SF Obscure Movie: Krull

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Krull is a 1983 British-American science fiction and fantasy film starring Ken Marshall (who played Eddington on DS9. Eddington was an excellent returning character) and Lysette Anthony. It’s a cult favorite-and I understand why because it is entertaining despite not really making any sense if you think too deeply about it.

It starts with Princess Lyssa who is to be married to Prince Colwyn as part of an alliance to unite their two kingdoms to defeat the Beast. The Beast has conquered lots of worlds with his army and teleporting Black Fortress. Princess Lyssa had the most enormous hair I have ever seen on a human character. Prince Colwyn has the tightest pants I’ve seen on anyone expected to do that much running in a movie.

Anyhow, the Beast and his army attack during the wedding ceremony. Lyssa is kidnapped. Everyone else is killed except for Colwyn and an old healer/wiseman named Ynyr.

Ynyr tells Colwyn he must get a five pointed throwing weapon called the Glaive which can destroy the beast. Colwyn retrieves the Glaive and is determined to save Princess Lyssa. On the way they gather some companions: A wizard named Ergo; a group of bandits who decided to follow Colwyn (Liam Neeson?!) ; and a cyclops named Rell. Rell is the remnant of a race who made some sort of deal with the Beast and were cursed to be cyclops. Rell was one of my favorite characters, even with the questionable budget costuming.

There are screenshots of Lyssa and her hair, and a giant eye. Oh, and they have to visit the Emerald Seer to tell them how to find the Black Fortress to kill the beast; but the beast’s hand magically rises up to crush their magic crystal (I think that’s what happened).  Then they go to the lair of the Crystal Spider where an enchantress, Ynyr’s old lover, is exiled. She has a magic hourglass that keeps her alive and tells them how to find the Black Fortress.  They find out the Black Fortress and go to rescue Lyssa and kill the beast.  The beast is wounded by the Glaive, but doesn’t die until Lyssa and Colwyn finish their wedding ceremony. Their combined love ( I guess??) gives them the power they need to really kill the Beast.

Like I said, Krull is enjoyable if you don’t think too hard. You have to accept the basic premise that invading aliens capable of interstellar travel are somehow incapable of traveling around on land by any means other than horseback. You have to accept the people put up a decent fight with swords against alien technology and laser weapons. It’s meant to be a mix of sci-fi and fantasy. And it does have its moments despite these shortcomings. On my B-grade movie list, I put it above Flash Gordon. A little goofier than Battle Beyond the Stars, but the pacing is better and the actors get into their roles for the most part.

SF Obscure: Requiem

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Requiem is a supernatural drama Netflix original released in 2018. It’s a six part serial, one season. I don’t know if there will be more seasons, although the ending is ambiguous. It stars Lydia Wilson as Matilda Gray and Joel Fry as Harlan Fry. It took me an episode or two to place him, but Joel Fry is one of the Mereen from GoT. It does contain some language and sex. And some really creepy scenes.

Summary: It starts off with a scene in an estate house in a country town where a man commits suicide. Then it cuts to Matilda Gray a soon to be famous cellist. She’s preparing for a major concert with her pianist and friend Harlan Fry. Her mother is scheduled to see it. Her mother is haunted by frightening images which she doesn’t tell Matilda about. Later, after meeting with Matilda, her mother walks out of the concert hall as if in a trance. Matilda follows her and witnesses her committing suicide. 

After her mother’s death, she discovers her mother’s obsession with young girl who went missing in the village of Penllynith, Carys Howell.  Believing there is a connection to her mother’s suicide and Carys disappearance, Matilda decides to visit the village. Hal reluctantly follows her…even though he thinks her grief is making her act in strange ways. They cause a scene and turn the village against them when Matilda confronts Rose, the mother of the missing girl. As the story goes on, we find out that Matilda may have some connection to the family of the missing girl. We also discover that other people have concerns about some disturbing experiences in the town. There is a colorful cast of characters: a psychiatric patient who has visions; an antiques dealer who informs them of occult connections to the town; an heir to the estate that hides secrets. Each episodes reveals some new secret, slowly building up to a climax.

