Flying Saucer Rock N Roll

Imagine, if you will, Plan 9 From Outer Space written and directed by someone who not only shared Ed Woods enthusiasm for his chosen genre, but by someone who not only knew what they were doing but also had a sense of humour. And if you can imagine that, you are pretty close to Flying Saucer Rock N Roll.

The film is set in 1957, a happy time (to quote from the synopsis) of big fins, Rockabilly music and innocent teen love. The teens in question are Johnny (Joshua Duthie), the local square who has finally managed to land himself a date with Susie (Shannon Lark).

After a couple of false starts, things finally start to to go right for Johnny. But this cant last and he and Susie are intruded on by Maynard (Elan Freydenson), a beatnik stoner who tells them that the Martian zombies are coming!

Johnny and Susie, of course, find this more than a little difficult to believe until they see the proof with their own eyes and then its up to Johnny to discover his inner cool, rescue his girl and save the world.

It is all very stereotyped, but these are fun stereotypes and they are very effectively brought to life by some very strong performances by the cast. So much so that you find yourself genuinely caring about what is going to happen to the characters, even while laughing at the jokes.

Obviously, being a monster movie, the make-up and special effects do matter and here the film performs admirably. Although the film was made for a very low budget, every penny clearly made it onto the screen and the effects are both effective and (in one case) quite painful to watch.

Music also makes up a large part of the films success with a rockabilly soundtrack – and performances – that manage to capture the spirit of both the film and the era it portrays.

Flying Saucer Rock N Roll is an affectionate, and very funny, tribute to the dodgy science fiction films and monster movies of the 1950s. Writer/director team Joe Eric Callero clearly know and love these films and manage to pay tribute to them in a way that is a lot of fun without needing to descend into overt caricature.

Its well written, solidly acted, and packed with lines that are laugh out loud funny. Id recommend it to anyone.

Womens Studies

Sam Harris has famously argued that by being accommodating towards moderate religious beliefs, we open the way for more extreme values to insist on the same acceptance. The target of Womens Studies is a political rather than a religious ideology but fanaticism is fanaticism (and religious fundamentalism has much more to do with political power than with finding faith) and the film tries to explore the way in which the process of radicalisation works.

Mary (Cindy Marie Martin) is a feminist and graduate student in Womens Studies with a bright political future ahead of her – until she realises that shes pregnant. This leaves her torn between her political idealism, Catholic guilt and career aspirations and uncertain of what to do next when she, her boyfriend, Zack (James A. Radack) and two friends Beth (Melisa Breiner-Sanders) and Iris (Laura Bloechl) share a car back to college for the start of a new term.

Marys car is stolen while the four are en-route and a group of students offer to put them up in their nearby academy temporarily. And then things start to get strange.

The Ross-Prentiss Womens Academy is a women only institution, and one that emphasises subjects such as womens studies, business and politics – all of which are studied from an exclusively feminist perspective.

Mary finds herself drawn to the ideals of Judith (Tara Garwood), a senior student at the academy and the prime mover of much that happens here, who quickly ensures that the four friends are separated from each other. Iris, uncertain and more than a little naïve, finds herself under increasing pressure to not only buy into the student ethos, but also to become a student herself. With Zack isolated and, frankly, a bit useless it falls to Beth to see that something is wrong here. Unfortunately, the others arent listening

Womens Studies is an original take on the Isolated teenagers genre of slasher films and one that does make a serious stab at exploring the sort of exclusionary behaviour, peer pressure, groupthink and bonding rituals that typifies a cult and that can draw someone along the line from idealism to terrorism. It helps that the characters are consistently well rounded and given real depth by a consistently strong cast. These characters – both the protagonists and the academy students – manage to remain both consistent and believable and it is this that gives the film a lot of its strength and makes it such a shocking experience.

In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of the characters – and they were certainly strong enough to have supported some deeper development – and less of the ending, which was longer than it needed to be and tended to over-labour some of the points.

That said, the film does have an excellent coda.

Lust for Vengeance

Lust for Vengeance opens with a gloved hand holding a small board with a list of womens names on it. One of the names is already crossed out and, once we are into the film proper, its no surprise that a murder has already happened.

Were then introduced to the characters – four women, all linked through friendship, each of whom has a dark secret and all of whom are being stalked (one by one) by our mystery killer. And I really couldnt bring myself to care.

