Monday, March 31, 2014

The Tall Man's Reign of Terror Continues in Phantasm V: Ravager

Of all the sequels that are scheduled for release next year, one took me completely by surprise--Phantasm V: Ravager, the long-awaited final installment of Don Coscarelli's bizarre horror series that began way back in 1979.

News of the sequel first appeared last week, although Coscarelli has stated that Ravager has quietly been in production for the last two years. Five main cast members from the original movie will be in the sequel, including Angus Scrimm as the enigmatic Tall Man, although Coscarelli has handed the director's chair over to animator David Hartman. According to Coscarelli, Ravager will feature a few surprises for the fans and a trip to the Tall Man's home world, wherever (or whenever?) that may be. With this being the final entry, I hoping that we’ll at least see a brief cameo by James Le Gros, the alternate Mike from Phantasm II (1988).

Even though Ravager has completed production, nothing has been said yet about the exact date of its 2015 release or how it will be distributed. Click here to go to the official Phantasm site for more updates, and check out the first trailer for Ravager in the video window below.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Five Indiana Jones Crossovers I'd Like to See

Since Disney acquired Lucasfilm and announced the production of a new trilogy of Star Wars movies, rumors have been circulating about the fate of Lucasfilm's other hot property: Indiana Jones. Some say that Harrison Ford's return to the Star Wars franchise was contingent upon him returning to the role of Indy in at least one more movie, while others believe that the next Indiana Jones film will be a reboot with a younger actor sporting the familiar Fedora-and-whip combo. Regardless of what ultimately happens to everyone's favorite pulp archeologist, here are five Indiana Jones crossovers that I would like to see. Click below to see my wish list, arranged according to personal preference.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Body Horror Gets Grafted to Pulp Crime Drama in American Mary (2012)

As horror subgenres go, body horror is a tough nut to crack. At its best, body horror explores the dysfunctional nexus between humanity's abstract concept of self and the imperfect, messy nature of organic existence. Unfortunately, portraying this confused, distraught and sometimes psychotic relationship in a cinematic narrative is far from easy, since the physical dimension of body horror (i.e., gore, decay and disfigurement) is much easier to depict than the psychological; hence, many filmmakers explore body horror through more mundane and straightforward plot structures. Such is the case of American Mary, a 2012 Canadian horror film that was written and directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska. Click below for my complete review.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Home 3D Moves Ahead with LG LED Passive 3D HDTVs

When it comes to home 3D entertainment, the Mrs. and I have fallen on hard times. Our Vizio 3D HDTV shorted out a while back and we didn't have the money to get it completely repaired; thus, while we were able to get the picture back, it would've cost us an extra few hundred to get the part of the TV fixed that sends the 3D signal out to the active 3D glasses. We loved having our high-definition screen back, but our 3D glasses and 3D Blu-ray discs began to collect many layers of dust because there was no way to use them.

I've seen many attempts to transfer 3D entertainment over to television and for a very long time, most of them were spectacular failures. When I was growing up during the '80s and cathode ray tube (CRT) TV sets ruled the world, I remember several attempts on both network and syndicated television to provide 3D content through a passive anaglyph (i.e., red and blue) format. Unfortunately, even the best efforts were only intermittently successful, since CRT screens lacked the image fidelity and color consistency to maintain the illusion of depth. The only successful 3D TV I saw on a CRT screen was through a Virtual FX 3D converter unit, which used shutter glasses (i.e., active 3D) to great effect. Through that experience, I reached the conclusion that active 3D was the best way to go for home 3D entertainment and we bought an active 3D HDTV when the opportunity presented itself, even though the shutter glasses cost extra (dammit).

A Virtual FX 3D Converter, with shutter glasses.

Thankfully, times have changed. We recently picked up an LG Electronics Cinema 3D LED HDTV with passive 3D glasses and it is amazing, showing that passive 3D really does have a future in home 3D entertainment after all. In contrast to the Vizio shutter glasses, the LG passive 3D glasses are lightweight, included with the TV, and require no batteries or charging--you just put them on and you're ready to go. Just about everything we have watched on our LG HDTV looks almost flawless with minimal ghosting, regardless of whether the video source was a Blu-ray disc, a 3D rental from our cable service, or an on-demand 3D title from Netflix. (Of course, the quality of a 3D viewing experience is just as dependent upon the source material as it is on its means of presentation, so even the best 3D TV still can't fix a poor 3D transfer.)

