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Saturday, October 1, 2016

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2016-DAY 1: NIGHT TIDE (1961)

While on shore leave, young sailor Johnny Drake (an impossibly youthful Dennis Hopper) cruises the Coney Island-esque boardwalk of Venice, California and meets Mora (Linda Lawson), an eerie beauty who works as the boardwalk's phony mermaid. Johnny somehow wins her over by acting like a creepy, aggressive stalker and in no time the two are a committed couple. But as the two grow closer, Johnny learns more about his exotic lover, such as the fact that she was raised by Captain Murdock (Gavin Muir), who found her on a remote Greek island when she was a child, and that she believes she is a mythological siren akin to those encountered by Ulysses. But the big red flag is that Mora's two previous boyfriends died mysterious deaths and it appears that Mora is responsible. And while it seems that Johnny is next in line for the chop, there's also a creepy foreign woman who occasionally appears to stalk Mora and who may be the leader of the mermaids/sirens...

The young lovers, before things get weird.

I'm going to be totally honest with you, dear readers. I wanted to see NIGHT TIDE since first hearing about it during junior high, mostly because I'm a huge fan of Dennis Hopper but also because of my love of mythological creatures, which Mora allegedly is. I only recently got my hands on the film and when I finally sat through it, I was heartbroken to find out that it's one of those flicks that goes out of its way to convince you that it's a straight-up horror film when it really isn't. If anything, NIGHT TIDE can be considered a "thriller," but even when presented as such it's a rather tepid affair despite its considerable atmosphere. The narrative builds Mora's strangeness from the moment we first meet her, only to have all of the supernatural potential flushed straight down the toilet during the exposition dump that serves as the story's ending. 

"Sea People," my ass. J'accuse!!!

While not at all a bad movie, though admittedly a very low key slow burn, NIGHT TIDE hit me as a huge disappointment, so I'm writing about it as a public service to spare curious horror and Hopper fans sitting through what amounts to a case of bait and switch. The only real reason to see this film is to see a 25-year-old Dennis Hopper acting completely normal. (Stalker behavior in the early portion of the film notwithstanding.) Bottom line: NIGHT TIDE would have been right at home as a lesser entry on the old THRILLER television series, but it does not pass muster as a feature-length supposed horror movie. Caveat emptor.
Poster from the original theatrical release.

Friday, September 30, 2016

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2016-INTRODUCTION

Hey, dear and loyal Cine-Miscreants!

October, the month that culminates in the most excellent day that is Halloween, is about to kick off, so you regulars know that means it's time once again for my annual month-long journey through the dark annals of horror cinema (and occasionally television).

Scary stories have been around as long as there have been storytellers, and a sizable segment of this planet's sentients eat up spine-chilling tales like a rapacious werewolf devours the tender flesh of an unlucky woodland wanderer, so it comes as no surprise that the horror genre has been a staple of global entertainment and has grown and thrived as the means to enthrall audiences with narratives that evolved along with us. Horror as a motion picture genre goes back to the dawn of the movies and it's been over a century since the first moving images silently flickered across the screen in the darkness as the public absorbed the wondrous diversions that unspooled. While comedies, dramas, romances, and adventure narratives held moviegoers riveted, darker, more sinister material also lurked in the indoor twilight and filmmakers were quick to realize that such chillers were a rich lode to be mined. From there the genre grew like Topsy and filled the silver screen with hordes of shambling revenants, thirsting nosferatu, eldritch demoniacal entities conjured through the wielding of forbidden rites, unrestful spectres, blasphemous man-made creatures, other-worldly wigglies that the mere sight of which drives the most stalwart of men to states of gibbering madness, medical nightmares in which our own bodies become our enemies or the healers who are supposed to grant us their aid turn their skills to dire pursuits, seemingly indestructible wielders of kitchen implements and power tools who stalk remote back-woods to prey upon randy youths, primordial throwbacks that defied extinction to terrorize swimwear-clad nubile young maidens, and even that most seemingly-mundane of threats, the unhinged murderer who walks among us and blends in while committing atrocities that would make veteran homicide detectives blanch and fall to their hands and knees while voiding the contents of their stomachs. All of those and more can be found in a richly-fetid cornucopia that often slyly reflects the needs and climate of the given era of production and examines areas of the human condition that may otherwise be un-broachable if not cloaked in shadow.

But enough of all that flowery film school yakkety-blah-blah-blah. If you've bothered to read this far, it's plain that you care about scary movies and are here to see what baleful chronicles of fright Yer Bunche will dredge up from the celluloid depths for the year of two-thousand and sixteen. As in previous yearss, there is no real rhyme or reason behind my choices, though there will be the occasional thematic overlap and comparison/contrast of certain sub-groups within the genre. I will also take pains to point out that stories that are ostensibly viewed as examples of other flavors — comedy, science-fiction, "thrillers," and non-supernatural drama — can quite easily be revealed as horror to the very core, and that horror can function equally well as art or junk food for the imagination.

So sharpen your axe, dust off the Necronomicon, apply fresh lipstick to grandma's mummified corpse, and make sure your homemade shroud of supple human skin is properly secured to your febrile pate. 'Tis once again the month of All Hallows' Eve and we are nothing if not prepared...


Friday, July 1, 2016

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN (2016)

Alexander Skarsgard as the latest live-action iteration of Edgar Rice Burroughs's feral hero.

Sorry, folks, but this will be a bit of a rant rather than a straight review.

Earlier this afternoon I saw THE LEGEND OF TARZAN (2016) and had a pretty good time with it, though, speaking as a lifelong Tarzan booster, the film is in no way without its faults. It's the latest attempt to make the Lord of the Jungle appeal to modern sensibilities and it certainly has a hell of a lot more action/adventure than the turgid GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN OF THE APES (1984), but would somebody please explain to me when it became verboten for Tarzan to wield a knife, a spear, or even a bow and arrows? (Plus to say nothing of the fact that he doesn't rock his signature loincloth until the very end of the movie.)

And as for all of the concern about Tarzan being a white man's fantasy of a Caucasian hero of colonialist values being out of step with more enlightened attitudes that have come to pass during the character's 115-year existence and therefore an offensive figure to people of color, specifically black people, I loudly and adamantly call "bullshit." Black people have enjoyed Tarzan as a hero since he first appeared on the big screen, not just because he's fucking awesome but also because his attitude toward native Africans was astoundingly liberal for its era. It was as simple as "Don't fuck with him, his woman, the jungle, or his friends — human or otherwise — and he only sees you as a person," perhaps someone soon to be a new friend and possibly someone worthy of his respect as an equal. The Negroes Tarzan killed in films of yore were all cannibals, kidnappers, desecrators of nature, or miscreants of some vile stripe, and each and every one of them that he dispatched had it coming.

It should also be noted that the loudest detractors of Tarzan as a racist trope in the 2000's are mostly Social Justice Warrior-types who have, from what their discussion of the character and his oeuvre betrays, never read a Tarzan novel nor seen a Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movie, instead making ill-founded and utterly ignorant proclamations from out of their whiny asses. Black folks of the generations that preceded mine "got" what Tarzan was about — man in perfect, savage harmony with nature — and thrilled to his adventures, and the audience I saw the film with this afternoon was a reasonably-packed house composed of nothing but Hispanics and fellow highly-rhythmic individuals, all of whom dug the film to varying degrees, with three very turned-on middle-aged females predicting it will be a hit. (Presumably because of Tarzan being an unashamedly handsome and rugged shirtless bohunk with an eight-pack.)

Bottom Line: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN was a lot of fun — but, again, not without flaws — and I predict it will make its mark as a popular date movie, eventually to join the home video collections of Tarzan-boosters like myself and those who will want to make return trips to this beautifully-lensed romantic adventure.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2015-Day 31: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DORKS (2004)

Not a scene from DAS BUTT.

