MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: GRIZZLY AND ALLIGATOR

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: GRIZZLY AND ALLIGATOR

This installment of MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature goes back to nature…nature run amok that is! Jaws inspired a number of animal on the rampage movies and along with Piranha, these two are among the best! Sure they are more B-movie level thrillers, but that’s all the more reason to love them, as mother nature strikes back with some of her most lethal critters!

first feature

Grizzly

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GRIZZLY (1976)

Grizzly is a 1976 Jaws rip-off that tells the horrifying tale of a massive 15 foot (the ads for the film say 18, but in the movie it is said to be 15) grizzly bear, who has wandered hungrily into a state park and begins snacking down on the campers and rangers alike. Chief Ranger Mike Kelly (Christopher George) has his hands full as he, Naturalist Arthur Scott (Richard Jaeckel) and war vet chopper pilot Don Stober (Andrew Prine) have to somehow stop the relentless carnivore.

Grizzly follows the template created by Spielberg’s thriller quite closely with our three leads being the Brody, Hooper and Quint characters who are hunting a vicious, yet seemingly very intelligent predator, while it racks up quite the body count of innocent victims. We get the greedy head of the park refusing to close the place down despite the deaths and bringing in a bunch of amateur yahoos to hunt the bear down. But despite the blatant similarities, Grizzly actually works on a B-movie level. As directed by William Girdler (Abby, The Manitou), Grizzly is actually an effective and surprisingly gory PG horror flick. While it never matches the tension of the movie it was clearly inspired by, it does entertain in more of a low budget slasher flick kind of way, with the rampaging bear filling in for Jason or Michael Myers. For a 2000 lb. animal, it sneaks up on people quite easily. There is never much attempt to explain why the animal is so big, or why it has come to this park to feed, except for a quick throw-away line suggesting it might be a throw-back to it’s prehistoric ancestors. But like with the shark in Jaws, the grizzly is effectively portrayed and it’s background is unimportant to the carnage it creates. A live bear was used in filming and the 11 foot “Teddy” is quite effective in the part along with a prop arm for up-close mauling. It is said that the crew coaxed the bear into it’s roaring stance by offering it marshmallows, adding the roar in post production. Works for me!

Sure there is some silly dialog and all the acting is not top notch, but the leads are veteran actors and give the material the respect it needs to work and their characters are all pretty likable. This, along with some effectively gory kills and a nice fast pace by director Girdler, turns this low budget rip-off into an entertaining B-movie that works well enough on it’s own. Made for a reported $750,000, Grizzly grossed almost $40 million. Not bad for a Jaws imitation that, when you add the 70s nostalgia factor, is actually a fun Saturday night B-movie horror thriller despite it’s rip-off roots.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) rampaging grizzly bears

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second feature

alligator

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ALLIGATOR (1980)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

What happens when you combine a baby alligator flushed down the toilet and the corpses of dogs who have been experimented on with growth hormones and dumped into the sewers?…a 1980 horror flick/Jaws rip-off called Alligator. This fun monster on the loose flick takes place in Chicago with exactly that premise as Detective David Madison (the underrated Robert Forster) is trying to solve the mystery of body parts showing up at the sewer treatment plant and soon comes to discover…through the gruesome loss of a rookie partner…that there is a massive reptilian predator stalking the sewers of the windy city. Now with pretty herpetologist Marisa Kendall (a smoking hot Robin Riker) in tow, Madison must hunt the massive beast and expose the Slade Corporation whose illegal experiments have inadvertently created a monster…with an accelerated metabolism and appetite!

Directed by Lewis Teague (Cujo) and written with loads of wit by John Sayles (Piranha, The Howling) and Frank Ray Perilli, Alligator has just the right mix of seriousness and sly humor to tell it’s tale of a 36 foot predator in the sewers of one of America’s most famous cities. On the outset, the film is all business, but there are a lot of unobtrusive playful moments to let us know it’s all in fun…like the local merchants taking full advantage of the news frenzy of a gator on the loose in their city, or, Great White Hunter Col. Brock’s (a perfectly cast Henry Silva) choice of ‘guides’ to accompany him on his hunt through the city back streets. Very politically incorrect, but very funny. The film is unapologetically R-rated and we get some nice gore and carnage as our reptilian eating machine eludes capture, but not his dinner, and the creature itself is portrayed by a real gator on miniature sets or a fairly convincing mechanical mock-up. Teague creates some fun sequences, some solid and bloody action and some genuine suspense despite the goofy premise. He mixes the subtle humor and drama perfectly, while never overdosing on either. He also gets good work from his cast whose serious approach to the material helps us go along with the preposterousness of it all.

And while on the subject of that cast…the always strong Robert Forester gives us an every-man hero to identify with. He’s very likable and believable as a street-smart cop with some inner turmoil of his own, that adds depth to the character. And Forester gives it his all despite being basically in a giant alligator movie. Pretty Robin Riker is also solid as the pretty reptile geek Dr. Kendall and she is sexy and smart without ever becoming a helpless damsel. She and Forester have good on-screen chemistry and I loved the added irony that it is her alligator ‘Ramon’ flushed down the toilet 12 years earlier that she and Madison are now hunting. She’s never aware of this fact, but we are and it adds something to her character and the film overall. Henry Silva is hilarious as the arrogant big game hunter called in to track down and destroy the big guy and his eccentric Col. Brock is a hoot. Rounding out is Michael V. Gazzo, who is slightly over-the-top as Madison’s commanding officer and Dean Jagger who is perfectly arrogant and slimy as Slade, whose company has inadvertently created a monster. A solid cast that helps make this flick work.

I like this film. It’s another of the flicks scene at my beloved Oritani Theater and it is a fun monster movie made at a time where monsters where portrayed with charming in-camera prosthetics. John Sayles gives us another witty script that perfectly balances the fun with the more serious nature of this horror tale. The film never makes a joke out of it’s story, as guided by Teague, but never takes itself too seriously either, so we don’t forget to have a good time. It’s got a good cast and a reptilian predator who we almost root for. A really fun flick that has far more charm than the CGI overloaded SYFY beast run amok movies today’s audiences seem to think are so clever.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) alligators.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977)

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DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Nature run amok flick is one of many of this popular 70s sub-genre. Here a group of wilderness hikers are under siege from basically every animal in the park. The ozone layer depletion is the blame here, as the earth’s animals have had enough and decide to rid the planet of us pesky humans, starting with this bunch. Is there anywhere these folks can hide?

Flick is directed by WIlliam Girdler (Grizzly, Abby) from a script by Eleanor E. Norton and William W. Norton, based on a story by producer Edward L. Montoro. The film has a somewhat serious tone, which helps with such a silly story. Birds, bears, mountain lions and even rats are all on the attack and this group of campers and a remote mountain community are at ground zero. Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near as good as Girdler’s Grizzly and is a slow paced affair with most of the animal attacks coming across as more silly than scary. Shots of owls and other birds of prey staring at their potential snacks are fun and there is a mountain lion attack which works well enough, as does the wild pack of dogs in the last act. The bickering and whining between the panicking campers gets old quick and Leslie Nielsen’s alpha male, advertising executive engaging in a power struggle with nature guide Steve Buckner (Christopher George), gets a bit tiresome as well. Nielsen’s Jenson gets so over-the-top he becomes laughable. His bare-chested battle with a grizzly bear is extremely entertaining, though. The scenes of rival predators moving together as an army, under what appears to be the guidance of various birds of prey, do work better than they should. It’s too bad the animal attacks are few and far between, with things being far too talky for a flick like this. Too much melodrama and not enough mauling. Day of the Animals also ends very anti-climactically, when something with more “bite” would have served the film better.

Cast has a lot of 70s familiar faces. Christopher George is solid as nature guide Steve Buckner. Very much like his park ranger character from Grizzly. His wife Linda Day George, is a reporter. Leslie Nielsen is hilariously over-the-top as arrogant advertising exec Paul Jenson. This guy has issues and uses the situation to assert his perceived dominance. When the groups splinter, his abusive treatment of those dumb enough to follow him is hysterically tyrannical, as is his before mentioned bare chested battle with a grizzly bear. He definitely takes a badly written part into camp territory and not the camp one stays at when in such woods. Michael Ansara plays a Native American guide, a role the Lebanese actor played many times. He gives his Daniel Santee nobility and is the voice of reason between Buckner and Jenson. Richard Jaeckel is present as a professor and provides some possible scientific explanations. Rounding out is 70s TV and movie fixture Andrew Stevens and Robinson Crusoe on Mars star Paul Mantee as a cancer stricken athlete. A solid cast with not a lot to work with.

