Category Archives: End of the world

‘Fear the Walking Dead’ so far, so good

  
We all have George Lucas to blame, I think, for the number of prequels in pop culture right now.

But I’m willing to stick with AMC’s “Fear the Walking Dead.” 

The series, which follows a couple of families in Los Angeles in the early days of the zombie apocalypse we know well from “The Walking Dead,” is in the right mode so far. Everybody is still wondering what’s going on as people start attacking each other. Chaos is beginning to build but society still seems salvageable.

Even though we know it’s not.

I’m enjoying the depiction of the breakdown of everyday life. 

We’re getting a look at the period when Rick was in a coma in the original series.

I like the characters with the exception of the addict son. And I’m sure he won’t be eaten. 

I remain weary and wary of the show’s treatment of black characters.

But I’ll keep watching for now.

Welcome to the low-rent universe

war-of-the-colossal-beast

It’s news to no one that shared universes are the big thing in movies right now

Marvel began building its shared cinematic universe in 2008 with “Iron Man” and has announced plans to continue it through at least 2020. Not to mention Marvel’s TV entries in that shared universe, like “Agents of SHIELD,” “Agent Carter” and “Daredevil,” the latter debuting on Netflix in April as the first in a series of “street-level” hero shows that will culminate in a “Defenders” series.

Of course, DC/Warner Bros. are trying to get their superhero universe going; Sony wants a “Spider-Man” universe but I’ll believe it when I see it.

And Universal has announced a shared universe of remakes of its 1930s and 1940s monster films featuring Frankenstein, Dracula and other creatures. I’m still pondering that one for another entry here.

So the other day, a movie company that I’ve never heard of, Cinedigm, announced plans to create, of all things, a shared movie universe. But using what classic cinematic tales?

The 1950s and 1960s exploitation movies of American International Pictures.

Specifically, 10 films: “Girls in Prison,” “Viking Women and The Sea Serpent,” “The Brain Eaters,” “She-Creature,” “Teenage Caveman,” “Reform School Girl,” “The Undead,” “War of the Colossal Beast,” “The Cool and the Crazy” and “The Day the World Ended.”

Strangely enough, I like this idea.

Marvel has this kind of thing perfected, down to an art and a science. I’m not sure DC’s superheroes will ever really come together on the big screen because of, I believe, a wrong-headed approach that seems more like Warner Bros. is ashamed of comic books.

But the AIP films, some of which were originally directed by low-budget auteur Roger Corman?

That’s genius.

Not because the company says it intends to shoot all 10 movies back-to-back from recently-completed scripts. Not because remaking these old AIP classics for cable TV a while back worked so well.

Because these dimly-remembered movies are perfect fodder for the remake machine.

Somebody once said that if you were going to remake a movie, don’t remake a classic. How could a remake of “Psycho” possibly work? (It didn’t.)

But with the AIP flicks, most people won’t be comparing them and, unless the remakes are horrible, they won’t be comparing them unfavorably.

And the idea of a universe shared by the monstrous, mutated “Colossal Beast” and the juvenile delinquents of “The Cool and the Crazy?” How can that possibly work?

The producers say the movies will share “a recurring cast of antiheroes, monsters and bad girls.” I can’t say that’s a bad idea and I base that on what Marvel has done with its movies.

Really, consider how improbable it might have looked, 10 years ago, to propose a shared universe that would include a bone-crunching political thriller, a good-natured space opera, a Nordic fantasy world and a rampaging monster movie. Yet “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the “Thor” movies and the Hulk’s appearances all worked.

Who’s to say those juvenile delinquents won’t end up fighting alien invaders to big box-office returns?

Stranger things have happened.

‘Maplecroft’ brings the creeping horror

maplecroft cherie priest

Regular readers of this blog know I’m a fan of writer Cherie Priest, who became queen of steampunk fiction with her “Clockwork Century” series – kicked off by “Boneshaker” – about an 1800s America where the Civil War drags on for decades and a plague of zombies threatens the very existence of the country. Any series that combines spunky Seattle adventurers, Texas rogues and Abraham Lincoln is ambitious as can be.

I also really enjoyed Priest’s stories about Raylene Pendle, an “urban fantasy” heroine. I’m kind of disappointed there’s only been two books so far.

As fond of the “Clockwork Century” stories as I am, I think her latest, “Maplecroft,” is Priest’s strongest work yet.

For those of us who know little about the real-life Lizzie Borden – beyond the “40 whacks” childhood rhyme – Priest gives us a Victorian-era heroine who’ll remind you a bit of Buffy Summers. Borden is strong yet vulnerable and wields a mean axe in her battle with shambling, skittering death.