The LG set we have is spectacular and its passive 3D looks even better than the active 3D Vizio system, so it's appears that passive 3D is the way to go for cost-effective three-dimensional home entertainment. If you're a 3D fan who is looking to buy a new 3D HDTV or upgrade to another 3D HDTV, I highly recommend what LG has to offer.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Hokey Filipino Exploitation Flicks Get the Spotlight in Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010)

Low-budget filmmaking has been around for as long as people have been making films, and such cost-cutting movies usually feature subject matter that is often regarded as exploitative as a way to secure a profit despite a shoestring budget. Yet not all cheapjack exploitation flicks come from the same place, a fact that is emphasized in the 2010 documentary, Machete Maidens Unleashed!

I recently saw Machete Maidens through Netflix's on-demand service and it provides a lighthearted overview of grindhouse exploitation films from the late '50s up to the early '80s that were made in the Philippines during the rule of Ferdinand Marcos. As the official Machete Maidens site proclaims, "Boasting cheap labour, exotic scenery and non-existent health and safety regulations, the Philippines was a dreamland for exploitation filmmakers whose renegade productions were soon engulfing drive-in screens around the globe like a tidal schlock-wave!"

Machete Maidens contextualizes where the grungy exploitation Filipino films fit within both American and international film history. Cast and crew members from many of these films are interviewed, including noted genre filmmakers such as Roger Corman, John Landis and Joe Dante. Landis' comments are hilarious, and the coverage of Dante's involvement in Filipino exploitation movies provides key insights into his approach to later work such as Piranha, The Howling and Gremlins. (Fun trivia fact: The "machete maidens" that are named in the documentary's title is a nod to Dante's 1976 parody of Filipino exploitation films, Hollywood Boulevard.)

Even though it provides a fun look into the absurd world of low-budget film production, Machete Maidens unintentionally puts the concept of free speech into a unique perspective. If a Filipino filmmaker wanted to make a movie in the '70s to examine and criticize the Marcos regime, that person would have been thrown in jail (or worse); however, if an American film producer who wanted to make a flick with gore, gunplay and gratuitous nudity in the Philippines during the same decade, Marcos would welcome that person with open arms and even permit the usage of real Filipino military equipment as props and real Filipino soldiers as extras(!).

Machete Maidens Unleashed! is an amusing and informative documentary that I would recommend to anyone who has fond memories of the exploitation films that were shown in drive-ins and available for VHS rental at local video stores. For those who are particularly interested in low-budget exploitation horror, you might also want to check out The Weird World of Eerie Publications: Comic Gore That Warped Millions of Young Minds by Mike Howlett, a book that chronicles the publication of horror comics from the same era (although not from the Philippines).

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Busts and Model Kits of B-Movie Creature Features (Part 3 of 3): Alien Invaders

In this final post of my three-part series devoted to fan-made creature feature busts and model kits, we'll be taking a look at items based on alien invasion movies.

If you’re interested in picking up a B-movie creature feature bust or model kit for yourself, I've found some places online where you can learn more about these kinds of products. The Amazing Figure Modeler magazine site has links to artists and companies that specialize in creature feature stuff, as well as tips for model making in general. The Monster Model Review site also features links to bust and model artists and companies, as well as video reviews of various kits. For additional pictures of B-movie creature feature busts and model kits, you can check out sites such as The Doctor’s Model Mansion and The Garage Kit Model Gallery of Monster Jones.

The prices of B-movie creature feature busts and model kits are more expensive than reissues of classic Aurora monster model kits, with prices frequently ranging from around $50 to somewhere in the hundreds. Thus, if you're going to buy a kit of this type, be sure that your hobby skills of assembly and painting are up to the challenge. It should also be noted that the kits themselves vary in terms of how accurate they are in representing their source material, so plenty will depend upon how much you're willing to pay for something that misses certain details of your favorite B-grade movie monster.

Click below to see a selection of B-movie alien invader busts and model kits.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Busts and Model Kits of B-Movie Creature Features (Part 2 of 3): Dinosaurs and Monsters

In this second post of my three-part series devoted to B-movie creature feature busts and model kits, we'll be taking a look at items based on dinosaur and monster movies.

I'm not well-versed in the history of fan-made busts and model kits within the horror and sci-fi fandom. I suspect that it probably has much to do with the "monster kid" culture fostered by Forrest J. Ackerman and his Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, as well as Aurora's model kits from the '60s and '70s that were based on popular monsters such as Dracula, the Mummy, and Frankenstein's Monster; as such, what fascinates me the most about the kits is the wide selection of films they cover. The creature features depicted by these items range from classics to cult classics to the very obscure, and almost all points in between. (For example, I even found a kit based on a TV movie from 1972 named Gargoyles.) Some of them represent instances of practical effects at their finest, such as kits based on the works of Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen, while others represent instances where describing the effects as amateurish is a compliment. Much like the box cover art of the VHS rental heyday, some of these kits display a much greater sense of artistry and skill than the movies they represent.

Regardless of their source materials, these kits are labors of love by model makers of all ages, and I hope that this tradition of capturing the wonder of creature features in busts and model kits continues within the fandom for many generations to come. Click below to see a selection of B-movie dinosaur and monster busts and model kits.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Busts and Model Kits of B-Movie Creature Features (Part 1 of 3): Big Bugs and Mad Science

Throughout the decades, horror and sci-fi fans have shown their appreciation of their favorite titles and franchises in a number of ways: customized action figures, cosplay, fan fiction, fan clubs, and so on. This three-part series of posts will focus on one particular form of fan devotion: fan-made busts and garage kits.

According to Wikipedia, "A garage kit or resin kit is an assembly scale model kit most commonly cast in polyurethane resin. ... Originally garage kits were amateur-produced and the term originated with dedicated hobbyists using their garages as workshops. Unable to find model kits of subjects they wanted on the market, they began producing kits of their own. As the market expanded, professional companies began making similar kits. Sometimes a distinction is made between true garage kits, made by amateurs, and resin kits, manufactured professionally by companies. ... Because of the labor-intensive casting process, garage kits are usually produced in limited numbers and are more expensive than injection-molded plastic kits. The parts are glued together using cyanoacrylate (Super Glue) or an epoxy cement and the completed figure is painted. Some figures are sold completed, but most commonly they are sold in parts for the buyer to assemble and finish."

What particularly fascinates me about the creature feature busts and garage kits (aside from my usual obsession with finely detailed miniatures) is how they range from monsters that have appeared in well-known movies to monsters that are very obscure. Classic Universal Studios monsters have been immortalized in various action figure lines and Aurora model kits, while monster franchises from later decades have ensured their longevity through merchandising licenses with companies such as Sideshow Collectibles and NECA. But when if comes to monster from a lesser known films--say, low-budget Atomic Age drive-in fare--fan-made busts and garage kits are one way that these obscure oddities keep themselves known in horror and sci-fi circles.

I've searched the Internet for pictures of the busts and kits for inclusion in this post series. Some of these bust and kits are fan-made while others have been made and produced by collectible companies; most of them display the name of the creature feature (often in the same font and coloring that was used in the feature's poster) to identify where the monster originated. Click below to see examples that represent two subgenres within creature features, Big Bugs and Mad Science.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

There's a Mutant Fungus Among Us in Matango (1963)

Given how much Ishiro Honda has contributed to the horror film subgenre of kaiju flicks, it's easy to forget some of the other top-notch horror films that he made throughout his career. Case in point: Matango, Honda's surreal mood piece from 1963 that was loosely adapted from the short story "The Voice in the Night" by William Hope Hodgson.

Matango tells the story of the crew of a luxury yacht, which consists of a wealthy Japanese businessman, five of his friends, and a hired skipper. After a violent storm interrupts their leisurely afternoon excursion at sea, the yacht's crew becomes stranded on an uncharted island. Their search for food and shelter leads them to the remains of an abandoned schooner that's covered by an odd and possibly edible fungus. As the crew's cohesion as a group begins to deteriorate, they learn more about the connection between the missing schooner crew and the fungus and that they too might share the same ghastly fate.

The outwardly simple plot of Matango allows for comparisons to subsequent horror films such as The Flesh Eaters, Planet of the Vampires and Night of the Living Dead. It also doesn't help that the American release of Matango renamed it with an amusingly hokey title: Attack of the Mushroom People. Yes, there are disfigured, mushroom-like people who attack during the course of the movie, but Honda directed this film not as a cheapjack creature feature but as a character-driven commentary about the decadent upper class that rose to power in Japan in the shadow of the Atomic Age.

A "mushroom people" mask from Matango.

Matango is essentially a story about the corrosive nature of addiction, with the fungus and the deleterious effects it has on those who consume it being the symbols of addition. In that regard, the most obvious source of influence for Matango and the story upon which it is based is the lotus-eaters segment in Homer's The Odyssey--namely, the idea of how an addiction can cause people to lose touch with who and what they really are. Where Matango differs from that concept and Hodgson's original story is in Honda's suggestion that the yacht crew were already addicted to wealth and the seemingly unlimited pleasures that it provides long before they arrived on the island.

The crew's separation from affluence causes their social hierarchy to dissolve into chaotic self-interest; the crew's eventual fungal addiction merely externalizes what was already present within their hearts and minds. Honda's effective usage of dreamlike visions and gaudy flashbacks throughout the second half of the film emphasizes how the crew members are not only losing touch with reality, but that their grasp on reality was already distorted due to their privileged lifestyles.

The fungus also represents the destructive nature of atomic warfare, since the fungus' origin in the movie is attributed to genetic mutation caused by radiation. Such a connection adds a grim sense of urgency to the movie's moral lesson, that ignoring the dangers of atomic technology in favor of unbridled self-indulgence will ultimately destroy all of humanity. (Thematically speaking, the fate of the wrecked schooner's crew is very similar to the crew of the abandoned fishing boat in one of Honda's previous Atomic Age-influenced films, The H-Man.)

Monday, March 3, 2014

Adam West Goes Mego in the Classic TV Batman 8-Inch Action Figure Series

Last April, I published a post about how various toy companies are planning the release of Batman merchandise based on the live-action TV series from the '60s and other classic collectibles. Of those companies, Figures Toy Company has been producing figures under its "Batman Retro Action Figures" line that are identical to the figure designs used by Mego during the '70s. Two sets of these 8-inch figures have already been released, and a third set is on its way.

Along those lines, Figures Toy Company is currently taking pre-orders for another line of Mego-based Batman figures, the "Classic TV Batman Action Figures". Like the Mego designs, these 8-inch figures have cloth costumes and multiple points of articulation; however, as the toy line's name suggests, the figures' likenesses are based on the actors who appeared on the '60s Batman TV series. The first set of Classic TV figures will include Batman, Robin, the Joker and the Riddler, and their head sculpts match how they were portrayed by Adam West, Burt Ward, Cesar Romero and Frank Gorshin.

Even though the original Mego Batman action figures weren't intended to capture the likeness of any actor, the Batman TV series was so widely distributed on syndication during the '70s that Mego based some of its Batman toys and advertisements after the aesthetics of the live-action show. As you can see in the Mego toy commercial below, the Batmobile for the Mego figures looks like the Batmobile from the show, the background music matches the show's theme song, and the commercial is narrated in a way that matches William Dozier's narrative style. Thus, by producing figures that are directly based on the live-action Batman series, Figures Toy Company is bringing this particular chapter of the Batman franchise to a full circle.

Below are individual pictures of the Classic TV Batman Action Figures that provide a closer look at the new head sculpts. Future figures will include The Penguin, Catwoman, King Tut, Mr. Freeze, Bookworm and Mad Hatter.