Friday, February 27, 2015

Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, The (1953) [Friday Fakeosaurus February]


I tried not to pigeonhole myself into it, but ultimately, when talking about fake species of cinematic dinosaurs, you really can't not discuss the one that basically started it all. Of course, that's not all it started. Without The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms we wouldn't have Godzilla. It's also the movie that first gave Ray Harryhausen control over its special effects, so without it who knows if we would ever have gotten his subsequent technical masterpieces like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad or Jason and The Argonauts? Hell, its influence has been so long-lasting that it was unofficially remade in 1998!

Of course, influential doesn't actually always equal "good." Luckily, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, despite its very 50s attitudes and some rather goofy decisions, is still a pretty good movie on its own.

It was also the film that basically locked Eugene Lourie into the role of "director of giant sea monster movies." I am contractually obligated to mention that every time I bring up Lourie.

We open in the Arctic Circle, as a bunch of military stock footage gets ready for something that the standard Omniscient Narrator We Will Never Hear From Again (William Woodson) explains is codenamed "Operation Experiment." That's...that's not a code name. That's just a description. The goal of Operation Experiment is to test a nuclear bomb in the Arctic and see what happens. I guess they got tired of poisioning the South Pacific. The use of stock footage is actually pretty well managed here, as they never use any shots that obviously came from Pacific tests as the bomb goes off and the arctic ice breaks apart.

Physicist Tom Nesbitt (Paul Christian) is overseeing the project with military liasion Colonel Jack Evans (Kenneth Tobey!). The two almost jokingly discuss the possibility conequences of all these atomic tests with another scientist, George Ritchie (Ross Elliott). Col. Evans is called away when a radar operator reports seeing an anomaly in the testing area. However, whatever it was has vanished from the screen by the time Evans gets there. The operators write it off as something tossed in front of the antenna by the blast, even though it showed up way too many times for that to make sense.

Ahead of an unexpected blizzard, a jeep takes Nesbitt and Ritchie out to take readings from monitoring stations outside the blast radius. The two separate to take readings faster, as their radiation badges are reading close to unsafe levels. Ritchie promptly runs afoul of a giant reptilian creature and, while it doesn't even seem to notice him, his terror at the sight of it causes him to fall into a pit and break his leg.
"Ha! It's cold outside. That proves global warming is a hoaOH MY GOD!"
Ritchie fires his revolver (?) and gets Nesbitt's attention--which the two guys in the jeep fail to notice--and when Nesbitt arrives to check on his injured companion, Ritchie warns him that there's a "prehistoric monster" running around out there. That's something I always loved about this film: Ritchie immediately knows what he saw was a freaking dinosaur and says so. even the film's imitators didn't always get this right.

Of course, this doesn't help Ritchie. When Nesbitt climbs out of the pit to go get help, the dinosaur returns and causes an avalanche that buries Ritchie and nearly kills Nesbitt, too. Luckily, Nesbitt was given a Very pistol and the two yahoos in the jeep see his flare and get him out as the blizzard rolls in. Nesbitt comes back to base, unconscious and babbling warnings about "the monster", and with a bad case of exposure to the elements. The base doctor recommends he be sent to a hospital in the States--instead of the much closer Canada, for some reason. Yeah, suck it socialized medicine!

Nesbitt is sent all the way to New York, as it happens. To his dismay, nobody believes his story. Evans didn't even mention it in the report--which, um, you'd think he'd have to at least touch on--because there was no evidence of any animal in that area after the fact. Medical professionals and psychiatrists tell Nesbitt it was a hallucination brought on by seeing the death of his friend. Now, I'm not a mental health professional, but I don't think PTSD usually triggers hallucinations of dinosaurs. I think most PTSD sufferers might actually prefer that--at least if you're suddenly seeing a T-Rex charging towards you, you'd know you were having an episode.

Well, Nesbitt's hallucination helpfully sinks the fishing ketch Fortune off the coast of Canada, and the survivor reports that his boat was sunk by a sea serpent. When Nesbitt sees the report in a paper, he goes to a nearby university to visit paleontologist Dr. Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kellaway) to try and gain an ally. Dr. Elson is just as skeptical as anyone, suggesting that it's impossible for a creature to have survived for 100 million years even frozen in ice. (No, I have no idea where they arrived at the figure of 100 million years, since that would put the creature in the middle of the Cretaceous period instead of the end) However, Elson's assistant, Lee Hunter (Paula Raymond) is much more sympathetic to his cause.

The fact she's shooting bedroom eyes at Nesbitt--which is he is horribly unconvincing at trying to return--might have something to do with it, but thankfully we're not given the feeling that's her only reason. Still, she tracks Nesbitt down at his office with a second report of a fishing boat sunk off of Marquette, Canada. Nesbitt heard about it earlier on the radio--during an amusing bit where the DJ relays the survivor's story and then leaves off with, "He really oughta stop smoking that stuff, and try Virginia Golds, because..." before Nesbitt shuts the radio off--but he's resigned himself to the reality that no one will ever believe him. Hunter disagrees, and she suggests they look over drawings of all known prehistoric animals. If Nesbitt can identify one and a survivor of the creature's attacks can identify the same one, it would prove that they're not crazy.

The scene of Nesbitt looking at drawings of prehistoric creatures has been imiated more than once, and thanks to cursory knowledge of dinosaurs and DVD quality, the scene is unintentionally hilarious. Hunter has Nesbitt take a break for coffee and sandwiches, saying they "haven't even reached the Cretaceous yet" despite the prominent featuring of Charles R. Knight's iconic artwork of a Tyrannosaurus, plus at least one duckbill dinosaur and Struthiomimus. Then, DVD clarity allows us to see through the back of the pictures when Nesbitt finds a series of images that get closer and closer to the creature he saw--and it's just alternating between the same two drawings of Knight's T-Rex and his Allosaurus!
"That's the one, officer!"
The creature in question will later be identified as a Rhedosaurus. I have no idea what that is supposed to mean, so let's assume the scientist who discovered it was named Rhed.

Nesbitt has no luck with convincing the survivor of the most recent "sea serpent" attack, but the survivor of the first comes with Nesbitt to see Dr. Elson. When the survivor identifies the Rhedosaurus independently, Elson is convinced. He vouces for Nesbitt to Col. Evans and Evans even looks into strange occurences that might coincide with their "monster."

[As an aside, I always liked how the film never actually gives an explanation for the Rhedosaur's survival. Yes, the H-bomb clearly brought it back somehow, but that's it]

The kind of strange incidents Evans undcovers include one that actually comes from the Ray Bradbury short story that the credits claim the film was "Suggested by", when we see the Rhedosaurus destroy a lighthouse. In the short story this is apparently because the fog horn from the lighthouse makes the dinosaur think the lighthouse is another of his own kind. In the movie, the Rhedosaurus just seemingly finds the lighthouse annoying.

"You think you're so great, with your bright light and your loud horn!"
All the reports of destruction follow a clear path down the North Atlantic seaboard of North America. Elson thinks he knows why. The only known specimens of Rhedosaurus were found in the Hudson Undersea Canyon, and the creature may be returning there like a salmon returning to the river from which it spawned. Though unlike what you might think, this doesn't mean Elson suspects the creature is looking to nest--maybe it could be searching for a mate, but Elson never outright suggests that.

Elson suggests searching the Cayon via diving bell, and in fact volunteers to go down in the bell along with its operator. The fact that Elson constantly reassures everyone that no harm will come to him and has been referring every chance he gets to his upcoming, well-earned extended holiday should be ringing your alarm bells harder than a hero cop's partner with a pregnant wife who's three days away from retirement. Sure enough, Elson finds the Rhedosaurus--after a rather tasteless bit where we watch stock footage of an octopus and shark (a dogfish, I think) fighting in what is clearly a tank. We don't find out who wins because the Rhedosaurus eats them in a rather silly effect. (One that suggests the octopus and shark were many times their actual size) Elson is too busy gushing to Hunter about how cool the Rhedosaurus is to order the bell raised, even as its gaping jaws loom closer and closer...

Yep, exit Elson. Honestly, I'm pretty sure he was okay going out that way, though. I mean I bet Robert Bakker's last thoughts as he was devoured by a pack of Deinonychus would be about how cool it was.

Hunter and Nesbitt get a brief mourning scene, but the movie then cuts to what we really came here for. The Rhedosaurus comes ashore in a fish market district and then proceeds to rampage through the streets of New York City as panicked mobs flee ahead of it. We get a our best looks at the Rhedosaurus here and it's always struck me as looking like a giant, fanged tuatara.

"So where's this Big Apple that I keep hearing about? I'm starving!"
One police officer tries to shoot the beast with a revolver. It doesn't end well for him. A squad of officers with riot shotguns have rather more success--except their attack just causes the creature to smash its way through a building to get away, crushing fleeing bystanders under bricks in the process. Ultimately the creature "disappears" after smashing a subway entrance, in a shot that suggests that either the Rhedosaurus has telekinesis or the technicians responsible for collapsing the set blew their cue--the Rhedosaurus in the rear-projected footage only charges at the set after it collapses.
 
