Film Review: Devil Doll (1964)

Release Date: September, 1964
Directed by: Lindsay Shonteff
Written by: Ronald Kinnoch, Frederick E. Smith
Cast: Bryant Haliday, William Sylvester, Yvonne Romain

Associated Film Distributing Corp., 81 Minutes

Review:

Devil Doll is a bad movie.

However, it is still entertaining and kind of unintentionally hysterical in certain parts. Those parts make the film endearing and overall, the picture is pretty cool.

It isn’t well made and the acting is not great. The direction did nothing to steer this ship in a good direction from a quality standpoint but for whatever reason, the picture resonates for gluttons of cheese, such as myself, due to its strange hokiness.

The title character, the “devil doll” Hugo, is a cool monster. Sure, he’s not a traditional beast but he is certainly a prototype of the infinitely more famous Chucky from the Child’s Play film series.

Hugo is a ventriloquist dummy but he is possessed by evil. He talks and walks around during stage shows, even when the ventriloquist “The Great Vorelli” is across the room. This impresses audiences but is also baffling, as no one understands how it is possible.

The scenes where Hugo stalks his prey are played by a person in a costume made to look like the dummy. It’s a bizarre and unsettling sight but also cheesily magnificent.

A notable thing about this film is that it stars some people who would go on to do some great things.

“The Great Vorelli” is played by Bryant Haliday, who would go on to establish Janus Films, a distribution company that introduced several films now considered masterpieces and classics. Also, they are closely related to the Criterion Collection.

The film also stars William Sylvester and Alan Gifford, who would both appear four years later in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sylvester was the original Dr. Heywood Floyd (later the star of 2010: The Year We Make Contact where he was then played by Roy Scheider).

The best version of this film to watch is the riffed version that appeared as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Bryant Haliday would also be featured in another MST3K episode when they riffed another one of his movies, The Projected Man.

Film Review: RiffTrax Live: Summer Shorts Beach Party (2017)

Release Date: June 15th, 2017
Written by: Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett, Bridget Nelson, Mary Jo Pehl, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Paul F. Tompkins
Cast: Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett, Bridget Nelson, Mary Jo Pehl, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Paul F. Tompkins

RiffTrax, 120 Minutes

Review:

While this isn’t a typical movie in a movie format, I did see it theatrically, as it was intended, and I had a damn fine time.

Unlike most of the RiffTrax Live events, this one wasn’t about featuring a single motion picture. This event showcased a series of educational shorts.

For fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000, riffing on educational shorts is a long and celebrated tradition by these guys. Back then, shorts were used to fill up the two-hour time slot if the featured movie wasn’t long enough. MST3K often times used low budget B-movies from yesteryear. Usually those movies have much shorter running times so the space on the show had to be filled. This RiffTrax special honored that part of their legacy.

This show also was a MST3K reunion of sorts, as it didn’t just feature Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett but it included Trace Beaulieu, Frank Contiff, Mary Jo Pehl and Bridget Nelson. Comedian Paul F. Tompkins also showed up for this riffing extravaganza.

The shorts Ricky Raccoon Shows the Way and Rhythmic Ball Skills were riffed by the normal team of Mr. Nelson, Murphy and Corbett. Office Etiquette was handled by Beaulieu and Contiff while The Griper was riffed by Pehl and Mrs. Nelson. A Touch of Magic was presented by Paul F. Tompkins, as well as Mr. Nelson, Murphy and Corbett. The final and most bizarre short of the seven featured was The Baggs, which was riffed by the entire cast.

Before the big finale, which was The Baggs, they showed a cool clip reel of the best of the 300-plus other shorts they have riffed over the years.

I really enjoyed this style of RiffTrax event, even more so than them just riffing on a movie. The two hours flew by and I found myself laughing a lot more than I do with typical theatrical comedies. The theater I was at wasn’t packed but the people there were really enjoying themselves and letting loose. It was the best theatergoing experience I have had in years.

Ultimately, I hope they do more events like this. It was a blast and I’m even considering going back to catch the encore in a few days.

Film Review: The Screaming Skull (1958)

Release Date: January, 1958
Directed by: Alex Nicol
Written by: John Kneubuhl
Music by: Ernest Gold
Cast: John Hudson, Peggy Webber, Russ Conway

American International Pictures, 68 Minutes

Review:

This is a film that has had some lasting power simply because it was riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It certainly deserves that treatment as it is a pretty awful picture all around.

Put out by American International, this film is the culmination of the type of movie that studio would make when they really didn’t seem to give a shit about the project. While American International focused mostly on low budget horror, they still made some real classics and I have always been a fan of the studio.

The Screaming Skull just feels like an afterthought by the studio. Something made cheaply and quickly to capitalize off of the marketing style of William Castle, whose films and gimmicks were popular at the time.

