Progeny (1998) Review by RevTerry

Unexplained birth is a strange running theme throughout the history of fiction. Christian based fantasy is fond of “the chosen” hybrid spawn trope. You have the big ones -- Damion, Jesus Christ, Rosemary's Baby. Not to mention the countless clones, parodies and tributes they inspired. In the same vane, you have a bunch more semi-original Messiah dudes, supposedly born through some kind magic shenanigans, popping up in so many of myths.  Virgins sort of act like a portal into our world for God's and demons... I guess, seems really messy. Chances are, since it's a religious thing we are talking about here, it probably has some terrible, deep seeded history behind the running gimmick. Even so, the subject makes for fun horror movies and probably inspired the relatively modern idea “alien pregnancy”. On the one hand, even without ever owning a womb (or being capable of sustaining another lifeform), the idea of aliens gestating in my personal fleshpod is hard to think about without getting uncomfortable. Having some creature of unknown origin incubating inside me sounds like some Discovery Channel parasite documentary type shit, and I have trouble putting to words how much it really fucks with me. Actually, just the idea of having a regular human baby-thing co-opting my body freaks me-the-fuck out, so it is a great place to start for some creepy sci-fi or horror (shout to women because their lives are pretty much just horror movies without a consistent soundtrack). On the other hand though, why are aliens leading with interspecies pregnancy? Have they done every other test they could think of, and all that's left now is to leave a random bun in the oven, on an already overcrowded planet, just to see what happens? Or is that the first thing they try when they see a new species, like as a greeting policy or something? I find it hard to believe that there is an advanced, space-faring species that has traveled all this way, when they could have just had the answers they wanted from some porn and one of those face mashup things your aunt shares on facebook. It is troubling to me that we jump to the conclusion--that the first task in contact with an intergalactic semi-intelligent being is to get someone pregnant. Maybe I'm alone on this one, but it sounds kind of narcissistic to assume the main objective of aliens on earth is to blend up some of that sweet-sweet human DNA with their own. But like I said, this makes fun movies, because the concept alone has a lot of fucked up potential for unnerving sci-fi horror-type shit. Like the slippery human science experiments in Progeny (1998).
When we first meet Dr. Craig (Arnold Vosloo) and Sherry Burton (Jillian McWhirter) they are in the midst of a loving embrace in bed, performing a passionate take on what some people call “the missionary position”. The stiff love-making is interrupted by a blue light and a 3-hour loss of time. Shit must not be extremely lively lately, because the two decide they must have just collectively passed out while in the middle of the whole thing, and then woke up conveniently in sync to finish. This mysterious marathon fuck weighs heavy on Dr. Burton increasingly, even weeks after the event. The doctor’s already high-stress career as an emergency room surgeon begins to suffer, when he starts having disturbing visions brought on by his surgical instruments, and those around him begin to notice cracks in his usually cool exterior. The revelation that Sherry is pregnant after years of attempts comes with it some fucked up implications. While a source of excitement for the soon to be mom, the announcement is bittersweet for the doctor, as the miracle baby’s inception date lines up suspiciously close to the night of bizarre happenings. The more-than coincidental timing begins to cause trouble between the usually happy (and eager) couple. The news also brings along more in-depth, vivid visions of that night, involving strange beings and Sherry being removed from the room by an unseen force. Worried he might be playing step daddy to some kind of extraterrestrial trojan horse, Dr.Burton convinces Sherry to visit his therapist (Lindsay Crouse) for some regression therapy. Sooner or later, the leading (televised) authority on extraterrestrial visitations, Dr. Bert Clavell (Brad Dourif), shows up to do his best exorcist impersonation, and Sherry Burton starts to remember just how freaky shit really got, that night on the spaceship.
The story plays out like a mix of Communion (1989) and a reversed (severely lighter) version of the stained classic Rosemary's Baby (1968), brought together by Director's Brian Yuzna’s recognizable touch.  It's a dreamy crawl, for more than half the movie, that toys around with taboo parenting fears, as well as suspicions that the invading insemination may all be in the protagonists head. There is a lot more realistic drama to the film than I originally expected. The tension in the film lives in the strain upon the couple’s relationship (during what is traditionally a joyous time) and the outward appearance of Dr. Burton’s mental health. Like Communion (1989) and other “true story” abduction flicks, it spends the large chunks of screen time between bizarre abduction sequences depicting the effects of those events on an otherwise normal life. Without having one singular derivative source, the story seems to invoke several details from some of the more famous abduction stories. The doctor's research and the “expert” character’s rants give a few nods to known phenomenon research but mostly just by buzzword alone (as far as I know). Think Mulder's rambling from the first few seasons of The X-Files (1994 ish), referencing only enough to make a call out to all of the amateur ufologists in the audience. It uses a similar structure to other abduction films, teasing the event itself in surprise flashbacks and therapy invoked visions. It's not always super effective--sometimes reminding me of the giggle-inducing hypnosis scenes of Christopher Walken in Communion. When it does work however, it hammers in some creepy vibes and troublesome details that can get pretty disturbing if you get into it. Stuart Gordon takes a “story” credit, and you can feel his blunt wit within the premise. It's full of engaging ideas, and the plot itself is strong, but with the help of some of the dialog, it builds up a layer of cheese that sticks around all the way until the dramatic finale. The cornier moments can be just as entertaining (for me) but may dampen the efforts of the tension on the brutal visions in the film a bit. It saves a lot of unsanitary, fucked up fun for the last quarter. Yuzna and Co. double down on the memorable late reveals of Fire in the Sky (1993), with a touch of straight-faced hentai for good measure. Sprinkled throughout are little bits of social commentary that never really come to a head. The notion seems admirable, but they amount to being mostly just passing puns with no purpose. The drama all works as a whole and catches a flow early on, that never threatens any boredom.  As always, Yuzna uses familiar elements and takes them to unique extremes. The script isn't quite as compelling as the concepts that go into it, but Progeny makes an entertaining and fittingly slimy case for serious alien abduction films.
