Pamela Gilbert), who is far too young and beautiful to be allowed to live!

Evil Spawn (1987)

‘If I write myself a few more lines, no-one will notice.’

Another plus is the full-sized creature FX designed by Ralph Miller III and executed by Hal Miles, Michael Deak and their crew. The monster doesn’t look great, and we never see the suit in motion, but, given the minimal resources that were probably available, it’s actually pretty good. Also, some of the gore FX, such as an arm being torn off, are even better. They look like they belong in a production of a far higher quality. There just isn’t enough of them. This becomes less of a surprise when we look at Miles and Deak’s subsequent credits.

Deak worked on entries in both the ‘Halloween’ series and the ‘Friday the 13th’ franchise and many productions of Charles Band’s Empire Pictures. He eventually graduated to the SFX crews of major studio tentpoles such as ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl’ (2003) and ‘Hulk’ (2003) before supervising the FX on Michael Bay’s ‘The Island’ (2005). He also worked on the ‘Tranformers’ series and ‘TRON: Legacy’ (2010) before taking a decade-long break to return for ‘Bill & Ted: Face The Music’ (2020). Miles specialised in animatronics, and his later credits include James Cameron’s ‘The Abyss’ (1989), ‘Gremlins 2: The New Batch’ (1990), ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’ (1991), ‘Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie’ (1995), among many others.

‘This sounds like something out of a bad science-fiction film,’ Bresee mutters at one point. Quite.

The Mysterious Castle In The Carpathians/Tajemstvi Hrodu V Karpatech (1981)

The Mysterious Castle In The Carpathians:Tajemstvi Hrodu V Karpatech (1981)‘I am about to send my 421st rocket to the moon. This time I won’t miss!’

A grieving young opera singer roams the countryside with his servant after the death of his true love. In a nearby district of the remote Carpathian Mountains, superstitious peasants swap tales of the strange goings-on at a mysterious castle. Long thought abandoned, sinister sounds have been heard and old legends seem to be coming to life. After arriving in the area,  the singer comes to believe that his lover is still alive, and imprisoned within the fortress…

Comedic Czecholslovakian film from director Oldrich Lipský, based on the 1892 novel by Jules Verne. In many ways a worthy and accomplished project, the film still struggles to overcome the slight nature of its source material, which is a very short work by Verne’s standards. The novel comes to a hurried conclusion after a slow paced beginning, which suggests that the author originally intended it as a much longer work.

The young Count Teleke (Michal Docolomanský) is devastated when diva Evelyna Steimarová dies in his arms on stage in the final moments of her farewell performance. She had agreed to quit the stage and marry him, creeped out by the silent attentions of the sinister Baron Gore (Milos Kopecký), but the strain of it all has proved too much for her. 

The Mysterious Castle In The Carpathians:Tajemstvi Hrodu V Karpatech (1981)

‘Another mint, sir? It’s only waffer thin…’

Heartbroken, Docolomanský roams the land with servant (Vlastimil Brodský), seeking to escape his sorrows. Meanwhile, a long abandoned castle is showing signs of life and putting the fear of god into the locals. When Docolomanský arrives in the area and discovers that this crumbling pile is the ancestral home of Kopecký, he determines to investigate, planning to wreak revenge on the man he holds responsible for his lover’s death.

This is rather a strange brew from director Lipský and co-writer (and animator) Jiří Brdečka. There’s a lot to like here, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the film has cult status in some areas. One of the good things is that the screenplay expands on the role of the Baron’s scientific advisor, Orfanik (Rudolf Hrušínský), giving him a much larger and more active role than in the original novel. It’s his inventions that provide the film’s most pleasing aspect; a collection of steampunk contraptions delivered in a tour de force style by designer Jan Zázvorka. Hrušínský also has great fun with his role, providing the film’s greatest share of laughs.

The Mysterious Castle In The Carpathians:Tajemstvi Hrodu V Karpatech (1981)

The men of Ib had very curious ears…

There’s also a pleasing Don Quixote and Sancho Panza vide to the relationship of blow-hard Docolomanský and the faithful Brodský, the latter underplaying nicely to the former’s extravagant flourishes. Lipsky also knows how to frame a shot, providing some gorgeous compositions that evoke classical paintings.

But there is a problem. Lipský aims for an absurd, Pythonesque humour and brings it on almost without relief for the film’s entire running time. A lot of the jokes are very broad, juvenile and repetitive and, without the contrast of quieter moments, matters becomes rather wearing fairly quickly. The comedy also lacks the truly surreal quality of the best of this kind of work. Your patience is also likely to be tested if you’re not an opera lover. Docolomanský takes many opportunities to vocalise the story in song, bringing events to a dead stop every time he does. It’s a device that could have been funny once or twice, but it’s over-used.

Technically it’s very impressive in all departments; the period costumes, the photography by Viktor Růžička and the impressively bombastic score by Luboš Fišer all striking the right notes. But, at times, it seems like a film that’s all dressed up with nowhere to go.

An unusual fable, visually beautiful on occasion, but saddled with a sense of humour that makes it the very definition of an acquired taste.

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.


The Being (1983)

The Being (1983)‘The ultimate terror has taken form and Pottsville, Idaho will never be the same.’

A rural town in Idaho has been ravaged by terrible storms. In the aftermath, people are missing and locals begin to report sightings of a strange, slimy, man-like creature. A local detective begins to investigate and suspects that events may be linked to the dumping of nuclear waste in the area…

This low-budget monster smackdown opens with our old friend Voiceover Man, and, as per usual, he’s giving it to us straight and serious. What we are about to witness is some heavy shit going down in ‘This Could Be Your Smalltown, USA’. Writer-director Jackie Kong doesn’t waste any time with preamble either, and the opening has a random local getting decapitated in his car by the claws of a (mostly) unseen beast. Detective Rexx Coltrane finds nothing at the crime scene, which is odd considering the gory FX we’ve just witnessed. He does sit in a pool of green gunk left behind on the driver’s seat, though. And that’s weird too.

Teens are then attacked at the drive-in after the creature hides in a couple’s car. And l don’t mean it’s concealed in the trunk or hunkered down on the back seat. Apparently, it was hiding in the dashboard!? Again, it leaves no evidence of its murderous spree and the absence of the locals is blamed on the recent storms. This makes no sense at all, especially as all we’ve seen of this apparently apocalyptic weather is a few black clouds in one shot at the start of the film. As far as I could tell, it never even rains.

Coltrane teams up with waitress Marianne Gordon to investigate further (standard police procedure I guess) but faces resistance from potato magnate and town mayor Jose Ferrer, who wants everything hushed up (as local bigwigs always do). He does agree to call in scientist Martin Landau, though, which sounds helpful, although we have just seen him on local TV arguing that dumping nuclear waste in the local aquifer is completely safe. Also wandering about in the background is distraught mother Dorothy Malone, whose young son has been missing for several days. Curiously, no-one else seems worried about this at all; the local constabulary preferring to spend their time hitting on young female motorists and arresting a guy for fishing without a licence. Priorities, l suppose.

The Being (1984)

‘Hello Girls!’

At first glance, this seems to be just a selection of random script pages from other monster movies stapled together without much care or attention. The action scenes are poorly staged and the story has an odd, disjointed feel to it. The creature FX aren’t too bad, although closeups and mid-shots don’t match and the thing seems to be moving around on wheels which doesn’t help.

lt is hinted in one scene that the monster is actually Malone’s son transformed by toxic waste, but this is never resolved or even mentioned again. It would explain why Malone’s character is in the film, though, as her presence is completely pointless otherwise. lt also doesn’t help that Coltrane is such a lifeless hero. Rarely changing expression and obviously dubbed throughout, our leading man is a complete charisma vacuum and his romance with Gordon unconvincing at best.

Our scaly fiend also has an odd fetish for motor vehicles; hanging out at the scrapyard, hiding in Ferrer’s garage, attacking drivers, and even flying out of an alley and through the open door of Coltrane’s squad car. There’s also a redundant subplot about Ferrer’s wife (Ruth Buzzi) running a moral crusade to stop the opening of a local massage parlour, which would seem to be intended as satire. She’s also appears in a bizarre dream sequence crying blood and riding a broomstick!

The Being (1983)

‘No, I don’t need to see a script, I’ll do it!’