Director Matthias Dinter's German-made NIGHT OF THE LIVING DORKS has quite accurately been likened to what would likely result if George Romero had directed AMERICAN PIE, and as such it's an unexpected treat and a hell of a lot of better than it has any right to be.

Phillip (Tino Mewes), Wurst (Manuel Cortez) and Konrad (Thomas Schmieder) are their high school's favorite punching bags, a trio marked for bullying and general abuse, especially uber-nerd Konrad, who has kept a detailed log of every indignity he's suffered at the fists of bullies since he was in primary school. Phillip has hopeless ambitions of nailing the snotty and openly hostile rich class hottie and Traci Lords lookalike, Uschi (Nadine Germann), while Wurst is the trio's priapic happy-go-lucky stoner/all-around party-boy (I'm figuring his lack of popularity is due to the company he keeps). Rounding out the core group of protagonists is Phillip's next door neighbor, Rebecca (Collien Fernandes), a pretty and rather self-aware Goth who was Phillip's closest friend during childhood but when adolescence hit the two briefly drifted apart and now Rebecca harbors other-than-friend feelings for Phillip, but he's too busy thinking with his cock and setting his sights on the rich bitch to notice that a good thing is staring him right in the face.

Our zeroes, er, heroes: (L-R) Rebecca (Collien Fernandes), Konrad (Thomas Schmieder), Phillip (Tino Mewes) and Wurst (Manuel Cortez).

When Phillip's attempt at asking Uschi out to the big dance results in he and his buddies receiving their umpteenth beating from Uschi's preppy Hitler Youth poster child-looking boyfriend, Wolf (Hendrik Borgmann), the desperate lads enlist the aid of Rebecca and her Goth friends to enact a Haitian voodoo ritual that will theoretically give the boys the ability to get any woman they want to fall in love with them (which does not sit well with Rebecca). The ritual goes awry and while driving back to Phillip's parents' house, the guys get into a bonghit-instigated car accident that kills all three of them. (The other two die of cranial impact injuries, while Philip's heart is pierced by a windshield wiper, so their corpses still look pretty good, all things considered.) While the love spell aspect of the voodoo ritual may not have worked, the lads soon awaken in the local morgue as fully-fledged zombies, now super-strong and impervious to pain. Making their way back to Phillip's house (it should be noted that his parents are gone for a few days), the guys discover that they are also flesh-eaters and that they can sate their carnivorous urges with raw meat.

Back from the dead and enjoying some raw steaks.

Upon returning to school the next day, the trio begin a campaign of vengeance against the bullies and jocks that results in them becoming instantly popular. Milking this, the boys announce a massive party at Phillip's house and the whole school is invited, including the now turned-on Uschi who makes no bones about her intent to fuck the newly-appointed Alpha male Phillip. During all of this, Phillip's relationship with Rebecca takes some interesting turns while Konrad, flush with power for the first time in his put-upon life, begins to go over to the Dark Side and lets his monstrous urges run rampant, igniting a humorously dire chain of events that can only be remedied if Rebecca can come up with an antidote to reverse the boys' zombie state. As the guys deal with the revolting realities of decomposition (somewhat remedied by a handy and judiciously applied staple gun), undead cannibalism and Konrad's increasing confidence and evil, the counter-spell must be pulled off within thirty-six hours of the initial zombification, so time is swiftly running out. And Konrad will not give up his newfound badassery willingly...

Working stylistically very much within the mold of American-made high school raunch flicks, the film looks and feels just like an American R-rated teen comedy, only everyone in it speaks German. And it certainly earns its R-rating thanks to liberal doses of filthy dialogue, gore, nudity, sexual situations (some of which could rightly be classified as necrophilia), drug and alcohol use, an illegal May/December romance (although admittedly I have no idea how the laws in Germany stand on teacher/underage student flings) and all the other stuff you'd expect from a film of this genre, only this time with zombies thrown into the formula for good measure. The performances are uniformly good, the script is tight and very funny and the whole thing just plain works. In fact, I would even go so far as to say NIGHT OF THE LIVING DORKS is the best horror comedy to come along since SHAUN OF THE DEAD, which came out barely two months prior to this. I'm guessing the reason this film didn't get the kind of attention the British SHAUN got over here has everything to do with it being in German, and while the DVD does include an English dub (watch the subtitled version to preserve the original performances), I don't recall the film ever getting a U.S. theatrical release or any kind of marketing hoopla being made when it hit DVD. That's a shame because, as previously stated, this film is a real winner and fans of horror-comedy and general audiences alike would eat it up (pun intended). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Oh, and included among the extras is the fourteen-minute alternate ending, which is worth a look to illustrate how the wrong ending could totally scuttle what would have otherwise been a perfect picture. The alternate ending seems like it was intentionally calculated to include every trite and wrong teen comedy element that we've seen beaten to death since the 1980's, and while watching it I was thanking the gods of cinema that Dinter wisely chose not to use it and go with a climax that not only made sense, but that was also as satisfying of an ending as you could want for this film.

Poster for the German theatrical release.

Friday, October 30, 2015

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2015-Day 30: CRUEL JAWS (1995)


"I'll get you, motherfuckin' shark!!!"
—crazed shotgun-wielding Mafioso.

There are JAWS ripoffs and then there is CRUEL JAWS, a USA/Italian-made marvel of copyright infringement that liberally (and illegally) cribs its shark attack footage from JAWS, JAWS 2, JAWS 3-D, DEEP BLOOD and even the infamous LAST SHARK, itself one of the most outrageously  flagrant ripoffs ever made. I was alerted to this work of patchwork art a few years back by my pal Mindless Kirby, himself already well-schooled in bad movies by the relatively early age of eighteen, and I could not believe there could possibly be a JAWS ripoff more in-your-face than Enzo Castellari's LAST SHARK, a film withdrawn after legal action was threatened by Universal Pictures. Seriously, there was just no way. But what I did not take into account was that there would be an Italian filmmaker possessed of balls big enough to actually — and very poorly — steal footage from all of the aforementioned movies, rather than merely lift the basic template of "gigantic man-eating shark terrorizes beach resort until hunted to explosive death by a disparate crew of pursuers." And, as if that were not enough, the film also "borrows" snippets from one of the most famous movie soundtracks of all time, specifically the original STAR WARS, and even lists JAWS author Peter Benchley as one of its scripters. (It goes without saying that he was not actually involved.)

Helmed by "William Snyder" — aka Bruno Mattei, the virtuoso behind such classics as S.S. EXTERMINATION LOVE CAMP (1977), PORNO HOLOCAUST (1981), CALIGULA'S PERVERSIONS (1981), VIOLENCE IN A WOMEN'S PRISON (1982) and RATS IN MANHATTAN (1984) — CRUEL JAWS follows the tried and true formula of the films it rips off and splices together, mostly drawing its plot particulars from JAWS and JAWS 2. Aside from the familiar narrative template, the story gives viewers a gaggle of disposable characters that are impossible to care about, and in most cases you'll end up praying for them all to end up as the next day's floating shark's turds. There's the nerdy shark expert, a Hulk Hogan lookalike with a cute and treacly little daughter in a wheelchair (who spends her time playing with dolphins and seals at her dad's low-rent aqua show), a pitiful pack of local bullies, one of whom is the mayor's son, and, of course, the corrupt mayor who pooh-poohs the shark attacks and refuses to call off the upcoming regatta for fear of losing tourist's bucks, and their performances are uniformly piss-poor. As the so-called story perfunctorily goes through the motions, there's also a jaw-dropping subplot where the mayor — after failing to call off the regatta, which ends up with the deaths of innocents and loses tons of money as a result — is called on the carpet by his previously unseen Mafia masters and told that they will send a pair of stereotypical goombahs to take care of the shark and claim the $100,000 reward. These two morons, suddenly and inexplicably expert at handling motorboats, set off onto the high seas to kick some shark ass, armed with various firearms. Needless to say, they are horribly killed almost immediately.

