Friday, October 31, 2014

Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God (2005)

Directed by: Gerry Lively
Runtime: 105 minutes

Dungeons and Dragons 2, the sequel no one wanted and some how managed to be better than the first film. Yes it is a straight to DVD release, yes it has large plot holes that they can double as a home for a family of four, yes it is kind of dumb, but better than the first movie.

The Captain of the Guard is back in this movie. In the opening credits he explains that he has been undead for a hundred years and is rather upset about that. Since he can't get revenge on the wizard that did this to him, he has set his sights on destroying the city he used to guard.  Luckily for him there is a McGuffin that can help him with his quest. So the opening credits show his journey as he acquires the McGuffin.

Elsewhere in the city that has no idea it is about to be destroyed, Lord Protagonist is ignoring his staff while watching a sword fight. Lord Protagonist used to be captain of the guard and studied to become a CPA. After a distinguished career Lord Protagonist is too old to go on adventures and is put in charge of the tax department. Though at the moment he is more interested in practicing with swords than listening to his staff. So leaving his staff to sputter about tax crap, the Lord finds a sword and some armour and challenges the new captain of the city guard. The new captain was a student of the Lord and is also studying to get his double major in being an Ass.

The two of them duel and the new captain lets the Lord win. After ordering his troops to leave the movie until the third act, the Ass shows the Lord the tip of a feather he cut off of the Lord's helmet. Explaining that if this feather was his neck he would have been killed due to old age. That's right, your neck moves sixteen inches above your head as you reach your late forties. So the Lord consoles himself by visiting his sorceress wife. She is studying the McGuffin wizard school of magic. 

Her attempts at learning McGuffin magic only result in her destroying a pair of gloves. Before she can bemoan the fact that she failed news arrives that there is trouble at the mountains. A couple of farmers went into the mountains and have not been seen again. Wanting to keep costs down Lord Protagonist and his wife volunteer to solve what happened to the farmers.

In the mountains they discover poison gas and a sleeping giant that is breathing out the poison gas. Not just any poison breathing dragon but a poison breathing dragon god that destroyed the McGuffin mages after they imprisoned it. Luckily for our heroes the McGuffin mages hid all their notes in the city library before they quit being mages and took up heavy drinking in a forest somewhere. So Lord Protagonist and his wife stay up all night studying notes that make no sense. Having no luck with that they resort to using magic to make sense of the notes.

This results in part of the library being destroyed, a fair sized chunk of the Sorceress' scalp being removed, and the plot advances in regards to the McGuffin magic.With the fate of the city on the line and the city guard unavailable until the third act there is only one thing to do, assemble a group of third party independent contractors. Lord Protagonist knows just the people that can be brought in to get the job done and because they all owe him a favour so the kingdom will not have to worry about paying them. We have a priest who hates people who wear shoes in holy places of worship, a barbarian warrior woman, a cynical and surly dwarf thief, and a elf teleportation specialist.

Together these five heroes will go forward to find the pool of plot acceleration. Back at the city, the Sorceress is dying due to the Captain of the Guard casting a increase drama spell on her. So in an attempt to make the McGuffin mage's notes readable she set them on fire and the notes become readable. Elsewhere, the fiscally responsible adventures stumble upon their first trap set by a lich (a wizard who's body has died by his mind and will keep going). The party escapes the trap but Lord Protagonist is starting to believe the Ass that he is too old for this kind of life.  

The adventures get closer to the pool of plot acceleration and they fall into another trap that kills the priest. Back in the city, the sorceress is destroying stuff in the name of research and decaying more. Our heroes use the pool of plot acceleration and the elf teleport specialist gets to do her thing. Sadly she teleports them into a trap and gets her hand stuck in stone. However, the Captain of the Guard created an easy to escape trap and our heroes escape with the McGuffin and race towards the city and the third act.

The mages find the McGuffin mage's lair under the city, the Ass and the city guard return, and the dragon god wakes up. The Ass dies and there is much rejoicing by me. The movie ends with a happy and predictable conclusion.

For all the crap I have given this movie it really is not that bad. I have no problem recommending renting this movie or watching it on Netflix. It is a better popcorn fantasy movie than it has any right to be.

MVT: The director was able to mix practical effects with cgi effects to keep the viewer in the movie.

