Saturday, November 30, 2013
While the Big Finish Audios have frequently played with the boundaries of the traditional Doctor Who story, both in order to better serve the audio medium and experiment with storytelling in general, they're still aiming for the same basic giddy thrill that the TV show inspires. "The Sword of Orion" gives us a traditional Cyberman story, a siege by a relentless force of silver giants with overtones of cosmic war that are never fully defined. The story has a few rough patches, which might be explained by excessive adherence to tradition, but the results are suitably atmospheric, and it's good to see McGann's Doctor face off against some classic villains.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Wrestling fans have a term called "marking out". A "mark", historically, was someone who thought pro wrestling was real and unscripted. Nowadays everyone knows how things are set up (except for the kids), and those of us who still watch do so without any illusions. But once in a great while, things are so well put together and so convincingly played that some instinctive part of you forgets it's all a show. For a brief period you are the mark.
"The Day of the Doctor" got me to mark out just a bit, and because of that I can't be as objective as I'd like in reviewing it. Part of it is that the 50th anniversary special did something I had kind of been hoping the series would do, so I have to separate out my fannish satisfaction at seeing things go The Way They Ought To. But it is rare for something to work so well that I stop thinking about how well it's working and start thinking about whether the good guys will win this time. "Day of the Doctor" accomplishes something special, and it's worth looking into how.
Needless to say there will be spoilers.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Doctor Who survived because of the Daleks. True, it reinvented itself many times over and insinuated itself as a British institution, but before any of that, the only reason the show made it past year one is that audiences went crazy over a bunch of genocidal salt shakers. When the show's second season began, a sequel to "The Daleks" was inevitable, but Terry Nation commendably improves on his own work to deliver one of the best stories of William Hartnell's run, a postapocalyptic epic which cements the Daleks as classic villains.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
One sour note in Doctor Who's long history is that Paul McGann's star turn as the Eighth Doctor in the 1996 TV movie was essentially a one-off (at least until very recently)- when the show finally did return, it was nine years later and time for a new Doctor. Even the film's harshest critics tended to have nothing but praise for McGann's performance, and it took the fellows at Big Finish to let us see (or hear) what he was capable of in the long term. Storm Warning marked McGann's debut with the BF audio series, and it's still one of the best jumping on points they have, an adventure that not only tells a thrilling story and introduces a new companion, but shows off just what a Doctor Who story can be without the constraints of a visual effects budget.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
I normally try to close out these marathons with something really good, but that's not entirely necessary. Even bad movies have their appeal, and though Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is pretty much the precise point where the franchise jumped the tracks and started to speed downhill, it ends up doing so with a certain idiotic panache. To its credit it does actually build from some of the story developments of Hellbound: Hellraiser II, but it blows its potential with a dull buildup followed by a ridiculous payoff.
Chucky is an anomaly among movie slashers, and not just because he's battery operated. The killer doll with a foul mouth came in at the tail end of the 80s slasher craze, and the original Child's Play doesn't follow most of the familiar clichés of the genre. Instead of taking a small group of gullible people, throwing them in an enclosed space and killing them one at a time, Child's Play actually tells a fairly ambitious story mixing the supernatural and psychological, and putting a lot of effort and effects money towards selling the illusion of an evil My Buddy toy. It's fairly restrained and reasonably slick, and if it backs away from exploring the satiric possibilities of its premise, it manages to spin a good yarn anyway.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Blending comedy and horror is something filmmakers have done a lot, but it's always fraught with peril. Unless you're outright spoofing the genre, you have to balance the tone and make sure the audience doesn't get whiplash, and too often a horror comedy (or comedic horror film, or whatever) will turn into a bland mush without the courage of either conviction. Night of the Creeps stays on the lighter side of the equation for about 90% of the time, throws in just enough drama to keep things interesting, and the resulting mixture is fairly pleasant. There are a few amateur touches and some problems with the story, but it's definitely one of the good B-movies.
A strange canister is ejected from an alien spacecraft and lands on Earth in 1959, disgorging a worm creature that burrows itself into the head of a local college student. Local scientists put the student on ice, until years later, when freshmen Chris (Jason Lively) and J.C. (Steve Marshall) accidentally thaw him out when trying to pull a prank to get into the college's most exclusive fraternity, so that the former can get closer to sorority dreamgirl Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow.) The unfrozen student, now a host for alien brain worms, soon dies explosively and releases many of the sluglike creatures, which hide around campus and slowly start infecting people, just in time for the big dance.
This is a very silly film, which is established when the first scenes of the films show babylike aliens shooting rayguns at each other in a half-scale corridor. The 50s sequences are shot mostly in black and white, there are references to that immortal alien-undead classic Plan Nine from Outer Space, and Cynthia Cronenberg isn't the only character named after a prominent genre director. J.C., a nice amiable paraplegic, provides some gentle comic relief, and the Beta fraternity is straight out of Animal House (or one of its many ripoffs.) By 1986, the initial wave of slasher films had played itself out, and there was a move towards different, more inventive kinds of horror, including the comical. Night of the Creeps checks off a few of the required cliches, including gratuitous sex and violence, but doesn't overdose on either- there's a certain comic restraint that makes it agreeable.
The film isn't entirely a comedy, and its detours into more serious horror have mixed results. There's a lengthy subplot involving Tom Atkins as a detective obsessed with a serial killer who axed his estranged girlfriend on that fateful night in 1959, and it's never clear how seriously we're supposed to take all this, and though it's relevant to the overall story it feels like a subplot that's been grafted on. More successful is a scene involving one character's enslavement by the creatures and their strange, heartfelt goodbye as the alien mind takes over.
The best moments of the film are when it's focusing on delivering full creature feature mayhem in all its implausibility. It's never really scary, but it's lively and inventive, with one sequence in particular anticipating Peter Jackson's Brain Dead. The climax revolves around an attack on the sorority house by zombified fraternity brothers, which leads to the classic line, "The good news is, your dates are here. The bad news is, they're dead." It's that kind of movie.
Night of the Creeps isn't the most memorable of horror comedies but it's successful at negotiating the balance between the two genres, and that's a rare accomplishment in and of itself. It's got a solid if occasionally oddly constructed story, some interesting visuals, and an overall good-natured vibe that makes one inclined to forgive its shortcomings. It's a solid addition to any seasonal horror marathon, warts and all.
Written and Directed by Fred Dekker