Wednesday, 28 May 2014


Title: Orca
Director: Michael Anderson
Released: 1977
Starring: Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling, Will Sampson, Bo Derek, Keenan Wynn, Peter Hooten, Robert Carradine  

Plot: Captain Nolan (Harris) and his crew make a living capturing marine animals, however while attempting to capture an Orca he accidently kills the whale which he discovers was pregnant and occurring the wrath of her mate who now sets out to seek revenge against Nolan.

Review: One of the numerous films to come off the back of the success of “Jaws” a trend which continues even today with this being one of the better ones and one of the few to stand on its own, as other the years it has spawned its own cult following. Unquestionably the idea of a killer Orca is an intriguing one especially when most people view these animals like dolphins in the fact that we don’t see them as vicious killers, which is something that couldn’t be further from the truth as is especially the case with Orca which are especially fearsome predators as "Blackfish" only further highlighted to the doubters.

Produced by cult cinema legend Dino De Laurentiis who tasked fellow producer Luciano Vincenzoni to “find a fish tougher and more terrible than the great white” following a late night viewing of “Jaws”. Like De Laurentiis, Vincenzoni knew little about sea life but was soon directed to killer whales by his brother Adriano….I guess the fact that whales are not fish but mammals didn’t ultimately matter now De Laurentiis had his killer. Still if to emphasis the point that here was an animal deadlier than a great white the film features the orcas being introduced by having them attack a great white shark, in a scene were the gauntlet is truly being thrown down and one which would inspire in retaliation the scene of the mauled orca in “Jaws 2”.

Director Anderson though really is another director who really doesn’t get the credit he deserves, especially as he was also responsible for the iconic WW2 war movie “The Dam Busters” let alone cult favourites “Logan’s Run” which he directed prior to this film and the much overlooked “Millennium”. Here again despite being essentially tasked with turning in a “Jaws” cash in still manages to give us something alittle different than the usual go to plot of disposable cast members being picked off  by the titular beastie. Here instead we have what could essentially be seen as “Moby Dick” in reverse with the whale this time taking on the role of the vengeance seeking Captain Ahab relentlessly hunting his prey in Captain Nolan. Nolan though is an interesting character for while he might seem like a clone of Quint seeing how both ruthlessly hunt animals for profit, but Nolan is not hunting these creatures out of a deep seated desire for revenge but rather the simple desire to pay off his boat and return to Ireland. True having an actor like Harris really raises the role and unquestionable sells the journey Nolan is forced to take over the course of the film, even coming to a point where he finds himself comparing his actions to those of the drunk driver which killed his own family. Harris reportedly enjoyed making this film and it shows with the thoughtful performance he gives here even to the extent that he insisted on doing all his own stunts, something that would on several occasions almost kill him in the process.

Okay I know the idea of an animal seeking revenge is unquestionably a far-fetched one as I don’t think that its an emotion they are even capable of. It would also be the same idea which would later sink the “Jaws” franchise” and it is none the more believable here despite the best efforts of Anderson who stops off trying to play things smart with the whale pushing his dead mate onto the island, before sinking fishing boats and driving away the supplies of fish which the island rely on. From here though it becomes increasingly far-fetched as it is soon knocking out essential support legs on Nolan’s dockside house aswell as severing the fuel lines to the village causing a huge fire to erupt and engulf have the village in flames. All things which I doubt even the smartest of whales would be able to do and things which only mark the randomness to come as the whale manages to convince Nolan and his crew to follow it into the icy north using nothing but the same gestures we have come to expect from these animals asking for more fish.

When it comes to the orca effects originally I thought that it was solely trained whales and stock footage, but what is surprising is that a realistic animatronic whale was also used as part of the filming. In fact it would prove to be so realistic that animal activists mistook it for a real whale while protesting the production trucks. The orca attacks are also played largely true to nature, with cast members being pulled over board rather than anything “Free Willy” style attacks. Anderson only really allows himself a fantastical leap with these attack scenes once during the scene were the orca attacks Nolan’s house and in doing so tearing off Bo Derek’s leg, in a scene shot arguably similar to Quinn’s death in “Jaws”. This scene is also about gory as the film gets, while the death of the female orca and the miscarriage of her calf prove far more haunting that anything else the film has to offer, but then this is a film like “Jaws” where a minimal amount of gore goes a long way.

