Friday 29 June 2012

STORAGE 24 (2012)

Johannes Roberts previous cinematic release ‘F’ (we’ll gloss over his giant bird flick for the syfy channel) centred on teaching staff trapped in a school whilst being stalked by faceless hoodies. In Storage 24, Johannes switches the location to a locked down storage facility in South London, and this time swaps the hoodlums for a vicious alien creature.

A suspected military plane crashes in London and an empty cargo container previously home to an alien creature lies nearby a storage facility in South London. Blissfully unaware of this, Charlie (Noel Clarke) is heading to the warehouse to confront ex-girlfriend Shelley - who is sorting through their stored possessions - and to ascertain exactly why she dumped him. Shelley had brought along two friends for moral support and together with Charlie and his best mate Mark they all become trapped in the warehouse when the power fails and the security shutters go into emergency lockdown.  The atmosphere is tense enough between the protagonists even before it becomes clear there is something else locked in there with them: something big, slimy and vicious...

With a budget “8 times less than Attack the Block” (according to co-writer, co-producer and lead actor Noel Clarke), Storage 24 (or ‘Attack the Lock-up’ if you prefer), knows it’s limits but plays to its low-budget strengths and doesn't short change the audience with either creature effects, gore or jump moments.

Noel Clarke’s original concept for the alien was originally inspired by one of Spiderman’s comic book enemies: ‘Carnage’. The final onscreen creature, designed by Paul Hyatt, is a blend of practical effects i.e. a man in a monster suit on stilts with a bit of CGI mapped onto the design. It reminded me of the creature Eric Stoltz’s character finally transforms into in Chris Walas’ The Fly II - albeit this time with added teeth and tentacles.

The cast acquit themselves very well with what appears initially to be a very simple set-up with little scope for character development. The themes of betrayal and the breakdown of relationships become increasingly influential as the mayhem ensues and no one escapes without being scarred – either emotionally or physically.
The director states John Carpenter as a major influence for this film, but there’s other films being referenced here too. One sequence where Charlie lifts his head up through a storage hatch in the ceiling to see if anything is crawling above them is clearly an homage to a similar scene in Aliens. As in Attack the Block, fireworks yet again feature in the defence against the alien menace, but despite the limited budget, there is still originality at work here. One prime example being the significance of a tiny yapping toy dog.

The final shot somewhat ambitiously sets up the distinct possibility for a sequel. However, this was not quite the commercial calculation it may first appear. The original scripted ending was beyond the limits of the film’s tight-budget – so an enforced rethink ironically resulted in a more spectacular premise.

***(out of 5*)

Paul Worts

Wednesday 27 June 2012

AT THE EARTH'S CORE / STAR CRASH - Caroline Munro Double-Bill

“This can’t be the Rhondda Valley!”

Madly eccentric scientist ‘Doctor Abner Perry’ (Peter Cushing) has invented a large revolutionary drilling machine entitled “The Iron Mole”. Accompanied by his “worst student” ‘David Innes’ (Doug McClure), they set off to test the drill by boring into the Welsh Hills. Quicker than you can say ‘Thunderbirds are go!’ our intrepid duo promptly lose control of the drill (and consciousness) whilst The Iron Mole proceeds with implausible speed to bury straight down towards the earth’s core. (Just as well really, otherwise the film would’ve been a real bore). Sorry. Upon awaking, they find themselves in a strange world ruled by giant prehistoric parrot-like birds that have mesmeric powers and telepathy. (No, this isn’t a Discovery Channel documentary). These not-so-pretty-pollys (The Majars) control an army of pig-men (The Sagaths) who in turn keep their normal-looking human slaves (including ‘Dia’ – Caroline Munro) in erm, well slavery, forcing them to do general slave-like duties involving controlling the surrounding lava flows and stuff whilst sounding like frogs gargling mouthwash.

I won’t give away much more of the frankly barmy plot, but I feel I must just warn you to watch out for ‘Hoojah’ (“The sly one”) – he’s real trouble, and ‘Jubal’ (“The ugly one”) - he’s really ugly. Oh yes, and shout hurrah for ‘Ra’ – he’s really brave.

Peter Cushing is on (over the) top form brandishing his trusted umbrella whilst uttering such classic lines as: “You can’t mesmerise me – I’m British!” and: “They’re so excitable – like all foreigners”. Doug McClure’s ‘David’ gamely battles various men-in-rubber-suit-monsters; a man-eating plant bearing a remarkable resemblance to the singing plant in Frank Oz’s 1986 remake of Little Shop of Horrors; and gets the somewhat less than arduous task of occasionally kissing the beautiful ‘Dia’. Incidentally, there’s never any danger of the audience forgetting the name of Doug McClure’s character as “David!” is uttered 66 times during the film!

Caroline Munro is, as you would naturally expect, absolutely jaw-droppingly, sweat glisteningly gorgeous as Dia SPOLIER ALERT (or rather Princess Dia). And even though she disappears for a fair chunk of the film, she still manages to get almost flame-grilled by a giant fire-breathing toad; seized by the talons (painful) of a flying Majar; kidnapped by ‘Hoojah’ (told you to watch out for him); married off to ‘Jubal’ (when she could do so much better); publicly shamed by “David!”; and accidentally man-handled by Peter Cushing! In the midst of all this hugely enjoyable rubber monster hokum, Caroline transcends the b-movie material and manages to invest her character with more depth and believability than the script deserves.

“Go for hyperspace!”

Star Crash has often been labelled a Star Wars rip-off. That’s not entirely fair. The original script, written several years before George Lucas first dabbled in a galaxy far far away, was intended to be a concept more like ‘Sinbad on Mars’, according to its Italian director Luigi Cozzi. It is however fair to say it would probably never have seen the light of day had it not been for the commercial success of Star Wars. Luigi Cozzi (renamed Lewis Coates on the poster and credits for US audiences), was given the green light on the condition that he incorporated elements of Star Wars into the script – hence the sudden introduction of a lightsaber for example, but the director’s original intentions are still there in glorious Technicolor for all to see.

Caroline Munro plays ‘Stella Star’, an impossibly sexy high-kicking space pirate who quite frankly makes Princess Leia look more like a nun. Caroline spends the majority of the film in a black leather bikini and thigh-high boots ensemble - occasionally covered over by a see-through rain mac resembling a giant prophylactic – and is more stunning than any phaser or rifle-ray could possibly be. 

This affectionately directed film is bursting with references and homage’s to other classic sci-fi films and is more fun to watch than the recent three Star Wars prequels put together. Its hokey special effects combined with stilted B movie dialogue is played against a luscious score from none other than James Bond maestro John Barry. In fact, to list all the films guilty pleasures would probably take several pages, so here’s a very brief selection of just some of the ‘highlights’ which await you when you experience the true epicness that is Star Crash:

1. It’s got a robot called ‘Elle’ whose dubbed voice sounds more like Mater the rusty pick-up truck from Pixar’s Cars.

2. It’s got Joe Spinell (pre-Maniac) playing the evil baddie Count Zarth Arn with demented eyes and a sweeping Dracula-like cape.

3. It’s got Christopher Plummer desperately trying to deliver his lines as The Emperor without bursting into laughter. (Perhaps it’s the thought that his son ‘Simon’ is played by David Hasselhoff).

4. It’s got Neanderthal men who look like stunt doubles for Catweazle.

5. It’s got a ship's computer that resembles a giant cheesy puff.

I could go on, but really you must experience the inter-galactic delight that is Star Crash for yourself. A truly ‘Stella’ time is guaranteed.

(P.S. Caroline’s voice in the English version was dubbed by the actress Candy Clark, known to genre fans the world over for numerous roles in such films as the 80’s remake of The Blob, Cat’s Eye, Amityville 3D, Buffy the Vampire Slayer etc.)