The Curse of the Aztec Mummy (La Maldición de la Momia Azteca, 1957)

The_Curse_of_the_Aztec_Mummy_posterI really wanted this review to go up on Mother’s Day, readers, I really did. But I ended up just constantly distracted by other things going on, and, well…here we are. Mummies, of course, are not strictly an Egyptian thing – the Inca of South America practiced mummification, and at least one Emperor of China was likewise preserved; and that of course is just intentional mummies, there have also been plenty of unintentional mummies, such as the bog bodies of western Europe and the Mummies of Guanajuato, preserved by dry air in underground galleries after being interred in 1833. What I’m getting at is that it would hardly be fair to do a Mummy Movie Month and never leave the sands of Egypt, which brings us to today’s feature. I’d previously reviewed the first film in the Aztec Mummy trilogy, so today we’re going to jump into the second film.

Spoilers ensue.

Picking up where the previous film left off, Dr. Krupp, aka the masked criminal known as the Bat, has been arrested and is being questioned in police headquarters.  During a transfer to the prison, the Bat’s gang attack, intent on freeing Krupp, only to be *almost* thwarted by The Angel, a crime-fighting luchador.  Escaping, Krupp begins formulating a fresh plan to steal the Aztec Treasure, the directions to which are encoded on the breastplate and bracelet buried with the Princess Xochitl.  To get the treasure, Dr. Krupp will find it the same way it was found last time – by hypnotizing Flor, Princess Xochitl’s modern incarnation, and forcing her boyfriend Dr. Almada to translate the inscription on the breastplate and bracelet.

Despite the best efforts of Flor and The Angel, Dr. Krupp gets the bracelet and breastplate, unaware that he’s now being pursued by the mummy of Popoca, Princess Xochitl’s lover who was buried alive to guard the treasure for all eternity.  Knowing that the mummy is on its way, Dr. Almada stalls for time with his translation, but will he be able to hold out long enough for Popoca to arrive?

Apparently it’s in the public domain?

I was not expecting it to become a lucha-superhero movie, although the Angel is far from the suave, competent operator that El Santo is, that’s for sure.  He spends far more time getting his ass handed to him than he does handing other’s asses to them, and there’s a good reason for this that I won’t spoil.  Watch the film, especially since you can do so above for free.

At barely over an hour long, THE CURSE OF THE AZTEC MUMMY barely breaks feature length, and moves along well enough that it never seems to drag – the story itself is broken into episodes almost as if this were a couple episodes of a serial edited together instead of a single feature.

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With the exception of the Angel, for the reasons listed above, the protagonists are pretty bland and uninteresting, though I liked that even hypnotized Flor was still resisting Dr. Krupp’s commands.  That being said, Dr. Krupp is the real star here; I think he has more screen time than any of the heroes, and you can tell Luis Aceves Castañeda is enjoying the opportunity to ham it up, making the most of every dramatic gesture and outrageous facial expression.  We also get a hint here that he wants the Aztec Treasure for more than just to get rich; he explicitly states that he’s going to use the Treasure to finance an experiment designed to make him immortal, which is dealt with in greater detail in the sequel, THE ROBOT VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY.  We might get to that one a little later this month.

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For a movie bearing his name, we don’t get a whole lot of Aztec Mummy action here.  We get a brief shot of him waking up as Dr. Krupp takes the breastplate and bracelet, and then nothing until the last five minutes of the film, where he extinguishes the lights before he kicks in the door (or maybe my copy just got real dark for about 50 frames) so he’s barely visible even when he does show up.  He’s an impressively violent mummy – one of Krupp’s henchmen gets thrown into a cabinet full of bottles of acid, and Popoca makes full use of the random pit full of snakes Krupp keeps in his hideout.

Final Analysis: A fun little movie that doesn’t overstay its welcome, THE CURSE OF THE AZTEC MUMMY is well worth a watch, with gangsters, luchadors, mummies and scientists all converging in a narrative free-for-all in the final act.  While it may not be as stand-alone as it’s predecessor, it would not make a bad introduction to Mexican horror cinema for those not yet in the know.

Overall, I give THE CURSE OF THE AZTEC MUMMY (1957)…

three_barrels_of_toxic_waste

THREE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

This review is part of MUMMY MOVIE MONTH at Radiation-Scarred Reviews.

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The Mummy’s Hand (1940)

The_Mummy's_Hand_InsertIt’s funny – how many good sequels did Universal put out in its Monsters series? It seems like each series started fairly strong and then tapered off hard. The Frankenstein series is the one real exception here, with BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and SON OF FRANKENSTEIN both being pretty strong. I’m generalizing, to be fair – I actually have not seen beyond tonight’s film, the second in the MUMMY franchise, as the last time I tried to watch it I fell asleep.  Let’s see how it holds up this time around, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

In a temple hidden deep within the Hills of the Seven Jackals, the ancient and doddering high priest transfers his position to his protege, Andoheb (George Zucco).  In so doing, he explains to Andoheb the story of Kharis – a priest buried alive during the reign of King Amenophis after stealing the sacred tana leaves to resurrect his lost love.  Kharis remains alive, sustained by a monthly dose of a tea brewed from tana leaves – three to maintain existence, and nine leaves if Kharis must ever be awoken to protect the tomb of his beloved Princess Ananka.

Enter archaeologist Steve Banning and his sidekick Babe Jenson (Wallace Ford, best known to horror fans for his role in FREAKS).  Having discovered a broken pot in the Cairo bazaar, Banning deciphers the hieroglyphics on it as leading to the lost tomb of Princess Ananka.  While Professor Andoheb decries the pot as a fake, Banning remains convinced of its authenticity, and signs on bumbling stage magician the Great Solvani (Cecil Kellaway, of THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS) on as an investor in their expedition.  Well, Andoheb can’t have these archaeologists poking around Ananka’s tomb, so he gets to work brewing a nine-leaf tea…

You know, I’m wondering now if it was a different Universal Mummy sequel that I fell asleep during.  Because this was none too shabby.  I mean, you could see the drop in budget from the first film, but the quality wasn’t as low as I recalled, so maybe I was watching a different mummy movie back then.  Or, my tastes have just improved.

