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Hardware – film review

HARDWARE

Stanley’s Lurid Cyberpunk Nightmare Still Remains Unique.

Reviewed on Saturday 29th February 2020

Written & directed by Richard Stanley. Starring: Stacey Travis, Dylan McDermott, John Lynch and William Hootkins. Year of Release: 1990. Running time: 94 mins.

In a future metropolis ravaged by pollution, nuclear fallout and overpopulation, a young woman finds herself trapped in her high-rise apartment with a reactivated     killer cyborg.

With the recent release of his third feature Color Out Of Space, I thought it timely to revisit Richard Stanley’s feature debut Hardware – celebrating its 30th Anniversary this year. And remarkably – this cult fave still holds up amazingly well after all this time.

Allegedly inspired (albeit it loosely) by a seven page comic book story which appeared in the 1981 Judge Dredd Annual, Hardware is also a distillation of characters and themes Stanley had explored previously in his 1985 8mm dystopian kitchen sink drama Incidents In An Expanding Universe. The aggressive rantings of radio DJ Angry Bob which introduce us to this world – along with the characters of Mo, Shades and Jill – are virtually identical to what we saw in Stanley’s precursor to Hardware.

Reportedly made on a budget of 960,000 pounds – the film appears far more expensive than it is – thanks in part to Steven Chiver’s sumptuous cinematography (so as not to draw comparison to a certain killer cyborg film which came out six years earlier – Stanley eschewed the signature steely blues of James Cameron in favour of deep reds; giving the film a striking and unique look all its own). The high attention to detail given the carefully chosen locations and intricately dressed sets is also a contributing factor. The believable depiction of this broken-down dystopian setting being one of the most memorable things about the film. If the unfeeling indifference to human suffering in this hellish future society could be summed up in one image – it would be a throwaway shot in the stairwell of Jill’s apartment building; a toddler still attached by a leash to the corpse of its dead mother. Haunting to say the least.

Utilizing a surprisingly effective blend of Ry Cooder-style slide guitar and more traditionally expected 80s synth ambience, Simon Boswell’s eclectic score sets the tone perfectly during the opening scenes. Also featured on the soundtrack are appearances by industrial band Ministry (their video for ‘Stigmata’ featuring prominently) and the song ‘Order of Death’ by Public Image Limited (a track originally written for the movie of the same name – but repurposed to more evocative effect during the love scene between Mo and Jill). Indeed, so synonymous now is this song with Hardware that it’s virtually impossible to imagine it being associated with anything else. Also befitting Stanley’s music video background, the film features three cameo appearances by established rock icons – Fields of the Nephilim frontman Carl McCoy as the scavenging zone ranger who initially discovers the remains of the droid, Motorhead singer Lemmy as a griping water taxi driver (a role originally meant for Sinead O’Connor) and punk legend Iggy Pop as the voice of Angry Bob (“the man with the industrial dick”).

Stacey Travis as Jill makes for a plucky chain-smoking heroine, while Dylan McDermott is suitably stoic as her off-world soldier boyfriend Mo. And while John Lynch – as the drug-addled space pilot Shades comes close to stealing the show (particularly when he is amusingly forced to confront the droid while tripping on acid) – it is character actor Bill Hootkins who easily upstages everyone. As Jill’s intensely perverse and creepy neighbour Lincoln; grotesquely pleasuring himself while spying on Jill through a telescope – Hootkins is virtually unrecognizable as the sex-obsessed sweaty fetishist.

With his use of static shots and montage editing in Jill’s apartment – Stanley’s direction was unfairly dismissed at the time as him deliberately going for a music video sensibility (not that there is anything wrong with that). Whereas in reality this technique was actually born out of necessity – as any camera movement would immediately give away the illusion of the cityscape out the window (the cityscape being a forced perspective miniature). The resulting effect is that the film has a definite nightmarish fever dream quality to it. According to Stanley, the average age of the crew was twenty-five which (much like Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead) – goes a long way to explaining the sense of youthful exuberance inherent in the film.

While the first third of the film might be considered somewhat slow by today’s standards (the droid itself not becoming a full-blown threat until well into the movie) – the deliberate pacing is indeed necessary in establishing the characters and the world they inhabit. If anything, the slow-burn first half of the film makes the escalation of events in the second half even more impact-full.

The practical effects depicting the Mark 13 cyborg are arguably rudimentary – but effective nonetheless; the robot’s jerky and erratic movements giving the impression this thing is seriously out of control and far more unpredictable and lethal than it would be – if it were functioning normally. We absolutely get a real sense this thing is simply too insane to be reasoned with. Indeed, in the decades since the film’s initial release, it’s fascinating to ponder (particularly with regard to recent advances in robotics) – just how close we are to Stanley’s vision of the future becoming – a terrifying reality.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

Underwater – film review

UNDERWATER

Epic deep sea sci-fi horror clearly a tribute to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.

Reviewed on Thursday 23rd January 2020

Directed by William Eubank. Screenplay by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad, story by Brian Duffield Starring: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr, Mamoudou Athie, Gunner Wright and T.J. Miller. Running time: 95 mins.

A small group of intrepid survivors embark on a desperate trek to safety – after their deep-sea mining operation is destroyed by unknown forces. They soon find themselves at the mercy of monstrous creatures hellbent on their destruction.

PLEASE NOTE – THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE

Whilst space genre movies are a dime-a-dozen these days (and mostly third rate and forgettable – yes I’m looking at you Interstellar, Life and Ad Astra) – we haven’t had a big epic undersea adventure for quite some time – over three decades in fact. The last time it was the late eighties; when we were treated to a whole run of them including Leviathan, Lords of the Deep, Deepstar Six, The Rift and of course the film which started it all – James Cameron’s The Abyss. Whilst, back in the day, Leviathan was derided and dismissed as merely an Alien and The Thing knock-off set underwater (which it was) and The Abyss labelled Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the bottom of the sea (which in actuality is a fair description) – it’s actually misleading to refer to Underwater as just an undersea rip-off of Alien. Sure, the grimy, lived-in, claustrophobic setting clearly harkens back to the visual aesthetic of Scott’s influential masterpiece, but this isn’t about the horrors being trapped with us inside – with no hope of escape. This is about being forced to go ‘out there’ and confront the horrors     in their own natural environment. These aren’t extraterrestrial horrors (or scientific experiments run amok) these are terrestrial horrors which may well exist (indeed, may have always existed) in an equally hostile and under-explored environment in our own back yard, namely – the bottom of the sea. If anything, the survival aspect of the film is more akin to what we saw in Cameron’s The Abyss – than anything we saw in Alien.

Genre director William Eubank first burst onto the scene with his Earth orbit survival thriller Love in 2011. Bank-rolled by Blink 182 frontman Tom DeLong, this impressive shoe-string indy sci-fi feature was originally conceived as a tie-in to the Angels & Airwaves album of the same name, but quickly became its own much-loved entity and something of a cult fave amongst sci-fi fans upon its release. Eubank followed this three years later with the reality-bending sci-fi mindfuck The Signal in 2014. It was while attempting to get his next proposed feature World Breaker into production – that he happened upon the existing screenplay for Underwater and decided to make this his next project (as it was already financed by a major Hollywood production company and ready to go). Frustratingly, while completed in 2018, the film’s release was postponed indefinitely due to Disney’s announced negotiations to acquire 20th Century Fox. This explains why Underwater is only now gaining a release. Produced on a budget of $50,000,000 (with $20,000,000 being spent on the visual effects alone – taking an incredible fifteen months to complete) I first up have to say – it appears as though every cent is up there on the screen.

Featuring detailed sets and highly-immersive anamorphic photography, this is one visually impressive film. There is a definite sense of claustrophobia to the grimy setting and Eubank’s direction does well in including us in the action. Once again, the helmer employs his signature use of super slo-mo at key moments (recalling effective use of this in both Love and The Signal).

If there’s one thing to be said for this film – it’s fast-moving. The pacing is break-neck from the get-go – and never lets up until the final credits roll. Unlike The Rise of Skywalker however, this works in its favour – as the story is straight forward enough to justify the momentum. Since we know the goal from the outset – much like 1917 – it’s just a matter of watching it play out (pretty much in real time).

Having never seen any of the Twilight movies, I’ve never had an opinion on Kristen Stewart one way or the other. So going into Underwater, I didn’t have any preconceived notions of her prowess as an actor. But I thought she was really good in this. Whether it was due to Eubank’s direction or not – I felt her performance as the angst-ridden heroine Nora was top notch and her casting in this film shouldn’t put anyone off from seeing it. The remainder of the cast are likeable enough, with the always watchable Vincent Cassel (Eastern Promises, Black Swan) – a welcome addition as Captain Lucien.

While starting out as a thrilling survival story – as characters attempt to flee the imploding mine facility, Underwater is gradually revealed to be more an epic sci-fi creature feature; with the threat escalating in number and scope. And for anyone familiar with H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, the final reveal of the largest monster should come as something of a nice surprise.

Overall, Underwater is a fun watch while also being a tense thrill-ride. A well-made epic which maintains interest and doesn’t outstay its welcome.

3.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Marion, January 23rd 2020

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

The Fountain – film review

THE FOUNTAIN

Arronofsky’s intensely moving masterwork. Still as potent as ever.

Reviewed on Saturday 18th January 2020

Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Screenplay by Darren Aronofsky, story by Darren Aronofsky & Ari Handel. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz and Ellen Burstyn. Year of Release: 2006. Running time: 97 mins.

A determined cancer researcher named Tommy Creol (Hugh Jackman) stumbles upon the key to immortality while desperately attempting to save the life of his dying wife Izzy (Rachel Weisz). At Izzy’s urging he begins to read an unfinished manuscript written by her titled The Fountain, a story set in the 16th Century detailing a Spanish Conquistador’s quest to locate the fabled Tree of Life in Central America; a plant whose sap (when ingested) is said to grant the recipiant everlasting life – in essence – the Fountain of Youth. Meanwhile – in the future, a now immortal Tommy – determined to reunite with Izzy, travels with The Tree of Life to a far off Nebula; a place where the Mayans believed souls go to be reborn.

While being intensely moved and affected upon first seeing this film in theatres back in the day, and knowing I had seen something so deeply profound it would stay with me my whole life and remain one of my favourite films of all time, it’s odd I never felt the urge to revisit it – until now. Perhaps it was because I felt a re-watch might diminish it in some way; take away from the perceived perfection of it in my memory. If anything, the adverse is true – as being away from it for over a decade has only made me love this film even more (if that’s even possible).

Originally conceived while in post on Requiem For A Dream, Aronofsky and his writing partner Ari Handel attempted to mount a big budget version of The Fountain in Australia in 2003 (featuring Brad Pitt in the lead). Frustratingly, just weeks prior to the start of principal photography on the Gold Coast – production was shut down after the sudden departure of Pitt and the gigantic sets dismantled and auctioned off. What followed was a reworking of the script in order to tell the same story with only half of the original budget. This ended up being something of a blessing in disguise – as it forced Aronofsky and Handel to distill the elements even further. Relocating to Toronto, Canada – production recommenced two years later with Hugh Jackman now cast in the lead.

While he criminally missed out on an Oscar nomination for The Fountain, this is without a doubt Hugh Jackman’s best performance ever. The same with Rachel Weisz. Up to this point, Weisz was best known for her more comedic roles in The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. So it was something of a revelation to see her be given the opportunity to express her dramatic range. And the chemistry between her and Jackman is absolutely the make or break for this film. It simply would not work without it.

Thematically the film explores ideas of synchronicity, acceptance of death as being a natural progression and the importance of living in ‘the now’ – over fearing the future or dwelling on the past. It also tells us there is definitely a higher purpose to us being here in this realm. While it doesn’t necessarily spell out what that purpose is, it does indeed reassure us that it’s absolutely there nonetheless.

Upon initial viewing, the film’s structure may appear to be deceptively complex; cutting back and forth between three distinctively different (and intricately-woven) parallel story threads: Izzy’s 16th Century tale (with Jackman and Weisz playing the Conquistador Tomas and the Queen of Spain respectively), the main present-day narrative (as Tommy attempts to save Izzy’s life) – and the future sequences (where an immortal Tommy travels through space with the Mayan Tree of Life). Upon closer inspection – the structure is really quite straight forward. Having said that however – and much like the original Jacob’s Ladder or the more recent Mr. Nobody and Cloud Atlas, the perceived narrative complexity and intricate nature of The Fountain does indeed demand our complete focus and undivided attention – in order to fully comprehend what is going on and ultimately understand the message on offer. For instance, there is a crucially important dialogue exchange between Tommy and Izzy at the museum which is key to understanding the significance of Tommy’s almost spiritual relationship with the Mayan tree in the future space sequences (while also being something which relates directly to film’s final scene – where Tommy plants an exotic-looking seed at Izzy’s grave). Admittedly something I missed upon my initial viewing of the film. Utilizing matched cuts (while incorporating dialogue from the next scene) – the transitions between the three story threads feel natural and organic – and far less jarring than they could have been in lesser hands.

Matthew Libatique has been the DP on all of Aronofsky’s films and his lensing on The Fountain is among some of his best work. This film is simply gorgeous to look at; almost Kubrickian in its symmetry. And while each of the three story threads has its own unique look – there are also key similarities – particularly with regard to the use of sumptuous golden hues which feature prominently throughout (and especially in the spectacular scenes involving the bubble spaceship’s arrival at the Nebula which climaxes the movie).

Aronofsky was determined not to utilize any CGI in the depiction of the Nebula – instead employing the talents of Peter Parks (previously of Oxford Scientific Films     Ltd) – an optical effects technician known for his incredibly beautiful macro-photography and his expertise in filming chemical reactions in petri dishes to represent cosmic phenomena (his talents were also used to great effect in Superman: The Movie and more recently in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life).

It would be remiss of me to finish this review without mentioning the score by Aronofsky’s resident composer Clint Mansell. Mansell – a major talent in his own     right – once again delivers a beautiful score which masterfully enriches the emotional experience (here again collaborating with Australia’s-own Kronos Quartet to great effect – having worked with them previously on Requiem).

Whilst I do admire and appreciate every single one of Darren Aronofsky’s films,         The Fountain still remains, in my mind at least, this visionary director’s crowning achievement.

5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

1917 – film review

1917

Immersive cinema at its most visceral.

Reviewed on Sunday 12th January 2020


Directed by Sam Mendes. Written by Sam Mendes & Krysty Wilson-Cairns. Starring: George McKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch. Running time: 119 mins.

Two determined British soldiers stationed in the north of France are sent across no man’s land in a race against time to hand-deliver a message to halt 1600 of their own countrymen from going over the top in what appears to be an enemy ambush.

PLEASE NOTE – THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE

There have been several films made over the years depicting the horrors of WWI trench warfare – from Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957) to Peter Weir’s Gallipoli (1981) to Russell Mulcahy’s The Lost Battalion (2001). While as good as those films are – none of them come even close to producing the sustained tension or visceral punch of Sam Mendes’ latest offering.

Loosely inspired by stories told to him by his grandfather when he was a child, 1917 is clearly something of a passion project for Mendes.

This gripping film is comprised of a series of incredibly long, flawlessly-choreographed Steadicam shots – blended seamlessly together; achieving the impression that the entire two hour running time of the movie is just one long continuous shot. The effect of this is that we the audience become immersed in the action and setting to such an extent that we leave the cinema believing we have just been through the exact same experience the characters have been through. The amount of meticulous planning and effort to make this work just boggles the mind. It’s a remarkable achievement for everyone involved.

With the journey essentially taking place in real time (and without cutting away) – we get a real sense of the distances travelled and the changing geography of the setting. With its rat-infested bunkers – the shell-cratered battlefield; littered with half-buried corpses is truly a nightmare to behold; the horror being hammered home even more by authentic reactions from the two leads.

