Thursday, July 30, 2015

Chariots of the Gods (1970)

It's pretty clear that it has always bothered white people to discover that other races they deemed "primitive" had thriving advanced civilizations thousands of years ago, while their own ancestors were busy shitting in their own water supply up until about the 19th century. How could this be?

Somewhere around the mid-20th century, a growing movement concluded that of course those brown people didn't make their own civilizations. They had help from "ancient astronauts"--advanced creatures from outer space that apparently decided it would be fun to teach humans how to stack rocks. And for some reason they just didn't like Europeans as much as the rest of the world, because they only taught them how to make Stonehenge.

It's sadly unsurprising that this idiotic hypothesis has held on as long as it has--after all, people still think the moon landing was faked despite the process of faking such a thing convincingly in 1969 would be more difficult than actually landing on the moon. Just turn on almost any "educational" channel and you'll see a guy who looks like a Babylon 5 extra presented as "expert testimony" while he claims space geckos built Angkor Wat.

Wait, maybe he actually does know what he's talking about...
I'm no expert on this phenomenon, but it seems like the biggest catalyst was the 1968 book Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Däniken. Unsurprisingly, the book led to today's film, a "documentary" that was actually nominated for an Oscar.

The film opens with generic credits over a star field, while a song that I swear wants to be "Telstar" with all the soul sucked out of it plays. We here learn that this is actually based on two of von Däniken's books, Chariots of the Gods and Return to the Stars. I'm sure neither is actually intended as fiction but still contains less truth than the average pulpy sci-fi story. There's also credits for special effects, so I'm anxiously awaiting some ridiculous re-enactment sequences.

Interrestingly, the producer and director both have "Dr." before their names, no doubt to lend credence to this whole charade.

The film opens with a dramatic zoom into an image of a galaxy, before cutting to footage of an observatory in California accompanied by music that convinces me I was right in my earlier accusation of ripping off "Telstar." Our narrator for the evening drones on about the special road built to transport the telescope's mirror, and expresses how many zeroes there are in the expression of mileage for light years, before he finally gets to his point--the ages old question of how many of the billions of observable stars in the universe may have life on the planets orbiting them.

And the narrator makes his thesis statement: there are 50 million stars in the Milky Way alone that could support life, so it's entirely possible that some time in our planet's past we had visitors from one of these worlds. "Possible" does not mean "likely," but I'm sure the narrator doesn't care. We get more "ooh, ahh" shots of galaxies before the narrator begins quoting from random scientists whose statements back up the central thesis. My favorite being a quote from Hermann Oberth claiming that, "Scientists are quick to adapt a negative attitude toward new ideas," and using an obsolete fear of the dangers of train travel as an example. Because somehow "aliens did it" is supposed to be as revolutionary an idea as trains were and we all know scientists are big sticklers for never doing anything new ever.

This bit ends with them apparently ends with them accosting a Russian scientist outside in the cold, where the translation assures us he is saying that aliens definitely visited Earth because of the evidence they left behind. He then gestures at the spires of a cathedral, thanks to the mismatch between the translation and his gestures. Jesus confirmed as space alien!

The narrator then talks of how man has always wanted to reach the stars, and that learning to fly was never enough. This is followed, for some reason, by footage of rockets blowing up during takeoff. It kind of undercuts the narrator's assertion following these failures that mankind will be on Mars within the 20th century, and Venus by the 21st.

Sadly, we all know this film's predictions for the future are as full of crap as its claims about the past.

The narrator then asks, if human astronauts ever land upon a distant star, "will they be treated as enemies or as gods?" What? Why are those the only two options?

The film then asserts that we have seen this happen virtually every time an advanced civilization met a primitive one, which is how it segues into talking about Cargo Cults in the South Pacific during World War II. This includes a recreation with "natives" building wicker planes and crude runways. The natives almost look authentic except they're all wearing really damn obvious wigs. The film explains the idea of cargo cults and then explains that it's possible all Earthly religions started the same way.

So I guess I wasn't far off with the Space Alien Jesus joke.

The film proceeds to get even more inadvertantly hilarious as it asserts that all over the world religions are based around visits from advanced astronauts. 'They don't call them that, of course," the narrator admits. Yeah, funny how that works.

The narrator talks of so-called descriptions of spaceships and rocket launches to be found in the ancient scrolls of Tibet, the epic of Gilgamesh, and then hilariously talks about the destruction of Sodom and Gamorrah. After leading in with how Lot and his family were led to safety in the mountains, the narrator says, "We know now that mountains can protect against radioactivity [!]," before suggesting that the destruction of the two cities was describing an atomic explosion.

Well, assuming that the "angels" are actually "aliens" and that the Old Testament tells us the cities were destroyed at least partially because its citizens were trying to sexually assault the angels that visited Lot...then I guess the aliens decided the appropriate response to attempted anal probing was to take off and nuke the site from orbit. Only way to be sure.

We then see a fresco of Jesus on the cross, and the music--perhaps to make you so disoriented as to have no choice but to agree with the narrator--goes absolutely bonkers, loud and ill-matched to the footage as the narrator claims the two figures in the top corners of the fresco are clearly men in spaceships. If that's the case, they're engaged in a space battle or a drag race, which is a very rude time for them to choose to do that, what with the Savior slowly dying and all below them while his followers mourn him. The narrator directs us to look at the onlookers averting their eyes from the spaceships. The "onlookers" shown have angel wings, so either the narrator has lost the thread of his argument or these are aliens who are just appalled at the actions of Gleegark and Phil, Also, one is holding his nose so either rocket fumes stink or he's about to sneeze.

This is why nobody ever invites Gleegark and Phil to a crucifixion.
We next see a cave painting in Italy, which we are to interpret as showing two guys in "overalls" and helmets with antennae on them. Maybe it does, but it's so faded that it could be two Roman Emperors having a dance-off. The film quickly moves to Istanbul, where it claims some maps there from "the Orient" show things that could only be viewed from space at the time they were drawn, like a landmass the narrator assures us is Antarctica.

The film then lets the musicians freestyle a little before it gets to that favorite argument spot of ancient astronaut theorists: the Pyramids of Giza. (The narrator pronounces it "Gizz-uh" instead of "Geez-uh", so he's clearly lost all credibility) Now, as usual, the narrator argues that the pyramids would have taken 600 years to build with existing techniques. Even though, it's been figured out that the way the Egyptians transported the stones was by wetting the sand--in fact their hieroglyphics show them doing this but archaeologists assumed it was just a picture of a "ritual."

True hilarity results when the narrator tells us that, "if you multiply the height of the Pyramid of Cheops by one billion, it equals almost exactly the distance from the Earth to Sun; a mere coincidence?" Um, I'm gonna have to say a firm "yes" on that, Sparky.

"Tyrannosaurus Rex had two fingers. If you multiply that by 375, you have roughly the average number of legs on a milipede; a mere coincidence?!"
Leaving aside the fact that it's a totally arbitrary figure, the narrator tells us that the pyramid is 455 feet high. You multiply that by a billion and you get 455,000,000,000 feet or around 86,174,242 miles. The distance from the Earth to the Sun is 92,960,000 miles. So you're only off by around 6 million miles. That is not "almost exactly," but why are we assuming that ancient Egyptians and their alien buddies used the Imperial System of measurement in the first place?

Yeah, nice try, Sparky.

Of course, he then claims the pyramids sit exactly at the longitude dividing Europe and Africa, and if you divide the width of the base by the height of the pyramid, you get "exactly the figure Pi" centuries before a European mathematician discovered it. This is supposed to awe us, but--I'm sorry, "exactly the figure Pi'?! First of all, here's the first 100,000 digits of Pi--and keep in mind the reason Spock trapped the vengeful ghost of Jack the Ripper in the ship's computer by telling to calculate Pi out to the last digit is because we have no idea how it ends!

Even if the narrator means 3.14159, that's not that impressive because Pi or very similar concepts to it have been used for centuries--confirmed records of it in ancient China and, yes, Egypt, date back at least as far as 1850 B.C. So am I supposed to be surprised that a white guy discovered a concept in the 15th Century that even Archimedes had used and, coincidentally, is the height and width of a pyramid divided?

Also, you'll be amazed to discover that the height/width division does not equal 3.14 at all. It seems that all the facts presented in this documentary could only have passed the smell test in an age before Google. Mere coincidence?!

The film goes on to talk about actual history, including burial chambers that were painted by sunlight through the use of mirrors to reflect light deep into tunnels. But then it gets stupid again, by advising that the mummification process was thought to be a religious ritual until it was recently discovered to be Egyptians unsuccessfully attempting to recreate a physical preservation method used by their alien visitors.

And by discovered, the narrator means that someone pulled that "fact" out of their ass.

Seriously, if ancient Egyptians were supposedly imitating the process of preserving a body for later revivification--as the narrator is suggesting--then their alien visitors didn't bother to explain to them that you need your brain and internal organs in order to come back to life. One of the frst steps of mummification, remember, was pulling the brain out through the nose with a hook and then discarding it. Implying this was the Egyptians poor imitating advance alien visitors is pretty insulting, on several levels.

The film then talks of various structures that could not have been moved by ancient Egyptians because in the 20th Century it took modern man 3 years to move them when they had to be relocated for the construction of a dam. I guess it's impossible that the Egyptians could have just simply taken longer? Also, if you take a shot every time the narrator says, "No one knows how," in this sequence, you would probably be pretty buzzed before the film gets bored of Egypt and moves on to Greece.

However, rather than wondering how the Greeks built their buildings, the narrator observes that the buildings were built on top of an even more ancient terrace. So, naturally, this terrace was the landing pad for spacecraft. Because of course it was.

The film drifts over to Djanet in Algeria to some cave paintings that the narrator insists are aliens. The music drops the harpsichord it's been tinkling on since Greece so someone can slow jam the main line of "Telstar" on an electric guitar. This does not convince me that I am seeing aliens and spaceships, especially since one drawing is clearly a stylized snail. Even the narrator admits there are other explanations, as if that makes his argument stronger.

