The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies

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Today’s flick is the infamous monster movie musical, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies.

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies was directed and produced by Ray Dennis Steckler, who was also behind such movies as The Sexorcist, The Horny Vampire, The Mad Love Life of a Hot Vampire, and, no kidding, How to Make A Sex Movie. He also played the protagonist in The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies under a pseudonym: Cash Flagg. The credited screenplay writers for the movie were Gene Pollock (The Thrill Killers) and Robert Silliphant (The Creeping Terror, The Beach Girls and The Monster).

The cinematographer for The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies was Joseph V. Mascelli, who also shot the b-movies The Thrill Killers and Wild Guitar, and went on to direct the classic bad movie The Atomic Brain.

The film’s editor was Don Schneider, whose only other feature film editing credit was another classically terrible b-movie, Eegah.

The memorable music for The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies was done by Libby Quinn, who has no other film score composition credits, and Andre Brummer, who worked on films like Eegah, Monster From The Ocean Floor, Mudhoney, and something called Fertilize the Blaspheming Bombshell.

The makeup effects work on The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies was done by one Tom Scherman, who went on to do miniature and visual effects work on movies like Robot Jox, The Crater Lake Monster, and Flesh Gordon.

mixedup2The plot of The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies centers around a musical carnival, where a young man is cursed into becoming a murderous zombie by the carnival’s fortune teller. This leads him to go on a killing rampage, taking out many of the teenaged attendees at the carnival.

The original title for the film was reportedly supposed to be The Incredibly Strange Creature: Or Why I Stopped Living and Became a Mixed-up Zombie, but Columbia pictures threatened a lawsuit due to the similarity of it to the full title of Dr. Strangelove, a significant hit by Stanley Kubrick that released the previous year. The director, Ray Dennis Steckler, also said that Face of Evil was an early working title.

Speaking of alternate titles, the film wound up releasing under a handful of different titles over the years: The Incredibly Mixed-Up Zombie, Diabolical Dr. Voodoo, and The Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary among them.

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies was famously featured on a season 8 episode of the popular bad movie television show Mystery Science Theater 3000, which exposed it to a much wider audience than it ever had before.

Primarily because of the film’s appearance on MST3K, it has a very negative reception on internet review aggregators: it currently has a 2.2 rating on IMDb (qualifying it for the IMDb’s Bottom 100), and Rotten Tomatoes scores of 20% (critics) and 14% (audience).

For the life of me, I don’t understand why on earth this movie had to be a musical. All of the numbers are distracting, poorly shot, horribly executed, and they drag out the plot much longer than it has any need to go. I never thought I would praise Girl in Gold Boots, but that movie looks like a professional musical production compared to this mess. The best guess that I have is that the music was the gimmick intended to get audiences into the theater, but I’m not really sure what the common population of monster movie fans and musicals was at the time to draw from.

The costuming throughout the movie is surprisingly dull given the setting of the story at a carnival. The makeup on the antagonist is way over the top, however. Personally, I think costuming and makeup needs to be an all or nothing thing: you can half-ass it or go all the way, but mixing it up makes the movie look and feel inconsistent.

The cinematography in this movie is just straight bad. There are point of view roller coaster shots that are excessively shaky to the point of causing nausea, and moments where superimposed images are placed on top of other superimposed images in an attempt to create a surreal effect. Worst of all, the musical performance sequences are just inexcusably poorly shot for something billed as a musical, staying generally out of focus and distant. My favorite cinematography goof in the movie, however, is the sharply-angled palm reading sequence, which the MST3K guys hilariously riffed without saying a word: they all just leaned dramatically in a given direction to imitate the shot.

The pacing of the plot was the real coffin nail for this movie in my opinion. It has musical numbers chained to both ankles that drag it down immensely, and the result is a film that can barely hobble through its run time. Outside of the musical performances, there are plenty of other scenes that run too long, and plenty of footage that isn’t necessary at all for the plot. I think this  movie could be recut into something slightly better, but the best editor in the world could only really improve it so much. There just isn’t quite enough decent content in this flick for a full-length, quality movie.

