Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Santo in the Wax Museum [Santo en el Museo de Cera] (1963)

I've never been one to seek out a Mexican masked wrestler movie, but the local access channel was playing one the other night and I literally couldn't find anything better to watch.

I mean, a movie about a professional wrestler who wears his mask *all* the time? Who drives his sports car around solving mysteries, a la Scooby-Doo? Yeesh. But it was either this or The Ronco Inside-The-Shell Electric Egg Scrambler infomercial.

Here's the thing, though. I kind of liked it.

Probably not in the way it's creators had planned, but nonetheless, I did like it. I thought it was gentle and sweet. I thought el Santo had a big heart. In the words of Santo's scientist-friend, he is "a strange man and a good one".

So the gist of the story was this:
Seems a fellow in town makes wax figures of famous (and infamous) people, and displays them in his little wax museum. He keeps the famous ones upstairs and the infamous ones downstairs in what he, being a king of originality, calls "the chamber of horrors".

Well, there's been a few townsfolk who've disappeared after visiting the wax museum of late. This draws the attentions of a girl (senorita)-reporter, who comes to the museum (late at night, after it's closed) to meet the owner and take some pictures. Owner starts going on and on about the evil hearts of men and then leeringly invites girl-reporter in to see his "lab".

She wisely declines, but then gets nabbed by "persons unknown" on her way home. Her worried finance (also a reporter) does some checking around and pretty quick the police are involved. Museum owner cries "frame!" and begs Santo's scientist-friend to get Santo on the case.

This is easy to do because scientist has a TV screen that will instantly tune in to Santo--where ever he is, whatever he's doing. (Hello! No wonder he never takes off his mask. Or his tights.) Santo is busy in the ring (which we get to watch... and watch), but afterward, he's happy to take the case and starts looking for clues.

Along the way, we get to see Santo fight various villains, in and out of the ring. We get to see living-wax-statue-monsters, mad disfigured scientists, damsels dunked in boiling wax, and all sorts of other fun-tastic things. And even though Santo seems to get beat up a lot (by other wrestlers and regular guys, too), good does eventually prevail.

But before good prevails, we learn where Santo's priorities really lie. This, when his scientist buddy is kidnapped and Santo is asked if he's going to look for him. He checks his watch and says no, he's wanted at the stadium for a wrestling match. (Hell-ooo-ooo....)

Anyway, all said it was a pleasantly spent hour and a half. And, should I have a hankering for more of the Mexican Masked Marvel, el Santo has 51 more movies I can enjoy.

TWO INCOGNITO BRAINS

a few screenshots to whet your... well, whatever

and a trailer (in spanish)


final (the end)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kiss of the Tarantula (1976)


Okay. Here's what I have to say about this movie.

First off, it was not more than a two brain movie (and I'm feeling generous here). But here's the thing. After stubbornly sitting through the first 75 minutes (the two brain part), I was suddenly slapped in the face with a FOUR BRAIN climax!

(i know!)

So I had to bump the thing up to an overall THREE, 'cause it had one of the BEST evil-son-of-a-gun-gets-his-in-the-end endings I remember seeing. I mean--looking past the lame acting and poor production values etc, it was very satisfying. I think I may have even giggled with glee while watching said son-of-a-gun-get-his.

Now the lame thing is, I can't TELL you about the cool ending, 'cause what if you decide to give it a rent or something? Pssshh. Like that's gonna happen.

Anyway, the story goes like this: Little girl who is weird--most likely because her dad is a mortician and her mom is an evil cheating witch--looooves spiders. Tarantulas are her favorites. In fact, by the time she's in high school she has several dozen of the little crawlies in cages in her basement. She pets them and talks to them and lets them crawl across her naked belly while fantasizing about boys....

Now, the thing with a weird-spider-girl is, sooner or later, someone's gonna piss her off. And when that happens--look out. And it does happen. Mom pisses her off. And a bunch of high school kids piss her off. And her creepy pedophile uncle pisses her off.... So yeah.

weird spider girl

I'm guessing the reason this movie is called Kiss of the Tarantula, rather than Bite or Fangs of the Tarantula, is because all the tarantulas this girl keeps are those gentle, non-poisonous kind we see all over the Southwestern United States. (Not that I would touch even a gentle, non-poisonous one.) They don't actually bite or kill anyone in the movie. Rather, everyone the girl sics 'em on freaks out and more or less kills themselves out of fright/stupidity.

spider induced heart attack

Let's see... we have one spider-induced heart attack, one suffocation, one throat slit on broken glass, one crushed windpipe.... Now, these are what the people are doing to themselves, trying to get away from the reluctant, non-poisonous spiders. Hmm.

So. I was pleasantly surprised with the little film. I mean, the bulk of the movie is certainly watchable (if a little tiring) but definitely worth it for the payoff at the end. I watched. I enjoyed.

THREE CRAWLY BRAINS

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)


Ah, that small but big-hearted genre we all know and love - Gender Bender Horror.

Okay, it's maybe not so much a genre as it is one movie. I can't think of another horror film who's storyline involves it's main character transforming from one sex into another.