The cast arent bad and, apart from a couple of exceptions, put in reasonably solid performances but they are badly let down by a script that really doesnt hang together.

The film plays out as a series of unrelated vignettes. In each case we are introduced to the next victim, who has a problem (usually drugs), has sex – explicitly - and is then murdered – remarkably bloodlessly.

Writer/director, Sean Weathers is clearly much more interested in the sex than the violence in this film but – given that this is supposed to be a slasher film - the fact that the slasher part of the film is such an afterthought really does let the film down.

This, combined with the jumpy narrative flow, left the film with no tension, no shocks and a painfully obvious final reveal.

The Eye of Menw

With her relationship on the verge of becoming serious, Victoria (Giovanna Galdi) comes home to find an unexpected gift in the form of a black box containing a skull. Not surprisingly, she is less than thrilled at receiving such a gift and wants nothing to do with it. But this is no ordinary skull.

After experiencing some indications of the skulls unnatural nature, however, Victoria finally gives in and takes the skull from its box. The skull is, of course, the Eye of Menw and it will grant knowledge of the future to the pure hearted. So Victoria asks about her own future

With The Eye of Menw writer/director, Charles A. Christman III has set out to make a film that harks back to the horror films of the 1930s and 40s. And he has succeeded spectacularly.

Although the setting is clearly modern, the film is shot in black and white and the beautifully crisp cinematography on display really does capture a very classic feel. This is a film that relies on glimpses of the things that might lurk in the shadows and hints of horrors unseen.

Its also a film that manages to generate a genuinely chilling atmosphere that thoroughly permeates every aspect of the steadily unfolding events.

The film is very centred around the character of Victoria – indeed, for much of the film she is the only person on the screen. Obviously, this means that a lot depends on Giovanna Galdis performance, and she acquits herself superbly.

You really do get a sense of who Victoria is and, not only does she manage to remain utterly believable throughout but Galdi also manages to bring a real sense of empathy to her character. And its this outstanding performance that really does carry the film.

Far too often these days filmmakers can rely far too heavily on gore and special effects for their, so its nice to encounter someone with the confidence to depend instead on a strong script and a convincing lead performance. And when the result is as spine-tinglingly good as The Eye of Menw, I really cant recommend it strongly enough.

Mutant Vampire Zombies from the ‘Hood!

The wonderfully descriptively named Mutant Vampire Zombies from the Hood opens with a police stakeout and a gangland double-cross in downtown Los Angeles. Things look bad until a special effect strikes the Earth and everything changes. Now everything looks a whole lot worse.

Mutant Vampire Zombies from the Hood isnt a comedy, but it is – as its title suggests – a very self-aware film. The writing team of Thunder Levin (who also directs) and George Saunders are clearly familiar with the stereotypes, audience expectations and range of approaches that have developed within the zombie genre and play around with these to great effect.

There is plenty in here to keep the exploitation fan happy and lashings of gore, all of which is remarkably well executed. The zombies are all suitably revolting and are blown away in a consistently spectacular fashion. Theres also a lot of fun to be had with the constant ranting about Nosferatu from Larson (KeiKabou Holland), one of the gang members who goes to pieces both believably and entertainingly. The Old Man (Maxie J. Santillan Jr.) who takes on the role of enlightening the gang members as to what has happened, and who has managed to tune in to the only broadcast still being transmitted, is also a great deal of fun.

In fact, the characterisation is very strong throughout. Not only are these people believable, but they are a very likeable bunch as well. This applies not just to the leads, but to the minor characters as well, all of which makes it very easy to become caught up in their plight. This is a striking achievement given the diversity of characters forced to throw their lot in with each other. It also allows the filmmakers to successfully and seamlessly introduce some social commentary into the film.

Our survivors are made up from two gangs – one black, one Chinese – and one of the policemen that was looking to break the deal and make some arrests. Faced with the larger threat of walking dead, they quickly recognise that old enmities will need to be pushed aside, but they are not forgotten and these tensions remain.

The groups do, however, work reasonably well together and the films willingness to poke fun at both our differences and our prejudices makes for a refreshing change in a genre where the the order of victims is often painfully predictable.

Mutant Vampire Zombies from the Hood is a well written, well acted, and well executed zombie film that understands the limitations of the genre and its tropes and is willing to play around with these in order to come up with an original and very entertaining twist on the genre. It probably isnt for everyone, but if the title raised a smile for you, then this is a film that you should definitely take a look at.