The First Purge (2018)
“The Purge” movies continue to make money. As we all know, if a horror series continues to make money, sequels will usually continue to be made. There was one problem. “Election Year” ended with the New Founding Fathers of America being voted out of office and the annual tradition of the Purge being outlawed. So for the fourth entry, Blumhouse and James DeMonaco decided to go back in time. “The Purge: The Island” would be a prequel, showing us the events of the very first Purge Night. Perhaps hoping to prevent confusion with movies about cloning or pirates, the title was changed to the far catchier “The First Purge” before its release this past July.
Seemingly set in this year, the film shows the far-right N.F.F.A. being elected into office on a populist ideology, amid fears about crime and economic insecurity. Again, I know this is very difficult to imagine. At this time, a scientist named Dr. Updale conceives of a social experiment, were all crime will be legal for twelve hours. Stanton Island is chosen as the location for this prototype Purge. The film follows several people on the island: Big-shot drug dealer Dmitri, his ex-girlfriend and anti-Purge activist Nya, her younger brother and would-be hustler Isaiah, and their friends from the neighborhood. They will have to band together to survive a night that grows more violent as it goes on, especially once the N.F.F.A. sends armed mercenaries into the island.
racist, bordering-on-fascist government eager to wipe out the Americans that bother them the most: the poor and racially diverse.
It’s a good thing “The First Purge” is a timely reflection of modern life. As a horror film, this series continues to be kind of silly. The prequel pauses to depict the origin of those ridiculous masks Purgers like to wear. A goofy scene involves two old ladies decorating an alleyway with baby dolls stuffed with explosives. Another laugher has a Purger, also wearing a baby doll mask, unsuccessfully attempting to molest Nya. (She calls him a “pussy grabber,” one of several jabs at our Toddler-in-Chief.) There’s a preposterous character named Skeletor, a junkie with a cross carved into his face who wields a stabbing-glove made of syringes. The eeriest moments in “The First Purge” do not feature this over-the-top ghoulishness. Instead, the spookiest scenes recall real life. Such as when a group of Purgers dressed as cops beat a black man to death in a baseball diamond. Or white supremacists attacking a black church. Or the streets filling with Hummers full of gun-toting Klansmen.
The prequel’s cast is largely made up of newcomers. Y’Lan Noel, who stars as Dmitri, only has five prior screen credits. Yet the actor makes a real impression. He’s muscly enough to be convincing as a bad ass killer. He also projects a sympathetic and compassionate side, playing a man conflicted over his profession. Lex Scott Davis plays Nya and radiates a down-to-earth but thoughtful energy. Jovian Wade plays Isaiah, depicting a good kid who is being forced to make some hard decisions. The only name actor in the film is Marisa Tomei as Dr. Updale, the architect of the Purge. The part is pretty thin and Tomei doesn’t do much besides get increasingly exasperated.
Devil Girl from Mars (1954)
When watching “The Colossus of New York” the other day, I mentioned my youthful habit of reading books and watching documentaries about the history of horror and sci-fi. Along with the caped and robotic Colossus, another image stuck with me from those days. That of a peculiarly dressed Martian vilainness ordering a boxy robot minion down the ramp of her space ship. The source of this image is “Devil Girl from Mars,” an independently made British sci-fi/horror flick from 1954. The film is regarded in some circles as a so-bad-it's-good classic. All of that sounds right in my wheelhouse and I'm surprised I've never seen the movie before now.
The film is set on the Scottish moors, all the events playing out around a pub called the Bonnie-Prince-Charlie. Various melodramas play out inside the public house. An American reporter, Michael, pursues a romance with a former fashion model named Miss Prestwick. An on-the-run convict has fled to the bar, where he rekindles an old affair with the barmaid, Doris. These melodramas are interrupted when a flying saucer lands outside the bar. A female Martian calling herself Nyah emerges. Armed with a futuristic weapons, including a robot with an annihilating ray, she holds the pub patrons hostage. Nyah explains that the Martians are about to go extinct and she's here to capture human men, in hopes of repopulating the planet.
