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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2019-Day 15: DEEP BLUE SEA (1999)

Darling, it's better down where it's wetter...NOT.

At the isolated Aquatica undersea research lab, bio-engineers seek the cure for Alzheimer's disease by chemically altering the brains of deadly Mako sharks, making them super-intelligent in the process. What could possibly go wrong? The answer to that sarcastic question is "pretty much everything," as the sharks go buck-wild, graphically kicking things off by depriving one of the scientists of his arm.

You, sir, are royally fucked.

Medical evac is called for but the rescue effort is thwarted by a severe storm while the pissed-off sharks attack the submerged lab, flooding the facility and trapping the occupants within. As the water level rises and the humans attempt to make their way up through the structure to the surface, the site becomes a watery, claustrophobic labyrinth in which relentless, razor-toothed death lurks around every corner.

Basically a DOCTOR WHO-style "base under siege" story, DEEP BLUE SEA enjoys something of a mixed reputation, depending on who you ask, and I come down firmly in the camp of those who love it. Directed by Renny Harlin, who had previously provided such solid actioners as DIE HARD 2 (1990), CLIFFHANGER (1993), and the criminally-underrated THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT (1996), the film is very "Hollywood slick" for what is essentially a popcorn-muncher of a monster movie, but it is undeniably suspenseful as hell and a great deal of fun. I pretty much summed up the gist of the story, though I intentionally shied away from giving away too much, as the film packs a good number of very visceral surprises, including one truly shocking and utterly memorable moment that has earned the movie smiles of remembrance once it comes up in conversation. If you've seen this film, you know exactly what moment I'm referring to.

When your day at work goes from bad to worse.

In the wake of the international blockbuster success of JAWS, filmmakers around the world sought to cash in and unleashed a torrent of mostly awful shark movies, so when looking at shark thrillers as a sub-genre of horror, the roster of genuinely good or worthwhile entries is indeed a short one. Thankfully, DEEP BLUE SEA is one of the best of the lot, and it comes in third in my personal ranking of "shark as sea monster" flicks, with  THE SHALLOWS at number 2 and, of course, JAWS taking the top spot. Absolutely worth your time and featuring terrific-looking sharks and some very nasty kills, this one is popcorn cinema at its most enjoyable.

(SIDE NOTE: This film came out around the same time as THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, and after my friends and I saw that critical and box office darling and found it to be a boring, un-scary disappointment, we sought to salve our irritation by going to DEEP BLUE SEA. It did the trick.)

Poster from the theatrical release.

Monday, October 14, 2019

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2019-Day 14: CURSED Unrated Version (2004)

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes...

It's funny how returning to a movie over a decade after first seeing it can rewrite one's opinion on the piece. Case in point, legendary horror auteur Wes Craven's much-maligned CURSED, a werewolf outing that fell victim to studio tampering and neutering. As stated previously in some of this series' previous essays, werewolves are my very favorite of the go-to horror mainstays, so I'm willing to sit through pretty much anything featuring them, but more often than not they are ill-served by bad scripts or unimaginatively-handled budgetary limitations. When CURSED came out it was lambasted as possibly the worst of Wes Craven's efforts, but that was a criticism hurled at the film for its castrated PG-13 version. The behind-the-scenes accounts of constant studio meddling and rewrites, plus the unthinkable firing of practical effects wizard Rick Baker — the Academy Award-winning hand behind the groundbreaking makeup and practical effects for AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON — painted the picture of a doomed production, so fans of the genre responded with something other than open-armed enthusiasm. But now it's a hell of a lot better with the benefit of hindsight. With the furor over how its theatrical version was raped by the Weinsteins pretty much forgotten in the years since the theatrical release, the film, especially in its originally-intended version, can finally be fairly reappraised. It's really pretty good and in no way deserves the reputation it's been saddled with, and I say that as a person who initially found it a disappointment. It's also fun to see it now, as most of its cast has since gone on to bigger and better things and are now recognizable commodities.