Sure, there are a few cross-dressing movie villains out there, and the odd fellow who slaughters women so he can dress up in their skins (gross). But full on sexual transmutation?

I don't think so. (There WAS a cheese-filled comedy in '95 called Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde, but I'm talkin' HORROR here. Nuff said.)

Or... is it? If your memory/Google skills are better than mine and you can come up with another film or two that might fit into Gender Bender Horror, drop a line and I'll happily update my opinion AND (bonus) this post.

Anyway. Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde was done in 1971 by the Amazing, Fantastic, Retro-flick-alicious HAMMER FILMS. When I first saw the title I assumed it was an exploitation flick, but Hammer generally plays their horror pretty straight, so I was intrigued. And they did play it totally straight.

Which is what makes the film so fun. They play it just like Robert Louis Stevenson wrote it: Jekyll is earnest, Hyde is monstrous, and their downfall is tragic. Not a cheese-filled scene anywhere.

With maybe the exception of Hyde, upon finding herself a woman, fondling her own breasts for a minute or two. But what man among us wouldn't do the same, if placed in a similar situation? (If you DENY, you also LIE.)

The story is... well, we know the story 'cause it's - THE story: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. We've seen it done a million times - with varying levels of faithfulness to Stevenson's novella. Let's see, according to the infallable Wikipedia, we've had:

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1910, 1912, 1920, 1920 again, 1920 a third time, 1931, 1941, 1973, 1981, 1985, 1989, 2002, 2008)
The Testament of Dr. Cordelier (1959)
The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960)
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1968)
I, Monster (1971)
Dr. Jekyll y el Hombre Lobo (1972)
Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype (1980)
Edge Of Sanity (1989)
Jekyll & Hyde (1990, 1997)
Mary Reilly (1996)
Jekyll + Hyde (2006)
Jekyll (2007)

And that's just the more or less straight-on horror films.

Anyway. It's a good watch and an interesting take on the story. Competently produced, well acted and (a bit surprisingly) focused on the horror of the tale rather than on female nudity. You should see it.

THREE BENT BRAINS

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Jennifer's Body (2009)


Just got back from seeing the movie "Jennifer's Body" at the ol' Megaplex.

This.

Movie.

Was.

FUNNY.

I mean F. U. N. N. Y.

It's a keeper for sure.

Here's the story:
Small town cheerleader Jennifer (and all that implies) is dead. She just doesn't know it yet. In fact, the only thing keeping her going is the demon hiding out inside her body. She doesn't know about that, either, she just knows that she gets so hungry these days....

It seems some of the local boys are having their bones gnawed upon (and not in a sexy cheerleader way). Needy has a growing suspicion that Jennifer could be behind the drop in teen male population. Her suspicion grows a lot, really fast, when she nearly hits a just-finished-dining Jennifer with her car during a late night drive. Then Jennifer starts showing an interest in Needy's boyfriend.

Ooh. Did you hear that noise? Sounded like a showdown....

The movie's written by Diablo Cody and is filled right to the brim with snappy exchanges and hilarious one liners. Now, Cody also wrote the Oscar winning Juno (also filled right to the brim with snappy exchanges and hilarious one liners), and some fans are unfavorably comparing Jennifer's Body to Juno.

Um. Folks, Juno was a well written comedic drama dealing with teen pregnancy and other socially relevant material. Jennifer's Body is a well written schlock horror film dealing with a cheerleader eating her peers. Not really the same thing.

High School Evil Jennifer

Actually Evil Jennifer
The two leads are played by Megan Fox (Jennifer) and Amanda Seyfried (Needy). Technically, Needy is the secondary role, but Ms. Seyfried played her up so well I'm afraid she sort of stole the show. Especially enjoyable was the interaction between Needy and her boyfriend Chip - including the cutest sweetest (unusual descriptors, but these fit) sex scene I've ever watched.

FOUR DEMONIC BRAINS

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

King Kong was not that tall.

I make a habit of keeping up with Mark Hodgson's Black Hole DVD Reviews. His stuff is thorough, entertaining, spoiler-free and you could search the site for a week without coming across the same title twice (the pond is well stocked). In this particular entry over at Black Hole, Mark talks about buying a particular horror anthology magazine as a kid. Reading it brought back a few childhood memories of my own.

I grew up on classic mags like Famous Monsters, Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella, all suspiciously tolerated (at least the ones they knew about) by my even then concerned parents. [It's not HEALTHY for you to look at those kinds of pictures.... WELL, that vampire woman doesn't WEAR very much, does she...?]

And what was my own childhood Holy-Grail-of-print? Famous Monsters of Filmland #108 - the revered King Kong Special Photo Filmbook Issue. (i know!) I was about nine and my dad had treated me to a stop at "The Ft. Collins Comic Center" (a humble begining to what is now the "Mile High Comics" empire).

I got off to a rough start by mispronouncing "horror" to the woman working there, and asking where they kept the "whore" magazines. (She told me with a horrified look that they didn't sell anything like that, and I came back with "yes you do, I've bought 'em here before!") So she marched over to my Dad and gave him an earful on just what she thought of him exposing a kid my age to THAT kind of material.

