Saturday, 31 July 2010

Lost In Space

I've just completed a marathon run of the 1st season of 60's cult sci-fi series Lost In Space. Lost In Space follows the adventures of the intergalactic pioneering Robinson Family who leave an increasingly over populated Earth to begin a new human settlement on the planet Alpha Centauri. However, their mission has been sabotaged by devious robotics engineer Dr. Zachery Smith who unwittingly becomes a stowaway on the Robinson voyage. Each week, the Robinson Family along with co-pilot Major Don West and an all-purpose robot face danger and adventure as they make their way across the galaxy to find a new home...

Lost In Space was an Irwin Allen production for CBS that ran for 3 seasons, clocking up some 83 episodes, airing between September 15, 1965 and March 6, 1968. It never enjoyed the street cred. that Star Trek has, mainly because the show made no bones about being silly and fun. Most of the comedy is provided by Johnathon Harris who plays the lazy, self-serving, conniving and devious Dr. Smith who's often selling out the family to some alien race in exchange for a ride back to Earth. Smith's funniest moments are his put downs to the Robot ("Quiet, You Hulking Mass of Mechanical Ignorance!") or his oft repeated mantra - "Oh, the pain, the pain"

Most people when recalling Lost In Space will remember the gaudy, candy-colored planetscapes that were featured on the show every week, but Season 1 was shot in black & white. Lost In Space, unlike Star Trek dealt with fantasy elements as well as sci-fi themes and was often absurd in its logic. Among the special guests who appeared in the first season included Warren Oates as a cosmic cowboy, Michael Rennie (the alien from Day the Earth Stood Still), and a 14 year old Kurt Russell as an alien prince. Forbidden Planet's Robby the Robot also appeared as a special guest star in the episode entitled "War of the Robots"

Fox's Season 1 boxset collects all 29 episodes spread across 8 discs, plus as an extra, the original unaired pilot. Image and audio quality is very good, I imagine the materials were not as pristine as what Paramount used for their Star Trek series collections but the transfers are generally strong.

Aliens - the Teaser trailer

The Alien series hits Blu-Ray in October and while the first film is my favourite of all the Alien films, I'm most excited about seeing Aliens on Blu-Ray. Aliens has always suffered from a dark, grainy image on DVD so it will be interesting to see how the Blu-Ray will handle it... Since the announcement of the Alien series hitting Blu-Ray, I've been listening to the group commentary from Aliens. This is the second time I've tuned in to this commentary and it's a good one - lots of fascinating insights into the production of the film from James Cameron along with the cast & crew.

Incidentally, the teaser trailer for Aliens remains my favourite trailer of all time. This one dispenses with dialogue (which the other trailers for Aliens have) and instead features a brilliant montage of clips from the film set to a terrifying atonal score. It must have been quite an experience to see this in cinemas in the Spring of '86. If you have the Alien boxset, the teaser trailer can be found on Disc 9, or check out the clip below...

Sunday, 25 July 2010

A Scream In the Streets

Students of Trash Cinema who regularly make pilgrimage to 42nd Street would do well to seek out Something Weird's DVD of A Scream In the Streets, (aka Girls In the Streets) a low down dirty-ass exploitation roughie from 1973. The plot - and I use the term loosely - concerns Ed Haskell, a hard-nose cop who's been assigned a new partner, Bob Streeker (?), a hot-head who hates doing things by the book. Together they patrol the streets of suburban LA in search of a serial rapist who's MO is raping and killing young girls whilst dressed as a woman...

Watching A Scream In the Streets you get the feeling that the production probably started out as a thriller in the vein of the new hard edge cop films that were emerging - Dirty Harry and The French Connection, but along the way got turned into a sexploitation flick - considering that every 10mins or so the story grinds to a halt for some borderline-hardcore sex. The direction, credited to Carl Monson is mostly flat and insipid, although the film does break out in two sequences - a Peckinpah-style shootout (cue meaty squibs and slow-mo), and a car chase that's sabotaged by some amateurish undercranking. As for the cops, its a wonder that these guys are not directing traffic, totally inept at law enforcement and spending most of the film bitchin' rather than arrestin'. Of course none of that hardly matters, A Scream In the Streets delivers plenty of sleazy thrills, and a jaw-dropping final shot (a splitscreen freezeframe, no less!) which suggests that that the film makers were probably not taking any of this seriously in the first place. Yep, I liked it.

This being a Harry Novak production, its not surprising the source print used for Something Weird's DVD is in great shape - sharp, bright and showing minimal wear and tear. The extras are the usually treasure trove of Something Weird flotsam and jetsam, and be sure to watch the extra called Harry Novak Crime Stopper, a highly amusing shot-on-video trip to the office of Harry Novak by the Something Weird crew.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Kingdom of the Spiders

When cattle in a small town in Arizona turn up dead for no apparent reason, local vet Robert "Rack" Hansen (William Shatner, beefy) along with scientist Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling, gorgeous) investigate the mysterious circumstances only to discover that a shift in the balance of nature has given rise to a strain of highly aggressive tarantulas intent on feeding on the town folk...

Made in 1977, in the wake of Jaws, Kingdom of the Spiders is a superior example of the nature vs. man genre that was so popular in the 70's (Frogs, Squirm, Grizzly etc). The premise may sound schlocky on paper, but the film is anything but, delivering some real menace and suspense, successfully importing elements from The Birds and Night of the Living Dead, and bravely playing out with a quietly devastating ending. Interestingly the film's premise is close to the 1974 zombie film The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue, both films explore the consequences of mankind's interference with the natural order - in the case of Kingdom of the Spiders, pesticides have destroyed the tarantula's place in the food-chain, so they turn to humans for food.

Director Jon "Bud" Cardos gets great mileage out of the story with some slick low angle shots of spiders creeping around, and in particular two striking set pieces involving a crop-duster, and descent into a darkened cellar. Besides excellent work from Shatner and Bolling, the film benefits greatly from the extended cast - 5,000 Mexican tarantulas who are marvelous - there's no Fulci fakery here à la The Beyond, these creepy-crawlies are the real deal.

Worth applauding also the human extras who allowed themselves to be covered and crawled upon by spiders - no mean feat. Incidentally, Wes Craven would go one better in his 1980 film Deadly Blessing by placing a spider in Sharon Stone's mouth. Animal lovers should note that there is extensive stomping and other punishments doled out to the spiders, and the film if remade today would have to make extensive use of CGI to satisfy the American Humane Association. One to savour indeed.

My copy of Spiders is the 2002 Goodtimes DVD which was a good budget disc for its time, but can now be discarded for Shout! Factory's magnificent 2010 edition, with a superior transfer (and in its OAR finally) and worthwhile extras - commentary, interviews and some Super-8 onset footage). The film is best avoided by those with a sensitive disposition to the eight legged freaks of this world, but for those looking for a solid 70's chiller, Kingdom of the Spiders is highly recommended.