IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: GORGO (1961)

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When you think of giant monster movies, you most likely think of Godzilla and King Kong, arguably the two most famous giant movie monsters of all time, and you probably think of Japan’s Toho Studios, who made so many of those Godzilla movies we love, as well as plenty of other giant monster adventures.

But today’s movie, GORGO (1961), hails from the United Kingdom, a country that historically did not churn out a whole bunch of giant monster movies. And while in some ways the plot borrows heavily from the original GODZILLA (1954), except in this case rather than Godzilla emerging from the ocean to destroy Tokyo, we have Gorgo emerging from the ocean to pummel London, GORGO is a good enough giant monster movie to stand on its own.

In fact, the special effects in this one depicting Gorgo’s assault on London are right up there with Godzilla’s more famous attack on Tokyo. Topnotch stuff! So much so, that this sequence which pretty much takes up the entire second half of the movie, ranks as one of the best monster-attacks-city sequences ever put on film! The movie is only 78 minutes long, and so at the end of the day, GORGO is one action-packed giant monster movie!

But it’s also rather odd in that it’s one of the few monster movies— or any movie for that matter— that doesn’t really feature any women! There are no female main characters, and I think there’s only two women in the film who even speak any lines of dialogue!

Then again, giant Gorgo is a female, as she is a mommy monster in search of her baby monster which gets kidnapped and taken to London. Hmm. Maybe Gorgo’s contract stipulated that she would be the only prominent female in the cast?

Anyway, GORGO is the story of Joe Ryan (Bill Travers) and Sam Slade (William Sylvester) who helm a salvage vessel, and when they discover a sea monster off the coast of Ireland, they capture it and decide to bring it back to London in order to make money off it. These guys obviously went to the Carl Denham school of business! Little boy Sean (Vincent Winter), who lives on the island where Gorgo is discovered, tells Joe and Sam that they shouldn’t capture the monster and take him away, but the adults don’t listen to him. So, Sean secretly stows away on the ship, and when Joe and Sam discover him, they decide to take care of him and pretty much adopt him for the rest of the movie. Er, Sean, where the hell are your parents?

They bring Gorgo to London where he is shown off at a circus and much to Joe and Sam’s delight, makes them lots of money. But it turns out, this is only a baby Gorgo, and when mommy Gorgo emerges from the ocean, she’s none too happy about her son being abducted, and so she swims to London and attacks the city in order to get him back.

And there’s your plot!

GORGO was directed by Eugene Lourie, who must have loved giant monster movies, because this was the fourth time he directed a movie about a giant monster! His first, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953), is probably his most famous, as it featured the special effects of Ray Harryhausen and was based on the short story “The Fog Horn,” by Ray Bradbury. Lourie followed this up with THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK (1958), a film about a giant robot, and then he made THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959), which featured the special effects of KING KONG creator Willis O’Brien, which told the story of a yet another giant sea monster.

And then he made GORGO. Overall, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is probably his best movie, mostly because it did feature the effects of Ray Harryhausen, but GORGO is a close second, and the attack on London is far more intense than any of the scenes found in THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS.

Even more interesting, these are the only four movies Eugene Lourie ever directed! He should have directed more, because all four of these movies are very good, and two of them, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS and GORGO are downright excellent! Lourie passed away in 1991 from heart failure.

Robert L. Richards and Daniel James wrote the screenplay which tells a decent enough giant monster story, with the one glaring oddity being that there are no women in this story whatsoever!

Young Vincent Winter, who played Sean, would become disappointed with acting and turn to working behind the scenes where he would serve as an assistant director for many movies, including the Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN (1978). Winter died in 1998 from a heart attack at the age of 50.

Also in the cast is Martin Benson, who played the circus owner who promotes Gorgo in London. Benson is no stranger to genre films, having played doomed Father Spiletto in THE OMEN (1976), and, in the role I remember him most for, playing the weasel-like Mr. Rash in NIGHT CREATURES (1962), Hammer’s pirate adventure starring Peter Cushing and Oliver Reed. Benson also had a “pressing engagement” in the Sean Connery James Bond classic GOLDFINGER (1964), as his character ends up being crushed in a car by Oddjob.

And speaking of Hammer Films, in the scene where baby Gorgo is paraded around London, you can see Hammer’s THE MUMMY (1959) playing at the theater at Piccadilly Circus.

The impressive special effects were created by Tom Howard, who would later work on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968). Interestingly enough, the same monster suit was used for both mommy Gorgo and baby Gorgo, and the size difference was achieved with different sets and models, as well as different roar sound effects.

When GORGO was released in 1961, there had only been two Godzilla movies released, the original and its sequel GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955), but the filmmakers must have had Godzilla in mind because they premiered GORGO in Japan rather than in the United Kingdom.

Japan returned the favor by basically remaking GORGO as MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET (1967) (Its original and better title is GAPPA THE TRIPHIBIAN MONSTERS), a tale in which a mommy and a daddy monster attack Tokyo in order to bring back their baby monster which had been taken to Japan.

The lesson from both these movies is, if you’re going to put a young giant monster in a show, you’d best ask its parents’ permission first! You might also want to include them in the contract and give them a piece of the proceeds!

GORGO is one of the better giant monster movies of yesteryear. In spite of the dubious decision not to feature any female characters in its story other than the giant monster Gorgo herself, this one features really good special effects and a second-half giant monster assault on London that can’t be beat!

The title, by the way, comes from the Gorgon, as Gorgo is short for Gorgon, and it refers to the Medusa tale of the creature so hideous one look at her would turn people to stone. While Gorgo is not that hideous looking, the creature is indeed monstrous and is impressive to behold.

