Another feature of...
Plot: Alien giant spider mayhem.
We open over the ocean. Suddenly the waters begin to ripple, erupting into a towering waterspout. We follow this up to what’s obviously a spaceship, cloaked with that Predator camouflage field. Apparently the ship is harvesting Earth sea life for…well, whatever. Meanwhile, a pilot testing a stealth bomber just happens by and sees all this. He pursues the craft until a disturbance of some sort begins knocking out his instruments. He ejects from the cockpit. Meanwhile, his errant craft smashes into the spaceship and destroys it.
The pilot parachutes down into a jungle. Ominously, huge clouds of dry ice smoke are seen nearby. Exploring this leads to some semi-visible wreckage from the spaceship. Then a semi-visible, if not utterly believable, alien pops into view. This is gasping, presumably having trouble with our air. As the pilot watches, the alien is attacked and viscously killed by something positioned behind it. This elliptically seen creature then leaps away into the trees. The pilot then ducks under a wafting cloud of spider silk, only to encounter an extremely big bug. Exit pilot.
Cut to an airfield. Inside a hanger meet Loren, the film’s Beautiful Young Female Lead. We’re handily just in time to see her remove her jumper. Unfortunately, all this reveals is a tight, low-cut tank top. Meanwhile, she examines a search map posted on the wall. Next she drives to a hospital. Inside, she stumbles across doctors examining a rather messed-up man. Horrified, Loren returns to the lobby, where we meet most of our cast. Dr. Leon, a trim man in his mid-fifties, is a member of the World Health Organization. His associate is Dr. Susana Gabriel. Finally, there’s Lev Valentine, presumably the movie’s Heroic Man of Action. Or, conversely, the film’s Treacherous White Man. Whichever way they decide to go.
Loren, being a pilot, is hired to fly their expedition to a jungle island in, I guess, the Pacific. The group will be guided by Toe Boy, a member of a mysteriously dying native tribe the expedition is hoping to help. They also seek to find whatever it was that bit the sick man. (At this point, I’d have to assume that their wish will be granted.) Eventually we also meet Dr. Capri, the party’s obligatory nerdy, stuttering entomologist. Given a copy of his book on arachnids, Loren grimaces. "I hate spiders," she notes. Oops, wrong movie for you then.
From here things go about where you’d expect, albeit in a surprisingly smart fashion. (Although things might seem more impressive to me right now because I spent all last night watching the atrocious Raptor – see below.) Loren’s plane loses power as they approach the island. They crash, and learn that some local magnetic field is playing havoc with anything electronic. The group, which contains enough people to provide a fairly high body count, heads into the jungle. One of Valentine’s two sidekicks soon becomes infested with tics. This later leads to a rather gory death scene. Meanwhile, and being a bug hater myself this was effectively unnerving, we see that the island is full of mutated bugs, little, big and really, really big.
I can’t really give the film many marks for originality, although the whole alien thing was fairly innovative. Still, I’ve seen enough total crap lately that any film with somewhat realistic characters, written so that they’re not complete morons, is a kick. The ex-military guys, including Valentine and his black sidekick Bear, aren’t played as either cretins or sadists. Moreover, they seem to actually know what they’re doing, which after films like Jurassic Park: The Lost World is refreshing. The women are tough and capable without being cartoonishly so. I especially like the way Dr. Leon is played. He easily could have been your typical Wise Old Scientist. Instead, he proves to be a bit of a prick. Not, however, a villain. Sometimes he’s just a jerk, and it’s moreover refreshing that the film doesn’t split the characters up into ‘good’ ones and ‘bad’ ones.
And although generally smart, sometimes the characters are also realistically stupid. Loren, for instance, more than once heads into the jungle for privacy as she, uh, goes about her business. This might not be the brightest thing in the world, but you can see why she’d be uncomfortable doing this in camp. (I also really like the fact that the second time she does this, Valentine gets kind of pissed off and briefly yells at her. We can understand why she goes off like this, but it’s still stupid, and it just makes sense that it would annoy the ex-marine Valentine.)
Capri also, at one point, rather dimwittedly heads off on his own. However, when we later see how obsessive he is, you actually can buy that he would have done so. His death scene, which could have been rather risible, instead is fairly affecting. Given his performance here, he is sure to join such Hall of Fame "scientists to the end" as Gordon McLendon in The Killer Shrews and Henry Fonda in The Swarm.
Probably the thing I liked best was, again, the lack of a human villain. Quite a lot of the cheapo genre movies I’ve seen lately, no matter how baroque the main menace, seem to feel the need to insert a time and attention wasting human bad guy into things. I can only assume that this is meant to ape the successful Anaconda, whose cast not only has to worry about killer snakes but also about the murderous Jon Voight. Here the characters are just a group of people trying to survive the plethora of mutated bugs in the jungle, and frankly, that’s all the film needs to concern itself with.
I should also tip my hat to the cast, which overall is quite good. The actors play their roles in a nicely naturalistic fashion, without anyone chewing up the scenery. The guy playing Dr. Capri comes the closest to overdoing things, but even he settles down after a while. I especially liked the guys playing Valentine and Dr. Leon. The former is Chris Potter, who played David Carradine’s son in the syndicated Kung Fu: The Legend Continues some years back. Lastly, the fact that much of this was clearly shot on location rather than on a set really lends things a lot of production value.
Which isn’t to say it’s a perfect movie by any means. Some of the exposition can be a bit on the nose, including the rather obvious introduction of some liquid nitrogen and the natives’ poisoned darts, the deadly properties of which are laid out for the audience. (Although in a manner somewhat less clunky than in most of these things.) Also, I thought the pilot from the beginning of the movie proving to be Loren’s brother was just a tad obvious. This proves an important plot element, but it also makes Loren being hired for this particular job just a little too coincidental. Another aspect that could have been handled better is one character’s apparent claustrophobia, which leads to their death. You more or less have to deduce what’s going on, and this bit of characterization could, and should, have been set up a little better.
There are the occasional outright dumb parts. At one point the party calls for a break about ten feet away from where the one guy had the ticks fall on him. And as the action sped up during the last half hours, logic more frequently goes out the window. Still, we’re talking a film that could have used some tightening up, not a fiasco like Deep Blue Sea, which should have been razed to the ground and rebuilt from scratch.
I also personally found the film a bit too fond of the gruesome special effects. (Others, obviously, may disagree, especially since my tolerance for this sort of stuff is low. And it’s not like the whole picture is one long gorefest or anything.) And, again, it’s not going to win any awards for originality. For instance, nobody’s going to strain anything picking out who’s going to live and die here.
The bug special effects are, as you’d expect for a fairly low-budget picture, somewhat intermittent in quality. The main giant spider, though, is pretty damn decent. Thankfully, the monsters are achieved with practical effects rather than CGI, and so have a lot more life and reality to them than computer animated beasties tend to. There’s even some stop-motion animation on display here, unless I miss my guess.
Over all, it’s the movie’s competent execution that raises it above so many of its fellow. Which is pretty sad, actually, since ‘competent’ is the operative word here. When did "doesn’t suck" become a synonym for "better than average"?
Summary: Exactly what you’re hoping to find on your weekend trip to the video store.
Plot: Box Movie about a deadly virus loose on a European train.
Right on cue, by which I mean about the time the genre began waning at the box office, Europe jumped into the Disaster Movie sweepstakes with this West German/Italian co-production. Thus the typical bizarre array of American stars was heavily seasoned with a roster of Continental thespians. The other chief addition is a healthy Euro dose of paranoid anti-Americanism. Since this was the ‘70s, it was probably thought this would work in the States as well.
We open with a variety of mountainscape shots. These are accompanied by Jerry Goldsmith music cleverly engineered to sound like Ennio Morricone music. In fact, why isn’t Morricone scoring this? Perhaps he was already composing music for another five or six movies that week. Eventually we come to Geneva. A rather fancy helicopter shot eventually takes us to the impressive headquarters of the *ahem* International Health Organization. An ambulance drives up, siren blaring, and a stretcher is rushed inside. We track this with the sort of high overhead ceiling shot that practically defined filmmaking in the ‘70s.
