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Tuesday, April 2, 2019

"Strange Nature" - It has been Prophesied

In the very early 80s a young me saw the movie "Prophecy" on late night television and it shaped my idea of monster movies forever.  That big mutant monster, which had a real motivation and a terrifying backstory left an impression on me that may explain why lately I've been making (albeit goofier) monster movies that are environmentally driven, like "Jack vs Lanterns".

So, when "Strange Nature" showed  up in my suggested movie list I figured an environmental thriller monster movie was worth the watch.  And it was, eventually.

The film opens by introducing us to the lead characters, Kim Sweet (Lisa Sheridan) and her son, Brody (Jonah Beres) who are on their way to her old home town to spend time with Kim's father, Chuck (Bruce Bohne) to help him while he fights cancer.  The acting for this set-up was top notch and most of the cinematography made good use of the location to set the town up as a "character", but the chroma-key work in the car was 1990s sitcom quality and a bit distracting.  The opening music also annoyed me to the point of taking me out of the film. (A song with lyrics during a conversation has never seemed like a good idea to me.)

Once we're in town and the characters establish their backstories a bit, we find the deformed frogs.  News stories mention disappearances and we do get to sort of witness a monster attack when hiker and photographer Tina Stevens (Tiffany Shepis-Tretta) wanders into the woods alone.  I won't describe what happens in detail, but I will say that I wish Tina Stevens had a bit more set-up.  If she had not been played by a recognizable actress I wouldn't have had any reason to connect with the character before the action started.

Instead of becoming a full blown monster fest, the movie tries to work at some scientific exploration, with the local biology teacher explaining mutations in frogs and snails as things progress and with Kim trying to find out why this all going on near her sick Dad's property.  Is it the water, the local pesticide company (it's always those dang corporations like "Genbetter")and does the Mayor know or is he really concerned and trying to help solve the puzzle?  These mysteries seem to unfold, but not much comes of them.  The sad thing is, that's a pretty realistic reflection of how things like this pan out.  We don't get answers to questions like this in a few months.

At this point, not a lot of monster action happening.  Instead our conflict comes from roadblocks to Kim's investigation and a deformed father and daughter who live on the lake being accused of somehow poisoning the town's water supply.  I felt like I was watching "Erin Brockovich".  But, it kept my interest.  Also, the most awkward of romances tries to develop between Kim and the Biology teacher.

Then the disturbing scenes start happening. SPOILER: Highlight to read. Dog Lovers beware.  Things do not go well for the family pooch.  I had to fast forward a bit here.

Mutations move past forest life and start showing up in people and pets.  At this point we're still dealing with a psychological and environmental thriller, but by the end of the third act a full blown monster movie runs out of the woods and grabs you by the throat.  (Well, it grabs someone.) More blood, guts, screams and carnage happen in the following ten minutes than you can fire an untold number of bullets at.  If you're a practical F/X monster fan, this sequence makes the preceding movie worth watching.  It's a slow, methodical build to a lightning fast finale (before a 1970s style epilogue).  Would I have preferred more of this sort of monster action spread throughout?  Of course!  I love monsters.  But the slow, building pace makes the final confrontation all the more gripping (pun intended).

If you pay attention to the quiet times in the movie, you'll find that when the action comes, very little was wasted.  It's all leading to something and the payoff, in my eyes, is worth it.  "Strange Nature" does walk a lot of the same ground as movies that came before it, like "Prophecy", but it's different enough that fans of that movie can enjoy it as an addition to the environmental monster genre instead of just a remake.  And the "Erin Brockovick" moments aren't all that bad.

Monday, April 1, 2019

"Queen Crab" - More Joe Young than Kong, but Super Fun!

"Queen Crab" kept popping up in my suggested movie list on Amazon Prime.  So did a much older giant crab creature feature, "Claws".  I have seen most of "Claws" (keep falling asleep on it), and was confusing it with "Queen Crab" for a long time.  So, I skipped the newer film.  Finally, I saw the art for both on my T.V. screen at the same time.  This was my big clue that they were different movies.  Still, I had little interest in seeing a giant CG crab eat up a small town.  Finally, reading the IMDB page, I found out the F/X were done with stop motion.  I decided to give it a watch and I'm so glad I did.

