Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Halloween 2014: October 24

Rebirth of Mothra II (1997)
Mosura 2 - Kaitei no daikessen

“Rebirth of Mothra” was successful, despite fans’ concerns that it was overly kid-friendly. Toho gave definitive proof that they do not care what fans think by making “Rebirth of Mothra II” even more kid-friendly and childish then the original. The sequel would go even further to alienate hardcore kaiju fans. In the first movie, Mothra Leo fought Desghidorah, the death metal version of an established kaiju super-villain King Ghidorah. In “Rebirth of Mothra II,” Mothra would fight a totally original monster. Along with a couple other factors, the second in the nineties “Mothra” series is usually considered the weakest of the trilogy.

The oceans around Okinawa are swarming with monsters called Barem, starfish-like critters that shoot an acidic slime. The plot resolves around Uranai, a little girl who doesn’t have many friends. She’s picked on by two kids in her class, the scrawny Yoji and the heavy-set Kohei. While wandering through the forest, Uranai discovers a strange little creature called Ghogo. The fairies Moll and Lora track Uranai and the other kids down, informing them that the Barem are the minions of a giant, evil monster called Dagahra. The three kids are given the mission of hunting down an ancient, underwater society and unlocking a treasure there that will help Mothra Leo defeat Dagahra. Meanwhile, Belvera, the wicked fairy sister, enlists a pair of greedy fisherman in helping her find the same treasure, which she’ll use to wipe out the human race. The kids do find the underwater kingdom, Mothra does tangle with Dagahra, and the secret treasure does wind up playing a big role, though not necessarily in the way you’d expect.

As with the first one, “Rebirth of Mothra II” comes preloaded with a heaping helping of kiddie bullshit. The film begins with the two bullies flinging a caterpillar into their teacher’s cleavage. A similar level of broad physical comedy characterizes the rest of the film. The two greedy fishermen are buffoons who frequently stumble around and act like idiots. The fat and thin little kids aren’t much better, goofing around when the situation should be treated more seriously. Beyond the annoying characters and obnoxious comedy, those damn fairies play large roles too. There’s another silly battle between Moll and Lora on Fairy Mothra and Belvera on Garugaru. Belvera’s presence is especially irritating, since she winds up contributing very little to the plot. (At least there’s only one pace-halting musical number this time.) Ghogo is a text book example of a cuddly, goofy character created to appeal to kids and to make plush toys of. He looks like a cross between a mogwai, a furby, and a tribble. Also, he pees magical healing water.

Just like last time, the whole unappealing sundae is topped off with an overdone ecological message. The film’s background mythology seems to owe a lot of credit to “Gamera: Guardian of the Universe.” Dagahla is the creation of an ancient, Atlantis-like civilization. The monster was made to feed off pollution but quickly grows out of control. This is very similar to the origin the latter movie cooked up for Gyaos. Dagahla reemerges because of an overabundance of pollution on the planet. He feeds off the stuff. Thus, he’s a form of punishment against mankind for our treatment of the world. However, unlike “Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster,” the film never shows any any sign of this horrible pollution, making it an abstract threat at best. The film ends with an extended monologue about how the children are the future and how they’ll treat the planet better then there parents. This is explained by the hologram of the underwater kingdom’s queen. Did I mention the hologram? Like every story that riffs on the Atlantis idea, the underwater kingdom is highly advanced and shit. It’s not very interesting.

The first “Rebirth of Mothra” had many of the same problems but it was saved by some bitchin’ monster battles. The same can not be said of “Rebirth of Mothra II.” Dagahla is not as intimidating a threat as Desghidorah. The suit is awkward. The creature is uninspired, looking like a mash-up of Anguirus and Gamera. The design is overly beefy, making it seem unlikely that he could fly through the air or swim with ease. (The Godzilla Neo redesign corrects this and is, in general, superior.) The monster does rampage through a city a little, which is a nice addition. Mothra has a smaller role too, spending most of the middle act incapacitated. There’s a fairly cool aerial fight between Mothra and Dagahla but far too much of the fight is composed of the creatures flying around and shooting energy beams at each other. Like an anime superhero, Mothra Leo transforms in to two separate forms. Rainbow Mothra is practically identical, save for some more colorful wings. Aqua Mothra, meanwhile, is an outlandish design. Is an underwater form something Mothra would have that much of a use for? Aqua Mothra trades the big bug’s usual gracefulness for the harsh straight lines of a robotic dragonfly. In addition to the uninspired suits and uneven battles, there’s some terrible CGI in the film. A lot of the shots of the kids diving around or running into things look awful.

