Sunday, August 2, 2015

G-Fest XXII Part 1

Artwork by J.D. Lees.


I said at the end of my last B-Fest writeup that it had become more of a family reunion than a movie marathon. I can tell G-Fest is the same way for a lot of long-time attendees, and after just two years going myself I can see why. Despite some unforeseen technical hiccups, I think I enjoyed this year even more than my first excursion to G-Fest XXI.

The Japanese guests this year were much less high-profile than last year, at least in my book, with the exception of Kow Otani, composer of the scores for both GMK and the Heisei Gamera movies. Masaaki Tezuka, director of Godzilla X Megaguirus, Godzilla X Mechagodzilla, and Godzilla, Mothra, Mechagodzilla: Tokyo SOS was the guest of honor, along with Tokyo SOS actor Noboru Kaneko. Kaneko is more famous for starring as the Red Ranger in the 2001 TV series Gaoranger. Not being a big any-kind-of-Ranger fan, and not loving Tokyo SOS on a level that made me feel I needed its star's signature, I decided to opt out of the autograph sessions.

I love Godzilla X Mechagodzilla, in fact it's a movie I put on when I'm home sick or feeling like crap, because it cheers me up. However, since the two guests had a major connection they were tabled right next to each other, and I felt it would be disrespectful to get Tezuka-san's autograph and ignore Kaneko-san. For some reason, my brain translated “no autograph fees this year” as “what mortgage, you never had a mortgage, stop with this mortgage nonsense”, and I wound up spending way too much in the dealer room, but we'll get to that.

Thanks to a friend from B-Fest, I found out that the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, Illinois, was hosting a traveling exhibit called Savage Ancient Seas (which is there through September 7 and I highly recommend you go if you're within reasonable distance because it's really cool). Fossils of horrifying ancient sea monsters abound.

The kids and I left town around 8:00 in the morning in order to make it to Shark's Roadhouse in Elizabeth, IL, shortly after opening time. I more or less covered the place in last year's write up so I won't spend a lot of time on it here, except to say that it was such a big hit we had to go back. I'm thinking a stop here for lunch is going to be a yearly G-Fest tradition. If you happen to be passing through the area and like barbeque, you'd do well to stop here and grab some food. It's excellent.

I recently switched jobs a couple of times, and I work for Coca-Cola now. Before that I got the hell out of my much hated gig at the ethanol plant by jumping ship to selling cars for a few months. I really liked the place and the people I worked with, but pay on commission was just too uncertain for me so I felt I had to move on. Before I did, I traded myself out of my Volkswagen (If you're thinking of buying one, don't. They cost a bloody fortune to maintain.) and into a 2014 Ford Taurus. It's the quietest, smoothest-riding car I've ever owned by a long chalk, and I would highly recommend one to anybody looking for a big family sedan. I could just about park my old Jetta in this thing's trunk! Anyway, it came with on-board navigation, but for some reason it wouldn't recognize the street the Burpee was on as existing (a problem I've had with it a few times, which is why I still take my trusty Garmin along for major road trips). This was the first of the aforementioned hiccups, but aside from the suction cup refusing to stick to the damn windscreen, the Garmin got us to the museum and there were even plenty of spaces in the free lot right out front.

If you're a fan of prehistoric creatures (and if you're reading a blog post about G-Fest, I refuse to believe you aren't), this museum in general and exhibit in particular are a real treat. And hey, if you don't believe me, just check the photos below! The museum is also home to Jane, the most complete juvenile T-rex in the world.

Having seen our fill of prehistoric monsters, it was time to head to the hotel. We ended up in the check-in line just ahead of Dr. Joyce Boss, my professor from Wartburg who was presenting a panel this year. The concert of live kaiju music, Symphonic Fury, was moved from Saturday to Friday this year, so Thursday night when nothing con-related was going down seemed a good time to catch up with B-Fest compadre and fellow reviewer Gavin at the Giordano's near the hotel. An emergency trip to Walgreen's revealed there was at least one interesting-looking Chinese restaurant in quick driving distance of the Crowne Plaza, so next year a change of dinner venue will be in order.

Having finally experienced Chicago-style deep dish pizza after only 13 years of visiting the city, it was time to grab our registration packets and settle into the room with some kaiju action on the in-house TV channel and rest up for the start of the first day of G-Fest XXII.


We eased into the con without having to worry about waking up to an alarm. The first panel that I absolutely had to be a part of was the Origins of Twisted Kaiju Theater (if you don't know what that is, GO HERE, laugh your ass off, buy some of Sean's artwork, and come back when you're done) at 1:00. Once we were all up and had breakfast (a tip to any readers planning on hitting this event at some point: buy a bunch of groceries to stash in your room's refrigerator and you will save a fortune on your trip costs), we figured there wasn't much point in just sitting in the room until 1:00, so we headed down to check out the tokusatsu room where Dojo Studios was setting up to shoot some scenes for their latest G-Fantis movie. 

After watching flying saucers dangling from sticks for a while, it was off to Artist's Alley, where once again I spent way too much money. At this rate, another couple of years and I'll have to forgo trying to frame everything and just use the prints as wallpaper (I would never actually do that, so artists, no hate mail). One highlight of the Alley this year was making a new friend in Keith Foster, writer of independent kaiju comic Kodoja, and member of the band Big Pimp Jones, who also recorded a companion soundtrack CD for Kodoja as well as an audio-play prequel and soundtrack for same. It's funk meets giant monster music, and it's a real treat for the tympanic membrane. Another was being regaled with the tale of the time Jeff Zornow talked Paul Naschy in to strangling him at a horror convention, after asking me if I'd ever shown Beez any Waldemar Daninski movies (we were discussing how my kids get to see movies most people would never show their children, and how she's a werewolf fanatic and two of her favorite movies are Dog Soldiers and Ginger Snaps).

Cash reserves significantly depleted, there was just enough time to haul the goods up to the room and get back downstairs in time for Sean's TKT panel. The first of many this year I wish could have run more than an hour, the story of the web comic told by the man himself was every bit as poignant, revealing, frank, funny, and irreverent as the comic itself. Sean is also a helluva nice guy. We chatted for a while before and after the panel, and Beez drew him a piece of fan art, which he told her he was going to hang in his personal gallery. She was pretty stoked about that.

Once she had given Sean her drawing, we went back to catch the kaiju comics panel, with creators of independent comics talking about their stories and how they got into comics. Friday was a very comics-heavy day, because right after that, the Kaijucast did a live show called Remembering Rulers with artists Matt Frank and Jeff Zornow. Kaijucast host Kyle Yount had a slide show of panels from the comic displaying on the ballroom's screen, and every time Matt or Jeff would start talking about something they'd see a picture and it would remind them of another story and off they'd go. It was without a doubt the most energetic panel I've seen there yet. Those two guys are so passionate and enthusiastic about Godzilla and it all just came blasting out like a stream of superheated radioactive plasma and burned the faces off everyone in the room. The episode is up at the Kaijucast website, and you should go download it right now.

