Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Halloween 2014: October 7

Gorath (1962)
Yôsei Gorasu

During the early days of the internet, my love of Godzilla was reignited, as I’ve previously mentioned. After reading up on all the films featuring the King of the Monsters, I realized there was an entire universe of Toho monster movies out there. In time, I would track down more well-known titles like “Rodan” or “War of the Gargantuas.” One that has always intrigued me, and escaped my grasp for years, was “Gorath.” Toho’s answer to “When Worlds Collide,” which also featured a giant walrus for some reason, was something I had to see. The movie’s general unavailability made that difficult though. Well, today that mission concluded. I have finally seen “Gorath.”

In “Gorath,” the Earth is not threatened by giant monsters or alien invaders. Instead, an even bigger problem arises, one that could destroy the entire planet. A rogue star, named Gorath, is speeding through the solar system towards our world. Should the massive orbital object pass our planet, the oceans and continents will be sucked into space. In order to save the world, the scientists of Earth cook up a crazy scheme to save us. While a rocket ship full of astronauts flies towards Gorath, to observe it, giant rocket boosters will be installed on Earth, in hopes of moving it out of the path of the on-coming star.

Being a film were the life of everyone on Earth is threatened with absolute destruction, expectedly a large portion of “Gorath” is focused on how the people on the planet respond to the crisis. The answer? Surprisingly well. Not long after the news is announced that a giant doom-star is on a collision course with Earth, people are dancing in a club. The film begins during a Christmas party, which seems to foreshadow the amount of celebration we’ll be seeing in this movie. Astronauts line up to get the job of flying towards Gorath. One group, including the film’s heroes, even hijack a helicopter, flying over to the program’s boss, to encourage him to give them the job. On the way over, they sing a rousing fight song. Only twice in the entire film do characters bemoan the planet’s possible destruction. Both times, it’s the same character, the movie’s resident pessimist. “Gorath” is no “Meloncholia,” is the point I’m making. 

Previously, I made the case that “Gorath” is the conclusion to Ishiro Honda’s thematic space trilogy. Each movie seems to move further into space. “The Mysterians” is mostly Earth-bound. “Battle in Outer Space” took us to the moon. “Gorath” travels to the edge of the solar system. The film begins with a great sequence. Astronauts on a routine mission to Saturn are pulled into the rogue star’s orbit. They face their death with calm determination, each yelling “Bonzai!” before the ship explodes. There’s some fun space shenanigans when astronaut hero Akira Kubo takes control of the rocket, sailing over head, blinded by the star’s brightness. Disappointingly, while there’s a lot of focus on the guys traveling through space, that subplot ends abruptly, with the astronauts safely returning home. That’s anticlimactic.

What makes “Gorath” truly entertaining is the thread of absurd sci-fi silliness running through the entire movie. Most films of these sort would focus on destroying the incoming star or evacuating the planet. “Gorath,” instead, settles on the rather ridiculous solution of moving the fucking Earth out of the way. I’m fairly certain that this isn’t possible but the movie continues ahead anyway. The scientists of the film build giant rocket thrusters, each with six billion pounds of force, at the South Pole. Amazingly, this actually works, the burners going for days in order to move the planet far enough out of the way. This far-out sci-fi solution leads to the movie’s second goofiest plot development. The super-sized fires burning for weeks cause the polar icecaps to melt which unleashes, yes, the infamous giant walrus. As with Moguera in “The Mysterians,” the giant monster Maguma was inserted into the film at producer Tomoyuki’s Tanaka’s insistence. Maguma has an even smaller role, amounting to only six minutes of screen time. He attacks one of the laboratories, waddles through a canyon, gets zapped with a laser beam, and that’s it. The English dub of the film cut out the giant walrus, deciding it was too goofy. It is incredibly goofy, as Maguma moves awkwardly and the suit is far from impressive. But who can resist the charms of a giant lava walrus? Not me.

In its last act, “Gorath” becomes a full fledged disaster film. The crazy plan succeeds in moving Earth out of Gorath’s direct path but the planet is still affected by the passing star’s gravitational pull. This is displayed earlier, during an oddly beautiful sequence where Gorath pulls the rings off of Saturn as it passes by. Tokyo is evacuated, as the ocean level is expected to rise. This leads to an eerie sequence of the city being abandoned, save for a barking dog and the sounds of abandoned radios. Now, Eiji Tsuburaya and his team get to show off. Enormous waves crash over the entire city, overturning empty boats and drowning Tokyo’s tallest skyscrapers. It’s a fun way for the film to save the world but still feature plenty of collateral damage. The miniature effects work here is comparable to those seen in “Battle in Outer Space” and just as impressive.

