Friday, July 15, 2016

Ghostbusters (2016)


I was born in 1983, which makes me officially "old" in Internet years, so I'm afraid I'm about to ramble as old folks are wont to do before I get to my damn point. So please bear with the old fogey on this.

Now, being born in 1983 just barely cut me off from being a part of Generation X and for many years my generation didn't really have a catchy name. About the closest we had was "Generation Y" and doesn't have a great ring to it, no matter how appropos it may be.

At any rate, eventually we got lumped in with Millennials, which may be the widest net cast since most designations of "Millennial" include anyone born from 1982 to the year 2000. It makes a perverse sort of sense, though, since my generation went from landlines and video stores in our childhoods to smartphones and Netflix when we were entering adulthood. We were definitely at the perfect age to appreciate what the 21st Century had to offer, while still having just enough of a sense of what life was like before to be able to share annoying stories no one cared about.

"In my day, you never knew if the video store was out of the movie you wanted or if they were the kind of store that made you take the empty case to the front desk!"

At any rate, while I was alive in the 1980s, I do not remember much of what it was like at the time, whether we mean pop culture or historic events. For one thing, I was too damn young--sure, I was watching a TV news broadcast with my mother when the Challenger exploded, but I was also two years old.

There were other circumstances, as well. I grew up in a town where there were four broadcast channels and my parents have never had cable in my entire life. My mother also refused to let me watch Saturday morning cartoons for some parental reason that probably made sense at the time. Mind you, I was still allowed to watch the cartoons, but that required renting the VHS collections of a few episodes of shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The point of all this is that while I could have watched The Real Ghostbusters, I mainly knew of the Ghostbusters from the toys from that show, as well as what I had been told by a source that the Internet has rendered all but extinct--the friend who has totally seen that thing you haven't and will tell you a mix of vaguely authentic, incorrectly remembered, and blatantly false details about it. Eventually I got to see the original film--not counting the time I was supposedly traumatized by it as a toddler--and naturally I loved it.

There's a curious aspect to the story here that adult me finds utterly bizarre but was totally normal in the VHS age: after my initial viewing of Ghostbusters, I maybe saw it once more and then never again until it got a new VHS release when I was in high school. (It also hit DVD, but I wouldn't adopt that format for a couple more years) Jaws was a film that changed my life as a 7 or 8-year-old and I also didn't see that film again for almost as long. My family and I just simply didn't buy but a handful of VHSes until affordable releases became a more common thing in the mid-90s, and after a certain age, I preferred to rent movies I hadn't already seen rather than renting and rewatching ones I had.

(Meanwhile, my 2016 self regularly sells movies I already have to make room for more on a shelf of well over 300.)

This is all a rather long-winded way of saying that, like most people, I loved the original Ghostbusters a lot. I never had any toys of it as a kid, but I did once make my own Staypuft Marshmallow Man out of marshmallows, toothpicks, and a marker. However, it's also a good way of showing that while I loved it, it was not so much a part of my childhood as to be held sacred the way that a lot of other movies were--even ones made before I was born.

So while I was very against the Benecio del Toro remake of The Wolf Man, for instance, and I would be furious if Jaws was remade--a reboot of Ghostbusters was never going to upset me. Sure, I was a little disappointed it wasn't just a sequel, and especially when it was announced that it would be an all-women team. I mean, a continuation of the series that had these women taking over the mantle sounded great, but a reboot made it seem like a gimmick; as though nobody could accept women busting ghosts unless you start from scratch.

Of course, if you haven't been living under a rock or deliberately plugging your ears for the past year and a half, you know that there were a lot of people who can't accept women busting ghosts period. Before you could say "Well, actually," a vocal chorus of misogynist nerds made it nigh impossible to have an actual conversation or even a neutral opinion on the film. Especially once its admittedly underwhelming first trailer debuted and these same naysayers conspired to make it the most disliked video in YouTube history.

Naturally, there were claims that it was because the trailer was just that awful or because people are sick of reboots, but A) many of the film's detractors were actually bragging about creating multiple accounts on YouTube solely to vote it down and B) in the past 5 years we've seen terrible remakes of Total Recall, Conan the Barbarian, and even Goddamn Robocop--and despite all of those trailers looking terrible, every single one has far more likes than dislikes. Even the awful 2015 reboot of Fantastic Four, which is often brought up in discussions of this reboot as being an equally offensive idea, has 70,000 likes and only 20,000 dislikes.

Gee, I wonder what makes the Ghostbusters reboot different?

So, yes, I have been firmly in the "pro" camp when it comes to this reboot. I like the idea of an all-woman team, I like Paul Feig's work as a director, I like the cast, I like the ghost designs, and I liked the trailers--which got progressively better as they went along. So there was never any question about whether I was going to see it opening night. So obviously what you're probably wondering right now, particularly after all this build-up, is whether it's actually good film (or, at minimum, better than Ghostbusters II) or if I'm going to have to eat crow and admit that the insufferable neckbeards were right all along.

I'm gonna have to tell you a bit about the film before I can answer that, however. I mean, don't you know me at all?

At the historic Aldridge Mansion in New York City, a tour guide (Zach Woods) is telling a tour group about the dark history of the building. Specifically, how the owner's daughter, Gertrude Aldridge (Bess Rous) murdered all of their servants one night and then was locked away in the basement rather than face public humiliation. Even after later owners uncovered her remains, they reported strange sights and sounds--cue candlestick tipping over.

After the tour group leaves, the guide retrieves his rigged candlestick--but doesn't notice the odd electronic device beneath a table that sparks to life. He does, however, notice when an invisible force bursts out of the basement and accosts him. Unable to escape through the front door and thwarted in his attempt to smash a window, he flees in terror--to the basement. The basement full of glowing slime and a looming spectral figure...

Meanwhile, Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is preparing for her course at Columbia University when Ed Mulgrave (Ed Begley, Jr) appears in her classroom with a copy of a book she had co-written years ago with no intention of ever publishing it, "Ghosts of Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively." Erin is horrified since she is up for tenure and this could jeopardize it, but Mulgrave just wants her help since he's the curator of the Aldridge Mansion and no one else believes his ghost story. Erin, however, is more concerned with doing something about that book before Dean Filmore (Charles Dance) gets wind of it.

With that she goes to confront her co-author and old friend, Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who is now working for a technical college where she has continued her focus on paranormal studies. Erin is furious at Abby, who believes that she had every right to publish the book without her friend's permission since it was another revenue stream that she desperately needed. Abby then introduces Erin to her colleague, Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), a brilliant engineer and mad scientist who can make marvelous inventions out of scrap metal.

In the argument over the book, it eventually comes out that Mulgrave had come to see Erin about the haunting at his mansion. Erin tries to get Abby to agree to pull the book from circulation if she will introduce them to Mulgrave and everyone reluctantly agrees.

Of course, when they encounter the actual ghost of Gertrude Aldridge, Erin's cultured disbelief fades. While Abby and Holtzmann monitor the interaction, Erin attempts to make contact with the spirit. However, she only gets coated in ectoplasm for her troubles and then the ghost unexpectedly flees the mansion. All three are elated by the fact that they have encountered a real ghost and declare their next step to be capturing a ghost to study it in a controlled environment.

"Say hi to her", as strategy, works about as well as "get her!"
Unfortunately, the YouTube video of a slimed Erin excitedly declaring, "Ghosts are real!" finds its way to Filmore's office. So much for her tenure and, in fact, her job at Columbia period. Abby assures her they'll have all the funding they need at her college--except that even that dean (Steve Higgins) wants to pretend he has some reputation to uphold. So, after stealing their equipment from the school, the three seek out new digs.

Unfortunately a very familiar firehouse is way out of their budget so they move in above a Chinese restaurant. Meanwhile, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), an MTA worker and New York history buff, has a strange encounter with a weird dude whom we'll later learn is named Rowan (Neil Casey), where he assures her that in "the Fourth Cataclysm" workers like her will be freed from menial tasks. That's not a horribly unusual thing for Patty to hear, except then Rowan jumps onto the tracks. Patty follows him and sees the strange device he left on the wall explode in sparks--before the electrified ghost of a death row inmate (Dave Allen) appears and Patty flees in terror.

At the Chinese restaurant, Holtzmann sets about designing equipment to capture ghosts while the team also hires on Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth) to be their receptionist. He's basically a big dumb puppy, but they don't have many options and Erin is nearly drooling over him anyway. And then Patty shows up to tell them what she saw in the subway. The part about the electrical device is particularly intriguing, but there isn't much left of it when they get to the area--after a brief aside where some subway graffiti inspires Holtzmann to create a logo for the group. However, the ghost is still hanging around and after some trial and error, they manage to briefly hold the ghost until a train comes by.

The footage of their ghost encounter makes the news this time, where they are dismissed as frauds by a so-called expert. However, while Holtzmann finetunes their proton packs, Patty joins up with them to offer her knowledge of New York history and the use of her uncle's hearse--which Holtzmann gleefully customizes, complete with the best hood ornament ever.

