Tag Archives: science fiction

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Monster Makers: Rob Bottin

The Last KnockRob Bottin rocked the world with his phenomenal practical effects work in John Carpenter’s The Thing. But wait, there’s more – much more – and we explore the special effects artistry of one of cinema’s very best.

We’ll dive into his work in everything from Piranha and The Fog to The Howling and Se7en, and other films throughout Rob Bottin’s stellar career.

Rob Bottin is the latest in our “Monster Maker” series, so punch that title into the search engine and check them out!

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@Schwarzenegger @MachineMeanBlog @TheRickBaker @MelanieMcCurdie @THETomSavini @OwenMcCuenQuest @JaredLeto @joe_dante @ValeriePrucha @john_sayles @Israel_Finn @BarbaraALeigh @SiaraTyr @jamieleecurtis @HelenaBonhamCar @AFiendOnFilm @abarbeau @dixiefairy @TheHorrorMaster @dkarner @william_lustig @inthenightdoc @RogerCorman @lvfifo @Dee_Wallace @TTBOProductions @KathleenQuinlan4reeL @mariaolsen66 @TomCruise @DonRiemer @RealNancyAllen @patricia_eddy @tahitismith @RealJillyG @TheMarshallBell @VicsMovieDen @sharonstone @LoudGreenBird @TerryGilliam @RSBrzoska @EdwardNorton and Paul J. Williams

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Horror Double Feature: Antibirth and The Love Witch

The Last KnockNo two horror films could be so diametrically opposed. Antibirth is a gritty bizarro film with a 1980’s flavor and The Love Witch comes on with romance through the eyes of a desperate woman. But are they worth watching? And if you’re a fan and supporter of “Women in Horror,” you’ll definitely be interested in these two independent movies.

We go knee deep into both features and deliver our take on Antibirth, The Love Witch, the people who made them, and the people who starred in them for better or worse – and definitely until death due us part.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@TimothiousSmith @TraCee_tr @dkarner @SamesCarolyn @AFiendOnFilm @Kent_Harper @aicforever @cbkillers @RealJillyG @BleedingCritic @isaacrthorne @d_m_elms @palkodesigns @JessicaCameron_ @CarnEvilKlown @RonGizmo @CrypticPictures @nicolemalonso @OklahomaWard @missannabiller @msrobinsun @GianKeys @JeffreyVParise @antibirthmovie @nlyonne @OfficialChloeS

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Interview with TTBO Productions and Owen McCuen

The Last Knock

Kyle Schiffert and Ryan Fox of TTBO Productions, and actor Owen McCuen stop by to speak with Billy Crash about their latest full feature venture. The team’s creating the science fiction time travel thriller, Replace Yourself. A man goes back in time to save his wife and daughter, but he can’t come back, and his old self’s already there…

Find out TTBO Production’s plan to get this indie film squared away, how the phenomenal Owen McCuen fits into the mix, and how you can be a part of the production by visiting their Kickstarter.

THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast presents: ALIEN: COVENANT

The Last Knock

Director Ridley Scott returns with Alien: Covenant, another sci-fi/horror cog in the cosmos. We take a look at the latest installment of the Alien franchise to see if it’s worth another trip into outer space. We not only delve into Alien: Covenant and its value, but focus on Scott, as well as the movie’s writing, mythos, and its thematic resonance,  and if it’s worth rushing out for the next sequel. In space, no one can hear you scream, and no one can hear 20th Century Fox laugh all away to the bank…

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@machinemeannow @sharkkteethsolo @TraCee_tr @CrypticPictures @MelanieMcCurdie @skipbolden @Kent_Harper @RealJillyG @dkarner @RSBrzoska @inthenightdoc @PromoteHorror @palkodesigns @LoudGreenBird @FriscoKidTX @BleedingCritic

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982) – An Appreciation by Jonny Numb

halloween-iii-season-of-the-witch-images-8b7263d5-41d2-4298-bfb5-9dc7114b896 HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)

[98 minutes. R. Director: Tommy Lee Wallace]

In the featurette on Scream Factory’s Blu-ray of Halloween III: Season of the Witch, producer Irwin Yablans, going to bat for the late Moustapha Akkad, takes swing after swing at the creative team, insisting that the removal of burgeoning slasher icon Michael Myers from the series was “a bad idea,” and that he had little involvement with the film outside of “collecting a check.” This not only typifies the cynical stereotype of a film producer, but is an intriguing echo of Akkad’s own cash-grab mentality for the series, which reared its head something bigger and uglier as it continued miserably through the ‘80s and ‘90s. The franchise was never really about Michael Myers: it was about guys like Yablans and Akkad docking another yacht at the pier.