Some rather unsubtle "uh-oh" music informs us that something dire is afoot. Entering the United States’ section of the building, the ‘patient’ pulls back his sheet and shoots the Marine standing guard. He and his two ‘attendants’ rush in, although the dying guard manages to plug one of them. One of his cohorts checks on the guard, sees him lying still, and turns back. This allows the guard to crawl over to the alarm panel and set it off. These aren’t the world’s most efficient terrorists. Setting what appears to be a bomb, they look for a way out. (Good planning.)
A couple more Marines show up and disable the bomb. Meanwhile, the terrorists shoot through the lock of a secure laboratory so as to make their escape. (??) Against any and all logical protocols, the guards shoot at the fleeing terrorists, breaking Ominous Beakers of Fluid and spraying the killers with the contents. One fellow catches a bullet and falls to the floor. His compatriot smashes through an outside window (!) to make his escape. Since the contents of this room are sure to be nefarious, I had to laugh at the idea that a kid in the parking lot tossing an errant ball would have had the exact same effect as this sequence of events. Also, watch the ridiculously long reaction shot of the two marines as they stand outside the compromised chamber. The two actors assume properly horrified expressions and awkward ‘action’ poses and then are forced to hold them for about ten straight seconds until the director finally yells "Cut!" Dude, they have this thing called ‘editing’ now.
The remaining terrorist makes his way through the city. Meanwhile, Col. MacKenzie (Burt Lancaster!), attired in the standard Sinister SpOOk Uniform -- dark suit, dark trench coat and dark porkpie hat – makes the scene. He learns that the wounded terrorist, who was also sprayed with the chemical agent, is in rather bad shape. A female medical staffer enters the viewing chamber. "Can I speak to the doctor in charge?" MacKenzie asks. Of course, the woman is the doctor in charge, Dr. Stradler. MacKenzie just assumed it would be a man because, you know, we Americans are so unsophisticated about stuff like that. Even high-ranking Gov’ment SpOOks with extensive field experience in Europe.
The Americans demand that the wounded man be questioned, because that’s the kind of people we are. Stradler, of course, is only concerned about the condition of her dying patient. Those enlightened Europeans, what? It’s also evident that the Americans are engaged in some sort of Nefarious Cover-Up. Thus MacKenzie ignores her requests for information. Some exposition from Dr. Stradler, however, reveals that the guy is suffering from "a highly contagious pneumonic plague." Just in case we don’t ‘get’ the situation, Stradler explains how fortunate it is that no one else was exposed and now "walking the streets, infecting half of Europe." Which is, of course, exactly what’s happening. This danger continues because the local government hasn’t been informed of what’s happening. Because of, you know, the Nefarious American Cover-Up.
We also learn *gasp* that it was highly illegal for us to be housing this stuff in Europe. Which is probably why we were doing it, actually, because otherwise why the hell would we? And in the headquarters of the ‘International Health Organization,’ to boot! The only logical answer is that we did so because we’re so damn evil. Anyway, that explains the need for the cover-up. Not that the American government needs an excuse or anything!
The remaining terrorist, obviously ill, manages to hide on a passenger train being readied for departure. Ominous Music plays over this, so that we get that it is ‘bad.’ Gee, if only the local authorities were looking for the guy. Damn us Americans! We also now meet The Conductor. He’s played by Lionel Stander, most famous as the irascible chauffer Max on TV’s Heart to Heart. This is what happens when you make a disaster movie and Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy and Slim Pickens are all unavailable.