As the story nears the long-overdue finish line, it is eventually revealed that the shark is actually the result of a navy experiment that has been trained to attack any enemies within its home territory — in this case a sunken Naval transport — and that revelation adds nothing whatsoever to the plot or the viewer's interest. Oh, and while the shark is described as being of the Tiger variety, all of the stock nature documentary footage and stolen segments clearly depict Great Whites.

The film's soundtrack is replete with totally inappropriate music — mostly ten-years-out-of-date generic '80's-style pop that will make you want to put your head through the nearest wall — and the cinematography is often murky as hell, rendering much of the original footage quite dark, and the editing is often incomprehensible. But what makes this mess absolutely worth sitting through is its sheer nerve as a Frankenstein's monster of cobbled-together footage from other movies, and the jarring juxtaposition of it all is akin to reliving a bad tequila and cough syrup bender. From moment to moment, the shark morphs from live nature footage to a number of fake-looking animatronics and puppets, and when the shark is blown up at the end it explodes three times, each detonation culled from different movies. CRUEL JAWS is complete and utter crap and its shamelessness is Homeric in scale, but a film of this magnitude of outrageousness is a must-see for all followers of bad movies in general and lovers of ridiculous shark flicks in particular.

Packaging art for one of the film's DVD releases. This totally doesn't rip off the classic JAWS poster art because this image includes an explosion!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2015-Day 29: AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)


When the beast within gains the reins.

David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman are two American youths on a walking tour of Europe who find themselves in the isolated rustic Northern English town of East Proctor, the kind of place where the locals are close-mouthed around outsiders and where remnants of a pagan past are evident. Earning the displeasure of the regulars at the Slaughtered Lamb pub after Jack asks them why there's a big pentagram on the wall — a symbol that he notes to David is the sign of the werewolf (Jack's obviously seen THE WOLF MAN) — the hapless tourists find themselves booted from the establishment and, against the advice of the creepy, tight-lipped indigenous populace, wander off the roads and into the fog-enshrouded moors during a full moon, where they fall prey to…well, you have a pretty good idea if you’ve noticed the film's title. Jack doesn’t survive the attack, but David awakens weeks later in a London hospital under the care of a mouth-watering nurse (the one and only Jenny Agutter) and is visited by the mangled corpse of his best buddy. The disturbingly-mutilated Jack — who has lost none of his friendliness, charm, and sense of humor in the wake of his horrific murder — warns David that he’s now a werewolf and must kill himself before the next full moon, but if the disbelieving David had killed himself the movie would have been about twenty minutes long and pissed off an audience that came expecting some righteous monster action, so you can guess the rest.

Rearing its shaggy head just four months after the equally-classic lycanthropy opus THE HOWLING, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON upped the shape-shifting ante by having a major studio budget, a writer/director who wielded no small amount of clout in the wake of the success of his NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE (1978) and THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980), picturesque UK locations, the toothsome and talented Jenny Agutter, and FX badass Rick Baker on the makeup/creature effects, so how could it lose? Frankly, it didn’t and almost thirty-five years after the fact it still vies with THE HOWLING for top position in the hearts of most werewolf mavens. (Hell, I paid to see it three nights in a row when it came out!).

A horror movie for grownups that came out during the avalanche of brain-dead and juvenile1980's slasher pictures — their gore and nudity/sex notwithstanding — and provided a welcome alternative, AMERICAN WEREWOLF fires on all cylinders, engaging its audience with likable characters, a doomed love story, and some of the most indelible moments of cinematic horror of its decade. The foreboding atmosphere during the sequences in East Proctor fairly screams old school Universal Horror transplanted to the early 1980's, a soundtrack loaded to the rafters with songs referencing the moon is intelligently handled and never grows corny or trite, and the film especially gets extra points for Griffin Dunne's unforgettable performance as Jack, the most cheerful mangled and steadily decomposing corpse you’ll ever see.

