The Man from Planet X (1951)

The Man From Planet X is an early alien invasion film, created just a few years after the Roswell phenomenon. It was released in 1951, just months prior to the higher budgeted hit The Day the Earth Stood Still. The film was shot over a mere 6 days.

The WEIRDEST… Creature Human Eyes Have Ever Seen!

The Man From Planet X veers away from the flying saucer trope that we see over and over again in the 1950s and actually presents a pretty cool ship design which you can see in the picture above. It looks like a juicer on top of a lead shot, and is a refreshing change of pace, albeit a small one.

The movie is set in a remote and foggy Scottish island, but shot completely in California. The Scottish actors featured here are some of the most trusting you will see in any film, happy to let the American protagonist run the town after a series of disappearances. The constable even gives his bike and pistol to John Lawrence, the boringly named American lead man. Several sets are obviously painted backdrops, and many were reused from earlier films, which was pretty common for low budget movies like this one. At one point our characters are in a harbor sending signals to stock footage of a ship, and behind them is a painting of the Scottish village done by some Southern Californian 5th grade class. Really, the only reason that I can think of that they used Scotland as a setting for this film is so they could use the castle dungeon and that is a stretch.

I couldn’t find an explanation for this, so I am guessing it’s an early cosplayer.

The acting is pretty ho-hum for the most part. The still-active William Schallert produces the only speaking role worth remembering. As Dr. Mears, he lurks around in the shadows, tortures the alien for information, and tries to use alien technology for his own gain. The movie needed more characters like this, who weren’t flat and had different motives. Russian actor Pat Goldin portrayed The Man from Planet X, our film’s alien, who can only communicate with various pitches and signs. (Apparently in the film, they were able to communicate with Geometry?) Goldin does a great job of miming and bringing life to the alien with the thousand yard blank stare and no movable facial expressions.

Seriously, it can’t be easy to produce a decent performance when wearing that.

All-in-all, it’s an entertaining early invasion film that could have been so much more with just a little effort. Give up on the Scotland bit and put the alien in an American town. It was just a taste of what was to come over the next decade. The ending was poignant, and (64 year old spoiler incoming) points to the Roswell incidents, which is what it should have focused on more. The female lead is in the arms of the male lead looking out at the Scottish (Californian) expanse. The following exchange takes place:

Enid: Is it true that no one will ever know what happened here?

John: Knowledge would only bring more fear in a world already filled with it.

Enid: Can such a thing be kept a secret?

John: No. No, but it can be reduced to gossip.

How awesome would it have been as an American tale of deception and cover-ups? That early on too, it would have been something else. What we were left with was still worth having a watch, especially if you are a fan of early sci-fi films. I give The Man from Planet X a score of 2.5 out of 5 severed LEGO arms.

Halfway there

Halfway there

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The Fly (1958)

Back on the writing horse! For movie #1 of the 2015 Marathon of 31 Movies in 31 Days is The Fly from 1958. This film, starring movie legend Vincent Price was actually based on a short story from Playboy Magazine written by George Langelaand. First of, you really don’t see anything being adapted from Playboy stories anymore. I feel like in the ’60s there were all sorts of original works adapted for television and film by Shel Silverstein and Kurt Vonnegut and Ian Fleming. Maybe there’s some quality content in Playboy magazine. Who knows?

Pictured: A Very Misleading Movie Poster

The Fly features a great slowly progressing, non-linear storyline. It’s not a storytelling style that is in vogue today, and honestly, I have to be on my toes if I am watching a film like this. For all of the suspense that builds while you are waiting for the reveal, a part of me, in the back of my mind, was just ready for some action to happen already. Really, there wasn’t much action at all to my surprise, but some quality storytelling and suspense. In my opinion the reveal was worth the wait.

The effects were presented splendidly and even today don’t look hamfisted or cheesy, which is an impressive trait considering there are several movies from even the early 2000s that look dated. The Fly wasn’t terrifying to me, but it was a bit unsettling. The lighting was also great and the laboratory setup was quite impressive, especially given they only spend about $28,000 on it using mostly army surplus goods.

Science

For the many superlatives I can think up for The Fly, I was disappointed that we didn’t see more from Vincent Price. He played a very regular businessman, and we didn’t see the range of his talent. It’s a real shame.

Pictured: Not enough of this.

One thing The Fly helps me appreciate more is the story of Baxter Stockman from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The cartoon series was loaded with 50s sci-fi, horror, and B-Movie references, and Stockman’s backstory was an homage to this film. Unfortunately, now Tyler Perry is playing Stockman. I didn’t think I could hate the new iteration of the franchise more, but I do now.