So, you don’t have to be afraid of Gorgo’s face. It won’t turn you into stone. On the other hand, you probably should be afraid of Gorgo’s feet, which will turn you into some itty-bitty pieces of crushed flesh and bone when they step on you.

—END—

GODZILLA VS. KONG (2021) – Clash of Giant Monster Icons Is One Colossal Bore

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The best thing I can say about GODZILLA VS. KONG (2021), the new giant monster movie bout which tries but fails miserably to capture the magic of the giant monster movies of a bygone era, is that it runs under two hours.

Had it been any longer, I wouldn’t have survived.

Now, that being said, I didn’t hate GODZILLA VS. KONG, for the simple reason that the monster scenes in this one aren’t that bad. And as a King Kong fan, Kong fares rather well here.

But the script by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein is so dreadfully awful on so many levels it completely ruins anything that might be redeemable about this one. It zaps all enjoyment from the film. So while I enjoyed Kong and Godzilla, the experience is akin to watching someone play a video game where Kong and Godzilla do battle. You watch because you love the monsters, the graphics are amazing, and you feel some nostalgia. But after a few minutes you move on. And that’s what GODZILLA VS. KONG is, really. Just a glorified video game. Sorry folks, but it’s not a movie. Movies have stories to tell. This one does not.

Even the old Toho Godzilla movies, as silly as they were, knew how to tell a story. They were often ridiculous stories, but they were stories. And they had characters. Again, some pretty ridiculous and oftentimes dull characters, but they were there. In GODZILLA VS. KONG, and the previous crop of recent GODZILLA and KONG movies, there are people with names who say and do things in the “movie,” but they’re not characters. They have trite back stories, cliched personalities, and conflicts so general they put you to sleep.

But none of this matters because the powers that be know that a movie like GODZILLA VS KONG doesn’t need good writing. It’s still going to make a ton of money without it. Which is why ultimately I do not like these new Godzilla and Kong movies, because they sport some pretty bad writing. Compared to the superior fare found on the small screen these days, it’s like night and day.

And yet strangely I did not hate GODZILLA VS. KONG. Let’s find out why.

Well, it certainly wasn’t because of the story! In GODZILLA VS. KONG, there are two sets of “characters” and two sets of “stories.” I guess you could call them Team Kong and Team Godzilla. There’s Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) who’s known as the “Kong Whisperer” because she can communicate with Kong as he is kept in a virtual rendition of Skull Island, which just happens to be— on Skull Island!— for his own good, because if his presence is made known, Godzilla will seek out and kill him. Come again? Just because humans hadn’t discovered Kong doesn’t mean that Godzilla wouldn’t know about him. And why Godzilla would go after Kong, to be the one and only alpha on Earth, yeah, that’s about as believable as the cliched cardboard villain who wants to “take over the world!” Hahahahahaha!!!!!!

Actually, young Jia (Kaylee Hottle) who is deaf is better at communicating with Kong, and Kong actually uses sign language with her, in one of the few sequences in the movie that actually works. And there’s professor/author Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) who believes in a hollow Earth theory— whaaaatttt??? Yep, this here is GODZILLA VS. KONG MEETS JULES VERNE. Yes, in this flick, we journey to the center of the earth, because that’s where all the giant monsters came from, and it’s where they must bring Kong so he can learn about his origins! WTF? In the next movie, we will learn that the moon is made of cheese.

Then there’s team Godzilla. High school student Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), who survived the events in GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019) believes that Godzilla is only attacking humans because he’s been provoked, and she sets out with one of her friends to find the truth about what’s going on and save the world in the process. She connects with conspiracy theorist Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) and the three travel to Hong Kong to take on the “evil company” which is driving Godzilla nutty.

Just an aside. A conspiracy theorist as a hero in this movie? Seriously? Here in 2021 where conspiracy nuts attacked the U.S. Capitol? This is reason alone for me never to watch this movie again. What were those writers thinking? I know! They weren’t!

Then there are the villains, led by Walter Simmons (Demian Bichir) who is about as effective Pedro Paschal’s Maxwell Lord in WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2021) which is to say, he’s not effective at all.

These folks spend most of the time saying and doing things, only to be mostly ignored by Godzilla and Kong, who do what they want anyway, eventually meeting up in Hong Kong for the movie’s title bout. And I guess no one lives in Hong Kong. I mean, the two behemoths completely demolish the city, and it’s all so nice and neat. No human carnage to be found anywhere.

GODZILLA VS. KONG does have talented actors working here, so in spite of the poor writing, some of these folks do have their moments.

Brian Tyree Henry fares the best. After all, he’s playing the character I liked the least, conspiracy theorist Bernie Hayes, and yet he’s pretty funny throughout the movie. His performance is proof that really good actors could read from the pages of a dictionary and turn in a good performance based on their talents alone, which is the case here, because pages in a dictionary would make more worthwhile reading than the pages of the script.

Rebecca Hall also delivers a very nice performance as “Kong whisperer” Ilene Andrews, even though Andrews is pretty much a nothing character. The same can be said for Alexander Skarsgard, who plays Nathan Lind, another ridiculous character, but Skarsgard, like Hall, somehow manages to make their characters at least sympathetic. And young Kaylee Hottle is sufficiently innocent as Kong’s best friend, Jia.

Millie Bobby Brown, a wonderfully talented actress who we’ve seen in STRANGER THINGS (2016-2021) and the recent Netflix movie ENOLA HOMES (2020) is largely wasted here as Madison Russell. She gets some of the worst dialogue in the movie, and her story arc of a high school student infiltrating a major tech company in Hong Kong with more ease than opening a classmate’s locker is exceedingly farfetched.

But not to worry. Demian Bichir fares even worse, as his villain Walter Simmons is by far the worst character in the movie.

But what about the giant monsters? Kong fares better than Godzilla here. Most of the story revolves around Kong, and he looks better than he did in KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017), a film I did not like, even though many fans do. Kong in KONG: SKULL ISLAND had zero personality. The Kong in this movie does, and it was good to see the giant ape monster reestablish his screen persona.

However, I thought Godzilla did little more than stomp around and destroy things.

The climactic battle is okay. The CGI effects on Godzilla and Kong are fine, and the colors in Hong Kong are dazzling, but at the end of the day, all of it, is just so… fake looking. Nothing about it comes off as real. Like the entire movie, it’s just visuals on a screen. And for me, that’s one big yawnfest.

Director Adam Wingard makes this one look good, but that’s about all I can say about it. GODZILLA VS. KONG looks good.

The screenplay by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein reads like a first draft, and not a very good one.

If you like giant monster movies, and are satisfied watching Godzilla and Kong battle for the final few minutes of a movie with the rest being pretty darn dull, you’ll like GODZILLA VS. KONG. But if you’re like me, and actually want to see a MOVIE, a piece of film that actually has a story to tell, one with a little more relevance than “the world is hollow and giant monsters once lived there!!!” you’ll find GODZILLA VS. KONG to not only be a snoozefest, but an insult to moviegoers the world over.

So, no, I didn’t hate this one. It’s Godzilla and King Kong, after all. But it’s long past time for Godzilla and Kong to find a new agent.

—END—

PICTURE OF THE DAY: KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962)

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With the release of GODZILLA VS. KONG (2021) right around the corner, what better way to celebrate than to feast your eyes on an image from the original Kong vs. Godzilla rumble, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962).

Any way you slice it, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA— at least the American dubbed version— is one silly movie. Yet, I loved it as a kid, and truth be told, I still love it as an adult! It has lots of comic relief— “my corns!”— , memorable characters— who can forget Tako?— and of course, the biggest title bout of the 1960s that didn’t involve Muhammad Ali!

If you love giant monsters, especially King Kong and Godzilla, you would be hard-pressed not to enjoy KING KONG VS. GODZILLA. Both monsters fare very well in this flick, and since this was still an early Godzilla movie, he hadn’t quite made the change to good guy superhero monster. He’s still the villain here, and the Godzilla scenes, especially early on, are quite good.

Kong doesn’t do as well, at least in the looks department. For my money, Kong in this movie is the worst looking King Kong ever in the movies! He is absolutely ridiculous looking! That being said, he does enjoy some fine scenes.

The best of course, and the best scenes in the movie, are the battles between Kong and Godzilla. And there are two of them. The first is brief, almost a teaser, but the second is well worth the wait. It’s one of the better giant monster skirmishes ever put on film, although it’s not my favorite Godzilla battle. There are some in the series which top this one.

And if you’ve seen the movie, one of the more indelible images is the pagoda, which Godzilla and Kong absolutely pummel towards the end of their bout. While nowhere near as memorable as the image of the Empire State Building in the original KING KONG (1933), it still makes its mark. I can’t think of KING KONG VS. GODZILLA without picturing that scene pictured above.

Another reason KING KONG VS. GODZILLA is a silly movie, which fans have known for years, is that the original Kong stood about 40 feet high, while Godzilla towered at 400 feet high. Kong grew a few inches for this movie. He also developed a re-charging tool courtesy of the Frankenstein Monster. See, in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, Kong gets strength when he’s zapped by lightning! Imagine that! Lightning pretty much kills the rest of us, but for Kong, as they say in the movie, it’s like spinach for Popeye! And Kong needs the extra strength, because as we all know, Godzilla breathes radioactive fire, and so after he zaps Kong with this, nearly killing him, thankfully, mother nature intervenes and strikes Kong with some lightning, and the wrestling bout continues!

I love the power writers wield. Hmm. Kong will never survive Godzilla’s fire…. wait, lightning, that will do it. Lightning will make him stronger. Who knew?

And while I am fairly excited about the new GODZILLA VS. KONG, and I will definitely watch it, I have to admit, I just haven’t enjoyed any of the new Godzilla or Kong movies. They’ve all lacked soul and personality, and they simply haven’t been fun. Worst of all, they’ve all suffered from really bad scripts.

So, I fully expect GODZILLA VS. KONG to be pretty bad, or worse, mediocre. I always go in with an open mind, so I’m hoping I will be pleasantly surprised.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying looking back and thinking fondly on the original battle between these two behemoths, featured in the silly yet satisfying KING KONG VS. GODZILLA.

With that in mind, I eagerly await GODZILLA VS. KONG.

May the best monster win!

—END—

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017)

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I am a huge King Kong fan and have enjoyed pretty much every King Kong movie ever made, with the exception of KING KONG LIVES (1986), which in spite of the presence of Linda Hamilton, was pretty awful.

That being said, I just don’t like KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017).

Now, I know I’m in the minority here, as most folks are really high on this flick, but for me, it just doesn’t work.

The biggest culprit, as is so often the case, is the writing. The screenplay by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly is a snooze. The dialogue is rather bad, and the characterizations pretty much nonexistent.

I saw KONG: SKULL ISLAND when it first came out in theaters. I didn’t like it then, but I thought I’d give it another go for the purposes of this column. I still don’t like it.

For starters, the film takes place in the 1970s for seemingly no other reason than to show off Vietnam era soldiers and choppers on Skull Island. While it may make for some moments of cool cinematography, it adds nothing to the story.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND also wastes the considerable talents of its impressive cast, which includes Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, and Shea Whigham.

Bill Randa (John Goodman) sets out to lead an expedition to Skull Island in search of… well, the movie doesn’t really make that clear. Remember the old days when Carl Denham just wanted to make a movie, and then changed his mind when he saw Kong? Why can’t we have clear, concise, and simple plot points like that anymore? Ah, the good old days, when film writing was king! Sorry, Kong. Yes, Kong. I realize in a column about a King Kong movie you’re the only one who should be mentioned as king. Anyway…

Getting back to my point about the writing and character motivations, heck, even Charles Grodin’s Fred Wilson had an agenda in the 1976 remake of KING KONG, as he was looking for oil. Like the rest of the script in KONG: SKULL ISLAND, Randa’s motives remain murky and undefined. He’s looking for a giant monster because…. mumble, mumble, mumble. Yeah, that’s it! That’s the reason! Which is a writer’s code for not really having a good reason in the first place! Grrr!!!

Anyway, Randa assembles his team, which includes a tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and a photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), as well as a military escort led by Prescott Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) who is still bristling over the results in Vietnam. As a result, when Kong quickly makes short work of some of his men, Packard declares war on the giant ape and sets out to kill him.

The bulk of KONG: SKULL ISLAND follows Randa and his merry band of explorers as they deal with various carnivorous creatures as well as Kong himself, which all sounds much better than it really is.

Again, the biggest culprit is the screenplay. We know so little about these characters it’s difficult to care at all about them. Compared to the 1933 KING KONG, where we had Carl Denham trying to make a movie, Ann Darrow abducted by Kong, and Jack Driscoll falling in love for the first time in his life with Ann, the folks in this story have nothing going on that is as interesting. Worse yet, the dialogue is awful.

The direction by Jordan Vogt-Roberts isn’t any better. KONG: SKULL ISLAND plays like KING KONG MEETS TOP GUN, as that’s the kind of depth you have in this flick.

Then there’s Kong himself. Kong has always been larger than life in his movies. Like Godzilla, Kong has a personality and a presence. In short, he’s a major character in his films. And even when he is at his most brutal, he still is sympathetic. The Kong in this movie struggles to have any personality whatsoever. He’s the most uncinematic Kong yet.

The special effects are okay. I’ve seen better, and I’ve seen worse. The creatures on Skull Island, while fairly original, never really wowed me. I think because, like the human characters, they’re stuck in a lifeless soulless movie.

Is KONG: SKULL ISLAND as bad as KING KONG LIVES? No. But that’s not saying very much.

If you want to experience the horrors of Skull Island, you’d best stick to the original KING KONG. That film’s Skull Island’s scenes remain as intense now as they were back in 1933. The events in KONG: SKULL ISLAND pale in comparison.

Some have called KONG: SKULL ISLAND “mindless entertainment.”

I call it just mindless.

—END—

PICTURE OF THE DAY: Aurora Monster Models

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Today’s Picture of The Day comes from the art of model making, monster models, to be exact!

Back in the day, a company named Aurora manufactured model kits of everyone’s favorite classic movie monsters! They were introduced in the the 1960s. I was collecting and building mine in the 1970s. Just thinking about them brings back memories, from the joy of building them, to the orange smell of the nontoxic model glue, to the frightening display of all my glow in the dark monster models on my bureau in my bedroom, on some nights scary enough to stop me from falling asleep.

I owned all four of the monster models pitctured above, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein, and Dracula.

Dracula was the first monster model I ever owned, and was the best, since my uncle, also a horror movie fan, helped me build it. I also owned Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Phantom of the Opera, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Godzilla, and King Kong.

Toys which helped warp…. er, shape a childhood!  These magnificent models are up there with the Creature Double Feature and Famous Monsters of Filmland.

Wonderful memories indeed!

As always, thanks for reading.

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

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Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1949914437.

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

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Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

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Print cover

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Ebook cover

 

Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

Horror Movies 2019

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MIDSOMMAR (2019), the most disturbing horror movie from 2019.

I saw 21 horror movies at the theater this year.

For folks who say they don’t make good horror movies any more, that simply isn’t true. The last decade was a good one for horror movies, and 2019 was no exception. Of the 21 horror flicks I saw on the big screen last year, I would only categorize three of them as being really bad. The rest run from halfway decent to very, very good.

Here they are, ranked from worst to first:

 

21. THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA – My pick for the worst horror movie of 2019, yet another weak entry in THE CONJURING universe, this one about a demon that preys on children.

20. ANNABELLE COMES HOME – My pick for the second worst horror film of 2019 also hails from THE CONJURING universe, which should tell you something about this “universe.” While the Annabelle doll is frightening to behold, filmmakers continue to struggle to write good stories in which to place it in. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson appear only at the beginning and end of this dud.

19. IT CHAPTER TWO – Overlong at 2 hours and 49 minutes, this version of Stephen King’s novel fails to make Pennywise scary, and that’s saying something. The main characters are much more interesting as children, which is a major reason why I enjoyed Part One of this tale more.

18. THE PRODIGY – another variation of the “evil child” storyline. Nothing we haven’t seen before.

17. THE DEAD DON’T DIE- In spite of a strong cast which features Bill Murray and Adam Driver, this zombie comedy simply didn’t work for me. Fans of writer/director Jim Jarmusch swear by it, but I found his slow-as-molasses style monotonous and his breaking-the-fourth-wall comedy obvious. Also fails to respect the genre. Worth a look because some of the comedy is diverting. Reminded me of Bob Newhart on an off-day.