It seems that Borden killed her father and his wife for a good reason: They were possessed by the spirit of a sea creature not unlike Cthulhu, HP Lovecraft’s immortal demon-god.

In Borden’s little New England town, the sea is calling to people – and not in a romantic way. Infected by ancient stones and specimens of unidentifiable sea creatures, people are slowing turning into monsters with shark-like teeth and soggy, water-soaked bodies.

No one knows this, of course, but Borden and her sister, Emma, who live in the family’s mansion, two years after Borden has been acquitted of killing her father and his wife. The Borden sisters – and eventually a small and uneasy group of allies – fight off this watery invasion in what’s promised as the first in a series of novels.

There’s some fun action, a lot of nameless, faceless horror and some terrific characters in “Maplecroft,” which is totally not surprising to anyone who’s read Priest’s work. She has a knack for creating characters who, even when their fears and insecurities are laid bare, retain a lot of mystery.

“Maplecroft” is a horror/adventure novel for people who think they know the genre and think nothing new can be done. By going back to the beginnings of the horror genre, Priest brings her readers something that feels new and fresh and full of dread.

‘Lifeforce’ an oddball futuristic throwback

lifeforce alien vampire

I still remember seeing “Lifeforce” in a theater in June 1985 and thinking, “What just happened?”

The movie – which opened the same weekend as sci-fi hit “Cocoon” and was quickly overshadowed by the triple threat of warm and fuzzy feelings, Steve Guttenberg and Wilford Brimley – was one of the most offbeat big-screen releases of the year.

As I rewatched it again 29 years later, I was struck by a number of thoughts. Chief among them was what an oddball resume director Tobe Hooper had: “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” the Steven Spielberg-produced “Poltergeist” and this.

I was also struck by how few movies featured a character who was frequently nude throughout. Casual nudity in movies, presented like an aside in the 1970s, was already on its way out by the 1980s. These days you’re more likely to see someone cutting someone’s head off than see a naked woman.

“Lifeforce” was based on a book called “The Space Vampires” and is exactly that. The screenplay, co-written by “Alien” Dan O’Bannon, reminds me greatly of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” A ship – in this case, a long-range space shuttle, manned by an American and British crew – returns with all on board dead. A half-crazed escapee from the shuttle (Steve Railsback, bringing some of his Charles Manson subtlety from “Helter Skelter” and “The Stunt Man”) talks about a trio of irresistible vampires the crew found in a spacecraft hidden in the tail of a comet.

lifeforce may

Meanwhile, the surviving vampire aliens – led by Mathilda May as a mostly-nude seductress – roam around London, infecting strangers and inhabiting bodies.

To continue the “Dracula” parallels, there’s even an insane asylum scene featuring Patrick Stewart, later to achieve fame as Captain Picard and Professor X.

There’s so much to love about “Lifeforce” if you enjoy the offbeat and oddly humorous:

Stewart says “naughty” as no one else possibly could.

Besides Railsback, the two male leads are right out of a “Doctor Who” adventure: Peter Firth is a no-nonsense British government agent and Frank Finlay is an eccentric, white-haired scientist.

aubrey morris lifeforce

Aubrey Morris plays the Brit home secretary. Morris, best known for “A Clockwork Orange,” cracks me up with his reaction shots, looking from one odd person or event to another and wincing a bit every time. Like in the picture above.

Henry Mancini did the score. Henry Mancini.

Astronauts on the make: ‘World Without End’

world without end horiz poster

A 1956 B-movie, “World Without End” is what I like to think of as a typical sci-fi thriller from the time.

Astronauts return to Earth after a mission only to find 500 years have passed and atomic war has wiped out civilization. The population is divided between one-eyed mutated humans roaming the surface and pale, effete, skull-cap wearing old men living below ground.

Oh yeah. Also underground: Fabulous babes.

The four astronauts – led by Rod Taylor (“The Time Machine”) and Hugh Marlowe (“The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers”) quickly wear out their welcome among the underground dwellers with their suggestion that the race is dying without exposure to sunlight and fresh air aboveground.

The astronauts irritate their Mr. Burns-style hosts even further by suggesting they’ll help build houses on the surface, which is by now radiation-free.

Not to mention the “hubba hubba” interest the astronauts pay to the women and the immediate mutual attraction from the futuristic babes.

world-without-end-babes

The movie’s advertising played up the female cast.

“World Without End” isn’t, for a low-budget film, an outright cheapie. It looks pretty good, with good sets, location filming in some of Southern California’s nicer parks and CinemaScope Technicolor.

But its “Brave New World” story is dated and silly.

Random observations:

World Without End spaceship

The spaceship was one of those cool 50s models with fins. Big fins.

World_Without_End_spider_attack

The movie has one of the worst giant spiders ever in the movies. Seriously, it looks like somebody put a silly spider costume on an ottoman, which gets tossed onto one of our heroes.

Five hundred years have passed, but the woman still wear mini-dresses, high heels and serve the meals. No to mention fall in love with the astronauts almost immediately and get upset if they’re not favorably compared with women from the astronauts’ time.

world without end mutate

So close but yet so far: The one-eyed radiation-scarred creatures are called mutates, not mutants.

Dumbest scene: Marlowe’s character is attacked by “mutates” and his three fellow astronauts, standing at some distance, start firing their pistols at the grappling pair. Keep your head down while you’re fighting those mutates, buddy.

Director Edward Bernds, who died in 2000, had an interesting career. He directed Three Stooges shorts as well as Bowery Boys movies and the infamous “Queen of Outer Space” starring Zsa Zsa Gabor.

 

Nice: New ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ poster

new dawn of the planet of the apes poster

It’s a familiar refrain from fans, and it’s one I can sympathize with:

Too many modern-day movie posters are photoshopped nightmares, without a hint of art like the classic posters for “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and other movies with memorable one-sheets.

So it’s fun to see a nicely composed, dramatic and artfully done poster like the one here for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

It makes me want to see it, that’s for sure.

Classic SF: ‘The World, The Flesh and The Devil’

street scene world flesh and devil

There have been a lot of end-of-the-world stories – and many, many movies that told their own tale of mankind’s final days – since “The World, The Flesh and The Devil.”

Some have done it better, some have done it kickier (“Night of the Comet”), many have done it with bigger budget (“This is The End”) but only a handful – “I Am Legend,” “The Omega Man” and a couple of others – have so palpably portrayed the felling of abject loneliness as “The World, The Flesh and “The Devil.”

That’s kind of surprising, in a way, because the movie carried the added burden of tackling race relations in a very strife-torn time in this country.

bridge world flesh and devil

Harry Belafonte, who was also a producer of the movie, plays Ralph Burton, a coal mine inspector who gets trapped in a mine cave-in. For a couple of days, he hears people digging, trying to get him out. Then the digging stops and, afraid he’s been abandoned, Ralph claws his own way out.

But when he gets out of the mine, he finds that everyone has gone. The mine site is deserted. So is the town. He finds newspapers with headlines screaming about the end of the world due to globe-girdling radioactive isotopes.

Ralph journeys from Pennsylvania to New York City, where he spends some time wandering the streets, shouting – and later shooting a gun – to try to find someone, anyone, else alive.

He doesn’t know that he’s being watched by Sarah Crandall, (Inger Stevens). Sarah watches as Ralph sets up housekeeping in an apartment, which he fills with food and supplies and populates with a couple of mannequins. He also sets up a short-wave radio and makes regular daily broadcasts, hoping to make contact with another survivor. (Eventually he does make contact with a lone voice in Europe.)

Sarah reveals herself when she cries out from the street below when Ralph tosses one of the mannequins off his balcony.

After an uneasy few moments, Ralph and Sarah become friends. But the conventions of the time – and, no doubt, the proprieties of movies – prevent anything else. Ralph is black, you see, and Sarah is white.

For months, the two go through the motions of courtship with no consummation in sight … until Sarah spots a boat coming up river. They meet the boat at the docks and find Benson Thacker (Mel Ferrer), who has tied himself in the captain’s chair. Thacker is ill and Harry nurses him back to health.

Fairly quickly, Thacker and Sarah begin the same courtship dance, but with a coupling more likely to result. Thacker, meanwhile, begins to agitate for Harry to move on and leave the “couple” alone.

By the end, Thacker is pushing Harry into a gun-toting showdown and the fate of the new world – depending on these three people – hangs in the balance.

The ending must have seemed daring for 1959, the year I was born. Today it seems like a little bit of a cop-out. Sarah doesn’t have to choose between Ralph and Benson. But there is a definite hopefulness about it, as emphasized by the final title – not “The End,” but “The Beginning.”

World_Flesh_Devil_poster

Although nothing but the premise is especially science-fictional, the ideas and imagery of director Ranald MacDougall’s “The World, The Flesh and The Devil” foreshadow so many later end-of-the-world films:
The three watch a movie newsreel at one point, making me think of Charlton Heston’s watching and re-watching of “Woodstock” in “The Omega Man.” And the deserted streets and radio station scenes call to mind “Night of the Comet.”