Being a Box Picture, of course, we need to assemble a wide range of characters to kill. So we head back to the train depot to meet the elderly Herman Kaplan. Kaplan is played by Lee Strasberg (!!), the thespian most famous for establishing the Method Acting concept in America and training generations of actors ranging from the young Marlon Brando to Dustin Hoffman. Besides filling the Helen Hayes Memorial Lovable Old Scamp position, he’s apparently doing double duty as the Euro stand-in for the Embarrassed Elder Statesmen Actor, taking the role Jimmy Stewart or Henry Fonda or Chuck Heston would be playing were this an American movie.
We also meet the film’s Obligatory Rich Person Whose Money Won’t Save Them, Nicole Dressler (Ava Gardner!), not to mention her Dissolute Gigolo Lover, Robby Navarro (a long-haired Martin Sheen!!). Then there’s the Obligatory Black Guy, Haley. He’s being played by O.J. Simpson, which frankly I could have done without. How can people watch one of this guy’s old movies and not get the willies? Anyway, he’s currently in the guise of a minister, but unsurprisingly turns out to be something else entire.
Then there are the Obligatory Young Lovers, played by, uh, I don’t know. Nobody big. They’re the singer and lead guitar in a folk band. Later in their compartment they’ll perform a song, evoking fond (and happily distracting) memories of the singing-on-a-train sequences in the somewhat better A Hard Day’s Night. I can only assume that they were hoping for a Best Song Oscar here, as was won by The Poseidon Adventure’s theme song "Morning After." Like that tune, this one has lyrics that ‘ironically’ happen to fit the film’s events. In a positively creepy bit, Lionel Stander shambles by and stops to listens in, his trademark ghoulish grin plastered across his gnome-like puss.
Finally there’re our two big stars. Our male lead is Richard "Orca" Harris. He’s the renowned Dr. Chamberlain, the film’s Obligatory Scientific Expert. Only in the movies does a scientist entering a train depot encounter press photographers. Later, Chamberlain will be astounded to see that the name listed on the cabin right next to his is that of Jennifer, his Obligatory Estranged Ex-Wife (the top billed Sophia Loren). Needless to say, this life-or-death situation will rekindle the embers of their passion for each other. Jennifer was introduced earlier at a newsstand drawing a mustache on Chamberlain’s photo on the cover (!) of Paris Match. And no, she doesn’t buy the magazine.
The hospitalized terrorist dies. Amongst his effects they find a train ticket. MacKenzie finally calls in select high-ranking officials to explain what’s going on. Meanwhile, Jennifer and Chamberlain have a sort of re-meet cute. She enters his stateroom as he’s shirtless – Hubba, Hubba, ladies -- and shaving. They then engage in some severely sub-par Thin Man-ish whimsical banter. We learn that like Liz and Dick, they’ve married and divorced each other twice already. It’s obvious they still love each other, but they can’t live together, blah blah.
Meanwhile, we occasionally cut to the Sickly Terrorist. He’s hiding in the luggage car and infecting Nicole Dressler’s Bassett Hound. You know, a diseased dog just seems to fit this movie somehow.
The Doctor is taken to a top secret, albeit empty, ‘70s futuristic control center. MacKenzie, now is his Army Uniform, enters the room. He explains that the man they’re looking for is probably on the Trans-Continental Express, which is heading to Stockholm. (How is a train going from Geneva to Stockholm "trans-continental"?) "We’ve tried contacting the train," he explains. "So far, with no success?" Huh?! Talk about an It’s In the Script moment! Why wouldn’t they be able to contact the train? Wouldn’t they have somebody on duty for that sort of thing? Anyway, with a thousand potential infectees aboard, MacKenzie wants the Doctor’s advice on how to handle the situation. Obviously quarantining a thousand people would be a bit difficult.
Okay, that’s the set up.
Take things from there, with another hour and forty-five minutes to play
things out. From here ‘til the climax it’s the standard series of
character vignettes and sinister incidents and (semi-)star death scenes:
Jennifer, doing a
puzzle: "An arm bone, seven letters, starting with ‘h’."
