Archive for the Cyborgs Category

Transmissions to Earth: DEADLY FRIEND (1986)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2013, Cyborgs, Family Secrets, LL Soares Reviews, Medical Experiments!, Morgue Hijinks, ROBOTS!, Trasmissions to Earth, Twist Endings, Wes Craven Movies with tags , , , , , , on May 30, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH Presents:

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DEADLY FRIEND (1986)
Review by L.L. Soares
Deadly-Friend-movie-poster

It’s no secret that I’m not much of a fan of the SCREAM movies by director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson. And I think their collaboration, CURSED (2005), is even worse. But I wasn’t always down of Craven’s films. There was a time when I was actually a fan. Just not lately.

He started out his career with one of the most intense and disturbing horror flicks ever made, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), which remains one of my favorite horror films ever. This one had a real edge to it that made it one of the high points of 1970s horror. And after that, Craven made some other solid movies, like the original THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) and the first A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984), which isn’t perfect, but was, as we now know, influential as hell. It gave the world Freddy Krueger.

But once Craven drifted into the mid-to-late 1980s and the 90s, his output wasn’t that impressive. This was the time of movies like SHOCKER (1989), THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991), and NEW NIGHTMARE (1994), which a lot of people thought reinvigorated the Freddy series, but which I didn’t care for, and then, of course SCREAM (1996) and its sequels.

I can’t say all of his output from this period was awful. I am a big fan of his 1988 voodoo movie THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW. But for the most part, I just stopped being that interested in what Wes Craven was putting out anymore.

Somehow, I completely missed DEADLY FRIEND (1986), when it first came out. And rediscovering it now, so many years later, I find that it is pretty dated, especially since its plot has a lot to do with computers and robotics. And yet, it has a kind of creative spark and charm to it that is lacking in most of his later films.

Based on the novel “Friend” by Diana Henstell, DEADLY FRIEND is the story of computer nerd Paul Conway (Matthew Labyorteaux, probably most famous before this as Albert Ingalls on the TV series LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRARIE), who moves into a new neighborhood with his single mom, Jeannie (Anne Twomey). Even though he’s the age when he should be in high school, Paul is a genius who has skipped a bunch of grades and has just enrolled in the local Polytechnic Institute. And he has already built his first robot, a clunky, goofy bucket of bolts named BB, which he claims has the power to learn. He even calls it an “A.I.” which is pretty amazing, since he’s a kid who built a robot in his basement, and major experts in the field of computer science have not figured out how to give a computerized brain the ability to think on its own.

But hey, that just goes to show you how smart Paul is. Not only has he built a fully functioning robot – which is an achievement on its own – but his can think!

Loveable robot "BB" is fun, playful, and he has a fully functioning mind!

Loveable robot “BB” is fun, playful, and has a fully functioning brain!

Right away, moving into their new house, Paul makes a friend: the local paper boy Tom Toomey (Michael Sharrett), who sees the robot and asks what it is. So much for computer nerds not being social. Paul and Tom hit it off right away, and Tom tells Paul all about the neighborhood he’s just moved into. Other local highlights include the spooky, gated house of the reclusive Elvira Parker (Anne Ramsey, who also played Mama in THROW MAMA FROM THE TRAIN, 1987) who clearly doesn’t want any visitors, and Samantha Pringle (Kristy Swanson, also in FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF, 1986), who goes by Sam, and who lives next door to Paul with her drunken, abusive father, Harry (Richard Marcus).

So Paul seems to fit in right off the bat. Not only does he immediately find a buddy, but he gets the pretty girl, too. Sam comes over with a housewarming gift of store-bought donuts (explaining that her father wouldn’t let her bake something), and you just know where that’s headed. Paul spends a lot of time with Tom and Sam, but it’s clearly Sam he’s most interested in, and who can blame him. She is the original BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1992) after all. And Sam seems more than eager to spend a lot of time hanging out at Paul’s house, since it gets her away from her creepy dad, who’s always drinking and shouting, and who comes into her room late at night (we never really see him do anything to her, and she tells him to get out when she wakes to find him hovering over her bed, but, well…).

Then things start to go bad. It begins on Halloween night when they get BB to open the gate to Mrs. Parker’s house, so they can play a prank on her. She comes out with a shotgun and blasts poor BB to kingdom come. So much for Paul’s revolutionary robot. Maybe he should take better care of his toys! Especially if they are scientific marvels!

Then, during an especially drunken binge, Harry Pringle berates Sam for sneaking out of the house on Thanksgiving (imagine that! She would rather have a normal Thanksgiving dinner with Paul and his mom than cower in her room while Daddy drinks and shouts at the television!). He slaps her, and she falls down the stairs, hitting her head against a wall, and dies. Harry tells the police that she tripped.

Paul can’t accept that she’s dead. So when she is taken off of life support, he sneaks into the hospital and performs some quick surgery on her corpse, imbedding the memory chip from good old BB into her brain. He and Tom take her away and put her in the shed behind Tom’s house.

Sam comes back to “life,” but at first she’s little more than a zombie, with big circles around her eyes and limited responsiveness. She has to learn to sit up, stand, and walk around, all over again. Then she sees her father through the shed’s window and learns something new – the desire for revenge. It’s not long before people start turning up dead, starting with dear old Dad and moving on to that cranky old bitch, Mrs. Parker (the scene where Sam kills Elvira Parker by throwing a basketball at her head, and squashing it like a melon, has become a classic). The police are baffled as to who is doing these things, and Tom threatens to go to the cops (he can’t live with the knowledge anymore), but it’s not long after that that the secret is out, and the police are tracking down the resurrected Sam in a parking lot.

You can tell she's the evil reanimated Sam because of the dark circles around her eyes.

You can tell she’s the evil reanimated Sam because of the dark circles around her eyes… oh and the stiff robotic movements!

There’s a lot about this movie that is pretty goofy, from the robot BB in the beginning (it’s so cutesy-looking, it looks like a refugee from the movie SHORT CIRCUIT, 1986) to the fact that Sam’s abusive father, Harry, seems more quirky than scary. He almost seems like a comic relief character until you realize exactly what he’s doing to his daughter when the lights are off. Imagine how much more effective this movie could have been if his character was played by an actor who could actually make him as serious and disturbing as he should have been?  You think that maybe the filmmakers here were too uncomfortable to show Harry for what he really was – and then you realize – this is the guy who directed LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT!!

The science in this movie is pretty laughable, and the computer talk is outdated and just plain silly at this point. But somehow, the movie is still very watchable. The acting, for the most part, is pretty good in this one. Matthew Labyorteaux is goofy but likable as Paul, and he’s believable as some boy genius who’s emotionally stunted. Anne Towmey is equally likable as Paul’s mom, and Michael Sharrett is fine as Tom Toomey.

The real reason to see this one, though, for me anyway, is Kristy Swanson. I’ve always liked her, and her character Sam is extremely likable here, with an awkwardness that comes from constantly hiding family secrets from the outside world. When Paul first meets Sam, he notices a bruise on her arm, which immediately defines her for us, and I was actually bummed out that Sam and Paul never really get to go “all the way” before Sam’s untimely death. Their relationship maintains a kind of odd innocence throughout.

I just wish that the rest of the movie was up to the performances. The script by Bruce Joel Rubin (who also wrote the incredibly sentimental GHOST, and the much more interesting JACOB’S LADDER, both from 1990) is lighter and a bit sillier than it should have been. A little bit darker, and more serious, take on this this subject matter would have helped this become a much more substantial movie. And the light touch Wes Craven uses with the direction doesn’t help. You can tell that this was made during the same decade as THE GOONIES, 1986, and E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL). By this point in time, too, you could already tell that Craven was much more interested in making easily-accessible commercial films than the hard-edged movies of his youth (that harder edge would have actually made DEADLY FRIEND much more effective).

I liked DEADLY FRIEND much more than I expected to, and I recommend that fans of 80s movies seek this one out, but I’m also disappointed that it wasn’t handled better. It just seems like a missed opportunity, which happened a lot in Wes Craven movies around this time (which makes THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW all the more fascinating, because it stands out so much from his other films of this period).

Oh, this one also has a “shock ending” which was pretty typical of horror movies from the 1980s. I almost hate to spoil it here, but it’s so damn silly, I have to mention it. After poor Sam dies a second time, Paul goes to find her in the morgue. He pulls out the drawer she’s in and looks down at her, and she grabs him. But it is then revealed that an evil version of the robot BB is underneath her skin and pops out.

Evil BB makes a shocking appearance at the end...

Evil BB makes a shocking appearance at the end…

What the hell?? There is absolutely no logical reason for this ending. I would say it was a crazy dream, but there is nothing to show us Paul is dreaming. How would imbedding a microchip into a corpse’s skull transform it into a complete robot underneath its human skin? This has to be one of the stupidest endings of all time.

But it sure did make me laugh out loud.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

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Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter Makes Room for WHO? (1973)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, Cold War Chills, Cyborgs, Lady Anachronism's Fallout Shelter, Science Fiction, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel Columns with tags , , , , , on July 17, 2012 by knifefighter

Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter Presents:
WHO? (1973)
Movie Review by Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

Pull up a chair, pass around some rations, and get comfortable. Here at Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter, I’ll take you back into time, when Atomic Age cats and dolls fretted over the bomb and visions of alien invaders flickered on the big screen at the local drive-in. Technological or political developments may have made these films obsolete, but I hope you’ll join me in rediscovering forgotten Cold War-era cinema.

It’s a scorching-hot summer, so it’s the perfect time to chill out with some Cold War concoctions.

Unless you’re a young whippersnapper, you probably remember a time when Americans feared nuclear attack from our most dreaded enemy, the Soviet Union. Communism was a threat that led to the construction of bomb shelters. Most schoolchildren participated in bomb drills that involved ducking and covering under their desks. Even into the 1980s, when I was in elementary school, there was a sense of dread that the Russians could attack at any time. Would we be able to retaliate? How much time did we have? Should we make the first strike? Espionage, intrigue, and fear made this a great time to make films or write books.

 

WHO? (1973)—which was also called ROBO MAN—is based on the phenomenal 1958 Algis Budrys novel “Who?” The film opens with two cars driving along, one of which seems to be pushing the other off the road. There’s a horrific crash. We discover that the lone survivor of this crash was an American scientist named Lucas Martino (Joseph Bova), who has sustained severe injuries. The Soviets save his life. His skull was crushed, necessitating a metal helmet-type apparatus over his cranium and face. A chest plate keeps his heart beating, and a metallic arm was used to replace the missing limb.

A group of American government agents are then seen waiting outside of a gated area, discussing Dr. Martino’s return to America. As Martino is led to the Allied outpost, the men discover, to their horror, that Martino is now a metallic man. His facial features are obscured by this mask. FBI agent Sean Rogers (Elliott Gould) is unconvinced that the metal man is really Martino. He believes his archenemy, Colonel Azarin (Trevor Howard), is handing over a Russian spy instead.

Unless you’ve read the novel (and maybe even if you have), the opening sequences of this film are confusing. The film deviates from the book substantially in that Martino is disfigured in an explosion while working on his secret K-88 project in the novel. This gives the Soviets a more plausible motive for wanting to keep Martino alive. The film version of Martino is also working on a secret project called Project Neptune, but there seems to be no connection between the automobile accident that nearly killed him and that project. There’s no solid explanation given for why Martino’s car was pushed off the road.

Martino is not immediately returned to the United States. Instead, he (and the audience) endures endless interrogation. Rogers keeps him in a small room in an Allied facility to learn his true identity. He’s convinced that Azarin either sent a Russian spy in Martino’s place or brainwashed the real Martino into spying for the Russians. This film (and the book, for that matter), would have been extremely short and pointless today. Even if the Soviet Union still existed, DNA testing would solve this matter quickly. Fingerprinting was certainly a widely used identification method even in the 1950s, but this is dismissed by Rogers. He’s so skeptical that he believes Martino’s one natural arm might be someone else’s.

In flashbacks, we get glimpses of Martino’s interrogation by the Soviets. We also learn about his early life, his loves, and his brilliant mind. Bova does the best he can with the material he’s given. He manages to give emotion to Martino, a man whose own expressions are veiled in mystery. Being able to emote under a ridiculous metal mask is a remarkable feat, but sadly one that couldn’t save WHO? from being a snooze-fest.

Even so, WHO? could have been an amazing film. Budrys’s novel is a thrilling, fast-paced mystery, despite the obsolete circumstances. Even though we know that the Soviet Union no longer exists and DNA testing would clear up any doubts about Dr. Martino’s identity, Budrys was such an amazing storyteller that even a modern reader wonders right up until the end about the man beneath the metal helmet. After an hour of insisting that he’s really Martino, viewers of the film will probably stop caring. Too much time is given in the film to interrogation and Rogers’s own skepticism. The real suspense in the novel comes when Martino is finally released back into society. Had they released a spy? The FBI had to keep tabs on this man because they believed him to be a real threat. It’s to the film’s disadvantage that it focuses on questioning rather than exploring the real fear of unleashing a potential enemy upon the populace.

About an hour into the film, something interesting finally happens, something unintentionally hilarious. A car chase, complete with bass- and guitar-heavy 1970s-style car chase music, ensues just before Martino is put on a plane to return to the U.S. Some bad guys of unknown and unexplained origin start shooting at the plane. This chase feels tacked-on even by 1970s car chase standards. I won’t ruin the one interesting part of WHO? for you, but I will tell you that it really doesn’t advance the plot of the film.

Martino makes it back to America, Miami to be exact. In the novel, Martino lived in New York. New York seems more appropriate. The metal-headed man seems oddly out of place among the palm trees. If a cyborg could blend in anywhere, it would be New York City. He wants to go back to work on Project Neptune, but he’s being tailed by the FBI and isn’t cleared to go back to work.

One of the many problems I have with the film version of WHO? is the fact that several major plot points and the twist that Budrys spent a couple hundred pages setting up are kind of tossed together in the last 30 minutes. The first hour is boring and repetitive. The last 30 minutes feel as if the filmmakers remembered that they had to wrap this thing up, so they slapped some elements of the novel into the movie. Without the proper setup, however, it seems choppy, sloppy, and confusing.

If you’re looking for a refreshing taste of Cold War paranoia while relaxing on the beach this summer, pick up a copy of the book. It will make a lot more sense and keep you on the edge of your beach chair. The film is great if you’re ready for a nap.

© Copyright 2012 by Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: LADY TERMINATOR!

Posted in 2011, 80s Horror, Action Movies, Cult Movies, Cyborgs, Exploitation Films, Grindhouse, Hot Chick Movies, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , on September 8, 2011 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES
“She Mates . . . Then She TERMINATES!
By Nick Cato


June, 1989. I see an ad in the NY Daily News for what promises to be a real wild one. I venture out of the safety of my suburban neighborhood (alone) and hit the still-sleazy pre-Guiliani Times Square for what would be my final visit to the famed area before it was cleansed a few years later. Getting off the train around 36th Street, I see a HUGE billboard poster for LADY TERMINATOR, and attempted to peel it off. No luck. I was offered weed and other substances at least five times during my eight-block trek uptown to the theater. One guy claimed to have switchblades. I kept walking, keeping my eyes straight ahead, hoping I made it to the theater in one piece.

MAN, do I miss the old NYC.

LADY TERMINATOR played solo, a rarity for a Times Square feature at that time. I attended an afternoon showing, and the place had at least a dozen people in attendance…yet I was thrilled about ten minutes into the film when screams and comments were flying as loudly as any midnight screening of ROCKY HORROR could hope for.

Check out the plot of this Indonesian import: An anthropology student named Tania Wilson (played by the beautiful Barbara Ann Constable in her ONLY credited role) becomes possessed by some ancient queen—while exploring her underwater lair. In a surreal/dream-like sequence, Tania finds herself swimming one second then tied to a huge bed the next. An eel-like creature wiggles up the sheets and into her vagina, causing her to become possessed. She soon emerges on shore (stark naked) and interrupts a lame drinking party where she wastes a couple of losers. After taking one of their leather jackets (yeah, this follows THE TERMINATOR (1984) quite closely at this point), she begins an all-out attack that’d make Hurricane Irene green with envy. While it’s never clear why this ancient sea witch is bent on revenge, the audience (and I) really didn’t care. Tania (aka the LADY TERMINATOR) goes TOTALLY BALISTIC, creating a body count ten miles high via machine guns and a couple of brutal sex scenes (Remember the tag line: “She mates…then she TERMINATES!” One blurb that lives up to its promise).

Why this woman is turned into a cyborg-type revenge creature by an ANCIENT sea witch is anyone’s guess, but that’s not even a quarter of a quarter of the flaws in this insanely ridiculous action romp. And when Tania starts her killing spree, you’ll either overlook these flaws, ride with it and have the greatest time of your trash film life, or shut the DVD off and continue to be a dullard (This film is actually playing in NYC at a rare screening in a couple of weeks—I’m freaking out that I can’t attend— hence the inspiration for this week’s column).

What put the crowd into a screaming frenzy were several repeated scenes, especially one of Tania spraying a group of military men with machine gun fire: that had to be shown at least five times. I’m guessing this saved the film crew from having to shoot from different angles? Either way, this is the type of thing that makes “so-bad-they’re-good” movies memorable.

I’m a big fan of the original TERMINATOR. BUT, I can sit through LADY TERMINATOR a thousand more times without being bored, as it contains more car chases, explosions, gore, violence, nudity and sheer insanity than a dozen low budget rip-offs combined. (It should be noted that star Barbara Ann Constable is also credited as doing the make-up for the film, too).

The most amazing aspect of LADY TERMINATOR is it’s ability to entertain to the CORE, despite a plot that’s all over the place (or not even there, depending on who you talk to), dialogue that’s beyond inept, and question after question after question and confusion on top of confusion. SOMEHOW this pile of Indonesian trash WORKS. It’s a true miracle of low-budget filmmaking that I’ve been contemplating for the past twenty-two years, made worse by my second viewing via a VHS screening in the early 90s.

I think I’m finally ready to seek this out on DVD…although when I do it’ll be hard not to toss it in the DVD player for weekly viewings.

LADY TERMINATOR was one of the greatest exploitation films I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing on the big screen with my fellow Noo Yawk trash hounds at the near-end of the GENUINE grindhouse era.

I think I’m gonna go cry now…

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

LADY TERMINATOR (Barbara Ann Constable) begins her body count that makes the original TERMINATOR look like an episode of SESAME STREET!