AKA The Martian Colony Wars AKA John Carter of Mars AKA Lol You Thought This Was That Disney Movie You Moron
Okay, a couple of things I find really amusing before I get into this review. First, my DVD has two hilarious taglines on its cover:
“The classic story that inspired James Cameroon’s Avatar.”
“The heart pounding Creature action of Starship Tropers!”
And yes, both of those misspellings are on there.
Second, while you might think this thing was released to piggy back off of Disney’s expensive flop, it was actually released three years before to capitalize on the release of Avatar. The Asylum probably picked this story to adapt because it inspired James Cameron’s bloated CGI fest, which they could flaunt on the cover, and because it’s in the public domain and they wouldn’t have to pay anybody fees. That means that this was actually the first filmed version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ influential Barsoom series. Chew on that for a bit.
Of course, this being The Asylum, this is Barsoom done on the cheap. The very cheap. While Disney’s film cost over 250 million dollars to bring to life, Asylum regular Mark Atkins made his version for a reported 300,000 dollars. John Carter’s production probably racked up more in freaking cratering bills than that.
Say what you will about this company, but that is kind of impressive. Hey, remember when they got sued for their Battleship rip-off and basically turned around and give Paramount Pictures the middle finger? Good times, man. Good times…
The first thing you’ll notice about this movie after you sit down with some strong whiskey to soak it into your eyeballs, the movie not the whiskey unless you’re into that kind of thing, is that it’s surprisingly close to the original book, except when it’s not. Like the opening which changes our hero from a Confederate war veteran that mysteriously gets transported to Mars, to a present day John Carter who is now a sniper wandering around unsupported in Iraq, shooting at random targets. The Asylum must have a whole warehouse full of military fatigues and guns because they use them in just about every fucking film. Switching to the present day was probably a budgetary move though, because it’s cheaper, and easier, to not have to bother about things like “period costumes” and “historical accuracy,” although they don’t seem to care much anyways. They did have Sherlock Holmes fighting dinosaurs…
At any rate, this opening really sets the mood for the rest of the film: really fucking stupid and nonsensical. Not that you’d expect anything else, really. Carter (played by a beefy Antonio Sabato Jr. of General Hospital fame) winds up getting into an opium deal gone bad and gets shot fulla holes. Then for some reason the government decides to send him to Mars using a flash drive…yeah I still don’t understand it. It’s not even our solar system’s Mars, it’s some random planet out beyond our galaxy. Why the Hell would you change that? Oh, that’s right. Because we know now that there’s nothing fucking living on Mars, which we didn’t when the original book was written in 1917, so if you updated the story, but didn’t alter that point, it would make no sense. But nothing makes any fucking sense anyways, so why bother? Gah!
Anyways, Carter wakes up on Mars and winds up with the brutal Tharks, one half of the planet’s inhabitants. In the books, if I remember right, the Tharks were four armed giants and were colored green. Of course when your budget is less than most people’s college loan debts, you can’t really depict that, so The Asylum went to an after Halloween sale at Wal-Mart and bought all of their creature masks. Seriously, that’s what it looks like. They even have useless tusks that you can see flapping in some shots because they’re obviously made of rubber.
He also eventually runs into this version’s Dejah Thoris, leader of Barsoom’s human population and the “princess” of the film’s title. In a bit of an odd, although probably once again budgetary, move Thoris is played by former underage porn star and John Waters regular Traci Lords! The problem with this is that even though Lords is a decent actor, I don’t care what anybody says, she’s a bit too old to be a “princess” and instead looks like somebody’s hot mom. She also spends the whole movie in a Princess Leia type slave outfit which, even though I’m not complaining, isn’t quite the nudity that the book describes. Oh well. In Burroughs’ original vision everybody was nude. At least we were spared Sabato Jr.’s probably beefy dingle.
