“Maybe he’s some kind of fashion victim”: The Fanimatrix: Run Program

So…how ’bout that new Matrix movie? Capsule review: I enjoyed it. The Matrix Resurrections isn’t as good as the first film but its unique approach to following up on the original Matrix trilogy and the new ideas that it presents put up above its predecessors The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions. It also kicks multiple forms of ass so check it out if you haven’t already.

Today, I’d like to showcase an example of the influence that the Wachowskis’ groundbreaking science fiction franchise had on its initial wave of fans. This is The Fanimatrix: Run Program, a 2003 fan film produced in New Zealand by director Rajneel Singh and stunt performer Steven A. Davis, who stars in the short as Dante, a warrior who joins his partner Medusa (Farrah Lipsham) in a fateful mission into the Matrix where he battles an Agent to the death. The stunt work and fight scenes in the short are an impressive facsimile of Yuen Woo-ping’s choreography in the original film and the filmmakers nailed the gritty, cyberpunk-inspired aesthetic of the films even on a budget of $800 NZD. Not bad for a video that’s still the world’s oldest active torrent.

Hope you enjoy it and let’s all have a happy and safe new year!

Credit: SPV Films

“Gotta make a beer run”: Bustin’ Makes Me Feel Good

Thanks to a new franchise installment, the eyes of pop culture have once again turned toward Ghostbusters. What started in 1984 as an expression of actor/comedian Dan Aykroyd’s fascination with the supernatural has grown into a incredibly lucrative property with animated shows, video games, comics and, of course, a fervent cult following which can be a major boon or a debilitating curse. An embarrassing example of the latter was part of the reaction from the fanbase towards the 2016 female-led reboot of the original film, where certain sects of the GB fandom lobbied hate speech at cast members like Leslie Jones and Melissa McCarthy just because of their gender. On the other hand, the Ghostbusters fandom can be a creative and welcoming bunch, with countless fan creations that embrace the most appealing idea this franchise ever had: anyone can be a Ghostbuster. You don’t need special powers or an important destiny to wield a proton pack. To paraphrase the great Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), all you need is “the tools” and “the talent” to take up the profession. I believe that central conceit is the reason why this franchise still endures and has the potential to draw in new fans. I haven’t seen the latest film, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, but from what I can tell, the story seems to take its cue from the somewhat populist idea that any ordinary schmoe, even some random kid, can trap a ghost.

Tonight’s subject, often said to be one the earliest Ghostbusters fan films, plays with this idea. In 1998, David Sadler, Brandon Crisp and Rob Cleaton released this nearly two-minute short featuring a pair of GBs taking a nearly peaceful smoke break. Like a lot of early fan films, it’s crude but has a relaxed vibe that doesn’t take the property too seriously.

Hope you enjoy it and remember to never get involved with possessed people.

Credit: DrTart

“Our better half”: Spider-Man: Venom Fan Film by Throwbackstudioz

The sequel to the 2018 cult classic superhero film Venom debuts tomorrow and the early buzz for the Andy Serkis-helmed Venom: Let There Be Carnage seems to peg the movie as a crazier and more creative follow-up. To commemorate the release, I’m showcasing a charming fan film produced by the Atlanta-based independent film company Throwbackstudioz featuring a heavily-truncated adaptation of Venom’s comic book origin. The ending battle between the Lethal Protector and the Webslinger is easily the highlight of the short but the costumes are pretty decent and I appreciate their usage of Udi Harpaz’s wonderful score for Spider-Man: The Animated Series.

Hope you enjoy it and remember: Spider-Man PS1 Venom is best Venom.

Credit: ThrowbackStudioz, BigGameBoss

“Listen up, blockheads!”: Harley (2016)

Next week, James Gunn’s sequel (or reboot) to David Ayer’s 2016 Suicide Squad adaptation makes its theatrical/streaming debut. I’m looking forward to it not only because of Gunn’s involvement as writer and director but because the first film was such a mess that there’s nowhere to go but up. The early buzz is positive, which is already a step above the mixed-to-negative reception of its predecessor, with a lot of praise going to Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s creation Harley Quinn. Ever since her debut in the 1992 Batman: The Animated Series episode “Joker’s Favor” (one of my favorites), the former psychiatrist-turned-criminal-turned-antihero has proven to be an indispensable part of the Batman franchise and one of the most popular characters in modern DC Comics history.

Of course, as this blog as documented several times before, that kind of popularity leads to fan creations of various stripes, ranging from artwork to, the subject of today’s post, short films. Directed by stuntman Fernando Jay Huerto (Battle Hero Absolute) and starring actress and writer Jacqui Verdura as the titular character, 2016’s Harley is a breezy but fun entry in the common fan film subgenre of “one long fight scene/stunt showcase” that capitalizes on Harley’s revamped look and characterization from Ayer’s adaptation. At the very least, Huerto’s short is easier to follow than the actual Suicide Squad film.

Hope you enjoy it!

Credit: Jabronie Pictures

“OK Spidey, do your stuff”: Spider-Man (1969)

You can tell that nature is healing from the pandemic because a new installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to be released in theaters. In a few days, Marvel resident super spy Black Widow gets a long-overdue solo film directed by Cate Shortland (Somersault), which got me to think about how far various Marvel-related filmic efforts have come from the humble days of 1944’s Captain America serial. Back in the day, Marvel Comics didn’t have the best of luck when it came to theatrical adaptations of their most popular characters. Sure, there was a smattering of direct-to-TV offerings but big-budget productions featuring heroes like Spider-Man, the X-Men or the Hulk seemed like a wild dream. To fill that void, a handful of brave fans took matters into their own hands and made their own short films based on Marvel’s menagerie.

Back in 1969, screenwriter Don F. Glut, who would go on to write for various Marvel cartoons including Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, was an amateur filmmaker who produced over 40 short films in the science-fiction and horror genres. The last short he produced was based on The Amazing Spider-Man and featured Glut himself as the web-slinger battling the histrionic yet powerful Dr. Lightning. I was most impressed by the use of stop-motion animation and miniatures to showcase some of Spidey’s moves in a way that would have been very difficult to execute convincingly with a live actor in a harness in front of a bluescreen.

Hope you enjoy it…and happy birthday to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, one of the greatest superhero films ever!

Credit: Buzz Patrol

“Not when you’re hungry”: Conquest

To say the least, Halloween 2020 is going to be very strange…and maybe not in the good way. In case you’ve been living under a rock clad in a blindfold and earplugs, you’ll notice that the world’s been going through a lot of stuff lately. This Halloween season, browsing streaming sites and watching horror movies of varying levels of quality is a great way to unwind during these stressful times. I found the subject of today’s review while I was perusing the free streaming service Tubi. Within this collection of cinematic odds and ends, I discovered 1983’s Conquest, a weird fantasy adventure helmed by the renowned Italian giallo director Lucio Fulci. Although Fulci made films in a multitude of genres, he is best known for his stylish and ultraviolent horror movies like The Beyond and Zombi 2. With Conquest, he puts a bloody and brutal spin on the typical sword and sorcery tale.

Oliver Queen experiments with a Green Lantern ring.

Produced and written by two-time David di Donatello Award winner Giovanni Di Clemente, Conquest is the story of a young, magic bow-wielding hero named Ilias, played by Andrea Occhipinti (who worked with Fulci in 1982’s The New York Ripper). The evil spirit Zora, portrayed by Conrado San Martin of The Colossus of Rhodes fame, and a gratuitously nude sorceress known as Ocron (Sabrina Siani) plot against him after Ocron receives a vision of her own demise at the hands of an archer armed with the magic bow. Along the way, Ilias befriends Mace, a charismatic nomad played by Jorge Rivero, and the duo embark on a mission to stop Ocron’s evil forces from conquering the land. Barring the exception of an interesting twist near the end, the plot is pretty standard for the genre and the performances are typical as well. Conquest‘s main hooks are its trippy visual storytelling and the copious amounts of barbaric violence. The various creatures and costumes may look like rejected designs from the set of Quest for Fire but at least Alejandro Ulloa’s cinematography tries to make them look majestic, otherworldly and frightening. The synthesizer-intensive score by Dawn of the Dead composer Claudio Simonetti also sets the appropriate level of mystery and intensity, especially during the gory battle scenes.

