Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Race Relations: Godzilla Vs Megalon(1973)

Anyone who knows me will tell you I like all Godzilla movies. There are obviously some I like a whole lot more than others. There are also Godzilla movies that, I believe, are unfairly slammed. Godzilla Vs Megalon is one such movie, directed by Jun Fukuda, produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka and originally released to theaters in Japan back in March, 1973.

I am not now, nor will I ever in the future, try to convince anyone that this movie is a terrific Godzilla film because IMO it isn't. Still, over the years this movie has grown on me, not a lot to be sure but enough that I now like viewing Godzilla Vs Megalon on an annual basis...and sober.

The film's story: a subterranean race called the "Seatopians", fed up with mankind's atomic bomb testing and the adverse effects on their civilization these explosive devices are having, decide to open up a can of whoop ass on humanity. To effect their hostilities on human-kind the Seatopians dispatch a huge, beetle like, winged monster named Megalon to wage a rampage of destruction on Earth's surface. The Seatopians, despite their superior technology, cannot effectively navigate their insect-like monster on the Earth's surface and consequently send agents to abduct a special robot, named Jet Jaguar, from an inventor named "Goro Ibuki". Ibuki, understandably opposed to losing his prized robot, fights back, aided by his friend "Jinko"(Jinkawa) and Ibuki's kid brother "Rakuro". The trio regain control of Jet Jaguar from the Seatopian agents, and Jet Jaguar flies to Monster Island to ask Godzilla for help in dealing with Megalon. Jet Jaguar returns and, morphing into a 50 meter tall giant, battles Megalon. The Seatopians secure the services of the cyborg space monster Gigan from their Space Hunter galaxy allies: Gigan arrives quickly on Earth and joins Megalon. Together the two monsters quickly overwhelm Jet Jaguar. Just when Jet Jaguar appears to be done in by the two monsters Godzilla arrives to help "JJ"...(no other spoilers)

Observations, some good and some not so good:

Thumbs up:

-the rendering of Jet Jaguar in the film. I've seen this robot described as "an Ultraman rip off". Perhaps. I still like the design overall and the dash of color in JJ's design.

-many special effects shots in this film are marvelous, including the "dam" scene, the sequence where Megalon destroys the bridge, blasting the structure apart with its drill like appendage, and the lake draining out(near the beginning of the film)

-the pyrotechnic effects are quite good, no surprise here with Teruyoshi Nakano handling the SPFX for this movie: the movie's opening sequence starts off with a bang, literally, as there are lots of explosions and other various blasts leading into the movie's opening title credits. These explosion effects do not IMO make up for other effects shortcomings in this film but they do make it, at least for me, somewhat easier to overlook while watching this movie.

-the fight scenes and car chase scene: both added a nice bit of human action to the film, despite my disdain for the choreography of the fights, which I thought were sub par, limited to sloppy hand strikes and basic scuffling

-the rendering of Megalon: I liked the monster's overall appearance and it's beam firing horn, and exploding rocks launched from its mandibles

Thumbs down:

-the attire worn by Seatopia's leader "Emperor Antonio"(played by Robert Dunham), which looked like something out of the Broadway play for "I, Claudius".

-the stock footage is abundant in this film and used to horrendous excess

-the movements of Megalon during the scenes where the monster leaps. The creature's movements during the "leaping" sequences appear sloppy and awkward

-the ineptitude of the Seatopians in this film. This race possessed superior technology, as was boasted by one of their agents to "Jinko", yet their plans were completely thwarted by an inventor, his friend, a young boy and a resourceful robot, neither of these characters apparently needing much of any help from the JSDF

-the often lack of high speed filming in the kaiju battles

Godzilla Vs Megalon has seen a wide variety of releases on VHS and has also appeared in an episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000", dissected by Tom Servo and friends. In 1976 this film was released by Cinemashares to American theaters in English dubbed language. It would be broadcast on NBC in 1977 as an hour long feature, hosted by a Godzilla suited and up and coming comedian named John Belushi, the movie butchered down to an hour run time.

Reading about this movie I was interested to discover that Godzilla Vs Megalon has no major female character in it, the only Godzilla movie lacking a female lead of some kind. The movie itself was originally planned as a "Jet Jaguar Vs Megalon" feature but Toho eventually decided that Jet Jaguar wouldn't be able to carry the movie theatrically, so a new screenplay was hastily written to include Godzilla and Gigan. The movie, subsequent to this change, was filmed in all of three weeks!

Anyone who has not seen Godzilla Vs Megalon should watch this movie uncut, in its original widescreen(2:35.1) aspect ratio and in its original language(with English subtitles if possible). The various cheapie VHS tapes of this movie on the market do this movie a disservice, with their chopped down run times and generally grainy prints.

This film is available on official Region 2/NTSC format DVD(no English subtitles) and on Region 4/PAL format DVD, the latter from Australia's "Madman Entertainment" website.

The film can also be had from various online retailers who sell DVD-R's of the movie. Here's the URL to see the film on Region 4/PAL format DVD for sale at "Madman Entertainment": http://www.madman.com.au/actions/catalogue.do?releaseId=6604&method=view
(you can also access this link by clicking the title of this blog)

The original Toho trailer for the film:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Michael Jackson, 1958-2009

I was shocked and deeply saddened by the recent death of iconic entertainer Michael Jackson. I grew up listening to him, and his brothers, as "The Jackson 5", and then enjoyed Michael Jackson's solo efforts on albums like Off The Wall(1979), Thriller(1982), Bad(1987) and Dangerous(1991). There's nothing I can say that hasn't already been said about this legendary singer and performer: his contributions to the music industry are immeasurable. His positive influence on fans all over the world is remarkable and will, I hope, keep his legacy, and spirit, alive for decades to come.

My all time favorite music video, and one I think is among the best music videos I have ever seen, is "Thriller", directed by John Landis. This video, based on the song of the same name from the 1982 album Thriller, combines all the elements we have come to expect, and cherish, from Michael Jackson: the dance moves, the choreography, as well as the makeup effects. More than anything, this is simply Michael Jackson doing what he does best.

May he Rest In Peace.

Michael Jackson's "Thriller":

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pincer Movement : Godzilla Vs The Sea Monster(1966)

While legendary Toho director Inoshiro Honda gets the vast majority of props from die hard Godzilla movie fans, there's also, I think, a lot to be said for director Jun Fukuda. In interviews Fukuda has expressed disdain for the Godzilla films he directed. Nevertheless, Fukuda's Godzilla movies are always entertaining and action packed, including the first Godzilla movie directed by him: Godzilla Vs The Sea Monster, aka "Ebirah Horror Of The Deep", which originally opened in Japanese theaters back in 1966.

Now that I watch almost all my DVDs using my Blu-Ray DVD player I was interested to see how many of these Sony DVD releases of the Showa Godzilla films would look. I wasn't disappointed as Godzilla Vs The Sea Monster, like the other CM releases, looks noticeably better in the Blu-Ray player, the array of colors, including lots of yellows and reds, really standing out.

Some observations about this movie -

Thumbs up:
- the overall design of Ebirah, an enormous marine arthropod that menaces the islanders and, at the end, even the Red Bamboo. I'll be the first to admit this giant crustacean isn't my favorite kaiju. That said I thought it looked fairly realistic, including its antennae, claws and mandibles

- Kumi Mizuno: what a beautiful woman and we get to see her in a skimpier outfit for the duration of the film

- the generous use of high speed filming

- parts of the cinematography of this film looked very good, especially certain shots of the islands

- Godzilla Vs Ebirah I and II: I liked both battles overall, despite some aspects of the fights I didn't like(see "Thumbs down" below). Ebirah, despite having no beam weapon or other special power gave Godzilla a fairly good physical battle

- Haruo Nakajima turned in another solid performance in the G suit, utilizing his famous "attack" and "stalking" postures to great effect

- the brief skirmish between Mothra and Godzilla, a reminder that these two monsters will not be exchanging Christmas cards anytime soon

Thumbs down:
- certain matte shots and other effects shots were sub par, including the visibility of the wires, regarding both Mothra and Ebirah

- the Godzilla suit is clearly showing wear and tear in this film, evidenced by the sag in the suit under the arms

- the huge monster sized condor who attacked Godzilla. This Rodan wannabe seemed a little out of place in this movie and was, not surprisingly, dispatched easily by Godzilla's oral beam

- many of the water tank shots looked...well, too much like water tanks.

The film's trailer:

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Some Like It Hot: Hellraiser(1987)

Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Chucky, Cropsy, Candyman, The Creeper, Leatherface and Freddy Krueger all get major props from me for being the horror icons that they are. The one character in horror movies I always enjoy watching the most, however, is "Pinhead", who first appeared in the 1987 horror movie Hellraiser, directed by Clive Barker. Pinhead, played masterfully by Doug Bradley, would appear in many sequels to the 1987 film. Still, I prefer the first film in this franchise. I recently bought the twentieth anniversary special edition DVD of this movie which is available for sale at many online retailers, including Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000UVV23I
(you can also see this DVD by clicking the title of this blog)

The film's trailer:

Monday, June 8, 2009

House-warming: Amityville 3 - The Demon(1983)

I've always had a great fondness for horror movies about haunted houses. The Haunting(1963), directed by Robert Wise, is still my absolute favorite and I think one of the best "haunted house" movies ever produced. Obviously there are more films featuring haunted abodes that litter the movie "landscape", some good and some bad. One film that rates as bad, but one I still have a lot of fun watching, is Amityville 3 - The Demon, directed by Richard Fleischer and originally opening in theaters back in November of 1983.

The film's story: "Reveal" magazine writer John Baxter buys a Long Island house from a local realtor named Clifford Sanders, despite the house's long history of purported ghosts and spirits borne out of a horrifying family tragedy many years before. Baxter settles in inside the house, even invites his daughter to inspect the home. Baxter's purchase of this house, not surprisingly, sets off a chain of events that result in the deaths of many people close to him, both personally and professionally. In the end Baxter seeks out the help of a paranormal scientist, Eliott West, to find the answers to these mysterious deaths.

This film is noticeably campier than the two previous "Amityville" movies. Tony Roberts is solid as "John Baxter", Tess Harper portraying Baxter's estranged and presumably soon to be ex wife, "Nancy". Lori Loughlin plays Baxter's daughter "Susan" and a young Meg Ryan is Susan's friend 'Lisa". These and the other characters of this movie are all serviceable but the star attraction of the third "Amityville" film is the house itself. Admittedly, the special effects could have been a lot better but the Amityville house, despite the effects shortcomings, definitely takes on a life of its own.

Several sequences do well to hold my attention regarding the otherworldly and, turns out, demonic effects going on in this creepy abode: the realtor Sanders(played by John Harkins) has a particularly unpleasant experience with flies, Baxter's daughter "Susan" goes on a sailing trip to hell, literally, Baxter's photographer assistant Melanie meets with a sudden and gruesome demise and paranormal researcher "Elliott West"(played by Robert Joy) has an up close and personal encounter with the demon in the basement of the house.

Creaking doors, slamming doors and thumps and bumps are expected in any "haunted house" film and they're present here, as well as a hole in the basement described by those familiar with the house as "a gateway to hell", a description that later in the movie becomes reality. There's also a nasty and very hostile demonic force at work in this film, manifest in the form of a fly for a great portion of the movie. Thankfully the entire appearance of the demon isn't revealed until the end of the movie: the monster won't scare the hell out of veteran horror movie buffs like me but it's sufficiently hideous enough to perhaps evoke a jump or two from someone who doesn't watch many horror movies.

The film's teaser trailer:
Teaser - Amityville 3-D

Monday, June 1, 2009

Bad Vibes: From Beyond(1986)

Actor Jeffrey Combs became something of an iconic figure with his performance as "Dr. Herbert West" in the 1985 horror movie Re-Animator, this movie helmed by Stuart Gordon and a wild, zany affair replete with over the top violence, gore, lots of blood, deadpan one liners and terrific makeup effects. In 2003 Combs reprised the role in Beyond Re-Animator.

While I like Combs in these films, based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, there's another horror movie, also based on an H.P.Lovecraft tale, that puts the skills of this actor on display: From Beyond, also directed by Stuart Gordon and starring Jeffrey Combs, Ted Sorel, Barbara Crampton and Ken Foree.

The film's story: genius physicist Dr. Edward Pretorius(played by Ted Sorel), has built a machine to stimulate the pineal gland, believing that this bodily organ, when aroused, develops into an extra "sense". His loyal assistant, Dr. Crawford Tillingast(played by Jeffrey Combs), turns on the powerful device, called "The Resonator".

The machine, turns out, does work. Tillingast, alarmed by the machine's effects on him, wants to turn it off. Not so for Dr. Pretorius. The "Resonator" generates a glowing magnetic field...and apparently something else: another dimension, filled with levitating, ravenous airborne worm like creatures and another worm like creature that dines on Dr. Pretorius' head, killing the physicist. Tillingast, understandably horrified at his mentor's death, flees the house and is arrested and promptly locked up for the murder of his employer and mentor, Pretorius. A beautiful psychiatrist, Dr. McMichaels, comes along(played by Barbara Crampton), interviews Tillingast, believes his story and description of Pretorius' ultimate fate, and takes Tillingast back to the house and it's attic lab to turn the machine back on. A cop(played by Ken Foree) accompanies the two back to Dr. Pretorius' house and hangs around, much to his chagrin, for the shenanigans that follow.
Predictably, the machine is turned back on and we see Dr. Pretorius now incarnate as this other dimension worm like monster, able to shape shift and displaying a decidedly sadistic streak in addition to its appetite for human heads. After a second round of horror at the house, Tillingast, now bald from nearly being devoured by the worm-Pretorius thing, is hospitalized and rapidly transforms into a potato headed looking freak, his ghoulish appearance aided by the pineal gland that now appears, snake like from his forehead. Both the psychiatrist and Tillingast go back to the house of horrors one last time for a final showdown with the monstrosity that was Dr. Pretorius.

Observations: The makeup effects are stellar and impress. The animatronic effects are serviceable. Clearly the person, or persons, tasked with designing the Pretorius-creature had a vivid imagination. I would suggest anyone who needs to periodically make themselves vomit with a finger down their throat simply watch certain sequences of this movie instead. I'm certain the bile will develop considerably more quickly watching select scenes from this film, especially Tillingast's second stay at the hospital when, not satisfied with the hospital's food, he quickly opts to incorporate human brain matter into his diet.

Jeffrey Combs is IMO terrific as the sympathetic and victimized scientist. Barbara Crampton is solid and her "dominatrix" scene is memorable, well, it would be for any straight males, I would think. Ken Foree is, well Ken Foree, a big, rangy man who talks and shoots straight. The "Resonator" machine effects are not spectacular but contain just enough lights and menacing noises to ensure that the viewer gets the impression nothing good can possibly come from having this thing turned on.

MGM released From Beyond as an unrated "Director's Cut" DVD back in September, 2007 and it's the definitive DVD release of this movie, stocked with many extras. This DVD presents the movie in it's original widescreen aspect ratio of 1:85.1.

From Beyond(1986) is one of my favorite '80s horror movies: it both sickens and fascinates at the same time, not an altogether easy thing to do, back then...and now.

The "Unrated Director's Cut" DVD for sale at Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Unrated-Directors-Cut/dp/B000RPCK2O/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1243900380&sr=1-1

The trailer for From Beyond: