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Sunday, December 6, 2009

ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (1979)

Since the rock 'n' roll era dawned, each decade has experienced a youth-oriented motion picture that defined the zeitgeist of that generation; the 1950's had JAILHOUSE ROCK (1957),

the Sixties had A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (1964),

the Eighties got PURPLE RAIN (1984),

and the Nineties got COOL AS ICE (1991),

a stark cinematic statement that foreshadowed just how much the last decade of the twentieth century would bite the big one.

For those of us who came of age when I did — roughly between 1978 and 1983 — there was a lot going on in the pop music scene. Arena rock like that wrought by the flatulent Kiss, the plague that was disco, and the punk rock/new wave movements all had their moments and to some degree each offered adolescents a sound they could call their own. It was twenty years past the birth of rock and over ten since the Beatles rewrote the genre, so what followed was a matter of everything getting hashed out as musicians were given more creative leeway in which to express their particular flavor of the form. The kids of my generation pretty much only had a choice of the rock camp or the legion of disco followers with which to stake our alliances, and the big movie for the disco contingent was the unintentionally hilarious SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1978), a film that made a gazillion bucks at the box office and transformed John Travolta from an amusing TV sitcom pretty boy into a bona fide superstar.

John Travolta shakes his booty into film immortality, while Karen Lynn Gorney gears up to sign 8x10's at the Howard Johnson's nostalgia expo.

Us kids what liked punk and new wave got 1979's ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, a perfect confluence of MAD magazine-style humor, teen fantasies of romance and rebellion, and the grotty three-chord majesty of the Ramones, unarguably one of the ugliest bands in the history of western civilization.

The Monkees they ain't.

Vomited onto screens from Roger Corman's New World Pictures and directed by Allan Arkush, ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL has only the barest of plots that serves as an excuse for silliness that makes it pretty much a live-action cartoon. Vince Lombardi High is a textbook example of an asylum where the inmates run the madhouse, a place where the faculty can't cope with the exuberant, rock 'n' roll-loving students led by Riff Randell (P.J. Soles, twenty-eight at the time and playing seventeen),

a blonde rocker-girl who's kind of the living embodiment of the spirit of rock. As the previous principal is carted away to the funny farm in a straight jacket, he is replaced by Miss Evelyn Togar (the incomparable Mary Woronov),

an over-the-top stern disciplinarian who looks like she could give Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS a run for her money.

The change in regime begins in earnest when Togar declares her intention of whipping the place into shape and banning all forms of that noxious rock 'n' roll music, a course of action that puts her at odds with Riff, and in no time the battle lines are drawn and a war of back-and-forth escalation begins. Riff's efforts are at first somewhat subtle, but as Togar's tyranny squeezes the school by the yarbles, Riff becomes a firebrand of humorous teenage piss and vinegar, going so far as to enlist the mighty Ramones as the shock troops for her takeover and ultimate apocalyptic destruction of Vince Lombardi High.

Thrown into the mix is a subplot about a preppy square (Vince Van Patten) who wants a date with Riff, while Riff's best friend, brainy Kate Rambeau (Dey Young), wants a date with the preppy stiff, but Riff doesn't even know the guy exists; her heart belongs to rock 'n' roll in general and the Ramones in particular, and there's an hilarious musical fantasy sequence where Riff sparks up a joint in her bedroom while imagining that the Ramones have come to visit her. Forest Hills' answer to the Fantastic Four serenade her with "I Want You Around," crooned by Joey Ramone, who looks like he was just reanimated by a particularly warped voodoo practitioner. Riff eats it all up, swooning in the presence of such a dreamboat, and when she's so aroused that she needs to cool off, she heads to the shower only to find songwriter/bassist/professional heroin addict Dee Dee Ramone strumming his heart out under the running water.

Yes, an electric bass in the shower. Don't quibble...

This scene is a triumph of sheer absurdity, turning such teen idol fantasies as seen in countless films since the 1960's on their heads and allowing the Ramones the kind of TIGER BEAT glamor-boy adulation that would never happen in a sane universe (and didn't). The only way it could have possibly been any funnier is if Annette Funicello or Sandra Dee had filled in for P.J. Soles.

And speaking of P.J. Soles, ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL would never have worked without her. Soles's performance as Riff Randell, unattainable rock 'n' roll pixie, is peppy as a motherfucker and she embraces the film's cartoonish extremes with a completely straight face, yet while she went on to do STRIPES a year later, Soles never again had a role that turned her loose in the way that Riff Randell did. And that, my friends, is a cosmic injustice.

A cornucopia of truly silly sight gags and loony dialogue, some of ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL's highlights include:
  • A ridiculous running gag about how loud rock music causes mice to explode.
  • Miss Togar meeting the band and, utterly horrified, asking them, "Do your parents know you're Ramones?"
  • Clint Howard's brilliant and enthusiastic turn as Eaglebauer, the school's most enterprising entrepreneur.
  • The late Paul Bartel as stodgy but open-minded music teacher Mr. McCree, who at first thinks the Ramones are an Italian classical combo, and later becomes the one teacher who joins the rebellion and — with a completely straight face — declares the Ramones to be the Mozarts of the twentieth century.
  • The three-day-long, increasingly unbelievable list of excuses Riff uses to ditch school so she can be first in line to buy tickets to a Ramones concert.
  • "The Real Don Steele" devouring the scenery as radio deejay Screamin' Steve Stevens.
  • The Ramones proving beyond all shadow of a doubt that they cannot act, a point that actually helps their performances.
  • The filmmakers not pussying out, and actually blowing the high school into oblivion just before the end credits roll, a fantasy I had almost daily during my entire post-elementary school/pre-college education.
And the icing on the cake: a kickass Ramones concert staged for the film that captures the boys in their pre-Phil Spector prime, complete with a pinhead built and played by makeup genius Rob Bottin before he hit the big time with THE HOWLING (1980) and John Carpenter's THE THING (1982).

Gloriously stoopid, fast-paced, and balls-out fun, ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL is one of the last great 1970's B-movies and should be checked out by anyone with even the slightest interest in the Ramones. In fact, this would make the perfect top half of a double bill with END OF THE CENTURY (2003), and excellent warts-and-all documentary chronicling the history of the Ramones, a truly maddening case study of a pioneering band that never received the rewards that they were long due, despite influencing other musicians like nobody's business. (It's a bit of a downer at times, but it offers the perfect counterpoint to ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL's ebullience and trots out the group's songs in an historical context.)

Oh, and the only movie that nearly equals ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL in terms of outright lunacy and musical fun is 1983's GET CRAZY, also from New World and definitely worthy of a post all its own. (It also deserves a release on DVD immediately!)

TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

MY TOP 10 FAVORITE GRINDHOUSE FLICKS

Seeing how the ambitious project that was GRINDHOUSE officially and oh-so-undeservedly tanked at the box office, I thought it would be a good idea to steer you toward some of the classics of the genre and ambiance it sought to recapture. Those films strove for nothing more than to entertain the audience with sleazy, lowbrow thrills that just might have some evidence of directorial craft thrown in for good measure, and the films that follow are prime examples of what I’m going on about. They aren’t for all tastes by any means, but they're each worth a look for reasons that will be made readily apparent. In no particular order:

FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE (1977)

Hands down the most incendiary of the race hate genre — well, maybe not; keep reading — this flick is a textbook example of just what an exploitation film should be. Three psychos escape from prison and subject a family of devout black Christians — dad’s even a preacher — to a home invasion that could only be made worse by including torture with a blowtorch. FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE is very strong and offensive stuff and would have gone down in grindhouse history anyway for the shameless manipulation of audience emotions and for being a “kill Whitey” movie that actually delivers what it promised. But the thing that truly made this a classic is William Sandersen ’s balls-out performance as Jesse Lee Kane, easily the single most racist piece of shit ever to grace the screen and wind up black moviegoers into a berserker rage, a state of apoplexy stoked by the fact that the guy’s a scrawny, inbred runt who’d be getting his ass handed to him in two seconds by everyone in sight if he didn’t have a gun pointed at their heads, even a baby in a fucking highchair! (SEE BELOW)

Kane hurls endless physical and verbal abuse upon the family — including a wheelchair-bound grandma, a sweet pre-teen boy, and his beautiful sister (you can guess where that leads) — and if you need a refresher course on ethnic slurs, I urge you to have your notebook at the ready. The torment escalates to ludicrous levels and by the time Kane forces dad to tap dance and sing spirituals at gunpoint (!!!), the characters and the audience are more than ready to kick the living shit out of the guy, take a big, greasy dump down his neck so he’d once more be filled to the brim with shit, and then kick said shit out of him once again. When the payback happens, even the Caucasians in the audience will be ready to kill redneck trash with impunity and join their highly rhythmic brethren in rioting in the streets. Sandersen’s performance is nothing short of masterful and serves as a pointed contrast to his real personality and later roles in BLADE RUNNER, NEWHART and DEADWOOD, so much so that he’s very uncomfortable discussing the flick these days for fear that people will think he’s really like the character he played, and he even declined to participate on the commentary for the DVD release. And as if the film itself didn’t shamelessly play the race card, the filmmakers even prepared two different trailers, one geared toward general audiences, and an hilariously over-the-top version aimed at inner city audiences that highlighted the violence and proclaimed, ”This film will make you stand up and shout I AM PROUD TO BE A BLACK MAN!!!” I didn't echo that sentiment, but the movie is definitely not for pussies and shouldn't be missed by lovers of sleazy, offensive trash.

MAD MAX (1979)

Now rightly enshrined as one of the milestones of the action genre along with its sequel, THE ROAD WARRIOR, aka MAD MAX 2 (1982), its grindhouse origins have been pretty much forgotten these days. Sort of the flipside of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, MAD MAX depicts a dystopian near-future Australia fraught with cruelty, lawlessness and tribal mentalities from the point of view of the police, themselves a clan of borderline-homoerotic leather boys in skin-tight fetish gear. The only thing these adrenaline junkies love more than each other is their souped-up vehicles, fuel-injected chariots that have less to do with apprehending offenders than blowing them off the road in what amounts to territorial pissing combined with aggravated assault. A young Mel “Sugartits” Gibson achieved overnight stardom here as Max, a cop who has wearied of his violent vocation, realizing he’s almost as bad as the psychos he pursues after run-ins with the Toecutter and his flamboyant gang of biker scum, themselves disciples of the Night Rider, a homicidal joyrider relegated to death in a sepulcher of twisted, flaming metal by Max. From that point on, it’s a symphony of sadistic and spectacular vehicular one-upmanship that builds to a tragic crescendo for Max and his family, causing him to go mad and settle the score with his enemies as decisively and violently as humanly possible. It’s a great slow-burning revenge film that paradoxically moves at a near-dizzying pace, stopping for breath only for the brief character bits before once more taking to the highway in an orgy of beautifully edited high speed violence. Far artier than it has any right to be, I take MAD MAX over its more popular follow-up for its not-quite-as-fantastic setting, characters and sights, as opposed to Max being allowed to roam in a post-apocalyptic barbarian wasteland that drips with mythic intent and references. THE ROAD WARRIOR may be a fucking great movie, but it just isn’t as intimate in its simplicity as this first of an eventual trilogy, soon to be a quadrology (?) with the recently-announced MAD MAX: ROAD OF FURY, although it remains to be seen if Sugartits will return to the role.

SHOGUN ASSASSIN (1980)

Seamlessly edited together from parts of the first two LONE WOLF & CUB movies, this flick occupies the number two spot on my list of all-time favorite films. Reducing two plot-heavy (though not at all boring) samurai films to eighty-nine minutes of wall-to-wall, exquisitely choreographed, ultra-gory sword fighting violence and have it actually end up compelling, visually stunning, and coherent is nothing short of a miracle, and SHOGUN ASSASSIN sure as shit made a believer out of me when I first saw it back in 1986. Tomisaburo Wakayama’s portrayal of former-imperial-headsman-turned-wandering-assassin Itto Ogami is a classic, as is his relationship with his toddler son, an adorable tyke who rides about in a lethally tricked-out baby carriage and provides matter-of-fact narration via voiceover. The cut and paste version of the story has Ogami and his son on the run from the pissed off shogun, a major asshole who, for reasons that remain obscure in this version, frames Ogami for treason. Wrongly disgraced, Ogami renames himself Lone Wolf and sets out on the road to Hell, losing himself on his odyssey of carnage and becoming demonic in his ferocity. The guy’s killing skills are formidable on superhuman levels, and that point is proven again and again in battles against scores of ninja — both male and female — and the three-way threat of the Masters of Death, with severed body parts littering the proceedings and things getting so sanguine that blood flies as though from a garden hose, even splashing onto the fucking camera (seriously!).

Those used to Kurosawa’s more restrained bushido opuses are in for quite a surprise when sitting through this, the chambara genre’s most succulent offering to the gorehound, so if you can’t take blood by the literal bucketful I suggest you stick with BEACHES. You fucking pussy.

GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE (1972)

This whole film’s pretty good, if dated, but the thing that sets this one squarely in the exploitation firmament is the still-shocking setup: a young couple’s choice for lover’s lane action proves disastrous when they park in a graveyard and a hungry vampire rises from the earth in search of sustenance. The vamp kills and drains the boyfriend while the horrified girl screams in terror, but her day gets worse when the undead murderer drags her into the open grave and rapes her (thankfully off-camera, allowing our imaginations to conjure up something far worse than what could have been presented directly). She survives the ordeal, considerably less sane for her trouble, and gives birth to a pale baby boy who won’t breastfeed. When mum accidentally cuts her finger with a knife and her blood falls onto the babe’s lips, he laps up the red stuff with gusto and his mother immediately begins lacerating her breasts to feed her little one. As the years go by mom perishes from blood loss, and the half-nosferatu child grows up into hulking biker film mainstay William Smith who sets out to take vengeance against his father. In a novel twist, dad is a professor of legends and mythology at a university’s night school, and as he begins preying upon the student body his son signs up for a night course. What follows is a game of cat and mouse that erupts into a knock-down, drag-out ass-whuppin’ of a showdown from which only one can walk away, and while I ain’t sayin’ nothin’, there is no happy ending…

NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR (1985)

Eighties to the core and an hilarious counterpoint to SHOGUN ASSASSIN’s artful cut-and-paste construction, this flick takes footage from an unfinished film and two bizarre extant releases, sets them loose amidst a framing device that features God and Satan (SEE BELOW)

reviewing the footage as the stories of people who will be sent to either Heaven or Hell when their sordid tales play out, sprinkles in an interminable and horrendous party of FLASHDANCE/FOOTLOOSE rejects breakdancing and singing the ironic “Everybody’s Got Somethin’ To Do (everybody But You),” (the douchebags in question are seen below)

and drops the whole mess aboard the titular locomotive as it whizzes its way to an inevitable crash. The stories themselves are all over the map, as would be expected from what amounts to FOUND FOOTAGE: THE MOVIE, but we get a gory yarn about a guy who gets brainwashed and for no adequately explained reason dismembers women for a questionable hospital, a digest version of the incomprehensibly strange DEATH WISH CLUB (1983) in which assorted morons join a club that allows them exotic ways to off themselves, and finally a truncated version of the not bad demon flick CATACLYSM, aka THE NIGHTMARE NEVER ENDS (1980). Loaded with gore, nudity, a couple of sub-LAND OF THE LOST animated critters, a guy who looks like a fey version of Jimi Hendrix whose head melts, a Hoppity-Hop bouncing toy spray-painted (unsuccessfully) to resemble a wrecking ball that squashes a guy’s skull, and a FLASHDANCE-esque male dancer who you’ll instantly want to punch right in the face, this rock-bottom horror anthology is cheap, stupid, hilarious, and at times so mired in its decade of birth that it’s painful to watch, but it’s far more entertaining than the similar NIGHTMARES (1983).

SWITCHBLADE SISTERS (1975)

Originally released as THE JEZEBELS and second only to the immortal FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! as the greatest “bad girls” movie of all time, this rollercoaster of exploitation gold has it all: terrible acting/dialogue, characters straight out of a comic book, violence, nudity, drunken parents, delinquent teens who couldn’t be a day younger than twenty-five, black militant lesbians who storm the neighborhood in a homemade tank (!!!), eye-wiltingly-ugly bell bottoms and even an obligatory women in prison sequence, all brought to you by one of the undisputed masters of the genre, Jack Hill. No bullshit, run out and rent this right now and be prepared to laugh your ass off with a classic of unrepentant, sleazy entertainment (believe me, Hill knew exactly what he was doing).

HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1981)

Did you ever wonder what monsters like the Creature from the Black Lagoon did with the human women they abducted? This movie answers that burning question in amazingly tasteless and gory fashion when a bunch of horny fish-men start graphically raping the living shit out of bikini-clad (or not) victims — though we don’t see the monsters’ dicks —

and dismembering all who would put a stop to such shenanigans. Almost uncomfortably sleazy and prurient, HUMANOIDS is so questionable that you just have to laugh at its excesses, but keep in mind that this is definitely NOT a date movie and under no circumstances should the final scene be witnessed by pregnant women. (SEE BELOW)


CLASS OF 1984 (1982)

Basically a twenty-seven-years-later remake of BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, only with the benefit of R-rated sleaze content, this gem of steadily-building-tension-headed-toward-well-earned-retribution is easily the best of the post-punk, 1980’s delinquency flicks. You know the kinds of flicks I'm talking about. Flicks that feature gangs of wispy kids in “new wave” gear and haircuts causing mayhem that would not only have gotten their asses kicked by the general public, but would also have landed them under the jail. Perry (MANDINGO) King stars as a music teacher assigned to the worst high school imaginable, only with the added sci-fi twist of all the worst delinquents being white. The malevolent Stegman (Vince Van Patten) looks like the wimpiest thug in the world, but with his gang of enforcers he keeps the entire school in a tight grip of fear. The gang’s activities include tormenting the staff just because they can, shaking down underclassmen for their lunch money, holding open auditions for their on-campus prostitution ring, preventing students from learning, and just generally being vile, so King’s teacher must naturally take a stand against them. Not a good idea, because the enmity between teacher and gang escalates in some truly nasty ways — did I mention that the teacher has a pregnant wife? — even driving meek science professor Roddy MacDowall to snap and hold his class at gunpoint after he discovers his beloved rabbits flayed and strewn about the science lab. The final showdown between King and the gang is harrowing stuff, particularly a gag involving a table saw, so get ready for it, along with an early role by a pudgy, pre-FAMILY TIES Michael J. Fox, whose character gets stabbed in the middle of the crowded lunchroom.

GOODBYE UNCLE TOM (1972)

There are some who say that the legendary ILSA, SHE-WOLF OF THE SS holds the crown for most morally bankrupt exploitation film ever made, but they are dead wrong. Totally out of its mind in terms of both concept and content, the Italian-made GOODBYE UNCLE TOM —aka FAREWELL UNCLE TOM — is a fake documentary, complete with interviews of the subjects, on the horrors of the slave era Old South as filmed by a helicopter camera crew who somehow turned up there with absolutely no attempt at an explanation. Beyond tasteless and offensive, the flick wallows in as much rape, torture, cruelty, nudity, relentlessly depressing imagery, and general degradation of the human spirit as can possibly be crammed into one feature, and even by the standards of this hardened exploitation movie fan the flick is some seriously hard shit to take. But what blows my mind most about it is how it has come to be embraced by many black militant and activist groups as one of a handful of films — among them my beloved MANDINGO — that “tell it like it was” in regards to slavery and should be taught in public schools, despite the blatant intent of the filmmakers to exploit such misery for all it’s worth. I may not be able to support it, but it is certainly a one-of-a-kind film, and every serious student of the grindhouse genre should eventually witness its finger-down-your-throat evil for themselves.

VIXEN! (1968)

To some the most beloved of Russ Meyer’s boobs-and-bad-gals sagas, VIXEN! Is nothing more than a feature length excuse to have star Erica Gavin’s ultra-slutty bitch of a sex fiend fuck the crap out of nearly every other character in the entire film, regardless of gender or genetic ties (she fucks her biker brother). There’s virtually no plot, just Vixen getting it on with whatever sentient life forms happen to be available, just after showering them with scathing verbal abuse that clearly influenced John Waters’ script writing chops, and then a ridiculously overacted “Irish” character shows up to hijack Vixen’s husband’s charter plane from British Columbia to Cuba. The guy’s a rabid commie and once he shows up you can kiss the sex and nudity goodbye as he attempts to sway the lone black character to Castro’s point of view, a rant in which I guess Meyer intended to point out his own opinions on the perceived madness of communism because the Irish guy is obviously a loony. The sex would probably qualify for a “soft” R these days — no genitals are seen — but the women on display are pretty tasty (provided you can overlook Gavin’s aggressively-penciled-on Sub-Mariner eyebrows) and all-natural (read deliciously fleshy and silicone-free) tetas, as you’d expect from good ol' Uncle Russ.

It’s even acceptable as a date movie because your girlfriend will probably laugh her ass off at the ludicrous dialogue, and maybe even buy into the film’s purported feminist subtext (yeah, right).

So, what do you readers have to add to this scholarly discussion? WRITE IN, DAMN YOUR EYES!!!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968)

Undisputed classic, or the most over-rated giant monster flick ever made?

To fans of the daikaiju genre there are a handful of films that are generally considered to be inviolate classics of the form, movies like the pre-Americanized version of GOJIRA (1954), RODAN (1956), MOTHRA (1961), GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1964), GHIDRAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964), and MONSTER ZERO (1965). But there's one rubber-suited, city-stompin' teriyaki terror-fest that is almost universally hailed as "the greatest Japanese monster movie of all time" and that would be 1968's DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, a film that would clear the streets of kids if it were know to be playing on THE 4:30 MOVIE during my early youth as part of that series' celebrated and semi-frequent "Monster Week" (the other film that could be counted on to have that affect on afterschool playtime was JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS). Many a fan of the Toho monster opuses gets a wistful look on their face when mention is made of DESTROY ALL MONSTERS — DAM for short — but, despite a lifelong loyalty to Godzilla, his colleagues in urban renewal and their far-fetched adventures, I'm here to call "bullshit" on DAM once and for all and hopefully find others who share my opinion.

By the time the Godzilla flicks reached the point when DAM was ready to roll, there had been a marked shift in the function of Big G and his fellows that saw the once dreaded anthropomorphizations of the horrors of atomic radiation now being cast in the role of the implacable protectors of the Earth, and while the movies remained fun they also veered ever steadily into kiddie movie territory. In my opinion that course in content was firmly in place as of MONSTER ZERO, but that shift definitely worked within the context of that film — Godzilla's infamous "victory jig" notwithstanding — and the somewhat spare quality of the film made the threat of Devo-looking invaders from Planet X quite intimate and unquestionably dire.

MONSTER ZERO's would-be invaders from Planet X, moments before breaking into an encore of "Gates of Steel."

Even the film's requisite "human interest" subplot engages the audience and actually figures seamlessly into the story's conclusion, and if you ask me no original-era Godzilla movie succeeded so well from a narrative standpoint from MONSTER ZERO onward. The Godzilla films had pretty much said all they had to say, both in terms of symbolic commentary on nuclear arms proliferation and general entertainment, so any subsequent pictures would have virtually no choice but to be a re-hash of what had come before. But how to keep the series going and keep asses in seats? Simple answer: excess, excess, excess, all at the cost of the elements that made the Toho monster cycle so engaging in the first place. (That way of thinking was also exhibited in the James Bond series as evidenced in 1965's THUNDERBALL, an overblown and bloated "spectacle" outing that began the Bond films' long stretch of creatively-arrested development and repetition.)

DESTROY ALL MONSTERS can be seen as a more elaborate remake of MONSTER ZERO, only one in which the interesting human elements are replaced with a dull and faceless group of space-force astronaut heroes who are virtually interchangeable, and the threat to the Earth is both perfunctory and uninteresting, marked only by the fact that the silver wimple-clad alien invaders of the piece, the Kilaaks (love that name!), are all females.

The Kilaaks: has a bunch of would-be world-conquerors ever looked more like they'd be right at home during a '70's-era Parliament show?

Their plot for conquest isn't even original, what with being a bald-faced swipe of Planet X's idea of mind-controlling the Earth's giant monsters and using the unstoppable behemoths to cause catastrophic destruction on a massive scale, but in MONSTER ZERO the plan hinged on the enslavement of only Godzilla and Rodan and later the space-monster King Ghidorah (or "Ghidrah" as he's known in the West). In DAM, the Kilaaks mind control the titanic inhabitants of Ogasawara Island, aka "Monster Land" — a Pacific marine research island not to be confused with the later and better known Monster Island — and turn them loose all over the globe, which in some cases is quite spectacular (Gorosaurus' attack on the Arc De Triomf from underground is pretty cool, and Godzilla's virtuoso atomic flame curveball assault on the United Nations building is delicious giant monster showboating at its best), but other than the expanded scale, this is very much a case of "been there, done that."

I'd say the reason most people give this film the kind of adulation it receives has everything to do with many of its supporters not having seen it since childhood and the fact that it's got every Toho giant monster "star" in it, with the notable exceptions being the Japanese version of King Kong (as seen in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA and KING KONG ESCAPES), brothers Sanda and Gaira (from the memorable WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS), space-jellyfish Dogorah (from DOGORAH THE SPACE MONSTER) and the charmingly ludicrous giant version of Frankenstein (from FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD). Unfortunately, while those critters didn't make the cut, non-entities like Varan the Unbelievable, Gorosaurus and Manda are included, along with the utterly unwanted return of Minya (or "Minilla," according to Toho's spelling), the supposed son of Godzilla, also known and loathed by Westerners as "Baby Godzilla." Minya is a character that I have never liked, not even as a child, and I have yet to find a daikaiju fan from anywhere on the globe, not even Japan, who can stand him in the least. His antics are not cute but insufferable, and I would love to see his unformed, quasi-mongoloid/tadpole-looking ass blown into showering, smoking chunks of foam rubber by a judiciously-placed Specium blast from the skilled hands of professional inter-galactic monster-slaying badass Ultraman.

The awesome Ultraman unleashes his famous Specium beam, a weapon that blew the motherfucking shit out of damned near every monster he turned it against. If only he'd met Minya...

Bottom line: with the exception of the sheer number of giant beasts, everything that allegedly makes DESTROY ALL MONSTERS a classic can be had to much greater effect in MONSTER ZERO — which is available from Amazon in a great edition featuring both the subtitled Japanese version and the dubbed US release in gorgeous re-mastered widescreen — so enough with the dubious pleasures of DAM, already! Sit your kids through the better alternative instead.

A bigass shitload of giant Japanese monsters: a good thing in theory...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

TARZAN AND THE LEOPARD WOMAN (1946)


"If an animal can act like a man, why not a man like an animal?"
-
Tarzan, surprisingly not describing himself.

Intended to be serious, TARZAN AND THE LEOPARD WOMAN is a grandly entertaining flick that you'd swear was a parody of the genre if you didn't know for a fact that it wasn't. It's fast-paced, loaded with overripe scenery chewing — you know you're in trouble when Johnny Weissmuller as the monosyllabic Tarzan is the most normal character — , features a rare female villain, and includes a tribe of white-ish killers who dress up in leopard drag and dance around like Twyla Tharp on a fistful of Bennies (a Tarzan movie with no bruthas? What the fuck???).

