Calculate your chances...negative...negative...negative!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Review: Prophecies of Nostradamus: Ultimate Edition (WTF-film)

aka Nosutoradamusu no daiyogen, Catastrophe: 1999, Last Days of Planet Earth

Where to begin with this one?

First off, what you need to know about Prophecies of Nostradamus is that it is a mid-seventies environmental disaster film. In fact, it may be the mid-seventies environmental disaster film to end all mid-seventies environmental disaster films. It's long, pretty heavy handed and kind of a downer.

In the film, we follow Dr. Nishiyama, an environmental scientist who has inherited a book of Nostradamus' writings, as he attempts to tell the Japanese government that pollution, the arms race and nuclear fallout are causing the prophecies to come true. First all the fish in the ocean die. Then giant slugs are discovered. Mutants are born to humans. SST jets explode in the sky. And on and on and on.

There really isn't much story to this movie. It's basically a series of one catastrophe after another designed to scare the viewer into a more Earth friendly way of living. There is some subplot involving Nishiyama's family, but it really serves as more of a breather from the waves of destruction than anything else. The ending isn't so much of an ending as it is an idealistic appeal for conservation and restraint.

This is one of those movies people either seem to really like or really hate. A lot of that seems to hinge on which cut of the movie you've seen (more on that later.) I've only seen the full Japanese cut and skimmed the other versions. Even though the full cut runs nearly two hours, it feels much shorter because there is just so much insanity happening. The pacing is really brisk and the viewer never has time to get bored.

I can excuse the fact that there isn't much story because that's really not the point. What little acting there is is well done. There's talent in this film, even if they mostly just have to react to the madness happening around them.

This film is really about showing scenes of death and destruction and to that end, it succeeds fantastically. The effects are very well done, for the most part, and there are a ton of them. It's obvious there was a lot of money put into this film. Contrast this one to Toho's Godzilla film of the year (Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla) and you'll see what I mean.

And while there's not much story, this film has an abundance of atmosphere. There's a chilling beauty to it that's reflected in everything from the shots to the excellent Tomita score. It's the kind of movie that puts you in a mental place rather than putting you into a character's life and it's very effective in keeping you there once you're reeled in.

More people know about this film than have seen it because it was banned by Toho themselves. Shortly after hitting the theater, protests began over the film's portrial of the nuclear fallout afflicted natives in New Guinea and the post-nuclear war mutants. It was censored pretty heavily before Toho decided to pull the plug. An international cut of the film was released however (Catastrophe: 1999,) which had about twenty minutes of mostly dialog cut and an American TV version (Last Days of Planet Earth) was cut even further.

It's this American TV version that most people have seen. It was released on VHS and laserdisc and aside from an obscure Eurpoean tape of the international cut is the only home video version of the film avaliable outside the gray market. Late in the 90s, Toho tried to release Nosutoradamusu no daiyogen on video, but again, the protests were too great.

This Ultimate Edition of Prophecies of Nostradamus from WTF-flim has got to be the Criterion Collection edition of gray market releases. It's five DVDs long and includes four versions of the film. Discs one and two feature the uncut Japanese version. Disc three has a restored international cut. Disc four is a French version (no subtitles) and five is the Last Days of Planet Earth cut.

The reason Nosutoradamusu no daiyogen is split over two discs must be the wealth of alternate audio tracks including isolated sound track, a commentary track and an alternate audio drama CD reading. I wish the fidelity on the commentary was better. It's a little hard to hear on the bit I flipped over for. Also, the drama track is puzzling. I really don't know what it is and I wish that had been explained.

The reconstructed international cut was made using the audio from the Eurpoean tape and the video from the Japanese cut. Apparently the video on the tape was cropped so the Japanese footage was edited approporately and a new title sequence was created to mirror the correct one. I really appreciate the restoration notes included on this disc.

The French and US cuts seem to be pretty much as they were. Nothing special about them.

The video quality on Nosutoradamusu no daiyogen is much better than I expected. I know there's a version of this floating around but it's unsubtitled and has a timecode at the top, from what I understand. WTF's version is subtitled and does not have a timecode on it. The video is a little hazy and the colors are kind of washed out, but for a film this rare, this is still a great presentation.

The French cut is the roughest video on the set. While it is widescreen, it is cropped on the sides. It also has the blurry look of dubbed video. The US Last Days fares the best on the image quality but it's heavily panned and scanned. Also, a minor quibble here, with all the care put in on this set, it's a shame a laserdisc source wasn't used for Last Days. Granted, the VHS dub looks good, but I'm sure a laserdisc source would have been even better.

In addition to the commentary, soundtrack and drama CD audio, there are WTF’s usual image galleries featuring promo material for the film. There are also notes included on the restoration of Catastrophe: 1999 and the incorrect credits on the French cut. I really dig trivia like this and I hope WTF includes more information like this in their future releases.

I should also note that WTF offers a two disc set of just Nosutoradamusu no daiyogen for those not interested in doing the compare and contrast with the edited versions of the film. My feeling is, with a film this big and over the top, you need a DVD equally big and over the top to contain it. If you're interested enough to seek this obscurity out, you're likely to be interested enough to dig the alternate versions as well.

Short of Toho reversing their ban, which seems unlikely at this point. I'm confident in saying this will be the definitive version of Prophecies of Nostradamus on DVD. An overwhelming release of an overwhelming movie. I can’t say this is a film that will click with everyone, but if you like disaster films or Toho effect movies, you really need to check this set out.

Sidenote: While I was watching this, my fiancee called and asked me "What cha watching? Toho vs. Tokyo." The more I think about it, the more I think she may have nailed the essence of this movie without even knowing of it's existance.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Review: The World the Flesh and the Devil (WTF-film)

Ralph Burton gets trapped in a coal mine and when he manages to escape five days later, he discovers he is apparently the only living creature left. A radioactive dust has seemed to have wiped out all other life on Earth.

He drives up to New York hoping to find other survivors and, after a lengthy time isolated, comes in contact with Sarah Crandall, who has been keeping an eye on him for a while. Their relationship is tense and awkward from almost the beginning. Sarah can't decide weather to rip his clothes off or run away screaming and Ralph seems more interested in trying to single handedly rebuild civilization than anything more than companionship.

The situation is exasperated by the appearance of another man, Ben Thacker, who, after Ralph saves his life, quickly puts the moves on Sarah. This, of course, leads to a big showdown over Sarah and if I told you anymore, I'd have told you the entire film.

WFD starts out pretty strong. Nothing that hasn't been done a million times by now (the whole "Last Man on Earth" bit) but it looks like this is going to be an enjoyable enough film. Harry Belefonte is a suprisingly good actor and really puts in a good effort doing the whole alone on the planet/slowly losing mind/trying to hold on to some sort of normalcy thing.

Then we meet Sarah and what was a "Day After" survival film becomes girl really likes the guy/guy likes girl but won't show it kind of films. When Ben appears, the love triangle is complete and you can pretty much guess what happens.

The thing is, once Ralph and Sarah meet, there isn't much character development and that's a huge problem considering the film switches into an entirely character driven story. For example, I really don't understand the whole racial subtext between the two other than this was 1959 and interracial couples were pretty taboo. The scene where Ben lashes out at Sarah essentially about how they wouldn't be equals if they weren't pretty much the only two people on the Earth seems out of character for him and unprovoked by her.

I also tried really hard to find something good about Ben but just couldn't. From the moment he was able to get out of bed, it seemed like he was planning Ralph's demise and to have his way with Sarah regardless of how she felt about it. Considering the ending (which I won't spoil for you but I will say was a total cop-out ending,) the other characters must seem something redeeming in him. It's never revealed to the audience though.

It's a shame that this movie went the way it did. There's some beautiful cinematography and the music is excellent. Belafonte is promising, when he actually has a chance to develop his character. While I was still interested in the movie until the end, it was hard to walk away feeling anything less than dissapointed.

However, WTF-flim's DVD of this movie isn't dissapointing. The picture could be sharper (possibly sourced from video) but it still looks pretty good and the Cinemascope aspect ratio is preserved. There's also an isolated music soundtrack, so you can just listen to the score, and there's a photo gallery. I almost feel it should go without saying to those of you who have read my other WTF reviews, but the cover is nicely done as is the menu.

Still, it's hard for me to recommend this disc because the film kind of left me cold. If you are a fan of The World the Flesh and the Devil, and can't wait for TCM to run this one again (as apparently they show this from time to time,) I don't think you'll be dissapointed with this disc. For anyone else, I'd suggest keeping an eye on the cable guide before picking this one up.

Just call me Toshio...

because it's looking like I'm obsessed with turtles.

Here's a couple of Gamera trailers to go with my last post. This first on is for the US version of the first Gamera film, Gammera the Invincible. This still has a bit of the classic US drive in trash trailer feel to it.

To the other end of the Gamera time line, here's the trailer for Gamera vs. Zigra. This film was never released theatrically in the US and wasn't even seen over here until 1987. This is the Japanese trailer, but it's subtitled and it has English supers!

Both of these come from the long out of print Neptune Media VHS versions of these films. Gammera the Invincible is essential as it's the only time this has appeared on home video in it's correct aspect ratio and it looks a million times better than any of the DVDs floating around.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Gamera vs. Gammera (vs. Godzilla King of the Monsters)

I'd encourage you to check out this article Phil Hall over at Film Threat has written about Gamera in his Bootleg Files column. Honestly, I was going to cover this movie in a similar fashion, but he beat me to the punch. Oh well. Even though I don't agree with his assessment that Gamera was the worst kaiju creature ever, I still think he's "always entertaining". ;)

So, let me piggyback on what Phil wrote over there. As I'm sure you know, I love Gamera and most of the reason being he and his films are just so dang goofy. I mean, a giant, fire eating, flying turtle who is friend to all children? Sign me up!

This first Gamera movie wasn't quite the loopy kiddie fare as the rest of the series though. It's pretty obvious the inspiration for this one was the first Godzilla film, as Gamera shares it's ominous tone and rather stark black and white feel.

Even so, there are moments in the film, like when Gamera rescues Toshio from the lighthouse (which, to be fair, Gamera had just smashed) that portray Gamera as more of the good guy he'd become in later films. It also feels like Gamera is portrayed a bit more sympathetically in this film than Godzilla would be in his first.

Like the first Godzilla film, Gamera wouldn't make the voyage to America without some major alterations. Scenes with Americans were added and love interest subplots were removed in both films.

Godzilla, The King of the Monsters (the US version of Gojira) is shorter than it's Japanese counterpart, even with added scenes. One of the most interesting thing about how that movie was Americanized was that it wasn't just dubbed into English. Instead, the story was retold through Steve Martin's (Raymond Burr) eyes so he'd have to ask for someone nearby to translate what was going on. It was a pretty clever solution and I'm sure it saved money as the whole film didn't need dubbed, just a few parts where he's directly talking to main characters.

The American version of Gamera was titled Gammera the Invincible. It actually runs longer than the Japanese version due to the inclusion of many scenes by the US distributor. Almost all of these scenes are talky and grind the film to a halt.

I will say one positive thing about the US scenes, the military scenes added in the US are a million times better than the US military scenes in the original movie, even though they are a little "wacky" in tone. I'm willing to bet Daei found some Americans on a military base and put them in the movie as they are clearly not actors.

The other thing that bothers me about Gammera the Invincible is the dubbing. Now, this version was dubbed by Titan (think Speed Racer) who normally do a great job. For some reason, everyone talks like Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's in the dub track here. Of course, it's still miles better than the second version of Gamera which would come to us from the infamous Sandy Frank.

Gammera the Invincible was released in 1966 by World Entertainment Corp. It then went to TV, where it played along side the rest of the Gamera films that AIP brought straight to TV. Apparently in the 80s, the rights to the Gamera films switched over to Sandy Frank, who was bringing bunch of Japanese movies and TV shows to America.

For many of us who grew up in the 80s, this was how we were exposed to Japanese shows from the 60s and 70s as many cable and UHF channels bought these films and they were staples of creature feature and Saturday afternoon movie shows. Of course, the Sandy Frank syndication package also accounts for a large part of the third season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the highlight of the series, for me anyway.

Rather than paying again for the right to the US Gammera the Invincible, Frank just took the Japanese film and redubbed it. The good thing about this was, for the first time we saw the untampered version of Gamera in the states. However, the dubbing was atrocious, to the point of making the movie unintentionally comical.

This Sandy Frank version made it to home video, both as cheap VHS and as half of a laserdisc Gamera double feature. It's currently unavailable on DVD, though it's not difficult to find on the collector's circuit. Same for the MST3K version.

Gammera the Invincible first made it to home video in 1998 when Neptune released an excellent letterboxed tape. They also released the Japanese Gamera widescreen and subtitled on VHS and laserdisc, which is the only time the completely unaltered movie has been available in the US. Unfortunately, Neptune seemed to go out of business quickly and the pricey tapes weren't generally available and are still difficult to come by.

Currently Gammera the Invincible is languishing in public domain hell. In 2003, Alpha released a DVD of the 16mm pan and scan TV print of the film and since then everyone and their brother has done likewise. I am normally a big fan of the public domain, but in this instance I wonder if Gamera is truly in the public domain.

This situation seems to happen for a lot of foreign films; the US distributer fails to renew their version of a film as they haven't renegotiated the rights for the film. These version then fall into the public domain, but the original film is still protected meaning they'd still have to be licensed from the original foreign company but not the US one who made the alterations.

Confusing isn't it? I guess that's why a lot of stuff falls through the cracks. It seems like many foreign film companies either don't know what's going on or don't feel it would be worth their time to pursue the copyright on their works.

While it's nice to get all these movies for cheap, it greatly diminishes the likelyhood of getting anything other than cheap copies. Who would want to put the money into releasing a restored version of a film when not only would it have to compete against dozens of cheap versions, but someone could rip off your restoration job and there'd be little you could do about it?

If you're really interested in the film, I'd suggest you look for the Neptune VHS*. Seeing Gammera the Invincible in it's proper aspect ratio is like watching a different film. The Gamera movies look considerably less cheap when seen widescreen, but unfortunately US audiences rarely got a chance to see them this way. The cheap DVDs out there range from ok to unwatchable, but even at best, you're watching a highly compromised version of the film.

I strongly doubt the Sandy Frank versions are ever going to make it to DVD legitimately, but here's the Sandy Frank song from MST3K to tide you over.

* Neptune also released separate dubbed and subtitled widescreen tapes of a couple other Gamera films. I have Gamera vs. Zigra on the way in a dubbed version that AIP never released to TV. Correction: Baah. It's the same damn Sandy Frank dub with the little girl whining about wanting a Coke every five minutes. Still, this one isn't out on DVD in a "public domain" version and the tape is letterboxed, so it's got that going for it.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Review: TV Favorites: Classic Commercials (Madacy)

This was an impulse purchase. I dig the old commercials and I saw this two disc collection in Best Buy for $8. Even though I was very aware of Madacy's reputation as bottom of the barrel quality wise, I figured for $8 I couldn't go too wrong. Famous last words, I guess.

Let me mention the good first. Rather than trying to cram almost four hours of video on one disc, Madacy made this a two set. I didn't notice any ugly macroblocking typical of budget releases. I appreciate the fact that they grouped the commercials by theme (food, kid's stuff, celebrities, etc.) and for the most part they got it right. I didn't notice many duplicates, which is also a surprise.

When I put the disc in, I was greeted with a nice menu that looks like an old TV and plays clips from the commercials. Because of that, I though maybe the quality would be better than I was expecting. How wrong I was.

OK, I know this material wasn't exactly preserved well, nor was it designed to be. I've seen a lot of commercial tapes, and the quality is always hit or miss. In the case of this collection, it's like they started with poor material and managed to make it worse.

The stuff that was likely cribbed from Rhino's old Commercial Mania tape looks alright, but it goes down hill fast from there. It's like half of this disc is taken from tenth generation slow speed VHS dubs. Color commercials look like blobs and streaks moving around on your screen, as if Jackson Pollock did animation. Black and white clips are so dark, it's difficult to tell what, if anything, is happening.

To add insult to injury, about fifteen minutes of footage that otherwise doesn't look too bad is completely ruined by a flashing white streak that appears across the screen intermittently. It looks like someone doing the transfer had a short in a cable somewhere and they didn't bother to go back and fix it. Pathetic and lazy.

I wish I had something better to say about this collection as there are some great clips on here. Too bad most of them are unwatchable.

Here's a few of my favorites that I also found on YouTube.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Review: The Green Slime (WTF-flim)

Protip: this is not a documentary about You Can't Do That on Television.

A giant asteroid is approaching the Earth and only Commander Jack Rankin (he of the Ronald Regan hair, permanent smirk and the thumbs-up) can save us. In order to do this, he will have to collaborate with his former partner Commander Vince Elliott (who is packing a lemon sucking face and the tendency to get people around him killed.) Rankin and Elliot previously had a falling out over some mission procedures and over the luscious Lisa Benson, who just so happens to be the head doctor on the space station they'll be using as base.

While planting explosives on the asteroid, the crew encounters a living slime that covers their equipment in the short time they are there. A researcher who has tagged along wants to take back a sample to study and when Rankin swats the specimen out of his hands, a small bit splashes up on his space suit. The decontamination process causes this unnoticed bit of slime to grow rapidly. On one part of the ship, everyone is celebrating the asteroids demise. On the other, creatures that feed on energy and grow rapidly are beginning to take over.

As you can guess, the next hour of the movie is spent trying to kill the creatures, which only seem to feed on being shot until about the second to last reel when shooting them magically works. We also have the unfolding subplot of what happened between Rankin and Elliot (it's never really explained, but apparently it had something to do with fatally putting several men in danger to rescue one) and, of course, the love triangle between the the Commanders and Dr. Benson runs it's awkward course.

Several people, including one of the main characters, die. Many of the silliest monsters not appearing in a Roger Corman film die. Unconvincing models do their thing. And the two people you know were going to live happily ever after do, I think.