My own history with Season of the Witch – and the Halloween series overall – is odd. For the most part, I prefer the lesser-liked entries as opposed to the canonized fan favorites (I think John Carpenter’s 1978 original is, like The Shining, one of the most overrated horror films of all time). The irony is, I grew up disliking III for the reason Yablans stated – a Halloween film without Myers? That’s like a Reese’s without peanut butter – what’s the point?

But there was something to it all the same. Along with my lukewarm perception of some of the other series entries, I found myself returning to III time and again over the years.

Now I think I know why: rejected initially for its refusal to conform to what the series had established up to that point (the Michael-Loomis-Laurie triangle) – along with a title and marketing campaign that confused potential ticket-buyers – the film failed at the box office. In the ensuing years, as the producers returned to the Michael mythos (following them down the dire “Thorn” rabbit-hole), the original icon proved the law of diminishing returns with some truly abysmal outings.

This, I think, is when the attitude toward III began to change. I know several horror fans who consider it the best of the series because it ditches Michael (outside of his briefly-glimpsed movie-within-a-movie image on TV monitors), and I can imagine those – like myself – who were harsh on it before, noticing new wrinkles in its actually-very-good quality as the Michael slasher antics became indistinguishable from the imitators he spawned.

So, in a way, the producers’ insistence on driving the Myers story into the ground probably worked to III’s ultimate advantage.

While the film didn’t necessarily launch rugged tough-guy actor Tom Atkins into the stratosphere, it did establish his signature character: confident yet not macho; a deadbeat dad, yet not a bad guy; an Average Joe who still wants to do the right thing – not only for his fellow human, but for the world at large. He’s the type of doctor who goes about work with half his shirt unbuttoned, and casts a spell of desire over women almost half his age! He’s the type of blue-collar hero who does his best thinking with a six-pack of Miller or a bottle of bourbon. As typical as it sounds, we want him to save the world and get the girl at the end.

III’s reduced focus on horror is something that also may have soured word of mouth for those who actually did venture out to see it during its theatrical run. Most genre hybrids at that time (like, say, Alien) seamlessly interweaved elements of sci-fi and horror, while the semi-comedic likes of Night of the Creeps were still several years away (you could cite 1981’s Student Bodies, but that was another film that didn’t attain cult status until years later). III integrates everything from Noir (silhouetted characters, smoky bars, rain-streaked windows, seedy motel rooms) to science fiction (Atkins’ “Stop it!” plea at the end is an effective riff on “You’re next!” from Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers) to horror (the film takes place in the isolated town of Santa Mira, rich with banal, Lovecraft-styled menace).

Like many latter-day remakes and homages, III shares more in common with its predecessors than most of its detractors would probably like to admit: Carpenter’s Halloween is alluded to early on as “the immortal classic” and serves as the preamble to the televised “giveaway” that frames the final minutes; ditto the extensive use of over-the-shoulder shots and silhouettes of stoic characters glaring on. In a nod to Halloween II, some early action takes place in a hospital, wherein an assassin (stuntman Dick Warlock), after stalking the halls Michael Myers-style, kills a catatonic old man before proceeding to incinerate himself in the parking lot (remember when Myers went on a hospital rampage before meeting a similarly fiery “end”?).

The elements of mystery are well-integrated, and in telling a different kind of story, writer-director Tommy Lee Wallace (the It television miniseries) avoids a lot of the pitfalls that marred Carpenter’s film. What I found frustrating about the original Halloween (and something that was corrected rather well in the 1981 sequel) was the way it telegraphed its scary moments well in advance – whether by triggering an intrusive musical cue or making the viewer privy to information other characters were not.

