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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME & THE AMAZING PANDA ADVENTURE - TWO BLASTS FROM MY MOVIE PAST VIEWED AND REVIEWED AT LAST!

 
Publicity posters for The Wizard of Speed and Time and The Amazing Panda Adventure (© Mike Jittlov/Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment / (© Christopher Cain/Lee Rich Productions/Warner Bros; – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

During my epic movie-watch that I began shortly after the first covid lockdown way back in March 2020 here in England, I've not only purchased and viewed many new movies (mostly on DVD) but also finally got around to watching movies that I'd owned unviewed for the best part of 25 years. Two more from this latter category that I've recently seen at long last are The Wizard of Speed and Time and The Amazing Panda Adventure.

Directed, written, and starring real-life special-effects movie maestro Mike Jittlov, The Wizard of Speed and Time was released in 1988 and is basically a much-expanded, 95-minute version of an earlier, 3-minute-long sfx production by Jittlov, released in 1979, much of which appears in the climactic scene of this movie (click here to watch the original 3-min version on YouTube). Its storyline focuses upon an sfx movie wizard and his frenetic efforts to get a sfx movie made and screened by a major TV company, as well as highlighting in comedic manner the problems experienced by anyone attempting to do so independently of Hollywood's varied (and numerous) film/TV unions.

Jittlov basically plays a fantasised version of himself (and also, in the movie within this movie, the eponymous green-costumed Wizard of Speed and Time). So as you'd expect, the special-effects on show are great. Unfortunately, however, the movie itself plays like a feature-length version of one of those manic TV shows for very young youngsters where the acting is totally OTT throughout, the villains are of the slapstick boo-hiss variety, everybody shouts A LOT, hyper-exaggerated mayhem reigns supreme, and the mood is unrelentingly, wholly unrealistically optimistic, with uncoralled, hurricane-force zaniness the order of the day.

Indeed, I had to pause the movie halfway through in order to stop my poor reeling mind from spinning, before gamely ploughing through the second half. However, over-active 3-year-olds will no doubt love it, I'm sure.

By comparison, The Amazing Panda Adventure is a rather more serious affair. Directed by Christopher Cain and released in 1995, it concerns an American boy named Ryan (played by Christian Slater's brother Ryan) visiting his estranged zoologist father Dr Michael Tyler (Stephen Lang) in China where he works at a giant panda reserve, but which is facing imminent closure by government officials as its wild pandas are apparently not breeding.

In fact, one adult female giant panda HAS recently bred, but when she becomes trapped by a leg snare set by poachers and her cub is then kidnapped by them to sell to a zoo, all of the main staff from the reserve set off in pursuit, during which Ryan and Chinese girl Ling (Yi Ding), who works for Ryan's father as a translator, become separated from the others and are stranded together in the wild. However, after trailing the poachers, Ryan and Ling succeed in rescuing the panda cub, and then try to find their way back with it to the reserve's headquarters, chased by the poachers and undergoing all manner of perilous experiences en route, while also bonding with each other as friends.

The Amazing Panda Adventure contains some enchanting sequences featuring a truly adorable real-life panda cub (named Moon Shema), but a robot version is naturally used for all of the dangerous scenes and stunts. Shot entirely on location in the highlands of central China, this pleasant movie features awe-inspiring Sinian scenery that is beyond beautiful. But as a downside, Slater does not appear to have been blessed with the same level of acting ability as his more famous brother, his character tending to come across simply as an irritating brat rather than, as presumably intended, a youngster initially bemused by but gradually coming to terms with and ultimately embracing the fascinating cultural differences between his American background and life in rural China.

Never mind, The Amazing Panda Adventure is still a lovely family-friendly movie with enough thrills and spills to keep the viewer engaged for its 84-minute running time. Plus, how many movies can you think of that feature real giant pandas as the major stars?

By kind permission of Mike Jittlov, The Wizard of Speed and Time can currently be watched for free on YouTube by clicking here; and an official trailer revealing the beauty and charm of The Amazing Panda Adventure can be viewed here.

 

Friday, June 11, 2021

ISLAND OF THE LOST

 
The official American NTSC-format videocassette of Island of the Lost (© John Florea/Ivan Tors Productions/Paramount Pictures/NTA Home Entertainment – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

On 20 June 2020, longstanding friend Mike Playfair brought to my attention on YouTube an apparent featurette, just 30 mins long and dating from 1967, entitled Island of the Lost, in which a family led by the father, eccentric anthropologist Josh MacRae, played by veteran Robin Hood actor Richard Greene, become stranded on a mysterious, hitherto-uncharted South Pacific island inhabited by various scientifically-undiscovered but decidedly belligerent beasts and visited by a war-like native tribe from some neighbouring island. Not surprisingly, they spend the remainder of the movie doing their utmost to escape back to civilisation, but not only do they have the afore-mentioned foes to face, this benighted company also have a temperamental volcano and some deeply unsettling ground tremors to contend with. This is precisely what happens, of course, if you don't hire a professional tour guide when visiting some far-flung location off the beaten track - sorry, but they really should have stayed at home!