When travelers and merchants departing from Zambezi are waylaid and torn to shreds by what appear to be hordes of leopards, the local commissioner asks Tarzan, who just so happens to be in town while this is going down, to investigate. Being the lifelong jungle dude that he is, Tarzan immediately realizes that the violence is not the work of his wild colleagues, but is actually the work of crazed leopard men, servants of the evil Queen Lea (played by, get this, "Aquanetta," nee Mildred Davenport, best remembered for this role and her classic B-monster part in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943) and Ameer Lazar (Edgar Barrier; who?), her Western-educated lover and right hand man.

The Leopard Men: gettin' down and lookin' fabulous.

Also involved is the queen's ratbag of a little brother, Kimba (Tommy Cook, turning in an over-top-performance if ever I saw one), who seeks to earn his place among the leopard-warrior ranks by ripping out Jane's heart as a rite of passage, and Boy (Johnny Sheffield) must sort that shit out before he's rendered motherless for a second time (long story; I'll get around to TARZAN FINDS A SON soon). Anyway, there's much ass-whuppin' and unintentional camp insanity to be had here, so I'd probably recommend TARZAN AND THE LEOPARD WOMAN as the most balls-out entertaining of the post-MGM run. No joke, while watching this movie the other night I seriously contemplated getting a bunch of friends together to wander about in the annual Halloween craziness in the West Village as a gaggle of leopard cultists in the cheesiest costumes possible, complete with one of the girls in my crew as Queen Lea, and my skinny pal Hughes in a loincloth. TRUST YER BUNCHE and don't miss this one when next it turns up on Turner Classic Movies!

"TRUUUUUUST YER BUUUUUUUUUNCHE!!!"

Thursday, September 24, 2009

DEATH WISH 3 (1985)

Throughout the history of cinema there have been critically acclaimed films that made a shitload of money, thereby guaranteeing sequels, and while several such follow-ups are good, sometimes even eclipsing the flicks that spawned them — FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, A SHOT IN THE DARK, THE GODFATHER PART II, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and TOY STORY 2 spring immediately to mind — more often than not the sequels fall far short of the quality found in the original work. Among the lackluster movies that make up this reviled sub-category are such infamous works as EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC, THE TWO JAKES, BASIC INSTINCT II, the entire gaggle of JAWS offspring, the unfortunate sequels to THE MATRIX, and of course the STAR WARS prequel trilogy, but no sequel has ever fallen straight to the depths of cinematic Hell quite as spectacularly as DEATH WISH 3. And seldom has any other film, good or bad, been anywhere near as balls-out entertaining.

The original DEATH WISH from 1974 was a serious and rather depressing piece of early-1970’s social commentary that centered on a NYC architect, Paul Kersey (played by the venerable Charles Bronson, nee Buchinski), who is the most gentle of souls, once a conscientious objector during his military service, now a loving family man, basically the sort of guy who wouldn’t harm a fly. Then, one day while he’s away at work, a bunch of thugs (including a repellent Jeff Goldblum in his screen debut) break into his posh Upper West Side apartment and brutally beat and rape his wife and daughter. Kersey’s wife does not survive the assault and his daughter is so traumatized by the experience that she ends up a vegetable and is committed to a mental health care facility for life (or, more accurately, until she is again gang raped and eventually killed in the appalling DEATH WISH 2). To take his mind off his family’s tragedies, the emotionally distraught Kersey accepts a design job in Arizona and receives a revolver as a token of appreciation from his client. Upon returning to the almost cartoonishly crime-ridden streets of New York, Kersey takes it upon himself to go on a one man spree of payback against the human vermin who make NYC life unlivable, first beating the piss out of a mugger with a sock full of quarters, then upgrading to using his gift pistol to blow away more scum, the press soon bestowing upon him the catchy moniker of “the Vigilante Killer.” Lionized by the citizens who soon begin to follow his example of fighting back and demonized by a police force that is pissed off because he makes them look useless, Kersey is eventually shot, but he survives and is given a pass by the NYPD who secretly banish him and tell him in no uncertain terms that he is never to return.

When DEATH WISH proved to be a hit, the sequels took their own sweet time in showing up, the first of which being unleashed in 1982. The early 1980’s were the dawn of the era of truly mindless action flicks, and the DEATH WISH series quickly threw out all semblance of quality and social commentary, opting instead for as much over-the-top graphic carnage as possible. DEATH WISH 2 is an exploitation piece of the lowest order, a celluloid slaughterhouse that offers up far more rape, violence, shootings and general degradation of the human spirit than even this hardened grindhouse junkie could stomach, with a sickening air of abject cruelty permeating the whole megilah. And providing the icing on this mountainous shit cake is Jimmy Page — yes, that Jimmy Page — apparently having forgotten the skills that made him a rock ‘n’ roll legend, providing a cacophonous mess of a score. Fortunately for bad movie addicts everywhere, DEATH WISH 2 made enough scratch to warrant a sequel three years later, and thus was the sublime ridiculousness of DEATH WISH 3 foisted upon an unsuspecting public.

For his third outing, Kersey returns to “the City” to visit an old and utterly nondescript army buddy (read “cannon fodder”), but as is expected in this series the guy is soon rendered null and void by some of the many “creeps” who infest the neighborhood like two-legged cockroaches. When Kersey enters his dying friend’s apartment he is nabbed by the cops, who of course think he’s responsible, and he’s promptly brought before Shriker (played by Ed Lauter, veteran of about eleventy-jillion flicks), a hard-nosed detective who recognizes Kersey (apparently he saw the previous flicks) and roughs him up a bit just to show him who’s boss. Now, Kersey — hereafter referred to as Badass Grandpa — may be an old fart, but he ain’t taking that kind of bullshit, so he immediately socks Shriker in the nuts. That move lands Badass Grandpa in the holding tank, a foul enclosure just brimming with punks, junkies and creeps straight out of Central Casting.

“I’m old. I’m bold. GET USED TO IT, CREEPS!”

It’s all been cookie cutter stupid up to this point, but once Badass Grandpa hands out an ass-whuppin’ on an overweight creep by shoving his Rosie O’Donnell-sized skull through the bars, all bets are off. This amusing act of self-defense/gratuitous violence attracts the attention of Fraker (masterfully — and shamelessly — essayed by Gavan O’Herlihy, the guy who played Richie Cunningham’s older brother, Chuck, during the first season of “Happy Days”), a horse-faced white dude sporting an idiotic reverse Mohawk and what I guess is supposed to be some kind of scary neo-tribal war paint, but instead looks like he passed out drunk and a five-year-old drew on his face with some crayons and nobody bothered to mention it to him.

"Hey! Why the fuck are youse laughin' at me?"