The plot deals with a pair of siblings (Christina Ricci and Jesse Eisenberg) who hit an animal while driving late at night, causing a devastating car wreck. When they attempt to rescue the driver of the car they collided with, their efforts are cut short when the driver is pulled from the wreckage by a ravening beast and literally torn in half. As the brother and sister attempt to flee, the beast attacks the pair of them, causing minor wounds. They manage to escape but it soon becomes apparent that they have survived an attack by a straight-up werewolf, and they begin to display the heightened senses granted by the lycanthropic curse. Further complicating matters is the fact that the werewolf is still out there and rampaging and it appears to be getting closer to our protagonists, but for what purpose?

The unrated CURSED has the feel of teen/YA horror along the lines of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, only with considerably more gore and violence, and as such it's a lot of fun. There are a number of surprises and a couple of genuinely good twists that keep the expected tropes fresh, and it all moves at a brisk pace.Too bad the studio opted to neuter its impact in pursuit of a more lucrative PG-13 rating and replacing Baker's work with CGI effects.

Not only does this werewolf talk, it flips the bird to its pursuers.

The film is also of interest to horror fans for being arguably the most-lightweight of Wes Craven's efforts. It's not at all a flavor that one would expect from the director who gave the genre such landmarks as THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977), A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984), and SCREAM (1996), and as such it is worth a second look. Not as strong meat as all-time classics of the werewolf roster, such as THE WOLF MAN (1941), THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961), THE HOWLING and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (both 1981), or even more recent works such as DOG SOLDIERS (2002) and LATE PHASES (2014), but definitely worth including in your library of lycanthrope flicks. Juts make sure you get your hands on the unrated version, as the visceral, rapacious activities of werewolves need to be as ferociously bloody as possible, as befits one of the horror genre's apex predators.

Packaging art for the unrated home video release.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2019-Day 13: FROM HELL IT CAME (1957)

"'Scuse me while I make like a tree...and leaf! I'm here all week, folks!"

A Polynesian prince is betrayed by a usurper (with the willing aid of his duplicitous wife) and is wrongfully executed for the death of his father, a demise actually caused a plague that happens to occur at the same time as fallout from a nearby U.S. atomic bomb test. When his body is dumped into a swamp, a creepy-looking tree grows grows from the spot where his corpse landed, and the tree is uprooted and taken into a lab for examination by American scientists who are present to monitor the effects of the aforementioned fallout. This being the 1950's, the scientists of course infuse the tree with radioactive chemicals, and in no time the prince is reborn as an awkwardly-shambling tree-monster called the "Tabonga." The Tabonga goes on a cheapjack rampage, exacting vengeance upon those who wronged him during his life as the prince, plus a few ancillary victims for spice.

The Tabonga: Treebeard he ain't. 

I first saw FROM HELL IT CAME during my formative "monster kid" years, and I distinctly remember the five-year-old me saying to myself, "Okay, this is just ridiculous." I mean, really. The Tabonga is first and foremost a goddamned tree, reanimated vengeance-seeking spirit or not, and as such it's not exactly going to get around with speed and grace to match Jesse Owens. It's clear that the poor bastard squeezed into the cumbersome and borderline-immobile could barely put one foot in front of the other, let alone see where he was going, and it would seem to be a pretty easy task to avoid such a creature, but the Tabonga nonetheless manages to grab and kill people and kidnap women for nefarious purposes. (Though not of the EVIL DEAD variety, thank the gods.)

Not even gonna try and pretend this is in any way a good movie — it's not — but FROM HELL IT CAME is a fun and ridiculous way to kill 71 minutes, and I recommend it for its utterly phony "Hollywood" depiction of South Seas island culture and the Tabonga. Yes, it's utterly ludicrous-looking and not scary worth a damn, but it's certainly memorable in the charming way the monsters from childhood favorites like LOST IN SPACE and ULTRAMAN are. In fact, the Tabonga would have been pretty cool if it had had the luck to have been deployed in a DOCTOR WHO story airing anywhere between 1965 and 1976. Worth a look for possible Halloween costume/cosplay inspiration.
Poster from the theatrical release.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

31 DYAS OF HORROR 2019-Day 12: A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (2014)

A new take on "finger food."

