Saturday 29 September 2012

2069: A Sex Odyssey (1974)

Despite its title 2069: A Sex Odyssey (Ach jodel mir noch einen - Stosstrupp Venus bläst zum Angriff) is not a sexploitation spoof of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

This is a West German science fiction sex comedy from 1974, the US title having no connection whatever with the movie.

The plot is pretty much what you would expect from this sort of movie. A spacecraft from the planet Venus arrives on Earth. The Venusians are an all-female society and they’re in urgent need of sperm - large quantities of it. So five Venusian women have been sent to collect as much as possible. They have no idea of the process by which this valuable commodity can be collected but they soon set about learning how this might be accomplished.

Their spaceship has landed in a remote mountain village. They soon find that Earth men are willing to help them. And they discover that their mission is much more enjoyable than they’d expected.

They are mistaken for a French ski team, which makes it easier to seduce the local men. Not that the local men are difficult to seduce. At least until they discover the machine the aliens are using to gather their sperm. Fortunately the alien girls soon find out there are better and more pleasant ways to do the job. 

The jokes are mostly fairly predictable but on the whole it’s a surprisingly good-natured film.

The special effects are ultra-cheap but they’re done in a fun cheesy way. The costumes of the Venusians are reasonably cool and the spaceship set is better than might have been expected (one can’t help suspecting that this set and the costumes may have been recycled from another production).

The acting is very broad but then so is the humour.

It’s all very tame by the standards of 1974 so it seems quite likely that this is a cut version, presumably in order to get a US R rating.

This movie is silly, cheesy fun. Don’t expect to be rolling on the floor with laughter but there’s enough camp value to make it worth a look if you like 70s sex comedies.

Retro Seduction Cinema’s DVD release is fullframe and slightly faded with a fair amount of print damage in places.

Friday 28 September 2012

my other blogs

I thought I'd take the opportunity to plug some of my other blogs. There's Classic Movie Ramblings, where I review all kinds of classic movies with a cut-off point around the 1970s. There's also Vintage Pop Fictions where I talk about pulp fiction, vintage crime, adventure novels and other popular genres. The cut-off point for that blog is generally the 1950s although occasionally I talk about books published in the 60s.  And thirdly there's Strange Tears where I indulge my love of 19th century art with special emphasis on the Symbolists, the Pre-Raphaelites and the academic painters of that era. I sometimes venture into the early 20th century but I avoid anything with the taint of modernism.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Death Is Nimble, Death Is Quick (1966)

Death Is Nimble, Death Is Quick (1966)Death Is Nimble, Death Is Quick (Kommissar X - Drei gelbe Katzen) was the second of seven in the Kommissar X series of eurospy films, based on a series of novels by German author Paul Alfred Mueller. He apparently wrote several hundred of them!

This Austrian-French-Italian co-production was shot in German and appeared in 1966 at the height of the eurospy craze.

This time American private eye Joe Walker (Tony Kendall) and his buddy New York cop Captain Tom Rowland (Brad Harris) are investigating strange goings-on in Ceylon. A terrorist group called the Golden Cats which was active in colonial days has sprung to life again. Being a eurospy movie the trail will of course lead to a mad scientist/diabolical criminal mastermind who has invented a deadly bacteria.

It’s impossible for me to describe the plot in any detail - to do so I would have had to understand it all! Luckily in a eurospy movie the plot is secondary to the fun.

Death Is Nimble, Death Is Quick (1966)

The mad scientist is trying to extort a million dollars from a rich plantation owner, money which will enable him to continue his grisly experiments. He naturally has some colourful henchmen including a very large and very nasty karate expert named King (at least that’s what he’s called in the English dubbed version). There’s also an American gangster nicknamed Nitro (again I’m not sure what he was called in the German version) whose favourite weapon is nitro-glycerine. He never goes anywhere without a bottle of this high explosive. He loves blowing stuff up, which makes him right at home in a eurospy flick.