I want twenty.
The team then answers a call at a rock show, where Rowan has placed another device. This one summons a truly demonic creature--and probably my favorite of the ghosts in the film--and the Ghostbusters, as they have now been dubbed by the media, arrive to fight it. On stage they successfully capture the ghost in a trap. With so many witnesses, surely they are legitimate now, right?

The most unrealistic part of this scene is the idea that Ozzy Osbourne is still relevant.
Well, not so much. After a paranormal debunker shows up at their office and goads the group so much that Erin lets the demonic ghost loose, federal agents Hawkins (Michael Kenneth Williams) and Rorke (Matt Walsh) usher them to a meeting with the Mayor (Andy Garcia) and his aide, Jennifer Lynch (Cecily Strong). The Mayor, Lynch, and the two agents advise that they know the Ghostbusters are for real--however, in order to minimize panic in the city they're going to have to publically discredit them as frauds. The team can continue their studies and help the city, but the Mayor's office is going to treat them like con artist and buffoons in the media.

Well, that's a punch in the gut, but it's about to get worse. The paranormal disturbances are getting increasing and it's clear by now that someone is deliberately trying to break open the wall between the astral plane and ours--someone who has read Abby and Erin's book and actually knows what they're doing, at that. And then Erin realizes that the pattern of the appearances follow ley lines. Ley lines that intersect at the Mercado Hotel, which Patty is able to tell the group is a spot that, like Hobb's End, has been plagued by bad juju for centuries. And looking at the hotel's website, Patty recognizes Rowan among their custodial staff.

The Ghostbusters get to the hotel ahead of the police as Rowan is powering up his device. He gives them a sad sack story about always having been bullied for being different, but since the Busters are four nerdy women they aren't exactly swayed by his suffering. However, they aren't expecting Rowan to grab the electrodes on his machine to commit suicide. Holtzmann shuts the device down, and Lynch appears to thank the group before having them "fake" arrested in front of the media.

Later, Erin is reading through Rowan's copy of "Ghosts of Our Past" and realizes, from all the delightfully specific cartoons he's scribbled in the book, that suicide was actually a part of his plan all along. For even now ghost Rowan is busy possessing Abby, and after smashing some of their equipment possessed Abby almost kills Patty and Holtzmann. And then he possess Kevin and speeds off to switch his device on before you can say "Keymaster." Now the Ghostbusters have to rescue their receptionist ("He just figured the phones out," Holtzmann laments) and save the city--maybe even the world.

"Noooo! You burned my bow tie!"
Well, let's talk about the bad first. Like many a Paul Feig film, this baby needed some editing. I mean, it does seem clear there were some bits edited out--there seems to be have been a falling out amongst the Busters at some point that we never saw and there must have been an excised bit that would have made Kevin's sudden desire to be a Ghostbuster, too, a bit less out of nowhere. However, the film still runs a bit too long and, frankly, some of the bits I wish were cut involve affectionate callbacks to the original film.

Don't get me wrong, there are several cameos in the film and nearly every single one is so perfect that I don't want to spoil them--but one is just poorly thought out because it goes on far too long and is, in fact, split into two scenes when it should have been just one or the other. At that point it stops being a cameo and begins to hijack the film to the point I was glad when it finally ended, And while the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man's appearance is brilliant and I actually found Slimer's role to be delightful, there's no question that Kaiju Rowan's appearance owes a bit too much to Gozer choosing the destructor.

That's not even getting into the fact that Rowan, while somewhat compelling, is just ultimately not as weird as the movie wants us to think he is. I fully buy him as the kind of MRA douchebag who thinks "fake geek girls" are a thing, which he definitely comes across as, but the film wants us to think of him as much more of an obvious creep than he comes across as.

Then there's the Mayor's plot. I get that they didn't want to redo the exact same thing that happens in both of the original films, but the way they worked around that doesn't really work. Aside from the delightful role Cecily Strong plays as a private ally but public enemy of the team and a truly hilarious joke about Jaws, I would have suggested that the subplot be cut entirely. All it really serves to do is sublimate the Ghostbusters into a secret hero role--they even quip that they know how Batman feels--which doesn't really suit this property.

Finally, Paul Feig is great at comedy and characters--the interplay between the four leads is enough to carry it over even its weaker spots--but he's not an action director and the climax suffers from this. While Holtzmann breaking out her proton pistols and going to town is a genuinely amazing sequence, most of the scenes of the heroes fighting a ghost-swarmed Times Square fall too flat.Not only does the Busting tech suddenly start destroying  ghosts instead of capturing them, but you never really feel they're in danger for most of it. It's like watching a Holodeck fight when you know the safeties are actually functioning this week.

All that aside, as I said before this film has an amazing cast that is able to carry the film over the sections where it stumbles. This is a team that I want to see more of, so much so that I don't even mind the gratuitous franchise building that's at play. Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig are great as always and Leslie Jones brings a lot to a role that is criminally underwritten. (Seriously, why didn't they make her someone who has a degree in history but could only find a job as an MTA worker, as opposed to having her be an MTA worker who likes reading about New York history?) However, there's no question that Kate McKinnon owns this film. Her Holtzmann is dynamic, hilarious, and sends off a raw sexuality that is almost completely divorced from the male gaze.

And of course, Chris Hemsworth gives her a run for her money. His Kevin, in lesser hands, would just be a cliche "attractive person who's too dumb to survive", but Hemsworth brings a lot of canny comic sensibility and overpowering charm to the role. He also nails the role both as Kevin and as Rowan possessing Kevin.

Also, I have to say that I dig the ghost aesthetic. They kept it close enough to the original films that Slimer and his lady friend don't clash with the other ghosts, and at times these ghosts are almost on par with the taxi cab ghost in the original for creep factor. I mean, that Max Fleischer-inspired parade balloon ghost is probably gonna give some kids nightmares.

Bottom line, I know my review is not going to sway the people who refuse to admit that this film could possibly be good, but this film delivers exactly what I was hoping for. It's not as good as the original, but it is a damn good time and is leagues ahead of Ghostbusters 2. In fact, it's so good that I am glad that the friends who were supposed to see it with my girlfriend and I had to reschedule, because I am eager to see it again--and I hope it does well enough to give us a sequel that doesn't suck.

Sorry to disappoint a very small percentage of you, but there's no ghost oral sex in this one, folks.
Although, if I had one complaint it's that--as great as the scenes in the end credits were--I just wanted them to roll over this music video for the Japanese release.

I have the biggest crush on this woman, you have no idea.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Tentacles (1977) [Nature's Fury Blogathon]



When it comes to my favorite animals of all time, cephalopods rank near the very top. That's true of squid, nautiluses, and cuttlefish--but my absolute favorite among this fascinating group of animals is the octopus.

There's many reasons for this of course. Just at a glance, an octopus is obviously a cool animal--it's got eight arms and a beak for a mouth. Then you have to factor in the fascinating ability of the creature to camouflage itself by changing color rapidly and/or changing the texture of its body. Top that all off with the fact that octopuses are the most intelligent of the invertebrates and it's not hard to see why I and many others love them so.

It's also not hard to see why they're terrifying.

For one thing, if an octopus wants to eat you, it is going to find a way. They can figure out how to open containers, they can squeeze through tiny spaces, and they can even move around on land if the mood strikes them. You don't stand a chance, hairless ape!

So, it makes perfect sense that, if you wanted to rip off Jaws and didn't want the theft to be so obvious that you'd instantly get sued, a killer giant octopus is the perfect choice.

Well, okay, it's actually not the perfect choice: that would be a giant squid, so obvious a choice that Peter Benchley would later plagiarize himself with a novel about one on the human-munching rampage. Still, you can't go wrong with a giant octopus, right?

What's that? Your giant octopus movie is being directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis, the producer and co-writer of The Visitor? Well, I guess you can go wrong. The question then is, like The Visitor: is it the right kind of wrong?

Well, the opening credits of Tentacles will quickly put you firmly in the "wrong kind of wrong" camp. Unless, of course, you like being forced to stare at the radio of a moving cab for several minutes. The sequence does serve a very perverse sort of purpose, however, that is only clear if you have already seen the film or read the plot of the movie somewhere. First, when the cab stops to pick up a fare, we see a sign for an upcoming sailing regatta. Second, the heavy emphasis on the radio will actually turn out to be plot relevant.

The identity of the cab's passenger, whom we only see from the knees down, however? Couldn't tell you, since we never do find out. He could honestly be the octopus, for all I can tell.

The film then proceeds to engage in one of the more delightful tropes of the great Italian cinematic rip-off industry: one-upmanship. See, Jaws had the guts to kill off a young boy of no more than ten for its second victim. Tentacles has its first victim be a Goddamn baby.

