Thursday, September 21, 2017

ASSIGNMENT TERROR (1971)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, psychological*


ASSIGNMENT TERROR is, in effect, the second entry in Paul Naschy's "Daninsky-verse," following FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR. Although another film, NIGHTS OF THE WOLFMAN took place between these two films, it was either unfinished, lost, or both. Still, whatever took place in NIGHTS, the second TERROR seems to follow through on plot-threads from the first one. Naschy's "El Hombre Lobo," shot to death in the first film by the woman who loved him, is now revived with the excuse that the werewolf can only be permanently destroyed if the woman is willing to die with the monster (!) In addition, the werewolf's vampire foe from the 1968 movie is also revived, though with a slight name-change, assuming imdb credits are accurate to the two films. though the vampire has so little time in ASSIGNMENT that one wonders why the scripter-- who was also werewolf-actor Naschy-- bothered to bring him back.

I've given this erratic Eurofilm a "fair" rating in mythicity simply because the crazy script displays a sincere affection for the horror-tropes developed by Universal Studios in the 1940s, particularly in "monster mash" films like FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN. That said, Naschy's script has less in common with the Universal classics than with Ed Wood's most famous work, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Wood's magnum opus dealt with aliens resuscitating dead people in order to throw the planet Earth into chaos, and while there's no way to know if Naschy ever saw PLAN 9, he uses the same essential idea here. The motivation is a little different, though. Wood's aliens wanted to prevent Earth-people from creating a deadly super-weapon, while the aliens from Naschy's "Planet Ummo" want to eliminate Earth-people because Ummo stands in danger of destruction.

Given that the Ummo-ites are on a time-clock, they seem to take their sweet time unearthing famous monsters of Earth's history, but never get around to using them as part of any specific program to get rid of humanity. Half the time Naschy's script seems to treat the Ummo-aliens-- who are, incidentally, alien intelligences who have taken over human bodies-- as if they were just examining all the monsters as part of a big research-project. This idea finds some support in the fact that the main three-- Warnoff, Kieran, and Maleva-- talk a lot about how they've advanced beyond the petty emotions of humankind. Naturally, it proves easier for the aliens to talk the talk than to walk the walk. When alien Maleva beholds the manliness of Waldermar Daninsky, it gives her some human stirrings, and though leader Warnoff continually claims to be above emotion, he subjects another female minion to electrical torture with a sort of suppressed sadism.

Waldemar, as I said, is resurrected when the aliens pull the silver bullet out of his body, conveniently mentioning that he didn't really die because his lover didn't have the decency to die with him. In addition to reviving Waldemar, the aliens find the vampire "Jamos" in a traveling carnival, a scene lovingly swiped from HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  The Ummosians also bring back a mummy named Tao-Tet and a Frankenstein Monster whose proper name is garbled, at least in translation. (Was someone afraid that the producers would get legal static from Hammer Films, who were still coming out with Franikenstein films?) The werewolf and vampire both get free a few times, and cause enough havoc that a tough local cop starts looking for monsters.

The cop has nearly no effect on the plot, for it all comes down to the werewolf getting free and taking on the other monsters. (Janos the Vampire just goes off somewhere without explanation. Maybe he didn't want to tangle a second time with El Hombre Lobo?) Since mummy-characters have typically got the short end of the "monster mash" stick, I can appreciate that Naschy's script concocts a decent enough battle between the hairy guy and the bandaged guy. In fact, the way the werewolf destroys the mummy, turning him into a Catherine Wheel, is rather ingenious. It's an improvement on the fight between the wolf-man and the artificial monster, anyway. It's a given that this cheap production couldn't equal the fight-scene from FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, but it's also sabotaged by the decision to have the actor playing the monster look like his eyes are always closed. (Admittedly, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN uses the same peculiar visual trope, which no longer had the significance it did in earlier films, where the monster had been blinded.) It's worth mentioning that the werewolf's claws are given the chance to shed more monster-blood than they did in the Universal film, though.

In the end, Waldemar and his beloved embrace death, and the aliens give up on their plot to exterminate humankind, with a little moralizing about the superiority of human emotions. Waldemar would then come back again and again, often with a new origin for each new flick.


KUNG FU: SEASON 2, EPISODES 4-6 (1973)



PHENOMENALITY: (1) *uncanny,* (2) *naturalistic*
MYTHICITY: (1)*good,* (2-3) *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *metaphysical, sociological*


In "The Brujo," Caine has apparently wandered down toward the Mexican border, since in this episode he'll find himself in San Martin, a town inhabited by people of Mexican ancestry. They even have a "grandee" of sorts in wealthy landowner Don Emilio (Henry Darrow), though the real power in San Martin is a male witch (brujo) named Carlos. The audience witnesses the brujo pronouncing a spell of some sort, while far away, a wagon crashes in the rocky wilderness. Caine happens across the wrecked vehicle, and discovers its two occupants. One is a young Caucasian boy with white-golden hair, who is unharmed; the other, an old Mexican woman who dies despite Caine's efforts to help. The relationship of the two is never explained. nor the reason for their being in the wagon, but the old woman charges Caine with returning the child to San Martin. Somewhat later it will be attested that the woman inhabited the town, and that she had the reputation of a witch, but the reason as to why she drew the hostility of Esteban is not made explicit.

Before Caine reaches the town, he and the boy encounter Don Emilio, who has apparently been hunting with a trained hawk. The nameless boy beckons to the hawk and it flies to him, establishing that he, like Caine in certain episodes, possesses at the very least a strong affinity with lower animals. Emilio recalls his hawk with some difficulty and makes a note to watch Caine and his charge.

Once Caine reaches San Martin, he finds that the town suffers under the curse of Carlos. Caine successfully treats an infant whom the townsfolk believe to be cursed, but Carlos claims a new victim. The nameless boy, apparently affected by the brujo's voodoo-like magic, falls into a coma and Caine cannot revive him, because the boy believes in the magic. Apparently the boy resided in San Martin as well as the witch-woman, since it's said that the reason he falls sick is because he believes in the power of Carlos. Caine confronts Carlos and learns only that the brujo is utterly heartless and consumed with a desire for power. Later, he extends his power over Don Emilio, who once slept with Carlos's wife, but learns that Carlos sent the woman to Emilio in order to seduce him to evil. Carlos's game plan is to assume Emilio's temporal power and totally subjugate the town.

Structurally the episode resembles a scenario familiar in many genres of popular fiction: one in which a outsider, usually Caucasian, enters a community, often made up of "People of Color," who are in the thrall of superstitions, sometimes manipulated by a phony priest or witch-doctor. "The Brujo" is subtler than the standard depiction, however, and not only because Caine is half-Chinese (regardless of the actual ethnicity of the actor, of course). Within the naturalistic context of the standard scenario, magic and superstition possess no reality. Yet in this tale, the audience doesn't know for certain that the Brujo has not used magic to wreck the wagon, nor that the nameless boy has not reached out to the hawk with his mind. All that the audience for this episode can say with certainty is that some of the Brujo's power depends on keeping the community under his thumb, and the community obliges by celebrating "the Day of the Devil," an implicit expiation-rite. When Carlos finally decides to prove his power to Caine, he draws a circle around the Shaolin priest-- with a devilish pitchfork, no less-- and tells Caine that he will die when the shadow of the church's cross passes over the circle. Caine obligingly waits, and breaks Carlos' power by declining to give in to his legerdemain. It helps that back in China, Young Caine briefly interacted with a magician who promised the boy "the secrets of the universe," though the youngster fled and returned to the safety of the Shaolin temple.

"The Squawman" contrasts with "the Brujo" in that it's all about the power a community can have over an individual, even one whom the community has more or less cast out.

Caine-- who in this season has almost totally forgotten his quest to locate his half-brother-- wanders onto the ranch of Marcus Taylor (Jack Elam). Marcus is largely secluded from the nearest town because he's a "squawman," a white man married to an Indian woman, who in this case is named Kiona and is pregnant with their first child. While Caine is enjoying lonely Marcus' hospitality, a thief tries to steal the rancher's horse. Caine fights the man, but Marcus, assuming Caine is in mortal danger, shoots the thief dead.

Marcus, Kiona and Caine take the body to town to report the death. At first the townsfolk seem suspicious of Marcus, not only because he married an Indian but also because they've been plagued with bandit-raids, and someone wonders if Marcus might be an ally of the outlaw-gang. Then the crowd's mood changes when the slain thief is identified as a member of the same gang. Immediately everyone in town wants to be Marcus's friend, though they won't allow his Indian wife to enter the local saloon. Worse, the townsfolk talk Marcus up into thinking he's a hero, so that he seriously thinks about meeting the outlaws when they come to avenge their dead comrade. Caine uses his skills to save Marcus and Kiona from the bandits, and teaches Marcus a lesson about false glory.

In "The Spirit Helper" Caine again crosses paths with superstition, though this time the priest is unable to dispel it. Caine happens upon a young Indian brave, Nashebo (Don Johnson) when the latter has been undergoing a vision-quest for days. Nashebo assumes that the gods have sent Caine as a "spirit-helper," and Caine cannot convince the brave otherwise. The Indian youth specifically wants Caine to show him how to become a man.

When Nashebo escorts Caine back to his camp, however, he finds that he needs more help than he thought. A gang of robbers has despoiled the camp, killing Nashebo's father and taking his mother captive to be sold as a slave. This brings forth bitter memories for Caine, whose parents were slain in China by the violence unleashed by a petty warlord, General Chung. Caine's experience made him thirst for vengeance on Chung, though he transcended that desire to an extent thanks to the Shaolins who took him in. Still, though Caine will not help Nashebo seek vengeance on his father's murderers, he is obliged to lend the young man aid to help rescue his mother. It may be argued that this gives Caine the chance to put some of his own demons to rest, by fighting robbers who have perpetrated a deed not unlike that of General Chung.

The robbers, as it happens, have a ruthless leader named PIke, a towering Irish brawler who cheerfully kills one of his own men to keep the others in line. Events culminate with Caine fighting Pike in single combat, and when Caine wins, he has to keep the other bandits from adopting him as their new leader. In addition to saving Nashebo's mother, he also prevents the young brave from murdering Pike-- though the audience is not denied satisfaction, as it's indicated that Pike won't enjoy any tender mercy from his former minions, once Caine and company have departed.

Friday, September 15, 2017

GODZILLA 2000 (1999), GODZILLA, MOTHRA, AND KING GHIDORAH (2001)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, cosmological*


GODZILLA 2000 started out the "Big G" reboot known as the Millennium series, but 2000 is somewhat less than "millennial" in quality.

The film runs two parallel plot-lines which eventually dovetail, but to no great effect. The principal viewpoint characters are members of a small group of "Godzilla sighters," made up of scientist Shinoda, his precocious young daughter Io, and a jaded lady reporter, Yuki, who hangs around with them to get advance info on the monster's rampages. Shinoda makes clear in his speeches that he wants Godzilla contained but not destroyed, since he's an important example of post-nuclear adaptation. However, the "Godzilla Prediction Network" has no clout, and the officials of the "Japan Self Defense Force" continue with their plans to destroy the giant reptile. In fact, the JSDF is led by the obsessive Katagiri, whom Shinoda knows from his days working for the same organization. Both the scientist and the military commander are fairly flat figures, designed to embody "good view of Godzilla" vs. "bad view of Godzilla."

The JSDF is also responsible for giving Millennium Godzilla his first sparring-partner, when the military tampers with a sunken UFO. The UFO comes to life and promptly seeks out Godzilla, blasting the reptile in order to harvest the creature's DNA. However, the aliens in the UFO can't control the monster's "wild card" genes, and the whole shebang-- the craft and whatever beings are inside it-- morph into a big monster, whom the Japanese dub ":Orga," There's a seesaw battle between Godzilla and Orga, which Godzilla predictably wins. Katagiri actually gets the best scene: roaring his defiance of Godzilla just before the monster destroys him.

While Ogra is a dull opponent that made me long for the days of the Smog Monster, 2000 at least boasts an impressive new design for Godzilla, certainly better than the slinky iguana-critter from America's 1998 GODZILLA. The 2000 film even does its own version of the 1998 film's much longer and more involved "car fleeing big monster's feet" scene. Still, the Japanese characters are not as appealing as those of the American version, much less those of the earlier "Heisei period."



2000 was followed by the equally weak GODZILLA VS, MEGAGUIRUS, which allegedly did not do well at the Japanese box office. This spurred the producers of the next fun to attempt another "monster mash" with roots in the original Godzilla-series. Originally the plan was to oppose the Big G with three revamped versions of Angilas, Varan, and Baragon, though only Angilas had any explicit connection with Godzilla's series. Marketing considerations led to the use of Mothra and King Ghidorah, who had always been two of Godzilla's more popular foes. The stratagem proved profitable, as the third film did very well, despite (or because of) its exhaustingly long title:GODZILLA, MOTHRA, AND KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK.

Picking up on some of the more mystical elements from the Heisei days, ATTACK advances a new origin for Godzilla's three opponents. Now Mothra, Baragon and Ghidorah are all spiritual defenders of Japan, and all are much less powerful than in their earlier versions. This time there's no strong opposition between the military and civilians, for the main viewpoint character is reporter Yuri Tachibana, daughter of Commander Tachibana of the JSDF. There's a minor conflict between the two over the proper investigation of Godzilla, but by film's end they are reconciled-- not that their interpersonal drama is all that interesting.

Despite the film's box office success, I found the battle-scenes routine at best, and even a scene in which Mothra and Ghidorah fuse to produce "King Ghidorah" did not help. Baragon actually gets the best scenes, for though he's no match for Godzilla, his burrowing-talent literally knocks Godzilla's feet out from under him-- which is something you don't see every day in Big G films.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA II (1993), GODZILLA AGAINST MECHADOZILLA (2002)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: (1) *fair,* (2) *good*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological, cosmological*

I'm continuing in my eccentric habit of reviewing Godzilla films that weren't even intended to be part of the same continuity, if only for the personal pleasure of having a "G VS. MG II" show up in 1992 before a "G VS MG 1" appears in 2002. Of course, this is mere semantics. "G VS MG II" is in theory a conceptual sequel to Mechagodzilla's first 1974 appearance, known as GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA in Japan as as GODZILLA VS. THE COSMIC MONSTER in the U.S. Even so, it seems odd for the Japanese to call the 1993 work "second in the series," partly because it's actually Mechagodzilla;s third appearance (following TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA), partly because the producers of the 1993 film have chosen to give the Big MG a brand-new origin.

Building upon developments in GODZILLA VS, KING GHIDORAH-- though another film, GODZILLA AND MOTHRA, interposed itself between GHIDORAH and the 1993 film-- MECHAGODZILLA II posits that a Japanese self-defense batallion, G-Force, is empowered to dredge up the remains of Mecha King Ghidorah. Mechagodzilla is to be constructed from these remnants, thus establishing that this robot has no connection with the alien-made mechanism from the 1970s.

Time passes, during which the movie's viewpoint character Kazuma is more or less drafted to serve in G-Force, where he's something less than a great fit. Nevertheless, he ends up being part of the crew working with Mechagodzilla, along with the "monster-whispering" psychic Miki, previously introduced in earlier "Heisei era" Godzilla films. To further complicate G-Force's situation, a Japanese research team visits a Pacific island, where they discover a giant egg. No sooner do the humans show up than so do Godzilla and a radically redesigned Rodan (making his first apperance in the Heisei series). The monsters fight over the egg and the team escapes with the egg. Back at G-Force a lady scientist examines the egg, and figures out that it contains a mutated dinosaur of the same species as Godzilla  (so that MECHAGODZILLA II is also a reboot of the "Son of Godzilla" character from the original film-series). Once G-Force knows that the infant in the egg is sending out telepathic broadcasts, they decide that they can use the hatchling to lure Godzilla into the city and then attack him with Mechagodzilla. However, Rodan also shows up for the party, and good havoc is had by all.



Given that I have never liked the classic version of Rodan, whom I considered too cartoony, the Heisei Rodan is a huge improvement. When he fights Godzilla this time, he looks like he has a chance to peck a hole in the Big G's head. The hatchling is also less cutesy than the original Son of Godzilla, and the scenes in which it imprints on the lady scientist is handled without too much false sentiment. However, the plot doesn't accomplish anything beyond getting the monsters together for another battle, and the human characters don't have much heart. And I never figured out why Rodan wanted the egg. Surely, even with the telepathy angle, the pteranodan monster never thought it was its own offspring? Or did he/she just really want to make a monster omelet?



GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA, is the fourth film in the so-called "Millennium series," and it gives the Big G one of his best human opponents, Lt. Ayane Yashiro. The Godzilla films have always been erratic in their creation of strong female characters, but Ayane is almost certainly the best of these.

Ayane, a member of Japan's self-defense force, is called into action when Godzilla makes one of his peripatetic attacks on her country. She and her fellow officers operate a maser-tank, but due to a storm that hits even as Godzilla attacks, her maser-rays fail to slay the monster. Ayane refuses to defend herself for her failure and so she's made a scapegoat for the JSDF's embarrassment. Then someone gets the idea to create a mechanical version of Godzilla to fight the real one. However, whereas the 1993 film chose to cobble its robot out of Mecha King Ghidorah's pieces, the JSDF goes to the source of all Godzillas: the bones of the 1954 monster, still in one piece all these years later and resting on the ocean's bottom after the original was slain by the oxygen destroyer.

Ayane's piloting skills earn her the chance to redeem herself by piloting the new Mechagodzilla, who is here given the proper name "Kiryu." Her fortunes are also improved (sort of) by a possible romantic encounter with maladroit scientist Tokimitsu, who even comes with ready-made family (his precocious daughter Sara). However, when Godzilla returns to Tokyo again, Ayane misses her chance to close with the enemy once more. Once Kirya sees Godzilla, the organic matter in the robot's makeup rebels against human control, and Kiryu begins to ravage Tokyo instead of fighting Godzilla.

However, Tokimitsu manages to submerge the organic instincts of the robot, and finally Ayane manages to square off in her long-delayed combat with Japan's favorite monster. She succeeds where most human-operated devices fail, and drives Godzilla back into the sea, at least for a time.

The 2002 film succeeds best in its exacting view of Ayane's military world, and this in turn resonates with the original GOJIRA's post-war themes. Both Ayane-- again played by the excellent Yumiko Shaku-- and Kiryu return in the next entry, GODZILLA TOKYO S.O.S, but they take something of a back seat to the development of new characters and an involved Mothra subplot.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

GODZILLA VS. KING GHIOORAH (1991)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *good*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, sociological*

GHIDORAH was the third film in the so-called "Heisei series" of Godzilla films. I commented that the previous film in the series, GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE, tried to bite off more than it could chew. GHIDORAH also takes in an awful lot of story-developments, but manages to produce some decent "food-for-thought" nourishment, even if the plotting is a little helter-skelter at times.

GHIDORAH rethinks several key ideas associated with the Godzilla franchise, particularly with respect to the origins of the "King of Monsters." In the original GOJIRA, the monster is a multivalent presence, at times seeming like the incarnation of Japan's traditions, at other times like the forces of modernism that threaten those traditions. Writer-director Kazuki Omori, who also performed both functions on BIOLLANTE, seemed to apprehend this ambivalence. In the original conception, Godzilla was a dinosaur who somehow remained alive beneath the earth until he was both awakened and mutated by an American atom-bomb test. Omori imagines a period, previous to the dino's mutation, in which the creature happened to be awake on a Pacific island during the end years of World War II. A squad of Japanese soldiers have retreated to the island, fleeing the advance of American troops. By chance the bombings disturb the dino, which attacks the American ground troops. This makes it possible for the Japanese soldiers to get away, though the dinosaur is killed by fire from an American ship. Implicitly, the "Godzillasaurus" revives from the dead, rather than from sleep, when its body is irradiated by a bomb-test ten years later.

The film's rather forgettable viewpoint character-- Kenichiro, a science fiction writer-- first learns of this incident from the Japanese field commander, Shindo, now a wealthy businessman. Kenichiro is joined in his investigations by a biology professor and psychic Miki, previously introduced in BIOLLANTE, who has been able to communicate with giant monsters to some degree. The three of them are also brought in as consultants when Japan receives a visit from a UFO, containing three denizens of Earth in the 23rd century.

The "Futurians" inform Japan that the world stands in danger to total destruction because at some point Godzilla will start attacking nuclear plants on a regular basis. Not only will there no longer be a Japan in the future-- although of the three time-travelers, a female named Emi is of Japanese stock-- the rest of the world will suffer devastation as well. The Futurians' solution is to go back in time and prevent the dinosaur's irradiation, so that there will be no Godzilla.

Given how much destruction Japan has suffered from Godzilla's attacks, the modern-day Japanese characters have no problem lending aid to the Futurians (though, to be sure, I was never sure why the time-travelers even needed their aid). The moderns and the Futurians travel back to the Pacific isle in 1944, and witness all the events narrated earlier by Shindo. They even see Commander Shindo salute the courage of the fallen dinosaur, just as if it were a fellow soldier, rather than an animal who aided the Japanese squad by accident. At the right moment, the Futurians teleport the dinosaur's carcass away from the island, tossing it under the ocean waves. (Given what transpires later, one may wonder why they didn't hurl the corpse into an active volcano, just to be sure that it was entirely disposed of.) Unbeknownst to the moderns, the Futurians also leave behind three cute little bio-engineered imps called "Dorats," whose purpose unfolds later.

The Futurian named Emi, due to being exposed to the authentic culture of her ancestors, reveals to Kenichiro's bunch that the mission has been a lie. Future Japan, rather than being destroyed, becomes an economic superpower in the 23rd century, to the extent that all other countries have become subservient to Japan. The Futurians don't make any claims about Future-Japan being a tyranny; they just want all countries to be of equal stature (thus proving that Marxism is still around in their century). The Dorat-imps undergo the mutation that would have happened to Godzilla, and turn into King Ghidorah. For some reason, though Ghidorah is created at the 1954 bomb-test, he waits around almost forty years before attacking 1992 Japan. The country's utter destruction will ensure that it never dominates the future economy, while the elimination of Godzilla from history makes sure that the Big G cannot interfere with the Futurians' plans, if only by accident.

"All we have to do," says Kenichiro, "is blast [the submerged corpse of the Godzillasaurus[ with some radioactivity." But, in one of the movie's weakest plot-developments, the good guys somehow find out that the dino-corpse has been exposed to radioactivity by a sunken nuclear sub at some past point in time. Just like that, Godzilla appears in Tokyo once more, and successfully thrashes King Ghidorah. However, with Ghidorah gone, Godzilla begins another of his many rampages, making it possible that he may do the same thing the Futurians wanted their pawn to do. In a rather confusing turnaround, Emi journeys to the future, and brings back Mecha-Ghidorah, a cyborg composed of the original Ghidorah and various mechanical parts. The battle ends with Godzilla being hurled into the ocean for a "cooling-off" period. Emi departs, leaving open the possibility that Japan will still become the future world's economic overlord.

While I wasn't crazy about the rewriting of Ghidorah's raison d'etre, the film does successfully take the mythos of Godzilla in some interesting new directions. Prior to the successful worldwide  marketing of manga and anime in the 1990s, Godzilla films were one of the few products of Japanese culture that achieved widespread recognition, and so, in a loose way, the success of Godzilla in the 1960s does approximate Japan's later "economic miracle." When the modern Japanese agree to get rid of the Big G. they open the door to a worse menace, and this comes close to stating that Godzilla is essential to Japan's destiny.

Even more interesting is the extension of the martial motifs of the 1954 GOJIRA. In 1944 Commander Shindo salutes the fallen dinosaur, and by so doing, he also implicates Godzilla in the fortunes of his nation. When Shindo expresses regret at having to leave the creature behind, the scene carries the resonance of an officer being forced to leave one of his own men behind. Later, after Godzilla has defeated the original King Ghidorah, he happens upon a massive building belonging to the modern-day Shindo. In a scene echoing Steve Martin's "face-down" with Gojira, Shindo alone remains in his building, exchanging meaningful stares with the giant reptile, Happily, the film doesn't go so far as to claim that the encounter is as meaningful to Godzilla as it is to Shindo, for Big G then destroys the building pitilessly, killing the same man whose life he spared by chance fifty years ago.

Necessarily, future films in the series did not address this modified origin. But if one could hazard that, in some metaphysical way, Godzilla was covalent with a Japanese soldier deserted by his unit, then that would go a long way toward explaining why Godzilla seems obsessed halt the time with raining destruction on "his" native land, and, at other times, determined to protect Japan against any and all enemies.





Friday, August 25, 2017

DOCTOR JEKYLL AND THE WOLFMAN (1971)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, psychological*


The sixth film in the "Waldermar Daninsky" series proves to be one of the most listless.

Like most of the other films, JEKYLL starts from square one. Englishwoman Justine and her rich husband travel to Central Europe to visit his parents' graves. However, car thieves attack the couple and kill Justine's husband. They are only prevented by the intrusion of a local nobleman, Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy), who beats up the bandits and kills one of them, He then takes Justine back to his castle, where he lives alone with his mother. For reasons undisclosed, Waldemar is cursed to change into a werewolf, which has caused the local village to regard the castle's inhabitants with dread, and to believe (falsely) that Waldemar's mother is a witch. However, one of the thieves resents the killing of his accomplice (and brother), so he rouses the locals against the castle. The bandit even kills Waldemar's innocent mother, but though Waldemar manages to kill him in return, he realizes that he must flee the country, and so he and Justine depart for England.

I've dwelled on this amount of detail about the film's first third for one purpose: to show how much time the script wastes on things that the audience doesn't really care about. Naschy, who scripted a lot of his own "Hombre Lobo" films, may have thought that he needed a de rigeur "old castle" scene, and that this could be used as an excuse to propel Justine into the wolfman's world. Still, even knowing that the innocent young thing is destined to fall hard for hairy-chested Waldemar, as they usually do in Naschy's wolf-films, the script really doesn't portray any romantic tension between Justine and Waldemar. Of course, during her initial stay in the castle, Justine is mourning her murdered husband, but even these scenes are handled in dismissive fashion.

Therefore Justine and Waldemar aren't lovers when they reach England, though she's decided to do everything she can to help him conquer his lupine curse. She just happens to know Henry Jekyll, grandson of the famous scientist of Victorian times, and she appeals to Jekyll for help. Conveniently, Jekyll decides that he may be able to destroy the curse by injecting Waldemar with both the original "Mister Hyde" serum and its antidote. I guess the two serums are supposed to act like a vaccine, driving out one evil with another, though the explanation leaves something to be desired.

The only good thing to come out of this melange is that when Naschy responds to the serum and takes on a "Mister Hyde" persona, he really looks pretty good in the role. He hardly has any time to do anything nefarious, though, because Jekyll's trying to get him ready for the next step in the experiment. Unfortunately, Jekyll nurses an unrequited love for Justine, and his lab assistant Sandra carries her own torch for the doctor, while being insanely jealous of Justine. She kills Jekyll and sabotages the experiment, and probably anyone who's seen even two of Naschy's wolf-films knows that things can only end with the old "silver bullet to end his suffering" routine. JEKYLL may not be the worst Naschy film, or even his worst wolf-film, but it doesn't have much to make one want to watch it again. Even the lead female, who's usually played by some gorgeous model-type, is essayed by a singularly underwhelming actress, one Shirley Corrigan.



Thursday, August 24, 2017

ENTER THE DEVIL (1974), STIGMATA (1999)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, psychological*


The shadow of THE EXORCIST looms large over both of these otherwise unrelated "possession" flicks.

The 1974 film used many names, ranging from the sleazy (THE SEXORCIST) to the derivative (THE EERIE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW), but ENTER THE DEVIL is probably the most accurate, since, like the earlier film, it's all about what happens when the Devil is allowed to enter into one's life-- not to mention one's body.

The first half of ENTER is fairly intriguing. Young art-student Danila observes the restoration of an ancient wooden statue, carved with incredible fidelity to look like Christ in torment. The status fascinates her, in contradistinction to her depressing home-life. Her upper-class parents Mario and Luisa give a lot of loud parties, and Luisa has a young lover, of which Mario is blandly aware. Danila even looks in on one of her mother's trysts, wherein she satisfies masochistic tendencies by letting her male lover whip her with a bouquet of thorn-bearing roses.

Though Danila doesn't do anything wrong, the sins of her parents apparently opens her up to corruption. Later she visits the place where the wooden statue is kept, and, to her dismay, the statue comes to life and rapes her. It then disappears, with the general implication that it was either Satan or some lesser demon, though there's no attempt to explain why this devil chose to assume the form of a statue. Since the experts assert that the statue was carved whole from an olive tree, a pagan explanation, like the statue being inhabited by a lascivious wood-sprite, would make a lot more sense than any Judeo-Christian scenario.

Whatever the statue's provenance, it passes on its demonic nature to Danila, who starts becoming erratic and seductive. Given that one of her attempted conquests is her own father Mario-- who refuses her advances-- it's not hard to see the Freudian "rescue fantasy," in which a daughter seeks to "save" her father from the influence of a corrupt mother. However, the film quickly drops any potential mother-animus, for Luisa responds to her daughter's travails by dumping her lover. He gives her some static and promptly disappears from the story. The loose implication is that the marriage of Marco and Luisa has been "saved" once they bond over their daughter's situation, which I guess would go toward inverting the movie's suggestion of an Electra complex.

In contrast to THE EXORCIST, ENTER has a fair first act while the second and third go down the tubes. Danila runs around, spitting green goo and attacking her exorcist with a chain. Aside from the actress's nudity, the exorcism itself is a bore, and it seems likely that the creators were just phoning things in at this point. ENTER does exemplify the Italian culture's fascination with the disruptive potential of sex, but that's about all it has to offer.




STIGMATA was filmed long after the EXORCIST craze, and it's more ambivalent about what power causes a young American woman, Frankie (Patricia Arquette) to manifest the stigmata phenomenon, in which the victim bleeds from the same parts of the body where Christ was wounded.

Long before encountering Frankie, Father Andrew Kiernan is working for the Catholic Church, seeking to use both tools of science and religion to examine purported miracles. His latest case takes place in Brazil, where, following the death of a beloved priest who experienced the stigmata, a votive statue of the Virgin Mary weeps blood-tears at the priest's funeral. Unbeknownst to Kiernan, a rosary possessed by the dead priest is sold to an American tourist in Brazil, who sends it to Frankie in America. Kiernan is also sent to America to investigate Frankie's stigmata, and makes the connection: that the rosary has somehow "passed on" the priest's nature to the American woman, who is, incidentally, an atheist.

Though Kiernan's superiors strongly suggest that his real job is only to deny, never to confirm, the existence of non-canonical miracles, the priest soon learns that the dead priest had access to a new Christian gospel, roughly cognate with the Gospel of Thomas. Though Frankie does a lot of EXORCIST-like things, such as speaking in a male voice and tossing Kiernan around, the film seems to imply that the unwanted influence is more akin to a ghost than to a demon, though the script never quite states this outright. Indeed, Frankie's experience-- as seen in the screencap above-- puts her through the ordeal of an "imitatio Christi," as when she's seen "crucified" inside a subway-car.
However, the script, taken from an original story by Tom Ramage, doesn't seem to know how to make its ideas cohere, least of all what the viewer is supposed to feel toward the Catholic Church. Are they sentinels who stand against the horrors of possession, or just a bunch of guys trying to protect their own interests? Further, though there's some suggestion of an attraction between the male and female lead, the script also doesn't allow this potential to develop in any interesting directions.

STIGMATA is a well-mounted spectacle in the subgenre of "religious horror," but it doesn't know how to deliver a pay-off on the very issues it raises. The contrast of the two movies makes me wonder: what's worse, to make intellectual pretensions and fail to justify them, or to go "down and dirty" and mess up what ought to be fairly simple?