SEPTEMBER 15 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : GODZILLAS REVENGE
In our last review we mentioned that people in the 1960's were taking a lot of drugs, and that some movies with rather, ah, hallucinatory qualities resulted. Further evidence of this is 1969's Godzilla's Revenge, in which all of the monster action takes place in the dreams of (who else?) a young Japanese boy.
When most folks watch Godzilla's Revenge, they find a moment when they realize that it is going to be a very trippy movie. For you, that moment might be when the young protagonist Ichiro first enters his fantasy world, which initially resembles a deserted airplane. Or maybe it will be when Minya, son of Godzilla, first speaks to Ichiro in a human tongue. Or perhaps it will be upon discovering that this will be another movie starring a Japanese boy wearing shorts so small that they can only be seen with powerful optical equipment.
"So I just hold that thing up in the air
and I suddenly become Ultraman?
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Ichiro (Tomonori Yazaki) is a latchkey kid with a very active fantasy life. Because he is the smallest kid around, the bigger kids (especially a boy named Gabera) bully him, and he goes running home to an empty house, because his mother works nights. Fortunately, his neighbor is a kindly inventor/toymaker, who allows Ichiro to hang around the workshop and think up great names for his new toys. The toymaker is kind of scary-looking, enough so that one of our fellow viewers felt the need to observe that she doesn't know for sure what Japanese child molesters look like, but if she had to pick one out of a crowd, this would be the guy. To the film's credit, this particular avenue of plot development is left unexplored.
When Ichiro is left unsupervised he pulls out his make-believe radio and calls Monster Island. But then the radio, at least in Ichiro's disturbed little mind, actually transports Ichiro to the island via a mysteriously deserted airplane. Once on the island Ichiro watches stock footage of Godzilla fighting a Gimantis (courtesy Son of Godzilla) before the young lad falls down a hole. A vine is dropped down the hole, and Ichiro climbs out to find that his benefactor is Minya! And he talks! The first thing he says to Ichiro is, "Please put some pants on!"
Gabera prepares to break Minya
of his smoking habit.
No, that's not really what he says, but Ichiro is yet another in the long line of micro-short shorts-wearing Asian kids that infest Japanese monster movies like trench coats infest an X-Files episode. Minya has somehow shrunk down to human size, the better to be Ichiro's friend. The rest of the movie is split between more Godzilla stock footage from Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster
and Son of Godzilla, Minya acting as Ichiro's own personal Tony Robbins, and Ichiro's infrequent forays into his drab real life. The only drama comes when bank robbers (helpfully mentioned by other characters about 14,000 times before they actually appear) kidnap Ichiro.
The only new monster footage in the movie comes in the form of scenes of the little Minya and Ichiro, and some footage featuring a new monster called Gabera (just like the bully from Ichiro's "real" life). There are two Minya costumes: one is a regular full-body costume, and the other is an elaborate shoulders-up puppet, which has the frightening ability to wiggle its brow, shift its eyes, and move its mouth. It's difficult to explain just why this is frightening, but for some reason the animated Minya face just looks... wrong. Wrong in a Carol Channing sort of way.
"So you say this raygun can shrink
any article of clothing?
At any rate, the film's main message seems to be "Stand up to bullies even when they're so big you couldn't possibly win, because that's the only way to make your parents proud." In doing so, Minya takes a mighty beating at the hands of Gabera, who is not only much larger than Godzilla's son, but also has the ability to fry the little guy's brain with bolts of electricity. Godzilla watches calmly as his offspring suffers at the hands of Gabera before the little feller lucks into a method of defeating his tormentor. Ichiro, of course, takes this to mean that no problem is insurmountable so long as you attack it with wild abandon, and applies that lesson to his encounter with the bank robbers. The robbers, being a highly stupid bunch of criminals, are no match for little Ichiro and his diminutive drawers.
If Godzilla ever got his revenge in this film, we missed it. Maybe after the end credits ran Godzilla put Minya over his knee and scolded him for hanging out with a mammal. Or maybe Godzilla's revenge was against Toho, and took the form of a refusal to appear in most of this film, hence the stock footage. Or maybe at this point, they had just run out of titles for Godzilla films. Who can fathom the mysteries of giant monster cinema?
SEPTEMBER 15 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : MEAN DOG BLUES
Paul Ramsey (Gregg Henry) is happily married, blonde (a bit too blonde), and of gentle disposition. The same can be said of neither Captain Omar Kinsman (George Kennedy) or his beloved Doberman Pinscher, Rattler. You know that it will be messy when all three inevitably tangle.
Kennedy of course provides a link to another movie, 1967’s Cool Hand Luke, where the prison guards are also a little over-invested in their hounds. Mean Dog Blues falls between ‘Cool Hand’ and Dogboys (1998), a film which owes a bit to this one with its similarly intense relationship between correctional officer and dog, and featuring prisoners tasked with ‘laying tracks’ (ie running ahead of the dogs to give them practice in tracking and capturing escapees).
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We start with Ramsey, a musician hoping to swing a deal in Nashville, breaking down in the desert. Well, his car does. He hitches a ride with a wealthy couple, Victor and Donna Lacey, and does some driving because Mr Lacey is tired. When they stop for food, Mrs Lacey tries to seduce him and Mr Lacey emerges some time later, drunk and insisting on taking the wheel. It’s night-time. Veering all over the road, Lacey clips a ten-year-old girl. Ramsey shoves him aside and drives back to the scene where he is duly beaten by the girl’s relatives and handed over the Police. Both Laceys make false, exculpatory statements, and although they promise to ‘fix things’, Ramsey gets 1 to 5 for causing an accident under the influence of (Mrs Lacey’s) drugs and failing to stop at the scene.
He goes to a southern chain gang prison, not unlike the one in Cool Hand, where his blondness sort of stands out. Now, Captain Kinsman needs help in running a specially mean-and-nasty chain gang prison; his team includes an ex-Vietnam Vet Sergeant Hubbell Wacker (James Wainwright) to add a bit of over-the-top discipline, and a shooter - a trusty prisoner with a gun who is on a promise of parole if he shoots an escaping colleague. Oh, and a pack of dogs, of which the fiercest and nastiest is Rattler, the Captain’s pride and joy.
Ramsey soon runs foul of the prisoners’ Mr Bigshot by trying to intervene in the rape of a young prisoner. He’s told that he won’t make it out alive, so he sensibly volunteers for the reviled role of dogboy (for which a much nastier term is used in this film), just so he can live in separate quarters to almost all of the others.
He does his training bait job well, running through swamps and over harsh terrain, giving all of the hunting dogs a good workout for 6 hours each day. Mind you, it’s a curious arrangement in that it leaves the security of the chain gang rather vulnerable with both the shooter and the dogs nicely distracted in an entirely different location every day, but no-one seems to mind. Nor is it clear why the prisoners who want to get at Ramsey can’t do so other than in the dormitory they shared, but that’s a different story.
All goes well until Sgt Wacker sexually assaults Ramsey’s wife after a visit, and then goads Ramsey about it until Ramsey smacks him in the mouth. Then the Captain’s teenage daughter, besotted with the idea of Ramsey as a professional musician, invites him into her home under some pretext and literally throws her naked body at him just as her father enters the room. Surprisingly, neither boss-man wants Ramsey around and Ramsey decides not to hang around to see what happens next; he decides to take on the dogs - and Rattler - and escape.
Very 70s, very predictable, very cliché-ridden… but diverting enough. Rattler is particularly good.
Produced by Bing Crosby, of all people.
SEPTEMBER 15 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER
Horror, being a genre steeped in tradition and mythos, has always been suspect of scientific advancements. Not surprisingly, they haven't turned a blind eye as computers play a larger and larger role in our daily lives. With these advancements, we're always one inch from overstepping our bounds and almost anything made for convenience's sake carries a heavy price.
However, when it comes to capitalizing on our computer-related phobias, horror doesn't have a great track record. Let's face it, for every LAWNMOWER MAN, there are a dozen LAWNMOWER MAN 2's. HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER does not do anything to improve horror's shoddy relationship with our desktop buddies.
The original HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER was a 1958 AIP effort that blended teenage films with the basic premise of MYSTERY IN THE WAX MUSEUM. It was cheap. It was shameless. It was fun. For the remake, two out of three really is bad.
The new film involves a software company trying to make a video game scary enough to compete with RESIDENT EVIL, SILENT HILL and other titles of its ilk. One problem: the monster they have in the game just isn't scary enough. So, with a month until the game hits the stands, the software development team is fired. A new group of people is hired and competes with each other for a $1 million prize if they are able to add something to really sell the game.
The group is made up of the following so-called characters: Sol ( Karim Prince - FREAKYLINKS, MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE ), a paranoid genius, Bug ( Jason Marsden - who coincidentally does a lot of voice work for video games and animated films ) the geeky music man and Hardcore ( Tyler Mane - X-MEN, BLACK MASK 2 ) the muscle-bound weapons freak. Overseeing this motley crew is Peter Drummond ( Steven Culp - THIRTEEN DAYS, JASON GOES TO HELL ).
Caught in the middle we have Lauren the intern, played by Clea DuVall. Lauren sees that the world is becoming more cruel and self-centered every day but she remains an optimist. Once she advances beyond her internship, she hopes to utilize commercial software to make the world a better place. She's about to be taught a harsh lesson.
The group has an exo-suit that maps actors movements, so the game has more realistic movements. This is a bit of a cheat as any DVD owner can attest to. Many behind-the-scenes featurettes and documentaries show a much more streamlined costume. Skin-tight bodysuits, done up in florescent colors with bright sensors all around it. Here, it's a clunky beast that is made to look like a suit of armor.
Unfortunately, the whole film revolves around this suit. A malfunction during an electrical storm ( natch ) causes the suit to come to life. The group is trapped in the building as the suit begins killing off its creators for no apparent reason.
Yes, folks, the film is about a killer suit. The suit walks around a barren office building for the entire remainder of the film and it looks ridiculous. Virtually nothing is done to make the appearance any less comical. Didn't anyone at Stan Winston's studios realize that a walking suit, even a computer-controlled walking suit, is inherently not scary? It wants to be threatening like the Terminator. Instead, our big bad monster looks like a Viking in a TRON outfit.
The one thing to watch in this film is Clea DuVall, a performer who deserves her share of applause. From her appearance during the first season of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER to supporting roles in THE FACULTY, GHOSTS OF MARS and the upcoming IDENTITY. DuVall has been a friend to the genre. She has also turned in standout performances in films like THE LARAMIE PROJECT and BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER. For some reason, she hasn't got much recognition for anything but her performance in GIRL, INTERRUPTED.
I like her and the main thing that attracted me to this film was a rare starring role for Ms. DuVall. She does what she can with the part, certainly expanding more than the script asks her to. But I'm afraid DuVall won't get many plum roles on the basis of this. Yes, she can carry a movie. But she's the only thing carrying this one, and its just too much weight for one performer to handle.
The rest of the performers are a major drawback to the film as well. I realize that the video game industry must be rather unconventional. But I did not believe for one second that these people had any knowledge about what they were doing, much less being the top in their field. Sol and Bug seem barely competent, despite their self-professed intelligence.
As for Hardcore, he's absolutely ridiculous. He shows off his muscles and brings an arsenal of medieval weapons to his desk every day. Virtually every line of dialogue is spoken just to remind us how "hardcore" he really is. What a pussy! Seriously, isn't it about time to tell Tyler Mane his fifteen minutes are up? His one good performance was as Sabertooth in X-MEN. And remember, that was a role done under heavy makeup with minimal dialogue.
Oh, and while we're on the subject of "acting", I should mention Julie Strain shows up for an extended cameo. She plays herself and her main duties seem to be stripping naked and running in place. Trust me, it's not as entertaining as it sounds.
Personally, I've never understood the fascination with Julie Strain. Horror has their share of starlets ( sometimes called "scream queens," but not by me ) and some of them are truly grand. Some of the recent winners in the genre include Debbie Rochon, Brinke Stevens, Emily Haack and Miste Mundae among others. I also love some of our earlier heroines, from Fay Wray all the way to Linnea Quigley. So, it's not like I can't figure out what her purpose is.
What I can't figure out is how she has excelled when she brings very little to the table. Her acting even makes some shot-on-video productions look like Shakespeare and her personality always seems so distant when the cameras are on. If it's all about her body, then there are more able and more talented actresses out there in that department as well. Harsh? Hey, it's a harsh world.
HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER was broken almost before it started. The cast is kept running around the building simply because the filmmakers realized too late that ninety minutes of people sitting behind computers just isn't interesting. Thank God they realized that much, because they seem out of touch with everything else.
Films based around computers always seem to exploit technology with graphics that are too advanced and programs that aren't. Here, the graphics don't even match up. No one is going to play this game. I don't even play video games and I can tell you it's behind the times. The company's brain child will be given a one way ticket to the bargain bin at Electronics Boutique. Writer-director George Huang seems blissfully unaware just how slim his grasp on the present is. How can we expect much from a screenplay with such cutting-edge witticisms as, "Houston, we have a problem?"
Huang had an incredible debut with the Hollywood satire SWIMMING WITH SHARKS. What happened? Was SHARKS' success simply due to his stellar cast? Personally, I hope it's just an inability to work within the genre. I would like to see Huang turn in another great film in any field.
But the worst, most unforgivable conceit is the ending. I won't give it away, except to say that they try to throw in an unexpected twist to accentuate a skewed message. It is certainly a haunting ending, but one that doesn't work. It comes out of left field, and feels like it. An ending like this would have to mesh with the rest of the film. It has to feel genuine. It doesn't.
Like I said earlier, Clea DuVall is the only genuine thing in a film unaware of how phony, primitive and hypocritical it is. But even she can't save this monster from chewing up anything resembling an entertaining film.