Like most Asylum films there isn’t much of a plot to speak of. Everybody just kind of wanders around getting attacked by giant insects and spouting large chunks of painfully stupid dialogue until the film suddenly realizes that it needs a climax and finishes up. We get some really bad Star Wars “influenced” sword fights and then a fat sack of crap gets stabbed in the guts. Hooray! Interestingly, the whole thing finishes up without a happy ending. I’ll give them points for that…
You know what? screw it. I had fun watching this movie. Its pure trash, but it’s entertaining trash. It’s probably the closest I’ve seen a modern film come to being a 1950’s sci-fi b-movie. Aside from the crappy alien masks, this is probably helped by the fact that most of this was filmed around Bronson Caverns, which any b-movie junkie will instantly recognize. Hell, they even got Kirk’s rock in there! It warms my heart. It’s also one of the most epic Asylum films I’ve seen so far. It seems like for the most part, they actually put a bit of effort into things and the special effects are mostly passable, which surprised the Hell out of me.
As far as acting goes, Sabato Jr. doesn’t seem to be giving a shit, Traci Lords seems to be giving too much of a shit and Matt Lasky, who plays warrior Tars Tarkas, seems to be the only one that really felt the need to ham it up and ends up being the most entertaining thing about the whole movie. Of course how could you deliver a line like “that was her pee bucket” with a straight face? And yes, that line is in the movie. I rewound it like three times and laughed like a loon, I admit it….
If I was going to recommend one Asylum film to a friend, it would probably be this one. It’s dumb and impossibly cheap, but it’s almost passable as an actual film and you get to watch a dude drink an alien’s neck sweat and eat vomit. What more can you ask for?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to check out Starship Tropers. I hear it is very anvilicious and finishes up with a broken aesop. *snicker*
- Was it really necessary for the leader of the Tharks to rip his slave girl’s eyeballs out? Where the Hell did that come from?
- Lol, “pump station.” It looks like Freddy’s boiler room! (Also, shades of Space Mutiny.)
- “Are those bugs going to rip her clothes off? I guess not. That’s a bit lame…”
- When I read Princess of Mars in high school, I didn’t quite picture John Carter with so many shitty tattoos. Dude has a tramp stamp. A freaking tramp stamp!
- Lol, Starship Tropers. That’s gold Jerry! Gold!
This 10 horror movie set has lied to me once again. While most of the films it contains that I’ve watched so far are kind of a stretch to fit into the genre, Fugitive Mind contains absolutely no horror elements at all, turning out to be a sort of sci-fi action thing. Oh well. It’s cheap enough to fit this blog’s purposes.
If you haven’t experienced the work of Fred Olen Ray, you’d be hard pressed to call yourself a b-movie fan. It’s not that his films are usually any good, its just that he’s released so damn many of them. Almost 130 to be exact, starting in the late 70’s and continuing to the present day. If he’s anything, he’s persistent. He’s also a professional wrestler and his wife helps produce his films, making him the one person whose life I’d switch mine with. To it’s credit Fugitive Mind is the most competent Olen Ray film I’ve seen so far. Competent doesn’t always mean entertaining though…
In a set up that’s suspiciously similar to Total Recall, Robert Dean (Michael Dudikoff) is a happily married man working as a handyman for a shadowy science lab. Of course nothing is what it seems and it turns out his wife works for the lab and that he’s actually a corporate created super soldier! But why are they experimenting on him? What’s his purpose? Does it have anything to do with the Senator that keeps popping up at random intervals? Of course it does, you silly billy! If you can’t figure out where the plot is going to go, the movie gives you constant nudges through repetitive flashbacks! There you go, you don’t have to think at all.
Oh, did I mention that Heather Langenkamp is the love interest? Well, Heather Langenkamp is the love interest. Don’t that beat all?
While this film is pretty much the definition of video store rack filler, it’s blandness is at least eased a bit by its actors. First off there’s Dudikoff, who is a decent enough chunk-head action star. He’s no Stallone but he can at least act better than Van Damme and he doesn’t have the girlish scream of Reb Brown. That pretty much puts him in kind of in the middle of the chunk-head Pantheon. He’s also easier on the eyes than Robert Z’Dar. He get’s a pass here mostly because he doesn’t have to emote much.
We also get L.A. Law’s Michele Green as Dudikoff’s eeeevil wife who is cursed in this film with way too much mom jeans for one human being, Ian Ogilvy from Witchfinder General and And Now the Screaming Starts, and John Putch who is the son of Jean Stapleton and was a TV sitcom staple in the 80’s and 90’s.
And then there’s Heather Langenkamp who I’ve had a huge crush on since I plowed through all of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies a few years ago. She’s a pretty good actor but she hasn’t done a whole lot of films simply because she doesn’t want to! According to IMDB, she’d rather spend time with her family than use all of it acting and is happy having enough money to live comfortably on. There’s something heartening in that. Her genuineness really comes through in all the roles I’ve seen her in and this one is no exception.
I’m not sure how Olen Ray roped all of these decent actors into being in a quicky straight to video action film, but they all certainly make the most of it and the film is much more watchable because of their efforts.
Otherwise the whole thing is kind of bland. For a Fred Olen Ray film, there’s a distinct lack of B and B, that is: Boobs and Blood. This is the man who gave the world Attack of the 50 Ft. Centerfold, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, and Evil Toons, a Roger Rabbit rip-off that stars several hardcore porn stars! The lack of exploitative elements in this one is certainly a disappointment and with the sleaze gone you’re left with a decent movie that’s not a whole lot of fun.
Fugitive Mind is exactly the kind of thing you’d pick up at the video store back in the day, take home, watch, and then never think of ever again. A true middle of the road b-movie time waster. But isn’t Heather Langenkamp just the cutest though? Sigh. My love will always go unrequited…
- You’ve gotta love a movie that’s so cheap that it looks like most of its actors just wore their own clothes. My favorite is the dude that plays the investigator who wears my grandpa’s jacket and several “witty” old man hats!
- Ray’s wife Kim plays a secretary and gives the movie it’s only bit of chest related interest, as she’s the only female character that displays any visible cleavage. Thanks muchly Kim!
- If you’re keen on Fred Olen Ray, he has his own kind of neat Facebook page. If you’re keen on Heather Langenkamp, she’ll be appearing in my dreams tonight but that’s a private party and you’re not invited unless you’re Halloween/Prom Night era Jamie Lee Curtis. If you are, come on in! Hope you like rockabilly records and cream soda!
Analog Science Fiction and Fact is the longest running science fiction magazine in history, starting all the way back in 1930 and still publishing today. Having been around for so long, it’s had quite a few different editors, titles, and varying degrees of quality. It’s generally agreed that the magazine had it’s heyday in the 1940’s and 50’s when it published stuff by guys like Issac Asimov and Harlan Ellison, giants of literary science fiction as well as stories by HP Lovecraft. Even though it’s well respected now, when it first started out under the hand of Harry Bates, most famous for writing Farewell to the Master, the story that The Day the Earth Stood Still was based off of, it was pretty much just another pulp magazine among the piles of the things that littered the news stands and poisoned the minds of America’s youth from the 1930’s to the 50’s. It wasn’t until 1933 when it almost died and was picked up by F. Orlin Tremaine that it started to form into the famous and notable publication that it would later become.
Thankfully for people like me that love early pulp garbage to death, the first three years of the magazine’s existence, the entirety of Harry Bates’ tenure as editor, were published without a copyright notice and thus are public domain and you can legally download them online for free! I, of course, plan on reading every issue, which is actually quite a nice pile of trashy literature. Alright, let’s see what this first issue is all about…
First of all, lets take a look at the cover. If that’s not the perfect short hand for all of the pulp genre, I don’t know what is. A ham fisted hero punching a giant beetle in the face while a girl looks meekly on. Brilliant.
Then we get to the introductory editorial that actually has the nuts to proclaim that all of the stories that you are about to read could actually happen in the future! When your cover has a dude punching a giant bug in the face, that’s pretty freaking bold.
So now let’s do some quick rundowns/reviews of the stories this mag contains:
- The Beetle Horde (Part 1 of 2) by Victor Rousseau
The cover story, obviously. Published in serial fashion so the editor could rope people into buying the next issue. Not the best written thing I’ve ever read but fast moving and a good bit of fun. Giant beetles at the South Pole. Who woulda thunk?
- The Cave of Horror by Captain S.P. Meek
Probably the best story out of the bunch, sort of a sci-fi horror thing about a strange monster killing people that wander into a cave and the intrepid scientists that have to save the day. Kind of gets bogged down in the middle with lame science type gibberish but picks up for a neat finale.
- Phantoms of Reality by Ray Cummings
I actually really liked this longer story (it’s kind of a short novel) but it’s such an odd mix of pulp sci-fi and medieval fantasy that I don’t know if everyone reading would buy into it. It has moments where the writing really shines through though which make it worth sticking with it (plus the finale is really good).
- The Stolen Mind by M.L. Staley
While the stories so far have been by people that were pretty prolific writers, this is the first one that’s penned by a genuine nobody and damn, does it show! This strange tale about a secret agent that has his mind stolen by a mad scientist is so over the top in it’s writing style that it ends up being pretty funny when you’re not being totally blindsided by how odd the whole thing is.
- Compensation by C.V. Tench
Written by another nobody that published not a single other piece of literature, at least this one is short. It’s about a scientist that vanishes while trying to figure out how to achieve absolute zero. I guess it’s supposed to have some sort of moral to it, but I’ll be fucked if I can figure out what it’s supposed to be.
- Tanks by Murray Lenister
A war story about tanks. It’s at least interesting to read about what people in the pre-WWII era thought modern warfare was going to be like, but even though this one is well written, it’s kind of dull. Dull is not something that pulp literature should be. It’s also a tiny bit racist but not as bad as it could have been. All in all, just kind of here to fill space.
- Invisible Death by Anthony Pelcher
The final story in the inaugural issue of this important and revered magazine is about a circus performer that steals invisibility machines from a scientist and uses them to extort money from a group of engineers. Huh. The writing in this one is pretty crummy but it’s weird enough that it kept my attention. Ends rather quickly as well, sort of like the author couldn’t quite figure out where the story should go but really didn’t give a fuck anyways. At least he got his paycheck.
At the end of the day, what we’ve got here is an interesting mix of decent stories and total trash. It was all pretty fun to read though, and since I didn’t have to pay a dime for any of it, totally worth the money! I’m actually really looking forward to future issues and hopefully, I’ll throw quick reviews of them up on here as well. Viva la pulp!
You know what kind of sucks? I’m already starting to run out of things to say about Asylum films. I’ve already given my theory that they can’t be judged like normal movies because they’re not normal fucking movies. They’re not made to be “good” in any sense of the word. They’re also not “unintentional” comedies because they’re specifically made to be bad! The fact that they still make me laugh more than a clown with horrible farts probably says more about my sense of humour and taste in film than anything else. So here we go with another classic piece of below Z-grade cinema…
How’s this for a plot: Tiffany (yes, that Tiffany, although in this film she looks disconcertingly like someone’s mom) and her team of scientists working in Venezuela have, for some reason, created genetically modified super piranha that have managed to escape and are swimming upriver towards Florida. They don’t sleep, they don’t need to breed, and they keep growing bigger! Oh, no! Enter Paul Logan (From Days of Our Lives, one of many soaps my mom used to watch) an American secret agent who’s sent down to figure out why people are dying. He moves on the orders of…wait for it…Greg Brady! Well, Barry Williams who seems to be making a living doing these sorts of movies as of late. He also fought Danny Bonaduce in The Asylum’s Bigfoot in 2012.
There’s a lot of other crap that happens involving the Venezuelan army but that’s not important. What’s important is what you came for: murderous fish. And that’s pretty much what you get….
Like I said, you can’t judge an Asylum film the same way you’d judge other films. Mega Piranha is grade school level stupid, the plot makes no sense at all, the CGI looks like it was meant for an original Playstation game, and nobody, except for maybe Barry Williams, can act their way out of a paper bag. That said, it’s probably one of the most competent Asylum films I’ve seen mostly because it can almost, if you squint reeeeally hard, pass for an actual film. There’s an odd sort of style to this thing, achieved through strange quick cut editing and subtitles that announce every single one of our main characters and what their occupation is! My wife remarked that it really does feel like you’re watching an odd mix of Banged Up Abroad and MTV Cribs!
But when you get right down to it, this was meant to be stupidly entertaining and, for me at least, it succeeded. Paul Logan bicycle kicking a bunch of fish and Tiffany trying to pass for a real actor was just what I needed today after a stressful job interview and a doctor’s appointment that ended with a large wart on my foot getting frozen off causing me a large deal of pain (although not half as much as the job interview).
