Wednesday, October 17, 2018

HubrisWeen 2018, Day 12: Lake of Dracula (1971)

As I mentioned in my review of Evil of Dracula, the requirements of doing these reviews in alphabetical order means we are doing this trilogy in reverse. However, the fact these three films have no connecting continuity means that it's perfectly fine to watch or review in any order at all.

Indeed, it might even be best to watch in reverse order because no matter how you watch them, it must be said that today's film is the weakest of the three. Mind you, when I say that I do not mean that it is a bad film just because it is the "worst" of the trilogy. In fact, it's still one of the better vampire films of this period--and as a vampire film in the early 1970s, it has some serious competition.

We open with a prologue that will turn out to be a recurring nightmare of our heroine. As a child, Akiko Kashiwagi (Michiyo Yamazoe) chases her cocker spaniel, Leo, when he runs away on the beach and disappears into a cave. The cave leads to a European-style mansion and Leo runs inside. Akiko is confronted by a creepy old man (Hideji Otaki) and dodges him to run inside.

Unfortunately, inside Akiko finds a pale woman (Fusako Tachibana) hunched over a piano, and the woman turns out to be dead when Akiko tries to ask if she has seen Leo. Worse, suddenly a pale man with inhuman eyes looms up in front of Akiko and snarls, revealing he is a vampire (Shin Kishida, who will go on to play almost the same role in Evil of Dracula).

"I said no solicitors!"
As a grown woman, Akiko (now played by Midori Fujita), is a school teacher but is still haunted by her recurring nightmare even though she has suppressed much of it. Even so, the nightmare is so constantly on her mind that she is compelled to paint it over and over, mainly in the form of a single yellow eye looming over a lake.

We join her on holiday by a lake, with her German shepherd, which she has also named Leo. That happens to jog some of the memories of her nightmare when Leo strangely runs off on her as she is talking to the operator of the lake's boathouse, Kyusaku (Kaku Takashina). She has a flash of the other Leo running away, but is jogged back to reality when a package truck pulls up.

The driver of the truck is very odd and insistent that he has a package for Kyusaku, even though there are no papers and Kyusaku did not order anything. The package is also a huge wooden crate, and when Kyusaku opens it in the boathouse--he finds that it contains a coffin. Night falls while Kyusaku tries to get answers from the shipping company, sure that it was delivered as a sick joke.

So when Kyusaku opens the coffin, it is full dark. He is slightly relieved to find it empty, but then he notices what looks like a blood stain. As he goes to investigate it, a pale hand grabs him by the shoulder--and he finds himself face to face with The Vampire from Akiko's dream.

Damn vampires, always with the unwanted shoulder rubs.
Akiko, meanwhile, is having dinner with her little sister, Natsuko (Sanae Emi), and her doctor boyfriend, Dr. Takashi Saeki (Choei Takahashi). Natsuko is both a loving and very obnoxious little sister. On the one hand she teases Takashi about when he's going to marry Akiko, but she also playfully threatens to steal him away from Akiko if her sister doesn't stop obsessing over her childhood nightmares.

Leaving the nightmare behind is actually getting harder for Akiko, because she is beginning to find more and more things that trigger flashbacks to aspects of the nightmare.

Left to right: Takashi, Natsuko, and Akiko.
The next day, Akiko and Natsuko go into town and make plans to have dinner with Takashi that evening at a local steakhouse--but Takashi has to cancel those same plans almost immediately due to an emergency. That emergency? A young woman (Mika Katsuragi) who was found on the local road with severe blood loss, despite having no obvious injuries--but then Takashi notices two puncture wounds on the girl's neck.

That evening, to her horror, Akiko can't find Leo. She and Natsuko go searching the woods, but they get separated and then Akiko finds Leo's dead body. (Don't worry about how real the "corpse" is, since if you look closely you can see Leo is breathing) And then she is attacked by Kyusaku, who seems to have gone mad.

Akiko comes to in the boathouse, in a trance, having been presented to The Vampire by Kyusaku. Whatever the fiend has planned for her is interrupted when headlights shine in the window and two anglers arrive, looking to rent a boat. Akiko breaks out of her trance, but the anglers can't find any evidence of the men she mentions as having tried to assault her.

She goes home, but now Natsuko is missing. However, she appears as soon as Natsuko calls Takashi to tell him. However, Natsuko is acting very odd and even dismisses Akiko telling her that she thinks Kyusaku tried to rape her.

Later that night, though, Natsuko wanders off into the woods to meet The Vampire. As his eyes glow, she offers him her neck and he happily drinks her blood...

At least this evil predatory male has the decency to be a sharp dresser.
There is a lot happening in Lake of Dracula. It would be easy enough for the rest of the film to be about Akiko being gaslit by those closest to her, in service of The Vampire. However, that is only part of what the film is about. Hell, we don't even really find out the backstory of The Vampire until maybe 10 minutes from the very end of the film.

Before we get there, we do have vampire gaslighting, atmosphere galore, and a sequence that truly blows me away: two men having a vigorous and well-choreographed fight inside of a medium-sized sedan! I'm not kidding, it's an amazing fight.

And naturally, we get a nicely gruesome end for our evil vampire.

If your vampire doesn't end up looking absolutely revolting by the end of the film, you aren't doing it right.
There is, strangely, a feeling that something is missing, however. Part of the problem is that some of the pacing is a bit off, which undercuts the sense of urgency that should be building instead of abating. Then there is the fact that Akiko is too passive in her own story.

As a result, it doesn't all gel together in the way that it really should. It's a shame because there is so much to love, yet it could have been better.

That said, this is still a very good movie. If you love Hammer-style vampire films and want something that scratches that itch while also taking it to a more unique setting, then you should absolutely watch this.

