Friday, October 21, 2016

HubrisWeen 2016, Day 16: Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (2016)

Before we begin, I feel it is necessary to acknowledge one thing: "mashups" have been a thing for a lot longer than many of us would like to believe. After all, artists and fans have been taking popular characters and stories and awkwardly placing them together since we've had stories. Sometimes to insert a character into a totally different setting, sometimes to mock something, and sometimes to add titillation.

After all, aren't most porn parodies essentially Pride & Prejudice & Penises?

However, for some reason, mashups seem like a fairly recent and annoying trend probably because of one specific novel that started a trend that was briefly inescapable. In 2009, Seth Grahame-Smith published a mashup novel, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. The novel was almost exactly what it says on the tin: Grahame-Smith had taken almost the entire text of Jane Austen's novel and then slightly altered it to insert zombies, martial arts, and swordplay.

When it first came out, I thought the blasted thing was brilliant. I bought it right away, enjoying the cover art, delighting in the illustrations within its pages--and then I had to go and ruin it by reading it. It is true that Jane Austen is a far better author than she is often given credit for, since she was a woman and her novels involve subjects more relevant to women than the average man. However, it says quite a lot that the best parts of the book were overwhelmingly Austen's original text.

For one thing, Grahame-Smith managed to use a phrase along the lines of "schooled in the Oriental Arts" about 15 times, with the exact same wording unvaried in each repetition. For another, the idea simply wasn't as clever as it initially seemed. This was a book that was meant to sit on a shelf as decoration.

And if you ask me, the book had already been bested in the Jane Austen mashup department five years earlier by Bride & Prejudice.

Unfortunately, the book ushered in a trend of literary and horror mashups that were distinguishable mainly by the fact that their titles were clearly the best part, such as Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters and Android Karenina. I only read a few chapters of the former before I realized I no longer had any interest in the joke--and that was before the utterly inexplicable version of War of the Worlds with zombies was announced. What even is the point in that?

Mercifully, the trend petered itself out relatively quickly, sparing us from any of the announced film versions after Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Although I confess myself a bit sad that the Elton John-produced film Pride & Predator did not come to fruition.

Yet, in a fittingly zombie-like manner, it was confirmed in 2014 that the film adaptation of the mashup that started it all was not so dead after all. It was mystifying that anyone would think the demand was still there at that far remove, and yet it would be almost two more years before the actual film would lurch into cinemas, searching hungrily for an audience it was too slow to catch. Unsurprisingly, it bombed pretty hard.

However, box office failures aren't always because a film isn't good. Like most of us, I have found myself a champion of many a box office failure in my life--and, at any rate, curiosity got the better of me.

Some things should stay dead, unfortunately. And as soon as I saw the Screen Gems logo at the start of this film, I knew it was one such monstrosity.

Credit where credit is due, the film opens with the novel's amusing yet obvious rephrasing of Austen's famous opening, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains," but apparently realized that that line made almost no sense in the actual novel. After all, the zombies there were of the Romero variety and not like the Return of the Living Dead's brain-munching, intelligent zombies. So, the movie changes them to be the latter so that the line is not merely an easy joke.

We learn this when we see Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy (Sam Riley) arrive at an aristocratic estate as the host family and their guests are playing at cards. Did I mention that Mr. Darcy will spend almost the entire film wearing a black pleather duster? Because my girlfriend would like me to mention it, as she found it incredibly vexing.

Any second he'll be putting on a trilby and telling you to take the Red Pill.
After a weirdly homoerotic bit where Darcy is first examined by a creepy older priest to make sure h has not been bitten, the young lad makes his way into the parlor for his business. Darcy believes that one of the nobles on the estate may have been bitten by a zombie, and that the transformation can take a while to show itself--and that the transformation quickens after a zombie feeds on brains. Darcy has a trick for finding zombies, however--a small jar of carrion flies that he releases. They settle on one man and Darcy beheads him before he can attack anyone else.

However, Darcy plainly ignores the obvious signs that the hostess is lying about anyone having been in close enough contact with the man to also be bitten, and declares his business concluded and departs. So he's not around when the hostess's daughter finds that the dead man's niece has begun feeding on the servants...

Would you believe this shot involves a zombie snot bubble popping? I wish I was joking.
The opening credits are admittedly delightful as they use a series of drawn cut-outs illuminated by candlelight (though all obviously digital) and narration by Mr Bennet (Charles Dance!) to tell the story of how, in the 18th Century, settlers from the Colonies brought back a strange plague to England. The French were initially blamed, but some said the Four Horsemen had brought the scourge and even claimed to have seen them in the country. The zombie plague had devastated England by the time London was walled off and a canal was created to serve as a huge moat around the countryside where many rich families live, with "The In-Between" being apparently the rest of England. (Yes, I realize that makes no sense, but you should direct your ire at the filmmakers) Several successful zombie incursions led to the bridges on the canal being reduced to one, and rich families sending their children to China and Japan to learn the Eastern methods of combat.

Honestly, you probably know the damn story of Pride & Prejudice from here. I could leave it as, "It's that, but there's zombies and everything is stupid," but that doesn't make for very good reading. So I won't do that. But I could.

No, instead, I'm going to do this right--and Cliff Notes this bastard.

Netherfield Park has a new tenant by the name of Charles Bingley (Douglas Booth) and Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips) has it in her mind to marry one of her five daughters to him, whether Mr. Bennet likes it or not. Her daughters are a varied bunch, with lovely and proper Jane (Bella Heathcote); proud and accomplished fighter Elizabeth (Lily James); studious Mary (Millie Brady); and the rambunctious and flirty Kitty (Suki Waterhouse) and Lydia (Ellie Bamber).

Mrs. Bennet is in luck, because Bingley and his family are throwing a ball at Netherfield. And we get a montage of the Bennet daughters getting dressed up, complete with loving shots of them slipping daggers into garter holsters.

Look, we all know this scene was someone's very specific fetish.
At the ball the Bennet family meets Bingley and his sister Caroline (Emma Greenwell). They also meet his close friend, Mr. Darcy. Bingley and Jane are smitten with each other instantly, but Darcy is rude and aloof. When Bingley tries to draw Darcy's attention to Elizabeth, Darcy says that she is tolerable but not attractive enough to tempt him--and Elizabeth overhears this. However, unlike every version of this story ever, Lizzy does not react with a mix of amusement, anger, and annoyance. Oh no, this version of Lizzy Bennet runs outside, crying her eyes out because a boy said a mean thing about her.

I'm not saying that strong female characters can't cry, mind you. Hell, even Lizzy cries in the proper context. However, having her react this way to Darcy being an ass is dead wrong and I never realized how much that could bother me.

At any rate, this serves to put Lizzy outside the estate when the hostess from the opening shows up, clearly a zombie. However, the hostess tries to tell Lizzy something--before Darcy appears and blows the zombie's head off. Lizzy is angry that Darcy intervened since she believes that the zombie was not a threat and she wanted to hear what she had to say. Never mind all that, however, because now zombies are descending upon the party.

Good thing the Bennet girls were trained in the ways of the Shaolin in China--even though we'll later learn Japan is usually the preferred country.

See, this is why people dressed in Victorian garb aren't allowed into the Victorian Gardens.
Ugh, this sequence is seriously terrible, though. The fight choreography is fine, but the sisters seem to kill the zombies by just...stabbing them. Despite it having been clearly shown by this point that removing or attacking the head is the only sure way to kill a zombie, most of this sequence has the zombies being vanquished with no more difficulty than a living foe would be. I realize that the PG-13 rating is somewhat limiting, but come on.

At any rate, Darcy blames himself for the siege--as he should--though Bingley assures him it's not his fault. Darcy is also already smitten with Lizzy at this point, and Lizzy's sisters tease her about Darcy while they beat each other up to practice their martial arts. Lizzy swears to never get married because her husband would surely expect her to give up her sword.

We then jump rather suddenly to the part of the story where Mrs. Bennet sends Jane by herself on a horse to visit Netherfield ahead of a rainstorm so she will stranded there and forced to get to know Mr. Bingley. Except in this version of the story she is literally sending her daughter into mortal peril far worse than getting sick from the rain.

Sure enough, Jane is thrown from her horse and set upon by a zombie. Her flintlock backfires, wounding her hand, and she is forced to kill the zombie with physical blows. The rain has begun to fall and Jane is already weakened from the bullet wound when a zombie woman and her zombie baby advance upon her...

Darcy has already decided that Jane has been infected when Lizzy arrives. She insists that her sister is merely suffering from her non-zombie wound and catching cold, and artfully kills all of Darcy's carrion flies. The physician agrees with Lizzy, but naturally Lizzy must now stay until her sister is well. While most of the guests play cards, Lizzy advises she prefers to read. Caroline mocks Lizzy by speaking to her in Japanese, while Lizzy responds to Darcy condescendingly translating the French title of "The Art of War" to her, by telling him in Chinese that he's never read the book if he's never read it in the original dialect.

Lizzy is very, very obviously dubbed here. Sadly, I don't think it was a joke.

Eventually, Jane recovers after bonding with Bingley and returns home, where the Bennets are forced to play host to the male relative of Mr. Bennet who will inherit the estate upon his death, the odious Parson Collins (Matt Smith!). Now, I have watched less than five episodes of Doctor Who in my entire life and none of them involved Matt Smith, but in even good versions of this story the Collins character tends to be the best part. Thankfully, that proves true even in this dreck, for Matt Smith almost makes this whole sorry affair watchable every time he's on screen.

Dalek. Uh, Cyber...TARDIS? River...Phoenix? Look, I don't know any Doctor Who references!
As per usual, Collins has arrived not only to inspect the estate and brag about his patronage of the grand warrior noblewoman, Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Lena Headey!), but to wed one of the Bennet daughters. He tries to select Jane, only for Mrs. Bennet to advise him that Jane is basically spoken for but Lizzy is available.

Collins attempts to ingratiate himself to Lizzy, following on her heels as she, Jane, and Lydia go into town on foot. On the way they encounter a trap laid by a zombie in an overturned carriage, which shocks Collins since he did not think zombies capable of such a thing. Lizzy and Lydia's muskets make short work of the zombie, however, so it's a moot point. In town, the group meets one George Wickham (Jack Huston), a redcoat in the English army fighting the good fight against the hordes. Lizzy finds him charming, and her interest in him increases when Bingley and Darcy meet the group...and she sees Darcy recoil at Wickham's presence and quickly ride on.

At another ball at Netherfield--which requires the Bennet carriage to pass a field of zombie orphans, which they just ignore--Collins proceeds to make an ass of himself while trying to dance with Lizzy. Darcy spares her from that for a moment, dancing with her until Wickham cuts in. After dancing a while and Wickham telling Lizzy how Darcy cheated him of his livelihood after the death of Darcy's father, Lizzy goes to sit with her mother. Her mother then loudly brags about her plans to marry all her daughters off to rich husbands--which Darcy overhears. Of course, when Lizzy goes to find her father, she runs into Mr. Bingley--and then a zombie attacks one of Bingley's servants. Coming to the servant's aid, Bingley manages to get himself knocked out as the zombie orphans swarm the kitchen.

Darcy comes to Lizzy's aid after one of the zombies tries to tell her something vague again. After Darcy waylays the zombies, he interprets Bingley's injuries as a bite and almost kills him before Lizzy intervenes. She chides Darcy that he may be a great warrior, but he's an awful friend.

Somehow, it comes as a shock that the Bingleys have decided to pack up and return to London after the second time zombies invaded a ball they'd thrown. Though the shock is mostly as a result of the fact that the letter the Bennets receive from the Bingleys implies that Mr. Bingley may be about to be betrothed to Darcy's younger sister instead.

So Lizzy is in an exceptionally poor mood when Collins decides to propose and she refuses him--and then the film manages to hilariously botch the scene where her mother says she will not speak to her again if she does not marry Collins, and her father says he will not speak to her again if she does. Not only is it rushed, but Lizzy oddly decides to run off into the woods by herself in a fit of despair that I do not have any idea what the source is supposed to be.

She finds herself wandering into a graveyard, where she encounters the strange sight of four men dressed all in black with tall top-hats. She can't see their faces, and then she is startled by Wickham, who didn't see the men but writes them off as pallbearers anyway/ He has something to show Lizzy, he claims, and takes her to The In-Between, to an old church called St. Lazarus. Outside the decrepit church are pens full of pigs, but inside a service is taking place. Lizzy is annoyed by the giggling of two girls in the pew ahead of her, but when she shushes them they whirl on her--

Oh God, spare me another Pokemon Go thinkpiece.
Yep, it's a church of zombies. Wickham was well aware of this, however, having discovered them years ago. The zombies of St. Lazarus feed their cravings on pig's brains as a form of communion, and this keeps them from giving in to their zombie instincts. Wickham believes this is the key to winning the war against the undead--supporting the more sentient of the zombies and coexisting with them. Wickham argues that the Crown is all but broke from keeping this fight up and there is no way to beat the zombies that multiply faster than the living, but he needs someone in power to actually listen to him.

Well, luckily Lizzy's friend, Charlotte Lucas (Aisling Loftus), whom we have barely seen at all, has decided to marry Collins since at 25 she won't get many better prospects. Collins intends to take Charlotte to get Lady Catherine's blessing and he invites Lizzy along. Lizzy sees this as a perfect opportunity to bring Wickham along to pitch his plan for dealing with the zombie scourge.

Unfortunately, Lady Catherine's nephew is also in attendance--one Mr. Darcy. When Wickham tries to sell the idea to the group, describing them as "zombie aristocrats", it doesn't go well. Darcy and Lady Catherine both see it as a combination of nonsense and a money-making scheme. Collins brings up the idea of the Anti-Christ, which Wickham incorporates as a last-ditch effort--surely if they appeal to the zombies now, before they find their Anti-Christ, they can bring them under control. It still fails.

I didn't mention that Lena Headey was the other best part of this movie, because duh.
Lizzy tries to comfort Wickham later, but he turns cruel. He spits that the aristocrats will all be killed by the threat that they ignore, which offends Lizzy even before he tries to convince her to elope with him. When she refuses, he tells her that Darcy deliberately sabotaged Jane's engagement to Bingley. Lizzy understandably wants to know how the fuck Wickham knows that, but he just says that "men talk," before he disappears into the night.

At the house of Collins and Charlotte, I think, Darcy finds Lizzy and makes his arrogant proposal to her. Of course, she also refuses him for ruining Jane's happiness and then she tries to kill him as he attempts to explain himself. Rather unnecessarily, they both slash each other's clothes at one point in a "sexy" manner. Eventually, Darcy takes his leave after being stabbed.

Later, Darcy sends a letter apologizing for misjudging Jane's affections. He also explains that he suspects Wickham engineered his father's zombie infection, forcing Darcy to kill his father, and then Wickham squandered the money he was provided. He also tried to elope with Darcy's sister, but Darcy managed to stop that just in time. Lucky that Lizzy got this note when she did, because Lydia has just run off with Wickham, eloping to St. Lazarus.

Lizzy is gearing up to go find Wickham when Lady Catherine arrives with her hulking manservant, Wilhelm. She is there to demand that Lizzy refuse Darcy's proposal of marriage, and she will fight her to the death to ensure that. Lizzy refuses to fight Lady Catherine, the honor of England, so Lady Catherine has her fight Wilhelm instead. After a few close calls, Lizzy manages to knock bricks down onto Wilhelm's head.

Any hope this movie had of winning me over was lost when Wilhelm did not let out the Wilhelm Scream as he died.

Bizarrely, Lady Catherine then offers to help the Bennets to retrieve Lydia by offering her carriage. Of course, it comes at the worst time because London has somehow been overrun by zombies and is on fire. At the front, Bingley manages to almost blow himself up when he throws a bomb at a zombie and it grabs his fey scarf. Jane appears and rescues him, however. And then Lizzy rescues Darcy from a zombie horde.

When she tells him about Wickham and St. Lazarus, Darcy bizarrely decides to lie and say it was razed and her sister couldn't have survived. However, Darcy actually has made a plan with Bingley--at 5AM the only bridge between London and the...part that isn't London or The In-Between will be dynamited. Darcy synchs his watch with Bingley and sets off over the bridge to St. Lazarus. Of course, Lizzy isn't a moron and when she sees Bingley looking the wrong way from the battle she realizes something is up and Bingley gives up the jig.

Darcy has headed to St. Lazarus with a bloody sack, and out front he sees four men in black wearing top hats and masks. He sneaks in to the basement and finds Lydia chained up in a cage--and also what is clearly a battle map for the attack on London on the cage wall.

Yep, Wickham is the zombies' leader now. Naturally this is also a trap, as Wickham appears and trains a pistol on Darcy. However, Darcy fools Wickham into wasting his shot just as the zombies in the church above go wild. See, that sack was full of the brains of dead soldiers because Darcy knew the reformed zombies would not be able to resist and would turn savage. Wickham, outside the cage, is swarmed, and Darcy's horse turned out to be conveniently chained to the one window they need to escape and has pulled the bars free so Darcy and Lydia can escape.

Unfortunately, Darcy has also made everything that much worse because he's created a much larger zombie horde--and erased the wills of the sentient zombies, but the movie won't bother to even acknowledge that moral quandary. He therefore sends Lydia ahead on his horse to stay and hold off the zombies. Except it's not the zombies who confront him now, but Wickham, who no worse the wear after all. During the sword fight where the two men are plainly using rubber swords, Darcy manages to impale his foe through the heart...but it doesn't take.

Wickham reveals the zombie bite on his chest. He's been a zombie for years, you see, and he's become their Anti-Christ and also raised the Four Horseman. And now, he's going to kill Darcy--only Lizzy shows up at that moment on her horse, having passed Lydia and surmised that Darcy needed saving. She chops Wickham's sword arm off and sweeps Darcy up on her horse. It's a ticking clock as they ride through the zombie horde that seems oddly uninterested in attacking them. And then they hit the bridge and I begin to curse this movie with my every breath as their horse races ahead of the exploding bridge.

Is that the explosion sound effects or the blood vessels in my brain popping all at once?
It's almost disappointing that there's no dramatic leap over a gap in the bridge. Rather, Lizzy comes to on the ruined bridge with no sign of the horse, and finds an unconscious Darcy that seems dead. She cradles him in her arms and confesses her love to him as the camera pulls away from above, spinning as it goes.

Some time later, at Lady Catherine's, the Bennet girls clean their guns and then Bingley appears and proposes to Jane. Then Darcy appears, Lady Catherine chiding him for being unconscious so long they feared him dead or undead. He then tells Lizzy in private that he heard her confess her love to him on the bridge and--I suddenly realize there is another trope that I loathe, and it's that.

Anyway, the expected double wedding takes place--where Darcy is still wearing the pleather duster! Collins is officiating and a slip of the tongue implies he wants to kiss Darcy. Ho ho, comedy! At any rate the movie mercifully ends now as they happily walk away from the ceremony...

...oh, wait, except it's not because the Marvel movies exist and everything needs a post credits sequel tease. After the cast credits end, we are "treated" to the scene continuing, only for our romantic heroes to look upon the horizon with horror as a horde of zombies charges at them. And at the head of the horde are the Four Horsemen and Wickham, who now has some kind of weapon in place of his severed hand. The End, finally.

"Braaaaiii-- Oh Shit, I'm in this movie?! I think I'll just stay under the ground, thanks."
Some movies deserve to fail.

Now, don't get me wrong. I absolutely feel for the people on the lower end of the studio spectrum who suffer when a movie like this bombs. However, I can't feel bad for the studio executives who still pushed through this movie roughly seven years after anyone could still be expected to give a shit. And I don't feel bad for the horde of screenwriters, the director, or my new nemesis--the cinematographer.

Early in the movie we are introduced to "zombie vision," which is the expected fucked up POV cam. In this case it's Vaseline-tinged and slightly unfocused. Except, for no rhyme or reason, other scenes have Vaseline-smeared lenses when nothing zombie-related is happening! It's completely inconsistent and distracting.

The acting is nothing to write home about, either, with the obvious exceptions of Matt Smith and Lena Headey, with Charles Dance being an old pro as well yet oddly muted as the eccentric Mr. Bennet. Our leads are pretty unremarkable, with Lily James being tough to distinguish from any of her sisters and Sam Riley being memorable largely because he has a croaky voice that reminds me of John Hurt. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure they're fine actors in other movies and were poorly served by the film, but even so.

What truly astounds me is that the book was not very good at all, and this film found a way to make it far worse. Somewhere along the line the story was clearly torn apart and stitched back together all wrong, with even less of the original Austen work utilized and a whole new story line that largely ditches the book's, but fails to replace it with something good.

I mean, this is a zombie movie where the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are actual characters and that comes to absolutely nothing. And somehow making Wickham a zombie double agent manages to be the boring choice.

And of course, the PG-13 rating means that, even though that rating has become distressingly lax on graphic violence in recent years, the zombies can't be as gory as they need to be. The fights aren't anything special, either, since despite all the talk of Shaolin training nobody took the obvious route of hiring a Hong Kong fight choreographer. In fact, midway through I bemoaned that this film would have been so much better as a low-budget Hong Kong action-horror-comedy. It might still have been a bad movie, but it would have had the energy and humor that most of this film sorely lacked.

In the end this film as lifeless and malformed as the zombies that inhabit it, and in possession of even fewer brains.

You probably thought I was kidding earlier when I recommended Bride & Prejudice instead. I wasn't.

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

HubrisWeen 2016, Day 15: Outlander (2008)

Beowulf is one of those ancient stories that has been told and retold for hundreds of years, and like most such stories it has seen its fair share of re-interpretations, revisionist takes, and just plain rip-offs. To give a rough idea of just how many it has encountered, "Beowulf retold as a science fiction story" wasn't even a new idea when Outlander did it in 2008.

That being said, there is nothing inherently wrong with a well-worn tale, and I am always up to give a new Beowulf retelling a chance, even if it sometimes means getting burned.

And so it was that I came across this film when browsing the shelves of a closing Blockbuster (ask your parents, kids) maybe a year or two after its initial release and happily bought it sight unseen. Oh, I had heard of the film, but given that its theatrical release was of the "blink and you'll miss it" variety, I was going to have to wait for a video release.

We open in ancient Norway, which seems like an odd place for a spaceship to suddenly plunge out of the sky and crash into a lake. We get the sense that this crash was not simply due to equipment failure when we see one of its human occupants dragging the inert form of another to shore, and the limp man has a deep gash in his chest that tore right through his spacesuit. the first man, we'll later learn is named Kainan (Jim Caviezel), but you shouldn't worry about his friend's name because he quickly expires.

Kainan recovers a container that houses some sort of distress beacon, which he activates, as well as a computer. The computer informs him he is on Earth and then helpfully prepares a program that will beam the local language into his brain via his eye. It's an uncomfortable process and I was immediately enamored of the movie when his first word in "Norse" is, "Fuck!"

Kainan goes looking for either human settlements or evidence of whatever caused his crash. Well, he quickly finds both when he happens upon a village that has clearly been attacked and razed, but with no sign of any of the villagers. Unfortunately, as he continues on into the woods, he is ambushed by a warrior on horseback and quickly loses his advanced raygun in the scuffle. He holds his own for a bit but is quickly captured and taken to the hall of King Rothgar (John Hurt!). As a side note, it pains me deeply that the film misspells "Hrothgar" for no apparent reason.