As played by Dean-Charles Chapman (Game of Thrones) and George McKay (How I Live Now) – our leads are sympathetic and likeable and share an authentic chemistry together. Whilst the remainder of the arguably more recognizable British supports (including Mark Strong, Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch) are uniformly excellent and perfectly cast in their roles.

This is one of those rare films where the setting is as much a character – as the characters themselves (in terms of war movies – Coppola’s Apocalypse Now immediately springs to mind). Indeed, the film’s setting is so keenly realized (with a potential threat around every corner) – it could conceivably be considered an antagonist in its own right. Adding to the verisimilitude, the production design by Dennis Gassner (Miller’s Crossing, Road to Perdition, Blade Runner 2049) is authentic and highly-detailed. While the deliberately understated score by Thomas Newman (The Green Mile, Passengers) does a great job in sustaining tension.

Director of Photography Roger Deakins (Nineteen Eighty-Four, Barton Fink, Blade Runner 2049) has well and truly established himself as a master cinematographer. And with 1917, he has once again delivered images which are not only strikingly beautiful (predominantly utilizing available light) – but also shots which are so astonishing in their mobility, they will be studied and pondered over for decades to come.

Perhaps the most immersive (not to mention suspenseful) wartime drama since Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, Sam Mendes’ 1917 may well be one of the greatest war films ever made. Indeed, I’d even go so far as to say the cinema-going experience was designed for movies like this. Don’t miss it.

5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Wallis Cinemas Mitcham, Adelaide, January 12th 2020

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker – film review

STAR WARS IX: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

A desperately cobbled-together franchise-killing finale.

Reviewed on Thursday 19th December 2019

Directed by J.J. Abrams. Screenplay by Chris Terrio & J.J. Abrams, story by Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow and Chris Terrio & J.J. Abrams. Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Billy Dee Williams and Ian McDiarmid. Running time: 141 mins.

While Rey continues her training under the tutelage of Leia, Kylo Ren embarks on a quest to locate former Galactic Emperor Palpatine (who miraculously survived the destruction of the second Death Star ) – in order to take him down because he perceives Palpatine as a threat. When Rey learns of her true ancestral lineage – she too embarks on a quest to confront the Emperor. While, with only sixteen hours to go until the Sith launches a full blown attack with a fleet of planet-killing star destroyers – Finn, Poe and Chewbacca also join Rey in her quest.

As lame and ‘fan-fictiony’ as this sounds – this is essentially the plot.

PLEASE NOTE – THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE

For the last two years since the release of the previous instalment, I had been following with interest the backlash from fans and subsequent mad scramble by Lucasfilm to come up with an alternate game plan to complete the saga – after Rian Johnson diverged so wildly from the initial three picture narrative arc with The Last Jedi. While I did come out of Last Jedi assuming it was all still part of the game plan,   it didn’t take long for the truth to emerge – that Johnson had effectively thrown out the plan – leaving the story with nowhere to go. And so it was with a distinct lack of confidence that I went into The Rise of Skywalker – thinking it might be nothing more than a hastily slapped-together convoluted mess – but hoping that it might at least be an entertaining one.

If there is one thing to be said about this film – it moves along at break-neck speed; never slowing down long enough for us to process anything that is happening – whether it be the continuous rapid-fire expository dialogue being spoken at double speed or the beauty of a moment, shot or location – this film doesn’t care if you’re keeping up with it or not; it’s determined to get this thing over with as quickly as possible – so you better hang on.

As Abrams has demonstrated time and time again – his concept of ‘the mystery box’ (where, because it happens in real life, certain plot points are routinely unexplained) – is clearly just an excuse for lazy plotting. And Rise of Skywalker also falls prey to this idiotic reasoning. When internal narrative logic is discarded so arbitrarily – this can only make for an extremely frustrating experience. This is perhaps why virtually all of Abram’s films fail to hold up on subsequent viewings. When your story is so riddled with glaring plot holes – it can’t help but collapse in a heap under the slightest scrutiny (and as I have neither the time, nor the inclination, to conduct a deep dive analysis of this myself – I’ll leave it to others to dissect the dozens of nonsensical narrative plot points on display in this train wreck).

The only character who has any semblance of an arc in this movie (indeed, this entire trilogy) – is Kylo Ren. And Adam Driver delivers a solid performance with the material he’s been given. And while it’s nice to see Daisy Ridley given more to do here (as far as demonstrating her range) – particularly in making the omnipotent Rey a more likeable character – with relatable vulnerabilities, it ultimately ends up being a case of too little too late. The rest of the human cast fare a lot worse; sadly remaining essentially one-note and undeveloped. Interestingly, it is Chewbacca who provides what is perhaps the film’s most emotionally impact-full moment – with his heart-breaking response to the death of another beloved legacy character.

With this Disney trilogy now finally complete, I really am at a loss to understand what the point of it all actually was. With the original trilogy (and indeed with the prequel trilogy) Lucas always said his intent was to provide young people with a new mythology in order to impart the understanding that the choice we all make between good and evil is purely one’s own. So what lessons were meant to be gleaned from this new trilogy? What message – if any – is it attempting to impart to young people? Well, none that I can see. For there is no underlying subtext to any of this.

The artistic failure of this sequel trilogy as a whole must be laid squarely at the feet of studio head Kathleen Kennedy, for it was she who green-lit Rian Johnson’s recklessly divergent (reportedly first draft) screenplay for Last Jedi – in order to selfishly inject her own toxic brand of hyper-feminism into the mix. This is not to say J.J. Abrams or Rian Johnson should be let off the hook. Not at all. Abrams’ lack of imagination (in his shameless rehashing of what came before) – coupled with Johnson’s slavish allegiance to Kennedy’s political agendas – pretty much gave rise to a perfect storm of creative incompetence.

Convoluted, incomprehensible and just plain dumb – I would even go so far as to place Rise of Skywalker in the same franchise-killing pantheon of recent duds as The Predator, Alien: Covenant and Terminator: Genysis.

Avoid at all cost.

1.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Wallis Cinemas Mitcham, Adelaide, December 19th 2019

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

Impulse – film review

IMPULSE

An effective slow-burn psychological thriller.

Reviewed on Sunday 1st December 2019

Directed by Graham Baker. Written by Nicholas Kazan (as Bart Davis) and Don Carlos Dunaway. Starring: Tim Matheson, Meg Tilly, Hume Cronyn and Bill Paxton. Year of release: 1984. Running time: 91 mins.

Some weeks ago, I was watching ‘Grumpy Andrew’s Horror House’ channel on youtube – a learned, engaging and eloquent reviewer of horror films (well worth checking out) – and in particular his recent retrospective series on the original Omen trilogy. It was while watching his review of Omen III: The Final Conflict (a film I hadn’t seen since its initial release on VHS back in the day) – that I felt compelled to look up that film’s director – Graham Baker on IMDb. It was here, amongst the helmer’s list of credits that I learnt of the existence of his follow-up to The Final Conflict (his feature debut) – the obscure psychological thriller – Impulse. Delving further, I discovered this movie had recently been released on blu-ray and promptly ordered myself a copy. The idea of a small town going crazy (acting on impulse) immediately appealed to me. The added bonus of the late, great Bill Paxton; featured in a supporting role sealed the deal – I just had to see this movie.

Deciding to revisit The Final Conflict for the first time in some thirty-eight years – in preparation for my viewing of Impulse, my immediate take on Graham Baker’s direction (with regards to Omen III) – was that his directing style is somewhat journeyman-like and non-showy – allowing the material to speak for itself. Unfortunately, while Sam Neill is well cast in the role of the grown-up antichrist Damien Thorn, the screenplay for the third Omen film is considerably lacking to say the least – the pacing being mostly ponderous, with very little sense of dread and peppered with some cringingly unintentional goofy moments.

Thankfully, with Impulse – he has much better material to work with.

The film’s basic premise brings to mind an actual, widely-documented historical event. On the 15th of August 1951, the small provincial town of Pont-Saint-Esprit (in the south of France) famously endured a bout of temporary mass insanity – affecting most of the population for a period of forty-eight hours. Experiencing symptoms akin to the effects of LSD (although the culprit was officially declared to be ergot poisoning from a bad batch of locally produced bread) – hundreds of townspeople experienced either unexplained delirium, manic euphoria or terrifying hallucinations – resulting in at least four deaths due to misadventure. While it remains unclear whether or not screenwriters Nicholas Kazan and Don Carlos Dunaway used this historical incident as inspiration for Impulse – the parallels are obvious.

The film opens with an effective pre-title sequence in which we see various animals in an un-named rural town reacting to an earthquake before it happens. While the quake itself isn’t big enough to inflict major damage to the town, it does cause an unmarked concrete containment vessel in the woods to crack open. We are then introduced to our main protagonist Jennifer (Meg Tilly) and her surgeon boyfriend Stuart (Tim Matheson). Jennifer is compelled to return to her hometown with Stuart – in order to deal with the fallout of a shocking medical emergency involving her mother (not wishing to spoil the visceral impact of this shocking incident – the less said about the nature of this medical emergency the better). Suffice to say – this is just the first of many visceral punches this movie delivers as the townspeople quickly succumb to impulsive bouts of unbridled hedonism, lust, grotesque self harm and violent aggression. This mass psychosis manifesting as an absence of morality, wherein those affected have a complete lack of understanding of the consequences of their actions. In short, a kind of chemically-induced psychopathy. And the film brazenly goes places one wouldn’t normally expect (as far as subverting and sometimes offing particular characters); giving us the unnerving feeling that anything can happen – successfully creating a palpable sense of escalating unease.

While the first half of Impulse undoubtedly has a similar slow-burn paranoia feel to the original 1950s Invasion of the Bodysnatchers – the escalation of societal collapse (as loss of morality takes hold) also recalls the finale of Steve DeJarnett’s masterful 1988 thriller Miracle Mile (wherein downtown LA is gripped by mass hysteria in the face of imminent nuclear attack). And the reveal of the source of the contamination should come as no surprise to those paying attention. However, at no point is the toxin explained – let alone named – only adding to the believability of the premise. Refreshingly, there are no lab-coated scientists conveniently showing up to give us a detailed dump of pertinant information. Indeed, the film is less concerned about this particular mystery – than it is the dust-covered government vehicle seen lurking in the background as the town descends into chaos (the unseen driver of which we do eventually get to meet). But even then – we are left in the dark as to who was ultimately responsible for dumping the toxic waste to begin with.

The writing on Impulse is extremely good. This isn’t television or a stage play – it’s a movie; with the dialog being sparse and stripped down – allowing the actors to do their job; delivering nuanced performances. And the performances for the most part are also very good, with Tim Matheson (Animal House, 1941) demonstrating a range not previously seen (thanks to the unexpected arc of his character) – along with Bill Paxton; here playing Jennifer’s brother with an air of brooding intensity quite unlike his more comedic turns in The Terminator and Streets of Fire that same year. But it is Meg Tilly (Psycho II) who truly shines in one of her best roles ever. Not nearly as appreciated as she should be, Tilly gives a terrific performance and is a joy to watch as the empathic and resourceful Jennifer.

In comparison to Omen III, Baker’s direction on Impulse is a vast improvement – so much so in fact that its virtually impossible to recognize they were helmed by the same person. Just goes to show I guess that a director is ultimately only ever as good as the material they have to work with. Hopefully, now that Impulse has been given a release on blu-ray – more people will have the chance to see it. Highly recommended.

3.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

Color Out Of Space – film review

COLOR OUT OF SPACE

Richard Stanley’s trippy comeback is a triumph.

Reviewed on Sunday 3rd November 2019


Directed by Richard Stanley. Screenplay by Scarlett Amaris and Richard Stanley, based on the short story by H.P. Lovecraft. Starring: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Julian Hilliard, Brendan Meyer, Madeleine Arthur and Tommy Chong. Running time: 111 mins.

