Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Super Inframan (1975)

I hate Ultraman.

Okay, hate is too strong a word. I am "Passionately Indifferent" to Ultraman. For no apparent reason I cannot bring myself to have an interest in Ultraman. I have watched precisely two episodes of Ultraman, and the second one only because its "monster" was just Godzilla with a frill on his neck.

No, no, it's "Jirass". Totally different monster!
So, yes, despite my love of giant monsters, Ultraman has no draw for me. Also, for no apparent reason, I am not drawn to Martial Arts films in general. Yes, I enjoy the ones I have watched, but as a whole it isn't a genre I seek out.

So, you can see why I was not immediately drawn to the Shaw Brothers-produced, Ultraman-style superhero film Inframan (aka Super Inframan). I had heard great things about it, but it was just not my thing. I had no real desire to track down a copy.

And then, I was talked into buying it. Nerd peer pressure is a very serious problem in our society. Happily, it usually ends in you finding something you didn't even know you were missing.

There is no way to logically explain the opening of this movie, so I'll merely summarize: A van or bus full of school kids is driving along a cliff-side highway when a dragon or pterosaur lands on the road in front of them. This causes an earthquake that cracks open the cliff. The driver is barely able to get all the kids off safely before he and the bus plunge off the cliff. And then a city somewhere erupts in flames.

No, I haven't the faintest clue how the two events are connected.

This series of bizarre catastrophes has, naturally, captured the attention of the Chinese government. Professor Chang (Hsieh Wang) rushes to the futuristic Science Headquarters, where everyone wears a silver jumpsuit, machines go "ping!" regularly, lights flash in sequence, and everything is powered by punch cards. There is dialogue back and forth about "monsters" so possibly we missed a scene where there was more than just the one dragon monster attacking stuff.

A dire report comes in that the extinct volcano "Mount Devil" has erupted and 10,000 people are dead. Then an earthquake hits the base. The Professor orders all scanning equipment to pointed at Mount Devil--and The Professor made the right call. Dirt and rock crumble away from Mount Devil to reveal a totally bitchin' dragon fortress. And then a gargoyle-like dragon appears on the bases's viewscreen, before morphing into a beautiful blonde Chinese woman dressed in what can best be described as viking dragon armor.

With all due apologies to the human race, I'm joining her side.
Our new beautiful overlord (Terry Lieu) introduces herself as Princess Dragon Mom--no, seriously--and advises that humanity must surrender at once or she will destroy us. This is our last warning. The Professor orders somebody to get a printout on Princess Dragon Mom and then asks for Rayma (Danny Lee, aka Li Hsui-Hsien) to be called. Rayma gets the call as he is manfully rescuing a baby from a burning building.

At a cabinet meeting, the presiding official delivers a truly immortal line of dialogue, "Gentlemen, the situation at this time is so serious that it's the worst in human history." It has been determined that the Princess and her monsters are not aliens, but rather prehistoric monsters. The Professor is ordered to find a way to defeat them.

Speak of the devil, at her super villainness lair Princess Dragon Mom is cracking the whip. Literally, her right hand looks like a Graboid tongue and has a long whip coming from its mouth that she uses to summon her creatures: her second-in-command, She-Demon (Dana Shun Shuk Yee), a woman in horned silver armor who has eyes in her palms; Nemesis, a toad-like monster with a drill for a hand; Plant Monster, a green tentacled monster who looks like a melted Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas; Spider Monster, who actually looks like a beetle man; Long-Haired Monster, a laser-powered witch demon with horns and, obviously, lots of long hair; Fire Dragon, a scaly humanoid, horned beast who spits fire; and the Iron Armor Monsters, two creatures with spring-loaded maces for arms and heads. She is also surrounded by her Skeleton Warriors. She announces with glee that it is now their turn to reclaim the Earth.

The Professor has a plan, however. He takes Rayma into his secret laboratory to show him his plans for Infra-Man, an indestructible cyborg soldier. Rayma immediately volunteers to become Infra-Man, despite the professor's warning that he will suffer and possibly die. The Professor picked an unfortunate time to begin the process of turning Rayma into a cyborg, as Princess Dragon Mom decides that Science Headquarters needs to be destroyed and she sends Nemesis and Plant Monster to do it. Nemesis first kidnaps one of the base's personnel, Chu Ming (Wen-wei Lin), and then Plant Monster buries himself under the cement outside the base--and then sends gigantic tendrils up out of the ground to attack the base.Which means the poor expendable bastards have to keep the base's power supply active during the monster's attack, or the Infra-Man process won't be completed and Rayma will die.

The process is a success and Infra-Man demonsstrates hhis power by...wrecking The Professor's lab. Ingrate. The Professor is delighted, though. Infra-Man can sense the monster fight going on and immediately flies to the rescue--whereupon in the vicinity cries out, "Infra-Man! It's Infra-Man! He's here!" Which is pretty impressive, given two minutes ago he was a top-secret project!

Infra-Man's senses allow him to find the Resident Evil-boss weakness of Plant Monster--a heart inside one of the giant tendrils--and blowing it up causes Plant Monster to return to his regular guy-in-a-suit self. Despite having an explosive acid spray and the ability to teleport (!), Plant Monster is laser-beamed to death by Infra-Man. Meanwhile, Princess Dragon Mom has She-Demon brainwash Chu Ming so he can be used against his comrades.

Back at Science Headquarters, The Professor tells Rayma that Infra-Man needs several upgrades to ensure he defeats the Princess and her monsters, leading to the immortal exchange, "For success it's essential that you have Thunderball Fists!" "I can have such a thing?" If you don't love the film before that exchange, you will after you hear that.

Chu Ming returns to the base looking suspiciously zombie-like, but other than The Professor advising he be watched, nobody seems to find anything odd about his return from capture. So Chu Ming is able to use his glowing eyes to overpower a guard and steal the professor's schematics for Infra-Man. Luckily, another guard catches Chu Ming in the act and pursues him--only to be waylaid by Spider Monster and the Skeleton Warriors. The ordinary human holds his own against the Spider Monster and the Skeleton Warriors pretty well until the monster spits a bomb at him that encases him in a web. Rayma shows up with several of the other base personnel in tow--but they're quickly webbed up and Rayma must turn into Infra-Man to take on the fiends.

The Long-Haired Monster shows up, but Infra-Man makes relatively quick work of it. This enrages Spider Monster, who grows to 50 feet in height. Not about to be beat that easily, Infra-Man pulls a Jet Jaguar and also grows to 50 feet in height. The two grapple, but after being tossed into a nearby transformer Spider Monster returns to his normal size and the still-giant Infra-Man stomps him like, well, a bug. Princess Dragon Mom is getting real sick of Infra-Man's shit, but a defect she discovers in the design of Infra-Man's hands could mean victory for the side of Prehistoric Evil.

Of course, unbeknownst to Princess Dragon Mom, Infra-Man's hands have just been upgraded--to Thunderball Fists!

You really can't undervalue how delightful this film is. For those of us entrenched in an age where even fucking Superman has to be a gritty, dark epic this film stands as a candy-colored testament to the fact that once upon a time a film could be about mutant monsters destroying the world with mention of thousands of casualties and still be light-hearted and fun. We have no scenes of Rayma agonizing over how being a super-powered cyborg has kept him from ever having a normal life. Instead, he is delighted at the idea of getting Thunderball firsts!

The film's budget certainly betrays it in a lot of ways. For instance, Spider Monster is clearly wearing shoes. However, they've clearly spread it around as much as possible. With a wide variety of nifty monsters with a wide variety of powers, awesome sets, and even a few exploding miniatures. There's no question that those involved in the film wanted to make it as entertaining as possible. And what entertainment the filmmakers didn't provide on their own comes courtesy of the dubbing. Normally I always recommend watching a film in its original language with subtitles, but the dubbing for this is such a delight.

To describe the film as episodic would be putting it lightly. If I didn't know better, I'd assume it was like Attack of the Super-Monsters and actually a bunch of TV show episodes edited together to make a movie. However, that really just adds to its charm. This film is an excitable 7-year-old describing their idea of what an awesome movie would be, and while that kind of film can sometimes be exhausting--as it was when I first saw Starcrash--there is something immensely endearing about it.

Quite frankly, if you can watch this film and not love it completely, then I don't know if I need your negativity in my life.

I had been working on this review off and on since I picked up the film, but with Sir Run Run Shaw, the film's producer, having passed away on January 7th, 2014, at the ripe old age of 106: I figured now was a great time to finish it up.

Farewell, good sir, as a producer you brought many forms of joy to the world. From Martial arts epics, to Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, to freaking Blade Runner--you had an indelible impact on the world of film. May flights of Thunderball Fists carry you to your well-earned rest.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Terror Within (1989)

So, the world ended.

It came as no great shock: I mean the world had a good run, but we all knew this was coming sooner or later, right?

Well, now all that's left for the measly remnants of the human race to do is to pick ourselves up and cling to the few places on earth not swamped with radiation and hunker down and try to survive as long as we can. It's a great time to try and hone your arts and crafts skills. Didn't you always want to learn how to crochet?

Of course, there are risks. Out in the wastelands there are other survivors who have decided it's better to be dicks to the only other humans on earth. And then there's the dinosaurs. Apparently they felt now was a swell time to come back and reclaim the Earth. Which is kind of awesome, in a way, but also--

What's that? No dinosaurs in this apocalypse? Are sure? I was pretty sure it was dinosaurs this time. Is it aliens? Dragons? Giant scorpions? Oh, please tell me it's at least not zombies because if it is I'll... Mutants, you say? Are we talking full monster mode or just a bunch of bald maniacs? Full on monster, you say? Eh, that's acceptable. I don't feel too cheated by fighting to the death with cool mutants.

I'd still prefer dinosaurs.

We open with two yahoos in military fatigues wandering in the desert by the Gorn Rock™. It is the future and humanity has been wiped out by some form of catastrophe. This pair of goombas is a scouting party, but as you can tell by my lack of interest in their names, they won't be around long. They're also shitty scouts, as they are apparently looking for food and supplies but walk right past a green iguana that's inexplicably wandering around in the desert and kill a rattlesnake instead. I'm pretty sure the iguana has just as much meat on it, if not more, and carries no risk of receiving a venomous bite when you kill it. But maybe one of them had an iguana as a kid and couldn't bear to kill one.

Or, you know, they're incompetent morons. Tomato, to-mah-to.

The two are scouting for supplies for the underground Mojave Lab facility (what the organization they belong to is is never made clear, but it may be a CDC lab based on the signage), and they radio back in to let Sue (Starr Andreeff) and David (Andrew Stevens), who are manning the radios, that they bagged some snake for supper but also spotted some vultures circling and are going to investigate to see if whatever has the vultures interested could still be fit for human consumption. The facility commander, Hal (George Kennedy!) wanders into the radio room as Sue and David are joking about the dire taste of their coffee substitute. After the three discuss the state of their supplies, David broaches the subject of heading for the Rocky Mountain Lab facility but Hal shoots him down, as they have not heard from the Rocky Mountains facility in weeks and it's 1800 miles away. This is clearly a conversation they've had before.

Before they can move on to the next part of this conversation, the two expendable idiots radio in about having run afoul of "gargoyles" before they're cut off in a series of screams and inhuman snarling. Hal orders David and Sue to rescue the other two, if possible. David stops to grab his adorable pit bull, Butch (Butch Stevens, which would suggest the dog actually belongs to Andrew Stevens), as backup. David, Sue, and Butch exit the facility's secret hatch hidden inside a shack on the surface. Hilariously, the hatch is at the top of a ladder and we never see how the hell they get Butch up. We see David and Sue exit the hatch on their own and Butch is suddenly with them in the next scene.

Well, pit bulls are magic.

Linda (Terri Treas) takes over the radio console with Hal to monitor David and Sue's progress. And I am instantly attracted to Linda, as I cannot resist a capable woman--especially not when she's a redhead with green eyes. We get our first hints here that David and Sue are a couple, but it's oddly played as if Hal doesn't know this, which seems unlikely. Hal splits his time between hovering over Linda and hovering over Brett--er, I mean Neil (Tommy Hinkley), one of the facility's repair technicians who is currently griping about the state of their equipment. Neil takes a break from his griping to drink some shine with Parker--er, I mean Andre (John Lafayette), while the two ponder whether it really was gargoyles and whether there's anybody left alive out there.

Sue and David kill time by referring to "the accident" that caused all this. Turns out it was some kind of genetically engineered virus that wiped out most of mankind, except those who received a vaccine. David and Sue find the mutilated bodies of the two scouts--and then the corpses of a group of human survivors, also mutilated. Curiously, while the group is composed of adults and children, the bodies are all males. Linda sees this as an opportunity to study the survivors' corpses and see how they managed to survive outside, with no vaccine. It's a bit unrealistic to expect Sue and David to lug bodies back across rocky desert terrain when the "gargoyles" that killed them are probably still around, so Linda volunteers to go out to study the bodies. Neil and Andre are pressured into accompanying her, as neither one has any interest in going outside.

However, Linda may get something better than an autopsy to find out how non-mutated humans have survived outside. Something lurking around the site of the massacre gets Butch's attention and he runs off after it. It turns out to be a woman (Yvonne Saa, who oddly resembles Gemma Arterton), who is scratched up and fleeing from a snarling, roving POV cam--which Butch helpfully waylays. David manages to almost kill the poor woman with his crossbow, but Sue is able to calm the survivor down and the trio hightail it back to the lab with Butch in tow. Back at the base, Linda starts to work examining the survivor immediately.

Unfortunately, multiple roving POV cams have followed them back to the base and take out the surveillance cams in the shack. David, Neil, and Andre rig up a periscope so they can go and manually assess the threat level and see if the cameras can be replaced--and during the making of the periscope, the film shamelessly copies the exchange about Brett being a parrot for Parker from Alien, which makes no real sense here. Well, they get their answer when a clawed hand wrenches the periscope from David's hands. With no hope of repairing the cameras, they lock the hatch and set up a microphone to monitor the gargoyles' activity.

Things are about to get worse, however. First, Linda determines that the survivor, who we now learn is named Karen, is pregnant. And that pregnancy goes from 3 months along to 7-8 in a single night. And David finally gets through to Rocky Mountain Lab, only to learn they're under gargoyle attack before the transmission cuts off. Hal orders Linda to terminate the pregnancy, but to keep the fetus alive for study if possible.

With Hal and Sue's help, Linda puts Karen under anesthesia. However, in the process of removing the fetus from Karen's womb, Linda discovers the fetus has teeth. And then the fetus--which does, admittedly, look like a gargoyle--rips its way out of Karen's body and escapes into the air vent. With no way to seal the air vents, except manually, the group rigs up a flamethrower and a portable laser. However, they have barely any fuel or battery, so there's little margin for error as they won't get more than three shots before the weapons are useless. David, Andre, and Butch search one level while Hal and Neil search another. Linda and Sue hole up in the control room, in the hopes that the gargoyle won't be able to use them for breeding purposes once it reaches its accelerated maturity.

As is typical of horror movies, the black guy gets it first when the fully mature gargoyle--an admittedly nifty man in a suit creation, though it is poorer for not taking more after the fetus it supposedly matured from--ambushes Andre and slashes his throat. David then gets slapped and clawed around for a bit, but Butch intervenes. Sue heard David's distress over the radio and quickly overpowers Linda and rushes to his level. Poor Butch has met his match with this gargoyle and is severely wounded--though not killed, which earns the film points with this pit bull lover--before the gargoyle takes off after David tries to call Butch with his dog whistle. Neil is ambushed by the gargoyle when he tries to take the elevator and killed. And then the gargoyle grabs Sue after she and David discover Neil's body.

Hal, Linda, and David track the gargoyle down to another level where they interrupt it in the process of raping Sue. Hal uses the laser to distract the beast while Linda and David rescue Sue. Unfortunately for Hal, he's the highest paid actor in the film, so the laser barely tickles the gargoyle. Exit Hal, in the slashing mutant claws of martyrdom.

When Linda examines Sue, she discovers that the poor woman is pregnant. Linda and David assume that it must be David's child, as there is no way the gargoyle could possibly have impregnated her that fast. They make the mistake of telling the still traumatized Sue the good news. Practically the moment Linda and David exit the room, Sue takes a set of surgical scissors to her own belly. The autopsy reveals that, impossibly, the fetus was a gargoyle--though, mercifully, this one didn't survive.

Now David and Linda are on their own. Butch is too weak to help them defend against the gargoyle, and the gargoyles topside are going to keep them from just fleeing the facility. They need to find a way to kill the beast before it kills them--or worse.

Well, this is surprisingly the first Roger Corman-produced film to grace this page. I feel rather ashamed. I will have to add more as soon as possible.

As I imagine I made clear already, this film is an Alien rip-off that showed up about ten years late to the party. It was by no means the first one that Corman produced, but it may be the one that most blatantly copies the plot of Alien. Now, obviously there are enough differences that it may not seem all that blatant. After all, the monsters are raping mutants, not parasitic aliens, and it's set in an underground base in a post-apocalyptic future instead of on a spaceship in the future. But the basic plot and even characters and elements of the story are right out of Ridley Scott's film.

As Corman-produced Alien rip-offs go, this is no Forbidden World. For one thing, it's rather less exploitative and your mileage may vary as to whether that's a mark for or against it. Sure, there's a rape scene--which Forbidden World doesn't really have--but it's played for horror rather than titillation. In fact there's no nudity anywhere in the film, which most certainly cannot be said of Forbidden World. And I have to say that, while I like this film's monster it has nothing on Forbidden World's bizarrely adorable monstrosity. This film also lacks the same sense of fun and sly humor as Forbidden World.

Oh, it tries--like having Linda say, "I'm a doctor, not an engineer"--but it's just ultimately lacking in comparison. So, then, that comparison is probably extremely unfair on my part. On its own terms, The Terror Within is a solid film. It's no classic, but it's an entertaining yarn. The actors all do solid work, even if their characters are mostly one-note. And Butch is adorable.

Ultimately, we go to see movies like this for the monster, though. And the film definitely delivers there. I find the fetuses--largely immobile as they are--to be much more effective than the full-grown gargoyle. However, it's a solid suit so I can see why it has been recycled in other low-budget monster movie efforts since. (Crystal Force and Watchers II, to name a few, as well as The Terror Within II) The only real problem with it is that the separation between the head and the body is glaringly obvious. I believe the creature's designer attempted to conceal this by adding a bunch of loose "flesh" to the beast's neck, but that somehow makes it worse. It looks like the monster is wearing an ascot.

But given we get a lot of good looks at the creature--including a great sequence where it demonstrates its incredibly powerful healing abilities--it holds up extremely well. And boy does it ever go out in a delightfully messy way.

Obviously, the film has its upsides (letting the dog live) and its downsides (being the umpteenth horror movie to kill off the black guy), but overall I'd say it's worth a spin. Don't expect anything on the level of the film it's aping and you won't be disappointed.

This has been part two of the TEOTWAWKI roundtable. We looked at how the world ended at the end of 2013, and now we're looking at the aftermath. Below you will find the other participants' entries. Go and check them out, won't you?

Checkpoint Telstar -- The Book of Eli
Cinemasochist Apocalypse -- Creepozoids
Micro-Brewed reviews -- Six-String Samurai