16. PET SEMATARY – Inferior remake of the 1989 movie. Fails to take advantage of the changes it made to Stephen King’s novel. I definitely missed Fred Gwynne from the 1989 version.

15. COUNTDOWN- Gimmicky horror movie about a murderous app was better than expected, although it’s still not very good. Start off bad, gets better for a time, but doesn’t really end strong. I did enjoy Elizabeth Lail in the lead role.

14. BRIGHTBURN – Ah, the story of Superman told as if it were a horror movie. Not really, but the similarities are definitely there. Farm couple discover an alien child from outer space with superpowers, but rather than turn into a superhero, he becomes a murderous killer. Elizabeth Banks plays the mother who just won’t accept the fact that her son is not going to grow up and write for a Metropolitan newspaper! I liked the idea behind this movie, but ultimately it just wasn’t all that scary.

13. US- Certainly the most over-hyped horror movie of the year. After his horror movie triumph GET OUT (2017), writer/director Jordan Peele gives us, US, a horror film that starts out strong but then completely unravels. Once it starts to explain just what exactly is going on, it loses all credibility.

12. CAPTIVE STATE – Science fiction horror movie chronicling what happens after the human race has been enslaved by a hostile alien race which has taken over the planet stars John Goodman and is pretty good for the most part, although it has one twist too many and runs out of gas before it finally reaches its conclusion.

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The King of the Monsters is in a slump thesee days.

11.GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS- Godzilla sure has been in a slump lately. This follow-up to the sub par 2014 GODZILLA isn’t any better and wastes stars Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown. For some reason filmmakers of late just don’t seem to want to make a movie that’s really about Godzilla. Instead, we’re stuck with ludicrous overbearing plots that distract and take away from what a Godzilla movie really should be: a fun giant monster movie, or a flat-out frightening giant monster movie. I’d take either one over the pretentious storytelling featured here.

10. 47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED- shark sequel about divers fending off hungry sharks in some very dark underwater cavers has its moments. Slightly more enjoyable than its predecessor.

9. MIDSOMMAR – With MIDSOMMER, we reach the first of the very good horror movies of the year. This slow burn horror movie by writer/director Ari Aster is by far the most disturbing horror movie of the year. Not for the faint of heart, this film will literally churn your stomach and will take its sweet time doing it, as it runs for nearly two and a half hours, but it tells a tale which is as compelling as it is long. Features Florence Pugh, one of my favorite actresses working today.

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Imogen Poots in BLACK CHRISTMAS (2019).

8. BLACK CHRISTMAS – Some folks really hated this remake by writer/director Sophia Takai because of its heavy-handed MeToo Movement storyline, which features male villains and female heroines, but I liked this one just fine, mostly because the lines it draws are largely based on truth. Imogen Poots delivers a knock-out performance.

7. ESCAPE ROOM- This horror thriller about a group of people fighting for their lives in an escape room which plays for keeps, in that if you lose, you die, was a lot of fun and was one of the more enjoyable thrill rides of the year.

crawl

6. CRAWL- I really liked this exciting tale of a daughter and father trapped in the flooded basement of their Florida home with some very hungry alligators during a massive hurricane. High concept thriller doesn’t disappoint. Thrills from start to finish. A perfect summer time popcorn movie.

5. CHILD’S PLAY – Mark Hamill voices Chucky and steals the show in this effective remake of the 1988 classic. I enjoyed the updated take on having Chucky come to “life” due to technology rather than a supernatural curse.

4. ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP – Surprisingly enjoyable sequel features a very funny script by Dave Callaham, Rhett Reese, and Paul Wernick which although it retains the same comedic elements from the first movie tells a completely new story. Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin all return to reprise their roles, ten years after making the original.

doctor sleep

DOCTOR SLEEP (2019)

3. DOCTOR SLEEP – I loved this movie, which is the best adaptation of a Stephen King novel this year. The film succeeds in capturing the essence of King’s novel, as well as being a sequel to both King’s novel The Shining and Stanley Kubrick’s film THE SHINING (1989). Ewan McGregor is perfect in the lead role of the grown-up Dan Torrance.

2. READY OR NOT – This thriller about a bride who marries into an eccentric family and learns that on her wedding night she is about to be murdered in a deadly game of hide and seek works because its dark humor is so sharp. You’ll find yourself laughing out loud at things you know you have no business laughing at. Samara Weaving (THE BABYSITTER)  is excellent in the lead role as the bride who decides to fight back, and then some!

scary stories to tell in the dark

Beware the scarecrow! SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK (2019)

1. SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK –  My pick for the Best Horror Movie of 2019 is SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. Based on the book series by Alvin Schwartz, this one tells multiple stories which are connected by a convincing wraparound story. It continually gets better as it goes along, and really knows how to build suspense. It also serves as proof that a PG-13 horror movie can be both scary and effective. For atmosphere, writing, directing, and acting, you can’t get much better than this. From beginning to end, everything about this one is taken seriously, and the result is the best horror movie of 2019.

There you have it, the 21 horror movies I saw in 2019, ranked from worst to first.

There were a lot of good horror flicks this year, and I’m looking forward to what filmmakers have in store for us in 2020.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: ONE MILLION B.C. (1940)

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one million bc battle

After KING KONG (1933), film audiences really had to wait a while before any other giant monsters returned to the big screen. The next major giant monster release really wasn’t until Ray Harryhausen’s special effects driven THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953), based on Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Fog Horn.” Of course, the following year Japan’s Toho Studios released GODZILLA (1954) and after that there was no looking back for giant monster fans.