Upon seeing Badass Grandpa in action, Fraker asserts his imagined status as the cell’s resident alpha wolf and gives the old coot a cheap shot to the ribs, after which he is released back onto the streets. But as he departs, Fraker looks Badass Grandpa square in the eye and advises him to watch the seven o’clock news because “I’m gonna kill an old lady. Just for you.” Then, apparently having forgotten about being pissed off at him, Detective Shriker releases Badass Grandpa, tells him how much he admires his work as a homicidal vigilante because he can’t stand creeps either, returns his gun and actually gives him carte blanche to wipe out as many punks/creeps as he feels like, all with the full clandestine cooperation of the local police department. Thus emboldened, Badass Grandpa takes up residence in his dead war buddy’s apartment and is befriended by Bennett (Martin Balsam, who was memorably offed on the staircase by “Mother” in the original PSYCHO), a tenant who is nice enough to introduce Badass Grandpa to the other residents, each and every one an ethnic/religious stereotype — the old ultra-Jewish couple, the earthy Hispanics, etc. —, gives a detailed who’s who of the local creeps, and shows Badass Grandpa where his dead pal kept a big, honkin’ military issue machine gun, complete with ammo feed (but strangely no tripod on which to mount the sumbitch). Ooh, foreshadowing!

Meanwhile, Fraker returns to lead his gang and resumes his kingship by savagely murdering the gang member who had filled in for him, an act I know would have certainly filled me with a sense of unwavering loyalty. Y’see, the creeps in this film would be right at home in some post-apocalyptic hellhole as seen in films such as THE ROAD WARRIOR or FIST OF THE NORTH STAR, what with their stilted lingo, outlandish hairdos and idiotic outfits that run the gamut from the generic biker/punk rocker gear to wildly inappropriate FLASHDANCE ballet togs, but they are completely out of place in any modern day metropolis, a point driven further home when we actually get to meet some of them. Other than Fraker, the most notable creeps are Hermosa, played with staggering non-menace by a pre-BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE Alex Winter (he’s the blonde one who isn’t Keanu Reeves, namely Bill) and “the Giggler,” an outrageous black dude/FAME refugee in a leotard who gets his handle from his habit of giggling when he robs or otherwise assaults someone. Seriously, you have to see these guys to believe them.

Equipped with his new info on the local creeps, Badass Grandpa befriends all of the residents of the building, listening to their tales of misery at the hands of the scumbags and formulating the required plans of action to deal with them; the ultra-Jews have been home-invaded through their kitchen window by the Giggler more than once — he even taunted them with “We’ll be back! WHENEVER WE LIKE!!!! Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee!,” the nasty so-and-so — and the imaginatively-named Maria (the Hispanic chick, played by Marina Sirtis two years before she irritated the shit out of us for seven seasons on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” as Counselor Deanna Troi; thankfully she doesn’t have a single line in this entire picture) has been harassed to the point of near-rape by Bill, er, Hermosa until Badass Grandpa smacks him in the mouth with a convenient tire iron. I’m telling you, the ludicrous image of Alex Winter grinning like a Jack O’Lantern while plastered across Marina Sirtis’ windshield screaming “I’m gonna eatchoo, bitch!” as she drives like a maniac in an underground parking garage looks just like something out of a Wally Wood MAD Magazine illustration. I mean, how badly does an attempted rape scene fail when it elicits howls of belly-laughter even from the women in the audience?

Once he’s satisfied with his reconnaissance efforts, Badass Grandpa begins his urban renewal crusade in earnest and takes advantage of his police department free pass to purchase high-powered firearms by mail, weaponry such as a Wildey Magnum pistol that’s literally as big as your forearm, fist included.

Now THAT’S a gun!

He also rigs the tenement’s apartments with a variety of booby traps, one of which includes a wooden platform festooned with nails for the perforation of felonious feet, while another features a spring loaded two-by-four that explosively bashes would-be home invaders square in the mouth; when this trap goes off during Badass Grandpa’s meal with the ultra-Jews (causing the douchebag on the receiving end to screech like a banshee as he flees into the night), the diners rush to the kitchen and find the board sticking straight up next to an open window. As Badass Grandpa resets the trap, the ultra-Jews gape in shock, point at the board and ask, “What’s that?” Badass Grandpa smiles and says, “teeth!” We are then treated to a closeup of the board with what appear to be two bloody Chiclets embedded in the wood.

NOTE: At best the trap in question would just smack you right in the face, possibly breaking your nose, but unless the guy who got hit had been looking straight up at the ceiling and had his mandible surgically removed there is no fucking way that his teeth would end up in that plank. I’m sorry, but even for a film with this little grasp on basic reality, this is a bit of a stretch.

Once the gauntlet is thrown, in short order our ancient hero renders several of Fraker’s creeps tits-up on the pavement, most hilariously in the case of the Giggler; Badass Grandpa wanders down the street eating an ice cream cone and swinging a very expensive camera like a streetwalker’s purse during Fleet Week, attracting the baleful gaze of the Giggler. The felon eyes Badass Grandpa and begins to follow him, finally launching himself at the old man, snagging the pricey Nikon. As the Giggler speeds away, looking over his shoulder and living up to his fey nickname, Badass Grandpa drops his vanilla cone and from out of nowhere produces his insanely huge hand cannon and ventilates the fleeing FAME refugee. The actor/dancer playing the Giggler makes the most of his character’s demise by not merely hitting the asphalt, oh no! This master showman goes out with a wildly inappropriate and fruity jazz dance fall and lands like he’s interpreting an autumn leaf daintily tumbling to the earth, it’s season over and its time done. Such artistic expression may be laudable, but it has no business being in this film. In fact, when I first witnessed that moment, I snarfed the beer I was drinking out of both nostrils and then sat there laughing like the village idiot. Meanwhile, people on the street stop what they’re doing and even hang out of windows cheering and laughing at the corpse of the Giggler — which in real life would have a hole roughly the diameter of a manhole cover through it —, with one teenage onlooker raising the Black Power fist and screaming, “Right on, man!” to a smiling Badass Grandpa. And in a perfectly moronic coda to the sequence, the camera then jump cuts to the gang’s dank basement headquarters where we see Fraker’s thugs deep in the throes of mourning for their fallen comrade; much wailing and hand-wringing goes on, and then one of the creeps poignantly utters the deathless line, “They shot the Giggler, man!”

I’m telling ya, folks, not since Shakespeare have I been so moved by dialogue that truly expresses the depths of one man’s soul-wrenching misery.

Needless to say, Fraker ain’t having some old fart piss all over him and his creeps, so he decides to escalate the situation by having his boys abduct Counselor Troi and gang rape her; this scene could have been a hell of a lot worse, especially considering the misogynistic excesses of DEATH WISH 2, but it’s still pretty distasteful considering that it’s clearly meant to titillate a certain audience element, bares Marina Sirtis’ olive-toned tetas, and worst of all shows Bill, er, Hermosa leading the pack. After the boys have had their fun, Maria’s unconscious body is found and her husband and Badass Grandpa rush to the hospital to see her. They are immediately informed by the attending physician that during the assault Maria suffered a broken arm which caused a blood clot that dislodged and made its way to her heart, killing her just minutes before her visitors arrived.