The Day the Earth Stood Still,” as both films feature a humanoid visitor from another planet, who comes with an ultimatum for Earth and a robot bodyguard that shoots disintegrating rays from its head. That the visitor lands in the Scottish countryside inside of a major city is another example of how low-budget this production really is.
Despite the limitations of its script and budget, “Devil Girl from Mars” is still kind of fun. Nyah makes for a memorable villain. Patricia Laffan wears a ridiculous vinyl outfit, including a shiny helmet, a cape, thigh high boots, and a leather mini-skirt. Aside from the memorably fetishistic outfit, Laffan barks maniacal dialogue in a way that works for the film. Nyah's mechanical henchman, bizarrely named Channi, is also memorable. There's a creaky power to the image of the blocky robot marching out of the flying saucer and blasting a car, a tree, and a farmhouse into oblivion. Setting the story on a stretch of Scottish countryside obviously still recovering from World War II provides a desolate feeling to the proceedings.
Aside from Laffan, the film also features an early role for Hazel Court, who would go onto scream queens status after appearing in several Hammer films. Even with the stodgy script, “Devil Girl from Mars” can't help but hit my sweet spot. It's a slow sci-fi flick with cheesy effects and hilariously dated everything else. Yet there's a certain charm to that, which don't see anywhere else but fifties B-flicks. I'm not surprised it became a cult classic of sorts. The film, with its horny alien villain who wears fetish gear and wields a tri-pronged ray gun, was a likely influence on “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” If that strain of bullshit appeals to you, you might want to check this one out. [7/10]
Little Bigfoot's Last Stand
This cartoon didn't need another annoying comic relief character but adds one anyway. Meet Hairball, Bigfoot's young nephew. The yeti mails himself to Harry's house, now located out in the country for undisclosed reasons. Pyron hopes to abduct Felicia but ends up grabbing the boy wizard and the annoying sasquatch instead. The bad guys hope to ransom Hairball but the Bigfoot clan realize the villains will tire of him long before then. Meanwhile, Felicia finds a way onto Pyron's ship, which she accomplishes by harassing Lord Raptor, so she can rescue Harry. Soon, chaos erupts on the alien's mothership.
After two relatively serious episodes, “Darkstalkers” swings back towards obnoxious comedy very hard with this one. Hairball is supposed to be an annoying character, which the show does too good a job of accomplishing. In the one genuinely amusing moment in the episode, the little bigfoot even drives the usually unflappable computer on Pyron's ship nuts. Even Lord Raptor, with his rock music puns, fails to amuse me this time. The episode gets aggressively wacky as it goes on, especially once Bigfoot and the other sasquatches teleport themselves onto the spaceship. The final action scene is set in Pyron's vault, where he keeps all his magical relics, which might've been a cool moment if the animation wasn't so lame. Overall, it's another fairly pathetic episode of the American “Darkstalkers” cartoon. [3/10]
“False Witness” starts with Nick watching out for Peter Farber, a police informant with a wire. Farber's talking with Murray Kozak, a sleazy pornography producer who is suspected of murdering an adult actress. When the sleazeball realizes Farber is wearing a wire, Nick leaps into action. The vampire flies into the room just after Kozak shoots the man in cold blood. He claims he saw the producer murder the witness. An investigation follows, internal affairs discovering some inconsistencies in Nick's story. He has to testify at a daytime trial, which is problematic for a vampire.
The conflict of “False Witness” is twofold. Nick knows Kozak killed Farber but he didn't literally see him pull the trigger. Everyone on the force, including Schanke and Stonetree, tell Nick he should lie so the scumbag goes away for life. Nick feels the lie weighing on him soon enough, mainly because it reminds him of seeing a witness lie on the stand in the 1700s. This stuff is mildly compelling from a dramatic stand-point. Forcing a vampire to function during a daytime trial is a little more fun, as Natalie smuggles Nick into the courtroom in the trunk of his car. His fingers singe a little while touching the Bible and giving the oath. He has to lean back from the sunlight crossing the court room. (And there's a cute denouncement where Nick and Nat watch “King Kong” together.) These elements make for a decent episode, even if the subplot involving a dominatrix pays off in a contrived way, there's another cheesy shot of Nick flying, and there's way too much stock footage. [7/10]