BOMB SHELTER Drill #5: Kevin and Jay Dump on MAC AND ME

Episode 5 ~ Mac and Me (1988)

A while back, we gave you Starcrash, an obvious copy of Star Wars. This month: Mac and Me, something that could be considered a ripoff of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, if it were even that good… It’s about an alien, on the run from scientists, who gets befriended by a wheelchair-bound young boy.

Kevin and Jay have sat and watched this movie so you don’t have to.




STAR WARS: A Reflection 40 Years in the Making

Star Wars didn’t change my life, so much as it shaped it.

I was five and a half years old in 1977 when Star Wars (yes, Star Wars, not A New Hope) was released to theaters. This was back in the days when parents could drop their kids off at the movie theater and leave them on their own without (much) concern about someone absconding with their offspring. My best friend and I were dropped off at the old Inland Cinema in San Bernardino one summer day to see the movie; I don’t know if we were clamoring to see it or if our parents just thought it’d be a good, inexpensive way to get us out of their hair for a bit.

I don’t really remember exactly how I felt before seeing Star Wars for the first time, but I do know that afterward it compelled my friend and me to commit our first minor criminal act, as, after the movie was over, we called our parents on the payphone in the lobby (kids, ask your parents what a payphone is), asked if we could stay for the next showing and then walked back into the theater and watched it all over again.

For something to drive me to commit such a horrible, heinous act at such a young age, I must’ve thought it was something special (in my defense, I was five and thought the ticket was an all day, all access pass).

Of course, after seeing it (twice), I, along with just about every single kid in the country, went Star Wars crazy: the movie; the toys; the trading cards; the comics; anything we could get our mitts on, we gobbled it up with abandon. Seeing as how this was in the days before DVDs and instant accessibility on the internet, once the movie left theaters (and in between theatrical re-releases), we were left with only our imaginations and those ancillary materials to take us back to that galaxy far, far away. With our figures and ships and our mind’s eye, we could go to locations from the movie (granted, there were really only three locales in the first movie), planets found in the comic books or places hinted at by the one kid that everyone knew who had a membership in the fanclub and read about it in the Bantha Tracks newsletter. Millions of imaginations were sparked as a result of the play time spent with the toys.

Forty years later, I’m still a dyed-in-the-wool Star Wars fan (I’d go so far as to proudly say I’m a Star Wars geek); I still collect Star Wars toys and knick-knacks, much to my wife’s chagrin sometimes; I have a few figures on my desk at work; even though I have several versions of the movies in different formats, I’ll still catch them when they’re shown on TV; I even took a trip out to Death Valley with some fellow fanatics (and my long-suffering wife in tow) a few years ago to see some of the filming locations used in the series. Trust me, you’ve not seen anything until you’ve witnessed five (allegedly) grown men geeking out over a bunch of rock formations and recreating movie scenes with action figures.

These bits and pieces of the movie, both the physical and the intangible, take me back to when things were a lot simpler and the world was a much bigger, wide open place. Seeing the opening phrase of every movie in the series, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…,” never ceases to send a shiver of excitement and anticipation up and down my spine, just as it has done since the very first time I read the words.

Without fail.

Some may think that these childlike ways should’ve been left behind long ago; while I mostly agree with these people, I point out to them that I’ve not grown up yet – and have no plans to do so any time soon. Not while there’s a galaxy far, far away to explore.

 




BOMB SHELTER Drill #4: Jay and Kevin Roll Snake Eyes with SSSSSSS

Episode 4 ~ Sssssss (1973)

This month, Jay and Kevin take a look into the snake eyes of Strother Martin and Dirk Benedict in Sssssss, as a college student becomes a lab assistant for a scientist working to develop a serum that can change humans into snakes. Because that’s a thing, right? The film also features known genre actors Tim O’Connor (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century) and Reb Brown (Captain America), along with The Sound of Music‘s Heather Menzies-Urich.




BOMB SHELTER Drill #3: Jay & Kevin Get Caught in a STARCRASH

Episode 3 ~ Starcrash (1978)

Kevin and Jay travel to a galaxy far, far away to discuss the blatantly obvious Star Wars ripoff, Starcrash.

Smugglers, light swords (not sabers), a robot with an accent, and a rescue of royalty. Delivered with sincerity, but not spectacularly so. And what’s with the robot Elle coming from Texas? There are so many elements of Star Wars in this film, but it’s all haphazardly mixed, like someone made a list of plot devices, put them in a blender, and threw the switch. But it’s not all bad, right? The Hoff is in it…




BOMB SHELTER Drill #2: DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW

Episode 2 ~ Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Jay McDowell and Kevin Schumm are back to talk about the next film pulled off the shelf for watching on the drive-in screen of your mind: Dark Night of the Scarecrow, a CBS made-for-TV movie (remember those?) that aired back before anyone had ever heard of Pumkinhead… In fact, this movie was the first feature length horror film with a scarecrow as its centerpiece, according to Aaron Crowell at HorrorHound Magazine.

In a small town in the Deep South, the mentally challenged Bubba befriends a young girl, causing some consternation among some of the town folk, including the mean-spirited mailman. After an accident leaves the girl injured, several men assume she’s dead and seek revenge on Bubba, killing him in a field while he hides by pretending to be the scarecrow.

In the days following, the men who killed Bubba are themselves victims of terrible acts of violence. Is the mysterious scarecrow Bubba’s ghost? Or is it an elaborate hoax?

 




Enter the BOMB SHELTER to Talk MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE!

Episode 1 ~ Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)

In this inaugural episode, Jay McDowell and Kevin Schumm talk about Manos: The Hands of Fate. And as much as the discussion could be about the movie, what makes this very terrible production even remotely interesting is the story behind the story. During the production, and at the premiere, there were things going on behind the scenes, that under ordinary circumstances with a regular film production, probably would never have happened.

