Saturday, July 19, 2014

G-Fest XXI: Part 2


First thing on the agenda for Saturday was to get in line for the make-it-and-take-it model painting session, featuring a wonderful Y-MSF sculpt of Megalon. Phoenix made a new friend while waiting in line, and we wound up crossing paths with the boy and his grandparents many times throughout the weekend and even sat at the same table at the awards dinner on Sunday. There are only a limited number of model kits available, so we were there for a while, but it was worth it. The kids had a blast doing their own thing, and of course I wound up getting bogged down in the details and didn't have anywhere near enough time to finish painting. I figure I can buy some paint and finish it at home somewhere. Except the only place in town that sells model paint is Hobby Lobby. Well shit. Gavin Smith of Terrible Claw Reviews, and a good friend from B-Fest, joined us for the rest of the day's festivities.

From there we caught the last few minutes of Katsuhiko Sasaki's first session and sat down for part one of Koichi Kawakita. Even this early in the weekend, poor Robert Scott Field, who was doing translating duties for all the Japanese guests, was starting to sound like Macho Man Randy Savage with emphysema. It was pretty rough going, but the first hour of his session was a really interesting live commentary on his first movie as special effects director, a little-known-in-America WWII Zero pilot drama with a title that translates to something like Big Sky Samurai. Amazingly, there is not one single shot of a real airplane in the movie, and some fantastic aerial battle sequences.

At this point the kids were getting bored, so I took them downstairs to Minya's Place for a quiz show, where they got G-Fest Kaiju Kids t-shirts. We caught the last half hour of Kawakita's session, which was something to do with a GunHed TV ad, and wasn't nearly as cool as the WWII movie. No matter. We were there to get some good seats for the next session in that room: Don Frye.

This was the first of two sessions Frye gave, and covered all aspects of his career – his MMA fighting and other film appearances – instead of just Godzilla: Final Wars, although there was plenty of that too. My reaction upon hearing his answer to the first question of the panel was, “Holy crap, his voice really sounds like that!” I assumed he had put on that gravelly voice for his character of Captain Gordon, but it's the real deal. Mr. Frye seems like a warm, friendly guy, and funny as hell, but thoroughly badass. He fought for a year and a half with a broken neck assuming it was just sore before a trip to the doctor for an unrelated injury revealed the truth. Three months after surgery he was fighting again. After his session we got autographs and a photo with him, and then it was back to the room to drop off signed posters before walking to Giordano's for a pizza.

We returned to the Crowne Plaza in time for the costume parade, which was a highlight for the kids. There were several extremely impressive costumes, but my favorite of the bunch for sheer creativity was MechaGuiron, complete with spinning buzzsaw hand. There was also a great Megalon costume with whirling drills, working mandibles, and a light-up horn. There were also several little kids, around four years old, dressed in fairly generic Godzilla (and one pretty cool Gamera) costumes. It was cool to see these kids up there, posing and roaring in their costumes, because for those few minutes they weren't just little kids in costumes, they were their favorite kaiju, and they were fucking invincible.

 Off to the Pickwick Theater for the part of the weekend I was looking forward to the most. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, a full orchestra was assembled to put on a concert of suites of music from every Godzilla movie Akira Ifukube scored. Sadly, but not surprisingly, Toho said no to the planned DVD of the show, but it was recorded for a CD as a premium for backers and I can't wait to crank that sucker up in the car. It was an amazing, moving night, hearing this thunderous, crushing orchestral monster music played live. I've seen a lot of metal things in my day, and that just might top them all.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

G-Fest XXI: Part 1

For more than ten years now I've wanted to go to G-Fest. I found out about it in college from one of my professors, Dr. Joyce Boss, with whom I spent many hours after class in commandeered empty classrooms watching kaiju movies on the big pull-down projector screens. Of course, there was always another Fest in Chicago a few letters up the alphabet that took priority and the money was never there. This year the financial stars aligned and the kids and I attended our first G-Fest.

For those unaware, G-Fest is a convention held in Chicago every summer, focusing solely on Godzilla and his kaiju brethren. This year was their biggest attendance by quite a wide margin, no doubt from a combination of word of mouth, press articles, and of course the popularity of the new Godzilla movie with not just us die hards, but general audiences as well. Despite the unexpectedly large crowd, things seemed to go pretty smoothly for the most part (the autograph lines were a little chaotic on Saturday, but by Sunday things got much more organized), and we had a great time. It's a very family-friendly environment, warm and welcoming, with lots of kid-oriented activities as well as panels and autograph sessions with the stars of Godzilla movies.

We started out Thursday morning and I finally got to eat at Shark's Roadhouse in Elizabeth, Illinois. We drive by it on the way to B-Fest every year, but it's always at an odd, non-meal time of day. It's a little barbecue joint that looks like it was pulled into the real world right out of the movie Roadhouse, except for the big fiberglass shark hanging in the parking lot, and the numerous other sharks scattered around the inside, dominated by the massive great white head made to look like it's smashing through the wall behind the bar. And the food is great, too.

The Pickwick Theater shows kaiju movies throughout the weekend, but none of the movies playing Thursday were tempting enough for me to fight traffic and trying to find parking after already spending 7 hours in the car and dealing with all the road construction. Besides, from Thursday to Monday the hotel's internal TV channel plays 24/7 kaiju movies and TV programs, so we walked to a McDonald's for supper (there was a Giordano's next door but of course the kids weren't interested in actual good food twice in one day), and retired to the room. Joyce stopped by to say hi and meet the kids, she introduced me to J.D. Lees, G-Fan Magazine publisher and the man behind G-Fest, and we picked up our registration packets to avoid the massive line Friday morning. Hooray for pre-booking.


Friday morning we headed downstairs to take a look at the tokusatsu room, where Dojo Studios were setting up to shoot some sequences to the Gfantis (kaiju mascot of G-Fan). Phoenix has been making a series of kaiju comedy shorts he calls “Monster Island Buddies” with his Nintendo DS camera, so he was really interested to see what fans with experience and a budget can do with their amateur movies.

Next it was off to Artist's Alley, where Isabella impressed one of the artists selling some non-Godzilla prints by recognizing the ogre from Pan's Labyrinth. Apparently she doesn't meet many little girls into stuff like that. I got to meet Sean McGuinness (formerly of Twisted Kaiju Theater and now doing art as That Godzilla Guy), Matt Frank and Jeff Zornow. Bought some great prints off all of them, and got Zornow to sign the exclusive poster he drew that came with the limited edition 7 inch vinyl single of “Thy Foulness Cum” by Satan's Almighty Penis, a killer black metal band from Iowa. That was probably about the last thing he expected to see at a Godzilla convention. We chatted for a bit and took our leave to put our art back in the room before getting in line for autograph tickets.

We wanted to be sure to get tickets to the autograph sessions as there are a limited number, and the line to the dealer room was already getting pretty long even though it was only 11 o'clock and the doors didn't open until 2. Joyce came to the rescue again when she let us know most of the people in line were there for very specific and rare toys, and the autograph sessions wouldn't sell out that fast. Sure enough, we came back an hour or so after opening and got right in and got everything we needed. Then came one of the things I was most looking forward to about G-Fest; meeting Bob Eggleton. His art table was set up in the dealer room. If you don't know who he is, well, what the hell are you still doing here? Go educate yourself! Bob is maybe best known for his Godzilla work, but he does lots of other fantasy and horror stuff, as well as dinosaurs and land and seascapes. He was the first artist whose style I could recognize on sight and whose name I knew (who needs Picasso or van Gogh when you've got Bob fucking Eggleton!), and to me he is every bit as much a part of Godzilla as the casts and crews who make the movies.

Ah, the dealer room. It's heaven for a collector. Wall to wall kaiju toys. Maybe it was the small fortune I spent on art, but I managed to restrain myself pretty well and didn't buy anything too expensive. My favorite find was made rummaging through a bin of still-bagged but un-boxed mini figures and dioramas. It's a snap-together figure of King Ghidorah in the middle of forming from the fireball that shoots out of the meteorite. It's translucent orange and yellow, and the body and wings look like they're made of fire, with heads and legs and tails sticking out. No idea what series of figures it's from or even what company made it, but I really dig little high-grade and hyper figures like that.

From there we went downstairs to Minya's Place so the kids could do some coloring and crafts, and then to the video game room. Phoenix is a video game fiend, and that was one of his favorite parts of the whole thing. Another quick recce through the dealer room led me to the Tempting Toys table, which I missed the first time because it was so packed. Tony the proprietor is a friend of the owners of Now and Then Comics where I get my four color fix in Mason City, and we had met once briefly before when he stopped through on his way home from a G-Fest years ago. We talked for a bit and he gave me a great deal on a really bizarre cotton candy colored Varan figure from Y-MSF toys. We caught part of the Godzilla: Battle Royale fan movie before heading back to the room to unload toys (the kids both made quite a haul too) before getting seats for the opening ceremonies, where the special guests are introduced.

This year's guests of honor were Don Frye (Captain Gordon from Godzilla: Final Wars), Koichi Kawakita (special effects director on the Heisei series of Godzilla movies, including one of my personal favorites and my pick for best effects and Godzilla suit of the whole franchise, Godzilla vs. Biollante), Tomoko Ai (Katsura from Terror of Mechagodzilla), and Katsuhiko Sasaki (Ichinose from Terror of Mechagodzilla and Goro Ibuki, creator of Jet Jaguar in Godzilla vs. Megalon), as well as sculptor Hiroshi Sagae and Robert Scott Field (M-11 from Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah). Sasaki and Ai were pretty clearly taken aback and very pleased by the seemingly endless standing ovation they got when they took the stage. It was a very cool feeling to be cheering for these actors who I've watched since I was a little kid, and the swell of emotion and love in the room was enormous. It was an incredible evening. Each guest spoke briefly and then left the stage, and the day was ended with amateur fan shorts, which covered a range of quality, from enthusiastic but poorly executed, to quite stunning.

We were all pretty beat by the end of the day, but the weekend was just beginning.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Vixens of Kung Fu (1975)

Written by: Cho En Young
Directed by: Chiang a.k.a. Bill Milling
Bree Anthony – Prostitute (yes, it's that much of a porn the characters don't even have names)
Tony Richards – Monk (no, not the OCD detective from the TV show)
C.J. Laing – Kung Fu Teacher

I was going to start this off by saying this was the first movie I've ever reviewed that had a money shot in it, but then I remembered that dubious honor goes to Emanuelle In America. This is, however, the first movie I've ever reviewed that made me yell, “HOLY CRAP THERE'S A BEE BY HIS WEINER!” Yeah, I know. We'll get to it.

So one day there's this woman, right? She's a prostitute, but we don't know that yet. Anyway, she's enjoying a peaceful walk in the woods, looking at all the lovely fall foliage (this movie sucks figurative as well as literal balls, but the scenery is beautiful) when she is accosted by three rapey-looking fellows who I thought were supposed to make us think of the hicks from I Spit On Your Grave, until I realized this movie predated that one by three years. But they're definitely more hillbillies than escaped prison thugs like Krug and his gang, so I don't know. The lady turns to run, but is shot in the back by the “gun of anesthesia”. Look, just roll with it. What follows is quite possibly the strangest sex scene I've ever sat through. It's definitely supposed to be a rape, so that's plenty icky already, but then the woman clearly enjoys it, which makes it about a thousand times worse. This being a porn, this is also meant to be spank ammo, which rockets it into the stratosphere of disgusting, and the hits just keep coming (literally!) with waaaaaay too much focus on the sweaty, leering faces of the men. It is disarmed some by the hilariously inappropriate banjo pickin' music and the fact that one of the rapists repeatedly bonks the woman playfully on the forehead with his schlong. And finally, I went from cringing, to thinking, Sweet zombie Jesus, is this still going on?, to laughing out loud when, just to be thorough, the one guy who had remained clothed the whole time and just sort of watched the other two dudes bang away in uncomfortable silence jerks off into her socks and rubs her scarf on his balls!

After wandering through the woods in a daze for a while, the woman stumbles upon a secret woodland kung fu school for women. It's here we discover that the woman is a prostitute, who is seeking to flee her life of sexual servitude, so the mistress teaches her kung fu, which is mostly accomplished by giving each other oily rubdowns, having lesbian sex, and meditating until smoke comes out of their vaginas. Yes, really.

One day, a wandering monk comes across two of the women having sex in the woods, and wishes to join in. One of the women knocks him out and drags him back to their teacher to ask what they should do with him. As a reward for all their hard work (and by hard work I mean licking each other and rubbing oil on each other's boobs), the teacher tells them to have their way with him. The monk fails to hold his jizz until all the women are pleasured, and so he is deemed an unworthy lover and sent away with his dong limp with shame. He scurries off to another kung fu teacher who runs a Chinese restaurant in a nearby town, and she teaches him Golden Dragon Raising Head Kung Fu. I think a more accurate name would have been Purple Cyclops Vomits Cheese Kung Fu, but perhaps the filmmakers thought that would be too on-the-nose, considering the layers of nuance and metaphor – almost Bergmanesque in their subtlety and perfection – that the film has been couched in up to this point.

Once again, the training to master this style of kung fu is a little suspect, as it mostly involves the monk standing under a waterfall and jerking off while the Chinese chef glares at him. However, it is the perfect style of kung fu for him to use when he returns to the woodland lesbian dojo, where he challenges the prostitute to a fuck-off. I think. Even the movie isn't too clear on why exactly we're watching yet another sex scene, except it's a porno flick and we've spent the last five minutes with what, for this movie anyway, is way too much plot getting in the way of the story. It's here, during the 69 portion of what is a surprisingly un-hairy sex scene for a 70's porn, that the movie does a pretty damn great job of redeeming what has been overall a pretty dull experience so far. The two are fucking in a meadow, prostitute is on the bottom, with monk dipping his dong into her mouth, when a curious bee comes buzzing up to investigate his pistil and stamen. Bree Anthony totally breaks whatever character she had built up by this point, laughing and frantically trying to shoo the bee away before it stings the unsuspecting member and sends Tony Richards into anaphylactic cock.

Eventually the two fuck each other to a draw, and I'm not sure whether they're supposed to be unconscious or dead, but considering the monk pisses a stream of vivid red blood as he falls to the ground screaming, I'm guessing dead. Also, I want to know how Richards got the bizarro porn superpower of peeing blood on command. I mean, lots of guys can shoot a load across the room and hit a bullseye, but that's really impressive. The two kung fu teachers show their respect for each other by doing a couple of half-assed freeze-frame jumps into the air, and roll credits.

Well, that experience. I don't know how much replay value this thing has, but I'm certainly glad I saw it once. Vinegar Syndrome is really making a name for themselves in the tiny niche market of super-obscure vintage smut curiosities, but I wish they would copy a page from Something Weird's book and load these suckers up with extras. Surely someone involved in this flick would have been willing to talk about it on camera for ten minutes. Or throw some shorts or trailers on there, something. Granted, the transfers they clean up typically look fucking amazing for coming from sources they probably fished out of a toilet somewhere, so there's that to be thankful for. I bet you could never tell that was blood shooting out of the monk's wangle on an old VHS.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Tomb Seven (book) 1985

Written by Gene Snyder

It's time for more, literary shenanigans. Somewhere in Michigan, Tim Lehnerer is pointing vaguely in the direction of Iowa and laughing and saying, “It serves you right!” I've detailed elsewhere my refusing to buy a copy of Flesh, which he tried to talk me into at Half Price Books on the B-Fest trip several years ago, on the grounds that it didn't have a monster on the cover, just a crappy painting of a lady and a hand. This resulted in me getting sniped with eight copies of Flesh throughout the next year's trip. This year at HPB, I broke from my own tradition and picked up a copy of Tomb Seven. The cover is an unremarkable picture of an Aztec pyramid, but get a load of this fucking back cover copy:

The Discovery
High in the mountains of Mexico an ancient Indian
tomb filled with priceless relics is uncovered –
and the terrifying curse of the Old Ones
is renewed with a vengeance

The Sacrifice
It begins as the American leader of the expedition,
a healthy, athletic scientist, dies of sheer
terror. It continues with a threat too
gruesome to be believed...

The Horror
Then the unspeakable evil takes hold. The earth
erupts, and a race of mummified giants is discovered 
as the Russians and Americans race to steal
                                                             the awesome secrets of...

Tomb Seven

Now, I don't know about you, but to me, that sounds like a book I would love to read! You know what? I still would, because the book I read sure as fuck didn't have any of that awesome stuff in it.

Instead, what we get is the half-baked story of Welsh archaeologist Dr. Jason Farewey, Mexican psychic and archeology student Lupe Munoz,, you know what? Half-baked is giving Snyder too much credit. This garbage is still batter in a mixing bowl sitting on the fucking counter because the author got bored and went off to read something interesting LIKE THE BOOK THE GODDAMN AD COPY MADE ME THINK I WAS GOING TO GET TO READ! Arrrrrgh! Ok, deep breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth. You can do this, Rags, get a grip.

All right, I'll let you in on a fact that will probably make it dawn on you instantly what this waste of dead trees and scared squid is actually about. It sure would have been helpful to me ahead of time. Gene Snyder is apparently one of those doofuses (doofi?) who buy into all that ancient aliens bullshit lock, stock, and barrel. I can hear your groans from here.

Dr. Farewey is your typical no-nonsense scientific skeptic-type, who gets called in to a dig in Mexico because they keep having cave ins and he comes from a mining background so he's really good and engineering tunnels that won't collapse and kill everyone. But there's a catch. He's going to have to swallow his skeptical pride and take Lupe the psychic with him. Not only does Jerry Tanner, the director of the Moreland Research Institute which is funding the dig, think Lupe can help him locate trapped diggers, he also believes she will be able to find more figurines like the one he shows Jason. Sculpted in gold with a precision that puts even modern metalworking techniques to shame, adorned with jewels from halfway around the globe that no Aztec or Olmec or Mixtec would have been able to get hold of, and representing animals they would never have laid eyes on, the artifact is a great mystery. Oh, and the gold is alloyed with titanium. Yeah.

So away they go to Mexico, predictably bickering the whole time about how Farewey needs to open his mind, and how Lupe is just a silly woman, until of course all their differences and antagonism add up to irresistible attraction and they start fucking every chance they get. Then the Russians get involved because of Cold War reasons, and everyone ends up racing to a finish line that refuses to generate any tension because the only party who has a clear goal is the Mexican government, who just wants the other two countries to go the fuck home and stop stealing all their cultural relics. I think somehow, discovering the treasure chamber full of fancy gold dolphins underneath the tomb will give whoever possesses them the power of...I don't know. Unlimited refills at Starbucks or some damn thing. Snyder had no idea what the hell was supposed to be going on, so how do you expect me to?

Every fifty or sixty pages, things would seem to be building to a crescendo, and I'd get all excited. Hell yeah, I'd think. All this boring, dated sexual politics and science-bashing is about to end and here come the erupting tombs and the mummified giants to stomp across the countryside tearing shit up! And then Jason and Lupe would have some sex in their hotel and another goddamn tunnel would collapse and we'd have to spend another few pages with the Mexican cartel boss who was trying to steal the gold to flood the market so he could buy a bunch of strong dollars for weak pesos and make a fortune or some such nonsense. Eventually it all just petered out, the tomb collapsed, and everyone went home empty handed. Well, everyone but Jason. See, Lupe cured him of his scientific reasoning, made him believe the truth of the secret origin of man, which was clearly engineered by aliens because Atlantis is real and pyramids are really hard to build, and changed him from a cynical hard-hearted chauvinist into an open-minded, sensitive modern man of the 80's. Baaaaarrrrrrrrrf.

No clear plot. No guts to even flat out turn it into a straight up alien encounter story. Plot threads like Lupe's ESP powers being a gift from our benevolent alien creators which manifests in a lucky few who represent the aliens' wishes for our ultimate evolution which are hinted at and go nowhere. It just putters along, its incoherent characters and motivations and ideas never building to anything, until it gives up with a sad little wheeze and the only thing keeping you from throwing it in the recycling bin in disgust is the promise of a few pennies' worth of trade-in value the next time you head back to the book store.

Oh, and that race of mummified giants? They find one skeleton – not a mummy, mind, a skeleton – that's a little on the tall side.

If any of you happen to run into Gene Snyder, punch him in the dick for me.

I'm sure as hell not posting a link to buy this turd burger, so instead, you e-reader types should snag this nifty book about the horror films of Hammer Studios by my friend Dave Thomas.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio (1971)

Written by: Donn Greer and Bonnie Jean
Directed by: Eric Jeffrey Haims
Sebastian Brooks as Dr. Dorian Cabala
Rene Bond as June Gemini
Donn Greer as Detective John Kinkaid

Planting season is done for another year, and I was recently informed by the Random Deinonychus over at Terrible Claw Reviews that the web filter software used by his place of employment (really, I'm not sure why Jurassic Park is so concerned with what their dinosaurs are looking at online, but whatever) blocks this very blog as pornography. Granted I review some questionable material and the language gets a little saucy from time to time, but I'm pretty sure none of the poster images I use has any nudity and I don't do screencaps because it's a pain in the ass, so I'm not really sure why I got singled out. I guess if a robot considers what I do smut, I'll take it as a compliment, and what better way to celebrate these dual achievements by talking about some smut?

Man, remember the days when smut used to try to be engaging on a level other than something to whack off to? Granted, when people who are really only good at having sex on film (and not all of them are even very good at that beyond a willingness to get nekkid and do the squishy dance in front of a camera) try to make a movie, the result is often no good for the purpose of masturbation (I love Flesh Gordon because it's funny as hell but I never considered whacking off to it), and frequently not up to much as entertainment either.

Take tonight's movie, for example. Even the sex that isn't rough and unpleasant comes nowhere near being sexy, and none of the horror or dramatic elements work because the writing and acting are so godawful clunky and wooden that even with a healthy dose of whiskey and a few beers, I could barely keep my attention focused on the screen.

Dr. Cabala runs the Florence Nightingale nursing school. Despite some weird practices like refusing to let the students wear underwear under their nurse uniforms, the school has a reputation for being the best. I'm not sure how that could be since the only class we ever see anyone in is a junior high-level anatomy class where the professor hacks up live frogs in a most unscientific manner and plays with their blood and organs in an effort to cure the girls of squeamishness. I've known a few people who've been to nursing school, and I'm pretty sure that wasn't part of the curriculum. Of course, some odd courses, an abusive lesbian matron, a drooling, voyeuristic hunchbacked groundskeeper, and an eye-bulging loony headmaster who looks like he's understudying to be Howard Vernon are the least of anyone's worries when a killer starts stabbing students to death and marking them with a strange astrological symbol.

Will the police be able to stop the killer in time to save the school? Is Dr. Cabala doing chemistry experiments that turn him into a brutal murderer? Will the weird matron ever stop squeezing that girl's vagina? Why does this movie hate frogs? The answers to these questions and more in the not-at-all-exciting conclusion to The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio.

It's possible that this movie is a lot more fun with other people who are also drunk. It just made me sleepy watching it alone, but I'm willing to give it another shot for a few reasons. One is the flashback scene explaining the killer's origin and reason for carving the astrological symbol into the victims. The killer's motivation is mental scarring by your standard abusive religious parent, but dear old dad is played with great sweaty over-acting verve by a guy who looks a great deal like 1980's Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner, and that made this already fun scene even more enjoyable and woke me up at a point when I was about ready to fall asleep in my ancient La-Z-Boy.

The killing of the student and her boyfriend in the barn (why a nursing school that doesn't seem to have any livestock has a barn full of hay, your guess is as good as mine) is pretty effective. It displays some decent editing and packs about as much punch as anything from your average slasher flick. It's not a great kill scene, but it's a good kill scene, and a genuinely good scene at all in this movie is a relief. It also ends on a high note as they get skewered mid-coitus, the male character dies with his head on the girl's chest, and the actor very visibly shifts his head an eyes – after he's supposed to be dead, mind you – so that he can stare at her breast while he's waiting for the director to call cut.

Thn there's the very last shot of the movie. The flick is book-ended by one of the detectives giving a long, rambling speech about the nature of Jekyll and Hyde and human dualism and some half-baked philosophical padding bullshit, but then at the very end he looks straight into the camera and makes this goofy face and I almost shot beer out my nose because it was so unexpected after all that drudgery.

The movie does have a faint flavor of Andy Milligan about it, albeit with a bigger budget and considerably less seething hatred dripping from every frame (except the guy hacking up frogs, that's pretty icky and animal lovers may want to give this one a pass), and another viewing with some company to liven it up and give some extra perspective may raise The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio above the level of a one-and-done smut curiosity, but I kinda doubt it. I know that whatever poor bastard who paid fifteen hundred bucks on eBay for the old Intervision VHS of this thing before Vinegar Syndrome put it out on Blu Ray and DVD probably experienced some major buyer's remorse once the credits rolled, unless he was a serious Rene Bond completist. Apparently some rights and censorship issues kept this one from getting much in the way of a theatrical or home video release, and the few VHS tapes that were produced became big collector's items.

Now the same seems to be true of VinSyn's limited edition Blu Ray, which is already going for upwards of $150. Unless you're an obsessive collector, you'll do just fine dropping fifteen bucks on the double feature DVD like I did. I can't imagine the print looks that much better, unless you just can't live without seeing Rene Bond wearing a cape and mustache in 1080p. Here's hoping the second feature, A Clockwork Blue, is a masterpiece.

I'll leave you with a bit of trivia. The proper Scottish pronunciation is JEE-kull, not the commonly used JEH-kull. Weird skin flicks and pedantry. Amaze your friends at parties!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994)

Written by: Kanji Kashiwa, Hiroshi Kashiwabara
Directed by: Kensho Yamashita
Megumi Odaka as Miki Saegusa
Jun Hashizume as Lt. Koji Shinjo
Zenkichi Yoneyama as Lt. Kyoshi Sato
Akira Emoto as Major Akira Yuki

In my B-Fest 2013 writeup, I lamented the choice of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah as the closing monster movie of the year. It's far and away the worst of all the 90's Godzilla movies, with a couple of solid monster action set pieces coming far too late in what somehow manages to be the silliest and simultaneously most boring human story in any Godzilla movie, period. If they were going to show a Heisei Godzilla flick, and not have it be the magnificent Godzilla vs. Biollante or the occasionally uneven but overall kick-ass Godzilla vs. Destroyer, definitely the best choice for a room full of sleep-deprived Festers would be the mile-a-minute, balls-out bonkers Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla. It's definitely not the best Heisei movie, but it's a strong contender for most entertaining. There's barely a dull minute in its nearly two hour running time.

Not wasting any time in setting things up, a mysterious object from space crashes into an island in the Pacific Ocean and sets off an underwater earthquake that wakes up Godzilla. Then while the opening credits roll, we see the finishing touches being put on of one of the silliest giant robots of all time, MOGERA. Updated from the alien robot all too briefly seen in The Mysterians, this version of the big metal penguin gets plenty of screen time, for better or worse. Mostly better. Say what you want about his ludicrous appearance, MOGERA is a great character in the Godzilla video games he's appeared in. He's one of the faster and more maneuverable options, and absolutely bristles with firepower. But I digress.

Two minutes in and we've already set up all the contestants in the big fight, now it's time to get the plot moving. Two separate anti-Godzilla groups are operating on the island that was struck with the okay-not-really-that-mysterious space object before the title. One is Project T, the current harebrained scheme from G-Force. This time they want to attach a brainwave amplifier to Godzilla's head and have the inescapable Miki Saegusa attempt to steer him away from population centers since it's obvious by this point that no amount of artillery and silly super weapons are going to do a damn bit of good. Which is of course why they have a new super weapon sitting in the garage back home... Anyway, also on the island is Major Yuki, whose friend Gondo was killed by Godzilla during Godzilla vs. Biollante, and who has developed a super powerful blood coagulant which he plans to deliver with a special bullet into a weak spot in Godzilla's armored hide. Uh, Yuki? I think you have Godzilla confused with Smaug. At any rate, neither of the two plans works worth a damn, to the surprise of no one. Yuki's special bullets have no better luck penetrating Godzilla's hide than cruise missiles and maser guns, and it almost looks like Miki might be able to control the monster with the high-tech boost to her ESP, but then Godzilla realizes he's being duped and fights back, shorting out the equipment and giving her one hell of a headache. The little hints in the Heisei movies that Godzilla is a powerful, if unfocused, psychic are something I've always found interesting, and I wish they would have developed the idea more.

Meanwhile, yet another mysterious object from space is moving toward Earth (the thing that landed on the island before turns out to be Space Godzilla's power source – he's a monster that thinks ahead), and when it destroys an international space station, MOGERA is scrambled to intercept, leading to a brief dogfight in an asteroid swarm that must be far and away the sorriest piece of special effects in kaiju history, and I'm including the most embarrassing moments of the cheapest Ultraman knockoff in that estimation. If any of you readers can come up with something even more lame and fake-looking, I would love to see it.

Handily beating MOGERA and continuing to Earth unopposed, Space Godzilla lands on the island and proceeds to kick baby Godzilla around until the Big G stomps his way across the island to put a stop to that. Except that he doesn't. Space Godzilla locks baby Godzilla in a cage of crystals, blasts Godzilla to the ground with his crazy space rays, and takes off for mainland Japan. A word about baby Godzilla. He's grown from the incredibly ugly but at least somewhat more anatomically plausible dinosaur we saw in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II into a sickeningly adorable big-eyed Hello Kitty looking cartoon creature the likes of which has no place in the Godzilla universe. The monsters have always been outlandish, sure, but even in the much maligned Godzilla's Revenge they didn't look this much like live-action cartoons. I used to hate the hell out of this thing. Like, violent, raging hatred that had me wishing Space Godzilla would rip his head off and force Godzilla eat it while watching Space Godzilla take a big ol' space shit in the corpse's neck stump. During the course of this viewing, however, he's kinda started to grow on me. His clumsy, tentative gestures of hopeful friendship toward Yuki and Miki, the weird little warbling sounds he makes, dammit, even those big stupid eyes are sort of endearing. He's still totally out of place in this flick, but he's just too cute to wish violent death on. I guess I'm getting soft in my old age.

With the results of Project T unpredictable at best and the coagulant plan a complete failure, and with a potentially even more powerful threat than Godzilla setting up shop in Fukuoka, the crew prepare to head back to Japan and pilot MOGERA against the space monster, because that worked so well the last time. Miki, however, decides to stay on the island and attempt to continue making contact. Back before the Project T team left Japan, she received a message from the Emergency Broadcast Mothra, a psychic projection of the big bug and her twin fairies, that warned Miki of Space Godzilla's approach and informed her that Godzilla might be the only thing that can save the planet from the space monster. Mothra is still too far out in space (she left Earth to divert a global killer asteroid at the end of Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth, as you may remember) to get back in time to help, so it's up to Miki to use her powers to convince Godzilla he needs to fight. Not that such a thing is really necessary since the first thing Space Godzilla did was beat up his kid. He's itching for a rematch.

Lieutenants Shinjo and Sato remain on the island with her, but their first night there doesn't go quite as planned. Let's see, so far we've got Godzilla; a bizarre crystalline clone of Godzilla created by bits of his flesh being carried into space by Biollante (they also suggest it could have been Mothra but one look at those tusks and it's obvious who the surrogate monster mommy is), sucked into a black hole, blown out a white hole, bombarded by “space rays”, and forced into hyper-accelerated evolution by symbiosis with an unknown silicon based lifeform; one cute baby monster; a giant robot penguin; more wacky ESP hijinks, and the Emergency Broadcast Mothra. What else could possibly be crammed into this movie already brimming with insanity? How about the yakuza! Miki's colleague Dr. Okubo, who designed the ESP amplifier attached to Godzilla, turns out to be a mole for the Japanese mafia, who kidnap Miki so they can control the most powerful monster in the world. You have to admit, that's a hell of a blackmail scheme. Unfortunately it doesn't get much farther than that before Shinjo and Sato rescue Miki.

That's pretty much where the plot stops. Once MOGERA launches to combat Space Godzilla, it's just one long smackdown til the credits roll. They really pulled out the stops for this one, which goes some way toward explaining the movie's uneven effects. While there's nothing else in the movie even remotely as embarrassing as the asteroid field battle, there's some pretty crummy stuff on display here. But there are also several really good composite shots, and when Space Godzilla is a full-sized suit instead of a shoddy Happy Meal toy he's a pretty cool beast. Then of course there's the slightly unhinged look on Kenji Sahara's face when MOGERA launches for the final confrontation. He's just the defense minister, all he probably did was approve the budget. It's not like he built the thing. But there he is, with a ready-for-a-straight-jacket gleam in his eyes like some kind of mad scientist. I swear they cut the scene right before he let out a bellowing, “MHWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” and did that hand-washing gesture mad scientists are so fond of.

Apparently the original plan was to have a refitted Mechagodzilla fighting Space Godzilla alongside the big lizard, but that was considered too lopsided, as Mechagodzilla would be too powerful an opponent. So instead of just not having another giant thing in the movie and letting Godzilla handle it himself, they decided that they would make the JSDF look like a bunch of morons by following up the failure of one invincible super weapon by building a much more vincible, considerably less super weapon. Eh, why the hell not. After all, it looks cool, and that's really all that matters in these movies anyway, right? We'll leave the misplaced realism for Gamera.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Project: Metalbeast (1995)

Written by: Alessandro de Gaetano, Timothy E. Sabo, Roger Steinmann
Directed by: Alessandro de Gaetano
Starring: Kim Delaney, Barry Bostwick, Kane Hodder

Kane Hodder has probably chased more Final Girls than any other single figure in horror history, but even for him, tonight's movie is a unique role. Usually he's wearing a mask and carrying a knife or similar sharp implement. Plenty of other stuntmen can claim that, however. But I guarantee you no one else gets to put, “steel-skinned werewolf” on their CV. Yes, I said steel-skinned werewolf. I was about thirteen when I saw this movie for the first time, and I must have been exactly the audience Gaetano, Sabo and Steinmann were playing to, because I thought that was just about the most badass thing ever. And you know what? Thanks to a very cool monster design, the Metalbeast really does hold up to the inevitably high expectations the phrase, “steel-skinned werewolf” conjures up. I can only imagine that the very concept of, “steel-skinned werewolf” was the starting point for this whole project. I doubt they had a gub'mint makes werewolf super soldiers movie in the works for months and then one day, one of them came running into the room, feverishly retyping pages of script and adding it as an afterthought. No, I imagine one day Gaetano was brushing his teeth or taking a shower, or maybe just having an especially boring day at work (one of those times is usually when I get all my best ideas, anyway), and suddenly he got a gleam in his eye and a big grin on his face, and just couldn't wait til he got to tell his friends about the totally fucking boss monster he just dreamed up. Maybe he even found a piece of paper and drew some preliminary sketches, all the while bouncing up and down in his chair and giggling. Hell, that's basically how I reacted after seeing the movie, and I know if I had been the one to think of it that's how I would have behaved. I realize that from an objective standpoint, this movie sucks, like if I look at it out of the corner of my eye I can see it as most other people would see it. But when I view it straight-on, the rose colored glasses of how cool I thought it was as a kid obscure reality and I can't help but still love it. Ok, I'll settle down now. On to the movie.

The year is 1974, and somewhere in the Carpathian mountains a two-man special ops squad is carried across a lake by a boatman in a small rowboat. Their mission is to gather samples of werewolf blood, which we're told by a hold-the-stupid-audience's-hand scrawl that is rendered completely unnecessary by the werewolf that attacks the grunt about thirty seconds later, and is then shot to death by Dr. Butler, who proceeds to take several blood samples before heading back to the States.

Unwilling to wait for the lab results on the various tests that need to be run on the blood before they can use it for the eleventy thousandth super soldier project we've seen in these kinds of movies, and against project leader Colonel Miller's orders, Butler takes the last of the blood from the lab and shoots himself up with wolf juice. After all, once he's turned, they'll have all the blood samples they want, right?

With his senses heightened, he scents the blood from a cut one of the lab girls sustained after breaking a piece of glassware while working late. He heads down to the lab, where he corners the lone girl and pushes her behind a shelf. We don't see what happens, but it's very strongly implied from the way she staggers to the phone, in shock and covered in blood, that he wolfed out while raping her. Fucking ick. Thanks, movie. It's considerably more unpleasant when you think for a minute about how dogs mate.

You see, male canines have this thing at the base of their milkbones called the bulbus glandis. It's a big wad of erectile tissue that swells up once penetration has occurred, locking the penis inside the vagina to help insure fertilization by preventing semen leakage. The unfortunate couple can be stuck this way anywhere from five to twenty minutes (Funny story: One time our female chihuahua/dachshund mix, who hasn't been fixed, got impregnated by a hilariously old and toothless chihuahua/yorkie/pomeranian who we assumed was so ancient as to be impotent. They were in the back yard with the rest of the dogs when we heard some barking and snarling, and when we went to let them in, Trillian came tearing ass into the house dragging poor Bane along behind her by his dick!). Once the “tying”, or “knotting”, as it's called, happens, the male dog will swing a leg over the female's back and they'll stand ass-to-ass after ejaculation to make a better seal. Now all I can imagine is the poor lab girl lying flat on her face, wolf-Butler sitting grumpily on her butt waiting for his were-boner to go away so he can leave.

Eventually, Miller corners him and puts three silver bullets in his chest. After ordering a security official (whose painfully fake mustache screams, “REMEMBER, THIS IS 1974!” because nothing else in this segment aside from Barry Bostwick's dyed hair suggests it doesn't take place at the same time as the rest of the movie) to clean up the mess, Miller goes down into the basement, where Butler's body is stored in a huge cryogenic freezer.

Jump forward twenty years, and the top secret black ops werewolf soldier base has become a civilian science lab working on skin grafts and other cutting edge medical technology, except the lab is governed by a military presence, led by a general. not think about it too much. Anyway, Dr. Anna de Carlo, who we know is a super-pure-at-heart good girl and our heroine because the introductory pan across her work space shows several humanitarian award plaques and a teddy bear, is currently working on a new artificial skin substitute called bioferrin. It's a mixture of organic tissue cultures and an extremely durable and flexible metal alloy, because why the hell not? Problem is, every sample batch they've made so far only keeps the texture of skin for a day or two before it hardens into an iron-hard mass. Serious bummer for anyone who needs a skin transplant and winds up being encased in a metal shell. Unless, you know, you happened to also be a werewolf.

Miller has exactly the same thought, and so one day he shows up and takes over the operation, stating that they'll be moving the project ahead to working on human subjects. Cadavers, of course, and one very specific cadaver in particular. One that happens to have spent the last twenty years frozen in the basement. In a cryo tube powered by 1970's technology. So you can imagine the power drain those things cause. And no one wondered how a lab staffed by like ten people was somehow using up enough energy each month to power a city? No one is very happy about working on a mystery stiff with no paper work – who knows what kinds of disease the thing might still have lurking in it? – but Miller insists, and only after they have Butler half covered in bioferrin do they notice and remove the three silver bullets lodged in his chest. Uh oh. Good thing the general has a huge silver coin collection and one of the men just happens to have the equipment and know how to whip up some silver anti-tank bullets for the rocket launcher.

Barry Bostwick definitely gives the best performance of the movie, gleefully sinking his teeth into the role of the slimy military villain. The man's been in a lot of crap, but he's a pro and fun to watch. The rest of the cast mostly avoid hurting anyone's feelings, and Kim Delaney manages to give her awful dialogue (again, Bostwick is the only one who got any fun lines) an undeserved amount of effort, and really sells one of cinema's most unpleasant foot traumas (an explosion drives a piece of rebar into the outside top of her foot and out through the inside of the arch – gah).

The movie does have an interesting structure though. It's really three short movies in one. The opening segment, with the werewolf super soldier program, really seems like it should be a whole movie in its own right, but just when it gets going, BANG! It's over, and we move on to an admittedly really lousy pastiche of a pure research science fiction movie like Andromeda Strain, but stupid. Then just when that's actually starting to get interesting, we get the stalk-and-slash we were expecting to come after Butler shot up with werewolf blood. It does tend to drag a little when all you really want is some monster mayhem, but I think it was a smart move on the filmmakers' part, because by the time we do finally get some Metalbeast action, we've been waiting for it for so long it just enhances the excitement, like waiting to open your Christmas presents til after lunch.

The Metalbeast itself is obviously the heart of the movie, and man is it ever worth the wait. It's one of my favorite cinematic werewolves. Yes, there have been better werewolf movies, but in paw-to-paw combat this thing would kick any of their asses. It's not shiny metal, it doesn't look like a robot, which I realize is what the name and the concept suggest. Instead, its skin is all gnarled black and bronze, with tufts of fur here and there, and a big mane of quills that, in a great bit of detail, makes a metallic rattling with every step the monster takes. Glowing red eyes and extendo-claws (because why not) complete the badassery. I couldn't tell you how many pictures I drew of this thing when I was a kid. The concept and look of the creature really appeal to my imagination and sense of aesthetic. On the one hand, it's such a cool idea, I would love to see what a more talented crew with a bigger budget could do with it. On the other hand, today that would probably mean a bunch of shitty CGI, and it makes me glad that this is the movie we got. After all, we could be living in a world where there are no movies where Asshole from Rocky Horror Picture Show creates a steel-skinned werewolf played by Jason Voorhees, and that would be a poor world indeed.