Creature

Thale (2012)

Thale

Thale is based on the Scandinavian legend of the hulder. A huldra (the plural is hulder) is a female forest creature who has the ability to shift shape to lure young men into the forest (think a siren of the forest). Thale takes a slightly different approach to the usual “monster in the woods who eats people”.

The film follows Leo and Elvis played by Jon Sigve Skard (Hidden) and Erlend Nervold (Sirkel) respectively who are a cleaning company specialising in cleaning of crime scenes. Whilst Leo seems cut out for this life, a taciturn man who gets on with the job and does it well, Elvis is entirely unsuited for the gory work, when we first meet them cleaning up after a dead woman Elvis spends the entire time throwing up, adding to the mess rather than cleaning it. On their next job to tidy up after the death of an old man in the woods who has been dead for some time and partly eaten by wild animals the two discover a secret room. Leo, like a sensible person says they should wait for the authorities but Elvis has a different idea and not only goes down the stairs but through a series of underground rooms, touching things at will.

In the subterranean complex the two discover lots of out of date canned food before finding a more ominous room papered with pages from an encyclopaedia of human anatomy containing (amongst other things, a fridge, tape recorder and a bath filled with a milky liquid). It is from this bath that Thale rises from. Thale appears to be a very attractive, traumatised, mute young woman played by Silje Reinåmo (Patriot Act). It is clear from the start and her appearance from the milky bathtub that there is more to Thale than meets the eye but it is not until near the end of the film that the whole story becomes clear. Thale is a huldra of legend who was rescued by the deceased old man and hidden from the world in the remote underground rooms.

At 76 minutes long Thale is pretty short but it doesn’t feel rushed and being so compact doesn’t suffer from any dead or unnecessary scenes that can plague longer films. The whole film has a pared back feeling, with no accompanying soundtrack and a very small cast with only three main characters and maybe five or so supporting cast members meaning that the film is heavily reliant on the acting ability of three relatively unknown actors, which luckily is very good. Writer and director Aleksander Nordaas (Sirkel) does a marvellous job spreading the plot throughout the film, giving the audience just enough for them to guess what is happening without spoon feeding.

I would recommend Thale to both fans and non-fans of horror films as Nordaas’s eerie fairy tale stays with you for hours after watching.

Rating: 5/5

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Fun Fact: Director Nordaas has previously worked with both Skard and Nervold on several films including his first feature-length film, Sirkel which in English translates as ‘Circle’, a film I will be looking out for after watching Thale. Nordaas has also previously worked with Reinåmo on a short film called Bak lukkede dører (or ‘Behind Closed Doors’).

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Komodo vs. Cobra (2005)

Komodo vs Cobra

I don’t really know where to start with Komodo vs. Cobra, otherwise known as KvC, it is the B-movie a film of that title promises to be. The film opens on the survivors of a US scientific base on an island in the South Pacific running for their lives from a giant Komodo dragon of their creation, unfortunately two don’t make it but their companions escape to a picturesque waterfall only for their other creation, a giant cobra to spring up from the stream and swiftly consume the lead scientist leaving only his (very attractive) daughter.

After the scientists miss their daily check-in, the US military investigate and decide to go with the most “sensible” plan of blowing up the island and all the creatures on it, including any civilians such as the unfortunate news-crew-come-animal rights protestors that have illegally landed on the island to expose the “evil science” (more fool them!). The crew comprises of three environmentalists, a C-list celebrity who has fallen in love with one of the protestors and a TV reporter and her camera man, none of whom are very convincing in their roles. Along with the crew there is the incredibly macho captain Mike Stoddard, played by Michael Paré (The Virgin Suicides, Street of Fire) who is not only able to drive them all to the island but a capable helicopter pilot in possession of an amazing gun that never needs reloading firing well over 15 shots at a time at the giant monsters even though they never do any damage. Pretty soon they all realise that they need to get off the island before the government close down (aka blow up) the island project but the only way is through an island infested with giant komodo dragons and cobras (yes, there are more than one of each!)

Two things that made me really angry with KvC were the “science” and the logic behind it. Apart from the limitless ammo in Stoddard’s gun, at the start we are told that by not moving the Komodo dragon won’t see you and you can escape (think T-Rex in Jurassic Park), however at the end when one inconveniently appears between the survivors and the helicopter, we are told that it is drawn to the helicopter as it smells like humans, if this is the case, surely it would be able to smell you even if you are stationary and eat you?! The reasoning behind creating the giant beasts is dubious, the US military funding the project wants to use the “growth matrix” developed to increase crop production in two randomly picked animals (it could easily have been Hamster vs. Robin) in order to gain a vaccine to use on troops to protect them from human diseases. This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, why do the animals need to be giant to do this? Clearly the outcome is going to be giant animals you can’t control. Also, I doubt the DNA matrix created for plants (which we still don’t know the long term impact of) would so readily be applicable to animals.