At the hall, the king's daughter, Freya (Sophia Myles) is practicing her swordplay when her father interrupts to try once more talking her into marrying Wulfric, while she objects she will do no such thing. The two debate their stances on the argument via a bit of dueling. He feels she could reign in Wulfric's temper and make him a better king, while she objects that he shouldn't choose Wulfric as his replacement. Neither quite gains the upper hand, as Wulfric (Jack Huston) enters to announce that his scouting party found one of the villages belonging to a rival tribe, led by a man named Gunnar, destroyed with all the villagers missing. Rothgar is dismayed at that, since Gunnar is sure to blame them since Wulfric has long held a grudge against Gunnar for killing his father. However, the news that they captured a prisoner near the village is some comfort.

And then Wulfric comments that Freya will make a great queen, but no queen of his will play at swords. Boo, hiss--except, well, the movie oddly seems to take Wulfric's view. Mind you, I'm sure Freya's "warrior princess" outfit in this scene would have been utterly ridiculous if she kept it up the entire time, but after this sequence she dresses in far more typical "maiden" attire and spends most of her time serving the men. I will give the film that she'll prove herself a capable warrior later on, but that won't happen until the climax. It's just a bit off-putting to introduce her as a warrior woman and then immediately reduce her to little more than "potential love interest" and "glorified tavern wench" immediately afterward.

This is the only time you'll see Freya dressed like this, folks.
Well, Wulfric naturally takes much delight in seeing to it that Kainan is roughly interrogated. Kainan tries to tell them that he had nothing to do with the attack on the village and is merely a hunter. When asked what he was hunting for, Kainan points to a carved wooden dragon on the wall. That doesn't endear him to Wulfric, naturally.

Freya comes to tend Kainan's wounds, but he has managed to free himself from his restraints and when she notices he knocks her out before she can holler for the guards. Unfortunately, Kainan is not the only threat, for a sudden overwhelming smell of death washes over the compound and then the guards on the wall are picked off by something barely glimpsed. That something also kills the guard searching for Kainan in a maze of cloth. (Laundry? Animal skins? Beats me) Kainan sees the beast on the wall and they briefly make eye contact, sparking a certain familiarity in the beast's eyes.

Unfortunately, Kainan is promptly recaptured and it sure looks like he had something to do with the raid on the compound now, which Wulfric claims was Gunnar. However, to everyone else it seems clear it was something more unusual. Kainan is brought before Rothgar and explains that he comes from an island far to the North and his ship crashed on the shores on Norway. He knows what attacked the compound because it got on board his ship when they were bringing back bodies for a burial from another settlement it had destroyed, and once aboard it killed his crew. He claims that it is a creature called a Moorwen.

So Rothgar figures the outlander should be brought along on the hunt for the killer, which most are sure was probably a bear. Kainan stays shackled, however, since Rothgar trusts him as far as he can throw him--and it makes it easier for Freya to slug him in payback for striking her the night before. On the ride to a series of caves likely to be a hiding spot for a large predator, Kainan makes the acquaintance of the cheery bald fellow, Boromir (Cliff Saunders), who offers him some mead in a bottle made out of a small animal. Kainan finds it revolting, naturally, but Boromir takes a shine to him anyway.

While investigating the cave, the men find several signs that what they're dealing with is no bear--only to be immediately attacked by a bear. There's always got to be a Little Shark, right? Well, when Rothgar is set upon by the bear, Kainan leaps into action and saves the king by stabbing the bear with the old man's sword. Once the bear is dead, Rothgar uses his sword to sever Kainan's bonds.

At a feast that evening, in honor of slaying the bear, Kainan finally learns the name of the little boy who has been watching him in awe, Eric (Bailey Maughan). Kainan lets the boy play with the sword that killed the bear, per Rothgar's encouragement, and learns that the lad is a war orphan. Freya then overhears Boromir drunkenly bragging to a young woman about how he saw Kainan bravely save Rothgar from the bear. Naturally, this is Freya's, "First you want to kill me, now you want to kiss me," turning point.

However, the true highlight of the feast comes when Wulfric challenges Kainan to "shields." Delightfully, this turns out to mean a Viking Dance-Off. Essentially, a ring is formed in the hall with shields set upon the shoulders of the men to serve as stepping stones--and then Wulfric and Kainan must balance on the shields and also run and jump across them. Freya turns down a wager with her father, since no one beats Wulfric at shields, but even her father notes the look of affection she sends toward the outlander. Of course, she ends up being right when Kainan successfully copies Wulfric's acrobatic flip onto a shield Boromir is holding, only for the shield to break in half and spill him onto the floor.

Viking Dance-Off!
Unfortunately, the village falls under attack shortly after all the frivolity. However, this time the culprit is Gunnar (Ron Perlman!), a berserker who wields a heavy hammer as he leads his men in a raid on the village. However, the raid ultimately goes sourly enough that Gunnar and his men must retreat to the woods, with Gunnar first hollering back to Rothgar that he will pay for killing Gunnar's wife and son and not even leaving him their bodies.

Of course, Gunnar and his men quickly find out who really raided their village when the Moorwen attacks their camp. They run to the safety of Rothgar's compound, but several are mowed down with arrows before the guards realize it isn't a trick. And then the Moorwen helpfully shows itself, glowing brilliantly with bioluminescence before it runs back into the woods after snatching one of Gunnar's men with its prehensile tail.

Damn alien dragons and their overblown theatrics.
Well, it's time for an uneasy truce with Gunnar while Kainan instructs the villagers on how to build a trap to kill the Moorwen, since their swords, spears, and arrows haven't even scratched it. the plan is to dig a pit, fill it with whale oil, and use shields as footholds so he and Wulfric can play bait for the creature and trick it into falling into the pit where they will then set it on fire. During the prep, Kainan sees that Eric has somehow cut his own hair to mimic Kainan's and he pats the lad's head approvingly.

As he prepares for battle, Kainan decides to explain his backstory to Freya--though he couches it to her in language she would understand by talking as though he were from a seafaring tribe, we see the actual events in his flashbacks. His race have always been takers and conquerors, and when they found the planet of the Moorwens was ideal for them, they wiped the Moorwens off the face of it with nuclear fire, and then wiped out any who survived the initial blasts. In return for taking part in the slaughter, Kainan was given a home on the world with his wife and son. Except, when he was sent away from another mission, the one Moorwen they missed emerged from its cave and wiped out the settlement. Despite the creature's usual habit being to take bodies back to its lair for later eating, it left the bodies of Kainan's family, perhaps as a message.

Kainan accepts that he is culpable in all this, having willingly gone along with a genocide of clearly intelligent creatures. However, Freya feels he is taking too much blame for following his king's orders and presents him with her family sword, because she had always been told she would know the right man to give it to.

Well, the plan goes off pretty well in that the Moorwen does show up at the place they need it to for the plan to work. The fact that the village's Christian priest suddenly walks up and tries to exorcise the beast, only to get himself exploded for his trouble, also manages not to wreck the plan. Hell, they even get the beast to follow them into the oil pit and when Wulfric falls in, Kainan is able to fish him out before the flaming arrows cause the oil to explode (!) massively.

Unfortunately, there are two complications. One, nobody but Boromir noticed the village men suddenly disappearing by the well as the Moorwen was approaching, so it comes as quite a surprise when a baby Moorwen appears inside the hall where the women and children were placed for their safety. Two, the mama Moorwen shakes off being blown up way too easily, so now there are two Moorwens running loose in the village and one is on fire. In the chaos, Rothgar is mortally wounded by the baby when he comes to the rescue, and Gunnar gets casually beheaded by the mother when she decides to flee.

"All right, who put the chili peppers in my gym bag?"
Wulfric accepts the title of king and sends most of his people away, save for Boromir, Freya, and a handful of able-bodied men. Now that they know the well leads to the creature's lair, Kainan suggests they forge weapons made of a metal strong enough to hurt the Moorwens and head down into the well. Kainan knows exactly where to get the metal and heads off with Wulfric and Freya to retrieve it. Of course, said metal is currently at the bottom of the lake where his ship sank--which Wulfric questions with a mix of confusion and mockery--and Kainan has to dive down to retrieve it.

Unfortunately, the baby Moorwen pays them a visit and, after wrecking the boat, it takes Freya back to its lair. So now it's not just a mission to slay the beasts, it's a rescue mission. Good thing Boromir is able to forge Freya's family sword into a super badass one for Kainan to wield in the monsters' lair...

"I have the power!"
It must be said up front that Outlander is a very flawed film, both in the sense of some genuine defects and that it adheres a bit too closely to cliche to the point that it becomes rather generic. For starters, and this film is certainly no more alone in this flaw now than it was in 2008, this film really did not need to run 115 minutes long. There's a palpable sense that the film is trying too hard to be that long, too, which is baffling.

One of the places where the film feels as though it was painfully stretched against its will comes from the fact it has subplots and side characters that simply didn't need to be included. If you look at my synopsis up there, it would seem like Gunnar adds absolutely nothing to the story: that's because he doesn't. The only thing he adds to the film is the comforting knowledge that Ron Perlman got a paycheck.

Another flaw is that, frankly, there is more chemistry between Wulfric and Kainan than there ever is between him and Freya. It'd be easier to believe that they had decided to form a polyamorous triad than to buy that Kainan only has eyes for her--and it would certainly be a far more enjoyable way to resolve their vague love triangle. But, naturally, the film takes the boring route by killing the odd one out. It also doesn't help that despite being introduced as an accomplished warrior in her own right, Freya is reduced to a damsel in distress who must be rescued at the end.

That brings me back to the generic feeling the film has. Sadly, this even extends to the monsters. Don't get me wrong, unlike a lot of reviewers I think Patrick Tatopoulos did a fine job designing the creatures. However, while they're solid designs they're also very generic. Essentially they're just a bunch of common alien designs mashed into one, and a far cry from the unique creatures Tatopoulos designed for Pitch Black. The bioluminescence is a neat touch, except it doesn't really seem to make sense based on what we see of the Moorwen's natural habitat before it was destroyed.

However, in spite of all the issues this film has, I find it to be delightful. It's not so much that it transcends its limitations, so much as it has enough fun within them that I am able to forgive it. This isn't a revolutionary film or even a horribly memorable one, but it is an entertaining one and that is enough for me.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

HubrisWeen 2016, Day 14: Not of This Earth (1988)

I'm going to go ahead and admit a deep, personal failing. Not a shame, because I am brazenly open about this failing and have no qualms about expressing it. Sure, many will react in horror and revulsion, but I don't care:

I love Jim Wynorski films.

Okay, so love might be a bit too strong a word, but I have an odd fondness for a large amount of the man's work. This is despite the fact that I have never encountered a film by Wynorski that I would say qualifies as "good," save maybe Chopping Mall.

Wynorski films tend to have a few common elements, though not always: gratuitous naked women, gratuitous stock footage, and gratuitous awful comedy. And I do mean awful comedy--bad one-liners, broad characters, and puns so vile that they may cause a rash.

Yet somehow, I have very rarely walked away from a Wynorski flick without a smile on my face. I have an odd weakness for the very aspects of his work that make others run screaming. Or, the aspects that make others fix me with a glare that could kill a man every 30 seconds, in the case of my girlfriend when I made her watch this with me for the review.

Now, it's worth noting that Not Of This Earth is a remake of an earlier Roger Corman film, and one of the films that Corman directed himself instead of just producing. Sometime in the mid-1990s, Corman got big into producing remakes of earlier films he'd produced, but this seems to be one of the first times he decided to go that route. Amusingly, amongst those 90s remakes was a second remake of Not Of This Earth, but I have not seen that version and am thus unable to comment on how it compares to the other two.

At any rate, the film starts off by making certain we know we're in for a Wynorski film with stock footage. Literally, the first thing we see after the studio logo is the Quest from Galaxy of Terror zooming through space. Hilariously, the film uses reversed footage of the Quest taking off from its home planet to indicate it approaching Earth. After the stock footage ends, we see a young couple getting hot and heavy in an old car just as strange lights streak across the sky.

Naturally, the young couple ignores this at their own peril, for they don't see a strange man in a dark suit, fedora, and sunglasses (Arthur Roberts) approaching their car with a briefcase. The man quickly kills the male half of the couple by crushing his throat--and then he takes his sunglasses off, which causes a cartoon effect to apparently drain the woman's life force out of her eyes and mouth. The man in the suit carefully opens the car door and situates the woman so that her head hangs out of the door frame (and so that her bare breasts are clearly visible, naturally) before opening the briefcase to reveal a strange device that he sticks to her throat. The device then drains her blood, while the man sits in silent contemplation--and then opens his eyes to reveal they are pure white and glowing.

Turn around, Bright Eyes!
And, hoo boy, the stock footage really kicks into gear now because the entire opening credit sequence is made up of stock footage from previous Corman films. Now, the odd part is there is no common thread to the stock footage. Sure, the footage borrowed from Forbidden WorldGalaxy of Terror (including the infamous maggot rape scene, presumably as an easy way to include even more boobs), Battle Beyond The Stars, and Battle Beyond The Sun all involve space or aliens. However, but there's also a lot of footage from Humanoids From The Deep, a shot of a castle from The Raven, and a brief appearance by the awesome little stop-motion fish critter from Piranha. None of those things are aliens or are even space related!

"My agent is so fired."
At any rate, the movie resumes outside a private clinic. An old black car pulls up in front of the clinic, parking on the wrong side of the road, in a no parking zone, in front of a fire hydrant. Our mysterious man in a suit gets out of the car, now wearing sunglasses. He walks into the clinic and introduces himself to the nurse at the front desk, Nadine Story (Traci Lords, in her first "legitimate" role), as Mr. Johnson. As a side note, the nurse's outfit Nadine is wearing would be looked upon as ridiculous even if this were one of Ms. Lords's porn roles.

Johnson implores Nadine that he has come to the clinic because he needs an emergency transfusion of blood right away. Nadine tries to explain that they'll need a blood test first, but Johnson refuses. Nadine has Johnson take a seat while she calls the doctor out, briefly notating that Johnson clutches his ears in pain when she presses the buzzer to summon the doctor. When Doctor Rochelle (Ace Mask) comes out to the front, he reiterates to Johnson precisely what Nadine already told him.

However, Rochelle still sees Johnson into the examination room. When Rochelle continues to refuse to give the man a transfusion, Johnson decides to demonstrate why he can't submit to a test by grabbing a scalpel (why was that out in the open?!) and slashing his wrist. Rochelle is astounded because the deep cut doesn't bleed, though Johnson assures him that it will bleed shortly but even then only a little. Rochelle is still hesitant to just pump a guy full of blood without any tests first, so we hear Johnson's voice echoing as he telepathically compels Rochelle--the doctor can run all the tests he wants in service of helping Johnson, but will be utterly unable to discuss his findings with anyone else.

Rochelle has Nadine administer the transfusion to Johnson. Johnson rather puts Nadine off because he speaks oddly and is clearly unaware of social cues. However, he ends up asking her if she would be willing to come to his house and administer daily transfusions to him in exchange for more money than she currently makes. Nadine politely declines, but also says she will only do so if Dr. Rochelle orders her to. Naturally, we cut to just that happening. Starting that very evening, Nadine will go to take care of Mr. Johnson directly with daily infusions of Type O.

However, when Nadine escorts Johnson to his car, she finds her police officer boyfriend, Harry (Rodger Lodge), gleefully writing up a slew of tickets for all the parking regulations that Johnson has violated. Nadine uses her charms to persuade Harry to let it slide for now. She advises him she's going to be taking care of Mr. Johnson regularly going forward and the two discuss tentative plans to have dinner soon before Johnson drives off. Arriving home, Johnson is greeted by his apparent butler, Jeremy (Lenny Juliano), who appears to be a Brooklyn Guy who wandered off a space exploration picture. Jeremy chides his boss for taking the car when he barely knows how to drive.

