Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

Movie Reviews 356 – The Legacy (1978)

August 3, 2018

When Margaret (Katherine Ross), an interior designer gets a generous unsolicited request for a job in the English countryside, she must first persuade her partner Pete (Sam Elliott) to go. With some reluctance lingering he concedes after she suggests it as vacation opportunity and the couple soon find themselves blissfully riding a motorcycle across lush green back roads. But their carefree ride soon comes to a crashing end as they careen into a luxurious Rolls Royce. Lucky for them the occupant of the car not only promises to have the local mechanic repair their cycle but invites also them to rest at his place while they wait for the repairs.

Their first surprise is the enormous Victorian estate their rescuer, Jason Mountolive (John Standing) occupies with a large entourage of housekeepers. This includes a white habit nurse who just as soon informs them that their visit is expected to be an extended one as the cycle repairs are not expected to be completed as quick as they were led to believe. As they settle into their luxurious room Pete spies the sudden arrival of an odd array disparate individuals. They soon learn that Jason, vibrant and full of energy just earlier in the day is now at death’s door and about to bestow his possessions to one of the visitors, and shockingly that includes Margaret who was purposefully mislead into coming. But the dispensation is not simply a matter of divvying up possessions. The main handout is only to be received by one of the visitors and as the bodies mount it becomes clear that Margaret is about to inherit more than anyone could have imagined.

This movie is an entry from what I call the Satanic Seventies touched off by the success of earlier movies like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist and while it does have an interesting premise it isn’t remotely as good as any of them. One part that was frustrating was the lack of context regarding the other visitors awaiting Jason’s death. We eventually learn that they do share one common attribute but we don’t know how and why they all knew of each other before they arrived and yet Margaret, ostensibly part of the group, knew nothing about them or the reason they were assembled.

As for the group itself – one member being notably played by rocker Roger Daltrey of The Who, but Who should have stuck to vocals given his performance here – only the barest of information is given to their backgrounds despite some intriguing bits and clues. A missed opportunity to expand on their backstories especially since it was relevant to the plot and seemed to be more interesting than the path the story was taking. This was particularly surprising as the movie was based on a story and script by veteran Jimmy Sangster, an early Hammer films scribe, who has delivered much better than this. And while I’m in my rant phase I have to mention the ghastly inappropriate music score that really does not fit the mood at any point and the dreadful Kiki Dee theme song that inexplicably got top billing in the opening credits.

But there are some good points to the film. I was most impressed by the fabulous Gothic mansion and the abundant array of Victorian exotic art, Baroque paintings and portraits as well as the architecture itself. The portraits fill every inch of wall space and one I immediately noticed was the familiar Mary Shelley image – a clever hidden nod to the author of Frankenstein. I suspect that closer inspection of the many other faces would reveal other horror luminaries. And the lavish decor of a mansion would not be complete without a few hidden passages between the nooks and crannies used to good effect in the film.

While the film makers missed the boat on the characterization of the visitors they were much more successful with the commanding nurse and hints that her true lineage of which I won’t say more other than to take a close look at the movie poster. As for the horror, this one presents a mixed bag. Some of the carnage is quite shocking and surprising, but some of the butchery comes out of nowhere and are done before you can fully absorb them, especially since the characters themselves don’t seem to give them much thought.

In the end this Legacy is not befitting it’s title and I would only recommend it to those horror fans that are completists.

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Movie Reviews 355 – Angel Heart (1987)

July 27, 2018

Robert De Niro has always been one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood with roles ranging from roguish mobsters, punch drunk boxers, power hungry revolutionaries and surprisingly even in comedic portrayals. But when he took on the role of The Devil in Angel Heart it turned a lot of heads. But ever the trendsetter, DeNiro’s lord of darkness is not any red horned caricature but an immaculately attired and dignified Satan with a slick haircut and even sporting my earliest recollection of a “man bun”. Yes, this movie is different in many ways.

Beginning in post WWII New York, De Niro as Louis Cyphre (get it?) hires private eye Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) to determine the status a man named Johnny Favorite. Cypher explains to the disheveled looking Angel that Johnny, a one time singer but later war veteran who returned with post traumatic stress and is reputedly being held in a mental institution. But Cyphre has his doubts and explains that he has some outstanding business dealings with Favorite and would like Angel to substantiate Favorite’s institutionalized status. Sure enough Harry discovers that records have been falsified and with great reluctance ends up following a trail that includes a fiancee (Charlotte Rampling), a mistress and her daughter (Lisa Bonet), and former band members all of which Harry encounter in New Orleans.

This “gumshoe-horror” – for lack of a better description – is both a mystery in the traditional sense, while the horror elements are more those of human failings than supernatural ones with just a touch of voodoo rituals. But there is a distinct trail of bodies along Harry’s journey for the truth and the truth is the twist ending.

This movie was criticized more for the scenes of Lisa Bonet – a member of America’s idyllic TV family at the time for her role as one of the kids in The Cosby Show – exposing herself in a few shots and one particular racy sex scene than any of the horror gore. There is also a lot of symbolism, some obvious and others not so much – I could never figure out why but there are fans, big, small, rotating, stationary, every few minutes. And there are plenty of chickens as constantly being pointed out as one of Harry’s phobias and the voodoo offerings.

All of these bizarre elements make Angel Heart stand out as an unusual film that I would classify as ‘must see’ by any cinefile no matter your genre of preference.

Movie Reviews 353 – Infestation (2009)

July 13, 2018

Last week we endured a sweltering heat wave and to take my mind off that I sheltered myself into my nice and cool basement and watched Infestation so that my worries could switch from anxiety of global warming to global swarming. This post apocalyptic bug invasion movie does not start out in the traditional manner. Instead of taking a linear storytelling approach we begin with the camera panning over an office environment where cobwebs are strung across desks and walls and then cocooned bodies are revealed strewn across the floor. And then one of the bodies twitches…

As flashbacks we learn that Cooper (Chris Marquette) is a young undisciplined office goofball working in a telemarketing firm – largely thanks to his dad (Ray Wise) – whose lax work ethics and office hijinxs had caught up to him. It was just as he was getting fired that a high pitched sound had everyone blackout. Inexplicably awaking while others cocooned lay dormant, Cooper soon frees up some of his colleagues while running into a few giant, man-sized beetles still scurrying around the office. With communications all down, everyone else within the city encased and with wasp-like bugs plucking people off the streets, Cooper becomes the de-facto leader with a plan to head out to his father’s house and the safety of the Cold War era bomb shelter there.

The group includes an assortment from the firm as well as others who were in the area at the time of the blackout including Sara (Brooke Nevin), one of Cooper’s old highschool colleagues and the daughter of Cooper’s boss, who was plucked into the sky by one of the wasp creatures. While stopping over a few homes of family of those in the group they discern the fate of those unlucky enough to be stung by the bugs and also come across a vast mound structure the bugs are building. And when Sara decides to go there in the hopes of finding her mom, Cooper rallies the gang to help out.

Ray Wise steals the show as the Alpha, take charge, half nuts father while Cooper finally shows some backbone, standing up to Ray (sorta) and bravely faces the bugs to help Sara. The horror comedy is pure CGI, some of it decent, some of it ‘cookie cutter’, but the film does give new meaning to the term “spider-man”.

While I kind of enjoyed it, this movie is not for everyone. A lot is just not explained and not investigated by the survivors. They do find out one quirk about the bugs but in the end the tired thread of a group having to ‘go across town’ is just too predictable.

What really degrades the film to substandard fare is the idiotic and infuriating non-closure ending. While I suspect that a sequel was in mind which may account for part of it I’d say that even that excuse only goes so far and you have to deliver some sort of ending. In this case the final credits start rolling mid action and leaves viewers agape.

There are better bug movies and better horror comedies than this one. Watch it only if you find yourself in a bug infested post-apocalyptic situation and don’t have your copy of Alien Apocalypse handy.

Movie Reviews 351 – Piranha (1978)

June 30, 2018

The huge success of Jaws in 1975 generated a flock of imitation shark movies jumping out of the waters as producers scrambled to cash in on the wave. This included the king of the B movies himself, Roger Corman taking a dip. But Corman was smart enough to see that the competition where simply putting a shark or two into their mediocre offerings and instead of merely being another pale imitator he wanted to retain the aquatic threat and the cuspid edge while dropping the iconic dorsal. The solution: Piranhas!

When a couple of teenagers stumble upon a seemingly abandoned military research facility and take a midnight dip into the pool they find out the hard way that the pool isn’t exactly empty. Their sudden unexplained disappearance has Maggie (Heather Menzies) scouring the area where she meets Paul (Bradford Dillman) hiding as best he can from civilization in his booze stocked isolated cabin. The two make their way to the discarded facility where they run into crazed old researcher Doctor Hoak (Kevin McCarthy) but not before accidentally draining the pool into the local river.

Hoak explains how the Vietnam era facility once worked on project ‘Razor-Teeth’ creating mutant piranhas intended to help the war effort. Once it was abandoned Hoak stayed on to continue the research himself while keeping an eye on the now frenzied ravenous piranhas. As the trio realize the fish are now making their way downstream they race to close a dam before the school enters human populated areas. Maggie and Paul manage to close the dam only to be rounded up by a military unit that includes a veteran colleague of Hoak’s (Barbara Steele) but their captors don’t even believe the piranha are still alive. But not only are they still swimming, but they are headed straight for a resort about to open to the public.

While the plot differs as much as the actual threat there are still many sequences and even characters that mirror those in Jaws. Aside from the obvious movie poster design rip-off, many characters shrugging off the threat despite people going missing and a chronology that pits the menace about to have a feast with a holiday start, the resort owner (Dick Miler) is even a dead giveaway for actor Murray Hamilton who played the equally obstinate mayor Vaughn in Jaws.

This was director Joe Dante’s first solo feature which he also painstakingly edited to great effect. Despite the low budget and some clear shortcuts taken for the some of the special effects, the production had the luxury of having master craftsman Phil Tippett and the then up and coming prosthetics genius Rob Bottin working the piranha sequences. You just have to see the gyrating masses of piranhas frantically gorging and ripping everything in their path. If you have the Shout Factory DVD be sure to check out the extras where we get even more impressive views of the fierce piranhas.

One thing that bothered me was seeing some very cool looking, weird miniature stop motion creatures shown in early sequences that were never fully explained or revisited later in the film. That and some actors annoyingly calling the fish Pee-ran-hee-ah. (What’s up with that?).

If you want a more polished look I recommend Alexandre Aja’s remake Piranha 3D. But if you want a good old-school Corman treat, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Movie Reviews 349 – Last House on the Left (1972)

June 15, 2018

I finally got around to watching Wes Craven‘s classic Last House on the Left, a film with a both a notorious reputation while at the same time being an acknowledged groundbreaking movie that tested the limits of morality and propriety in horror. It is a movie that embraced the sexual revolution of the era but then turns that freedom around to show how that latitude can be exploited by the darker side of society.

Celebrating her seventeenth birthday Mari (Sandra Peabody) and her friend Phyllis (Lucy Grantham) take in a concert in the city. Trying to score some weed before the concert they approach Junior (Marc Sheffler) in front of an apartment building. Little do they realise that Junior is the son of prison escapee Krug (David A. Hess) and that within the apartment Krug along with fellow escapee Fred “Weasel” (Fred Lincoln) and their female companion Sadie (Jeramie Rain) have set up a trap for the girls. After having their way with their victims that night, the gang, girls in tow, head out of town to keep ahead of the authorities concentrated in the city.

Mari’s parents living in their rural home are not immediately worried as they are quite liberal themselves, but when she fails to come home by the next morning they decide to call the local cops who turn out to be bumbling fools and simply deride the parents concerns. As it so happens, the gang’s car has broken down just yards away from Mari’s parent’s house. After dragging the girls into the nearby woods and inflicting yet more sadistic carnal torture, they kill Phyllis in their unbridled enthusiasm and needing to dispose of witnesses shoot Mari who is already in a near catatonic state.

Still stranded the gang are then welcomed by Mari’s unaware parents into their home for the night. It isn’t until the next day when Mari’s mother is tipped off by clues that the visitors have been up to some bloody foul play with her daughter that Mari’s father comes across his dying daughter. Enraged the parents decide that they will enact their own revenge. A meticulously planned bloody comeuppance rivaling that of what was done to the girls.

To fully understand this film and some of the elements it contains, one has to comprehend the nature of it’s beginning. Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham were initially contracted to deliver a porn flick and while that quickly developed into the psychological horror it became, many remnants of that salacious seed remain in the final product delivered. This is not limited to some scenes and dialogue passages, the very first scene being once in which Mari and her parents discuss her boobs, but also includes cast members who were recruited from the adult film industry. As Craven and Cunningham had no real filmmaking experience a lot of the production was done on the fly which was essentially cinema vérité which coincidentally worked in the films favor. But the low budget is also evident with flaws such as some grainy and even often out of focus footage.

I must admit that I was surprised to learn that Craven was inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring which has many similar (if not outright copied) passages and that this was not as original a plot as I thought. But the horror is pure Craven at his inventive best, preceding the equally (more?) horrific rape revenge I Spit On Your Grave. It should be noted that the muscle bound Hess also wrote the music score.and had a venerable career as a musician and songwriter. I did see the 2009 remake and thought it was quite good. That version of Last House on the Left tinkered with a few things in the plot but kept the essentials intact.

The catchy slogan for the film was the repetitive line “It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie…”. But what a movie!

Movie Reviews 347 – The Hideous Sun Demon (1958)

June 2, 2018

Robert Clarke was a fairly prolific B-Movie horror actor who played smaller roles in films such as The Body Snatcher and Bedlam before deciding to make his own, ultra low budget vanity film. Producing, writing, directing, and starring, The Hideous Sun Demon is a quaint feature that offers little substance but isn’t bad enough to make elicit too many groans either.

In the most simplistic of plots, Gil McKenna (Clarke) is exposed to a radioactive isotope while working at a nuclear production facility. At first there seems to be absolutely no adverse effect on him which puzzles but puzzling his doctor at the hospital. Deciding to keep him for a short observation period, a nurse brings him to the hospital’s rooftop sun deck to relax. But after some time exposed to the sun’s beaming rays he is transformed into a lizard skinned monster.

Returning back to normal after a brief period of time Gil is now faced with the prospect of living a secluded life in his isolated country home with only the sunless night hours giving him short reprieve and a chance to go out and mingle. His worries are briefly allayed when he meets Trudy  (Nan Petersen) a buxom piano singer playing at a cocktail lounge. But that brief respite is shattered after the couple decide to go for some late night beach frolicking after the pair fall asleep and Gil awakens to the first hints of dawn light.

But his former colleagues at “Atomic Research Inc.” have have not forgotten him, especially  Ann (Patricia Manning) who has a thing for Gil. They have called in a world radiation expert they hope will find a cure for Gil. Noting that that every time Gil gets exposed his transformations happen increasingly quicker and taking longer to revert back to normal once out of the sun, Gil promises to remain indoors until the doctor can complete his analysis. But rankled by guilt having left Trudy alone at the beach without any explanation he once again heads out to see her at the lounge. But as luck would have it he is not only detained by thugs once again transforming, but also commits a horrible crime as the monster. Now on the run with cops on his heals he makes on last break. But will medicine have a chance to cure him before the law catches up?

Reputedly cast with friends, family and USC film students, the film does not suffer as much as one would expect. One evident result is Trudy repeatedly singing a tune called “Strange Pursuit” that was penned and dubbed by one of Clarke’s relatives. The script at least tries to add another dimension to the plot by injection Gil’s alcoholism as factor to both the initial accident and some of Gil’s later problems but don’t expect too much

This is no masterpiece and suffers in a few spot but as a quick retro cult reprieve it shines nonetheless.

Movie Reviews 345 – Get Out (2017)

May 17, 2018

The adage that there are no new horror concepts is a common complaint of fandom and somewhat true given the constant feed of remakes and reimaginings. So it’s more than refreshing when a novel concept comes along like last year’s Get Out. The film did a lot more than just give us a fairly fresh tale. It also broke a few stereotypes along the way and reminded us that a good story can come from people with diverse backgrounds. In the case of Get Out, that happens to be writer, director and producer Jordan Peele, a well known comedian with a lengthy, laudable television comedy résumé – although given the huge box office and critical acclaim for the film (four Oscar nominations) I would not be surprised that a career change is forthcoming.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams) are taking the next step in their relationship by visiting her parents out at the Armitage family’s estate in the woods over the weekend. Chris is somewhat concerned that Rose never explicitly told them that he is black while his good friend Rod jokes about the entire interracial affair. Once there, the well-to-do parents, a surgeon and a psychologist, appear to be nonchalant about the situation.

Chris then learns that the weekend is also the annual get-together for the extended Armitage family and as he tries to duck out of a few race related awkwardness with some of the odder clan his concerns begin witnessing odd behaviour with the African-American servants. The mystery deepens when an older woman presents her companion, a much younger black man that Chris recognizes but now seems completely different from the man he knew. When that acquaintance momentarily breaks out of character and explicitly yells at Chris to get out his anxieties are enough for him to comply. Of course, that does not turn out to be as easy as he thought.

There is a slow but palpable buildup of suspense that something is clearly wrong here, but what? With hints coming only in dribs and drabs the audience is gently pulled into the story until all the cards are on the table. Although definitely a horror there isn’t all that much gore or reliance on cheap scares, the story being strong enough to stand on its own. Another strong point in favor of the film is that it does not shy away from pointing racial stereotypes, particularly treatment of colored people and benefits of white privilege, which of course are main points of the story. But those aspects are not force fed and only enhance the plot. There are surprises although I was able to deduce some of the twists early on.

Although Peele may have been tempted to inject a lot of comedy given his background he restrained the jokes to Rod’s character (Lil Rel Howery) with just the right amount of levity to not break the suspense. The film comes as a cross between Ira levin’s The Stepford Wives and Frankenstein if you can even picture that, but I prefer not to pigeonhole and set expectations.

While it may be too late to see this one on the big screen, I do urge everyone to get out and see it at some time.

Movie Reviews 344 – The Thing With Two Heads (1972)

May 11, 2018

Not to be confused with the The Incredible Two Headed Transplant which was released just a short time earlier, B movie studio American International’s release of The Thing With Two Heads is a 70’s oddity that hits all the right notes for a low budget film. We have some goofy science going on, a creature (of sorts), blaxploitation comedy, a celebrity athlete in a starring role, a bona fide movie star to make it all legit, and a lots and lots of smashing police cars.

As his health declines and with death just around the corner, famed surgeon Dr. Max Kirshner (Ray Milland) experiments in his own basement laboratory with a novel concept. His experiments on a gorilla have proven that a head can be grafted adjacent to the head of a living body and with time and some drugs can be made to fuse and connect with the spine. Moreover, once it has established equal control of the body, the original head can be removed, essentially giving the transplanted one a new body. Now all Kirshner needs is a sacrificial body to perform the operation with his own head, promising him a long life.

Kirshner has a team of doctors already lined up for the surgery but wants to get the best available surgeon and his research has led him to believe that Dr. Fred Williams (Don Marshall of Land of the Giants fame) is his man. Having offered him the job, Kirshner is stunned to see that Williams is an African American when he arrives at the lab. Clearly shocked, Kirshner’s abject bigotry is exposed and he conjures up some pretense to dismiss Williams. But Williams clearly understands the situation and despite the insult won’t let Kirshner of the hook so easily, forcing him to honour the contract for at least the six month term promised.

As Kirshner lapses into a coma the word goes out to a local prison that death row inmates can opt to volunteer for some experimental surgery while neglecting to mention the gorier details, but consigning that they will die anyhow. Believing it will by him some more time to prove his innocence, the offer is taken up by Jack (Rosey Grier), already all primed and ready to fry in the electric chair.

Brought to Kirshner’s lab Jack immediately under goes the operation. Upon awakening both men are appalled at the outcome. Jack, realising that while he has bought time, clearing up his innocence may be easier than getting rid of his new companion head, and Kirshner appalled to learn that even if all goes as planned, he will have a black body at the end, for him a fate almost as bad as death itself.  From that point on, Kirshner struggles to gain control of the body as Jack (well Jack and Kirshen I guess) makes a break from the lab taking Williams hostage, his only goal to reach his wife Lila (Chelsea Brown) in the hope to clean up the mess.

The premise merely hints at the madness in this film which includes a prolonged mud filled motocross race where the movie would have us believe that a bike with a rotund, two-headed, novice rider along with a second passenger can somehow win the race and then follows that up outdriving a dozen police cars in an open field. As corny as that sounds we are then treated to an onslaught of xenophobic threats from Kirshner while Jack and Lila mock the situation at the dinner table, taunting Kirshner with their African American menu.

As strange as the film itself is the chasm in cast selection. Roosevelt ”Rosey” Grier was an NFL player who became one of those multi-talented generic celebrities.. At 6 feet 5 inches and tipping the scales at 300 pounds, his imposing figure was a point in favor for his casting here. His post athletic talents had him dabbling in acting, being the author of Rosey Grier’s Needlepoint for Men and being a bodyguard for one of the Kennedys at the time of the RFK assassination (even handling the gun used). On the other hand we have Oscar winning (for The Lost Weekend) Ray Milland who also starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder. But by the seventy’s he found himself performing in Roger Corman low budget odditties like X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, other AIP fare like Frogs and Panic in Year Zero!, a movie he directed himself. A far call from him glory days.

As kitchy as the movie is and with some pretty lame effects, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the handling of the head transplant itself was well made with a credible animatronic head standing in for Milland’s noggin, fluid connecting tubes and all. What is almost unbearable watching is the painfully obvious ‘over the shoulder’ placement of Milland and Grier for most of the film. I can only imagine how much fun that must have been for either of them while filing. I could have sworn that the gorilla shown at the beginning of the film was Bob Burns (the ‘go to’ gorilla man of Hollywood for many years as he was the only guy that had his own gorilla suit) but the credits indicate that none other than Rick Baker was underneath all that fur.

I can sum up my feeling for the movie by the very song the cast breaks into as they ride into the sunset. “Oh Happy Day.” Yes. This has to be seen to be believed.

Movie Reviews 343 – The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

May 3, 2018

Oscar Wilde‘s The Picture of Dorian Gray is a novel that straddles being a love story, a morality play and a Victorian gothic horror. This multi-angled plot is why many underrate or dismiss altogether the ‘Horror’ label and why MGM, not recognized for horror other than a few sporadic efforts decided to stray from their roots and produce this 1945 adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray. This is quite a shame as the studio delivers in all the aforementioned elements in this finely crafted film that included great performances by the entire main cast.

Dorian Gray (Hurd Hatfield) is a young aristocrat who embraces his youth and upon seeing his finished portrait declares “As I grow old my picture will stay young. I wish it was the other way around”. But such Faustian desires are always fraught with danger and when Dorian first falters at holding societal norms, callously testing his lover’s morals, he notices that there are slight yet unmistakable changes in his picture. Over time he discovers that he is indeed ageless while his image ages in his place. But even worse than simply maturing, this portrait begins accumulating grotesque features for each and every of Dorian’s misdeeds. As his exploits and destruction continue in an ever widening spiral, so does the painting until it becomes a monstrous obscenity that even he cringes to look upon.

Dorian is the focus of the story but George Sanders takes top billing as the callous and heartless Lord Wotton who first leads Dorian down the poisonous path. The first victim is a poor, lovely singer (Angela Lansbury) who captures Dorian’s heart but is the one that he morbidly tests. Despite the terrible outcome this test, Dorian continues baneful ways for years, indifferent to the murmurs and lurid speculation among nobles. The second woman  to catch his affections is Gladys (Donna Reed), the niece of the painter that created the portrait when she was but a child. At this point Dorian becomes more perceptive of the harm inflicted on others around him and wishes to spare Gladys the evident eventual torment. But can he turn back to clock?

As lauded as the cast is the stunning mutating artwork that is the title of the movie. The movie was filmed in black and white but it does switch to color (a novelty at the time) for a few seconds at points in the film when the portrait is being shown depicting further decay. These brief expositions are quite effective, especially when Dorian has just stabbed his first direct murder victim and we now view ghastly red blood added to the portrait’s palette. Artist Ivan Albright, already celebrated for his time consuming, intricate detail work painted the ever deteriorating Dorian (as well as the freakish backdrop) but this was done on top of a painting of a young Dorian by another artist. Thankfully the painting can still be enjoyed as it was preserved and currently resides in the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is as celebrated on film as is the novel which is has remain in constant reprint across the world. There were British, German and Hungarian silent film renditions respectively released in 1916, 1917, 1918, well before this film. There have also been two remakes that were simply titled Dorian Gray, the first in 1970 an Italian production (Il dio chiamato Dorian) from B-movie maven Samuel Z. Arkoff that was quite indicative of the sexually liberal era in which it was filmed and the other in 2009 in a film that strays somewhat from the original version. And there is also a full title 2004 movie starring Josh Duhamel. But given all these choices, this is the version you want to see with your tea and crumpets.

Movie Reviews 341 – Scanners (1981)

April 19, 2018

My first recollection of Scanners, one of director David Cronenberg’s earlier films, was seeing  Louis Del Grande’s head blow up. Now I’m not sure whether it was in a commercial or a trailer, but it was certainly something that caught my attention and I knew that at some point I’d have to go see the movie. As it so happened I did not catch the theatrical run and had to settle for the novelization, which quite frankly, was not nearly as horrific. But the story, a blend of science fiction and horror, was interesting in its own right, with or without gore. Del Grande went on to great Canadian fame the following year in his own TV show, but his role was really just a small part a few minutes into the film. The break out actor in this film turned out to be antagonist Michael Ironside, who went on to make a career with his tough guy, menacing looks.

To explain the premise of the film I can recount that scene with Del Grande which sets to tone and the concept of a ‘scanner’. He is sitting in front of an auditorium and telling the audience that there are 237 scanners in the world and that he is one of them, working for the ConSec corporation that aims to weaponize scanners. He then asks for an volunteer from the audience that will help him demonstrate his abilities. After much hesitancy one man acquiesces and joins him onstage. He then asks the man to think of something, supposedly a thought that he will read from his mind illustrating his scanning ability. But as soon as the demonstration starts it is Del Grande that begins fidgeting. Then jerking erratically. Then developing to a full sweating, grimacing spasm until…boom!

Scanners are super psychics that also have mind control abilities although how they came to be remains a mystery. We learn that the ‘volunteer’ was Darryl Revok (Ironside) a fugitive scanner who has been recruiting others to join him as rivals to ConSec, otherwise eliminating them as he did to the Del Grande character. Working for ConSec is Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) who is onto Revok and Ruth has a secret weapon of his own. Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), a heretofore unknown scanner that Ruth intends to infiltrate Revok’s gang and one that he hopes can match Revok’s abilities.

There is a lot more to the plot including a mystery drug that suppresses scanning abilities, ConSec’s backstabbing security head, a woman leading a telepathic alliance of scanners hiding from Revok, and a computer program doing .. well .. things. A few twists, a grand world domination plan, all those good things along with plenty of action, effects and a tab bit more gore than that signature exploding Louie.

All said, it is a great film with much to offer. But it does come with a price to pay of sorts.

One thing that stood out this last time I watched this film was the many similarities to the all too real thalidomide tragedy that took place here and in many other parts of the world. I could not help but pick up on those references now, something that I was blissfully unaware of all those years ago reading the novel and seeing the movie for the first time. It was not the first time Cronenberg’s trademark medical themes made the horror even creepier. But making this connection now both elevated my reverence for the director and managed to sadden me with the realization that cinematic horrors are nothing compared to real life ones.