But in between 1933 and 1953 were lean years, with just a couple of films released featuring oversized creatures. One of these films was ONE MILLION B.C. (1940), an adventure about two different cave tribes who have to overcome their differences in order to survive.

One of the reasons they have to fight to survive is there are some prehistoric beasts on the loose. Yup, this isn’t factually accurate, of course, as some of these creatures would have been extinct long before cave people walked the earth, but who’s complaining?

While ONE MILLION B.C. technically isn’t a horror movie, it does feature enormous ferocious creatures, and it is also of interest for horror fans because it features a pre-Wolf Man Lon Chaney Jr. in the cast.

The plot of ONE MILLION B.C. is pretty much a love story, as Tumak (Victor Mature) and Loana (Carole Landis) who are from opposing tribes meet and fall in love. Loana’s tribe is the more advanced and civilized of the two, and as they welcome Tumak, he learns of their more modern ways and uses this knowledge to help his own people. Meanwhile, life in the stone age is no picnic. There are nasty creatures at every turn, and pretty much all of them want to eat people for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Lon Chaney Jr. plays Tumak’s father Akhoba, who is a bit rough around the edges and sees nothing wrong with eating all the food first and letting his underlings have the scraps, which is unlike Loana’s tribe, who share their food equally.

While Victor Mature, Carole Landis, Lon Chaney Jr. and the rest of the human cast are all fine, since they’re playing cave people, they don’t really have any lines of dialogue, meaning this one can become tedious to watch.

The real stars in this one are the creatures, and the special effects run hot and cold. Mostly cold. There is a T-Rex like dinosaur that is laugh-out-loud awful. It’s obviously a man in a suit, its size changes, and at times it seems to be no taller than a center for the NBA.

The best effects are when the film utilizes real lizards and makes them seem gigantic. Most of the time this type of effect is inferior, but in this film the “giant” lizards look pretty authentic. The film also does a nice job with the “mastodons” which are elephants in disguise. If anything is done well consistently, it’s the sound effects. All the creatures, regardless of how they look, sound terrifying.

The special effects were actually nominated for an Academy Award but lost out to THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940).

ONE MILLION B.C. was directed by Hal Roach and Hal Roach Jr., and while the monster scenes are all rather exciting, what happens in between them is not. In fact, most of the film is pretty much a bore.

But audiences in 1940 didn’t think so. ONE MILLION B.C. was the box office champion that year.

Mickell Novack, George Baker, and Joseph Frickert wrote the standard no frills screenplay.

Victor Mature would go on to make a lot of movies, including SAMSON AND DELILAH (1949) and THE ROBE (1953), while Carole Landis, who pretty much gives the best performance in the film, sadly struggled to land leading roles in subsequent movies, ultimately leading to her tragic suicide at the age of 29 in 1948.

And Lon Chaney Jr. of course would make THE WOLF MAN the following year, and the rest, as they say, was history.

Over the years, ONE MILLION B.C. has been overshadowed by its Hammer Films remake, ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966), which starred Raquel Welch and featured special effects by Ray Harryhausen. Neither film is among my favorites.

This Thanksgiving, as you prepare to give thanks and dig into that grand turkey dinner, you might want to check out ONE MILLION B.C., a movie that recalls a long ago time when it was humans who were on the holiday menu.

—END—

 

 

 

 

PICTURE OF THE DAY: GODZILLA (1954)

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godzilla 1954 first appearance

For my money, Godzilla’s first ever appearance on-screen in GODZILLA (1954) as seen in the picture above is hands down one of the scariest moments in the entire Toho Godzilla series.

And that’s because the original 1954 is unlike any of the Godzilla movies to follow it. By far, the deepest, most serious of any Godzilla movie, with Godzilla himself symbolic of the atom bomb which ravaged Japan just nine years earlier, if you have never seen this film, you are missing one of the best giant monster movies ever and one of the few that transcends the genre and works as a tragic drama, a metaphor for the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

For years, I had only seen the American version with the Raymond Burr scenes added, which was called GODZILLA- KING OF THE MONSTERS (1956) but even this version is superior to the films which followed it, although the original Japanese version is preferable to the Raymond Burr one.

Anyway, in this first appearance, Godzilla is terribly frightening. I first saw this film on TV when I was probably about 10 years old, and it gave me nightmares for weeks afterwards. I’d hear his thunderous footsteps, his unique roar, and I’d see that massive shape with the jagged teeth looking down upon me.

Scary!

Although Toho primarily used man-in-suit special effects for their Godzilla movies, in this first appearance that’s a puppet being used, and a mighty frightening puppet at that.

While I certainly enjoy the Godzilla movies which were to follow, the ones that turned Godzilla into a sort of superhero fighting all the “bad” monsters to save the Earth, and in fact I actually prefer some of those films, I can’t deny that the one and only true Godzilla horror movie is the first one. It’s terribly scary.

And Godzilla’s rampage and destruction of Tokyo remains one of the most memorable scenes in any giant monster movie.

The recent GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019) while an okay film pales in comparison to this cinematic classic.

Wanna have a nightmare? Watch GODZILLA (1954). Or maybe just stare long and hard at the photo above.

Either way, you might be in for a restless night.

—Michael

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019) – Mixed Bag of A-List Actors and Mediocre Giant Monster Battles

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Godzilla-King-Monsters

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019), the latest American made Godzilla film and sequel to Warner Bros.’ GODZILLA (2014), is a well-acted action-filled monster movie that somehow in spite of these strengths is sadly underwhelming.