But the three of us got the whole thing cleared up and pretty quick I was pawing through the stock on hand. And that's when I saw it - seared my neural pathways forever. An up-close-and-personal full color portrait of Willis O'Brien's King Kong, painted by the great Basil Gogos. Blew me away. (Not that I knew or cared who'd painted it right then and there, I was nine... but I knew it was beautiful.) So, I cracked the cover, and the inside was just FILLED with Mighty Kong.

One of my favorite photos from the mag was a publicity still with Kong standing next to eight "regular sized" gorillas stacked on top of each other. Now, even at nine years old, I knew Kong wasn't that tall in the film - I'd read he was scaled to be about three gorillas high in the jungle scenes, and four in the city. But the studio had been marketing Kong at 50 feet (like an 18-24 foot ape isn't cause for concern), so the photo was done with the up-sized-by-marketing Kong in mind. It wasn't acurate - but it was still a great photo.

Sadly, I lost my prized magazine during a move a few years later (or maybe Mom took the opportunity to down-size my magazine collection, who knows?). Now, back in the day - before everything on God's Green Earth was available on the internet (Internet, what's that?), losing something like this was a major blow to a kid. I wept. I pined. I prayed. I cursed. I never found another copy of the thing.

UNTIL I grew up and there WAS an internet, with eBay and specialty online shops and all the other wonderful things we geeky types get to enjoy today. So, now I own a beautiful copy that I reverently pull out on a regular basis: The first ever published photos of the lost spider pit sequence. Inside scoops on stop motion effects. How the life-size Kong bust worked. Behind-the-scenes, production and publicity stills.


And Kong with his eight little cousins. It's not accurate - but it's still a great photo.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Sharks, Crabs, Vampires and Craig - A Library Thriller

So I went to the library to check out some books.
"Excuse me," I asked. "Do you have Craig Ferguson's new memoir, American on Purpose?"

Ms. Moanz - former playmate and current head librarian - looked up, her smoldering eyes meeting mine and then moving lazily down my body: shoulders... chest... stomach....

Her examination apparently blocked by the waist-height checkout counter, she leaned out and across, firm breasts thrust into prominence by her form fitting v-neck sweater, to continue. Liking what she saw, her lips pursed into an "O" of sensual satisfaction and a tiny gasp escaped her throat, drawing looks from other patrons and at least one of the other staff.

"Thank heavens I wore the extra large codpiece today," I thought to myself.

Then, without warning, an explosion erupted in the room's audio-visual lab!

I whirled, searching for it's cause, and watched as six men wearing ski masks rushed through the browsing area, automatic weapons in hand. One separated from the others and, arm cocked, prepared to lob a second grenade, this one into the nearly filled-to-capacity children's story hour area.

"Not on my watch, friend!" I muttered.

Ducking behind 'Fiction: Ha-Ho', I unholstered the government-issue Walther P99 from my left shoulder and drew a bead over the man's forehead.

Calmly, I squeezed the trigger.
I told a coworker I was writing about my recent trip to the library - they thought it might be a dull subject and suggested I spice it up with a bit of sex and violence.

So. I spiced.


What ACTUALLY happened, is while I was looking over my Amazon Shopping List, woe-is-me-ing about not having any extra cash to throw its way, I REMEMBERED about the library. Libraries are so cool. And so free. I don't know why that never seems to stay in my brain for very long.

I decided to see if any of my shopping list was available in the library system. I found five books. A minute later they were all on hold and a day after that 4 of the 5 were ready to be picked up. Which they were, by me.

Now, with multiple books, the question always becomes (for me) which to read first, second and so on. I had my choice of giant killer crabs, giant killer sharks, Swedish vampire love and... Craig Ferguson's novel about a bunch of crazy degenerates.

It's a cinch that pretty much any monster wins out over Craig Ferguson (sorry Craig, but you're only a regular human). The vampire story promises to be good, but I'm not a huge vampire fan, overall. And while I pretty much love ALL giant killer things, sharks have been a fascination for me since I was a wee boy. And crabs... eh. They pinch. You avoid them on the beach. And so on.

Sharks took first place.

Meg: Hell's Aquarium


Now, this is not "just" a killer shark novel. No, this is the fourth installment in a killer shark novel SERIES. (Come to poppa! And yes, I've already read the other three.) None of the series is what you'd call "fine literature", but are all written by a talented guy who *obviously* loves giant killer things as much as I do.

I mean, how d'you go wrong with an 80 foot prehistoric momma shark, five 20-50 foot prehistoric baby sharks, all crammed into a Sea World type aquarium that's open to the public? Just how many things might potentially go awry in this situation?

So many things. So many. A thoroughly enjoyable book. Very gratifying.

Clickers


While crabs aren't as exciting as sharks, the ones herein WERE both giants and killers. That counts for something, so their book came next. It was a quick read. And it sucked. Started out well enough (though the writing was REALLY ham-fisted), with several isolated boat and beach goers getting sliced and diced by prehistoric crabs. Scream. Run. Stumble. Crunch.

