Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

Movie Reviews 321 – Terror Train (1980)

October 6, 2017

A bunch of college students hire out a steam engine train for a short New Years eve trip with a lot of booze, music and some hanky panky. The students are all members of premed school and the organizers are some of the seniors who have past history of frat house hijinx. But a stranger has boarded this particular ride, taking advantage of the costume attire being worn by the partygoers. Before long students start disappearing and grizzly murdered bodies start appearing.

Basically a siege horror plot with the students stuck on the train, it stars Jamie Lee Curtis who was just beginning to foster her horror queen status at the time. The movie begins with an event that happened three years earlier in which a then sorority pledge Alana (Curtis) was used as a bait for a prank on a male frat pledge. We then learn that the misguided prank led to the victim having some long lasting psychological damage. So given this looming beginning sequence we pretty much know who the interloper is so a number red herrings in the plot are pointless. However we do have to figure out where he is hiding among the crowd and despite a twist intended to throw off viewers, it was easy for me to figure out who that was as well.

One of those red herrings is real life magician David Copperfield who plays a hired Illusionist to entertain the kids during the ride. No thespian, Copperfield does make up for it and adds some entertainment value with his sleight of hand and parlour tricks. The real treat however ends up being veteran actor Ben Johnson as the conductor who has as much screen time as Curtis and just as essential to the plot.

Once the killer has dispatched all the other seniors that were involved in the prank gone wrong the movie basically becomes a battle between Alana, the mystery killer and a race to get to the next train station. Basically your typical 80’s slasher with plenty of nubile women and a touch of disco glitter.

As the end credits rolled with a fair amount of French crew listed I suspected, and then confirmed that this was shot near my hometown city of Montreal. Alas, since the entire film takes place on the train there was no distinguishing landmark or backdrops.

A unique take on the college campus horror motif and with enough suspense to keep this one chugging along …

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Movie Reviews 320 – Flatliners (1990)

September 29, 2017

Led by a driven rebel (Kiefer Sutherland), a quintet of med students and interns begin experimenting with inducing temporary death with the intent to answer the everlasting question of what, if anything, exists in the afterlife. Working at night in a what looks like a colossal roman chamber set in a museum under construction, Nelson (Sutherland) is the first to go under, pumped with drugs and having his heart jolted by a defibrillator normally used to revive people. Once reawoken, the thrill of the groundbreaking scientific achievement is quickly lost by the members of the group, each now jostling to be the next one to undergo the experience.

Part of the drama and tension is focused on how the members begin to pledge to remain lifeless longer than the previous volunteer and others vying for the opportunity, both advancing the boundaries of their scientific discovery and increasing the danger factor for the next experiment. But the repetitive “I want to go next” declarations with increasingly longer pledge times soon become tiresome.

Some members like Rachel (Julia Roberts) have personal reasons and seek specific answers regarding lost family members, while the others seem to simply seek the thrill. Despite assurances by Nelson that there were no aftereffects of the procedure, those who do undergo the lethal maneuver start having hallucinations of past tragic events and the people adversely affected by those events. Nelson himself is plagued by dreams of a little kid who tragically died. Joe (William Baldwin) is tormented by all the women he secretly videotaped while having sex, David (Kevin Bacon) is haunted by a young girl he bullied in school and Rachel is afflicted with visions of her dead father. Things then get a lot more complicated when the victims in those dreams soon become corporeal, and in the case of the kid tormenting Nelson in particular, start inflicting real injuries.

The discourse dallies around religion, the possibility of an afterlife and both philosophical and moral ramifications, but those are overshadowed by the plot devices centered on the guilt of past indiscretions and the terror of the macabre manifestations released. But the fact that almost each of the members have such dark pasts strains belief. The only credible role ends up being that of Randy played by Oliver Platt, the only one in the group who has no desire to join the others and undergo the ritual and not coincidentally the one character whose inclusion in the story is only to inject a bit of comedy.

