Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Movie Review: "Clash of the Titans" (1981) by David Pretty

Greetings Heroes and Heroines!  

I'm hella-pissed that home video was still in it's infancy when I was a kid.  Every once and awhile I'd catch a snippet of Jason and the Argonauts or The 7'th Voyage of Sinbad on television and wish that I could watch one of Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion fantasy epics whenever I wanted to.  I was a born long after these amazing films had come and gone from theaters and long before the advent of streaming video, DVD and Boo-Ray.  What was an imaginative kid to do?

Needless to say, when television ads trumpeted that Clash of the Titans, Harryhausen's long-awaited return to fantasy film-making, would appear "only in theaters" on June 12, 1981, I was more jazzed than Dizzy Gillespie.

Since all of the official trailers appear to be on lock-down, here's a fan-made effort that really captures the film's naive sense of wonder... 

Well, after witnessing these fleeting moments of spectacle I was immediately hooked.  I bought the action figures.  I read all the articles in Famous Monsters.  I devoured Alan Dean Foster's novelization.  I cut pictures of the monsters out of the back of a "Honeycombs" cereal box and made up a speculative board game based on the movie.

And, yes, I'm well aware how pathetic that last confession sounded, but you gotta understand that this was way before decent video games and the word wide webz completely annihilated our collective attention spans.   We were definitely hard-wired differently back then.

I was psyched.  Release day came and I rushed to the theater with my cousin.  While watching the film I as thinking: "Sweet, sassy mollassy what an epic!"  I really didn't give a crap about the combined acting pedigree of the "Olympians" or all of the exotic locations on display.  Nope, it was the following two things that blew me away:

(1) Like Logan's Run, Clash of the Titans was made during a far less puritanical era when PG-rated films  could feature a dash of nudity without being tarred with the "Restricted" mop.  When Judi Bowker and Vida Taylor appear in various states of undress in scenes book-ending the film, a fuse instantly burnt out in my 11-year-old brain.

(2) The creations of Ray Harryhausen brought magically to life in front of me were absolutely mesmerizing.

Fast forward more than a few years.  I go to re-watch Clash of the Titans as a warm-up to the remake and I'm aghast at how blatantly crappy many of the film's elements are.  First off, the costumes look like they were borrowed from a High School production of Caligula.   With the exception of the sword and shield of Perseus, the props look like the sort of thing you'd find in a LARP-er's closet.

The exteriors are appropriately exotic but the sets look kinda amateurish.  The matte paintings and composite effects are sometimes laughably bad.  Witness the scene where Poseidon is cranking a winch to open the underwater gate to "Release the Kraken!" (a phrase I highly recommend yelling in a crowded Old Navy store just to watch people's reactions, BTW).  The effects plate featuring actor Jack Gwillim and the crank undulate back and forth on the rock face.   

In fact, it's sad to say but the effects are actually worse than Harryhausen's stop-motion films from the 50's and 60's.  In his defense, it's actually the blue-screen effects that are particularly poor, but I also have to admit that there's nothing going in Clash that surpasses or even rivals the Skeleton battle in Jason and the Argonauts.   Rumor has it that the film was rushed somewhat and it certainly does have a whiff of slapdash about it.  I'm also told that this was the first film Harryhausen had assistants on.

Nevertheless, there are some spectacular segments here.  Perseus' battle with Medusa is tense and well- choreographed.  The scorpion attack is pretty brutal.  By the time the Kraken shows up a few new classics have been certainly been added to Harryhausen's pantheon of classic mythical beasts.

CGI may have made stop-motion somewhat antiquated by there's an undeniable charm to these effects, a charm that modern films like Coraline and A Nightmare before Christmas are still clearly aware of.  The level of personality that Harryhausen is able to infuse into these miniature rubber puppets moved one frame at a time is undeniable.  I fear this might be absent somewhat from the remake, which looks inexplicably dark and murky.  Hell, the art design doesn't even look like ancient Greece.

The human component here is serviceable.  Supposedly Laurence Olivier was quite ill while making the film. Although his advanced age might not project the image of an omnipotent god, the raw power of his screen presence is more then enough to make you sit up and pay attention.  Maggie Smith, aka Professor McGonagall from Harry Potter fame, gives perhaps the most soulful showing in the film as Thetis, the mother of Calibos.   

Harry Hamlin as Perseus is a tad white bread and frail but he does a great job selling Harryhausen's creatures as if he's really fighting with them on-set.  Judi Bowker sleepwalks her way through the love-interest role of Andromeda, but in her defense, she really isn't given much to do.  Burgess Meredith is quite the treat as Ammon and he seems to be having fun playing a character other than Mickey from Rocky.  But we don't watch pictures like this for the human actors, do we?

All told, Clash of the Titans is one of those films that looks great through the rose-colored glasses of childhood but needs to be given some grace when appraised by modern sensibilities.  It's still a charming film, crammed chock-a-block with the sort of grandiose imagination that technology hadn't quite caught up to yet.

 Tilt: "To Olympus...and beyond!"

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Movie Review: "Black Death" by David Pretty

What ho, nobles Squires and Squire-ettes!

Despite great potential, Black Death ultimately shoots itself in the foot with a +2 Crossbow Bolt of False Expectations.  Instead of delivering on all the scary weirdness hinted at in the first half, the characters end up getting trapped in The Wicker Man.  And I ain't talking about the original.    

Post-mortem après-trailer:

Black Death takes place in that colorful and charming period of time known at the Dark Ages.  Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) is a young monk who's just been released from observation after his monastery is tainted  by the plague.  He reunites with his secret love Averill (Kimberly Nixon) but then sends her away in a effort to keep her safe.

A parcel of grizzled warriors led by the fiercely intense Ulric (Sean Bean) pop into the monastery looking for a guide.  Taking this as a sign from God, Osmund agrees to help them.  Their destination is a village said to be untouched by the ravages of the plague.  En route we learn why: the place is rife with with demons,  cannibals and apparently the mayor is some sort of corpse-re-animating  necromancer.  Pretty cool, huh?   

En route, they're forced to contend with a series of pitfalls.  One of their numbers is overcome by the illness,  they're set upon by bandits and Osmund begins to fear for Averill's life.  Eventually they arrive at their destination and discover to their surprise (and our monumental disappointment) that the town is orderly and civilized and it's occupants are welcoming, helpful and gracious. 

Despite their outwardly beatific ways, the villagers quickly come under suspicion when one of them shows up wearing a pendant belonging to Ulric's vanished comrade.  Despite this conclusive evidence, the Christians then inexplicably decide to openly accept food and drink from these people.  In a twist that shouldn't surprise the average preschooler, the victuals turn out to be drugged and soon the crusaders find themselves in captivity.   What follows can only be described as one of the most underwhelming bait and switch moves I've ever seen in a film. 

First off, the good stuff.  The weapons and costumes all look pretty genuine, even though Sean Bean's armor occasionally looks a tad Halloween-y.  The monastery set is particularly nice.  The exteriors, shot in Germany, are gorgeous and borderline fantastical.  The film is well-directed and many of the shots, such as the skirmish with the bandits, really pulse with energy.

Often the camera is kept just behind the combatants, which really showcases the sort of unique and terrible bloodletting that maces, axes and swords are capable of.  Interspersed with this are some jarringly realistic gore sequences depicting hacked limbs, severed necks and crushed skulls.  These sequences really drive home the nasty and brutal nature of medieval melees.

The camerawork continues to impress throughout the film.  The hand-held continuous shot of the knights approaching the village really gives the viewer a sensation of being "embedded with the troops", so to speak.  Plus, with all the awful things we've heard about the village thus far, sequences like this certainly amp up the tension.

Unfortunately, just as soon as the Christians cross over the threshold the film goes straight down the pooper.  The village itself ends up looking like a medieval recreation park, which is to say, not particularly authentic.  I know the producers wanted the place to look idyllic but after all the talk about demons, cannibals and rogue necromancers, what we end up getting is pretty pedestrian and, subsequently, a complete letdown.  

Carice van Houten does a serviceable job as the "witch" Langiva but she's hardly frightening or intimidating.  The only other villager who gets any sort of development at all is Tim McInnerny as Hob.  His overly conciliatory behavior is immediately disconcerting, but he never quite transcends from sad-sack oaf to threatening antagonist.

Ulric's men don't fare much better.  In one clunky and obligatory scene, Swire (Emun Elliott) gives Osmund (and presumably the audience) a crash course in what to expect from "the gang".  We're then informed, flash-card style, that Dalywag (Andy Nyman) is a "torturer", Wolfstan (John Lynch) is Ulric's lieutenant, Griff (Jamie Ballard) is Wolfstan's lieutenant, Mold (Johnny Harris) is NOT TO BE TRIFLED WITH, Ivo (Tygo Gernandt) is conveniently mute and Swire himself is the pithy and clever wise-ass.  Ergo, I didn't give a shit about any of these people.    

Despite the lazy characterization, the performances are all quite good.  Since Osmund is the only character to get a story arc and a few interesting twists, Eddie Redmayne deftly takes the character from sheltered and idealistic boy to shell-shocked and battle-hardened crusader.  Sean Bean, despite being a totally uninspired casting choice, can still bring the goods as a strident veteran fighter-type.  Undoubtedly producers keep picking him because they know he comes pre-loaded with Weapon Focus: Longsword.

John Lynch also scores points as Ulric's even-keeled right hand man Wolfstan, despite bearing a distracting resemblance to Spinal Tap bassist Derek Smalls.  Finally, Johnny Harris gets the best line as Mold when he tells a village strumpet: "I'm ugly and I'm Christian and that is not a good combination in here. Piss Off!"            

Now, I know people will argue that the film defies expectations for a reason.  Admittedly, the script does score points for trying to quantify the evil inherent in dogmatic beliefs and blind faith.  Problem is, by the time we cross over the fifty minute mark, there's really no one to root for.  After all, Langiva's persecution of Ulric's men is certainly no worse then what the Christians had planned for the "blasphemers". 

Sadly, the film is undone by its own foreboding first half.  After all the pox-ridden corpses, plague doctors in creepy bird masks and unnerving rumors about a damned village populated by crazed flesh-eaters, we're immediately set up to anticipate an even more tonally extreme second half.  Instead, when Ulric and his posse bomb into this pretty and picturesque little village we instantly begin to see them as a bunch of sneaky, cold-blooded zealots.

The first half presages Evil Dead meets Flesh + Blood.  Instead we get a second half hobbled by muddied sympathies, moral posturing and dashed potential.

As such, Black Death really ends up being its own worse enemy.

  Tilt: down.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Movie Review "The Woman In Black" by David Pretty

Greetings, Ghost-Facers!

Just by evoking the hallowed name of "Hammer Films" you conjure up all sorts of iconic and nightmarish imagery.  In the 1950's the venerable British studio began updating all of the classic Universal monster movies.  They did so by hiring top-shelf talent like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, staging the action on sumptuous sets and filming everything in lurid color.  This ensured that the audience didn't second guess itself whenever blood was shown on-screen, which, as it turned out, was quite often.

Hammer fell on dark times back in the competitive Eighties and eventually went dormant.  But not unlike a certain Transylvania count or Frankensteinian construct, the studio was resurrected in 2008 with the multi-part vampire serial Beyond The Rave and the English remake of Let The Right One In in 2010.

And now we have The Woman In Black, which brings the studio full-circle, back to a period setting which characterized so many of its earlier efforts.  Although the film does little to re-invent the wheel it does provides us with loads of atmosphere, sustained tension and some pretty inventive scares.

Here's the film's creepy-ass trailer:

Former "Boy Who Lived" / Chosen One Daniel Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, an earnest young lawyer who's going through a bit of a rough patch.  A recent widower, Arthur struggles to reconcile his wife's demise and explain her absence to their young son.  As if that isn't enough, he's tasked to settle the convoluted estate of the recently deceased Alice Drablow or face termination.

