Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Movies Worth Googling: Strange Movie Reviews by Jenny Orosel

Shatner Dance

by Jenny Orosel

After last month’s column on “The Birthday”, I really wanted to do a column on some movies I knew I would have fun with. Sure, there are a lot of movies I can go to for fun viewing, but overall, there is certainly a cure for the movie blahs—Shatner time!

When people think William Shatner, most (understandably) think of “Star Trek” and nowadays “Boston Legal” or “S**t My Dad Says”. But from “Twilight Zone”, “Outer Limits” and beyond, Shatner has horror running through his Internet Movie Database veins.

The first one I picked up was “Visiting Hours” (1982) a little slasher flick known for its place on the “Video Nasties” list of banned videotapes from the UK. An outspoken news anchorwoman (Lee Grant) is attacked in her home by a crazy stalker (Michael Ironside), who, after she is admitted to a hospital for her injuries, continues to hunt her down at County General. It’s a great, tense little piece with some intense moments and rather brutal violence. As a movie, I would totally recommend it. As a Shatner movie, it’s a fail. I had high hopes; he had second billing, right below Grant. His character of the news producer was completely forgettable. There might have been a few dozen lines, none of which were very important to the story. Again, I enjoyed watching the movie but, dang, I was really hoping for a lot of Shatner.

I did get some serious Shatner joy with the next movie, “Incubus” (1966). A lovely, unnamed pastoral town has both human and demons living within its borders. A succubus, Kia, is bored with seducing those already predisposed to be damned. For a challenge, she decides to ensnare the most pure, most kind soul she can (Shatner). But, after seducing him, she finds that rather than tempt him to the darkness, she finds herself drawn deeper into his goodness. Enter the titular incubus, hoping that by destroying his sister, that Shatner would be infuriated enough to fall to the dark side.

“Incubus” is one of those crazy stylized movies I enjoy so much. It was directed by Leslie Stevens of “Outer Limits” fame, using a lot of the same crew. They worked hard to make the world unrecognizable as far as time and country. In fact, they went so far as to film all the dialogue in Esperanto, the infamous artificial language that exploded in popularity among science fiction crowds of the sixties. And it wasn’t just the dialogue that created a bizarre alternate universe, but the deft framing of every shot, making each moment look like a painting. Then there’s the whole spontaneous goat rape scene, whose violence stood in stark contrast with the gentle pastoral beauty of the rest of the film. And lest we forget the Shatner factor. Sure, there was a little bit of the overacting he gets taunted for. But really, it works with the surrealism of the rest of the movie, and it was a lot of fun watching him play a character so pure and innocent.

In 2002, Shatner not only acted in “Groom Lake” but also directed it. Kate finds out she is dying of Lupus and only has a few months to live. She and her boyfriend travel to Groom Lake near Area 51 because UFOs had been spotted there, and she desperately seeks proof that life outside Earthly existence exists. Meanwhile, something strange is going on at a military base run by Shatner (who dresses up as an alien to distract folks from the real aliens there). Then there’s strange townsfolk who may or may not be from this planet, a possible rape that might have ended up with an E.T. pregnancy, and you have “Groom Lake.”

“Groom Lake” was a valiant effort, but perhaps not the most successful one. There were some plot misdirections (the alien rape/baby/glowing hands storyline is forgotten almost immediately after being introduced). It was a low budget movie that shows its lack of dollars. Digital video was used instead of regular film and it shows in the picture quality. The special effects would have been state-of-the-art a decade or so before, but looked completely out of place in a twenty first century movie. Still, I can’t say I didn’t have fun watching it. If you’ve ever seen an Ed Wood movie there’s a certain enthusiasm in the filmmaking that is unmistakable. Every actor was completely dedicated to their role, even when the dialogue busted down the realism door. Think “Troll 2” with actors who can actually act. And Shatner, while starting out as perhaps not the most sympathetic character, quickly charms the audience and soon completely pulls off the role of hero.

I capped off the Shatner fest with one of my personal favorites “The Intruder” (aka “I Hate Your Guts!” aka “Shame”, 1962). Rather than being the hero, or completely gratuitous character, Shatner gets to be the villain. He plays Adam Cramer, a stranger who comes to a small southern town during the week their school first gets integrated. He claims to be from an organization dedicated to freeing towns from the horrors of integration, and it doesn’t take long for the willing townspeople to blindly follow his hate-filled lead and even surpass his evil expectations. Is he just an angry man or is there something more sinister motivating his actions?

Roger Corman directed this disturbing flick from a screenplay by “Twilight Zone” writing star Charles Beaumont. While the movie is strong enough to deliver some serious punches and takes the subject matter of small town prejudice strongly, it is probably one of the most understated of Roger Corman’s movies. He doesn’t rely on anything but a strong script and talented actors to make the movie work, and it sure does. Shatner should have been given more roles as the heavy, because he does a damn fine job of balancing charm and seeping evil.

It’s important to have a back log of certain actors that make movie-watching fun. Some folks will see whatever Will Ferrel brings to the screen, while others laugh in glee when Christopher Walken is spotted in a flick. Me, a little some William Shatner now and then to keep life interesting. His movies might not be the best and they might not even be good, but they will definitely be fun for ME. Find your personal Shatner and stockpile a good cache of films to watch whenever you need a little lift.

“Visiting Hours” is out of print on DVD as of this writing, but will be back in print September 13, 2011. It is also available on Netflix Watch-It-Now.

“Incubus” has recently gone out of print, but there are enough copies floating around that you should be able to find it under five dollars.

“Groom Lake” is readily available.

“The Intruder” is not only available on DVD, but also on Archive.org as a streaming video: http://www.archive.org/details/shame_

--Jen Orosel