At this point I would like to ask any of the medical professionals who read this blog if such a thing is possible; I’m no doctor, so I don’t know, but the offhanded speed with which that bit of info is delivered rendered all believability null and void for me.

Oh, and lest I forget, from out of nowhere comes Deborah Raffin in the thankless role of a police administrator or psychiatrist or some shit who is assigned to keep tabs on Badass Grandpa — NOTE: she’s not in on his arrangement with the local fuzz — and unbelievably falls in love with his Methuselah ass. This improbable plot element, one of the most improbable in a film where a talking, disco dancing tree would barely raise an eyebrow, allows Badass Grandpa to briefly have a love interest who you just know is going to get killed, thereby spurring the old coot on to greater heights of urban wholesale slaughter. The two instantly embark on a romance that we are supposed to deeply care about, despite the fact that the two of them have been together for all of maybe ten minutes, but wouldn’t ya know it? That ol’ meanie Fraker knocks out the police administrator (or psychiatrist or some shit) while she’s sitting behind the wheel of her car at a red light, kicks the car into gear, sending it careening out of control until it crashes and bursts into the kind of pyrotechnic display that no movie in this genre would be complete without, an event that is of course witnessed by Badass Grandpa.

Oh, it’s ON now, creeps.

Badass Grandpa returns to the apartment building with a mysterious package that he received in the mail, and then breaks out the gigantic machine gun that was in his dead war buddy’s flat, gaining Maria’s husband (and his homemade zip-gun) as backup. The two then literally wander the streets, blowing away overacting creeps willy-nilly, when, lo and behold, Detective Shriker joins in the fun and the three hobble about feebly, inspiring the once timid neighborhood denizens to pick up bricks, boards, baseball bats, the family cat, and damn near anything else that isn’t nailed down and fight back against the savage scumbags. The already ultra-violent streets are suddenly turned into an even more over-the-top living Hell as the locals give as good as they get in defense of their homes, and the skies literally rain bodies from the rooftops as Badass Grandpa and his boys blast the living shit out of everyone and everything in sight.

The sheer madness that ensues goes on for about fifteen solid minutes of our heroes staggering about like they’d stumbled into a living shooting gallery, each cutout target able to move, scream, cuss and bleed. There’s even an incredible bit where a creep hurls a Molotov cocktail through a tenement window, after which a shrill old lady’s scream is heard; shortly thereafter the old lady runs into the street, her torso ablaze, but the hilarious part of this is that she’s obviously portrayed by a dude and resembles Norman Bates doing his “mother” act while auditioning for the role of the Human Torch in FANTASTIC FOUR: THE RISE OF THE SLIVER SURFER.

Eventually, shit gets so thick that Fraker gets on the phone and calls some unnamed thug, presumably of the same tribe or a regional affiliate, and politely asks him if he can “send some more guys.” We are then treated to a shot of a horde of barbarian bikers instantly roaring into the neighborhood, whoopin’ and a-hollerin’, whirling chains over their heads, and generally being a blight on humanity. The only way this image could have been any funnier is if there were a few random Vikings and pirates screaming, “Aar, me hearties” for spice.

This laughable display is greeted by Fraker’s punks with a stirring show of solidarity, namely with more whoopin’ and a-hollerin’, and whirling of chains over their own Mohawked/shaved/Afroed heads. Faster than you can say, “Have you ever seen such cruelty?” the mayhem somehow manages to get even more outrageous, causing Badass Grandpa to run out of machine gun ammo, so he falls back on his old, reliable Wildey Magnum. Yet more punks soon litter the streets with their splattered corpses and the locals appear to be gaining the upper hand. However, despite a valiant show of homicidal acumen, Badass Grandpa soon begins to tire and is caught unawares by a creep who stabs him with a trusty “shiv.” Luckily, Badass Grandpa had on a bulletproof vest during the stabbing, so he survives and makes it back to his dead pal’s flat, hurriedly rummaging for the mysterious package he received earlier. Just as he grabs the box, Fraker storms in to hold Badass Grandpa at gunpoint and taunt him about the fact the he too has on a bulletproof vest. Unimpressed and with a burst of speed that would have made Barry Allen envious, Badass Grandpa whips out the contents of the mysterious package, a handheld rocket launcher that he aims at Fraker, literally blowing him to chunky bits from five feet away (an act that would have also killed Badass Grandpa thanks to the confined space involved, but why quibble?) while simultaneously sending the wall behind the head creep showering onto the street below. Upon catching sight of this and somehow realizing that the pretty bits of hamburger littering the sidewalk are the earthly remains of their leader, the rampaging creeps, bikers, pirates, ninjas, Viet Cong, zombies, giant montsers, vampires and Shiite Muslims dejectedly lower their chains, knives, cricket bats, Panzer tanks and disintegrator pistols and drive off into the unknown from whence they came in a parade resembling the exodus scene from THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, only populated with nothing but total douchebags and no camels to speak of.

As the neighborhood around them burns and scores of stiffs festoon the place for as far as the eye can see, Shriker tells Badass Grandpa that he’ll cover for any difficult questions that may arise from his having turned the area into a demilitarized zone, so the old dude should make like a bakery truck and haul buns outta there. And so, like the hardened warrior he is, Badass Grandpa packs his suitcase and wanders off into the horizon, just as the pretty much non-existent-up-to-this-point squadron of police cars enters the post-fray. THE END.

Unfortunately, this overview simply cannot in any way, shape, or form get across just how maniacally insane this film is, so if you feel like you need a million volts of outright stupidity shot straight up your ass, put it in your Netflix queue right now. No joke, truly idiotic though it may be, DEATH WISH 3 is one of my top twenty all-time favorite movies and I can’t urge you strongly enough to see it as soon as you can. Oh, and avoid the other sequels at all costs.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965)

I love me some giant monster flicks, and nobody made them better or crazier than Toho Studios during their heyday. The critters that infested their world came in all manner of metropolis-demolishing forms: giant jellyfish (from outer space, no less, in DAGORA THE SPACE MONSTER), giant psychedelic mushrooms (ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE), giant spiders and mantises (SON OF GODZILLA), giant walruses (GORATH), giant cuttlefish (YOG, MONSTER FROM SPACE), giant shrimp (GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER), giant moths (MOTHRA), giant birds (RODAN), giant gorillas (KING KONG ESCAPES), and even a giant cockroach (GODZILLA VS, MEGALON). So once they'd pretty much exhausted the animal and vegetable kingdoms, what else was left except a giant Frankenstein in a Tarzan outfit? In the completely out of its mind (even for Toho) FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, you get just that.

