Saturday, October 1, 2011

Day of the Triffids, The (1962)

... aka: Invasion of the Triffids
... aka: Revolt of the Triffids

Directed by:
Freddie Francis
Steve Sekely

Based on the novel of the same name by John Wyndham, this is an enjoyable apocalyptic tale (if you're not a source material purist) that not only retains its entertainment value after nearly 50 years but is possibly more influential than typically given credit for. Opening narration sets the stage with a brief discussion about venus fly traps and other carniverous plants, including a brand newer species called triffidous celestus, which has miraculously started popping up all over the Earth after a meteor shower. The plants have stayed small and docile for several years, but an unprecedented meteor shower (the biggest in recorded history) is about to hit the Earth, and when it does, the plants will not only grow to a significant size, but also start attacking and killing humans. The plants have the ability to uproot and move about, have poisonous tentacles and can emit a lethal gas. They're also multiplying at an alarming rate. Making matters much more dire for the human race, the red and blue flashes of light from the meteor shower has managed to fry the optic nerves of the majority of the world's population.

We follow several groups of humans as they fight to survive. The first is Bill Masen (Howard Keel), a militaryman / first mate, who's just had just had an eye operation and was given a sedative, thus missing the previous evening's meteor shower. That turns out to be a good thing. The next morning he finds the hospital abandoned, removes his own bandages and encounters his surgeon Dr. Soames (Ewan Roberts), who promptly committs suicide. Bill then ventures out into a changed world, where blind, panicked people dot the streets. He eventually finds a little orphan girl named Susan (Janina Faye), who ran away from boarding school and spent the night in an enclosed baggage compartment (keeping her from seeing the meteors). The two go to the harbor, witness an airplane crash and then take off on a boat for France. Upon arrival, they meet up with another group of survivors; the compassionate Christine Durrant (Nicole Maurey), Mr. Coker (Mervyn Johns) and his wife (Alison Leggatt), who are caring for dozens of blind people. Unfortunately, triffids lay seige on the home, and only Bill, Nicole and Christine manage to escape. They then decide to head for Spain.

Meanwhile, on a tiny island, bored, frustrated marine biologist Tom Goodwyn (Kieron Moore, from the previous year's DR. BLOOD'S COFFIN) has a drinking problem and his wife Karen (Janette Scott) is at wits end up with him. Because of what's going on on the mainland, the two find themselves stranded at a lighthouse where they've been stationed for six months doing research. Tom has lost his passion for science; something he'll need to rekindle if the two want to make it out of there alive after he and Karen discover their island is being steadily taken over by triffids. All of these lighthouse scenes were directed by Freddie Francis and added to the film later on when the version done by Sekely fell way short of the desired run time. These new scenes also alter the much more grim conclusion found in both the novel and in the original cut of the film, by providing hope in the form of a solution.

Some might say the triffid designs are hokey, but I personally think they've held up fairly well (especially when directly compared to other films from the time) to be perfectly honestly. Besides, I don't reckon tall plant-monsters would move with a whole lot of grace to begin with. The visual effects, such as cities in the foreground being engulfed in flames and an airplane crash, have dated less successfully.

You can definitely see echoes of this story in later films. The film uses the same technique Romero used for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) in attempting to capture the scope of a worldwide epidemic on a limited budget via radio broardcasts and such. Try not to think of 28 DAYS LATER... (2002), or TV's The Walking Dead, as our protagonist wakes up in an abandoned hospital only to wander out into London to find it wrecked, quiet and nearly empty. The strange clicking sound the monsters make are very similar to the sound made by the ghost girl in THE GRUDGE (2004). SIGNS (2002) seems to have borrowed many elements from this one, including a near identical revelation about how to destroy the alien menace. And the list goes on.

Though executive producer Philip Yordan (who was known back then for "lending" out his name to blacklisted writers) is credited with actually adapting the novel, writer Bernard Gordon claimed to have actually written it and that Yordan "did no writing at all on the script or the adaptation." (By the way, for a fascinating article on Mr. Yordan's career, check out THIS ARTICLE written by Alan K. Rode). Star Keel had not spoken too highly of the film either and stated he was forced to ad lib lines because the script was more of an outline than an actual screenplay.

The DVD I viewed was from Allied Artists Classics. Unfortunately, it's a poor print of the movie. It's widescreen, too dark in spots, the triffids are difficult to make out much of the time and there's a line of blur on the bottom throughout the film (because it had obviously been sourced from a VHS copy). The DVD release through Cheezy Flicks is apparently widescreen but also of poor quality.


Di yu wu men (1980)

... aka: Hell Has No Gates
... aka: Kung Fu Cannibals, The
... aka: No Door to Hell
... aka: We're Going to Eat You

Directed by:
Hark Tsui

Director Hark Tsui's second outing (following 1979's THE BUTTERFLY MURDERS) is a highly uneven combo of gory cannibal horror, crude comedy and nearly non-stop kung fu action scenes. Two guys arrive on an isolated island by boat. Almost immediately, they're attacked by four masked men in bloody smocks, who kill one and drag both back to their village butcher shop, where one is gutted, the other is sawed in half. Turns out the island is home to a clan of cannibals; all of whom seem to be driven delirious by the taste of human flesh. The Chief of the village (Hung Gao aka Eddy Ko) is a tyrant who tries to live high off the hog (or is that high off the human?) by taking most of the meat for himself and his security force, while throwing the peasants the scraps. Anyone who threatens to leave the island is killed, butchered and eaten. A bumbling petty thief disguised as a blind man (played by Kwok Choi Hon), and Agent 999 (Norman Tsui Sui-Keung aka Norman Chu) , a chain-smoking civil servant working for the Central Surveillance Agency, are the next two visitors to the island. The agent is there to locate and arrest a bandit named Rolex (Kam-seng Wong aka Melvin Wong), who has a fist tattooed on his chest. Predictable slapstick carnage ensues.

The premise itself is serviceable, but there's barely enough plot complication present to sustain a feature length film. The film tries to make up for that by loading it down with action (most of which is well-choreographed by Corey Yuen), which is OK if you're in the mood for nothing but loud, brainless action, but still grows a bit tiresome after about an hour. Hey, there are only so many times our hero can be apprehended and escape, eh? The humor is also of varying degrees of success. There are a few clever visual gags, bits of tasteless humor and some amusing lines, but unless you automatically find exaggerated facial expressions, nose-picking, STD's, messy eating and flatulence funny, many of the attempts at humor fall flat. One of the big comic subplots involves a sexually-insatiable transvestite whore named Vietnam Rose (played by a huge, ugly man in overdone makeup), who basically tries to rape every man 'she' comes across.

Strangely enough, some of this nonsense is clearly trying to make some sort of anti-Communism statement in regards to how the cannibal society is set up, how it's ruled (the Chief's mantra is "In our line of work, if you don't eat people they'll eat you!") and how poorly the general population on the island (including the local priest) is treated. It's a bit difficult to take seriously with all of the over-the-top juvenilia, but it's an interesting element to the film, regardless. There's no shortage of violence and blood either, with numerous slashings, impalements, dismemberments, decapitations, fingers cut off and the like. The effects work is pretty average, with rubber body parts and thin, watery blood that looks suspiciously like cranberry juice. But hey, how many other kung fu cannibal comedies can you think of?

It wasn't long after this that the director would become one of Hong Kong's most popular filmmakers. Born in Vietnam, his family moved to Hong Kong when he was 14. After primary studies, Tsui would travel to the U.S. to major in film at the University of Texas in the mid 70s. After some TV work, he returned to Hong Kong to work in television before branching out to do his own films. In 1984, he co-founded his own production company, which had a huge hit on their hands with the John Woo-directed international hit A BETTER TOMORROW (1986). Tsui solidified his status as a top filmmaker with such films as the award-winning ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA (1991). He'd also direct the genre films ZU WARRIORS (1983), A CHINESE GHOST STORY II (1990), A CHINESE GHOST STORY III (1991) and MISSING (2008).

The DVD is from Tokyo Shock, a division of Media Blasters. The only extras on the disc are unrelated trailers for other Asian films released through the same company.


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