Make or Break: What makes this movie for me is the plot's ability to capture the feel of being on an adventure created by someone who took a crapload of dice and made something entertaining up.

Score: 5.2 of 10

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Blue Monkey (1987)

Marwella (Helen Hughes) has a small greenhouse which she tends with great passion.  Another of her (not-so-great) passions is her handyman friend Fred (Sandy Webster), and Marwella is delighted when he asks her to dinner.  After Fred pricks his finger on a plant Marwella had received from the Micronesia area but had been doing poorly of late, he collapses and is rushed to the local hospital.  A large, larval worm emerges from his mouth, and suddenly a little prick is the least of Fred’s troubles.

William Fruet’s Blue Monkey (aka Insect! aka Invasion of the Bodysuckers) is yet another in the long, long line of films I read about way back in the day in the pages of magazines like Fangoria (issue 69, in fact).   And like a great many of those (another would be Slaughterhouse, which I reviewed on this very site some time ago), they slipped through the cracks of time and eventually faded to little more than distant memories.  But before that occurred, they became grand flights of fancy as they played out in the theater of my mind.  Never mind that, one, the theater of my mind would never translate into a coherent film narrative, and two, there is a reason why some things are best left unknown.  Thus, this film looks good on paper, while it ultimately fails on screen.  This is not for lack of material, mind you.  In fact, part of the reason that it fails is the sheer amount of material in it.  By that same token, this same volume is what marks Blue Monkey as a slight standout in the Horror genre.  Just for all the wrong reasons.

If you were simply to read the above synopsis, you would think this was a straight ahead monster flick (or maybe a melodrama about two elderly people falling in love and failing in health).  However, you have a subplot involving the disease that sprang from the same plant as the insect.  You have Jim (Steve Railsback), our hero cop, who is only in the hospital in the first place because his partner Oscar (Peter Van Wart) was shot in the stomach while on duty.  You have the comedy stylings of SCTV alumni Joe Flaherty and Robin Duke as the Bakers, who are expecting their first baby any second now.  You have the tiresome exploits of the grating child patients (one of whom is played by the soon-to-be-worth-a-damn Sarah Polley).  You also have the notion that the hospital is actually a remodeled insane asylum.  But for as intriguing as any one of these elements may be, they fail because they never form a cohesive whole when they’re all put together.  Each of these subplots seems to exist in different films from this one, and they rarely intermingle with each other in any meaningful way.  This would be fine and dandy if the disparate pieces were at least entertaining in their own right, but they’re more missed opportunities as a whole rather than successful fragments.

If filmmakers like David Cronenberg have taught us anything, it is that our bodies hate us and are looking for the first available opportunity to revolt and kill us.  Diseases, viruses, what-have-yous are scary because they are faceless (unless you’re an epidemiologist or the like).  They are the brutality, the caprice, of nature incarnate in much the same way as the animal/insect world.  They cannot be reasoned with, or jailed, or chopped into pieces like a flesh and blood enemy might be.  They embody the loss of control we see in a great many Horror films, and worse than that, they do not discriminate (or in so much as they discriminate according to the wishes of filmmakers/storytellers).  You can employ whatever safeguards you like, but if a disease wants to get you, it will get you.  And even if you choose not to believe in the all-pervasive nature of diseases, this is how they are perceived by a vast number of people.  Ergo, they are excellent fodder for genre films.  You might find it risible that Jason Voorhees could be hiding under your bed, waiting to stab you with his index finger, but a disease could already be inside your body, waiting to burst forth, and that’s suddenly not so ludicrous anymore.  Either way, you stand a good chance of seeing your innards on the outside (at least from a cinematic standpoint).  The only difference is whether they’re taken from the outside in or the inside out.

Naturally, one would think that people should feel safe in hospitals (and especially if one is afraid of dying from disease in the first place).  Yet the vast majority of non-medical personnel don’t take a great deal of solace in these institutions, and this is a significant reason why hospitals are excellent locations for Horror stories.  These are places where people are literally paid to stab, cut, and drill the bodies of their customers.  Even if the practitioners aren’t malevolent like we imagine, relishing the torment they bestow on us, there is always the possibility that they are incompetent (and no, that’s not a statement or accusation on my behalf; merely an observation on the general perception/misperception by the average person).  What if you receive the wrong medicine?  What if they amputate the wrong limb?  What if they leave an instrument inside your body?  The point is people die in hospitals every day.  You may survive your surgery, but there’s no way to tell if there won’t be complications afterward, from infections, to organ rejections, to just sudden fits of death.  Every patient in a hospital is vulnerable, and there are more than enough dark corridors and eerily silent rooms to creep out the most stalwart among us.

Because the threats in Blue Monkey are so impersonal, one would think that it would help greatly if the characters weren’t.  Sadly, they are all stereotypes of the flattest variety.  Dr. Carson (Gwynyth Walsh) is the classic, capable female doctor who instantly turns into a Screaming Mimi when faced with things outside her range (read: giant insects).  Marwella and her blind pal Dede (Joy Coghill) are the matter-of-fact, elderly folks who just happen to know more than they think they do.  Jim is the classic hardassed cop who grinds his teeth and flips out at the smallest piece of bad news (being played by Railsback doesn’t really help in this regard).  The children all act like little adults in that oh-look-how-cute-they-are-but-not-really way that simply makes them annoying rather than charming.  Even John Vernon gets to briefly strut his bureaucratic jerkoff routine for the camera.  Nevertheless, not one of these people manages to be engaging, so following them around on their little misadventures is nothing less than heavy lifting for the viewer.   This is one of those films I think it’s better to read about than experience, and that’s pretty sad.

MVT:  Once again, I have to give the award to the practical effects.  They’re cool to look at when they show up.  That said, they’re shot in such an insignificant fashion (quick cuts, low lighting, strobe lighting, shaky handheld) that you never get to fully appreciate the work that went into them.

Make or Break:  The first scene with the kiddy characters was like a prelude to the kiss of death the filmmakers would deliver just a short way down the road.  

Score:  5.5/10            

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Midnite Ride #34: Blood on Satan's Claw, The Innocents and Night Train to Terror

Large William discusses Blood on Satan's Claw (1971), The Innocents (1961) and Night Train to Terror (1985).

Direct download: ClawInnocentsTrainRM.mp3 
Emails to


Episode #309: The Return of the Living Dead Double Duece

Welcome back to the GGtMC!!!

This week Sammy and Will are joined by Josh Hurtado from for coverage of The Return of the Living Dead (1985) directed by Dan O'Bannon and The Return of the Living Dead Part 2 (1988) directed by Ken Wiederhorn.

Direct download: ggtmc_309.mp3 
Emails to


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Clones (1973)

The number fifty-two seems to pop up in a lot of things (like seven and thirteen).  There are fifty-two weeks in a year.  There are fifty-two playing cards (less the jokers) in a standard deck (and also part of the name of one of the more frustrating games that can be played with them – Fifty-Two Pickup).  Okay, maybe there aren’t all that many significant instances of fifty-two in our world, but it stands out for me (and I’m sure almost every other comic book fan) for one reason: Fifty-two is the number of Earths in the DC Comics universe (for the time being).  What this means is that there are multiple variations of all of DC’s characters in some form or another, and the concept as a whole is referred to as a multiverse.  My understanding is that this idea was developed in the Sixties as a way to integrate characters from the beginnings of superhero-dom with their modern counterparts/reimaginings as well as further distinguishing themselves from each other.  Of course, the whole thing became a morass of continuity where the history of some characters (Hawkman, I’m looking at you) became so convoluted, a casual reader couldn’t tell if they were coming or going (a lot like X-Men continuity, especially in the Eighties and Nineties, though they and their publisher are a discussion for some other time).  

The DC multiverse was condensed into one unified universe in the epic Crisis On Infinite Earths, and for a long time this was the status quo at DC.  The occasional “off-model” permutation of a character would be explored here or there in single issues and/or miniseries under the Elseworlds banner.  About three or so years ago, however, the muckety mucks at DC decided to bring back the multiverse, and so they relaunched all of their titles under the heading of the New 52.  For a great many readers (myself included) their books quickly fell into confusion again, with some characters continuing exactly as they left off, some starting over entirely new, and some kind of in the middle.  They managed to do in a vastly condensed period what it took their predecessors decades to do (i.e. muddy the waters), and while there are a few books worth reading, I personally prefer Marvel out of the Big Two.  So what has any of this got to do with Paul Hunt and Lamar Card’s The Clones?  Well, as you may have already guessed, part of the film’s plot has to do with the aforementioned “untouchable number.”  I hesitate to state the connection outright, though all things considered, telling you every last inch of this film’s plot really wouldn’t hurt a thing in the long run.

Dr. Gerald Appleby (Michael Greene) narrowly escapes from his laboratory after an accident is manufactured by unseen forces.  Coming back around the front of the facility, he spies someone stealing his car.  Giving chase, Gerry discovers that someone who looks just like him has quickly and easily installed himself in the doctor’s life.  Things get more complicated when CID agents Nemo (Gregory Sierra) and Tom Sawyer (Otis Young) are called in to “get” the real Appleby.

You’d think with a synopsis like that, the film’s story would be loaded with contrivances and twists, especially considering the narration at the beginning warning the viewer about the likelihood of human cloning within the next ten to twenty-five years.  The ground work is laid out for a stimulating movie, either physically or mentally.  Nonetheless, there is little to no consideration of the ethics or moral implications of the process.  There is little to no consideration for the struggle Gerry needs to go through to try and get his life back.  There is little to no consideration that he had much of a life to begin with outside of some idyllic boating shots with his wife Penny (Susan Hunt).  In fact, Gerry, as a character, is by and large a cipher.  We know next to nothing about him other than he is a scientist and he is married.  We learn nothing about him throughout the course of the film.  He could just as easily be a member of the audience watching the film, and that, to my mind, is what the film gets right.  By making the main character as inoffensively bland and blank as possible and thrusting him through a series of chase scenes (which consume the vast majority of the film’s run time), the audience is given the opportunity to put itself in Gerry’s place as they root for this man who has been unjustly persecuted for no other reason than that he is now an encumbrance.  In effect, the audience becomes a double for Gerry.

Like so many Paranoia/Conspiracy films of this time, the focus is on the plight of one man against a nefarious agency or agencies with fiendish machinations afoot right under the noses of the population at large.  Of course, this is emphasized in Gerry’s dealings with everyone he comes into contact with from his boss to his wife and damn near all other characters in between.  Not only are these characters not to be trusted, but it is made plain quite swiftly that this is so.  A further clue/touch is added by having one of the main villains (Stanley Adams) speak with a German accent (I’m unsure if he had one naturally, but if he did, he didn’t try to cover it up here, and it’s a plus either way).  Stylistically, the paranoia angle is reinforced via Dutch angled compositions, slow motion usage, fisheye POV shots, smash cut editing, and the use (or non-use) of diegetic sound in the action scenes.  It is in this way that The Clones turns in on itself as these films tend to do.  Visuals of this sort are so removed from the reality the audience knows, there is little to no sense that can be derived, even in more traditional scenes (take the sequence of the hippies speaking gibberish to Gerry, if you doubt me).  By subverting the audience’s inclination to make sense of what it sees, it forces multiple readings into existence (like, say, fifty-two Earths in a multiverse).  The whole film may be taken as a Conspiracy film with psychedelic imagery.  It may be taken as a Psychedelic film with conspiratorial leanings.  It may be taken as a quasi-incompetent (or quasi-successful, depending on your perspective) piece of experimental filmmaking.  It may be taken as Gerry’s descent into madness.  It may be taken as the seams of Gerry’s domestic life being pulled apart.  For as much as the film claims that it’s about cloning, that’s only a tangential piece of the pie.  I think the film is a bit more insidious than that.  You can think about it for hours and come up with a plethora of ideas, or you can think about it for five minutes and write it all off.  Honestly, I think of it both ways at different times, and I’m fine with that.  Or maybe I only think of it one way, and the clone of me who just stole my car thinks of it the other way.

MVT:  The main idea of the film is intriguing.  I’m kind of surprised we don’t see very many films with this premise these days (I know of one or two in the past year or so, but outside of some very basic information, I know nothing about them), as I think it’s a treasure trove waiting to be mined.

Make Or Break:  The finale is great, and there is a fantastic accentuation of dead bodies as bags of meat which is both striking and blackly comic in this environ.

Score:  6.75/10