But then the crab rampage inexplicably got eclipsed by the arrival of a bunch of creature-from-the-black-lagoon-ish things (carrying tridents, no less), who proceeded to run about stabbing and eating folks and blahdehdah blahdehdah blah. Tridents? I appreciated that the book's authors were (again, obviously) fellow lovers of giant killer things, but... I pretty much forced myself through the last hundred pages.

(I couldn't just STOP reading since you never know when things might start to improve.)

Let the Right One In


Badly in need of having my monster faith restored, this was my third read. This novel was... amazing.

A. MAZ. ING.

Bully-beleaguered boy meets up with creepily endearing vampire girl. Set in 1980s Stockholm, it tells of budding romance between lonely kid Oskar and just-as-lonely vampire Eli. First, they start a nerdy little friendship which then turns into a nerdy little romance. A chaste one, since they're only 13 and 12, respectively.

And don't let the word 'romance' throw you, there's plenty of vampire death and dismemberment in here too. (Plenty.) But its the writing in this thing that is so brilliant. The author magically breathes life into his characters, and by mid-story they feel like old friends (or enemies) that you know you're gonna miss (or breathe a sigh of relief) when they're gone. I'm guessing this guy could write about a kitchen broom in a corner and make it work.

Fantastic.

Between the Bridge and the River


So now, with nothing left to tempt me away, I'm in the middle of Ferguson's novel. Which is good. Monster free, but good. Sharp witted, sarcastic commentary. Interesting if somewhat creepy characters. It basically follows a couple of childhood pals through all the muckety-muck of their lives while they attempt to "find" themselves.

I'm more looking forward to the fifth book I put on hold - Ferguson's new memoir - American on Purpose. Yes, that really WAS one of the books I went to the library for. (And if THAT part of the story is true.... What else might be...?)

I gotta go clean my gun.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Let The Right One In (2008)



Forget Twilight.

If you want adolescent vampire love with hutzpah, you want Let The Right One In. It's a Swedish film, taken from a Swedish novel that I am SO buying and reading.

Set in 1980s Stockholm, it tells a tale of budding romance between lonely kid Oskar and just-as-lonely vampire Eli. Oskar is a 12 year old boy who lives with mom and step dad, and is the resident punching bag for various school bullies. Next door, in moves Eli, who looks* like your standard skinny 12 year old girl and only comes out at night. Since 12 year olds don't live alone, she's accompanied by her "Dad", who has some night time peculiarities of his own. Hmmmm.

So, things between Oskar and Eli start out a little thorny (girls having cooties and all), but quickly smooth out - first, into a nerdy little friendship and then into a nerdy little romance. A chaste one, since they're only 12. Along the way Oskar figures out his sweetheart is (ahem) undead, which causes no small wrinkle in the relationship, but eventually young love prevails. For a while anyway.

The movie puts a cool twist on the usual vampire mythos in that Eli, being about 12 when she was turned, is stuck with not just a forever 12 year old body, but a forever 12 year old brain and mindset too. So rather than the wise adult mind in a kid's body that's generally portrayed with child-vampires, she's an immortal 12 year old with typical 12 year old thoughts, along with added wisdom from having been around for several hundred years. (Besides, an all-grown-up-vampire would hardly be interested in a 12 year old mortal. Except as a snack, maybe.)

Violence also gets an unusual treatment (for the genre). The movie definitely has it's righteous share of vampire violence, but it's understated by almost always occurring off screen or at a distance. Playing it that way (rightfully) keeps focus on the relationship stuff between Oskar and Eli, and also keeps the film in atmospheric-creepy-mode, rather than turning it into just another (yawn) gore-fest.

Well. What more can I say? Tons, but I don't want to give away too much of a great story. Suffice it to say this one is not just a Watcher, but a Go-Right-Out-And-Buy-It Keeper as well. I've got the film and novel both, right on my Amazon Shopping List.

And, lest you worry that Let The Right One In is just a Swedish knock-off of Twilight, both the novel and film were published/released before their Twilight counterparts, proving that Let The Right One In rules while Twilight drools.... I was totally unable to not type that. Weird.

Anyway. Better hurry and see it - they're already planning a Hollywood remake. Sigh.

FIVE SUCCULENT BRAINS

*I say "looks like", because (I later learned), in the novel Eli is a castrated boy. And while the film keeps things more ambiguous - Eli asks Oskar if he'd still like her if she wasn't a girl and later says outright that she's "not a girl" - this could easily (even likely) refer to her not being a 'human' girl. A later scene has Eli changing clothes and we see a quick flash of... something. Apparently a freeze frame of the something shows not a vagina, not a penis and scrotum, but scarring where a penis and scrotum would be. I don't know this firsthand because I sent the DVD back before I read up on all this. But an interview with the film's director confirms Eli is a castrated boy and that the screenplay originally had some back-story on it, but they chose to downplay it for whatever reasons.

(How's THAT for a curious tidbit?)

Link:
The American Site

Ye Olde Trailer

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Bad Sleep Well (1960) & Stray Dog (1949)

I recently tuned in on Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa. I guess he's a pretty big name in Japan, with over 25 movies and a buttload of awards between 1943 and 1993 (he died in 1998). The two movies I've seen (so far) are older - 1960 and 1949 - and have an intense, gritty film noir sense that I really liked.



First one I saw is called The Bad Sleep Well (悪い奴ほどよく眠る) (Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru), released in 1960. The story involves a guy, Koichi Nishi (Toshirō Mifune), who's plotting revenge for his father's death at the hands of a corrupt corporate businessman. He's managed to worm his way into this bad guy's life on both the work and home fronts by becoming his personal secretary and then *marrying* his daughter. Now that's a hardcore vengeance-seeker.

And, not that I'm cultured enough to have recognized it, but apparently the film gives more than a passing nod toward Shakespeare's Hamlet, with Toshirō Mifune playing the Hamletesque character. Who knew.

Anyway, this thing's got enough plot twists to, uh... [insert witty comparison here] and the tension that builds throughout makes it a real nail biter. If I bit my nails. As it was, I just really enjoyed the film.

Well worth the 151 minutes it takes to watch. 5 brains.





The second Kurosawa film I saw is Stray Dog (野良犬) (Nora inu), from 1949. Also a very cool movie, but (unlike the previous) with a straightforward, simple plot line: cop loses his gun and tries to get it back.

Murakami (Toshirō Mifune) is a rookie cop who gets his gun stolen by a pickpocket on the bus ride home. Well, he's a pretty uptight guy to begin with, so he gets all bent out of shape trying to track the thing down. When he finds out the gun (having passed hands a few times) has been used in a robbery where a woman was wounded, he gets pretty frantic.

Things go from bad to worse and the gun ends up being used in a murder. Murakami is near breakdown status now and is gonna get his gun back at any cost. Throughout this process, he's paired up with an older, seasoned, cop whose trying to teach him to relax and not get so worked up over every little thing. The film's got plenty of action, but it's the relationship building between these two characters that make it great.

This one clocks in at 122 minutes (remember when movies under 2 hours were the exception, rather than the rule?) and is also well worth your time. 5 brains.

video

Thursday, March 19, 2009

They Live (1988), War of the Gargantuas (1966), Never Cry Werewolf (2008) & Class of 1999 (1990)

They Live

Hellooo...! This movie rocks.

One of the great all time so-bad-it's-good movies. Lonely drifter/wrestler dude "Rowdy" Roddy Piper happens upon a pair of super special sunglasses that allow him to see *THE TRUTH*. The rich and powerful of our world are actually really (really) ugly aliens, using subliminal messages to keep us all in line.

So he and his drifter buddy take on the worldwide alien invasion-infiltration... and WIN! Turns out the aliens' subliminal mind control thingie *for the entire world* is coming from one rooftop satellite dish with no backup system of any kind. So Roddy throws a rock at it and it breaks. Thus ends the alien's reign.

FOUR WRASTLIN' BRAINS



War of the Gargantuas

Giant brown furry monster Sanda lives in the mountains. Giant green furry monster Gaira lives in the ocean.

They're brothers.

But Sanda was raised by humans and he loves them. Gaira just loves to eat them. So the have a giant furry monster war and both end up dead.

Along the way most of Tokyo gets leveled (again) and lots of tanks and planes shoot missiles and things.

If you watch this one - make sure its the Japanese version.

THREE BROTHERLY BRAINS



Never Cry Werewolf

Never see this movie.

And that's saying something, coming from a genre fan like myself.

Teenage girl's new neighbor is a werewolf and NO ONE will believe her when she tries to raise the alarm.

Will she have to take on this evil creature herself?

 (............)

Yes. Yes she will.

ONE UNCONVINCING BRAIN



Class of 1999

Ah, another classic. Teen-aged gang banger Cody has suspicions about those three new teachers at school. Yep, they're ROBOTS! Military battle androids reprogrammed to educate and placed in his school to control gang violence. But (gasp) they've gone crazy and are killing everyone in sight. This is a super lame-o movie with great robot scenes - some spectacular robot deaths. Worth the watch.

FOUR ROBOT ASS KICKING BRAINS

Plus, it includes the best movie speech EVER:
Inside this school are three inhuman teaching monsters.
The ones running this show.
They kidnapped my girl.
They killed Sonny, Reedy, Mohawk... and Noser.
And Angel.
You gotta know who your real enemies are.
Now I'm going in there to waste some teachers!
Are you with me?!
Ah, yes. I'm with you.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

February's Cult Movie of the Month - Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

CFTBL... R.I.P.



The Review

The Gill-man is dead.

That's the first thing I learned when I started searching on this film. His name was Ben Chapman and he died a year ago, almost to the day, in Honolulu. He was 79 years old. The image at right is from Mr. Chapman's personal website, The Reel Gill-man (which is now maintained by his family).

