Sunday, July 27, 2014
The Gamera series had closed up shop fifteen years earlier, but was seen as ripe for revival in 1995. The first installment in what became a three-film series was titled Gamera: Guardian of the Universe and it did two things to help jumpstart the franchise. One it brought the advanced special effects available at the time to realize the might of a monster turtle and it brought a rich back story. Also surprising to me was the absolute seriousness of this enterprise. The goofball aspects of the Showa movies are largely abadoned here as we don't focus on kids but on young adults who find themselves woven into a fabric of story which begins when a mysterious floating atoll is found in the Pacific. This finding is soon followed by the grim discovery of three vicious Gyaos birds who prey on humans among other things. We learn of ancient prophesies and of ancient curses when the Gyaos become an every increasing threat to all of life on Earth and all that stands in the way is the might Gamera. This is a properly engaging monster romp with effects up to the task of selling the action. Great stuff.
If anything, the 1996 sequel Gamera 2: Attack of Legion is better. Keeping the cast intact from the first movie, this one proceeds along the same timeline and has Gamera battling a full-fledged sci-fi menace from outer space. The science fiction in this one is outstanding and would've made a dandy movie even without the giant turtle hero, but adding him in does no harm at all. The action is intense and the sense that the fate of the planet relies on the outcome of Gamera's struggle to fight back against a menace which feeds off electromagnetic radiation and destroys whole cities to reproduce is even at times frightening.
Finally we have Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris from 1999. This one is a whopper of a movie, and follows up on one of the most compelling aspects of these Kaiju, even "good guy" ones like Gamera, what becomes of the people who survive the city-leveling battles. In this movie we meet Ayana a beautiful young woman who along with her younger brother were orphaned when Gamera destroyed their home and killed their parents in his 1995 battle with Gayos. Ayana hates Gamera and that hatred seethes within her. She finds an ancient guarded cave which hides a secret which allows her to find some measure of vengeance. That vengeance is the focus of this wonderful monster story that verges on true proper horror from time time. The whole notion of Gamera as a protector, especially of children is examined and we get a real sense of what it is like to suffer through a Kaiju event. More emotionally involving than the dandy Cloverfield, this one covered the territory first and with more respect to the genre.
These movies, all three directed by Shusuke Kaneko, form an utterly fascinating trilogy, three of the best monster movies I've ever seen. I've long heard that the Gamera movies were the best of the bunch, and after seeing this trilogy, I'd have to concur.
I give them the highest recommendation. This is a great collection.
Saturday, July 26, 2014
Some years ago I picked up a bargain-rack collection of old monster movies which included rough versions of English-dubbed Gamera movies, the first six or so of the old series. I'd always heard that the Gamera movies were a lot of fun, more light hearted than some of the other Kaiju flicks which I was more familiar with.
A few weeks ago, I found a collection of the first eleven Gamera movies, these in the original Japanese and the production values are great. So I sat down to enjoy Gamera as it should be seen, and I have to say they are a hoot.
Gamera from 1965 is in black and white, giving it a more old-fashioned feel than its date suggests, but that's to a good effect overall as the black and white evokes the best of the early Godzilla movies, especially when the fire-breathing Gamera, after being awakened by nuclear bombs in the Arctic, starts plowing through the streets of Tokyo. Several scenes seemed specifically designed to suggest scenes from Godzilla. the Gamera movie is a proper Kaiju, a menacing monster in a largely scientific setting with an ending which is decidedly clever if wildly improbable. His relationship with a little boy is evident but not much developed. They jet Gamera into outer space after trapping him in the nose-cone of a rocket.
Gamera doesn't stay in orbit long, as his rocket is hit by a meteor which sends him back to Earth, this time he's the good monster. The story in 1966's Gamera vs. Barugon is pretty intense showing the search by three men for a jewel hidden by one of the men's brother years ago during WWII. The jewel is actually an egg which hatches unleashing a terrible monster with frosty breath and a weird devastating rainbow ray. The monster action is okay, but it's the rather intense action on the human level that elevates this story. The fights between the men reminded me of the roughneck fisticuffs in the early Bond movies.
It's in 1967's Gamera vs. Gyaos that we first meet the giant turtle's arch enemy, a batlike bird-lizard who is able to emit a sonic ray from his twin throats which can slice through any substance, Gamera's skin included. The battle is a brutal one, which of course Gamera wins. The human story this time deals with the people displaced by the struggle where a road is going through some prime farm country. We get our first annoying kid in this one, and the bond between Gamera and children is properly developed.
1968's Gamera vs. Viras is my least favorite of these wonky movies. The boy heroes are downright prats who are infamous among their peers and parents for their pranks. They get themselves stranded on a spaceship and after much hullabaloo require Gamera to save their creepy little skins. There is practically no interesting human side story in this one. as we follow the two boys as they ramble around in boy scout uniforms yelling "Gamera" every couple of minutes. They end up saving the day, but mostly by happen chance. The enemy this time is a giant squid-like alien who is not all that compelling really.
1969's Gamera vs. Gurion follows a similar model. Two boys, somewhat less annoying than the previous pair end up on a spaceship but this time ride the thing to a whole other planet where they encounter a space monster who is the Swiss Army knife of Kaiju. Able to use his bladed head as a cutting tool and able to shoot out suriken blades from his temple Guiron is a fun monster, though hardly credible. He and Gamera battle to entertaining effect on the alien world while the two boys try to avoid getting eaten by the lovely aliens who covet their brains. That last creepy detail really adds a bit of oomph to this one.
The most touching aspect of this movie though is the dilemma of the little sister who is left behind when the boys are swooshed away by the spaceship. She tries to tell the adults, who mostly disbelieve her and her sadness at her loss and her helplessness is very touching in a movie which is largely a romp.
1970's Gamera vs. Jiger gives us some more annoying kids, but this time inside a plot which is properly dense enough to hold interest. For the 1970 World Fair, an idol is removed from "Wester Island" but that removal unleashes a horrible monster who seeks to reproduce (inside Gamera of all places). Jiger is a monster with plenty of tricks who gives Gamera a real contest. The clever way Jiger is defeated is above average for a movie of this period and this one kept me entertained throughout.
Far less effective is 1971's Gamera vs. Zigra which seems mostly to be an allegory about the devastation man is wreaking on the environment. In a bizarre flip of circumstances, the seafood-reliant Japanese culture is faced with an enemy who eats land-creatures, especially humans. There's a lot of jumping around, but there's not nearly enough plot in this one which features a few clever battle scenes, but little else.
The final Showa Gamera movie doesn't arrive until 1980. Gamera: Super Monster is a real grab bag of gimmicks and re-used footage which doesn't add up to much of a movie, though it does have a few diverting moments. A spaceship named "Zanon" arrives (in the then popular Star Wars slow reveal style) and threatens to destroy the Earth which is defended by three babes in skin-tight super-costumes referred to only as "Space Women". So trying to cop scenes from Star Wars and Superman is the way this movie tries to stay relevant as it uses all of Gamera's previous enemies and footage there of as fodder to fill out the screen time.
It's a sad ending to a series which had some really fun moments. But despite its high spirits, Gamera movies were so uneven that it's amazing anyone thought them worthy of revival. But they did, and that's the focus of the next post.
Friday, July 25, 2014
Assault on Precinct 13 is the one John Carpenter movie I've never seen, until recently. It's a rather gritty film shot on location in Los Angeles which tells a simple but potent story about an abandoned police station which comes under seige by a vengeful street gang. That's a simple enough story, but like all stories it's all in how you tell it. And the way Carpenter chose, makes this movie stand out in the memory for its somber style.
The story goes as follows. Members of a street gang (which seems to be an amalgam of various ethnic backgrounds) are caught in an ambush by the police and all are killed. They swear vengeance and some members go on a silent patrol looking for someone to kill. They do kill an ice cream salesman and a little girl. Her father kills one of the gang members and they chase him into a police station which is largely abandoned since its being closed the very next day. A prison transport bus has stopped with a sick prisoner, when a large scale attack is begun on the building with silenced weapons. The police are mostly killed and the defense of the building is left to a single cop, a secretary, and two of the prisoners, one of whom is a notorious murderer headed to death row. The battle becomes ever more desperate with the gang members finally breaching the building.
That's a simple enough narrative, but what makes this movie memorable is the way in which the gang quietly and relentlessly attacks. We are given very little information about their motives, save what we can guess based on behavior and they speak almost not at all. When they are seen in the shadows from the windows of the station they are distant and quiet and their number is difficult to discern. I remember something similar in the clearly supernatural movie by Carpenter Prince of Darkness.
Carpenter has said this movie is an update of a Howard Hawks western, in particular Rio Bravo. But he's also indicated that George Romero's Night of the Living Dead was a source for inspiration. And that's what sets this one apart. The street gang in their silent implacable nature come across almost as supernatural agents intent on destroying the protagonists who are never really sure why they are under attack, other than they had the misfortune to be in the station when the attack came.
This is an imperfect movie with some uneven acting, but a standout performance by Darwin Josten as the always cool murderer who helps the cop who treated him with respect is memorable. Also Laurie Zimmer gives a very restrained performance as a secretary to rises to the challenges with aplomb and relative grace. These two have an attraction for one another, but smartly it's little developed beyond some mild tension between the two.
This movie has been remade and typically it became an entertaining action flick, but this original one is that and more. It's got an atmosphere thanks to the staging and the score which becomes almost more important than the singular actions. The sense of threat to the status quo, of a society on the brink is very much in evidence. Creepy stuff!
Thursday, July 24, 2014
I wanted a copy of The Best of Alter-Ego Volume 2 the moment I read about it, but alas never saw a copy. The other day I did and I snapped it up.
There are scuds of vintage articles by fans about comics from the heyday of fandom, but the reason I craved this volume was Sam Grainger. Grainger who did the wonderful cover image above, illustrated an adaptation of Gardner F. Fox's Warrior of Llarn as scripted by Roy Thomas.
I've seen one page of this great fan work years ago in one of Bill Schelly's collections, and immediately wanted to see more. The story was reprinted nearly a decade ago, but this is a much cleaner version.
Sam Grainger is one of the often overlooked talents of comics, a fan who broke into the pros doing reams of inks for Marvel, DC, and elsewhere. He penciled all too rarely, but I fell in love with his lively style on Charlton's The Sentinels, a back up feature in Thunderbolt.
This is a very worthy follow up the first volume published originally by Hamster Press well over a decade ago.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore is one of those novels I've long read about, but have never chanced across a copy of. But the other day I found the first new paperback edition of the 1933 story in about forty years. Having read this compelling horror story, it's been too long a time. This story deserves a place alongside other classics of horror.
|The new edition|
Bertrand Caillet is the name of our protagonist or sorts. He's the illegitimate son of a raped teenager and a defrocked priest born on the inauspicious day of Christmas. We actually the story indirectly by way of his uncle Aymar Galliez who raises Bertrand after a network of complications gives him that responsibility of sorts. Bertrand's depravity is framed against the depraved society found in France at the time (and as is suggested most everywhere) and his crimes are supposed to judged in comparison to other grander crimes committed by those who on the surface at least appear upright.
Unlike the movie The Curse of the Werewolf from Hammer which adapted the story (but changed the setting to Spain) there's some question as to whether Bertrand actually physically changes into a wolf, or wolfman. But there's no denying his crimes, committed in the heat of nightmares and blood compulsions which seem to rule the boy and then the man. This is a novel about depravity and how that changes the world in which it operates, both on a personal level and on a grander more historical stage.
So if you're going to read this novel looking for a shaggy wolfman trotting along the moonlit wooded pathways you're likely to be disappointed. But if you looking for a horror novel that makes you feel, if only for a moment, what a werewolf might feel, this one is highly recommended.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Just finished A. Merritt's outlandish thrill ride The Metal Monster. This is one of those wild yarns that picks you up and never lets you go.
Originally serialized in Argosy in the 20's, this science fiction novel is one of the most mind-boggling adventures I've ever encountered. The description by Merritt of the elaborate thing, dubbed for lack of any better terms "The Metal Monster", seems to lay just beyond my ability to apprehend it. Merritt describes and describes and describes, assaulting the reader's senses with colors and shapes and forms, but it's all rather difficult to hold together as we encounter a life form which is well and truly alien.
What we have is another adventure of Dr.Goodwin who was our eyes and ears in the earlier Merritt novel The Moon Pool. He returns with more of his heroic friends to explore the wilds of the Himalayas where they find a fantastically powerful woman named Norhalla, the last remnant of an ancient Persian culture who has control, of sorts, of a impossibly complex network of machines which express themselves (or itself) as cubes, cones, spheres, and such. These are amazingly powerful devices who suck their power from the Sun itself and are capable of ferocious damage when commanded by the implacable Norhalla.
Goodwin and his compatriots Drake, Ruth, and her brother Martin try to understand and then escape the clutches of this all-powerful goddess who seems devoid of most normal human characteristics, save the most brutal and ferocious.
The Metal Monster is a lush and truly weird adventure. Be prepared to have your senses assaulted as Merritt paints one astounding picture after another in an effort to fully describe an impossible beast.
Monday, July 21, 2014
The saga of the Eternals comes to an end with a two-part tale which adds insight into the Celestials themselves. It seems that during the Second Host the Celestials battled among themselves. So much so that a weapon was brought to bare which not only defeated a Celestial, but destroyed him.
That information comes into the hands of Druig, one of the Polar Eternals and cousin to Ikaris. Druig wants power, specifically the power over the Celestials and to that end forces the Eternal scientiest Sigmar to reveal what he knows about this ancient killing. Turns out that the weapon has long been hidden by the Polar Eternals specifically and that Ikaris is the key to finding it.To that end, Druig captures his cousin and uses biological agents to extract the information which expresses itself as a brand on the forehead of Ikaris which points Druig to a Pyramid hidden in the frozen wastes of the north.
Druig goes to find the pyramid and the Celestial-killing weapon but is pursued by Ikaris and Sigmar (the latter quite unwillingly). At the same time a Celestial heads to the pyramid too. Ikaris finds and confronts Druig who has found the weapon, one designed for the hand of a Space God, and the two battle. Druig unleashes the power of the weapon but that proves to be his undoing as he is consumed in its power which then seems to spread uncontrollably. Ultimately the Celestial arrives and with a wave of his mighty hand absorbs the energy and ends the threat. Then just as inscrutably as he came the Celestial walks away, leaving Ikaris and Sigmar to ponder the power and mystery of the Space Gods.
And that's a wrap. With this issue the saga of the Eternals, at least as they are written and drawn by their creator Jack Kirby comes to an end. It's not the worst ending, we learn some of the secrets of Ikaris and his connection to the ancient weapon. And we see clearly that the Eternals, as mighty as they are, are creatures ruled by passions at least as complicated and conflicted as we mere humans.
While the Celestials have remained unknowns, powerful entities with frightening missions, we have learned over the course of the series that the Eternals, and by extension ourselves can be heroic or less so depending on the threat we face. We have learned that the myths we have lived by are based on even stranger facts, and that the world we know is far from the world as it is.
The Eternals is a series that on reflection is better than I remember, better than I thought it might be. But at the same time is a series that ultimately falls short of its potential, limited not by the imagination of its creator but by the rigors of the marketplace, where alas like so much of what Kirby imagined, it failed to find a toehold.