In most aspects, the movie works within the budget well. Yuzna seems to rely on the restrained simple camera to tie the drastically different types of scenes together. The film has a classic horror feel to it's framing, even when it's lined with a modern sci-fi design. Its tactics are more Beyond Re-Animator (2003) than Return of the Living Dead III (1993), as there isn't as much experimentation on Yuzna’s (and the camera’s) part. The effects are a mix of computer and practical styles, luckily putting more stake in rubber than graphics. The aliens, in their “comforting” forms, look great from certain angles and with the right accompanying lighting. They kind of had a classic grey meets the window martian puppets from Sesame Street thing going on. Yuzna brings with him his love of oozing, beautifully disgusting monster design. In this case, by tapping the masterful hands of Screaming Mad George and Bart Mixon for effects (among others). There is an assortment of gross-out moments and creative body horror aspects that stand out despite being doled out in short blasts. Its apex comes in a set of scenes depicting the alien experimentation in it's “true” grotesque glory. It calls back to several influences, but it's all very Yuzna--nasty comic book like terror, organically realized. The noticeable CG in the film isn't doing the work any favors, and at its best it looks like something from a late 90s TV show. One scene in particular, depicting Ms. Sherry Burton’s ascension into (what I think is) a cloud but instead looks like a grey PS2 butthole, took me out of the mood for a quick minute. There's a sort of clash between the great work on the rubber/makeup side and the bad computer shit, mostly during its flip-flopping from practical, colorful lighting to artificial effects added in post. There's a glowing, strobed visitor effect, at some point on the ship, that works perfectly well despite being pretty frugal. That is, before a shitty Windows 95 laser comes out of nowhere, artificially brightens the screen, and makes it look like someone had just been waving those Glo Worm dolls (that kids had in the 90s) around the whole time. Most of the added effects aren't that bad, and they normally do not take too much from the overall enjoyment, but it's still kind of a bummer. It rounds itself out in the second half when CG mostly takes a well deserved back seat to slippery goop and nudity (although I may have just adapted to it.). The soundtrack isn't going to kill anyone, but the film could have been heightened several levels by a decent piece of music. It’s that generic canned shit, the type that technically does the job but never really adds much to what's going on, just kind of exists. I get the impression most of the dough was dumped into cool alien effects and they just made do with what was left on it's soul alone. As far as I'm concerned, that was a great plan in this case, and it paid off in globs.
The dialog can get a little goofy sometimes, it's hard to pinpoint whether it is the writing or the actors that add the corn factor. The lead is played Arnold Vosloo, who I will always remember as “the other Darkman” but lately only seems to come up in conversations when I have to “remind” people that Billy Zane was not the mummy in The Mummy (1999). The guy makes a great bad guy (or Zartan even in shitty films) but in this case, it took a little getting used to. As the doctor aspect became more involved, I started feeling him more, but I swear he changed accents like three times. Jillian McWhirter plays the species-uniting mother-to-be Sherry Burton.  McWhirter pops up in a lot of great trash and horror (including Yuzna’s The Dentist 2 1998), and I consider myself a fan. She is a little out of her element, as the whole film is played with no intentional camp, but seems to handle things well enough. To give credit where credit is due, she holds up, even though her most involved scenes amount to being naked and poked with rubber tentacle things. Fan favorite Brad Dourif plays renowned UFO expert Dr. Bert Clavell with his usual gusto. Dourif is always a manic highlight, and this film is par for the course although he feels a little underutilized. You will probably recognize a few other faces, but I couldn't review this film without mentioning Wilford Brimley, who is kind of just being Wilford Brimley--but if he was a gentle baby doctor instead of Wilford Brimley.
Progeny is an awesomely uncomfortable extraterrestrial horror flick that tries its hardest to supply as much suspense as it does slimy shock. It's a serious affair that seems closer to a dramatic reenactment of a real-life account than something like Aliens (1986), only embellished with slick grotesque body horror. There's a lot for me to grab on to in there. If you allow yourself to take the trip, it packs some disturbing implications and imagery in entertaining and unique ways. I could see it pairing well with Fire in the Sky, the extremely watchable Roswell “incident” 90s TV movie with Kyle MacLachlan (its called Roswell, made in 1994, I had to look it up) and of course the 80s Christopher Walken vehicle, based on Whitley Strieber's dream diary entries, Communion. Whether or not it makes any sense to me, the whole “implanted” sleeper cell child thing freaks me out on a deep, unexplainable level. Maybe the feeling is common or inherent, which would explain why the trope keeps coming up in the fantasy of the world. All I know is I'm glad I wasn't born with a womb, I'm too wimpy for that shit. I don't think I would do well with the constant threat of being used as a vessel for some kind of bullshit population scheme alien, demon or otherwise.
