Thursday, August 16, 2012

“Thong, the fish is ready!”

Conan the Barbarian was a success, and success breeds imitators. The 80s saw a string of barbarian hero movies. Perhaps one of the strangest that isn’t Robot Holocaust *shudder* comes from the land of spaghetti and frequently dissolved parliaments: Italy! It’s 1984’s Ator l'invincibile 2 AKA The Blade Master aka Cave Dwellers. And yes, the 2 in the title does indeed note that there was a First Ator movie. So what makes this barbarian different from Conan? He fights evil…with SCIENCE!


If you wonder why I actually liked the 2011 Conan remake, THIS is one of the reasons.

After an opening scene where a bunch of cavemen fight for no reason whatsoever and have no connection to the plot proper, we meet  an Archimedes-type of guy and his hot daughter. He proceeds to explain that he’s got some sort of dangerous invention very important to mankind’s future and then gives a long and confusing flashback using footage from another Ator movie to establish his warrior credentials. He sends her away to find our hero while he is captured by a somewhat…swishy warlord who was once his student. The Warlord wants the secrets of the Macguffin that will help him conquer…the world I guess. However, the girl makes it our hero’s place (who also happens to be a former student of the sage’s) and convinces him to go rescue her dad.

So off they go in search of ADVENTURE! Along the way they run into some vaguely samurai-looking goons, a magical mist that gets them lost, an extremely well-lit Cave filled with cannibalistic Dwellers (DUN DUN DUN), some invisible monsters, make it to Ator’s home village which is now forced to pay tribute in human sacrifices to a snake cult, get captured by said villagers when he tries to organize a defense against the snake cult, watches the village get burned down by the snake cult, then fight their way out of the Snake Cult’s Snake God’s lair, conduct an air assault on the villain’s fortress and have a final duel (because it always ends in a final duel). So you can’t say that nothing happens in this movie.

And to think I liked snake cults before having to type the above paragraph. Snake cult, snake cult, snake cult.

Wait, air assault? Yeah, that’s a thing that happens in this movie.

Ator: Miles O’Keefe is our beefy, loin-clothed hero. He’s pretty handy in a fight but manages to get captured more than once. Oh, and he can construct a fully functional hang glider that he can drop bombs from. Yes, that happens in this movie.

Mila: Lisa Foster is our heroine and she’s easy on the eyes. Once she finds Ator she doesn’t really do much besides follow his lead, have conversations, and get captured. She wears a hubcap on her chest and can travel great distances with an arrow sticking out of her chest.

Akronas: Charles Borromel is our egalitarian sage. He talks…very…slowly and is full…of exposition.

Zor: David Brandon as David Cain Haughton is our Villain. He’s got a gigantic helmet and a gigantic moustache, both goofy. Oh, and eyeliner. He and Akronas trade passive aggressive “banter” back and forth for the bulk of the movie.

Thong: Kiro Wehara as Chen Wong is Ator’s hyper-competent sidekick who is the one who actually does most of the heroism. He’s also got the best dialogue in the movie. See, since he doesn’t speak, implying that the dialogue isn’t very…ah forget it. Regardless, he’s the badass of the film.

Directed by Joe D’Amato as “David Hills” and cinematography by Joe D’Amato as “Federico Slonisco.” The visuals are uninspired and there are all manner of anachronisms and gaffes throughout the movie. Like hand rails and tire tracks. Costume design…isn’t very good either.

Written by Joe D’Amato as “David Hills,” the story fares a little bit better. It follows standard fantasy movie conventions for a while. Threats are encountered, then somewhat unceremoniously defeated so they can move on to the next fantasy cliché situation. And then we get the hang glider scene and we jump off the cliff from fantasy clichés into surrealism and then at the end we have a shot of a nuclear mushroom cloud and some narration that has absolutely NOTHING to do with the movie.

Original music by Joe D’-- Oh. No, actually its by Karl Michael Demer and Carlo Rustichelli. Lots of synthesizers.

Ator L’invincible 2 is one weird low budget fantasy movie, which makes it eminently riffable and oddly enjoyable. It manages to be weird and not boring. In that regard, its actually quite entertaining and watchable.

Note I didn't say "good" anywhere up there.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

“The monster can destroy everything with his tongue.”

What’s this? MORE Gamera the giant nigh-invincible turtle?? Yep. Here’s 1966’s Daikaijû kettô: Gamera tai Barugon (AKA Gamera Strikes Again AKA War of the Monsters AKA Gamera vs. Barugon), the first Gamera movie to be in color.


We pick up right after Gamera the Invincible with a meteorite/asteroid hitting Gamera’s rocket almost immediately and releasing him from his prison. So much for the Z Plan. Being Gamera, the big turtle is able to fly back to Earth and attacks a power plant because of the whole feeding on heat energy thing. Gamera loves flames. Then he flies away.

Then we have a pilot getting recruited into a shady treasure hunt to (at least in the English dub) New Guinea to recover a huge opal that was stashed there during the war (WWII, presumably). A team of three (and thankfully no little kids in sight) arrive, are warned by the natives to not go, they go anyway, find the opal and of course, one of them gets really dead, one gets really greedy, and one (our hero) gets really almost blown up. He’s rescued (then berated) by the villagers and the girl in the village decides to go after it to return it (our hero agrees to go with her to fix his mistake). The traitor high-tails it back to Japan, but along the way, the Opal is irradiated and starts to hatch. Turns out its not an opal at all.

At landfall, BARUGON busts out of the ship, a giant four-legged dog/lizardy thing with a tongue that can shoot out and catch stuff, breath that can freeze things and a back that can shoot out a deadly rainbow. Wait, deadly rainbow? Barugon freezes Gamera when he shows up (effectively removing him for most of the movie) and goes on a rampage. According to legend, his greatest weakness is water, so the humans try their hardest to lure him into a lake so he can drown. Doesn’t work. They also construct a giant mirror system to reflect the rainbow back onto Barugon. It sort of works. Then, when all hope seems lost, Gamera thaws out and beats Barugon in an incredibly anticlimactic fight: by grabbing the beast and dragging him into the water where he promptly drowns.

Directed by Shigeo Tanaka, the visuals are fairly standard for the genre. The Gamera and Barugon suits aren't bad, but they do look a little lower quality than contemporary Godzilla kaiju costumes. The monster fights themselves are disappointingly brief and most of the movie is spent alternating between the humans and whatever model set Barugon is currently demolishing.

Written by Nisan Takahashi, the story feels a little…divided. Gamera is barely in it, so he feels tacked on, the human stuff isn’t really bad at all, it just feels like a kaiju was shoehorned in to its original pitch. Barugon isn't really a well defined monster: he’s just a baby from a race of “demons” that hatch every 1000 years on his island and when one does, the villagers just throw a giant diamond into a large body of water and said monster drowns. It begs the question: “why?” Why is Barugon’s species drawn to shiny objects like that? Why is submersion an instant kill? Why a rainbow attack?? Why isn’t Gamera in the movie more?

Original music by Chûji Kinoshita, which is fine for the genre. Additionally, the sound effects for Barugon aren't all that great. The beastie makes a kind of snap-hissing sound for almost everything.

Well, Gamera vs. Barugon isn't very good. It’s kind of a slog and there’s not enough Gamera in it to truly justify him getting top billing. Barugon is plenty weird though, with his tongue, rainbow death ray and amazingly specific weakness. Major props for not having a massively annoying kid, too.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

“Trumpy, you can do magic things!”

In the international spirit fostered by the Olympics, how about a low budget Spanish/French horror movie that got a cutesy plot about a kid adopting an alien tacked on because E.T. was a huge success? Or a cutesy movie about a kid adopting an alien with a horror movie tacked on because it was too similar to E.T. 1983 produced Los Nuevos Extraterrestres, AKA The Unearthling AKA Extraterrestrial Visitors AKA The Pod People (there are no pods. There are eggs, but not pods.)

Nothing good will come of this.

Well, we’ve actually got 3 plots. Plot A involves a group of rather bored looking poachers sneaking into a park to, well, poach. One of them wanders into a cave and finds a bunch of weird eggs, so his first instinct is to start smashing them up. He destroys most of them before being killed by the camera--err, monster, who then goes a-huntin’ for humans.

Plot B involves a bunch of unlikable but innocent (bad) musicians going camping in the same woods for the weekend and they get systematically killed off by the same monster.

Plot C involves a weird little kid named Tommy who lives with his mother and grandfather in a house in the same park (??) who finds the last egg and hatches it. It grows into a short fuzzy thing with an elephant snout that he calls Trumpy. Trumpy has incredible powers over time and space that he uses to do really dumb stop motion effects.

The three storylines collide, people die, the audience is left confused because nothing makes any sense.

Directed by Juan Piquer Simón, the visual elements of the movie never mesh. The best scenes are the big establishing shots of foggy mountains. When that’s the best the movie has to offer, it’s a bad sign. The rest of movie? Not so good. The alien costumes are really, really bad and there’s WAYYYYYYY too much fog. Pacing is also an issue, as well as mood whiplash because you go from a monster stalking teens in the woods to a friendly monster befriending a disturbingly sheltered kid.

Joaquín Grau and Juan Piquer Simón on scripting duty. 3 storylines, 2 different moods. It doesn’t work. At all. Doesn’t help that the characters are all universally unlikable. Although two of the dumb poachers are at least somewhat amusing, but they get killed off halfway. Trumpy is somewhat likable, but he doesn’t speak (which is probably part of his charm).

The music is really, really bad.  There is one musical number because the teenagers are in a recording studio because they’re a band, but the lyrics are near unintelligible.

I read somewhere that the director was never happy with the end result, and I can see why. The Pod People/Extraterrestrial Visitors/The Unearthling/Los Nuevos Extraterrestres is a mess of conflicting moods, bad characters and bad effects. Although the MST3K version is a riot.

Good? He's the BEST!