Johnson instructs Jeremy to prepare a room for Nadine and then says he will be in the cellar and is not to be disturbed. This is clearly a common arrangement, since Jeremy happily accepts it, but when his boss takes a bottle of blood out of his strange silver briefcase to place in the basement freezer, Jeremy decides to poke at the insides of the case. Johnson reappears and almost crushes Jeremy's trachea, assuring his employee that he will be eliminated if he is caught snooping again--and he clearly means in the mortal sense. In a hilariously overwrought bit that should be too broad to be funny but somehow makes me chuckle anyway, Johnson tells Jeremy he does not need his servant to prepare dinner for him because, "I will be dining [pause for sinister organ riff] out."

By which he means out of the movie, because what follows is one of the most shameless uses of stock footage I have ever seen. We see the golden retriever from Humanoids From The Deep tracking the trail of slime left by a humanoid, only for it to start barking at--Johnson. The dog tries to attack him and we hear its yelp of pain reach the ears of actress Lynn Theel back in more footage from Humanoids From The Deep. In fact, we are about to watch the entirety of the scene in that film where Theel hears something outside and goes creeping through her house, being startled by everything from a phone call to a shirt falling off a hanger with a "sword unsheathing" sound effect.

Finally, she sees a shadow outside her front door and someone or something rattles the doorknob as she cautiously approaches with a knife in hand...and then we cut to Johnson appearing in the house, while an actress that looks nothing like Lynn Theel whirls around and gets her cartoon lifeforce drained before Johnson sets up his blood machine next to her limp body. Hilariously, this preserves the question of, "Who the fuck was at the door?"

Hilariously, the movie will be even more shameless with its stock footage later.

Nadine arrives at Johnson's house that evening and is greeted by Jeremy. While he immediately begins to sleazily flirt with her, she takes an instant dislike to him--particularly when she observes that he keeps a gun under his jacket. However, Jeremy is all too happy to show her to Johnson's study. Johnson greets her happily and offers to show her to her room, though when she remarks that she's dying to see it he dryly responds, "You are not dying. I am dying."

Alien vampires, tsk, tsk: no appreciation for hyperbole.

Jeremy lets slip that they've only been living in the house for a month, which apparently annoys Johnson as he sends Jeremy to go make sure all the doors are locked and to bring in Nadine's bags. He shows her to her room and wishes her good night since he does not need her services tonight. However, he freaks her out by locking her room door from the outside when he takes his leave. He expresses shock at her dismay, since where he comes from no one would dare sleep with an unlocked door, but when she asks where he's from he simply says good night.

Well, it's time for one of the film's weirder choices as Johnson decides to out in an alien Skype call to his home planet of Davanna. This involves sitting in a chair and pointing a kitbashed grocery scanner at the wall, which activates a hidden sliding door to reveals small, glowing chamber. Cartoon energy then takes the form of a man (Zoran Hochstätter) dressed all in black, wearing sunglasses, with a righteous beard and long white hair.

The two converse telepathically, and with overly florid "alien syntax" dialogue. During their conversation we also see footage of Morganthus from Galaxy of Terror, which almost workss when we see the graveyard of alien ships, but the shots of the Quest crew wandering around the matte paintings inside the pyramid look kinda silly and the shot of the pyramid glowing is just distracting. Essentially, the planet Davanna is dying and the prisoners of war from their glory days are no longer enough to sustain their need for blood. The people of Earth, referred to as "subhuman", may hold the key to Davanna's salvation in their blood. Therefore, Blues Brother Santa advises Johnson that he shall carry out a five-stage plan to determine if that is so. The first phase is to study Earth people, phase two is to send more Earth blood back to Davanna, phase three is to send a live specimen back for vivisection, phase four is determining the value of Earth blood based on whether Johnson lives or dies, and phase five is conquest of Earth if he lives. After that's established, the alien returns to Davanna via more cartoon energy.

The next morning, Jeremy cooks Johnson breakfast--which includes dropping a pancake on his shoe and hoping the boss won't notice. However, when he brings the food to Johnson, he mentions that he's beginning to take it personally that his boss never seems to eat his cooking. Johnson ignores that and asks Jeremy to return some library books for him and check out a few more after he brings Nadine her breakfast. Jeremy is astounded that Johnson read the books in one night, but Johnson writes it off as a consequence of requiring very little sleep.

At any rate, Jeremy is not present to see Johnson pour something into the glass of water on his breakfast tray. Something that causes the water to change color and then emit a cartoon mushroom cloud (!) before he drinks it. Nadine, meanwhile is naked and toweling herself off after a shower when Jeremy brings her breakfast into her bedroom. She asks him to set the tray down, not realizing the mirror in the bedroom faces the bathroom at the perfect angle for Jeremy to get a great view of her. Naturally, Jeremy is all too happy to talk about his employment with Johnson to her as an excuse to leer at her.

Admittedly, he is probably a bit confused by the fact she is clearly wearing high heels in the mirror's reflection but when we see her in the bathroom she is barefoot.

At any rate, Jeremy reveals that Johnson pays him $3,000 a week--in gold. Also, as part of his dutiess is to ensure that no one ever goes down to the cellar, including Jeremy. When Nadine once again rebuffs his advances, he points out the mole on her butt check to tip her off.

"Wait...I don't have a mole!"
After giving Johnson his daily infsuon, Nadine observes he seems very healthy. The two briefly discuss the nature of death before he dismisses her and she mentions she intends to try out his pool to pass away the rest of the day. At the pool, she bumps into Jeremy cleaning it. He sort of apologizes for his behavior earlier, but Nadine doesn't buy it. Considering he continues to leer at her and try to hit on her with awkward jokes about fishing for mermaids, she's probably got the right of it.

Meanwhile, the musical doorbell gets Johnson's attention and he finds himself confronted by a pushy vacuum cleaner salesman (Michael DeLano), which was a role played by Dick Miller in the original film and DeLano does his best to imitate Miller, but naturally he falls a bit short. At any rate, the salesman manages to convince Johnson to let him demonstrate the effect his vacuum can have in his cellar--because Johnson intends to keep him there. So the cartoon soul-sucking effect takes place and, presumably after draining him of blood, Johnson stuffs the body into his furnace.

Jeremy heads into town for a nother errand and we cut to Rochelle at a bus stop, being annoyed by Monique Gabrielle dressed up like an old lady and providing a performance that comes off like a a subpar Amanda Bynes character from the days of her Nickelodeon sketch show. It's honestly not worth getting into, but at any rate Harry happens upon Rochelle and offers him a lift to Johnson's house. Meanwhile, Nadine notices the smoke coming from the chimney and decides to go snooping. She picks the lock on the cellar door using a bobby pin and goes inside. She starts to open the furnace when a noise attracts her attention to a shelf of empty bottles. Unfortunately, she took her sunglasses off to get a better look and when she hears a car horn she forgets them on the shelf.

As Nadine goes to greet Rochelle and Harry, Jeremy pulls up at the same time. Harry recognizes Jeremy as a small-time criminal that he's busted in the past. Jeremy objects that he's completely legit now and Nadine actually takes Jeremy's side on this. Rochelle goes to visit with Johnson in his study. What Rochelle has found out really isn't a shock to Johnson, as he's aware that the blood is essentially evaporating in his veins. Jeremy and Harry have a minor posturing contest, which Nadine mostly ignores, and then when Harry leaves she asks if Jeremy swiped her sunglasses since she can't find them. Jeremy takes the casual accusation pretty well, jokingly suggesting that Johnson may have kept them for his private collection.

Of course, right then Johnson is actually in the cellar stoking the furnace and tinkering with his bottles--but he seems to just miss noticing the sunglasses. That evening Jeremy is driving Johnson around when he stops at a traffic light and the car is immediately approached by three hookers. Jeremy honks the horn to try and drive them off, but just succeeds in hurting Johnson's head since he can't handle the noise. However, when Jeremy explains what the three women are after, Johnson decides it's a brilliant way to get an easy supply of blood and has Jeremy invite them back to the house. Flashing some cash is all the incentive they need to go along with it.

