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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

THE MACHINE GIRL (2008)

Dear Readers-

if you, like me, are fed up with movies that promise heaps of action, gore and blistering violence but then pussy out in every possible way, allow me to direct you to THE MACHINE GIRL, a live action Japanese offering that is so balls-out crazy and over-the-top across the board that it brought an ear-to-ear smile to my face. I was intrigued by this film's trailer when I saw it several months ago, so when I stumbled across the movie itself while DVD shopping on Friday I figured I'd take a chance on it, and, hoo-boy, am I glad I did. I've frequently decried the shit quality of many recent action flicks from the Land of the Rising Sun, but this one gets a solid 10 out of 10 for its unfailing intent to give the bloodthirsty audience exactly what it wants. And then some! It's the goriest film I've seen in who knows how long, and as per what you'd expect from the Japanese it's barking mad in its over the top carnage and violence; no bullshit, I had exclaimed "Holy shit!" no less than three times before the movie was even five minutes into its running time.

A sterling example of the tried and true "you killed my brother" revenge genre, THE MACHINE GIRL takes the story of a high school girl named Ami (Minase Yashiro, in her film debut) who seeks retribution for her younger brother's murder at the hands of a pack of sadistic bullies and sends it clear into the stratosphere of mayhem-laden ass-whuppin' by rendering the sanguinary set pieces as impossibly and cartoonishly spewy as is possible to depict, all while maintaining a brisk pace that barely allows viewers time to catch their breath. The character development is minimal at best, and once the heroine's motivation is established, it's off to the races. To put it as simply as the film does, Ami tracks down the bullies and metes out justice accented with geysers of blood and entrails, losing her left arm in a one-two punch of a tempura deep-frying and a samurai sword dismemberment along the way, eventually replacing her missing limb with a fully functional assault helicopter's machine gun — complete with a seemingly endless supply of rounds — and, near the film's climax, a chain saw originally wielded by her garage mechanic ally.

A bit from the chainsaw fight, before the spewing blood was added.

And as if that isn't enough, the cowardly asshole who leads the bullies is revealed to not only be a spoiled Yakuza prince, but also the heir to a clan of ninja descended from the legendary Hattori Hanzo himself, so we also get modern day ninja action thrown into the mix for good, extra-stupid measure. It's an orgy of bloodshed, creative demises, loony superheroics, and a complete disconnect from reality in one of those worlds where the police simply do not exist until well after the participants in the mayhem have bled out, and I thoroughly enjoyed every frame of the damned thing.

As you've probably gathered, THE MACHINE GIRL is unrelentingly excessive, but the film is so crazy that it soon veers into outright parody of its own genre and is frequently hilarious because it's all played totally straight, with heaps of ass-kicking and violence committed by a cute schoolgirl in one of those now-fetishized school uniforms. And what's not to love about a film featuring the return of the favorite weapon of all us martial arts movie buffs: the venerable "flying guillotine?" And, yes, there's more than a bit of a debt owed to both PLANET TERROR (2007) and ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992), but I had more fun with this movie than both of those flicks combined (and I liked both of them to varying degrees). And just so we're absolutely clear on this, Peter Jackson's DEADALIVE (aka BRAIN DEAD, 1992) still gets my vote as the goriest film ever made — or that it's even possible to make — but THE MACHINE GIRL gives it a damned good shot at the title, and it's entertaining as a motherfucker. TRUST YER BUNCHE and put THE MACHINE GIRL at the top of your Netflix queue immediately!

Ami (Minase Yashiro), in sore need of a shower.

Friday, April 23, 2010

CURSE OF BIGFOOT (1976)

In the glorious days of pre-cable TV wherein one could find any number of local movie shows, cash-strapped regional stations would occasionally fill out their film schedules with bottom-of-the-barrel and most likely public domain flicks that would be broadcast at Jesus o’clock in the morning and be viewed mostly by insomniacs or the heavily self-medicated. These celluloid stink bombs would mostly come and go, being run only once, but every now and then there would be one that stood above the pack and would be remembered for all time as a movie so mind-bendingly terrible that it was literally unbelievable. In the days of my misspent East Coast youth, no film exemplified this misbegotten breed like 1976’s CURSE OF BIGFOOT, a movie that ran with surprising frequency on New York’s WOR-TV (aka Channel 9) and became a minor cult classic to myself and several of my like-minded friends. We first witnessed its anti-spectacle in the late 1970’s and we’ve been devoted to it ever since, it being the first film I ever saw that led to me to describe it as being so boring, worthless and bad that it somehow manages to transcend its own awfulness and become a thing of perverse fascination.

