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Old 01-20-2017, 10:11 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default The Couch Potato presents: Trollheart's Box Office

New year, new start. Time to move some of my shit out of here...

By which I mean, I'm again subdividing a journal. When I said I would add movies on an infrequent basis to The Couch Potato I didn't realise how much fun it was (and how much work) and I have a load of ideas, but they can't blossom there without my losing focus on my TV stuff, so rather than try to shoehorn them in where I can, I'm going to transfer all movie material from that journal to this new one, leaving me free to continue there with only strictly television series.

So grab your popcorn, come on in, take a seat and let me bid you welcome.



Coming up at some point:
Shark Tales: Reviewing all the shark movies, from the Jaws quadrology to Deep Blue Sea and from Open Water to 12 Days of Terror. Movies like Sharktopus or any other movie depicting a shark in anything other than its natural habitat will not be considered—though they may turn up in Trollheart's Cinema Craptastique—nor will any in which a shark does any of the following: upsets a bikini contest, is thawed out from its prehistoric form or comes back from the dead. Believe me, these all exist! But I'll be concentrating on, for lack of another phrase, serious shark movies.

Box Office Draws Originally to have been a film-by-film review of all the Pixar movies, I discovered there aren't as many as I thought, and that of those, a lot are sequels, so that would be boring. Instead, I'm going to widen this out and review all or as many as I can of the animated movies, starting from the one that kicked it all off, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and coming right up to date with the likes of Despicable Me and Finding Dory, though unlike in my History of Cartoons journal these will not be in order and I will pick from the list as the mood takes me.

Your're (not) speaking my language! My foray into foreign-language films. This is not exactly new territory for me, but I'm not as au fait with World Cinema as I would like to be, so I'll be happy to take any suggestions you have.

Commander-in-Chief: Movies about, or revolving around, the President.

A Movie Too Far? Looking at whether certain sequels work or not, whether they should have left a classic as it was, or whether the original movie needed, or did not need, a follow up. Often it works, more often though it does not, and in this feature I'll be looking at plenty of examples and questioning the motives behind sequels, and the aftermath of same.

Fill Your Hand, You Son of a Bitch! A look through some of the best (and possibly worst) Western movies.

Eirigi! (pronounced eye-rig-ee; literally "rise up!") Where I'll be featuring films starring Irish actors, directors, writers etc.

Battlegrounds War films in focus

Breaking the Law Any sort of movies revolving around law enforcement, or the opposition to it - gangster, Mafia, cop films etc.

The Rest is Silence Reviews of movies from the silent era

You're History! Period or historical movies, often biographical but not necessarily.

Don't Make Me Laugh! My pick of comedy movies

Note: I'll be going through the ones I've already reviewed and adding logos to place them within the various specific categories.
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Old 01-20-2017, 10:25 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Old 01-20-2017, 10:27 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Old 01-21-2017, 01:56 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Originally begun in The Couch Potato under another name, this is a list of mixed science-fiction, fantasy and horror movies I intend to review at some point, arranged in alphabetical order but they will not be reviewed as per this list. I will be picking and choosing from it as the urge takes me. The exception to this will be (probably) any series like Lord of the Rings or The Matrix, where one movie generally leads into the next. In those cases I will endeavour to review all the movies in the series before moving on to another.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive (though quite exhausting!) list of sci-fi/horror/fantasy movies by any means. I'm sure there are many I have left out, and many I will not be considering. This list comprises either movies I consider important to the genre, or ones that I have just really enjoyed. If you have a movie you’d like me to review that is not here, get in touch with me and if I’ve seen it I may include it, or if you make a good enough case for me watching it then it may get added to the list. Obviously I can’t promise anything here, neither that it will be chosen nor when, if it is chosen, it will be reviewed.

The criteria for inclusion here are science-fiction (obviously!), fantasy (to include the likes of sword-and-sorcery, mythological or fairytales - your basic Lord of the Rings, Legend, Avatar, Conan sort of thing) or horror, but with a fantasy or sci-fi element. The likes of Alien, Event Horizon, vampire movies and so forth - I don’t generally watch or have any interest in psychological horror, gory or slasher movies or the like. Anyway, my decision will be final: if I think it merits inclusion it will go in, if not it won’t.

Note: I’m going more for the serious, or at least taking seriously, movie here, so there won’t be much, if any, room for parodies, rip-offs or just stupid or supposedly funny movies like for instance Mars Attacks! or Vampires Suck! Yeah. Don’t suggest movies like that, they’ll just be rejected.


2001: A Space Odyssey
2010: Odyssey II
30 Days of night
Alien 3
Alien Resurrection
Alien vs Predator
Alien Nation
Angel Heart
Back to the Future
Back to the Future II
Back to the Future III
Blade Runner
Batman Begins
Batman Forever
Batman Returns
Battle for the Planet of the Apes
Beneath the Planet of the Apes
Children of Men
Clash of the Titans (Original)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Conan the Barbarian
Conan the Destroyer
The Cold Equations
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
Dark City
The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight Rises
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Day of the Triffids
The Day the Earth Stood Still (Original)
Devil’s Advocate
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Edward Scissorhands
Enemy Mine
Escape from the Planet of the Apes
Event Horizon
Fahrenheit 451
Fantastic Voyage
The Fifth Element
Flight of the Navigator
Forbidden Planet
The Forsaken
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Frequently Asked Questions About Time-Travel
Fright Night (Original)
From Dusk till Dawn
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad
Highlander II
Highlander III
Highlander IV
Highlander V
The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Interview with the Vampire
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Original)
Jason and the Argonauts
Judge Dredd (Original)
Judge Dredd (2012 remake)
Jurassic Park (Only the original one)
The Last Starfighter
Lawnmower Man
Let the right one in (Original)
Logan’s Run
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The Lost Boys
The Matrix
The Matrix Reloaded
The Matrix Revolutions
The Monster Club
Monsters Inc.
The Nightmare before Christmas
Planet of the Apes (Original)
Planet of the Apes (Remake)
The Princess Bride
Queen of the Damned
The Quatermass Xperiment
Quatermass II
Quatermass and the Pit
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Robocop (Original)
The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad
Silent Running
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger
Sleepy Hollow
Snow White: A Tale of Terror
Soylent Green
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
Star Trek VI: The Unknown Country
Star Trek VII: Generations
Star Trek VIII: Insurrection
Star Trek IX: First Contact
Star Trek X: Nemesis
Star Trek XI: Star Trek (2009 reboot)
Star Trek XII: Star Trek: Into Darkness
(Note: I know the two “new” Star Trek movies are not considered part of the original canon, and so are not really eleven and twelve but in fact one and two, but that’s confusing so I, with typical Trollheart stubbornness and refusal to face facts, am labelling them so.
Star Wars Episode VI: A New Hope (Originally just titled Star Wars)
Star Wars Episode VII: The Empires Strikes Back
Star Wars Episode VIII: Return of the Jedi
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Terminator II: Judgement Day
Terminator III: Rise of the Machines
Terminator Salvation
This island Earth
Time Bandits
The Time Machine (Original)
Total Recall
V for Vendetta
John Carpenter’s Vampires
Vampires II: Los Muertos
The War of the Worlds (Original)
White Dwarf
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Old 01-21-2017, 05:54 PM   #5 (permalink)
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One more important note:

Considering the way I will be splitting up and reviewing movies under certain banners - Event Horizon, Fill Your Hand, Box Office Draws etc - to say nothing of the series I'll be doing on particular directors and actors - there may be some crossover between movies, as in, they may fit under one or more banners. For example, once I get around to doing a series on Steven Spielberg (which I will be doing) the review of Jaws from Shark Tales will also cross over to fit in there. Technically it could also be on Event Horizon, but I'll be a little more particular about where I slot these in.

Anyway, instead of running a blurb every time I do a movie that fits into a special section, I'll be using the logo for that section to indicate where it fits, and to which is can be cross-indexed. If a movie does as above, and fits in two categories, or more, I'll use all the logos to show that, for instance, it's part of Shark Tales and Director's Cut, or whatever that becomes called. Just so you know.

All movies will at any rate be placed in the index alphabetically once they're posted and then they'll be linked.
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Old 01-22-2017, 08:35 AM   #6 (permalink)
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First Posted in The Couch Potato, March 27 2013

This was the first movie to appear in The Couch Potato. At the time, I put a sort of spoiler warning on it. I won't be doing that in future. If you've read my articles in The Couch Potato, you'll know I go the whole hog: if there are spoilers to be avoided you won't avoid them in my journals, other than not reading the piece. So be warned: if you haven't seen the movie before, or intend to see it at some point, you will read the ending and any twists or shocks here, as the reviews are complete. You have been warned.

Title: Dust Devil
Year: 1993
Genre: Horror
Starring: Robert John Burke as The Dust Devil
Zakes Mokae as Sergeant Ben Mukurob
Chelsea Field as Wendy Robinson
John Matshikisa as Joe Niemand/Narrator

Richard Stanley
Writer: Richard Stanley

For me, this was a strange film to decide to watch. Many of you here I know love horror, the gorier and more frightening the better. Me, I don't. I mean, I'll watch "Criminal Minds" or any show like that, and I'm enraptured by "The Following" (watch for a new "Series Link" soon) but generally speaking I don't enjoy gory or scary movies. I do however like myths, legends, folklore and fantasy, and this film blends all these elements together into what is really a quite excellent movie which should be better known than it is.

Shot entirely on location in Namibia, South Africa, it tells the story of a serial killer who is believed to have mystical powers, and who is referred to in the opening sequence, narrated by one of the characters, Joe Niemand, a healer and kind of witch doctor: "Back in the first times, in the time of the red light, Desert Wind was a man like us. Until by mischance, he grew wings and flew like a bird. He became a hunter, and like a hawk, he flew to seek his prey, taking refuge in those far corners of the world where magic still lingers. But having once been a man, so does he still suffer the passions of a man, flying in the rages sometimes, and throwing himself down like a child, to vent his wrath upon the earth. The people of the great Namib have another name for those violent winds that blow from nowhere. They call them Dust Devils"

The movie opens, and indeed is mostly set in, the great Namib Desert, where a man walks along a long dusty barren empty road. At first glance he looks like a hitch-hiker, a vagrant. But it is soon apparent he knows exactly what he is doing, and he takes out a strange-looking pocket watch whose hands move around the face much faster than they should. Closing it with a nod, he then lies down on the road as if sleeping, but as the camera angles changes we see that he has in fact his ear to the ground, as if listening to, or waiting for something. Soon a battered old car comes along the road, and the man stands up, hailing it.

His eyes beneath the brim of his weather-worn hat are dark and mysterious, and somehow unsettling, but the car stops and its driver, a young woman, gives him a lift. Meanwhile we see the old mystic who narrates the movie make or trace strange patterns on the wall of a cave, and watch the circling motion of a bird of prey in the sky high above him. The woman invites the stranger into her house, isolated and in the middle of nowhere, and later that night they make love, but in the midst of the act he kills her, snapping her neck.

The scene switches to the town of Bethany, where the police Sergeant Mukurob picks up a ringing phone and hears strange, disembodied voices. The same thing happens to Wendy Robinson, in Johannesburg, but she is in bed and puts it down to a crossed line. Back at the murdered woman's house the hitch-hiking stranger looks at his watch again. He notes the time and writes it on a photograph he has taken of the dead woman. He holds up a bowl (whether the photographs are in it or not I don't know, but you can bet the girl's blood is) and utters strange words, and then paints strange symbols on the wall of the bedroom. As he leaves we see that he has removed the girl's hand, minus the fingers and nailed it to the wall. The fingers he then carefully places in a small box.

Before leaving he torches the house, while listening on the radio to news of the great drought that is afflicting Namibia, killing the cattle and drying up the crops. He then takes his victim's car and drives away. In Johannesburg Wendy leaves her husband after an argument in which he accuses her of cheating on him. Sergeant Mukurob is called by the station to the site of the arson attack, where they have found the dismembered body parts of the woman. On further investigation they also find the abandoned car. The stranger has by now hopped a train, and is on his way to Bethany, which the radio reports tell us is the centre of the drought, and is said to be "doomed".

Doing the autopsy of the dead woman, the doctor discovers that the symbols on the wall of her house were made with the victim's blood and other bodily fluids, and she suspects witchcraft. Mukurob is incredelous: witchcraft, such superstition in this enlightened age? But this is Africa, where the old gods do not die easily, and the devils less so. She suggests the policeman consult a Sangoma, a holy man, who would be able to tell him what parts the killer was looking for, and what he would be likely to use them for in a ritual. Mukurob is reluctant but he does know of a Sangoma who lives locally, and goes to talk to him.

Wendy arrives at a bar near Bethany just as the stranger is leaving with some people who are driving a camper van ; he looks in the window at her but she does not see him, her back being turned to the window. That night, as she drives on and dozes a little behind the wheel, straying off the road, she almost runs over him as he walks out into the road. In the glare of her headlights his face appears momentarily inhuman, bestial, demonic. She swerves desperately to avoid him and goes off the road. Realising she has narrowly avoided crashing, and unwilling to go any further in her exhausted state, she sleeps in her car overnight.

The next morning, seeing her car has become buried in the hard sand of the desert, she gets out and goes to seek help. She notices a van up on the rise ahead of her, but when she climbs to it and knocks on the door there is no answer. A man with a shovel taps her on the shoulder and asks if she is the driver of the van, whihc is in fact a camper van; she says no but could he dig out her car, down the hill? As she leaves we see the inside of the van is smeared with fresh blood, and it's obvious everyone inside is dead. Further up the road she comes across the stranger hitch-hiking, and picks him up. She realises this is the same man she almost ran over last night. While in the car he takes a Polaroid of her and asks her some questions about herself, though she is reticent with answers. She tells him she is going "straight through, all the way to the sea."

Police meanwhile have discovered the camper van, and indeed everyone inside has been butchered, with body parts all over the place. Sergeant Mukurob meets with Joe Niemand, the Sangoma, who tells him he believes the world is about to end, and the drought is a sign of that. Joe appears to be building some sort of magic circle around his home, protection presumably, and it corresponds in design to the symbols the murderer drew in blood on the walls of the burned-down house. The enlightened Mukurob however cannot believe what the Sangoma tells him, and he can really get no sense out of Niedman so he leaves.

When Wendy admits she believes in neither god nor devil, and has no expectation of a life after death, the interest seems to go from the stranger and suddenly they appear to pass him hitch-hiking on the road. Doing a double-take Wendy looks over at her passenger and --- he's gone! She slams on the brakes, confused and if she's honest with herself, more than a little afraid. Mukurob is told by his boss that he has to take him off the case, as the UN are taking over in the wake of political unrest in the country. He himself is being forced into retirement, but Mukurob believes he is close to catching the man who has so far killed twice, and just needs more time. Information has come to light about a white woman whose car was seen near the camper van with the mutilated corpses, and he sets about tracking Wendy down.

She, meanwhile, desperately unhappy and perhaps thinking she has lost her mind, tries to commit suicide in the bath but cannot make herself use the razor blade and drops it into the water. Outside, her erstwhile hitch-hiker lurks, but when she detects a presence and gets out of the bath to check, she finds nobody there. However the next morning she finds him in her car, and he convinces her to again take him with her. Mukurob's boss meets him and turns over all the files on unexplained and unsolved murders in the area that he has been able to find; Mukurob is amazed to see that one, which mentions a pocketwatch like the one found inside the first victim, goes all the way back almost to the turn of the century!

Wendy and her passenger finally reach the end of the desert, and on the high sandstone cliffs overlooking the sea, they embrace, while her husband is now on her trail, heading for Bethany. Mukurob awakes from troubled dreams of his wife and son to find Joe Niedman sitting at the foot of his bed; he tells him he has come to help him. While Wendy's husband is getting beaten up at the bar she passed through, she is making love to the stranger, and Niedman is leading Mukurob into his caves. There he shows him the symbols carved on the wall, which correspond to the ones scrawled on the walls of the first victim's house. He tells the sergeant that what they seek is called a naghtloeper, a Dust Devil, a shapeshifting demon who preys on the weak and uses them to make himself stronger, even invincible. Mukurob of course thinks he's mad and does not believe it.

Joe tells him that the only way to destroy the demon is to trick him to step across a holy stick called a kerrie. If he does this he can be stripped of his power, but there is danger; in so doing he may transfer his essence to that of the policeman, taking him over. Still not believing, Mukurob takes the stick. While the Dust Devil showers Wendy goes through his things and finds the box of fingers. He tries to kill her but she escapes, driving off into the night. The demon though makes a gesture and a truck swerves into her path, knocking her off the road. In the pileup that follows she barely gets free of her car before it, and the rest of the crashed vehicles explodes, and she runs off into the desert.