All of that said, I do like the premise the the story. Pre-Romero zombie movies are interesting to bump into, and pull from the classic zombie lore that is mostly forgotten by cinema nowadays. This story in particular sticks to the mind control and voodoo aspects of classic zombieism, and might have been a good horror movie with a different director, writer, cast, and with 100% less musical numbers. So, it might have been ok if it were a different movie entirely.

Some people out there rave about this movie as an elite good-bad flick, but I’ve always found it immensely boring, even with the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment. The highlights are worth checking out (mostly the musical numbers), but I wouldn’t personally recommend sitting through the whole thing.

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Pumaman

Pumaman

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Today’s feature is undoubtedly one of the worst superhero movies of all time: 1980’s Pumaman.

Pumaman was directed and co-written by Alberto De Martino, who was also behind such low-budget fare as Holocaust 2000, Miami Golem, Dirty Heroes, and Gladiators 7. The other credited writers on the film were Massimo De Rita (Blood in the Streets, Everybody’s Fine) and Luigi Angelo (Black Killer).

The cinematographer for Pumaman was Mario Vulpiani, who primarily worked on Italian movies throughout his career. However, he did wind up shooting Stuart Gordon’s cult classic H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, Castle Freak.

pumaman1The editor on Pumaman was Vincenzo Tomassi, who frequently worked for Lucio Fulci on films like The Beyond, Zombie, and The New York Ripper. He also cut the infamous film Cannibal Holocaust, as well as the monster movies Killer Crocodile and Killer Crocodile 2.

The music for Pumaman was provided by Renato Serio, who also composed the score for 1982’s Alone in the Dark. The theme song to Pumaman might be the most notorious and memorable aspect of the movie next to the hilarious flying effects, and I wish everyone luck in trying to get the song out of your heads.

The cast of Pumaman included Donald Pleasance (Halloween, The Great Escape, Escape From New York, Warrior of the Lost World, Django 2), Walter George Alton (Heavenly Bodies), and Miguel Angel Fuentes (Fitzcarraldo, Herod’s Law).

The plot of Pumaman centers around a young man who is given an assortment of super-powers by Aztec gods / an amulet / aliens / his genetics, and has to hunt down a sinister madman who is trying to use an enchanted mask for nefarious purposes.

It has been reported that Donald Pleasance regarded Pumaman as the worst movie he ever participated in, though I haven’t been able to dig up a source on that outside of the IMDb trivia section.

Pumaman is primarily known by bad movie fans because it was featured in a 1998 episode of the hit show Mystery Science Theater 3000, which was known for digging b-movies out of obscurity to comedic effect.

The star of the film, Walter George Alton, is apparently now a medical malpractice attorney in New York City, and has left his acting career well behind him, having only featured in a handful of flicks aside from Pumaman.

The reception to Pumaman, particularly following being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, was hugely negative. It currently has a 30% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, along with an impressive 2.1 rating on IMDb, ranking it in the Bottom 100 films on the website (which is how I initially came across it).

The attempted flying effect in this movie is just pathetic, to the point of being absolutely hilarious. It is something that you honestly need to see to believe. There are a number of other thoroughly unimpressive attempts at special effects scattered throughout the movie, including a spaceship that looks either looks like the Monarch’s cocoon from The Venture Bros or a Christmas ornament, depending on who you ask.

pumaman2The acting is unsurprisingly sub-par throughout Pumaman, but Donald Pleasence does ham up his role quite a bit. There are a number of moments where you can tell that he knows how bad this movie is going to be when all is said and done, but he still puts effort into it regardless. It is also worth mentioning that it has to be difficult to effectively act when you are having to peek out from behind a giant, ridiculous mask prop for nearly the whole movie.

pumaman3The story to Pumaman makes very little sense. For instance, I’m still not clear on why the main character is a “puma” man, given his powers involve teleportation, flying, and (oddly) faking suicide. Are those typical puma behaviors that I just wasn’t aware of? It is also a bit unclear as to what the origins of his powers are. While it seems that they are granted to him from aliens, it is also mentioned that the powers are somehow hereditary, which doesn’t make much sense to me.

Overall, Pumaman contains a fantastic brew of honest incompetence that generates a genuinely entertaining product. It is absolutely terrible in every technical aspect I can think of, which makes it a bafflingly hilarious experience to watch. It confusedly stumbles its way through the run time, and never fails to be a spectacle of low-budget determination devoid of talent. For fans of bad movies, this is an essential flick to check out, with or without the accompaniment of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Water Foul: The Last Shark

The Last Shark

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Today’s entry into the “Water Foul” spotlight on awful aquatic monster flicks is The Last Shark, likely the most notorious of the Jaws knock-offs.

The Last Shark had three credited writers: Vincenzo Mannino (Hallucination Strip, Murder-Rock: Dancing Death, The New York Ripper), Marc Princi (The Squeeze, Terror Stalks The Class Reunion), and producer Ugo Tucci (Zombie, Once Upon A Time In The West).

The director of The Last Shark was Enzo Castellari, who also directed 1990: The Bronx Warriors, The Inglorious Bastards, Keoma, and The Shark Hunter.

The cinematographer for the film was Alberto Spagnoli, who shot such films as the Italian Lou Ferrigno Hercules movies and Peter Bogdanovich’s Daisy Miller.

The editor for the movie was Gianfranco Amicucci, who also cut a number of Castellari’s other films, including Keoma, The Inglorious Bastards, and 1990: The Bronx Warriors. He also went on to edit a number of Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust) movies, including The Washing Machine and Mom I Can Do It.

The music for The Last Shark was composed by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis, who contributed scores to a number of other low-budget features like The Shark Hunter, Keoma, and Alien 2: On Earth.

Aside from co-writer Ugo Tucci, the producers for The Last Shark were Maurizio Amati (Cannibal Apocalypse), Sandro Amati (The New Gladiators), and Edward Montoro (Pieces, Pod People, Anthropophagus, Grizzly).

The makeup and special effects for The Last Shark were done by Giovanni Morosi (Inglorious Bastards, Escape From The Bronx) and Antonio Corridori (Mission Impossible III, Piranha II, U-571, The Italian Job).

The cast of The Last Shark included James Franciscus (Beneath The Planet Of The Apes), Joshua Sinclair (Judgment in Berlin, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Keoma), Vic Morrow (1990: The Bronx Warriors, Twilight Zone: The Movie), Giancarlo Prete (Bad Cop Chronicles, Escape From The Bronx), and Stefania Goodwin (1990: The Bronx Warriors, Super Mario Bros.).

The plot of The Last Shark surrounds a string of shark attack deaths off the coast of a tourist town, but an ambitious local politician refuses to close the beaches due to an upcoming wind-surfing event. After the event turns into a tragedy, the whole town goes into a frenzy trying to catch and kill the crazed, monstrous shark.

As you might suspect from that plot synopsis, The Last Shark was marketed as a Jaws sequel in a handful of foreign markets, while being titled Great White for its release in the United States. Regardless, Universal Pictures filed a lawsuit against the production for being too similar to Jaws, which led to an injunction and the film being pulled from theaters.

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A sequel to The Last Shark was at one point planned, but the shark was too heavily damaged during the production to re-use, and it was decided that it wasn’t worth the trouble to create a new one.

The reception to The Last Shark was roundly negative: it currently holds a 4.6 rating on IMDb, alongside a 35% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

I wasn’t able to dig up a number for the budget on The Last Shark, but I assume it was pretty low. Primarily due to piggy-backing on the popularity of Jaws, the film grossed 18 million in its United States theatrical run (despite being pulled from theaters), making it significantly profitable on the whole.

lastshark3To the credit of the politician character in this movie, he at least does more than the mayor in Jaws. Instead of outright refusing to acknowledge the shark attacks, he surrounds the beach with shark-proof netting to provide a sense of security for the locals participating in the wind-surfing event. Of course, this doesn’t wind up working, but it is certainly more effort than doing nothing.

The music for this movie is all over the place, and even opens with an upbeat and pop-inspired number. It just doesn’t fit with what should be a thriller or adventurous soundtrack, and is a huge departure from the classic Jaws score.

Most of times the shark is shown on screen in The Last Shark, it is done with stock footage. However, a mechanical shark is used occasionally, and looks absolutely terrible. They would have been better off just not bothering with underwater footage of the replicated shark at all.

All of that said, there is some extensive miniature work in this movie that, in my opinion, doesn’t look excessively terrible, particularly when compared to the CGI shark nonsense we get today. At one point the shark takes out a helicopter, which is simultaneously awesome and hilarious. However, nothing stands out quite as much as the ultimate shark death at the end of the movie.

Overall, The Last Shark is a pretty entertaining watch, particularly for fans of Jaws. The film is so not-subtle about being a knockoff that sequences are basically lifted straight out of Jaws and thrown into this movie. It is certainly understandable why Universal wasn’t thrilled about this movie, because it takes more than a few steps too far. As far as entertainment value goes, the shark and miniature effects are hilarious, and the actor playing not-Quint is pretty entertaining. This is a movie worth digging up if you want to watch an old school cheap shark movie that wasn’t made by Syfy and The Asylum.

Water Foul: Octaman

Octaman

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Today’s movie is Octaman, which features a human-octopus hybrid suit designed by repeat Academy Award winner Rick Baker.

Octaman was written, directed, and produced by Harry Essex, who was also behind such films as It Came From Outer Space and Creature From The Black Lagoon.

The cinematographer on the film was Robert Caramico, who also shot numerous episodes of the television shows Just Shoot Me and Dallas, the Fred Williamson blaxploitation western Boss (that’s, uh, not the original title), and Ted V. Mikels’s The Black Klansman.

The effects team for the movie included Academy Award winner Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London, Men in Black, Ed Wood, Wolf, Videodrome, It’s Alive, It Lives Again, Black Caesar), Doug Beswick (Aliens, The Terminator, Evil Dead II, Ghostbusters), and Ron Kinney (Wild Riders, The Cremators). Beswick and Baker specifically designed the Octaman suit, under the belief that it would be kept in shadows and obscured for most of the film. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

octaman4The cast of Octaman included Pier Angeli (Battle of the Bulge, The Angry Silence), Jeff Morrow (This Island Earth, The Giant Claw, The Creature Walks Among Us), and Kerwin Mathews (Jack The Giant Killer, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad).

The story of Octaman is delightfully straightforward: a team of scientists stumbles upon a mysterious mutated hybrid of an octopus and a human, and the creature proceeds to make all of their lives miserable and significantly shorter.

Footage of Octaman shows up under a variety of different titles in movies like Gremlins 2 and Fright Night, as an homage both to the influence of Rick Baker as an effects master, and as a throwback to traditional, b-level horror and monster movies.

octaman1The reception to Octaman was unsurprisingly negative, and it currently holds a 3.5 rating on IMDb, alongside a 23% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

The budget for the movie was reportedly $250,000, which is a pretty astounding microbudget. However, the product on screen holds true to the saying “you get what you pay for.”

Octaman is a movie that feels, looks, and sounds misplaced in time. The movie could have been made any time from the tail end of the 1950s to (particularly cheaply) in the 1980s, and I don’t think it would look or sound all that different. It is a curiosity of a film that rides the line between being an homage and legitimately being the thing that it is trying to send up (honestly, I’m still not 100% sure which this is).

octaman3The suit itself is probably the most impressive aspect of the movie given the budget, but the way it is shot and used is just hilariously awful. It is a real testament to the importance of cinematography and editing when it comes to movies with practical monsters, because the way it is shown on screen makes all the difference between it being intimidating and it being impossibly goofy.

Speaking of which, the lighting throughout the movie is astoundingly terrible, and most of it comes off looking like incomprehensible blackness (except for the monster, the one thing that should be kept a bit obscured). For most of the film, it is a chore to parse out what the hell is supposed to be happening on screen, because all of the colors used are on a scale of pitch black to relatively dark blue.

Octaman uses a few moments of monster point-of-view shots, which popped up here and there throughout the history of b-movies. However, it became particular famous for its use in highly-acclaimed, b-movie influenced films like Jaws, Predator, and Halloween.

The only real highlight to the film comes when a plot is executed to capture the monster by confusing it with strobe lights and encircling it with fire, in order to “burn up the oxygen all around him.” Astoundingly, this works, and the team throws a net over the monster and calls it a day. That part of the plan, however, doesn’t turn out so well.

octaman5Overall, Octaman is a pretty run-of-the-mill, cheaply made b-movie. If not for Rick Baker’s involvement, it would probably only amount to a footnote in the history of bad movies. However, Baker’s participation and future success adds an element of trivia to the movie, which makes it moderately more worth checking out. Personally, I think the movie is pretty dull, but I’d recommend looking up some clips and photos of the suit in action to get an idea of where a 12-time Academy Award nominated (and 7-time winner) effects guru comes from.

