Wrath of Daimajin (Daimajin Ikaru, 1966)

return_of_daimajin_poster_1966_01Gina really got a kick out of the first DAIMAJIN movie, and asked to watch the rest of the franchise with me as soon as possible. So as soon as possible, we popped the second movie in to see where the Majin’s continued adventures would take him.  Well, we were quick to discover that the DAIMAJIN trilogy is pretty damn loose – it’s almost better to think of the films as three separate Part 1s instead of Parts 1, 2 and 3, as there’s no direct link between the three films except the existence of the Majin himself.  Let’s take a look at the second film, released just months after the first, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

This is a story of three villages.  The villages of Chigusa and Nakoshi, linked through various aristocratic marriages and pledges of loyalty, are on opposite shores of a large lake, and are prosperous, happy places to live.  As such, refugees from the miserable mountain village of Mikoshiba, fleeing from their cruel master Lord Danjo, frequently seek freedom in Chigusa.

Lord Danjo, understandably, isn’t happy about his peasants fleeing to happy, prosperous Chigusa, His solution is to wait until the nobility of Chigusa and Nakoshi are celebrating a joint holiday centered around God’s Island, an island in the center of the lake occupied by a giant statue that contains the spirit of the Majin.

Mikoshiba warriors, smuggled into Chigusa disguised as bales of straw, quickly throw open the gates to the rest of the Mikoshiba army, throwing the village into chaos and taking Katsushige Nakoshi, the son of Nakoshi’s lord, hostage.  His sister, Lady Sayuri, flees to God’s Island with her fiance, Lord Juro Chigusa (Kojiro Hongo, who starred in GAMERA VS. BARUGON the same year, and also had roles in GAMERA VS. GYAOS and GAMERA VS. VIRAS).  She prays to the Majin to save Chigusa and Nakoshi from the Mikoshiba, but instead is forced to watch as the Mikoshiba blast the statue to tiny bits with an enormous charge of gunpowder.

Blown up or not, it’s only a matter of time before Daimajin rises from the lake, and then it’s not long before Lord Danjo is reconsidering the wisdom of his attempted conquest…

Not as good, in my opinion, as the first film, but a damn sight better than you’d expect it being knowing that it was released three months after the first (I’ve read some conflicting reports on various sites, but it looks like the three films were shot more or less simultaneously).

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I think my biggest issue is that the human drama just feels so much less compelling this time around.  The characters were less interesting to me than they were the first time around, and I especially thought that, in terms of personality and what they bring to the story, Lord Juro and Katsushige were basically interchangeable, and Lady Sayuri just felt bland after Princess Kozasa in the previous film.  Worse, this time around we get comedy relief in the form of Lady Sayuri’s bumbling, heavy-set bodyguard.

I hate comic relief characters in otherwise-serious movies.

Worse still, Daimajin himself feels oddly neutered; in the previous film, he squashed a guy into paste against the side of a building and nailed another guy to a rock with a chisel through the chest.  This time, he pushes over some walls and almost steps on a kid but that’s about it.  His rampage of destruction is very brief and very bloodless, and while it’s what I’d expect from just about any other kaiju film of this era, it’s not what I’d been led to expect from a Daimajin movie.

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That being said, there are some amazing visuals to be seen here; I’m especially fond of a scene in which Daimajin parts the waters of the lake, Moses-style, in order to march across and stomp occupied Chigusa flat.  It’s a beautifully shot sequence and the colors on the Blu-Ray release are incredible as Daimajin slowly and deliberately strides down a tunnel of roaring water.  Also, when was the last time you saw a city-stomping (okay, village-stomping) monster emulate Charlton Heston?

Final Analysis: While not as unrelentingly brutal as the first film and with a less-compelling human element, WRATH OF DAIMAJIN remains beautifully shot and a wonder to see.  Definitely a weaker film then it’s predecessor, Daimajin himself remains the primary draw and his palette of emotions has expanded from simply “rage” to include “irritation,” “contempt” and “more rage.”  I might not recommend this one as readily to the casual viewer, but for diehard fans of the genre it has its rewards.

Overall, I give WRATH OF DAIMAJIN (1966)…

THREE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Slice o’ Life…

Taking a break from writing about movies to cover some real shit here.

First off, for the time being I’ve been banned from posting links to this site on Facebook. They’ve deemed Radiation-Scarred Reviews “unsafe,” which is interesting as Google and pretty much everywhere that doesn’t rely on McAfee SiteAdvisor has declared me clean and free of spyware, malware, viruses, Turkish horse porn, etc.  We’re working to get this figured out and straightened up, because this is, in a word, bullshit.  My site is clean.

On to happier news…

On April 11th, I will be loading up my car, grabbing my good buddy Travis and making the drive down to Cleveland for Cinema Wasteland.  I’ll only be there for Saturday unfortunately, so if you see me, say hi.

On April 18th, I’ll be in Syracuse for the Salt City Film Festival, though probably only for the first couple films.  Again, if you see me, come say hi.