The budget for the film was clearly all spent on the aerial shots and location in the South Pacific, leaving very little for the (arguably very important) CG of the giant animals. What little plot there is in the film is almost identical to Director and Writer Jim Wynorski’s previous film, Curse of the Komodo, also featuring giant Komodo dragons. The dialogue and acting in KvC is predictable and stunted leaving me questioning why would anyone say that? Rather than helping the film progress.

Whilst the film closes on the battle we are all watching the film for, which is better a Komodo dragon or a Cobra, we never receive a definitive answer, so bets are still on for the inevitable sequel!

Rating: I can’t decide if it is so bad it is good so I’m plumping for an average score of 2/5

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An American Werewolf In London (1981)

an-american-werewolf-in-london-poster

I am surprised that I it has taken me so long to review a werewolf film given the number floating about. An American Werewolf In London was a good film to put right this lapse. The film opens in a long aerial sequence of the imposing English countryside (far away from the urban jungle of London) which reminded me greatly of the opening of The Shining released a year before. We meet David Kessler and Jack Goodman, two young American tourists played by David Naughton (Midnight Madness) and Griffin Dunne (Dallas Buyers Club) respectively as they come across a small village pub. The Slaughtered Lamb is a pub for ‘local folk’ and after an altercation with a few of the locals, the two hikers leave into the dark night. The pair completely ignore the locals advice of ‘Beware the moon’ and ‘Keep to the road’ and head off singing into the open moorland, an unwise idea at the best of times. The locals, feeling guilty go after Jack and David but are too late, the tourists have been attacked by a hideous wolf killing Jack and mauling David, putting him into a coma.

When David wakes up three weeks later in a London hospital he starts having horrific nightmares and is visited by a decomposing Jack, trapped forever to wonder the Earth until the bloodline of the werewolf that killed him has gone, which, of course, is David. When he is discharged David moves in with his nurse, played by Jenny Agutter (Logan’s Run) which seems somewhat unethical to me but this was the 80s I suppose. Alone on the night of the full moon he transforms into a werewolf and terrorizes the whole of London, killing several people.

The special effects in An American Werewolf in London are really good, especially considering that it was made in an era before CGI. The werewolf is one of the best I’ve seen on film, neither a hirsute man in need of a manicure or a normal wolf it is something out of nightmares, a giant black-haired beast with large yellow fangs and flashing eyes. The transformation from man to beast is definitely the set-piece of the film with the agony of bones transforming, limbs changing and whole physiology shifting in clear detail. That said, the special effects of the slowly decaying Jack are also excellently realised.

I really enjoyed An American Werewolf in London, it wasn’t too long and had a clear story arc, albeit predictable. Written and directed by John Landis (The Blues Brothers, Twilight Zone: The Movie) it is a fun film to watch when you are not in the mood for anything particularly scary or that requires too much thinking about.

Rating: 5/5

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Fun Fact: All the songs in the soundtrack have the word ‘moon’ in the title, including Blue Moon, Moondance and Bad Mood Rising.

The Mole People (1956)

The mole people

The Mole People opens with an introduction from real-life Professor Frank C. Baxter on past views on the idea of a hollow Earth, which provide both a great context to the film and a very interesting side point. Baxter mentions two very famous theories by John Symmes and Cyrus Teed although what is not clear is these have any relationship to the underground chasm in the film. The film proper is set in nondescript ‘Asia’, although given the propensity of Sumerian is likely to be Iraq. It follows a group of Indiana Jones-type archaeologists led by Dr Roger Bentley and Dr Jud Bellamin played by John Agar (Revenge of the Creature, Invisible Invaders) and Hugh Beaumont (The Human Duplicators) respectively.

A series of clues unearthed during earthquakes points to a previously lost civilisation on top of the mountain where they settled after the great flood (think Noah and his ark). The archaeologists trek to the top of the mountain along with Professor Lafarge (Nestor Paiva), Dr Paul Stuart (Phil Chambers) and a local guide, Nazar (Rodd Redwing) where they find the ruins of an ancient temple. After a series of unfortunate events, several of which could have been prevented if wearing sensible safety gear and taking sensible precautions, the archaeologists find themselves deep underground where they discover the remains of the ancient civilisation, including a race of white skinned, black eyed people still practicing the ancient ways. There is another race, the eponymous mole people who are slaves to the humanoids, who, after 5,000 years can they truly be called human? The archaeologists arrival throws the underground realm into disarray causing a rebellion from the subjugated Mole People.

