Let me come right out and say it:
I enjoyed this film.
Most of you won’t.
Joshua Kennedy is one of a small but growing group of passionate filmmakers who create interesting movies – most often retro-tinged SF, horror or fantasy – on infinitesimal budgets. He is also one of the more accomplished of this group, with several extremely polished films to his credit. Each one seems to be better than the last.
Which, of course, means that it can be a shock, after you’ve seen his wonderful Hammer homage Dracula A.D. 2015, or his stunning, German Expressionism inspired The Night of Medusa, or even the somewhat lesser, but still impressive The Vesuvius Xperiment, to go back and see his earlier and more primitive films.
And this is one of those.
This one is about time-traveling women in a space prison on the moon.
Okay, that absurd mix of ideas enough to get me in the door. And there are some pretty heady, trashy B-movie tropes here for those of us who love trashy B-movie science fiction (at least, those of us willing to admit it!). I mean, how many women-in-space-prison movies are out there which have the prison in a castle on the Moon, complete with sinister lightning flashes? Or which come complete with a sinister Cyborg playing thunderous Bach Toccatas on the organ?
The problem is that, no matter how hard you try to disguise it, Pace University in New York City does not look anything like a prison on the Moon. Not even close.
Okay, it’s hard to fault Joshua on this one. After all, even Alex Cox couldn’t make University of Colorado at Boulder look like the world of the future in Bill the Galactic Hero. And Alex had a Hundred-Thousand dollar budget to play with (don’t ask me what he spent it all on!). And with this sort of micro-brew of a movie you have to use whatever locations you have available. Still, it worked better in the other Joshua Kennedy films I’ve seen where he simply set the events of the film in the modern world, at Pace (although it might have been interesting had he set this one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as he did parts of The Night of Medusa. His fanatical warden could have used a more Baroque background to play against, like Edward Gorey’s sets for the Frank Langella Dracula).
Still, for those who’ve seen his earlier films and enjoy hanging out with Joshua and his stock company of young actors and actresses, this one has more than its share of fun. There’s the evil cyborg Lobo, who looks nothing like Tor Johnson, although his costume includes an impressive head borrowed from Invaders from Mars; a tentacle monster under the Warden’s office; and a very clever moment when the gravity switches during a fight. Yes, the trick is obvious, but it is so well edited that it still works.
And then there’s Joshua chewing all the scenery in sight with the wildest beard and hair imaginable. It looks like he borrowed it from some cheap 1970s Italian post-Apocalyptic film. Somehow all I can think of is Jack Nance’s comment about having to go around for five years with his hair up in that absurd Eraserhead hairdo while David Lynch was trying to get the film finished. I’m sure Joshua found it just a little easier to get a seat on the subway while he was making this one!
For once, though, this is a Joshua Kennedy film which could have stood some serious editing. The jail break sequences go on for too long, particularly the Andy Hardy, “Let’s put on a show!” moment, when they use a talent competition to cover their break. It, sadly, is more dull than funny – and only the “my talent is staring” gag really stands out. And not by much.
But I have to confess that the whole way through I kept thinking about how the technical problems on display here had been eliminated a few at a time in his succeeding films: “he cleaned up most of those echoes in The Vesuvius Xperiment! His sound was clean and clear in Dracula A.D. 2015! He even got the dialogue timed right in The Night of Medusa!”
And that’s perhaps the best part, after all: we get to see a talented young writer director learning his trade piece by piece.
It will undoubtedly be interesting to see where he goes next.
Bonus: You can watch Joshua’s homage to Hammer’s Christopher Lee Dracula movies here!