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Daimajin (1966)

daimajinHello again, readers! You may recall my comments in reviews of the CRITTERS franchise that my girlfriend was watching them with me, and by the third one, eagerly encouraging me to screen them. Now, she’s not a horror fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I don’t think it’s unfair to call her a cult film fan – she quotes BUBBA HO-TEP and BETTER OFF DEAD far too frequently for her to not be. Well, the other night I decided I wanted to watch this film, having gotten the Blu-Ray of it and its two sequels a few months back – actually, the day after I got home from the last Cinema Wasteland – and not yet gotten around to screening it. Well, lo and behold, she sat down with me and while she wasn’t full invested until the climax, once she was hooked she was asking me to show her the sequels.  I think she’s starting to pick up my film nerdery through some sort of osmosis.  Be that as it may, here’s the first of Daiei’s supernatural samurai trilogy, DAIMAJIN.

Spoilers ensue.

In Feudal Japan, sometime after the introduction of firearms and Christianity but not very long after, Lord Hanabusa is the local ruler of a densely-forested mountain region beset by earthquakes.  On the night of one such series of tremors, Lord Hanabusa is watching the local peasantry parade up the mountain to make offerings at the nearby Shinto shrine – believing the tremors to be the escape attempts of the Majin, a horrible demon kept captive by the Mountain God.  Unfortunately, the night’s not looking promising for Lord Hanabusa – his chief retainer, Samanosuke, chooses this night to stage a coup that leaves Lord Hanabusa, his wife, and most of his loyal followers dead.

Among the survivors are the samurai Kogenta, Prince Tadafumi and Princess Kozasa, Lord Hanabusa’s children.  With the aid of the Shinto priestess, who is coincidentally Kogenta’s aunt, the three evade Samanosuke’s army of traitors and find safety in an isolated cavern shrine, adjacent to the 50 foot statue of the Mountain God.

Ten years later, Samanosuke’s proven an unbearable tyrant, using the local villagers as slave labor to fortify his castle in preparation for his plans to take over the rest of Japan.  Loyal Hanabusa retainers, hidden for a decade, begin to filter back, and Kogenta is caught when he comes down the mountain to make contact with him.  Tadafumi is similarly captured when he tries to stage a rescue of Kogenta, and Kozasa is forced to show Samanosuke’s men where the Mountain God statue is so that they can destroy it to further demoralize the people.

The statue begins to bleed the minute they hammer that giant chisel into its forehead, and at Kozasa’s tears, the placid face of the Mountain God is replaced with the scowling, green-skinned visage of the Majin.  Hell is coming to pay Samanosuke a visit.

The first of three Daimajin films released by Daiei in the same year, one would think that would suggest all three being cheaply-made quickies with little actual effort or value put into them, but one would be wrong, at least for this first film.  The first 3/4 of DAIMAJIN are a really solid (though possibly cliche’d – I’m not as up on samurai films beyond Kurosawa’s as I’d like to be, but the noble lord slain by an evil usurper and then avenged seems like a pretty standard plot) samurai epic with some spectacular costumes and set pieces, and the final act is one of the finest giant monster rampages I’ve seen in quite a while.

I think the latter is aided by the scale of the monster.  Daimajin stands about 50 feet tall, as opposed to the 50 meter standard for atomic reptiles and alien monsters of the day.  At 50 feet, Daimajin is big enough to push over the wooden-framed buildings and stone walls he’s faced with, but small enough to interact meaningfully with the human cast.  He’s also far more unceasingly brutal than I’m used to seeing in these sorts of movies, and again his size plays into that – Daimajin’s the right size to pick a man up off the ground and grind him into paste between a brick wall and the evil spirit’s giant stone palm, and he does exactly that.

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While his face is frozen into a scowl, he nevertheless gets to show quite a bit of emotion – I have to say Daimajin gives the most disapproving side-eye I’ve seen since Sophia Loren got sat next to Jayne Mansfield’s tits.  When Kozasa tries to tug on Daimajin’s hand to stop his rampage through the village, he stops just long enough to glower down at her as if to say, “Really, we’re doing this? You’re going to try and stop me?”

The suit itself is attractive and well done, maintaining a sense of being an animated stone statue while still giving the performer inside the suit the freedom necessary to move.  There’s no real “lumbering” here; Daimajin is flat-footed, but sure-footed, he moves with a definite sense of purpose and is nearly as quick on his feet as the Gargantua brothers over at Toho.

The human cast gives pretty solid performances throughout, though the villains – especially Samanosuke and his main lieutenant, Gunjiro – seem to be playing to the back rows, giving extremely dramatic and over-the-top performances to emphasize their villainy, whether it’s denying a laborer the opportunity to bury his dead wife or gouging out a woman’s eye for being insufficiently deferential.  I almost wonder if this is some influence from kabuki theater coloring the way the characters are depicted – the very strong, stylized performances and Gunjiro’s astonishing kumadori-style eyebrows hint at this but again, I don’t know enough about samurai cinema or kabuki to say with any sort of expertise.

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The one thing I didn’t really care for with the film was the abruptness of its ending.  It felt to me like the filmmakers were not really sure on a conclusion and once the film reached an acceptable length and the main conflict was resolved, they just cut it off there.

Final Analysis: A really nice mash-up of the samurai epic and the giant monster movie, DAIMAJIN proved a very enjoyable film – not just for me, but for my girlfriend as well, though she also called out the Majin spirit as “a shit” for his behavior.  Like I said, I found the ending somewhat abrupt and the villains as over-the-top as anything we’d see in 1980s American action movies, but the Daimajin itself has rocketed to near the top of my list of favorite giant monsters, with its clear intelligence and malevolent intent.  It’s a shame we didn’t get more mythological-type monsters like this.

Overall, I give DAIMAJIN (1966)…

four_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FOUR BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Bloodlust! (1959/1961)

bloodlust_poster_01How’s that for a title, readers? I always love it when a film’s title includes punctuation marks. I was looking for THE DEVIL BAT in my collection for tonight’s viewing because I feel like I’ve been focusing too heavily on the 1970s and 1980s lately and wanted to watch some older films to balance things out. Well, damnedest thing, I can’t find the copy of THE DEVIL BAT that I know I’ve got, so I started looking at what else I had. Tonight’s film is best known for being riffed in the episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 that introduced the character of Dr. Pearl Forrester, and for being a complete and total ripoff of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME.

Spoilers ensue.

Two young couples, composed of Johnny (Robert Reed, of later fame from The Brady Bunch”) and Judo-chopping Betty, and nerdy Pete and nervous Jeanne, are on a boating trip with a captain who’s comically drunk in the classical vaudeville tradition.  On the last day of their trip, the mists clear and they notice a nearby island.  With the captain passed out at the wheel, they drop anchor and take the dinghy ashore for some kicks and a clambake.  Before long, however, Johnny falls into a pit trap and the four kids meet the island’s owner, Dr. Alex Balleau (Wilton Graff, whose performance here owes at least as much to Walter Pidgeon as it does to Leslie Banks).

Balleau explains that he bought this island after the War and moved in to get away from the rest of humanity.  He’s stocked the island with all manner of jungle animals, as his own private hunting preserve.  He’s quite a sportsman, you see, and the usual tigers and bears no longer offer any thrill to him.  Only hunting humans will do, and he’ll be happy to give chase to the four teenagers that showed up on his doorstep as soon as his unfaithful wife and her lover have their turn in his crosshairs.  But he intends to give our heroes a sporting chance at survival – he’ll only put one crossbow bolt in his quiver for each of them, and in exchange, they get a gun with a single bullet for him.

Have you ever read “The Hounds of Zaroff,” the short story that inspired THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME? It’s a real short short story – indeed, I would almost call it one of the most perfect distillations of the short story format I’ve ever seen.  You can read it in about 15-20 minutes.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

For so short a story, it packs a lot of punch, and it’s clear to see why it’s inspired or at least been ripped off by so many films over the years, from the respectable ones like 1932’s THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME to the cheesy trash like SLAVE GIRLS FROM BEYOND INFINITY.  BLOODLUST! is a drive-in quickie, but it nevertheless skews closer to the former than the latter.

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I really like the emphasis Balleau places on sportsmanship; he wants to make the game as fair as it can be, in a way.  He prides himself on his skill and handicaps himself by allowing himself no more than one crossbow bolt for each target; if his targets aren’t as skilled as he is, well, that’s their problem, isn’t it? He gave them an advantage in the form of a revolver; if it’s only got one bullet, well, fair’s fair, right?

Wilton Graff’s performance really is the best thing about this film, and he really sells the decadent, ennui-laden aristocrat who’s developed a mania for hunting people with a crossbow – he gives an excellent speech at one point in the film in which he explains that a stint in the Army as a sniper is what left him addicted to the thrill of hunting human beings for sport.

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And while Robert Reed – TV’s Mike Brady! – may be the most memorable “star” in the film today, his character Johnny is blander than bland.  But check out Betty, his girlfriend.  June Kenney had a pretty respectable string of B-movie rolls behind her when she made this, including EARTH VS. THE SPIDER, ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE and VIKING WOMEN, and her role here is surprisingly meaty for a love interest character in films of this vintage.  She actually proves a more effective protagonist than Johnny does, contributing to Balleau’s defeat and judo-flipping a henchman into a vat of acid – resulting in a surprisingly gruesome face-melting sequence, which I was NOT expecting.

Final Analysis: Shot in 1959 but not released until 1961, BLOODLUST is an effective little quickie-cheapie, with some surprising action, an unexpected violent heroine and a stellar performance from Wilton Graff.  It may not be the best of the adaptations of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME out there, but it’s far, far, far from the worst, and those who go into it relaxed and willing to go with the story will, I think, find themselves thoroughly entertained by the time the ending credits roll.  And at a lean 68 minutes, what do you really have to lose? As an added bonus, the film is in the public domain, free to be viewed on the media platform of your choice.

Overall, I give BLOODLUST (1959/1961)…

three_barrels_of_toxic_waste

THREE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Support Reel Independence! Support FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS!

1907570_10155267617530230_461250791080492767_nHey readers, Bill here. Now, I don’t often use this space to talk about anything except movies I’m reviewing, but today I want to talk about an upcoming movie. Now, if you’re an exploitation fan worth your salt, you know DEAR GOD NO! – one of only a very tiny handful of movies that understood how to do a “throwback” to 1970s exploitation films, bringing us a film that’s as savage a biker film as ever been seen crossed with the most brutal Bigfoot action this side of SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED. DEAR GOD NO! slapped us all upside the head with 17 inches of rock hard exploitation dick and made us beg for more.

Creator James Bickert wants to give us more.  He’s gotten his hands on enough 35mm film stock – 35MM FILM STOCK, BITCHES! No digital here! – to make another feature, and he wants to do a follow-up to DEAR GOD NO! entitled FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS.  But he needs our help to make it happen, and has turned to Kickstarter to do so.  This means that if the campaign doesn’t fund completely, none of us get billed but none of us get to see what else might come oozing out of Bickert’s deranged creativity glands.

Kickstart this motherfucker right here.

Now, I’ve already put my money where my mouth is and backed the project, and with 21 days to go there’s still about $15,000 to be raised.  So here’s my nut up or shut up moment:

I’m going on record right now to say that anybody who reads this, backs the project, and sends me an email to say they’ve backed FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS, I’m going to put their name in a raffle, and if the film funds completely, I’ll draw a name at random and I will send that person my perks for backing FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS.  That’s right, I want this film so bad I’ll sacrifice my goodies from backing the film.  That lucky film fan will get a DVD of DEAR GOD NO! signed by Bickert, actress Madeline Brumby and SPFX artist Shane Morton, from me, for backing the film.

That’s how bad I want to see this fund and how much I’m hoping my fans and readers will help James out.  And if the delivery of the rewards for the campaign is delayed, I’ll take the DEAR GOD NO! poster off my wall and send it to you instead.

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Cyclone (1987)

PosterFull-CYCLONE-poster-001Tax returns are a magical thing, readers, especially if, like me, you go through a website (which shall remain nameless as they’re not paying me for a plug) and are offered the option of getting a portion of your refund as an Amazon gift card, with every $100 you put on the card netting you a bonus $10. So having received such a gift card from filing my taxes, I of course promptly put it to good use by getting a bunch of cheesy movies from a variety of genres. As I’ve been kind of running around like a headless chicken today, I don’t have as much time as I would have liked for reviewing and so I picked today’s movie based solely on its running-time. But I gotta tell you, it looks promising. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

Rick (Jeffrey Combs, of RE-ANIMATOR and CELLAR DWELLER) has built the ultimate motorcycle, “Cyclone,” a computerized ride that incorporates rocket launchers and laser cannons into its innovative design.  He also has an iron-pumping blonde bombshell of a girlfriend, Teri (Heather Thomas, of ZAPPED!).  As the owner of the chopshop puts it, she’s got “a bit of Bruce Lee in her,” as demonstrated when she whips the crap out of a trio of chauvinist pigs haranguing her outside the chopshop.  After a visit to a punk club at Teri’s request (the band is Haunted Garage, whose frontman, Dukey Flyswatter, is best known to me as the voice of Uncle Impy in SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA), Rick is murdered.

Now, it falls to Teri to keep “Cyclone” from falling into the hands of Rick’s killers.  Along the way, she encounters FBI agents (Martine Beswick of THUNDERBALL and, surprisingly, her voice appears in CRITTERS 4, and Robert Quarry, of COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE) and a small army of thieving goons at the beck and call of a crimelord (Martin Landau, of WITHOUT WARNING and ALONE IN THE DARK) who wants to get his hands on Cyclone’s clean energy fuel source.

It’s kind of amazing the sheer volume of “names” Fred Olen Ray assembled for this cast.  Above and beyond the people named in the synopsis, we also get appearances from Troy Donahue, Huntz Hall (whose career stretches back to doing James Cagney pictures in the ’30s) and astonishing, Tim Conway Jr. and Michael Reagan (son of Ronald) as a pair of bumbling cops.  Dawn Wildsmith, Ray’s wife at the time (last seen around these parts in EVIL SPAWN) likewise appears with one of the most incredible manes of hair I’ve ever seen.

For the most part, CYCLONE is a pretty standard sci-fi action movie of its era, blending crime/espionage elements with the more outrageous aspects of a motorcycle that shoots rockets.  Unfortunately, it gets bogged down by extended driving sequences and overlong blocks of expository dialogue that slow the action to a crawl and dissipate the tension called for by the genre. It’s disappointing, but it’s also to be expected – long talky sequences cost a whole hell of a lot less to film then sequences of rocket launchers being fired, and for a filmmaker on a budget, it’s not a hard decision to make as to which to film.

To Ray’s credit, he does a fantastic job of varying the action sequences – car chasing motorcycle, car chasing car, shoot out, one-on-one catfight, three-on-one fistfight – keeping them interesting and engaging.

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Heather Thomas is a beautiful woman, and does a fantastic job carrying the majority of the film on her trim shoulders.  Her first introduction in the film involving the camera in a series of tight close-ups on her spandex-clad body as she lifts weights, and with that sort of intro I was expecting her to be a mere fleshpot, here more for eye-candy then anything else but she puts in a damn fine performance whether she’s dancing at the club or being tortured with a car battery and set of jumper cables.

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The only time she’s not outperforming the rest of the cast is when Martin Landau’s on screen — here he hams up the sleaze factor in his performance and comes across perfectly as a lounge-lizard sociopath who doesn’t care whose nipples get hooked to a car battery as long as he gets what he wants.  To his credit, however, car battery is his plan B after attempts to bribe Teri to assist him and betray Rick’s memory fall short.  I feel like if this movie was made today the car battery would be Plan A.

Final Analysis: A fun little flick to pop in on a Sunday afternoon, it doesn’t call for a lot of brain power on the viewer’s part but it entertains well enough.  As I said, the scenes between the action sequences tend to drag on longer than necessary and while we hear a lot about the capabilities of the Cyclone, we don’t really get to see them in action.  However, Heather Thomas made a great lead and Martin Landau a stellar villain, and overall I don’t have anything I can really complain about with this film.

Overall, I give CYCLONE (1987)…

three_barrels_of_toxic_waste

THREE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Critters 4 (1992)

Critters 4 posterGreetings, readers. I actually watched this film last weekend – while celebrating Valentine’s Day, my girlfriend declared that we should watch CRITTERS 4, since she’d seen the first three and wanted to complete the franchise. I popped the DVD in the player while she mixed up a foot bath for me to soak my soles in, and we sat there watching the fourth and, thankfully, final film in the franchise.  As I didn’t have my laptop in hand I didn’t review it at the time, so let’s take a look now and see if it’s as bad as it promises, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

Beginning exactly where CRITTERS 3 left off, we find Charlie dutifully placing the last two Crite eggs in existence into a containment pod sent by the Galactic Council.  Naturally, he gets sealed in too and the pod blasts off for space, Charlie and the eggs frozen in suspended animation inside.

The pod is found by a salvage-hauler in the distant future year of 2045.  The salvage-hauler, under sleazy, chain-smoking captain Rick, initially thinks to sell the pod as scrap, until the “old logo” of the Terracorp Corporation is discovered in the pod.  Reluctantly, Rick contacts Terracorp representative Councillor Tetra (Terrence Mann, of the last three Critters films) who instructs them to deliver the pod to a nearby Terracorp space station, where they’ll receive triple the usual salvage rate for it.

When crewmember Fran (Angela Bassett! I bet she doesn’t list this film on her resume any more) refuses his advances, Rick takes out his frustration on the pod, breaking it open and releasing both Charlie, and the two Crite eggs, which hatch immediately, with one of the infant furballs burrowing lethally into Rick’s face.  Before long, Charlie’s trying to come to grips with the fact that he’s 53 years in the future, his friend Ug is now mysteriously a corrupt businessman calling himself Councillor Tetra, the Critters are breeding out of control again, and oh, yeah, the space station (voiced by Martine Beswick) is about to self-destruct.

That almost made ALIEN RESURRECTION look good by comparison.  Almost.

The two biggest things working against CRITTERS 4 is that A) it’s nearly bloodless and B) the script is so nonsensical that the actors are practically rolling their eyes on camera at it.

Let’s start with the first point.  There are a total of four character deaths in the film, and CRITTERs 4 follows in its predecessor’s footsteps by telegraphing who’s going to die – by making them assholes.  Only the assholes die in this film.  The sleazy, rape-happy captain? Eaten from the inside out.  The drug-stealing engineer? Eaten.

critters4_shot6lAND THOSE ARE THE ONLY TWO CRITTERS-RELATED DEATHS.

The other two, a full 50% of the kills in the film, are committed by other characters using firearms.  Ug/Tetra shoots Brad Dourif’s dickish and overbearing character in the face and then Charlie shoots Ug/Tetra on the grounds that “things change.”  I’m sorry, but there’s something profoundly wrong with a Critters movie where Critters are responsible for only half of all death scenes.

Secondly, the script is more hole than plot.  We’re given no understanding of how the future has come to be what it is, no explanation for Ug’s inexplicable change from good guy alien bounty hunter to white collar criminal, no reason why the space station is abandoned and malfunctioning, no reason why we should give a tin shit about anybody except maybe Charlie, and even then he’s presented as such a dumbass that he’s hard to root for.

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It feels like the film has zero respect for itself, so how can we be expected to care about it?

At least the movie has Angela Bassett’s bare, buoyant buttocks to its credit, something that cannot be said for the two movies this film reminds me of most strongly, JASON X and ALIEN RESURRECTION.

Final Analysis: Good actors like Angela Bassett and Brad Dourif are completely wasted in this terrible movie, the sets look like leftovers from a 1980s Roger Corman production and the script feels less written and more excreted.  There is absolutely nothing here to recommend, and that’s a disappointment for a franchise that started so strong with the original CRITTERS back in the day.  And really, that’s how CRITTERS 4 is best summed up – as a disappointment.

Overall, I give CRITTERS 4 (1992)…

barrel of toxic waste

ONE BARREL OF TOXIC WASTE.

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The Return of Swamp Thing (1989)

220px-ReturnofswampthingGreetings, readers, Bill here. We’re re-viewing tonight’s film to celebrate the life and career of Louis Jourdan, an actor who was capable of far more than films of this caliber but nevertheless cheerfully appeared in them – both this film from director Jim Wynorski (whose work we last chronicled here with DINOSAUR ISLAND) and the (in my opinion) vastly-less-enjoyable predecessor directed by Wes Craven. Monsieur Jourdan left this world behind this past Saturday at the age of 93, and I don’t doubt that the world of cinema is poorer for his passing.  Also starring the late Dick Durock, Heather Locklear, Sarah Douglas, Joey Sagal and Penthouse Pet Monique Gabrielle (here allowed to show off her comedic chops as opposed to just her dirty pillows), let’s rock and roll with my favorite superhero movie, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

Abby Arcane (Locklear), incapable of moving on emotionally following her mother’s mysterious demise, has come to the bayou in search of her stepfather, the diabolical Dr. Anton Arcane (Jourdan, reprising his role from SWAMP THING) to set a few things straight.  Once there, she quickly learns that Dr. Arcane has some rather sinister plans in mind for her – plans that had previously led to her mother’s death, and which mean to put Arcane beyond Death’s grasp.

Menaced by Arcane’s henchmen Gunn (Sagal) and Poinsettia (Gabrielle), Abby finds a surprising ally in the swamp – Dr. Alec Holland, a research scientist-turned-muck encrusted mockery of a man after exposure to burning chemicals and swamp waster courtesy of Arcane.  Holland, now known as Swamp Thing, has an unfinished score to settle with Arcane, and falls in love with Abby as well!

Along the way we encounter mutants, mad scientists, two goofy kids in the wrong place at the wrong time, a contest of oneupsmanship involving scar tissue, and more references to avocados than any movie should ever contain.

My girlfriend spent this screening shooting me sidelong glances and saying, “Really, Bill?”

There’s no denying that this is a silly, cheesy movie.  But then, it’s a comic book movie from the days before Burton made “serious” comic book movies a thing, and many years before the current crop of serious, respectable superhero movies.  And honestly, I kind of miss this atmosphere – it’s just light, easy-on-the-brain fun.

THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING also draws far more on the aesthetic of comic books than any superhero movie in recent memory except maybe Ang Lee’s HULK, and in some ways more closely resembles Romero’s CREEPSHOW, with the scene changes accompanied by a “turning pages” effect.  The opening credit montage of frames from the Swamp Thing comic book is likewise a surprisingly-underutilized connection back to the parent medium.  FLASH GORDON is the only other film I can think of off the top of my head that uses the same sort of montage.

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Unlike far too many movies, I can’t pinpoint a single truly bad performance or underutilized actor in this film.  I love Heather Locklear’s valley girl take on Abby Arcane and Dick Durock’s commanding presence as Swamp Thing is far more enjoyable and, lets face it, present than he was in Craven’s film.  The suit’s far better as well.  I enjoy the broad, gum-popping comedy of Gunn and the more sardonic humor of Poinsettia.  Hell, I love that Monique Gabrielle gets to be more than just a pair of bouncing jugs and splayed bush here.  She’s got fantastic comic timing and can express so much with just a roll of her eyes.

The true scene-stealer of course is Louis Jourdan, who infuses the role of Arcane with a diabolical ennui.  He’s evil, but he’s languid, almost cat-like in his villainy.  He’s so confident in his eventual success that he doesn’t feel the need to expend a single iota of additional energy in pursuing his schemes.  The man makes eating a well-balanced breakfast sinister, and his whole attitude is embodied in an exchange of dialogue in which Abby accuses him of having sold his soul to the devil:

“Let’s just say he has a lease with the option to buy.”

Damn that’s good.

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The practical effects, i.e. the monster suits, are excellent.  One of my biggest complaints with Craven’s take on the character is how much the rubber suit just looks like rubber.  Here Swamp Thing is not just beefy and muscular, but he actually looks like vegetable matter, covered in leaves, vines and roots.  Likewise, we’re treated to an assortment of mutants created by Arcane, including a Leech-Man, an Elephant-Man and a Cockroach-Man.  The panoply of “Un-Men,” to borrow a phrase from the comics, is rounded out by Dr. Rochelle, one of Arcane’s underlings (played by Ace Mask, a regular in Wynorski’s films from this era) who turns into a big-headed mutant goon resembling Star Trek’s “Balok,” albeit a big-headed mutant goon who still needs his inhaler.

Final Analysis: While Gina did not care for this film, going so far as to state she’d prefer a screening of Joel Schumacher’s BATMAN AND ROBIN, I’m a fan.  It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a nice film to put on after a long day in the office, and sometimes that’s all I’m looking for in a movie.  I enjoyed the performances on display here and the monster-hero brawls had an appreciated degree of aggressive physicality to them.  It won’t be for everyone, but for B-level superhero flicks, nothing beats THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING in my eyes.

Overall, I give THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING (1989)…

four_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FOUR BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Hunchback of the Morgue (El Jorobado de la Morgue, 1973)

posterGreetings, readers, Bill here with another sterling example of Spanish Horror, as exemplified by Paul Naschy (previously witnessed around these parts in PANIC BEATS and FURY OF THE WOLFMAN).  I’ve been meaning to watch this one for a while now – The Vicar of VHS over at the now-slumbering Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies turned me on to this one, as well as Naschy’s work in general, and I actually picked it up at the same time I bought MYSTICS IN BALI, so it’s been sitting on my coffee table for a while.  This one holds a special place in my blackened little heart just for the concept alone – who else but Naschy would make a movie focused on the mad scientist’s hunchbacked assistant, and present him as not just a sympathetic character, but as a romantic lead? It’s an amazing concept and really shows how much creativity was flowing out of Spain in the 1970s.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

Gotho (Naschy), is the hunchbacked assistant at the local hospital, mostly kept busy running cadavers around for medical students.  He’s also apparently the most hated man in the village for his deformity – the children pelt him with rocks while screaming “Monkey! Monkey!” while the doctors he works for tell him he looks like a baboon and laugh right in his face at their own cleverness.  His one happiness is visiting a childhood friend of his, Ilse (Maria Elena Arpon, last seen around these parts in TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD), who’s very ill.

In fact, the bullying of the local doctors causes Gotho to be a minute too late on his way to visit Ilse, and she dies just moments before he walks in the door.  Seeing her lifeless form, drives Gotho mad with grief, and then seeing a doctor nonchalantly stealing Ilse’s necklace with the remark “this coldcut doesn’t need it any more” drives him mad with rage.  He murders the thieving doctor and carries Ilse’s body into the night.

Before long, Gotho is stalking the streets for revenge on the doctors he blames for Ilse’s death, and quickly finds himself in the employ of Dr. Orla, a mad scientist who promises to restore Ilse to life and health in exchange for Gotho’s labors on the scientist’s “primordial slime” experiments, but how can Gotho be sure he’ll keep his word?

This movie is amazing, and amazingly weird.  Like I said, who else but Naschy would make a movie where the hunchbacked lab assistant is the lead? And then, not being content with just having a hunchback wandering the streets killing people, throw in a slime-monster for a climactic battle? While HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE doesn’t quite reach the extremes of the Outer Batshittosphere the way a movie like FURY OF THE WOLFMAN does, it’s certainly not for lack of effort.

This is a film where the hero hacks up cadavers, strangles people, throws people into acid vats, seals them in Iron Maidens, smashes vials full of smoldering chemicals into faces, fights rats with a torch…all in the name of love!

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Actually, let’s talk about that “fights rats with a torch” bit for a second.  In the film’s most controversial sequence, Gotho discovers a swarm of rats feasting on Ilse’s cadaver and loses his goddamn mind, using a lit torch to clear them off her body – soon the rats are launching themselves at him angrily and he has to light a skeleton on fire and body-slam it into a mass of rats to escape with his life and the gnawed-on remains of Ilse.  These are real rats (Naschy had to be inoculated against rabies for this scene) and they’re actually being catapulted at him by crewmembers just off-camera.  And yes, the rats were actually set on fire, and some of them do burn to death on camera.  It lacks the sheer visceral punch in the dick of the unsimulated animal kills in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, but it’s still something animal lovers should be aware of before going into this film.

Even crazier, there’s a decapitation scene that uses a real corpse! Yes, Naschy got permission to decapitate an actual cadaver on film, but even after a couple nerve-steeling shots of whiskey he couldn’t get past the first cut – but that’s all we need.

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Naschy of course steals the show as the tormented, dimwitted Gotho, but he’s surrounded by great talent here.  Victor Alcazar is marvelous as the corrupt, self-centered Dr. Orla, using Gotho to facilitate his experiments with primordial ooze.  Even more interesting is Rosanna Yanni, who plays Dr. Elke, who first brings Gotho to Dr. Orla’s attention.  She and Gotho form a rapport in the wake of Ilse’s death, and ultimately end up in bed together – that’s right, we get a hunchbacked sex scene on top of everything else! Yanni gives a strong performance and provides a good “straight woman” role in the midst of all the madness.

Final Analysis: A magnificently weird film, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before in its twisted take on the venerable mad scientist genre.  Naschy’s a powerhouse as always, the women are achingly lovely in that way only women of Spanish origin are (Arpon is from Barcelona, while Yanni’s Argentine), and the film never lets you get comfortable enough to think you know what’s going to happen next.  From the polka and busty barmaids of the opening sequence to the explosively tragic finale, nothing is ever predictable here, and I love it for that alone.  Add in the dark, gothic atmosphere and sleazy 1970s gore and shock scenes, and it’s a sure-fire winner all around.  Add this one to your collection for sure!

Overall, I give HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE (1973)…

five_barrels_of_toxic_waste

FIVE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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Critters 3 (1991)

critters3Well, readers, I found myself with some free time today after coming down with a bout of food poisoning, and what better way to rest myself then to park my suffering ass in front of the TV with a cheapo movie, eh? I’ve got plans to finish reviewing the CRITTERS, BLIND DEAD and TREMORS franchises at some point in the future, and I figured that this would be a good place to start.  Released direct-to-video in 1991, here’s Leonardo DiCaprio’s film debut – CRITTERS 3.

Spoilers ensue.

A family – Annie, her little brother Johnny, and their father Cliff – stop to fix a flat tire.  At the rest stop, Annie encounters Charlie McFadden (Don Keith Opper, reprising his role from the previous two films), now apparently somewhat deranged and still hunting for Crites.  Unfortunately, while Cliff’s fixing the tire, a Crite rolls in and lays a clutch of eggs under the car.  When they drive on, the eggs are inadvertently brought along for the ride.

The eggs hatch soon after they return home, quickly making a meal out of the sleazeball maintenance man and terrorizing the other tenants of the apartment complex.  It swiftly falls to Annie and Josh (DiCaprio, in a role I bet he doesn’t include on his resume any more), the landlord’s stepson, to try and contain the Crites before they spread to the rest of the city.  Fortunately, Charlie’s on his way to clean up the mess…

CRITTERS 3 continues on its predecessor’s trend of emphasizing the comedy aspect of horror-comedy.  The Crites chuckle and snicker to themselves as they hunt their prey, and their “rolling” method of locomotion has become a spin worthy of the Tasmanian Devil.  The people who fall prey to the Crites are now not just anyone in their path — their victims are the assholes we want to see turned into crite-chow, while the characters with redeeming qualities manage to escape, and in this way I think the film is drawing more off late-80s/early-90s slashers rather than the language of alien invasion movies.

I thought it was particularly interesting that we get a visually-defined “leader” to the Crites this time, in the vein of Stripe/Mohawk from the GREMLINS films – this film has “Blackie,” a Crite scarred after falling face-first into a puddle of bleach.  After the efforts put into differentiating the first CRITTERS film from GREMLINS, it’s odd to see that sort of “call back.”

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I think what I like best here is the character arc for Annie – over the course of the film she goes from being the daughter of a hopeless schmoe trying her best to hold the family together after her mom’s death to a strong, independent woman who takes charge of the situation and doesn’t take shit from anyone, least of all her slacker of a father.

And let’s face it, Cliff’s a loser.  He’s simply shut down in the wake of his wife’s death, leaving his children to fend for themselves while he travels for work as a railroad engineer, opting to spend most of his remaining free time half-passed out in the easy chair in front of the TV.  It takes his son Johnny falling off a roof and nearly dying to snap him out of his apathy.  The end of the film shows them a happy family once more, but to me his redemption’s too little too late, and I think the power dynamic in the family has permanently shifted in Annie’s favor.

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I’d actually be really curious to learn what happened to Charlie between CRITTERS 2 and here.  At the end of the last movie, he was settling into a position as sheriff of the little town of Grover’s Bend, having finally won their respect and a place he could call home.  So why is it here that he’s a shabby, disheveled lunatic wearing a bandoleer of fishing lures and living in the woods? Did the mental strain of having two close encounters with the Crites finally prove too great a shock to his system?

As for Leonardo DiCaprio? He’s just kind of there.  There’s nothing to say about his performance; nothing here suggests the career he’s going to have, but at least he’s not the kid from TERMINATOR 2.

Final Analysis: A goofy little movie and a reasonable enough sequel to the original CRITTERs.  I thought moving the action from Grover’s Bend to a larger city worked well and the Crites were as entertaining as ever.  It’s nothing amazing and ground-breaking, but it’s a decent enough viewing experience.

Overall, I give CRITTERS 3 (1991)…

three_barrels_of_toxic_waste

THREE BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.

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