That’s not to say the film isn’t without it’s flaws, the biggest being the comedy relief that seeped through so many films of this vintage – likely due to the war in Europe at the time, I think producers were of the opinion that people got enough horror from the newsreels and needed something lighter in the features.  Here, the comic relief comes primarily from Babe Jenson and “Poopsie.”  Who’s Poopsie? A wind-up dancing girl that Babe bought in the market and believes to bring him good luck.  In addition to being an obnoxious card-sharp and wannabe conman with a loud Brooklyn accent, Babe spends a good deal of time talking to Poopsie, using her as a foil to ask rhetorical questions regarding the plot to.

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Surprisingly though, for being comic relief, Babe ultimately proves the most effective character, taking down both Andoheb and Kharis while Banning literally stands there doing nothing.

This is, I believe, Tom Tyler’s only horror film, and he was cast as Kharis here solely because he sort of looked like a young Boris Karloff, allowing the recycling of footage from the original THE MUMMY.  The entire flashback sequence detailing Kharis’ origins is lifted straight from the previous film, with a few new inserts shot for close-ups showing Tyler’s face, as well as reshooting the scene in which the Scroll of Thoth is stolen, replacing the Scroll with the tana leaves that are this film’s McGuffin.

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Final Analysis: I’d like to take back what I said about THE MUMMY forming the template for all subsequent mummy movies – I think a lot more owe to THE MUMMY’S HAND and Kharis, especially with his dragging leg and stiff arm, than to Karloff’s arcane portrayal.  It’s not too bad a film, though the comedy gets a little heavy-handed at time.  Zucco, taking a break from his usual mad scientist roles, makes a fantastic villainous high priest and a highly credible one – check out the scene where he quietly discredits Banning and Jenson by describing them as conmen and grifters to Solvani’s daughter.

Overall, I give THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940)…

three_barrels_of_toxic_waste

THREE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

This review is part of MUMMY MOVIE MONTH at Radiation-Scarred Reviews.

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The Mummy (1932)

mummyThere’s no better film with which to start off Mummy Movie Month then the original 1932 classic starring Boris Karloff, David Manners, Edward van Sloan and Zita Johann. Born from the success of DRACULA and the continuing public fascination with Egypt in the wake of Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s unlooted tomb, THE MUMMY cemented Karloff’s status as the premier horror star of the 20th century and formed the template for almost every subsequent movie featuring the shambling, preserved undead.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

The 1921 British Museum Egyptian Field Expedition unearthed a spectacularly well-preserved mummy, identified by the hieroglyphics on his sarcophagus as the priest Imhotep.  More interesting were the hieroglyphics excised from his crypt – the spells intended to guide his soul peacefully into the afterlife.  As archaeologist and occultist Dr. Muller (Edward van Sloan, in a role very similar to his Van Helsing of the year before) muses, Imhotep was intended to be damned in both life and afterlife.  Buried with Imhotep was a golden case containing the fabled Scroll of Thoth, said to have been written by the god himself and to contain the secrets of life and death.  When the scroll is read, the mummy vanishes and the assistant who read the scroll is driven completely mad.

Ten years later, another Field Expedition is approached by a withered, ancient man identifying himself as “Ardath Bey (Karloff),” who offers to lead them to the unlooted tomb of the Princess Ankh-sun-amun.  Bey is a cold, standoffish creature, but he warms considerably upon encountering Helen Grosvenor (Johann), a local socialite, the daughter of the English governor of the Sudan and an Egyptian woman.  Bey exerts a hypnotic draw on her, and speaks of knowing her in a past life – as Anck-es-en-amon, the princess he broke his sacred vows as priest for.

For my money, this is one of the absolute best of the Universal Monster films. It’s certainly better than its predecessors, DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN (and I know I’m going to get flak from some of you for that).  Actually, there are some strong similarities between DRACULA and THE MUMMY – in both cases, a woman’s soul is threatened by an ancient undead creature, and is protected by a young man whom she loves and his older, more knowledgeable companion.  Adding to the comparison, in both films the young lover is played by David Manners (who would retire from acting a few years later in disgust over being typecast as such) and the older companion is Edward Van Sloan.

THE MUMMY does much better with the material than DRACULA does though, not least because it’s not afraid to commit itself to being a horror film.  Where DRACULA shies away from showing anything that might disturb audiences, undercutting its most effective scenes with terrible comedy relief and keeping the “horror” off-screen, THE MUMMY revels in its existence as a horror film, and gleefully shows its most ghoulish scenes to the audience, including the sequence of Boris Karloff being mummified alive.

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Much of the film’s power lies in the casting of Karloff – It is a tribute to his rising star power that while in FRANKENSTEIN he was barely credited, on posters for THE MUMMY he is billed simply as KARLOFF, or KARLOFF THE UNCANNY. He truly made the role of Imhotep work. I don’t think any of the other major players at Universal could have pulled it off as readily. His thin build and strong features made him a ready choice on appearance alone, and his ability to project a quiet menace and instill a scene with a real sense of dread only clinches it.  I can think of no other actor who can so completely dominate a scene while moving no more than an eyebrow!

Seriously, watch Karloff’s performance as Imhotep/Ardath Bey – he doesn’t move more than absolutely necessary, in keeping with the character’s dry, desiccated nature; and when he does move, it’s not quickly, but slow, deliberately.  His every act speaks to the fact that, as an immortal creature, the need to hurry is no longer one he feels.  He has all the time in the world to enact his plans, and is well aware of that fact.

Karloff’s performance is so good, he makes the rest of the cast look weak by comparison, though to tell the truth, much of the cast here *is* weak.  David Manners has the charisma of a wet sock.  I’m just going to come right out and say that.  He’s terrible in the romantic lead roles he kept getting shoehorned into.  Zita Johann, meanwhile, was primarily a stage actress who looked down on film work and brought a nasty attitude to the set, which led director Karl Freund to terrorize her on set by making her repeat takes over and over again.  It’s kind of interesting to see an “exotic” (she was Romanian) brunette as a love interest in that blonde-adoring era — even more so given that her character is intended to be mixed-race! I’m stunned that a movie with a “mulatto” female lead played in 1930s America, especially the South.  Compare that to 1956, when Universal demanded a rewritten ending to THE MOLE PEOPLE to excise any notion of an interracial relationship between John Agar’s character and Adal the slave girl!

THE MUMMY marks the official American directorial debut of Karl Freund, who had served as cinematographer for DRACULA the previous year, and before that built up a considerable career as cinematographer in Weimar-era Germany. He worked with such luminaries as Fritz Lang (Freund was cinematographer for the 1927 science fiction epic METROPOLIS), F.W. Murnau (DER JANUSKOPF, a retelling of the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Murnau is perhaps best known in the horror community for 1922’s NOSFERATU) and Paul Wegener (DER GOLEM). Freund was thus elbow-deep in the Weimar-Era Expressionist Filmmaking school I’ve spoken of lovingly in the past.

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This connection to the German Expressionist filmmakers strongly influenced Freund in America, and it shows in this film. The interplay of light and shadow is beautiful; one shot in particular comes to mind, where Ardath Bey is first kneeling beside Anck-es-en-Amun’s tomb, looking to revive her. We see him from behind, and a small oil lamp, in front of him, is the only light-source in the scene. It’s just a really neat effect. Similarly, building interiors in Cairo, a place that is, let’s face it, blistering sun and coarse sand, take on a gloomy and oppressive feel under Freund’s masterful touch.

One last thing in regards to Karl Freund before moving on with my analysis. The flashback sequence. Freund’s decision to handle the flashback sequence as a silent film really wowed me. Shot at a higher frame-rate, and with exaggerated motions and make-up, it emphasizes that it’s the past, perhaps even moreso today than in 1932. In 1932, “talkies” were only 6-7 years old. To modern viewers, the old silent films seem impossibly ancient, with many people of my acquaintance being unable to sit through them. Though I doubt Freund intended the sequence to be one whose antiquity increased with the age of the film itself, it’s still a nifty effect.

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Jack Pierce’s make-up effects here far surpass his earlier efforts in FRANKENSTEIN – Karloff endured eight hours in the make-up chair to be made up as Imhotep the Mummy; covered in layers of cotton gauze, spirit gum and collodion, his hair caked with clay.  This is made even more astonishing by the fact that there’s only a few brief close-up shots of him as the mummy; most of his time in that make-up is spent in the background, unmoving, as archaeologists debate in front of him.

As Ardath Bey, the make-up is, in my opinion, even better – layers of spirit gum and cotton built up to turn Karloff’s skin into a sea of tiny, parchment-fine wrinkles, an aura of impossible agedness.

Final Analysis: As previously mentioned, I consider this to be one of the absolute best of the Universal horrors – perhaps topped only by the masterpiece that is THE BLACK CAT.  Everything in this film works so well for me – the writing, the performances (especially Karloff’s), the cinematography, the special effects.  This film is absolutely stellar and sets the standard against which all subsequent mummy movies are judged.

Overall, I give THE MUMMY (1932)…

five_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FIVE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

This review is part of MUMMY MOVIE MONTH at Radiation-Scarred Reviews.

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MUMMY MOVIE MONTH: “TOMB OF TRIVIA” CONTEST!

Hey readers, I thought I’d kick Mummy Movie Month off right by running a contest and giving away some goodies. In the past, I’ve run contests where all you need to do is write in with an answer to a single question, but this time I’m offering you a quiz.

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You have from now until May 31st to send an email to radiationscarredreviews AT gmail DOT com with your answers to the following questions.

  1. In Universal’s THE MUMMY, what did Imhotep (Boris Karloff) steal that warranted him being buried alive?
  2. Whose name is an anagram for “Death by Ra”?
  3. What was the name of the Three Stooges short in which they encountered the mummy of King Rootentooten?
  4. What three actors have played mummies named Kharis?
  5. How many Tana leaves should be brewed to revive a mummy?
  6. THE WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY is a loose remake of what earlier film?
  7. What famous actor left the filming of BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB after a single day’s shoot, being replaced by Andrew Keir?
  8. In THE MONSTER SQUAD, whose closet does the Mummy hide in?
  9. In the made-for-TV movie SCOOBY DOO AND THE GHOUL SCHOOL, what does the mummy girl Tannis make for her “mummy-daddy”?
  10. Jet Li plays the titular Dragon Emperor in 2008’s THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR.  What is the character’s name?

On May 31st, I’ll review all entries, and whomever has the most correct answers (or, in the event of multiple correct entries — this is the Age of Google after all — I’ll draw a name at random) will be contacted for a shipping address.

The prize pack will contain the following:

  • A Funko ReAction Mummy action figure
  • An 11×17 poster for BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB
  • Hammer’s 1959 THE MUMMY on DVD
  • One barrel of Toxic Waste sour candy (the official candy of Radiation-Scarred Reviews)
  • A one-of-a-kind illustration by indie comic creator Dan Nokes

Good luck, readers!

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The Black Sleep (1956)

220px-BlacksleepposterWell, readers, I wanted to make sure I got in at least one last non-mummy movie before Mummy Movie May kicks off next Friday, and by God I was in the mood for a Bela Lugosi movie. Flipping through Netflix I saw that they had this film, which I recognized as the only film to pair Bela Lugosi and Tor Johnson not made by Ed Wood; I didn’t realize until I started watching it that this was Lugosi’s last film role that wasn’t posthumous, or that it had such a fantastic ensemble cast – in addition to Lugosi and Johnson, we’ve got Lon Chaney, Jr., Basil Rathbone, John Carradine and Akim Tamiroff on display here as well! Holy crap, that’s a potent mix of talent! Let’s take a look, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

England, 1872.  Dr. Gordon Ramsay (Herbert Rudley) has been convicted of murder on circumstantial evidence, and is scheduled to be hanged in the morning.  A colleague of his, Sir Cadman (Rathbone, best known as Sherlock Holmes), offers him an escape – a dose of a narcotic, “nind andhera,” known as “the Black Sleep.”  The drug mimics death, lowering the user’s body temperature and heart rate, giving them the appearance of being dead.  Taking the drug, Ramsay is smuggled out by Cadman under the illusion that he is dead.  The payment Cadman requests for this favor is that Ramsay become Cadman’s assistant in brain surgery.

Cadman’s wife is suffering from a brain tumor, and as of yet the science of neurosurgery is not advanced enough to remove the tumor without risking brain damage or death.  To solve this issue, Cadman has taken it upon himself to make the necessary advances, experimenting on living (albeit involuntary) subjects.  The damaged results of his experiments, including Mungo (Lon Chaney, Jr.), Curry (Tor Johnson, of THE BEAST FROM YUCCA FLATS and PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE) and Borg (John Carradine, of THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES), are shoved into the basement, deranged and deformed by Cadman’s exploratory surgery on their living brains.  Ramsay must team up with Mungo’s daughter to put a stop to Cadman’s madness before it costs them their own minds and souls as well!

At first glance, the title and premise might bring to mind some poverty row cheapies like THE CORPSE VANISHES.  But this is a very well made film with some obvious budget behind it to get so many big names – even ones past their prime – together on one set.  Now, granted, a lot of those big names are essentially cameos – you’ll notice I didn’t mention Lugosi in my synopsis; he plays Cadman’s mute butler Casimir.  And of the various big names, only Rathbone and Carradine are given any sort of meat to their roles, and Carradine only because his character’s completely insane and is convinced he’s a crusading knight named Bohemund.

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To tell the truth, it’s a bit of a disappointment to see guys like Lugosi, Johnson, Carradine and Chaney Jr. reduced to cameos in what could have been a really solid update on the “house of monsters” style films of the 1940s, or a fantastic entry in the “houseful of crazies” subgenre best typified by SPIDER BABY.  Instead the film is left largely on the shoulders of Herbert Rudley, who worked primarily in television and comes across here as kind of a John Agar sort of actor, very much the clean cut good guy who’s blander than white rice.

Basil Rathbone, unsurprisingly, acts circles around Rudley, and comes across as a very nuanced character, driven to evil by desperation over his wife’s situation.  Or was he so driven? It can’t be denied that Cadman, as Rathbone portrayed him, had a definite cruel streak to his character and it’s hard to say that his actions aren’t as much performed out of consideration for the personal glory that new achievements in neurosurgery would win him as they are to resolve his wife’s condition.

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Akim Tamiroff likewise gave a great performance in the fairly small role of Udo the Gypsy, Cadman’s go-to procurer of experimental subjects.  Udo comes across as a gleeful combination of a white slaver and a body-snatcher, oily and oozing with a sort of smirking charm that makes you desperately want to punch him in the mouth, even if you can’t quite articulate why.

It’s actually really depressing to see Lugosi in this.  He’s painfully thin and haggard-looking, and I’m not sure how much his dishevelment is make-up and how much of it’s his addiction to morphine showing through.  And to make him a mute!? I wonder if he was having too much difficulty with the dialogue or if at that stage in his life his voice was failing him.  It’s a shame to see Bela on screen and not hear that rich baritone of his.

Final Analysis: A pretty solid story and a great cast of B-horror legends, it gets bogged down a bit in the middle and then when it comes, the ending feels rushed.  I wish Carradine, Lugosi, and Chaney had all had bigger, more substantial roles, but at the end of the day it is what it is.

Overall, I give THE BLACK SLEEP (1956)…

two_barrels_of_toxic_waste

TWO BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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What the Hell, Let’s Do a Theme Month! MUMMY MOVIE MAY!

You know what, I feel like doing something a little different for the next couple weeks.  I feel like doing a theme month – similar to the roundtable events I’ve run in the past, but stretching for the entire month of May.  Anyone with a horror blog, or simply on Facebook, Twitter, etc., is more than welcome to jump in and join me at any point during the month of May.

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From May 1st through May 31st, every review I write will be of a movie featuring a mummy.  Why? Because I really like mummies, and as far as horror movie icons go, they seem to be right behind werewolves and just ahead of Gill-Men, but still solidly in the second tier.  There’s a million vampire movies out there, three million zombie movies, a shitload of Frankensteins, and the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of the most frequently adapted to cinema.  Mummies hardly get any love these days, and I’m not happy about that.

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What constitutes a mummy for the purposes of Mummy Movie May? Wikipedia defines a “Mummy” as “…a deceased human or other animal whose skin and organs have been preserved by either intentional or accidental exposure to chemicals, extreme cold, very low humidity, or lack of air, so that the recovered body does not decay further if kept in cool and dry conditions.”

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So for my purposes, a movie mummy is an undead entity that does not decay, being preserved either intentionally or through exposure to extremely cold or dry conditions.  I’ll add that reanimation occurs through the use of magic, rather than scientific means.  Movies dealing with Egyptian mummies are of course on the list, as are the various Mexican films featuring Aztec Mummies.  I’d count the Spanish Blind Dead movies as well, as the dry, desiccated undead Templars are clearly not continuing to decompose and have little in common with zombies other than being walking dead.

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Anybody who joins in on Mummy Movie May with me, drop me a line at radiationscarredreviews (AT) gmail (DOT) com and I will link to you here! I’m hoping we get some serious mummy appreciation going in the blogosphere this month!

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Looking at what I’ve got in my collection that I haven’t covered yet, or at least not since the days of the old blog, I’ve got the entire Universal Mummy cycle, the Aztec Mummy trilogy, Hammer’s THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB and THE MUMMY’S SHROUD, and I think maybe I’ve got DAWN OF THE MUMMY as well.  This should be a lot of fun, and I hope others will join in the celebrate the mummy with me!

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Wolfcop (2014)

wolfcop2Greetings, readers, Bill here. I’ve been eager to see this film since I first heard about it months ago, And now that it’s on Netflix Instant, it’s just been a matter of finding the time to sit down and give it a watch. Today that time has come, and I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to this. So how about I quit yakkin’ and watch the movie?

Spoilers ensue.

Lou Garou is probably the worst cop on the already largely-ineffectual Woodhaven police force.  He’s an alcoholic – he drives drunk, he works drunk, if he ever sobers up he probably has fifteen years’ worth of hangover waiting for him.  One night, while investigating a disturbance of the peace, he gets knocked out, dragged into the bushes, and a pentagram carved into his chest by parties unknown.

The next night, Lou transforms into a werewolf – bloodily, literally erupting out of his human skin – in the bathroom of his favorite bar, and tears two men who were trying to capture him to shreds.  With the help of his friend Willie, Lou figures out that he’s become a lycanthrope and why he’s been transformed into such.  And with his newfound wolf-powers, Lou’s also got a newfound sense of civic duty.  Wolfcop’s gonna clean up Woodhaven even if it takes all night.

This film is amazing.  Where the hell do I begin with my coverage of this masterpiece?

Well, for starters, this is “Noveau Grindhouse” done right.  Unlike a lot of films that try to be throwbacks to the exploitation films of the 1970s, WOLFCOP doesn’t try too hard and end up overshooting the mark.  Absolutely everything in this film could have been done in 1976.  Every plot point – the Satanism, the Lycanthropy, the drug-dealers, the ineffectiveness of the police – was on display in cinema from the 1970s, and it comes together so smoothly and perfectly here that it’s kind of astonishing that there wasn’t a werewolf vigilante movie in the 1970s.  The filmmakers also never sacrificed their sense of fun and devotion to telling a good story in the interest of maintaining a tone or to paying homage to what came before.

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I also like that WOLFCOP does not feel the need to spell everything out in overwhelming detail.  The origins of the Satanic cult are left purposefully vague; much like the origin of the Graboids in TREMORS, the story does not suffer for that information being left out, nor would detailing it improve the story significantly, and the film feels like it respects the audiences’ intelligence and time all the more for leaving it open.

The humor is balanced nicely against the more horrific elements on display here.  Some of it is more outrageous and grotesque – for example, Lou’s first transformation beginning with his cock and then spreading to the rest of his body, and yes, there is werewolf penis on display here.  Hint, it’s extremely large and hirsute.  Other jokes are more subtle; Lou Garou’s name, of course, being a reference to the French Loup Garou, is a prime example, as is the prevalence of liquor in Woodhaven – even the donuts are spiked with bourbon.  For whatever reason, I got a really good chuckle out of the scene in which Garou takes his squad car through a chop shop to trick it out, particularly seeing him heed the sign requiring the use of safety goggles while using the welding torch.

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The special effects are exquisite throughout.  We’re treated to two full-on sequences of Lou’s transformation into Wolf-Cop, and it’s probably the best transformation since AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON.  He literally erupts as the larger, more muscular wolf-body stretches his human skin past its breaking point, and then he peels large swaths of now-dead flesh off himself.  His wolf-self is also covered in some sort of slime (amniotic fluid, befitting his lycanthropic rebirth?) during the transformation, drying out quickly thereafter.  I also love that he’s a Wolf Man; he walks on his hind-legs, he wears pants, he has flat, human-like feet instead of walking up on the balls of his feet like a dog.  In an age where most of our werewolves are presented as oversized wolves, it’s a nice throwback to see a Wolf Man putting on his pants.

Likewise, the gore effects were beautifully done – heads are ripped off, faces are ripped off, limbs are snapped, bodies are pierced with swords and bullets – and it’s all practical effects as far as I could tell.  So either the team behind WOLFCOP decided not to resort to CGI blood, or they had access to CGI blood about 4 or 5 technological generations more advanced than what Hollywood has to offer me.  I’m going with the former.  And as a practical effects snob, I have to raise my glass in a toast to them for their decision.

Final Analysis: WOLFCOP is must-see fun, an entertaining thrill-ride of a horror comedy that carries itself with a light enough touch to never swing too far into either camp and with a run-time that leaves you begging for more.  Great performances from the entire cast, beautiful special effects work and a story whose twists and turns even kept this jaded cinephile guessing, WOLFCOP not only met my expectations but wildly exceeded them.  A sequel is teased in the end credits and I can only hope we’ll get to see more of Lou and his lycanthropic misadventures in the near future.

Overall, I give WOLFCOP (2014)…

five_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FIVE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Flavia, the Heretic (Flavia, la Monaca Musulmana, 1974)

flavia_poster_06Greetings, readers, Bill here. We had some new neighbors move into the apartment next to ours this morning, and right as Gina’s getting ready to go to sleep…they begin hammering nails into their walls. So while she’s cocooned herself in the blankets with a pair of earplugs, I’ve been having issues with waking up at 3 every morning so I’m hoping that staying up a bit later with a movie will allow me to sleep until my alarm goes off in the morning. And what better way to spend that time then with a movie? I picked up this slice of Nunsploitation at the Synapse table at Cinema Wasteland last weekend, and am eager to see what it has for me.

Spoilers ensue.