Descend with us as we offer up our first foray into discussions of the B-movies, those rare gems (some not so much) that you’ll still find playing at 3am on your local independent TV channel, or at the drive-in as part of a creature feature double bill, or sitting on your shelf among the VHS copies of the movies you won’t admit you like…

 




Terminal Time Travel: An Examination of the TERMINATOR Timelines

“I’ll be back.”

Three little words (four, if you break up the contraction) were never more prescient; did Arnold realize just how many times he’d “be back?”  Following the first Terminator in 1984, we saw the T-800 chassis return in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day, 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, 2009’s Terminator Salvation (well, his digitized face, at least) and, finally (so far), 2015’s Terminator Genisys, each movie having varying degrees of success, quality and continuity.  The one thing that the series had going for it in every installment was a screwed up idea of time travel and how going back into one’s past could alter one’s future…er, present?  Past?

**OBLIGATORY SPOILER ALERT FOR A 30+ YEAR-OLD FRANCHISE**

If you’re reading this (thanks!), you most likely already have at a passing knowledge of the premise of the Terminator movie universe.  For those of you who don’t know of what I’m speaking of (did you click on the wrong link?  If so, you can get to the home page here), the gist of the story is that the future is FUBAR due to robots taking over and they keep sending killer robots back into the past to take out a woman and, later, her son, the future leader of the human resistance.  Hijinks ensue.  I can’t speak to Genisys, as I haven’t seen it yet, but the four other movies range from “excellent” to “better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick” (a colloquialism with which I have personal experience).

The quality of the series isn’t what I’m writing about today.  No, this little essay is about the one thing that keeps me from completely enjoying the movies; a nit that I pick every time I see any of the films; a qualm that, if I entertain the thought in the middle of the night, will keep me awake for hours.  This minor quibble is the fact that the whole “going back in time to take out your enemy (or your enemy’s mom)” doesn’t work.  Or, it doesn’t unless you jump through a few hoops in order to make it work.  Contrary to the way this sounds, I actually love talking about those hoops (and my wife loves it so much that she falls asleep if I start talking about it at bedtime).

Here’s where things might start to get a little science/sci-fi dense (if you’re already sleepy, you might want to get into a comfortable position on the couch or in bed, not so much so that you’ll already be in the right place to fall asleep while reading this article, but more so that you won’t hit your face on your keyboard if you nod off).  Time itself is a manmade construct; it doesn’t really exist outside of our day-to-day comings and goings.  Nature doesn’t run on a clock.  The sun doesn’t come up every morning around 6am because it’s 6am; it’s 6am because the sun is coming up. The moon doesn’t change phases to fit within a month on the calendar; the month is dictated by the phases of the moon.  Time is our way of making sense of the passage of life.  Because we are not omniscient, we see time as being linear, with our perceived point in time being time’s furthest point and always moving forward, with the past inaccessible, except in memory.

As of right now (and as far as we know), time travel is not possible; if you subscribe to time being linear and that we are on the only timeline there is, then it may not be possible at all.  In a linear timeline, if one could go back in time, one could wind up messing things up for us here in the present.  In a time travel related version of the Butterfly Effect, if one were to go back and change the slightest thing, even just killing a simple housefly, that could cause a ripple effect, reaching all the way to the present (this was played to comedic effect in the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episode, “Time and Punishment”).  This change could result in the time machine/means of time travel never being created or discovered or even with the time traveler having never been born or born in a different time or place, resulting in the traveler having never made the jump to the past.  Another hiccup that may make time travel infeasible is the oft referenced, pesky old Grandfather Paradox, wherein a person goes back in time and either intentionally or unintentionally kills their father’s father before the traveler’s father is born, resulting in the traveler not being born and, therefore, not travelling back in time to kill their grandfather.  It’s as if time will find a way to correct itself; history may, indeed, be immutable.

If time is linear, then the Terminator series fails right out of the gate.  We take it for granted that the first movie is the first time that a T-800 is sent back in time to snuff out Sarah Connor, followed by Kyle Reese to protect Sarah.  The way things (and people) are intertwined, though, it doesn’t work.  In the movie, Reese tells Sarah about the future (his present) and about her son, John, the leader of the human resistance and the man who sent Reese back to protect his mother.  We also find, later, after one of those “hey, we’re on the run from a murderous cyborg; let’s get it on!” situations, that Reese is John’s father, creating a problem; if this is the first time John sent Reese back in time, then who was John’s father beforehand?  Reese was younger than John (in the future), meaning that Reese wasn’t even born in 1984, much less old enough to have had a relationship with Sarah, pre-Skynet apocalypse.  If Reese is now John’s father, then the John Connor of the future (going from the then-present 1984) is not the same John Connor that sent Reese back, resulting in Reese never being sent back and then resulting in the ‘new’ John Connor having never been born.

I think I just sprained my brain.

All of this to say, the linear time theory doesn’t work for the Terminator series.

There is another theory, though – the Many Worlds Interpretation.  Simply put, in the MWI, it is posited that every decision that’s made results in a branching of the timeline.  Suppose a man is in Timeline A and he has the choice to ask a woman out; as soon as the opportunity is presented, the timeline branches off – in this case, if he chooses to ask her out, the timeline branches off to Timeline B; if he chooses not to, then Timeline A continues on and he’s lonely.  Because that choice was made available, though, there will now be two timelines, as both paths could’ve been taken.  Taking it further, if the woman rejects the man’s offer, Timeline B will continue on (with a very sad, lonely man); if she accepts, though, there’s a new branch, Timeline C (with, hopefully, a very happy couple).  These points, taking place not only with these two people, but with every decision made in the universe, would result in an infinite amount of parallel worlds.  For the sake of keeping this article from being even longer than it’s likely to be, we’re only going to consider the major points in the movies, not every time someone decides to eat a bowl of Froot Loops instead of a bowl of Shredded Wheat or some other mundane thing like that.

This hypothesis can make it so the premise of the franchise works.  Going back to the first movie and again assuming this is the first time the events of the story unfold, we need to go back to the future (c’mon, you knew that I’d fit that in here somewhere), most specifically, John’s present (our future).  From his vantage point, he’s on Timeline A; he knows that a T-800 has just been sent back in time (more precisely, back in Timeline A) and sends Reese back.  This John Connor’s father was not Reese; we don’t know who his father was.  All we know is that Sarah met him in 1984.  Who knows?  She may have married him and they had a happy life together until the apocalypse, when John was forced to learn to survive and become the hardened leader that he is in his relative present.  None of that makes any difference now, as, with the arrival of the T-800 in 1984, a branch in the timeline has been created – Timeline B.  Now, we have a timeline where Sarah is hunted and taken out by the Terminator.  This has no effect on Timeline A John, but Timeline B now has no John Connor.  Perhaps another leader rises up in his place; or, maybe, the Resistance never has a good leader and humanity is wiped out.  Bummer.

All is not lost, though, for the arrival of Reese to 1984 causes a new branch in the timeline, Timeline C.  This is the timeline that we see play out in the movie, where Reese becomes John’s father.  This John Connor is different from the one that sent Reese from Timeline A; what’s he like?  Is he the leader of the resistance and savior of the human race?  Well, we don’t know right now; we find out in subsequent installments, though, that he is and does.  We do know, though, that this timeline is what leads into Terminator: Judgement Day.

The beginning of T2 is set in Timeline C.  We see a rebellious tween John, who was taught a few things about how to take care of himself before his mom was locked up in an asylum.  We also find that the events of the first movie, in addition to creating a new timeline branch, have also kind of accelerated the development of Skynet, with Cyberdyne using the microchip from the arm of the demolished T-800 from Terminator to create Skynet.  This leads credence to the idea of the franchise happening in a Many Worlds universe, as Skynet couldn’t have been created using Terminator technology if time was linear.

Again, though, another timeline is created with the arrival of the T-1000, creating Timeline D, where the T-1000 finds and kills John, snuffing out any possibility of a Connor-led human resistance in that timeline.  Timeline E is created, though, with the arrival of the reprogrammed ‘protector’ T-800; this is the timeline that the movie ends with.  Timeline C continues on an unknown path, probably with John (Reese’s son) still becoming the Resistance leader (the apocalypse still happens, as Cyberdyne has the T-800 chip); Timeline D goes on with John killed by the T-1000 and, perhaps, someone else taking his place and Timeline E ends as we see unfold on the screen, leading to Terminator: Rise of the Machines.

Whew…

Before we get further into this rabbit hole, let’s recap:

Timeline A: No Terminators are sent to the past; Sarah Connor meets Mr. X and becomes pregnant with John, who becomes the human resistance leader after the eventual (and inevitable, apparently) nuclear holocaust on August 29, 1997.

Timeline B: The first T-800 is sent to 1984, finds Sarah before she meets Mr. X and kills her, resulting in a future with no John Connor as the resistance leader.

Timeline C: Reese is sent to 1984 by Timeline A John Connor.  He becomes Timeline C John Connor’s father, meeting Sarah before she meets Mr. X.

Timeline D: The T-1000 is sent back to 1995 and finds and takes out 11 year-old Timeline C John Connor, resulting in a future with no John Connor as the Resistance leader; also, Skynet is created sooner by dint of the T-800’s technology becoming available in this timeline.

Timeline E: The ‘protector’ T-800 is sent back, saving John Connor, who becomes the 19 or 20 year-old John Connor in T3; Cyberdyne is destroyed, pushing back Skynet’s development.

I just realized, after writing all this out, that there would be timeline branches in the event of, say, Reese coming back, but failing to protect Sarah, with the T-800 ultimately taking her out.  There’s no way I’m going back to change all the timelines in this thing, so, for the sake of making my life easier, consider the previously mentioned situation (and those like it) to be a sub-level of its timeline, with the John Connor of that timeline ceasing to be and not exist in the future of that timeline (i.e. Reese failing would be Timeline C-2 and the T-1000 defeating the T-800 and taking out Timeline E John would be Timeline E-2).  That should be sufficiently confusing.

I need an aspirin…

Hoookay – moving on to Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.  We’re now in 2003, which finds Timeline E John living off the grid in an attempt to avoid detection.  The apocalypse still hasn’t happened, being pushed back a few years by the destruction of Cyberdyne in T2.  Somehow, the world spanning, self-aware computer system Skynet didn’t have access to Google in the future and can’t find John, so it sends a new model Terminator, the T-X, a shapeshifting Terminator that stays pretty much in a female body form, to take out John’s top resistance lieutenants (before they became said lieutenants, of course).  The arrival of the T-X creates Timeline F, where she successfully takes out her targets, including John and his future wife, Kate Brewster.  Not surprisingly, another Terminator, this time a T-850, is sent back by the Resistance, creating Timeline G and takes out the T-X (Timeline G-2 would be created if the T-X had beaten the T-850).  In Timeline G, the nuclear holocaust starts on July 24, 2003 and John begins his role as a leader.  It’s also worth noting (I guess – I’m not sure I really care at this point) that the T-850 sent back was another reprogrammed model – reprogrammed after it’d killed Timeline G John in 2032.

Terminator Salvation continues on in Timeline G and stays there for most of the movie, as there’s no backward time travel occurring in this installment.  Taking place in 2018, just before the T-800 series has been released, the Resistance is in full swing, but John has not yet become the leader of the organization that the previous movies have made him out to be; he still has a pretty strong following, as we find out later.  He also is aware that Reese is his father, knowing that he will send Reese to the past at some point in the near future, having presumably been filled in on the details before his mom died (it was established in T3 that she’d died before that movie).

At any rate (geez, this has turned out more convoluted than I thought it would – if you’re still reading, thanks!), we have another major point of divergence, when John is severely wounded and about to die.  With a heart transplant provided by the cyborg protagonist Marcus Wright (long story – just go with it), John is provided with a second chance at life and the ability to go on to become the great leader he was destined to become, continuing on with Timeline G; Timeline H, naturally, branches off from the point where John dies and the Resistance is less its great leader.  This means that the Reese that is sent and creates Timeline C is Timeline G Reese.  I guess he’s Timeline G-C Reese in 1984.

I feel a nosebleed coming on…

This all leads up to Terminator Genisys.  As I said what seems to be so long ago, I’ve not seen it, so I had to read an overview of the movie and its setting.

My head nearly popped.

OK, it seems that this takes place when Timeline G John sends Timeline G Reese back to 1984, ostensibly taking us back to the setting for the first movie.  When Reese reaches 1984, though, it’s no longer Timeline C; apparently, at some point in the future, ANOTHER T-800 was sent back to 1973 to serve as a guardian for 9 year-old Sarah (what happened to her parents, I don’t know), creating Timeline I, making this version of Reese Timeline G-I Reese.  The Sarah in this new timeline has her own time machine and plans to use it to go to 1997 in order to stop Skynet from becoming self-aware.  We find, through some time travel shenanigans that are revealed later, that Reese knows that Skynet (Genisys) in this timeline won’t become active until August 28, 2017 and they travel to that year instead.  Time travelling to 2017 instead of 1997 (and just deciding to travel at all) causes a few branches now (gah – why did I decide to do this?):

Timeline I: Do nothing and everything’s hunky dory until August 2017.

Timeline J: Go to 1997 and find that Skynet’s not ready yet, so…nothing happens.

Timeline K: Go to 2017 and stop Skynet (Genisys), the timeline that the movie follows (Timeline K-2 branching off if they fail) and which, if someone makes another entry in the franchise, and if they continue on as a direct sequel to Genisys, will be the timeline that the movie will take place in.

This would make Reese Timeline G-I-K Reese.

Seriously, my head hurts.

So, there you have it; a long, convoluted walk through the Terminator movie franchise timelines (I’m not even going to touch The Sarah Connor Chronicles and how it fits in; some other masochist can take on that one).  If you’ve slogged through this whole thing, well…thank you?

Now do you understand why this topic keeps me awake at night (and puts my wife to sleep)?

 




ECHO CHAMBER: A ROGUE ONE Discussion

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Three weeks after its debut in theaters, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is still going strong at the box office. Quickly surpassing Captain America: Civil War, it gained the number two spot for 2016. Critical acclaim, positive word-of-mouth, and even a controversy or two concerning the resurrection of certain characters — all worked to make Rogue One a hot property.

The gang gathers around the table to talk about favorite moments, some quibbles, and speculations about what happens next, especially in the wake of Carrie Fisher’s untimely death.

 

The panel: Mackenna Riley, Mindy Inlow, Jennifer Wise, Thomas Townley, Jay McDowell, Jeff Hackworth, Sam Sentman, Dan Handley

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Retro Review: Radioactive Russian Rampage

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The Beast of Yucca Flats
Written and directed by Coleman Francis
Copyright 1961

courtesy Wikipedia
courtesy Wikipedia

I’d previously mentioned how sci-fi/alien invasion movies of the 1950s and 60s tended to be of the space-brothers-saving-us-from-nuclear-annihilation vein; as a lot of monster movies from the same era seemed to feature antagonists that came about by playing with nuclear bombs, maybe they were on to something. We had giant ants (Them!), a giant dinosaur/reptile (Gozilla), and today’s guest of honor, a mutated Tor Johnson (yep, him again) in The Beast of Yucca Flats. If B movies have taught us anything, it’s that exposure to the massive amounts of radiation released by an atomic bomb detonation will cause anything caught in the blast to experience changes to their genetic structure (well, when the blast doesn’t immediately vaporize you); our pal Tor is no exception to the rule.

The 1950s were a touchy time: the US (and much of the free world) was still smarting from World War II just a few years earlier. The use of atomic weapons on Japan may have helped hasten the end of the war, but it also started, after Russia developed their own nuclear weapons, the Cold War. Duck-and-cover drills were the norm for school children the country over. The looming threat that at any moment, those Crazy Commies would lob nuclear annihilation over the North Pole, was constant. Bomb shelters (for all the good that they would’ve done) were a common feature of many back yards across the US. This fear, sadly, became another part of the background of day-to-day life across much of the “civilized” world for the next 40+ years, until we were kind of numb to it – that is, until Hollywood started capitalizing on it.

While there have been many movies that have realistically looked at the topic of impending or an extant nuclear holocaust (1959’s On the Beach, 1964’s Fail Safe and 1984’s Threads are some of the better known – and chilling – examples), cheapie movie producers were more than happy to use the shadow of certain doom to make a buck or two. B movies with irradiated animals (like the aforementioned Them! and Godzilla) or the effects of radioactivity on humans (The Incredible Shrinking Man and its movie polar opposite, The Amazing Colossal Man) were churned out by the dozens. The Beast of Yucca Flats was one of the worst of this trend.

***POTENTIAL SPOILERS FOR A 50+ YEAR OLD MOVIE***

In Beast, Tor plays defecting Russian (um …) nuclear scientist (… sure) Joseph Javorsky. As turning traitor with a noggin full of potential state secrets about a supposed Soviet moon landing was frowned upon by the Kremlin, it’s no surprise to find the big guy being chased by a couple of KGB goons. The pursuit merrily continues across the desert until the three of them drive into a nuclear test range. With no lead-lined refrigerators available to climb into, the resulting blast takes out the Soviet agents, while turning Tor into a huge, hulking, bald… well – nothing’s really changed about him. I guess the dried oatmeal looking makeup stuck on his face is supposed to represent radiation burns; and he’s a mindless, murderous killing machine, so there’s that. Oh, and his shirt’s shredded: a sure sign of a homicidal, nuclear powered monster.

At any rate, after this, fun abounds as Hulk Tor traipses around the nearby desert, randomly strangling slow-moving people.  He begins his murderous rampage by throttling a man and choking unconscious his female companion, taking her back to his place in a cave for – I don’t even want to know. Why being irradiated would turn someone into a murderous, rampaging monster, one can only guess; cranky, maybe, but I don’t know about murderous.

Tor attacks!
Tor attacks!

Soon, we come across a family – dad Hank (Douglas Mellor), mom Lois (Barbara Francis) and two boys, Art and Randy (Alan Francis and Ronald Francis) – on a road trip. (If you think you’re seeing the surname “Francis” a lot, it’s no typo; the actors playing the mother and her two boys were director Coleman Francis’ wife and sons, respectively.) Sure enough, while Hank is fixing a flat tire, the boys wander off into the scrub and are imperiled, threatened by a deranged, plodding Swedish wrestler with Malt O’ Meal stuck on his face.

Hank goes out into the desert, searching for his lost offspring and finds himself not in danger from Tor so much, but, rather a local sheriff’s deputy, Jim Archer (Bing Stafford). Equipped with a rifle and a small plane with which to fire it from, it seems the deputy is the literal embodiment of the old axiom, “Shoot first and ask questions later.” Acting on reports of people turning up dead along the desert highway, he’s decided that the boys’ father is the killer, based solely on the fact that Hank is the only person the sheriff sees running around the wastes; screw due process! The sheriff’s department finally figures out a giant, irradiated Russian is the real culprit and take him down, ending the threat to people slowly wandering down the desert highway. Once again, the roadways of the desert Southwest are free from the menace of a grumpy Tor Johnson.

To the movie’s credit, it moves along at a pretty brisk pace and you never feel like it’s dragging; as is evidenced by the short movie description above, it’s, not surprisingly, a short movie, clocking in with a lean 54 minute running time. Acting-wise, well… when your movie’s lead actor is Tor Johnson, everyone else in the movie is great by comparison.

I'm not crying, you're crying!
I’m not crying, you’re crying!

The most baffling thing, though, and perhaps working in Johnson’s favor, due to his Swedish accent (he was a bit hard to understand in Plan 9 From Outer Space), is the fact that Beast contains very little dialog coming directly from the actors; most of the movie is narrated. A lot of the time, if a character actually is talking, they’ll have their back to the camera and the only reason you know they’re “talking” is that their head bobs slightly and the other person is staring at the talker intently, sometimes nodding their own head. I don’t know if the soundtrack was lost of if this was done intentionally on the part Coleman Francis.

As so much of the movie is narrated, we are treated to some of the greatest lines ever written for a film. In a stern and stentorian voice, the All Knowing Narrator provides us with the following partial sentences and unrelated topics (“flying saucers?”):

“Flag on the moon – how did it get there?”
“Nothing bothers some people, not even flying saucers.”
“Touch a button, things happen. A scientist becomes a beast.”
“Jim Archer, Joe’s partner, another man caught in the frantic race for the betterment of mankind. Progress.”
“Boys from the city. Not yet caught by the whirlwind of Progress. Feed soda pop to the thirsty pigs.”
“A man runs. Someone shoots at him.”
“Yucca Flats. The A-Bomb.”

Pure gold.  Every syllable.

Must be love ... right?
Must be love … right?

As with a lot of B movies from this time, The Beast of Yucca Flats is fairly easy to find, if one were to want to see it (which one should). {Hint: check the Internet Archive.} Be warned, though, if watching this with children; inexplicably, the movie starts off with a totally disconnected from the story in any way, shape or form topless scene. It has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie, not fitting in anywhere in the rest of the chronology or narrative of the film; I guess Francis wasn’t one to waste film – or a gratuitous boob shot.

See all our retro reviews here.

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Retro Review: Not Plan 8 or Plan 10

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Plan 9 From Outer Space
Written and directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr.
Copyright 1959. 

courtesy IMDB
courtesy IMDB

When it comes to bad movies – bad sci fi movies – there are plenty to choose from: Star Crash, a crappy Italian Star Wars knock-off; Future War, a crappy movie with a fourth rate Jean Claude van Damme knock-off; Battlefield Earth – just a crappy movie; a lot of sci fi movies of varying degrees of competency are out there.

The granddaddy of them all, though – a movie that’s almost as much fun to learn about the making of as it is to watch it – is Plan 9 From Outer Space. Sure, there are far worse movies out there (I maintain that, despite what some have said, this is nowhere NEAR being the worst movie ever made), but none are quite as charming and endearing as Plan 9.

Before getting into Plan 9, however, I think it would be a good idea to define what, exactly, makes for a true Bad Movie, as opposed to simply a bad movie. “B-Movie” initially had nothing to do with the quality of the movie – kind of; the term referred to, back in the 30s and 40s, a second movie that usually was played with the main movie of a double feature and was referred to as the b-movie. Typically, these were either public awareness movies about some scourge currently afflicting society (those being the days before the MPAA, the “filmmakers” could get away with copious amounts of nudity, as they were doing a public service, exposing the seedy underbelly of the country – and making a nickel off pervy old guys ogling strippers) or a poorly made movie cranked out for a minimal amount of money that existed simply to fill in the running time of the double feature. A few of these movies were based not on an original story or idea but, rather on a movie poster or title (I Was A Teenage Werewolf was conceived in this manner). In the ’50s, with the advent of the car culture and teenagers with a bit of extra spending money, these “quality” movies were churned out in droves in an attempt to cash in on bored teens who wanted somewhere to go to get away from their parents and make out for a couple hours. With that, what modern schlock movie lovers refer to as a “B-Movie” was born.

A real, honest to goodness, grade Z modern Bad Movie is a movie where the creator, be it due to A) technical ineptitude (Manos: The Hands of Fate); B) budget limitations (pretty much anything cranked out by Roger Corman and/or AIP [American International Pictures]); or C) the creator’s overinflated sense of self (vanity projects like Battlefield Earth, Star Trek V, and Glitter), failed spectacularly and inadvertently, made a movie that has become endearing to the viewer. Simple, run-of-the-mill bad movies are, usually, movies that are just bad and not in a fun way; they’re sub-par or heavy handed with their message or, perhaps worst of all, purposely trying to be a true Bad Movie.

Case in point: when the producers of Birdemic: Shock and Terror (which is a true B-Movie) saw how much of a cult hit they had on their hands, they tried to replicate, intentionally and slavishly, everything that made the first movie such a pleasant train wreck of a flick, resulting in the boringly awful sequel Birdemic 2: The Resurrection; deliberately horrible acting, sets and locations blatantly recycled over and over again with no attempt to conceal the fact, a mind-blowingly stupid story resulting in actions by the characters that no human (real or fictional) would ever take, purposefully terrible special effects, and, probably most egregious of all, an attitude of contempt toward the audience. That last piece alone is probably the worst thing a movie maker can have for their intended audience. That is not the case, though, with Plan 9.

(I think it’s safe to say that most everyone, if they haven’t seen the movie at least know the basic premise; that being said …

***POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT FOR A 55+ YEAR OLD MOVIE***)

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Well, it’s saucer shaped at least…

Plan 9 From Outer Space is a perfect blending of the ingredients that make a perfect bad movie; although, I’d argue that there was less of an overblown ego involved and more of a sincere desire to be a movie maker. Springing partly from the mind of its writer/director/notorious schlockmeister Edward D. Wood and partly from whatever stock footage and actors’ homes he could make use of, Plan 9 is about aliens reanimating the recently deceased in order to get our attention and stop us from exploding the sun, which apparently would cause the rest of the universe to go “ka-boom!” The alien-brothers-coming-down-to-save-us-from-ourselves-by-threatening-to-destroy-us trope had been used a few times in movies from the 1950s, most famously in The Day the Earth Stood Still and in the UFO believer community of the time, where many “contactees” claimed that Venusians were communicating with them, telling these people that humanity was on its way to its doom if it didn’t stop playing chicken with nukes.

I’m not kidding ….

Starting off a movie that will pretty much include any and every idea that ever ran through Wood’s head is a rambling preamble called “Criswell Predicts,” hosted by Criswell, a celebrity psychic of the time; he seemingly tries to see how many references to the future he can cram into a paragraph without really making any kind of predictions. The movie then goes full-bore into Crazyland. We see the first of three funerals that will provide the extraterrestrials with the ingredients to implement Plan 9, the aforementioned reanimation of the recently dead.

Before resurrecting freshly deceased corpses and unleashing them on the populace (although, how they expected to accomplish this with three zombies, I have no idea) the aliens tried contacting the US government, sending several communications which, unfortunately, were translated too late (namely, after the US Military’s Stock Footage Artillery Unit attacked one of the pie tins …er, saucers, to no avail; this resulted in the frying of an American town by the aliens). Despite the military’s stance that the aliens don’t exist (I guess it was swamp gas that took out the town), newspaper reports of flying saucers abound, mostly because the aliens insist upon buzzing downtown Hollywood in plain sight of the good citizens (and one drunk one) of greater Los Angeles. Our hero, Biff Rockjaw … I mean, Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott), a pilot for American Stock Footage Airlines, is buzzed by one of the supposedly non-existent saucers while he’s piloting an airliner, but, is “muzzled by Army brass” and unable to tell the world about what he witnessed.

Perhaps the reason the military wants the alien topic kept quiet is because we’d be laughed off the world stage if it got out that we couldn’t take down these particular ETs. Looking like they got their uniforms from the wardrobe of a junior high drama club, they are anything but intimidating: doughy, narcissistic Eros (Dudley Manlove); his longsuffering second Tanna (Joanna Lee) (there had to be a lot of suffering working for that twit); and The Ruler (John Breckinridge), who manages to look both profoundly bored and supremely annoyed at the same time – all the time. These three, flying around in their intergalactic spaceboob (seriously – that’s what it looks like), are an apparent threat to us.

I’m so not kidding about that ….

Hijinks ensue when Jeff teams up with Detective John Harper (Duke Moore) and two beat cops investigating the murder of one of their own, Inspector Daniel Clay (played and English mutilated by Swedish wrestler/alleged actor Tor Johnson).  Colonel Tom Edwards (Tom Keene), who was sent to LA to investigate the recent spate of UFO sightings, also joins the group.  Together, the five of them set out to rescue Jeff’s wife, Paula (Mona McKinnon), who was abducted by the reanimated Inspector Clay and taken to the alien’s ship. Somehow, the ship has managed to land and stay hidden in the same cemetery The Ghoul (Bela Lugosi), his several decade’s younger wife (local TV schlock hostess Vampira aka Maila Nurmi) and Clay were all buried, despite the local police traipsing all over. After Paula is rescued, Jeff, Detective Harper, and Colonel Edwards find the ship (finally!) and confront Eros and Tanna.

This leads to one of cinema’s greatest instances of hammy overacting ever as Eros lays a verbal smackdown on the humans. Before that, though, we get an explanation as to why the aliens have been trying to get our attention; it seems that Earth’s scientists are close to discovering Solarmanite, which has the ability to explode sunlight. Basically, anything that the light from the exploding star touches will be annihilated, up to and including the universe. (Slight sidebar: is it me or do moviemakers not seem to have a grasp as to just how big the universe is?) So, since we wouldn’t be nice and talk to the ETs, it seems that they’re left with no choice but to destroy us in order to keep us from taking out everyone else.

That's not a regulation wrestling move ....
That’s not a regulation wrestling move ….

When the Earthlings tell Eros he can shove it, Eros goes off on them, telling them just what he thinks of humanity in general (“… [A]ll of you of Earth are idiots!”). Having had enough tongue lashing from Eros, Jeff hauls off and slugs him. A fire is started during the scuffle, causing the spaceship to go up like a torch (apparently, The Ruler had his landing crafts painted with lighter fluid); the humans bail out, but Eros and Tanna are not so lucky – or smart enough to do the same, this after Eros admonished the humans with another classic line: “You see?!? Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!!!” (Who’s so stupid now, Eros?) Exit Eros and Tanna; it’s assumed that The Ruler simply rolled his eyes and sighed heavily before flying away, probably to go formulate Plan 10. The end.

While the story itself was pretty standard for the time, the creation of the movie was anything but. The big name draw of the movie, Bela Lugosi, had inconveniently died before filming began. Well, that’s not entirely correct; footage of Lugosi hamming it up in his Dracula get-up and in a couple of other scenarios was filmed by Wood before Plan 9 was even an idea. Not being one to waste good film (if not necessarily good footage), Wood wove this material into what would become Plan 9. Wood’s wife’s chiropractor filled in for Lugosi when additional scenes required Lugosi’s character’s presence. The fact that he was taller and had a much different build and hairline than Lugosi didn’t seem to matter.

I’m not kidding about that, either ….

Scenes were filmed outdoors and on a sound stage, resulting in a lot of jarring day-night-day scenes (i.e., a car drives up to a location in broad daylight and, upon parking, it’s dark and foggy). The airliner cockpit is two kitchen chairs seated in front of a doorway with nothing but a shower curtain between the pilots and the rest of the “plane” – a plane whose steering yokes are two other kitchen chairs, turned around. Headstones in a cemetery are routinely knocked askew. The alien’s high tech equipment consists of random radio/electronic equipment and a flashing yellow light that one would find on a city roadblock sign. It becomes a bit of a game (after a few viewings) to identify the sets when they’re reused (the door leading out of the alien’s saucer is the same doorway that leads out of the aforementioned airliner’s cockpit, for example) and name what the various props are made of.

Sure, let's leave the shadow of the boom mike there ....
Sure, let’s leave the shadow of the boom mike there ….

Again, while some have bestowed the “Worst Movie Ever Made” title upon Plan 9, I think it’s wholly undeserved (believe me, there’s a whoooole lot worse out there). Is it a perfect movie? No. Is it competently made? Most assuredly not! Is it sweet, endearing, and entertaining? Oh, my, yes!

If you’ve never seen this movie (and can handle watching a real Bad Movie), do yourself a favor and track down a copy; being in the public domain, it should be pretty easy to come by. If you have seen it before, pop it in again and have fun playing “Where have I seen this background before?” Either way, just enjoy a movie that wants nothing more than to be loved.

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MAD MAX FURY ROAD Is a Worthy Successor

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When I heard a while back that one of my favorite movie franchises, the Mad Max series, was getting the reboot/long-past-its-prime-sequel treatment, I had…low expectations, to say the least. After having my hopes take a kick in the slats with the somewhat of a letdown of the Star Wars prequels (though, I am no prequel hater; they just lacked in a few areas) and the barely watchable latest Indiana Jones movie (again, not a hater, but Woof!) I wasn’t holding out a lot of hope for Mad Max: Fury Road.

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First (and most importantly), it would be made without Mel Gibson. Say what you will about his recent past (and really, who is anyone in Hollywood to be pointing fingers and holding grudges?), but he WAS Mad Max; I just couldn’t picture anyone else donning that tattered MFP jacket & driving that beat up old Pursuit Special (even though it did meet a fiery end in The Road Warrior). Second, so much time had passed since Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome that I almost couldn’t imagine Gibson being able to go another round through post-apocalyptic Australia, even when talk of a sequel started percolating in the early 00s.

Those concerns faded away when the rust-covered opening credits appeared on the screen. Once the movie started, it was non-stop, riding by the seat of your pants action, with nary a lull the entire running time. The most succinct words to describe Fury Road would be Mario Kart: Apocalypse; so many tricked out cars, speeding & smashing their way across the Australian-by-way-of-Namibian desert – I half expected to be spitting out dirt by the end of the movie.

As I said earlier, I was a bit worried about Tom Hardy taking over the role of Max Rockatansky, given my affinity for the previous trilogy and his (in my opinion) just okay performance as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (in fact, there was one part where he sounded a bit like Bane – including the muffled speech). I was pleasantly surprised by Hardy’s portrayal, though, as he managed to maintain Max’s quiet, somber demeanor, coming off very much like Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, like Gibson before him.

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Charlize Theron, in another role where she allows her acting to show through while hiding her beauty under a layer of grit & grime, rocks the movie as Imperator Furiosa, one of Immortan Joe’s trusted lieutenants. While the movie’s hero is Mad Max, much of the story focuses on Furiosa, her mission & her “cargo.”