It’s probably impossible these days to convey to those who weren’t there for it just how much of the 1970’s seemed like
everybody was stoned, including the president, and this perceived pot haze clouded pop culture with many strange fads and manias, among which could be counted “weird phenomena” stories of shit like the Bermuda Triangle, U.F.O.’s and other assorted strangeness that became mesmerizing after a few bowls of Indica. But the heavy-hitter of the genre had to be the nation’s fascination with Sasquatch, more commonly known as “Bigfoot,” a shaggy forest-dwelling specimen of cryptozoology who memorably teamed up with the Six-Million Dollar Man. I don’t recall exactly when the Bigfoot craze caught on but I do remember the country being inundated, seemingly overnight, with books, cheapjack horror movies, TV specials and pseudo-documentaries about the hairy bastard, and while I dig the idea of the missing link/nature spirit or whatever the fuck Bigfoot was supposed to be, I must admit that I never really got exactly why the creature was so popular. There was never much by way of concrete proof of its existence, the most famous example of which is the short out-of-focus 1967 film purported to be of an actual Bigfoot crossing a road that looks to me like some Amazonian woman in a rented gorilla costume; I say “woman” because in the famous out-of-focus still shot of Bigfoot taken from the film it looks like Bigfoot’s rockin’ a decent rack.

The alleged real-life Bigfoot from the famous 1967 film. Is it just me, or does it look like Bigfoot's sportin' titties?

But whatever the case, Bigfoot became an indelible part of the Seventies zeitgeist and low-budget filmmakers were only too willing to crank out shitty flicks to cash in on the craze and rook moviegoers out of their hard-earned greenbacks. None of the Bigfoot movies were any good, in fact most of them were downright terrible, but not one of them even begin to approach the nadir of quality that is CURSE OF BIGFOOT, a work that appears to have been cobbled together from a poorly-made and totally-unrelated-to-Bigfoot attempt at a horror film, a scene taking place in a classroom that looks worse than one of the educational flicks they used to run in health class, a staggering amount of seemingly random stock footage and, last but certainly least, what meager footage was available from an apparently unfinished 1958 would-be monster movie entitled TEENAGERS BATTLE THE THING. A true oddity, the film was not inaccurately described on the Internet Movie Database’s “user comments” section with the headline “A Sasquatch could make a better movie,” a sentiment I share after having sat many times, slack-jawed in disbelief, through this sole effort of director Don Fields.

NOTE: as of this point, this review becomes an in-depth examination of CURSE OF BIGFOOT's anti-grandeur, so if you want to see it for yourself and save the threadbare surprises I advise you to stop reading right now and get your hands on the DVD or check it out in chapters on YouTube.

The legs of Bigfoot as seen during the pre-credits sequence. Note the stunning cinematography.

The film opens with a glimpse of the distant past that wouldn’t have passed muster on IT'S ABOUT TIME as a narrator “ominously” fills us in on a strange creature that would kill cavemen for no apparent reason. That creature was known as…(Wait for it!)…Bigfoot!!!

Oh, shit! It's Bigfoot!!!

Suddenly, in what is unquestionably the film’s only almost-exciting moment, a monster meant to be Bigfoot runs face-first and full-tilt into the camera and mauls an unseen caveman to death (unseen save for an arm with crepe hair crudely glued to it, that is), causing chocolate syrup to run down a boulder in a poor substitution for stage blood. The titles then roll and list a cast of non-stars (such as Ken Kleopfer, Ruth Ann Manella, and Bill Simonsen as Dr. Bill Wyman) as the camera for some reason delights our eyes with what appears to be elementary school documentary footage of Native American cliff-dwellings and caves which has squat to do with Bigfoot.

The film then shifts to a nigh-interminable sequence featuring a nighttime scene in which a woman scolds her dog for barking at what she assumes is some wild animal but is in actuality the slowest-moving, most nondescript and bogus-looking monster in recent memory.

Exactly what the fuck is this monster supposed to be? Anybody?