Let me get this out of the way right here.  If you are looking for cutting edge special F/X, Oscar worthy performances or a deeply emotional and heart wrenching story, keep scrolling your movie list.  This is a creature feature throwback with all of the flaws and fun that entails.

"Queen Crab" is one of those movies with a very uneven tone.  It opens like a kids' movie.  The music, the cute little crab, the dancing child, but this is all set-up for what's to come later.  Make it through that first act, much like sitting through the bartering session at the beginning of "Mighty Joe Young", and you'll be rewarded with a monster movie for the rest of the film.

Once Melissa Webber (played as an adult by Michelle Simone Miller) becomes orphaned, the movie's tone becomes the one we expect.  Strange deaths, a mysterious young hermit of a girl, bumbling local police and some monster fodder characters who are just there to be torn to pieces.

Director, Brett Piper, actually does an excellent job of creating sympathy for our rampaging titular creature.  And she does rampage.  There is some nicely done gore for fans of that sort thing, a tank, fighter jets and farmers with shotguns and other assorted weapons.  In fact, the poster above is pretty accurate in portraying what happens on screen.  It may be a bit more spectacular on the poster, but it's far less exaggerated than some monster movie posters, such as the Poster for 1958's "The Blob" when it was released in France a couple of years later.

The F/X are an old movie fan's dream.  There are, of course, some digital moments that are easy to spot, like a hole in the side of a barn that clearly wasn't actually destroyed, but the stop motion is very high quality for a film of this nature.  If you like the monster work in "The Black Scorpion", you'll like this.

Stop motion is a painstaking process.  I only use a few moments in films like, "Lumber vs Jack" and "Jack vs Lanterns" , but even I know it can take hours to get a few seconds of decent looking animation onto the screen.  Season 2 of "The Simplest Things" only has a couple of dinosaurs and I had to loop some shots as a time saving device.  For that reason, a lot of independent movies avoid stop motion, or when they do use it,  you don't get to see a lot of the creature.  I never felt cheated out of monster time while watching "Queen Crab" and every time she made an appearance I would giggle with delight. (Seriously, Chaya, my dog, was looking at me like I was nuts.  She watches all of these movies with me.) It was magical.

I mentioned the acting earlier.  It's the typical B movie standard.  Performances range from, "Hey, Bob wanted to be in the movie so we gave him some lines" to professional grade performances.  One farmer can barely hold back a smile as he describes his cow being eaten.  Overall though, the best performances were by the leading characters and so the story holds together and moves along.  There are human interactions to develop characters and keep the pace moving, including a very awkward fight scene or two.  A hint to low budget filmmaker from one indie to another, keep a really junky car around so you can have it parking lot scenes when there's a fight.  Talent holding back so they don't scratch another actor's car is kind, but with GRIM, the Jeep from the "Jack" movies, I never have to worry about that.  I have covered that thing with slime, hit it with branches and driven it over a pile of crusher run.  It's mine and I keep around to do all of the thankless work my life requires.

The relationship between Melissa and Goliath (as the crab becomes known) is a sweet one.  It's the not the romance from "King Kong", but closely resembles the friendship from "Mighty Joe Young".  If you're a fan of monster movies with sympathetic, nearly heroic monsters, give this one a watch.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

"Final Girl Vengeance" a.k.a. "Survival Knife"

I caught "Final Girl Vengeance" (previously titled "Survival Knife") on Amazon Prime.  And I'll be honest, the main reason this one was on my radar is because of actress Danielle Donahue. I had seen her in other films, such as "Jurassic Prey" and "Bigfoot vs Zombies", and while I enjoy the campy nuttiness of monster movies like that, I was curious about how she would do in a more serious role.  Something told me she could pull it off and I was happy to find out that I was correct in that assessment.

It was sort of like when I had the luck to work with Debbie Rochon on "The Lunar Pack", "Death Plots" and "All Wrapped Up".  She was spectacularly fun as the hostess Mistress Misty, but I knew I was wasting her true talent, so I wrote "Savaged", a movie that squarely put all of the emotion and tension on her capable shoulders.  Her co-star was my dog, Valkrie Liquori and they actually worked amazingly well together over a four day shoot.  (Yep, four days of principal photography for a feature film).

