The Blob: (1958) A Glorious Cheese

When I was a young little nipper, I first saw The Blob on late night television.  I sought out each and every monster and science fiction movie I had ever read about.  Unfortunately, this was before the VHS and then DVD boom.  Finding movies to watch consisted of me combing through late night television schedules and crossing my fingers.

Along comes The Blob.  I had read its description in my geek literature (mainly Famous Monsters of Filmland) but hadn’t seen it.  So I spot it being played on a late, late movie and girded my loins to stay up late enough to watch it.

I expect this is an animate version of the muck on the floor of theaters.

Watching this movie as an adult and it’s pretty cheesy.  As a kid, it kinda scared me.  I didn’t see the bad acting, dubious cinematography or corny dialogue.  I just saw a blob monster that dissolved you like acid.  Which, if you think about it, is pretty horrible.  This movie didn’t go into graphic detail like the 1988 Blob remake (which I also enjoy,) but it suggested enough for my youthful, warped mind.

Basic plot is simple enough.  Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen) and his girlfriend Jane Martin (Aneta Corsaut) spot a meteor crash to earth.  Our plucky protagonists drive off to find the meteor.  Unfortunately an old man hobo-type has discovered it already and the

No way this goes wrong.

Blob inside it has attached to his arm.

What follows is a classic “nobody believes us” story where the teenage protagonists try to convince the authorities that there’s something wrong.  The authorities, naturally, thing they’re just a bunch of punk kids causing trouble.  It ties into a lot of the teen rebellion style movies coming out in the fifties and sixties.  There’s a lot of ‘hip’ forgettable dialogue and marginal acting, but I don’t go into a movie like this expecting Ben Hur.

A note about Steve McQueen.  This was Steve’s first starring role, so I can forgive the miscast.  Sure, I like Steve, but he’s supposed to be a teenager in this movie when he was

The doctor will see you n–OH GOD!

in his late twenties.  He doesn’t look much like a teenager.  Still, I forgive a lot and hey, it’s friggin’ Steve McQueen!

People also might recognize Aneta Corsaut from her later role as Helen Crump from The Andy Griffith Show.   I believe only Steve and her ever had any roles of prominence after this film.

The special effects in the movie are decent.  They’re nothing Oscar-caliber, but they do the job well enough on their meager budget.  They mostly consist of matte shots and miniature sets involving a blob of silicone colored with red dye.  A few brief bits of animation and set paintings and the occasional forced perspective.

Does Obamacare cover this?

The Blob’s weakness (and there always is one) is cold and it’s defeated by the use of CO2 fire extinguishers that freeze it solid.  The final shot is the creature being dropped in the Arctic.

Anyway, this film is far from perfect.  Often scenes appear to be lit using a penlight.  There are long, dragging bits of “cool teen” dialogue that do little to move the plot forward.  Everyone except Steve and Aneta apparently read about acting in a book once.  No, it has warts.

Still, the concept is creepy enough and the setting is campy enough that it’s hard to hate this movie.  The goofy title song Beware of the Blob (composed by Burt Bacharach and Mack David) became a top forty hit in 1958.  For your listening pleasure:

There was a sequel to The Blob called Son of the Blob or Beware! the Blob which I haven’t seen.  Larry Hagman directed it.  The tagline was “The Film J.R. Shot!”

 

Why I Hate Independence Day

Most people seem to love the 1996 blockbuster movie Independence Day.  I am not one of those people.  I can’t stand it.  I’m also not a fan of Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich, who crafted this “masterpiece”.

When I started this blog, I wanted to concentrate on things I actually liked.  Many friends complain to me that “I hate everything”.  So I figured I’d go with a positive vibe.  However, I have come to realize that occasionally I need to clear the air about my hates.  So I’ll start with a big one.  This damn movie.

The first time I watched this movie (in the theater) I didn’t think it was awful. It wasn’t that impressive, but I just shrugged.  I watched it on the Fourth of July with a bunch of friends in a jovial atmosphere.  Many months later, I noticed it playing on cable late night and thought “what the hell, let’s give it a second watch”.  It was only this time, as I watched it without the hype and the group of friends I had seen it with the first time, that I realized just how awful it is.  I remember thinking: “Jesus!  Was this really this bad before?”

Here is why.

Technical Stupidity

Let’s start with the easy stuff–the technical flaws.

We’re here with evidence that will lead to the arrest of Hillary Clinton.

Okay, first we get this super-advanced alien race coming to Earth to conquer it in mile-long spaceships.  They’ve mastered anti-gravity, force fields and projected energy weapons.  Apparently, however, they haven’t figured out satellites, because they didn’t bring any of their own.  They have to use terrestrial satellites to coordinate their attack.  Sure, apparently they have thousands of smaller craft they could use for this, but instead want to use Earth satellites because . . . reasons?  Apparently so the plucky Earth scientists could figure out what you were doing.

Second, if you have this level of technology and all you want to do is level the planetary civilization, why enter the atmosphere?  Hell, why exert yourself at all?  Drop a few hundred small asteroids and watch the fireworks.  Easy as pie.  You don’t even have to look at those pesky Earth vermin.

Third, if you have a force field which can withstand a hydrogen bomb, why would you need to send out a bunch of fighters to deal with primitive Earth fighters, armed with lesser weapons?  Just ignore them.  Seriously.  This is like an aircraft carrier flying a sortie with fighters because pelicans are smacking into the side of the ship.

I should punch out Iron Man now! I am GOOD!

Fourth, if you have a force field around your smaller ships which is apparently just as impervious as the one around the big ship, why would running into the ground damage it?

Fifth, if you have an alien with an exoskeleton battle suit, how does Will Smith knock it out with a punch?

Sixth, hacking an alien computer language in a day with a Mac?  Really? 

The Character Void

Now we come to the harder stuff.  Characters.  Or lack thereof. 

Don’t worry, honey. Mom will die, but she’ll die to give this movie the illusion of depth.

This movie has the emotional depth of a puddle.  There is absolutely nothing beyond the surface.  Nothing.  Zero, zip, Nada. I’ve seen public service announcements with more gravitas.

The aliens blow up cities in a dramatic fashion, killing millions.  At what point do we see flash-burned survivors digging through rubble, trying to find their loved ones?  People succumbing to despair and perhaps committing suicide?  Genuine horror and shock?  The only inkling of real emotion is when the First Lady croaks.  That’s it.

Millions of incinerated people almost makes us mad. Or sad. Something.

When the pilots get ready to attack after cities have been incinerated, do they pray, scream to heaven, panic, etc.?  Any of them?  No, it’s “Let’s light the fires and kick the tires!” to go kick alien butt!  Wee-hoo!  Everybody reacts like this is just a minor thing.  Compare this with the 2011 Battle Los Angeles reactions from the Marines.  They’re all obviously scared and confused, but go out to face the enemy anyway.  That movie has flaws and cliches, but at least I actually believed the emotions of the characters.  I could identify with them.  They felt real.

In Independence Day, I might as well have been watching robots. 

Don’t get wrong, there are some decent actors in the movie.  Will Smith does his best with what he’s given, but it’s thin and he’s not a wizard.  I also doubt he minded much, since this movie catapulted him to super-stardom, but you’ll notice he wisely declined to participate in the sequel.

Take that, Star Whackers!

Nobody reacts like people.  They react like animated cut-outs that superficially resemble people.  It’s actually a little creepy.  Remember when Randy (“I’ve gone crazy”) Quaid suicides into the ship?  His son witnesses this.  His son, who finally discovers his father isn’t crazy and was right for years, so now he has a chance to reconnect with him.  How does he react to this ironic tragedy?  He says something to the effect of how proud he is of him and he smiles.  Are you kidding me?!  How about some tears?  Deep regret?  Something?!

I hope you gentlemen are here to extract me from this shitty movie.

And finally, the aliens.  They’re a complete blank slate other than “We’re bad and we want to kill you”.  Nothing that wrong with a cryptic enemy if that fits.  Unfortunately, it usually fits with a grim or horrific motif.  Independence Day isn’t trying to be grim . . . I think.  I honestly don’t know what kind of tone they were shooting for.  Some kind of depth of motivation would have helped with the aliens.  Something.  Anything to flesh them out or make them interesting.  But we got nothing.

There are a few other annoying details, but they’re minor.  This covers the main, hideous flaws.  This movie was the beginning of my hatred for Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich (or as I like to call them, the “Twins of Satan”) but their rape of Godzilla (1998) was the last time I paid a penny to see their abominations.  (shudders)

Obscure Indie Film: The Deadly Spawn

The Deadly Spawn is an oddball sci-fi/horror movie from 1983.  I hadn’t seen it myself until just recently.  I’d seen the poster and a few stills, but that’s all.  Fortunately, we live in the age of the internet and YouTube, hence my ability to watch it.