“Gorath” is packed full of Ishiro Honda’s theme of global unity. The U.N. plays a large role, as scientists from all over the planet work together on the crazy scheme. The film even ends with a (fictional) message from the United Nations, with the scientists vowing to get Earth back into its orbit. You’d think that would be a bigger problem. The score is from Kan Ishii but you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for Akira Ifukube. The pounding military marches and themes certainly recall Ifukube’s work. “Gorath” is a fun one, a fully ridiculous science fiction/disaster flick sure to please fans of that style. And, hey, if nothing else, it’s got a giant killer walrus. You can’t beat that. [7/10]

Pet Sematary (1989)

I have a really stupid personal connection to “Pet Sematary.” Not the movie but the book. I previously mentioned the collection of Stephen King books my older sister had as a teen. A couple of the book covers creeped out as a young kid. The cover for “Pet Sematary,” with its demonic cat, terrified me. My sis used to chase me around the house with the book cover, that’s how frightened I was of it. The premises I cooked up in my head based on that cover could never match the real thing but “Pet Sematary” is still one of King’s most visceral novels. The movie, which King scripted and was directed by Mary Lambert, is a harder egg to crack.

A Chicago medical professor, Louis Creed, moves with his family to (of course!) Maine. The apple of Louis and his wife Rachel’s eyes are their two kids, daughter Ellie and toddler son Gage. Also a part of the family is Ellie’s beloved cat, Church. The two move into a house on a busy highway, frequented by speeding 18-wheelers. Louis quickly befriends the eccentric neighbor, Jud. Jud soon introduces them to a pet “sematary” in the forest, a place where local children have buried their dead pets for years. In dreams, Louis soon learns that another burial ground lays beyond the cemetery, a place that resurrects those buried in it. Louis tests this theory, when Church is hit by a truck. However, the cat returns wrong, soulless and evil. When little Gage is also hit by a truck, Louis’ grief forces him to revisit the burial grounds.

“Pet Sematary” deals with a particularly disturbing subject matter, that of a parent loosing a child. And it’s a subject the film is wholly unprepared to handle. The film’s approach is never less then ham-handed and melodramatic. The script is packed with horror movie clichés. As soon as the family arrives in Ludlow, they’re bombarded with bad omens. Ellie has prescient nightmares. Not long after getting his new job, a college student dies in Louis’ arms. Instead of expiring like a normal person, Pascow screams an ominous warning at Louis. Pascow returns as a ghost throughout the film, his appearance sometimes played for humor and sometimes played for cheap scares. Jud fills the traditional role of the ignored oracle. He passes along warnings about the burial ground, about what happens to people and animals buried there, that are soundly ignored. Trees block Louis from returning to the cemetery, as do bizarre visions. Jarring plot developments, like a crash car, prevent Rachel from returning home sooner. In the last act, Louis discovers the dead bodies, artfully arranged by the killer in slasher movie fashion. (How a toddler pulled this off is never addressed.) Characters are haunted throughout by spooky visions. Cursed, Indian burial grounds are a hoary horror cliché by themselves. For that matter, “Pet Sematary” as a whole isn’t much more then a variation on “The Monkey’s Paw.”

“Pet Sematary” doesn’t even make a lot of sense narratively. Jud is all too aware of what the burial grounds can do. So why does he mention them at all? If he had just kept his mouth shut, the entire movie could have been avoided! The death of a child as young as Gage should have been disturbing and horrifying. Instead, it becomes unintentional hilarious. Why the hell would any parent take his eyes off their child for that long, especially when they’re right next to a busy freeway? When Louis is obviously in a state of emotional trauma, why the hell does his wife and daughter leave town? If this wasn’t a Stephen King story, Louis would be more likely to commit suicide then play re-animator. Then there’s the business of Rachel’s older sister, Zelda. The flashbacks could have feed into the film’s themes about grief and death. Instead, they come off as blatant padding, especially near the middle, when Rachel has a random flashback while exploring Jud’s house. For one more kick in the ass, the film is jam-packed with stupid jump scares, many of them literal cat scares. And the stupidest thing? After going through an entire ordeal of his child becoming a murderous ghoul, Louis does it again with his wife. What a fucking moron. I mean, I know grief does crazy things to people but, seriously, what a fucking moron.

On top of all these other performances, “Pet Sematary” features some legendarily bad acting. Who the hell is this Dale Midkiff dude and why does he shout so much? He skyward screams “NOOOOO!” at least twice and it's hilarious both times. He blusters in a thuddingly obvious matter throughout the whole film. Brad Greenquist gets his own screamed “No!” at the end too as Pascow. Greenquist’s performance is halfway between robotic and blatantly comedic. Denise Crosby is stiff as Rachel, unprepared to handle the emotion the part requires. Her cursed sister, Zelda, is played by a man, Andrew Hubatzek, who does an awful job of disguising his gender and basically speaks like a cliched wicked witch. Even Blaze and Beau Berdahl as Ellie are terrible, giving a typically unnuanced child’s performance. Only two performances in the film are decent at all. Fred Gwynne has to overcome some terrible writing as Jud but Herman Munster’s innate charm saves the part. Secondly, Miko Hughes is awfully expressive and emotive for a four year old. That’s right, a four year old gives the best performance in the movie.

Despite its multitude of problems, “Pet Sematary” is oddly effective in some ways. Firstly, the movie looks good. Mary Lambert knew how to compose a pretty picture. The repeated shots of speeding trucks does a good job of establishing their threat. Louis’ midnight walk to the burial ground is full of atmosphere, midnight fog. As brain-dead as the movie is, “Pet Sematary” does get at some creepy ideas. Church's glowing eyes are unnerving. The flashback to Jud’s dead dog returning is similarly disturbing. Finally, seeing a little kid as wide-eyed and tow-headed as Gage do the things he does in this film are off-putting. A toddler shouldn’t be slicing people up and its an image the film knowingly exploits. (Also, I like the Ramones’ song.)

“Pet Sematary” has garnished something like a classic’s reputation over the years. Critics of the day, however, more-or-less agreed that it wasn’t very good. Horror fans, however, stick to stuff that affected them as kids. And it’s clear that “Pet Sematary” sticked in a lot of young viewers’ brains. That’s something it does do because the film is full of disturbing ideas. However, the movie has no friggin’ clue how to execute these ideas in any way other then off-putting camp. When a remake was announced a few years ago, I was hopeful. I still think a good movie can be made from “Pet Sematary” the book. If it puts me on the opposite side of popular opinion, so be it, but this movie isn’t it. [4.5/10]

Tales from the Crypt: This’ll Kill Ya

“This’ll Kill Ya” rips its opening fairly blatantly off any version of “D.O.A.” A man enters a police station, dragging a dead body behind him, claiming the dead man is the person who murdered him. In flashback, we learn that George, the guy, along with Sophie, his partner/ex-lover, and Brightman, the dead body, were developing a new type of insulin treatment. In a moment of rage, Brightman injected the diabetic George with the untested drug, which is now causing tumors to ravage his body. As revenge, he takes Brightman out. However, as you’d expect, things are not as they seem.

“This’ll Kill Ya” has the cheesiest direction of any of “Crypt’s” episodes. The whole episode has this softcore, Skinemax sheen to it. The lengthy, mid-episode sex scene, where George seduces Sophie, doesn’t help the episode get away from that feeling. After the drug takes affect, George imagines the people around him as tumor-covered ghouls, mocking him. This is carried out in as melodramatic a way as possible. The crucial scene where he is injected is similarly overheated. The performances are on the same level. Dylan McDermott is all intense stares and grimacing facial expressions. Sonia Braga mostly simpers her way through an ill-defined sex kitten role. Cleavon Little, in his last performance, yells and blusters a lot, the episode not utilizes his comedic abilities at all. The twist “This’ll Kill Ya” ends with is cute, if predictable. The episode is as standard as “Tales” got and immediately forgettable. More interesting is the host segments, where we see that the Crypt Keeper records his opening sequences with a digital camcorder on a tripod. An episode exploring the Crypt Keeper’s production method, now that would be memorable! [4/10]

So Weird: Blues

Considering how many local legends the deep south has, and how common a setting it is for supernatural tales, it was inevitable that “So Weird” would set an episode there eventually. Molly and the band hook a gig at a Mississippi blues club that has recently been converted to a general pop joint. While staying at a friend’s home, each member of the Philips family find themselves humming an unidentified blues song, pulled straight out of the air. Convinced something unusual is going on, Fiona traces the music back to an obscure blues singer from the fifties and his untimely murder. A murder the song’s lyrics seems to be inquiring about.

“Blues” gets a lot of mileage out of its Mississippi setting and its decent grip on blues history. The episode embraces its southern setting from the beginning, when Ned gives the kids a crash course in southern cuisine. It also helps that the song that is so important to the story is genuinely catchy but sounds fitting to the time period it was supposedly written in. The episode’s respect for blues culture is solidified with Bo Diddley’s brief but important guest role. Everyone being compelled to sing also gives Cara DeLizia fans a treat, when she starts belting out the tune. Her singing voice isn’t bad, for the record. The mystery is resolved in a fairly obvious way but one that makes sense to the overall story. “Blues” is not the most mind-blowing episode of “So Weird” but, for fans, it’s a very entertaining half-hour. [7/10]


Kernunrex said...

Good God, I still say Dale Midkiff is the worst actor I've ever seen in a major studio movie. I am convinced that he was hired only because Lambert was sweet on him.

I would like movie that features only Pascow and Griffin Dunne from American Werewolf.

Bonehead XL said...

They could call it "Zombie Sidekicks."

whitsbrain said...

I've never seen "Gorath" but it's on my watchlist. "Pet Sematary" is another story...

BUILD A DAMNED FENCE!!! Honestly, put up a fence and there would be no reason to get into that sloppy, raising the dead thing.

I've never read this Stephen King book, which from all accounts is amazingly scary. After watching this movie, I wish I had. It's not that this is bad, it's just not that special. There are some eerie moments with the little boy but unfortunately he seems to be the best actor of the bunch. Dale Midkiff as Dr. Creed and his wife, played by Denise Crosby, are horrific...and I don't mean because they are in a Horror movie. They're so bad that they're distracting, which is a problem since they are the main characters. Fred Gwynne is big and stiff, too. But he at least brings some personality to his role. (6/10)