Friday, October 9, 2015

HubrisWeen 2015, Day 4: Demon of Paradise (1987)

I have a definite fondness for Jaws rip-offs and my favorite Universal Monster is The Creature From The Black Lagoon. So you can imagine that any combination of these two elements is likely to get my attention. (Like Shallow Water, obviously) It's rather a shame--and quite a surprise, really--that there's so few films that do combine these two great flavors.

Sure, there's Humanoids From The Deep, but what else truly qualifies? Zaat and Octaman? Hardly, they both came before Jaws, so they can't be accused of having the good taste to rip it off.

You might think, based on the poster art, that Demon of Paradise is another example of an oddly rare breed. Well, that's debatable. You see, the artwork is sort of dishonest. There's no fish man in this movie, but it's something much rarer:

This is a movie about an amphibious lizard man.

Now, if you're anything like me, then--as cool as that fish man in the poster art is and as unlikely as it may be that the film's monster can live up to that poster--you've suddenly perked up and become even more interested in this film. Of course, find any random review of it on the web and you'll decide your excitement is misplaced. The critical consensus on this film seems to be about as positive as an Adam Sandler film.

Well, fie on the popular opinion. I love this stupid movie.

We open in "Kihono, Hawaii," but of course, like Up From the Depths this is really the Philippines. Out on a boat, some ne'er-do-wells are doing an exchange of dynamite for money. Once the sellers have departed, the jerks still in the boat start tossing dynamite into the lake. There's talk of getting out of there before the sheriff arrives, but he's already on his way--Sheriff Keefer (William Steis), who oddly spends the whole film wearing a slouch hat with the brim folded up on both sides, is riding at the bow of a fan boat with several deputies.

He's the least of their worries, though. As one jerk lights a bundle of dynamite, some scaly clawed hands grab the boat and shake it. The doofus drops the dynamite right by the box of sticks and KA-BOOM! Keefer arrives on the scene after the flames have died down, concludes the dynamite fishers have blown themselves up--and decides that's enough investigating and steers back for home. He therefore does not see the scaly head that rises from the water and watches him go.

The dynamite smugglers, meanwhile, are having a bit of a squabble. There's four of them and two of them, Snake (David Light) and Blue (Joe Mari Avellana), get to stay in a crummy little hut on the water packing sticks of dynamite, while the other two, Langley (Nick Nicholson) and Shelton (Henry Strzalkowski), get to lounge around the local resort. The two who hang out at the resort claim they do so to meet buyers but it remains a sore spot you aren't going to care about.

Meanwhile, Keefer stops by a local native village to make sure they turn in any dynamite fishers. The village chief (Angel Buenaventura) knows that none of his people are guilty of such a thing, but their catch of late has ben terrible--and he blames it on Akua. As you may have guessed, Akua is a legendary water monster that is not so legendary after all. The chief believes the tribe needs to appease Akua before it's too late. One of the tribe's fishermen (Ramon D'Salva) scoffs at the backwards thinking of the chief and heads out with his son, Koby (Hero Bautista) to go fishing.

The chief is not the only person who thinks Akua might be real. Keefer goes to visit Annie (Kathryn Witt), a herpetologist staying in a nearby hut. we know she's a herpteologist because she tells us, but the movie doesn't entirely bear that out. For one thing, she has a stuffed pangolin in her office and when Keefer starts toying with it and saying that he thought girls were supposed to be afraid of lizards, she takes it from him while talking about saving lizards from her sister's cat. The whole time it's clear that both characters in the scene think the pangolin is a lizard.

At any rate, she's not convinced that Akua doesn't have some basis in fact. What exactly she thinks Akua might be is not addressed yet, but naturally she has the right idea. For the fisherman who earlier scoffed at Akua's existence catches something in his net--and when he hauls it up he discovers it's one pissed off lizard man.

"This is not the kind of fishnets I ordered!"
Akua's first act upon surfacing is not to try and kill the fisherman and Koby, however. The beast turns and swims away as fast as it can, dragging the canoe behind. The fisherman wraps the net around a pole on the canoe and makes Koby jump to safety--but he already knows his foot is tangled in the net's rope and he goes down with the canoe.

Word gets back to Keefer, but on his way to investigate he discovers that it also got back to Ike Baskerville (Frederick Bailey, the film's screenwriter), the obnoxious comic relief local reporter who chases after Keefer's car in his junker while waving a hand-written "Press" sign out the window. Ike's car is practically on fire when the two vehicles pull up to the dock beside the resort owned by Cahill (Laura Banks). Cahill wants the smoking piece of shit moved, but after a token attempt to extinguish it, Keefer heads on to the dock and Ike follows despite the deputies' best efforts.

In the fan boat ride to the native village, Ike tells Keefer he won their bet--he's found out Keefer's story. Keefer was a sheriff in Reno, Nevada but couldn't catch a psycho killer there and resigned in disgrace. Ike gloats to the deputies in the boat while Keefer sulks. Look, I realize this was pre-internet and all, but that doesn't seem like it would be that hard a story for somebody to dig up. Don't get smug, Ike.

They also observe on their way the resort's only real guests, a model named Gabby (Leslie Scarborough, here credited as Leslie Huntly) and her photographer, Ted (Paul Holmes), taking photos by the water. As you may have guessed, they're setting up Chekov's T&A here.

At the village, Keefer is shown the body of the fisherman. He's been clawed up pretty good, and the chief declares the wounds to be from the claws of Akua. According to the chief, Koby said the creature was headed up the river to the lake. Attempting to interview Koby doesn't get very far because Ike tries to wedge himself in by taking photos and practically drooling over the story. In fact, when they get back to the resort Ike immediately gets on the phone to some tabloid with the story. When asked if he has proof, he scoffs that he doesn't have any proof because Akua doesn't really exist and the art department can surely print up a picture of Godzilla instead. Sure, if they want to get sued but good.

When the tabloid quibbles over the $75 he wants, Cahill appears and hangs up the phone. See, she has a counter proposal for Ike. What if they work together to use Akua to their mutual advantage? As Cahill sees it, Akua is basically Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster rolled into one and they can use the creature to bring in the tourists she has so lacked of late. Sadly, this does not mean Werner Herzog will show up later, but on the other hand there is not going to be a Japanese country band. And on the other side of the resort, Langley and Shelton discuss that they are going to cut the other two mooks out of an upcoming deal on more dynamite from the Mob. I was not aware that the dynamite trade was such a big deal for organized crime, but okay.

Meanwhile, the medical examiner is only able to tell Keefer and Annie that the fisherman was lacerated before death and the weapon was crude, but that's all he can say for sure. He did find a bit of bone or a claw that he turns over to Annie for analysis, with Keefer's blessing. Returning to Annie's bungalow, the two find that all the natives are getting the hell out of dodge. Where they are going is anybody's guess, but Annie has a hypothesis about what they're running from. In her hut she leafs through a book of images of ancient art and then shows Keefer the page featuring a hulking lizard man drawn in comic book style.

"It's a carnivorous lizard man of the Triassic Age, about 200 million years ago," Annie explains. Well, obviously, everyone knows that. Kudos to them for getting the time period of the Triassic right, even if it was a Period not an Age, and I very much doubt there were humanoid lizards running around. She further elaborates that, "It's also the missing step-stone between reptiles and early primates."

I'm sorry, that loud boom you just heard was my head just exploding from the stupid of that line.

She declares that the creature is nocturnal and that night would be the best time to search for it. Keefer is not convinced the creature even exists, but he trusts her judgment. Meanwhile, Shelton gets the call that the Mob's shipment is on its way. As they head out to pick it up, Langley whistles lwedly at Gabby and she responds with the immortal, "Take a hike, spaz-ass." Watch out, David Mamet.

Have I mentioned the huge American flag Keefer flies on his fan boat? Because it's not fooling anybody. Investigating the wreckage of the fisherman's canoe (why hadn't they done that already?), Annie finds a claw buried in the wood, while a POV cam watches from the water. She takes it back to her lab and sees that it matches the smaller fragment from the corpse. How does that work, exactly? It broke off part of a claw in the fisherman and then broke off the rest in his boat?

Elsewhere on the lake, Blue gets fed up and goes to the resort to talk to Shelton and Langley about the fact that their dynamite needs to be sold pronto. Snake asks him to pick up a 6-pack, while he sits there fishing. Snake gets a bite so big it breaks his pole, and a few more minutes of film are used up.

Keefer and Annie go to tell Cahill (currently bullshitting with Ike) that she may want to consider keeping her guests off the lake until they confirm if Akua is real or not. Cahill refuses to close the beaches, of course, insisting she obviously would not have offered a reward for the creature if she thought it was real. So that goes nowhere. Even Keefer is beginning to think Akua is a hoax, but Annie is determined to find Akua and will camp out on the lake until she does.

Meanwhile, Blue overhears Gabby complain to Ted that she's bored and wants some coke to sniff. Ted points out she used it all. After her brattiness and complaining about the green beer annoys Ted into leaving, Blue tells her he's got lots of nose candy for her. She goes for it incredibly eagerly and next thing you know she's following Blue's jeep in her car. Blue leads her into the shack and offers her what looks like an urn (?) full of cocaine, Snake is not happy about the new arrival because he keeps hearing something sloshing around in the water outside their shack and it's got him on edge.

Blue decides to go party with Gabby, but is interrupted when Snake sees a scaly head disappear next to some dry ice fog and calls for his companion to come look. The head reappears and this time Blue sees it, too. With both men distracted, Gabby takes the whole container of coke and sneaks away to her car. Of course, Blue and Snake are distracted from their rage at being ripped off when they see that Akua is now waving at them from the water. Snake rudely responds to this by shooting at Akua with a shotgun.

"Oh, hey guys, new to the neighborhood? I brought you a gift basket."
This rudeness is repaid when Blue rushes into the shack to grab something from the box of dynamite and knocks over an oil lamp (!) which immediately sets the floor ablaze. Snake and Blue notice the fire licking at the boxes of dynamite just in time to widen their eyes and then the shack massively explodes. Akua watches this from the water with a look of bewilderment. I mean, you can't honestly blame him for that, after all.

The next day, Keefer and his deputies find the wreckage and declare it must have been the factory of the dynamite smugglers. They also find their boat and Keefer orders his men to find out who owns it.

Wouldn't you know it, though, word of a lizard man travels fast because a bus full of tourists is being greeted at the resort by Cahill and Ike in a gorilla suit. Cahill informs the tourists that they'll be having a "Beast Egg Hunt" tomorrow and the winner gets a free vacation.  She also waves off one tourist's questions about killings, while Ike introduces himself to a woman named Luisa (Liza Baumann) by offering her a plastic banana. This oddly works. Shelton and Langley are about nervous about all the new people at the hotel, but they hope it just means they'll stick out less.

Sadly, Bigfoot Goes Hawaiian bankrupted the studio that year.
Keefer confronts Cahill about the danger of the crowds, but she just pulls the "my taxes pay your salary" routine and tells him he should station an officer around the resort to protect her guests. Annie, meanwhile, goes scuba diving and finds a human skull under a...potted plant? It comes to nothing so I have no idea what the point even was, other than padding.

Keefer meets up with Annie outside her tent and the two take a moonlit stroll, while talking about how reproduction for Akua would work. After establishing it takes two, just like humans, Annie awkwardly says, "I always wanted to kiss a man in a cowboy hat." But since none are around, she kisses the man in a slouch hat. A splash interrupts them, suggesting even Akua doesn't buy this sudden romance. Then Ike and Luisa jump out of the bushes and Ike reacts to Keefer drawing a gun on him by basically calling him a buzzkill. He and Luisa turn and walk back into the bushes, while Keefer offers to buy Annie a drink.

Ike and Luisa hop in the nearest boat. As they get hot and heavy, they fail to notice that Akua has appeared nearby with dry ice fog and a Klieg light behind him, The beast knocks the oar off the boat, which gets their attention. Then Akua slashes Ike's face with his claws (way to make us root for the monster) while waving at Luisa, who dives into the lake. Akua tips the boat over to dump Ike in and then swims after Luisa, who is pulled under the water without a sound. Keefer and Annie heard the screams and come out to investigate.

Stupid hipster monsters and their vape pens.
Keefer sees the oar floating out in the lake and wades hip deep to retrieve it, only for a barely living Ike to grab him by the arm. Keefer drags him ashore, where we get entirely too good a look at his "wounds" as he dies. Annie also does one of the most hilariously awkward "look away in horror and then look back" takes you will ever see.

Cahill, as you may have guessed, is still refusing to acknowledge that she needs to close her resort. In fact, when Ted interrupts her argument with Keefer and Annie to ask if something happened on the lake the previous night, Cahill dismisses it as "a boating accident." Har har, At any rate, short of a court order Cahill refuses to close down and after Annie warns her that Akua can come on land if it chooses, Cahill orders her off the property. Keefer is powerless to do anything and Annie is frustrated with him, which leads to some dialogue between the two would-be lovers that brings a whole new shine to trying too hard. Dig the wordplay on "cold-blooded," Daddio.

Cahill, meanwhile, advises her guests that Akua came ashore in the night and laid eggs on the property. She tasks them with rounding them up, and whoever finds the big Akua egg wins a free vacation--but Akua may be lurking anywhere! As Cahill watches from the deck, commenting on the hunt with a megaphone, "Akua" turns out to be a guy in swim trunks and a monster mask who does a hula dance after his obligatory, "Rar!"

Finally, one tourist finds the jumbo prize "egg" when he digs near some leaves and a rubber crocodile head pops out at him, with a ball in its mouth. I'm honestly not sure if the hands holding the croc head are intentional or a goof. The fact that the tourist noticeably does not have a mustache in his close-up but does have one in every other scene, is definitely a goof, however.

Gabby is watching from a boat on the lake while Ted takes photos of her, When he tells her to ignore it and instead concentrate and "feel the lens," she snaps at him to, "Feel this!" And then she lifts up her shirt to show him her breasts. This may be the only time I have ever seen "flashing someone your breasts" used in the same way as giving them the finger. And, after a joke about whether she would ever be accepted as a "serious actress," Gabby peels off her top and dives into the lake instead of posing for more shots. Ted shoots her anyway, not bothering to tell her why he briefly froze after seeing something pass underneath her. Luckily for her, it was either a false alarm or Akua wasn't hungry.

Meanwhile, Annie discovers an obvious doll on her next dive that I think is supposed to be Luisa. I'm not sure why Akua just drowned and stashed her, but it's not like he's really been eating his victims so far. Maybe he intended to mate with her and only discovered too late that she couldn't breathe under water. Although, it is rather interesting that in spite of my comment there this is one of the few gill man-type stories where the creature shows no inclination towards trying to mate with human women. Rather than report this to Keefer, Annie just goes back to her tent and stares at the water for...hours, apparently.

Back at the "Kihono Community Center", whose hand-painted sign is just sad, Keefer gets the confirmation that Shelton and Langley, whom he noticed looking suspicious earlier, are dynamite smugglers. He gives the word to bring them in. At night, Keefer heads to the resort as Cahill presents the paid vacation to the schlub who found the egg. Langley and Shelton have just picked up their order of dynamite from the Mob contact as Keefer arrives and a shootout results. Langley and Shelton run into Gabby and Ted, and Langley grabs Gabby while Shelton shoots Ted dead. The cops corner the smugglers by their boat as Gabby bites Shelton and runs away. Langley shoots at the cops from the boat, but Keefer fires back and his shotgun apparently hits the backpack full of dynamite because Langley and the boat explode instantly.

Akua watches this from the water. Shelton has recaptured Gabby and is running down the beach with her. He decides they should go into the lake to escape as the cops close in. Bad idea. Shelton is dragged under the water and then Akua looms up for all the cops to see, menacing Gabby with his trademark paw wave before Keefer drives him off with a couple shotgun blasts.

Apparently a real Akua is bad for business, because Cahill watches helplessly as her patrons all board the bus home in the morning. Keefer has traded his slouch hat in for a dark baseball cap as he delivers a close order to Cahill, advising that the National Guard will mobilize in a few days and maybe she can resume business then. As he heads out hunting, Annie joins them and begs them to try not to kill the beast. She offers him a tranquilizer dose, but he can't make any promises.

Hilariously, Keefer's plan is to sit in his fan boat with three deputies, one of whom is tasked with hammering on a pipe in the water to attract the creature. It works and Akua starts off by spinning their boat around and then preventing them from starting the fan by grabbing the blade. (How it knew to do that is beyond me) As Keefer and the others take pot shots at it, one deputy falls into the water. When another tries to grab him, Akua surfaces and drags both of them under.

Annie arrives in her speed boat just as Akua decides to flip the fan boat over. She actually manages to save both Keefer and the remaining deputy, since apparently Akua is more bothered by bright light than shotgun blasts. When they get back to dock, the ever-sensitive Cahill loudly asks if Keefer can do anything right since he failed to kill the beast. Man, Jaws rip-offs really love to make their Mayor Vaughn stand-ins as assholish as possible.

The next day, the National Guard arrives. They choose to just sit around watching as Keefer tosses bundles of dynamite out of a helicopter. We've come full circle, eh? Hilariously, this is all set to music that wants so badly to be Goblin's soundtrack to Dawn of the Dead that the movie might as well have its composer credited as "Nilbog." Of course, we see Akua moving below the helicopter but the characters can't notice this until the chopper lands so Keefer can switch places with some nobody. After that is accomplished, the helicopter sees Akua and hovers about ten feet above him, Show of hands, who can see where this is going?

Well, you probably didn't guess how hilariously inept it would be. In obviously reversed footage, Akua leaps out of the water. His paws grab the landing strut and, in a long shot, we see an obvious Akua doll drag an obvious toy helicopter into the water. They don't even bother to foley in a properly loud splash. Once in the water, one guy swims away from a full-scale mock-up of the helicopter that then explodes into paltry flames. Words cannot fully describe the hilarious awfulness of this sequence. It is worth the price of the DVD alone.

Darkman 4: Swim, Darkman, Swim!
That night, a rainstorm blows in. The national guard colonel (Joe Zucchero) advises that they are pulling out, but he's leaving a token force behind in case. The colonel believes that the creature was killed in the explosion. When Annie counters that the corpse should have floated to the surface, the colonel declares that there must have been nothing left of it. Annie, however, stands in the rain and casts a significant look at the lake.

A few hours later, the rain having passed, one of the remaining guardsmen tells Keefer that since there's been no further sign that they'll pull out in the morning, too. Annie makes some coffee for the troops, like a typical female movie scientist, and begrudgingly offers some to Cahill, who seems to be finally feeling some guilt over risking people's lives. (Although, to be fair, can she really be blamed for any of the deaths since only one of them was a guest at her resort?)

As some of the guardsmen enjoy coffee next to that leaf-covered pit where the rubber crocodile head earlier burst forth. And now the real Akua does the same, and hilariously he has stored a klieg light in the pit with him. We get entirely too many good looks at Akua during the following sequence as lightning illuminates his leisurely rampage through the guard camp. To be fair, the head is not bad--it looks like a scaly werewolf with a crown of rubbery horns--but the body, while covered with some nicely done scales, is baggy and kind of formless. It's also covered in stringy "sea weed" that reminds me of nothing so much as the Salt Vampire from "The Man Trap" episode of Star Trek. The single row of plates running down the back to the tail it drags behind it just further compliments the "would be impressive as a Halloween costume" aesthetic.

Akua fails to get any of the guardsmen as everyone retreats back to the resort, discovering as they go that Akua is bulletproof. Everyone barricades the doors--but not so much the windows---and those with guns take potshots at Akua when it tries to break in. Unfortunately, it somehow gets underneath them and smashes up through the floor to drag Cahill to her death. Everyone flees out into the night again and hilariously one of the guardsmen yells for everyone to scatter. That seems to me to be the worst strategy, but you do you.

Somehow they all end up next to some stone ruins that look like the ones in Blood Surf a bit and then prepare to fire on the approaching Akua to make a last stand. Somehow, Akua grabs one guardsmen and drags him off into the jungle.

Satisfied for the night, Akua waits until the morning to return. However, seeing the sun rising over the trees, Akua realizes that it's a cheap monster suit and should not be out in direct sunlight. It flees and Annie points out that in daylight they have the advantage and there will be no greater time to get the beast. They follow its trail--I guess it's wounded, maybe--to a cave behind a waterfall. Inside, they split up into two teams. Annie, going with Keefer, brings her tranquilizer gun to the ready, apparently believing it's still possible to capture it.

Annie spots the beast and calmly aims at the creature. Keefer sees her doing this and decides it's his cue to fire his shotgun a foot from her ear (!) instead of letting her take the shot. She still does, though, and nails Akua with a dart to the gums. Like Anaconda, though, the beast just yanks the dart out--but this movie is actually less stupid, because the beast succumbs to the drug and falls over. Annie convinces everyone else not to shoot while she goes to investigate the creature, which is literally steaming. Is this thing supposed to be radioactive?!

Surprise! It was playing possum! Keefer and Annie scramble back as everyone else wastes their ammo shooting it. Hilariously, one guy gets fed up with shooting it and pulls his knife on the creature instead. He gets backhanded to death for his efforts. Annie fires a second dart and hits the creature in the gums again, but everyone else just keeps shooting. Notice several shots of "Annie" reacting to the guns going off beside her head.

Akua runs outside to stand beside the pool in front of the waterfall. Apparently sunlight no longer bothers it, but it is acting vaguely groggy--which is not really any different from its usual behavior. The guardsmen all take positions to shoot it some more. Then they start tossing grenades and, in one memorable shot, the explosion causes the poor suit actor to nearly trip over his tail.

"Can't we just hug it out?"
Finally, one guardsmen gets the idea to all throw their grenades at the same time. Somehow this explodes poor Akua's upper torso. This is a somewhat underwhelming way to kill off your lizard man, I might add.

Keefer then remarks that that's the end of it. Annie smirks sardonically and asks, "You ever pull the tail off a lizard?" So...what, Akua's remains are gonna wriggle around and gross everybody out? They didn't blow off its tail, they obliterated its vital organs! Yet, apparently we're supposed to infer this means that Akua is related to Reptilicus as we watch a chunk of bloody reptile flesh wash out into the lake. The End?
Oh, sorry, accidentally included a shot of Donald Trump.
Let's get one thing absolutely straight: Demon of Paradise is not a good movie. In virtually any respect you want to look at it, this is a bad movie. It wears its low budget on its sleeve, it pads the plot out with subplots that add up to nothing, and for about 90% of the movie its titular monster does nothing but wave at people and tip over boats.

And yet, damn it all, I adore this awful movie.

For one thing, maybe I'm just weird, but unlike most reviewers who tend to loathe this film I never found it boring. There are definite slow spots and the plot has about as much forward momentum as Last Year at Marienbad, but somehow the film never becomes dull to me. There may not be much happening, but there is always something happening and that something usually manages to be utterly stupid.

Take for instance the film's obligatory bit of topless female flesh. Gabby the model ends up doffing her top and going for a swim anyway, so there is absolutely no logical reason for the scene where she flashes Ted the photographer. Especially since she is obviously doing so to express annoyance. Find me one woman anywhere on Earth who has ever flashed her breasts at a guy to indicate that she is irritated with him, and I'll eat a trilby.

Then there's the herpetologist who thinks pangolins are lizards, that Triassic reptiles evolved into primitive primates, and that if you pull the tail off a lizard it grows a new lizard. If most of our heroine's scientific dialogue doesn't either make you cackle or boil your brain, then you're made of sterner stuff than I.

Of course, the acting in the film is awful, as well, but I doubt even Helen Mirren could pull off the material these actors were given. The writing is terrible, the direction is often delightfully incompetent, and outside of some cool explosions the special effects are the sarcastic kind of special. It all mixes together into something without any legitimate redeeming qualities, and I love it so. This film is absolute cheese.

If you have no patience and don't love a good, bad, or good-bad rubber monster suit: this movie is not for you. If you expect your monster movies to be any good at all, this movie is not for you. However, if you love a film that has no clue what it's doing and features a monster you feel sorry for because it's just so poorly executed, this is your movie.

At the very least, it's way more enjoyable than Up From The Depths. Not that that's hard.

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

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