III, on the other hand, leaves the audience to speculate on what might be happening in Santa Mira, where the lone industry is Silver Shamrock, a novelty company that manufactures Halloween masks. We pick up on information only as the characters do; thus, an atmosphere of suspense is maintained throughout – Wallace’s script may be the stuff of pulp dreams, but it’s almost brilliant in its execution. And the fact that Silver Shamrock’s founder, Conal Cochran (Robocop’s Dan O’Herlihy) ingratiatingly leaves some of Atkins’s questions unanswered upon his capture is surprisingly endearing. When revealing one of the Stonehenge stones in his factory warehouse, he laughingly states, “We had a time getting it here – you wouldn’t believe how we did it!” And honestly? That’s all we need to know.

But for those who haven’t seen it, the plot involves lifelike robots in business suits, the Celtic festival of Samhain (which, if you’ll recall, was mentioned several times in Halloween II), and a plot to kill the children of America on Halloween night.

The key supporting cast is wonderful: Stacey Nelkin plays a Nancy Drew-ish daughter pursuing the explanation for her kindly father’s murder, her performance reverberating with as much common sense as wide-eyed wonder as events unfold. O’Herlihy essays one of the most unconventional villains ever depicted on-screen; with charm to burn, he lays out his plans for world annihilation with the confidence of a Bond villain, but is never smug. If anything, his bemusement at his own fate nicely mirrors his P.T. Barnum approach to chaos. And if we want to go even further, his character is an apt corollary to Sebastian (William Sanderson) in Blade Runner (released the same year) – a lonely toymaker who relates more to automatons than people.

Granted, there are things in III that are kind of stupid: from the cheaply-affixed buttons that fall off the kids’ masks (calling into question the robots in charge of Cochran’s quality control); the way Atkins – who isn’t seen operating a computer at any point in the film – is able to easily cue up the Silver Shamrock “death feed” at the climax; and how, mere minutes before the mass murder is scheduled to occur, Atkins is able to get a national TV station on the phone and, despite his manic demeanor…well, I won’t give it away. (But seriously: in 1982, were there really only three television channels in the United States?) There’s also the “hide-behind-the-moving-mask-cart” trick that Sideshow Bob subsequently used on an episode of The Simpsons. These elements would be distracting in a lesser film, but here they add a peculiar charm.

The plot is already out there, so why not shoot for the moon – or, at the very least, Stonehenge?

4 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis Support Team:

unknownJonny Numb (aka Jonathan Weidler) spends his days clowning around for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and writes horrific movie reviews by night. His work can also be found at loudgreenbird.com. He judges other things via antisocial media @JonnyNumb (Twitter and Letterboxd), and co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast with @crashpalace.

(Halloween III photo from Atherton.)

THE LAST KNOCK presents: Alien Invasion

The Last Knock

In the 1950s, with the looming Space Race, Project Blue Book, and feared mutations from The Atomic Age, alien invasion films wormed their way into many a theatre to make audiences scream. Yet, even today,  aliens landing to meet and eat continue to be a mainstay in the horror/sci-fi splice. We look at the cool alien invasion films that may haunt you as we explore the sub genre in spacesuits and death rays in hand – just in case. Enjoy the journey from Xtro and Slither, to Altered and They Live – and more of course, because if you see one alien from another planet, you know there are many more ready to make their move.

This episode’s SCREAM OUTS from Twitter: 

@TuttleNTexas @KeyzKeyzworth @gothicgourdgirl @23halfFilms @horrorhq @hanalpixan @Talk2Cleo @PiloteXYZ @CPBialois @Sharayah1992 @OwenMcCuenQuest @hviff @RealJillyG @wheelchairjitsu @isaacrthorne @BleedingCritic @AmandaBergloff @cheeseandglory @dixiefairy @BleedingCritic @AmandaBergloff @CheeseAndGlory @d_m_elms @RSBrzoska @GTGMcast @palkodesigns @VicsMovieDen @Israel_Finn @WilliamFriedkin @dvdinfatuation @LoudGreenBird

Crash Analysis: Why I Love LIFEFORCE (UK/USA, 1985)

MovieRoom2I hadn’t planned on writing a review (of sorts) about a thirty-year-old horror that’s been much maligned, but Lawrence Roy Aiken compelled me to do so.

Like many horror fans, Lawrence thinks Lifeforce is “awful”, and I admitted that it’s a guilty pleasure of mine. Yes, that means I’m admitting that the movie isn’t necessarily spectacular, but for reasons I’ll share, I find the film compelling.

When I went to see Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce I almost walked out before the opening credits. As soon as I realized that it was a Cannon Films and Golan-Globus Productions movie, I knew I should bail. After all, both entities had developed and released a multitude of cheesy, B-movie bombs from Delta Force to Superman IV. (Both companies failed to survive the 1990s.)

Then I saw a couple of things that gave the movie merit: The film was co-written by Alien scribe Dan O’Bannon, with music from the respected Henry Mancini. Furthermore, the man who helped bring special effects to an entirely new level with the original Star Wars franchise, Jon Dykstra, was also the master of effects on this project. Finally, and originally the most important element to me at the time, the movie starred the under-appreciated character actor, Steve Railsback. Therefore, I stayed put and indulged.

Lifeforce is about a UK/USA crew on HMS Churchill, a shuttle following Haley’s Comet. As they approach, they see something gigantic in the comet – a space ship. Of course, they must investigate, and when they do, they unleash an alien presence that could consume the world, starting with the city of London. Based on “The Space Vampires” from Colin Wilson, O’Bannon and Don Jakoby adapted the work. However, Wilson’s book is a total bore. Other than the opening, the remainder of the novel is equivalent to a stage play of two talking heads discussing vampirism. The book had no bite, but at least Hooper and company were set to inject life into the narrative.

Although Lifeforce was a major expense for Cannon Films, and even though Railsback told me that this was the largest production he had ever worked on, the movie has a definite “B” feel. Unlike other movies of that type, John Graysmark was diligent with production design, along with the art department, in helping to create or enhance a multitude of settings: a British shuttle, an alien spacecraft, a church, several offices and other interiors, along with many outdoor shots. Bringing the visuals together is the late, great Alan Hume, who handled cinematography for The Legend of Hell House, The Legacy, and one-hundred more films. The movie also stars several renowned actors, from Frank Finlay and Colin Firth, to future Enterprise captain, Sir Patrick Stewart.

Why do so many people hate this thing? A couple of the visual effects could certainly be better, but for most who’ve discussed it with me, they didn’t care for much of the jumping around (there are many locations and an abundance of characters). Others think the story got out of hand and ultimately came off as silly.

No, I don’t like the film because Mathilda May is walking around naked almost the entire time (she had completely divorced herself from the movie, and from what I understand, you couldn’t even mention Lifeforce in her presence. However, she now seems to have a new appreciation for what became her introduction to feature film.) What I loved about the movie is that it was a fun horror full of action and intrigue. Yes, I immersed myself in the story and went along for the ride. I loved Dykstra’s emaciated vampires, Railsback and Firth made for a great buddy team, Finlay crushed it as Dr. Fallada, and I got to go on a whirlwind ride. Plus, I liked the story overall. Simply put, Lifeforce was an ol’ time matinee blast – a real popcorn movie.

Why should you see it? Because it’s fun, dammit. Plus, for Sir Patrick Stewart fans, you get to see him get his first on-screen kiss – at the lips of Steve Railsback. And if you love the vampire subgenre, the tale is certainly different from the typical fair, so feel free to engage in something far removed from the Transylvania legend.

About ten years ago, I purchased an original, mint condition movie poster of Lifeforce for a mere $15 (US). Sure, I felt like I had made out like a bandit, but then I realized that if the movie had been well received, the price might have been through the roof. Still, it hangs proudly in my dark purple living room in a custom frame that cost almost ten times as much…

4.5 out of 5 stars

(Photo from Billy Crash.)