Cover Art with the original title, "Survival Knife"

One thing I think that may disappoint some viewers is that "Final Girl Vengeance" isn't a straight horror film.  It opens with a horror sequence, involves a serial killer called "The Survivalist" and has flash backs to some truly horrific situations, but the movie as a whole is a psychological thriller and character study.  Fortunately, the character we are focused on is Penny Warren, played by Donahue.  I say "fortunately", because out of the whole cast, Donahue is the only one who really shines.  The rest of the performances range from pretty good down to "in the wrong movie".  There are a few cast members who clearly didn't have the time or take the effort to prepare for their shoot days and it takes the viewer out of the moment.  While I usually forgive this in a campy creature feature, because I'm watching for the monster, in a character driven movie like this, it can really break the pace.

Try to press through those moments though.  Penny Warren has a lot of screen time to herself and a few scenes dealing with her own Lois Lane type reporter, who just won't let things go, played by Kaitlyn Shoeb.  These moments and an interaction with a police detective are when the best acting happens.  If you can concentrate on those you'll be able to appreciate the plot of the movie.

There are also those moments of horror I spoke of earlier.  They can be brutal at times.  The blood and gore is mostly average, but there is some  excellent make-up for Penny as she heals as well as a kill toward the final act of the film that is truly inspired.

The movie does suffer from the usual pitfalls of  low budget films.  The sound is uneven and at times just plain bad. Keep an eye out for a scene in a "gentleman's club" that is completely subtitled, but nobody actually seems to be speaking the lines you're reading.  It's an interesting way to handle not having control over the audio for the day.

The location work is amazing at times.  An "abandoned steel mill", the aforementioned club, the doctor's office, police station, and even characters' apartments are all on point.  The steel mill location is perfect for this type of movie.  Very "Robo Cop" meets "Nightmare on Elm Street".

In the end, enjoying "Final Girl Vengeance" comes down to accepting that it may not be the horror film  you expected, while still being horrific at times and getting past its obvious shortcomings in order to enjoy its strengths.

Oh, one of those shortcomings, for me, was the score.  It was super repetitive.  I know, for the director of "Shelter" to say that is pretty bold, but it got annoying right from the opening scene.  I had nearly forgotten how much it annoyed me it until I searched for the trailer.

Monday, March 25, 2019

"Outerman" - Kajui "Comedy"

I saw "Outerman" on Midnight Pulp, so it was free to watch, with ads.  For me, that was the right price for this film.  I would watch it on TV, but I doubt I would spend money to rent or buy it.  It may be worth it for big fans of "Ultraman" and shows like that because those are the series it purports to parody.

That claim of being a parody, an "action-comedy", is part of what bothered me.  I get it, a movie that takes a known entity and basically copies it is best protected when it's then called a "parody", but unless I was missing something, this isn't much of a comedy.  There is a group of self-proclaimed nerds, who are obviously meant to be funny and some jokes here and there, but not may big laughs and the situation itself, the main plot line, is actually pretty decent science fiction with a major bit of social commentary.  To me, the comedy elements were no more present than most Marvel movies.  So, it's more a modern day super hero movie than a "comedy".

The movie is subtitled, so I will admit that I may have missed nuances and I am shamefully unaware of Japanese culture outside of movies, so I may have missed some humor there.  Aficionados might find the movie funnier than I.  

On the action side, it's a bit light too.  There are giant alien fights, but not many and we only really get to experience two designs.  Siblee and the titular Outer Man.  Other monsters are briefly shown as part of clips from the show within the movie.  I'll admit, as much as I love Midnight Pulp for carrying my movies like "Lumber vs Jack" and the "Alien Vengeance" movies, their commercial placement leaves a lot to be desired.  It seems automated at minute intervals and can really break up the pace of an otherwise well put together movie. Scenes may be interrupted mid conversation or fight sequence.   Broken pace aside, I would have preferred more and/or longer monster fights, but the ones we do get are at least well done within the F/X style of the movie.

The cast is fairly strong.  The "nerds" and Ministry of Defense characters give appropriately over the top performances as serious characters in an absurd situation.  The heroes are a group of past actors from the "Outerman" show and a "homeless alien".  They all play it pretty straight and do a good job.  Miki and her nephew, Hiroshi, are what make the whole thing work.  Having a kid to watch the story unfold through and give the characters nuggets of wisdom is what made it all "ring true" for me.  This isn't so much a comedy as a movie that doesn't take itself too seriously.  Having a child as a main character reminds us to watch it as we would have on a rainy afternoon during "Monster Week" on our local TV channel.  Watched through a child's eyes the movie is really entertaining and fun.

If you long for "Power Rangers" type action, but with a bit more plot and character development, and don't mind reading subtitles (Or understand Japanese), give "Outerman" (or as IMDB has it listed "Outer Man") a spin.

Sunday, March 17, 2019


I saw "Galaxy Lords" a few weeks ago on Prime Video.  It is, in one word, insane.  The F/X are amazing for a low budget movie and except for an extensive use of CG, fit in well with the rest of the retro feel of the movie.  The movie's biggest downfall is the lumbering set-up after the initial opening action sequence.  It gets very talkative and slow for a good few minutes with the only action being our hero chopping wood, terribly.  Anyone who has seen "Lumber vs Jack" or "Jack vs Lanterns" knows that I take my wood chopping super seriously.  My axe throwing is another story.

As suggested viewing, to get you into the right mind set, and to understand what is being spoofed here, I suggest my younger readers check out "Flash Gordon" (1980), and the "Buck Rogers" T.V. show from the same time period.  Other things, like the countless knock-offs of "Star Wars" undoubtedly played a hand in inspiring the filmmakers, but production value-wise, those two should suffice.  Maybe a bit of the original "Battlestar Galactica".  

Now that you have some context, watch the trailer to get a true feel for what "Galaxy Lords" is like.
Do  you see what I mean?  The little robot buddy?  The "rocket cycle" like flying treadmill with a laser cannon in it?  Those red baddies really resemble Ming's troops, right?

None of this is necessarily bad.  It really all depends on whether or not you can accept the tone of the movie.  The beards are fake, the costumes are foam, the F/X are a mix of practical and CG and the acting is usually so far over the top it falls back down to the bottom, but this all part of the fun.

One reviewer on Amazon (where this movie is pretty well liked judging by the star rating) suggested that the movie would play better if it was transferred to VHS first. I think that observation is spot on.  It would give the movie the look of its intended contemporaries. 

If you like some humor with your lasers, give this one a try.  You may be left confused, but you'll at least be entertained.  (You may just want to fast forward past that whole wood chopping scene.  I honestly nearly gave up before watching the rest of the movie.  It's a painful few minutes.)

Friday, March 1, 2019

"Jurassic City" - Dinos, Prisonsers, Mercenaries and Sorority Sisters

"Jurassic City" is more than just a movie with Monique Parent and Dinosaurs, although those two elements would be reason enough to watch it.  Made back in 2015, presumably to coincide with the release of "Jurassic World", the movie has finally Prime Video and thus qualifies for inclusion on this blog.  (Sort of "free" to watch.)  Its 3.5/5 star review on Amazon is pretty impressive for an independent monster flick.  It's also well deserved.

The trailer concentrates more on what I saw as a "side story" within the movie.  There's some activity in the city, but the characters and action in the jail is what really held my interest.  There's a claustrophobic feeling intrinsic with a prison setting.  The isolation is increased when the communication with the outside world is lost due to certain dinosaur activity.

The raptors are a bit unconventional in their design, but made to menacing pretty much from the get go of the movie.  If you like your monsters to get a lot of screen time, you probably won't be disappointed here.  The quality of the CGI is exactly what you expect from a not-quite theatrical release quality movie.  It's far from outstanding, but no worse than your average SyFy channel outing.

The acting is where this movie rises above other independent fare.  The aforementioned Monique Parent turns in a solid performance as always.  She could have used more screen time, but overall she and the other "lady prisoners" were believable.  Ray Wise is fun as the no nonsense prison warden.  Other familiar faces include Vernon Wells as a villain with eyes on the oval office and Robert LaSardo as a Corporal with heroic tendencies.  Kevin Gage plays Doyle, a convicted rapist who finds himself part of a group of prisoners who are trying to escape when the dinosaurs find their way into the prison.  Kelcey Watson, who has an impressive body of work, did an excellent job as Armstrong, a prison guard caught in the middle of the mayhem. Finally, Dana Melanie wonderfully portrayed Pippi, the most petite, yet toughest of the sorority sisters who wound up in the prison that fateful night.  All three sorority sisters did well, but her performance left me wondering what background Pippi had that made her so tough in a pressure situation.

The movie takes some time to build  up to the main action.  It has a bit of very silly comedy surrounding the arrest of our sorority sisters and there are a few two dimensional characters, like the guys in the "drunk tank".  These aren't so much weaknesses as tools though.  The sorority party is essential to get our three "sisters" where we need them.  Two dimensional characters with immediately recognizable character flaws make it easy for us to identify them, relate to them and watch them react predictably to monsters chasing them through a maze.

Once the action starts it pretty much holds throughout the movie.  There's a great "Alien-esque" vibe about the whole thing.

Highly recommended for monster fans who don't mind CG blood and characters who do stupid things to move the plot along.

Also, check out more Monique Parent in Jack vs Lanterns

Buy the DVD for it here: http://www.hocfocprod.com/jackvslanterns
or stream it here: https://www.cocoscope.com/watch?v=10749

Monday, January 7, 2019

Guardians - If the Fantastic Four were Born in Russia

I'm not even sure how to review this here.  If you just watched that trailer,  you know what to expect.

This is a fun movie with a sort of alternate universe Fantastic Four.  They've got an invisible girl and a guy who turns into a bear. There is dude who controls rocks with his mind, but at one point wears them like armor, looking a bit like Ben Grim and a character with super speed who is also sort of a samurai, I guess.  Full disclosure, I've wanted to see this movie since the trailer dropped a long time ago because my comic of Hulk fighting the Soviet Super Soldiers was a favorite of mine as a kid and this group reminded me a lot of them on the surface. (Especially Ursa Major, the man-bear).

I confess, I watched the English Dub version.  This was a switch my brain off and enjoy some down time while I hung out with the dog kind of movie.  Reading subtitles wasn't something I wanted to deal with.  That said, it means I can't fairly judge the acting of the original cast.  Some of the facial expressions are over the top and one moment the villain honestly just looks like he is listening to the director waiting to hear the word "action" or is rehearsing possible  shocked faces and those takes somehow made it into the final film.  Another place it's hard to gauge a dubbed movie is the script.  Some dialogue may seem too formal for the situation or jokes just fall flat.  Occasionally the story goes off on a weird tangent and you're not sure if it was written that poorly originally or if something was lost in the translation.  I'm still not sure what everyone's super power really was.  Not entirely, but was I distracted, was it never made it clear or was it not translated properly? I can't say.

So, without being able to be harsh on the story or acting I'm left judging the F/X and action.  Let's face it, the 8 year old in me was watching for those elements anyway.  Honestly, the only special F/X that disappointed were the were-bear.  He just looked too cartoonish at times.  But, when it comes to monsters I prefer a really complicated suit and that's just not how they do things anymore (most of the time). Also, I had that preconceived childhood notion of what a Russian man-bear would be.  The rest of the graphics, from the battle drones that look like the Arachnids from "Starship Troopers" had a love child with Ed-209 of "Robocop" fame, to the real military planes and cities being destroyed, looked like either the best T.V. movies have to offer or the lower end of what you'd expect from big screen movies.  Since this film's budget is rumored to be the equivalent of about $5 million, that's AMAZING.  Really, it's a good looking movie all around.

A sequel is teased at and I , for one, want to see it.  Like a reviewer on IMDB quipped, this movie is worth watching just to see a bear with a mini-gun (no spoiler there if you watched the trailer).  Don't expect a great motive from the villain, don't expect a lot of originality concerning the character's  super powers, how they got them or how they use them and do try to enjoy the silliness of the scenes during the first act when they're "getting the band back together".

If you can shut off your adult cynicism for awhile, I think you'll like this one.  I've always wanted to do a super hero movie, but the closest I've gotten is probably Debbie Rochon as Colonel Onyx in the "Alien Vengeance" movies.  Meanwhile, if you want to see "Guardians", I caught it on Amazon Prime.