Blake’s 7: Redemption (1979)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Liberator is attacked and its crew taken prisoner…

Series B, episode 1. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: Vere Lorrimer. Originally broadcast: 9 January 1979, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Blake (14) is still worrying about the prediction made by super computer Orac at the end of the previous series. And well he should, given that it seemed to be a vision of the Liberator being destroyed. Then his day gets even worse when the ship is attacked by two pursuit ships and its systems are disabled. Eventually, the aliens who built the Liberator teleport aboard, seize the craft and take the crew hostage. On their space station, however, Blake is able to engineer an escape with the help of a slave he happens to bump into.
* Zen (12) replays Orac’s vision of the future for Blake (and us viewers) to reassess what Orac actually foretold. But once the Liberator is attacked, Zen is taken over by the hostile aliens.
* Cally (11) has had an unflattering haircut since the last episode. As this story begins, she and her colleagues are checking the Liberator’s systems for faults.
* Jenna (14) is the most badly injured crewmember when the ship is attacked. She has to be taken to her room, but is soon up and running again. The character’s position as ‘third in command’ is reinforced in this episode: not only does Blake specify that Orac should obey only him, Avon and Jenna, but the script keeps her in focus while Gan, Vila and Cally fade into the background.
* After the attack, Gan (13) does a recce of the ship’s innards to see what’s been damaged, then is overpowered when intruders teleport aboard.
* Vila (14) says he had a headache. (“Have you considered amputation?” quips Avon.) He gets to use his lockpicking skills on the aliens’ space station.
* Orac (2) refuses to contextualise his prediction of the Liberator being destroyed. Despite the computer’s enormous capabilities, it takes Blake half the episode to ask him for help. Orac then essentially says he’s too busy. (From this episode on, Orac is voiced by Peter Tuddenham, doubling up the role with that of Zen.)
* Avon (13) rather smugly points out something that everyone else has missed in Orac’s prediction: by looking at the stars behind the ship, they can identify where the incident will happen. All they need do is avoid that area of space. (You’ll never guess where this episode’s plot-of-the-week takes them…) After he’s captured by the bad guys, Avon is put in a cell with Jenna and tells her that, if they’re going to die, they may as well go down fighting.

Best bit: The final scene of the episode. The crew watch on as the Liberator’s only-just-introduced-into-the-story sister ship explodes – *that* was the craft Orac predicted would be destroyed. Blake then sets course for Earth sector, saying he has unfinished business with the Federation. Avon is concerned and tells Blake so. Blake coolly orders his colleague to get back to his flight-deck position. Avon momentarily considered arguing, then defers to Blake. It’s a moment charged with electric subtext.

Worst bit: The episode’s powering along nicely to begin with: the opening sequences are fun, urgent and intriguing. But after quarter of an hour or so we cut to the guest characters and they’re blank, bland aliens with no personality or texture. The story takes a nosedive in quality and it’s difficult to care about what’s happening.

Review: A poor start to the second season, sadly. It seems to be largely a 50-minute explanation (or justification) for the first season’s cliffhanger. There’s no meat to the story beyond that. Also, given that it’s a new season, the regular cast have had a makeover. All sport new costumes, which feel horribly ‘designed’. The functional, Robin Hood-inspired jerkins and hoodies have been ditched in favour of flamboyant sci-fi garb that wouldn’t look out of place in Flash Gordon. (Meanwhile, Avon’s new metal-studded leather top makes him look like a customer at that gay bar characters keep accidentally going to in the Police Academy films.)

Five medium-range neutron blasters out of 10

Next episode: Shadow

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Blake’s 7: Bounty (1978)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Blake visits an exiled former president and tries to convince him to return to public life. But then the Liberator crew are taken prisoner by smugglers…

