What I'm Watching: Adventure Time: Distant Lands: Obsidian

The next one after BMO, this time about a glass kingdom, a lava dragon, and P.B. and Marceline.

Apparently P.B. and Marceline have been living for… decades? in Marceline's old house. I guess most of the Candy Kingdom is extinct and doesn't need P.B., but she spends zero time worrying about that, just being a domesticated lesbian wife.

This time the new generation sidekick is not terrible, Glassboy's just a weak kid literally made of cracked glass, but he's brave and not too stupid. See-Through Princess is just vapid, waffling between "hey now don't be mean" and doing meaningless ritual.

Most of the episode is P.B. staring at a force field console, while Marceline goes off on a vision quest to get her angry punk rockness back. And occasionally the flashbacks to Marceline's youth in the mutant wastelands have some pathos, drag this up from dull to "oh that hurts". Marcy's first song is excellent, she doesn't quite rock out—the Pixies she's not—but she's trying. The second one is Lisa Loeb-like.

There's a couple cameos of old characters, which mostly just reminds me of how terrible the last few seasons of AT were, but this was much better than those.

★★★½☆ — Watch this one.

What I'm Watching: The Big Bad

This has been 6 groups trying to do a D&D 5E "tournament adventure", and then scored for mission success.

The Dungeon Master is Paul Siegel of Paul's Game Blog and the adversary is played by Dan Collins of Delta's D&D and OED Games.

Good Stuff:

  • The Adversary. Having a co-DM play the "Big Bad" is an interesting setup I've seen done a few times in real games, it leaves the Referee free to run the game fairly instead of also running every monster in the world, though of course the adversary's game time is usually limited. And Dan does a great job of chewing scenery (and slimy larvae from his lovin' cup). He doesn't have a lot of troops to control, and I think he's much too passive and defensive with them, but given what he has, he does about as well as you can hope for.

  • The Players. Many of the players put some real character into their pregens, and made good role-playing and tactical choices. They seem like fun groups to game with.

  • Scoring. The rankings are about equal to how much I enjoyed each group's attempt. The Luke Gygax group came in second, I think? And they were my favorite, but otherwise, sure. The last group was so dull, unprepared, and incompetent, and their low score was well-deserved. There's an upcoming episode explaining the scoring, which I'm curious to see.

  • Videoconferencing & Editing. Surprisingly few technical difficulties, mostly switched to the players when they were talking, miniatures when they're being moved. You'd think in 2020 that wouldn't be an issue, but so many of these things are nothing but technical failure.

Bad Stuff:

  • D&D 5E. Not a fan. Just a bloated, thousands-of-pages, over-complicated mess of a game. Somewhere under all that shit, there must be a pony, so many people keep digging. You can see it clearest in this show, when old-school players are confronted with the giant pile of abilities and modifiers they get from all over the place, the spells have weird conditional effects and you're constantly reminding each other of which ones apply. The two-hour game time here would be 15-30 minutes in an old-school system.

    This is especially weird because both these guys are old-school D&D bloggers, Dan's OED rules are pretty good, entirely reasonable interpretations of OD&D. Paul runs a weird hybrid of B/X, D20, and Warhammer FRP for his Ten Dead Rats game; I don't know why he's not just using Zweihänder or some edition of WHFRP, they're much better than his hybrid, but it works. But all of those are much simpler than 5E, and more engaging with the players. They don't have a laundry list of powers to activate, players instead must role-play actions the Referee agrees are reasonable. That's a better test than "oh I picked the Druid so I can turn into an alligator here!"

  • Miniatures. For a visual show, a giant model set and miniatures being moved around is useful, sure. The cavern and altar tower look great. But it's a single room that must've cost hundreds of dollars, and painting minis takes forever, and it limits you in what you can bring out to what figures you have. In any realistic budget, you'd maybe have a styrofoam riser "and this is the stone tower!" Which is why I prefer "theatre of the mind", where you just describe the scenario, everyone closes their eyes and pretends. Or for tactical situations like this, a "battle mat" of butcher paper with drawn lines and chits or cardboard standees to represent the combatants.

    Matt Finch did a series of his Swords & Wizardry rules Swords of Jordoba campaign, and they were fantastic game sessions—how old-school D&D is/should be actually played—frequently interrupted by setting up little mazes of miniatures and a tiny POV webcam. He also did a 5E Heroes of Jordoba campaign which went ludicrously off the rails, about evenly split because Zach's a very unserious player, because 5E's a terrible game, and because the end was running that stupid dinosaur swamp adventure.

