Hawk the Slayer: D&D Cheese

Hawk the Friggin’ Slayer.  Yes, I’m going there.  You bet your ass.

Cast your mind back (if you’re young enough) to the year of 1980.  There, gifted unto the world was the glorious cheese of Hawk the Slayer.  I first witnessed this wondrous spectacle on HBO (before there were more than one.)  This happened briefly after the insidious, Satan-worshipping evil of Dungeons and Dragons possessed me.  Other than the animated Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, D&D fandom had few cinematic representatives.

Then along comes a cheesefest filled to the brim with elves, dwarves, giants, magic swords and witches.  Oh sweet Demogorgon, yes!

What did I care that the majority of the special effects consisted of glowing superballs, smoke pots, shiny hula hoops and bad stop-motion arrows?  It mattered naught!  To battle!

I AM NOT OVERACTING!

Anyway, the plot is pretty simple.  Bad guy brother Voltan (played by the scenery-chewing Jack Palance) kills his father the king.  Good guy brother Hawk (played with wooden fortitude by John Terry) gets the gift of “The Mindsword” from dad and swears to avenge his death.  The power of The Mindsword (so far as I can determine) consists of reacting to the wielder’s mental commands and lighting the way through a haunted forest at one point.  Other powers are a bit murky–try again later.

Voltan sports a Darth Vader style helmet that helps conceal his burned features.  Burned, incidentally, by Hawk’s lady love right before Voltan kills her.  Yeah, Voltan’s a shitty brother.  You can kinda see why he’s never invited to family reunions.

Years later Voltan’s ravaging the countryside, like a good villain.  He kidnaps the Abbess of a convent and tries to ransom her back to the church.  Unsure which god the church

Still better than most of the D&D groups I’ve known.

worships.  Scientology?  Instead a crossbowman named Ranulf (W. Morgan Sheppard) wounded by Voltan seeks a group to help rescue the Abbess and defend the convent.  This is where we get a “Magnificent Seven” vibe as a group of misfits (Player Characters or Murder Hobos–you decide) is assembled by Ranulf and Hawk.  The group consists of: Gort the Giant (Bernard Bresslaw from Krull “fame”), Crow the Elf (Ray Charleson), Baldin the Dwarf (Peter O’Farrell) and The Sorceress (Patricia Quinn).

At least half of these folks are recruited by rescuing them from brigands.  Seriously, there are brigands all over the place.  Brigands stealing.  Brigands trying to burn witches.  Brigands cheating at archery contests.  It’s like a brigand convention.  I figure half of this world’s population is brigands.

Special Effects!

The lion’s share of the rest of the movie consists of the group playing cat and mouse with Voltan and killing a lot of his redshirts.  Lots.  How Voltan kept recruits with his attrition rate just tells you more about brigand overpopulation than the quality of his leadership.  Keep your brigands spayed and neutered.

There follows the inevitable confrontation between the brothers.  You can guess what happens.

This film was slapped together in six weeks for a mere six hundred thousand pounds in Buckinghamshire, England.  (This explains the preponderance of British actors in it.)  The

I’ve got this trick I do with a fish . . .

movie had a theatrical release in the UK, but the production company ITC went tits-up before it could be released in the United States.  Instead it became cable television fodder and a warm, cheesy memory to hordes of nerds everywhere.  Afterward, it became a cult movie classic to the point that a campaign happened to create a sequel called Hawk the Hunter.  Unfortunately, the Kickstarter campaign failed miserably.

Dig up a copy and enjoy.

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Krull: A Flawed Movie That Could Have Been Great

In the ancient days of yore (1983) I viewed a movie called Krull.  It is a strange tale.  Neither science fiction nor fantasy.  Not great, but not terrible.  I weep for the movie it could have been.

This chimera of a movie is the tale of an alien invasion of a fantasy world.  Sort of.  Details are a little fuzzy. 