For the last panel of the day, we headed downstairs to the Big In Japan discussion. Big In Japan is a book written by fellow Midwesterner Timothy Price. We met Tim last year at a kaiju writing panel, when we bugged out early with him to buy a copy of the book. He's currently working on volume two, and had illustrator Alan OW Barnes and Android M-11 himself, Robert Scott Field, in attendance with him. They discussed the origins of the story and the process of hammering out all the ideas into their final forms, and a fine time was had by all. I also got one of the last Polaris figures from Robert. Polaris is an original kaiju he sculpted and painted himself, and will be one of the featured creatures in Big In Japan 2.

The panels were done for the day, but the most exciting part was yet to come. After grabbing a bite to eat in the room, we jumped in the car and headed for the Pickwick Theater, site of Symphonic Fury. The expedition started off a little rocky because there's some local outdoor street fair/music festival right next to the theater. It was there last year too, so apparently they do this on the same weekend as G-Fest every year. Navigation doesn't do much good when half the streets are closed and the ones that are open are so congested that you have to move through them at idling speed and park at least a quarter of a mile from the venue in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

Still, once we were in our seats it was all worth it, as John DeSentis, Chris Oglio, and their fantastic orchestra put on a show that was even better than last year. Akira Ifukube is my favorite film composer, no doubt. His music conjures the monsters and is inextricably tied to kaiju movies in a way that no other is or ever will be. That said, the man recycled a lot of stuff. Probably a dozen or so themes show up with slight arrangement changes in movie after movie. This year, the show was split into two halves, with the first being the kaiju music of Kow Otani in the first half, and the three movements of Symphonic Fantasia (a sort of Ifukube greatest hits from all his kaiju and science fiction work, not just Godzilla) in the second. The variety really livened things up, and the suite for GMK in particular was absolutely crushing.

Cooler still, Otani got to be there to see his music performed. Never before, even in Japan, has his kaiju music been recreated in a live environment. Not one to play the rock star, he sat in a regular seat in the audience just like the rest of us, and was only too happy to stand in the aisle taking pictures and signing autographs all the way through the intermission. My phone battery had gotten too low to use the flash, so I missed out on getting a picture with the man, but I did get my concert program signed.

Back to the room to wind down with a little more all-kaiju-all-the-time TV, but things were kicking off early on Saturday, so before long we were all snug in our beds, with visions of Ultramen dancing in our heads.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Legend of the Chupacabra (2000)

Written by: Rudy Balli, Mark Stephens
Directed by: Joe Castro
Katsy Joiner as Maria Esperanza
Stan McKinney as George Armistad
J.T. Trevino as Pete Cortez
Chris Doughton as Daniel Webster
Paul Podraza as Jackson

I've spoken many times before about the all-nighter movie nights my friends and I used to have back in high school, as I'm sure many of you did or do. We'd hit the local video store, the great Premiere Video (all hail!), and partake of the 5 for 5 for 5 (movies, dollars, nights) deal. Then it was off to the grocery store for three-liter bottles of generic Mountain Dew, doughnuts, pork rinds, and other things that your doctor will tell you never to consume an entire container of in one sitting if you want to make it past 30 without a heart attack. Ah, the days when I could make it past midnight without an energy drink.

Anyway, one night, despite our better judgment, we rented tonight's flick. Why against our better judgment, you ask? Well, it's a Troma movie. More specifically, it's distributed by Troma, which was the deciding factor in letting it through the gate. While I love the idea behind Troma in theory, in practice I find almost all of their studio output to be excruciating exercises in trying too hard. Except for Tromeo and Juliet, which is one of the greatest splatter comedies of all time, right up there with Peter Jackson's early work, and Terror Firmer, which isn't nearly as good as Tromeo but has a lot going for it. However, I love those movies mostly because of their comedic aspects (and one scene at the end of Terror Firmer that is intensely upsetting). Imagine my surprise when a movie featuring the Troma logo actually freaked me out.

Now, I know, I know. I can hear all the groans out there from those of you who have seen this movie. That's it, you're saying. Rags has finally flipped his shit. But there's something about grainy, out-of-focus, artifacted video footage that gets under my skin. The lack of fidelity allows the viewer's brain to fill in so many more gaps than a crisp, clean digital image does. It's the closest visual equivalent to reading a book, really. It engages the viewer in a way that no other film style can. The first ten or fifteen minutes of Legend of the Chupacabra is some brilliantly effective usage of this technique, showcasing how a talented filmmaker can make some really effective effects-driven horror on a budget. Indeed, the movie is like a feature-length pilot for the TV show Lost Tapes, which is my favorite cryptid show ever. Well, at least it's like that for the first fifteen minutes or so. Then things kinda fall apart.

After a really cool opening sequence shot mostly at a primate rescue preserve, we meet the meat. Maria Esperanza is a student of cryptozoology at the University of Rio Grande. She and her classmates/cameramen Pete Cortez and Daniel Webster are working on a documentary for their doctoral theses. Maria's uncle was murdered under mysterious circumstances recently, in the same area near the Texas/Mexico border where a rash of animal mutilations has escalated to the point where people's pets have been disappearing from their yards. Some of the more superstitious locals are saying it's the work of el chupacabra, and that's good enough for Maria and company, so off they go to the ranch of Mr. Jackson.

They're almost immediately confronted by the local sheriff, who wants them gone. Everyone saw them come through town with their cameras and their fancy city folk book learnin', and doesn't want them encouraging people to believe a monster is responsible for the killings. Of course, a run-in with the local curandera, who conveniently happened to be hanging out at the ranch, changes everyone's tune very quickly. This is a great bit of editing where we cut back and forth between one camera catching the escalating confrontation between Maria and the sheriff, and one camera following the curandera around the barn yard, muttering to herself and shaking magic charms. The tension of the argument keeps ramping up and up and it cues the viewer in to the fact that something bad is going to happen. You're led to expect that it's going to be someone getting arrested or shot, but the series of jumps back to the eerily quiet barn make it clear that something isn't quite right.

Then FUCKING BLAM! Chupacabra attack! Of course, the way the thing jumps out from behind a hay bale is more reminiscent of a local haunted house gag than any of the great jump scares of horror cinema, but the build-up is so effective that it made me jump out of my damn seat the first time we saw it. Even now I sort of brace myself for it even though I know it's coming.

