Archive for Frankenstein Conquers the World

Big in Japan

Posted in FILM with tags , , on October 18, 2010 by dcairns

This struck both Fiona and I as very, very funny. The singer’s ebullient performance, the song (which I presume is actually entitled, “Stuck in my Throat.” Best. Song title. Ever.) and her eventual fate, all achieve a kind of cock-eyed perfection.

Movie: WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. Not that good otherwise. A sort of dishonest sequel to FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, which has lying flashbacks showing Frankenstein as a sort of chimp-boy, raised by special occidental guest star Russ Tamblyn. Yes, Russ frickin Tamblyn. Also, it has genuinely unpleasant, strenuous and scary soundtrack, more disturbing than anything I’ve heard in any other kaiju. I’m making it sound too good, aren’t I?

OK then, I’ll just add that the bad monster looks not unlike the late Cameron Mitchell.  Does that help?

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“Monster, indeed!”

Posted in FILM, literature, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2010 by dcairns

So, in a twist of film history both inevitable and deeply demented, the Frankenstein monster gets drafted into the Japanese kaiju genre and pitted against a man in a lizard costume, under the directorial aegis of GODZILLA helmer Ishiro Honda…

I hope you understand that I’m watching FRANKENSTEIN VS BARAGON, aka FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, purely because the late Denis Gifford saw fit to include a b&w illo from it in his Pictorial History of Horror Movies. So in my mad quest to see all the films depicted therein, a quest I have abstrusely entitled See Reptilicus and Die, I totally had to watch this movie. I mean, it’s not as if I go out of my way to see this kind of thing normally.

“Do I LOOK like I’m kidding?”

We begin in Germany, where a swivel-eyed mustache guy is working on the  still-beating heart of the Frankenstein monster in a mad scientist’s layer in a castle somewhere unwisely close to the front lines. ThenNazi stormtroopers arrive with a compulsory purchase order and confiscate the creepy ticker, shipping it to Hiroshima by sub, where the leader of the Seven Samurai proceeds to examine this strangely immortal pump, with a view to mass-producing bullet-proof Japanese soldiers. This perfectly reasonable subplot is brought to an abrupt end by the detonation of an atom bomb.

Fastforward to the poptastic sixties, and a “degenerate waif” is terrorizing the city, rather a lot like Denis Lavant in Leos Carax’s episode of TOKYO! “There were a lot of these boys after the war,” says a concerned supporting player, perhaps visualizing GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES. Apprehended by the authorities (including a gratuitous roundeye scientist, Nick Adams — ot’s gaijin vs. kaijin), the monster waif starts growing to, well, monstrous size, no doubt due to all that radiation he soaked up — for you see, this large deformed boy is no less than the Frankenstein monster’s heart, which has regenerated an entire new body around itself (I would love to have seen the halfway stage of that) a bit like Oddbod Jnr. in CARRY ON SCREAMING — who germinated from a single discarded finger — whom he closely resembles (he also looks a bit like Richard Kiel disguised as a hillbilly).

Dangerous curves.

Meanwhile, the late Baragon has emerged from the bowels of the earth and is ravaging the countryside. While Frank, escaped from his tiny cell, roams the hinterland searching for a spot with a climate akin to that of Frankfurt, but with a sufficient supply of life-giving protein. His dinners are being swiped by Baragon — cue shots of the lizard thing stomping a puppet horse… a battle seems inevitable: underground monster vs. 100 ft waif.

Baragon, although known as The Underground Monster, is clearly recognizable to westerners as Edward Lear’s The Dong with the Luminous Nose.

Slowly it wanders,–pauses,–creeeps,–
Anon it sparkles,–flashes and leaps;
And ever as onward it gleaming goes
A light on the Bong-tree stems it throws.
And those who watch at that midnight hour
From Hall or Terrace, or lofty Tower,
Cry, as the wild light passes along,–
‘The Dong!–the Dong!
‘The wandering Dong through the forest goes!
‘The Dong! the Dong!
‘The Dong with a luminous Nose!’

“Ha ha, you missed me, you need glasses!”

Battle Royale, or Batoru Rowaiaru, commences — by this time, alas, we were no longer taking the film as seriously as it deserves, even though Honda was a friend of Akira Kurosawa and even directed bits of DREAMS and merits the greatest of respect. Once the monsters started fighting it was impossible not to make up dialogue for them, so they trash-talk each other while slamming one another with papier-maché boulders. Finally Frank, without doubt the spazziest of all Japanese monsters, murders Baragon by tearing his head apart, but is then immediately set upon by an Act III giant octopus, which appears out of nowhere in an eleventh-hour “development” unprepared for in any way.

“Watch it, mate, I’m gonna audition for the lead in OLD BOY right now, using you as main course!”

“Oh yeah? Well here we are in Japan, and I’ve got eight tentacles… ever see that Hokusai print of the pearl diver?”

The movie, having never quite come up with a practical solution for what to do with the monster, now cuts the Gordian knot by having him fall into a lake with a big octopus. Everybody immediately goes home: “Nothing to see here.” He’s barely been submerged five seconds!

“He’ll be back,” speculates a sequel-grubbing scientist. “Somewhere, sometime.”

“Perhaps the best thing would be for him to die,” says another, who isn’t going to be invited back for FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTERS: SANDAH VS GAILAH. “After all, he’s only a monster.”

Only?

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.