Essentially, a big bad called “The Beast” invades the planet Krull with an interplanetary castle called The Black Fortress.  The fortress disgorges a bunch of (literally) faceless bad guys called “slayers” (no, not the band,) armed with one-shot blasters called “neon spears”.  The slayers run around conquering Krull for The Beast apparently has a bit of a hard-on for Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony).  I can almost see his point, as she’s a fine-looking woman, but planetary invasion seems like overkill.  The Beast apparently thinks that the way to woo her affections is by kidnapping her and slaughtering her family.  Not exactly progressive.

“Hey, could you hold onto this nuclear weapon for a bit?”

Standing in the way of The Beast’s incredibly violent nuptial plans is Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall). Slayers interrupt  their wedding ceremony when they nab Lyssa.  Their wedding is meant to unify their two kingdoms against The Beast.  Instead, we get to see pretty much every soldier they have die in one night.  Anyway, in what would be an important plot point in a better movie, the wedding ceremony involves a ceremony where Lyssa hands Colwyn a magical flame.  Or rather, she tries to before the slayer wedding crashers arrive.

Fear the Death Frisbee!

Lyssa gets abducted, Colwyn gets injured and everyone else in the castle dies.  Along comes Ynyr, the Old One (no, not Cthulhu.)  Ynyr (Freddie Jones) is a kind of Obi-Wan mentor to Colwyn, and leads him to find a magical weapon called The Glaive.  Colwyn finds this magical, edged Death Frisbee after a very boring climbing sequence which ends with him pulling The Glaive out of lava.  I think it’s meant as a “test of faith”, but I’m not sure.

Armed with the Death Frisbee, Colwyn and Ynyr set out to find The Black Fortress.  The snag is that the fortress teleports every morning to another place on the planet.  Now, how The Beast maintains any logistics with that setup, I don’t know.  I do know it makes it pretty hard to storm the evil headquarters.  Probably pretty hard to receive any mail, too.

“Fred, did you notice a black fortress there last night?”

Along the way, Colwyn and Ynyr pick up a gang of followers.  Ergo the Magnificent (David Battley) is a magical faerie-type fellow, who has a running joke of trying to transform others into animals, only to become the animal himself.  Rell the Cyclops (Bernard Bresslaw) tags along with the backstory of how The Beast cheated his people of an eye to see the future–but the only thing they can see is their own deaths.  Finally, a group of outlaws led by Torquil (Alun Armstrong) joins up.  Liam Neeson, in one of his early roles, plays an outlaw named Kegan.

This motley band sets out to find the Black Fortress in a series of encounters with a body count akin to a Friday the Thirteenth movie.  Torquil’s outlaws serve admirably as redshirts and have worse life expectancy than V.A. patients.  There are a couple of decent fight sequences and a memorable stop-motion giant spider with the “Widow in the Web”.  Unfortunately, slow pacing and ponderous editing neutralize a lot of the good stuff.

The actors are all very British–with the exception of Ken Marshall.  The actors are all very competent–with the exception of Ken Marshall.  Seriously, Ken isn’t strong enough to carry a movie.  The guy’s a block of wood, made worse by the solid actors around him.

My biggest complaint is probably the ending.  The Glaive/Death Frisbee finally gets used against The Beast (and why he didn’t use it in previous fights isn’t explained) only to be useless.  Then suddenly Lysette hands Colwyn that marriage flame and now Colwyn can shoot friggin’ Godzilla-sized flames!  Apparently nobody at the wedding party mentioned “Oh, by the way, you can use that marriage flame like a super-flamethrower.  I mean, if you wanted.”

(beats head into wall)

Can you foresee me in better movies?

I can’t help but wonder who decided this ending made sense.  It could have been fixed to make sense.  I can think of a half-dozen ways off the top of my head.  But no, they decided “Nah, this is good enough.”

That’s what irks me the most about this movie.  There are several moments throughout where it starts to work, only to slam into a wall.  The production values are excellent.  The acting (with one glaring exception) is solid.  The musical score by James Horner is outstanding.  With a rewrite and somebody other than Ken Marshall, this movie had a lot of potential.  Hell, even with Ken Marshall they could have muddled through.

I can still enjoy parts of this movie.  The points which rise above.  Mostly, I just mourn for the movie it could have been.  It might be why I’m an aficionado of Spelljammer and similar fanboy nonsense.

It’s worth watching once for the oddball nature of it and those moments I mentioned.  Check it out.

Infra-Man: Glorious Cheese

Infra-Man hit American screens in 1976.  Known in China as either “The Super Inframan” or “Chinese Superman”.  My first viewing was as a little moppet of seven years old.  Even in a seven-year-old’s eyes, it’s a weird movie.  It’s a Chinese superhero movie with insane visuals, monsters and a lot of Kung Fu.

The Shaw Brothers cobbled this strange gem together, along with some Japanese help.  In appearance, the Infra-Man character looks a lot like Kamen Rider, which is probably intentional.  In fact, all elements of Infra-Man have a “borrowed” or imitative feel.  This doesn’t detract from the cheese vibe of the film, and in fact, enhances it.  It looks like a Japanese production, fights like a Hong Kong film, and has elements from American television.  The Six Million Dollar man was popular at the time and they shoehorned the “bionic” elements as much as possible.

As the movie begins, a Disco-Dominatrix-looking chick named Queen Dragon Mom (Terry Lau) appears from beneath the Earth with an army of monsters.  She blows up a bunch of Chinese cities to demonstrate her powers.  Dragon Mom plans on conquering the Earth (naturally).  The only thing standing in her way is a group of heroic agents wearing shiny jumpsuits.  And motorcycle helmets.  

Don’t overthink it.

Anyway, this group of intrepid agents is outmatched by Dragon Mom’s forces.  So their intrepid head scientist, Professor Liu Ying-de (Wang Hsieh) asks for a volunteer to become Infra-Man.  He apparently had plans for this project, but needed someone to go through the torturous process.  Our hero, Lei Ma (Danny Lee) volunteers to become the bug-eyed Infra-Man, no matter the cost.

The professor crafts Infra-Man with consummate care, which consists of sticking parts from Radio Shack on him.  Combined with blinking lights.  Unfortunately, while the professor works, one of the monsters attacks.  It’s called (I think) “Plant Monster” and looks like a combination of Cthulhu and one of the animated trees from “HR Pufnstuf”.  It plants itself and grows into a giant plant/tree/something and starts smashing up “Science Headquarters”.  The power is cut during the attack and Lei nearly dies on the table.  Intrepid agents restore the power, and Infra-Man is born!  He leaps to the attack and quickly prunes back the arboreal menace.  (Yes, I went there.)

Speaking of the monsters, these are some drug-trippy things.  Besides the Plant Monster, there are: The Spider Monster, which looks like a fat, humanoid spider and can grow to Kaiju size.  The Mutant Drill which is . . . umm, a green scaly guy with a drill for a hand.)  Long Hair Monster (which is like a troll doll without a face,) and lots of others.  There are also the obligatory faceless flunkies of the Skeleton Ghosts.  The Skeleton Ghosts wear black jumpsuits and motorcycle helmets painted up as skeletons.  Yes, I’m serious.

The movie is a series of excuses to have superhero Kung Fu fights and the plot, such as it is, is mostly superfluous.  It culminates in a giant brawl in the volcano headquarters of Queen Dragon Mom, with enough action for a sugar-dose ADHD child.

Infra-Man is gloriously fucking bizarre and cheesy.  It’s not all fun, as the movie drags in places, but when it’s fun, it’s pretty damn fun.  Go ingest your drug of choice and watch it.  Now.

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Battleship: A Good B Movie

Battleship came out in 2012 and I ignored it.  I thought: “This is a movie based on a friggin’ board game.  No thank you.”  I didn’t get a chance to watch it until 2014.  Surprise!  It’s pretty good.

Don’t misunderstand me, it’s a B movie.  There is no danger of an Academy Award in Battleship’s future.  Taken for all that, it’s genuinely entertaining and not nearly as mind-numbing as Michael Bay’s tripe.  The fact that the writers and director are able to make a decent movie out of the board game Battleship ought to be an award unto itself.  More than that, they somehow shoehorned elements of the board game into the plot without making it seem completely ludicrous.  If someone never played the game and knew nothing of it, they would probably never realize it within the movie.

The gist of the plot is that mankind sends a signal to a nearby star system where an Earth-like planet is discovered.  The aliens respond with an invasion (naturally.)  Five ships are ‘warping’ (or whatever FTL hand wave you want to use) towards Earth when their communications ship collides with a satellite.  That ship crashes into Hong Kong while the other four land in the Pacific.  Three destroyers on a joint training mission investigate the ships.

Onboard the destroyers are two main characters–Lt. Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) and Captain Nagata (Tadanobu Asano).  Alex is every cliche of the ‘wild maverick’.  He only joined the Navy because his brother, Stone (Alexander Skarsgård) got him a deal to stay out of jail.  The offending incident occurred when Alex tried a stupid stunt to impress Sam Shane (Brooklyn Decker) and destroyed a convenience store.  Sam is the daughter of U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Terrance Shane (Liam Neeson).  Liam,  by the way, is completely wasted in this movie.  He phoned in this role and kept checking to make sure his check cleared.

A force field is projected from the mothership, keeping out the rest of the Pacific Fleet.  The destroyers engage the alien ships and two of them are destroyed.  Stone is killed and Alex fulfills the Young Action Hero stereotype by acting stupidly.  Despite that, the lone destroyer escapes annihilation and plays a cat and mouse game with the aliens after sundown.  Unable to find them on radar, they use NOAA tsunami buoys to track them.  This is where they shoehorn the game elements, as the destroyer must fire its missiles blind, hoping for a hit.  It’s actually not as stupid as it sounds.

Meanwhile, Sam is (coincidentally) accompanying a veteran double amputee named Mick Canales (Gregory D. Gadson) into the Hawaiian mountains.  Where (coincidentally) they run into a communications station invaded by aliens.  Coincidentally (nod, nod, wink, wink.)  They discover that they have to take out the aliens before they use the communications station to call for reinforcements.

The last destroyer sinks while destroying the final alien ship, only leaving the mothership.  Without a vessel, the survivors commandeer the USS Missouri (‘Mighty Mo’) battleship at Pearl Harbor.  The ship is essentially a tourist attraction and the destroyer crew isn’t familiar enough with the old ship to pilot it.  Fortunately, several WW2 veterans of the Missouri are onboard for a celebration and help them pilot the Mo.  What follows is easily the best part of the movie, when they fire up the Missouri and engage the mothership.

This all sounds cheesy.  It is cheesy–but in a good way.  The movie uses real veterans like Gregory D. Gadson and the Mighty Mo vets.  Any movie that shows the level of love towards vets that this one does has a warm spot in my heart.

I won’t reveal much more, since I want you to watch this movie and give it a chance.  It’s got heart, even if the brains are a little haphazard.

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The Black Hole: (1979) A Very Weird Disney Movie

the-black-hole-01Okay, let’s roll the clock back to 1979 to take a look at Disney’s first PG rated film: The Black Hole.

Star Wars had come out two years earlier and every studio was scrambling to find their niche in the science fiction boom.  Science fiction adventure films were, for the first time ever, considered an ‘A-list’ commodity.  Every studio wanted their ‘own’ Star Wars. The results of this boom were rather a mixed bag, much like The Black Hole.