There are much talk of cave paintings that "clearly" show astronauts, which just makes me wonder why the filmmakers are so convinced that ancient astronauts would look so much like modern ones? Why are we assuming that they would have the exact same configurations of legs, arms, and heads that humans do? What if the aliens were giant tardigrades?

Hey, look, an astronaut!
Then the narrator gives up doing his job, which is speaking, when we next see an ancient ruin in Zimbabwe where he trails off in the middle of what is clearly a "Was it thing A, thing B, or thing C?" line in a such a way that leaves you waiting for the "or thing C" that won't be coming. Also, clearly aliens built that ruin because no human could stack bricks like that.

Next up, it's time for the Aztecs to get their intelligence insulted as the narrator ponders if they had extraterrestrial help in creating their damn calendar. Seriously, you may have picked up on it by now, but this film's thesis is literally "if I don't completely understand it, that means aliens did it." Pretty ironic given that they're suggesting Earthly religions are all cargo cults, but their evidence is just as baseless as "if I don't completely understand it, God did it."

Next, the narrator tells us the pyramids of Mexico were clearly influenced by the intervention of Quetzalcoatl, whom the narrator describes as a light-skinned bearded man (of course) from the stars who taught the Aztecs everything they knew about anything of value before returning to the stars after promising to return one day. Never mind that, in many myths--Quetzalcoatl being one of those Gods who really got around--he killed himself, usually for the betterment of humanity. The narrator mentions the fact that Quetzalcoatl is always portrayed as a feathered serpent but does not offer any bullshit explanation for this. Sadly, I doubt this means the film is suggesting an actual feathered serpent came down from the stars to aid humanity.

Maybe if David Icke had been involved.

The filmmakers are also basing their description of Quetzalcoatl as a space honky on the claims that the Aztecs believed Hernán Cortés was the return of Quetzalcoatl. You'll be totally shocked to know that historians now mostly believe that a self-important, greedy mass murderer might have been making shit up to make himself sound more awesome. Especially since the Aztecs didn't actually have any doctrine that claimed Quetzalcoatl would return. But that's inconvenient to the thesis here.

Next we see some statues that the narrator insists appear to be wearing strange helmets, have boxy control units on their chests, and are carrying tools or weapons unknown on Earth. The filmmakers clearly have no concept of artistic license or stylization, and would go mad if presented with abstract art.

"Could Duchamp have witnessed a rebellion at an alien robot factory? How did he create this image without a computer to digitize his colors onto the canvas? No one knows how."
We've insulted the Aztecs' intelligence enough, now time for the poor Mayans to get it. After assuring us that a building is a Mayan Observatory and looks nearly identical to a modern day one, the narrator points out a figure that he claims is pulling a lever and wearing a helmet with antennae. It does not look like that at all, but thanks for playing!

Next the narrator points out a deep well that Mayans supposedly threw sacrifices into, and claims that the perfectly round cylinder that the well forms proves it was not natural--and therefore the product of an enormous rocket firing. So our ancient visitors were incredibly careless with their massively destructive rockets? Hot-rodding assholes.

The mysterious collapse of the Mayan civilization is brought up, but oddly the film drops it almost immediately. The mysterious stone heads in the jungle, that are 80 miles from any known quarry, are also quickly glossed over. That's two actual, unexplained mysteries that the movie quickly skips over so it can try to sell you on the stunning find of "The Winged God of Palanque," a mural it is increasingly desperate to sell you on as a representation of a man in a rocket capsule. This includes claiming he is wearing a jacket that fits tight at the wrists, when anyone can clearly see the figure is not wearing anything above the waist and the "cuffs" are bracelets.

"Look, you can plainly see his arm says 'NASA' on the bicep!"
At this point, I just feel embarrassed for the narrator. However, it's now time to go use Easter Island as evidence. Per our narrator, the famous stone moai could not have been made by humans, there are legends of priests who could manipulate mana, the island is strangely magnetic--it's just boring by this point so the film even stops to play you more knock-off "Telstar" over footage of the moai.

Why was somebody credited with special effects, again? Because there haven't been any to speak of.

We now go to Cuzco so the narrator can insult the intelligence of the Incas by telling us that the bricks left behind by their ancient cities could not have been made with anything less than modern technology. Worse, he once again trots out the interstellar cracker hypothesis when he says that the Incas told Pizarro that the masons were light-skinned, bearded, red-headed men. Look, as a ginger, I am well aware that my people seem to be ill-suited to the planet Earth, but this is all proving my original point far better than I expected.

It's not enough for the filmmakers to declare that aliens helped ancient brown-skinned civilizations to be awesome. No, those aliens must not only be humanoid but white. Because surely only white people are allowed to be technologically resourceful.

After assuring us that Machu Picchu was also supposedly built by these astro-gingers, the film dawdles a bit in a temple on the shores of Lake Titicaca without actually bothering to do more than say, "Hey, isn't that carved figure odd-looking?"

Then it's time for a brief stop-over in Australia. Here the film talks about a rock painting of a Goddess who supposedly came from the stars to teach humanity her wisdom. Despite the fact that even the few paintings that we see of the Goddess don't match each other, the narrator wonders who the model for the painting was and why so many representations look like her across the world. Never mind that even the brief cutting between the various "aliens" we've seen so far doesn't disguise the fact that none of them look alike. If we're supposed to be convinced that the similarity of figures all over the world means aliens visited us, maybe they should actually look alike?

We then see a figurine called a Dogū from Honshu, Japan, while the crazed Russian who collects them is translated for us as he explains that the Dogū clearly show people in space suits with "Eskimo"-like slit goggles and mechanical claw hands. The Russian has an answer for those who object that the figure is just a God, by asking how the sculptors could have created all the details on the figurines "without seeing the model?"

Did he just ask how Japanese sculptors could have sculpted something without having something just like it to base it on? Does he think the ancient Japanese didn't have imaginations? I mean, two can play at that game. Clearly Godzilla was real because how could the Japanese have designed him without seeing the model, huh, smart guy?!

Next up, the narrator brings our attention to the ol' ancient battery in a clay pot and a polished lens that was cut with some precision instrument. Again, these are proof of aliens because Europeans didn't discover how to make these things until centuries later! Clearly, if it happened before white people did it, the only explanation is aliens!

Next, we see another crazed Russian who claims to know of two relics that are astounding in their implications. One is an ancient bison skull that the narrator claims was killed with a bullet. I have my doubts that "round hole in skull" equals "bullet" and that's all the visual evidence we are given of this claim, but okay. The other is supposedly a cave painting from Uzbekistan, but when we see it--or what is supposedly a copy of it--it is so obviously bogus as to make you laugh aloud even before a quick Google tells you it's several different kinds of phony. I'm just shocked that these people would lie to me, man.

Aliens take chess very, very seriously, man.
The film does a quick rundown of the various sites they've taken us to thus far, perhaps to distract us from obviously fake that cave painting is. Then it randomly shows us a supposed cave painting from Japan of the Futurama space ship that looks no more authentic than the Uzbeki-beki-stan-stan job. Then we see a gold sculpture of a "flying machine" that is supposedly aerodynamic--but it sure looks like a shark or skate to me.

Incredibly, the narrator assures us there is still more evidence. Oh God, why? The evidence he means are the Nazca Lines in Peru. While it is true that the patterns can only be seen from the sky and no one knows why, the narrator's assertion that it was clearly a landing field is pretty laughable. For one thing, if that was its intended purpose then whomever built it would have made it durable enough that Greenpeace's recent little climate change stunt wouldn't have resulted in them facing criminal charges for defacing it. Meanwhile, the narrator earlier claimed alien rockets could cut holes in rock, so...

After assuring us that "we may doubt the conclusions, but we cannot ignore the evidence," the film does a final montage to the knock-off "Telstar" theme. The narrator concludes the film as we watch a spinning galaxy effect, by trailing off with with the mind-numbing, "Were the Gods astronauts? Do you suppose, once upon a time...once upon a time...once upon a time...?"

Because nothing sells your super-serious documentary like fairy tale language.

I came into this film convinced it was full of shit, but you know, when I left it I was convinced it was really, really full of shit. I mean, from willful misrepresentation of evidence to outright lying, this film couldn't be more amazingly pathetic in its attempt to convince me.

Naturally, like most proponents of "ancient astronaut" theory, it doesn't bother to offer any explanations or even hypotheses for why. I mean, why did its proposed star mayonnaise people come to Earth, teach us how stack rocks and draw them, and then return to the stars--never to be seen again? If they came all that way, influenced cultures all over the world--apparently for long periods of time--why did they then just bugger off forever?

As a "theory" there's nothing to it beyond a little bit of "how did they do that awesome stuff before white people did it" mixed with "wouldn't it be cool if..." and a touch of "a wizard did it." I could just as easily argue that the ancient Egyptians had telekinetic powers but lost them due to breeding with mundane humans. There's as much evidence to support that claim as there is to support, "aliens did it," and it's no less ridiculous.

Still, even a dumb concept can at least be entertaining. This isn't. The film makes a lot of pretense of it being a part of an expedition and revealing stuff for the first time, but it doesn't feel that way at all. There's also no focus. It jumps back and forth between continents with no rhyme or reason. There's not even an attempt at, "If you look at this, it makes sense of that!" It manages to have a short attention span and drags on past the point of any interest.

The music is at least trying to be interesting, but not only does it seem weirdly derivative, its very attempt to be interesting means it feels more out of place than the soundtrack to a Jess Franco film.

I suppose if you find loony conspiracy theories fascinating or hilarious, you might get a kick out of this. For me this film felt more like having to watch something for homework than a lot of the truly awful films I've subjected myself to over the years. I can't even call it terrible, just boring.