And that’s because this movie contains an odd mix of often ridiculous plot points combined with a tone that simply takes itself way too seriously. Instead, the film should have gone for one or the other. A campier tone would have aligned itself better with the goofy superficial plot points. Likewise, a much more realistic and gritty storyline would have fit in better with the film’s serious feel. As it stands, the movie mixes both, and it just doesn’t work.

Following the 2014 Godzilla attacks which left the world a different place, the secret organization Monarch is in charge of monitoring all the new giant monsters which have been discovered in various places around the globe (silly plot point #1), but the U.S. government and military want to shut down Monarch so they can destroy the monsters and save the Earth. But the Monarch scientists argue that the monsters really aren’t here to destroy the Earth but to save it from its worst enemy: humankind.

Top Monarch scientist Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and her husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) lost their son in the previous Godzilla attack, and his death caused them to separate, and Emma alone is raising their daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown). It also caused Emma to have extreme ideas about these monsters, and so she aligns herself with the dubious Jonah Alan (Charles Dance)— cue evil villain music!— and the two plan to release the giant monsters so they can unleash their wrath on the world and “cleanse” it of its human cancer.  Hmm. Where have I heard this before? Is that Thanos I see whispering into Dr. Russell’s ear?

But Dr. Russell isn’t arguing a la Thanos that half the population has to be wiped out by the monsters, only some of it, and that at the end of it all there will be new growth and the planet will be greener for it.  Come again? 

Of course, when this starts happening, the rest of Monarch and the U.S. military go ballistic, and they not only form an uncomfortable alliance to thwart Emma’s efforts, but they also call in Mark Russell to help them. Mark is mostly interested in finding and saving his daughter, and speaking of Madison, once she learns what her mom has planned, she changes her tune about which parent she wants to be spending time with.

Things grow more complicated when one of the monsters, King Ghidorah, is discovered to be from another planet, and he decides that he’s going to control and lead all the monsters in a battle against Godzilla for supremacy of the Earth.

Godzilla? That’s right! This is a Godzilla movie!  Funny how I haven’t mentioned him yet. Real funny. Not. Which is to say more Godzilla in this story and less elaborate saving-the-world-nonsense would have been most welcome.

Anyway, it’s up to Godzilla to take on King Ghidorah and ultimately save the world.

But as you may surmise from this plot summary, it’s a helluva convoluted way to tell a story about everyone’s favorite fire-breathing radioactive giant lizard!

Poor Godzilla. He was supposed to appear in this movie more than he did in the last one, the 2014 film, and while that may have been the case, it sure didn’t feel like it. For a movie that’s called GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS it sure seemed like he took a back seat to the other monsters in this one..

The best thing that GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS has going for it is its cast. It boasts a really strong cast of actors, led by its three principal leads.

Vera Farmiga as Dr. Emma Russell and Millie Bobby Brown as daughter Madison were both excellent. This is Millie Bobby Brown’s film debut. Brown, of course, plays Eleven on the hit TV series STRANGER THINGS (2016-19) so her effective performance in this movie is no surprise.

Vera Farmiga is one of my favorite actresses working today, and while her movie performances have all been superb, it’s her work on the TV series BATES MOTEL (2013-17) based on PSYCHO (1960) where she played Norma Bates that I think is among her best stuff. Her interpretation of Norma Bates was much more nuanced and three-dimensional than the character ever was before in both the Hitchcock movie and Robert Bloch’s original novel.

Kyle Chandler is always enjoyable in nearly every movie he’s in, and he’s been in a lot, from light fare like GAME NIGHT (2018) to more serious stuff like MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016) to small supporting roles like in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013), Chandler always makes a lasting impression. His work here in GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS is no exception.

When these three actors are on-screen, the movie is at its best and most watchable, and the good news is they’re on screen a lot, but the problem is they are stuck in a ridiculous storyline and are often uttering some very superficial and god-awful dialogue that really detracts from the seriousness of their performances.

Incidentally, Kyle Chandler also appeared in Peter Jackson’s KING KONG (2005) which is not part of the current Warner Bros. giant monster universe, and he’s set to appear in the next film, GODZILLA VS. KONG.

The supporting cast is every bit as good as the three leads.

You have Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins (THE SHAPE OF WATER [2017]), Ziyi Zhang, and Bradley Whitford as fellow Monarch scientists. Watanabe and Hawkis are reprising their roles from the previous Godzilla movie, and in Watanabe’s case, he’s playing Dr. Serizawa, a name that goes back to the original GODZILLA film from 1954.

Bradley Whitford gets the liveliest lines in the movie, but strangely, his frequent attempts at humor seem to misfire repeatedly. Again, it’s that odd mix, and his campy lines seem out-of-place with the serious tone surrounding him.

David Strathairn plays Admiral William Stenz, another character back from the 2014 film, and Charles Dance does his villainous best at bad guy Jonah Alan, although at the end of the day the character is pretty much all talk and no action. In short, he does very little here.

The true villain is King Ghidorah, which brings us finally, to the monsters. After all, you don’t see a Godzilla film for the actors. You see it for the monsters. So, how do the monsters fare here?

Well, the main monsters here are Godzilla, King Ghidorah, Rodan, and Mothra, and while they are all given modern-day looks, I can’t say I was all that impressed. It sounds strange to say this, but with all our current CGI technology, I find that I prefer the old-fashioned man-in-suit monsters from Toho’s glory days. These monsters all look okay, but nothing about them I find special nor memorable.

In the Toho films, for better or for worse, the monsters, both good and bad, had personality. The monsters here have no personality. They are quite simply generic and not at all cinematic, which is a major knock against this movie, and quite frankly against the other Warner Bros. monster universe films. If the Marvel superheroes lacked similar charisma that series would have never gotten off the ground.

