“Nothing but a big-ass hearse”: Dracula 3000

Today’s review was prompted by three recent events. First, Halloween season is underway so I thought about looking at something appropriately spooky. The second event was the theatrical re-release of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror classic Alien, which prompted me to review yet another low-budget Alien wannabe. Finally, the cancellation of a convention I planned to attend in September called VampCon Chicago inspired me to examine something related to vampires. Put that all together and you’ve got my analysis of a certain substandard, sanguinary space adventure: 2004’s Dracula 3000. Although this is one of many incredibly loose adaptations of Bram Stoker’s highly influential 1897 horror novel Dracula, this low-budget space thriller has some interesting aspects that are buried underneath the layers of shoddy filmmaking.

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Look at you, movie. A pathetic story of junk and kitsch.

Helmed and co-written by Oscar-nominated South African filmmaker Darrel Roodt (Sarafina!), the one major theme from the original story that Dracula 3000 truly understands is the idea of learning from the past to preserve the future. By setting the film in the distant future and establishing that religion is all but forgotten in the year 3000, that notion is able to be demonstrated in a unique way, especially through Udo Kier’s character of a starship captain who survives the slaughter of his crew at the hands of the vampiric Count Orlock by holding on to a crucifix. Even though he has almost no interactions with an adequate main cast that includes former wrestler and Fifth Element star “Tiny” Lister, Baywatch’s Erika Eleniak and Casper Van Dien of Starship Troopers fame, Kier’s eerie performance gives the film a little bit of prestige that transcends the cookie-cutter used future aesthetic and cliched storytelling and balances out the campier elements, such as rapper Coolio’s broad and unrestrained turn as a character that can best be described as a stoned Renfield. Surprisingly, the weakest link in the cast is Langley Kirkwood’s stale, charisma-deficient portrayal of Orlock. He does a decent job and I wasn’t expecting the second coming of Bela Lugosi but his distinct lack of menace or charm is very evident, which isn’t helped by Roodt’s frustratingly inconsistent direction, which often changes from scene to scene. Some scenes feel like they were guided by a bargain-bin Ridley Scott while others feel like stuff that Friedberg and Seltzer would reject.

Disappointing antagonist and weird tonal issues aside, Dracula 3000 is an decent slice of sci-fi horror cheese that could have used a little more time to sort out the story it’s trying to tell. If you’re a Dracula completist, this is worth at least one viewing.

Credit: totoqro

Never Send a Plumber To Do a Koopa’s Job

Today is the 130th birthday of Nintendo, one of the biggest names in the video game industry. From its humble beginnings in 1889 as a hanafuda playing card production company called Nintendo Koppai, the company would go on to manufacture a variety of innovative gaming consoles, introduce the world to the creative visions of the likes of Shigeru Miyamoto, Satoshi Tajiri and Masahiro Sakurai, and develop many beloved and iconic video game series such as The Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong, Pokemon, Metroid and Super Mario. This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the Wachowskis’ trailblazing sci-fi action epic, The Matrix, which still holds up surprisingly well after all these years. Today’s showcase is a 2004 animated short that effortlessly combines these two pop culture institutions. Super Mario Reloaded, a shot-for-shot remake of the famous Burly Brawl from The Matrix Reloaded that was first posted on Newgrounds by Eddsworld animator Paul Ter Voorde, replaces the characters from the film with sprites from various Nintendo games, most notably Super Mario World. Even with 16-bit visuals, the sprite animation is fluid and matches the intensity of the original scene. In full disclosure, I saw this short before I actually saw The Matrix Reloaded and I think I enjoy it more, too.

Credit: DrakenT78

“A golden road”: The Wizard of Mars

Today marks the 80th anniversary of the release of the 1939 cinematic classic The Wizard of Oz! The momentous, Oscar-winning musical fantasy film is the most well-known adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s revered 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz but ever since the release of the Victor Fleming film, there have been countless reimaginings of the tale of Dorothy Gale’s journey into the whimsical land of Oz, including television shows, novels, comics, plays, games and several other films. Today, we’re going to take a look at a particularly strange reworking of the original Oz story called The Wizard of Mars, a 1965 sci-fi adventure featuring the legendary character actor John Carradine in the eponymous role. Is Carradine’s involvement in this project enough to make it worthwhile? It’s hard to say.