This has concluded Day 12 of HubrisWeen 2018! To see what the other Celluloid Zeroes chose for L, click the banner above!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

HubrisWeen 2018, Day 11: Kaiju Mono (2016)

Since about 2013, it has been a great time to be a kaiju fan. The releases and moderate successes of Pacific Rim in 2013 and Godzilla in 2014 showed filmmakers in both East and West that audiences were prepared to flock to giant monster movies again. While there had been a few scattered attempts here and there in the years between, that had not been true since at least 2004.

So we have returned to a glorious time when we are positively tripping over new kaiju movies. This is, of course, a very double-edged sword.

On the one hand, we have so many to choose from that if one is a bit disappointing we'll have plenty of other choices. On the other hand, even as much as I love kaiju movies, there is still a potential for some truly awful films to be released in the genre.

You're already guessing which category Kaiju Mono falls into, but just wait--there's more!

The joke was on all of us: this is actually what "Devil's Triangle" means.
Low-budget genre cinema can be hard to keep track of even in the country you live in, so prior to this year I don't believe I had even heard of Kaiju Mono despite it having come out in Japan two years ago. However, I am a huge fan of director Minoru Kawasaki's earlier film, The Calamari Wrestler, and I was excited to see a new kaiju film coming to American Blu-ray this year.

Of course, I knew that Kawasaki's oeuvre following The Calamari Wrestler has been very divisive, especially when it comes to his entries in the giant monster genre. For instance, in 2008 he made a comedy sequel to The X From Outer Space called Monster X Strikes Back: Attack the G8 Summit--and the critical reception of that film was so outright toxic that I have yet to bring myself to watch it.

Still, the premise of this film sounded delightful: a wrestler is grown to giant proportions to fight a kaiju! Sure, a few years earlier Big Man Japan did basically the same thing, but this seemed more in line with old school kaiju films, complete with miniatures and rubber suits. So I pre-ordered it for its August release.

And then on the release date it got pushed back to September 4th without any warning, so that every retailer carrying it listed it as "Sold Out." Then it got pushed to September 11th. Literally on the day of September 11th it was pushed back again to September 18th, which finally stuck.

I was about ready to give up on this being my K entry before it finally shipped out to me. Being an utter fool, I eagerly popped the Blu-ray into my player. It didn't take long for me to realize that the delays had been a failed attempt to protect us.

For you see, this is the most dreadful of bad movies: a bad comedy.

It's actually worse than that, to some degree. As a Japanese comedy there is an extra level of context that I am missing whilst watching it that makes a majority of the jokes baffling instead of merely unfunny. The distributors tried their best to help, with occasional on-screen subtitles explaining a joke that no non-Japanese viewer could get, but this is still a very rough ride.

It's an even rougher ride when you try to watch this dubbed, I might add. Not so much because the dub is terrible, but because someone felt the movie needed more awful jokes added to it. It does not and I could only tolerate about 15 minutes of the dub before I wisely switched to the subtitles.

We open with a Japan that is being wracked by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. No one quite agrees what is responsible, but it naturally isn't long before a huge burrowing kaiju dubbed Mono has appeared and begun eating people--among the first victim being the pro-kaiju activist who first calls the monster "Mono" in the first place. Equally inevitably, Mono is totally immune to the military's attempts to kill her and in fact she shoots lightning from her horns just to make things even harder.

"Sure, my cousin gets to fight giant robots. I gotta fight a guy in briefs."
I say "her", incidentally, because Miwa Saigo (Miki Kawanishi) accidentally discovers Mono's egg while on an excursion in the country with her father's naive lab assistant who has a crush on her. She won't know it's an egg until much later, of course, which is fair since it looks nothing like an egg. Miwa's father, meanwhile, is disgraced scientist Doctor Saigo (Ryu Manatsu) who deals with his disgrace by dressing up as a magical anime girl.

These are the jokes, folks.

Dr. Saigo also has developed a formula called "Setupp X" that he thinks can help defeat Mono. After forcing the government representative to win a joke-off with his assistant before he will help--yes, really--Saigo then volunteers his assistant to be injected with Setupp X in order to become a superhuman giant and defeat Mono.

The assistant is reluctant, but Saigo pressures him into it by revealing that Miwa keeps porn magazines under her bed that all feature buff wrestlers. That's all it takes, and soon the assistant is injected with Setupp X and he transforms into a giant portrayed by wrestler Kota Ibushi, and I'll just be using his name from now on because I've forgotten it and the IMDb is worthless here.

Ibushi is a naked giant, at that, but Saigo has already provided briefs that will stretch with Ibushi when he changes size. Once those are slipped on, Ibushi engages Mono in battle and actually beats the crap out of her until she flees.

"I changed my mind, I don't trust you enough to put my head in your mouth like a lion tamer!"
The Setupp X wears off after a few minutes, but Ibushi is still a muscular hunk when he returns to human size. So he has to deal with the price of fame, which includes being seduced by a foreign spy, Scorpion (Saki Akai), who is out to steal his briefs.

No, really. It's actually one of the cleverest gags in the film when it's revealed to the government agents on her tail that she is not after Setupp X because so many scientists are inventing super human serums all the time, but super stretchy clothes are actually practical!

Miwa figures out that the object she found is Mono's egg and tries to return it to the kaiju. Ibushi grows to huge size to try and help, but he actually just ends up pissing Mono off. This time around, he gets thoroughly thrashed by the mother kaiju.

Too late our hero learned you should never accept a massage from an electric kaiju.
Now disgraced, Ibushi must learn new techniques if he is to have any hope of defeating Mono for good the next time they meet. Part of this involves a parody of a Rocky training montage, complete with a blatant copy of the original music. I guess the director forgot he had already given us the perfect version of this when he had a squid going through a training montage in The Calamari Wrestler.

Meanwhile, Mono's egg is getting much bigger and her appetite for human beings is getting more voracious. Our heroes better find the key to defeating her soon...