Water Foul: Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster

Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster

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Today’s entry into the “Water Foul” spotlight on the worst aquatic monsters in movie history is 1966’s Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster.

Godzilla vs The Sea Monster was written by Shinichi Sekizawa, the primary writer of the Showa era of Godzilla. His credits include the MST3K-infamous Godzilla vs. Megalon, Godzilla vs. Gigan, Godzilla’s Revenge, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, Ghidorah: The Three Headed Monster, Godzilla vs. Mothra, and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.

The director for Godzilla vs The Sea Monster was Jun Fukuda. This was his first Godzilla movie, and afterwards he would direct four more in the Showa era of the franchise: Son of Godzilla, Godzilla vs Gigan, Godzilla vs. Megalon, and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.

The cinematographer on the film was Kazuo Yamada, who also shot Son Of Godzilla, Samurai III, and Samurai Rebellion, as well as Key of Keys, which was used as the source material for Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily?

The editor for Godzilla vs The Sea Monster was Ryohel Fujii, who was yet another Toho regular, cutting such films as Ghidorah: The Three Headed Monster, King Kong Escapes, Frankenstein Conquers The World, and Godzilla vs. Monster Zero.

Executive Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was a producer of the Godzilla franchise from the original Godzilla all the way through the conclusion of the Hesei era, 1995’s Godzilla vs. Destroyah. He also frequently produced movies for Akira Kurosawa, such as Yojimbo, Kagemusha, and Sanjuro.

The music on Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster was done by Masaru Sato, who accrued 236 score composition credits over his illustrious career, including Yojimbo, Throne of Blood, Sanjuro, Godzilla Raids Again, and The Hidden Fortress.

The Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster effects team included Sadamasa Arikawa (Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, Mothra, Rodan), Sokei Tomioka (Terror of Mechagodzilla, King Kong Escapes, Frankenstein Conquers the World), Taka Yuki (Godzilla, Ghidorah: The Three Headed Monster), Fumio Nakadai (Son of Godzilla, Godzilla’s Revenge), Eiji Tsuburaya (Godzilla, Godzilla Raids Again, Throne of Blood, Rodan, Mothra), Teruyoshi Nakano (Godzilla vs. Mothra, Godzilla 1985), and Akira Watanabe (The Green Slime, Godzilla, Godzilla Raids Again, Destroy All Monsters).

The cast of the movie included a number of recognizable faces from other Toho films: Akira Takarada (Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Mothra, King Kong Escapes, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero), Kumi Mizuno (Godzilla: Final Wars, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, Frankenstein Conquers the World), Chôtarô Tôgin (Destroy All Monsters), and Tôru Ibuki (Terror of Mechagodzilla, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero).

The plot of Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster has very little to do with the monsters themselves. A terrorist organization has taken over a small island, and is secretly developing nuclear weapons there. They use a giant shrimp, named Ebirah, to defend the island and prevent any of their captured slaves from escaping. However, they ultimately capture a Japanese citizen, and his family goes hunting after him, ultimately leading to the discovery of the secret base. Serendipitously, Godzilla is found sleeping in a cave nearby, and is awakened to fight Ebirah. Also, Mothra is hanging around on a nearby island (where the slaves were mostly kidnapped from), and eventually shows up to help towards the end of the story.

seamonster1Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster was initially planned to be a King Kong movie, and many of that monster’s trademarks and characteristics remain in the movie. Godzilla’s uncharacteristic obsession with a woman and his awakening via lightning were both associated with King Kong as opposed to the King of the Monsters. The lightning revival came from King Kong vs. Godzilla, which was also due to a last minute monster replacement (King Kong for Frankenstein’s Monster), making the trait all the more confusing.

The Sea Monster itself, Ebirah, is named after the japanese word for shrimp, ‘ebi.’ This essentially confirms that Ebirah is supposed to be a shrimp, though it looks a bit more like a lobster.

Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster interestingly marks the last appearance of a full-grown Mothra in the Showa era of Godzilla, though the larval form pops up again in Destroy All Monsters in 1968.

Mystery Science Theater 3000, the popular bad movie television show, had an episode dedicated to Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster in its second season. The episode immediately followed the more recognizable and terrible Godzilla vs. Megalon, which famously features the robot Jet Jaguar.

The reception to Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster was generally negative, and is regarded as one of the weaker entries into the series. It currently holds a rating of 5.1 on IMDb, along with a 39% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

First off, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster definitely focuses far more on the human plot than the monsters, which is bound to be part of why it is so unpopular. Godzilla doesn’t even appear on screen until an hour into the picture. However, the story isn’t super-awful as far as the Showa era of Godzilla is concerned. The terrorist organization isn’t as memorable as sound-prone aliens from Planet X or angry cockroach people, but they serve well enough here.

The monster fighting that does appear in the movie is really lackluster. Ebirah isn’t particularly powerful, and doesn’t have any way to effectively compete with Godzilla, eand ventually gets his claws torn off without much fanfare. There are a couple of other minor battles, such as a skirmish between Godzilla and Mothra and the appearance of a Rodan-like bird monster, but they are both pretty brief and unmemorable. The movie does feature an infamous volleyball fight between Ebirah and Godzilla, which I believe pops up again re-purposed in the even more terrible Godzilla’s Revenge.

seamonster3My favorite part of the film by far is when Ebirah spears two people on one of his claws like a shish kebab, which both looks ridiculous and is kind of jarring. You don’t see the Toho monsters directly kill people very often, though death is heavily implied by their stomping and blasting. It definitely stands out as a highlight moment in the movie, and is one of the few clips worth checking out.

seamonster4Overall, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster is a pretty mediocre entry in the Showa era of Godzilla. It isn’t particularly over-the-top or entertaining in comparison to the rest of the series, but also isn’t quite amusingly abysmal enough to make sitting through it much fun. The MST3K episode is pretty solid and the background trivia is interesting, so if you want to watch it, I’d recommend going that route with it.

It Follows

Clerk’s Pick

Clerk:
Hannah, Video Central (Columbus, OH)

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Movie:
It Follows
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Pitch:
“This movie actually got me. Supernatural horror flicks don’t usually freak me out, but this one did. The way it just sort of slowly walks towards you…”

Background:

It Follows was written and directed by David Robert Mitchell, whose only previous feature film was 2010’s The Myth of The American Sleepover, a teen-focused romantic comedy.

The cast for It Follows is made up of a handful of young actors, none of whom have a lot of film experience: Maika Monroe (The Guest), Lili Sepe, Olivia Luccardi, Daniel Zovatto (Beneath), and Kier Gilchrist (United States of Tara) make up the mainstay, with a handful of others filling in depth roles.

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The special effects work for It Follows is credited to Krisz Drouillard, whose most recognizable credit is likely on Kevin Smith’s 2014 foray into body horror, Tusk. The makeup team included Robert Kurtzman (Bubba Ho-Tep, The Faculty, Spawn, Maniac Cop 3, DeepStar Six, From Beyond, Army of Darkness) and Tom Luhtala (Late Phases, John Dies At The End), and the visual effects crew boasted Ed Mendez (Sin City, The Ladykillers, Catwoman, The Road, Spider-Man 3), Alessandro Pepe (Kung Fu Panda 2, Happy Feet), Greg Strasz (2012, White House Down), Raffaele Apuzzo (Nightcrawler), and Andrea Marotti (Getaway, Dracula 3D).

The distinctive and memorable music for It Follows was composed by Rich Vreeland, an electronic and chiptune artist who uses the moniker of ‘Disasterpeace.’ This was his foray into scoring films, though he provided the music for the hit indie video game Fez in 2012, and has a loyal following.

Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis has a long history of shooting short films, but his only other standout feature is the 2012 cult hit John Dies At The End, which was directed by Don Coscarelli, and also featured a number of common effects workers with It Follows.

It Follows received numerous awards and accolades, gaining praise throughout its festival run. nominated for the Audience Award at the Chicago International Film Festival and the Critics Week Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, among many others.

It Follows currently holds a rating of 7.0 on IMDb. It also has an astonishing 96% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, though it stands alongside a much lower audience score of 66%.

The film was made on an estimated budget of $2 million, and managed to gross a profitable $17 million in its total theatrical run. However, it was undoubtedly a much bigger critical hit than it was a financial one, and is primarily the darling of critics and horror die-hards.

Review:

I saw this film in theaters, knowing it already had immense acclaim behind it. There is certainly a lot interesting going on in this movie, not the least of which is the fact that it manages to create an effect of unease with both its audio and visual components. I think the score is probably the most distinctive aspect of the movie, and essentially creates something new by delving into something old: the iconic horror scores of John Carpenter. You can tell that the score is a sort of synthesis between Carpenter and the modern electronic drone of Kavinsky, which was popularized in Drive.

Creating ‘new’ out of ‘old’ is more or less the whole gist of the film’s style: the anachronism is even built interestingly into the set design and the background details: characters have modern mobile phones and electronic devices, but all of the televisions are ancient CRTs, the cars are vintage, and the movie theater has a live organist. In many ways, you could argue that we are living in a nostalgia generation, defined by its lust for the past. In that way, It Follows is the perfect encapsulation of our status quo.

I once had a jazz teacher who always gave the advice to his students to listen to and imitate great musicians. “But won’t I start sounding like ‘Bird’?” a student might say. He would respond: “You’ll never sound like Bird. You’ll sound like someone trying to sound like Bird, and that will be you.” It Follows is, as many have pointed out, a mockingbird of John Carpenter, and specifically Halloween. The music, the posture of the creature, the setting, and the shots all function as modernizations of that classic film, arguably more faithfully than the actual reboot of the franchise. However, I don’t think anyone would confuse this movie with a product from John Carpenter himself, in the same way that a saxophone student won’t be mistaken for Charlie Parker. It Follows feels, looks, and sounds like a movie trying to be a John Carpenter movie, and the resulting imitation is something that is both faithful and unique.

When it comes to problems with the movie, I found that the creature lost a lot of its intimidating ability one it was made clear that it was physical and definitively mortal. In general, monsters become less scary as characters discover their weaknesses and boundaries, like sunlight with vampires or silver with werewolves. However, “It” really needed to be unstoppable to be intimidating. Making it susceptible to bullets and electricity took a little too much away from its mystique. I also expected some sort of clever trap for the creature rather than a killing blow, which would have made more sense and kept the monster from losing its edge.

I also wasn’t particularly enthralled with the first kill of the movie, in which a young woman is discovered grotesquely contorted on a beach after fleeing from the creature. The way she was bent around struck me as a bit too comical, and I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of bendy-straw pretzel-making shenanigans the creature had to go through to get that effect. I imagine it wasn’t unlike making a balloon animal.

Back to a positive: I loved the way this movie used the underlying sexual anxieties of youth as a way to tap into a latent social fear. I think the best horror movies always do that to some degree, and it helps the film get a foot in the door to the viewer’s psyche, which makes it more effective at being genuinely horrific and unsettling. That is one of the biggest shortcomings of most Hollywood horrors made nowadays if you ask me.

Likewise, It Follows is very deliberate and creative in its use of color and light, particularly when it comes to shadows and water. Both the back yard pool and the finale municipal pool are shot in ways that are visually striking, and the blues always find a way to pop against the surroundings. All of the interior shots in the various are kept dark and are shot tightly, giving a distinct sense of claustrophobia and discomfort.

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Recommendation:

I can’t recommend It Follows highly enough. For many horror fans, I think It Follows and The Babadook have served as beacons of hope for the genre, and counterpoints to lazy Hollywood horrors like Ouija and Annabelle. I’m a little surprised that audiences haven’t been more receptive to It Follows on the whole. My guess is that the slow build of tension didn’t work for a lot of general audiences, who aren’t accustomed to atmospheric horror, and are more conditioned for jump scares and a simpler horror formula.

Water Foul: DeepStar Six

DeepStar Six

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Today’s movie is one of the numerous 1989 deep ocean science fiction flicks: DeepStar Six.

DeepStar Six was written by two people: Geof Miller (House IV) and Lewis Abernathy (Terminal Invasion, House IV), neither of whom have many other writing credits of note.

DeepStar Six was directed and produced by Sean Cunningham, who was also behind Friday the 13th, The New Kids, and Spring Break, and also acted as a producer on Jason X and House.