Southern Italy, around 1600 or so.  After a hard-fought battle between Christian knights and Turkish pirates, Flavia (Florinda Bolkan), daughter of the leader of the knights, steps out onto the battlefield, curious to get a look at an actual Turk.  Her father catches her in this, and after an indeterminate number of years of trying to marry her off, finally packs her off to a convent.  But Flavia’s far from willing to content herself as a nun.  Between fantasizing about the Turk she saw on the battlefield, witnessing the rape of a peasant girl by her father’s liege lord, and seeing members of the Tarantella sect dancing in ecstatic worship in the nave of a church, she soon becomes fairly disillusioned with the whole thing.

When her friend Livia joins in the Tarantella’s worship and is subsequently condemned by the bishop, Flavia tries to flee the convent, only to be recaptured and flogged extensively.  She comes to the conclusion that the entire institution of the Church exists only to surpress women’s sexuality and prevent them from controlling men via their powers of seduction and guile.  The final straw comes when a band of Turkish raiders attack a nearby village, and Flavia gets to see the men, who are so strong and tough when it comes to beating their wives, flee in terror.  She offers herself bodily to the Turkish bey and promising them access to the convent to free her sisters.

This all sounds pretty exciting, doesn’t it? And honestly, by every right it should be, but it simply isn’t.  It is instead, for most of it’s running time, deadly-dull, with long, protracted sequences of characters talking between all-too-fleeting sequences of torture and sexuality.  And for a film that’s carried the alternate titles FLAVIA THE KILLER NUN and FLAVIA, PRIESTESS OF VIOLENCE, long, protracted sequences of people talking aren’t what I’m here for.

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Worst of all, director Gianfranco Mingozzi wouldn’t know a well-directed action sequence if it came up and honked him on the nose.  The battle sequences are particularly listless and flat affairs, with zero panache or excitement to them.  You can practically see they actor’s lips moving as they count the beats of the fight, doing no more than go through the paces.  Things pick up during the sleazier sequences, especially a horse-gelding sequence, a crucifixion, and cannibalism (can’t have an Italian movie without cannibalism).

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The weirdest thing for me is how the film feels like it wants to be truly transgressive underneath the sleaze, but ultimately backpedals at the last minute.  FLAVIA is an Italian production; and the Italians have been perhaps the most fervent Catholics on the planet.  Flavia espouses a philosophy that calls for the destruction of patriarchy, of which the Catholic Church is the biggest single example on the planet.  She argues that the Church is a sham, a fraud created by men to prevent women from taking power, that “God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Ghost” are creations of Man.  That’s subversive, given the time and culture we’re talking about here.  But then right at the end, the film pulls a 180 and not only is the status quo restored, but the woman who dared speak out against the system is brought down even lower then she would have been if she’d simply played by the rules.  And believe me, the ending Flavia comes to is one of the nastiest I’ve seen committed to film in a long time!

Final Analysis: Make no mistake, FLAVIA THE HERETIC is slow-moving and dull for much of its run-time, and the quantity of nudity (both male and female) as well as some quality gore sequences (including at least one great impalement) do little to distract the grindhouse fan from how slow and talky the film is, and how dull the fight scenes are.  The kernel from which a great, smart, nasty exploitation film could have grown is there, but it wasn’t given the room or the care needed to germinate here.  Still, for the sickos, there’s a graphic sequence of a horse getting his balls chopped off, decapitations, crucifixions, cannibalism, skinning a person alive, and more, so if you can sit through the chatter, you’ll find some nuggets of exploitation gold.

Overall, I give FLAVIA THE HERETIC (1974)…

two_barrels_of_toxic_waste

TWO BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Cinema Wasteland Recap, April 2015

Well readers, another Cinema Wasteland has come and, sadly, gone. But it’s like I always say – if Wasteland lasted more than one weekend, God would take notice and smite us with a pillar of fire out of a cloudless sky. Yes, Cinema Wasteland’s a little taste of cinematic Sodom and Gomorrah, and I don’t know that we could handle more than two tastes a year.

To recap what I can remember…

After about 4 hours of sleep, I rose, showered, and woke my buddy Travis, who’d crashed on my couch the night before.  He was ready to go, so at 4:30 AM we hit the road for Wasteland.  It was a smooth 5 hour drive into Cleveland, arriving at the Holiday Inn Strongsville at about 9:45 AM.  We immediately began running into friends – Travis has not been to Wasteland in about five years, but he’s such a larger than life personality that he was well-remembered.  We got our day-passes, and with Jeff of the Salt City Horror Fest (where I’ll be this coming weekend), settled in for a screening of EQUINOX on 16mm.  More than ever, I’m staggered that people haven’t called Sam Raimi to task for ripping this film off.  He even reused some of the sound effects!

After that, we hit the dealer’s room, where I got to spend some time talking with Jim Wynorski, who was kind enough to sign my RETURN OF SWAMP THING poster, and Peter Spellos, an actor who’d collaborated with Jim on a number of films.  Both men were just incredibly warm, friendly and inviting, dropping a lot of nuggets of wisdom and comedy on Travis and myself, especially in regards Travis’ filmmaking aspirations.

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Travis in the scarf, flanked by Jim and Peter.

 

We ran into and reconnected with the great Kristy Jett, and of course soon staggered into Wes, Zach, BJ, Matt and the rest of the Bloodsprayer family.

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That’s me in the red shirt and vest.

 

We grabbed some burgers for lunch, and then checked into our hotel room at the Super 8 across the parking lot and high-tailed it to Wes’ hotel room for a screening of Zach’s latest short film, EAT IT UP.  Full review to come, but let me just say, it fucking rocked.

Hung out, walked around some more, grabbed some sandwiches, I made a phone call home to see how Gina was doing, and then the party fucking started.  I caught the tail end of the Ghastlee’s Night at the Movies live show, which is always a hoot – I got to see the end of 42nd Street Pete’s trivia contest, which I’m currently retired from, but as soon as someone else gets 25 questions right, I’m emerging from retirement to challenge them to a grudge match.  Following this was Sally Zombee’s game of “put horrible things in people’s mouths” – blindfolded contestants we given an escalating list of things to taste, ranging from babyfood to, ultimately, a Swedish fermented fish dish called Surströmming.  According to a Japanese study, this stuff has the most putrid food smell in the world.

