Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Haunted Palace (1963) [Hex Appeal, A Vengeful Witch Roundtable]

If there's one thing many of us fear, it's becoming like the generations before us. This takes many forms such as becoming "uncool", losing our ability to understand technology, our politics becoming frighteningly regressive, or maybe finding ourselves in a loveless marriage that will either end in divorce or both partners longing for the release of death.

And who can forget becoming possessed by the vengeful spirit of our warlock great-great-grandfather who used to summon elder gods?

You may be a might bit confused as to how elder gods fit in to a movie ostensibly based on Edgar Allan Poe. That particular trope wasn't really one of Poe's trademarks--but it was a trademark for one H.P. Lovecraft. However, at least in the early 1960s, it seems that H.P. Lovecraft's name just did not have the cachet that Edgar Allan Poe's did. Frankly, I'd argue that's still true today: name me a middle school English class where students have to read "The Call of Cthulhu" or "The Colour Out Of Space" and I'll eat my hat.

Not only that but, in 1963, schlockmeister Roger Corman was enjoying great success with his cycle of films based on Poe's stories. If you're familiar with any of the stories and poems Corman chose to adapt, you're aware that many did not have much of a story to begin with. The Masque of The Red Death is showing stretch marks even with additional Poe stories added into it.

So Corman can definitely be forgiven for deciding to take an appealing title from an Edgar Allan Poe poem, have Vincent Price recite a few lines from it here and there, and then base the bulk of it on H.P. Lovecraft's "The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward."

The film's opening credits play over footage of a spider building its web, before a Monarch butterfly lands in the web and the spider sets upon it. I have to conclude that the scene of ants devouring a Monarch in Crimson Peak was at least partly inspired by this, given the definite attempts to capture the essence of a Corman Poe film.

We open in the port village of Arkham, on a suitably stormy night in the 18th Century. At the local pub, Ezra Weeden (Leo Gordon) is restless, despite Micah Smith's (Elisha Cook, Jr.) assurances that nothing is going to happen on a night like this. Well, Ezra is not convinced and he turns out to be in the right, for he catches sight of Miss Fitch (Darlene Lucht), a young woman from the town, walking through the darkened streets in a fugue state. Ezra gets Micah to accompany him as they follow the girl through a cemetery to the gates of the Curwen palace. Micah, previously skeptical, agrees with Ezra now that the palace is the home of Satan himself and they hurry back to town to form a lynch mob.

If that's what they do when merely seeing a girl walking up to the house, imagine if they'd seen inside. Hester Tillinghast (Cathie Merchant) presents the girl to her master and lover, Joseph Curwen (Vincent Price). The two then lead her down to a dungeon, where she is tied up before a huge grate. Curwen chants a rite in Latin and then lifts the grate to reveal an unseen creature that growls as poor Miss Fitch screams in terror at the sight of it.

"She's fine, I assure you. 'Aaaaaaugh!' is just our safe word."
Yet when the mob arrives, Hester and Curwen happily answer the door and present a seemingly unharmed Miss Fitch. She happily tells the mob that she came to visit Curwen and Hester of her own free will. However, Ezra asks the girl what her name is--and she cannot answer. So that's all the proof the mob needs and Curwen finds himself tied to a tree in his front yard, a pile of dry straw soaked in oil at his feet. Ezra begs Hester be spared because she was bewitched, but since he clearly desires her for himself he might not actually know what he's talking about.

As is typical of this kind of story, the townsfolk allow Curwen a chance to confess his sins and beg for mercy. Curwen uses that opportunity, instead, to curse the town of Arkham so that for generations to come the families of Ezra Weeden, Micah Smith, Benjamin West (John Dierkes), Priam Willet (Frank Maxwell), and Gideon Leach (Guy Wilkerson) will suffer for the insolence of turning against Curwen. Worse, Curwen swears that he shall one day return from the dead. Well, he has to be dead first, so Ezra goes ahead and takes care of that for him by tossing the first torch on the pyre.

"Killing me won't bring back your damned apples!"
One hundred and ten years later, Arkham has indeed languished in the shadow of the Curwen palace. So the townsfolk are not going to be thrilled to discover that Charles Dexter Ward (also Price), the great-grea-grandson of Joseph Curwen has just arrived with his wife Ann Ward (Debra Paget) to claim his inheritance of the Curwen place. The carriage drops them off at the local tavern, The Burning Man. Ann remarks that the name is quaint, but Charles seems oddly discomforted by it. Perhaps he's afraid the patrons will be white people in dreadlocks and feather headdresses.

"All right, dear, but you know how I feel about hipsters."
Well, he needn't have worried on that score. However, he does find that an uncanny resemblance to previous generations is widespread in Arkham as he makes the acquaintance of Peter Smith (Cook, again), Edgar Weeden (Gordon, again), and Mr. Leach (Wilkerson, again), The group are outwardly hostile to Charles, having recognized him on sight, and refuse to tell him the way to the Curwen place. Weeden explains that the palace was brought over stone-by-stone from Europe, and evil was a part of its very fabric. Leach tells them to tear up the deed to the place and never look back. Only Dr. Marinus Willet (Maxwell, again) defies the others on account of his rejection of superstition and directs them on how to find the palace on the cliff overlooking the sea and the town.

Yes, they probably should have been able to figure that out on their own once they knew they were looking for a palace, but just you never mind that. Dr. Willet invites them to visit him some time, but Charles informs him that they won't be staying in Arkahm once they've had a look at the palace--the welcome they received was quite enough for him. Ann is somewhat more willing to stay, but she is happy to go along with Charles if that's his decision.

On their way to the place, the Wards happen upon a woman leading her daughter along--and witness that the young girl has no eyes. Indeed, we shall soon see that deformities, birth defects, and madness afflict many of the people of Arkham. Peter Smith has webbed fingers on one hand, and Edgar Weeden has a bestial son that he keeps locked in an upstairs room--and the boy becomes increasingly riled up after the Wards' arrival.

At the palace, which the Wards have been told was uninhabited, they make a series of bizarre discoveries. First, that the painting of Joseph Curwen looks identical to Charles. Second, that a secretary desk has a harmless snake inside it, which startles Ann so Charles kills it with a handy blunt instrument. (The death blow thankfully happens just out of frame, so I feel certain the snake was actually unharmed) Third, Charles senses that a certain passage in the palace leads to noewhere, despite having no way of knowing that. And finally, the two make the shocking acquaintance of a man named Simon Orne (Lon Chaney, Jr.) in the upstairs bedroom.

"Why yes, you did see me walking with the Queen."
Simon explains that he is the caretaker and was trying to tidy up the place before they arrived. He claims that he received word from their lawyer, but that doesn't explain why he was cleaning up in the dark. Simon shrugs it off as people who live around Arkham just get used to the dark. He also advises that supper will be served at eight, and Ann is surprised that Charles now wants to stay. He assures her it's just for the night, at least.

However, as Charles smokes downstairs by the fireplace that night, something comes over him as he stares at the painting of his great-great-grandfather. As Charles's face turns cruel, Simon watches knowingly from the shadows. The next day, Ann finishes packing--only for Charles to tell her that he has decided that they shall stay, just long enough to fix the place up. He claims that about two to three weeks of work should make it far more attractive to a potential buyer and it will fetch a high price.

Ann senses something about Charles is off, especially when he snaps that she can go home when she casually mentions not being happy about staying. However, it passes and he seems to return to his noraml self. However, as the two attempt to go shopping for supplies in town, they find most of the shops locked--and then they are suddenly surrounded by the town's deformed citizens. Several are missing eyes or ears, and they have distorted faces and limbs. They crowd the Wards in tight--until the bell tolls, and they turn just as suddenly and disperse. From a nearby window, Edgar and Peter have been watching this unfold.

"Give to The Human Fund!"
The Wards have Dr. Willet over for dinner that night, and he helpfully explains a few things. One, the people that accosted them are all the mutants in town, which Willet is sure Edgar gathered together in one place to scare the Wards off. He explains that the townsfolk want the Wards gone because Arkham is haunted by the guilt and terror of a single night. One hundred and fifty years ago, Willet explains, Joseph Curwen moved to Arkham and built the palace. His wife, unfortunately, died in childbirth so he took Hester to be his mistress. Except Hester was engaged to Ezra, which meant that Ezra had it in for Curwen.

So wasn't it convenient then, that strange things had been happening in Arkham ever since Curwen arrived. Horrible noises in the night and young girls disappearing at night, only to return in the morning with no memory of where they'd been, Ezra contrived to place the blame on Curwen's doorstep, convincing the townsfolk that Curwen was a warlock. "One who raises the dead," Willet explains when Ann is ignorant of the term. Actually, that's a necromancer, doc. Willet explains that Curwen was burned alive one night and placed a curse on the village.

Charles scoffs, as surely every witch or warlock killed in America left a curse behind. Why should his ancestor's curse be taken so seriously? Well, not every witch or warlock killed in America was thought to have gotten their hands on the Necronomicon, now were they? Willet explains that the Necronomicon was though to hold the key to absolute power--and a means to summon the Elder Gods. Gods like Cthtulhu and Yog-Sothoth.

And, to my unending amusement, Frank Maxwell pronounces Cthulhu as "Thoo-Loo" instead of the more commonly accepted "Ka-Thoo-Loo."

At any rate, the Arkham townsfolk believed Curwen was conspiring with two other warlocks to open the gates that bar the Elder Gods from this world by mating them with human women. That's their explanation for all the mutants: failed experiments. To the Wards' alarm, Dr. Willet doesn't have an explanation of his own--but he tells them to flee Arkham before the townsfolk decide to destroy him.

They're just jealous of that sweet matte painting.
That night, a thunderstorm rolls in and Charles is awakened by the storm and then, oddly, the sound of voices. He follows the voices out to the front yard, to the tree where Curwen was burned as they scream out, "Kill the warlock!" Simon startles him by appearing to offer him a coat. When Simon tells Charles he didn't hear any voices, he oddly follows that up by telling Charles he ought to ask Mr. Curwen about it. Well, Charles oddly follows this advice--and one look at the painting is enough to put Curwen in the driver's seat.

He asks Simon how long it's been and is told one hundred and ten years. He is delighted to discover the body he's possessing is his great-great-grandson, and further delighted to see his other companion, Jabez Hutchinson (Milton Parsons) has joined them, Yep, Simon and Jabez are the other two warlocks Willet spoke of, who both look amazing for their age. The reunion is brief, though, because Charles is fighting for control. Curwen implores Simon to keep Charles in the palace a little longer so he can take full control. He then asks for the book, and to my delight it turns out that the Necronomicon is an embossed leather-bound tome that is labeled "Necronomicon" on its face.

"You'll never guess what I found at the flea market!"
Curwen orders the others to leave him just in time, as Ann comes down to find her husband. He has no idea why he came downstairs and he responds to her plea that they leave by saying he'd like to, but can't. When she begs him to explain why he can't leave, a flash of lightning is bizarrely followed  by the film cutting to Curwen digging up the grave of Hester. Skipping out on a scene before it's actually done is one way to advance the plot, sure.

At the Burning Man, the descendants of the mob that killed Curwen are arguing about what to do. Willet dismisses them all as superstitious fools. Of course, he's not aware that Curwen is currently bringing Hester's coffin into his palace with the help of Jabez and Simon. Ann catches him alone after the others have gone through the secret passage to the dungeon and she demands to know why he's acting so strange and begs him to leave with her for Boston. He snaps at her, but after she pleads with him to at least go see Dr. Willet, he replies that he will pay the doctor a special visit within the week. After Ann leaves, momentarily satisfied but still obviously hurt, Charles breaks through. Unfortunately, his freedom is short-lived and as the voice of the painting calls to him, Curwen takes control again.

