Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sommarens tolv månader (1988) (TV)

... aka: Twelve Months of Summer, The

Directed by:
Richard Hobert


It's wintertime in Sweden and there's a foot or more of snow on the ground. But somewhere hidden amongst the snow-covered trees and a thick blanket of fog that completely surrounds it is a small area of ground with complete summer-like conditions; sunshine, bugs, green vegetation, rainbows and a warm temperature. It's something a group of government scientists have been working on, or "climate improvement" as they phrase it; an attempt create 'perfect' summertime weather year round. But from the opening credits, we know this oasis amongst the frigid conditions isn't quite right, as a man is seen fleeing from the area in horror. He's taken back to the lab and assessed by doctors, who are perplexed at his condition. From the man's perspective, he's speaking lucidly, but to everyone else's ears what's coming out of his mouth is gibberish; almost a brand new language. And the same goes for how the victim's brain processes what everyone else says. The man's brain has been completely altered, or as one of the doctors puts it, "You could say it's like he's typing on a keyboard where the keys have been switched."



The condition is similar to something called aphasia; where cells in the left hemisphere of the brain have been atrophied, but the man's condition is a brand new phenomena, as there's no physical damage. It seems that tampering with mother nature has unleashed a dangerous 'psychic power' that penetrates and manipulates the senses. Prolonged exposure to the force leads to hallucinations, suicidal thoughts and the inability to differentiate between reality and imagination. Thankfully, the force has been contained within the test area for the time being, but the scientists are starting to become worried. They immediately evacuate all of their personnel, but decide they need to do more research into this phenomena before they decide their next actions. So what better thing to do than lure six lowly construction workers there under fall pretenses?




Tempted with a ten times higher than usual salary upon completion and free access to whatever goods they want while they're there (including booze, smokes and even hookers), they're able to easily get their guinea pigs. Hard-working high school drop-out Roger (Hans Mosesson) wants to build a better home that his wife Vanja (Bergljót Arnadóttir) and their little girl Emma can be proud of. Lars (Göran Stangertz) has a very pregnant girlfriend and would like to retire from hard labor and open up a bike shop. Kalle (Eddie Axberg) dreams of financing a marathon run across Europe. And so on. The men are blind-folded, taken to the secret site where they're to stay within the test area for an entire year (if they leave they don't get paid) and are given instructions on what they're supposed to be building one small section at a time, but are never given a complete diagram of it. They've also been given just a vague description of the strange, powerful psychic phenomena occurring there. In other words, they're told if they see something strange, to not freak out. It'll pass. Little do they know, but they're constantly being monitored with video surveillance, and it isn't long before each of the men start behaving strangely and begin suffering from troubling hallucinations, leading to insanity, violence and even death.



Throughout the course of this smart, thought-provoking film (which runs 2 hours, 10 minutes), many interesting and varied questions are raised. Would it really be worth it to go a whole year without seeing your loved ones to possibly improve the remaining ones? Is doing something you're not comfortable with ever worth the money? And naturally, the comment on how those at the top manipulate, use and then discard those in the working class to line their own pockets; little caring about the long-term effect on those 'beneath' them, is a subject that's as relevant today as it was in 1988. Hell, with how business and politics operate (at least here in the U.S.), it's probably even more relevant today than it was 20+ years ago. Throw into the mix undertones about how it's never a good idea to exploit, manipulate or underestimate the power of nature, and this film stands as a potent warning to mankind. We better learn how to respect one another and the environment... or else. The film manages to accomplish its goals and say what it wants to say without ever being too overt or preachy.




The premise is fascinating and original, the acting and dialogue are both good and the lead characters are all very well-defined. The film also manages to be quite eerie at times, without ever resorting to cheap shock tactics. The test area, which is lined with hundreds of enigmatically numbered signs that constantly make one question just what those numbers stand for (and also give the test site a prophetic, almost cemetery-like feel), is a great example of successful cost-effective art direction to generate mood. The film also ends on an effective, subtly apocalyptic tone.


I must say, it's a damn shame we live in an age where a movie as good as this one isn't even available on VHS or DVD, yet millions can be conned into spending 20 bucks to add something as pathetic as M. Night Shyamalan's somewhat-similarly-themed big budget turkey THE HAPPENING to their home movie libraries. Sadly, Sommarens tolv månader has not been publicly shown since it aired on Swedish TV in 1988! There are rumors of a copyright dispute between the filmmakers and the TV network who broadcast it being the reason why it's been held up for so long. As of now, you'll have to settle for poor quality bootlegs (which someone at least took the time to subtitle) to see it.