Am I being too hard on a kid’s flick? Maybe. But it’s not like old school kaiju fans like me weren’t going to watch “Rebirth of Mothra II” too. The juvenile quality of the script might compensate for the broad comedy and simple characters. It doesn’t make up for the lame writing, uninspired monster action, or uneven special effects. [5/10]

One Dark Night (1983)

“One Dark Night” is a film I’ve heard about for years but have never had a chance to see before. While it’s frequently called an under appreciated gem by horror nerds, I’ve never heard anyone rave about the flick. I wanted to see it mostly based on two things. The film was the directorial debut of Tom McLaughlin, the same guy behind “Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives!,” a high-light of that series. I was also told the movie was a horror film set on Halloween, something I’m always on the look-out for. Someone fibbed. “One Dark Night” isn’t actually set on Halloween. But I liked it anyway.

The film follows Julie Wells, a shy high school girl desperate to be part of the cool kids club, the Sisters. Obnoxious bitch Carol leads the Sisters, along with her two generals, the eccentric Kitty and the squeaky-voiced Leslie. The only reason Carol is even giving Julie the time of day is because Julie is currently dating Carol’s ex-boyfriend. In order to punish the girl, Carol intends to rope Julie into a cruel hazing ritual. They will drug the girl and lock her up in a spooky mausoleum for one night, planning to sneak in and frighten her repeatedly. Unfortunately for the girls, the mausoleum they picked has just had a new arrival. Raymar, a renowned occultist and psychic, has just died but his wicked powers live on through his corpse. Soon, all sorts of freaky shit is happening.

“One Dark Night” has a very slowly paced first half. The film takes its time setting up all the various plot lines. Before we even meet Julie, we see Raymar’s corpse and the effect his powers have. A lot of time is spent on Raymar’s daughter, who is very conflicted about her father’s abilities. She cries on her husband’s shoulders – an inexplicably cast Adam West – and talks to a creepy paranormal expert. The tapes that expert gives her provides some exposition, going on about psychic vampires and what a bad dude Raymar was. Most of this stuff is unnecessary. Developing the teenage characters is time better picked. Even then, “One Dark Night” probably could have used some editing. Did we need to see the four girls hanging out in a video arcade? Or Julie’s boyfriend getting hints from a stoned girl on the street?

However, once we get to the mausoleum, things pick up considerably. It’s a great setting, with the long hallways, all cast in stark black and white marble. (This makes the movie a good companion to the “Phantasm” movies I just watched.) There’s a lot of scenes of Julie hanging out in the mausoleum, slowly getting freaked out. Her so-called friends sneak in and perform some cruel pranks on her. A good moment has a rubber hand on a string being dragged in front of her, the good holding the string right behind her. Once the supernatural element kicks in, “One Dark Night” gets really good. Julie cowers in a chapel while the benches fly across the room. In another fantastic moment, the girl is so terrified that when her boyfriend comes to rescue, she mistakes him for another attacker. When the caskets start to slowly slide out of their cabinets, “One Dark Night” has built up a chilling atmosphere. The zombies don’t drag their feet. Instead, they float, still, eerily moving across the floor. It’s a simple effect but amazingly creepy. The movie takes the dead body thing all the way, burying its characters in corpses. “One Dark Night” executes its scares in a very effective manner.

The above-average cast helps too. Protagonist Meg Tilly is actually the weakest link. According to IMDb, Tilly was genuinely uncomfortable during filming. Her panic seems genuine. While that’s great, when she has to be a normal teenage girl, she’s not that captivating. Instead, the three bullies are more charismatic. Robin Evans as Carol, the queen bitch, is despicable. However, her meanness is rooted in a very human hurt. Kitty, played Leslie Speights, chews on a tooth brush throughout the whole film, which is a very real, interesting character quirk. E.G. Daily reminds me a lot of P. J. Soles as Linda in “Halloween.” Her peppy energy is infectious.

The subplot concerning Raymar’s daughter doesn’t build to a very satisfying conclusion. The sound design is a bit overdone. Too often the film cuts away to an orange light leaking out of a cracked casket. I was really surprised by how scary “One Dark Night” wound up being. The film generates some real chills and builds fantastically to an intense finale. Seek this one out. [8/10]

1 comment:

whitsbrain said...

I'm not a Mothra fan.

Thanks for the recommendation of "One Dark Night". Added it to my watchlist.