Griffin Dunne as Jack: if ever there was a supporting role that completely steals the film it's in, this is it.

The film is also to be commended for opting to depict the cinematically-rare (though more mythically-common) fully non-human four-legged variety of "Shaggy McNasty" as opposed to the usual bipedal guy with a terminal case of five o'clock shadow. Rick Baker's practical effects puppet of David's lupine form features a spectacular and original design that skews waaaaaaay into monster territory and is about as far removed fro Lon Chaney Jr. as one could hope to get. It looks more like a demonically-possessed giant wolverine than a wolf, and as such it is scary as a motherfucker. Though only occasionally glimpsed, the beast is a nightmarish creation whose stalking of innocents through the London night and later rampage in and around a porno theater are realized to maximum visceral effect.

The beast's P.O.V. of its prey.

But perhaps the element that the film is best remembered for these days is its signature transformation sequence. A masterpiece of practical effects wizardry, David's metamorphosis into a ravenous engine of death brings what would no doubt be an grueling, agonizing physical process to vivid life, with each morphing, distending, and re-structuring of the man's anatomy shown under clear lighting and with horrifying sounds of creaking bones and muscle as the icing on the visceral cake.


David (David Naughton) looks on as his body rebels.


Very entertaining and engaging from start to finish, some find AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON's blend of humor and horror to be somewhat jarring and as a result feel that film is deeply flawed by a schizophrenic tone, but I vehemently disagree with that assessment. THE HOWLING is also quite amusing — admittedly, provided you get the in-jokes that are aimed squarely at those well-versed in their horror movie minutia — but no one ever bitches about it being a mess, which leads me to wonder if AMERICAN WEREWOLF's detractors are more willing to cut a "smaller" flick a bit more slack. Whatever the case, you’ll just have to judge AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON for yourself. Me, I fucking love it. Werewolves are my favorite monsters, thanks to their often tragic and unwilling connection to nature and all of its more rapacious and unrestrained aspects, so a werewolf story of this level of quality was more than tailor-made for the likes of myself. It had a tremendous impact on me and my friends way back when and it helped me get through a particularly rough and frustrating section of my troubled adolescence, so for that I will always have a warm place in my heart and mind for its collision of the mundane with supernatural horror of the most wrenching order. Definitely my favorite werewolf movie (alongside the original THE WOLF MAN) and also one of my very favorite films of any genre, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON get my HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.

A treasure: My autographed photo of David Naughton during his transformation.

Poster from the original theatrical release.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

31 DAYS IF HORROR 2015-Day 28: GE GE GE NO KITARO (2007)

Meet the Yokai.

In recent years the Japanese film industry has rebooted many of the classic manga properties as live action features, especially now that special effects technology has caught up with the wild imaginings of the comics' creators. Unfortunately the majority of the reboots are turgid, uninvolving bores that amount to nothing more than something that could be used as a studio's FX resume reel, and that's a major disappointment when one considers just how awesome projects like DEVILMAN and TETSUJIN #28 (better known to us western barbarians as GIGANTOR) could have been if they had scripts that lived up to the visuals. DEVILMAN was especially trying since the studio opted to attract a larger audience by making Go Nagai's famously gory and ultra-violent story more teen-friendly, consequently cutting the balls off of a genre classic. In fact, if you ask me the only genuinely good and thoroughly entertaining classic manga reboot was the charmingly goofy CUTIE HONEY from 2004, based on another Go Nagai classic and also cleaned up for a larger audience. Or should I say it was the only good manga reboot until this first live-action GE GE GE NO KITARO adaptation?

Considering that it's a product of a culture with one of the world's richest myth bases, it was only a matter of time until the venerable GE GE GE NO KITARO (loose translation: "Kitaro of Ge Ge Ge Forest") got the live action treatment. For a decent overview of this manga and anime landmark, check in over at the Wikipedia, but the short version is that creator Shigeru Mizuki's stories revolve around Kitaro, a spirit — or yokai — boy who lives in creepy Ge Ge Ge forest with his equally supernatural family and friends, a wild assortment of creatures culled from Japanese myths and legends. Kitaro is something of a nexus between the human and yokai realms, coming to the aid of humans who fall afoul of the more sinister of his brethren, and much humor and magical mayhem ensues.

Kitaro and friends, as seen in the manga.

Kitaro and friends have been animated several times since the 1960's, both for television and the movies, and I love them without reservation. There have been countless international takes on the whole supernatural co-existing alongside our mundane existence thing — BEWITCHED and Harry Potter being the two examples that spring immediately to mind — but none have the charm and sheer fun found in Mizuki's works, and I'm very happy to say that none of it is lost in the translation to live action.

German-American/Japanese pop star Eiji Wentz as Kitaro.

As "progress" causes the forests of Japan to dwindle, the indigenous spirits are being driven from their ancestral homes and they're none too happy about it. A bunch of Kitsune, powerfully and ancient fox creatures, seek to drive out the inhabitants of the housing developments going up over what used to be their forest by any means necessary and hire the disreputable Rat Man (Yo Oizumi) and his gang of monsters-for-hire to get the job done. Tired of being (harmlessly) terrorized by the unruly yokai, a little boy who dwells in the development sends a letter — via the supernatural mailbox located deep in a nearby forest — to good guy yokai Kitaro in hope that the spirit can get the other monsters to knock off their nightly harassment. Kitaro receives the plea and soon puts things right, but that's just the first ten minutes of the film, which leaves plenty of time for world-class asshole Rat Man, the yokai answer to Eric Cartman, to get up to more self-serving mischief, namely stealing a magical gem of incredible power from the Kitsune so he can hock it at a human gem dealer's shop (NOTE: humans know that monsters exist, so this isn't that big of a deal, although some humans still need a bit of convincing).

Yo Oizumi as the amusingly offensive Rat Man: if ever there was a towering douchebag who just doesn't give a fuck, it's this guy. And, God help me, I love him.

This theft sets all manner of mishegoss into motion and it's up to Kitaro and his bizarro group of friends to save the day, lest an angry Kitsune lord destroy the human world and rebuild things under his own rule.

GE GE GE NO KITARO is a hell of a lot of fun and a visual feast featuring a who's who of mythological critters, seamless CGI and makeup effects, a yokai nightclub that you'll want to hang out at, and the latest rendition of the famous and infectious Kitaro theme tune, a song familiar to native anime fans since the 1960's and heard in every filming of the series since. I can hear it even now: "Ge...Ge...Ge Ge Ge no Ge..." (And you can too if you click here for a link to three of the animated series openings, ranging from the B&W sixties intro through the current TV version.) Plus there's a doomed romance between immortal Kitaro and a human girl thrown in for good measure; Kitaro's dad warns him against getting involved with a mortal female because humans can die, something of which he is only too painfully aware. And while the movie is based on a children's comic, what may fly as suitable entertainment for kids in Japan doesn't necessarily work over here insomuch as the look of the monsters and some of the effects could be perceived as scary by the very little ones in the audience, so know your tyke's limitations before throwing this one into the DVD player. I'd say this is safe for the six-and-olders.

Bottom line: if you're unfamiliar with the monsters of Japanese myths and legends, creatures as well-known over there as Dracula, Frankenstein, Jason, and Freddy are to us, place your trust in me and immediately rent GE GE GE NO KITARO. It's out on DVD in the States, and for more yokai fun I also recommend — though not as strongly — YOKAI MONSTERS: 100 MONSTERS (1968), YOKAI MONSTERS: SPOOK WARFARE (1968, the best of this series), YOKAI MONSTERS: ALONG WITH GHOSTS (1969), and THE GREAT YOKAI WAR (2005). And keep your eyes open for the sequel, GE GE GE NO KITARO 2: SONG OF THE THOUSAND-YEAR CURSE (2008), which is aimed at an older audience, so it's a much darker animal than this first installment.

Poster for the original theatrical release.