To Jeremy's dismay, Johnson orders him up to his room instead of letting him party with the trio of hookers, too. However, that's because he invites them down to the cellar, and at no point do any of them think maybe they're about to be killed. Johnson waits until two of them are topless (Wynorksi makes a point on the commentary track with Traci Lords that it's still a sore spot for him that the third would not strip) and then pulls off his sunglasses to drain their lifeforce.

Meanwhile, Nadine is having ridiculous movie sex with Harry of the sort that involves flipping your hair around dramatically. As they lie in the afterglow, she asks why he wanted to be a cop and he gives a non-committal answer before asking about Johnson. All Nadine can tell him is she knows very little about Johnson, aside from his condition and that he's up to something in his basemetn. And he's working on that something right then, as a matter of fact, which involves stoking the furnace and then calling for Jeremy to help with a large silver suitcase he's just placed more full bottles into.

As Harry walks Nadine home, featuring some truly uncomfortable innuendo dialogue, Jeremy hefts the large suitcase into Johnson's study. Nadine walks in and asks Johnson if he's ready for his transfusion and he tells her to give him an hour, which he uses to transmit the suitcase of blood to Davanna. Harry, meanwhile, is back at the police station where a harried detective is fielding a phone call from the press. After he hangs up, he confirms to Harry that the woman they just found was the eighth victim and all of them have been found with puncture wounds on the throat and drained of blood, which the press is having a field day with. So far the lab guys can't figure out the cause of death or how the blood is being removed, so they're nowhere nearer to cracking the case.

As Nadine tends to Johnson, he asks about her relationship with Harry and then reveals he had a partner but they are currently separated. He then asks Nadine about something he's been researching:the uranium method of cancer detection and treatment. No one knows why the uranium goes to the cancer cells, so he asks Nadine if it could be that the cancer is charged with negative energy and if so, could that lead to a cure? I rather doubt that, space man. Nadine's reaction is oddly more "unnerved" than "placating the delusional old man." In fact, she seems to be unnerved enough to lock her bedroom door later and take the key.

Meanwhile, since it's been a few minutes since we last had some nudity, Johnson goes to answer the door and is greeted by a Strip-O-Gram (Becky LeBeau) with bad eyesight. Naturally, she has already taken her top off by the time they both figure out the mistake. Jeremy watched up to this point, but he is not watching when the stripper goes to leave and Johnson uses his mental powers to make her follow him back to the study. As the topless woman rather comically stands next to him, he signals to the bearded weirdo that he has a live specimen to send back. However, the Davanna representative warns that order is breaking down and phase four must be sped up as much as possible. Johnson assures him that he will know the result within three Earth days, and then compels the stripper to "enter the beam." Once inside the chamber, she grabs a lever and apparently the compulsion wears off just enough to allow her to scream as the cartoon energy whisks her away.

"Well, my agent did promise me that this was my ticket to the stars!"
The next morning, Nadine notices the food on the breakfast tray that Jeremy brings back from the study hasn't been touched--and then notices the water glass. It's discolored and has a chemical smell. Nadine asks what Jeremy knows about Johnson and Jeremy laughs because he knows more than he wants to. Jeremy met Johnson because he broke into the house to rob it and bumped into Johnson, who offered him a job on the spot. Stranger than that is the fact that Jeremy has been noticing an alarming amount of people come to the house but then he never sees them leave, like the three hookers.

Jeremy and Nadine make a deal that they'll both stick it out at the house together and try to find out what Johnson is up to. Nadine's first order of business is to take the water glass to Rochelle to have it analyzed. She does this wearing a truly astounding fuzzy sweater, I might add. She tells Rochelle it's a food supplement she wants analyzed but doesn't mention Johnson. She has to leave when a call comes in for her from Harry and then Rochelle's other nurse walks in with a large glass jar of blood, which she advises Rochelle is from a dog bite victim who has tested positive for rabies. Rochelle has her put it in the cooler to be disposed of later and advises he'll notify the hospital where the victim was treated.

Nadine and Harry make plans for the evening at a fancy restaurant, since Harry caught the owner speeding with someone who wasn't the man's wife so apparently he was offered a discount. Rochelle advises he should have the test results around the time Nadine set her plans for, but she tells him where she'll be and then says she swing by early in the morning.

Meanwhile, the beam chamber at Johnson's activates itself. Johnson hears it and goes to find that the beam has materialized a woman (Rebecca Perle) dressed only in heels, a Vampirella-esque swimsuit, and sunglasses.

"I was told this planet was warm, so I may have under-dressed a tad."
Johnson reprimands her for using the beam without authorization, but she tells him she was fleeing for her lie from the mobs who have overrun the council. His bearded liaison has fled to the safety of an outer world colony and Johnson's mate was killed for her blood. He accepts that the woman was right to flee. However, things are even worse than they seem, for when his live specimen arrived on Davanna, she had been crushed to the size of a vase on Johnson's desk and the council suspects that it may not be possible to transmit a human back through the beam from this orbit, which would mean they are trapped on Earth.

I suppose we're to assume that the bearded guy was not actually transporting himself to Johnson's study, then, or he'd have been crushed earlier, too.

Johnson then says he will send another live specimen back tonight to see if their fears are founded, but as she urgently tells him she needs blood he assures her he knows where she can get some. He advises her to go upstairs and borrow some Earth clothes from Nadine--and then hands her Nadine's sunglasses to wear instead of her own.

Rochelle interrupts Nadine and Harry at dinner because he simply must discuss what he found out about the so-called supplement. It contains all necessary nutrients and vitamins, plus a few he'd never seen before. Meanwhile, Johnson and the space girl are breaking into Rochelle's clinic by using telekinesis to break a window. And Rochelle suddenly clams up about the strange supplement as soon as Nadine reveals it was Johnson who supplied it to her.

Hilariously, Johnson then grabs the jar of rabid blood and uses it to feed an IV into the space girl. To be fair, given that the blood is labelled "Caution: Rabid" only on the very bottom, this was bound to happen to somebody. He writes off her complaints of feeling disturbed and sensing activity inside her as just her getting used to the Earth blood. For the sake of caution, he then gives her money and tells her to go to a nearby hotel and how to communicate with sub-humans. However, she does not make it to the hotel because she is waylaid by four punks who want to rob or assault her.

One of those punks is wearing a cape and carrying a kitchen knife (!) with him. This will become significant shortly, because after the lead punk strikes her, she turns on the group with latex caked on her face to..indicate rabies, I guess? She beats them all into submission, then stabs the caped punk with his own knife before stealing both his knife and his cape, which actually turns out to be a cloak. She then walks into the night--and into another stock footage sequence, this time lifted from Hollywood Boulevard.

Now, I have not seen this film, but the fact that we now see a woman in distinctly 70s clothes wandering a dark, smoky backlot in search of a poodle before being stalked by a cloaked figure makes it pretty damn obvious. It's especially hilarious because immediately after the sequence ends with the cloaked figure successfully stabbing her victim to death, we cut to the space girl bursting into Rochelle's clinic and collapsing in front of the nurse. It does seem a bit odd that she would decide to stalk and kill a completely random person before seeking frantic medical attention. Rochelle rushes out and determines that the space girl is still barely alive so they rush her into the exam room.

The woman quickly expires, however. When Rochelle removes her sunglasses, the nurse screams because the woman has no eyes. Rochelle orders her to call an ophthalmologist and to notify the police.

Remember, kids: never look directly at a solar eclipse.
Back at Johnson's house, Nadine walks in just in time to get a phone call from Harry. (Ah, the days before cell phones) He informs her that a dead woman showed up at the clinic with no ID and fingerprints not matching anything in the system and Harry thinks the dead woman is tied up with Johnson since she was wearing one of Nadine's dresses--a dress Nadine designed herself, in fact. Jeremy walks up at that point and Nadine tells Harry, over his objections, that she and Jeremy are going to do some investigating.

Jeremy confirms he saw Johnson leave with a woman he didn't see come in, wearing a slinky black dress. That seals it for Nadine and she suggests they start by searching the study. They find a jar of strange pills and then the beam device, which Nadine accidentally activates. However it has some kind of a barrier keeping her out. Jeremy asks if this means Johnson is a Martian, and Nadine responds that she doesn't care, she's gonna smash it to pieces. My favorite gag in the film follows as Jeremy tries to stop her, suggested she shouldn't screw around with it since it might blow up. "I. Never. Screw. Around," Nadine replies, jabbing Jeremy to emphasize each word before she turns and begins pounding on the barrier with the device.

"My God: he comes from a planet of mimes."
Well, it's a futile gesture anyway and Nadine decides that Jeremy should search the cellar while she looks upstairs. Rochelle calls her just then and, while he continues to avoid the subject whenever Johnson is mentioned, he advises that the dead woman has a lot of strange characteristics but she died of rabies because someone must have broken in and pumped her full of the rabid blood, which somehow destroyed all of her blood cells in under an hour. At this point, Johnson pulls into the driveway and Jeremy finds a human skull in the furnace.

Rochelle explains that the woman came from an area of all-out nuclear war, which caused her blood to be destroyed the way it was before the rabies finished the job. He believes, however, she could have been cured by being removed from that environment and receiving a full transfusion of blood. When Nadine asks if that would cure Johnson, Rochelle gets irritated and tries to change the subject before hanging up when Nadine presses him. Unfortunately, Johnson had already picked up the downstairs receiver and he warns Nadine to wait for him upstairs.

Nadine tries to escape, but Johnson catches her on the stairs and uses his mind whammy to stop her in place. He tells her she will be the next live specimen he sends to Davanna. Jeremy heroically rushes in and shouts, "Hey, Klingon!" before shooting Johnson with that gun he's been carrying. Unfortunately, Johnson is only winged and retaliates by using his eyes to kill Jeremy. That allows Nadine to break free of his hold, however, and she runs back to try and call Harry for help. Johnson grabs her, but Nadine's scream hurts him and she flees into the countryside after wisely ditching her heels.

Johnson taunts her telepathically by saying she cannot hide because she can conceal her person, but he can find her mind. Harry can't reach Nadine at the house because the phone is off the hook in addition to her running for her life at the moment. However, Nadine makes it to a phone booth--and I can't help but be amused by how Traci Lords is very clearly holding the front of her dress up to keep from bouncing right out of it--and calls Harry. She just has time to say that Johnson is after her with murderous intent and to give her rough location before Johnson's car looms into view and she has to run away. Given this film's budget, it's not shocking that Johnson carefully drives around the phone booth rather than smashing it.

Harry heads off on his motorcycle after asking Rochelle to call the station to send backup. Johnson is forced to chase Nadine on foot and I find myself far too amused by the fact that he telepathically commands her to, "Stop running," over and over. As Harry and his partner speed to the scene on their motorcycles, Johnson finally gets close enough to Nadine for his mental compulsion to affect her again. He tells her that the first live specimen was crushed, but she will be sent back to see if she suffers the same fate. However, before he can get her into the car, Johnson senses the cops approaching and orders her to walk back to the house while he draws them away.

Johnson kills Harry's partner with his eyes. Harry sees Nadine when he stops to check on his companion and after she confirms Johnson killed the man with his eyes, Harry tells her to wait there while he goes after Johnson. So naturally she continues on to the house. Hilariously, now Johnson does take out a row of mailboxes and then some garbage cans, but it could not be more painfully obvious that the mailboxes were on posts made of styrofoam. Despite walking slowly, Nadine somehow makes it back to the house in the amount of time it takes for Johnson and Harry to speed several miles down the highway.

Johnson repeatedly tries to kill Harry with his eyes, but can't because his pursuer refuses to look into his eyes. However, just as Nadine enters the beam and places her hand on the lever, Harry randomly decides to sound his siren. Johnson reacts in pain and loses control of his car, before we see that familiar stock footage from Humanoids From The Deep of a pick-up truck going over a bridge and exploding at the bottom. Nadine snaps out of her compulsion just in time, and we see Dr. Rochelle shake his off, as well. (I'll address why this is disappointing shortly) In the burning wreckage of his car, Johnson's dead, glowing eyes stare forward.

The film ends with Harry and Nadine standing at a gravestone marked, "Here Lies A Man Who Was Not Of This Earth." Harry mentions feeling sorry for Johnson, but Nadine doesn't. She reasons that since he didn't have emotions, as we know them, that it's pointless to feel sympathy for him. She sees Johnson as just a foreign thing that came to Earth to destroy us--which leaves me wondering who sprang for the gravestone. As Harry and Nadine depart, a man in a suit, fedora, and sunglasses walks up carrying a silver briefcase and we get a title card reading, "The End?"

Meet "Sir Not Appearing In This Film." We'll talk more about it shortly,
The story behind this movie's existence is rather fascinating. Jim Wynorski had found an old reel of the film and loved it, and somehow when talking to Roger Corman about the film, Wynorski made a bet that he could remake the film using the original film's shooting schedule and the same budget, albeit adjusted for inflation. And Wynorski accomplished that goal quite handily.

Of course, it helps when you save money by shamelessly using stock footage.

Wynorski's remake is almost too faithful to the original at times, right down to reusing a majority of the dialogue and putting its nurses in uniforms that would be more at home in the original. This is not to say that the original is a bad film, mind you--far from it--but dialogue that seems a bit quaint in a 1950s film is cringeworthy when reproduced in a 1980s one.

The film makes some updates, of course, with more recent pop culture references and mentions of the AIDS crisis--and then, of course, the things you can do in a 1988 film that you could never get away with in the 1950s. Any chance Wynorski can find to update the original film to include either nudity or skimpy outfits, he goes for it. Unfortunately, he also makes a rather disappointing choice that I can only assume was due to budget or not having a suitable stock footage facsimile to use: he does not include Johnson's pet monster.

In the original film, Johnson had a mysterious tube that he kept in his briefcase and before chasing after Nadine, he opened the tube and revealed that it contained a creature that looked sort of like a lobster, octopus, and a bat got merged. Johnson then sent the beast to kill Dr. Rochelle for accidentally revealing too much to Nadine. The creature flew to the clinic and then killed Rochelle by crushing his head. Plot-wise, its removal doesn't really damage the film and I suppose it can be argued that it actually improves the flow of the climax, but it's at the cost of a fun rubber monster attack.

As for the film's own merits, well, there's no question its eccentric soundtrack by Chuck Cirino is going to put many folks off. The special effects that are original to the film are rather unimpressive, as they all involve a lot of cartoon energy effects that are more painfully dated than anything in the original film. And, of course, there are some terrible, terrible jokes and lines that are original to the film because this is Jim Wynorski we're talking about.

However, the acting in the film is pretty good, though there are definitely some weak minor players. Obviously, the standout was always going to be Traci Lords because of the novelty of her first non-porn role--and Lords assails her first "serious" role (and the last to feature her doing nudity) with gusto. It's clear that she is still new to actually having to act beyond an excuse to string together sex scenes, but she manages to sell a lot of lines that even seasoned actors would fumble on. And one has to remember that she was taking over for Beverly Garland and those are some tough shoes to fill. I think Lords does a fine job.

There's little question that the original film is better, but I have to say that I consider this to be a great time. I also absolutely understand why many of you may already be looking at me in befuddlement. My girlfriend spent almost the film's entire running time glaring at me after a bad joke or bit of sleaze and she wasn't wrong to do so. If you don't have a tolerance for Jim Wynorski, it's likely you will find this agonizing. However, if you're looking for a movie to satisfy your inner 12-year-old, this will do nicely.

Though it must be said the film's poster is a hilariously blatant lie on two counts: One, that alien looming over the Earth never appears in the film--I'm pretty sure the rubber monster in the original film was included to keep its poster from being similarly false. Two, the title swears "Traci Lords is... NOT OF THIS EARTH" when she absolutely is.

Somehow, I doubt that many people actually complained at the time, if only because they should have been used to Corman films lying to them by then.

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