If I was to grumble over any aspect of the film it would be the sudden ending, were the climatic showdown between Nolan and the orca suddenly comes crashing to a sudden and abrupt ending, before we are treated to the warbling end credit music that had me scrambling for the remote to make it end.  Still credit has to be given to Anderson for going with such a ballsy ending, yet ultimately a fitting one even if it might not seem like it at first.

While this might not be even in the same league as “Jaws” it comes closer than most knock offs did, while certainly helped as I mentioned earlier by the casting of Harris. Equally the pacing is brisk enough that it doesn't outstay its welcome even if the finale seems come perhaps alittle too out of leftfield. However with the orca antics not limited to just killing off random cast members, there is plenty of orca action to enjoy and when compared to the recent animals gone rogue movies we are bombarded with currently with their cheap cgi, it only really makes this one all the more enjoyable.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

A Fistful of Gojira Part 4: Godzilla Vs. Biollante

Title: Godzilla Vs. Biollante
Director: Kazuki Omori
Released: 1989
Starring: Kunihiko Mitamura, Yoshiko Tanaka, Megumi Odaka, Koji Takahashi, Toru Minegishi, Toshiyuki Nagashima   

Plot: Five years after the events of “The Return of Godzilla” Genetic researcher Genshiro Shiragama combines DNA from Godzilla with that of the Roses he has been studying, creating by accident the monster Biollante which soon attracts the attention of the newly released Godzilla.

Review: The second film in the Heisei era which rebooted the franchise 9 years after the “The Terror of Mechagodzilla” brought the Showa era to a close. The Heisei era not only ignored the events which followed the ending of the first film but also ushered in a new darker tone for the series as here Godzilla was no longer the saviour of Earth, but more the rampaging monster he originally was. This however was not to say that Godzilla didn’t involve himself in more monster smackdowns as outside of the first film in this era “The Return of Godzilla” it was business as usual only now the fights were seen as more of a Darwinian contest for territory and resources.

Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka keen to not recycle established monsters from the Toho catalogue instead for the film solicited script ideas from the general public, with the winning idea coming from dentist and occasional sci-fi writer Shinichiro Kobayashi, which inturn director Omori adapted into the final script. It should also be noted that this approach of not recycling classic would soon be scrapped with two movies which followed and which saw both Mothra and King Ghidora to memorable effect. Despite the fact that this film was based on an idea by a member of the public (doubt Hollywood will be taking this approach anytime soon) Biollante is unquestionably one of Godzilla’s more impressive opponents, let alone his tallest to date, something which Omori plays to great effect as he frequently shoots these monsters from the side to emphases the disadvantage Godzilla has from the start and something which is only further highlighted in the posters which were dominated by the image of this monster plant (aswell as one of the few female monster characters)

The showdown between Godzilla and Biollante while perhaps more limited than some of his other encounters, still has its share of impressive moments, while also noteworthy for being one of the more violent fights, yet at the same time it is a restrained level of violence as there is none of the blood spurts we saw in “Godzilla Vs. Gigan” but there is plenty of slime to substitute for it aswell as a nasty impalement when Biollante drives one of her vines through Godzilla’s hand. The Heisei era would sporadically contain these moments of violence as also memorable seen by King Ghidorah losing one of his heads in “Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah, though again this violence would always be restrained like it is here and nowhere near the levels seen in the Gamera movies which never showed such restrain when it came to violence.

The suit work is great even if we hardly get any of the city levelling action we have come to expect from the series with most of the action taking place randomly in a lake which Biollante has decided to root down in.  It is however in the city wrecking scenes that we also get to see another rarity for the series in that collateral damage is being shown, while earlier films would frequently cover for the sudden absence of the local human population by showing scenes of crowds heading for underground bunkers. This scene would interesting tie into “Godzilla Vs. Space Godzilla” with the Heisei frequently finding ways to tie films together, even if one the surface they gave the impression of being standalone films like the later films of the Showa series in one of the many subtle changes the Heisei era as the series moved to mature with its audience.

One of my main gripes with this film though is with the pacing, which is ponderous to say the least, especially with the first 40 minutes being given to the human plotlines, which ultimately end up cluttering the film as too many characters are brought into play with around half of them really adding nothing but confusion to the plot, while most only purpose it seems is to trigger the events leading up the confrontation between the two titular monsters. On the plus side not all these human distractions are negative as we do get the fun of the Japanese Defence Force and their latest plan to stop Godzilla by rebuilding the “Super X” with the first model having been destroyed in the previous film, the mark 2 seen here this time comes with a new secret weapon in the form of the “Fire Mirror” which essentially reflects Godzilla’s flame breath back at him to spectacular effect even if the crew can’t for the life of them seem to aim the reflected beam, but then hasn’t wrong projectiles / weapons always been their calling card.

While Biollante would be a great addition to the Toho catalogue of monsters disappointing box office returns would see producer Tanaka returning to an established favourite for the next film “Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah”, whose success would see the idea of new monster being put on the backburner for most of this era outside of the final two entries. At the same time this would be her only appearance to date and with the Toho currently having retired Godzilla for the time being it remains to be seen if the success of the latest American adaptation holds her reappearance in its future.

Next Time: "Godzilla Vs. Destroyah" - The Showa era comes to a close with one of the most memorable moments in the series...the death of Godzilla. A film which made news around the world in the lead up to its release as Toho prepared to give the American remake a clean slate to work with, the Big G prepares to take what looked set to be his final bow.

Friday, 16 May 2014

The Lost Empire

Title: The Lost Empire
Director: Jim Wynorski
Released: 1983
Starring: Melanie Vincz, Raven De La Croix, Angela Aames, Angus Scrimm, Paul Coufos, Robert Tessier, Angelique Pettyjohn

Plot: When Police officer Angel’s (Vincz) brother is killed trying to stop a trio of ninja’s robbing a jewellery story, her investigation soon leads her to the mysterious Dr. Sin Do who is holding a martial arts tournament on his secret island fortress. Now joined by the native American White Star (De La Croix) and Prison brawer Heather (Aames) they head to the tournament with the aim of avenging Angel’s brother.

Review: Please allow me to start by saying that his film really is a true shameless guilty pleasure, was well as that this is actually my first experience with the work of director Wynorski who like Albert Pyun unquestionably has his fans and who over the course of the last 25 years has churned out over 150 films to date including possibly his most well-known film “Chopping Mall”. Despite this legacy this film has until now always remained one of his most elusive even to the director himself, who began working with producer Bill Dever in 2007 to track it down and re-acquire the rights, which has now lead to it finally getting its release on DVD.

Almost certain that this film could be both his first and last, Wynorski crammed into this film everything he loved, which it would seem included feisty attractive ladies, ninja’s, martial arts and questionable gorilla suits to all but skim the surface of the sheer random fun this film is. It would only be fate that despite being originally made as a tax loss for Plitt Theatres owner Henry Plitt (something Wynorski reportedly didn’t know at the time) the film would be so liked by Plitt that he gave the film a theatrical release.

Essentially a sexed up version of “Enter the Dragon” the seemingly also fancies itself as a female James Bond spoof seeing how it opens with the familiar Bond peephole which this time draws focus on a pair of large breasts. It should be noted that this is essentially a hint of what is to come as like the films of David Sedaris and Russ Meyer, Wynorski is unashamedly also a fan of cramming as many beautiful women as he can into his films and generally finding provocative situation in which to film them something which continues with his work to date. 

Still despite this it would be wrong to dismiss this film as gratuitous T&A as there is atleast some attempt made at plotting, even if most of it is completely over the top, with the last half hour of this film being especially insane to the point were I was left questioning if they shot those scenes first or if Wynorski had just thrown caution completely to the wind knowing how random the rest of the film was already.

When it comes to the trio they are more a caricatures than with any form of realism as only highlighted by each of their introductions, hence Angel busting up a hostage situation at a school by riding a motorcycle down the hallway and punching out a random bad guy, while Heather is introduced by a prison yard brawl against a bull whip welding butch looking female dominatrix called whiplash, which essentially an excuse to include mud wrestling in the film. The weakest of the three though is White Star who just shows up on horse and spouts a bunch of Tonto-esq lines which I guess is kind of fitting seeing how Wynorski uses her character like a sexy version of Tonto.