PLEASE NOTE: THE FOLLOWING REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE

As those who know me will already be aware, I have been a long-time and vocal fan of Richard Stanley and his films. First exploding onto the scene in 1990 with his cyberpunk splatter-fest Hardware, South African-born Stanley had previously forged a career in music video (most notably helming a couple of practical effects-heavy clips for UK Goth rockers The Fields of the Nephilim, as well as Public Image Limited). Following Hardware, he went on to helm Dust Devil – a supernatural western slasher set in Namibia – which sadly underwent such extensive post-production meddling at the hands of Miramax, it was deemed virtually incomprehensible upon its release in 1992. The film was subsequently restored to reflect Stanley’s original vision in 2006 and released as a limited edition five disk box set via Subversive Cinema.

In 1996, Stanley was given the opportunity to helm a big budget retelling of the classic H.G. Wells tale The Island of Doctor Moreau – a disastrous, career-derailing experience later documented extensively in the feature documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s The Island of Doctor Moreau in 2014 (also reviewed on this blog).

In the years since ’96 Stanley hasn’t remained idle by any means, producing a slew of short films and feature documentaries – as well as penning screenplays for a number of as-yet unrealized features. Now, after a hiatus of some twenty-three years – we finally have another Stanley film to experience and appreciate – with a new retelling     of H.P. Lovecraft’s highly-influential horror tale The Colour Out Of Space.

There have been several attempts over the decades to adapt Lovecraft’s idiosyncratic brand of eldritch horror to the big screen (most notably Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator and From Beyond). Only one however has been truly successful in capturing the author’s signature sense of dread inherent in his tales – Dan O’Bannon’s The Resurrected. Well, having caught a special pre-release festival screening over the weekend, I can safely say that alongside The Resurrected can now be added Richard Stanley’s Color Out Of Space. Reportedly Lovecraft’s own personal favourite of his tales, this 1927 short story had previously been adapted at least twice before (firstly as Die Monster Die! in 1965 and again as The Curse in 1987).

Set on an isolated New England farm in the present day, Stanley’s take on the story introduces us to the Gardners – a family of five seeking rural respite away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. When a meteorite lands in their back yard – an indefinable cosmic force is released (the titular color out of space) – a contagion of sorts which taints the ground water – transforming whatever life it comes in contact with into its own image of alien biology. From plants and animals to the Gardners themselves – no life is spared from this cosmic corruption.

While both Hardware and Dust Devil do indeed contain horror elements, Color Out Of Space is nothing less than out-and-out horror. Genuinely creepy and unsettling, the escalation of tension is masterfully handled – reaching a mind-bending crescendo we simply cannot look away from. While shocking imagery abounds (much like Alex Garland’s Annihilation) – the driving force behind the horror is the lead-up to these reveals. The sense of extreme dread and unease we feel is what fuels this nightmare (adding immensely to the dread, incidentally, is Colin Stetson’s intense but subtle, predominantly atonal score – perhaps one of the most unique and effective horror scores of recent times).

As with Stanley’s previous work, the look of the film is visually striking – the pinkish lighting effects depicting the otherworldly ‘color’ clearly aping the depiction of the ‘resonator’ in Gordon’s From Beyond. And it should also come as no surprise that Stanley has said his primary aim with regard to the visual aesthetics of the film is       to give the viewer an immersive experience not too dissimilar to an acid trip. The extensive use of CG in the film’s final third enhancing this to mesmerizing effect (I can imagine Hunter S. Thompson giving his nod of approval if he were still alive today). This is absolutely a film which demands to be seen in a cinema.

Not counting his three day stint on Moreau (before he was unceremoniously replaced) this is the first time Stanley has worked with such recognizable Hollywood talent as Nicolas Cage and Joely Richardson. Cage nails the dark humour in Stanley’s screenplay – eliciting several laugh-out-loud reactions at the screening I attended, while Richardson’s heartfelt performance as his cancer-stricken wife tugs at the emotions. Newcomer Madeleine Arthur, as the couple’s wicca-practicing daughter, is also very good.

With only two features to his credit prior to helming Color – it was still easy to see why Stanley had been hailed as something of a visionary. Indeed, with his third (belated) feature now a reality, this label has been well and truly justified.

4.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at Monsterfest – GU Filmhouse, Adelaide, November 3rd 2019

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.