Wednesday, October 31, 2018

HubrisWeen 2018, Day 26: Z-O-M-B-I-E-S (2018)

Yes, that's right: I am reviewing a Disney Channel Original Movie. Yes, it is a musical about zombies that uses them as a very clumsy allegory for racism and classism. And, yes, my son did choose this when we were at my local library and he has made me watch this multiple times.

Being a parent and being a movie reviewer have a tendency to intersect on the graph at "You Are Going To Watch A Lot Of Crap." You lot should just be thankful that I'm not making you listen to my feelings on The Angry Birds Movie.

Though, for my part, I am thankful that Z-O-M-B-I-E-S is crap of the more innocuous variety. It's also the sort of movie that has its heart in the right place, but has no idea what it's doing so it completely bungles its attempted message. There's always something kind of entertaining about that sort of failure, to me.

To be fair, that failure is largely because it follows the familiar pattern of making monsters a clumsy allegory for an oppressed subset of society. Monsters that kill and eat "regular" humans, at that. Many more "serious" properties have attempted the same thing with very similar levels of clumsiness, but that doesn't stop folks from continuing to fail to see the problem with this trope.

It's important, then, that we begin with a bit of world-building. After all, you can't use the "monster as allegory" nearly as obviously if you start right when they first showed up, now can you?

In a nifty, if somewhat cheaply done animated opening, we learn that the town of Seabrook was once a haven of suburban conformity. Before the film allows us to take in the fact that they made it sound like the creepy cul-de-sac in A Wrinkle in Time, we move on to what disrupted the community. Someone manning the station at the local power plant spilled lemon soda onto their control panel, which caused an accident that unleashed a toxic green cloud.

Anyone touched by the cloud became a brain-eating zombie.

"Typical liberal media, lying about zombieAIIEEEEE!"
We get a couple glimpses of zombie predations, but of course this is a TV movie on the Disney Channel, so that aspect is very brief indeed. Seabrook successfully built a wall between the uninfected part of town and the zombie-infested side and that was that. Sort of.

We leave the animated flashback and reveal that it has been 50 years since the wall went up, and we are introduced to our two leads as they break the fourth wall to address us directly. Zed (Milo Manheim) is, naturally, a zombie; while Addison (Meg Donnelly) is a perfectly perky young cheerleader-to-be.

Zed and Addison, post meet-cute.
Zed seems oddly articulate for a brain-chomping monster, huh? Well, that's because at some point the government created the "Z-Band," which is a device worn on the wrist that somehow allows zombies to maintain a certain level of humanity while still keeping their weird green pallor. Oh, and the government also forces zombies to wear officially issued jumpsuits and they aren't allowed pets, since it is still assumed that they will eat them. This last bit is more a concern for Zed's little sister, Zoey (Kingston Foster), but she is happy enough with her stuffed dog and Zed occasionally pretending to be a dog for her amusement.

Another weird angle that is never explored: zombies still eat brains, but they are forced to eat artificial brains made from cauliflower. How does this work? Doesn't that mean that they can simply eat regular food, if cauliflower can be eaten instead of brains? I don't know and I don't think the movie does, either, but there's more sloppy world-building where that came from.

Addison, meanwhile, seems like a perfectly normal human girl. Her greatest ambition at the moment is just to get on the cheer squad, captained by her cousin Bucky (Trevor Tordjman). However, Addison naturally has a secret--her blonde hair is actually a ridiculously convincing wig that hides her much less convincing "real" hair beneath. Addison's real hair is stark white and no amount of hair dye can stick to it, so her parents have forced her to wear a wig for years. Normal is very important in Seabrook, you see.

That, or her parents are afraid she's an anime character.
Which makes it a bit odd that we are joining Seabrook on the first day in which their high school will be "integrating" by allowing the zombies to attend. Zed is stoked, hoping to go out for the football team. His best friend, Eliza (Kylee Russell), is much less enthused since she is furious at the oppressive system they live under and thinks zombies need to rise up. (Casting a black actress as the overly revolutionary member of a minority group is certainly...a choice) Their mutual best friend, Bonzo (James Godfrey) is just excited in general, but he also only speaks in the zombie language so Zed and Eliza have to translate for him.

Eliza, Zed, and Bonzo--apparently on the set of Shocking Dark.
Yes, zombies have somehow developed a unique language--both spoken and written--in the 50 years since the wall went up. Yet, Bonzo is the only zombie shown to speak it better than English. You'd think that would be a generational thing, but given that the film never makes clear if its zombies are animated corpses that never age or some kind of mutation that is passed on to any children I don't even know if there are different generations in zombie town!

Seriously, don't think about it too hard, for your own sanity.

Speaking of sanity, I'm not going to notate every time there is a musical number in this film or talk much about them. They're frequent and they're all performed quite well, but they're also mostly just inoffensive pop songs with the occasional bit of embarassingly white rapping

Naturally, Zed almost instantly falls for Addison when he sees her. However, it's kind of hard to introduce himself from the other side of a fence. Sure enough, the zombies are not actually allowed to interact directly with the human students and Principal Lee (Naomi Snieckus) nervously introduces them to their special classroom--which is in the school's basement, and the teacher is the school's zombie janitor.

So while Addison is busy getting herself and her new friend Bree (Carla Jeffery) onto the cheer squad, Zed is plotting how he can sneak out of the basement and try out for the football team. His attempt goes pretty damn awry when he gets spotted and thus sets off a zombie alarm. However, in an attempt to hide himself, Zed ends up inside a zombie shelter where the lights are dimmed--along with Addison.

Their meet-cute goes well, until the lights come up. Addison's first reaction is to punch the zombie in front of her, but she does apologize. Her chat with Zed has made her realize that zombies aren't that scary, and she has even begun to crush on him in return. So when the cheer initiation involves Bucky driving her and Bree to zombie town to egg Zed's front door, she refuses to do it. She also begins to realize that zombies are oppressed in some horribly depressing ways.

Bree and Addison, here not cheering for oppression.
Bucky isn't the sort to care about that, however. He hates zombies, partly due to simple prejudice and partly because their grandfather lost an ear to a zombie attack and he just can't forgive this perceived slight against his family. So when he sees that Zed, Eliza, and Bonzo have joined the audience at a cheer rally, he decides that he is going to include fire sticks in his cheer routine. Zombies have an instinctive fear of fire, naturally, and Bonzo in particular is susceptible to it.

When Bonzo freaks out and runs off, he knocks Zed over and damages the Z-Band on Zed's wrist. Bonzo also scares off the cheerleaders who had just tossed Addison into the air. Zed has sprouted green veins and splotches all over his skin to indicate his zombie nature breaking through, but he sees Addison in danger and rushes to save her--knocking several football players through the air in the process of catching her. Luckily his Z-Band kicks back on before we find out if full-zombie Zed would want to eat Addison.

Naturally, this means Seabrook's coach wants to put Zed on the school's football team, but part of getting Principal Lee to sign off on that involves making a wager with her. If Zed can win games for the school, Lee will allow zombies to eat in the school cafeteria and have better surroundings than the basement. If a single game is lost, however, Zed will be off the team and the zombies will remain in the dungeon.

Of course, Zed only got on the team because his Z-Band went wonky. Without that, he is terrible at the game. So he has to convince Eliza to help him hack the band in order to get his zombie strength back in controlled bursts. Eliza can already see this is a dangerous plan, but it sure does allow Zed to win games, become a huge star at the school, and to begin romancing Addison.

Of course, Bucky is enraged by all of this. And it isn't long before he manages to not only find out what Zed is doing to win games, but how to get his vapid underlings to help him completely sabotage the Z-Bands of Zed, Eliza, and Bonzo in the middle of a football game. Of course, Bucky is an idiot and didn't consider that this would turn the trio into the exact kind of slavering, horrid monsters he always thought they were...

Zombie or were-raccoon? You decide!
And really, this is where the fact that this is a Disney Channel musical film butts up against the goals of the zombie movie it also wants to be. Obviously, Zed can't crack Bucky's skull open like a coconut and devour his dumb but delicious brains. However, the film also decides that this is the point where it wants to start setting up the happy ending where everyone learns tolerance and has a big dance party.

In short succession, Addison reveals her true hair and is booed as a freak. Zed, Eliza, and Bonzo are simply detained for a while before getting new Z-Bands and returning to zombie town. And then everyone helps the increasingly hostile and anti-zombie Bucky to compete in the cheer championship. Bucky then instantly accepts zombies because little Zoey was nice to him.

Zoey gets a real dog and all the humans and zombies congregate at a barbecue in zombie town, with a dance medley to roll the credits over.

Admittedly, if more zombies had dance parties I might not be as tired of the subgenre as I am.
It's tough to truly view this film critically because it was meant to be a catchy musical for kids, pre-teens, and whatever teenagers haven't yet hit their cynical phase. For 90% of its running time, it's essentially High School Musical but instead of a parable about mostly fictional cliques colliding it's zombies and humans learning to get along.

Except it's impossible to ignore that the film does have a deeper meaning about how racism, xenophobia, and oppression are bad. And the execution of that lesson is really, really disturbing.

In real life, oppressors ascribe monstrous characteristics to minorities in order to justify their treatment. Indeed, we see that here. We also see that zombies are forced to live in a ghetto, they have enforced curfews, they must wear identifying clothing and arm bands, they get "separate but equal" education, are forced to assimilate to be accepted, and are subject to frequent micro-aggressions. It's a very thorough attempt to show children how this is bad without presenting the real life atrocities this is all based on.

There's just one major problem with all this: the zombies in this film are monsters. We are explicitly shown that they did eat human brains 50 years ago, and in the present of the film it is shown that the only thing keeping zombies from attacking people are their Z-Bands. Honestly, while the zombies can't help their condition, treating them as dangerous just seems like common sense. All it takes is minor damage to that Z-Band and suddenly they are unable to resist attempting to kill innocent people.

That is not a good lesson to be teaching.

Speaking of bad lessons, why the hell is Bucky not punished in any way for sabotaging the Z-Bands of three zombies? There is nothing wrong with teaching kids that some prejudiced people are beyond redemption, and Bucky could have gotten someone killed. I'm not saying he should have fallen to his death from a high place in the fashion of most Disney villains, but why not at least have him lose his place as the captain of the cheer team if not end up in jail?

The film doesn't seem willing to even accept that Bucky is the villain, despite setting him up as one for the entire film!

If you can look past all that, well, you'll still know immediately if this movie is for you or not. Obviously I am not about to recommend this film to hardcore horror hounds, because it barely even qualifies as horror. However, if said horror hounds have pups, this is a pretty decent way to let the pups enjoy a zombie film without traumatizing them for life.

Naturally, a better choice for that would be Paranorman, which is not perfect in its moral but still teaches about the evils of prejudice an oppression in a much better manner. And I would say that the Disney Channel already gave us a much better kid-friendly horror movie with My Babysitter's a Vampire, though that was technically made for Canadian TV originally.

That said, this film is still enjoyable. The actors are all solid, even if they are asked to dial everything up a few notches like they're doing children's theater. I'm definitely glad that I've seen Meg Donnelly and Carla Jeffery doing work in other things, since I found them both very compelling young actors. And the songs are just as devilishly catchy as they were clearly meant to be, since even months after my son first made me watch this I would hear the "Zombieland" song playing in my skull at random times.

Hell, as far as zombie films go, this film is still better than a lot of that particular subgenre--I'd sooner recommend watching this five times than watching Diary of the Dead or Day of the Dead: Bloodline even once. I can't quite rate it as far as zombie musicals go, though, since I haven't yet seen Anna and The Apocalypse.

Hopefully we'll find out next HubrisWeen, eh?

This has concluded Day 26 of HubrisWeen 2018, which brings this year to a close! To see what the other Celluloid Zeroes chose for Z, click the banner above! You can also check out this year's Letterboxd page for a more visual breakdown of the movies we did!

I honestly didn't think I would manage it this year, but here we are! Much as I may indicate otherwise, I do love the challenge of HubrisWeen and you will probably see me doing this all again next year.

Unless I come to my senses before then, or we're all annihilated in a fiery nuclear war. Stay tuned to find out!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

HubrisWeen 2018, Day 25: Yor, The Hunter From The Future (1983)

Honestly, I am ashamed of myself for not trying to stuff this year's entries with more Italian genre rip-offs. Still, this is arguably among the more infamous of the lot--if video stores were a part of your childhood or formative years, there is no way you didn't at least see the VHS box of this at some point.

I know I did, but it would not be until decades later that I would finally see it for myself at B-Fest. That's probably because the American VHS cover was kind of dull. If it had used any of the other poster art that Google Image Search has to show me, I would have been much more tempted.

Even so, I remembered it well enough to be delighted when Naomi Watts found the cursed videotape in The Ring sitting on a shelf of VHS tapes right next to Yor, The Hunter From The Future.

It wouldn't be until B-Fest 2014 that I would finally see the film. By that time I was well aware that the film had a goofy reputation and had also been shortened quite a bit from its original Italian cut. (Though the film is actually an Italian-French-Turkish co-production, filmed in Turkey) Unfortunately, as intrigued by the film as I was, it ended up looking like the inside of my eyelids for most of its running time--I was much too exhausted by that point in the Fest to stay awake for the whole thing.

To my delight, however, Mill Creek released the film on Blu-ray and when I finally saw it that way it was much easier to actually follow. Though sadly, it was the American cut only and I just learned that the American cut inexplicably deleted a scene where Yor has to fight a giant, one-eyed Boogen and I am incensed that anyone would cut such awesomeness!

Hilariously, this might be the film's most convincing monster, too.
The first thing you need to prepare yourself for with Yor, The Hunter From The Future is that it came out in the wake of the Dino de Laurentiis version of Flash Gordon. Someone involved in this film's production was understandably enamored with Queen's soundtrack to Flash Gordon, and as a result this film features an attempt to recreate that same energy with the amazing and insanely catchy rock theme for its hero: "Yor's World."

Much like The Green Slime, I could almost leave my review at that.

Though it is worth pointing out that way too often the film employs this theme to emphasize Yor's heroism, but it oddly often does so when he isn't doing anything heroic. In one case, it gets trotted out when another character is saving Yor's ass!

In our opening credits, in fact, we just see Yor (Reb Brown, last seen here as a meathead would-be rapist in Sssssss) wandering through the rocky wilderness. However, he will have an opportunity to demonstrate heroism shortly. Cavewoman Kalaa (Corinne Clery) and her father-figure Pag (Luciano Pagozi) are out hunting for their tribe, ahead of a celebratory feast. They almost catch a piglet in a dinosaur costume, but suddenly a thagomizer crushes the poor piggy.

The spiked tail belongs to a Stegoceratops, which also seems to be a carnivore based on its teeth. It also appears to be made out of papier-mache, but that's neither here nor there. The beast menaces Kalaa and Pag, only for Yor to leap into the fray and quickly kill the dinosaur hybrid with his stone axe.

Well, I guess the upside of Trump's presidency is the post-nuclear apocalypse hellscape will have dinosaurs.
Yor then drinks its blood and shares the blood with Kalaa, though Pag politely declines. Yor is immediately declared a friend of the village, though Pag is very fascinated by the medallion around Yor's neck. Yor confesses he has no idea where it came from and, in fact, he doesn't really know where he came from.

However, the tribal elder has seen such a medallion once before, belonging to a woman said to be born of fire. She is worshiped as a god by a tribe in the desert past the nearby mountains. Yor figures that will be a great place to start looking for clues to his past, but naturally decides to help the tribe carve up the Stegoceratops and enjoy their hospitality at the feast.

Yeah, okay, I'd fight a made-up dinosaur for her, too.
Of course, while Yor is appreciatively watching Kalaa dance seductively, the tribe is oblivious to the danger approaching them. A strange gang of hairy cavemen with blue skin surround the village and then go on the attack, intent on killing the men and taking the women and children back to their lair. After a significant struggle, Yor, Kalaa, and Pag escape--but the rest of the tribe are not so lucky.

Hell, our heroic trio end up running out of luck, too. Pag had scouted ahead after making sure there were no survivors at the tribe's home, so he is too far away to help when the blue meanies catch up with Yor and Kalaa. By the time Pag gets his trusty bow ready long enough to kill one of the attackers, Kalaa has already been taken away and an unconscious Yor has been stripped off his medallion and tossed from a cliff.

Naturally, Yor survives. When they reunite, Pag sheepishly advises that according to their tribal law, Kalaa now belongs to the caveman who bested Yor. However, Yor angrily spits that he doesn't follow their law and so Pag follows as Yor makes his way to the enemy camp. The cavemen are inside squabbling over who will get to have Kalaa, while the other women from the village are kept trapped in another corner of the cave by a pit full of...eels. Maybe they're electric eels, I don't know.

At any rate, Yor sees his opening when a really goofy bat monster flies overhead. Using Pag's bow, Yor shoots the beast down and then punches it in the face. Then, in one of the most glorious moments ever put to film, Yor uses the bat monster as a hang-glider whilst "Yor's World" pops up to further drive in how awesome this is.

Yor rescues Kalaa and his medallion, but doesn't make a single move towards rescuing the other prisoners. Indeed, his next move is to find a dam deep within the cave that holds back an underground lake and then break that dam so that the cave is flooded and all the pursuing blue cavemen are washed away. We are never given any clear indication of whether their prisoners were also washed away and, indeed, no one ever mentions them.

It is entirely possible this means that Yor just murdered a bunch of innocent women and children.

Following the undiscussed mass murder, Yor leads Kalaa and Pag to the desert and asks for them to wait while he tries to find the woman who wears the same medallion that he does. Yor naturally finds his ass in trouble first, when he is surrounded by a bunch of strange men covered in mud who wield flaming sticks. These sand tribe are also very good with a net and soon they have brought Yor into a mysterious cave of ice and placed him before their leader--a blonde woman with a medallion just like his.

The woman introduces herself as Roa (Ayshe Gul), and she explains she is definitely of the same tribe as Yor. For that matter, so are the people frozen inside the cave's ice--you can even see their matching medallions--but she has no more idea who their people are than Yor does. Worse, while Roa is special to them, the sand tribe sacrifice all newcomers to their gods. As glad as Roa is to see Yor, she isn't really prepared to do anything to stop him from being sacrificed, too.

Still, Yor won't give up that easy, and he quickly breaks free and steals the flaming sword from the  executioner. Slicing up his foes while also setting them on fire means that Yor manages to ignite the oil in the cave and soon he is dragging Roa out of a collapsing cavern--which nets her a nice bonk on the skull when a melting ice stalactite drops on her. She survives that, however, and then Yor foolishly abandons the awesome flaming sword after throwing it into the last sand person in their way.

Yor is almost as bad with hanging onto cool weapons as Perseus in Clash of The Titans.
Well, Kalaa is insanely jealous of Roa at once. Pag tries to remind her that it's normal for a man in their tribe to have two wives, but Kalaa decides that this is different. As soon as Yor leaves Roa alone for a moment--after having been making out with her, the cad--Kalaa appears and declares that only one of them can have Yor and the other must die.

And then, yes, our heroine attempts to knife her romantic rival. Considering how casual they are about murdering innocents, I guess she and Yor do deserve each other.

Before Kalaa can finish the job, however, the surviving blue cavemen suddenly show up. Yor and Pag arrive in time to help kill them, but conveniently one of the blue bastards clubs Roa on the head. This is treated as a sad thing by all, since Kalaa has apparently decided to pretend that she wasn't just trying to make Roa dead a few minutes before. Roa manages to suddenly remember that her people come from an island in the ocean, before she requests one last kiss from Yor--hopefully to stick it to Kalaa--and then dies.

Boy, she sure was vital to the narrative, huh?

Yor, Pag, and Kalaa make it to the ocean next, but before they can settle in for a fish dinner they are startled by a loud roar. Yor takes off without hesitation, leaving Pag and Kalaa in his wake. Inside a cave, the trio find a young woman and a couple of children trapped by a ferocious Dimetrodon. This is a slightly more convincing prop than the earlier dinosaur, but not by much. It also survives against Yor slightly longer but with Pag and Kalaa's help it soon expires.

So synapsids will also make a comeback! Sweet!
The young woman, Tarita (Marina Rocchi), takes the trio back to her seaside village to meet her father, the tribe's chief. The chief tries to thank Yor by offering Tarita to be his mate, but this time Yor has the decency to politely decline because he already has chosen Kalaa as his mate.

Of course, Yor may also have figured out that Kalaa will kill poor Tarita if he doesn't refuse.

Now, here is where the story takes a turn. The chief advises that the tribe is currently on edge because they had an encounter with a man in a mysterious metal craft, who attacked them and forced them to kill him--which caused both him and his craft to explode. Now they fear retribution, and since the destroyed craft left behind what looks like a rearview mirror but functions like a radio, it isn't long before huts are being blasted by lasers and several of the tribe are dead.

Tarita thinks the unseen attackers came from an island out to sea, which is perpetually surrounded by storms. Sure enough, this island will turn out to be where Yor comes from. Soon Yor will learn that the island, patrolled by robots, was one of the last bastions of civilization after humanity destroyed itself with nuclear war--because we've been in the future all along, see.

Yor is actually Galahad, son of the rebel Asgard, who fled with his family from the villainous ruler of the island, Overlord (John Steiner). The ship must have crashed, but Yor miraculously survived. However, now Overlord knows Yor is back and he has villainous plans for him and his friends, unless the secret rebel group can succeed in stopping him...

Forget the Emperor and Darth Vader, Count Zarth Arn from StarCrash could kick Overlord's ass.
Unfortunately, once the film reaches this futuristic island, it becomes much less interesting. Partially, it's because there's not much variety in what happens once Yor gets to the facility. To be fair, the entire film up to this point has been relatively repetitive, but it was somehow easier to ignore when we had such visually appealing surroundings as the location shooting in Turkey had to offer.

The facility, meanwhile, is mostly just the same kind of power plant location we last saw in Shocking Dark and it's no more visually interesting here. Plus, as much as the film tries to make him scary and mysterious, Overlord is just way too mediocre for a main villain.

This might explain why I fell asleep so easily the first time I saw this film, because there really wasn't enough to keep my interest once all the cavemen and mutant dinosaurs were left behind.

That's not to say the film is worthless after that point, however. It's just not as much fun as the first three quarters or so. Also, to be fair, it isn't like Yor, The Hunter From The Future is a good movie at any point. This is a film that is rock stupid and often shoddy. It's most definitely a bad movie from beginning to end and I doubt anyone would disagree.

That being said, this movie is also amazing. It should be clear by this point in my reviewing history that I don't think a movie has to be good to be entertaining--and Yor is most certainly entertaining. I highly recommend this film, even to folks who aren't seasoned B-movie watchers. It is true that it falls a bit short of the deliriously goofy heights of StarCrash, but damn if it doesn't come close.

If nothing else, there is something amusing about this PG-rated film's dedication to "accidentally" showing you the thong-clad butts of Reb Brown and Corinne Clery throughout their adventures. And really, who among us doesn't love lots of butts in our futuristic caveman flicks?

This has concluded Day 25 of HubrisWeen 2018! To see what the other Celluloid Zeroes chose for Y, click the banner above!

Monday, October 29, 2018

HubrisWeen 2018, Day 24: The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (2010)

[Yes, I am sort of cheating by using this as my X review, but that's what the Blank Scrabble Tile is for!]

Luc Besson sure has a varied resume, doesn't he? Most recently he decided to adapt an influential French comic book series when he made Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, which managed to crash and burn pretty hard--at least partially because it was "influential" in the saw way as John Carter. When your source has inspired a slew of imitators, it is going to feel like a rehash of earlier ideas.

Hell, even Besson's own The Fifth Element was a better riff on the basic material. I'm not here to rag on that film, however. No, I bring it up as a roundabout way of pointing out that it certainly wasn't Besson's first attempt at bringing a famous French comic book to the big screen.

And boy, it would have served Valerian much better if Besson had given it even a fraction of the quirky attitude he gave today's film!

In Paris, France circa 1912, we join a random drunk who is about to have a very odd night. First, he sees strange lights near the statue of Joan of Arc. Then he sees a car containing a well-known former prefect and the showgirl he is having an affair with--which is run off of a bridge when it is attacked by a Pterodactyl!

And I do actually mean a Pterodactyl, unlike 90% of the time people use that word.
Now, as it turns out, these two events are related. The lights were caused by eccentric scientist and occult practitioner, Professor Esperandieu (Jacky Nercessian), as he was levitating himself and everything in his apartment. Why was he doing that? Why to hatch a Pterodactyl out of its egg in a nearby museum!

Esperandieu is delighted to find that he can see through the creature's eyes and even control it. Unfortunately, whenever he is not controlling it, the Pterodactyl becomes dangerous--hence why it caused the death of the prefect.

This is all odd enough, and certainly too baffling for Inspector Albert Caponi (Gilles Lellouche) to make sense of when he is assigned to the case. However, it gets even stranger because we will later learn that Esperandieu brought the Pterodactyl to life as practice.  For what, you ask? Well, as a favor for a young friend of his, the famed and notorious journalist/author/adventurer Adele Blanc-Sec (Louise Bourgoin).

See, Adele is presently in Egypt--despite promising to go to South America for her publisher--in search of the mummy of Patmosis, the supposed personal physician to Pharaoh Ramses II. She needs Patmosis for a consultation and Esperandieu was supposed to bring him back to life for her. Naturally, she runs into a few complications: first her guides turn on her, then they change their mind and help her again, and then she is found by the grotesque Professor Dieuleveult (Mathieu Amalric) along with the soldiers he brought along to kill her via firing squad.

For Adele, this kind of certain death is just Tuesday.

"Again? Seriously?"
Sure enough, Adele manages to set off an explosion and outruns a fireball in order to use the sarcophagus of Patmosis to escape into a secret passage. However, when she gets back to Paris, she learns that Esperandieu has been arrested. When Inspector Caponi paid a visit to Esperandieu, the old kook had the Pterodactyl in his apartment and it went berserk at the sight of Caponi eating a hard-boiled egg. The creature then escaped, but that put the blame for the deaths caused by the beast right on Esperandieu's head.

A head that is due to be chopped off by the guillotine in only a few days.

Adele is desperate to save Esperandieu, since only he can revive the mummy and only the mummy can heal her poor, dear sister Agathe (Laure de Clermont). Agathe has been in a catatonic state ever since a tennis accident drove a hat pin through her skull, and Adele blames herself. However, her increasingly outlandish attempts to break Esperandieu out of jail all fail in montage form. And attempting to get the President to pardon him only results in her being detained for "attacking" the President when she tackles him to save him from the Pterodactyl.

Even pulp heroines end up having one of those days.
The Pterodactyl just makes off with the President's Scottish terrier, instead. However, it apparently just wants the dog for a friend, as a young scientist named Andrej Zborowski (Nicolas Giraud) has already figured out that the Pterodactyl hatched from an egg in his museum and he has set up a nest for it to return to, complete with food so it doesn't keep eating sheep or humans.

Andrej, more importantly, is creepily obsessed with Adele and writes her constantly. In his latest letter, he reveals what he knows about the Pterodactyl. And so Adele realizes perhaps her grandest ambition yet, by flying the Pterodactyl to rescue Esperandieu from the guillotine.

I'd say they were off to attack a zeppelin, but only the hardcore Hammer geeks would get that.
However, when a big game hunter shoots the Pterodactyl, it reveals that Esperandieu is linked to the creature and if either one dies so does the other. So it's a race against time to get the old mystic back to Adele's to bring her mummy back to life before he dies...

Bubba Ho-Tep had a much classier cousin who enjoyed tea between eating souls.
In case it hasn't been made clear from my synopsis, this is a very silly film. I've left out multiple plot lines and side characters, but you can still tell there is a lot going on. Indeed, while the film does occasionally waste time on subplots that we really don't care about, it still moves along at a brisk clip and there is so much happening that you rarely feel its 107 minutes.

You can also tell that this is a film based on a comic book, since virtually every character is covered in some kind of heavy makeup to make them look cartoonish. At times it can be effective and other times it's very unsettling and distracting--I mean, Esperandieu is supposed to be a likable character but he looks like the terrifying Six Flags dancing old man mascot.

However, if you can roll with the aesthetic--and a few moments that come across as a bit racist when Adele is in Egypt--there is a lot to enjoy in the film. I'm always happy to see a Pterodactyl on the rampage and most of the CGI that brings it to life is solid, as is the CGI that later brings mummies to life.

As for the cast, everyone does great with their roles but Louise Bourgoin is particularly delightful as our brash and daring heroine. Adele is perhaps a bit too abrasive at times, but we still root for her the whole time. Having such a charismatic actor inhabiting the role definitely helps and she is, of course, stunningly beautiful.

Rather annoyingly, the film did not get a release in the United States until 2013 when the usually reliable Shout Factory released a copy that had been cut up to remove some brief nudity to make the film a more traditional PG-rated family film. Thankfully, they remedied their mistake ever so slightly by releasing a "Director's Cut" edition only a few months later, but it is still a frustrating example of how American society is disgustingly backwards. God forbid somebody rent this film for their child and see a brief glimpse of Louise Bourgoin's nipples!

Of course, while I like this film quite a bit, it could use a bit of editing. The events following the awakening of the mummy, for instance, is one of the few places where the film drags a bit. If Shout Factory had trimmed those sequences a little shorter instead of excising a tiny amount of nudity, I wouldn't have complained.

However, if you're in the mood for a light, pulpy adventure, you're likely to have a fun time with this one.

This has concluded Day 24 of HubrisWeen 2018! To see what the other Celluloid Zeroes chose for X, click the banner above!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

HubrisWeen 2018, Day 23: The Werewolf and The Yeti (1975)

As a werewolf fan, it was only natural I would hear about Paul Naschy at some point. The man had a hugely prolific career as a horror actor (and director as well), but he is most well-known for a recurring character he played known as Waldemar Daninsky. Waldemar took many different forms over the years, but the main constant was that at some point in any film Waldemar showed up in, he was going to become a werewolf or already was one.

Now, given that Waldemar first appeared prior to the werewolf renaissance year of 1981, when An American Werewolf in London and The Howling completely shook up the genre, it's not shocking that he owed more to Lon Chaney, Jr. than the creations of Rick Baker and Rob Bottin. Still, I am just as much a fan of an old-fashioned wolfman as any other kind of werewolf. All werewolves are awesome, after all.

Except werewolves that are just colored contacts, claws, and fangs. Those werewolves can go straight to hell.

Still, even though I knew of Paul Naschy as early as high school, I did not see any of his films until rather recently. First, I was given a collection of cheap public domain horror films that included one of his Daninsky offerings. Second, Scream Factory put out their first volume of The Paul Naschy Collection on Blu-ray, which allowed me to see several of his films and I adored them almost immediately.

And then, to my delight, I saw that they were releasing The Paul Naschy Collection II and it contained today's film, The Werewolf and The Yeti. I had heard of the film already, and I knew that of its many titles this was both the most accurate and most potentially disappointing.

However, I had no idea how much I was about to love this film.

Perhaps to avoid claims that it doesn't deliver on its promise, we get Yeti in our first 30 seconds. A group of mountaineers on a snowy hillside have just barely walked in front of the camera before a brown Yeti appears out of the nearby woods and proceeds to murder all of them. I'm particularly fond of the fact that the Yeti strangles the last guy with his ski pole.

Those Jack Link's jerky commercials finally pushed Sasquatch over the edge.
The opening credits then give us a look at what our werewolf will eventually look like, before we jarringly transition to stock footage of London accompanied by bagpipe music. It's meant to establish where we are and all, but it's hilariously wrong.

We are introduced to Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy) here, revealing this version is an adventurous anthropologist and pyschologist who has come to visit his old colleague Prof. Lacombe (Castillo Escalona). Waldemar is at first more interested in reuniting with Lacombe's daughter, Sylvia (Mercedes Molina, but billed as Grace Mills). He is astonished that Sylvia has grown into a beautiful woman since they last saw each other, so naturally they will eventually be romantically involved because at the time that wasn't considered incredibly gross.

Ironically, this werewolf does most of his grooming before he gets hairy.
At any rate, Lacombe has called Waldemar there because a colleague of theirs came into possession of two awkward photos of the Yeti that proves it is a shaggy brown humanoid. Unfortunately, the expedition he then mounted to find this Yeti has vanished, so we can infer that we saw them get Yeti-strangled in the opening scene.

I mean, you gotta admit they were successful from a certain point of view.

Well, Lacombe wants to mount another expedition to follow in their footsteps and Waldemar is a perfect choice for it since he has so much experience and he speaks Nepalese. Never mind that the area they will be going to look nothing at all like Nepal, let's just pretend.

At any rate, once they get to "Nepal" and meet up with the rest of the expedition: Larry Talbot (Gil Vidal), Melody (Veronica Miriel), and a couple of other white dudes I couldn't tell apart. Unfortunately, they all learn that inclement weather has closed off the pass they wanted to take for the foreseeable future and Waldemar decides to find an alternate route. Their local guide, who goes by Tiger (Gaspar "Indio" Gonzalez) and is weirdly stereotyped as Indian, leads Waldemar to a crazy man named Joel (Victor Israel, whom I instantly recognized as the doomed porter from Horror Express) who has attempted a little-known passage that no other locals would dare attempt.

You see, it's a demon-infested passage.

Weirdly, Joel is haunted by those demons but is super eager to take Waldemar there anyway. Except that as soon as they are deep into the pass, Joel hears the demons laughing at him and runs away--seemingly plunging to his death, except Waldemar finds that his footprints just end in the middle of a flat patch of snow. Waldemar stumbles throughout a deciduous forest until he happens upon a convenient cave, which proves to be the home to two beautiful women and their idol to a demigod. Once inside he collapses from exhaustion and exposure.

"Dear Penthouse, I am a werewolf mountaineer and I never thought this would happen to me..."
Naturally, these women decide Waldemar is worthy of being saved so that they can nurse him back to health and then have an incredibly awkward threesome with him. It's hard to describe, but it involves one woman humping the other's head over Waldemar's groin. It looks like a confused 12-year-old boy's idea of what happens when lesbians have sex.

Meanwhile, the other expedition has decided to set off on another path since they are afraid that Waldemar may have been lost on his attempt to scout the demon passage. However, they all ignore Tiger's warning that the passage they've chosen takes them into the territory of the dreaded bandit lord, Sekkar Khan. Tiger assures them that if they take that route, Khan will surely kill them all in various horrifying ways.

Meanwhile, Waldemar awakens to find that his hosts are actually cannibals that are really bad at self control, since they are gleefully eating human body parts a short walk from where he was bedded down. Since he assumes they intend him to be their next meal, he tries to escape only to find the cave suddenly has a portcullis blocking his escape. So he follows the cannibal women to where he saw them last and finds them praying over the cobwebbed corpse of someone who apparently had some gnarly fangs before they became a skeleton.

I seriously want to know this guy's story.
The skeleton is adorned in armor and has an arrow in its chestplate, so Waldemar runs up and yanks the arrow out. One of the women attacks him so he impales her in the chest with the arrow. She falls down dead and goes up in smoke like a vampire.

The other woman sprouts a mouthful of fangs and starts to get hairy when she attacks Waldemar. She manages to bite him on the chest, hilariously leaving a scar that is unmistakably a pentagon despite werewolves generally being associated more with pentagrams. He kills her with the arrow, too, and stumbles out of the cave--the portcullis having mysteriously vanished.

It's a full moon, of course, so Waldemar quickly wolfs out. Helpfully, his first target is a camp of bandits who had already clocked the Lacombe expedition as a target. Delightfully, Waldemar first attacks them by leaping at them from atop a huge boulder because this werewolf is nothing if not acrobatic. He slaughters all the bandits, but leaves their horses--who are hilariously calm about the presence of a werewolf.

Sylvia can't sleep, meanwhile, since she keeps worrying about Waldemar either being dead or Tiger's theory that he may have become a demon. So she goes for a walk in the "moonlight." She is accosted by one of the other white dudes, since he is super drunk. However, he does let her go back to her tent so that Waldemar can appear out of the woods and kill him.

DENTISTS HATE HIM! Find out why this werewolf's teeth are so white!
Finding the dead body the next morning puts the expedition in a huge pickle. They assume a Yeti did it, and as soon as the imperialists return to their camp after examining the corpse they find all the sherpas are gone and Tiger has a dagger in his chest. I could never quite figure out if the sherpas stabbed him or if Sekkar Khan's bandits attacked the camp, since Tiger uses his last breath just to basically say, "I told you so, stupid white people," and then he dies.

The expedition continues on, but then they are ambushed by bandits in a valley. Larry and Lacombe get in a few good shots, sending a couple bandits tumbling off of cliffs after being shot in classic fashion. Sylvia successfully runs away, but Melody is shot and injured and the other white dude gets shot dead when he goes back to help her. Larry and Lacome are forced to surrender when they run out of bullets. Unfortunately for Larry, the bandits decide they don't need him alive and he will be "entertainment," which will turn out to be exactly as unpleasant as it sounds.

Some of the bandits catch up to Sylvia, but luckily they are interrupted in their attempted rape of her by Waldemar showing up. Oddly, despite it being broad daylight, he is still a werewolf. Luckily, after Sylvia faints at the sight of a werewolf looming at her with what looks like Chef Boyardee sauce dribbling out of its mouth, Waldemar's humanity takes over and he leaves her unharmed before wandering off to return to human form.

Once he and Sylvia reunite they find that Larry was left behind at the scene of the ambush, but the bandits first beat the crap out of him and then, uh...well, it's not explicitly made clear that this is what they did to him, but he has a spike sticking out of his shoulder and it seems clear that he was impaled on that spike butt-first. I mean, damn, that's messed up. Before the poor bastard dies, Larry tells them that the bandits took Melody and Lacombe to Sekkar Khan's lair.

And what a lair it is! From the outside it looks vaguely authentic, but the inside was borrowed from a sword & sorcery film or maybe a Star Trek episode. Sekkar Khan (Luis Induni) is being treated for an odd skin malady on his back, under the supervision of the mysterious Wandesa (Silvia Solar). She's some sort of foreign seductress/sorceress/mad scientist and she has Khan in her thrall, but is also planning to overthrow him--you know the drill.

See, she even has beakers of colored liquid. Science!
She even first orders the bandit who reports their catch to kill Lacombe right away, but Khan overrules her since he thinks Lacombe might know how to cure his condition that she has thus far failed to. Wandesa is not a fan of this, but isn't ready to move against her master yet.

Waldemar and Sylvia accidentally bump into a strange mute and the monk he serves. The monk leads them to his sanctuary in an abandoned monastery and he quickly recognizes that Waldemar has the mark of the werewolf. He tells Waldemar that there is a cure, but it requires finding a rare red flower higher up the mountain and mixing it with the blood of a young girl.

The monk also tells Waldemar he should let Sylvia in on his secret. However, we cut immediately from that to Waldemar and Sylvia naked in bed and he never once tells her, just tells her that he must leave on his own soon. We cut even more abruptly to the monk chaining Waldemar to a tree that night at his behest.

This film does not believe in transitions.

Luckily, Sylvia observes Waldemar's transformation but when he instantly breaks the chains she has already left the area. So the werewolf instead leaps onto the back of a bandit scout's horse and they both tumble into the snow when the horse falls over. (I don't think the horse appreciated this one bit) Waldemar kills the bandit, while Sylvia gets the scoop on the lycanthropy cure from the monk. However, the monk also gives her a dagger in case she needs to just straight-up kill Waldemar.

Alas, when word of the scout eaten by "wolves" reaches Khan, Wandesa intuits that it was actually a werewolf that did it. Khan is more interested in hearing about the two survivors at the monastery and sends his goons to retrieve them. When Sylvia awakens the next day, she finds the monk's beheaded body and the mute's bloodied corpse before the bandits find her--and human Waldemar arrives in time to also get captured.

Waldemar is chained up next to Lacombe in the dungeon. Waldemar doesn't even have a chance to break the news to Lacombe that his daughter was also captured before Wandesa arrives and has the old doctor dragged off for nefarious purposes. She then tries to seduce Waldemar, going so far as to flash her body double's breasts at him, because no woman can resist Paul Naschy.

To be fair, her reason for wanting to bone him is actually pragmatic. She reveals that she knows he is a werewolf and she wants to use his strength to help her overthrow the Khan. Waldemar refuses, so Wandesa goes into the harem cage where Sylvia and Melody are being held and grabs Melody and a few other unlucky women in order to make a demonstration to Waldemar. Since this is one of those movies that feels the need to introduce characters at the 11th hour, the cell also contains the arrogant Princess Ulka (Ana Maria Mauri) who demands Wandesa set her free and swears that she will have her revenge if she is not freed.

So the demonstration for Waldemar involves chaining Melody and the other women to racks, stripping them naked, and then flaying the skin from their backs. Apparently this is part of the treatment for the Khan, as Wandesa then lays the skin from Melody's back onto the Khan's. I'm really unclear on what this treatment involves since it's implied that Wandesa flayed the backs of all three or four women she brought out, despite her only seeming to need one skin graft, and all three women also seemed to die in the process.

Sylvia absentmindedly plays with the monk's dagger in the cell, since I guess no one searched her for weapons, and Princess Ulka sees. She forcefully borrows the dagger and lures a guard into the cell and kills him with it. Amazingly, she just leaves the dagger in his back, so Sylvia is able to reclaim it. Ulka helpfully tells Sylvia how to find Waldemar's cell and then she takes off with the other women. They overwhelm another guard and strangle him with his own whip before they steal his weapons.

Wandesa is ambushed by Ulka and the other women in her laboratory and then they pin her down and stab her to death. And that's...the end of that plot thread, completely.

Sylvia frees Waldemar, though during their escape from the dungeon a torch is knocked over to start the palace ablaze. Thus begins a long sequence of Waldemar delightfully using his training in Kirk Fu to fight his way through nameless goons until he confronts Sekkar Khan in his bedroom. The fight is relatively even until Khan twists a brazier on the wall to reveal a trapdoor to a pit of spikes--whereupon Waldemar immediately flips the Khan into his own spike pit. Like, they barely even scuffle before the Khan goes in. The good news is that Sylvia and and Waldemar then find her father; the bad news is that it's because he was already in the spike pit.

The full moon has risen by the time they've exited the burning palace, so Waldemar tries to send Sylvia off while he runs away to transform. Unfortunately, the film suddenly remembers it was supposed to have a Yeti in it and the hairy brute attacks Sylvia and carries her off.

"Hey, uh, you guys need me for this shot, right? Guys?"
Waldemar takes forever to wolf out, but then the film finally makes good on its implicit promise of a werewolf fighting a Yeti. Sort of. Sure, there is a guy in werewolf makeup fighting a guy in a Yeti costume. However, it's two brown monsters mostly filmed in a wide shot, through tree branches in the foreground, and under a very dark day-for-night filter.

It's also not a terribly long fight, as you would imagine. Waldemar rather quickly gets the upper paw, biting the shit out of the Yeti as they tumble in the snow. However, I guess werewolves are fatally allergic to Yetis because after killing the Yeti, Waldemar grabs the scar on his chest and collapses as if he has had a heart attack.

So, uh, I guess it's a draw?

Luckily for Waldemar, Sylvia has come out of her Yeti-induced faint and discovered that the red flower they need is right there and cuts her hand so she can bleed on it and then uses it to cure Waldemar. The two then happily wander off into the snow, where they will presumably die of exposure now. The End.

My money is on the, uh, hairy brown one?
Let me be clear right now, this is not a good movie, nor a competent one. It is poorly filmed, kinda racist, has zero focus, and rarely makes sense even with its own logic. It feels like the filmmakers kept getting new ideas for what to do with the story and went off on totally unrelated tangents, forgetting what had come before.

And I love it.

I found this film endlessly entertaining. There's a manic energy at work here that makes it impossible not to get sucked in, even as scattered as the story is--and as indecipherable as most of its too-dark night footage is.

True, it may help that I grew up watching re-runs of Star Trek with my parents, so I always appreciate a good awkwardly choreographed fight. Especially when one of the participants tends to fling his entire body at his opponent, feet-first. And that is basically what most of the middle section of the film is.

Also, yes, there is quite a bit of nudity. I'm only human.

Honestly, the introduction of the Khan is part of what makes the film so fun. Instead of just being a horror story, like many werewolf movies, this is also a weird pseudo-swashbuckler adventure film. With a Yeti, no less! Sure, it isn't exactly what we were promised by the title, but in another way it totally is.

This is also definitely a perfect film to watch with a group. Even just watching it with my wife was a hoot, so a larger crowd would have a field day with this one.

It's certainly a more enjoyable werewolf film than Another Wolfcop, but that isn't saying all that much.

This has concluded Day 23 of HubrisWeen 2018! To see what the other Celluloid Zeroes chose for W, click the banner above!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

HubrisWeen 2018, Day 22: The Vampire Doll (1970)

Thanks to the necessities of doing this all in reverse order, we finally come to the beginning of the Bloodthirsty Trilogy that would later give us Lake of Dracula and Evil of Dracula. Having watched this trilogy forwards and then backwards, I am delighted to say that this means we have saved the absolute best for last.

Sure, something about Evil of Dracula makes me call it my favorite, but this film is still superior.

One of the best parts of the film is that it manages to be so very familiar to Western horror fans, and yet so utterly alien to anything you expect to see in a vampire movie. It also takes some very clear cues from another Western horror movie that may not appear obvious at first glance, but it uses them to far better effect than mere imitation.

It's a dark and stormy night when a taxi deposits Kazuhiko Sagawa (Atsuo Nakamura) at an old house in the country, just barely out of the lashing rain. Kazuhiko has just returned from several months in America and is a bit concerned that his fiancee, Yuko, did not meet him at the train station despite his telegram. Naturally, the house belongs to her family and he decided to simply get directions to the place rather than waste time in town.

Seems like a perfect night to meet the future in-laws, eh?
He's in for two nasty surprises in a row, however. First, the family's mute manservant, Genzo (Kaku Takashina, who would go on to play a similar role in Lake of Dracula), bizarrely attacks him once he is in the door. Luckily, Genzo is called off by Mrs. Shidu Nonomura (Yoko Minazake), his fiancee's mother. However, she then tells him that Yuko died a few days ago when her car was caught in a landslide.

To rub it in even further, Nonomura says her daughter called to Kazuhiko repeatedly on her death bed before she passed. Kazuhiko can hardly believe it, since Yuko (Yukiko Kobayashi, best known for her role as the heroine in Destroy All Monsters) was so full of life the last time he saw her--and she sure seems full of life when he finds her hiding in a wardrobe in the bedroom he was offered for the night. However, someone knocks Kazuhiko out before he can fully process what he is seeing.

Nomomura scoffs at his claim of seeing Yuko, saying again that her daughter is dead and they will go visit her grave in the morning. Kazuhiko isn't convinced, but he simply sits by the window of the bedroom and opens the gift he had brought for Yuko. It's some kind of ceramic doll and he drops it when he sees Yuko, clad in a flowing white nightgown, disappearing into the woods.

He follows her into the woods, finding himself at the site of her grave. Yuko is there, clear as day, but when he approaches her she begs him to kill her. Confused, he simply embraces the love of his life, assuring her it will all be okay. Which means Kazuhiko doesn't see that Yuko's eyes have taken on an inhuman appearance and a devious grin has crossed her face. He also doesn't see her raising a dagger in her bloodied right hand...

"Lasik has done wonders for me!"
...and then Kazuhiko's sister, Keiko Sagawa (Kayo Matsuo) awakens from a nightmare in a cold sweat. She then answers the phone, relieved to hear it is her fiance, Hiroshi Takagi (Akira Nakao, who will be very familiar to Godzilla fans as he would later play prominent authority figures in Godzilla movies between 1992 and 2004, such as Commander Aso in Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla).

Hiroshi playfully chides her for still being asleep so late in the day on a Sunday, but Keiko tells him she had a terrible dream about Kazuhiko. She's very worried about him because he hasn't been heard from in eight days. She's tried calling the number he gave for Yuko's home, but that hasn't worked and she isn't sure if the lines might be down due to the recent storm. While Hiroshi would prefer Keiko not worry at all, he sees nothing for it but for them to take a drive out to Yuko's home.

Hiroshi and Keiko.
As luck would have it, they stop for gas at the very station that Kazuhiko did when he asked for directions to the Nomomura home. The attendant doesn't recall seeing Kazuhiko coming back from the house, however, but he does tell Hiroshi and Keiko something he apparently neglected to mention to her brother--Yuko died recently in a car accident.

Mrs. Nomomura claims that Kazuhiko left four days earlier, but does not recall where he may have gone. While it is a frustrating dead end, the couple figure they ought to at least go to Yuko's grave to pay their respects. However, there is something odd about the grave site. Hiroshi notices that the dirt is soft as if it were recently disturbed--which is unusual in a region where cremation is the norm. Additionally, there are several dead crows nearby with their throats cut--and among their bodies is a very familiar-looking cuff link. Keiko immediately recognizes it as her brother's and Hiroshi observes that it is stained with blood.

Needing an excuse for the couple to stay longer and investigate, Hiroshi surreptitiously sabotages his car's drive belt. However, Mrs. Nomomura is sharp enough to keep the couple from looking too closely at things like the sound of a woman crying coming from behind the oddly heavy metal door to the basement--claiming it is merely the wind through a broken skylight.

Still, Keiko finds an unexpected clue when she finds the head of the doll she knows Kazuhiko brought for Yuko. It's good she found some solid evidence, since she is then suddenly confronted by Yuko in her bedroom and only escapes when Yuko recoils at the light from a lamp that Keiko knocks over. Even Hiroshi is skeptical of Keiko's claims, however.

"Toad from MarioKart looks like what?!"
Still, even Hiroshi can't deny the doll head when Keiko shows it to him the next morning. Feeling repentant for having been so quick to dismiss her the night before, Hiroshi suggests they go into town to investigate the Nomomura family.

Before long, the couple's investigations will lead them into a dark legacy of unsolved murder, cover-ups, the power of the will even after death, and what happens when you hypnotize someone at the moment of death. Worse, they'll put themselves right in the crosshairs of the vampire and the diabolical person pulling her strings...

To hell with Sadako, I actually find Yuko far creepier.
I'm going to leave off there, fairly early in the narrative, because the rest of the film deserves to be seen fresh. Seriously, this film's reveals and climax are wonderfully deranged. It's nowhere near the level of bonkers as, say, the "rational explanation" in The Living Skeleton that actually makes less sense than if a ghost did it, but it is still a lot.

The atmosphere in this one is spectacular, but the film really shines due to its amazing cast. Although, while everyone is great in this one, the real standouts for my money are Kayo Matsuo and Yukiko Kobayashi.

If you've seen Destroy All Monsters, you may recall Yukiko Kobayashi did an amazing job with playing an innocent person who has found herself under the control of the evil alien Kilaaks. It isn't terribly shocking here that she is amazingly unsettling as Yuko, even though the contacts she has to wear were surely uncomfortable and most likely blinding. She also handles the switch back and forth from the vampire to the trapped soul of the innocent Yuko wonderfully.

Meanwhile, Kayo Matsuo is a perfect heroine as Keiko. While she is somewhat relegated to the background by the involvement of her fiance, she is still a very strong heroine and gets to do a lot of her own risk-taking and investigating. Matsuo is also an incredibly gorgeous woman that I confess to crushing on almost immediately--and I am ashamed to say I have seen her in nothing else so far.

I also have to commend Matsuo because she does the greatest expression of wide-eyed horror that I have probably ever seen, which really amps up the actual effectiveness of what's happening in the film.

Now, remember when I mentioned that this film rather surprisingly borrows from another famous Western horror film? Well, I was referring to Psycho. At first, it seems to only be borrowing the structure of introducing a character that seems to be the hero and then quickly killing him off so his sibling can investigate his disappearance. However, the film also later shamelessly steals the reveal of Norman Bates's mother.

Amazingly, though, those are the only aspects of the film that I can point to as having been borrowed from a more famous inspiration. (Although the method of preserving someone after death by hypnotism could well have been inspired by the segment "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" from Tales of Terror) It's surprisingly rare to find a film that knows how to steal only a little bit in order to aid its original story.

While all three films are delightful, I can genuinely say that if you have not seen The Vampire Doll, then you are seriously missing out and need to rectify that at once. Especially with Arrow Video's amazing Blu-ray release, which deserves a lot of praise, as usual.

It would not be a stretch to say that this film is the best one I've reviewed for this year's HubrisWeen, and that is saying quite a lot!

This has concluded Day 22 of HubrisWeen 2018! To see what the other Celluloid Zeroes chose for V, click the banner above!