It should also be worth noting that while the setup might be as a martial arts movie, there is actually very little martial arts action to be found here outside of the occasional kick or karate chop. This is especially amusing when it comes to the tournament were the competitors are told to expect a series of gratuitous challenges which will test their skills, only for the next scene to show the girls running around the grounds and through cones alongside shots of the girls being star jumps and pretty much anything else involving jumping to make the most of their general lack of clothing.  As such the whole competition plotline is quickly put on the backburner pretty much as soon as it starts, with only one fight actually taking place and that’s between Angel and one of Sin Do’s generic henchmen.

To balance things out from all the slap and tickle antics of the girls we do get a half-baked romance angle between Angel and Rick (Coufos) who with his classy porn star moustache is generally used for comedic value as he spends most of the film hamming things up which always seems to be the tradition for the romantic interest in these kind of girl gang movies. On the flip side he does also help balance out the amount of scantily clad ladies featured and pleases those of you who want to see shirtless Coufos.

While I might not be aware of Wynorski’s work before watching this film, I’m now keen to see what else is hiding in his back catalogue of work as this film really was a blast from the start. Ultimately though this film is  mindless fun and the sort of guilty pleasure to sit alongside the likes of “Faster Pussycat Kill Kill” and “Return to Savage Beach” and with the self-acknowledging cheese factor that most modern b-movies seem to aim for as seen especially with the recent direct to sci-fi channel releases from the likes of “The Asylum” and after all what other film can boast a phallus shaped laser cannon?

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

A Fistful of Gojira Part 3: Godzilla Vs. Gigan

Title: Godzilla Vs. Gigan
Director: Jun Fukuda
Released: 1972
Starring: Hiroshi Ishikawa, Yuriko Hisimi, Minoru Takashima, Tomoko Umeda, Toshiaki Nishizawa, Zan Fujita, Kunio Murai, Haruo Nakajima

Plot: Aliens disguising themselves as the creators of the peace-themed theme park Children’s Land have kidnapped a top scientist as part of their plan to take over the world. To ensure their plan goes through they also lure the monsters Gigan and King Ghidorah to Earth via two “Action Signal Tapes” which also lure Godzilla and Anguirus to the park and into a climatic showdown to decide the fate of Earth.

Review: Time now for another of my favourites, though like so many of films in the series the final film would be very different from the original plans for this film which originally started as a direct sequel to “Godzilla Vs. Hedorah”, a plan soon scrapped after producer Tomoyuki Tanaka saw the results of that film, so much so that he told director Yoshimitsu Banno that he had “ruined Godzilla” and subsequently banned him from directing another Toho film again. With this in mind Banno was unquestionably keen to get the series back on track and had planned to do this with a script titled “Godzilla Vs. the Space Monsters: Earth Defence Directive” which would include six monsters (a feat not attempted since the fantastic “Destroy All Monsters”) and would have marked the first appearance of both Gigan and Megalon alongside a third monster called Majin Tuol who would face off against Godzilla, Rodan and Varan. This film would however never make it out of the planning stages, despite an attempt to rework it into a new film titled “The Return of King Ghidorah” the plans would ultimately fall through due to budgeting issues.

Toho Studios never being one to waste a good idea would ultimately salvage parts of that script with this film being the end result, while Megalon would go on to get his own film with the woeful “Godzilla Vs. Megalon”. This film however being greeted with more mixed results with some of the fan base finding issue with some of the more random plot choices which included Godzilla and Anguirus talking. An idea which was either bad or really bad depending on if your watching the original version (speech bubbles) or the dubbed version (questionable voice acting) and while this only happens twice in the film it still irked a lot of fans, even though it would be miles better than the whole Godzilla flying insanity in “Godzilla Vs. Hedorah”.

At this point of the Showa era the Godzilla franchise had firmly settled into its template of monster sized smackdowns as Godzilla faced off against a roster of monsters as the defender of Earth and here it certainly in this respect it doesn’t disappoint as not only does the film feature four of my all-time favourite monsters, especially with Anguirus who honestly they have yet to beat though both Gigan and Mecha-King Ghidorah would come close. This matchup is only added to by the fact that this is one of Godzilla’s toughest fights to date even with the backup he receives from Anguirus.

It is as I mentioned in my previous review noteworthy for also being one of the bloodiest as the film shows a level of violence I’ve come to expect more from the “Gamera” series than Godzilla, but while a lot of these scene are savage to watch, they thankfully never darken the general tone of the film. This increase in gore though would be due to Taruyoshi Nakano taking over from special effects legend Eiji Tsuburaya who had been strongly opposed to exposing younger viewers to graphic images. Nakano might have been stepping into big shoes when he took over from Tsuburaya following his death but the special effects standard really doesn’t dip here, even though Nakano was forced to work with a reduced budget, which was ultimately worked around by through the extensive use of stock footage from the previous films which while it might raise grumbles from some of the fans but honestly I didn’t really notice it.

Outside of the monster fun, the plotline is pretty simple with Cartoonist Gengo (Ishikawa) being hired as a concept artist for the theme park only to soon suspect that his new employers are not quite what they seem which being a Godzilla movie they aren’t and in this case Giant shape shifting cockroaches. At the same time of all the alien species which have featured in the series, they are hardly the most involved in their plot seeing how they leave it down to Gigan and King Ghidorah to do most of the work while they hide out in their Godzilla shaped tower complete with a powerful laser cannon. It only makes sense then that their plan is also one of the easiest to foil seeing how they are essentially beaten by a drawing.

Embodying the Showa era this film is a lot of film and the monster fight scenes more than carry the film and serves as one of the better examples of the era, despite being sandwiched between two of the weakest entries. True it might increase the violence and more notably the gore (both things which would be toned down again in the films which followed) but this film still has the same fun nature which defined the films of the Showa era even though it was one of the last films to be made in this era.

Next Time: Godzilla Vs. Biollante - With "The Return of Godzilla" having ushered in the Heisei era along with it a darker vision of Godzilla. Here he is no longer the protector of Earth but instead closer to the monstrous beast he originally was. Now in the second film of the era Godzilla finds himself facing off against his largest opponent to date aswell as one of the few female monsters in the Toho catalogue, the gigantic plant monster Biollante

Sunday, 11 May 2014

The Akira Project: Fan Film Shows Hollywood How An Adaption Should Be Done

The chances are that by the time you read this that this trailer will have already bombarded your Facebook / Twitter feeds as its safe to say this video has exploded since I stumbled across it on Saturday night.

Usually I avoid one shot posts here in the blog as my regular readers will know already, but occasionally something like this fan film comes across were you know that a simple Facebook / Twitter post will just not do and so was the case when I first saw this fan film from the collective known as "The Akira Project".

Funded though Indiegogo, this fan film has its safe to say with its trailer achieved what Hollywood has as yet failed to deliver with by producing an almost shot for shot perfect adaptation of Katsuhiro Otomo's classic anime, which all anime (nay all animated films) are still even now measured against.

So to all those involved with this film I allow me to say congratulations on creating a stunning tribute and generally breaking everyone's jaw with this stunning short film.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

A Fistful of Gojira Part 2: Ebirah Horror of the Deep

Title: Ebirah Horror of the Deep aka Godzilla Vs. The Sea Monster
Director:  Jun Fukuda
Released: 1966
Starring: Akira Takarada, Toru Wantanabe, Toru Ibuki, Choutarou Tougin, Hideo Sunazuka, Kumi Mizuno, Pair Bambi, Jun Tazaki, Akihiko Hirata, Haruo Nakajima, Yu Sekida

Plot: Ryota (Wantanabe) and his friends steal a boat belonging to bank robber, to try and find Ryota’s brother Yata (Ibuki) who is presumed to be lost at sea. However when their boat is destroyed by the giant lobster Ebirah/ Washing up on the shores of a mysterious island which is also the base of operations for terrorist organisation “The Red Bamboo” who have enslaved the natives from Infant Island to help them manufacture nuclear weapons.

Review: Arriving at a cross roads for the series, with Godzilla still yet to become the defender of Japan but no longer the monstrous threat he was in his early films but rather a monster defending his territory, this film would only be a step further (if a confused one) closer to the popular vision of Godzilla as an anthropomorphic superhero that most people have. However despite starting on this path in “Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster” this film would still find Godzilla’s intentions still in something of a confused state no doubt due to the fact that the film had originally been intended as a vehicle for King Kong under the proposed title “Operation Robinson Crusoe: King Kong vs Ebirah” in what would be his second appearance outside of the US, having four years previous been given the Kaiju treatment by Toho when he was pitted against Godzilla in there series misstep “King Kong Vs. Godzilla”. It would however be during production that last minute changes would see the film would be changed to a Godzilla film leaving Kong to return to battle Mechi-Kong in “King Kong Escapes”.

While this film might not be a favourite of many Godzilla fans, thanks largely to the horrible dub track which for certain characters seems to have been done for comedic effect (atleast that’s what I hope it was) but despite this I have always held a fondness for this film, perhaps because it was the first Godzilla film I ever saw and while at the time I might not have been aware it was part of a larger series of films, I loved watching this giant dinosaur destroying buildings and battling with an over grown shrimp and it was from here that my life long obsession with not only Godzilla but Kaiju cinema on a whole would begin.

A light hearted adventure movie at its core and it is really a sense of fun that director Fukuda brings to the series after series mainstay Ishiro Honda decided to take another break from directing the series leaving Fukuda to pick up the directing reins with this film being the first of the five films he would direct for the series. Godzilla’s presence here though is more as a supporting character than a main lead as he would become in the films which followed, the same can also be said for Mothra who spends most of the movie being worshiped by the natives of Infant island who are trying to wake her up from the coma she seems to in until she suddenly decides to wake up in time to help Ryota and his friends escape the island with the natives enslaved by the Red Bamboo. This is however not to say that Godzilla isn’t given anything to do, as he does get to have a couple of memorable brawls with Ebirah who would following this film be phased out of the Toho monster catalogue until making a surprise appearance in “Godzilla: Final Wars”. Godzilla also gets to fight a random giant condor, but I think this creature was another carry over from the original Kong plotting, much like Godzilla’s strange interest in native girl Dayo (Mizuno) and throwing boulders as memorably seen during the random game of boulder tennis Godzilla engages in with Ebirah.

Equally noteworthy about this film is the level on violence here, which while perhaps featuring none of the blood spurts of “Godzilla Vs. Gigan” or the shocking jaw snapping scene in “Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla, this film does feature humans being eaten by Ebirah (to date the only monster to do this) aswell as Godzilla brutally tearing the claws off Ebirah and using them to taunt her further at the end of their battle. Unlike "Gamera" Godzilla has never been a series interested in gore and bloody brawls, outside of a few sporadic moments throughout the series and while this film features some of these moments of violence it is never to the point were it distracts from the film or stops being a Godzilla movie.

As far as Toho monsters go Ebirah is possibly one of the more outlandish, after all she is less of your typical monster design and really just a giant shrimp after all, as further confirmed by the fact that her name is derived fro the Japanese word ebi, meaning “shrimp” (thank you IMDB for that one). Despite this she is still one of the better opponents with her aquatic nature also giving us one of the rarer underwater fight scenes, while proving herself equally tasty as a brawler.

The main plotline following Ryota and his friends trying to stop the dastardly Red Bamboo is one of the more entertaining ones and their appearance here makes a change from the usual alien plotlines. It only makes it more of shame that this would be their only appearance in the series. Still despite giving the impression of a well organised fighting force they are still surprisingly easy to fool as seen by the outlandish tactics the group use to elude them, let alone the fact that they essentially toppled by a plan formulated by the group’s resident comic relief.

True this film might have some minor plot holes, such as why Godzilla is unconscious on the island or why Mothra spends most of the film having a nap, but for newcomers this film provides the perfect starting point like so many of the films from this point in the Showa era, with its fun plotting and zero knowledge of the other films being required to enjoy it, this one is just wholesome Kaiju fun!

Next time: "Godzilla Vs. Gigan" - With the Showa era hitting its stride with an established format of pitting Godzilla against a roster of giant monsters Director Fukuda with his third film for the series while providing possibly the best tag team match to date as Godzilla and Anguirus team up to battle King Ghidorah and Gigan.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

A Fistful of Gojira Part 1: Godzilla Raids Again

Title: Godzilla Raids Again
Director:  Motoyoshi Oda
Released: 1955
Starring: Hiroshi Koizumi, Setsuko Wakayama, Minoru Chiaki, Takashi Shimura, Haruo Nakajima

Plot: Pilots Shoichi and Koji are scouting for schools of fish for the tuna cannery company they work for, when Koji is forced to land near Iwato Island. Here he discovers a another Godzilla in battle with another monster Anguirus, a battle which soon leads them to the shores of Osaka.

Review: With the release of the new “Godzilla” fast approaching what better time to revisit the franchise so to date and look back at the various changes the series has gone through over a staggering thirty films (including both American adaptations). So over the course of the next few reviews which make up this mini feature, I will be looking at films from the each of key eras Showa, Heisei and Millennium, in what will form an annotated overlook at the series to date.

Seeing how I’ve already reviewed the original “Godzilla” the only logical place to start this journey would be with the second film and possibly the least seen by most fans, no doubt more familiar with the films which followed in its wake. Still this film would be one of numerous firsts seeing how it marked the first appearance of my favourite Kaiju creation Anguirus who here would also have the honour of being Godzilla’s first opponent.

Despite being killed in the previous film, Godzilla’s sudden reappearance here thankfully isn’t so much ignored but side stepped, with sole reason being that it is a second Godzilla. Still despite not being the same Godzilla he still has no love for humanity here and still very much on city wrecking form, only this time more the result of his on going battle with Anguirus, who would in the later films become a long term ally, something you’d never expect considering that both monsters are shown to be following the most primal instincts and hence are solely focused on killing each other.

Picking up the directorial reigns from Ishiro Honda, Director Oda a favourite with the Toho bosses due to his reputation for being able to deliver films quickly with his usual work rate seeing him delivering seven films a year for the company, though despite directing over fifty films over the course of his career little is known of his career after 1958, with this film being the only one made to be shown outside of Japan. Like Honda, Oda here chooses a similar style of plotting as he opts to shoot the film completely straight faced, even taking a risk by killing off unexpectedly one of his popular characters. Still considering that this film was in cinemas an astounding six months after the release of the original film, even with the numerous special effects shots req, its safe to say Oda truly lived up to his reputation as a speedy director.

Sadly while the main meat of the film is shot in a similar to style to one used by Honda in the original film, the same cannot be said for the majority of the Godzilla footage which comes off more laughable than with any of the threat that he was shot with in the original. Things only get worse when it comes to the fight scenes between Godzilla and Anguirus who frequently have the same look that you could achieve by battling two action figures together. These scenes are only further hampered by them frequently looking like they have been speeded up, which to Oda’s credit was more accidental due to a camera technician accidently undercranking the camera instead of overcranking it. Kaiju special effects legend Eiji Tsuburaya actually liked the speeded up effect this created and ultimately decided to use the footage in what is certainly one of the more detrimental elements of the film.

Despite this being the first time that Godzilla would get to battle a fellow monster, here it is a far cry from the more familiar monster kung fu antics we’ve come to expect from the series, as instead this is fight is much more animalistic in nature, as the two monsters charge and wrestle each other between dealing out nasty looking bites on each other. It is worth noting aswell that the fight between Godzilla and Anguirus is also one of the longest in the series and despite its more brutal nature still sees another Japanese landmark still getting destroyed in the fray as Osaka Castle suffers the same fate as the Tokyo Tower in a memorable style.

Outside of the main draw of watching Godzilla and Anguirus battling each other this film is also one of the few not to fall back on the usual plot device of “Aliens did it”, here Oda actually takes the time to develop his lead characters which sadly would be the parts of the film to suffer when the film was given its American release, were it was released as “Gigantis the Fire Monster” a butchered cut of this film which attempts to pass itself off as an original film and is really only noteworthy for the early role for George Takei who was part of the team responsible for dubbing it. Still for the completest amongst you, this cut is included on the Region 1 release allowing you to compare the two while at the same time giving you another reason to get a multiregional DVD player., even more so if like myself your based in the UK which for one reason or another has always been overlooked when it came to Godzilla releases, with only a few of the Showa and Heisei films getting a VHS release.

While it might not be on the same level as the original film, there is still enough of the styling carried over to make as an enjoyable experience, especially if your able to get past the questionable fight scenes, but these are of ultimately minor concern when watching the original cut, which honestly is the only way this film should be viewed and while the series might have taken a more fantastical direction for the films which followed, this film only further highlights how well Godzilla can work in realistic setting.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

At The Earth's Core

Title: At The Earth’s Core
Director:  Kevin Connor
Released: 1976
Starring: Peter Cushing, Doug McClure, Caroline Munro, Cy Grant, Godfrey James, Keith Barron

Plot: Victorian scientist Dr. Perry (Cushing) and his assistant David (McClure) are making a test run of their drilling machine “The Iron Mole” when a freak accident throws them off course, were they invariantly discover a prehistoric world of monsters and cavemen ruled by the telepathic Mahars and their mindless Sagoth servants.

Review: Another of my childhood favourites aswell staring my hero Doug McClure whose fantastical adventures were firm favourites amongst those early cinematic experiences as McClure played rugged heroes all about seducing exotic ladies and generally punching out anything which got in his way, I mean what's not to like about that? While I might not have known his name at the time I did however know that if he was in the film then monsters and dinosaurs would soon follow, an assumption only furthered by the fact that it was only those movies of McClure that were shown over here in the UK.

Based on the novel of the same name by Edgar Rice Burroughs who is no doubt best known for creating both "Tarzan" and "John Carter of Mars" with this first book establishing the fictional hollow Earth of Pellucidar, which would be featured in a further six books with even Tarzan paying a visit to this mysterious land. Needless to say it makes for the perfect vehicle for McClure who at the time was coming in hot on the back of the success of “The Land That Time Forgot” while also finishing off the trilogy that the British production company Amicus had unintentionally created with the prior releases the aforementioned Land that Time Forgot and its sequel “The People That Time Forgot”. This time though he is teamed up to great effect with a blustering Peter Cushing who here is pretty much transferring his Doctor Who persona to a different film, which really only adds to the fun, especially when he’s so frequently hamming things up. Still despite this added bonus or distraction depending on your stand point on his performance, this film really is just business as usual for McClure especially as the film wastes almost zero time before we get out first giant monster encounter, something only added to by the raw awesomeness of McClure who is so cool he’s able to run while still smoking a cigar!

The plot itself is pretty minimalistic and generally serves to fill in the gaps between the monster action and McClure finding someone new to brawl with, which is essentially what he spend most of the film doing, as together with Cushing they form the perfect blend of brains and brawn. This is not to say that David is some square jawed thug, as he frequently proves himself capable thinking through situations especially when it comes to befriending the native human population who handily also speak perfect English despite having no contact with the surface world. Of course such things are minor concern, seeing how the main draw of McClure’s monster movies was the monster themselves with this film featuring the most varied selection from gigantic monsters through to carnivorous plants and even a fire breathing frog here they really pull out the stops with these creations, while clearly not trying to base them on any sort of known dinosaur which was always seemed to the case in the other films.

The villains here are pretty hammy to say the least with the rubbery and far from aerodynamic Mahars, who when not communicating telepathically through a migraine inducing whine, generally just sit around on their cliff top leaving their comb-over loving Sagoth servants to do all the work for them. Unsurprisingly for a bunch of guys in questionable dinosaur costumes when they do take flight it looks as you would expect like a they are flying around with the same sort of wire work you’d expect from a pantomime Peter Pan, while  by the end of the film the production team had clearly had enough of them as they look suspiciously like they have been stuffed with newspaper and just tossed off the cliff top

Shot on soundstages at Pinewood Studios it is perhaps a more limited prehistoric world, but seeing how director Connor was trying to deliver an epic on a budget its not too distracting even if the world is far from as immersive as the other McClure monster movies. However with a large amount of the action taking place in the volcano lair of the Mahar’s it doesn’t ever prove too noticeable until you start looking at the film more closely. Thankfully though Connor keeps things pretty busy on screen for you to pay too much attention to the surroundings for there is usually some monster or heated battle to enjoy and when neither of those are available he generally just parades the scantily clad future Bond girl Munro in front of the camera.

While this might have been a childhood favourite, it still holds up surprisingly well even if perhaps I am viewing it with a healthy dose of nostalgia which certainly helps when some of the creatures are more noticeably rubbery looking than they perhaps did back then. At the same time though this is still a highly entertaining romp aswell as arguably the best of the McClure’s monster movies or making a suitable double bill partner with “Yor: Hunter of the Future”.
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