As I have mentioned before (in my post about They Live being the “best episode of Outer Limits never made”), there are decent, original flicks that are some variation on the sci-fi and horror genres
that sometimes beg, no—scream out for the cutting room treatment, where, had they been trimmed to the average length of a one-hour TV show (48 to 52 minutes, depending on commercials), they would be perfect.
In the first half of July, LERNER INTERNATIONAL watched twelve movies*, several of which fall into the category of “Potential Outer Limits Episodes;” let’s take a look:
Three Potential Outer Limits Episodes: Shivers, Grave Encounters and 2002’s Solaris—
Shivers (a.k.a. They Came From Within) (1975; David Cronenberg) is a nifty B-movie horror-thriller that ends in a kinky apocalypse—and also happens to be David Cronenberg’s first theatrical feature.
“Everything is erotic, everything is sexual…even dead flesh,” says the lovely and underrated Lynn Lowry (pictured at the very top and at left), giving the philosophical backbone of the movie—before trying to infect her boyfriend with an aphrodisiacal sexual parasite!
A sexy Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Shivers was screened by me after I saw the excellent A Dangerous Method, and in hindsight, Cronenberg’s 1975 film is quite an auspicious start:
It not only strongly calls out major themes that he will be visiting throughout his career, but shows that the young director had a fabulous sense of genre even then—he knows the right buttons to push to increase an audience’s tension, as well as the right genre tropes to tweak; heck, he’s smart enough to include a cameo by the fabulous Barbara Steele! (pictured at bottom of post)
That said, Shivers could be cut down to 50 minutes and become a great Outer Limits episode–you can tell that there is some padding in the film: scenes of family life and shop-talk before the madness breaks out.
Additionally, I think this film was another inspiration/influence on Kubrick’s The Shining (something I’ve gone on about before, this list includes Hour of the Wolf, and Quatermass II).
Towards the end of Shivers, when everything is going to hell, when you watch main character Dr. Roger’s escape through the kinky, sex-crazed apartment building, don’t tell me it doesn’t remind you of Shelley Duvall running through The Overlook, seeing all sorts of apparitions, including the infamous “bear suit” moment—which for all intents and purposes could come directly from Cronenberg’s Shivers!
(BTW, there’s no chance of Shivers being made today, not with so many creepy scenes of children who have been obviously infected.)
Not available on DVD, Shivers can be watched HERE
Solaris (2002; Steven Soderbergh) is an intelligent and intense drama of a couple’s love that goes sour due to her increasing mental illness—reenacted on a spaceship hovering over a psychedelic planet that may be alive.
More of a romantic ghost story than science fiction, which became a bone of contention with Stanislaw Lem, the author of the 1961 source novel (which had been made into a film previously in 1972, by Andrei Tarkovsky—a film I saw in a bad print about thirty-mumble-mumble years ago, and did not like at the time; everybody says it’s a classic, but I’ve been dragging my feet to see it again…).
It seems that Lem was annoyed that Soderbergh’s version put the emphasis on human relations instead of how we might deal when confronted by something totally alien.
Not that I blame him; after having a character (a dead doctor on a video; in other words, a ghost) say, “We don’t want other worlds—we want mirrors,” and then, “Why do you think they ‘want’ something?”, a viewer might think that would be the route taken.
However, when the planet “recreates” George Clooney’s wife Rheya, they also recreate her mental problems—and Clooney’s (perhaps faulty) memories of her problems.
Very romantic, sad and psychological, Solaris also has a nice Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibe regarding the “recreated” humans.
Star Clooney does a top job carrying the show, and Natascha McElhone’s Rheya is gorgeous and heartbreaking, but Jeremy Davies steals the show as an engineer who seems reallllllly spaced-out.
A painful and adult film that is great food for thought (“We are in a situation that is beyond morality,” growls astronaut Viola Davis about the “rights” of a alien recreation), Solaris needed some serious trimming, about five to ten minutes worth—maybe even half a hour, honestly: but then it certainly would be great as another almost-Outer-Limits episode.
Grave Encounters (2011; The Vicious Brothers) starts off as a good spoof-with-genuine-scares of those “reality” ghost-hunting shows, then starts getting very, very repetitive—and “borrows” too much from [REC] and from that film’s excellent, even more supernatural sequel, [REC]2.
Presented as the raw footage of a TV show, the film follows the obnoxious, bratty ghostbusters as they explore a notorious abandoned mental hospital. For the first 45 minutes (the length of the shows it’s spoofing), Grave Encounters is frightening and twisty, with some good set-ups and pay-offs, and it was fun watching cynical skeptics getting their comeuppance.
There are still a few more effective (and cheap) scares after that point, but director team the Vicious Brothers have made their flick top heavy.
Most of the interesting ideas are up front, and since the film has no real ending, if you only watch the first hour or so (you can stop watching once they break open the door to “outside” the hospital) — you’ll be better off than if you watched the whole thing.
Watched via Nflix Streaming
Other Genre Flicks Seen (Sci-Fi June Keeps Spilling into July):
Fire & Ice (1983; Ralph Bakshi; produced by Ralph Bakshi and Frank Frazetta) is a film that really gives the impression that it should be watched stoned, very stoned.
Overall the film is a Frank Frazetta paperback book cover gallery brought to life.
It’s a low-budget B-movie animated sword & sorcery adventure; and if you liked John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian, you’ll like Fire & Ice.
Fun flick, though, one that time has been kind to—I now find the film’s old-school rotoscoping technique to be utterly fascinating!
Available at Nflix Streaming.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005; Garth Jennings) has a wonderful production design, very inspired by Terry Gilliam, but poor direction.
The actors are either miscast or misdirected—the characters are either unlikeable or lost, and main character Arthur Dent’s learning curve is dreadfully low.
Meanwhile, the dialog scenes are tepid at best, overacted horribly at worst. Lots of screaming and screeching abounds.
I did like the depressed robot, though, and Bill Nighy’s appearance as a spacey planet engineer—and by the halfway mark, there were a series of amusing moments… But overall, no. Don’t bother.
The Rest: Two Good, Two Bad
Real Men Have Emotions—
Louie: Season Two; 14 episodes (2011; created, edited, written and directed by Louis CK) Beyond comedy into raw uncomfortable emotional awareness—that always manages to have a sort-of happy ending.
Brilliant stuff, I can only concur with the chorus of accolades already being splooged onto Mr. CK already.
It’s not like seeing a movie—a visit to The Shrine of
The Temptation and Sacrifice of St. Luke of the Cool Hand is more like it,
with a mindblowing collection of character actors lending support (the apostles!)—the flick’s full of “hey, there’s that guy” moments.
I got my mind right, boss: this is One of the Best Films Ever, An All-Time Classic.
Bad Cops, Bad Cops, Whatcha Gonna Do?—
Luther: Season One (2010; Created by Neil Cross) Actually, I only watched episodes One to Five before giving up on this ridiculous soap opera—that’s to say, the show got so annoying and illogical so fast that I couldn’t finish watching it—it’s a terrible police procedural, a wretchedly bad cross between Dexter and the Goren/sexy psycho-killer multi-episode storyline of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Idris Elba’s talent couldn’t hold my interest, not when the scripts kept plunging him into stupidity. Just awful.
Rampart (2011; Oren Moverman; written by James Ellroy & Oren Moverman) Yeeesh, is this flick a mess! Lots of “acting,” with an incomprehensible “sitcom” family situation set up for the protagonist, bad cop Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson, acting up a storm, but with no place to go).
This flick realllllllllly meanders, and fails as a twist on the “police procedural/rogue cop” genre or as an examination of a cop on the verge of a breakdown—as failed as it is, 1972’s The New Centurions examines this better.
Meanwhile, fans of James Ellroy will recognize some of his words, and the labyrinthine plotting, but will find ennui instead of action, plodding instead of pulse-pounding, and stultifying boredom instead of stimulation. Dig it, hepcats, for a chief Ellroy kick, read (or re-read) his last novel, and the conclusion of his “Underworld USA” trilogy, Blood’s a Rover,
a neo-noir kick in the teeth that transcends genre and leaps into a hyperspace of evil 1964-1973 conspiracy. Brilliant stuff, gotta re-read it myself, toot sweet!
The First Half of July 2012: In order of films screened…
A Dangerous Method (2011) reviewed HERE
Hollywood Boulevard (1976) reviewed HERE
Luther: Season One (2010)*
Fire & Ice (1983)
Grave Encounters (2011)
Abandon Ship (1957) reviewed HERE
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
Louie: Season Two; 14 episodes (2011) *
[* = I treat a season of a television show like a multi-hour epic movie]