Hold on to your butts, people. This is a weird one, with an even weirder history than your average cult classic. Produced in association with Henry G. Saperstein’s United Pictures, War of the Gargantuas took four years to get to the American drive-in circuit, where it premiered on a double bill with Godzilla vs. Monster Zero. Like that film, Gargantuas features a Token American in the lead (Russ Tamblyn), supported by two instantly recognizable (to me at least) Honda Repertoire Company vets (Kenji Sahara and Kumi Mizuno). But unlike Monster Zero, Gargantuas is a much more grounded, much more traditional kaiju flick – arguably more so than its almost-prequel, Frankenstein Conquers the World.
That film (for anyone who doesn’t know/remember) concerned a team of scientists who happened upon a street urchin who once devoured the immortal heart of Frankenstein’s monster, irradiated by a nuclear blast after Nazi scientists shipped it to a Hiroshima during the last days of World War II. Said devouring ballooned the street urchin – which everyone pretty much just started calling “Frankenstein” – up to Ultraman-ish proportions, bringing him into inevitable conflict with the Japan’s military Self Defense Forces and roving, wild dinosaur population. Continue reading War of the Gargantuas (1966)→
The TARDIS arrives right in the middle of a fight between Hector and Achilles, who are too busy to notice a materializing box. The Doctor, Vicki, and Steven watch the fight via the monitor. Right away the Doctor is eager to go out and find out when and where they are, noting that the men outside are “doing more talking than they are fighting.” As the Doctor approaches them, Hector and Achilles argue, with Hector challenging Zeus to save Achilles and destroy Troy himself. With the Doctor’s appearance distracting Hector, Achilles stabs him to death. Given the timing, Achilles right away assumes that the Doctor is Zeus in the form of “an old beggar.” The Doctor plays along, but tries to talk his way back to the TARDIS after Achilles begs him to come to the camp of Agamemnon outside the walls of Troy. Odysseus, whom Achilles contemptuously describes as a “pirate”, scoffs at the idea that the Doctor is Zeus and suspects he is a Trojan spy. The Doctor describes the TARDIS as his “traveling temple” and imperiously demands that he be allowed to leave, but Odysseus has his men take the Doctor into captivity. Continue reading Trash Culture’s Dr. Who Reviews – The Myth Makers (1965)→
Like Ghost Rider before him, the Punisher is one of those breakout characters from early ’70s that seemed dark and edgy in his time, only to be surpassed by any given action movie hero on any given weekend of any given summer. Vengeful murder became a novelty in American comic books after the Moral Panic of the mid-1950s sanitized everything. The 60s and 70s were sad times, and they produced some sad sack characters, but at least the wave began to roll back towards a grim, more gruesomely violent place. That’s something, right? Sure as hell makes things more marketable.
But since I don’t do what so many do and confuse marketable levels of violence for “realism” I’ve never been able to take the Punisher all that seriously. He would’ve been yet another one-off Spider-Man villain in an age that already overflowed with them, were it not for the fact he shared Parker’s tendency to monologue like a Spalding Gray robot and constantly question the merit of his own actions…even as he murders bad guys by the mansion-full. The contrast can be hilarious, depending on how overwrought the prose turns out, and so obvious even Marvel’s realized it on occasion. Continue reading The Punisher (1989)→
On the next planet the TARDIS lands on, the Doctor is curious to find that this planet is hospitable to life yet completely silent. Setting out, they encounter a robot that senses its way by touch and sound, and which Vicki christens a “Chumbley.” They assume the Chumbley is harmless, but while exploring another Chumbley threatens them with a gun and forces them to follow it. Suddenly a group of human-looking women calling themselves Drahvins damage the Chumbley and claim that they were sent by their leader, Maaga, to rescue them – and bring them to her. Maaga tells them that they crashlanded on the planet along with the crew from another planet, who are from a “disgusting” species named the Rills, and that the planet, located in Galaxy 4, will explode in a matter of days. The Drahvins’ ship is badly damaged, enough that they need the Rills’ ship to have a chance of escaping, and Maaga adds that the Rills had caused their own ship to crash in the first place. Maaga explains that the Drahvins are a matriarchal civilization that grows a small number of men in labs for the sake of breeding and fighting. Even though the Doctor and the others figure out quickly that their society is militaristic, Maaga insists she and her crew were on a peaceful exploration mission. Continue reading Trash Culture’s Dr. Who Reviews – Galaxy 4 (1965)→
Lest you think there was ever some magical time when sequels were automatically good, I submit this film as evidence you’re even more deluded than I am. They can’t all be Bride of Frankenstein, and I wouldn’t dare ask it of them. All I ask is that they not be dull. Too much to ask of Universal in 1955, that’s for sure. Am I being unfair? Probably. But when I get bored, I get even surlier.
I don’t know what happened in the time between this and its predecessor. Nearly everyone behind the camera returns for this second go-round. I don’t want to blame director Jack Arnold, who did competent work on an undoubtedly tight schedule. I’m tempted to blame screenwriter Martin (Green Grass of Wyoming) Berkeley, but I’m sure an army of Bronies will trample me to the dust if I say an unkind word about anyone involved with the Flicka series. So I’m forced to blame producer William Alland, who gets “story” credit on this, even though he heard the man-fish legend from cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa back in the 40s. So who really deserves “story” credit for these movies? No, honestly, I’m asking you. I’m just gonna be over here, reviewing this movie while you think up your response.
The “story” picks up a year after the events of Creature from the Black Lagoon, with Capt. Lucas (Nestor Paiva) once again steaming a pair of gringo scientists up “A TRIBUTARY IN THE UPPER AMAZON” (as the location card says). This year’s gringos are Joe Hayes (John Bromfield) and George Johnson (Robert Williams), self-proclaimed expert fish trappers from the (fictional) marine institute/theme park (or “Oceanarium,” as they insist on calling it) at Ocean Harbor, Florida. They’ve come to the titular lagoon to capture the titular creature. After some initial setbacks they take a page from the Redneck Dynamite Fisher’s Handbook and succeed, knocking the Creature unconscious with the concussive blast from multiple cases of high explosives. Continue reading Revenge of the Creature (1955)→
Vicki and the Doctor find that Steven Taylor has not only survived the Dalek-Mechanoid War, but has managed to stow away on the TARDIS. The Doctor is willing to accept Steven as a companion, with the one demand that he not call him “Doc.” Steven is completely incredulous about what the TARDIS is and does, in no small part because of what it looks like. Meanwhile the TARDIS lands on the coast of Northumbria in 1066, as a man in a monk’s garb watches, but he is concerned rather than shocked or confused, and proceeds to spy on the TARDIS’ crew as they leave the ship. The Doctor orders Vicki and Steven to stay behind while he goes to find some locals, but Steven goads Vicki into helping him do some exploring of his own. At a nearby village the Doctor meets Edith, whom he wrings some hospitality and information from without exciting her suspicions. From their conversation he deduces that the Anglo-Saxon king Harold Godwinson had recently become king of England and has yet to fight in the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Before going the sleep the Doctor hears the chants from the nearby monastery seems to slow down like a recording. Once the Doctor learns from Edith that the monastery was until recently abandoned and that the villagers have only ever seen one monk, he immediately decides to set out there to investigate.
Back near the beach, Steven and Vicki encounter a man who has picked something up from the ground. Steven wrestles the object from him and discovers that it’s a wristwatch. At the monastery, the Doctor finds a phonograph playing the chants, but unfortunately he also finds himself in the wrong end of a cage trap. The following morning the Monk prepares a breakfast for him, using all sorts of twentieth-century conveniences. Elsewhere Stephen and Vicki are likewise captured and brought before the village council, who debate whether they are travelers or Viking spies. Most of the council become convinced when Vicki reveals that the Doctor, whose description Edith recognizes, is with them. Following Edith’s advice, Steven and Vicki head to the monastery and find the Monk, who claims neither he or the “other monks” saw anyone, but Steven apparently tricks him into giving off a clue that he was lying. Vicki, however, senses a trap.
This is the exact midpoint of Gamera’s original (or “Showa Era”) film series. Not chronologically, or in any other terms material, but in terms of tone. This is the point where everyone at Gamera’s home studio, Daiei Film, gave up on the daikaiju genre as anything other than a cash cow. You can barely blame them. By 1967, the writing was on the wall and it said, “the only people stupid enough to abandon their TVs and visit some run-down, overcrowded, food-and-drink-stained movie theater are children.” Film as a whole suffered, but few suffered more than our favorite flying turtle, who would go on to star in some of the most notoriously bad films in daikaiju eiga as the seventies rose up to choke us all down with mediocrity, bad music, and even worse clothing.
Things didn’t have to be this way, but the makers of mid-60s Japanese cinema made the same mistake their American counterparts so often make and assumed (A) kids were the only ones watching their films and (B) kids were stupid. But there’s a difference between being stupid and not being able to articulate why you like something. My ten-year-old self knew Gamera was awesome on a molecular level but my current self still struggles to articulate why that is. Why do you think I’m writing these things in the first place? To finally pull back the curtain and figure out why, whenever someone goes, “Gamera? Really?” I always go “Fuck yeah, Gamera! He’s awesome.”
His movies, on the other hand, stopped being the “unbelievable, imaginatively cool” kind of “awesome” and started being the “incredibly cheap and incredibly crappy” kind of “awesome” right in the middle of this film. I can even show you where it happens: it’s the scene where Our Kenny – an incredibly annoying little snot named Eiichi (Naoyuki Abe) – takes a joyride on Gamera’s back. Continue reading Gamera vs. Gaos (1967)→
Reviews with swear words and sociopolitical analysis from David DeMoss