Friday, May 22, 2015

Carnosaur (1993)



I've already told this story because I have no respect for chronological order when reviewing a series, but in 1992 it was pretty clear that a certain dinosaur movie coming out the following year was going to be big business. You may have heard about it, a little yarn about a theme park run by a guy who is awful at running background checks on employees and thus gets a lot of people killed.

[I was in the third grade, myself, and I geared up for the movie by reading the book. It would be the first time I truly encountered the feeling of "the book was better," but that doesn't mean I hated the film, of course. How could I? I was 9 years old and dinosaurs!]

Well, Roger Corman was never one to let an opportunity to rip off a more successful film go by, as I've demonstrated here before. Usually, though, he was doing so after the fact. After all, until around the time of Jurassic Park's release, it wasn't all that common for anyone to know that a film was going to be a smash hit with any guarantee. Jaws and Star Wars were both expected to be major box office disasters, remember, and almost nobody could have predicted how astronomically successful a low-budget film like Halloween would end up being.

Well, Jurassic Park was different. It was a project with a lot of early press expecting it to revolutionize the industry and Steven Spielberg was by this point a name synonymous with "ka-ching!" Maybe nobody predicted just how successful it would be, but everybody expected it would be. Especially those in the trade, and Corman had already been in the trade a long time.

So Corman paved the way for all those Asylum "mockbusters" we came to love/hate--before that studio decided to drop those in favor of making a franchise out of a giant shark fighting other giant monsters and made a new Sharknado film into an annual event--when he managed to get Carnosaur into theaters a month before Jurassic Park was released: Carnosaur opened May 21st, while Jurassic Park opened June 11th. A limited release, to be sure, but that's nothing to sneeze at.

Even more impressive is that Corman didn't just go, "Give me a movie about genetically engineered dinosaurs eating people." He bought the rights to Harry Adam Knight's novel Carnosaur, which was actually published six years before Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park. So, like the movie he was casing in on, it had "literary" roots. But more impressive than that, Corman hired Diane Ladd to be his name star. Ladd being the mother of Jurassic Park's Laura Dern.

I wonder if that made for awkward family conversation?

Well, I say that Carnosaur is based on the novel, but it's about as faithful an adaptation as World War Z. I won't go into a huge compare and contrast, but I highly recommend that anyone who sees a copy of the book in a used book store grab it immediately. It's a delightful pulp novel about an eccentric British lord using chickens to genetically engineer dinosaurs with the intent to release them into the wild to repopulate the world. His plan is discovered after a Deinonychus escapes and goes on a killing spree in the English countryside. Your typical asshole reporter hero ends up following the story and eventually finds out that the lord has successfully bred Deinonychus, Tarbosaurus, Megalosaurus, Dilophosaurus (the best dinosaur), Brachiosaurus, Tyrannosaurus, Scolosaurus, and a Plesiosaur. And no, I have no idea how the Plesiosaur was reverse-engineered from chickens since it isn't a dinosaur. Eventually the lord's demented nymphomaniac wife--because issues with women in this franchise started at the source--lets all the dinosaurs loose to terrorize England. It's beautiful.

The film and the novel, however, share only the barest of similarities. The film is kickstarted by a Deinonychus getting loose and going on a killing spree, the dinosaurs were engineered from chickens by someone who wants them to retake the world, and at the climax a Tyrannosaurid gets loose to go on a rampage--in the novel it's a Tarbosaurus, but the film never names its dinosaur species so it's safe to assume it's a T-Rex. That's the end of the similarities, however. The only dinosaurs present are the Deinonychus and the T-Rex, which is not surprising given that the budget on this film can barely handle that many dinosaurs, but it's a damn shame that Dilophosaurus wasn't also featured as this would have been the last time my favorite dinosaur of all time would be featured in popular culture without being a rip-off of its depiction in Jurassic Park. When it's featured at all, that is.

Those of you with some knowledge of dinosaurs may have realized that this film marks the first time that a movie with a Deinonychus in it has actually been featured on a site named after it. Sadly, this will also be the last time, unless I review any of the Jurassic Park films. You see, you've been lied to for the past twenty-two years: the "Velociraptors" in Jurassic Park are not Velociraptors at all. They're Deinonychus. Actual velociraptors were knee-high to the average adult, while Deinonychus about the size of the "raptors" you're used to seeing in film since 1993.

No one can agree if it was a deliberate choice by Spielberg to make the raptors "scary" enough or Crichton getting confused because Deinonychus was called "Velociraptor" by at least one paleontologist at the time of the novel's writing. However, it's still a bit like Gorosaurus getting to level Paris in Destroy All Monsters, only for Baragon to get all the credit.

Enough stalling, let's talk about the movie.

The film decides to start off on an unpleasant note as the credits roll over black and white footage of chickens in a poultry factory being carried along on a conveyor, killed, plucked, and being beheaded. I fully realize this is how I get my chicken dinner, but that doesn't mean I enjoy watching it. Each credit is also accompanied by a graphic, showing chicken DNA compared to that of other species like pelicans and crocodiles. The last shot is all the detritus from the chicken slaughter being washed down a drain. We then cut to some sort of board room, which is a bit anticlimactic.

At the head of the boardroom, which looks like it got spliced with a war room set, sits a man the credits identify as Fallon (Ned Bellamy, a definite "hey it's that guy" actor) but I don't recall hearing his name. Fallon is currently talking about Dr. Jane Tiptree, a brilliant geneticist whose work on alternatives to pesticides successfully eradicated an entire species of pest insect, (They don't say what species, but the specimen Fallon is poking at looks like a locust) Unfortunately, Tiptree has apparently disappeared and Fallon--who is either part of the government or head of a corporation with a significant government contract--has called the meeting to find out if any of the CEOs present knows where she is.

Well, the CEO of Eunice Corporation, Vogel (Myron Simon), knows where she is. She's been working with them for the past two years to breed a better chicken. Her contract required absolute secrecy, though, as well as no interference. As you may have already guessed, this is because Dr. Tiptree wasn't actually working to make a better chicken at all. We cut to a poultry plant belonging to Eunice in Climax, Nevada, we are introduced to Dr, Tiptree (Diane Ladd, as previously mentioned) watching a bank of security monitors with interest. As a side note, here you'll note the appearance of a recurring onscreen caption that delivers information that seems relevant, but isn't at all. For instance, "Infected cells per 1 million = 0%," a figure that increases over the course of the film every time the caption appears.

This is especially meaningless because "per million" can't be rendered as a percentage!

What Tiptree is watching are two goons, under her orders, investigating a chicken coop for any abnormal eggs or "extraneous organic matter." Naturally, they find both. Near one chicken cage where the occupant appears to have been torn apart is a huge egg that promptly hatches--whatever is inside slashes the face of one of the goons with its reptilian claws and escapes.

Tiptree orders the poultry plant locked down. However, she takes her sweet time in doing so, and in the meantime "Slim" Friar (Clint Howard!) finishes loading up a poultry truck full of chickens. Chickens that Slim observes are unusually nervous. The driver shrugs it off and the order to seal off the plant from the head of security, Jesse Paloma (Frank Novak), comes through just as the truck is leaving. The guard at the gate proves incredibly easy to persuade when the driver complains that he has to get on the road, and so the guard lets the truck go through and promises to say he had already left. Bad idea.

For amongst the chickens is something that sees via a green night vision POV cam. And the sound of it seemingly exploding a chicken gets the driver's attention when he's only a few miles down the road. He makes the mistake of pulling over and then opening the back gate of the truck to find out how all the chickens got out of their cages. The green POV cam launches itself at him, and in an "auteur" moment we see his demise reflected in the mirrored naked lady silhouette on his mudflaps. The POV cam belongs to a bug-eyed dinosaur hand puppet roughly the same size as the chickens it was terrorizing, which happily pulls the driver's intestines out with a gusto not usually seen outside of a zombie movie.

Meanwhile, at a construction site a few miles down the road the night guard, "Doc" Smith (Raphael Sbarge, whom Mass Effect fans will possibly recognize as the vice of Kaidan Alenko), is sprawled out on his couch drinking straight from a whiskey bottle while watching TV. He's also wearing sun glasses, at night, so if the alcohol doesn't make him useless at his job then those ought to do the trick. At any rate, he's disturbed by a noise that turns out to be a bunch of hippy types vandalizing the site. His hollered warning, "I've got a gun and I can't shoot for shit," fails to persuade them to stick around. Well, except for the blonde woman he finds hiding in one of the bulldozers (Jennifer Runyon), whom we'll later discover calls herself "Thrush."

Doc radios Sheriff Fowler (Harrison Page) to let him know that he has apprehended a criminal, but the Sheriff is a bit too busy dealing with the discovery of a disemboweled truck driver to bother rushing over to pick up a hippy. Speculating over what could have killed the driver, Fowler suggests it might have been a bobcat (?!), which the local sawbones/coroner, Dr. Sterling Raven (EdWilliams) understandably dismisses as there haven't been bobcats in the area since he was a kid. Of course even if there were, bobcats rarely attack humans--so maybe the writer/director is confusing them with a puma. At any rate, if you were to develop a drinking game around this movie where you drank every time a bobcat was referenced, you'd be drunk by the end credits.

Well, Doc passes out drunk so Thrush just leaves. Dr. Raven, meanwhile, cuts a hunk of flesh off the dead driver and sends it to a friend in a state facility for analysis of the "wound sample." And Dr. Tiptree is busy chastising Paloma for letting the creature escape. He tries to explain that she never told them it could hatch that quickly, which she waves off as the creature being an aberration. When Paloma asks what exactly his men should be looking for, she unhelpfully replies, "They'll know it when they see it."

Look, is it really that hard to just say "dinosaur"? I mean, they're going to have to eventually see it to capture it and they'll figure it out at that point. So while, yes, they will definitely know a dinosaur when they see it, it seems like it would save time to just tell them.

Well, Fowler eventually picks Doc up in the morning and takes him over to the local hippy commune to see if he can pick out the girl who ran out on him. Naturally, though, as soon as Doc sees Thrush he decides to claim that the girl isn't among them, to Fowler's great annoyance. Of course, Doc and Thrush exchange significant glances as Doc gets back into the Sheriff's car.

Paloma, meanwhile, is at home arguing on the phone with somebody, so he doesn't notice his teenage daughter sneaking out to meet her long-haired boyfriend and their third wheel friend in the jeep outside. The three go driving through the desert, swilling beer, driving erratically, and generally being Obvious Dead Meat in a horror film.

Meanwhile, Thrush finds Doc at the construction site. She thanks him for not narcing on him and they introduce themselves to each other. He's called "Doc" because of "something else I didn't do," and she's actually named Ann but calls herself Thrush. It could be worse, she could be called "Dwan." She argues with him that he's tearing up a precious natural site, while he counters that A) he's just the watchman and isn't tearing up anything and B) nobody would miss the bare, rocky area that's being developed. She protests that it used to be a "dinosaur highway," a migration route 60 million years in the past. I'm sure that won't be significant later.

At any rate, Thrush ultimately storms off in disgust at Doc's inability to appreciate the innate beauty of the natural world. We then return to the dead meat trio tearing through the desert. Their joyride ends when the boyfriend nearly drives them off a cliff. Figuring it's as good a place as any, they park, and third wheel hops out to write his name in the sand while the couple decides that this will somehow allow them enough time to get busy in the jeep. Well, unfortunately, the Deinonychus hand puppet has found them. It slashes the third wheel's stomach open and when he slams against the jeep's window, he succeeds in getting the couple's attention just in time for the now dog-sized dinosaur to tear through the cloth covering of the jeep, which made my 9 year old self declare I was never owning a jeep. The Deinonychus proceeds to gut-munch the couple to death while the mortally wounded third wheel weakly calls for help, and blood dribbles down over the ironic "May Peace Prevail On Earth" bumper sticker.

As the sun sets, the Deinonychus rises up in silhouette and roars like a coyote howling. This would be kind of a ridiculous visual even if the roar sound effect wasn't so terribly synthesized.

"...I'm working on my roar!"
Meanwhile, at Shadowy Evil Corporate Genetics HQ, Fallon is arguing over the phone with a senator about how if it's legal to sell turnips and legal to sell cows, what's wrong with selling cows with turnip genes? It's nice to see that the panic over how "evil" and "shady" GMOs are hasn't changed in 20 years. After he hangs up, his underling Miss Kroghe (Martha Hackett) arrives with some interesting news. it seems that when the dead poultry truck driver's wounds were analyzed, it was discovered that the saliva of the creature that killed him contained a genetic marker trademarked to the Eunice Corporation. A marker designed for chickens, so either he was killed by something that ate Eunice chickens or it was a chicken. "Right," Fallon replies sardonically, "attack of the killer poultry."

