Posts Tagged ‘Scream Factory’

lifeforceThe Cannon Group. To those who were of a certain time, in a certain place, mere mention of The Cannon Group conjures giddy images of days spent in second-run theatres with sticky floors and scratchy prints. When the lights went down and the Cannon logo appeared on the screen, the audience knew precisely what to expect: low budgets, second-tier stars, improbably laughable scripts, and cheesy special effects. Cannon was for the 1980s what American International was for the 1960s: a reliable workhorse that churned out B movies with an ethos that quantity was far more valuable than quality. And yet, for those devotees in the dark, Cannon signified nothing less than magic.

Fresh from the box-office triumph of Poltergeist (1982), director Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) signed a three-picture deal with Cannon; his first project, which was reportedly forced on him, was a film adaptation of the lamentably titled 1977 novel Space Vampires. The picture was given a twenty-five million dollar budget, an astonishing sum for Cannon to put into a single feature. With Hooper at the helm, a screenplay co-written by Dan O’Bannon (Dark Star, Alien, Return of the Living Dead), cinematography by Alan Hume (Return of the Jedi, A View to A Kill, A Fish Called Wanda), effects by the legendary John Dykstra (Silent Running, Star Wars, Django Unchained), and music by Henry Mancini, Lifeforce seemed poised to make a big splash. But this didn’t happen. Cannon co-owners Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus had intended Lifeforce to be a mega-budgeted science fiction / horror blockbuster; however, the film ended up grossing around eleven million dollars and was considered a flop. Home video fortunately allowed Lifeforce to find its audience, giving it the second chance it deserved, and a devoted cult following ensued.  

A joint United States / British scientific team are investigating the passing Halley’s Comet, when they find what appears to be a ship in the midst of the comet. Further investigation reveals the presence of three humanoids in suspended animation, which are taken into their shuttle for analysis. As it turns out, the three are vampires of a sort who, instead of blood, siphon the soul, the energy, of their victims. When they come to Earth, all hell breaks loose and Armageddon is but a stone’s throw away. The themes explored in Lifeforce are familiar to the vampire genre: the loss of control over one’s self, killing to live, and immortality. The film’s strength, however, isn’t in the story, but rather the telling; Steve Railsback (Helter Skelter, The Stunt Man) handles his starring role capably, balancing action and drama well, despite the occasional rough patch of dialogue. Patrick Stewart maintains a small but vital role, just two years before finding international fame as Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the starship Enterprise. The effects work is excellent, particularly when considering the budget and lack of computer generated imagery. As the film winds toward its climax London descends into chaos, and the scenes of terror in the streets are extraordinarily well done although, admittedly, scenes of terror in the streets are my weakness.

The film works because of, rather than despite, the occasional bit of ham-fisted dialogue that harkens back to American horror films of the 1950s (obviously intentional with O’Bannon as the writer), astounding practical effects, genre-appropriate scoring, outstanding cinematography, solid performances, and the jaw-dropping Mathilda May in a one-of-a-kind performance that none will forget.

The real star here is Scream! Factory; their Blu-Ray treatment of Lifeforce is superlative, and includes the truncated US release (101 minutes), and also the vastly superior, international edit (116 minutes). The prints have been nicely restored and for the most part look great, aside from a few scratches here and there. The sound quality is top-shelf, and sounds excellent on a 6.1 surround system. Extras include a vintage “Making Of” featurette, as well as new interview segments with Railsback, Mathilda May, and Hooper, all of whom look back fondly at the film. To have taken the time to film new segments with the three principals is a commendable touch, especially for the fans who have embraced this great, if somewhat odd, film for nearly thirty years. If the treatment of Lifeforce is any indication of Scream! Factory’s dedication to preserving and presenting genre films to a new generation of viewers, the future looks bright indeed, provided there aren’t any naked space vampire invasions on the horizon.

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I have to admit, I’d never heard of this movie until it landed in my mailbox; that said, I can’t believe something so undeniably awesome totally flew under my radar for thirty years. Yes, it’s schlock, but it’s old school schlock, and isn’t that really the best kind? Give me stop-motion and process shots any day, because at least they’re organic and we know someone was actually putting hands on the props to make them work.

Q – The Winged Serpent at Zombie Hamster

Further, marvel at the aerobatics involved in the final action sequence, and understand that the stuff they’re doing is no longer allowed.  I could rant for hours, but you get the idea. This movie was more fun than it had any right to be. Super big thanks to Larry Cohen for making such a great movie. Also, a big shout out to Shout Factory for their spankin’ new Blu-Ray release of Q – The Winged Serpent!

It’s been a rotten week. I don’t even want to get into what made it bad, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Moving forward, I took a recent look at a couple of John Carpenter’s classics, and gave them a few scribbles.

The Fog

Prince of Darkness

With regard to Prince of Darkness, I’m going to take the soapbox for a moment, because I think way too many ‘fans’ claim disappointment with this film, and they seriously need to re-examine their reasons for liking his films. Carpenter is a goddamn visionary whose career is made up of more than just Halloween. Granted, Halloween is an excellent film and, for my money, the only slasher film worth a damn. Because it was the first, and not part of the crapalanche of ripoffs that followed it. He followed Halloween with The Fog, which is a traditional ghost story, and a damn good one. He’s done fantasy adventure (Big Trouble in Little China), romance (Starman), urban paranoia / class warfare (They Live), and so many others that are all different, all unique. Prince of Darkness attempts, and to my eye succeeds, in looking at theology from a scientific viewpoint, and does so quite intelligently. It is very much a Big Picture film, is worthy of repeat viewings, and will long be considered one of the great films in Carpenter’s oeuvre.  So there.

1980’s Terror Train. No matter how you slice it, it’s just not a great movie. Cheesy and wildly predictable, it was a quickie cash-in on the unfortunate ‘slasher film’ era. That said, for those of us coming of age during that time, the movies were simple fun, offering distraction without much thought; only with age do I realize that the Reagan-esque moralizing was so heavy handed, and that a jump-scare isn’t really a scare at all. It’s a startle at best, immediately recognized and quickly forgotten. For the viewer, there’s no terror on this train, but what the hell – at least we’re enjoying the ride.

Terror Train at Zombie Hamster

“And that’s the Critic’s Corner for this morning. Now please slow down, so that I may murder you in a creative fashion with my giant mustache.”

Scream Factory gave this 80’s flashback a nice Blu-Ray release and for that, I thank them. It’s great to showcase the smaller films, once considered throw-aways, because one never knows how they might age and, for we who are aging, they’re oftentimes accompanied by a flood of nostalgia.

And yes, the movie had me reduced to giggles most of the way through because, although they kept referring to the killer’s costume as Groucho Marx, I could not stop seeing his uncanny resemblance to beloved film critic Gene Shalit, and the notion of Gene running around a train causing mayhem just ruined me. I freely admit that this is my fault, as I’m fairly certain that the filmmakers didn’t do this intentionally. Unless they did, in which case, congratulations – you are now epic.

Last week, I had the delightful opportunity to check out a film called Cockneys vs Zombies, and found it to be quite fun, if perhaps a little light on the red and the ultraviolence. But what the hell, it has Brick Top and Pussy Galore killing the undead and the most suspenseful pensioner-with-a-walker chase sequence ever committed to film. Want to know more?

Cockneys vs Zombies at Zombie Hamster

Although the Zed-word genre may seem to be running on fumes, it appears there may still be some ideas to be mined, and this one does it pretty well. Shout Factory’s Scream Factory sub-label presents this nifty little film, packed with fun extras.