Series A, episode 11. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: Pennant Roberts. Originally broadcast: 13 March 1978, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Cally (8) is sneaking round some woods with Blake as the episode begins. As they break into a building to find its inhabitant she uses her telepathic skills to silently warn Blake that guards are near. (This episode feels like Terry Nation has suddenly remembered he has a character who can talk to her colleagues without being heard.)
* Blake (11) has come to Quex Park in Kent (or whatever planet it’s standing in for) to find ex-President Sarkoff, who has been living in exile since he was voted out of office seven years ago. Well, it’s not exile really: his defeat was rigged, and he’s actually a prisoner being watched by a whole garrison of Federation troops. But Blake wants him to return and rally his people against the fascist overlords. Later in the episode, the Liberator crew, Sarkoff and his daughter are taken hostage by some smugglers. Like his friends, Blake is made to wear a metal ring round his neck; if he misbehaves, his head will be blown off. (Similar devices feature in the 1987 film The Running Man. Being a movie with an 18 certificate, rather than a BBC1 drama on at 7.15pm, we actually see what happens when they activate.)
* Vila (11) isn’t happy when an unidentified ship approaches the Liberator while Blake and Cally are down on the planet. He’s told to shut up, but says he’s entitled to his opinion. “It is your assumption that we are entitled to it as well that is irritating,” quips Avon. Later, Vila’s lock-picking skills come in useful again when he’s given the tense job of deactivating Blake’s explosive-neck-thingy.
* Jenna (11) runs point when the Liberator encounters what claims to be a civilian cruiser in distress. However, its occupants – Arab-like smugglers led by an old acquaintance of Jenna’s – trick their way aboard and take everyone prisoner. Well, not everyone: Jenna seems to switch sides and even tells Blake that their friends have been killed in order to trap him. But – and this is quite plain for all to see – Jenna is just conning Tarvin the smuggler.
* Avon (10) is against helping the ‘cruiser’, assuming (accurately) that it’s a trap. When Gan teleports over to see what’s what but doesn’t return, Avon even advocates destroying the craft with his friend aboard. Meanwhile, his sibling-like bickering with Vila continues to be a highlight of the series.
* Gan (10) starts off the episode as the Liberator’s Uhura – he has headphones on and is futilely trying to contact a nearby UFO. He then volunteers to teleport across to it to investigate, even though he knows it’s dangerous.
* Zen (9) has a few bits of exposition to impart – the most important is when he tells Vila that a message from Gan is not actually Gan’s voice.

Best bit: The first time we see Sarkoff, he’s being driven along in an Edwardian car – he has a big hat and a blonde chauffeur (who we eventually learn is his daughter, Tryce). It’s the start of an interesting theme. Sarkoff is obsessed with antiques from old Earth, such as a gramophone and a revolver. For a show set in a nebulously far-off future it’s a nice link to the past. It also gives us a surreal moment when Blake is bemused by the sound of 1950s rock’n’roll hit Singing the Blues.

Worst bit: Sarkoff is a verbose, flamboyant man. He should be memorable and interesting, but while the script is clearly reaching for something with this character – a certain melancholy, a lamenting for a ‘more civilised age’ – it just doesn’t come off. He’s more irritating than anything and it’s hard to imagine how he was that influential in the first place. Poignant moments, such as his touching anguish when Blake threatens to destroy his antique collection, are nice in themselves but don’t add up to much.

Review: Disappointing. The overly long scenes and dull storyline would be bad enough, but then we have to excuse some awful racial stereotyping when the smugglers show up.

Five microwave transmitters out of 10

Next episode: Deliverance

Jamaica Inn (1939)

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An occasional series where I review a randomly selected movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock…

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A young Irish woman travels to Cornwall to meet her aunt, but soon encounters a local gang of smugglers…

Alfred Hitchcock’s last film before he moved to Hollywood is the first of his three adaptations of Daphne du Maurier novels. Readers of her 1936 book, however, will spot many differences. It’s still the wild, windy Cornish coastline of the early 19th century, and the plot is still ignited when a young woman arrives to live with her aunt. But Hitch and his team of writers added a new master villain and tweaked the romance subplot. The result never quite comes together, sadly.

It begins impressively. The opening dramatises a ship drawn off course by a nefarious light in the night and purposely wrecked on the ragged rocks. It’s amazing well staged with models, full-size sets and gallons of water sloshing around. The sequence then takes a even darker turn as the survivors of the wreck are murdered by the gang of smugglers who caused it.

We then cut to the beautiful, feisty heroine of the story: Mary Yellan (Maureen O’Hara). Her mother has died back home in Ireland, so she’s travelling to Jamaica Inn, a Cornish coaching house, to live with her aunt. However, she ends up being stranded on the moor, so knocks on the first front door she can find. It turns out to be the house of the local squire: the bloated, erudite hedonist Sir Humphrey Pengallan (Charles Laughton, theatrical), who’s hosting a dinner party but agrees to take her to Jamaica Inn.

At the eponymous inn, the plot twists come thick and fast: Mary’s uncle, the slovenly Joss (Leslie Banks), is the leader of the wreckers; and although no one but the two men know it, his boss is Sir Humphrey. The gang, by the way, is full of distinctive, memorable character actors having fun with little screentime. When they suspect their newest member of stealing from them, they hang him and leave him hung – but shocked Mary cuts him down and they flee. We then get another plot twist: the man, Jem Trehearne (Robert Newton), is actually an undercover lawman. However, he chooses to reveal this information to the local justice of the peace, Sir Humphrey…

But for all its snakes-and-ladders plotting, the film lacks something. Hitchcock directs with a good pace, but you never feel for the characters’ plights. It’s all atmosphere and shock reveals. The poor treatment of the female characters is also a problem. Mary is the lead character, yet is absent for long stretches, while both her and her aunt make lame excuses for the brutish behaviour of the male characters.

Five rum-rotten sailors out of 10

Topaz (1969)

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An occasional series where I review a randomly selected movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock…

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A French spy based in Washington attempts to rout out a mole in his organisation…

There’s an international feel to this, partly because of the European actors dominating the cast list, partly because of the use of Copenhagen and Paris as locations. But there’s also a Euro vibe to the filmmaking. It’s loucher, more laid-back, more self-consciously sedate, than a typical Hollywood movie.

We begin with cloak-and-dagger clichés as a Soviet intelligence officer defects to the West. He’s lifted by American spies led by CIA agent Mike Nordstrom (John Forsythe, in his second Hitchcock role) and soon reveals that the Russians are placing nuclear weapons on Cuba. (It’s 1962, by the way: post-Bay of Pigs, pre-missile crisis.) Nordstrom can’t approach the Cubans directly, though, so enlists an old pal to do it for him – James Bond-ish French spy André Devereaux (Frederick Stafford), who then becomes the movie’s lead character.

As events develop – Devereaux investigates, travels to Cuba, has a liaison with his sexy mistress, splits up from his wife, learns of a double agent codenamed Topaz – the script uses an odd structure. The focus keeps switching as characters pass the narrative baton on to the next person in the chain. Nordstrom sets the story running, then drops out of the film for long stretches; Devereaux is the nominal lead, but during one section has a proxy called Philippe Dubois.

The Dubois sequence is actually the best in the movie. Played by Roscoe Lee Browne with a smirk and a cool confidence, Dubois is a French-Martinican agent hired by Devereaux. A delegation of Cubans are in New York to attend a UN powwow. In order to show solidarity with the black community, they’re staying at a hotel in Harlem – but Devereaux knows their leader has a document that details the Soviet missile plan. So he hires Dubois to bribe his way into the hotel, pretend to be a sympathetic journalist and charm the leader so he can get a look at the document. In a film that seriously lacks tension at times, this part of the story really grips you.

There are other pleasures too, including a striking shot when a key character is killed – as Cuban resistance leader Juanita de Cordoba (Karin Dor from You Only Live Twice) falls to the floor, we see it from a camera directly above her, her dress billowing out to echo a pool of blood. There are also some fun moments where Hitchcock shows characters discussing the plot but places them so far from the camera that we can’t hear the dialogue: Hitch knew how boring exposition can be.

But all too often the story drags or diverts down a cul-de-sac. A flat, low-energy script and a weak cast – Frederick Stafford and Dany Robin, playing Devereaux’s wife, are especially poor – make it difficult to care about what’s going on. A number of badly dated rear-projection shots for dialogue scenes in moving cars really don’t help either, nor does the lack of star power in the cast.

Five men in a wheelchair out of 10

Note: The film suffered horrendously in some pre-release test screenings, with the climax (a duel between Devereaux and the unmasked Topaz) coming in for most criticism. So around 20 minutes were cut out and two alternative endings were hastily knocked together. The version used for this review was the longer edit but had the ending seen in the UK in 1969 – Topaz gets away with his crimes and flies off to Moscow. (The default release print in 1969 used stolen shots from elsewhere in the movie to imply that Topaz has killed himself.)

Alien: Covenant (2017, Ridley Scott)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

On 5 December 2104, the crew of the spaceship Covenant are awoken early from their hibernation. Spotting a nearby planet, they land and explore, hoping to start a new colony. But the planet is not uninhabited…

The cast: The opening scene is set before Prometheus, the previous film in this series, and features two characters from that movie. Peter Wayland is younger than we’d previously seen him, so actor Guy Pearce has shed his old-man prosthetics, while the android David (Michael Fassbender) is being switched on for the first time. We then cut to around 10 years after the events of Prometheus and Michael Fassbender appears again. But it’s not David. He’s now playing another android called Walter. (This one has an American accent.) Walter’s keeping an eye on the spaceship Covenant as its human crew and 2000 colonists are in stasis. Then a plot device wakes the crew up unexpectedly and we start to meet them. Here lies a big problem: the cast is just too big. The first Alien movie has only seven people in it, and all were vivid and vibrant characters. Its immediate sequel had many more, but focused on a select few and made sure the others were memorable. Here, we’re bombarded with *15* really bland people we’re supposed to know and care about, and not one of them is given a memorable introduction. It could have been even more, but the captain is killed before he even wakes up. (Oddly, James Franco – often a leading man – was cast for this perfunctory character.) Some come across better than others. Katherine Waterston as Daniels is the closest thing to an Ellen Ripley type: a strong-willed woman who survives until the end. Billy Crudup gives an okay performance as Oram, the second-in-command who has to replace the captain. Comic actor Danny McBride wears a cowboy hat so you can always pick him out as Tennessee. But most of the characters are dully dull. Several of the crew are also paired off into married couples – all straight, mind – and it’s a tiresome struggle to remember which one is wed to which, even with people crowbarring phrases like ‘my wife’ into their dialogue. Much later in the film, after the crew have landed on a planet, they meet David. He’s been stranded there for several years. The movie then heads into batshit-crazy territory as Fassbender has some risible, tedious, two-handed scenes where he plays both David and Walter at the same time. (“Watch me, I’ll do the fingering.”)

The best bit: As in Prometheus, the film comes alive when it feels closest to the original Alien. The first burst of xenomorph action comes after 40 minutes or so. One of the group has been infected by microscopic bugs and starts convulsing and then vomits. He’s taken by two female colleagues to a medical bay aboard the ship and shakes violently; then an alien bursts out of his back and attacks the women. The cutting is good, the music is tense, there’s some smart handheld camerawork, and we even get a couple of moments of black comedy as people slip on pools of blood. You really feel the dread and panic and terror. The film then goes back to being sluggish and underwhelming.

Review: It’s happened before. Someone has a huge success, but then misunderstands why people liked it so much. For example, when George Lucas returned to the Star Wars series in the 1990s he seemed to be under the impression that the world had been charmed by the earlier films’ diplomacy drama and clunky religion. No, George. We liked the swashbuckling and comedy and action-adventure. And now we have Ridley Scott, the visionary director who recalibrated what science-fiction cinema could achieve with 1979’s Alien… who’s under the impression that the monster would be more terrifying if we understood its origins. Um, no. It was so frightening because we *didn’t* know what it is or where it comes from. Alien: Covenant continues Prometheus’s quest to ask big questions about God, the universe, creation and the origins of life – but in such hamfisted ways that it starts to feel like a soppy Christian film. “All these wonders of art, design, human ingenuity,” ponders Peter in the opening scene. “All utterly meaningless in the face of the only question that matters: where do we come from?” Oh, grow up. An even bigger issue, however – as it was in Prometheus – is the stupidity of the characters. In order to believe in and root for fictional people, we have to have confidence in them and yearn for them to overcome obstacles. That’s how storytelling works. But it all falls apart if the characters are so dense they actively create their own obstacles. Here’s a sample of cretinous behaviour:

* The crew change a meticulously planned and researched mission just because they spot a new planet.
* An officer objects to people holding a brief memorial service for their dead friends.
* We’re told the company don’t trust people of faith… by the man of faith who’s in charge of an enormously important mission.
* A soldier wanders off on his own while exploring a virgin planet and seems utterly bored by everything.
* People shove their faces right up close to never-before-seen forms of life.
* The leader of the team is told to hurry back to the ship in an emergency and walks slower than an elderly woman with some heavy shopping.
* A woman puts her naked hand on a man’s bloody scar.
* Characters meet Walter’s doppelganger and don’t comment on it.
* A husband learns his wife is dead and gets over it within two scenes.
* A young couple are so traumatised by their colleagues being brutally killed they go and have a sexy shower together.

Of course, there are some positives. A few of the performances are interesting and the film looks amazing. (Ridley Scott movies always do.) The score also echoes Jerry Goldsmith’s music from the 1979 movie. But overall this is such a disappointment. People get picked off one-by-one and it’s impossible to care about them. The creepy, enigmatic David turns out to have a secret agenda (just like last time). And the film ends on one of cinema’s most see-through-able plot twists ever.

Five flutes out of 10

The Wicker Man (2006, Neil LaBute)

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SPOILER WARNING: These reviews reveal plot twists! Also, this review is based on the director’s cut of the film, which differs slightly from the theatrical release.

Californian motorcycle cop Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) travels to the remote island of Summersisle after his ex-girlfriend writes to say that her daughter, Rowan, has gone missing. But when he arrives he uncovers many shocking secrets…

Seen on its own merits, this remake of 1973’s The Wicker Man is a watchable bit of hokum – it passes the time well enough without ever impressing you. However, when compared to the original, it’s a near-disaster. The changes to the story make little sense, the director opts for the obvious all too often, and Nicolas Cage’s performance includes at least two scenes where his OTT tendencies become laughable.

While broadly the same plotline as the 1973 original, there are a number of differences. The story has been shifted to the autumnal north-west of America, for example, while the lead character now has a prior personal connection to the island. Edward Malus is also a very different man from Sgt Neil Howie. Malus is not a devout Christian so he’s just dismissive of the island’s bizarre religion, rather than offended by it. This is a big change that has a huge, negative impact. Stripped of its religious satire – these villagers practise some vague, made-up beliefs based around bees rather than the historically resonant paganism of the original film – the plot becomes much more conventional. This is simply a straight-ahead horror film about a ‘normal’ man trapped with weird people doing weird things.

Not that Edward Malus is totally normal – how could he be while played by Nicolas Cage? But the character is lighter than Sgt Howie and Cage handles the gags and general bemusement well. He also gets a new bit of backstory: before heading to the island to help a missing girl and her mother, he fails to save a different girl and her mother from a burning car. (The burning, of course, also foreshadows the film’s ending.) This creates huge guilt on his part, driving his obsession to travel to the island on his own dime when his police colleagues seem less than interested. It’s such a shame that writer/director Neil LaBute feels the need to ‘spookify’ this plot point up, though. After the accident, Malus is told that no bodies were found in the car and the cops can’t find out who the woman and child were. This is representative of the movie’s biggest problem. It wants to replace the original’s subtly with on-the-nose horror clichés.

The islanders, for example, are much less interesting than the Hebrideans in 1973. Those people were terrifying because, well, they were so nice. But here we get openly hostile and provocative women – including twins talking in unison – who dress in old-fashioned, Amish-type clothes. The characters have no depth or ambiguity to them: they’re just creepy, end of story. Incidentally, there *are* men on the island but none of them speaks or has any power. It’s a big bee metaphor, you see. The island industry is honey, so there are plenty of illusions to bees in the dialogue and production design; the community’s leader, Sister Summersilse (Ellen Burstyn from The Exorcist), is the queen and everyone else constitutes her workers. But the more the bees feature in the story, the sillier everything becomes.

In fact, the weirdest shit happens after the allergic-to-bees Malus has been stung, making you momentarily question whether he’s hallucinating everything. Then, while the islanders prepare for some sort of fertility ritual, he disguises himself in a bear costume and starts punching women in the face. As in 1973, we then get the big reveal: the girl’s disappearance was staged in order to lure Malus to the island so he could be sacrificed to the gods. Rowan herself (who, by the way, turned out to be Malus’s daughter) and her mother were in on it, though in a nice bit of shading the mother (a vacant Kate Beahan) seems guilty about her involvement.

Cage goes off the deep end now, especially once the villagers cover his head with a wicker basket and fill it with bees. It’s an acting style with one foot in reality and the other on the fucking moon. The villagers also break his legs, then haul him up into an enormous wicker-man edifice and set fire to it.

But it’s very difficult to take any of this seriously; there’s no dread, no terror involved. In a cruel twist it’s young Rowan who lights the flame. But rather than feeling for Malus, you’re just grateful that it’s all over. (In the version of the film released in cinemas, it wasn’t. Viewers got an unnecessary coda scene set months later. Two of the island’s women are in a city bar, picking up two innocent blokes – one of whom is played by James Franco. The cycle continues, you see.)

Five cameos from Aaron Eckhart out of 10

The Karate Kid Part III (1989, John G Avildsen)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Daniel LaRusso’s former nemesis John Kreese enlists a powerful friend to help get revenge…

Cast and story:
* As with Part II, this film begins with a montage of the story so far. We get clips from the first two movies to remind us who John Kreese (Martin Kove) is and why he hates Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Mr Miyagi (Pat Morita) so much.
* As this film’s story gets underway, Kreese is down on his luck. He’s shuffling about unshaven and his once-thriving dojo has closed down. So he goes to see his boss: Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith), who’s also an old pal from their Vietnam days. (The 16-year age gap between the actors doesn’t seem to be important.) Silver is a ponytailed twat: a crass businessman who’s made his fortune by dealing in nuclear waste. Seeing his friend so defeated, he pays for Kreese to go on holiday and then resolves to get revenge on Daniel and Miyagi for… you know, winning a minor karate tournament for under-18s… Right, okay…
* As Kreese gets on a plane, coming the other way at the airport are Daniel and Mr Miyagi. They’re just getting home from their trip to Okinawa in the previous film (which means this 1989 movie is actually set in 1985). Daniel’s bulked up somewhat while on holiday.
* The pair soon get a shock: Daniel’s apartment building, where Mr M works as caretaker, is being demolished. With Daniel’s mum looking after an ill relative in New Jersey (Randee Heller returns for a tiny cameo at the end of a phone), Daniel moves in with Mr Miyagi. He also uses his college fund to set up a new business for his friend: a bonsai shop.
* Meanwhile, Terry Silver is working full-time on his revenge plan. He hires a young karate hotshot called Mike Barnes (Sean Kanan), who bullies Daniel into competing in the next Under-18 All-Valley Karate Championship. However, not keen on the situation, Mr Miyagi refuses to train his friend.
* Terry then goes to Daniel and claims to be from Kreese’s original dojo. He apologises for what happened in the first film and tells Daniel that Kreese has died. Oh, and while he’s here why doesn’t he train Daniel for the competition? However, Terry’s tactics are harsher and more violent than Miyagi’s and the training regime not only injures Daniel but makes him feel uneasy…
* As with the last film, Daniel’s girlfriend has dumped him off-screen. But he soon meets a young woman who works in the pottery shop across the street. Jessica Andrews (a bland Robyn Lively) is introduced via a suggestive shot of her hands caressing some clay on a wheel, but the relationship never really goes anywhere. She even drops out of the story before the karate-tournament climax.
* After Daniel tells Terry he’s not going to fight in the tournament after all, Silver reveals that he’s in league with Mike Barnes… and Kreese, who’s not dead! The whole thing’s been a plan to punish Daniel for winning in the first film! Mwa-ha-ha-ha! The three are about to beat Danny up, but then Mr Miyagi arrives (yay!) and saves him. Finally, Mr M agrees to train Daniel for this year’s tournament.
* A rule change has just been brought in that says the defending champion goes straight through to the final, so at least we’re saved a montage of Daniel beating no-hopers. Then in the final he faces – wouldn’t you know it? – Mike Barnes, who keeps alternating between scoring a point and hurting Daniel on purpose. But Daniel eventually manages to win. Kreese and Silver, watching on from the sidelines, are not happy.

Review: This tired re-tread of the first Karate Kid film suffers from an obvious, cartoon villain. We’re asked to believe that a powerful, successful millionaire is willing to spend weeks of his life engineering a convoluted plan simply to embarrass a schoolboy. Terry Silver is like a bad guy from The A-Team or Scooby-Doo. He has no depth, no nuance, no personality beyond being a bad guy (“What do you mean you can’t dump it in Borneo? Who in Borneo knows what chloride sludge is?”). At least the first movie’s chief antagonist was an angry teenager who was embarrassed about being dumped. Part III also has a very boring love story for Daniel, though part of this lacklustreness was because they cast a 17-year-old to play opposite the 27-year-old Ralph Macchio and some of the more romantic scenes had to be dropped. A disappointingly drab film.

Five bonsai trees out of 10

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: Transylvania, January 1918 (1995, Dick Maas)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: The bulk of the story takes place in January 1918 in Venice and Transylvania. There are also bookends featuring an older Indiana Jones (George Hall) back home in America; it’s Halloween in the early 1990s.

Faithful to the novel? The connection to Dracula lies in the fact that this TV episode – which obviously was a spin-off from the 1980s movie series – features a vampire version of Vlad the Impaler who is Bram Stoker’s character in all but name. Indiana Jones (Sean Patrick Flanery) travels to Venice during the First World War. He’s operating under the alias Henri Defense and working for US intelligence. Four months previously, a POW camp in Austria was attacked by a Romanian general called Mattias Targo and the Allied prisoners are now missing. So Indy and his superior officer Colonel Walters (Keith Szarabajka) are sent to find out what’s happened. There are lengthy shots of them travelling into rural Transylvania and then they have an edgy encounter in an unfriendly bar. Hooking up with some local agents – Dr Franz Heinzer (Sam Kelly), Nicholas (Paul Kynman) and Maria (Simone Bendix) – they track down the prisoners, then head to a nearby castle… which is spooky and on a hilltop. Lightning strikes as they see it. After Indy and the others break in, they find bodies impaled on spikes – and deduce that Targo is copying Vlad Tepes, the 15th-century warlord known as Vlad the Impaler who killed over 100,000 people. There’s other weird shit going on too, including balls of lightning that float about. Maria is then possessed, blood flows down the walls, and Walters is electrocuted to death. Eventually, Indy finds General Targo (Bob Peck), who turns out to be a vampire with a Bela Lugosi accent. He’s been capturing soldiers for his army of undead warriors. Indy and Maria try to escape, but Targo gives chase. The pair eventually stake him.

Best performance: Sam Kelly as Dr Heinzer, who is later revealed to be a double agent for the Austrians called Adolf Schmidt.

Best bit: Clearly a lot of money was spent on this series – the sets and locations are very impressive.

Review: This episode was meant to be the final instalment of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicle’s second season in 1993. However, the series was axed by ABC and Transylvania, January 1918 was one of four episodes not shown. There was a screening on German TV in 1995, then it got a wider public release in 1996 when the series was reedited into movie-length specials for a VHS release. Transylvania, January 1918 was combined with an episode called Istanbul, September 1918 (originally broadcast 17 July 1993) and the result was branded as The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Masks of Evil. Sadly, Indy’s adventure in Transylvania doesn’t exactly sing. There’s cheesy dialogue, a few dodgy performances, and clichés all over the place. Characters have penis-measuring contests for no reason; Indy is a passive character who’s just along for the ride; and the horror is either implied or tame. A dud.

Five paper aeroplanes out of 10

Night Gallery: The Devil is Not Mocked (27 October 1971, NBC, Gene Kearney)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: A castle in the Balkans during the Second World War. There’s a brief framing device in the modern day (ie, the early 70s).

Faithful to the novel? The Devil is Not Mocked makes up the last quarter of an hour-long episode from the American TV show Night Gallery (1969-1973). This anthology series was created by Rod Serling as a more horror-based version of his earlier hit The Twilight Zone. He appears on screen at the start of the hour to introduce the episode’s first story (A Question of Fear, which stars Leslie Nielsen) then again after 45 minutes to tee up The Devil is Not Mocked. The latter segment was based on a short story by pulp writer Manly Wade Wellman and is about a Nazi general called von Grunn (Helmut Dantine). During the Second World War, he arrives at a Balkan castle, intending to search it for resistance fighters. His soldiers force their way in, but the castle’s owner – a strange, calm nobleman in a cape (Francis Lederer) – seems unconcerned. Von Grunn reckons that the man is the leader of the local resistance, but when midnight strikes all the Nazis are wiped out by the nobleman’s acolytes and wolves. As he closes in on the general, the man confirms that he’s the leader of the rebels and then announces that he’s also Count Dracula…

Best performance: This was Francis Lederer’s second go as the famous vampire: 13 years earlier he’d starred in a tame horror movie called The Return of Dracula.

Best bit: When von Grunn tells Dracula that they’re going to burn his castle down, Dracula just smiles benignly. If he were a Twitter gif the caption would be, “Bitch please.”

Review: Evil meets evil in a 15-minute drama. It has just one story beat: a punchline that surely every member of the audience sees coming a mile off. In its favour, the plot is notable for Dracula being (relatively speaking) the good guy.

Five paintings out of 10

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973, Alan Gibson)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: London and the surrounding area. We’re told that the events of Dracula A.D. 1972, of which this is a sequel, were ‘over two years ago’. The climax takes place very close to 23 November, which is said to be the sabbath of the undead.

Faithful to the novel? This was Hammer’s eighth Dracula film in 15 years, so the book is now a dim and distant memory… A secret agent escapes from a country house where some prominent members of society have been taking part in strange rituals. His bosses Peter Torrence (William Franklyn) and Colonel Matthews (Richard Vernon) then recruit a policeman called Murray (Michael Coles) to investigate the cult further. He in turn ropes in occult expert Lorrimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), who lives with his granddaughter Jessica (Joanna Lumley). (Murray, Lorrimer and Jessica are returning characters from Dracula AD 1972, though the latter role has been recast.) Lorrimer realises that one of the cultists is an old friend and this eventually leads him to a businessman called DD Denham, whose shiny new office building was built on the site of the church from the previous film. Guess what: Denham is actually a resurrected Count Dracula (Christopher Lee, playing the vampire in a Hammer film for the seventh and final time)! He’s planning an apocalypse, using his own ‘four horsemen’ to distribute the bubonic plague. After a lengthy sequence at the country house – in which various female vampires meet their end – Lorrimer lures the Count into a hawthorn bush (go, biblical subtext!) and stakes him through the heart.

Best performance: Peter Cushing, who was always able to make hokum watchable.

Best bit: When the team first investigate the house, Jessica sneaks into the cellar, which is full of coffins. Then she finds Torrence’s secretary Jane (Valerie Van Ost) chained to a wall. We’d earlier seen her kidnapped by the cult and turned by Count Dracula. At first, Jess thinks Jane is dead – but we viewers know otherwise. Jessica creeps closer, feels for a pulse, and Jane turns to look at her. She smiles… then lunges with her fangs. Then other female vamps start to emerge from the coffins and close in…

Review: This starts out well. A Satanic cult are carrying out bizarre ceremonies in an English country house, while the British Secret Service are getting worried about it in their modern, brightly lit offices. It has the feel of an episode of, say, The Avengers or Doctor Who. (Incidentally, Don Houghton had recently worked on the latter when he wrote this film. Perhaps choosing 23 November as the plot’s key date was an in-joke: it’s the day Doctor Who began in 1963.). And the storytelling is often fun, with information being drip-feed during different scenes. However, the longer the film goes on the more it drags and the less it entertains. Few of the characters have much spark or life to them, especially Joanna Lumley’s Jessica, who’s a noticeably blander, older and less fun version of the character we saw in the preceding film.

Five Afghan coats out of 10