You laugh, but that title is no doubt sitting on a video store shelf right now. Or would be, if video stores still existed.

The two goons from earlier are driving around, searching for the Deinonychus. The one driving is gnawing on a drumstick and advising his companion to have some chicken, but his companion is glowering the passenger seat with his now-scarred face and replies, "The only chicken I want is the one who did this to my face." Cut to the Deinonychus puppet ambling along the road like a muppet--seemingly the same road that Thrush is walking along now. However, it turns out that she's not being followed by a Deinonychus but Doc in his truck. With the lights off, so he can dramatically turn them on like a creepy stalker. He guilts her into getting into the truck by claiming if she doesn't, then he'll just drive around aimlessly and burn up gasoline and pollute the atmosphere while running over small animals.

Luckily she doesn't have to drive too far with a guy swilling whiskey and smoking like a chimney, because they quickly happen upon a man in the middle of the road whose torso has been torn open. He's still alive, though, and babbling in Spanish. Thrush figures out that he's saying "it's eating him," but then says, "I guess he must mean the pain." Don't worry about the wounded guy's fate, we won't see him again. We do cut to the Eunice goons still driving around in their van. Scarface has decided to ignore orders to tranq the Deinonychus and is planning to shoot to kill, which the other guy doesn't object all that strenuously to. Tiptree is watching and listening to them through security cameras that appear to be in the van, so either they're not aware of the cameras or are idiots.

Of course, Tiptree will seemingly forget about the cameras as well. For even as she is watching, Scarface misses a shot at the Deinonychus--and the dinosaur responds by charging straight at the windshield. Somehow this strategy allows it to smash through the windshield without being shot, yank Scarface out, and tear the other guy's throat out. Granted, the Deinonychus attack somehow scrambles the camera feed, but I'm pretty sure Tiptree should have been able to fill in the blanks. And boy that Deinonychus sure looks happy as it chomps on a chunk of flesh that I'm guessing used to be Scarface. (As obvious as the puppets are, the close-ups of the Deinonychus are actually really good--the puppet is very expressive)

Meanwhile, Fallon is--in a bizarrely staged bit--lying seductively on the boardroom table talking to a senator who is enjoying a blueberry pie. Fallon talks about how amazing the blueberries are and how they will never go bad on the shelf because they are coated in a thin layer of "goat embryonic fluid." The senator chokes at that, so Fallon's seductive pitch apparently didn't take. So he's annoyed when Kroghe reappears to advise that the animal could not have absorbed the genetic marker from eating chickens. Fallon advises her to keep it quiet.

Tiptree gets an unexpected visit from an angry Paloma, who angrily addresses her over the video feed from the outside of her office. He has somehow heard about his daughter's death and is distraught and furious with her for letting the beast kill his only child. Yet he is perfectly willing to believe Tiptree when she tells him that they secretly brought his daughter to the facility and she's actually alive and going to be fine. So, I'm guessing that he wasn't asked to identify her body.

Well, Tiptree is lying, obviously. She comforts Paloma over the PA system as he follows her guidance to a corridor that leads to an area that is apparently being used for a laser light show. She then admits she can't bring back his daughter, but he can feed the next generation--just as Paloma realizes those lasers hurt when you touch them, and at their center is a Tyrannosaur. And Tiptree turns off the lasers that hold the T-Rex in place. Paloma's attempt to escape through the lasers just results in is hand being sliced off before the T-Rex drags him away and shakes him like a...well, a doll.

Just like in the sequel, the T-Rex here is rendered via full-scale puppet and a miniature one. They look almost, but not quite, absolutely nothing alike. While both the puppets have the eyes too far back on the head, the shape of the head is completely different. Both have an alarmingly anorexic rat-like tail, though, which is a really weird choice when the creature also has an adorable pot belly.
Dinosaurs hate laser light shows.
Doc, meanwhile, discovers to his annoyance that Thrush and her fellow hippies have decided to chain themselves to all the construction equipment. His attempts to threaten them with his rifle results in one woman taunting him with the nonsensical, "What are you going to do, Tarzan, kill us?" Yeah, no Tarzan wasn't overly likely to be found wielding a rifle. Seeing that they aren't budging, he decides to go have dinner, sarcastically asking if he can bring them any vegan bullshit food, and advises that if they're still there in the morning he's cutting them out with blowtorches. His last word is a warning to look out for bobcats, so take a drink.

At the diner, Slim is sitting at the counter complaining about the food getting cold with no gravy. When the cook, who sneezes into the gravy, sees Doc he mentions that he heard the kid Doc found was all carved up like a turkey. When Slim pipes up that he heard it was a "psycho cannibal job," the waitress chastises him for watching "too many of them Eye-talian zombie flicks." Certainly an interesting reference to make in a dinosaur movie. Discussion then turns to other horrifying deaths in the area, which not only brings up more references to bobcats (Chug! Chug! Chug!) but also offends the sensibilities of a couple in the corner booth. The wife is pregnant, see, which causes Slim to drive them out of the diner by telling a story about a baby born with antlers.

Back to the construction site, where everyone has fallen asleep just before the Deinonychus wanders up. The shot of this is hilariously woeful--one of the hippies is seated on a bulldozer in the background and in the foreground the Deinonychus puppet "walks" into view. I'm guessing this effect was achieved in camera. Although it turns out the "whirring" mechanical noises that I remembered the puppet making when I saw this movie as a kid were merely my imagination reacting to the patently artificial movements of the puppet.

"Mmm: Patchouli burger!"

Well, the nearest hippy waking up and greeting the Deinonychus with a peace sign and, "Greetings, green brother," doesn't convince the beast that the hippy isn't a delicious piece of meat. So everyone else is awakened by him being mauled to death. He is yanked off the bulldozer, his severed hand left behind in the chains, as the Deinonychus pins him down with one foot and tears open his throat with its teeth and then finishes him off by eating his face. Now, I will give credit here that the Deinoychus puppet looks decent in the shot of it eating him, which is set from Thrush's POV in the cab of the bulldozer. It's clearly attacking a human puppet but the human puppet is shot from an angle that disguises this and the dinosaur is scaled more or less correctly-if a bit on the large side.

I mention this because then the Deinonychus turns to attack the woman chained to a wheel nearby and the effects become absolutely, hilariously bad. The girl desperately kicks at the Deinonychus, which results in it grabbing her left leg in its jaws. Now, the Deinonychus was portrayed by both puppets and a guy in a suit, but for some reason the latter--which would show up in Carnosaur 2 with a new head to become a Velociraptor--was barely used. Well, both are used in this attack and the editing is a disaster. For one thing, even though we only briefly glimpse the Deinonychus suit tugging on her foot, it's more or less in the proper scale. The puppet version is interacting with a terrible puppet of her lower torso and is scaled so inaccurately it looks Allosaurus-sized. Worst of all, in a random Deinonychus (heh) green-tinted POV shot, you can plainly see a human hand tugging on her foot.

Eventually, the Deinonychus tears her leg off above the knee and contentedly chews on it as she watches in horror.

Gollum finally gets his revenge on those Nasty Hobbitses.

Back at the diner, Doc actually does ask for some salad to go, which surprises everyone. However, he returns to the construction site just in time to find the Denonychus chowing down on the last hippy. Another few hilariously muppet-like shots follow as he chases t away with his rifle. Every hippy at the site has been killed, except for Thrush who was safely in the bulldozer cab and is in a state of shock. Next thing we know, Dr. Raven and Sheriff Fowler are examining the body of one of the hippies. Raven explains that in every killing the victim was pinned to the ground and turn open with a blade-like claw. That's a pretty great description of the accepted M.O. of a Deinonychus, but naturally doesn't describe any of the attacks we've been shown. The Deinonychus in this movie just uses its teeth to tear people open. At any rate, it's clearly the same animal but each successive killing has been done by a larger claw, which suggests a frightening rate of growth.

Thrush wakes up alone in Doc's trailer. While looking around, she finds his sketchbook full of watercolors of the landscapes and things he's seen--an essential hobby for any "gruff but emotionally deep" loser character--but her affectionate smile fades as she gets to the one representing the kid they found on the road. And then the Random Deinonychus attacks! Yes, for some reason, the Deinonychus chooses right then to smash through the trailer's window. Thrush grabs Doc's rifle and scares the creature off with one shot, which causes it to scream like a hawk and disappear--taking the tense music with it, no less.

Where is Doc in all this? Why, riding up to the Eunice van belonging to the two dead goons on his motorcycle that we never saw him ride before. What Doc was looking for is beyond me, but I'm guessing the script has decided to let him make one of those leaps in logic that allows him to figure out that Eunice is connected to the dinosaur killing people. And that's before he discovers that someone is, hilariously, still trying to radio the two goons to see if they found the Deinonychus. This despite the fact it's surely been out of contact for 24 hours at the very least--those captions that don't really deliver any information showed Doc arriving at the diner just before the Deinonychus hippy buffet at 4AM and before that showed Dr. Tiptree feeding Paloma to the T-Rex at 2PM, which happened after the Deinonychus ate her goons at night so that means an entire day has passed since then.

So even though Tiptree was watching the camera feed when that happened more than a day earlier, when her secretary, Susan (Lisa Moncure), advises her that one of the goons has returned claiming he has the animal, she believes it. In the elevator her security monitor shows her Doc in one of the dead men's uniforms with a body bag on a gurney, and she responds by angrily asking if he killed it. Doc protests that they drugged it with exactly the dose she suggested. Yet, surprise, when Tiptree meets Doc outside her office the body bag contains one of the dead goons and Doc pulls a gun on her.

Tiptree is rather amusingly unfazed by this turn of events. She comments that Doc doesn't look like a killer, to which he responds, "According to the Sheriff I've already got a half dozen murders on my head. So what's one more?" Um, what? I have to wonder if this was a subplot that got deleted, because at no point has there been any inkling that the Deinonychus's predations were being blamed on Doc and it makes no sense that they would be, anyway!

Now, up to this point Diane Ladd's performance Tiptree has been rather dry and almost indifferent, but from here on she seemingly realized the hilarious potential of her mad scientist character. She notices Doc is sweating and cheerfully observes, while spinning in her office chair, that he's got "the fever." When he asks what she knows abut it, she leans forward and proudly replies, "Everything. I designed it."

Get ready for more badly edited time passage, because now we cut to Sheriff Fowler's kitchen as is wife Rowena (Michele Harrell) is preparing to make breakfast. There's sunlight coming in the windows so it is now at least mid-morning. Fowler comes in and as they greet each other lovingly, Fowler updates her that Thrush is doing fine aside from shock but had a touch of the fever that seems to be really be going around--Dr. Raven's clinic is full, in fact. When Rowena mentions that she and their children have come down with a touch of it as well, he shoos her out of the kitchen so she can go lie down and he'll make breakfast. Except, the eggs he cracks are all black inside. And then one falls off the counter and when it cracks it disgorges a dinosaur embryo. Fowler picks it up and pokes at it, wondering aloud what the squirming creature is.

And suddenly it is full night as Slim enters the chicken coop at the poultry factory to see why all the chickens are sounding agitated. He's eating from a bucket of chicken while he does so, of course. well, in the middle of the chicken coop is a dismembered chicken--when Slim goes to investigate, the Deinonychus swings down from the rafters (?!) with another hawk scream and bites Slim's head off. Goodbye, Clint Howard. Now, Tiptree was watching this happen on a monitor apparently connected a camera that was conveniently pointed at the exact spot where Slim was standing. She quickly turns off the TV before Doc can see.

Now, stop for a moment and consider the fact that we saw Doc arriving at Tiptree's office while it was still dark outside. (Her office is perpetually dark, yes, but he met her in an atrium with windows before they returned to her lab) a scene in obvious daylight happened between then and Clint Howard getting eaten. So Doc has apparently just been holding Tiptree at gunpoint for around 12 hours and is only now asking her what she is doing in her lab. Tiptree, having already set her plot in motion, is fully willing to explain--but when Susan calls in to explain that she's not feeling well, Tiptree asks Susan to come to the lab before she leaves so she can show rather than tell. (And how long has Susan been at her post at this point?!)

