Tuesday, October 6, 2015

HubrisWeen 2015, Day 1: Anaconda (1997)

Snakes don't scare me.

Oh, sure, if you put me in the same room with an angry cobra or a hungry reticulated python I'm probably going to be terrified, but that's not what I mean. I don't have a deep-down, ingrained, irrational fear of snakes. The mere sight of one does not make my hair stand on end and if I see one in the wild I'm just as likely to walk over for a closer look as run in the other direction--provided we're talking about just a harmless non-venomous snake, that is. I'm not an idiot.

A lot of this comes from my mother, who has always loved snakes. We had pet snakes all my life, from tiny garter snakes to a six foot long bull snake. I know that, most of the time, snakes can be very sweet-tempered pets. And, in general, snakes are unfairly maligned creatures with far more to fear from us than we have from them. In fact, many snakebite victims are people decided to react to the presence of a snake by killing it and karma got them when the dead snake's reflex actions made it bite them.

I'm sure that old fairy tale about snakes and apples doesn't help matters.

All of this is to say that if a movie wants me to be scared of a snake it has to really work for it. It's a futile effort, most of the time, but it's exceptionally Sisyphean in the case of movies about snakes eating people.

The reason for this is two fold. One, snakes generally don't eat people--or at least, not adult humans. An infant or small child is, unsurprisingly, at risk of being a snake's prey but there are very few verified cases of an adult human being eaten by a snake because there are very few snakes actually large enough to eat an adult. Our body structure also doesn't lend itself well to being swallowed whole, and snakes can't eat any other way. That's not to say that snakes don't try, often resulting in an adult being killed but not devoured: it's simply a case of their eyes being bigger than their stomachs. Or, in some unfortunate cases, a snake smelling a prey animal that the human was trying to feed them and grabbing the human instead.

For some reason, though, people seem to find the idea of just being killed but not eaten less horrifying than being a successful lunch. And few horror films are willing to be so transgressive as to have their monster snake devouring babies and children.

Secondly, even if a snake managed to eat an adult person, that'd be it. You know the old joke about, "I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you"? Well, if you're in a group of people and one of you gets grabbed by a python and eaten, then that's just too bad for Steve. The upside is that the rest of you will be perfectly safe from further snake attack because it's gonna take that python around an hour to eat Steve, and days to digest him.

So you see, if your premise is "one huge snake attacks and eats a group of people" then you're asking me to swallow a conceit slightly less ridiculous than "a pack of flying bush pigs devours people." (Somebody get SyFy on the phone!) Worse than that, the latter premise would assume you know it's impossible, while the former thinks of itself as "plausible." And while it may sound ridiculous to complain about lack of a believable premise in a monster movie, when it comes to suspension of disbelief I definitely subscribe to the school of thinking that says, "You can ask an audience to believe the impossible, but not the improbable."

Anaconda starts off with the improbable right away, by expecting you to believe that Danny Trejo encountering a hungry Anaconda wouldn't end with Trejo having a stunning new pair of boots. This is almost more unbelievable than the film's opening crawl that claims that anacondas grow to 40 feet in length--despite the fact that even the reticulated python, the longest species of snake in the world, has only ever been officially recorded at a length of 25 feet. Anacondas, while the heaviest snake species, are not the longest. In fact the longest ever recorded was 17 feet long, just about half as long as the film is claiming the species routinely grows.

Of course, anacondas also don't regurgitate their prey because they love killing and want to kill and eat again, which the opening crawl also claims. Snakes only vomit up prey for two reasons: One, they're stressed and that triggers a vomit reflex, and Two, the prey rots in their stomach before they are able to fully digest it. It makes no sense, biologically, for an animal to expend the type of energy required to kill and swallow an entire animal whole, just to vomit it all up and go back to hunting. The sole reason the film even makes this claim is to make it reasonable that the snake would stilll be after our protagonists after eating one of them.

Right, back to explaining why Danny Trejo is here. Well, Trejo is a poacher whose boat has become stranded in some tributary of the Amazon. While he hollers at his broken radio, an ominous POV cam stalks closer to his boat. Something rocks the boat, terrifying all the caged animals. Trejo nails one small board over the cabin door--only for something to smash up the floorboards beneath him. Now, despite launching him several feet into theair, our unseen assailant (the film wisely keeping the snake off screen at this time) fails to catch Trejo, so he makes his escape by yanking the board off the cabin door with his bare hands.

So, what exactly did he think that board was going to do?

The POV cam, having apparently busted through the floorboards, chases Trejo up on top of the cabin. Trejo fires his revolver at it but misses terribly. For some reason, he decides to climb up his boat's mast. He watches as the POV cam circles around him until it's right in front of his face, which would mean it was less than a foot from him. Rather than shoot his attacker now when he couldn't possibly miss, he takes the gun and blows his own brains out.

Even the heroes in The Mist would think this guy was giving up too quickly.

To his agent's horror, Trejo was serious about getting out of the movie by any means necessary
We then cut to a hotel, somewhere in the Amazon, as our heroine, Terri Flores (Jennifer Lopez!) sits at her laptop in a skimpy nightgown--13-year-old me would like to note that she appears to be wearing nothing under that nightgown and it's just this side of see-through--and looks over pictures of native tribespeople. This is 1997, so she's probably using InfoSeek to find these pictures. It's a miracle she found anything, then. We get our first indications that director Luis Llosa has no idea how to make a film scary as he sets up a false scare with a shot of water rippling outside her room and a sting on the soundtrack, but then fails to deliver anything. When Dr. Steven Cale (Eric Stoltz!) arrives, he does so by knocking and not scaring anybody except those with an irrational fear of gingers.

It should be pretty clear that Terri and Cale have a history that goes beyond professional almost immediately. Terri teases him about how disheveled he looks, and he jokingly claims he barely escaped a piranha attack while meeting with some potential guides. Already the movie is reminding me of better movies, as well as Amazon denizens more likely to kill you than an anaconda.

At any rate, Cale has hired Terri to film his encounter with a barely-known and nigh-legendary tribe in the Amazon. He claims he wanted the best director for the job, but later evidence will suggest that he's lying or else there was an implied, "...but they were busy, so I got you." Let's just say that Ava DuVernay she is not.

The next morning, the boat for their project pulls up accompanied by sinister music (!) because this movie is as subtle as a two-by-four to the face. Terri meets with her cameraman, Danny Rich (Ice Cube!), who is excited for her because, "Not every day my homegirl from SC gets to direct her own documentary." Wait, this is her first documentary directing gig, ever? So Cale was joking earlier. Speak of the ginger, he's arguing travel plans the boat's captain, Mateo (Vincent Castellanos), who is insistent they take a route 55 kilometers out of the way due to the rainy season approaching. Seeing Cale, Danny implies that Terri is using this gig as an opportunity to spend time with Cale.

Look, movie, we get it, already: they're boning. Let's move on, shall we?

Now we're introduced to our, ugh, comic relief: the documentary's narrator, Warren Westridge (Jonathan Hyde). Now, usually a documentary of this sort would just add the celebrity narrator in post, yet here Westridge is the David Attenborough analog. Except he's the sort of pretentious high class English stereotype that complains about not being in the lap of luxury, brings fancy wine along on a boat trip to the Amazon, and insults the production manager, Denise Kalberg (Kari Wuhrer!) by asking her to take his bags to his cabin. Oh, and Denise is clearly banging the sound man, Gary Dixon (Owen Wilson!) because it's that kind of crew.

Westridge is somewhat dismissive of Terri, but he does mention her short films so at least we know she does have some directing experience. The expedition gets underway and we get some exposition via watching Westridge's filmed narration: they are looking for "The People of The Mist" or the "Shirishama." After a pointless scene where Gary tells Denise that the jungle makes him really, really horny, a rainstorm rolls in.

Hearing someone shouting in the rain, they come upon a boat stranded in the roots of the trees. Danny films all this, and the film starts in with heavily sinister music even before the stranded man leaps aboard and turns out to be Paul Sarone (Jon Voight!), who exchanges a significant glance with Mateo because this film does not understand how to do dramatic irony without being really obvious about it. Sarone doesn't mind that they can't take him back to Manaus because he is certain the people in the next village can help him fix his boat.

The next scene is Sarone spearing a fish and preparing it for the crew. Hilariously, Terri observes that they'll have to film him doing it next time--despite the fact that he had to crawl out onto a tree limb to spear the fish, so there's no reason she shouldn't have already been filming him! Sarone reveals he is from Paraguay and was studying to be a priest when he decided he would actually prefer to catch snakes in the jungle to sell to zoos and collectors. When he finds out the crew are looking for the Shirishama, he conveniently claims to have seen them and promises to direct the crew to where they are. Westridge incredulously points out that any river captain would say the same after five whiskeys.

"Five whiskeys? That's breakfast on the ree-ver," Sarone replies.

Sarone also calls Denise "little baby bird" when she asks if salad would go with his fish, which isn't creepy at all. That night Denise dances seductively for Gary, Danny smokes a cigar (so, uh, kudos for not making the token black guy light up a joint, I guess, unless that's not really a cigar), and Cale and Terri discuss fireflies before locking lips. A menacing POV cam is watching the crew from the shore, and this film goes the Jaws 2 route since it decides to just fucking show us the anaconda on the shore.

Our first shot of the anaconda is the animatronic creature created by Walt Conti and I'm going to go ahead and come to the defense of Mr. Conti. This animatronic is usually maligned in most reviews, but I think it's actually quite well done. The only real issue is that it looks nothing like an anaconda. Oh, sure, the coloration is right, but anacondas have a very distinctive head with the eyes and nostrils positioned on top of the skull, like a crocodilian, and the head is kind of long and narrow. This creature's head is short and wide, and its eyes aren't in the right position at all.

The real deal...

...the wannabe.
I'm sure the average moviegoer is not going to notice the difference, of course. So really it's down to how convincingly the creature moves, and if you ask me it moves quite believably. Of course, that's because it has a CGI counterpart that...doesn't. We'll get to that in due time.

Instead of attacking the crew, the anaconda sets its sights on a black jaguar. Perhaps to make the animatronic snake look better, the jaguar is rendered via an obviously stiff prop or possibly even an actual jaguar borrowed from a taxidermist's office. The quick cuts in the scene do nothing to disguise this. The scene ends with a shot of one of the jaguar's eyeballs on the forest floor (!), which I can only assume is because this particular jaguar had a glass eye that it was always losing since the implication that the anaconda squeezed the cat so hard its eye popped out is too stupid for me to fathom.

The next morning, Westridge and Danny have an unfunny disagreement over Danny's rap music, before the group comes across a huge snake totem. Sarone claims it is a Shirishama totem because they worship giant anacondas. He waxes poetic about a legend of an impossibly huge anaconda, but Cole points out it's a legend of a tribe called the Maku. Sarone tries to claim both tribes have the same legend and that the Shirishama can be found down the next fork in the river. "I know this. I trap snakes for a living," he asserts, because trapping snakes and finding lost tribes are totally the same discipline.

Cole declares they're not going to take the route Sarone suggested because it doesn't make any damn sense. Terri tries to film Westridge in front of the snake idol but Sarone ruins the shot. Rather than ask Mateo to back up the boat and try again, she just accepts it as a loss. (Though I'll pretend it's because they get enough of an establishing shot that she can cut before Sarone jumps into shot and loop Westridge's dialogue in later with other footage of the totem, because I need to believe our heroine has some skill as a director)

That night, Gary and Denise go ashore to "get some wild sound," which is code for "record some audio, then start to get it on in the forest." As you would expect, they are interrupted by a rogue POV cam that chases them before Sarone appears with a rifle and seems to shoot at them. It naturally turns out that Sarone was actually shooting the wild boar that was after them. He drags it aboard so he and Mateo can cut it up for food. Danny finds the idea of a boar being food unusual, so maybe he keeps halal.

The next day, something finally sort of happens. For some reason the boat is dragging a rope behind it (?) and the rope gets caught in the propeller. Cale decides to dive down and cut it loose, despite Sarone asserting that "the ree-ver can kill you in a thousand ways," but all Cale is worried about is the candiru acu--the infamous little fish that swims up your urethra and lodges itself with spines. Of course, while Sarone leers at Terri topside, something goes wrong for Cale under the water. He's hauled up and turns out to have a wasp in his mouth. Sarone performs an emergency tracheotomy with a knife and a pen before Cale can suffocate.

Sarone suggests they need to get Cale to a hospital as soon as possible and, conveniently, the best way to do that is to take the route he suggested yesterday. Terri is suspicious but sees no other option. Of course, when the route brings them to a wall that Sarone didn't know would be there, she becomes even more suspicious. Sarone just happens to have dynamite with him--"Always good to be prepared" should not be the end of the discussion when someone reveals they brought dynamite onto your vessel--but Terri is reluctant because she's worried that blowing up the wall might upset the ecological balance of the river.

Does Terri think beavers made that wall?

Sarone's idea wins out, and he and Gary take the inflatable dinghy out to plant the dynamite. Several roving POV cams zero in on Gary in the water, but Sarone pulls him to safety and they light the fuses. Hilariously, nobody thought to move the boat back further and the resulting blast screws them in three increasingly idiotic ways: first, debris sinks the dinghy; second, the drums of spare fuel laid sideways on the deck and secured by a single flimsy rope are all knocked into the river when a branch falls on them; and third, a bunch of various species of small to medium-sized snakes lands on the boat. Everyone panics like a bunch of wusses while Sarone tosses handfuls of snakes into the water and Mateo sprays the poor things off with a hose. Hilariously, Sarone insists on calling all the snakes "babies."

Westridge somehow ends up with an animatronic baby anaconda on his finger that he doesn't notice until it starts swallowing his finger and I take back what I said about the film's animatronics not being that bad, as the attempt to show it swallowing his finger is embarrassing. Hilariously, Sarone just pulls the snake off of Westridge's hand, which would be an excellent way to tear the shit out of the man's finger and leave him full of snake teeth--snakes' teeth are basically hooks directed toward their throat, so you have to unhook their teeth by pushing their head forward first if you want to get them off with a minimum of damage to you. The cartoonish "Rargh!' sound the baby snake makes as Sarone tosses it off the boat is even more hilarious. As we'll soon see, this movie has no idea what a snake sounds like.

Westridge's accusation that Sarone "knew there would be snakes here" is even more hilarious. Snakes? In the Amazon? Why, I never! On ahead they go, until they come upon Danny Trejo's boat from the beginning of the film. The menacing POV cam decides to take on a Dutch tilt as it watches them approach, which suggests the monster is watching them with its head cocked quizzically to one side. Sarone suggests they investigate the wreck to see if there's fuel. For some reason, Danny follows Sarone and Mateo to film it but Gary doesn't go along for sound because...Teri is the best director, clearly. Aboard the vessel, Sarone hides a newspaper clipping with a photo of him, Mateo, and Trejo holding an anaconda before Danny can see it. Danny finds a rifle that has oddly been bent in several places because snakes hate guns, I guess?

Sarone has Danny help him carry a chest he finds, which Danny goes along with awfully quickly. Mateo, meanwhile, nearly falls through the hole in the floor. Mateo dallies a bit as Danny and Sarone float the chest back to the boat--with Danny's camera stowed inside--and then Mateo manages to somehow fall backwards off the boat like a moron. He is then ambushed by an anaconda in the only scene in the film where we see an anaconda almost hunting like an actual anaconda. I say almost because anacondas don't just squeeze their prey so hard that their ribs break and they definitely don't grab their prey by the head and twist to snap their neck!

This is also our first time seeing the CGI anaconda and while it's not nearly as awful as I remembered--perhaps years of SyFy Original Pictures and Asylum films have shown me what truly terrible CGI looks like--it's still very bad and probably why I'm less harsh on the puppet snake. For one thing, the CGI snake is not the same color as the animatronic, it doesn't blend into the physical environment it's been deposited into at all, and it moves way too fast and effortlessly for an animal as big as it is supposed to be.

"You made my mother into boots, you bastard!"
Also, despite what this movie may tell you, snakes don't scream when they're attacking their prey.

Hilariously, in the time it takes for the others to realize Mateo is not following and Danny to turn and wade back to where Mateo was last seen, both the snake and Mateo have vanished. Given that we last saw the snake opening its mouth and preparing to eat Mateo, this is fucking impossible. Maybe Danny is just very unobservant and didn't notice the 40-foot snake eating Mateo because he comes back with only the man's flashlight. Sarone explains where Mateo went by dramatically unfurling a snake skin he found in the trunk. It's supposed to be a shed skin, but it unfurls perfectly and appears to be thick as leather, which would not be the case.

At any rate, while I realize that Sarone is right about what ate Mateo, I come back to the fact that there are far more likely explanations than "eaten by a snake." Like assuming he was eaten by a caiman, or perhaps a drop bear. Indeed, Terri insists snakes don't eat people and Sarone counters with pointing at the scar on his face. Um, just because something bites people, doesn't mean it eats them. At any rate, Sarone goes on about how the snake could have easily sensed Mateo's body heat and then goes on to describe how anacondas squeeze you so tight your bones break and your veins explode.

Okay, if I stop and rant at every time this movie wrong this movie is about snakes this review will never get done. However, this is just as much bullshit as the idea that anacondas grow to 40 feet long and barf up perfectly good food just so they can go kill something else. What constrictors do is far, far creepier--they squeeze every time their prey exhales until the prey's lungs can no longer take in air and the prey suffocates. There might be some occasional broken bones or burst blood vessels, but they don't kill their prey by crushing them to jelly.

Sarone then makes his pitch: imagine if they could catch this monster snake alive. Of course, if it was really eating Mateo they could easily go capture it right then. Terri insists they wait overnight for Mateo. The only upshot of this is that Sarone manages to seduce Gary to the side of, "we can totally catch the biggest snake that ever lived since the Titanoboa went extinct and get a million dollars for it." Yeah, that's somewhat unlikely, but okay. I mean, sure, a 40-foot anaconda would be an amazing find, but how many zoos have the facilities to house a snake that large?

The next day the boat continues on without Mateo. Westridge is driving now, so maybe he's not totally useless. Sarone shoots a monkey for bait and then he and Gary reveal that they're working together now. Gary tries to explain it off as trying not to waste the documentary since now they can make it about the snake catching. But no one else is on board, so Sarone almost shoots Danny to make his point that they are going to catch this snake. Hilariously, that night we see that Sarone's plan for catching an anaconda is to attach a dead monkey to a winch and tow it behind the boat. I can think of a lot of things you'd catch that way in the Amazon--caimans, piranha, giant catfish--but a snake that hunts mainly by ambushing prey is definitely not one of them.

So naturally, Sarone's plan works almost immediately. Before you know it he has a shrieking anaconda on the line. As the snake makes hilariously un-snake-like "blarghle garble" Tasmanian Devil-style sounds (courtesy Frank Welker, of course), everyone but Gary insists Sarone let the snake go before they all get killed. Which is an...odd thing too be concerned about, really. Danny decides to try and shank Sarone with a knife he just happened to have, but the anaconda tail whips him and the knife goes in the river. It then also tail whips Sarone and breaks free of the hook, which oddly then detaches itself from the line and nearly impales Westridge. Everyone agonizes over where the snake is now, and because this is a movie it didn't just swim the hell away from the big, noisy bright thing that tried to attack it.

In slow-motion, which just adds to the hilarity, the anaconda bursts out of the water and spits the monkey carcass at Westridge. Sarone orders everyone not to move as he gets a bead on it with a crossbow (!) that has a tranquilizer dart for a bolt. Instead of listening, Terri runs for the cabin and naturally the snake smashes the window trying to get at her. Before it can lunge at her, Sarone shoots it in the open mouth with the dart--and hilariously you can see the white wires controlling the puppet as it writhes in pain after this. Somehow it spits the dart out (which would not mean it did not get tranquilized, as long as Sarone did the right dosage, but the movie apparently doesn't know that) and continues screaming, while writhing all over. It then whips a bench at Denise with its tail and knocks her into the water.

Hilariously, it quickly snaps its head towards the sound* of her hitting the water--and, again the vocalizations of the snake are hilarious and not even remotely believable in this sequence--and as Gary dives into the river to save her, the anaconda follows suit. Gary does help Denise out of the water and makes it back onto the boat as well, but unfortunately the anaconda is right behind him.