You might not think of Conquest as a typical Lucio Fulci film but his distinctive style and directorial chops elevate this otherwise bland sword and sorcery adventure. If you’re looking for an unconventional Halloween movie marathon entry this year, give Conquest a try. Did I mention it’s free on Tubi?

Credit: CampMovieCamp

Carcharodon Copycats: A Tornado to Move the Boat

Back in the 70’s and 80’s, Italy seemed to be the low-budget knockoff capital of the world. Whenever a Hollywood genre movie becomes a huge hit, you can bet that there would be at least one Italian film made to exploit the popularity of the global blockbuster. Jaws was an easy target for exploitation compared to most big movies because its simple premise allowed for a stronger focus on suspense and character drama. If Steven Spielberg can extract cinematic gold from the modest idea of a great white shark threatening a resort town, then making a hit movie should be simple. All you need is a ferocious sea-dwelling animal and enough money to afford boats, scuba gear and a trip to a peaceful seaside town. Unfortunately, most Italian knockoffs of Jaws put a lot of effort into the aquatic creature to the detriment of every other element of the film. A textbook example of this is the subject of today’s review, 1977’s Tentacles.

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Family Circus took a weird turn in the 70’s.

Known as Tentacoli in Italy, the concept of Tentacles is more intriguing than the film itself. The film’s direction, provided by former Cannon Pictures CEO and Pirahna II producer Ovidio Assonitis, is very rudimentary, especially when the film’s antagonist, a deadly giant octopus, is offscreen. The only real suspense in the film comes from any scene involving the savage cephalopod, who feels like a terrifying presence thanks to some decent model work, clever editing by Angelo Curi and the skilled cinematography of Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli, who would work on another infamous knockoff of a famous blockbuster, Starcrash, sometime after this picture. The standouts of the oddly star-studded cast are the legendary John Huston (director and screenwriter of The Maltese Falcon) and Oscar winner Henry Fonda, who do the very best they can with the stilted direction and a hackneyed and inconsistent script written by Jerome Max, Escape from the Bronx scribe Tito Carpi and former Star Trek script editor Steven Carabatsos. Another Academy Award-winning star, Shelley Winters (The Diary of Anne Frank), shows up to waste her time in a cloying subplot that desperately attempts to evoke the sense of dread that surrounded Alex Kintner’s death scene in Jaws. The overall tone of Tentacles lacks any semblance of harmony between its horror elements and its playful humor which isn’t helped by Stelvio Cipriani’s bizarre, synth-heavy score and some weird scenes like Bo Hopkins (American Graffiti) giving a pep talk to a pair of killer whales that are sent to fight the octopus.

If you’re looking for a cheesy horror film that’s good fodder for a bad movie night with friends, I highly recommend Tentacles. It’s always fun to see a group of top-tier actors slumming it in a schlocky B-movie and this Jaws knockoff is no exception.

Credit: BisXploitationcinema

Carcharodon Copycats: A Sin Against an Animal

One of the most brazen things that a ripoff of a famous blockbuster can do is film a scene that functions as an obvious dig at the blockbuster in question. In most cases, it’s a kind of move that can easily backfire because it reminds the viewer of the more popular film. Perhaps the most notable example is a brief moment in the infamous Star Wars knockoff and subject of a fan-favorite Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Laserblast where Kim Milford’s character blows up a Star Wars billboard for no readily discernible reason beyond the behind-the-scenes desire to mock any potential competition to Laserblast. One of the earliest scenes of the subject of today’s review, 1977’s Orca, shows the titular killer whale slaughtering a great white shark, which is a moment where the in-story justification of making the orca both threatening and appealing is outweighed by the out-of-universe purpose of taunting Jaws, its biggest influence. When you see it, you can almost hear co-producer Dino De Laurentiis, prolific producer of countless cult classics, screaming at the top of his lungs, “I’m coming for you, Spielberg!” With a scene like that, you’d think that Orca would simply be a cheap, simplistic duplication of a better movie. Instead, Orca has a surprisingly thoughtful approach to its storytelling and themes that sets it apart from other, less subtle Jaws ripoffs.