My memories of this film were that of a far better viewing experience than watching it this time around and my current assessment falls to that of the title itself.

Beep, beep, beep, beeeeeeeee………

Movie Reviews 317 – Destination Inner Space (1966)

September 10, 2017

Every now and then I take one for the team. I watch a movie I have absolutely no hope of being anything but formulaic, lame, and dumb. Destination Inner Space fit that bill and delivered on all accounts. Or would that be ‘fail to deliver’?

The story is about a remote ocean research platform and joining undersea facility that have been recording some odd sonar blips in the last few days and enlist the help of the military to try to narrow down their guess as to what it may be. It turns out to be a crashed space vessel of some sort containing bread loaf sized  frozen capsules. When the researchers enter the ship and bring back one of the capsules it starts growing at an alarming rate, eventually rupturing and releasing a man sized creature.

After killing the crew on the floating platform above, the creature battles the others below leaving them trapped with a dwindling air supply. The scientists hope to keep the creature alive for study while the military commander simply wants to destroy it. Which faction will win out?

Aside from the lame dialogue and silly, clearly evident miniatures used for some of the underwater structures, this movie has one thing going for it: a (poster accurate) badass looking

creature. The colorful rubber suit is a cross between the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Humanoids from the Deep. The one annoying thing about the costume was the huge hump on the back used to conceal the scuba air tanks for the underwater scenes. Kind of made me wonder how they filmed other all those other movies with underwater creatures. Hold their breath and many short takes I guess. But I digress…

The only person that can act in this movie is veteran character actor James Hong who has a minute role as Ho Lee (I think there is a joke somewhere in there with that name), the cook in the crew. But this was a very early role for him and he is barely on screen, and then only for comic relief.

Other than the plot directly related to the creature, there is a clash of characters between the military commander and one of the research crew, a former military man himself who has a personal beef with him. But even that is resolved so awkwardly you really have to question what the writer was thinking. With so little to go in the way of the story they decided to include not one, but two women to add some romance to the proceedings. I have to give credit in that they didn’t just stick with the barely-out-of-high-school hottie mentality and actually included one flirtatious middle aged woman. While the underwater scenes repeatedly use the same locations over and over, there is a cool looking two-man sub and some nice underwater footage.

The problem here is that all of the above can be had by just watching episodes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea but with better scripts, better actors, similar monsters and a lot cooler tech. So if a great looking monster is all you need, you’re OK with this one. Anything more and you’re out of luck.

Movie Reviews 307 – The Val Lewton Collection

July 22, 2017

When we praise a set of movies by the creative talent behind them, we usually identify them by either the actors or directors involved as they are the ones that have the most significant contribution to the works in question. But as a producer Val Lewton had as much influence on his films than the directors he hired. So much so that when referencing any of the films he had a hand in, his name is recalled as much as that of the director or stars. This high regard for his films has earned him something no other producer has been accorded, a DVD box set of his own. The Val Lewton Collection released in 2005 is a five DVD set featuring nine movies and a documentary on Lewton’s career.

Lewton’s films can easy be characterized by his cerebral approach in providing psychological horror instead in lieu of physical and creature scares. The nine films in this set, all created in the 1940’s at RKO, are – with one notable exception – fine examples of chilling stories primarily directed by three directors. Jacques Tourneur basically made his reputation on the very films he created for Lewton, while Mark Robson and Robert Wise both started their illustrious careers with these films.

Here is a rundown of the set with the exception of the documentary Shadows in the Dark, which ashamedly, I have yet found the time to watch.

Isle of the Dead (1945): Boris Karloff stars in a tale of the mythical Vorvolaka of Grecian folklore. After setting out for a desolate island with a war reporter, a cold-blooded general discovers that fears that a plague is rampant and therefore he must quarantine the island in order to prevent spreading of the disease to the mainland. But is it just a medical contagion at work or something more sinister?  [Dir. Mark Robson]

Bedlam (1946):  A young socialite trying to better the forgotten social castaways of the wards in the Bedlam asylum suddenly finds herself committed within its very walls by the evil master (Boris Karloff) running the institution. A testament to how politics and the powers that be could eliminate social reformers as well as a glimpse into how mental illness was dealt with before scientific and medical advancements even touted the notion of it being a treatable disease. [Dir. Mark Robson]

The Leopard Man (1943): When the manager of a dancer at a nightclub decides to give her a live leopard in order to rouse the jealousy of a rival dancer, the leopard escapes and begins a killing spree in the New Mexico town. But signs point to something else. This film was a early example of how horrors unseen and only hinted at could be as effective, if not be even better, than visual depictions. Aside from the silly dancer names, KiKi and Clo-Clo, the movie posits both the possibility of a real escaped leopard as the culprit or the more sinister option. [Dir. Jacques Tourneur]

The Ghost Ship (1943): A newly arrived third officer on a merchant ship finds that the authoritarian captain has gone crazy. But despite the captain killing of members of the crew, they are all loyal to him when the officer tries to sound the alarm he soon finds himself captive on the ship at sea and without any means to get help. The film is actually much better than the simplistic plot as the two play a game of cat-and-mouse as the tension mounts throughout the officer’s ever growing dire predicament. [Dir. Mark Robson]

Cat People (1942): Probably the best known movie in the lot and also reknown for the 1982 remake with Nastassja Kinski. When Irina a Serbian woman who believes she is cursed falls in love she tries to rebuff the man fearing that she will turn into a ferocious feline and kill him. But she succumbs to his advances and  thereafter battles her own beliefs amid a spree of murders. Another great example of how hints and symbolism replace actual displays of horror, but just as or even more effective. [Dir. Jacques Tourneur]

The Curse of the Cat People (1944): A direct sequel to Cat People, this one takes the odd perspective of a young girl who can communicate with the ghost of the Irina character in Cat People while her parents struggle to comprehend their child’s fantasies. Not necessarily a bad film but more fantasy than horror or even thriller and so different from Cat People with only the most tenuous of links that most will be disappointed. [Dir. Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise]

I Walked with a Zombie (1943): This is ‘old school’ zombie as in Caribbean voodoo somnambule walking dead. A nurse living in frigid Ottawa, Canada (yay!) is hired as a caretaker for a patient the Caribbean island of Saint Sebastian. When she gets there she suspects that the mental state of her charge may be cured by the locals and their traditional rituals. Her problems stem from the dysfunctional family and having to deal with sibling rivalry and of course falling in love. The only scares are from the native, stalking bug-eyed Zombie guard but that is more than enough. [Dir. Jacques Tourneur]

The Body Snatcher (1945): Not to the be confused with Invasion of the Body Snatchers this horror with both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi delves into the age old question of moral ethics and medical research. When a young paralysed girl is refused treatment by the arrogant but learned Dr. MacFarlane, his young student and lab assistant Donald, who has just learned that a grave robber is supplying the doctor’s cadavers, makes a deal in which he will keep the secret as long as MacFarlane treats the girl. When Donald discovers that the robber isn’t bothering to wait for people to die naturally, his conscience is torn before he learns an even darker secret about MacFarlane. Karloff is at his best as the grave robber in this film which both references the real life case of grave robbers Burke and Hare who killed 18 people and essentially is a retelling of those events. [Dir. Robert Wise]

The Seventh Victim (1943): A very strange mystery in which a woman, Mary (Kim Hunter), goes looking for her older sister Jacqueline who has gone missing. Tracing back Jacqueline’s last business which she seems to have purposely abandoned, Mary discovers that her sister rented out a room in which she keeps only a chair and a hangman’s noose. With the help of some of Jacqueline’s acquaintances (some who have secretes of their own), Mary pieces together her sister’s involvement with a Satanic cult. But even the evil worshiping cult abides by a strange ‘non-violent’ pledge which proves problematic.  [Dir. Mark Robson]

Movie Reviews 305 – Onechambara: Bikini Samurai Squad (2008)

July 8, 2017

The problem with making movies based on video games is that the games have to have a fairly deep and layered story to begin with if anything of relevance is to be culled from the source, which of course is not usually the case.  If you are going to attempt to make a film based on a “hack and slash” video game, as is was the case with Onechambara here, the only hope is that the writer stretched their imagination way beyond the gameplay to deliver a cohesive well plotted and most importantly, interesting story.