It's kind of hard to believe The Green Slime was a 1968 film. Everything about this movie, short of the go-go 60's theme song and general vibe, could have come straight from an AIP flick ten years earlier. I've read somewhere this film was intended to be part of a series and kind of a tribute to old space serials like Rocky Jones, which would explain a lot.

The acting is stiff and there's no real likable characters. Rankin is an asshole, Elliot is a bit of a putz and Benson seems to be hedging her bets and playing both sides. Some of this may be due to the unusual circumstances under which The Green Slime was made. The back story of the movie is probably more interesting than the movie itself.

Apparently, this was the first Japanese-American movie collaboration, and, through writer Ivan Reiner, there's Italian influence as well. The film was shot entirely in Japan, in English, using all Caucasians and most of the extras came from the nearby US Air Force base. It may or may not be connected to an earlier series of Gamma 1 films. Similar sets and props are used, but the connection is never made clear.

MGM and Toei prepared different cuts of this movie for the US and Japan respectively. This wasn't uncommon at the time, and still isn't as rare as it should be today. The US cut is what I've been talking about so far. Japan got a shorter version of this film (basically all the love triangle stuff is pulled) with different, more serious music cues. This Japanese cut of the film is also the only version to appear on DVD to date. Prior to this WTF-film release, anyone wanting to see the US version of The Green Slime was left with either the pan and scan VHS or a DVD-R sourced from that tape.

What WTF has done is take the shorter Japanese cut of the film, edit the missing scenes back in and sync it to the US soundtrack. I was a little curious as to how this would work as the only version of the US film I knew of was badly cropped versus the original Cinemascope aspect ratio of the Japanese DVD. Well, WTF located an interesting compromise, an Italian broadcast print which is the same as the US version of the film but instead of being panned and scanned to 1.33, it's just cropped on the sides to about 1.78.

It's a lot less disorienting going from the 2.35 scenes to the 1.78 than it would be if the old US tape was used, but there's another catch with this solution. First off, the colors are over saturated and the whole thing has a video look to it. The other problem is, there's a bug on the lower left hand corner of screen with, I'm assuming, the TV station's logo.

Even with these flaws, I found the presentation to be much more enjoyable than watching the old US tape. Until an official disc is released, this is the best we're going to get. I know a lot of work was put into this version and I can't imagine going back to the tape after seeing this composite widescreen version.

However, WTF's disc doesn't stop there. How does two more versions of this film grab you? On the second disc, we get the Japanese cut and split between the two discs, the Italian version. Unfortunately, neither of these are subtitled. Since the Italian version seems to mirror the US version (I only noticed the end music changed,) this one is not that big of a deal. I can't really see anyone watching this one for more than curiosity's sake*.

I wish the Japanese cut had been subtitled, but it's still pretty easy to follow, so it's not that big a deal. It's nice to have it, to compare and contrast with the US version, but, considering it's pretty obvious when a scene was cut into the composite US version, it's almost unnecessary. Still, if you want to check out the different music, there it is.

There's also trailers and an image gallery. The cover is also good looking, though I'd have put the English title on the spine as that is the focus of this release. Still, it looks good on the shelf so I can't really complain.

For most people, this set is probably going to be a little bit of overkill. I know it was for me. However, I genuinely appreciate the completest nature of these releases from WTF-flim. Even though most people won't have too much need for the other cuts of this film, the composite US version is the only version you need until Sony (or whoever controls the MGM catalog these days) decides to give this one a proper release.

Like Commander Rankin, I give this set a hearty thumbs-up.

* In case you're wondering about why the flim was split over two discs rather than making this a three disc set, well, it seems as if this was broadcast in two parts as there's are "end of part one" and "beginning of part two" title cards clearly part of the broadcast. I really can't see anyone watching this, I think it was just included for completeness sake, so it's no loss either way.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The future of animation.

Saddly, I halfway think I'm telling the truth.

Review: Battle of the Dragons (WTF-film)

(aka Kairyu daikessen, The Magic Serpent)

For most moviegoers, there isn't much in Battle of the Dragons' story they haven't seen before. A royal family is violently removed from power with only the young prince narrowly escaping. The prince then trains in seclusion with a wise old master. Just as the master is about to tell the prince the truth of his past, he is killed. The prince then heads out to seek revenge and reclaim his kingdom. Along the way, he falls in love with a young woman who, it turns out, is the estranged daughter of the evil wizard who made the overthrow of his family possible and who is planning a coup of his own.

Get the idea?

While the plot may not win any awards for originality, the movie works well due to good acting and a snappy pace. The story is adequate, but I don't think it's really the main attraction of this film anyway.

See, you're never going to get bored because it's as if Toei decided to throw nearly everything that was hip and happening in Japanese cinema of the day (1966) in this one flick. Swordplay, ninjas, kaiju, magic. You name it, it's in there. With so much stuff going on, you might think Battle of the Dragons would be a mess, but somehow it all holds together nicely.

Some of the blue screen effects are dated and obvious, but for the most part the effects in this film are very good for the time. I really like the kaiju fight at the end. The monsters have a neat design and someone put some time and money in to the miniatures they are stomping though.

Unfortunately, this movie has kind of a reputation for being another cheesy Asian movie. I think this is due to the fact that like the Gamera movies, it was picked up by AIP for TV syndication and has only ever been available to US audiences as a dubbed, pan and scan shell of what it really is.

Contrasting this to the US TV version (which is out on a Retromedia disc with Return of the Giant Monsters) is almost like watching two different movies. WTF's disc is a anamorphic widescreen presentation taken from a good looking print with just the smallest damage in a few spots. The colors are a little dull, but that may be a fault of the film stock used at the time. I'm guessing this print is taken from the region 2 disc.

WTF-film again impresses with the options offered on this disc. You can watch this film in Japanese with subs, English dubbed* or hear just the soundtrack. The subs are easy to read, though at times there's a lot to read on the screen, and the Japanese audio is clear and sounds good. The English dub (done by Titan) is slightly lower in fidelity, which is most apparent as a few music cues had to be cut back in from the Japanese soundtrack due to AIP adding their own credits.

There are also trailers, the AIP TV opening credits, an image gallery and alternate audio. Honestly, I can't tell what's alternate about the alternate audio. It brings up a screen with Japanese text and plays a version of either the opening or closing song. Again, I'm guessing this was taken from the region 2 disc, but I really don't know. It's nice to have, even if it's something I'm not interested in really.

As seems to be standard with WTF-flim discs, the menu looks nice (though this one is a little confusing in the layout) and the artwork and disc look very nice. Again, this is another winner from WTF-flim and is highly recommended.

* one interesting thing about the English dub. Not only are the actors dubbed, but the kaiju are redubbed as well. For some reason the dragon now has Godzilla's roar, the frog sounds like Rodan and the giant bird, Mothra.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

More Dollar Tree Halloween Crap!

I couldn't justify buying any more of this junk, but man, are these people getting some mileage out of their (probably) bootleg Halloween stuff this year. I stumbles across two more products bearing the same images as the posters, figurines and finger puppets I blogged earlier.

These are some really crappy PDA pictures, so bear with me.

Here's playing cards. Yep, nothing says Halloween quite like a game of hearts. WHOOOOO!!!! Veeeerrrryyyyy Scaaaaarrrrrrryyyyyy Kiiiiiiddddddssssss.

OK, this is going to require a little more explaining because the picture is so terrible. It's slime in a can. Not like Silly Putty, this actually looks like slime. It's watery and looks like it would make a huge mess and possible be toxic to young kids who will inevitable try to eat it.


Hear that sound? It's the bottom of the barrel being scraped. I mean, playing cards? Come on. The slime is at least a little cool, but what's next? Temporary tatoos? Coloring books? I guess they could still slap those pictures on a pack of gum or something like that.


I gotta say though...King of the Lizards STILL MAKES ME LAUGH! Heh heh heh.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Review: The Giant Claw (WTF-film and CryptFlicks)

The Giant Claw is one of those movies I can't figure out why they never got around to featuring on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Pretty much from first frame to last this movie is nothing but cinematic cheese.

Here's my one sentence summary of the Giant Claw: The military, led by a know-it-all electrical engineer, defends model airplanes from a marionette buzzard and stock footage from Earth vs. the Flying Saucer. That's pretty much the whole enchlada right there.

I can't understand why Mitch MacAfee, the electrical engineer, is flying planes for the Air Force as a civilian or why he knows so much more about everything than anyone else in the movie. If this guy was so damn smart, why wasn't he in the military to begin with or why wasn't he an atomic physicist rather than being the guy to waltz in and tell the military's top atomic guy where he'd gotten it all wrong?

The military in this movie is of the "shoot first, ask questions never" persuasion so there's little attention given to what this bird is or why it's here. Well, there is one scene in the middle of the movie that grinds everything to a complete halt that functions as the token "oh yeah, guess we better throw some motivation into the mix" explanation. Needless to say, the science is pretty laughable.

Speaking of laughable, check this mug out:

Yep, that's "The Giant Claw" in all it's mutant Muppet buzzard glory. This silly puppet is the only reason anyone cares about this film anymore. Everything else in this movie has been done a million times in nearly every Z-grade sci-fi film of the time, but the Claw stands out even among ridiculous movie monsters of the time.

Just when you start losing interest in the movie, the Claw attacks and your brain struggles to process what you're seeing. Nothing about these effects look convincing and the scene where the Claw picks up a Lionel train has to rank with the hubcap saucers from Plan 9 and the exploding rocketship on a stick in Robot Monster.

How I came to acquire two versions of this film on DVD can be explained by my habit of buying things in lots on eBay. Someone was selling a lot of CryptFlicks discs about a week before I bought a lot of WTF-films discs. I got the CryptFlicks lot cheap, so I didn't mind the fact that I ended up with a double dip and a few films that are out officially on DVD now.

Both of these discs appear to be sourced from video and I'm willing to guess it's the obscure Goodtimes release that serves as master. If you remember buying Goodtimes VHS tapes back in the day, you have an idea of what kind of quality to expect. The print is in good shape but the master looks to be a combination of slow recording speed and cheap tape.

Both of these discs have a solid encode, though WTF's transfer is sharper and has better blacks. The sharpness of WTF's disc emphasizes the video nature of the master, but overall I preferred this disc to CryptFlicks. They both look good though and you won't be disappointed with either.

I think CryptFlicks has an edge in the audio department, however. The audio on the master is slightly clipped and it sounds like WTF used some sort of noise reduction that left the dialogue a little muffled. CryptFlicks' version is a bit noisier, but when it comes to trading noise for high end, I'll always pick the noise unless it's too obtrusive.

Each of these discs have a unique quirk that is worth mentioning. Once in the viewing of WTF's disc I noticed a slight video roll (or whatever you call that line you get from a wrinkle in a videotape.) It's brief and doesn't effect much of the screen. CryptFlicks' disc cuts off just as the end title card is fading in. Neither of these flaws are deal breakers, but I just noticed them, so I thought I'd mention them.

Both of these discs come cased with art. CryptFlicks' case shows the movie poster on the front and has a brief synopsis and movie stills on the back, just like all their other releases I own. WTF's case is a little more abstract with just a cloudy sky and text. The info about the movie is cool, but I don't like this case as much as the others in their collection.

In addition, WTF's disc has silkcreened artwork while CryptFlicks' disc is silkscreened with just the name. Both discs have menus and chapter marks. CryptFlicks gives a chapter every five minutes while WTF chapters scenes. WTF also includes a trailer and image gallery.

While there's nothing wrong with CryptFlick's disc, I have to give WTF the edge. Although I prefer the clearer, if noisier, audio from CryptFlicks, the sharper image and extras make the WTF version of this film the one to own, at least until Sony (or whoever owns the Columbia Pictures catalog from the 50s these days) decides to finally put this one out officially.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Review: Crack in the World (WTF-film)

For some reason, I'm really in a DVD reviewing mood. I recently bought a package deal from WTF-films for their entire catalog and since there's not a whole lot out there about these discs, reviewing all their discs as I'm watching them just seems like a good way to go. So this is disc three of the eleven I have. I don't know if I'm going to do them all, you'll just have to stay tuned.

This film is one I wasn't familiar with prior to stumbling across it in WTF's catalog. If I understand correctly, it's not a film that's been shown that often on TV and has never been on video, so it just kind of faded into obscurity. It's too bad because for fans of old school sci-fi, this one is a pretty good movie.

By old-school, I mean the story driven kind of sci-fi as opposed to modern, more special effects movie rollercoasters. Generally these type of movies involve a couple of sour scientists with opposing theories, a love triangle between said scientists and a lady (who is also usually a scientist) and a lot of talky parts.

In "Crack in the World," our scientists are arguing over a theory to tap into the Earth's geothermal energy. Dr. Sorenson wants to drop a nuclear warhead down a hole drilled in the Earth to poke a hole in the crust and let the magma rise while Dr. Rampion thinks this is going to cause a massive to form that would damage the Earth.

Sorenson pushes Rampion out of the way long enough to go ahead with his plan which appears to work, at first. Then reports of tidal waves and earthquakes start coming in and it's up to the scientists to figure out a way to stop the destruction the project has created.

There's also a love triangle involving the doctors and Sorenson's wife, who is also a scientist on the project and previously was involved with Rampion. In another subplot we learn Sorenson has a fatal disease which has led him to race against the clock and recklessly push ahead on the project despite his reservations.

It's kind of a shame that "Crack in the World" has dissapeared though as it's really quite good if you like serious sci-fi. The characters are all developed well and the film never talks down to the audience. The science is accurate to the time and explained in a manner that is clear.

Most of the movie shows the scientists battling to stay one step ahead of the cracking crust. The destruction effects are pretty well done, for movie which probably didn't have that much of a budget to work with.

While this gives the film some of it's most exciting scenes, it also presents it with it's biggest flaw. A few years after "Crack in the World" came out, the theory of plate tectonics would be developed and render the science that forms the core of this film implausible. I'm sure this is part of the reason you don't hear much about this movie anymore.

I'm willing to bet one of the other reasons is that "Crack in the World," which came out in 1965, has more in common with 50s sci-fi films like "Destination Moon" and "Day the Earth Stood Still" than sci-fi that would come after it such as "2001" and "Planet of the Apes." Changing tastes of the time meant this film got lost in the shuffle.

Of course, the fact that it hasn't ever officially appeared on home video doesn't help matters either. As best I can tell, this movie hasn't even shown up much on television. There have been a couple of verified showings on cable, one of which I'm willing to bet was the source for this disc from WTF.

Visually, this disc looks like a second generation dub. Given the obscurity of the film, I'm not complaining. The colors are bright, though there is a bit of bleed typical of a tape dub. The aspect ration is 1.33:1 and, for the life of me, it looks correct. I find it hard to believe that a major studio release in the mid 60s wouldn't be widescreen, but this was a low budget picture for Paramount so who knows?

As with the other WTF-flim discs I've viewed so far, there's an image gallery featuring promo materials and whatnot. The packaging is also very nice looking and looks good on the shelf. These are minor touches, but they show the love for the movie WTF brings to their projects.

While "Crack in the World" isn't going to be for everyone, if you can look past the scientific inaccuracy and enjoy older style sci-fi movies, I think you're going to dig this disc.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

It's the most wonderful time of the year...

for shopping at dollar stores. Halloween is the bomb when it comes to cheap crap doled out in the dollar stores of America. I was wondering how this year was going to stack up to last's. Last year, Dollar Tree and the Family Value Collection presented us with a huge collection of horror DVDs, many of which contained exclusive versions of some seriously obscure stuff. Of course, there was also a lot of material shamelessly cribbed from other companies.

So far on the DVD side of things, I've seen a few stragglers from last year, but there's also about six double features making the rounds from a newcomer Allegro/Pop Flix. As far as titles go, there's absolutely nothing here you haven't seen a million times if you've been following the dollar DVD scene. However, I picked up a couple of these just to see how prints stacked up and whatnot.

Ugly, aren't they? My fiancee remarked that it looks like they asked some Jr. High School art students if they wanted to earn a little extra credit designing DVD cases.

As for the visual quality, a spot check shows them to be better encodes than I've come to expect from non-flippers. For example, both movies on the Monster Mash disc also show up on Treeline single side discs, but these are encoded a lot better. You're not going to be showing off your TV with these, but at least in the clips I viewed it doesn't look like the image was created with colored tiles either.

I should also note that Screaming Skull is a fake widescreen which leads me to believe it was swiped from Elite's Drive-In discs. Just FYI.

Now, here's where things get interesting. I found all the rest of this junk at both Dollar Tree and Deals. Check these guys out...

Click on the image for a larger version. Not shown, the Wolfman finger puppet. I still need to find a Wolfman figure to go with him.

What's interesting here is everyone is changed just enough to probably not be copyright infringing. Of course, it could also be that they're just made so poorly, they don't look like what they were intended to look like.

If you notice the back of the packaging, you get vintage movie posters with Bella and Boris and all that. Flip them over and there's a small version of the poster for your to cut out.

But it gets better...

(Notice the bottom third of this poster is hacked off.)

sorry these pictures suck, but what you're looking at are 28" x 21" posters! Are you kidding me? I about pissed myself when I saw these things. There's no way possible these could be kosher, is there? They even went to the trouble of cutting any reference to Lugosi or Karolff out, but left their dang mugs in there!

For instance, Dollar Tree version...

Real version...

Notice the dollar store one has removed Bella's credit. Or how about this?

They cut out Karloff's name so the banner at the top makes no sense. Wow.

But here's my absolute favorite.


"No Toho, that is totally not Godzilla. See, Godzilla is King of the Monsters. Our guy is king of the lizards. Heck, look at our King of the Lizards finger puppet. He's swinging a club. Did Godzilla ever swing a club? No? Case closed."

Anyway, I hope some better horror DVDs start showing up, but even so, this bundle of swag is pretty neat. Expect to see these things on eBay for the next three months, but if you have a Deals or Dollar Tree in your area, you know what to do.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Review: From Hell It Came (WTF-film)

From Hell It Came is set in the tropics and we open with a bunch of Americans playing natives and dispensing some savage justice. Allegedly this guy murdered his own father who was the tribal chief with the help of American scientists who are on the island studying the effects of radioactive fallout and trying to cure a plague of some sort. He claims it was really the tribal doctor who offed his pops on behalf of the guy who took over as chief and vows to come back to seek revenge on those who set him up. He then gets a knife through the heart and is buried in what looks like a hollowed out tree.

Over in the American's camp, we see the typical scientists including the guy chasing after the frigid lady scientist. There's also Mrs. Kilgore, a wacky "Australian" woman whose ever other word is "bloomin'". The natives are now forbidden to deal with the scientists and they're beginning to worry they may soon be under attack.

However, the guy from the first scene has started his revenge. The scientists notice a tree stump starting to grow from his grave site. Pretty soon, it's grown into this big old evil tiki looking thing the natives call Tabanga. The scientists pull it out of the ground to examine it and, after they kill it and then bring it back to life, the killing begins.

The monster is kinda cool to look at, but he's about as stiff as a walking sheet of plywood. Speaking of stiff, there isn't much to write home about in the acting departement either.

I guess I should applaud the fact that the "natives" don't all speak unga-bunga English. However, it is a bit disorienting that all of the main natives speak perfect American English. If they weren't all dressed in strips of floral prints, it'd be really hard to tell the "natives" from the non-natives.

Well, except for Mrs. Kilgore. I have to wonder if they just couldn't find a boomerang for her to toss or a pet koala to hang around becuase her every line of dialogue screams out "Hey! Don't forget I'm supposed to be Australian!" She was the one character in the movie I was rooting for to die, but since she wasn't the pretty woman or a native, she was in the clear.

From Hell It Came is an excellent example of golden age drive-in horror. Not that it's an excellent film, mind you. I found it entertaining, but your mileage may vary.

What's interesting is From Hell It Came was a staple of Creature Feature programs but has never been officially released on home video. I don't know if it's a rights issue or what, but I'd think a movie like this that so many people saw and remember fondly would be worth someone's time to release. But that's where WTF-flim's disc comes in.

Apparently previous video versions of this movie have looked pretty bad. I'm happy to report WTF's disc is just a small notch below what one would expect from a commercial DVD release of B movie of this age. Apparently this was taken from a French television broadcast and the print used is in excellent shape. The only problem I saw were a couple of small digital blips typical of satelite television.

However, there is a catch. This being a French broadcast means non-removable French subtitles. Truthfully, I didn't find them that much of an inconvience. Granted, I'd rather not seen them, but you can certaintly ignore them without too much trouble. The subtitles aren't mentioned on the packaging, but it was clearly mentioned in the item description when I bought the disc.

Speaking of packaging, once again WTF-films has created a really first class looking package. I used to not care about these things, but I'm really starting to appreciate classy covers on DVD-R releases. I also appreciate the fact that WTF has included the prologue and end credits from the TV version (which also shows how poor the old video version kicking around looks) as well as an image gallery. Touches like these indicate WTF-flims commitment to the films, not just turning a buck.

Personally, I dig this disc. I would recommend it with the reservation that you might be bothered by having all the dialog on the screen in French. I know there are a couple of othere people offering this movie, but I don't know if the picture is as good. I'm willing to trade off non-removable subs for a print that is substantially better than the old video floating around and if you are too, I hightly suggest you check out this disc.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Review: 42nd Street Forever (Synapse)

Here's another DVD review for you, though this one is going to be less in depth. It might seem peculiar to watch a DVD of nothing but trailers, but when it comes to exploitation films, often times the trailers are more interesting than the movies themselves. Synapse offers up over two hours of trailer insanity from the kind of movies that played the grindhouse theaters back in the legendary days of New York's 42nd street. I think of this disc as a companion piece to the book Sleezoid Express, which, if you haven't read it, gives a first hand account of the vibe of 42nd street in the 70s and 80s.

The trailers on this disc range from violent Italian action to 3D Porn to kaiju to blacksploitation. I'm kind of surprised there's no cannibal/zombie flicks represented, but regardless, there's still something here to offend everyone.

Every movie on this collection seems to have one mission; to be the most extreme example of whatever genre it is. It's really amazing to see how daring cinema was in the 70s (even if at times it was totally tasteless) compared to now. It's also completely amazing to me to know there was a film called "Boss Nigger" (Fred Williamson, have you no shame???)

In this day and age, about the best these pictures could hope for would be cable TV, so it's also kind of mind blowing to know these movies actually were shown in a theater. Granted, the theaters these films ran in generally had a lot of, umm, non-movie related activities going on. But still, once upon a time, you could pass a marquee and read "I Dismember Mama" or "They Call Her One Eye".

Review: Super Monster (aka Gamera Super Monster)

Note: this is a new review. I think I'm done porting old blog entries for a while.

aka Super Monster Gamera aka...well, you get the idea.

This was the last of the Showa Gamera films and one that's fairly difficult to see in the US. In fact, this film is pretty much the redheaded stepchild of the entire Gamera series. It came nine years after the previous Gamera film, four after the last of rival Godzilla's, and was released during a time when kaiju films were clearly out of fashion. Like the previous installments, Supermonster was released straight to US television (MTV, in fact) but, unlike all the other Showa films which are a dime a dozen on allegedly public domain DVDs, never made it to US video.

The plot, as it is, goes something like this: there's these aliens who fly around in a ship from Empire Strikes Back that want to destroy the world by sending out a bunch of giant monsters and then there are these three space women who are somehow going to prevent that. Other than their ability to change clothes via a bad pause edit effect and shrink down to fit in a purse, we never see what special means the good space women have for protecting the Earth. In fact, every time they transform into space women, they get shot at from outer space, rendering whatever special powers they had completely useless. They all have magic Casio keyboards that can make their cars vanish, so maybe those were the secret weapon.

There's also one of the evil aliens on Earth and anytime the good space women change, her "radar watch" goes berserk and she can track them. Why they need her on Earth to track these women, I really don't know as the space ship seems to do a fine job of finding them on it's own. Somehow this evil space woman is responsible for the monsters attacking the Earth, but that's never really explained either.

We also have a Kenny here who is obsessed with turtles. He's forced to turn his pet turtle loose and then when Gamera shows up is convinced it's really his turtle. Sound familiar? It's ripped straight from the first Gamera movie.

Speaking of ripping things from other Gamera movies, all the monster battles are taken from the previous movies. You can either look at that as Gamera's greatest hits or the ultimate in lazy film making. There are a few new squences of Gamera flying, but the suit is very shabby looking and the blue screen effects are laughably bad. Even Toho would throw in at least one new monster battle when they were recycling Godzilla clips.

Considering the Showa Gamera films have always been goofy and a bit hard to follow, it's really saying something to state that this film is by far the loopiest, most confusing entry in the series. If I didn't know better, I'd almost think a reel of film was missing somewhere explaining just what the hell is going on. The old monster battles are still fun to watch, but the new parts tying them together are nearly a fever dream.

I spent most of the film's running time trying to figure out why this movie existed. It was created and released in a time when no one was making kaiju films, it's at least 50% recycled footage and the new scenes are absolutely threadbare. I read somewhere that this was a contractual obligation film which is the only possible explanation for Supermonster existing, though I never found out who was owed what and how they felt about this being delivered as the fulfillment.

As I mentioned earlier, this isn't technically available on video in the US. Going to import sources won't help much either as the Japanese DVD does not contain English subtitles. There are, however, alternate means to acquiring a version of this film an English speaker can understand.

The copy I have came from WTF-flim, who have a small but interesting catalog of movies available. I hesitate to use the word bootleg because there's a lot more going on for this disc than the average person on eBay just selling a DVD-R of the Japanese release.

First off, the packaging is nicely done. There are animated menus and the whole thing looks very professional. I'm guessing the movie is the same transfer as the region 2 DVD, but it's been subtitled with clear, easy to read subs. You also get the English dub (and you can compare and note the subtitles aren't dubtitles) as well as a music only track and what appears to be the soundtrack album. There are extras in the form of a couple of trailers, the alternate English credits (obviously taken from video and pretty severely windowboxed) and a photo gallery.

It's obvious a lot of time and care was put into this. I'm really happy to have the English dub as an option and I'm guessing some time was put into this as it sounds like a reconstruction. It's in stereo and the dialog is of a slightly lower quality than the music and effects, but I'm guessing that's due to the best avaliable source for the English track being an old VHS. It sounds pretty good though, you just notice the difference when you switch to the Japanese track (which is also stereo and I don't even think the official DVD has a stereo track.)

Serious kaiju fans are probably going to hate this film. Because it is essentially the best parts of the previous Gamera films (except the first, which was black and white and Gamera doesn't fight other monsters in it anyway) I don't think it's nearly as bad as people say. I wouldn't shell out the big dollars for the import version, but I can't recommend the WTF-film version highly enough.

(Note about the English dub. One thing that really annoyed me was the way the kept changing how they pronounced Gamera. For most of the movie, they used the incorrect ga-MAHER-ah but somewhere along the way they switched to the correct GAM-ah-rah. Then they switched back again!)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

What th'?

In case you were wondering how I was managing to write million word reviews with in minutes of each other, well, I didn't. I'm bringing over some old posts from a blog I used to keep that is going to be inactive soon. These are a buch of posts I wrote over the course of a year or so, mainly dealing with cheap DVDs. Some of the info is wrong or out of date, but I don't feel like correcting it.

Enjoy. Or ignore. Either way.

Stomp Tokyo

Some old thoughts on some of my favorite kaiju.

Can I just mention how much I love kaiju movies? I think over the last few weeks, I've seen Tokyo demolished at least 30 or 40 times by Godzilla, Gappa, Gamera, Rodan, Mothra, Megalon, etc. The movies are silly, silly and even stupid, yet I can't get enough of them.

Most of these movies have a similar plot. It goes something like this: a bunch of reporters and scientists are doing stuff. Somehow, something that group of people does ends up requiring a giant monster to defend or destroy Japan. Other monsters show up, often times in a clip recycled from a previous movie, and there's a fight leading up to the title fight (usually referenced in the name of the film.) A young boy, sometimes joined by a Causasian pal, shows up in Dasy Dukes, is granted unrestriced access to the Japanese military and saves the day. The ending is always ambiguous, leaving the viewer unsure if the monsters are dead or not.

There's generally two lines the films follow; a more serious tone where the starring creature is the heavy (the original Godzilla, for instance) or lighter, kiddie fair (as in Gamera, "friend to all children.") The rabid fans seem to prefer the more serious films, based on the fan sites I've seen out there. Personally, I prefer the more childish films as they're always weird, crazy psychedelic and just more fun.

I want to talk about a couple of films that don't follow this formula to the letter and are two of the more psychedelic examples of giant monster movies. Purists don't care much for either of these, but they're two of my favorites in the genre.

The first film I want to talk about is misleadingly called "Godzilla's Revenge." It's probably the most kid oriented of all the Godzilla films, with a story that's actually about the young boy rather than having him solve all the problems. The main story concerns the boy Ichiro being bullied and left home alone as a latch key kid. Hey, that's something I can relate to, well, could relate to anyway.

Anyway, there's an eccentric inventor guy down the hall who looks in on the boy and there's also a subplot about bank robbers on the run. So, where's the monsters? Well, Ichiro learns courage from dreaming trips to Monster Island and hanging out with Godzilla's son Minilla and watching essentially a clips reel of some of Godzilla's greatest fights. Minilla also learns courage and stands up to his nemesis, Gabara.

There's a lot of trippy stuff in this flick. The first trip to Monster Island is borderline fever dream. Minilla, who looks like someone tried to make a S'more out of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man, talks and has a voice like Barney to boot! (He also seems to share Jet Jaguar's ability to change his size as he's shorter than Ichiro yet he comes up to Godzilla's armpits.)

The plot is very silly and there's a lot of Home Alone type antics when Ichiro meets the bank robbers. The film also takes a lot of flack for recycling most of it's fights from older Godzilla flix, though I think it kind of works as a greatest hits film.

So, what's good about this movie? I'm not really sure. Maybe it's the fact that I remember digging this one as a kid. It's different in that it deviates from my monster movie archetype up there. There's no military, the inventor is as close as we come to a scientist and the reporters only come in at the end when the robbers are caught. Hell, Tokyo doesn't even get leveled in this one!

I guess it's just that the story is kind of sweet and it makes no bones about being something other than a kid's movie. Yeah, they recycled a lot, but they also put effort into the new bits. Maybe it's the scene where Godzilla is trying to teach Minilla to breathe fire. Still cracks me up, cheesy as it is.

My second one is another overtly kiddie one, Attack of the Monsters. AOM will be better known to MST3K fans (and VHS renters) as Gamera vs. Gurion. More on that later.

What you've got here is two boys who hop a ride in a UFO which landed in a field. The UFO zips them to Terra, Earth's sister planet which somehow has never been discovered. There the boys meet two hot Japanese...err...Terra women who explain to them that they are the last people on Terra as it been attacked by Gyaos. Their last line of defence is Guillon who kind of looks like a pocket knive with legs.

The Terra women seem real nice, but actually they want to eat the boys brains and then return to Earth and conquer it. I'm not sure why someone would send an empty space ship to Earth, hoping to lure two boys into it for lunch, but what do I know? Well, of course, Gamera is having none of that and swoops in to save the day. Apparently Gamera can hear across space, breathe with no oxygen and spot weld a UFO that was cut in half. It's pretty amazing stuff.

I like this movie a lot because it's just over the top. At the time this was made, Daiei was starting to feel the hurt financially and it shows a bit in this movie. The models just don't look as good as they used to (check the scene where Gamera does his little gymnastics stunt. Cheepnis, indeed!) The fight scenes are pretty cool though. The inside of the spaceship and the Terra base are pretty dang groovy though.

It's almost like to make up for the budget, or lack there of, they delivered a crazy story line. I mean, little in this movie makes sence. But that's part of the fun, I think. Yeah, it's stupid, but it's a fun, over the top stupid with some serious heart.

Both of these movies are pretty easy to find, though the Region 1 discs currently avalible are pathetic. Both films were originally shot in a wide aspect ratio but all R1 DVDs currently avaliable are Pan and Scan. There's a Widescreen "Godzilla's Revenge from 1998 which isn't too hard to find though.

As for "Attack of the Monsters", this film has a strange history in the US. Like most of the Gamera films, this was picked up by American International Pictures to pad out their TV Syndication packages. The films were dubbed, cropped, edited and sent out to TV. I think only the first Gamera film (released here as "Gammera the Invincible") actually had a theatrical run.

In the 80s, the films were picked up by Sandy Frank Enterprises for TV and home video. Rather than using AIP's prints, they went back to the Japanese versions of the films, redubbed them, cropped them, gave them the international titles and put them out there. These are the versions Joel and the bots riffed on in seasons 0 and 3 of Mystery Science Theater 3000. These are the versions of this series I remember growing up watching.

(Incidentally, the Sandy Frank dubbing is very poorly done. AIP hired the same studio that did Speed Racer and the results are very good, as far as these things go. Sandy Frank's version has the Terra ladies speaking like they're from Georgia and Akio is obsessed with traffic accidents. Both versoions seem to confuse planets with stars though. Heh.)

Apparently the AIP versions of these films have gone public domain in the states now which means there are more versions of these films on DVD than you can count. If you wish to recreate the expirence of watching one of these films when they were broadcast on UHF stations in the 70s, you're in luck as all these discs I've seen are taken from fuzzy, scratchy 16mm TV syndication prints. Though I'd love to see better discs, I think for these films the expirence is almost enhanced by these crappy looking prints as that's how most of us saw these films.

So, there's two giant monster flicks I don't think get any respect. They're both cheesy and juvenile, but I love them both.


Earlier this year, I got a Pioneer Laseractive. This was my view of that particular videogame hardware oddity.

Let me tell you a little story about what kind of strange luck I have sometimes. I was in the market for a Laserdisc player, crusing the pawns, not finding much. Yeah, I saw lots of decks on eBay, but these days everyone is gouging on the shipping, so a $45 good deal quickly becomes a $90 not so good deal. No thank you.

Anyway, like I said, I'm not turning up anything, but I stop back in this one shop I'd been in before and remember them having a late 90s industrial Pioneer in there. I figure if I can talk them down to a reasonable amount, I'll manage with that, though it's not really what I want.

I'm in there and there's this sweet grandma lady helping me. I'm asking if this has a remote and she says no, but they have another Laserdisc player with a remote and some games. My heart jumps. It couldn't be!

But it is.

She shows me the case and lo and behold, there's a Pioneer CLD-A100 aka Laseractive, with the Sega module, the remote, three controllers (including the Pioneer branded one that came with the system,) the manual and seven games. The price? $39 for the whole deal*.

Anyway, hook it up, play a little Mortal Kombat, all looks well, so I bag it. The worst part was, this was literally right before we were leaving for the weekend to do Christmas stuff, so I didn't even get to touch the thing other than unloading it. Baah!

Later on I did get to spend some quality time with my new toy. Now, I still haven't gotten around to digging my Sega CD games out of the closet, so I can't speak yet on that. Really, I haven't spent too much time playing Genny games on it either. I have, however, been watching movies on it. After all, that is what I was looking for in the first place, just a movie player.

So what can I say about my week of Laseractive ownership? Well, the longer I own this thing, the more amazed I am that it was ever released in the States. This has got to be the most Japanese console ever released here.

You start with a Laserdisc player, a format that caught on in Japan bigger than it did here (except among videophiles, who probably aren't going to be that interested in playing videogames.) Then you combine it with a videogame system, reflecting that Japanese love of consolidation with their electronics that Americans don't seem too concerned with. While one of the avaliable systems was popular in the States, the Genesis, the other one wasn't, the PC Engine. Even with the Genesis stuff, I think you could argue the big selling point, the ability to play Sega CD games as well, was probably going to go over better with a Japanese audience as I think the CD add on did better there than here.

Oh, and don't forget the third module you could own, the karoke unit. Again, very Japanese.

So, we have an impressive machine here, but with few features the average American is going to care about. Add to that the price. The Laserdisc player alone sold for nearly a grand. The game packs were $400 each which, by the time this thing released in 1993, was more than buying the respective console and CD Rom add on.

Now, you could play LD-Rom games or MegaLD with this setup, but the list of those doesn't look too appealing. Still, it was a logical step from CD-Rom to go to the next higher capacity media, though I think the lukewarm acceptance of Laserdiscs in general probably prevented that from ever taking off.

Let's take a look at just the Laserdisc player for a moment. For $960 (or whatever it was exactly) you got a bare bones LD player. Actually, sub-barebones for 1993. It can play a disc, skip chapters, fast and slow scan and jump directly to a frame or time mark, but that's it. To use any "special effect" features, such as still frame, variable scanning speeds and programming, you needed to shell out $400 for one of the game packs.

For most people who just want to watch a movie, this isn't that big a problem, but if you have a disc with supliments stored in still frame, like art work or text, you can't watch them unless you have a game pack. Even then, you have to use the game controller to use the special functions making the actual unit's remote almost worthless and teathering you to the system if you actually want any of the special features they were using to sell Laserdisc in the US. (Well, other than improved picture and sound.)

The big problem here is, you're shelling out $1400 or so for a Laserdisc player that's just average, at best. I'm pretty sure even in 1993 you could have bought a more full featured LD player and your choice of Sega CD setup or Turbo Duo and saved money. Of course, you couldn't have played the Laserdisc games, but judging by how hard those are to track down, not many people did anyway.

Personally, I think this is a really cool idea. Plus I think it's nothing short of amazing that two rival videogame companies would allow both their systems to be compatable with this (can you imagine anyone agreing if Panasonic had asked Sony to make a PS2 attachment for their Q DVD player/Gamecube hybrid?) I also like the consolidation aspect of things and I just think the entire system is so funky that it's really cool.

What I don't like is the lackluster LD player they built this around. If you're charging a premium, you should give people premium product, especially when you're selling something most people are indifferent on in the first place. I also think this is one of those products where I really can't figure out who the audience was. Videogames were still seen as kind of a kiddie thing in the US (though the Genesis was doing much to change that perception) and the Laserdisc was a high end videophile thing. Unfortunatly for Pioneer, I don't think there was much crossover between the two in 1993.

I am glad I have this, but because this was one of those things so far off my radar due to obscurity and price, I have to admit I could easily live without it. It's a neat curiousity piece, but I'm still looking for a better Laserdisc player. I can't complain about the Laseractive though, at least not for the price I paid, but I really think unless you're a completist, wealthy or find a really good deal like I did, I wouldn't advise anyone go to far out of their way to accuire one.

*sidenote: when I got out of the store, I realized the reciept was itemized, meaning I actually got my Laseractive for $25! Of course, it also means I paid $2 each for NBA Jam TE, Tommy LaSorta Baseball and that damn EA chopper game you see every frickin' place. But, it also means I paid $2 a toss for Darwin 4081, Darius II and Japanese Strider as those were the other games in the deal. And Mortal Kombat. Aside from Tommy LaSorta, they were complete copies too, so I'm not complaining too much.

Some Shmup Impressions...

Some videogame thoughts from earlier in the year.

Interesting times for a "dead" genre. Well, interesting if you live in Japan anyway. Seems like every month or so a new shmup comes out for PS2 or even the Dreamcast. It's been downright overwhelming for a fan trying to keep up. So, prior to my surgery, I've made it a point to at least spend a little time with some of my newer shmups before I go under the knive.

One thing that's frustrating me a little bit is so many of the shmups coming out on Dreamcast are shortly followed by an enhanced port on PS2 and/or Xbox and Gamecube. Take, for instance, Chaos Field. The DC port is pretty much just the game while the PS2 and GC rev gets an arrange mode as well. (Not to mention the GC port actually got released domestically!)

The game itself feels like a tribute to Radiant Silvergun. It's almost all bosses, there's no powerups, but you do get different weapons through button combos, etc., etc. So far, I'm kind of ehh on it. (Remember, I wasn't a big RS fan either.) I'll have to come back to this one.

Another recent DC shmup, soon to come to PS2 and GC in enhanced form, is Radilgy. This is a slick cell shaded looking game with a lead character who reminds me of Marcy from Peanuts. The game, however, I'm not sure I quite get. Too many of the bullets get destroyed with your standard fire leading to a game that seems way too easy and uninteresting. I don't know how much play this one is going to get.

For PS2, I'm really digging Ibara. Another tribute game, this time it's Cave playing tribute to Raizing. The port is pretty lackluster, I mean, loading times in the level??? However, you do get an "original" mode where Ibara plays more like a Cave game and the same itself is pretty fun, assuming you like Battle Garegga, which this takes a lot from. It's hard not to wish the port was a little better though.

Speaking of bad ports, Gigawing Generations is almost jawdropping ugly. Gameplay wise, it's pretty much the same deflect the bullets/collect the medals gameplay as the two previous installments, but this time the screen is vertically orientated rather than horizontal. The graphics are a trainwreck however. I can't find much here to make me want to play it again, so far.

Then we have Homura. I like the atmosphere, it's a flying guy kind of game. There seems to be a similar "buzzing" play mechanic to the Castle Shikigami games where you have a more powerful shot by playing chicken with enemy fire. I don't have it all figured out yet, but this one is promising.

Last game I have to check out is Raiden III, perhaps the grandfather of all the tribute shmups. If you like Raiden, you'll like this one as it looks, sounds and feels like Raiden. Luckily, I like Raiden. Smile

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Cheepnis: Treeline/Mill Creek Mega Packs

This is another entry I'm porting over from my old blog that is about to vanish. Again, this entry needs some updating, and I don't really have the time, but I will mention a thing or two at the end.

I want to hit on one of the more infamous cheap DVD companies out there. I've seen their releases under the Mill Creek name and another one (Dollar something, the logo and layout looks almost the same) but most people refer to them as Treeline, the name most of their releases fall under. Unlike many others in the cheap DVD sweepstakes, Treeline actually has their product stocked in mainstream stores (Best Buy, Borders, etc.) as well as Big Lots and dollar stores. Well, their "top of the line" product, anyway.

You see, Treeline is the company responsible for the "megapack." In side a box about the size of a modern PC game, you get 50, yes, 50 movies of a featured theme or genre. The kicker being, these sets are easily found for around $20-$25 (even less if you buy on line.)

Sound too good to be true? Well, it isn't, but there's a catch...

I own five of these sets. Two horror sets (Horror Classics and Chilling Classics, more on that one in a bit,) the Sci Fi set, the Martial Arts set and 100 Classic Cartoons, which is a slightly different animal. The packaging is very similar to the early Atari 2600 carts in that the box opens like a hollowed out book and the DVDs are each in a cardboard sleeve in the middle. Two pieces of Velcro keep the cover shut so your discs don't spill out. It gets the job done, but it's not packaging that's going to hold up over the long haul.

The idea of buying a crap load of movies by genre is a novel one (though I think Brentwood may have done it first) but Treeline seems to play a bit loose with the definitions. I consider myself to have a pretty liberal definition of sci fi, but I don't consider sword and sandal flicks (like Hercules) or jungle pics (such as the abysmal She Gods of the Coral Reef) sci-fi. Nor would I consider Metropolis horror. Regardless, and lucky for me, they're all films I'm interested in, but be warned that Treeline plays a bit loose with their classifications.

Also, prepare yourself for some real dregs among the gems. There are a lot of movies on these sets I haven't seen other bottom of the barrel companies touch and after watching them, I can see why. There are some real stinkers here, and this is coming from someone who likes crap B-movies. Still, at the price per movie, it's not that big a loss if you don't like a few of them.

For those of you unsure if you want to take the 50 movie plunge, Treeline offers pretty much all their sets in smaller bites, assuming you can find them. I've seen 2,4,10 and 20 packs of their movies in stores. There aren't any different movies, it's just the same discs from the sets sold in smaller numbers (or in the case of the two pack, sold as a single sided disc.)

Now, the catch I was mentioning earlier. (As if the previous things I mentioned weren't "catch" enough.) Each of these sets contains 50 full length movies on 12 DVDs. Now, the discs are double sided, thankfully, but they're single layer which means you get 3-4 hours of video on a disc designed to comfortable hold about 2.

How do they do it? Compression. Ironically, the fact that many of these movies are lousy prints works in the set's favor here because the flaws in the film help to hide the compression artifacts. Still, you don't have to have a HDTV to notice blocks, digital blips and some really nasty blacks.

Is it enough to make these movies unwatchable? It really depends. It's annoying, but usually I can forget about it. Still, if you have a big screen TV, I'm sure these discs are going to look like ass on it and if you're a videophile, you're probably going to get more wrapped up in counting the compression artifacts than the movies.

Really, these discs are the DVD equivalent of old cheapie EP mode VHS tapes. If you can deal with those, you can deal with this.

Now, the 100 Cartoon set is a little different. It also features a lot less content for the same price as 100 cartoons still takes up a lot less time than 50 movies. The good thing is, the cartoons haven't been compressed to hell, for the most part. There's a few that look pixelated and have some severe ghosting. Strangely, one of them I have on another disc with the exact same flaws, which leads me to believe Treeline might be ripping other people's discs.

And speaking of ripping other people's discs, there's a bit of controversy on some of the movie message boards about the sources for Treeline's sets. Some people feel the company is just ripping and recompressing other people's transfers. Kind of a bummer, if it's true, but in the world of public domain, there isn't a whole lot you can do about it.

Speaking of public domain, it should go without saying that almost all of Treeline's product is public domain stuff from the 30s-60s. The real head scratcher is the 50 Chilling Classics set though, which features newer films including Driller Killer and Peter Jackson's Bad Taste which are almost certainty not public domain. I've heard rumors that this set has been pulled along with a "Gunfighters" set which includes some copywrited spaghetti westerns. Oops.

On the positive side of things, if you're a fan of MST3K, buying the Horror and Sci-Fi sets will net you a ton of movies featured on the show. Some of the Hercules, some of the Gameras (albiet in the original AIP dubs, not the beloved Sandy Frank re-dubs from the 80s,) some Bela Lugosi, the Beast of Yucca Flats and Robot Monster, to name just a handfull. You'll easily find just as many movies on these sets that could have been fodder for Joel and the bots.

I should also mention that inspite of the quality, there's something really satisfying about having an instant movie collection for cheap. I bought a few of these sets for less than $10 on Amazon. Even if they aren't much to look at, that's a killer deal.


OK, since I wrote that, Mill Creek has releases several new sets, some with some amazing titles. The Chillers set is more recent horror stuff, the Drive-In set is just amazing sleeze, there's a Warriors set, if you're into the sword and sandal thing and there's another sci-fi set soon to be released. The quality is still crap, and apparently they've been watermarking their movies at various points (ironic, considering they swipe most of what they have from old VHS tapes.)

There's also been some pretty sketchy copywrite stuff going on, espically on the Chillers set. It's highly unlikely that Peter Jackson's Bad Taste would be licensed cheap enought to appear on a 50 movies for $30 box.

There's also a bit of double dipping going on, though not as much as you'd expect. Even then, sometimes they've actually upgraded the source (I think Legend of Bigfood went from pan and scan to letterboxed, for instance.) Someone on the Lanternia forums did a huge cross reference list for titles and collections. Look it up, if you're interested.

Cheepnis Review: Revolt of the Zombies/Vengeance of the Zombie

Old review of one of the discs from last year's insane Dollar Tree Haloween DVD collection. I still haven't had much time to watch the other 20 or so discs...

OK, I'm going to do a quick review of the first of the Family Value Halloween discs I've had a chance to watch. First side is Revolt of the Zombies from 1936. Apparently this is a sequel of sorts to the classic White Zombie and Lugosi's eyes make an uncredited guest appearance as the one thing in the movie that is even half way creepy.

In a nutshell, a Cambodian priest creates zombies to help the Allies win World War One, but now he's "trying to take over the white race". (Yes, that's in the movie.) So, the scientists have to find and destroy the secret, but of course it doesn't work out that way. Jealous guy discovers the secret and tries to use it to win the woman he loves from dashing other guy.

The movie itself is slow and talkie. It's more about a love triangle than zombies and the zombies are more about being hypnotized than being undead. Lots of wooden acting, inane dialogue and process shots. Reminds me of the kind of movie you'd see on the first season of MST3K.

Anyway, this is pretty typical Public Domain fare. The print isn't too bad and the encode actually looks good. I didn't notice ghosting and in place where the film isn't too scratchy, the image quality is pretty sharp, if a little grainy. Could be a lot worse, though I'd hardly recommend going out of your way for this film.

The flip side, Vengeance of the Zombies, is a horse of an entirely different color. First, it's a European flick from the early 70s, so expect a totally different flavor. Second it appears to be uncut, so there's boobs and blood. Not exactly family friendly. Third, it's actually pretty good, in a cheesy sort of way.

I gave this a pretty casual view, so I'll try to relate what happened as best I can remember. Basically you have some voodoo invoked to create an army of the undead to exact revenge killings. That's the crux of it, anyway. There's an Indian guru named Krishna Eye Rolling, the cute redhead and the police type guy. That's pretty much what you need to know.

I really dug this film as it was low budget without being low class. The effects were pretty cool and had a bit of a sense of humor about them. It wasn't really "scary", but I did have a good time trying to figure out what was going on.

The quality of this release, which doesn't seem to be public domain, is pretty good. It's full frame, but you don't feel like you're losing anything. The print is clean, though I wish the audio was clearer as the music is so good cop show funk type tunes. It looks like this DVD was sourced from video, but at least they used a good copy to source from, assuming Family Value actually encoded this themselves.

I'd say try to find this one for Vengeance. Well worth the $1. Revolt, I assure you, you can pass on watching guilt free.

This disc is also an excellent example of the lack of quality control on Family Value's packaging. First off, Vengeance is misspelled on the cover. On the back, Revolt's time is listed incorrectly, Vengenance has no time listed and the description for the movie is a riot. (Apparently it was lifted from a fan site.)

Speaking of listing times, it occured to me that one of the other FV discs I got was a twofer with The Phantom Creeps. The listed time was 256 min, which would be about the run time of the entire serial. Though the entire serial has been issued on a single disc, I'm guessing it was either a flipper or dual layer, because without major compression, there's no way you could fit 4+ hours on a single layer side of a disc, like the kind FV uses.

Again, FV must have pulled it's info off a website without any consideration for what was actually on the discs as putting the disc in a player reveals the seventy some-odd minute movie that was made from the serial for TV rather than the entire seiral itself. That makes a lot more sense and just FYI if you see that disc and are scratching your head like I was.

Cheepnis: Last year's Family Value Insanity.

Note: this is an old post I'm porting for posterity. Anyone who has followed me over here from my various Internet haunts will fondly remember the insane collection of Halloween discs released last year by Family Value. Here was my take on that. Hopefully they have something equally interesting up their sleeves this year, though all I've been hearing about is just some of last year's titles showing up again.

OK, kind of funny after my last post where I kind of blew off Treasure Box/Family Value, what happens but they unleash their Halloween collection. (Huge thanks to packratshow at for the heads up! Excellent live journal all about this stuff.) See, these things tend to be a bit seasonal in nature. If I had to guess, the two biggest movie/home video seasons would have to be Halloween and Christmas, so we're in the beginning of the good stuff now.

Packratshow has listed all the titles and whatnot, so I'm not going to duplicate all that. (Plus he links to Imdb for all the films, whatta guy!) I managed to find every title on that list with just two trips to Dollar Tree. Other stores may carry these things, but around here, Dollar Tree seems to be the only ones to have them.

Well, let's see, Family Value (aka Treasure Box) has improved things a bit. Instead of the cardboard cases, they're now using those slimline Amaray cases* which I guess is a step up. Oddly enough, some of these discs weren't shrink wrapped. They just have a clear sticker over the side to prevent you from opening them and boosting the disc. I found a Gamera double feature (more on that later) like this and of course it was the one disc I managed to spill coffee on before getting home.

Family Value has also joined the double feature crowd, which seems to be the trend. It seems to me like the market is getting pretty saturated and god forbid anyone put some money into trying to clean up their prints, so to stand out, cram another movie on there. I'd almost be willing to bet, by Christmas we'll see the first 4 packs for $1 because now everyone is doing doubles.

Anyway, too often with these doubles what seems to happen is rather than make the media bigger, they just make the film smaller. Yay, compression. However, Family Value actually has made these twofers flippers so each film gets a side to itself. Sometimes, it's the little things that make life worth living.

As for the quality of the films, I'm still too early into it to really comment. I've only had time to watch one film and the quality was about what one could expect from a "cult" video label such as Something Weird. In fact, the quality combined with some of the titles featured in this batch, which aren't the usual Public Domain suspects, have raised some eyebrows among horror fans. There's a lot of good info about that and about the movies and whatnot.

The Gamera disc, not part of the Halloween discs but I picked it up in this batch, certainly seems shady as I think Retromedia has exclusive rights to Gamera vs. Monster X. The question is, did Family Value work out a deal on their own, did they not know or do they just not care? Like the Treasure Box discs I reviewed earlier, there's no info on the packaging, no company logo on the screen, further adding to the mystery. In fact, many of the discs say "Treasure Box" on the inner ring even though the packaging says "Family Value!"

For right now, that's about all I have. I've got a million movies to make it through right now, and I was planning on focusing on another company, but these discs needed some attention as they're pretty much going to be off the shelf in less than a month, assuming they get restocked at all. Based on what I've seen so far, I recommend these discs highly, if you can find them. Be warned, if you're a serious genre fan, you may be offended by the apparent theft of other people's transfers that's going on here.

*Side note: am I the only one who notices the slim cases these $1 dvds come in have a weird odor? I am a bit more sensitive to smell than the average bear, but I was nearly gaging going through a huge bin of these things.