Cool Cinema Trash

Cool Cinema Trash: Meteor (1979)

Cool Cinema Trash


It’s five miles wide… it’s coming at 30,000 m.p.h… and there’s no place on earth to hide!

As part of its attempt to compete with the major studios, American International Pictures (AIP) produced Meteor (1979). Best known for beach party movies and low-budget horror and sci-fi films, AIP was counting on Meteor to be its big-budget prestige blockbuster. Unfortunately, no matter how much (or how little) they spent on special effects or an all-star cast, the movie’s low-budget origins were always apparent. It tries so very hard to be like the other disaster hits of the era, but fails in nearly every attempt. This is why Meteor is an endearing Cool Cinema Trash favorite.

What it’s all about: The opening titles that swoop across the screen superman-style are accompanied by an Age of Aquarius musical intro that sounds like it came from Wayne Newton’s Las Vegas revue. A title card (an attempt to build suspense?) counts down the days until earth’s destruction.

Monday – Sean Connery, formerly of NASA, is plucked from his sailboat mid-race to meet with Karl Malden, who sets up the movies premise through flashback.

A U.S. space probe is destroyed while it observes a comet passing through an asteroid belt. A huge chunk of Orpheus (the antagonist needs a name, right?) now threatens earth. This sequence displays the shoddy effects work that will plague the rest of the film. There’s nothing wrong with old school techniques, as long as they’re done well. That’s not the case here. The models, which get an inordinate amount of screen time, never look larger than their actual twelve to twenty-four inch dimensions and the process matte shots look consistently sloppy.

Connery had developed an intergalactic defense system to counter such a threat, but the government overtook the project for military use. He begrudgingly agrees to help and, as he leaves, delivers the movies best line, “What do you want me to do? Stick a broom up my ass so I can sweep the floor on the way out?”

While reading a dossier on Hercules (the project he created), Connery stares at the space age chandelier in his hotel room which, we soon see, looks a lot like the orbiting Hercules missile station. Even though it happened mere moments before, Connery hears Malden’s dire prediction in an audio flashback, “There’s a chunk of Orpheus heading towards earth, a pretty big one. Six days from now we could be hit.” This doomsday prophecy prompts the first of many meteor close-ups. Laurence Rosenthal provides Orpheus with his own theme song, a giggle inducing ominous guitar riff.

Tuesday – Connery reads a newspaper whose top story is the space observatory disaster. The headline reads: What Went Wrong? The producers of Meteor were probably asking the same question.

Malden, in his own uniquely hammy style, spells it out. “That meteor is five miles wide and it’s definitely gonna hit us!”

Connery’s answer, “Shit. Five miles?”

The Cold War political machine is soon set into motion. President Henry Fonda acknowledges the existence of Hercules and that to destroy Orpheus they will need the help of a similar Russian weapons system called Peter the Great. In a poor composite shot Orpheus passes, then eclipses the sun.

Wednesday – In a top secret facility underneath New York City our cast assembles, including Russian delegate Brian Keith and his translator/assistant Natalie Wood.

Thursday – As the meteor plods ever closer, the political haggling continues. Neither side is willing to fully admit the extent of their nuclear arsenal. Complicating matters is drama queen Martin Landau, a general whose panties are in a perpetual bunch over the most insignificant protocol breeches.

Friday – The first pieces of Orpheus strike earth. In the middle of a frozen wasteland a Siberian family must flee into the night when a meteorite crashes into the mountains. While Keith sleeps off his jet lag, Connery has a chance to chat up Wood. After the long version of her life story he gets the information he’s really after. She’s a cosmonaut’s widow. “And now, is there anyone?” he asks.

“Nothing serious, not really.” She cryptically answers.

After a harmless meteor shower in Europe, the pompous Landau asserts, “It’s a pity the world has been sent into a state of unnecessary panic. That’s your threat Dr. Bradley, a fireworks display.”

Connery’s patience is wearing thin, “Tell this asshole once and for all that Orpheus will not burn up, it’s too damn big!”

Landau has a screaming hissy fit and storms out. After witnessing such a scene, Keith unleashes his own verbal tirade (entirely in Russian) giving the U.S. complete support and the use of Peter the Great. This Glasnost pairing is celebrated with shots of Russian vodka. In an extended sequence, we watch as the satellites are very slowly repositioned, turning away from earthbound enemies, to aim at the interstellar threat.

Saturday – A meteor fragment hits a Swiss mountaintop, burying an Alpine ski chalet and snow bunny Sybil Danning. This avalanche sequence contains an awkward marriage of location shots and miniature work. What’s even worse is that it also contains stock footage from another movie, Avalanche (1978).

In the oval office, Malden briefs the president on the plan to blow up Orpheus. “Get rid of it,” is Fonda’s executive order.