Dr. Raven and Fowler are currently examining the dinosaur embryo, which Fowler points out has grown three-fold since he found it in the morning--and also emphasizes the whole "it hatched from a chicken egg" aspect. Oh, and there's sunlight in the window when we see that the waiting room outside the office is full of sick people. If there was a script girl on this movie, I suspect she threw up her arms in defeat early on and walked off the set. So when we cut back to Tiptree examining Susan, either it's the next day or the poultry plant exists in an area of constant localized darkness. Tiptree observes that the infection is proceeding as schedule and leads Susan to the couch in the office. Doc observes, with some alarm, that Susan is going into labor.

Doc assists Tiptree with Susan's delivery--except that final push results in a tearing, squishing sound and Susan dies. Then Tiptree removes something bloody from between the woman's legs and disappears into a vault that emits dry ice fog. After confirming that Susan is dead, Doc follows and discovers that the room is full of eggs of various sizes hooked up to glass orbs full of bubbling liquid via tubes--including one large, bloody one that Tiptree is currently placing amongst them. That's right, Susan just died pushing out a dinosaur egg. Doc demands answers or he'll start making omelets.

Meanwhile, because this movie can't freaking focus, Fallon and Kroghe are in a mobile command tent surrounded by military guys in hazmat suits, where Fallon is chastizing Vogel for not figuring out that all the stuff Tiptree was collecting for use in her efforts to "make a better chicken" was a bit fishy. (Note that the captions tell us it is now 9AM, so time has lost all meaning) Fallon is interrupted when Lt. Colonel Wren (Jeff Foster) enters and demands to know why a "Code Blue" was called. Fallon explains about the truck river and the genetic marker, and explains it is a virus and with the power invested in him by FEMA--which is both more sinister and less sinister than it was in 1993 considering Hurrican Katrina--they intend to do everything necessary to stop it.

That everything necessary is illustrated when a man driving down the road (at night, screams the script girl while beating the editor about the head with her clipboard) with a sick woman in his backseat encounters a roadblock manned by soldiers in hazmat suits. He is bizarrely happy to see them and hand the sick woman off to their care, but I'm sure you're shocked that after taking her they then make him march off to the side of the road before riddling him with bullets. Note that, even though this is shot from far away, it is blatantly obvious that there aren't any muzzle flashes from their guns. Now, I think that the man is the diner's cook and the woman is the waitress, but I can't be sure.

Anyways, now that Tiptree and Doc have apparently being staring each other down for two whole days, Tiptree explains that the Earth belongs to the dinosaurs and it was built for them. (Well, yes, 65 million years ago, sure, but not now) She is therefore just trying to return the Earth to them. Doc sarcastically replies, "That's really fabulous. It'd make a great theme park." Ooh, in your face, Spielberg! Naturally, when Doc asks why, she goes for the old standby that humans are ruining the world so it's time to put another species in charge. Of course, the hitch in her plan seems to be that she's only engineering carnivorous dinosaurs--good luck repopulating the world with only predators.

Fowler, meanwhile, can't raise anybody on the radio, and in the mobile command tent Fallon, Vogel, Wren, and Kroghe are all standing around the woman from earlier--who is, indeed, the waitress from the diner--and none of them are wearing anything more protective than gloves as she screams at them to, "Get it out of me!" Her belly expands as she begins spitting up black ichor (yeah, red fake blood seems to have been beyond this film's capabilities) and then something gooey explodes out from between her legs and splatters on the floor. Fallon, a bit too gleefully, picks up the wriggling baby dinosaur puppet in the midst of the viscera on the floor and realizes it's he same method Tiptree used to eradicate that pest insect: "Eliminate the female and the male is incapable of carrying on the species."

Meanwhile, Tiptree is torturing Doc by asking him about the chicken and the egg. When Doc challenges her decision to eradicate humanity by pulling the human exceptionalism crap that makes me want to side with the mad scientist causing baby dinosaurs to burst out of women, she explains that actually she encoded genes in her dinosaurs that gives them the best of human potential. She then wearily responds to his outburst of, "For God's sake," with, "My God is an acronym. G-O-D.: Generator Of Diversity." Um. Sure. She also mentions "my mentor, Dr. Moreau," and I don't even know at this point if she's referring to an actual person in the film's reality or the mad scientist who turned animals into people.

Cut to the Deinonychus passing by a pet shop and asking, "How delicious is that puppy in the window?" Apparently the answer is "very", because the sound of it smashing the window to eat a cocker spaniel interrupts Sheriff Fowler reading Goodnight, Moon to his daughters. Tiptree rants some more about at Doc about how dinosaurs are so freaking cool, you guys and then Sheriff Fowler pulls up in his squad car to the pet shop. He gets out, wielding a shotgun, and hollers to world, "I know you're here, come out! I'm'a waiting for you, right here, come on! Got nothing to lose!" Um, apparently he doesn't mind if he leaves his daughters fatherless. Well, after a false set up where he thinks the Deinonychus is inside the pet shop, it attacks from behind--but he whirls in time and shoots it in the chest.

Fowler steps over the fallen creature, placing the terrible claw it's named for behind him as he stands over it. Rather than finishing the creature off right away, he stands over it as it lifts its foot, pulls back, and...well, the shots from in front of Fowler imply that it impales him through the back until its claw protrudes from his stomach, but the close-ups of the foot coming at him shows the creature slicing up through his groin. Either way, Fowler blows its head off and then falls to the ground. It's almost beautiful, if not for the fact that Fowler could have easily avoided his death.

Meanwhile, in the command tent (day!) Fallon and company rip off Dr. Strangelove as they deliver the statistics on how soon the virus will wipe out humanity, but Vogel offers that Eunice has been working on artificial wombs for years and could "breed a new generation of females." Fallon talks about the social engineering that it would require to make things, before we see some hazmat suit soldiers marching outside (night!) and again the time stamps lose all meaning. Remember when I said Tiptree fed Paloma to her T-Rex at 2PM? Well, the time stamps are actually in military time so, it was basically 14:32:33 or numbers to that effect. Well, the soldiers are marching at "11:18:23" in the dark, which would be 11AM.

Time has no meaning.

Doc, having held Tiptree at gunpoint for at least three days by now, finally asks her where the viral serum is. He shoots one of her eggs before she gives in and lets him have it. Even so, he flees through the bowels of Tiptree's lab and finds himself in the laser light show T-Rex pen. However, he is able to shoot out the lasers and flee as the T-Rex gives chase. Tiptree for her part, is busy giving birth to a baby dinosaur, Alien-style. Doc ends up at a dead end, but just barely escapes via a convenient ladder and access pipe; the shot of the full-scale T-Rex looming up behind him as he crawls to safety is legitimately cool, I must say. Of course, the T-Rex decides to slam headfirst into the concrete wall over and over, and as Doc reaches the roof he sees that the wall is giving way just before he flees. As the baby dinosaur rips out of Tiptree's belly, the T-Rex successfully tears out of the building's wall. Art!

Attention Pet Owners: If your T-Rex is doing this, take it to a vet immediately!

Doc reaches the trailer and finds Thrush, overcome with fever. Daylight is coming in through the windows, so either another day has passed or everyone in Climax, Nevada has some seriously spotlights outside their windows. Back in the area of perpetual night, the T-Rex walks down a main street and is angered by a phone booth ringing. The puppetry in this sequence implies that everyone had just given up, as despite all the booming footstep sound effects and decent miniatures, the puppet moves so obviously like a miniature that no one could ever buy it as anything else.

After Doc hears someone on his CB radio report being stopped by soldiers at a roadblock and another person report seeing a T-Rex, he remembers the earlier conversation about "dinosaur highway." He realizes the dinosaur must be coming to them. The hazmat crew finds Dr. Tiptree's lab, in a scene that goes nowhere, and then Doc injects Thrush with the viral serum, warning it might kill her. Thrush doesn't care because she knows she's dead with or without it. And, in case we were still unclear on "government bad", we see hazmat soldiers enter Dr. Raven's clinics and gun down all his patients and the doctor before taking pictures (?!) of the bodies. Why would you want proof of that?! Oh, and the captions tell us is is happening at "14:09:45" but it's clearly night. I am going to hurt whomever wrote those damn captions.
And now we come to the film's big set piece, as the T-Rex walks past Doc's trailer. Doc and Thrush rush outside to face the creature, even though it has already walked past them. And what, in a huge construction site do you suppose Doc is planing to face a T-Rex with? A bulldozer, ala The Crater Lake Monster? An excavator, ala Dinosaurus! perhaps? Nope: a pair of Bobcat skidsteers. Yes, he's bringing a Bobcat to a T-Rex fight. I guess this means you can take another drink, because this appears to be the culmination of the film's obsession with bobcats.

"Did you just call me 'rat tail'?! I'm gonna eat you so hard!"

The fight is actually pretty well edited. I mean, you can always tell the difference between the miniature T-Rex puppet and the full-scale one, but it's well-edited. Although somehow Doc, the one who knows how to drive the Bobcat, ends up getting his vehicle knocked over and barely dodges the T-Rex's lethargic attempts to grab him as he climbs out. Thrush distracts the T-Rex, but either the shock of her vehicle hitting the dinosaur or the effects of the fever render er unconscious and Doc has to hop in to take over her controls. He guts the Rex and, after quipping, "I hate wildlife," he pushes the wounded animal over, and it succumbs to its wounds.

Doc carries the unconscious Thrush back into his trailer and answers the radio when he hears the soldiers calling. This turns out to be a mistake, as the soldiers quickly arrive. They walk in, guns raised, and rather than shouting, "Wait, I have a viral serum," Doc stands there glaring at them until they shoot him full of holes, photograph his corpse and Thrush's, and then set fire to the trailer with flamethrowers. The serum jar explodes in the flames and the last thing we see is a framed photo of Alfre E. Neuman, MAD Magazine's mascot with his, "What. Me Worry?" slogan being consumed by flames as the credits roll down from the top of the screen.

Oh, and time of death for our protagonists was at 1500 hours and it was still fucking dark out.

Random Deinonychus just wants a hug! [Editor's Note: Do not hug Random Deinonychus]

And yes, you read that right: a movie about killer dinosaurs cloned from chickens decided to end on a Night of the Living Dead-style downer. That was a mistake on several levels. For one thing, Doc and Thrush were neither sympathetic enough for their deaths to mean something, nor were they so thoroughly unlikeable that I wanted to see them die. They just existed. I couldn't care either way.

And honestly, the ending is indicative a problem with the movie as a whole. This movie should have been cheesy fun--which is what its sequels excelled at, even while continuing the issues with women that define the franchise as much as John Carl Buechler's charmingly dopey dinosaurs--but writer/director Adam Simon insists on trying to make the movie serious. While he does occasionally succeed, like with the death of the waitress, overall it just feels like the movie has no idea what it wants to be.

This carries over into the fact that the sinister government agency plot doesn't even interact with the main plot until about 2/3rds of the movie is over. And it's about that point in the narrative that the movie completely loses any sense of narrative cohesion that it actually had up until then. I mean, seriously, try to make sense of the amount of time Doc and Tiptree talk to each other. Based on the movie around them, their confrontation takes--at minimum--an entire day.

And, of course, then you have the dinosaurs. It's true that John Carl Buechler was working with a limited budget and a short shooting schedule, but the dinosaurs he delivers are adorable. It's impossible to be scared of his dinosaurs because they look so cuddly. Don't get me wrong, though, I'll take Buechler's rubbery puppets over SyFy Channel CGI any day of the week.

John Carl Buecheler and his Deinonychus friend.
And if you want to be really pedantic, the title of the film (and, for that matter, the original novel) is inaccurate. Carnosaurs are a specific group of dinosaurs that include Allosaurus and its relatives. Tyrannosaurids and Dromeosaurids (which include Deinonychus and Velociraptor) are not actually Carnosaurs. I doubt anybody but dinosaur nerds really cares, and even I didn't know that until fairly recently, but it's still kind of funny.

In the end, the only real distinguishing aspect of Carnosaur (aside from actually featuring a Deinonychus) is its reputation as the ultimate shameless cash-in and possibly the originator of the "mockbuster" business model. If you want to see a fun, cheesy dinosaur movie full of silly puppets you can watch the sequels. This film is neither good enough to be enjoyable as intended nor quite awful enough to be enjoyable for its failures: it's just bad.

Damn waste of a Deinonychus hand puppet, too.

[In case you're curious why I reviewed this today: Jurassic World comes out June 12th, so I felt it only fitting to review Carnosaur the same number of days before it as it hit theaters before Jurassic Park]

Friday, May 1, 2015

Wicker Man, The (1973)


It's difficult to define exactly what a "cult classic" is because the term has been applied and misapplied so often. Usually, though, a cult classic is defined by two common traits: first, it tends to have an obsessive and devoted fanbase, hence the "cult" qualifier; and second, it was not a financial success at the time of its release.