Realizing that Ann was spying on him, Curwen orders her to leave for Boston tomorrow and then chases her off to bed so he can return to his late night sorcery. In the secret dungeon, Curwen helps his companions open the coffin of Hester. Meanwhile, Ann wakes up again and wanders the palace in search of Charles. This means she runs afoul of a few rats and a tarantula--as you would expect in a New England castle--before encountering Simon lurking in the shadows. She faints in his arms and Simon takes her back up to her room and locks her in before returning to the dungeon as Curwen recites the spell to reanimate Hester. Well, it works for a moment, but as Simon advises Curwen, it's just been too long.

"Nonsense, a little rubber cement and she'll be good as new!"

The effort to unsuccessfully revive his lost love has the effect of allowing Charles to regain control, He goes back to his room, confused as to what has been going on. He declares that he and Ann shall leave the following morning. Unfortunately, Simon is crafty and delays Charles from leaving just long enough for him to be forced to look at the painting again. So when Willet pulls up and Ann tells him they were just leaving, she's mistaken. Still, Willet tells her that he had come to warn them that they ought to be leaving--seems someone dug up old Hester's grave and stole the body. And the townsfolk believe Charles is responsible.

"Charles" comes out and claims that it was Weeden and his friends who dug up the grave to try and drive him away. To Ann's horror, he tells Willet that he is not leaving and he can tell the townsfolk that. After Curwen returns to the castle, Ann confides to Willet about what's been happening. He just assumes it to be psychological, but inside Curwen is telling Jabez and Simon that he has control and "Charles Dexter Ward is dead." To their consternation, however, Curwen doesn't want to get started on the work just yet. Simon begs him to forget it, but Curwen refuses to forgive the slight of being burned alive.

Oh, no. Before he starts raising Elder Gods again, Curwen has one hundred and ten years of revenge to catch up on...

"Wait'll they get a load of me!"
I have to say that I have never actually read the short story upon which this film is based. Lovecraft is published in so many different varieties of collections that getting a truly complete collection seemed impossible back when I actually gave a shit about trying to read most of his work. So this was one of the stories I never got around to.

So I came to this film with no expectations of what it would deliver on beyond what I knew to expect of a Vincent Price performance and a Roger Corman film. As such, I find this film delightful.

The atmosphere of the film, for one thing, is marvelous. You'll never for a minute believe it's taking place anywhere but on a set, but that actually adds to its appeal. The cemetery set, for instance, looks like something from a German Expressionist film. Everything outdoors is perpetually smoky to indicate fog. And the matte paintings, while obvious, are exquisitely done.

The only time the film's artificial nature works against it is in the rendering of what's in the pit of Curwen's dungeon. The strength of Lovecraft's Elder Gods and other beasts lies in the inability to describe them. Therefore, a film version of Lovecraft would do well to not show its monsters at all. The Haunted Palace does not learn that lesson, and the way it goes about showing an Elder God is truly, hilariously risible. The creature is blatantly a plastic statue of what appears to be a four-armed goblin with a hasty distortion filter placed over it. If you were to go mad at the sight of this creature, it would be from laughter.

"Grr! Rargh! Stop laughing!"
The monster, however, deserves to be an afterthought. The true monster of the film is Curwen, and holy crap is Vincent Price more than up to the challenge. Not only does Price do a wonderful job of creating the character of Curwen, he does an amazing job creating the character of Charles as well. You can tell immediately when he switches between the two personas. And he makes it effortless, too. It doesn't hurt that he gets some wonderful dialogue in both personalities,

Corman knows what he's doing in the director's chair, too. Apart from a few abrupt transitions, the film builds wonderfully to its climax of a beautiful woman being offered as sacrifice to a monster, as an unruly mob marches on the castle. And it wisely ends on a note that leaves you not quite sure of who actually survived the fire that destroys the castle--though you have a pretty good idea just the same,

The Haunted Palace is not exactly a lost classic. Apart from the silly monster, it also features a score that--while quite good--is incredibly repetitive. Yet, it doesn't have a single performance that doesn't fit the film's aesthetic. Price may be the film's strongest point, but everyone in the cast handles their roles well. And there's no question that it's damn entertaining.

I highly recommend The Haunted Palace. It sometimes gets forgotten amongst the rest of Corman's Poe films, but it is every bit as good as the rest and better than several--which is high praise, indeed.

The Celluloid Zeroes are delighted to present Hex Appeal! We all took a look at a movie about vengeful witches, and several of us completely forgot the witch part! (I chose a vengeful warlock, so I was in the right ballpark)

Check out the other reviews:

Checkpoint Telstar enlists the aid of The Witchfinder General

Cinemasochist Apocalypse dabbles in Black Magic

Las Peliculas de Terror got a bad case of Asmodexia

Micro-Brewed Reviews takes part in some Midnight Offerings

Psychoplasmics reminds you, Don't Torture a Duckling

Web of the Big Damn Spider joins up with Ator, The Fighting Eagle

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Godzilla (1954) / Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956) [Criterion Blogathon 2015]

While HubrisWeen was last month, I think the task before me today requires a substantially larger amount of hubris. For I am about to talk about one of the greatest giant monster films ever made, and easily one of the best films ever made full-stop--and I'm going to try and find something new to say about it.

I don't much care for my chances, which is fitting. Perhaps I am finally in the mindset of one of those hapless bastards who hops inside a tank to fire shells he knows will just bounce off, at a monster he knows will then turn around and wipe him from the face of the earth.

It's a strange thing, honestly, to be an American Godzilla fan born in the 1980s. I was born two years before Godzilla made what would turn out to be his last big screen appearance in the United States for 15 years in Godzilla 1985. By age eight I had heard of Godzilla, but only as a joke fodder and I had no idea what he even looked like until a friend showed me a worn, orange-spined book in the school library:

Reading through Ian Thorne's (actually the pseudonym of author Julian May) marvelous yet often hilariously misinformed book, I fell absolutely in love with the concept of the creature and needed to find a Godzilla movie right away. Luckily, a local video store had several titles for me to choose from. However, I was overwhelmed by my options and the fact that several of the movies I had read about in the book went by names I did not recognize on VHS--and I settled, oddly enough, on Godzilla 1985 to usher me into a world I would never want to leave.

I'm going to skip ahead a bit because I could go on for an entire post just talking about my introduction to Godzilla. The important part of my experience is that Godzilla was still nothing but a joke to the masses in those days. I quickly became a bit too defensive of the indestructible radioactive dinosaur, but it wasn't just the pop culture razzing that was a problem. No, the big issue was that Godzilla was considered nothing but a silly amusement for children alone, and as such warranted no special treatment when his movies were released to video. It was tough to find a lot of the films on anything but the lowest quality tapes--luckily, my son's generation will never know the disappointment of discovering the movie you bought was an EP tape instead of SP.

I spent years of my life being derided by others for liking Godzilla because it was so cheesy. The 1998 film certainly did nothing to dispel this conception, especially given the false sense of superiority the filmmakers evinced when talking about their project.

Yet, somewhere in the early years of the 21st Century, I began to notice a change in how Godzilla was perceived. Art house theaters proudly touted that they would be featuring the original Japanese cut of 1954's Godzilla. Low end distributors like Classic Media and even Echo Bridge began to take Godzilla so seriously that they released the films in their license in the best conditions they could--even including extras!

And then, a moment I thought I would never see: the original Godzilla was given the Criterion treatment. Suddenly, it felt like people were actually taking Godzilla seriously!

Well, people in the West, that is. While even in his native Japan, Godzilla's films were largely recognized as containing effects maybe somewhat less accomplished than Western counterparts--I'll touch more on that later--Godzilla had always been taken pretty damn seriously. It would actually be pretty hard for the Japanese audiences to not take Godzilla seriously. As many, oh-so-serious Godzilla fans love to point out any time anyone tries to enjoy Godzilla for fun, the beast was far more than just another matinee monster: Godzilla was a symbol. A symbol of the devastation Japan had felt as the only country to have a nuclear weapon used on its civilian populace, not once but twice--and possibly even thrice if you consider an incident I'll touch more on shortly, although that was a accident.

Godzilla didn't start that way, of course. Humorously enough, Godzilla started in much the way as his cash-in at a rival studio would a decade later: a big project at Toho studios went bust. In this case, it was a war film called "Behind the Glory" that was to be shot in Indonesia, only for a myriad of political issues to stop production cold. Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was left holding the bag, but legend says on a flight back to Japan he was looking out over the ocean from his window when he began to think about what might be lurking beneath the waves. What if it was a prehistoric monster, big enough to destroy a city?

Of course, while that could very well be the true motivation for Tanaka's "eureka!" moment, a more pragmatic person would realize it was more likely that Tanaka knew exactly what the hell he was doing as a producer. Monster movies were clearly big bucks at the time. In 1952, King Kong had been re-released in Japan to tremendous success and The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms had also been a huge hit in 1953. The evidence of this is clear enough in the film's original, delightfully ludicrous working title "The Giant Monster from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"!

To be fair, it's hard to say precisely how much influence they took from the earlier film because the two are, in the final accounting, very different. Hell, special effects maestro Eiji Tsuburaya wanted Godzilla to be a giant octopus, which would have meant beating It Came From Beneath The Sea to the punch. However, the biggest difference is, unquestionably, in the film's tone.

Director Ishiro Honda had toured Hiroshima after the war and he devastation there had haunted him. Eugene Lourie saw nothing wrong with using a nuclear bomb as a mere McGuffin in his movie, but Honda obviously saw something far more horrifying. And then the Lucky Dragon No. 5 incident happened, when a Japanese fishing vessel strayed too close to an American H-Bomb test and was bombarded with fallout. I've mentioned the incident before, because Honda clearly thought it needed to be addressed as much as possible, but Godzilla was the first time he would comment on the tragedy--and how! Ironically, one could argue that the way the incident was exploited was more crass than the way the American Godzilla made 60 years later rendered imagery of Fukushima and the tsunami that caused it. That film was released three years after the tragedy it was evoking, but the Lucky Dragon No. 5 tragedy had happened a mere eight months before this film's release!

There's a few obvious differences, of course. First, the 2014 film was merely using the imagery in an attempt to create horror from familiarity and had no grander message behind it--while Honda's film used it to build on. Second, Honda's film can seen as a catharsis, a country commenting on real horrors it has faced through a fantastic allegory--while the 2014 film was another country using tragedy that someone else had faced. I certainly don't mean to rag on the 2014 film to much, especially since the film also uses obvious 9/11 imagery and that is closer to Honda's intent, but it is an interesting comparison.

Still, imagine how Japanese audiences must have felt in 1954, as they sat in the cinema and watched as this film opened with a ship drifting through the Pacific ocean, its crew strumming guitars and playing games on deck--before a blinding flash of light sends them all to their feet. The ocean before them boils, heated by the same white light from beneath the waves. It is too late for the ship to avoid the deadly water and a white heat washes over the deck, killing all exposed to it. The radio men are barely able to send a distress signal before water pours into the cabin, and then the entire ship explodes into flames and sinks beneath the boiling waves.

It's truly horrifying stuff when you consider that it symbolizes a real event, rendered to the fullest nightmarish extent. Back in the film, the SOS travels fast and Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada), a captain with the South Seas Salvage Company, receives a call at his home office ordering him in to the Coast Guard Office at once. That's terrible luck as he was just getting dressed for a fancy date with Emiko Yamane (Momoko Kōchi). Ogata makes his apologies, but advises Emiko can still make it to the concert on her own.

At the Coast Guard office, it's utter chaos. Family members and other affected parties are crowding the door, demanding an update. As Ogata arrives, a rescue ship is being tracked as it heads for the last known position of the lost freighter. Unfortunately, whatever destroyed the first vessel is waiting for the rescue ship, and it is obliterated in a boiling white sea.

The natives of Odo Island are much closer to the site of these shipwrecks than those on Honshu, which means that one of their fishing boats is in a prime position to intercept a group of three survivors from the rescue ship, who can only tell them that "the sea just exploded" before collapsing. Odo Island's fishing boats aren't immune to the strange catastrophes, however, and word has barely reached the home office before word comes in that the fishing boat has also been sunk. As reporter Hagiwara (Sachio Sakai) relates to his editor over the phone, that makes three vessels sunk in the same location under similar, bizarre circumstances.

While the villagers of Odo watch the ocean that night, apprehensive, young Shinkichi (Toyoaki Suzuki), spies a raft floating in. The raft is actually wreckage from the destroyed fishing vessel and has only one occupant, Shinkichi's older brother Masaji (Ren Yamamoto). Whatever Masaji saw, he's too weak to communicate it beyond a vague reference to "it got us and our boat." However, the next day when the village's nets all come up empty, the village elder (Kokuten Kōdō) says he knows what's responsible for the empty nets and swath of destroyed boats--Godzilla, the legendary sea monster that haunts their waters.

The young women of the village scoff at the old man because Godzilla is just that: a legend. And when a helicopter bearing Hagiwara and a group of investigators chooses to land just then, well, Hagiwara is just as skeptical of Masaji's insistence that some large creature is going crazy down beneath the ocean. However, Hagiwara's skepticism doesn't mean he isn't receptive--and he actually listens to the old man as he sits next to him that night while watching a haunting exorcism ritual designed to drive Godzilla away. The old man explains that once Godzilla has eaten all the fish in the sea, the great monster will rise up and devour people on the land as well. In the old days, they'd send a young girl out on a raft when the fishing was poor in order to appease the beast, but now all that remains in these less barbaric times is the ritual dance.

After the ritual, a typhoon blows in. While Shnikichi, Masaji, and their mother try to sleep in the midst of the storm, they suddenly become aware that the ground--and their house--are shaking. Shinkichi runs outside into the rain to try and find out what is going on, and Masaji follows--only to look out the door and see something that makes him cry out in fright and rush back to his mother's side. It's too late for either of them, and as Shinkichi watches helplessly from a distance their house is crushed by the passing of something that looks like a gigantic, scaly leg. It's not the only house destroyed. The outsiders aren't spared from the wrath of whatever destroyed the house, because their helicopter is left twisted and smashed.

In Tokyo, a disaster petition group meets in the Diet Building to discuss the catastrophic loss of life, property, and livestock the island has suffered. Shinkichi swears that he saw something alive, and Hagiwara backs up the lad's tale by pointing out that the helicopter was crushed from above by some powerful force.

Paleontologist Kyohei Yamane (Takashi Shimura) is asked to address the committee. In a moment that would become famous in Japanese pop culture--and is, indeed, referenced in other Godzilla movies--Yamane begins to speak at the podium, only to notice that his tie is hanging out of his jacket and he sheepishly tucks it back in. Yamane, whom we will later learn is Emiko's father, begins by saying that there are many mysteries in the world in the 20th Century, such as the abominable snowman, and that the ocean contains vast unexplored caverns where anything could be lurking. While he admits he has not yet examined the disaster site, he feels it is very likely that there is a distinct possibility that some unknown creature could have come ashore and he requests a research team be formed at once to go to Odo Island.

Yamane gets his wish, and soon he, Emiko, Ogata, and Hagiwara are departing by boat to Odo Island. Emiko notices the mysterious scarred and eye-patched Dr. Daisuke Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) watching them depart. It will gradually come out that Emiko and Serizawa are engaged to be married, but she has fallen in love with Ogata. As the three are good friends, it has been tough for her to find the courage to tell Serizawa about their love--or her father, for that matter. Though naturally they have bigger concerns at present, since the route they're going has seen three different ships be mysteriously sunk and who knows if they'll fare any better?

Luckily, they will. On the island, strange things are definitely afoot--footprints, that is. One of the researchers discovers a well beside the apparent footprints is contaminated with radiation, but as Ogata points out--wouldn't nuclear fallout have contaminated all the island's wells, not just those on one side of the island? Stranger still is that the footprints themselves are radioactive--and then Yamane discovers a live trilobite in in one of the footprints. He excitedly grabs it without thinking as one of the researchers hisses at him not to handle it with his bare hands. Yamane puts it in a specimen jar, but the significance of his discovery has no time to sink in as a watch tower in the village hammers its alarm bell to advise that Godzilla has appeared on the other side of a tall hill. The villagers rush to glimpse the beast rather than fleeing in terror.

Yamane is the first of the investigators to crest the hill and he gleefully tells his companions that he has just witnessed a creature from the Jurassic period. There's no time for them to be skeptical, because Godzilla helpfully backs up Yamane's claim by rearing up over the hill and roaring at them. And while Ishiro Honda decided he wanted to build up to Godzilla's first appearance with mere implications and teases before this grand reveal (gee, where else have I seen that happen?), it must be said that the reveal is somewhat undercut by the fact that despite his many strengths Eiji Tsuburaya was never a particularly good puppet maker. In close-ups and expression shots, as with this sequence, Godzilla is rendered by a hand puppet--and the hand puppet is many, many times worse than the suit it is meant to look just like. For one thing, apart from moving like a hand puppet, its proportions are all wrong--I'm particularly fascinated by its skeletal, stunted arms. That said, the puppet actually looks good for most of this sequence so the first impression of Godzilla is actually fierce and bestial, almost terrifying--until he suddenly turns into a Muppet.

Luckily for the terrified islanders, Godzilla is content to terrify them with his roar and then return to the sea. Coming back from Odo Island, Yamane adresses the committee with the evidence he has found: the photographs of Godzilla, the trilobite specimen, and the presence of strontium-90 that proves a link between Godzilla and H-Bomb tests.  Yamane theorizes that the 165-foot tall beast was driven from its home in a deep sea trench when repeated H-bomb tests drove it from its habitat.  (Don't show this sequence to any actual paleontologists as Yamane uses time period names and dates interchangeably, as well as suggesting that dinosaurs and trilobites both went extinct only two million years ago)  Yamane's lecture is interrupted then by a political argument over whether the truth of Godzilla's origin should be kept secret or not, a debate that nearly tuns violent!

As film (and Godzilla) historian David Kalat points out in his commentary on the Criterion disc, this is both a reference to the division of public opinion in Japan at the time with regards to how much to blame America for the Lucky Dragon No. 5 incident and something that would have been illegal under Japanese censorship laws just two years prior. Movies were forbidden from depicting scenes where the new, American-esque democratic government was depicted as ineffectual. And, while the violent end of the debate is left in the American cut, its vaguely anti-American motivations are cut out. More on that later.

The truth of Godzilla's existence does at least get out, however, as we see a truly fascinating scene (also cut from the American cut) where commuters on a train gripe about how Godzilla is going to force them to live the way they did during American bombing raids the decade before and one of them groans about having escaped Nagasaki only to face Godzilla, Well, the JSDF wants citizens like her to not have to worry about that, so they send frigates to try and kill Godzilla with depth charges. As Yamane, Emiko, Ogata, and Shinkichi--now adopted by the Yamane family, as many war orphans were a decade prior--watch the footage on TV, Yamane leaves the room in disgust.  He believes that Godzilla should be studied and not destroyed--after all, what could we learn from a creature that survived a nuclear explosion?

Well, Yamane need not have worried. We find our commuters from earlier on a party ship in Tokyo Bay, just in time for Godzilla to surface in the bay and menace the ship. (As an aside, thanks to David Kalat's commentary, I noticed for the first time in my dozens of viewings of this film that Kenji Sahara, one of the most prolific Japanese sci-fi and fantasy actors of all time and the human villain of my favorite Godzilla movie, has a blink-and-you'll-miss-him appearance as a patron with a cigarette) Godzilla doesn't destroy the ship, but he does terrify its passengers before he submerges again,

More committees are formed, desperate to kill Godzilla, but Yamane points out a fallacy in their certainty that they can beat the monster: "Godzilla was baptized in the fire ofthe H-bomb and survived. What could kill it now?" Well, Yamane may not have any ideas--but it turns out Hagiwara may know someone who does. See, his editor has informed him that a German scientist recently let it slip that Dr. Serizawa may be researching the very answer to the Godzilla problem the Japanese are seeking. Emiko is willing to take Hagiwara to see her fiance, but Serizawa vehemently denies knowing any German scientists (no doubt a loaded thing to admit to in 1950s Japan, just on the face of it) and asks Hagiwara to leave.

Emiko stays, intent on telling Serizawa the truth. He stops her, however, because he wants to show her his work, so she'll understand why he couldn't tell the reporter. He shows her to a fish tank in his lab and drops a small object into the tank, before activating a switch. Emiko screams and recoils in horror, but later swears to keep his discovery secret. Honda plays coy at this point, not revealing the truth until later, but Serizawa has accidentally stumbled across a destructive chemical he dubs "The Oxygen Destroyer" which completely dissolves all organic life in any body of water it's dropped into.

Serizawa fears that if this discovery got out, governments the world over would salivate at the prospect of another super weapon. He fears the lengths they'd go to get his invention, so he has determined that its secret will go with him to his grave. Yet how can Emiko possibly keep secret what she knows when Godzilla comes ashore in Tokyo and destroys a crowded train as prelude to his next attack, when he reduces Tokyo to nothing but flames and ruin?

With all the various mutations Godzilla has gone through over the last 61 years, 29 follow-up films, and myriad comic books and cartoon series--it can be easy to forget that this original film is a grim, harrowing horror tale that absolutely earns its somber quality.

When Godzilla's plates glowed with white-hot intensity in 2014, the audience cheered. In 1954, it was the only warning before hell was unleashed on anyone in his path. And Ishiro Honda never lets the audience forget the human cost. We see the aftermath of Godzilla's destruction in a way that King Kong or The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms largely glossed over. Honda makes us dwell on the wounded, the dying, and the grief that the lucky survivors feel. And he even makes us feel the pain of the most unlikely character: Godzilla himself.

Godzilla is the walking avatar of the nuclear bomb. He is death and carnage--and yet Honda never lets us forget that he is as much a victim as the people he kills in his angry rampage. When Godzilla's defeat comes, and it is shockingly final for the first film in a series that is still producing entries, Honda makes the sympathy we feel for Godzilla at the end truly earned. That last haunting howl before he sinks beneath the waves is a marvelous send-off for the beast.

And the film ends with Yamane hinting that Godzilla might not be the last of his kind. In the far remove of 2015, when everything is expected to set up a sequel, this feels like an obvious hook. Yet, it is actually intended as something entirely separate--something greater.

The film is pleading with the world to not continue to create monsters out of nuclear fire, to not wipe whole cities off the map, and to not ruin innocent lives. The film is echoing the words of the real-life radio operator of the Lucky Dragon No. 5 as he succumbed to radiation poisoning, "I pray that I am the last victim of an atomic or hydrogen bomb." Far from teasing a sequel, the film means, "Please, let there be no more Godzillas."

It's a resonant, possibly futile message...that would be lost on Americans, so it's gotta go!

When American distributors got ahold of Godzilla in 1956, they had a strong conviction about a few things: One, that the film had huge potential to turn a hefty profit in the US just as it had in its native Japan. Two, that those profits would be neglible if they released it in subtitled Japanese because the film would never play anything but arthouse cinemas in the American market. Three, American audiences were fucking racists who would never identify with the plight of an entirely Japanese cast.

So the distributors hit upon an idea that was, when you really look at it, kind of a brilliant compromise. They hired director Terry Morse to oversee new scenes where an American reporter named Steve Martin, played by Raymond Burr hot off his notable turn as the villain in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window and a year before he really rose to fame as Perry Mason on television, becomes caught in the middle of the events of the film and relates the story back to his editor in the states while being assisted by Security Officer Tomo (Frank Iwanaga), and released the film as Godzilla, King of The Monsters!

Now, the truly hilarious thing is that it was decided that Steve Martin--I'm still hoping for the next American Godzilla movie to have a cameo of Steve Martin playing a reporter named Raymond Burr--needed to interact with the story proper and, indeed, to be an old friend of Serizawa and Yamane. This means lots of scenes of Burr addressing the back's of people's heads.

Clearly, that is the back of Professor Yamane's head.
Now, there's no question that Godzilla, King of The Monsters! is a very altered film when compared to the original. Godzilla runs 96 minutes and Godzilla, King of The Monsters! runs a comparatively scrawny 80 minutes. Much of the original film has been torn out and replaced with new footage, especially any scenes where the anti-nuclear message becomes too strong. The film has also been rearranged greatly--it opens with Steve Martin coming to in a ruined Tokyo, having barely survived Godzilla's rampage and flashes back to the beginning where it's revealed his flight passed over the area where the first ship was attacked, so Tomo holds him for questioning after he gets off the flight and then ends up inviting him along on the rest of the story so both characters can hover at the periphery. Martin also becomes an omnipresent narrator, occasionally even talking over character scenes that they couldn't squeeze him into, while other such scenes are dubbed almost at random--the decision for which scenes would be narrated and which would be dubbed are rather haphazard, since the needs of the audience to know what the hell is going on were wisely put before diagetic logic. As for Martin's narration he thankfully does not follow the path that subsequent Americanizations would take in that he does not just narrate what's happening on the screen and, in fact, knows when the hell to shut up.

Although he, hilariously, cannot pronounce "helicopter."

The astonishing thing about the edited film, though, is just how faithful it remains to the original version. Unlike other altered versions, director Terry Morse was wise enough to see that Akira Ifukube's amazing score should be left unaltered. The tone of the film was left unaltered as well: while the explicit warnings about how awful nuclear weapons are may have been toned down, the grim tone of the film was not. Indeed, Godzilla's rampage in Tokyo does not appear to suffer a single cut, even if many very moving scenes lose their power by being left untranslated--if the scene of the mother assuring her children that they'll be with their father soon as the flames close in on them doesn't hit you in the gut, then you are made of sterner stuff than I.

I will even go so far as to say that, occasionally, I prefer some of the alterations made by the Americans. While the rampage scenes are largely unaltered, there are two destruction sequences where Terry Morse decided to add the sound effect of Godzilla's victims screams--when he tosses a train car to the ground after picking it up in his jaws and when he obliterates a police car with his atomic breath before the driver can escape. Without the screams those two bits are the only ones that feel less effective in the original film.

In the end, of course I will always say that Ishiro Honda's original film is superior. However, it is a fallacy that even I have been guilty of to say that Godzilla, King of The Monsters! is somehow worthless because it altered a great film. For starters, without Terry Morse's version who knows if Godzilla would have ever been as popular in the West as he eventually became? More intriguingly, it's entirely possible that Godzilla would never have made more than two screen appearances without Morse's version.

Godzilla was, after all, a massive hit in Japan. And just as had happened with King Kong in the 1930s, the decision was made to rush a sequel into theaters a mere six months later! Now, while I think Godzilla Raids Again is far superior to Son of Kong and, frankly, is often unfairly maligned by the fandom--Japanese audiences clearly did not agree with me. While not entirely a flop, there's no question that the film fizzled at the box office. Toho decided that, instead of bringing Godzilla back for a third fim, they would branch off in other directions--such as introdcuing the world to the first flying kaiju in living color with Rodan and charging into luxurious TohoScope (their answer to CinemaScope) with alien invasion epics The Mysterians (which also features a giant robot monster) and Battle in Outer Space (which doesn't).

The success of Godzilla, King of The Monsters! overseas (so successful, in fact, that it was actually given a theatrical release in Japan in 1957 as Monster King Godzilla) convinced Toho that there was an interest in their biggest star overseas. Even if they, oddly, were completely on board with the plan to erase Godzilla's name value from Godzilla Raids Again when it was first intended to have its effects footage reused for the scrapped project "The Volcano Monsters" about a giant Tyrannosaurus (Godzilla) and a giant Ankylosaurus (Anguirus) tangling in San Francisco, and again when it was finally released as Gigantis, The Fire Monster in 1959.

Point is, without Raymond Burr talking to the backs of heads, the world would never have gotten the third appearance by Godzilla in the biggest screen match-up ever: 1962's King Kong vs. Godzilla. And we most certainly would not be getting its rematch, Godzilla vs. Kong in 2020. I think that deserves a lot of respect.

Of course, critics of the the time certainly did not agree.

Just look at the dismissive review from Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, whose very name tells you he's a smug prick, frankly, and having browsed some of his other reviews of genre film I find that the man seems an inveterate killjoy. However, his attitude towards Godzilla, King of The Monsters! is truly insufferable:
To say that this Oriental monster is fantastic is to state but half the case. "Godzilla," produced in a Japanese studio, is an incredibly awful film. It looks as though its Japanese producers, assisted by a stray American—fellow named Terry Morse, who is an alumnus of Hollywood's Poverty Row—made a close study of the old film, "King Kong," then tried to do substantially the same thing with a miniature of a dinosaur made of gum-shoes and about $20 worth of toy buildings and electric trains. 
Their idea is that this monster, which exhales atomic breath, much as the cigarette billboard in Times Square blows out puffs of smoke, takes it upon itself, for no clear reason, to destroy Tokyo. And a good half hour of the picture's eighty minutes is devoted to this pursuit.
Makes me want to go back in time and give the man an atomic wedgie. Especially since, I have become increasingly aware as I grow older that the only difference between "about $20 worth of toy buildings and electric trains" and praise worthy special effects is what country is making the effects.

In his book, A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series, David Kalat raises a beautiful point--one he also touches on in his Criterion commentary--that the aggravating tendency to dismiss Godzilla movies has a distinct whiff of prejudice about it. Kalat writes:
I do not wish to accuse anyone of racism, certainly not over something as trivial as a monster movie. Nevertheless, I am left speechless by reviewers who spend one page deriding Japanese productions for man-in-a-suit monsters but then on the next page express admiration for Western films using the same techniques. I have read countless apologists for some of the worst science fiction films ever made that just happen to be American productions, while Japanese imports of extremely high quality receive ridicule and contempt.
Indeed, how often are War of the Worlds or When Worlds Collide hailed for their special effects, which use miniatures not exceptionally better than Godzilla. The Creature From the Black Lagoon is a man in a suit, and so is Alien. Yet somehow Godzilla continually gets dismissed for being cheap. Now, Kalat has also pointed out that Japanese audiences don't care as much about whether a film's special effects are "realistic" the way Americans do. While I have no doubt that there is a lot of truth to that, I still feel that the bigger difference in acceptance of the effects that bring Godzilla to life are simply a matter of who is doing them.

In the end, I'm obviously biased. Godzilla has been a part of my life for about 24 years as of this writing. I can find something good to say about his most bizarre, most threadbare, most despised, and most mediocre entries. That said, I think that Godzilla is absolutely essential viewing. Perhaps some modern audiences need to have their special effects cynicism turned off before viewing it, but even if they must snicker at the special effects I can only hope that they at least give the story a chance. They won't regret it.

And naturally, I also have to say that the Criterion edition is the best way to go. It's the best the film has ever looked, has an amazing wealth of extras, and the packaging is beautiful.

This review is my contribution to the Criterion Blogathon! Click the banner below to check out the scores of other amazing entries, including several from the other Celluloid Zeroes!

(And if you don't already have it, pick up the Criterion edition below!)

Monday, November 16, 2015

Announcing: The Criterion Blogathon!

This week begins The Criterion Blogathon! And on Thursday, yours truly will be taking a look at the original Godzilla (1954)!

Keep your eyes peeled, though, as several other Celluloid Zeroes will be taking part throughout the week! Plus, you know, there's a lot of awesome content from a myriad of bloggers to pore through!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

HubrisWeen 2015, Day 26: Zombeavers (2014)

Sometimes, you hear a movie idea and it is like nails on a chalkboard in your mind. You just know that there is no way that anyone could think of that idea and think it was a good idea. Zombeavers was one such idea for me.

Now, this was not so much because I find the idea of zombie beavers unappealing. Rather, it was the assumption that there was no way a movie based on that concept would be anything but an obnoxious, one-joke concept.

Well, let me just say that I always love being proved wrong.

I have to say the opening is not the most promising start, though. We see a medical and toxic waste transport truck cruising down the road (which sadly is not from a company named "Uneeda") and the two guys inside the cab have a conversation about the driver (Bill Burr) taking his girlfriend to get an abortion and then casually mentions having once dated a guy so that the guy in the passenger seat (John Mayer, yes that John Mayer) can try to basically hint at maybe they should date, then. The driver then begins texting, ignoring the passenger's halfhearted warning about the deer in the road.

While the deer is killed by the impact, the only damage the truck suffers is that a single barrel of chemicals falls off the bed and immediately rolls down into the river. The two morons don't notice, of course. And the film delivers its first pleasant surprise as the credits roll over the footage of the barrels floating in the river, accompanied by a cartoon super-imposed on the live-action footage. It's a neat little detail. Eventually the barrel comes to rest at a beaver dam and, as the puppet beavers look at the curious metal object, it promptly springs a leak and sprays them with a green liquid.

"Welp, that's a new one, eh, Earl?"
"Sure is, Ted."
Meanwhile, at a gas station bathroom, college girl Jenn (Lexi Atkins) is tearfully texting her boyfriend, who has apparently cheated on her. After she exits the bathroom, and has an awkward run-in with a trucker, she rejoins her friend Mary (Rachel Melvin) at their car. They're on their way to a cabin owned by Mary's cousin, along with third friend Zoe (Courtney Palm) and her Jack Russell terrier, Gosling. If looked at in typical slasher terms, Jenn seems like a typical Final Girl, Mary is the nerdy girl, and Zoe is the promiscuous one.

In fact, Zoe is very annoyed that they had to make this trip a girl's weekend after Jenn's boyfriend cheated on her. Zoe had really been looking forward to some fun time with her boyfriend, but while she may tease Jenn about the issue and even complains about the lack of sexual opportunities, she is a good enough friend to still go along with the new plan and the rules of no boys and no phones. We can tell that Zoe is the least used to being in the countryside because she thinks the raft in the lake near the cabin is floating garbage upon first sighting it.

As the three friends drive up to the cabin, we see a teenage boy fishing in the river get taken out by a POV cam as a threat-establishing casualty.

Once at the cabin, the girls get to meet the neighbor, Myrne Gregorson (Phyllis Katz) and her husband Winston (Brent Brisxcoe), who's watching from their porch with the couple's golden retriever. Myrne mentions that she hasn't seen Mary in ages. Zoe's brash tongue makes the conversation a bit awkward but, unsurprisingly, the old lady is just as brash. Once she departs, they all go inside to pick rooms and freshen up. To the horror of Jenn and Zoe, it turns out that the "no phones" rule is going to be very easy to enforce because there is no signal in the area.

"I'm just saying, if we had a talking Great Dane we could be a team of young detectives!"
The three decide to go swimming and, to Jenn and Mary's annoyance, Zoe does so topless. Still, it's going fine until Jenn sees a beaver dam and wants to go investigate. The three swim over to the dam and discover it is covered in a revolting green residue that Zoe assumes to be beaver urine. Lucky for them, they don't actually encounter the beavers as a lurking POV cam watches them from the water--but they do find themselves confronted by a bear.

As the three slowly back away, a shot rings out and the bear runs off. A hunter who introduces himself as "Smyth, with a Y" (Rex Linn) then appears. And the guy is delightfully unnerving as he tells them they weren't in any danger from the bear, says some weird things about beavers, and then tells them they ought to be more covered up--and he doesn't just means the woman with no top on.

The girls take their leave of him as fast as they can. At the cabin that night they eat popcorn and play a truly sick game of "Would you rather?" since apparently nobody packed Cards Against Humanity. Then it shifts to truth or dare and we learn here that the last time they played that Mary and Jenn made out, but Jenn objects that that's no fun without guys around to make jealous. Mary thinsk the lady doth protest too much, but as she jokingly moves in for a kiss there's a loud thump outside.

Zoe goes to check with the flashlight and disappears. Mary and Jenn go out to find her, but the door gets blown shut and they're locked outside. Then a shadowy figure charges up--and farts at them. Their attacker is actually Mary's boyfriend, Tommy (Jake Weary). Mary wants to know how he even got there, and the answer appears in the form of Buck (Peter Gilroy) who is carrying Zoe to the porch. Seems he practically dragged Tommy to the cabin, despite the insistence that Mary had warned him that it was just a girl's weekend. Naturally, Zoe is not entirely blameless in this.

And then, to Jenn's disgust, her duplicitous boyfriend, Sam (Hutch Dano) appears from inside the cabin, carrying a baseball bat. Mary tries to be the good friend and send the guys away, despite Zoe and Buck begging to be allowed to bang. Jenn, however, says it's okay. After all, it'll be good for her to face the problem head-on. Though I'm sure she didn't really intend for her and Sam to have to sit on the couch in the living room and listen to the other couples loudly having sex.

Jenn shows Sam the photographic proof of his philandering--a tagged photo of him from a party the weekend before, kissing a brunette whose face is obscured. Sam either can't or won't tell her who the woman in the photo is. And his attempt to seduce her into forgetting her anger ends with him getting a knee to the groin. To be fair, he did deserve that. Meanwhile, in the afterglow Tommy notices Mary seems distracted, which she shrugs off as concern for Jenn.

Jenn goes to take a shower, but as she's undressing she hears something thumping in the bathtub. She assumes it's Buck--that guy must be a real perv, if that's her default assumption--but it's a beaver. A very vicious beaver with white eyes that tries to attack her. It leaps at her but luckily it's clumsy or it might have been able to take a bite out of her.

"I told you never to flush when I'm in the shower!"
Jenn flees to the living room to get Sam's help. The others arrive to find out what's going on and when she tells them about the rabid beaver they all go to investigate, but now it's nowhere to be seen. Buck begins mocking her--only for the beaver to lunge out of a cupboard and try to attack him. Tommy beats it to a pulp with the baseball bat, but it takes a lot of punishment before it stops moving. Tommy tosses it into a garbage bag and leaves it on the porch. Jenn wants to leave right away, but the others talk her into sleeping on it. She agrees, but demands to sleep with Mary for the night. Unbeknownst to them, the garbage bag on the porch is moving...

The next morning, as they head outside to go swimming, Jenn notices the bloody garbage bag is torn open and there are bloody pawprints leading away from it. Tommy dismisses it as nothing but a scavenger finding the corpse and absconding with it. Jenn is not so sure, and feels weird about going in the water, but the others assure her it's fine. She asks them to quit making the obvious beaver jokes and also stays put on the bank instead of joining them in the water.

On the raft, Sam talks to Mary about the mysterious photo that Jenn showed him. Seems that both of them know exactly who was in the photo. He asks if Mary is going to tell Jenn it was her, since she would believe it if Mary says it was nothing, but Mary would rather her friend not hate her. Sam begins to think maybe they need to talk about it, since it sounds to him like maybe it wasn't nothing,

No time for that, though. As soon as Jenn gives in to peer pressure and wades into the water, something swims past her foot. The others mock her until Buck goes under suddenly--and resurfaces holding his own severed foot. Cue Jaws-style trombone shot on Jenn, Tommy is attacked next but he, Buck, and Zoe manage to make it to the raft just as another beaver leaps out to bite Buck on the shoulder until Tommy tosses it away.

Tommy ties a tourniquet around Buck's leg using Gsoling's life-vest. Then Zoe notices Jenn is gone. Well, she ran back to the cabin to call for help with the landline, but the phone lines have been torn out by the beavers. And now the others are not only surrounded by several beavers in the water, they're trying to break through the raft to get at them.

"Look, just take the wood and let us go!"
Meanwhile, the beaver from the night before scratches Jen on the calf and she finds herself wrestling with it on the kitchen floor. The others, seeing their chances at survival rapidly dwindling, begin to get desperate--so Sam decides to be the asshole who makes the unpopular decision of throwing Golsing into the lake as a diversion. Well, as you might imagine, the dog is not able to outswim the beavers and as they're eating him, the others make a swim fro shore,

Jenn has managed to cut the beaver in half, but even with its hind half dnagling by threads of sinew it still chases her up onto the kitchen island. She finally pins it to the the tabletop with a knife to the skull. She then opens the door to the cabin just as the others rush in, the beavers hot on their heels. So now that night is falling, the group realizes they are trapped in a cabin surrounded by beavers who want flesh and whose very biology means it'll only be a matter of time before they chew through the wooden cabin to get at them, and they have all the evidence they need on the counter top that these beavers are actually zombies.

Though they have no idea what's coming. For we all know that if a zombie bites you, you turn into a zombie--but what do you turn into when a zombie beaver bites you?

Never hire a mad scientist to be your orthodontist.
I'm going to cut this review short here because I genuinely think Zombeavers is best experienced without knowing everything that happens. Now, I don't think this film is nearly as good as Late Phases and it is certainly nowhere near as good as What We Do In The Shadows by any stretch. However, it's still a film that is best experienced only knowing some of the delights it has in store.

For one thing, this film commits to its goofy premise. Sure, the zombie beavers are meant to be funny more than scary, but that doesn't mean they don't carry a surprising amount of menace. The shots of their eyes glowing in the night in a few scenes are genuinely unnerving. Hell, even the zombie were-beavers that eventually show up are as menacing as they are silly--though naturally there's a visual gag involving one were-beaver that made me laugh too hard to spoil here,

I also appreciate that, while obviously lots of CGI is used, the film mainly relies on physical props for the beavers. When you think about it, vaguely jerky puppets are the only way to render zombie beavers, anyway, so I'm glad the filmmakers realized that. It's also just always more entertaining to see actors wrestle with prop rubber beavers than to see them try to do the same with CGI.

Certainly, Zombeavers is not perfect. The majority of the characters, whether intentionally or not, are pretty intolerable and far too many of the jokes are the sort of lazily offensive material you'd expect to see on something that thinks it's "edgy" but really, really isn't. However, the difference between this and something like The Watch--the alien invasion flick where it turns out the aliens can only be killed by being shot in the dick because that's where their brains are--is that it manages to rise above some lazy, unexceptional material in its comedic scenes by really nailing it in the horror-comedy ones.

Obviously, this is not a film for everyone and I kind of feel like it maybe needed a couple more passes over the script in order to become truly great, but I had a lot of fun with it. I highly recommend this to horror movie fans, especially those like me who are sick to undeath of zombies already.

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

And with that, dear readers, another HubrisWeen draws to a close. Wasn't sure I was gonna make it, and I feel like I could sleep for a week after rushing to make my deadlines at the end here, but you better believe I'm too foolhardy to not take another swing at it in 2016.

So you better be on the lookout for HubrisWeen: The Final Chapter next year. But stuck around, because I'm not done with my hubris and in mid-November you'll be seeing me try to find something new about a bonafide classic for a Criterion blogathon event.

Oh yes, this joint is about to get classy.

Friday, October 30, 2015

HubrisWeen 2015, Day 25: Yonggary (1999 / 2001)

You would never guess it, given the fact that the original Korean version has seemingly been lost and the US version was released directly to television, but Yongary, Monster From The Deep must have been very influential in South Korea. If you need any convincing of that fact, just look at Shim Hyung-rae's 1993 comedy Young-Goo and Dinosaur Zu-Zu where the director's "child" character befriends a goofy baby Ceratosaurus, only for some local bad guys to kidnap them both and awaken the rage of the baby's mother--who looks exactly like Yongary would if he'd been based on a Ceratosaurus instead of just vaguely resembling one.

On second thought, do not look at Young-Goo and Dinosaur Zu-Zu*. It can be found on some streaming video sites, but completely unsubtitled and even then the film's Komedy is insufferable. Imagine if Adam Sandler made a movie where he was pretending to be a dim-witted grade schooler, with only a tiny portion of the film's running time devoted to a giant monster plot. The film is so insufferable that I gave up on it shortly after the big dinosaur finally burst out of a volcano because I decided sleep was more important--and I wasn't even that tired.

[* If you actually do want to view one of Shim's comedies for some reason, try Tyranno's Claw instead. It's not funny, exactly, but it's a cavemen and dinosaurs movie so its dialogue is all just caveman gibberish--therefore no language barrier to cross if you don't speak Korean--and its dinosaurs are not exactly good but they are fun and memorable]

At any rate, Yongary, Monster From The Deep was influential enough that in the mid-1990s, when it seemed like every kaiju franchise was enjoying a revival, it was decided that Yongary deserved a return engagement. And who would be bringing us a new vision of everyone's (read: no one's) favorite gasoline-drinking dinosaur? Why, Shim Hyung-rae, of course!

It gets worse. When the film was originally announced--and I'm going off of nearly 20-year-old memories here because it's astonishingly hard to track down background on this project--it was going to be taking the expected man-in-suit trashing miniature cities route. No other details were available at that time, aside from a few shots of the Yonggary (as the creature's name was re-Romanized to be more accurate) suit.

The guy you'll be blaming for what's to come is on the left.
Already it was clear that Yonggary had undergone a radical redesign, similar to what happened to Godzilla. The original creature's design was more or less, "What if we put Gamera's head on Godzilla's body and then put a horn on his nose?" The remake's title creature is harder to pin down to any obvious influence: it's an armored creature with a row of bumps in place of any discernable dorsal plates, a tiny nose horn, spiked shouler pads, and a crown of swept-back horns on the back of its head.

"It's Yongary In Name Only!"
Well, then the news dried up for a while. I don't recall for how long, but suddenly the news of Yonggary was all about how it was going use CGI to render its monsters (yes, there was going to be an enemy monster this time around, though you wouldn't have known it from most of the original promotion) and that the cast would be entirely Western and almost competely white. It's hard to say which was the more alarming development. After all, in 1998 when the film's production was ramping up for a 1999 release, even Hollywood was largely avoiding CGI as a principal effects tool because unless you had Industrial Light & Magic doing it for you, your FX were likely to end up looking like upscaled video game graphics or something from a current release from The Asylum.

Actually, that was still likely even if you did hire ILM.
Korea (and even Japan) at this point in time were not exactly known for their CGI. So if Hollywood could barely make CGI work, what could we expect from Korea? Well, it turns out pretty much exactly what you think. Sort of.

You might have noticed the fact that I listed two release dates above. Generally I try to only go with the film's original release date in its country of origin, but in this case that requires I give two dates. You see, unless you were in South Korea or attended the Cannes Film Festival, you haven't actually seen Yonggary in its original form. Oh, clips from the film surfaced on the internet that demonstrated its appalling effects, but apparently the film was so poorly received that Shim Hyung-rae reworked it and released it again in 2001. It was apparently this version that made its way to American home video under the bizarrely generic title Reptilian. Look, I realize Yonggary has zero name recognition value in America, but was that seriously a better title?

I say apparently because there is a lot of disagreement about what, if any changes Shim made. The 2001 re-release was labelled "Upgrade" in South Korea, but no one can exactly confirm if the woeful effects were upgraded. This is because the 1999 cut of the film is supposedly just as lost as the original version of Yongary, Monster From The Deep.

The fact that the 2001 edition is not lost may or may not be considered a good thing.

We open in a cave as a bunch of guys in spelunking gear fumble with a map. One of them asks their leader, who will turn out to be Dr. Campbell (Richard B. Livingston), if they shouldn't wait for Dr. Hughes since it's his map they're consulting. Campbell asserts that he's in charge and they should move out. Meanwhile, an old man we'll later learn is Dr. Hughes (Harrison Young), is lost in a different section of the cave. He decides to sit down and have a smoke, while Dr. Campbell and company discover a stone bridge over a ravine filled with fog and dinosaur skeletons--which is an adorably obvious miniature.

Diorama by Timmy, Mrs. Kelvin's 4th Grade Class.
Hughes, meanwhile, notices his lighter is illuminating various skeletons in the cave wall: a theropod, a pterosaur that looks more like a dragon, and finally a mummified alien. His shocked scream leads one of the other explorers to overact wildly as he tells Campbell they must turn back, but Campbell refuses because they've come too far and, anyway, he's just seen what he's looking for. Hughes examines the alien, noting it's in excellent condition and has an amulet clasped in its claws.

Campbell, meanwhile, has found a glowing symbol on a column of rock. He orders the panicky guy, named Peters, to, "DIG!" Hilariously, after Peters gets out his hammer and chisel, Campbell goes and hides behind a rock. Sure enough, the instant that Peters hits the rock it results in an explosion that blasts the flesh off every single one of the explorers and dashes their skeletons against the rock walls. Peters! NOOO! The alien amulet then glows blue, and this causes the explosion to suck back into the column of rock--revealing some form of hieroglyphic writing. Campbell comes out from his hiding place and cackles that, "It's mine! All mine!"

The credits roll over more hieroglyphs. We return to the film as an alien ship that looks like it escaped from an episode of Babylon 5 passes by the moon. At an observatory of some kind, Captain Parker (Briant Wells) is sitting by a radar screen and doesn't notice it going full static. I presume this is a "Laser Radar" station. Parker gets a phone call, as the power flickers on and off in the building. Cut to the alien ship hovering around the moon, presumably to escape detection. No, I don't know what the phone call was about because we then cut to some totally different guy getting off a phone call.

I have no idea who this guy is, but he's half-dressed and lying in bed with a woman dressed how sex workers usually are in movies. He's ranting about how he's finally gonna bury Bud Black and then whatever publication he works for will have to run his story instead. Um, sure. This sequence is shot with a shaky handheld, to make things even more bizarre. Anyways, half-naked balding guy calls Bud Black (Brad Sergi) to pass on the details of a story about a dinosaur. Bud, who is wearing a leather beret, happily copies down the details, apparently unaware that the guy passing them on to him wants to ruin him.

Bud quickly arrives at some kind of dig site where an excavator is moving dirt around and Campbell is supervising a bunch of workers digging with shovels, accompanied by his lead assistant Holly Davis (Donna Philipson). Bud hops out of his car and immediately takes a flash photo. This annoys Campbell, but Davis is annoyed because she knows Bud from an article he wrote in Time magazine about Ancient Civilizations and she dismisses him as a glory hungry paparazzo. Um, even if he was writing an article about ancient aliens that description wouldn't make sense.

Of course, all the narcissistic Campbell hears is "Time magazine" so he happily switches his tune to welcoming Bud. He explains that they've unearthed a dinosaur "fifty times the size of T-Rex," then offers Bud some iced tea. Bud chuckles about the supposed dinosaur "fifty times the size of T-Rex" until he sees the skeleton being dug up--which is in the opposite direction from where the folks we just saw digging are and Bud would have seen it when he drove up. It's also at least partially a full-scale prop and clearly not fifty times the size of a T-Rex, large though it may be.

"Campbell's all right, but you've got to divide every figure he gives you by ten. Other than he's perfectly all right."
Bud is speechless and Campbell pontificates about how this is big and signifies "the dawn of a new era." A new era of...finding big dinosaurs? Okay, sure. Meanwhile, at the alien spaceship, hordes of smaller CGI fighter craft are flying around for...some reason. As the spaceship approaches Earth, we see a space shuttle orbiting next to a satellite. The shuttle identifies itself as Atlantis Omega II (?) and then radios base control to advise them that they're reading a strange radiation surge--and then the space ship blasts them to smithereens with a laser blast. It destroys the satellite for good measure.

At base control, Lt. O'Neill (Wiley M. Pickett) can't raise Atlantis Omega II, and Parker comes up to ask what's wrong. And I have no idea what branch of the military they're working for that requires them to wear camo in a space mission control room. O'Neill says the shuttle just vanished into thin air. We see the space ship easing into a parking orbit, which you'd think the base should be able to detect but maybe it's undetectable by Earth means.

At the dig site, Davis is sketching dinosaur bones when Hughes suddenly appears and clamps his hand over her mouth. He assures her he's not there to hurt her, but then Campbell appears in the tent with two workers at his side and introduces Hughes to Davis. She expresses surprise that he's the  Dr. Wendel Hughes and Campbell mocks Hughes for becoming a senile old man who wants to stop progress. Hughes warns, "Stop the digging now. There'll be no chance at redemption once Yonggary gets his breath."

And note now that almost no one in the cast will pronounce Yonggary correctly, and most will make it sound like "Young Gary."

Campbell mocks Hughes for being jealous that he decoded the hieroglyphics first and found the skeleton first. Hughes tosses back that Campbell is arrogant and greedy. So Campbell has the workers--one of whom looks like Richard Kiel and spends the entire time looking like he's about to burst into laughter, but I think he's trying to be intimidating--grab Hughes and escort him off the site. Davis asks Campbell if he wasn't being too rough and when Bud enters the tent and asks what's going on, he's assured it's nothing and that he should rest up for the big day tomorrow,

A lightning storm rolls in as we get some adorable miniatures of the dig site and the Yonggary skeleton. The alien spaceship fires a triple laser beam at Earth, which hits near the dig site and sends out a CGI shockwave that causes two workers who see it to explode in sparks. The next morning, their smoking corpses are being photographed by Bud, but Campbell snatches the camera away and rips the film out of it. He tells Bud he will only photograph what Campbell tells him to, then turns to Davis and says, "Holly, how did you let this happen?" in the tone you'd use if your daughter let the dog get into the trash, not if you found two people dead.

Campbell passes it off as an electrical mishap and gives orders to dispose of the bodies (!) and get back to work. Davis points out that two dead people on their dig means the authorities need to be involved, but Campbell tells her this sort of thing happens all the time (?!) and then tells the workers he'll double their pay. That satisfies them and they get back to work. Campbell demands to see Davis in private, whereupon he angrily slams his coffee cup down on a desk and splatters coffee everywhere as he demands to know what's gotten into her. She points out that that was the third incident (!) this week (!!) and the authorities really ought to be brought in.

You know, at a certain point you stop being the unwitting pawn of a madman and become an accomplice.

Davis objects that nothing could be worth so many lives, but Campbell tells her that some things are worth such a steep cost and that the dig will continue with or without her. Meanwhile, Parker and O'Neill are informing Lt. General George Murdock (Dan Cashman, I think, but I assumed that by process of elimination since the IMDb lists three characters who are generals, only one of whom has a picture that does not match this guy, and no name is given at this time) that the shuttle and two satellites are missing. The General berates them that they don't lose shuttles and hardware like a "two dollar crap game" and orders everyone to go on Red Alert. Cue footage of missiles being readied and troops scrambling.

Meanwhile, over drinks Campbell tells Bud that he's going to be famous, though Bud worries it won't pay the bills. Campbell asks him in he ever heard of any famous poor people (um, yes) and assures him he could win the Pulitzer. They drink to that and finally the film gets to the really fun part as we cut back to the space ship and we see two Guyver-like aliens talking. Both are obvious puppets that can only bob their heads and wave their arms, and both speak in English with a voice that sounds vaguely like Zordon on The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.

The budget for Prometheus sequels just kept getting slashed...
One alien advises that Earth has detected them and they must begin the invasion now. The other counters that Earth cannot harm them, so they should continue with the reanimation process. Back on Earth, while looking at a rotating/ CGI image of the space ship the General observes, "Sure as hell ain't Russian." Parker helpfully replies, "No, sir: it's alien." No! I would never have guessed!

At the dig site, Bud asks about Hughes and Campbell explains that he used to be a leader in their field but they had a disagreement. He then mentions that Davis is no longer with them and Bud at first assumes this means she was killed. After Bud assures Campbell he'll do whatever the man asks as long as he gets his story, Cut to some poor bastard trying to drag a tarp out to cover the enormous skeleton--when the belly of the spaceship glows, which causes teeth to fly out of the ground, throught the hapless worker, and root themselves in Yonggary's jaws. Yonggary's ribs grow, as well, and Bud steps out of a port-a-potty in time to see the dead worker, whom he photographs--so we can get an identical replay of the last time he did that and Campbell caught him. This time, after having his film ripped out, Bud yells at Campbell that he's a photojournalist but Campbell reminds him of the deal from before--and then has him help with moving the body.

Again, accomplice.

Meanwhile, the next morning Davis checks into her motel room, unaware that Hughes is watching her. Campbell is then woken up by a worker because the fossil is growing fangs and they found another body. After almost pointing out that he disposed of the body, Campbell catches himself. When asked by the workers how many more lives will this dig cost, he calmly says that they're free to go--but then reminds them that "you are all illegals, and I'll report every last one of you!" So they shrug and keep digging. Though, at this point, they might as well just kill Campbell and dispose of his body since they've already apparently covered up numerous deaths on the site.

At her motel, Davis phones a "professor" and tells him she quit the job, asks if the professor knew Dr. Hughes (who has apparently been assumed dead by most people), mentions him turning up at the dig site to much consternation, and then asks if the job offer still applies. Someone knocks at her door, but it's just the guy delivering her blankets. She asks him where she can get food and he just points and says, "Bar." At the bar, we see the quirky bartender, Sarah Saunders (Julie Kessler) trying to get some barfly to talk about his breakup, but he understandably flees the conversation so she turns her attention to Davis. Davis orders hot coffee and a chicken sandwich, and the two chat while the bartender pours her coffee.

Davis says it's nice to see another woman's face after being surrounded by men. Sarah asks how that's a problem and Davis assures her that being surrounded by a bunch of "sweaty bone diggers"--dibs on the band name--is no fun at all. Hughes then arrives and asks to talk to Davis in private, explaining he knows she quit the dig. She briefly asks him why he, a "world-famous paleontologist," disappeared for two years and was presumed dead. He explains that in Southeast Asia, he encountered a local shaman who directed him to a sacred cave and told him about the legend of Young Gary, the biggest dinosaur of all who would one day rise from the dead and destroy the world. In that cave he also found a fossil of an alien, but Davis declares him just as crazy as Campbell until he asks if anything odd has happened around the fossil and then tells her he has proof that he can show her somewhere more secret.

General Murdock then meets with a guy in a lab coat somewhere that's full of planes being assembled or worked on or some damn thing. The General advises that he's there because an alien space craft has attacked twice already and he doesn't "recall anything in the handbook about dealing with pissed off aliens." Cut back to Hughes and Davis in her hotel room, going over the hieroglyphics that foretell of the return of a giant dinosaur. She sees nothing in them but some ancient writing, so Hughes explains the last two years he was a "guest" of the government who didn't believe him either, but they were interested in aa dead alien. He shows her the analysis of the non-carbon-based, non-human, non-animal specimen that fossilized 200-220 million years ago. (Um, in the Triassic Period?!) Hughes says, as he's leaving, that he knows that the aliens are coming back and he has to stop Campbell before it's too late. Davis reluctantly decides to go with him after he walks out,

That night at the dig, Bud is muttering to himself and trying to assess the situation, including "more dead bodies than a Tarantino flick," Campbell appears then and reminds him that he is about to record mankind's greatest discovery (um, a really big dinosaur skeleton?), and then word comes that the skeleton has been fully uncovered. Campbell is moved to tears by its beauty and gives Bud permission to take his photos now. And then Hughes and Davis drive up, too late to stop the uncovering.

Cue the alien space ship firing a blast of energy at the skeleton. This causes an explosion that sends cars, equipment, and people flying. Then a glowing diamond appears on Yonggary's skull before he generates flesh, breathes deeply, and then rises up in the full glory of godawful CGI. We are talking video game cutscene from the time this was made, here. Campbell tries to deny what he's seeing, but then immediately tells Davis, "I can talk to him!" Wait, what? What the hell gave you that idea, doc?Hughes meanwhile just suggests that he and Davis get the hell out of there, as Yonggary stomps on the fleeing workers.

"Rar! Who unplugged my rendering computer?!"
Campbell faces down Yonggary as the beast stomps toward him, bellowing at it to stop because "you're my creation!" Yonggary stomps him flat as a counterpoint. And then the spaceship teleports Yonggary away. Hughes, Davis, and Bud stare at the spot where the beast was just standing in stunned silence.

Parker reports to General Murdock that they've found the target area, the site of an excavation 40 miles East of their location. Murdock orders him to go investigate at once. Parker and O'Neil pull up with trucks full of troops before we cut back to Major General Jack Thomas (Dennis Howard) arriving at whatever HQ they're using so Murdock can brief him about the alien attack. Hilariously, when Thomas asks if it's a pre-emptive strike Murdock says it's too early to say.

Meanwhile, Parker is a bit incredulous at Hughes and Davis' story of a 200-million-year-old dinosaur that vanished into thin air after being struck by a light from outer space. (Dude, you're tracking a strike from an orbiting alien spaceship) Hughes and Davis assert that the dinosaur must somehow be stopped before it reaches the city or they're all doomed. Ad then O'Neill calls Parker over to show him a footprint full of dead people. Parker, now convinced, wonders how he'll explain this.

Cut to a shot of the alien ship ad its fleet of fighters doing...nothing. Then, hilariously, a third General (Matt Landers) arrives and Murdock addresses him just as "Boom Boom," so to hell with the full name on the IMDb, that's what I'm calling him. Boom Boom introduces his companions, special task force Sgt. Romisky (Johanna Parker) and Sgt. Michaels (Alex Walters)--though I note that Boom Boom points at them in the wrong order when giving their names. Romisky advises that her objective is, "Destroy the enemy and break their toys, sir." But those were mint-in-package, you monster!

Romisky and Michaels are dismissed, so Boom Boom advises hat radar has deteced several smaller craft around the alien ship, possibly an attack force. Murdock requests that Thomas send Parker a chopper unit as back-up. then word comes in that target is moving (what target, Yonggary?) and Murdock orders the new position be relayed to Parker. Then he requests the other Generals meet him in the War Room.

In the alien vessel, one alien observes their invasion force is ready. The other alien acknowledges this and says they've received a signal from their tracking device. The order is given to dispatch Young Gary to the location. Cut to Hughes and Davis in a jeep driven by some grunt named Sgt. Archie (Derrick Costa), who advises their destination is top secret. He then calls Parker "the Pretty Boy" and explains that Parker's father was a two-star general and complains abut nepotism in ranks. He declares Parker incompetent, then goes on a spiel about the "fake" footprint and Roswell and corn fields.

Hughes, meanwhile, shows Davis a CD-R and explains it contains the rest of the hieroglyphics and need to be decoded. (And, uh, how does a paleontologist learn to decode alien hieroglyphics? Not really a discipline you need when studying dinosaurs)  Davis prods him to explain why he didn't try to find Campbell sooner if he knew what would happen. Hughes explains that when the government classified his data then he was also classified. His supposed disappearance and death was part of the cover-up. Archie cackles at this and turns around to look at Hughes and Davis as he laughs at them--just in time for Yonggary to materialize in front of the jeep.

"Pay the toll!"
While Archie asks what it is and Hughes snidely tells him it's his imagination, Davis hilariously asks, "Where is it?" Uh, do you need glasses, doc?  Archie panics, wanting to try and drive past Yongary, but Hughes warns it will kill them easily. Davis mocks the soldier's courage and then Archie says he's not sticking around--and Shatner-rolls out of the parked vehicle. He then, hilarious pulls his side arm. Hughes gets out and tells him not to shoot, but Archie promises to hit the beast between the eyes. Hughes points out that will get them all killed. Davis, meanwhile is enthralled by the beast as it stares back at them--even down to its smell. ("It smells...old.") Archie insists on trying to shoot the kaiju in front of them, but luckily a CGI helicopter squadron arrives before he can piss off a 200-foot dinosaur.

With Yonggary distracted by the approaching helicopters, Archie, Davis, and Hughes are able to get back in the jeep and drive right under Yonggary's feet. The soldier apologies for doubting Hughes, while Hughes just hopes the choppers can stop Yonggary. To my delight, Yonggary voices his displeasure at the advancing choppers by letting loose the stock roar used for the T-Rex in The Land Unknown, King Kong in the 1976 remake, and (bizarrely) Gamera in Gamera The Brave.

Before you ask, Yonggary did not have a memorable roar in his original film. It sounded like a donkey with a head cold, with a bit of Barugon's roar mixed in.

As Romisky and Michaels monitor the choppers in the control room, they make thier attck run. However, bullets don't even faze Yonggary and he responds by spitting CGI fireballs at ne chopper and smashing another with is claw. Rockets turn out to not fare any better, and Yonggary responds by leaping at the choppers and, I swear to God, the film rips off Godzilla when a pilot radios in "He's on my tail!" as Yonggary snaps at his chopper, barely missing each time because, as in the film it's ripping off, the pilot forgets he can fly up. This ends with Yonggary blasting the chopper with a fireball, though. Romisky is sure her radar screen must be malfunctioning because of all the chopper signals she's losing.

"Eat CGI, you flying jerks!"
Yonggary wipes out several more choppers with his fireballs, so Michaels orders them to break off.  He reports to the Generals that the choppers reported encountering a giant monster. The aliens give the order to "dematerialize Young Gary" and so the immense dinosaur fades from view. Boom Boom takes Murdock aside to tell him that a representative from the expected secret government anti-extraterrestrial agency has arrived. The agent introduces himself as Mr. Mills (Bruce Cornwell) of the N.S.I.A. and explains to the incredulous Murdock that he's not sure if even the president knows of his agency's existence. Mills explains the backstory about Hughes providing them evidence of an advanced alien race visiting Earth 200 million years ago.

Boom Boom gets mad mad when Mills admits the N.S.I.A. knew six months ago that maybe the aliens might one day return, but makes the sensible point that it was pretty unlikely that anyone would have believed that warning before now. Murdock asks how they can stop the aliens, but Mills informs them that some crucial information was taken from their lab and until it is recovered he has no idea. He then suggests capturing the aliens alive, which Boom Boom is not on board with.

They're interrupted then by the report that the spaceship is hovering over the city. (No, they never say which city) Murdock orders troops sent in and then tells Mills to stick around and then heads back to the control room. The satellite uplink has been repaired just in time to get a report of an energy beam from the alien ship striking just outside the city--and then everyone in the control room sees video of Yonggary materializing in the harbor outside the city. Mills mutters something about Hughes being right, but then pretends he knew nothing about this creature.

The alien spaceship is now orbiting the moon--nope, no idea why other than "it looks cool"--and the aliens order their fighters to destroy the satellite that's sending information to the military HQ. Not really sure why it needs to be destroyed now, but doing so deprives the military of their video feed. People in a bridge outside the city stop and gawk at the approaching giant dinosaur, which means they've never seen a kaiju film before. Yonggary smashes through the bridge and then wades into the center of town. For some reason he mainly just walks down a main street as people scream and flee. A motorcycle cop laughably tries to shoot Yonggary, then discovers his radio won't work to call for back-up. So he calls from a clearly not American phone booth, just barely getting in a report of a giant lizard before he has to dive out as Yonggary steps on the booth,

"Wait a minute--I was distinctly promised I would get to destroy a famous city!"
Yonggary then begins smashing buildings. A SWAT team is called in and they try to shoot at him from a rooftop, so he responds to their bullets and shotgun blasts by blasting a hole in the building. All the SWAT guys perish in a fireball. He then shoots fireballs all over the place--including into a crowd of fleeing civilians--causing massive explosions. Finally he takes out a gas station. And, frustratingly, 90% of the destroyed buildings are clearly miniatures and they actually look pretty good. It just makes the awful CGI that brings Yonggary to life that much more egregious.

Hughes and Davis are brought in to HQ and introduced to Murdock. Mills and Hughes have a catty confrontation over Hughes having stolen the discs and Mills having dismissed Hughes as crazy. Archie holds Mills back and Hughes explains that the discs may hold the key to defeating Yonggary. Meanwhile, Yonggary is destroying more of the city and I have less nice things to say about the miniatures in this segment, but at least they don't look like a cartoon. A hotdog cart is taken out by a runaway car, Yonggary knocks the spire off a skyscraper, A squad of ground troops engages Yonggary with bazookas, assault rifles, and 9mm handguns (!) but they just get to do fireball somersaults for their troubles.

Mills tries to flee the HQ, but Murdock won't let him out and has Archie place him under guard. Thomas calls in air support for the ground troops, in this case a squad of F-16s. In a truly odd bit, a bus full of children (in the dead of night?!) sees Yonggary approaching and he smashes the bridge in front of them, but the driver successfully jumps the gap--and then Yonggary sends fireball after fireball at the bus, destroying the bridge behind it but the bus manages to escape as the kids inside jump up and down excitedly yelling "yay!" in front of the fireball that almost killed them. What the Hell, kids?!

The F-16 squad leader reminds them to avoid collateral damage--and then the first plane misses both shots. The second fighter also misses with his missiles and angrily wonders how they're missing. The next fighter hits him in the chest, but the remaining shots all go way over Yonggary's head! He begins returning fire and I notice during the radio chatter that one of the pilots is a woman, which is kind of a cool little detail. Yonggary takes at least three planes out, the last one crashing into a gas truck on the ground and making a huge explosion.

Next, Yonggary takes out another plane and someone yells, "They got Mad Dog!" Then, after the missiles all failed to do anything to their target, the fighters try switching to guns. Obviously that fails, so they switch to sidewinders. This also fails because they keep fucking missing! Now, this is just a damned odd approach. Obviously Yonggary is a more traditional kaiju with the expected invulnerability to conventional weapons--so why they hell are they having the pilots missing like in Godzilla, too?! Though at least here Yonggary is destroying as many buildings when he returns fire as the incompetent military are.

The president calls Murdock and apparently demands the attack be called off to minimize the damage. Except Murdock then says that in roughly four hours the president has ordered a nuclear strike on Yonggary. Boom Boom points out the obvious downside of that plan, but Murdock just says they're under orders. The planes are still fighting Yonggary, though, but they're running out of missiles. As they plan one last strike, Yonggary's forehead suddenly glows and he writhes in pain like his head is hurting--and then he teleports away, which causes one plane to crash into a skyscraper. Which, oof, would be an uncomfortable visual shortly after its release.

At HQ, the Generals discuss a report that Yonggary had some kind of energy field around him that deflected their missiles. As they agonize over whether the beast has any weaknesses, Davis and Hughes are going over a program to translate the disc's hieroglyphics. He puts his jacket over her, which Hollywood has conditioned me to interpret as a romantic gesture and that makes me severely uncomfortable. He tells her the "code word" for the program is "Daddy Loves E.T." No, he's not kidding, he assures Davis.

The translation doesn't really help, just telling them that Yonggary will be given flesh and blood and this new race, called man, will be destroyed by his own intelligence. Wait, the aliens foretold the evolution of humans at a time when the Earth hadn't even evolved shrews yet? At any rate, Murdock asks Thomas if the experimental laser project, T-Force, could penetrate the force field around Yonggary. Thomas counters it's too early in the development process to use that technology and that the jet packs used for that project haven't even been safety tested yet. Murdock orders him to gather their T-Force anyway. Boom Boom then calls for Hughes.

Hughes is busy realizing through the translation that the aliens are using Young Gary as a tool to destroy the Earth, whereupon the aliens will be given new life upon it...somehow. Hilariously, they come upon a reference that says, "The dinosaur shall raise his head and the damon on his forehead will shine." As they puzzle over what a "damon" is, Davis finds a diamond shaped object in Hughes' coat. He explains he found it in the alien cave and Davis realizes that damon is actually diamond. Apparently aliens can't spell for shit.

Davis then realizes she saw the same diamond pattern on Young Gary's forehead and produces the sketch she made of his skull at the dig site. The hieroglyphics end by saying that once the diamond is destroyed, "another light" shall be sent in Yonggary's place. That can't be good. Looking at the clock counting down from 2 hours and 40 minutes until the nuclear strike--because apparently the nuke is just going to be fired at the city even if Yonggary is technically not there anymore, I guess--Thomas advises Murdock that Parker and his T-Force are in position. He makes a joke about their odds in Vegas, but then assures Murdock they're going to win.

Yonggary's signal is reacquired just then. The T-Force is scrambled and loaded into a transport helicopter. In the chopper, Parker gives his St. Crispin's Day speech. Hilariously, a ranger named Lewis (Marvin Poole) gets up and says he wants out because he's scared and doesn't think he can do this. Parker points out that Lewis is responsible for the Hellraiser, which appears to be a minigun, and asks who's qualified to handle it if Lewis steps down. O'Neill stands up says that he can operate the Hellraiser. Parker objects but O'Neill talks him into letting him take over.

In the HQ, as Hughes and Davis arrive to state the obvious (re: Yonggary being alien weapon of mass destruction), it's revealed that Yonggary's position is at the Gleason nuclear plant. Davis observes it makes sense if the aliens want to cause a radioactive catastrophe and kill all life around the plant. The chopper is rerouted to the coordinates as we then see the space ship firing the blast that makes Yonggary appear. So, uh, how was the military tracking that, exactly? In a bit that hilariously presages the HALO jump in Godzilla, the T-Force troops all load up and jump from the chopper. Except instead of flares on their ankles, they're leaving colored trails because they're all wearing silly jet packs!

"I call dibs on Jennifer Connelly!"
"Fine, but I got dibs on Timothy Dalton!"
They zip around Yonggary, annoying him but staying out of his reach. As they group up, Parker says, "Remember, compared to this guy, Godzilla is a pussy!" Wow. Wow, Yonggary, implying your Godzilla rip-off is more badass than the real deal, huh? At any rate, they begin their attack with their little pew-pew laser rifles that function like machine guns. They're able to dodge Yonggary at first, but then he begins to pick them off with his fireballs. Meanwhile, Davis and Hughes show Murdock the "damon" because for some reason they've decided to accept the aliens' spelling error, and explain that it's a device that controls Young Gary on his forehead. In theory, then, the T-Forces could take out the control device. So Parker and his men begin trying to shoot for the diamond. In execution ti doesn't look any different from them shooting wildly at him and they're taking heavy losses, but somehow the aliens react with, "They've discovered the damon," and teleport Yonggary away.

Hilariously, everyone in the control room begins interrogating Mills about the diamond. Equally as hilarious, despite Mills acting shady he seriously doesn't know anything when Boom Boom grabs him by the lapels and threatens him. However, somehow the group realizes that Yonggary is being tracked by the aliens because he generates an energy signature (umm, what?) and maybe they can track ti with infrared. Sure, okay, just start making wild leaps in logic, movie.

Sure enough, when Parker flicks on his infrared tracking he sees what looks like a blue energy tornado moving through the desert. (Never mind that blue usually equals cold on an infrared readout) Parker reports in that Yonggary is heading back to the city. And then Murdock gets a call from the president that, with 90 minutes left on the countdown clock, the president has ordered the nuclear bomber deployed. Of course, when we see the bomber being loaded and taxied down the runway it's an F-117 stealth fighter, not a bomber. I know this because I always thought F-117 was the coolest looking plane ever. I mean, it's also kind of a lemon, but it looks cool.

The rocket troops pursue the Yonggary signal through the desert, which is rendered with a lot of adorable miniatures. Mills, meanwhile, is making a furtive call to "Mr. Speaker" saying that the order for the nuclear strike has been given and, as he sees it, once Yonggary is destroyed the aliens will be forced to land and then they will be able to capture them. That's...that's assuming a lot, even for a duplicitous spook character. At any rate, Yonggary rematerializes in the city, which naturally is still chock full of fleeing civilians and normal traffic patterns despite earlier dialogue about evacuations in progress. The T-Force engages, but mostly get wiped out. Parker dodges several fireballs but the last one causes him to lose control and crash land.

An enraged O'Neill yells insults at Yonggary while firing the Hellraiser, stuff like not getting enough attention as a tadpole and calling him "Dino." Soon only O'Neill is left alive and against Parker's orders, he makes a death run on Yonggary. When Yonggary begins to teleport away again, O'Neill discards his gun and pushes the throttle all the way on his jet pack to suicide bomb the diamond on the beast's forehead. Yonggary stops dematerializing and when an angry Parker starts shooting at him, the beast just reacts with confusion but not aggression. An alarming number of people start crowding around the beast, including a shot of several of them superimposed next to an obvious prop tail that looks way better than the CGI. Parker is confused that Yonggary doesn't want to attack him.

Then a new squadron of F-16s swoops in, Parker tries to radio them to call off their attack, but it's too late. Yonggary dodges their rockets, though, but then they hit buildings that start to topple over onto Parker and the civilians crowding around. Except Yonggary steps in and stops the buildings from falling over. Okay, wow, that's a bit of a jump from "basically gentle monster made an unwitting pawn of evil" to "he's the friend to all children humans." In the HQ, Davis and Hughes observe that Young Gary is on their side now, as the counter ticks down from 28 minutes, Mills, though, insists they kill Yonggary, but the Generals find his motives suspicious and orders the jets away while calling the president to advise that Yonggary is under control. Nobody notices Mills grabbing something from his pocket...

Yonggary: better at saving innocent people than Man of Steel.
The aliens, having realized they lost control of Young Gary, give the order to activate Psychor. Well, it;s actually supposed to be "Cyker" per the official romanization, bu the alien says it "Sigh-Core." Another energy beam is fired at the city, which materializes into a huge fireball that zooms into the city and sets off an Independencee Day-style explosion when it hits the city. Some of this is nfity but crude model work, some is CGI, and it knocks Yonggary ass over tea kettle but we don't see it affect the humans we just saw by his feet. (They're all dead now, presumably) And even though I saw this film back around 2002, it's only now that I begin to wonder if Godzilla: Final Wars  was ripping this movie off. First there's the alien fighter craft in both films looking like arrowheads crossed with fangs and now there's an enemy monster arriving in a meteorite that blows up the city when it lands.

Communications at HQ is cut off by some interference--which turns out to be from Mills. And in the city, an F-16 buzzes over an unconscious Yonggary just as an earthquake begins to shake some miniatures that have fallen between "awful" and "good" to land on "charming." Books fall over in stores, cars rock, and signs fall off buildings. Yonggary struggles to his feet--just as something tears through the ground under the street like a giant Graboid, killing a few people who didn't think to turn and leave the street instead of trying to outrun it. Meanwhile, everyone in HQ approaches Mills carefully, as he warns that his jammer is locked and if he smashes it they'll never get their screens back. Which, uh, I don't think is how a jammer works, actually.

Mills wants A) Yonggary dead and B) to be let out of the HQ. The standoff continues but I don;t give a shit. Meanwhile, giant crab claws burst out of the street as a monster pulls itself up out of the concrete. But we cut away again to HQ as Murdock gives Mills the code to open the door and escape--only to find Archie waiting for him. The device is tossed to Davis and Mills is beaten up by Archie and dragged away.

As Cyker rises up from the street, Parker makes the nonsensical observation that, "This place is turning into a prehistoric petting zoo." Cyker appears to be a cross between an ankylosaurus and a scorpion, with four hind legs and two pincers for arms. And in another clue that this was originally meant to star men in suits, there is no doubt that Cyker's design was intended to be brought to life by two men doing the horse routine--even his legs bend at the knees like human legs would,

Kaiju Centipede: Final Wars Sequence
Cyker charges at Yonggary, just missing him and the two spit fireballs at each other. Cyker's are clearly more destructive, but both miss. The two grapple, but Yonggary ends up being tossed through two buildings. They grapple again and again Cyker gains the upper claw--especially once he shoots Yonggary with his electric tail laser. Yonggary goes limp after that and Cyker moves in for the kill, only for Parker to distract the beast with his laser rifle. That very nearly gets Parker killed instead, but Yonggary recovers and blows Cyker's right arm off with a fireball.

Except Cyker sprouts tentacles from the stump. The tentacles snare Yonggary and then electrocute him. Davis calls for Young Gary to "get up" after he collapses. Well, he doesn't. However, when Cyker moves in for the kill, Yonggary dodges the killing blow, then a fireball--and returns fire, blowing Cyker's head off. (Dig the prop severed head and, again, weep for the lost practical effects that probably did not look like shit) Unfortunately, Cyker is not dead--and Romisky's angry reaction is hilarious.

"Oh God, I did not agree to this!"
Well, when the headless Cyker charges towards Yonggary and lashes out with tentacles from the head stump, Yonggary dodges this time. He bites the tentacles in two and then spits a fireball into the stump after they retract--and Cyker's body explodes. Yonggary collapses as everyone in HQ cheers, only to realize that in 2 minutes they're gonna get nuked, So they radio the bomber with the abort codes and call off the strike just in time.

The aliens decide it's time to beat a hasty retreat before Yonggary discovers his true strength, but swear to return and defeat the humans later. Guys, you had a 200 million  year head start on us and you still lost. They go to warp speed as Boom Boom happily lights a cigar and everyone congratulates each other and thanks Young Gary for his work. And then the unconscious Yonggary flies by, suspended from cables attached to a fleet of helicopters. (An idea clearly lifted from the unproduced Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott Godzilla screenplay in the 90s, as well as King Kong vs. Godzilla) Apparently he's being airlifted to a deserted island to allow him time to get used to the 21st Century. The End.

"This prank is the best! We airlift the sleeping monster away and then he wakes up with no fucking clue where he is!"
So, I went pretty easy on The X From Outer Space because it's not a good film but it's still fun and I find its monster action charming. I feel the same way about Yongary, Monster From The Deep, only moreso. It's a delightfully silly, wrongheaded movie that famously ends with its titular monster appearing to die from rectal hemorrhaging.

Well, this version will make you long for rectal hemorrhaging.

Director Shim Hyung-rae is best known these days for unleashing Dragon Wars on the world. Like this film, that later effort was entirely populated by English-speaking actors reciting dialogue clearly not written by someone who understood English. However, I cannot over emphasize how much better a film that Dragon Wars is for several reasons:

One, Dragon Wars has CGI effects that are surprisingly good. Two, its plot and script are absolutely bonkers.

While the second thing may not sound like a positive, it absolutely is. While Yonggary has a plot that is certainly odd and often nonsensical, it's still incredibly pedestrian and rote. While it may throw you the occasional curve ball like rocket troopers, it's still a very familiar monster tale and one you've seen done before and better. So it's too bland to be entertaining on the merits of seeing what crazy turn it'll take next, and it's neither gloriously terrible nor competent enough to be good.

For one thing, while many of the actors are terrible, few of them are ever terrible in an entertaining way. Most are clearly competent professionals but receiving unclear direction. The special effects are all terrible, yes, but they're terrible in a way that is somehow hard to truly make fun of. This isn't seeing an exploding model plane flip around on its wire, it's just eye-scratchingly bad CGI. While I have actually seen that be amusingly bad, this is not one of those times. It's just bad. Especially since the filmmakers rarely actually use the CGI to do anything they couldn't have done easier and better with a guy in a suit! I mean, both Yonggary and Cyker move like men in suits but they're rendered in CGI anyway.

And that's really too bad, because without the awful CGI that final fight could actually have been pretty awesome. The choreography was pretty sweet and, even though I'm still way more partial to the original Yonggary's design, I have to say the monster designs are really good. It's just a shame they're wasted the way they are. Though at least those puppet aliens are awesome. I wish they got more screen time.

Ultimately, this is a ridiculous film that isn't ridiculous enough. It gets bogged down in the stuff none of us care about and fails to deliver on the stuff we came here for--and when it does deliver, the awful CGI effects shoot it in the foot.

I recommend skipping this one unless you're an absolute kaiju completist. There's some material in it for riffing, but not nearly enough to make it worth the trouble. Stick with the original, since at least there the bad effects are charmingly bad and the moments it goes bonkers are actually bonkers.

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

Only one more day of HubrisWeen, folks! Will our trusty Celluloid Zeroes all make it? Tune in to find out!