★★★1/2

Stark Fear (1961)

Directed by:
Ned Hockman

An early entry in the "I Married a Nutcase' psycho-drama genre, this low-budgeter was filmed independently in Oklahoma. Ellen Winslow (Beverly Garland) is saddled with a raving loony of a husband. For his birthday, she decides to pick up some sexy black lingerie, a cake and a gift, in hopes it will spice up a marriage that has been on the rocks in recent months. Gerald (Skip Homeier) is pissed off she's out working for a living and supporting them; accusing her of having an affair with her boss, Cliff Kane (Kenneth Tobey). He breaks a picture of her, demands she quit her job, calls her a cheap little tramp, informs her he wants a divorce and pours his drink over her head. Ellen kicks him, takes off and goes to stay with her reporter friend Ruth (Hannah Stone), a nosy but well-intentioned spinster. A day later, Ellen receives a call from Gerald's boss, who informs her that her husband hasn't been showing up for work and if he doesn't come in soon he's going to get fired. Ellen hits the town trying to find him, along the way discovering that she didn't even really know the guy and their whole marriage has been nothing but a lie.


From a female friend of Gerald's (whom she's never met before), Ellen learns that her husband is actually from a small backwoods town in Oklahoma (he had told her Pennsylvania) and learns the name of his supposed best friend, Harold Suggett, a man she's also never met or even heard mentioned. Ellen travels to the town and meets up with Harold; a drunken, slovenly womanizer whose wife is threatening to kill him if she catches him cheating on her again. Gerald eventually shows up, threatens Ellen ("Have you ever seen a woman with her nose cut off?") and drives off in her car. One thing leads to another and Ellen ends up getting dragged into a graveyard and is beaten and raped on top of Gerald's mothers grave (!) by Harold while her husband stands by his ma's tombstone, smokes a cigarette and watches. Understandably feeling a bit defeated by this point, Ellen returns to Oklahoma City, returns to her job working for Cliff and eventually finds herself being drawn to him. Unfortunately, with unresolved issues from her past, she feels unable to move forward into this potentially healthy relationship.


Often listed on the horrorographies of stars Garland and Tobey, this just partially (and barely) qualifies as a genre film, but it's an interesting, somewhat edgy and sometimes surprisingly nasty little film dealing with such topics as sadomasochistic relationships, codependency, suburban violence, childhood trauma and various issues important to females during the time. Gerald's sadistic, perverse behavior is predictably traced back to having a mentally ill mother (whose name also happens to be Ellen Winslow), but the film is most fascinating when dealing with Garland's character as she evolves throughout the film.


Apparently once just your typical housewife, Ellen is driven into the workforce by her own husband's complacency. Once there, she finds herself being objectified both at her job (where she's the subject of gossip by co-workers and object of lust by her male superior) and at home (where she's dealing with her mentally unhinged, deceitful husband's attempts to guilt her back into subservience). On her quest to locate her husband, she has to endure - and eventually overcome - various hurdles set in her way by men; leering stares, not being taken seriously, getting jerked around by the arm, being passed around at a party (where she must resort to violence to protect herself) and eventually the ultimate dehumanization; being raped. Though she's able to ultimately prevail, Ellen is never painted as a faultless heroine or superwoman, either. The character has moments of self-doubt and internalized blame where she wonders what kind of a person (and wife) she has been or if she's done enough to help her obviously very sick husband. The film really stands as a testament to women just starting to break out of the June Cleaver mold of the 1950s and their struggles to gain back their independence, be able to stand on their own two feet and balance a hectic career life with a happy and healthy married / family life.


Garland had a long career in both film and on TV, and became fairly well-known in the 50s for playing tough, strong and resilient females in horror and sci-fi films (when few other actresses were doing so). Perhaps these characters weren't even always written that way, but Garland always played them that way and brought strength and passion to these roles, which is precisely why they're still remembered to this day. STARK FEAR may actually be one of the best and most fleshed-out characters she's ever played. It's certainly a good showcase for her dramatic talents, and thankfully she's in almost every scene. (Ironically, Garland said in several interviews that this was her least favorite of the films she has made! She also claimed the director stormed off the set and her co-star Homeier finished directing the film.)


Fellow sci-fi star Tobey unfortunately doesn't fair quite as well. His laid-back stoicism was fine for the heroic roles he played in the 50s, but he comes off as extremely one-note in this one. Hell, he barely even registers an emotion when Ellen suddenly slaps the shit out of him! Homeier is a bit stiff himself, but he's adequately loathsome, and Stone registers nicely as Garland's supportive, helpful and sometimes bluntly honest friend.

Production values are very shaky. The score is forgettable and the photography is ordinary. No one has bothered re-mastering it either (and I doubt that ever will happen since the movie was barely released), so there's lots of fuzz and grain in certain scenes. The film is also jumpy at times and is missing many (presumably damaged) frames.

The film was nearly impossible to find for years, but has been issued on DVD several times in recent years; from Hollywood's Best, Retroflix and others. Alpha double-billed it with W. Lee Wilder's FRIGHT (1956).

★★1/2
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