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Hansel e Gretel

Not a gingerbread house in sight.
There's no mistaking Fulci's guiding hand in Giovanni Simonelli's Hansel e Gretel, especially with a ludicrous story involving malevolent children (as per Fulci's Sweet House of Horrors) and some classic Fulci-style eyeball trauma (one of the film's victims has her head shoved onto a spike, the point pushing her eyeball out of the socket). Sadly, the rest of the deaths - of which there are plenty - aren't all that gory or imaginative, making this a rather tedious affair overall.

The film definitely had potential to be a genuinely grim (or should that be Grimm?) shocker, with a plot that involves the harvesting of organs from kidnapped children, but Simonelli doesn't fully fully explore this extremely dark subject, spending most of his time on the silly supernatural revenge antics of the titular moppets, the latest children to fall foul of the organ traffickers.

Those who conspired to abduct and kill the kids are confronted by Hansel and Gretel's spirits and despatched in a variety of ways: the siblings' stepfather, who happily sold the kids, is chewed up by some farm machinery (an effect achieved using what looks like a side of beef); a woman falls in a pool and drowns; a man is crushed by a wine barrel; another bloke drowns in slurry; a guy shoots himself in the face; two idiots fall into some waterworks. Simonelli's spectacularly uninspired direction renders these deaths laughable, with the two ghostly glowing-eyed children not in the least bit menacing. The repetitious nursery rhyme that precedes each slaying really gets on the nerves.

Investigating the murders is rookie cop Silvia (Elisabete Pimenta Boaretto) who is unable to convince her superiors that the deaths are supernatural in nature. Fred, the husband of the organ traffickers' ringleader, looks like the most likely suspect - he decides to flee the scene in the film's not-at-all-exciting climax, taking Silvia as his hostage. The spooky sprogs put paid to his plans, and, having claimed their last victim, are finally able to rest in peace.

4/10 for the juicy eyeball scene (which Fulci would borrow for his own movie A Cat In The Brain AKA Nightmare Concert), and a spot of gratuitous female nudity (a bath scene, a sex scene, and Silvia slipping into her nightclothes).

La casa de las siete tumbas

Pedro Stocki is no Polanski.
When they were children, Clara (Soledad Silveyra) was the outgoing one while her friend Cecilia (Cecilia Cenci) was more reserved; as adults, the roles have reversed, with Cecilia full of life, and Clara now a nervous recluse. When Cecilia goes on a trip with her boyfriend Armando (Miguel Ángel Solá), Clara is left all alone and her sanity (or what's left of it) unravels. Meanwhile, Cecilia and Armando take refuge at a strange house after their car has a flat tyre.

I can only assume that The House of the Seven Tombs is intended to be Argentina's answer to Roman Polanski's Repulsion, with everything that happens to Cecilia and Armando being a figment of Clara's increasingly fragile mind, originally damaged by a harrowing childhood experience in a creepy barn; it's the only way I can explain the abject weirdness of the movie, which is head-scratchingly surreal and impossible to fathom for most of the running time. There's all manner of strangeness involving a dovecote, cat burning, a well, some graves, skulls, a screeching bird that sounds like someone screaming 'Help!', and a drooling mentally disabled girl who likes to wallow in the mud with her pigs, all of which is not only very confusing, but also incredibly dull.

As Cecilia and Armando contend with the bizarre goings-on at the country house (which are most likely only happening in Clara's head), Clara is spending her time chucking out her missing husband's clothes, stabbing her wedding photos with a pair of scissors, and trapping a couple of people in her apartment.

Needless to say, director Pedro Stocki is no Polanski and Silveyra is no Deneuve, and even if you're a big fan of psychological horror, there's a good chance that this particular film will have you checking your watch at regular intervals to see how much time is left.

The Son of Kong

Kiddie Kong.
Instead of going bigger and better with their next Kong movie, producer Merian C. Cooper and director Ernest B. Schoedsack opted for smaller and not so mighty, Son of Kong's titular ape being a 12ft tall albino gorilla whose antics prove far less spectacular than his father's.

Robert Armstrong reprises the role of showman Carl Denham, who, in the film's opening scene, is paying for his mistakes, having been issued with numerous summons following the death and destruction caused by Kong's rampage a month earlier. Rather than face bankruptcy and jail, Denham accepts an offer from his old friend Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher) and sets sail for the Indian Ocean to make a living transporting freight.

While stopping over in Dakang, Denham meets pretty circus performer Hilda (Helen Mack - attractive but no Fay Wray) and runs into old acquaintance Captain Nils Helstrom (John Marston), the man who originally gave him the map to Kong's home-Skull Island. Keen to leave Dakang after killing Hilda's father, Helstrom tells Denham that he knows the whereabouts of a fabulous treasure on Skull Island. The ship leaves immediately, Denham and company unaware that there is a stowaway on board: Hilda, who is hoping to put distance between herself and Helstrom. Doh!

As the ship approaches Skull Island, Helstrom incites the crew to mutiny by telling them that they are in mortal danger. Englehorn, Denham, ship's cook Charlie (Victor Wong) and Hilda (who has since been discovered) are put in a lifeboat, and are joined by Helstrom, who is thrown overboard by the crew. Rowing to the island, the group split up to explore. Denham and Hilda encounter 'Son of Kong', who is trapped in quicksand; they help the giant ape out of his predicament and earn a loyal friend in the process.

Encounters with a giant bear, a styracosaurus and a nothosaurus follow, diddy Kong stepping in to protect his new friends, and Denham discovers that there is indeed a fortune hidden on the island (jewels hidden in an old temple), even though Helstrom was making it up. The film's abrupt finalé sees an earthquake cause the island to sink into the sea, Helstrom gets eaten by a sea monster, and Denham is saved from drowning by Kong Jr., who sacrifices his life to save his friend.

Much of the first 40 minutes or so of Son of Kong feels like padding, so much so that we are treated to a musical number from a band of performing monkeys and Hilda singing a forgettable song in its entirety (the monkeys are the better act). It's only once we get to Skull Island that the film delivers what viewers sign on for: stop-motion monsters fighting to the death. Unfortunately, most of the monster action is family-friendly this time around, with the ape pulling silly expressions in order to get laughs - daddy Kong would not approve!

The film definitely shows signs of being rushed into production after the success of King Kong, the plot being particularly weak and the special effects not quite as polished, but as a way to waste some time on a lazy Sunday afternoon, Son of Kong fits the bill nicely enough - just don't go expecting the visceral thrills of King Kong: this sequel is much more suited to a kids Saturday morning matinee than its predecessor.

5.5/10, rounded up to 6 for IMDb.


Subs don't help that much.
My fellow IMDb reviewers HumanoidOfFlesh and EVOL666 say that they had trouble following the plot of Japanese body-horror Cyclops because they had no subtitles; I am not surprised since I DID have subtitles and I was still totally confused by what I was watching.

The story, as far as I could fathom, involves the next step in evolution: people born with genetic anomalies to help them adapt to harmful substances in the atmosphere. Most die from these mutations while still in their infancy, but thanks to the work of scientist Keiichi Takozawa, some have survived to adulthood. Doctor Takamori (Kazuhiro Sano), Takozawa's protege, continues to study the next stage in human evolution, his adopted sister Miyuki (Mayumi Hasegawa) being one such mutant. Meanwhile, one-eyed Sonezaki (Kai Atô) tries to prevent Takamori's child from being born (not sure why - just one of the things that confused me about the movie).

For the most part, Cyclops is unremarkable and perplexing stuff; the last fifteen minutes, however, is all-out Japanese craziness, packed with oozing tendrils and mucky appendages. Although I still didn't have a clue what was going on, I'm a sucker for gross-out practical effects and the final quarter of an hour definitely held my interest with its messy mayhem, the fight in a lift between Takamori and Sonezaki being the highlight, the two men's mutated bodies eventually becoming one heaving mass of fleshy confusion in the process.

Not essential viewing for most horror fans, but if you're an admirer of such films as Splatter: Naked Blood, Tetsuo, the Guinea Pig series, or Biotherapy, then it's probably worth 52 minutes of your time.

Evil Toons

Four semi-naked bimbos, plus bonus boobies from Bauer.
In Evil Toons, buxom scream queen Monique Gabrielle plays prim and proper virginal co-ed Megan, but don't worry, she still gets her tits out - this is a Fred Olen Ray film, after all.

Megan is one of four sexy girls hired by Burt (cult B-movie legend Dick Miller) to spruce up an old mansion ready for the new owners. While there, the four babes are approached by a strange man, Gideon Fisk (David Carradine), who gives them an old book, bound in something that looks suspiciously like human skin, and with a scary face on the cover; before you can say Necronomicon, the girls have read a passage from the book out loud and summoned an evil spirit that takes the form of a cartoon monster. The animated creature kills sexy brunette Roxanne (pornstar Madison Stone), assumes her form, and goes on the rampage.

As a horror movie, Evil Toons is seriously lame, but I reckon you knew that already, didn't you? It's not any better as a comedy. The film is little more than an excuse to get its sexy stars to flash their boobs and bums as often as possible while ripping off both 'The Evil Dead' and 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?' in the process. Being very low budget, there's not much in the way of animation, and what there is is pretty bad. All four of the main 'actresses' get naked to some degree (two of them have worked extensively in the adult industry, so they aren't exactly the shy and retiring type); even scream queen Michelle Bauer, who appears as Burt's girlfriend, finds the time to flip out her norks during her brief cameo.

As in The Evil Dead, the malevolent monster is destroyed when Megan throws the book into a fire, but only after lots of puerile nonsense that proves extremely wearisome, even despite all of the T&A.

Black Friday

A black day for horror/comedy fans.
Black Friday! Reminded me a lot of recent horror/comedy Slaxx, in that it takes place in a store that is preparing for a sale and there are very few characters worth caring about; but where Slaxx was still passable fun thanks to its unique concept (a killer pair of denim jeans), Black Friday! Is a huge disappointment despite a reasonable cast (Bruce Campbell, Devon Sawa, Ivana Baquero and Michael Jai White are the best known names) largely thanks to a wholly predictable script in which the humour repeatedly falls flat.

The film takes place at a toy store on the eponymous date, when Americans flock to get their hands on vastly discounted goods. As the customers argue over stuffed toys and computer games, it soon becomes clear that something is wrong when the fighting turns to killing: the Black Friday shoppers have been infected by a malevolent extraterrestrial force that seeks to absorb humans to create massive kaiju-like monsters.

Like so many zombie films, the epidemic rapidly spreads, leaving a handful of survivors to team together - only in this case, they bicker and argue and generally act obnoxious. Sawa stars as WeLoveToys employee Ken Bates, a drunken wastrel with zero ambition - and he's supposed to be the hero of the film! Campbell is loathsome store manager Jonathan Wexler, who is willing to ignore the crisis to try and keep the cash registers ringing. Ryan Lee plays wimpy germaphobe Chris, and Stephen Peck plays a camp overweight employee with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Baquero and White get to play likeable characters, but the former is essentially there as eye candy and the latter as alien fodder.