Unfortunately, this is where the movie pretty much loses all that momentum it built up.

Knowing they were walking into a potentially life-threatening situation, Maria enlisted the aid of George “Army” Armistad, an ex-Marine and current gun-for-hire, to come along and protect them from any monsters they might encounter. After the chupacabra kills a deputy and runs off into the night, the situation immediately switches from student film to war zone and Army takes charge. Most of the acting in the movie is pretty bad, but this guy is definitely the worst. When he's calm and speaking in a normal voice, he's actually not terrible, but since most of the movie requires him to be Rambo Caricature Man turned up to 11, it's pretty hard to watch.

Switching from a spooky crypto-documentary to a straight-up monster attack movie also has the result of losing all that great atmosphere and ability to hide the shortcomings of your low budget effects. Now we just get a series of set pieces where we're given way too good a look at the well-designed but obviously rubbery chupacabra waggling its tongue at the camera and killing people. The gore is plentiful and well-done, and the haunting, minimalist synth score combined with the blasted landscape of the American Southwest shot mostly at night or at least very low daylight manage to hang on to enough of the atmosphere built up at the beginning of the movie to generate some tension in the moments leading up to the monster scenes. Of course, then you see the lumpy, ill-fitting creature suit and the woeful digital eye-glow effect and you're snapped right back to reality.

Being a mockumentary, the action is also interrupted periodically by talking heads ranging from Catholic officials to paleontologists, discussing what they think the chupacabra could be. The only one of them who has any damn sense, shockingly, is the priest. He states that people who say it's a devil are silly, that it's just an animal of some kind. The paleontologist is the worst. He shoots himself in the foot right off the bat by saying that theropod dinosaurs lived in the middle-Triassic (they first appeared in the late Triassic period, and T-Rex most certainly was not around then, as this buffoon states). Really, I should be saying, the script shoots itself in the foot. I'm sure this was just one of the director's friends who was given a bit part, and knew nothing about dinosaurs. This painful sequence is accompanied by a really terrible drawing that tries to make the chupacabra somewhat follow the body plan of a theropod, even though none of the creatures we actually see look anything like that.

Yes, I said creatures. The main suit, which features in most of the movie and gets hacked up in the ridiculous tacked-on autopsy at the end (this scene makes me almost physically angry because it's so goddamn stupid and the ad-libbed sounding dialogue makes me want to punch everyone involved in the face, even more so than the stupid dinosaur bullshit, because it absolutely ruins any last goodwill that great first reel built up) is the primary beast, but we also get a look at some weird simian thing during the pre-credits sequence, and a strange sort of chicken-chupacabra attacks some more farmers at the end.

Speaking of the pre-credits sequence, it decisively answers the question of the chupacabra's origins before it's even asked. It clearly shows the thing being created in a lab, where it kills a guard and escapes into the wild. So why bother having all the talking heads debating its origins if you've already shown them to the audience? That kind of thing should be used to make your viewers use their imagination and engage with the story instead of ask whey the action is always being interrupted by all these people they already know are wrong. I'd rather not know what the thing is at all, honestly. Throw some of that debate in there to get a conversation going with your audience and let that be the end of it. Leave it unresolved, so everyone can come up with their own ideas. It was also a mistake to include all that stuff about how the legend of the chupacabra has been around for centuries, because that just makes it seem like the government is blowing tax dollars creating actual beings based on mythological creatures just so they can set them loose and mess with people. Which...dammit, that's a much better story. You read it here first, folks, that idea is mine!

Ok, I gotta go write my million dollar screenplay. In the mean time, hit the links below and check out the research materials my fellow seekers of the unknown have compiled.

Microbrewed Reviews:
The Bermuda Triangle 

The Terrible Claw Reviews:
Chariots of the Gods 

Checkpoint Telstar:

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Gamera vs. Jiger (1970)

Director: Noriaki Yuasa
Writer: Nisan Takahashi
Featuring: Tsutomo Takakuwa, Kelly Varis, Kon Omura

Gamera movies are well known for being simultaneously more childish and considerably more gruesome than their more famous counterparts from Toho. It's hard to say how much of this is due to directorial choice, how much is due to Eiji Tsuburaya's love of entertaining children and not wanting to horrify and traumatize them, and how much is due to simple practicality. No matter how bad one of Godzilla's foes got their ass kicked, they always just sort of slunk off with their head (or heads) hung in shame, to fight again another day (unless they didn't sell enough tickets). Being able to reuse the monster suits was a huge cost saving measure, and it's kind of hard to do when they're ripped or blown to pieces and drenched in purple ichor. Even for a series known for serious kaiju carnage though, this one goes above and beyond. It is, after all, the one where Gamera gets raped by a jet-powered telekinetic Pachyrhinosaurus and two little kids have to drive a toy submarine inside his body to give him an abortion. Yes, you read that right. I'll give you a minute to wrap your mind around it and then we can continue.

All better? Good. I hadn't seen this movie in years. I bought it on bootleg VHS back before YouTube and cheapo DVD sets, when tape trading was still the only way to see rare and unreleased-in-the-States movies. I remember its inaugural viewing, when my friend Bob and I got sent home early from our overnight temp shift at the Kraft pudding factory (we weren't in trouble, they were just way ahead of schedule and didn't want to pay to keep extra people around with nothing to do). So I said, “Hey, I just got a box of bootleg kaiju movies and neither one of us is going to bed any time soon, let's Gamera it up.” I was surprised when I put the tape in again recently that it opens with a montage of monster fights from all the previous movies which shows (as would a glance at the release date, but I didn't have that handy at the time so you just stuff it) this came after the painfully cheap and doofy Gamera vs. Guiron. Gamera vs. Jiger not only looks to have had considerably more money spent on it than its predecessor, it's also a good deal more mature in tone. Sure, we still have to listen to that horrible song sung by Japanese children and the dippy little tune that Joel and the 'Bots had such fun inventing lyrics for (“Let's watch the kids go to their fate/They ride their bikes into the woods/It will be weeks before they're found/Cornjob will be blamed”), but the two main kids are a good deal older than usual – probably around 13 or 14 – and an actual reason is given for why the authorities give their advice serious consideration. I'm not saying it's anything close to what Shusuke Kaneko did with his 90's trilogy, but it's a damn sight better than prattling on about other “stars like Earth where there are no wars or traffic accidents”.

The 1970 World Expo (this was an actual thing, and some of the movie was shot on location there, so that could account for a portion of the higher production values on display) is preparing to open, and the families of close friends Hiroshi and Tom are all involved. Hiroshi's dad is working on a prototype submarine designed for kids that he'll try to sell, and Hiroshi's sister is dating one of the planners of the event. Tom's dad is an archeologist, who has recently discovered a statue on Wester Island (I wish I was making that up) which he plans to unearth and bring to the Expo as part of the cultural and history exhibit. A member of the Wester Island tourism board has arrived at Expo headquarters to beseech them to leave the statue alone. He says it's called the Devil's Whistle, and that a horrible curse will befall anyone who touches it. You have to see it for yourself to get the full effect, but this dude from Wester Island is...well, he's dressed in some kind of generic African garb, and speaks through a translator at whom he basically yells, “Ooga booga booga!” over and over. In a movie like this, it takes a lot for something to stick out above the general background weirdness, but this guy is really something special.

Meanwhile, on Wester Island, the statue is being airlifted to the ship that will transport it back to Japan, when Gamera arrives and makes some aggressive moves toward the camp where Tom, his parents, and the rest of the team are assembled. It's interesting that this far into the series, when Gamera has been firmly established as Friend to All Children for several movies, they chose to once again call his benevolence into question and make it seem as though he may pose a threat to humans. Indeed, we'll see later that Shusuke Kaneko may have taken quite a few cues for his brilliant trilogy from this movie. Distracted by a nearby volcanic eruption, Gamera lets them go, but it's clear that he's not happy about the statue leaving the island. A few minutes later, we learn why. The mound of rocks where the statue had its long shaft (yes, yes, giant stone dildo, can we move on now?) buried begins to move, and out comes Jiger. Earlier I called him a Pachyrhinosaurus, and that's fairly close to the mark, but there's also some Dimetrodon and warthog DNA in there somewhere. He has no neck frill, tusks, and a dorsal sail. Still, the general theme is ceratopsian, and in keeping with that, this is actually the best quadrupedal kaiju suit not just in the Gamera series, but in any kaiju flick period. Be it Barugon, Anguirus, or any of the various four-leggers Ultraman threw down on, a common flaw with all these monsters is that they were designed so that the stunt man playing them was crawling around on his hands and knees. Various degrees of care were taken to not show the creatures dragging their hind feet around behind them, but it was never less than obvious. Jiger, on the other hand, is built so that the performer is walking around on his hands and feet with his ass in the air. This results in the back legs of the suit being longer than the front, with a steep slope up from the shoulders to the hips and the feet able to be planted square on the ground as they should be, and a much more natural looking gait for the beast.

Gamera returns from the volcano and the monsters have a pretty brutal struggle before Jiger fires bone harpoons through Gamera's arms and legs, preventing him from withdrawing his limbs and flying, and flips him on his back. Superturtle thus incapacitated, Jiger fires ups the rockets located just behind his lower jaw and heads off in pursuit of the ship towing his statue. Meanwhile, on board the aforementioned ship, all the men who handled the statue are suffering from horrible fits of delusion. The sick bay is packed full of men feverishly screaming, “My god, the devil is real!” and other such nonsense. The captain consults the baffled ship's doctor, who, at a loss to explain why otherwise healthy men are thrashing around in their bunks having fever dreams, gives in and says it looks like there must be a curse attached to the statue after all. In one of those odd flashes of realism the Gamera series is also known for, all the more unexpected for how completely bonkers the rest of the movies usually are, rather than immediately accept this diagnosis with a serious frown or sage nod the captain chastises the doctor for not being very scientific about the whole thing and leaves, at which point the doctor just shrugs and takes a swig out of the fifth of whiskey stashed in his lab coat!

It is eventually discovered that the statue, which makes an eerie keening sound whenever wind blows over it (explaining the name, although we in the audience figured it out about ten minutes ago), produces a frequency that causes temporary insanity in humans and stops giant jet-powered dinosaur demons in their tracks. Jiger makes landfall shortly after the statue arrives at the Expo site, and frustrated by his inability to get near enough to it to destroy it, starts tearing up the city until Gamera manages to get those bone harpoons out of his limbs and fly to Japan for round two. Unfortunately for our hero, this fight goes even worse for him. Jiger, in addition to the most staggering array of firepower any of Gamera's foes has ever possessed, is also mightily telekinetic. He pulls Gamera into his clutches and stabs him in the neck with a spine extruded from the tip of his tail. What? Gamera is forcibly held down against his will, violently penetrated, and impregnated with a Jiger egg. That's rape in my book! You didn't think I meant...well, it's a Japanese movie, kiddie flick or no, so you probably did. No, there's no giant monster schlong on display here. Anyway, Gamera staggers off and collapses into the bay, parts of his body calcifying, and although I couldn't find it when I searched just now, I swear I've seen a toy of this particular Gamera suit with the head and left arm crystallized. Just one more thing to love about being a kaiju fan – they make a toy of fucking everything.

While Jiger goes back to smashing stuff, Hiroshi and Tom convince the authorities that Jiger did something that made Gamera sick, that he's not all the way dead and they have to do something. In fact, the specific line is, “Gamera deserves an examination.” Not, “needs”, not, “you should examine Gamera.” Gamera deserves an examination. I believe we have here the world's first and only pro-choice, pro-universal healthcare giant monster movie. Of course, the kids are proven right. Gamera's X-rays show a foreign mass near one of his lungs. One of the scientists then fires up the reel-to-reel projector and shows some seriously nasty footage of an elephant having a horrible mass of larvae removed from a growth on its trunk by way of explaining that Jiger has a parasitic stage in its life cycle and there's one of the nasty little bastards inside Gamera right now draining off his blood supply, hence his head turning transparent. Of course. While the grownups waste more time trying to decide what to do, Hiroshi and Tom take off in the mini sub, piloting it down Gamera's throat and into his lungs to kill the embryonic Jiger (in another cool little detail, the walls of the lung set are covered with plastic bags that pulsate with air to represent alveoli – not exactly convincing, but it shows yet again that thought gets put into realism in these movies in the strangest places).

When they return safely from their mission, rather than be furious, their parents are proud of the initiative the kids showed. It's classic kaiju cliché that little kids in Japan all have level 5 security clearance to run around government buildings at will giving orders. In this flick, the kids have a believable reason to be where they are, and when they give a suggestion, it's taken into consideration because the adults are all at a loss, and figure the kids' world view, free of cynicism and full of imagination, might be thinking of things the jaded adults wouldn't. While inside Gamera, they learned that Jiger was vulnerable to certain frequencies of radio waves, and that sound the statue makes must be what kept the adult dormant. Looks like Ooga Booga was right after all. Of course, the ancient Wester Islanders didn't have a giant turtle to stab the thing through Jiger's skull. This time his hibernation looks to be a deal more permanent.

