Wednesday, February 27, 2008

PD Project Part 7


    Disc 7
  • Killers From Space (1954) runtime: 1:10:50

    Dr. Martin, the only survivor from a plane that was studying an atomic explosion, returns with no memories of the crash but with horrible visions of evil eyes.
    I take glee from the most random things in this movie: the plane is the Tarbaby 2, the main character's colleague is Dr. Kruger and the main character's name is "Doctor Martin." Hooray! He's also taller than everybody else in the movie so that's an added joy.
    Yes, the bug-eyed aliens are silly-looking and the cave sequence with ultra-close-ups of animals is painfully long, but otherwise it's an okay alien-invasion film. It's not clear why the aliens must conquer the Earth. It seems there'd be room enough for the new race, especially since they apparently live underground and have access to such advanced technology. It doesn't seem like there'd be much need for coercion. Pacing is a little off and the "revealed all at once" move is weak, but it's ultimately an okay old film. Ending takes forever though. page
    Wikipedia article

  • Phantom From Space (1953) runtime: 1:12:14

    An invisible monster descends from space and starts killing people.
    Painfully slow, lots of narration to--at best--negligible effect, and moments where the film will recap what just happened. When the invisible monster removes its outfit, there are multiple cutaways to the monster. The invisible monster. We're treated to cutaways to nothing. page
    Wikipedia article

  • White Pongo (1945) runtime: 1:11:49

    A safari sets out to find the missing link, a white gorilla, though tensions within the expedition may prove a bigger threat than any gorilla ever could.
    I apologize to any film I may be slandered by accusing it of having nothing happen. This movie's about a monstrous monkey but is more concerned with the trip's sole woman trying to seduce her guard. Then, fifty minutes in, the plot shifts and becomes about a mutiny, a lost field of gold and a secret agent--and it's still boring! The gorilla, which is of course in love with the woman, saves the day only to be captured and shipped back to the states for testing. Nice going monkey. page

  • The Snow Creature (1954) runtime: 1:10:46

    An expedition into the Himalayas to find new plant life goes off the rails when the wife of one of the Sherpas is kidnapped by a yeti and the crew sets out to rescue her.
    There's this weird conceit in the movie--the white guys leading the expedition are so pissed about having to save the Sherpa's wife, so angry that it could possibly take precedence over their search for plants. And the movie's conceit is that they're right. The "villain" of the piece is the Sherpa searching for his wife. Imperialism in a nutshell: screw your wife and town, a white man wants something.
    This film broke ground in finding new ways to be bad. The yeti's costume looks like a bunch of skinned teddy bears sewn together, there's basically one shot of the yeti walking out of the shadows which is repeated, paused and run backwards throughout the movie, and when the yeti does manage to attack someone, it looks like Fozzie Bear on a bender. That last part's fun, but otherwise the picture's drawing blood. Not only does it have the weird thing going on with the Sherpa, that's only the first part of the movie. The second part is about the head scientist bringing the yeti back to America where it's held up in Immigration (I'm not kidding), escapes and has to be chased through the sewer. You know what that means: more shots of the yeti emerging from a shadow along with repeated shots of cops running around a sewer set. They're not running over the same piece of set, they just repeat the shots of them running through the set. Oh God, there's an avalanche scene in the first part where one of the actors gets hit on the head with a giant prop rock, but no harm done.
    This film violates the Geneva Convention. It is a crime against humanity. Obviously I highly recommend it with a big bowl of popcorn and a pitcher of Margaritas. page
    Wikipedia article

I'll be back next time with Disc 8: Half spawn of Hercules, half things from Venus, all PD!

PD Project Update

Now available from the Internet Archive:
Hercules Unchained
Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon

Saturday, February 23, 2008

PD Project Part 6


    Disc 6
  • The Lost Jungle (1934) runtime: 1:08:32

    An expedition to the fabled island of Kamor shipwrecks. Ruth, the true love of animal trainer extraordinaire Charles Beatty, is among those shipwrecked so Beatty sets out in a dirigible to save her.
    Another serial cut into a movie. Dirigibles! Wild animals! Bold expeditions! It has a tendency to be generic. Every trope that people think of when they think of 1930's pulp stories is here: the brash youth, the scheming assistant, even the tooth-sucking ad-man who knows all the angles. It's not without its charm though.
    The film is all about Beatty and his trained animals--and Beatty ain't the one carrying the show. It's a nice snapshot of the period, an example of how animals were treated back then. That's the odd thing about these films, the unintentional revelation about the world the films were made in, the assumptions operating in the films.
    I think this film is PD, but it's not yet on the Internet Archive. I'll update if I get more details.
    Wikipedia article

  • Mesa of Lost Women (1952) runtime: 1:08:53

    Two people are found wandering across the Muerto Desert telling a tale of a mad scientist conducting horrible experiments involving humans and spiders.
    The entire movie is done in flashback for no particular reason and there are long periods of voice over telling you what's happening and what the characters are thinking. That could have proven useful in some scenes since the producers apparently forgot to light portions of the movie. Anything could be out in the jungle--anything except a light bulb.
    The movie's surprisingly sedate for a horror/sci-fi pic. No one gets too excited about anything--a madman holding them at gunpoint, a plane crash, even the horrible death of their friend. Nothing elicits much of a reaction. It's not that nothing happens, it's that the characters act as though nothing happens.
    I should be fair, this is an awful print. There are a lot of bad cuts where something happens, but it's been edited out. I don't know if it's on purpose or just a coincidence, but the cuts add a touch of unintentional comedy. "Well, I don't know." CUT "What was that?" An edit. They're not supposed to be that noticeable.
    This movie is under copyright: V2369P077-84/1988-04-25
    Wikipedia article

  • Assignment: Outer Space (1960) 1:12:39

    Reporter Ray Peterson hitches a ride on a space mission to disable a rouge spaceship that's about to destroy the Earth.
    Another batch of awfulness. The movie takes thirty-forty minutes to arrive at the actual plot and until then it's mostly disconnected events and aimless moralizing. Top unintentionally funny moment: the report has disabled the death ship, but his oxygen system is out of control. He says, "What's the point of saving the Earth if I myself have to die?" Nice priorities. page
    Wikipedia article

  • Laser Mission (1990) 1:24:16

    A terrorist with plans for world domination steals the world's largest diamond and kidnaps the world's foremost theoretical physicist to build a giant laser. Mercenary Michael Gold must team up with the physicist's daughter to save the physicist and thwart the terrorist's plan.
    The film is called Laser Mission and opens with a montage of a shotgun being loaded and fired repeatedly. This was a nice counterpoint to Assignment: Outer Space. Whereas nothing happened in that movie, this one is packed with the absurd. It's one of those odd flicks that, if you were to make a spoof of it, you'd make the exact same film. Fun little revelation: the producers only paid for one song so they just repeat it throughout the movie. The film is unrelentingly stupid, even through the end credits which have spelling errors. A masterpiece of badness.
    This movie is under copyright: V2636P080/1991-02-22
    Wikipedia article

I'll be back next time with Disc 7: four films, all public domain! Rock! Two are totally from space and two are the missing link. Brace yourself though, barely anything happens in any of them. Yay!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday Double Feature: Be Kind Rewind & Taxi to the Dark Side

Be Kind Rewind is the latest from writer/director Michel Gondry (director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind --which had a notably disappointing ending--and writer/director of The Science of Sleep --a notably beautiful and affecting film whose ad campaign mistakenly pushed it as a romantic comedy). The story centers around Be Kind Rewind video in Passaic, NJ. The owner, Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) is being forced out so the city can tear down his store/home and replace it with upscale condos. He leaves his one employee, Mike (Mos Def), in charge while he takes a week to see how the competition runs their stores. While he's gone, Jerry (Jack Black), a local mechanic and yahoo who hangs out at the video store gets electrocuted while trying to sabotage the power plant. He becomes magnetized and inadvertently erases every tape in the store. Mike and Jerry shoot their own version of Ghostbusters in the hopes of delaying Mr. Fletcher finding out what happened to the store--only the people in the neighborhood like Mike and Jerry's versions better than the originals.
The movie's sweet without overdoing it. It reminded me of '80's movies where the community has to come together to save the old store or help someone out. If you want to get into meaning, the movie's a portrait of how people draw sustenance from narrative and fold stories into their own lives and expand their lives through the stories they consume. They are telling stories based on the stories they've been told and then laying claim to the telling of the stories, not to the stories themselves. That's an important distinction. When the inevitable foil shows up and ruins everything just as things are starting to work out, what stands out is the community's reaction. They protest that the videos are “our movies.” The conclusion then becomes an act of seizing a story and the telling for themselves.
Gondry has more than a knack for producing visually stunning, dreamlike images. In Be Kind, however, he seems a step removed from their creation. While still inventive, charming and occasionally stunning, they seem to spring from the minds of the characters instead of from him. The piece feels more organic, more real than his previous films. The two I mentioned above, Spotless and Science explicitly occur within characters' dreams. This time he's created a world where the characters can make these images for themselves, and that's a little more satisfying, a little more hopeful. It's one thing to say you can dream whatever you want, it's another to show people making a world that matches their dreams.