Some cult films go beyond merely being box office bombs that found loyal followings years after the fact. Some cult films barely got the chance to be failures and were even sabotaged by the studios that supposedly wanted to make money off of them. And few can claim that honor quite like The Wicker Man.

I won't go into the whole sordid story here, but The Wicker Man was unfortunately a victim of that bane of filmmakers everywhere: the distributors who "just don't get it." Reportedly the film originally ran 99 minutes, then was released to cinemas with a runtime of 87 minutes. No one knows where that lost footage went, but urban legend holds that it ended up among materials used to pave the M4 motorway.

A restored version made from a telecine transfer--and therefore a lower quality source, similar to VHS--was released in a limited edition DVD in 2001, which reportedly runs around 99 minutes. (I, having only adopted the format at the end of that year, never got a chance to obtain a copy) And then the telecine copy vanished. Luckily, in 2013 at least some of the footage was recovered and the "Final Cut" version of the film was released to theaters and Blu-ray/DVD.

The "Final Cut" runs about 92 minutes.

Now, given what I've just said about how many different versions are available, you might think that The Wicker Man is a mess. And if you're only familiar with the inexplicable remake with Nicolas Cage punching women while wearing a bear suit and screaming about bees and burned dolls, you're equally likely to think that. However, it doesn't matter what version you watch: the film still holds up.

For the sake of ease, I'll be reviewing the "Final Cut", however.

To begin with, we are introduced to Sgt. Howie (Edward Woodward) of the West Highland Police. He's not in uniform at present, for he is at church with his fiancee. This introduction ends with Howie delivering the benediction. You know, where the congregation eats the wafers and drinks the wine that are to stand in for the flesh and blood of Jesus. Already the film is introducing us to the concept of sacrifice and just how many religions are based around it.

Now, there's a few more scenes here in the 99 minute cut, but for our part we cut to the credits as Howie pilots an amphibious plane through the gorgeous Scottish countryside, while a wonderfully affecting rendition of "The Highland Widow's Lament" plays. Howie's destination is the island community of Summerisle, which he buzzes over on his way in so we can see the various orchards and crops that call the island home.

When Howie lands and addresses the crowd gathered at the docks to request a dinghy be sent to ferry him to shore, the greeting he gets is openly suspicious and the locals seem reluctant. He gets his dinghy after explaining that he received a letter about a missing girl, and is there on official police business. When he comes ashore he explains he is there to find the girl in the photograph he shows around, Rowan Morrison (Geraldine Cowper). The locals at the docks all claim to not recognize the girl, but when he explains the letter came from the girl's mother, one May Morrison (Irene Sunter), the locals cheerfully that they do have a May Morrison, who runs the post office--but that's not May's daughter.

Indeed, Howie finds that May, an eccentric woman with March hares all about her shop, has a daughter named Myrtle (Jennifer Martin). Myrtle isn't missing and May has no memory of ever having another daughter. As Howie helps Myrtle paint a drawing of a hare, he discovers that Myrtle knows a Rowan, though. It's pretty far from a lead, though, for Myrtle's Rowan is a hare.

So Howie checks into the local inn, The Green Man. And here Howie begins to make notice of the fact that Summerisle may not be the place for him, as a righteous Christian prick--er, gentleman. First, the landlord, Alder MacGregor (Lindsay Kemp) introduces Howie to his voluptuous daughter, Willow (Britt Ekland, though dubbed by someone who sounds Scottish), and the whole inn breaks into a ribald tune about her. Stranger, both Alder and Willow are gleeful about this turn of events. And when Howie goes outside, he sees couples fornicating openly on the inn's lawn, a naked woman crying on a gravestone, and other unusual sights.

Stranger than that, for supper the only food that Willow can offer him comes from cans. She can't even offer him one of Summerisle's famed apples. And her attempts to distract him with innuendo can't change the fact that it strikes Howie as peculiar that none of the island's produce was held back from exportation.

"Cheer up, Sergeant. Food isn't everything in life, you know?" 
Howie's evening prayers are interrupted by the sound of someone outside his window calling to Willow. Howie watches as Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee!) presents Willow with "an offering for Aphrodite," which is a joking reference to the young man at Lord Summerisle's side. The young man really is an offering for Willow, however, apparently as a rite of sexual passage. In the tavern below, the locals sing gentle songs to cheer the young lovers on, Lord Summerisle cheekily recites poetry to copulating snails, and poor Howie tries to shut out the sounds of what he can only deem madness.

The madness continues the next morning. The whole community is gearing up for May Day, and that includes a school of young boys dancing around a Maypole to a jaunty tune (which will burrow into your brain for days) about the cycle of life that has way more frank references to sexuality than Howie likes. He's even less enamored of the schoolmarm, Miss Rose (Diane Cilento), explaining to her class of young girls that the Maypole in religions such as theirs symbolizes the penis.

Oh, yes, this is an island of Pagans, in case you hadn't figured it out. And for someone as nonreligious--and anti-Christian, at least in the context of the way the organized religion has presented itself for many scores of years--the community is highly appealing. They're fun and free, and Howie is an intolerant and boorish prude who reacts to their nonconformity to his beliefs with indignation and blustering.

However, Howie's not wrong that something about these islanders is amiss. None of Miss Rose's students claims to know Rowan, but there is an empty desk and the register proves to have one Rowan Morrison listed. Howie's opinion of the little girls as liars is quickly amended to include them as little sadists, for the empty desk proves to have nothing inside but a beetle tied to a bit of string that is attached to a nail on the other end. As one girl explains, the game is that the beetle continues around the nail in circles, never changing direction until it finds itself right up against the nail.

Miss Rose explains to Howie that it's actually a miscommunication based on their belief system. The girls claimed to not know Rowan because, well, they don't know her any more. Rowan is dead. But when Howie visits the Librarian (Ingrid Pitt!), the woman can produce no death certificate and claims to know nothing about the circumstances of Rowan's demise. So Howie goes to visit Lord Summerisle for permission to exhume the body.

And Christopher Lee has gone on record as saying that Lord Summmerisle was his favorite role. It's not hard to see that here, as Lee has a blast playing off of Howie's horror at their Pagan traditions, such as having teenage girls jumping naked over a fire as part of a fertility ritual. "Well, naturally, it's much too dangerous to jump through the fire with your clothes on!"

"Sit down, won't you, Sergeant? Shocks are so much easier to absorb with the knees bent."
Lord Summerisle explains how his grandfather came to the island in the 19th Century and brought with him new methods of horticulture and the Old Ways of religion, The people eagerly accepted both and Christianity has never darkened their doorstep since until Howie's arrival. Howie insults Lord Summerisle's beliefs, naturally, but Summerisle still grants him permission to exhume Rowan's grave.

Oh, that grave? It contains a dead hare.

Howie has just about had it. His rage at the dead hare falls on unconcerned ears when he confronts Summerisle and Rose, interrupting them as they are singing a bawdy duet about nails and kettles. Rowan loved the hares, they insist, and this is just a sort of transfiguration that is to be expected. Summerisle expresses sympathy to Howie, but suggests that maybe it would be best for him to depart.

"You wouldn't want to be here on May Day," he intones.

Even stranger than that, when Howie retires to his room, exhausted, a naked Willow sings a seductive song to him from her room. This is the closest the film gets to suggesting any kind of actual supernatural influence from the islanders, as it sure seems like Howie struggles to resist the call of her song.

"Please come, say 'How do?'
The things I'll show to you.
"
But resist her he does. And an observance he made earlier leads him to finding a huge piece of the puzzle. In the inn, the pictures of each year's harvest are shown, with the young girl chosen as the Queen of the May surrounded by the harvest. Last year's is missing, and no one has given Howie a clear answer as to why. When Howie follows up on this suspicion and breaks into the photographer's studio and develops the negative, he discovers the Queen that year was Rowan Morrison and the crops were dismal.

Howie thinks he has the answer at last. Everyone wants him out by May Day, which is only scant hours away, because Rowan is to be sacrificed to the Gods of the Harvest. Well, Howie isn't going to let that happen on his watch! Of course, it's not really as simple as that--remember the beetle?

"You'll simply never understand the true nature of sacrifice."
The Wicker Man is not exactly what anyone thinks of when you talk about horror movies. There aren't any jump scares, nor really any attempt to scare the audience. Except, perhaps, for the ending, where ultimately nothing can stop the sacrifice from making their appointment with The Wicker Man. Up to that point, the movie is more of a mystery of sorts.

Is Rowan Morrison missing? Does she exist? Is she dead? Is she going to be dead?

Even its villains are not what you would expect. Pagans are often used interchangeably with Satanists as antagonists in horror, but regardless of what they are they are it is usually clear that they are in some way sinister. Sure, they may start out nice, but in the end you'll see them as evil. The residents of Summerisle are still amiable, cheerful people even when we know they are engaged in human sacrifice. They don't do this out of sadism or a thirst for blood. They are just following their religious convictions. To that end, they're little different than Howie.

In fact, the islanders make it quite clear that they believe their "dreadful sacrifice" is actually a win for all involved including the sacrificial victim. They're also genuinely Pagan, as the filmmakers put actual research into Pagan traditions and customs. I'm sure some of it is embellished or a bit off the mark, but nothing as thuddingly obvious as someone mispronouncing "Samhain." That attention to detail really sells the authenticity of the island community.

(Amusingly, the first time I ever saw the film, in its truncated version, it began with a title card thanking the residents of Summerisle for their cooperation, as if it were a real community that had happily helped the production out)

The film also has a whimsical tone that you don't usually see in horror films. The soundtrack is full of traditional folk songs and newer ones, none of which are used in the "some innocuous tune made sinister" manner of most horror films that use old standards, It's also legitimately funny in many places, for the Summerisle folks are jovial and charming. In a way, that adds to the horror of what they are willing to do for the sake of their crops.

It's hard to find words to effectively describe The Wicker Man. If you're reading this then chances are excellent that A) you've already seen the film or B) you've seen it written about at great length. It's transcended cult classic status to pretty much stand as a classic. Even the ill-conceived remake in 2006 couldn't topple its legacy in that arena. Referring to it as "the Citizen Kane of horror films" might be a bit hyperbolic, but it's actually pretty apt.

After all, Citizen Kane may be frequently called "the greatest movie ever made," but it's also arguably a cult classic. Many contemporary critics loved it, but in its original release it lost money. (Having the media mogul it was loosely based on attempting to destroy it didn't help) Both this film and Citizen Kane only truly attained their current reputation as examples of the heights of cinema in the years following their release.

I also see nothing all that excessive about praising The Wicker Man so highly. I don't know that I would ever rank the best horror films--I tend to prefer not to rank movies at all, honestly--but if I did, The Wicker Man would definitely have a spot near the top.

If you haven't seen it, you simply must. Especially on Mayday.

Monday, March 23, 2015

WolfCop (2014)


One of the perks of being a genre fan is that, ever so often, a movie comes along that you're certain was made especially with you in mind. Sometimes you realize this during something like the containment purge sequence of The Cabin in the Woods. Other times it's a promising concept that still requires a trailer to fully sell you, like Pacific Rim. And other times the concept is so beautiful you have to see it, even before you see a mostly promising trailer.

Naturally that brings us to 2014's Canadian horror comedy, WolfCop. Given the film was at least partially crowdfunded, you could argue it's the most literal example of "made for genre fans" you can imagine. I mean, just look at the basic concept and tell me it doesn't sound like it was made for me: a loser deputy becomes a werewolf and uses his new found powers to fight crime.

I was so sold that, even though I know that werewolf movies are often awful, I came this close to buying it on Blu-ray, sight unseen. And since I've become a father, that particular dangerous impulse has become a lot easier to curb.

Sadly, I am forced to report it's a good thing I have this newfound self control.

The town of Woodhaven used to be a pretty nice place to settle, apparently, but these days it's a dump whose biggest business is Liquor Donuts ("What more could you want?" is their slogan) and its only claim to fame is its annual "Drink'N'Shoot" and the legendary "Woodhaven walking bear" (as opposed to a crawling bear, I suppose), a local equivalent of Bigfoot. It's also overrun by gang activity--most notoriously The Piggies, a bunch of goons in pig masks--and meth dealers. The local Sheriff's department is considered an impotent joke, but that may be because the whole department appears to be staffed by two deputies: Sergeant Lou Garou (Leo Fafard, and yes that really is the name they gave him) and Sergeant Tina (Amy Matysio). Tina is a marvelously competent cop, as evidenced by the "Officer of the Month" plaque that has her name engraved under every month.

Lou is a completely other story, however. We're introduced to him as he wakes up late in his filthy house--note the fish tank with a beer bottle in it--next to some half-naked woman he clearly doesn't know, and downs another bottle of beer before stumbling out to his patrol car and dropping his gun under it. It's not exactly surprising that crime is pretty much unopposed in Woodhaven, is it?

The Chief (Aiden Devine), who doesn't actually seem to be the Sheriff, is well aware of Lou's bumbling alcoholism on the job, but doesn't seem in any hurry to fire him despite chastising him in front of everyone whenever he can. It's uncertain if this is more because of the fact that the Chief can't find anybody else to take his place or because Lou's father used to be one of Woodhaven's finest and the Chief is still hoping Lou will somehow straighten up and make his father's legacy proud.

That doesn't seem likely to happen any time soon, though. Sure, Lou makes a token appearance in the office to relieve Tina from her night shift and he does actually go to investigate a disturbance call from his friend Willie Higgins (Jonathan Cherry), the town's local gun shop owner and resident conspiracy theorist. But as soon as Lou concludes that the footage of "Satanic activity" that Willie shows him as an explanation for all the missing pets of late is actually a bunch of teenage metalheads having a party in the woods, he heads right to the Tooth and Nail. As you might imagine, the Tooth and Nail is the local bar and its current proprietor is the far-too-hot-to-be-a-backwater-barkeep Jessica (Sarah Lind), but we'll later find out it used to be run by Tina's father.

The bar quickly is invaded by two unwelcome intruders. The first is an unnamed local crime boss (Jesse Moss), I'll call him Teardrop due to the tattoo on his face, who harasses a few patrons in full view of Lou and then settles into a corner booth with his lackeys. The second is Terry Wallace (Ryland Alexander), a young politician seeking to be the first person to run against incumbent Mayor Bradley (Corinne Conley) in a long time. Poor Terry and his megaphone are booed right out of the joint, though.

However, that won't be the biggest obstacle to Terry's political career. When Lou decides to go investigate another disturbance call in the woods outside town, he finds Terry hung upside down from a tree. Terry has just enough strength to warn Lou that someone's behind him, but it's too late--Lou is clubbed over the head by someone in a hooded robe and plague doctor mask.

He wakes up in is own bed, but something is clearly amiss. He gets flashes of mysterious robed and masked figures surrounding him and carving an inverted pentagram into his chest, like something from a half-remembered dream. It's probably not a good sign that he actually does have an inverted pentagram carved onto chest, and the fact that his stubble immediately grows back before his eyes when he tries to shave is a bit weird. Even weirder is that as soon as he steps outside, he is overwhelmed by sounds he shouldn't be able to hear and smells he shouldn't be able to perceive.

Worse than that, he's immediately called to the woods where Terry Wallace has been found with his throat torn out and thoroughly exsanguinated. Terry may not be hanging from a tree any more, but it's understandable that Lou is a bit reluctant to mention what little he remembers of the previous night. The Coroner (James Whittingham) rules it an animal attack. The Chief is reluctant to release the information to the public, but Mayor Bradley promptly goes on the local news where she announces that The Drink'N'Shoot will be canceled due to the concern for public safety. So, amazingly, you can't accuse the film of going the expected Jaws route.

Tina offhandedly asks Lou if he can remember when the last time The Drink'N'Shoot was canceled. That gets the detective gears in Lou's head to start grinding again, rusty though they may be. As a matter of fact, the Drink'N'Shoot seems to get canceled in a clear pattern: once every 32 years. Even more bizarrely, Lou seems to think it is somehow related to the upcoming solar eclipse. Mind you, whatever lead Lou is following is not enough to keep him from warming his seat at the bar. And, for some reason, Jessica decides that that night is a good time to close early so she can set up a fling with Lou after getting him roaring drunk.

Unfortunately, it's a full moon and Lou is suddenly overcome with nausea and has to rush downstairs to the men's room. Jessica, still oddly committed to sleeping with a guy who was seconds away from puking on himself and her, decides to amuse herself while she waits by playing a song on the jukebox and sweeping up. Thus she doesn't notice three henchmen sent by Teardrop who sneak into the bar with baseball bats to head down to the bathroom after Lou. Naturally, this is a mistake on their part, because Lou has just been struck by his first werewolf transformation.

"Oh my God! I thought that was just an old wife's tale!"
Now, this is one of the oddest aspects of the film. Lou doesn't turn into an actual wolf or even a bipedal wolf, like in The Howling or Dog Soldiers. He just turns into the sort of wolfman you expect to see in a Lon Chaney, Jr. or Paul Naschy film. Yet, his transformation involves his human skin tearing apart and being shed to reveal the werewolf underneath, with all the gore and slime you'd expect from that. It doesn't really seem to fit. Even worse, this first transformation starts off with Lou urinating, the urine turning to blood, and then a prosthetic of his penis bursting like a hot dog in a microwave to reveal a completely furry one (!) underneath. I'm sure it will please the kind of people who love Troma films, but it struck me as a bit much.

Well, now that Lou Garou has lived up to his name, the goons that were after him naturally don't fare too well. The first two he messily takes apart, the third just gets his short torn off and flees. Jessica goes to investigate, but a glimpse of Wolf Lou sends her running and screaming, too. However, we'll soon see it wasn't to the nearest phone. Meanwhile, the goon who returns to Teardrop emptyhanded gets his eye stabbed out as punishment for his failure, as Teardrop is unmoved by the man's insistence that Lou turned into a wolf.

Lou wakes up, naked but for his underwear, and cuffed to an unfamiliar bedframe with fuzzy handcuffs with a dog sitting on him. It turns out he's in Willie's apartment, as Willie greets him with the not at all alarming, "How's your butt?" This will actually prove to be a non-sequitur, because when Willie gleefully shows Lou the footage of how he tranqed the werewolf version of him, the darts we see are only in Lou's upper back. Lou is understandably skeptical, even when Willie serves him scrambled eggs and Lou promptly chokes on them because Willie seasoned them with wolfsbane, which is for werewolves what garlic is for vampires.

Luckily, Willie helpfully washed Lou's uniform--which was very bloody, he notes--because Lou's wolf senses tell him Tina has just arrived to pick him up. In one of the many ways this film's plotting is poorly constructed, you'll note that Lou at some point in the previous sequence has suddenly just accepted he is a werewolf. Tina takes him to the murder scene at the bar, where she notes that among the corpses is a chunk of skin that sure looks a lot like Lou's face. She just uses that to mock Lou, though, and not to conclude he is involved. Lou raises her suspicions when he offers to cover the rest of her shift, which he never does, However, she can't detect any obvious ulterior motive and agrees.

In the meantime, Lou hits the local library to comb through past articles on The Drink'N'Shoot. You wouldn't think he'd need to do this, however, because what he uncovers is that his father went missing after Tina's father was killed under bizarre circumstances and then his father was found dead days later. Per the article, Lou was ten at the time and you wouldn't think that even a perpetual drunk could forget how his father mysteriously died when he was ten years old. Lou then finds an Occult Mythology book (by shouting at the librarian, "Hey, you got any books on Devil Worship?") and checks it out so he can go over it with Willie.

According to the book, a werewolf is created by choosing a person--usually the "village idiot" so ythe creature is easier to contain--and cutting the pentagram into their chest before draining the blood of a sacrifice onto them. Then, at the time of the solar eclipse, when the werewolf will be weakest, it is ritually killed and drained entirely of blood. The blood is then either imbibed while fresh or crystalized for later use. Who would want to drink werewolf blood? Why, shapeshifters, of course--the blood of a werewolf maintains their unnaturally long lifespan. If you're anything like me, you'll note that the picture of a shapeshifter in the book is a lizard man and begin immediately hoping for a climactic lizard man vs. werewolf throwdown.

Lou's plan for that evening is to lock himself in a jail cell, while Willie films his transformation for science. Tina walk in on this plan, but Lou somehow convinces her that what he's doing makes sense and gets her to leave before his transformation hits. Once it does, Lou immediately demands Willie provide him the nearby huge bottle of whiskey and box of donuts, both courtesy of Liquor Donuts, of course. After that he's pretty relaxed in the cell, until a call comes in. Over Willie's objections, Lou suddenly feels a need to fulfill his "Protect and Serve" duties by responding to the call of a robbery at Liquor Donuts.

Thus, Willie is dragged along as WolfCop makes his debut. Three of The Piggies are robbing the joint, and the leader sends his subordinates to run crates of liquor to their van--where they are intercepted and killed by Lou. Lou charges in to deal with the last Piggie and we get the exchange that almost makes the whole film worth watching by itself:

Piggie: "What the fuck are you?"
WolfCop: "The fuzz."

Lou decides to not kill the last Piggie after a hostage standoff ends with the criminal fainting in fright. As he departs Liquor Donuts to return to his car, Willie amusingly implores him to hurry with, "Why don't you kill someone else on the way to the car?" After Lou's wolf strength causes him to pull the driver's side door off his car, he gets the idea to go into the nearby body shop and...customize his car. Weirdly this mainly involves festooning it with various "W" symbols, turning the light on top so it runs lengthwise instead of crosswise, and most noticeably not replacing the driver's door.

WolfCop's next stop is to pee on some taggers (!) before driving out to a barn in the countryside that houses a meth lab. It's also where we just saw Teardrop snorting some kind of red, crystalline powder. Hmm, could Teardrop be one of the shapeshifters that turned Lou into WolfCop? Well, luckily for Teardrop, he's not there when WolfCop bashes into the barn and begins shredding Teardrop's henchmen. The highlight of this is definitely the guy who gets his face ripped off, whereupon WolfCop throws the face onto his windshield and Willie's freaked out eaction is to try and get it off with the windshield wipers.

Eventually, WolfCop departs just ahead of the meth lab he smashed exploding and obliterating the barn. This is actually a really good effect, but also a delightfully obvious miniature.

Meanwhile, Tina and the Chief are completely baffled when they get to Liquor Donuts, because the only description they can get out of the witnesses is, "It was a big Wolf Cop!" Dawn is approaching so WolfCop and Willie return to the police station...where Jessica is waiting, dressed up like sexy Red Riding Hood. Wait, what? Jessica immediately intimates that she wants to WolfCop to do a little huffing and puffing, if you know what I mean. Bizarrely, Willie objects to this--I say bizarrely, because his objection is only that WolfCop might be too strong and pose a danger to Jessica. The fact that Jessica somehow knows that Lou is a werewolf and is not just cool with it but turned on by it, doesn't strike either man as really damn bizarre.

"What? You didn't know most bartenders are into furries?"
WolfCop tells Willie in no uncertain terms to go wait outside, and then he and Jessica bang in the jail cell, which is set to music only slightly less appropriate than the use of "Hallelujah" in Watchmen. This is a bizarrely tasteful scene for a film that earlier featured exploding genitals (well, as tasteful as a guy in a werewolf suit simulating sex with a naked woman can be), and while it's definitely another excuse to flash some breasts at the audience it doesn't seem to be played for any obvious joke. You'd expect it to be as broad as possible, and the lead-up with the expected "what big eyes you have" joke certainly is, but unless we were just expected to find the sequence funny on the mere basis of it being a love scene with a wolfman, I can't be certain it was actually meant to be a joke. As my girlfriend observed, you kind of get the feeling somebody involved in the film's production really wanted this scene to happen for, um, personal reasons.

Afterwards, Jessica naturally covers herself in a sheet like it's a dress while they both enjoy afterglow cigarettes. Jessica comments that she's really glad that she waited to sleep with "this better version of you." WolfCop is completely okay with being told that, so suck on your lesson about embracing your true self, Teen Wolf!

Except that Jessica then puts the horse tranquilizer that Willie brought Lou earlier into WolfCop's drink. As it takes effect, Jessica suddenly changes into Mayor Bradley. Yep, Jessica and Mayor Bradley are not only the same person--which must mean that being Mayor of Woodhaven is incredibly easy if she has time to be a sexy bartender on the side--but she is a shapeshifter. Oh, and Willie was also in on the conspiracy all along, too. In fact, he warns her that Lou is stronger than the other werewolves, maybe because of the alcoholism. Mayor Bradley chastises him for having grown attached to Lou* and then makes him destroy the tape he earlier made of Lou's transformation, as there can't be any evidence. Somehow, neither conspirator notices the obvious security camera pointed right at the jail cell.

[* One of the weirder things throughout the film is the implication that Willie and Lou might be attracted to each other, but with Willie being a bit more interested than Lou. It's clearly deliberate, but it ultimately comes to absolutely nothing. Which is a real shame, because the two have way more sexual chemistry than Lou and Jessica]

Tina arrives at the station after Lou has already been taken to where the shapeshifters intend to sacrifice him, with their surviving human goons standing watch. For some reason after Tina reviews the security camera footage, she figures out that she needs to load up with guns and ammo and head to the woods where her father's body was found before the solar eclipse takes place. And holy crap, the solar eclipse is an unnecessarily embarrassing CGI effect. Here's a tip for filmmakers: you can't actually see the details of the moon during an eclipse, so just making a featureless black silhouette of the moon is actually more convincing.

Lou wakes up chained to a tree, and discovers that there are three shapeshifters looming over him: Willie (who is also the Coroner), Jessica (who is also Mayor Bradley), and Teardrop (who is also, dun dun dun, the Chief). The three have been creating and sacrificing werewolves in Woodhaven for ages, the last time around Lou's father and Tina's father were their chosen victims. And whatever feelings Willie may have toward Lou, they aren't enough to stop him from going through with the ritual.

Luckily, Tina arrives just as Lou transforms into a werewolf during the eclipse--and despite the earlier talk about him being at his weakest, we don't see any evidence of that here--and Mayor Bradley stabs him with a sword so Willie can collect the blood in a goblet. As the shapeshifters sip from the goblet, Tina makes her move by first shooting the one-eyed henchman in his remaining eye. She then shoots Willie in the head, whereupon he falls down and transforms into his true reptilian form.

I'm going to go ahead and break your heart right now. Despite the fact that the shapeshifters' lizard faces are obviously either masks or props, albeit pretty good ones, they only turn into lizard people after they have been killed. This made me more upset at the movie than any of its other missed opportunities because you do not go out of your way to show me a lizardman and then fail to have it fight your werewolf! Haven't the filmmakers ever heard of Chekov's lizardman?!

It also doesn't help that the combination of the red filter and the fact that it's taking place in the woods immediately makes the climax remind me of Versus. That's a really hard movie to top (just ask Ryuhei Kitamura; he hasn't been able to manage it), especially since its climax was a badass sword fight between two undead superhumans. Meanwhile, even after WolfCop beaks free and guzzles a flask like Popeye gobbles spinach, this climax is just a bunch of people shooting at each other--for some reason Teardrop/Chief carries a blunderbuss--and a brief physical scuffle between Tina and Jessica. So it's not even close to the awesomeness of the movie it will inevitably remind many genre fans of. Eventually all the bad guys are dead and WolfCop is free to carry on his crusade of justice.

Oh, and as the terrible "WolfCop" rap theme plays, the film ends by announcing WolfCop II will be coming in 2015. Which, as we all know, is about the surest way to guarantee there will never be a sequel. There's also a credit cookie involving WolfCop taking revenge on an abusive dog owner that's not even worth getting into.

"I came here to kick ass and lick myself; and I'm all out of spit."
I really hate a wasted concept, so I've probably been even harsher on this film than it deserves. The problem with WolfCop isn't that it's terrible. I mean, that would definitely be a bad thing, but the trouble with WolfCop is that it takes a stellar concept and proceeds to settle for mediocrity. As you might expect, for instance, if you've seen the trailer you've basically seen the best parts of the movie. Stephen Colbert once joked that movies are "watered-down trailers" and this is the sort of movie where that statement is genuinely accurate.

Hell, if I didn't know better, I'd assume the trailer was made before the movie. I touched on earlier that character motivations and decisions often make no sense or characters have to make impressive leaps of logic. That's clearly because the filmmakers had a lot of genuinely good set pieces in mind--not counting the fairly dull climax--but had no idea how to bridge the sections in between. And the reveal that several characters were actually manipulating things all along doesn't make it better. For a reveal like that to work, you need to be able to look back and go, "Oh yeah, so that's why they did that!" If you look back at this film while knowing its ending, it still doesn't make sense.

Is WolfCop a waste of time? I wouldn't say that. I definitely got more than a few laughs out of it, and there are some great bits like the face-ripping I mentioned earlier. The cast is definitely solid, with nary a bad performance in the bunch, and the make-up effects are mostly good--even if the transformation scenes are more silly than impressive. And then there's the Lou/Willie relationship that threatens to become genuinely interesting before the film's twist forces them to drop it--which is really gonna hurt the sequel. I mean, imagine if Willie had turned to Lou's side and helped him defeat the other shapeshifters before becoming his sidekick. WolfCop and Lizard Dude would definitely make me give this "franchise" another chance.

If you're a huge werewolf fan or a big into horror comedies, I wouldn't say you should rush out and see WolfCop, but I also wouldn't say to avoid it at all costs. It's not terrible, but in the end it's a movie that I don't regret watching but doubt that I'd ever get the urge to watch ever again. Considering how much I love werewolves, that ought to tell you something.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century (1977)


In 1976, the big blockbuster being hyped up was Dino de Laurentiis's King Kong. Good old Dino was convinced he had a film that would make Jaws look like a bomb, and would be so amazing that audiences would forget the beloved original. He played up the film's full-scale robot Kong (that would ultimately appear in about 6 seconds of screentime, for good reason) and the hype machine was in full swing. However, I'm sure we all know by now that Dino was flying too close to the sun. The film still made a bit of a profit, otherwise Dino wouldn't inexplicably have made King Kong Lives ten years later, but word of mouth killed it almost immediately.

Well, the great worldwide rip-off machine was already geared up to expect the film to be a hit by the time it crashed and smoldered. While, for obvious reasons, the film never generated the amount of rip-offs that Jaws did and still does, the amount it did generate is pretty impressive. From Hong Kong's The Mighty Peking Man to England's Queen Kong and the utterly inexplicable Korean/American co-production of A*P*E, it seemed like almost every country's film studios were trying to get in on the giant simian act.

Naturally, you didn't think the Italians were going to be left out of this monkey barrel, did you?

However, even if you are familiar with Italian rip-offs you are unlikely to anticipate exactly what this film has in store for you. For starters, it manages to cash in on King Kong and the then-current Bigfoot craze, while also pilfering elements from King Kong vs. GodzillaLassie, and The Creature Walks Among Us! Its effects are, hilariously, a direct copy of its model (a full-sized Yeti body prop, full-size prop limbs, but with a guy in a suit representing the creature for most of its screentime) and yet rendered in a radically bizarre fashion. Its script sounds like it was translated to English phonetically, it has an overall feeling of being aimed at children while simultaneously being very violent and containing possibly the smuttiest non-porn parody interaction between its Kong and Fay Wray equivalents that you can imagine.

Let's just say that unlike "king kong watching women give birth" (?!) anyone brought to my site by the search keywords "yeti nipple play" will not have been directed here under false pretenses.

We begin with an apparent attempt to capitalize on the then-new theory of man-made global warming, as we watch footage of icebergs breaking apart. We don't know it yet, but somewhere in that melting ice is our titular (heh, titular) Yeti. Incidentally, the Yeti's theme is introduced here under the credits and if it sounds frustratingly familiar, that's because it's a very slight reworking of "O Fortuna"! If that's not weird enough, it will later be revealed to have bewilderingly nonsensical lyrics and the end credits inform you:

The Theme "Yeti"
                              if played by The Yetians.


Yes, that is verbatim. Maybe The Yetians performed the theme, maybe they didn't. We may never know.

Anyway, we'll find out what the deal with the Yeti is soon enough, as we are introduced to our bumbling, unscrupulous Capitalist for the evening, Morgan Hunnicut (Edoardo Faieta), when he arrives somewhere in the Canadian wilderness by helicopter. In case that doesn't sound ridiculous to you,that's because I didn't mention that he arrives seated in a finely upholstered couch, inside a box dangling under the helicopter from a cable! Already the guy is more like Mr. Tako from King Kong vs. Godzilla than Charles Grodin's character in King Kong, if Mr. Tako was a fat man in suspenders. In fact his motivation for seeking out the reclusive Professor Waterman (John Stacy) are more in line with the former's ambitions.

Waterman and Hunnicut are apparently old friends who had a falling out, and thus Waterman is not at all pleased to have his fishing interrupted by the bumbling captain of some kind of industry.  And that's before Hunnicut sits down and begins helping himself to Waterman's meal. Ha! It's funny because he's fat. Waterman's annoyance doesn't dissipate when Hunnicut explains that he's there to enlist his aid in "a humane expedition" in Northern Canada. Waterman scoffs, reminding Hunnicut that he's a "paleonthnologist [sic]" and wants no part of whatever swindling scheme the "Over-nourished Overweight Daddy Warbucks who calls himself a friend" has in mind this time.

But the mention of Hunnicut's grandson and granddaughter softens Waterman's resolve, since he feels himself an uncle to those two. Still, he insists that he wants nothing to do with Hunnicut and there's no way he's going.

Comedy jump cut to Waterman heading Hunnicut's "humane expedition," naturally. Komedy! Said expedition involves the discovery of an enormous hominid in large chunk of ice, apparently by Hunnicut's grandson. We'll meet said grandson shortly, but first you'll want to observe that maybe Waterman was a bad choice to head this expedition. Remember, frozen in the ice is a completely unknown species of hominid* roughly twenty feet tall. So you'd think you'd want to be very careful with the specimen, right?

[* Sure, there was a prehistoric ape that was around ten feet tall, Gigantopithecus, but you'd never mistake it for a hominid]

Well, Waterman has ordered a squad of men with flamethrowers to surround the priceless specimen and spray it with fire to thaw it out. And we know that this is not supposed to be Hunnicut's irresponsible idea, either, because Waterman even orders the flamethrower garrison to increase the flames!

Watching all this are Hunnicut's grandchildren, teen aged Jane (Antonella Interlenghi) and pre-adolescent Herbie (Jim Sullivan), along with their loyal collie, Indio. (Oh no) Herbie is the one who found the frozen giant, but don't ask me how or when. Herbie's also a mute, which is due to the accident that killed their mother and father--as Jane explains to Cliff Chandler (Tony Kendall), who is some kind of security chief hired by their grandfather. You've probably already figured out this early in the film that Cliff is the kind of handsome fellow who will inevitably turn out to be a complete shitheel, and you honestly won't have to wait very long for confirmation.

I do have to give the movie credit: Herbie never undergoes a miraculous recovery to regain his voice.

The two kids get right up close to look at the actually pretty decent full-size prop feet of the creature (this being the kind of movie where you really have to work to find something nice to say about its effects), ignoring the fact that that puts them in the middle of streams of burning napalm. Waterman, meanwhile, goes to his trailer to communicate with Hunnicut via the 1977 equivalent of Skype. Hunnicut is eager to know what exactly Waterman has found, and considering how little of the creature has been uncovered to sufficiently figure out what it is, Waterman declares it to be a Yeti. He further elaborates, "We call him a ‘Sasquatch’ here in Canada. In the States he is known as the Big Foot. And in the Himalayas, where his footprints were first discovered, he’s called the Yeti, the Abominable Snowman. Why the ‘abominable,’ I don’t know."

That already sounds pretty ridiculous even before you factor in that this is where we first discover that the majority of the cast pronounces "Yeti" as "Yay-tee"! Waterman then conjectures that the creature froze millions of years ago, then somehow the ice he was in broke up and fell into the Arctic Ocean and then the creature drifted from the Himalayas to "New Found Land [sic]."

Waterman furthermore states that the creature is so perfectly preserved that they may be able to "activate something" in it, "like the nerves of his hand, or maybe even his heart." That Waterman talks of just reviving a part of the creature's anatomy means I am instantly giddy at the idea that Ridley Scott may have seen this movie and it was the inspiration for the idiotic scene in Prometheus where the scientists try to wake up a severed alien head.

Of course, while Waterman wants to wake the Yaytee up for Science, Hunnicut wants to wake the Yaytee up for Profit. Yes, in a direct rip off of the 1976 King Kong, Hunnicut wants to use the beast as his new spokes-monster. Sure, why not? Of course, Hunnicut somehow got to be the head of a multinational corporation despite being utterly incapable of doing proper background checks on the employees he allows into his boardroom/office and one of his underlings is actually a corporate spy who intends to pass on the news of Hunnicut's plan to his other bosses. Then again, the same thing happened to John Hammond and we weren't supposed to think he was a moron.

