Welcome to the Crypt!

Welcome to the Crypt!

Enter the Crypt as John "The Unimonster" Stevenson and his merry band of ghouls rants and raves about the current state of Horror, as well as reviews Movies, Books, DVD's and more, both old and new.

From the Desk of the Unimonster...

From the Desk of the Unimonster...

Oh, my aching eyeballs … as loyal readers must remember, Halloween in the Crypt, which last all month long and comprises hundreds of hours of viewing horror movies and programs, is something it takes a little time from which to recover. But we in the Crypt survived, and are here to bring you the best in the world of Genre film!

As we bid farewell to the Halloween season and look forward to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and more cold and snow than I care to think of, we’re giving S. J. Martiene a brief vacation to recover from her October exertions, and taking a little trip through the archives. First up, we’re paying tribute to a friend of the Crypt, and of exploitation film fans everywhere, who unexpectedly left us recently … Mike Vraney, founder and head of Something Weird Video. Also, this month marks the sixtieth anniversary of the O. G. himself … Godzilla! Sixty years ago the original Gojira premiered in Japan, and the world of rubber-suited monsters would never be the same.

But we have new stuff as well, with a special piece from yours truly that was posted just before Halloween, and Bobbie reports on her Halloween activity, a trip to a film festival in, of all places, a winery! So enjoy the reading, join our Facebook page and let us hear from you, and … STAY SCARY!

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05 November, 2014

Getting their Freeky Creek On! by Bobbie Culbertson



It was a cold and windy night dampened by misty rain as we drove out to Fairmount, Illinois, a cozy rural community just south of Oakwood and a few scant miles east of the 'Paign.  Only one reason was good enough to take us from our toasty home...the 5th Annual Freeky Creek Short Film Festival.  The festival, held at Sleepy Creek Vineyards (8254 E 1425 North Rd., Fairmount, Il. 61841) is the brainchild of Sleepy Creek owners, Joe and Dawn Taylor who annually choose short video submissions from over 600 entrants from around the world to show in their comfortable and tastefully decorated wine tasting rooms.  While this first evening wasn't sold out as the next two nights are, almost every seat in the place was filled with costumed Fest-attendees.

Master of Ceremony was Bill Kephart, dressed as an irreverent, cigar-chomping Easter Bunny, who throughout the three intermissions, would attempt to free his friend Naughty-Kitty who had been arrested and taken to the Humane Shelter for neutering.  Aided in these attempts by his friend, Jean Claude Van Damme, a warrior-like door greeter at Wal-Mart. (Don't ask!  You had to be there!)  Anyway ... on with the show(s).

The submitted short films ran from less than a minute to over 16 minutes in length.  And most, if not all, had the same things going for them—excellent production values and above par acting!  Some had frightening CGI effects at would rival top studios (6 Shooter with its "Alien" internal attackers springs to mind).  Animation proved to be an audience favorite (my vote would go to Office Kingdom with its resigned but dedicated clerk).  Gore checked in with Vasle a Pancienne (The Waltz) and showed itself to be stomach turning.

Comedy made a good showing with, in my opinion, If I Only... winning hands down (or, in this case, hands applauding wildly!).  Dead Hearts, the longest of this evening's fare at 16 minutes, proved true love never truly dies!  That said, all were entertaining, fascinating and professionally rendered.  At the evening's end, the audience was invited to cast their ballots for the best films in several categories:
Freekin' Creepy Award (best horror)
Freekin' Artsy Award (best animation)
Freekin' Pretty Award (best looking)
Freekin' Thespian Award (best acting)
Freekin' Funny Award (best comedy)
Freekin' Fake Award (best fake commercial or doc)
Freekin' Best of the Freekin' Fest Award!  (overall most votes)

The Festival ended Nov 1 and the winners have been announced on the Freeky Creek Facebook page:


Joe and Dawn Taylor have thoughtfully uploaded Youtube links to the various winner of this year's Freeky Creek Short Film Festival!  So, head on over to their Facebook page for a frighteningly good time!  And should you, dear readers, find yourselves in East-Central Illinois on or near Halloween, please check out the Freeky Creek Short film Festival at Sleepy Creek vineyards.  You won't be sorry!
Complete list of submissions (*= premier)
Act 1
On Broken Wings by Walter Arnold (US, 4:00 min)
The Man From Arctica by Nils J. Nesse (Norway, 1:00 min)
The Devil You Know IBC by Brian Osborne (Local, 0:48 min)
Armor* by Jennifer Bechtel (Local, 2:00 min)
Office Kingdom by Salvatore Centoducati (Italy, 7:00 min)
Under Age by Joonas Makkonen (Finland, 4:45 min)
ZHS Trailer* by Dan Drake (Local, 1:00 min)
Castcom Cable* by Thomas Nicol (Local, 5:27 min)
Christopher Columbo* by Jiani Bach Nygard (Local, 2:00 min)
Volunteer by Javier Marco (Spain, 3:52 min)
Clowns Are Not Scary* by Mike Trippiedi (Local, 2:36 min)
Ruins by Daniel Ueno (Brazil, 4:05 min)
The Headless Nun by Nuno Sa Pessoa (Portugal, 6:43 min)

Act 2
Heavy Metal Reflections by Shawn Wickens (USA, 2:59 min)
Valse a Pancienne (The Waltz) by Bourreau Francois-Xavier (France, 2:46 min)
If I Only...* by Mike Trippiedi (Local, 2:08 min)
The Contest by Mike Osborne (USA, 0:45 min)
Awkward by Toni Lopez Bautista (Spain, 7:20 min)
6 Shooter by Lauren Parker (UK, 3:30 min)
NO, IT'S NOT THAT by Aitor Arenas (Spain, 3:30 min)
Wacky Robot by Chris Deir (USA), 4:48 min)
Like His Father by Toni Lopez Bautista (Spain, 5:00 min)
Grandma (Lola) by Joey Agbayani (Philippines, 7:00 min)
The Low Road, Baby by Mark Roeder (USA, 4:00 min)

Act 3
Death Of the First Born Egyptians* by Nina Paley (Local, 7:06 min)
Little Baby's Ice Cream by Doug Garth Williams (USA, 0:50 min)
Sister And Brother In the Cemetery* by Mike Trippiedi (Local, 2:54 min)
Piscis by Juan Carlos Camardella (Argentina, 3:15 min)
Tuck Me In by Ignacio F. Rodo (Spain, 1:00 min
Invocation by Robert Morgan (UK, 3:10 min)
Dead Hearts by Stephen Martin (Canada, 16:00 min)

Bobbie





Something Weird on the Screen: The Wild, Bizarre and Wacky World of Scare-Your-Children Movies, Exploitation Shorts and Stag Films



As I may have mentioned a time or two (or forty …) in this column, I love cheesy movies … the cheesier, the better, especially if it cost less than the price of a new car to produce.  Give me a movie that’s the celluloid counterpart of a twenty-pound block of Velveeta®, something that could put a deathgrip on King Kong’s colon, and was done on the cheap, and you have one happy Unimonster.  And from THE BLOB to BUBBA HO-TEP, no type of film does low-budget cheese better than the Genre film—specifically the five associated genres of Horror, Sci-Fi, Mystery, Fantasy, and Exploitation.

Why is it that I enjoy these types of movies so much more than their mega-buck Hollywood blockbuster cousins?  Well, one answer is lowered expectations.  When a major studio pours $180 million into a picture, it had damn well better make me stand up and cheer; anything less is just a disappointment.  Movies such as INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, HELLBOY 2: THE GOLDEN ARMY, or THE DARK KNIGHT demand huge budgets, but the finished product is well worth the filmmakers’ investment.  But when a big-budget film flops, it’s usually a disaster of biblical proportions, sometimes ending the careers of those involved.  The best-known example of this was 1980’s HEAVEN’S GATE, the boring, bloated, Box-Office bomb that sank the career of heretofore-promising director Michael Cimino.  With a budget that ballooned to five times the original estimate, and a running time that was north of three-and-a-half hours, it was Box-Office death, earning less than three-and-a-half million on a thirty-five million dollar investment.  However, when no one expects anything from a movie, it’s hard to be disappointed.

And that brings me to another reason for my love of cheap movies … they’re so much more entertaining.  Let’s face facts—most people go to the movies to be entertained.  Not enlightened, not educated, not indoctrinated … simply to relax and have a good time.  That’s hard to do when the director is trying to beat some socially relevant message into your head; even harder when the beating lasts for three or more hours.  There are people who enjoy that sort of thing; there are also people who prefer tofu to rib-eye.  I have little use for either sort of person.
I for one want entertainment from the movies I watch.  If I want enlightenment, I play golf.  If I want education, I read a book.  And I scrupulously try to avoid indoctrination.  All I seek from my hard-earned movie-buying dollar is a couple of hours of mindless entertainment… not a disguised thought exercise.  I don’t think I differ greatly from the average movie fan in that regard, either.  The average movie fan just wants a little something to take him or her out of their mundane, everyday existence—something that they can’t get in their normal lives.  Sometimes that’s a thrilling adventure yarn, sometimes a historical drama, and sometimes, it’s something just a little further afield.  Something strange, something unusual, something… weird.

For nearly two decades, there’s been a small company catering to those of us who share a love of the cinematic equivalent of a ripe wedge of Roquefort, movies that define the term, “So bad it’s good …”  Something Weird Video is precisely that—something weird, indeed anything weird, that has been captured on film or video.

Say you have a fondness for 1950’s vintage High School hygiene films … SWV has you covered.  You consider yourself a fan of the films of Harry Novak?  They've got what you’re looking for.  Need a Bettie Page or Tempest Storm stag reel for your next bachelor party?  Something Weird is the place for that, and virtually every other type of low-brow, low-class, and low-budget film you can imagine.

Founded in 1990 by Mike Vraney, SWV has grown into a major distributor of classic, and unusual, genre films.  They also specialize in the type of short films that collector’s love, but that every other distributor ignores.  Industrial films, propaganda films, educational films—name an obscure form of video, and chances are they have it in stock.  From a 1959 film produced by the Kansas State Board of Health on the dangers of Syphilis, to ‘60’s-vintage Police training films on how to spot signs of marijuana use, to a promotional film put out by Karo Syrup entitled THE ENCHANTED POT, virtually every taste and interest is catered to by the company.  But by far, their stock in trade is the good, old-fashioned, Exploitation Film.

Precursor to both the Grindhouse films of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, and the X-Rated adult features of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, Exploitations became big business as the silent era transitioned into sound.  A small group of producer/distributors, part con-men, part Hollywood mogul, and with a stiff measure of carnival huckster thrown in, came to dominate the Exploitation circuits, playing in dingy downtown theaters and out-of-the-way rural Drive-Ins.  Known collectively as “the Forty Thieves”, these showmen traveled the country exhibiting their films to curious crowds, always promising the raw, uncensored, unvarnished truth about a myriad of social ills, from child marriage to the dangers of sexual promiscuity and drug abuse… and delivering just enough to keep the rubes and yokels happy.

The Exploitations were the cinematic equivalent of a traveling sideshow; talk up the crowds, get them excited about whatever symptom of moral decay was the topic of that week’s film, get them to lay down their money for a ticket, and then give them pretty much what they were expecting—a little entertainment, a little skin, a little naughtiness, all wrapped up in a package that they could regard with a sense of moral outrage and indignation—while secretly wishing that they themselves could indulge in some of that naughtiness.

The kings of the Exploitation circuits made fortunes with these films, often recycling them over and over by splicing new title cards into the prints, or by trading them to other distributors in exchange for films that had already worn out their welcome on other circuits.  Names like Kroger Babb, Dave Friedman, and Dan Sonney might mean little today, but in their era, and in their arena, they were as powerful and influential as Samuel Goldwyn, Darryl F. Zanuck, or Walt Disney.  They were the moguls of Exploitation; the men who worked beyond Hollywood’s pale, creating films no “respectable” distributor would dare touch.  In the ‘40’s and ‘50’s, they, and others like them, fought for an end to censorship of motion pictures and increased freedom for filmmakers, even if ‘mainstream’ filmmakers looked down their collective nose at them.

As the ‘50’s gave way to the ‘60’s, the Exploitations began to change.  The moral message that had been such a prominent part of the “Road Show” era of Exploitation films fell by the wayside as the courts struck down, one by one, the draconian censorship laws on the motion picture industry.  Without the need to justify their more salacious or risqué content, a new breed of filmmakers, people such as Harry Novak, Doris Wishman, and Mike and Roberta Findlay began producing a new breed of Exploitation film.

These were truly exploitative films, lacking any pretense of cultural or educational value.  From Wishman’s ‘Nudie Cuties’ to Herschell G. Lewis’ gore-filled horrors, the early ‘60’s were an explosion of new trends in movies, and those on the leading edge of those trends were the Exploitation filmmakers.  The same year that audiences were shocked by the sight of Janet Leigh dressed only in her undergarments following an afternoon tryst in PSYCHO, moviegoers in New York City’s 42nd Street grindhouses were watching Wishman’s NUDE ON THE MOON, a Sci-Fi “epic” filmed at a Florida nudist colony.  Three years before Peter Fonda starred in the landmark film EASY RIDER, he starred in a not-so-vaguely similar movie, THE WILD ANGELS, directed by Roger Corman for American-International Pictures.

But the Exploitations would go where Hollywood dared not follow, and do so in ways that the major studios wouldn’t think of emulating.  At a time when Hollywood was still struggling to come to terms with homosexuality, racism, drug abuse, and a rapidly changing cultural landscape, the Exploitations were treating all of these topics in an open, frank manner… even if that treatment was less than honest—or flattering.  These were key themes for the “grindhouse” cinema, the infamous strip of theaters along 42nd Street in Manhattan.  A few blocks away might be the bright lights of Broadway, but here all was darkness and shadow, and it was populated by those who shunned the light.  The grindhouses of “The Deuce,” as the strip was christened by authors Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford in their book, Sleazoid Express: A Mind-Twisting Tour through the Grindhouse Cinema of Times Square, were where the Exploitation film reached it’s zenith.  There you could find an endless variety of perversion and prurient delights… if you were willing to risk your wallet, or perhaps your life, for the experience.

While those who frequented the theaters that made up the “Deuce” profess fond memories of the experience, the truth is slightly different.  The grindhouse area was, in fact, a filthy, crime-ridden, two-by-eight block section of the city that was a breeding ground for prostitution, assault, robbery, and disease.  The only reason fans of these movies traveled to such a blighted zone was because that was the only place that you could see these films… and despite their low-quality and frequently tasteless subject matter, many of these films were worth seeking out.

New York City’s efforts to remake it’s public image led to the end of the “Deuce,” as theater after theater was razed upon the altar of ‘urban renewal’.  For the most part the fans of Exploitations weren't displeased … with the growth of Home Video and the newfound freedom to watch whatever you might choose in the privacy of your own home, why brave the dimly-lit alleyways of 42nd Street?  And as Hollywood’s standards changed, the line between what was “mainstream” and what wasn’t began, first to blur, then to vanish altogether.  This began as early as 1969 when an X-Rated film, John Schlesinger’s MIDNIGHT COWBOY, won the Oscar® for Best Picture.  Ironically, this film examined the lives of two Times Square hustlers played by Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, and their struggle to survive as denizens of the “Deuce.”  This led to a spate of semi-respectable adult films—DEEP THROAT and BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR were two notable titles—that were shown in first-run theaters.  With Hollywood now free to explore many of the topics that were previously the sole province of the Exploitation filmmakers, many of them moved into the final stage in the life cycle of the Exploitation filmmaker—hardcore pornography—and the true Exploitation film died a slow, lingering death.  But the movies that made up the more than five decades of the Exploitation period haven’t died, though it was only the efforts of a dedicated few who kept the memory of these films alive, people like Mike Vraney, Bill Landis, Michelle Clifford, Dave Friedman, Harry Novak, and others who have worked to preserve these films, and history of the Exploitation Cinema.

While it’s easy to dismiss these movies as trashy, lewd, and without redeeming value, I believe that is far too harsh a judgment.  Yes, these films were trashy, designed primarily to titillate and tease their audiences … and to that, I say, “So what?”  Could not the same be said for most of the motion picture industry?  The goal of producers and distributors hasn't changed since Edison screened his GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY in the 1890’s—to put asses in seats—at whatever ticket price the market would bear.  If the Exploitation filmmakers hadn't given the movie-going public what they wanted, then they wouldn’t have accomplished this.  And if they hadn't accomplished the task of selling tickets, then they wouldn’t have lasted as long as they did.  Trashy—yes.  Lewd, lascivious, exploitive, prurient, pandering, coarse, vulgar, bawdy … yes, they were all of the above.


But they were also entertaining.  Sometimes that’s good enough.  Sometimes, that’s just what you’re in the mood for.  And thanks to Mike Vraney and his Something Weird Video, we can indulge that mood whenever it strikes.  And not in some run-down, flea-ridden, rat-infested den of iniquity with a movie screen, but in the comfort of our own homes.






DVD Review: GOJIRA / GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS 2-Disc Collector’s Set

Title:  GOJIRA / GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS 2-Disc Collector’s Set

Year of Release—Film:  1954

Year of Release—DVD:  2006

DVD Label:  Sony / Classic Media


THE MOVIE

          GOJIRA—(1954)

          For fifty years, American audiences have known only one version of the definitive Japanese Monster Movie, GOJIRA; the edited-for-American distribution version entitled GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS.  Though VHS tapes of the original Japanese edit, while hard to find, were available here, for most of us the version that had been pieced together with footage of Raymond Burr was the only GODZILLA to which we had access.  That all changed earlier this month with the release of Classic Media’s gorgeous 2-disc GOJIRA Collector’s Set.

          Those of you who think you know this movie really must see the original.  Everything that serves to detract from the quality of the Hollywood version is gone, and we can see just how much was cut, both to tone down the serious message of the Japanese film, and to make room for the spliced-in scenes.  This movie, which for all the excitement and affection it engenders has always seemed a weakly-plotted mish-mash driven only by action, now stands revealed in its unadulterated form as a thoughtful, literate film, nearly twenty minutes longer than the U.S. edit. 

          Moments that wound up on a cutting-room floor in Hollywood help to convey the original intent of the film’s creators:  Gojira isn’t just some honked-off dinosaur out for a meal.  He is the very incarnation of the hell Japan brought down upon itself during World War II, including the embodiment of Japan’s ultimate nightmare, the Atomic Bomb.  In a telling line of dialogue that failed to make it into the Hollywood edit, a young couple is discussing finding a shelter if Gojira should attack Tokyo.  Another man, hearing this, comments “Not the shelters again… that really stinks!”  Memories of the war were still fresh in the collective Japanese conscious, and comment similar to this throughout the film, while having tremendous relevance for Japanese audiences of the mid-‘50’s, would have been problematic at best for audiences in the U.S.

          I’ve waited a lifetime to see this version of one of my favorite films, only to discover that they are two different movies entirely.  But I certainly wasn’t disappointed, and now have an even deeper appreciation for the Big G.


          GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS—(1956)

          I reviewed this movie once already during Kaijû Month here at CreatureScape, and there isn’t much I can say to alter my original opinions of this film.  It remains one of my favorites, and has been for most of my life.

          The one thing that I can add to that assessment is that, as much as I do love this version, to deny that it is vastly inferior to the original GOJIRA would be intellectually dishonest; having them together for direct comparison only serves to highlight those inferiorities.  The thoughtful, deliberate pacing and intelligent scripting of the original is completely lost here, as a 98-minute film is condensed into less than 80 minutes, eliminating most of the plot and virtually all of the character development.

          Still, this is the version I first saw decades ago as a young MonsterKid, and it was impressive enough, even in its heavily-altered form, to inspire a life-long love of Kaijû movies.  It’s nowhere near as good as the original… but that still makes it better than any other giant monster movie of its era.



THE DISC

          This 2-disc set is beautifully packaged in a stout Digipak case like the ones used for the Universal Legacy Collections.  If anything, the graphic design is nicer than that for the Universal sets, and far superior to the standard artwork used for most of the Toho films released to DVD, much more subdued and somber, fitting the mood of the films inside.

          In keeping with Japanese packaging standards, the whole is surrounded by a belly-band containing the DVD specifications, making a very attractive package indeed.

          The two discs contained within all this beautiful packaging are certainly worthy of the advance press, though I can’t help thinking that they could be better.  The print used for the GOJIRA transfer looked great to me, though I have seen complaints about it being an inferior print.  Frankly, I think such complaints are typical videophile snobbery.  The transfer is far superior to any print of GODZILLA that I’ve previously seen, and that’s good enough to satisfy me.  I’m not sure how much you can expect from fifty-year old celluloid.  And as for the GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS transfer, while it is much better than any I’ve seen before, doesn’t quite match the quality of the GOJIRA print.  Perhaps this is due to the original masters not being equal in quality.  Still, the transfer is superior to any I’ve seen before.

          The one flaw that is present is the audio quality on GODZILLA.  I understand that they are working with aging recordings, but still, some effort could’ve been made to clean the tracks up for this release.  Barring that, at least provide subtitles for GODZILLA.  (GOJIRA, with the original Japanese audio, is already subtitled…)

          On the whole, this is a beautiful set, and is just one more in a list of terrific releases of classic Horror and Sci-Fi films that we’ve been blessed with over the past few years.  It’s a trend I hope to see continue.  Fortunately, Classic Media has two additional releases scheduled for November that will follow this format:  GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN and GODZILLA vs. MOTHRA.



THE SPECIAL FEATURES

          In terms of special features on these discs, there’s not a lot present that really impresses.  What’s there is good, but this isn't a set that people will buy because of the extras.

          The GOJIRA disc has the lion’s share of extras, with two featurettes; one on the story development, and one on the design of the first Goji-suits.  Both of these are sparse and cheap-looking, composed primarily of still photographs and voice-over narration.  Still, they are fascinating glimpses at the genesis of the king of kaijû, and are worth watching.

          The commentaries on each film, well done by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godiziszewski, are interesting and informative, avoiding becoming pedantic and lecturing.  They even manage to slip a rather obvious “Brokeback Mountain” reference in during one of Raymond Burr’s GODZILLA scenes.

          The only real extra on the GODZILLA disc, other than the commentary, is the original trailer for the U.S. release.

          Overall, while these extras do add to the set, they’re not why you want to buy this DVD.  The opportunity to finally own the original GOJIRA, uncut and unedited, is all the “special feature” you need for that.



IN CONCLUSION


          As I said earlier, I’ve waited a lifetime to see the original GOJIRA, and I was not disappointed.  My affection for GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, the version I grew up with, hasn't changed.  I still love it despite all its flaws and faults.  But it is badly flawed, and that can’t be ignored.  Now you can see, in direct comparison, just how good the original was, and why, even adulterated the way it was, it still had the power to enthrall generations.





KAIJÛ 101: A Beginner’s Guide to the Giant Monsters of Japanese Cinema



Say “Godzilla,” and everyone knows what you mean and to whom you’re referring.  Say “Kaijû,” and most people say, “What’s that mean?”  Simply put, Kaijû are the giant monsters of Japanese movies: Godzilla; Rodan; Mothra; and their kin.  For those new to the genre, it can be a daunting task trying to sort out the confusing variety of Monsters, Aliens, and the movies associated with them.  While I’m far from an expert, I am going to try to give you the basic history of the Kaijû genre from 1954 to 2004, but with emphasis on the first twenty years of Godzilla’s reign.  These are the movies everyone should start with if they want to know Kaijû Eiga in general, and Godzilla movies in particular.  Though most would say there’s no difference, that would be shortsighted and factually incorrect, and would be comparable to saying that all Universal Horrors are Frankenstein movies.

          Also, those familiar with my columns know that they are often a mix of fact and opinion.  Where I state fact, I do my utmost to research and confirm those facts, and I want to acknowledge those sources now. 

          First and foremost in all my research is www.imdb.com.  This has got to be the best website ever devised for those looking for information on virtually any movie, classic or current; and my work would be much more difficult without it.  Also, two websites devoted to Kaijû films have proven invaluable for this article:  www.tohokingdom.com, and Gojistomp.org.  I heartily recommend them to Kaijû-lovers everywhere.

          As to my opinions… well, they’re my opinions.  You don’t have to agree with them, just don’t expect me to change them.

          And one last acknowledgement is in order, as well as a huge thank-you, to my fellow CreatureScape writer Elizabeth Haney.  Her assistance with the research on this piece has been invaluable, and it, as well as her friendship, is greatly appreciated.

          My purpose with this article is simple:  To share with you my love of Kaijû Eiga, (Monster Movies…) and hopefully give you an appreciation of them that will inspire you to delve deeper into these fascinating films.

          The World of the Kaijû—a Primer

          To really understand the World of Kaijû films, it is helpful to have a basic knowledge of some of the terms used to describe these films.  Most are Japanese in origin, and can be confusing for western fans.  Hopefully, I can help cut through some of the confusion, and make these films a little more accessible.

          First, you will occasionally see me refer to a “Goji.”  That is the diminutive of “Gojira,” and is usually used in identifying a Godzilla from a specific film, by identifying the version of the Goji-Suit used in the production.  The suits were named by a combination of some descriptive term from the film, often another Kaijû, and the “-goji” suffix.  Thus, Kingoji was the Godzilla from KINGUKONGU TAI GOJIRA  ~aka~  KING KONG vs. GODZILLA.  Here is a complete list of the various Goji-suits, courtesy of Gojistomp.org:

Shodaigoji (1954)
Gyakushugoji (1955)
Kingoji (1962)
Mosugoji I (1964)
Mosugoji II (1964)
Daisengoji (1965)
Musukugoji (1967)
Daisengoji (1965-1966)
Soshingekigoji (1968-1972)
Megarogoji (1973)
Mekagoji (1974)
Mekagyakushugoji (1975)

1984-Goji (1984)
Biogoji / Ghidogoji (1989-1991)
Batogoji (1992)
Radogoji (1993)
Mogegoji (1994)
Desugoji (1995)
Amerigoji (1998)

Miregoji (1999)
Giragoji (2000)
GMK-Goji (2001)
Kiryugoji (2002)
Kiryu-Mosugoji (2003)
Fainarugoji (2004)


          The reason there were so many variations is a simple one:  The suits seldom lasted through more than one production, and some barely survived one.  The foam rubber they were composed of broke down rapidly, and within a short time the suit would be unusable.  All that remains of virtually all the goji-suits now are bits of decaying rubber.  And each iteration of the suits would lead to changes; some minor, but a few major ones occurred through the years.

          Secondly, as you may notice in the headings for the following sections, I refer to the period of the early films as the Showa era, the era this article will focus on.  Toho’s Kaijû films are divided into three periods:  Showa; Heisei; (or “Versus” in Japan…) and Millennium.  The first two correspond roughly to the Japanese calendar; while the third, obviously, gains it’s name from the fact that it began in 1999. 

          In the Japanese method of date-keeping, a new era begins with the death of the current Emperor, and the ascension of his successor.  Thus, the Taishō era ended in 1926 with the death of the Taishō Emperor Yoshihito, and the Showa era began as his son, Crown Prince Hirohito, succeeded him.  In that calendar, GOJIRA debuted in Showa-29, the twenty-ninth year of the Showa Emperor’s reign…  And you thought Leap years and Daylight Savings time were complicated.

          Thirdly, of course Toho wasn’t the only studio in Japan producing Kaijû Eiga.  Daiei Studios had Gamera, Nikkatsu had Gappa… but Toho was king of Kaijû movies, and Toho’s who I’ll concentrate on here.

         

THE BEGINNING—(1954)

          The first of Toho’s Kaijû Eiga was and still is the best ever:  1954’s GOJIRA.  Directed by Ishirô Honda, this allegorical commentary on the Atomic Age was toned down and significantly altered to appeal to the American market when it appeared here in 1956 as GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS.  While inferior to the original Japanese version, it retains the original’s stark, apocalyptic feel and dark tone that made it so effective.

          Perhaps the most influential Monster-Movie since 1933’s KING KONG, more than a score of sequels and dozens of imitators have followed this film, cementing Godzilla’s place as a pop-culture icon.

         
          The Early SHOWA-Era—(1954-1962)

          With the dramatic success of GOJIRA, Toho soon had a sequel in the works, as well as other Kaijû on the drawing boards.  Gojira no gyakushû ~aka~ GODZILLA’S COUNTER-ATTACK; GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN; GIGANTIS THE FIRE-MONSTER (1955), was released barely six months after GOJIRA premiered, and established Godzilla as a superstar in his homeland.  It also introduced a second Kaijû, Anguirus, who battled Godzilla thus beginning a long-running theme in the Toho films.  The next Kaijû to make their appearance came a year later, in the form of gigantic flying reptiles named Rodan.  SORA NO DAIKAIJÛ RADON ~aka~ RADON THE MONSTER OF THE SKY; RODAN (1956), was the first Kaijû film shot in color, and introduced not only the two Rodan, but also a beetle-like Kaijû called a Meganulon which the newly-hatched Rodans fed on. 

          RODAN was quickly followed by Chikyu Boeigun ~aka~ EARTH DEFENSE FORCE; THE MYSTERIANS (1957).  While this was, strictly speaking, more of a Tokusatsu, or Special Effects (Sci-Fi, in other words…), film, rather than Kaijû movie, Toho insisted upon at least one Kaijû in the production.  Thus was born Moguera, in his only appearance to date. 

          A year later Varan made his first appearance in DAIKAIJÛ BARAN ~aka~ GREAT MONSTER VARAN; VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE.  Though Varan was little more than a clone of Godzilla, (some stock footage of Godzilla was actually used by mistake…) it was still an interesting movie; at least, the Japanese version was.  It received the usual slice-and-dice edit job from it’s American distributor, who dropped in extra footage involving a U.S. Naval officer conducting secret experiments.

          The Kaijû scene was quiet for the next few years, as Toho concentrated on producing more Tokusatsu, such as UCHU DAISENSO ~aka~ THE GREAT SPACE WAR; BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE.  It would be 1961 before another Kaijû came along, in MOSURA ~aka~ MOTHRA.  One of Toho’s most popular monsters, Mothra became a recurring star in the Kaijû Eiga, with some variation of the Kaijû appearing in no less than 14 movies, spanning all three eras.

          1962 saw the return of Godzilla himself, along with a guest, in KINGUKONGU TAI GOJIRA ~aka~ KING KONG vs. GODZILLA.  The original Japanese version was intended to be light-hearted and comedic; aimed more at children.  Godzilla himself underwent several changes, even to the point of the Kingoji suit having a softer, friendlier appearance, thereby creating the worst looking Goji in the series.

However, an absolutely abysmal editing job on the part of Universal, the film’s co-producer and U.S. distributor, ladled on the melodrama with edited-in segments of “UN News” broadcasts featuring no-talent American actors, and ruined the intent of the film’s creators.  What should have been a funny, enjoyable comedy now gets its laughs for the entirely wrong reasons.

And let’s take the opportunity to dispel a myth that has sprung up concerning the Japanese, as opposed to the US, versions of this film:  That Godzilla wins in the Japanese version and Kong in the US edit.  Kong is the winner in both, and was intended to be from the beginning.  The only difference is in the sound effects in the last scene; in the Japanese version, you hear Godzilla’s roar as well as Kong’s as Kong swims away.


The Mid-Showa Films—(1963-1969)

          Though 1963 didn’t see the release of a film starring one of the more popular Kaijû, it did give us a very good movie that blended the Kaijû and Tokusatsu formats.  Kaitei gunkan ~aka~ UNDERSEA BATTLESHIP; ATRAGON was a skillfully done Sci-Fi epic, and introduced us to Manda, a dragon-like sea serpent that was the defender of the undersea kingdom of Mu.  The original Manda was destroyed by the Submarine Gotengo, but there were obviously others, as the Kaijû has made repeated appearances.

          1964 was a big year for Toho’s growing stable of Kaijû.  Not only were there two Godzilla films released that year (the only year that would see twin Goji releases…) but it would also produce Uchu daiKaijû Dogora ~aka~ SPACE MONSTER DOGORA; DAGORA, THE SPACE MONSTER. 

While this would be this Kaijû’s only appearance, it was a memorable one, and it is deserving of more attention than it gets.  Looking like a gigantic space jellyfish, Dogora was certainly one of Toho’s strangest Kaijû; at least, until much later in the series.

          Also released in 1964 was MOSURA TAI GOJIRA ~aka~ MOTHRA vs. GODZILLA; GODZILLA vs. THE THING.  Always a popular Kaijû, Mothra’s second appearance is the one most western audiences remember when they think of the giant moth.

          But the best Kaijû film of 1964, and the one that had the greatest impact on the Showa series, was San Daikaiju: Chikyu saidai no kessen ~aka~ Three Giant Monsters: The Earth's Greatest Decisive Battle; GHIDRAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER.  This was the seminal film of the Showa period, transforming the three main Kaijû, especially Godzilla, into the anointed protectors of Japan.  It also introduces the quintessential villain of the series, King Ghidorah.  Ghidorah, three-headed dragon monster, would plague Godzilla throughout the franchise, appearing in no fewer than seven films in all three periods.

          1965 brought the return of King Ghidorah, this time with a new name and under alien control.  KAIJÛ DAISENSO ~aka~ WAR OF THE MONSTERS; GODZILLA vs. MONSTER ZERO, was basically a continuation of the previous film; only this time, Ghidorah was under the control of the Xilians, a race of aliens bent on world conquest.  While this was the first time aliens made such an appearance in a Godzilla film, it certainly wouldn’t be the last.  Alien races soon became a staple plot point of the Godzilla writers.

          The other Kaijû film released in 1965 should be familiar to regular readers of this column… a couple of months ago I listed it as one of the three worst movies in my collection:  Furankenshutain tai chitei kaijû Baragon ~aka~ FRANKENSTEIN vs. THE SUBTERRANEAN MONSTER BARAGON; FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD.  Though in its original form it might very well be a decent Kaijû Eiga, it was so horribly chopped down for the export market that it lost all of whatever charm it might have possessed.

          Godzilla returned in 1966, in what was his weakest Showa outing thus far:  Gojira, Ebirâ, Mosura: Nankai no daiketto ~aka~ GODZILLA, EBIRAH, MOTHRA: BIG DUEL IN THE SOUTH SEAS; GODZILLA vs. THE SEA MONSTER.  You know, over the years Kaijû lovers have had to put up with some rather outlandish creatures; giant moths, a giant animated rose, Raymond Burr… but Ebirah the giant shrimp has to take the prize.  Fortunately, the other film produced that year was much, much better.

          Furankenshutain no kaijû: Sanda tai Gaira ~aka~ FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTERS: SANDA vs. GAIRA; WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, was a direct sequel of the previous year’s FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, but far exceeded the earlier film in terms of quality.  The Kaijû, Sanda and Gaira, were the offspring of the Frankenstein’s Monster from the previous year; unlike that monster, these two were somewhat interesting.

          Continuing the trend of the previous two years, Toho released two Kaijû films in 1967, one featuring Godzilla, and one that didn’t.

          The Godzilla franchise continued a decline in quality began when Honda left the series as director, after GODZILLA vs. MONSTER ZERO, with Kaijûtô no Kessen: Gojira no Musuko  ~akaMonster Island's Decisive Battle: Godzilla's Son; Son of Godzilla.  This, Jun Fukuda’s second outing as director of a Godzilla film, marked the beginning of the series’ shift to cater to the children’s market.  The Musukugoji suit used through much of this film (the Daisengoji suit was used for the underwater scenes…) had a much softer, friendlier appearance, similar to the Kingoji suit used five years previously.  The plot was also rendered kinder and gentler, though certainly not better.

          I’d like to say that Toho’s second production of 1967 was better, but that would be stretching the truth.  KINGUKONGU NO GYAKUSHU  ~aka~  KING KONG’S COUNTERATTACK; KING KONG ESCAPES was purportedly a sequel to KING KONG vs. GODZILLA, though in fact it bore no similarity to the previous film.  In comparison, it was fairly decent; though the plot, as in many Kaijû Eiga, was superfluous.

          1968 saw the release of only one Kaijû film, but it also marked the return of Ishirô Honda to the director’s chair of the Godzilla series.  He quickly restored the franchise to some semblance of its former glory, giving us one of the best Goji-films ever:  KAIJÛ SÔSHINGEKI  ~aka~  MONSTER INVASION; DESTROY ALL MONSTERS.  Featuring virtually every Kaijû yet encountered by Godzilla, plus a few that had made solo appearances, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS had everything a Kaijû epic should… massive destruction; alien invaders; mega-Kaijû battles; and, of course, King Ghidorah getting his ass kicked.  It’s still one of my favorite movies.

          Once again, Toho returned to the formula of two Kaijû films for 1969, with one being a Godzilla picture.  Gojira-Minira-Gabara: Oru Kaijû Daishingeki  ~aka~  Godzilla’s Revenge was Honda’s next-to-last Godzilla film, though his run didn’t end soon enough.  Easily the worst of the franchise’s fifty-year run, GODZILLA’S REVENGE was a Goji-film for the Sesame Street crowd; a juvenile romp seen through the eyes of a young boy who befriends Minilla, the son of Godzilla.  Whether this happens in the boy’s imagination or not is uncertain; but this somehow gives him the ability to defeat an entire gang of criminals.  The genius that had been behind the special effects of the Godzilla franchise from its inception, Eiji Tsuburaya, was bedridden during the filming, (he would die within months…) and Honda supervised the effects work himself.  Most of the sequences featuring the various Kaijû were stock footage, cobbled together from earlier films.

          The second release that year was a return to the Tokusatsu / Kaijû blend of a few years before.  Ido zero daisakusen  ~aka~  LATITUDE ZERO: GREAT MILITARY BATTLE; LATITUDE ZERO, was one of the most eccentric Eiga released by Toho, with the crew of a submarine named the Alpha doing battle with the evil Dr. Malik, played by Cesar Romero.  Yes, I’m talking about the Joker.  One of Malik’s creations is a 100-foot lion; with giant condor wings surgically grafted on, and for some reason named the Black Moth.  As Kaijû goes, perhaps not the best concept, but then, maybe that could be said for the film as a whole.

         

The Late Showa—(1970-1975)

          1970 was the first year since 1963 without an appearance from Godzilla, or in fact any of Toho’s other A-list monsters.  But that doesn’t mean the year was Kaijû-free, with the release of Honda’s Gezora, Ganime, Kameba: Kessen! Nankai no daikaijû  ~aka~  Gezora, Ganimes, Kamoebas: Decisive Battle! Giant Monsters of the South Seas; YOG: MONSTER FROM SPACE.  One of the better late Showa films, it’s unfamiliar to most American viewers, but the excellent Tokyo Shock / Media Blasters disc, sold under the title Space Ameoba - Gezora, Ganime, Kameba is worth seeking out.

          Yoshimitsu Banno briefly assumed the helm of the Godzilla franchise in 1971 with GOJIRA TAI HEDOR  ~aka~  GODZILLA vs. HEDORAH; GODZILLA vs. THE SMOG MONSTER.  Purely a environmentalist’s infomercial, it’s a very boring outing for the Big G despite a few interesting segments, including a scene of Godzilla flying, using his nuclear breath for rocket propulsion.  So poorly was this film received that the Godfather of the G-franchise, Tomoyuki Tanaka, exploded in rage at Banno, informing him that he had ruined the series.  A new Godzilla film was immediately rushed into production, and a planned sequel to GODZILLA vs. HEDORAH was quickly cancelled.

          Chikyû kogeki meirei: Gojira tai Gaigan ~aka~ EARTH DESTRUCTION DIRECTIVE: GODZILLA vs. GIGAN; GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND, released in 1972, marked Jun Fukuda’s return as director, with a better effort than usual from him. 

True, there is a certain level of silliness that Fukuda just couldn’t avoid, including a scene where Godzilla and Angirus are speaking to each other.  While this was done in the original Japanese edit through the use of cartoonish “word balloons,” in the English-language version we actually hear the Monsters speaking.  Still, in comparison to the previous GODZILLA vs. THE SMOG MONSTER, I can live with a little silliness.

1973’s GOJIRA TAI MEGARO ~aka~ GODZILLA vs. MEGALON was the most interesting Goji-film of the 1970’s, and while aimed almost exclusively at the youth market, still manages to entertain.  It was also a vehicle for one of Toho’s most spectacular publicity campaigns, one which invited children to design a character for the film.  The winning design was an Ultraman-like character named Jet Jaguar.  This heroic robot was able to use martial arts, fly, and grow to enormous size to battle evil.  He and Godzilla quickly unite to battle Megalon and Gigan, in a Kaijû fight that must be seen to be believed.

1974 gave us a new evil Kaijû to root against, a new ally for Godzilla, and marked the Big Guy’s 20th anniversary.  GOJIRA TAI MEKAGOJIRA ~aka~ GODZILLA vs. MECHAGODZILLA; GODZILLA vs. THE COSMIC MONSTER was also Jun Fukuda’s last turn as director; unfortunately, it worked no better than most of his films.  It did introduce the villains of the last two Showa films:  Mechagodzilla, a mechanical replica of Godzilla designed to beat him in combat; and the aliens from the Black Hole who created him. 

We were also introduced to a new Kaijû protector of Japan, Kingushîsâ, or King Shisa.  In the English-language version, this became King Caesar.  King Caesar is the embodiment of the lion-dog guardian spirits (or Shîsâ…) that are represented by statues on the island of Okinawa.  This would be his only appearance until GOJIRA: FAINARU UÔZU ~aka~ GODZILLA: FINAL WARS in 2004.  (See my review of GFW in Creatures Featured, elsewhere on the CreatureScape site…)

The Showa era ended, not with a bang but a whimper, in 1975.  Ishirô Honda returned one last time to the director’s chair; but he had very little to work with in MEKAGOJIRA NO GYAKUSHU ~aka~ MECHAGODZILLA’S COUNTER-ATTACK; TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA.  The plot was little more than a rehash of the previous film, and not even Honda’s talent as director could overcome the film’s negatives.  The series ground to a halt, and would lie dormant for nearly the next decade.


The Heisei Era—(1984-1995)

The Heisei era (also known as the “Versus” era in Japan…) began, as did the Showa, with GOJIRA ~aka~ THE RETURN OF GODZILLA; GODZILLA 1985, released in 1984.  It ended just over a decade later with GOJIRA VS DESUTOROIA ~aka~ GODZILLA vs. DESTOROYAH.  A much darker series, it ignored everything that had occurred following the original, 1954 film.  This Godzilla was no protector of Japan, and gone too were the kid-friendly plots of the late ‘60’s-early ‘70’s.  The death of Godzilla at the hands of Destoroyah in 1995 ended the Heisei era with one of the best, albeit most emotional, outings in the franchise’s history.

The Millennium Era—(1999-2004)

Following the failure of Tristar Pictures’ 1998 version of GODZILLA, directed by Roland Emmerich, to capture the affections of the Kaijû faithful, Toho decided that the public was ready for the return of the real Godzilla, and the Millennium era began with GOJIRA NI-SEN MIRENIAMU  ~aka~  GODZILLA 2000: MILLENNIUM; GODZILLA 2000.  (See my review of G2K in Creatures Featured, elsewhere on the CreatureScape site…)  Easily the best-looking Godzilla production yet, the special effects had progressed to the point where CGI sequences were used for the first time in a Godzilla film (I don’t count GINO…) and work wonderfully in combination with the Suitmation techniques pioneered by Toho.  The Millennium era would only last five years, but produced some of the franchises most memorable films.  Certainly GODZILLA: FINAL WARS must be considered one of the best since the heyday of Ishirô Honda.


The Future of Kaijû Eiga—(?)


With the end of the Millennium era, and Toho’s reluctance to discuss future Godzilla films, fans are left to wonder how long it will be before that familiar roar is once more heard rising from the waters of Tokyo Bay.  For Godzilla to have fought his last battle is incomprehensible to me, as I’m sure it is to many of my fellow Goji-fans.  Godzilla, as others have observed before me, is a force of nature; an elemental being, whether for good or bad.  He’s not a dinosaur run amok, or an experiment gone wrong.  He simply… IS.  To imagine that coming to an end would mean the death of something that I’m not prepared to see die.  And if I’m lucky, I’ll never have to be.








29 October, 2014

Packing for Transylvania




Recently, Alexandra of Mancrates Gifts for Men contacted your friendly ol’ Unimonster.  Mancrates is a site that specializes in manly gifts for manly men (so, of course they came to me, natch)—no frou-frou wrapping paper or frilly bows … the lucky recipient of a Man Crate gets just that, a crate and a crowbar.  The crate comes packed with a chosen assortment of everything a man could wish for—well, almost everything.  From video games, to barware featuring your favorite team’s logo, to enough beef jerky to carry you through any movie marathon or from the earliest pre-game show on Sunday morning through to Chris Collinsworth’s final words fifteen hours later, mancrates.com will box it up and ship it out.  And the question that Alexandra and mancrates wished to pose to the Unimonster was, “If you could have us crate up a kit to help you survive in a horror film, what would it contain?”
Most horror fans, when posed this question, would think ‘zombie apocalypse’ and start assembling weapons, ammo … and giant, economy sized cans of pudding.  Personally, I’m going to go in another direction.  I already have weapons and ammo, and I’m not all that crazy about pudding.  What I am crazy about is classic horror—vampires and werewolves, mummies and monsters, ghosts and ghouls.  And few have done classic horror as well as Hammer Films.  Beginning in 1957, this British studio resurrected classic horror from the depths to which it had plunged following World War 2, making it ‘cool’ again for a generation of movie goers.
Yvonne Furneaux-- The Mummy
Yvonne Monlaur-- The Brides of Dracula
Yvonne Romain-- Curse of the Werewolf, Night Creatures
And that’s the horror film into which I’d place myself.  One of the great, period horrors of the late 1950s, when Hammer was at it’s peak, artistically speaking.  There are several reasons for my selection.  First, no one’s starving in a Hammer film.  In fact, the vampires usually do one the courtesy of a sumptuous meal before the fangs come out and they get down to business.  Second, while I’ve never been accused of being a fashion plate, I do like to bathe and change my clothes more than once a year.  And lastly, we have the lovely ladies of Hammer Horror.  Now, if I have to fight my way through hordes of undead walkers, then Carol and Michonne are my picks.  But for sheer good looks, give me Hammer’s three Yvonnes—Yvonne Monlaur, Yvonne Furneaux, and Yvonne Romain.
So now that that’s decided, I need to pack for the trip.  The first thing mancrates will be putting in that box is some holy water.  I’m not talking about some tiny little vial—I want a gallon jug, preferably blessed by both Popes.  And a Hudson sprayer.  Throw in a box of crucifixes … the more the merrier.  Why Peter Cushing could never bother with packing more than one has always baffled me.  A little foresight and he wouldn’t have had to improvise with a pair of candlesticks.  Besides, vampires, at least in Hammer’s take on the species, tend to travel in packs.  Two more items to take care of the vampire set—a good, heavy mallet and a brace of stakes.  Maybe eighteen or twenty in a quiver would be nice.
Now, compared to vampires, werewolves are relatively easy to kill, if one knows the secret of how to do it.  Silver bullets; a box of fifty should be sufficient.  But not just any cartridge will suffice.  I’d like to keep things as period authentic as possible.  So let’s start with a handgun that’s quintessentially Victorian, with a bit of a ‘Steampunk’ vibe, the Webley Mk. I, chambered for the .455 cartridge.

One last item needs to be taken care of, and then mancrates can nail my crate shut, cover it in duct tape, and ship it out.  As Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and a host of their fellows demonstrated time and again, one simply does not battle monsters unless one is suitably attired; at least, not if one is a gentleman.  I’m not sure how a tweed jacket or white tie and tails helps a person kill monsters … but why take a chance?