1h 38min | 1998
 Director: Brian Yuzna
Writers: Aubrey Solomon and Stuart Gordon

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RevTerry


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Rejuvenatrix (1988) Review by RevTerry

Since my boyish charm isn't just defined by a very un-adult toy collection and lack of financial stability but also a youthful look to my physical features, I hadn't really thought about growing old much. I still get carded everywhere I go, couldn't grow a gut if I tried and only have to shave off my fifteen-year-old boy style mustache/goatee like twice a week, if that. Honestly, after you work in retail or are forced to drive in or around a town full of baby boomers, old people start to feel like a whole different species altogether, not something you could turn into. My stunted outward age used to bother me when I was younger, but in the later years it became an immunity to some of the ailings and complaints of my peers concerning what age had done to their bodies. Unfortunately, that has started to change at thirty. Part of that switch-up in mindset is due to the number itself, it's just kind of fucked up and scary. It doesn't matter if I look like I’m twenty, on paper I’m officially a full-on adult human, with all the (thoroughly unfulfilled) requisites that come along with that classification. More than numbers though, Im at a point now where my body seems to go out of its way to remind me that I do, in fact, age. It mattered not if the whole world, including myself, thought I was some kind of punk rock Peter Pan motherfucker, my fleshy vessel indeed has an expiration date--like everyone else. Comments on my youthful appearance don’t have the same magic they did before, now that I secretly know I get more winded after sexy time than I used to. The truth of the world is--we all have a built-in breakdown point, like an Apple brand product, we deteriorate and get ugly to make room for the next generation. Maybe I lucked out, and outwardly it worked in my favor for a few years, but I was just falling apart in a different way. I haven't experienced anything serious yet, but I can feel that; gone are my careless days when it comes to aging. What are you going to do? I certainly don't have it in me to fall on any great or extreme lengths to remedy this impending condition--like the ones in Rejuvenatrix (1988).
During a lab crisis involving a missing mutated rat, we are introduced to Dr. Gregory Ashton (John MacKay), his partner in science Dr. Stella Stone (Katell Pleven) and their faculty at Ashton Labs. With the help of some pretty hefty donations from a wealthy aging actress, Elizabeth Warren (Vivian Lanko), the duo has been working themselves to death, in an effort to stop the effects of aging on the human body. Their experiments, while fruitful, had proven to still need work, hence the violent rodent escape. While age was indeed regressed in their trials with rats, the subjects required a steady intake of the docs special grey matter slurry (aka brain juice) to remain stable and pretty. Despite the escaped (possibly deadly) mutant subject, the scrutiny of his peers and a lack of sleep, Dr. Ashton is determined to continue his work. Unfortunately, the wealthy benefactor who plans to use the youth treatment to return to stardom, cannot wait any longer, and after calling Dr.Ashton to her dusty ass mansion for an awkward chat, demands to receive the treatment immediately. Of course, Dr.Ashton refuses at first and tries to explain to Elizabeth that the operation is not finalized (without driving home the super rat-monster point, for some reason), but when she threatens to pull funding, he reluctantly agrees. Back at the lab, Dr. stone is understandably perturbed by the abrupt change in plans but fails to be the voice of reason and joins in on the extreme plastic surgery anyway. The initial operation is a success, and after some swelling Ms.Warren is back to her younger self with plans to break back into Hollywood. Though as unfinished super science often does, Elizabeth's newly obtained youth comes with a few side effects. The worst of which is transforming into some ever-changing fucked-up lumpy thing with claws, every time she misses a dose of the upkeep-serum. Elizabeth seems somewhat satisfied with the situation, but the necessary dosage of brain matter gets larger each time and so too the need for human heads.   When Dr. Ashton cannot keep up with the demand, Ms. Warren takes to the streets to get her brain goo fresh from the source. Dr. Ashton, like many mad scientists before him, must mount an assault against his failed creation, but he is running out of time as she grows more powerful with every human head she turns into a bread bowl. 
The film’s story is a slow drive-by of timeless fables and some of the various trends in gross-out horror of the late 80s. It calls back to the ancient idea of the “fountain of youth” but is more in the spirit of doctor Frankenstein than (the heavily romanticized) Ponce de León. There are heavy parallels to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, although it's less focused on human duality, as the one doing all the physical transforming was kind of a bitch to start with. More a good neighbor than a ripoff, the Re-Animator (1985) influence is prevalent, but it's muted with a soap opera like palette. While the science in the film is no doubt part of the “mad” variety, the persistent doctor is filled with an internal struggle regarding the morality involved in his pursuits--far removed from the lovable, disconnected sociopath doctor West, but just as crazy in his own ways. There is none of that film’s comedy, it never so much as winks at the audience. The Re-Animator angle is much more prominent in the poster and alternative title (The Rejuvenator) most likely tacked as a sales ploy. Its story has some of Yuzna's DNA somewhere inside it, but there is very little of Stuart Gordon’s style to be found in the film. Legend has it that director Brian Thomas Jones reworked the idea from a spec script, “Skin” by Simon Nuchtern, aspiring to create something along the lines of “Bride of Frankenstein meets Sunset Boulevard”.  The film at times has been called an unofficial remake of The Wasp Woman (1959), from which it borrows the aging actress who is fighting the twilight of her good looks through fringe science at a heavy cost. Outside the more obvious, the middle segment’s dry bridge into sudden body-horror comes off a little something like early Cronenberg as well (when I squinted). It has thick tangled roots, but it grows into its own unique example of the mad scientist trope all the same. I'm also beginning to think the majority of super science labs have cute blonde assistants in a glasses, that look like the cutscene lady from the Rampage video games.
Like other 80s sci-fi brand horror films (I have already mentioned) it inherits some of Great Grandma Shelley’s gothic soul, despite its supposed technological advancements. It takes itself seriously for the most part, and even with its natural aptitude for camp, its message comes with heavy intentions.  The story is surprisingly character focused, built around internal and interpersonal conflict. Human nature, the lengths of the obsession, and the inevitability of aging are just as much a part of the movie’s horror as the slimy, gory stuff. It's not completely successful, but it makes an earnest try at being a human-based drama--just one heavily enhanced by mutations and dead guy juice. The film takes it's time to get going, spending more than half its runtime with characters spilling their guts at a feather drop to set up the exciting bits that come later in droves. More than enough tape is given to pointing out that our scientist, while willing to do anything to continue his work, still struggles with the moral conundrums or to highlight the fact that his relationship with his fellow scientist lady friend is rocky.  Wading through the would-be intense conversation about silly fictional science experimentation (as opposed to any of it happening on screen) begins to drag a little, but the film trades its dry drama for good old fashion sci-fi splatter, long before it threatens to lose me. The ample amount of on-screen action is well worth the wait, and the two flavors swirl better than one would think. The pace and uneven on-screen action is odd but makes it stand out in a subgenre known for being bizarre.  It's almost stretched thin with dilemma between vanity and murderous mutation but holds it all together in its own way.  The body horror and super science are surface level only, the science talk--all jargon. It feels like an extended story ripped from the non-glossy pages of the old school horror comics, a culmination of several borrowed elements squeezed into a gotcha morality tale. Think EC Comics of the early 50s but with a lot more words and with none of the snark that the Tales from the Crypt’s tv adaptations had. it's probably not going to make the world rethink the importance it places on looks, but the baggage heavy, cartoon body horror makes for an entertaining fable taken to its grimy 80s extreme.
The film’s framing is mostly straightforward, tv-like work, and the mix of spirited set dressing does more for the scenes than any camera angles. The setting is modern, but its blend of gothic structures and silly scientific equipment place it in a more exaggerated reality than our own. A lot of time is spent in a brightly lit lab, decorated with beakers filled with random colors and useful things, like a wall full of tube TVs on the fritz. The world outside the lab is made up of large dirty houses, castle-like interiors and warehouse rock concerts, each as if taken from their own film.  More and more as the film progresses, it plays with colored lighting. At its best, this comes close to the inked effect of Creepshow’s (1982) more comic moments, but just as quickly, a scene will look like they just kind tossed some blue lights in a dark room and called it good.  Both the gore and the creature effects are healthy as fuck, the kind of great you can only get from these types of films and from this time. Master Bruce Spaulding Fuller puts together some disturbing, unique monstrosities and wounds that would still hold up today in a lot of ways, making me wish CG had never been allowed to come within a hundred feet of the horror genre. With some better angles and editing, the effects on display would have been straight fucking amazing, but even without help they are still pretty awesome. Altogether, the mess that comes out the other end is nowhere near a technical wonder, but it's still a highly motivated and entertaining use of old standbys and slime.
Acting is the films biggest drawback. All the characters are well chosen in appearance, but when they open their mouths, things just go to shit. Whether the cause is direction or ability, the actors destroy almost every bit of dialogue in the film,  sometimes just by sounding really out of place.  It doesn't take away from the watch value, with this kind of cornball schlop, and on some level the soap opera delivery matches the story's focus. The quality is pretty universal throughout the cast, with the biggest exception being Vivian Lanko who plays Elizabeth Warren for every stage of her metamorphosis. I have never watched more than four minutes of Dallas in my life, but I feel like she would have killed it on there. Along with being the best human actor in the movie, she pulls off several different stages of drastic mutation that would give Jeff Goldblum a run for his money. Most of which come with their own elaborate make-up, prosthetics, and style. It couldn't have been easy, especially when almost everyone else was kind of just phoning it in around her. 
Rejuvenex is an underrated splatter commentary piece that takes a goofy but unique run at well-worn paths. It's less tongue in cheek than it's counterparts but pays homage to a wider range of related influences. The film goes for broke in the gore and monster department, even if it saves it all for the second half. Most importantly it's a fun way to reflect on a very real and fucked up fact of life--we are all going to get old. No matter how pretty you think you are, beauty is a fleeting resource. All things change and there is little we can do about it. Humans rot like fallen rind-less fruit that has been cursed with a mouth to complain from. Like everyone else, I too will grow old someday and you know what? Fuck it, I'm cool with that. Maybe I can finally grow a beard or wear flannel without looking like a hipster. Besides, in the real world, cadaver-brain Botox isn't an option and making good lifestyle choices that might actually retard the process sounds too fucking hard.
 1h 30min | 1988
 Director: Brian Thomas Jones
Writers: Brian Thomas Jones, Simon Nuchtern

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Review by:
RevTerry


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Circuitry Man (1990) Review by RevTerry

For a very long time I, ever begrudgingly, worked in the computer repair department of an “electronic” store. You know the one, the only “electronic” store left in most of the United States. Let's just say my uniform involved a clip on and white shirt, but I was surrounded by people in blue. As the corporate face of residential IT, technology and repair, you get use to a few endlessly repeated questions. “ Will this play World of Warcraft?” , “Can you make this faster?”, “How many ‘jigglebits’ should I have ?”, "What should I do to stop my son from visiting Russian cam sites?"…… etc. The worst of these questions are the ones you can never seem to answer right. In those situations where, because you're confined to this reality, you can't fulfill the customer's preconceived plan. I tried not to hold it against anyone-- experience comes with perspective. I understand that without some knowledge in specific areas, certain things can seem like they shouldn't be a problem, when they are. We all have our areas of expertise. Still, a person can only take so much, and it seemed like everyday I explained to what looked like the same lady, the reasoning behind why there isn't just a “regular” cord with USB A on both sides, or why a device to convert VGA to DVI costs a hundred and some dollars, while converting DVI to VGA could be done for little under twenty (at the time). It would get to me a little I'll admit, although I always did my best not to be one of the stereotypical asshole nerd-guys. I'm already skinny and unkempt, so  I definitely do not that need that added to my description. During my time in that vocation, more than a few customers had inquired (sometimes urgently) as to where they could locate some kind of universal connector unit, one that had all inputs and outputs for every (or almost every) device you might run into. Sometimes, even swearing up and down that they saw it on TV or their acquaintance had one. It's a semi-reasonable request, I guess, but one with a complex answer. I mean, technically what they were looking for was just called “a computer”, but they were thinking about something more portable (for lack of a better word), for maybe plugging their iPod into random holes they found around town. Like some kind of device protocol unifying Babel Fish. You should make one of those, they would say. I didn't know how to answer other than, “haha yea…”, trying to control any involuntary sarcasm, because like I said-- no one likes a jerk off geek. They wanted magic, and if I had powers at the time, I certainly wouldn't be making damn near minimum wage fixing computers, dressed as a Mormon missionary. Without recourse, usually I would stop listening and let my mind wander to a slightly related film. I was lucky enough to catch it a few times on tv as a child, during those HBO free previews they use to do. It was the first time I was posed with this universal connector idea. Except, this version was attached to the noggin of the aptly named villain Plughead from Circuitry Man (1990).
The planet is a wreck. The water supply has run dry, and the air has become unbreathable, so as a last-ditch effort by the government, mankind was shuffled underground where oxygen could be supplied artificially. Somewhere along the way, society collapsed as well, and all that is left is a subterranean wasteland of advanced technology, criminal enterprise, cops and soft jazz tunes. After quickly filling us in on the story's setting, the movie starts by introducing us to Lori (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson), a bodyguard in underground Los Angeles who services are being sought by the local crime boss, Juice (Lu Leonard).  Lori has recently hung up her ass-kicking shoes and stopped providing protection to lowlifes to pursue a quiet life of dressmaking. Unfortunately, after her boyfriend sets her up, she is left with no other choice but to take up the shady former employer on a job. Forcefully brought in by Juices right-hand flunky Yoyo (Barbara Alyn Woods), she is taken along to a back alley exchange. Juice has a large microchip deal going down and feels the need for added protection, the kind only Lori can provide, I guess. The shady exchange is with criminal mastermind Plughead (Vernon Wells), a former physiotherapist with various implanted wire ports in his skull who uses the microchips to get off. The whole thing starts out at a table with a noisy audience, like they are going to arm wrestle before they break out the cliche, brown briefcases and get to dealing. During the meet up we are introduced to Danner (Jim Metzler), a “pleasure” robot who has been manipulated into retrieving the chips from New Yolk by Juice who implanted memories of a fictional captive lover. After he bursts in and unsuccessfully threatens to kill himself in exchange for information on his girlfriend ( that never existed), the whole deal goes south. Some of the crowd that is standing around while this techno-drug deal goes down, turn out to be cops, and everybody tries to make a break for it. Lori escapes with the chips, but in the madness, Plughead kills Juice and recruits Yoyo in his pursuit of the contraband. Lori decides to run away to New York with the chips but will need Danner’s experience if she is going to make it. Danner agrees but only after she lies and tells him she knows his imaginary lover's whereabouts. With the murderous Plughead on their tail and love on their side, the duo makes the sordid trek across the underground United States. Along the way, they will have to deal with bullshit cops, backstabbing wastelanders and the uninhabitable outside world, they may also fall in love--or at least the soundtrack is pretty sure they are going to.
Circuitry Man is a romantically charged, gauntlet style action film that takes place in a vault dwelling, dusty ass, post-apocalyptic world. While any combination of those words has a chance to be a pretty fun watch in movie form, the film stands out by borrowing the smoky, dreamlike feel of classic noir cinema. The result is something like an episode of the Red Shoe Diary's set after a mass extinction event, but in a good way. It wears its dry dime store, crime novel persona like a disguise, hiding cyberpunk concepts and violent slapstick behind soft jazz segways. The physical setting is similar to its higher budget, blood relative Cherry 2000 (1987), a used up wasteland, styled by unproportioned technology and poverty, only in this case, mostly taking place underground. Its opening crawl has a vibe that's reminiscent of a corny 80s romantic comedy or sappy TV show. The floating renegade tone never really leaves as the film continues on, instead it just evolves, lingers and blends with the goofy sci-fi or random sexual tension to create the film’s style. There is some Blade Runner (1982) in there of course, but it takes more from its source, having some of Philip K. Dick’s more pulpy and emotional tendencies. It also pulls a lot from William Gibson's Neuromancer trilogy (or Sprawl trilogy), beating that universe's official adoption (Johnny Mnemonic 1995) to the cinematic punch by five years. The act of "plugging in", some of the artificial intelligence shit, and the fact that all the badasses are female, all harken back to Gibson’s work but with a lighter take. Strangely, the story is never really mean-spirited. it has a constant good-humored nature, despite tangled wires, gruff characters, and dark tunnels. At times, its attempts at an anti-hero come a little too close to a family film scoundrel instead, but it works.  It's consistently engaging throughout. I find myself caring more than the outside appearance and simple core story would initial indicate, but I have also always been a sucker for human-robot love affairs.
It is hard to really pin down all of its influences, and there are most likely a bunch more than I could mention. Some of the adventure aspects could, as far as I know, be torn from those romantic novels with the man-meat covers you see old ladies reading, only with a dirty cyberpunk paint job. It definitely has moments akin to something like Romancing the Stone (1984).  As I Mentioned before, the film only lightly touches on the few hard sci-fi elements that it borrows from its literary sources. It successfully brushes passed each as if they are universal constants, while still detailing enough to justify their use. The range of biohacking from utilitarian brain downloads to euphoric drug like sensations (mostly directly cribbed from Gibson and maybe a little Dick), could have seemed to be parodying more celebrated favorites like The Matrix (1999), had it been released almost ten years later. The AI is presented as a given in-universe, in this case, with a focus on manufactured companionship for humans. Where Cherry 2000 sexbots were lifeless mimics and more the sought after “object”, the android seen in this film is more than human enough to relate to. As if it was the flip side of Blade Runner's slave labor but for just loving instead. For all we know, there was a thriving synthetic human industry somewhere, at some point, we just happen to meet a sex robot--a sex robot with a heart of gold. Take away from that what you want. The heartbreaking fake memories of a partner (who never existed) used to control the synthetic Romeo is an interesting (although not super uncommon) plot point. Later, similar themes will be explored in depth in science fiction flicks like Moon (2009- dammit, now I'm bumming myself out). 
For it's modest budget it fills out well. The surroundings feel busy with lively embellishment that makes use of societies leftovers. It feels fittingly cramped and stale in the overcrowded vaults. Frequent washed out lighting and rooms filled with solid primary colors on the cheap get closer to those made for the Emmanuelle in Space (1994) series than the 80s sci-fi motif it seems to be going for, but it's a good middle ground for the rest of the film’s style. Despite being dripping with corny-ass romantic feels, and out of place sexiness, it has little nudity. I can't help but see this as a plus in this very specific case--hear me out bro--it all works out really fucking well in my opinion. It walks a very thin line with it's more shallow, sappy qualities. A little more nudity and a little less well-read sci-fi creativity, and you have something closer to a Shannon Tweed movie. Not that this is a bad thing, but in the case of Circuitry Man, we would miss out on some unique-ass shit, had it veered too far in any direction. Most of the more violent actions are done off screen, so there is not much in way of gore either. It makes up for the lack of sleaze with an assortment of practical effects. Some highlights include (of course ) Plughead’s prosthetic scalp and a shell-shocked mechanic with oversized robotic legs. The soundtrack is one of my favorite parts, it is smooth AM radio jazz throughout. Deborah Holland provides a soundtrack that can only be described by oxymorons, all the way up until the point it disappears explicitly. The film’s dramatic end scenes are suspiciously devoid of musical backing. Everything up to that point is bizarre and pretty fucking amazing. I don't think I would really enjoy whatever movie those songs actually belong in, but I dug the fuck out of them in this flick.
Jim Metzler plays Danner, the android that sees suicide as the only recourse for his lost love. If you watched tv in the late 80s/90s, you have most likely seen his face before. Half systematic repetition and half manic loneliness, Metzler does well as the lovelost robot. Dana Wheeler-Nicholson is the grumpy badass Lori. This is one of my favorite roles of hers, but she will forever be Agent White on the X-Files episode, Synergy (aka the mystery of the horny beast) in my eyes. Vernon fucking Wells plays Plughead. He always does the bad guys in entertaining ways, but the extra bit of ham is just right for the semi-titular character. The best of the film's moments involve his over the top (personal space invading) cyborg psychotherapist antagonist. The supporting characters seem extremely detailed with busy lives and motivations of their own. Of note, Barbara Alyn Woods as Yoyo, Plughead’s newest bloodthirsty lackey. She makes a good contrast to the (would be) retired bodyguard Lori. Everyone one seems to be having a blast making the film, especially Wells who would return with Metzler for the sequel.
Circuitry Man is a mix of interesting science fiction and out of time romance, that I would have never guessed I wanted. In many ways, it's a tribute to classic works that came before it, but it has a soul that is entirely its own. It has a simple story but packs it with a lot of odd styles, great characters and what should be clashing aesthetics. It goes well alongside other semi-sensual, post-apocalyptic road films like Cherry 2000 (1987) and Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988). Of course, it's not for everyone, but that shouldn't stop everyone from trying it, because it can't be judged by its name, cover art or opening crawl (or really my review for that matter). I really enjoy the shit out of this flick--plus it truly helped me meditate away, in those dark moments in my life where I was at risk of being an angry nerd guy that yelled at frantic soccer moms and lost his shitty job. It's actually one of my (million) favorites and I would say “highly recommended” like other movie reviewers--but then I run the chance of becoming that stereotypical asshole nerd-guy that tells folks to watch weird movies involving robot-fucking. I'm already skinny and unkempt--I definitely do not that need that added to my description.
1h 33min | 1990
 Director: Steven Lovy
Writers: Robert Lovy, Steven Lovy 

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Review by:
RevTerry


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Howling VI: The Freaks (1991) Review by RevTerry

I like to think most people have awoken in an unfamiliar place before and in a panic had to rewind the night's events in their mind. If not most people, then a good chunk. Sometimes, that shit goes down and you wake up at the park, some strange bathroom or wrapped in a sheet you do not recognize.  Sometimes you just have to find your pants and deal with it. You make your way home by whatever means possible, while trying not to draw too much attention, then you strain to remember the details of whatever event brought you to this state and try to forget it ever happened-- forever. If everyone hasn't experienced that at least once, they should--for like... perspective. It's probably a bad thing if it occurs regularly for extended periods of time, as you may have some kind of problem that needs attention. It's worse still if you wake up wearing nothing but blood. Maybe you made your way to a really theatrical rock concert at some point or acted out some kind of performance art-- but chances are, something really fucked up happened. Like something involving violence (and not the completely fun kind).  Even if it's not your own blood, unexplained bodily fluids are some spooky shit. It's a lot more difficult to make the sprint home nonchalantly when you look like the literal definition of gore-porn. I mean, once you realize the current line up of GWAR isn't touring, and the chunks of flesh in your teeth rule out any artistic endeavor, you have a few possible explanations left. The coolest of which would be that you had been inflicted with the legendary disease known as lycanthropy, aka you are a “werewolf”. I say coolest because a “sicko that bathes in entrails and then takes a nap in the woods” doesn't have as many perks and is a hard sell for sympathy. On the bright side, both lifestyles can make a pretty good movie or sometimes an enjoyable shitty movie. For an example of the werewolf variety, we can look at Howling VI: The Freaks (1991).
The film opens with an awkwardly lengthy sequence involving a girl running in slow motion from what we can only assume is a cameraman with respiratory issues. After the chase and implied “attack” ( POV creature-vision style), we cut to a man walking into a sleepy southern California, desert town El Mariachi style carrying a ripped up teddy bear instead of a guitar. The man, Ian (Brendan Hughes) is quickly greeted by local law enforcement and after being pocket checked is informed he is too broke to stick around. Just when he is about to be kicked out (back into the desert), another local, Dewey (Jered Barclay), comes to his rescue with an offer of room and board in exchange for “wood” work. Ian agrees, and he and his new pal Dewey head back to his pad, which turns out to be a beat-to-shit church. After he meets his host's daughter Elizabeth (Michele Matheson), the two set to work. A buddy montage follows of the two working diligently and developing a bond during an unspecified period of time. Among the heartwarming antics, Ian also finds time to start up a relationship with Elizabeth (because that's what happens in movies). Everything seems to be coming together fantastically, that is until Harkers World of Freaks comes to town. The traveling freak show headed by R.B. Harker (Bruce Payne)  acquires performers by holding people with deformities against their will and brainwashing them. We are introduced to Harker and his crew as they have just abducted, and quickly indoctrinated, a new “alligator boy”, before quickly shoving him on stage. It's pretty sleazy business practice, but it gets worse, when an untimely full moon outs Ian as a werewolf, and Harker realizes he doesn't have one of those yet.
As the title implies, Howling VI: The Freaks (1991) is the sixth installment of the loosely connected Howling series that started in 1981. If you have sampled a few of my other reviews, you may have noticed that I have a soft spot for bad sequels and will do my best to find a silver lining (poor word choice) in some of the more left field and unloved, supposed follow-ups. A few of the films that make up The Howling series would be an exponentially harder task to church-up, in that regard than others. The franchise could be best described as an anthology or collection of takes, as there is little to no connection from film to film, and the qualities range drastically. Like the original Howling, most of the films presumably take cues from Gary Brandner’s book series of the same title (1977).  The first film is a straight classic in my opinion, with a more viral outlook on the furry infliction and an awesome transformation sequence. The film was directed by Joe Dante and featured effects by Rob Bottin (originally Rick Baker was involved but left for American Werewolf in London--a topic for another article).  The second film, Howling II: ... Your Sister Is a Werewolf (1985), was a more comedic take on the source material and is virtually the only entry that follows its predecessor's storyline. However, while some of the characters carry over, it is more light-hearted and the tone changes dramatically. It does feature Sybil Danning, Christopher Lee and makes a fantastic, trashy watch. That was followed by an Australian production, The Marsupials: The Howling III (1987), which comes across as the Ninja III: The Domination (1984) of werewolf films, only not nearly as effective. It retains a somewhat decent budget but is jam-packed with random concepts and unnecessary lore. At that point, series continuity was thrown out the window, and the rest of the franchise just continued the trend of completely losing its shit, with an arsenal of bad monster effects and loose logic. Outside of a few nods and the ambitious, ugly clip show of a seventh film (Howling: New Moon Rising 1995), there is little to bridge any of the tales (the eighth even tries to reboot the series...I think). There is a lot more fun stuff to talk about, including the original author Brandner’s involvement with (and distaste for) the series and a dude name Clive Turner-- but that can wait for a movie they are involved in (more). Despite being one of the more frugal (and less affected by Clive Turner or Gary Brandner), the sixth film, for a few reasons, has always stood out of for me as one of the more memorable examples in the franchise.
The film has a distinct rustic flavor to it, as well as an eye for strange details. I do not know what plot points it takes from the book series (I have only read the first in the series and can not comment), but it seems to take cues from Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, more than anything. As far as I can tell, it doesn't make any strides to connect to the other films in the series, outside of a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo ( which the following film elaborates on-- kind of...) and of course...the werewolf stuff. Because of its restraint when it comes to Ian's hairy side, it could easily fit inside the patchwork world that was haphazardly assembled in the other Howlings before it (aside from maybe the effects of a full moon thing that goes back and forth in canon). The isolation helps with it being a “one-off”, taking place in a small town and involving a traveling circus on the fringe. The contained plot would fit nicely in a horror anthology television show and, with little alteration, could have been a monster of the week for Kolchak or the X-Files crew. It crawls a little, but that comes with some surprising character development and motivation.  Most of the intentional humor left over in part Part V is lost to a more dramatic tone.  It takes a more classical note and plays it closer to something like Naschy's Wolfman meets The Last Unicorn (1982), with an attached moral about not judging skin conditions. It isn't some kind of masterwork by any means (it may be even a little stretch to say it is “good”), but it's engaging enough and miles ahead on the four sequels before it, story-wise. Even with better intentions, It's still pretty fucking silly. The attempts at a gothic vibe fall somewhere closer to Full Moon Productions circa 1990 than the more celebrated influences it has. Some of the logic is a little fuzzy, and it's admirable but shallow message comes off heavy-handed. It plays with the carny feel in a few ways that contrast preconceived notions, but the bulk is cliched circus tropes. Somehow, with all it's borrowed pieces, it manages to be its own thing. There is a slightly surreal atmosphere that blends with the subject matter and brings up its fairy tale roots. It employs a more dramatically driven story and sets it in a universe of frequent supernatural forces. It dodges some of its peer's pitfalls by being character focused and not divulging an unnecessary amount of details about the nature of lycanthropy. Like a few of the other Howling films, it skips over the parts where the main character must come to initial terms with the fucked up changes of being a man-wolf, which (after hundreds of were-movies) is to their credit. In this case, Ian wanders into town, looking for work, already well accustomed to his wolf-hood and even plans out his outburst with a calendar. Apparently, day work and going homeless was his initial life plan, post lycanthropy-- this is supposed to be just another stop on that journey. This film not only presupposes you know what a fucking werewolf is, but also avoids a few (genre typical) cliches and doesn't add unnecessary inconsistencies in the already destroyed series canon by doing so. There is arguably no large fictional world-shaking discoveries in were-studies, outside of some kind of magic dog whistle. It's a more earnest try at radically imposed upon characters within a dark but fantastic world. The drama still plays goofy as all hairy fuck, so in the grand scheme of things, that probably doesn't mean much, but I for one can appreciate that shit.
The film was one of only three directed by Hope Perello, who also had a production credit on things like Puppet Master (1989) and Robot Jocks (1989). She doesn't have much in the way of style, to speak of, but her contributions are more than competent in this case. It's mostly boilerplate placement and framing, with little experimentation. There are a few highly inspired moments in the direction reminiscent of early wolfman flicks, although these are sparse and most are eventually fumbled in some way. The more generic camera work isn't a great match for the slower pacing of the script, and some of the “fully transformed” action scenes could use a little flare. It all holds together well enough to take on a dusty folk-horror atmosphere that lingers throughout. The lighting displays some affectionate practical coloring when it is at it's best and encompassing darkness at its worst. The introduction of the traveling carnival arrives with an atmosphere of pinks blues and, yellows (etc). The movie obviously had a very limited budget that was used effectively (mostly). The werewolf looks like a bad tv effect from the 70s, and there is very little of him (transformed anyway) actually in the film-- it's kind of depressing. The big transformation starts off promising but ends up being the major let down of what is otherwise an upswing for the series. I honestly would have taken whatever the fuck that was in number four. The carnival “freaks”, on the other hand, are pretty well done or least within reason for this kind of film. Outside of a color choice on the final boss (which makes him look a little like the bad guy from the first power rangers movie), the non-werewolf special effects were a plus. Its extremely light on the sleaze on all accounts (I don't even remember a “swear word”) . There is little gore, outside of some blood and a lot of biting. Any truly gruesome stuff is covered in darkness. The horror aspects mostly exist inside dramatic moods--some work, and some, not so much. The final battle suffers greatly from stiff camera work, the shitty wolfman get-up and a tacked on feeling of the segment. All together the technical aspects and direction make for an enjoyable enough watch but not one for those who need their cheese served neat and at a rapid speed.
 Brendan Hughes plays Ian as a blood relative of Vlad, his character from 1988’s romantic vampire flick To Die For. He doesn't quite have the technical backup from that film, but fans of his moody vampire will most likely dig his grumpy werewolf. He also supposedly had an uncredited werewolf part in An American Werewolf in London (1981) so he has some previous fursuit experience. Bruce Payne plays the sinister ringleader Harker, and up until the final battle, he is a highlight of the film. Payne plays closer to the horror cinema roots and carries a few scenes almost solo. Most of the various circus performers were almost perfect and helped with the bizarre mood. The rest of the acting is a mixed bag, but everyone is well placed and looks relatively believable in their role. There are a few serious exceptions, but mostly they provide more unintentional comedy than damage.
I like a lot of what the Howling VI brings to the table. The freakshow motif pairs naturally with the tormented werewolf schick. It almost accidentally jumps over most of the cliched issues within the franchise. It takes the series in a different direction, and it is a better corny wolfman flick for it. Ultimately there are a lot worse movies out there on the subject matter but not a lot with effects as shitty when it comes to the actual werewolf. It's not going to change your life, but its has a little story going on in there, and it follows through in a few ways. Most importantly, it has inspired a good life plan in case I wake up having caught wolfman-itis myself. I can simply add it to the list of things that can begin a Bruce Banner-like trek to nowhere. Yep, just hit the fucking road meeting people and solving/starting problems while dealing with my hugely destructive flip side. Then, all I need is an iconically depressing hitchhiking theme played on a piano.
1h 42min | 1991
Director: Hope Perello
Writers: Gary Brandner (novels), Kevin Rock 

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Review by:
RevTerry


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