Of course, every Mad Max (and post-apocalyptic, for that matter) movie needs an over the top bad guy and this time we get Immortan Joe, the leader of the oasis known as The Citadel and object of worship by the War Boys. Making his return to the Mad Max-verse, Hugh Keays-Byrne (who played chief villain Toecutter in the first Mad Max), plays Immortan Joe as a cross between a doughy, mutated televangelist, keeping his faithful followers hanging on his every word (and drop of water), and the way all of us who were bullied as schoolchildren saw those who made junior high a daily nightmare (no, I’m not bitter). The War Boys, especially poor Nux (played by Nicholas Hoult), are faithful to Joe to the end. Joe promises them a trip to Valhalla in exchange for their undying fealty, along with a chrome-spray paint smile. Oily, gross & evil are all apt descriptors for Immortan Joe.

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The sets in this movie, along with the seemingly unending Namibian desert, are gorgeous. Living in the desert Southwest my entire life, I could appreciate the sparse, wide open desert and breathtakingly beautiful scenery. The only thing more beautiful and refreshing in this movie was the use of practical effects for nearly all of the visuals in the movie, which made a few of the purely 3D gimmick scenes stand out like a sore thumb. Knowing that almost all of the racing, flipping and, ultimately, exploding cars were really raced, flipped and blown up made me giggle like a little kid. Comparing these effects to other contemporary CGI effects laden blockbusters just goes to show that, sometimes, the old ways are better. Far, far better.

If you haven’t already, grab a canteen of water, load up your spiked, armored Humvee with you and you closest, mutated friends and head to out to see Mad Max: Fury Road; just watch out for the road mutants as you make your way to the cinema.

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Wrap-Up: STAR WARS Celebration 2015

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by Jay McDowell

 

So, Celebration VII has come and gone, leaving a fair amount of people going through Star Wars withdrawals after having immersed themselves in all things from a galaxy far, far away for four days (or more if they stayed a day or so more and made the trip to Disneyland for a few spins on Star Tours). After the build-up for the last couple years since the announcement of Celebration being hosted in Anaheim, California this year, the faithful were finally able to indulge their SW sweet tooth.

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If there was one thing Celebration had this year in spades, it was people; it was overheard several times how this was the biggest (and most crowded) Celebration ever, with an anticipated 150,000 people in attendance (at times, it felt like ALL 150,000 people were present at the same time). Lines were insanely long, with waits of several hours being the norm rather than the exception (a wait of up to four and a half hours greeted those wishing to purchase a t-shirt — before the scalpers bought them all up — from the Celebration Store); this, unfortunately, made it difficult to see many of the panels, resulting in a Sophie’s Choice with regard to which panels and events would be waited in line for and which would be missed. Patience and understanding that one would not be able to see everything were the name of the game.

RELATED ~ Star Wars Celebration photo gallery

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That’s not to say that there was nothing to see beyond unending lines of sweaty, cranky geeks; quite the contrary. If there’s one thing Star Wars fans love more than watching their favorite movie series, it’s dressing up as characters from said films. Stormtroopers, Mandalorians and Jedi were found in abundance, as well as a smattering of less familiar costumes. Mash-ups were quite popular, as many Slave Leia/Frozen Elsa’s were on display, as well as an Iron Man/Stormtrooper combo and perhaps the first every Mon Calimari Playboy Bunny. Basically, Sexy Admiral Ackbar cosplay — four words you thought you’d never see together. And now you can’t unsee them.

_DSC0207Life-size dioramas were found here and there. One area was presented by the R2 Builders Club, a group of Star Wars and droid fans who make some of the most amazing full-sized reproductions of R2-D2 and his three-legged brothers you’ll see outside the movies. They had three displays set up and an area where you could race inflatable remote controlled R2-D2s around a small course. The displays were scenes you’d find on Tattooine: a landspeeder flanked by R2-D2 & R5-D4; a Jawa workshop with another R2-D2 & R5-D4, as well as a few other droids in various states of disassembly by a gaggle of Jawas; and finally a recreation of the treads of a sandcrawler, with another R2 & R5 (they really got around) and a few other droids familiar to anyone who’s seen the original Star Wars. Amazing detail in all three areas.

Elsewhere, one could have their picture taken with the near life-sized Roxy the Rancor, hop on a speederbike, “float” in a bacta tank or belly up to the Cantina, where most of the live interviews were held.

The vendor area offered up just about anything one could hope for, from vintage toys to clothes to artwork. Prices were all over the place, often in the same booth. If one were hoping to find a deal on a vintage Kenner Millennium Falcon, chances were good that it could be found; you just had to be ready to pay through the nose for a modern Rebels’ Sabine figure. The hunt was fun, regardless of what was being sought.

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The second floor of the Convention Center was where a good deal of the panels were held, as well as the Droid Builders display room & The Force Awakens prop display room. Sadly, the room run by a group of amateur hobbyists was more open and easier to access than the room run by the company putting the whole shindig on; here again, line waits to see what amounted to a few suits of stormtrooper armor and some models were in the neighborhood of two hours, while the only line in the Droid Builders’ room was from people stopping to look at the droids on display. Many astromechs could be seen rolling, beeping and tweeting about the room, with their creators nearby and more than happy to talk to you about what went into making these amazing recreations (the life-size, 3D printed Kenner R2-D2 was a particular favorite).

All in all, despite complaints of lines & the store selling out (lousy scalpers…) and a general impression of disorganization on the part of the convention runners, most everyone seemed to have a great time, celebrating the universe that has made so many people happy for near 40 years now.

 

[Jay McDowell is a walking vault of completely useless knowledge & trivia (great for a game of Trivial Pursuit, lousy in a zombie apocalypse). He saw a certain movie set in a galaxy far, far away in the theatre at the age of five & never looked back, pop culturally speaking. He watches an unhealthy amount of truly atrocious sci-fi & horror B-movies (he watched ‘Manos’: The Hands of Fate with his new bride on their honeymoon; inexplicably, she’s still with him). Episodic television was ruined for him by Lost. He thinks pizza is Nature’s perfect food, encompassing all five food groups (meat, dairy, grains, vegetables & grease) in every bite.]

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