He stops in a small village close to his destination and receives a downright chilly reception.  The only person predisposed to helping him is Sam Daily (Ciarán Hinds) a well-to-do land owner who's also struggling with  familial  loss.  The next day Arthur travels out to Eel Marsh house, a creepy mansion set on a Mont Saint-Michel-like island where the causeway disappears every night with the tide.

Almost immediately, odd things begin to happen.  Arthur hears weird disembodied noises all throughout the house and glimpses a black-clad woman skulking in the woods.  When he reports this to the authorities it seems to trigger a rash of horrific child suicides in the village. The townsfolk begin to attribute these tragedies to Arthur's sighting of the titular Woman In Black.   

Although the spectral occurrences in the mansion continue to worsen, Arthur is determined to complete his assignment and get to the bottom of the haunting.  He soon discovers that Alice Drablow shared the estate with her husband, son and sister and that the son, Nathaniel, was killed when their carriage went off the road and sunk into the mire.  Soon the truth is revealed about the family's less-then-conventional nature and the tragic events fueling the all ooga-boogery.

Right off the bat I knew that The Woman in Black was going to get a few key things right.  First off, director James Watkins is totally committed to grounding his ghost story in reality.  Yes, I know that location shoots are a pain the arse, but they also give movies an unmistakable feeling of authenticity.  Employing amazing locations such as Layer Marney Tower and Osea Island really give the story and its environs some tremendous weight.  Having said that, you could probably set up a camera anywhere in the fog-cloaked Essex country side and capture an incredible establishing shot for your own ghost story.

From Arthur's inflexible formal attire to the tumble-down garb worn by the villagers, the period costumes are all top-notch.  The attention to detail lavished on the production design is also incredibly evocative; like a Gothic version of Hoarders.  Every scene inside Eel Marsh House is a visual feast.  The creepy menagerie of wind-up mechanical dolls is the most unsettling collection I've seen on-screen since Blade Runner, conclusively proving that Victorians had more issues besides sexual repression.

Watkins seems genuinely inspired by the spooky environs.  Knowing that horror fans have seen every bloody permutation of creative grue, the producers have wisely eschewed excessive bloodletting in lieu of building atmosphere and tension.  I'm not really a big fan of jump-scares since I can usually anticipate them, but there are a few really creative ones, such as the eye staring back through the zoetrope and the reflection at the upstairs window.  The great thing is that many of these frights were apparently pulled off with in-camera practical effects instead of heavy-handed, illusion-shattering dollops of CGI. 

In fact, there are scenes in The Woman in Black that rival some of the best nerve-jangling sequences in The Changeling and The Others.  I'm encouraged that film-makers are becoming increasingly aware that creepy spiritual stuff really scares the ever-living crap out of people.  There are tons of things half-glimpsed in this film, resulting in a genuinely unsettling mood.  I spent half of my time looking for The Woman In Black somewhere in the hinterland of each frame, kind of like a ghoulish version of Where's Waldo?                     

Daniel Radcliffe brings a tremendous stiff upper lip to the role of Arthur.  Here he's tasked to move through large tracts of the movie completely alone and without the benefit of dialogue.  In most films of this ilk, you're often heaping abuse on the protagonist for poking around, but Radcliffe really sells the motivation.  He wants to succeed in his assignment, provide for his son and set things right.  His performance is wonderfully disciplined and the few times he flies off the handle it really feels genuine.

Even though the supporting characters are pretty negligible, there isn't one weak link.  Ciarán Hinds is appropriately aristocratic and shifty as Sam Daily.  Janet McTeer is also great as Sam's wispy wife Elizabeth.  It's interesting to see how the loss of their son impacts both character in different ways.  Sam refuses to humor the possibility of spiritual intervention and Elizabeth seems to have turned into a shade herself.  Liz White is also a tremendous presence as the eponymous Woman.  Whenever this statuesque dark figure appears on screen get ready to pee a little.

Some people will probably gripe about the story's logistics and balk at the antagonist's ability to influence the living.  I personally feel that as soon as you evoke spiritual powers, all bets are off and anything's possible.  Yahoos might also bitch about the film's dire ending, but I think it's bold, thematically relevant and strangely comforting.  Besides, when you evoke crazy, bat-shit insane spiritual powers, those bets aren't just off, they're taken out back behind the woodshed (if you catch my drift).

So, go see The Woman in Black if:
  • You believe that the pairing of CGI and horror makes as much sense as Rhianna singing with Coldplay
  • The words "Hammer Films" actually gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling.
  • Ghosts, fog-shrouded moors, creepy houses, and British kids all give you a case of the wiggins.     
  • You calmly ponder 'Hmmmm, I bet they did that with a healthy dollop of corn syrup, liquid latex, spirit gum and sheep's kidneys" whenever you watch gory scenes. 
  • You think that surveillance footage of a door opening and closing is about as scary as dryer lint.  
Tilt: up

Monday, February 6, 2012

Movie Review: "Heavy Metal" by David Pretty

Hey, Burnouts and Headbangers!

Here's a fool-proof way to determine if the movie you're watching might be considered "nostalgic".  Just ask yourself: "Could this film be made now?" and if the answer is a resounding "No!" then you've probably got yerself a gen-u-wine cultural artifact on your hands.

Heavy Metal is a product of its time and for it's time.  Such an animal would probably never even get bank-rolled now.  If it did, the studios would have fits trying to market it to a wide audience and if the wrong person went to see it they'd either walk out of the theater or be totally baffled.

In my opinion, this sort of "lightning in a bottle" alchemy is what makes Heavy Metal such an important, if flawed, film.  Like the graphic comic series that it's based upon, Heavy Metal knows it's audience and gives it exactly what it wants.  I believe this visionary commitment is what prevents the film from vanishing into obscurity like so many other "adult"-oriented animated features.

I humbly present Exhibit "A" - a trippy 4:3 aspect ratio trailer designed to promote the film's long-awaited arrival on home video:

The early Eighties was a pretty awesome time to be a kid.  Radios and personal stereos were awash with the dulcet strains of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Ozzy Osbourne.  Dungeons & Dragons was a full-fledged cultural phenomenon.  Movies like Time Bandits, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Superman II were de rigueur in theaters.

What I'm trying to say is that there couldn't have been a more appropriate time for a film called Heavy Metal to be released.  I'm sure that it was probably the first film a lot of guys my age made an effort to sneak into when they were kids (not to mention the first film they ever watched while under the influence of a mind-altering substance).  Unapologetically sophomoric and completely dedicated to an eternal state of arrested development, Heavy Metal is aimed squarely at any red-blooded male aged thirteen to ninety-three.

Right from the opening segment, the film plays out like the giddy imaginings of a prepubescent teenage boy.  After an eerie bit of soundtrack sorcery which deliberately evokes shades of 1950's alien invasion flicks, we're introduced to a mysterious glowing green macguffin which is intended to tie all of these completely discordant stories together.  Then, all of a sudden, that stalwart and sober symbol of Eighties orbital  exploration, the space shuttle, quietly drifts overhead.

Moments later, the pod bay doors open up and we wait in anticipation to see what will emerge.  Will it be a weather satellite?  A long-distance sensor array?  The original and not-well-thought-out placement for the prototype Canadarm?  Hells, no, it's a white 1960 Corvette being driven/flown by a bad-ass astronaut rockin' out to the alliteriffic but otherwise prehistorically obscure tune Radar Rider by Riggs!  Wow!  I never saw Robert Crippen do that before!     

This presumably experimental NASA spacecraft lands on earth next to an isolated Gothic farm house.  The scientist emerges from the spacecar and removes his helmet, revealing that it's not David Lee Roth after all but some shlub who probably looks like 80% of the guys sitting in the theater watching this.  He walks into the building carrying a mysterious package along with him. 

It contains the aforementioned green orb which turns out to be sentient and pretty pissed off.  The orb spares no time melting the astronaut down like a dollar store candle and then proceeds to menace his daughter (as sentient green orbs are want to do).  Mercifully the orb is voiced by veteran Canadian actor Percy Rodriguez, who automatically made movie trailers and commercials back then 94% more awesome.

So Orbie starts bragging to this girl about how truly awesome he is, allowing the film-makers to segue into the pornographically suggestive first title: "Harry Canyon".  The vignette's titular character is a balding overweight shlub with appalling eating habits and terrible taste in clothing.  So, in essence, he probably looks like 80% of the guys sitting in the theater watching this.

Harry's a cab driver in a nightmarish future vision of New York City which seems to presume that Rudy Giuliani was never born.  It's filled with crime, filth, murderers, hookers, dope fiends, corrupt cops, peep show theaters, strip clubs and, thank fuck, not one Starbucks in sight.   All of this is brought to life in a tremendously lurid animation style which evokes shades of Moebius and Geof Darrow.

Anyway, scruffy, laconic, world-weary Harry just so happens to be driving by when the scientist custodian of the Loc-Nar gets murdered by a gangsters.  He rescues the scientist's daughter, a nubile and impossibly-dressed hottie whom he hauls back to his apartment.  Despite the fact that she just watched her father get gunned down in cold blood and Harry is about as attractive as a genital wart, she strips, crawls into his bed and then rides him like Elizabeth Berkley humped Kyle MacLachlan in Showgirls.

Duly smitten, Harry agrees to help the girl pawn the Loc-Nar to THE BAD GUYS, who are led by a thinly-veiled Marlon Brando parody named Rudnick.  After the exchange (and Rudnick proves that it's really difficult to keep your hands off your balls) there are some predictable shenanigans, all leading up to an ending that would be perfectly at home in a junior high short story assignment.

If "Harry Canyon" is wish fulfillment for balding middle-aged losers then the Richard Corben-inspired  segment, "Den" is perfect stroke material for awkward teenage geeks.  The late, great John Candy voices the titular hero, an eighteen year old dweeb who just so happens to stumble across the Loc-Nar on his way home one day and blithely decides to add it to his rock collection.

Juiced up by an electrical storm later that night, the Loc-Nar teleports Den into a John Carter-style sci-fi / fantasy realm.  It also has the good graces to transmogrify him into a bald, muscle-bound barbarian.  "The new body worked great!" Den enthuses, obviously delighted to finally be liberated from his retainer, acne medicine, coke bottle glasses, chronic asthma and orthopedic shoes. 

He soon comes to the rescue of a buxom young woman on the verge of sacrifice.  Oh, by the way, you might as well get used to reading that sort of description since all the gals in Heavy Metal probably suffer from chronic back pain.  Despite the fact that the young woman is completely devoid of  clothing, Den politely observes that "she had the most beautiful eyes" and then finds himself "asking the same old stupid questions" in the form of "Um, are you from around here?"

But since this is a fantasy film, the girl tells him that her name is Katherine, she's British and she's from Gibraltar (!) which constitutes the most female character development we've seen thus far in the movie.  Just as she's about to thank Den via the only method at her disposal (figure it out), they're captured and taken before Ard, the self-proclaimed Supreme Leader of The Revolution, Next Ruler of The World and what we in modern parlance would refer to as a "closet case".    

Like every other misguided twat in this film, the seemingly invulnerable and decidedly effeminate Ard is obsessed with possessing the Loc-Nar.  Using Katherine as a bargaining chip, he demands that Den steal it away from the Queen.  After the script forces Den to ask "What if I refuse?" the screen-writers quickly atone for this by having a bored and clearly sexually frustrated Ard snap back "If you refuse, you die; she dies... everybody dies!"  Hey, how about a bowl of Meow Mix, there, Supreme Leader?  

Den leads a team of Ard's men into her castle via the catacombs.  During the raid Den is captured and brought before the well-endowed Queen, who unexpectedly offers to spare his life should he willingly take up THE QUEST FOR THE HOLY G-SPOT.  Now, to me this is kinda like punishing a starving dog by offering him Beggin' Strips, but whatever.  Needless to say, our erstwhile hero is soon heard to exclaim: "Eighteen years of nothing and now twice in once day.  Whatta place!"

Unfortunately, Den is forced to engage in some escapus interuptus when the queen's guards discover his allies making off with the Loc-Nar.  The Queen and her army strike back against Ard, who's desperately trying to use the Loc-Nar to summon an invincible ally: the all-powerful but otherwise nebulous Uhluhtc (a name which is about as clever as "Alucard" by the way).

After much head-bashery and trippy visuals, Den must decide which realm he will remain in.  I think it's safe to say that no male viewers will be shocked after he chooses to remain in the place where got laid twice in one day.  Sure, everything is lethal, but really, let's put things in perspective, shall we? 

The next few segments are a lot shorter.  "Captain Sternn" proves that it's always wise to trust the homely guy with the piercings and tattoos over lantern-jawed douchebag authority figures.  Despite his respectable countenance, the titular character is on trial for "twelve counts of murder in the first degree, fourteen counts of armed theft of Federation property, twenty-two counts of piracy in high space, eighteen counts of fraud, thirty-seven counts of rape and one moving violation."
Although the story is little more then connective tissue, it does contain a line which I try to work into everyday conversation as much as I can.  After the accused enters a straight-faced "Not Guilty" plea, his lawyer promptly goes completely ballistic.  "Take it easy Charlie. I've got an angle," Sternn repeatedly re-assures him in his best baritone voice.  I try and use this same line whenever I'm about to say or do something completely stupid, which usually happens approximately four to six times a week.   

This "angle" in question is called to stand in the form of jug-headed Hanover Fiste, a bought and paid for character witness.  What Sternn doesn't know, however, is that Fiste is under the influence of the now marble-sized Loc-Nor.  At first this causes him to blurt out Tourette's-style confessionals ("Sternn never did... anything that was... illegal.  Unless you count all the times he sold dope disguised as a nun!") but eventually he transforms into a Hulk-like creature of pure rage who pursues the accused until the screenwriters apparently got bored and just ended it.

The next sequence, "B-17" is another one of my favorites.  After the crew of the "Pacific Pearl" gets decimated in a bombing raid, a glowing green foo fighter (I.E. the Loc-Nar) intercepts the battered aircraft.  Just for shits and giggles, it resurrects the dead airmen who then proceed to stalk and devour the surviving pilots.  One lone dude manages to parachute out of the plane but he ends up on an island littered with derelict aircraft, which are all crewed by their own restless dead.  This cool, creepy little sequence is based on a story by Dan O'Bannon of Alien and Return of the Living Dead fame and it really evokes the spirit of those hoary old E.C. comic books.  

"So Beautiful and So Dangerous" may feel like filler but it really grounds Heavy Metal into the era in which it was produced.  A scientist arrives at the Pentagon looking to debunk the rising phenomenon of physical mutation amongst the general populace.  During his meeting with the military brass he completely freaks out after noticing that the pendant worn by the top-heavy secretary is actually the Loc-Nar.  Meanwhile, a vessel which makes the Visitor's ship in V  look like a Smart Car appears over the Pentagon and swoops up the scientist as well as Gloria, the secretary.  What follows has virtually nothing to do with what I just set up. 

Turns out the egghead was actually a glitchy spy-bot, which draws the ire of the ship's only robotic crew member. The robot's temper is assuaged considerably when Gloria drops into his midst.  And so, since we haven't seen any grossly disproportionate animated boobs in about twenty minutes, we're get the classic "robot begs girl for sex, girl has sex with robot, robot proposes to girl, girl eventually agrees to marry robot as long as it's a Jewish ceremony" story.       
But what really hash-tags the sequence as an  80's relic is the side-plot involving the two alien pilots voiced by Eugene Levy and Harold Ramis.  Honestly, they might as well be Cheech and Chong with tentacles.  They get wasted on plutonian nyborg (which, I've been assured, is not habit-forming), watch the last five minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey en route back home and then crash-land their ship inside an even bigger star base.  Drop curtain.      

"Taarna" ends the film on a different sort of high.  The Loc-Nar arrives in a generic sci-fi / fantasy world and then lands in a volcano, which immediately begins ooze some sort of magical green evil lava-goo.  A passing band of nomads get swarmed by the stuff and are immediately transformed into a pack of war-mongering Republica...er, savages.  They decide to sack a peaceful city, wisely employing Black Sabbath's "Mob Rules" as their theme song.

The city elders are right in the middle of summoning help when a battering ram modeled after Dave Navarro's penis comes crashing through the front door.  Just before everyone in the town is slaughtered, their final despirate plea reaches the ears of the last remaining guardian from an ancient warrior race, who, coincidentally, has a rack big enough to shelter a small boy scout troop.

In response to their call, Taarna sternly but dutifully disrobes and then swims out to her picturesque but otherwise useless dressing room.  It's here that we're treated to a languid and completely gratuitous scene in which the warrior woman assumes the most laughably impractical battle gear ever imagined.  I suspect that the sour look on her face probably has more to do with wearing armor designed by a snickering committee of fifteen year old boys versus having a job where she's on call twenty-four seven.   

After wasting all that precious time swimming across Lake Superior and then getting dressed in slow-motion, Taarna unsurprisingly arrives too late to help the villagers.  Instead she turns her keen detective eye towards tracking down their attackers.  Her overconfident approach initially leads to disaster and she's captured, beaten and nearly killed.  Thanks to her inexplicable flying mount (which resembles a plucked pigeon with a thyroid problem), she finally manages to escape and challenges their leader to a one-on-one duel to the death.

 "Goddammit, I knew I shouldn't have commissioned that told pervert to make a suit of armor for me!  Cripes, CHER wouldn't even be caught dead in this thing!" 

As you might be able to gather from my CLASS-5 level of snark, Heavy Metal really isn't a tremendous film.  For one, the animation runs really hot and cold.  Compared to the stellar "Harry Canyon" segment, the day-go palette used in "Den" is like a stomach-churning fusion between Ralph Bakshi's turgid Lord of the Rings and Rocket Robin Hood.  And then you get something like "Captain Sternn", which really doesn't even try to be visually compelling.   

And then there's the unmistakable pall of rotoscoping which casts it's unfortunate shadow over my favorite sequences.  The bombers in "B-17", for example, look pretty heinous since the animator was trying to trace as much consistent frame by frame surface detail before he eventually went nuts and had to be replaced with some other guy.  The effect is even worse in "Taarna" when she's flying over an impossibly intricate landscape.  Despite the best efforts of the artists, artifacts appear and disappear constantly and it really damages the otherwise stellar illusion.      

Despite these stylistic choices (which, in defense of the film-makers was in vogue at the time) I absolutely love the sheer artistry of the character designs, backdrops and all the other wacky (and likely chemically induced) visuals.  And when you start to consider that this is skool-style, hand drawn, non-computer-assisted animation, then complaints about the rotoscoping seems churlish.  

I also love the cast.  With Martin Lavut, Susan Roman,  John Candy, Marilyn Lightstone, Joe Flaherty, Ivan Reitman, Eugene Levy, Percy Rodriguez and Al "King of Kensington" Waxman as Rudnick all present and accounted for, I can't help but think of Heavy Metal as Canada's national contribution to sci-fi/fantasy.  

With it's open drug references, gonzo soundtrack and blatant sexism a large segment of the population will consider Heavy Metal to be unremittingly dated.  Yes, the characterization and dialogue are all puerile and amateurish.  And yes, the stories seem to be written by glue-sniffing, hormonal teenage boys for the entertainment value of glue-sniffing, hormonal boys of all ages.

But, ye gods, is it fun.  Fun because it never feels like a homogenized product pooped into existence by our modern big-studio assembly line.  While watching Heavy Metal you get the sense that no-one cared how "bankable" it was, what demographics it would spike or how to tweak it after a test-screening.

Heavy Metal is unabashedly lewd, rude, crude and tattooed. If you've read this review you've probably already seen it.  See it again (on Blu-Ray if you can). 

If you've read this review and you haven't seen it, then hop into your 1960 space corvette and try not to burn up on re-entry! 

Tilt: W-a-a-a-a-a-y up.

Heavy Metal [Blu-ray]