Archive for Ishiro Honda

Win One for the Gifford

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2010 by dcairns

Watched HOUSE, or HAUSU, as the Japanese call it — our friend Kiyo had recommended we obtain it, and then we read a glowing FaceBook recital of its many virtues from regular Shadowplayer and critic Anne Billson. Eaten by a piano? Drowned in cat’s blood? This sounded like a film to give Ozu a run for his money.

What concerns us for the moment, however, is a moment relatively early in the film, which has an unusually long preambular sequence setting up the arrival of seven cheeky Japanese schoolgirls (soon to be dead and possibly naked) at the titular haunted hausu. We’re on a coach, heading into the country. But what’s this extra on the left reading?

“The Gifford!” cried Fiona, startling me worse than anything in the movie would.

What a nice tribute from director Obayashi-san: Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies (far left of frame), suggesting a possible clue to his movie’s patchwork style — he’s been inspired by the random collection of images approach taken by Gifford in illustrating his Big Green Tome.

As I’m working my way through all the films illustrated in this book, it was a pleasure indeed to find a fellow fan.

So how am I doing?

Candace Hilligoss, so effective in her goose-like beauty in CARNIVAL OF SOULS, makes her only other appearance in CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE (that’s not her above, though), a movie that actually does try hard to be good, and even seems to have a partial, coffee-stained map guiding it in the right general direction. Period flavour has been aimed for, unusual dialogue attempted (“The body is a long insatiable tube!”), and suitable actors engaged (a nubile Roy Scheider, not yet tanned to alligator-hide perfection, is particularly effective). Plus a decent nasty plot premise, in which some insufferable rich folks in period New England are wiped out (perhaps by a departed relative) in the manner of their worst fears. Lest the gimmick and the talking stuff don’t quite carry the day, some gore and some decorous semi-nudity are laid on. It doesn’t quite make it to being memorable or actually, y’know, good, but one can’t fault the intent.

Attempts to obtain THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE have so far defeated me — anyone out there can help?

I have, however, got my sweaty mitts on FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, a Japanese kaijin flick using the man-made man, grown to giganticular proportions, as protag. Can’t wait to sample this Ishiro Honda weirdfest.

Also obtained but not yet watched: the 1957 THE VAMPIRE, which for some reason Gifford illustrates twice; THE PHANTOM OF SOHO, in two distinct versions;

Enjoyed two surviving Melies masterworks, THE VANISHING LADY, from which Melies produces three frame enlargements for a before-during-and-after account of M. Melies magic trick, and THE GIGANTIC DEVIL, whose oddly simpering Satan I had long admired in still form. This year I intend to recreate, in my own fashion, the lost movie LA PHRENOLOGIE BURLESQUE, so I can tick that one off my list also.

CRY OF THE WEREWOLF was directed by I LOVE A MYSTERY’s Henry Levin, but disappointed on most levels: there IS a werewolf, but it’s played by a large-ish dog, and the transformations are just crummy dissolves. Nina Foch lends low-budget class, but it’s all uphill.

VOODOO MAN amuses pretty thoroughly (especially George Zucco runnign a gas station) and DR RENAULT’S SECRET is genuinely, like, good, with an affecting monster act by J. Carrol Naish. Appallingly, I mainly knew this fine thesp for his swan song, DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN, a truly tragic affair in which his struggle to keep his false teeth inside his head while mouthing idiotic lines is the sole memorable feature, unless you count a mute Lon Chaney Jnr, who, like his great father, had been robbed of the power of speech in the last months of his life, and thus appears here as a wordless monster.

THE MAGIC SWORD, known to Gifford as ST GEORGE AND THE SEVEN CURSES, making it slightly trickier to track down, is a full-to-bursting confection of sub-Harryhausen fantasy FX. Not half bad by Bert I Gordon’s standards (and he does have standard — though if challenged I’m not sure I could quite explain what they are). The prosthetic hag in Gifford’s still turns out to be Maila Nurmi, AKA Vampira, and the hero turns out to be Gary Lockwood of 2001 fame. Basil Rathbone and Estelle Winwood heap on the ham, but the film’s finest thespian delight turns out to be busty nonentity Anne Helm, playing “Princess Helene” in the manner of a concussed cosmetologist. It’s so wrong it’s exactly right.

THE MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES seems to exist not to honour MGM’s 25th anniversary, as suggested, but merely to prove that even James Cagney’s talents have their limits. The real casting coup is Robert Evans as Irving Thalberg, before Evans made the transition from tanned-yet-pallid toyboy leading man to high-powered, wide collared exec. It’s perfect casting, with what one might politely call Evans’ limitations as an actor (Peter Sellers, on hearing of Evans’ appointment as head of Paramount: “Why, you silly cunt, you couldn’t even act the part!”) serving him well in the role of the ultimate empty suit.

In fact, it’s a pity Chaney never played The Invisible Man, robbing us of the sight of two shirt collars, encircling vacuum, nodding in cheerful agreement.

Things Roddy Said During “Destroy All Monsters”

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , on August 28, 2009 by dcairns

Fiona’s brother Roddy came for a visit on Saturday. Since he has learning difficulties, he’s naturally enough a fan of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, an annual jamboree in which marching bands in kilts compete to see who can create the largest amount of sonic pollution with their breath. Fiona and I take it in turns to sit through this unvarying pageant with him, every year.

Fortunately, Roddy has other interests, and apart from heavy metal music, military hardware, cranes and tractors, and football (if you like any of these things… well, I don’t like to make a diagnosis without meeting you, but…) he’s quite big on monster movies — Universal horror, Hammer, Japanese monsters, anything sufficiently monsterific. So I thought I’d use his stay to catch up on some kaijin action and score off another film in my quest to See Reptilicus and Die. As documented here, here, here and here, I’ve been attempting to see all the films illustrated in Denis Gifford’s seminal-to-me-and-Fiona (and Roddy) Pictorial History of Horror Movies.

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Turning to page 174 of that august and greenish tome, we see a snazzy illo of Toho’s DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, directed by original GOJIRA helmer Ishirô Honda, which rounds up the largest collection of 100ft high men in lizard costumes ever assembled under one tent. I sold it to Roddy with the words “lots of monsters” and “giant spider.” Roddy’s thing about monsters is a childish enthusiasm (like mine), perhaps. His thing about spiders amounts almost to a fetish. The Digital Versatile Disc was duly loaded into the Panasonic.

“Right!” said R. “Get ready for the most… frightening film ever!”

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Monsterland! Wouldn’t we like to go THERE for a holiday! The United Nations (the most corrupt organization on this planet, btw) has somehow gathered all Earth’s giant monsters on one island, keeping them there with what appear to be smoke pellets. Godzilla and chums, like the dumbest of livestock, keep wading out to sea and getting gassed, then staggering back to dry land, shaking their little green fists.

The science base on Monsterland goes out of communication. This is just like JURASSIC PARK, only rubberier. Top scientists call for an investigation, sending the nearest available task force, which is currently, er, on the Moon. On the Moon? Is that really the closest we’ve got? Anyhow, within minutes the rocketship is touching down and finding possessed scientists, missing monsters, and space aliens. And now the giant monsters are burrowing up from the earth (never explained, this bit) all over the world! Godzilla in New York! Rodan in Peking! The late Baragon in Paris! To quote Mystery Science Theater: “Oh the humanity! Oh the Japanity!”

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Godzilla stomps. “Imagine meeting him on a -” Roddy pauses, for once fazed by the fact that his catchphrase, “on a dark night,” seems unapplicable to the cheerfully daylit nightmare before him. “- on a day like that,” he finishes, accurately.

“Uh-oh” Roddy said this a few times. Once was definitely in response to Manda, perhaps the crappiest of the monsters, essentially a big snake with little legs. Apart from being stupid-looking, he’s called Manda. I call him Amanda, just to piss him off. What’s he going to do? He’s on television.

The other thing Roddy says a few times is “Where’s that giant spider?” Which I can’t answer because I  haven’t seen the movie, just the trailer. But the trailer definitely had a G.S. in it.

Mothra, in caterpillar form, smashes a train. “Typical monster,” pronounces Roddy.

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A sexy space alien! “Cor, she’s nice.” This sparks a reverie — “I tell you what I was watching last week. [Hospital soap opera] Holby City. There’s some nice nurses on that.”

Possessed lady scientist. “Mmmm, who’s she then?”

Ten minutes later, out of the blue: “I would love to go into Holby, as a patient.”

Me: “You’d have to get sick. What would you want to be ill with?”

“That’s a good question.”

“You could get swine flu,” I suggest.

“Or piles!” remarks Roddy, brightly. Here, my heart breaks a little. It’s not decent to feel sorry for people who are really perfectly happy in themselves. But I feel some sympathy for anybody who dreams of getting hemorrhoids just so pretty women will look at his arse. Which they’re not otherwise lining up to do.

Something in the sky! A poorly-dubbed bit part player wonders what it is. “An aeroplane, ya donut!”

“What’s he doing on the railway track?”

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It turns out that the aliens are controlling the monsters with some kind of spherical device. “This one was found inside a coconut in Guam.”

“That’s typical, isn’t it?”

Sidenote — you know how they made Godzilla’s voice? All you need is a double bass and a catcher’s mitt. Loosen the strings and seize them firmly in the mitt, straining them firmly through the leather, and you produce the requisite inhuman roar. Try it at home!

“What’s that they’ve found?”

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“Where’s that…eight legged creature?”

The giant spider, named Spigon I think, eventually shows up, out of nowhere, and joins the giant monster rally, which is basically all the monsters ganging up on poor old King Ghidorah, the space monster. “That’s racism!” says Fiona.

Ghidorah makes a cute electronic sound effect, like a character from The Clangers, as they all kick the shit out of him.

Finally, Godzilla’s son, who isn’t actually called Godzooky, and is probably the least successful attempt at a cute monster since the Turkish E.T., blows a smoke ring that encircles one of Ghidorah’s three throats and throttles him. It must have been his main throat.

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The movie ends. “So, what have we learned?” I ask.

“Loads of things!”

“Yeah? What like?”

“The giant spider… destroyed all the monsters.”

Which isn’t quite accurate. But it’s a shorter summary than mine.

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Books 3: Cult Culture

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on July 11, 2009 by dcairns

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A few people on Twitter mentioned Danny Peary’s Cult Movies books as being an influence on their film scholarship, and I’d be remiss in not giving credit to it also. Peary has great taste, and gathered up a really disparate bunch of movies. For those of us outside London or New York, it seemed impossible that we would ever get to see many of these films –

ANDY WARHOL’S BAD

BEDTIME FOR BONZO

BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR

DEEP END

EL TOPO

THE HONEYMOON KILLERS

KISS ME DEADLY

PRETTY POISON

THE SHOOTING

WHERE’S POPPA?

Today, almost nothing in Peary’s first volume is particularly hard to see, but when I was a teenager you couldn’t even buy a VHS of A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, let alone PANDORA’S BOX. Peary’s book is like a collection of titles that needed to be released. It was also exhilarating to see high-art and trash jumbled together like that, so you had Peckinpah and Joseph H Lewis next to Ophuls and Pontecorvo, Herzog and Cocteau rubbing shoulders with Russ Meyer and John Waters (before it became respectable to do so). And Peary still had standards, or rather, he knew when he was dealing with a film of visceral impact or nostalgic appeal rather than real artistic excellence. But his enthusiasm was unfaked, regardless. He didn’t always like the films he was dealing with, but he’d make the effort to understand them and find interesting things to say about them.

“There were three films I saw repeatedly as a child in the mid-fifties: John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and Howard Hawks’s Land of the Pharaohs. They impressed me equally. One had John Wayne, another had James Dean, and the third had a bunch of bald, tongueless priests who allowed themselves to be buried alive, some cowards who get thrown into an alligator pit, and a statuesque beauty with a bare midriff.”

Or

“I admit nostalgic affection for Ishiro Honda’s flying reptile film Rodan (released in America in 1957) because it scared me into screaming ‘Japanese! Japanese!’ in my sleep when I was a kid.”

Peary’s cinephilia is rooted in both childhood and dreams, and he relishes the dreamlike narrative of VERTIGO (not yet placed at the zenith of Hitchcock’s corpus).

There are lots of things I disagree with in Peary: he thinks Bava went downhill after he started shooting in colour (!), for instance, but it was relatively rare for anybody to write about Bava at all, much less between the same covers as considerations of DUCK SOUP and THE SCARLET EMPRESS.

Confession: I never owned any of Peary’s books. I used to go and read them in different bookshops, though. Somehow I never saved my money to buy them, but devoured them, a chapter at a time, in bookshops long since closed: Bauermeister Books, George IVth Bookshop, The Cinema Bookshop, James Thin’s Bookstore. And then, years later, I met Fiona, who had the whole set.

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