[* A few years ago, I'd have griped that the snake couldn't have heard her because snakes don't have external ears and can only sense vibrations through the ground. However, it is now known that snakes can hear sounds that travel through the air. Whether they can hear them well enough to have heard her hit the water that quickly is debatable, but sadly I have to concede the movie isn't being stupid in this one instance]

The CGI snake here is even worse. Not only does it obviously not belong to the same space as the man it's attacking, but the effects people forgot how important lighting is to a CGI creature. The anaconda is a couple F-Stops brighter than everyone else, so it might as well be glowing.

"I told the director, 'I'll only take the part if you light me better than everyone else.'"
The anaconda pins Gary to one of the pylons and snaps at the others as they try to free him. Terri grabs the rifle, but Sarone stops her because the snake is no good to him dead. Which is, of course, bullshit because even dead that'd be a record-breaking snake, but villain. The pylon gives way and the snake drags Gary off into the river. Terri consoles a weeping Denise, while Sarone makes a hilariously half-hearted gesture of tossing leaves into the river and mumbling a prayer for Gary's soul.

Denise attacks him, screaming, "You brought that snake here! You brought the devil!" Sarone brushes her off by saying that the devil is inside every one of us. Wait, in addition to Godzilla? We must all be very crowded. Sarone then demands Westridge load his equipment into the cabin, and when Westridge refuses Sarone slaps him around and then threatens him with his revolver. Satisfied, Sarone goes to the wheelhouse, while Danny goes to talk to Terri about plans.

The camera then goes below the water so we can see the film's single worst CGI effect: the anaconda swimming past, its body distended from Gary's body and--in the most laughable moment I've ever seen in a killer snake film--we can the outline of Gary's screaming face pressed through its belly. Apparently this anaconda lacks a stomach wall and the usual muscles on the belly required to move a snake along.

Is there really anything I could say that would make this more hilarious?
Okay, I take it back. A  more unbelievable scene follows as Terri dolls herself up and goes to see Sarone in the wheelhouse.She's there to, ugh, seduce Sarone. She talks to him while thrusting her breasts outward and, in the film's most hilariously misguided line, tells him, "This film was supposed to be my big break. But it's turned out to be a big disaster." And how!

She's pretending to have decided she wants to film Sarone capturing the snake to salvage the expedition, but she's using it as an excuse to appeal to his machismo. Well, poor Jennifer Lopez earns her hazard pay when Sarone buys the act and plants a big messy one on Terri. Unfortunately, he opens his eyes and sees Danny sneaking up on him with a bat--but he doesn't anticipate Westridge swinging a golf club through the window behind him. "Asshole in one," Westridge quips. Danny and Westridge want to throw him in the river but Terri objects and suggests they just tie him up.

Look, I get being squeamish about killing the guy, but surely there are other options than "keep him around."

When Sarone comes to, tied to one of the remaining pylons, Terri confronts him with the newspaper clipping. She's realized that somehow this was all one big set-up--and, again, a needlessly convoluted one because I can think of no reason why he even needed the film crew if he just wanted to catch a snake--and lists off the things he planned from the beginning. Sarone sneers and says, "How could you forget about the wasp?" Terri stage punches him in response. She then goes to check on Westridge and Danny, leaving Denise to exchange significant looks with Sarone. Westridge is giving Danny lessons in driving the boat, when they come upon a waterfall.

Now, there's lots of dialogue about how "beautiful" the waterfall is, but it's hilariously obvious that while most of the film was shot on location in a rainforest, this was shot on an artificial set. Danny runs the boat aground on a sandbar. So they have no choice but winch themselves free. This means Danny, Terri, and Westridge have to get in the water. Westridge quips about having to spend all night picking leeches off his scrotum the last time he was in water like this, because he's forgotten the earlier warning about the candiru.

While the three go about wrapping ropes around trees, Denise decides to threaten Sarone with a knife instead of either of the guns. This means she gets super close to him before he manages to make her resolve falter by telling her never to look in the eyes of those she kills--and then he somehow launches himself five feet straight into the air and wraps his thighs around her throat, somehow. He says a prayer as he strangles her to death and then kicks her body over the side. The others hear the splash but don't seem overly alarmed by it. Well, until Danny sees a ripple in a floating mat of grass and correctly interprets it as an anaconda approaching.

Danny and Terri make it to the boat, but Westridge distracts the anaconda and climbs up the waterfall. Sarone has used Denise's knife to cut himself loose and after Terri grabs the rifle, he attacks Danny. Hilariously, he then grabs the rifle in Terri's hands and throws her into the remaining fuel barrel, where the foley artist mysteriously decides Jennifer Lopez colliding with a barrel of gasoline should sound like the sound effect of two car fenders colliding. Sarone stabs Danny in the leg and Terri repeatedly fails to get a clear shot at him.

Westridge meanwhile, has hidden behind the waterfall, but when the snake--now hanging from a tree--finds him, he leaps from the waterfall. Unfortunately, his opponent has turned back into its CGI form and physics no longer apply to it. It strikes down at him faster than gravity and then reels him back up to the branch its wrapped around. Unfortunately, the added weight of a human somehow causes the tree to uproot and fall onto the boat. Everyone falls into the water and the impact shocks Cale out of his apparent coma.

Despite having a perfectly good meal already in its coils, the anaconda abandons Westridge's body so it can attack Danny as Terri is pulling him back onto the boat. Well, first Denise's body oddly chooses right then to float to the surface and then the anaconda attacks Danny. Once again, the anaconda takes the unusual tactic of letting go of Danny with its mouth after wrapping him in its coils--constrictors like anacondas always use their mouths to hold their prey in place while constricting--but this time it makes even less sense because it also decides to grab Denise's dead body in its jaws. Man, this anaconda's eyes are way bigger than its stomach.

Of course, the real reason it does this is so Terri can grab the rifle and shoot it in the head without risking shooting Danny in the process. This is sequence is really awkwardly, um, shot. We see Terri shoot the snake three times--and despite the rifle having a scope she just shoots from the shoulder and barely even looks down the barrel---and it's clear that the shots are the same squib effect from different angles as she shoots it through the right eye and blows its skull open. Yet, as the creature sinks into the river, dying, while shrieking like a pterodactyl--the only damage is that its right eye is gone and it's bleeding from the mouth. Naturally, Danny is somehow fine because the snake goes limp rather than crushing him into pulp with its death throes.

However, Sarone attacks them, hilariously screaming, "You killed my warrior snake!" Terri's attempt to get free by biting him does not work out, however Cale sneaks up and stabs Sarone with the tranquilizer dart. Hilariously, Sarone mutters, "The dart," before he puts thumb in Cale's throat wound in case we wouldn't figure out what Cale just stabbed him with. Danny then knocks Sarone into the river, but observes forlornly that the dart somehow dislodged itself and is floating on the surface. Of course, in reality Sarone was just drugged with a dose of tranquilizer meant to sedate a 40-foot long, probably one-ton snake and pushed into water. Unless he has gills he should be dead, but this movie is only 70 minutes in so I'm sure you've figured out he's fine.

Cale goes back to bed, having passed out again. Danny says the tree knocked them loose (!) and via the magic of running the film backwards (no, really, watch the waterfall) they back off the sandbar. Continuing on down the river, the boat--now making the cliche "engine running out of fuel" sounds--happens upon an abandoned boathouse. Assuming it might have fuel, Terri and Danny head inside to investigate. Oh, yeah, and despite being stabbed in the thigh, Danny is just walking with a slight limp. Walking up the plank to the boathouse they find axes and rifles strewn about. the two decide they don't want to know what happened there and just hope there's fuel, as an upside-down POV cam advances on the boathouse before doing a barrel roll to right itself.

Look, if your movie has been completely unengaging for the last 73 minutes, dumb camera tricks aren't going to suddenly make you Sam Raimi. Inside the boathouse they find some drums of fuel, but also a shed snake skin--which, admittedly, looks more realistic than the one from earlier--and then Sarone knocks them both out with his rifle. Yes, Sarone somehow beat them to the boathouse. Either he's a hell of a swimmer, or earlier Sarone pulled a Dead Alive and mixed up the tranquilizer and the stimulants. It would explain a lot, actually.

We see another POV cam approach the boathouse while doing a barrel roll, before cutting to Terri and Danny tied together on the floor. They come to just as Sarone finishes filling a bucket with monkey blood and then splashes said monkey blood on them. As has been noted, the shot of them being splashed with the blood is a really odd shot because it's in slow motion so we can tell that the two are already soaked in blood before the splash hits them, and the splash is clearly added in post. Sarone plays with some powder on the floor, explaining that it's what happens to human bones after they go through an anaconda. Well, yes, the bones would be powder but they'd also be mixed in with a pile of anaconda shit, not just artfully strewn about.

Danny and Terri then realize they're sitting on a net as Sarone heads up a ladder. And then another immense anaconda descends towards the two from the ceiling. So apparently this boathouse's ceiling beams are stronger than trees.

"Greetingsss, have you heard the good word?"
Danny and Terri try to run but the snake wraps its coils around them, tail-first. Which is rather like an ordinary human picking up a cheeseburger with their feet. Sarone then leaps down from hsi perch, using his weight to pull the net up and trap the snake. He then wraps the rope around a nearby valve so he can aim at the snake with his tranq crossbow. Of course, it makes no sense he'd A) use a projectile dart on a netted creature and B) that he'd keep acting like he can't get a shot. It doesn't need to be shot into its head!

Well, the pipe proves weaker than the ceiling beams and when it breaks the snake decides to abandon its prey and chase after Sarone, who tries to flee up the ladder only for it to chase him up the ladder and catch him. I still recall, when I first saw an ad for this film, that was the bit used as the closing "holy shit" shot and it immediately set me to giggling and I knew I had to go see this piece of shit. Do I really need to point out that a real anaconda moves on land like a giant earthworm, and couldn't outrun an able-bodied grown man, much less chase him up a ladder, too?

The ladder gives way, of course, but when Sarone tries to flee Danny somehow pulls the net up and delays Sarone long enough for the snake to recapture him. So, while Terri and Danny untie themselves, Sarone gets to hear his bones break and his neck swells (!) to, I'm guessing, indicate his blood vessels exploding. And then the anaconda begins to eat him, starting with the memorable shot from inside the anaconda as it swallows him.