A lot of people rip on this studio but I think they’re really missing the point. The Asylum is pretty much the modern equivalent of the grindhouse film companies of the 1970’s. They just want to entertain and do it as cheaply as possible while making as much money as they possibly can. They have no qualms about the “quality” of their work.
I, for one, will watch as many of their films as I can. Well, at least as many as I stumble across that are as cheap as possible to view…
- There are boobs in the DVD version, but they’re all relegated to the very beginning. And no, we don’t see Tiffany’s boobs. If you really need to see those, god knows why, she was in Playboy a few years back.
- This film was probably The Asylum’s first big hit. During it’s initial airing on the Sci-Fi Channel, 2.2 million people tuned in! It was followed by Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid in 2011, which stared both Tiffany and Debbie Gibson! (Gibson has also posed for Playboy, god knows why)
- Why hasn’t there been a movie yet where they got all the old Brady Bunch actors together to fight a giant monster snake or something? It’s a missed opportunity!
- Barry Williams character is named Bob Grady. Get it? Har har. Wait, that’s…actually kind of clever. That might be the cleverest thing in this movie, actually. It’s only competition is really that scene where the giant piranha gets impaled on a pointy building.
A bunch of US marines are running around in the woods on an “island”. They get killed one by one by a group of modified super soldiers until only one is left and, conveniently, it’s the best looking girl. Some more stuff sort of happens, there’s a giant robot, and then the movie ends. There’s background info on what’s supposed to be going on but it doesn’t really matter. You’re in Asylum town now, boy! Leave your brain at the front gates…
Like most Asylum films, Universal Soldiers is a rip-off and not even a rip-off of what you’d think. While the title makes you think you’re going to get an even cheaper version of the already cheap Jean Claude Van Damme/Dolf Lundgren series Universal Soldier (singular) it’s really a combination of Predator, The Most Dangerous Game, and Lost all sort of hacked together with a dull knife. What I love about this film, and Asylum in general, is how shameless they are in their thievery. Not only does a character actually make a reference to Lost, there’s also direct lines stolen from Predator! I guess you could call this an homage if the studio’s mantra wasn’t “steal and be as cheap as possible.”
Watching an Asylum film is always kind of a toss up. Their output is either brain numbingly boring or hilariously stupid with not much in between. A lot of this is balanced on three things:
1. How game the actors are to over act
2. How stupid the dialog said actors have to spew is
3. How much gore is present
Thankfully Universal Soldiers scores well in all three departments. On the actor front we’ve got the lovely Kristen Quintrall, an Asylum veteran who seems to do quite a bit of double duty as an editor as well, and Jason S. Gray, another regular who overacts so hard that at times it seems like his head should just explode right off of his shoulders and shoot into space!
We’ve also got Dario Deak who’s biggest claim to fame is that he almost got chosen to play Conan in the recent reboot attempt, and Rick Malambri, a former fashion model who really cannot act for shit. As is the prerogative in any Asylum film, most of the screen time is spent with the actors standing around screaming at each other and dying in graphic but oddly repetitive ways. For this film the usual mode of death is for one of the modified robo-soldiers to give them punches through the stomach with hand crafted spears (Really more just chunks of wood, but whatever). Why they don’t just use guns is never explained but you’re not supposed to think about it. You’re not supposed to think about anything! Just laugh at the words that somebody actually had to write down on paper and that then came out of actual human mouths, gawk at the piss poor special effects, watch the credits roll, and then run out and rent/buy another Asylum film. You knew what you were getting into so you shouldn’t have any regrets. I sure as Hell don’t. But then, I never do…
- This thing looks like it was filmed on a very windy day. This becomes a problem when it starts to mess with the audio! I have never watched a film where this happened and it’s really weird to sit through. There’s a part at the end where all you can hear is the wind through the microphone and there’s not even soundtrack playing! It’s kind of disconcerting…
- Does every Aslum sci-fi film have a drunk professor character? Every one that I’ve seen does. What a strange and hilarious trademark. The one in this film sucks straight from a bottle of Jägermeister! Barf!
- Worst. Marines. Ever. They would all be court martialed if almost all of them weren’t dead by the end of the movie.
- There’s a line in this that goes something like “Maybe if you stopped staring at these little titties, you’d be able to do your job!” and it’s one of the funniest things ever uttered onscreen.
Torrented Trash is a new series where I take a look at films that I might not physically have, but that I’ve dug up through…other means online. Perfectly legal means, I assure you…
Poor rich Mrs. Archer. Not only does she have a drinking problem but she’s also just finished a stay in a sanitarium. Her scumbag husband, who she’s recently gotten back together with after a brief separation, isn’t helping things either. When she leaves him at the bar so he can suck face with his mistress, she runs into…something. It looks like a bubble but everybody calls it a “satellite” because Sputnik had just gone up and that was the big buzzword at the time. And there’s a goofy looking giant living in it! Of course nobody believes her, that is until she starts to grow to improbable proportions. Somebody call the national guard! Nah, just let the doofy local sheriffs take care of it. That always works so well in other movies…
This film was a bit tough to track down. Most of the torrent files I found were for the 1993 remake that starred Darryl Hannah and when I did find this one, it took forever to download and it came with French subtitles! It’s certainly one of those films that just about everybody has heard of, or at least seen the excellent and iconic poster of, but have never actually watched. That’s a shame because it’s quite an entertaining film. Not in the way it was probably intended though…
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is a total failure of a sci-fi horror movie. It falls under the Bert I. Gordon genre of epic special effects pictures that the filmmakers in no way had the money or talent to pull off. That it fails to live up to even that low bar is really quite marvellous. It all starts with those damn “satellites” which look hilariously like the bubbles the good witch liked to travel around in during The Wizard of Oz and keeps going with massive floppy rubber hands and “giants” that we can see right through! Yes folks, this really is the bottom of the barrel. Even the director had his name changed in the credits because he was so embarrassed of the film he was making!
Oddly enough, where the film does succeed is in being a rather tawdry pulp soap opera, the mode in which it operates for much of it’s running time. The plot-line about a cheating husband trying to get his wife committed to an asylum so he can take her money and run away with his mistress would be right at home in a dime store paperback novel and it’s strange to see it sit alongside all this low budget sci-fi junk. At least it’s never boring, helped partially by a very short running time of a little over an hour and partially by a stellar cast of b-movie notables:
- Ms. Archer is played by the totally stunning Allison Hayes, also of The Unearthly. (Time for go to bed!)
- The slimeball husband is played William Hudson, who was also in Bert I. Gordon’s The Amazing Colossal Man, an obvious inspiration for this opus.
- The mistress is the amazing Yvette Vickers, a Playboy centerfold who was also in the even more tawdry Attack of the Giant Leeches.
- And finally the stonefaced Butler is played by Ken Terrell, who was in both The Brain From Planet Arous and The Indestructible Man, two of my favourite 50’s b-movies!
So it’s no wonder then that if you’ve seen way too many of these movies like I have, you’ll recognise some very familiar faces. The director of this thing was also responsible for birthing Brain From Planet Arous into the world as well! I may have to watch that one again soon. It would make a great double feature with this flick!
- The highlight of the whole film is where they try and rip off King Kong by having a hand slam through a window. Cool, except it’s the same stupid looking floppy rubber hand they’ve used throughout the whole movie and it ends up being one of the funniest damn things I’ve ever seen.
- Why is the giant alien wearing a medieval looking tunic? Total shades of Ed Wood’s Plan 9!
- Hey, wait a second! How can she grow to be 50 feet tall and still fit into a standard sized bedroom? I guess they didn’t think anybody would notice….
- I guess it’s rare for a film made in the 1950’s to be so…pro-feminist? It is a film where a woman is finally able to put one over on her sleazy husband and I guess you could try and dig deeper into the film’s underlying themes and say that Mrs. Archer growing 50 feet tall is symbolic of women everywhere growing out of their stereotypical roles as the 50’s came to a close. Did I just totally overthink this movie? Goddamn it!
- What I’ve learned from watching too many old sci-fi b-movies: Men in the 1950’s solved their problems by punching them in the face. Also, everybody drank back then. A lot. Ah, the good old days…