  • Easy Mode Dungeon. The entire scenario, played out six times, is a single room, with about 10 opponents, 8 of whom are just identical cultists that Dan calls "Primus", "Secondus", etc. The final party managed to nearly TPK themselves in the river, but otherwise every group has skipped across the river, run up the stairs or side of the tower, killed the boss, game over. Nobody failed, which means it was balanced far too easy; admittedly it's hard to kill 5E player characters. There's no exploration, it's just a toy set on camera.

    The old tournament modules like Gary Gygax's S1 Tomb of Horrors, S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, Lawrence Schick's S2 White Plume Mountain, the A series (various authors) collected as A1-4 Scourge of the Slave Lords, Frank Mentzer's R1-4 tournaments collected as I12 Egg of the Phoenix, and Tracy Hickman & Laura Hickman's B7 Rahasia, are all tough, long, complex dungeon crawls. There's fights, including hard boss fights at the end, but they're more about mapping, puzzles, traps, role-playing, often interacting with the NPCs, making use of found magic.

    White Plume Mountain is maybe the best/fairest tournament of those, and has only two major rooms with the artifacts, each on par complexity wise with the Big Bad's cave, but there's 27 rooms total, and clearing & looting several of them greatly increases your chance of succeeding at the artifact rooms.

    Now, at conventions we did tournament modules in 3-6 hours, or sometimes there'd be two blocks of 3-4 hours. That's a lot more than the 2 hours which is stretching Youtube audience tolerance. But there's some balance in between 1 room and 100 rooms where a short tourney's not just a single fight scene.

If they have another season, I may wait until the end and only watch the high-scoring team, or at least put the rest on 2x playback speed.

★★★½☆

What I'm Watching: Underwater

In the grand tradition of underwater horror movies:

  • Sealab 2020 (1972, Hanna-Barbera), Sealab 2021 (2000-2005, Adult Swim): "Oh, those aren't horror, Mark." Aren't they? MARDUK SAYS THEY ARE.
  • Abyss (1989): Pretty good for a self-indulgent James Cameron flick. Fun up to "live damn you live!", but the ending is stupid, aliens make contact underwater and just want us to stop having wars. Will do, Mom.
  • Deep Star Six (1989): Miguel Ferrer, Greg Evigan (minus the chimp), and a lobster.
  • Leviathan (1989): Peter Weller, Amanda Pays, Ernie Hudson, and Meg Foster! But the monsters a lame Thing ripoff.
  • Lords of the Deep (1989): Priscilla Barnes trying to act with her clothes on, do not watch, unbelievably awful.
  • Underwater (2020)

And many more in between, but that batch of 4 "Cameron's working on an underwater movie? Let's beat him to the theatres!" flicks already did pretty much every scene you can get here, and Sealab 2020 (the serious one) defined the look and many basic plots.

  • Deep sea stations are so dangerous that nobody would actually work in one. And in reality, nobody does.
  • That poor little spider. It gets more characterization than most of the other crew; we don't even see the crew, except a couple runners and a couple corpses. I don't know if there's 10, 20, 100, 1000 people supposed to be down there.
  • Running from pressure breaches and slamming pressure doors shut on people. Why can't they make the entire station out of pressure doors and the walls around them, which never blow?
  • Don't get emotionally attached to any black character (Mamoudou Athie) in a horror movie, no matter how much he seems to know the tropes. In contrast, fucking TJ Miller (the asshole from Silicon Valley), one of the shittiest wastes of human skin ever to darken a movie screen, gets to live more than half the flick and annoy me every minute of it.
  • Stoic captain (Vincent Cassel) can solve every problem except his own heart (in this case an obvious crush he ignores and his backstory daughter we never see…)
  • Heroic engineer (Kristen Stewart) can solve every mechanical, electrical, programming, tactical, and nuclear engineering problem. Well, that's the one good point of these flicks. She's basically just Ripley, but you know, I love Ripley.
  • Power armor deep sea suits with giant glass dome helmets and lights everywhere, so you can see the actors' faces, even tho a major plot point is that glass and lighted targets are a bad idea.
  • Chicks get sexy when they strip down to get in their power armor. Dudes look like hairy potatoes in bad underwear.
  • Let's go for a long walk underwater, even though we would realistically have subs, jetskis, or just oxygen tanks with straps and a valve as a "jet pack".
  • Don't worry about those oxygen alarms, those go off 10, 15 minutes before the plot will actually require you to get more air. Normally oxygen tanks are giant tanks, but this one has teeny little oxygen scrubber cylinders, which takes a lot of the resource management out of it.
  • Monsters always look humanoid, even though they originate in deep underwater vents, cephalopods have no need for bones, arms, hands, legs, or recognizable humanoid heads. Minor points to this one for having the baby stage be an ugly tentacle monster, and grampa Dagon is giant, weird, and hideous. But the middle stage is bullshit. I approve only of Deep Star Six, where the monster is a crab.
  • All you have to do is reach the escape pods and you'll be safe, because deep-sea creatures can't survive on the surface.
  • Tell, don't show. Half the plot setup and resolution is given as either voiceover by Kristen, GLADOS-like voiceover by a glitching-out computer, or spinning newspaper headlines in the start/end credits. Cheap and bad writing.

Missing:

  • Undersea romance. There is one, but it has zero chemistry, is only mentioned in backstory. Most of these have everyone fucking everyone else, because that's what Humans normally do, it gets the audience excited, and it gives you some reason to care if they live or die.

★★☆☆☆ — I didn't hate it, it just does absolutely nothing new, 31 years after the movies it's ripping off. Ranks poorly, above only Lords of the Deep, but not poison to watch like that was.

What I'm Watching: The Dead Don't Die

Welcome to Centerville
A Real Nice Place
Pop 738

Not for long.

Directed by Jim Jarmusch, starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Danny Glover, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi*, Iggy Pop and Sara Driver (no relation) as the coffee zombies, and Tom Waits as a beardy hermit/psychopomp/Monty Python's "It's!" man.

Sturgill Simpson's "The Dead Don't Die" is the theme song, and played far too many times, it's the only song in the soundtrack. I now hate Sturgill Simpson, despite normally liking outlaw country.

This is the slowest goddamned movie I've ever seen. 30 minutes to introduce… 12 named characters? Before anything happens, and then they reuse a lot of footage and B-roll driving thru town. The cinematography's like a student film, so awkward. And in the cop car, they break the 4th wall, or just fail to cut and edit out the actors talking about the scene, I'm not sure which. I mean, even for a Jarmusch movie, there's not much evidence of editing, it's kind of "start recording until we got maybe a scene, then go somewhere else".

And I will continue to complain about color grading. Half of the film is shot day-for-night and then tinted to almost jet black, it's very hard to see.

The film isn't just genre-aware, it's script-aware, it really makes no sense without seeing, you know, every zombie and vampire movie. So I'm good, and the gas station geek and Adam Driver will sit and explain some basic rules like tone-deaf nerds explaining Star Wars (Uh. Pointed pop culture reference.), but everyone just goes along with it except Chloë who screams and fidgets a lot, as if she was 20 and not 45.

I do like zombies that need coffee after gutting their enemies; as we see, all the zombies want something. They're the one part of this entire film so far that's not boring. Takes 30 minutes to get two zombies. Almost 60 minutes to get more, but now we got some action.

Tilda Swinton's albino Scottish samurai undertaker is fantastic, like a stoner's character for Witchcraft RPG or some such; not played for laughs, but just total bullshit. And then she gets weirder.

I don't like the ending. The long scene in the car leading up to it. There's finally some action… but it's not making any point, which is what I want from my zombie flicks. If the moral is "consumers are zombies/zombies are literally consumers", why are the cops fighting them, when cops are the enforcement wing of our corporate state?

★★½☆☆ — sometimes amusing, but a long dull journey to get there.

* Wearing a "Keep America White Again" red baseball hat; maybe in a couple months if we ain't all dead, that'll be a funny period piece.

What I'm Watching: Joker

Right at the start, I expect better of the Joker than to be mugged by kids, that should be an alley full of dead punks. Joachim Phoenix looks like crap, he's 45 here, at least two decades too old for this origin story, isn't really fit for the job. Maybe he'll toughen up by the end of this, but physically? Nope.

I definitely prefer the Jack Nicholson take: Hardened criminal who THEN goes crazier. I don't mind The Killing Joke story where a comedian becomes Red Hood, then goes crazy/gets dunked to become Joker, but his skills there are implausible. And none of this Jared Leto shit.

