Earlier this week, while collating ideas for writing about the history of a particular giant monster who recently played a featured role in Godzilla vs. Kong (but who is neither Godzilla nor Kong), an alien sensation suddenly overpowered me. I had to go watch another giant monster movie, one I hadn’t given any attention to in fifteen years: Space Amoeba.…
A year ago, a global pandemic forced me into quarantine. I don’t know what these last twelve months would’ve looked like without my subscription to the Criterion Channel. It wouldn’t be a catastrophe, of course — no worse than the actual catastrophe occurring outside my apartment walls. But the grind of dullness would’ve been far worse. I wouldn’t have the cinematic delights of dog revolutionaries, noir Westerns, a spiritual debate resolved in a gory barroom brawl, or a quality Christmas stalker film.…
This oversized volume arrived in the mail last week: the Deluxe Collector’s edition of Metamorphosis Alpha, the first science-fiction roleplaying game. Originally published by TSR as a slender booklet in 1976, it’s essentially a weird dungeon crawl … IN SPAAACE! … taking inspiration from Brian Aldiss’s novel Non-Stop (which I love, BTW).
Its combination of radiation and mutant people/animals later formed the basis of Gamma World, one of the most out-there RPG settings ever. This volume contains the original Metamorphosis Alpha manual, an interview with creator James M. Ward, playtest notes, and all the supplemental material and errata published in Dragon and other RPG magazines of the time.
So why did I buy this? I’m one of those people who rarely plays RPGs (I don’t know enough people around me who want to) but enjoys reading RPG books as entertainment. I’m also interested in RPG history, since I came of age right as they did, during the advent of AD&D in the late ’70s. The only game system I would ever play is Fudge, the best universal system ever and wonderfully flexible, but that only makes it easier to read about other games and sourcebooks — they can all be run in Fudge!
The city of Washington, DC has taken occasional issue with production companies shooting large-scale action and science-fiction movies in the National Mall. As one government official explained, in regards to a planned shoot for the third Transformers film, “The National Mall is not an area in which Americans come to see high-tech action movies being made.”
What? That’s one of the reasons we have national monuments! This is not a defense of Transformers 3: We Won’t Get It Right Until Bumblebee, but a reminder that one of the core purposes of great landmarks across the globe is so they can be destroyed by aliens, robots, and giant monsters on the big screen.
Giant monsters in particular love wrecking landmarks, or at least getting good spectacle use out of them (such as Kong and the Empire State Building). Watching a titanic creature devastate a familiar cultural object provides a sinister thrill for viewers; it makes the monster that much more intimidating. Your human-sized buildings, no matter their age or importance to national psyche, mean nothing to these beasts.
The Japanese breed of giant monsters, kaijus, have devastated bridges, skyscrapers, dams, baseball stadiums, and almost anything else built in contemporary Japan. But one landmark has a special place in kaiju disrespect for infrastructure and culture: the feudal castle. The first castle Godzilla destroyed was in the second movie of the series, Godzilla Raids Again. This worked so well that the next two movies also had castle destructions that have turned into some of the most famous Godzilla moments.
Most folks outside of Japan are unfamiliar with the history of these castles, let alone know them by name. In my love of cross-disciplinary exercises, I’ve put together a history guide to those first three castles to fall under the force of the Big G, either solo or while beating up another monster. This is one of my personal loves about Godzilla: using the monster as a springboard to other subjects I might not have gotten around to otherwise. Like origami.
It was disheartening to sum up the recent Godzilla anime trilogy, the only Japanese Godzilla films I never plan to rewatch. Even with the Hollywood mega-millions epic Godzilla: King of the Monsters only a few months away, the feeling of deflation within my favorite movie franchise made it necessary for me to plug a bit of hope into my schedule immediately. Not by watching a great Godzilla film, mind you, but by watching a mediocre Godzilla film. Why? Because it’s the best way to remember how even lesser entries in the series can offer some enjoyment. Like watching Godzilla actually move. This is a radical concept the anime filmmakers let slip past them.
Thus I present Godzilla Raids Again, a middle-of-the-road G-movie that’s mostly faded into obscurity despite its prime position as the first Godzilla sequel.…
This whole thing has been a lot of pixels over nothing.
Interesting possibilities glimmered in the first two films of the animated Godzilla trilogy, Godzilla: The Planet of Monsters and Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle. But the final installment has arrived, premiering on Netflix this Wednesday, and now the whole enterprise reveals itself as a water-treading, self-proselytizing, character-inhibited, medium-wasting drag. This hasn’t been a bit of fun. There are no moments of elation or astonishment. In fact, Godzilla has hardly moved. I think the monster budged about ten feet the entirety of this last movie — and that includes during the climactic clash with Ghidorah, the only other kaiju to wander into the trilogy.
Godzilla fought Ghidorah — and for the first time ever, I didn’t care.…
The trailer for Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the direct sequel to the 2014 US Godzilla and the third installment in the Warner Bros. “Monsterverse” series after Kong: Skull Island, arrived earlier this week. It’s beautiful kaiju madness, even without Debussy’s dulcet tones rolling beneath it. King Ghidorah appears in all its auriferous splendor, charging into Godzilla in a jaw-dropping final shot meant to bring tears to my eyes. It succeeded. Our own Nick Ozment has some thoughts about it he put up yesterday which you should check out.
I’m tempted to proclaim the wonders of King Ghidorah, but I’ve already given the three-headed space dragon plenty of attention in a post about Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster, the 1964 film that’s essentially the template for the upcoming Godzilla movie. So as an alternate, I’m going to talk about the other monster who has money shots in the trailer: Rodan, one of the oldest of Toho Studio’s monsters. Specifically, I’m going to look at Rodan’s debut, a self-titled showstopper from 1956 and the first Toho kaiju film in color.
Sora no Daikaiju Radon (“The Giant Monster of the Sky, Rodan”), which Toho titled Rodan for US foreign sales to avoid confusion with the chemical element radon,* was released the year after the first Godzilla sequel, Godzilla Raids Again. The second go-around for Godzilla was financially successful, but not the earth-shaker of the original. Toho didn’t think there was more to mine from Godzilla and wouldn’t return to the Big G until King Kong vs. Godzilla eight years later. But Toho executives were willing to bet theatergoers would show up to see a destruction spectacle with an new type of monster … especially if was IN TECHNICOLOR! Or Eastmancolor.
This is a bit more of coloring-out-the-lines for my sword-and-sandal reviews, since The Adventures of Hercules comes from the mid-‘80s, far beyond the classic era of the Italian peplum of 1957–1965. But it is an Italian genre film about Hercules starring a bodybuilder from the US, which is the most sword-and-sandal situation imaginable. Plus, I’ve owed Black Gate a look at this film ever since 2009 when I reviewed the first of this pair of unbelievably goofy Lou Ferrigno Hercules flicks from director Luigi Cozzi. The guy who made that psychedelic version of the original Godzilla — which explains a lot about these Hercules movies.
The short version of the first part of my oration, In Facinorem Herculis: To cash-in on the success of Conan the Barbarian, Cannon Films contracted Italian filmmaker Luigi Cozzi to direct a new Hercules film starring bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno, who was at the height of his popularity after The Incredible Hulk television show. But instead of doing a standard Conan imitation — which the Italian film industry was already churning out — or trying to harken back to the classic Italian sword-and-sandal movies, Cozzi and Co. slapped Star Wars SF gimmickry over everything. According to Cozzi, it was his idea to pitch a Hercules film closer to the recent Superman films after the producers rejected a “sexy” script from director Bruno Mattei. Cozzi crammed the movie with laser blasts, lunar-based Olympians, giant robots, space travel via chariot, and plenty of beeping-and-booping synth noises. Although Cozzi had experience with riffing on Star Wars thanks to his 1979 movie Starcrash, it wasn’t any help overcoming a pinched budget, copious terrible performances, and the general misguided tone of “Who is this for?”
While Hercules ‘83 got a US theatrical release, it wasn’t a hot property in North America except as an object of jeers. But it made enough money internationally to justify Cannon moving ahead with a planned sequel, although with a trimmed budget. The Adventures of Hercules (Le avventure dell’incredibile Ercole, with a Roman numeral “II” added to some video releases) went straight to video and cable in the US and isn’t as well-known as its predecessor.
Two years ago this week, I posted a review of Dark Star, the first movie from director John Carpenter. Last month, I closed off my chronological amble through his theatrical feature films with a review of The Ward. To celebrate completing this 40,000-word-plus enterprise, I’ve put together a few closing thoughts on my five favorite John Carpenter flicks. Trying to do a complete list of the films from best to worst isn’t an easy task: I’d end up with too many ties, too much second-guessing, too many regrets. Nor do I want to dwell on the negative at the end of this series — dealing with The Ward was negativity enough! So this here is nothing but praise coming from some guy who’s only credential is “posts on a website.”
Since I’ve been asked, I didn’t include Carpenter’s episodes of Masters of Horror on this series, or the anthology movie Body Bags. I won’t rule out writing about these smaller projects in the future, but for the sake of this series, I’ve stuck to theatrical movies. If I did Body Bags, I’d also have to do Elvis and Somebody’s Watching Me, and I just don’t feel like it.
How tough is competition for the top slots in John Carpenter’s career? Halloween didn’t make my list! The director’s most famous and influential movie, an unquestionable masterpiece — and I still couldn’t make room for it among my five favorites.
Anyway, hop aboard the Porkchop Express … here are my Five Favorite John Carpenter films. Have you paid your dues, Ryan?
I started this John Carpenter career overview less than two years ago with Dark Star. Now I’ve come to what may end up as John Carpenter’s final film as director, appropriately a low-budget indie horror film. Carpenter had gone into semi-retirement after Ghosts of Mars flopped at the box office, only directing two episodes of Showtime’s anthology series Masters of Horror over the next nine years. The Ward wasn’t sold as a glorious comeback for the director, but a surreptitious little film that arrived without fanfare in a handful of theaters, a same-day VOD release, and home video a month later.
This isn’t where the Carpenter story ends, thankfully. I doubt he’ll direct another film (never say never), but he’s in a good creative place now. He’s released two superb original albums (Lost Themes, Lost Themes II), tours the country playing shows with his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies, and composed the score for the recent smash-hit installment in the Halloween franchise, which he also executive produced.
This makes me feel a bit better about discussing The Ward, because it’s not the last stop on Carpenter’s career. It won’t be the last article in the series either, since next week I’ll wrap-up two years of the Complete Carpenter with a summary of my five favorite of his movies. I’m not going to list my five worst because I’d prefer to send off this long project — more than 40,000 words — on a feeling of celebration.
But, if you really must know what I movie I’d put at the bottom of the list … it’s The Ward. Easy.
In 1966, young runaway Kristen (Amber Heard) is sent to a psychiatric hospital in Oregon after she burns down an empty farmhouse. Kristen is placed under the care of Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris), who is looking after five other troubled young women in the hospital’s special psychiatric ward: aggressive Emily (Mamie Gummer), flirtatious Sarah (Danielle Panabaker), artistic Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca), and infantile Zoey (Laura-Leigh). Dr. Stringer believes he can cure Kristen, but Kristen starts to suspect something sinister in the ward is responsible for the disappearance of patients before her. When more vanishings occur, Kristen believes the wrathful ghost of a previous patient, Alice Hudson, is murdering the ward’s occupants. Kristen attempts an escape with the surviving girls before the killer ghosts turns the electroshock therapy machine on her.