First, I’d like to make sure you realize this is a ‘B’ movie.  The entire budget of this film was a grand total of $25,000.  Yes, you read that right.  Of course, this was in 1983 dollars, but . . . that’s a shoestring budget.  To give you an idea, note that Night of the Living Dead’s budget was $114,000 in 1968 dollars, and that was a tight budget.  And Night didn’t have much in the way of special effects aside from some makeup effects.

Ignore my phallic shape and kiss me.

Second, the late, great Tim Hildebrandt is one of the film’s producers.  Yes, that Tim Hildebrandt.  Lord of the friggin’ Rings Tim Hildebrandt of the Brothers Hildebrandt.  The brothers responsible for most of the LOTR artwork for a couple of decades, not to mention the original poster art for Star Wars.  (Also note that the youngest protagonist and science fiction fanboy in the movie is Charles George Hildebrandt–Tim’s son.)

The Brothers Hildebrandt also did the artwork for the Deadly Spawn movie poster.  Which is pretty damn cool.

Last time I go to that dermatologist.

The plot is straightforward and familiar to any science fiction or horror movie nerd.  A meteor falls in the woods and is discovered by a couple of campers. The toothy spawn from inside the meteor make a quick meal of said campers.  The spawn takes up residence in a rural house’s basement and proceeds to start eating the inhabitants and visitors.  It also releases multiple tiny spawn with oversized teeth and jaws.  The spawn do what evil alien spawn are supposed to do–they try to eat everything they find.

This little piggy went to the SLAUGHTER!

The gore is both graphic and solidly done, especially considering the minuscule budget available.  Interspersing the graphic effects are several cutaway scenes involving what I kind only assume was a squirt gun with stage blood.  The main creature has some nicely overdone dental appendages of sinister design.  It’s no man in a rubber suit.  It’s accomplished with puppetry effects and judicious use of dark lighting, cutaways and close-ups.

The acting?  All I can say is that for a college production, the acting is decent.  Not exactly Shakespearean, but this isn’t exactly Othello, either.  I will say the acting is better than most of the SyFy Channel’s cheese movies.  Which admittedly, isn’t hard.

Feed me, Seymour!

I could go into more plot details, but honestly, you know everything you need to know.  Alien spawn picking off victims.  Deadly game of cat and mouse.  Plucky young protagonist figures out the spawn’s weakness.  Deadly vegetarian food party.  Don’t go in the basement.

Party on.  Go check it out.  It’s available on YouTube for free.  Enjoy.

*- Please note, there is a quasi “sequel” called Deadly Spawn II or Metamorphosis: The Alien Factor.  Apparently it has little to do with the first movie.  I have never seen it.

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The Hidden: An Oddball 80s Movie

The Hidden (1987) is an obscure science fiction film starring Kyle MacLachlan after his role in Blue Velvet, but preceding his Twin Peaks fame.  Despite several tropes, the skewed plot line makes it an enjoyable distraction. 

Essentially a warped version of the “buddy cop” genre, Michael Nouri plays L.A. detective Thomas Beck.  Beck pursues and (apparently) fatally injures spree killer Jack DeVries (Chris Mulkey) during the chase.  FBI Special Agent Lloyd Gallagher (MacLachlan) later confronts Beck, saying DeVries is still a threat.

“Mr DeVries, we think you might have a throat infection.”

Meanwhile, in the hospital, DeVries jumps up and attacks a heart patient Jonathan P. Miller (William Boyett).  DeVries pops opens his mouth and out crawls a hideous, slug-like alien.  It crawls down Miller’s throat and takes him over, letting its old host collapse.  Miller runs off to commit more of the random violence in the same manner as DeVries.

After this starts, Gallagher tries to convince Beck that Miller is a partner of DeVries who is every bit as dangerous, despite no criminal record.

You can probably guess how the rest of this goes.  The evil alien continues to jump through host bodies while the authorities struggle to catch up. 

Aliens are teatotallers.

It’s fairly obvious from the beginning that Gallagher is another alien.  MacLachlan does a brilliant job of being “not quite right”.  He conveys a vibe of alien without much scenery-chewing.  Not only his weird questions, but MacLachlan’s deliciously “off” mannerisms.  There’s an especially amusing dinner scene with Beck’s family, where Gallagher gets tipsy.  Bloody hilarious.  My favorite part is when Beck asks him where he’s from.  Gallagher points straight up.  “From up north?” Beck asks.  Gallagher nods.

It turns out Lloyd is an alien “cop” (named Alhague) and the evil alien is a criminal who killed Alhague’s family.  Yes, it’s a cop revenge story.

That’s a damn fine ray gun.

If all this sounds cheesy, it’s actually not.  Or not much.  The performances in this are wonderful, despite the bizarre premise.  William Boyett has a wickedly good time being the heart patient turned evil alien.  His murder spree is both amusing and horrifying.  Of special interest is when the alien possesses a stripper named Brenda (gorgeous Claudia Christian of Babylon 5 fame).  She fondles herself in front of a couple of cops before shooting them with an assault rifle.  This is after she humps a drunken lecher to death.

Claudia’s role is . . . I’m sorry, was I saying something?

There aren’t many special effects in this.  I suspect it’s deliberate–a combination of shrewd writing and budget considerations.  The few that do appear are pretty effective.  The alien slug switching bodies is skin-crawlingly impressive.  I think it’s a case of “less is more”.

MacLachlan’s freaky acting in this is worth it, even if you don’t care about the rest of the film.  Go dig up a copy and enjoy.

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Star Command/In the Fold: 90s Cheese

For many years I tried to find Star Command somewhere on the web.  The difficulty lay in the fact that I couldn’t actually remember the name of the damn thing.  Until recently, I had only seen it once–20 years ago.  However, thanks to the wonder of YouTube, I tracked it down and re-watched it.

I kind of liked the thing back in 1996 with the original viewing.  I feared it would become awful with two decades under my belt.  Did it?

Umm . . . yes and no.

First, a basic rundown.  Star Command is meant to be a pilot for a series on UPN.  Written by Wild Cards and Next Generation veteran Melinda M. Snodgrass, it feels a lot like a Heinlein or perhaps David Weber story.  That’s not a quality judgment, merely a thematic one.

It’s a space opera setting where humanity splinters between Terrans and colonists.  As best I can deduce, the colonies formed their own government and broke away from Terran control.  Not a new space opera concept, but not the worst I’ve seen.  Both sides claim a rare Earth-like planet while they scramble for resources and war is brewing.

The story follows the crew of a corvette named Surprise with a training crew.  The Surprise flies into the disputed system for a scouting mission but gets ambushed by the rebellious colonist government, during which the senior officers all die–and rather quickly.  The ship is crippled but managed to land on a frozen moon and fake its destruction.  This leaves the cadets to stop the five enemy cruisers with their one corvette.

The good:

The writing isn’t bad.  Plenty of time-honored science fiction novel ideas are here which rarely make it onto television or movie screens.  Cliches become cliches for good reasons.

Melinda does her best to incorporate hard science fiction elements.  The ships have lasers and missiles–instead of phasers and shields.  Radiation screws up things.  And so forth.

The acting is passable.  It won’t win any awards, but I’ve seen worse.

The setting is interesting enough I wouldn’t mind more.  It certainly feels a lot more classic sci-fi than most science fiction movies and television.

Morgan Fairchild looks pretty good in this, even though she’s in her mid-forties.

The bad:

The special effects have not aged well.  They were passable for 1996, but . . . ugh.  Computer graphics have a short shelf life and these weren’t cutting edge in 1996.

The sets look like Babylon 5 rejects.  Actually that’s unkind to Babylon 5.

The costumes are . . . well, I’m not sure what they are.  The uniforms appear to be a combination of Next Generation and something from a 1960s Heinlein space navy promotional poster.

Morgan Fairchild dies very quickly.

The ugly:

The robot in it is like Johnny 5’s retarded cousin.  I get that they were trying to have a robot that looks like a robot, as opposed to a guy in makeup, but don’t try it without a budget.  Just don’t.

Overview:

So how does it stack up with my memory?  Better in some ways but worse in others.

I’ve noticed a lot of hate in several internet spots, but I don’t quite get it.  Sure, this jalopy is rusty and clunky, but not worth the disdain.  Perhaps I enjoy it more because I can see the designs and intentions behind the flaws.  This could have been a passable series.  Suppose Babylon 5 or Next Generation had been judged solely by their pilots? (shudders)

Is it cheesy?  There’s a bit of Cheddar.

Flaws?  Goddamn right.

Bad costumes?  Yes.  However, I did enjoy the miniskirts for graduation.  However, I enjoy miniskirts for virtually any occasion.

Honestly though, I’d rather watch this than a polished turd like Independence Day or its ilk.  I’ve had worse times.

Watch it and judge for yourself.

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