They Live (Amazon Prime Review)

18 – 94mins – 1988


 

OBEY… OBEY… OBEY…

“Brother, life’s a bitch and she’s back in heat.”

While the social media meltdown continues apace and I attempt to get my head around the ramifications of last night’s EU Referendum here in the UK, some might consider it hugely ironic that I sat down yesterday for my first ever viewing of John Carpenter’s cult sci-fi/horror adaptation of Ray Nelson’s short story Eight O’Clock in the Morning.

If Cameron and the “Remain” camp thought they were having a bad day, just spare a thought for homeless drifter John Nada (late WWF wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper). He is shot at, thrown from a first floor window and beaten to a swollen pulp by his best mate, Frank (Keith David), in a bare-knuckle brawl which lasts longer than Peter Griffin vs the Giant Chicken – all on the same mind-melting day he stumbles upon a yuppie alien takeover bid which only materialises whenever Nada puts on a pair of sunglasses! If that wasn’t enough, to top it all off: he’s all out of chewing gum, too!

While the satirical social commentary implied by humanity’s greed-motivated subservience to an extraterrestrial “power alliance” hidden in plain sight is as strong and as stinging as a George A. Romero subtext, I found They Live’s narrative and its genre elements to be sadly lacking. The skeletal “formaldehyde faces” of the alien’s true eye-bulging form are laughably ropey, calling to mind a 50s B-movie (perhaps intentionally?), while the drifting plot was high in meandering and low in narrative finesse.

Product DetailsNada’s journey from bum to hero is achieved by wandering in an inviolate haze through first a police raid at a homeless camp, then through the alien-infested streets of LA. When he does eventually coerce Frank into believing the conspiracy, the pair have no set plan and simply bumble along cluelessly until they happen upon a band of freedom fighters and the plot is finally focused on shutting down the signal which is hypnotising the human race to the subliminal propaganda.

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars

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The Land Before Time (Netflix Review)

U – 69mins – 1988


 

A LESSON IN DINO-VERSITY

“Some things you see with your eyes, others with your heart.”

After a busy weekend, I was ready to collapse on Sunday evening but aware it was far too early to sleep. Eyes aching and just after something nice and simple, I trusted myself to a scroll through Netflix to see if anything fit the bill…

I watched The Land Before Time – as well as another 80s Don Bluth classic, An American Tail  – repeatedly on VHS as a child, completely unaware it was produced and “presented” by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. My curiosity over the involvement of such legends, coupled with the chance for some warm reminiscences (not to mention the stubby runtime!) sold me on this cute dinosaur animation as I drifted off to sleep.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure, it sees a herd of passive ‘long necks’ (AKA. Brontosaurs) escaping devastation and migrating towards the Great Valley in search of edible vegetation, only for the herd to be divided by a “clash of the continents” (an earthquake) and attacked by a carnivorous ‘sharp tooth’ (AKA. T-Rex), leaving youngster Littlefoot (Gabriel Damon) all alone.

“I’ll be with you, even if you can’t see me.”

As the mourning orphan strives to overcome his depression, flee famine and complete his departed mother’s (Helen Shaver) quest of hope, he befriends four diverse companions in stubborn ‘three horn’ Triceratops Cera (Candy Hutson), cute Saurolophus Ducky (Judith Barsi), mute Stegosaurus Spike and plucky Pteranodon Petrie (Will Ryan), who join Littlefoot on his journey.

“At least we wouldn’t be alone!”

Mixing The Lion King’s inspirational coming of age story with Zootopia’s morality and Bambi’s touching sentimentality, The Land Before Time is a far deeper and more rounded experience than my memory recalled, successfully managing to be cute, careful, comical and cultured in its short-but-sharpshooting duration.

Through such likeable, defined and relatable characters, the film delivers crucial and pertinent life lessons on mature social issues such as racism (“Flathead” is used as a derogatory term for the long necks), prejudice (“three horns never play with long necks,” “Well, why?!”) and bonding through the tragedies the great circle of life throws at even the most innocent of individuals.

The pace is surprisingly tempered given the film’s length (taking away the sumptuous slow underwater opening crawl and the closing credits played to Diana Ross’ theme song it weighs in at under an hour), but nearly 20 years on The Land Before Time remains as colourful, engaging and timeless as the dinosaurs themselves. Am I tempted to now binge-watch the gazillion straight-to-video sequels? Yep, yep, yep!

CR@B Verdict: 5 stars

Ratman (DVD Review)


18 – 82mins – 1988


HALF NELSON

I was compelled to sniff out this trashy 80’s Italian slasher after listening to uproarious podcast The 80s PictureHouse savagely maul it to death on day four of their recent “12 Days of Crapmas” series. How could a gore-fest about an escaped rat-monkey hybrid – played by the smallest actor in the world, The Island of Dr. Moreau’s Nelson de la Rosa – not be an insanely entertaining, if tasteless, guilty pleasure?!

Sadly, not even gratuitous nudity and genre stalwarts David Warbeck (The Beyond), Eva Grimaldi and Janet Agren (City of the Living Dead) can save director Giuliano Carnimeo’s exploitation abomination from single-star shame. I’m sure a combination of booze and buddies would lead to a riotous viewing experience (at the film, rather than with it), but sober and alone I was all too aware of the dubious effects, lame production values, logic-void script and atrocious dubbing!

But Ratman’s biggest crime is its scandalous underuse of its trump card. Pint-sized de la Rosa surely is the film, yet for the entire first half of this diminutive sub-90minute creature feature, he is granted less than a minute’s screen time!! And when he eventually is seen in all his 72cm glory (emerging from a toilet bowl, no less), the shoddy make-up job presents him as a joke (abnormally giant rodent gnashes being the worst offenders) rather than the uncanny, scurrying murderous mutant maniac “Mousey” is.

So it’s a parody, then, fully embracing its grotesque wackiness? Well… no. Because despite seemingly basking in the ludicrousness of it all – and employing an ingeniously revolting tagline: “He’s the Critter from the Shitter” – Ratman is played straight, preferring to gross us out with profuse video nasty-grade slaughter rather than hamming up the surreal angle. Therefore any ham is unintentional and clearly a fault of the lacklustre budget and *ahem* talents of those behind the lens.

The fact the long-unreleased region 2 DVD is distributed by a company called Shameless Screen Entertainment should have been a big enough hint (even they gamely rip it to shreds on the blurb). Podcast presenters and cheesy film aficionados Dave and Thom also did their utmost to warn listeners away from this forgotten stinker. But like a rodent to cheese I was drawn in like a salivating patsy… and sadly struck by the trap.

D-rat, man!

CR@B Verdict: 1 star