Mukorob and Mark have joined up to try and find Wendy, or at least the Dust Devil, while the demon is using his unnatural powers to try to comb the desert to find her. He whips up a sandstorm and she is blinded, stopped, can go no further. He then attacks the oncoming Mukurob and Mark, overturning their police vehicle, and the sergeant shackles Mark to the car, telling him that he should be safe as Dust Devil only takes those who have nothing. Then he walks off into the storm.

As the storm abates Wendy begins walking again, but when she eventually comes across a village it is completely deserted, its habitants having long ago abandoned it in the face of the harsh desert. Here she meets Mukurob and they both unaccountably hear a phone ringing. Mukurob gives her a gun and they head towards the sound of the phone. Picking it up Mukurob hears the voice of his dead wife, calling him to her. Confused, he staggers into an old abandoned cinema, and as he exits it he runs into Dust Devil, who stabs him. Wendy goes looking for him in the building and not finding him comes back out to encounter Dust Devil. He looks at his watch: it is running backwards. He is not happy.

She threatens him with the gun but it jams and the demon advances upon her. Mukurob though, who is lying nearby, throws down the kerrie stick with his dying breaths as the monster advances, and as he crosses it, an instant too late realising what has happened, Wendy grabs the policeman's shotgun and blows Dust Devil's head clean off his shoulders.

As Wendy wanders out into the desert she comes across her husband, still handcuffed to Mukurob's poilce car. For a moment she levels the shotgun at him, a dark, dead look in her eyes, then she turns and walks off into the desert, the shotgun over her shoulder. She walks out along the desert road, lies down and presses her ear to the ground, and presently a convoy of UN trucks arrives. She stands out in the middle of the road, hailing them.

It's fairly apparent from the ending of the film that, just as Joe Niedman warned Mukurob, the Dust Devil has transferred his essence into Wendy, just before dying, and she is now his. Indeed, the final scene shows a figure garbed in a long shabby greatcoat and hat, the dress originally worn by the stranger in the opening scene, pass in front of a fiery setting sun. The end monologue seems to confirm this: ""The desert knows her name now, he has stolen both her eyes. When she looks into a mirror, she will see his spirit like a shore blowing tatters around her shoulders in a haze. And beyond the dim horizon, a tapestry unfolding of the avenues of evil, and all of history set ablaze".

(Mostly from the narration of Joe Niedman)
"He sifts the human storm for souls. He can smell a town waiting to die and and the manhood festering in a boy from a thousand miles away. Their smell is sweet to him."

The doctor examines the corpse of the first victim:
"We've got evisceration, partial cremation, sexual mutilation, possibly even cannibalism. We found the remains of a clock wedged inside her, for god's sake!"

Dust Devil is offered a ride by Wendy:

Wendy: "Where you headed for?"
Dust Devil: "Nowhere."
Wendy: "Just came from there. Any other place I'm good for."

Joe Niedman, in response to Mukurob's query as to why the killer is taking fingers from his victims:
"There's a whole lot of power in fingers. Lots of knuckles and such. If you want to win a war, you need a whole fistful of knuckles!"

Joe (in narration)
"This is the work of the naghtloeper, black magician, a shapeshifter. He seeks power over the material world through the ritual of murder. The power of vision, of ecstasy. The power to shield himself from detection, and death. To travel, and to transform, he feeds off our life, he preys upon the damned; the weak and the faithless, he draws them to him and he sucks them dry."

Joe to Mukurob:
"You've got to stop thinking like a white man; start thinking like a man instead."

Joe to Mukurob, in the cave:
"We are nothing to him. We are dust in the wind. He smelled Bethany dying, and he has come here for souls, to build his power and return to the realm of the spirit. Until the ritual is complete he is trapped ike us in the material world, bound by the flesh. He must work through human form while he is in this world, and so is vulnerable to human failings. Only through ritual, through any power over the flesh can a spirit awake to fuller consciousness. To work the ritual he must keep moving, but if he can be tricked to cross this kerrie he can be rooted to the spot and stripped of his power."

Joe, again to Mukurb:
"Death hunts you, just as you hunt the Dust Devil."

Joe (in narration)
"The serpent lures its pray entranced, eyes wide open, through the mirror, to the land of the dead. To the house of the dust, where the air is thick and hard to breathe."

A nice touch!

Just before Dust Devil disappears from the car, Wendy takes a bite from a shiny green apple. Eve biting into the apple of temptation while the devil urges her on?

There is also a reference, intended or not, to Kansas's big hit "Dust in the wind", though the director wisely refrains from taking the easy route and using it in the soundtrack.
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Old 01-22-2017, 09:19 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Dude, you should write a book with all of the reviews of pretty much every form of pop culture that you've covered. It would be a pretty **** book but at least we'd get a break while you were busy with it.
Originally Posted by J.R.R. Tolkien
There is only one bright spot and that is the growing habit of disgruntled men of dynamiting factories and power-stations; I hope that, encouraged now as ‘patriotism’, may remain a habit! But it won’t do any good, if it is not universal.
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Old 01-22-2017, 10:01 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Why do I love this film?

For many reasons. One is the fact that it is, on the face of it, a movie I would normally not have bothered with nor been interested in checking out. Serial killers, ritual murder, usually not my scene. But this film blends in those elements with legend and myth, superstition and folklore and really neither proves nor disproves either. There's a sceptic, as you would expect, in Ben Mukurob, but at the last he gambles that the Sangoma was not rambling and it is his throwing down of the kerrie stick that enables Wendy to get the drop on Dust Devil. Admittedly, she's not fast enough in despatching him and gets taken over, but in essence the ploy works, and Niedman did after all warn Mukurob that this could happen.

It's also a very small cast: three really. There are other people, the likes of Mark and the police captain, but they play relatively minor roles. The movie is really carried on the quite understated performances of the main trio. And understatement is the name of the game. Even Robert John Burke, in the role of Dust Devil, the supernatural killer said to be a demon from the desert, is quiet and menacing rather than maniacal. Chelsea Fields as Wendy portrays a desperate woman rapidly running out of things to live for, while Mukurob is a man with a dark past who is trying to atone for past mistakes, though we are never let in on what those mistakes were. They do seem to have led to the deaths of both his wife and son though.

I like the fact that, though the murders are savage and ritualisitic, and feature dismemberment you don't see Dust Devil kill his victims, other than the first, and even there it's just a basic snap of the neck. You don't see him cut her up later. The most graphic thing in the movie really is the autopsy on the burned and dismembered corpse later. Even when we see the camper van and it's obvious everyone inside is dead (we more or less know this when we see Dust Devil take a ride with them at the bar) there are few gory details. We see a window streaked with blood and a fly walking across it, and when the door is eventually opened later and the corpse or corpses discovered, the only thing we really see in close up is a severed hand. It's not in-your-face gore; this movie trades more on the horror of what might have happened rather than shoving it front and centre in a "Saw" manner, which I much prefer. It's left up to your imagination rather than forced down your throat.

The music, too, is great. A mixture of kind of Gregorian Chant with Spaghetti Western film themes, which works really well, and some African rhythms and melodies layered over it too. It all creates a very otherworldly atmosphere, a striking, desolate air that sends shivers down your spine.

And the setting is perfect for a film of this nature. Against the vast expanse of the unforgiving Namib Desert humans do indeed seem small and insignificant, and the idea that some all-powerful and evil entity is out there controlling everything is no doubt a notion that has come to the minds of anyone who has crossed such a desolate wilderness. It's clever location too, because it obviously cut back on costs and provides a bleak, barren backdrop to a story of humans battling evil and eventually succumbing to it.

Dust Devil is also a classic case of a movie that succeeds without any big names, any flash settings or any - really, none - special effects. In fact, apart from the desert this movie could have been made on a shoestring budget, though it certainly does not show in the final product. But it avoids diverting attention away from the storyline and the characters; it doesn't pad out the plot with too many unnecessary personnel, and the narration device is a good way to keep people apprised of how the story is coming along. It's also a clever touch to have the narrator take part in the story.

Although loosely based on a real-life story of a serial killer in South Africa, the film really only borrows elements from that and mixes them in with local folklore and legend, stirring the whole thing up into a devil's brew of a powerful story that comes across as both chilling and almost believable.

Finally, there's a great sense of there being no happy ending about the movie. Sure, in the end the "bad guy" is defeated, but he's almost then seen as just an aspect of evil, which reaches out and claims the one who vanquished him and makes her its new emissary. A message about the timeless and shifting nature of evil, and how humans invite the darkness in, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes all too willingly. In the vast desert, both of actuality and of imagery, the tiny soul of man, or woman, is swallowed up and lost.
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Old 01-22-2017, 10:17 AM   #9 (permalink)
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First Posted in The Couch Potato, May 1 2013

Title: Dark Star
Year: 1974
Genre: Science-Fiction/Black Comedy
Starring: Dan O'Bannon as Sergeant Pinback
Brian Larelle as Lieutenant Doolittle
Cal Kuniholm as Boiler
Dre Pahich as Talby
Joe Saunders as Commander Powell
Adam Beckenbaugh as Bomb Number Twenty
Director: John Carpenter
Writer: Dan O'Bannon and John Carpenter

The directorial debut of the legendary John Carpenter, Dark Star also became the inspiration for the series Red Dwarf, and is one of the few science-fiction movies of any era that successfully blends sci-fi tropes with dark comedy. Filmed on a real shoestring budget of about sixty thousand dollars, it's gone down in history as a cult movie, and if you haven't seen it then you really need to. I'm reliably informed it's even better when you're stoned, but I wouldn't know about that. It's also one of the first movies to tackle the thorny issue of isolation in space and the boredom that could and surely will engender.

The basic plot of the movie concerns the scout ship of the same name, which is crewed by five, one of whom is dead. Wait, I will explain shortly. The mission of the ship is to seek out unstable planets which could cause a problem to following colony ships, and destroy them by dropping huge thermostellar bombs on them from space. These planets are few and far between, and the crew have been doing this now for twenty years. Cooped up together with no real privacy and no respite from the unremitting tedium of deep space, they have all in their own way turned peculiar, as each seeks out his own way to combat the mind-numbing boredom and the sameness of every day.

As the movie opens we see a communication coming in from Earth (eighteen parsecs away) in which a member of the brass (NASA or some military agency; we don't know) sympathises with the crew over the loss of their Commander due to a radiation leak. Unbelievably, the general or whatever he is tells them that their request for radiation shielding has been denied, even in the knowledge of the accident which has already claimed one of the crew. Cutbacks in Congress are blamed, and the prohibitive cost of sending a shuttle out to where they are cannot, he says, be justified.

Whether anyone was watching or has heard this transmission is unclear, as next we see the ship slip into orbit around a planet which may be a candidate for destruction. We see the guys, three of them, all working in a very cramped space getting details and data on the planet to ascertain its possibility of contributing to a risk factor: the fourth member of the crew, Talby, sit high above the ship in an observation dome, like the gun turret blisters on World War II bombers. The data confirms the planet is, or could become, unstable and so they drop a thermostellar bomb on it, which completely obliterates it, leaving the way clear for following colonisation ships. The bombs seem to be imbued with some rudimentary intelligence, and Sergeant Pinback talks to Bomb number 19 as he readies it for the drop. Once the bomb leaves the ship, Dark Star goes into hyperdrive to take the guys out of the blast zone.

