Fortress (1992)

A couple of movies I haven’t seen in many years… Fortress being the only Gordon film I saw in theaters, before I knew him as the Re-Animator guy. It sets up a decently convincing sci-fi dystopia, but no actors are “good” in this, not even Jeffrey Combs. Anyway it’s not taking itself too seriously so why should we?

The gang:

That 70s Dad runs a private prison where even an “unauthorized thought process” will get your guts electroshocked (“intestinated”) – after RoboCop, Kurtwood Smith was typecast as an evil boss in cyborg dystopias. Ex-soldier Christopher Lambert and his illegally pregnant hotwife arrive as prisoners, and while T7D macks on the wife (Loryn Locklin of Wes Craven’s Night Visions), Lambert teams up with his cellmates to escape – including timid nerd Combs, Lincoln Kilpatrick of The Omega Man, and Clifton Collins Jr. of Guillermo Del Toro’s Robot Jox remake Pacific Rim. Lambert has to fight a giant psycho (Vernon Wells of Mad Max 2 and some Joe Dante films)… Combs is killed while installing a virus into the mainframe by typing “install virus.exe” or something, which reminds me, isn’t there a new version of Blackhat coming out?

Unauthorized thought process:


Space Truckers (1996)

An even sillier movie – I don’t think sci-fi action plays to Gordon’s strengths – but Dennis Hopper is a huge upgrade over Lambert, bringing the charm he omitted from Witch Hunt. He’s a Millennium Falcon/Firefly-style independent space trucker, beefing with George Wendt over shipment prices, then accidentally gets involved in a plot to take over the world.

Our heroes in a porta-potty:

Hopper and hired hand Stephen Dorff take a load of killer robots, then get stuck in space while lusting after the same girl (Hopper’s Witch Hunt costar Debi Mazar), then attacked by their own murderbot cargo. Nice cynical ending, the guy plotting a hostile planetary takeover (Shane Rimmer, best known from Thunderbirds) is now President of Earth – the super-soldiers were just a backup plan should he not get elected. But his plan to eliminate witnesses backfires, and our guys flee after blowing up the president. I’d take a sequel, but this straight-to-video widescreen movie was never gonna get one.

Space pirates:

Kind of a fully mad Solaris meets The New World, written by someone in love with death monologues. Astounding costume design, though after a while you realize all the locations are the same couple beaches and caves, and that the director’s opening statement about this movie being canceled during production wasn’t bullshit.

First-person camera from astronauts’ shoulder-mounted webcams, and people being really intense about philosophy. A long, delirious dying rant isn’t intense enough for Zulawski, who jumpcuts the speech, cutting out pauses and gaps between words. The astronauts find a new planet, their kids beget more kids and invent religion, then Astronaut Jesus Marek arrives from their home planet and shakes things up. In the meantime, humanity has become enslaved by the psychic sherm creatures. Marek tries talking with the sherms, whines about the earth woman who left him, then he finally falls for a girl on this planet and stops whining as much.

Not looking up all these characters and actors (or even recounting the rest of the plot), but I assume some of these people are returning from The Devil, just from their ranting endurance. Feels at times like a massive Dune-scale epic, then you realize you’ve spent the last half hour watching people in cool costumes rant on the seashore.

Never model yourself after Jesus, or you know what might happen:

Inspired by Montage of Heck, they wanted to make a musical but found a poet as their subject. Virginia Tech mass-shooting was cut from the film because test audiences thought it gave our complicated figure too much of a movie-triumph moment. Opens more spacey and abstract (the people in front of us, terrified of abstraction, fled before the movie even started) before settling into a portrait of the late-career artist, recently reconciled with her son and getting to know her granddaughter. Poetry spoken in context with her life story and media appearances worked great, much better than the written samples I read on my phone to prep for the movie. Katy thinks it didn’t get inside Nikki, that it’s all public image. The filmmakers signal that we’re not gonna get some late-life emotional breakdown by including TWO instances when Nikki refuses to answer Q&A queries about painful moments in her past. Michèle has previously made a couple of Haitian/Dominican docs, Joe has made a Giancarlo Esposito drama, and most recently they made “a magical realist, immersive, episodic virtual reality experience” about American racism.

Bald guy in outer space uses two Nintendo Power Gloves to make a robot unlock the hellbox (which opens via 1990’s computer graphics, not the best idea). Space soldiers come running in to stop him: we got the tough one, the smart one, the Black Guy Who Will Die First, and various others. But first, the movie wants to get very plotty, as Bald Guy narrates the hellbox backstory to explain his current actions.

France’s Greatest Magician and his murderous toadie Adam Scott commission the box from a toymaker, then summon Angelique, a sexy lady demon who must do their bidding for a century.

Toymaker in happier days:

In present-ish day she breaks free, kills Adam Scott and summons a Hell Priest to harmlessly kidnap(!) the toymaker’s descendant’s family, demanding something or other, I dunno, I started looking up the actors’ resumés at this point. The Polish Brothers are chatting about transsexual desire before getting cenobitten. Good use is made of the Hellbox Building that ends part 3.

Back in Space, the toymaker’s even-more-distant descendant has summoned hell into space, and the Black guy (of Warlock: The Armageddon) is killed immediately. Pat Skipper of one of the Halloween remakes gets beheaded through a mirror. Some dude gets absorbed by the Twins, in an effect unfortunately reminiscent of the Bradley/Pinhead morphing from the last movie. It is fun that the flesh-obsessed Pinhead gets tricked by a hologram while the toymaker wanders away in the middle of a villain spiel, then is supposedly obliterated when the spaceship folds into a cosmic hellbox. None of the subsequent sequels are set after the year 2127, so we can assume this worked.

An ambitious attempt, conceived by Barker and Atkins to expand and complete the series, but the overall effect of the acting/dialogue/lighting has more of a high-end Puppet Master feel, which is certainly not what you want. Adding insult, the following year would bring Event Horizon, a much improved space-hell movie. It’s playing the Plaza this week, and Hellraiser 4 isn’t playing anywhere.

The studio was being sold to Disney at the time, and the Halloween 6 team was brought in to re-edit, cutting out chunks of backstory including “Aristocratic Cenobites wearing white powdered wigs,” hence the director disowning the picture. I checked out the workprint version on Internet Archive looking for 1790’s aristocrat cenobites – no dice, but I did get to hear Valentina Vargas’s Angelique voice undubbed.

Vargas is from Fuller’s Street of No Return, the magician an alien in Ed Wood, and all three toymakers are Bruce Ramsay, costar of Malcolm McDowell in Island of the Dead. 1990’s Toymaker’s wife is Charlotte Chatton, who went straight from this to Titanic, and their kid would play Danny Torrance in The Shining remake the next year. Bald Guy’s interviewer was Emilio’s girl in Judgment Night. Before Smithee took over, the director was Kevin Yagher, who did makeup on all three Bill and Ted movies.

Workprint disappointment:

Linklater very suddenly diving into his decadent old-man era, sitting on the porch and proclaiming “when I was growing up, things were like this and that, we used to do the following activities, let me list every TV show we ever watched.” I’d think it a low-effort tossed-off nostalgia fest for the streaming circuit, but the work involved in making an animated feature rules out that theory.

The boys are misjudged as hardworking and brilliant and sent to space, where they cause some deaths and hop a wormhole into the future. Buncha plotty stuff about an astronaut-turned-congresswoman trying to murder them, the (w)hole point of the movie being to get them into situations where somebody nearby says “hole.” It’s no Matrix 4 or Bill & Ted 3, just minor brand extension / light entertainment.

Something to space-out to on the plane, one of those very silly sci-fi movies from the 60’s that gradually becomes a Godzilla knock-off. Movieishness is high, reasonable human behavior low, with some really cool miniatures, but the zero-gravity effect of “dangling stuff on strings” is lame. A mission to Mars (to discover why all other missions to Mars have disappeared) is led by Captain Sano with White Biologist Lisa. They stop for a shower on the moon base, where radio operator Michiko is jealous of the white girl, leaving behind their doctor who wasn’t feeling well, and picking up the whiny, dubbed, panic-prone Dr. Stein. Their ship loses power after they collect a Luminous Object near Mars, and they get a tow home. Of course the object grows into a giant monster that threatens Tokyo, but at least the massive-scale destruction and countless deaths resolve the astronaut love triangle. The cast is mostly nobodies, but the comic relief guy was in an Imamura film, and the guy in charge of ground control is Eiji Okada, star of Hiroshima Mon Amour and Woman in the Dunes.

Fun-loving crew:

The X has a name: Guilala

The flying saucer is a Monty Python fan:

Zeman’s followup to Invention for Destruction is another absolute wonder. Actors filmed b/w and composited somehow with variously tinted objects and backgrounds. Still don’t know how this was done – saving the making-of doc for after I watch the dinosaur feature.

The story opens with astronaut Tony landing on the moon and discovering the Baron (Munchhausen), who calls him a moonman and takes over the narrative (I don’t think Tony speaks in the first half). Baron returns them to Earth, but a fantasy version, the jet planes in the opening scene replaced by flying monsters.

They rescue a kidnapped princess from a sultan, she falls for Tony, and the Baron spends the rest of the movie trying to convince her that he’s more impressive that boring old Tony (true). Along the way they jump their horses off a cliff, create a tobacco smokescreen to confound the sultan’s fleet, get swallowed by a whale and scooped up by a giant bird, ride a cannonball, escape from prison and return to the moon via rocket-propelled castle tower, all in about half the runtime of the Gilliam version.

Klute (1971, Alan Pakula)

“What I would really like to do is be faceless and bodyless, and be left alone.”

Jane won an oscar for playing the first-ever prostitute treated with respect in a movie. Lots of audiotape in this, from the opening titles to the climax. I thought movie was just pretty good – solid investigation story teaming reluctant Jane with a stone-faced Donald Sutherland. Jane is set up as the villain after family man Tom goes missing, since she’s the mysterious hot girl Tom knew in New York. Then after Donald catches up with her, Tom is assumed to be the villain, disappeared to the city due to a dark obsession with poor, harassed Jane. Eventually it’s revealed that some whiteburns guy I hadn’t cared about, Donald’s boss I think, has been stalking Jane and killing people she knows. Along the way Jane wears some good outfits, and the team meets junkies and a pervy Roy Scheider – she and Donald have pretty good characters, though the final villain showdown was lame, the murderous boss confessing everything to the point of playing audiotape of his killings, then abruptly jumping out a window as justice approached. Whiteburns was Charles Cioffi of Shaft, which also won oscars this year, along with The French Connection, The Last Picture Show, and Fiddler on the Roof.


Barbarella (1968, Roger Vadim)

“Decrucify him or I’ll melt your face.”

Jane won an oscar for this too… no wait, it says here that Katharine Hepburn tied with Barbra Streisand, somebody must have made a mistake. I avoided this movie for years, hearing it was “bad,” but that’s obviously untrue. It’s a light, funny sci-fi feature with outrageous sets and costumes, anchored by a playful but unwinking Jane. This was Jane and Vadim’s follow-up to Spirits of the Dead, and it was seeing a screenshot from that movie on my screensaver that got me thinking I should watch more Jane Fonda movies.

Jane is nude through the first ten minutes, answering a call from the President of Earth and getting fitted out with gear like a shameless Bond ripoff. She goes looking for the evil Duran Duran, conked on the head and kidnapped by some Thunderdome lost boys who sic carnivorous dolls on her until she’s rescued by Mark the Catchman, who introduces her to sex. Pygar, the last of the omnithropes, introduces her to Dr. Ping, who can fix her spaceship. Revolutionary Dildano saves her from carnivorous parakeets, I dunno, there were so many wonderful things I lost track of them all. Art directed to hell and back, shot by Claude Renoir, inspiration to Matmos and Ghostbusters II and Futurama, a justifiable cult classic.

Jane meets David Hemmings:

Marcel Marceau, looking like a Tom Kenny character:

Anita Pallenberg as the blade-wielding Great Tyrant: