All Stand Together Pt 7 (Battle Beyond the Stars, 1980)

Battle_Beyond_the_Stars_PosterA peaceful planet called Akira is visited by the conqueror Sador.  He promises to return with an armada that will overrun the planet if they do not willingly submit to them.  A young man named Shad goes on a mission to get weapons and warriors to fight off Sador and his forces.

He assembles six unique individuals, including a vengeance seeking lizard man, a young scientist, a clone race, a haunted assassin, a beautiful warrior seeking glory, and a fun loving earth man. They all return to help the citizens of the planet.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, this Roger Corman film is a perfect example of Corman’s formula. Star Wars was a hit and had a sequel on it’s way.  Corman wanted a Star Wars style film.  He commission a script from John Sayles (who also wrote Corman’s Piranha).  They opted to take the story from Seven Samurai and set it in space, just as the Magnificent Seven moved it to the old American West.

And the movie is not shy about this.  The planet is named Akira, after Seven Samurai director Akira Kurosawa.  The advertising for the film included phrases like “Seven Magnificent Warriors”. Robert Vaughn even plays a character much like his dark Lee, from the Magnificent Seven.

This film, while being a knockoff meant to cash in onStar Wars hype, actually stands pretty well on it’s own.  A lot of this goes back to the strong cast.  George Peppard is a more laid back Han Solo type as the space faring earth man Cowboy.  The alien race the Nestors are an alien race of clones who are psychically linked.  This allows for a lot of intended humor, such as when they are offered a hotdog and while only one of them eats it, all the Nestor’s can taste is, and one observes, “There is no dog in this”.  After they recite the ingredients of a hot dog (determined by taste), Peppered cheerfully responds, “That’s what we call meat on Earth.”

Sybil Danning’s Saint Exmin the Valkerie is from a race that live only to fight in wars.  And wear swimming suits (what, you think a Roger Corman film is not going to feature at least one buxom woman in a tiny outfit?!).  Initially, Shad is annoyed and tries to chase her off, but she hangs on, proving herself in battle and winning Shad’s respect.

The film features work by James Cameron (as art director) and the designs go from very serious, such as Sador’s rather impressive ship to somewhat tongue in cheek.  Shad’s ship has a smart talking female voiced AI.  And the ship has breasts.  I am not joking.

Battle_Beyond_the_Stars_Ship

Seriously, Cameron…

And James Horner’s musical score is downright great.  Battle Beyond the Stars is entertaining and downright fun as low budget Sci-Fi goes.

The Not So Fantastic Four (Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four, 2016)

doomed_posterYou may think that there have been three Fantastic Four films.  There were the two Tim Story film with Jessica Alba and Chris Evans…and the 2015 film with Miles Teller and Kate Mara.  But there are tales of a first film, never seen by the world.  Spoke in hushed tones.  Okay, not really.  There actually was a first movie made back in 1994.  It was completed and even had release material.  Outside of bootleg copies, the film has never seen the light of day.

The short version is that in the early 90’s, Marvel Comics was in real dire straights (they went into bankruptcy)…this resulted in them selling the film rights to multiple characters, such as Captain America, the Punisher and the Fantastic Four.  The producer with the option for the Fantastic Four shopped the option around, finalizing a deal with the king of low budget film Roger Corman.  The catch? Unknown to the cast and crew,  This producer simply wanted to keep the rights.  He had no plan to release the film.

But there is more to the story, and really?  It is quite interesting.  Doomed! The Untold Tale of Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four delves deeply into the story, giving the viewer insight into exactly how it all played out.  With a cast of actors that were at least semi-recognizable at the time (and many who are still working today) such as Jay Underwood and Alex Hyde-White.

What stands out is that the director, cast and crew were dedicated to making a good movie…though one hindered by a tiny budget.  The effects were limited and the story was not very strong…they never did ADR to make Joseph Culp’s Doctor Doom understandable.  They hired a guy who claimed he was an effects supervisor on Independence Day…and they discovered…he was not.

The people behind the film were passionate, and it become clear that even Corman thought the film was going to be released.  He was creating posters, button and trailers (I have a poster in storage somewhere, as well as a couple of the buttons).  The people involved clearly wanted (and still want) the film to be seen.  And there is a lot of hurt feelings involved, including some understandable bitterness towards Marvel Icon Stan Lee.

The film is a fascinating exploration of the passion that can go into film-making and when those hopes and big dreams get dashed.  Even if you do not care about the Fantastic Four, this tale is epic and engaging.  It is an effective documentary that can give you insight into the more heartbreaking side of film-making.

Fishies Pt 3 (Piranha, 1995)

piranha_1995_posterProbably the most interesting fact of the Piranha remake is that a twelve year old Mila Kunis plays the daughter of the Greatest American Hero.

In 1995, Roger Corman and Showtime started remaking Corman “Classics” like Not of This Earth and Humanoids From the Deep.

Piranha was part of this series and the worst thing about it?  It is not bad or good.  It is just there.  It exists.  It is a pretty straight remake, just with a different cast.

William Katt (The Greatest American Hero & House) and Alexandra Paul (Baywatch & Christine) head up the cast.  The film follows  the original beat for beat.

There is not much to say, the effects are updated (yet there are many effects shots from the original film used in place of shooting new footage).  But the film brings nothing new to the story and ends up being so close to the original, it feels pointless.

The Showtime films somehow managed to tame the source material, which ends up making them…well…toothless.  It lacks Dante’s flair and has no chance of unseating the original.  This explains why the film is largely forgotten.

