The Quiet Earth (1985) This low-key sci-fi thriller from New Zealand underscores the fact that they just don’t make ‘em like this in Hollywood. The focus is on ideas and relationships rather than overblown action scenes or elaborate set pieces. The beginning is similar to the Twilight Zone episode “Where is Everybody?” but soon goes off on a completely different tangent. Zac Hobson (Bruno Lawrence) wakes up to find that he could be the last person on Earth. He eventually links up with two other individuals that have somehow managed to survive this mysterious worldwide cataclysm (their reason for being presents an interesting, yet enigmatic twist).
Zac was part of a shadowy multi-national science project (initiated by the Americans) called “Project Flashlight” – part of a global array meant to tap into the power of the sun as a means of virtually inexhaustible power. As a direct result of the experiment, virtually the entire worldwide population has vanished and the fabric of the universe has been compromised. As if things weren’t bad enough, Zac concludes that the changes aren’t over. The Quiet Earth raises many questions, but only answers some. Much is left to our own speculation. One of the dominant themes is the guilt that Zac harbors over his culpability for the disaster, bringing to mind World War II’s Manhattan Project. Zac is haunted by his compliance in an endeavor that he knew was morally objectionable, and wants to remedy things, if it’s not too late. While director Geoff Murphy’s film ponders the philosophical and ethical implications of a science experiment gone very wrong, he never forgets about the human element. Even in this post-apocalyptic world, human connections still matter, including love, companionship and the petty jealousies that go with them.
Rating: ****. Available on DVD.
The Innkeepers (2011) Writer/director Ti West’s (House of the Devil) creepy haunted hotel flick succeeds by teasing our expectations instead of overwhelming our senses. After more than a century in business, the historic Yankee Pedlar Inn is closing its doors for good, and it’s the last chance for its staff to learn if something unworldly really walks the halls. Luke (Pat Healy), a slacker in his 30s, and Claire (Sara Paxton) 20-something without much direction, are the skeleton staff assigned to the hotel in its final days. Both leads provide likable, naturalistic performances, balancing the tension with brief humorous moments. Kelly McGillis plays one of the few remaining guests, a cantankerous, aging actress who moonlights as a paranormal investigator. Aside from the unassuming performances, there’s nothing particularly new about The Innkeepers, with its requisite assortment of jolts, false scares, and people splitting up when common sense dictates that they should stay together. Amidst these rather predictable elements, however, West really knows how to create a slow build without showing his hand until the film’s conclusion. Save it for a chilly autumn evening for maximum effect.
Rating: *** ½. Available on DVD and Blu-Ray
The Resurrected (aka: Shatterbrain) (1993) This direct-to-video effort from director Dan O’Bannon is worth a look, if you can find it. Writer Brent V. Friedman’s retelling of H.P. Lovecraft’s short novel, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward elicits some genuine chills, despite an uneven pace. John Terry plays private detective John March, hired by Claire Ward (Jane Sibbett) to track the whereabouts of her husband, Charles Dexter Ward (Chris Sarandon). Mr. Ward has become increasingly aloof, choosing to immerse himself in his work rather than spend time with his wife. March follows Ward’s trail of blood and body parts to a series of macabre experiments based on his ancestor’s journal. This otherwise cut-rate production boasts some surprisingly good makeup effects and generates an ominous tone of Lovecraftian dread. Unfortunately, the DVD appears to be out of print, but it’s available for the time being through Netflix. Catch it if you can.
Rating: ***. Available on Netflix Streaming
The Sword and the Sorceror (1982) A would-be epic fantasy directed by Albert Pyun, which appeared during the glut of similar 80s fare. The characters are paper thin, and the story drags too much in the middle to be considered good dumb fun. Our nominal hero Talon (Lee Horsley) is mostly ineffectual throughout the movie, and not very likable. His primary motivation seems to be claiming the right to bed the woman who hired him to rescue her brother from the clutches of the scheming despot Cromwell (Richard Lynch). The titular sorcerer (Richard Moll) disappears after the first third of the movie, only to return at the flaccid climax. The Sword and the Sorceror’s dubious claim to fame is one of the most awkward weapons committed to cinema, which could only have sprouted from a 14-year-old boy’s imagination. Talon sports a three-pronged sword that can launch the individual blades at his enemies (Which begs the question, does he carry spares?). It’s a geek favorite that just doesn’t stand the test of time. Close, but no cigar.
Rating: **. Available on DVD.