A Thousand Words: Cave Dwellers

Cave Dwellers

Officially, this was the second movie in the Ator series of Conan the Barbarian knock offs. But it’s as “Cave Dwellers” that it leapt into my heart as the greatest Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode I have watched. The small and sus company known as Film Ventures International took a questionable strategy of getting the rights to show clips from movies, changing the titles and credits, then calling the rest of the movie a “clip” for legal reasons. It only worked because they were small.

Anyway, the film started with an extremely blurry clip from a 1960s Italian Tarzan knockoff in its bootleg credits, and then only got crazier from there, following up with an action-packed climax featuring a hang glider and concluding with nuclear bomb footage(!). Joel and the robots excelled, especially because this is the kind of mock where the movie itself has enough great material to build on (for instance, it’s hard to do that much with a stilted, no-budget 50s movie).

Yeah. This is my favorite Mystery Science Theater episode of all time. It’s amazing, and the movie it’s mocking is amazingly bad.

A Thousand Words: Electric Football

Electric Football

As Christmas approaches, it’s important to acknowledge a rite of passage every American child has faced. Getting an electric football set and only using it once. I remember getting an electric football set, thinking the players were actually programmable (ha!), watching them shake downfield once after turning the game on, and never touching it again.

The creation of Norman Sas and Tudor Games shortly after WWII, electric football involves a vibrating board to move its players. When the NFL expanded massively in popularity, electric football gained the official license, becoming the Madden of its day. If Madden was programmed in two days by people who couldn’t make the cut at Game Freak or Bethesda.

Now electric football is both technically improved and far less popular because, you know, video games exist. But it was and still is a thing.

A Thousand Words: Billy The Kid VS Dracula

Billy The Kid VS Dracula

When I saw the title of the 1966 film Billy The Kid vs. Dracula, I knew I had to watch it. With a name like that, you know you’re in for something special. And this indeed was something very special. A vampire Western that hits every single cliche of both genres, the story is that Billy The Kid has reformed (!) and aims for a new peaceful life, but his fiancee is threated by Dracula.

Actually, there’s one point in which the movie is surprisingly progressive for its time: The inevitable Native American attack on the stagecoach is explicit as only happening because Dracula killed one of the previously stated as friendly ones and blamed it on the other passengers. Apart from that, it differs in how stupid and clueless everyone, including female lead Melinda Plowman, is. I was rooting for the vampire, especially because John Carradine (David’s father) delivers one of the few good performances as the monster.

This is very much a B-movie with B-movie problems, but its pure weirdness means it’s worth a watch.

A Thousand Words: Scanners

Scanners

The 1981 David Cronenberg film Scanners, about people with psychic powers, is a perfect movie to review in October. It’s also an underappreciated movie. See, it has Cronenberg’s trademark twisted body horror done in a way that’s suspenseful and not overexaggerated. It also manages to be excellently paced and creepy.

However, most people only know Scanners for the scene where a man’s head explodes. While that is well-done, there’s so much more to the movie than that. It’s well worth a watch.

A Thousand Words: SpringSharp

SpringSharp

Want to design a physically capable steam-age (1850-1950) warship? Then Springsharp is the game/program for you! Designing anything from coast defense ironclads with low freeboard to ridiculous twenty turret monsters, it works very well for any alternate shipbuilder.

Some caveats are in order. First, it’s just a weight simulator. This is why it doesn’t really work for volume-dependent missile age ships. Second, it works better for large (by the standards of the time) ships than small ones. Third, you have to know the basics of naval design and ship dimensions to really put in the right numbers for a viable ship.

But with this in mind, it’s an excellent simulation that can create the fleets of your dreams.

A Thousand Words: Airport

Airport: The Movie

I was not exactly the fondest of the original novel Airport. So what did I think about the Burt Lancaster movie, which basically created the disaster genre? It was mixed, but I’m willing to give it a break based on its limitations. Having read the book first was not the best way to appreciate the movie, especially as it tracks the plot well. Too well.

First off, the cinematography is dated and clunky. This isn’t the movie’s fault, but it was one of the last “old fluffy Hollywood” movies, and it was made just before movies got more dynamic and more of an edge (the low body count in this compared to later disaster films is something.) But that’s not really its fault.

What I do think is its fault is trying to cram too many subplots from the book into an inherently shorter movie. A looser adaptation would have been preferable, especially because the book is not very movie friendly. It has too much overhang of “look inside an airport” and less focus on the main “a plane is in danger” plot.

Thankfully, the cast and crew are undeniably talented, and they do the best within these limitations. It’s easy to see why it made so many imitators, and at the time, it would have been seen rightfully as a giant spectacle.

A Thousand Words: Snakes On A Plane

Snakes On A Plane

One of the first “internet meme movies”, the Samuel L. Jackson epic Snakes On A Plane has a title that, like The Death Of Stalin, describes the movie perfectly. As part of a convoluted scheme to eliminate a murder witness, a crate full of crazed snakes are set loose in a 747 flying from Hawaii to Los Angeles. And that’s basically the entire plot of the movie. This is not a character drama or deep film.

Thankfully, it is an enjoyable one. It’s actually an heir to the 1970s disaster movies more than anything else, which got plenty ridiculous by themselves. Embracing the ridiculousness, it serves as a wonderfully stupid and crazy spectacle. You’re not watching this for the sake of a good movie. You’re watching this for the sake of a fun one. And it’s very, very fun.

A Thousand Words: Noita

Noita

A roguelike platformer based on Finnish mythology, Noita (Finnish for “mage” ) is a brilliant game of losing. You control a vague purple-robed wand-wielding adventurer and delve into one randomly generated cave after another, facing all sorts of threats and almost always getting killed.

The big gimmick of Noita, besides its huge array of customizations, is that every single part of the game world is destructible. So yes, with the right tools you can blast a tunnel down and avoid the monsters-in theory. In practice you’ll probably just break open the entrance to a lava pit or something. This is not a fair game.

But it is a fun one, and it handles well. The player character has a limited levitation “jump” that handles a lot like the jetpack in the classic platformer Cave Story (that’s unlikely to be a coincidence). It’s very smooth and precise, and thus works beautifully. Obviously not everyone will play as story-light, unfair a game as Noita, but for what it is, it’s incredible.

A Thousand Words: The Assassination of Trotsky

The Assassination of Trotsky

Directed by Joseph Losey and starring Richard Burton as the title character, The Assassination of Trotsky is often placed on many “worst movies ever” lists. It is a well deserved placement. For this is a terrible, terrible movie. And it’s deliberately terrible-it’s not due to circumstances, but due to creative choices.

First off is Richard Burton’s performance. His Trotsky looks like a cheap Colonel Sanders mascot and acts like that aging beatnik professor you had in college and loathed. You will learn absolutely nothing about the historical context from this film. In fact, the only way to make sense of the incoherent plotting is to assume that Losey thought the audience would already know everything historically relevant.

Second is the massive, massive padding. Since it doesn’t take ninety minutes to have an ax hitting someone in the head (SPOILER ALERT!), Losey fills the movie with filler. This includes a scene involving rabbits being raised, a long gondola ride where Stalin’s image appears in the water, and, worst of all, a long and gruesome bullfight scene. The only attempts at suspense involve dragging every scene out and playing minimalist music. This gets old after about, oh, two such scenes.

About the only sympathetic character is Romy Schneider’s “Gita”, who is as confused with the situation and disgusted with the bullfight as the audience is. Sadly, she cannot carry on her own, and is the subject of a padding scene as well.

This is a terrible, terrible mess that’s almost so bad it’s good. Almost.

A Thousand Words: Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura

One of many indie platformers, Camera Obscura is the story of a photographer-woman trying to climb to the top of an ancient clockwork tower. The big gameplay gimmick is that you can take photos, and the “afterimages” will move for a bit before freezing. This creates temporary platforms.

A (mostly) slow-paced puzzle game, this is not an easy finish. The excellent (I’d recommend the game for the soundtrack alone) original music kind of fits with each area. The story, which is a combination of exposition about the tower builders and a really pretentious, almost stereotypical love story plot involving the photographer, doesn’t really do so. But it’s a small part.

As far as indie games go, you could do a lot worse. Did I mention the music is amazing?