In a desolate, surreal borderline-ghost town in modern Iran, a silent, chador-wearing vampire (Shiela Vand) stalks the nighttime streets in search of prey. Her adventures bring her into the lives of a hard-working young handyman (Arash Marandi) who is burdening with caring for his heroin-addicted father (Marshall Manesh), a nasty drug-dealing pimp (Dominic Rains), an aging prostitute (Mozhan Marnò), and a money-grubbing street urchin. The dreamlike narrative flows at a leisurely pace and offers a welcome reprieve from the sparkly teen-angst nonsense of TWILIGHT and other recent vampire stories that pretty much neutered the undead suckface as a staple horror entity, and it wears its black-and-white art house origins on its sleeve.

Shiela Vand as the unnamed vampire, listed in the credits as "The Girl."

Rich in atmosphere and definitely worth checking out, some hail this work as beings something of a modern classic, possibly even "the best vampire film ever made," and while I did find it interesting while watching it, the more time I have had to think about it, the more I find it be be noteworthy but sometimes too artsy for its own good. The script and performances are quite solid, but if one is looking for genuine visceral scares, this is not the film for you. The gore is minimal — though a scene involving a finger is a real "Oh, SHIT!!!" moment — and the piece is the slowest of slow burns, but I really liked Shiela Vand's vampire, whose chador replaces the requisite opera cape as an eerie shroud, especially as she makes her way through the barren urban wasteland like a lonely shadow. If I had to single out a favorite moment, it's when the vampire decides to fuck with the head of the aforementioned street kid. During that sequence the audience is completely aware of what she is, but the child is not (at first), so when she blocks his path no matter which way he turns, it's unnerving. She draws him close and reveals her fangs, thus alerting him to the indisputable fact that his life is utterly in her hands, and though she does not feed upon him she lets him know that she could at any moment she wished and that he had better be good, for she will be keeping her eye on him. It's subtle, genuinely terrifying in a very quiet and intimate way, and it's vexing that the rest of the film could not maintain that level of edge-of-your seat tension throughout.

Shot on a budget that would not buy a decent bucket of friend chicken, writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour turns in a well-crafted directorial debut that is worthy of praise, despite my own personal reservations regarding certain aspects of the film. It's better-crafted than major studio productions whose budgets could fund small countries and it displays more creativity than the churned-out product that gluts the nation's movie screens, so it's worthy of support. And though it's an American film that was shot in California, A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT is entirely in Farsi with English subtitles, which gives it the feel and flavor of a foreign film in the guise of an art house modern-day western with at vampire as its nexus. It's a strange little film, and I'm intrigued by where Amirpour's evolution as a filmmaker will take her and her audience going forward.

Poster from the theatrical release.

Friday, October 11, 2019

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2019-Day 11: MONSTER HOUSE (2006)

A haunted house and then some.

Every neighborhood has the one house that everyone avoids, and in the case of young D.J. and his best friend, Chowder, that distinction falls on the dilapidated home of old man Nebbercracker. Nebbercracker is the personification of every scary old "You kids git offa my lawn" stereotype, going so far as to confiscate any toys or tricycles and such that wind up in his yard, along with ominously extending the warning "You'll be dead!!!" to any terrified children who trespass. 

Old man Nebbercracker.

But while most such houses in suburban neighborhoods in stories of this ilk usually turn out to simply be bolstered by years of urban legend and misunderstanding, the Nebbercracker domicile actually is alive and nasty, regularly devouring locals and pets. The two boys both witness the house's malevolence and fail in their attempts at convincing those older than themselves of the clear and present danger, but the pair are soon joined by private school girl Jenny Bennett (whom both lads are crushing hard over) and the trio joins forces to put a stop to the ravenous abode.

Jenny, D.J., and Chowder: an entry-level Scooby Gang.

MONSTER HOUSE is a fun and family-friendly horror offering that serves quite nicely as a gateway piece for the little ones, though things do get a bit scary during the last act, when the secret of the house is revealed and the dwelling goes on a rampage of destruction through the neighborhood. It's about as pure and simple as it gets, and it refreshingly shies away from the puerile gags that the makers of films for children seem to think should be shoehorned into all such fare. MONSTER HOUSE is there to bring some spooky fun to younger audiences and it succeeds at doing so while respecting the imagination and intelligence of kids. Definitely recommended for the young 'uns, and also fun for now-grown former "monster kids."

Poster from the theatrical release.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2019-Day 10: GREAT WHITE/THE LAST SHARK (1981)

Surprisingly, not a remake of Disney's "Willie the Operatic Whale."

It's the summer of 1981 and as the Port Harbor windsurfing regatta approaches, the local beach and waterways are terrorized by a huge, voracious Great White shark, so it's up to a horror writer and a grizzled professional shark hunter to handle the man-eating fish. But until they take care of business, their toothy adversary munches a bloody swath through dozens of innocent beachgoers. 

Sound familiar? It sure as hell should, since JAWS has existed for nearly half a century and is a cinema classic that carved the tropes of the shark attack movie genre in stone. There have been other fun shark movies since Spielberg's 1975 mega-blockbuster landmark, but none have yet come close to that study in cinematic storytelling and suspense's perfect encapsulation of the form. That said, while most of the post-JAWS shark flicks bite the big one, there have been a few of note, such as DEEP BLUE SEA (1999), OPEN WATER (2003), and the superlative THE SHALLOWS (2016), and all of those brought something worth sitting through to the table. The majority, however, range for merely mediocre to outright boring and bad, but none of them are as balls-out shameless as Italy's L'ULTIMO SQUALO (THE LAST SHARK), which made it to the U.S. as GREAT WHITE. I distinctly remember seeing ads for it when I was a junior in high school and eagerly wanting to see it, as it didn't make even the slightest attempt at hiding what a complete and utter fucking ripoff it was. Unfortunately, its time in U.S. theaters was cut short by a cease-and-desist order tendered by the makers of JAWS, so I missed it during the theatrical run. It would be just over a decade until I finally got to see the film via a bootleg VHS obtained from Video Search of Miami, and it was worth every moment of the wait.

Just a sample of the film's cornucopia of ludicrous mayhem.

Calling GREAT WHITE a bald-faced ripoff would be a colossal understatement, as the film may as well have just been called "JAWZ." The only major differences between JAWS and GREAT WHITE, aside from artistry and overall quality, are that the police chief has been swapped out for a horror novelist, while the marine biologist character is completely absent. The grizzled shark hunter is this time essayed by Vic Morrow — who was tragically killed during an horrific mishap on the set of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE a year later — and he bears virtually zero differentiation from Robert Shaw's indelible Quint from Jaws, save for the level of thespic craft that Shaw brought to the role. 

And while Spielberg's film hid its mechanical shark until seeing it was unavoidable for reasons of the plot's action, GREAT WHITE's makers gave not one fuck when it came to the obviousness of its shark's bogusness, and in fact they seemed to relish the sheer Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade quality of its appearance. It was a huge, rather stiff-looking practical prop (and sometimes a small model that looked like a bathtub toy that might fight a pre-1980's G.I. Joe doll, along with generous amounts of stock footage from nature documentaries) and when it breached, it let out a roar that cannot fail to elicit laughter from all in attendance. It's even more of a straight-up sea monster than the shark in JAWS ever was, and as such it's terrific fun. The film also contains waaaaay more deaths and mayhem than the 1975 template, which, since the film cannot hope to compete in any other department, is wholly welcome. 

Yes, GREAT WHITE/THE LAST SHARK is  the definition of a shameless ripoff and a naked cash grab, but it's an unintentional laugh riot and crowd-pleaser if you can get your hands on a copy. It is unlikely to ever get a legitimate legal U.S. release, but it can easily be had if you do a bit of digging online.

Poster from the American theatrical release.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2019-Day 9: THE OTHER (1972)

Let's talk about THE OTHER.

I'm not certain of exactly how old I was when I first encountered THE OTHER, but it was definitely during a network TV airing sometime around when I was eleven or twelve. It was the perfect age in which to discover it because I was right on the cusp of adolescence, the point where one leaves behind the carefree games and frivolities of one's formative years and prepares to step into the changes wrought by adolescence that subsequently usher us into the experiences and concerns of adulthood, and its story addresses the oft-romanticized seemingly-endless summer of childhood through a dark and disturbing lens.

Set during the summer in the rustic Connecticut of 1935, the story tells of 11-year-old Holland (Chris Udvarnoky) and Niles Perry (Martin Udvarnoky), identical twin brothers who live on a farm with their family, and the events are depicted from Holland's point of view. To outward appearances, all of the tropes of a childhood yarn taking place in that era are in place for a wistful evocation of the sort of innocence forever lost in the wake of World War II, but the twins' world is marked by tragedies that have left the family with much to deal with while the boys carry on as though little or nothing had happened. Earlier in the year, their father died in an accident in the farm's apple cellar, a location that is declared off-limits afterward, and their mother (Diana Muldaur) is left in a state of deep depression that renders her in a dis-associative state, hardly ever leaving her room. Taking care of business around the farm are a few hired hands and a number of relatives, key among whom is the boys' loving Russian immigrant grandmother, Ada (Uta Hagen). Ada teaches the boys "the Great Game," a form of consciousness projection, as members of their family sometimes possesses a gift of minor psychic powers, an ability that allows them to inhabit the bodies of other living creatures, like birds and such, and see and experience the world through their eyes.  Of the twins, it should be noted that Niles is sweet and gentle, while Holland has a bearing marked by a mischievous and vindictive streak.

Ada (Uta Hagen) coaches Niles (Chris Udvarnoky) in "the Great Game."

Over the course of the summer, a number of shocking deaths occur on and around the farm, and Niles realizes that they all are the work of his brother. Ada also figures out what's going on, and as of that point the story takes a hard left into the especially disturbing flavor of darkness involving children as a major twist is revealed...

Holland (Martin Udvarnoky) preforms a magic trick. Penn and Teller he ain't...

Like a Norman Rockwell painting gone horribly wrong, THE OTHER crafts a portrait of idyllic early-20th century America as seen through the filter of supernatural murder, and as such it is quite effective. It's not gory but its shocking moments are made that much more shattering due to that aspect. The viciousness and cruelty of the acts is more than enough, and seeing it all as a kid was very much a visceral punch to the head and guts. You may have noticed that I have not described any of the main events in any real detail, and that's because doing so would rob the first-timer of the full impact of the piece's utterly horrific moments. (Those of you who have seen it are no doubt thinking of the very worst moment, and you are likely agreeing with me that it's best left for the audience to witness for itself.)

THE OTHER is leisurely-paced, gore-free, and very low-key in how it presents itself, but believe me when I tell you that its shocks are intense and unforgettable. One of the very best in the "scary kids" sub-genre, this one is definitely worth your time.

Poster from the original theatrical release. 

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2019-Day 8: ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS (1969)

NOTE: This piece originally ran in 2010, but has been slightly updated.

Though I've been a diehard giant monster fan my whole life I can't really say I was a Gamera booster during the formative years of my addiction, despite repeated doses of the character's films on the Tri-State Area's venerable 4:30 MOVIE during the 1970's and early 1980's. Many of my fellow daikaiju addicts absolutely loved the Gamera series at the time, but before moving to Connecticut I had lived in San Francisco and so had been exposed to the charms of ULTRAMAN before seeing Gamera, and while the ULTRAMAN television series was certainly made as a low-budget kid's show, it had a charm and imagination sorely lacking in the Gamera movies. The Gamera films to me seemed like nothing more than cynically-churned-out product to cash in on the success of the contemporary Toho Godzilla films, plus their aggressively kiddie-oriented tone (after the first two films) drove me fucking crazy as a child, especially once the protagonists became precocious kids in those disturbing short pants common to the genre. And as if that weren't bad enough, Gamera itself, once a feared (though rather tatty) city-destroying flying saber-toothed turtle — yes, you read that right — was re-tooled into the ultimate in safe and sanitized nausea, namely "Gamera, the Friend of the Children," complete with a jaunty and utterly sickening signature tune sung by a chorus of untranslated Japanese rugrats. Pee-yuke.

The one thing the Gamera series did have going for it was a stable of opposing monsters that gave those found on ULTRAMAN a run for their money when it came to being both laughable and ludicrous. However, the thing that distinguished one batch of those monsters from the other was that you laughed with the monsters on ULTRAMAN, while you invariably laughed at those who fought Gamera (then again Gamera itself was a giant, flying, saber-toothed turtle, so I guess I shouldn't have expected anything different). Gamera took on such beasts as Barugon (not to be confused with Toho's Baragon), which was basically a humongous iguana that could emit a death-ray rainbow from its back (???) and wielded a tongue that shot a freeze-ray; the evil space-squid Viras that looked like Gumby on LSD, the super-sonic, death-ray-emitting and vampiric Gyaos, and a couple of others of considerably lesser note, but none of Gamera's opponents was anywhere near as endearingly idiotic as Guiron from ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS. Amazingly silly in concept, Guiron is the one Gamera baddie that absolutely everyone remembers, and its memorable status is helped immeasurably by the film being perhaps the best of the original Gamera series. (NOTE: the Gamera series was given a much needed and completely kickass reboot in the mid-1990's, but that's fodder for a whole post on its own.)

ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS, the American dubbed version of GAMERA VS GUIRON, the fifth in the original run,  is a study in simplicity. The story involves three kids, Akio (Nobuhiro Kajima), his apparently American friend, Tom (Christopher Murphy), and Akio's younger sister, Tomoko (Miyuki Akiyama), and their adventure when they witness a flying saucer landing nearby. The kids investigate the saucer and the boys enter it, unwittingly finding themselves trapped when the ship takes off, guided by remote control. Poor Tomoko is left behind and tries to tell her assholishly dismissive mother what happened, but she's continually brushed off as having too much imagination and believing in foolishness (this subplot will piss off every right-thinking person on the planet). The only grownup who believes her is local comic relief cop Officer Kondo (Kon Omura), but his belief in her word is little consolation as she worries for her brother and their friend.

The brain-hungry space-chicks get down to business.

The boys' flight beyond the sun is tailed by Gamera but the saucer's propulsion system kicks into overdrive, leaving Gamera sucking fumes, and in no time the boys have crash-landed on a barren alien world (a crash that happens offscreen, presumably to conserve the obviously limited budget). While checking out the abandoned city they landed in, the kids encounter Flobella and Barbella, two space-cuties who seem friendly at first but are soon revealed to be brain-eating cannibals whose people fled their planet when they lost control over the monsters they had created. One such monster, an outer space analog to the Earth's own killed-by-Gamera Gaos (you can tell it's a "space" version because they spray-painted the leftover Gaos suit silver), flies aimlessly around the place, blowing shit up with its orally-emitted beams, so since they have nothing better to do, the space-chicks send the remaining monster under their control, Guiron, to kill the Space-Gaos.

The unforgettable visage of Guiron (or "Knife-Head," as the kids who weren't paying attention liked to call it during my youth).

Guiron's a squat-bodied, dog-like living knife that uses its face as a brutally effective cutting edge, and when that isn't enough it can also launch shuriken (that's "ninja throwing stars" to us gaijin) from sockets located above its eyes. Guiron kicks Space-Gyaos' bargain basement ass in no uncertain terms and, demonstrating an aspect that distinguished Daiei Studios' Gamera flicks from the more upscale Toho efforts featuring Godzilla and pals, uses its blade-face to semi-gorily chop the fallen enemy into several pieces. Beginning with the second Gamera movie, WAR OF THE MONSTERS (1966), Gamera engaged in cartoonishly bloody combat with its foes, even spewing blue/gray monster blood from its own wounds, so this came as no shock to Japanese audiences, but it was quite a surprise to see on American TV in a slot reserved for heavily-sanitized children's programming. Anyway, there's a bunch of mishegoss where the boys try to run away from the cannibalistic aliens, but then Gamera shows up and engages Guiron in some spirited and ridiculous combat before the evil aliens are killed and the boys get to go home (much to the relief of Tomoko, whose tales of a close encounter are satisfyingly vindicated at last). And upon going home, Akio relates that what he's learned from the adventure to another "star" (apparently the screenwriter didn't know or care about the difference between a star and a planetary body), namely that mankind must strive to do better and work to no longer have wars or traffic accidents (the kid is apparently obsessed with traffic accidents since he mentions them at least three times during the film's running time; since his dad is never seen or mentioned, was his father the victim of one such accident?).

The battle between Gamera and Guiron has justly gone down in giant monster history as one that is spectacular and crowd-pleasing in its silliness, and it even includes Gamera executing moves straight out of an Olympic gymnastics routine involving swinging around bodily on the uneven parallel bars (although Gamera uses a singular bar).

No, you are not hallucinating.

It's simply something you have to see to believe, and I defy you to keep a straight face or not exclaim "You've gotta be fucking kidding me!" when you see it for the first time. But while that bit may stop audiences dead in their tracks, the scene that made me scream "No way!!!" at age eight was when Gamera picks up the flying saucer after it had been sliced in twain by Guiron and spot-welds it with his flame-breath into good enough shape to comfortably support the boys as he carries the saucer back to the earth.

Apparently Gamera is expert at impromptu body work.


Though obviously a kiddie movie, one thing that I always respected such films of Japanese origin for was the fact that Japanese storyteller seldom shied away from including dark and disturbing aspects in stories for children. Most of the original run of Gamera films have some form of weird or eerie content, and in the case of this movie that would be the sinister intent of Barbella and Flobella. Unlike the villains in stuff like SCOOBY-DOO, the space-cuties flat-out state that they are going to eat Akio and Tom's brains, and they would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for those meddling monsters! Even classic fairy tales had horrific elements that frightened and delighted children, which served as a sneaky way of advising caution and awareness during one's own real-life childhood adventures, so stuff like this is a great way to break the little ones in early.

So when all is said and done, ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS is a fun way to spend roughly eighty minutes, and even the kid characters in it are tolerable (for once). And long after the days when it ran in after-school time slots, the film resurfaced in a pointlessly and terribly re-dubbed version when it (and apparently the rest of the original series Gamera films) fell into the hands of TV producer and film distributor Sandy Frank and was re-titled GAMERA VS GUIRON for VHS release. The movie would probably have gathered moss on the nation's home video retailer's shelves had it not been scooped up for an epic session of verbal abuse in a 1991 installment of the frequently hilarious cult TV showcase for truly awful movies, MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000.

As seen on MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000.

If you ask me, the other Gamera films were the ones that really needed the MST3K treatment to make them bearable, especially the turgid GAMERA VS BARUGON, but the MST3K handling of GAMERA VS GUIRON makes the most of a film that is both silly as hell and entertaining, so it was a win/win. But it was good to see the film in its initial American version again and it was well worth the five bucks it cost to add it to my library of giant monster movies.

And I have to ask: why the fuck did Sandy Frank feel the need to re-dub all the Gamera movies that fell under his company's banner? The new dubbing is truly appalling, far worse than even some of the most poorly-dubbed kung fu films I've seen (it's worse than the dubbing found in SHAOLIN KUNG FU MYSTAGOGUE, and that's really saying something), so does anyone out there have an answer s to why it was done? Please write in and let me know!

Poster form the original Japanese theatrical release.

Monday, October 07, 2019

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2019-Day 7: PET SEMATARY (2019)

NOTE: This review originally ran when the movie opened, but I'm cheating and repeating it here for those who may have missed it.

A tragic funeral procession...for a deceased beloved pet, or for the movie?

I just saw the latest adaptation of PET SEMATARY and, in the immortal words of Johnny Rotten, "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" I freely admit that PET SEMATARY is hands down my favorite Stephen King novel and that I was never a fan of the 1989 adaptation, which to me looked and felt like a cheap made-for-TV movie, so after the superb recent remake of IT, I approached the new PET SEMATARY with hope. 

