Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, September 26, 2014

Halloween 2014: September 26

The Mysterians (1957)
Chikyû Bôeigun / Earth Defense Force

By ‘57, the alien invasion genre was well established in America, clichés about flying saucers and little green men already ingrained in the popular culture. I guess it took Japan a while to catch up. “The Mysterians” came close to claiming the title of Japan’s first technicolor sci-fi extravaganza. Sneaky Daiei beat it by a year, with their “Warning from Space.” Either way, “The Mysterians” was still an event. It was the first film ever shot in the studio’s trademark TohoScope technology. Further more, it was the first time the alien invasion genre and the kaiju genre were intermingled, the Mysterians followed by the Xiliens, the Kilaaks, and who knows how many others.

The film begins with a scenic festival on one of the tinier Japanese islands, men and women clad in kimonos, watching traditional dances. The celebration is interrupted when a fire tears through the village. Not long after that, a giant robot drills itself way out of the Japanese countryside, attacking the military. The Mysterians, aliens from an undiscovered planet between Mars and Jupiter, have invaded Earth, their underground lair already in place. At first, their demands seem somewhat reasonable. Several kilometers of territory, some human women to repopulate their species with. However, it soon becomes apparent that the Mysterians do not come in peace. The armies of the world fight back, the aliens repelling their forces.

“The Mysterians” seems to owe a debt to “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” The Mysterians’ home world was destroyed by a nuclear war. Their arrival is laced with warnings about the H-bomb and how we must not destroy ourselves like they did. However, the film’s anti-nuclear theme is more general and not incorporated into most of the story. “The Mysterians,” instead, carries on Ishiro Honda’s preferred theme of world unity. The nations of the world work together to fight the alien invaders. The film ultimately takes place in the idealized world of fifties sci-fi, where people learn to put their petty differences behind them and human ingenuity beats back a greater foe.

The titular aliens prove memorable. They wear color coded outfits, bobble-headed helmets, huge belt/holster combos, and silky capes. The pastel colored uniforms would, doubtlessly, be an influence on later Japanese pop culture. Compare the Mysterians to the cast of Goranger, for example. We never get a good look at their faces, which makes their story of nuclear mutation more implied then explicit. Their method of invasion is what’s really interesting. They show up, make a few small demands, but nothing too outrageous. However, the Mysterians aren’t interested in peaceful co-existence, only tyrannical rule. They intend to enforce their laws over the Earth in time. It’s an intriguing story, themes of imperialism bubbling just below the surface. Is it too much to imagine the Mysterians as Nazis and the Earth as Poland?

“The Mysterians” was originally conceived as only a story about visitors from the stars. The finished product, mostly, conforms to that vision. However, after the massive success of “Godzilla” and “Rodan,” producer Tomiyuka Tanaka demanded a giant monster be inserted into the movie. Enter: Moguera, the giant samurai mole robot. The kaiju’s hasty insertion into the story is fairly obvious. Moguera drills his way out of a mountain within the first twenty minutes. He confronts the military and blows up some soldiers with his laser eyes, before being downed by an exploding bridge. That’s pretty much it for the robot, save an embarrassing appearance late in the film. What’s sillier about the mech’s design?  Its needle nose or sunglasses eyes? The serrated fin down its back or the lagging tail? The giant skirt or lime green legs? My money is on the twiddling antenna attached to its head. Moguera is slow and clumsy, Haruo Nakajima not providing much personality to the character. However, the robot’s attack is still one of the best sequences in a good film, mostly thanks to Akira Ifukubi’s propulsive score and the blazing pyrotechnics. Just as the scene gets really good, Moguera stumbles over a bridge, falling over dead. No wonder the guy didn’t show up again until 1994.

Akihiko Hirata plays another avuncular scientist. His Ryoichi discovers Mysterion and, at first, appears to be in league with the aliens. It doesn’t help his case that he seems all too willing to dump his girlfriend. However, Ryoichi is more complicated then that, mostly joining up with the invaders because, unlike the rest of Earth, they actually acknowledge his research. When he realizes they’re no good, he turns on them, Hirata sacrificing himself once again to stop their forces. Kenji Sahara is less interesting as the film’s hero, as he’s not given a lot to do. Heroines Yumi Shirakawa and Momoko Kochi look very nice but neither are much more then damsel in distress, rather literally when they’re randomly abducted by horny aliens in the last reel. The always notable Takashi Shimura shows up as another elder statesman type, doing his thing.

It’s a bit of a stretch to call “The Mysterians” a horror movie. Aside from Moguera’s brief appearance, it’s barely a kaiju flick. However, the movie frequently aired on late night creature feature shows back in the day, making it another monster kid favorite. It’s not as much fun as Toho’s other genre classics but I found plenty to enjoy here nevertheless. [7/10]

Night of the Demons (2009)

“Night of the Demons” struck me as an odd candidate for a remake. It’s not like the series has much name recognition to non-devotees to eighties horror flicks. Presumably, this one got greenlit during the same remake-mania that led to new versions of quasi-obscurities like “My Bloody Valentine” and “Aprils Fool Days.”  Like the latter film, it winded up going straight to home media, where it was ignored by most everyone, including fans of the original.

Since “teenagers throw a party in a haunted house” is apparently too quint a premise for modern audiences, this remake adds a bunch of extra shit to the “Night of the Demons” set-up. The location shifts to New Orleans, which is only like the second or third most overused setting for a horror film. Angela is no longer a teenager but now an adult who makes a business of throwing parties. For the location for her wild Halloween night party, she chooses Broussard House, one of those old Louisianian mansions with a long history of bad juju. After the cops show up, most everyone leaves save for Angela’s closest friends. After stumbling into a hidden room full of ancient skeletons, the party-goers slowly become possessed by evil spirits, as it was in 1988, as it was in 2009.

Even though it’s only four years old, “Night of the Demons ‘09” reeks badly of turn-of-the-century generic horror movie style. This is not surprising, as the film was created by director/writer team Adam Gierasch and Jace Anderson, the same team that made generic turn-of-the-century horror movies like “Autopsy,” “Toolbox Murders,” “Mother of Tears,” and other shit. The simple teenagers of the eighties are now twenty-something adults, played by gorgeous Hollywood actors and also Edward Furlong. The goth and punk-rock energy of the original has been filed away in favor of flashy debauchery. The characters all swear a lot. The movie has its share of cheap jump scares and gross-out antics. Faces and limbs do that annoying “Jacob’s Ladder” shaking thing. Monsters climb on walls and scoot around at super speed. The visual palette and direction aren’t very interesting. The movie’s attempts at humor are smarmy, vulgar and self-serving.

One of the things I liked about the original “Night” was its simple but elegant mythology. Gierasch and Anderson, naturally, complicate this too. Bad shit just happened at Hull House. At Broussard House, the demons were kicked out of hell for being too fucking evil. Some ill-defined loophole allows the demons to possess living humans and bring about hell on Earth. Despite needing their victims to be alive, the demons still go about killing people. Also, for some reason, they can’t leave the house. This is all the work of the home’s original owners in the 1920s. All of this information is unceremoniously dumped on the viewer during an exposition-heavy sequence in the middle of the movie. What, an underground stream was too easy for you people?

Broussard House lacks all the atmosphere of moody, dilapidated Hull House. The writers clearly did not have enough material for a feature length film. The middle section of the movie has the protagonists locked in a safe room in the mansions, with the demons mocking them from outside. The movie quickly sets into a cycle of the demons tricking the humans out of the protected room before the heroes get away and run back to safety. There’s little of the eccentricity that highlighted the 1988 version's cast. Final girl Maddie has two friends, both of which are undefined sexy kitty. They’re so interchangeable that the girls wear the same Halloween costume. Shannon Elizabeth’s Angela is a generic sexy villain with none of the charm of Mimi Kinkade’s spooky goth girl. Edward Furlong plays a drug dealer on some sort of redemption arc. The final girl makes an incredibly trite transformation into a shotgun wielding badass in the last act. The movie attempts to be funny but mostly falls back on crass language and gay panic jokes.

There’s not much to recommend about “Night of the Demons ‘09” but there are a handful of things I like about it. Most of the make-up effects are practical in nature. Angela’s design is kind of cool, with big looping horns growing out of her head. There’s some decent gore, with a full face ripping being the most notable example. The flashbacks to the 1920s are all done as a silent movie, which is neat. The movie doesn’t skimp on the T&A, though whether or not the, ahem, enhanced actresses of this version appeal to you is a matter of opinion. There’s some fun call-backs to the first film, like a cute cameo from Linnea Quigley. As in the original, the soundtrack is pretty good, though it’s definitely lacking the Bauhaus.

There’s not much of the lovable characters, quotable dialogue, or creative energy that made the original so beloved in this remake. I don’t hate the 2009 version of “Night of the Demons” so much as I am completely indifferent to it. The original was a fun horror gem while the remake offers nothing that can’t be seen in a thousand other movies. Can it go and eat a bowl of fuck? Yeah, sure, it can go ahead and eat some fucks. [5/10]

Tales from the Crypt: The Reluctant Vampire

Ah, “Tales from the Crypt” is in a goofy mood. “The Reluctant Vampire” is exactly the type of story you think it is. Donald Longtooth is a vampire that doesn’t care much for killing. Instead, he fills his need for blood by working as a night watchman at a blood bank, sipping from the supply when no one’s looking. The bank’s secretary, Sally, develops feeling for Donald while trying to avoid her sleazy boss’s advances. Donald finds it difficult to return the girl’s affection without his teeth popping out. When Donald finally does kill, targeting only criminals and scumbags and putting some of the blood back in the bank, he attracts the attention of the local vampire hunter, Rupert Van Helsing.

“The Reluctant Vampire” is mostly a series of goofy vampire-related sight gags. Donald awakes to an alarm clock and pops in fanged dentures. His coffin then folds up into the wall like a Murphy bed. His best friend is a rat named Leopold. Before draining his victims, he asks them a long list of blood-related questions. The broadest gag comes when Donald drains a street thug, pumping the blood in a bottle. He has to leap on the body’s chest to get all the blood out. As silly as the script is, a strong cast helps. Malcolm McDowell gets a rare oppretunity to show off his goofy side, which goes well. When Michael Berryman plays so many villains and weirdos, its nice to see him as the heroic Van Helsing here. George Wendt is fun as the asshole blood bank owner and Paul Gleason does a spin on his usual “grouchy authority figure” role. This one is about as minor as an episode can get but is worth a decent laugh or two. [7/10]

So Weird: Boo

Yea, a Halloween episode! On Halloween day, the tour bus rolls into a town with a large Celtic population that seemingly knows nothing about the holiday. This is a-okay with Fiona, who thinks Halloween trivializes her serious interests. (Jack and Cary, rightfully, mock her for this.) After night falls, the spirits of the dead roam the town. Fi meets up with an eccentric man who, as part of a ritual to prosper the town, spent a year among the dead. Eager to return to the world of the living, he plans to make the Philips family his replacements.

A prominent name you might notice in the opening credits of “So Weird” is, among the producers, Henry Winkler. The former Fonz walks on screen as Fergus McGarrity, the man among the dead. He gives an embarrassingly silly performance, mugging it up furiously and flailing around in obnoxious displays of physical comedy. It’s a shame that Winkler’s performance is so distracting because, otherwise, “Boo” probably would have been a lot of fun. Knowing that Fiona dislikes Halloween sets her up for, inevitably, learning to love the holiday. There’s some decent seasonal flavor in this episode, what with the decorations and the pale-faced ghouls wandering around. The plot is nothing special but the resolution, which involves the whole Philips family dressing up, is fun enough. I had high hopes for a “So Weird” Halloween episode and it falls short of my expectations but I still can’t hate this show. [6/10]

1 comment:

whitsbrain said...

Other than its bright, Skittles-colored alien spacesuits and neat retro spaceships, "The Mysterians" is really boring. Aliens flex their advanced technological muscles in an attempt to secure two miles of land and the hand of any Earth women they choose in marriage. An underwhelming and overreaching set of demands to say the least, especially given their most advanced weapon appears to be the robot Mogera who is defeated with minor effort by the military of the puny humans.

I think "The Mysterians" wins the award for the movie that put me to sleep the most. I honestly tried getting through this on at least four different occasions before a highly caffeinated effort made try number five a success.

There is really no 'so-bad-it's-good' urging that I can give here. This is a real yawner.

Over years of watching movies, I've always rated them on a scale of 1-10, so I might as well do so in comments left here. I gave "The Mysterians" a scathing (2/10)