I can't really make a joke here, because Mono is already eating a guy who said Hollywood CGI is superior to guys in suits.
One of the issues Kaiju Mono has is definitely how scattered its plot and characters are. I've barely even touched on all the stock types we get throughout this film. On the one hand, as a kaiju fan this does mean that a lot of the characters are clear references to tropes I can appreciate. Hell, many of the scenes with the military seem to be clear, but affectionate digs at Shin Godzilla (despite Kaiju Mono making it into Japanese theaters two weeks before that film) and one of them is Bin Furaya of Ultraman fame! On the other hand, it leads to an experience that is often bewildering because you're trying to make sense of how each new person fits into everything.

Of course, again, I'm left wondering how many of the joke characters would actually make perfect sense in Japan. Several media people seem to portray themselves, and the ending where a man known for wooing elderly women tells Ibushi how to calm Mono down has to make more sense if you actually know who the hell he is.

The other issue is that the film tends to get too bogged down in the jokes that it doesn't deliver much of a story. The best spoofs have a discernible plot beneath all the gags, and this is even true of Kawasaki's earlier The Calamari Wrestler. This film just keeps giving us Mono rampaging and then fighting Ibushi in the exact same miniature city each time. It gets repetitive very quickly, and given how flat most of the jokes fall, that doesn't leave the audience with much else to enjoy.

It's a shame, because when this film connects it does so really well. I got a kick out of the fact that Ibushi trains to learn how to do a super impressive move that can stop a waterfall in its tracks, only for it to be utterly ineffective against Mono. Wrestling fans will surely appreciate how injecting Ibushi with the "evil gene" to defeat Mono means that he suddenly transforms into a villain wrestler.

However, a few clever gags are really not enough to recommend this film. Unless you are a kaiju completist you aren't likely to get much out of it, and if you watch the awful dub your wife will threaten you with divorce after only a few minutes.

Trust me, it isn't worth that risk.

This has concluded Day 11 of HubrisWeen 2018! To see what the other Celluloid Zeroes chose for K, click the banner above!

Monday, October 15, 2018

HubrisWeen 2018, Day 10: Jennifer's Body (2009)

Diablo Cody is a somewhat divisive creator. She broke onto the scene with the screenplay for Juno in 2007, which won her an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. For a follow-up, she wrote the screenplay for today's film--and promptly destroyed all of the good will she had built up with Juno.

Sure, Cody still gets acclaim from time to time, and she definitely still gets work. However, her name is more likely to elicit groans these days than approval.

Now, if you ask my opinion, Juno was insufferable. It was a bunch of great actors delivering smarmy "clever" dialogue in a barely hung together story. I can understand why it appealed to many people, but I also never wish to watch it ever again.

The strange thing to me, then, is trying to figure out why Jennifer's Body had almost the same script problems that Juno did, but it was the latter film that crashed and burned so hard upon release. The critical response wasn't terribly harsh, but it was very lukewarm, and the box office was a definite failure--it barely made back its budget in domestic grosses.

Now, it's no mystery to me that the film didn't have the same amount of awards buzz, since horror films never get recognized that way. Even at the time, however, I did not quite understand why this film was largely disliked, as when I saw it on DVD, I actually kind of enjoyed it.

Of course, if I'm being entirely unfair, I will come right out and blame the film's dismissal on the fact that most straight male viewers expected that an R-rated movie starring Megan Fox was going to finally give them a look at her naked body and when they inevitably found out that it did not, then they didn't bother with it. Worse, you had a different kind of awful straight men, who had decided that they were above being sexually attracted to Megan Fox and turned up their nose at anything she was involved in.

Unfortunately, I was definitely guilty of being the latter kind of asshole at the time, which is why I skipped it in the theater. Thankfully I have grown out of that particular phase and wised up to the fact that it isn't Megan Fox's fault that she has gotten a bum deal out of, well, pretty much her whole career by being constantly cast as "Main Sex Object" in stupid adolescent action movies.

So, with almost ten years distance, I decided to revisit the film and see what I thought of it now.

Of course, even in 2018 I can't defend the logic of casting Amanda Seyfried as "the plain best friend." Well, at least Anita "Needy" Lesnicki (Seyfried) used to be the plain best friend of one of the hottest girls in her high school, but now she's a violent inmate at a mental hospital. When she gets herself thrown in solitary confinement, she finds herself with plenty of time to think--which also means plenty of time to tell us her story in flashback.

"Glasses? You fools! You have only increased my sex appeal!"
Needy comes from Devil's Kettle, Minnesota--so named because of the strange phenomenon on the outskirts of the town, where a waterfall drains into a mysterious whirlpool. Nobody knows where the whirlpool leads, not even the scientists who like to dump things into it, but naturally the most popular theories are a portal to hell or a dimensional vortex.

That isn't super relevant at the moment. What is relevant is that Needy is the best friend of Jennifer Check (Megan Fox), a hugely popular cheerleader. They have been friends since childhood and have the sort of relationship that makes their classmates tease them for being lesbian lovers, but naturally that isn't entirely unfounded.

I mean, think we're probably supposed to read at least something into the fact that Needy's boyfriend, Chip Dove (Johnny Simmons), is the sort of non-threatening handsome guy that pre-teen girls fall for. And, sure, Jennifer's obvious dislike of Chip could just be jealousy of the fact that he takes time away from her and Needy hanging out together, but is that all that it is?

A million fanfic writers have already answered that question for me, I'd bet.
Whatever the truth might have been, it won't ever come to light in the way it naturally might have. Jennifer steals Needy away from a night with Chip to have her come along to a local dive to see indie rock group Low Shoulder play. The lead singer, Nikolai Wolf (Adam Brody), almost immediately takes an unseemly interest in Jennifer. An older man being interested in Jennifer isn't unusual in and of itself, since earlier we saw Jennifer flirting with rookie police officer Roman Duda (Chris Pratt), whom she has been having a sexual relationship with for longer than can possibly be appropriate.

However, Nikolai seems oddly fixated on whether or not Jennifer is a virgin. Needy overhears him arguing with the other bandmates about it. Thinking that the singer is just a creep who wants to bone her friend, Needy does what she thinks is the right thing and angrily walks right up to them and tells them that her friend is totally a virgin.

This is the wrong thing to do, and not just because Jennifer smugly confirms that it's a blatant lie when Needy talks to her about it right after.

No, it's because Low Shoulder are much more sinister than they seem. In the middle of their set, the bar catches fire and the band just splits while Needy and Jennifer barely make it out alive. Several bar patrons aren't so lucky. Worst of all, once outside the band pulls up in their creepy van and offers the girls a ride. To her helpless horror, Needy is unable to convince Jennifer not to go with them.

The night from hell isn't over, though, because hours later Needy is awakened at home by Jennifer in her kitchen. Jennifer's white coat is shredded and the girl is covered in blood. Worse, she complains of being starving, but when she attempts to eat a leftover chicken from the fridge she instead vomits black ichor onto the linoleum. When Jennifer flees after this, Needy notices that the black goo almost seems to be alive and it becomes spiky as it moves.

"It's OK, I just bit my tongue a bit too hard when someone said I must have loved working with Michael Bay."
At school the next day, however, Jennifer is fine. Even stranger, Low Shoulder's band members are being hailed as heroes for trying to save the victims of the fire and their single, "Through The Trees," is now getting so much radio play it's inescapable. The band has even offered to play at the school's Spring dance in honor of the deceased.

Of course, the town's tragedy is only just beginning. One of the school's football players is grieving his friend's death, when Jennifer comes up to him and seduces him into following her into the forest behind the school. Once they are far enough from any witnesses, Jennifer suddenly sprouts claws and razor-sharp teeth and rips him apart. The school's resident kooky teacher (J.K. Simmons) hears the boy's screams and thus comes upon the shocking sight of a deer nibbling on the dead lad's intestines.

Demons must have a wicked case of TMJ.
Needy can't help noticing that Jennifer is acting very, very strangely. Not long after the first murder, Needy notices that Jennifer is beginning to look sick. Unfortunately, when one of the school's emo/goth kids asks Jennifer to go to a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Bijou with him (which is a sly reference to the student theater at the University of Iowa, I might add), Needy suggests Jennifer take him up on it.

What Needy doesn't realize is that this actually means Jennifer is going to lure the boy to somewhere else that night--and then eat him, too. Though Needy does actually catch on this time, since the attack happens while she is having sex with Chip and somehow she psychically keys in to what is happening. All she gets are vivid visions of something terrible happening that involves Jennifer, but it obviously kills the mood for her.

Needy rushes home, where she is ambushed in her bedroom by Jennifer. While her old friend just presents her appearance as a simple social call, Needy knows something sinister is going on now--though she still finds herself unable to resist when Jennifer beckons her closer. And, yes, the two do make out vigorously, which I definitely no longer find inexplicable--as I did in 2009.

This also doesn't feel like just shameless exploitation any more, either.
Partly, the make out session was motivated by Jennifer wanting to demonstrate her newfound powers of seduction. Powers that are even stronger after she has just fed. And then she decides to let Needy in on what happened to her that night after Low Shoulder took her away in their van.

See, they reason they had wanted her to be a virgin wasn't for some sort of perverted fantasy. No, they needed a virgin for a sacrifice. Being a successful indie band isn't easy, so Nikolai had talked the others into making a sacrifice to the powers of darkness in exchange for success. So Jennifer found herself tied up near the Devil's Kettle and then a bunch of weirdos sang "Jenny (867-5309)" to her as they stabbed her repeatedly with a sacrificial knife. After the stabbing was over, Nikolai threw the knife into the whirlpool.

But Jennifer wasn't dead. And after leaving Needy's house, subsequent to the black vomit incident, Jennifer encountered one of the survivors of the fire wandering aimlessly--and she realized what her sudden hunger was for. He became her first victim.

After hearing this tale, Needy naturally researches what she can about demons. She quickly realizes that when Low Shoulder sacrificed Jennifer, their plan worked--but since Jennifer wasn't a virgin, she became possessed by a succubus. Trying to confide in Chip is a mistake, since he doesn't believe her. With no one backing her up, Needy realizes she may have to kill her best friend if she is going to save more innocent people. Especially with the looming smorgasbord that is the Spring dance.

Except Needy neglected to consider that Jennifer always loved to steal Needy's toys. And Chip is going to be walking to the dance that night all by himself...

2018, am I right?
Viewing Jennifer's Body now, I found that a film I had merely liked now is one I pretty much love. I say "pretty much" because there are some serious qualifiers.

For starters, I'm always a little let down by a horror movie monster that is little more than a glorified Snapchat filter. Jennifer's demonic appearance is little more than some (admittedly pretty good) CGI to give her sharp teeth and a stretchy jaw. There are some pretty effective gore effects in this film that actually involve practical effects, so it's a bit disappointing that they didn't put very much thought into the central monster.

There is also the fact that the script by Diablo Cody has some real clunkers of dialogue. However, viewing it now it's clear that these aren't really Cody's fault--she is trying to write teenage slang when that age has passed her by, and that never comes across as believable. I can't really blame her for a failing of pretty much every teen-centered movie ever.

On the other hand, there is a lot to really admire in this film and I don't just mean the fact that Lance Henriksen has a cameo.

For starters, even if this film were actually terrible it is still noteworthy for being a horror film centered on women that is written by a woman and directed by another woman, Karyn Kusama. That is a depressingly rare event, and this film's pedigree is one of the reasons that I think it works so well.

The cast of this film is also terrific. Seyfried and Fox have an effortless chemistry that really sells their complicated relationship, and Fox does an amazing job sliding from high school mean girl to demonic temptress and back again without ever feeling like nothing more than a caricature. When Needy and Jennifer finally come to blows is where the way they play off of each other truly shines.

Seriously, if nothing else this film is worth the exchange between them when Jennifer uses her demonic powers to fly and gets furious that Needy dares to point out that she's actually just hovering.

If you really look at this film, it's almost an inversion of typical horror tropes--here women are the ones who have to take matters into their own hands while men are just there to be menaced and killed. Hell, I've seen far too many hero's girlfriends that fulfill the exact same disposable role as Chip does here.

It isn't a total inversion, of course. And I think that it is a stretch to call this a specifically "feminist" horror film. I also think that that isn't really fair to the film, since it sells it as a statement the film isn't specifically trying to make. I think it's far more interesting to look at this as a horror film from a female perspective, which is something we always need far more of.

This has concluded Day 10 of HubrisWeen 2018! To see what the other Celluloid Zeroes chose for J, click the banner above!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

HubrisWeen 2018, Day 9: It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955)

I mentioned previously that in the early stages of development, the titular monster of the original Godzilla almost ended up being a giant octopus. Thankfully, that did not happen since I doubt the character would have had the same staying power in that form. However, a city-destroying giant octopus is such a cool idea that someone was bound to also think of it, and actually get a movie about it made.

Even better, when it came time to make this concept a reality, the filmmakers tapped Ray Harryhausen to bring their giant octopus to life. Although, in a ruthless bid to keep the effects budget down, Harryhausen was told to only animate six of the beast's arms and the finished model actually only had six attached to it as a result.

To be fair, it's not as if the average viewer was going to be counting the number of tentacles an octopus has in a movie. That's nerd stuff!

At any rate, we open with a submarine on testing maneuvers in the Pacific. The commanding officer is Commander Pete Matthews (Kenneth Tobey) and he wasn't expecting anything beyond the routine, so naturally the sub encounters a mysterious, huge sonar signal. Worse than that, the signal grabs them and then turns out to be so radioactive that it sets off the sub's Geiger counter.

The signal eventually lets go, but it leaves a mysterious chunk of rubbery flesh behind. Once the sub makes port at Pearl Harbor, Matthews and his superiors wisely turn the flesh over to the best experts on marine life that they can find: Dr. John Carter (Donald Curtis) and Professor Lesley Joyce (Faith Domergue).

Joyce is reluctant to stay on and study the specimen, however, because she has something important to do elsewhere. Carter assures Matthews that Joyce needs to be there if they want to have any hope of solving this mystery, so Matthews drafts her into staying on--which she is not happy about.

Yes, Matthews and Joyce will be hooking up soon.

Honestly, it wouldn't be a stretch to say they're all hooking up, if you like.
It takes the two scientists a shocking amount of time to figure out that the flesh belongs to a giant octopus, all things considered. There is a bit of a twist, however. The octopus isn't a mutant or anything like that--rather the poor thing was irradiated by H-bomb tests and now its usual prey, fish, are driven far away from it by their internal Geiger counters.

Look, just go with it.

At any rate, it makes sense that the octopus would seek prey that can't sense it coming and humans turn out to be ideal. There have been some mysterious lost ships recently that seem to back up this hypothesis, but the big brass are still reluctant to believe it. Confirmation for the audience comes quickly when we see the octopus sink a trawler.

"This is for the octopus in Tentacles!"
Now, sailors reporting that their ship was sunk by a giant octopus tend not to be taken seriously once they get rescued. So it takes Joyce essentially seducing one of the sailors to get him to describe his experience where Matthews and his superiors can hear it.

The big brass are mostly convinced by this and soon all reports that might be a giant octopus are being carefully collected. One gets Joyce's attention: a missing family on the coast of Oregon. She's especially convinced when Matthews and Joyce arrive and the local sheriff shows them the site of the "car accident" and there are clear sucker marks on the beach.

The sheriff laughs when they ask if there have been any "sea serpent" reports lately, but he doesn't laugh for very long since he gets to be the octopus's next meal during a search of the beach. Our heroes were luckily far enough away that they can easily escape inland.

The octopus makes its way much further South again, despite the Navy's best efforts to drop depth charges on its head. Electrifying the Golden Gate Bridge and stringing up electric nets just results in making the beast so angry that it destroys the bridge in the film's most famous sequence.

"Oh crap, I am so sorry! I was just trying to take a selfie!"
Joyce and Carter consult with the Navy on how to kill the octopus, advising that the average torpedo is way too slow to keep up with the creature. So a special torpedo is crafted that propels itself very much like an octopus does.

However, by the time the torpedo is brought to San Francisco to be loaded into a submarine, the octopus has begun its assault on the city. Buildings are smashed and helpless civilians are snatched up in the monster's suckers.

"Give me all your Rice-A-Roni!"
Carter and Matthews board the submarine and go in for the attack. Flamethrower troops drive the beast back into the bay and the torpedo is launched into the octopus's head. However, the octopus grabs hold of the submarine and won't let go--so now Matthews and Peters need to figure out how to get free so they can detonate the torpedo without destroying themselves, too.

Ah, the rare "Frog-Eyed Octopus" that somehow has eyelids.
As Harryhausen's career of effects works goes, this film falls somewhere in the middle. There are some genuinely effective sequences, even with the reduced budget. The attack on the Golden Gate Bridge is a particular standout. However, there are also some duds.

As you can see above, we get a close-up of the octopus's eye that looks nothing like an octopus's eye. There are also some very jerky moments with the octopus where the animation feels rushed.

Then there is the fact that the octopus's size is wildly inconsistent. I mean, consider how big it is when it grabs the submarine at the end of the film and try to imagine how there could be any way the sub could have escaped from it in the film's beginning.

I've eaten submarine sandwiches that had a better chance of escaping.
Those are minor issues, of course. The bigger concern in a movie like this is how engaging the human characters are, since they are what will keep us going between monster attacks.

Well, luckily the film relies on Kenneth Tobey and Faith Domergue to be our major leads. They are both charismatic and engaging, even though poor Tobey is written to be the typical embodiment of toxic masculinity that you expect the hero to be in a film like this. In the film's most memorable scene, Donald Curtis has to tell Tobey that women in the 1950s can handle themselves and think they are just as capable as any man--while Domergue is standing between them.

It's like a parody, but it's dead serious.

As one of the cycle of 1950s radioactive monster films, It Came From Beneath The Sea has a lot of stiff competition--even from other films with Ray Harryhausen effects! It's thus a bit unfair to say that it doesn't distinguish itself as one of the best of the lot, since it certainly does try.

Yet there is no question that this is an entertaining film that moves along at a good clip. If you can look past some of the most ludicrous moments of 1950s sexism, it's definitely a rewarding film. I'd say give it a look.

Just don't watch the awkwardly colorized version on the Sony Blu-ray release. You'll want to scratch your damn eyes out within minutes.

This has concluded Day 9 of HubrisWeen 2018! To see what the other Celluloid Zeroes chose for I, click the banner above!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

HubrisWeen 2018, Day 8: The Horror of Party Beach (1964)

Somehow I had managed to make it all the way to 2018 without seeing this film, despite knowing it very well by reputation. So when the fine folks at Severin Films put it out on Blu-ray this year, I was delighted to finally get to see it in the highest possible quality.

And this is a film that truly rewards HD viewing, because we are talking about a film that contains some of the goofiest monsters ever put on film. So goofy, in fact, that upon seeing them in motion my wife immediately declared them to be her children and that she loves them.

It's hard to blame her for that reaction. I mean, look at this goofball!

"Sausages! Sausages! Sausages!"
We're getting ahead of ourselves, however. After all, this is not just a monster movie--this is a beach party movie that gets crashed by monsters.

Beach party movies were all the rage in the early to mid-sixties, so it was only logical that a few ingenious filmmakers would think to get in on the craze by adding monsters. Nowadays, I suppose the equivalent would be if one of those Step Up dance movies got crashed by flesh-eating monsters, but I think as of this writing the zeitgeist that would allow for that to happen has sadly passed.

One can dream, however.

Since this is a beach party movie, we obviously have to start with a beach party. In this case, we have The Del-Aires playing at a beachfront happening. We actually start off with some of the people on their way to the party, however. Specifically a couple in a convertible who just barely win a half-hearted drag race with a motorcycle gang.

The couple are Tina (Marilyn Clarke) and Hank (John Scott), and Hank is annoyed because Tina has been drinking and is too flirtatious with other men. Tina argues that he used to be fun, while he gripes right back that he's grown up and wants her to, too. Naturally, while the audience is expected to identify with Hank, he just seems like a controlling jerk to a modern viewer and Tina seems like she's more sympathetic--even if she is a bit abrasive.

So Tina immediately joins in the dancing, while Hank seems to just go and sulk and watch the ocean. Hank naturally can't tell from where he's standing, but he's actually watching a boat hauling barrels marked "Radioactive Waste" out into the harbor and dumping them overboard. We see one barrel sink and upon hitting the ocean floor it immediately springs a leak.

The goop that flows out of it flows over to a nearby shipwreck and covers a human skeleton lying on the deck. In a genuinely effective sequence set to excellent creepy music--and really, the whole score is great--we see the skeleton change and take form as a completely new creature. Of course, the effect is somewhat ruined when the creature it ends up as is so goofy, and the ping-pong eyes rolling around in their sockets via some awkward stop-motion does not help.

On shore, Hank is approached by Elaine (Alice Lyon), who is obviously the "good girl" that Hank is supposed to be with. They talk for a while, mainly about her father's scientific work at the university, and then Hank realizes Tina is dancing extra sexily with Mike (Agustin Mayor), the leader of the motorcycle gang. Hank tries to drag Tina off so they can go home, but Mike sees that as the start of a fight and he attacks Hank.

It's a truly surreal fight, too, since at one point the motorcycle gang grabs Mike and uses him as a human battering ram against Hank! Elaine is horrified at the violence while Tina is practically orgasmic at two men fighting over her. However, when the fight ends Mike shakes Hank's hand and then neither of them seem at all interested in Tina after that.

Tina responds by swimming off to an outcrop of rock in a huff, which turns out to be a mistake. The gill man we saw come to life earlier sneaks up on Tina. Meanwhile, the sounds of "The Zombie Stomp" drown out her screams as she is bloodily mauled by the beast.

Side note, "The Zombie Stomp" is the kind of song that tells you how to do the dance in the song and I swear none of the dancers are listening to the instructions.

"Eeek! you think this will make my boyfriend jealous? Eeeeeek!"
Poor Tina's mangled body washes ashore within minutes and that puts an end to the party right quick. Amazingly, when we see Lt. Wells (Damon Kebroyd) discussing the murder with other police, the possibility of sea monsters comes up almost immediately and will be the only time the idea is dismissed in any way.

Indeed, when they discuss the case with Dr. Gavin (Allan Laurel, and yes it is always weird to see my first name as someone's surname, whether real or fictional) outside his house, he seems to already be leaning towards some kind of unknown sea creature as the culprit. His extremely stereotyped black housekeeper, Eulabelle (Eulabelle Moore), believes the culprits to be zombies and she is naturally much closer to the truth of it than anyone else.

Hell, if everyone listened to Eulabelle a lot more folks would have made it to the end credits. We'll get to that, though.

Following Tina's funeral, Elaine confesses to her father that she feels really conflicted because she has feelings for Hank but it would be pretty ghoulish to put the moves on him when Tina isn't even cold. She also isn't feeling up to going to the slumber party that is planned for that evening at another young woman's house. Dr. Gavin convinces her to at least be polite enough to call and let them know, which she does.

Of course, it's a bit of a moot point, because Elaine has barely hung up with the girls at the slumber party when it's crashed by a gang of the fish monsters. It's a bloody attack, too, with lots of chocolate syrup being splashed around and even some close-ups of fingers being fed into the mouths of some of the monsters before a couple of the girls are carried off by the creatures. Presumably they will be eaten later.

Now, you may note I said we see limbs being shoved into the mouths of the monsters when the monster suits for this film famously have mouths that appear to be made of hot dogs. Well, that's because there are actually two distinct sets of monster suits in this film and the slumber party massacre is mainly carried out by the less infamous monster suits. These look more like some kind of lumpy humanoid sponges with gaping mouths and they're definitely creepier, but far less memorable.

At any rate, someone apparently survived the attack--despite us not seeing any survivors--and now there is no doubt that there are sea monsters on the loose in the town. A very low-level panic sets in among the citizens, but not so much so that the creatures won't still have several more victims in the next few days.

To be fair, the car of three women who get a flat tire near the local quarry are from out of town, but even they already knew about the monsters killing people. Doesn't save any of them from becoming fish zombie food, though.

The two women walking home at night, though, are just lucky their ride comes along after all. The poor clumsy fish monster that missed eating them instead tries to eat the mannequins it sees in a storefront window and succeeds in cutting its arm off below the elbow.

"Grrr! Arrgh! Ooh, a shoe repair place! You don't see many of those nowadays!"
Dr. Gavin is studying the arm with the police, and revealing how little the filmmakers understand marine biology, when they get a false scare from Eulabelle coming home. Poor Eulabelle has not been briefed on their being a goddamn zombie arm on the table in Dr. Gavin's lab, and when she recoils she knocks a beaker of liquid over onto it. The arm spectacularly goes up in flames, and Gavin excitedly tells her she has found a way to kill the monsters.

What was in that beaker? Why, Sodium of course! Yes, Sodium the metal that reacts violently with water. No, I have no idea why it was a liquid.

The important thing is that now the heroes have a way to kill the monsters. Except they are about to take their sweet time in actually setting a plan in motion, which means there are going to be a lot more dead people before all is said and done...

The face only my wife could love.
There is a lot to take in with this film. For one thing, the changes in tone are likely to give you whiplash. Consider that this is a film full of a corny, light-hearted jokes that suddenly veers into graphic, bloody violence that was genuinely extreme for the period.

It's almost like a High School Musical cash-in suddenly becoming a Saw-style torture horror flick.

Honestly, it might be so jarring if the monsters doing all this carnage weren't so incredibly goofy-looking. That's part of the charm, of course.

There is also no way around the fact that poor Eulabelle is a racist stereotype. However, modern viewers can at least take some comfort in the fact that the only time anything gets done in the film to stop the monsters, it is literally because Eulabelle made it happen. Sure, spilling sodium on the monster arm was an accident, but if she didn't chew Hank out for sitting on his butt instead of driving to New York to get the sodium they need, Elaine would have ended up as monster chow instead of the film culminating in a big monster destroying climax. Eulabelle is the film's true hero.

People of color watching this film can also take comfort in the fact that its overwhelming whiteness means all the monster victims are dumb white folks.

Coming back to the tone issues, there's no question that at times the humorous beach party antics are likely to grate on the nerves. Luckily, the film mostly abandons this in favor of the "horror" part of the title after Tina's death and the film does a much better job of fulfilling that part of the title. As easy as it is to laugh at many of its monster scenes, there are some genuinely effective sequences in this.

The score, for one thing, is often very unnerving and the black and white photography lends itself to some wonderfully atmospheric shots.

This is the kind of film that I love being able to recommend in two ways. On the one hand, it's great riffing fodder--and of course it has appeared on Mystery Science Theater 3000. On the other hand, this is a film that I think is genuinely worth watching just as a film. No matter how you watch it, you are going to have a great time with it.

And Severin Films, as they so often do, have done an amazing job with the new Blu-ray. I highly recommend watching it that way if you can get your claws on it.

This has concluded Day 8 of HubrisWeen 2018! To see what the other Celluloid Zeroes chose for H, click the banner above!

Friday, October 12, 2018

HubrisWeen 2018, Day 7: The Green Slime (1968)

You know what's a sadly neglected musical niche these days? Rockin' horror movie theme songs, that's what. It's a bit of a stretch to say that it used to a booming industry, but today's film has what is unquestionably the greatest example of such a theme song.

Honestly, I could just drop this link to the song on YouTube and conclude my review. I mean, if you're not sold on the film with that alone you are dead inside.

Still, I suppose I should also mention that this is a Japanese-American-Italian co-production, filmed in Japan and directed by Kinji Fukasaku of Battle Royale fame. If that doesn't assure you that you're in for a good time, then let me just point out that the poster above is actually only dishonest in that the monsters are human sized at their largest. Everything else? Pretty much dead-on.

Okay, and the heroine does not get grasped in their tentacles whilst wearing a kickin' silver space-catsuit, but that's probably a good thing if you consider the powers of the film's monsters. We'll get to that, though.

Before we get our awesome theme song and our adorable monsters, however, we have to do a tiny bit of world-building. Some time in the near future, presumably the 1970s, a manned space station called Gamma 3 has been established in Earth's orbit. As the station and mission command on Earth are doing some routine communications, they are suddenly caught off-guard by some communication interference. Wouldn't you know it, this interference has been caused by the sudden appearance of an enormous rogue asteroid on a collision course with Earth!

(Cue the theme song and opening credits)

The asteroid is dubbed Flora and it will hit the Earth within about 24 hours, which means they really weren't watching the till! The mission commander decides the only thing for it is to bring in Hardass Cleftchin--er, Commander Jack Rankin (Robert Horton) and ask him to come out of retirement in order to lead a mission from Gamma 3 to plant bombs on Flora before it can destroy all life on Earth.

To make things extra awkward, the current commander of Gamma 3 is Commander Vince Elliott (Richard Jaeckel) and he used to be close friends with Rankin until an incident where Elliott attempted to save one crewmember and got several others killed. To make things extra, extra awkward, Elliott is also now engaged to Rankin's ex, the station's chief medical officer Dr. Lisa Benson (Lucianna Paluzzi).

From left to right: Elliott, Dr. Benson, and Rankin.
A word here about Rankin: I have yet to meet anyone who didn't come away from this film hating his damn guts, myself included. He's a smug prick with an insufferable grin and thumbs up that he is constantly throwing out. Worse, he's the kind of asshole who won't let anyone live down their past mistakes and is happy to disrespect both his old friend and his old partner by trying to get Benson to admit she still loves him.

That's not the absolute worst part about him, however. The worst part is he is all of these things and he is completely at fault for 90% of what goes wrong in the film.

Rankin gets started on being wrong about everything really quickly, too. The crew of the ship that departs Gamma 3 for Flora includes Dr. Hans Halversen (Ted Gunther), in case there is anything worthy of study while they are there. Rankin bristles at Halversen's inclusion, but he is ordered to allow the scientist along. Naturally, on the surface of the asteroid it is Halversen who first discovers the clearly animate green slime that is attracted to their electronic equipment and he immediately secures a sample in a jar.

"Hmm. Kaiju boogers?"
The slime attaches itself to several of the team's electronic carts that they use to drive across the surface of the asteroid and bury their charges. This causes an issue, of course, and slows down their work significantly so that they have to rush to plant the charges and get back to the ship. So when Halversen appears with his perfect secure sample of the first specimen of alien life ever found, Rankin tells him he can't bring it on board and smashes it against a rock!

Naturally, this little temper tantrum splatters slime onto one of the team's space suits. Worse, after they successfully blow up the asteroid and return to Gamma 3 to party, Rankin orders all the suits and equipment be put through the decontamination process an extra time. This mutates the slime into a cyclopean creature with electric tentacles and it begins sneaking through the station, killing crewmembers that get in its way and feeding on the station's elecrtical systems.

So that's already twice now that Rankin has caused a potentially hazardous issue for the station. However, when the creature is cornered in the reactor room and Elliott's first plan to capture it fails, Rankin manages to make things absolutely catastrophic because he pulls a laser rifle and blasts the beast until it is gushing green blood.

Not only does this not kill the beast, but Halversen quickly discovers that the blood absorbs the station's energy and grows into more monsters. And Rankin already gave the order to shoot the monster on sight.

Nice job breaking it, hero.

"The reviewer used a meme he barely understands, get him!"
Soon the entire station is in danger of being overrun. Rankin and Elliott manage to coordinate a plan to lure most of the monsters into a section of the station they intend to seal off. However, after a cart accident leaves Halversen trapped on the wrong side of a bulkhead, Rankin and Elliott relive their old argument about whether it is worth risking several people to save one.

Except by the time Elliott opens the door, Halversen is good and fried and once they get another bulkhead shut on the creatures, it turns out to put them right next to barrels of flammable materials and an entire section of the station is blown apart. Worse, the vacuum of space does not harm the monsters and soon they're crawling all over the hull.

Now it's a matter of trying to evacuate the station before the creatures make it impossible, and then piloting the station into Earth's atmosphere to destroy it. But that means going outside to clear the monsters from the launch bay doors and someone has to stay behind to set the station's orbit to decay with very little time to bail out...

How has Mucinex not licensed these guys for a commercial yet?
A year or two earlier, The Green Slime would surely have found its niche as perfect matinee fodder. However, it had the bad fortune to hit Western cinemas after 2001: A Space Odyssey had shown audiences what was truly possible with special effects.

Meanwhile, The Green Slime had special effects that compare unfavorably to the work Toho had done for The Battle in Outer Space a decade earlier. And unlike Destroy All Monsters the same year, it didn't have a menagerie of giant monsters threatening the world to distract from the cheesy spaceships--it just had some human-sized monsters that are far more adorable than menacing.

It's really a shame, of course, because this film is a delight in so many ways. Especially if you are a fan of Japanese sci-fi from this period, because Robert Dunham the controller of Seatopia from Godzilla vs. Megalon is Elliott's second in command and if you keep your eyes peeled you'll spot Linda Miller of King Kong Escapes fame in a few crowd scenes.

Then, of course, there are the memorable monsters. Sure, as I said they aren't exactly terrifying, but they are very unique and the suits are incredibly detailed--I particularly love the fact that the creatures all have a band of tiny eyes across their chests just below their main eye.

Also, it's always wonderful to see a movie preceding Alien that deals with humans trapped in a space vessel of some kind with an extraterrestrial menace. The movie gets a lot of mileage out of the setting, too. Even if the film's space sets aren't quite as memorable as the director's later Message From Space, there's a definite attempt to make them logical and workable. And it makes use of fights with the monsters both inside the station and out, for a nice bit of variety.

That said, it's hard to say that The Green Slime is a good movie. Mainly because Rankin, our hero, is so damned insufferable. I honestly can't be sure if Kinji Fukasaku did that on purpose, as a subtle jab at convention, but if so then he was a little too good at making it subtle. It makes spending the entire film in his company unpleasant.

Worse, we can already tell this is the kind of movie where any romantic triangle is going to be resolved by killing one of the corners. And, despite making a couple of his own bad decisions, Elliott is far more likable than Rankin and it irks to know he's destined for an electric hug because he isn't the hero.

That said, even though this movie isn't good, it is a lot of fun--and that's true whether you're watchign it to mock it or just to enjoy it. On one level, there is a lot to laugh at with this one and on another level it's great to just accept it as a goofy good time.

If nothing else, that theme song is worth watching the film for all by itself.

This has concluded Day 7 of HubrisWeen 2018! To see what the other Celluloid Zeroes chose for G, click the banner above!