The Mole People is a good example of films from the 1950s, like all films of the era the men are ‘manly’ and the main hero gets the beautiful damsel in distress, a slave girl played by Cynthia Patrick who is Marked as she shows none of the genetic mutations to survive in the darkness. The special effects in The Mole People are typical of films from this era, with large caverns with exquisitely painted but unrealistic backdrops and too regular boulders and rock faces, and the disfigured mole people are obviously people in rubber masks. The film has a lot of dark shots, lit only with a spot light and handheld torch which is refreshing, as one of my biggest bug bears of films is the overuse of lighting when it apparently takes place in darkness.

The director, Virgil Vogel (The Land Unknown, The Big Valley) plays fast and loose with scientific fact and practice and there are a few glaringly obvious scientific falsehoods and malpractices, for example the Sumerians are described as albinos but all have black hair and the team manage to break a tablet that had survived 5,000 years and don’t seem to care. Despite the leaps of faith required, I enjoyed The Mole People immensely, it was very reminiscent of the original Star Trek and I would recommend this film to anyone who enjoyed the adventures of James T. Kirk.

Rating: 4/5

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Black Sheep (2006)

black sheep

Black Sheep is set in the idyllic countryside on a sheep farm in New Zealand featuring a farmer and his sons Henry and Angus Oldfield. Things soon turn nasty as Angus, jealous of his younger brother kills Henry’s pet sheep before tormenting him with the sheep’s still bloody skull. Moments after the boys then learn that their father has died in an unspecific farm accident. The film then fast forwards fifteen years and we again meet up with Henry, now an adult played by Nathan Meister (Avatar, The Adventures of Tintin), as he returns to his home farm. The incident witnessed at the opening of the film has left Henry with a pathological fear of sheep, something that is a large issue when visiting a sheep farm! Indeed, the first shot of the older Henry is him cowering in the back of a taxi surrounded by a flock of sheep. The older Angus, played by Peter Feeney (30 Days of Night) is still the same piece of work that scared his younger brother wearing a sheep’s head and is now running a laboratory experimenting on genetically modified sheep.

One of the genetically modified lambs, or rather sheep embryo in a test tube, is released by two hapless animal rights campaigners, Grant (Oliver Driver) and Experience (Danielle Mason), which subsequently attacks Grant before moving onto the field of sheep nearby. Unfortunately for Grant it appears that the ‘mad sheep disease’ is not only communicable between sheep but also to humans, turning the human victim into a sheep. Living alongside Angus on the farm is Mrs Mac, who incidentally is the person who shares the bad news of their father’s death with the boys in the first scene, and Tucker (Tammy Davis). Whilst showing Henry the farm, Tucker and Henry come across Experience and with her the infected sheep. The film then follows the three of them as they battle the genetically modified sheep and search for a solution to the spreading problem.

As with all comedy films there are a number of unrealistic scenes (putting aside the premise of killer sheep), including a sheep driving a pick-up truck over the edge of a cliff and a scientist being attacked by sheep next to the offal pit where they dispose of the remains of their experiments. I think sheep lend themselves very well to this premise with their blank staring eyes meaning it is very hard to tell which sheep is infected and which is not until it attacks. The undeniable stars of the show are the demonic sheep, particularly the evil lamb that is responsible for the outbreak, created by Weta workshop who shot to fame after producing the special effects for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Black Sheep is a satisfying romp around the New Zealand countryside providing just the right balance of gore, laughs and plot. The one negative to this film is their representation of scientists as megalomaniacal psychopaths with no respect for either animal or human life. On the other hand, the writer and director Jonathan King (Under the Mountain, The Tattoist) is equally scathing of the animal rights protestors, portraying them as deluded hippies who spout long rhetoric spiels at the drop of a hat and carry around geranium candles to ‘balance their hormones’ so it is clear that King takes neither view particularly seriously. I definitely enjoyed Black Sheep and was surprised at the level of realism in the sheep (I was expecting something along the lines of The Deadly Bees.

Fun Fact: The scientific word for a phobia of sheep is ovinaphobia.

