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Archive for the tag “B-movies”

Attack of the Crab Monsters

Gigantic, mutant crabs attack a party of scientists on a shrinking Pacific atoll in today’s Trillion Dollar Movie. Attack of the Crab Monsters is the handiwork of legendary B-movie filmmaker Roger Corman. It’s one of 10 pictures he completed in 1957 alone, shooting this thriller on several locations in the Los Angeles area, including the Bronson Caves, Marineland of the Pacific and Leo Carrillo State Park.

Long before he played “The Professor” on “Gilligan’s Island,” Russell Johnson appeared as Hank Chapman, a technician who emerges as the hero on a scientific expedition to stop the killer crabs.  We’re told there are many crabs, but in actuality, we only see one at a time, flailing its pincers menacingly, not only dismembering its victims but also devouring their brains. In the process, the crab inherits the victims’ thought processes and speaking abilities.

The perfect date: Dinner at Red Lobster, followed by a nightcap watching this silly, but often quite hilarious example of that ultimate 1950s genre — the A-bomb test that goes horribly amok, spawning monstrosities in some remote locale. As Eccentric Cinema reviewer Brian Lindsey attested, “Ridiculous and cheesy, with a nonsensical plot completely shot through with holes, Crab Monsters is also surprisingly fun.” Enjoy and do return again next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.

 

 

Dark Star

Today’s Trillion Dollar Movie, Dark Star, was the debut feature for two filmmakers who later became Hollywood heavyweights — director John (Halloween) Carpenter and screenwriter Dan (Alien) O’Bannon. This bizarre, low-budget sci-fi comedy from 1974 has amassed a well-deserved cult reputation over the years. Never has a beach ball appeared so ominous on the big screen!

The film follows a group of what appear to be bored and stoned astronauts on a far-out mission. They cruise the fringes of the galaxy, bombing the smithereens out of unstable planets that are going rogue, careening out of orbit and thus posing a threat to Earth’s space colonies. Recent talk of NASA dispatching a crew to lasso threatening asteroids brought this picture to mind. If the NASA scientists are as lackadaisical as these surfing fools, we better batten down the hatches and prepare to be bombarded!

You can certainly trace the origins of Alien here, but also fun references to 2001: A Space Odyssey and other sci-fi classics.  Some critics have carped about the cheesy special effects, the wacky uniforms and dingbat music, but hey, what can you expect from two young filmmakers working on a $55,000 budget?  That’s O’Bannon, by the way, playing Sgt. Pinback and Carpenter delivering the vocals for Talby. At least they seem to have enjoyed themselves immensely making the movie, and it’s often a hoot to watch. The late Roger Ebert called it “wry, laid back and fond of its situations.” Enjoy and do return again next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.

The Fear Factor

Horror film director Larry Fessenden lets us in on a few little secrets to keeping moviegoers on the edge of their seats. H/T National Geographic

Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow

Today’s Trillion Dollar Movie, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, helped transform an upstart 24-year-old actor into the world’s most recognized martial arts star. The performer: Jackie Chan. While the film Drunken Master was Chan’s first huge breakout hit, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow — shot immediately before Drunken Master in 1978 — gave Chan his first genuine opportunity to define his acting style and create the screen persona that his legions of fans would come to cherish.

Here, he begins to experiment with all of the signature elements of his style — the slapstick gags, the self-effacing humor, the exuberant fight scenes choreographed with pinpoint precision. The stuntwork is perhaps more rudimentary than in Chan’s most eye-dropping features, but this role still puts him through his paces, involving plenty of agility and physical stretching as a performer.

He plays a naive, bullied janitor, Chien Fu, who serves as a sort of a human punching bag at a local martial arts academy. His life is miserable until he’s accepted as a protege by Pai, a crafty old master trained in the Snake Fist fighting style. Pai’s motives aren’t entirely altruistic. He’s one of the last of his breed, as a rival school, the Eagle Claw, has waged a protracted war against the Snake Fist fighters and nearly wiped out the entire society. Pai sees Chien Fu as perhaps the last hope to defend the Snake Fist clan and prevent its extinction.

Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow not only established Chan as a rising star, but also burnished the reputation of first-time director Yuen Woo-Ping. On the basis of his work here and in Drunken Master, Woo-Ping enjoyed a long career as one of Hong Kong’s most successful action filmmakers, sought out by Hollywood to stage the fight scenes in The Matrix as well as Kill Bill. Enjoy, and do return again next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.

 

 

 

Know Your Monster: 31

ZEDUS

Last but certainly not least in our Know Your Monster series is Zedus, arch-foe of Gamera. Zedus is a powerful monster, a sea beast who bears a strong resemblance to Godzilla but has a few different embellishing traits.

For instance, Zedus has a forked, serpent-like tongue that he often uses to impale his enemies. Frilly dorsal fins run the length of his body from his head to his tail. His extremely long tail is second only to his tongue in his arsenal of weapons. He can whip it around at a fast clip, knocking down buildings and bowling over opponents. Zedus’ other notable feature is his titanic size. He towers over 200 feet tall, making him one of the largest of the Kaiju.

Zedus made his screen debut in Gamera The Brave, the most recent Gamera film, released in 2006. He doesn’t actually battle the original Gamera but instead the big turtle’s offspring, Toto, who hatches from a mysterious egg and is raised by a young boy named Toru. Yes,  the filmmakers return to familiar territory, giving us a Gamera who is a protector of kids and a force for good. But before dismissing the film as sugarcoated pablum, watch this scene of the bad-ass Zedus, munching on some villagers. Many Kaiju are fierce, but how many do you recall who are carnivorous?

And for a double-dose of Zedus, here’s his showdown against Toto.

Hope you’ve enjoyed our Know Your Monster series and learned a thing or two about the Kaiju, the Japanese movie monsters. The next time one of your friends try to stump you with a Godzilla trivia question, bring up Zedus or Biollante, and test who’s really the expert on the subject!

Know Your Monster: 30

YONGGARY

Yonggary is a South Korean movie monster, inspired by the Japanese Kaiju. He’s said to be a 200 million-year-old dinosaur, resurrected by aliens to help them conquer the Earth. Yonggary looks a lot like Godzilla, but has a protruding horn in place of his nose. In some incarnations, he even has a few horns. Yonggary also has a jewel called the “Damon” on his forehead. It’s through this jewel that the aliens control the beast. When the jewel gets destroyed, Yonggary breaks free from his alien masters, turning against them and fighting to protect the planet.

Besides looking like Godzilla, Yonggary exhibits many similar traits. He dines on gasoline and oil, shoots fireballs from his mouth and emits a laser beam from his horn. Reacting to criticism that Yonggary was a Godzilla clone, the Korean filmmakers modified the monster’s original appearance, giving him a few new distinguishing attributes. There’s also some trash talking against Godzilla in the Yonggary movies. As one policeman observes in the 1999 remake of Yonggary: Monster from the Deep: “Compared to this guy, Godzilla is a pussy.”

Yonggary translates as “Huge Dragon” in Korean. The monster has not built up much of a homegrown fan base, and the Yonggary movies haven’t been particularly successful at the box office. The first came out in 1967, and promptly disappeared. However, the 1999 remake was repackaged as Reptilian for release in the United States. It’s aired a few times on the Sci-Fi channel and also surfaced in a Midnite Movies DVD series marketed  by MGM.

Here’s a short clip of the CGI-generated Yonggary in action.

Tomorrow’s featured monster will be Zedus, wrapping up our month-long salute to the Kaiju.

Know Your Monster: 29

VIRAS

A gigantic squid-like creature from Outer Space, Viras battles Gamera in the 1968 film Destroy All Planets, also known as Gamera Vs. the Space Monster Viras. It’s the one and only screen appearance by Viras, barring fleeting glimpses of him seen in stock footage shown during other Gamera movies.

Viras is the leader of an alien race intent on conquering the Earth. He sees Gamera as the only threat to stop his plans, so he targets the flying turtle, preying upon Gamera’s one weakness — a kindness and affinity toward children. Viras kidnaps two Boy Scouts and holds them hostage on his spaceship. With Gamera coming to their rescue, Viras can employ his arsenal of tricks, including telepathy and mind control, to defeat the Earth monster. Otherwise, Viras has a limited arsenal of weapons. He doesn’t spit fire or hurl radioactive beams. He can only smother opponents with his tentacles or spear them with sharply pointed head.

We already presented the theatrical trailer for Gamera Vs. the Space Monster Viras in our Know Your Monster installment on Gamera. So, instead of repeating the trailer, here’s a well-done review of the movie — well-done, with one exception. The reviewer slips out of the gate and calls the monster “Varan” instead of “Viras.” Oh, well, nobody’s perfect. And he does catch and correct the mistake moving forward.

 

Tomorrow’s featured monster: Yonggary

Know Your Monster: 28

VARAN

Varan is one of the most fascinating Kaiju, but also less well-known than other Japanese movie monsters. That’s because he’s appeared in only two films. The first — Varan the Unbelievable! from 1958 –received only a limited distribution in the United States. Otherwise, Varan has been seen only in a cameo role in the omnibus Destroy All Monsters.

If you can imagine a reptilian flying squirrel, then you have an idea of Varan’s appearance. He has skin flaps connecting his legs and arms, allowing him to glide and swoop down on his enemies. But his stony facial expression and scaly, blistered hide also make him look like an offshoot of Godzilla. One of his most powerful weapons is his tail, which he uses as a whiplash, powerful enough to knock down buildings.

In the same manner that Mothra was cast as the guardian protector for the natives of Infant Island, Varan is a mountain god worshiped by a remote tribe. But his ancestral stomping grounds lie in Siberia along the Kitami River. After the Japanese send out a scientific expedition to capture or destroy the beast, he returns the favor by attacking Tokyo.

Let’s watch a short clip of Varan in full destructive mode. He does have a nice roar!

Tomorrow’s featured monster: Viras

Know Your Monster: 27

ULTRAMAN

Ultraman is a Japanese superhero who first appeared on a 1960s television series battling new monsters every week. The series ran for 39 episodes in 1966 and 1967, sometimes pitting Ultraman against kaiju (the gigantic mutant monsters from our own planet) and other times having him square off against seijin, or alien invaders aiming to conquer the Earth. The central role played by monsters in the series is hardly surprising. Ultraman was created by Tsuburaya Productions, under the command of Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects pioneer who brought Godzilla to life. He recruited many Godzilla veterans to take part in the TV show, notably monster suit actor Haruo Nakajima.

Tsuburaya recycled some of his most famous monster suits, including those for Godzilla and Baragon, in this series, but he modified the costumes to avoid legal conflicts with Toho Studios, which had released the original monster movies. Sometimes, the alterations were done on the fly, during production, with the actor still inside the suit. Nakajima once quipped that the staggering gait he used for his monsters had nothing to do with his acting style. He was simply reeling from the noxious fumes from the spray paint applied to the costumes.

Much like Superman, Ultraman poses as an ordinary mortal but when danger arises he can transform into a superhero — in this case, a gigantic monster-smashing Space avenger. In his everyday life, he’s no slouch either. As Shin Hayata, he belongs to the Science Patrol, otherwise known as the United Nations Scientific Investigation Agency. Its mission: To protect the Earth from all manner of monsters. Hayata secretly uses a “Beta capsule” to become Ultraman. He wears a warning light on his chest, the Color Timer, that signals his energy state. When it’s a steady blue, he can fight as Ultraman, but if it begins flickering and turns red, he must finish his business quickly and change back into Hayata, or else risk total energy depletion. In that event, a narrator warns,  he “will never rise again.”

Visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultra_Monsters to see a complete list of all the monsters and aliens from the Ultraman series, as well as its countless sequels, spin-offs and copycat productions. For a little taste of Ultraman, watch this short clip.

Tomorrow’s featured monster: Varan.

Know Your Monster: 26

SHOBIJIN

The Shobijin are not monsters, but rather high priestesses from Infant Island assigned to watch over one of the most famous monsters of them all — Mothra.  A few things worth noting about the Shobijin:

* They are usually portrayed as identical twins, but much smaller than humans. Their race shrunk owing to nuclear testing on Infant Island. It’s sometimes depicted as a Polynesian paradise and other times as a lost island within the Indonesian archipelago.

* They sing haunting ballads to Mothra, who they worship as the guardian protector of their Lilliputian race.

* They can communicate telepathically with the monster, even across oceans and great distances. In some more recent films, they can even teleport themselves or other creatures.

I’ve always been a sucker for the Shobijin. Besides the fact that the actresses playing these fairies are stunningly beautiful and well-known pop stars,  the ballads have a haunting and ethereal quality all their own.  Take their most famous ode to Mothra — “Mosura No Uta” or “Mothra’s Song” — originally written in Malay although sometimes sung in Japanese in the movies. An English translation of the lyrics:

Mothra oh Mothra
If we were to call for help
Over time
Over sea
Like a wave you’d come
Our guardian angel!

Here, the Shobijin awaken Mothra in the 1966 movie Godzilla Vs. the Sea Monster.

Tomorrow’s featured monster: Ultraman

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