Amusingly, the rip-off here is almost more tasteful. In the finished film, Jaws shows us Alex Kintner disappearing in a geyser of blood before we watch him being dragged beneath the water, screaming and flailing. Recently, still images began making the rounds of what is claimed to be an early version of the attack on the young boy, where the shark would have loomed out of the ocean and scooped him up in its jaws--it's unclear whether this was nixed in favor of a slightly less brutal approach or because the damned shark wouldn't work that day.

Meanwhile, Tentacles shows us a mother sitting beside the ocean with her young baby in a stroller, oblivious to the ominous POV shot creeping up the embankment. A friend calls to her from a parked truck across the street and the mother rushes over for small talk--and in the time it takes for a bus to pass between the mother (and us) and her baby, both baby and stroller are simply gone. And a horrified mother rushes back across the street to see the stroller floating in the water.

It's honestly a brilliant scene, aside from the misstep of minimizing the shock by having the sinister harpsichord notes (yes, really) play before the bus is finished passing in front of us. It's a great play on the fears of any parent that a moment's mistake or brief period of letting your guard down will cost you your child.

"That's for putting my babies in salads!"
After the incident at the Cincinnati Zoo, though, we now know that there'd be dozens of memes saying that the octopus took better care of her baby than she did, that the octopus shouldn't be killed because she couldn't watch her damn kid, some racist joke about murdering a celebrity instead, and think pieces on how this proves that beaches should be abolished.

Meanwhile, a sailor with a peg leg finishes getting a weather report from the coast guard via radio. His companion on shore offers him lunch, but the sailor is more interested in washing his (or possibly their) sailboat off. Unfortunately, he probably should have taken the offered sandwich, for his companion hears a splash and comes to investigate it--only find no trace of the peg-legged sailor, and the bucket he was dipping in the water being dragged away at high speed.

Meanwhile, two teenagers in a boat are having an argument about whether the girl kisses better than other girls the boy knows. There's probably a weird joke in here because of the fact that he's scrawny and she's fat, but I'm going to ignore it. At any rate, when she tries to force a French kiss on him, he drops his fishing pole--and retrieves the mangled (and blurry) body of the peg-legged sailor when he reaches for it. It's a shameless play on the severed head scare in Jaws, but naturally not as well done because it's telegraphed by all the ominous POV shots and the fact we see the sailor's head disappear a few feet away from the couple in an earlier shot.

Which makes you wonder: is this killer octopus a prankster? Because all the clues add up to it deliberately dragging the body over to the kids and letting it pop up, just to scare the bejesus out of them.

Or this octopus is showing its love like a cat.
That night, as Sheriff Robards (Claude Akins) stands over the body of the sailor on a dock and discusses how it was reduced to a "skeleton" with a deputy, they receive a somewhat unwelcome visitor: reporter Ned Turner (John Huston!). Ned has just come from seeing the body of the baby and heard that there was a second freak accident within the same hour as the baby's death. Robards agrees that is the case and shows Ned the body, which Ned immediately assesses as "stripped to the bone."

Robards doesn't have any answers for Ned, since he doesn't even know where to start asking his own questions. The deputy points out that the Trojan construction company is using fancy equipment to dig an underwater tunnel nearby and the sailor could have been pulled into it somehow--but the baby was nowhere near that area. Robards begs Ned not to sensationalize the tragedy, but Ned simply tells the sheriff that he feels they're just seeing the beginning of a nightmare.

We then seen Ned at home in the morning, having worked all night on his story. His sister Tillie (Shelley Winters!) comes in and she teases him about working all night while he teases her about seducing too many men. In lesser hands this scene would be pretty awful--especially since the movie expects us to buy Winters as Huston's older sister despite being clearly over a decade younger than him--but Huston and Winters are such old pros and play off each other so well it's actually rather charming. Though the flowing nightgown that Huston is wearing in the scene is incredibly distracting.

"Well, tonight I'm either supposed to be starring in A Christmas Carol or a Harry Potter movie, I forget which."
At any rate, Tillie asks what Ned is working on and he advises that he's being stymied by the fact that none of the books he was poring through could tell him anything about what the Hell is going on in the ocean nearby. The two are interrupted by Tillie's son, Tommy, appearing and demanding breakfast. When Tillie goes to make it, Ned stares out significantly at the ocean.

Meanwhile, Mr. Whitehead (Henry Fonda!), the head of Trojan construction, has called in his underling, John Corey (Cesare Danova) in order to chew him out about the article that Ned has run in the papers, insinuating that Trojan may somehow be responsible for the accidents. Weirdly, the film portrays Whitehead as the leader of the company responsible for what's happening as totally innocent of the crimes against nature his underlings have apparently allowed to happen. In fact, he warns Corey that he will not abide anyone ruining Trojan's good reputation in any way.

Well, we next see one of the company's boats out on the ocean, where we learn the company name is "Trojan Tunnels Inc." That seems...oddly specific. The true horror begins when we see two of the company's divers get into a diving bell of some sort and then exit it once they've been lowered into the water.

That's right--it's a scuba diving sequence!

Mercifully, it's cut short to take us to a hospital where a doctor or coroner is showing Sheriff Robards some X-rays and confirming that based on the dental records this was the peg-legged sailor, but his body was stripped to the bone so that there was barely any cartilage left and the marrow was sucked out. I'm highly skeptical that this is what the aftermath of an octopus attack would be, of course. Despite their physiology, octopuses feed with their beaks, not some kind of suction apparatus. never mind that the sailor's body was not skeletonized when we saw it, despite all the characters' claims to the contrary.

Suddenly, Ned appears behind them to ask if the baby was in the same condition. The doctor confirms that's the case and Robards warns Ned not to go publish the story yet since someone named Gleason is bringing divers tomorrow to see if the Trojan Tunnel is to blame or not. Ned knows this Gleason and says he'll just go straight to him instead, and appeases Robards by promising to run any story past him first.

We then cut to Will Gleason (Bo Hopkins) as he supervises the training of a pair of orcas at some clone of Sea World or other. Ned is watching from the stands as Will chides the trainer for going too easy on them, and the trainer awkwardly expositions that Will is the only one who can get them to do what he wants. Ned then breaks in to converse with Will, where we learn that Ned knows Will more by reputation than actual acquaintance and that Will's reputation is as a kid who "swam" his way out of the mean streets of the inner city "on the back of a fish"--surprisingly or not, Will does not correct him that whales are mammals so I am forced to believe he escaped adversity on the back of an actual fish.

Actually, that's no less ridiculous than expecting us to believe Bo Hopkins as a product of the tough inner city streets.

Regardless, Will has a reputation as a maverick diver and Ned appears to be there to personally goad the man into investigating the tunnel himself. But as Will's Italian wife, Vicky (Delia Boccardo), can attest, Will lost the will to dive after a recent diving accident gave him a bad case of the bends. It's just as well for Will, since we're about to rejoin his two divers* on another excursion--hooray for us--and this one will not go well for them.

[*Which makes me wonder why we saw them doing this earlier, since that would mean they were already in the area when Robards said they were arriving a day later.]

As the divers are lowered down in the diving bell, they discuss the odd experience of Corey trying to pay them off to not do the dive. One diver says they should just get it over with so they can disappear to Mexico with two women they've met, which is followed by a significant zoom in to the bell's radio and a run on the Ominous Harpsichord--in case we didn't realize they were boned already. After leaving the bell, the divers discover the electronic equipment on the ocean floor that they left earlier (I think) has been smashed and its guts torn out. Ignoring the ominous motif of what sounds like someone shaking aluminum foil, they follow the trail of severed cables to a cave. Somehow, hearing and seeing rocks falling in the cave prompts them to go towards it.

So it serves them right when a bunch of octopus tentacles come churning out of the cave towards them. In order to save themselves the trouble of having to realize full-scale tentacles underwater, though, the filmmakers decided to have the octopus inexplicably shoot ink at the divers before attacking--even though that's what an octopus does to cover its retreat. One diver is pulled into the cloud of ink while the other rushes back to the bell and frantically radios to be pulled up. He's helpfully vague about what happened as he raves at the operator. "I couldn't help him! He was sucked right in!"

And then the bell grinds to a halt and springs leaks all over. The lights go out...and then the diver sees a single, hateful eye staring in at him as the octopus bellows in fury at him. On the surface, the ocean boils as the oxygen from the crushed bell hits the surface, the severed oxygen hoses writhing about like angry snakes.

Aside from the silliness of an octopus bellowing, because big animals always roar in movies, that is unquestionably the film's best scene. Shame there's still about an hour to go.

"You! You're the one using my Wifi!"
Meanwhile, Corey walks into a fancy bar on the marina only to find Ned waiting for him. Corey's been trying to avoid Ned, but clearly without much success. Corey is adamant that his company's tunnel is not responsible for the deaths, but Ned thinks the gentleman doth protest too much--and certainly is drinking more than usual. At any rate, Ned delights in reminding Corey that Will Gleason and his wife will be arriving in town shortly to investigate further.