It's not really the film's fault, but in a world where we have channels that can devote an entire broadcasting day to shows based on these silly conspiracy theories, there just isn't anything that stands out about it. Maybe someday we'll move past this obsession and this crap will all seem new again.

Was there a time when we weren't bombarded with this crap? Do you suppose, once upon a time...once upon a time..once upon a time...

Take a look at the other true bullshit that the Celluloid Zeroes dug up for you!

Checkpoint Telstar watched something good Without Warning.

Micro-Brewed Reviews hasn't been seen since he visited The Bermuda Triangle.

Cinemasochist Apocalypse looked into whether there's any truth to the Legend of Chupacabra.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Horror Express (1972)

June 2015 began with some of the worst possible news for any film fan: Sir Christopher Lee had passed at the age of 93. It seemed impossible that the man should ever actually die. After all, he didn't seem to age at all from about the mid-1990s until his death, and the man played Dracula eight times--surely he was just as hard to kill as the creature he portrayed?

Sadly, despite all the superhuman things Christopher Lee had done in his life--which I won't detail here because there are simply so many--he was just a man. Some day we were going to have to say goodbye to him, and content ourselves with the fact that he left behind 278 acting credits because he had spent a long life doing precisely what he loved.

Even if doing what he loved did occasionally mean that he felt it necessary to do things like introducing himself to Joe Dante by apologizing for having starred in The Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf.

Well, naturally my fellow Celluloid Zeroes and I couldn't let the month pass without paying tribute to Sir Lee. I'd already done a review of Lee's favorite role, and just reviewing one of his random Dracula films didn't feel right. So I thought I would take a look a one of his slightly more obscure roles--and a role as a hero, which is not a part he usually played.

It's also one of my favorite Lee roles, as a heroic Victorian scientist who is still a bit of an arrogant prick just the same.

I don't always start off by adressing a film's credits, but these are especially ill-conceived so I feel I must. While the film's haunting theme music and train sound effects provide the audio part of this sequence, the visual component is a bright light moving randomly through darkness. Having a bright light flickering behind white letters means that several of the credits are utterly illegible.

I choose to believe any obscured credits belong to people who displeased the director.

The film the opens with a view of a frozen mountain that an on-screen title informs us is in the Szechuan Province of China in 1906. Our hero Professor Alexander Saxton (Sir Christopher Lee, of course!), then narrates, "The following report to the Royal Geological Society by the undersigned Alexander Saxton is a true and faithful account of the events that befell the society's expedition in Manchuria. As the leader of the expedition, I must accept the responsibility for its ending in disaster. But I will leave, to the judgement of the honorable members, the decision as to where the blame for the catastrophe lies." So obviously the expedition didn't go so well.

Saxton himself then appears before us in a cave, with Lee rocking a mustache this time around, as he follows a native guide through the cave's twists and turns. Suddenly, a haunting wistling is heard. Saxton shines his light on the guide, but it isn't coming from him. Just as suddenly Saxton sights his prize: a hominid frozen in ice, almost perfectly preserved with its one intact eye staring outward at the world that moved on without it.

"Close the door! You tryin' to refrigerate the whole neighborhood?"
Saxton has the hominid loaded into a crate and wrapped in a tarp and chains for travel before you know it, and next we see the crate it's waiting to be loaded onto the Trans-Siberian Express in Peking (or Beijing, if you want to be all correct about it). To the film's credit, most of the extras do appear to actually be Chinese since even in 1972 I wouldn't put it past a Spanish-British co-production to just use yellowface.

Saxton, meanwhile is having rather a lot of difficulty in the ticket office, as it appears that the reservation aboard the train that he telegrammed for has not been set aside. The ticket officer brushes him off, and then Saxton makes the unpleasant discovery that a professional rival, Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing!), is waiting to board as well. Wells introduces his assistant, Miss Jones (Alice Reinhear), and it must be noted that Saxton is able to shift from barely contained annoyance at Wells to polite pleasantries with Jones without missing a beat.

Meanwhile, a thief who never learned subtlety manages to distract the guard away from Saxton's crate and goes to work at picking the lock. When the guard returns, he finds the crate unlocked and partially pried open--and the thief lying dead nearby, his wide eyes bone white and pupil-less.

Saxton's annoyance grows even more when Wells successfully bribes his way into tickets for himself and Jones. Saxton disapproves of bribery and opts for trying to intimidate the ticket agent by smashing everything off the fellow's desk. And then some British troops arrive, having apparently been sent to assist Saxton. This sells his intimdation routine much better and he gets his ticket.

At Saxton's crate, a Russian monk named Father Pujardov (Alberto de Mendoza), who looks more than a little like another Russian monk, is praying over the thief's course. A Russian policeman, Inspector Mirov (Julio Peña) arrives and scoffs at the idea of redemption for a notorious thief. Pujardov is confused by Mirov's account of the man in life, for the man he is praying over is surely blind. Mirov laughs the monk's observation off--until he sees the body. "I'll be damned," he mutters and Pujardov stiffens and responds in the best possible B-Horror movie way, "The Work of The Devil!"

When Pujardov tries to break open the crate, Saxton intervenes. Unsurprisingly, he is unconcerned about the death of someone trying to steal his precious fossil and rather brusque in giving Mirov the brushoff. Until Pujardov gets everyone's attention by announcing, "Where there is God, there is always room for the cross," before drawing a cross on the floor with chalk. "Where evil is, there is no room for the cross," he intones before trying to draw a cross on the crate...and no mark is left. "A conjurer's trick," Saxton spits disdainfully. But Mirov is not so sure.

Once the crate is loaded onto the train, its occupant makes suspicious groaning noises that Saxton opens it to investigate but then chooses to write off as its gradually melting contents shifting. Wells tries to get Saxton to reveal its contents but Saxton refuses to budge on that score. (There is some delightful Cushing and Lee banter here) So Wells takes the train's porter aside and slips him some money, requesting with typical Cushing charm that the porter break into the crate that night and report to him what's inside.

Meanwhile, Countess Irina Petrovski (Silvia Tortosa) arrives in the baggage area carrying a small dog. She has something valuable for the porter to place in the safe, but naturally her dog begins to get agitated at the presence of the frozen creature. The "here's our love interest" music begins as Irina gets Saxton's attention, asking what is in his crate that could be frightening her dog. Saxton visibly warms up as he assures her that there's nothing in the crate that would interest her dog. The two flirt over a mutual respect for England and Poland, even when she casually mentions her husband. But when she tries to investigate the crate, Saxton deliberately diverts her by offering to escort her back to her carriage.

Along the way to his own carriage, Saxton makes the acquaintance of a peculiar gentleman playing chess by himself. The chess player advises he is an engineer and has confirmed that Pujardov's chalk was genuine. Saxton writes it off as, "Hypnosis. Yoga," and moves on. Meanwhile, a mysterious redheaded woman, a stowaway, has found her way to Wells' compartment and begun pleading with him to help her. It's bad timing, then, the it turns out that Saxton's compartment is the same as Wells'--he's the top bunk. And I have to enjoy a little giggle at the mental image of 6'5" Christopher Lee attempting to fit into the bunk displayed here, since he can barely fit when he sits on the edge of it.

While Saxton ignores Wells' attempts to convince him to find another compartment without an attractive, desperate redhead in it--the porter sets to work undoing a few screws in the crate so he can glance inside. He's whistling that same tune from earlier as he does it, but when he goes to fetch more light--a hairy arm reaches out of the crate and attempts to break the chains. That doesn't work, so the arm grabs a nearby nail and bends it, before picking the lock on the chains--almost as though it had absorbed the knowledge of a thief who had been an expert at doing the same. When the porter comes back and desperately tries to stop the creature breaking free, he makes the mistake of looking into its glowing red eye.

"Yeah, I know, my blinker's been on since the Miocene!"
The porter bleeds profusely from his eyes and nose, and his eyes go pupil-less and white, before he falls dead. The whistling tune begins again as the hairy fiend frees itself from the crate. Meanwhile, Pujardov waits in the cabin of Count Marion Petrovski (George Rigaud). The small dog is frightened again, but neither Petrovski nor Irina are all that concerned, while Pujardobv is torn between being alarmed at the dog's fear and being disgusted by the fact that Petrovski and Irina are discussing which dress she should wear when Saxton inevitably calls on her. I'm pretty sure the Count and Countess have an open relationship, but the movie doesn't come right out and say it. Petrovski teases Pujardov for forgetting his place, enjoying tormenting the mad monk with joking threats of unemployment. When Irina stops playing the piano, a voice whistling the tune she had been playing echoes through the train--amusing her and terrifying Pujardov.

Mirov summons Saxton and Wells to the baggage area. The porter is missing and he thinks they know something about it, especially since the evidence suggests he was interrupted breaking into the crate. Saxton is outraged and when Mirov threatens bodily harm to him if he doesn't hand over the key, Saxton tosses it out the window of the speeding train. So the conductor opens the crate with an axe--and the porter's dead body is inside. Saxton immediately accepts that this must mean that, impossibly, the 2-million-year-old ape man he found must be alive and loose. Wells is incredulous, "You mean to tell me that a 2-million-year-old half-man half-ape, broke out of that crate, killed the baggage man, put him in there, and then locked it all up neat and tidy?" Mirov, however, opts for a middle ground between belief and skepticism--he orders Saxton locked up and sets his men to searching the train for a zombie man-ape, while pledging to keep it quiet to avoid panic.

Well, the zombie ape-man eludes Mirov's men easily enough, creeping through compartments. Eventually it ambushes one of them and kills him with its glowing red eye trick, before giving his partner the impression that it jumped off the train to escape. (We get entirely too good a look at the half-rotted ape suit in this sequence alone. It was definitely not a suit that was built for more than quick, barely-lit glimpses) Wells, meanwhile, is at dinner with the redhead but completely lost in thought. He barely notices when the chess-playing engineer joins them, and recognizes Wells' companion from a party held for the honor of one General Wang. She pulls the classic terrible spy trick of angrily telling him he's mistaken. Wells is momentarily distracted when a fish on a tray rolls by, and he observes its eye is white. "Well, naturally: it's boiled," the engineer helpfully replies.