Things I Learned
(Copyright Andrew Borntreger, USMC):
Before I go I should mention the film’s director, George P. Cosmatos. The ‘P’ stands for Pan, by the way (!), and sometimes he uses it in his credit, as he does here. Cosmatos has a rich history of popping up every once in awhile to helm some junky flick. Three years after The Cassandra Crossing, his first major film, he directed the lackluster Guns of Navarone knock-off Escape to Athena. After a four-year absence, he returned to direct the minor Peter Weller vs. a somewhat big rat movie (really) Of Unknown Origin. Two years later he hit the big time with Rambo: First Blood Part II, followed shortly by what is perhaps Sylvester Stallone’s most famously bad movie, Cobra. Three years later it was the dumb Alien/The Thing rip-off Leviathan. Then, four years after that, he made his only good movie, Tombstone. (How did that happen?) Apparently unnerved, he took off four years and returned in 1997 with the roundly assailed Shadow Conspiracy. This returned him to his Cassandra Crossing roots, as it was a political paranoia piece starring none other than Martin Sheen’s son, Charlie. That remains his last picture so far.
Summary: What can you say about a movie whose central plot device revolves around a secret germ lab with sheet glass windows?
Plot: Mean dinosaurs snack on the usual parade of dummies.
Made by New Concorde, this was presumably intended to be part of the Carnosaur series. (The trailers for the three prior entries are included on the DVD.) I can only assume that the ‘Carnosaur’ label had lost some of its bite – sorry – since they went with am unrelated title. Perhaps the connections are overt, but I never saw the other Carnosaur movies, so I can’t say. Hmm, although the ‘raptors are being grown in a poultry plant. Isn’t that like in the first film?
We open with three Obvious Young Victims tooling around the desert. After some crazy driving, one dude jumps out to, uh, relieve some excess fluids. (Uh oh.) Meanwhile, the girl initiates a make-out session with the other guy. (UH OH!) "You animal," she giggles. This is probably meant to be ‘ironically’ humorous. Although, if that was the intent, then why didn’t they have the urinating guy announce his intention to "leak the lizard." Ha! I’m better at bad screenwriting than these guys! You can probably guess what happens next – especially if you envisioned something involving hand puppets -- although the proceedings might be a little gorier than expected.
Oh, we then cut outside their vehicle to see a blood-drenched bumper sticker reading "May Peace Prevail On Earth." I think that’s the irony thing again. Cue credits. (The term ‘credits’ being the most authentically ironic thing we’ve seen so far.) Our cast today will include Eric Roberts (!) and Corbin Bernsen. Guess you have to do something between those Dentist movies. A ‘Music By’ card then appears for James Horner (!). This presumably indicates the use of music he must have written decades ago, when he still would have been scoring pictures for companies like New Concorde. Roger Corman gets his standard producing credit, while the director is listed as one Jay Andrews. Ha ha, you can’t hide from me so easily, Mr. Wynorski!
Sheriff Jim Tanner (Roberts) is introduced driving to the scene of the killings. He’s also on his cell phone, arguing with a woman at the power company over a late payment. This not only provides a purportedly humorous character moment, but also a cameo appearance for an actress who’s presumably somebody’s wife or girlfriend. Tanner arrives, and we see that Ben, his deputy, is black. Nice knowing you, man. Then Barbara, the local animal control agent and coroner (??), appears. It’s clear – and I mean, clear – that she and Tanner have a ‘history.’ (Oh, brother!)
Here’s where I began to suspect Wynorski was just pulling our legs. We cut to a large room, filled with computers. There we meet Corbin Bernsen as Dr. Hyde (!!!), and moreover, see that he’s dressed exactly like Ed Harris’ Christof in The Truman Show. (!!) He’s chewing out his staff, noting that they have a ‘hatchling’ on the loose. Well, I guess that explains the murderous velociraptor we saw earlier. Covering their tracks – gee, do I smell an evil military or corporate bio-weapons experiment happening here? – they decide to have the remaining ‘raptor eggs shipped at an alternate site. "[We’ll] use some local farming truck company, so we don’t attract any attention," one flunky notes. Does this sound like a good plan to anybody?
