Thursday, December 25, 2014

Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994)

Yes, I'm still here. Between the level of effort that had to go into Hubrisween and the general demands of being a father to a 6-month old, I haven't really had time to complete a review. However, I knew I couldn't let two important events pass me by:

1. It's Christmas, and I needed to review a movie that is both perfectly suited to a Christmas review and wholly unrelated. A movie about a giant crystal space monster visiting Earth? Totally qualifies!

2. Koichi Kawakita passed away on December 5th, 2014.Therefore, it behooves me to honor him.

Now, I'd like to think most of you reading my reviews already know who Kawakita is. However, I've also seen the search keywords that bring you here, from "sexy T-Rex gore vore" to "giant tadpole crushes man in arena" and the superbly baffling "go to hell terrorist write on hand," so I know at least some of you have no idea what I'm talking about.

(Oh, but if you ever find out what movie contains a giant tadpole crushing a guy in an arena, please let me know. That sounds like a fun time)

Koichi Kawakita was the special effects director for the Godzilla series from 1989 until 1995 (not counting the first two Rebirth of Mothra films, which we will get to soon enough), basically for all but one of the films officially called the Heisei series. He brought us one of the best Godzilla designs in the series in Godzilla vs. Biollante and got the honor of being responsible for rendering Godzilla's death in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah.

Kawakita is in the center, there.
Kawakita's legacy is a bit of a mixed bag, like most special effects artists. He brought the series some of its best effects in Godzilla vs. Biollante, but Godzilla vs. Destoroyah ended his tenure as effects director with some of the worst. He introduced some of the best new creatures the series had ever seen, a Godzilla offspring that actually looks like Godzilla, and imparted a real sense of mass into all the kaiju in the series--but he was also infamous for going so far overboard on beam attacks that many of his films were more like kaiju shootouts than brawls.

And today's film is often touted as the low point of his time in the series. Ask Godzilla fans which films they consider the worst, and today's film will often come near the top of the list.

I utterly reject that notion.

Like Cinemasochist Apocalypse and El Santo, I'm actually quite fond of the film. Why? Well, let's find out!

Somewhere in space, something glowy and crystalline is roaring through the void. The as-yet unknown creature fires off three crystal spheres, zooming away from it at a frightening speed--and slamming into Earth, at an island whose name is either Birth, Burse, or Bass Island depending on which subtitle, dub, or bad English dialogue you're listening to. The name is unimportant. What is important is that the island is next door to where Godzilla is having himself an underwater nap. So, thanks to stock footage from Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle For Earth, Godzilla wakes up good and cranky thanks to yet another damn meteorite landing on his head.

Meanwhile, the UNGCC (United Nations Godzilla Countermeasure Center) is working on their new super-robot, Moguera--an acronym for Mobile Operation Godzilla Expert Aero-type, the "U" is supposed to be "Universal" but it was only added in after Toho decided to officially Romanize the robot's name as "Moguera" instead of "Mogera," which is how it appears in the film. Now, Moguera actually is a character that had appeared before, as an instrument of alien destruction in Toho's 1957 film, The Mysterians. Here it's been given a new origin and, as hard as it will soon be to believe, been given a significant upgrade in the badassness department.

At least this Moguera isn't taken out by a falling satellite dish,

"Yeah, come at me, satellite dishes. I've been working out!"
It still looks pretty goofy, though. Even minus the spinning antennae on its head.

At any rate, Moguera is not only armed to the teeth with the usual missiles and laser beams, but it can split into two vehicles: Land Moguera (a tank with a giant drill, made from the top half) and Star Falcon (a flying vessel, made from the bottom half). If you're looking for a cheap laugh, note that the Star Falcon's cockpit folds out from what is basically Moguera's codpiece.

While Minister Takayuki Segawa (Kenji Sahara!) is busy grinning over Moguera and getting thumbs up from token white guys at the Moguera launch base, another project is underway. We'll quickly learn this Project T, as in T for Telepathy, and it is headed by Professor Chinatsu Gondo (Towako Yoshikawa) and Doctor Susumu Okubo (Yosuke Saito). All they are missing for their project is the right psychic, so who would you expect them to turn to except Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka, reprising the role for the fifth time and wearing a pretty cute bob this time instead of her usual ponytail).

"I'm the protagonist this time!"
When the two come to her at the ESP Institute, Miki isn't sure she wants to help. After all, she's spent the previous four films getting to know Godzilla and doesn't feel he should be controlled like a puppet. Of course, as Gondo points out, would Miki prefer Project Moguera insead, which seeks to kill Godzilla? (Good luck with that) Okubo, who is much more direct, says that they'll just have to recruit one of Miki's pupils instead. Miki finds that far more objectionable, as none of them are as advanced as she is and trying to pit their telepathy against Godzilla's mental will could kill them.

Miki takes a walk to think things over and two things happen. First, she sees a vision of Mothra flying through space--where she went at the end of Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle For Earth to save Earth from an oncoming asteroid that would obliterate it in 1999--with little Mothras flying off of her. (The implications of this will become clear later) The second is that the Mothra symbol earrings she wears begin to glow and she is visited by Fairy Mothra, a psychic projection of Mothra, that then changes into the image of The Cosmos (the "twin" fairies, Sayako Osawa and Keiko Imamura reprising their role from the 1992 film). The Cosmos warn Miki that a horrible space monster is heading toward Earth and it wants to kill Godzilla, and that would be a very bad thing since Godzilla is the only thing that can stop the beast from destroying Earth.

Gee, bet Mothra wishes she hadn't gotten Battra killed now, huh?

With a plea to Miki to help Godzilla save the Earth, The Cosmos vanish. Gondo and Okubo walk up, and Miki now eagerly accepts the chance to help. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Koji Shinjo (Jun Hashizume) and Lieutenant Kiyoshi Sato (Zenkichi Yoneyama) of G-Force have been dropped off on Birth Island. They're supposed to be there to assist Major Akira Yuki (Akira Emoto) with preparations for Project T, but his welcome to them is to stab Sato in the neck in order to save the man from a lethal local variety of big damn spider. (Okay, so the poor spider that gets to take a knife through the cephalothorax appears to be a variety of tarantula, so it's more a big darn spider) Also, Shinjo noticed his compass going haywire and both he and Sato observed the huge, mysterious crystal structures left by the space monster before the spider incident--but they seem to promptly forget about them immediately after.

Yuki may be a big grump, but for some reason that is lost on Little Godzilla, who follows yuki around like a 30-meter puppy. The cute, well-designed Baby Godzilla from the previous film has grown into his toddler stage, which makes him look like one of those "Chibi" or "Super-Deformed" Godzilla toys come to life. It's a design that, like Minilla in the Showa films, is not unjustifiably reviled for being an attempt at creating something sickeningly cute. However, he actually is kind of cute and I've found that the older I get the less I mind his design. I still much prefer the more dinosaurish Baby Godzilla and Godzilla Junior designs on either side of this film.

"Love me!"

Yuki sets Sato and Shinjo to work digging holes to fill with tear gas mines. This has jack-all to do with Project T, but you see some idiot decided that the best person to head a mission designed to control Godzilla instead of killing him was a guy obsessed with killing Godzilla. I have no idea what purpose the mines serve, other than annoying Godzilla whenever he decoes to take a stroll on the beach or come up on land to check in on his adopted son, but Yuki's real plan is to kill Godzilla with--a bullet. A bullet full of blood coagulant, fired by an uzi, which he intends to fire at a weak spot in Godzilla's arm pit.

Because a creature that shrugs off tank rounds, missiles, masers, electric shock, and acid to the eyes will totally be taken down by small arms fire. Weirdly, nobody ever points this out to Yuki when they're trying to dissuade him from his Ahab complex.

While those three doofuses are digging holes and watching Yuki shower (yeah, I have no idea what that scene is about, but there's some brief rear male nudity if that's your thing), NASA is conferring with the UNGCC. You see, their interplanetary exploratory ship has been destroyed--the only evidence they have to go on is footage of a bunch of terrible white actors in "zero gravity"suddenly being killed by crystal spires piercing the hull of their ship. NASA has concluded "that some kind of giant monster..." and they need the UNGCC's help to fill in the blanks.

Well, luckily UNGCC has pretty good telescopes at their disposal and they see the space creature passing by what I think is meant to be Jupiter--based on later scenes--and over the objections of Commander Takaki Aso (Akira Nakao), who thinks it should be used against Godzilla, Minister Segawa orders Moguera to be launched to intercept the fiend before it reaches Earth. and yes, this means that NASA apparently launched a vessel far enough out to be attacked by a space monster before said monster had even passed by the asteroid belt.

On Birth Island, Miki arrives with Gondo and Okubo. Shinjo immediately puts his foot in his mouth by asking why she likes Godzilla so much. I suppose next he'll ask a vegan why they think eating meat is wrong, while chomping on a turkey leg. Gondo, meanwhile, seeks out Yuki since the two have a history--a history of her apparently trying to get her brother's friend to notice how freaking pretty she is, while he either remains oblivious or pretends to be. (More on her brother in a minute) She's rather irritated that he had asked her to send him all kinds of medicines to make "Yuki's Special," but her attempts to get him to "notice me, damn it" while he fiddles with the bullet are interrupted by the mines going off on the beach.

Naturally, after Shinjo and Sato are overcome by the tear gas, it turns out that Little Godzilla was setting off the mines because Yuki somehow forgot there was a baby kaiju on the island that thinks everything Yuki does is fun to mess with. Naturally, the mines drive off Little Godzilla in a way they absolutely won't for the real deal. And naturally, the real deal--perhaps having heard his child's cries of distress--decides to emerge from the sea, set to Akira Ifukube's classic theme (although the film's overall score is by Takayuki Hattori). The long shot of Godzilla, superimposed into the sea, is one of the best shots from Kawakita's reign as effects director--but then, composite shots were definitely one of his strengths.
"Yes, dear, the vista is beautiful but can we run now?!"
Of course, the best shot is immediately followed by the sequence that is widely considered the lowest point in Kawakita's work: the asteroid belt sequence. The concept is marvelous--Moguera attempts to take on the space monster in a dog fight amongst asteroids floating between Mars and Jupiter. Unfortunately, either Kawakita ran out of time or budget for the sequence and what ends up in the film is two small props of Moguera and Space Godzilla facing off amongst unmoving foam asteroids in front of a plain black backdrop.

"But sir, the odds of making a convincing asteroid belt on film are--" "Never tell me the odds!"
There's no arguing that, in execution, it's a pretty dismal failure. However, I think that it still gets more hate than it deserves--and a lot of the hate for the movie itself seems to motivated by the poor quality of this one scene. That strikes me as pretty odd given that, overall, this film actually has some of the best effects of the 1990s films. It's certainly far more consistent than the effects work of the next film, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, which was supposed to be the big hurrah for the Japanese series but had Godzilla super-imposed in the background of scenes where normal traffic and unhurried pedestrians carried on in the foreground and where the wheels under the little Destoroyah models were plainly visible even on bootleg VHS tapes. And when you consider that this film has a far larger percentage of kaiju scenes compared to non-kaiju scenes, just one terrible effects sequence becomes a lot more excusable.

At any rate, the sequence concludes with Moguera failing to do anything but slightly annoy Space Godzilla before getting a leg blown off and spiralling off into the void of space, while its opponent continues on to Earth. Moguera must find its way back to Earth somehow as no dialogue indicates it was completely rebuilt when next we see it.

Project T commences on Birth Island in the meantime. Sato and Shinjo chase after Godzilla on a dirt bike and use a grenade launcher to fire a shell at the base of is neck that turns out to be a miniature receiving dish. Then Miki puts on a helmet hooked up to a computer that broadcasts her brainwaves at Godzilla--and allows her to control him and make him calmly walk down the beach. Yuki spends this sequence ludicrously "hunting" Godzilla. Of course, Godzilla's brainwaves quickly become out of sync with Miki's and when Okubo recklessly tries to boost the signal past safety limits, he nearly kills Miki with the feedback.

Yuki, meanwhile, manages to waste every shot he has firing at Godzilla's bicep and chest. When Shinjo and Sato find out that Project T failed, they decide to go help Yuki kill Godzilla. (?!) With their sidearms. (?!?!) For some reason, this development greatly alarms Miki and Gondo, who try to stop them out of concern for Godzilla's wellbeing. This is a bit like trying to stop a child from poking a full-grown bull moose with a thumbtack because you're worried the moose will get hurt.

At any rate, it becomes a moot point when Space Godzilla lands on the island right by his crystal power converters. Where Little Godzilla is currently hanging out. Seeing the resemblence to his papa, Little Godzilla attempts to make contact--only to cower in fear from Space Godzilla's frightening countenance. Little Godzilla's eyes light up red briefly, in a bad attempt to recall the actually good effect from the previous film where Baby Godzilla's eyes glowed red when he was afraid. And the Space Godzilla proceeds to beat up on a kid. Boo, hiss!

Of course, given later developments, this actually is more like an illegitimate child lashing out at the half-sibling their father actually chose to recognize. You can't blame Space Godzilla for being upset at that!

Godzilla comes to the rescue of the son who isn't an eldritch abomination from the depths of space. However, Space Godzilla's powerful lightning beam weapons, energy shield, and ability to fly quickly put Godzilla in the position of having to use his body to shield Little Godzilla from the blasts. But Space Godzilla, being a bastard--in more ways than one--seizes the opportunity when the wounded Godzilla falls over, and telekinetically yanks Little Godzilla away and imprisons him in one of the crystal structures. Space Godzilla then flies off for parts unkown and the real Godzilla stumbles into the sea to recuperate.

