Logan's Run

Format: DVD

Release date: 22 September 2008

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Director: Michael Anderson

Writer: David Zelag Goodman

Based on: the novel by William F Nolan and George Clayton Johnson

Cast: Michael York, Richard Jordan, Jenny Agutter, Farrah Fawcett, Peter Ustinov

USA 1976

120 mins

The most relentlessly 70s of all 70s genre movies, Logan’s Run cast some of the most iconic actors of that decade – York, Agutter, Fawcett, Ustinov – in a sci-fi fable that swings between kitsch and the dystopian fallout of the summer of love. In the reasonably far future, some unknown disaster or war has quarantined the remnants of humanity within enormous sealed domes while the crumbling cities outside are being reclaimed by chaos and vegetation. To prevent overpopulation, the inhabitants are culled at the age of 30 in bizarre cremation ceremonies called ‘Carousels’, which are seen as a cross between a fireworks display and genuine reincarnation. Not everyone wants to die this way, and executioners called Sandmen track down the runners…

In the 1950s, Michael Anderson was one of Britain’s most successful and reliable directors, bringing seminal adaptations of 1984, Around the World in 80 Days and the story of The Dam Busters to the screen. However, relocation to America and an uncertainty on how to film genre fiction led to camp adaptations of the 30s pulp hero Doc Savage in 1975 and the controversial novel Logan’s Run a year later. The dark and prescient aspects of the book remain intact on screen – the amorality of a pleasure-seeking society, the casual sex and violence, the idea of limited life expectancy leading to feral children and youth-obsessed adults – and have even been improved on in the screenplay. Outré dialogue sticks in the mind – from the killer robot (which looks like a Blue Peter tin foil and cardboard project) that repeats the mantra ‘Fish, plankton, sea greens… protein from the sea!’ as it freezes unfortunate humans that stumble through its lair, to the impossibly old man who quotes from The Naming of Cats, the infamous book that would inspire Andrew Lloyd Webber’s slide into kitsch in the 1980s.

However, the tone of the film varies between thriller, satire, black comedy and farce and while the actors gamely do the best they can with the material, it’s a competition to see who comes across as the most confused on screen: the deranged computer running the dome, Farrah Fawcett’s forgetful plastic surgeon’s assistant or Logan himself (Michael York). Ironically, the most successful character is the one-note Sandman Francis (Richard Jordan), who sticks to his guns throughout, doggedly pursuing Logan across an increasingly bizarre landscape to fulfill his duty as a protector against overpopulation. Elsewhere, Peter Ustinov seems to have wandered in from an entirely different, much subtler film (perhaps the director was most comfortable with actors of his generation).

Occupying some kind of strange, belated middle ground between Hair and Planet of the Apes, Logan’s Run is a dystopian vision that is most likely to be remembered for the tacky special effects and lurid deaths, as well as for being filmed in a shopping mall. In the right hands, this combination would produce a dark gem like Dawn of the Dead, but here it is no more than a historical curiosity.

Alex Fitch

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Killer Klowns from Outer Space
Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Format: DVD/Blu-ray + exclusive BR Steelbook

Release date: 15 September 2014

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Stephen Chiodo

Writers: Charles Chiodo, Edward Chiodo, Stephen Chiodo

Cast: Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder, John Allen Nelson, John Vernon

USA 1988

86 mins

For a trashy horror/sci-fi/comedy (thanks IMDB), Killer Klowns is inspired. It takes the simple (albeit done to death) idea of clowns being evil, but exploits that premise for all it’s worth. Victims are turned into candyfloss, inflatable balloon animals hunt people down while the Klowns fire popcorn guns where each grain turns into a carnivorous jack-in-the-box. This film is inventive, stylish and a joy to watch, just to see what crazy spin the directors are going to come up with next.

It’s the kind of movie you want to be mates with and it looks like it was just as much of a laugh to make as it is to watch. You can see that the Chiodo brothers put their hearts and souls into every detail, and the actors look like they’re having a great time playing their stock horror movie characters.

I say actors, but to be honest it looks like the brothers roped in a bunch of mates, whose only experience of acting seems to come from watching Saved by the Bell (especially the ice-cream double act, who really had to be the first to die). These performances could have polished a turd in a so-bad-it’s-hilarious kind of way, but here the hamming takes the shine off a genuinely funny script, which includes such deadpan lines as when Police Chief Mooney leans forward and growls, ‘Killer Klowns? From outer space?’ in true Police Squad fashion.

If only Lost would do this type of thing.

Bonus features on this new Arrow release include an audio commentary with the Chiodo Brothers, alongside behind-the-scenes footage and a making of feature, and interviews with stars Grant Cramer and Suzanne Snyder, composer John Massari and creature fabricator Dwight Roberts.

But all the popcorn guns and hilarious dialogue can’t hide the fact that the film is fundamentally flawed. It’s just not scary. Despite the Spitting Image-style animatronic Klown-heads and their fantastically diverse methods of destruction, they are ultimately soulless, superficial and dare I say it, boring. The wonderful gadgets gloss over the fact that these bad guys have the personality of an envelope. There is no feeling of triumph when the people start to fight back, and the climax feels like just another sexy set-piece rather than anything momentous. Hell, I even got the feeling that if only our heroes would just ignore them they’d probably go away on their own.

Which is a real shame.

It’s still a great romp though. And after a few beers and pizza, it’ll make a fantastic climax to any house party. It’ll give Anchorman a breather at any rate.

High-five for candyfloss.

This review was first published for Optimum’s DVD release of Killer Klowns in 2008.

Oli Smith


King of New York

Format: DVD

Release date: 22 September 2008

Distributor: Arrow Films

Director: Abel Ferrara

Writer: Nicholas St John

Cast: Christopher Walken, Laurence Fishburne, Wesley Snipes, Steve Buscemi

Italy/USA 1990

99 mins

The Fun Lovin’ Criminals took it as the title of one of their tracks and it’s not much of an exaggeration to say Biggie Smalls claimed to be it every other line in his raps, but the popular use of the phrase ‘King of New York’ originates with Abel Ferrara’s 1990 film about a drug lord who eliminates his competition in order to make enough money to save a Harlem hospital. At long last, King of New York gets the special edition treatment this month.

Frank White (Christopher Walken) has had years in prison to think about his life and articulate the motivations behind his bloody campaign for redemption. On his release, he argues that crime has increased without his controlling influence, that drugs are a problem endemic to society and that he’s just a businessman trying to give something back to the community. Of course, Frank is a psychopath and his arguments aren’t convincing, but it’s a great part for Walken, who revels in the contradictions of the character. Frank is a traditional Italian-American mob boss, but he’s also progressive in the sense that he allows both blacks and women in his gang. Laurence Fishburne’s performance as Frank’s number one guy Jimmy Jump, a black man fully emancipated by virtue – or should that be vice? – of being a sociopath, hasn’t dated well – more Fresh Prince than fresh – but does retain some of its original power and is still eminently quotable.

As well as being notable for early appearances by Fishburne, Wesley Snipes and Steve Buscemi, King of New York has a great hip hop soundtrack featuring Schooly D. The action is hit and miss, but the cinematography is remarkable and is the best element in the film. Never before had New York looked so sinister, nor has it since.

Despite the satisfying weight of the SteelBook case, this ‘special edition’ is disappointingly light on extras. The second disc fails entirely to justify itself, containing only a handful of repetitive documentaries recycled from previous releases and TV. In the director’s commentary, Ferrara comes across as technically brilliant, but personally repulsive. With a mixture of nostalgic enthusiasm and reluctant obligation – he starts out saying he’s only doing the commentary because he’s been handed a few thousand dollars in cash – he points out killer shots, explains how they were achieved, then leches over the female cast members. Still, King of New York is a worthy addition to the Italian-American gangster section of any DVD library.

Alexander Pashby



Format: DVD

Release date: 13 October 2008

Distributor Icon Home Entertainment

Director: Franco Rosso

Writers: Franco Rosso, Martin Stellman

Cast: Brinsley Forde, Karl Howman, Trevor Laird

UK/Italy 1980

95 mins

In a Brixton basement somewhere, the little LCD clock hanging precariously on the wall above the speaker stacks vibrates with the same heavy bassline that moves everything else around it: the walls, the people, culture; it reverberates so much that the time it is supposed to show is rendered illegible, a thing of no consequence.

Set in the pre-gentrified soundscape of Brixton, tuned in to the bass frequencies of the black community resisting in apnoea under the repressive yet unstable surface of British history at a critical juncture of its development, Babylon is a shamefully forgotten masterpiece of (British) cinema. The magic of the film comes from the brilliantly orchestrated transposition onto celluloid of the socially conscious culture fostered by the sound systems, back in the Caribbeans, and later in England; here the MC is replaced by the filmmaker, the microphone by a camera, and the physicality of the bass is rendered through the livid intensity of the images.

Rarely screened after its release and never issued before on DVD, Babylon was directed by Franco Rosso, an Italian immigrant who considers England his home. It is perhaps his status as an outsider that allowed the director such an empathetic, insightful look into a culture that he felt close to, and that he believed needed to be represented on film in order to be preserved from the homogenising tentacles of the establishment.

Institutions were indeed far from tolerant, let alone understanding. The BBC refused to produce the film while The Guardian‘s Molara Ogundipe-Leslie criticised Franco Rosso for not being best placed to provide an accurate description of the black community: ‘If there are funds for the making of such films as Babylon, should they not be awarded to black film-makers? Or, could non-black film-makers work more closely at the conceptual level with black artists and intellectuals who know their people better and who can define their own reality more truthfully?’ As the shooting began the unions refused to accept the labour of young Jamaican workers not unionised (interestingly enough, Melvin Van Peebles experienced a similar problem on the set of Sweetback).

But when the London screens were taken over by the lights and sounds pounding out of this cinematic sound-clash, the response was solid and righteous, the black community liked it, and those outside were, as Rosso put it, ‘forced to, for a very short time, accept and open the doors’ (interview by Dave Philips in the first and only issue of New Britain).

The story of the vicissitudes and frustrations of young people faced with an intolerant British society, Babylon remains as uncompromising as it was back in 1980, with time adding an extra layer of historical significance to the film. Babylon – the sinful capital of consumerism and corruption for Rastafarians – is the backdrop for the daily life of Blue (played by the lead singer of Aswad Brinsley Forde) and his Ital Lion crew in the run-up to a sound-system battle against the rival group Jah Shaka. In only 95 minutes, the film manages to expose the audience to the daily injustices suffered by ethnic minorities through its wide range of characters and situations while avoiding any moralising bombast. As the story progresses, Blue finds himself increasingly stranded on the margins of society and his plight is representative of a whole generation of black people told to ‘go back home’ after having been exploited for cheap labour; but, as one of the characters points out: ‘this is my fucking home!’

Against the Sus law, the racism of the National Front and the cowardly silence of progressive liberals, the only weapon left to the characters of Babylon is the music, and they wield the subwoofer as a political tool to fight the violent bigotry of British society. As a result, the soundtrack in Babylon represents more than a mere melodic accompaniment and functions as a narrative device punctuating the montage, becoming part of the materiality of the film and subverting its usual role of comment ‘lost’ between the expressive content and the stylistic form of the film.

The DVD comes with the documentary Dread, Beat an’ Blood as an extra. Also directed by Rosso, this documentary portrays the art and times of insurgent dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, a friend of the director and his guide to the sound systems scene. The Babylon DVD presents essential views whose long unavailability should make us reflect upon the inestimable value that different cultures could represent in a real multi-cultural society.>

Celluloid Liberation Front