The Deadly Bees (1966)

The Deadly Bees

The title, The Deadly Bees, is pretty self-explanatory; however the film sets up the back story in the first two scenes. The first takes place in a government office where two suited and booted gentlemen receive a letter from a ‘scientist’ about a strain of deadly bees he has developed, warning them to take him seriously or he’ll use his bees to kill some unspecified person. The two ministers write off the letter, along with the several waste paper bins full of previous letters from the scientist as the ravings of a madman. The second scene introduces the main character, Vicki Robbins, played by Suzanna Leigh (Lust for a Vampire) an exhausted pop star that is then sent to convalesce for two weeks on Seagull Island coincidently where the deadly bees have been developed.

Vicki stays with Ralph and Mary Hargrove, played by Guy Doleman (Thunderball) and Catherine Finn (The Creeping Flesh) where she meets H.W Manfred played by Frank Finlay (The Pianist, Lifeforce), your quintessential eccentric gentleman. Manfred is an expert apiarist and is bee mad, he even breeds his bees in his house with a window into their hive. However, all is not as it seems in the Hargrove residence either, with Mr Hargrove’s unexplained nocturnal visit to the stables with a large hypodermic needle. It seems that Vicki has stumbled into a long held feud between the two men. It soon becomes clear that the real villain of the film is Hargrove who goes on to use his swarm of killer bees to kill his wife, or is it? The film attempts to keep the viewer guessing as to which of the not particularly likeable beekeepers is responsible for the swarm of killer bees but it was pretty easy to guess who was responsible from about half way through.

The film suffers from a stilted and predictable script with plot spoon fed to the viewer just to ensure that everybody gets the (hardly complex) plot. Indeed some of the best acting is from the supporting animal cast, particularly the Hargrove’s dog, Tess who is unfortunately the first victim of the killer bees. The special effects of the film are underwhelming, using a lot of spliced shots of generic bees flying around to an ominous sound track and plastic flies stuck onto the face of a victim as they are attacked. In fact, all the bees used in various sequences, from the plastic flies to the superimposed bees and the single close up of bees stinging skin seem to be different types, sizes and colours.

The Deadly Bees is an adaptation of ‘A Taste For Honey’ by H. F. Heard and is one of the director by Freddie Francis’ (The Elephant Man, Cape Fear) weaker films. All in all The Deadly Bees is a pretty naff, unsubstantial film that is not really worth watching except to marvel at the poor effects, which were bad even for that era which gave us such greats as The Birds, Jason and the Argonauts and Mary Poppins.

Fun Fact: Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones appears as a cameo at the start of The Deadly Bees playing with his previous band, The Birds.

 

The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920)

the golem

The Golem: How He Came into the World (or Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam as it is known in the original German) is the third of three films directed by Paul Wegener (the preceding films being The Golem and the dancing girl and The Golem which were both lost) based on the Jewish legend of the Golem. The eponymous Golem is a large man-like creature made out of clay played by the director Paul Wegener.

The story is in five chapters, the first beginning with Rabbi Loew (Albert Steinrück), portrayed as a stereotypical magician, pointy hat and all, reading a coming disaster for the Jewish community in medieval Prague. The Emperor then signs a decree ordering all the Jews to move into a ghetto and Rabbi Loew starts plotting a way to save the Jewish people by creating a man out of clay. In the second chapter the message for the Jews to evacuate to the ghetto is delivered by the knight Florian (Lothar Müthel), where he meets Rabbi Loew’s beautiful daughter Miriam (Lyda Salmonova) and falls in love and the Golem is brought to life in a dramatic fire-laden ceremony by Loew and his assistant, Famulus (Ernst Deutsch). In third chapter, Rabbi Loew takes the Golem to show the Emperor at the Rose Festival and from then, a series of calamitous events occur.

As with all silent films, any emotions must be expressed via facial expressions and body language. The love shown between Florian and Miriam on their first meeting is a good example of how well this is done, both of them taking deep shuddering breaths and clinging to one another, hand on hearts which I found a better expression of two people flirting and falling in love than the more modern kissing then waking up naked next to each other.

The use of lighting and shadows along with the unusual shaped highly expressionist set design by Hans Poelzig gives the impression of a poor marginalised community in which the tall angular houses loom over the narrow streets, presenting blank walls with dark orifices in the form of windows.  Indeed Loew’s home looks more akin to living inside a giant tree than a house, consisting of organic flowing lines and small shadowy spaces. The use of colour filters again adds to the tone of the film for example, the use of gold for the temple, green for the Rabbi’s house and blood red for the rampaging Golem. The version of the film I watched was accompanied by an excellent score with as a violin and piano duet and I feel it captured the mood and story of the film perfectly.

The Golem: How He Came into the World is an amazing film and I would recommend it to anyone, both people familiar and unfamiliar with the German Expressionist movement and horror films.