We’re all gonna die.
It’s a sobering thought, but we cling to the hope it’ll be relatively painless and perhaps even dignified.
But what if it isn’t?
What happens if you end up like one of those Pan Am passengers in the 1988 Lockerbie Bombing perched atop a Scottish roof still strapped into a seat after a 30,000-foot freefall?
Or how about that guy in Brisbane who swallowed a backyard gecko for a dare? Man, that did not turn out well. His body reacted to the bacteria in the lizard’s gut, went septic, swelled up and caused an excruciating checkout, an exit so god-awful that even his balls were the size of grapefruits. I wouldn’t even wish that on Billy Ray Cyrus.
In the movies we’ve long been treated to absurd deaths, such as the teary downfall of chief scumbag Manny Fraker in the world-class Death Wish 3. Bronson makes sure he’ll no longer be bothering the neighbors by firing a rocket launcher at him from six feet away, a fearsome blast that sends the former gang leader out the window and smeared onto the street for rubberneckers to gawp at.
Aah, God bless the heartwarming subtleties of cinema.
Can’t say I’m a big Bond fan.
It had its place, but any franchise that staggers on for more than six decades has gotta be stretching things, you know? Much like the Carry On stuff, I enjoy a twenty-minute burst on TV here and there but don’t feel any need to keep watching. I think the moment I really turned away was during one of the latter-day flicks in which Judi Dench called Bond a ‘misogynist dinosaur’. Fucking hell, if a fantasy figure like 007 is getting slapped down for having a good time, then movie-making really is in bad shape. How long before Bond becomes monogamous and eschews violence in a bid to shake off all that toxic masculinity? Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets turned into a Muslim and given a mission to protect the world’s mosques from custard pie throwers.
Anyhow, back to the days when Bond still amused me. Live and Let Die was Roger Moore’s debut and is best remembered as the one with the voodoo and all the blacks. A black Bond Girl, a black villain, numerous black settings (such as Harlem and the Caribbean) and basically more blacks than you could shake a stick at. A fair few people see it as racist now because it has a plethora of drug-dealers, ghetto stereotypes and generally unsavory types. Where are all the ‘good’ blacks? They cry.
The Bond movies have always perched near the top of the commercial tree and for the franchise to feature a black-heavy cast was an enormous step forward in terms of visibility and acceptance for the brothers. I don’t see how it can be interpreted any other way. Live and Let Die represented an overdue barrier snapping, even if it is some distance from the much better Spy Who Loved Me. Still, it has good moments, such as the non-Adele title song, the lengthy speedboat chase, a pincers-wielding henchman, and Bond annoying PETA by running across the backs of those alligators.
I don’t think Die ever catches fire, though, a deficiency emphasized by its daft final scene in which Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto) meets his maker after displaying the usual lackadaisical, overcomplicated attempt to dispatch Bond. This time round he winches Bond and Solitaire (Jane Seymour) over an underground pool and tries to feed them to a shark but Bond manages to escape with the aid of a super cool buzz saw watch. He gets back onto dry land and has an unconvincing tussle with the knife-wielding Kananga, resulting in the pair tumbling into the water. Kananga, for some reason, feels it’s necessary to not only allow Bond to put a compressed gas pellet in his mouth but to swallow it as well, even though it’s about three inches long. And so he surges upward accompanied by a wet farting noise before thumping into the cavern’s roof in a bloodless, offal-free explosion. A shame, as I would’ve quite liked to see the dull Jane Seymour smacked in the face by a length of intestines.
Cue Bond to look rakish, brush himself down and deliver the requisite one-liner: “Take that, you fucker.”
Oh, all right, it was something witier.
Horizontal dancing twelve meters up
Australia produced hardly any horror flicks in the 1970s, but at least it took a shot at its first vampire movie in 1979. Pity Thirst is such a toothless, anemic effort. It’s built on an interesting idea that manages to link one of history’s alleged great bitches (Elizabeth Bathory) to a clinical take on vampirism, complete with ‘blood farms’ and the worldwide distribution of disease-free blood. There’s also the notion that conditioning can play a big part in bloodsucking, an approach that brings to mind the psychological aspect of Romero’s vastly superior Martin.
Ultimately, Thirst is too slow and nonsensical to be recommended, but at least it boasts a memorably silly death in its final half an hour. One of the bad guys decides to hang onto the landing gear of a departing helicopter (does that kind of shit ever go well in the movies?) and manages to get shaken off over high-tension power lines. He crash-lands on the wires and does a terrific little jig, the weight of his sizzling, thrashing corpse eventually causing them to snap. He bangs into the ground and we get a pleasing close-up of his blackened face.
Before 1979’s Prophecy, I don’t think I’d ever seen a flick in which the main character is so irrelevant that he or she could be fished out without making any difference to the storyline.
However, this cheesy, quite mad slice of eco-horror starring Rocky’s missus, Talia Shire, manages just that. Her pregnancy, fear of birth defects and abortion dilemma are introduced and… don’t influence events in the slightest. The poor lamb has to console herself by occasionally playing the cello in the background while waiting for Rocky II to get things back on track.
Instead the action concentrates on her superhero hubby confronting a pollution-created, rampaging monster in the woods. As played by Robert Foxworth, he’s a paramedic, scientist and environmental warrior, the sort of busy chap who saves rat-bitten ghetto babies in New York before dashing off to a Maine forest to tackle a bunch of dastardly big business types.
Prophecy is essentially an update on all those 1950s monster movies, sharing the same nonsensical foundations. Pollution is incapable of making animals oversized and super strong just like it’s impossible for radiation to create the giant ants of Them! Call me a spoilsport, but both contaminants simply sicken and kill whatever life forms they come into contact with. I dunno, it’s almost as if the movies just plain make stuff up for the purpose of entertainment. Still, if you’re prepared to put aside commonsense, the straight-faced Prophecy does boast a big budget, a professional gloss supplied by Seconds director John Frankenheimer, and lots of laughs.
The best scene arrives when we meet a family of hikers who’ve bedded down for the night around a campfire. Little Johnny’s asleep in a bright yellow sleeping bag with the zipper all the way up to his adorable chin, but for some reason its garish color is not enough to deter a ten-foot tall, half-insane, mutated grizzly bear. Johnny does his best, though, and upon hearing the creature’s terrifying roar, he’s up on his feet. Shame there’s no time to unzip the bag, leaving him in the unfortunate position of trying to hop away like a giant, condom-encased stiffy awkwardly backing off from some particularly rank pussy.
Hop, hop, hop… Go on, Johnny, you brave little boy, you can do it.
Then he’s caught by a massive swipe and sent hurtling through the air where he explodes against a boulder in a mini-blizzard of white feathers. The camera lingers as the guts of his sleeping bag poignantly drift back to earth.
This comical scene is just one of the many reasons Prophecy fails, but it remains a fun watch with its duck-swallowing salmon, crazed raccoons, superstitious Indians, lovely scenery, and moping, extraneous wife.
Wakey! Wakey! Hands off, snakey!
All right, that amusing catchphrase might come from a different animal-flavored horror pic, but the unfortunate Klaus Kinski would’ve done well to heed such sage advice in the hokey 1981 misfire, Venom. He’s a naughty criminal aiming to kidnap a rich kid with his girlfriend, who’s already working as a maid where the animal-loving boy lives. For some reason she’s decided to seduce the family’s burly chauffeur and rope him in as well. Trust a woman to complicate things. Anyhow, on the day of the kidnapping (in some unlikely pet shop mix-up) a deadly black mamba is wrongly picked up by the boy and gets loose in the house…
Doesn’t sound too bad a premise, does it? Indeed, I feel this flick had the potential to be a corker with a cast that includes the high-profile nutters Kinski and Oliver Reed, British sexpot Susan George, and Godfather and Strangelove veteran Sterling Hayden in his last role. Unfortunately, the expected manly fireworks between Kinski and Reed (stoked by sexual jealousy over Ms George) don’t really materialize as the pic deteriorates into a stodgy siege complete with boring British Bobbies bumbling around outside.