(By the way, Bernsen chews the scenery in this movie worse than the ‘raptors chew the actors.)
Well, the raptor hides and a truck (!) and escapes from the poultry plant that hides the bio-weapons lab. Although it was out on the loose earlier, so I’m not sure why it had to escape from the plant a second time. Meanwhile, Ben comes in to inform Tanner that Carl Joseph, a killer they had once put in prison, has escaped (!). He is, needless to say, heading back to town to get hisself a lil’ revenge. I might as well go ahead and reveal that despite all this build-up, Johnson never makes an appearance or actually does anything in this film.
Various miscellaneous victims get themselves et in time-wasting fashion. One girl escapes, though, and we learn she’s Lola, Tanner’s daughter. (Although I’m surprised he let her get those huge breast implants.) Since it’s too early for Our Heroes to learn what’s up, Lola has conveniently gone into a state of shock. Then it’s back to Dr. Hyde, who proves the wackiest Mad Scientist since Bats. Talking about their work, he notes, "We are so close! A dinosaur with a brain! A creature of superior strength, size, intelligence! We can train them to work with men! Land clearing, mining, shock troops!" (Land clearing?) Oh, and the dinosaur here is supposedly a baby T-Rex, so the title is completely false.
Things just get dumber from
there. I think you’ll get a taste of what I mean from the following.
Although I do like the following conversation:
Also, fans of the late, lamented Oh, the Humanity site should keep an eye out for ‘80s bad movie icon Robert Gabai, who the OTH boys had a weird fixation on.
Wynorski (as "Jay Andrews") and "the lovely, talented and ever so busty" Melissa Brasselle, the actress who played Barbara, provide an amusingly unpretentious commentary for this film on the DVD. For instance, the kids in the beginning, Wynorski admits, "should have ‘Victims’ written on their T-shirts." Noting the guy who heads off for a tinkle, Wynorski explains that "Rule #1 in a bad B-Movie…do not pee." After the two commentators react with false shock to the carnage appearing on screen, Wynorski quips "This happened to me just last week, so I know how painful this can be." Then they crack open some brews before continuing on. As we hear the beer bottles hiss as they’re opened, Wynorski notes that it’s "nothing but the best from Concorde."
Wynorski points out the rocks where Capt. Kirk fought the Gorn. Then Brasselle’s character makes her appearance. She notes that this is was a difficult scene to shoot because she had to go to the bathroom, and Wynorski didn’t want to call for a break. "Me telling Jay that I had to go to the bathroom," she explains, "was like Oliver asking for more porridge." Then, when Bernsen is introduced, Wynorski admits "he’s playing to the last row…he’s actually playing to the popcorn stand." We also get an anecdote about an actress hired to play Bernsen’s underling, who at the last minute demanded more money. On a Roger Corman produced movie! Needless to say, they fired her and brought in a quick replacement. This is followed by another of Wynorski’s rules for B-movie characters: "Don’t drive a truck at night full of chickens." Sage advice. Meanwhile, he gratefully adds "Roger Corman let me spend an extra ten dollars on feathers for this scene."
When Lola’s car crash occurs, Wynorski identifies it as being from Humanoids From the Deep. "I’ve used it about a hundred and fifty times since it was shot back in 1980." He then points out a scene of Roberts in a car, where he’s reading his lines off the dashboard. Then he allows that "nothing is going to happen for about five minutes, so if you want to make a sandwich, this is the time." Later we see Barbara’s house, and they make fun of what a palatial spread it is for an animal control officer. And, now that they mention it, it really is huge.
Another rule is explicated when Ben shoots the ‘raptor. "When you wound a monster, do not, do not, walk up to it and check it out." Well, yeah, we actually knew that one already.
Things continue on in this vein, and I have to say, one advantage of DVD is that when you get stuck with a crummy movie, sometimes you get an entertaining commentary track to even things out. This being one of those cases.
Summary: Jurassic Crap. Astoundingly, it was much stupider than I expected.
-by Ken Begg