With all the talk about the Mu continent, ancient monster demigods, and the suggestion that Gamera is a protector of the Earth but that that doesn't necessarily mean a protector of human beings, it seems to me that this one movie more than any others of the Showa series was influential in the way Shusuke Kaneko handled his Gamera. Of course, he took it farther and did it better than Daiei ever could have afforded to in the 60's, but the seeds of greatness were buried there amongst all the goofiness and graphic violence. So there you have it. In a series with a reputation for weirdness, not only does this one stand out in that department, but it also manages to be the darkest and most grounded in reality since Gamera vs. Barugon. That one is still the better movie in terms of quality, but this one is a lot of fun and highly recommended. Especially since you can now get it in a Blu ray pack with a bunch of other Gamera movies that costs less than I paid for a single crappy VHS tape barely more than a decade ago. You damn kids don't know how good you have it.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Rasputin the Mad Monk (1966)

Written by: Anthony Hinds
Directed by: Don Sharp
Christopher Lee as Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin
Barbara Shelley as Sonia
Richard Paso as Dr. Zargo

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to mourn the passing of a legend. That word gets kicked around a lot talking about venerable old horror stars, and occasionally it's deserved. Even people who don't know anything about or even like horror know who Vincent Price is. But there is perhaps no other actor in living memory as deserving of the title as Sir Christpher Lee. He bestrode the world like a titan, and left an impression on fantasy and horror films that will last for centuries (if you think I'm being hyperbolic, I remind you that we're still talking about the greats of German expressionist horror nearly a hundred years after the best of those movies were made). No doubt you've all seen the picture floating around Facebook of him with the insanely impressive list of his lifetime accomplishments that make even then most exaggerated of those Chuck Norris Facts gags seem tame by comparison. If you're reading a site like this, there's also no doubt you know most of that stuff anyway. Lee needs no introduction to the horror community, after all. Like I said, legend.

More knowledgeable film scholars than I have and will spill plenty of ink about the man and his life, and do a much better job of it than I would, so I'm not going to go into a great long biography about him here. I will just say that since I was a kid, I knew the name Christopher Lee meant quality. I've always loved horror, but my parents wouldn't let me watch any of the more modern violent stuff when I was young. They were perfectly fine with the Universal monsters (my mom has fond memories of watching The Wolf Man from behind the couch as a kid, so that probably helped) and other things from the 50's and 60's. I'm actually really glad that was the case. It meant that while all the other kids were watching Jason and Freddy slash their way through yet another disposable batch of idiot teenagers, I got an education in the classics years before I got into the nasty stuff. If I'd jumped right into slasher movies, I don't think I'd have the same appreciation for older horror I do, and that would be a damn shame. Sort of like getting into metal with Napalm Death and then thinking Black Sabbath was too slow and boring.

I remember the first time I ever saw Lee was when I chose Horror of Dracula at the video store one weekend. I was expecting another black and white Universal type movie, and was pleasantly surprised by how colorful and scary the movie was. The final battle between Lee and Cushing stuck in my head for years. Even though I couldn't remember what the movie was called, that great piece of action was burned into my brain. When I finally got a copy of it in a Hammer box set, I was thrilled to see it again. Many other Hammer flicks crossed my TV in the mean time, though, and as I began to recognize actors who kept popping up in many different movies that I loved, sure enough, Christopher Lee was in a lot of them. I started actively looking for things with him in the cast, and watching them every time they came on TV. I remember one day when I was in high school, Bob and I walked into the local Sam Goody and saw a big display of fancy looking hard plastic clamshell VHS cases prominently displayed right in the middle of the main aisle...and they were all Hammer movies. By then we knew full well what a great find this was. I remember I got The Reptile, Plague of the Zombies, and Dracula, Prince of Darkness. I also specifically remember I passed over Rasputin, the Mad Monk because it wasn't a monster movie. It also didn't help that the photo they used for the VHS cover was taken from such an angle that it makes Lee look more than a little bit like Eric Idle. Turns out 16-year-old me was an idiot.

The wife of a landlord is dying of fever in the family rooms of the inn when a huge, bearded man in a robe kicks the door in and asks for wine in a booming, larger-than-life voice. The landlord apologizes for not being able to offer more hospitality, but he is about to loose his wife. The shaggy colossus tells the landlord to show him to the sick woman. He lays his hands on her face, and in seconds the fever has left her and she is almost completely recovered. The amazed and grateful landlord tries to offer the stranger some money, but he says he will have no payment for his good deed. When pressed, he asks for a bottle of wine. When told this is an insufficient reward for giving the man his wife back, he asks for two. When told this still isn't enough, he demands they throw a party so everyone can dance and get shitfaced because it's a happy occasion and calls for celebration. He proceeds to drink everyone under the table, make out with the landlord's daughter in the barn, get in a fight with her jealous boyfriend, and chop the boyfriend's hand off with a scythe...and this is all in the first ten minutes of the movie!

The fun and games don't last long, though. The boyfriend's father is understandably unhappy that a drunken, bellowing yeti in a monk's robe chopped his kid's hand off, and demands the church put Rasputin on trial. The landlord comes to his defense, citing the miracle he worked shortly before the impromptu amputation. The Church official is having none of it, saying that this is just one transgression among many and Rasputin's sins are too numerous and infamous to count. Rasputin blows them both off and basically tells the Church official overseeing the trial to take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut on a gravel driveway, saying that he lives larger than life so that when he enters confession he may present God with sins worth forgiving, which is even more metal than you think when Lee says it.

While driving home from the trial in the landlord's wagon, Rasputin makes an impulsive turn on the road to take them to the capital. He enters the first pub he finds, and overhears a man bragging that his friend Dr. Zargo can out-drink anyone in the place, and there's cash in it for anyone who thinks otherwise. Cut to Zargo taking his last shot and passing out on the floor while Rasputin laughs, polishes off what looks to be about the twentieth bottle of wine on the table, and does a Russian folk dance that Lee probably learned one slow afternoon that he had off from killing Nazis.

During the cut between Rasputin accepting the drinking challenge and Zargo's liver turning in its resignation, we were introduced to Sonya, a lady-in-waiting to the Tzarina, and her boyfriend Peter. They were at a fancy ball at the palace, but decided it was lame and went to find adventure in a drinking establishment of ill repute. It is Sonya's bad luck to laugh at Rasputin's exuberant cutting of a very rustic rug and draw the ire of the massive marauding monk, who demands an apology. When she refuses, he hypnotizes her ass and makes her walk across town to apologize in person and out of clothes in the apartment he started sharing with Zargo after he carried the inebriated physician home from the pub.

