Death by Umbrella – C. Lombardo & J. Kirschner (2016)

August 20, 2019

You’ve heard of Death by a Thousand Cuts? Well how about death by one hundred horror movie weapons?

Almost since the birth of horror movies themselves have script writers and directors strived to provide yet another novel manner in which people can come to a gruesome end. In Death by Umbrella, authors Chris Lombardo and Jeff Kirschner have taken the pains to document one hundred of their favorite weapons of singular destruction in a range of films that run the gamut from the classics to some of the more obscure titles.

Despite a short bibliography, Lombardo and Kirschner are no mere wannabe scribes being the hosts of the Really Awful Movie Podcast, where they weekly dissect and serve up reviews of all manner of weird, shocking or simply outlandish films both old and new. Along the way they tabulated an assortment of tools, machinery, sporting goods, utensils, and gadgets that have been immortalized on celluloid to elicit screams and shudders as cast members bite the dust.

Whether a fairly knowledgeable giallo afficionado or a horror neophyte, readers will delight in either reliving some of our favorite kills such Damien on his tricycle rampage in The Omen, or discover previously unknown fodder like a shape shifting car in Super Hybrid. Did you know about the shish kebab skewering in Happy Birthday to Me? How about Linnea Quigley’s untimely deer antler demise in Silent Night, Deadly Night? They’re all here, and more. Much more as the authors have graciously added a number of honorable mentions in each of the seven chapters used to categorize the book.

Fittingly Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman, one of the masters of low budget death dealing himself provides the foreword as the authors provide witty jokes and astute observations and brief synopsis of the films to accompany the blow by blow of the kills. I was especially glad to see some local favorite films that included Homicycle by Ottawa’s very own Brett Kelly (a film that I happen to be an uncredited extra in) and Crawler by Montreal’s Sv Bell. And yes, there are deaths by umbrella. More than one in fact.

I enjoyed the special emphasis on films featuring multiple odd deaths such as the seven deadly sins enacted by Vincent Price in The Abominable Dr. Phibes while not spoiling some of the more delectable kills in movies such as Audition. I’ve always wanted to see The Town that Dreaded Sundown but more so now that I know there is a trombone-knife kill in it. Reading this tome also raised a few questions such as how did the authors know that strip clubs are not open on Christmas as per their cataloging of the electrified stripper pole in Santa’s Slay? (Research?)

I highly recommend this for all horror fans and to follow up the madness by tuning in on the Really Awful Movie Podcast in which I hope the authors are making yet another list for another book.

 

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Movie Reviews 404 – Lifechanger (2018)

August 10, 2019

Lifechanger is one of those movies that begins in an odd way such that you know something is wrong or different and that you’re going to have to figure out what that premise is before the film really gets going. In this case we begin with a woman waking up in bed next to what appears to be her dead twin or a doppelganger. What throws us off is the nonchalant manner in which the woman reacts to the body, basically waking up and just carrying on. But then the narration from the point of view of the woman is that of a man’s voice and we soon learn what’s really going on.

The ‘woman’ has just adopted the body of the dead woman, much like an Invasion of the Body Snatchers manner. The entity is of course a man, one who has been tormented with an affliction in which he must reluctant kill others in order to survive. This affliction which he has lived with for many years necessitates a new body when the current form begins to rot. But the pace of the rot, long ago one in which he could maintain a body for over a year, has now sped up to the point that a new body is needed within days.

You would think that the affliction is the main point of the film but something overshadows even that in the mind of the suffering man. He is obsessed with Julia (Lora Burke), a woman he once loved but who he simply left in the middle of the night long ago as he needed to assimilate a new body. Unable to confront her with the truth he has been stalking her for years and often drops in the bar she frequents nightly. At times he interacts with her, whether as a male or female, but other times he just quietly sits afar only to observe what she is up to. As his transformations become more frequent and the local police begin to close in, he breaks when he sees she has taken a new boyfriend and decides to osmose the new beau Robert (Jack Foley) and finally confess to her.

I found the plot and pacing, while not altogether completely novel, engaging enough. It was both odd and interesting seeing the lead character (so to speak) taking on a parade of different personas externally if not internally. Those included a detective, an unfaithful doctor, and women at different times. But once the gist of where the film was going was determined the plot blemishes became grating at times. For one thing Julia comes off as a bit of floozy necessitated by the plot point of her regular nightly bar visits. While there clearly was an ongoing police investigation the common focal point of the bar and all it’s patrons seemed all too obvious but to the cops. The film adds a few nice touches like a dog that recognizes the man regardless of which body he inhabits and a minor plot device of how drugs can somewhat alleviate the onset of the rot.

So did this movie (to riff on the title) change my life? No. I wouldn’t call it a must see, but fair enough to warrant of view if you can get it.

Which brings me to the full disclosure of how I in fact got this film myself. It was given to me as a freebie from one of the distributors at a convention when I bought a number of other movies from the vendor and started a conversation that included me mentioning this blog. The film was provided with the promise of an unbiased review. I later fretted that I may hate the movie which would have made this difficult to write. A needless worry as I can honestly say that I enjoyed the film and would have not regretted purchasing it.

 

Movie Reviews 403 – Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

August 2, 2019

“Gotta have the leads”

That cryptic phrase is the essence of Glengarry Glen Ross, the film scripted by and based on David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning play. The ‘leads’ in this case are a coveted list of potential customers for a group of desperate real estate salesmen working in a branch office of a firm that has just cold-heartedly announced the least successful salesman that month will be shown out the door.

With the exception of Richard Roma (Al Pacino), who is on track to win a coveted Cadillac for best salesman that month, all the others in the office are already just barely clinging on when their office manager Williamson (Kevin Spacey) calls a surprise meeting to set the stage for Blake (Alec Baldwin), a hard nosed VP ‘from downtown’ to unleash the news that they have one week ‘get on the board’ with fresh sales. But before the meeting is over Blake taunts the men with a stack of prime new “Glengarry” leads that will only go to ‘closers’. Leads that the men desperately need.

The wretched salesmen include Shelley “The Machine” Levene (Jack Lemmon), once a high flying pitch man now pitifully recalling former glory days when in reality he can’t even afford the measly hundred dollars he bribes Williamson for a few of the new leads. Moss (Ed Harris) is the one with a chip on his shoulder constantly threatening to jump ship and join a competing firm. The only associate he can even have a non-combative discussion with is George (Alan Arkin) only because George is so low on self esteem and confidence himself most of his words are merely echoing what others say.

It’s all about the leads. The leads the men are handed are obsolete and hopeless, and they know it. Moss tempts George with a late night break-in to snatch the new leads which they can then sell to the competition. Shelley, tries to bribe Williamson for just a few new leads to get some sales back into the game. And while all this is happening, Roma slowly, masterfully works over a barfly (Jonathan Pryce) over drinks to land a sale, right under the noses of all the others.

The stellar cast is only outdone by the intricate, crisp dialogue in Mamet’s script. We have Blake’s expletive laced tirade against the salesforce which includes him bringing out an actual set of brass balls to embolden the men. Roma’s pitch is much more subtle with Pacino rambling nonsensically as he slowly but surely lures his mark. The one common thread spewed by each and every salesman are the litany of lies, deceit, maneuvering, foot-in-the-door tactics they unleash on potential prospects. It is both a delight and eye opening to hear the pitches coming from every conceivable angle for that almighty redeeming sale.

Come morning the men arrive at the office to find out that there has been a break in and, surprise, they leads have been stolen. Did Moss follow through on his plan to con George into breaking in? Did “The Machine” have more than mere luck with a huge overnight sale he flaunts in Willamson’s face? The already high strung office explodes with yet more bickering, threats and distress.

I never get tired of this drama. A jewel just as precious as those sacrosanct leads.