The hospitals tending to the sick begin noticing alarming symptoms among their patients that don't match any known disease. It gets worse from there. Under Evans, Hunter, and Nesbitt's watchful eyes it's determined that a simple artillery shell can't get through the Rhedosaur's eight inch thick skull. (Nobody tries to shoot the creature through the eye, naturally, even though in a creature with forward-facing eyes that'd almost certainly get you a sure brain hit) Evans orders a bazooka squad to attack the creature. One bazooka rocket manages to wound the creature under the throat, whereupon it retreats to the river. The soldiers following the blood drops left by the creature--on foot (?!) because sending infantry after a 100-foot wounded and aggressive dinosaur is a good idea--begin to collapse, overtaken by the same bizarre disease.
 
The Rhedosaurus is a giant plague rat, carrying a long-extinct pathogen that modern humanity has no immunity to. Killing it with guns, bombs, or flamethrowers might mean spreading the infectious disease even further. However, Nesbitt has an idea: firing a radioactive isotope into the creature's wound. The radiation would destroy all the infected tissue and remove the risk of inection.
 
Except there's only one radioactive isotope available, and if they miss there's no chance. Good thing one of Evans' men is a young Lee Van Cleef! So clearly it's time for a fiery showdown at Coney Island...
 
"I didn't start the fire!"
It's not hard to see how Godzilla took inspiration from this film. Sure, the H-bomb that unleashes the Rhedosaurus is basically a MacGuffin, unlike how Godzilla is a walking avatar of the bomb itself. The Rhedosaurus isn't even radioactive! However, the two are both amphibious dinosaurs with fangs and pointy ears--and both rather dragon-like in aspect.
 
However, Godzilla was far from the only "imitator." Giant monsters created by radiation would be repatedly unleashed on the movie-going public after this film.
 
The film itself has aged pretty well, overall. Aside from a few moments of 50s sexism--like Nesbitt thinking it's funny that Hunter would be a paleontologist because she's a beautiful woman--it treats Hunter with quite a lot of respect. There's many parts that obviously only work as a product of their time, but not nearly as painfully as a lot of movies from, say, the 1990s.
 
And the effects still hold up, of course. There's some questionable composite shots, of course, but the Rhedosaurus is definitely one of the best of Harryhausen's creations. The creature always feels alive and moves like an actual animal. The stop-motion is ncredibly smooth with almost no jerky frames to remind you that you're watching a puppet being moved a single frame at a time. Hell, the prop head used for two non-animation close-ups is actually pretty decent as well. The only obvious misstep is a few frames where the Rhedosaurus flicks out a forked, monitor lizard-like tongue--even though we've seen in close-ups that its tongue is not forked.
 
It's true that the film doesn't deliver on the kind of massive city destruction of Godzilla or Gorgo, it certainly delivers more than The Giant Behemoth. Not to mention, at the time of its release the film's only real competition in that arena was King Kong. The Rhedosaurus does a lot of damage when you compare it to the great ape. Hell, it does a pretty good amount of damage even when you compare it to a less-than-great lizard.
 
If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. If nothing else, at 79 minutes it doesn't ever wear out its welcome. Besides, I always think it's important to see the roots of a genre or subgenre--especially when the root is as good or better than the films it spawned.
 
Oh, sure, people buy 'em when they're little and cute. Then they flush 'em down the toilet and this happens.
 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Reptilicus (1961) [Friday Fakeosaurus February]


This is one of the big ones, folks. If you've ever heard of the movie before--and if you're a regular reader who somehow hasn't, then I'm stunned--you already know what I mean. I'm talking about a movie that can count among its peers The Giant Claw and The Killer Shrews: A monster movie whose monster is absolutely ridiculous and brought to life via the most embarrassing effects you can imagine.

Well, okay, to be fair Reptilicus isn't all that ridiculous a monster in concept. (And there's actually some neat aspects to its origin that would later be recycled by other movies, usually to greater effect) It's basically a serpentine dragon re-purposed as a "dinosaur." It's possible that design could have worked with an actual budget or even just a competent effects artist who knew how to use a low budget. However, that is most definitely not what was delivered.

The film begins with a narrator, who will only crop up occasionally and will later turn out to be one of our main characters, explaining that it all started innocently enough in the Lapland of Denmark. A crew of prospectors drilling for copper in the permafrost--which apparently is actually one of the methods of extracting copper, but sounds ridiculous--when their chief, Svend Viltorft (Bent Mejding), notices blood on his hands after handling the drill bit. He calls over the crew and digs into the gunk on the drill bit and extracts what looks like the liver or lung of a cow. "It's a piece of skin," he remarks, "like leather!"

If you say so, Svend.

The next piece he pulls out is a bit of bone. "Fossil bones," Svend observes. Look, don't try to figure out how the bones could be fossilized if the flesh over them was still intact enough to be bloody. Like most things in this film, you'll just hurt yourself. At any rate, Svend recognizes that this is well above his pay grade and he goes to call in some experts, not noticing that the hunk of "skin" he discarded is pulsating.

The experts that arrive are Professor Otto Martens (Asbjorn Andersen) and Dr. Peter Dalby (Povl Woldike) from the Danish Aquarium. I'm pretty sure that neither scientist is a paleontologist, of course, but this a movie--all scientists are well-versed in all fields. Martens hypothesizes that the drill hit the carcass of a creature long frozen in the ice and the friction thawed it. But what really intrigues the two scientists is that the samples suggest a reptile, when most frozen prehistoric animals are usually mammals like woolly mammoths.

The two scientists return to Copenhagen and we are left to assume they brought a hunk of the mystery creature back with them, since we next see Martens being dropped off at the aquarium by his daughter Lise* (Ann Smyrner) so that he can visit the team studying it. Hilariously, we first watch a sequence that stresses why you must be conscious of the different film stocks needed for exterior and interor filming, as he waks in from a brightly lit lobby to a dark room only illuminated by the lights from various tanks of animals. Martens, ever the professional, taps on the glass of a tank holding two sea turtles to say hello. Presumably the turtles are already plotting how to bite his fingers off.

[* There are three notable women characters in the film: Lise Martens, her sister, and a third woman who is a scientist. Lise and the scientist are both attractive blondes and I am utterly incapable of telling you which is which. It's like a Fox News anchor audition]

In the "lab," which is really just a hideous office with a walk-in freezer on one side of it, Dalby is puzzling over the bones that Svend has provided. Martens bemoans the fact that reconstruction seems impossible. "It's not that there aren't enough bones: there's too many!" That...that is not a problem that any paleontologist has ever had. (Okay, to be fair, it turns out Martens means they can't be sure all the bones are from the same animal--but I still think the average paleontologist would kill to have too many bones from the same dig site) Still, it can't help Dalby's mood that Martens' other daughter, Karen (Mimi Heinrich) arrives waving around a telegram--Svend will be arriving in one hour with more bones. Martens tells Karen to pick Svend up, and when she asks how to recognize him, her father mystifyingly replies, "Since when do I have to tell you how to find a man?"

And speaking of bones, when Karen fetches Svend and brings him back to the lab so Martens and Dalby can show him the frozen tail fragment they've recovered, it doesn't take long before she and Lise are begging to take Svend to see the sights. As fascinating as the scientists' assertions that the tail belongs to one of the biggest prehistoric animals ever discovered and has incredibly strong bones, Svend is incredibly willing to go along with wherever two eager young women want to take him. As Martens gives them leave to go, Dalby comments to Martens, "I envy that young man." Dude! Yet Martens' bewildering reply to his colleague insinuating he wants to have a threeway with his daughters is to chuckle and reply that Svend will surely be busy. Dude, come on!

Incidentally, Reptilicus, like Gorgo and Konga, had a novelization written that included softcore sex scenes. If one of those scenes wasn't Sven getting it on with the Martens sisters, then that is a missed opportunity.

And then, suddenly, the film introduces its monster. No, not Reptilicus, this is something far more terrifying: Peterson (Dirch Passer), the Odious Comic Relief!

STARE INTO THE OVERALL CLAD FACE OF HORROR!
Lise introduces him to her father, as Peterson is to be the night watchman and ensure that the tail doesn't thaw out by checking the thermostat on the freezer. Because when I think "reliable choice to watch the most important paleontological discovery of the century", I think a guy who looks at a tank of electrical eels in a random hallway (who put that there?!) and quips to himself, after almost sticking his hand in the tank, "Everything around here runs on electricity."

Miraculously, it's not Peterson's fault that things go pearshaped. Later that night, only Peterson and Dalby are still in the lab. Peterson checks the thermostat, but Dalby tells him to go on home since Dalby will be finishing up soon himself. So it's Dalby who goes into the freezer to cut off a piece of tail to examine--fun fact, frozen dinosaur flesh is indistinguishable from Turkish Delight--and then leaves the door open and falls asleep at his desk.

So when Martens and his daughters return in the morning, they find the tail has thawed out and turned into an obvious felt prop. (It's also in a completely different position than it was when frozen) Martens wants to blame Peterson (YES!) but Dalby takes responsibility (Boo!) and thus gets to hear the lecture about ruining a priceless discovery. Except, Martens is interrupted in his lecture about how the tail is going to rot away by Lise noticing that the wound on the tail where the drill pierced it looks different--like it's healing. Martens quickly confirms that the tail is, wonder of wonders, regenerating!

Look, before you ask why they wouldn't have noticed regeneration in any of the smaller samples that surely unthawed in the examination process--just don't think about it.

Our next scene is some good old 1960s sexism, as Martens interviews Connie Miller (Marla Behrens), apparently for a position at the aquarium. I'd say it's not that kind of position, but the way Martens interviews her it could go either way. She's some kind of scientist, which baffles Martens because she's a beautiful woman. When Miller, rightly, expresses annoyance with her qualifications being downplayed because she has a vagina, Martens claims he meant no disrespect--before getting one last bit of sexual harassment in by saying he just couldn't help enjoying her beauty.

I mentioned that Miller is absolutely indistinguishable from his daughter, right?

Martens makes a comment about Miller being an American (which is your only clue that she's supposed to be, thanks to the dubbing) and then advises another UN representative will be arriving shortly. Said representative turns out to be Brigadier General Mark Grayson (Carl Ottosen), who is both our infrequent narrator and the film's most inadvertantly hilarious character. The man is about 30% nostril and 40% flop sweat. He's also almost instantly churlish, partly due to his claim that he doesn't know why he's here. My guess is somebody really, really disliked him.

"Big nostrils? Is that the best you can do? How about, 'Keep that guy away from my cocaine!' "
Apparently, someone higher up than Grayson was told what was actually going on, prior to the press conference we're about to witness. I can think of no other reason why you would send an American general (of any rank, even a "lowly" brigadier) to babysit a dinosaur tail. Well, in the press conference, Martens explains that the tail is undergoing a process of regeneration similar to a lizard regrowing its tail, a starfish's lost arm growing into another starfish, or chopped up planaria growing into several individual planaria. They've put the tail in a nutrient bath, in the hopes of encouraging the growth and seeing what happens. No one at the press conference thinks to ask why you would be trying to grow an animal you suspect of being 150-200 feet long inside of an aquarium near a heavily populated area, of course.

Dalby introduces Grayson to his liasion in Royal Danish Guard, Captain Brandt (Ole Wisborg), as Martens explains they haven't named the creature yet. "How about Reptilicus martensius?" suggests one reporter. Martens merely chuckles and, ignoring the stupidity of the name, replies, "Reptilicus will do just fine." Suddenly, "Graboid" doesn't sound so silly, does it?

The reporters are then taken to the viewing port for the giant tank that contains the nutrient fluid that Reptilicus is being soaked in. As a pretty good indicator of the miniature effects to follow, the "tank" is very clearly a sink. At any rate, this cues a series of Spinning Headlines! the world over about the "PREHISTORIC MONSTER GROWING IN HUGE TANK." Well, yeah, you'd think. Though, sadly these days, I'm sure it'd be buried in a special interest section so the front page could be devoted to how it snowed in New England so Global Warming is a lie.

At any rate, Reptilicus refuses to be terribly exciting for a while. Peterson treats us to some Komedy! when, while playing with a microscope he's cleaning--which wouldn't seem to fall under the responsibilities of a night watchman--he decides to look at the cheese from his sandwich under it. Cut to a shot of water fleas (?!) as viewed through the microscope. Peterson naturally loses his apetite, while I decide I'm never eating cheese in Denmark. Martens lectures into a tape recorder that Reptilicus is covered in tough, bony scales--yet the fact the creature is also covered in mangy fur won't be addressed at all until much later--and appears to be secreting a strange liquid from newly developed glands in its mouth that is acidic in nature. One would think the fact that the creature they are growing is clearly venomous might necessitate additional precautions. I mean, from the tail the creature could be either a large herbivore or a large carnivore, but venom tends to only be utilized by predators. I mean, even an herbivore that size would be dangerous, but still!

Things briefly threaten to get interesting when, after Peterson sticks his hand in the electrical eel tank to "comically" flail around and kick his leg around while refusing to fucking die--he hears movement from Reptilicus in the growth tank. He sounds the fire alarm, but Martens writes the movement off as nothing but a fetal reflex action. Now, you'd think that the fact the creaure has already demonstrated a significant range of movement might inspire someone to post some sort of watch outside the tank so someone could regularly have eyes on the creature. You'd be mistaken, naturally. In fact, everyone just condescendingly laughs at Peterson--and I am very annoyed at having to feel offended for Peterson instead of by him.

Grayson goes back to his desk and flares his nostrils in boredom and annoyance, until Brandt suggests the unpleasant bastard just leave the aquarium for a while. So Grayson takes Miller on a tour of Copenhagen, which for some reason necessitates a return of his infrequent narration. This section of the film was apparently paid for by the Danish Tourism Board, who must have grossly overestimated how much interest this film would inspire in visiting Denmark.

Sadly, unlike Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster, this travelogue footage is not accompanied by awesome rock and roll music. Instead, it's Grayson and Miller narrating everything. "It's The Little Mermaid!" "So many bicycles!" We find out that Brandt will be joining them for dinner--hopefully another threeway set-up for the lurid paperback version--at Tivoli.

Tivoli Gardens was a popular tourist destination in Denmark, and apparently even an influence on Walt Disney for his parks. Here, it's the source of much weeping as the film stops for a few minutes for a nightclub musical act, as Birthe Wilke (herself) croons, "Tivoli Nights." It's like Jesus Franco directed a kaiju film. Though I will give the film that "Tivoli Nights" is nowhere as painful as "The Words Get Stuck In My Throat" from War of the Gargantuas, but at least that film had the decency to have its giant monster menace try to eat the singer who assaulted our eardrums.

"...and Richard M. Nixon on drums!"
The song mercifully ends after Wilke attempts to scat and a truly sad fireworks display goes off outside the night club.

Next, a thunderstorm rolls in outside the aquarium at night--and given that the establishing shot of the aquarium in the rain might be the worst miniature I have ever seen, we can finally begin to feel secure that we will finally be getting some monster action. Inside the aquarium, Dalby and Peterson are the only people on duty--because that's a good idea--and the storm knocks out the power. Dalby goes to check the phones, also down, and hears Reptilicus moving around inside the tank. Dalby goes to investigate and, after seeing the shadowy figure of the creature looming upwards through the window, grabs a revolver and orders Peterson to fetch the police. (No, not any of the military officials who were supposed to be watching the creature, just the civilian police)

Peterson makes it to the police station, and after some mildly unfunny banter between him and the officer in charge (Kjeld Petersen, who was actually the other half of a comedy duo with Dirch Passer, so it's like Lou Costello was just sent to ask Bud Abbott for help--only less funny), Peterson mentions that the creature has escaped and Dalby sent him. It's only after this is mentioned that the police officer dials someone else. Note that Peterson describes Reptilicus breaking out and leaving a "big hole" behind, but it's only during his conversation with the officer that we see brief but woeful shot of the Reptilicus puppet looming up behind the model of the aquarium to indicate its escape.

Well, it's far too late for poor Dr. Dalby. When Grayson and crew arrive at the aquarium, all that's left of the scientist are his smashed glasses. Fitting that the dope who reawakened Reptilicus should be its first meal. While it is disappointing that Peterson was not also eaten, we mercifully will not be seeing him again after this point. At any rate, Brandt reports to Grayson that tracks were found leading to the sea. Grayson orders the headquarters of the Anti-Reptilicus Initiative set up at the barraks of the Royal Guard. Quickly a War Room is set up there, with essential personnel and little maps with toy military vehicles on them. (Sadly, there is no toy Reptilicus, that I could see)

For some reason, Grayson has decided that Svend (?!) is essential personnel. So essential, in fact, that when a Reptilicus sighting is reported near a farm, Svend is the one driving Grayson's jeep to the site! The poor farmer is found standing next to the severed head of one of his cows. Apparently, Reptilicus devoured 14 of the farmer's cows, destroyed his barn, and then headed over a nearby hill. Grayson has his men spread out to search for the creature--and one jeep spots a puppet tail disappearing around a miniature building.

Grayson orders tanks and heavy guns into position. Hilariously this is not stock footage, but rather the Danish military were incredibly eager to participate in the making of the film. Reptilicus then rears up over the top of some trees, in slow motion, so we can marvel at the the majesty of this terrifying prehistoric beast!

"Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Reptilicus is basically an enormous snake, covered in huge scales and tufts of mangy fur, but with tiny vestigal legs--the forelegs are basically just paws attached to his trunk, the hind legs are talons with actual legs attached to them--and what are clearly wings. In the US version, the wings are merely decorative, but in the Danish version Reptilicus flies in one sequence. Supposedly this sequence was cut from the finished film by American International Pictures, the American disrtibutor, because the effects were so poor. However, you can find the sequence on YouTube and if you're anything like me you'll wonder how it was deemed any worse than anything that was left in film.

In fact, after the military opens fire on it, Reptilicus demonstrates that the American distributors added some even worse effects. Remember the line about the creature having glands that secrete some kind of acid? That line was added to explain why Reptilicus will, apropos of nothing, suddenly vomit glowing green slime. It's an animated effect obviously added to the film by AIP, presumably because aside from just being a large creature running loose in a populated area, Reptilicus didn't seem threatening enough. It's also incredibly obvious that the effect was added in post-post, as on the rare occasion that Reptilicus actually hits anything with his slime spit, there is merely an animation of the slime covering the footage of its target. And, sometimes, we see its victims again right after, completely unharmed!

Reptilicus spits some slime and then casually retreats. Naturally, those armored scales make him impervious to light artillery because this is a monster movie. Grayson has an idea, though, which involves cutting Reptilicus off before it can get to the beach. Amazingly, his idea does not involve making sure the surrounding area's civilian population is evacuated, because before Grayson can head the creature off it attacks a farmhouse where a family is sitting down to a meal. While the mother cowers in a corner with the two young boys as the house is crushed, the father rushes outside! What he intended to accomplish by abandoning his family is a mystery, but he only succeeds in becoming the film's most astonishingly awful effect--also added by AIP, hilariously--when he is transformed into a transparent cardboard cutout and swallowed by Reptilicus. Mere pictures cannot get across how ludicrously awful this effect is.

"Mother always told me I'd end up like this!"
Grayson rolls up, perched on a tank with a flamethrower--which won't be the last time our general feels the need to throw himself into the middle of the action rather than someone probably more qualified for a specific task. The miniature effects for the tank rolling up to Reptilicus are, needless to say, hilariously terrible. I guess our late farmer's crop was Christmas trees. Well, it turns out that Reptilicus does not like fire. Grayson lets the beast have it, over and over, severely burning it. Unfortunately, Grayson wasn't successful at cutting it off from the water and the wounded creature slinks off for the safety of the ocean. Brandt hopes the creature is slithering off to die, but Lise (or maybe it's Miller, I have no idea) pisses on that parade by pointing out that Reptilicus is already regenerating and healing its wounds.

Back at the war room, Martens is apparently briefing everyone on their enemy. Grayson is holding the expected photograph of a sauropod (I'm guessing Brontosaurus) and gestures at the photograph before saying, "Then Reptilicus is a cross between one of these...and an amphibious reptile." Wait, what? Martens then further explains that, "Nature went through a long period of experimentation some 70 million years ago," which sounds as though he is describing his own daughters' college years. Heyo! He then asserts that Reptilicus was one of Nature's attempts to bridge the gap between reptile and mammal. Wait, what?!

I realize that this is expecting way too much from this kind of film, but "70 million years ago" means that Reptilicus comes from the Cretaceous period, of the Mesozioc Era. Mammal-like reptiles were first appearing as far back as the Permian Period of the Paleozoic Era, so nearly 250-300 million years ago, and the bridge was well and truly crossed by the Triassic Period at the beginning of the Mesozoic. So, Martens is suggesting Mother Nature decided to try re-bridging the gap well after she'd already done it successfully.

At any rate, Martens also assures Grayson that while Reptilicus is amphibious it will have to come up to breathe on occasion and thus can't hide forever. Grayson isn't much encouraged by that and has the Danish Navy sent out to patrol the coastal waters with underwater cameras used by the aquarium to study sea life, as Martens suggests the creature will stay close to what it considers its territory.

Cut to the war room after a week of fruitless searching. Svend and Grayson are alone in the office. and after Svend stretches Grayson tells him, "You might as well go home, there's nothing more you can do here." Now, most everyone watching the film is wondering what the hell Svend was still doing there at all. We get our answer when Svend refuses by saying, "I'll stay with you," in an overly affectionate tone and Grayson jokingly calls him stubborn. "Other people are stubborn," Svend replies, "I'm firm."

Grayson and Sven are boning. There is literally no other explanation.

At any rate, any hot man-on-man desktop action is interrupted by an urgent report that a destroyer has spotted Reptilicus. (I don't need to tell you that the effect to indicate the destroyer's POV of Reptilicus on the ocean floor is terrible and impossible to make sense of, right?) Grayson, apparently having slept through the parts of briefing that explained how Reptilicus was regrown from a relatively small chunk of its tail, orders the creature bombed with depth charges. Martens, at the aquarium, hears the bombing--which must be very near the shore, then--and suffers a non-fatal heart attack while trying to convince a boat to go out to the ships to stop them.

Meanwhile, Miller rushes into the war room. Grayson tries to wave her off, but she finally gets his attention and slowly and deliberately explains that Reptilicus can regenerate from a small amount of tissue. If a depth charge should strike the creature and blow off any part of it, they would never be able to find it underwater. Cue Grayson's flop sweat and flaring nostrils as he realizes just how hard he's screwed the pooch. Naturally, Grayson radios the navy to break off their attack too late. Cut to a shot of the Reptilicus puppet on the bottom of the ocean, so limp that it looks dead. Three explosions strike the puppet, which seems oddly unbothered by the attack.

And then one of Reptilicus' severed talons sinks to the bottom of the ocean, billowing blood, and settles there. Great job breaking it, hero.

Apparently Grayson then gives up trying to think of another way to deal with the creature because in the next two weeks, Reptilicus goes on a campaign of ship sinking while Grayson twiddles his thumbs. And then the creature decides to come ashore at a crowded public beach, which is shown to us via Reptilicus rising from the water in an obvious blue screen behind a young couple who fail to notice him even though the girl is doing her make-up with a compact mirror facing the water. When the girl finally notices Reptilicus, the two are enveloped in animated slime. Reptilicus hates being ignored.

"NOTICE ME!"
Now, I do believe this is the point where Reptilicus flies in the Danish version. However, here he just basically comes over a hill and arrives in Copenhagen. Reptilicus quickly finds itself slithering down the narrow streets. Civilians flee as armed units fire at the beast and get slimed. In the war room, Grayson throws a hilarious fit because he can't bring in bombs or heavy artillery, knocking his little map markers all over. Grayson orders flamethrowers sent in--you know, the thing that hurt the creature before--but the men in the field give a bullshit excuse that they can't get close because of the acid slime. Since the acid slime was an American addition, I can't imagine what the excuse was originally, if there even was one.

When word comes that Repticilus is approaching the canal, Grayson and Svend immediately rush to the bridge. This makes no sense, but it's a good thing they decided to do it because the bridge operator's reaction to seeing a panicked populace running towards him is to raise the bridge, When he sees people desperately plunging into the canal to escape the approaching beast he...covers his face and turns away. Luckily, Svend knows how to lower the bridge. Reptilicus makes its way into the canal and submerges.

Grayson and Svend go back to the war room, where Grayson advises he wants to lure Reptilicus into the open country and bomb the shit out of it. To accomplish this he orders Brandt to bring to bear "Ack-Ack" guns against the creature. Apart from being the most hilarious way of referring to "Anti-Aircraft" guns, I'm amused that Grayson wants Ack-Acks against a terrestrial creature. While Grayson is putting all his plans into place, Martens arrives and once again tells Grayson that he can't use bombs because he'd be scattering bits of Reptilicus all over the city. Grayson counters that they''d just pick up the pieces. Hilariously, this continues for a while--Martens doesn't offer solutions but says that Grayson can't use bombs, Grayson responds with nostril flaring and reiterating how awesome bombs are.

Eventually Grayson does back down, but that still leaves them with no way of dealing with the beast that's currently tearing apart cardboard buildings.

"Whatever happened to...Fay Wray?"
As an aside, the monster rampage stuff may not be any damn good but you can't fault the film for not giving you enough of it! After his initial arrival in Copenhagen, Reptilicus is never not rampaging through bad miniatures.

When Martens is sedated, we find out the other reason Svend stuck around. Like the Gamera films would do a few years later with their obnoxious children in tiny shorts, Svend has introduced the monster to the world and he will inadvertently inspire the means of defeating it when he wishes aloud that they could give Reptilicus a shot. Yes, Sven is this film's Kenny.

Grayson hears what Svend says and it inspires him: they need to fill a rocket with enough tranquilizer to knock Reptilicus out so they can dispose of it at their leisure. So quickly Grayson, one of the Martens, and Svend get to work rigging a drug-filled rocket for a bazooka. Brandt wants to know how Grayson expects to get the drug into Reptilicus' system given how tough its hide is, but Grayson intends to shoot it into the soft tissue of the creature's mouth. Brandt is aghast because this means that firing the shot point blank. Well, Grayson naturally intends to fire the shot himself even though, again, there is surely someone more qualified.

Reptilicus has helpfully stationed himself in the Copenhagen town square--after driving screaming crowds from Tivoli, which must be an editing gaffe as I'm sure that was meant to happen after "Tivoli Nights"--when Grayson and company arrive. I can't help noting that Brandt has a lot of blood streaking down the right side of his face, but if there's an explanation for how he was injured, it was cut from the American version. Grayson loads the bazooka and lines up the shot, but then an ambulance goes by and it causes Reptilicus to turn his head slightly to the right. Grayson reacts like the creature just flew off. Oh, it's such a hassle to get to the other side of the square, poor baby!

"Look, I'm sorry, my species was Nature's attempt to bridge the gap between reptiles and personal injury lawyers."
Brandt, tired of Grayson's hissy fits, hops in a jeep and drives it straight at Reptilicus while honking the horn to draw its attention. I'm not sure if being promptly squashed by the clumsy beast landing on him was part of his plan, but if it was then his strategy succeeded wonderfully. Everyone does the expected momentary grieving and then Grayson shoots Reptilicus in the mouth via a silly cartoon effect. (This is also courtesy of AIP) Amazingly, the tranquilizer takes effect almost immediately and Reptilicus falls to the ground, unconscious. The fountains come back on in the square and Grayson turns the responsibility for Reptilicus to Martens and his daughters. The Martens family hurriedly rushes over towards the unconscious reptile but whatever they intend to do to it is left to our imaginations.

So, in a way, this film ends the same way as Lake Placid: for all we know, Reptilicus is being transported to a better secured enclosure. We're left wide open for a sequel even before Grayson puts his arm around Miller and wistfully says, "It's a good thing there are no more like him," in order to cue up the inevitable cut to Reptilicus' severed talon on the ocean floor, which is even now starting to twitch...

(Holy Crap, Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack totally ripped that ending off!)

Reptilicus was one of those movies that I was introduced to as a kid via its inclusion in Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies, which was basically a compilation of "dinosaur" movie trailers that had a very loose definition of what constituted a dinosaur. The trailer (which, oddly, was cropped of the first few seconds that explained Reptilicus' origin when it was included in that compilation) did nothing to disguise the limitations of its monster, plus contained its own idiocy by declaring Reptilicus to be "an annihilating mastodon immune to all known weapons of warfare!" I'm guessing someone decided "mastodon" and "mammoth" were synonyms.

At any rate, I was certainly inspired to want to see this ridiculous film in action. However, fate would keep that from happening until I was able to pick up the film's second US DVD release in 2013. After so many years of hearing how goofy the film was, I definitely was not disappointed. Whether it's the film's script, its bad acting, its bad dubbing, or its bad special effects, there's no shortage of delightfully awful things in the film. If only AIP had kept things like Reptilicus flying by wobbling around on wires or the absolutely inexplicable bit of Peterson singing a song about "Tillicus" to a bunch of children, there'd be even more surreal awfulness to laugh at. Thankfully, some of the Danish version can be found on YouTube if you look carefully (prepare to be amazed that some of the effects footage that AIP passed over was almost good), but the upcoming Scream Factory Blu-ray release won't include the Danish film.

There's not really much more I can say than what I already said in my synopsis. If you're looking for a genuinely good giant dinosaur on the rampage film, you clearly need to look elsewhere. But if you want to watch a classic of hilarious incompetence, this is the film for you.

Just watch out for "Tivoli Nights." It's a killer.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Giant Behemoth (1959) [Friday Fakeosaurus February]

I've previously addressed the career woes of both Eugene Lourie and Willis O'Brien on this site, but this is the only chance I'll get to address both in the same film. Though, honestly, I'm not certain if either of them considered this movie a low point in their respective careers I feel pretty secure in guessing that they did.

For Lourie, it was the second time he was asked to direct a film about a giant sea monster rampaging through a famous city. For O'Brien, it was basically being asked to copy the work of his protege, Ray Harryhausen, for a tiny fraction of the production budget that Harryhausen had. Hell, O'Brien actually let an assistant do most of the animation.

The film, like Gorgo would two years later, also feels like a bit of a bitter response piece to the success of Godzilla, King of the Monsters! in 1956. Even though much of the film's anti-nuclear message was toned down when Raymond Burr was awakwardly inserted into it so Americans could have a white face to relate to, Godzilla, King of the Monsters! still clearly had the core message about how the reckless use of nuclear weapons could bite humanity in the ass by creating monsters. Yet, while there would be no Godzilla without Lourie's The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Lourie's earlier film only used nuclear weapons as a plot device to set the dinosaur loose on the world--and, in fact radiation ends up saving the day.

Meanwhile, this film is almost as stridently anti-nuclear weapons as Godzilla. The monster, like Godzilla, is a fictional dinosaur that was driven out of its ocean habitat by radiation, is intensely radioactive, and is able to discharge that radiation as a weapon. Curiously, though, radiation still saves the day--which is rather at odds with the rest of the film's message! We'll discuss that more later on, but any way you slice it there's zero question that the film would have turned out as it did without Godzilla, and already you can feel a certain bitterness on Lourie's part that this is the case.

However, that doesn't necessarily mean that this bitterness brings the film down.

After the first inevitable quote from the Bible to clue in heathens like myself as to where "Behemoth" comes from, we open with American marine biologist Steve Karnes (Gene Evans) delivering a speech to a convention of scientsts in London. In a nice touch, we're informed of who the hell we're listening to by the camera focusing on someone in Karnes' audience circling his name on the program with a pencil. Karnes is explaining that the danger of all the nuclear tests and dumping of nuclear waste in the ocean is setting off "a biological chain reaction." The radiation is being absorbed at the bottom of the food chain and then becoming more and more concentrated in each progressive predator that feeds on contaminated organisms. Therefore, Karnes reasons, we will soon begin to see a consequence of this contamination that affects humanity as a whole.

Karnes has no way of guessing what form that consequence will take, of course, but I'm sure he never would have imagined what it turns out to be. And it's a shame that he didn't guess it would first appear in Cornwall. A fisherman by the name of Tom Trevethan (Henry Vidon) has just sent his adult daughter Jean (Leigh Madison) on her way while he tarries on the beach before hitting the local pub. He won't be making it to the pub, however, because he sees something rise out of the sea. Something that glows with a blinding intensity...

So when Jean discovers that her father never made it to the pub, her boyfriend John (John Turner) accompanies her to the beach to search for her father--and they find him, barely alive and covered in horrible burns. Just before he dies the old man says that something rose from the sea and, with his last breath, intones, "Behemoth."

Cut to his funeral, where apparently the minister overseeing it decided to take the man's last word as a suggestion for what Biblical passage to quote. John and Jean then go walking past the beach where her father died--and are suddenly struck by the sight of hundreds of dead fish littering the beach. John also notices a strange, pulsating white blob. Apparently they don't get horror movies in Cornwall, because John just casually sticks his bare hand up against the thing and is promptly burned.

The massive fish kill, but oddly not the death of a fisherman under mysterious circumstances about the same time, is big enough to reach the national media. Naturally, Karnes sees the news report as he is preparing to leave for America and decides he needs to stay in Great Britain after all. He contacts Prof. James Bickford (Andre Morell) at the British scientific society that hosted his earlier speech. Bickford is not surprised at all and also helpfully fills Karnes in on the mysterious death of Mr. Trevethan. Naturally, Karnes is eager to join Bickford's trip to Cornwall to investigate.

In Cornwall, the two get a rather chilly welcome from the locals--not due to some superstition, but because they're frustrated at the fact that the government has been seemingly unconcerned about their predicament. It's been weeks since anyone caught a fish. Karnes asks if anyone saw anything unusual, and one fisherman reports that he saw a glowing cloud under the water, like an electrical storm rolling in towards a city. When Karnes asks if the coud was moving, the mnan laughs and explains he was too busy fleeing to notice. John then volunteers to take the men to talk to the local doctor abut Trevethan's death.

The doctor is no help, as he writes the burns that killed Trevethan off as a jellyfish sting combined with a strong allergic reaction to kelp--or something like that. Luckily, John is on hand and Karnes recognizes the burns John suffered as matching those of Hiroshima survivors. Karens and Bickford have John and Jean take them to the beach to find evidence of the blob that burned his hand, but it's long gone and there's no trace of radiation. Jean relays her father's last word, "Behemoth," along with an explanation of what exactly a Behemoth is for those of us who don't know the Bible all that well--and that gets Karnes thinking.

And now it's time for what is honestly the most rewarding part of The Giant Behemoth: Karnes sets to work doin' Science!

Actual science, no less. (Which, um, will cease to be the movie's forte after this) Specimens of fish are brought in from the waters near Cornwall and along the English coast. A particular emphasis is placed on bottom feeders like flounder. Each fish is placed on a photographic slate: if the fish's radiation content is normal, the film will be blank--but anywhere the radiation concentrates, like the bones, will show up like an X-Ray photograph. It doesn't take long before one of the slides comes up with a smattering of spots on it. In turning out the lights to determine if there was a leak in the darkroom, Karnes and his assistants discover a strange glowing--coming from a foreign object in a fish's stomach. A fish whose plate comes out with every bone in its body showing clear as can be.

I'm not kidding, that actual science sequence is hugely rewarding.

The foreign object is determined to be some sort of digestive lining from an unknown animal. After Karnes goes out in a boat in the are where the fish was caught with a geiger counter and an amazingly brave captain, he briefly catches sight of something through his bincoluars. Whatever it is, it has a long neck that resembles the traditional image of a sea serpent and it's radioactive. It's also too fast for the boat to catch. Though, given Karnes is next called to the wreck of a freighter that collided with some unkown object and was torn to pieces, he may want to count himself lucky.

"Tell Werner Herzog to leave me alone!"
Well, that clinches it. Karnes is convinced that the fish kill, the death of the fisherman, and the wreck of the ferry were all caused by some as yet unknown marine animal that has been poisoned by feeding on contaminated prey, driven from its natural habitat as a result, and also running wild from the pain of radiation sickness. Of course, Karnes' hypothesis is right in aspects but one--the creature isn't actually unknown.

See, the Behemoth is amphibious, and it comes ashore at a farm. The father and teenage son who are alerted to its presence by their dog's panicked barking get to discover that the barely glimpsed creature responds to being shot at by discharging a massively fatal dose of radiation that turns anyone in the affected region into a really obvious painting. Helpfully, it also leaves behind a clear footprint, as long as a police car. A footprint that, to Karnes and Pickford suggests something very much like a dinosaur.

Therefore, they turn to Dr. Sampson (Jack MacGowran), a paleontologist, for assistance. Sampson is a very kooky fellow, but he knows his stuff and identifies the print as belonging to a member of the "Paleosaurus" family, and a specimen around 150-200 feet long at that. Sampson is eager to go to the site of the fossil--until Karnes and Pickford explain that the print was left by a living animal. Sampson is both delighted by the fact that his long suspicion that dinosaurs weren't truly extinct was correct and saddened by the news that the creature is radioactive, which he correctly surmises means it will need to be killed.

"Of course, you know it's electric," he comments, meaning that the creature functions similarly to an electric eel. I'm relatively sure he couldn't know this from fossil evidence, but Karnes thinks that would explain how the creature has been killing--by using that tremendous electric charge to discharge its radiation. (Like I said, actual science has taken its leave again) Then Sampson shows them a drawing of a Paleosaurus that raises a lot of questions for me because it shows a creature of roughly the same proportions as the Rhedosaurus from Lourie's earlier film. It might be concept art since the effects wouldn't thave been finished yet, except Sampson describes Paleosaurus as having a long, graceful neck. The creature in the drawing doesn't match that description at all, and this drawing will be recreated again after the creature shows itself to witnesses who survive.

Pictured: A long, graceful neck.
Sampson agrees to help in trying to find and eliminate the beast. So when the English military commander refuses to close off the Thames over "an overgrown crocodile" because he is sure they can detect the Behemoth with their advanced radar and stop it, Sampson is among the crew of a helicopter tasked with trying to spot the creature from the air. Well, the helicopter spots the creature's glowing outline--a truly risible effect where a cartoon silhouette of the creature is super-imposed onto obvious miniature shots of water--but the radar can't detect it. Naturally, the helicopter gets too close and the Behemoth uses its radiation attack to ensure that the radar can't detect the helicopter, either.

Man, if you're a paleontologist in a Eugene Lourie film, you're probably gonna die before the end credits.

The fact that radar can't detect this incredibly deadly creature would, you'd assume, convince the government to close the Thames to boat traffic until further notice. Well, either it doesn't or they're slow on their feet because we next see a crowded ferry crossing the Thames--and it is promptly attacked and sunk by the Behemoth. This is a very dark sequence, much like the ones we'd see in Gorgo, except the corpses with radiation burns and the pathos-inspiring child's doll are all undercut by how laughable the effects are. The miniatures are obvious, but the trouble is with the prop head representing the beast. It's well-sculpted, but it's stiff and inexpressive. Worst of all, it's screwed to a board. I know this because whoever was in charge of shoving it at the model ferry couldn't keep the board out of shot.

"Look! The beast has an obvious weakness!"
Well, that gets the Thames good and closed. But it puts the military in an odd position because, as Karnes and Pickford point out, the creature can't be killed by artillery or bombs because that would spread horrifying amounts of radiation all over London. Karnes suggests that the creature is already dying from the radiation poisoning it has received. He posits that a radium-tipped torpedo launched from a miniature submarine might introduce enough additional radiation to speed up the process, and kill the beast faster and without risk of contamination to the whole city.

Of course, modifying that torpedo is going to take some time, and the Behemoth has decided to come ashore and take a leisurely stroll through London. And naturally it responds to all the screaming crowds and the occasional soldier shooting at it by projecting its radiation and turning more people into paintings. So every minute that torpedo isn't ready, the more of London is condemned to agonizing death.

"How do I get to Big Ben? Hello? Anyone?"
The special effects improve from here, obviously, since Willis O'Brien is at least supervising. However, there are a lot of recycled shots and aside from knocking down a crane, stepping on a car (which is one of the bits repeated), and knocking over a brick wall, the Behemoth doesn't really do a lot on its initial rampage. We later see it roaming at night, where it destroys some high tension towers after running into their wires and being enraged by the electrocution. (Beyond the obvious similarity to Godzilla, would electrical wires even bother an electric creature?)

From there it's an admittedly cool sequence of the creature lit by spotlights amongst famous landmarks, before it makes its way onto a bridge--and then it grabs a car in its mouth that two observers were stupid enough to hide in and chucks it into the river. Its celebration smashes the bridge and dumps it into the water, so that the final showdown can begin...

"This is the Tower of Murder. It's...it's where I hang out."
When I essentially said in my review of Gorgo that The Giant Behemoth was the worst of Eugene Lourie's trilogy of giant sea monster films, I didn't mean that it's a bad film. It just isn't as good as The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and it isn't quite as entertaining as Gorgo. However, that doesn't mean it is without merit.

From a purely comedic perspective, the effects in the film's ferry attack are gold. That said, there are a lot of genuinely quite good effects amongst the howlers. And, while the quality of the actual stop motion models may vary wildly from shot-to-shot, the Behemoth is a pretty well-designed monster--if a bit generic.

Incidentally, there actually are at least a few species of prehistoric animals called "Paleosaurus," as it is an incredibly unimaginative name and fossil hunters in the late 19th and early 20th Century were always trying to be the first to name something. However, given the only one that was an actual dinosaur and not a variety of crocodilian looks nothing like the Behemoth, it's still 100% a Fakeosaurus.

What's genuinely rewarding about the film is something I already emphasized earlier: the actual use of science. Even amongst the overly talky science fiction films of the 1950s, there are too few that actually include this much true science. That might sound dull, but it's actually among the most enjoyable parts of the film. Especially since, when you get right down to it, the Behemoth is a bit of an unimpressive monster.

Oh, sure, in the scenes it's not represented by a heinous prop the creature is very well rendered, as I said earlier. But as I also said, the creature is very generic in a way that the Rhedosaurus, Godzilla, and Gorgo aren't. This creature is basically a fanged sauropod--and Willis O'Brien had already unleashed a Brontosaurus on London in 1925's The Lost World, in a manner somewhat more satisfying than this.

Add to that the fact that its rampages don't seem any different from the Rhedosaurus' attack on New York (other than an obvious decrease in the quality of stop-motion and composite shots used), its radiation attack is a less dynamic version of Godzilla's famous radioactive flame breath, and its demise is a somewhat more exciting retread of the killing of the giant octopus in It Came From Beneath The Sea--and you have a very familiar monster that brings virtually nothing new to the table. We've seen this all before and, usually, better. The poor Behemoth doesn't even have its own roar--it just uses the same roar as the carnivorous Brontosaurus from King Kong. (And you'll ote that a lot of the screams of its victims are lifted from King Kong as well, courtesy the various dying sailors) Given that a distinctive roar is one of the best shortcuts to give a monster a sense of personality, it's a real disservice to the creature's sense of character.

Despite all that, the film is definitely entertaining. As long as you don't go into it expecting a lost classic, you're bound to have a good time.

And it's worth noting that, in other markets, this film is titled Behemoth, The Sea Monster. I can only asssume, in typical Hollywood fashion, it was assumed that the size of a Behemoth needed to be emphasized in order for audiences to get that it was a giant monster. Or else they just wanted to make it clear this was no ordinary, garden variety Behemoth.

"Am I really a 'Giant' Behemoth? I mean, what's a normal size for a Behemoth? LOOK I'M SENSITIVE ABOUT MY FIGURE"

Friday, February 6, 2015

At The Earth's Core (1976) [Friday Fakeosaurus February]


The trouble with an undertaking like HubrisWeen is that, afterwards, you feel a bit too drained to do much of anything else. November was a wasteland, December just barely got its Christmas review, and it took me a month to write my review of King Kong Escapes and I've seen that movie enough times to have its plot memorized!

Yet, I knew I wanted to challenge myself to do better. And nothing inspires you to step up your game quite like a theme. And February seemed like a perfect month to do a theme for. I briefly considered doing a weekly Blaxploitation review, but I really didn't even need to be told by one of My Black Friends (keep them around as a shield against accusations of racism) that this would be a bad idea for obvious reasons.

Then it hit me: Fakeosaurus February! A month of reviews of movies that contain completely bogus species of dinosaurs! And to further nail down the theme, every review will be scheduled on a Friday!

No concerns of racism necessary! Well, at least not from me--I make no promises for the movies.

Speaking of racism, have I featured a White Savior movie on this site? No? Well, here, let's tackle an Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation!

In this case, we're tackling the first Burroughs book I ever read and the second of three Burroughs adaptations that Amicus Productions churned out in the mid-1970s. Amicus was a competitor to Hammer Studios and if you ever felt that the budget on any of Hammer's productions were threadbare, you haven't seen an Amicus film.

When Hammer wanted dinosaurs, they hired Ray Harryhausen and Jim Danforth & David Allen. When Amicus wanted dinosaurs they hired...um. Uhhh... Well, they hired someone, but I'm not entirely sure that someone wants to be remembered.

The film begins in the early 1910s, with eccentric inventor Dr. Abner Perry (Peter Cushing! And he's doing an oddly foppish accent in this film) and his financier and former student David Innes (Doug McClure!) unveiling the Iron Mole for a cheering crowd. It's a huge, tube-shaped  machine with a drill on the front. The Iron Mole is going for a test run, where it will burrow through the Welsh Hills, racing against a team of horses topside.

Of course, things almost immediately go pear shaped. The machine continues digging straight down and refuses to right itself to horizontal. And so the pair of explorers find themselves drilling through the mantle and are quickly overcome by the great heat, losing consciousness. The Iron Mole continues on and the two are soon woken by cold, as the machine has hit a huge layer of ice in the outer core. However, they're able to stabilize their descent and reverse it, finally--singing merrily as they go.

Well, until they find themselves in an underground lake. And then they land in some kind of forest, right before the Iron Mole's power goes dead. Perry observes it must have been a short caused by the water, as he hadn't prepared the machine for water. David decides to make the best of their situation and go exploring. Perry grabs his trusty umbrella and follows, into the bizarre forest full of prehistoric vegetation and giant mushrooms, and a pinkish purple sky. They both take much too long to figure out where they are, all things considered--it takes Perry checking his compass to realize they're not on Earth but under it.

And then the "dinosaur" shows up. (Mind you, we are 14 minutes in to the film and our first monster has already appeared. You can't accuse this film of wasting time, which is not exactly true of the other Amicus Burroughs films)

Now, in my distant memories of the book I seem to recall the creature they first encounter being described as being like an upright alligator. The monster that the film gives us sort of has a body like an upright lizard or alligator---albeit much more simplistically detailed--but its head is what you would get if Sam the Eagle were hit with Gamma radiation and Hulked out.

"You weirdos shouldn't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."
Whatever the Fakeosaurus is supposed to be is not mentioned, probably because there was no real-world equivalent the filmmakers could pass it off as. How big is the Fakeosaurus? Hell if I know. The rear-projected shots of Perry and David fleeing from the creature suggest it is maybe 30 feet tall at minimum, but soon they'll be interacting with full-sized props that suggest the creature is around 12 feet tall.

David leaves his cigar lit as he flees and Perry tries to shoo the creature with his umbrella, before David tells Perry to climb up a tree while he...tries to find a weapon, I guess. Naturally, this puts Perry at mouth height to the beast. Which, again, seems very large in the shots where it's menacing Perry but the full-size prop leg that David hits suggests the creature is barely twice his height. At any rate, David distracts the monster from Perry--whose poor umbrella was not much help in fending the fiend off--and then David manages to run straight into quicksand. The Fakeosaurus should have an easy meal, except it is suddenly driven off by spears and David is hauled out of the bog.

It's not exactly a rescue. See, their saviors are a bunch of aggressive humanoids in alligator-skin vests outfits, with pig-like noses and cone-shaped heads that all have thinning hair. No doubt they're touchy about it. The humanoids only communicate in electronically distorted voices and they promptly chain Perry and David to the rest of their human captives. I might add that fully a third of the humans we see in the film are wearing awful, curly "Annie" wigs. Even the black people.

"Look, we had to either cut wigs or catering from the budget. I'm sure you'll agree we made the right choice."
"There was catering?"
"...Sure."
And yes, there are black people, which makes this film sadly more diverse than it would be if it was shot in 2015.

There's some possibly intentionally vaguely racist dialogue where Perry observes the humans appear to be intellectually superior to their non-human captors, yet the pig-faces are the "Master Race." And then David is lashed by one of their captors and says, "I'll remember him, Doc, but they all look the same."

The group is quickly set to march by their captors--completely oblivious to another barely glimpsed Fakeosaurus that is watching them from the trees. Amongst their fellow captives, David naturally quickly notices and makes the acquaintance of Dia (Caroline Munro!), seeing as how he's the "dashing" hero and she's gorgeous.

Yes, I would punch dinosaurs in the face for her.
Luckily, Dia and her compatriots speak English (?) so Dia is able to tell David that the shady-looking creep that keeps looking at him is Hooja the Sly One (Sean Lynch) and is not to be trusted. When David wonders if it's ever night since his watch says it's been two days of marching, Perry explains that they are in an immense cave with light provided by magma some 20 miles above them so there can't be any night. When one of their captors steals David's watch, which belonged to his father, he asks Dia what they are. "Sagoths," she explains, "soldiers of the Mahars." She further explains that, "Mahars rule Pellucidar. They are taking us to be slaves in their city."

And then Hooja the Sly One decides right then to grab Dia and David slugs him good. For some reason, everyone--including Dia and the Sahgoths--then stares at David expectantly, and then everyone turns their backs on him before the Sagoths march them forward. David doesn't have much time to ponder why everyone is giving him the cold shoulder before the captive leading the chain gang is suddenly set upon by the Fakeosaurus that was watching from the trees.

This promptly turns him into a truly regrettable doll puppet as the Fakeosauruus crams him into its mouth, What is this Fakeosaurus? Well, um...it's...

"Mmm. Hobbit!"
Basically, it appears somebody took an Uintatherium (a prehistoric rhino, which has been featured in a film on here before) and made it a biped with hands. So, strictly speaking it's not a dinosaur but I'm still calling it a Fakeosaurus because it's, well, fake,

A second Fakeosaurus of the same species then arrives to fight the first after the Sagoths cut its victim loose. The two grapple while humans and Sagoth cower in safety. Finally, the challenger fatally gores his opponent and makes off with the prize of the poor captive human. Onward the chain gang marches.
"You do realize there are, like, over a dozen equally vulnerable prisoners over there you could eat instead of fighting me for this one?"
"Up yours, Carl!"
They soon arrive at the City of the Mahars, which is an elaborate castle-like structure when seen from afar, but the entrance and interior are just a system of caves. As they are ushered into the city, Perry observes of the Sagoths, "They're so excitable, like all foreigners." David soon notices that Dia has disappeared and tries to get some answers from one of their compatriots about why he's getting the cold shoulder. Hooja the Sly One has somehow absconded with Dia: it seems that David claimed Dia as his own by besting Hooja the Sly One, but he neither claimed her nor released her from his claim and thus committed a heinous faux pas. No man may claim her until they have bested David now, and Dia was already fleeing from Jubal the Ugly One who has the strength of many men and wants her for his own when the Sagoths captured her. Presumably Hooja the Sly One intends to bring her to Jubal the ugly One.

The agenda of Goomba the Moderately Handsome One is not mentioned.

Oh, and Dia is actually a princess, but you knew that already. She's incredibly proud and unlikely to forgive David even if he does find her again. Whoops.

Perry, for his part, is more fascinated by the fact that the Mahars are able to somehow channel the flow of lava as they see fit. And he's even more amazed when they are ushered into a large chamber to serve as audience for the Mahars, for the Mahars turn out to be a variety of man-sized Rhamphorynchus!

Now, I'm gonna go ahead and call the Mahars yet another Fakeosaurus here. Yes, as I have previously observed, Rhamphorynchus is a real pterosaur (and my favorite). And Perry identifies them as Rhamphorynchus, which they also were in the novel--but nobody told the special effects department that, apparently. So instead the Mahars are just beaked dragon-looking creatures. Nobody would actually look at them and go, "A Rhamphorynchus, of the Middle Jurassic Period!"

The white one is the leader, because of course it is.
And I will say that the Mahars are, while nothing special, not horribly bad suits--except for one glaring miscalculation. You know that frill that Kermit the Frog has around his "collar"? Well, some demented suit designer decided that the Mahars should have them as well. Because when you're making a monster, you definitely want it to remind people of a Muppet.

"Hi ho, Kermit the Mahar, here!"
As in the novel the Mahars are at least partially telepathic and have the power of mesmerism, which they use to control the Sagoths. However, the film never addresses if they are all female, as in the novel. The Mahars split their captives into groups, with Perry being sent to the Mahar library and David is sent to perform physical labor to keep the channeled lava in check. Perry quickly discerns that the Mahars have some secret that may serve to destroy them if he finds it, David, meanwhile, causes a brief slave revolt and uses it as a distraction so he can escape the city.

Once outside he finds an unattended campfire and helps himself to the meat being roasted over it. the owner of the campfire returns and attacks David and the two fall into a nearby cave in their struggle. A cave that, bizarrely, serves as the home of a tentacled carnivorous plant that makes vocalizations like the THX logo. (Why the plant would want to live in a cave instead of somewhere food would actuallly be likely to happen across it, is beyond me) The two fight,oblivious, until David's foe is grabbed by the plant. David rescues his companion by cutting the tentacles holding him--which apparently kills the plant!

The other man introduces himself as Ra (Cy Grant) and expresses amazement that David escaped from the Mahar city. When David asks why Ra's people and all the other tribes haven't risen up against the Mahars, Ra explains that it isn't that simple. And he leads David to the Mahar's grotto to show him why. Thus David gets to watch, helpless and horrified, as several women prisoners are placed in a pit ringed with fire, and then the Mahars swoop down and devour them.

Now, it's called a "grotto" despite no water being present probably because, in the original novel, it was a grotto. A Mahar would choose one woman at a time and mesmerize her into walking into the water with it, then resurface--and each time they resurfaced a part of the woman was missing until only the Mahar surfaced. It was creepy as Hell. This sequence? Yeah, not so much. The lead Mahar hypnotizes one woman and carries her off, but the others aren't even mesmerized into not running away!

At any rate, David's White Savior button has been pushed and he declares it is time to destroy the Mahars. Well, after he manages to fall into the "grotto" and then has to sneak by the Mahars napping off their meal. David decides he will go back into the Mahar city to rescue his compatriots and tells Ra to go back to his village, but Ra refuses to let David go back alone. "We've just doubled our strength," David quips. And all without finding two wolves named Kurt!

Sorry, that joke only makes sense if you've seen Tarkan vs. The Vikings.

Naturally, the two are promptly captured and brought to the Mahar audience chamber again. While all the slaves--including Perry, who does a superbly hilarious "Hi, it's me!" wave at David--are made to watch, Ra is chained to a sacrificial pole and the Sagoths toss David a spear. A portcullis rises and out of it roars...

...the cutest Fakeosaurus you will ever see. It might be supposed to be something like Inostrancevia, a mammal-like reptile of the therapsid order and thus not really a dinosaur, but then almost none of the Fakeosauruses in this film have been what you would classify as dinosaurs and it's definitely a Fakeosaurus. It's also adorable. (And it would reappear, though barely glimpsed, in The People That Time Forgot the next year)

"I was hiding behind your portcullis because I love you!"
Well, David is not moved by its adorableness. Following Ra's advice he spears the poor thing in the ear after a bit of dodging a rear projection of the guy in the monster suit and a full-scale head that, I'm sure you're shocked to hear, doesn't match the scale or proportions of the suit. The poor thing seems very confused about being stabbed, since it didn't appear to actually be trying to eat David but rather acted like an overly excited puppy greeting a new guest, and then it falls over either dead or exhausted.

Well, the Mahars are sore losers and one swoops down at David, only for Ra to break his chains and use them to strangle the beast to death. Great job, Mahar #3: you've just shown the hairless apes that you are not only mortal, but easily killed. Not that the other Mahars do anything to stop it. And just like that, the rebellion begins. The Sagoths are overwhelmed and almost all the slaves escape, save those trapped by the Mahar fire curtains. David leads Perry through the caves, during which Perry cries out a line that is hilariously easy to take out of context: "I have a firm grip upon your trousers, David!" Perry also insists on showing David the Mahar's secret before they leave: the Mahar's eggs are kept in a chamber that is heated by lava. Destroying the chamber would wipe the Mahars out.

David and Perry find their way out of the city and immediately stumble across Dia, who is being pursued by Hooja the Sly One. Hooja the Sly One catches Dia and threatens to spear her if David comes closer, but luckily the silliest Fakeosaur of all intervenes: a fire-breathing toad monster! Well, it has a tail so that makes it actually a salamander, which I'd think was clever if I had any inkling that the filmmakers were intentionally making a joke. And amusingly enough, this weird critter actually is in the book, though there it's just described as a literal dragon.

A gritty, live-action reboot of Pokemon was a really strange idea.
Hooja the Sly One flees and David rushes to Dia's side to chucks rocks at the Fire-breathing Fakeosaurus. However, they're only saved from certain flamebroiling by Perry shooting the beast with arrows using a bow he whipped up in a matter of seconds somehow. The creature falls off its perch and when it hits the ground it explodes in a big fireball, as you do,

Dia proves incredibly quick to forgive David after puts the moves on her, but she warns that Hooja the Sly One will be leading Jubal the Ugly One to them. And, indeed, the trio quickly run into Jubal the Ugly One (Michael Crane) before they've gone far. David refuses to run, however. For Jubal the Ugly One is merely practice. Soon he's going to have to unite all the tribes of Pellucidar and take down the Mahars.

All in a day's work for a White Savior.

There's no question that Amicus didn't have the best production values when it came to their Edgar Rice Burroughs films. The Land That Time Forgot probably had the best effects budget, and its dinosaurs were all obvious puppets or stiff full-size props. Meanwhile, almost all of the creatures in this film are men in suits that wouldn't pass muster at Toho Studios and awkward full-scale props. You really need to pull out all the stops with the effects for films like these, but the sad thing is that Amicus probably did.

Yet, while the effects may not be breathtaking or convincing--for instance, the bit where a Mahar tries to strangle David with its wings but somehow stays airborne--there's a certain charm to them that you can't help but love. And the fact that they still pushed forward with stocking a movie full of dinosaurs when they could have had hardly any and saved the effects budget for other things is very admirable. Sometimes quantity is way better than quality.

As for the story, it definitely takes a few divergences from the source novel that are not always the right choice. (Like its ending, which I won't spoil here) Some of these are obviously due to budget and an attempt to reach a wider audience, but not all of them. However, it's faithful in spirit to the original novel and what truly matters is that it's a fun adventure romp--and the film is definitely that. The plot may be something you've definitely seen before, but there's something to be said for the familiar in fiction.

The cast is also a delight and there's nary a terrible performance to be found. Peter Cushing is as delightful as he always is; Caroline Munro makes Dia an interesting character in spite of being only asked to basically be present and look gorgeous; and Doug McClure, while certainly no master thespian, makes for a very enjoyable pulp hero. The supporting cast is also good at what they do. Even if most of them are forced to act with some of the worst wigs and fake beards the costume department could find.

There's just something pleasing about this kind of film. I hate to pull the old nostalgic, "kids these days" crap, but there's just a certain charm to movies like these that today's B-Movies don't capture. Since so few people do practical effects, you just don't encounter films with charmingly terrible practical effects anymore--and terrible CGI doesn't have the same appeal. Hell, when a rare B-Movie comes along that does use practical effects, they often make the effects in this film look like Stan Winston and Rick Baker. Somehow that's not as charming as you would think.

It's also nice that this film is just recent enough to not be irredeemably sexist or racist, even though it's based on Edgar Rice Burroughs. Sure, I've long ago had to inure myself against such things as a B-Movie fan, but it's nice to not have to utilize that self-defense system. This is a movie I'd show my son without worrying overmuch about it warping his view of the world.

If you're looking for a classic, At The Earth's Core is not it. But if you want a fun matinee flick full of ridiculous Fakeosauruses, then this is a wonderful choice. Plus, too few movies contain Peter Cushing declaring to a telepathic pterosaur, "You can't mesmerize me: I'm British!"