A better performance by Baxter Stockman than what Tyler Perrry will give.

Overall, I would denote The Fly a classic. I wasn’t enamored by it, but I enjoyed it and recommend watching it. You can see how this film was inspiration to others. I look forward to watching the ’80s remake, since I only can remember vague gruesome images from my childhood. I’ll try to watch the sequels as well if I can find them somewhere.

I give it 4 severed LEGO arms out of 5.

Two minifigs worth of severed arms.

Two minifigs worth of severed arms.

Trying it again this year!

Last year I made it to #8 on my list. Pretty embarrassing. I did watch a film every day over the course of October, which was a big ask, but I failed to blog about them all.

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I give myself one severed LEGO arm.

So, for anyone reading, I hope to write about all 31 movies I watch this year. Tonight I hope to watch The Fly (1958) with Vincent Price. I’ve embedded a link to the trailer below. Can’t wait!!

Cabin in the Woods

Cabin in the Woods is the first on my list that is a rewatch. (Addams Family was a rewatch from when I was a child but I couldn’t remember a thing) The first time I watched it was just after a Joss Whedon AMA on Reddit, where he was pushing his new films, Cabin in the Woods and The Avengers. Despite being a bit of a jerk to a number of his fans, he sold me on Cabin in the Woods as I had just watched Firefly and he could do no wrong at that point. I still think he’s a bit of a jerk, and that his die-hard fans worship him a bit too much, but I am glad I was open to Cabin in the Woods, as I was not always in to horror at the time.

I don’t have a whole, whole lot to say about Cabin in the Woods. Mostly because I enjoyed it and couldn’t really find too many flaws, much like Gremlins.

I thought the standout performance in the film was by Anna Hutchison as Jules. The buildup to the makeout scene with the taxidermized wolf was priceless and it was equal parts unsettling. Also, I quite enjoyed watching the second time around as Jules gained the “weed immunity” that is revealed later in the film. Chris Hemsworth was good as always as Curt, as was Kristen Connolly as Dana.

Is that a wolf? NOPE, Chuck Testa.

Is that a wolf? NOPE, Chuck Testa.

I didn’t feel Fran Kranz as Marty was a a survivor, but a rather annoying one. I can get behind a lovable stoner (Like Shaggy or Tommy Chong), but he was just a little too despicable. Who knows, maybe this is what the filmmakers intended, but I thought his whole character arc was more annoying rather than entertaining. His humor fell flat and he wasn’t lovable in the least, making part of the movie fall apart for me. Had he been more endearing or blissfully uninterested in the world around him, I would have maybe wanted to see him survive at the end, but really I just wanted him to get pulverized by pretty much anything. Overall, the ending would have had a much different effect on me had he not been so irritating. Heck, even if you look at his character as symbolic as the viewer of a horror movie, he’s just not doing it for me. (He is seen pointing out plot flaws and inspecting film in the basement and even looks directly in to the camera)

The high point in the movie was the horror genre gauntlet. Deciding your fate in the basement was very reminiscent of Running Man to me and could be an entertaining parallel universe gameshow. The betting scenes were also fun. And it was so satisfying to see all of the monsters go wild at the end. Heck, I could watch a whole movie with various horror movie monsters attacking things. It was also a nice touch to see a unicorn be portrayed for what it is, a cold-blooded killer. (Why else would a horse have developed a horn but for to impale with?) Unfortunately we won’t be getting this satisfaction in a sequel any time soon since the filmmaker decided to be a jerk and say it couldn’t happen because he destroyed the world.

Overall, Cabin in the Woods was a refreshing look at the horror genre. If anything, it should make viewers think, all while providing ample entertainment. To me, it felt like Scooby Doo all grown up. (A lot of characters and plot points match up too!) Unfortunately I’m not too inspired to write about it because I can’t gripe and not much was quirky enough to note either. Overall, I give it 4.4 severed LEGO arms out of 5.

4point4legoarms

The Addams Family

When you mention The Addams Family to me, I think of one thing:

pinballThat’s right. Only the best pinball game to exist. Hands down. I spent countless hours as a child with rolls of quarters at the beach playing the Addams Family Pinball game. It’s so satisfying and very playable. I still find time to sneak over to the Asheville Pinball Museum and play it when they have it in. One day I plan on owning my own.