The monster lurks in the bushes or aimlessly shambles along while the camera can’t make up its mind as to whether it wants to show us the monster, the dog, the woman or random shots of the house or the dripping spigot to which one would attach a garden hose. After what feels like a short suspense-free eternity, the monster finally makes it to within arm’s length of the woman and makes his move, but we don’t get to see what happens because the footage abruptly comes to a halt when it’s revealed that we’ve been watching a movie along with a classroom full of teenagers who have themselves been watching the pitiful horror movie; the film has been shut off by the class’ professor who states something to the effect of “Well, I think you all get the idea,” thus simultaneously leaving his students and the audience feeling distinctly gypped.

This teacher’s acting is smarmy to the nth degree and comes off just as vile and unctuous as any seventies-era gameshow host, only minus any shred of charm. Of far more interest (?) is the classroom full of students, comprised of a bunch of young actors whose faces betray the unmistakable look of being both bored and stoned, providing a screen image that in more artful hands would have been intentionally meant to comment on what was likely the mindset being experienced by the viewing audience.

The stoned and bored-looking students: an ironic comment on the audience?

Alas, the film does not give us time to consider such an artistic possibility and instead allows the teacher of what is apparently a myths & legends course to whip out a placard with an illustration of Bigfoot emblazoned upon it and expound upon the existence of the hairy bastard.

"And for those students who speak Ebonics, this here nigga is Bigfoot, muthafukkas!!!"

So begins a veritable Cannes Film Festival of stock footage meant to convey the search for Bigfoot, footage including incongruous shots of assorted radar arrays,

maps and shit,

light aircraft flying at an altitude guaranteed not to allow a clear look at anything other than miles of tree cover, let alone a Sasquatch,

and copious footage depicting the logging industry.

I shit you not; the fucking logging industry!!!

To further drive home his point — nebulous though it may be — the professor then regales us with the "true encounter" had by two gurk-gurks out driving aimlessly through the backwoods. After about three solid minutes of shots of their truck slooooooowly meandering over small hills and around trees, the yokels spot...Bigfoot!

The Hairy One casually saunters across the road and vanishes into the brush, causing the stunned (stoned?) drivers (about whom we know absolutely nothing) to stop the truck and get out to investigate. The pair consists of a dude who looks like a long-lost member of SCTV's MacKenzie Brothers

and a mulleted wonder who's pretty much the living embodiment of the mid-1970's burnout who hung around shopping malls, parking lots and fast food joints looking to score some weed or underage pussy.

The mid-1970's burnout, far removed from his natural habitat of shopping malls and parking lots.

These two veeeeeeeery sloooooooowly search the brush for any sign of Bigfoot, traipsing through brambles, random branches and such, wasting nearly ten suspense-free minutes during which time we get a brief glimpse of the monster's right foot that stiffly twitches.

The right foot of...Bigfoot!!!

Sadly, our intrepid explorers don't get to see that horrifying sight and instead continue to wander about aimlessly. Finally the burnout hears the sounds of his pal being horribly mauled — which is conveniently not depicted for the edification or entertainment of the audience — and runs to his friend's aid, but too late: the lost MacKenzie lays dead and the burnout reacts with less emotion than he would have expressed if he'd spilled his bong in the rear of his bitchin' customized van.

The lost Mackenzie Brother lays dead, viciously mauled by a rapacious Bigfoot...

...while his burnout pal reacts with a depth of emotion that fairly screams "Bummer, dude."

That sub-IN SEARCH OF re-enactment goes on for so long that you'll swear you'd felt your facial hair grow, an effect compounded by whatever intoxicants may be running rampant through your system. (Which reminds me that I neglected to mention that CURSE OF BIGFOOT should not be attempted without beers, hard liquor or copious amounts of weed within easy reach, although I'd make an exception to this rule in the case of my clean-livin' buddy Jared. Get ready for it, dude. One of these days I'm going to inflict this one on you!)

Before we're given a chance to regain our composure following that exercise in flesh-crawling horror/boredom, class resumes with the bored/stoned students identifying old woodcuts of mythic beasts while turning in performances that would have embarrassed the cast of Mrs. Gage's fifth grade production of WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? But then things take a turn for the worse when the professor's special guest shows up, a creepy bespectacled guy who claims to have firsthand experience with a vicious Bigfoot, an event from some fifteen years previous.