In conclusion, this could have been a lot better with a much better script. Grizzly proved Girdler could make a solid action flick, even from a derivative idea, as long as he had a good script. The film is very talky and very slow paced for a flick like this. The animal attacks range from effective to silly and it’s pretty tame bloodshed wise as it was a PG release. The character interaction gets tedious, as Leslie Nielsen’s tyrannical advertising executive gets ridiculous, despite an overall serious tone. There are a few moments and plenty of 70s nostalgia, but could have been a lot better.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2  (out of 4) rattle snakes.

 

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CHOSEN SURVIVORS (1974)

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CHOSEN SURVIVORS (1974)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

70s disaster/sci-fi flick has a select group of people sent into a bomb shelter deep below the earth’s crust as nuclear war breaks out on the surface. This diverse group of people were chosen to ensure the human race’s continued existence in case such a scenario occurred. Mankind’s survival comes into question, however, as the group find that they are not in the shelter alone.

While this flick had the right premise for an entertaining chiller, it is directed with deadpan dullness by Sutton Roley from a script by H.B. Cross. Roley’s body of work is predominately in episodic television and it shows, as the film looks like the episode of a TV show. For the most part the film is extremely talky with characters whining, crying or yelling at each other over their predicament for most of the run time. The idea of vampire bats invading an advanced bomb shelter is amusing, but Roley has no idea what to do with it and what few scenes of bloody bat carnage there are, are by-the-numbers and have very little bite. While we have some veteran actors here, the characters are not very interesting, or all that likable, so we really don’t care if they end up as bat food. The SPFX are pitifully bad with the bat swarms being terrible animated blobs swirling about and the bloodshed is strictly routine. The pace is rather slow and it all adds up to a waste of what could have been a fun idea.

Roley doesn’t get much out of a cast of decent actors, either. Jackie Cooper is the stereotype arrogant and angry businessman. Bradford Dillman is the nerdy scientist with a secret. Richard Jaeckel is the military representative who knows more than he is letting on and Alex Cord is a character simply there for breeding purposes.  The cast also features Diana Muldar and Barbara Babcock as female members of the ‘chosen’ who also seem to be just there for procreation. A cast of veterans completely wasted.

This is a sad misuse of a good exploitation movie premise. It’s extremely talky and is directed very by-the-numbers by Sutton Roley. When the bats do attack, the FX are laughable and even the PG rated bloodshed is too tame to make an impact. If there ever is a flick that could use a remake by a director that gets the material, it’s this one.

-MonsterZero NJ

rated 2 vampire bats.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: STARMAN (1984)

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STARMAN (1984)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

80s Sci-fi romance is an entertaining road trip flick from director John Carpenter and is probably one of his most underrated movies. The film has an alien race accepting the Voyager probe’s invitation and sending a representative to check us out. The poor explorer is shot down by the U.S. Air force and crashes in a remote area of Wisconsin near the cabin of recently widowed Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen). Using a strand of her dead husband’s hair, the alien takes human form, physically replicating Jenny’s deceased spouse (Jeff Bridges). The terrified women is then basically kidnaped into taking the alien visitor to a rendezvous point to meet his mother ship or he’ll die. As the two travel across country with the police and U.S. Government in hot pursuit, Jenny starts to fall in love with this extraterrestrial being with her husband’s face.

To be honest, the script by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon is corny and clichéd, but it is the skilled direction of John Carpenter that makes it so fun, heartfelt and entertaining. After a string of violent action, horror and Sci-fi flicks, Carpenter showed he can direct with restraint and versatility with this romance heavy road trip/chase thriller. What elevates the movie above the simplistic and sometimes silly script is the emotional depth that Carpenter gives the sequences and the strength he gives the relationship between Allen’s terrified and confused widow and the peaceful and naive visitor so well played by Bridges. He deftly guides his actors through a relationship that starts out based on fear and grows by the film’s bittersweet finale into love. Sure some of it is downright cheesy, but Carpenter gives it the right touches at the right times to make it work. He knows when to take it seriously and when to have a little fun with it, such as Bridges’ Starman trying earth food for the first time and learning his first obscene hand gesture. The romantic elements are also quite effective, but Carpenter keeps them from getting too overpowering, so not to neuter the drama and action. All the elements blend very well and it is highlighted by a very atmospheric score by Jack Nitzsche and some great cinematography by Donald M. Morgan.

Of course Carpenter also gets great performances from his cast, especially his leads. Bridge’s is wonderful as this curious being trying to learn how to be human in a short time and the subtle nuances and facial expressions are borderline brilliant even when the script is at it’s corniest. He earned a well deserved Oscar nomination for his work and deservedly so. Karen Allen deserved one, too, as she is equally strong as a woman facing the impossible. Not only is this charming widow seeing the face of her husband again, months after his death, but also in the company of a being from another world…one she grows to have feelings for. She handles the transition from terror to sympathy to love deftly and her chemistry with Bridges is perfect. The two are great together. In support, we have Charles Martin Smith, in of the weakest written roles, as a sympathetic SETI scientist and Smith does good work to make him endearing despite the clichés. Rounding out is veteran actor Richard Jaeckel as the stereotypical government security agent bad guy and he also wades through a river of clichés to make the role work. A good cast that make the best of a cornball script.

Is it silly?…yes…is it corny?…yes…but skilled direction from John Carpenter and great performances from his lead actors overcomes all that for a touching and entertaining romance/chase thriller about a marooned alien being learning first hand about what it means to be human and falling in love. Carpenter shows he is more than just a horror director and gives a weak script some strong dramatic moments and gives emotional depth to some two-dimensionally written characters. Bridges gives one of many Academy Award nominated performances and Karen Allen might also have given one of the strongest performances of her long career. It may be a little dated now, but there is the heavy 80s nostalgia and the SPFX still hold up after over three decades. An underrated film from a director whose versatility is still overlooked.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 resurrected deer.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: GRIZZLY (1976)

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Grizzly

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GRIZZLY (1976)

Grizzly is a 1976 Jaws rip-off that tells the horrifying tale of a massive 15 foot (the ads for the film say 18, but in the movie it is said to be 15) grizzly bear, who has wandered hungrily into a state park and begins snacking down on the campers and rangers alike. Chief Ranger Mike Kelly (Christopher George) has his hands full as he, Naturalist Arthur Scott (Richard Jaeckel) and war vet chopper pilot Don Stober (Andrew Prine) have to somehow stop the relentless carnivore.

Grizzly follows the template created by Spielberg’s thriller quite closely with our three leads being the Brody, Hooper and Quint characters who are hunting a vicious, yet seemingly very intelligent predator, while it racks up quite the body count of innocent victims. We get the greedy head of the park refusing to close the place down despite the deaths and bringing in a bunch of amateur yahoos to hunt the bear down. But despite the blatant similarities, Grizzly actually works on a B-movie level. As directed by William Girdler (Abby, The Manitou), Grizzly is actually an effective and surprisingly gory PG horror flick. While it never matches the tension of the movie it was clearly inspired by, it does entertain in more of a low budget slasher flick kind of way, with the rampaging bear filling in for Jason or Michael Myers. For a 2000 lb. animal, it sneaks up on people quite easily. There is never much attempt to explain why the animal is so big, or why it has come to this park to feed, except for a quick throw-away line suggesting it might be a throw-back to it’s prehistoric ancestors. But like with the shark in Jaws, the grizzly is effectively portrayed and it’s background is unimportant to the carnage it creates. A live bear was used in filming and the 11 foot “Teddy” is quite effective in the part along with a prop arm for up-close mauling. It is said that the crew coaxed the bear into it’s roaring stance by offering it marshmallows, adding the roar in post production. Works for me!

Sure there is some silly dialog and all the acting is not top notch, but the leads are veteran actors and give the material the respect it needs to work and their characters are all pretty likable. This, along with some effectively gory kills and a nice fast pace by director Girdler, turns this low budget rip-off into an entertaining B-movie that works well enough on it’s own. Made for a reported $750,000, Grizzly grossed almost $40 million. Not bad for a Jaws imitation that, when you add the 70s nostalgia factor, is actually a fun Saturday night B-movie horror thriller despite it’s rip-off roots.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) rampaging grizzly bears

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE GREEN SLIME and MESSAGE FROM SPACE

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THE GREEN SLIME (1968)

Ten years before the campy fun of Message From Space, Kinji Fukasaku (who directed Battle Royale as well) helmed this equally campy and equally fun 60s space opera about a space station overrun by tentacled alien creatures played by Japanese midgets in rubber suits. The film stars Robert Horton as hot shot Commander Rankin who is sent on a perilous mission to blow up a giant asteroid hurtling toward earth by landing on it and planting explosives. The mission is launched from space station Gamma 3 commanded by rival Commander Elliot (Richard Jaeckel) and the two butt heads over command issues and their mutual love interest, the sexy station doctor, Lisa (Luciana Paluzzi). But all that soap opera nonsense will have to wait as the asteroid is destroyed, but a sample of an organic tissue splashed onto one of the space suits makes it’s way back to Gamma 3 and soon grows into an army of one-eyed, green creatures with electrified tentacles. Can Rankin and Elliot put aside their differences and mutual lust for buxom space doll Lisa before these creatures overrun the station and kill everyone on board?

This colorful and fun B-movie as directed by the versatile Fukasaku was a co-production from MGM and Japan’s Toei Studios with a mainly Anglo cast, who take the silly proceedings dead serious and that’s what makes this so much fun. The SPFX are delightfully cheesy as are the sets, the totally 60s sci-fi costumes and the hilariously campy dialogue. It’s like watching a 60s rubber monster version of Aliens!

A fun and entertaining flick that is a really nostalgic good time if you can appreciate monster movies like this. Very 60s and a lot of fun. A nice, no frills DVD and Blu-Ray is available from MGM’s archive website.

3 and 1/2 (out of 4) rubber suited space monsters!

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MESAGE FROM SPACE (1978)

Message From Space is Japan’s answer to Star Wars, though there are not as many similarities as one might expect, as this colorful and deliriously fun space adventure is actually based on a Japanese legend, The Legend of the Eight Samurai. Message tells the tragic story of the planet Jillucia, which is ravaged and conquered by the Gavanas, led by tyrannical leader Rockseia XXII (Mikio Narita) and his henpecking mother (actor Hideyo Amamoto in drag). The Jillucians send out a distress in the form of eight glowing seeds which legend says will lead eight warriors, picked by the gods, to come to their defense. Jillcucian Princess, Emeralida (Etsuko Shihom) leaves to follow them and gather the warriors to return with her. Soon a ragtag group of both would be and reluctant defenders, including retired drunk General Garuda (Vic Morrow), exiled Gavana, Prince Hans (Sonny Chiba) and a bunch of space racing slackers, are off to Jillucia to take on the invaders who have now set their sights on Earth.

Directed by the versatile Kinji (Battle Royale) Fukasaku, Message From Space is a fast moving and delightfully silly and fun space opera. With an abundance of entertainingly cheezy SPFX and numerous battles and action sequences, this unlikely group of heroes go up against an almost invincible empire. You can have a real blast if you go into it with the right mindset and the right beverages. Vic Morrow’s drunken space general and his faithful robot sidekick are worth watching it for alone. There is also some really imaginative art direction and spaceship designs including a ship that resembles an old sea galleon. Message looks more like a live action Manga than a Star Wars clone with it’s art deco sets and space samurai costumes.

A really fun Saturday night film fest flick that would also make a great double feature with Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond The Stars if you can’t get your hands on The Green Slime.  Also starring Philip Casnoff, Hiroyuki Sanada, Peggy Lee Brennan and Masazumi Okabe as Aaron, Shiro, Meia and Jack respectively, the young space slackers who become heroes. Message has just become available for the first time on a beautifully remastered DVD and Blu-Ray from the awesome people at Shout Factory!

A campy , fun 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) star galleons

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