While the movie does make an effort to have at least a semblance of a plot, this is as threadbare and predictable as they come. For the most part I felt like I was watching a game as much as I was watching a movie. That said, as one would expect there are some interesting visuals and I’m not only referring to “Bikini Samurai Squad” subtitle.

Set in the year 20XX (That’s not a typo or me just forgetting the exact year, that’s exactly how they define the time period in the intro text), the postapocalyptic world is overrun by zombies that were unleashed by a rogue scientist from the D3 corporation – D3 being the name of the company that created the original game of course. Our bikini wearing, katana wielding heroine is Aya who glumly roams the land accompanied by her chubby sidekick Katsuji. She’s on a mission to avenge the death of her father at the hands of her own sister while Katsuji hopes to find his own little sister Saki who he abandoned long ago. Along their journey they meet leather clad, motorcycle mama Reiko, intent finding the scientist responsible for the zombie mess.

The backstory of how Aya’s sister was jealous of her fighting abilities since they were toddlers is played out as the trio battle one zombie horde after another until they find the evil Dr. Sugita who is still madly churning out the walkers with now with Aya’s sister at his side.

The CG effects when not outright laughable are annoying, with blood spurts that break the 4th wall between the set and the viewing audience as droplets on the screen. I was tired of this the second time they used the effect and just plain indignant as it continued well into the film. Aya is as short on words as she is in fighting prowess. As many martial arts movies as I’ve watched, there is usually at least one or two attempts at a novel fighting move but you will find all of these here repetitive and even boring. The finale battle introduces a facsimile of chain whip brandishing Gogo Yubari from Tarantino’s Kill Bill that is somehow supposed to entertain us when she is neither original nor combat worthy like Gogo. And before anyone points out that Tarantino himself based Gogo on a character in Battle Royale the difference is that he gave depth to Gogo and kick ass fight moves and did not just blatantly create a carbon copy image.

A pointless cash grab aimed at the enthusiasts of the video game, this has nothing to offer to those ignorant of the game, and probably stung worse for those fans who wanted to see a live action version of their dear franchise.

When it comes to this film I want my quarter back and I was never happier to see the “Game Over” ending.

Movie Reviews 304 – Night of the Living Dorks (2004)

June 24, 2017

The Germans were at the vanguard of horror movies in the silent era of the early 1920’s and even the cinema industry as a whole until Hollywood took over. Turning out classics like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu and The Golem, they trailblazed the path for future horrormeisters to follow. But after that seminal spurt and soon preoccupied with other irritants like inciting World Wars, the Germans contributions fell silent as others moved the stakes. It took until the turn of the century and the Zombie revival craze to bring them back into game with the surprise comedy Night of the Living Dorks (original title “Die Nacht der lebenden Loser”).

The story begins with a Haitian family besieged by a stalking zombie which gets sizzled by the torch wielding mother. The family are about to inter the zombies ashes when the burial urn is snatched and we follow it being exchanged from one trader’s hands to another as it makes it’s way to Europe.

There we are introduced to three dorks, Philip Fleischhacker (Tino Mewes), Weenie (Manuel Cortez) and Konrad (Thomas Schmieder), part of the ‘out’ crowd at their high school. Konrad is the most pitiful of the trio, keeping a valise full of spare eyeglasses as they get broken so often by bullies. He also keeps a detailed diary recording of every person who has harassed him over the years. Weenie is the chemically unbalanced and horny one who pilots a stolen van. And then there is our protagonist Philip, the common everyman who is infatuated by the high school princess Uschi (Nadine Germann) and clueless that his longtime friend and neighbor Rebecca (Collien Fernandes) – now hanging out with the Goth crowd – is secretly harboring a mad crush on him.

Desperate to get Uschi to go to the prom with him, Philip asks Rebecca and her Goth friends if they have any mystical love potion that can help him. As it so happens Rebecca and her Satan worshiping friends had a cemetery ceremony planned for that evening having gotten their hands on a urn (yeah, that one) and were planning on reviving the spirit of Kurt Cobain. But when the dorksome trio arrive at the graveyard that night they find that Rebecca’s friends Gunther and Frederik are more hopeless than themselves and the ashes wind up being blown onto the dorks entire bodies.

The next thing the boys know is that they are waking up in a morgue but chalk it up to being a dream or prank. When the boys finally realize that they are in fact now ‘living dead’ they first have a little fun with their newfound strength and abilities. But soon body parts start falling off and they get busy with staple machines keeping them together as Philip tries to get them out of the mess. Konrad on the other hand has decided that revenge can be sweet when you’re a zombie and after a falling out with the others begins tracking down all his former tormentors. Eventually Rebecca’s Necronomicon-like spell book gives them hope for a cure but for that to happen the boys have to handle hurdles that include Philip’s parents coming home, Uschi’s boyfriend and getting Konrad back.

The social media reviewers and ratings have not been kind to this film for some reason, but having seen scores of these ‘Zombedies’ myself (including Shaun of the Dead, the yardstick by which all such movies are compared to) I put it way ahead of most of those peers. While some of the sequences are predictable I found most of the gags to be genuinely funny and with a lot of originality as well. The goofy Goths are hilarious as they take Satanic ceremony shortcuts. The zombified dorks end up hosting an impromptu house party as Weenie lusts over a MILF teacher who incessantly brings up her past drug-fueled orgies. Philip is constantly harassed by Wolfe, Uschi’s jock boyfriend, and then there are his parents to deal with, a straight laced, stern father and a mom who wants Philip to get laid as long as it’s with Rebecca.

I also found there were a number of ‘easter egg’ type of gags such as Philip’s family name being Fleischhacker (Fleisch is German for meat), his friend being call “Weenie” but in the original German version his name is “Wurst” which means sausage (hence the English translation to Weenie). And I got a good laugh reading the sign for the school gym, the “Friedrich Nietzsche Gymnasium”.

Don’t let the ratings fool you, this one is worth watching.

To all my German cinefiles I say “Ich bin ein Zombie”!

Movie Reviews 302 – Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

June 10, 2017

The Horror genre can be broken down into various categories that are vastly different from one another in ways to deliver the anticipated scares. Most horror movies rely on physical aspects, be they creatures or human attributable violence. The more ephemeral ones employ ghosts as a foundation, but even those can be overt ghostly apparitions or mere observation of ghostly influence on surroundings. The subtle brands of horror are the psychological films that have scant jump scares and rely on emotion and implied dread. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death adds another dimension to this latter form of horror giving us a protagonist that has a questionable state of sanity to begin with before introducing the horror at hand.

Recently released from a stay at psychiatric institution, Jessica (Zohra Lampert), her husband Duncan (Barton Heyman) and their friend Woody (Kevin O’Connor) make a brief stopover in the Connecticut town that is near a farmhouse the couple recently purchased. Beginning with a tepid reception from the ferryman once he learns of their destination they get even more abrasive encounter from the townsmen hovering the porch of the local goods store.

Ostensibly the couple bought the house to get away from the big city but the underlying reason was for a fresh start  for Jessica and hoping she is really over her mental issues. But even before arriving at their new home Jessica has visions of a young girl and also begins hearing whispers, all of which she keeps to herself while beginning to question her sanity.

Once their hippie painted hearse arrives at the fog enshrouded, turreted Victorian house they are surprised by Emily (Mariclare Costello) a young homeless vagabond. Evident that Woody has taken a shine to her, Jessica convinces Duncan to let Emily to stay for a while. Jessica soon regrets this noticing an attraction between Emily and her husband. Jessica is further strained when they hold a seance that night as suggested by Emily hoping to contact those that have died in the house.

Low on funds as the trio intend to farm the grounds around the house, the couple pilfer the house contents and furnishings to see if they can sell some of the stuff to a local antique dealer. One particular item that catches Jessica’s eyes is an old silver framed picture she finds in the attic. In the picture are long departed residents of the house, the Bishop family. The picture includes the Bishop’s daughter Abigail who legend has it died on her wedding day and is now a vampire roaming the area. Notable is the fact that Emily is the striking image of long dead Abigail.

Soon after learning the story, Jessica notices that all the townsfolk are physically marked or impaired in some manner. The one ‘normal’ person they met, the antique dealer is soon found dead by Jessica after being lured to the body by the girl in her apparitions. But when Jessica drags Duncan to the location of the body it is no longer there. This convinces Duncan that Jessica needs to return to see her doctor, which splits the couple apart. Each new revelation further traumatizes Jessica, bit by bit, until she reaches the breaking point.

What makes the movie effective is the heavy handed and unrelenting strain on Jessica. While the main actors are all in top form, Lampert’s portrayal of Jessica is unnerving. Jessica is always smiling but it’s a tension filled smile. Viewers feel her vulnerability and self doubt. The film enhances this effect by sharing her thoughts as audible dialog along with the constant whispers, “I’m still here. You’ll never get better…”.

While clearly a vampire movie, that aspect is almost inconsequential from the horror perspective as it takes a back seat to the horror in Jessica’s mind. The movie has a ‘distant’ feel that makes it an underrated classic. The title says it all and it highlights the horror in the film. Thankfully the filmmakers did not use the original title they were considering. I suspect the movie would not be as cherished today if it was called “It Drinks Hippy Blood”.

Movie Reviews 300 – Demons (1985)

May 26, 2017

This being my 300th movie review post, the number three has been on my mind of late. I have often referred to members of the triumvirate of Italian horror divinity, namely Mario Bava, Dario Argento, and last but not least Lucio Fulci, in some of my past reviews. They not only defined the slasher genre before Hollywood jumped on that bandwagon, but also resurrected the “giallo” style of murder mysteries. But their far reaching influence not only inspired others, but also fostered projects among themselves and their extended family of collaborators and relatives.

Demons, directed and co-written by Lamberto Bava – Mario’s son and horror meister in his own right – and produced and also co-written by Dario is a cult favorite of the 80’s salvo of European flavoured horror and appropriately begins with a young girl (Natasha Hovey) travelling within Berlin’s marbled foyer subways. Believing she is being followed by a youth sporting a half-face mirror mask, he surprisingly hands Cheryl an invitation card to a free movie event that very evening for which she convinces her friend to accompany her.

The “Metropol” movie venue is an old gothic cathedral whose interiors have been converted into a quasi-museum with neo art sculptures and art pieces woven between the traditional movie posters. The clientele for the evening’s movie is just as eclectic. A boisterous, pimpish dude with his two disco divas (one even sporting a ‘Rick James’ corn row braided coif), a teen couple more interested in making out that viewing anything that will appear on the screen, the blind and spectacled Verner with his lascivious looking wife Liz, Liz’s maistre who is just as interested in making out with Liz as the teens, and two young boys who immediately take a shine to Cheryl and her friend.