Greene's principal co-star is Luke Halpin, playing MacRae's son Stu, and still remembered today from his time as a child actor in the hugely popular dolphin-starring 1960s TV show Flipper. Also present is Jose De Vega, playing a youthful native named Tupuna, who'd been abandoned on this island by his people as a coming-of-age test of his courage to survive there alone, but after being rescued by MacRae's family when they arrive and find him close to death, he becomes their friend and helper.

Anyway: as soon as I saw the scene in this featurette that includes a flock of carnivorous ostriches with horn-like head protuberances plus a bizarre saw-like ridge running along the centre of their back reminiscent of the prehistoric pelycosaur Dimetrodon's, I knew that I'd watched it before. However, I distinctly remembered it being part of a feature-length movie, one that I'd viewed many years ago on TV (and on at least a couple of separate occasions).

Sure enough, when I investigated further, it had indeed originated as a 92-min feature – specifically an American adventure-style monster movie directed by John Florea, produced and co-written by Ivan Tors (who had also produced the afore-mentioned show Flipper), and released in 1967. Consequently, I have no idea why the greatly-truncated 30-min featurette was subsequently produced. The full movie was entitled Island of the Lost when originally released in the UK, but has since acquired various other monikers.

Island of the Lost was shot in the Bahamas and parts of Florida, so the tropical flora and lush scenery are natural – the decidedly unnatural fauna, conversely, are another matter entirely. Imho, the creature production quality in this film is abysmal – indeed, it's so bad that it's good! For in addition to its veritable Rhodesian ridge-backed ratites noted earlier here, where else could you find a pack of so-called sabre-toothed wolves that are actually Alsatians and huskies sporting a set of false fangs? I kid you not! At least their pet sea lion is normal!

In short, don't expect to encounter any Harryhausen-level creations in Island of the Lost, but in a sense that adds to this movie's charm. Also, it's refreshing to see a cryptozoology-themed flick that is not of the prehistoric survivor/lost world genre but instead features a locality containing entirely novel, wholly unknown, undiscovered modern-day cryptids. True, in one scene anthropologist MacRae proclaims: "There are things on this island we all thought were completely extinct". However, he should be made aware that a creature can't be extinct (completely or otherwise!) if it had never existed to begin with! And there is certainly no presence as yet in the known fossil record of anything resembling the bizarre beasts encountered on this particular island, that's for sure! Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable, fun film, offering a nostalgic return to those family-friendly adventure movies of half a century ago now that thrilled rather than chilled the more youthful sections of its audience, and for me was an absolute pleasure to chance upon again.

Indeed, after rediscovering Island of the Lost, albeit in its truncated featurette format on YouTube, I began searching straight away for the full-length original movie on DVD. Unfortunately, I was only able to find an American Region 1 version whose front cover picture depicts a teeth-snarling green-skinned humanoid entity of terrifying demeanour that never appears anywhere in the actual movie! An American NTSC-format videocasssette version that I also spotted online has a far superior front cover illustration (and which I have used as this present Shuker In MovieLand review's opening picture), as long as we ignore the fact that its portrayed pterodactyl and rhino-horned crocodile don't appear in the movie either!

Sadly, I have been unable to track a UK-compatible version of this film, i.e. either as a Region 2 DVD or as a PAL-format VHS videocassette, always assuming, of course, that it was ever released in either format here in the UK. Consequently, I finally relented and a while ago I purchased the American DVD (notwithstanding its misleading horror-themed front cover), as I do have a multi-region DVD player that can play it. So I have since been able to watch Island of the Lost in full for the first time in many years.

The above-mentioned featurette version of Island of the Lost no longer appears to be on YouTube. Instead, however, the entire movie (albeit of somewhat inferior visual quality) is presently available there for free viewing. So if you've never seen sabre-toothed versions of Man's best friend, not to mention Dimetrodontian ostriches, now's your chance to make up for lost time – just click here and all will be revealed!

 

Monday, June 7, 2021

MIDNIGHT LACE

 
Publicity poster for Midnight Lace (© David Miller/Arwin Productions/Universal Pictures – reproduced here on a strictly on-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

On 17 May 2021, courtesy of the British TV channel Film4, I watched a very engrossing movie that I'd only ever seen once before, more than 40 years ago (and in b/w, so until now I hadn't been aware of its vibrant colour format), but which had very firmly impressed itself upon my memory. Directed by David Miller and released in 1960, the movie in question was the very stylish, Hitchcockian Midnight Lace.

Based upon British playwright and screen writer Janet Green's 1958 play Matilda Shouted Fire, Midnight Lace (the name of a lacy black dress that the principal character Kit purchases and which is certainly a much more memorable title than that of Green's play) stars Doris Day, but playing a role very much against type.

For this film is as far removed from her typical frothy romances co-starring Rock Hudson or full-blown musicals like Calamity Jane or The Pajama Game as it is possible to conceive. Yet such was the strength of Day's performance in what for her was such a radical departure from the norm that she was duly nominated for a Golden Globe award. In addition, she was so emotionally drained by it that she vowed never to star in another thriller, and she never did.

Midnight Lace is very much in the Gaslight subgenre of psychological suspense thriller/mystery, with Day playing a wealthy, recently-married young American heiress named Kit Preston, now living in London with her English husband Tony, a banker. However, she is being terrified out of her mind by a series of spooky telephone calls in which the anonymous caller promises that he will kill her before the month is out.

Tony, played by Rex Harrison, is at his own wits' end as to what to do about this macabre affair, as are Kit's visiting American aunt Bea (Myrna Loy), Kit's friend and neighbor Peggy, Inspector Byrnes at Scotland Yard who is investigating this bizarre case at Tony's request, and youthful architect Brian Younger (John Gavin) working nearby on a building project who strikes up a friendship with Kit. To make matters even worse, her housekeeper Doris's work-shy, sinister son Malcolm Stanley (Roddy McDowall) is surreptitiously but tenaciously pestering Kit for money. Could one (or more) of these be responsible for the phone calls, or should we be looking further afield for the culprit(s)?

There are two very different reasons why Midnight Lace has stayed in my mind so vividly and for so long. One is the weird, decidedly creepy voice of her mystery persecutor. And the other is this movie's shock denouement, which comes out of nowhere, especially as the plot is liberally supplied with herrings of the exceedingly red variety.

Worthy of especial praise are the elegant sets, rich colours, and Day's numerous costumes, all of which are truly sumptuous and breathtaking to behold (costume designer Irene was Oscar-nominated for her work in this movie). Moreover, all of Day's ensemble of fellow thespians play their parts as potential suspects very efficiently as far as keeping the perpetrator(s) of Kit's terror veiled, though I have to say that, at least in this particular movie, the face of one of them does not readily lend itself to appearing guileless – which is the only clue that I'm giving out here!

I've now purchased Midnight Lace on DVD for future viewings, but if you'd like to watch an official trailer for it on YouTube to experience some of the thrills and chills that lie in store for viewers of this eerie movie, be sure to click here. (Incidentally, don't confuse this original classic cinema-released film with a remake of the same title that was released as a TV movie in 1981, starring Mary Crosby in the Day role but renamed Cathy Preston).

 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

MALPERTUIS

 
Featuring very dramatic artwork, the front cover of the 1987 English-language ex-rental big box VHS video version of Malpertuis (© Harry Kümel/Artemis Film/Les Productions Artistes Associés/Premier Releasing/Motion Pictures on Video – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only

The following account of mine is as much a revelation as a review, but is necessary, due to the unusually complex nature of this particular movie's release. So let's begin with the revelation before moving on to the review.

Based upon the decidedly strange yet engrossing gothic novel of the same title by Jean Ray (originally published in French in 1943 but which I've read and own in its subsequent English-translation edition), the early 1970s dark fantasy/horror movie Malpertuis stars Orson Welles, Susan Hampshire (Hampshire actually playing no fewer than 5 different roles within it!), and several notable French, Flemish, German, and North American thespians. But the reason why it is something of an oddity, production-wise, is because there are at least three different released versions of it presently available.

There is the original 100-minute English-language version, known as the Cannes version (CV), due to its debuting at the Cannes Film Festival in 1972 (and which has since been dubbed into other languages too). There is also the 120-minute Director's Cut (DC), which is in Dutch with English subtitles, and was released in 1973 but subsequently lost for many years until lately rediscovered (and again dubbed into various other languages). And then there is the 90-minute English-language ex-rental big box VHS video version (VV) released in 1987 (ditto regsrding its having been redubbed too) and pictured at the beginning of this present Shuker In MovieLand blog article of mine. What is so odd, however, is that each version contains segments missing from the others, which means that there is no single version of Malpertuis that contains ALL of the segments from it.

Consequently, even though it is shorter than the DC, the CV contains segments not included in the DC. In particular, those sections featuring singing are very truncated in the DC, but they are present in their entirety in the CV, as is the absolutely crucial climactic scene where the hero suffers the fate of all mortals who look into the eyes of a gorgon. For whereas this is not actually shown in the DC, it is shown in the CV, and also in the VV. Conversely, the VV totally lacks the final twist-in-the-tail scenes – see later – present in both the DC and the CV (although this is no bad thing, as in my view they ruin the movie's ending and have no relation to the book's plot at all). Incidentally, there is also an American version, retitled The Legend of Doom House, but which (if any) of the three above-discussed ones this version corresponds to remains undetermined by me at present (I've read several contradictory accounts online regarding which version this is, so I'll reserve judgement until/if ever I am able to watch it personally). Anyway, enough about the variety of versions out there – what is Malpertuis actually about?

SPOILER ALERT – IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW THIS MOVIE'S PLOT AND CRUCIAL REVEALS, READ NO FURTHER!

 
The 2-disc Malpertuis DVD that I own, containing the Director's Cut (DC) version in Dutch with English subtitles and the English-language Cannes version (CV), plus lots of extras and a very informative booklet (© Harry Kümel/Artemis Film/Les Productions Artistes Associés/Premier Releasing/Barrel Entertainment – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Directed by the celebrated Belgian film director Harry Kümel, Malpertuis in all of its versions is a much-modified, exceedingly abridged take on Ray's original novel (the latter being far too complex both in content and in structure to attempt a description of here, so I won't).

The movie begins with a sailing ship arriving in dock at Bruges, Belgium, where some rowdy sailors swiftly disembark for a night's drinking and debauchery at a local bar/brothel/dance hall. Hiding behind some barrels at the dock is a very unsavoury-looking man, Charles Dideloo (played by Michel Bouquet), and his younger co-conspirator, Mathias Crook (Daniel Pilon), waiting for one particular figure to appear – that of a young blond-haired, blue-eyed sailor named Jan (Mathieu Carrière). When Jan does appear, he declines to go carousing with the other sailors, stepping off the ship alone instead, and briskly sets off in the direction of his family home, unaware that he is being surreptitiously followed by Dideloo and Crook. Suddenly, Jan stops and asks a man what has happened to the house that used to be on the spot where they are right now, explaining that it was his family home, and is shocked to learn that it fell down some time ago and was entirely razed.

Looking away, thoroughly bemused, Jan sees in the distance the back view of a young woman whom he believes to be his sister, Nancy, so he pursues her through various winding lanes, while he in turn is still being pursued by Dideloo and Crook. Just as Jan draws near to her, however, she opens a door and steps inside a building – and when Jan does the same (followed as ever by Dideloo and Crook), he discovers that the building is none other than the brothel where his fellow sailors were heading to.

And sure enough, here they are, but when Jan tracks down the woman he believes to be Nancy, he finds that she is in fact a singer and prostitute named Bets (Sylvie Vartan). Moreover, because Bets takes a liking to him, and seems willing to offer him her services for free, Jan soon finds himself pitted against her angry pimp, and when Dideloo slyly offers the pimp a thick leather cosh, he loses no time in viciously striking Jan in the face with it, but with such force that the heavily-bleeding young sailor falls to the ground and loses consciousness.

When he finally awakens, Jan thinks at first that he is in his own room within his family's home, then remembers that his home has been demolished, but standing close by, and delighted to see him, is none other than Nancy (role #1 for Susan Hampshire). When Jan asks where they are, he is filled with dread when Nancy confesses that they are at Malpertuis – a huge, shadowy mansion of countless rooms and chambers, labyrinthine corridors, endless spiral staircases, and an ominous, evil reputation, where his sinister, occultist uncle Quentin Cassavius (Welles) lives.

However, it soon transpires that Cassavius is gravely ill, and it was he who had sent Dideloo and Crook on a mission to secure Jan by whatever means necessary and bring him back to Malpertuis before he, Cassavius, expired (he had even supplied Dideloo with the fateful leather cosh for this express purpose). Also currently present at Malpertuis are a motley assortment of other relatives, as well as a number of servants in residence, all of whom will shortly be gathering around his death bed to hear his last will and testament. Cassavius has lived a very long and extremely successful life as a merchant traveller and much else besides, so they are all well aware that he is exceedingly rich. As a result, even though they all detest him just as much as he detests all of them, they have always kept on sycophantically good terms with him in the hope of inheriting a portion of his immense fortune one day. And now, finally that day has come.

For not long after Jan's arrival, Cassavius's health deteriorates sharply, so the entire household is ordered to attend him for his will's reading, carried out by a formidable man named Eisengott (Walter Rilla). It soon transpires that Cassavius's amassed fortune is even greater than any of them has ever suspected, and when the will reveals that it is to be divided equally between everyone present, they are all ecstatic – until the final clause is read out. For it stipulates that in order to be eligible to receive their bequeathed portion, every one of them must move into Malpertuis straight away and spend the rest of their lives there, never leaving its grounds. Groans of shock, despair, and disbelief echo throughout the room. The clause also states that if the last two survivors there are a man and a woman, they must marry.

Cassavius looks at his beautiful young niece Euryale (Susan Hampshire in her second role), sitting next to Jan, and expresses his hope that they will one day wed each other. A mysterious figure who never looks directly at anyone, always communicating with her face and eyes lowered, Euryale is told by Cassavius to stay behind when the others leave at the end of the will's reading, after which he asks her to bring him release. Cassavius looks directly at Euryale, she lifts up her face, and stares into his eyes…

Jan is now forced to inhabit Malpertuis alongside his grotesque relatives and its equally weird servants. They include a creepy, crazed taxidermist named Philarette (Charles Janssens), obsessed with creating new stuffed specimens and who speaks to Jan about his fine bone structure and flayable skin with an unsettling enthusiasm; three severe sisters perpetually dressed in black, one of whom, Alice aka Alecto (Hampshire's third role), is passionately drawn to Jan; the ostensibly mad Lampernisse (Jean-Pierre Cassel), a pathetic youth dressed in rags and ever fearful of the impending night, who hides in a dank cave-like hole at the end of one corridor and desperately shields his candles from being blown out by a mysterious unseen force; plus a seemingly semi-resident clergyman who never stops eating, and an ugly old servant woman constantly bickering with her doddery husband, who do all the menial work needing to be done at Malpertuis.

During the coming days, weeks, months (the viewer never discovers how swiftly or slowly times passes inside the grim walls of Malpertuis) Jan finds himself trapped on all sides by the varied attentions of Hampshire's three competing characters – his loving sister Nancy, the enigmatic Euryale, and the amorous Alice. In addition, all manner of bizarre and macabre happenings occur.