It’s an Oz adaptation served in an authentic outer space atmosphere.

Also known as Horrors of the Red Planet, Wizard of Mars takes place in the far-flung future of 1975, where a crew of four astronauts (including a crewwoman named Dorothy) crash land on a very Earth-like vision of Mars and encounter various hazards before following a golden pathway that leads to an abandoned city inhabited by the fearsome collective consciousness of a Martian hive mind played by Carradine. Of course, the saving grace of Mars is Carradine’s monologue near the end of the film about the hubris of the Martians, which brings a small amount of thematic gravitas and grandeur to such a low-budget production while also highlighting how deeply flawed the rest of the film is. David L. Hewitt’s direction and the performances from the rest of the cast are as heartless as the Tin Woodman, the visual effects are predictably cheap and the script is so brainless, the Scarecrow could poke some holes in it. Perhaps the most interesting tidbit regarding the production of Mars is the fact that Forrest J. Ackerman, the illustrious literary agent and science fiction writer who is best-known as the editor of the influential horror film magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, was chosen to be the film’s technical advisor.

If you have the leonine nerve for low-budget sci-fi, The Wizard of Mars may not be a wickedly satisfying trip but there are a few things that make it notable. Naturally, you have to decide that for yourself. Just pay no attention to those strings holding up the spacecraft.

Credit: Krell Venusian

Bootleg Bug Hunt: A Carrot From Another Planet

It’s only fitting that the Bootleg Bug Hunt series ends on the 40th anniversary of the release of the groundbreaking sci-fi horror thriller Alien. Throughout this series, I’ve looked at some of the strangest and silliest low-budget movies that attempted to exploit the popularity of Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett’s creation in a multitude of ways ranging from bog-standard horror films with a freshly applied coat of science fiction paint to psychedelic, visually impressive space operas. The subject of the final Bootleg Bug Hunt review, 1985’s Creature, is planted firmly in the former category but it may be one of the better examples of Xenomorphs-ploitation you could ask for.

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The sandworms from Beetlejuice are back with a vengeance!

Creature shows us the fateful voyage of the Shenandoah, a vessel owned by a futuristic multinational corporation, as its crew undertakes their mission of exploring a mysterious laboratory located on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Along the way, they answer a peculiar distress signal and discover a member of a rival company who was stranded on the moon by a dangerous alien monster that controls the minds of its victims with parasites. Of course, Creature shares numerous similarities with Alien but the most surprising element that it imitates is the corporate intrigue. The first act of Creature spends some time setting up NTI, the company the crew works for, as well as its rivals before the main story kicks in. In theory, this could have been a great way to set the film apart from other Alien knockoffs but the concept isn’t given a lot of emphasis or closure in the narrative. Furthermore, thanks to its derivative design and clunky motions, the titular creature is somewhat disappointing. Fortunately, William Malone’s energetic direction, the impressive makeup effects, Thomas Chase and Steve Rucker’s spooky score and some solid performances from the cast are enough to make up for undermining a potentially more riveting story. The standouts in the acting category include Diane Salinger (Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure) as an icy security officer, American Dad’s Wendy Schaal, who brings much needed humanity to her shallow role as an audience surrogate, and character actor Lyman Ward, best known as Ferris Bueller’s father, who provides a bit of dignity as one of the corporate heads of NTI.

I’d give Creature a chance if you have a taste for a decent sci-fi B-movie. Despite its formulaic nature and routine script, it still delivers its fair share of thrills and chills.

