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Friday, September 08, 2006

Cheepnis: Giant Monster Reviews

Note: another ported post from about a year ago. The old blog is going down and I just want to save a few reviews I wrote.

Alright. I'm going to review a few of the cheepie movies I've seen recently. Keep in mind, I'm writing these after the fact (and at work, don't tell!) and I'm just jotting down thoughts about the films rather than an in depth sort of thing.

Gammera the Invincible - (as seen on Treeline's 50 Sci-Fi Classics)
Y'know, I don't think I realized until I saw these films on MST3K that Gamera wasn't part of the Godzilla storyline. I don't exactly think that's an accident as Gamera is pretty much what happens when your rival is having crazy success with Godzilla and you want a piece of that action.

That said, this first Gamera movie is pretty good, if you like guys in rubber suits stomping Tokyo. Like Godzilla, there's an "atomic energy = bad" subtext here. It's been a while since I've seen the first Godzilla, but there isn't a whole lot I can think of to really separate these movies in my mind (hence my confusion earlier) except Godzilla is a lizard and Gamera is a turtle.

As for Gamera, the monster is pretty cool. The spinning flying thing is an interesting gimmick as well. You can also tell Daiei put some money into this one as the model work is good. (I always chuckle when Gammera destroys the club full of dancers too cool to leave while the rock combo is playing the Gamera song.)

This is also a film from when Gamera was a bad guy. I never dig the "Gamera, friend to all children" flicks as much, though they are entertaining for entirely different reasons. Of course, being a giant monster movie, we do have a "Kenny"* though he's not terribly annoying. I gotta ask the kid though, if leveling Tokyo doesn't make Gamera a "bad turtle", what does?

The version of the film we have here (and on every other public domain DVD I've found) is the AIP television print. It's panned and scanned and has the hammy added scenes of the UN. The added scenes really slow the picture down and are very heavy handed in their Russia = bad theme. The dubbing (by the same people that did Speed Racer) is good compared to the Sandy Frank version as featured on MST3K and most of the video released in the 80s. The Sandy Frank version is the uncut Japanese version of the film, but the dubbing is terrible.

Anyway, like all the other Treeline discs, Gammera (as it's spelled in the credits) is a mediocre print and it's overly compressed. This film actually has some nice composition, so it's a shame that the blacks look so bad and everything looks soft. Still, from the reviews I've read, I'm not sure there is a DVD much better available without importing.

Final analysis: bad disc of a good film. However, it's cheap and doesn't seem to be that much worse than what else is out there.

Monster from a Prehistoric Planet aka Gappa the Triphibian Monsters - (as seen on Treeline's 50 Horror Classics set.)

This one is an odd one. It's a one off from a studio wanting to get a piece of the giant monster pie and for the life of me, I can't figure out if it's supposed to be a parody of if it is just really cliche. The story goes like this: a magazine publisher wants to make a fake jungle amusement park, so he sends off scientists and a couple reporters (there's always reporters in these films) to an island of Japanese people in black face (I shit you not) to find exotic creatures for the park.

When they get to the island, the natives really like them because they think they made earthquakes stop. Everyone is talking about Gappa, though the crew from Japan has no idea what they're talking about. Long story short, they go into the "forbidden" area (every "primitave" island has one), find a Gappa egg which hatches, they take the baby Gappa back to Tokyo because they think momma and poppa Gappa are dead.

This of course causes the destruction of the island and most of Tokyo as momma and poppa Gappa eventually wake up and come looking for junior. Somehow a "native Kenny" washes up on shore and implores them to return baby to parents. The magazine publisher doesn't want to, of course, and only does so after most of Tokyo is wrecked and the military has used up all it's resources. The female reporter then sets the woman's lib movement back fifty years and the Gappa family flys off into the night.

If the story sounds familiar, it should. I think it was called Konga the first time around. Nothing really new there.

Speaking of new, I don't think I'd seen Japanese people in black face before. Wow. Black face Kenny was a new one on me. Almost worth seeing the movie for the "I just don't believe it" moment and counting the number of times Native Kenny's skin tone changes color.

It's not just the story that's recycled. The Gappa monsters aren't much more than Godzilla with wings. Make that really stiff Godzilla with wings. Watching the Gappa stomp Tokyo is like watching a five year old do the "potty dance" in slow motion on an HO gauge train set. Apparently knees hadn't yet been invented on the prehistoric planet these creatures are from.

The models are pretty weak. There's a shot of a submarine (used twice, reversed the second time actually) that made me howl out loud it was so bad. The buildings look pretty cheesy as well. Even the later Gamera movies had better effects than this.

The print again is an AIP television print that is so dark in places it's hard to tell what is happening. I don't remember things looking too compressed, but the darkness of the print probably hid that a bit. Dubbing isn't as good as Gamera (I think they used a different team to do this one) but it's not too bad. Native Kenny is a little over the top though.

Final analysis: bad movie (but worth seeing), bad disc. There's a much better disc of this out there, if you really need this stinkburger letterboxed and in Japanese with subtitles. (What kind of world do we live in when we have shitty pan & scan Godzilla discs and Gappa letterboxed in Japanese and English!)

*About "Kenny". I think the Gamera series may have pioneered the concept of "Kenny". "Kenny" was always the Japanese boy, he always wore alarmingly short shorts and he became an instant expert on the monster after catching his first glimpse of it. "Kenny" is always allowed full access to scientists and the military who will take his word as gospel as "Kenny" appears to be the monster's best friend. So named because in English the boy lead always seems to be named Kenny.

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