Directed with little style or originality by Casey Tebo, the whole thing is made even more intolerable by a loud, generic score that never seems to fit with what is happening on screen.

3/10 for the MUFX and gore by Robert Kurtzman, and that's being generous.

A Song Is Born

Worth watching for Mayo, and all that jazz.
I watched A Song is Born for Virginia Mayo, who is hot, and for the music, which is also hot. Star Danny Kaye doesn't get to do any singing this time around (which isn't necessarily a bad thing), leaving it up to the likes of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet and Louis Armstrong to set the movie swinging, with Mayo performing some of the songs (albeit dubbed).

Kaye plays professor Hobart Frisbee, who has spent the last nine years of his life dedicated to the Totten Foundation of Music, where he has been compiling 'the history of music', with the help of seven fellow academics. When Frisbee and his colleagues discover jazz music courtesy of two window-washers, they decide to shift their focus, Frisbee leaving the foundation to visit dancehalls, nightclubs and honky-tonks to immerse himself in the world of swing, jive, jump, blues, two-beat Dixie, boogie woogie, and bebop, and to interview the luminaries of the scene.

Initially, sexy songstress Honey Swanson (Mayo) turns Hobart away, but changes her mind when she needs a place to hide from the police, who want to question her about her hoodlum boyfriend Tony Crow (Steve Cochran) concerning a murder. Arriving at the foundation, Honey claims that she has decided to help with the professors' project, and opens their eyes and ears to the latest sounds that have been setting nightclubs jumping. Inevitably, Frisbee falls for the girl, unaware of the real reason she has agreed to help him.

A remake of director Hawks earlier movie Ball of Fire, which starred Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, A Song is Born only really shines when the music is in full swing, which, sadly, isn't often enough. The plot is schmaltzy trash, with Kaye putting in an uncharacteristically understated but over-sentimental performance that actually makes one long for a little of his wackiness (the star was separated from his wife at the time and seeing a shrink, so he probably wasn't feeling like cracking jokes and making merry). The seven soppy professors do their best to add to the sickly saccharine nature of the film.

Thank heavens then for Satchmo and friends, who prevent the film from stalling, and for Mayo, who doesn't really convince as a sassy gangster's dame, but looks so good that it doesn't really matter.


Castle of Evil

Castle of clichés.
Castle of Evil seems to be a largely forgotten film: it's only listed in one of my reference books, I can't find it on DVD, and I couldn't find it on any streaming site. YouTube it is then, in fairly terrible quality...

The basic plot for the film is a collection of hoary old horror clichés: six people are invited to the reading of the will of reclusive scientist Kovic (Thourlby) at his creepy castle on an island near Nassau. They are greeted by housekeeper Lupe Tekal d'Esperanza (Shelley Morrison), who reads the rules of the will: if any of the group should die before the will is filed the following morning, the estate will be shared between the remaining beneficiaries. Lupe also reveals that Kovic's death was not an accident, and that one of the six was responsible - the group must find out who committed the crime in order to inherit their share, not an easy ask since each has their own reason for hating the man.

As is de rigueur for the genre, the castle comes complete with endless gloomy corridors, a mad scientist's lab, and secret passageways, a storm rages throughout the night, and people start to turn up dead. The film adds a little originality to proceedings when we learn who (or should that be 'what'?) is responsible for the killings: a robot created in the image of Kovic and programmed with the scientist's evil, controlled by Lupe, who hated her boss and engineered his demise. There's also an acid vapor chamber for disposing of bodies and a laser gun in the lab, which comes in handy when battling a killer robot!

It's often the case that famous actresses either start their careers in trashy horror or end up slumming in them -- Castle of Evil sees '40s blonde bombshell Virginia Mayo reduced to z-grade schlock horror in order to earn a paycheck; she is joined by B-movie/TV stars Scott Brady, Lisa Gaye, Hugh Marlowe and David Brian. This capable cast are given very little to do for most of the film, which spends an awfully long time on dull chit-chat before getting to the murders. When the robot is finally activated and sent on his way, the subsequent deaths are tame and bloodless, making the rest of the action just as dull as the talky stuff.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Special Kaye.
I've long admired Danny Kaye for his classic comedy The Court Jester, but a double whammy of the mediocre Hans Christian Anderson (great songs, schmaltzy story) and the fairly awful Wonder Man (great dancing, hugely irritating 'comedy') put a damper on things. Being a generous person, I thought I'd give Kaye one more chance to restore my faith in him with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty...

Kaye plays the titular character, proofreader at Pierce Publishing, specialists in trashy pulp magazines (with great covers). When Mitty isn't reading incredible stories, he's fantasising about being the hero of them. Walter's daydreams become reality when he becomes unwittingly involved in a plot by a nefarious German (known as 'The Boot') to steal a fortune in Dutch national treasures. A chance encounter with beautiful blonde Rosalind van Hoorn (Virginia Mayo) leaves Walter in possession of a black notebook detailing the whereabouts of the valuables, and The Boot and his men will do anything to lay their hands on it.