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Behold, a relic of the good old days, when movie posters told you the entire story of the movie.

The biggest aspect that sets Orca apart from its competition is making the titular creature, played by Yaka and Nepo, an important and sympathetic character in his own right. The movie truly comes to life whenever the whales appear. The impressive cinematography, effective model work and Ennio Morricone’s fantastic score effectively sell the audience on the emotional plight of the chief orca and the merciless terror he creates throughout the film. The standout actor in the human cast is Richard Harris of Camelot fame, who gives a stirring performance as a ship’s captain who becomes the target of the orca’s ire but begins to understand the whale’s hunger for revenge. The rest of the cast, which includes Zardoz’s Charlotte Rampling as a whale biologist and Will Sampson (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) as a somewhat stereotypical Native American teacher, is adequate with the weakest link being a young Bo Derek, best known for her role in 10, who looks lost in any scene that doesn’t involve a killer whale. Orca is directed by The Dam Busters helmer Michael Anderson, who tries his best to make a threadbare script, written by Sergio Donati and co-producer Luciano Vincenzoni, feel tense, believable and meaningful by focusing on both the captain’s personal conflict and the orca’s quest for retribution, as well as placing a strong emphasis on visual storytelling.

Orca is a much more intriguing film than its reputation implies. By putting a spotlight on the thoughts and feelings of the eponymous creature, the film finds a different angle that enables it to stand out in the Jawsploitation craze.

Credit: Youtube Movies

Carcharodon Copycats: Fish Don’t Eat People

This month marks the 45th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s seminal seafaring thriller, 1975’s Jaws. Widely considered to be the first modern, high-concept blockbuster, Jaws would reshape the landscape of Hollywood with its broad but intriguing characters, minimalist approach to storytelling and emphasis on exciting set pieces. As is the case with many popular blockbusters, the success of Jaws spawned many imitators of varying quality. Today, let’s take a look at 1978’s Piranha, one of the better-known copycats and a somewhat more ambitious knockoff than the others that were released at the time. One of the earliest films directed by visionary Gremlins helmer Joe Dante and produced by Dante’s collaborator Jon Davison and independent filmmaking mogul Roger Corman, Piranha was once the target of a lawsuit from Universal Studios because it was so similar to Jaws. When Spielberg praised the film after an advance screening, the lawsuit was dropped. With that kind of ringing endorsement from one of the greatest directors around, Piranha must be good, right?

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Lost River Lake: the birthplace of bikini pool float rodeo.

Surprisingly, Piranha kind of works! The script, written by Battle Beyond the Stars scribe John Sayles, is clever, the quick pace keeps the action flowing, Pino Donaggio’s score carries the right balance of suspense and strangeness and Dante’s signature comedic approach to science fiction and horror gives the film a consistently fun tone that matches the crazy premise of a bloodthirsty school of mutated piranha invading a river near a peaceful town. As far as the acting goes, the late, great Dick Miller, a frequent associate of both Dante and Corman, steals the film in his role as Buck Gardner, a crooked resort owner whose place of business is overwhelmed by the deadly fish. Miller’s character may lack the depth of his Jaws equivalent, Mayor Vaughn, but he’s still a lot of fun to watch. Meanwhile, Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) gives a strong, grounded performance as a government scientist who is haunted by the fact that he led the project that created the mutant piranha and the two leads, Heather Menzies of The Sound of Music fame and King’s Crossing’s Bradford Dillman, have an interesting chemistry. The special effects are more of a mixed bag. This is the kind of movie where impressive stop motion creature animation and convincing prosthetic work share the screen with rudimentary puppetry and drab set design.

Spielberg may have been onto something. Although it’s a cheap Jawsploitation cash grab, Piranha is a unexpectedly charming movie with a clear sense of purpose and enough self-awareness to keep your interest.

Credit: sideshowcarny