Crash Analysis: A Bug Hunt: ALIENS

Four_Marines-A2*** Spoilers abound ***

In 1986 James Cameron’s ALIENS was released, and I was one of many in theatres around the world engaging the action/sci-fi/horror. Though it received several Academy Award nominations, and is adored by many around our little blue ball, I always hated the damn thing – even before I saw poor Lance Henriksen pop out of his hole, revealing the lower half of his body to catch that screeching urchin, Newt.

Yes, the original ALIEN is my favorite film, but don’t think I’m knocking on Cameron’s second installment simply because it’s a sequel.

The year is 2179, and Lieutenant Ripley, the sole-survivor of the Nostromo, has been rescued by a salvage team. Brought back to Earth, she learns that she’s been floating in space for 57-years, and in short order, the planetoid where the Nostromo crew had picked up the alien now has a small colony on it – and “the company” has lost contact with the place. Of course her employer’s ticked that she blew up their ship because they don’t buy her story (it’s amazing how Cameron left out any civil ramifications for her implied murder of six crew members. However, Ripley eventually sets off as an advisor with Colonial Marines, aliens run amok, and the only question is: “Who will survive?”

After the opening with the salvage crew (the best part of the movie), we soon discover that Ripley’s Colonial Marine buddies must have been magically transported from 1968. Instead of coming up with clever slang and such, Cameron fell back on Vietnam War speak and characterizations that are all sad caricatures, whether they’re discussing cornbread based cuisine, how “short” some of the “grunts” are with enlistment, or scoring some “poontang.” Again with the element of caricature, we have a rag-tag group of rejects (Vasquez and Drake), including a nutcase (Hudson), and other passive-aggressive or “soldiers on the ball” (Hicks, among other red shirts). They are led in command by their big daddy sergeant, Apone, the spokes model for the Corps, and what would be called a “90-day wonder” in Vietnam: Lieutenant Gorman. The lieutenant is the new “by the numbers” guy who’s had all the training but none of the practical experience. Oh, and “the company” (now named in the sequel as the “Weyland-Utani Corporation”) has sent along their own representative in a snake oil man named Burke.

None of the dialogue is new or special for the age, though STARSHIP TROOPERS screenwriter, Edward Neumeier had no trouble employing new lingo, something author Robert A. Heinlein had even failed to do. But when Hudson makes an illegal alien joke about Vasquez’s ethnicity, I find it hard to believe that we’d still have that issue almost two centuries from now.

To date, the only horror movie I can think of that presented a military unit in its best trained and most logical form is Neil Marshall’s DOG SOLDIERS. But in ALIENS, they are loose, cliquish, and silly. Besides their Pulse Rifles (which includes parts of a Franchi SPAS-12 shotgun), Hicks carries an Ithaca Model 37 pump shotgun “for close encounters”, while Private Frost whips out a Heckler-Koch VP-70, and Vasquez sports a Smith and Wesson Model 39 automatic. Now, we’re about two hundred years in the future, and these marines carry weapons from the late 20th century? That’s ridiculous. That means my personal back up on the field would be a 1793 Versailles Flintlock Cavalry Carbine. I don’t think so. I guess they raided a museum on the way to the planetoid.

So the company apparently wanted to send the worst, most ill prepared group to the colony. Once again, as in the original, they send along a “goddamned robot” with Bishop, who can’t harm humans. Of course, this kicks Ripley’s PTSD into high gear, and it’s clear that she’ll eventually trust him over time. Yawn. We also learn that the only survivor of the colony is a squealing little runt called “Newt.” And in an instant, Ripley becomes her surrogate mommy, and we know beyond a doubt that absolutely nothing will happen to the squirt (though I truly wanted an alien to tear her to shreds). Another yawn.