So, if you were to revive a 20-foot tall Yaytee, what do you suppose would be the best technique to do so? Well, if you're Professor Waterman you'd decide the best idea is to lift the creature into an upright position with chains, load it into a glass cage that looks like an English-style phone booth, chain that to a helicopter, and then fly the whole thing up to about 5,000 feet! Supposedly this is to recreate the elevation and conditions that the Yaytee would be used to in the Himalayas. Waterman, who was the one who was gung-ho about reviving the creature in the first place, now suddenly wonders if they have the right to, "even in the name of science." Cliff scoffs at this, and Waterman quickly drops his objections.

For some reason, the helicopter is crewed by a pilot, Waterman, Cliff, and Jane instead of, oh, I don't know--two other scientists or doctors? When they get up to the right altitude, they spray the Yaytee down with water to get the excess ice off of him. Then Waterman explains that the atmospheric conditions--the concentrations of ozone and ultraviolet rays--are perfect for what the creature would be used to, millions of years ago, before then asserting that they'll be pumping enriched oxygen (!) into the cage because, "That's the air we'll make him breathe!" As opposed to making him breathe chlorine gas, I suppose. Of course, since nobody else in the helicopter is an actual scientist, nobody asks what the point of waking the creature up thousands of feet into oxygen-thin air was if they're just going to pump oxygen to him.

Well, the Yaytee wakes up, naturally--and oh my God, this film's idea of a Yeti has to truly be seen to believed. First off, the Yaytee is played by Mimmo Craig and I mention the sit actor's name because unlike your average giant ape monster flick, the guy in the suit is not wearing a mask. So, imagine if Kenny Rogers decided to get himself some feathered hair and then started to turn into a werewolf. Even better is that Mimmo Craig's facial expressions range from "snarling" faces to "sitcom actor reacts to joke," with the occasional "what's my cue, again?" And most of his snarling faces are accompanied by a high-pitched stock dinosaur roar that sounds like it was derived from an elephant. For once they'd have been better off copying the hilarious method that Hanna-Barbera used for their Godzilla cartoon series and dub over Ted Cassidy going "Rar, grr, arrgh!" Hell, even "Iggly Ooogly Argh!" would sound less silly.

Oh, sorry, that's just a photo of me before I have my coffee.
So, what do you suppose happens when a 20-foot monster wakes up from a millennia-long coma, dangling several thousand feet in the air? Yep, the Yaytee throws a fit that nearly crashes the helicopter. Luckily, Jane flips a switch that supposedly pumps knockout gas into the cage, but really looks like they're spraying the actor with cocaine. (That would explain a lot) At first it doesn't work because somehow a window was left open in the cage (?!), but somehow the window is closed with a flip of a switch and the Yaytee goes to nose candy dreamland.

Somehow, despite the fact that the Yaytee almost crashed their helicopter, Jane is horrified to discover upon landing that Cliff has ordered his security team on the ground to carry rifles. "He's a human being," she objects. Yes, he's a hero; a real human being. (Oh man, somebody remake Drive with a Yeti in place of Ryan Gosling right now) Cliff is naturally unmoved by her argument, seeing as how actual human beings aren't 20 feet tall and covered in fur--and, oh yeah, this creature proved strong enough to nearly wreck their helicopter and could easily turn out to be wildly aggressive.

At any rate, Waterman sees nothing wrong with inviting the press to crowd around the cage as the Yaytee wakes up. "Prepare to meet an ancestor of ours," he declares. Um, how did you reach that conclusion, Professor? At any rate, naturally the Yaytee wakes up in a bad mood again. This time, though, there is the addition of Indio barking his fool head off at the Yaytee and the old standby--photographers using flashbulbs on the creature. The Yaytee easily tears out of his cage and...just wanders around, roaring. Apparently nobody thought that maybe they should spring for some miniatures for him to smash in his initial rampage.

Jane stops one goon from shooting the Yaytee, but Waterman is less successful when he tries. Not only is the Yaytee shot in the hand, but Waterman is left holding the rifle. Hilariously, his attempts to communicate "it wasn't me" in body language do not convince the Yaytee and the scientist just stands there as the Yaytee stomps towards him. Luckily, Cliff intervenes and the scientist does not find out why they call the snowman "abominable" after all.

The only real damage Yaytee (everyone in the movie calls him by species name, like he's a damn Pokemon, so I might as well, too) does is pick up a tree and toss it. However, he's interrupted in his rampage by Indio's barking, as Indio pulls the first of several Lassie moments by leading the beast to where Jane and Herbie lie, unconscious, after apparently being trampled by the panicked crowd. The two wake up in time to see Yaytee looming over them and...then things get weird.

As you might expect, Yaytee has fallen for Jane at first sight. He shows this by playing with his hair, like a stereotypical schoolgirl with a crush. He then scoops up Herbie and Jane in one prop hand and carries them off, with Indio following behind. Both Jane and Herbie are surprisingly cooperative with this, but then maybe they're just afraid of the creature getting angry if they struggle. waterman will later hypothesize that the kids' fur coats made them remind Yaytee of his lost mate and child, which I suppose is better than being just another monster who immediately wants to bang human women even if they're the size of his thumb.

Speaking of which, the most baffling sequence in the film occurs now--which is really saying something--when Jane loses her balance momentarily and puts her hand on Yaytee's chest to steady herself. Her hand brushes up against his nipple (!) and he looks down at her, waggling his eyebrows and smiling (!!), and then his nipple hardens and becomes erect! I told you I was not kidding about "yeti nipple play." And keep in mind this means someone was responsible for building a giant, hairy nipple that could be inflated. I wonder if they put that on their resume?

Naturally, Jane freaks out when she realizes what she's touching, pulling her hand back and acting like she just touched a giant slug. Everyone involved just pretends it never happened, but Yaytee seems maybe a little disappointed.

Waterman, Cliff, and the goon squad are following the trail of Yaytee (on foot, naturally) but somehow have lost him. I mean, he's only 20 feet tall and walks at a speed of about five miles an hour. Luckily, after Yaytee sets the kids down in a cave, Jane tells Indio to go fetch the professor or they might never track the beast down. Yaytee leaves the kids alone for a bit, and Jane tries to get a reluctant Herbie to leave. She implores the boy by reminding him, "Don’t you know cannibals are always nice to their victims before they eat them?!" Well, obviously, everyone knows that. However, their escape attempt is thwarted when Yaytee sneaks up on them. His offended expression is unlikely to leave any viewer able to maintain a straight face.

"...I was going to make espresso!"
Well, they especially can't leave now that Yaytee brought two fish--one small one for Jane and Herbie to share, and one the size of a large tuna. I have no idea where or how he caught that one. Jane and Herbie pretend to eat the fish, wile Yaytee happily eats his. Indio brings the search party, who couldn't tell that a creature that leaves footprints at least four feet long had turned away from the lake they were all staring at, to the cave just as...as...

Okay, so if you've seen King Kong you know there's a truly bizarre scene where Kong bathes Jessica Lange in a waterfall and dries her by blowing on her. Lange reacts as if having a huge, wild ape exhale forcefully on you is a wonderfully sensual (!) experience instead of foul-smelling and weird. As bizarre as that sequence is, its analogue here is even worse. Yaytee, having somehow chewed all the meat clean off his fish's skeleton, uses the skeleton to comb Jane's hair. Jane reacts as if this a tender, wonderful moment instead of how any woman I have ever met would react to having a dead fish covered in Yeti spit rubbed into her hair.

Yaytee is calm, however, when the search party approaches. Waterman explains to Jane that Yaytee thinks that she and Herbie are his mate and child. Cliff smugly jokes that she "might have some duties" if she spends the night. Well, yeah, tweaking his nipple like that might just maybe have given him the wrong idea. Still, I can't fault Jane for being disgusted that Cliff just joked about her having sex with a giant ape.

After spraying Yaytee's wounded hand with a thermos-sized bottle of some kind of bactine the search party just had for some reason--which Yaytee oddly seems unbothered by--Jane is easily persuaded to help them lead Yaytee back to civilization. Much like the "heroes" of Mighty Peking Man, and it will prove almost as disastrous an idea. At any rate, Jane talks to Yaytee much like Lt. Watson talked to Kong, "Boy...girl...dog...go," and this is somehow sufficient to get him back to where they want him.

Well, Hunnicut apparently wasted no time in slapping Yaytee all over his company's merchandise, because it's time for a montage! An ad for Hunnicut's gas stations literally invites you to, "put a Yeti in your tank!" We see grocery stores and department stores with crude images of Yaytee in their windows being swarmed. But most perplexing of all is the shot of several women exiting a store wearing t-shirts that have blue hand prints covering their breasts (!) and on the back say, "Kiss Me Yeti."

Sorry, ladies: Yaytee only likes to have his breasts played with.

Apparently, Waterman is not pleased by all this publicity. Especially since Hunnicut wants to have Yaytee airlifted to Toronto for a public viewing. The two argue over Skype as Hunnicut is receiving a straight razor shave. Waterman snaps, "That slave of yours should cut your throat." Hunnicut, oddly, reacts by shooting the barber a look that says, "I goddamn dare you to, pansy."

Hunnicut apparently wins out, because we next see Yaytee back in that phone booth cage, being flown to Toronto by first passing over Niagara Falls (!), which is such a good idea. Naturally, this makes it even harder to figure out where the film was taking place up to this point. There's no place in Newfoundland or anywhere in what could be correctly described as "Northern Canada" that I can see that would require a route that makes you pass Niagara before reaching Toronto.

Wait, I'm expecting a film that thinks defrosting a frozen specimen with flamethrowers is a good idea to bother doing even the barest amount of geographical research.

Meanwhile, as the funky disco remix of "Yeti Fortuna" plays, we see footage a Carnavale-style parade and celebration that is ostensibly in Yaytee's honor but is very clearly an actual celebration the filmmakers happened to record or find stock footage of. Not everyone n Toronto is happy to see Yaytee, as we cut to a shady meeting of Hunnicut's competitors voting on how to deal with the problem of how much business Yaytee is drawing away from them and giving to Hunnicut. They have a plan to deal with this, however, because they have a mole on the inside. And you'll never guess who the bastard is that intends to betray Hunnicut for--

What's that? What do you mean you already guessed it's Cliff?! Well, you're right. It's Cliff

So, you're probably thinking the plan is to bring Yaytee to a baseball stadium or other open area so people can gawk at him, right? You'd think, but no. The genius plan that Hunnicut settles on is to have Yaytee set down on the roof of a hotel in Toronto. Jane, Herbie, Hunnicut, and Cliff are already there, bizarrely super-imposed in front of the footage of the rest of the crowd--even though they're actually in the crowd footage a few shots later. Cliff is hitting on Jane, but she's having none of it.

Oh, and the plan turns out to be having Yaytee open the cage and step out onto the roof! Yes, nothing can go wrong here. Oh, wait, nobody bothered to tell the press not to use flash photography. Sure enough, Yaytee flies into a rage and everybody flees back down as he...wanders around the rooftop. He does at least smash through a really fake wall this time. Cliff has dragged Jane into the hotel, but she breaks free to go back to the roof to calm Yaytee down and is immediately carried along by the panicked crowd and crammed into an exterior elevator. It's unclear whether Cliff's hilariously half-hearted attempt to retrieve her from the crowd is meant to indicate his villainy or just bad acting.

Yaytee somehow finds the controls for the elevator on the roof and begins using it as a yo-yo, to the horror of the crowd inside it. Yaytee realizes Jane is in the elevator just as the cables break and it plunges to a sudden stop as the emergency brake catches it. The crowd manages to climb out to safety, but an escaping old man deliberately pushes Jane back into the elevator as he makes his escape. So, somehow, Jane ends up being left dangling by her hands when the elevator breaks loose and falls away. Yaytee immediately springs into action, by pulling a reverse King Kong and climbing down the side of the hotel.

Fun fact: the Yeti auditioned for the part of the love interest in Ninja III: The Domination, but was told he "wasn't hairy enough."
Hilariously, despite the fact that the window wells seem to offer him footholds as they are, Yaytee deliberately kicks every window in as he climbs down. This is much to the alarm of several occupants. Naturally, Jane slips just as Yaytee punches through a window and catches her in his palm--mere feet from the ground. Of course, given this is a movie and Spider-Man isn't involved, Jane is just knocked unconscious instead of killed.

Yaytee then goes on what can generously be called a "rampage." Basically, Yaytee walks around in front of bad bluescreen footage of Toronto, alternating between snarling and looking confused. At no point does he interact with anything directly because the filmmakers had the worst decision-making process when it came to when it was time to spring for miniatures. The most amazing thing is just how shocked the residents of Toronto seem by Yaytee's presence every time he rounds a corner--especially given his size ranges from 20 to 100 feet tall depending on how he's been integrated into the footage. Apparently Canadians have no peripheral vision and their fleeing crowds are too polite to continue screaming after the monster they're fleeing from is no longer visible.

Somebody eventually calls the police, although the fact that the cop cars are all bright yellow with two "cherry tops" on their roofs makes it look like the production hired taxi cabs by mistake. Hilariously, a quick Google search confirms that Toronto cop cars actually looked like this in the 1970s. A shame, that, because it's one less bit of idiocy I can lay at the film's feet--not that I really need more.

The cops are bizarrely far away, so Jane has time to wake up and realize that they need to get Yaytee out of sight. Somehow this is managed, because next thing we know it's night and Jane is slipping out of an alley by herself to slip into a payphone to call her grandfather. Hunnicut is delighted to hear from her but naturally wants to know where Yaytee is. Jane assures him that Yaytee is safe for the moment, but the cops are sure to find them sooner or later. I'd bet on sooner, given we next see that, rather than hiding in that alley, Yaytee is standing dumbly in front of a supermarket. Yeah, he'll sure escape notice there!

Hunnicut directs her to take Yaytee to a nearby auto parts warehouse, since it belongs to a company Hunnicut used to represent. Unfortunately, Hunnicut orders Cliff to accompany Waterman to the warehouse so we know something is going to go awry. You'll also note that we don't see how Jane got Yaytee into the warehouse, but hilariously he's already laid out inside the building when Waterman, Herbie, Indio, Cliff, and two armed goons arrive. To Jane's great alarm, Yaytee is nearly comatose (!), but luckily Waterman has brought a oxygen tank (!!) in anticipation of just this eventuality.

Okay, so presuming Yaytee's present state is because of tooling around Toronto instead of an area at his native altitude--how is pumping more oxygen into his system going to help?! Well, that's what Waterman does, anyway. Cliff takes his leave, and Jane and Herbie also briefly depart, but clearly Cliff say his opportunity and passed a plan on to his subordinates. For the minute that Waterman falls asleep, the two goons replace the mouthpiece on the nearby phone (?) and then somehow sabotage the oxygen tanks so that all the air leaks out. Though, given the size of Yaytee compared to the tanks, you'd think this would happen all on its own.

Waterman wakes up as Jane and Herbie return, discovers the tank is empty, and urgently sends them to get more oxygen before Yaytee asphyxiates. From, uh, where are they supposed to get this oxygen, exactly? Hilariously, Jane and Herbie are barely out of sight when the two goons grab Waterman and bash his skull in by banging his head against some patently empty boxes. Naturally, this is where the film has decided to rip off The Creature Walks Among Us, because their plan is to frame the Yeti! Indeed, when Herbie and Jane return the two goons are lying on the ground and pretend to regain consciousness and claim Yaytee lashed out and killed Waterman.

Now, I'm not a detective, but I don't think you need to be Sherlock Holmes to see holes in two healthy men claiming that the dead guy they were found next to was beaten to death by a third guy who is immobile and hooked up to an oxygen tank. Especially since they didn't even bother to try and dislodge the oxygen tubes from Yaytee's face!

Unfortunately for the conspirators, Yaytee woke up just enough to see them killing Waterman but not enough to stop them. So when the new oxygen feed somehow revives him (why the first didn't is beyond me), Yaytee roars to his feet--somehow still fitting in the building he's at least as tall as--and begins pelting the goons with empty boxes. The goons flee into a nearby yard full of heavy construction equipment, which they hide behind in a way that suggests a 20-foot tall could somehow sneak up on them.

So, naturally, Yaytee does just that. The first goon gets the movie's most memorable death. Yaytee prepares to crush the dastardly villain with one foot, but suddenly lifts his foot up. The goon seems relieved until the foot suddenly grabs the man by the throat with its toes and strangles him. To top it off, Yaytee seems to actually snap his neck!

"You call this a pedicure?! I'll fix you!"
The second goon hides in another warehouse, but this warehouse has a huge window in it. Sure enough, Yaytee does his thing and smashes the window--which somehow kills the goon. I don't know how, given broken glass doesn't appear to be dangerous in this film's universe.

The cops have arrived at the warehouse to investigate Waterman's death, but Jane's insistence that Yaytee is innocent is somewhat undercut by the report that comes in that Yaytee definitely just murdered two other people. So now the orders are to shoot Yaytee on sight. Jane really shouldn't worry, since apparently the Toronto police can't actually see the Yeti. We briefly see that Hunnicut is informed of Waterman's death and, to the film;s credit, the one-note character actually mourns for his friend.

Of course, Jane has already come to the conclusion that Cliff was somehow responsible for Waterman's death. She has no proof, of course, so Cliff brushes her off. He's still a villain, though, so naturally he goes to sit in his nearby car to talk with his other goons about how great that murder they planned has paid off and maybe they ought to bump off Jane, too. Herbie and Indio are nearby, however, so Herbie overhears--and Indio helpfully barks and alerts Cliff to their presence. Way to go, Lassie. Cliff and goons decide that the boy who can't talk knows too much and give chase.

They catch Herbie in the warehouse just as he reaches Jane. Indio bites the goon holding Herbie and is mortally stabbed for his troubles. The movie then takes an even darker turn as Cliff slaps Jane around, and appears to be about to rape her before settling on just strangling her while Herbie watches helplessly.

The movie's not that dark, however, because Yaytee has somehow found his way back to the warehouse district unnoticed by all the cops and does a Kool-Aid Man through the warehouse wall. Given that this is not a Hollywood superhero movie from the past ten years, I'm going to assume the fact that the hole he leaves behind is cross-shaped is a coincidence.

Cliff and the goons flee, taking Herbie as a hostage, while Jane cries over the dying Indio. Even Yaytee takes time to mournfully stroke the dog's fur, before pulling a rage face and smashing through another wall of the warehouse to pursue the kidnappers. This causes something to explode (!) by Yaytee's feet, but he ignores it.

We next cut to daytime, as Cliff's car and two other cars of goons that he meets up with along the way, speed through winding roads somewhere in the countryside. In the city, several police cars apparently give chase, despite not being anywhere near the same area. Luckily, Yaytee has somehow gotten ahead of the speeding cars. He dispatches one car by chucking a tree at it--and throwing the tree makes his upper torso turn completely transparent--and the other car is taken out with a boulder after they helpfully back up so Yaytee can reach them easier. Luckily, Yaytee somehow knew that neither of the cars he just blew up had Herbie inside it.

Cliff's car turns off into a construction site in the middle of nowhere, as the pursuing police cars suddenly appear on the same mountain road. Cliff's surviving goons are apparently where Disney got the idea to murder lemmings for a "documentary," because they flee from the approaching Yaytee and manage to fling themselves off a nearby ledge to their deaths. Even Yaytee looks confused by this development.

The cop cars catch up to Jane, who has somehow managed to nearly reach the construction site on foot, and one car picks her up. Okay, did Cliff and his goons drive in a fucking circle for several hours? Cliff tries to shoot Yaytee with a grenade rifle, which Herbie does nothing to stop, even though he's not restrained and could clearly reach Cliff because the turncoat had to crawl into the front seat to fire. Amazingly, Cliff misses by several yards. Look, I realize the guy isn't Lee Van Cleef, but that's an astounding failure. Again, even Yaytee seems amazed by his foes' incompetence.

Yaytee picks up a rather woeful miniature of the car, forcing Cliff to do a Shatner roll to escape. Yaytee rescues Herbie from the car just as the police pull up. Hilariously, the police cars are all full to capacity with armed cops. Didn't they have vans for that? Jane has to stop one officer from shooting Yaytee--which you'd think wouldn't be necessary since the creature is obviously holding a young boy! Yaytee drops the car in surprise after the shot goes wide, but rather than flying into a rage he sets Herbie down--just in time for Cliff to go all Carnosaur and try to attack the beast by backing into it with a truck that has a crane on the back.

Somehow being stuck in the gut with the crane only annoys Yaytee instead of impaling him or even drawing blood, and he lifts the ruck up by the crane so Cliff is forced to jump out. Hilariously, Yaytee then flips over a model of the truck that explodes in flames before it hits the ground. Naturally, Cliff still hasn't been dealt with so, in full view of a dozen armed cops, Yaytee stomps him to death. It's Cliff's own fault, really. Rather than crawl towards the cops that are scant feet from him, he rolls to his side over and over until he's in a mud puddle and yards away from help.

Mind you, the cops could still have ignored Jane's initial objections and pumped Yaytee full of lead--especially now that he's not near Herbie--but I guess they knew Cliff was guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and decided it was cheaper than a trial and gives them an excuse to kill a giant ape man.

Bizarrely, Hunnicut arrives by helicopter at this point and happily reunites with Herbie. The cops prepare to shoot Yaytee, but Jane stops them again. She turns to Yaytee and implores him to "go back to the wilderness." Hilariously, she ends her plea to the Yeti with, "Please. Go away." Somehow, after looking briefly hurt, Yaytee gets the hint and nods at Jane. The police captain, humbled, orders his men to lower their guns and just watch as the 20-foot ape man that they just witnessed killing a man, and that they ought to know by now is responsible for the deaths of around ten others even if they don't still think he killed Waterman, turns and wanders back into the countryside.

Herbie cries on Jane's shoulder until suddenly he hears--

You're not going to believe this. Herbie hears Indio barking. Yes, Indio, whom we last saw lying in a pool of his own blood, has somehow made it all the way over here on foot. And, indeed, Indio is completely unharmed, without so much as a limp. Given that dog first appears at the crest of a hill with the sun behind him, I immediately quipped to the group I was watching this with: "I return to you now, as Lassie the White."

Herbie and Indio have a slow-motion reunion, and the movie closes with a tearful Yaytee standing in front of crumbling iceberg footage. The End, as The Yetians (or maybe not?) close us out with that damn theme song.

Available on vinyl!
It's hard to really explain Yeti: Giant of the 20th Century to someone who hasn't seen it. It's far from the worst of the crop of rip-offs that sprung up to get in on that sweet "Everybody'a cry when Kong'a die" money, but when the nicest thing you can say about a movie is, "It's better than A*P*E," you've set the bar so low that it's fallen through the Earth's crust. It's hard to say if it's even the most inexplicable of those rip-offs because, again: A*P*E.

However, the film is definitely bizarre. For starters, the Yeti itself. I can only assume the filmmakers decided that creating a mask that was as expressive as the one Rick Baker created was impossible. Their attempt to fix this by just having the suit actor's face be uncovered, however, manages to be even sillier. After all, you'd have to be as callous as the film's "hero" to not find Mighty Peking Man a sympathetic character even with his suit's woefully inadequate mask. This film's Yeti, meanwhile, is impossible to empathize with because he's fucking ridiculous. Trying to emote believably as a speechless Yeti would probably be a challenge for Olivier, but Mimmo Craig is hilariously not up to the task. If you an get through this movie without cackling at Craig's facial expressions at least once, you are made of sterner stuff than I.

And that's before you find out that the original Italian version features a bit during the sequence where the Yeti is dying that sees either the Yeti or Jane having a fantasy of the two of them dancing romantically. I think it's supposed to be the Yeti having this fantasy, but I'm honestly not sure. While it would have made the Yeti even harder to take seriously, I am kind of amused that it was considered too goofy for international audiences, even when compared to the rest of the film.

The truly amusing thing is that the idea to have the Yeti actor's face uncovered must have been conceived early on because while we wisely never see the full-size Yeti prop from the front in the film itself, promo shots reveal it has a human face, too.

A very confused face, at that.
The rest of the cast doesn't fare much better than the Yeti, to be fair, but Mimmo Craig's performance is so ridiculous as to overshadow everyone else's awfulness. Their goofy performances are just part of why this is a silly, silly film but I'll be damned if it doesn't feel completely serious all the way through. Hilarious as it may be, I cannot find any indication that the movie is in on the joke. Just look at its clear attempts to be funny, which are naturally not funny at all.

All in all, it's an absolutely strange film. If you love B-Movies and have a fondness for giant monsters, you definitely need to watch this one. Hell, inflict it on someone who isn't a hardened B-Movie veteran and cackle with glee at their horrified incomprehension.

Hell, if my review hasn't sold you, then maybe this music video for "Yeti" by The Yetians will convince you.