Mirov then interrupts their dinner to enlist Wells' help with an autopsy of the porter, as well as letting slip about one of his men being dead and the creature having escaped. He does this in full earshot of the engineer and the spy, then tells the engineer to keep his nose out of it. Good job keeping everything hush hush, Inspector. Wells goes to Miss Jones' table and advises that he needs her assistance. "Yes, well at your age I'm not surprised," she replies, glancing at the spy and engineer. Wells' eyes go wide when he catches her meaning and he hisses, "With an autopsy!"

Bet you didn't expect a joke about Peter Cushing group sex in a Hammer knockoff! And oh, I hope I see that combination of search key words bring somebody to this blog, now.

While Wells and Jones set to work cutting open the porter's skull in the baggage car, Irina comes to visit Saxton in the compartment he's being held in. (She chose the blue dress instead of the red, for those who wondered) Saxton was already dining alone, so she keeps him company as he does. She teases him for being in a bad mood because he's lost his "box of bones." Saxton counters that that box of bones could have revolutionized science by providing incontrovertible proof of evolution. "I've heard of this evolution," Irina stammers, "it's--it's immoral!" Saxon responds with one of my favorite of all Lee's lines, "It's a fact. And there's no morality in a fact."

Meanwhile, Wells and Jones discover that the porter's brain is completely smooth. When Mirov asks what that means, Wells explains that as memories are stored in the brain, they leave a mark behind--resulting in a wrinkled surface. The porter's brain has been drained of all knowledge and memories. Naturally, this is total bullshit, but it fits with the Victorian-Era theories of science. The three leave the autopsy to get cleaned up--and as soon as they're gone the door to the baggage car slides open and the ape creature climbs back inside, closing the door behind itself.

After Wells gets cleaned up, he advises the spy in his cabin that the washroom is all hers. Of course, she immediately sneaks into the baggage area. She's after the safe, and after she cracks it she grabs the package that Irina had the porter place in the safe. She doesn't get anywhere, however, because the monster sets upon her and gives her the brain drain. When Wells realizes she's been gone an awful long time, he goes to investigate and finds the washroom empty--and the ape monster grabs him by the wrist when he opens the door to the baggage car. Luckily, Mirov appears and shoots through the door, barely missing Wells. When the door swings open, the wounded creature locks eyes with Mirov. Mirov sways, blood dripping from his nose, but he manages to put a fatal bullet into the monster before he collapses. The monster, dead for real this time, falls beside its last victim.

(And I must note that throughout this sequence we never see a clearly lit shot of the full creature. Why they couldn't keep it in the shadows during its earlier appearance is beyond me)

Mirov comes to, in bed, later. He moves a little oddly as he examines his right hand. When he sees is left hand under the covers he reacts with shock and is sure to keep it hidden from view when Saxton enters. Saxton is rather pleased that he has his fossil back and glad to see that Mirov is doing well. He explains to Mirov that he and Wells examined the murdered spy and confirmed she died the same way as the porter. Their hypothesis is that the creature used its eye to drain knowledge from its victims through their eyes, adding their intelligence to its own with each feeding. Saxton is a little troubled because he doesn't know if a creature capable of doing that could truly die.

When the conductor arrives with the item the spy was trying to steal, which was found in the creature's possession, to Saxton's astonishment--and Mirov grabs it while stating it belongs to Count Petroviski. He claims he knows because he saw Petrovski put it in the safe, but Saxton is quietly suspicious. Mirov and the conductor go to return the item to Petrovski, where Petrovski happily reveals that it's a bar of a new alloy--steel harder than a diamond. Everyone wants the formula, but Petrovski boasts that it's safely kept in his head. (Whoops) Pujardov observes that Mirov keeps his left hand in his pocket the whole time, but when he speaks it is to insist that the creature is not dead.

When Mirov scoffs that he put four bullets into the creature, Pujardov teasingly replies, "Do you think evil can be killed with bullets?" Perhaps exercising some previously unknown telekinesis, Mirov seems to cause a candle to snuff out and a holy image to fall from the wall to screw with Pujardov. Meanwhile, Saxton, Wells, and Jones remove the eye from the dead ape creature and begin poking it with needles to draw out the eye fluid. When viewed under a microscope, the eye fluid reveals something bizarre--an image of Mirov gunning it down. Saxton is pleased to have proved his hypothesis that the creature stored its visual memory not in its brain, but in its eye.

Yes, that absolutely makes no sense, but run with it.

Extracting more of the eye fluid reveals images (clearly drawings) of a Brontosaurus, a Pterodactyl, and finally the Earth seen from space. When Irina comes to visit the trio she finds them in a grand mood because of the find and when Saxton shows her the image of Earth--she calls for Pujardov. He'd been attempting to secrectly follow her, you see, but not very successfully. Seeing the image and being told it came from the eye only convinces Pujardov even more that the creature is Satan. After all, didn't Satan look down upon the Earth from Heaven before he was cast down?

Even Saxton is at a loss for a good counterargument to that. Though you'd think he'd have already realized the visual memories can't all belong to a 2-million-year-old hominid if they contain dinosaurs. Unfortunately, the darkness following a trip through a tunnel allows Pujardov to steal the eye and disappear. The group splits up to find him and Jones heads to the baggage car. Well, that is where Pujardov is hiding. However, before she can find him, Mirov finds her. Mirov asks her why the eye that Pujardov stole is important. She reveals that the eye contains images of ancient Earth and Earth as seen from space. She also happily tells him who else has seen the images, before Mirov reveals that his left hand is now the hairy, clawed paw of the ape monster--and he claps that paw over her mouth before shutting off the only source of light in the car. Now Mirov's eyes glow red (a practical make-up effect, but they really should have sprung for animation) and Jones falls dead, her eyes white.

"Oh, God! The Visine does nothing!"
Pujardov reveals himself to Mirov, offering up the eye, and begs for mercy. Mirov takes the eye, tosses it into a stove and begins to leave. Pujardov asks if Mirov is going to kill him, too, but Mirov scoffs that there's nothing worthwhile in the monk's brain. Before he can exit the baggage car, the door opens and Saxton and Wells arrive. Mirov casually declares that there's been another murder and shows them Jones' corpse.

The passengers raise an uproar later as the news gets around, but Mirov threatens to shoot anyone who tries to leave the train. He also eyes Wells, Saxton, and Irina as Jones' voice naming them as having seen the eye fluid's images echoes in his mind. As Saxton asks Wells who could have killed Miss Jones, Mirov wanders past and asks if Saxton knows. Saxton replies in the negative, but informs Mirov that he's already told the conductor to stop the train at the next stop. So Mirov's first order of business is to go to the conductor's office, dim the lights, and get his eye-glow on.

As Mirov is opening a window to chuck the conductor's body out, Pujardov suddenly appears. He's practically got heart eyes as he begs to know who Mirov is and eagerly offers to serve him. Mirov just tries to shove him away, but still doesn't kill him. Out the window goes the conductor, and Mirov walks off. Pujardov stares after him like an obsessed schoolgirl.

Wells, Saxton, Irina, and Petrovski discuss the deaths and begin to wonder if it's some kind of disease. Saxton ponders what the symptoms would be and Irina brings up the eyes. So they examine every passenger's eyes with a magnifying glass, but the last patient is Mirov and nothing unusual turns up. The engineer suggests maybe they should test for radiation or X-Rays, but Saxton points out they have no way of testing for that. Saxton then suggests that Mirov order all passengers to stay in groups so that no one is ever left alone.

Naturally, Saxton immediately ignores his own edict to search for the conductor, but at least he establishes that the man is missing. Further up the track, a group of Cossack soldiers are waiting for news of the train. Their telegraph operator advises that the train will arrive at their station in fourteen minutes. "Fourteen minutes," says a deep voice from beneath a fur blanket--and then the movie's oddest character emerges from beneath the blanket, Captain Kazan (Telly Savalas!). As he orders his soldiers to be ready outside in full pack, Kazan goes on a bizarre rant to the telegraph operator. Nothing he says seems to follow anything else, culminating in, "Send a telegram: Tell them that Captain Kazan: he knows that a horse has four legs, a murderer has two arms...but still, the Devil, must be afraid of one honest Cossack, hmm?"

If you say so, Kojack.

Back on the train, Mirov goes to visit the engineer. The engineer's companion, an American passenger, has fallen asleep. Mirov asks if the engineer knows how to measure Earth's gravity and more importantly how to escape it. The engineer helpfully replies that it's not possible to do so yet, but he was taught by a man named Tsiolkovsky who did have some theories on how to do so. But, anyway, why is an Inspector so interested in rocket physics and why is he turning off the light with his strangely hairy hand...

Mirov then visits Saxton, who is alone again. Saxton reveals his hypothesis about the creature: millions of years ago, some intelligent life form came to Earth from another planet. In order to adapt to our atmosphere it entered the body of creatures living on Earth. Its latest host was the frozen animal that Saxton found. After its host was killed, it transferred to a new host--someone on the train. Wells arrives with a shotgun before Mirov can decide to make a move on Saxton, and Mirov asks what they intend to do if one of them is the monster. Wells replies in what is easily this film's most famous line, "Monster? We're British, you know!"

Wells, Saxton, and Irina soon find themselves in the dead engineer's compartment. The American woman tells them that the lights were on when she fell asleep and when she woke up again they were off--when she turned them back on, she found the body. Saxton realizes they tested everyone's eyes when the lights were on. Meanwhile, Pujardov leads his new master Mirov to his previous master, Petrovski. Petrovski is fiddling with a revolver when they arrive. Mirov asks what happens to the Count's new steel when it is exposed to high temperatures. Petrovski replies it gets stronger, but that depends on the temperature. Mirov is satisfied and makes his move towards unlocking the metal's formula--when those fourteen minutes finally run out and the train skids to a stop.