Taxi to the Dark Side proved to be a major disappointment. I expected some grand condemnation of Bush's torture policy and his abrogation of powers that have led us to the point we're at today--the President of the United States, whoever they may be, currently has the legal right to order anyone anywhere in the world, American or foreigner, seized, tortured and killed without any sort of trial or review. Taxi, which is supposed to be an eye-opening documentary outlining the current policy, doesn't even go as far as the sentence I wrote. In fact it seems to portray some of the soldiers who beat, tortured and murdered Dilawar, an innocent Afghan taxi driver, as victims.
Granted, it's trying to show that the soldiers are scapegoats and it is rewarding to see people from inside the situation speaking frankly about what went on, but what they say seems removed from what the movie is talking about. There wasn't any flow to the film, no sense of a rising action or argument being made. The film felt sloppy, scattershot and that made it feel slow. I started drifting off to sleep at one point. During a film about torture. That had graphic images of torture. And I don't see gory things that often.
Much of my disappointment comes from my expectations going into the film. I wanted to learn something. It is the height of grotesque absurdity that this nation has a “debate” about torture. There is no debate--no torture is acceptable. Yet here we are. And I learned nothing mostly because I've been paying attention the past seven years. I've read Seymour Hersh's Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib and I listen to Democracy Now!. Part of my disappointment stems from the fact that I feel like I've only paid cursory attention. I haven't been trying to learn everything I can and still this movie had no revelations for me. Nor did it explore a media environment so craven and uncritical of executive power that it doesn't even raise questions about torture.
Maybe it's also the issue of relevance. It's incredibly crass to say, but the general feeling is so what if our soldiers are torturing people “over there.” After all, it's not “us,” it's “them.” The threat of torture needs to be made relevant to Americans--and not just in portraying the fate of those few who were scapegoated for the decisions from the top. Darius Rejali, author of Torture and Democracy, noted in a recent interview in Harper's that torture always comes home. To put it more bluntly, as Jello Biafra said after Abu Ghraib broke, the soldiers who were charged were prison guards back in the states. If they thought what they were doing to prisoners over there was “funny,” what are they doing to us over here? The issue of torture, and the dangerous idea that excuses it, is the strange dualism that says there is good and there is evil, and they are not matters of action or choice. There are no evil deeds, just evil men and anything done to them by “good” men is therefore justified. President Bush has decided that he is one of the “good” men and Congress has given him authority to seize any person, anywhere in the world, to have whatever he wants done to them. The President, who cannot talk about the Iraq War without giggling, has the authority to order your child raped with hot irons. This is the issue, this is the concern.
And that is why Taxi--which has John Yoo, author of the so-called “Torture Memo,” on tape saying it's okay for the President to order the testicles of a detainee's child crushed, but does not take the final intellectual step of saying we are threatened with the same depredations we inflict upon others--ultimately fails. It imagines itself as highly critical even though the harshest criticism it can muster of the Bush administration is that they are a bunch of bad leaders even though they're committing crimes against humanity.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

PD Project Part 5

Behold: Hercules!
Or don't. You know. Whatever.


    Disc 5
  • Hercules Against the Moon Men (1964) runtime: 1:26:13

    Hercules is summoned to defeat the mountain-dwelling monsters that are oppressing the people of Samar, but Queen Samara has her own deal with the monsters and opposes Hercules' meddling.
    Part of the Queen's deal with the moon men is to let them sacrifice her sister to resurrect their queen. Hercules is curiously slow to stop the kidnapping of the Queen's sister preferring to use subterfuge to defeat the threat because, yeah, that's what Hercules is known for, his exquisite mind. Hercules is actually kind of heroic in this one--mostly because he's not invincible. He takes risks for principled purposes. And the movie has some nice action sequences--almost all ruined by the pan-and-scan. There is one odd plot point. Herc has to drink a mind-control potion. Rather than pretend to drink it or switch the cups, he's simply unaffected with no real explanation. Honestly though, there are only two things to watch this movie for: the sandstorm sequence (Deep Hurting for all the MST3K fans) and the line, "Under the evil influence of Uranus." So funny. page
    Wikipedia article
    This was episode 0410 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be purchased as part of The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Vol. 7.

  • Hercules and the Captive Women (1961) runtime: 1:34:03

    The kingdom of Thebes is menaced by an unknown enemy so the King sets out with Hercules to defeat the threat. Their quest uncovers the hidden kingdom of Atlantis, but there is strange doings afoot.
    These films neither translate nor age well, which is a shame. Even with the dreadful pan-and-scan you can tell these used to be splendid epics--visually stunning and sumptuous.
    This one has a long opening and, in general, is campier than Moon Men above. The odd this is the film is patently ridiculous and then gets good. The plot moves from silly to epic and action-packed. All the sub-plots, so awkwardly introduced, end up being relatively nicely resolved. I should be making fun of this movie, but honestly, MST3K's pretty much covered it. This would almost be worth watching in widescreen if that were in any way an option.
    This film was public domain, but is now actually back under copyright, which sucks: V8004P757/1997-01-21. There are still copies out there though. page
    This was episode 0412 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be viewed on YouTube (in 10 parts) or downloaded from the Digital Archive Project.

  • Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon (1964) 1:25:07

    After a three-year absence, Hercules returns to find his home conquered by the Babylonian empire and his queen enslaved. He must free her before the three rulers of Babylon find her and use her to their own evil purposes.
    Herc doesn't have a beard in this one and his weapon of choice is a giant club. The overall effect is to make him look like a college-bred caveman. Not my favorite Hercules. He simply doesn't look, well, Herculean. However, the movie, unlike the previous two, is pretty good throughout. It a semi-epic tale of empires whose histories will be shaped by Hercules' actions rather than being all about Hercules. I have to wonder if that isn't exactly what makes the movie good.
    I am in the process of adding this film to the Internet Archive right now.
    Wikipedia article

  • Hercules Unchained (1959)

    Hercules returns to Thebes to find the land on the brink of civil war. While trying to deliver a treaty to prevent the war, Hercules drinks from the fountain of forgetfulness and is ensnared by the evil Omphale who plans to kill him and turn him into a statue for her garden.
    Most random Hercules movie yet. Nothing that happens in this movie has anything to do with anything else. It's so random as to be nigh-dada. The only character that does anything that ties the disparate elements together is Ulysses, friend of Hercules. He's the one who figures out what' happening and takes action to save the day. I think MST made fun of this one for Hercules always taking a nap. I think he was trying to lead by example.
    I am in the process of adding an MPEG of this film to the Internet Archive right now.
    AVI page
    Wikipedia article
    This was episode 0408 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be purchased as part of The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Vol. 7.

I'll be back next time with Disc 6: four more films including two about perils faced by stranded peoples, a spaceship coming to destroy the Earth and Brandon Lee in a film that will destroy your mind! Sadly only two are PD.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

PD Project Part 4


    Disc 4
  • Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) runtime: 1:19:54

    The children of Mars have forgotten how to play so the Martian leader kidnaps Santa Claus and two children from Earth to bring them Christmas. Only some of the Martians don't like the idea.
    I'm not watching this again, I'm not even kidding. I've watched the MST3K version at least 1 1/2 times (fell asleep) and saw it twice on The It's Alive Show so I'm not going through that again--the messed-up bear suit, the stupid robot, the god-damned kids, Droppo, oh sweet mother of Christ, Droppo. No, I'm not watching this again.
    Classically bad cinema though that has the potential to be fun in a jaw-on-the-floor sense of horror at what you're seeing. The MST3K version has been officially released as a two-pack with Manos: the Hands of Fate which I think has surpassed Plan 9 From Outer Space as officially the worst movie ever made. The two-pack's a one-two punch of pain and a great present for people you hate.
    This film was already on the Internet Archive which means I didn't have to think about it beyond writing this little review. page
    Wikipedia article
    This was episode 0321 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be purchased as part of The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, The Essentials.

  • Teenagers From Outer Space (1959) runtime: 1:25:28

    Aliens come to Earth in hopes of using the planet to breed their Gargon herds, but one alien falls in love with humanity and rebells.
    There's not a whole lot to be said about this movie apart from it being a cheeseball classic. Apart from being a surprisingly well-shot low-budget film, it is full of cost-cutting maneuvers that just ratchet up the pathetic nature of the piece. The story is trite, poorly acted and the characters are just dumb, dumb, dumb.
    The Wikipedia article has some nice details about the movie including the fact that the director/producer/whatever-no-one-else-would-do went insane after the film tanked and declared himself the second coming of Christ, which might explain the almost non sequitur transformation of the main character into a Christ figure at the end of the film. This looks like one of those cases where the story of the film is far more interesting and compelling than the film itself could ever be.
    This film was already on the Internet Archive which means I didn't have to think about it beyond writing this little review, but there was only an avi. So I added the full DVD.
    avi page
    DVD page
    Wikipedia article
    This was episode 0404 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be purchased as part of The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Vol. 6.

  • Rocky Jones, Space Ranger: Crash of the Moons (1953) 1:11:57

    Rocky Jones, representative of the United Worlds, must convince the ruler of the planet Officious to evacuate her people before another planet crashes into it. She has a better idea though--blow up the other planet, whether it's been evacuated or not!
    Rocky Jones was an old Saturday morning serial TV series that ended after one season because it was "too expensive to produce." That's Hollywood for "nobody was watching." So the producers re-cut each three-episode story arc into its own film and tried re-distributing them that way. So instead of a mediocre half-hour of television, they decided to produce a mediocre hour-and-a-half of film. Thanks guys.
    Ignoring the complete ignorance of planetary physics at work in the movie, I found it wasn't so bad. Certainly not as bad as I remember it being when I saw it on MST3K. The story itself is okay and the acting is a hair better than bad, but you don't sit with any one group of characters for too long so you're not beaten over the head with their uselessness. While there's a bit of a rough start (you're just dropped into the on-going conflict between Officious and the United Worlds), the story arc is cut together pretty well and is largely self-contained. It at least feels like a complete story.
    This is still under copyright: PA0000104610/1981-06-08
    series Wikipedia article
    This was episode 0417 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be viewed on and can be viewed on YouTube (in 10 parts) or downloaded from the Digital Archive Project.

  • Rocky Jones, Space Ranger: Menace From Outer Space (1953) 1:15:30

    Missiles originating from one of Jupiter's moons strike Earth and Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, is dispatched to see why.
    This is not Crash of the Moons. Every scene feels as long as a movie, the acting is awful and it's in a tight race with the plot to see which is worse. The other movie was at least less busy--one plot, just one. This one has constant b-stories and plot twists and it was only three episodes of the series! Relax, you have a whole year to write disappointing stories.
    There's a sense the writers were trying to create a world, a setting populated with sundry elements that could interact in all sorts of ways. That's to their credit, but they tried to throw all those elements together at once instead of letting them arise as necessary. Of course none of that matters if the hero's a dick. Which he is. Not as big a dick as Superman, but still a pretty big dick.
    This is still under copyright: PA0000104627/1981-06-08
    series Wikipedia article

I'll be back next time with Disc 5: All Hercules all the time! Thrill as Hercules takes a nap! Gasp as women throw themselves at him even though he's a dick! Stare in amazement at pecs, pecs and more pecs!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

PD Project Part 3

Side A: All Gorillas! Side B: All Gamera! It's like a Sesame Street record brought to you by the letter "G" and a steaming pile of crap!


    Disc 3
  • King of Kong Island (1968) runtime: 1:25:00

    A mad scientist experimenting with mind-controlled gorillas kidnaps a girl. Now a mercenary the scientist tried to kill earlier must rescue her.
    There's something between "nothing" and "no good" happening here. The hero is a mercenary! The movie opens with him overseeing a payroll robbery gone wrong. Then, an eternity and a half later when the movie's moved on to it's plot, the hero refuses to rescue the girl until he's offered a chance of revenge against some other enemy he's made, but he still has to be paid. To save the defenseless girl. Who's the daughter of his friend. Who he watched grow up. And who seems to be in love with him. Ewwww.
    The repeated and literal subjugation of women in the film is pretty creepy, though it does explain why guys like Russ Meyer and Roger Corman ended up making "women who kick ass" films--the alternative is boring. And here's a clue to how much effort was put into the film itself--the title that comes up on screen is just "Kong Island," there are very few gorilla scenes in the movie (hence very little "Kong") and it doesn't take place on an island. I think this film molested my brain. I'm pursuing charges.
    This is still under copyright no matter what the Wiki page says: V2376P292/1988-06-15
    Wikipedia article

  • Bride of the Gorilla (1951) runtime: 56:27

    A plantation manager murders his boss so he may marry the boss's wife. But a witch witnesses the murder and curses the manager to transform into a gorilla.
    Another flick I saw first on The It's Alive Show. It's a simple enough story (man being driven mad by native curse) and Raymond Burr plays it well. The mystery isn't so much in finding out what's going on but in finding out how much of it is in Burr's head. Plus there's something inherently satisfying in seeing someone wearing a bad monkey suit. In fact, I will endorse any candidate who gives a speech while wearing a gorilla mask.
    This film was already on the Internet Archive which means I didn't have to think about it beyond writing this little review. page
    Wikipedia article

  • Attack of the Monsters (1969) 1:19:51

    A UFO takes two boys from Earth to Terra--a planet in Earth's orbit on the other side of the sun. There they find the remains of a highly advanced civilization and its two remaining survivors. The survivors control giant monsters and are plotting to take over the Earth. Gamera, the giant flying fire-breathing turtle must save the children and our planet.
    A film that makes you pray for death--either your own or that of the oh-so-precious children in the film. A nonsensical dub paired with the inherent silliness of the original film doesn't help. Also the incompetent pan-and-scan performed on the movie, a pan-and-scan that neither pans nor scans but rather cuts within a shot, only adds to the actual pain of watching. You feel like you're high and suffering intermittent black outs. One hell of a bad time, but credit where credit is due--the villains' plans for the kids start with eating their brains and there ain't nothing wrong with that.
    Now I'd like to step back and speak in defense of Gamera. It's easy to make fun of this "friend of children." Indeed, you should. The entire enterprise is so goddamn ridiculous from start to finish. Gamera's just silly. But that's what I love about him. I first saw Gamera movies on Captain USA way back when I was a kid, and even then I had no delusions that the films were good. In fact Gamera is probably why I didn't do drugs when I was a teen--what could be stranger than a 200-foot-tall turtle with tusks that breathed fire and could fly? I know people who've seen some crazy stuff on acid, but not that crazy. And it's because of Gamera that I learned to appreciate the bad, to laugh at the absurd. More than with any comedy, you get to take life less seriously when watching something as campy and ridiculous as Gamera. It's like cinematic candy--it's not good for you, you feel kind of sick when it's over, but sometimes you just want to gorge on it.
    I think this movie is still under copyright though I couldn't find a specific document number. An Attack of the Monsters shows up on several copyright forms online, but it's not clear to me what those forms are listing or if they refer to this particular Attack of the Monsters. However, there is an avi on the Internet Archive. If I can get the Archive staff to confirm the PD status, I'll upload my DVD copy. page
    Wikipedia article
    A different dub of this movie was used for episodes 0312 and K08 of Mystery Science Theater 3000. 0312 can be viewed on GoogleVideo. Both can be downloaded from the Digital Archive Project.

  • Gammera the Invincible (1966) 1:25:16

    A skirmish between Russian and American planes in the arctic results in the detonation of an atomic bomb which awakens Gammera (sic), a 200-foot-tall fire-breathing turtle.
    The first Gamera film, apparently released before the English spelling of the name had been decided upon. Like the first Godzilla movie, there are several new American clips spliced into this film, though not nearly so many as in Godzilla. File under "it's always about us." Whereas Godzilla used Raymond Burr to essentially narrate the story and ease the task of dubbing (as well as to cut out the anti-a-bomb stuff), Gammera's new footage is about what the American military thinks of the situation and how they plan on responding. Then the Japanese handle things themselves. Further strangeness, Gamera, like Godzilla in his first film, is a monster that must be defeated. However Gamera has a child advocate who insists Gamera isn't evil. Though he may be "friend of children," even in this first film, he's kind of a dick to everyone else.
    I think this film is still under copyright, though as with Attack of the Monsters, I'm not entirely sure. It appears on two documents whose meanings I don't understand. There is a copyright entry for the song featured in the film which is the only thing in the film worth sampling and re-using anyway, so the question is moot.
    Wikipedia article
    A different dub of this movie was used for episodes 0302 and K05 of Mystery Science Theater 3000. 0302 can be viewed on YouTube (in 10 parts). Both can be downloaded from the Digital Archive Project.

I'll be back next time with Disc 4: four more films including one about Santa Claus, one about teenagers and two about Rocky Jones, Space Ranger! Only two are PD.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

PD Project Part 2


    Disc 2
  • Horrors of Spider Island (1962) runtime: 1:14:42

    A dance troupe's plane crashes en route to Singapore and the survivors end up stranded on a deserted island. The troupe's leader gets bitten by a mutated spider and turns into a monster. Now the troupe must survive the threat of their former boss until help can arrive.
    Designed for the titillation of twelve-year-old boys everywhere, the film spends most of its time on scantily clad girls dancing, fighting or changing their clothes. There's not much to say that MST3K hasn't said already. Really a nice example of a film where the heroes don't do a damn thing. In fact the monster is defeated by the island itself.
    I had already uploaded this film to the Internet Archive which means I didn't have to think about it beyond writing this little review. Yay me. page
    Wikipedia article
    This was episode 1011 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be purchased as part of The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Vol. 11.

  • The Wasp Woman (1960) runtime: 1:13:00

    The aging head of a beauty company sees her profits and power declining along with her beauty. She tries an experimental rejuvenation serum that makes her young by day but a ravenous wasp-monster by night.
    Roger Corman! Whoooo-Hoo! A not-bad little flick that I first saw on The It's Alive Show (coincidentally the very episode they're re-running right now). It has the standard pulp-sci-fi obsession with pulled-out-of-my-ass scientific explanations, but that's the charm of these movies. Of greater note is the somewhat feminist-edge the movie has. The woman not only owns the company, she made it what it is. She's not some evil, ambitious stereotype, she's a smart businessperson who beat the competition. Which makes her board's rebellion against her because of her looks seem that much more insulting. Even though she turns into a monster, she's not an unsympathetic character. In fact, I kind of wanted her to win.
    This film was already on the Internet Archive which means I didn't have to think about it beyond writing this little review. page
    Wikipedia article

  • Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965) 1:13:46

    An expedition to Venus is beset by a series of tragedies. A rescue party is dispatched to save the first group of explorers who landed on the planet.
    This one hurt folks, it really hurt. There is a lot of good--some nice pictures in the opening credit sequence and really nice creature designs--but nothing happens in the movie. It's just long scenes of characters traveling from point to point occasionally interspersed with nice visuals.
    One of the problems with the film is that it's a Russian film that's been dubbed, re-cut and had new footage spliced in. It doesn't look like they tried too hard to impose a new story, but wow does that new footage stand out. Dubbed, not dubbed, dubbed, not dubbed. Plus the new footage doesn't add anything to the story. It literally introduces a plot point that, oops, never mind, isn't going to be followed. Genius.
    To the film's credit, there is a robot, though the robot is treated so poorly that I couldn't help but think of Marvin from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This film could easily have been titled Russian Robot Gets the Shaft.
    This film was already on the Internet Archive which means I didn't have to think about it beyond writing this little review. page
    Wikipedia article

  • Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1967) 1:19:34

    An expedition to Venus is beset by a series of tragedies. A rescue party is dispatched to save the first group of explorers who landed on the planet.
    If that description sounds familiar, it should. This was the exact same movie only with a new set of new footage spliced in. The old new footage was gone, replaced with long, pointless voice-overs. They didn't even re-dub the film so when the characters talk about "Marsha," a woman piloting one of the ships in the additional footage for the first film, the voice-over tells us that "Marsha" is actually the code name for the project or the base or something. If the first film hurt, this was pouring salt in the wound. It was more than just same again, it was same again with a side of stupid. Sets a whole new standard for films that didn't need to be made.
    This film was already on the Internet Archive which means I didn't have to think about it beyond writing this little review. page
    Wikipedia article

I'll be back next time with Disc 3: four more films, two about gorillas and two about a giant flying turtle. Sadly only one of the four is PD.

Friday, February 08, 2008

PD Project Part 1B


    Disc 1B
  • She Gods of Shark Reef (1958) runtime: 1:03:02

    A gun smuggler and his brother get shipwrecked and end up on an island run by a group of female pearl-divers who live in constant fear of the "Shark God." The brothers have to find a way off the island before "The Company" that employs the women sends a boat to pick them up and turn them in.
    Roger Corman ladies and gentlemen! Let's hear it for the man! The movie's not too bad--silly and predictable at times, yes, but not too bad. What struck me were the elements of the setting--a company called only "The Company," an island populated by women run by a matriarch who, apparently, saved all the inhabitants, and a sacrifice cult focuses on an obscure god that may only be a shark but seems somehow more. That's just begging to be turned into a D20 Modern adventure.
    This film was already on the Internet Archive which means I didn't have to think about it beyond writing this little review. page
    Wikipedia article

  • The Amazing Transparent Man (1960) runtime: 57:17

    A bank robber is broken out of jail to be a guinea pig in an experiment designed to build an invisible army. Things start going wrong when loyalties begin to break down.
    Another one of those movies that I thought had a better idea than execution. This could be remade today with just a little more thought and effort than was originally put into it. In fact, a remake would be a pretty good film school project--it'd easily be within a student's budget and would provide a nice opportunity for simple, non-CG special effects. I think we need more pulp sci-fi coming out of academia, don't you?
    I had already uploaded this film to the Internet Archive which means I didn't have to think about it beyond writing this little review. Yay me. page
    Film Trailer
    This was episode 0623 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be viewed on YouTube (in 11 parts) or downloaded from the Digital Archive Project.

  • The Atomic Brain (1964) 1:04:52

    A woman seeking to live forever plots to have her brain transplanted into the head of a beautiful young woman. But the process is still experimental and the woman hasn't chosen her victim yet.
    This film was originally titled Monstrosity which is a way better name than The Atomic Brain although the latter does make for a better name of a post-punk band. This was featured as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and as that episode noted, what makes this film stand out is that instead of an evil, old lecherous man ogling young women, it's an evil, old lecherous woman ogling young women. Curiously progressive for 1964. Otherwise mostly silly. There are some nice sets but a woman has a cat's brain placed in her body and another woman has her brain placed in a cat's body, all of which just makes things sillier. Then there's an implication at the end that the story could go on. Could there still be an Atomic Brain 2: Electric Boogaloo waiting to be made? No? That's probably for the best. page
    Wikipedia article
    This was episode 0518 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be purchased as part of The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection, Vol. 3.

I'll be back tomorrow with Disc 2: four more films--all public domain--including a spider with thumbs, two movies that are actually the same movie and another film by your messiah and mine, Mr. Roger Corman.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

PD Project Part 1A

Here's something new I'm messing about with. I currently have four "50-Movie Mega Packs" of DVDs (Chilling, Sci-Fi, Horror and Drive-In Movie Classics) and really haven't watched any of them. My goal is to watch as many of these movies as I can, post the public domain ones to the Internet Archive and provide short reviews of each film. It's not complicated so let's start the hurting with the Sci-Fi Classics Collection!


    Disc 1A
  • The Incredible Petrified World (1957) runtime: 1:03:16

    A group of four scientists and reporters descend into the ocean in an experimental diving bell whose cables break, leaving them stranded on the ocean floor. They find a series of volcanic caves--with air but no exit--and a survivor of a sunken ship who has been there for fourteen years.
    One of those odd movies where nothing actually happens and the "heroes" don't do anything. Like riding a roller coaster with no hills.
    Opens with about five minutes of stock footage shot at a municipal aquarium somewhere while a bland narrator talks about ocean life and mysteries of the deep--mysteries that have no bearing on this film.
    This film was already on the Internet Archive which means I didn't have to think about it beyond writing this little review. page
    Wikipedia article

  • Queen of the Amazons (1946) runtime: 1:00:14

    A group of four Americans are on a quest to find a friend who disappeared on a safari. Their search takes them from India to Africa while they are harried by a shadowy conspiracy and tales of a "white she-devil" ruling an army of African tribesmen.
    One of the things I've noticed with these old films (gleaned from watching these collections, The It's Alive Show and Mystery Science Theater 3000) is how often they have a really good plot. The search for the son, student, friend and fiancé lost on a safari with overtones of deeper conspiracies at work is good. I'd read that story, I'd watch that movie. Then that good central idea is absolutely torpedoed either through laziness on the part of the filmmakers or the prevailing prejudices of the era, if not both.
    This movie uses both to blow. Not only is it a vast collection of stock and PD footage cobbled together by short scenes of cardboard characters flatly portrayed, it lets its sexism and racism undermine the interesting parts of the story that it's already set up! Not only do the characters dismiss the concerns of the local "savages" over the dangers in their own backyards (cause what would they know--they just live there), the movie establishes two different women as being smart, savvy and absolutely in charge. In fact the heroine is an expert markswoman who's leading the group in the search for her fiancé. Yet when a lion attacks the camp, she picks up a gun and...
    does nothing but scream in terror. Same again with the eponymous Queen of the Amazons. She's the leader of several tribes, is a capable warrior, even the beasts of the jungle bow to her. So why is she paralyzed when she gets threatened with a spear? I'm not being a knee-jerk PC liberal here (although I am a knee-jerk PC liberal). The movie doesn't make sense even on its own terms.
    But it's got a monkey AND a trained raven, so that's got to count for something.
    This film was already on the Internet Archive which means I didn't have to think about it beyond writing this little review. page
    Wikipedia article

  • Robot Monster (1953)

    I'm not watching this again! I have seen it enough! Guy in a gorilla suit and a diving helmet menaces the last six humans on Earth with threats delivered via video chat and a bubble machine. Considered one of the worst movies ever made, this flick is still under copyright! (RE0000107158/1981-11-06) Amazing and depressing that I've seen it so many times.
    Wikipedia article
    This was episode 0107 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and can be viewed on YouTube (in 9 parts) or downloaded from the Digital Archive Project.

I'll be back next week with side B of Disc 1: three more films--all public domain--including a woman acting like a cat, an invisible man and a film by your messiah and mine, Mr. Roger Corman.