"Kids, I had an encounter in the woods with Bigfoot, and...Hey! Stop laughing! This shit's serious!!!"

Following what's supposed to be an ominous lead-in (that isn't the least bit ominous) to the tale he's about to tell, the movie suddenly turns into a no-budget horror flick from the 1950's, complete with obviously different film stock and another opening narration, a jarring effect that not only makes the viewer think they've downed some off-date Piel's, but also leads one to conclude they've been trapped in a cruel cinematic Moebius strip that will randomly re-start the film over and over again for all of eternity, with each new beginning helmed by a completely new director.

Of far less interest than the patchwork incoherence/boredom festival/endurance test of the film's earlier segments, the 1950's mini-movie is merely a deadly-dull account of a teacher and his students discovering a mummified Bigfoot in a hillside cave and what happens when said critter gets loose. There's a little bit of dimestore mayhem before Bigfoot meets an untimely and uninteresting death by immolation, but before we're finally granted the mercy of the familiar words "The End" we're forced to endure scene after scene of some boring Eisenhower-era white folks wandering around some nondescript hills for what you'd swear was the entire running time of the U.S. version of BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ.



Can your heart stand the excitement?

Even when the monster goes on the rampage, not one single thing of interest happens, and when "The End" does finally pop up the film just abruptly comes to a complete halt. No cutting back to the anguished Bigfoot massacre survivor, no summing up from the professor, no comments from the class, no twist ending, no anything. The shit just ends and the viewer is left to sit in silence for a few moments, reeling from the cumulative boredom and confusion, but thankful that they didn't spend the cash to see it in the theater. Yes, you read that right: CURSE OF BIGFOOT was apparently actually released onto the big screen, probably to the drive-in circuit, a wasteland where the attendees were more often than not too concerned with getting stoned or fucking to care if the movie being shown was the cinematic equivalent to an empty McDonald's Big Mac container.

But believe me when I say I'd have loved to have seen this monument to how
not to make a movie if it had played theatrically during my youth. Films of this ilk are best enjoyed with an unwitting audience of liquored-up grindhouse regulars who enliven such flicks with their non-stop barrage of often vulgar commentary and impromptu insinuation of themselves into the movie's events with observations such as "If I was in this movie I'd've kicked that muthafukkin' Bigfoot muthafukka right in the fuckin' nuts!" which would probably have been answered back with "You wouldn'ta done shit 'cuz Bigfoot would be too busy bonin' you up the ass!" We may not have seen it projected, but my friends and I had a field day with CURSE OF BIGFOOT whenever it aired on Channel 9, and just the other night myself and my friend of twenty-six years, Chris, sat through it yet again and laughed ourselves silly. There are those who slag off Ed Wood and his films as being the worst ever made, but at least Wood had a unique vision all his own and legitimate desire to make viable movies; CURSE OF BIGFOOT appears to have been cobbled together from spare parts with naught on its mind save ripping-off the moviegoing public, and it certainly succeeds at that dubious goal, and what entertainment can be garnered from its towering ineptness was almost certainly not intentional.

Bottom line: CURSE OF BIGFOOT is exactly the kind of film that should be considered when trying to define "the worst movie of all time," a flick lacking any of the things that make a movie legitimately entertaining in the first place, such as characters you care about in any way, thrills, romance, a coherent plot, gratuitous titties, graphic violence, talking dogs,
anything. Being wholly without merit, CURSE OF BIGFOOT is recommended only for those who have worked their way through the Thirty-Six Chambers of Bad Moviedom and attained the Zen-like mastery needed to weather its complete and utter inertia. That said, I would also recommend it to those who think they may be ready to handle it; if you newcomers can make it all the way through CURSE OF BIGFOOT's eighty-eight minute running time you may find yourself among the growing legion of moviegoers who love it for a number of indefensible reasons, and may even find yourself attempting to lure the innocent down the path of ruin that you yourself have trod upon, becoming sort of a bad movie "pusher," if you will. A pusher just like Yer Bunche.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

MONSTER X STRIKES BACK: ATTACK THE G8 SUMMIT (2008)

In the annals of Japanese monster movie cryptozoology there are few city-stomping giants more visually ludicrous than Guilala, the one-shot star of 1967's THE X FROM OUTER SPACE. Not unfairly described as looking like the result of a drunken tryst between some foam latex, a chicken, and a large order of Egg Foo-Yung, Guilala came and went from the daikaiju landscape in the blink of an eye, remembered here in the States only by those of us who saw its sole feature film on afternoon movie showcases like THE 4:30 MOVIE in the Tri-State area, where it ran for years as part of the rotating roster of perennials during that show's beloved "Monster Week."

