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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Bride of the Gorilla (1951)

Werewolves are a staple of the Horror genre- but human transformation isn't restricted to wolves.  There have been human to spider transformation movies, human to wasp transformation movies, and human to ape ones.

After Barney Chavez murders his employer and seduces his wife, a series of strange animal killings begin.  His new wife, Dina begins to suspect that Barney's odd behaviour is connected to the events going on.  Soon she and police chief Taro close in on the truth... and find Barney's a changed man...

"Bride of the Gorilla" is a bit of a silly movie, but suitable for a night of B-movie guilty pleasures.  The story is an interesting twist on the classic werewolf tale.  There are some nice little threads put together to weave a decent little plot- though it the movie relies heavily on Raymond Burr's acting chops.

Other than Chavez, the characters are somewhat laughable and shallow.  Chavez is the only one that has any real depth for someone you're not supposed to like.  I also liked Taro- though only because Burr and Lon Chaney, Jr are great in their respective roles.

This movie really relies on Burr and Chaney to carry it along and keep people interested.  The two of them do a decent job of doing it too.  I was a little disappointed that Chaney didn't get more opportunity to flesh out the character of police chief Taro.  Burr's portrayal of a man slowly losing himself to the call of the jungle and the animal inside him was a joy to watch.

I was rather let down by the camera work.  The scenes in the jungle tended to be under lit, and hard to tell what was going on, and the camera was pretty static throughout most of the scenes.  A little more camera movement similar to the prologue and epilogue would've helped to make this movie a little more dynamic and visually engaging.

As much as this is a guilty pleasure for me, it's not one that I would recommend to people other than fans of B-movies.  But since I would have little problem pulling it out for a night of cheesy poofs and beer, I'm placing "Bride of the Gorilla" in The Good.

Kong Island (1968)

What can be more terrifying that gorillas going on a rampage?  How about gorillas going on a rampage because of implants in their brains?  How about it happening on King Kong's Island?

When Diana is kidnapped by gorillas during a safari, Burt Dawson sets off into the deep jungle to find her.  He soon encounters a jungle girl, a mad scientist, and a band of mind controlled gorillas...

Despite the title, "Kong Island", there is no island... and no King Kong.  In fact, the original Italian title, "Eve, The Wild Woman" is in reference to the jungle girl Dawson meets.  One can only assume that American distributors felt that it would do better if they inferred a connection to the popular big ape.

The concept is perfect for a low budget B-movie.  Mix together a mad scientist, a mercenary, a beautiful kidnapped woman, a beautiful jungle woman, and a bunch of mind controlled gorillas.  The story is actually, decent enough for a night of popcorn and relaxing.  While certainly not great cinema, it is definately entertaining and amusing.

The characters aren't deep, but fit perfectly into the B-movie mold.  They aren't meant to make a statement about anything.  They're place is to entertain us.  They know that, and they do it.  Burt's role is to be manly and offer women a nice muscular chest to stare at.  Diana's role is to be the beautiful damsel in distress, and Eve is the beautiful jungle girl that helps Burt, while offering up the sight of strategically placed hair that defies movement and keeps her breasts covered.  And of course, we can't forget that Muller's role is to be the bad guy.  The characters aren't meant to be anything more than that, and I liked that.

The acting was very much in keeping with the character types.  I couldn't help but smile at how silly and serious it all was.  Just simply entertaining.

There is some decent camera work among the rather average stuff, but it was sufficient to give the movie a suitable pace and feel.

Even though I'm disappointed that "Kong Island" had nothing to do with King Kong, I still found myself enjoying it.  Would I be willing to watch it again- probably, yeah.  I'm going to put it in "The Good".

The Wasp Woman (1960)

I enjoy movies that subtly include social issues in the story, and use social fears as the basis for the plot.  "The Wasp Woman" by Roger Corman does this.

Janice Starlin is desperate to save her cosmetic company, whose sales have dropped since customers have noticed that she's aging.  How far would she go to regain her youthful appearance... and at what cost?

Roger Corman's "The Wasp Woman" is not one of his better films.  There is the obvious influence of the classic movie, "The Fly", which only came out two years before.  While the concept isn't original, the story takes a different route, and offers up a lot of potential to include social commentary on the cosmetics industry, and humanity's fear of aging as well as its need to be beautiful.  While those are touched on (the fear of aging more so than the others), this movie misses some nice opportunities to bring even more depth to the story- and the characters at the same time.

While, most of the characters are rather flat, the character of Janice is a nicely complex and interesting character.  It is through her, that society's fear of aging and loss of beauty is explored.  Dr. Zinthrop offered up a great chance to also touch on the topic of animal testing in the cosmetic industry as well, but I felt that he was more of a plot device than a real character.  Once again, there was potential for some really good characterization that was passed up.

The best acting was done by Susan Cabot as Janice, and Michael Mark as Dr. Zinthrop.  The other actors seemed to just kinda walk through the movie, going through the motions.  Cabot was beautiful, while also having a look that reflected the more calculating and cold side of the character.  A great choice for the role.

The wasp woman make up was pretty much just a mask and fake hands.  Due to an accident on set involving liquid smoke, a part of the mask had to be removed to enable Cabot to breath.  Unfortunately, the mask also took of a bit of her skin.  You don't get to see much of the mask, as it's mostly kept in shadows- which is a bit of a shame.

The camera work for "The Wasp Woman" is pretty standard, and simply done.  There isn't really anything fancy to it, though there are some nice shots using shadows to good effect.  Still not up to Roger Corman's usual standard, unfortunately.

If you're a fan of Roger Corman's films, you'd probably really enjoy this one.  If you're a fan of B-movies, you'd probably like this one too.  Despite that, it's not a movie I'd watch more than once a year, so I'm putting "The Wasp Woman" in "The Bad".

Horrors of Spider Island (1962)

There is something to be said about horror movies that feature a group of scantily clad women being terrorized by an unknown killer.  Some of those things are good... others, not so good.

After Gary and several female dancers crash land near an apparently deserted island, the group begin planning how to escape the island.  When Gary disappears, the women begin to be killed one by one...

"Horrors of Spider Island" is a horror movie from West Germany, whose apparently reason for existance was to display beautiful women in bikini's being terrorized by a monster.  Nothing more, nothing less.

The title gives an expectation of an "Arachnophobia" type of movie.  Too bad, there's only one spider- and a really cheesy, cheap one at that.  When it bites Gary, you're given the expectation of possibly a cool spider transformation of Gary.  Too bad, the make-up on him looks NOTHING like a spider.  There was so much potential here for a decent story, but it falls far from the mark.

For a movie with such a large group of characters, you'd expect some really interesting ones, and some engaging interactions between them.  There isn't.  They're all pretty much in the movie because they're beautiful, and look good in bikinis... which they do.  Even Gary lacks any sort of development that makes you pity him as he transforms.  His purpose seemed to be mostly to run around without a shirt on.

Acting.  You would expect a movie to have some.  Well, you'd be disappointed.  Once again, the actresses were mostly present to present the male audience some eye candy.  It's a good thing I have a sweet tooth in that regard.  After this movie, Alexander D'Arcy (Gary) experienced a severe drop in his career.

The camera work isn't great either- not surprising, since this movie was filmed within the span of a month.  Once again, there was such potential to use shadows and lights, and angles to create tension, suspense (and better showcase the lovely ladies), but all such opportunities were missed.

I have no real choice, but to toss "Horrors of Spider Island" into The Ugly.

The Atomic Brain (1964)

One of the staples of horror movies from the 1950's and 1960's was the use of atomic power.  Whether it's the accidental creation of mutated animals through atomic tests, or the use of it in experiments by mad scientists, you will find a plethora of such movies during that time.  "The Atomic Brain" is one of them.

The rich and elderly Mrs. March has hired Dr. Frank to perform an experimental medical procedure that that would extend her lifespan... by implanting her brain in the body of one of three beautiful women, she's hired as domestic servants...

"The Atomic Brain" had some real potential for genuine eerie and creepy moments- but failed to meet that potential.  The concept was interesting, if not wholly original.  The story moves at an unfortunately plodding pace, and lacks any real suspense or tension.

The characters were rather flat, and seemed to rely mostly on the beauty of the female leads.  Mrs. March was suitably malevolent, but only marginally more interesting than the other characters.  Even Dr. Frank was bland and lifeless.

The acting wasn't much better, either.  Of the cast, only Marjorie Eaton displayed any real ability- but once again, only slightly more than the rest of the cast.  Essentially, the acting was very stereotypical of the era.  It offered very little in depth to the characters or a sense of any real tension to the story.

I can't say much about the camera, while there are a couple of interesting shots- mostly involving the naked women strapped to the table in the atomic chamber, it is pretty standard fare for a low budget horror movie like this.  Nothing to make you go, "Cool."

The best part of this movie is the fact that the cat, Xerxes is the best actor.  Which is saying something.  I'm going to have to put "The Atomic Brain" into The Ugly.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Creepshow (1982)

Growing up, I loved reading horror comics and magazine- "Vampirella", "Weird War Tales", and EC's "Vault of Horror, "Tales From the Crypt," and "The Haunt of Fear".  I also loved watching horror anthology shows like "The Twilight Zone".  This means I also enjoy horror anthology movies.

"Creepshow" features five short horror stories present to us as stories from a comic book being read by a young teenager:

  1. "Father's Day":  During the annual family get together, a family's deceased patriarch decides to drop in for cake;
  2. "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill":  After finding a crashed meteorite, Jordy Verrill watches as his farm- and himself, go through some changes;
  3. "Something to Tide You Over":  There are some people you never get on the wrong side of, because you'll wind up to your neck in deep water.  Of course... there are some people you never take revenge on either...
  4. "The Crate":  A professor finds a mysterious crate that holds a deadly secret... and the answer to his marital problems;
  5. "They're Creeping Up on You":  A ruthless, bug fearing businessman finds his sterile apartment under siege by cockroaches during a blackout.
Watching this movie is as fun as reading the old classic horror comics of my youth.  The stories were well written by Stephen King, with interesting characters, dark humour, and even some genuine creepiness.  Of the five stories, I would have to say that the weakest one would be "Father's Day", with "Something to Tide You Over," and "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill" being the strongest ones.

The acting was great.  Stephen King, John Colicos, Leslie Nielson, Ted Danson, Adrienne Barbeau, Hal Holbrook, Fritz Weaver, and E.G. Marshall all turn in great performances in their respective stories.  I especially enjoy King's role in "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill".  He'll often have a cameo role in his movies, and it was nice to see him actually having a star turn.

While some of the effects for the transitions between stories could have been better, overall, they really captured the feel of the old EC horror comics, and added a nice variety to the movie.  George A. Romero did a fantastic job directing this movie.

I would LOVE to see King and Romero collaborate on a movie like this again.  "Creepshow" really brought back memories of my youth, the comics that helped shape the person I am, and makes me want to collect them again.  This movie is really one of "The Good".

Galaxy Invader (1985)

Sometimes, there comes along a movie that just fills you with amazement, awe, and wonder.  "Galaxy Invader" is one of those films.

After a strange object crashes in the backwoods of a small American town, a young man and a scientist embark attempt to reach it- and it's alien occupant... before a money seeking posse gets there first...

This movie filled me with amazement.  Amazement that it EVER got a green light to be made (even if it WAS direct to video).  It filled me with awe.  Awe that even a low budget movie could have such horrible acting.  It filled me with wonder.  Wonder at the fact that this movie still exists on DVD.

I mean it.  It's just a horrible movie.  The special effects are crap- even for a cheesy 1980's movie.  The acting was just outlandish.  The camera work was pitiful- though I do like the shot at the top of this article.  The characters were just inane, and didn't induce any feelings other than, "kill them, Galaxy Invader".  Even then, except for a couple at the start of the movie, the alien doesn't even really kill anybody... in fact, there isn't even any real indication that he WAS an invader, to be honest.  The plot was vague and simplistic.

The alien- which should've been the showpiece of the movie was really quite a disappointment.  It looked almost like a copy of Swamp Thing- but wearing what very well may have been a bondage harness.  When it ran, it looked like a man in a rubber suit.  I felt sorry for the guy who had to wear that costume.

Don't watch this movie.  Seriously, folks.  Don't.  It's a waste of time, electricity, and brain cells.  "Galaxy Invader" is truly one of "The Ugly"