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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Review: X From Outer Space

This is probably going to be the worst review I've written so far. Reason being, I fell asleep multiple times while watching this movie. I'm fairly confident that I got enough of it to accurately convey what's going on and if it's worth your time.

Honestly, this is a very simple movie. Some people go into space, they unknowingly bring back a monster egg, which hatches and wrecks stuff. That's pretty much X from Outer Space right there. Of course, it takes the first 45 minutes of the movie to actually get to the point where anything really interesting starts happening. Hence my naps.

Long the way we have a small love triangle featuring two women who can't put professionalism above their personal feelings and male object of affection who doesn't seem to care much either way. There's also enough pseudoscience and scientific coincidences to equip a cheesy comic book for a whole year.

The monster, who is for some reason christened Guilala (there is no X from Outer Space in this movie)is pretty dang goofy looking. Imagine a bee stung Godzilla with a stingray for a head. Then put a pair of those bopper antennas on him.

The model work isn't too bad, at least not until you get close up. To Shochiku's credit, the sets are pretty big. There's lots of crap to stomp, it's just not that detailed. Of course, there's some horrible green screen work any time the monster has to appear with humans. Obviously, they only made the man sized suit and not any scale models for scenes that needed them.

I won't spoil the ending for you, but let's just say it involves one of those coincidental scientific discoveries I was talking about earlier. Really, you're better just to forget about the plot and enjoy the monster.

Two other things. One it looks like this movie was filmed either with a fish eye lens or to be shown on a curved screen. Everything looks a little stretched and it gets worse near the edges of the frame. Frankly, it about drove me nuts, though other than that the picture looks pretty good (and it is original aspect ratio.)

This disc doesn't have subs but it does include the English dub. I don't know who did it, but the dub is pretty good except for the fact that all the Caucasians in this movie have some really over the top Hogan's Heroes German accents. At times, it was difficult to figure out what the hell the white folks were saying!

Given the fact that this isn't available here in the US (and I'm surprised some public domain company hasn't tried to release it yet like they have with Gamera and Yongary) I'd really say only if you're a kaiju completest should you track this down. There isn't anything here kaiju fans haven't seen dozens of times already and what is here is really average at best.

(I almost forgot, there is one classic scene of an astronaut plugging a hole in the space ship with his ass. That was pretty much the best part of the first half of the movie right there.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Review: The Invisible Boy (1957)

The Invisible Boy is tucked away on the second disc of Warner's recent Forbidden Planet double dip. Watching this film didn't ring any bells, so I'm pretty sure this was a first viewing for me. It's kind of obscure and barely a fraction of the movie Forbidden Planet is, but it's kind of fun anyway.

Egghead mathematician Dr. Tom Merrinoe is irritated that his son Timmy is almost 10 and can't play a decent game of chess. So he takes the boy in to meet this supercomputer he's created and the machine teached the boy about chess...and world domination. Dun duh duuuuuuuuuh!

Timmy hustles his dad at chess and in return gets to play with Robby the Robot. Actually, he has to rebuild Robby first, which he does flawlessly and no one seems to find this weird despite the fact that all these other science dudes couldn't figure out what made him tick. Later, Timmy has the supercomputer reprogram Robby to forget the first law of robotics because he wants Robby to fly him in this dangerous kite Robby built for him.

Timmy's mom sees him flying, flips out and deals the kid a beatdown. This leads to Timmy wishing he could do fun stuff and no one could see him, so Robby cooks up an invisibility potion for him. Again, the fact that something completely fantastic just happened seems to be handled very nonchalantly and the boy receives another whooping after playing voyeur on his parents. (Ewwww!)

Meanwhile, the army is trying to get a rocket up and has asked the supercomputer for help, but the machine has different ideas. Dr. Merrinoe has some code sequence memorized that the machine needs so it can be disassembled and reassembled on the moon where it will then rule the Earth. (Huh?) The computer has Robby take Timmy hostage and install transmitters in the skulls of all the army and science people around the doctor to try and persuade him.

The rest of the movie is the doctor trying to get Timmy back without giving away the code. You can probably guess what happens, but if you can't, I'll give you a clue. They all live happily ever after (and Robby protects Timmy from getting a final spanking. Sheesh, you'd think they be happy to get the kid back in one piece.)

I know it's not fair to compare this movie to Forbidden Planet, but given they are packaged together like this, it's kind of hard not to. The Invisible Boy is pretty much the polar opposite of that masterpiece. It's cheap, juvenile and silly with tons of pseudoscience whereas Planet is a mature "A" picture with lots of research and care going into it. Forbidden Planet was based on Shakespeare. The Invisible Boy could have been a Richie Rich comic.