WARNING: FROM HERE ON, SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!
  • The film starts out with a flash-forward to nearly the end of the film, then promptly skips back to the start if the story proper. Why this was done I cannot begin to tell you.
  • The characters are given little or no fleshing out and what we do understand about them is hugely dependent upon the viewer having read the novel. I cared about no one onscreen.
  • The pacing and omission of certain plot elements renders the narrative into a Crib Notes version of itself, eradicating most of the story's atmosphere and thematic weight.
  • Unlike in the novel, Church is never put down after his resurrection as something malevolent, thus robbing the story of Louis truly understanding why using the burial ground is not a good idea.
  • The sub-plot about Rachel's judgmental asshole of a father is completely omitted, and with it goes one of the most intense and emotionally wrenching moments in the original story, namely the wake. In fact we only see brief glimpses of her parents, or at least I assume they were her parents, as they are never identified as such and they also have maybe one line each.
  • The filmmakers switch the wrenching narrative purposes of  the Creed children, so it is now Ellie who is killed by the truck, the reason given by the filmmakers being that they could get a better performance from an older child. That made sense on paper, but by swapping 9-year-old Ellie for two-year-old Gage, her resurrection is just nowhere near horrific enough. Also, as a result of that change, the last third of the story is more or less rewritten and swapped out for a headlong descent into full-tilt stupidity.
  • When Ellie returns, she is at first merely stoic and Louis attempts to restore things to normal with her. She, however, twigs to the fact that she was dead and soon becomes malevolent. Her mother, sensing the cosmic wrongness afoot, returns home with Gage and finds her husband, who basically says "It's okay, honey. I just dug up our daughter's corpse, buried her again in a magic burial ground, and now she's back," at which point Ellie shows up and freaks her mother the fuck out.
  • As the shit hits the fan and Ellie goes all Norman Bates, Louis locks Gage in the family car and tells him not to unlock the door for anyone, "Not even mommy and daddy." He then goes inside the house, where he is knocked unconscious by Ellie, who has just murdered her mother. Ellie drags her mom's body to the burial ground and inters her, only to have her father show up and the two engage in a final battle...until the resurrected Rachel drives a handy piece of rebar through Louis's back and out of his chest. The scene fades and then things fade back up to the opening flash-forward (now the present), and we see the house ablaze. Gage, still in the car, notes the burning house, then his parents, sister, and cat approach the car. They beseech him to let them in and the credits roll (to the feeble accompaniment of a wan remake of the Ramones' 1989 PET SEMATARY theme song).
Less than a half-hour into the film, groups of people got up and walked out, and the exodus continued throughout. During the last half-hour, there were numerous audience exclamations of "What???" and "What the fuck???" before things degenerated to outright booing. I even let fly with "This is some fucking bullshit!" which was met with "You said it, muthafukka!!!" When the film finally ended, I have never seen a movie theater's auditorium clear out so fast.

Anyone who can find enjoyment in this film has probably never gotten within ten miles of the source novel and what this adaptation did to it can be considered nothing less than a desecration, especially when taking its sequel-bait "zombie family" ending into account.

PET SEMATARY, my caramel-colored ass. "Shit Sematary," more like. AVOID.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2019-Day 6: THE DESCENT (2005)

 There are very good reasons to be afraid of the dark.

A year after a life-changing family tragedy, outdoorsy Sarah Shauna Macdonald), four old friends, and one newcomer, meet up in a North Carolina section of the Appalachian Mountains for a group spelunking excursion. Old friend Juno (Natalie Mendoza), who seeks to mend her relationship with Sarah after not being there during Sarah's period of grieving, takes the lead and guides the party into a cave (that she does not tell the rest of the group is unexplored), only for the passageway they've just passed through to collapse, effectively trapping them. Juno then comes clean about it being an unexplored cave, and because of that state of unchartedness, rescue is simply not going to happen. As the group presses on, they discover the equipment of a previous hiker and a painting on the cave wall that hints at an escape route. But this is a horror movie, so everything that can possibly go wrong with  their attempt at making their way out of the caves does, with serious injuries injuries, further disorientation in the blackness, and revelations about hidden depths of Sarah's tragedy are bad enough, but our protagonists are not alone in the gloom, and what lives down there is very nasty and very hungry...

From Neil Marshall, writer/director of the superlative werewolf film DOG SOLDIERS (which we will be getting to later this month), THE DESCENT is a very effective followup that makes the most of its dark and claustrophobic setting, and is at time nail-bitingly intense. Unfortunately, in-depth discussion of the plot's particulars would give away its many surprises, both emotional and visceral, so all I'll say is that it's genuinely good and worth your time. And it should also be noted that the American and U.K. cuts of the films have different endings, that I cannot discuss for aforementioned reasons, but given a choice between the two, go for the U.K. director's cut.

Promo poster from the theatrical release.