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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Legend of Dinosaurs & Monster Birds (1977) Dis List review #5

This column is reserved for terrible movies with little, to no redeeming qualities that are woefully disappointing, at least to me. These are movies that could, or should have had potential, but fail on nearly every level; movies that aren't good enough to be bad cheese. This is...



Tsunehiko Watase (Bunkichi Ashizawa), Nobiko Sawa (Akiko)

Directed by Junji Kurata

A paleontologist returns to his lakeside hometown to continue his search for a plesiosaur believed to be living beneath the depths of Lake Sai. After numerous disappearances and discoveries of mutilated corpses, another threat soon rears its head. A huge pteranodon is awakened from its sleep inside a cavern. Both creatures eventually meet during an eruption of the long dormant Mt. Fuji.

Every once in a while you remember a fragment of a movie from your childhood. Sometimes there's a good reason why said film exists only as a fragmented memory. It's generally quite reasonable to assume if a movie wasn't very impressive to a young impressionable mind, than it's doubtful it will appeal to you once you're older.

Junji Kurata's enormously shit-tastic JAWS influenced monster movie is one such case. Trumpeted at the time as a big budget Toei epic, something seriously must have went wrong over the course of the production. Either Toei's producers simply never visited the set, or everyone was doing some mad drugs. It's simply one of the most awful movies I have ever seen. While it's not so much terrible as it is plodding for the first 40 minutes, once the monsters make their appearance, it becomes a wildly and hilariously absurd movie.

The Japanese poster artwork would lead you to believe you were gonna see something spectacular...but you would be wrong

Having first seen it on the USA Network years ago in the 80's under the title, LEGEND OF THE DINOSAURS, I remembered next to nothing about it aside from the bizarre ending and that it had an unusual amount of gory violence. A ridiculous, amatuerish oddity at best, Kurata's movie seems the work of a depressed hack crying out to be barred as a theatrical director forever.

Really, where should one begin? This crap has next to nothing going for it. The shame of it all is that the picture starts off very promising showcasing some minor nightmarish qualities. But after that first five minutes, it's a long way down and a torturously protracted 92 minutes that is in all likelihood is hazardous to your health. Possibly some people may find some unintentional hilarity in all of this. I've seen the film three times over the years and I have yet to find any. It's funny, yes, but not in a good "bad" way. It's truly a crime that Toei's DVD doesn't contain a commentary track (or even the Media Blasters DVD for that matter) to reveal just what in the hell was going on in the minds of the filmmakers when they made this travesty.

Kurata directs in the most static way imaginable. Even the scenes with the monsters possess very little life, despite the by-the-numbers approach to the material. Why did there have to be a flying monster in addition to the aquatic creature? Why did there have to be a climactic volcanic eruption during the anti climatic ending? To say this movie is pointless would be complimenting it far too much. I will say it's not nearly the titanic turd of kaju bile that was Toho's GODZILLA FINAL WARS, but Toei's lone foray into giant monster movie territory is a mind boggling cinematic experience.

Akiko discovers a severed leg and other dismembered bodies in the ice cave

The handful of gore shots is quite unusual for a film of this type and in addition to the promising opening, the movie does contain some very atmospheric shots that fail to lift the movie out of the miserable mire it quickly finds itself in. There are possibilities inherent in the downbeat script, only director, Kurata fails to capitalize on them. That the movie has so much potential and totally and irresponsibly throws it away is baffling. Also adding to the mysteriously awful aura of this production, director Kurata's career seems to have either been swallowed up by the plastic plesiosaurus in the lake, or scooped up by the rampaging, yet hopelessly immobile string driven pteranodon.

Probably the best sequence in the film is the protracted death of one of the supporting cast. Two female divers are out in the fog enshrouded lake. One of them has been underwater for some time. The other is in the raft. The plesiosaur stalks the girl. We see its head pop up as if it is sneaking up on her. The monster ends up grabbing the girl by the leg lifting her into the air. She wiggles herself free and tries to make it to shore, but the monster pulls her under.

Later, the diver emerges from the water. Looking around for her friend, she suddenly sees her hand grasp the side of the raft. She tries to pull her up into the boat, but something is holding onto her. Then, the upper torso of the girl flings into the raft!

The riffs on JAWS are pretty blatant at times. One such occasion is as an afternoon lakeside concert of Japanese country music(!) being interrupted by two men utilizing a fake set of fins to impersonate an attack by the giant creature. Another is the discovery of a severed head underwater that floats into view while Ashizawa and Akiko explore the depths of the lake. The score is another bizarre addition to this production. The cue heard at the beginning contains an otherworldly quality, but this is soon replaced by some strange choices of upbeat jazz style arrangements.

The attack scenes with the Rhamphoryncus (when it finally shows up at the 73 minute mark) are shoddily done and the big battle between it and the Plesiosaurus is anything but an earth shattering struggle. Still, the wire enhanced tussle between these two special effects marvels causes the long dormant Mt. Fuji to erupt for no other reason than to bring this abysmal Japanese JAWS clone to a close.

While some bad movie lovers will be able to tolerate the oppressively inferior material presented here, most others will simply want to pass this one by. This Nippon imitation of one of America's biggest blockbusters had lots of potential. The sparse decent sequences and frequent gore can't save it. A wacky and bizarre melding of horror and kaiju monsters, proceed at your own risk.


Carl (ILHM) said...

I dont know why but I have seen this damn DVD recommended to me on all of my wishlists, couldnt have anything to do with all of the Kaiju films i have been buying lately..? Somehow, I want to see the film badly after reading the review, maybe more for the pictures than anything else. The creatures look convincing in the shots you posted? Sounds like a real loser though

venoms5 said...

Well if it only costs you a buck to rent it, then no loss, Carl. My friend had the Toei DVD translated and he subbed it. Then Media Blasters released it a year or so ago, which I didn't bother getting. At least my friends custom disc utilizes the Toei original poster artwork.

It's truly an awful movie, though. The monsters are laughable even for 1977 and look slightly worse than the average monster in a Japanese superhero show. Hard to believe this was touted as Toei's biggest budgeted movie at the time. If there were ever a subbed commentary track I would be all over it. I would love to know just what in the hell they were thinking with this one.

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