At first he's satisfied to slap her around a little, but when he discovers that she has a high place in the royal court, the wheels start turning. He commands Sonya to engineer a little accident for the young prince and then casually mention that she knows this totally awesome faith healer who can make everything all better. Soon Rasputin has been given a mansion near the capital so he can be close at hand for all the Tzarina's snake oil needs. As we all know, things get a little out of hand from here on in.

I'm not a great scholar of Russian history in general or Rasputin in particular (something I should really rectify, what little I do know is pretty damn interesting), but even I know that this is very loosely based on actual events. For one thing, the real Rasputin could no more heal people by the laying on of hands than could any other faith healer quack in the history of humanity, much less send out hypnotic signals across an entire city to command young women to do his bidding! Beyond that, the account of the events leading up to the assassination were given by one Prince Yusupov, who was still alive when the movie was made, so they gave his part in the events to a fictional character named Ivan. The final assassination in the movie was not nearly as spectacular as the stories would have you believe, which is a little surprising considering how unafraid this movie is to be dark and gruesome. The hand chopping is pretty rough for its time, to be sure, but the scene I'm specifically thinking of here is shortly after Rasputin loses interest in Sonya and commands her to kill herself. Peter runs to her rooms to rescue her and shoulders his way through the locked door only to trip and land on top of her cooling corpse. Even though it's not a very visually grotesque scene, the idea of seeing someone trying to rescue their lover and instead doing a face plant on their dead body strikes me as pretty strong stuff.

And finally, of course, there's just no way the real Rasputin was as awesome as Christopher Lee. Wicker Man is without a doubt my favorite movie Lee was in, and indeed one of my favorite movies ever, period. This, however is probably my favorite of all Lee's performances I've seen. It is perhaps telling that neither the writer nor director of Rasputin the Mad Monk had much of anything to do with Lee's most well-known role, Count Dracula. Writer Hinds worked on the debut feature, Horror of Dracula, and although he wrote several of the later, better Lee-free sequels, never again wrote any of that dialogue which Lee famously refused to say. Director Sharp had nary a bloodsucker to be seen on his CV. I would imagine the makers of even the best Dracula sequels saw this movie and said, “Son of a bitch, how come we couldn't get him to do that!?” Lee's Rasputin is by turns funny, charming, and absolutely terrifying, sometimes all at the same time. He would have Dracula coming to heel like a scared puppy. 

Ra-ra-Rasputin, indeed.

Be sure to check out the other reviews in this Christopher Lee tribute roundtable by my fellow agents in the Department of Ungentlemanly Reviewing.

Checkpoint Telstar: The Gorgon 
Micro-Brewed Reviews: The Devil Rides Out 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Millennium Bug (2011)

Written by: Kenneth Cran
Directed by: Kenneth Cran
Jessica Simons as Joany Haskin
Christine Haeberman as Clarissa Haskin
John Charles Meyer as Billa Crawford

Look! Up on the screen! It's a backwoods horror movie! It's a kaiju movie! It's an 80's shot-on-video splatterfest! It's all of those things! It's Millennium Bug! The movie was made by an outfit called No CGI Films, which pretty much tells you all you need to know about the filmmakers' aesthetic. According to director Kenneth Cran, it was supposed to be part of a trilogy, which was going to attempt crowd funding. A brief poke around Google reveals no information about any sequels or prequels, so one would assume since this movie is four years old the crowd funding either fell apart or never happened. It's a damn shame too, because these guys really know how to rock practical suits and miniature effects. I'd love to see them get a little bit more money and do a full-on city smashing kaiju slugfest movie.

Byron Haskin (and if that's not an intentional reference to the director of War of the Worlds I'll eat my copy of War of the Worlds), his new wife Joany, and daughter Clarissa (who never once explains a damn thing), are headed into the woods to escape the predicted societal collapse when the clock strikes 12:01am on New Year's Eve 1999. Byron knows of an old abandoned logging town that should provide the perfect spot from which to watch the end of the world. Or just eat some s'mores, whichever.

Unfortunately, the old logging town is not nearly as abandoned as Byron had thought. One of the houses and some of the outbuildings are occupied by a clan of inbred hillbillies called the Crawfords. We meet them as the only female Crawford still able to bear children bears one on the dinner table (to the delightful line, “Dammit, ye're drippin' in mah beans!”). It proves to be horribly deformed, as increasing numbers have been over the years. Billa disposes of it and it is decided then and there that the Crawfords must have new blood in the family or face extinction. How unlucky that the Haskins set up their camp just a short walk from the Crawford homestead.

Billa and his brothers sneak up on the Haskins's camp while the family is sleeping and easily capture them. Keeping them captured proves to be not nearly so easy. Billa picks Clarissa as his new wife, but Byron and Joany have no intention of sitting idly by while their daughter is turned into breeding stock. After several escape attempts and fatalities on both sides, the younger Crawford brothers bring back another captive: cryptozoologist Robert Patterson. They're more interested in his video camera than the warnings of something huge about to wake up out in the woods, until it wakes up and starts smashing its way through the woods directly toward the nearest source of food. Guess what it likes to eat.

I'll talk about what I feel is the negative first. I can understand the need to keep the monster off screen for a while to build a little tension (and because it's the most expensive aspect of the production, of course), and so we have to spend some time getting to know the human characters. The Haskins are all well done, giving us enough information about their family dynamic to know that they're good people making the best of an odd situation. Clarissa's mom is dead, Joany is as close to her in age as she is to Byron, and despite the awkwardness that naturally arises from such a dynamic, there is none of the angsty, resentful teenage bullshit you would expect from a lazier writer. You can tell all three of them are dealing with any underlying tension and really do care about each other.

The Crawfords, on the other hand, are possibly the worst clan of crazy hillbillies I've ever seen in a horror movie. Every cliché imaginable from the backwoods horror genre is present without seeming to have any real thought put into what makes these things work. They're religious to the point of the elders constantly berating the brothers for swearing in the house, but they're perfectly fine with rape and other kinds of violence (hm...come to think of it, maybe they're just FOX News viewers...), and Trek Loneman as Uncle Hibby is the only one whose performance doesn't make me cringe every time he's on screen. I think it was mostly intentionally over the top, as they seem to be going for a sort of Troma aesthetic in these scenes. Thing is, aside from two or three movies I absolutely can't stand Troma flicks, so the stuff with the Crawfords is extremely grating to me. I think if they'd abandoned attempts at straight-forward humor and made them as menacing as they could it would have worked a lot better.

I wish we could have spent a little more time with Ken MacFarlane's Patterson. Not only would I have liked to know more about the bug (although Cran manages to strike that difficult balance of just enough explanation while leaving it mysterious and not hitting us with a massive info dump), I think MacFarlane deserved some more screen time to develop his character. He comes across as sort of a K-Mart Bryan Cranston, with loads of intensity but very little focus so he seems like a total spaz. Given a little more time I think something really interesting could have come out of this performance.

