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Saturday, January 03, 2009


This New Year’s Eve I sat things out and watched a number of DVDs, among which was 1961’s British giant monster opus GORGO, a favorite of many who love the city-destroying humongous critter genre. Borrowing liberally from the original KING KONG, the film deals with a pair of avaricious deep-sea salvage treasure hunters who encounter a thirty-foot monster on a remote island off the coast of Ireland. Before you can say “Carl Denham,” the pair have captured the beast, hauled its scaly ass to England and put it on display in London, making some decent change in the process.

At that point in the movie (about a half hour in) when I first saw GORGO as a kid during one of THE 4:30 MOVIE’s “Monster Week” festivals, I asked myself if that’s all there was and if so, why did GORGO have such a major rep when there were many other “urban renewal via leviathan” movies in which the title monster actually got down to the business of seriously fucking shit up? Well, GORGO turned out to be a clever exercise in patience because the title character isn’t the one to lay down the “skyscraper bump” (and at a mere thirty feet tall he didn’t stand much of a chance of that anyway): his fucking enormous mother is the lumbering, rubber-suited engine of destruction, and her rampage in search of her baby is one of the most unstoppable and memorable in the entire genre’s history. Plus it’s alluded to that Mama Gorgo may be the mythic “Orga,” a sea spirit known to those Irish islanders, and that bit of info helps us buy the monster’s utter imperviousness when faced with manmade weaponry. And, much like the following year’s MOTHRA (in my humble opinion the very best of the Japanese giant monster epics), once she achieves her objective, Mama Gorgo herds her young back to the depths of the sea, utterly ignoring man as the insignificant speck that he is (meanwhile, London lays smoldering in abject ruin, an open-air graveyard of rubble and crushed human bodies). THE END.

Seeing GORGO again, especially in such a gorgeous widescreen edition, brought me back to a happy moment from my childhood, and while the thrill of these city-demolishing monster flicks has taken on a much darker aspect since witnessing the horror of 9/11 with my own eyes, GORGO still remains untarnished and innocent, a cautionary tale about having the sense not to fuck with things man was not meant to have truck with, and was the perfect way for me to kiss the miserable year of 2008 a none-too-fond “adios.”

Then, on New Year’s Day, I called my old friend Lanei, a philosophy professor at Duquesne University, who has been a willing audience to many movies I’ve recommended over the years. I was delighted to find her watching the original KING KONG on Turner Classic Movies, finally filling in one of the glaring omissions in her filmic education and allowing her to understand just why that particular flick stands above all others in my estimation.

I rushed off the phone and asked her to call me back when the movie ended, and when she got back to me she enthusiastically gushed over how much she enjoyed it, “old-fashioned racism notwithstanding.” She got its mythic leanings and we chatted about that for a while, which led me to steer her toward Joseph Campbell, and I basked in the glow of someone I hold dear sharing in some good old monster love. But then Lanei upped the ante by mentioning that the next film to run on TCM would be 1954’s THEM!

The first and very best of the legion of 1950’s giant radioactive critter flicks, THEM! has stuck with me like napalm since I first saw it at age nine, and I still love it for respecting its audience’s intelligence and somehow making the story of giant atomic-mutant ants not only believable, but downright compelling. When Lanei told me it was on I freaked out and told her to get the fuck off the phone and watch the movie, making her promise to call me when it was over. That she did, and not only did she thoroughly enjoy THEM!, she was also impressed with how smart it was and how its female scientist protagonist, Dr. Pat Medford (Joan Weldon), was not at all what she expected in a monster movie chick of the 1950’s in that she was no damsel-in-distress, but rather the at-the-frontlines voice of scientific explanation and advice in the face of the fantastic and terrible. She also noted the sexist comments directed at Pat and how she brushed them off with the practiced ease of one who’d seen far too much discrimination because of her gender, and let her skills speak for themselves.

So the new year has begun with a return to three of my favorite monster movies and a dear friend discovering two of them and getting quite a kick out of them. I’m warm and fuzzy all over, and if that ain’t the way to start 2009 then I don’t know what is.

1 comment:

Keith said...

One of my favorite scenes in "Them!" ends with the line: "Make me a sergeant in charge of the booze!"

Sounds like a pretty healthy response to giant ants if you ask me!