Screamers

Director: Christian Duguay. Screenplay: Dan O’BannonMiguel Tejada-Flores. Starring: Peter Weller, Jennifer Rubin, Roy Dupuis, Andrew Lauer, Charles Powell. Canada, USA, 1995. IMDB: 6.4. Budget: $20 mln. Box office: $5.7 mln. My rating: 3.5/4. Post-apocalyptic old-school science fiction B-movie about androids, horror and nuclear wastelands.

– Well, you’re coming up in the world – you’ve learned how to kill
each other.
(Colonel Hendricksson about two androids fighting each other)

– Jefferson, you must be confusing me with someone who gives a shit.
(Colonel Hendricksson)

For a horror story set on a faraway planet, where almost nothing alive is left and killer robots keep on furrowing the ground in search of a new prey, “Screamers” is a very sentimental movie. Under a bloody and violent disguise one can easily feel that it’s also a story about alienation and loneliness. Then mix enough dark humour, abandoned wastelands on a faraway planet, robots with human-like disguise and extreme cynicism. Yes, it’s a sci-fi B-movie – exactly that type of B-movie that we sometimes need so much.

The story. 2078. Sirius 6b, once a prospering mining colony, is now some kind of an abandoned wasteland – a result of a long civil was between 2 fractions who couldn’t find agreement on how to proceed. One of them, Alliance, created AMS (Autonomous Mobile Swords) that are 20170223_193019so effective and hunting down their enemy fraction. These self-replicating machines are called screamers because of an incredibly high sound they produce during the attack. Few people are still left on this planet and try to find a way to escape from it. It seems that 2 fractions finally managed to reach some truce. But colonel Joseph Hendricksson (Peter Weller – “Robocop“, “Naked Lunch“, “Star Trek Into Darkness“) feels that more probably both sides have abandoned their armies, leaving them to slowly vanish here.

The visuals. The world here is full of rust and despair. It looks dead. Abandoned facilities. 20170223_193143Empty deserts covered with snow. Nothing moves here. Nothing happens. Almost everyone has left or died. Many got killed by each other, others by screamers. There are still some people who exist here… yes, “exist” would be the right word. Great, remarkable decorations (mostly Quebec industrial areas). Just seeing how lonesome people cross these hollow landscapes is impressive. Sentimental, but not cheesily melodramatic music and the dialogues – mostly highly cynical small talk – greatly underline their loneliness.

20170223_193547Pretty soon both sides realized that screamers learnt how to improve themselves, replicate and create various kind of disguises that look absolutely human, like a small boy with a teddy bear (type 3), the wounded soldier (type 4). We still don’t know though what type 2 looks like. It makes the atmosphere pretty tense as everybody suspect each other, finally that leads to shooting one of fellow soldiers. He repeatedly used same phrases over and over (it was thought that screamers’ vocabulary is very limited).

20170223_193348What I liked. The good thing is that “Screamers” never over-concentrates on something (that would made it a failure). It doesn’t try to develop complex concepts about human identity like “Blade Runner. It’s not a 100% horror but it has its tense moments that will make you nervous. It has enough plot twists and till the end you don’t know who is who, when even Hendricksson himself suspects he is a robot. It doesn’t rely too much on special effects – the CGI looks pretty dated here, but it looks like 20170223_193815an integral part of the movie. It has enough romantics and humour too. Simply put, “Screamers” does a little bit of everything without trying to be exceptional in it, and it does it so well, that it makes it versatile and remarkable – you just never get bored.

Peter Weller plays a cynical and experienced soldier who still 20170223_193123has some hope in getting out of this planet. Great and memorable role. As the story unveils, under the mask of a cynical soldier starts to appear a sentimental and lonely man. Speaking mostly with short rough one-liners, he nevertheless accepts to take the boy they found in the ruins (to find out later that it’s a disguised screamer), he begs Jessica to continue their trip because “you’re the only thing I have left”.