For instance, Jan finds a vault containing Cassavius's coffin, but when he prises the coffin open he is shocked to discover that Cassavius's corpse has turned to stone. Philarette shows Jan a series of bottles containing the preserved remains of imperfectly formed homunculi that he and Cassavius created, only for Jan to discover later that not all of the homunculi created by them are failures. Nancy is in love with Mathias Crook and announces that they are renouncing their inheritance and quitting Malpertuis, shortly after which Mathias is found murdered, suspended above the floor by a stake driven through his forehead. Yet, incredibly, a little later he reappears alive, albeit more like a mindless automaton now than a real man. And Alice takes her terrifying, nightmarish revenge upon the repulsive Diderloo, who has been insisting upon receiving sexual favours from her. But even greater horrors are still to come.

Jan briefly escapes from Malpertuis when its inmates turn upon the clergyman, with the doddery old manservant breathing fire upon the crucifix that the clergyman holds out before him in a desperate but vain attempt to ward them off, but he subsequently returns (the DC contains a lengthy scene presenting his time outside Malpertuis that is entirely omitted from the other two versions), whereupon he hears Lampernisse piteously crying out his name. And when Jan finds Lampernisse, he is lying prostrate on the floor, bleeding profusely, and more dead than alive, with a huge eagle perched upon him, feasting upon his liver!

Transfixed by this terrifying scene, Jan doesn't see Philarette behind him, who seizes Jan, stuns him with a blow to his head, and drags him into his workshop, where he clamps him face up on a table with shackles round his wrists, ankles, and neck. Philarette then sharpens a scalpel and is about to make the first incision beneath Jan's eyes in his bid to skin him alive when a voice calls him by name. Philarette looks up, startled, in the direction of the voice, and promptly turns grey. He then falls over onto the floor, breaking up into several section as his body hits the ground, having turned to stone.

The voice was that of Euryale, who now tells Jan not to look at her, as she releases each of his shackles with a single touch. She then tells him to follow her, that it is time for him to learn at last the secret of Malpertuis.

They enter a room where a long table is covered in a sheet. Sitting together in a row along the table's edge are the occupants of Malpertuis,, but all of them are immobile, as they too are now stone. Euryale explains that many years ago, Cassavius and Philarette visited a small island in the Ionian Sea where the last classical Greek gods still survived, though their powers were greatly depleted due to mortals no longer worshipping or believing in them. Thanks to his occult powers and the taxiderm capabilities of Philarette, Cassavius was able to capture all of them, and preserve them for all time by having Philarette sew them inside human bodies. He shipped them like a lowly herd of cattle back to Malpertuis, where they have been forced to serve him ever since.

Euryale walks up to each figure in turn and pulls off its sewn-on face, revealing its true face and identity as a Greek deity (although, bafflingly, in most cases the names by which she refers to them, and thus reiterated here by me, are actually those of their Roman counterparts!). With dark irony, the ugly female servant turns out to be the goddess of love and beauty Venus, her doddery but fire-breathing husband is the fire god Vulcan, Matthias is the sun god Apollo, the three sisters are the three Furies (with Alice/Alecto personifying Revenge), Dideloo is the messenger god Hermes, his conniving wife Sylvie is the goddess of magic Hecate, and poor Lampernisse is none other than Prometheus, the titan who stole fire from Heaven to give it to humans but was thereafter punished for all eternity by Zeus who sent a voracious bird of prey to tear out and consume his perpetually-regenerating liver every day. (Moreover, in the novel, Eisengott is revealed to be Zeus himself, but again enslaved by Cassavius.)

Incredulous at such astonishing revelations, Jan turns to Euryale, stating that if all of this is true, then who is she and why did Cassavius not enslave her too. Euryale replies that he did not dare to, because her power has remained undiminished. Instead, his plan was that she and Jan would wed and give rise to a dynasty of demi-gods to rule the world, but Cassavius had never anticipated that she would not just wed Jan but also actually fall in love with him, thereby bringing him both love and death. For as Euryale now tearfully informs Jan, she is a gorgon.

Jan knows the terrible danger that he is in, but is compelled to look into Euryale's beautiful yet deadly face. Their eyes meet (and in the CV and VV, the viewers see his skin turn grey, but this brief yet crucial reveal is inexplicably absent from the DC).

The scene then switches abruptly to a brief clip of the supersonic jet Concorde in flight, and then to the inside of a mental institution, where Jan is sitting talking to a doctor. Except that now he is not Jan the sailor, but is instead Jan a besuited computer expert, who has been cured of delusions in which he had been imagining that the Greek gods had been abducted, sewn into human bodies, and enslaved. He is now ready to be released. A nurse (Hampshire yet again) is in attendance for a short period, then the doctor receives a message that Jan's wife has arrived to take him home.

Jan turns around and there is Charlotte his wife (guess who!!). After embracing, they walk down some corridors towards the exit, during which time they pass a number of hospital staff and patients who look exactly like various residents from Malpertuis, before finally reaching the exit door. Jan opens the door and steps through – only to find himself back inside Malpertuis!

Jan spins around, but the door behind him has gone, replaced by a brick wall, and his wife has gone too. He turns back again, and sees a figure approaching him, walking down the corridor in which he is now standing inside Malpertuis. As the figure draws nearer, Jan realizes that it is himself, but dressed in the attire that he was wearing when residing in Malpertuis. The camera closes in upon the eyes of the approaching Jan as the movie ends. Make of that what you will!

Believe it or not, my above overview is only a very brief summary of this movie's incredibly complex, convoluted plot, which contains many twists and turns not mentioned by me here, and includes aspects (particularly the ending scenes in the hospital and onward, which are not even included in the VV) that make no sense to me at all. Does it mean that the entire movie is the sick fantasy of a deranged mind, all illusions and dreams, where nothing is real?

Malpertuis in all three of its versions is undoubtedly one of the strangest movies that I have ever seen, but also one of the most fascinating, and is visually gorgeous, with vibrant colours and lavish sets. No less sumptuous is the sweeping score by Georges Delerue. Susan Hampshire performs admirably in all of her multiple roles (most notably in a drawing room scene at Malpertuis that features three of her characters interacting together, truly a cinematographic triumph in its day). Even so, I am at a loss to know the purpose of this exceptional casting anomaly – why couldn't the five different roles have been played by five different actresses, or is there some deep inherent symbolism at play here that I have entirely overlooked? Also, in the Dutch DC, Welles as Cassavius is dubbed by someone with a voice far less distinctive than his deep, rich, unmistakable tones, which is a great shame, and means that you need to watch the CV if you are to fully experience Welles' dramatic performance both visually and aurally.

Due t0 the unparalleled problems that I've had in obtaining watchable examples of it (see below), I've actually viewed this film variously in its entirety or in parts more than half a dozen times now in the past few months alone (each time in order to determine whether the DVD or video in question played properly throughout), so it is indelibly imprinted upon my mind now! Even so, I've never grown tired of watching it, because there is so much to take notice of that this extraordinary film definitely bears several viewings in order to do it justice. Speaking of which:

Thanks to Facebook friend Steve Short, several months ago I was able to view the DC online with English subtitles. And after a very long search (which involved purchasing and viewing a set that proved to be faulty, so had to be returned for a refund), in late March 2021 I was finally able to buy and watch a fully-functional example of the 2-disc DVD that contains not only the DC but also the CV, which I'd never previously seen, thereby enabling me to compare and contrast it directly with the DC.

However, I am still having no luck whatsoever in obtaining a fully-watchable example of the VV. Another FB friend, Neil Edmond, kindly gifted me one that he'd bought at a market quite some time earlier but had never watched. Sadly, however, when I tried it out, it wouldn't play all through – nor would three other ones that I've bought online lately, all needing to be returned for refunds after having watched or part-watched each one of them. And a third FB friend, Andrew Moriarty, has been looking for it for ages in his huge movie collection but without success as yet.

So does anyone have this ex-rental big box VHS video in fully-playable form that they may be willing to sell me, so that I can finally view this missing piece of the Malpertuis movie jigsaw in its entirety? I've seen the first half (four times!) and the end (once), but not most of the second half. Also, it would be great to add it to my Malpertuis collection. Many thanks in advance for any possible help.

Finally, if the thoroughly mystifying Malpertuis intrigues you, why not click here and watch an official English-language trailer for it on YouTube? (Or click here to watch the same trailer in French but with better picture quality.) You know it makes sense – but whether or not this movie will do so for you is another matter entirely!

 
Full cover from the official DVD of the Spanish dub for the 1972 Cannes version (CV) of Malpertuis (© Harry Kümel/Artemis Film/Les Productions Artistes Associés/Premier Releasing/Vellavision – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

 

Sunday, May 30, 2021

ALIEN INTRUDER

 
The official DVD for Alien Intruder (© Ricardo Jacques Gale/PM Entertainment Group – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

The movie that I watched on 28 May 2021 was Alien Intruder, a sci fi film that I'd never previously heard of and had actually purchased a few days earlier in DVD format simply to make up the required number in a special DVD bargain sale offer. Yet, surprisingly, it proved entertaining viewing – a frequently-experienced paradox whereby the least of expectations ultimately lights the way to the greatest of enjoyments.

Directed by Ricardo Jacques Gale, and released in 1993 Alien Intruder stars Maxwell Caulfield, Tracy Scoggins, Billy Dee Williams, and Richard Cody, among others. It also includes a special appearance by Jeff Conaway in a literally all-guns-ablazing prelude scene to the main plot.

Set in what back in the early 1990s when this movie was made was still very much the future, namely the year 2022, the novel storyline of Alien Intruder features four longterm high-security convicts, including top-notch former space navigator Nick (played by Caulfield) and genius computer nerd DJ (Cody), who are promised the commuting of their prison sentences if they volunteer to serve on an important mission aboard the memorably-named U.S.S. Presley spacecraft captained by taciturn, secretive Commander Skyler (Williams). Skyler is seeking any survivors who may be on board fellow craft the U.S.S. Holly, lost within what turns out to be an ominous, uncharted zone in deep space.

Providing further enticement to sign up for this hazardous task, which they ultimately do, every weekend from 5 pm on Friday evening onwards until Monday morning each of the four convicts is permitted to spend his entire time having fun within a virtual-reality fantasy world of his own choice, and always containing a beautiful woman with whom he can play tiddlywinks or whatever else he may decide to play with her...

So far, so good – but then a second, very mysterious but exceedingly voluptuous woman named Ariel (Scoggins) inexplicably begins appearing in their VR-simulated fantasies, even though she is not part of the VR program being utilized (aptly named Aphrodite). Moreover, she then begins appearing in their real world too, aboard their spacecraft Presley, and has no scruples about inciting raging jealousy between them and pitting them against one another, fighting fiercely among themselves for her favours.

But who, or what, is the anomalous Ariel, and is she somehow connected to Holly, the spacecraft that went missing? Abruptly, Presley's computer malfunctions, locking the crew out of its controls, and when DJ is ordered to investigate and rectify the situation, he is both startled and totally perplexed to discover a strange virus hidden deep within its system, but one that seems to be less a computer virus and more a weird, unrecognisable form of DNA...

Finally, Skyler and the convicts locate Holly, and some of them go aboard it, only to discover that Holly's crew appear to have gruesomely killed one another. But guess who else is there, very much alive, and just as seductive and sensual as ever? To say that the situation back on board Presley between its crew members deteriorates rapidly thereafter would be putting it mildly, especially when the true purpose of Ariel's sexually disruptive presence is at last revealed. Speaking of which: there is a delightfully tongue-in-cheek twist right at the very end of the movie, which if I'm honest I did see coming, but it was no less humorous when it was duly unfurled.

Although it is quite lightweight in overall content despite the abundance of action-pumped scenes and liberal smattering of expletives throughout, and presumably due to its low budget the special effects are less than special, at least Alien Intruder is fast-moving and blessed with a cast who flesh out their respective roles not only effectively but also amusingly when required. And whereas this movie certainly could never lay claim to being a purveyor of cerebral drama or cinematic sophistication, for me it passed 94 minutes in a breezy, enjoyable, undemanding manner, which in these currently stressful times I am personally most grateful for.

In short, I'm very pleased that I followed my hunch and included this particular film in my selection of bargain-sale DVDs recently.

If you'd like to check out more concerning Alien Intruder, be sure to click here to watch an action-packed official trailer for this sci fi movie on YouTube.

 

Saturday, May 29, 2021

ALIEN AUTOPSY

 
The official UK DVD of Alien Autopsy (© Jonny Campbell/Ealing Studios/Fragile Films/Warner Bros Pictures – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

My movie DVD viewing on 27 May 2021 was the 2006 docu-comedy movie Alien Autopsy, in which the extraordinary saga of the controversial Ray Santilli/Alien Autopsy footage was reconstructed.

Hitting the world's headlines in August 1995 when it was publicly screened globally on TV (click here to view it on YouTube; NB age verification is required by Google), this silent b/w 17-minute footage allegedly constituted the filmed autopsy in 1947 at a secret American military base of a dead alien entity lately retrieved from a crashed spacecraft at Roswell, New Mexico. However, the footage was later revealed to be a hoax, or, as Santilli claimed in 2006, a staged recreation of some genuine footage from 1947 that he had viewed and purchased while visiting the USA in 1992, but which had subsequently deteriorated chemically to the point of becoming completely unwatchable.

Directed by Jonny Campbell, Alien Autopsy stars in their movie debuts those two Geordie rascals Ant (McPartlin) & Dec (Donnelly). If I'm honest, I wasn't expecting a great deal, as my own prior familiarity with this British TV duo's work as adults had tended to involve their reading off autocues and looking rather pleased with themselves, with Ant's default TV persona being the more adventurous, cheeky, outward-going member of the pair, and Dec's being the more reined-in, precise, uptight member.

Consequently, I was taken totally by surprise to discover that in this movie they completely reverse these tried and trusted roles, with Dec playing Santilli as an unshaven, risk-taking wide boy (in reality he is a TV and record producer) and Ant playing his law student friend and collaborator Gary Shoefield (in reality a TV producer) as a very cautious, punctiliously methodical, absolute non-risk-taker who is only very reluctantly drawn into the Alien Autopsy footage affair by Santilli. And what's more, it works!

Dec in particular is a revelation, totally believable in this wholly atypical role for him. So much so, in fact, that from now on, whenever I see him standing on the right of Ant on stage delivering some well-rehearsed lines from an off-camera 'idiot board' (as they call autocues in the States), I shall never not be able to see his stubble-faced wheeler-dealer Santilli alter ego lurking just beneath his clean-shaven face, ready at any moment to break through and regale Ant with another dodgy deal. Moreover, in a noteworthy departure from their TV partnership's normal alphabetically-ordered 'Ant & Dec' joint name, it was Dec by himself who received top billing in this movie's cast list – and rightly so (Ant received separate, second billing).

Just in case you're wondering how Ant & Dec came to make their film debuts in such an ostensibly unlikely, unusual vehicle for this event: back in the early 2000s, their manager had received a number of film scripts submitted for their consideration to star in, but none had attracted their interest, until the script for Alien Autopsy came their way. Dec in particular was very intrigued by it, because not only was it based upon a true story but also it included two male leads – and the rest, as they say, is history.

Alien Autopsy has to be one of the most pleasant movie surprises that I've experienced for a very long time, and albeit in a light-hearted vein it charts quite closely the remarkable real-life story of the Alien Autopsy footage. But above all else, it shows that Ant and (especially) Dec are capable of much more than their TV presenting roles would ever suggest. A great shame that they haven't invested more time in movies, because they clearly have the talent to do well not just on the small screen but also on the big one. Highly recommended!!

Worth noting is that the DVD of Alien Autopsy includes among its extras some deleted scenes, including one quite extensive section featuring a dramatic falling out, but subsequent reconciliation, by Shoefield with Santilli, conveyed very effectively by Ant & Dec. In my view, this thoroughly deserved to have been included in the movie, as indeed, for that matter, did most of the other deleted segments. Incidentally, the real Santilli and Shoefield actually make a 'blink and you'll miss them' cameo in Alien Autopsy – but I'll leave you to discover where!

If you'd like to get a taste of the remarkable role-reversals by Ant & Dec on display throughout Alien Autopsy, be sure to click here in order to view on YouTube a compilation video for this very engaging and thoroughly entertaining movie.

 
The official German DVD of Alien Autopsy (© Jonny Campbell/Ealing Studios/Fragile Films/Warner Bros Pictures – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

 

Friday, May 21, 2021

MALEFICENT

 
Publicity poster for Maleficent (© Robert Stromberg/Walt Disney Pictures/Roth Films/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Many months previously, knowing that I've always been a massive Disney fan, a friend lent me her DVD of the 2014 movie Maleficent, which on 7 April 2017 I finally got around to watching. It's the Disney live-action reworking of their sumptuous animated feature film Sleeping Beauty, released in 1959 and based upon the classic Charles Perrault fairy tale 'La Belle au Bois Dormant'.

A dark fantasy film directed by Robert Stromberg, Maleficent provides a back story for the eponymous wicked fairy that is wholly original in every sense! For according to this retelling, Maleficent is evil only because she had previously been grievously betrayed by her human lover – none other than the youth who would in time become King Stefan (father of the future Sleeping Beauty, Princess Aurora), who cuts off her wings while she is asleep (a controversial scene that has been interpreted in a number of different ways…).

Consequently, Maleficent is actually misused and misunderstood rather than malevolent. Yeah, right! Also, if she really did begin as a sweet, pure-hearted child and maiden, I cannot help but wonder why she had been given the name Maleficent, bearing in mind that it is derived from the Latin for 'evil-doer'…

The special effects in Maleficent are breathtakingly spectacular, as you would both imagine and expect from Disney's CGI department. However, there is only so much reworking possible with anything, and I'm sorry but in the original Perrault fairytale (in which she is called Carabosse), and especially in Disney's original animated film, which I have viewed many times down through the years from childhood onwards, Maleficent is the absolute embodiment of evil. There is not a glimmer, not the slightest scintilla, of goodness in her. Consequently, for me it was impossible to suspend disbelief and pretend that she's really not that bad after all.

Equally, as Stefan, albeit little more than a cipher in the original movie, was a good, noble character there, his wholesale conversion here into an actively malicious, black-hearted, deceitful betrayer of a young, innocent Maleficent is just too implausible, too unrealistic a transformation for me to countenance. Bending the rules is one thing, but snapping them in two and then shattering them into a myriad of shards is something else entirely, yet the latter action is, I feel, the more accurate description of this extensively-manipulated storyline's modus operandi. A sequel movie, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, was released in 2019, but I haven't watched it so far, partly because I dread to think what further liberties with the original fairytale may have been taken in it.

Having said all of that, Maleficent is an enjoyable romp (which is why I later purchased it myself in DVD format), with a perfectly-cast Angelina Jolie portraying the title character superbly, especially in her more sinister scenes, and showcased throughout by wonderfully rich, lavish visuals. It also includes a most unexpected (albeit imho entirely nonsensical) twist upon who actually wakes Sleeping Beauty (played by Elle Fanning) with true love's kiss. The phrase "Yeah, right!" readily comes to mind yet again.

Interestingly, Princess Aurora as a child is played by none other than Jolie's own daughter, Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, having been chosen to ensure that she would not be frightened by Jolie in her role as Maleficent. And Kristen 'Twilight' Stewart had been considered for the role of the adult Aurora. Indeed, during casting for this movie, a fair few famous names came and went. For instance, the adult King Stefan is played by Sharlto Copley, but Jude Law had earlier been considered for this role, just as Judi Dench and Emma Thompson had been considered to play two of the three good fairies.

In addition, former Doctor Who actor Peter Capaldi had actually been cast and filmed in the role of Maleficent's uncle, King Kinloch, the fairy monarch of the Moors, but his scenes were cut from the movie's final version, as were those of Miranda Richardson, playing Queen Ulla, Maleficent's aunt and Kinloch's consort.

Oh yes, almost forgot: a beautiful Tchaikovsky-based song ('Once Upon A Dream', created from the Grand Waltz in the Russian composer's immortal ballet Sleeping Beauty) and the vocals of Lana Del Rey really don't go together, honestly – just sayin'...

Anyway, if you haven't seen the movie, click here to view an eye-popping trailer for Maleficent.

A meeting with Maleficent! (© Dr Karl Shuker)