Trash Culture’s Dr. Who Reviews – Planet of the Giants (1964)

by Chad Denton

Well, we’ve made it to the second season, so let’s get started with a serial whose premise also became a level in “Super Mario Bros. 3?…

As the TARDIS lands in what the Doctor assures Barbara and Ian is their native time, something malfunctions and the Doctor panics. When they try to view what’s outside, the scanner breaks. Outside they’re puzzled by what seems to be a stone monument shaped like a massive pebble. Splitting up to investigate further, Susan and Ian find a dead ant the size of a cat while the Doctor and Barbara find a gigantic earthworm that’s also dead. Soon Ian and Susan also find a large box of stock (that is, the broth kind, not the finance kind) that was manufactured in Norwich. Simultaneously the Doctor and Susan realize that the TARDIS and they as well have become smaller than an inch. Continue reading Trash Culture’s Dr. Who Reviews – Planet of the Giants (1964)

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Bad news is, you're the best character in this film because you're not in it long enough for me to get bored with you.
Bad news is, Andy, you’re the best character in the film. Because you don’t have any lines. The less people speak in this movie, the fewer chances they have to piss me off.

The original Dawn of the Dead was twenty-six years old by the time this remake entered the pipeline. Its time had very much come and, in one sense, already gone. Tom Savini’s 1990 Night of the Living Dead remake celebrated its sweet sixteen by the time 28 Days Later broke out of its “low” budget genre ghetto, made it to Sundance, eventually broke out of that ghetto, too, and became a critical darling and smash hit…for whatever reason.

I try to ignore Spring horror films as much as I can because they tend to suck as a rule. (A popular example from the year in which I write – 2011 – would be the Scott Charles Stewart directed Paul Bettany vehicle, Priest.) January and February are studio dumping grounds for sub-standard, shitty movies they know no one will want to see. By March they’ve usually worked through the previous year’s back catalog and begun to ship out films designed specifically for home  markets. Christ’s sake, no one really wants to watch big budget horror movies in March…but March is only seven months away from Halloween. Time enough for a film (like this one, which “only” cost $28 million) to earn its money back in theaters, allowing ancillary sales (like seasonally-appropriate DVDs and TV broadcast rights) to count as pure profit.

Predictably, this movie became the early breakout hit of 2004. Not that anyone at Universal actually predicted that. They were convinced the complete failure of 2003’s House of the Dead meant no one really wanted to see any more zombie movies. (And as long as by “no one” they meant “me” that statement held true.) Anyone with a functional brain could’ve told them House of the Dead failed because of two key words: “Uwe” and “Boll.” Never the less, Universal cut every corner they could, going so far as to turn the cameras over to some jumped up car commercial director named Zack Snyder. Continue reading Dawn of the Dead (2004)

28 Days Later…(2002)

"Would you like to see my mask?"
“Would you like to see my mask?”

This is another one of those apparently genre-redefining films that all the first-run critics praised. Most of the genre critics have since torn this film apart, the better to examine its undigested stomach contents. I was going to do that, too. But my fellow Cold Fusioneer, MonsterHunter, already did. So go read it. It’s awesome. And it leaves me free to do my own damn thing.

As my colleague noted, George Romero’s Dawn and Day of the Dead played Alex Kintner here, inspirations director Danny Boyle rightly copped to early and often. He and I share a love for Day of the Triffids, and while he’s never mentioned Geoff Murphy’s The Quiet Earth (to my knowledge), I’ll bet we both watched that at some point in the mid-to-late-80s.

Boyle was directing TV movies at that time, a job designed to make people wish for some population-flattening apocalypse. Then he hit what he must’ve considered “the big time” with Trainspotting, a movie about Scottish heroin addicts so honestly well made even American heroin addicts managed to work up some small spark of interest in it. For a moment there in the early 2000s, Trainspotting became part of a Unholy Trinity of Awesome movies every member of my small, real-world-based subculture championed, whether they liked talking about movies or not. Most didn’t, but I kept my ear to the ground and eventually rumors swirled that the guy who did Trainspotting was making a zombie movie. How could that be anything less than awesome? Continue reading 28 Days Later…(2002)

Trash Culture’s Dr. Who Reviews – The Reign of Terror (1964)

by Chad Denton

The Doctor lands the TARDIS somewhere, angrily telling Barbara and Ian that they’re now home and they must leave. The companions aren’t so sure, but to keep the Doctor from just abandoning them they try to soothe over his ego, with Ian convincing him to at least join them for a drink before they go. Finding that they’ve landed in the middle of a forest, they come across a boy with ragged clothes who tells them that they’re in France, near Paris. The Doctor insists that his landing of the TARDIS was still “quite accurate” – after all, it’s only a hundred miles or so – but Ian adds that they might also have the wrong when. Coming across a seemingly abandoned farmhouse, they learn bit by bit that they’re not only at the time of the French Revolution, but have landed at the height of the Reign of Terror, and that the farmhouse is actually a station on an “underground railroad” designed to help aristocrats and counterrevolutionaries escape the country. Everything comes together when the Doctor and the rest run into two aristocrats, who are being pursued by revolutionary troops. The aristocrats are killed trying to escape, while Ian, Barbara, and Susan are found and arrested by the soldiers. Meanwhile the Doctor is trapped inside the farmhouse, as one of the soldiers burns it down. The boy from earlier, Jean-Pierre, rescues the Doctor and tells him what happened to the others. Continue reading Trash Culture’s Dr. Who Reviews – The Reign of Terror (1964)

Zombi Holocaust (1980)

I get the scars and the one eye but...why the cat nose?
I get the scars and the one eye but…seriously, why the cat nose?

