This segment of Tomb Of Nostalgia takes the form of a double feature I watched this weekend…two personal favorite, old-school monster flicks!
THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953)
(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)
One of the all time great 1950’s creature features directed by Eugène Lourié with another classic monster from SPFX master Ray Harryhausen. Flick is based on a Ray Bradbury short story titled The Fog Horn and features genre favorite Kenneth Tobey. The story starts with an atomic bomb test in the Arctic which frees a prehistoric dinosaur from it’s icy grave. The creature wreaks havoc all down the coast as it heads toward NYC and a showdown with the military. Adding to the already aggressive nature of the beast is that it carries a bacteria in it’s blood that is unknown to today’s medicine and is quite lethal. Can it be stopped!?
Beast is the first of Lourié’s three classic monster movies (The Giant Behemoth and Gorgo being the others) and is directed in his serious and intense tone. The cast all take their roles seriously, too and it helps make this monster movie the classic it is. Obviously, the FX from Harryhausen are top notch and the Rhedosaurus is one of his most famous creations. Climax in New York is still thrilling even by today’s standards and is far better then the 1998 American Godzilla which was more a remake of this film then it was of the Japanese monster icon.
MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: Keep you eyes peeled for the army sharp shooter at the climax played by a then unknown Lee Van Cleef.
THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959)
Basically a retread of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms but set in England. Behemoth also has the same director, Eugène Lourié, who brings a serious tone to the proceedings as with his other monster movies. It is his taking the material seriously and having his cast do the same that makes this as effective as it is. The difference between this and Beast is this creature is dying from the radiation poisoning received from atomic tests, making it twice as vicious and it’s ability to emit radioactive waves from it’s body like an electric eel, make it twice as lethal. The effects of it’s radioactive condition on some of the characters is quite disturbing, even for a film of this era. A giant monster movie with a bit of a nasty edge. The FX are delivered, this time, with contributions from the great Willis O’Brian (King Kong) and there is some nice intensity as this creature, driven mad with pain, rampages through the streets of London destroying and killing anything in it’s path. Nostalgic charm is ever present with the combination of stop motion animation and black and white photography. Also amusing to watch London get leveled, giving New York and Tokyo a much needed break, although the ominous ending may suggest that break may not be a long one. Well done and intense monster movie. For my Eugène Lourié’s third giant monster flick, Gorgo click HERE.
3 and 1/2 behemoths
JOHN WICK (2014)
John Wick is just simply a good, solid, popcorn action flick with no other intentions than to blow away bad guys and entertain…and it does that just fine. Keanu Reeves is really good as former assassin and man-of-few-words, John Wick. He retired as one of the most lethal killers in the business and after the death of his wife (Bridget Moynahan), has resigned himself to a life of solitude. When a Russian mobster’s arrogant idiot of a son (Alfie Allen) makes the mistake of invading Wick’s home, stealing his Mustang muscle car and killing the puppy that was a final gift from his wife, Wick is back in business and the body count piles up quickly and bloodily. The action is solid and there is some stylish direction by Chad Stahelski from Derek Kolstad’s script. There are some really well-choreographed shoot-outs and fights and the film does what it sets out to do, nothing more. Sure, there are flaws. The whole John Wick problem would have been solved if one of these gangsters actually took a shot at Wick, instead of rushing in close enough for him to get a hold of their guns, but who cares? Reeves kicks ass and it’s fun to watch him do it. An entertaining and stylish action flick. Also stars, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe as a fellow assassin/friend of Wick’s and sexy Adrianne Palicki as a female contract killer looking to collect the $2 Million bounty Russian mobster, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyquist) puts on Wick’s head. Fun and action-packed!
SINBAD: THE FIFTH VOYAGE (2014)
I’m a big fan of the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad films of yesteryear and so was looking forward to this homage from producer/director/co-writer and star, Shahin Sean Solimon. Despite being a one man production company and having numerous stop-motion animated critters, Solimon’s 90 minute fantasy is a mess of poor SPFX, bad writing, lame directing and awful editing. The barely cohesive story has Sinbad’s beloved Princess Parisa (Danielle Duvale) kidnaped for some sinister purpose by the evil sorcerer, The Deev (Said Faraj). Sinbad and crew set out to find her and after some pointless adventures that barely follow a structured storyline and equally pointless flashbacks, a plot convenience leads Sindad to his love for a final showdown with the sinister magician. There is very little purpose to anything that goes on here. The story creeps along at a dreadfully slow pace and the stop-motion critters are there just because past films have included them and none really support the story by appearing. The FX are awful, with the meager creature animation being barely adequate and the sets and acting are as bad as the over-used CGI. Despite good intentions, this is a tedious mess with only a few brief moments that actually amuse. I liked that Solimon resorted to old-fashioned stop-motion to keep tradition, but next time build an actual film around it. How Patrick Stewart got involved to narrate is anybody’s guess.
Going to try a new column to be rotated with my Saturday Night Double Features simply called Saturday Matinee. While all theaters still have matinee showings, when I was a kid, many theaters like the Fairview Cinema in Fairview, N.J. used to play old movies as children’s matinees on Saturday afternoons in the early 70s. It was a one time early showing of a more kid friendly film and my mom or grandfather used to take us. It got us out of the house and when we were old enough to go by ourselves, afforded my mom 90 minutes of quiet shopping time in the nearby stores. So this column will look at more lighter toned genre films that would certainly have fit at such a matinee or possibly been one I actually saw such as this 1973 fantasy adventure! Enjoy!
THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1973)
(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)
15 Years after 7th Voyage, Ray Harryhausen returned to the world of the Persian sea captain with The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad. A chance encounter with a strange creature leaves Sinbad (John Philip Law) in possession of a gold amulet that is being pursued by dark prince, Koura (future Dr. Who, Tom Baker) as when joined with it’s other parts, it can give the bearer unlimited power. The pursuit of the final piece brings Sinbad to a mysterious island and in the company of a beautiful slave girl (legendary genre hottie, Caroline Munro) who may be key to the proceedings. Along the way there are the numerous Harryhausen critters to complicate the voyage and the usual magic and derring-do.
Director Gordon Hessler doesn’t bring the fun as well as Nathan Juran did in 7th Voyage and he also doesn’t give the film the lively pace that flick had either, but it is still an enjoyable fantasy adventure and the cast do take their parts serious enough to make them believable, even if Law can’t really work the Middle Eastern accent that he tries to imbue the heroic captain with. The stop-motion creature effects…billed here as Dynarama…are typical Harryhausen quality, although the designs aren’t as memorable as the cyclops, or dragon, from the last film. The standouts being the centaur and the griffin featured at the climax and Koura’s flying spy. The rest of the FX are fine for the time period, but are a tad cheesy by today’s hi-tech standards…though I still find them very charming.
All in all, it is an entertaining adventure yarn and filled with nostalgic charm at this point, though, not quite the classic that 7th is. Obviously, when I saw this film as a 9 year old, it was the best thing ever…till the next movie came along. Also has an uncredited cameo by Jaws and Black Sunday actor, the legendary Robert Shaw, as The Oracle Of All Knowledge.
Followed by one more film, Sindbad And The Eye Of The Tiger, in 1977 which was a sadly disappointing and weak installment that was unfortunately the last time Harryhausen would revisit the character. There was talk of a rumored Sinbad On Mars, but that film never materialized and Harryhausen would end his legendary career with Clash Of The Titans in 1981.
Rated 3 (out of 4) sexy slave girls.
Something new here on MonsterZero NJ’s Movie Madhouse, where I will recommend some fun double features for those Saturday night’s home on the couch with your favorite beverage and best ghoul! It was going to premiere with two other titles but, in honor of Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013), I am going to start off with two of my Harryhausen favorites!…
20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957)
A golden oldie that is not only entertaining but, features one of sci-fi cinema’s most unique creatures courtesy of FX wizard Ray Harryhausen. A real black and white treat that is filled with old fashion thrills and chills and heaps of nostalgic charm. This sci-fi thriller tells the story of the crash landing of an American spaceship on return from a mission to Venus. Landing near the Italian coast, one of the pilots is rescued and one of the life form samples from Venus washes up on shore. The egg hatches and a reptilian alien creature now roams the Italian countryside. It’s growth out of control due to Earth’s atmosphere, it grows larger by the minute. One of the things I like about this flick is that director Nathan Juran not only portrays the creature as fierce but, sympathetic too. It’s born into a strange world where it is under constant harassment from those around it. Sometimes it seems that if the creature was left alone, it might not bother anyone as sulfur, not humans, are it’s food and it appears to be somewhat shy by nature. But, it wouldn’t be much of a monster movie if our poor displaced creature wasn’t constantly provoked and the ensuing carnage is brilliantly portrayed by FX master Ray Harryhausen. From a battle with an elephant in the streets of Rome to the climactic finale on the top of the Coliseum, there is a lot of action in this 50s classic and it is one of my all time favorites. I always rooted for the creature as a kid and still do. The “Ymir” is also one of my all time favorite movie monsters and I love this movie just as much now as when I was a kid. Also stars humans William Hopper as the heroic Col. Robert Calder and Joan Taylor as pretty medical student and love interest, Marisa Leonardo.
A classic 4 Ymirs!
THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)
An absolutely enchanting fantasy adventure from Director Nathan Juran (20 Million Miles To Earth) and SPFX master Ray Harryhausen. This charming tale has Captain Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews) tricked by a sinister magician (Torin Thatcher) into taking him to the island of Colossa under the guise of restoring the brave captain’s miniaturized Princess (Kathryn Grant) to her normal size. But, the magician actually seeks a magic lamp held by the cyclops whose genie can grant him ultimate power. This delightfully old fashioned tale is filled with high adventure and some of Harryhausen’s most iconic monsters such as the satyr-like cyclops, a sword fighting skeleton and a magnificently menacing dragon. Director Juran gives Ken Kolb’s script a fairy tale like atmosphere in which Harryhausen’s creations and the cast of characters can dwell. And the cast do play their parts with just enough panache to suit the fantasy material but, never too over the top to evoke campiness. The film plays it’s storybook-like drama seriously enough to make it work but, with a slight wink as it is, after all, a bedtime fable of sorts. A timeless classic featuring some of Ray Harryhausen’s best creatures and work
A classic 4 Cyclops!