Sunday – As our scientists wait for the chance to launch their missiles, Wood grills Connery about his personal life. Things are just starting to get cozy when there’s a report of a giant “splinter” that has created a tidal wave heading for Hong Kong. Asian extras flee Godzilla-style as a stock footage wave heads right for them. A brave fisherman attempts to save his wife and child, but they’re submerged by some soggy special effects.

Tense moments pass in New York as the Russian missiles are finally launched. Seeing that the world has indeed gone to hell in a hand basket, Landau returns to eat crow. After shaking Malden’s hand he offers, “I’ll be in my office…if you need me.” Not very likely, but it’s the thought that counts.

As they prepare to fire the remaining U.S. warheads, they receive word that a meteorite is headed straight for NYC. As the launch begins and the missiles slowly embark on their trip towards Orpheus, a blazing ball of fire moves through the sky over New York. The destruction of New York should have been the movies spectacular highlight, instead it’s laughably been done on the cheap using tinted demolition footage!

In this post 9/11 age, watching monuments being destroyed can sometimes be unsettling. In the one concession to a restricted budget, the effects team on Meteor blows up a model of the Twin Towers. But, like everything else in the film, the moment is so poorly realized that it’s difficult to tell just what exactly is being destroyed. That being said, the Meteor DVD, released sometime in 2000, prominently features stars Natalie Wood, Sean Connery and an exploding World Trade Center in its cover art.

The New York underground facility takes a beating, columns fall, chandeliers crash. When the dust settles it appears that all our major stars have survived. The only exception is (thankfully) Martin Landau, making Meteor one of the disaster movies with the highest all-star survival rate.

With the main entrance blocked by debris, our ragtag group of scientists must make their way to the surface via a subway tunnel. The weakened walls of the tunnel crack and the muddy waters of the East River begin to flood the passageway forcing extras and stars alike to fight their way through the filthy, slimy mess.

In outer space, the nuclear warheads finally reach Orpheus and the massive charcoal briquette explodes in a fiery cataclysm. The global threat is over.

Back on earth, a smoldering matte painting reveals a giant crater in the center of Manhattan.

After making it out of the subway, Keith and Wood board a plane that is homeland bound. Connery gives Wood farewell kiss, and as the plane flies away, an informational slide appears. Attempting to bridge the gap between science fact and science fiction, a voice-over tells us that in 1968 the brains at MIT developed Project: Icarus to combat a global threat like Orpheus. Whew. We’ll all rest easier knowing that a plan created over fourty-five years ago is protecting us from cosmic destruction.

Cool Cinema Trash: Abby (1974)

Cool Cinema Trash

abby_xlgAbby doesn’t need a man anymore… The Devil is her lover now!

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Abby (1974), the story of a woman possessed by an evil African sex spirit, was “inspired” by the blockbuster success of The Exorcist (1973). Warner Brothers, the studio behind The Exorcist, sued the makers of Abby and had it pulled from theatres. The suit was eventually settled and Abby faded into cult movie obscurity… until now.

What it’s all about: One sunny afternoon, a group of college students bid farewell to their favorite teacher who is leaving on a research trip to Nigeria. If it weren’t for the establishing crane shot, you’d swear that this ragtag group had grabbed an old 8mm camera and shot the scenes that we’re now watching. Not only does Abby look like it was made on the cheap, but the acting is also decidedly amateur. One student stumbles through his line reading with several pauses punctuated with “Umm’s” and “Uhh’s”. But who can blame him? The dialog between the professor and his students is amusingly clunky. It’s only purpose is to provide backstory and set-up the action that is to follow.

“Eshu is the most powerful of all earthly deities,” Professor Williams (William Marshall) lectures. “Eshu is a trickster, creator of whirlwinds… chaos.” As a going away gift, his students give him an insanely large mirrored crucifix. Talk about bling!

After the opening credits, the action shifts to Africa, where Professor Williams and his assistants discover an interesting ancient artifact. They open the hand carved box and a fierce wind rips through the cave, releasing Eshu.

Back in the states, the professor’s son Emmett (Terry Carter) and his wife Abby (Carol Speed) move into their new home. Abby’s mother (Juanita Moore) helps the young couple set up house. Over a meal of fried chicken, reverend Emmett proudly announces that, in addition to his wife’s work with the church youth program and junior choir, Abby has earned her certification for marriage counseling. Momma couldn’t be happier. “Ain’t no sin in bein’ proud of doin’ a good job, livin’ a good life and lovin’ a good man.”

The evil spirit that the professor set free has somehow made it’s way into Abby’s happy home. How Eshu crossed the globe and chose to inhabit the professor’s daughter-in-law is never explained. When Abby takes a shower and reenacts the Herbal Essence shampoo commercial, it’s clear that she just ain’t feelin’ right. She is attacked by and unseen force in the basement and is overcome by suicidal tendencies while preparing chicken in the church kitchen.

Abby is understandably upset when she finds that she’s cut herself, but Carol Speed’s method acting gets a little too method in a scene with Moore. She blubbers so loudly that her lines are completely (and amusingly) unintelligible.

You have to give Speed credit though; she certainly doesn’t hold anything back. Standing before her husband’s congregation, Abby leads the choir in an excruciating hymnal. She sings, “My Love is a Witness” so poorly that you’d assume that it’s the work of the devil, but no, these are the vocal stylings of the “normal” Abby. Later, during her husbands sermon, she goes completely bonkers, attacking a congregant while laughing and foaming at the mouth.

That night, Emmett tries to get his wife in the mood by quoting some scripture, but Abby, or rather Eshu, ain’t playin’. With the gravelly voice of a soul possessed, Abby tells him, “I’m not your ‘ho. Shit, you ain’t got enough to satisfy me, you impotent son of a bitch!” She then kicks him in the crotch. Who knew that demonic possession would be as zany as an episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos?

When Abby counsels a young married couple, it goes as you might expect. “All men are not created equal. Better make sure what he’s got first,” she growls while ripping off her dress. “I’m gonna take ole’ long George upstairs and fuck the shit out of him!”

Emmett tries to calm her. “God, Abby, what ever possessed you to do a thing like that?”

She tosses him on the bed, straddles him and proceeds to bitch slap him, “You’re gonna love and obey me!”

An elderly neighbor woman (Nancy Lee Owens) pays a visit to a housebound Abby. With tongue wagging, she proceeds to terrorize the old lady, giving her a heart attack. As her geriatric corpse is taken away, a doctor offers his assessment of the situation, “It’s all very unusual.”

Emmett places a panicked overseas call to his father and begs him to return home. Abby is given a through medical exam, but nothing abnormal can be found. Angelic one moment, devilish the next, Abby tells her husband, “I wanna thank you for callin’ that mother fuckin’ father of yours. Give him my worst regards.”

In an unintentionally amusing sequence (ah hell, they’re all unintentionally amusing) the diminutive Speed tosses both hospital staff and patients aside. “You asshole,” the foul-mouthed Eshu shouts, “I’m goin’ home, bitch!”

Abby escapes the hospital and arrives home in time to welcome Father Williams. In all seriousness and with Shakespearian intensity, Marshall commands, “Hear me demon! Leave this woman’s body!”

“I’m not through with Abby yet,” Eshu laughs, unleashing his earthshaking demonic power.

Feeling the need to get her groove on, Abby/Eshu heads to a local bar filled with patrons dressed in a shocking array of 70’s pimp-a-licious fashion. Abby picks up a member of her husbands congregation. They go for a drive and park in a remote location. When he can’t satisfy her, Eshu kills him, or at least we assume so. The car starts to shake and fill with smoke. A demonic smoke bomb is certainly a cheaper special effect than say, a spinning head or pea green puke.

Returning to the bar, Abby next sets her sights on an annoying white guy who thinks his W.C. Fields impersonation will get her hot. Inexplicably, it does. They slink off to a private room upstairs. Eww. What kind of bar is this anyway? Thankfully, whitey is never heard from again.

Abby’s brother, Detective Cass (Austin Stoker) has joined Emmett in his search for his wayward wife. They eventually find her in the bar making time with two brothers. Once Abby/Eshu clears the room by tossing the men around, she gives a typically warm greeting to Professor Williams, “Hello motherfucker!”

With his XXXL piece of Christian bling for protection, Father Williams begins the exorcism. Who’d have ever guessed that the battle between good and evil would be so… well, chatty. Eshu and Williams try to out-talk one another before Emmett and Cass finally subdue her.

Light as a feather, stiff as a board. Abby does some fancy levitating before Williams finally gets down to business. As he recites his godly incantations, all hell breaks loose. The liquor bottles, the jukebox… heck, even the disco ball, explode as Eshu is driven from Abby’s body. Once she is finally free of demonic possession, Father Williams slings his jacket over his shoulder and saunters out of the bar. Ah, all in a day’s work.

The final scene shows Abby and Emmett as they leave on a well-deserved vacation. Abby waves good-bye to her mother, “Momma, I wuv you.”

Yes, she actually says wuv, proving that you may be able to purge a demon from your soul, but that doesn’t mean you won’t loose a few brain cells in the process.

In Conclusion: The Collector’s Edition DVD of Abby marks the first time this cult gem has been available to the public since it’s initial release. Though bad movie fans can rejoice in the fact that Abby can finally be seen, this is hardly a pristine or difinitve version of the film. The quality of the print used is pretty atrocious. With all the scratches, discoloration and audio distortion, it looks as if the reels were unspooled and dragged over 50 miles of bad road. A trailer and radio spot are included as extras, as well as a selection of production art and a text essay detailing the film’s troubled history. CineFear’s DVD release of Abby went out-of-print a short time after it came out. Copies of the film from other distributors can still be found at certain specialty retailers. Though the quality leaves something to be desired, fans of Blaxploitation and low-budget horror are sure to appreciate this camp classic from genre director William Girdler.