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Meet and Greet (Part 2)

Last month we talk a look at the history of  X vs Y films (and their antecedents, X meets Y films). We got as far as the early 1970s when there were three Dracula vs Frankenstein movies of, ahem, varying quality.

      Off the top of my head, I can only think of one Vs film between that time and the turn of the millennium (apart from Godzilla pictures, which we’ve already covered in Part 1). I have no doubt that some astute readers will be able to suggest films from that period and I’ll be delighted to hear suggestions, as long as they meet the basic ground rule of being a genuine English language release title. The IMDB is full of pre-release titles, translated foreign titles and completely spurious alternative titles that somebody made up last week.

       So, in 25 years, just one significant Vs movie - and I’m not talking about Kramer vs Kramer! It was good ol’ Charlie Band who in 1993  brought us Dollman vs Demonic Toys. Now I should hold my hand up here and state that the original 1991 Dollman is not just one of my favourite Full Moon pictures, it’s one of my favourite movies full stop. It stars Tim Thomerson (frankly I could end my justification there) who was not only top-billed in Trancers I-III but even maintained his dignity in Trancers IV and V. In Dollman, he is hard-bitten, grumpy intergalactic cop Brick Bardo who chases a criminal flying head to Earth where, due to a terrible miscalculation of scale (to borrow a phrase) he is only 13 inches tall.

       Most tiny-people-in-a-land-of-giants films are about overcoming the dangers of the situation, but not Dollman (none of only two intersections between the the extensive filmographies of Charles Band and Albert Pyun). For Brick Bardo, the fact that he is one sixth the size of everyone around him is just one more reason to be grumpy and the film is a terrific (and terrifically silly) sci-fi/action tale as Bardo, armed with a tiny but still massively powerful handgun, takes on the hoodlums terrorising a Bronx neighbourhood.

       Brick Bardo reappeared briefly in an epilogue to Bad Channels one of Band’s worst films, notable only for original music by Blue Oyster Cult, and the following year he was back properly in a sequel to Demonic Toys, a sort of low-rent rip-off of Band’s own successful Puppet Master series. The crossover sequel wasn’t a huge hit, possibly because so much of the film was flashbacks to Dollman, Demonic Toys and Bad Channels. Brick Bardo never returned (although Charlie has said it’s the franchise he would most like to revive) and the Demonic Toys only eventually resurfaced in 2010 in Demonic Toys: Personal Demons (which contradicts the events of Dollman vs...).

       Of course what the fans really wanted was toy-vs-toy action in the much vaunted Puppet Master vs Demonic Toys and they eventually got their wish in 2004. But... the film is considered non-canonical because it was made by the Sci-Fi Channel without Band’s involvement. Which is frustrating, but what are you going to do? That was around the time that two long-awaited crossovers finally made it to the big screen. Many people believe the idea of combining the Alien and Predator franchises was sparked by a background gag at the end of Predator 2 when the collection of skulls inside the Predator’s spaceship contained what was rather obviously the xenomorph from Alien. Actually the first Aliens vs Predator comic appeared in late 1989, a few months before that film opened. Subsequent issues of the comics have gone a bit crazy, bringing us Aliens vs Predator vs The Terminator (2000), a crossover with Dark Horse comics franchises Witchblade and The Darkness, and - would you believe - Superman and Batman vs Aliens and Predator.

       This last four-way rumble was the conclusion of a sort of pick-a-franchise-any-franchise spree which included Batman vs Predator, Superman vs Predator, Superman/Aliens and Batman/Aliens. There was also Predator vs Judge Dredd, Judge Dredd vs Aliens and Green Lantern vs Aliens but presumably there just wasn’t room to fit Joe Dredd and Hal Jordan into the S&BvsA&P comic book. Quite how Green Lantern has avoided, to date, his own crossover with Predator is unclear. The AVP meta-franchise also incorporated novels, video games and toys before eventually Alien vs Predator made it to the cinema screen in 2004. In a sly move to entrap those bozos who think that you can buy blockbuster movies on DVD while they’re still playing theatrically, Fox released a double bill of Alien and Predator packaged in such a way that an inattentive shopper might not notice the absence of ‘vs’ on the packaging. AVP: Requiem followed three years later.

       Meanwhile, two of the screen’s most popular bogeymen finally clashed in 2003’s Freddy vs Jason. Like AVP, FVJ had been in development for many years, with numerous versions of the screenplay considered and rejected. The problem was neatly summed up by one film executive who explained that the final five minutes of the film was incredibly easy to write but what precisely was supposed to happen for the hour and half beforehand? In a reversal of the AVP situation, Freddy vs Jason moved from cinema to comics with the paper version adding in Ash from the Evil Dead series.

       This was the rebirth of the franchise crossover subgenre. Alongside Aliens, Predator, Freddy, Jason, Puppet Master and the Demonic Toys, we had two giant snakes duking it out in Boa vs Python (a sequel to the 2000 film Python, about a giant snake, and the 2002 film Boa, about - you get the picture). There was even a kiddie franchise crossover in The Rugrats Meet the Wild Thornberries, although the title of that cartoon was changed to Rugrats Go Wild by the time it reached cinemas (I saw all three Rugrats pictures in the cinema and I’m proud of it!).

       Then we have the case of the brilliant-sounding Vampires vs Zombies. I ask you, how could that go wrong? Well, quite considerably is the answer, mainly because it doesn’t feature any vampire-vs-zombie action. In fact, there are barely any zombies in it at all. Directed by the pseudonymous Vincent D’Amato - clearly an Arristide Massacessi fan; there had to be one somewhere - the film started life as  a script called Carmilla 2000. This updated version of JS LeFanu’s much-filmed tale of sapphic haemovores was called Carmilla the Lesbian Vampire during production (unsubtle but exploitable) and was picked up by The Asylum, which at that time was principally a distribution outfit.

       According to D’Amato, The Asylum said they wanted to put ‘Vampires vs Zombies’ on the DVD sleeve and he agreed to this, thinking it would be a strapline underneath the title. Then when the disc appeared, it was the title itself. This story smells a bit fishy to me but stranger things have happened in the world of B-movies. The weird thing is that there are actually a couple of zombies in the film (which is utterly terrible, whatever you choose to call it, apart from two brief appearances by Brinke Stevens). Quite why D’Amato felt the need to add unexplained, irrelevant, barely noticeable zombies to his LeFanu update is just one of those mysteries...

       The Asylum is now, of course, famous for their ‘mockbuster’ spins on big budget features. Some of these are actually hugely entertaining (their version of Sherlock Holmes, for example, has all the dinosaurs, dragons and steampunk exo-suits that were missing from the Guy Ritchie version) and some are ... not great. Probably the least great of all is Alien Vs Hunter which was released in 2007 to cash in on AVP: Requiem. One of only two directorial credits for VFX bloke Scott Harper, Alien Vs Hunter is a train-wreck of a film and a rare example of the DVD menu telling us much that we might want know about production. Neither Harper nor producer David Latt provided the DVD commentary, a task which was instead shared between the first AD and the line producer. Nor does Harper appear anywhere in the Making Of featurette except for one still photo with a scrawled caption ‘Director’ and an arrow pointing at someone’s back.

       Legend has it that Harper only shot about two-thirds of the script and that certainly seems a reasonable explanation for oddities like characters who are only introduced after dialogue discussing their deaths. Much of the film seems to have been shot in a ‘tunnel’ set which is only about five metres long; characters fail to spot an enormous crashed spaceship on the other side of a small caravan; and in one moment of deadly peril a character has time to drive all the way back to town, get changed, and then come back out to the peril place to continue being threatened. ‘Fascinatingly awful’ is the kindest thing that can be said about this film.

       Just a couple of years later however, The Asylum bounced back with arguably the definitive Vs movie de nos jours. I’m talking, of course, about Mega-Shark Vs Giant Octopus. As soon as the trailer for this awesomely cheesy B-movie appeared on the web, it went viral. It utterly didn’t matter that neither of the titular creatures had any screen history. The Asylum had spotted that if punters will buy a movie about some made-up monster, then they’ll be twice as likely to buy one that features two made-up monsters. Especially if they’re really big, really dangerous, and really threatening to eat a marine biologist played by a former teenybop singer.

       Debbie ‘Deborah’ Gibson, who has long since given up trying to shake your love, turns out to be a competent actor and with my-little-ponytail action legend Lorenzo Lamas in the cast too, the stage is set for some serious marine monster fun. There’s nothing subtle or clever or pretentious in this film. A giant shark and a giant octopus were once frozen in ice, mid-fight. Accidentally unfrozen millions of years later, they continue their battle while causing vast amounts of collateral damage. Most memorably a scene where the Mega-Shark leaps from the water to catch an airliner in its jaws. Quite wonderfully, an oceanographer at the University of Washington with too much time on his hands calculated that to achieve this feat, the shark would need to swim up from 1,500m down, breaking the surface with a launch speed of 709.2 kmh.

       The Asylum gang followed this with Mega-Piranha (featuring Tiffany!) and Roger Corman tried to copy the concept with Sharktopus but it’s clear that people don’t want single monsters, even if they are two-for-one deals. People want buy-one-get-one-free. Hence as well as the direct sequel Mega-Shark vs Crocosaurus we have such delights as Dinocroc vs Supergator and Mega-Python vs Gatoroid. Also of note among recent films is Justin Timpane’s Ninjas vs Zombies and its sequel Ninjas vs Vampire (the latter just out in the UK from Left Films): superior B-movie romps with little in the way of plot but some great characters. I should probably also give a nod to animated feature Monsters vs Aliens at this point.

       And what of the future? There are two British face-offs in post-production at the moment. From Matthias Hoene (who directed swiftly forgotten Hammer revival episodes-on-your-phone feature Beyond the Rave) and scriptwriter James (Severance) Moran comes Cockneys vs Zombies. Apparently Richard Briers and Honor Blackman are in the cast of that but otherwise I know little about it. The one I’m really excited about is Strippers vs Werewolves, from the pen of Pat Higgins (The Devil’s Music), director Jonathan Glendening (13 Hours, SNUB) and producer Jonathan Sothcott (whose Dead Cert could have been called Cockneys vs Vampires but wasn’t) - and starring Freddy himself, Robert Englund. It will be a long time before all the possible permutations of X vs Y have been filmed: conflict is the essence of drama and everybody loves a good monster rumble!

MJ Simpson has been writing since he found out which end of a pencil makes a mark. After editing sci-fan club mags he spent three years on the staff of SFX and helped to launch Total Film before switching to freelance work for Fangoria, Shivers, Video Watchdog, DeathRay and other cult movie magazines. He has a number of scripts in development and has been working on his third book, a biography of 'Bride of Frankenstein' Elsa Lanchester, for a very long time, but he promises to have it finished soon (-ish). Mike lives in Leicester with his wife, Mrs S, and his young son, TF Simpson. By day he edits the university's website and in the evenings he edits MJSimpson.co.uk. He should probably get out more.