As the night’s film reel begins to be projected onto the theater screen ‘this’ film alternates its point of view from the cinema goers to being the film they are seeing themselves which is a horror movie featuring teens in a graveyard and tomb. As the teens discuss Nostradamus’ foretelling of events and find a mask just like that worn by the ticket dispenser Cheryl encountered, the ‘on screen’ movie soon becomes a creature infested slaughter. At that same time one of ‘real world’ the disco divas is having a bit of a problem of her own in the bathroom and is soon screeching, fanged and oozing pulsating puss which is the beginning a infestation that will soon have the entire movie audience scrambling and avoiding one another as the malediction spreads.

Before long theater seats are flying, bodies are piling up and there seems to be endless chases within the stairways, hidden rooms and passageways. To spice things up a bunch of drugged up punks roaming the city also end up breaking into the Metropol in order to avoid some polizei hot on their tails after some late night hijinx.

The action comes to a crescendo with an in-theater, limb slashing, Samurai sword swirling motorcycle chase that would make The Great Escape’s Steve McQueen proud. And that’s before the helicopter drops in! If that does not categorize this as ‘must watch’ I don’t know what will.

While not featuring Goblin music it does include some notable 80’s heavyweight bands and songs while Claudio Simonetti’s score hits elevates the energy.  The masked ticket man was played by Michele Soavi who was assistant director and a frequent collaborator of Argento’s. While Argento’s daughter Asia later became a scream queen (debuting in Demons 2 no less), here his lesser known daughter Fiore has a small role.

Argento and Bava would reprise their production roles for the sequel Demons 2 a year later and while I have yet to track down that movie to assess it myself, based on the Demons 2 trailer on this disk I take it to be much of the same madness.

Movie Reviews 299 – Cronos (1993)

May 14, 2017

Director Guillermo del Toro is one of those creators who rose from the ranks of fandom, honing his craft over the years to ultimately become one of the greatest directors of horror and fantasy genre movies. With notable entries that include The Devil’s Backbone, Mimic, the Hellboy series and his magnum opus; Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro has garnered the respect of colleagues and fans alike by having a solid story foundation and then having solid characters to drive them. As auteur taking on the roles of writer, director and producer, his creations are thoughtful, imaginative, compassionate and always contain some element of horror.

And all this began with Cronos, his first feature film at the tender age of 27 which immediately caught notice and garnered accolades that gave him ever increasing leverage and budgets to do more. Fans of his other films will notice that it is also the movie that lays other foundations that will be familiar in his later career, be it professionals team ups with actor Ron Perlman, cinematographer Guillermo Navarro and a penchant for insect and bugs and steampunk mechanics – before steampunk was a fad.

When elderly antique shop dealer Jesús Gris (Federico Luppi) observes that one of his shoppers has taken notice of a particular angelic statuette his curiosity is aroused. As soon as the shopper leaves he scrutinizes the figurine more closely and discovers an ornamental gold scarab-like device hidden inside. Clutching the palm sized jewelry it momentarily comes to mechanical life gripping his hand with clenching legs and extruding a scorpion like stinger that pinches him.

The momentary pain is followed by a euphoric sensation but in the following days he also notices a return to vigor and even his wife Mercedes (Margarita Isabel) notices a slightly more youthful appearance. Doting over his pride and joy, granddaughter Aurora (Tamara Shanath), he begins regularly – sting sessions which he believes to be a fountain of youth.

But the shopper that first lead his attention to the statuette was no regular customer but in fact one of many hired scouts searching for just such a figure at the behest of one Mr. De la Guardia (Claudio Brook), a dying rich man living in a sterile room. Upon hearing of the newfound statuette De la Guardia sends his nephew Angel (Ron Perlman) to purchase it, but is dismayed to learn that not only has the device he was seeking gone, but that Gris was draining the source of its powers.

Now, not only does Jesus have to deal with Angel trying to force him to give up the device, but he also learns it’s true secret, which is not exactly the nirvana he thought he had stumbled upon.

Rife with symbolism and allegory – in case you did not pick up on the suggestive religious connotations of the character names amongst other hints – the film is both profound and suspenseful. The secret of the device built by a 16th century alchemist and it’s internal workings shown in detail are both amazing and shocking.

This movie really has everything that del Toro fans have come to love without skimping on detail despite not having the budget of his later films. Now he and Perlman can just give us one more Hellboy

Movie Reviews 298 – Destroy All Monsters (1968)

May 6, 2017

I can’t believe I’ve almost reached 300 movie reviews and have yet to pen a review of even one Godzilla movie. I’ve seen all but two or three of the more than thirty movies starring the Big G, starting with his 1954 debut in Gojira (both the Hollywood ‘politically enhanced’ version where they inserted scenes with Raymond Burr and the much more somber Japanese original) continuing all the way to last year’s Shin Godzilla.

I’ve seen him battle King Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster, a smog monster, his American cousin King Kong, giant crustaceans, the pterodactyl like Rodan, lepidoptera Mothra (as adult and in his larval stage), space monsters and even metallic robot replicas of himself. Many of those foes he’s fought, twice, thrice and even more!

I’ve seen him grow from a 50 meter tall gargantuan to a monstrosity over twice that height over the span of a few movies. He’s had a son to join him in his city stomping endeavors (quite a feat considering Godzilla being a male), and then bastardized by an American version that not only had him look like a T-Rex on steroids but even had the gall to have ‘him’ be a ‘her’ to spawn yet another brood. (Still trying to forget that one).

I’ve even seen him die a few times only to magically come back to life when the creators at Toho studios decided he was ripe for a new series of movies, and a presumably to also magically create an inflow of yen for the studio coffers  His on again, off again periodic spurts – academically cited as the Shōwa (1954–1975), Heisei (1984–1995), and Millennium series (1999–2004) before this latest incarnation- have distinct qualities that not only reflect the special effects technologies available at the time, but also reflect the contemporary audiences they were aimed at.

But as a kid growing up with a black and white TV with 4 channels to chose from (two of which were in French), the opportunities to catch a Godzilla movie were rare. As much as the lure of Godzilla tugged on my conscience, I was equally intrigued by the progression of supporting cast of Kaiju creatures he battled as his legacy grew, some of whom ended up starring in their own films. So when I learn about Destroy All Monsters while reading about it in The Monster Times –  a mid seventies newspaper format monthly that sated my horror fix for 60 cents a pop – it was a dream come true. The first real monster melee and with a bunch of those I had not had the chance to see yet. His son Minilla (sometimes called Minya), Anguirus, Rodan, Mothra, Kumonga, Gorosaurus, Varan, Baragon, Manda, King Ghidorah, they were all here in one movie!

I had to wait until 1996 when the very first Fantasia film fest in Montreal included the film on it’s roster for me to finally see Destroy All Monsters in all it’s rubber suit glory for the first time.  Watching it again this week I have to confess that while living up to the hype of having the whole gang, plot wise it wasn’t quite the best.

As all these monsters had rampaged and been dealt with in previous movies, this one begins with all of them secured and living on an isolated island called “monsterland” which has controls and restraining mechanism geared for each of the behemoths. Suddenly they are all unleashed by aliens – the Kilaaks – and each monster appears over and begins tearing appart some major city in the world – France, Moscow, New York and finally Godzilla himself in Tokyo. It’s all part of a world domination plan by the Kilaaks. But in order to stop the monsters, Earth authorities first have to find where the Kilaaks are in order to destroy their controlling machine which by now also has some humans under control.

Riddled with forgettable dialogue, military officials and other world leaders seek guidance from a group of Japanese science specialists wearing Bruce Lee yellow jumpsuits. The white sequin wearing Kilaaks are finally found but in a last attempt to salvage their mission they unleash one final secret weapon. Predictably in the end the world is heroically saved at the last minute by the greatest monster of them all, Godzilla.

You can certainly do better if you’re going to watch only one or two Godzilla movies, but any real fan has to watch this one at least once in their lives.  “Skreeonk!”