But none of us were really here for the story, were we? About halfway through the run time, the enormous creature slumbering under the ground finally wakes up and starts wreaking havoc, and what havoc it is! These guys really know how to build great models, and more importantly, how to photograph them to make them look as real as possible. There's some material in this movie that gives all but the best Japanese tokusatsu a run for its money, and coming from me that's high praise indeed. It's no Kyoto train station battle from Gamera 3, but the bug being only 40 or 50 feet tall instead of 200 allows a great deal more detail to be put into the model logging town. Since the whole movie was shot on a makeshift sound stage in a small warehouse, when Clarissa, Joany and Billa end up being hunted by the bug and each other in the town, the actors are green-screened into the models to great effect. It's not like you can't tell how it's all being done, but it's done so well and with such great talent that you really don't give a damn. It looks absolutely fantastic.

Once the monster action starts, that Troma-esque sense of humor I was talking about earlier really hits its stride too. Rather than relying entirely on exaggerated mugging and screaming human reactions to the gore gags for the comedy, the humor becomes much more visual (and considerably more mean-spirited) and we simply get some great gore gags.

Millennium Bug reminds me of nothing so much as one of those direct-to-video 80's splatter flicks shot on a home video camera by some friends just for the sheer love of horror and making movies, except this time the friends got some real film equipment and a great talent for practical effects. Don't let my ragging on the Crawfords fool you, this is one of the coolest monster movies of the last few years. I can't say enough good things about how awesome the kaiju mayhem at the end is. If you're burned out on digital effects and are craving some killer man-in-a-suit-smashing-models action, check this one out.

Be sure to keep an eye out later in the week for the final contributions to June Bugs from the rest of my chitinous comrades. 

The Terrible Claw Reviews: Rebirth of Mothra 
3B Theater: Bug 
Checkpoint Telstar: Starship Troopers

Monday, June 8, 2015

Caved In: Prehistoric Terror (2006)

Written by: Michael Konyves
Directed by: Richard Pepin
Christopher Atkins as John Palmer
Colm Meaney as Vincent
Angela Featherstone as Samantha Palmer

Some of my younger readers may not remember this, but there was a time when the Sci-Fi Channel used to both spell their damn name correctly and produce original features that weren't just exercises in hyperbolic irony. I'll grant you that tonight's movie is pretty paint-by-numbers and even has a whiff of the “mockbuster” about it (although you may be surprised which blockbuster it's mocking), but it's also a straight-forward horror flick. It was also an international effort, with production being credited to companies in Australia, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands in addition to the United States. A far cry from a bunch of bullshit from Asylum.

We'll get back to that. For now, the plot, such as it is. John Palmer, his wife Samantha, and kids Emily and Miles run a caving and climbing guide business which takes them all over the world. Just as they're about to embark on a long-awaited vacation to Greece, a man named Vincent offers them an enormous amount of money and a free stay at a fabulous villa in Switzerland in exchange for John's services in helping him and his associates to get to the bottom of an abandoned salt mine.

His associates are not terribly nice people, which we know because we saw them murder the old man who owned the villa and the land the salt mine is located on after chopping his hand off in the previous scene. We also know they're kerfucked because in the scene before that, we saw the people who ran the salt mine in the 1940s get eaten by giant beetles immediately after opening a chamber full of emeralds. The bad men who Vincent represents know about the emeralds but not the giant beetles, hence their desire to get to the bottom of that mine.

John has a bad feeling about this job, and so it is that Samantha and the kids stay up top with Stephan (who was the one who knifed the old man), while Vincent, Marcel, Ion, Hanz, and Sophie head down the mine shaft with some other expendable meat. It isn't long before they find themselves confronted with the same giant beetles that wiped out the original mining crew back in 1948. Luckily, some of Marcel's men are carrying laser guns (!), and so they're at least well-armed to fight the onslaught of giant prehistoric bugs waiting for them deeper in the mine.

Topside, Miles has disappeared while Emily becomes infatuated with Stephan. Samantha gets a weird feeling from the young man, and does whatever she can to keep her daughter away from him. When they realize Miles has gone down the mine after his dad, Stephan tries to communicate the situation to Marcel. Unbeknownst to him, Samantha speaks French well enough to realize some of the stuff he said over the radio means her family are in pretty serious trouble.

Things go progressively worse under ground as the team are whittled away by both the beetles and by fighting within the group. What's worse, the tunnel behind them collapsed some time ago, and it looks like the only way out is directly through the beetles' nest (where they have a queen which demonstrates that the writer either knows nothing about eusocial insects or just doesn't care because he wanted a big boss bug in his movie). Meanwhile, some of the beetles have found their way topside, and wouldn't you know it, the Palmers's villa is the first thing on the menu.

I remember watching at least part of this on cable back when it first aired and being mildly entertained, but I also remembered there being a lot of practical bug effects. Either I crossed some mental streams and actually watched a different movie but thought it was this one, or I paid precious little attention to it. Aside from one rather sad and very plastic-looking head that gets plowed through various doors and windows, the bugs are entirely rendered in CGI that looks exactly as crappy as every other bargain-basement CGI creature from the early 2000's.

That said, I was still mildly entertained, in large part because if I actually did watch this before, I saw it on TV where it would have been heavily edited. It was thus a great surprise to me how incredibly gory this flick is! Limbs chopped off, people being disemboweled, decapitated, and bitten clean in half, and gallons of spurting blood. These days when a movie is made for a cable premiere and destined to be direct to video, they're usually the exact same movie. It was kind of a shock to be reminded that these movies used to be made however the hell the filmmakers wanted and just had all the icky bits edited out for the TV version.

The buckets of grue are basically all the movie has going for it to make it stand out. The plot is as generic as they come, but these things hold up and get recycled a million times for a reason, and this type of movie is dumb fun most of the time. The performances are all acceptable but unremarkable. The best actor in the cast is definitely Colm Meaney but he isn't given much of anything to do other than scowl and die.

I mentioned before that this has something in common with the SyFy mockbusters of today. Okay, tell me if this sounds familiar: a group of people, some of whom are armed with high-tech energy weapons, at least one of whom has intentions about which they're not being entirely honest with the others, embark on a journey to find a place full of fantastic gems that are guarded by ferocious creatures, only to have things to horribly wrong and it all ends in fire. That's right, it's Congo with giant bugs! I realize that mockbusters normally not only play up their similarities to whatever they're cashing in on to the point of sometimes trying to trick people into thinking it's the other movie, but that they also tend to be released at the same time or even before their... “inspiration” is the wrong word here, so let's just call a parasite a parasite and say host film instead. Caved In missed the boat by eight years! Now, I know you're probably thinking, There he goes again, reading too much into a cheapjack monster movie copying plot points from sources eighty years old or more, never mind eight. Yeah, well I never said Congo was original, did I? How else would you explain the damn laser guns?

The quality of the movies is slowly but surely improving here during June Bugs. Don't worry, though. No more of this cable TV drudgery. The next one on the docket is a real treat! Be sure to hit up my fellow entomology enthusiasts for their latest entries in this pestilential plague of a roundtable, and we'll see you all back here next week. Don't forget the Raid.

Checkpoint Telstar: The Deadly Mantis
The Terrible Claw Reviews: Godzilla X Megaguirus
3B Theater: Them! 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Skeeter (1993)

Written by: Clark Brandon, Lanny Horn, Joseph Luis Rubin
Directed by: Clark Brandon
Jim Youngs as Roy Boone
Tracy Griffith as Sarah Crosby
Charles Napier as Ernie Buckle

I was 11 in 1993, and just discovering Fangoria magazine. It took some doing to convince my mom that this was an OK thing to be buying with my allowance at the comic book shop. Of course, I was also buying every back issue of Dark Horse's Alien and Predator titles, some of which were far more inappropriate for a pre-teen than a horror movie magazine that featured primarily SPFX stills. Still, I discovered a great many things through that magazine. One of them was the eco-horror/killer insect boom that was taking place in the direct-to-video market in the early 90s. Although my mom's lack of awareness concerning R- and NR-rated movies has been chronicled elsewhere in these pages, it took free premium-channel weekends and staying at friends' houses for me too see a lot of these movies. Or, on occasion, just waiting for them to show up on Joe Bob Briggs's “MonsterVision” on TNT.

Of all of them, I think tonight's movie might have been the most disappointing. Aside from having far too little gore and nudity, it follows the 70's eco-monster movie formula to a T, and I think you can understand why therein lies the problem. An impressive list of beloved cult character actors is basically the only thing Skeeter has going for it.

Generic Evil Business Tycoon ™ Drake is developing the beautiful, wasteland that surrounds the sleepy little town of Clear Sky. I don't know what the hell kind of condos he's building out there (perhaps a few Darcologies from the old Sim City?), but they require the removal and disposal of an upsetting amount of toxic waste. Proper EPA-regulated disposal of huge quantities of mutagenic gunk being rather on the expensive side, Drake has just been tossing the stuff down an abandoned mine shaft where it shouldn't bother anyone for at least a few decades, when it eats through the canisters and starts leaking into the groundwater. But hey, Drake's an old guy, and by then he'll be dead or at least so senile they won't be able to prosecute him so the problem will fall on someone else's shoulders and he can go on playing grab-ass with the nursing home staff. Or, you know, the grave worms. Either way, Drake will be well out of it by the time the residents of Clear Sky start posting videos of themselves lighting their tap water on fire to YouTube.

Deputy Roy Boone (who we know is that tough-but-sensitive type of hero because he makes shitty Flashdance welding sculpture in his spare time) is very unhappy about Drake's buying up all the land in the valley because he really has a thing for rocks and cactus and rattlesnakes, I guess. His boss, Sheriff Ernie Buckle (Charles Napier!), is constantly warning him to leave Drake alone, which we all know means Buckle is in Drake's pocket because we've all seen this movie a few thousand times before.

Of course, if that was all that happened, this would be an even shorter and more boring movie than it is already. Naturally, some of those canisters of toxic crud broke open down in that mine and mosquitoes used the puddles as breeding pools. All right, class, what happens when insects who usually spawn in the water lay their eggs in puddles of highly toxic chemicals instead? If you said, “They all die”, then clearly you are not destined to be a maker of cheap monster movies. If you said, “They all grow to roughly the size of house cats and start killing people”, then you too could have made Skeeter. And I kind of wish you would have, since the Skeeter we got was directed with all the vigor and intensity of a bored zoo ape who can barely muster the energy to pick its nose before returning to its nap in the afternoon sun.

Sheriff Buckle pays the price for his bowing to corruption, as all such lawmen must in these movies, leaving it up to Roy, his fellow officer Hank Tucker, and his high-school sweetheart Sarah to destroy the killer mosquitoes and stop Drake before the other six people who live in Clear Sky are devoured and bulldozed into oblivion.

People accuse Rob Zombie of stunt casting, which I think is utter bullshit. Does he cast his movies full to the brim of beloved cult movie character actors? Yes. If you could make movies any damn way you wanted, wouldn't you? Why do people complain that the movies they watch are full of the actors they love? That's like buying a Steve Vai record and complaining it has too many guitar solos. We admire these actors so much because they're downright awesome at what they do. The job of a director is to make the best movie he possibly can. It follows that you'd want to cast the best and most reliable people you could find in your movie, and the best and most reliable actors sure as hell aren't found in mainstream Hollywood.

It's great to see some of these people in starring roles, because while most of them have CV's as long as a giant mutant skeeter's proboscis, the lion's share of those roles are bit parts because so many of the productions that hire them only have enough money to hire them for a couple of days. So while we have Charles Napier (Unfairly something of a b-list b-lister. While he's not as well known as your Tom Atkins or Bruce Campbell, I'm always pleased to see his name on a movie I'm watching because I know there will be at least one great thing about it. I have never once seen him turn in a bad performance.), Buck Flower, Jay Robinson and Michael J. Pollard to class up the joint for a few scenes, we primarily have to settle for looking at Jim Youngs and Tracy Griffith instead. Griffith isn't the worst actress I've ever seen, but she is at best instantly forgettable. Youngs, on the other hand, is consistently upstaged by his squad car.

Which brings us to the reason we're watching this movie in the first place; the skeeters. There is one animatronic “hero” skeeter head used for closeups that's pretty damn cool. And I've run out of nice things to say. Most of the rubber bats in 40's haunted house movies are more believable than the rubber skeeters being thrown at the actors by stagehands. The rest of the movie isn't nearly crazy enough for me to believe that it's supposed to be funny and that the mosquitoes are shitty and unconvincing on purpose, so I'm forced to conclude that the filmmakers completely blew their budget on the cool bit players and this was really just the best they could come up with. Let's just say that if you're able to buy into the monsters in this movie on any level, then you're probably genuinely concerned that Svengoolie is being attacked by vicious feral chickens every Saturday night.

There you have it. This year's June Bugs is off to a rather inauspicious start. Be sure to check out what my fellow film fiends have on the zapper, and come back next week for another heapin' helpin' of arthropod love.

Checkpoint Telstar: The Naked Jungle