Credit: DST3KTrailers

Bootleg Bug Hunt: Ruled by Twins

In many ways, Alien is a film about sex, how society understands it and how it affects others. This symbolism presents itself in almost every aspect of the film through a wide variety of motifs, ranging from the obvious visual metaphor of the Facehugger and Chestburster scenes representing sexual assault and forced reproduction, as well as the phallic design of the Xenomorph, to the more subtle details like the crew of the Nostromo referring to the ship’s computer as “MOTHER”. For some audiences, Alien’s innate eroticism may be one of the most significant parts of the film’s enduring appeal. Of course, many low-budget Alien knockoffs responded to these analogies by offering a multitude of erogenous images without any real nuance. However, there is one notable Alien copycat that attempted to address the subconsciously prurient themes of Ridley Scott’s film: 1981’s Inseminoid.

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“I just ate a whole bathtub full of cherry cobbler.”

Partially funded by the prolific Shaw Brothers Studio, Inseminoid was directed by Norman J. Warren, a British filmmaker who specialized in erotic dramas like Her Private Hell and horror films such as Satan’s Slave and Prey. The story, penned by the married couple of Gloria and Nick Maley, involves a interplanetary mining expedition that goes dangerously wrong after Sandy, a crew member, is raped by a hostile extraterrestrial. The unborn hybrid twins, designed by Nick Maley, proceed to control Sandy’s mind in an effort to protect themselves. If you’ve never seen this film before, the premise itself may be an obstacle that keeps you from truly enjoying the overall work. On one hand, Judy Geeson (The Eagle Has Landed) easily provides the most intriguing performance in the film as Sandy, managing to compellingly balance sympathy and intimidation. On the other hand, it’s very troubling that after Sandy is impregnated, she is somewhat dehumanized by the narrative by becoming a puppet for her unwanted offspring. Compared to Alien’s understated and sophisticated approach to the topic of sexual violence, Inseminoid almost seems to address Sandy’s situation like a carnival barker beckoning guests to see the sideshow. Although Warren’s direction throughout the rest of the film brings the appropriate amount of gloom and suspense, it falters in its portrayal of Sandy’s plight by wallowing in her pain and confusion.

Sandy’s treatment aside, I’d say that Inseminoid still holds together as an adequate Alien facsimile. It has above-average acting, creative cinematography and a stirring electronic score by John Scott. Perhaps if it was a little more mindful of its central character’s agony, it could have gained a better reputation as a cult classic.

Credit: bmoviereviews

Bootleg Bug Hunt: Dingwhopper

Roger Corman has had an interesting relationship with the film Alien. When the film was in development, Dan O’Bannon and Ron Shusett offered their treatment to Corman with the intention of filming it on a low budget before getting a better deal from Brandywine Productions. After Alien’s runaway success, Corman, with his distribution company New World Pictures, produced two attempts to capitalize on the public’s sudden interest in sci-fi horror. First, there was 1981’s Galaxy of Terrorwhich featured above average performances from Edward Albert, Robert Englund and Erin Moran, as well as intriguing production design from legendary director James Cameron. The second, which is today’s subject, is 1982’s Forbidden World, a film that may lack the star power of its predecessor but still has a strange appeal that makes it a pretty fun viewing experience.

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Quick, Henry, the Flit!

Forbidden World is the thrilling story of an agent for a futuristic government who is assigned to monitor a research station that houses a murderous genetic experiment that, in a twist that seems eerily prescient after the release of Alien: Covenant, contains trace amounts of human DNA. Compared to the somewhat thoughtful Galaxy of Terror, Forbidden is a much more vulgar, broader and more experimental film, with chaotic editing and exaggerated directing courtesy of Galaxy editor Allan Holzman. The self-awareness of Holzman’s direction and the performances of some of the cast members seem to be compensating for the recycled Galaxy sets and the bargain-basement effects, especially the goofy monster that resembles an amalgam of the Xenomorph and Audrey II. The most noteworthy performance comes from obscure character actor Fox Harris as the scientist who discovers the key to defeating the beast. Because the other actors come off looking like either bland cyphers or melodramatic flakes, the quirky yet naturally endearing Harris carries the film. Tying the film together is a spellbinding, John Carpenter-esque electronic score by Susan Justin that suitably imparts the various moods of the film.

Overall, when it comes to Corman-produced exploitations of Alien, Forbidden World may not have much polish or class but it’s still exciting and crazy enough to keep your attention.

Credit: HD Retro Trailers