The film offers a free coffin for any theatergoer who may die from fright due to seeing this picture. The ‘Bots on Mystery Science Theater 3000 even poke fun at this marketing ploy and try to get one of the free coffins, even though neither of them were scared in the slightest.

The monster of the film is literally a skull… a haunted skull. It can apparently knock on doors, teleport and can dress up like an old lady and strut across a room until you throw something at it. It also has the power of growing into a gigantic specter that flies at you with its mouth agape. I don’t recall a single scream from it though.

This movie is pretty much pointless and deserves to be forgotten.

Is it worthy of being run through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Of course! So what we have here is a Type 5 stool, which is defined as “Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (passed easily).”

Film Review: The Sword and the Dragon (1956)

Also known as: Ilya Muromets (Soviet Union), The Epic Hero and the Beast (UK)
Release Date: September 16th, 1956 (Soviet Union)
Directed by: Aleksandr Ptushko
Written by: Mikhail Kochnev
Based on:  the byliny tales of the bogatyr Ilya Muromets
Music by: Igor Morozov
Cast: Boris Andreyev, Shukur Burkhanov, Andrei Abrikosov, Natalya Medvedeva, Yelena Myshkova

Mosfilm, 87 Minutes

Review:

The Sword and the Dragon is a film I probably wouldn’t have known about if it wasn’t featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This is a Soviet fantasy film and for coming out of a communist country in the mid-1950s, the special effects are surprisingly good.

This isn’t a good movie per se but it does have an interesting visual and aesthetic flair. Some of the puppets used are ahead of their time and go to show that the people behind the film were able to accomplish a lot with what they had to work with. If anything, this film is a technical marvel.

Additionally, the style and art direction are fantastic, showcasing a lot of creativity.

The film is based off of a byliny tale, or poem, about the famous folklore character Ilya Muromets who likes to ride around and go on adventures, fighting mythological beasts. I’m not hugely familiar with the character, so I can’t say whether or not this is an accurate version of him. However, it is still fun and mostly engaging even if the story is a bit messy and disjointed.

The film is bizarre and surreal but anything featuring puppet squirrels beating on mushrooms like bongos is going to fit that bill. While it is far from perfection, The Sword and the Dragon has a charm and an awesomeness to it.

Film Review: Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

Also known as: Gojira tai Megaro (Japan), Godzilla 80 (France)
Release Date: March 17th, 1973 (Japan)
Directed by: Jun Fukuda
Written by: Takeshi Kimura, Shinichi Sekizawa, Jun Fukuda
Music by: Riichiro Manabe
Cast: Katsuhiko Sasaki, Hiroyuki Kawase, Yutaka Hayashi, Robert Dunham, Kotaro Tomita, Ulf Ootsuki, Gentaro Nakajima

Toho, 81 Minutes

Review:

Godzilla vs. Megalon is the first Godzilla film that I ever owned. I remember buying a copy on VHS at Walmart in a discount bin for about $4 in the late 80s. While it wasn’t the first Godzilla film that I saw, it always held a special place in my heart, being that I bought it with my own money and that I watched it more than any other Godzilla film when I was a kid.

It was also cool seeing it riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000, as only one of two Godzilla films to get that treatment. The other was Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster a.k.a. Ebirah, Horror of the Deep.

This is a Godzilla film that came later in the original Shōwa era run. It is often trashed by fans of classic Godzilla pictures but I actually quite enjoy it for the cast of monsters in it and for the extra helping of cheese. Who doesn’t like extra cheese? Apparently many Godzilla fans and critics are lactose intolerant.

The thing is, I discovered Godzilla movies when I was a young kid, so cheesiness wasn’t even an issue. Godzilla vs. Megalon really only works if you can just kick back, enjoy a tag team giant monster slugfest and laugh your ass off at some of the absurdity: like when Godzilla does his infamous tail slide maneuver.

The film not only gives us Godzilla and the new monster, Megalon, it also introduces the robot Jet Jaguar and brings back one of my all-time favorite Godzilla baddies, Gigan. Also, Jet Jaguar was created by a small child when Toho held a contest that allowed school children in Japan to submit ideas for characters. While he is obviously inspired by Ultraman and similar tokusatsu heroes that were ruling television, he is very much his own character and kind of cool. Besides, Godzilla had teamed up with Mothra and Rodan so many times that a new ally was needed to keep things fresh, thirteen films into the franchise.

At this point, Godzilla had fought alien threats so often that Toho changed things a little bit. Here, we see the world come under attack by a subterranean group called the Seatopians, who are a civilization that grew out of the survivors of an ancient continent that was swallowed by the ocean. The Seatopians control the beetle-like Megalon and send him to Earth to cause havoc, as the Seatopians are sick of how humanity treats the planet. Jet Jaguar gets involved, summons Godzilla and then the Seatopians call for reinforcements in the form of Gigan. What we end up with is a two-on-two tag team smackdown.

Godzilla vs. Megalon is a fun film with some great monster action. It also has a pretty good score even if it wasn’t done by Akira Ifukube and didn’t feature any traditional Godzilla tunes. The style of the film was pretty cool, especially the house that the scientist lived in where Jet Jaguar was built. Our heroes even drive a pretty sweet buggy and tangle with mafioso types from Seatopia.

This certainly is not the best Godzilla film ever made, far from it, but like almost every Godzilla picture, it entertains and is a positive experience. You can’t expect these films to be flawless epics with dazzling effects, at least not from this era.

Godzilla vs. Megalon is hokey kaiju fighting at its very best though. It excels with its silliness and by this point, these films were being made for kids. It works for kids. But it also works for adults who saw this as kids or who can just chill out, relax and appreciate this for what it is: mindless fun with giant monsters.

Film Review: The Horror of Party Beach (1964)

Also known as: Invasion of the Zombies
Release Date: June 1st, 1964
Directed by: Del Tenney
Written by: Richard Hilliard, Lou Binder, Ronald Gianettino
Music by: Wilford L. Holcombe, Edward Earle Marsh, The Del-Aires
Cast: John Scott, Alice Lyon, Allen Laurel, Marilyn Clarke, The Del-Aires, Charter Oaks M.C.

Regal Films, Dark Sky Films, 20th Century Fox, 78 Minutes

Review:

Beach party movies generally suck donkey balls. This one, however, is worse than that. Although, it isn’t as horrible as Catalina Caper because it at least features a horror element and some goofy monsters.

One thing that does set this apart from other beach party flicks is that it was filmed in black and white and it was shot on the Atlantic Coast. The entire film was shot at Shippan Point, the southernmost neighborhood in Stamford, Connecticut.

The film starts with a boat dumping toxic waste into the ocean near the beach town. The waste covers a sunken ship where it reanimates dead sailors. They don’t become traditional zombies however, due to the aquatic setting. What we end up with is some wonky looking gillmen in some of the worst costumes ever made for film. As can be expected, the zombie gillmen attack the beach party where the victims bleed chocolate syrup.

While this was billed as a musical, it mostly features tunes that are part of the score and six songs sang by the pop band The Bel-Aires. It isn’t a traditional musical, even though it was sold as one.

The film was promoted as being able to scare people to death and theaters were encouraged to get theatergoers to sign a release form saying that the theater wasn’t responsible for people dying from fright. The film was also released on a double bill with another Del Tenney film The Curse of the Living Corpse.

In regards to the monsters, there were two suits made. Once they dried, after construction, the suits had shrank and the stuntman could no longer fit in them. To solve this problem, the producers gave the role of the monster to a sixteen year-old kid.

Despite the charm of the awful monster suits, the movie is damn near unwatchable. It isn’t interesting, the acting is dog shit and it is really just a waste of 78 minutes. Well, unless you watch the riffed version courtesy of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Being that this is a shitty motion picture, I feel the need to run it through the trusty and always accurate Cinespiria Shitometer. So here we go. A-ha! Let’s see the results. The Horror of Party Beach is classified as a “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”

Film Review: Mighty Jack (1968)

Release Date: April 6th, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Kazuho Mitsuta
Written by: Shin’ichi Sekizawa, Eizaburo Shiba
Music by: Isao Tomita, Kunio Miyauchi
Cast: Hideaki Nitani, Naoko Kubo, Hiroshi Minami

Fuji Television Network, Tsuburaya Productions, King Features Entertainment, 95 Minutes

Review:

Mighty Jack is a pretty unwatchable flick. It was featured in the original season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 when it was on local TV in Minnesota. It was then reused in the third season of the show, after it went national on cable.

The main reason that this thing is unwatchable, is because it isn’t really a movie. It is two episodes of the Japanese tokusatsu show Mighty Jack edited together into a feature length presentation by American distributor Sandy Frank.

An even bigger issue, is that it is comprised of episodes one and six, with none of the footage from the four episodes in-between them. It is a total mess and frankly, a slap in the face to the great work of legendary special effects producer and studio head Eiji Tsuburaya.

In fact, the show that this was based on was one of Tsuburaya’s most cherished creations. It focused on the characters and the human elements of the show and didn’t rely on evil aliens, the supernatural or giant kaiju creatures like his Ultra franchise and his work in Godzilla pictures.

This film version, does not, in any way, reflect the greatness and uniqueness of the television show.

Additionally, it probably doesn’t resonate for those who aren’t familiar with Japanese tokusatsu. Even then, it doesn’t feature a lot of the things that are sort of implied just by being in the tokusatsu genre: kaiju and other creatures.

It does feature a lot of cool vehicles and the characters are part of a defense force, similar to those in most of the Ultraman shows. It’s just a different type of tokusatsu. In Japan, it wasn’t a huge success but the show that followed, Fight! Mighty Jack did much better, as it did feature creatures.

I can’t speak for the show, as I haven’t seen it in its entirety, but it is obvious that this feature length version isn’t a good representation of it.