Thursday, August 6, 2015

Spring (2014)


Written by: Justin Benson
Directed by: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead
Starring:
Lou Taylor Pucci as Evan
Nadia Hilker as Louise
Francesco Carnelluti as Angelo
Jeremy Gardner as Tommy

My freshman year of college I worked at a video store. While you could find out plenty about movies online by that point, we had yet to fully step into the age of too much information where one quick flip through your Facebook feed can ruin an entire year's worth of things you were looking forward to in just a few minutes. At that point, magazines like Fangoria and genre-specific news sites like Dread Central were still the primary source of information, which you could browse selectively and the simple act of turning on your computer did not amount to being hit in the face with a shotgun blast of spoilers, nitpickery, and whiny fan outrage (in the old days you had to have your own site to be a film critic, dagnabbit!).

In short, it was not just possible, but even still easy to be surprised by a movie. It was nothing like when we were devouring movies five or six at a time on weekends in high school and were getting our minds blown every 90 minutes over the course of a night, but it was still a steady wealth of amazement. With my line of work, I was in a perfect position to sample many different things without even the investment of a few bucks. It certainly helped that there were a lot of great movies coming out then, like Ginger Snaps, Ghost World, and Donnie Darko, plus all the fun older oddities you used to be able to find in video stores (I'm still trying to figure out the title of a European movie I rented where a woman becomes possessed by some kind of sentient octopus creature and fucks people to death in an artsy sort of way). I find that this kind of thing can still happen occasionally (I went into Europa Report cold and was completely blown away), but they're getting fewer and farther between. This is a damn shame, because discovering a new movie with no preconceived notions or even any firm ideas of what it's about beyond a one- or two-sentence summary and being drawn into a well crafted world full of surprise and discovery is, for me anyway, simply the greatest joy a film fan can experience.

A couple of times a year Deep Discount has big movie sales which I spent far too much time poring over, putting everything that looks even vaguely interesting into my cart and then playing Sophie's choice deleting things until I whittle it down to a reasonable amount of money I don't have to spend. Often times, I'll have the cart open in one tab and Netflix open in another, adding everything I don't purchase so that I can at least get around to seeing it eventually. Tonight's movie is one of those that didn't make the cut for the simple reason it was completely unknown and I just didn't have the cash to drop on something I wasn't sure about. It's also now been added to that short list of must-own essentials because I was enthralled by it from start to finish and left at the end with a mixture of feelings ranging from curiosity and fascination to joy and a dash of horror that I can't remember the last time a movie made me feel.

We're introduced to Evan as he sits at his mother's bedside while she breathes her last. The night after the funeral, he and his best friend Tommy sit drinking at the bar/restaurant where Evan works. On his way to the restroom, some doofus with a gold grill and flat-billed cap runs into Evan and pulls the old hypermasculine bullshit of blaming it on him. Evan, not wanting a confrontation on this of all days, attempts to simply apologize and get the guy to go away. Tommy starts mouthing off and is about to get smashed from behind with a beer bottle when Evan snaps and beats the shit out of this clown who persistently refuses to stop raining on an already thoroughly waterlogged parade. The universe is not finished using Evan's junk for a speed bag just yet, however. His boss fires him for inciting violence on the property, and the guy he clobbered follows him home. For now it's just threats, but clearly at some point Evan is going to wake up to a bunch of wanna-be gang bangers beating him to death with baseball bats or simply shooting up his house from the street.

Taking Tommy's advice, Evan calls an acquaintance for a sympathy lay, but after several drinks and a nearly-opened condom, she can't quite bring herself to do it. Evan passes out, and when he wakes in the morning to the police knocking on his door, he sees that she left his passport in a deliberately visible place. Watching through the blinds as the sheriff walks back to his cruiser, he decides to take everyone's advice and get out of town to go anywhere that isn't home. The travel agent he calls from the cab on the way to the airport recommends Italy, so Italy it is.

Not really having a clue where to go or what to do when he gets there, he chances to meet up with a couple of British guys roughly his age and is invited to tag along on their vacation. They get to be good friends over the course of however many days it is they spend together, but when they leave the little seaside town where the three of them had been sharing a room due to a shortage of funds, Evan decides to find work and stick around because he met a beautiful and mysterious girl.

Then things get weird.

And that's all I'm going to say about it. If you've already read about this movie elsewhere and know the rest of the story, watch it anyway because it's still a fantastic movie. If this is the first you've heard of it, I implore you to not look it up. Don't read any more about it. Buy it from the link below, rent it, get it into your hands however, but go into it completely blind and immerse yourself in the world of Evan and Louise. Spring is a sublime romantic horror fairytale, and having some wag on Rotten Tomatoes or whatever spoil the story for you would be doing a great disservice to the filmmakers, the film, and to you yourself as the audience. Setting genres aside, this is one of the best movies I've seen in recent memory period. Enjoy.



Tuesday, August 4, 2015

G-Fest XXII Part 2

Artwork by J.D. Lees


Saturday

I don't know why I keep setting my phone alarm when we go to this, like I'm going to sleep in and miss half the day. For one thing I can never sleep worth a damn in hotel rooms. Too much noise; too much light through the curtains; an unfamiliar bed; all these things conspire to prevent me from sleeping much past 6:30 or 7am. It's much the same at B-Fest, which is a much looser and more relaxed schedule of doing stuff. Theoretically I should be able to sleep til 10 every morning there and enjoy the complete lack of responsibility, but no.