"Welp, there's your problem: you've got a camera lodged in here!"
Naturally, as we watch a CGI anaconda swallow a CGI Sarone we can see that the effects people didn't bother to watch a snake eat. The beast just swallows Sarone like a crocodile or other large animal, rather than "walking" its way over his body with side-to-side motions of its head to use its teeth to drive him down into its throat. And, hilariously, despite the fact that Sarone is literally still in its throat, the anaconda still turns when Terri goes for the fuel and tail whips Danny before chasing after Terri.

This is rather like a human eating an entire large Chicago-style deep dish pizza by themself and then deciding to run down the delivery driver on foot so they can steal another one of his pizzas to also eat. So it's not surprising that, after Terri barges into a room full of actual anacondas, the big one smashes through a window beside her and vomits up Sarone. Yeah, you'd puke, too if you'd eaten an entire turkey and then did a hundred-meter dash right after. Of course, despite having been constricted, swallowed, and partially digested, Sarone is alive enough to wink at Terri with his remaining eye before finally dying. Oh, and Terri runs back to Danny to tell him with great horror that there's an entire nest of anacondas back there. Yeah, and? If you were being chased by a lion and you found a bunch of lion cubs, would you be horrified?

I might add that the nest bit is idiotic on several levels. First, the film should not have given us a good look at actual anacondas if it couldn't be bothered to make its fake ones actually look like the real deal. Second, they're trying to imply that these are babies, which makes no sense--the snakes in that room were at least five feet long or more, so they would be of breeding age and despite giving birth to live young, anacondas don't stick around to take care of their babies. Third, the film already had a baby anaconda attack Westridge, so why is it expecting us to not know that baby anacondas are not that big? I'm going to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt, though, and assume that they were implying the snake was vomiting up Sarone so she could eat Terri and not to feed her "young." Surely even this film isn't dumb enough to think that baby snakes could work together to somehow eat one adult human.

And I say "her," despite Danny referring to the snake as a "him" since female anacondas are larger than males. So the two snakes we've seen would have to both be female.

Danny suggests luring the snake into the smokestack and using fuel to blow it up. (You know, fuel they need to get the hell out of there) Terri volunteers to head up the chimney since she isn't injured. The snake pursues her, but oddly this forty foot snake is unable to catch Terri in a 50-foot smoke stack despite earlier climbing up a ladder in under a second. Danny uses a pick-axe to pin its tail toi the floor, then goes into the smokestack to tell Terri to climb out the top before he lights a fuse. Oddly, the snake does not turn back around and attack him despite having been stabbed in its tail.

An attempt at tension is made when Terri can't open the hatch at the top after Danny lights a trail of fuel--and how exactly he's blowing the snake up is never made clear--and the snake shakes the pick-axe loose. Terri finally gets the hatch loose and shuts it on the snake, then is forced to jump from 40 feet up as the smokestack explodes--but lands in the water instead of on the concrete she was dangling over a moment before. Of course, from that height water would snap her bones just as badly, but here not even the debris from the explosion bothers her. Well, until a flaming anaconda lands beside her.

Now, despite being on fire and presumably in a great deal of pain, the anaconda doesn't even submerge itself. It swims after Terri at the top of the water, completely on fire the entire time. I will grant that it's a cool visual, but it's also an incredibly stupid one. Danny pulls Terri up onto a walkway as the anaconda finally succumbs to burns and sinks under the water...only to burst up through the planks of the walkway so Danny can bury an axe in its skull and call it a bitch. Lovely. Anyway, as the film's hero sinks back under the water, axe still buried in its brain, the editor forgets what they just saw so we can watch Danny toss aside the axe that he shouldn't even still be holding.

Terri and the once again conscious Cale reunite, and then the crew happens upon the Shirishama after all. Cale observes that, "Sarone was right," but it's just as likely it's a total coincidence. The Shirishama also probably don't worship anacondas, so sadly we won't be seeing them massacre the surviving protagonists. Whatever, Terri got her movie after all. The End.
Revisiting this film for the first time since I saw it back in 1997--I don't recall ever watching it on video--I found that it definitely hadn't gotten any better. In a lot of ways, it was worse. Ironically, the effects that were mocked for being awful even at the time are one of the few things that haven't aged all that badly. I mean, sure, the CGI is bad but it's actually not nearly as terrible as I'd remembered.

No, where the film falls down is basically all the areas where subpar effects would be forgiven. The screenplay is bad, not only full of plot points and character decisions that make little sense but also dialogue that no person would say. Not only ridiculous lines, but ones that sound like the screenwriter just bought a thesaurus and wants to show off what he learned. The acting is also pretty unspectacular--Jennifer Lopez, Jonathan Hyde, and Eric Stoltz do just fine even if they end up with some awful material, but Ice Cube and Owen Wilson basically just say their lines, Kari Wuhrer is stiff, and Jon Voight is attempting to give the kind of scenery-chewing performance that he honestly just cannot pull off. He comes close a few times, but Brian Blessed he ain't.

The music for the film is pretty woeful, as well. However, where everything truly falls down is definitely in the direction. Luis Llosa cannot decide if he wants to present a film with straightforward, stolid direction or if he wants to deliver something more like a Sam Raimi film, with crazy angles and wild POV shots. He tries for both and ends up making a visually pedestrian film that occasionally tries way too hard and the scenes where it does just look out of place.

And honestly, crazy and energetic is what this film should be. Even the filmmakers seemed to realize that nobody was going to buy their titular menace as an actual threat, and yet they do nothing to try and at least liven up the film around it. This film should have been emulating Piranha with a huge balance of comedy to go with the horror, but instead there's no sense the film took itself anything but seriously. Of course, the few feeble attempts at comedy indicate that maybe that approach would have just made the film even worse.

Plus, the film is already hilarious without the filmmakers trying to make it so, An anaconda is just simply not a viable threat--we all remember the embarrassing circus that resulted when that moron tried to get one to eat him alive--and when you have to blatantly violate biology and physics to make it one, you need to give up and find a new monster. While I suppose someone with a crippling phobia of snakes might find some scenes in this film unsettling, I'm not even sure I believe that.

Anaconda is an awful film, simply put. It's the worst kind of awful, really, because it's only occasionally fun to mock and it never manages to be painfully bad, either. It's just bad. About the only thing I can say in its favor is that it's at least never boring. And yet, somehow a film this stupid and terrible managed to get a sequel that was even dumber and crappier. At least this film doesn't think anacondas live in Borneo!

That's a tale for another time, though.

Today's review brought to you by the letter A! Hit the banner above to see what the other Celluloid Zeroes chose for A!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Announcing Hubrisween 2015!

It's that time of year again, kiddies! The leaves are changing color, kids are disemboweling a squash relative and carving holes in its flesh before shoving an open flame inside, and a bunch of foolhardy geeks known as The Celluloid Zeroes are settling in with their Blu-ray players to once more follow on Checkpoint Telstar's coat tails with the third annual HubrisWeen!

This year our ranks have increased by two, as Checkpoint Telstar, Yes I Know, and myself will be joined by Micro-Brewed Reviews and Web of The Big Damn Spider!

So join the bravest and/or most foolhardy of The Celluloid Zeroes as we bring you a horror or monster movie a day for every letter of the alphabet, starting with A on Tuesday, October 6th and going all the way to Z on Halloween!

Will we have to duplicate entries for Q and X? Will any of us avoid the curse of having to do a Zombie movie for Z? Who will be the first to crack after having to endure something no motrtal should ever witness? Tune in at 9AM Eastern/ 8AM Central each day to find out, dear reader!

Here's a little preview of what's coming:

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sssssss (1973) [Adult Onset Lycanthropy]

Being a human is kind of boring. We can't fly, we can't beathe under water, we don't have fangs or claws, and worst of all we don't even have cool tails. I mean, what is that about? Tails are awesome.

It's unsurprising, then, that we should sometimes wish we could turn into something else. But as with most things in life, nobody wants to be transformed into something else without their consent. Sadly, mad scientists don't have much respect for the concept of consent.

Oh, sure, they ofen couch their efforts to turn a human into a gill man, a werewolf, or a king cobra in terms of "bettering humanity" or "helping humanity adjust to climate change." We've all heard that argument before, though, and it's no excuse. "I know you want it" doesn't sound any less awful coming out of a mad scientist's mouth than Robin Thicke's.

Oh, and I really would like to have a word with the person who decided on this film's title. I get the desire to make a title out of onomatopoeia associated with snakes, but it makes the movie really hard to discuss. First, there's the maddening task of remember just how many letters are in the damn title when typing it. ("How long do I just hold down the 's' key?") Second, it's impossible to figure out how to tell someone abut the movie aloud. The film's promo materials advise you, "Don't say it; hiss it!" Great, thanks.
"Hey what are you watching?"
"[Makes sound like air escaping]"
"I said, what movie are you watching?"
"I told you, it's [hisses]."
"Fine, don't tell me."
Yeah, I think the UK distributors made a wise decison by retitling it Ssssnake. At least there's an actual pronounceable word in that.

The film opens, in true huckster fashion, with a title card informing us that all the snakes were real and thanking the cast and crew for risking their lives to bring us this film.

After this, we see Dr. Carl Stoner (Strother Martin!) and another man in a tilted fedora loading a crate into a truck just before dawn. Whatever is inside the crate is moaning and whimpering in a vaguely human fashion. The man is Kogen (Tim O'Connor), the owner of a carnival freak show, though that's largely implied here, and he pays Stoner $800 for the thing in the crate. He also tells Stoner that he's a genius and will one day berecognized for it. Though Stoner makes a remark that it isn't often one is congratulated for one's failures, by which we can only assume he means the thing in the crate. Well, his failures sure make freak show owners happy.

We then cut to lecture by Dr. Ken Daniels (Richard B. Schull) about how to tell coral snakes and king snakes apart. One of his students, David Blake (Dirk Benedict, the original Starbuck himself!), is a bit distracted by being forced to pass notes from Steve Randall (Reb Brown, yes he is Big McLargeHuge!) to Kitty Stewart (Kathleen King). When the class is dismissed, we see Stoner waiting in the back. Daniels has Kitty stay behind and looks over the note Steve gave her, and strokes her arm in a clearly unprofessional manner--but one she is obviously accustomed to. However, Stoner interrupts their flirting to take issue with how Daniels delivered the old rhyme about telling coral snakes and coral snake mimics apart--"Red touch yellow, kill a what?"

Daniels dismisses Kitty and he and Stoner get to discussing their old grievances with each other, and to discuss Stoner's extension of funding since Daniels is chairman of the department. Daniels refers to Stoner being the foremost ophiologist, a herpetologist focused on snakes, but Schull says it more like "opthiologist" which isn't a thing. At any rate, Stoner's focus is venom research and it's clear that he's based at least somewhat on Bill Haast, a man bitten by so many venomous snakes in his lifetime that his blood could actually be used for anti-venom.

Well, Stoner isn't there to beg for funding specifically. He needs a grad student to assist him, since his previous assistant left suddenly--in the middle of the night, you might say, though Stoner is too classy to make sly references to the poor bastard's fate. Daniels is reluctant to entrust one of his pupils to Stoner, and Stoner pointing out that he's not "Dr. Frankenstein" just prompts Daniels to squint and say, "You are to me."

Daniels reluctantly admits there is one student who might be a good choice. Though Stoner may want to hurry because said student is obviously David Blake, and right now he's surrounded by Steve and his cronies. Steve blames David for getting Kitty in trouble and David's attempts to sarcasm his way out of it nearly gets him beaten before Stoner can rescue him.

"Call me Crunch ButtSteak one more time!"
David is quite eager to join Stoner in his work, though he is caught off guard when he follows Stoner to his truck and finds Harry waiting in the passenger seat. See, Harry is a red-tailed boa constrictor. Of course, he's quite tame and Stoner offers Harry some Kentucky bourbon (!) from a bottle in the glove box.

They stop for gas and while Stoner goes to get water for Harry, David manages to attract the ire of the gas station attendant--a hillbilly with missing teeth who doesn't like when people pump their own gas. He spills gasoline on David's pants when yanking the nozzle out and then gets an angry boa constrictor wrapped around his arm for sticking his hand into the truck. David gets to turn the man's earlier words about "teach you to ask before you touch" back on him as Stoner untangles Harry.

Back at the Stoner residence, Stoner introduces David to his daughter, Kristina (Heather Menzies!), who has just come back from visiting his other daughter who just had a baby. She's surprised to hear that Tim, the previous grad student, has left--and Stoner concocts an obviously bogus story about a dead relative. He then shows David his lab, first introducing him to its most harmless resident, a hognose snake--also the most adorable snake in the world. He shows David how the various snakes are tagged, from least to most deadly. He then pulls out a black mamba to milk it of venom--and I'm afraid that my knowledge of venomous snakes is too limited to tell you if Strother Martin is wrestling with a real mamba or a lookalike.

He shows David how to use a "feeder gun" to force-feed the mamba, since he asserts that many snakes will not eat in captivity. (That depends on the snake, obviously) Oddly, the first ingredient he lists off is milk and snakes can't digest milk since they're not mammals, so either the screenwriter dropped the ball on research in that bit or herpetologists in the 1970s still oddly subscribed to the patently false idea that snakes like milk. He then shows David where they keep the venom, which will then be sent out for use in pharmaceuticals. He then shows David to his office, which has a live mongoose (!) in it. He explains that his lab is a family operation and they do shows on Sunday.

Stoner gives David an injection that he claims is the first of several inoculations to help him resist snake bite. The sinister music tells another story. Once David puts his shirt back on, Stoner shows him the real attraction of the lab--an immense king cobra. And let me tell you, the sight of a king cobra is the closest I will ever come to being frightened by seeing a snake. You can't rival the terrifying look of malevolent intelligence in those eyes, nor the regal way it rears up to look at the humans eyeing it. Stoner points out that even after six years, the cobra still wants him dead--and makes reference to the fact that it will get another chance to try and kill him at the next Sunday show. Then, for David's benefit, he tortures the cobra by holding the mongoose close to its pen and the cobra hoods and rears back in horror.

"What the fuck is that? Keep it away!"
At dinner, Stoner rambles on about how the snake that tempted Eve was really Lucifer sent to do God's work. David scoffs at this, but then the effect of the inoculation begins to take hold and make him woozy. Stoner advises he's about to have one hell of a trip--cobra venom is a powerful hallucinogen, you see. Stoner and Kristina help David to bed and, sure enough, he has a bad trip involving smoke, flame, lava, drawings of hell, and...waves and close-ups of faces and body parts? Waiting at David''s bedside, Stoner decides that Harry is talking to him. He admonishes Harry that if God wants him to stop, well, there's a big honking snake downstairs that can make sure his work ends.

Kristina then comes in and chides Stoner for trying to turn Harry into an alcoholic. She notes that David is doing better and Stoner assures her the boy will be fine. Though poor David is rudely awakened the next morning by the sounds of the show starting outside. Kristina riles up the crowd with facts about how deadly the king cobra is, then introduces her father. She reminds everyone to refrain from flash photography as Stoner coaxes the cobra out into the show pen. And, again, it's quite a show when the stand-in annoys the cobra into threat posturing--which is made even more impressive by the, uh, less than adequate puppet Strother Martin interacts with.

Not an actual snake puppet, but an amazing approximation!
Of course some idiot takes a flash photo while Stoner is up close and personal with the cobra, and he nearly bitten. He still manages to grab the cobra by the head so Kristina can help Stoner extract the venom and force feed the cobra. She then urges the crowd to make donations on their way out, though David is thoroughly unimpressed when he discovers they only got $18 in donations later. He then asks Kristina if Stoner has ever been bitten, and of course the answer is yes though not by the cobra--which might be the only snake whose bite he couldn't survive. To illustrate this, we then cut to Stoner removing the black mamba from its cage--and it promptly sinks its fangs into his finger. So he calls it an "African bastard" (now that's uncalled for!) and tosses it back in its cage.

I still for the life of me cannot figure this scene out, because the snake really bites Strother Martin and it appears to be a black mamba--the inside of its mouth being the dark color that gives the snake its name--so I don't think they used a non-venomous lookalike. It's possible that the snake had been milked just before the shot and they had anti-venom on hand, I suppose, but holy crap my hat's off to Strother Martin.

Talking to Harry, Stoner reveals that his reason for his mad science is that humanity is burning up its natural resources at an alarming rate and soon the world will belong to the cold-blooded animals. I'm slightly distracted, meanwhile, by the decidedly un-snake-like squeaking noises Harry keeps making. Did they really think they needed to make Harry cuter? Meanwhile, David is discovering that his skin is peeling off like when you pour Elmer's glue on your hand. Stoner assures him it's a natural side effect and he's totally not turning into a snake. Nope, not that.

Stoner then gets a visit from Sheriff Dale Hardison (Jack Ging), who used to be a student of Stoner's. He jokes that he wasn't a very good one and Stoner delightfully replies, "Well, I see you found your calling--maintaining the status quo." Hardison then introduces Deputy Morgan Bock (Ted Grossman). After Stoner awkwardly jokes that Bock's name is not spelled like the composer, Bock jokes that maybe Stoner can find them a couple of girls--which Hardison briefly responds to with a perfect "the fuck is wrong with you?" look. They're there for a tour, Hardison says. In the lab, they come upon Kristina with a female reticulated python ("A couple of girls," Stoner jokes) that is apparently sick and not eating.

I have to give Heather Menzies great credit as an actress here. When Stoner enlists the sheriff and deputy's help is moving the sick python to isolation, the python tries to lunge at Hardison and Kristina doesn't break character to drop the angry python and flee.

The python is hauled off to the storm cellar for isolation from the others. Just leaving it loose in the cellar seems a terrible idea, but Stoner assures the men that the cellar door is secure enough. Hardison then mentions he's heard from Tim's aunt that he's been missing for months. Bock comments that kids these days just up and vanish, and for now he and Hardison seem content to leave it at that.

The mongoose is getting increasingly agitated as David gets his next shots. David, whilst eating an apple (subtle), is momentarily transfixed by the king cobra. Kristina then shows him a two-headed snake, and then some hatchling king cobras (which are very clearly not cobras). This segues into more hallucinations, which are conveniently set up as a montage of David's time with Stoner, Kristina, and the snakes.

Next, he and Kristina go to run an errand. On the way back, he stops beside a scenic lake. David ends up talking Kristina into skinny-dipping with him. It takes way less than convincing than you may have guessed. Hilariously, at some point after filming someone decided they wanted to go PG instead of R, so leaves have been awkwardly inserted into the frame via an obvious optical effect to cover the actors' naughty bits.Except for the shots from Kristina's POV, which are blurry because she's not wearing her glasses. The two frolic about, whilst joking about how cold it is.

Stoner records his notes on David's gradual transformation as he walks along a trail by his house. The changes are subtle at this stage--slight lowering of body temperature, flattening of the nostrils, and receding eyelids. He is sure the transformation will accelerate soon. Then he picks up a pigeon and releases it. ...okay, then. I kind of hope that was just Strother Martin being weird.

Kristina and David then go to a carnival. In a comedy bit, we see Bock and Hardison at a shooting gallery--Bock can't hit a thing, while Hardison knocks down all the little ducks. (No word on if he gets Bock the cuddly monkey) Outside a freak show, we see Kogen from the beginning listing his freaks, including a "snake man." Kristina begs off going inside--not because it's cruel and exploitative, but because they're usually fake. So David goes in and gets to see the Snake Man for himself. Boy, that Snake Man (Noble Craig) sure looks like he's the real deal, doesn't he?

"Hey, hey kid--you got any mice? Maybe a gerbil?"
While David is trading significant looks with the Snake Man, our old pal Steve is trying to put the moves on Kristina. For some reason, when David comes back Steve decides to attack him. David retaliates by biting him repeatedly, striking at his foe in as close an approximation to a cobra as Dirk Benedict can manage. Yes, this is setting up that he's already developing snake-like behaviors, but this movie would be much more fun if they expanded on that plot thread more and earlier. Hardison and Bock break it up, but Steve obviously has even more of a score to settle with David now and now knows Kristina is Stoner's daughter.

Meanwhile, Stoner is reading the same Walt Whitman poem to Harry about turning to live with the animals that we last heard Sir Christopher Lee reciting to copulating snails. He then hears Kristina and David pulling up and tells Harry to act sober, to which Harry responds with an admittedly adorable cartoonish hiccup. Trouble is brewing, however, because Steve is getting good and drunk and riled up at the carnival whilst watching a "Kootch Dancer" (Bobbi Kiger) dancing seductively. When her manager offers to let Steve and his buddies have some quality time with her for $10 a piece, Steve gets furious because he's never paid for it in his life. He's apparently still angry about Kristina turning him down and he storms away, over his buddies' objections.

He rides his motorcycle over to the Stoner residence. There, Kristina is settling in for bed after giving Harry some Alka-Seltzer.* Stoner is meanwhile tending to David, who is asking why he's losing weight and why it seems so cold in the lab.

[* Please do not give your snakes Alka-Seltzer. That cannot be good for them. Bourbon is also a bad idea, but I felt that was obvious]

Steve climbs up the wall outside Kirstina's window, clearly intent on sexually assaulting her. However, Harry was sleeping by the window and he quickly comes to his owner's defense. Steve falls out the window, Harry wrapped around his arm. (Odd that Harry doesn't ever use his mouth when attacking, like every angry snake ever) Before Stoner, David, and Kristina can intervene, Steve kills Harry (nooooooo!) and hollers that they're all a bunch of snake freaks before fleeing. Stoner asks if David knows the boy's name.

After a funeral for Harry that involves burning a box with him inside it, Stoner loads the black mamba into a bag and heads into town. David tries to comfort Kristina by telling her that Harry was "only a snake" (fuck you, dude), but Kristina is distracted from his douchiness by the fact that his face looks different. She says this after he suggests she "find another Harry," which has to have been intentional. In town, meanwhile, Steve and Kitty are basking in the afterglow on his water bed. She excitedly pounces on him, eager for round four, while asking if he was scared when the snake attacked him. I'm guessing he left off the part about being attacked during an attempted break-in and sexual assault.

Steve ends up throwing Kitty out, though, because he's in training for football and can't have another round of carnal delights right now. He then walks to the shower in his tighty-whiteys. (Ladies) Outside, Stoner pulls up and finds his way to Steve's apartment. After Kitty leaves, Stoner breaks in. Steve is in the shower and, in order to deprive us of Reb Brown's bare ass, his shower curtain is made out of the same optical effect David Lynch used for the personal shields in Dune. Stoner sneaks in and tosses the black mamba into the shower. In slow-motion we see as Steve accidentally steps on it, and it retaliates by biting his foot. Steve collapses, dead, and Stoner recovers the snake.

So, that was supposed to be the part where we cheer for the mad scientist, right? Because there's no surer way for a movie to get me to root for the so-called villain than having him seek out the man who murdered his beloved snake after attempting to rape his daughter, and kill that bastard with another snake.

At any rate, back at Chez Stoner, Kristina and David are cuddling in the afterglow under a painting of Adam and Eve with the serpent. (We get it already!) He tells her he loves her and she cries because without her glasses she can't see him say it. And clearly he hasn't gotten too snake-like yet, because even without her glasses I'd think Kristina would notice if he had two penises. (Enjoy that mental image, folks!) Stoner then pulls up to the house, delightfully singing "On Top of Old Smokey," which is what Steve was singing in the shower. Man, Strother Martin and the king cobra just steal the hell out of this flick.

Frantically our lovers get dressed and flee from the living room. They don't do the best job of cleaning up their clothes, however. Stoner goes to confront Kristina. He tells her, in no uncertain terms that she's inexperienced and she's throwing herself at the first guy to come along. It turns out, though, that Stoner is more concerned about the fact that David's...blood could have a negative effect on her. Kristina does not take well to being told not to sleep with David and the conversation ends abruptly.

David, meanwhile, has a troubled sleep--and when he awakes he recoils in pain after seeing his reflection in the mirror. Stoner keeps her from going in to see David, though, convincing her it's just an allergic reaction. David talking to her through the door helps, since he's just a bit puffy--although his hands have scales drawn on them! Stoner gets rid of Kristina by sending her to fetch the super rare snake they've just received. Stoner then gives David a sedative, but the poor lad is still freaking out. More injections don't ease his mind, but Stoner is interrupted when Daniels arrives to deliver the bad news that Steve has died of a heart attack--oh, and that the board has rejected Stoner's request for an extension of his grant.

Stoner barely reacts, focusing instead on dismissing Daniels and going back to check on David. David is complaining that his insides feel like they're being rearranged. It turns out that Daniels has decided that Stoner is hiding something and drives just far enough away to park and sneak back to the house--but Stoner sees him coming. Daniels sees David's scaly face through the window, but then Stoner cracks him on the noggin.

Daniels comes to in the cellar and realizes what he saw, but Stoner assures him of two things--one, the cellar is sound proof so his screams won't help him; two, he can find the key to his chains in one of the two tanks before him. As a little Saw-style test of Daniels' herpetological knowledge, one of the tanks contains the harmless Western hognose and the other contains a hognose pit viper. Stoner then leaves him to his choice. Of course, I'm going to assume it was an intentional joke on the filmmakers' part that both snakes are clearly Western hognose snakes.

Daniels grabs a key and unlocks himself, but it turns out that the python in the cellar is finally feeling a lot better. And she's decided that Daniels will make a perfect meal...

"No, please, I told you already! I don't know where Jennifer Lopez is!"
Kristina phones to tell Stoner that the snake isn't at the post office. David struggles to try and pick up the receiver where he's at to tell her what's going on, but he can only knock it off the hook and moan. Stoner dismisses it as a bad connection and Kristina, not realizing the rare snake was a ruse, agrees to stay until morning to see if it arrives. Stoner is free to continue his experiment in peace, as David looks up at him from the floor, helpless. However, the man behind the post office desk tells her she ought to check out the snake man at the carnival--she dismisses it as a fake again, until he mentions that the snake had blue eyes.

Stoner, meanwhile, goes to check on Daniels and sees the python with a foot in a fancy shoe disappearing down her gullet. The effect doesn't really work (especially since this particular specimen is definitely too small to have successfully swallowed Daniels whole) but I appreciate what they were going for. I really hope that swallowing that shoe didn't hurt the python, but this was the 1970s so they probably didn't care. Bastards.

Kristina comes into the main carnival tent, trying to convince Kogen to let her see the Snake Man after hours, but he refuses. On her way out, she sneaks into the freak show, though. She sees the Snake Man pitifully flapping the stump of his right arm--and recognizes that it's Tim. Or used to be. Now he's stuck somewhere between snake and man, with no right arm and no legs. She screams in horror as he whimpers pitifully at her and a single tear rolls down his cheek. She runs, screaming, the realization dawning on her as she speeds home.

At the sheriff's station, a tearful Kitty is confessing that she killed Steve by having sex with him three times. Hardison is obviously not taking her at face value, until she mentions Steve telling her he had killed a snake after he took Stoner's daughter home after she had made a pass at him. (So, in his telling of it he took another woman home after she came onto him, and then subsequently she threw a snake at him? And this made Kitty not question banging him like drum?) Then Bock reports that Daniels' wife has called him in missing after he went to Stoner's place. That seals it for Hardison--time to pay a visit to Stoner.

As Kristina speeds home, having driven all night--how far away was that post office?!--Stoner prepares the final injection fro David, already a scaly humanoid strapped to a table. David protests with inarticulate moans and whines, but it's no use. According to Stoner, the new species David is to become will survive pollution, plagues, and Holocausts that will make humanity extinct. Through the magic of cross dissolves and some adorably woeful puppets, David begins to transform into--a cobra. No, not a giant cobra, just a cobra. A cobra with blue eyes, sure, but why wouldn't he just be a man-sized king cobra?

"Yes, but think of the potential for weight loss companies!"
To be fair, while the effects for this sequence are hardly flawless, it's still pretty effective. (And it's not like CGI morphing in a modern remake would be any less clunky) For all I may kid this movie, the idea of being helpless to stop it as you are painfully and irreversibly transformed against your will is pretty harrowing stuff.

Even the mongoose went quiet to watch this transformation, but as Stoner intones, "Long live the king," before carrying snake-David to a nearby bath, the little monster goes apeshit again. Basking in his triumph, hubris strikes Stoner and he leaves his new creation to go tell the king cobra, "Your highness; I would like an audience. I demand it." And outside he goes, dragging the cobra from its cage so he can taunt it about being obsolete. The cobra decides to reward Stoner's insolence by biting him repeatedly. And what do you know, even Stoner's blood is no match for a cobra's venom. The satisfied cobra slithers back into its cage.

Unfortunately for David, Chekov's mongoose has broken out of its cage. It doesn't care that David used to be a man, he's just a cobra to it and cobras are food. Kristina arrives to find her father's corpse--and her screams at him, desperate to know what he did to David and horror at finding him dead, bring the cobra's attention to her. She barely escapes a bite and her cries to David are pointless because David is busy fighting for his life against a mongoose. Luckily for Kristina, Hardison and Bock pull up and Hardison blows the cobra's head clean off with his shotgun.

Only then does Kristina hear the mongoose. And in a serious 70s bummer ending, the film closes on a freeze frame of her screaming face as she watches the mongoose tearing at David's skull while Hardison and Bock hold her back. The End.

"No! He's gonna stain the linoleum!"
Snakes are a primal fear for a lot of humans, but they aren't a primal fear for me. As such, a horror movie about snakes needs to bring something more to the table than just, "Eek! A snake! Look, snake!" Whatever else you can say about Sssssss, you can't say that it doesn't accomplish that.

After all, while it falls on the PG-rated side of it, there's no question that a story about turning into something else is a form of body horror. The big difference between this movie and David Cronenberg's The Fly is that the transformation is by design--albeit someone else's--and the transformation is much cleaner. It may be just as horrifying in its own way, but it's a lot easier to watch while eating.

This is also, in a lot of ways, a werewolf story--which is why I chose it for this roundtable, obviously. This is, after all, a story of a man turning into an animal and losing his humanity. Which is why, as I alluded to earlier, I found it a little frustrating just how little that was explored as the movie went along. We saw David bite an opponent as though he were a snake, but that was the only time we saw his new serpentine nature taking him over until we literally saw him turning into a snake.

It's a truly wasted opportunity. Imagine how much more mileage this film could have gotten out of that? Imagine David developing a hunger he can't satisfy. What if giving into that hunger meant eating one of the rabbits that Stoner keeps in the lab? What if he was terrified of the mongoose and couldn't understand why? Hell, there isn't even a scene where he gets aggressive with Kristina for no apparent reason. Again, while Strother Martin is a hugely compelling scientist and is more dynamic than Dirk Benedict by a long shot, this feels a bit too much like The Beast Within where the character who should have been the focus ends up more of a McGuffin, Hell, when he turns into a snake he doesn't even go on a rampage of any kind--Stoner gets his comeuppance from the cobra he didn't create, and snake-David is distinguishable by both his blue eyes and apparently gentle nature. I mean, surely we could still feel sympathy for David even if he actually behaved like a ferocious snake!

Of course, saying that David isn't the focus when he should be makes it sound like the movie has a focus and it...kind of doesn't. The closest thing it has to a focus is Stoner's mad science, but the film could just as easily be read as a series of disconnected set pieces. Certainly, the film does a really good job of making them fit, but would the film flow smoother if the subplots involving Steve and Daniels weren't even a part of the script, and the focus was on the Stoner residence almost totally? It's hard to say. It certainly would allow the film the chance to make David's plight matter more to us, beyond the simple horror of what he is facing.

Perhaps to make up for that, this film delivers some serious spectacle. Just the use of real, live venomous snakes in so much of the film is astounding. And that king cobra is an amazing sight all by itself. Plus, while some of its set pieces may seem disconnected, they are unquestionably awesome set pieces and that more than makes up for it in my book.

In the end, while it certainly has its flaws, Sssssss is a pretty enjoyable movie. It's not some unsung classic by any means, but it is a very engaging horror film. Despite its lack of focus, it still delivers a cohesive whole and is certainly never dull. If you're terrified of snakes, it will most likely scare the hell out of you.

Now, someone get me a remake starring Katee Sackhoff, damn it!

The Celluloid Zeroes have banded together to bring awareness to that all too often forgotten affliction: turning into a freaky monster.

Checkpoint Telstar goes batty for The Bat People.

Cinemasochist Apocalypse gets the honor of Kibackichi.

Las Peliculas de Terror reaches deep and finds The Beast Within.

Micro-Brewed Reviews gets hit with The Curse of the Black Widow.

Psychoplasmics is over the moon for An American Werewolf in London.

Tomb of Anubis goes on the hunt with Romasanta.

Web of the Big Damn Spider has to go to Summer School.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

One of the strangest things about classic works and pop culture mainstays, is realizing that at one new they were brand new and untested. Jaws and Star Wars were expected to be huge bombs, James Bond was originally adapted to be an American CIA agent named "Jimmy Bond" for an episode of an anthology TV show, and once upon a time Godzilla's name was not considered enough of a box office draw in the very land that gave birth to him.

In 1962, and the following International releases in 1963, King Kong vs. Godzilla proved to be a huge hit. Toho had clearly made the right decision in licensing the character of King Kong and using him to bring their homegrown monster back to the big screen after a 7 year absence. For the first time since 1955's rushed sequel, Godzilla Raids Again, Godzilla was seen as a viable franchise property at a time when franchises were not the norm.

(For more evidence of how unusual franchises were at that time, remember that Godzilla Raids Again became "Gigantis, The Fire Monster" in the US because the studio assumed audiences would be more likely to go see a new film than a sequel)

Well, Toho may have seen the franchise potential in Godzilla, but they clearly weren't all that sure of his name value yet. When it came time to follow up King Kong vs. Godzilla, Godzilla was once again the second-billed monster. Clearly 1961's Mothra had been enough of a success that Toho felt audiences would see Mothra as the draw and cast Godzilla as the sinister foil to her heroic role.

Man, I would love to know the story behind this wacky publicity still.
In the US, however, that sentiment was much the opposite. While this entry is easily one of the least altered Godzilla films to make it to US theaters, the title and poster art promised an entirely different film: Godzilla vs. The Thing. Gone was even the barest mention of Mothra in trailers and promotional materials--and even in the film, characters inexplicably refer Mothra by her proper name and as "The Thing," interchangeably. On posters, Godzilla was shown facing off against a big question mark or, in the case of the astoundingly dishonest poster above, wrestling with a tentacled monstrosity so horrible it has to be hidden behind a "Censored" panel.

I really, really wish there was more available press from the time of the film's release because I seriously must know how many people walked out of the film feeling ripped off.

I would like to believe that some of the sting was taken out by the fact that the film they did see was amazing.

We open with the most famous of Akira Ifukube's themes, and the theme that became as inseparable from Godzilla as tapping two piano keys became from killer sharks. For Japanese audiences, this would actually be the second time they heard this theme, but producer John Beck tragically deprived Western audiences of it when he was chopping King Kong vs. Godzilla to pieces. The theme is a prelude to a raging typhoon that obliterates a seaside industrial area we'll later discover is Kurada Beach. Say what you want about how obvious the miniatures are in this sequence, the scale of destruction rendered is impressive.

The next morning, huge pumps are hard at work flushing the water back out to sea. An unnamed politician (Kenzo Tabu) arrives to bloviate about how successful he cleanup has been and, in what I am convinced is not an accident, he has a Hitler mustache. The press shows up in drives and we focus on journalist Ichiro Sakai (Akira Takarada!) and his photographer Junko Nakanishi (Yuriko Hoshi!). Sakai is rather unimpressed that Junko hasn't instantly begun taking photos, but he's distracted from haranguing her by the politician singling him out. It seems Sakai has been critical of the politician's progress in cleaning up after the typhoon.

Sakai escapes having his ear chewed off by the politician because the man is too busy using the crowd for self-promotion to actually keep an eye on the man he was just angrily confronting. Sakai, meanwhile, finds Junko setting up for a shot and is annoyed when he finds out it's her first. (Sakai is kind of a jerk) However, when he sees what she's shooting he's stunned out of his lecture on how easy photography is--floating among some wreckage is an object the size of a hubcap, rainbow colored like oil on water. And then Sakai picks it up, ruining Junko's shot.

Meanwhile, back at the newspaper they work for, a call comes in to the chief editor, Murata (Jun Tazaki, here not playing a general). In the first instance of a running gag, the news Murata gets causes him to prevent Nakamura (Yu Fujiki) from finishing eating a egg--at a beach near the site of the typhoon, an enormous rainbow-colored egg has been sighted floating offshore.

The fishermen of the village are scared of the egg, but the head villager (Akira Tani) tells them that it's a great opportunity for the village and the priest (Ikio Sawamura, the old man in practically every Ishiro Honda film I've mentioned before) assures them that the Gods will protect them from any curse upon the egg. Well, that's good enough for the fishermen and they row out in their canoes and somehow bring the egg ashore.

Sakai and Junko are naturally quick to make the scene--though not quick enough that we don't get a spinning newspaper announcement of the egg's discovery first. The egg is surrounded by scientists taking samples, lead by Professor Miura (Hiroshi Koizumi, who sadly passed away earlier this summer). Miura is not interested in answering questions, but despite her accidentally blinding him with a flashbulb even he can't resist Junko's cuteness and relents to answer one question at her urging. Sakai then blows this opportunity by asking if the egg will explode.

Sorry, Sakai, you're thinking of beached whales not beached eggs. (Don't search YouTube for footage of exploding whales unless you have a strong stomach)

Well, Miura doesn't get to take many samples because suddenly the head villager arrives with Kumayama (Yoshifumi Tajima, last seen here being eaten by an H-Man), a sleazy businessman with a Hitler mustache. Again, I don't think this was accidental. Kumayama's company, Happy Enterprises, has purchased the egg from the villagers and, in an amusing bit, we find out the price was determined by multiplying the wholesale price of one chicken egg by how many chicken eggs this monster egg is equal to. At any rate, over Sakai, Junko, and Miura's objections Kumayama has the scientists driven away--but promises to let them study the egg for the same fee he's going to charge everyone else to see it. And then he asks unko to take his picture and deliberately ruins the shot by blowing smoke at her.

Presumably the scene of him kicking a puppy was cut for time.

At a nearby hotel, Sakai, Junko, and Miura are all together, discussing the issue. All three agree that Happy Enterprises shouldn't be allowed to keep the egg. However, none of them know what to do about it. Miura scoffs that the government would need too many committee meetings to even decide it's worth discussing, while Sakai can only offer his role as a journalist to try and sway public opinion against Happy Enterprises.

As the three are exiting the hotel, presumably to go to dinner, they see Kumayama coming in and asking the front desk if a certain party has arrived. Sakai gets the feeling that maybe Kumayama isn't in charge after all, and this might be a chance to see who's pulling his strings. Sakai is right, for Kumayama is meeting Jiro Torahata (Kenji Sahara!) in Torahata's room. As he lounges in sunglasses at night and chews on a fancy cigar, Torahata discusses the wonderful profit potential of the monster egg--and the two pore over a blueprint of the giant incubator they'll build for the egg.

Now, you might think that the Japanese government might come down swiftly on any corporation incubating a kaiju egg on Japanese soil--especially since, in King Kong vs. Godzilla, they wouldn't let Tako's company bring King Kong to Japan. However, this is never addressed in the film and I'm fairly certain that is a part of the film's satire of Japanese corporate culture. Especially since, in the original Japanese version of King Kong vs. Godzilla, King Kong is blocked not because he is a public menace--he's blocked because Tako hasn't paid the import taxes on him!

At any rate, as Torahata congratulates himself on a wonderful plan and draws on his cigar, a tiny voice objects that is plan is wrong. I mean a literal tiny voice. Two tiny voices, actually. Torahata assumes the voies are corporate spies after the plans and shoves them into a locker full of cash--which Kumayama almost literally drools over. However, the two men soon discover the source of the voices is on a nearby shelf, where the twin fairies or Shobijin (Emi and Yumi Ito, or "The Peanuts", reprising their roles from Mothra) are standing in order to implore the two men to return the egg.

It doesn't go well.

Torahata and Kumayama immediately think that they should follow in the villainous Nelson's footsteps in Mothra (apparently unaware how badly that ended for Nelson) by capturing the fairies and displaying them with the egg. Unfortunately, the Shobijin have learned some tricks since their last visit to civilization and easily elude the two men. Sakai uses the sound of their struggle as an excuse to rush into the room. He's quickly ushered out, but now he knows Torahata is involved.

Sakai meets with Junko and Miura in the woods behind the hotel. As they discuss ideas for how to deal with the issue, they are addressed by two tiny voices imploring them to return the egg. Junko spies the Shobijin on a tree branch. Our heroic trio is, naturally, far more willing to listen to reason. Especially once the fairies reveal that the egg is Mothra's and, in flashback, explain that the egg was washed away when the tidal waves caused by the typhoon wore away the cliff face it was buried in. If the egg is not returned before it hatches, the larva inside might cause great damage in its search for food. The natives of the island have been praying for the egg's safe return for days, but the Shobijin caught a ride to Japan on Mothra.

What's that? Oh, yeah, Mothra is sitting right over there on a nearby hill. Her attempt to "wave" hello nearly blows the poor humans away with the force of her wings.

In the hopes that, together, they might be able to succeed where separately they had failed, our heroes bring the Shobijin to a meeting with Kumyama and Torahata. Hilariously, being told that the egg belongs to a giant moth that had leveled Tokyo and New Kirk City only three years earlier, just makes Torahata joke that they should come back with whatever lawyers Mothra can provide. Seeing that Junko has the Shobijin inside the box she's carrying only makes the two sleazeballs offer to buy the twin fairies. So much for that plan.

Regrouping at a restaurant, Sakai, Junko, and Miura take turns despairing of how hopeless it is. They've simply done all they can. And then they notice the Shobijin have vanished. The three quickly realize that the fairies must have gone back to Mothra. It's too late, though, as they hear the voices of the fairies thanking them for their efforts, but they're going back to Infant Island--and then Mothra nearly blows them away on take-off.

Mothra is taking a noticeably more diplomatic approach to retrieving her young than she did to retrieving the fairies in her last outing.

Since this is a film from 1964, Sakai and Murata discuss the best way to sway public opinion via their newspaper. However, while their articles do unsettle the villagers enough to force Kumayama to borrow money from Torahata to keep them happy, Happy Enterprises still goes ahead with activating the furnaces that power their incubator. So far the free press is powerless against the corporate juggernaut.

Well, soon that monster egg will be old news. Junko fetches Sakai because Miura left a message for them. After insisting the two go through a decontamination chamber, Miura informs them that the weird object they found in the typhoon wreckage at Kurada Beach is radioactive. They go back to test the area, now clear of water, for residual activity. Unfortunately, the politician from earlier tells them to get lost when he discovers they aren't there to praise his efforts. Except when Sakai goes to collect Junko, she points out to him that she has been unable to get a good shot of the industrial area because the land is moving.

Sure enough, the land is rising and falling like something is pushing up from underneath it. A srage fountain of mist erupts from the ground, which sends Miura's geiger counter into fits. And then, in the greatest moment in film history, Godzilla bursts up through the ground.

"... I am never drinking again."
Having been buried there by the typhoon, Godzilla is in a foul mood when he wakes him. He advances on Nagoya, destroying a refinery before wandering through the downtown area. In a sure sign of how groggy the big brute is, he gets his tail caught in the base of a tower and proceeds to wrestle with said tower after he knocks it over onto his back. He wanders over to Nagoya Castle and proceeds to stumble on the castle moat and fall into the castle, which he then destroys as if he totally meant to do that, folks.

"You take that back, my mother was not a skink!"
In the US version, we get an unusual sequence in that it was shot by Toho exclusively for use in the American release. The US Navy helpfully offers to aid Japan by engaging Godzilla with their shiny new Frontier Missiles. The fleet finds Godzilla just fine and bombards the beach he's on, but as you might expect all those fancy missiles do is momentarily knock Godzilla down a cliff--which, given how clumsy he's been so far, he might have done regardless of their involvement.

In the newspaper office, Sakai, Junko, Miura, and Murata try to decide what the hell anyone can do about Godzilla's return. Nakamura arrives, having been forced to leave the area where the egg is housed due to Godzilla being at large. Murata is annoyed that he didn't stay behind and risk being stomped by Godzilla, but then Nakamura suggests that maybe Mothra could be persuaded to help. I mean, she is a giant monster and her egg is currently in the country being torn apart by Godzilla, so it could be in danger, too. Sakai, Junko, and Miura reluctantly agree that it is worth a shot.

The trio are airlifted to Infant Island, but land in an inflatable dinghy. They survey the radioactive ruin that is much of Infant Island, strewn with skeletons--check out the oddity in the background that is referred to as "Skeleturtle" by the fandom: it looks like a skeleton, but bobs its head and blinks at random intervals.

"Maybe Skeleturtle will fight Godzilla?"
The natives find them and bring them to the island's temple. The island chief (Yoshio Kosugi, here wearing red paint and a white beard instead of black face as he did in King Kong vs. Godzilla, where he also played a native chief) makes sure the strangers drink the radiation-curing juice estabished in Mothra and then demands to know what they want. Understandably, an island used for nuclear tests is not exactly trusting of outsiders and hearing, "Hey, we want to borrow your God so she can fight Godzilla," goes over like a lead balloon. Hearing the voice of the Shobijin singing leads everyone to a beautiful garden oasis, where the twin fairies are waiting. They cheerfully explain that they know what the trio wants, thanks to their telepathy, but they will not help.

It then falls to the trio to take turns making impassioned pleas for why Mothra should help, oddly none of which is, "If she doesn't, Godzilla might decide to make her egg an omelet." Well, Mothra is persuaded and cries out, so the Shobijin lead the trio to the temple where Mothra is perched. Mothra has agreed to help, but given her age and waning strength there's not getting around it: Mothra will not survive this battle, win or lose.

"What if we gave her a really big sweater to eat?"
The next day, the trio returns to Japan near the giant incubator, whee Mothra has been promised to arrive. Unfortunately, Godzilla has made his advance towards the same area. In the nearby hotel, Kumayama confronts Torahata because it seems the money he "borrowed" was actually his own: his business partner has been cheating him. Kumayama beats Torahata bloody and breaks into the money locker. Torahata, seeing Godzilla advancing on the hotel,  pulls a gun out of his desk and shoots Kumayama in the head. Unfortunately, the time it takes to gather up his money means Torahata is still in the hotel when Godzilla casually strikes it with his tail.
And my inner commie is delighted to see the two corrupt capitalists kill each other before being stomped on by Godzilla.

Godzilla proceeds to smash the incubator to get at the egg, which is the point when Junko finally realizes that it would be a bad thing if Godzilla got to the egg. While Godzilla decides on "scrambled" or "sunny side up," Mothra arrives and wastes no time in savagely attacking Godzilla. What follows is one of the only times anyone has successfully come up with a satisfying answer to, "What's a giant moth going to do against Godzilla?"

"Ow! OW! Oh God, GET IT OFF ME!"
Mothra is faster than Godzilla, so she swoops in and stays constantly in his blind spot. She claws him with her feet, beats him with her wings, and ultimately knocks him into a ravine where she douses him in a yellow powder--a form of poison that is the last weapon in her arsenal. Unfortunately, while she puts in a good show, Godzilla eventually gets an opening and blasts her in the face with his flame breath. That's all it takes and Mothra flies away, her last thought of her young as she wraps her wing around the egg and dies.

Godzilla decides to move on to the next target, as the military runs away to set up a death trap for him involving artificial lightning (Since electricity suddenly became his kryptonite in the last film) The Shobijin, however, don't see the battle as over. "Godzilla must die," they chirp. See, Mothra may be dead, but her egg is very much alive--and with a little bit of prayer it can be hatched so that the twin larvae inside can seek revenge...

"You killed our Mothra. Prepare to die."
A lot of folks who know me well may tease me for being a contrarian, and they're usually right. I think The Godfather is great but The Godfather, Part II is overrated. I actually liked Terminator 3. However, some opinions of mine are absolutely in line with the majority:

Mothra vs. Godzilla is my absolute favorite Godzilla movie, and the Godzilla suit used is my favorite version of Godzilla.

Honestly, I'm amazed when I find someone who doesn't like the film--and they exist, because ours is a cruel universe--because I can find so little fault with it. For one thing, the human characters may not be the absolute greatest in the series, but they are wonderful and completely engaging. The score by Akira Ifukube is amazing, Shinichi Sekizawa's screenplay is wonderfully engaging as both a kaiju film and a satire, and Ishiro Honda's direction is marvelous.

Of course, the monster action is where any Godzilla movie is often measured and this film excels there. While Godzilla doesn't actually cause all that much destruction compared to some of his earlier rampages, he does get to tear apart a few landmarks and melt the hapless military response. The monster battles are also unique, as you would expect. Mothra can't wrestle Godzilla like King Kong, nor can she really maul him like Anguirus. Instead, the adult Mothra battles him fiercely and the larvae--in a sequence I never get tired of--use guerilla tactics to wrap Godzilla in silk. It's exciting and dynamic, especially when we discover for the first time that Godzilla really hates it when you bite his tail.

The special effects by Eiji Tsubraya, while certainly not flawless--for instance, the scenes of Godzilla superimposed onto location footage alternate between being blurry and being surrounded by obvious matte lines, and there's two "melting rocks" in the climax that just look dreadful--are still amazing. They're dynamic and exciting, which can sometimes be a better quaity for effects than "convincing" when used properly.

Seriously, that Godzilla is perfect. Sleek but powerful, with an unfriendly scowl--and I personally rather like the wobbling jowls. It was completely by accident that slamming into Nagoya Castle model knocked the lips of the mask free from their adhesive, but the result feels oddly organic. No wonder Tsuburaya and Honda kept those shots in the finished film.

It's also fascinating to realize that this film was, in a way, the end of an era. This would be the last time for 20 years that Godzilla would be the out-and-out villain of a film. After this point he would not stray far from the hero role introduced in the same year's successive entry, Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster until the series was first rebooted in 1984. And boy, did they retire the villainous Godzilla while they were ahead--just look at how stale Godzilla's character would become when he was not allowed to be anything more than villain or anti-hero from 1984 to 2004.

Bottom line, if you've enjoyed any Godzilla films and haven't seen this one yet, you owe to yourself to do so. Of the 30 films in the series, this is the only one I'd stand behind as being better than the original Godzilla, which is saying a lot. It's a classic, not just of the Godzilla series but cinema in general.

And it's a wonderful example of why Godzilla will never die. Sorry, fairies.

"Oh, this is yours? I just thought this was the complimentary breakfast bar."