Top-billed Landau had a curious career. There were several peaks; on TV as a member of the IMF on ‘Mission: Impossible’ and then as the Commander of Moonbase Alpha in ‘Space:1999’ a decade later. There were big screen plaudits and an Oscar nomination for Woody Allen’s ‘Crimes and Misdemeanours’ (1989) before he won the statue for his wonderful performance as Bela Lugosi in ‘Ed Wood’ (1994).

But, in between those triumphs, he appeared in some very odd, low-budget obscurities, a lot of them for television. There was a film about the life of model Anna Nicole Smith and another about evangelist Billy Graham, as well as ‘The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man’ (1987) and ‘The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island’ (1981)! He also did guest slots on dozens of popular TV shows. I guess the guy just liked to work.

Ferrer also had an Oscar, winning for ‘Cyranno de Bergerac’ (1950) and getting nominated two years later for ‘Moulin Rouge’ (1952). Unfortunately, his career was on the slide by the 1970s and he was taking gigs like ‘Zoltan, Hound of Dracula’ (1977) and playing the title role on infantile TV mini-series ‘The Amazing Captain Nemo’ (1978). Malone had been a second-lead in big Hollywood productions such as ‘Young At Heart’ (1954) with Frank Sinatra, and Douglas Sirk’s ‘Written On The Wind’ (1957) for which she also won the Oscar! The fact that this film contains three Academy Award winners is quite mind-boggling.

The rest of the cast are also worth a look. Buzzi was a comedienne who became famous on ‘Laugh-In’ and was a familiar face on US screens with guest appearances on many other TV shows. Gordon was married to country music superstar Kenny Rogers and often appeared on the syndicated show ‘Hee-Haw’. Further down the list we find Murray Langston, most famous for doing stand-up with a bag on his head as ‘The Unknown Comic’ and there’s a small role for cult author-singer Kinky Friedman. It’s an eclectic cast, to be sure, but few of these supporting performers were well-known outside of the United States.

The Being (1983)

‘Well, it’s probably a toss up between ‘Cyranno de Bergerac’ and ‘Zoltan, Hound of Dracula’…

The film has an interesting production history. lt was actually shot in 1980 under the title ‘Easter Sunday’ but premiered as ‘Beauty and The Beast’ (a title that makes no sense whatsoever). lt then sat on the shelf for 3 years before getting a general release under its current name, possibly after some heavy editing. Little known star Coltrane is listed in the film’s credits as ‘Johnny Commander’ about 20 seconds after we see a screenshot identifying him as Coltrane. Actually, in real life, he was producer Bill Osco, which goes some way to explain his rather flat performance in the film.

Even more curious are the captions that come up after the fade to black, telling the audience what happened to the characters next. They are obviously intended as jokes but seem out of step with what’s gone before. A quick look into director Kong’s background and we find that she was responsible for three other films: all comedies. Add that to the presence of some of the supporting cast, and it raises an obvious question: was this actually supposed to be a comedy? Taking everything into account, and looking back at it, l guess it probably was.

Perhaps if I’d been more familiar with some of the supporting cast, l would have picked up on the ‘comedy’ vibe at the time. As it was, I completely missed it. Oops.

Outlaw of Gor/Gor ll (1988)

Outlaw of Gor (1988)‘I was cleaning and polishing the vibrations of the home stone.’

A college Professor is drawn back to the alien world of Gor, where he once fought the tyranny of a warlord. The kingdom is now at peace, but its future is under threat from the machinations of the new Queen and her high priest…

Visitors to bookshops in the 1980s couldn’t fail to be familiar with the name of author John Norman, even if they had never picked up one of his titles. The ‘Gor’ series was a minor publishing phenomenon of its time; a series of adventures set on a medieval alien world very much in the manner of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Only with added sex. Although popular, they proved controversial; mainly due to some questionable philosophy and dodgy gender politics that suggested women would enjoy a subservient role to men. Not surprisingly, when it came to the movie adaptations, all this subtext was excluded in favour of a more homogenous, commercial approach.

The first of these was ‘Gor’ (1987), a dreary, by the numbers mixture of bare-chested heroes, inept swordplay, Oliver Reed in a silly helmet and a generous assortment of tired and well-worn genre clichés. It was generic at best, and completely without any personality of its own. Not surprisingly, it was both a critical and commercial flop, barely registering at the box office at all. So why on earth release a sequel? Well, mainly because it was already in the can. Cannon Films had the two films shot concurrently to save money.

So, apart from Reed, all our old friends from the first film are back. There’s anonymous hero Tarl Cabot (Urbano Barbierini), his big-haired lover Princess Talena (Rebecca Ferrati), King Marlenus (Larry Taylor), Queen Lara (Donna Denton) and high priest Xenos (Hollywood legend Jack Palance!) The megaphone’s been handed over to John ‘Bud’ Cardos, who once did bit parts in Al Adamson films such as ‘Horror of the Blood Monsters’ (1970) and replaced Tobe Hooper as director on ‘The Dark’ (1979) when the producers decided at the last minute to make the psychotic villain into an extra-terrestrial who could shoot laser beams out of his eyes.

We begin with (the somewhat unlikely) Professor Barbierini hanging out at a bar and looking down in the dumps, obviously having realised that marking term papers is a bit of a comedown after saving a kingdom by swinging a plastic sword. What makes things far worse is that he’s been saddled with motormouth ‘comedy’ sidekick Whatney (Russell Savadier). Within a minute, the audience is praying that he won’t be along for the ride on Barbierini’s inevitable return to Gor. Unfortunately, he is. On the plus side, he pretty much vanishes after the first 20 minutes of the film, which actually proves to be the best thing about the entire project!

From there, we’re treated to the usual run of captures, escapes, unconvincing fights, even less convincing swordplay and a climax so rushed and lame that it relegates our hero to the role of a pointless spectator. Palance was only in the last couple of minutes of the first film (presumably to get his name on it) and does little more here than wear a very silly hat and hang about a bit at the back looking pissed off. Sure, he gets to mix a few liquids in test tubes (very medieval) and snarl a few lines of dialogue, but he’s just playing second banana to Denton’s evil queen. There’s little sign of the enthusiasm that he brought to his similar role in seminal sword and sorcery crapfest ‘Hawk The Slayer’ (1980). It’s Denton who is chewing the scenery here, but her truly heroic efforts to liven things up are killed stone dead by the snail’s pace and predictable plot development.

Outlaw of Gor (1988)

‘Mark my words, I’ll win that Oscar one day…’

lt’s amazing to think that Palance picked up an Academy Award just three years after this, for his performance in ‘City Slickers’ (1991). Even that did little to revive his moribund career; his only other project of note being ‘City Slickers 2: The Legend of Curly’s Gold’ (1994) before his death in 2006. It’s a real shame as he was an actor with real power and proven screen presence who deserved much better.

But I actually feel sorrier for the palace guards here. They seem to have a very full job description. Duties include ‘Take Him Away’, ‘Seize Him’, ‘Bring Him’ and ‘Take Him To The Cells’. And they get shouted at an awful lot. Which is not very nice.

A wretched, feeble enterprise. ls it worse than the first film? Yes, it is. It really is. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

A Man Called Rage/Rage – Fuoco incrociato (1984)

Rage/A Man Called Rage (1984)‘But why don’t you send them? They were clever enough to find me and they only lost 20 to 30 men.’

Missiles fly and the cities of the world are destroyed. In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, various groups battle for the little uranium that remains. An ex-soldier leads a ragtag team into the forbidden zone on one, last desperate mission to obtain a supply…

What James Bond 007 was to the European film industry in the 1960s, Max Rockatansky was in the 1980s. The global phenomenon that was ‘The Road Warrior’ (1981), or ‘Mad Max 2’ if you lived in my neck of the world, was such a box-office success that it birthed a whole sub-genre of the science-fiction film. It helped that this happened to coincide with the explosion of the VHS home video market, so your local high street rental store was almost instantly submerged by a wave of titles like ‘Exterminators of the Year 3000’ (1984), ‘2020: Texas Gladiators’ (1982), ‘Stryker’ (1983) and my own personal favourite ‘The New Barbarians’ (1982) (aka ‘Warriors of the Wasteland’). Some examples also took inspiration from John Carpenter’s classic ‘Escape From New York’ (1981), such as ‘Bronx Warriors’ (1982), its sequel and ‘2019: After the Fall of New York’ (1983). Most originated from ltaly, Spain and the Philippines, although some had investment from the U.S. and other territories.

In this production, we find star Bruno Minitti flexing his pecs, striking a pose and rocking a black, cut-off t-shirt for director Tonino Ricci. Again. Yes, the two had already covered much the same post-apocalyptic waste ground a year earlier with the rather underwhelming ‘Rush/Rush The Assassin’ (1983). This time around Minitti is the ex-soldier gone rogue and one-man executioner, Rage. It’s a completely different character from ‘Rush’ obviously, even if the film was marketed as ‘Rush 2’ in some territories. The story opens with him up against a full army squad, a lot of whom he kills before finally being captured. Surprisingly, he’s then offered a job; leading a trip into the forbidden land to link up with ‘Alpha Base’ whose broadcasts are being picked up on the radio.

But let’s stop right there. Just who are all these people exactly? Minitti’s employment opportunity comes courtesy of a white-haired old man in a wheelchair, who seems to be in charge of what’s left of the regular army and the government that remains. l suppose. The mission objective is not to obtain the usual suspects of water or petrol, but uranium. Why? Because without it, everyone will die. For some reason. Perhaps it’s a staple of the post-nuke diet, who knows? Anyway, Alpha Base have lots of it. Whoever they are. What exposition we do get comes via various nuggets of clunky dialogue, featuring such gems as: ‘We have to go through the radioactive zone; it’s still dangerous’ and ‘Here comes one of our travelling companions, Omar, the electronics wizard and munitions expert.’

Rage/A Man Called Rage (1984)

‘God, what a poser…’

But we’re not here for a complex plot or involving characters, are we? Which is a good job, considering what’s up on the screen. No, what we’re here for is lots of exciting car chases, stunts, and explosions! And do we get them? Well…no, not really. The problem with these knock-off films is simple. They were rushed out to cash in on a current trend and filmed on the cheap.

So there’s lots of long scenes of driving through deserts, stuntmen leaping off rocks (mostly in quarries), bloodless battles with prop guns and badly choreographed fisticuffs. The staging of all this is very unspectacular and proceedings are completely bereft of any of the odd stylistic and wardrobe choices that made many of its contemporaries such ridiculous fun. Which all helps to explain why it’s such an obscure example of this sub-genre.

Still, there are some things to enjoy for aficionados of cult movies. For a start, there’s Minitti’s character. He single-handedly takes out almost a whole army squad in the opening sequence (the best part of the film) and swaggers about like a real badass. When he’s asked to head up the main operation into the badlands, he angrily refuses, reminding his captors that he and his squad were refused entry to their shelter when the bombs began to fall (a sequence we never get to see, surprise, surprise). Perhaps he can explain how he’s managed to survive on the outside for so long since then? ‘lt’s a long story’ he says. And that’s all we get.

So why does he suddenly agree to take the job? Because everyone puts on their best puppy dog eyes when he refuses! Yes, that seems to be the only reason, although he’s obviously keen to nail striking heroine Taida Urruzola as soon as possible. Rather brilliantly, she changes from army fatigues into a very brief crop top and short shorts for the main action, although she does get to keep them on, which is quite a miracle, considering the vintage of the production and its target audience. And she’s not shy about shooting bad guys and beating up a bunch of would-be rapists, so that’s kind of sweet.

Getting in the way of Minitti and his merry band is Slash (Stelio Candelli) and his bunch of generic goons, who cheerfully provide the necessary cannon fodder for the action scenes. He’s pissed at Minitti because of a double cross involving maps of the forbidden zone (which no-one ever looks at anyway and the audience never even get to see!), although they apparently have some unfinished business of some kind from some time or other in the past. Or something. But he’s no match for one-man army Minetti anyway, who’s not only an indestructible killing machine, but also a great leader and brilliant strategist. Apparently. The evidence for this does seem a little thin, however, when his group run out of water about five minutes after entering the wasteland. Given the importance of the mission, it’s also a bit of a head scratcher as to why it comprises just one jeep and half a dozen personnel. Perhaps it’s because Minitti killed the rest of their forces in the first five minutes of the film. Not to worry about that mass slaughter, though…no-one else seems remotely bothered!

Rage/A Man Called Rage (1984)

The Famous Five hadn’t grown up quite as Enid Blyton had hoped…

This is typical exploitation movie-making on the cheapest and most basic level. Knock out a half-baked script based on a popular box-office hit of the day, grab a dozen working actors, a film crew and some army surplus and head out into the desert for a week or so’s filming. You won’t win any awards but you’ll get a movie in the can and everyone will get paid. Probably.

This is one of the dullest and most generic of trips into the nuclear wasteland of the 1980s, but there is one scene in particular that deserves a mention. Reaching Alpha Base, our heroes don’t find any uranium but they do find a pile of books and educational aids containing ‘the history of civilisation; engineering, the principles of electronics…’ and ‘the science of construction, elements of philosophy, the whole of human culture, technology and science.’

‘With this, the world can be reconstructed quickly!’ exclaims Minetti in triumph.

As he brandishes a battered old VHS Videotape.

Ah, the 1980s… Where did you go?

Mysterious Two (1982)

Mysterious Two (1982)‘People of tomorrow; it is the twilight of today!’

A strange couple claiming to be in touch with extraterrestrials bring their followers together outside a small town in the desert. The local sheriff’s department struggles to contain the crowds as everyone awaits salvation at the hands of an all-powerful alien race. But is the whole thing just an elaborate con?

Odd made for television project from writer-director Gary Sherman that was originally filmed in 1979 but not broadcast until the early summer of 1982. The story begins with our old friend; footage of a NASA rocket launch. Unfortunately, this one ends in a fireball. Next we meet our golden couple (John Forsythe and Priscilla Pointer) at some abandoned buildings in the desert. Talk with an incoherent vagrant tells us that this is an old missile base. Forsythe proclaims that it’s ‘perfect’ and, more importantly, that ‘It’s Time’! (pretty much all he says over the next 100 minutes). We are left to assume that this is the old NASA launchpad mothballed after the opening tragedy, but there’s no need to worry about it. That incident never gets mentioned again.

From there, Forsythe and Pointer emerge from a bright light in a hole in the ground to bring their followers together. The acolytes become what amounts to a loose kind of hippy commune and the vast majority of the runtime is spent dealing with their riveting relationship problems and fascinating stories. There’s whiny James Stephens (our narrator) looking for his runaway girlfriend (the even whinier Karen McLarty), there’s a black couple who have sold their car and another woman who is pregnant and wants her baby to be the first human child born in outer space (or something? l don’t know, l was kind of zoning out by then). Anyway, it’s all completely fascinating. Forsythe and Pointer turn up every now and then in white robes and tell everyone to wait and that ‘It’s Time!’ ( I should really put that in capital letters). Eventually, the faithful are spirited away to the missile base in a fabulous alien craft (ok, it’s actually a School Bus!) where there’s a permanent dust storm and lots of bright lights that flash. And that’s about your lot.

Perhaps Sherman was attempting to make a serious film examining the nature of cults, and the people who follow them. It’s a subject worthy of examination, but one that requires a far more in-depth approach, rather than the series of soap drama vignettes that he provides. And there’s also the suspicion that he was unsure of his own point of view. Are Forsythe and Pointer on the level, or just charlatans? The film backs out of the question, and provides no real resolution. It is possible, given the closing narration, that this was actually the pilot for an intended series where Stephens would try to track Forsythe and Pointer down and rescue McLarty. If so, we can only be grateful that it never happened.

Mysterious Two (1982)

‘Is it ‘Time’ yet?’

Sherman’s subsequent career included zombie horror ‘Dead and Buried’ (1981) (hilariously banned during the trumped-up Video Nasty scare in the UK), ‘Wanted: Dead Or Alive’ (1987) with Rutger Hauer and ‘Poltergeist Ill’ (1988). Not a notable record, especially considering his debut had been gritty, subterranean horror ‘Death Line’ (1972) with Donald Pleasance.

There are some familiar faces in the supporting cast here; Noah Beery Jr plays the sheriff toward the end of a long career stretching back to the 1930s. He played  a jungle boy in ‘The Call of the Savage’ (1935), and supporting roles in more notable productions such as ‘Of Mice and Men’ (1939), ‘Sergeant York’ (1941), ‘Rocketship X-M’ (1950), ‘lnherit The Wind’ (1960) and the ‘7 Faces of Dr Lao’ (1964). By this point, he was famous as James Garner’s old dad on long-running detective show ‘The Rockford Files‘. His Deputy here is played by  a young Robert Englund, a few years before he pulled on the sweater and razor glove of Freddy Krueger for ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ (1984).

The story was loosely based on the real-life exploits of self-styled ‘UFO missionaries’ Marshall Applewhite and Barbara Nettles, who were famous enough to be the subject of national media scrutiny at the time. By all accounts, their group was financially well-off by the end of the 1970s so whether the fear of legal problems prompted the network’s decision to shelve Sherman’s film for 3 years is a possibility. It is true that the group were less active by the time it was broadcast. Somewhat ironically, that was in the same month that Forsythe began his 217 episode run as Blake Carrington on soap juggernaut ‘Dynasty.’

Tragically, real life proved to be far more dramatic than Sherman’s lifeless fiction. Applewhite rebranded his group a few years after Nettles died as ‘Heaven’s Gate’ and became fixated on the approach of Comet Hale-Bopp. When the local sheriff’s department broke into their mansion in the San Diego area in March 1997, they found all 38 members had committed suicide at Applewhite’s instruction, and that he had taken his own life as well.

As l say, there is an important film to be made on this subject, but Sherman’s effort is sadly lacking in depth or insight. And in any entertainment value whatsoever.

Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake (1981)

Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake (1981)‘Half man, half frog and half l don’t know what.’

A young boy finds a prehistoric bone on an island in a remote lake. The local university sends a professor to investigate, and a small logging crew tangle with the old man who lives in the woods. They are looking for gold, which the hermit believes is protected by the spirit of the lake…

In the half-dozen or so years immediately following the runaway success of Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’ (1975), it seemed that every body of water in the world was inhabited by dangerous and mysterious creatures. Rural Wisconsin was no exception. Regional filmmaker Bill Rebane had already ensured his place in the hallowed halls of cult cinema by sticking carpet samples onto his Volkswagen to create ‘The Giant Spider Invasion’ (1977) and within a few years had graduated to this brew of ancient Native American myth, survival adventure, hidden treasure and frog people.

The film mostly unfolds in an extended flashback as a grown up Kelly (Glenn Scherer) explains to his girlfriend (Doreen Moze) why they are spending their vacation in a cabin on the island. So most of what we see involves him as a young boy (Brad Ellington) accompanying his forest ranger father as they helps local boffin (Karen McDiarmid) and her niece (Julie Wheaton) investigate this mysterious fossil. Things turn ugly when the nearby logging crew reveal that their not interested in trees so much as gold, and the local hermit (Jerry Gregoris) express his dissatisfaction with their scheme via the medium of his shotgun. Gregoris is the last descendant of the original Native American tribe who lived in the area and made offerings to the spirits of the lake.

Framing stories are usually a device to paper over the cracks when a film has financial issues; a fate which befell Rebane’s first picture, the dreadful ‘Monster A-Go Go’ (1965), which was eventually finished by splatter king Herschel Gordon Lewis. Here, there’s no real other evidence of a troubled production, just the inevitable abundance of chat over action, which is almost guaranteed in the low- budget arena. Most of the cast have very limited other credits; Scherer having a few small roles in higher profile projects such as ‘Cocoon: The Return’ (1988) and Alan Ross going on to write Rebane’s next film, ‘The Demons of Ludlow’ (1983). But, given that, the performances are mostly naturalistic and that helps to get the audience through the 90 minute runtime.

Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake (1981)

‘You don’t want to go there, sir! Not to the lake, sir!’

And help is needed, because the real problem here is that the film drags. Rebane conjures little suspense from various cast members wandering about in the woods, and some of the music cues are a little odd. The final reveal is also an underwhelming ‘man in a monster suit’ moment and, although I’ve seen worse, it’s not exactly impressive. The story is half-baked too, with the use of Native American mythology verging on window dressing, but the results are workmanlike if you’re not too critical.

A fairly typical example of the sort of low-budget filler that was a staple of the home video rental market in the early 1980s.