The cinematographer on the film was Mac Ahlberg, who also shot such films as Re-Animator, King of the Ants, Evil Bong, Good Burger, Space Truckers, From Beyond, Dolls, Trancers, Ghoulies, and House.

The editor for DeepStar Six was David Handman, who also cut Jason X and Wishmaster, and served as assistant editor on Footloose and Staying Alive.

The music for the film was provided by Harry Manfredini, who also provided scores for House, Swamp Thing, Friday the 13th, Wishmaster, Jason X, and The Omega Code.

Aside from Sean Cunningham, the producers for DeepStar Six were Mario Kassar (Showgirls, Angel Heart, Red Heat, Total Recall, Jacob’s Ladder, Terminator 2), Patrick Markey (The Quick and The Dead, Joy Ride, House), and Andrew Vajna (Judge Dredd, The 13th Warrior, First Blood).

The special effects team included Steve Wang (Hell Comes To Frogtown), Mike Trcic (Leviathan), Doyle Smiley (Slipstream (2007)), Mark Shostrom (From Beyond), Robert Olmstead (Best Seller, Cellular, Predator 2), Steve Patino (From Beyond, Hell Comes To Frogtown), Greg Nicotero (Maniac Cop 3, The Black Cat, Dreams In The Witch House), James McLoughlin (Wolf, Son Of The Mask), Karen Mason (Leviathan, Congo, Lake Placid), Robert Kurtzman (Maniac Cop 3, From Beyond), David Kindlon (Leprechaun, Hell Comes to Frogtown, From Beyond, Wolf), Mike Edmonson (Daredevil, Wild Wild West), James Cummins (Jaws 3-D), Gino Crognale (Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Troll, From Beyond), Francis Coates (Leonard Part 6), Everett Burrell (Re-Animator, Troll, Castle Freak), Al Broussard (Speed 2: Cruise Control), and John Blake (From Beyond, Leviathan),

The cast of DeepStar Six includes Taurean Blacque (Hill Street Blues), Nancy Everhard (The Punisher), Greg Evigan (TekWar), Miguel Ferrer (RoboCop, Twin Peaks, Hot Shots Part Deux), Nia Peeples (Blues Brothers 2000), and Cindy Pickett (Evolver, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off).

deepstar3The plot to DeepStar Six follows the population of an experimental deep water military colony that comes under attack by a mysterious sea monster.

DeepStar Six kicked off the 1989 deep sea sci-fi boom, which also featured Leviathan, The Abyss, The Rift, Lords of the Deep, and The Evil Below. However, the early bird failed to get the worm on this occasion: the film just barely broke even on its theatrical run.

Robert Harmon (best known for The Hitcher) was initially going to direct the film, but left the production before filming. Cunningham, who was set to produce, took on the directing role as well.

The reception to DeepStar Six was pretty negative, likely due to unfavorable comparisons to the similar, more impressive films The Abyss and Leviathan. It currently holds a 5.1 rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 0% (critics) and 22% (audience).

I noticed from reading around that some more recent reviews of DeepStar Six compare it to 1998’s Sphere, which strikes me as a genuinely more similar movie to DeepStar Six than both of its major contemporaries, The Abyss and Leviathan.

The monster isn’t nearly as impressive as the bizarre concoction in Leviathan or the creatures from The Abyss, and that makes for a pretty significant comparative weakness. Personally, I thought it just looked like a Graboid from Tremors. The cast also isn’t nearly as deep for DeepStar Six as the other two movies, though I absolutely love Miguel Ferrer going increasingly off his rocker in this film.

deepstar2deepstar4Overall, DeepStar Six isn’t an awful flick, it just pales in comparison to its peers. If this had come out a year or more earlier, people probably would have been less harsh to it. That said, it is also far from fantastic: the pacing is certainly not great, and most of the components of the film are mediocre from top to bottom. It doesn’t deserve the abysmal reputation that it has accrued, and I think the more recent reviews and ratings of the film reflect that. This movie isn’t garbage, it is just middling, and to a certain degree a victim of its historical context.

As far as a recommendation goes, the only thing I loved about this movie was Miguel Ferrer’s over-the-top performance. The story plods along, and feels like the broad-strokes plot of Deep Blue Sea stretched to its absolute limit. The movie works fine as background noise if you just want to have something on Netflix, but it isn’t something people should particularly seek out.