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Friday, 20 January 2012

Review Round-Up: The Stone Tape; Man-Thing; In The Name Of The King 2 - Two Worlds

The Stone Tape (1972): Broadcast only twice on the BBC, then released on DVD by the BFI (with a commentary by writer Nigel Kneale) which went out of print and has never been re-released, The Stone Tape has become one of those hard-to-track down Holy Grails for genre fans.

Sure you can watch it cut up into segments on YouTube, but that's simply not the same.

An electronics company sequesters its research and development team away in a partially-refurbished old Victorian country house to work on developing a new recording medium (remember this is the early 1970s).

However, they quickly come to believe that the house - and in particular a dank storeroom - is haunted and hit upon the idea of using their technology to attempt to 'record' the ghost (or whatever the phenomena is).

With their boss, Peter Brock (Michael Bryant), pushing them ever harder because of pressures from the company chief as well as problems in his complicated personal life, it looks as though the scientists might have cracked the conundrum... or have they made it worse?

Nigel Kneale, of course, is best known for creating and writing Quatermass, the precursor to Doctor Who, and The Stone Tape stands alongside it as some of his finest work. While the visual effects haven't dated well (and are possibly introduced a bit too early), the high-calibre acting, creepy atmosphere (given that it's all obviously wobbly stage sets) and sound effects stir nerve-jangling memories of the mother-of-all haunted house movies The Haunting (from 1963).

The team's methodical and scientific approach to whatever is going on in the store room offers up a surprisingly plausible explanation for ghostly encounters, but the story goes beyond that - with hinted-at levels of almost Lovecraftian horror of the primeval unknown.

Very much a product of its time, complete with casual sexism and racism that wouldn't have even raised an eyebrow three decades ago, The Stone Tape laid the groundwork for paranormal investigation dramas such The X-Files and Fringe by treating the subject of ghosts as manifestations of scientific processes rather than anything to do with the afterlife or superstitious mumbo-jumbo.

If you manage to snag an affordable second-hand DVD of The Stone Tape (as I luckily did; thank you eBay!) accept that it is very much a 'period piece' compared to modern television and prepare to have your nerves jingled.

Man-Thing (2005): A lesser-known Marvel comics movie that is more monster-horror than eco-avenging superhero (as I believe the character is in the comic books; it's never been a character that registered too strongly with me as it just appeared to be a pale imitation of DC's Swamp Thing, which was addictive reading during Alan Moore's stint at the helm).

Nevertheless as cheap horror trash goes, Man-Thing isn't half-bad and certainly doesn't deserve a lot of the negativity it generally attracts on da Interwebz.

It may lack the '80s yumminess of an Adrienne Barbeau or a Heather Locklear, but Man-Thing is leagues ahead of both of the Swamp Thing movies simply because it plays it straight.

A new sheriff (Matthew Le Nevez - Australia's answer to Michael Shanks) arrives in the small community of Bywater (because it's "by the water") and is immediately drawn into a feud between local activists and an oil company drilling in sacred Indian land in the swamps.

There's also the multiple unsolved missing cases - including the previous sheriff - for him to look into.

Throw in some redneck good ol'boys, mystic Native Americans, legends about a "guardian spirit" in the swamps, a spurious romance and a heap of brooding atmosphere and you've got a solid B-movie base to build on, with a reasonably complex conspiracy at its core.

Director Brett Leonard wisely holds off on revealing too much of the "Man-Thing" until the final act, but still manages to splash a fair amount of gore about with a number of splatacular death scenes. Couple that with casual nudity and harsh language and this simply isn't what the average audience member would expect from a Marvel Comics movie.

But for those of us that love our monster movies, Man-Thing delivers the goods without being stupid, dull or boring.

While comic book fans may not recognise the movie Man-Thing as the one they know from the comics, writer Hans Rodionoff acknowledges his sources by naming several characters after prominent creators from Man-Thing's comic book life (e.g. Steve Gerber, Mike Ploog and Val Mayerik).

In The Name Of The King 2 - Two Worlds (2011): After the gonzo epicness of Uwe Boll's first In The Name Of The King movie (which I still really like), the sequel, Two Worlds, is a strangely low-key affair (presumably for budgetary reasons).

Ex-special forces officer Granger (Dolph Lundgren) is whisked away from our world to the war-torn Kingdom of Ehb (where the original film took place) by the sorceress Elianna (Natalia Guslistaya).

Time has moved on since the first movie, Farmer is dead and a new king sits on the throne, Raven (Lochlyn Munro). He needs Granger to fulfil his role in a prophecy and slay the leader of his enemies, The Dark Ones.

Accompanied by the court physician, Manhatten (Natassia Malthe) and a small detachment of soldiers, Granger heads off into the wilderness to assassinate The Holy Mother (Christina Jastrzembska) - belatedly finding out everything isn't quite what it seems.

Two Worlds is an enjoyable, if not wholly original, romp that doesn't overdo the "fish-out-of-water" shtick (Granger actually adapts to his new situation very quickly, although never makes any effort to blend in with the locals).

Hampered by an unnecessary, and thankfully infrequently used, voice-over from Lundgren, which I mistakenly took at first as the 'audio description track' as it was just telling me what I was seeing on the screen, and odd lines of clunky dialogue, Two Worlds nevertheless reinforces my belief that the fantasy genre is the much maligned Uwe Boll's strongest.

There's also a sad lack of monsters (only one - a CGI dragon - makes an appearance) and The Dark One's costumes are remarkably unremarkable, little more than fancy dress ninja suits.

While the "earth-man saves alien world" aspect works surprisingly well with the clever plot twists sown into the story, and the ending is clearly left open for a sequel (it was very John Carter-esque in that sense), I hope that if Uwe returns to this well for a third time the next In The Name Of The King movie is more akin to the original.

Two Worlds
is fun, but reminiscent of so many other low-budget fantasy flicks, while at least the first film had a flair of eccentric exuberance about it.

4 comments:

  1. The Stone Tape is great! The Man-Thing is almost the opposite of that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Chalk and cheese ;) In its defence I'd put off watching Man-Thing since it came out because of its bad press, but as it was TV the other night I thought I might as well take the plunge... and I didn't find it as awful as I expected.

      Delete
  2. I'm glad you liked 'The Stone Tape'; for all it's datedness it's still genuinely spine-tingling in places. I'd also recommend Neal's other great one-off TV play, 'The Year of the Sex Olympics'...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Philip, I shall have to track that one down as well then as I see it's another limited BFI release which is going for silly money on Amazon (around £60!)

      Delete

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