Movie Reviews 402 – The Thirsty Dead (1974)

July 26, 2019

I’ve reviewed a string a great films for the last little while and decided it was time to get back to cheesy films and so this week we’ll be diving to the bottom of the barrel and review an older Philippine production called The Thirsty Dead. (AKA Blood Hunt)

Four young women are kidnapped off the streets of Manila and brought to a remote jungle subterranean community and while they are not free to leave, they are well treated, almost pampered, while at the same time kept in the dark as to the motivation for their capture. Their stewards are a cult of lithe young people who worship “Raoul” (or Raoum?) which is a man’s head encased in a ruby-red translucent cube which does little more than flinch or grimace on occasion.

One of the men, Baru (John Considine) takes particular notice of Laura (Jennifer Billingsley) who looks a lot like a woman in a number of paintings around the place. Baru describes how the group have become immortal by feasting on the blood of others and begs Laura, the “Chosen One” to join them in immortality. As one can imagine she balks when offered the blood of innocents (so much for the titular “Thirsty”). Of course when they girls decide they’ve had enough the clan is not as acquiescent and their leader Ranu (Tani Guthrie), a ravishing princess with needle-pointed nails that would make Catwoman envious, sends a cadre of silent hulking, loin clothed attendants under her command to stop the group.

Definitely a film of it’s time (and budget), I got a bit of a nostalgic kick with the Manila opening sequence featuring Claire (Judith McConnell) a Go-Go dancer in a smoky lounge just before she gets apprehended. As the token rebel of the group luxuriating in her hosts hospitality, her minor character turned out to be one of the more interesting her otherwise vapid co-abductees. While the clan women are mostly garbed in colorful array of fine fabrics Baru’s wardrobe is something else. When not fitted with his horned collar cape (think Doctor Strange) he wears a gold giant chained pendant that makes him look like a honky rapper years ahead of his time.

But while there are a few interesting brief moments of terror, this thinly veiled exposition of the superiority complex of entitled elite is a bit of a snoozefest at times, even when it attempts to ratchet up the tension. As an example of a failed thrilling scene the spot where a snake wraps itself around the leg of one of the girls. After all the screams and discussion as to what they should do the situation gets resolved when the snake just lumbers away on its own from what I suspect to be boredom (lucky snake!).

Truth be told I would have never even come across this film had it not been included in one of my Vampire themed DVD sets which included Paul Naschy’s The Werewolf VS The Vampire Woman] and Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, both highly more entertaining than this tripe. Wanna know what’s really scary? The next film in the set is yet another Philippine production from the same year in which girls in Manila suddenly start disappearing titled Blood Thirst! Sound familiar?

I may have been parched for a good horror movie but I did not thirst for this one.

Movie Reviews 401 – October Sky (1999)

July 20, 2019

My fascination with space and rockets started long ago. I consider myself privileged to have grown up in one of the most exciting eras of space exploration. Born just two years after JFK’s famous declaration in 1961 to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade, I grew up at a time when Mercury, Gemini and early Apollo missions regularly made the nightly news. It was a time when the public at large suddenly joined us science fiction fans in reveling every facet of the ‘Space Race’. Magazines, TV shows, movies, were brimming with men in silvery space suits and blasting away in shiny rockets. And I savored every minute of it, culminating in the remarkable landing on the moon fifty years ago this week.

The space race began with the surprise launch of Sputnik, a basketball sized satellite by the Soviet Union in October of 1957, shocking nations and the world. With the reasoning that it would not be long before those few pounds of beaconing metal would be replaced by nuclear warheads the race for domination in space was on. But while heads of state were immersed in the warfare implications, a large number of the population became fascinated by other aspects formerly relegated to fantasy and science fiction now that there were within reach.

October Sky captures the story of one such boy whose fascination turned into a drive to build rockets. An endeavor requiring solving not only technical challenges, but mocking, ridicule and one particular personal obstacle.

Raised in a West Virginia coal mining town Homer Hickam’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) Sputnik experience ignited his imagination which soon led him to igniting propellants in crude model rockets. The film is based on Homer’s book Rocket Boys (October Sky being an anagram) which recounts his fascination with rockets and with the help of three other boys became successful flyers culminating in eventual triumph winning a national science fair. A large part of the film concentrates on his strained relationship with his father (Chris Cooper) a senior coal miner who doggedly pushes Homer to join him in the mines instead of pursuing what he considers a mere frivolous hobby. One of the few supporters urging Homer on is his science teacher (Laura Dern) who surprisingly must battle even with the school principal who shares Homer’s father’s sentiments.

The drama is punctuated by the downfall of the local coal industry – a fact that Homer’s father refuses to acknowledge – a hardline strike, an accident within the mines that puts Homer in a precarious position as principal earner for the family, a fire in a nearby town that is blamed on one of the boy’s errant rockets and the teacher dealing with health issues. If that weren’t enough they even manage to wrangle in a bit of a love interest for the clueless Homer.

While I’m sure many consider October Sky a great film on its own merits, my interests are even more personal than being a mere space enthusiast. While it may not be apparent to my readers here, I’ve been an avid rocketeer for many years. Certified for High Power (Tripoli Level 2 for those curious), I have hundreds of flights logged with rockets ranging from mere ounces using miniscule Micro-Maxx motors, flying a 15 pound rocket on a 1679.4 Newton-seconds K class motor, and putting a 9 pound rocket over a mile high hitting a speed over 650 Mph (0.86 Mach). And that doesn’t even count the 50 pound replica Gemini Titan we launched as a local rocket club team effort. What the Rocket Boys did all those years ago has become fairly common and supported with the availability of a myriad of kits, parts, support electronics, commercial motor and tons of documentation. But knowing how even with all that every launch remains a challenge with an endless list of things that can go wrong every rocketeer would surely tip their hat to these boys who had to figure it all out on their own and build it all from scratch.

Movie Reviews 400 – I’ll Take Your Dead (2018)

July 12, 2019

I was in the midst of writing up a review for a complete different film this week when I got the chance to view a screening of I’ll Take Your Dead compliments of a contest from the folks who run the Blood in the Snow festival. While I avoid trailers before watching movies I was curious enough to look up the IMDB rating (which I usually considered trustworthy) to set my expectations. With that rating in hand and yet another title with the word Dead (come on everyone, having yet another “Dead” title is … dead) I expected a passable feature and not much else. Much to my surprise, what I got was a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat treat from start to finish. As soon as I walked out of that theater I knew that my “review of the week” plans had changed (Sorry Scorsese! Mean Streets will have to wait for another day) so here we are with this instead.

Growing up without a mom can be tough. It’s a little tougher when money is tight. Tougher still when your father has reluctantly become the local disposer of bullet hole riddled bodies for hardened criminals. But things get downright complicated when one of those bodies fails to meet the basic requirement of being dead. I don’t mean that in an un-dead ghostly sense (although this film has that as well), rather just someone who was mistaken for being dead.

Directed by Chad Archibald and written by Jayme Laforest (based on a story by Archibald), the simple premise is that William (Aidan Devine) who lives with his daughter Gloria (Ava Preston) in a remote horse farm has become the drop man for slain victims of area gangs when one particular unwanted drop has another unwelcome surprise, a wounded but very much alive Jackie (Jess Salgueiro). Despite doing his best to shield his daughter from his recently  acquired trade, she is well aware of his activities and even gives him a helping hand when the occasional body have to be schlepped from the road to the barn. When Jackie awakens tied to a bed she predictably befriends young Gloria hoping she will aid her to escape. But when she believes that a rescue party is on the way it turns out to be anything but. Oh, and did I mention that Gloria sees dead people? Those bodies that have come through her father’s disposal duties aren’t quite done yet.

The script is taut and to the point without unnecessary dialogue or distractions. We commiserate with William trying to do what is right for his daughter as he saves his blood stained earnings with dreams of moving to a little house in El Paso. We feel empathy for Jackie caught up in gangland lies and deception. And mostly we get to know wise beyond her age Gloria, mourning a lost mother while holding her dad together despite her own burdens. The acting is top notch across the board but Preston steals the show. Talent that young is hard to come by for even run-of-the-mill roles but here she deftly nails a wide rage beyond the sympathetic, intelligent kid. While online searches is suspiciously scant on her bio, not surprisingly IMDB reveals she is already a seasoned actor with nearly ten years and dozens of roles under her belt.