According to the story, in the waning days of WWII the Nazis remove the living heart of the Frankenstein Monster from a lab where it's kept in a tank and move it for safekeeping to Hiroshima. Well, not meaning to sound glib about it, we all know how that turned out, and the heart was lost and forgotten. Jump ahead to the present — 1965 — and we find out that there's a fucked-up-looking boy running around the countryside, eating small animals and leaving behind their remains. He's eventually captured and turned over to an American doctor (Nick Adams) who's in the Land of the Rising Sun to minister to victims of the radiation at Hiroshima with his foxy colleague (the toothsome Kumi Mizuno). They soon discover that the kid's not just fucked-up-looking, he's also Caucasian! The details on his exact origins are a little fuzzy: he's either a starving kid who found the case containing Frankenstein's heart and ate the beating organ, or he's a whole new being that grew from Frankenstein's immortal heart, only given a bit of help in the growth department from all that radiation. He's also found to possess fantastic healing abilities that allow him to survive devastating physical damage, even regrowing severed limbs. (I dig the idea of him having grown from the heart, so I'll go with that one.)

After befriending the hot doctor chick, Japenstein escapes into the woods and grows by a couple of hundred feet, also fashioning himself a happenin' Tarzan-style over-the-shoulder number out of miscellaneous animal skins to cover his nekkidness, and thank God for that. I don't think I could have handled the sight of Frankenstein's gigantic nuts flopping around all over the goddamned place.

Of course the army is called in to take Frankie out when cattle and people start vanishing down the gullet of a giant, unseen, burrowing critter that they naturally assume to be the big guy despite him never having dug a hole in his life. It instead turns out to be Baragon, one of the silliest-looking of the Toho monsters, and that's really saying something; he's basically a giant puppy-dog with big, floppy ears, sharp teeth, and a horn that lights up for no apparent reason.

The uber-goofy Baragon (not to be confused with Barugon from the painfully boring GAMERA VS. BARUGON).

Soon enough, Frankie and Baragon are duking it and destroying more raw acreage than a legion of clear-cutters, the whole thing wrapping up with Frankie kicking Baragon's rubbery ass only to be swallowed forever when the earth opens up, also for no apparent reason.

It's all great, stoopid fun and one of the extras on the DVD is perhaps my favorite deleted scene of all time: after Frankenstein kills Baragon, he roars in triumph and suddenly stops dead. A look of utter confusion appears on his face and he practically says, "What the fuck?!!?" as a monstrous octopus sidles out of the forest and engages him in single combat.

This is the kind of thing that you'll only see in a Toho movie.

Yes, a fucking giant land-based octopus shows up and the two wrestle their way into the ocean. THE END.

I first heard of this loony epic when I was about six years old and the kid from up the street showed me the feature article on it in the late, lamented THE MONSTER TIMES. His description of the film was quite exciting, albeit erroneous; he told me that the Frankenstein not only destroyed every army on the planet in gory ways that involved their pants getting ripped off and killed about thirty other monsters, but at the end of the film he began to hit the ground with his fist making a "konk" noise, thereby "konk"-ering the world. Ya gotta love it when kids recount movies. Their fabrications are often far better than the actual film, but when I finally saw FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD about two or three years later on New York City's THE 4:30 MOVIE (of course as a part of the beloved "Monster Week" cycles) I was far from disappointed.

The handsome new DVD transfer is a cheaply-priced two-disc set that features the uncut original Japanese version as well as the slightly shorter US release, and has that great bit with the octopus which is worth the price of purchase on its own for sheer non sequitor value. So if you love this goofy crap as much as I do, by all means pick up a copy and force your CGI-jaded brats to check out the earth-shaking glory that was "Suitmation."

TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!

The movie poster from the original Japanese release.

HOT FUZZ (2007)


Having greatly enjoyed the same creative team's 2004 British import SHAUN OF THE DEAD, I held out a bit of anticipation for this year's HOT FUZZ, a comedy billed as a send-up of American action flicks and hailed as "the funniest film of its kind since THE NAKED GUN series." When it was released over here there were many reviews that described it as laugh-out-loud funny and action packed, so when I got my hands on the DVD I was ready for exactly what the trailers and reviews had prepped me for.

What I got was something else entirely.

HOT FUZZ is the story of London supercop Sergeant Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg), the type of officer who's pretty much a law-obsessed, one-man police force adept at all aspects of law enforcement, in other words the archetype hero for a large number of films in the action genre. When his arrest record exceeds those of his colleagues by over 400%, his superiors decided to reassign him because he's making them look bad, and the rest of the cops on his squad are elated to see him go. Ending up in the remote country hamlet of Standford, Angel is utterly miserable with his new post since the crime rate is virtually non-existent and the town's cops are a bunch of lazy borderline morons. Partnered with dimwitted cop-movie enthusiast PC Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), Sergeant Angel spends his time collaring petty shoplifters, routing underage drinkers from the local pub, attempting to apprehend an escaped swan — owned by a guy whose name sounds exactly like "Piss Taker," a Britishism for one who teases or ridicules; more on that term can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taking_the_piss — and pulling over speeding motorists, a pathetic far cry from his previous life of kicking ass; it's not that the guy's an adreneline junkie, it's that he's unabe to turn off his drive to adminster by-the-book law enforcement and mellow out enough to adapt to his new environment.

Much of the film is devoted to Angel's fish out of water situation, and once we are very (VERY!!!) thoroughly immersed in Stanford's world and its people the plot finally veers into potential "action" territory as various characters meet grisly, suspicious demises that Angel refuses to brush off as mere unfortunate happenstance, much to the annoyance of his co-workers. As the bodies pile up and Angel's frustration grows, his partner manages to break through Angel's round the clock hardassedness by getting him drunk and sitting him through POINT BREAK and BAD BOYS II, just a couple of items from his voluminous action flick DVD collection (impressively housed in a cabinet reminiscent of something Batman would have). Eventually Angel's suspicions prove correct, and the film climaxes with an orgy of guns-a-blazin' carnage that involves damned near everyone in the village, including the school kids.

All of this is crafted quite skillfully and the film is loaded with fine performances that bolster the intelligent script, but the film is neither laugh-out-loud funny or action packed; more than three quarters of the film's just over two hour running time is an endless series of Angel's non-adventures, and the film's humor is laid back to the point of being near comatose in a way familiar to anyone who's ever seen a British comedy that takes place outside of a major city. Standford is populated with the predictable stock cast of quaint village types, and their country ways clash with Angel in ways that you could have written yourself. As for the film being a parody of the action genre, the honest to God action sequences don't happen until the movie's nearly over, by which time it's a case of far too little far too late.

That said, HOT FUZZ is in no way a bad film, but its marketing is quite dishonest, leading a potential viewer to expect something that moves briskly rather than the leisurely-paced tale that it tells. I'm not kidding, it takes over ninety minutes for anything to really happen, and by that time I kept the film on solely to how it ended, my interest having died about an hour earlier; Timothy Daulton's smoother-than-greased-otter-shit villian is fun, and the one scene that made me laugh out loud featured the worst local production of ROMEO AND JULIETTE ever committed to film, but when the orgy of violence finally arrives it just isn't worth the wait, a couple of humorous touches notwithstanding. So all I can say is "Caveat Emptor" if you're looking for a slam-bang action comedy.

TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!