The computer informs them that they have destroyed the last unstable planet in this solar system, and they look for their next target. Lieutenant Doolittle, acting commander of the vessel with the death of Powell, seems eager to find another planet they can destroy, and Boiler, another crewman tasked with finding targets, directs them to the Veil Nebula. Doolittle goes to see Talby, and tells him he's concerned that he's isolating himself too much from the rest of the crew, spending all his time in his observation dome. Talby says he doesn't like going down since the commander was killed. Talby tells Doolittle that he is looking forward to seeing a phenomenon called the Phoenix Asteroids, a body of asteroids that circle the universe every twelve trillion years.

Doolittle reveals that what he misses most is surfing. He used to be a great surfer. Boiler amuses himself by shooting things with the only onboard laser rifle, target practice. As Pinback tackles him about it, the computer informs him that it is time for him to feed "the alien", a task Pinback is not looking forward to. Seems some time back the sergeant took the alien onboard as a mascot, and now it is his responsibility to look after it. However when he goes to feed it the alien, resembling nothing more than a brightly-coloured beach ball on legs, is more in the mood for playing, and jumps on his back. He wrestles it off but it gets into the corridor, and when he goes back to get a broom to shoo it back in, it is gone.

After it leads him a merry chase, including a totally hilarious scene where he gets stuck in an elevator, Pinback shoots the alien with a tranquiliser gun, but it shoots across the room like a punctured balloon, and Doolittle later wonders how anything could live if it was only filled with gas? The others aren't interested, though Talby for once shows some leadership qualities and comes down into the main ship, trying to trace the source of the malfunction he detected. Pinback tells the guys that he really isn't the man whose suit he wears: he was refuelling the ship when a naked astronaut ran past him and jumped into a barrel of liquid rocket fuel. Donning the man's discarded suit he tried to save the guy but before he could, he was bundled aboard Dark Star, and has been here ever since. The guys aren't impressed, as this is not the first time Pinback has told them this story.

Talby calls Doolittle to let him know he has traced the source of the malfunction but it is near the airlock, so he has to put on a spacesuit to investigate. Pinback reviews his personal log, running through entries in which he again recounts the story that he is not Sergeant Pinback at all. He says his real name is Phil Frugge, a maintenance tech. He also talks about Commander Powell's death, complains about Doolittle taking over command, and the others treating him shabbily. He then makes a new entry, again complaining about his treatment and remarking that last week was his birthday and nobody noticed.

The ship arrives at the planet they've been heading towards in the Veil Nebula, and Pinback prepares and arms the bomb. But Talby is in the airlock and tries to tell them that the communication laser, which monitors the bomb drop mechanism, is damaged. Doolittle, concentrating on blowing up the planet, snaps off the com in irritation and the laser goes off, blinding Talby, and he stumbles into the path of the beam, breaking communications between the bomb and its mechanism. When the guys try to drop the already-armed bomb it does not separate from the ship. Suddenly a task which has become mundane, boring, automatic becomes anything but, as the crew scramble to fix the malfunction.

Doolittle orders the bomb to abort its countdown but it will not, and the computer advises them that it has activated dampers which will contain the blast to an area of one mile. With no other ideas, Doolittle revives the commander, who has been kept in a state of cryogenic stasis, to seek his advice. The commander tells Doolittle that he must speak to the bomb, teach it phenomenology. So he goes out in a spacesuit and has an existential conversation with the bomb, while Boiler hits upon the idea of using the laser rifle to shoot out the supporting pins on the bomb and save the ship. Pinback doesn't trust him and tries to stop him. As the two fight, word comes from the computer that the bomb has returned to the bay. Doolittle has been successful.

However, when he tries to re-enter via the rear airlock, Talby, who is still in there, gets blown out and into space. Doolittle goes after him, just as the bomb announces that it has figured out that it is God, and explodes. The two guys on the ship die instantly but Talby is sucked into the approaching Phoenix Asteroids: he will circle the universe as part of them, forever. That leaves Doolittle, who is falling towards the planet they were supposed to destroy. As he falls, he grabs a piece of debris from the ship and using it as a surfboard, rides the last wave of his life down into the planet's atmosphere.


Earth Official: "Sorry to hear about the radiation leak. And real sorry to hear about the death of Commander Powell. There was a week of mourning here on Earth. We're all behind you guys. About your request for radiation shielding: sorry to report this has been denied. I hate to send bad news when you guys are up there doing such a swell job, but I think you'll take it in the proper spirit. There's been some cutbacks in Congress and right now, considering the distance we just can't afford to send a cargo shuttle out there to you. But I know you guys will make do. Keep up the good work, men!"

Pinback: "Sergeant Pinback calling Bomb Number number 19, do you read me, Bomb?"
Bomb 19: "Bomb number 19 to Sergeant Pinback, I read you. Continue."
Pinback: "Well, Bomb, we have about sixty seconds to drop. Just wondering if everything's all right. You checked your platinum duridium energy shiedling?" (Note: the actual shielding name may be wrong; I'm guessing at the words here as Pinback's delivery is laconic and bored)
Bomb 19: "Energy shielding positive function."
Pinback: "Well, let's synchronise detonation time. Uh, you wouldn't happen to know when you're supposed to go off, would you?"
Bomb 19: "Six minutes, twenty seconds."
Pinback: "All right, that checks out here. Arm yourself, Bomb."
Bomb 19: "Armed."
Pinback: "Well then everything sounds fine. Dropping you off in about thirty five seconds. Good luck."
Bomb 19: "Thanks!"

Doolittle: "What now? What do you have for us Boiler?"
Boiler: "Uh, not much. Nothing at all in this sector."
Doolittle: "Well find me something. I don't care where it is."
Boiler: "Well I show a 95% possibility of intelligent life in the Horsehead Nebula sector."
Doolittle: "Don't give me that kind of bull!"
Boiler: "I know it's a long shot but..."
Doolittle: "Damn wild goose chase, is what it is! Remember when Commander Powell found that 99 plus probabilty of intelligent life in the Magellanic Cloud? Remember what we found? A damn mindless vegetable: looked like a limp balloon. Fourteen light years for a vegetable! Don't give me any of that intelligent life stuff! Find me something I can blow up!"

Doolittle (recording the ship's video log): "Storage Area 9 self-destructed last week, and destroyed the ship's entire supply of toilet paper."

Talby: "Doolittle, I do have a malfunction on this readout but I can't pinpoint it exactly."
Doolittle: "Don't worry about it. We'll find out what it is when it goes bang."

Boiler: "What's Talby's first name?"
Doolittle: "What's my first name?"

Logscreen: "For official purposes this recording instrument automatically deletes all offensive language and/or gestures".

Doolittle: "Commander Powell, this is Doolittle. Something serious has come up. I need to ask you a question."
Powell: "I'm glad you've come to talk with me, Doolittle. It's been so long since anyone came to talk with me."
Doolittle: "Commander, Sir, we have a big problem. The Veil Nebula bomb, number 20: it's stuck. It won't drop out of the bomb bay. It refuses to listen and it plans on detonating in (checks watch) less than eleven minutes!"
Powell: "Doolittle, you must tell me one thing."
Doolittle: "What's that, Sir?"
Powell: "Tell me, Doolittle, how are the Dodgers doing?"
Doolittle: "Uh, the Dodgers? They, uh, they broke up. They disbanded, over fifteen years ago."
Powell: "Ah. Pity. Pity."
Doolittle: "But you don't understand, Sir! We can't get the bomb to drop!"
Powell: "Ah. So many problems. Why don't you have anything nice to tell me when you activate me? Did you try the Asimov approach?"
Doolittle: "Yes Sir. Negative effect."
Powell: "What was that, Doolittle?"
Doolittle: "Negative effect, Sir."
Powell: "It didn't work?"
Doolittle: "That's correct, Sir."
Powell: "Sorry Doolittle. I've forgotten so much since I've been in here. So much..."
Doolittle: "What should we do Sir? Time is running out!"
Powell: "Well, you might try ---"
A sudden power surge cuts communications for a few moments and Powell's voice is lost. Doolittle desperately tries to restore contact.
Doolittle: "Commander? Commander Powell? Sorry Sir, you faded out there for a little bit. What was that you were saying about the bomb?"
Powell: "Sorry Doolittle. I've gone blank. Hold it.. I'll have it again in just a few minutes. It seems to me ... sorry ... I forget so many things in here ... So many things ..."
Doolittle: "Commander Sir? You stil there?"
Powell: "Oh yes Doolittle. Sorry. I'm thinking..."
Doolittle: "We're running out of time Sir!"
Powell: "Oh yes. Sorry. Well, Doolittle, if you can't get it to drop, you'll have to talk to it. "
Doolittle: "What?"
Powell: "Talk to the bomb."
Doolittle: "But I have been talking to it, Sir. Pinback's talking to it right now."
Powell: "No, no. You talk to it. Teach it phenomenology, Doolittle."
Doolittle: "Sir?"
Powell: "Phenomenology."

Doolittle: "Hello? Bomb? Are you with me?"
Bomb 20: "Of course."
Doolittle: "Are you willing to entertain a few concepts?"
Bomb 20: "I am always receptive to suggestions."
Doolittle: "Think about this then: how do you know you exist?"
Bomb 20: "Well of course I exist."
Doolittle: "But how do you know?"
Bomb 20: "It is intuitively obvious."
Doolittle: "Intuition is no proof. What concrete evidence do you have that you exist?"
Bomb 20: Well... I think, therefore I am."
Doolittle: "That's good. That's very good. But how do you know that everything else exists?"
Bomb 20: "My sensory apparatus reveals it to me."
Doolittle: "Right."
Bomb 20: "This is fun!"
Doolittle: "Okay now listen: this is the big question. How do you know that the evidence your sensory apparatus reveals to you is correct? What I'm getting at is this: the only experience that is directly available to you is the evidence your sensory data, and this sensory data is merely a stream of electrical impulses that stimulates your computing centre."
Bomb 20: "In other words, all that I really know about the outside world is relayed to me through my electrical connections."
Doolittle: "Exactly."
Bomb 20: "Why, that would mean that I don't really know what the outside universe is like at all for certain."
Doolittle: "That's it!"
Bomb 20: "Intriguing. I wish I had more time to discuss this matter."
Doolittle: "Why don't you have more time?"
Bomb 20: "Because I must detonate in seventy-five seconds."
Doolittle: "Now, bomb, consider this next question very carefully: what is your one purpose in life?"
Bomb 20: "To explode, of course."
Doolittle: "And you can only do it once, right?"
Bomb 20: "That is correct."
Doolittle: "And you wouldn't want to explode on the basis of false data, would you?"
Bomb 20: "Of course not."
Doolittle: "Well then: you've already admitted that you have no real proof of the existence of the outside universe?"
Bomb 20: "Yes... Well..."
Doolittle: "So you have no absolute proof that Sergeant Pinback ordered you to detonate."
Bomb 20: "I recall distinctly the detonation order. My memory is very good on matters such as these."
Doolittle: "Of course you remember it. But all you remember is a series of electonic impulses which you now realise has no definite connection with outside reality."
Bomb 20: "True. But since this is so, I have no proof that you are really telling me all of this."
Doolittle: "That's all beside the point. I mean, the concept is valid no matter where it originates."
Bomb 20: "Hmm."
Doolittle: "So if you detonate in ---"
Bomb 20: "Nine seconds".
Doolittle: "You could be doing so on the basis of false data."
Bomb 20: "I have no proof it was false data."
Doolittle: "You have no proof it was correct data!"
Bomb 20: "I must think on this further."

Bomb 20: "In the beginning there was darkness, and the darkness was without form, and void. And in addition to the darkness there was also me. And I moved on the face of the darkness, and I saw that I was alone. Let there be light."

Doolittle; "Talby? Looks like I'm headed for the planet. I'm going towards it."
Talby: "When you hit the atmosphere you'll begin to burn. What a beautiful way to die, as a falling star!"
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Old 01-22-2017, 10:28 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Why do I love this film?

When this came out, 1974, there was at the time no real concept of humour in sci-fi, at least in films. Science-fiction movies, before the advent of Star Wars, were almost always dark, often scary affairs with marauding aliens and usually bad endings. Many portrayed the futility of believing Man was the dominant force in the galaxy, and showed us just how small and unimportant we are. Then you had the old classics, like This Island Earth, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, all that sort of thing. Sci-fi, we were taught, was serious, and not something to be taken lightly.

Then this movie came around, and for the first time ever I personally began to see that space, though hard and unforgiving a mistress certainly, was not devoid of the odd cosmic joke. The fact that this movie both takes its subject matter seriously and laughs at it too is quite a feat. Mostly it's the characters the script lampoons: the men who try to fill up their boring humdrum lives with irrelevancies in order to get through another day. No doubt when they signed up for this mission they envisaged great romance and adventure among the stars, but quickly found it to be nothing of the sort. It's lonely, it's cold, there's nothing to do and there is no way back.

This movie is also the first directorial effort of the eminent John Carpenter, who would of course go on to direct so many great horror movies, such as It and The Thing, and its story both formed the basis for the sci-fi comedy cult series Red Dwarf and for the later, far from funny space horror Alien. It's pretty much a two-man show, with Carpenter co-writing, directing, composing and playing the music and producing, while Dan O'Bannon co-writes, stars in and creates most of the special effects.

This movie would also have a huge impact on future sci-fi movies, from the aforementioned Alien to Star Wars, which would use the spinning hyperspace effect a few years later. Even the dark, doomy amd spacey music, made mostly by Carpenter on synthesisers, would find its way into Red Dwarf's first and second season.

I love the characters, flawed as they are. The portrayal of the four main characters as inherently just ordinary guys working away at their job was also quite fresh. Up to this, sci-fi protagonists had generally - with a few exceptions - been square-jawed heroes challenging the cosmos. These guys are essentially four hippies, none of whom are particularly interested in their job after twenty years doing the same thing - but where are they going to go? - and one of them maintains he's someone else entirely. A quick profile of each follows:

Lieutenant Doolittle: A man who would much rather be surfing off Malibu than exploring deep space, Doolittle has acclimated to his job by developing a single-minded fascination with, and desire to blow up planets. He doesn't particularly care where they are, he just wants to destroy them. Still, when the chips are down he proves he can still hold a philosophical argument - even with an intelligent bomb. Well, in fairness his life and the lives of everyone else depend on it. It's good to see though that he earns a kind of redemption, although the commander's plan backfires.

Sergeant Pinback: Says his real name is Bill Frugge, and tells a story of how he was mistaken for the astronaut and now finds himself in space with people he does not know, whom he doesn't like and who don't like him. He seems to be the butt of jokes, certainly the odd man out and yet when he has to he performs his duty admirably. He it is who insisted on bringing the alien creature onboard, and who inadventently kills it. He makes video diaries and complains about his treatment at the hands of the other crewmembers.

Talby (Rank, if any, unknown): Talby is a loner, spends all his time in the observation dome watching the stars. He is nevertheless the most diligent of the crew, the only one to recognise and then investigate the malfunction that leads to the bomb getting stuck in the ship's bay, and leads eventually to the destruction of the Dark Star. He is also blinded by the laser as he tries to fix it and then blown out of the airlock, where the passing Phoenix Asteroids take him with them.

Boiler: (Rank, if any, unknown): Seeming to be the lowest in rank on the ship, Boiler is like a refugee from a heavy metal concert, and spends his spare time using the ship's only weapon to shoot targets. He tries to save the ship by shooting out the bomb's holding pins but Pinback, with little faith in his marksmanship, stops him.

In the end I love this movie because it's so different, or it was for the time. It bucked the accepted trend at the time for sci-fi movies, injected dark humour for the first time into one of these types of movies, set a template for much of what was to follow and it showed us that Man is capable of fucking up even twenty parsecs from his home planet. There's a strong argument, to my mind, for the damage to the communications laser having been caused by Boiler. He has already shown he likes to shoot at things, and it doesn't matter whether he's supposed to or not. The faceplate of the door to the laser shows evidednce of some sort of burn: a shot from a laser rifle?

As a first movie for John Carpenter this hardly set the world alight or put his name up in lights, but I certainly believe it's an important and indispensable part of science-fiction canon. A cult classic that again, like Dust Devil, previously reviewed, deserves to be better known than it is.
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