The plot's generally more pathetic downward spiral than an arc up to criminal mastermind, even if he has winning days (the well-memed stairs scene and on), he's a joker, not The Joker, absolutely not Harley's "Mistah J". I can't see this guy learning to make bombs, recruit hoodlum henchmen, rob banks, fight Batman, run the Legion of Doom with Lex Luthor (who's the kind of rich bastard this version would hate).

But the crimes and riots here are a pretty good start. Phoenix's Joker has a kind of pathetic charisma, good for attracting broken losers (which is all of us, except the pretty rich people, really). The cult of The Joker could be born here, even if the actual figure's not that good.

For once the Hollywood inability to leave movies alone without a fake color grade works, every scene is recolored something crazy, matching the Joker's moods. It goes from a not-terrible imitation of '70s film stock, very very obviously copying Taxi Driver, to Suspiria levels.

The supporting actors are meh, and they're a lot of the problem.

Robert De Niro as fake Johnny Carson is ancient and decrepit, he just looks bad, and of course De Niro is the least funny person in the world, it obviously hurts him to even smile, so faking Johnny's impossible. They should've got an actor who isn't mummified to play the role. Johnny retired at 66, De Niro is shockingly only 76 here, but he looks 96, barely held together by a suit.

Joker's mom (played like the Cryptkeeper reanimated Mother Bates) thinks Thomas Wayne (played incompetently by TV extra nobody Brett Cullen) is going to help her for personal reasons. In the movie, he's just indifferent, an out-of-touch Trump-like asshole, but this is a point I always come back to with the whole Batman mythos:

The Waynes made Gotham, and Bruce perfected it. It isn't that way—garbage piled up, grafitti on top of grafitti, poverty everywhere, corrupt and useless police, protests, steam pipes and vulture-like gargoyles looming over all—because they don't care, it's that way because the Waynes want a city full of despair and freaks, so that the older generation of Waynes can pretend to be philanthropists (much like Bill Gates does to the tech industry), so that crazy little Bruce can swoop down on villains in his multi-million-dollar battle armor and practice his rich-white-boy ninjitsu. So if terrible shit is happening to Joker's mom, it's because Thomas Wayne wants it that way.

I'm particularly unimpressed with Alfred (Douglas Hodge) and Little Bruce; Alfred's not supposed to be a wuss, he doesn't hiss and whine about cops to strange men at the gates, he's (depending on iteration) former British Army, and while he's not The Batman himself he's more than capable of defending the manor. The version in the Gotham TV series (played by Sean Pertwee, son of my favorite Doctor Who) is so much better. Little Bruce is a puppet even by the standard of child actors.

Slight amusement: The movie theatre at the end, where Batman is made… is playing Zorro the Gay Blade.

★★★½☆ — Kudos for trying something different, if not always successfully.

What I'm Watching: Twilight Zone

In this case, the 1983 movie. It's kind of a waste of celluloid, the originals were better, but back then you would be lucky to ever see a good episode in syndication, and if there were VHS tapes of the series, they would've been very expensive. Maybe the best case would've been to never make another Twilight Zone after Rod Serling's death. Not all the originals were great, many were repetitive, but they had a real sharp edge which is missing here.

The two Dan Aykroyd scenes are short but OK. Dan driving around scaring people would be a better show.

"Time Out" with the racist becoming prey for the racists. I hate the time-jump mechanic, and it's a very selfish revelation. What does Nazi Germany or Vietnam have to do with him, anyway? Maybe if they'd just had 'Nam and the KKK as his direct ancestors, and it would've been less preachy. The original plan was to have two Vietnamese kids he has to protect to redeem himself, but they and Vic Morrow died in a helicopter accident on set, so what you see is what they could salvage from that footage.

"Kick the Can" with Scatman Crothers making old people in a retirement home young for a night. The original was kind of a traditional fairy tale except in reverse, the fairies take the elders instead of the children, and leave the narc behind. The remake has only the fun "kid" run away young, with no real moral for everyone left behind.

