This is the five disk Full Moon Classics Volume One boxed set, a collection of early nineties sci-fi movies that most of you will remember in original videocassette form (if at all). With no further ado, let us take a look back into the past at some speculative cinematic sci-fi futures as envisioned some twenty years ago that and see if they are worth looking forward to.
ARCADE (1993): Director - Albert Pyun
ARCADE is about a killer videogame named "Arcade" You have to love the job the evil marketing masterminds over at Vertigo-tronics did with that one. (It would be like an auto manufacturer naming their new model "Car lot"). Anyway, ARCADE is about an imposing-looking video game that gets released to the local arcade Dante's Inferno. As part of the introduction, every kid receives a free press kit which includes the following high tech, cutting edge peripherals: a ski visor that has been painted over except for two small eye-holes; a Kraft Nintendo joystick; and, a glove with loose wires running throughout its length. Yet these kids soon learn something I realize everyday via the increasing amount of reviews I must write to receive still more product – nothing a company gives you for promotional consideration is ever truly free.
The home version of "Arcade" gradually turns every one of its players into a mindless brain-dead zombie that doesn't eat, sleep or leave the house. (You know, like any other good videogame ever made). Thankfully for the “Arcade” players in this community, two kids – Nick and his would-be girlfriend Alex – visit the developer and get some maps, and schematics (real gamers call them cheat codes) which will allow them a fighting chance once they log into “Arcade” themselves. From there the two intrepid young teens struggle through spiked corridors, abandoned wastelands and clunky computer graphics to do battle with the film's big boss. Did you know that the word "big boss" came from the video game industry to describe the final evil end-of-game character that you must fight, but is now used to describe any sort of powerful enemy character in a work of film or fiction? Much as in the case of this film, "Arcade" borrows the use of several videogame cultural references and jargon, but really adds nothing new to the gamer culture from which it steals. By the time the game is beaten FOREVER AND INSTANTLY the moment a player wins an extra life we can see that this was written by someone who doesn't even play video games, but has read every headline about video game addiction ever written. If you like this sort of premise in an authentic 80’s arcade era film I recommend TRON (Did I just praise a Disney movie?) or NIGHTMARES where Emilio Estevez challenges an evil videogame known as the "Bishop of Battle" (Wizard of Wor?) in a fight to the death and doesn't even make the high score table, (but somehow does become part of the game's attract mode anyway). As for this one, I am going to try and bring some much needed actual video gaming street cred to it, rating it as the ESRB would and give it an "M" for "Manure. Extras include a “Video Zone” making of.
BAD CHANNELS (1992): Director - Ted Nicolaou
In 1938 a young Orson Welles caused much panic by announcing over the radio on his weekly music show that earth was being attacked by hostile invaders from Mars causing much panic and chaos among his unsophisticated listeners who believed his every word. In Bad Channels we have a similar situation only in reverse, Dangerous Dan O' Dare is a radio shock jock who has done so many insane and gimmicky stunts over the years that when he announces that aliens have landed in his studio, and are using his radio equipment to kidnap hot women through the speakers of their own radios. No one believes him either, much to their own peril. Madness and chaos ensues, but strangely enough not a whole lot of fun.
Budget concerns understood, the head alien is just a guy in a suit with a head that looks like a giant cobblestone. There is no violence, except the aliens have the ability to make certain people disappear forever by pointing a magic wand at them and “screen wiping” them into oblivion with the advanced, evil alien technology of post-production. Even so, this must have been a costly special effect indeed, as there is only “one” human victim that does not return at the films end. The four “bottle babes” are attractive, but they don't do anything provocative but shriek from behind the glass of the strange hermetically sealed bottles like the travel sized T+A that they are. The question of why the women are shrunken in the first place is never explained, much less why they are even abducted. This is travesty, a crying shame indeed because the dimensions Bunny, Lisa, Cookie and Ginger are the only thing which might have saved this film if we had gotten to see more of them, and by that I don't mean more artful character exposition either. This one had some scary alien potential and exploitation themes that were ultimately limited to some swearing and all the rubber creature effects of the Power Rangers parts bin.
The love story between Dan O Dare and Lisa Cummings, the reporter, could have been the actual focus of the story, at least for most “traditional” movie goers out there who actually desire some sort of human character development in a film. Yet it this plotline is never developed because Dan spends the entire movie locked in the studio, having one way communication with the entire town. This film fails. It's like KILLER CLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE without the whimsy, fun and gore.
Extras include a soundtrack by Blue Oyster Cult (WTF???) and the usual “Video Zone” making of.
NETHERWORLD (1992): Director - David Schmoeller
Young Corey Thornton, upon hearing the news regarding the death of his estranged father goes back home to New Orleans and takes possession of the family mansion and also inherits his fathers unfinished spiritual ambitions to remain immortal; a quest that will take him beyond the reaches of our reality and into the Netherworld. (Insert dramatic 90’s synth music here).
Let me start out by saying that this is perhaps the most thematic, atmospheric picturesque setting for a Full Moon Feature I have ever seen. Granted it isn’t as elaborate as Radu’s Romanian castle from Subspecies, or the classical, claustrophobic architecture of Bodega Bay Hotel from Puppet Master, yet the New Orleans locales featured are just the right mix of familiar and foreign which create just the right amount of intrigue; mystique. The soundtrack was notable as well, so good in fact; it was ravaged and reused in a few other Full Moon Features.
This being said, sadly, there isn’t a whole lot of movie here-or perhaps is there too much, too many movies? This is to be expected as most B movies are usually a form of regurgitation of more popular works. Aside from the atmosphere and ambience which was spot on, there are four different films going on here, any of which we have seen before and let me tell you that this time, the mix makes no sense. There is the story of the floating stone severed hand (PHANTASM) which flies down corridors, guided by an unseen force (visible fishing line) to deliver divine justice to those who are wronged. There is the weird voodoo religious cult being led by a beautiful woman who seeks to use intrigue, witchcraft and sex as the ultimate aphrodisiac over our hapless male protagonist (SPELLBINDER). There is the neutral antagonist that delights in turning people into half human/half bird (all puppet) mutants (THE ILSAND OF DR MOREAU) and there is the subplot of an evil dead man who through the use of Voodoo/Hoodoo and an elaborate series of clues, hopes to lure some unwitting victim into a ritual which will allow them to trade bodies with the living (THE SKELETON KEY).
I suppose there is one illustrative example that sums up the entire film’s strange surreal sensibility, it seems that the basement of the local pub Tonk’s is a unique and varied area where you can go to hire a woman, visit to resident witch, Delores or experiment with necromancy on the giant stone altar. Well, much as every other stilt house rising above a Louisiana Swamp there isn’t in reality a basement whatsoever. And yet, the basement exists, a large elaborate set inhabited by scary hallway lurkers, prostitutes having (PG) sex behind every door, and a weird flying hand that attacks like a bird of prey if you “make trouble”. Perhaps the basement is the Netherworld? Or is the Netherworld that intangible place beyond death’s door where Corey’s father Noah comes back from? Wait, I know! Maybe the Netherworld is in fact, a special place of hope inside each and every one of us underground film reviewers that makes us watch B movies with a notepad, ready to jot down any crucial facts, characters and plot developments in the story when we should all know by now there likely won’t be any.
I wanted so much for this film to own its exotic locales and organic eerie otherworldly mystique but I this confusing cinematic netherworld was ultimately “Nether” here nor there. Extras include a “Video Zone” making of, starring Edgar Winter and Stanley Watson, (the keyboardist from Bon Jovi) whose explanation of their onscreen role as Tonk’s house band somehow attempt to add value to this? Is it too late to change my opinion of the soundtrack? No? (Hmmph).
SEEDPEOPLE (1992): Director - Charles Band
Recent activity involving meteors have summoned Tom Baines, an influential geologist (who looks like a really hung over Macgyver) to his home town investigating reports of strange meteors falling from the sky. Because he must remember what happened the last time reports like this happened in War of the Worlds, he rushes home to his old stomping at once and investigates. Despite the fact that I figured that strange cosmic occurrences would be par for the course in a place called “Comet Valley”, Tom soon discovers that the meteors aren’t interstellar rocks after all but giant seeds which spawn a race of green flocked monsters who have the ability to steal our identities and control us in manner that is similar to THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. In order to beat the monsters, he enlists the help of an old girlfriend Heidi, her sister Kim and the town wacko Doc Roller who (wouldn’t you have guessed it?) knew about the monsters from afar before anyone else, but no one would listen to him until it was almost (or may already be) too late.
I am not going to say this is a bad film concept, the basic premise of a “secret space invasion” is a well-respected classic plotline seen again and again in sci-fi movies from DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS to THE THING. But there are little moments where this thing is incredibly stupid. For one thing, the monsters themselves are strangely dumb looking, resembling something between Sid and Marty Crofts “Sigmund the Sea Monster” and an anonymous Kaiju from a Japanese 70’s afternoon movie stomping around a model of Tokyo. Moreover, while I don’t watch B movies for a science lesson and I usually allow lots of leeway there, the one thing I tend to dislike is when a film’s technical details are actually the opposite of the laws of known scientific law. There is one moment where the wise old Doctor Roller describes plants as “the most cunning and vicious of all life forms” because “seeds can chase us”. Also there are several scenes where the “seed people” themselves can be stunned or even restored to human form by ultraviolet light which is merely the wavelength present in modern day sunlight that helps every other plant grow. Moreover, while I did like the fact that there are three types of bugs, (Tumbler), (Sailer) and Shooter) which allowed for all the varied “gotcha” moves and combined strategic attacks of the cunning bug beasties from a STARSHIP TROOPERS movie, this flick was sorely in need of some visible transformation sequences and I am not talking the expensive cutting edge, “liquid metal” T2 effects which no B movie studio had at this juncture. I meant that it sorely was in need of some transitional makeup effects interrupted by a series of cut-to’s until the bug character “awakened”, a creature effect trick used by all studios since 1941’s THE WOLF MAN. At times I was confused whether certain antagonist characters were bugs (in human form), brainwashed slaves or jerks who just hated Tom Baines. Heaven knows I certainly did, thirty minutes into this. So the ending was kind of a secret delight. “Video Zone?” Yep.
SHADOWZONE (1990): Director - J.S. Cardone
At the unassuming TOP SECRET Jackass Flats research facility, not everything is as well as it might otherwise seem. Due to a recent experiment mishap involving studies of EDS sleep a man dies in an experiment. As NASA liaison and all around “good guy” protagonist, Capt Hickock is sent to investigate, yet he soon discovers far too late that not only should the project be indeed shut down at once, but that the Shadowzone project has already opened a parallel universe of sorts, where a strange, homicidal shape changing beasty is able to enter our dimension, a foul, mutated shape shifter that was probably better left sleeping.
This one is good. It is a proper fusion of a litany of different Sci-fi movies, yet the blend is both favorable and vague enough where it becomes an original work unto itself. It’s got the hapless crew trapped in in a confined space with an otherworldly beasty: ALIEN. It’s got a grotesque alien antagonist that can assume any form: THE THING. The creature of SHADOWZONE has the ability to have communication, actual conversations with the terrified human cast by taking over their lab computers and having a crude form of web chat with them, where it makes its demands known in an extremely tension filled moment: 2001 A SPACE OYDESSY. And finally, much like The CELL it has lots of prolonged scenes of people lying on beds waiting to be sent in to the experiment only instead of wearing form fitting leather suspension suits like Jennifer Lopez did in that film, they are completely naked, and the result is more scenes of extended full frontal nudity than any previously seen Full Moon Feature. All things considered, it gives you an experience on a budget that big Hollywood, cannot/ will not do anymore and you don’t know how much I wish there were more like these in this box of 90’s retro horror.
Sure there were moments where the special effects, stock characters and carbon copy plots of bigger films seemed to stifle the flow of originality; consequently the drama of this flick, yet the perfect, delicate execution of the simple plot made all scenes forgivable, when they actually took time to develop the dilemma, the entry of the monster and the awesome difficulty of surviving his grisly rampage. For the first time in many films, I was able to enjoy an Alien knockoff directly, honestly, not merely as a sarcastic experiment from Mystery Science Theater 3000 and I am thankful for that. Unlike the others, this DVD had no special features or “video zone” extras depicting the making of and I for one would have liked to see them.
And that concludes the Volume 1 set of Full Moon Features. These films come from a rare period in that studio’s history when they were still associated with Paramount pictures, who handled their distribution. The big budget on these films was notable compared to some of their more recent releases and the action takes place on lavish outdoor sets instead of modern computer rendered backgrounds, (which oddly enough, is somehow more economical these days). Also you will not that there isn’t a single killer puppet, cookie or doll movie in the whole set. While each of these films did have some element of special effect beasty being manipulated off camera, the action was still focused on the human characters and their thoughts and feelings. These days, every other film Full Moon release is named after a “deadly doll” of some kind who commands much of the screen time and the plot with a script that reduces most of the human characters as supporting cast. These old ones had a lot more honesty; heart despite the special effects weren’t always believable. Due to the fact that all of these films (except Netherworld) are available only in this boxed set, the ONLY way to get any of these titles, in this five disk glut. Yet, as you can see by my individual reviews of them, many of the films themselves are of questionable value despite their heritage. Shadowzone was awesome, but everything else was merely passable by that I mean more pass than able. The one audience I would really recommend this box to is young aspiring horror movie directors. With the “Video Zone” tidbits on most of these flicks featuring the “how to” regarding some each films better special effect tricks, it might be possible to make something that could be the next YouTube sensation even if you can’t afford costly video editing effects which simply did not exist when these movies originally haunted the imaginations and VCR’s of B movie lovers of the 90’s.
If you're in the mood for a night of entertainment from the days when the flannel flied and good music died, click here!