The worst part about ALIENS, however, may be the transformation of Ripley as intelligent survivor of an alien attack to an obnoxious, bitchy, know-it-all. What we loved about her in the original has been stripped away as she becomes what many theatregoers at the time labeled as “Rambette” (Sylvester Stallone’s ludicrous “Rambo” crap was big at the time). Her ugliness shines through in the scene where the marines are below the nuclear engine that drives the colony. When it’s made clear that the ammo the marines use can damage the tanks, which would end in a thermo-nuclear explosive of epic proportions, Gorman orders Apone to collect ammo yet continue with the sweep. In short order, the aliens unleash themselves, and the near defenseless marines are either dead or dying. It’s full combat, and Gorman freezes, but Ripley’s suddenly in full mental awareness and tells them to get out of there. One: did anyone need to tell them to pull out? Two: If one listens to Gorman’s wimpy dialogue about “laying down” suppressing fire and to withdraw, his plan’s pretty solid, but no one can hear the whispering pinhead over the carnage. Third – and most crucial – this is a nuclear power plant without the capability of exploding in mass megatonnage. Sure, a meltdown could happen as well as intense contamination, but a nuclear explosion? Never. It’s clear that Cameron didn’t give a damn about any semblance of reality and simply wanted to create a mindless action romp.

Other stupid stuff:

In the original, when an alien bleeds acid, it burns through a few decks. However, although marines are affected by acid splashes, when the aliens are initially attacked under the power plant, acid doesn’t burn through floors or walls.

How the hell did little shit Newt survive all that time? If these aliens are so damn smart – intelligent enough for the queen to not only get on an elevator but pick the right floor – how come none of these creatures ambushed her outside of her hiding place? Better still, all Newt does is scream, which gives away her position time and time again. Nope. She would have been nothing but food or a place to lay an egg.

Speaking of which, Burke apparently wanted to impregnate Ripley and Newt to get them back to Earth for the bio-weapons division. But if his plan had worked, the marines would have seen the facehuggers stuck to their faces because they like to hang on for a while. Plus, they would have known something was up because the two had been locked in the med lab and Ripley’s Pulse Rifle had been removed. You think the company would have sent a sharper scumbag along.

After the first dropship exploded, why didn’t Hicks get Bishop to bring down the other dropship right away so they could escape? Nope, they had to wait until almost all hope was lost to get the hell out of there for good. This is pure idiocy, and more bad writing on Cameron’s part.

Best of all: who knew that Ripley was so ripped? Just think of the finale, which doesn’t do much to deviate from the original, because the only way to get rid of the queen is make sure the vacuum of space gets her. Yet, even with Ripley’s “loader” (the mechanical suit I’m still surprised we don’t have yet – and no, that’s not a nod to Cameron, but a nod to Heinlein), space, and the alien queen tugging on her, she gets away, and even climbs a ladder to shut the doors. Incredible.

So don’t be suckered. ALIENS may look good, and even sound cool, but the narrative is weak, and the plot is full of enough holes to make that planetoid a piece of cheese. A marine unit, or any military unit for that matter, wouldn’t last a day if they acted like they’d never been trained. And for Hudson? It would have been “game over” long beforehand because guys like that wouldn’t qualify for a mission.

If you’re a military/horror fan, watch DOG SOLDIERS. And if you love a great sci-fi horror, check out Ridley Scott’s ALIEN and enjoy the character interactions and claustrophobia. As for Cameron, he does choose visuals over story, but I do have respect for the man. Watch his documentary on the sinking of the Bismarck and you’ll find something truly worthwhile.

one star out of five

(Photo from Avi.Wikia.)

Crash Analysis: CRAWL OR DIE (2014)

Panic Time

A phobia-inducing nightmare

I was sold on CRAWL OR DIE nine months ago when I saw the trailer – the best one I’dcrawl-or-die-poster seen in twenty years. Granted, a trailer is a promise that you are going to see something worthwhile and entertaining. As we know, all too often, filmmakers fail to deliver on that promise, but not Oklahoma Ward.

A military unit is on a single-minded mission: protect the package, and get it to safety. Sounds simple, right? But in CRAWL OR DIE, it’s far from easy. Right from the beginning, we find ourselves running for our lives as the group does its best to stave off slaughter from an unseen attacker. To do so, they must go underground into the unknown, and that’s the least of their worries.

What Oklahoma Ward does best is he keeps the audience right in the action with close-up and sometimes extreme close-up camera work. This creates one of the most intimate and oppressive sci-fi horrors. We not only feel the claustrophobia the characters endure, we experience this firsthand as if we’re stuck with them. I have no problem with tight spaces, but while immersing myself in CRAWL OR DIE, I realized my breathing became labored. Twice, I gasped for air. I soon realized I needed a therapist on speed dial, with a chiropractor at the ready, as well as the promise of a hot shower to carry off the dirt and sweat.

The film stars Nicole Alonso as Tank, and what she endured while filming must have left her with dozens of bruises from crawling through one tight space into another one that was even tighter and dirtier. At times, with her gasping and near panic, I wondered if she was acting or feeling the constraint and near hopelessness of her character.

Most films suffer the second act doldrums, but this is truly where the film shines, because fear and trepidation rain down aplenty. It’s easy to watch the characters struggle, to hear them gulp for air and sweat, but there’s no doubt many in the audience will ask if they could handle such an experience.

CRAWL OR DIE could have easily been a shoot ‘em up horror, but writer/director Oklahoma Ward chose to keep us nearly trapped in ultra-close quarters, evoking what any great horror film should do – fear and suspense. The camera angles, editing, and ambient sounds add to the thematic tone. We watch and become crushed under the weight of earth and metal, under the pressure from being trapped below ground, barely able to move while something hunts us with abandon. If that isn’t enough, Tank and company (including the great filmmaker/actor David P. Baker as Sniper) must endure other hardships: lack of food, water, and medical supplies, and low ammunition, and absolutely no roadmap. They are underground, on their own, with only one option: CRAWL OR DIE.

Isolation hasn’t worked this well since 2010’s BURIED (Spain/USA/France), where we watch Ryan Reynolds wallow in a box for ninety minutes. But CRAWL OR DIE graces us with a feeling of hope, which ramps the tension and suspense because we don’t want to see it fall apart. Sure, any of the characters could have taken themselves out due to fear, but what if there is light at the end of tunnel? Maybe this is why Tank pushed on even when she knew the odds were steadfast against her.

The music is minimal, and oftentimes non-existent, and its absence only adds to the oppressive feeling. The lighting is perfect, creating little pockets of possibility in the tight knit abyss thanks to Craig Chartier and Oklahoma Ward. And for a low budget film, the special effects are wonderful.

Dive into CRAWL OR DIE just like the characters and go for the ride. An experience that will plague you long after the credits roll.

In the meantime as you wait for CRAWL OR DIE to arrive in the mail, get yourself ready with THE LAST KNOCK interview of director Oklahoma Ward and star Nicole Alonso right here: http://crashpalaceproductions.com/2013/11/13/crash-discussions-interview-crawl-bitch-crawl-director-oklahoma-ward-star-nicole-alonso/

Definitely don’t miss the most phobia-inducing horror since FINAL DESTINATION’s (USA/Canada, 2000). But where that movie left you off the hook after the first act, CRAWL OR DIE will bury you.

4 out of 5 stars

http://www.crawlordietrilogy.com/

(Photo from Starburst Magazine.)

Crash Analysis: FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY (Netherlands/USA/Czech Republic, 2013)

They’re Alive!

Action/sci-fi/horror coolness…

Before Richard Raaphorst’s FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY made it to screens, stills of the doctor’s creations hit Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Those killer images captured one’s frankensteins_army_xlgimagination, like collector cards from another era. After all, it wasn’t hard to not be hooked by the tremendous Steampunk like images – as if that bratty kid from TOY STORY had grown up and really got to work on monstrous manifestations.

It’s the end of World War II and a group of Soviet soldiers are deep into German territory. But this mission must be special because an officer films the band’s every step with color film – a hard thing to come by in the day. And that makes the regulars skittish, especially when they come across a village with a secret that brings the story of Viktor Frankenstein to reality.

What Raaphorst brings us is a World War II fantasy of stellar proportions with enough conflict to rival any serious drama. Beyond that, it’s hard to watch FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY and not wonder what the hell will happen next. Once the soldiers leave “the big one” behind and enter the surreal nightmare world that seems to be a conspiratorial fabrication between Salvador Dali and Hieronymous Bosch, we’re truly in no man’s land. It’s cold, dark, gritty, and you can smell the grease of what becomes the equivalent of a funhouse incorporated by reanimated cyborgs.

Bart Beekman’s cinematography is spot on fabulous, and Jindrich’s Kocí’s production design will amaze. The two join forces to bring the audience a compelling labyrinth of steel and concrete that only adds to the creepiness – especially when one of Viktor’s (Karel Roden) monsters can jump out, jump down, or jump in to tear someone apart at any given moment.

Yes, it sounds like a gorehound’s dream, or a horror video game for the brainless. Not at all. As Viktor states, “My father said men will be more efficient if they have hammers and screwdrivers instead of fingers.” And this leads to one of the films most thematic elements. Near the end of World War II, the Nazi regime was desperate. After all, the so-called “superior” Arayan race was losing to a bunch of worthless Slavs, Brits, Americans, and other lesser cretins. Hitler’s henchman and his elite SS couldn’t do the job. They failed as men as well as a self-imposed pure, chosen race. And what does Viktor use to fill the void and pick up the slack? The dead mixed with machine, a menagerie of death dealing mayhem to turn the tide.

But we’re in the middle of nowhere and Viktor doesn’t seem to have a rock steady Igor by his side. This is a madman, like Hitler, with blinders on, ready to go full steam ahead. Where Hitler had an ideal, a final solution, and a desire for an opera house in every city, Viktor wants life-sized toys to wreck havoc as if he were a villain from a lost James Bond movie. This is FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY, not the fuhrer’s, and Viktor could care less about political rhetoric or desire.

What’s in it for Viktor? Who the hell knows. That’s what. He’s a man with a talent and he’s delivering the mechanized material that will unleash chaos. Maybe he’s Batman’s Joker, the man without a plan who just wants to watch the world burn.

Raaphorst brought to the screen a blast of a film that should have been doomed. Yes, as an art director, he’s served on the phenomenal World War II drama BLACK BOOK (Netherlands, 2006), the ill-fated horror, SLAUGHTER NIGHT (Belgium/Netherlands, 2006), and he even worked with Stuart Gordon on DAGON (Spain, 2001), among others. But the concern for potential doom comes from the fact that FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY stemmed from the minds of four writers. Normally, only three writers maximum receive credit, and they are usually the final three to work on the script, and not all at the same time. Mary Shelley gets credit for the characters, but “story” credits go to the director and Miguel Tejada-Flores, who is also listed as a “writer” along with Chris W. Mitchell. One would think the end result from so many heads coming together would be a Frankenstein monster of failure, but Tejada-Flores has been a notable writer since his REVENGE OF THE NERDS screenplay became a hit in 1984, and SCREAMERS (Canada/USA/Japan, 1995) has many a Philip K. Dick and Dan O’Bannon fan. Mitchell may not have Tejada-Flores’s pedigree, but like Raaphorst, he’s no stranger to collaboration.

Film is a collaborate process, and Raaphorst proves that he loves the collective creativity it takes to make a film. I can see him, along with Tejada-Flores and Mitchell having a blast like little boys as, like Viktor, they create their action-based masterpiece. All three, along with the teenage vision of Shelley, bring us a fullblown tale of monsters and Victorian era like macabre that’s as exciting and as fast-paced as any other action film.

Sure, you have to throw reality out the window: Everyone speaks English instead of their respective Russian or German, and I have no doubt this was influenced by American co-production interests because, sadly, US audiences have a collective aversion to “reading” movies. And the color film quality is stellar. If we’re supposed to believe the images of FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY were from found footage, the film should be far less crisp. I actually searched for Soviet World War II color film footage and came up with only photographs.

Richard Raaphorst’s creature designs will have one’s head spinning. And one can imagine comic books, video games, and sequels stemming from what he’s developed. In this sense, Raaphorst himself is Viktor Frankenstein – and that’s a great thing for those of us who want to enjoy a wild ride with endless possibilities.

Indulge in the fun, wit, and chaos of FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY. It’s a definite keeper for any collection. And I certainly hope the team is working on a killer sequel – because I want more. Much more. I guess you can say Raaphorst created a monster…

4 out of 5 stars.

(Photo from Imp Awards.)