They are correct.

Sally’s opening of the can in her hotel room caused the entire second floor to be vacated, and the police had to be called in to investigate fears that someone had died in their hotel room.  When the cooler containing the stuff was opened at the show, the first five rows began to gag.

The guys on stage ate it no problem.

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Ended up introducing Travis to my dear friend Bonesy, and hanging out in her hotel room for a while, including a couple recitations of the story of how she and I first met.  Let’s just say it involved a puke bucket.  Ended up spending the last couple hours of the night in the lobby with Travis, Bonesy and the Bloodsprayer crew, and FINALLY got to see “The Crusher” in action.

For those not in the know, The Crusher is a tiny Asian woman in a gigantic platinum blonde wig and enormous hooker heels who shows up and crushes beer cans with her lady bits.  I’ve never gotten the chance to see her before and it did not disappoint.

Travis and I ended up going to bed about 2 in the morning, then up at 8:30 on Sunday where we helped ourselves to the Continental Breakfast at the Super 8 (no mention of what continent they eat pre-thawed Eggo waffles on), then a few goodbyes and back on the road to Rochester.

Loot-wise, I went pretty light this show.  I got my RETURN OF SWAMP THING poster signed, as previously mentioned, and picked up two issues of LIQUID CHEESE FANZINE from Dave Kosanke, and grabbed just a handful of DVDs – ROCK AND ROLL NIGHTMARE, FLAVIA THE HERETIC, AWKWARD THANKSGIVING (the latest from Wasteland darling Henrique Couto) and the Blood Island trilogy.  I’d gone in with a short list of DVDs I was looking for, and almost everything on the list was available at the show.  I also got the latest GRINDHOUSE PURGATORY, which I have a brief piece on the first half of the Blind Dead franchise in.

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I hung it on me wall!

 

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Predator (1987)

Predator_MovieSometimes, readers, it’s a struggle to make time to watch and review movies. Between work, familial obligations, and working on other aspects of myself that require work (i.e., learning to become a better cook, improving my diet, building better exercise habits, etc.) sometimes it’s hard to find the time to review movies. I had anticipated sitting down with 2014’s WOLFCOP today and so far the time just hasn’t been free enough to devote myself to watching and analyzing a new film. However, Gina and I did put on 1987’s PREDATOR, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers, on last night before bed – a film I’d seen plenty of times in the past, but which she hadn’t seen before.  So while I still intend to watch and review WOLFCOP in the near future, and have received requests that I review BLOODY BLOODY BIBLE CAMP and CYRUS: MIND OF A SERIAL KILLER that I intend to fulfill, today the best I can offer is my thoughts on the testosterone-fueled sci-fi horror action majesty that is PREDATOR.

Spoilers ensue.

A Special Forces team headed by Major “Dutch” Schaeffer (Schwarzeneggar) is enlisted by General Phillips (R.G. Armstrong, last seen around these parts in THE BEAST WITHIN) to sneak into an unnamed South American country (Val Verde – the same fictional country as COMMANDO – per the film’s novelization; 2010’s PREDATORS would retcon this to Guatemala) and rescue a US official who had been captured by guerrillas.  Accompanying them on the mission is Agent Dillon (Carl Weathers, from the ROCKY franchise), a former colleague of Dutch’s.

Their first sign that the mission isn’t all it was pitched to them as comes when they find a half-dozen bodies that show signs of having been skinned alive – and on one of them, the dog-tags of a Green Beret Dutch trained.  Dillon is soon forced to tell the truth – he lied to Dutch to get him to take on a mission to wipe out a guerrilla camp receiving support from Soviet advisers before they could overrun the border and start a war with a neighboring country.  In the midst of this snafu, however, Dutch has a bigger problem then Dillon’s betrayal.  An alien hunter (Kevin Peter Hall, last seen around these parts in MONSTER IN THE CLOSET, essentially reprising his role from WITHOUT WARNING) has staked out the region as its personal game preserve, and has set its sights on adding Dutch and his men to its trophy room.

This movie is so thick with testosterone, it makes COMMANDO look dainty and light on its feet.  This movie is so macho, it slams into a Slim Jim for you.  With the possible exception of John Carpenter’s THE THING, it’s the most effective of the films in ALIEN‘s wake.  And actually, now that I think about it, THE THING is an apt point of comparison for PREDATOR; in both cases we have a cast comprised solely (the hostage Anna is a nonentity in PREDATOR; she spends most of her time on screen effectively comatose) of very masculine men; in PREDATOR, a Special Forces team, in THE THING, a group composed largely of military men and scientists who’ve adopted the traits of military men.  They’re trapped in an isolated, unforgiving environment, cut off from any sort of assistance, and being preyed upon by an alien threat.

In PREDATOR, however, we get a stronger sense of which men are “Alpha” males and which are “Beta” males.  Dutch and Dillon clash because they’re both very dominant, commanding personalities, though Dillon issues commands whereas Dutch commands respect, and that makes a huge difference in how the rest of the men present view them.  Blain, played by Jesse Ventura, and Poncho, played by Richard Chaves, are both heavy weapons specialists – Blain with a minigun, and Poncho with a parabolic grenade launcher, but Blain is the, in his own words, “goddamned sexual Tyrannosaurus,” while Poncho is relegated to more of a supporting figure.

And as for that “goddamned sexual Tyrannosaurus”…I think Blain and Mac (Bill Duke, of COMMANDO) are intended to be perceived as lovers.  It’s never made explicit and it’s never really commented on as such, but Mac’s reaction to Blain’s death doesn’t quite jive with them sharing no more than the bond of loyalty forged between men-at-arms under fire.  Mac breaks down when Blain dies, and flies into a homicidal rage in which he empties hundreds of rounds of ammunition into the jungle in hopes of avenging Blain’s death, and then he stands vigil over Blain’s corpse until literally driven from the body’s side by the Predator.  “He was…my friend,” Mac notes to Dutch, and that pause speaks volumes.  And I think it’s pretty clear that the rest of the guys know about this relationship and just don’t care because it doesn’t limit Mac and Blain’s effectiveness in combat.

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Indeed, much like ancient Thebes’ legendary “Sacred Band,” fighting side by side seems to amplify their aggression and fighting spirit – no one wants to look weak or cowardly with their loved one looking on.

I’ll admit, this is a level of progressiveness and subversion I was not expecting to find here; I think even today having an action movie in which gay characters are presented not just in a positive light, but as veritable gods of war, would be a hard sell.  For contrast, look at Vernon Wells’ villainous “Bennett” in COMMANDO the year before; he’s not only kitted out in a crocheted vest, but his obsession with avenging himself against Schwarzenegger’s character, John Matrix, has taken on an unhealthy, psychosexual element; he sweats and licks his lips as he thinks about Matrix, fantasizing about penetrating the other man with a phallic surrogate, i.e., his knife.  “I’m going to stab you between the balls, Matrix,” he squeals during their final fight, and ultimately his destruction comes when Matrix turns Bennett’s issues against him – and Bennett ends up impaled on a long, hard, narrow tube spraying fluid.  Demonizing Queerness has always been easier for Hollywood then presenting it even as a neutral element, so Mac and Blain here are a surprising breath of fresh air.

And really, the film has a couple surprises up its sleeve regarding traditional ideas of masculinity.  Look at the way the team comports themselves during the helicopter ride at the beginning of the film and during the lead-up to the discovery of the flayed bodies.  They’re cool, they’re calm, they’re happily in their element – fully aware that they’re the biggest, baddest sons of bitches in the jungle.  And then, when they discover that there’s a bigger, badder son of a bitch out there? They start to unravel.  They get nervous, jittery, start making mistakes.  The Predator separates them, one by one, drawing them away from the relative safety of the group and killing them when they’re isolated.  It’s very similar to the break-down of the Colonial Marines in the previous year’s ALIENS, and I think it’s because filmmakers, like generals, are always fighting the last war.

In PREDATOR, we have American soldiers dropped into a jungle on what they believe is a simple clean-up mission, only to discover that the situation has been grossly misjudged and they’re woefully unprepared to face an enemy that can simply melt invisibly into the jungle, following them unseen and picking them off at its leisure.  It’s Sci-Fi Vietnam.

As a final commentary on the masculinity of the film, let’s look at the final brawl between Arnold and the Predator.  Throughout the film Arnold has been unflappable, a perfect icon of masculine stoicism and carefully channeled aggression.  He doesn’t get mad, he gets results.  The Predator is an enormous bull of a creature, dressed to emphasize its muscular physique – other than the fishnet bodystocking, it’s wearing a codpiece, shoulder pads and gauntlets.  And as a big game hunter, it’s participating in the most manliest and macho of hobbies.  At one point in their fight, Arnold and the Predator simply stand there and punch each other in the face, and it’s so thick with machismo they might as well be measuring their dicks against each other.  Ultimately, Arnold can’t just macho the creature to death with bone-crushing punches and one-liners.  He has to resort to guile, to trickery – he lays traps and plans ambushes and that, rather than a full frontal assault, are what saves his ass.  And hell – the Predator is so wrapped up in his own macho bullshit that he sets off a thermonuclear self destruct mechanism rather than be forced to acknowledge that he lost!

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As for the Predator itself, the suit design is one of my favorite of the 1980s, and is, in my opinion, much better looking here than in the sequels.  I like the compact, bulldog-meets-hermit-crab look of the face, I like the mottled, alligator-like skin and the clawed hands and feet.  Apparently an earlier design would have had the Predator as a top-heavy, dog-faced creature before Stan Winston redesigned it into the agile hunter we got on screen; supposedly, the Predator’s famous mandible structure comes from Winston sketching the creature while riding on a plane with James Cameron, director of ALIENS, who suggested, “You know, I’ve always wanted to see an alien with mandibles.”

Even more incredible, Jean Claude Van Damme was originally slated to play the Predator! However, Van Damme complained quite a bit about the heat in the suit, and not being able to be seen in the film out of costume, and was a shrimp next to guys like Arnold and Bill Duke, so the filmmakers wisely replaced him with Kevin Peter Hall, who towered over even the 6’4 1/2″ Duke.  Hall was apparently a real trooper on the set as well – filming on location with no level surfaces, presumably being hit – like the rest of the cast – with Montezuma’s Revenge following an incident with the water purifier at the Mexican hotel they were living out of, and with no ability to see out of the suit – Hall and Arnold had to very carefully rehearse their fight scenes ahead of time and Hall would have to memorize the beats of the fight and where everybody, and every tree root, mud puddle, etc. was.

It’s fucking criminal that stuntmen don’t have their own category for the Academy Awards, and indeed, that the Academy has repeatedly denied requests to create such a category.  But I digress.

Final Analysis: Slam-bang, balls-out action on a level very few other films achieve, PREDATOR is a damn good time from beginning to end.  With an extremely solid cast of talented performers including such luminaries as Bill Duke and R.G. Armstrong, I think I’d have to tie this film with COMMANDO for Arnold’s strongest cinematic performance – and I say that as a man who really, really loves CONAN THE BARBARIAN.  Nobody is slumming or giving a weak, much less bad, performance here.  Couple that with one of the single best man-in-a-suit monsters ever captured on film, with work from Stan Winston that easily matches the quality his team achieved on THE TERMINATOR and ALIENS, this is absolutely a movie not to be missed by anyone who likes to mix science fiction and horror with their action.  And with the deeper subtextual layers that can be sussed out, it really is a film that deserves every accolade it’s received and then some.

Overall, I give PREDATOR (1987)…

five_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FIVE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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