Point is, I was awake well before the alarm went off Saturday morning, so we made it in good time to catch the first half of the Masaaki Tezuka panel. We skipped the second half because the kids really wanted to see Madzilla, the Make A Wish Foundation short film made for a little boy with leukemia whose wish was to be Godzilla. As much as I wanted to hear Tezuka talk about his Godzilla movies (the first part of the panel was mostly a biographical thing), I think this was worth missing it for. It's incredibly sweet, and you should definitely check it out if you have the chance.

We had an hour block before our next panel so we blew some money in the dealer room, where I got another stellar Bob Eggleton print, and a copy of Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters, signed by August Ragone. We went downstairs to check out the model room after that. There are some incredibly talented model builders who bring pieces for the contest, my favorite of which being the 3D reproduction of a print Bob Eggleton made for last year's G-Fest.

GMK vs. War of the Worlds



Next was 50 Years of Gamera with August Ragone and Kyle Yount, which was lots of fun. They attempted to get through the entire five decade history of Gamera in just an hour. They did not reach that lofty goal. I could listen to these to talk about monsters all day long; sadly the schedule did not allow that. The tangents started early and came fast and heavy throughout, and by the time they were halfway through Gamera vs. Gyaos, it was clear they weren't even going to get through the Showa era in anything like the detail they hoped for. But while it could have gone better for them, I don't think it could have gone much better for the audience, as it was funny and informative and pretty much everything you could ask for in listening to two experts talk about a giant flying turtle.

As much fun as 50 Years of Gamera was, the next panel was easily the most fun of the whole con. Kyle, Keith Foster, and one other fellow I can't remember presented Kaiju-Sized Avengers. This was a live, radio play-style reading of issues 23 and 24 of the Marvel Comics Godzilla title, accompanied by the individual panels projected onto a screen so the audience could follow along with the images. I really hope they do some more next year, perhaps with some of the more bonkers Dark Horse issues. My first reaction was wanting Art Adams's Godzilla Color Special, but talking to Kyle about it after the panel, he made the solid point that the story in that is too good, and it would be much better to go with more crazy material for more laughs.

After another hour of putzing around and checking out the video game room for Phoenix, it was time for what proved to be my other favorite panel of this year. Dr. Boss presented a panel called Japanese Culture the Kaiju Way, which was sort of a primer of some of the more basic aspects of Japanese culture for those who hope to visit some day. It was just like being back in class at Wartburg again, and that was quite a trippy feeling after ten years, in the best possibly way.

We caught a little bit of the live Kaijucast commentary for Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, but coming in on the middle of something is never that fun, so we took off to get some food so we could get back and grab a good seat for the costume parade. There was one excellent Final Wars Gigan, whose wearer had such a hard time seeing out of the suit that her dad had to pull her around the parade route on a cart. Other than that, the parade wasn't nearly as cool as last year. There were no less than four people who came through with store-bought Legendary Godzilla costumes. One of them was a little kid, so that's not such a big deal, but the others were older kids or adults, and man, if you're a grownup going into the G-Fest costume parade with a store-bought costume, you're bringing a toothpick to a bazooka fight.



Sunday

Things really wind down on Sunday, and so we had plenty of time to round up all our luggage, pack up the car, and get checked out before anything started. The only panels I planned on hitting were the post-concert Symphonic Fury panel, where they discussed what might be in store in the future (the thought of hearing Masaru Sato's Mechagodzilla theme played live by an orchestra makes me giddy), and the live Kaijucast episode with independent kaiju film historian Mark Jaramillo.

Phoenix wanted to spend more time in the video game room since he'd already blown his cash, so he played games with some new friends while Beez and I hit the dealer room one more time (she'd also blown all her cash but she's about as interested in video games as I am). Of course on the final pass through is when I spent all my damn money. I snagged a couple of great Tamashi Nations Ultraman and Ultraseven figures, but a stop by the Vampire Robots table is what killed me. They had a Vinyl Wars figure of Burning Godzilla custom made by Medicom, limited to 200 pieces, and it's the prettiest Burning Godzilla figure I've ever seen. I'm a sucker for that suit and any toys made from it (I also got the little transforming egg Burning G figure this year), so I couldn't pass this one up. You know it's a good figure when you drop $100 on it and don't even feel any buyer's remorse.



The live Kaijucast panel was excellent, and featured a couple of young Japanese filmmakers who are part of a small but passionate group working to keep the old-school tokusatsu spirit alive in Japan. One of them was even one of the last students of Koichi Kawakita's effects school. After the panel was over, I asked Mark if there was a chance of any of these great but practically unseen monster movies getting legitimate video releases in the states. He said it seemed hopeful, and I certainly want him to be right. More monster movies make the world a better place to live.

After that, there was just one thing left: Kaiju Konfessions. I'm not much of a one for dancing, but the kids love jumping around and singing along to the kaiju music videos presented by the indefatigable Stan Hyde. The most entertaining part this year was when he prefaced Miyarabe's Prayer from Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla by holding up a little King Seesar statue. Everyone immediately dropped to their knees with their hands held up in supplication to the mighty Okinawan deity. His reaction was, “Oh, this just got weird.” 



It's a fun thing to watch, but it's also kind of a bummer, because it means G-Fest is over for another year. If I have to sell blood plasma and body parts, I will keep going until I lose interest in Godzilla or die (and I think we all know which of those is going to happen first). If you've never been and are on the fence about it, get your ass off the fence and to the Crowne Plaza next July. The only regret you'll have is that you didn't start going sooner.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

G-Fest XXII Part 1

Artwork by J.D. Lees.

Thursday

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.

Friday

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
Starring:
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
Starring:
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
Starring:
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