Supernatural

Solarbabies

In a far distant dystopia (weirdly, in the Year 41), the world’s water resources are being tightly controlled. And it’s up to the the rebellious young residents of an orphanage/prison, the Solarbabies (not the Aquababies, mind you) to do something about it, and wrest control away from the villainous, jack-booted Eco Protectorate.

Yep, we’re in post-apocalyptic territory again. Except this time, it’s youth-friendly.

Still, Solarbabies has all the genre’s hallmarks: an oppressor class, enslaved people keeping society (what’s left of it) functioning; a quest for a water-drenched paradise; terror-drome combat sports; an antediluvian oracle who makes Dumbledore look spry by comparison; dune buggies, and of course, a barren, sandy wasteland.

Solarbabies (1986) has two pop culture cash-ins: The Walkman, (whose popularity peaked between 1987 and 1997) sported by young star Lukas Haas (Witness) and a cast of roller skaters. How this footwear is appropriate for a desert landscape is never explained, but luckily, the Eco Protectorate, for all its turpitude, has paved much of the misbegotten landscape for easy escape.

In a nutshell: the powers that be are fighting over a supernatural omniscient orb, Bohdai, who can make it rain like it’s a gentleman’s club.

Somewhere along the line, we veer into Mad Max territory with a bunch of indentured servitude water processors (who are predominantly Aussie) and the Solarbabies get assistance from the Eco Warriors to help turn the tide…this may sound like a cheesy premise, but the inconvenient truth is, this mega-bomb is a hella-fun flick!

With a budget of $25 million plus, this dud earned back under $2 mil.

And the flick wasn’t exactly the toast of critic town, with the likes of the Washington Post saying, it’s “a hilariously bad movie that doesn’t make much sense and isn’t much good when it does.”

Much to our delight, Solarbabies is a rip-off extravaganza, with nods to E.T., The Road Warrior, Star Wars, Lawrence of Arabia, and Rollerball. Director Alan Johnson keeps things movie with chase scene after chase scene (and even an Dukes of Hazzard-style gorge-jump for good measure).

*** (out of 5)

The Amityville Horror

With real estate piping hot these days, it’s easy to see how someone might be enticed by a “fixer upper,” if not the demonic house in The Amityville Horror. Haunted homes in film are pretty numerous, going back to Eerie Tales (Unheimliche Geschichten, 1919) and probably even before that.

Broadly, they can be divided into those where the perspective buyers/renters know what they’re getting into (Amityville, or Burnt Offerings – there’s catch: a lady in the attic you’ll need to look after, no trouble at all!) or not (Sinister, where a crime writer played by Ethan Hawke, discovers his new home’s sinister past on reel-to-reel).

In The Amityville Horror, there’s a dark (and real life-inspired) backstory as to why the sprawling riverside homestead is suddenly on the market, and reasonably priced: a horrific mass murder perpetrated by Ronald DeFeo, Jr (a sicko who shot-gunned four siblings and his parents one early morning in the winter of 1974 in Long Island, New York). This is revealed in truly creepy cutaway asides…

The home buyers are George and Kathy Lutz (James Brolin/Margot Kidder), a good-looking duo with lovely kids who are gradually caught up in the bad Mojo from this home.

Like the earlier The Exorcist, there’s ecumenical associations, and one Father Delaney brought in (Rod Steiger). The padre is soon overcome by a strange presence in the home, his face covered with pestilence flies, his hands burned like stigmata after using the phone…

One child wants to go home, another has an imaginary friend, the couple argue about their new purchase (“I’m not going anywhere. You’re the one that wanted a house. This is it, so just shut up!”) the dog smells something odd and otherworldly, a children’s chorus sings something sinister, there’s a creepy raggedy Ann doll, and there’s a cat scare. In short, this is a one-stop shop for all things supernatural horror, if you’re into that kind of thing. However, apart from a few stellar moments, this one doesn’t deserve its longstanding appeal, and somehow Eli Roth is giving it yet another installment.

One bit of fun: Father Bolen is played by Don Stroud,  best known to the authors of this site for starring in two obscure, yet badass, Canuck exploitation films, Death Weekend and Search and Destroy).

** (out of 5)

[Check out our podcast discussion of The Amityville Horror!]