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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.

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From the Desk of the Unimonster...

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18 July, 2012

In Memoriam

In Memoriam
by S. J. Martiene 

On July 3rd and July 8th, respectively, the entertainment world lost two of its legendary citizens:  Andy Griffith and Ernest Borgnine.    Both actors left a long legacy of films and TV work to keep generations of fans indulged forever.   We take this moment to pay tribute to them both.

Ernest Borgnine (born in 1917) made his film debut in 1951’s CHINA CORSAIR as gambling room owner, Hu Chang.  Borgnine, usually cast as a heavy, landed roles in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY and of all things, JOHNNY GUITAR.  Borgnine won an Oscar for his role as a lonely butcher in 1955’s MARTY.  He also co-starred in two movies with Bette Davis:  A CATERED AFFAIR and BUNNY O’HARE (which if you have never seen it, count your blessings).  Borgnine’s resume blossomed in the 50’s and 60’s with such movies as THE DIRTY DOZEN, THE WILD BUNCH, AND ICE STATION ZEBRA, MCHALE’S NAVY and an appearance on THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW.  This is something he shared in common with Andy Griffith, along with his long friendship with George “Goober” Lindsey who passed away earlier this year.

In the 1970’s, Borgnine ran the gamut of genres between his TV and movie appearances.  This list includes THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, HOLIDAY HOOKERS, and the acclaimed TV mini-series, JESUS OF NAZARETH.  Not to leave out the younger audience, his voice-over work will always be remembered as Mermaidman in SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS.  Finally, one of his bad movies will live on as MERLIN’S SHOP OF MYSTICAL WONDERS was lovingly skewered on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (episode #1003).

Ernest Borgnine is survived by his wife, Tova, his children, and his younger sister.

Andy Griffith (born in 1926) began his film career with a bang.  In 1957’s A FACE IN THE CROWD, Griffith commands attention as Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, a two-bit hood turned megalomaniac superstar.  If the 1957 Best Actor Nominees had not included such stalwarts as James Dean, Rock Hudson, Laurence Olivier, Kirk Douglas and Yul Brynner, I believe Griffith would have had a shot at it.  Yes, he was THAT good. 

Shortly thereafter, Griffith reprised his stage role in a film version of NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS (and began his collaboration with Don Knotts).  He continued to do movies until he made history with an appearance on THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW in the character of Sheriff Andy Taylor.  Shortly thereafter, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW premiered and ran nearly the entire decade of the 1960’s.  Since then, it has never been off the air.  

The 1970’s and early 1980’s, Griffith did few feature films, had a few not-so-popular television series, made guest appearances on TV shows, and made several made-for-TV movies.  In 1983, Griffith was afflicted with Guillain–Barré syndrome, paralyzing him from the knees down and he was unable to walk for several months.  It wasn’t long after this serious health issue that he began this writer’s favorite Andy Griffith character, Benjamin Matlock.  MATLOCK, a series about a lawyer from Atlanta, ran from 1986-1995.  In several of the episodes his co-stars included ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW cast members Don Knotts, Aneta Corsaut, Jack Dodson, and Betty Lynn.  Griffith was not without showing more of his “dark side” in television movies.  In UNDER THE INFLUENCE (1986) and GRAMPS (1995), he played both murderous and alcoholic characters.  Griffith is survived by his wife and daughter.  He was preceded in death by his son, Andy Griffith, Jr. in 1996.

To say both of these actors will be missed is an understatement.  Fortunately for us, syndication and the availability of online streaming and DVD’s, their bodies of work will never fade away.

Matinee Monsters and Summer Memories

When I was a child, growing up in northeast Florida, summers were a time for the three things that were instrumental in making the Unimonster into the man he is today.  One was the days spent at the nearby Jacksonville Beach, swimming, playing, and soaking up the sun.  These days were the hallmark of my summers—until one July when I watched the movie that would forever end my joy in going into the ocean, JAWS.

The second was summer nights spent at the Drive-In, smuggled in hidden in the trunk of a car, then unceremoniously turned loose by an older sister who was perfectly content to corrupt the fragile young minds of myself, my younger brother, and our cousin—as long as we left her alone for the four or five hours the features ran.  She would take us to see whatever movie we requested, regardless of rating or age-appropriateness.  It was under her charge that we first saw movies as diverse—and inappropriate—as NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, BLOOD FEAST, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE … and BARBED WIRE DOLLS.  It was in those long-ago nights that my love of, and appreciation for, that peculiar form of cinema known as the Drive-In movie was born … a love that still remains strong to this day.

The third formative experience of my childhood summers was the “Kiddie Show.”  A combination of movie-going experience and day camp, mothers desperate for a brief respite from bored, full-of-energy children would load us up by the car-full, hauling us to the Regency Square Twin Theater.  Every Wednesday, cars would line-up to disgorge hordes of screaming, running children, as anxious for something to do as their harried mothers were for them to do it.  It resembled the landings on the Normandy beaches, only not so well organized.  It didn’t matter to us what the feature film would be that day.  The feature changed every week, but the ritual leading up to it never did.

It began with the arrival of Monday morning’s paper.  We’d rush to grab the section containing the movie ads, for it contained the all-important coupon needed to get in for half price—25¢.  Paying 50¢ for a day’s worth of entertainment might sound like a real bargain for moviegoers inured to $10 tickets for one movie.  But in 1974, a quarter was real money—I could buy a comic book for less than that—and parents, especially mine, were more frugal and less indulgent than today’s variety.  There would be a second chance at the coupon in Tuesday’s paper—miss that one, and it meant a ten-minute lecture from my dad on how hard he’d had to work to get two quarters when he was my age.  There was usually a smart-alecky comment on the tip of my tongue during these lectures—my personal favorite involved the lack of horses to be shod in our neighborhood—but I had too much sense to do more than look contrite and nod my head.

Coupon or not, Wednesday morning would find us (usually my brother Mark, our cousin Andy, and myself) lined up with a couple hundred of our compatriots, waiting to be let in to the theater.  As soon as we hit the lobby, we’d get a box of popcorn and a coke, included with the admission.  We would be quickly herded into the auditorium, the sound of hundreds of kids talking, laughing, and shouting rising to a deafening pitch.  The noise would continue unabated until the lights went down and the show began.

First would come the cartoons—often Woody Woodpecker; sometimes Tom & Jerry or Droopy Dog.  Seldom would we get the first-class Warner Brothers cartoons, even though Bugs Bunny was featured on the newspaper coupons.  Two or three cartoons would easily kill a half-hour, and all were enjoyable.

Next would come something that you had to be a part of to remember.  It was an audience participation short subject, a series produced in the early 1930s by Andrew L. Stone entitled “Race Night.”  Each episode featured a number of racers comically competing in a variety of races—boats, airplanes, bicycles—and each member of the audience would have a numbered ticket that corresponded to one of the numbered racers … sort of like the Keystone Kops meets Wacky Races.  These were much more fun than they sound, and there was always the chance that your racer would win.  One fine day mine actually did, and those of us lucky enough to be holding his number walked away with a transistor radio—AM only.  I remember it worked almost to the end of that night, doubtless a record for the brand.

The preliminaries out of the way, we’d get down to the feature presentation.  Though earlier I said that what the feature film might be on any given Wednesday was unimportant, that’s not completely true.  We would’ve shown up regardless of what was on the marquee, that’s true enough.  But there was definitely a wide gulf between what we considered a “good” movie and what wasn’t.

The lowest point on the totem pole (at least in the Unimonster’s opinion), below even the worst that K. Gordon Murray could import, was the series of Pippi Longstocking movies.  Four films had been pieced together from the 1969 Swedish television series based on the Astrid Lindgren books, dubbed into English, and imported for the American market.  While I can’t speak for every kid who attended those shows, among my friends and I, the Pippi Longstocking movies were universally detested.  First, and yes, I know that now it would be considered politically incorrect and sexist to feel this way, but young boys in the early 1970s simply were not going to accept a girl heroine able to lift a horse over her head.  Second, even were we ready to accept such a character, the plain truth of the matter was that these movies were bad—I mean Coleman Francis-bad.  And third, we knew what we wanted in a movie—and it wasn’t Pippi!

A (very) small step up were the various films imported by producer K. Gordon Murray [for more on this fascinating filmmaker, please read Santa Claus vs. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians: the Legacy of K. Gordon Murray, 21 December 2011, by Senior Correspondent Bobbie Culbertson].  Murray would find his stock in trade in Mexican and European distributors’ catalogs, buy a print, dub it into English, and strike off a couple dozen copies—usually licensed, but such legalities weren’t too strictly observed in the 1960s and ‘70s, especially by showmen who learned the craft at the feet of the legendary Kroger Babb.  Most of Murray’s films weren’t horrible—just too juvenile for those in my age group to enjoy … even in the ‘70s, his syrupy-sweet take on fairy tales was unbearable to anyone who had successfully completed potty-training.

Almost passable were the various Disney Live-Action movies to which we would occasionally be treated.  Movies such as THE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON or THE LOVE BUG were far more entertaining than the average movie that was served up to us.  Even better were the various sword-and-sandal pictures—Hercules, Samson, Colossus, and my personal favorite, Sinbad.  These movies were great fun, even if in retrospect they were a little ridiculous.  We didn’t care if they were considered campy, even then—we loved them.

But the best we could get, the movies we hoped to see named in the coupons each week, were Toho (as well as Daiei and Nikkatsu) Studios’ Kaijû films.  Of course, we had never heard the term Kaijû, nor did we care who made them.  They were “Godzilla” movies, whether the big G was the star or not.  Gamera, Gappa, Godzilla—they were one and the same to us.  They all meant giant monsters stomping the hell out of Japanese cities—and that equaled great entertainment.  Each of us had our favorite—mine, as I’ve written previously, was Rodan—but all were worth watching.  If I gained nothing else from those summer days spent at the local theater, then the enduring love I have for Kaijû Eiga (Monster Films) would make them hours well spent.

The end of the Kiddie Shows came not long after I aged out of them.  Studios and distributors began requiring theaters to run the same films at night that they ran during daytime, matinee hours—thus putting an end to the weird, wonderful, wacky films that were the staple of such programs.  It’s a shame.  In this time when kids are under constant pressure to grow up before their time, it’s easy for those of us who can remember simpler times to look back with warm nostalgia … and feel a little sorry for our children.

DVD Review: Haunted Horror Double-Header: THE WOMAN IN BLACK and THE INNKEEPERS

Title:  Haunted Horror Double-Header:  THE WOMAN IN BLACK and THE INNKEEPERS

Year of Release—Film:  2012 / 2011

Year of Release—DVD:  2012 / 2012

DVD Label:  Sony Pictures Home Entertainment / MPI Media Group

One of the Unimonster’s favorite genres of Horror is the Ghost film—haunted houses, haunted people, ghostly places.  Unfortunately, that genre of late has fallen victim to the so-called “found footage” movie; that species of film inaugurated with the abysmal 1999 movie THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.  Featuring grainy, out-of-focus video which looks as though your Uncle Carl shot it at the family reunion, the found footage movie exploded in popularity following the blockbuster success of 2007’s PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, which grossed more than $107 million on a budget of roughly $15,000.  Cheap to produce, the appeal of such movies to both studio execs and aspiring filmmakers is easy to see, and the Ghost genre is uniquely well-suited to such films.

As a fan of classic Horror, though, I find something lacking in most of these films.  Too often, the reduced cost of production means that scripts which would not have passed muster using the conventional studio process are being made into films, definitely a mixed blessing.  While it’s true that the major studio method of choosing which scripts to produce seems to involve eight men in suits killing anything that smacks of originality, it also manages to weed out the really bad ideas—the ones that really shouldn’t see the light of day, such as QUARANTINE, the thoroughly unnecessary remake of [REC].

That wasn’t always the case, of course—for more than fifty years Hollywood’s best and brightest worked in the genre, bringing us films such as THE HAUNTING, THE INNOCENTS, THE UNINVITED, GHOST STORY, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, and THE CHANGELING—films that delivered both scares and stories, quality horror and quality entertainment.  Recently, however, two Ghost films were released which harken back to those glory days of the ghost film: Ti West’s low-budget thriller THE INNKEEPERS, and the resurrected Hammer Films’ THE WOMAN IN BLACK.

According to the DVD cover, THE INNKEEPERS stars Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, and Kelly McGillis, though the real star of the film is the 121-year-old Yankee Pedlar Inn, in Torrington, Connecticut.  The inn, still a popular destination for tourists, played host to the cast and crew, and served as the primary location for filming.

Paxton and Healy play Claire and Luke, the last two workers at the inn, as it prepares to close its doors for good.  There’s little for them to do, as the hotel is virtually empty, and they spend most of their time playing pranks on each other and investigating the inn’s reputed haunting, by the ghost of a jilted bride named Madeline O’Malley.  O’Malley, so the legend goes, hung herself in her room many years ago, after being left at the altar by her fiancé.  The owner of the hotel, finding her body, hid it in the cellar to avoid the bad publicity.

Luke claims to have encountered the ghost, and Claire is envious of his experiences in the hotel.  They explore the inn, deserted save for a woman and her young son, with recording devices, hoping to capture proof of the haunting.  Into this peaceful, if morbid, setting comes a retired actress, Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis), who now lectures on spiritualism and alternative healing.  She acts as a catalyst to Claire, inspiring her to seek out the spirits in the house with even more persistence.  In doing so, she realizes that, perhaps, the spirits don’t wish to be found.

The movie proceeds at a staid, lazy pace, something which will no doubt turn off a generation raised on YouTube clips.  For those of us of, say, a more experienced generation, who aren’t conditioned to expect three decapitations and a disembowelment before the opening credits, our patience will be rewarded.  The result is a good ghost story.  Not great, but certainly worth the price of admission—or rental.

The second feature on our double-bill is the movie that brought the words “Hammer Horror” surging back into the forefront of fandom.  The second film adaptation of Susan Hill’s 1983 novel of the same title, James Watkins’ THE WOMAN IN BLACK stars Daniel Radcliffe in his first post-HARRY POTTER role, along with Ciarán Hinds and Shaun Dooley.  The story is superbly adapted by screenwriter Jane Goldman, and Watkins crafts an excellent film using what has always been Hammer’s strengths:  Quality acting and creating the perfect period atmosphere.

Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is a London solicitor struggling to overcome the emotional disaster of his wife’s death during childbirth.  He’s raising his young son alone, and while he’s a loving, devoted father, the rest of his life is spiraling downward.  His job performance has declined to the point where he’s been given one last chance to save his career.  A client of his employer’s has recently died, and he has been assigned the task of journeying to her home on Eel Marsh Island to inventory her papers and belongings.  His employer makes it clear—if he fails to complete this charge, his services will no longer be required.

Upon his arrival in the village of Eel Marsh, Kipps is greeted with distrust, suspicion, and outright hostility by the locals.  Only Sam Daily (Hinds, in a superb performance that should be recognized in award season but probably won’t) and his wife Elisabeth show him any kindness and hospitality.  His efforts to carry out his duties out on the island are hampered by factors both geographical and human.  First, the island is more of a high point on the salt water marsh, approachable only by a narrow causeway.  When the tide is in, the causeway is flooded and impassable.  Even this obstacle is made more difficult to overcome by the fact that no local will go anywhere near the island, or the manor house which occupies it.

Shortly after his arrival, Kipps begins seeing a mysterious figure, a woman dressed entirely in black mourning garb.  After each appearance, tragedy strikes the small village, and the reason for the villagers’ hostility becomes apparent.  But, mindful of his employer’s warning, Arthur continues his work at Eel Marsh House.  Soon, he discovers the cause of the troubles, but can he correct the injustice done in time to quiet the vengeful ghost—and save himself?

The cast is excellent, led by Radcliffe and Hinds.  Radcliffe is a bit young for the part of Arthur Kipps, but still manages to pull it off rather neatly; and Ciarán Hinds is by far the best actor in the film.  And the cast can’t help but shine given the overall quality of the production.  It’s as though it were filmed at the old Bray Studios, Hammer’s former home; the atmosphere is pure, vintage Hammer, and I love it.  Anyone who loves classic Horror should have this film in their collection.
So, while summer mega-budget, Super-Hero blockbusters fill the local Cineplexes, remember that there are options out there for those craving a good, old-fashioned, spine-tingle or two.

Junkyard Film's Moldy Oldie Movie of the Month: THE BLOB (1958)

Title:  THE BLOB

Year of Release—Film:  1958

Steve McQueen (credited here for the last time as Steven) was almost 30-years-old when he agreed to play rather unconvincingly the part of 17-year-old Steve Andrews in THE BLOB (1958).  His co-star, Aneta Corsaut, was 25-years-old when she agreed to take the role of Jane Martin, Steve’s prudish teen love interest.  While out in Steve’s car, indulging in some 1950’s post-War necking, they see a meteorite fall into the near-by woods.  Realizing that a hot space-rock was the most exciting thing on the menu for the evening, Steve drives over to see where it fell.  However, before they arrive, the meteorite is probed by an old farmer who gets some of the enclosed red ooze on his arm.  When the teens find him, he’s frightened and is pitifully whimpering “Save me” to the horrified pair.  Steve and Jane rush the badly injured man to the town’s only doctor who is preparing to leave town to attend a convention in a near-by city.  Leaving the farmer with the doctor, Steve and Jane leave to tell their equally middle-aged teen friends of what they’ve just experienced with Jane whining all the time about finding the farmer’s little dog.

Meanwhile, the doctor, having called his nurse into the office, discovers the old farmer completely enveloped in the throbbing, moving gelatinous and now much larger red glob.  Quickly consuming the doctor and his nurse, the blob next traps Steve and Judy in a local grocery store, where the duo hides in the walk-in freezer.  The blob first tries to squeeze in under the door but rapidly retreats from the cold.  Now, thoroughly alarmed, the teens rush to tell the police what has occurred but with typical us-against-them mentality, the cops don’t believe them.  The “kids” next round up all their middle-aged teen friends and get them to help warn the towns-folks of the impending invasion by setting off all alarms and sirens in the town.  This insures a scene of silly slapstick as one old man does not know which of his volunteer uniforms to don ... the fire fighter’s outfit or his Civil Defense uniform.  Still, some teens resist this effort and attend an all-night movie marathon at the local theater.  As the red ooze squeezes through the projection booth window, the terrified audience runs screaming from the theater into the streets, the now-gigantic red blob oozing behind them.
Witnessing this, the town’s adult population finally believes Steve and Judy but it’s too late as the blob once again traps the teens, along with Judy’s little bratty brother, inside a near-by diner (why it does this instead of simply eating the hundreds of by-standers is best left to the blob).  The diner, now encapsulated by the red menace from outer space (Get it, folks?  Red Menace!  The Cold War!), has power lines dropped on it, hoping the electricity will kill the blob but it only sets the diner on fire with our teens now trapped in the basement.  Steve grabs a fire extinguisher and shoots it at the flaming door, forcing the blob to withdraw.  Realizing it’s the cold that repels the thing, Steve screams “CO2!” repeatedly.  The High School principal, along with some of students, breaks into the High School (guess the principal forgot his keys) and, using the heisted extinguishers, freeze the blob solid.  The Army finally arrives and, boxing the thing up, drops it at the North Pole as Steve eerily predicts the onset of global warming by quipping “As long at the Arctic stays cold.”  The words “The End” slither across the screen before ominously forming into a question mark.

Although this is one of the first science fiction movies to be shot in Technicolor, it’s a surprisingly cheap film.  Scenes like the diner catching fire are not shown but rather told to us by on-lookers.  And it’s not a terribly suspenseful movie, either, as the town is populated by the cleanest-cut rebels without a clue teens and the two police officers are your typical good cop vs. bad cop types, with the good cop firmly on the teens’ side.  However, for its time, the special effects are surprisingly effective using a good mixture of stop action and reverse photography.  Steve McQueen, using his best Method Acting training, is far too sincere and serious for such a fun little movie about killer slime.  Still, in 2008 it was nominated (but lost to KING KONG) as Best Movie To Watch At The Drive-In. Originally intended as second-billing to I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE, it was the far more popular movie and was promoted to a first-run status.  It’s bizarrely cheerful theme song was co-written by Burt Bacharach and Mack David, who did the cork-popping honors by pulling his finger out of his cheek.

A belated sequel followed in 1972 as BEWARE!  THE BLOB (also known as SON OF BLOB) and was directed by ‘Dallas’ star Larry Hagman.  A re-imagining was released in 1988 and starred Kevin Dillon and Shawnee Smith as the beleaguered teens.  In 2011, director Rob Zombie announced he would do another remake but, as of this writing, there’s been no movement on the project.

In July each year film geeks flock to Phoenixville, PA where many scenes in THE BLOB were filmed.  During Blob-fest, there’s a weekend-long street party with a costume contest, an amateur filmmaking contest and live reenactments of some of the film’s scenes, culminating in the Blobfest Run-out from the Colonel Theater.

And finally, for those of you who prefer your monsters more homegrown and leathery (not to mention fire breathing!), there’s the G-Fest, held each year in Rosemont, IL from July 13-15, to celebrate all things Gamera and Godzilla!

See you at the Cons!

Cambot's Voice: MST-212--GODZILLA vs. MEGALON

Cambot’s Voice by S. J. Martiene

EXPERIMENT 12:  Godzilla vs. Megalon

Summertime….and the movie-watchin’ is easy.  It is EASY especially when the temps hover between 105 and 110.  I mean, who really wants to spend time in the outdoors when air-conditioning is much more pleasing to us poor humans.  Each summer, my boys celebrate Kaijune and Kaijuly.  During this time of year, they watch as many Japanese monster films (RUBBER SUITS A MUST) as they can.  So, what better time to peek in on one of MST3K treatments of said genre.  Though the title plasters Godzilla as the lead monster against villain, Megalon, he barely makes more than a cameo appearance.  Man-made robot, Jet Jaguar is the “hero” here, Megalon the monster….and another villain played by Gigan and the people of Seatopia.  Oh yeah, three annoying human leads in Goro, Roku, and Hiroshi (aka Rex Dart, Eskimo Spy) are also in this film, along with the Japanese Military, and Oscar Wilde.  Confused yet?  Don’t worry, you will be.
Without further delay, from 1973 (though not release in the States until 1976), GODZILLA VS. MEGALON:


Credited cast:
Rokuro 'Roku-chan' Ibuki
Emperor Antonio of Seatopia
Lead Seatopian Agent
Seatopian Agent
Truck Driver (as Gen Nakajima)
Truck Driver's Assistant
Man from Unit 1
Japan Special Defense Forces Chief
Gaigan (as Kengo Nakayama)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Antonio's Aide (Radio Operator in White)
Courtesy of www.imdb.com

In the opening segment, J&TB talk about everything they have on the day’s show.  Robert Goulet, Moms Mabley, elephants, and silly putty are on the agenda.  Crow asks about “pain”.  Dr. Forester  has bandaged up Frank and laments “The Rosie Grier head is not taking”.  Joel begins his invention exchange with one of my favorite lines:  “If you’re like me and I know I am”.  He is making homemade Halloween costumes include:  The Floor of a movie theater, missing child milk carton “Have you seen me?” (Servo), aluminum foil-over-the-head Iron Man, and Jiffy Pop Popcorn.  Dr. F has his own costume idea as a Foosball Goalie.   Frank puts an air filter over his head and is Geordi Laforge from STAR TREK:  DS9.

The movie begins with a newsreel about a nuclear explosion in the Aleutians in 1971.  They then show the effects of explosion on Monster Island .  “Whenever they test nuclear explosions, it’s the monsters who suffer”.  (Crow)  Now, Godzilla is ticked off….explosions everywhere into the opening credits.  We quickly shift to a scene of a young boy on a ridiculous watercraft and his two male companions.  SUDDENLY, there’s an earthquake.  The boy, Roku, cannot get out of the water.  The water starts to bubble, things are desperate.  “Well this is what happens when you go into the water less than a half-hour after eating.” (Joel)  Because the male companions have a Bat-belt (I am only guessing here), they produce a rope to shoot out to the boy and reel him in like Today’s Catch.  “Let’s go on a picnic.  We have our food, drinks, and 50 ft. of uncoiled rope.”  (Crow)  “Note to myself:  Never vacation on an active volcano.” (Crow)  The waters continue to rumble and roar while the trio looks on.  They drive off and suddenly it is night (or just very blue…one cannot say).  They find their apartment has been broken into.  “OH MY GOD!!  THE HUMIDIFIER COMMITED SUICIDE!!!”  (Crow)  The perpetrators are still in the room and a brawl breaks out.  Everyone seems to be okay….but it is hard to tell with all the blue lighting.  Male #1 (Hiroshi) races off after the perps.  “Mach a go go! Mach a go go!  Mach a go go, GO!!!”  (J&TB)   Goro  (the inventor) checks damage in the apartment.  It seems the VERY LARGE robot in the middle of the floor is safely intact.  For some reason, the movie felt a screech-filled chase scene was integral to the movie’s progression.  Back at the apartment, the trio discovers some “magic rocks”.  We smoothly transition to Robot-building, the following day, and Roku riding a self-built motorbike thingy.  Goro and Hiroshi admire the robot.  “Hal is reading your lips!”  (Joel).  Discussions take place about the volcanic activity.
The movie switches between the bad guys and the male leads.  We find out here the robot has been christened, Jet Jaguar.  The bad guys have caught up to Roku.

Crow and Servo are looking at pictures they aren’t supposed to be looking at.  Joel walks up and they say they are working on their monster drawing.  Each bot tries to one-up the other’s descriptions.  “My monster is as silent as tomorrow.  He kills in the night.  He has been ... acquainted.”  (Crow)  Joel gets tired of listening to them and leaves.  The bots go back to their picture-looking and start to argue over their robot drawing stories.

The bad guys break in and call Seatopia.  The leader of Seatopia calls for war on the earth.  He calls on Megalon.  “Great he’s going to take over the world with interpretative dance”.  (Crow)  With much fanfare, Megalon appears.   “If Siegfried and Roy got a wake-up call, I think it would something like this.” (Joel)  “It’s Edward Scissorhands.” (Crow)  “What a hothead.” (Servo)  “He awakes with the worst special effects of the morning.” (Servo)  Back to the trio:  We find Goro and Roku tied up in the back of a truck.  “I have to go to the bathroom”.  (Servo)  Hiroshi  is knocked out in his apartment and the bad guys are using his equipment to control Jet Jaguar.  Hiroshi wakes up to the bad guy (Oscar Wilde look-a-like) using his machinery.  “I am going to read parts of The Picture of Dorian Gray.  I want you to be honest about it.” (Crow)  The captives free of their bonds but are still in the truck…on their way to Seatopia.  After a lame fight, Hiroshi escapes to save his friends.  “Rex Dark, Eskimo Spy”  (Joel)  “Rex Dark pops the clutch and tells the thugs to eat his dust”  (Crow)  “Action sequences filmed in Confuse-o-Vision”  (Joel)  “Suddenly, we’re watching MANNIX”  (Crow)  Mercifully, Megalon flies up out of the ground.  “Alright, forget everything you’ve seen until now!”  (Crow)  Megalon follows Jet Jaguar, cities are evacuated, and there is a huge military response.  Goro and the boy are about to be dumped into a dam….but…wait……What is that noise?  IT’S MEGALON.  “Here’s a preview of my Broadway show”  (Crow)  Hiroshi arrives to save his friends.

This segment is a tribute to Rex Dart, Eskimo Spy.  A video with the montage is seen at the link below:

Hiroshi saves his friends from certain doom.   Megalon commences to destroy the dam.  “Pretty impressive, huh?  Well that was just the beginning.”  (Crow)  Jet Jaguar circles the area and Goro tries to control him with a medallion around his neck but that only works when he has a clear line of sight.  Aforementioned military starts shooting at Megalon.  “Someone better tell Raymond Burr, he’s late.”  (Servo)  Goro consults with the military to try and regain control of Jet Jaguar.  Goro succeeds and is sent to fetch Godzilla.  Seatopia is not pleased.  The military battle against Megalon continues.
“Meanwhile in fashionable Palm Springs”  (Servo).  Hiroshi and Goro steal a remote control airplane.  Jet Jaguar finds and summons Godzilla (in flagless semaphore).  “What’s that?  Dad’s trapped…..in  a coal mine?  In Deadrock Canyon?”  (Servo)  Jet Jaguar flies off and Godzilla tries to fly.  “I can fly!!  I can fly!!  I can’t fly!!!!  I can swim.”  (Crow)  And with that, Godzilla is on his way.  More model-crushing by Megalon continues.

Hiroshi and Roku return to the apartment and beat up the bad guy.  “THAT’s for Lady Windermere’s Fan!!  That’s for The Picture of Dorian Gray!!”  (Servo)    Seatopia calls for Gigan.  Jet Jaguar has achieved free will and does not respond to commands.   Jet Jaguar GROWS to fight Megalon.  “Just call me the Orkin Man.”  (Crow)  “HIKEEBA!”  (Servo)  “He’s got a foreign object!”  (Crow)  “He IS a foreign object.”  (Servo)  Godzilla has …..ALMOST….arrived.   Suddenly, Gigan arrives and is fighting Jet Jaguar as well.  *Enough beating on the breasts, let’s get to it!!”  (Crow)  Crow wants arms like Gigan or Megalon.  “You will bow down before me, Jet Jaguar!”  (Crow)  Jet Jaguar gets a beat down by the other two  monsters.

Crow and Servo are Orville Redenbacher and his grandson.  The younger Redenbacher laments that their lame attire is why he cannot find chicks to breed with him.  The elder says it is his empire and he decides the hairstyles.  The banter ends in screaming, crying, and the loss of an inheritance.  You know, regular family stuff.

GODZILLA FINALLY ARRIVES!!!  “Well, it’s about time, Mr. Mark Spitz.  Have a nice swim?” (Crow)  “I have come to chew sushi and kick butt, and I’m ALL out of sushi!”  (Crow)   “Listen, you don’t want to die, and I don’t want to have to kill you.”  (Joel)  “Take your time, thanks Godzilla”.  (Joel)  “This kind of reminds me when we beat up Rodan.  You know, the good old days.”  (Crow)  “Hey!  You smell something?  It smells like LIZARD!!”  (Servo)  “I like you.  I think I’ll kill you FIRST.”  (Crow)  The battle is on:  Megalon and Gigan vs. Godzilla and Jet Jaguar.  J&TB do a play-by-lay of the battle.  “Hurts, don’t it?”  (Joel)  “Even if Godzilla loses, he’s aces in my book.”  (Crow)  Godzilla and Jet Jaguar are surrounded  by a ring of fire, but eventually  fly out and dispense their final destruction.  “Monster’s are flame-broiled not fried, folks.”  (Joel)  For some reason, Godzilla drops on his tail and races to the final punch to Megalon.  “No Japanese actors in rubber suits were killed in the making of this film”.  (Servo)  Jet Jaguar and Godzilla shake hands.   Godzilla exits.  Goro, Hiroshi, and Roku meet up with Jet Jaguar and the movie closes with the Jet Jaguar song.  “I never liked you kid”  (Crow) 

Joel gives the robots their new arms.  The Bots are not pleased, except Servo does like his flamethrower arm.  Joel wants to segue into THEIR version of the Jet Jaguar Song.  “You do it, I’m bitter.”  (Crow)  Servo introduces it.

Jet Jaguar Song

Back in Deep 13, Dr. F and TV’s Frank are playing a game of Super Mario.

I hope you enjoyed this little rubber-suited entry into the Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Kaiju library.  Copies of the skewered Godzilla movies are hard to find as Toho made sure they didn’t see the light of day for very long.  Thankfully, you can find it on YouTube, so enjoy!!!!

10 June, 2012

Back from the Dead: the Return of Hammer Horror

Beginning in the late 1950s, and continuing into the 1970s, one studio was synonymous with the production and distribution of Classic Horror films, those films featuring the creatures of gothic nightmares—vampires, werewolves, witches, and the walking dead.  Just as Universal held the title of the “House that Horror Built” in the ‘30s and ‘40s, Hammer Films was the source for gothic horror throughout my childhood.  I was on a first-name basis with Christopher Lee’s Dracula long before I met Bela Lugosi’s, and to this day, for me at least, Peter Cushing is the definitive Dr. Frankenstein.

Unfortunately, Hammer’s popularity on the big screen never quite translated into long-term financial security.  Though its films generated huge box office revenues (Hammer’s 1957 movie CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, the film which started Hammer’s reign as the king of horror, was for many years Britain’s most profitable domestic production), most of that money found its way to the overseas distributors, many of whom had fronted the cost of production for the films.  This left the studio, under the direction of Michael Carreras, in a rather precarious position.  As long as there was sufficient overseas demand for their product, primarily in the US, then the funding was readily available for the studio to maintain production.  However, this often left the studio without the ownership of the movies it produced, and without the potential revenue such movies would generate in re-release.  It also meant that, when the US market for classic Horror began to dry up in the mid-1970s, so did Hammer’s primary source of capital.  Hammer’s last feature was 1976’s TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, directed by Peter Sykes.  An attempt to capitalize on the popularity of demonic-themed Horror films following the blockbuster successes of ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE EXORCIST, RACE WITH THE DEVIL, and THE OMEN, Hammer’s entry into the sub-genre was a case of too little, too late.  Except for the occasional television program produced for the British market, Hammer Films, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist.

However, as is the case with any good horror tale, the dead have an aversion to remaining buried.  In May of 2007, the rights to Hammer’s name, as well as their library of titles, were purchased by Dutch producer John De Mol.  The resurrected studio’s first feature production was 2010’s LET ME IN, the remake of the highly-acclaimed Swedish Vampire film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (LÅT DEN RÄTTE KOMMA IN) from 2008.  That success (though the film earned a meager $13 million at the box-office, both critics and fans raved over it) was quickly followed up by 2011’s THE RESIDENT, a psychological thriller which reunited the great Christopher Lee with the studio that made him a Horror icon.  Starring Hilary Swank and Jeffery Dean Morgan, and directed by Antii Jokinen, it wasn’t as well received as LET ME IN.  Still, Hammer Films was back on the map, a return given an implied blessing by the inclusion of Lee in the cast.  And its biggest success was yet to come.

Based on the 1983 novel by Susan Hill (which had previously been adapted for the screen in 1989), THE WOMAN IN BLACK was the reborn studio’s most ambitious project to date.  The first post-HARRY POTTER feature for star Daniel Radcliffe, Hammer started filming on the project in late September 2010, on a budget of $17 million.  Radcliffe stars as Arthur Kipps, a young solicitor (the British term for lawyer) dispatched to a small coastal village to settle the estate of a recently-deceased woman.  From the moment of his arrival, Kipps is made aware that his presence is unwelcome, and that nothing would please the villagers more than his immediate return to London.  Determined to accomplish his task (indeed, his job depends upon it), Kipps finds himself drawn deeper into a supernatural mystery that seems to involve the entire village.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK, directed by James Watkins, is a rarity for these modern times:  A good, old-fashioned gothic ghost story.  Opting for genuine scares, rather than buckets of gore and cheap shocks, Watkins crafted a thrilling film that succeeded with both critics and fans.  With an opening weekend gross of over $20 million (placing it second for the weekend only to the teen Sci-Fi film CHRONICLE), laudatory reviews from critics, and an enthusiastic response from fans, Hammer 2.0 had its first blockbuster success.  The film ended its theatrical run with a $54 million domestic gross, and $127 million internationally.  Not since Hammer’s glory days had they seen success of that caliber, and they aren’t done yet.

Recently, Hammer has placed several films into production … John Pogue’s THE QUIET ONES; BONESHAKER, a co-production with Cross Creek Pictures; GASLIGHT; and a sequel to THE WOMAN IN BLACK, subtitled ANGELS OF DEATH.  They’ve also branched out into publishing, in partnership with Random House, and have even announced plans for a visitor attraction.  As owner of the vast Hammer library of titles, the new version of the studio should have the one vital ingredient to bring its plans to fruition; the one ingredient its predecessor lacked—a viable source of steady revenue.
As someone who loves classic horror, and who has been a life-long fan of the type of Horror films that were the hallmark of the original Hammer, it’s my sincere hope that they succeed in their plans.  Enough of torture-porn, “found footage,” and vampires taken from the pre-adolescent fantasies of young girls.  Give me ghosts, ghouls, mummies, werewolves, vampires who look like vampires.

Give me Hammer Horror once again.

DVD Review: John Carpenter's THE WARD

Title:  John Carpenter’s THE WARD

Year of Release—Film:  2010

Year of Release—DVD:  2011

DVD Label:  Arc Entertainment

John Carpenter is, in this reviewer’s opinion at least, one of the three or four greatest living creators of Horror films; certainly one of the top ten such individuals of all time.  His filmography reads like a list of the essential Horror films of the last 35 years—HALLOWEEN; THE FOG; THE THING; CHRISTINE; PRINCE OF DARKNESS.  Though he has occasionally stumbled (the 1995 remake of VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED springs to mind), the same can be said of every great director, and the hits far outweigh the misses on his ledger.  Thus it can be safely said that when a new feature of his comes out, especially his first feature since 2001’s GHOSTS OF MARS, I for one pay attention.
Starring Amber Heard, Jared Harris, and Danielle Panabaker, and written by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, the production is highlighted by a talented cast, guided by Carpenter’s expert hand.  Heard stars as Kristen, whom we meet at the scene of farmhouse, fully involved in flames.  Police show up, and proceed to wrestle her into submission, throwing her into the back of the squad car.  She’s taken to an asylum, where she encounters a group of young women, similarly incarcerated.  From the first night, Kristen notices strange occurrences—the impression that someone is in her room at night, ghostly apparitions that seem to stalk her, and a secret that the others seem to share, a secret that concerns a girl named Alice, and how she “got out,” of the institution.  The deeper Kristen delves into the mystery, the closer she comes to discovering the root of her own madness, and the memories she has locked away.

I’ve already stated that the cast and the director did an excellent job with the material they were given.  Unfortunately, that material simply wasn’t up to the standards of such a talented director.  It’s not that the script was bad … it’s just that it wasn’t in any way original.  It was like watching every other psychological horror film of the past decade—GOTHIKA, IDENTITY, SHUTTER ISLAND, THE UNINVITED—and there simply was no surprise left in the premise.  It was well-executed, yes … but it hardly needed the skills of John Carpenter to translate this derivative, hackneyed script to the big screen, much as you wouldn’t choose Gordon Ramsay to assemble a Big Mac.

As I stated earlier, I’m a huge fan of Carpenter’s, and was overjoyed by his return to Horror filmmaking.  I just wish the project he chose for that return had been worthy of him.  I’ll give this one a qualified Rent recommendation, but unless you’re a Carpenter completist, then I’d leave my cash in my pocket.