"It's a Good Life" introduces a new character, teacher Helen (Kathleen Quinlan), instead of just having the miserable "family", and the town isn't nearly as bleak and horrible as the original episode. Little Anthony is now… 9? instead of 6, which makes him more capable of reason, if still having tantrums. The new kid isn't as creepy as Billy Mumy was, but he's fine. There's no cornfield. The cartoon monsters are hard to even look at, they're cel-painted instead of CGI or practical, but it's not comic like Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The happy ending is so weird; is Helen hoping to be this new god's controller, or is she horny for the boy, or genuinely wants to teach? Nothing about her motivation is revealed so we can't tell.

Notable for having a Tempest arcade cabinet and gameplay!

"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" remake with John Lithgow doesn't work at all. William Shatner always looked competent, so his breakdown was frightening. Lithgow is a crazy man when he's sane, and he's a plausible Trinity Killer or Lord John Whorfin when he's not. The new gremlin is differently awful from the gorilla-suited original. Nothing is resolved, nobody learns anything, it just gives up.

★★☆☆☆ — I remembered this as being much better than it was.

What I'm Watching: Three Korean Zombies Edition

  • Seoul Station: Animated prequel to Train to Busan. Hye-sun, a young woman of negotiable affections and her douchebag boyfriend/wannabe-pimp, and a hobo and his mysteriously dying "bro", cross paths at Seoul's main subway station just as the zombie plague starts. It is successful at getting me to care about the girl, and to a lesser extent the men around her; one character flip didn't surprise me much but it needed a little more evidence.

Animation's kind of stiff, low FPS, but detailed, very much not in the style of most anime. What it most reminds me of are the Long Tomorrow and B-52 segments of Heavy Metal; I think it's not actually rotoscoped, but looks a lot like it. Despite being animated, with "unlimited special effects budget" as it were, there's not a lot of sets, not a lot of speaking parts, not a lot of flashy action pieces, it could've all been filmed practically for less money.

I'm a little put out by the cell phone vamping. Girl turns off her iPhone. Then it's out of reach. Then they're in a tunnel. Then coverage just stops because… it's plot convenient. And the other side just sits there shouting her name into it, instead of doing anything. It's a good way to pad out 30 extra minutes of "tension" that wouldn't exist if people just calmly (under zombie attack, yes) left messages for each other while travelling towards a common point.

It is very Korean, where the government is not on the side of the people, it's in self-preservation mode and has been putting down anti-government riots since the war. An American version of this (suppose Fear the Walking Dead was animated and wasn't absolute trash) would make different stupid mistakes; just as many dead civilians but less heartless bureaucracy. A Japanese version would be briefly hilarious, and then everyone would die because they were too polite to break skulls. The Chinese version would probably drop fuel-air bombs on the area.

★★★½☆

  • RV: Resurrected Victim: A prosecutor comes over to his crazy sister's house, and finds his dead (murdered by a mugger) mother there watching TV. A pastor (ugh, Korean christians; worse than zombies, and they're all thru this film) barges in and falls to his knees calling out to Jesus, quoting his "resurrection" fairy tale, singing and praying like the crazy people they are. She goes all zombie on them, as anyone would. Then we get an official briefing/infodump about resurrections, because apparently the writer hasn't heard of "show, don't tell".

It feels like a TV series, several episodes spliced together into a "movie". Or a fever-dream scenario by a Call of Cthulhu referee. Coincidence or fate brings everyone who needs to be in a scene together, but the B-team and C-team investigators just get forgotten for long stretches of the film, then show up again to tag along a couple scenes behind the prosecutor.

"The fact that RVs always appear in the rain is related to the fact that 80% of the human body is H2O.
And the iron content in their blood is more than ten times higher than that of normal humans.
When the vengeance is enacted, all these seem to be related to the strong magnetic field that is formed."
—inexplicably bad English-speaking… Italian? gentleman with a priest sidekick, possibly in the wrong movie.

The mystery being solved is fine, and eventually all the plots are tied together, if not at all satisfactorily at the end, with a preachy speech. The "RVs" do almost nothing, the entire plot could be a non-supernatural drama, or have hallucinations or visions of ghosts, with minimal changes and far less of a wasted premise.

★★★☆☆

  • Stranger: I'm only a few episodes into this series, about a prosecutor (again?!) who feels no emotions (a philosophical zombie!) after a childhood surgery. He solves crimes, fights corruption in his bureau, tries to pass as a person but doesn't really succeed. The sympathetic woman cop Han (Doona Bae, most recently from Kingdom and Sense8) and his rival prosecutor are well-played. There's an overall season plot, and not much episodic plot, which makes it hard to decide where to stop, doesn't give a clear delineation between episodes, and I can't binge more than a couple hours of Korean TV at a time, so it's taking a while to get thru.

But so far, I like everything about this, good investigation, forensics, office treachery that isn't mysterious figures in the dark but rather just awful coworkers. Best of all, a protagonist who's proactive, isn't all weepy and stupid, has his own secrets but isn't a villain. Han is also really adorable, she tries to be a supercop (a coworker calls her "Angelina Jolie", but really she's more Michelle Yeoh ) but also takes in strays and is surprisingly good for a police force not exactly known for that.

★★★★½

What I'm Watching: American Murder: The Family Next Door

The conceit here is all footage is real police bodycam, Ring front-door spycams, phone footage, etc. I'm dubious about the how much of this was filmed before the events, and how much staged, but it's badly shot enough in many places to be possible. The Facebook captures are kind of gross, the fake SMS reenactments with fake misspellings and retyping are weird; "Shanann"[sic] was as bad at spelling everything else as her own name (it's normally pronounced & spelled "Shannon")?

It's creepy how much people share, without saying anything of substance. Self included, of course… you know what code and games I release, and my snarky media reviews, but I don't tell you anything else. On Fediverse, I mostly share jokes and comics I've found, and bitch about code.

The police station footage is really the disturbing part, as always when showing conversations with pigs: The touchy-feely-cop and bad-cop routine, no lawyer, cameras left running during "private" (but not protected by lawyer) conversations. Obviously the first and only words you should utter to cops are "I have no comment. I want my lawyer. Am I free to go?" Am I the weirdo for being incredibly skeeved out by pigs rubbing someone's shoulder to try to make them confess?

The "cashless economy" is an incredibly bad idea, and this shows why: Every step anyone takes is recorded as a bank charge. If you carry cash (as I mostly do), then only your dumb online purchases show up, which are probably not too incriminating.

The reveal of the murders, such as it is, is incredibly badly presented, but they just didn't have any footage to present it. And there's not enough "character building" to tell anyone why. I don't believe the statement accepted by the court, but no better information is possible.

In the end, this is a horror movie about people oversharing.

★★★☆☆

What I'm Watching: Deathsport

Deathsport (1978) is a sequel, of sorts, to Death Race 2000 (1975).

It immediately starts with some funky electronic music (the whole soundtrack is excellent if you like beepy '70s electronic music), and the best voiceover ever, the setting of every science-fantasy RPG setting I've ever run:

A thousand years from tomorrow, after the Great Neutron Wars,
the world consists of desert wastes and isolated city states.
A few machines remain as a reminder of the past,
but only the city-dwelling Statemen use them.
Between the cities roam the dreaded cannibal mutants
and the Range Guides. Guides are legendary warriors
leading an independent nomadic life,
owing allegiance only to their code.

Carradine and another range guide chick (an extremely drunk/coked up Claudia Jennings a year before her death) have a few battles against silver lamé-clad Statemen, riding "death machines" which are dirtbikes with some plastic plates glued on. I'm quite enamored of the clear plastic swords and light-up tube "blasters", not even a pretense of any gear being usable.

There's a child abducted by the mutants, who becomes a later sidequest. Or mutant lunch.

Eventually they're captured and spend entirely too long in bad prison cells, making small talk through a teeny grill. Some light torture, girls forced to dance naked under swinging blinky-light cables, nothing too interesting. The Statemen leader (David McLean, his last role while he was dying from lung cancer) wears black and is going insane, his sidekick (Richard Lynch, the only competent actor besides Carradine) wears black and is a traitor Guide, very very obviously some Star Wars influences.

Finally the big event, they're thrown into an arena (a dirtbike rally pit) against the Statemen. Mostly terrible teenage bike riders, but a few good explosive and pyro effects set off more or less at random. They blow up the force field walls to roam the wastes, hunted by the sidekick and a nigh-endless supply of goons.

A little bit of a "dungeon" crawl with torches, marching order, rats, some boinking in a cell. A lot of dirtbike fights, with these savage guides knowing exactly how to use the "death machines" better than trained Statemen soldiers. A second dungeon crawl in a "cave" with mutants. A third on-bike dungeon crawl/DOOM level with explosive barrels. They know what I like to see: Tits and explosions.

I'm somewhat impressed by the bike-front camera shooting. Trivial with a GoPro™ today, but in 1978, strapping a film camera to a dirtbike and getting any usable footage is amazing. Had to be some kind of stabilized rig?

The truth needs no introduction.
When the Sun rises, there's no necessity to announce it.
Clearly we have lost.
—sidekick contradicting his own thesis.

At least one of the writers must have played D&D or Metamorphosis Alpha, there's too many obvious gaming bits. The writing is all over the place, parts are somewhat clever and deep, there's what looks like some real setting lore, the rest is mashed together clichés and other movies; there were 4 writers, and probably Roger Corman fiddled with it, too. Carradine got in fistfights with the director, and another director had to finish it. Everyone was on drugs.

Dumb, only half-competent, but far more amusing than I expected.

★★★½☆

What I'm Watching: Hammer Dracula

The Hammer Dracula films deviate weirdly from the book, and each iteration gets stranger. Still, I'd like to see the rest; I've probably watched all of them at some point but it's been many decades.

  • Horror of Dracula (1958): Jonathan Harker is an ineffectual agent for Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), this time posing as a librarian for Count Dracula (Christopher Lee), whose castle is in "Klausenberg"/Cluj, Romania. The castle is quite nice, moody and gothic but also cleaned up enough to be a run-down Romanian palace. There's a pretty, slutty vampire wench in lieu of the 3 vampire brides. Soon enough we're in Karlstadt, Bavaria: No London or long sea voyages for this production! Mina has morphed into (pompous asshole) Arthur's blonde hausfrau wife (100% opposite of the Mina of the book), Lucy has become his chaste, brunette, engaged to Jonathan sister (even more variant, and completely changes the sexual element of her corruption). There's a Dr John Seward, but he's incidental, there's never a Quincey Morris cowboy in these adaptations.

Van Helsing does soon recruit Arthur and reveals while recording a gramophone memo (for this is an advanced 1885) all the powers and vulnerabilities of the vampire, in case you didn't know. Dracula is physically very powerful in his castle, but here in Karlstadt he relies entirely on suggestion and sneaking around, and while he has his way with "Lucy" the heroes quickly apply their scientific knowledge to destroy him.

The sets are nice, the film is bright and colorful. Chris Lee and Peter Cushing are excellent in their characters. But the script is nonsense, the plot is nothing like Dracula.

★★★★☆

  • I can't find #2 Brides of Dracula or #3 Dracula Prince of Darkness in any reasonable way. Maybe later I'll catch up.

  • Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1969): #4 in the series. It is now 1905. A girl is murdered in a church in the shadow of Dracula's castle; this is never clearly explained, because at this time Dracula is in torpor, frozen in a river (I dunno, #3 did it). A Monsignor (not quite a Bishop) takes the useless local priest up to Dracula's castle, does spiritual warfare (nothing) and claims victory. Well, no, because the useless priest coincidentally resurrects Dracula. So… did Dracula make that happen? Or is it just bad luck, dozens of people fell nearby over the decades but not quite in the right place?

But now we're in "Keinenberg", which sounds German but everyone and everything looks English, much less set decoration effort. The useless priest, a hot redhead barmaid, and a useless boyfriend of the Monsignor's "daughter" all bumble about, Dracula hangs out in the basement and does nothing but smoke a lot of dope, judging from his red eyes. Normally a Hammer film doesn't have time to be boring, but this one feels like it's taken hours.

There's no Van Helsing, is what it is. Say what you will about Abe's "YOU DAMNED FOOL" personality, it moves the plot along. The Monsignor putters about and does nothing, and is too fat and old for rooftop adventures. The lovesick useless boyfriend barely knows his line "where's Maria!" Dracula broods and stares, but apparently lacks the energy to do anything, except kill the slutty redhead, who was the only one I liked.

A very brief return to the bar and front door of the castle in Cluj isn't really enough of a set change, mostly it's just wandering thru woods like any Z-grade flick.

None of the vampire rules seem to apply to this one. You can see Dracula's reflections, it doesn't take multiple feedings to turn a victim, he can enter a house on his own. It is claimed you need prayer to defeat a vampire, which is not at all true in any other film; right angles inexplicably repel vampires, but the religious trappings don't do anything.

★★☆☆☆

Both have a rather overbearing score by James Bernard, who did many another Hammer soundtrack. A lighter touch and it would've been a good soundtrack, but brass shrieking at the audience made it hard to hear lines.