It is an engaging story.  I watched all the episodes eager to find out what the real back story was to each character and that keeps it going. That’s also part of the problem as per the horror aspect-it gets a bit bogged down in everyone’s personal drama that you almost lose the thread of the story. The story, by the way, the occult paranormal visions and what they really mean. The lead actress does a decent job, but her character tends to have emotional extremes. She CRIES. She SCREAMS. It’s a bit over the top. Hal’s character spends a lot of time moping over her. Despite this, it doesn’t drag the show down. Most of the supporting cast is great-the woman who plays Matilda’s mother was really convincing (she’s in flashbacks too); Rose the mother of the missing girl gives a strong performance; and the psychiatric patient steals the scenes (often from Matilda).  When the final episodes get back on track to the paranormal aspect, it’s really good. 

On the whole, it’s worth putting on your Netflix cue and checking out.

SF Obscure: Flash Gordon (1980)

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For my next venture into B -movies and cult favorites, I decided to sit and watch Flash Gordon. I recently saw Bohemian Rhapsody. Clearly they couldn’t cover everything and purists felt as it there was much left out to protect Freddie Mercury’s image. I didn’t mind that actually. To often, I feel like all celeb movies do is try to show us everything that was wrong rather than let us enjoy what we love about things.

But, I must say, they make no mention of Queen’s contribution to Flash Gordon.

First, The Flash Gordon theme song is an ear worm that won’t go away for days. Second, I feel a lot more forgiving towards Battle Beyond the Stars now.

Flash Gordon was a comic strip created in 1934 and had all manner of serials, early movies, etc. There was a 1996 TV series I vaguely remember and a 2006 TV series which I do remember. It wasn’t terribly remarkable-but to be fair- I’m not a Flash Gordon fan. It’s never  been a character I followed much, so there wasn’t much emotional investment. I realize it’s place in pop culture but that’s about it.

Let’s get to the movie summary (which is apparently close to the original serial):

Space Supervillian Ming the Merciless is going to destroy earth by causing natural disasters. A football player named “Flash” Gordon is traveling on a plane with a travel agent named Dale Arden. The plane is hit by a meteorite, falling into the lab of Dr. Hans Zarkov who is building a spacecraft because he believes in a coming alien invasion. Through convenient plot devices, Flash Gordon and Dale Arden end up traveling another galaxy  with him. They are taken prisoner by Ming the Merciless and paraded in front of a group of colorfully dressed aliens with bizarre headpieces. Ming’s daughter Princess Aura decides she likes Flash, but has a thing going with Timothy Dalton aka Prince Barin. There is a lot of glitter and orange. Flash fights off a bunch of aliens with football moves, but is captured and sentenced to death. Dr. Zarkov is captured for mind experiements. Dale is dressed up in a tacky dress to join Ming’s harem. Flash is executed, but it is faked and Aura frees him.

This is where I got a bit confused. Aura is taking Flash to Prince Barin. Flash communicates telepathically with a machine on Aura’s spaceship to let Dale know he’s alive and will rescue her. Another group of people steal Zarkov’ s memories. Aura and Dale are chased by the Hawkmen (another group of aliens). The arrive at Prince Barin’s land, but then Flash and Barin fight each other. The Hawkmen capture all of them, but they escape. And there’s a lightning shield that does something but they have to destroy it. Then Barin and Aura will work with the Hawkmen to overthrow Ming the Merciless.

And there are Lizard Men because there must be in any B-grade SF movie.

Battle Beyond the Stars did have a clear narrative. It may have been clumsy in its delivery but I could watch the movie in one sitting because I felt like it was going somewhere. Flash Gordon was filled with running and yelling and bright colors and weapons and no real direction. I got impatient and had to stop midway and pick it up later. I think they film makers were trying for a parody of SF or some comedy, but it never quite fit. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was watching. If I had to choose, I’d rather watch Battle again.

If you have any good cult or B-movie suggestions, I’d love to hear them. I think Krull might be up soon:)

Classics: The Stone Tape

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I previously discussed Nigel Kneale’s Beasts. I watched The Stone Tape a few years ago-never wrote about it-but decided to watch it again mainly because I read on Mike Glyer’s File 770, a new audio version of Nigel Kneale’s lost play The Road is currently available online. 

The Stone Tape was a television play broadcast by the BBC in 1972.

The Stone Tape begins with a man named Peter who is head of a research team for an electronics company. Like many of the characters in Beasts, the protagonist is not a pleasant person. Peter Brock, though likely very skilled at his job, is arrogant, self-absorbed, sexist, and condescending. Whereas some of the sexism and the bigoted comments may be a representation of the realities of the the business world (and TV) at the time, you are clearly meant not to like Peter Brock as a person which only amps up the unease surrounding the main plot.

Peter and his research team set up shop in an old abandoned Victorian mansion which as been refurbished for their use. His team is working on creating a new recording device.  It’s all men except for Jill Greeley (played very well by Jane Asher) a computer programmer whom Peter seems to have more than a working interest in. (Whether there is actually an affair or just Peter’s sexism isn’t quite clear). In any event, Jill feels uneasy the moment she drives up to the mansion having strange blurry visions. As the story transpires, Jill hears the sound of a woman screaming and sees the ghostly vision of a women falling to her death in one of the rooms. 

At first, Jill is dismissed as being ‘oversensitive’. As the story progresses, it turns out that Jill is not the only one to be affected. Only Jill sees the full spectral images, but others hear the screams or pick up on the unease. A few, experience nothing at all. Peter decides to use the team’s research equipment to record the ghost. It’s not entirely altruistic-Peter is convinced that the stone walls act as a recording device of past events and wants to use it for possible research into a breakthrough recording device.

The playback of the recording is just static; although a few researchers swore they heard the screaming and Jill saw the  ghost. Another scientist tries to convince Jill to forget about it. He heard the screams too, but he worries that Jill will destroy herself and her career if see keeps pursuing the issue.  Jill investigates on her own and discovers that a priest was called in to perform an exorcism at the spot before the mansion was even built.  There is a malevolent power affecting the mansion and the grounds.

Jill comes to believe that the screaming woman was only the most recent victim of a deep rooted evil; and therefore her death was ‘recorded’ in the walls of the house. Peter Brock is dismissive of Jill’s claims and tells her she has to leave the work group. Jill returns to the haunted room; and is attacked by the dark force; and dies. 

Peter Brock tries to explain away Jill’s death as an accident; and paint her as mentally unstable. Her research is destroyed. In the final scene, Peter returns to the room-and hears Jill screaming his name as she dies.

I thought The Stone Tape was worth the watch. It’s a little dated so it may not be as terrifying as it would have been to its contemporary audience, but it’s still haunting. The characters are fully developed and well-acted.  With minimal special effects-and a truly disturbing scream-it manages to be unsettling. If you like classic horror or SF, this is a good one to add to the watchlist.

And check out The Road while it’s still online.

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October 1768 – a scientist and a philosopher clash whilst investigating a ghostly outbreak in the woods. Nigel Kneale’s legendary lost 1963 TV play, adapted by Toby Hadoke

 

SF Worth Watching: HUMANS

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Hi out there! So, this summer I took time to do quite a bit of reading, but I did watch a show or two here and there. Today I’m going to talk about HUMANS. It’s not an obscure show and still broadcasting, but it’s a gem of a show I hadn’t heard much about. My mother is a big fan and introduced me to it-so we indulged in a mother/daughter binge watch.

HUMANS is a UK science fiction television series that began in 2015. There are three series broadcast thus far. The theme revolves around a modern world in which anthropomorphic androids called ‘synths’ are part of daily life. Synths can be purchased for family/personal use but there are also synths contracted by companies and synths contracted by government health services. HUMANS is an SF drama show-the focus being on how the exists of synths explores human relationships to technology and each other.

There is a larger overarching plot-about the creations of the first conscious synths and their large purpose-but the power of the show is in the individual synths and their family dramas. The first synth whose life we follow is Anita. Anita is a synth purchased by the Hawkins family for domestic tasks. Laura, the wife is not to thrilled about a synth; but Joe feels the family needs the assistance.  The Hawkins family becomes center to the drama as their reactions to Anita reveal a lot of the complex issues surrounding human/synth relationships.  There is also Anita’s odd behavior which causes Laura want her returned and replaced. (There are other reasons also which you need to discover for yourself)  It turns out that Anita was purchased  as new but is actually a hacked synth whose old personality as Mia, has been submerged. Mia is one of a small group of conscious synths.

Without giving too much away (trust me you want all the surprises) the original creator of the synths created a group that were self-aware. They were on the run for some time, but Mia/Anita was captured and the group was scattered. Leo, the son of the creator, wants to get them back together and create a space for them. Niska, another synth, was forced to hide in a brothel. She kills a human to escape; tries to liberate synths forced to fight; and then is on the run. Niska’s murder of the client alerts the authorities to the possibility of a synth that can override its programming not to kill. There are other synths Max and Fred, both synths created as a brother to Leo.  There are other non-aware synths, such as Odi, and older model and other synths in hiding.

One of my initial concerns with Humans was my worry that it would be another Blade Runner rip off. I love Blade Runner. I love Blade Runner 2049. But I have seen too many movies and tv shows rip off the Blade Runner look and style. Thankfully, Humans does not. It does ask many of the same questions about what is sentience and what is means to be human but in a new way.  The synths look human have energy ports and have to be recharged like a smartphone. They are ethnically diverse as well as ‘older’ and ‘younger’ looking models with rather clever explanations as to why. It’s a fully developed world. HUMANS also explore the psychological effects on humans and their attachments to synths. (Letitia Wright of Black Panther fame, plays a teen desperate to be a synth.)

This is not the first version. HUMANS is based on an original Swedish show called REAL HUMANS. I would love to see this version. And there is apparently a plan for a Chinese version in the works.

SF Obscure: Ace of Wands

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Ace of Wands is an ITV fantasy show broadcast in 1971 to 1972. It’s technically a children’s/ family show, but it’s fairly sophisticated and one that held my interest. Ace of Wands ran for three series, however, only the third series remains. At the time, ITV wiped old series due to the high cost of production materials and storage.

Ace of Wands focuses on a stage magician named Tarot who also has psychic powers and works to develop his paranormal skills. In series three he is assisted by a sibling team Chas, a photographer, and Mikki a journalist. Mikki is interested in studying the paranormal and she is more readily able to accept the various paranormal happenings. She also appears to have rather strong potential abilities herself. Chas is the resident skeptic. I felt like his character was a bit extraneous  (perhaps a third wheel in the Tarot/Mikki dynamic) but I didn’t dislike him.  There is also an owl named Oxymandius. The Tarot character made me think of the show Jonathan Creek and I wondered if those writers were influenced by it.

There are six stories in season three, running about three or four half hour episodes each. The two that stood out for me were Peacock Pie and The Beautiful People. Peacock Pie features a man with very strong powers of suggestion: making people dream certain images, imagine blank paper is really banknotes, and getting people trapped in their own illusions. Mr. Peacock is a fascinating villain because he’s complex; you actually empathize with him in feeling trapped in a world that can’t really understand his power. What makes this show effective, despite few props and limited effects budget, is the acting-creating full bodied characters that move the story along. It’s almost like a stage play in its sparseness but effective.

The Beautiful People is another one that I like; mainly because it’s so odd with an unexpected ending. Tarot and company encounter a group of siblings who run invite -only street fairs for elderly people and people in need. It’s not nearly as altruistic as it appears. The siblings are pleasant on the surface with an ominous tone that underscores everything they do. This episode was written by PJ Hammond who later wrote for Sapphire and Steel so it has that sort of style.

I have to admit, I also like the Ace of Wands  theme song. It’s got that catchy hippies early seventies vibe and sticks in your head. The show ended abruptly to be  replaced by the original UK version of The Tomorrow People.  (which I covered in an earlier post) I liked this show better than The Tomorrow People.  It’s a bit dated, but I had a good time watching.

SF Obscure: The Tomorrow People

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A few years ago, there was a TV show called The Tomorrow People which I only saw a few episodes of. It was a paranormal show in the midst of many paranormal shows, but in this case dealt more with telepathic and psychic sorts of powers. I remembered watching it and thinking…wasn’t there something like this before?

And I was correct. It was a remake-though really more of a re-imaging because the look and style is much different from the original.

The original The Tomorrow People was a British children’s SF show which ran from 1973 to 1979. The basic idea is that humans are reaching a new step of evolution and these new humans are developing various psychic powers- telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation  usually at the onset of puberty although a few are a bit older. Anyhow, there is an organization that tracks tomorrow people and helps them adjust. There is also a biological computer called TIM, and a secret base, and they sometimes deal with a galactic group that tracks telepathy all over the universe. The Tomorrow People (homo superior)  are fundamentally unwilling to kill and have to hide from those who want to exploit their powers. It was supposed to be the ITV answer to Doctor Who and it has that kind of SF, mystery, adventure sort of feel. The theme music is by Dudley Simpson who also did a lot of the Doctor Who music as well as the them music for Blake’s 7 and the very short lived Moonbase 3. 

It doesn’t age particularly well. Clothing. Hair. Limited budget and not-so-special special effects. The acting is…well…not exactly the best.  It does have a nostalgia value for a few episodes 🙂 And I have to admit, some of the plots were rather sophisticated and compelling.

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However, I realized this wasn’t even the version I was remembering. The Tomorrow People was revived in the 1990’s. It ran on Nickelodeon from 1992-1995. It’s similar to the original-though they had a psychic spaceship rather than the computer and they use their powers more freely, but still don’t kill. It’s one of the early roles for young Naomie Harris who has sent moved on to be Pirates of the Caribbean, James Bond, and an Academy Award nomination for Moonlight. 

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The newer 2013 version is more young adult than children’s show with edgier plot lines. Plus, the emergence of The Tomorrow People and the governement/military involvement is amped. It didn’t see very many episodes, but I think any alien invasions or Doctor Who-ish type plots are dropped.

Big Finish ran a brief audio drama series based on the original.

*By the time this finishes, the first season of Star Trek: Discovery will be finished and I can assess how I feel about it. I have been watching Star Trek: Voyager which I hadn’t seen in a while and forgot a lot of those first few seasons. It’s better than I remembered it even if there are a few clunker episodes. I also finally have a chance to watch Killjoys. It wasn’t broadcast overseas so I had to wait for Netflix. So far, it’s a fun one.

SF Obscure: The Tripods

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The Tripods TV series is a 1984-1985 YA SF series based on a series of books The Tripods by John Christopher. It ran for two seasons on the BBC. There are many changes from the books to the tv series though the basic concept remains the same.

The show begins in the future 2089. We see a pre-industrial version of England. Horse drawn carriages, family farms, etc. A young man in a suit is being congratulated by his friends and family for his “capping “ceremony. He takes off his hat to reveal his shaven head. Out of the sky comes a giant metal tripod, that lands in the lake and  pulls the young man up inside.

Apparently, the tripods are controlled by the Masters, an alien race that controls humanity through capping. When you turn 16 (14 in the books) you get a metal implant in your head-cap-that keeps you from independent thought. It gets rid of violence and greed and what not, but also free will. It also seems to dumb down society-hence the pre-industrial world. Humanity has largely forgotten technological progress. We later find out that many countries are now isolated to the point that no one travels outside their own country, learns another language, or even has the same currency. The caps create a xenophobia which prevents mixing with any ‘outsiders’ and this helps the aliens maintain control.

The focus is on two young men, Will and his friend Henry, who are almost at the age to be capped. Will is apprehensive about capping and what it does to people. They meet up with some of the uncapped/ those for whom capping didn’t work- who live as vagrants. One vagrant, Ozymandias, convinces them that they do have something to fear from being capped and need to escape. On their journey, they begin to figure out their idyllic world is based on mind control and they begin to resist it. There are also agents of the tripods, which chase the boys as Will, Henry, and a new friend  try to convince other young adults to join in and resist the Masters.

The books are a bit different-a prequel book explains the beginnings of the invasion and how the world came to be. The TV series ended without completing the book series due to budget issues.

On the whole, I found the premise intriguing. It does look dated…the clothes and dialogue are supposed to be pre-industrial but even then the episodes and dialogue can be a little stilted and slow. I don’t think a young adult would sit through it now especially with a diet of  faster paced shows.  It is interesting to watch if you want to round out your viewing of the cult classics- and the books hold up fairly well.