Of course, any drama of this scene is somewhat undercut by the scene changing to Tillie entering her son Tommy and his best friend Jamie in the junior regatta. Oh, it's dramatic since we've all immediately cottoned to the fact that this is setting up a buffet--but it's hard to take the scene seriously when poor Shelley Winters is forced to perform it whilst wearing a hat that is as big as she is.

"Oh, this old thing? Why, did you know that the 50-Foot Woman did burlesque? I fashioned this out of one of her nipple tassles!"
At any rate, we also learn that the starting point is 50 miles down the coast and they have to be there 24 hours before the race, which is a bigger bone of contention for Tillie than the $5 a piece entry fee, but she gives in to her son and Jamie's begging. Tillie then jokes with the woman at the registration booth that, "I don't approve of competitive racing. My sport is scuba diving--I think it's safer."

Ironic, given that in this film both are equally likely to make you an octopus's lunch.

Meanwhile, we learn that the fancy bar we saw earlier was part of the town's Hyatt Hotel, and Will and Vicky Gleason are checking in when Will is told someone is waiting for him in the bar. When he asks who it is, Ned appears solely to tell him that it's Corey and to ask if Will has ever heard, "Behind every great fortune is a crime." Will quips back that he's heard not to bullshit a bullshitter and apparently heads off to meet with Corey--while Ned now appears at the Sheriff's Office to annoy Robards.

Given this movie's poor attempts at establishing the passage of time, I am left to conclude that Ned actually is a wizard of some kind.

All that Robards and Ned can agree on is that all the victims were in the water and killed in the same way--but Robards points out that the baby didn't jump in, "not at 10 months of age." Of course, having had a 10-month-old, I don't find the idea of one finding a way to jump their stroller into the ocean to be terribly unlikely. Also note that Robards refers to the baby as "she" this entire time, but in the opening the baby was clearly established to be a boy by his mother and her friend.

As they talk over the facts in each case, Ned struggles to find a connection--and it gradually dawns on him that all the seemingly unrelated deaths had one thing in common: they were all near or using radios when they were killed. Boy, it sure is a good thing that Tillie just bought Tommy and Jamie walkie-talkies so she could radio them from shore during the regatta, huh? (Ominous Harpsichord!)

At lunch with the two boys she learns that Jamie has to pee a lot, and then makes Tommy promise her he'll look after Jamie since he's two years younger and not as good a sailor. She also says they'd win the race for sure if she joined them--so her son makes a fat joke at her expense.

Poor Shelley Winters.

Back in their hotel, Will and Vicky get all lovey--until he brings up the dive tomorrow. She is worried for his safety, since at 140 feet his lungs could burst and she doesn't think he should be risking his life or their future. He assures her he won't go below 120 feet and will only go down for 3 minutes, but he has to find out why his two friends died. So nobody's happy.

Next scene, Vicky is lounging by the poolside with her sister, Judy (Sherry Buchanan). Kudos to the casting or dubbing, one, but the sisters' accents mostly match--well, until Judy's drifts away to England. At any rate, Judy invites Vicky to go boating with her and her friends, but quickly surmises that Vicky politely declines because she is worried about Will. Vicky now claims Will promised not go down further than 150 feet, which is odd when she was afraid his lungs would burst ten feet shallower than that. Judy's friend Don (Marc Fiorini), who looks vaguely like store brand Vic Morrow, still tries to get her to come along but accepts her second refusal. Their broadly Mexican friend--er, I mean his accent, not the fact he's also fat--Chuck (Franco Diogene), makes a comment about how she would feel better if she showed Will that other men, like Chuck, are interested in her.

I don't see how that helps her, Chuck. At any rate, Will walks by at that moment and just comments that Vicky is always telling him that anyway and then tells her to take care of her sister. So, uh, are his lungs gonna explode? I kind of want them to explode.

At any rate, the filmmakers attempt to make Will's dive slightly more interesting by having him driving a Weinermobile-shaped mini-sub around with his co-diver, as they photograph various detritus on the ocean floor...and then encounter a practical garden of large fish (tuna, I think) balanced on their noses. I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. Did the octopus do this? Was this a result of the tunneling machines? The movie will shortly suggest it's the latter, but that makes very little sense--dead fish don't usually float perfectly perpendicular to the ocean floor.

Meanwhile, Judy, Don, and Chuck have manged to get lost and had their boat break down. Judy radios the coast guard, who tell her to just leave her radio on and they'll find her. (What, no harpsichord for that? Come on!) Meanwhile, Chuck tries to fix the boat while Don makes fat jokes at him and then goes snorkeling. Chuck complains about Don being a dick, so Judy snipes at him to go swimming so he'll get the dirt off and might actually get some exercise. Was...was the dirt comment a racist remark? Was she just being racist and fat shaming? Well, I hope the octopus enjoys its dinner, then.

Well, Chuck is apparently used to this abuse and dives in for a swim. Cut to a close-up of an octopus underwater, with a dramatic sting on the soundtrack! As an aside, if this film is supposed to be taking place in California and the octopus is supposed to just be huge and not a mutant, they probably should have gone to the trouble of getting at least some footage of a North Pacific giant octopus, which are recognizable by their distinctive reddish-brown default coloring. The live octopus used in this film is clearly a common octopus, of the sort you might find near--surprise--Italy, and it's a much less striking creature apart from just simply being smaller. I mean, the Pacific giant at least is already on its way to being huge!

We see a rubber octopus head surface to watch Chuck swimming, but the roving POV that attacks him is just Don being a dick. And, in fact, they pull this false scare twice. Until we see the octopus crawling on the ocean floor and Chuck realizes he's not being harassed any more and starts calling for "Jack." But...wasn't that guy Don a couple scenes ago?! And then the octopus grabs Chuck for real.

Judy is too busy sunning herself to notice, until the boat starts rocking. She calls for Don (oh, gee, we're back), but gets no reply until suddenly Don's legs pop up out of the water near by and are dragged along the surface, Judy greets this development with screaming terror, but it honestly just looks like he's doing a handstand and wants her to see. The octopus, who is now firmly established as a sadistic prankster, then attacks the boat. This is actually a really well-filmed combination of miniature boat with live octopus and full-scale rubber tentacles interacting with Judy and the real boat--even if the miniature boat is attacked bow first but the real boat leans toward the stern. Judy slides into the water and is quickly wrapped up in rubber tentacles, which makes me wonder why they didn't use them in the diver attack.

Boats provide an important source of roughage in an octopus's diet.

Back at Will's boat, he and his diving partner, Mike (Alan Boyd) discuss what they've seen. Will concludes that the Trojan company is using high-pitched frequency waves way beyond the legal limit (they never do establish why they are doing this, other than later establishing it was a typical corporate move to cut corners), which has damaged the underwater fauna. Mike asks what could have smashed up the equipment, to which Will responds that there's only one thing big enough and powerful enough to do it: a giant octopus.

This...might have been a better dramatic reveal to have before we saw the octopus at work.

Cut to Ned calling Mr. Whitehead so the two can bicker at each other over the phone. This serves the purpose of both ensuring that the filmmakers got a few more minutes of Henry Fonda in the film and to establish that A) Ned was chewed out for publishing a story that blamed Trojan's tunnel project for the deaths because Whitehead complained to the editor and B) that Ned got all his facts from Corey, who hadn't bothered to run anything by Whitehead before speaking to Ned, and C) that the Marine Commission thinks that the tunnel is to blame and Ned knows it is and will do whatever it takes to find evidence of that.

Well, as Tillie departs for the regatta, Vicky heads out in search of her sister on what dialogue implies to be a Coast Guard cutter, but sure looks to be a civilian vessel. As the sun sets, Will meets up with Robards and Ned. Ned is triumphant that he was right and Trojan is to blame, but Will is alarmed because Robards mentions having radioed the boat his wife is on--Will is desperate to find her and get her back before the worst can happen. However, it's full dark in the next scene and apparently nobody bothered to radio her boat to come back because they've just found the wreckage of Judy's boat.

The two men aboard search the wreckage, but find nothing. They drop a radio buoy next to the wreckage and depart in order to return to port. Unfortunately, the buoy attracts the ire of the octopus and--in a very Crocodile moment--the octopus somehow causes a massive geyser and tidal wave that washes Vicky off the deck and smashes through the wheelhouse, killing the two crew members or at least their mannequin equivalents. The awful miniature of the boat--so awful that even the dim lighting can't disguise how phony it is--then sinks as the octopus waves its tentacles over it. Vicky swims for the wreckage, and the radio buoy. However, hearing the octopus hissing (?!) she turns to see its tentacles crawling over the bow of the wrecked boat and, in her panic, grabs onto the buoy instead.

Naturally, all that did was seal her fate all the quicker. A rear-projection of the octopus looms up in front of her before the rubber tentacles wrap her up and hoist her up into the air as she screams--and then her screams are cut off as the angry eye of the octopus stares into the camera. Even with the clunky rear-projection this is the film's second most effective attack scene, made all the more effective by the fact that even in 1977 most audiences probably would not have seen the death of hero's wife coming.

"No, please, I'm not the one you want! I don't even eat calamari!"
The following scene of Will grieving silently upon hearing the news as Ned looks on is...not nearly so effective. For one thing, it's a long continuous moving crane shot along a marina where you can't even tell what the focus is supposed to be until it finally finds the area Will is sitting at. So you've begun to lose interest by the time you even figure out what's going on. Plus, the music is utterly inappropriate even for this film. I've heard more inappropriate, true, but it's a close call. This sounds like the music that should play during a tender romantic scene, not a scene of a guy processing the fact that his wife was just eaten by a giant octopus.

Enough grief, time for the regatta! (Well, after a brief scene of Whitehead chewing Corey out for being reckless with his tunneling experiments but then not even firing him because he's too valuable to the company) And boy, the opening festivities are a hysterical slice of faux-Americana with an Uncle Sam in a convertible on a loud speaker and cheerleaders and baton twirlers walking and awkwardly dancing beside him.

Why is Uncle Sam there, since it's supposed to be August 21st and not July 4th? Beats the fuck out of me.

While the regatta is getting underway, Will is telling Ned and Robards about what they're up against. Robards is confused since he had always thought of octopuses as being harmless and shy (well, yes on 2, but no on 1 if you include the blue-ringed octopus). Will confirms that is the case, except something has set this one off on a rampage. When Ned says he's heard that the suckers on a tentacle are like the claws of a tiger, Will responds gloomily that the claws of a tiger are nothing next to the suckers of an octopus.

Presumably this is his way of saying, "Dude, my wife was just killed by this thing, can we not focus on how horrible her demise was?"

Just then Jamie's mother, whom we met briefly earlier but has been established as being so busy as to have to have Tillie take her son to the race, walks into the room. She is looking for Ned, since the poor and oddly-accented woman finally has a day off and wants to take Ned down to watch her son take part in the yacht race.

Ned takes  a moment to process this before bolting upright, "My God, the race!" When Ned asks how big the Coast Guard warning area is, Robards says 30 miles--but when Ned asks if "a giant squid's [sic] range" could exceed 30 miles, Will simply mumbles that it's possible. Robards orders his deputy to have the Coast Guard danger zone widened and that they have to keep the kids from going in the water as the two rush out. Ned then turns to Will and says the octopus must be destroyed and asks if Will can do it. Will's reply that he "only has one thought on his mind" is so vague that it's easy to identify with Jamie's mother, whose utterly bewildered face we leave the scene on.

Cut to a shotgun ringing out--and don't worry, your Blu-ray hasn't frozen on this shot. No, for some reason, Ovidio G. Assonitis has discovered how to freeze-frame and he's about to abuse that effect like Zack Snyder abuses the slow-mo function. The shotgun was the starting signal for the yacht race, and now the sinister harpsichord breaks out into the disco remix version as we watch the sailboats head out and a Coast Guard helicopter and cutter be dispatched to stop the race--as the octopus crawls along the ocean floor, because apparently the octopus hates radios so much it is willing to swim 50 miles out of its way to attack one.

You'd think if it hated radios that much it would be angry enough to come up on land to destroy any there, but the filmmakers failed to exploit the possibilities of an octopus rampaging through the town plucking people off the street. Most likely because that would not have been in the budget even before they hired name actors who wanted a nice working vacation.

On shore, nobody seems to be actually watching the race, but rather are being "entertained" by Uncle Sam telling jokes about a drunken Scotsman. Tillie, in the midst of the crowd, however, is keeping regular contact with her son and Jamie through the walkie-talkie. After a series of utterly inexplicable freeze-frames--which are narrated over by Uncle Sam still talking about the Scotsman who was covered in cow shit--the Coast Guard helicopter hovers over the sail boats while one man inside holds up a chalkboard sign saying, "Danger: Go Back." Don't these helicopters have loud speakers?

While that actually hilarious visual is happening, Uncle Sam is still torturing the spectators with jokes that barely meet the minimum definition. "Do you know that one out of every two Americans wears glasses? ... That just shows you how importnat ears are!" No, I did not make that up. Finally, one of the race officials has the bright idea to fire the shotgun again,which the kids actually notice so he can wave them toward shore. The folks on shore barely seem to notice, though Tillie keeps radioing Tommy and Jamie. Well, actually she radios Jamie specifically and asks him, "What's wrong, Jamie? Answer your mother!" So apparently Shelley Winters has forgotten which boy is supposed to be her son.

The octopus strikes, finally. The full-scale rubber head goes cruising through the water amongst the racers--and credit where credit is due, since we can only see the creature's eyes it might actually be swimming backwards, as actual octopuses do--knocking boats over left and right. Since nobody is watching their children, nobody on shore but Tillie has realized anything is wrong. (Dig the bad freeze-frame on a woman yawning) Now, despite the octopus's earlier M.O. of killing anyone even near a radio, this time it is apparently so focused on the radio that Tommy and Jamie have that it is merely upsetting the other boats in its wake as it homes in on them.

This would probably be a lot more tense if the music didn't sound more like it belonged in a funky car chase instead of anything resembling a horror film.

And Tillie, unaware of the danger, is constantly screaming into the walkie-talkie. The octopus hurtles towards the boat and Tommy either falls out or dives out, so that only the terrified Jamie is left in the boat when the octopus catches up to it. The inappropriate music wisely cuts out here as we see the live octopus wrap its tentacles around the miniature boat--and then the sail sinks beneath the waves.

"I changed my mind, I wouldn't like to be in an octopus's garden!"
Only now do the people on shore notice all the overturned sail boats and the Coast Guard cutter. The shots of the wrecked boats are rather odd since the fact that none of the children are in sight would seem to imply that the octopus killed them all--but that isn't the case at all. Rather, as Ned arrives with Jamie's mother, we are about to find out that the Coast Guard cutter is full of every single one of the rescued kids...

...all except for Jamie. Ned comforts the poor boy's mother as Tillie gratefully holds Tommy close. Of course, this is somewhat undercut by the fact that the child actor playing Tommy greets Jamie's mother with a look that I think is supposed to be shocked survivor's guilt, but plays more like Tommy is a sociopath. And then John Huston and Shelley Winters walk out of the movie.

Yep, we're stuck with Bo Hopkins as our focus for the rest of the picture, folks. The management deeply regrets this unfortunate turn of events, but he was asking for the least amount of money. On the plus side, his orcas are a part of the deal.

In fact, set to a ridiculous martial drum theme, we discover we have literally entered the Orca sequence of our Jaws rip-off. Will and Mike have anchored their boat near the area where Judy and Vicky met their doom, and dragging behind the boat is a portable tank housing Will's two orcas. The tank not only looks even more like the Weinermobile than the earlier mini-sub, but it looks way too small to accommodate one orca--but just you never mind that.

Will advises Mike that they'll wait for the octopus to come to them and has him set up loud speakers so that they can hear the whales. That seems like the opposite of what they'd want to do. Surely the octopus would hear the sound of the orcas and avoid a confrontation with a predator. Since they already know radios will bring the beast running for miles, why not just set theirs up to transmit as constantly as possible?

Night falls as Will and Mike argue about whether the octopus will even come back to its lair. Mike thinks it will figure out that they're waiting for it, but Will, sounding demented, asserts that this octopus is special because it's tasted blood and thinks it's stronger than they are, and so it will definitely return. And then the whales start squealing and Will gets an...indescribable look on his face as he contentedly says, "Summer...listen to the way she talks to me." He's referring to one of the whales, since they're named Summer and Winter, in case you're confused but you'll be even more confused watching the film because either due to bad direction, the bizarre way Bo Hopkins chose to play it, or just the script itself...well, I won't tiptoe around it:

Bo Hopkins wants to fuck that whale.

"Now that Vicky's gone, nothing can stop our love, Summer!"
Will continues jabbering on about how smart the whales are, how he understands them and they understand him, and how they belong to "two worlds." Mike interrupts this nonsense to ask why he calls them Summer and Winter, and Will explains he met Vicky in the Summer and married her in the Winter and then the awkward silence descends except for the orca sounds. Hilariously, at this point you realize this is basically the movie's take on the Indianapolis speech and scar comparison, right down to the whale song.

The next morning, Will feeds the orcas--despite earlier saying that maybe they should keep them a bit hungry before the confrontation--and then proceeds to let the orcas know that today they are cancelling the apocalypse. His motivational speech is somewhat undercut by the flashbacks to him training the whales and dolphins. That's not relevant to this scene, Mr. Assonitis! Though I truly laughed aloud at, "When I was training you...people used to call you killers. They used to call me that on the streets. It don't mean nothin'." Which streets were those, Will, the Sesame variety?

At any rate, his speech is also undercut by the fact that he says the orcas are more loving than any human he ever met (maybe that's why his grief over Vicky's death was so...subdued) and then says that he needs them to kill the octopus for him, but hey, if they want to just swim away then that's okay, too. You also should probably not end your rousing speech with, "Okay, I gotta go now."

Night falls again and we see the growling octopus crawling along the ocean floor, but somehow the night passes without incident. However, as Mike is preparing several spear guns the next day, the Ominous Harpsichord returns. Yet even though Will was just on deck and vulnerable, the octopus waits until he goes safely below before attacking the boat. Mike and Will are knocked ass over tea kettle and then rush topside to find that the orca Weinermobile has been smashed and partially sunk. Will reacts with far more emotion to this than to his wife's death, but then Mike points out the dorsal fins nearby.

The fins that are retreating to the open sea. Will raises his whistle to his lips to call them back--and then hesitates, deciding against it. Instead, he instructs Mike to suit up: they're gonna kill the octopus themselves. Mike is a lot more willing to go along with this plan to use puny spear guns to take on a super fast, very strong and pissed off creature that can also disguise itself as almost anything than you might expect.

So, yeah, our thrilling climax is a mostly silent scuba sequence. All the false scare parrot fish and manta rays can't make this suspenseful, especially given that despite Will wearing a hood and Mike letting his hair flow freely we still have no idea even which man is which for most of it. Well, Will gets a cloud of actually defensive ink in his face while investigating a cave, but escapes unharmed. The octopus then apparently tosses coral at Mike.

However, Will gets the worst of it when the octopus causes a coral slide that pins him and disconnects his air hose. In a delightful shot, the live octopus then pounces upon the scuba diver doll meant to represent the helpess Will--but he is saved when the orcas return, accompanied by a very silly light-hearted orchestral theme that then morphs into what sounds like a Western showdown. The orcas swoop down on their trainer's attacker and...

Ugh. Well, this is an Italian horror film from the 1970s. It simply wouldn't be possible to escape animal cruelty.

For now we watch as what are unmistakably orca hand puppets tear apart a real octopus. I honestly cannot say if the octopus in this sequence is alive or not for the entirety, but it is most definitely real and is being torn to pieces. Most of its movements suggest someone off screen jiggling an octopus they found at a fish market, but then it actively wraps its tentacles around one of the puppets in retaliation at one point. Now, the parts being torn off are its tentacles, which would grow back if it is alive--but that hardly excuses torturing the poor creature, now does it? And certainly not for so lengthy a sequence as this one is.

As the octopus shrieks in agony as it is torn apart, it flees to its cave and Mike is able to come to Will's rescue and provide him oxygen. After digging him out, Mike helps Will swim to the surface. The poor octopus cannot escape the hand puppets, however. After being sufficiently mutilated for the director's taste, its limp body finally sinks into the ocean depths. Again, I really hope it was already dead before they filmed this.

Back aboard the boat, which is riding through some rough seas, we learn it's been three days with no sign of the whales. Will tells Mike that he's decided to take a dry land safari in Africa to see "elephants, tigers, lions." (A tiger--in Africa?!) Mike says he'll come, too, and Will is happy to hear it. He then jokes about inviting Ned "as long as he doesn't bring his sister." Wow, way to make me wish the octopus had eaten you, jerk. Just then the orcas return and both Will and Mike are ecstatic to see them back. Freeze frame on a shot of the whales' fins next to the boat. The End.

"Wow, this death scene here on page 104 sure is brutal. When do you switch me out for the fake octopus? ... Guys?"
It's hard to really know what to make of a movie like Tentacles. On the one hand, it has some really effective set pieces in it that make one almost inclined to think favorably of it; on the other hand it's so horribly misguided and constantly teetering on the edge of dull that you feel inclined to wash your hands of it entirely; and on the other six hands, it inexcusably becomes a cephalopod snuff film in the last ten minutes.

Leaving aside the animal cruelty, since it's necessary to look beyond that in order to effectively judge the film artistically instead of morally, this is ultimately not a very good movie, plain and simple. As I alluded to at many points the film is obscenely padded, with shots that go on well past the point of any use and there are many that have no clear point to start with. Its music is utterly inappropriate at all points--I mean, its octopus's leitmotif is a harpsichord for Christ's sake!

The film's attempt to draw audiences in with name actors like John Huston, Shelley Winters, and Henry Fonda is certainly appreciated when they're actually on screen but ultimately they aren't the movie's focus and this ends up being really obvious when they all end up disappearing as soon as they've met some unclear quota of screentime. I mean, Henry Fonda has a total of 3 scenes in the entire film and, while it's fascinating that the film does not follow the formula of having the reckless corporate scumbags responsible for the creature's rampage become its meal, that means he ultimately has zero effect on the narrative. Assonitis would pull the same trick again with Winters and Huston when he produced The Visitor in 1979, but there not only were the name value actors spread out enough to give you your money's worth, the focus when they weren't on screen was on performers like Lance Henriksen who actually have charisma.

Ultimately, Tentacles has just enough right choices in it to fall just shy of good and enough hilariously awful choices to approach the ideal of a "good-bad" movie, but its ultimate lifelessness dooms it to be merely bad. This is not a movie I would advise anyone to avoid at all costs, but I simply cannot recommend it, either. Aside from the morally repugnant climax, there's nothing truly objectionable about the film but that doesn't mean it's worth your time.

After all, Scream Factory released it on Blu-ray in a double feature with Reptilicus, and it's not a good sign when Reptilicus is the better movie in your double feature.


This review was part of the Nature's Fury Blogathon, presented by Cinematic Catharsis. the Blogathon runs from June 18th-20th, so click th banner above to go find out more about the wide range of reviews offered for your enjoyment!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Gamera vs. Viras (1968) [You Know, for The Kids]



I've spoken about this before, but the most curious thing about the Gamera franchise is that very early on it was decided that the franchise was meant for kids. On the surface that isn't odd. I mean, kids love monsters, right? A monster franchise aimed at kids seems like the most normal thing in the world.

No, the odd part is that--in Western society, at least--when we think of kid's entertainment we usually think of something where the blood and violence is in some way toned down or reduced. Where loss of life and limb is either not shown or severely played down. I mean, why else would parents get angry at Watership Down being shown to their children on Easter? It sure wasn't an objection to all the bunnies.

And yet, despite the fact that the original Gamera films are undeniably aimed at children, they feature as much death, destruction, mayhem, and bloodletting as any of the more serious Godzilla films. One would not unreasonably reach the conclusion that a Gamera movie would give a young child nightmares.

[This has not, of course, been a concern of mine thus far. My toddler thinks Darth Vader is the greatest thing in the universe and once laughed uproariously at the (non-gory) segment of a zombie movie I inadvertently allowed him to watch.]

It's tough to say which Gamera movie is most likely to seem most wildly inappropriate for its target audience, but I would argue that even though it's largely innocuous overall, it's today's film that contains the most high-grade nightmare fuel.

We open in space as a strange vessel that looks like a bunch of cartoon bumblebee butts were torn from their bodies and stuck on keyring zooms through the cosmos. Inside the ship amongst panels of blinking lights, a chandelier that looks like a representation of an atom lights up as a booming voice announces to the crew that they have reached the target of their expedition: the planet most similar to theirs in all the universe, which contains all the elements they need to survive.

You guessed it, they've arrived at Earth and their mission is to colonize the planet, by invading and repopulating it with their own species.

Of course, they didn't do their research very well since they are completely caught off guard when a rocket-powered, spinning turtle shell comes barreling at them. The attempts to zap Gamera with their laser cannons are somewhat less than effective and the decision to extinguish his flames--which are unaffected by the vacuum of space but apparently can be snuffed out by a powder spray--just causes him to stick out his arms and head and ram their ship until he smashes his head into what seems to be the control room. He then shoots his flame breath all into the compartment to take care of any crew not killed by decompression.

As an aside, I'm now pondering what Home would have been like if its adorable alien invaders were to run afoul of Gamera.

"Welcome to Earth!"
The aliens jettison that particular bee butt and attempt to flee with the rest of their ship. Gamera does not leave survivors, however. He chases the ship and spews flames at it (that somehow are not extinguished in space) as the ship's commander signals their home planet of Viras* to alert them that they have failed and the second spaceship must be sent immediately because, "There is a deadly creature protecting the Earth. Its name is--" And the "Gamera" part of the title appears out of the exploding spaceship. And no, I'm not sure how they knew Gamera's name. Maybe he was screaming it at them as he tore their ship apart.

[*An odd quirk of the Gamera films is that the alien invaders all tended to have the exact same name as the planet they hail from and even their species is the same. It'd be like encountering Earth, an Earthling from planet Earth]

And here we are introduced to the first instance of the Gamera theme that Mystery Science Theater 3000 got such a kick out of. (Interestingly, the English dub on Shout Factory's DVD completely omits the singing but leaves the music.) It's not exactly an awful song, but it is definitely an ear worm, made worse by having no clue what they're saying so you can't even exorcise it through singing.

And then we come back down to Earth and discover that this film has decided to deliver the maximum possible dosage of young Japanese boys in shorts by starting us off in a boy scout camp near a beach. The Scoutmaster, Mr. Shimida (Kojiro Hongo) has just pulled up to camp in a nice car with an old white dude, Dr. Dobie (Peter Williams), whom he thanks for a generous donation to the camp and then sends word to have a roll call for everyone to meet Dobie.

One of the trio of teenage girls leading the scouts, Mariko Nakaya (Michiko Yaegaki) is concerned because no one has seen her brother nor his usual partner in crime. Sure enough, Masao Nakaya (Toru Takatsuka) and Jim Crane (Carl Craig) have sneaked away to the nearby oceanic institute Dr. Dobie runs. Accompanied by whimsical music, the two discover a mini-sub, which they deem, "A toy for adults!"

Well, it's the right shape, anyway. *ahem*

The two brats climb into the sub and immediately rewire its controls backwards. When Masao's sister calls him on his wrist radio and Scoutmaster Shimida informs the two boys they won't be getting supper, they scramble to get back to camp. First, though, we have to establish that Jim is great with a lasso when Masao's hat inexplicably flies off his head and ends up on a flagpole, and Jim lassos it back down.

Naturally, it turns out that Dr. Dobie has summoned the scouts to his institute to give them the opportunity to ride in the sub that Masao and Jim just sabotaged. First, though, Dobie and Shimida will test it out. And that means that they somehow find themselves in very deep water before discovering that the controls are backwards, as comical jazz music plays. Both men are terrified, incidentally--to the point that Dobie crosses himself at one point. I'm not shocked at their utter terror. They appear to be at least 50 feet under water and in serious mortal danger--isn't that hilarious?

Well, naturally the shaken men return somehow and Masao and Jim enjoy a good chuckle until Dobie declares the scouts can't use the sub because it's not safe. Masao and Jim pipe up that the issue is just that Dobie doesn't know how to drive it, but they do. For some reason, Mariko helps them to convince Dobie and Shimida of this. And then they're off, maintaining radio contact with Mariko as they drive their sabotaged sub along the bottom of the ocean.

"Do you think they'll drown?"
"Nah, you wouldn't get that lucky."
As the boys go along, their radio briefly goes fuzzy and to Jim's alarm and Masao's delight, suddenly Gamera appears alongside them. Gamera races the sub--and I must note that the swimming Gamera prop is a very bizarre thing in that it gets the details of the suit right, but gets the proportions all wrong, like having his tail be too short--before standing still and letting them drive around his legs.

Which is when Spaceship #2 arrives from Viras. As you recall, Gamera intercepted the first one before it was even in orbit, but this one not only enters the atmosphere, but immediately traps Gamera with "the super-catch ray," which translates into hitting him with a beam that then covers him in a translucent dome. Way to fall down on the job while you were busy playing with some kids, Gamera.

"Oh, right, defend the Earth! I knew there was something I forgot to do today!"
Well, the kids are trapped, too, and unlike Gamera they are in danger of running out of air to breathe. Touching the dome zaps Gamera with energy but he his able to lift it up enough to let the sub out before he seemingly loses consciousness.

You might think this is when the movie is about to get exciting or suspenseful, what with Gamera being captured by alien invaders who are now free to conquer the world. Maybe the kids will have to find a way to free Gamera from imprisonment, with the clock ticking.

Nope! It's actually time for the movie to grind to a complete halt. The unseen alien controller announces that the super-catch ray will wear off in 15 minutes, so in the meantime they need to "activate the Videotron" so they can learn all there is to know about their foe--including how he was born, what his powers are, and what his weakness is.

In practice, this means the film burns 10 minutes of screentime by showing us stock footage of Gamera the Giant Monster, Gamera vs. Barugon, and Gamera vs. Gyaos. Though, actually, the Gamera the Giant Monster stock footage here appears to be the slightly tinted footage from the beginning of Gamera vs. Barugon, so it's doubly recycled footage. This also means the film is implying that Gamera was "born" when he climbed out of the Arctic ice, fully grown, in his debut film. We're then shown highlights of his fight with "the quick-freeze monster, Barugon" and Gyaos. At the end of this footage, the aliens deduce that his weakness is his fondness for children.

Oh, don't get too comfortable. The film isn't done with the stock footage parade yet, but we'll get to that.

Naturally, back on dry land, Masao and Jim find their story about racing Gamera and being saved from aliens by him is not believed. Especially since Jim's photographs of Gamera didn't turn out due to insufficient light. I'm not sure how the alien part isn't not believed, however, since it'd be impossible for anyone watching from shore to miss the damn spaceship. At any rate, Gamera surfaces just as the spaceship looms in toward the institute. Shimida tries to herd all the scouts to safety, but Masao and Jim rush off down the beach to yell at Gamera as he flies toward the spaceship.

Either the kids have somehow not noticed the bright yellow spaceship or they've already forgotten how it trapped Gamera, because they run right into the range of its super-catch ray and get trapped in a miniature dome. Somehow, Gamera can understand the aliens when they order him to back off or they'll kill the boys. Shimida and Mariko arrive on the scene in time to witness the boys being caught by the ray and then rush over to them, only for the dome to vanish as the boys are beamed inside the spaceship as hostages.

Look very carefully at this picture and you'll see a spaceship hidden in it.
Inside the ship, Masao and Jim discover that it appears to be crewed by Japanese men dressed like they're about to perform surgeries any minute. They also seem to completely ignore the kids as they move from compartment to compartment by leaping goofily into the air and flying through the connecting tunnels. This trick does not work for Masao and Jim--something Jim attributes to the aliens being adults and not, you know, aliens.

The two also accidentally discover that the ship responds to telepathic commands when they vocalize the wish to have a glass of orange juice and one of the blinky panels disgorges two vases full of a liquid that is definitely not orange, Jim is, understandably, hesitant to try strange liquid offered by aliens but Masao goes right for it and assures him it's delicious.

The two then decide to test their luck by asking for a parachute to escape or a gun to kill their captors. That triggers an alarm and the boys find themselves surrounded by the alien crew, who now reveal that they have glowing eyes in the dark. The aliens tell the boys that they are going to be allowed free reign of the ship (?!) but if they attempt to do anything to harm the ship or escape, the alarm will sound and they will be caught.

Fun fact: it turns out that this frightens my toddler.
The aliens then proceed to go to another compartment, where they use their radio to order Gamera--still circling their ship angrily--to land. They then land nearby and, after aggravating him with their laser beams, fire a brain control device onto his head. Meanwhile, the kids stumble into a room that has a strange squid creature in a cage in its center. Now, this is played like the squid creature is a captive of the humanoid aliens that is relatively friendly to the boys, but given the poster you should already have guessed that this is actually the titular Viras and the leader of the aliens.

I have zero idea why Viras is in a cage instead of a comfy recliner or some kind of a fish tank. Maybe it's a game he likes to play with his crew. Whatever the reason, the boys decide they'll come back to free Viras later and then decide to go after one of the humanoid aliens. They lasso him around the wrist and pull--the alien is just as confused as to what they hope to accomplish with this as the audience is...

...and then his arm tears itself out of its socket and flies across the room to pin them to the wall. This is a kid's movie. The arm pushes them up the wall as the alien laughs maniacally and informs them that they have now lost their privilege of wandering the ship unsupervised. Bars appear out of the wall and pin them in place as the severed arm flies back to its owner and reattaches.

Well, that should give every child in the room nightmares.

Oh, right, the control device on Gamera? Well, that takes effect now so that the film can trot out even more stock footage. First, we see the footage of Gamera attacking the dam from Gamera vs. Barugon. That by itself won't make for a very impressive rampage, so the film next cribs random city-destroying footage from Gamera the Giant Monster.

Now, you may have noticed earlier that I referred to the doubly-recycled footage having been tinted to cover the fact that the original film was black-in-white but its sequel was in color. You may, therefore, be wondering how they're dealing with that mismatch of footage here. The answer is: by just not giving a shit.

Yes, aside from a brief shot on the aliens' "Videotron" that is tinted red, we are simply shown a bunch of black-and-white footage that clearly belongs to another movie. I mean, that would be clear enough since the control device on Gamera's head was huge and as brightly colored as the spaceship it came from, but this is just adding insult to injury.


Look closely and you may see a subtle difference between these shots.
At any rate, the aliens fly over a panicked city with Gamera in tow, announcing to the world that Gamera is in their power and the Earthlings dare not attack them or they will risk killing the two boys on board. And lest you think that the aliens have some weirdly misguided idea of how much value humans place on the lives of two boys, well you're about to see the next scene show you that the aliens are right on the money.

In the makeshift military commander center overseen by an unnamed commander (Koji Fujiyama, last seen in this series trying to murder Kojiro Hongo instead of aiding him), Mariko is able to radio Masao on his wrist radio after Dr. Dobie helps boost the signal. After Shimida reminds the boys of how they were clever enough to sabotage the sub so its controls went in reverse, the boys figure out how to wiggle out of their restraints. When they hear that Gamera has been brought under the aliens' control and the military has refrained from attacking the alien ship for fear of harming them, the two boys tell everyone listening--which includes their parents, now--that they are ready to die for the sake of the Earth. I mean, it's such a no-brainer, even to a couple of punk kids, right?

However, the JSDF commander is reluctant and then an order comes in from the United Nations saying that they will surrender to the aliens's demands rather than risk killing two kids. Right, that seems likely. Never fear, however, because the kids run into the control room where the aliena are gathered and tell them that "the creature" has escaped. Oddly, the aliens all fall for this, and in fact, are confused when they enter that room and find Viras still sitting in his cage since they have no idea why they boys would lie, Worst alien invaders ever,

The boys quickly figure out a way to rewire the alien controls backwards, since they have the amazing ability to do that and only that with any form of machinery, apparently, and they activate the super-catch ray to escape the ship. When the aliens see the kids fleeing down the beach, they order Gamera to kill them--and so Gamera attacks the ship instead.

In desperation, the aliens all flee to the compartment Viras is in, begging their leader for help. His cage immediately flips up and disappears into the ceiling because he could have just left at any time and they all knew this. The aliens hand him a little stained glass sculpture that is apparently a communication device. Viras now speaks and radios the home planet to say that their second invasion attempt has been thwarted and they must flee.

"We have just learned what calamari is made of, and we are fleeing this planet and never coming back."
Well, they try to escape by separating their compartment from the rest of the ship, so Gamera just throws another section of the ship at the fleeing bee butt. This causes them to crash and the control device on Gamera's head to blow up. Which, again, posits that a traditional military attack would have ended their invasion toot sweet had the UN not been oddly unwilling to make an easy call for the greater good.

Seeing the crashed pod has landed nearby, Masao and Jim peek inside to see Viras speaking to the other aliens. He informs them that he can kill Gamera, "but first I will need all of your lives." The other aliens beg him not to, but with one swipe of his tentacle he decapitates all of them! Yes, this leads to the immediate reveal that they were actually more squid beings wearing human disguises--but I don't think that makes the nightmare fuel less potent!

"Man, that flesh suit was Gucci!"
One by one the other aliens fuse with Viras so that he grows to be even bigger than Gamera and bursts out of the pod. Viras is also revealed to use the angry Tribble sound effect from the original Star Trek as his roar, which suggests Gamera is a Klingon. Gamera and Viras fight, which involves a lot of Gamera being tossed around by Viras's tentacles and the reveal that Viras' head is both made of shorter tentacles and can function as a spear. This becomes especially noteworthy near the end of their battle.

After much back and forth, Gamera manages to throw a rock at Viras in such a way that it becomes stuck on his spear-like head. Viras flees into the ocean and Gamera pursues, but Viras quickly breaaks the rock off of his head and turns back for shore, dragging Gamera behind him like a water skier. For some reason this is treated as if it is a triumph for Gamera, complete with his cheerful theme playing...until Viras hits the beach and Gamera is sent flying to land on his back so that Viras can then leap up into the air and impale Gamera through the belly.

Despite the fact that Viras pulls back and impales Gamera again, and then rams Gamera into a rock to drive his head even further in, this is not apparently a fatal blow. Apparently because Gamera has no internal organs suddenly.

Don't worry kids, turtles are immune to impalement!
Somehow, the vocal encouragement of Jim and Masao allows Gamera to withstand his entrails being turned into porridge, though. Gamera flies up into the atmosphere, taking Viras along for the ride. And here, perversely, the film decides to acknowledge actual physics as the higher they go, the more Viras becomes covered in ice. (What icing problem?) Finally, Gamera turns over and spins really fast, dislodging his frozen opponent so that Viras plummets thousands of feet into the ocean and is apparently killed on impact.

Everyone celebrates, Gamera flies off to presumably succumb to his wounds--The End!

"The Dream of The Fisherman's Pet Turtle" was not nearly as well received as the original woodcarving.
Rights issues have been a thorn in the side of film lovers for ages and that goes double for foreign films released in America, but the ones for the Gamera films are exceptionally bizarre. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, AIP picked up the Gamera films for television distribution--with the exception of the first film, which, like Godzilla before it, was re-edited to insert white guys into it before being theatrically distributed as Gammera The Invincible (and no, I did not misspell that). They retitled them things like War of the Monsters and, in this case of this film, Destroy All Planets, thus removing any reference to Gamera in their titles and also any hint that they belonged to a series if you weren't aware of it already. Naturally, these films were usually edited down to what AIP assumed was "appropriate" for American children in the 1960s. AIP-TV also skipped out on Gamera vs. Zigra, but I can't say if that was because they recognized how dire it was or because they were done with Gamera by 1971.

(I'm not sure who later distributed 1980's last gasp, Gamera the Super Monster in the US, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't AIP.)

When the 1980s rolled around, a distributor named Sandy Frank released the films to VHS, but for some reason he opted for securing the films directly from whomever owned their Japanese rights at that time (I'm not sure if Daiei  had recovered enough from bankruptcy at that point for them to be the rights holders or not) and redubbing them with infamously awful dubs. Yes, the ones you saw on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Most folks tend to assume that the reason he did this was that whomever owned the AIP versions at the time asked too much for the rights, and certainly a certain amount of penny-pinching would explain why Frank only chose to import five of the total eight Gamera films in existence at the time.

Yet, ironically, when DVD came around the only versions of the classic Gamera films you tended to find were the AIP versions, as they had fallen in to public domain. I was always a bit reluctant to spend good money on DVDs that contain picture quality no better than a VHS, so I held off on bothering to watch any of those Gamera releases until Shout Factory put out their discs of the series in 2011.

This is a very long-winded way of explaining that unlike many of the other original Gamera films, by the time I saw Gamera vs. Viras for the first time, I was around two decades out of its target audience's age range. That by itself isn't an issue, of course, since even an adult can enjoy a kid's movie--and especially one that contains giant monsters. However, it does mean that by that point I was much less inclined to cut the film the sort of slack I might have as a kid. And hoo boy, does this film need a lot of slack.

For one thing, annoying kids become a lot more annoying when you're no longer a kid. Now, Jim and Masao are not remotely as annoying as, say, the kids in Gamera vs. Zigra--now that's damning with the faintest of praise--but they aren't exactly likable, either. If a character's actions nearly cause innocent people to die for the sake of a prank, they better be incredibly charismatic to get an audience to overlook that. Jim and Masao are merely tolerable.

The other hurdle is definitely the film's over-reliance on stock footage. Now, to be fair, stock footage would be a mainstay of the rival Godzilla series only a few years after this film as budgets dwindled, and even three years earlier Monster Zero (aka Invasion of Astro-Monster) had shamelessly borrowed key destruction shots from Rodan despite still commanding a prestige budget. However, this is only the fourth film in the franchise and it makes its audience sit through a solid ten minutes of movies they'd already seen in order to pad the running time, and then it trots out even more stock footage for the sake of destruction sequences that are, frankly, unnecessary.

Not to mention, those destruction sequences show the alien-controlled Gamera causing the deaths of hundred, at least, which makes it even harder to later believe the UN thought two lives were too valuable to be sacrificed to stop further destruction. So it makes the film look sloppy and cheap, and it sabotages the narrative. It's a mistake on so many levels.

That said, if you look beyond the film's flaws it's...ultimately pretty mediocre. It is neither as good as Gamera vs. Barugon or Gamera vs. Gyaos, nor as brain-numbingly horrid as Gamera vs. Zigra, and it certainly never achieves the sublime heights of awfulness as Gamera vs. Guiron or Gamera the Super Monster. I really had not missed much by having never seen it until 2011 and frankly the film is almost entirely forgettable...

...except for the utterly unexpected moments of sheer terror that the disguised alien squid monsters provide and the shocking sight of Gamera being gored by his opponent on such a brutal level. Take those moments out--as, presumably, Destroy All Planets did--and there's nothing to recommend this movie. With those moments it becomes just whackadoo enough to say, "Hey, Frank, you gotta see this shit!"

And sometimes that's enough. Especially if you feel like terrifying your children.


This has been my extremely late addition to the "You Know, For The Kids" roundtable by The Celluloid Zeroes. The more punctual members of the group turned in the following assignments:

Checkpoint Telstar probably got his in before me by aiding and abetting Time Bandits.

Micro-Brewed Reviews took a ride on The Magic Serpent.

Psychoplasmics probably shouldn't have opened up The Gate.

Seeker of Schlock crawled up the wall after watching Spider-Man.

Web of the Big Damn Spider got tickled by The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.