First, let’s talk about Disney’s state in the 70s.  They were not in terrific shape.  They’d had a string of mediocre animated and kids’ movies and were struggling to stay afloat and/or relevant since Walt kicked the bucket in 1966.  Their bread and butter consisted of re-releasing old Disney classic animation every few years.  Their main claim to fame at this point was the consistent G rating of their movies.

Then comes The Black Hole.  May seem pretty tame by today’s standards, but the idea of a PG Disney movie was radical at the time.

the-black-hole-03Critics ripped the movie and Neil DeGrasse Tyson gave it infamy by saying it has the worst science in a movie of all time (although one wonders whether Neil has seen The Core.)  To be honest, it’s not a terrible movie.  The visual designs are pretty damn good.  Costumes are decent and sets solid.  The robot designs are interesting (although a bit too cutesy with VINCENT and BOB.)  The antagonist robot Maximilian is especially sinister.  The characters are mostly forgettable, the dialogue is soap-opera-cringeworthy and yes, the science is terrible.

The gist of the plot is that the exploratory space ship USS Palomino finds the long-lost ship USS Cygnus in orbit around a black hole. ( I assume it’s named Cygnus as a nod to the black hole of Cygnus X-1, although this is mere speculation on my part.)  On board is the-black-hole-04the scenery-chewing Maximilian Schell as the kooky commander of the Cygnus–Dr. Hans Reinhardt.  He’s got a crew of robot soldiers and android workers but apparently no other human survived.  He manages to hit every mad scientist note, including having a monstrous flunky robot named Maximilian (as a nod to Schell?)  Dr. Kate McCrae (played by Yvette Mimieux) has a personal stake in the fate of the Cygnus, as her father was one of the crew. Dr. Alex Durant (played by a luckless Anthony Perkins) is the cliched naive scientist who falls under Reinhardt’s sway.  Captain Dan Holland (Robert Forster) is the square-jawed captain hero.  Lieutenant Charlie Pizer (Joseph Bottoms) is the impulsive young hero.  Harry Booth (a criminally-underutilized Ernest Borgnine) is the craven, weaselly crewmember.  Those highlights are literally all I remember about these characters.  They have as much depth as a puddle.

The other ‘actors’ are the robots VINCENT (voiced by Roddy McDowell) and BOB (voiced by Slim Pickens.)  Like Maximilian, they are hovering robots instead of walking ones.  I assume Disney did this because it looked interesting and allowed them to mimic the-black-hole-02the ‘cuteness’ of R2-D2 to some extent.  Their eyes, though, are more like anime or cartoon eyes, giving them a bit more goofiness than I think they were going for.  Maybe they were trying to balance the kind of melodrama depressing tone of the movie?  Dunno.

Anyway, turns out Dr. Reinhardt is nuttier than a fruitcake (who could have known?) and wants to go into the black hole.  Also turns out his ‘android workers’ are the lobotomized human crew of the Cygnus.  When this is discovered, Maximilian kills Durant as he tries to the-black-hole-05escape with Kate.  The rest of the crew comes to her rescue except Harry, who does the craven move and tries to escape on the Palomino and instead crashes into the Cygnus. 

The rest of the movie is the crew escaping from the haunted castle spaceship by getting on the probe ship used by Reinhardt to examine the black hole.  They try to fly off, only to discover the probe ship is locked onto the black hole.

What follows is a weird, surreal, eschatological series of scenes with Maximilian and Reinhardt merging into a Satan-like figure and the crew flying through a heavenly the-black-hole-06cathedral.

Or something like that.  It’s not as weird as the end of 2001, but it’s pretty damn weird.  The ship ends by coming out the ‘other side’ in some unknown solar system.

Again, this isn’t a terrible movie.  Mostly it’s just a lot of misfires.  There were decent ideas in it and moments of interest.  I suppose the annoying part is that there was a great deal of unused potential.

Still, it’s worth checking out at least once.

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