After watching the film I realized that the horror angle, while not superfluous, could have been eliminated entirely and then with a few changes here and there and the plot would have still been strong enough to stand as simple thriller. A good story is a good story, and when you have the right people working on it you end up with a movie like this.  I’ll be looking forward to catching more films from the entire creative team and will be revisiting this one soon when released on media.

Movie Reviews 399 – Night of the Creeps (1986)

July 5, 2019

Nostalgic cinematic moments are usually times when one rewatches old favorite films to relive fond memories or at least now fondly remembered regardless of what we felt during that first viewing. As I had never watched Night of the Creeps until this week I had no such expectations and yet this film managed to make me feel right at home and it was like revisiting an old friend.

While this was marketed (more on that later) as a zombie movie long before the zombie mania of recent years, it is only so in the barest sense. What it is is a cross between a cheesy alien invasion and a high school coming of age story tied in by a cryogenically frozen “patient zero” corpsicle.

The invasion (of sorts) begins in 1959 as a rogue alien ejects a cylinder above Earth as he is chased by his equally diminutive pudgy looking alien companions. The forces unleashed by the contents results in the brutal slaying of a young couple whooping it up at a secluded lovers’ lane.

Now, thirty years later, two outcast buddies Chris Romero (Jason Lively) and J.C (Steve Marshall) are frat pledges and their hazing challenge has them breaking into the secure basement lab of the local morgue where they accidentally unfreeze the body of a teen, a victim of that night long ago. But unbeknownst to the boys they have unleashed the slithering worm-like invaders that were dormant in the body. Soon people are behaving oddly and cadavers are piling up everywhere and it is up to the boys and former cop Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins), who happened to be on duty that night thirty years ago, to save humanity all while Chris tries to charm the lovely Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow) a girl he deems out of his league into going to the prom with him.

This film oozes more than the wriggling crawlers which can be seen coming out of heads and orifices. The characters are solidly built up from Atkins’ trench coat and his signature ‘49 Merc to daring to impart J.C. with a physical affliction that has him walking on forearm crutches. In case you haven’t noticed yet (shame on you!) all the character names (Romero! Cameron! Cronenberg!) are homages to great cult directors and if you’re vigilant you’ll pick on other references to films like Jaws, Dead Alive and Plan 9 from Outer Space to name just a few. But more importantly as silly as some of the plot gets there are a number of genuine poignant moments that elevates this film above the din of other films in this category.

IF you can lay your hands on the director’s cut DVD I highly recommend checking out the extra features from which contains interesting recollections and reunions from the stars and writer-director Fred Dekker as well as commentary from one of the producers. The one common thread through all these interviews is how the studio bungled the marketing which resulted in the release being a flop. More unfortunate is how that sting ended up being particularly damaging to Dekker’s career which explains his lack of directorial efforts in the years that followed. A crime if there ever was one if you ask me.

Movie Reviews 398 – Wait Until Dark (1967)

June 28, 2019

The idea of finding yourself suddenly blinded for life can be a pretty terrifying ordeal. But in Wait Until Dark that ordeal becomes orders of magnitude more horrifying when a group of people take advantage of that blindness in a coordinated, deceitful, psychological attack.

Susy Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn) is still coming to grips with her recent blindness after a car accident but seems to be making progress as she navigates her Manhattan ground floor apartment. To help her out she has her loving husband Sam (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) and Gloria the neighbor’s little girl for errands. Little does she know that that blindness will be more than a hindrance to overcome. It will lay the groundwork for a torturous ordeal.

The movie begins with a cache of heroin smuggled in a hand carried doll by Lisa (Samantha Jones) on a plane from Montreal to New York. As Lisa makes her way off the plane she suddenly thrusts the doll in Sam’s hand having just met him on the plane. She makes up some excuse, telling him she will contact him soon to retrieve it. Befuddled, Sam brings the doll home and just as soon forgets about it. Some time later when their apartment is empty two con men, Mike (Richard Crenna) and Carlino (Jack Weston) break into the apartment expecting to meet Lisa. Instead they find Lisa’s body and her gloating killer, one Harry Roat (Alan Arkin). Roat, in fact purposefully lured the two con men to the apartment. Roat makes no bones about killing Lisa, but with Mike and Carlino now having implicated themselves with fingerprints all over, they are forced to help Roat in his quest to find that doll. Mike and Carlino then learn that the apartment they are in is the home of the blind Suzy and she is the last link to that doll.

Roat has already hatched an elaborate plan in which Mike plays one of Sam’s old friends and Carlino plays a cop while Suzy is slowly terrorized by all three men. Roat assumes a few roles in the ruse, even playing a crazed father and son team. Suzy remembers Sam having brought the doll home but cannot find it as Roat gets more impatient and slowly ratchets up pressure. Making matters worse Suzy is led to believe that Sam is having an affair when therefore she relies on Mike to help her deal with the situation. It begins with pressure from Carlito’s supposed investigation of the murdered woman, while other strangers come into the act being played out. But none of the men counted on little Gloria who becomes Suzy eyes and ears.

This role was the antithesis of light romantic comedy fare we were accustomed to from Hepburn but one she more than convincingly delivers in an Oscar nominating performance. The more versatile Arkin as the heavy is oddly something between a beatnik and bully but the normally sedate Arkin is horrifically intense especially the final moments.

Watch this one in utterly dark room if you can (or dare). In a brilliant move the last few minutes has the screen go completely black allowing the audience to enter the world of the blind and understand Suzy’s dread and become as helpless as she is.

Movie Reviews 397 – King Kong Escapes (1967)

June 22, 2019

It’s King Kong. It’s Kaiju. Kraptastically Keen

It was as early as the third Godzilla movie in 1962 that the Toho studio creators of the world’s most renowned giant dino-lizard realized that the gargantuan gorilla Kong would be a suitable (“suit”. Get it?) character to join their oversized menagerie. King Kong vs. Godzilla (note who got first billing?) had the highest box office return to that date. It was a huge hit but it took another five years before Kong would get his get his own solo Toho feature in King Kong Escapes.

And what better way to feature Kong than to pit him against a robotic Mecha-Kong? Surprisingly, the Mecha version of the King predates the introduction of Mecha-Godzilla (and all the other Mecha versions of other monsters in the Toho universe) by over a decade. The story itself was cobbled up from an early joint US Japanese animated kong series called The King Kong Show produced by Rankin-Bass. Some readers will be familiar with Rankin-Bass as the animation company known for their stop motion animation specials like The Little Drummer Boy and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and some other Saturday morning cartoon shows. But with Kong as the star this production would be far removed from the typical Rankin-Bass sweet and angelic tales.

Directed by Inoshiro Honda ( the human “God” behind the Godzilla franchise) it blends a retelling the original King Kong story and a touch of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea all centered around the dueling Kong with his robot doppelgangers.

The intro has US commander Carl Nelson (Rhodes Reason) piloting a sub with second in command Jiro Nomura (Akira Takarada) on an expeditionary mission to the remote island Mondo when they come across Kong. As in every Kong movie there has to be a young woman who soothes the beast and in this case that role falls to Lt. Susan Watson the crew’s doctor (Linda Jo Miller, who ironically had to be redubbed in English by another voice actor).

As soon as that intro is done we switch to an evil scientist in a hidden artic lair who aims to mine the ultra rare “Element X” (insert an “Oooh” and “Ahhh” for shock and reverence). The wiry grey haired Dr. Who (Hideyo Amamoto) – not THAT Dr. Who – has built a giant Mecha-Kong to do the heavy mining in the inclement environment, the robot being built based on plans stolen from none other than Nelson himself. (This fact strains credulity since the robot’s stature and features exactly mimic those of Kong but Nelson just discovered Kong for the first time five minutes ago) Supposedly possession of Element X (“Oooh!”) can be used to build a world dominating nuclear arsenal, but Dr. Who does not want this for himself but rather for the leopard print wearing oriental Mata Hari who I don’t recall ever being named in the film itself but varyingly credited as Madame Piranha or Madame X (Mie Hama). Representing some evil aligned country (also never explicitly called out) she is funding Dr. Who and the mining mission. But when Mecha Kong fails after a few minutes of mining as exclaimed by Dr Who “Magnetic Mass has destroyed his circuits!” they set their sights on getting the real Kong to do their digging.

After a nifty abduction of Kong, hypnotizing him to obey their commands (yes, hypnotizing him!), Kong extracting himself from the trance, the evil Dr. Who kidnaps the lovely Watson for a different leverage against the ape. Meanwhile Madame Piranha tries to seduce Nelson until everything unravels, Kong kick the living daylights out of the tin ape and eventually walks into the sea under a beautiful sunset.

Their is so much goofy goodness to enjoy I hardly know where to start. Special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya’s (also responsible for Ultraman) space age vehicles and the mecha resemble those of Gerry Anderson’s marionation shows like The Thunderbirds while the dubbing delivers a bonus with Dr. Who being voiced by Paul Frees whom seasoned kids will instantly associate as the voice of Boris Badenov from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.  Kong of course has battles with other mesozoic monstrosities including a giant snake and T-Rex wannabe. And there are timely touches like Madame Piranha whipping out a transmitter from her Jackie-O pink pillbox hat. All to a score has a few riffs off Akira Ifukube’s famous Godzilla March.

So when your mom tells you you can’t what yet another Godzilla film and playing another round of Donkey Kong is out of the question you now know where to go.

Movie Reviews 396 – Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

June 14, 2019

For decades Ray Harryhausen was a household name when it came to stop motion animation sequences in feature films. Having been inspired by Willis O’Brien’s King Kong in 1933, the teenaged Harryhausen began creating his own household menagerie of creatures that he then crudely filmed in 8mm. Before his career ended he had given us science fiction classics that include It Came from Beneath the Sea (based on a Ray Bradbury story) and  H. G. Wells’ First Men in the Moon. But Harryhausen will forever be remembered for the creatures he created for his fantasy films including three Sinbad the Sailor films and the original Clash of the Titans. Jason and the Argonauts may not have been his best overall film, but it is certainly as creature crammed as the rest and notably contained his most challenging and visually stunning achievement, the incredible skeleton pack battle.

The story, based on Greek mythology, has the heroic Jason (Todd Armstrong) round up a crew of brave, athletic and skilled men (Hercules among them) in a quest to find the Golden Fleece as they sail the seas in their trireme, the Argo . It’s actually an overly complicated setup that includes prophecies, roman army sieges, slaying of royal offspring, but most importantly all under the influence and meddling of Greek gods playing chess in Olympus (as they always tend to do in such films). In fact Jason’s fate lies in the hands of the god Hera (Todd Armstrong) who guides Jason throughout the journey and is ever present for consultation as the rear figurehead on the Argo that occasionally comes to life.

Their journey has them doing battles with Talos a gargantuan bronze statue, two winged, shrieking Harpies endlessly aggravating a blind man, and a seven headed serpentine Lernaean Hydra. One of the lesser special effects in the film (not involving Harryhausen I should add) does have us endure a ridiculously mundane looking Triton (nothing but a man shot against a miniaturized background) holding back the so called Clashing Rocks to make way for the Argo.

But the spectacle of the film will always be the finale featuring the famous skeleton battle. Seven bony bipeds emerge right from the ground and clash with Jason and two cohorts among Grecian ruins next to an ocean cliff. Brandishing swords and shields Harryhausen painstakingly choreographed every swing and counter save bringing what in reality were no more than 12 inch miniatures to life. The shooting is all the more impressive because the battle included three humans, requiring miniatures of them for some of the shots and more impressively coordinating the battle to blend with the moving, live action actors for most of it. Harryhausen’s finest few minutes that took months to shoot.

This film is particularly memorable for me as I was not only able to see it on a large cinema screen in 2005, but at a special viewing in which Harryhausen himself attended and where I met him personally, however briefly.

With modern computer generated special effects today any imaginable creature or scene can be realistically rendered so, sadly, younger contemporary audiences relegate Harryhausen films as archaic and perhaps ‘cute’ novelties. But to myself, and a lot of other more appreciative fans, this will always be nothing short of cinema magic.