Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Famous Monsters Memories: 5 Covers of Famous Monsters Mayhem

This next installment of 'Famous Monsters Memories' contains five covers from issues I have in my collection. One of these covers features an actual photo as opposed to a painted image.

First up is the cover to issue number 46 from September 1967. The cover ghoul is the wolfman from Hammer's sole entry into lycanthropy, THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF from 1961. Some of the features in this issue include the Terrorscope, an article that teases coming attractions either in production, or about to be. This section of FMOF was always very fun to read, especially given that a lot of the films never surfaced, or ended up with a title change. There's a great article on Hammer's THE MUMMY SHROUD (1967) including some choice behind the scenes photos including one of the actual mummy in the British Museum that was used as a model for Prem. Another interesting piece is a feature by Italian moviemaker, Luigi Cozzi on an Italian horror movie entitled THE MONSTER OF THE OPERA, which I assume is the 1964 Renato Polselli movie of the same name. THE VAMPIRE & THE BALLERINA (1960; also directed by Polselli) also gets a photo filled spread.

Issue 47 features the Claude Rains version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943) in addition to a story on the film. There's also a retrospective on the esteemed actor who had just passed away a few months prior. Another monster-ific article is a picture packed feature on the Godzilla fan favorite, INVASION OF ASTRO MONSTER aka MONSTER ZERO (1965). Other articles include a write up on a fan made 80 minute remake of HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) that contains a recreation of the disentigration of Chris Lee's Dracula that didn't make it into the finished movie.

What's on the back cover?

Here, I am assuming are stories on LP. These look like fun and it would be interesting to be able to hear one of these. I would guess these are like audio novels you get in the book store? Maybe a reader who may have seen, or owned one can elaborate?

Following that it's issue 49 from May of 1968. The cool ghoul cover features the visage of Henry Hull as THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935). There's articles on Lugosi, Chaney Jr., a comic called 'Footsteps of Frankenstein', a spread on MOTHRA (1962) and a nice selection of monster movie pics, which were always welcome since the only way to see the movies was either at a theater, or on tv.

Issue 50 from '68 features that British giant monster, GORGO (1961) on the cover by the famous Famous Monsters artist, Basil Gogos. In the Coming Attractions section, an 'in the making' movie entitled THE VALLEY TIME FORGOT is mentioned; a film that ultimately became THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1968). A behind the scenes look at the work of effects artist, Ben Nye (THE FLY, THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE) is featured. A picture filled look at GORGO (1961) is also on hand as well as a comic version of Hammer's HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).

What's on the back cover?

It's a look at the war comic magazine favorite, BLAZING COMBAT

Lastly, this edition of Famous Monsters Memories closes out with Issue number 52 from October of 1968. This one features a photo of Barnabus Collins from the hit horror soap opera, DARK SHADOWS. There's also an article on the show itself. Also featured is a piece on the death of actor, Albert Dekker and a photo filmbook on SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939). There's a really cool pic of Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi and birthday ghoul, Boris Karloff (all in makeup) preparing to dig into his birthday cake on the set of SON. The best part of this issue is the spread on the hit movie, PLANET OF THE APES (1968). There's some awesome behind the scenes photos (one features Lou Wagner as Lucius in various stages of ape makeup reading issue 50 of FMOF) as well as informative notes on the making of the movie. The issue closes out with a piece on REVENGE OF THE ZOMBIES (1943) starring John Carradine.


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.

Reel Bad Cinema: Enter the Ninja (1981) review



This is a section devoted to rare, and as yet to be released on legitimate DVD movies. Some films may have been released in some part of the world, or on some public domain label, or some may have simply never been released at all on the digital format. This section is designed to keep these films alive and to provide remembrance to those who may have seen them in some form or other, whether it be on the silver screen, on videotape, or the small screen at home.


Franco Nero (Cole), Susan George (Mary Anne Landers), Sho Kosugi (Hasegawa), Christopher George (Charles Venarius), Alex Courtney (Frank Landers), Will Hare (Dollars)

Directed by Menahem Golan (the very name causes laughter in the hearts of action film fans everywhere)

A combination of Caine in KUNG FU and David Banner from THE INCREDIBLE HULK tv shows, Cole "walks the earth" righting wrongs wherever they may occur.

After completing his martial arts training in Japan, Cole journeys to the Philippines to look up an old friend and finds him being oppressed by a greedy property developer. When Cole proves to be problematic for the determined Mr. Venarius, he imports a Japanese ninjitsu expert of his own, Hasegawa, Cole's former rival.

Nero takes a cue from Terence Hill of the TRINITY movies with some 'ninja' style bitch slapping

Notoriously cut-rate and frugal producer, Menahem Golan directed this hilariously stupid movie that started a mercifully brief wave of ninja movies in America and a ninja shit storm of even worse imitators in overseas markets. Apparently, Karate champion Mike Stone was initially tapped to play the lead role, but Golan wanted international movie star, Franco Nero in the lead. This enormously bungled bit of miscasting adds a whole new meaning to the term 'WTF?'

The only thing that would make this even funnier would be if Nero would run up to the top of that hill and shout "NINJA!!!" like Richard Harrison does in the incredible, guffaw inducing, cut & paste "classic", COBRA VS. NINJA (1987?)

To put it mildly, Nero is about as convincing as a ninja hero as Richard Harrison in his equally laughable, yet long running series of 'cut-and-paste' "ninja" flicks from Hong Kong. Actually, considering Harrison did a slew of (awful) westerns himself, you could also say he's the poor man's Franco Nero. Anyway, Nero, as his fans are already aware, was made a huge western star after appearing in the lead in DJANGO from 1966. Nero also headlined the western TEXAS, ADIOS the same year; a Euroater with shockingly good fight scenes for a change. He is also seen in a supporting role in the exciting Italian western film, THE TRAMPLERS (1965) starring Gordon Scott, Joseph Cotten and James Mitchum.

Will Hare (left) and Franco Nero (right)

Other Nero western films that are worthy of note are THE MERCENARY (1968), MAN, PRIDE & VENGEANCE (1968), LONG LIVE YOUR DEATH (1971), DEAF SMITH & JOHNNY EARS (1972) and KEOMA (1976). Nero later helped light up the Italian crime genre with roles in such classy movies as CONFESSIONS OF A POLICE CAPTAIN (1971) and the birthing of the 'Violent Cop' films with HIGH CRIME in 1973.

I can't tell if Nero is trying to be serious, or if he is totally embarrassed while showcasing his absolute lack of nunchuku skill during one of the "best" scenes in the movie.

The former spaghetti western mega star is hopelessly lost amidst the atrocious script and even worse dialog. Since he's playing an American, Nero is dubbed and appears totally uncomfortable and woefully stiff during the action scenes he's allowed to appear on camera for. Considering the entire enterprise is a 100+ minute unintentional comedy, the biggest belly laugh comes during the scene where we see Cole (Nero) showing off his (non)skill in the use of nunchukus. You'll end up rewinding this brief scene of inadvertent mirth over and over again. If Nero ever wanted serious international recognition, he totally blew it with his role in this picture.

Franco Ne...I mean Mike Stone (white) and Sho Kosugi (black)

Mike Stone is also credited with the choreography and he doubles for Nero during any scene that requires any sort of flexibility (or believability) in the fight sequences. This bits are easily distinguished by the fast cuts whenever Franco Nero is in close up during a fight. The wide shots hang onto the action and it's discernable that it's a double during these shots. Nero was better suited to the wild and wide swinging stiff punches and kicks of so many Italian oaters of years past.

Sho Kosugi made his American debut here and has one of the least hilarious performances of the whole thing. He apparently impressed the devious duo of Golan & Globus as they quickly signed him to a deal for several more ninja movies including two sequel/follow ups, the superior REVENGE OF THE NINJA (1983) and NINJA 3: THE DOMINATION (1984). Kosugi's career should have peaked with the ultra violent, yet troubled production of PRAY FOR DEATH (1986), but he ended up being relegated to even worse tripe like NINE DEATHS OF THE NINJA (1985) and one of his last good guy roles in BLACK EAGLE (1989) which saw Sho have several battles with a then unknown Jean Claude Van Damme.

"I WANT MY BLACK NINJA AND I WANT HIM NOW!!" Christopher George gorged himself on a massive ham sandwich in his flamboyant role as Venarius

Movie tough guy, Christopher George tackles the damn worst performance of his great career as the white suit wearing and avaricious bad guy, Mr. Venarius. His lines are some of the worst in the film. Possibly George purposely hammed it up. His death scene would give weight to that notion.

One of the funniest death scenes of all time

Christopher George is MILES AWAY from his best remembered days as a leading man, or even an intimidating villain such as his bounty killer role in the John Wayne movie, CHISUM (1970)

He was a gruff character actor and sometimes leading man. He was married to one of Hollywood's most stunning starlets, Lynda Day George, who often appeared opposite him in his movies. One of his best roles was his commanding performance as lead hero, Sgt. Sam Troy in the two season action WW2 program, THE RAT PATROL (1966-1968). George later went on to feature in a slew of exploitation and horror pictures before succumbing to a heart attack in 1983. Some of the most notable are GRIZZLY (1976), DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977), CRUISE INTO TERROR (1978), THE EXTERMINATOR (1980), CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) and PIECES (1982).

Susan George (no relation to Christopher) was an attractive actress who made a name for herself appearing in numerous suspense thrillers and exploitation movies. Her role opposite Dustin Hoffman in STRAW DOGS (1971) brought her a lot of attention. Other roles include her 'Lolita' turn in TWINKY (1970) starring Charles Bronson, the babysitter stalked by a madman escaped from an asylum in FRIGHT (1971) and in the hit chase movie, DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY (1974) with Peter Fonda and Vic Morrow. She also had a prominent role in the controversial MANDINGO (1975) as well as movies of varying quality like A SMALL TOWN IN TEXAS (1976), TINTORERA! (1977), VENOM (1981) and THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS (1982).

ENTER THE NINJA isn't all bad, though. The opening of the movie features a ten minute action sequence that has Cole maneuvering through an army of red dressed ninjas led by Hasegawa in black. This being the final part of his training, Cole must make it to his masters pagoda. There's a lot of bloody violence here, even though it's all staged as part of Cole's gauntlet challenge. The ending, though, repeats the opening only instead of red clad ninjas, it's Venarius's white suited thugs. This time the violence is for real. After the last of his men are killed, Cole then duels to the death with Hasegawa inside a small arena. The score is also good and quite catchy. It would be better off being in a better movie, though.

Even the ninja practiced the highly effective Captain Kirk double hand chop seen here being expertly demonstrated by Franco Nero in his cringeworthy performance in ENTER THE NINJA

One of the funniest scenes in this movie occurs towards the latter half of the film. Venarius sends his head stoolie to Japan to find a ninja of his own. Of all the places to go and all the people to see, he visits a movie producer(!!) who recommends a man that, "...make five picture with Mr. Kurosawa! He played samurai! Also, he made one picture here with Robert Mitchum!" I assume he is referencing Ken Takakura (BLACK RAIN) who co-starred with Mitchum in THE YAKUZA (1974).

Amazingly, ENTER THE NINJA was a big enough success for Cannon Films to produce even more action movies in a similar vein with distribution through MGM. Throughout the 1980's, movies starring Sho Kosugi, Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson and Michael Dudikoff were all over American movie houses. Previously involved in the distribution of kung fu quickies and horror obscurities, Cannon carved a niche for themselves in the action film market for a little over a decade. Probably Golan's best US movie (and I mean this in all seriousness) as a director would be the popular Chuck Norris vehicle, THE DELTA FORCE (1986).

No, Nero doesn't have anything in his eye, he's just winking at the camera hopefully realizing the stinker he's participated in

While it's far from being a good movie, there's no denying that ENTER THE NINJA (1981) was very influential on the American martial arts movie boom of the 1980's. It's not the Holy Grail of bad movie heaven that is KILL SQUAD (1982), but Golan's goony bird of a ninja movie (remember, this is the same guy who directed OVER THE TOP with Stallone) will surely satisfy the palette of lovers of terrible movies everywhere.
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