Even Yuki can agree that obviously the space monster is the bigger threat. So quickly plans are made to head back to Japan--only Miki is planning to stay and look after Godzilla and the little one. (What she can do for him while he's trapped in that crystal prison is beyond me) Shinjo, already lovestruck with Miki, decides to stay behind--and makes Sato stay, too. Nobody notices the suspicious look on Okubo's face before the helicopter departs.
"I have a wonderfully Grinchy idea!"
Gondo makes a presentation to the UNGCC about Space Godzilla, explaining that the creature's cells are nearly identical to Godzilla's, so it must be a "Space Godzilla." Gondo explains that the Godzilla cells that formed the creature could either have come from Biollante (who shouldn't actually have ever existed, thanks to the time travel nonsense in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah) or Mothra (hence Miki's vision earlier). The cells then fell into a black hole (!), came out a white hole (?!), and then merged with a crystalline lifeform and then grew powerful by absorbing the energy of exploding stars.

Oooookay, then. Ask Stephen Hawking if this hypothesis checks out and I'm sure he'll find a way to punch you.
At sunset on Birth Island, Miki gets another visit from Fairy Mothra that tells her nothing of substance. However, she and Shinjo get to have a relationship-building conversation where we get a few hints that he's not as obstinate and violent as she thinks he is, but he also stupidly wonders if all she thinks about is Godzilla. Look, there's a reason she's the first regularly recurring human character in a Godzilla movie, chump! Oh, and then some mercenaries break into the camp at night, beat Shinjo and Sato up, and kidnap Miki.
Look, she's psychic but she's not clairvoyant, okay?

Of course, when Gondo picks up Shinjo and Sato--minus Yuki, who is following up leads--she already suspects Okubo kidnapped Miki. Which implies she suspected that her project partner was up to no good but didn't bother to warn anybody until he did something. Also, we find out here that Gondo's brother was one Colonel Gondo--who G-fans would remember as the awesome character from Godzilla vs. Biollante who had the nerve to shoot Godzilla point blank in the mouth with a rocket launcher and quip about it. Of course, you might recall he then got a building dropped on his head as a result of his wise assery, and Yuki has been obsessed with avenging his friend ever since.

Miki wakes up strapped to a bed as Okubo removes the Project T helmet from her head. See, he was copying her brain wave patterns into his computer so he can control Godzilla without her--and naturally he wants to use Godzilla to hold countries to ransom. Of course, this doesn't explain why he needed to kidnap Miki if he could have just copied her brainwaves, but villain. Villain currently hiding out in a known Yakuza base, in fact.

Well, "the Japanese mafia," according to Yuki. Normally I would assume that means Yakuza, but given most of the gangsters we see are white guys, maybe this really is a Japanese branch of the mafia. Shinjo, Sato, and Yuki sneak into the base as Okubo is directing Godzilla to swim...somewhere, to the delight of the white guys. Meanwhile, Space Godzilla is flying over Japan and causing machines to go haywire. So haywire, in fact, that a claw machine begins somehow rapidly spewing out stuffed animals to the delight of a comic relief businessman and his terrified underling.

Godzilla's brainwaves once again outmatch the control system, just as our heroic trio burst in and get into a gunfight with several thugs. Miki helpfully uses telekinesis--a power even she didn't know she had--to help Shinjo shoot a gangster in the foot. And then it's time for all the good guys to run away, because Space Godzilla is coming. So Okubo gets to die trying to fix his machine that will never work, as Space Godzilla blasts the hell out of the building as he flies over.

Of course, it's time for everybody to beat feet to G-Force HQ because earlier Commander Aso asked Yuki to head Project Moguera, and Space Godzilla just set up shop in Fukuoka and turn the city into his own crystal fortress. Naturally, Moguera requires two copilots, so Shinjo and Sato go right from shooting gangsters to kaiju punching duty. Shinjo and Miki get a tender goodbye and Yuki...asks Gondo to refill his lighter for him. That's his way of letting her know he cares, or something.

However, Godzilla has just landed on the coast, after destroying stock footage of the naval armada from Godzilla vs. Biollante, and he making is way toward Fukuoka to take out his evil spawn.Yuki forgets the mission briefly to go antagonize Godzilla, but Shinjo knocks his superior officer out with one hit--incredibly easily, considering they're all wearing helmets--and ties him up so Moguera can return to its original mission:

Getting the tar kicked out of it by Space Godzilla.

Even the robot's crew calls it a piece of crap in the middle of the fight. Luckily for them, Godzilla shows up in Fukuoka and either doesn't hold a grudge against them for shooting him or is too focused on revenge against Space Godzilla to care. It's a good thing, too, because it will take their combined might to defeat him...

It is very true that the climactic battle between the three combatants isthe perfect embodiment of the main complaint against Kawakita's effects: most of it consists of the monsters standing on opposite sides of the screen firing beams at each other and rarely ever coming into physical contact with each other. However, that doesn't automatically mean that the climax is boring or uninteresting. Far from it. The film concludes with colorful beams and massive explosions, and Fukuoka is practically wiped off the map in the process. What more could you want out of a kaiju battle?

Oh, okay, sure, you could want actual physical combat. Koichi Kawakita decided early on in his tenure on the series that he wanted to fully imbue his monsters with a sense of mass and power. He felt that, in order to do that, he needed to reduce a lot of the grappling and wrestling of the preceding series. It wasn't all that noticeable in Godzilla vs. Biollante and the first half of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, but by Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle For Earth it was pretty obvious. Mothra was given beam weapons for the first time ever simply so she could blast laser beams at Godzilla from afar.

Yet, was that necessarily a bad thing? One of the most badass moments in the whole series was the first time Godzilla and Mechagodzilla met and we were shown how evenly matched they were when their beams met and caused a massive explosion. Beam battles are fun and colorful, Are they repetitive? Sure, but even the best kaiju brawl can be accused of that.

Indeed, perhaps one reason this film is so reviled by so many Godzilla fans is that its kaiju battles deliver almost exactly what every Godzilla fan always asks for: more Godzilla and monster battles. This film delivers more Godzilla action than about 90% of the series and shows why it's actually a good thing that not every Godzilla movie has a lot of Godzilla in it. Much as I love the film, it does get a bit monotonous at times because there's only so many ways to keep a monster battle going past ten minutes of screen time.

That said, I still feel that the film gets unfairly maligned for no good reason, especially compared to the other Heisei films. Is it honestly worse than the total mess that is Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah? Worse than the final sendoff that feels more like everyone just giving up in Godzilla vs. Destoroyah? I don't think it is. I think it's a fun romp and callback to the heroic Godzilla films of the 1970s, and sometimes that's enough to damn a film in the eyes of fans who think Godzilla should be serious all the damn time.

Does that mean the film doesn't have major flaws? Of course not. There are plot elements that make no sense (like nobody bothering to investigate the crystals on Birth Island before Space Godzilla shows up), the attempts to make this almost a direct sequel to Godzilla vs. Biollante are odd (especially since, per the Heisei timeline, that film never happened), and really the Project T subplot only serves the purpose of giving Miki something to do--and Okubo's villainy is almost totally a plot cul-de-sac.

Then there's the monsters. Space Godzilla is awesome, which even the film's detractors usually agree with. But, much as I loved Kawakit'a Godzilla design in its 1989 debut, the fact that every suit that followed was only minor variations made it get somewhat dull. And I have never liked how the eyes went from dark and feral to bright eyes that look totally out of place in the suit--potentially as an attempt to make the face look more feline as opposed to the more seal-like appearance it originally had. And while Little Godzilla and Moguera are not as awful as popular opinion states, they aren't all that good, either. Somehow, though, it all evens out for me.

