Reviewed by Simon Drake
Directed by Irwin Allen
Starring Michael Caine, Katherine Ross, Henry Ross…And an estimated 22 Million Bees!
A Biohazard team is called to a missile silo in Texas
alerted by the computer screens all blinking 'alert'. The silo staff have all
been found dead with no sign of their murderers anywhere. The American army are
called in and proceed to find Michael Caine standing amongst a pile of dead
bodies in a ghastly beige safari suit, capable of killing any grown man at 40
paces, and subsequently fire the reconnaissance team for not spotting this
earlier. The army learns that Michael Caine is in fact top Entomologist Dr
Bradford Crane and not a prime suspect.
Dr Crane claims to have followed a swarm of killer 'African' bees to the silo. It's only when several bad actors are stung to death and a couple of helicopters are destroyed by "Bees…Bees…Millions of Bees…" (the wonderful final words of the pilot before his rotors are clogged up with bees and he ploughs into a mountain!) that the Army starts to consider there may be a problem involving killer bees after all and jump into action by…erm...planning a full scale nuclear strike on Texas.
Caine and his potential love interest Dr Anderson are called away from the silo action to attend a flower festival in the small town of Marysville where a small sweaty teenage boy called Paul is hallucinating about giant bees after his parents were stung to death whilst on a picnic. We find out a small sting from a killer bee causes vivid hallucinations, so Paul and his teenage mates get hooked up on bee venom and stagger off into the woods with a bag of KitKats to listen to Doors albums. Erm no…Instead Paul, still tripping his nuts off, busts out of hospital and he and his pals all BMX off to the picnic site and molotov cocktail the swarm of bees that simply enrages them thus dooming Marysville and it's flower festival forever.
The bees go on a stinging rampage in Marysville and the army is forced to evacuate the town. Luckily for the filmmakers and the army, the entire population of Marysville can be fitted onto a small Hornby model railway. Sadly the passengers only just get as far as the mountains of Texas (?) before a rogue bee takes control of the train and crashes it down a ravine killing everyone. The bees soon tire of the small town attitudes once they've had their pollen fix for the day, so they decide to move to the nearest big city, Houston. In Houston they have a slightly more liberal view of different minorities of bee (because by this point in the film everyone's alarmingly calling them 'deadly Africans').
The bees don't settle though and soon become bored with what Houston has to offer (basically the entire city consists of a skyscraper and a carpark) and begin killing again. Enter an inept army strike on Houston. Now I've never been to Houston, but I'm hazarding guess that the population isn't small enough to be entirely evacuated within an hour, and without the streets being blocked. Anyway after the Army burns Houston to the ground (from the ground) within five minutes (apparently it is that small then!) and the bees are still swarming and killing.
Dr Crane realises that the bees are attracted to sonic vibrations. Not just any sonic vibrations mind you, but the sonic vibrations that sound like the average mating call of a sexed up bee (that happen to sound the same as the missile silo's alarm system hence the attack at the start). So the army float some speakers out into the ocean and play 'The best Sonic vibration chill-out album ever' which draws the bees like er…moths to a flame and the army fire six missiles which destroy them all. "If we have a little luck, the world might survive" proclaims Dr Crane, ever the optimist.
What isn't? The film is almost biblical in its badness. It
is a stunning example of ineptitude. The acting, considering the alarming number
of Oscar winners, is stupefying, either over hammy emoting or planklike cuecard
reading. Plus everyone is so damn earnest, delivering the hackneyed script with
relish as if it was their audition tape for RADA. There's nary a sense of sly
camera winking that could have lessened the blow of some of the clangers from
the script from the bizarrely monikered Stirling Silliphant, including the
famous Caine line "I never thought it would be the bees, I always thought
they were our friends" delivered with such sincerity.
Almost nothing makes sense; the script often contradicts itself and there are plot holes bigger than your average episode of Scooby Doo. I don't know what dirt Irwin Allen had on all the celebrities in this movie; but it must have involved dead hookers, farmyard animals or illegal photographs of Sean Connery (or a mixture of all three) to get them all in this movie. The direction is woeful, the continuity laughable (I'm convinced Michael Caine's incessant wardrobe changes for every other scene is a joke…it must be surely.)
Some scenes change between day and night, people supposedly fall out of high buildings despite having potted plants in shot on the other side of the glass ("No Mr Director…No one will ever notice. Film stock is expensive you know."). The special effects are really bad ("Mr Director…You can get a toy train at a third of the price!") The costumes were nominated for an Oscar for some reason ("Mr Director, there's a sale on Evel Kinevel helmets downtown…That's what Entomologists wear isn't it?") And the end features a load of ropey stock footage of explosions and honey bees ("Mr Director, we've spent the last of the budget on safari suits for Mr Caine and fake sweat.")
Not much other than the Jerry Goldsmith score. It pretty much doesn't succeed on any other levels.
In terms of filmmaking techniques, absolutely terrible. However it's great fun to watch with a load of friends as it's not so much car crash viewing than 400-lorry pile up on the M25. Worth seeing as a guide how not to make a killer bee disaster film (although I'm not sure what you'd watch as a guide how to make your bee/disaster epic).
Olivia DeHavilland's reaction to witnessing the massacre of small children that can only be described as 'an incapacitating orgasm' complete with Meg Ryan moaning.
Production values - A mixed bag. Huge budget, huge cast, huge amount of bees and impressive stuntwork in one corner. Model railways, dodgy back projection shots of honey bees and bargain bin costumes in the other. 10
Dialogue and performance - Quite possibly the worst script in modern cinema. The acting is uniformly bad. Michael Caine, ever the stalwart, cannot even salvage much dignity (although he's clearly thinking of his villa in France) whilst ranting about 'the deadly nature of a strain of mutant Africans'. Richard Chamberlain manages the impressive task of being completely unconvincing even whilst being stung to death by thousands of bees. Richard Widmark's acting objective was 'to…read…cuecards…seem…less...ly': that sadly was aiming a little too high. The Durrant family were clearly beekeepers hired because of their (rather foolish) willingness to be covered in bees, and not in delivering such complex dialogue such as 'I…am…hungry' without soundly like a faulty speak and spell. And Olivia DeHavilland's southern accent doesn't stretch as far as actually coming out of her mouth. 19
Plot and execution - When dealing with several subplots, over 50 different characters and a sense of impending danger it helps if the director has some narrative structure. However this film lurches from scene to scene like a bucking bronco on steroids. I had no idea what the time frame was. The characters traverse the Southwest of America as if it has a diameter of a few miles. The film seems to take place within the space of a day, however there's talk of days and often weeks passing. 'Time is the one thing we are short of' bemoans Dr Crane near the start, but yet still manages to fit in 28 costume changes and a romantic night time stroll with Dr Anderson through the evacuated town of Marysville. I would have thought the romantic mood would be spoiled somewhat when you're constantly stepping over the bodies of dead children but there you go. The following scene is in daylight and they are driving to Houston. Then they both appear back at the silo in different clothes. 19
Randomness - If you have read this far I think you'll agree that nothing at all make any sense, or has any explanation in this film. 20
Waste of potential - I'm all for the sub genre of 'deadly killer bee' movies, and this with its disaster film credentials from Irwin Allen (The Towering Inferno and Poseidon adventure) and cast of quality actors could have been great. However it's an excellent example of bad direction with a bad script and bad acting simply does make a bad film. 18.
"Jack Deth is back... and he's never even been here before!"
Reviewed by Simon Drake
Directed by Charles Band
Starring Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt and Art Le Fleur
Jack Deth (growled to perfection by Tim Thomerson) is a
cop in 2247; his job involves tracking down people who have been mind controlled
to become killer zombies known as Trancers by an evil mystic called Martin
Whistler. His job seems to be quite an easy one seeing as to determine whether
someone's a Trancer involves either waving a glowing bracelet over a suspect's
wrist or them suddenly becoming a burly black stuntman with red eyes and
yellowing skin and attacking you with a meat cleavers whilst growling at you.
Whistler manages to elude capture from the 'Angel City P.D' by travelling back in time to 1985 into the body of one of his ancestors. There he intends to kill the ancestors of the leader of the galactic council then return to the present/future to reign supreme. So Jack is sent back to 1985 into the body of his ancestor Phil to protect the ancestors of the future rulers and capture Whistler to send him back to the future for a trial. Jack manages to hook up with Leena (Helen Hunt) as she'd been sleeping with Phil Deth before Jack took control of his body (ala Quantum Leap) and drags her around LA whilst they battle through a succession of red eyed zombies to get to Whistler.
Made by low budget auteur Charles Band, it's one of his first films (before he set up his film company 'Full Moon productions' specialising in rattling out cheap and cheerful sci-fi action schlock). With a zero budget and obviously modelling itself on Terminator/Blade Runner it's a pretty hokey film with some whopping plot holes.
Trancers is a good example of what can be done with
obvious budget restrictions and a minimal amount of locations. Despite stealing
from other movies, it actually manages to have a sense of originality and some
nifty ideas that give it a certain clunky charm. The future dude taking over
people's bodies came five years before Quantum Leap and the slow-mo bullet
dodging is ahead of its time (although not quite in the same league as The
Matrix). Add that to a script that is actually quite witty and doesn't take
itself too seriously and you have a nice little B movie.
But what sets Trancers apart from other low budget sci-fi actioners is the central character Jack Deth, played with relish by the never-better Tim Thomerson. Terminally pissed off, unshaven and growling about 'squids' whilst smoking; clearly modelled on Sam Spade, and yet also managing to be tough, hapless and strangely endearing all at the same time with a nice line in self-deprecating humour thrown in. Also along for the ride is Helen Hunt who spends most of the film wearing a Santa's Elf costume and generally looking more like Tim Thomerson's daughter than would-be girlfriend. But the chemistry between them works well and she's pretty (although clearly has had some dental work between this and Twister!) and engaging.
Trancers has become something of a B movie classic. It's very watchable with some crackingly quotable lines. Sadly the numerous sequels never quite captured the clunky craziness of this one.
This film features to my knowledge the first and only 'Zombified Santa Claus going on a kill crazy rampage' scene in film history. Leading Mrs Claus to utter the film's best line 'Security, we've got trouble at The North Pole'. Which is a real shame that zombie Santas are so criminally underused in modern cinema. Just think how it could pep up all those redundant cop action flicks? Or the latest po-faced period drama? If there's a dragging middle section; Simply throw in a Zombie Santa to do battle with Dame Judi Dench and people would be queuing around the block to see it, mark my words…
Production Values - Not too great, the future scenes consist of a diner and a warehouse and everyone wears huge great shoulder pads. There's a smattering of low rent effects and vehicles, Jack and Leena lose the T-bird car for a pair of rather undignified (and considerably cheaper) scooters. 16
Dialogue and performance - Makes up for the zero budget. All the actors seem able to actually act (including the small kids!). Thomerson and Hunt work well together and deliver their lines with the right mixture of earnestness and camera winkage. Michael Stefani as an evil mystic doesn't really convince, but everyone else is fine. 3
Plot and execution - The plot has some nice ideas, and is well put together considering. They made five sequels, so they must have done something right. 5
Randomness - Pretty random. Especially the time paradoxes and suchlike, but you soon begin to not care about it in favour of more zombie action. 10
Waste of potential - Zombies, time travelling cops, body swapping, punks and scooters for 83 minutes, and is actually good? I think this far surpassed anybody's expectations. 0
"On Emerald Island, you are at the bottom of the food chain."
Reviewed by Simon Drake
Directed by Michael Lantieri
Starring Billy Burke and Jill Hennessy
15 year old Patrick Connelly goes to a small private island in South Carolina with his hapless parents and their cute little dog. Five minutes later the parents and the cute ickle doggie have been eaten by something green and monsterous…answering to the name Kermit. Enter psychiatrist Dr Victoria Somethingorother who's an expert in dealing with post traumatic large lizard stress disorders who takes Patrick back to the island to help him deal with the trauma. Before you can say chaos theory they are being attacked by ravenous flesh eating Komodo dragons that were dumped on the island '19 summers ago' by a guy who listens to Dire Straits. Sick bastard!!!
Komodo? The word doesn't really instil terror straight
away does it? Sure they are bloody great things, and they are known as dragons,
but still when you've got a movie about killer Komodo dragons you know that
they've run out of giant man eating monsters. Komodo's have occasionally killed
a person, and (probably) have toxic drool causing pus filled lesions and bad
Okay so we can suspend our disbelief if we have decent characters to care about and and cracking script, right? Well sadly the words cracking and script seems to have been erased from the dictionary of Chuck Wimble seeing as he's also the writer of Anaconda. As soon as the characters shamble out of Clicheville on a day trip, you know exactly who's going to be pegged off by the killer lizards. The nagging religious auntie?…Toast! The kindly old black guy?…Game over man! The wisecracking sidekick?…Dead as Dillinger. The 'heroes' who survive are so damn bland you couldn't care whether they were munched on or not. Also thrown into the mix are a bunch of random 'evil oil barons' (well one, and he can't even afford a proper phone!) and some wobbly accents and even wobblier backstory and the end is pretty anticlimactic.
The Komodos look great, mixing animatronics and CGI to create monsters far more realistic than higher budget movies (Resident Evil anyone?). The direction and score are pretty good too. Oh and the small cute dog gets brutally torn apart in the first five minutes which was a surprise.
I thought it was passable at the time, then the more contemplation I did (and when I saw the box with the immortal words 'from the writer of Anaconda') the less keen I was.
When the surly teenager realises what utter cretins the adults are and that his life is in their hands, he ditches the useless bastards and goes all Lord of the Flies. He strips down to his underpants, rips out the Komodo's heart to smear blood all over himself and sets up traps and begins spearing and garrotting anything that comes his way. Frankly it's what we always hope will happen in monster movies, but rarely does.
Production Values - The monster effects are top notch, and the lighting and score are all fine and dandy. 4
Dialogue and performance - The dialogue is just boring, a characters final words are 'smoke this cigar for me' which is about as exciting as it gets. The performances are all passable, everyone seems able to emote, although they are all a little miscast. Jill Hennessy is the least convincing child therapist since J-Lo in The Cell. Billy Burke unsurprisingly doesn't cut it as the stubbly action biologist/pilot/suspected murderer hero. The teenage sprog fairs better, he has little to say but scowling and surliness comes quite naturally. 12
Plot and execution - Think Michael Cretin's Jurassic Non-lethal Park with characters from Dynasty…Only not as much fun as that sounds. 15
Randomness - Hippies listening to Dire Straits, teleporting dogs and helicopter flying biologists. 15
Waste of potential - From the writer of Anaconda comes 'Komodo' without J-Lo and Jon Voight…Let's face it, this was never going to be great, even without La Lopez. 10