Naturally Joe and Tom (although mainly Joe) will become involved with various beautiful women, including Babs Lincoln (Ann Smyrner), the daughter of the plantation owner who is the extortion victim. The bad guys will make various attempts to kidnap her in order to make her father come across with the money.

Death Is Nimble, Death Is Quick (1966)

There’s a series of slightly confusing double-crosses, many of which involve Philip Dawson (Philippe Lemaire) who spends most of the movie drunk. There are several murders and plenty of fight scenes. There’s also a local police inspector who may or may not be trustworthy.

This one takes a while to get going. The real eurospy goodness doesn’t kick in until quite late in the movie but when it does kick in it does so quite satisfactorily. There’s a standard mad scientist’s laboratory and a pretty cool and rather sinister-looking temple which provides the setting for one of the climactic fight scenes. There are sequences which seem to have been lifted more or less directly from Dr No, with an armoured explosive-firing trimaran in a swamp, a device the locals naturally mistake for a malevolent monster.

Death Is Nimble, Death Is Quick (1966)

Being set in Ceylon it’s vital that elephants should play a part in the plot, which they do quite wittily. There are enough explosions to keep fans of the genre happy (with all that nitro-glycerine being hurled about).

Tony Kendall, despite his name, was an Italian actor (real name Luciano Stella). He’s an ideal lead actor for this type of movie, investing the character of Joe Walker with a cheeky charm and always ready with a wise-crack, and always ready to chase the ladies when perhaps he should be concentrating on chasing the bad guys. He had a successful career in all the popular European genres from spaghetti westerns to giallos. Brad Harris really was American and he provides the necessary muscle for the good guys, proving a good foil for Kendall. The women get to do a bit more than just look glamorous, and the diabolical criminal mastermind is adequate if not spectacular.

It’s all low-budget stuff but it gets the job done.

Death Is Nimble, Death Is Quick (1966)

Sadly Retromedia’s DVD presentation is absolutely ghastly - a horribly butchered pan-and-scanned and very faded English-dubbed TV print. This is particularly unfortunate since the Ceylon locations probably looked quite magnificent. Of course if you’re a eurospy fan you’re used to seeing these movies in this kind of very substandard form.

This is not a top-tier eurospy movie but it’s reasonably entertaining. Recommended for fans of the genre but the DVD release is so awful you might want to rent this one.

Sunday 23 September 2012

The Revenge of Dr X (1970)

The Revenge of Dr X (1970)The Revenge of Dr X (AKA Body of the Prey, AKA Venus Flytrap) is a 1970 US-Japanese co-production, based on a script by the legendary Ed Wood, Jr.

It starts out with the launch of a space mission, but this has nothing whatever to do with the movie. Rocket scientist Dr Bragan (James Craig) has been working too hard and his doctor recommends a complete rest. His assistant, Dr Nakamura, suggests a trip to Japan, a suggestion the workaholic Dr Bragan surprisingly accepts.

On arrival in Japan Dr Bragan is met by Dr Nakamura’s beautiful cousin, Noriko Hanamura. Her family owns several resort hotels, including one in the mountains that has been deserted for several years. It was too remote and the roads were too bad, as well as being rather too close to an active volcano. Its remoteness is just what Dr Bragan craves.

The Revenge of Dr X (1970)

Dr Bragan now turns to his first love, botany. He has a venus flytrap with him and he clearly has a fascination with carnivorous plants. His objective now is to find a rare Japanese aquatic carnivorous plant. To do this he calls on the help of the famous Japanese female ama divers, which offers the opportunity for some gratuitous topless scenes.

By grafting the two species together he will create a super plant carnivore. He does so, and the resulting hybrid is not only carnivorous, it moves. Since it moves it must be basically human and have intelligence. This proves that humans evolved from plants. No, I don’t follow that reasoning either but hey, it’s a horror movie. Of course to bring his new plant to life he needs lightning, and a convenient electrical storm does the trick.

The Revenge of Dr X (1970)

Of course you know that playing around with man-sized walking carnivorous plants is not going to turn out to be a good idea.

Dr Bragan as played by James Craig is clearly paranoid and somewhat unhinged right from the start. He flies off the handle if anyone questions him or takes any undue interest in his work. Craig’s jumpy performance is the highlight of the movie. You know right away you’re dealing with a mad scientist. It’s not good acting but at least it’s entertaining. That’s more than can be said of the other actors in this film.

The Revenge of Dr X (1970)

The actress who plays Noriko is unbelievably dull. Luckily the deserted hotel which becomes Dr Bragan’s laboratory has a caretaker, a hunchback who plays the organ, which offers the opportunity for some gratuitous organ music.

This is something of a mystery movie. No-one knows who directed it (the opening credits on the only surviving print are from a different movie). No-one is even absolutely sure that Ed Wood wrote the screenplay but it’s so typically Ed Wood that there’s not much doubt on that score.

The Revenge of Dr X (1970)

The monster itself is gloriously goofy. You can’t seriously dislike a movie that has a guy in a rubber suit playing a killer plant.

This is a very bad movie indeed but like everything that Ed Wood touched it’s perversely fascinating. Recommended for Ed Wood fans.

Synergy’s DVD release is absolutely atrocious. It’s fullframe and looks like a very inferior VHS copy.

Friday 21 September 2012

Santo & Blue Demon vs. Doctor Frankenstein (1974)

Santo & Blue Demon vs. Doctor Frankenstein (Santo y Blue Demon contra el doctor Frankenstein) delivers exactly what it promises - it pits the Man in the Silver Mask against Dr Frankenstein himself.

This movie, released in 1974, is another installment in the long-running series of Mexican movies (in fact there were more than fifty of them) starring professional wrestler and part-time crimefighter and superhero Santo.

Young women are disappearing in disturbingly large numbers. That would be terrifying enough, but the young women are then reappearing as zombies! Even worse, killer zombies. It soon becomes clear that someone out there is performing brain transplants. Unsuccessful brain transplants. The dead victims are then re-animated by means of a remote-control device implanted in their bodies.

Who could be doing such horrific things? Surely it could not be Dr Frankenstein - he must be long dead.

But Dr Frankenstein is not dead at all - he is very much alive and active, even if he is 113 years old! And he is the diabolical figure behind these horrendous brain experiments.

Dr Frankenstein has also devised a way of reversing the ageing process and he uses this promise to recruit two prominent brain surgeons to serve as his assistants. And now Dr Frankenstein has a new victim in mind - Santo! His one successful brain transplant patient is Golem, a huge black man. Golem has enormous strength, but he lacks skill and agility. If he had Santo’s gifts in those areas he would be truly formidable, and nothing could prevent Dr Frankenstein from achieving his aim of unlimited power.

Dr Frankenstein needs is a way of capturing Santo alive and undamaged, and the only way to do that is to make Santo come to him. And that can be achieved quite easily - all he needs to do is to kidnap Santo’s girlfriend Alicia Robles.

What Dr Frankenstein hadn’t counted on was that Santo would figure out what he was up to, and that Santo would not be fighting this battle alone - his friend and wrestling partner Blue Demon will prove to be a valuable ally.

There are the usual wrestling sequences but this time wrestling forms an integral part of the plot - Santo will be matched against Golem, with both Alicia’s life and the safety of humanity being the stakes.

Jorge Russek as Dr Frankenstein makes a fairly effective villain while Golem is certainly a very effective heavy. There’s nothing to say about Santo’s acting - if you’ve seen one Santo movie you know what to expect, and Santo fans don’t expect their hero to be a great actor. He is Santo, he is a legend, and that’s more than enough.

The Santo movies were all fairly low-budget affairs. Dr Frankenstein’s secret laboratory would have cost very little but it looks quite effective. There’s plenty of action, and plenty of thrills. This is a superhero movie Mexican style and it’s a great deal more fun than most such movies.

This is one of the most highly regarded of the Santo movies. The combination of Santo with one of the most famous of all fictional villains has an obvious appeal. It’s all highly entertaining and is a must for fans of the Man in the Silver Mask.

Rise Above’s DVD release offers the original Spanish soundtrack with English subtitles and it’s a decent if not spectacular transfer.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Wicked Women (1978)

I'd like to think that I can find something good to say about just about any Jess Franco movie, but I have to admit that with his 1978 offering  Wicked Women (AKA Women Without Innocence, AKA Frauen ohne Unschul), one of the movies he made for Swiss producer Erwin C. Dietrich in the late 70s,  I’m really struggling.

This was clearly just a movie made for the pay cheque and Franco’s lack of interest is all too obvious.

The movie sells itself as a women-in-prison movie but it isn’t. The women are confined in a mental asylum, and the newest inmate is Margarita (Lina Romay). She was involved with two suspected diamond-smugglers and the unscrupulous couple who run the asylum want to find out where the diamonds are hidden.

Unfortunately for them Margarita is completely mad and they can get no sense out of her. The doctor in charge of the asylum uses various controversial therapies, most of which involve sex. The therapies would seem to be more likely to end someone more crazy than they already are but it does eventually get results, of a kind. And of course it necessitates Lina Romay taking her clothes off a lot. That’s certainly no disadvantage in a Franco movie but in this one the sex seems a bit perfunctory. And it’s not even very sleazy. If Franco can’t be bothered ramping up the sleaze factor then you know he’s not really interested.

Lina Romay as usual does her best. She was pretty good at playing severely disturbed women but this movie doesn’t really push her acting abilities as much as movies like Dorian Gray. She was always at her best when there was a lot of weirdness going on as well as just regular madness. And that’s another problem here - the weirdness level is just not high enough.

Many of the sets will be familiar to viewers who’ve seen Voodoo Passion, a much more interesting and generally much better Franco movie that came out in 1977, suggesting that Franco may have been indulging in his 1970s habit of shooting two movies simultaneously. The multiple-mirrored sex scenes are clever but the ones in Voodoo Passion have a bit more spark to them.

Lina Romay’s naked romp in the spa bath with a friend will certainly get your attention though. Of course it’s part of her therapy and Lina understands that if therapy is going to work you have to put some effort into it. Which she does.

It’s essentially a straight murder mystery plot, which was something Franco was quite capable of pulling off, as he did in the excellent and underrated Downtown - Die nackten Puppen der Unterwelt in 1975. But in that movie he was having fun as well, spoofing the private eye genre.

Wicked Women isn’t sleazy enough to be a great women-in-prison movie. it isn’t erotic enough to make it as an erotic film, it isn’t weird enough to be a classic slice of Franco uber-weirdness and it has no sense of fun so it also doesn’t make it as comedy. So it’s really a bit of a nothing movie, obviously cranked out to keep producer Erwin C. Dietrich happy (Dietrich incidentally gets a credit as co-writer). The prodigious number of lesbian couplings would certainly have pleased him.

The German DVD from Ascot Elite is up to their usual standards - picture quality is superb. The movie is in German with optional English subtitles.

This one is really for Franco completists only.

Saturday 15 September 2012

Heaven and Hell (1980)

Heaven and Hell is one of the oddest of all movies made by Shaw Brothers studios. Made in 1980, it’s a bewildering mix of genres. 

Director Cheh Chang was one of the most revered of all Hong Kong martial arts film directors but with this movie he really let himself go.

The movie opens in Heaven. The maid Xixiao is one of the servants of the Queen Mother, but when she makes a fairly minor mistake during a ceremony she is sentenced to 300 lashes. This establishes one of the film’s major themes - that injustice is equally common in Heaven. on Earth and in Hell. Her boyfriend intervenes, there is a fight, and the two lovers eventually make their escape from Heaven to the mortal world.

One of the guards of the Heavenly Portal, Xin Ling, is banished to Earth for failing to prevent the lovers’ escape. He is killed while trying to dave the life of the mortal version of Xixiao.

After this brief interlude on Earth Xin Ling finds himself in Hell. After witnessing the various refinements of eternal torture he has an encounter with the Buddha of Mercy, who tells him that he must find four other heroes with red blood (true denizens of Hell do not have red blood) and with them he will be able to fight his way out of Hell so that they can all be reincarnated.

The first half of the movie is one of the most interesting things ever to come our of Shaw Brothers Studio. It’s a gleeful mix of king fu action, fantasy, 80s music videos, 1950s Hollywood musicals and gangster movie. Cheh Chang takes everything that has ever caught his eye and throws it into the mix. There are epic fight scenes, and spectacular musical production numbers.

Unfortunately in the second half of the movie Cheh Chang loses control of the film and it becomes just an endless succession of fight scenes. They’re often very imaginative fight scenes - the fight on the sword points is truly inspired - but the bold genre-bending of the first half is sorely missed.

Visually this movie is as impressive as anything the Shaw Brothers studio ever did. The production design is spectacular. We only see glimpses of Heaven but we see a great deal of Hell, and it’s a fascinating mixture of western Christian concepts and Eastern concepts. Much of it seems very western, until the Buddha of Mercy makes an appearance.

It’s certainly reminiscent of western mythology, of Orpheus’s descent into the Underworld. So the western influence is not just Christian concepts of Hell but pagan concepts drawn from Greek mythology as well, but intriguingly combined with eastern ideas.

If you’re a fan of kung fu and swordplay movies don’t despair - there is plenty here to keep you happy.

And if you’re a fan of musicals you’ll adore the first half of this movie.

This movie might not be a complete success but even when it fails it does so gloriously and entertainingly. It’s all over the place but it does have a strange visionary quality to it. A real oddity in the Shaw Brothers catalogue but worth a look. In spite of some flaws, still definitely recommended.

Image Entertainment’s DVD release can be recommended very highly - it’s a great anamorphic transfer and the colours are simply dazzling.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

The Scarlet Blade (1964)

The Scarlet Blade dates from 1964, a time when Hammer Films was trying (with mixed success) to establish itself as a producer of adventure movies. This one has an English Civil War setting and it illustrates quite well both the strengths and weaknesses of Hammer’s attempts in this genre.

Hammer’s big problem with adventure films was that they could not possibly afford the spectacular action sequences that the genre requires. They solved this problem (not entirely satisfactorily) in The Brigand from Kandahar by extensive use of footage from other films. Their solution in the case of The Scarlet Blade was rather different.

The problem with an English Civil War movie is that it’s going to require exactly the sorts of large-scale battle scenes that were entirely outside Hammer’s budget. So the movie is set in the aftermath of the Civil War, in 1648. The King has been defeated and is on the run from the victorious Parliamentary forces. This will raise another problem - the movie is told from the Royalist point of view with the Parliamentarians as the bad guys. And the main objective of the Royalist heroes is to free the king. But the Royalists lost (in the short term anyway) and anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the history of these times knows that the King was executed in 1649. So the heroes are on the losing side and we already know that they were doomed to failure as far as their principal objective was concerned.

That means that the setup more or less guarantees a rather dark movie. That’s fine for a gothic horror movie but for an adventure movie it’s a rather bold choice. Yet another difficulty is that such a movie requires a focus of evil - not necessarily as a character in the movie but at least as a behind-the-scenes presence. For a pro-Royalist movie set in this period the obvious choice is Cromwell, but Cromwell did not become Lord-Protector (and virtual dictator) of England until 1653. This movies resolves that difficulty very easily by simply ignoring history. In the movie Cromwell is already Lord-Protector in 1648.

Colonel Judd (Lionel Jeffries) is an officer in Cromwell’s New Model Army. He has been appointed military governor of an area that is still largely Royalist in sympathies and is rife with Royalist guerillas. Even worse, the King himself (or as Judd and his fellow officers prefer to refer to him, The Traitor Charles Stuart) is in hiding in this district. Judd’s mission is to crush Royalist opposition to Cromwell and to capture the King.

What Judd doesn’t know is that one of the leaders of Royalist opposition is his own daughter, Claire (June Thorburn). Judd himself is a turncoat - a Royalist officer who switched allegiance to the Parliamentarian cause, an action for which his daughter despises him. It seems likely that the ambitious Judd was motivated primarily by self-interest but he is now Cromwell’s man and is zealous in his cause.

The leading Royalist trouble-maker in the district is a man known as the Scarlet Blade. Judd suspects, quite correctly, that the Scarlet Blade is a scion of the Beverley family, a family of noted Royalist sympathies now proscribed by the Lord-Protector. Claire’s intention is to join forces with the Scarlet Blade.

Complicating matters for both Colonel Judd and his daughter is Judd’s right-hand man, Captain Sylvester (Oliver Reed). Sylvester appears to be a zealous Cromwellian but he is in love with Claire and tells her he would cheerfully change sides for her sake. Which he does, but how far can he be trusted? When the final reckoning comes with the Scarlet Blade, which side will he actually choose? And of course Claire falls in love with the Scarlet Blade, setting up the necessary romantic triangle.

The major weakness of this movie is that the villains are much more interesting than the heroes. Jack Hedley as the Scarlet Blade is adequate but he is completely overshadowed by Oliver Reed. And Reed has the advantage of playing a much more interesting and complex character. Oliver Reed’s performance is one of the best he gave for Hammer - he’s clearly interested in the role and he avoids the cheerful hamminess and scenery-chewing he so often indulged in in Hammer films. It’s a restrained performance and we see flashes of the brilliance and unexpected depths that he would display at the peak of his career in the late 60s and early 70s.

Colonel Judd is also much more interesting than his daughter. June Thorburn’s acting is entirely competent but she’s playing a straightforward heroine while Lionel Jeffries (relishing the opportunity to play a sinister non-comedy role) gets to play a villain tortured by divided loyalties - if he succeeds in his appointed task he will have to destroy his own daughter, and Claire is the one person he cares deeply about (apart from Colonel Judd).

These could be fatal weaknesses but since writer-director John Gilling is trying to make a dark film they become strengths.

Michael Ripper is present of course, but he doesn’t play an innkeeper. He plays a gypsy who is assisting the Royalist guerillas, and he takes full advantage of the opportunity to overact outrageously. He’s entirely unconvincing as a gypsy but he’s a great deal of fun and he provides some much-needed lightness in an otherwise surprisingly grim adventure film.

Since the action and battle scenes are all very small-scale affairs the low budget is not a great problem. The costumes look splendid (Oliver Reed looking very dashing in uniform) and Bernard Robinson’s production design gives us a rather handsome film. With the very competent Jack Asher handling the cinematography the movie is visually fairly impressive.

This is the adventure film as tragedy but given the commercial realities of the day it can’t be unrelentingly grim so we get a nicely mixed ending, a blend of tragedy and at least some hope.

A surprisingly interesting offering from Hammer which I thoroughly enjoyed and which I recommend. And the DVD release from Studio Canal offers a superb anamorphic transfer.

Friday 7 September 2012

Tales That Witness Madness (1973)

Amicus Productions had so much success with their horror anthology films in the 60s and early 70s that it was probably inevitable that eventually the formula would be copied by other companies. One such copycat movie is World Film Service’s Tales That Witness Madness, which was released in 1973.

It copies the formula quite faithfully, with four stories plus a framing story. The framing story involves a mad scientist, or at least a somewhat eccentric psychiatric researcher, played by Donald Pleasence. He has some crackpot theory about ideas in people’s minds becoming real. He has accumulated four case studies to convince his boss (played by Jack Hawkins) that his theory has some validity.

The first case is a boy who has an imaginary friend, Mr Tiger. Mr Tiger is, as his name suggests, a tiger. Mr Tiger likes the boy but he hates Mummy and Daddy. It’s not hard to guess what happens next.

The second case is an antiques dealer who is left a houseful of furniture and bric-a-brac by an aunt. This collection includes a portrait of Uncle Albert and Uncle Albert’s penny farthing bicycle. The portrait forces the dealer to ride the bicycle and it transports him back in time to Uncle Albert’s youth.

The third segment is the age-old romantic triangle - a man, a woman and a tree trunk. The man has to choose between the tree trunk and his wife. With a wife like Joan Collins you’d think the tree trunk would be doomed to disappointment but you never can tell with men.

The fourth segment involves a literary agent who is handling a client who, unbeknownst to her, part of a Polynesian cannibal cult. She throws a party for him, with a Hawaiian theme. She wanted a whole roasting pig for this feast, but she got something rather different.

As you might gather from these brief synopses the main problem with his movie is the extreme silliness of the stories. Had they been played for black comedy they might have worked but writer Jennifer Jayne lacked the experience necessary and doesn’t seem to know what it is that she’s aiming for.

Director Freddie Francis doesn’t know either. As always he’s quite strong with the visuals but having helmed several of the Amicus horror anthology movies he simply takes the same approach here, but the stories are too weak and too silly to support such an approach (although he had demonstrated several years earlier in Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly that he could handle black comedy quite well). Perhaps he just took one look at the script and decided not to worry about anything besides his pay cheque. I can’t say that I blame him.

The strong cast is the one thing in this movie’s favour. Jack Hawkins was unfortunately so ill by this time that his voice had to be dubbed by Charles Gray. Donald Pleasence gives a trademark creepy performance. His scientist is not evil - he’s just crazy.

Donald Houston contributes some fine scenery chewing to the first segment while child actor Russell Lewis is subtly scary. Joan Collins as always does her best in the third segment (which she could be relied upon to do even when the material was very weak). Kim Novak is surprisingly good as the literary agent in the fourth segment.

Ultimately though this movie just doesn’t work, and it doesn’t work because nobody cared to step in and order a drastic rethink. Either the screenplay should have been rewritten or it should have been played overtly as black comedy.

The DVD release from Olive Films can’t really be faulted. The movie gets better treatment here than it deserves.

This is one that you can well afford to miss.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)Mothra vs. Godzilla (Mosura tai Gojira) is Japanese monster movie craziness at its craziest. It was made in 1964 by Toho Studios and directed by Ishirô Honda, who also helmed the original Godzilla.

Those wicked capitalists are at it again, building a beachfront resort which will employ hundreds of local people. Then a typhoon strikes and a gigantic egg is washed ashore. The wicked capitalists buy the egg from the local villagers with the intention of making it the star attraction of the Shizonuwa Happy Centre.

Two tiny girls (about 6 inches high) appear and ask if they could please have their egg back. Reporter Ichiro Sakai (Akira Takarada) and press photographer Junko Nakanishi (Yuriko Hoshi) are sympathetic and do their best the wicked capitalists to return the egg. The egg comes from Infant Island. It is the egg of Mothra, a gigantic moth. Infant Island had been the site of a H-bomb test which naturally produced all sorts of strange things, like gigantic moths and miniature girls.

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

Meanwhile Godzilla is back, and he’s looking for things to stomp. The army has plans to stop the giant reptile but our two intrepid news hounds realise that only Mothra can save humanity. An epic battle between Mothra and Godzilla follows, the egg hatches to produce two enormous moth larvae which spout some kind of sticky substance which is very useful for wrapping up unwanted giant prehistoric monsters, but the future of humanity hangs in the balance.

The movie is marred by a lot of tedious propaganda about human wickedness and the dangers of atomic testing. Everything is all our fault of course. There are also songs, provided by the tiny girls.

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

Once the action switches back to giant monster battles though there is plenty of fun to be had. The stop motion effects are extremely good and while it’s difficult to imagine how a huge moth could be portrayed as being capable of battling Godzilla it has to be admitted that the film-makers succeed pretty well. Mothra is one very formidable moth. She uses her wings to create a wind that keeps knocking poor old Godzilla down. This is not the least of the indignities that Godzilla suffers - he is electrocuted by artificial lightning, shot at by tanks, has bombs dropped on him by the air force and has giant nets dropped on him as well.

Tokyo doesn’t actually get stomped in this movie but there is still plenty of giant monster stomping. Coastal cities get devastated, an industrial complex gets squashed, and there is general mayhem. It’s all very well done and in fact all of the effects are good. Mothra is pretty impressive, beating its wings in fine style.

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

The acting is adequate for a monster movie and Ishirô Honda by this time had plenty of experience with monster movies and other science fictional fun silliness.

There was apparently a US version that eliminated some scenes and added others.

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

Madman’s Region 4 DVD is excellent, an anamorphic transfer that makes the most of the Tohoscope aspect ratio. Colours are vibrant and picture quality is exceptionally good. It includes both the English dubbed version and the original Japanese version.

If you ignore the breast-beating about human wickedness this is a fun silly classic monster movie. Recommended for all monster movie fans.

Monday 3 September 2012

The Super Inframan (1975)

The Super Inframan is a very uncharacteristic Shaw Brothers movie from 1975. The Japanese had had great success with science fiction monster movies and this movie shows that the great Hong Kong studio could do just as well in that genre. But this is not just a science fiction monster movie, it’s a superhero movie as well.

Earth has been invaded by monsters. They may have come from outer space but Professor Liu believes they’re led by people from Earth who lived before the last Ice Age, 20 million years ago. OK, they’re almost 20 million years wring in their dating of the last Ice Age, but hey this is a movie and you’re not watching this one because you want boring scientific accuracy.

The monsters are led by the beautiful but evil Princess Elzebub (Terry Liu). Fortunately Earth is not without hope - the Professor has been working on the Inframan for quite a while. The Inframan is like the bionic man, only more so. The man who is transformed into the Inframan will have awesome super powers. He should be a match for any monster. The Professor’s assistant Rayma will become the Inframan.

Unfortunately the monsters have kidnapped one of his assistants, Zhu Min, and have turned him into a kind of zombie. This gives the monsters an ally within the Professor’s own secret laboratory.

Things get even worse when the Professor’s daughter is kidnapped by the monsters. Only Inframan can save them!

This movie has everything you could possibly ask for. The monsters are incredibly cheesy - they’re all guys in rubber suits. But they’re great fun. The good guys all wear cool blue jumpsuits, except for Inframan himself who goes for classy red vinyl. The special effects are much of the 70s but they’re extremely well done. The sets are superb.

By western standards this might not have been an expensive movie but it looks expensive.  One of the great strengths of Shaw Brothers movies is that they always look good - they put a huge emphasis on the visual impact of their films, an element that is often even more impressive than the action. They really excelled themselves with this one - the visuals are not just stunning, but they’re also absolutely right for the type of silly but fun movie that this is.

There’s non-stop action and of course there is kung fu as well. There is copious use of laser beams. And lots of explosions. There are motorcycle chases. The monsters can suddenly make themselves gigantic (in which case they are still men in rubber suits but filmed against miniature backgrounds). There’s Princess Elzebub’s bikini-clad assistant. And lots and lots of monsters.

This movie is all about fun. Director Shan Hua keeps the mood light, and he keeps the action rolling. This is not a movie that makes any great demands on the actors but they enter into the spirit of the thing. Their acting may not be sensational but it’s energetic.

The end result is a fascinating and wonderfully enjoyable blend of Shaw Brothers spectacle with Japanese monster movie silliness.

Image Entertainment’s DVD release offers a superb anamorphic transfer making the most of the Shawscope widescreen aspect ratio.  The DVD offers both an English dub and the original Mandarin soundtrack with English subtitles.

This movie is simply non-stop silly cheesy fun. Highly recommended.