Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

Godzilla, after 21 years, had come full circle from an angry force of nature awakened from the deep by nuclear bomb tests to a defender of the earth.  Aliens, supervillains, corrupt government officials and a virtual menagerie of monsters had attempted to bring him down.  They all failed, although Mechagodzilla came pretty close.

After the events of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, those pesky aliens from the third planet of the black hole are back again.  Scientists pilot a mysterious submarine to find the remains of Mechagodzilla, only to be attacked by Titanosaurus, an aquatic reptile that had been theorized by Dr. Shinzo Mafune (Akihiko Hirata).  His theories about the monster, and attempts to control it, got him thrown out of the institute in which he worked. 

Biologist Akira Ichinose (Kastuhiko Sasaki) and Interpol Agent Jiro Murakoshi (Katsumasa Uchida) attempt to find the doctor, only to be told by the doctor's daughter Katsura (Tomoko Ai) that the doctor had died.  Truth is, the doctor is in league with Alien Leader Mugal (Goro Mutsumi), who saved Katsura's life by turning her into a cyborg.  Her transformation also made it possible for Mafune's attempts to control Titanosaurus to be successful, and now the aliens want him to do the same with a newly rebuilt Mechagodzilla.

Eager to prove himself right, Mafune pits Titanosaurs in a battle against Godzilla, which results in the former fleeing, but the point made.  The aliens ultimately plan, after destroying Godzilla, to use the same technology to control other monsters and destroy all the major cities of Earth, starting with Tokyo.  As usual, Godzilla is there to save the day, resulting in a three-way battle between the monsters.

Terror of Mechagodzilla brings the original series of movies to a close, after reaching a number of highs and lows.  Ishiro Honda is back directing, and this makes the fight scenes some of the best.  It is in fact one of the better Godzilla films that features him as a good guy.

There are still many problems.  The silly get-ups the aliens wear is laughable; they should have just stuck with the wraparound shades.  The dialogue, at least in the dubbed version, is laughably awful.  I don't know if this was done on purpose, but I would like to see the subtitled version so I could know if this was actually the real script.  In the past there have been some major differences in tone when it came to the Japanese versions of these movies, and I have a feeling that may be the case here as well.

The story has been done to death, but at least the original Godzilla retires with a bang.  Hopefully Titanosaurus makes an appearance again sometime in the future, as it is a pretty decent design, even if he doesn't breathe fire.

Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)
Time: 83 minutes
Starring: Katsuhiko Sasaki, Tomoko Ai, Akihiro Hirata, Katsumasa Uchida
Director: Ishiro Honda

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Night of the Cobra Woman (1972)

When I saw that one of the actresses in this movie was named Joy Bang, I got concerned that this movie was going to end up with me spending a night on the couch.  While it does have some nudity and sexual themes, I found out that falling asleep on the couch was a much more likely scenario. 

Lena Aruza (Marlene Clark) is a nurse in the Philippines during World War II.  She is out exploring with a friend when she finds a cave, which contains a cobra with a particular diamond shape on its throat.  She is bitten by the cobra, and instead of dying, transforms into a creature of immortal beauty.  She is also able to use the venom to save her friend's life after she is raped and shot by a Japanese soldier.

30-some years later Joanna (Bang) is a UNICEF worker in Manila, assisting Dr. Tezon (Vic Silayan) with his venom research.  She hears about the firebrand cobra, a species thought to be extinct, but that a mysterious woman in a small village might know where to find them.  She seeks out the woman, only to find her caretaker Francisca (Rosemarie Gil) and her mentally deficient son Lopé (Vic Diaz).  Joanna interprets Lopé's attention as an attack and flees. 

Joanna's boyfriend Duff (Roger Garrett) comes to visit, and she tells him the tale.  He purchases an eagle from a market, and determines to go seek the snake woman out himself.  He finds out from Francisca that Lopé's state is due to sexual congress with Lena.  Upon meeting Lena, Duff is taken despite Francisca's warning.  She is living with the snake that bit her, named Movini.  It turns out that whenever the venom does not work or is in short supply she takes the life essence from men by making love with them, and this begins to happen with Duff.

Meanwhile, Joanna has also shown up at Lena's dwelling, determined to steal a sample of the venom.  She does, and is attacked by Movini.  She releases Duff's eagle, which kills the snake, but is himself killed after eating a poison mango.  Joanna returns with the venom to Dr. Tezon, and they begin experiments on monkeys, finding out that rather than immortality, they begin to age once the venom's effects wear off.

Both Lena and Duff begin to experience the same problem, since with Movini dead the venom is no longer available.  Lena has a solution: giving into the full transformation from human to snake, so she can become Movini and provide the venom necessary to keep Duff alive. 

It's about as typical a movie about reluctant shapeshifters as you can get with a little bit of a sexual subplot, which of course is made the focus of the posters.  Like most movies of its time it is nowhere near as exploitative as you would be led to believe.  Instead, it is full of stiff performances and little in the way of plot development or excitement.  It may be a curiosity to those who enjoy Filipino genre films, but there is much better than this.

The Night of the Cobra Woman (1972)
Time: 76 minutes
Starring: Joy Bang, Marlene Clark, Roger Garrett
Director: Andrew Meyer

Saturday, October 15, 2016

King Kong (1976)

"I not give you crap."  So said producer Dino De Laurentiis when promoting his 1976 remake of King Kong.  The original had become a classic, not just in horror and science fiction, but film-making in general.  When you watch the 1933 original today, it is just as exciting as when it came out 83 years ago.  Although Peter Jackson's version is nowhere near as good as the original, he had the vision of placing it in the same time period, and making Kong both vicious and sentimental.

De Laurentiis's Kong is practically a suave lady's man, and the sentimentality is slathered on like frosting.  No subtlety, no trust that the audience may get the subtext.  It is almost as if the script was written by a giant ape with a couple head wounds.

Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin) is an oil executive for a company called Petrox.  Along with his scientist sidekick Bagley (Rene Auberjonois), he sets sail for a mysterious fog-enshrouded island that he is sure is rich with oil, as well as uninhabited.  Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges), a paleontologist, thinks the high carbon dioxide levels in the fog point to a large animal exhaling.  He stows aboard the ship in order to reach the island. 

Fred initially thinks Jack is a spy for a rival oil company, but his true identity is revealed after he aids in the rescue of Dwan (Jessica Lange), a young actress adrift on life raft after the yacht she was on exploded. 

The ship reaches the fog bank and, sure enough, an island lies behind it.  On it, the explorers find a giant wall and a primitive native population that is preparing a sacrifice.  They are spotted, and their chief (Keny Long) confronts Fred and Jack, demanding that Dwan be turned over as a sacrifice, going so far as to offer six of his own women for her.  Jack refuses, and the other men fire guns into the air.  This does not frighten the natives for long, as they kidnap Dwan from the boat later that night.

Noticing she is missing, Jack organizes a rescue party, to which Fred also assigns a survey party to continue oil research on the island.  Meanwhile, the natives offer Dwan to Kong, who gladly accepts and takes her home to his cave, where he does his best to woo her. 

Most of the rescue party dies in the attempt to rescue Dwan, but Jack perseveres and leads her away while Kong fights a giant snake.  Discovering that the oil on the island is useless, Fred hatches a plan to capture Kong and bring him back to the United States as an attraction sponsored by Petrox.  He succeeds, but on opening night Kong gets concerned when he thinks Dwan is being attacked.  After breaking out of his cage he rampages through New York, trying to find her, and ultimately fighting for his life on top of the World Trade Center.

There are some terrible special effects in this movie, and I mean terrible even for the 1970s.  Many of the effects from the original look better.  However, when money was spent, it is evident.  The suit, and especially the masks used, are beyond what was used in Planet of the Apes seven years earlier, and the mechanical hands are quite convincing.  There was even a 40-foot mechanical Kong built, but for all the expense and effort, it appears only briefly in the film.

Another complaint is the rescue.  In both the original and Peter Jackson's version, the quest to find Kong is more dangerous than a simple log.  There are giant bugs and charging dinosaurs.  I guess they spent all their money on Kong, because the only other monster that shows up is the giant snake, and that is a stand-in for the Tyrannosaurus. 

Jessica Lange is a great actor, something she has proven time and again through the first four seasons of American Horror Story.  It is disappointing that she is given such horrible dialogue to spout here.  She does her best, but she and the other actors are given lines that George Lucas would reject.  Again, it is obvious that much of the thought for this movie went into designing the monster rather than making a good movie.  Fay Wray even ducked doing a cameo because of how bad the script was.

Even the original film makers, when they made Son of Kong, could not touch the original.  Peter Jackson's film, for all its flaws, came the closest, but this version serves only as a curiosity and a reminder that unnecessary, horrible remakes are not just something that has popped up in the last 15 years.

King Kong (1976)
Time: 134 minutes
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange
Director: John Guillermin

From Within (2008)

I think I could go on forever about how much I hate Twilight and anything to do with it.  There were many things that tainted horror in the 2000s, and that movie was one of the worst.  Suddenly sad-eyed emo boys were filling the screen, trying to fulfill 16-year-old girls' bad boy cravings - cravings they would inevitably regret a few years later, just like the albums by the boy band they liked when they were 13.

It is too bad that From Within falls within this category, as it did try to so something original.

Lindsay (Elizabeth Rice) is a good Christian girl in Grovetown, Maryland.  She is dating Dylan (Kelly Blatz), the son of the local pastor of their megachurch (Steven Culp).  In fact, the entire town revolves around the church, and outsiders that do not want to participate are not welcome. 

One of these outsiders is Paul (David Arniello), who is secretly off with his girlfriend Natalie (Rumer Willis).  Paul commits suicide in front of her.  Soon after, she runs into her father's store, covered in blood, claiming she is being followed.  Shortly after, she commits suicide herself, followed by her father and others.

Lindsay's mother Trish (Laura Allen) and her boyfriend Roy (Adam Goldberg) are none too happy that Paul and his brother Aidan (Thomas Dekker) have returned to town, as their mother was accused of witchcraft and died in a fire near her home.  Since Aidan also refuses to be part of the church, he is attacked by Dylan, but Lindsay comes to his rescue.  This leads to her becoming suspect as falling away from the church.

Aidan reveals that Paul got the spell from his mother's grimoire, and did it to avenge her death.  Aidan claims that the fire was set deliberately when his mother was blamed for the death of a local boy.

Lindsay grows closer to Aidan, and Dylan grows more furious with his father for not doing something about the boys.  In order to "save" Lindsay, she is kidnapped and forced into an exorcism.  However, Trish, who had witnessed one of the suicides, kills herself in front of Lindsay, passing on the curse.  Aidan and Lindsay must now retrieve the grimoire so they can undo the spell, as there is no telling to what lengths it may spread, and Aidan finds himself reluctantly falling for Lindsay.

The doppelgangers that come for the victims are reminiscent of Asian ghosts, and the idea of a dangerous spell unleashed is intriguing.  Unfortunately, as stated before, we have the emo anti-hero that the heroine falls for.  The love story seems shoe-horned, and it would have been better (and made the pastor's son look worse) if there was really no attraction going on. 

It is also too bad that the townspeople are all portrayed in one dimension.  It is the typical backward, redneck, gun-toting religious nuts that exist largely in the fears of East Coast intellectuals and hack writers.  They could have been zombies for all it was worth, or a horde of vampires, or any rote mob.  No matter what, it is just lazy.

I think that is what sums up this movie.  Someone came up with a great premise, but was too lazy to do anything truly creative with it. 

From Within (2008)
Time: 89 minutes
Starring: Elizabeth Rice, Thomas Dekker, Kelly Blatz
Director: Phedon Papamichael

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Terror Within (1989)

I sometimes have to wonder what happened to Roger Corman in the '80s and '90s.  By his own admission, he really never looked at movies as art, but as opportunities to make money.  He would seize on any trend, often making thinly-veiled remakes of more popular movies just to turn a buck.  More often than not throughout his career it worked. 

So, why even bother with The Terror Within, a horrible clone of Alien that didn't even make back its production costs?  Never mind that it was 10 years after the fact.  Honestly, it was three years after the sequel, but Corman didn't even bother to rip off the sequel. 

After a release of a biological warfare agent kills or mutates 99 per cent of the population, only scattered survivors roam the land, with most holed up in government labs.  There is a vaccine, but really nobody to administer it to.  Those who do remain above ground fall victim to "gargoyles," virtually unstoppable mutants that do nothing but kill and reproduce.

The Mohave Lab is run by Hal (George Kennedy), who sends out David (Andrew Stevens) and Sue (Starr Andreeff) after two other lab members die while on survey.  They find a the two members dead, as well as the remains of a human camp that has fallen under attack as well.  The lone survivor is a young woman named Karen (Yvonne Saa), who they bring back to the lab and discover is three months pregnant. 

The lab itself is attacked from the outside, but that doesn't turn out to be the big problem.  The baby Karen is carrying is maturing quickly, and an attempt by their doctor Linda (Terri Treas) to remove it results in the fetus doing its best chest-burster imitation and heading for the air vents.  It quickly grows and begins killing and, in the case of Sue, decides she is going to carry its child.

Since she has been sleeping with David, he and Linda assume that the baby is his, but Sue is sure it is not.  She attempts to abort it herself, resulting in the fetus tearing her up inside before dying.  After Hal and the rest are killed, David and Linda must find a way to stop the gargoyle and escape the facility.

The acting is horrendous, the creature is merely a guy in a horrible suit growling, and everything else is lifted from both Alien and The Thing.  It is hard to believe that anyone was doing this for a paycheck, but if they did I hope they were able to get to the bank and cash it before the check bounced. 

Maybe this was one of the movies that somewhat convinced him that his time a master of schlock was over, as it made under a million dollars at the box office, and I barely remember it being on the video shelves.  Not only is it boring and unnecessary, but it makes me sad that he was losing touch with his audience.

The Terror Within (1989)
Time: 88 minutes
Starring: Andrew Stevens, Terri Treas, Starr Andreeff, George Kennedy
Director: Thierry Notz

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Brain Dead (1990)

I am quite aware of the memes involving confusion between Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton.  Long before the internet was a thing, there was a strange movie that actually starred both of them. 

Rex Martin (Pullman) is a respected neurosurgeon that has an office full of brains.  He hooks the brains up to a face to see what responses he gets, and so far he has had some success, specifically in figuring out what part of the brain causes paranoia.

The studies are funded by a grant from a large corporation called Eunice, of which his best friend Jim Reston (Paxton) is a board member.  Eunice has a problem: a mathematician named Jack Halsey (Bud Cort) has suffered a psychological breakdown.  He killed his entire family and was committed to a mental institution, where he believes Ramsen (Nicholas Pryor), the doctor in charge, is his boss Conklin from a mattress store at which he is an accountant.  He also believes that Conklin is a man in a bloody white suit that has been following him around.

Martin befriends Halsey and does some experiment, confirming his brain matches the pattern of someone with acute paranoia.  Jim informs Rex that the next step is for him to step beyond theories and actually operate on Halsey to restore his sanity so that the corporation can retrieve the missing parts of an equation from him.  Martin is reluctant, but does the surgery in order to make sure he does not lose his grant.  The operation is such a success that Jim pitches the next step to Vance (George Kennedy), Eunice's chairman: a chain of offices where people can have their personality flaws erased.

Problem is, Martin is now seeing the man in the bloody white suit, and his mental state after the surgery becomes fragile, resulting in a disastrous dinner with Vance and Jim in order to discuss the idea of elective brain surgery.  He also becomes sure that Jim, previously his romantic rival, is having an affair with his wife Dana (Patricia Charbonneau).  He returns home to find them in the act, only to see them murdered by the man in the bloody clothes.

Rex wakes up in an insane asylum, where the man has regained his personality and Dr. Ramsen, who apparently is treating Martin.  He tries to convince Martin that his life as a neurosurgeon is made up, and that Halsey and he are the same person.  Meanwhile, Eunice, believing Martin to be Halsey, attempts to the surgery on him in order to get the equation.  However, it is possible that even this is an illusion, as Rex may be dying from injuries sustained in an accident, which from his viewpoint involved a homeless man. 

The movie was based on a script by Twilight Zone writer Charles Beaumont that was sitting among a number of different scripts that Roger Corman had been holding onto.  Adam Simon chose this one as the best among them, and decided to make a feature film.

There are some interesting elements here involving what is and is not consciousness, as well as some typical horror elements.  Fans of David Lynch may also be shocked (or not so shocked) at how much this in some ways resembles Lost Highway, even though Brain Dead, despite its twists and turns, is quite a bit more linear. 

The parts that do work are undone by some truly hammy acting from Bud Cort and a feeling that Simon did not know exactly how to stretch this out into a movie.  I can see where this would have worked as a half-hour Twilight Zone episode.  As a cheap horror movie it does not contain enough thrills to keep the viewer engaged.  It's really more of a curiosity in the career of both of the Bills.

Brain Dead (1990)
Time: 85 minutes
Starring: Bill Pullman, Bill Paxton, Bud Cort, Nicholas Pryor
Director: Adam Simon

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

There are times when I like something that almost everybody else hates.  If I haven't seen something for 25 years or so, I start wondering if the reason I liked it was because I was just too young to know better.  After all, there are many movies I like now that I hated when I first saw them, largely due to the fact that I am at an age where I can better understand them (a few Cohen Brothers movies come to mind). 

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan is one of those.  I always maintained that people were wrong about this one, but my suspicions recently have been that I am the one who is mistaken.  I saw parts IV and VII in recent years, and they were both entries in the series that I liked when I first saw them, but find them both to be pretty mediocre at this point.  I don't hate the third one, but when it comes to the Friday the 13th movies I prefer to stick with one, two and 9.  Turns out that, even though it's not a great movie by any standard, I should be including Jason Takes Manhattan in that list. 

Jim (Todd Caldecott) and Suzi (Tiffany Paulson) are enjoying some "alone time" on a houseboat near the ruins of Camp Crystal Lake.  Todd anchors the boat and, to add some mood, tells Suzi the story about Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder).  Coincidentally, the anchor catches on an underwater power cable, which results in transferring an electrical charge into Jason, which was his means of resurrection in the past.  He climbs on board, dispatches the two and drifts back down the river in the empty boat. 

Down said river is a group of local high school kids getting ready for a graduation cruise to New York.  Suzi and Jim are conspicuously missing, but biology teacher Charles McCulloch (Peter Mark Richman) refuses to wait for them.  He is also angry that the other chaperone, English teacher Colleen Van Deusen (Barbara Bingham), has brought his niece Rennie (Jensen Daggett), whom he thinks is not fit to go on the trip.  He is also not happy about the attention she is getting from a boy named Sean (Scott Reeves), who happens to also be the son of Admiral Robertson (Warren Munson), who is in charge of the ship.

Of course, there is another stowaway, as Jason decides to hop on board and start killing the teens.  Rennie keeps having visions of Jason as a child trying to drag her under the water, something that led to her fear of water and inability to swiim - the reason her uncle doesn't want her on the boat.  Charles also refuses to believe the warnings of a deck hand (Alex Diakun) and others that Jason is on board. 

The killings reach a head when the boat runs into a storm, leaving the ship disabled.  Rennie, Colleen, Charles, Sean and aspiring boxer Julius (Vincent Craig Dupree) manage to escape in a lifeboat and make their way into New York City, arriving at a harbor in a shady part of town.  They are immediately set upon by Puerto Rican gang members who kidnap Rennie in order to have their way with her.  Jason also makes it to shore, and kills the gang members in an attempt to kill Rennie himself.

The group flees through New York, only to fall victim to Jason until only Sean and Rennie are left, pursued through the streets, subways and sewers by the undead the killer.

As I said, this is not a great film by any stretch.  I do not understand why someone afraid of water, or unable to swim, should not be on a boat.  I have trouble swimming, but love boats - largely because, on a boat, you don't have to swim.  It's kind of the point.  Also, normally I find at least one teenager to be annoying, and they left out the practical joker type this time around.  Unfortunately, Charles McCulloch manages to annoy all the way through.  I know he was supposed to be despicable, but a little subtlety would have been nice.

I also know that a lot of this movie is looking at it and wondering what it would have been like if given the proper budget.  Director Rob Hedden meant for the movie to take place largely in Manhattan, as the title implies, and not so much on the boat.  Also, Lar Park-Lincoln's psychic character was from the previous movie was supposed to return, but Paramount didn't want to give her a raise.  Their are some memorable scenes on the boat, but the most memorable are the ones filmed in New York.  Too bad Vancouver stood in for the City of Lights through most of the time spent there. 

On to the good stuff.  The kills in this are done well, if sometimes a bit heavy on trying to be ironic.  Kane Hodder is definitely the most memorable Jason since he put on the hockey mask.  Also, some of the actors, though unknowns, can do more than wooden line readings, which is often a problem throughout most of the series.

It was obvious that even Friday the 13th was going into the crazier realms of '80s horror, and there are some hints of that in Jason Takes Manhattan.  It is definitely not the worst, even if it is quite disappointing, given the title.  It would have been nice to see much of what was originally intended.  Unfortunately, the series had been losing money at this point, and Paramount was more than happy to unload it on New Line, who except for the ninth installment went about destroying it.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
Time: 100 minutes
Starring: Jensen Daggett, Scott Reeves, Peter Mark Richman, Kane Hodder
Director: Rob Hedden