However, we do get a couple of daft deaths. Firstly, Ollie sweats buckets when the reptile fancies a jaunt up the leg of his strides, its cloth-clad outline heading straight for his no doubt very nervous crown jewels. Much, much better is Kinski’s demise, an extraordinary two-minute sequence of sustained melodrama in which he opts against the immediate application of a tourniquet or that time-honored movie tradition of trying to suck out the poison. Now I appreciate Herr Kinski is rarely known for the subtlety of his performances, but his overblown downfall simply has to be witnessed once in a moviegoer’s life.
He’s negotiating with the cops from an upstairs window when our slithering serial killer sneaks up behind a curtain, understandably attracted to such a prime slice of German ham. It’s expected that Kinski screams and staggers backwards once bitten, but it’s somewhat of a surprise to see him fall over, roll across the carpet, get up, wrap the mamba around an arm, hold it triumphantly above his head like a trophy, run around, and thump it into a table and a chandelier. Flail is not the word. Maybe his energetic tantrum is simply a delayed reaction to having passed on Raiders of the Lost Ark to star in this turkey.
But there’s really only one question left: Is he going to start using the mamba as a lasso?
Coz he sure as hell ain’t finished yet.
Somehow he’s managed to get entangled in a blood-stained sheet that might be a curtain, tablecloth or the fucking Shroud of Turin. Suitably adorned, he smashes through a pair of balcony doors and whacks the snake three times against an outside wall, perhaps to give the watching coppers a laugh. Then he reels back inside. Nope, hang on, he’s back outside again and this time he’s got a gun. He bravely shoots at the snake’s tiny, black-eyed head, but misses from three inches. Well, he is full of poison. Not to mention he’s heard they’re already planning a sequel to Raiders. I guess it’s hard to shoot straight when you’re shaking with rage at your career choices. Never mind. It’s kind of irrelevant anyway as a police sniper has just put two slugs in his chest. You’d think such a rapid ingestion of high-powered bullets would stop the manic thrashing, but Kinski’s managed to up the ante again by going into what appears to be a full-blown epileptic fit. At least he finally blows the pesky snake’s head off in a close-up explosion of gore before (of course) plunging to his doom off the balcony.
And I tell you what: That snake deserved an Oscar.
Most teenage boys are on an epic quest to get laid, but Deadly Friend’s Paul Conway puts in more effort than most. Mother-drugging, vehicle theft, trespass, body snatching and experimental brain surgery are all utilized. Why? Because Samantha, the cute girl next door, gave him a peck on the lips and now he’s got grandiose dreams of moving into the big time i.e. squeezing a tit.
Paul is a short, sixteen-year-old whiz kid. He’s such an egghead that he’s built a naff robot on caterpillar tracks and even teaches stuff about artificial intelligence and the human brain at university. He fails the cool factor, though, by not having a girlfriend. Luckily, Samantha’s drunken father is an abusive asshole who inadvertently puts his downtrodden offspring on life support. With the news the hospital is about to pull the plug, Paul is determined that his one chance of a handjob before he’s twenty-five is not going to slip away…
So, of course, he sticks the Commodore 64 brain of his pet robot into Sam’s cranium. What else is a backed-up teenage boy s’posed to do? For a moment it looks like an upgrade bordering on genius in that he’s replaced his bright yellow, burbling nerd machine with a busty, blonde hottie who will supposedly respond to his every command.
Unfortunately, like most teenage girls, Sam’s become a fucking psychopath. Her murderous instability is best illustrated by an impromptu game of basketball with a grumpy old neighbour, who’d earlier confiscated the ball. Sam breaks into her house and hurls the orb with such force that her head explodes in a geyser of blood and brains. To top things off, the shortened neighbor then staggers around the living room like the proverbial headless chicken.
Not even sure a Harlem Globetrotter could replicate a crowd-pleasing trick like that.
Paul, meanwhile, is still not getting any tit action. Some genius. What he should have done is skipped the brain surgery and instead opted for a spot of necrophilia. At least that icky shit gives guaranteed results.
Deadly Friend is a tonal mess made by horror stalwart Wes Craven. Credibility-wise, it fares even worse than his other back-from-the-dead effort, the 1985 TV movie, Chiller (released a year beforehand). The painfully obvious writing features characters that might as well be introduced with signs above their head such as Bad Dad, Wacky Comic Relief and Bully Who Bites Off More Than He Can Chew. It’s packed with coincidences and implausibilities, as well as a wonderfully absurd turn from Kristy Swanson as Samantha. Having established she’s not the best actress in the movie’s opening half-hour, she proceeds to play a robotic version of herself complete with pincers-hands. I kept expecting her to start body popping or at least have a go at the moonwalk. Honestly, Deadly Friend is a far-fetched treat and certainly wouldn’t be out of place on my list of The Amusingly Bonkers. At one point a criminal’s bag-snatching attempt is improbably foiled by Paul’s Mark 1 robot, leaving the guy to muse: “What the hell was that?”
After watching this flick, it’s likely you’ll be asking the same question.
Taking the piss out of 2008’s The Happening is like firing fishy bullets into a barrel full of low-hanging fruit. It’s staggeringly inept and fully deserves the derision heaped upon it, although it’s tricky to put your finger on why it goes tits up from the first scene onward. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with a flick focusing on an epidemic of plant-induced suicide. Plenty of scope for intrigue, heart-pounding drama and inventive deaths, yes?
And yet when the first bunch of people start killing themselves (in this case a load of builders leaping off a roof) it’s inexplicably funny. More Monty Python than Eric Steel’s 2006 queasy suicide-porn doco, The Bridge.
It doesn’t help when we later see our imminent self-destructors doing a funny little half-dance before their big moment in which they freeze and then take four or five steps back. This is an attempt to generate suspense. Nails are supposed to be dug into palms while you think Oh no, it’s about to happen again! Ditto the endless shots of soughing trees. Not atmospheric. Neither does it help that at one point some of our heroes realize the suicide germ is airborne so they try to outrun the wind across a field. Then there’s the dialogue (“It makes you kill yourself. Just when you thought there couldn’t be any more evil invented”). Casting Mark Wahlberg as a sincere, tanktop-clad science teacher was also a bad move. Games teacher, yes. Something involving actual qualifications and intellectual discipline? No. Sadly, he survives (despite a kowtowing, one-sided conversation with a plastic pot plant) when he surely deserved to swallow a gecko.
So anyway, nothing works in Shyamalan’s mega-turkey (which still made money and is already on its way to becoming a cult movie). However, I am fond of a woman showing Marky Mark phone footage of a doolally bloke at a zoo who’s gone for a wander in the lion enclosure. Both his arms are quickly bitten off. “Mother of God,” the woman says. “What kind of terrorists are these?”
Not sure, lady, but maybe (eek!) the type that dresses up as big cats…
The feline-fuelled fatality is an entertaining scene, but The Happening outdoes itself around the hour mark as our dismally uncharismatic hero watches a man switch on a ride-on mower. It starts phut-phutting around the front yard. Strange time to be concerned about the lawn but wait, oh my God, he’s lying down in front of its whirring blades!
Marky Mark’s eyes widen. He takes a deep breath. Surely this is too surreal to be happening…?
Now the unfortunate gardener is flat on his back, one arm reaching toward his looming, petrol-driven murderer, perhaps asking for a short back and sides. Almost as cool as the T-1000 bearing down on a hapless victim in Terminator 2. The machine bumpily trundles over him spitting out a red mist. Christ, who needs a liquid metal, shape-shifting cyborg when you can have a riderless lawnmower doing its best to wipe out humanity at one mile per hour instead?