Wednesday, October 22, 2014

HubrisWeen, Day 17: Quatermass and The Pit (1967)

Where do we--humans, that is--come from?

Religion has one answer, science has another. Some accept religion's answer and reject science's, some do the opposite. Some accept parts of one answer and reject parts of another. Some try to make both answers fit, others try to label religion's answer as science's and call it a day.

But what if neither answer really was quite right? What if they both really did only have part of the answer and needed to be put together to get the whole?

Suppose humans were created by a higher power, but as a result of controlled evolution. Suppose again that that higher power was not God, but actually something we might call--without much hyperbole--the Devil?

An expansion of the London Underground is being built at Hobbs End, when one of the construction workers discovers a skull amongst the dirt and rocks being borne away from the excavation on a conveyor belt. Initial panic at finding evidence of a murder fades when they realize that the skull is too big and ape-like to be human, and furthermore it appears to be a fossil. However, their plans to just set it aside and continue on are waylaid by discovering an entire skeleton of the same variety.

In fact, the ground under Hobbs End appears to be littered with these humanoid skeletons and so paleontologist Dr. Roney (James Donald) and his assistant Barbara Judd (the magnificent Barbara Shelley) are called in to supervise the extraction of these skeletons, which are surely a hugely valuable find. Dr. Roney gives a press conference announcing that the find is incredibly extraordinary because they've carbon tested the skeletons and they date back to five million years at least, which puts them at a stage of development way beyond previously known humanoids.

Roney unveils a clay model of what the humanoid apes probably looked like, based on the bones. He explains to the press that he needs their help because there's going to be a lot of public pressure to resume operations on the underground. Roney wants the press to emphasize the importance of their find to the public, to convince them that the excavation should be allowed to continue.

Unfortuately for Roney, something else is going to ruin his dig. One of the excavators tells Barbara that she has come across some sort of pipe in her digging. The public works rep that walks over with Barbara is puzzled because there aren't supposed to be any pipes there. However, there is one possibility...

The Army sets up a sign reading "Danger: Unexploded Bomb" as an EOD unit is sent in. Don't worry, we won't be following one of them around for the whole movie. It's assumed that the object is an unexploded bomb from the Blitz. However, when one EOD officer goes to put his magnetic microphone on the object to listen to its innards--it doesn't stick. Holding the mic in place, all he can determine is that the bomb isn't ticking. He's completely flummoxed, though. Roney, already a bit impatient with the EOD team tramping all over his dig, suggests that the EOD officer is too young to have had Wartime experience. The EOD officer, somewhat irritatedly, assures Roney he will be calling in a second opinion.

Said second opinion comes in the form of Colonel Breen (Julian Glover), who is currently busy in a meeting with the British Rocket Group. The British Rocket Group, as you would know if you had seen the previous two Quatermass films, is the brainchild of Professor Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Keir, taking over from Brian Donlevy who played the role in the two preceding films). Quatermass is not happy at having to meet with Breen because the crux of the meeting is that the BRG is to be tasked with developing missile bases that can be placed on the moon. Breen will therefore be working with Quatermass to achieve this and there's no point in Quatermass arguing the point because the order came down from on high.

Breen invites Quatermass to dinner to try and win the scientist over, but he gets the message about Hobbs End and invites Quatermass to join him on a brief detour. Quatermass immediately becomes intrigued by the object that has been partially uncovered, which Breen labels an experimental V-Weapon. The first hole in Breen's explanation shows itself when the EOD team finds another ape skull buried beneath part of the object. Roney is called in and he excitedly extracts it, saying it's even better preserved than the others they've found. Quatermass asks Breen exactly how he thinks a V-Weapon could have landed on top of a fragile fossil without damaging it.

Roney also makes this realization as Barbara is helping him to clean the mud off the skull. How could the thing in the pit be a bomb or a rocket from the last war and be so gingerly nestled amongst fossils? Another curious thing turns up when Breen is going over the civil records of the Blitz in Hobbs End: not only were the only bombs incendiaries, they only did structural damage because the houses on the street were abandoned. Breen says they had been evacuated, but the policeman who brought over the records explains to Quatermass that actually they had been empty years before Hitler had anything to do with their vacancy.

You see, the policeman grew up in the area so he knows that the houses were abandoned because of strange noises and things being seen. The usual ghost stories. The policeman goes to show Barbara and Quatermass one of the houses, warning it's not safe. However, inside the house the combination of a door moving on its own and Barbara's discovery of what look like clawmarks in the walls so terrifies the policeman that he rushes outside, explaining away his panic as succumbing to the heat in the house.

Quatermass tells Breen he wants to stick around for the investigation of the "bomb." That's fine with Breen, who advises the object should be fully uncovered by the next day. And then Barbara observes an old street sign. The street used to be Hob's Lane. As Barbara informs Quatermass, "Hob used to be a nickname for The Devil."

Quatermass goes to visit Roney's lab at a local museum. Roney is currently doing an experiment with some equipment designed to map brain functions, which is currently being used on a volunteer whose cranial dimensions correspond to those of a particular human ancestor. Roney wants to do the same for the Hobbs End apes, but no human he knows of has the same skull dimensions. Quatermass asks Roney if the apes were terrestrial, to which Roney replies that they most definitely were. So if that mystery object was a space vessel, that theoretically rules them out as its passengers.

Heading back to the dig, Quatermass runs into Barbara who has collected a lot of newspaper reports about the incidents at Hobbs End over many decades. All of them refer to a small figure, like a hideous dwarf that could leap through walls. Most of them occurred during construction of the original Hobbs End underground station. Quatermass scoffs at first, but then finds himself intrigued. Following the trail leads them all the way to Latin archives in Westminster Abbey. What they find is that the stories of little ghosts and goblins emerge always at the same time as the ground above the object is disturbed--from charcoal burners uprooting big trees, to a well being dug, to the construction of a station.

Quatermass isn't sure what to do with this information as yet but he returns to the dig site to find that the object has fully uncovered, and it sure as hell looks like a spaceship. Breen has one of the EOD technicians run an acetylene torch on one part of the hull for five minutes--and not only does it not cut through, but the spot isn't even warm to the touch. Quatermass suggests Breen get a borazon drill, which is harder than diamond, and then Quatermass gets a bit smug, pointing out to the skeptical Breen that the material that made this object is every rocket engineers dream: the Germans didn't build something this extraordinary and then forget the recipe.

There's a hollow chamber in the object, but an EOD officer warns Quatermass to wear gloves. Touching the inside with bare hands left several of the EOD techs with something like mild frostbite, even though the hull is not even cold. And inside, Quatermass notices there's a symbol etched into what appears to be a bulkhead separating the hollow chamber from the head of the "rocket." The symbol has six sides, but Quatermass identifies it as a "pentagon" (!) and says it's one of the symbols used in ancient magic. Which would be a pentangle, not a pentagon--and that still doesn't change the fact that the symbol is clearly a hexagon.

I guess nobody noticed that the props department had screwed up until it was too late and they just kept the existing dialogue?

At any rate, Quatermass goes to talk to Barbara, who has just arrived, when there comes a scream from the soldier sent to remove some equipment from the hollow chamber. The man is found cowering in a corner, claiming he saw a figure that came at him and then went through the wall. When he describes it, Barabara recognizes it as the same "hideous dwarf" described for centuries.

Breen gets his borazon drill and its civilian operator, Sladden (Duncan Lamont). The drill is plugged into a generator in case of an explosion, should the other side of the bulkhead be a warhead. As Breen and Quatermass watch, Sladden's drill fails three times to even scratch the bulkhead by the "pentagon." The third time, however, the attempt is accompanied by a loud vibrating whine that makes all three men physically ill. Roney turns up with Barbara and when a shaken Quatermass tells him about the pentagon, Roney loks inside and then calls the others in: there's a hole in the bulkhead where Sladden was drilling.

Sladden points out the hole is way bigger than his drill bit and looks melted, just as the bulkhead mysteriously disintegrates--and Breen, Quatermass, and Roney are confronted by a spectacular sight: three insectoid creatures with horns and toothy grins sitting inside a honeycomb structure.

"We come in peace, put down the can of Raid."
The creatures are clearly dead, but letting the outside air into the sealed chamber causes the creatures and the structures housing them to rapidly decay. Roney sends the soldiers to get empty sandbags and planks and he loads the quickly rotting arthropods onto them and temporarily sprays them with a sealant so they'll hold together until he can get them to the lab. The structures, which Quatermass presumes to be a control apparatus, have completely fallen to powder before Barbara can even get in to photograph the "cockpit." Breen insists that Quatermass is mad to believe that this is an alien vessel, but he's unable to offer a rational explanation.

At the lab, as Roney and Quatermass examine the arthropods, it becomes clear that they are not of earthly origin. The tripod arrangement of their legs suggests that clearly enough and they seem to have been adapted to a planet with much lower gravity and oxygen--perhaps a world that's dead now, but five million years ago had life. Between that and the unmistakable fact that the creatures' very appearance can be seen in gargoyles, cave paintings, and the Judeo-Christian image of The Devil, Quatermass and Roney come to a single conclusion:

What they've found are Martians. What's more, the humanoid apes and the Martians are connected. The Martians, knowing their world was dying, visited Earth and took back specimens of a Pliocene ape. Using any number of technologies they tried to instill their consciousness into the minds of these apes, intending to "colonize" Earth. But they must have been too late, and whatever faculties they passed on became dormant in all but a few of the humans that evolved as a result of their actions. The ship and the ape fossils could be the result of an accident, where they all died after crashing into the swampy area that Hobbs End used to be.

Quatermass tells most of this--minus the guided human evolution part--to the press. His bosses are furious, and hearing his whole theory does nothing to make them happier. Unfortunately, being the man who saved the Earth from two separate alien invasions apparently doesn't give you any sway in London. The government goes with Breen's explanation--the rocket is a German propaganda weapon designed to terrify England with taxidermied hoaxes, to make them think that the Martians have landed. The weapon was just uncovered too late to create the appropriate panic.

Never mind that this explanation actually requires more suspension of disbelief than the ship and the arthropods being of alien origin, it becomes the official story and the ship is declared safe for public viewing over Quatermass's strong objections.

His objections become even stronger when Sladden, returning to retrieve his drill from the dig that night is suddenly overcome with some kind of hallucination that is accompanied by a windstorm that picks up and throws all objects in near proximity to the stricken man. Sladen runs through the streets of London, causing destruction and confusion, until he collapses in a church yard. When Quatermass and Barbara go to see him, we get one of my favorite scenes.

It's my favorite because it relies so much on imagination and line delivery. Sladden describes what he saw--hordes of the Martians, leaping in and out of a dark purple sky. Sladden knew he was one of the Martians. Sladden passes out, exhausted, and the strange psychic windstorm briefly kicks up again. Quatermass realizes that this must be a race memory, a vision of life on Mars. The thing in the pit, after absorbing energy from the electronics around it. can trigger this vision as well as those latent faculties--like telekinesis. But they must have proof of this to stop things from going pear-shaped when the government foolishly allows the public access to the craft.

But even when he does have proof to offer--via rigging Roney's brain scan device to record what the brain sees to record the vision, which turns out to be a race purge of the Martian hives to kill off all those considered "different" and undesirable--the big wigs aren't going to listen. And before you know it, the ship has come alive, a holographic projection of the Devil is floating the sky above Hobbs End, and London is being torn apart by people whose Martian genes have been switched on and sent them on a telekinetic, genocidal rampage to kill any who are immune. And worse, one of those people joining in the rampage is Quatermass himself!

I referred to the climax of Quatermass and The Pit when reviewing Lifeforce with good reason. It's impossible to not see the latter film as taking influence from the former in its climactic destruction of London. And what a climax it is, with unsettling images like a stone-faced mob cornering a terrified man and killing him with telekinetically launched rubble, or the floating image of the Martian in the London sky.

This is one of my all-time favorite films. The whole film is marvelously paced, especially considering it was condensing a 6-part miniseries made up of half hour episodes into a brisk 90-odd minutes. The screenplay largely plays fair with its characters and concept, and it builds to a magnificent--if rather abruptly resolved--climax of destruction. The performances are amazing, with Andrew Keir's Professor Challenger-like Quatermass and Barbara Shelley's quick-witted and inquisitive heroine being particular standouts. James Donald is also compelling as Roney and Julian Glover was clearly having a grand time playing, in his own words, "the obligatory asshole" of the film.

Where the film falters is in the sequence I only briefly alluded to earlier. In a film that largely exists in the "real" world of the time when it was produced, suddenly having a machine that can record visual footage of dreams or visions is completely jarring. Especially given that the only purpose of the machine is to show us a sequence that worked best when it was merely described. The special effects that Hammer could provide on the film's budget would always have been woefully unequipped to portray the Martians in the midst of a telekinetic ethnic cleansing, and the stiff miniature models and obvious kitty litter they toss about are not remotely obscured by covering the black and white image with static. It doesn't even ultimately add anything to the story because it's just one more thing the authorities choose to ignore.

Aside from that misstep, though, this is a wonderful film and I highly recommend it. Especially if you want to see the central conceit of Prometheus done by filmmakers who actually knew what they were doing.

I don't know about you, but I'll take alien locust demons over "huge, albino muscle-twinks" any day of the week.

Thus concludes Day 17. Click the banner to check out what my fellow maniacs chose.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

HubrisWeen, Day 16: Please Don't Eat My Mother (1973)

When people say, "They don't make 'em like they used to," it's usually a safe bet that they aren't referring to pornographic films. And yet, the saying holds just as true if they are.

While porn parodies still exist, it was not until very recently that they began actually having some modicum of focus on story and plot. And even among those that do, you're looking at "This Ain't Pacific Rim XXX" not something only vaguely related like "Kaiju of Love." I mean, if I didn't tell you that Please Don't Eat My Mother was an adult parody/remake of Roger Corman's The Little Shop of Horrors (this being before it was retooled into a beloved musical), how would you know from its title alone?

Even beyond that, they don't make porn flicks like this any more for another reason. Softcore porn is still a thing, yes, which one can argue that this film qualifies as. But that's nothing but actors grinding on each other in ways that vaguely simulate sex while making sure we see nothing but breasts and buttocks from any of the performers, male or female. No, this film manages to fall somewhere between that kind of fare and the harder stuff: fully naked people grinding on each other in ways that vaguely simulate sex despite the fact we are given graphic evidence that neither person involved is even aroused.

So, you know, maybe it's for the best that they don't make them like this any more.

The film opens with a couple sitting in a parked car. The woman (Flora Wiesel, one of the few bump & grinders that IMDb wishes to give credit to) is a bit nervous since apparently the man is married and someone could see them. Little do they know they're being watched by our, uh, "hero" for the evening, Henry Fudd (Buck Kartalian, a character actor you've probably seen in actual "legitimate" films, but everyone needs to eat). Henry is a creep in a hideous sweater who loves to watch rutting couples on his lunch break from whatever the hell his job is.

God, you're a creep.
Anyways, his lunch break apparently ends before the couple does much more than some heavy petting outside the clothes. On his way to work or from work, I don't even know, Henry stops by a florist shop when he hears a strange plant making gurgling, almost talking sounds. He is immediately accosted by the gay hate crime (Art Hedburg, who looks vaguely like Graham Chapman without the talent) who runs the shop. Naturally, the florist rubs himself all over Henry because gay men are instantly attracted to anyone with male parts.

Henry, convinced the plant can talk--despite it being obviously constructed of cotton balls, pipe cleaners, and construction paper--buys it from the florist and heads home. At home, his mother, Clarice Fudd (Lynn Lundgren) is waiting for him, chatting away on the phone to one of her friends about ungrateful her son is. This kind of undercuts the title a bit, because Henry hates his mother the whole time. There'd be more comedy potential if his mother was a sweet old woman who had no idea that her son was a peeping tom hiding murderous plants in his bedroom.

Then again, this film wouldn't know how to do comedy if it were invited to an orgy at the Friar's Club.

Not a picture from the Low-Budget Audrey 2 tumblr.
Henry settles into his room with the plant and feeds it some plant food that the florist gave him. Whereupon the plant begins to actually talk with a woman's voice (nope, no idea who's doing the voice), but Henry isn't present to hear. We next see Henry heading to his lunch break spot, annoyed that another pervert has set up shop to watch the couple in the car, though he quickly sits down next to the guy and shares his lunch while trying to keep the guy from groping him in excitement.

Yes, it's the same couple in the car. And they're still at the point of just starting to undress. Every time Henry catches sight of them throughout the first half of the film, they are only a little further in the process of having sex. So either they are taking days to have sex, or they're caught in some kind of a time loop.

Later on, Henry catches his mother snooping in his room--which is full of nude pin-ups and Playboy issues, of course--and shoves her out. And during this exchange, Clarice tells Henry, "Don't blame me, I didn't make you Jewish! That was your father!" Exhausted from the argument--and maybe from trying to parse what the hell that statement means--Henry takes a nap in a chair by the plant and wakes up when he realizes the plant is talking to him. The plant, who will later be called Eve, asks Henry for more of the plant food and "something that buzzes." So Henry goes fly-hunting, spies on the horny couple locked in the time loop some more, and then returns to find that Eve has grown into a terrible puppet. He feeds her the flies but accidentally feeds her a frog, which she now wants more of.

And then we're introduced to one of the weirdest running gags in the film as, after Henry spies on the couple some more and returns with more frogs, Eve begins spewing colored smoke from her mouth (!) after eating all the frogs. Based on the reaction of Henry and the voiceover work, this is apparently supposed to be her burping or farting, but it makes no damn sense.

Clarice is becoming suspicious of Henry because she swears she hears a woman in his room. And then Eve hears a dog and decides she wants Henry to bring her dogs. So Henry gets a job at the local pound and Eve grows into her final stage, a tall puppet with eyelashes. Though naturally we cut away from Henry feeding her a dog because there's no way for the largely immobile prop to move enough to eat anything.

After feeding her more dogs and cats, Henry puts his foot down when Eve expresses a desire to eat the woman in one of Henry's centerfolds. Of course, once Henry loses his job at the pound, he gets into an angry shouting match with Eve--and Clarice barges into Henry's room trying to find the woman he's keeping. There's an argument about how Henry is sick of her "always kvetching", because he's Jewish, you see--and then Eve promptly eats Henry's mother.

We're about 50 minutes into a 90-odd minute movie and the title has already been rendered inaccurate. Especially since Henry never even begs Eve not to eat his mother. He just reacts with horror for a moment and worries he'll be arrested, but Eve convinces him it's all okay. After all, "Have you ever heard of a plant being arrested?"

I can only imagine how that would go over with a jury. "Your honor, my client did not kill his mother--his carnivorous, talking plant did. He's totally innocent."

Henry's attempts to convince his mother's friend over the phone that she went to visit her dying sister results in a painfully unfunny "comic" police detective, Officer O'Columbus (an uncredited as well as unfunny Carl Monson), coming to visit him. O'Columbus is introduced with what I swear is the Dragnet theme being played on a casio--as if his explicit references to the show and Adam-12 were too subtle. At any rate, O'Columbus is interrupted in his attempts to determine if Henry is "one of them preeverts" by hearing Eve speak. O'Columbus asks if that's Clarice talking and Henry, being a moron, doesn't just say, "Yes."

So, O'Columbus enters Henry's room and, one quick cut later, he is disappearing into the plant puppet feet-first so he can give a note to Henry to take to his wife. Exit awful comic character, stage plant puppet. Eve is disgusted because apparently men don't taste good to her. And, in an almost funny running gag, she keeps spitting up the cop's gun and badge only for Henry to keep tossing them back to her.

By this time Henry has found a new couple locked in a bang loop, since the car couple finally achieved the climax that apparently freed them. This couple is getting it on in a park on a blanket. I mention this because it will actually become "relevant" later. In the mean time, Eve is craving more woman flesh so Henry calls up a friend who can get call girls (which raises all kinds of questions) and says he's hiring a girl for his big brother who is currently bed-ridden. He literally hangs up the phone when the doorbell rings and he comments, "That was fast!" Well, that's what happens when you hire call girls from Jimmy John's.

The call girl (Alice Friedland) walks in, promptly puts the moves on Henry (?!) but then spurns him because the price for her to screw him is way out of his grasp. Then she goes into Henry's bedroom, tells him there's no free shows--and promptly gets undressed without actually closing the door, so Henry can watch via a hallway mirror. The call girl spends the whole scene calling out for "Big Brother Fudd," which is exactly as unerotic as it sounds. Finally, after showing us her naked body from all sides, she gets eaten offscreen by Eve. Cue first instance of Eve saying, "I can't believe I ate the whole thing," whilst billowing smoke.

Then Eve confides in Henry that she's craving something other than food. She's craving sex. (Oh, no) Henry is confused and then quickly gets excited. (Oh, please, no) After all, he reasons, they've become very close (No) and become even more than friends. (No, God NO) And then, Buck Kartalian is forced to amorously grab onto a plant puppet and dry hump it.

One of the worst aspects of this whole movie is that Kartalian, despite knowing he's playing the role of "schlub who never gets to take part in the action" in a porn flick, actually gives the role his all. So you already feel terrible for him even before he tries to fuck a plant.

Eve is not amused by Henry's attempt to mate with her and gently explains to Henry that he's not what she is looking for and they should keep their relationship friendly. (As my horrified girlfriend remarked, "Did...did he just get 'friendzoned' by a plant?!") She needs a male plant to do that. So Henry goes to the florist, using the gun and badge to pretend to be a cop (?!), and finds that he has another specimen of the same plant that is strangely identical to baby Eve. Out of earshot of the florist, Henry asks if the plant is male. "Friend or foe?" the plant responds in a man's voice, before confirming it's male once Henry identifies himself as "friend." The plant tells Henry how to con the florist into buying the plant cheap and then, as they walk away, the plant says, "Those [slur for gay men that used to mean a bundle of sticks] make me sick!"

So, let's see, this film is misogynistic, antisemitic, and homophobic. I can only assume it's not racist because they ran out of time.

The male plant, Adam, quickly grows into a puppet identical to Eve's second stage and it is revealed that while Eve only eats women, Adam only eats men. Naturally. So Henry takes his gun and uses it to interrupt the couple in the park, who had finally gotten to the sex part after several days of working up to it. He takes them back home and feeds them to the plants. Now Adam and Even both say, "I can't believe I ate the whole thing!" Because if it's not funny once, it's even less funny twice. Then Henry tries to shoot himself after hearing the sounds of Adam and Eve having sex (hey, save some bullets for the audience, jerk) but finds that the revolver's bullets don't fire. In one of the few moments of almost humor, the gun actually fires when Henry points it at the wall in disgust.

Seriously, high school drama departments would reject these puppets.
That evening, Henry goes for a walk and peers into the bedroom of a couple who have just returned from a night at the erotic cinema. The IMDb credits the couple as Harry (Ric Lutze) and Harry's Wife (Rene Bond), but I'll just call her Rene. At any rate, they have sex while Henry watches incredibly conspicuously from the window. I guess being in a bedroom spares them the time loop effect as they go from start to finish in one sequence. As they bask in the afterglow, two things happen: One, I realize that Harry is largely hairless above the waist but his legs are so covered in dark, curly hair that he looks like a Satyr; Two, Harry asks, "Was your climax more intense than last time?"

Oh, honey, if you have to ask...

Bizarrely, that question is asked because Harry has been working on improving his talent and, apparently, size. When he decides that Rene is just telling him what he wants to hear he turns violent (!) and asks where his gun is (!) while putting his hideous boxer briefs back on. Only Rene has the gun, which naturally looks a lot like the one O'Columbus left Henry with, and Rene shoots Henry dead.

Well. That was a thing that happened.

"What have I done?" Rene weeps. "You killed him," Henry says aloud. Rene looks at Henry now and, without the slightest trace of alarm, says, "Yeah, I did. Who the Hell are you?" Henry convinces her that he is a helpful neighbor and can dispose of Harry's body. She happily shoves Harry out the window to Henry. Except we next see Henry dragging the corpse into his bedroom with Rene in tow, wearing such a flimsy negligee that even her clearly fake breasts won't stay in for more than a matter of seconds. Apparently Henry told her about Adam on the way (!) and Adam happily greets her and then eats her dead husband.

Rene reacts by pouncing on Henry (!) and pulling off his sweater to reveal an even uglier sweater benea--oh God that's not a sweater. And here we discover that Henry didn't bother to mention Eve to Rene, because after she strips naked she walks right over to Eve and while Henry is stripping down to black socks. red briefs, and a white undershirt (Gah! My eyes!), Eve promptly devours Rene. Having been deprived of his only chance at a woman who would willing bone him, Henry goes to grab the gun--but returning to his room to find that Eve has given birth to lots of baby plants (all which are already in pots!) causes him to react in joy (!) and cradle the plants lovingly.

Cut to the florist, tied up and gagged in plain view as Henry gives away the baby plants for free to anyone who will take them. And we end with footage of the city and the sound of the plants eating and eating. Cue "THE END????" card.

You know, the original film of The Little Shop of Horrors doesn't end with the implication that Audrey Junior is going to take over the world after it eats Seymour, as in the musical (and the Director's Cut of the movie version of the musical). This film does end with that implication. I really hope that was a coincidence.

Though I'm really glad the musical version didn't exist yet. Had this film tried to be a musical it surely would have been even worse.

Really, though, this one fails on every level. Nobody who came to this film for the titillation factor is going to want to sit through all the painfully unfunny comedy (though I will admit there is a funny gag about Eve wanting to eat an elephant), and the sex scenes are pretty much as unerotic as you can get. There's a saying that if you watch five minutes of pornography, you want to have sex right now; but if you watch ten minutes of it you never want to have sex again. Well, that goes double for softcore porn like this. I strongly advise not watching it with anyone you intend to have sex with afterwards because it will kill the mood almost as thoroughly as realizing that the performers in something truly obscene that you're watching are your parents.

I honestly can't even say who the audience for this could be, beyond those who are just drawn to the world of sexploitation films regardless of quality. Maybe in 1973 it was hot stuff, but you can color me skeptical even on that score.

The sad thing is that this doesn't even rank in the top ten worst films that I've ever seen. Contemplate that on the Tree of Woe. And don't you dare try to hump the tree, you "preevert"!

Thus concludes day 16 of HubrisWeen. Check out the other "P" reviews by clicking the banner above.

Ya preevert.

Monday, October 20, 2014

HubrisWeen, Day 15: Oculus (2014)

One of the curious aspects of human nature is that, if there is a rational explanation and a supernatural one—we tend to prefer the supernatural one. Surely humanity is not capable of such evil: the devil must have influenced us! That man couldn’t have killed his whole family because he was a cruel sadist: he was influenced by a demon!

It’s no doubt because supernatural evil is more comforting. It allows us to believe that humanity itself is basically good, but we are vulnerable to outside sources of evil.

Much as we would like to believe that outside evil exists, when it comes time to put that into practice our faith tends to vaporize—particularly in the legal system. A man claiming on the stand that he was possessed by a demon when he murdered three children is, at best, going to be seen as attempting an insanity plea. After all, a criminal case requires evidence and supernatural evil conveniently does not leave any.

So when ten-year-old Tim Russell (Garrett Ryan) shot and killed his father, Alan (Rory Cochrane), in defense of himself and his 13-year-old sister, Kaylie (Annalise Basso), it’s no surprise that his version of the events was concluded to be a psychological defense mechanism. Tim was committed until his 21st birthday and his sister was left to the foster system.

Tim (now Brenton Thwaites) has made impressive strides in accepting the reality of what happened over the intervening eleven years. When he tells Dr. Graham (Miguel Sandoval) about his recurring dreams about the night he killed his father, he reveals that lately the dream has changed. Now, after Tim and his sister flee from their gun-wielding father, only to run afoul of a spectral woman with silvery eyes (Kate Siegel)—the figure that then corners them with the gun is no longer their father, but Tim himself.

Dr. Graham concludes that this means Tim has finally accepted his responsibility. He recommends that Tim be discharged, and so he is. However, Dr. Graham warns Tim that reuniting with is sister may be a mixed blessing. Kaylie hasn’t had the same psychological treatment for the past decade, so she has had to deal with the tragedy in a different way. Dr. Graham encourages Tim to work on repairing the bond with his sister, but to be protective of his own recovery.

Speak of the Devil, Kaylie (Karen Gillan, sadly sporting an American accent—albeit a very good one) is meeting her fiancĂ©, Michael (James Lafferty), at the auction house they both work for. Up for auction today is a rather sinister-looking antique mirror, and Kaylie eyes it with apprehension. When it’s sold, she seems to relax and then says goodbye to her fiancĂ© so she can go pick up Tim.

It isn’t long after the two get caught up over dinner that Kaylie reveals she’s not just eager to have her brother back. See, she’s finally found it, and she reminds Tim of the promise they made in the wake of their parents’ deaths to kill it when they were older.

Oh yes, Alan Russell was not a single father when his son killed him in self-defense, or at least not up until right before his death. The movie actually begins to tell two different stories at this point, interwoven.—the present and the events leading up to the deaths of their parents.

In 2002, Alan and Marie (Katee Sackhoff), moved into a new home with their two children. Evidently, this was part of a push for a new business Alan was to be running out of this new home. Precisely what this business was is never fully elaborated on, but Alan felt it justified sprucing up his home office—by hanging a familiar antique mirror on the wall.

The mirror is what Kaylie is so excited to kill, naturally. She made sure that the auction house purchased the mirror for sale and—under pretense of having the crack in the mirror’s glass repaired—she has smuggled it into their old house. Tim doesn’t know this when he agrees to meet her there, and thus finds that she has set up a full paranormal battleground in their father’s old office. She has banks of cameras hooked to computers, thermostats, alarm clocks to ensure that Tim and Kaylie eat and hydrate regularly, dozens of houseplants, a Boston terrier in a kennel to serve as a guinea pig, and—most importantly—a “kill switch.” Said kill switch is a boat anchor suspended from the ceiling, weighed down by barbells, and triggered by a kitchen timer. No electricity is involved, Kaylie emphasizes: the mirror is placed in the path of this makeshift pendulum. If it wants to survive, it has to keep them alive to reset the timer.

"On a very special episode of Antiques Roadshow, we determine if your family heirloom is housing a malevolent entity."
Kaylie begins by addressing the cameras to give backstory on the dreaded mirror. No one knows where it came from originally, but everywhere it has gone, calamity has followed. People have died of dehydration in their bathtubs, murdered their children, or committed suicide. Everywhere it has hung, plants have died and pets have gone missing. And, in 2002, the Russells were the last family to own it—months before Alan Russell tortured and killed Marie Russell before being shot by his son in self-defense.

This is where Tim explodes. He was, effectively, heckling Kaylie throughout her presentation to the cameras by pointing out that none of this was conclusive evidence of an evil mirror—but bringing it back home and threatening his own recovery is too much. While Kaylie may still cling to the idea of an evil mirror influencing their father’s behavior, Tim has long since come to terms with the fact that their parents had a bad marriage and as a result their father was having an affair and, at some point, he turned violent and sadistic.

The two siblings argue loudly and violently. Kaylie remembers their dog mysteriously disappearing after being locked in the office with the mirror, but Tim counters that the dog fell ill and was taken to be put down. The spectral woman Kaylie saw whispering to their father in his office was just his mistress, and all their plants died because of water problems. After Kaylie essentially attempts to feed the Boston terrier to the mirror, Tim has had enough and lets the dog go. Kaylie tries to stop him, but is too late and the dog has already fled far off down the street.

This takes the two out of the room for only a few minutes, but when they return all the cameras have been moved face-to-face and all the plants are dead. When Kaylie pulls up the footage from a third camera, the two watch themselves move the cameras around while obliviously carrying on with their argument. This is too much for Tim and he rushes outside and dials Dr. Graham, desperately seeking help interpreting this event...

...only for Kaylie to suddenly shake him out of a stupor, sitting on the floor outside the old office. Tim never left the house, he just thought he did. The mirror wanted him to think that. Kaylie is triumphant, since it's pretty clear that there is no rational explanation for what just happened. The mirror is evil and it shall be destroyed.

Except how do you destroy something that can make you completely unable to trust any of your senses?

Mirrors are, without question, one of those completely innocuous parts of life that are also somehow intensely creepy. We've all had some moment where we expected the face in the mirror to move of its own accord, right? Well, what would you do if it did?

Oculus taps into that irrational fear quite nicely and, what's more, it's actually a very intelligent film. That's especially surprising given you don't expect an intelligent horror film to have the "WWE Studios" logo before it!
Sorry, nobody tries to suplex the mirror.
Yet that's what we get. It sets up its rules and it plays fair by them--though the brilliance of its rules is that they amount to, "This mirror is evil and can make you believe anything it wants you to, and it can make you do anything it wants you to." With such broad rules in place, it's hard to mess up and suddenly have the mirror do something it explicitly was said that it cannot.

The film's intelligence also lies in the fact that, for a good third of its running time, it is a two-person play where Kaylie and Tim argue back and forth about what exactly happened to their family--even using conflicting versions of the same flashback to illustrate their points. Both are convincing in their own way, though naturally it is Kaylie's version of events that wins out.

Personally, I feel that is the film's greatest weakness. We all know that the mirror must be actually evil, of course, but it would have been nice to maintain some doubt for a bit longer. I really enjoyed the interplay between the supernatural and the rational.

So how does Oculus compare to the average modern horror flick? Like its brethren it does tend to rely overmuch on loud noises and jump scares, but they never feel cheap. Far better is that it relies on fostering doubt in its audience about what is really happening.

When Kaylie set down that light bulb and that apple, which one did she really bite into? When they're outside, looking in at themselves standing between the mirror and the anchor, are they really? Is the person Kaylie killed, thinking they were a projection of the mirror, actually there? Some of these questions are answered, some aren't--and others maybe we only thought were answered. How could we ever know for sure?

For my own part, I enjoyed the film. That its focus was mainly on two people in one room, with flashbacks to illustrate the story of their first encounter with the mirror whilst they confront it again, really helps to build interest in the characters instead of making them just expendable meat. And everyone in the film puts in great performances, including the child actors in the flashbacks.

Is Oculus an instant horror classic? I wouldn't go that far. I don't think it's an especially memorable film, ultimately. It gets under your skin while you watch it, but it doesn't really stay with you. it's also not something I'm eager to watch again and again. However, it's a great movie for an afternoon or evening of ghost stories. I would recommend it, just maybe not as enthusiastically as some other horror movies.

I highly caution against watching it around mirrors, though. Don't give those bastards any ideas.

Hey, we've made it to day 15! Click on the banner above to see what everyone else chose.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

HubrisWeen, Day 14: The Nest (1988)

Nobody likes cockroaches. Or, at least, nobody likes the common American, German, Asian, and Oriental "pest" varieties. Madagascar hissing cockroaches are actually pretty neat, in my opinion, but then again they aren't likely to be found soiling the food in your pantry.

On the whole, however, cockroaches aren't directly dangerous. Their menace lies in their ability to ruin food, spread disease, and trigger allergies and asthma--these are all terrifying things in actuality, but if a healthy adult found themself suddenly swarmed by hundreds or thousands of cockroaches, they'd come out the other side wanting for a serious scrubdown with anti-microbial soap but otherwise probably very much alive and extremely grossed out.

What if that changed? What if cockroaches suddenly decided that humans were more tempting morsels than our insufficiently secured food? We can't even keep the little bastards out of our homes when all they want is our cereal: if they started gunning for us, we wouldn't stand a chance!

The island community of North Port, California is gearing up for tourist season, which is about the only time anything of interest happens there. Sheriff Richard Tarbell (Frank Luz) is rudely awakened by his dispatch operator radioing him to inform him that a local and a tourist girl are missing. They went missing by the old lighthouse, which seems to be a common place to lose young folk. Oh, and the guard dog at the INTEC Development site is causing complaints again. Tarbell is more concerned with the live cockroach he finds swimming in his coffee, but is unable to flag down the local eccentric exterminator, Homer (Stephen Davies) as the man whizzes past Tarbell's house on his motorbike. So any fumigation will have to wait.

Tarbell stops by the local diner to get a refill on his coffee and a good morning kiss from his girlfriend, Lillian (Nancy Morgan), who runs the place. The gossip in the diner is both about an increase in pests for everyone, and that mayor Elias Johnson's (Robert Lansing) birthday is coming up. And that could mean a homecoming for his estranged daughter, Elizabeth (Lisa Langlois). Not a prospect that Tarbell or Lillian seems thrilled by.

Tarbell goes to the lighthouse, intending to investigate the disappearances when he hears a loud buzzing, like a horde of insects. He goes to investigate--and is ambushed by Jake (Jack Collins), Lillian's father and resident wacky old coot. Tarbell has some words with Jake about not ambushing a police officer who carries a gun, and then asks Jake how quickly he got to the lighthouse when Tarbell saw him outside the diner earlier. Turns out it was because Jake indulged in one of his kooky old man habits of stealing someone's motor raft. Tarbell promises to overlook it if Jake takes it back at once, but is completely flummoxed when Jake asks if Tarbell is gonna marry his daughter. He manages to dodge the old man's question.

The answer, obviously, is no. This is plainly clear when Elizabeth arrives and Tarbell goes to pick her up from the landing strip North Port calls an airport. You see, the two of them were involved before she left after her mother's death. And Tarbell is just the kind of schmuck to date another woman whilst obsessing over an ex.

Tarbell doesn't immediately try to woo Elizabeth again, for what it's worth. He drops her off at home after some rueful words about four years and all that. Elias and Elizabeth are not exactly eager to see each other either. There's some terse discussion about her mother's things being moved to the basement, and all in all it's a pretty unwelcoming return.

Things are about to get worse for everyone, as Elizabeth finds out when she goes hiking by the INTEC Development. She's nearly mauled by the guard dog, and then finds an old favorite stomping ground further down the trail has been fenced off. Luckily for her, she's too far away from where the dog is chained up when that buzzing comes again. Whatever's making the sound terrifies the dog, but it can't escape...

When Elizabeth responds to the dog's cries of distress, she finds it has been stripped almost completely to the bone by the time she can run back to it. Tarbell appears and the two share some terribly ADR'ed dialogue about the state of the dog. Tarbell notices the dog is covered with some strange pellet-like objects. He and Elizabeth notify Elias about the dog but, since it happened on INTEC property, Elias insists that they be allowed to do their own investigation. It turns out he has a good reason for wanting INTEC to look into it, as he calls someone as soon as Tarbell and his daughter are out of earshot to tell them that what they feared might happen is happening.

Tarbell finds a lot more weird stuff is happening in the town itself. Mrs. Pennington (Diana Bellamy), the librarian insists that vandals have torn every page out of the books. When Tarbell examines one book, he points out that it was actually either insects or rodents chewing the glue out of the binding. Mrs. Pennington is less convinced, because how could the glue in every book have been eaten overnight? At the local grocer, Tarbell is shown a packaged T-Bone steak that has been stripped clean and told that every piece of meat in the store is like that. Tarbell notices that more of those pellets are in the packages, too.

That night, Jake gets to find out what's going on when he's shooting at a rat in his junkyard. He keeps missing, but then the rat's severed head lands at his feet--bitten off. As the buzzing surrounds him, Jake proves just how kooky he is by deciding that hiding under the covers is enough to protect him. The spurts of blood, his screams, and his severed arm being dragged away by something unseen prove that to have been a mistake.

INTEC's expert arrives, Dr. Morgan Hubbard (Terri Treas). Elias greets her at the airport and then, ugh, begins trying to talk her into dinner sometime. Hubbard is far more interested in examining the dead dog. Tarbell is immediately put off by the woman's "emotionless" reaction to the dead carcass. I say "emotionless" because despite the hints that Hubbard is supposed to be somehow robotic,, she has plenty of emotion: she just expresses it in standard mad scientist ways.

For instance, once they've found an excuse to get rid of Tarbell, she finds great amusement in using a stray cat as live bait in her trap while a homing signal calls to what she's looking for. The cat suffers the same fate as the guard dog, but now she has the specimens she needed to study in her impromptu lab in the old lighthouse--carnivorous cockroaches. In studying the cockroaches, Hubbard almost takes glee in having the little bastards maul her hand when she's examining them in a glove box. And the dialogue between her and Elias spells out quite clearly what we won't actually be told until much later.

These carnivorous roaches were, as in Guillermo Del Toro's Mimic, genetically engineered to eat regular roaches. INTEC bought some property from Elias to test the roaches out and they were engineered to die after one generation. Trouble is, they thrived. Worse, Hubbard quickly discovers that while the roaches will succumb to a specific poison gas but the amount required is lethal to humans. If they can't find another way, they'll have to evacuate the island.

Tarbell begins to catch up. He has Homer examine the strange pellets and finds out they're roach droppings, but big ones. And then the dispatch operator delivers the info that Tarbell had asked for about Hubbard--she was kicked out of MIT for illegal experimentation. Things get even weirder when Elizabeth goes to investigate the INTEC property and finds Bronson Canyon. It's been fenced off but she finds a way in and finds dynamite and a timed detonator, strange bulbous pods hanging from the ceiling, and is chased out of the cave by a horde of cockroaches. She only heard them, however, so Elias is able to keep his secret a bit longer while trying to evade Tarbell's questioning.

Tarbell takes Elizabeth back home to his place and, off camera, the two sleep together. All this while Tarbell's actual girlfriend--who had earlier strongly suggested that Elizabeth stay away from her man--is fighting for her life against the horde of cockroaches that ate the fry cook before swarming the diner (all set to "La Cucaracha," naturally). Tarbell--Asshole,

Everyone in town is having a bad night. Homer finds Jake's remains and the roaches still chewing on them, but escapes with his life. Mrs. Pennington gets eaten when the roaches crawl into the cast on her broken leg, The local grocer is attacked while driving and--in footage cribbed from Humanoids From The Deep, he drives his truck off a bridge and it blows up. And then Homer manages to blow up his house while making a poison cocktail to kill the super roaches--also via footage from Humanoids From The Deep.

Elias, seeing that the shit may be hitting the fan soon, calls INTEC and demands that they send someone to spray the island with the poison at 5AM. If he cannot evacuate the island, he light the lighthouse and that will be the signal to abort the spray. Unfortunately, the roaches get into the phone lines about then. So when Elias radios Hubbard to tell her, he finds out that she has already discovered that the eggs laid by the roaches killed by the poison are immune to it. So spraying the island will just kill off some of the roaches, leaving only those that are immune to breed.


Tarbell drops Elizabeth at home and heads to the dispatch station--finding the operator has been devoured. He rushes to the diner, where he finds Lillian in the freezer, dead. Apparently she froze to death hiding in there from the roaches while Tarbell was fucking around on her with Elizabeth. Asshole. Tarbell also finds Homer and the two overhear on the radio that Hubbard can't get the signal lit. They head to the lighthouse and try to get some answers from Hubbard, who manages to convince them of the importance of getting the lighthouse lit.

Of course, it's no longer that simple. You see, there's a cocoon in the cage where the dead cat used to be. And when it hatches, the group in the lighthouse discovers that the roaches have developed a completely new mutation: they take on the form of their prey

That's right: Zombie Cat Roach!

Only slightly more evil than an actual cat.
So now not only do they have the roaches to contend with, but their victims, too. Good luck surviving all that and getting the lighthouse to work.

And that Eleventh Hour revelation is why I love movies like The Nest. There was nothing wrong with its "horde of carnivorous cockroaches" premise--aside from it lacking any of the giant roaches represented on the poster--but the film decided to break off in an entirely different direction in the last few minutes. That it didn't even care if the revelation makes sense is even better. Alas, I have not read the source novel by Eli Cantor (under pseudonym Gregory A. Douglas) so I can't confirm if it hails from there or was invented for the film. I would put money on the latter.

Now, to be fair, nothing is really made of this revelation considering the implications. Considering it's strongly implied the entire town has been eaten by the roaches, imagine the characters having to face down the roaches and all their zombie roach victims. Instead, no doubt owing to budget, it turns out the roaches have a Queen that appears to be composed of all their victims. And Homer figures out the Queen is calling the roaches back to the nest, even though he ought to know roaches don't normally have Queens.

I will let that slide on account of the fact that the Queen is awesome.

"Get away from her you bi-- Er, on second thought you can have her. Have all of them, just please don't touch me. Gah!"
Aside from that, the film is definitely very standard. Its characters could have come off a conveyor belt. You have your unscrupulous politician/capitalist who dooms his community--though, hilariously, the implied Jaws ripoff of having a local festival attacked never materializes--and the unethical scientist who created the monsters, both of whom meet their end at the hands of their hubris.

Much like me and HubrisWeen, but with more legs.

The other main characters are the hero cop who won't stop investigating, the old flame who returns, and the comic relief exterminator. You've seen them all before and since, many times. Though usually hero cop is less of a cheating asshole. Seriously, what a lousy douchebag.

The film is surprisingly light on the expected exploitation elements, too. Oh, sure, there's buckets of gore--but there's zero nudity. It rather reminds you of Roger Corman's current output, pre-packaged for TV exhibition on channels where you can tear women apart in graphical detail but you can't show their nipples, than what he was still producing in the 1980s. (Though it was Julie Corman whose name is on this one as producer, it still counts since it was his production company)

Then again, that could describe another Corman production so I suppose the change has been a long time coming.

Mind you, not having sleazy scenes for those in the audience who swing towards women to leer at is hardly a criticism of the film. Merely a curious observation. Certainly, I enjoy the film enough for it to have a place in my collection, but that doesn't necessarily mean a movie is good.

And The Nest is definitely "not exactly good." It certainly hits a lot of the right notes and has a sense of humor--Lillian killing cockroaches to "La Cucaracha", as earlier mentioned--that helps to keep it from taking itself too seriously. Unfortunately, that sense of humor is sometimes full of jokes so stale it's amazing the script wasn't devoured by roaches, and all of them center around Homer. Comic relief characters in movies are almost always the characters you wish death upon who won't die, and while Homer never quite gets that bad he comes dangerously close.

If you enjoy B-Movies, you'll like this one. If you expect your horror films to be truly good, look elsewhere. The Nest is a delightful time waster, but it has very little else to offer.

Other than Zombie Cat Roach: you won't see that one anywhere else.

This concludes HubrisWeen, day 14. Click the banner to find out what else is in store for you.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

HubrisWeen, Day 13: Matango, Fungus of Terror (1963)

[aka, Attack of the Mushroom People]

So many horror stories deal with monsters that are out to eat you, but there aren't very many that deal with something that might not seem as frightening at first glance: the monster that wants you to eat it.

When you consider how many examples in nature there are of horrifying parasites that trick their hosts into ingesting them so they can slowly destroy them from the inside, it's kind of surprising that more horror writers haven't exploited this angle.

Luckily, Ishiro Honda's second attempt at what could be considered a traditional horror movie focuses on just that. Adapting the short story "The Voice In The Night" by William Hope Hodgson--which I have not read--Honda delivers a horror even more effective than The H-Man. You could even argue that it is the equivalent of the Ryujin Maru II segment of that film expanded to feature length.

The film begins, much like The Alligator People and Equinox, with the lone survivor of the film's events telling the film's story via flashback. In this case, it's University Professor Kenji Murai (Akira Kubo, the man who seems to have had a lead in nearly every big sci-fi film that Toho released in the 1960s), who is pacing his cell in a Tokyo psychiatric ward. He knows the audience of doctors staring at him through the bars won't believe him, but he swears his story is completely true.

And then we jarringly cut to the opening credits where composer Sadao Bekku's jaunty theme music proves even more mismatched to the dark material than Masaru Sato's in the The H-Man. The credits roll over footage of a yacht at sea, which will turn out to contain Kenji and his timid student girlfriend, Akiko Soma (Miki Yashiro); famous singer and femme fatale, Mami Sekiguchi (Kumi Mizuno!); mystery writer and not-so secret lover of Mami's, Etsuro Yoshida (Hiroshi Tachikawa); Mami's official lover and yacht owner, Masabumi Kasai (Yoshio Tsuchiya); skipper Naoyuki Sakuda (Hiroshi Koizuma); and Naoyuki's first mate, Senzo Koyama (Kenji Sahara!). Right away it's importat to note that everyone in the group is wearing a gaudy gold medallion--except for Senzo, which automatically sets the sailor apart from the group of friends.

The group, clearly having rather a low opinion of life in Japan, have set up their little sailing vacation to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. But as Mami strums her ukulele and sings a song that continues to have a ukulele part even after she puts hers down to dance across the deck, a horrible storm whips up. There may be no giant lobster to destroy their yacht, but they still end up adrift and at the mercy of the ocean currents.

It doesn't take long before the group are sniping at each other, especially after listening to a news report on their yacht's disappearance saps the last of their radio's battery. There's the typical alpha male posturing even this early on, and Senzo lecherously musing about how women are bad luck on boats because they distract the men. And Yoshida raises a false alarm after hallucinating a ghost ship running them down. Clearly low food and water is taking its toll.

The sight of an island, then, is a welcome one. Except the island--a beautiful yet foreboding place with black, volcanic sands and lush vegetation, but surrounded by fog--appears deserted at first. However, while fetching fresh water, Senzo observes that the stones in the stream have been deliberately rearranged. It isn't long before the group finds a ship that's run aground on the other side of the island, but Naoyuki dims their spirits by pointing out the sails on the wreck are rotted. It's been there at least a year based on that and the corrosion of its metal hull.

Inside, the ship is absolutely coated with mold of all colors--including a blood-red variety in the captain's cabin, where Kenji retrieves the log book. The group finds a lab in the ship, full of strange specimens like a sea turtle with no eyes--mutations caused by radiation. The shelves with the specimens are clear of fungi, so Naoyuki realizes they must have been disinfected somehow. There's some disinfectant fluid in jugs next to a locker labelled "Matango" in English--or at least modern Latin characters. Inside the locker is a giant mushroom, but no one really wants to hazard a guess as to whether it's edible.

Lucky thing that Kasai finds Senzo and Yoshida in the hold, helping themselves to canned food. The group works to scrub the ship's interior clean of mold and make the place livable for as long as necessary. Kenji is particularly unnerved by the ship, as it does not appear to have any distinct nationality--there are items from communist and democratic countries, and even Western and Japanese. It seems to have been on some secret mission, though whether benevolent or sinister is anybody's guess. At any rate, the log book strongly suggests that no matter what they should not eat the mushrooms that grow freely on the island. The crew of the derelict apparently went mad after ingesting them.

Unfortunately, the canned food will only last them a week. So they'll have to find other food by hunting, fishing, or foraging for edible roots and sea turtle eggs. Despite Kasai's efforts to clean the rifle found in the captain's cabin, there seems to be no animal life on the island--and, in fact, while hunting he and Kenji see a sea gull immediately change direction when approaching the island, taking it out range of the rifle. It couldn't have seen them from that distance, and yet something warned it off. Worse, Kenji and Kasai see something moving in the forest--something with a bulbous head and a vaguely humanoid body. Kasai puts three bullets into the figure, but there's no evidence of the thing when the two approach its last position. Other than the shattered chunks of mushroom they fail to notice, that is.

When Naoyuki and Senzo bring the yacht around to anchor it closer to the derelict for repairs, they discover that the water close to shore is riddled with sunken wrecks. The current around the island must trap ships, and worse the ever-present fog means no nearby ship would see them. And then Senzo finds Yoshida and Mami making out--and I do mean making out, something I don't think I've seen in any other Japanese sci-fi or monster film--and the two men fight because Senzo thought everyone had agreed to leave the women alone. Mami is positively delighted by the men fighting over her ("Everybody wants me," she tells Akiko haughtily), but it's the last thing anyone needs. Things look pretty dire even before one night, while Kasai is stealing food from the hold, something seems to attack him. Kasai and the others take shelter in the bunks, but the hatch opens--and a misshapen face that looks to have once been human glares in at them.

The next day, no one wants to acknowledge what they saw. Yoshida has been eating the mushrooms on the island and he grabs the rifle and threatens to kill the others if he doesn't get his way. They manage to overpower him and lock him in the captain's cabin, but that's the breaking point. Naoyuki steals all the remaining supplies, including the extra turtle eggs Senzo had been hiding in a cave, and sets sail with the now-functioning yacht. Mami lets Yoshida out and helps him as he uses the rifle to threaten Kenji and Kasai, while demanding Akiko be his. Senzo returns to the derelict just in time to take three bullets from the crazed Yoshida, but that allows Kasai and Kenji to take back the rifle. Kasai banishes Yoshida and Kasai to the wilds of the island to feed on the mushrooms to their hearts' content.

The yacht returns, but Kenji finds that it is deserted--the only sign of Naoyuki being a suicide note the skipper scrawled on the wall of the cabin before throwing himself overboard. Kasai wanders away from the derelict and runs into Mami, who explains she's not hungry anymore. She lures him into a cavern filled with mushrooms and coaxes him to eat them. Kasai relents and has a vivid hallucination of neon signs and show girls. When he comes down and reaches for more mushrooms, Mami tells him that she should have warned him--once you eat the mushrooms, you become a mushroom.

The sound of unnatural laughter fills the cavern as Kasai realizes that Mami's skin has taken on a decidedly unnatural tint. He sees Yoshida, laughing and waving despite his deformed face. And worse, humanoid mushrooms rise up all around him. The laughter grows louder as the mushroom creatures surround Kasai. You see, not only are the mushrooms addictive, but they're very determined to be eaten by anyone who comes to the island--and they won't take no for an answer.
This has "after school special" written all over it.
Matango is one of those movies where you can't help but wonder if it inspired Night of the Living Dead or if they had similar inspirations. Both films deal with how a group of people in survival conditions fall apart and turn on each other, and the sequence of the deformed former crew of the derelict swarming the cabin to drag Akiko and Kasai to the mushroom cavern is highly zombie-like. There's even a severed arm from one of the transitional mushroom men! And both films have an incredibly misanthropic worldview.

What truly is amazing about the film is how well it sells its premise. The mushroom creatures should be goofy and laughable, but with the damned laughter that accompanies them they end up close to terrifying. The film is positively dripping with atmosphere, as well, from fog-shrouded shores, to derelict ships, and mushroom caverns.

The actors all turn in amazing performances, with the true standouts being Kenji Sahara as the sleazy sailor and Kumi Mizuno as the flagrant femme fatale. And the creature designs are marvelous, from the repulsive transitional humans to the full-on walking mushrooms.

Unlike Honda's previous horror effort, The H-Man, we don't waste time with characters not directly related to the main plot. There's no distraction from the monsters--especially since, like any zombie movie worth a crap, it may not be the mushrooms that are the real monsters.

See this, if you can. You won't regret it.

This concludes day 13 of HubrisWeen! Check out what the other maniacs chose for their M movie by clicking the banner above.

Friday, October 17, 2014

HubrisWeen, Day 12: Legend of Dinosaurs & Monster Birds (1977)

When it comes to Jaws rip-offs, nearly every country with a film industry got their chance to make one. And virtually every country that did made sure to make it as unique as possible instead of just making another killer shark film.

Yet there were surprisingly few who went, "You know what would be a great stand-in for a shark? Dinosaurs."

Well, sort of. Pop culture considers anything scaly and prehistoric a "dinosaur," but there are in fact no dinosaurs in this film. There are no "monster birds" for that matter. The monsters in this film are a plesiosaurus (not a dinosaur, but a reptile) and a Rhamphorynchus (not a bird, but also a reptile). Both of which are, as per movie tradition, way bigger than the actual animals in question were.

Yes, I'm a nerd. I think we've fully established that by now.

This film is also damned weird, and we get a taste of that weirdness immediately. A woman is wandering in the woods at the foot of Mt. Fuji, near Lake Sai. We never will find out why, but she is carrying a gun and seems suitably freaked out. She's even more freaked out when she suddenly falls into a hidden cavern full of ice and several fossil eggs. One of those eggs begins to hatch, and the terrified woman goes to investigate--only to recoil in screaming terror when a slimy eye inside the egg looks back. The woman somehow stumbles out of the hidden cave and runs into a group of construction workers before passing out and being taken to a local hospital.

In an airport lounge, the TV station is tuned to a news report about the various strange things happening in the world in 1977, no doubt as a result of man's misdeeds. After reporting an unseasonable snow storm in Hokkaido, the news reports that a woman reported finding a "stone egg" near Lake Sai before being rushed to a hospital. Apparently a "stone egg" is not a usual occurrence since everyone in the lounge is shocked--and Takashi Ashizawa (Tsunehiko Watase) especially takes note. Takashi, an archaeologist, cancels his flight to Mexico and heads to his office at Universal Stone Co, Ltd. in order to pack for a trip to Lake Sai, His boss barges in, demanding to know why Takashi has abandoned his business trip to Mexico. Takashi explains that his father, a paleontologist, found a "stone egg" (which I guess sounds cooler than "fossil egg") at Lake Sai and died after fruitlessly searching for others.

His boss reminds Takashi that he's a geologist, not a paleontologist, but Takashi just puts his cigarette out on the window pane and tells his boss he's going to Lake Sai even if it costs him his job. And, accompanied by the film's hilariously inappropriate 1970s jazz-disco soundtrack, he does just that.

Once there, he runs into some kooky locals who warn him that there are a lot of "long worms" about lately, by which they mean which they'll actually turn out to mean either caecillians or eels, I can't quite tell for certain. Takashi ignores them and heads out into woods to go searching for the fossil eggs--but a sudden earthquake knocks him out. He comes to underneath a stuffed crocodile, apparently having been brought to his father's old cabin by a family friend Shohei Muku (an actor whom neither Wikipedia nor IMDb want to credit). I like to think Shohei deliberately moved the crocodile above the bed just to fuck with Takashi,

Shohei and Takashi talk about his late father and Shohei brings out the fossil egg. Takashi muses that if you found a bunch of those you'd never have to worry about money for the rest of your life. I--I don't even know what to say to that, but apparently fossil eggs are worth more than diamonds in this universe. Shohei turns up his nose at that, saying he quite fossil hunting because too many people were only in it for the money (!) and he chides Takashi for being one of those. He also tells him not to get obsessed like his father. His father also apparently actually believed that there was a living dinosaur in Lake Sai for...some reason, so I'd say Takashi should listen to Shohei on this one.

Meanwhile, Akiko (Nobiko Sawa) and Junko (Tomoko Kiyoshima) are scuba diving in the lake, while their puppy waits in their raft. After they come ashore, Takashi stops his jeep to say hello to Akiko--the two having had a history. In Akiko's Winnebago, Takashi tries to make up for lost time--only to be interrupted when Akiko sees some of those "long worms" and recoils in horror.

Meanwhile, in a poorly shot sequence typical of this film, a couple out on the lake in a paddle boat is attacked and killed by something. We are shown this via a shot of log-like object floating towards them underwater--I have no idea if this is meant to be the Plesiosaur or not, but it sure looks nothing like it if it's supposed to be--followed by a close-up on a pen and paper on the shore as we hear their screams and splashing. A diver searching for the couple's bodies is later dragged out of the lake, apparently dead and bleeding from both eyes. It's at this point that Takashi begins to suspect his father may have been right.

He gets more confirmation that evening when poor Junko, out riding her bike with the puppy, suddenly loses control when the puppy tries to chase a loose horse that crossed their path into the woods. She follows the puppy and ends up falling in a mud puddle--right next to the headless horse. Takashi finds her and the horse, and reports the incident to the local authorities. However, the horse is gone by the time they get to the scene so they accuse Takashi of making it up to cause trouble right before the big dragon festival tomorrow. Takashi returns to the scene, finds a strange track that is definitely not a tire mark--and then discovers that the authorities missed the horse because it's now stuck in a tree.

Takashi is convinced this must mean a Plesiosaur is living in the lake. Shohei disagrees and thinks maybe it's a giant snake because that's...more believable? And at any rate, if a dinosaur were to be found alive that would mean the area would be hit with a category 5 earthquake. Wait...what?! I must have missed the part of science that tells us that the mere presence of a dinosaur causes earthquakes.

The lake's dragon festival begins with a concert where--horror of horrors--a Japanese country band is the main event. Akiko has been learning about the history of the lake, and how this festival is part of an old legend that spoke of a red-eyed dragon that lives in the lake. A dragon that, naturally, parents in the area have long used as a threat to disobedient children. Well, apparently that dragon is no more a fan of country music than I am, for a dark object in the lake suddenly destroys the stage, and in the midst of the panic one oddly giddy onlooker, Jiro, points out to farther into the lake. Following his direction, the panicked onlookers see the fin of a monstrous fish--only for an astute little girl with binoculars to realize that the fin is made of cardboard and is being pushed along by two divers.

Jiro was in on the all-too-familiar prank, naturally. Everybody laughs it off and the concert resumes--NOOOOOOOOO--with only Takashi stopping to ask what destroyed the stage if the pranksters were hundreds of yards away? Well, Takashi's not there when the pranksters find out the answer. When Jiro goes to reunite with his co-conspirators, a windstorm whips up and suddenly a whirlpool forms around their raft and a huge, reptilian tail knocks one of them into the lake where he is pulled under. (The editor helpfully failing to cut before we see the doomed man's legs bend when he lands at the bottom of the pool used for filming) The other man is grabbed by the Plesiosaur and it taunts Jiro with the dead body of his comrade clutched in its jaws.

Which means that the filmmakers clearly walked out of Jaws with the feeling that it was a grave injustice that the two little punks with a cardboard fin didn't get eaten by the real shark and decided to rectify that.

Mmm, ironic death!
The Plesiosaur here, and throughout the film, is rendered via a full-size prop head to interact with actors and a miniature puppet. In some scenes, it might even be a man in a suit but I can't confirm that. Neither the prop head nor the puppet are especially good and we get many close-ups on them to fully determine that. Though, in all fairness, they're about on par with the dinosaurs from Amicus Studios' The Land That Time Forgot, so they're certainly not the worst I've seen. And I do have to give them credit, as the prop head and the puppet actually look pretty close to each other. Though the decision to cover the prop head in sea weed and what looks like lawn clippings was a bizarre one.

Anyways, a family of gaijin tourists happens to see and photograph the Plesiosaur swimming through the lake, so they're there to back up the panicked Jiro when he tries to persuade the local authorities that a dinosaur ate his friends. The gaijin tourist , who will later refer to "Lake Ness", insists that, "Nessie is in Lake Sai! This is big news!" (Quick, somebody call Werner Herzog!)

Well, near Lake Sai anyways. At a summer camp a young woman inside a cabin has just gotten into the shower--providing us with some brief nudity--when the lights go out. The woman goes to investigate, getting dressed as she goes, but not noticing the Plesiosaur peering in at her. This would be a much effective shot if the people responsible for it had any sense of scale. Per the film's trailer, the Plesiosaur is 24 meters long (about 79 feet), which is much bigger than the actual animal anyways--but in the shots through the window the creature must be Godzilla-sized. At any rate, rather than going after any of the campers outside or even smashing through the windows, the Plesiosaur smashes through the ceiling to get at its unsuspecting victim.

Meanwhile, Akiko is diving in the lake while Junko waits in the raft. Junko makes the mistake of dangling her feet in the water and...

Plesiosaurs, not having legs of their own, have always hated those who do.
The Plesiosaur lifts Junko high into the air, dangling her by her leg. The long shots for this are completely out of focus in an unsuccessful attempt to disguise the obvious doll hanging from the puppet's mouth. Eventually it drops her back into the water, but as she tries to swim for safety it suddenly comes beneath her. And then, for several minutes, the Plesiosaur stares at Junko, who stares at it while her blood billows into the water. Apparently Plesiosaurs loved to just watch their prey bleed to death.

So when Akiko comes back up, she is understandably confused as to where Junko has gone. Then she notices Junko's hand grasping the side of the raft, so Akiko laughingly grabs her friend's hand--and pulls her severed torso up into the raft.

It is Junko's death that finally spurs the authorities into action. The lake is thoroughly scoured by all the most advanced sonar equipment, to no avail. Eventually, the authorities give up again--though one crazy local accosts a member of the police with a picture of a Rhamphorynchus, reasoning that, "If there is a dinosaur in the lake, it might make sense that there was a pterodactyl, too!" Right.

Of course, he actually is right. Which Shohei discovers when he is hired as a guide by someone--maybe Mister Pterodactyl, I honestly couldn't tell you--and they discover the ice cave and the fossil eggs. Suddenly, a huge talon bursts out of one egg to grab Shohei's tourist and then the Rhamphorynchus sticks its beak out of another egg to grab Shohei.

No, I don't know how that works, either.

Takashi lets the air out of Akiko's air tanks to try and stop her from risking her life while he risks his, he slaps her around a bit, confesses he just wants to see the Plesiosaur once, and then we cut away from their uncomfortable love scene. Akiko waits on the shore while Takashi goes diving, which means she hears the warning that the government is about to drop depth charges into the lake but Takashi doesn't. So he gets stunned by the force of the blasts and Akiko has to rescue his dumb ass. The two swim up into an underwater cave, swimming past severed heads that float back and forth like jellyfish. Once in the cave they find the stone eggs that Takashi had earlier been so lusting after--and the severed limbs of Shohei and his hire.

Meanwhile, the mayor and the town's police are gathered and watching the lake to see if a dead Plesiosaur will float to the surface. But then they see the countryside is glowing, which somebody yells out means there's going to be an earthquake (!) just before someone else points out that the Rhamphorynchus is flying towards them. And thus the "monster bird" makes its move on the villagers set to music that is wildly inappropriate, even for this film.

Cue "Yakkity Sax."
Set to a funkadelic track that sounds like the opening theme of a swinging cop show, the Rhmaphorynchus carries one guy off and drops him to his death. The police hand out rifles and begin firing wildly at the creature, but somebody gave the village idiot a rifle and he manages to shoot the huge bundle of depth charges and kill everyone in the resulting explosion. So the Rhamphorynchus can't even take credit for that.

It goes without saying that the Rhamphorynchus--my favorite pterosaur--is ludicrously outsized here. Per the trailer it is 13 meters (about 43 feet) long, whereas the largest specimen ever found was no more than 5 feet in length. That makes it even more ridiculously outsized than the Plesiosaur! The effects for the Rhamphorynchus are largely just a puppet (with hilariously undersized wings), but they did make a full-scale talon as well. Again the puppet is about on par with the goofy output of Amicus, but I have to say the movie wins out over At The Earth's Core in that, like the Mahars in that film, this creature is supposed to be a giant Rhamphorynchus--but this creature actually looks like one.

Takashi and Akiko find their way out of the cave and promptly find the Plesioaur tooling around on dry land. It moves rather like a seal--and the way its flippers move makes me wonder if some shots were a man in a suit--and none too quickly. Yet it still quickly gains on the pair because Takashi insists on gawping at it until it's almost on top of them. It traps them in another cave when the Rhamphorynchus arrives and now it's time for the giant monster battle royale portion of the film.

"Hey, no fair! You don't taste like chicken at all!"
And here's where I have to take any compliments on the creature effects I made earlier away. Because hoo boy, this is one of the sorriest monster battles ever put to film. Imagine if you will, an excited 5-year-old bashing two plastic dinosaurs together whilst going, "Rar! Grr! Rawk!" You have now imagined a decent approximation of this film's fight. The two creatures literally just bump into each other over and over, not actually biting or scratching at all.

Eventually the Rhamphorynchus does succeed in pecking the Plesiosaur's eye out. However, apparently deciding that this nonsense has gone on long enough, Mt. Fuji erupts. The ground cracks open in multiple places and Akiko ends up danging from a tree over a pit of lava while Takashi tries to reach for her. The Rhamphorynchus is killed by a rain of fireballs and the Plesiosaur plummets into a crevasse. Takashi finally grabs Akiko's hand and-- The End.

No, we don't even find out if our "heroes" made it. Did they escape the lava or fall into it? Who cares? Certainly not the film.

Even reading my description, you probably are failing to understand just how damn weird this movie is. People's reactions and behaviors make no sense, there are non sequiturs aplenty, and the soundtrack is the most ludicrous thing you could think of. Most of the time it sounds like it was stolen from a porn flick. It is rarely, if ever, actually appropriate to what's happening on screen. If I didn't know better I'd think the film was some kind of parody of 70s films, or deliberately strange like House, which came out the same year.

No, I think this film was an earnest effort. Which is why it's so much fun, of course. Now, the film does have its share of dull moments, but when it is moving it is something else all together. If you love killer prehistoric reptiles, Jaws rip-offs, 1970s Japanese cinema, B-movies, or all of the above then you owe it to yourself to see this film.

If nothing else, the sequence of the Rhamphorynchus attacking people set to music that sounds like it could have come from The Visitor never gets old.

That concludes day 12. Go see what everyone else chose for L by clicking the banner above.