Is everyone who dislikes this film just a stick in the mud who forgot how to have fun? Of course not. As I said, it's a flawed film. However, it's a fun film and for me that is far more important. Godzilla may have started out as a serious, somber allegory--but its evolution into a fun, pulpy series is what made it so enduring. And this film embodies that side of Godzilla wonderfully. If you're open to it, I think most people will find it it to be quite fun.

So have a Merry Christmas, and try to be sure that any unexpected family reunions don't end with someone locked in a crystal cage,

"Merry Kaiju-mas!"

Friday, October 31, 2014

HubrisWeen, Day 26: Zombies of Mora Tau (1957)

I am so sick of zombies.

Don't get me wrong, there are still some zombie movies being made that I have enjoyed and there are ways to tell a zombie story that won't make me just roll my eyes and move on. On the whole, however, I am absolutely sick of them and would not complain if horror movies were to declare them off-limits for the foreseeable future.

So when I began putting together my list of HubrisWeen films I declared that I was going to do my damnedest to avoid any film with "Zombie" in the title for my Z film. I quickly began to realize this was a doomed effort.

But then I realized: why not choose a zombie movie that isn't full of Romero-style flesh eaters? Why not choose a film about traditional zombies?

Yes, indeed that proved easier to swallow.

We open with a title card telling us that there exists a "twilight zone" between life and death, and the poor souls trapped in this in-between become--"The Walking Dead!" So that's two hit television shows that didn't exist yet name-dropped in the opening.

As an illustration of what the title card is referring to, we join our heroine Jan Peters (Autumn Russell) as she is being driven to her childhood home in Mora Tau, Africa. I'm not sure what part of Africa but it's whichever coast looks identical to California and is completely devoid of absolutely any black people. Though given this is 1957, I should probably be glad of that.

On the road, Jan spies a strange, shambling figure (Karl "Killer" Davis) covered in seaweed heading towards their car. To her horror, the driver, Sam (Gene Roth), runs the man over without any remorse--breaking a headlight in the process. Sam apologizes to Jan for not stopping, but tells her that her grandmother will explain. Well, Grandmother Peters (Marjorie Eaton) explains that the man was "one of them" and Jan expresses dismay that her mother still believes in that voodoo nonsense. Jan is still skeptical even after, later that evening, she sees her grandmother standing by the launch landing as another man with the same shambling gait walks right past the old woman and wades into the water until he disappears from view.

Mrs. Peters won't be the only believer soon. A ship has anchored off the coast, which proves to be a salvage expedition run by George Harrison (Joel Ashley), who is after some legendary diamonds supposedly found in the wreck of the Susan B, which lies 100 feet below their very position. He has hired professional diver Jeff Clark (Gregg Palmer) to help secure these diamonds. Though Harrison's wife, Mona (Allison Hayes, better known as the titular giantess of Attack of the 50-Foot Woman), would like to invite Jeff to do a complete different kind of diving, if you catch my drift. The expedition's last member is Dr. Jonathan Eggert (Morris Ankrum, here not playing a general), who is along solely because of the legends attached to the diamonds--he's some kind of an anthropologist or some such, and he actually doesn't want a share of the loot.

The group toasts to their luck and, in a truly baffling bit, Mona throws her arms around Jeff and George responds to Jeff's discomfort with, "Oh, can't you take a kiss without making something out of it?" Whereupon Mona plants a big, wet kiss on Jeff and George looks on with a completely inscrutable expression. Is he angry? Amused? Hoping for a threeway? You got me.

At any rate, the crew are properly welcomed to the waters of Mora Tau when a mysterious figure rises out of the water and grabs one of their sailors. Another sailor fires at the attacker and is certain he hit the man, but it's no good. The sailor is fished out of the water, dead. His neck was broken, so at least he wasn't a victim of friendly fire. Naturally, when they put ashore Mrs. Peters and Jan are waiting for them and Mrs. Peters demonstrates that she knows that they lost a man, and furthermore she knows how.

See, Dr. Eggert had written to Mrs. Peters to let her know of their coming, so she got herself ready for the inevitability of their demise. She shows them a graveyard full of impromptu grave markers indicating 1906, 1914, 1923, 1928, and 1938--the years of various European and American expeditions that have come to raid the Susan B and instead found themselves victims of the zombies that guard the cursed treasure. Those zombies used to be the crew of the Susan B, who had found the diamonds in an ancient temple and attempted to make off with them, only to perish and sink under mysterious circumstances. The captain of that vessel was one John Peters (Frank Hagney), and you can guess whose husband he used to be.

Mrs. Peters has helpfully had graves dug for Harrison's expedition and the dead sailor is deposited into one just as Mona falls into another. Terrifying enough on its own, but Mona is suddenly overcome with terror because she is certain the grave was meant to be hers.

It doesn't help that, shortly afterward, one of the strange men wanders into the bedroom that Jan and Mona are in. Jerry's attempt to physically force the zombie through the outside door nearly gets him killed, but Mrs. Peters shows them the one true way to drive away the walking dead--a lit torch. The zombies are terrified of fire, perhaps, she muses, because it's the only thing that can destroy them. Don't expect anybody to actually test that hypothesis, though.

Mona, Jan, and Grandmother Peters: Badass.
Mrs. Peters and Dr. Eggert talk and we learn that she has stayed in this zombie-infested jungle estate because she believes that if the cursed diamonds are found and destroyed, then her husband and the other walking dead will finally find eternal rest. Dr. Eggert is not sure that this expedition will be the ones to free her husband, seeing as how Harrison is not the sort of man to find precious diamonds and then dispose of them. But Mrs. Peters can dream.

Meanwhile, to Mona's disappointment, Jerry has taken a shine to Jan. After some painful 1950s flirting, Jan tells him about running down the zombie on the road and he decides they should grab a Very pistol--since if fire scares them, so should flares--and drive out to the scene of the collision to see if the zombie survived. Sure enough, they find the headlight fragments and the footprints of the zombie leading from the direction of the bay to the road...and then on past where the accident should have killed him. Showing some actual sense, Jerry says he'll mark the spot and they'll come back during daylight to investigate further. Naturally, the danger of the night is somewhat undercut by the fact that this sequence is so obviously day-for-night that the couple's flashlights aren't even on!

Unfortunately, when Jerry goes back to the car, the zombie decides it has had enough of just watching them from the treeline and grabs Jan to carry her off. Jerry stabs the zombie in the throat and then just gets slapped away for his troubles. When he comes to, the zombie has gotten far enough into the jungle that only Jan briefly regaining consciousness to scream allows him to follow her kidnapper to a mausoleum in a jungle cemetery. Jan has been laid out on an altar of some sort in the mausoleum, and Jerry is just in time as the zombies rise from their sarcophagi something to her. Well, Jerry uses the Very gun to dissuade the zombies from doing whatever it is that a group of zombies who haven't yet learned to gutmunch would do to a prone victim. He then rescues Jan.

"Hello!" "Hello! "Hellloooooo!"
And for the first time (but certainly not the last) I notice that the flares Jerry fires always seem to float above the zombies, offscreen, regardless of what direction he was aiming the gun when he fired.

The next morning, after having apparently spent all night telling his story to Dr. Eggert, Jerry asserts that he is certain he could find the jungle cemetery again if necessary. But that will have to wait, because it's time for Jerry to make his first dive down to the Susan B. Jerry hits bottom right next to the wreck, and discovers that the safe is easily visible from the outside--but then he's ambushed by a zombie. After a quick struggle, the zombie disconnects Jerry's airhose. (Which, I swear, is accompanied by a toilet flushing sound effect!)  And, unfortunately, as Jerry himself already observed: zombies don't need to breathe, but he does.

A word on these diving sequences: obviously, the challenge was that they needed to have the zombies able to attack someone in a diving suit. And since there are no actual walking dead in Hollywood, they had to get around their zombies' need to breathe. Apparently this film's director didn't feel like taking the same path as Lucio Fulci, who hired a stuntman willing to hold his breath and wrestle a shark for Zombie, so the obvious alternative was to film the scenes on a dry set. So, how did they get around the problem of making it look like the diver was exhaling underwater?

By installing a bubble machine in the diving suit.
Note bubbles emerging from the helmet.
To the film's credit, the bubbles actually do float straight up, so the suit must have a powerful fan in it as well. Also, it's adorable.

Jerry is hauled up before he completely suffocates and taken back to the Peters house, where Mrs. Peters offers an herbal remedy to stimulate his breathing since the nearest hospital is too far away to help him in time. Mona is convinced that Mrs. Peters is behind all this zombie nonsense that it takes Jan tasting the remedy to convince her it's not poison. Even then, when Jerry comes to and Mona walks in on Jan tending to him, she gets so rude with Jan that George barges in and backhands her. He gets so violent, in fact, that Mona chooses to run out into the jungle to get away from him. To the other characters' credit, they do seem at least disgusted by George's violence even though they don't do anything to stop it.

Night falls, and Mona still hasn't returned. Mrs. Peters tells the others that the zombies have Mona and if they've had her this long, it's too late for her. Still, George, Jerry, Dr. Eggert, and two sailors make the trek to the mausoleum and find Mona lying on her back on the floor. The zombies rise as Mona is carried away and it's only by setting a gasoline fire at the door to the mausoleum that the group escapes. However, Mrs. Peters immediately declares that Mona is dead when she sees the woman's blank stare and shambling gait.

Naturally, the others dismiss the only person who's been around zombies for 50-odd years and take her into a bedroom. She won't close her eyes and go to sleep, so George stops watching for for a minute--and she immediately grabs a switchblade and wanders into the room where the two sailors are sleeping. (In the same bed, I might add, so--hello, sailor!) She stabs one and goes after the other, who woke up in time to escape his fellow's fate. In a combination of very well-made rubber prop and very good sound design (I hope!), the surviving sailor throws a candlestick at Mona and hits her right in the forehead. She doesn't even wince and advances until the others hear his scream and restrain Mona. At Mrs. Peters' urging, the zombified woman is returned to her bed and then surrounded by lit candles.
"Turn around, bright eyes..."
George is even more determined to get the cursed diamonds now, so he and Jerry suit up and go down with lit acetylene torches. For some reason they do this at night, but probably because they want to leave as soon as possible and hoped the zombies were still trapped by the fire.

They aren't.

George is quickly swarmed because, again, he refuses to actually use the torch on the zombies. Perhaps because the "torches" are clearly some kind of reflective plastic meant to simulate a focused flame. George is hauled up safely, and Jeff manages to crack open the safe and extract the chest containing the diamonds. He's then hauled up as well...

...only that chest is a homing beacon. And, in a sequence foretelling so many zombie movies to follow, they swarm the deck of the salvage ship. The torches they have aboard burn down too quickly and the flares run out. The sailors all jump overboard and swim to shore--luckily for them all the zombies are on deck--but George (who was somehow wounded during the dive), Dr. Eggert, and Jerry are trapped in the cabin with the zombies trying to bust their way inside.

Jerry hits on a way to save them all from certain death, not that George is much a fan of it. Jerry fashions a torch, grabs the chest, and hops in the launch to head to shore. George may be convinced Jerry is cheating him, but even he can't deny that the zombies break off their attack to follow the chest. When Jerry lands in the bay and comes into the house, Mrs. Peters helps him to figure out how to open the chest and extract the diamonds--which he hides in Jan's scarf. But Mrs. Peters insists the diamonds must be destroyed to end the curse. Jerry feels that surely selling the diamonds would do just as well, especially in America with an ocean for the zombies to have to walk through in order to follow him.

Oh, but they're already following.

Diamonds are a ghoul's best friend.
Well, George barges in and grabs the chest, not having time to confirm if Jerry had opened it and relieved him of his booty. He grabs Mona, who naturally fixates on the chest immediately--the zombies are apparently not able to tell the difference, either, or else Jerry left some diamonds in there--and prepares to depart as the zombies turn back towards the launch. Unfortunately, he set the chest down long enough to untie the launch and as Mona grabbed it. When George tries to pick his wife up, she caves his skull in with the chest and joins her undead companions as they head into the jungle.

Well, Jerry convinces Jan and Mrs. Peters to leave with him. But when they get to the launch, the zombies return--having somehow figured out that the chest was empty. And now, in what I can only assume is a function of the filmmakers realizing they were almost at the 70 minute mark and needed to cut things short for matinee length, the film just completely drops any pretense of logic.

Mrs. Peters sees her husband standing there in his waterlogged uniform and, seeing her face, Jerry relents and gives her the diamonds to "destroy." This means that Mrs. Peters drops them over the side of the launch into the shallow water of the bay (!) and then Captain Peters suddenly disappears (!) leaving his clothes behind. "I'll never be rich again," Jerry sighs, because apparently no one could ever possibly retrieve diamonds from five feet of water. The End.

So, when the diamonds were under 100 feet of water that could only be reached by experienced divers, the zombies were cursed because somebody could find those diamonds--but when they're in water shallow enough that your average kindergartner could retrieve them, the zombies are finally at peace?! Yeah, the only way that ending makes any sense is if they were trying to wrap things up as quickly as possible and ran out of ideas.

Up to that point, Zombies of Mora Tau is actually a very enjoyable pulp adventure. Not only do you have a pack of creepy zombies, but you have Allison Hayes vamping it up as a femme fatale and Marjorie Eaton being a badass old lady who fearlessly faces down zombies while also not being as reckless about it as all of her male costars--most of whom nearly kill themselves in the process.

And, of course, you can't downplay the fact that this film is rather unique in the realm of zombie lore. These zombies are of the traditional variety: resurrected corpses brought to life by magic or voodoo. However, unlike most traditional zombie films there is no zombie master. These zombies aren't doing the bidding of a mortal villain: they're somehow controlled by those cursed diamonds. As such they're weirdly similar to the Romero-style zombies we all know and are absolutely sick of these days.

Bottom line, this film is a very enjoyable romp full of delightful pulp tropes--and adorable bubble effects--that completely falls apart at the very end. But as I said, it's only 70 minutes long, so it breezes by quickly enough that you don't really mind that it trips over its own feet in the last 2.

Did I mention the bubble machine? Because that's still just so adorable.

Welcome to Day 26, as we bring HubrisWeen to a close. It has been a wild ride and I highly suggest you check out how my compatriots chose to end their journey. (Hint: It's really, really hard to avoid a movie with "Zombie" in its title)

Will we do this again next year? Stay tuned to find out...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

HubrisWeen, Day 25: You're Next (2011)

Pleasant surprises are one of the best parts of being a genre fan.

When I first saw trailers for a movie about a house under siege by creeps in animal masks, I assumed it was just another torture porn horror flick. Had I known it was originally released in 2011, but did not get a wide release until 2013, I'm sure I would have fought even harder against my friend's suggestion that we go see it.

I guess I owe her one, because she made the right call and You're Next proved to be almost nothing like what I had expected.

The film starts off, not horribly promisingly, with a sex scene between a middle-aged man and his much younger girlfriend. After he finishes, he goes to take a shower, leaving her to make herself a screwdriver and blare some music on the stereo. Stepping out of the shower, the man finds that the sliding glass door between the bedroom and living room has something written on it in what appears to be blood. He can't read it at first, because it's written so it can be read on the other side of the glass, but we get to see that it says "You're Next."

If he appreciates the nod towards proper grammar, he doesn't get to express it. For right about then he sees his lover's dead body lies on the other side of the glass. And then somebody in a Lamb Mask (L.C. Holt) attacks him.

This may seem like a typical body count murder, but it will actually be relevant later on.

We now join Australian ex-pat and grad student, Erin (Sharni Vinson) as she rides along with her boyfriend, and former professor we will later learn, Crispian (A.J. Bowen), as he drives them to his parents' vacation home for a family reunion in celebration of his parents' anniversary. There's some banter about what to expect, but despite Crispian's doom and gloom, Erin is excited to meet his family. Though it is a little unnerving that his father works for a major defense contractor.

His parents, meanwhile, are just arriving at the house--which just so happens to be down the street from the murder house. Family patriarch Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey (Barbara Crampton! Whom I felt immediately ashamed at not recognizing when the end credits rolled, but to be fair I'm not used to seeing her fully clothed for an entire film) begin unloading their car and settling in--but then Aubrey hears someone upstairs when she knows that she and Paul are both downstairs. She freaks out and refuses to stay in the house, but Paul is stubborn and goes to investigate. Paul gets a false scare when Crispian runs into him, having just arrived--and wondering why his mother is in the driveway crying.

Erin is doing her best to comfort Aubrey, considering it's not an ideal first meeting. Aubrey is eventually convinced that it's okay and the house is safe. Soon after, Crispian's brother, Drake (Joe Swanberg) and his wife Kelly (Margaret Laney, credited as Sarah Myers) arrive; followed by his other brother Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and his girlfriend, Zee (Wendy Glenn); and finally baby sister Aimee (Amy Seimetz) and her boyfriend Tariq (horror director Ti West, of House of the Devil and The Innkeepers fame).

The next day, as the menfolk work on barbecue and the like, Aubrey sends Erin to go fetch something from the neighbors. Naturally, it's a no go because nobody answers the door, but Erin manages to avoid discovering why just yet. Meanwhile, Crispian gets to have a hugely uncomfortable talk with his dad about some academic promotion he failed to achieve. The kind of talk where your dad makes you feel like a failure because of circumstances beyond your control. Ah, family!

And so, that evening the family settles down to dinner. Naturally, Crispian's misgivings turn out to be well-founded as some clearly familiar sniping eventually turns into arguing. Drake, in particular, proves himself a massive douchebag. (Fitting, since the actor resembles a douchebag I used to know) First Drake mocks Tariq's artistic endeavors (he makes documentaries for "underground film festivals") and then he sets his sights on accusing Crispian of impropriety for dating a former student.

But that's nothing compared to what happens when Tariq sees something outside one of the dining room's huge windows--and takes a crossbow bolt between the eyes while investigating. In the subsequent panic, another bolt hits Drake between the shoulder blades. It's only Erin's cool head that gets the others out of the vulnerable position in the dining room to the largely windowless front hall. She also stops the others from pulling the bolt out of Drake's back, saving him further injury.

The group quickly discovers their cell phones are being jammed. Whoever's doing this is deliberately isolating them. Deciding that someone needs to go for help, even over Erin's objections, it's eventually decided that since Aimee is the fastest--well, second-fastest, but Drake can't run right now--Crispian and Felix will stand by the front doors and fling them open once she gets a running start. Surely, their assailants will struggle to hit such a quick target.

Of course, they don't need to. A garrote wire has been strung across the outside of the threshold, and it severs Aimee's jugular. The others can only watch helplessly as she bleeds out at their feet. Having to watch her only daughter die is too much for Aubrey and Paul takes her upstairs to lie down. Except that Aubrey isn't alone. A man in a Fox Mask (Lane Hughes) crawls out from under the bed--man must have the patience of a Graboid--and buries a machete in Aubrey's face. The others hear her scream but are too late to save her, and Fox Mask found time to write "You're Next" in her blood before vanishing.

Erin takes charge, directing everyone to secure the windows while she continues trying to reach 911 by sending text messages. As she is securing the windows in the kitchen, a man in a Tiger Mask (Simon Barrett) smashes through the window and grabs her. Erin is not the easy victim he expected, however, and he gets a knife to the hand for his trouble--pinning him to the window frame. However, he still manages to escape after Erin frees herself from his grasp.

Kelly, in the midst of covering Aubrey with a sheet, decides to check under the bed. Oh, hey, Fox Mask is still there. Kelly panics and runs out the front door, narrowly ducking under the garrote wire. Drake, a bit groggy from some pain pills he was given, attempts to follow and catches the crossbow bolt on the wire. Without thinking he pulls the bolt out...and immediately passes out from pain and blood loss. Crispian decides it's time to play the hero and, after going to check the cars--which, naturally, are all missing vital engine parts--he volunteers to go for help. Erin tries to remind him that there are an unknown number of hostile psychopaths who are really good at killing people and he's a paunchy academic, but it's no use and away he goes.

Oh, and Kelly? She finds her way to the sliding glass back door of the neighbor's house, but the man on the couch won't react no matter how much she pounds and yells. Of course, we know why but she doesn't find out until Lamb Mask looms up behind her and smashes her through the doors. Kelly now sees the man on the couch is quite dead, but she's too dazed to get back and flee. So Lamb Mask takes his axe, sets her head up like a croquet ball and then swings his axe into it. Lamb Mask has a seat on the couch to admire his work.

Erin, meanwhile is rallying Felix and Zee to help her round up weapons. She has just grabbed a meat tenderizer when Kelly's body is thrown through the dining room window and Tiger Mask enters, looming over Erin--and she smashes his knee with the meat tenderizer and then proceeds to tenderize his skull. Repeatedly. When she pulls the mask off and asks if either Felix or Zee knows the guy, Felix understandably replies, "It's...kind of hard to tell, now."

You see, as Erin will later explain, she had an unusual childhood. She was raised on a survivalist compound by her father. So those psychos in the animal masks have no idea what they're dealing with. Although, Erin may not know, either. You see, this is not just some random attack. This was planned, and the danger outside isn't the only thing Erin should be worried about.

"Hey, is this the place for The Wicker Man auditions?"
I was a little hesitant on spoiling one of You're Next's greatest surprises, but given it's kind of a major selling point I figured it needed to be pointed out: the fact that Erin may be the most uniquely capable Final Girl ever. About the only way her opponents could be more out-matched would be if she had Ripley and Sarah Connor backing her up.

The part seems to have been written specifically for anyone who ever expressed annoyance with useless characters in a slasher movie. And while, technically, You're Next isn't a quite a slasher film, it definitely should be exactly what the doctor ordered if you're one of those people. When's the last time you saw anyone kill an antagonist with a blender outside of an early Peter Jackson movie?

The acting is quite good and very naturalistic, apparently a result of this film being an offshoot of "mumblecore", a horror subgenre I've otherwise avoided to my knowledge. Many conversations almost feel improvised or else copied verbatim from actual family squabbles. It's also clearly a film with a very dark sense of humor, but never to the detriment of the menace its masked assailants promise. Sure, they're fallible and mortal, but these are are still men who know how to kill you and well.

And, while definitely gory, You're Next doesn't wallow in slow, horrible death like so many films in the aftermath of Saw. These killers are here to make everyone dead, not to torture them. That as definitely part of the pleasant surprise for me, as I never looked back at the Saw franchise after part two and have no desire to--or its illegitimate spawn.

If you like horror movies, you'll definitely love You're Next. If you don't, well, this probably isn't going to change your mind.

"Bring it, Voorhees."

This concludes day 25 of HubrisWeen, which means the end is nigh! Check out what the other maniacs chose for their Y movie by clicking the banner above.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

HubrisWeen, Day 24: Xtro II: The Second Encounter (1990)

When it comes to Alien rip-offs, it's hard to think of one that will leave you feeling as skeezy as Xtro. However, I'm not here to get into that film's cinematic crimes--that's Checkpoint Telstar's job this go-around--but rather to tear into its sequel.

That's most likely for the best since I'd spend at least a paragraph griping about how nobody involved in the first film knew that garter snakes don't lay eggs.

At any rate, Xtro was not a film that anybody was crying out for a sequel to. Yet, the film's director, Harry Bromley Davenport, was struggling to find any opportunities outside of the exploitation circuit that had given him his start and, for money's sake, decided to give the public what they didn't want--seven years later.

The hitch was that Davenport had retained the rights to the film's title but not its story. So he couldn't actually have his sequel follow up the events of the first film. So, instead, he created a completely different--and more conventional--Alien and Aliens rip-off. Unfortunately, it turns out that it was only the sleaze that had made his first effort worth watching in the first place: without it, Davenport proved only capable of delivering an unremarkable rehash of a rehash.

We open at a secret mountain base, presumably in the Rockies. Like all secret military/science complexes, it's deep underground. Some government representative is on hand to breathe down Dr. Alex Summerfield's (Robot Jox's Paul Koslo, who there delivered the infamous line, "I have already killed you...[pointing to forehead] here!") neck about the Nexus Project. Seems the project was already tried once in Texas with disastrous results. Summerfield objects that the issue there was that the person in command had no business being there.

Well, at any rate the project's other current head, Dr, Julie Casserly (Tara Buckman, who looks like Meg Foster and Linda Hamilton got Brundleflied) is busy getting all the systems running. As its name implies, Nexus is a method of inter-dimensional transport. Three volunteers in space suits are about to go through to another dimension and create history.

Well, the machine works to get them through, all right, via an effect on par with the Phantom Zone from Supergirl. But the communication equipment doesn't work, so all the team in the home base gets is some scrambled video of a budget-conscious (plainly miniature) alien landscape full of dead trees and giant spheres. And then something goes wrong, but they can't be entirely sure what. Maybe something attacked the team, but they are definitely in distress.

Seeing that the trio has 12 hours of oxygen left, something should be done to help them. Casserly wants to call in someone named Shepard, but Summerfield sneers that it's only because Shepard was her lover. Summerfield also blames Shepard for the disaster in Texas and he suggests sending a strike team through Nexus to rescue the explorers. The government man tells them to do both...and leaves the movie.

Casserly goes to find Dr. Ron Shepard (Jan-Michael Vincent, the "name" actor of the film) at his cabin. After some words about where their relationship was left, Shepard correctly guesses that Casserly is there because something went wrong. You see, Shepard knows because whatever went wrong in Texas happened after he went through Nexus. Which means that all the talk about how the three explorers going through was "historic" is kind of bunk. If the first man to walk on the moon smashed the lunar lander to pieces after he returned to Earth, you wouldn't say having a second guy walk on the moon was historic.

At any rate, the Strike Team is brought in just as Casserly returns with Shepard. It consists of leader McShane (Jano Frandsen), explosives guy Baines (Nicholas Lea), wannabe Buddhist hippy-type Zunoski (Rolf Reynolds), and vaguely ethnic guy Mancini (Nic Amoroso). But before they can even get briefed, there's a signal from the rendezvous point in the alternate dimension, and Nexus is able to pull back one of the explorers--Marshall (Tracy Westerholm). Unfortunately, she's unconscious when the medics pull her from the machine so she can't tell them anything about what happened.

Summerfield tries to question her on his own, however, which results in her waking up long enough to lash out at him, scratch his neck, and then pass back out. And then Shepard is caught trying to sneak in and inject poison into her IV. Summerfield is convinced that Shepard doesn't want Marshall to survive because he won't be special any more, but Shepard tries to tell him he doesn't understand. So Shepard is handcuffed to a pipe and the Strike Team prepares to go through the Nexus to rescue the other two explorers.

They never get the chance, however. The biological contamination alarm goes off because Marshall is in the midst of a John Hurt moment. But whatever's inside Marshall doesn't just punch its way out of her and tear its way into the air duct: it also drains her body of all fluids, including the IV bags being pumped into her system! That's admittedly a neat touch. Though her dehydrated corpse looks more like it was set on fire than drained when we see it.

You have no idea how hard it is to not make a Joan Rivers joke here.
The contamination alarm means that almost the entire facility is evacuated except for the Strike Team, Shepard, Casserly, Summerfield, and a few technicians. This is a strange way to deprive your film of expendable meat. But then, the film seems very reuctant to tear into the expendable meat it has in any significant way. One scientist working by himself sticks his head into a vent after some powder falls out of it and stares at the ceiling fans inside the vent (!) until suddenly the slimy whatsit deigns to drag him into the vent to his fate.

Also, funny how the creature apparently thirsts for fluids so much as to drain its host entirely in a matter of seconds--but it spends the rest of the film dripping fluids. If it's that thirsty, then its body failed to adapt a means to retain liquid and it would probably die of thirst soon anyways.

However, unfortunately for Baines, it doesn't die that fast. See, Baines has been making eyes at an attractive nurse (doctor?) and he wanders into sickbay and tries to get a, uh, physical examination from her since he's tired of waiting for orders regarding their mission. She's amiable, but before the film can provide any exploitative elements, she decides to go lock the door--and is killed off screen. And I do mean off screen. Baines goes to investigate her disappearance from the film, sees the monster in the vent and--in a moment cribbed from Predator--he shoots into the vent and his team runs in and does the same until part of the ceiling collapses.

The remaining survivors convene in a conference room and try to decide what to do. Whatever the creature in the vents is, it's been tripping so many sensors that the computer that runs the facility has not only sealed them in, but in 13 hours it will flood the facility with a massive dose of radiation. Casserly wants Shepard to take charge since he knows what they're dealing with, somehow, but Summerfield isn't keen on that idea. McShane, however, has taken charge and he feels Shepard's input would be valuable.

Now, you may notice that Shepard is more or less taking on the Ripley in Aliens role here. This feeds into the bizarre feeling that this whole movie is a sequel to a movie we weren't privy to. We already know that it in no way follows the events of Xtro, so these hints at a bigger story are more frustrating than anything.

It's decided that the Strike Team, Shepard, and Casserly will search for the creature while Summerfield and a technician whose name I didn't catch and whom the IMDb refuses to help me identify will stay in the control room. McShane grabs his Smart Gun, which I can only assume he stole off of Vazquez.
"Hey McShane, you ever been mistaken for a man?"
"No. Have...wait, what?
The group finds something left by the monster, which the dialogue can't decide is an egg or feces. Nobody bothers to examine it further, so we'll call it feces--especially since Baines flies into a rage over Zunoski cracking wise about what it's been eating. Zunoski actually apologizes for his insensitivity, so that's something.

Zunoski and Casserly also share an admittedly amusing exchange here:

Zunoski: "Dying's not so bad. We'll get a new body before you know it."
Casserly: "Yeah? Well, I just got this one in shape."

Finally, after interminable amounts of searching the monster suddenly punches through a wall--and through McShane's head. The others quickly flee when the creature comes after them, escaping through an air vent.

The creature somehow follows them, which--given the bulk implied by the puppet--seems unlikely.

"Kindly move closer so I can reach you with my claw. I--I can't actually move toward you."
The group finds themselves trapped by a hatch and radio the control room for help. Summerfield suggests to the technician that they should leave the creature contained, even if it means it kills the others. Unfortunately, the others hear this. They make it through the hatch and to a ladder in a ventilation shaft. For some reason they climb down when the control room should be up.

The monster follows and gores Mancini, who had been stuck on the ladder due to a case of vertigo. Baines tosses a grenade up to Mancini and the mortally injured man pulls the pin and--something on fire falls past the others and hits one of the giant ventilation fans, leaving a blood smear. It is only through later dialogue we find out that that was supposed to be Mancini and the monster.

Though naturally it's never that easy.

After Zunoski punches Summerfield out, it's decided that Baines and technician guy will try to scale the elevator shaft to get to a spot where they can radio the surface. While loading all Baine's explosives--so he can blow the hatch in the elevator--Zunoski jokes that Baines has "enough C4 to blow up the World Trade Center!"

Yeah. That joke would get awkward within 3 years of the film's release, and super awkward 11 years later.

About this time Summerfield is beginning to feel the effects of those scratches. Some awkward video-based hallucinations of the other dimension, and a normal-yet-inhuman Marshall hint that maybe he's going to follow her example. Summerfield almost bows his own brains out, but changes his mind. Meanwhile, after an interminable climb Baines blows the hatch on the bottom of the elevator just in time for the monster to appear out of one of the elevator doors and terrify the technician into falling to his death.
"Boo! Ha! Gets 'em every time."
Baines assumes that the technician was hit by falling debris and continues on--only to be ambushed by the creature. He falls back into the elevator and the creature lands on top of the elevator, sending it plummeting to the bottom of the shaft. Baines rigs all his C4 to detonate on impact--and the explosion somehow fails to kill Shepard, who was standing scant feet away from the elevator doors when they were blasted open. Maybe to try and explain how the monster survived, because you know it did.

About this time, Shepard realizes that Summerfield has been acting strange and reviews the security footage of Marshall in sick bay. After seeing the scratch, he tells Casserly and Zunoski that Summerfield is incubating and if they don't do something they'll have an even bigger problem on their hands. So it's time for more searching. Yay.

Casserly and Zunoski find Summerfield, but the doctor has a gun and shoots Zunoski. As Casserly tries to calm him down, he suddenly falls over and the monster looms up behind him. Surprise? Of course, this time Shepard is waiting with the Smart Gun and he shoots the monster to pieces. This time the death takes, but now they have to get Summerfield taken care of. So Casserly powers up Nexus and Shepard heaves the infected scientist onto the platform.

But Nexus is taking too long to warm up and Summerfield is about to burst and release spores. Shepard does his best to keep the swelling man on the platform, but he looks like he'll be going with if Nexus does activate. Suddenly, Zunoski shows up, alive, to help Casserly throw the switch. Shepard gets clear and Summerfield is Phantom Zoned just as he explodes like a ripe fruit. So sadly he will not be fist-bumping the monster.

The three survivors collapse on the floor of the control room in relief as the countdown to radiation flood stops at 15 minutes. An alert tellls them that the surface door has opened, meaning that rescue teams must have arrived--but then the control panel monitor switches on and the trio sees that Marshall is addressing them. The End.

What?! No, seriously, what the fuck was that ending? Near as I can tell, the director saw John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness and decided to rip it off but didn't understand why it worked. It makes absolutely zero sense in context.

Prior to that moment, Xtro 2 is not exactly a good film, but it's a serviceable enough entry in the gallery of Alien rip-offs. The main weaknesses are that none of the characters make any impression, the monster is largely immobile, and the pacing is slow as molasses on a cold day. And then that ending comes along and just puts a layer of turd frosting on top.

On the other hand, the film

Okay, the film has no actual redeeming qualities. Oh, it has little moments like Zunoski wearily repeating the impending radiation purge warning that they've been hearing for hours--but those are spread far and wide among lethargic "searching the corridors" sequences and bickering scenes between actors who aren't much interested in actually acting. The worst offender is Jan-Michael Vincent, who apparently so refused to give a shit that he made the director--who was, himself, making this movie against his will--furious. Apparently, Vincent even refused to learn his damn lines and had to be fed them during filming. Boy does it show.

Whatever else can be said for Xtro, it's memorable. Xtro 2? Um, well, there's the horrible karma of the World Trade Center joke and...uh...yeah, that's about the only thing I remembered about the film before I rewatched it for this review. This is the sort of movie you watch for 90 minutes and then completely forget about it. It's not painful, it's not good, and it's rarely engaging on any level.

I can't even recommend this to those who are cinematic masochists, because it's not even that bad. Lifeless and inert, never rising to any form of quality nor sinking to the depths of awfulness. It's like flat soda in cinematic form.

Sure, it's not the worst thing you've tasted, but why the hell would you drink it?

Thus concludes Day 24, the day of the damnably challenging letter X. As you can see by the fact that all three of us chose the Xtro franchise in one way or another.