Movie Review: PRISONERS OF THE LOST UNIVERSE

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prisoners of the lost universeDimension Films
1983
NR

“I think you should know, I can’t stand hights, they give me a headache.”

Three people are transported into a parallel universe. There they find that they must use modern technology, but medieval weapons, in order to save the citizenry from a murderous warlord.

You might have noticed, but coming across and watching obscure low-budget sci-fi and horror movies is kind of what I do. It give my dark, lonely nights meaning. A reason to continue to live, if you will. My theory is that, by witnessing these train wrecks, the very act of existence doesn’t seem so bleak. I’m an optimistic nihilist. And if your head just didn’t blow up from that conceptual paradox, let’s discuss the early 80s scienc fiction fantasy movie Prisoners Of The Lost Universe, shall we?

Prisoners Of The Lost Universe is a sight to behold. And by that, I mean it’s a cheep-looking visual cheeseball that seem to may have spent the majority of its overall budget on getting the original Captain Apollo from Battlestar Galactica as the lead. I say “may have”; the original Battlestar Galactica wasn’t exactly a special effects extravaganza, but compared to this movie, that makes the show seem like Star Wars.

The cheese levels on Prisoners Of The Lost Universe rivals that of Star Crash, only this one lacks both David Hasselhoff and a sassy robot sidekick with a bizarrely specific southern accent. It’s interesting in a trainwreck kind of way, but still gets tedious long before the end credits roll. I wouldn’t necessarily say “pass” on this one; mileage may vary, but for me, it’s a case of one-and-done.

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Book Review: DOCTOR WHO: Scratchman

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scratchmanTom Baker
BBC Books
2019

‘Having friends is nothing to be afraid of,’ I reassured them. ‘They’re there for the small things in life — laughing at your jokes, drinking your tea, rescuing you from dungeons. Friends remember you how you’d like to be remembered, and forget the rest. Friends turn up at the last moment, friends tell you to keep running.’

The Doctor, Harry and Sarah Jane Smith arrive at a remote Scottish island, when their holiday is cut short by the appearance of strange creatures – hideous scarecrows, who are preying on the local population. The islanders are living in fear, and the Doctor vows to save them all. But it doesn’t go to plan – the time travelers have fallen into a trap, and Scratchman is coming for them. With the fate of the universe hanging in the balance, the Doctor must battle an ancient force from another dimension, one who claims to be the Devil. Scratchman wants to know what the Doctor is most afraid of. And the Doctor’s worst nightmares are coming out to play…

What’s all this, then? An all-new novelized Doctor Who adventure, featuring the Fourth Doctor and his companions, Sarah Jane and Harry? All written by the man who played the Fourth Doctor himself, Tom Baker?

I believe the phrase you’re groping for is, “Shut up and take my money.” At least, that was my immediate response when I read of this recent publication on the list of Science Fiction Books being published in February of 2019. Den Of Geek is such a wonderful resource, that.

So, I went and immediately bought the Kindle edition of Scratchman, and read through half of the novel in a handful of hours at work, when I made myself reign in things to keep from scarfing this all down in one setting. Take some time, enjoy it at a more leisure pace.

That’s why I waited until the next day to finish it. Totally worth it. Anyway…

If you’re a Doctor Who fan, I shouldn’t have to explain who Tom Baker is. His portrayal of the Doctor is the iconic version for many a Whovian, myself included. He was my first Doctor. He’s known mostly as an actor; he has written a couple of books: One autobiography, and one dark humor novel entitled The Boy Who Kicked Pigs.

Interestingly enough, Scratchman isn’t technically Baker’s first stab at writing for his character; the book actually started off as a rejected script he wrote with James Goss as a Doctor Who feature film. Forty years later, and we finally have that vision in book form. Which…let’s face it, this is probably the best way to present this story, using the reader’s imagination to come up with the special effects. They’re not as skinflint as the BBC would have let them back in the 70s.

The story of Scratchman is told in first person by the Fourth Doctor, who takes on the role of the Unreliable Narrator in this instance. He weaves a tale of how, beginning with standing trial in front of his fellow Time Lords (won’t be the last time that happens, sorry to say) to answer to the crime of…saving the universe. Again. His very existence is threatened to be wiped away permanently, lest he convinces the jury of peers that his actions have merit. So, he tells them a story of learning fear, of a time when he and his two companions — Sarah Jane and Harry — come across a village terrorized by living scarecrows, which leads to finding themselves in an alternate dimension where a powerful entity calling himself the Devil is wanting into our universe to feed off of. Mainly because his own cosmic all-you-can-eat buffet is nearly dry. Trust me, the Time Lords are a tough crowd. And it doesn’t help that the Doctor was late to his own trial, or that there was a literal Sword of Damocles dangling over him, waiting to wipe him from existence at the snap of the Time Lords’ fingers. In other words, it’s a typical day for the Doctor.

As to Tom Baker’s writing style, I described it to a friend as being like Terry Pratchett if he wrote for the Scholastic crowd. It’s in the same vein as Pratchett and Douglas Adams, but more whimsical, like a Roald Dahl after a couple of pints. As a matter of fact, the whole of Scratchman has that feel of a great-uncle (or what have you) spinning a spell-binding yarn; you can almost see the twinkle in Baker’s eye as he writes this all out for us.

So, yeah, Scratchman was a rather enjoyable Doctor Who story. It takes some interesting twists and turns, and satisfies that empty void that is always there while waiting for the next season series of Doctor Who to broadcast. Also, there’s a bit of a passing of the torch to Number Thirteen buried in there, somewhere. I’m not going to say where, you’ll have to read to see what happens. Which you should. Read it, I mean.

Movie Review: The GALAXY INVADER

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galaxy invaderMoviecraft Entertainment
1985
PG

“What’s dad gonna go huntin’ for, mom?”
“Let’s play Scrabble!”
“I hate that game.”

A drunken redneck encounters a newly arrived visitor from space while wandering in the woods. He recruits a whole gang of rednecks from the local pool hall, and they charge off into the woods to capture the creature. A college professor and one of his students are the only ones sympathetic to the plight of the Galaxy Invader, and they must match wits, if that is the word, with this army of backwoods slobs in order to keep the alien from being taken prisoner.

One of my favorite episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 was the Pod People episode. If you haven’t seen that particular classic, stop reading this now and go watch it. Go ahead, I can wait.

Finished? Good. Now, you may have noticed at the beginning and end credits of the movie itself, there were clips of a movie that had nothing to do with the actual movie itself. For years, I kept trying to find that particular movie, if it did indeed exist. Well, it does. It’s called The Galaxy Invader, and hoo boy, am I glad I found this.

An obscure low-budget direct-to-video sci-fi flick it’s easy to see how this escaped my attention back in the day. I don’t recall ever seeing it at the Applause Video where my family rented our movies (it would be another 10 years before Fremont would get an actual Blockbuster); I certainly never saw a copy for sale at any of the department stores. Just as well; something tells me I wouldn’t have appreciated such a momentous cheeseball like I do now.

Wow, where to begin with this movie? How about the main antagonist, the redneck Dad who’s always drinking, yelling at everybody for no apparent reason, threatening violence against his family at the very slightest provocation, all the while wearing a dirty white t shirt with a giant hole torn in the middle of it. Classy. Or how about the unintentionally hilarious dialogue, like the exchanged I decided to use as the quote up top of this review? Yeah, I had to pause the movie to let sink in that I just heard that exchange. Or the slapdash nature of the plot. Or, perhaps the alien costume that seems to be a cast-off reject from the Creature From The Black Lagoon set. The dime store special effects. Or that ending that really wants to get the feels out of you, but just ends up cheesy.

Whichever way you slice it, Galaxy Invader is amazingly bad, the kind of movie that you really want to watch with several of your friends just to take the brunt of the intensity of the cheese factor. If you do, you might want to get sufficient amounts of adult beverages and/or pain killers. Also, watch this on the RiffTrax edition to lessen the pain.

Movie Review: AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS

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await further instructionsDark Sky Films
2018
NR

It’s Christmas Day and the Milgram family wake to find a mysterious black substance surrounding their house. Something monumental is clearly happening right outside their door, but what exactly – an industrial accident, a terrorist attack, nuclear war? Descending into terrified arguments, they turn on the television, desperate for any information. On screen a message glows ominously: ‘Stay Indoors and Await Further Instructions’. As the television exerts an ever more sinister grip, their paranoia escalates into bloody carnage.

I know what you’re thinking. Maybe. You’re probably thinking, “Hey, according to that description blurb that Uncle NecRo stuck up there, this sounds something like that “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” episode of The Twilight Zone.” And I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that. After having watched Await Further Instructions, though, I would liken the movie to more of an extended, feature-length episode of The Outer Limits. The 1990s revival version, not the 1960s classic, mind you.

So what we have with Await Further Instructions is a very tense science fiction psychological thriller that may be as subtle with the social commentary as a cinder block with the word SUBTLETY written on it being heaved through a window and hitting you square on the forehead, but it’s a well-made and well-paced bit of British science fiction that manages to wiggle and burrow its way underneath the skin and embed itself there long after the end credits roll. The movie deftly leaves you with more questions, but in a way that adds to the tense atmosphere and paranoia that ensues. That ending show itself still chills me when I think about it.

In the end, Await Further Instructions is a small sci-fi flick that deserves to be sought after and checked out.

Book Review: DOCTOR WHO – City Of Death

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doctor who city of deathJames Goss
ACE Books
2015

The Doctor almost wished that for once he could sweep aside all the reversing the polarity of the death ray nonsense and just sit down for tea and natter over macaroons. If it wasn’t for the Count being a homicidal maniac, the two of them would get on famously. What a pity.

Back between September 29th and October 20th in 1979, the BBC broadcast one of the serials that sci-fi author Douglas Adams had a hand in writing; in that Adams heavily re-wrote an unfinished script that was originally titled “A Gamble With Time”. What resulted was a Doctor Who serial where the Fourth Doctor and is then-companion Romana run into an ancient alien while on holiday in Paris, an alien who inadvertently kick-started life on Earth due to an accident millions of years prior that killed off the remainder of his race, and is working to go back and prevent said accident. Also, there’s an Inspector involved. British wackiness ensues.

Over time, “City Of Death”, despite it being one of the more popular Doctor Who serials, was never given the Target Books novelization treatment initially. This was due mainly to Target offering the standard advance price to Adams for adapting the story, with Adams retorting, “I don’t want to be embarrassing but I do have a tendency to be a best-selling author,” and refusing to allow anyone else to write one.

It wasn’t until after Adams’ untimely death and long-time Doctor Who writer Gareth Roberts doing a bonny adaptation of Adams’ “Shada” script when we finally got an official novelization of “City Of Death”. Yeah, it was also supposed to be written by Roberts, but eventually the reigns were given to James Goss.

There. That takes care of the Obligatory History Portion of this review. Let’s get on the novelization, shall we?

As mentioned previously, the Fourth Doctor and Romana are on holiday in 1979 Paris, France, enjoying and relaxing in an outdoor cafe’, when the Doctor notices a lady scanning the security setup around the Mona Lisa with alien technology. So, along with an Inspector, they follow her back to a chateau owned by Count Scarlioni. There, they find equipment used in time experiments, along with several copies of the Mona Lisa. Romana and the Inspector continue to investigate things, while the Doctor zipps off in the TARDIS to visit Leonardo da Vinci, about the Mona Lisa copies. Romana and the Inspector are captured by Scartioni, with Romana pressed into building a working time machine by threatening to destroy all of Paris if she doesn’t; meantime, in the past, the Doctor is captured by an earlier iteration of Scartioni, who then explains that he is the last of an alien race that was wiped out by their ship exploding on Primordial Earth 400 million years ago, give or take a century. This explosion had the inadvertent effect of sparking life on the planet, which also created the concept of irony. Through the eons, Scartioni had been manipulating history to where, by the time the 20th Century rolled around, the technology was such that he could feasibly begin working on a time machine to go back to the beginning and stop the ship from ‘splodin’, funding the entire thing with selling off the several copies of the Mona Lisa he had commissioned da Vinci to paint. Of course, this plan doesn’t sit well with the Doctor, so he escapes back to 1979 Paris, which leads to a confrontation and showdown with the alien Count.

Like with the other Doctor Who serial novelizations I’ve read, I hadn’t seen the televised show this was based on before reading City of Death. I still haven’t gotten around to watching it; but based on this novelization, I probably will do so sometime shortly.

As a Doctor Who story in book form, City Of Death is written in that same kind of style that typified works by Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams…mainly Douglas Adams, probably because he wrote the script of the show itself, so it would make sense that James Goss would imitate his style. I haven’t really read anything of Goss’ outside of this and his other Doctor Who adaptation The Pirate Planet (also originally scripted by Adams), so I don’t know if that’s his natural writing style, or if he’s just imitating what he would think Adams would write, had he actually did the novelization himself. I might have to rectify that.

Regardless, reading this novelization of City Of Death was a blast. I recommend picking this up and checking it out.

Uncle NecRo Watches: PACIFIC RIM: Uprising

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UNCLE NECRO WATCHES

pacific rim uprising

Uncle NecRo is on holiday (the fancy European way of saying “vacation”) and have taken the afternoon to take in a showing of Pacific Rim: Uprising…this is his brain droppings on the thing…

necrosarx@gmail.com

::END TRANSMISSION::

Movie Review: STARGATE

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stargateMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
1994
PG-13

“I don’t want to die. And your men don’t want to die, and these people certainly don’t want to die. It’s a shame you’re in such a hurry to.”

It was a fall afternoon on a Sunday in 1994. I was attending college in Wayne, Nebraska; some of my friends and I attended a service at one of the megachurches in Souix City, then took in a showing of the newly released sci-fi flick Stargate. I had no idea what that movie was; at the time, I was blissfully ignorant of most genre movies being released at the time. This was also before I knew who Roland Emmerich was. All I remember was someone in the group saying, “Let’s go see Stargate,” and I was just along for the ride. Fortunately, it was a pretty fun ride.

After a flashback to an archeological dig in Giza, Egypt in 1928, we meet one Dr. Daniel Jackson in the current day, trying (and failing miserably) to convince his collegues of his theory that the Ancient Egyptian culture was influenced by aliens. He’s offered a gig to decipher some strange–one would say “alien”–hieroglyphics on the item that was found at the aforementioned Giza dig. Turns out, those weren’t hieroglyphs at all, but constellations, and putting those bits into the ginormous stone circle activates a wormhole. And since we’re a curious lot, Dr. Jackson joins a team of military soldiers lead by Colonel Jack O’Neil into the wormhole to see what’s on the other side. And what’s on the other side is a planet on the farthest side of the known galaxy. A desert planet, to be exact; one that has a pyramid-like structure, as well as locals that appear to have bearly entered the Bronze Age. Also, they see a necklace of the Eye of Ra that Dr. Jackson is wearing, and begin to worship the off-world newcomers. Turns out, the locals speak a variation of Ancient Egyptian, so Dr. Jackson is able to communicate with them. Seems that this alien culture has close ties to how Earth’s Egyptian culture arose. Namely, an alien going by the name of Ra possessing an Earthling and setting himself up as a god. But then, the Earthlings revolted and Ra escaped and set up shop on this planet, where reading and writing is outlawed. And wouldn’t you know it? During all this exposition, Ra’s ship arrives, and the god is none too pleased at this turn of events. And with Colonel O’Neil being a bit on the suicidal side of things due to the tragic death of his son prior to this movie, he brought along a nuclear warhead to detonate in the event of a hostile alien situation to protect Earth from invasion. And Ra and his minions are as hostile as they come. Wackiness and an alien uprising ensues.

There’s really not much more I can say at this point, other than Stargate remains one of those sci-fi classics that I never really tire of watching. I’ve seen this many times, owned the movie at one point (which got lost in the shuffle of life some time ago, unfortunately, and I haven’t had an opportunity to replace it), and its legacy still reverberates in pop culture today. And yes, Stargate is another one of those big budget B-Movie flicks that I recommend whole-heartedly.

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