Also, I did not like the look of this movie at all. Most of the action takes place during various weather events and storms, and so it’s always difficult to see what the heck is going on. For example, the film’s climax takes place in Boston, and at Fenway Park specifically, and I have to say it’s one of the poorest and most fake looking interpretations of Boston I’ve ever seen in a movie. What could have been iconic and devastating is instead cartoonish and superficial.

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS was directed by Michael Dougherty, and he also wrote the screenplay with some help from Zach Shields. This is the same creative team that gave us the horror movie KRAMPUS (2015), a film I actually liked quite a bit. In fact, I enjoyed KRAMPUS more than I enjoyed GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS.

Dougherty gives us plenty of monsters and monster battles, but since 1) the monsters didn’t look outstanding, and 2) the settings of these battles were often in storms and difficult to see, as presented here, the monsters’ presence didn’t really lift this one to great heights.

The screenplay is superficial at best. It never gives us real terror— real people are noticeably absent here—- other than the scientists and a few military types, we see no one else reacting to the monsters. The film lacks real world emotion big time.

While it attempts to be an homage to earlier films at times, like the use of the Oxygen Destroyer, a weapon from the 1954 GODZILLA, it does it all in a fleeting manner that never really gets to the heart of the matter.

Dougherty has a cast of seasoned and talented actors that make this movie better than it is,  but he doesn’t really help them out. They are in few cinematic scenes and more often than not are uttering lines of dialogue that are pretty bad.

So, where do I stand on GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS? For the most part, I did enjoy this movie, especially when watching Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, and Kyle Chandler, but whenever Godzilla and his fellow monsters showed up, I would lose interest, and for a Godzilla movie, this is NOT a good thing.

The film is a mixed bag to be sure, and while I enjoyed it more than GODZILLA (2014), I still prefer the Toho films of old, from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.  Now, Toho continued the Godzilla series into the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, even making the critically acclaimed SHIN GODZILLA (2016), and while those films in general are okay—I like the aforementioned older ones more—, they’re about on par with this current Warner Bros. series.

The next film, GODZILLA VS. KONG, slated for release in 2020, is one that while I’m definitely interested in, based upon the Warner Bros. films so far, I can’t say I’m excited about.

So, GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS is okay, but since the best part about it is NOT Godzilla, I don’t think Godzilla himself would approve, and for me, that’s all you need to know about this one.

—-END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MICHAEL’S MUSINGS: THE SATURDAY MORNING CARTOON

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scooby doo

So the other day I posted on my Facebook page that people of a certain age remember a thing known as “the Saturday morning cartoon,” that time when back in the day cartoons were on all morning on Saturdays.

I asked folks to name their favorites, and as many people responded, I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic as I read all the old titles.  I thought it would be fun to list all those titles in one place. So, here they are, a list of favorite Saturday morning cartoons/programs from a bygone era, as suggested by lots and lots of Facebook friends.

Cue nostalgia.

Enjoy!

 

AMAZING CHAN AND THE CHAN CLAN

ANIMANIACS

BANANA SPLITS

BATMAN/SUPERMAN HOUR

BEANY AND CECIL

BUGS BUNNY

BUGS BUNNY/ROAD RUNNER SHOW

CAPTAIN AMERICA

CAPTAIN CAVEMAN

COURAGEOUS CAT

DANGER MOUSE

DARK WING DUCK

DAVEY AND GOLIATH

DUDLEY DORIGHT

DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS

ELEKTRA WOMAN AND DYNA GIRL

FLASH GORDON

FLINTSTONES

FUNKY PHANTOM

GARFIELD

GARGOYLES

GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE

GIGANTOR

G.I. JOE

GODZILLA (70s)(WITH GODZUKI)

GODZILLA THE ANIMATED SERIES

GROOVY GHOULIES

HAIR BEAR BUNCH, THE

HE-MAN

HERCULES

HERCULOIDS, THE

HONG KONG PHOOEY

H.R. PUFFINSTUFF

INCREDIBLE HULK

IRON MAN

ISIS

JABBERJAW

JOHNNY QUEST

JOHNNY SOKO AND HIS FLYING ROBOT

JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS

JUSTICE LEAGUE

KIDD VIDEO

KIMBA THE WHITE LION

KROFFT SUPERSHOW

LAFF-OLYMPICS

LANCELOT LINK, SECRET CHIMP

LAND OF THE LOST

LONE RANGER

LOONEY TUNES

MAGILLA GORILLA

MIGHTY MOUSE

MILTON THE MONSTER

MONSTER SQUAD

MR. PEABODY AND SHERMAN

MUPPET BABIES

NAMOR

PAC MAN

PINK PANTHER

POPEYE

REAL GHOSTBUSTERS

RESCUE RANGERS

ROAD RUNNER

ROBOTECH

ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE

RUN JOE RUN

SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK

SCOOBY DOO

SHAZAM!

SIGMUND AND THE SEA MONSTERS

SKY KING

SMURFS, THE

SNORKELS, THE

SPACE GHOST

SPEED RACER

SPIDERMAN

SPIDER-MAN AND FRIENDS

STAR TREK (animated)

SUPER FRIENDS

SUPERMAN

TARZAN, LORD OF THE JUNGLE

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

THUNDARR

THUNDERCATS

TOM AND JERRY

ULTRAMAN

UNDERDOG

VOLTRON

WACKY RACES

WOODY WOODPECKER

WINNIE THE POOH

WUZZLES, THE

 

Hope you enjoyed the list.  Now go eat some sugary cereal!

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael