Monday, 3 August 2020

Shake, Rattle and Roll [Review: Shivers]

Along with Nakatomi Plaza, Peach Trees, Wyndham Tower and the unnamed High-Rise, I have unfortunately had to add Starliner Towers to the list of high-rise buildings to avoid. It's a shame - the period architecture, the peaceful island location and the easy accessibility of the on-site swimming pool, supermarket, medical and dentist's surgeries and parasitology research lab all make it so tempting...

Shivers (also released as The Parasite Murders and They Came From Within) is a horror movie from 1975 directed by the emerging David Cronenberg and set in a tower block in Montreal. Dr. St-Luc is the resident MD tending to the inhabitants who have started to develop odd stomach complaints that are definitely not related in any way to his colleague's work on a parasitic organism designed to replace organ transplants. He is asked to investigate a suicide-homicide that took place in one of the apartments, and discovers a link to the parasites - and the possibility they have already been spread to several other residents through their fun and games.

Taking Shivers out of the context of other films, it's an uneven quality experience and mainly of interest as it shows an early Cronenberg still coming into his powers. Acting is hit and miss, sometimes sincere and convincing, sometimes melodramatic or wooden. Scenes of violence, sex or sexual violence are also variable. A few of these scenes are horribly effective, including the homicide-suicide where an older and sinister man appears to be attacking a schoolgirl, and clips of their fight are juxtaposed with a new couple being shown around the luxury tower-block. 

Other effective horror scenes betray the director's influence by his contemporary George A. Romero as the residents, turned into sex-crazed demi-zombies by the parasite, try to corner St-Luc and nurse Forsythe.  The parasite creature is fun but doesn't ever appear convincing or threatening itself - the most effective creepy scenes are the ones that don't show the creature at all but just its' trails of blood. However the legacy of this film is the continued popularity of parasite-horror, including such classics as Alien (1979), The Thing (1984), Species (1995), The Faculty (1998), the Cronenberg-inspired Slither (2008) and so on. Meanwhile Cronenberg grows in filmmaking ability and his own later films such as Videodrome and eXistenz develop the bio-horror theme further, and the high-rise genre also continues to develop - High-Rise (2015) is essentially a re-make of Shivers without the parasites.

Score: 3 out of 5 stars
All movies reviewed on the Sci-Fi Gene blog are given a score of 3 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

[Review: Thin Air]

Mars - a planet of factions. There are the Western and Chinese settlements, the corporations, the criminal underworld, the political groupings, the various military, police or security organizations... and in the middle of it all is Earthman Hakan Veil, once a unique kind of spaceship security officer, now stranded on Mars, trying to live day to day and find a way to get back to Earth. But someone with Veil's abilities can't stay hidden for ever.

Thin Air is a novel by Richard Morgan. It's unrelated to the Altered Carbon series, and takes place in the same setting as Thirteen (originally published under the title "Black Man") - a few centuries into the future, the Solar System explored and settled, genetic engineering is commonplace, but despite this humans are still as quarrelsome and pugnatious as ever, and boy bands are still a thing.

Veil was engineered from early childhood to be the ultimate deterrent on a spaceship - a hibernating one-man army to be thawed out as a last resort in the event of piracy or mutiny. His abilities come at a high cost - he's a hibernoid, only able to remain awake for nine months before he must find a hibernation chamber, and while "running hot" he has little control over his aggression and lust. Veil is also a relic - the hibernoids have been consigned to history, at least officially. 

Veil's story arc and character are also pleasantly retro. He's the wounded, traumatized tough ex-soldier a la Cormoran Strike and any number of ex-military private investigators, or the special agent with superhuman abilities a la James Bond. The novel reads like a Bond film, with plenty of supervillains, gadgets and femmes fatale to enjoy. At least in Veil's case his ability to handle weapons, vehicles and people is explained by his genetic engineering and AI enhancements - the least credible aspect of the Bond canon is the idea of a competent British civil servant.

Friday, 24 July 2020

High School Musical Of The Dead [Review: Anna and the Apocalypse]

Anna (Ella Hunt) dreads breaking the news to her father that she doesn’t want to go to University. Her father is still grieving for the death of her mother. Her best friend John is “secretly” in love with her, while their other friends Chris and Steph are tryin
g to find their voices as student filmmaker and journalist.

Anna and the Apocalypse is easily the best of the High School Musicals. Disney’s decision not to include zombies in any of the others was clearly a mistake. It’s not too serious – more Shaun than Dawn, but still with plenty of bite, and just enough blue language and young-adult themes for a Christmas movie. Zombies themselves make a poor movie enemy. They’re slow and weak except in numbers, so there always needs to be a human threat, in this case the melodramatic deputy head Mr. Savage (Paul Kaye).

The dance numbers are fun and the songs are good, very much in the HSM / Grade 4 Keyboard style. A highlight is Turning My Life Around, a bright, joyful number as Anna dances through town oblivious to the horrors around her.

Score: 3 out of 5 stars
All movies reviewed on the Sci-Fi Gene blog are given a score of 3 out of 5 stars.


Singalong version of Turning My Life Around

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Harvest Moon [Review: Elizabeth Harvest]

Newly-wed bride Elizabeth (Abbey Lee) and her super-rich husband Henry (Ciaran Hinds) arrive at their isolated mansion to begin their honeymoon and are welcomed by Henry’s servants Claire (Carla Gugino) and Oliver (Matthew Beard). Elizabeth is shown all the riches of the house – swimming pool, endless wardrobe, wine cellar blah blah blah but there is one door Henry instructs her never to open. Henry then immediately abandons his bride for a brief work-related trip, leaving her to her own devices, and Elizabeth makes a terrible discovery – the first of many.

Elizabeth Harvest is a dark, soulful mixture of horror, sci-fi and fashion film. Although the setting is different, the twists and turns of the plot, the beautiful cinematography and the pervasive sense of loneliness reminded me of Duncan Jones' Moon.

Score: 3 out of 5 stars

All movies reviewed on the Sci-Fi Gene blog are given a score of 3 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Bring On The Wall [Review: Deep Dark]

Hermann (Sean McGrath) is a Failed Artist TM trying to express himself through the oft-neglected medium of hanging mobiles and trying to win the attention of gallery owner Devorah Klein (Anne Sorce). Hermann’s mother sends him to his rich uncle in search of a Real Job TM – but instead his uncle sends him to a dilapidated apartment to use as an artist’s retreat until he finds inspiration. So nothing weird so far. However…

In the apartment, Hermann finds a mysterious hole in the wall. Pulling a thread from the hole leads to communication with a strange entity – one who has the power to help Hermann make his mobiles into successful art. And all the poor lonely entity wants in return is Hermann’s company. What could possibly go wrong? Surely there won’t be a terrible price to pay for all that success…

Deep Dark is a lo-fi horror movie from 2015, directed by Michael Medaglia, with shades of Being John Malkovich and Little Shop Of Horrors, but with a few more WTF scenes than either.

Deep Dark also has a wicked sense of humour and a fair helping of blood, guts and other disgusting stuff, although it’s also strangely restrained at times. Not everything makes sense. For example the opening scene features a man removing a bathplug from his abdomen. It’s a great horror scene, really inventive, well done! but I have no idea how this fits in with any of the rest of the film. However for the most part this is a well plotted movie with a strong subtext. The relationship between Hermann and his somewhat unusual muse is a metaphor for the pain of the creative process. At least I hope it's a metaphor. If all artists actually have to do this then I have more respect for them than ever.

Score: 3 out of 5 stars

All movies reviewed on the Sci-Fi Gene blog are given a score of 3 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Wayne's World [Review: Hylics]

Hylics is a role-playing-game with a surreal plasticine vibe. You play the role of Wayne, a man with a plasticine croissant head as he explores his world, meets strange beings, beefs up his stats and prepares to take on an evil plasticine warlord.

At least, that's what I think is going on. The back story is a mystery - you can talk to the many inhabitants of this world with their uniquely shaped heads, but while a few will hint or trade, most will reply in a poetic gibberish.

The plasticine world is equally mysterious and this makes it a baffling pleasure to explore. It's a large, jumbled mess of islands, buildings and dungeons.

There are also villains and monsters to fight. Combat is turn-based and there are a range of weapons to buy, spells to learn and objects to use in battle.

You will die a lot - this is part of the game. Death takes you to a plasticine plateau where you can rest, add hit points and make sandcastles before heading back through the portal and rejoining the fray.

Although Hylics may look like a low-tech 1980s game it was actually written in 2015 by Mason Lindroth.

Wayne can recruit three band members on his travels - literally as it turns out. That's Dedusmuln on the theremin.

Hylics is available at a very cheap price on Steam and will give you several hours of satisfyingly different JRPG gameplay. Just don't expect anything to make sense.

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Music for a contactless age [Theremin 100]

Les Berceaux (Gabriel Fauré) on Open Theremin. I did promise to inflict further theremin "performances" on you at the beginning of the year so fair warning was given. I believe, or delude myself, that I am making progress in learning this instrument, and in the absence of any formal examinations in the UK I'm sure I'm playing at at least grade 2 standard.

It's approximately 100 years since Leon Theremin first invented this musical instrument (the first one is thought to have been built in either 1919 or 1920). The theremin is one of the earliest electronic musical instruments, and along with the laser harp it's one of a very few instruments played without any physical contact - instead two antennae detect microvoltage changes caused by movement of conductors close to them, allowing the player or thereminist to control the pitch with one hand and the volume with the other. The original theremin was based on an analogue circuit. Today there are analogue theremins such as the Etherwave, but also digital theremins such as the Open Theremin or the Theremini.

(Theremin 100 banner designed by Paul Sizer)