Tag Archives: monster movies

30 Days of Madness, Day 29 — It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

itcame2

“The mind of man had thought of everything–except that which was beyond his comprehension!”

Thanks, narrator guy.

It Came from Beneath the Sea, with one the most 50s of all movie titles, was directed by Robert Gordon, who went on to direct mostly for television in the 50s and 60s; and written by George Worthing Yates, who also gave us Them! and Attack of the Puppet People; and Harold Jacob Smith, who would go on to write The Defiant Ones and Inherit the Wind.

None of that really matters, however, because this will always be known as a Ray Harryhausen film. I make mention of Ray Harryhausen often when talking about effects films, and covered The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms both here and on my podcast. And really, Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects are this film’s saving grace.

Otherwise, the film seems to think it should focus almost entirely on the cringe-inducing romance between Kenneth “Block of Wood” Tobey and Faith “Ruuuth!” Domergue. Ah, the 1950s. When the way to a woman’s heart was undressing her with your eyes, backing her into a corner (literally), and pawing suggestively at laboratory beakers. And even though she’s a scientist and a professor, she’ll get all hot and flustered like a freshman girl. This film unfortunately wallows in its sexism, and even when it does try to get suddenly progressive, it is patronizing as hell.

But back to the real star, Ray Harryhausen. It Came from Beneath the Sea features some of his best work. His giant octopus is detailed and textured and, considering a cephalopod’s physiology, is impressively animated. The scene on the Golden Gate Bridge is probably the best in the film, though the excellent composite work is more on full display in the creature’s attack on the San Francisco Embarcadero. I’d even say that Harryhausen’s giant octopus is one of the greatest visual effects ever created for a film. It single-handedly (or, octopodedly?) saves the film and imbues it with a classic status it would otherwise not deserve.

Final grade: C

My Flickchart ranking: #1588 (out of 3274, a relative 51/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 16 — Phase IV (1974)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

phaseiv-1

Directed by Saul Bass. Written by Mayo Simon. Starring Nigel Davenport & Michael Murphy.

Where has this movie been hiding my entire life? Why is it not an established classic within the genre? Going into my viewing of Phase IV, I was fully expecting a heaping helping of 70s cheese. What I got instead is a patient, thoughtful, intelligent, creative, and visually intriguing film. In fact, it’s one of only two legitimately good sci-fi/horror films I’ve ever seen to focus on ants, the other being the 1954 classic Them!, which featured ants mutated to giant size by radioactive fallout.

No giant ants here, though. Just normal-sized southwestern ants that start forming inter-species coalitions in the wake of some cosmic event and taking over the Arizona desert in which they dwell. Two scientists (Davenport and Murphy) set up an outpost there to study the phenomenon and find out what has caused this sudden change in behavior. But it turns out the ants have plans of their own.

The ant cinematography and “performances” are the most impressive thing about this film. It somehow manages to establish characters and plotlines among the insects. The film cuts back and forth between the men and ants, and it really feels like there are two intelligent forces at work studying and battling each other. It’s brilliant stuff. I don’t think there’s ever been anything like it.

The title sequences to this film stands out as well, and that’s no surprise once you realize who the director is. This is the only feature film he ever directed, but Saul Bass is the designer of the title sequences for PsychoVertigoAnatomy of a MurderWest Side StoryGoodfellas, and Alien, to name only a few.

It seems Phase IV was featured during the KTMA “Season Zero” of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I’m going to have to check that out. As far as I’m aware, this has to be the best film they’ve ever showcased on my favorite TV show of all time. Why this film fell into such obscurity over the next 15 years that it ended up in the back-room license-free collection of movies at a local TV station and became MST3K fodder is a mystery I intend to explore. Because I am now this movie’s most newly converted evangelist.

(For more on ant-themed horror, check out my previous article on Empire of the Ants as well Episode 248 of our podcast, Spiders & Insects & Shrinking Guys Named Scott, on which I am the only one in my right mind when talking about Them!)

Final grade: A

My Flickchart ranking: #751 (out of 3260, a relative 77/100)

30 Days of Madness, Day 5 — Gojira (1954)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

gojira

 

Directed by Ishirō Honda. Written by Honda & Takeo Murata; story by Shigeru Kayama.

HEY, WHERE’S RAYMOND BURR?

Just kidding. I had actually seen the 1956 Americanized version of this, Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, on Turner Classic Movies a couple summers ago, which is basically a heavily edited (i.e., destroyed) version, with terrible voice-over narration added (just to make it extra-irritating) and interspersed with shots of Raymond Burr looking mildly concerned. (It is not good.)

I have also seen many bits and pieces of many of the Godzilla films over the years, but couldn’t possibly tell you which ones I’d seen. So I am happy to have finally seen Ishirō Honda’s original 1954 classic, Gojira, the movie that opens with the most iconic roar of all time.

I have always admired this film greatly, in an indirect way. It is one of the all-time great monster movies. It is one of the few films in history to claim the distinction of creating its own genre–the kaiju film. It is, beyond monster movies, simply one of the most influential and enduring films ever to be made. The question is, though, do I merely admire it, or do I actually personally like it?

I’m a huge fan of one of the films that inspired Gojira, the 1953 monster flick The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, as well as one of Gojira‘s most outrageous and bizarre progeny, Godzilla: Final Wars (both of which I personally made sure got covered on our podcast). I also greatly enjoyed the latest American incarnation of Godzilla (which we also covered, in one of our most entertaining podcasts ever, affectionately titled Godzilla vs. The Salami Bear.) (We’ve also done episodes on Pacific Rim and Godzilla 2014 director Gareth Edwards’ earlier film Monsters.)

Thing is, though, Gojira is quite bleak, and I have a hard time loving bleak. I actually find this film more horrifying than fun. But then I don’t think it was intended to be fun, beyond the spectacle of a giant monster running amok through land and sea. No director in his right mind includes, in the middle of the mass destruction, a scene of a doomed mother cradling her doomed children in the street, buildings crashing around them, telling them they are about to go be with daddy, and thinks his movie is supposed to be fun. Gojira may have spawned a series of mostly fun movies about monsters fighting monsters, and Godzilla himself may have evolved into a more benevolent symbol over the decades, but here in the beginning of it all, Godzilla is definitely the villain, though little more than a rampaging dinosaur. And it’s all a rather somber exploration of the horrors of the atomic bomb.

I suppose my feelings on the film lean more toward admiration than personal love. But now that I’ve seen it, in its uncut glory, I admire the hell out of it. It is absolutely one of the greatest monster movies ever made, and a brilliant sci-fi/horror film. I care about all four of the main (human) characters, which I was a bit surprised by. And the special effects are still (mostly) great. (Though it is difficult, for my money, to beat the previous year’s Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Ray Harryhausen is a tough act to follow.)

All said? This is a great film.

 

Final grades (for perspective, I’m including the 1956 version):

Gojira: A

Godzilla, King of the Monsters!: D (It gets by on Godzilla being Godzilla. And I suppose it did at least introduce Godzilla to American audiences.)

 

My Flickchart rankings:

Gojira: #347/3251 (a relative 89/100)

Godzilla, King of the Monsters!: #2476

Korean Cinema — The Host

By Nathanael Griffis

This weekend I had an interesting experience that took precedence over my normal writing schedule. Mind you, I fully acknowledge that I have heretofore been incapable of keeping a normal writing schedule, making the divergence from it the norm and the previous sentence moot. Anyway, all qualifications and space-wasting aside, I had a nerd party this weekend. A nerd party is if were you dress up in suspenders and bow ties and watch sci-fi movies–so a normal Friday evening for me but with cake and friends. I brought down my extensive collection of sci-fi films that I thought people would be interested in. More out of the thought to gain the film the slightest exposure I threw in The Host. I was pleasantly surprised when it was chosen. I let them know it was Korean, and would be subtitled. I told them it was a bizarre movie and hard to describe. But they insisted.

I think my trepidation was linked to my love of the film–this was my eighth viewing, and my love the movie only grows with each sitting. Still I was worried, because we’ve had that experience where you sit down to show someone Casablanca and they fall asleep, or think Humphrey Bogart isn’t that cool (for your information he is), so I had my doubts. How would a group of young not-so-into-film people take what is one of the most challenging, thought-provoking, beautiful, horrifying, and straight-up hilarious films ever made?

I’ll explain the movie first, then let you know their response. (I know, I know, you just want the answer, but that’s not how it works–of course, you do have the ability to scroll down, so feel free to use it.) The Host was my very first introduction to Korean cinema, and I owe it a debt of gratitude for that. It was my first viewing of actor Kang-ho Song and director Joon-ho Bong as well, so my debt is massive. I think for a lot of Americans, The Host brought about an interest in the South Korean film industry. We knew the country existed and knew they made films, but for the average American viewer we just lumped them in with China and Japan. The Host exposed Western thinking to a completely unique cultural form of expression.

I think giant monster will beat bow and arrow.

(Editor’s note: Possible spoiler ahead–though all it really gives away is the driving plot point of the film.)

The premise of the film is simple: A monster surfaces from the Han River and starts feeding on people. The monster takes a little girl named Hyun-seo, played by Ah-sung Ko, and her family then tries to find her when they discover she may be still alive. The thing that is so wonderful about this film is that it does nothing you’d expect, but everything that realistically you should. In the real world, four people would be incapable of taking down a monster. They’d make mistakes along the way that often have terrifying consequences, but this is rarely shown in movies. At least not to this extent. Movies go one of two ways for me I think. Normally a character will make a mistake they have to atone for, so they pull up their boot straps go through a training montage with 80′s keytar music overlaid, and become a hero; or they continue down a spiral of destruction that ruins their life entirely and we’re left with a gray-washed frame of their blood-shot eyes to comfort us.

The Host challenges us to see people for what they are: strange, yet loving and lovable, capable of making horrendous mistakes that we can’t forgive them for but also can’t help but see the humanity in them. Kang-ho Song, who plays Park Gang-du, the father of the stolen girl, gives the performance of lifetime. He drives the film through its web of complex emotions. Each scene is a strange blend of humor, tragedy, horror, and social commentary. In one of my favorite scenes, as an example, the family is gathering to mourn the supposed death of Hyun-seo. The characters all react in different ways, but by the end they’re writhing and tripping over each other. It’s disturbing and haunting to see a family so vulnerable, but also comical to see four adults tripping and rolling on top of each other. In the midst of all this a government agent in a full chemical suit comes walking in. It’s a dramatic transition that signals to the audience that we’ve got a Contagion-esque film on our hands, but then he trips. This small moment of slapsticks should seemingly remove any power or chance for this yellow plasticized man to render upon us, and yet when he orders everyone to be gassed and quarantined and Gang-du to be bagged up and taken away, it’s terrifying.

Yep, that would be the look I'd have if a monster just took my kid too.

To discuss this movie further would give away to much. It is a hilarious movie. It is a scary movie. It is a powerful family drama. It is a lasting political commentary. With all of these things coming together I was still concerned it would not be a good group movie, that all my American friends would brush it off as a stupid film they wouldn’t enjoy. For the most part they laughed and cracked jokes liked you’d do at any group movie. The film is ripe for that, though. There are monologues about farts and several moments of out-of-place slapstick. Still their moments of laughter were punctuated by small pauses. Whether or not they took away from the film the same feelings I have for it is yet to be seen, but I can say this for The Host: I had already considered it a masterpiece, but now I know it’s not a selective masterwork that only some will appreciate. This is not 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is better, because it can be enjoyed by all.

I have a passion for Korean cinema and don’t think I’ll ever stop returning to this wonderful country’s films. If you want to hear more about Korean Cinema, check Buried Cinema’s podcast on The Man from Nowhere.

 

Webstuffs — John Landis & monster movies

This is a new feature to the Rant Pad where I bring attention to good movie-related articles from other sites around the Web.

I’m a sucker for monster movies, and An American Werewolf in London is one of the all-time best, so when I found this Underwire article by Angela Watercutter in which director John Landis talks about his new book Monsters in the Movies, I had to share.

For my own part, I absolutely love those pre-CGI special effects films from the 80s when directors and their makeup and special effects artists had be really innovative with practical, in-camera effects. Few sequences in the history of horror cinema are as memorable and effective as the transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London. At 30 years old, that scene still puts recent garbage like Universal’s The Wolfman remake to shame. (For a bonus, here’s another related article from the A.V. Club that made me smile quite a bit.)

You can read Watercutter’s article here. Enjoy.

–Tom

30 Days of Madness: Day 3 — The Call of Cthulhu

By Tom Kapr

 

“That is not dead which can eternal lie, and in strange aeons even death may die.” –H.P. Lovecraft

 

The Call of Cthulhu (2005) Written by Sean Branney. Directed by Andrew Leman.

H.P. Lovecraft is one of the most celebrated writers of horror fiction in the history of the genre, his name unabashedly spoken in the same breath as that of Poe, and his works have inspired the likes of Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, and Stephen King. Unfortunately, I have not read but snippets of Lovecraft’s stories, so this film is my introduction to a full-fledged Lovecraft narrative. I trust the faithfulness of the film’s narrative, and with good reason — it was produced by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

Even the beautiful artwork is nostalgic of the silent era.

Aside from its immersion in Lovecraft mythology, The Call of Cthulhu is also immersed in cinematic history. It is a silent film — yes, a silent film released in 2005 — and it displays its makers’ knowledge of the styles and techniques of the silent film era. The makeup and acting imitate the conventions of the era, as do the impressive art direction and the rousing orchestral score. I was pretty excited to see some Harryhausen-esque special effects. As a huge fan of Jason and the Argonauts and an admirer of Ray Harryhausen’s work in other such mythology-based productions, I often long for the days of stop-motion in this CGI-heavy digital era.

The filmmakers even replicate the usual negative scratches and projections of hairs caught in the lenses that viewers will often see in copies of films from the 1920s and earlier. If I have one criticism, it is that the film very much looks like it is trying to imitate these old films, rather than looking like an old film itself. It is obvious that this film was shot on modern technology and then aged in post-production. I wish they had instead used the old technology, or shot on 8mm, to reproduce the look of the silent era, as it would have added a layer of genuineness to the production that I found lacking.

This criticism aside, however, The Call of Cthulhu is a cool little film, coming in at under 47 minutes, and is great fun to watch, especially for students of the history of the medium of film and for admirers of Lovecraft’s work. It is an interesting look at the ability of madness to move from person to person like a virus, as the obsession with the mysteries of the cult of Cthulhu infect each new individual who hears the story from the last person to be driven mad by it.

And thank God for it after the past two nights’ viewings.

My Netflix rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

 

“The most merciful thing in the world… is the inability of the human mind to correlate its contents…. Some day the piecing together of disassociated knowledge will open such terrifying vistas of reality, and our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light to the peace and safety of a new dark age.” –H.P. Lovecraft

 

Go to Day 5 — Puppet Master

(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)

30 Days of Madness: Day 1 — Nightbeast

By Tom Kapr

 

Nightbeast (1982) Written & directed by Don Dohler. Starring… nobody.

Best Tagline: I can’t decide which I like better: “If you have the guts… he wants them!” or “The Sc-Fi Thriller Made in Baltimore!”

Let’s get any faint praise out in the open right away. The monster in this movie? Scary-looking. Yes, the design of the creature, an alien with a thirst for violence, is right out of a nightmare. Just look at this picture:

 

He may be suffering from acute gingivitis.

 

Scary as hell — in a still. As soon as you see the thing moving on film? Not so much. For one thing, you realize that a jaw structure like that is really impractical, even for a bloodthirsty monster. Second thing you realize is that the creature’s face never moves. Yep, just a guy in a mask. An ugly, nightmarish mask.

Here’s what else you get in this movie: Spaceship sound effects right out of a Jetsons cartoon. A “character” who looks like Jim Henson and sounds like Kermit the Frog. More plaid flannel shirts than you can shake a .30-06 at. A cast that looks as if they each took a handful of Prozac before filming. A deputy with a femullet. A surprisingly ambitious musical score–sometimes; when it’s not really going for it with the symphonic sound, it’s your standard synthesizer crap. Two police officer “heroes” who decide to take a break from the exhausting work of running for their lives from the killer alien monster and failing to save random citizens to indulge in a strangely tender sex scene at her place. One of the fakest-looking heads ever to be ripped off a dummy. The standard call for outside help from the state troopers — 63 minutes into the 81-minute running time. 16 people billed as “pool party guests” in the end credits — for a scene in which the boozy mayor throws a pool party with all of his random co-ed friends for the visiting governor. Governor of what? I’m assuming Maryland, where this appears to have been shot. And not a flattering image of either.

Yes, Nightbeast is some truly MST3K-quality cinema, one of those aimless monster-on-the-loose flicks where just a spoonful of mental competence would make the body count go down. An auspicious beginning to my month-long horror parade.

My Netflix rating: 1 star (out of 5)

[Editor’s note: I learned after writing this that the original music and sound effects in this film are co-credited to one J.J. Abrams. Nightbeast is his earliest credit listed on the Internet Movie Database.]

 

Go to Day 2 — Redneck Zombies

(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)