So, when Elizabeth and I sat down to watch the Addams Family movie from 1991, the only thing that came to mind was the pinball game. I have to think that this is the only movie where this is the case for anyone. Despite seeing it multiple times as a child, I had completely forgotten the plot. So for me, re-watching the Addams Family was very satisfying.

The Addams Family is endearing. It asks the viewers to shed any high-brow preconceived notions at the door, and just enjoy a bunch of goofy one-liners and absurd behaviors. What could have easily gone sour if done wrong (much like anything from Adam Sandler in the 2000s) was executed with grace. The film oozed fun from start to finish as everything just clicked. Cliche lines worked, as did the slapstick. The chemistry between the actors was there. Everything just clicked. Despite being one of a thousand Hollywood remakes, The Addams Family was made from the heart.

The movie wasn’t perfect though, and I did have a few gripes. The wonderful Christopher Lloyd was totally under-utilized for his zaniness and ability to jump at you from the screen. The writing for Fester was very flat in that regard. It’s frustrating that we couldn’t see him fly by the seat of his pants as a villain like where he played Judge Doom like in Who Framed Roger Rabbit just a few years prior. Lloyd played Fester just like the filmmakers wanted, almost constipated with confusion as to whether or not he liked the whole Addams lifestyle. I also felt that Pugsley was dull, but that happens with about two out of three child actors in big roles so I’m not too bothered by it. Besides, we did get Christina Ricci as Wednesday in one of my favorite deadpan performances ever, so I can’t complain too much about Pugsley.

A massive, massive bullet was dodged by the filmmakers when deciding to cast Anjelica Huston as Morticia instead of Cher, who wanted the role. Anjelica Huston isn’t on any of my top actresses lists, but she plays the role with charm and subtlety. I can only imagine Cher sapping all of the fun and lightheardedness out of the film as she shouts “snap out of it” to a carefree Gomez. I daresay that The Addams Family would have been a massive flop if Cher were cast. Good on you filmmakers. I’m grateful to this day.

cher

Do you believe in love afterlife?

Raúl Juliá was really the standout actor for me in the Addams Family. Despite all of the quirky amusement of the movie, part of me feels melancholic as I feel like he would have gone on to do so much more in film if not for his death shortly after making the sequel, Addams Family Values. (He was the only redeeming part of Street Fighter, an otherwise useless pile of refuse) He really stole the show with his outbursts of emotion and ability to play a naive happy-go-lucky character that you feel is going to fly off the cuff at any moment. He also apparently loved being called Gomez by random children he encountered, which is heartwarming to say the least. Not only did he bring happiness to the world through his acting, but he was quite the humanitarian too. In honor of his work with The Hunger Project, I have donated a small amount in his honor to the organization. You can too at thp.org/

Overall, I was satisfied with The Addams Family. The gags worked and I had a smile on my face the entire time. It was an entertaining film and one that I will surely show my kids one day. Overall, I give it four severed LEGO arms out of five.

That's enough for two whole LEGO people.

That’s enough for two whole LEGO people.

Hellraiser

Hellraiser is a film that I have known about forever. I remember a girl in my class winning a cardboard cutout of Pinhead in elementary school for correctly answering a question right during a fundraising event. I could imagine the look on my mom’s face if I had won that. Anyway, I wanted to see what all of the fuss was about.

Put simply, half of Hellraiser is a good movie with intrigue and the other half is a waste of time. I’ll start with the bad and go to the good, as that’s how the film progresses.

The inferior half of Hellraiser follows Clare Higgins as Julia. Unlike Lucifer in Paradise Lost or Tom from Tom & Jerry, Julia in Hellraiser is not a bad guy you can root for. She’s a adulteress, but not just any adulteress. She cheated on her future husband with his brother on the night before their wedding. In the first part of the film Julia moves back in to her husband’s old family home, the place where she committed adultery. Upon her re-entry to the room of the devilish deed, she has strong visions of the experience. She spends what feels like ages standing in the center of the room as the camera pans around during the flashbacks. This takes up a good 10-15 minutes of the film to my dismay.

It was like this from all angles.

It was like this from all angles.

After much delay, the plot thickens as her husband butchers his hand on a loose nail attempting to move a mattress up the stairs. The filmmakers make it out like it is much harder to move a mattress than it truly is too. Instead of running to a first aid kid, or having anyone go to his aid, the husband, Larry, finds his wife Julia who is still standing in the middle of the adultery room. He spills blood everywhere, and thus, brings his brother Frank back to life. Frank isn’t whole, and must gather bits and pieces from others to regain a full life. So, Julia goes on a killing spree.

It’s a boring killing spree to say the least. Grody old Julia goes to airports and hotels to seduce guys who must be desperate enough for a hooker, but not have enough cash. She brings them back to the house and hammers them to death. Nothing else really to say about her killings. They’re fit for a poor episode of a Law & Order knockoff to be honest.

All of the whores had the day off. That's how Julia seduced her prey.

All of the whores had the day off. That’s how Julia seduced her prey.

Julia’s death isn’t much to turn heads either. Re-embodied Frank takes her out not long after he’s back probably because his eyes started working again. Or maybe he had enough of her frigid and twatish demeanor. I really didn’t like Julia.

On to the good stuff.

One thing Hellraiser did exceedingly well was create an interesting lore. I felt myself wanting to know more and more about the Cenobites. Explorers of the carnal existence? Angels to some demons on others? No difference between pain and pleasure? Extradimensional? The filmmakers are hitting on something here. No wonder they made so many films, as the first one barely wets your whistle with their engrossing horror creations.

Not only are the followers of the puzzle box compelling, but they are iconic in their look too.You would be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t know about Pinhead. There’s just something inherently frightening about them. Perhaps it is that they look like one of your distant relatives that has flown off the deep end and has really seen some shit, except exponentially worse. Or it’s because they look like the final sequence in an evolutionary line of older Hot Topic crust punks. Maybe it’s their lack of empathy and feeling that makes them so inhuman despite being physiologically similar to humans.

I think I met that guy at the mall.

I think I met that guy at the mall.

Everything told, I liked Hellraiser. I would watch it again too if there was a version that edited out Julia. I would like to see more of Andrew Robinson though. (I couldn’t get enough of him as Garek in Deep Space Nine) And I will probably check out the sequels if there is promise that they follow the Cenobites and not… shiver… Julia. I give it 3.5 severed LEGO arms out of 5.

threepointfivelego

Gremlins

In my last post I talked about the wonderment of viewing a film for the first time. Well, I had never seen Gremlins if you can believe that. (Although at this point in my blog I’m sure I look more like a Luddite than a cinephile) Gremlins brought out the fascination that I always hope for in a new film.

They would get sued for this today. And they would lose.

Filmmakers would get sued for this today. And they would lose.

The thing about Gremlins (and Fright Night too) is that it doesn’t pander to a younger or dumber demographic in order to make it more accessible. It doesn’t expect you to endure endless demi-humor in order to conjure a laugh or two. It also doesn’t force an opaque agenda down your throat. Sure there are plenty of cheap laughs, but they’re ones that revolve around hours of intricate puppetry. Gremlins isn’t a children’s film but a childish film for adults. Kids can watch it, but they will have to keep up or zone out in all of the slow points. In fact, Gremlins (along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) was a strong influence on the MPAA to create the PG-13 rating, a step above PG, but not worthy of a full R rating.

Films like Gremlins are too few and far between. In the past decade or so, agenda preaching movies with low brow humor have been more common than the fun that you get in Gremlins. (Here’s looking at you Frozen with your false-feminist whiny characters, filler-humor, and absence of fun) I didn’t watch Gremlins for the longest time, because I expected it to be just that: Preachy and no fun. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It pushed the limits of what is acceptable as a children’s film, and it did it without being overly-crude.

Now entering the no fun zone.

Now entering the no fun zone.

As far as fun is concerned, Gremlins is easily one of the best films around. I could have watched an entire movie of just the tavern and theater scenes all with the gremlins their different personalities. Seeing these little guys run amok; gambling and drinking and looting candy stores brought a smile to my face. In a way, they happily reminded me of my six-year-old nephew creating chaos but making me laugh all the while.

My favorite part had to be when Gizmo was driving around the Barbie car with the Clark Gable quote in his head. I’ve been repeating it all day. Gizmo was just cute enough without being annoying. On the flipside, Furbies (an obvious ripoff of the gremlins) were a bit too annoying without the cute. It’s a wonder Hasbro weren’t sued for the Furby line.

"It takes a special kind of man... and I'm that man."

“It takes a special kind of man… and I’m that man.”

Still, I just can’t get over the overall entertainment value of Gremlins. It’s one I know I am going to watch again and enjoy just as much the second time around. Everything from the original soundtrack to the catalog of actors involved worked for me. From Phoebe Cates to Judge Reinhold to Frank Welker, I was satisfied. I give it 4.6 severed LEGO arms out of 5.

4point6legoarms