Just one random observation of both the original and the remake.  Somehow, when people start getting attacked while on docks or in boats, they are unable to remove legs or arms from the water…people are even pulled from boats by the piranha.  Because they are super strong…I guess?

Fishies Pt 2 (Piranha II: The Spawning, 1981)

piranha_ii_spawning_posterSet in the Caribbean (though, no pirates) Piranha II: The Spawning is the story of Scuba Instructor, a police chief (her ex-husband) and a biochemist (her current boyfriend) trying to determine the cause of several gruesome deaths.

There are lots of people who are eaten by the Piranha…but there is a twist…apparently the piranha have mutated and can now fly.  Yes…fly.  They flap their fins and fly around.  In spite of this, the hotel manager refuses to cancel a beach side fish fry.  Because there is always one guy who refuses to listen to the people setting off the alarms.

Frankly, the film is pretty dull.  This is no fault of the cast (which includes Lance Henrikson in his sixteenth of 227 roles)…the concept just goes nowhere and it lacks any actual tension.

Piranha II was James Cameron’s first feature length film.  He was also fired.  His name remains as the director due to a contractual obligation that the film have an American director.  Cameron filmed the movie but was not allowed to cut it or see the footage.

Fishies pt 1 (Piranha, 1978)

piranha_1978_posterJoe Dante’s third film was one of Roger Corman’s knockoff films.  Corman had a formula and it had a lot to do with seeing what was big or on the verge of big and following suit with lower budgets.  And it worked.  A lot of well known filmmakers and performers came out of the Corman Machine.  Dante, James Cameron, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Gale Anne Hurd and John Sayles are but a few.

The first writing gig for John Sayles, Piranha is the tale of a young private detective named Maggie who is searching for a rich man’s daughter who disappeared on a hiking trip.  She meets up with local guide Paul and they find a remote building with a large pool.  They suspect maybe there could be bodies in the pool.  They find the lever to flush the pool, but get in a struggle with a crazed gentleman who wants to make sure they do not succeed.  After they managed to flush the pool, they find two skeletons.  Ultimately, it turns out that the pool was full of genetically altered piranha who are making their way down the river eating everything that comes into their path.  The river is taking them right to a local summer camp and a grand opening of a resort.

As is to be expected, there is a race against time (Paul’s daughter is at the camp) as Maggie and Paul try to warn everyone.  The local mayor wants them jailed, as he does not want to hurt tourism.  Did I mention that Piranha was made to cash in on the success of Jaws?

Sayles and Dante do not treat this as just a knockoff of a bigger film.  They understand the limits of their budget, and center things to work within those boundaries.  This results in a fun monster movie that has plenty to enjoy.  It is not nearly as exploitative as other Corman films (Corman often had deals with distributors requiring sex scenes and gratuitous nudity) and the gore is low level.  The titular piranhas are often unseen or blurry shadows.  The attacks often involve people disappearing beneath churning waters.

The cast is enjoyable, especially Corman regulars like Paul Bartel and Dick Miller.  Kevin McCarthy is always dependable for the “Maniacal Scientist” role, and he does not let the viewer down here.  Piranha has earned it’s cult status, being one of the more clever attempts to take advantage of a hit movie.  It manages to avoid simply being an imitation and is quite memorable in it’s own right.

 

 

Crypt Keepin’ Carpenter (Body Bags, 1993)

body-bags-coverAn attempt by Showtime to create a Horror Anthology to compete with HBO’s Tales From the Crypt, Body Bags both starred and featured direction from John Carpenter.  Showtime killed the series but released the three shorts set against bookend segments hosted by Carpenter as a creepy coroner.  His assistant was Tobe Hooper, director of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Both directed a segment as well.

Just like the Crypt Keeper, the Coroner makes schlocky jokes, before introducing the story.  It is not entirely certain each bookend was meant for the story that followed.

The first tale, the Gas Station, is about a young woman on her first night working at a gas station on a lonely stretch of road.  After a parade of weirdos, she discovers she is being stalked by a serial killer.  It is not a unique story, but it is well done, with a nice little twist.  Wes Craven has an amusing cameo as a creepy drunk who hits on the young woman.

The second segment, Hair, is about a man who is obsessed with his thinning hair.  In spite of his girlfriend’s insistence that it does not matter to her, he cannot stop fearing losing his hair.  Everywhere he looks he sees luxurious heads of hair.  He drives his girlfriend away because he won’t accept himself.  One night, he discovers a clinic that promise actual regrowth of lost hair.  Richard runs to the clinic for their service.  He is stunned when they try and talk him out of it, but he wants hair.  But in the end, he finds the hair wants him just as much as he wants it.  This is an entertaining story with and entertaining performance from Stacy Keach.  This is also the most humorous of the stories.

The best segment is the Eye, starring Mark Hamill as a minor league baseball player whose career is cut short when he loses an eye. He is offered a chance at a new experimental surgery that gives him a donor eye.  But with the eye comes dark and depraved visions.  Are they his own or the previous owner of the eye? Hamill gives a strong performance.  Of the three tales, this is the best of the bunch.

As with all anthologies, some installments are better than others.  But thankfully, in the case of Body Bags, all three are ranging from decent to very good.  While the first two segments are directed by John Carpenter, the Eye is directed by Tobe Hooper.  This is an enjoyable film.  And for those curious…you get to see Luke Skywalker’s bare butt.

 

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