The Creature from the Black Lagoon is hands down one of the best sci fi/horror pictures ever made. A good way to judge a picture is by it's timelessness quotient (yes, I just made that up) - film it, wait 40 or 50 years, put it back in front of an audience and see how well it holds up. This one holds up really well.

The plot's nothing new - a spin on 'beauty and the beast'.
An expedition on the Amazon River finds a fossilized hand/claw that may tie marine and land life together - an early amphibian. When the group can't find anything more at the original site, they decide to go downriver to the lagoon the river empties into - see if anything fossil-ish has washed down to the end of the line. What they find is a living breathing version of their original fossil (aka the beast). And things move on from there.
It's got a typical cast of characters - science guy and science gal (aka beauty) who are in LOVE, jerky jealous scientist boss, affable doctor who won't make it to the end credits, swarthy but good natured boat captain/guide and so on. But there are a few things that set this movie apart from the average beauty/beast storyline.

One is the creature itself. The Gill-man is brought to onscreen life amazingly well. There were actually two actors who played the creature. Ben Chapman, mentioned, played the Gill-man on land and was the one who gave the character it's flavor, while olympic swimmer Ricou Browning did the underwater scenes (quite masterfully, I might add).

The Gill-man was brilliantly designed by Millicent Patrick, a Disney animator who also worked for Universal's makeup department. Sadly, department-head Bud Westmore, seeing how favorably the Gill-man was received in early publicity tours, deliberately downplayed Ms. Patrick's role and essentially took credit for her design work. (Dick.) It wasn't until recently she was given proper recognition.

The film also carried a pro-ecology message (before the average person knew the meaning of the word). One of the film's writers was an avant-garde environmentalist and deliberately worked the theme into a couple of scenes: In one a character tosses a cigarette butt from boat-side into the lagoon as the camera pans to the Gill-man, looking up from under the surface as his "air" is fouled by the intruder. Another shows the scientists dumping poison into the lagoon, in hopes of trapping or killing the Gill-man, and hundreds of fish float to the surface belly-up.

The movie was actually the first of a trilogy, being followed by Revenge of the Creature and The Creature Walks Among Us. Unlike most "monsters" of the day, all three films portray the creature as victim and mankind as antagonist.

While the first film has men intruding into the Gill-man's habitat and trying to capture him, the second movie follows their success as he is chained, displayed and "conditioned" by withholding food and electrical shock. In the last film his gills are removed so he can no longer breathe under water. After various abuses and incarcerations, the film's final scene shows the Gill-man slowly walking back into his sea home, knowing he'll drown there.

Don't know if you've seen any of the DVD box sets Universal has put out - the Creature set has all three films and a couple of really cool documentaries to boot. Well worth your 20 bucks.



The Trailer




The Details

Director: Jack Arnold

Writers: Harry Essex (screenplay), Arthur A. Ross (screenplay)

Release Date: 5 March 1954 (USA)

Tagline: Not since the beginning of time has the world beheld terror like this!

Cast
Richard Carlson ... David Reed
Julie Adams ... Kay Lawrence
Richard Denning ... Mark Williams
Antonio Moreno ... Carl Maia
Nestor Paiva ... Lucas
Whit Bissell ... Dr. Thompson
Bernie Gozier ... Zee
Henry A. Escalante ... Chico

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956)

Allosaurus menaces Cowpoke, Cowpoke menaces Allosaurus


The Review

I was about to say it's the one and only Mexican Dinosaur Western, but I remembered The Valley of Gwangi also takes place (mostly) in Mexico. So I guess there are two.

And while Gwangi is a (much) better film, The Beast does have it's own little charms. One of those charms is that it's open-source and can be downloaded for free at Archive.org. (Ding!)

The first hour of the movie is pure western - you've got the square jawed hero, the mustachioed villain, a beautiful woman for 'em to fight over and an affable town drunk providing comedy relief. You don't even see the Beast until over an hour into it, and 15 minutes after that the Beast is dead.

Here's the story:

Straight-shooting Jimmy (Yaaay!) and his faithful compadre Felipe are south of the border on their cattle ranch. They're a little worried over the livestock they keep losing - cows just up and disappearing - more and more often as time goes on. Felipe suspects rival rancher Enrique (Boooo!) is behind it. Enrique would like nothing better than to see Jimmy get the hell out of Dodge.

Why? Because Enrique is engaged to Sarita (w00t!), and he sees how she looks at Jimmy when they pass in the town square. Enrique, incidentally, is a lying cheating bullying bastard who pretty much rules the town with an iron fist. Sarita is marrying him out of some family obligation, but she's had the hots for Jimmy since he first rode in. And... Jimmy's sweet on her, too.

So that's pretty much how things stay for the first 60 minutes of the film. Jimmy and Enrique fistfight... Enrique schemes his revenge... a little comic relief from the town drunk...Sarita moons over Jimmy... Jimmy moons over Sarita... more laughs with town drunk... few more cattle go missing....

Now, it turns out Enrique's not behind the disappearing cattle (much as he'd like to be). You see, there's a LEGEND: Hollow Mountain is rumored to be... hollow... and home to a ravenous BEAST. This beast (it's said) comes out in times of drought (and yes, the village is currently in the midst of one) and kills livestock.

I didn't quite get why it would come out and kill livestock during droughts. Seems it would more likely slurp up the town's water supply or something. But anyway, no one around now has ever actually SEEN this beast (probably hasn't been a drought in a long time), so it's just a legend and probably doesn't exist anyway. (Or... DOES it?)

So anyway, things between Jimmy, Enrique and Sarita finally come to a big dramatic head on she and Enrique's wedding day. Which is also the day the Beast decides to rear *it's* ugly head. (Dramatic head... ugly head. I seriously did not intend the pun but, there it is. So be it.)

The Beast comes out just as Enrique and Jimmy are having their big showdown. Much cracking of pistols and thundering of hooves ensue, with Enrique showing what a dastardly coward he is by running away and leaving people to die, while Jimmy shows true hero-ness by risking his life to save Enrique from the Beast's GAPING MAW.

And when everybody realizes they can't kill it with their guns (guess no one had a Gatling on hand), Jimmy has the bright idea of luring the Beast into a convenient bog of quicksand. And so the Mighty Beast's short screen career ends.

Speaking of Mighty Beast, I'm not sure just what the Beast is supposed to be. It's arms are too big, and have too many claws, to be a T Rex. Allosaurus had three claws... bit big for an Allosaurus though. Maybe it was a previously UNKNOWN type of dinosaur. Most people call it a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

So I'll call it an Allosaurus. A big one.




The Trailer





The Details

Directors: Edward Nassour, Ismael Rodríguez
Writers: Willis H. O'Brien (story), Robert Hill (writer)
Release Date: August 1956 (USA)
Genre: Western | Horror | Sci-Fi
Tagline: One Day After A Million Years It Came Out Of Hiding To... Kill! Kill! Kill!

Cast
Guy Madison Jimmy Ryan
Patricia Medina Sarita
Carlos Rivas Felipe Sanchez
Mario Navarro Panchito
Pascual García Peña Pancho
Eduardo Noriega Enrique Rios
Julio Villarreal Don Pedro
Lupe Carriles Margarita
Manuel Arvide Martínez
José Chávez Manuel
Roberto Contreras Carlos
Armando Gutiérrez Employee
Margarito Luna Jose
Jorge Treviño Shopkeeper

Thursday, January 29, 2009

January's Cult Movie of the Month - Flash Gordon (1936)

The Review

Oh, man... what a snore-fest. I only made it through the first TWO CHAPTERS of this serial.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of the old cliffhangers, but it's gotta be something I have a LITTLE interest in. And not being a Flash Gordon fan....

What can I say?

Speaking of interest, I'm not so sure about this new calendar I got. I went with one called "Cult Attack" (versus last year's "Monster Movies" calendar). When I got it, I was a little disappointed at some of the movies in it....

And TWO of the months don't even HAVE movies, they're PULP COVERS. I mean, I love the pulps too, but when you're trying to do a Monster MOVIE of the Month....

Anyway.... If you ARE a Flash Gordon fan, or just curious, click through for a chapter by chapter synopsis (that I didn't write)....

Synopsis - shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia.com

1. The Planet of Peril: The planet Mongo is on a collision course with Earth. Dr. Alexis Zarkov takes off in a rocket ship to Mongo, with Flash Gordon and Dale Arden as his assistants. They find that the planet is ruled by the cruel Emperor Ming, who lusts after Dale and sends Flash to fight in the arena. Ming's daughter, Princess Aura, tries to spare Flash's life.

2. The Tunnel of Terror: Aura helps Flash to escape as Zarkov is put to work in Ming's laboratory and Dale is prepared for her wedding to Ming. Flash meets Prince Thun, leader of the Lion Men, and the pair return to the palace to rescue Dale.

3. Captured by Shark Men: Flash stops the wedding ceremony, but he and Dale are captured by King Kala, ruler of the Shark Men and a loyal follower of Ming. At Ming's order, Kala forces Flash to fight with a giant octosak.

4. Battling the Sea Beast: Aura and Thun rescue Flash from the octosak. Trying to keep Flash away from Dale, Aura destroys the mechanisms that regulate the underwater city.

5. The Destroying Ray: Flash, Dale, Aura and Thun escape from the underwater city, but are captured by King Vultan and the Hawkmen. Dr. Zarkov befriends Prince Barin, and they race to the rescue.

6. Flaming Torture: Dale pretends to fall in love with King Vultan in order to save Flash, Barin and Thun, who are put to work in the Hawkmen's Atom Furnaces.

7. Shattering Doom: Flash, Barin, Thun and Zarkov create an explosion in the atomic furnaces.

8. Tournament of Death: Dr. Zarkov saves the Hawkmen's city from falling, earning Flash and his friends King Vultan's gratitude. Ming insists that Flash fight a Tournament of Death against a masked opponent, and then a vicious orangopoid.

9. Fighting the Fire Dragon: Flash survives the tournament. Still determined to win Flash, Aura has him drugged to make him lose his memory.

10. The Unseen Peril: Flash recovers his memory. Ming is determined to have Flash executed.

11. In the Claws of the Tigron: Zarkov invents a machine that makes Flash invisible. Flash torments Ming and his guards. Barin hides Dale in the catacombs, but Aura has her tracked by a tigron.

12. Trapped in the Turret: Aura realizes the error of her ways, and falls in love with Barin. She tries to help Flash and his friends to return to Earth — but Ming plots to kill them.

13. Rocketing to Earth: Ming orders that the Earth people be caught and killed, but Flash and his friends escape from the emperor's clutches. Flash, Dale and Zarkov make a triumphant return to Earth.


NOT EVEN ONE LONELY BRAIN

(In space no one can hear your brain....)



The Trailer

Couldn't find one anywhere....




The Details

Director: Frederick Stephani

Writers: Alex Raymond (based on the comic strip by) & Ella O'Neill (screenplay)

Release Date: 6 April 1936 (USA)

Genre : Sci-Fi


Tagline: THRILLING STRANGE WORLD ADVENTURES!!!

Cast
Buster Crabbe - Flash Gordon
Jean Rogers - Dale Arden
Charles Middleton - Ming the Merciless
Priscilla Lawson - Princess Aura
Frank Shannon - Dr. Alexis Zarkov
Richard Alexander - Prince Barin
Jack 'Tiny' Lipson - King Vultan
Theodore Lorch - High Priest #2
Richard Tucker - Prof. Gordon
George Cleveland - Prof. Hensley
James Pierce - Prince Thun
Duke York - King Kala
Muriel Goodspeed - Zona
Earl Askam - Officer Torch
House Peters Jr. - Shark Man

Friday, January 9, 2009

Silent Rage (1982)

Chuck and his mustache destroy Undestroyable Killer


The Review

I remembered seeing this in the theater when I was about 14. Don't think I even knew who Chuck Norris was, but - it was a movie about an "Indestructible... Unstoppable... Superhuman Killing Machine". (Hello!)

Now, 1982 was a long time ago, but when I gave it a good think I was able to dredge up a few celluloid memories, still rattling around the old brain:
  • a woman popping open her vest and shaking her boobs at someone (c'mon, I was 14)
  • a doctor slicing a guy's chest open and the wound almost immediately healing (very cool)
  • a terrified lady creeping around a dark house, a guy grabbing her by the face, smashing the back of her head into a wall and her head leaving a blood smear as she slid slowly down the wall to the floor (gruesome)
  • a guy getting shot several times and smashing through a 4th story window to the ground, then a close-up on his face as his eyes snap open (a la terminator)
Geeze. That's some seriously gruesome stuff. Where were my parents that day? They were supposed to protect me from stuff like this.

Anyway, I rented the movie to see how accurate the old brain had been and if the movie stood the test of time. And it... kind of... stood. Maybe it leaned a little, maybe it didn't have the best posture, but it stood. It did totally deliver on the unstoppable killing machine part, and that's the important thing. (It IS.) Sure, I could've done without that lame-o comedy relief deputy. But other than that....

The basic plot is this (from the back of the DVD):
Chuck Norris, six-time World Karate Champion, stars in his first suspense film as the tough, street-fighting sheriff of a small Texas town terrorized by a psychotic killer. Sheriff Stevens (Norris) is faced with the dilemma of stopping the invincible murderer, made virtually indestructible through genetic engineering. A young group of researchers are responsible for developing the genetically altering serum, and the head of the research institute is determined to continue the experiments, regardless of the consequences. Norris displays fighting brilliance as he single-handedly routs a dozen brutal bikers from a truck stop hangout, while revealing a warm and sexy side when he rekindles an old romance with Alison Halman (Toni Kalem), a researcher at the institute. Excitement, horror, and romance prevail as Norris combats the killer.
Overall, the movie was a little lame - but it gets sooo many points for having really cool unstoppable killing machine-ness. And I'll tell you, I'd be surprised if ol' Arnold hadn't seen this movie before he started working out his Terminator persona.

THREE UNSTOPPABLE BRAINS

But I really can't comment on Chuck's "warm and sexy side".

The Trailer


The Details

Director: Michael Miller

Writer: Joseph Fraley

Release Date: 2 April 1982

Genre: Action | Horror | Sci-Fi

Tagline: The king of martial arts versus a bionic killing machine!

Cast

Chuck Norris ... Sheriff Dan Stevens
Ron Silver ... Dr. Tom Halman
Steven Keats ... Dr. Phillip Spires
Toni Kalem ... Alison Halman
William Finley ... Dr. Paul Vaughn
Brian Libby ... John Kirby
Stephen Furst ... Charlie
Stephanie Dunnam ... Nancy Halman
Joyce Ingle ... Mrs. Sims
Jay De Plano ... Biker Leader
Lillette Zoe Raley ... Tatooed Biker Mama
Mike Johnson ... Biker at Cafe
Linda Tatum ... Biker Mama #1 at Bar
Kathleen Lee ... Biker Mama #2

Runtime: 103 min

Country: USA

Language: English