There are just two scenes that prevent The Secret life of Walter Mitty from being a 10/10 for me, both of them involving Kaye doing his trademark 'patter' style of singing: the silly songs interrupt the flow of the story and just aren't that funny (I don't mind Kaye's singing per se, but sometimes I feel like he should dial down the wackiness). The rest of the film, however, is perfect - a thoroughly charming comedy thriller with plenty of solid laughs that don't rely so heavily on the star's tongue-twisting ditties and manic facial expressions. The supporting cast are all excellent, from the always stunning Mayo as the love interest, to Fay Bainter as Mitty's fussy mother, to Thurston Hall as Mitty's blustery boss Bruce, to the brilliant Boris Karloff as creepy Dr. Hugo Hollingshead.

My favourite moments: Walter trying to pull up a chair while holding a cup of tea; Queenie the dog snapping at Walter; Karloff's entrance ("I know of a way to kill a man and leave no trace."); Walter pretending to be brave but jumping when a toaster pops; Walter wearing a dog muzzle as a disguise; Mayo in a sexy black corset; and our reluctant hero's realisation that he's not crazy when he finds the gold clog ornaments given to him by Rosalind.

8.5/10, rounded up to 9 for IMDb.

Wonder Man

The two Kaye's are hard to take; the two V's make it easier to bear.
Gangster Ten Grand Jackson (Steve Cochran) isn't about to let ebullient nightclub comedian Buzzy Bellew (Danny Kaye) testify against him in a murder trial and has the funnyman permanently silenced by his henchmen Chimp (Allen Jenkins) and Torso (Edward Brophy). Buzzy's bookish identical twin Edwin (Kaye again) is drawn to Prospect Park, where the killers have dumped the body, and meets his brother's ghost, who wants Edwin to take his place to ensure that Jackson pays for his crimes.

Keep the Tylenol on standby, because watching Danny Kaye in Wonder Man is very likely to result in a migraine, the star's excessively energetic performance making Jim Carrey at his most zany seem reserved by comparison. It's an insufferable yet surreal experience at times, Kaye's self-indulgent comedic routines ceasing to be funny as they become more and more deranged and delirious. I couldn't believe what I was seeing as Edwin encounters a bemused copper in a park while possessed by his brother, pretends that he is in a pet shop by making a range of animal noises, adopts the persona of a Russian singer who is allergic to flowers, and takes part in an opera while being chased by the hired killers: did audiences in the forties find this kind of abject lunacy hilarious, or were they left as utterly bemused and stony-faced as I was?

Thankfully, it's not all bad news: the film boasts wonderful technicolor cinematography and Award-winning special effects that still look good today; it also benefits from the presence of bubbly hoofer Vera-Ellen (in her movie debut), who's a nimble little minx, lighting up the screen in a couple of memorable song and dance numbers, and gorgeous blonde Virginia Mayo, who plays Edwin's love interest, librarian Ellen Shanley. As headache-inducing and downright inexplicable as Kaye's unrestrained performance gets, Wonder Man is just about worth persevering for the lovely ladies.

Le manoir du diable

Impressive for the time, my arse.
A bunch of stage actors in stupid costumes gesture flamboyantly and prance about until director Georges Méliès tells them to freeze, stops his camera, moves something or someone, and then starts rolling again to make it seem as though objects and people have magically appeared or disappeared. It's a trick he repeats an incredible amount of times in a few short minutes, with the occasional smoke bomb and rubber bat on a string for added pizazz.

I am sure Le manoir du diable blew audiences' socks off back in the day, when whirligigs, shadow theatres, hoops and sticks, penny dreadfuls and kicking a beggar into the gutter were also deemed great forms of entertainment, but even making allowances for the primitive technology available to Méliès, I still found this to be incredibly dull - plotless and repetitive nonsense, the work of a man playing with a new toy without giving any real thought to what he is making. Next time, try storyboarding Méliès.

The Bride and the Beast

She likes her men hairy. Very hairy.
Just married, big game hunter Dan Fuller (Lance Fuller) and his drop-dead-gorgeous bride Laura (Charlotte Austin) drive to Dan's home to do what newlyweds do, but only after they've said hello to Dan's gorilla Spanky (Ray Corrigan), who is kept in the basement. Having taken a fancy to Laura (he's not the only one), Spanky busts out of his cage and creeps upstairs to take a closer look, whipping off the woman's night-dress, leaving Dan no choice but to go for his gun.

Shaken by the experience, Laura suffers from nightmares about the jungle, so Dan calls in his doctor friend, who uses hypnotism to try and get to the root of the problem. Regressing Laura, they learn that she was a gorilla in a past life, which doesn't bode well for her honeymoon... in deepest, darkest Africa: gorilla country! Against the doctor's advice, the Fullers continue with their planned excursion, happily hunting and trapping wild animals, but the fun stops when they are faced with two escaped man-eating tigers, and Mrs. Fuller is carried off into the jungle by a gorilla, who wants her to be his queen!

Anyone who knows a thing or two about Edward D. Wood Jr. (co-writer of The Bride and the Beast ) surely can't help but be amused by Laura's fondness for angora sweaters. But that's not the only funny thing about this movie... I mean, there's a gorilla called Spanky that's clearly a man in a fancy dress costume, the whole notion of being the reincarnation of a gorilla is quite preposterous, and it's patently clear that lions weren't available to the film-makers, so they had to try and work a couple of tigers into the plot instead. And that ending!

That said, the film isn't as inept as one of Wood's directorial efforts, Adrian Weiss being a competent enough director to make his movie appear relatively professional, despite the daft plot; it's no work of art, but he knows how to compose a scene and keep the pace lively, even with an overreliance on stock footage at times. It doesn't hurt either that Austin is such a babe: she's a delight whenever she is on screen (even when Laura is encouraging her heroic husband to slaughter another magnificent wild animal) and it's a shame that she didn't go on to bigger and better things.

I had fun, hence my probably overgenerous rating of 5.5/10, rounded up to 6 for Austin.

The Most Dangerous Game

We're going on a man hunt (Squelch squerch! Squelch squerch!).
Oft imitated but rarely equalled, The Most Dangerous Game stars Joel McCrea as big game hunter Bob Rainsford, who survives a shipwreck in the Pacific only to be washed up on a nearby island where deranged Russian aristo Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks, chewing the scenery in an unforgettably OTT performance) enjoys hunting humans for sport, man being 'the most dangerous game'.

Pre-Hays code, the film is quite the eye-opener, from the opening ship wreck scene in which crew members are boiled alive and hapless survivors are dragged into the murky depths by ravenous sharks, to Zaroff's trophy room which features the severed heads of previous victims, to random moments of nasty violence (gotta love the impalement of Zaroff's henchman Ivan on a sharp stake). And let's not forget gorgeous Fay Wray (as Eve, survivor of a previous wreck) providing the eye-candy in a very clingy dress.

The film also benefits from marvellous production design (Zaroff's impressive fortress and the surrounding jungle sets, some of which were also used for the original King Kong), a snappy run-time of just sixty-three minutes, and plenty of excitement, as Bob and Eve are sent into the jungle with just a knife to defend themselves from Zaroff (who tips the odds in his favour by arming himself with a bow and arrow, and later, a rifle and a pack of hounds).

8.5/10, rounded up to 9 for IMDb - just don't watch the colourised version if you can help it.


I would have nicknamed him Jacques the Gripper.
This 1944 'poverty row' horror takes its title from French folklore, Bluebeard being a wealthy man married to a succession of beautiful women who all mysteriously vanished. In the movie, John Carradine plays Parisian artist and puppeteer Gaston Morel, who paints portraits of women, killing the models afterwards and dumping their bodies in the Seine. When Gaston meets and falls for pretty modiste Lucille Lutien (Jean Parker), he vows to stop painting, so as not to be tempted to kill again. However, he picks up the easel for one last well-paid commission, not realising that the model is Lucille's sister Francine (the lovely Teala Loring), who is helping the police to find the killer.

Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer (The Black Cat, Detour), Bluebeard is a fun chiller, although one does have to wonder how Lucille and Francine can be quite so stupid: when Gaston recognises Francine as she poses for him, the young woman blurts out that she knows he is Bluebeard the strangler; Lucille also comes to believe that Gaston is the killer, and so goes to his house alone to talk to the man. Unsurprisingly, both are throttled by the nutty puppeteer: Francine dies, but Lucille survives her terrifying ordeal, Gaston chased off in the nick of time by the police, led by Inspector Jacques Lefevre (Nils Asther), acting on a hunch.

Carradine puts in a solid turn as the psychotic artist, who proves quite pitiful at the end as he tries to explain the reason for his compulsion to Lucille, still desperately seeking her love and affection despite having just admitted to wringing her little sister's neck. The cold-blooded murder of loveable Francine comes as quite the unexpected shock, and the film ends with a rousing rooftop chase in time-honoured fashion, before Gaston loses his footing and plunges to his death in the river below.

The Monster

Welcome to where time stands still, no one leaves and no one will.
The Monster has the distinction of not just being one of the first horror spoofs and an early example of the 'old dark house' sub-genre, but also one of the first films to utilise the 'lunatics have taken over the asylum' trope. As such, it should be held in high regard by fans of such films, even though it might seem a bit creaky by today's standards. Remember, this was all relatively new to film-goers in the '20s...

Johnny Arthur plays meek store clerk Johnny Goodlittle, who dreams of becoming a detective, even enrolling in a correspondence course to learn the ropes. When several people go missing near to town, their vehicles having been forced off the road by a mysterious hooded figure, Johnny decides to investigate, finding a clue that points to the local sanitarium, currently closed, owner Dr. Edwards rumoured to be out of the country. Johnny falls down a trap that dumps him in the supposedly abandoned building, where he encounters the object of his affection, Betty (Gertrude Olmstead), and his love rival, dapper playboy Amos Rugg (Hallam Cooley), who have also been forced off the road by the hooded man, and who have sought shelter from the rain.

Soon after arriving, the threesome meet Dr. Ziska (Lon Chaney), who says he is overseeing the running of the sanitarium in Dr. Edwards' absence. In reality, Ziska is quite mad, and, assisted by a few of the asylum inmates - Daffy Dan (Knute Erickson), Rigo (Frank Austin) and Caliban (Walter James) - he hopes to carry out an experiment to transfer the soul of a woman into another body.

What follows is creepy knockabout comedy, with all the usual booby traps and hidden passageways one expects form such fare, our bumbling hero somehow managing to escape the villains' clutches and rescue the girl. Director Roland West keeps the film consistently fun with a snappy pace, and delivers several standout scenes: the hooded Rigo lurking in a tree, lowering a large mirror into the road below to trick motorists into thinking that they are going to be caught in a head-on collision; the sleeping Betty grabbed by a pair of hands that pull her into the floor; and Johnny escaping Rigo by tight-rope walking across a telegraph wire in a torrential downpour (very Buster Keaton!). Star Chaney gets to ham it up a treat as the mad doctor, grinning maniacally throughout and presumably cackling insanely at the same time.

6.5/10, rounded up to 7 for IMDb.

The Unholy Three

Hercules, Echo, and Tweedledee makes three.
Tod Browning will forever be remembered by movie fans for his Universal horror classic Dracula, but as iconic as that film undoubtedly is, I'm more drawn to his movies that depict the kind of people the director encountered as a young man working at a carnival. The Unholy Three, which centres around a trio of such sideshow folk, doesn't match the brilliance of The Unknown (1927) or Freaks (1931), but it's still a fine film, with another great turn from Lon Chaney, some wonderfully suspenseful moments, and a sense of the bizarre that, although a little unbelievable at times, makes this a memorably unique movie.

Chaney plays sideshow ventriloquist Echo, who teams up with strongman Hercules (Victor McLaglen) and midget Tweedledee (Harry Earles) to form a criminal gang, The Unholy Three, who carry out a crazy plan to rob the rich: Echo, dressed as bird shop owner Granny O'Grady, throws his voice to make his parrots appear to talk, selling the chatty birds to wealthy patrons; when a customer rings to complain that their bird has stopped talking, Granny visits their home to see what she can do to help, bringing with her little baby Willy, actually Tweedledee in disguise. While Granny attends to the bird, Willy cases the house, and the gang return at night to rob the place.

After a disagreement with Echo, Hercules and Tweedledee commit a robbery on their own, and murder the home owner in the process. Echo is appalled but is keen to get his share of the loot, so when the police come a-calling to ask Granny some questions, he plays along. Eventually, The Unholy Three decide to frame bird-shop employee Hector (Matt Moore) -- who has fallen for Echo's moll Rosie (Mae Busch) -- by planting the stolen jewels in his room. Hector is put on trial, but Rosie pleads with Echo to save the man, promising to stay with the ventriloquist if he helps, despite the fact that she now loves Hector.

Lon Chaney in drag, twenty-year-old cigar-chomping Tweedledee posing as a baby, Echo throwing his voice in a crowded court to try and help Hector, and a giant killer chimpanzee on the loose: Browning's movie might stretch plausibility at times, but it sure is fun. The performers are all great, especially Chaney and Earles (who would go on to star in Freaks six years later), and Browning handles the suspense superbly: Tweedledee playing with a toy elephant containing the stolen goods while Granny is being questioned, and Echo trying to secretly pass a note to Hector while in court are scenes worthy of Hitchcock himself.

7/10. Lon Chaney's final film, his first talkie, was a remake of this film, and also starred Harry Earles as the Midget. I must track down a copy to see how it compares.

Gojira no gyakushû

Quickie sequel disappoints.
Without its powerful allegorical element, Godzilla (1954) would have been just another mediocre '50s monster movie. This sequel doesn't have any allegorical content, and as a result is just another mediocre '50s monster movie.

The big question I had going in was how could Godzilla 'raid again' when he was reduced to bones and then to nothingness at the end of the first movie? The answer is simple: this is a different Godzilla, which, by an amazing coincidence, is identical to the first, complete with radioactive breath. The new Godzilla is first spotted on a remote island by seaplane pilots Kobayashi (Minoru Chiaki) and Tsukioka (Hiroshi Koizumi), the giant lizard fighting Aguirus, an ankylosaurus also woken by atomic blasts. The monsters fall into the sea, but reappear on mainland Japan to continue their fight in Osaka. Godzilla defeats Aguirus, trashing the city in the process, before disappearing back into the sea.

To avoid further death and destruction, Godzilla must be destroyed, and so Tsukioka and Kobayashi take to the skies to try and locate the monster. Being the sidekick to heroic Tsukioka, Kobayashi has 'dead' written all over him, and, sure enough, he buys the farm when Godzilla breathes on his plane. It is up to Tsukioka and some fighter pilots to risk their lives by firing missiles at a mountain in an attempt to bury Godzilla under an avalanche.

The highlight of the film is Godzilla vs. Anguirus, the fight made unintentionally funny thanks to a technical mistake by the cameraman, who under-cranked the camera instead of over-cranking it. Rather than moving in cool slo-mo, the monsters are sped up like stars of a silent comedy! The rest of the film is disappointingly uneventful -- overly talky with a lack of action -- and the supposedly tense finalé proves repetitive and boring, a succession of planes dropping bombs and firing missiles until Godzilla is trapped under ice.

Gamera 3: Jashin kakusei

Just one more film to go (big sigh of relief).
This time around, the enemy is a tentacled creature called Iris, raised by schoolgirl Ayana Hirasaka (Ai Maeda), who intends to use her 'pet' to take revenge on Gamera, who she blames for the death of her parents. Ayana develops a symbiotic relationship with Iris, but the girl finds herself in danger from the creature as it reaches adulthood, and only Gamera can save her.

With only one Gamera movie left to go, I've given up hope of seeing a really good film featuring the giant jet-propelled turtle. I had hoped that the '90s trilogy, of which Revenge of Iris is the last, would do the trick - it seems to be fairly well regarded by most kaiju fans - but I wasn't impressed: the special effects are great, but the plot is unnecessarily convoluted and there's not nearly enough monster action. Too much time is spent on the bland human characters when we should be watching buildings topple as the monsters duke it out. As with the previous films in the trilogy, the potentially fun action is frequently interrupted by cutaways to army personnel doing meaningless military stuff, as if anything they could do would have any real impact on Iris or Gamera.

4.5/10, generously rounded up to 5 for the part where Gamera using his fireball breath to sever his hand, which has been pinned to a wall by one of Iris's pointy tentacles -- that was cool!

Tou tiao hao han

Daft old-school kung fu fun.
Fearless Fighters is not a good film in terms of martial arts: the movie is wall-to-wall fighting, but none of it is particularly impressive. That said, the film is still plenty of fun thanks to its likeable protagonists, and a crazy array of villains with silly names and even sillier weapons.

The film opens with Chen Chen Chow, AKA the Lightning Whipper (Chi Ma), escorting a shipment of government gold when he is attacked by bandits -- rogue members of the Eagle Claw fighting clan led by the evil To Pa (Min-Hsiung Wu). Chen Chen Chow sees off the bandits, but they return in stronger numbers, and he is forced to flee without the gold, and with two poison arrows in his body. When righteous Eagle Claw brother Lei Peng (Yuan Yi) learns that To Pa has dishonoured the clan, he nabs the gold and takes it to his home, planning to return it to the government, but before he can do so, he is wrongfully arrested for the theft and imprisoned.

The Lightning Whipper somehow makes it home and, before dying, tells his son Chen (Ming Chiang) and daughter Mu Lan (Ching-Ching Chang) that he was ambushed. The siblings vow to avenge their father by killing the man who has been arrested for the crime, unaware that Lei Peng is innocent. Meanwhile, To Pa and his men go to Peng's home to retrieve the gold and slaughter Peng's family. Peng's brother escapes from the house, carrying Peng's son on his back, but they are soon cornered by To Pa's men; help comes in the form of beautiful swordswoman Lady Tieh (Ming-Ming Hsiao), who is too late to save Peng's brother, but who rescues the young boy by killing all of the attackers.

In town, Chen gets himself thrown into jail to get close to Peng, but after helping the man to escape, he becomes uncertain about the man's guilt; Mu Lan, on the other hand, still wants to kill him. While on the run, the trio are attacked by bandits, who they defeat with ease, and are joined by Lady Tieh, but To Pa has been busy recruiting help, hiring the deadliest killers and kung fu experts in the land.

This is where the fun really kicks in, crazy new foes including Flying Sparrow (armed with hand-held curved blades than can be thrown when needed), Solar Ray (who uses shiny discs to launch energy blasts), Sword of All Swords (not as great as his name suggests), the two Soul Pickers, Vampire Phantoms (fanged fighters in blackface), and arrogant Loner AKA One Man Army. When Peng is thrown off a cliff by To Pa, a random old man appears and equips Peng's broken body with extendable prosthetic limbs with retractable blades, which comes in useful when faced with To Pa's Devil Rippers (ridiculous looking bladed gloves). While not on the same crazy level as Master of the Flying Guillotine (but then what is?), Fearless Fighters delivers enough bonkers action to make it an entertaining time-waster, especially with characters being able to leap great heights, levitate and fly when necessary.


The OG.
On the surface, Godzilla seems like a fairly unremarkable monster movie, in which a giant lizard stomps all over defenceless cities; however, bear in mind that the film was made less than a decade after the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and the film takes on an allegorical quality that makes for a far more interesting and haunting experience. Godzilla is the physical manifestation of the threat of nuclear devastation, while the death and destruction the prehistoric terror leaves in his wake is highly reminiscent of the horrific aftermath of bombs Little Boy and Fat Man, dropped by the Americans in 1945.

Further allegorical content comes in the form of scientist Serizawa, who has developed a device that he hopes might one day benefit mankind, but which is so powerful that it could be used as a weapon were it to fall into the wrong hands. Should he allow his discovery to be used to destroy Godzilla, but risk greater disaster in the process? It's an ethical dilemma that brings to mind J. Robert Oppenheimer, "father of the atomic bomb".

The plot is simple: several boats are sunk off the coast of Japan, the cause unknown. The reason becomes clear when Godzilla, a massive monstrous lizard with radioactive breath, emerges from the sea to cause trouble on land. As Godzilla stomps and smashes, Serizawa wrestles with his conscience, ultimately agreeing to allow his device to be used to stop the beast. Director Ishirô Honda's handling of the destruction is impressive, but it is more delicate moments such as the mother huddling with her children amidst the wreckage, waiting for the end to come, that hit the hardest.

Chiisaki yûsha-tachi: Gamera

The Gamera film I have been waiting for.
Ryô Tomioka plays young schoolboy Toru Aizawa, whose lives with his father, his mother having recently died in an automobile accident. One day, Toru sees a red light glinting on a nearby island and investigates, finding an egg resting on a strange red stone; when a baby turtle emerges from the egg, Toru keeps it as a pet, calling the reptile Toto (ignore the fact that the turtle looks more like a tortoise). As Toto starts to grow rapidly, Toru's neigbour Mai (Kaho) reailises that the turtle is a Gamera, which turns out to be quite fortuitous when a monster called Zedus appears and starts to feed on people.

I wasn't expecting much from Gamera the Brave, my hopes for a really decent Gamera movie dashed by the '90s trilogy, which others seem to praise, but which I found rather dull. So imagine my surprise when this 2006 movie, the last Gamera film to be made to date, turned out to be my favourite of the entire series (twelve films in total, starting with Gamera, the Giant Monster in 1965, re-edited as Gammera the Invincible for the U. S.).

Gamera the Brave strikes a fine balance between contemporary state-of-the-art movie-making and classic old-school kaiju flicks, paying respect to the Showa-era films with a kiddie-centric story that is easy to follow while ensuring that it the result is still slick enough for a modern audience. Both Zedus and Gamera are obviously 'man in a rubber suit' monsters, a deliberate move to please fans of the original movies, for whom the cheesy nature of the creatures is all part of the fun, but the mayhem that ensues when the monsters battle utilises all manner of modern special effects techniques, making for a really fun blend of the old and the new.

7.5/10, rounded up to 8 for the incredibly cute baby Gamera, the bit where the giant turtle rips off Zedus's tongue, and the sly reference to old Gamera foe Guiron!

Gamera 2: Region shurai

I'm starting to appreciate some of the Showa-era movies a bit more...
I've come to the conclusion that nothing can kill Gamera: in this film, he is attacked by numerous alien insects (the 'Legion' of the title), is pierced by a dozen or so 'energy tentacles' that shoot out of the main beastie (a much larger version of one of the nasty insect creatures), and survives the equivalent of a nuclear blast.

Gamera's invincibility can be attributed to the fact that he was deliberately engineered by a lost civilisation to protect the Earth from nasty monsters. The Legion come from outer space on a meteor, and try to take over the planet (I'm not exactly sure about the method by which they multiply - it's a bit confusing and involves giant seed pods), but Gamera comes to the rescue of the human race once again, the giant turtle revealing previously unseen powers in the process.

All of this could have been very entertaining - the chitinous aliens are some of the best monsters in the whole series and the explosive destruction is spectacular - but too much of the film is spent on dull chit-chat, while the monster vs. Monster action is interrupted time and time again by cutaways to soldiers determining their next useless plan of attack.

4/10. Would have benefitted from less talk, more action and by being less po-faced.

Gamera daikaijû kuchu kessen

Not a lot has changed.
Fifteen years after Gamera sacrificed himself to save mankind, the massive turtle is back! This reboot ignores everything that has gone before, and is set in a world where the Japanese are blissfully unaware of the existence of kaiju, at least until a small island becomes the feeding ground of prehistoric birds called the Gyaos. Not long after, Gamera makes an appearance as well, and unsurprisingly causes panic, the army taking action by firing missiles at the giant reptile, not realising that the turtle is there to protect people from the flesh-eating birds.

I had hoped that, by 1995, Japanese film-makers would have moved on from dodgy miniatures being stomped by men in rubber monster suits, but Gamera: Guardian of the Universe uses many of the same techniques employed by the series during the '60s and '70s, and it's still quite laughable, even if the cinematography is better and the explosions bigger. This film came hot on the heels of Jurassic Park, but you would be forgiven for thinking it came out years earlier, the special effects being quite primitive for the time. Perhaps that's what most kaiju fans want, the old-school look and feel giving them a comforting sense of nostalgia, but I think I would have preferred the film to have moved with the times.

Oh well, at least there's plenty of action in this one (no matter how unconvincing) and no cutesie kids to make the adults look like idiots. Best moments: Gyaos attacking a packed train, and the big bird nesting on top of what remains of the Tokyo Tower.

5.5/10, rounded up to 6 for IMDb.

Uchu kaijû Gamera

Game(ra) over!
Gamera: Super Monster, the last of the Showa-era Gamera movies, largely comprises of clips from the previous films (although there is also footage from a couple of unrelated animated films as well), with new scenes to tie all the battles together: three super space women, defenders of Earth, befriend a small boy and do battle with an evil woman from the Pirate Spaceship Zanon, who sends several monsters (Gyaos, Ziger, Vira, Jiger, Guiron and Barugon) to wreak havoc on Earth. Of course, giant spinning turtle Gamera is always on hand to give them a jolly good thrashing.

If you've already seen all of the previous Gamera movies, then Super Monster will be a crushing bore, Gamera defeating one monster after another ad nauseum before sacrificing his life by smashing into the Zanon spaceship (which looks suspiciously like a Star Destroyer from Star Wars). The nonsense in between the battles sees the three good space women, Kilara, Mitan and Marsha, beaming from one place to another and transforming from human to superhero by performing a stupid series of arm gestures; meanwhile, kid Keiichi releases his pet turtle into a river, plays his Yamaha organ (whilst singing the Gamera March), and is pursued by the evil woman, who hopes that the lad will lead her to his three female friends.

Produced by a struggling Daiei Studios as a last ditch effort to make enough cash to stay afloat, the film is so sloppy in all departments that it proved to be the final nail in the coffin instead.

Gamera tai Shinkai kaijû Jigura

An unconvincing model moon base is blasted by a spaceship (which looks like the crown of The Statue of Liberty has collided with a giant liquorice allsort); the spaceship proceeds to Earth and lands in the sea. On board the craft: a hot Japanese woman (Eiko Yanami) under the control of Zigra, an alien goblin shark/swordfish who causes massive earthquakes (that occur off-screen to stay within budget) in order to force the human race to surrender its oceans. Gamera isn't about to let that happen and steps in to sort out the uppity fish, but when the titanic turtle destroys the spaceship, Zigra grows to massive proportions...

If it wasn't for the presence of yummy Eiko Yanami, who cavorts in a sexy space outfit, a bikini, and a mini-skirt, I would have dozed off during this one: it's easily the worst of the Gamera films thus far, with a hum-drum seen-it-all-before plot, annoying kids, and very little in the way of monster action. Much of the film acts as an advertisement for Kamogawa Sea World, and we're treated to performing killer whales and seals. Meanwhile, Gamera spends a lot of the time face down in the sea, having been zapped by Zigra, and is only revived by a lightning bolt for the finalé, in which he teaches Zigra a lesson by playing his dorsal spines like a xylophone before barbecuing him.

2.5/10, generously rounded up to 3 for the salient environmental message: keep the oceans clean!

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