Horror. Worldview. Faith.

Robot Monster – Review

Robot Monster – Review

Jun 3, 2010

reviewed by hallo
directed by Phil Tucker, 1953

This review is the first in my series of reviews of the movies showcased in Disney’s Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater.

If ever the popular cult cliche “so bad it’s good” applied to a B-rated horror film, it would find a welcomed home with the 1953 Sci-Fi horror production Robot Monster.  After deciding to review the movies in Disney’s Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater, my first obstacle was going to be actually finding them.  Obviously, my local Blockbuster store did not have a copy of Robot Monster on hand.  I have discovered that even finding a few of these films to purchase is quite the task.  To my amazement, Amazon.com had Robot Monster available through their “Amazon On-Demand” video service.  So, I “rented” the movie through Amazon for $2.99 and watched it right on my desktop.  The fact that Amazon has this title available through their on demand service highlights the cult following Robot Monster now enjoys among sci-fi and horror fans.

It would be hard to overstate how bad this movie is.  For starters, the majority of the movie is just a dream by a little boy, Johnny.  The only “real” parts of the film are the very beginning when the characters are introduced and then the very end when Johnny awakes.  The “creature” (in his dream) is a fat guy wearing a fat gorilla suit with a make-shift diving helmet on his head topped with some bunny-ear antennas.  His name is “Ro-Man” and he has been given one simple assignment from his superior (lovingly named The Great Guidance).  Destroy all the inhabitants on planet earth.  This takes all of about 9 seconds thanks to Ro-Man’s calcinator death ray.  However, as is typical of the human race, there remains a small group of humans, eight of them in fact, that just refuse to die.  We meet them for “real” at the beginning of the movie and they are a professor (scientist), his assistant, two other unlucky chaps who exists just to be killed, a widow, her two daughters and one son.  Interestingly, during the dream portion of the movie (which is the majority of the film), these characters take on different roles.  So, the professor is now married to the widow and takes on the role of scientist/father/husband.  Even during the short “real” portion of the film at the beginning, little Johnny was hoping this would happen.  So, the movie does attempt to demonstrate how the dreams of little boys can be in part determined by the desires of their heart.  Roy, the handsome and well-built young man, becomes the love interest for Alice, the eldest daughter.  Thanks to a recent invention by the father/scientist – a new serum that prevents anyone from getting sick (even stops the common cold!) – the family and the other remaining characters are impervious to Ro-Man’s dreaded calcinator death ray!  Thank God.

The Great Guidance is becoming more and more irritated that Ro-Man cannot complete such a ridiculously easy assignment as wiping out humans.  He reveals his frustrations to Ro-Man through the use of the highly advanced bedsheet/intergalactic video transmitter.  Thankfully, the Ro-Men speak perfect English.  To our surprise, the family also has an intergalactic video transmitter and is able to communicate with Ro-Man, although he is unaware of their location.  Due to Ro-Man’s own frustrations and the threats offered by The Great Guidance, Ro-Man leaves the confines of his bubble-invested cave and sets out on foot to locate the pesky humans.  At this point in the movie, I had to pause the film because I was laughing so hard.  For what seems like an eternity, we see Ro-Man just walking around.  Down hills, up hills, around bushes, down a long deserted road, he is just wandering around.  I could have sworn at one point Ro-Man was clearly gasping for breath as he ascended a hill.  The family seems to be in no real danger.  Even if Ro-Man found them, which apparently is never going to happen, although he is only about 2 minutes from their hideout, all the family would need to do is walk at a brisk pace and they would easily escape the clutches of Ro-Man.  This is similar to Tom Savini’s emphasis on the “ease” of escape from zombies in his ill-fated 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead.

Anyway, eventually the family decides to just wander around as well for no apparent reason.  Ro-Man by this time has a huge crush on Alice.  Unfortunately, in one of the most bizarre scenes in the movie, Alice and Roy were married at a very make-shift ceremony by the father/scientist.  This doesn’t stop Ro-Man.  After crashing their “honeymoon”, which consisted of some super weird dialoge followed by some “necking” in the woods, Ro-Man strangles Roy and takes Alice back to his cave (yes, the bubble invested one).  The Great Guidance comes on the intergalactic bedsheet just as Ro-Man is tying up Alice.  He isn’t quite able to tie her up and leaves the ropes dangling as he goes to answer The Great Guidance.  To our amazement, when Ro-Man returns to Alice, she is completely tied up!  Hmmmm, perhaps Alice has a little bit of a wild side about her?  At this point, The Great Guidance is seriously ticked off that Ro-Man is not killing Alice, which is what he has been commanded to do.  He accuses Ro-Man of being more like a Hu-Man (another line that had me laughing out loud).  Ro-man has no problem knocking of the children though because when Johnny interrupts his time with Alice, who is still tied up in the cave, Ro-Man abruptly goes out and strangles him to death.  Poor Johnny.  It is the last thing Ro-Man will ever do, however, because The Great Guidance kills Ro-Man through the use of his own kind of calcinator death ray.  Thankfully, the boy wakes up and we see that everyone is just fine.  Or are they?

The one “thinking” moment of the movie, if you can call it that, is when Ro-Man is given orders to kill Alice, despite his newly acquired feelings for her.  Ro-Man begins talking to himself and asks repeatedly, “how do you graph “must” and “cannot?”  He ends up losing his own life because the “cannot” aspect of the graph dominated.

Hey, this was a lot of fun to watch.  It is of course terrible.  Yet, writing this review was probably the most fun yet I have had on The Blackest Eyes.  At the end of the day, that is exactly what Robot Monster and all the other B sci-fi movies of that era were attempting to do; have fun.  I can only guess what the next installment will have in store for me.

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The Fourth Kind – Review

The Fourth Kind – Review

May 27, 2010

reviewed by Skot
directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi, 2009

The Fourth Kind is a sci-fi horror picture starring action movie princess, Milla Jovovich.  I don’t know how many reviewers would classify it as science fiction, but I do so, though with hesitation, because U.F.O. movies tend to be a sci-fi sub-genre.  The director of Fourth Kind attempts to follow the examples of The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Quarantine, and Paranormal Activity by presenting supposed documentary on-the-scene footage.  Then Fourth takes the technique to the next level by adding in dramatized re-enactments portrayed by Hollywood stars, cutting back and forth between the documentary footage and dramatizations, even occasionally running the two side by side for certain scenes.

Milla Jovovich plays psychologist, Abigail Tyler, who is investigating a series of unexplained phenomena she hears about from a number of her patients.  Early in the film, Dr. Tyler notices that several of her patients report trouble sleeping and peculiar images in their dreams, including that of a white owl watching over them.  We’ve all had weird dreams that we couldn’t quite shake off the next day.  So it is mildly creepy to hear different people describe seeing the same detail, and an unusual one at that, in their night terrors.  (Allow me to say that I was watching this movie with my 14-year-old son who was opening an eighth grade graduation card he received at this point in the film.  The card had an owl on it.  Woooooo-oooo).  The patients are all plagued with the feeling of not being able to remember something significant that happens during their dreams.

Dr. Tyler tries using hypnosis to bring these repressed memories into the light of day.  Not good.  Bad things happen.  People die.  Could it be that some things are so terrible that the memory of them causes madness?  An incomplete memory is bliss after all.

I applaud the filmmakers for taking a risk and doing something out of the ordinary.  It’s not exactly a nail-biter but there are a few genuinely disturbing moments.

The Fourth Kind is a different kind of U.F.O. movie that has more in common with supernatural chillers like The Exorcist than it does with sci-fi adventures like Star Trek or War of the Worlds or television’s V. This movie suggests that inhabitants of Nome, Alaska, and possibly millions of other earthlings, are being visited and even abducted by other-worldly entities which may or may not have arrived in your run-of-the-mill spacecraft.  Some scenes resemble episodes of demonic possession or spiritists channeling otherwordly intelligences more than merely patients in psychoanalysis coping with painful recovered memories.  This opens the possibility that these extraterrestrials could be from another dimension or universe instead of merely a distant galaxy.  The influence of Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods and The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel can be seen.  Like a good postmodern sci-fi horror movie, The Fourth Kind delves more into metaphysics than astrophysics.

Like many examples of the horror genre, The Fourth Kind challenges the ability of reason to explain every aspect of human experience.  This movie explicitly argues the point that some phenomena, real and true, lie outside the scope of the scientific method.  Those who cling irrationally to the sufficiency of rationalism are the bad guys here.

Unfortunately, the interspersing of documentary style footage in and around the dramatized parts of the movie failed.  It didn’t make the movie scarier.  It was just distracting at first, but became annoying later on.  The filmmakers should have been forced to make a decision.  Either go the Blair Witch route entirely or scrap that technique altogether and just give the audience a solid dramatization.  It’s possible to have too much of a good thing.  And what works in one scenario, one project, in the hands of certain artists, might not work elsewhere.

I don’t usually use a star system to rank movies, but for this I’d give it a 2.5 out of 5.  Now, if Milla Jovovich had gone all Jack Bauer on the aliens, that might’ve been worth the full five stars.

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District 9 – Review

District 9 – Review

Jan 11, 2010

reviewed by Skot
directed by Neill Blomkamp, 2009

District 9 is proof that you don’t need a ginormous budget or famous faces to put together a terrific movie.  The special effects were stunning.  The unknown main actor deserves to win awards.  And the documentary style utilized by The Blair Witch Project (one of the scariest movies I have ever seen), Cloverfield, and Quarantine was effective.  Not only did I enjoy it, but it has also reaffirmed my faith in the sci-fi and horror genres as sources of meaningful story telling.  Many people would classify it as science fiction because it has space aliens and freaky technology.  But I think of it mostly as a horror flick because it has. . . well, some pretty horrible stuff.  Of course, many movies are a combination of both genres like Frankenstein and David Cronenberg’s The Fly.  In particular, District 9 engages in something critics call body horror, but I don’t want to say too much. This summer’s Transformers picture may be science fiction too but let’s face it, it’s little more than two hours of robots hitting each other.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I love a good robot rumble.  But occasionally, I like for movies to make me think.

There is some pretty obvious social commentary in D-9’s portrayal of apartheid redux, it being set in South Africa and all.  Think of the spacemen as metaphors for any oppressed group.  Consider racism.  Because natural law tells us it is wrong to brutalize other human beings, a racist convinces himself that the “other” is somehow sub-human, less human than himself, which thus releases his conscience, though never fully, to treat the “other” with disrespect or worse.

Like all good horror, District 9 forces you to think further about what it means to be a human being.  This is an extremely important question that, frankly, needs to have more attention paid to it, especially in these days of advancing bio-technology.  We are performing face transplants; swapping body parts, internal or external, with new bits from other people and even animals, replacing human organs with machinery.  Now add cloning experimentation, genetic manipulation and nano-creation and we’ll have all forms of chimera to consider in days to come.  Soon if not sooner.

Scary stories always have to have a monster.  But what is that?  A monster is usually an entity whose essence is ambiguous.  In other words, a man is not a monster, even if he’s a bad person.  And a dog is not a bad animal.  But a half-man/half-dog?  That is a scary monster.  When the essence and identity of a being is ambiguous, it instills a sense of repulsion in us.  Darth Vader is scary not because he dresses in black.  Some of my favorite people dress exclusively in black.  He is scary because we can’t tell how much of him is human and how much is machine.  His essential identity is ambiguous.  Metamorphosis is prominent theme.  Now I ask you, go see D-9 and then tell me who the monsters are.  Is the protagonist more of a human being at the beginning or at the end?  So what makes someone a human being?  His exterior or something else?  While I agree that beauty is more than skin deep, it troubles me somewhat to suggest that one’s humanity is completely unrelated to his corporeality.

On to the theme of Good vs. Evil.  There is value, to be sure, in stories that clearly demarcate the goodies from the baddies.  This is especially for the moral education of children.  Fantasies often do this well.  The Lord of the Rings is more like a fairy tale in this way, a comparison which J.R.R. Tolkien would consider a compliment.  In that beautiful epic, there is no ambiguity, except in the occasional marginal figure like Gollum.  The lines between good and evil are clearly demarcated.

Fairy tales serve an important function and can benefit adults as well as kids.  An adult reader/viewer can also appreciate moral complexity, situations where it is not easy to tell who the baddies are.  This more closely resembles human life on earth the way we presently experience it.  Bad people do good things.  Good people are sometimes bad.

Be warned; this is a graphically gory movie.  Lots of splatter yuck.  Stay away if you like your combat scenes to be no muss, no fuss.

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