My favorite thing about The Invisible Boy (aside from Robby, who is still my favorite movie robot) is the way everyone treats Timmy and his various shenanigans. In the first five minutes of the film, it's pretty obvious the kid is depressed because his father is self-absorbed and a workaholic and his mother is the typical weak "wait 'till your father gets home" type. Everything Timmy does is either wrong or worth a beating. No chance of sparing the rod and spoiling the child here.

However, when the kid is responsible for some amazing stuff, it's just brushed off. Rebuild a robot that a bunch of science dudes couldn't figure out? Oh, that's nice. Turn yourself invisible? He's just acting out. This whole movie plays like some pop psychology hell.

Then there's the supercomputer. Despite being cheap (and having a midsection that looks like one of those dessert display cabinets you used to see in restaurants) is kinda cool. Because it's the heavy, one might be tempted to see this as a precursor to man vs. machine movies like 2001 and Blade Runner, but really, that's giving The Invisible Boy too much credit. The film still plays like a giant monster movie, except this time the monster is electric...err...atomic (this was the 50s, after all.)

It's obvious The Invisible Boy was thrown together to get some more mileage out of the expensive Robby suit. It probably didn't hurt that this movie would appeal to the kiddies either. If you approach it like a kid's B movie, it's a bit easier to swallow. Still, I'd have a hard time recommending this to anyone other than sci-fi completests or Robby the Robot fans.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Review: The Land Unknown (WTF-flims)

The last DVD I looked at was The Deadly Mantis, a Universal sci-fi flick that managed to get a lot wrong. So today I'm going to talk about The Land Beyond, another late 50s Universal sci-fi that manages to get closer to right. Mind you, it's not a great movie, but if you're a fan of 50s sci-fi/giant monster flicks, you're going to enjoy this one.

I'm not going to lie to you and say this is some mold breaking sci-fi work. It's not. As usual, we have the reporter lady Maggie tagging along with the scientist/military guys on an expedition. This time they're going to the South Pole for reasons I missed. Their helicopter is clipped by what looks to the audience to be a pterodactyl and they are forced to land in a balmy crater well below sea level.

Exploring the terrain proves they're not in Kansas anymore. Our leader Hal quickly surmises they're in the mesozoic period, a fact which everyone seems nonchalant about. Maggie's clothes start to fall apart (though in one scene, her sleeves magically reappear, then dissapear) and the group discovers the survivor from a previous mission who's magical conch shell sounds like the Stan Kenton horn section and keeps the dinosaurs away. He and Hal fight over Maggie while the guys try to find the parts to fix their helicopter.

What helps here is the actors aren't entirely incompetent and the effects are actually pretty good. The t-rex is a suit with a big old animated head. Kind of cool. Not the best, but neat enough. The sets are pretty decent though. You can tell it's a sound stage, but at least they tried.

Interesting that you can tell they put some money in to this, they even went so far as to film in Cinemascope, but they didn't go so far as to use color film. Granted, that wouldn't have changed the fact that this is still a pretty silly movie, but it might have give it a touch of class over the other B-movie sci-fi of the day.

WTF's disc is letterboxed and looks good. Crisp image, good blacks, etc. (By contrast, I have a Cryptflicks disc of this that's almost gray and white.) You also get the trailer, an image gallery (short as it is) and an easter egg with Italian opening credits. The only beef I have is the menu is a little wonky. All the items are accessable, but the direction buttons don't go the way you'd expect them to.

Good stuff here. Fun movie, not a great one, but if you're into the genre and ready to dig a little deeper, you could do a lot worse than The Land Beyond.

Available from WTF-film. Use coupon code cdr10 at check out for 10% off.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Yet another comic related website I'm addicted to...Superdickery.

Couple more...just for Butchieboy...

The Incredibly Shrinking MST3K

It should come as no shock to anyone reading this blog that I love MST3K (or Mystery Science Theater 3000, to be exact.) However, the show has been off the air for years. The only way to watch it anymore is either through the beauty of tape trading/file sharing or the DVDs and videos Rhino has released.

Despite feeling they are a bit pricey and sometimes a little carelessly assembled, I do genuinely appreciate the Rhino releases. Recently, I've become a little concerned about the future of MST3K at retail. I'm not going to claim it's all over for the cowtown puppet show, but I do have to wonder if we're seeing the beginning of the end.

Part of the problem is licensing. See, MST3K has got to be the most difficult TV show in terms of rights and licensing anyone ever could have created. Since each episode encompassed an entire movie, the broadcast rights for that movie would have to be secured and renewed to keep that episode on the air. If Rhino wanted to release that episode, additional rights needed to be secured.

Rhino has been an excellent home for MST3K if for no other reason than they already have the rights to a lot of movies featured on the show. The problem is, over time those rights expire and if the owners of the film chose not to renew, that episode would go out of print.

This first happened in the VHS days with Amazing Colossal Man being the first episode orphaned. No real surprise, considering that movie and it's sequel War of the Colossal Beast (also featured in MST3K) have been embroiled in rights tangles for years. Next to go was another single episode release, The Beginning of the End, which went out of print when the rights to the movie went over to Image early last year.

Though there was a considerable gap of time between those first two casualties, the deletions have been fast and furious since. In the last year, Rhino lost the rights to all four films on the Vol. 1 set and Sidehackers for Vol. 3 (orphaning three other discs in the process.) Vol. 10 was pulled almost as fast as it was released (though we still don't know why, the assumption being Godzilla vs. Megalon wasn't licensed properly to begin with) and a few weeks ago fans discovered Vol. 9 is MIA as well.

If these were all older releases, it wouldn't be so shocking, but the fact of the matter is, the two most recently released MST3K sets are out of print, one within weeks of hitting the shelves. I've also noticed the release date for Vol. 11 keeps getting pushed further and further and still no titles leaked. One has to wonder what the heck is going on at Rhino.

The other problem is stores just aren't stocking these things any more. I recently spoke to someone at Best Buy and he told me he didn't think they were carrying any MST3K discs anymore. Despite all the shelf space they're giving to TV on DVD, apparently they can't spare any room for MST3K. It's a similar situation at the other box boxes out here. Cult releases, like MST3K, are getting pushed out for more room for triple dips of Hollywood's latest CGI-fest.

With rights vanishing along with self space, I have to wonder what the future holds for MST3K on DVD. Even at best, these can't be huge sellers anyway. With dwindling retail placement and nightmarish licensing, releasing these things can't be much more than a labor of love. I just have to wonder how much longer Rhino is going to feel that love.

Update 3/19: Looks like I Accuse My Parents may have slipped over to the land beyond. Good luck trying to score a copy, all the sellers on and Amazon appear to be "warehouse" sellers who list tons of crap they don't actually have on hand. If this is truly OOP, I don't exactly know why...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Review: The Deadly Mantis (WTF-flim)

You can't deny Universal Studio's might in the world of monster movies. Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Creature and on and on and on. Classics all. Then you discover something like this lurking behind the Universal globe and you have to wonder what the hell they were thinking. Were they trying to fill the lower half of a double bill and didn't feel like re-running one of their classics? Was the market for Z-grade flick like those that Astor and Lippard cranked out that lucrative?

Anyway, the key with these bottom of the barrel monster movies was suspense and advertising. Give the movie a name like "The Thing that Killed" or "Hell Creature of the Sky" and keep the audience guessing as to the creature looks like. Of course, it's going to be silly and cheap, but there was always that anticipation that it might be scary. However, even the title of the Deadly Mantis gives it away, so when the characters spend half the movie trying to figure out what's taking down airplanes, we already know.

Aside from that, you can go down the Z-grade monster movie check list and pretty much check the box by every cliche. Three main characters; scientist guy, military guy and reporter girl. Check. Cold war underpinnings? Check. Atomic energy as the trigger? Check. Narriator? Check. Copious stock footage? Yep. Giant bug? How's this guy for ya?

I know a lot of people like to take the piss out of Bert I. Gordon, but watching this movie seriously makes one appreciate what he could do in the giant bug genre. I'm not going to suggest Mr. BIG was a great filmmaker, but you could never accuse him of being less than entertaining. I fell asleep twice during the Deadly Mantis. No lie. There's only so much army stock footage a man can take.

Anyway, I'm sure you're all going to want to run right out and secure a copy of this for your very own, so let me tell you a little about the DVD. As usual, WTF-film does a great job with the disc. From cover to menus, the whole thing looks great. The transfer (which, I'm assuming comes from the old Universal Sci-Fi laserdisc set) is slightly windowboxed full frame and looks really good*. This looks about as good as the Sci-Fi set Universal put out last year and has extras (trailer and photo gallery) that Universal didn't bother with to boot. Unless they decide to put out another Sci-Fi collection, I think this is going to be the best way to own this movie, even if I can only really recommend it for genre completists.

Available from WTF-film. Use coupon code cdr10 at check out for 10% off.

* note, if you were reading message boards around the time Universal released This Island Earth on DVD, you'd know there's a ton of controversy over the correct aspect ratio for the Universal Sci-Fi and Horror films of this era. I'm in the camp that believes these were meant to be cropped to 1.85:1 widescreen, but transfers like this that are full frame rather than pan and scan don't bug me too much.