Guilala, as originally seen in THE X FROM OUTER SPACE (1967).

I haven't seen THE X FROM OUTER SPACE in a long time and don't recall it with the clarity of its more compelling brethren, but I do remember Guilala as being a monster generated from an extraterrestrial mineral that had adhered to a returning spacecraft from Earth, and once it hit the planet's atmosphere it got all big and proceeded to do the "urban renewal boogie." As giant monster time-killers went, THE X FROM OUTER SPACE was clearly a kiddie flick and its star didn't have an ounce of the appeal of a Godzilla or King Ghidorah, so Guilala was swiftly forgotten, except when brought up in geeky, drunken arguments over which was the goofiest Japanese monster of all time. (Goofy though Guilala certainly is, for sheer conceptual idiocy I still go with the original series version of Gamera. A flying, flaming turtle with saber-teeth? What the fuck?!!?)

Then the ludicrous critter popped up again in a recent TV ad for a high-end job search website, and now Guilala gets another shot at a feature film in this 2008 feature that made me say "You have got to be kidding me!" aloud when I heard about it a little over a year ago. As is my wont as a diakaiju follower, I checked out all the available info on the then-upcoming film and was amazed to see the level of seriousness that its filmmakers were apparently pouring into the production. But what totally eluded me during the reading of those articles and press releases was the fact that MONSTER X STRIKES BACK: ATTACK THE G8 SUMMIT is a comedy, so when I got my hands on it last week I was totally unprepared for what I sat down to watch that night. A lot of Japanese comedies that make their way over here fall flat due to the marked differences between American and Japanese humor, but I'm glad to say MONSTER X STRIKES BACK: ATTACK THE G8 SUMMIT works well without a crash course in Japanese culture thanks to the United States having been fed a steady diet of Japanese monster movies and TV shows since the 1950's, thus allowing Godzilla and his colleagues to become in a strange way as American as Superman.

Guilala 2008: Still crazy after all these years.

Yankee diakaiju enthusiasts will find much to laugh along with here as the film knowingly skewers damned near every trope in the giant monster movie handbook. As the world's leaders converge in Japan for a global summit, Guilala arrives from outer space in a red energy bubble — straight out of the first episode of the original ULTRAMAN — and immediately starts in with the city-stomping. This rampage is covered by two journalists of the type common to these films since at least as far back as the excellent MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (1962), and during an initially unrelated assignment they discover a village deep in the woods that's still very much in touch with old school nature worship. The deity the villagers ritually venerate is named "Take-Majin" (pronounced "tah-keh mah-jheen") and entreaties to the guardian spirit may be the only thing that can stop the increasingly amusing rampage of Guilala as the world's nations take turns at strategic one-upmanship regarding the monster and fail miserably.

The awesomeness (?) of Take Majin.

Saying much more would ruin the genuine surprises offered by the movie, but here are a few things to consider:

See these gun-wielding cuties? You simply will not believe how they end up in the story.

Carrying on a fine giant monster movie tradition, all of the non-Japanese players turn in shockingly awful performances of a jaw-droppingly bad caliber not witnessed since GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH's infamous "Lieutenant Spielberg" bit. Seeing as this is an intentional comedy I'd say it's safe to assume the unbelievable overacting may be part of the gag, but you never know...

The military general speaking into the microphone is none other than Susumu Kurobe, better known to American fans as Hayata, the human host for the original Ultraman.

There's much to recommend here, but I do have to say it's probably best enjoyed by people who are already fans of the genre being lampooned. Totally suitable for kids — provided they don't balk at the subtitles, or their parents taking umbrage over Take Majin's unbelievable method for getting rid of a nuclear warhead — MONSTER X STRIKES BACK: ATTACK THE G-8 SUMMIT is a hoot and would make the perfect second half of a film festival including episodes of ULTRAMAN or JOHNNY SOCKO AND HIS FLYING ROBOT.