After years of sneering contempt, Lucio Fulci’s zombie flicks are just now gaining some traction among the mass critical community. Nostalgia goggles allow everyone to view things like Zombi 2 or The Gates of Hell as artifacts of a bygone age now that we’re slumming among remakes and sequels. Not so with Fulci’s contemporaries in the Italian movie business, many of whom enjoyed long and critically acclaimed careers. Careers Western critics have studiously ignored, because the only people watching Italian movies that don’t feature zombies are art snobs who sneer at the zombie films.

Not that there isn’t good reason to sneer at Zombi Holocaust; it’s nobody’s prize pony, despite being arguably the most famous thing in director Marino Girolami’s oeuvre. Girolami’s one of those guys you’ve never heard of with a filmography stretching all the way back to the 40s. By the time Zombi 2 debuted, Girolami enjoyed the kind of reputation you need to have if you’re going to direct films without Hollywood’s Power Elite. He was quick, but not sloppy-quick in the Herschell Gordon Lewis, Ed Wood style. More a professional, practiced quickness, recalling Roger Corman’s directorial heyday in the 50s.

Like Corman, Girolami found himself directing/writing/producing/whatevering a wider variety of genre pictures as the 70s slowly died around him. Spaghetti westerns, cheap action romps, what we now call “softcore erotic thrillers”; legend has it he was so prolific, distributors asked him to credit some films to pseudonyms, lest the market grow over saturated. Continue reading Zombi Holocaust (1980)

Redneck Zombies (1987)

Damn you, product placement!
Damn you, product placement!

Lloyd Kaufman’s an old Romantic and you should never trust a damn thing any of us say. Ever. Especially not when we’re telling stories. So when he tells you about two young hotshots who stalked into his office one day with their baby, this flick, clutched protectively between them, don’t believe the hype. They called ahead of time and, hell, the real story of how Redneck Zombies came to be is even more interesting than the most sensationalist ad copy.

This isn’t your typical Bad Movie; it’s consciously crafted to be one of the broadest, goriest, most outrageously terrible movies you’ve ever seen. All because a bunch of friends sat around smoking and joking about the movie they’d love to make one day…and then got off their asses and actually made it. Sure they shot on video, but I’m more interested in what they shot: a zombie comedy that, unlike so many flicks in so many genres, achieves exactly what it sets out to achieve. Continue reading Redneck Zombies (1987)

Trash Culture’s Dr. Who Reviews – The Sensorites (1964)

by Chad Denton

The TARDIS’ crew find themselves in what appears to be a moving object. Ian muses that “we are different from when we started out with you.” The Doctor agrees, saying that “it’s turned out to be a great spirited adventure.” Although Barbara notes that nearly every time they leave the TARDIS they get into trouble, the Doctor wants to head out to see where they are. Outside they find they are on a spaceship where seemingly the crew, a woman and a man, has recently died with no visible signs of wounds. Before they can return to the TARDIS, they find the captain of the ship, Maitland, who gives Barbara a device that revives the woman, Carol. Maitland explains that the crew isn’t dead but is in stasis. From conversation with Maitland the Doctor and the others learn that the ship is from Earth and that it’s the 28th century. Carol interrupts to urge them to leave, since they’re all in danger. At the Doctor and Barbara’s prompting, Maitland explains that they’re oribiting a planet called the Sense-Sphere, and its inhabitants, the Sensorites, have some mysterious form of control over the ship as well as the crew’s minds. The Sensorites have trapped the ship in space and placed them in stasis, but will not harm them; in fact, they make sure the crew remains well-nourished. At Maitland’s insistence, the Doctor and the others prepare to leave, discovering to their horror that the Sensorites have removed the TARDIS’ opening mechanism, effectively sealing the TARDIS. Continue reading Trash Culture’s Dr. Who Reviews – The Sensorites (1964)

15 (2011)

Madness? This! Is! Portland!
Madness? This! Is! Portland!

As a resident of Portland, Oregon, I’m lucky enough to live in a city where I can supplement my regular diet of big budget crap cinema with actual independent fare. The urge to do so is even more acute now after what has to be the most abysmal summer since 2007…maybe even 2003.

We’re big on localism out here in the West, where people still know what nature is. So when I saw “Local shot feature film – open for reviews (Portland)” posted on Craigslist, of course I jumped. That’s how we roll in Stumptown, yo: where Craigslist has become a way of life. Besides, if not me, who? And if not now, when? After the “real” critics sink their claws into this thing? No thank you, sir. This one’s mine. Continue reading 15 (2011)

City of the Living Dead (1980)

If only those were the entrails of the last politician...
If only those were the entrails of the proverbial Last Politician…

During the Dark Ages of VHS we relied on our memories and the word of mouth they helped shape. Tales of key scenes from key movies whose titles we could barely recall, chosen exclusively for their shock value, became a kind of fan short hand. If you struck up a conversation with some random convention-goer, you wouldn’t get, “Hey, did you see Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead?” No. You’d get, “Hey, did you see that one where the priest hangs himself?”

Yes. Yes I have. It’s Lucio Fulci’s follow-up to Zombi 2, also known as The Gates of Hell or Paura nella città dei morti viventi (Fear in the City of the Dead). And despite being filmed on location…in America…and retitled with an eye toward the desperate Romero fan’s money, City has arguably even less to do with the Dead Mythos than George Romero’s last three Dead films. And I couldn’t be happier.

Because, you see, it’s a Lovecraftian film more than anything else (though old H.P. goes uncredited) and surprisingly effective for what it is…and what it is isn’t very nice. Straight adaptions of Lovecraft’s stories often run themselves aground searching for the right tone: a combination of existential dread and visceral revulsion that seems to occur to Fulci and screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti naturally. But like many a Lovecraft story, City bites off more than it can chew and ends on a somewhat unfulfilling note that just might ruin the whole damn thing for you. Continue reading City of the Living Dead (1980)