20170223_193331Other actors are really good as well. All of them have brisk and memorable characters. Some reviewers mentioned thst Andrew Lauer was a miscast (he plays a chatty sidekick), but I didn’t feel so. The music is surprisingly good (mostly orchestral, by Jerry Devilliers – I found out that he mostly just did some lesser known TV series and that’s all) and contributes really well to the overall atmosphere. I actually don’t like the overused orchestra soundtracks in the 80’s and early 90’s sci-fi, but here it’s perfect. Jennifer Rubin’s beauty (“A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors“, “The Crush“) was a lovely addition to the desperate world, and Roy Dupuis (“Shake Hands With the Devil“, “The Barbarian Invasions“) was just fine as a cynical soldier.

The production and reception. The movie, directed by the Canadian director Christian Duguay (“Human Trafficking“, “The Art of War“) is loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s “Second Variety”, where the action took place on Earth and was more about the post-Cold War era. Dan O’Bannon, the sci-fi veteran (he wrote “Alien“, co-wrote Carpenter’s “Dark Star” and did one of main roles, co-wrote “Total Recall“) initially wrote the screenplay that was later reworked. The production was painful and it was a box office failure (roughly $20 million budget vs. $ 5 million box office), criticized20170223_193722 by almost everybody upon its release. Nevertheless, “Screamers” gained a cult status with time, regularly being part of various 90-s sci-fi tops. I can understand that. The movie didn’t look groundbreaking or innovative when it came out, nor it had big fast-paced action scenes. But they are not needed here.

Worth watching? Absolutely, if you like good old 80-s sci-fi like “Outland“, “Inquest of Pilot Pirx” or “The Abyss“. I wouldn’t really consider it a horror movie, but the atmosphere may get very creepy. “Screamers” has all the ingredients in the right place and doesn’t take itself too seriously, leaving enough space for gore, darkness, robots, fun and just a good human story.

Spectacularity: 3.5/4
Acting:  3.5/4
Directing: 3/4
Originality: 2/4
Final vote: 3.5/4

3.5/4

***

If you want to learn more about “Screamers“, Den of Geek did a brilliant lengthy article here. A sequel, “Screamers: The Hunting” was released in 2009 ( but it seems to be pretty bad, just recycling the first movie (with Lance Henriksen though).

 

Liquid Sky

Director: Slava Tsukerman (also co-writer, co-producer). Starring: Anne Carlisle, Paula E. Sheppard, Otto von Wernherr, Bob Brady, Sousan Doukas. USA, 1982. Budget: $500,000. Box office: $1.7 mln. IMDb: 6.1. RT: 94%. My rating: 2.5/4. A crazy dive into the 80-s punk, new wave and fashion youth subcultures in New York with an unexpected alien visit.

– Young people with no faith in their heart must be punished; but there are more creative ways of doing that and such film as “Liquid Sky” is a prime example of this.
(Michelle King)

– Come on, teach me. Are you afraid? You’re right, because they’re all dead. All my teachers.
(Margaret, one of the film’s main main characters)

– I’m sorry, but duty is more important than shrimps.
Oh. Well, the duty is yours, the house is mine. And in my house, shrimps are more important than duty.
(The German scientist is being seduced)

Sometimes remembering the experience of watching a film provides more enjoyment than actual viewing, and Slava Tsukerman’s first foreign experience may be a good example of it (and, to some extent Alex Cox’ cult film “Repo Men” – both films share a lot in common, even if the latter is much an easier watch for an unexperienced viewer).

“And I am androgynous not less than David Bowie himself. And they call me beautiful, and I kill with my cunt. Isn’t it fashionable?”

The first 30-40 minutes of the film captivate you with its striking origininality, an attempt to express the feeling of alienation through real aliens and a dive into a sexual androgyny that was widely discussed in the media at the time. However, later the films starts to replicate itself, and the middle part is just overly long, even if the final episode proves to be quite a big satisfaction.

New wave and punk scenes that celebrated themselves, sex predation and drug addicts, sexual promiscuity and fashion industry, aliens and alienation – all these wonderful elements intertwine into one hallucinating mix in “Liquid Sky“. This independent film, created on a rather small budget ($500,000), quickly acquired a cult status among cinephiles of that time and was well received by American critics, and it’s no wonder – imagine Andy Warhol shooting some cheesy 50-s science fiction, because this is how “Liquid Sky” looks like.

“Me and my rhythm box! Me and my rhythm box!”

Glam and decadance. The film made a certain effect when released and was even profitable. Many call it a cult. Now, from my unbiased-2017-point-of-view the film seems to be slowly fading into oblivion, just like “Hardware“… However, if you browse across the web, there are various references to the film here and there, or even inspired photoshoots or mockery:

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The plot. A tiny alien spaceship (imagine the size of a salad bowl) lands in New York, right above the house or Margaret, once a well-behaving girl from Connecticut and now an aspiring bisexual model (by Anne Carlisle, who did a double role in the film). The bodiless visitors don’t interact with humans, their aim is unknown. However, a German scientist Johann, another alien in the Big Apple, seems to have a theory – invisible aliens thrive on a substance produced by the human brain during the orgasm, which they manage to extract from the victim, killing it in the process. Margaret, who is going deeper and deeper into the downward spiral of promiscuous sex and violence, grasps this concept quicky and starts to use it for her own benefit…

The film is shot in a totally deadpan manner with a little amount of humour. Apathy and indifference prevail the minds of this self-absorbed youth, and that is supported by a gloomy monotone synth soundtrack and flamboyant, acid colours and designs.

Worth watching?Liquid Sky” is a particular film, not in good or bad sense of the word. I love weird slow stuff. I enjoyed some early Harmony Korine’s film (“Gummo“). But with this… I felt that there was more style than substance, and that’s the case when you need to love the style to enjoy the film. So I cannot recommend it directly to anyone due to its prevailing sense of otherness and dazzling individuality – decide by yourself. Played mostly by non-professional actors and shot by newly arrived in New York Russian immigrants-filmmakers (hence the dominating sense of an alienation, probably?), it’s a time capsule of the New York club scene of the 80-s and shows many kinks many of us could’ve never imagined, and does it from an unusual perspective. Finally, this is why we watch the movies, isn’t it?

“Liquid Sky” is one of the favourite films of Nicholas Winding Refn (who directed one of my all-time favourites “Drive“, plus he did a confusing flick called “The Neon Demon“…), among “Suspiria“, “Videodrome“, “La Dolce Vita” and some others. All these movie are well-known for their style domination. Have you seen anything the Danish director did? 😆

Spectacularity: 2.5/4
Acting:  ?
Directing: 2/4
Originality: 4/4
Final vote: 2.5/4

P. S. Здесь красочное интервью на русском языке.

High-Rise / posters

4 bloody lovely posters for “High-Rise” that I must have missed when reviewing Ben Wheatley’s surreal film. The last one has some very curious details.

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High-Rise-Movie

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High-Rise” a bloody mess of a dystopian movie based on a novel by J. G. Ballard, but it had its moments. And it also had Tom Hiddleston, Siena Miller, Jeremy Irons and absolutely beautiful although rather lifeless visuals.

 

Event Horizon

Director: Paul W. S. Anderson. Starring: Sam Neill, Laurence Fishburne, Kathleen Quinlan. USA, 1997. Budget: $60 mln. Box office: $27 mln. IMDB: 6.7. My rating: 3/4. Sci-fi/horror/thriller in deep space.

– Where we’re going, we don’t need eyes to see.
(Dr. Weir)

– You will never be alone anymore. Now you are with me. I have beautiful things I want to show you.
(Dr. Weir’s dead wife)

Darkness, space, hell, madness and obscurity. Such a cheerful company. Welcome on board of the “Event Horizon”.

Before Paul Anderson entered the endless Resident Evil epos, he did some other notable films as well, like “Mortal Combat” and “Event Horizon”. We all know how his films look, right? I suppose almost every teenager (well, I speak mostly for boys) had a period, when he is eager to watch stuff about zombies, strange creatures, space and stuff. So what happens when these boys grow up? Some make movies, others watch them. Mostly, without being too serious about it. If there is a movie for each occasion, so for me these movies are perfect to watch late on a Friday, when the brain protests against any kind of work. Or after a late party, when you come home late but still not sleepy. But… “Event Horizon” is not exactly what you would expect from a typical Paul Anderson’s film.

It’s also has a very curious and bleeding produciton history, probably one of the best I’ve ever read together with ”The Island of Dr. Moreau”.

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Kung Fury

posterDirector: David Sandberg. Starring: David Sandberg, Jorma Taccone, David Hasselhoff, Andreas Cahling. Sweden, 2015. Budget: $630,000. A faithful dedication to the best & the worst of the 80-s, rage mode on.

– Fuck! That’s a laser raptor. I thought they went extinct thousands of years ago. What year is this?
– It’s the Viking Age.
– That explains the laser raptor. Fuck! I went too far back in time.
(a dialogue between Kung Fury and Barbarinna)

– I’m disarming you.
(Kung Fury, before ripping off Nazi soldier’s arm)

– Open the doors, Hoff.
– I’m sorry, Fury. I can’t let you do that.
– Open the doors!
– Did anyone tell you… not to hassle the Hoff 9000?
(Kung Fury is convincing the car computer Hoff 9000 to open the door)

”Kung Fury” is a fucked up version of the dorkiest things about the martial arts movies and the 80-s/90-s pop culture you could’ve ever imagined. Thor showing off his over-sized breast muscles? Check. A slot machine “Hoff 9000″ (built by Hitler to reestablish his power) goes rogue revenging the world? Check. ”The Matrix” parody in the goofy 80-s à la Van Damme style? Check. Tyrannosaurus vs Nazi soldiers? Check.

Growling “I’m disarming you” with Batman’s voice to an enemy with a gun and then just tear the poor man’s limb off to use it as an airscrew? Check!

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A Boy and His Dog

a_boy_and_his_dogDirector: L. Q. Jones. Starring: Don Johnson, Susanne Benton, Tim McIntire (voice), Jason Robards, Alvy Moore. USA, 1975. Budget: $400,000. IMDb: 6.6. My rating: 3.5/4. Eccentric post-nuclear black comedy.

– Civilization lies smother and decaying under an ocean of mud, belonging to anyone who’s strong enough to kick and fight and take it for their own. God, that’s dramatic, I like it.
(Blood the Dog)

– Now let run through the modern presidents.
God, what good’s all this history crap gonna do me?
– Just do the presidents.
(a dialogue between Vic and Blood the Dog)

– You’re still constantly overreacting. I’ve absolutely no idea how I managed to keep you alive so long.
(Blood The Dog is commenting Vic’s actions)

According to the pet ownership statistics from 2012, 36.5% of American households (43,346,000) own an average of 1.6 dogs. That means 69,926,000 dogs living with families in the United States.

It would be impossible to write about “A Boy and His Dog”, remaining a refined and delicate narrator, so let’s set it straight – we have a nuclear holocaust movie about the survival of a female-obsessed illiterate teen Vic who scavenges for food and his misanthropic telepathic dog Blood with a highly developed intellect and odd sense of humour. It’s also a story about friendship, love and helping each other (yeah, I am still talking about the same movie). The combination of both makes it an unusual and touching experience.

I really liked this film. It feels different and odd compared the most of the 70-s sci-fi (which I often find cheesy) and stood well the test of time. The film was also a huge inspiration for lots of cult stuff like ”Fallout” game series and ”Mad Max”. George Miller once said, ”to make Road Warrior, I took a Boy and His Dog and went commercial.”

”A Boy and His Dog”, with all its oddness and decay never feels too commercial or action-driven (nor too brainy/artsy) and you’ll actually see little gore – mostly, only reverberations and repercussions of the nuclear war.

”I like to talk to the audience for two or three minutes before showing the movie. I say, ‘I hope you like the movie. If you don’t, you’re screwed, because you’re never going to be able to forget it.”
(L. Q. Jones, the director)

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Turbo Kid

turbo_kid.jpgDirector: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell. Starring: Laurence Leboeuf, Munro Chambers, Michael Ironside, Aaron Jeffery, Edwin Wright. Canada (Quebec), New Zealand, 2015. Budget: $60,000. IMDb: 6.7. My rating: 3/4. An eccentric childish post-apocalyptic sci-fi with lots of gore.

– I thought all robots were evil.
– Depends on the model.
(The Kid and Apple are getting to know each other)

– You want to see something cool?
– I always want to see something cool.
(a conversation between The Kid and Apple)

“Turbo Kid” is  a faithful homage to the 80-s, a naïve love story occasionally slipping into a gory bloody post-apocalyptic trash. Sounds dorky? Well, it looks dorky too, and is entertaining as hell from the first frame.

The film doesn’t hesitate to borrow everywhere it can, but you don’t blame kids at the nearby playground for copying chases and fighting they saw on the TV screen, do you? Especially if they have a super-blaster-glove and BMX bikes.

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Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

a53c13372cc8d6fbcc97829b65d226f4.jpgDirector: George Miller. Starring: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Vernon Wells. Australia, 1981. Budget: $2 million. IMDb: 7.6. My rating: 2/4. Post-apocalyptic gory gasoline obsessed car chasing sci-fi.

– I’m just here for the gasoline.
(Max Rockatansky)

There are some things I cannot understand. Premise: I enjoyed “Fury Road”, I love post-apocalyptic themes, I fully comprehend that in 1981 it was ground-breaking (and in 1979 as well), that it was shot for laughable $2 million, it had the cutie Mel Gibson and it was an Australian movie.

But how the hell in a cult film that is widely recognized as one of the best action movies ever made there is so little action and so much talking?

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Dark Star

dark_star_ver2Director: John Carpenter. Screenplay/story: Dan O’Bannon, John Carpenter. Starring: Dan O’Bannon, Brian Narelle, Dre Pahich, Cal Kuniholm. USA, 1974. Budget: $60,000. IMDb: 6.7. My rating: 3.5/4. Odd science fiction space comedy.

– Now, Bomb, consider this next question very carefully… What is your purpose in life?
– To explode, of course.
– And you can do it only once, right?
(Doolitle convinces the bomb not to explode)

– All right, Bomb… prepare to receive new orders.
– You are false data. Therefore, I should ignore you.
(Doolitle convinces the bomb not to explode)

I must confess – I have never really liked John Carpenter. And I barely enjoy horror movies (with some notable exceptions like “The Shining”). I watched “Halloween” recently and enjoyed it at times, but if we forget for a moment its heritage, I find this cult slasher pretty mediocre. While admitting Carpenter’s immense influence, I’ve always seen most of his films made with little creativity, without that special sparkle that would lighten up everything. He is too technical in his approach, like an artisan, not an artist, who is methodically repeating similar feel and techniques in different movies. Note: I didn’t watch “Halloween”, “Escape from New York” or “The Thing” when they were released – movies that I don’t find bad, but just… pretty average in everything and with superficial characters? I’ve always felt Carpenter cares most about showing what happens to his characters, but not really the characters themselves.

But “Dark Star”, Carpenter’s and O’Bannon debut movie, made me change my mind about him. This little space comedy is like a fireworks show that you setup by yourself on a New Year’s Eve in the backyard. It’s an extravagant parody on space movies and “2001: A Space Odyssey” in particular. Fresh, well-crafted, wry and weirdly funny. Continue reading