Cossacks board the train and round everyone up in the main car before the train starts back up again. Irina angrily shouts that she'll have Captain Kazan sent to Siberia, to which he dazedly replies, "I am in Siberia!" Still, after finding out who they are he has the Count and Countess escorted back to their car while he hollers, "Peasants! Peasants!" at the other passengers like he's in the middle of a Tumblr rant. He hollers that everyone is under arrest, including Mirov. "Who are the killers, who are the troublemakers? Who are the foreign influences, huh?!" he hollers as he accosts various passengers. Combine those lines with Telly Savalas being apparently uninterested in attempting a Russian accent and Kazan begins to sound like a Fox News host.

Saxton and Wells get a bit too uppity for Kazan's taste so they get a taste of some rifle butts. Meanwhile, his manhandling of Mirov while raving about "filth" sets off Pujardov. He threatens the Cossacks with a cross, which one of them declares to be "the evil eye." It doesn't work on Kazan, though. He takes the cross from Pujardov, borrows a cat-o-nine-tails from one of his underlings, and begins to whip the mad monk. Wells insists they stop it, but Saxton holds him back. Kazan asks why Pujardov was protecting Mirov, but Mirov dodges the question until Saxton makes his way back to the light switch...

...Mirov's eyes glow red in the brief darkness and he pulls out his hairy hand in alarm. He slashes one Cossack with his claws, but Kazan puts a dagger in his back and then two bullets to go with it. Mirov staggers out of the car. Kazan moves to follow him but Saxton stops him, warning how deadly those eyes of Mirov's are. Pujardov follows his wounded master, and offers his body as a replacement vessel, begging, "Come into me, Satan!"

"Notice me, Satan-Senpai!"
Well, Satan don't need to be asked twice. While Kazan gives orders to shoot anything that comes out of the doorway the two went through and has his men move the "peasants" out the other door, Mirov turns his glowy eyes to Pujardov and then dies. Pujardov goes all dreamy-eyed, collapses, and then rises with his own glowing eyes. And holy shit, the make-up effect is even worse on him than it was on Mirov.

"Senpai noticed me!"
Pujardov cuts the power to the lights. The Cossacks fire blindly at the door frame as Saxton and Wells herd the passengers back to the baggage car. The Cossacks meanwhile are finding that a dozen Cossacks are no match for one red-eyed monk. The white-eyed bodies pile up in the terrified confusion. As the passengers crowd into the baggage car, Saxton and Wells prep a bright lamp as a defense against the creature. It's too late for the Cossacks, of course. Kazan is the only one left alive at this point. He puts on a brave fight, struggling to stand, but finally he collapses just as dead and pupil-less as his men.

Finding a car full of dead Cossacks, Saxton sends Wells back to take care of the passengers. He takes the shotgun and the powerful light and goes on ahead. See, Petrovski and Irina are still in their car and that's just where Pujardov is appearing now. He swaggers into the car and muses aloud that in spite of everything, his old self liked the Count even as Petrovski humiliated him repeatedly. Pujardov turns out the lights and drains the formula right out of Petrovski's brain. Irina attacks him in anger, but she is no match for the creature he has become. Pujardov implies that his old self lusted after her--just as Saxton arrives with a bright light to stop him from using his brain drain on her.

Saxton traps Pujardov in a corner with the bright light and shotgun trained on him, demanding answers. Pujardov explains he is an energy being from another galaxy, who visited Earth with others of his own kind millions and millions of years ago, but was accidentally left behind. The creature then survived in various forms of life, going all the way up the evolutionary ladder as Earth grew. Pujardov appeals to Saxton as a scientist--surely he couldn't kill such a creature and can see that it should be allowed to go free. But Saxton is unconvinced.

Pujardov tries the "I can teach you how to cure all disease and advance your civilization" approach and nearly gets a face full of buckshot from Saxton, who has heard enough. However, Pujardov does succeed in making Saxton wait just long enough for him to start swaying--which is his way of bringing all his victims back to life as zombies. Zombie Petrovski shoots out the light before Irina can warn Saxton, but Saxton easily shoves off Pujardov as he and Irina flee...

...into a car full of zombie Cossacks. Luckily, these zombies can be out down with the same means as you'd kill a normal human and they're up against Christopher fucking Lee here, The zombies don't stand a chance, Saxton and Irina flee back to the baggage car as Pujardov drives the train, having killed its engineer, Wells and Saxton set about separating the baggage car from the train as whatever zombies Saxton didn't put down slowly advance on them.

Ahead on the tracks, the order has come through from Moscow to use the switching station to stop the train. This translates to diverting the tracks so that they head right off a cliff. I'm not sure why that was ever a contingency plan, but there you go. The telegraph operator assumes that they're being ordered to kill everyone on the train this way because there must be a war. That's a hell of an assumption, but then again it's not like anyone guesses "killer alien entity" on their first try.

Wells and Saxton unhook the baggage car just in time. The speeding train goes off the cliff as Pujardov screams, and the baggage car safely slows to a stop right at the edge as Saxton, Irina, and Wells watch the rest of the train exploding below them. Hopefully those guys at the station don't assume they have to murder the passengers now. But we won't find out, because as the more funkified version of the film's haunting theme kicks in, we pull away from the burning wreckage to view the Earth from space. The End.

"I feel like I should say something smart." "You don't have to say anything."
There are few treats for a genre fan quite like a film where Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing appear together. Beyond being longtime friends off camera, the two always played wonderfully off of each other regardless of whether the movie they were in deserved it.

Horror Express is no exception, and I am willing to go out on a limb and declare that it does deserve the full gravitas of Cushing and Lee.

It might be stretching it a bit to call this film an unsung classic, but it sure is a delightful horror story. I always have a certain fondness for films that try to tell a story well beyond their means. This film definitely falls into that category, but to its credit the cheapness of the film only rarely shows itself. If not for the scene we get of it in bright light, the ape monster would be a truly creepy monster and the miniatures used for the train only become painfully obvious during its destruction. And frankly the film is smart enough to spread its money around--there's never an effect that is so painfully bad that it draws you out of the film because everything else is too good, nor one inexplicably great effect that throws the awfulness of the rest into sharp relief. Everything balances at just the right level of competence.

And that's impressive in and of itself when you consider that this is a film about a missing link coming back to life to go on a brain-draining rampage on a Victorian train, only to turn out to be an ancient evil entity that can hop from body to body because it's an an energy being from another galaxy. If that's not enough, you have a mad Russian monk and zombies. This film crams a lot into its plot, even if that does occasionally mean its plot has a complete dead-end like the Cossacks boarding the train to seemingly do nothing aside from upping the body count.

Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are both wonderful. Lee sometimes had a tendency to let his contempt for a project show through in his performance, but that doesn't happen here so clearly he felt the project deserved his respect--though it could be that he was playing off of Cushing, who always gave a film his all. Saxton is a thoroughly engaging anti-hero, as a scientist who is more concerned with his great find than the mysterious deaths surrounding it but who still knows that evil must be stopped--and Saxton is made so engaging by Lee's wonderful presence. Cushing meanwhile is clearly having a blast with Wells, who is clearly self-interested and corrupt in many ways but also is just as determined to do the right thing.

The rest of the cast acquit themselves well enough, even though most of them are clearly dubbed. Thankfully, most of the dubbing actors seem to actually bother to act. Nobody really stands out as terrible, as much guff as a give him for not faking an accent even Telly Savalas does well as the inexplicable Captain Kazan,

The film also has a wonderful soundtrack. The haunting whistling that appears over and over stuck with me in full clarity, even though prior to this review it had probably been close to ten years since I'd watched it.

The film isn't perfect, of course. Sometimes its low budget betrays it, its pacing could sometimes be tighter, and there are some truly bizarre editing choices. In particular, most of the monster's attacks are full of subliminal images of the frozen creature, quick cuts of the train, and far too lengthy shots of the victims gradually dying that kind of undercut the actual horror of it. That would be fine if it was just the porter's death that we see rendered that way, but the grand majority are shown to us in far too much detail. Pujardov massacring the Cossacks is easily the best attack in the film because the deaths are forced to quick instead of drawn out.

Still, if you're a fan of Hammer-style horror films Horror Express is an absolute delight. It certainly spent a lot of time in my VCR after I happened across it in a bargain bin in high school. That isn't very surprising, of course. A wonderful monster concept, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing  having a blast, and a mad Russian monk. What's not to love?

All that and furry hats!
The Terrible Claw Reviews and my fellow Celluloid Zeroes have come together to honor the late Sir Christoper Lee with a roundtable in his honor.

Checkpoint Telstar: The Gorgon

Micro-Brewed reviews: The Devil Rides Out

Cinemasochist Apocalypse: Rasputin The Mad Monk

Friday, June 19, 2015

June Bugs 2015: Rebirth of Mothra (1996)

In the impressive pantheon of Godzilla's friends and foes, there is no more controversial a kaiju than Mothra. If there's a holy trinity of Toho kaiju that everyone outside the kaiju fandom knows and even loves, it's Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan. Like Rodan, Mothra made her debut in her own solo film and then crossed over into the Godzilla series. She's also easily the monster that has appeared the most in the series. Not counting stock footage (or related characters like Fairy Mothra), she has appeared in eight of the 30 Godzilla films to date. Compare that to Rodan's five and King Ghidorah's six (some people count Keizer Ghidorah in Godzilla: Final Wars as a seventh appearance, but that's stupid because it's a totally separate character--it's like considering Battra the same thing as Mothra). She's also been announced to feature in the sequel to Godzilla due in 2018, along with those slackers Rodan and King Ghidorah.

Also, unlike Rodan, she was actually deemed popular enough to get another shot at solo films in the 1990s. We'll get to that shortly, of course, but you may notice I said she was the most controversial kaiju. That's because a huge percentage of Godzilla fans hate Mothra.

I do mean hate, too. Many of them positively loathe Mothra. This is despite the fact that Mothra has been a part of many of the best entries in the series, and the original Mothra is also a classic in its own right. So why is Mothra so reviled?

Well, there are two main reasons*, in my opinion--and both are pretty silly in different ways. The biggest reason, and the reason I went from loving Mothra as a kid to hating her from my teen years to my mid-twenties, is because Mothra is the only monster to consistently defeat Godzilla. This is a bit like Batman beating the crap out of Superman, but the point of these confrontations is almost entirely about how Mothra manages to beat incredible odds to defeat Godzilla and save the day.

Because unlike the upcoming legal drama Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, if Mothra is fighting Godzilla it's because Godzilla is the bad guy.

The other reason is a bit more insidious because I'm pretty sure most people who hate Mothra for this reason aren't actually aware that they're doing it--plain and simple sexism. See, Mothra is one of the few explicitly female kaiju in canon. You may think I'm just being a Social Justice Warrior (why thank you), since after all almost nobody hates on Biollante, Megaguirus, Jiger, or Otachi just because they're explicitly female. There's a few key differences, though.

For starters, Mothra is like a Lisa Frank trapper keeper turned into a kaiju. She is the most traditionally "feminine" of kaiju--yes, even more than Biollante who is a giant flower--and she's also easily the most popular kaiju among women. I don't think this means that every Mothra hater is knowingly hostile to the creature because women dare to love her, but it's not like the geek/nerd community is well-known for being welcoming to women.

[* Some would argue it's because the concept of Mothra is "silly." To which I reply that if you can accept "giant electrified gorilla," "three-headed space dragon that spits lightning", and "humanoid robot programmed with punch cards that can teach itself how to increase in size" but draw the line at "giant insect goddess," then I am concerned about your suspension of disbelief]

Now, those reasons for disliking Mothra are silly. However, I have to say if your first exposure to the character was the 1990s Rebirth of Mothra trilogy, which starts off with today's film, then I would understand. See, someone decided that a new Mothra spin-off should be "for kids."

You are absolutely right to cringe.

Now that I'm a father, I'm steeling myself for the karmic retribution I'm about to receive for all those awful kids' movies I convinced my parents to watch with me. And that's just for the movies I thought were good, not the ones that came after I embraced the wonders of terrrible cinema. The simple fact of the matter is that, in virtually every film industry in the world, making a movie "for kids" usually means that nobody cares if it's terrible. It means lazy writing, lazy directing, terrible jokes, and bad acting--especially because it's assumed that kids only want to see other kids, and not every child actor can be Quvenzhané Wallis at six years old.

So, well before I ever saw any of them--and beyond my reticence, there was the fact that it took years for them even to be available in the US--I knew the 1990s Mothra trilogy by reputation. It was not a good reputation. Still, they were kaiju movies and I love kaiju movies, even when they're terrible. What's more, there's one thing that virtually all movies aimed at kids in the last 40 years have in common--and that's the desire to sell kids toys. Toys need inspiration, and in the case of a monster movie that means more and cooler monsters. And whatever else I could say about these films, they had cool monsters--and Mothra even obligingly found multiple forms to transform into in order to provide more.

Yes, okay, I am forever sad that I do not have an "Aqua Mothra" figure on my shelf.
Yeah, a more intelligent person might conclude that I should just stick to the toys. After all, while I've never seen a kaiju film that is as dishonest with its toy as the average Hollywood film--just look at freaking Dragonheart--there's no question that you can appreciate any awesomeness inherent in the monsters in toy form without sitting through the painful film around them. Still, I felt I had to give the films a chance, and even after I'd seen the first two, I bought the recent Blu-ray of the trilogy because I wanted to see them all and fairly evaluate them.

So exactly how masochistic was that decision, you ask? Well...

The film opens with a fully grown Mothra perched in what we can assume is her temple on an island. I'm gonna call it Infant Island, per Mothra tradition, but I don't believe it gets a name in the movie. Mothra begins summoning some glowy particles that converge in front of her and suddenly form--an egg. Yes, apparently Mothra eggs aren't laid, they are called into being. It's a bit ridiculous, but then it's always been a bit hard to believe that Mothra laid the eggs in previous films that were as big as she was--though the Showa films oddly explain this by suggesting that the eggs grew, which is equally ridiculous.

I'm gonna pause for a moment to answer a question thrown around about this trilogy a lot: Are these films following the continuity of Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle For Earth? The answer is pretty clearly, "No," and you'll see why as we go on.

Anyway, I hope you like that Mothra has been established as a thing that exists, because that's the last you'll be seeing of her for about 40 minutes. (Mothra is a cameo in her own movie!) The movie now shifts to introducing its main characters, the Goto family. Mr. Yuichi Goto (Kenjiro Nashimoto) is a foreman for a logging company clearing forest in Hokkaido and is struggling with his bosses breathing down his neck for more production, environmentalists stalling production, and that bane of working parents everywhere--the "you spend too much time working instead of with your children" guilt trip call from his wife, Mrs. Makiko Goto (Hitomi Takahashi).

Yes, that's right. It's one of the most annoying, and classist, of Hollywood tropes--the idea that working hard to make sure your family is take care of makes you a bad parent. It's not any less egregious in Japanese films, and the fact that Mrs. Goto appears to be a stay-at-home mother makes it even worse, somehow.

Anyway, the guilt trip about the fact that he's working instead of spending time with his son, Taiki (Kazuki Futami), and daughter, Wakaba (Maya Fujisawa) is interrupted by a commotion at the dig site. One of the bulldozers has uncovered what looks to be an ancient artifact of some long-lost civilization, like a small platform or stone table. Mr. Goto notices that there's a fancy seal on the object and pries it loose with a screwdriver, intending to take it home as a gift for Wakaba. Like reading the Latin in a creepy notebook, this is a bad idea.

Removing the seal sends out a disturbance in The Force that gets the attention of the Elias sisters: the benevolent Mona (Megumi Kobayashi) and Lora (Sayaka Yamaguchi) are horrified, while the wicked Belvera (Aki Hano) is delighted. And of course we know she's wicked, because she dresses all in black. Of course, Belvera also rides around an adorable little dragon called Garu-Garu (or "Gagaru" in the dub) while her good sisters ride around on Fairy, a tiny version of Mothra.

I dunno about you, but if I'd seen this as a kid I'd be rooting for Belvera. Dragons are awesome.

Yes she wants to doom the world, but dragon!
You may have noticed that Mothra's fairies are way different in this film than in any previous or, for that matter, any to follow. The fact that they're now called the Elias isn't all that weird, but they've never had individual names before. As you might expect, this also means they behave a bit differently. They don't speak their lines at the same time, nor do they seem to think in unison. Hell, they don't even seem to be twins--by which I mean they aren't pretending to be, since after Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster it's been pretty clear that none of the actresses hired were twins.

Anyway, Mr. Goto brings the seal home and puts it on a chain to give to Wakaba, after he and Mrs. Goto have a clearly recurrent argument during which we learn how much Mrs. Goto prizes her display of plates and china. Mona and Lora take Fairy to the site of where the seal used to be. Mona is horrified that the seal has been removed, while Lora suggests with extreme revulsion that it must have been humans that removed it. They're alarmed because Belvera may already be trying to find a way to free the creature locked away by the seal and place it under her control.

She is, and she's way ahead of her sisters because she's already tracked down the seal to Wakaba's bedroom. In a bit that shamelessly rips off Close Encounters of The Third Kind, Belvera flying through wakaba's room brings all her electronic toys to life, glowing and bouncing around before Wakaba wakes up and greets her visitor. We aren't privy to what happens next, but in the morning it turns out that Wakaba has been granted telekinetic powers (!) and uses them to torment her older brother as payback for him being mean to her earlier. And I mean she throws him all around the room, drags him across shelves, and causes all kinds of havoc. Their parents don't notice any of this, somehow.

Mr. Goto, however, does notice the report on the news about how his company has been hiding their discovery of a priceless relic and has plans to to blow it up. Not about to stand for such an...honest portrayal of his company, Mr. Goto rushes off to fly back to Hokkaido, (Do not go to Hokkaido!) Mrs. Goto is too caught up in worrying about that to notice her terrified son rushing out the door for school. Later, when some of his school chums see Taiki cowering and he explains he's waiting for his sister, they laugh at him and call him a sissy.

Of course, Taiki has good reason to be afraid. When he gets home he spies his sister inside their house watching TV and eating loads of sweets--and then Belvera appears behind him, riding on Garu-Garu. She asks him if he hates his sister as much as she hates hers, while gloating about having wakaba under her control. Belvera then tells him to take a look at who's behind him now: a large German Shepherd or similar breed. The dog chases the terrified Taiki up a tree. This scene is oddly played for a certain amount of comedy, when it should be terrifying--though maybe the decision was made to play it as silly because the dog refused to look menacing for a moment. It's all lolling tongue and wagging tail the whole time, despite what the sound effects try to tell you.

Well, inside the house we see that Mrs. Goto has been tied up with power cords and gagged. Belvera attempts to help herself to a can of beer by stading on it and yanking the pull tab, which results in her getting a geyser of foam to the face. (This is a really awkward effect, but I can appreciate what they were trying for) Belvera then notices a report about the artifact in Hokkaido on the TV, which Garu-Garu decides to hover in front of--to Belvera's great annoyance.

Luckily for Taiki, the good Elias sisters show up and drive the dog away. Of course, given he was just almost killed by a tiny woman on a flying steed, Taiki's reaction to being greeted by two tiny women on a flying steed is to tumble out of the tree. The Elias use their telekinesis to save him from a concussion, though. They also agree to help him free his mom and save his sister from Belvera's mind control.

Combat strategy is not Mona and Lora's forte, however. Like me playing a video game, they just fly Fairy Mothra straight through an unopened window and begin wildly firing laser blasts from her antennae at Belvera. Belvera responds by hopping on Garu-Garu and returning fire with laser blasts from his mouth. Taiki dodges stray laser blasts and unties his mother, who is left to scream in horror as her precious...everything is destroyed by a bunch of asshole fairies. Goodbye plates, china, piano, and refrigerator. I think the TV is only spared because they need it for plot purposes.

Belvera turns the tide by snatching the seal away from Wakaba, who is basically catatonic through all this. Turns out the seal does more than keep ancient evil kaiju imprisoned, it also reflects laser blasts while magnifying their intensity. Garu-Garu finally gets a lucky shot in and strikes Fairy, causing the moth to shake Mona and Lora loose before crashing onto the floor. For some reason, Fairy's eyes go dark before she shrivels up like a dollar bill that went through the dryer. This doesn't kill Fairy, but it renders her useless as a steed. Taiki bravely tries to catch Belvera in a butterfly net, but Garu-Garu is a strong little bastard and nearly carries Taiki off, even with Mrs. Goto holding him by the leg.

Taiki loses his grip and Belvera escapes by breaking another window. Regrouping, Mona and Lora see the TV report and realize that Belvera is heading for Hokkaido. She wants to wake up the creature locked away there, the extraterrestrial monster that was locked away 65 million years ago after killing off all the dinosaurs. The fiend known as...

Okay, so normally I go by the official English spellings of Godzilla monsters' names that Toho has standardized since the mid-1990s, even if they don't match how I learned them. I say Anguirus instead of "Angilas", for instance. But I refuse to go by the official name for this creature because it's dumb. When I first heard of this movie, everyone was in love with the awesome villain kaiju known as Death Ghidorah. Why wouldn't you be? Well, because if you listen to the dub or the official spelling, the creature is Desghidorah.

You know what makes that extra dumb? "Des" is what you get when a language that does not have a "th" sound borrows the English word "death." So when you hear "Desghidorah" in Japanese, it's because it's supposed to be "Death Ghidorah." So I am calling it Death Ghidorah.

Well, hearing how awful Death Ghidorah is convinces Mrs. Goto that the family needs to book a flight to go see Mr. Goto at once. Mona and Lora are disguised as dolls for Wakaba on the flight, while the emaciated Fairy is passed off as a plush toy. (The latter is obviously a far more convincing "disguise") Unfortunately, Belvera has beaten our heroes to Hokkaido and wastes no time at all in putting the mind control whammy on Mr. Goto. At her bidding, he drives a bulldozer covered with dynamite up to the spot where the seal was found.

The rest of the Goto family arrives in time to see him fall out of the bulldozer just before it reaches its destination and Belvera blasts the dynamite. A massive explosion follows and the mountain bursts open. From the swirling flames and smoke emerges Death Ghidorah--and he is, indeed, as awesome as that sounds. Basically, if you made King Ghidorah into a quadruped, you'd have Death Ghidorah. And unlike the later Keizer Ghidorah, the effect actually works because it's not two guys doing the "horse" routine in a suit that looks like it was built ten minutes before filming.

Don't worry, we have a giant moth to protect us from this unstoppable avatar of death!
Death Ghidorah's heads spew red lightning bolts, but his center head breathes fire. This is a nice touch since there really hadn't been a kaiju with a flamethrower installed in its suit since Gamera's first (forced) retirement in 1980. And when Gamera came back in 1995, he spat fireballs instead of breathing fire. Speaking of Gamera, the one issue I have with Death Ghidorah is that his roar seems to be derived from the same elephant sound effects that gave Gamera his roar and it doesn't really fit the creature.

Mrs. Goto and the kids get separated as they try to find Mr. Goto. The Elias manage to get the seal back, thanks to Belvera's clumsiness, which they use to revive Fairy. The kids worry that Death Ghidorah will kill them, but the Elias advise it doesn't work that way. Death Ghidorah feeds on life and humans don't live long enough to really satisfy it: it's going to start with the trees around it that live for hundreds of years. I have to say that is a neat idea.

Well, Mona and Lora try to guide the Gotos back towards each other--and in an actually amusing bit, Mr. Goto is completely baffled by his wife casually talking to two tiny women on a moth like they're old friends--but Death Ghidorah's escape has begun to alter the forest around him, including forcing Taiki and Wakaba to flee from lava with zero explanation. While the kids could definitely use some more fairy help, the Elias are busy trying to figure out what the hell to do about the unstoppable ancient evil that is preparing to wipe out all life on Earth.

Amazingly, despite the fact that it was the first thought of everyone watching this, Mona suggests they call Mothra. Lora, meanwhile, is horrified at this suggestion. Mona points out that Death Ghidorah was originally defeated by Mothra, but Lora counters that that was back when there were many Mothras--now there's only one and she is near the end of her life and weakened from laying her egg. (Though one would imagine simply conjuring your offspring into being, rather than having to push them out of your body, would dramatically increase your recovery time)

Mona is adamant that they have no choice, so it's time for the inevitable part of virtually every film featuring Mothra, and the part that every Godzilla fan either loves or dreads--The Mothra Song. I'm very much in the former camp...usually. Unfortunately, the makers of this trilogy decided it was time to fix what wasn't broken. It's not that they rearranged the song and gave it a bizarre Calypso feel, that isn't all that weird. No, it's that when they go to sing the song to summon Mothra, the film throws out a flurry of terrible digital and rear projection effects that look like the Elias wandered into a karaoke bar.
This is not a bizarre production still, it's an actual screenshot.
Well, Mothra oblingingly flies to Hokkaido to take on Death Ghidorah as the creature continues its rampage through the forests.  Oddly, at no point does the JSDF ever get involved in trying to stop the monster, so I guess the filmmakers correctly assumed we would just accept that Mothra is the world's only hope. Belvera is shocked to see Mothra, which doesn't make much sense--did she think Mothra wouldn't show up to protect her planet? Belvera, who seems to think she has control of Death Ghidorah despite that not appearing to be the case at all, yells to the creature that Mothra is old and weak and will be easy to defeat. Of course, even with all the antennae lasers, energy scales, and lightning blasts from her wings, Belvera is correct--Mothra is hopelessly out-classed by her foe.

To Mona and Lora's alarm, the baby Mothra senses her mother's brutal beatdown and hatches early to swim to Hokkaido. To make things a little less confusing, I'm going to call this baby Mothra by her official name (which is not actually used in the films), Mothra Leo. Side note: as someone whose favorite form of Mothra is her larval form, it's extra disappointing that Leo will only spend a portion of this first film in her larval form. Though, at least we actually get to see her larval form in this film for more than five seconds, unlike Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack. (I'll have even more harsh words for that film whenever I evetually decide I want to get a lot of Godzilla fan hate mail)

As they flee from lava, Taiki and Wakaba are menaced by Belvera who tries to grab back the seal from them. Luckily, the fallen Mothra is sitting nearby and she uses energy tentacles to knock the seal from Belvera's grasp. Belvera, not wanting to find out what happens if Mothra decides to do something harsher, flees. Wakaba suggests that Taiki use the seal to give energy to Mothra like the Elias did for Fairy. Surprisingly, it works, and Mothra returns to the air as Leo arrives.

"We have to fight that thing? Is it too late to negotiate a truce, mom?"
Now, the previous incarnation of Mothra's larval form in the Heisei series had corrosive silk--or at least it burned Godzilla slightly before thoroughly pissing him off--but was otherwise still the classic "giant caterpillar." Leo, on the other hand, has silk that glows and flashes like a silly string rave and has a move where she rears up and fires an energy blast from her belly. You'd think the combined attack of Leo and her mother would then turn the tide, but not so much. Especially since Death Ghidorah listens to Belvera's advice and turns his attack toward Leo and pins the poor larva beneath his foot. Then, in a moment that reminds you that the Japanese have some very different ideas about what is acceptable for kids, Death Ghidorah lifts Leo up in two of his mouths as she gushes yellow blood from her wounds.

Luckily, Mothra intervenes before Leo can be torn in two and the worm uses another of her abilities--a cloaking device that turns her into a transparent outline. The film claims it's "camouflage" but we're talking Predator-style, not anything you'd see in nature.Unfortunately, when Death Ghidorah uses his flame breath to set the forest ablaze it renders that disguise useless. Mr. Goto, meanwhile, rescues his children from the ledge they're trapped on even as his feet catch fire.

Mothra and Leo are losing badly when they finally lure Death Ghidorah over to a dam. A stray lightning blast from their foe destroys the dam and Mothra carries Leo to safety as the wall of water sends Death Ghidorah tumbling ass over teakettle. Unfortunately, once they're out to sea Mothra rapidly loses altitude until mother and daughter crash into the ocean. Leo tries to lift her floundering mother up, but it's no use. As Leo, the Elias, and the Gotos watch mournfully, Mothra sinks beneath the waves and disappears into the murky depths of the Pacific Ocean.

It's the first time adult Mothra and baby Mothra have ever seen each other face-to-face before the adult dies, and while the sequence doesn't tug at the heart strings as much as it wants to, I will give credit to the scene for trying.

Leo swims away in front of the setting sun, before making landfall on a heavily wooded island. Meanwhile, the Gotos make their way to the nearest hospital. At the hospital they watch a news report. While talking about the effects of Death Ghidorah, the newscasters announce that Leo has been sighted on Yaku Island, which is known for its trees that are thousands of years old. Then we see the obnoxious reporter from earlier is also at the hospital, talking on his clunky 1990s cell phone about how it's become hard to breathe in the area thanks to Death Ghidorah's movements. When a nurse tries to get him off the phone because it's against regulations, it starts a scuffle that ends with a doctor confiscating the phone like the reporter is a naughty student. The reporter then recongnizes Mr. Goto and tries to attack him for letting the monster loose, but Mrs. Goto and another doctor pry him off. Taiki shames the guy into stopping his whining about, "We're all going to die," by telling him Mothra is going to save them.

Another news report then comes on that shows that Japanese newscasters are precogs as they announce that Death Ghidorah has taken to the skies. We then cut to Death Ghidorah sprouting wings via an energy blast (does any creature in this trilogy not require a needless animated effect to do anything?!) before taking flight in the typical Heisei Toho kaiju glide to blast more forests with his lightning bolts.

Leo spins herself a glowy, glittery coccoon around an ancient tree in order to gain energy from it. Her silk crackles with lightning as Mona and Lora sing her a motivating song (that's original  to the film, as I've never heard it before this film) as Fairy and some very confused monkeys look on. The coccoon glows and pulsates creepily, before disgorging millions of glowing moths that coalesce into the adult Leo, which is defintely the fuzziest, cuddliest Mothra ever designed.

The poodle moth looks like the Alien by comparison.
She immediately takes off for Hokkaido, with Fairy in pursuit. Mona and Lora are giddy because Leo is even faster than her mother. When the Gotos see the news report, Mrs. Goto asks the question that most people are probably wondering--sure, it's big, but it's still just a moth, so what can it hope to do against Death Ghidorah? Taiki replies that more people are killed by bee stings each year than by snake bites (and given this is Japan, he might actually mean by hornet sting), so you shouldn't write off an insect. Well, that took a dark turn.

Anyway, Taiki and Wakaba stupidly run off to watch the battle as Leo arrives to confront Death Ghidorah in mid-air. Belvera has only a moment to realize her plans have gone in the crapper before her sisters are chasing around the flying combatants. Leo, improving on her mother's powers, now fires a massive laser beam from three tiny eyes on her "forehead" instead of her antennae. Somehow, one of these blasts hits Garu-Garu and rather than vaporizing the little dragon and its rider as you would expect, it just causes them to crash to the forest below.

And now we discover that Leo has unlocked God Mode. It gets to the point where you begin to feel bad for Death Ghidorah as this final battle consists mainly of him repeatedly exploding as Leo hits him with laser beams, wing lightning, and huge blasts of light that shoot up from the ground. There is never a moment when Leo is not winning, even when they collide in mid-air.

These two collide and it ends badly for the dragon.
Leo also whips out the ability to turn back into a swarm of tiny moths and uses that to make Death Ghidorah explode some more. Meanwile, we see that the downed Garu-Garu is actually a robot, with its mechanical guts hanging out. Belvera doesn't have time to mourn her robotic steed before Mona and Lora swoop in so Fairy can carry her off in her claws ahead of a massive fireball. Meanwile, Leo flies straight up into the air using energy flowing off her abdomen to seal Death Ghidorah away--which really just looks like she is blasting him to smithereens, but the sound effects insist he's still alive.

Mona and Lora call for Taiki to toss the seal to them, so he throws it into the air and some glowly stuff happens before a huge glowing Mothra symbol (the one that looks like a giant cross surrounded by sunlight) appears hovering above Death Ghidorah's tomb. The symbol descends to the ground, and the Elias gleefully tell the kids that Death Ghidorah has been sealed away again. Taiki turns his eyes to Belvera dangling from Fairy's claws and wonders what to do wih her. Belvera solves that dilemma by shaking herself free from Fairy's grip.

Taiki, wakaba, and the Elias give chase as Belvera runs over to a stump. She spits at the Elias that they're stupid to trust humans because humans are destroying the Earth. That might mean more if it wasn't coming from the mouth of the person who deliberately set a planet-destroying monster free. At any rate, she turns and disappears through a knot in the stump. When Taiki goes to grab her, Mona and Lora tell him to stop. They reveal now that Belvera is their older sister and they love her, even if she causes trouble from time to time. Yeah, trying to destroy the world, what a scamp!

Mrs. Goto then appears pushing Mr. Goto in a wheelchair (!) through the ruined forest. When Leo lands nearby, Mona and Lora tell Taiki and Wakaba that they can ride on her. Somehow, Mr. & Mrs. Goto are okay with this and next thing we know the kids are standing on Leo's head as she takes flight. Mr. & Mrs. Goto view the scorched wasteland all around them and talk about how it's going to take years and a lot of hard work to restore the land to its original beauty. They blame humanity for it being destroyed in a matter of minutes, even though humaity is not a three-headed dragon from space. Still, they're hopeful that future generations will learn from their mistakes and treat the environment with respect...

...and then Leo flies around using her glowy powers to restore all the trees and grass to exactly where they were before. Welp, so much for that moral. Somewhere in this film's America (or perhaps, Rolisica), a politician is arguing down climate change with, "Why do we need to worry about global warming? Mothra will just fix it for us!"

Also, man, the ancient Mothras were terrible at their jobs if they weren't able to stop Death Ghidorah from wiping out the dinosaurs and apparently couldn't just restore all plant life, when one Mothra was able to do it.

Leo lands so the Gotos can re-unite on a grassy hillside and then Leo, Fairy, and the Eias fly off into the blue sky as a crayon rainbow (?) is animated across the sky. The End.

"Ruin the planet again, I dare you!"
Once upon a time, in the dark days when the only way to get new Japanese monster movies was to get your hands on bootleg copies, most of the Heisei films were but legends on this new-fangled thing called "internet message boards." At that time, those chosen few who had actually seen the films could argue back and forth while the rest of us could only gather around in wide-eyed wonder. During this time of great hardship, I read an argument about the merits of Shusuke Kaneko's Gamera films.

One person, in flagrant disregard of the opinions of 99% of the kaiju fandom, did not enjoy the films. The reason he gave was that it was like playing toy soldiers with a kid who refuses to lose. You know, "You dropped an H-Bomb on me? Well, my soldiers are wearing nuke-proof armor!" After all, Gamera always pulls the stops out to win impossibly at the last minute, right?

Well, he's not wrong. However, I would counter that Hesiei Gamera has nothing on Heisei Mothra when it comes to winning by pulling the impossible victory of of your ass. In every movie in the trilogy, Mothra gains more and more ridiculous powers to the point that the films no longer provide the suspense of, "How can she win?" Instead, you can only watch the films and ask, "How can she lose?"

This, to me, is the big reason why these movies are just not very good. (With the exception of Rebirth of Mothra II, which is so out-and-out terrible that not even the awesomeness of Aqua Mothra can save it) It's not merely that they're made for kids, that they're unoriginal, or that the human characters are so annoying. That would be bad enough, but the biggest sin of these movies is that they don't get Mothra.

Like many people when they finally saw the Heisei Godzilla films, I loved that when Mothra emerged as an imago in Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle For Earth and confronted Godzilla and Battra in Yokohama, she suddenly has beam weapons. Looking back on it now, it's already kind of ridiculous, but even in that film it isn't overdone. Mothra still needs Battra's help to defeat Godzilla, after all.

Along comes these films, and as I said before Mothra starts off in God Mode and if that ends up not being enough she transforms into whatever is necessary to kill the other monster. Mothra was always technically a Goddess, but now she is an immortal, all-powerful entity that cannot be stopped.

That is not Mothra.

Mothra wins because she keeps fighting, even when she cannot win. She fights against monsters that can breath radioactive fire, spit lightning at her, blast her with laser beams, or slice her up with blades when all she has going for her are the powers of a giant moth. She wins because she never gives up. She wins because she uses strategy. Mothra overcomes utterly impossible odds to win and save the day.

Mothra Leo? She wins because she pounds the other monster with one punishing blow after another. Even Godzilla stumbles in the final fight. Even Godzilla doesn't spend the entire climactic fight winning. Of course we should want Mothra Leo to win. We saw what that three-headed bastard did to her mother. However, it's not very engaging if she spends the entire battle winning, now is it?

If David defeated Goliath by beating him to death with his bare hands, I'm not sure that the story would really have retained its relevance all these years.

All that aside, this film honestly isn't that bad. It's definitely not good, however, and it would be fine fodder for a group of friends to gather together and riff mercilessly. However, it's not quite as bad as its reputation would suggest.

For one thing, while its child actors are not very good they're still far from the obnoxious horrors that plagued the later Showa Gamera films like Gamera vs. Zigra. The Goto family, while mired in cliches that Hollywood loves, are actually fairly engaging. And Mona, Lora, and Belvera are actually a lot of fun: although as someone who used to be a kid who often had kind of a thing for the lady villains, I wish Belvera was given more to do.

The monsters, which are the real reason we're here, are also pretty good. The adult Mothras both look vaguely like parade floats come to life, but the larval Mothra is a step-up from the 1992 version (which is actually one of my favorites) and Death Ghidorah is awesome, even if his roar doesn't fit his character and his wings are a bit underwhelming.

The special effects, directed by the late Koichi Kawakita, are a mixed bag. The miniature sets are really good, even if the only building destroyed in the film is a dam, and there's overall a petty decent mixing of the Elias and Belvera with the regular-sized world--even if it's not as good as earlier films. The various beams and explosions look pretty great as well. However, there are also some truly abysmal green screen shots. Bert I. Gordon-style big, black outlines around the characters might actually look better.

All in all, the film will probably delight its target audience, which is good. Anyone over the age of about ten is probably going to be left somewhat wanting, but I've certainly seen worse. In the end this is just a rather middle of the road film. It's not painfully bad, nor is it exactly good--it straddles the line between the two, occasionally threatening to drift one way or the other but refusing to actually commit.

Like a moth that won't come out of its cocoon.

This is my second contribution to the June Bugs Roundtable. Check out the other entries below!

Checkpoint Telstar:
The Naked Jungle
The Deadly Mantis
Starship Troopers

Cinemasochist Apocalypse:
Caved In: Prehistoric Terror
Millennium Bug

Micro-Brewed Reviews: