Saturday, December 22, 2012

From Beyond Television: Ultraseven Episode #8

Episode Eight: THE CURSED TOWN (also listed as THE TARGETED TOWN) ****


"...A terrible scheme to exploit man's trust in his fellow man. But please don't worry, this story could only happen in the distant future. Why is that, you ask? Because in today's world, there isn't enough trust to exploit."

In the town of Kitagawa, a string of perplexingly fatal accidents have claimed the lives of hundreds of people. Furuhashi and Soga attempt to find answers regarding this seemingly cursed town. While patrolling the town, a crazed man with a rifle runs through the street shooting at people. Not long after, Dan is intercepted by a gravel truck. Discovering the truck has no driver, he is suddenly confronted by a disembodied voice telling him to leave the town. Later, both Furuhashi and Soga go on a rampage and have to be detained. It's finally learned that space seeds hidden within cigarettes by the evil Metrons drive smokers insane, turning them into violent, potentially deadly killers.

The eighth show in the ULTRASEVEN series is light on monsters and high on intrigue and mystery including some oppressively eerie use of shadows and silhouettes. It's mostly a police procedural in the Ultra Guard's search for answers as to the reason behind deadly violence in the town of Kitagawa.The premise for this episode is unique and deviates from the glut of other 'alien invasion' programmers. It seems to have gotten inspiration from the classic TWILIGHT ZONE episode, 'The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street'.

It turns out that a race of aliens have utilized these space seeds to push humans into wiping themselves out providing entertainment for the Metrons watching it all take place in front of them. Again, taking a cue from reality, the Metron states that when you strip away the trust from man, they attack. This episode is hauntingly relevant today, most notably in the episodes closing dialog (see at top); also in that smoking is very, very bad for you.

The sequence near the beginning showing a villager going berserk and shooting at women and children with a rifle will no doubt offend some; and raise the eyebrows of many considering the equally inexplicable spate of mass shootings that have occurred over the last few years. The Newtown, Connecticut school shootings of a couple weeks ago instantly come to mind during this sequence.

There's a great scene at the climax where the Metron ship, hidden inside what looked like an apartment building, escapes into the sky with the Ultra Guard in hot pursuit. The red sky provides a gloomy backdrop for the aerial dogfight between the Ultra Hawk 1 and the Metron ship which can split into two separate saucers.

The battle between Ultraseven and the Metronian is relatively brief, but again, the red backdrop adds surrealism to the scene modestly redeeming what is an otherwise uninspired giant monster battle.

Ironically, this astonishing episode works best when there aren't any monsters onscreen at all. The makers of ULTRASEVEN were often prone to experimentation with this series, and this episode is an example of that.

MONSTERS: Metron alien

WEAPONS: Ultra Hawk 1

To be continued in Episode Nine: ANDROID ZERO DIRECTIVE!!!

From Beyond Television: Ultraseven Episode #7

Episode Seven: SPACE CAPTIVE 303 (also listed as ALIEN PRISONER 303) *

Aboard Space Station V3, agent Mizuno receives multiple transmissions from an alien source, but has been unable to decipher them. Meanwhile, two hunters find a small, single passenger alien spacecraft in the woods and are attacked by the fish-eyed, gas drinking alien traveling inside. Upon transcribing the messages, it turns out the monster is a murderous fugitive escaped from an intergalactic prison. The Ultra Guard members and local police seek him out before the beast can kill more people. After the monster kidnaps Anne and hijacks one of the ships that make up the Ultra Hawk 1, the chase is on.

This is a mediocre show, and among the weakest, if not the weakest thus far; and not necessarily because there's no monster fight at the end. The Kyuraso grows to giant size, but never engages Ultraseven in action. It's also a fairly poor creature design and looks a lot like Eric Stoltz from MASK (1985). 

Unfortunately, you only see Ultraseven fleetingly as he transforms to escape the crashing of the Beta ship; one of three aerial ships that can link up to form a powerful flying machine.

As the Kyuraso has now gone Giant, he's encircled in flames and just seems to stand there. Apparently the shows makers had no idea where to go with the last two minutes. Instead of a monster battle, we're treated to a Moroboshi monologue instead just before the monster is blown to smithereens from all the gasoline it's consumed; a beast that would be pretty easy to destroy if you ask me.

This minor episode is essentially a Sci-Fi version of a cop show. It's an interesting premise, but flatly directed and never quite takes off till the finale. Only in the world of Japanese rubber suit mayhem will you see a news broadcast about an alien criminal at large. All citizens please remain indoors!

The nighttime air chase is about the best part of this one. The monster attacks on civilians are shot differently than usual. The camera hides the full form of the creature at first, as opposed to revealing him right away; possibly they knew it was best to hide this slapdash design till the last minute. However, that the beast can kill three people at a gas station in broad daylight and no one sees anything is hard to swallow, even for a Japanese monster series.

MONSTERS: Kyuraso (subbed here as Curio)

WEAPONS: Ultra Hawk 1 (Alpha, Beta, Gamma)

To be continued in Episode eight: THE CURSED TOWN!!!

From Beyond Television: Ultraseven Episode #6

Episode Six: THE DARK ZONE ****

Upon returning from investigating a mysterious light source, Dan is called to agent Anne Yuri's quarters after a strange shadow like figure appears there. Claiming to be injured, Dan and Anne sit and talk to the shadow shaped figure, although the alien is equally shadowy about answering questions. Meanwhile, central control receives an alien signal from the planet Pegassa asking that Earth adjust its orbit to avoid a collision that would destroy both the Earth and the Pegassan metropolis. In an effort to avert total annihilation, Commander Manabe orders the city of Pegassa destroyed. But the aliens have plans of their own as well.

Episode six poses another riveting idea; this time regarding interplanetary race relations. This is the best of the early episodes up to this point. It's not high on monster action till the end, and even then, neither Pegassa nor Ultraseven go Giant. This is more of a suspense programmer. The Pegassans are highly intelligent, if reticent. It's easy to figure them for antagonists considering how they avoid answering questions especially once they realize Earthlings aren't as technologically advanced as they thought.

It also paints a picture that, despite having faced many galactic foes up to this point, the Terrestrial Defense Force is openly naive, almost gullible in their trust of the mysterious alien shadow. This is diametrically opposed to the pretentiousness of the Pegassans who are pleaded with to evacuate their city as the Ultra Garrison has launched nuclear missiles to destroy them to prevent the collision. 

The Pegassans, believing themselves to be superior, do not accept that an inferior race such as human kind would be capable of destroying them. One could say the Pegassans represent the Japanese military in WW2 and the Terrestrial Defense Force the Allied Forces.

The episodes finale is also enthralling once the sole remaining Pegassan finally reveals his intentions were to destroy the Earth all along should the Pegassan scientists not divert their vast city's orbit. Both sides had the same goal of destruction, it just amounted to which one would get there first. Showing his true form, the Pegassa Seijin tells Anne to take Dan and leave as quickly as possible as he plans to send a bomb straight to the Earth's core that will destroy the planet. 

Upon confronting Ultraseven, Pegassa realizes his people are all dead. The creature escapes, Ultraseven removes the bomb and the Earth is safe once more. An unusually poignant episode, although fans looking for lots of effects and monster action may wish to skip this episode entirely.

It's worth noting the plot point of a devastating collision between the Earth and an enormous alien city recalls the plot of Ishiro Honda's obscure (in America) GORATH from 1962 about Earth's scientists coming together to devise a means to change the Earth's orbit to avoid colliding with a runaway planetoid dubbed Gorath.

MONSTERS: Pegassa alien

WEAPONS: Ultra Hawk 1

To be continued with Episode Seven: SPACE CAPTIVE 303!!!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Famous Monsters Memories: Mr. B.I.G., Pat "Wolfman" Paulsen & Chaney Jr.

This installment of Famous Monsters Memories contains images and ads from issues 101, 102 and 103.

THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957) is one of Mr. B.I.G.'s best L.O.W. budget movies of the 1950s. Glenn Langan is really quite good in the lead role of the tragic US Army officer who goes Giant after being exposed to a Plutonium blast. While he gets bigger than his breeches, his mind can't keep up and he goes both insane, and on a spree of mass destruction. A sequel, THE WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, premiered the following year.

Bert I. Gordon went color for his 1962 fantasy adventure, THE MAGIC SWORD (1962). It was one of those movies that came on TV once in a blue moon, and was entertaining enough that it made you wonder why that was.

Special Effects Makeup Artist, Verne Langdon, paints up the late comedian Pat Paulsen as a werewolf for what I presume is his short-lived television series from the 1970s.

Famous Monsters paid tribute to Lon Chaney Jr. in their December '73 issue a few months after his passing in July of that year. These two images below are from that spread covering his entire career.


And you couldn't have Famous Monsters without those amazing ads that took up the last dozen or so pages of the magazines. 

I remember those Super 8 ads were among my favorites even though I never had one of them. I figured if I bugged my mother or father enough, they'd relent and order me one of them. 

The Fisher Price Movie Viewer Theater was the closest I ever got. There were no monster cartridges that I recall, but it was just like having your own bonafide projector, and easily the next best thing to owning the real thing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Cool Ass Comedies: In God We Trust (1980) review


Marty Feldman (Brother Ambrose), Peter Boyle (Sebastian Melmoth), Louise Lasser (Mary), Wilfred hyde-White (Abbot Thelonius), Richard Pryor (G.O.D.), Andy Kaufman (Armageddon T. Thunderbird)

Directed by Marty Feldman

"...You made me in your own image, didn't you? I can't imagine you looking like that somehow..."

The Short Version: Bug-eyed Marty Feldman's second and last directing gig was a failed, if ambitious comedy curio that is likely of far more interest now than it was then. It's a satirical, sometimes playfully blasphemous look into the world of the evangelical scammers that garnered notoriety in the 1980s. When it isn't bombarding the viewer with funny and unfunny pratfall hijinks and numerous sight gags, it's preaching a political message in between moonlighting as a romantic comedy. Atheists and Agnostics won't be converted and open minded Christians may even be swayed into a giggle or two. So Sayeth Cool Ass Cinema.

Sent outside the temple to raise money for the monastery's mortgage payment, the naive and inexperienced Brother Ambrose ends up in Los Angeles. There he finds many sights unseen to his virginal, unworldly eyes. After being picked up by an evangelical charlatan driving around in a bus fashioned into a mobile church, Ambrose meets a kindly hooker who guides him through this strange new world on his way to meet another religious conman, Armageddon T. Thunderbird.

Marty Feldman's best known movie out of the two he directed is one that has been buried in obscurity for decades and remembered by a cult of fans that possibly saw it for the first time on cable television in the early 1980s. A major box office bomb, it died a quick death and failed to rise on the third day.

Many found it grossly offensive back in the day, and it would most likely be found offensive now. Feldman paints a blackly humorous portrait of the greedy commercialization of organized religion that was eventually exposed for the monetary racket it was at the time. A 1977 episode of SANFORD & SON also parodied the hypocritical razzamatazz that pulled many a Houdini on gullible people's purses and wallets. Incidentally, the church racket in that episode was called 'The Divine Profit Church'. For Feldman's movie, the words are switched around to 'The Church of the Divine Profit'.

"By the way, I think I love you... do you mind?" 


Feldman must have worshiped this project as he not only directed and starred in it, but also wrote it. If that weren't enough, he even performs some dangerous Keatonesque stunts in the film. However, he seems to have sat out a portion of the big chase scene at the end where he's on a skateboard being pulled by a truck carrying a speed boat. If you look closely, you can see a stuntman wearing a Feldman mask in a couple of shots. 

For the most part, the comedy is very uneven, filled with lots of pratfall moments and sight gags. Some work, many do not; but when the funny bits work, they're hilarious. It's obvious Feldman put a lot of work into it and the Mel Brooks touch is apparent; or at least the Mel Brooks of the late 80s onward. Feldman will possibly be best remembered on North American shores for his performance as Igor in Brooks' YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974).

"Step right up, sinners! Take a miracle home with you! Get your own Levitating Lazarus Doll! See him rise from the dead in the privacy of your own home!"

IN GOD WE TRU$T also sports another YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN alumni in Peter Boyle. Boyle is one of the best characters in this movie. He gets a great many memorable lines and most of these will likely be found offensive by Christians. Boyle spouts off expletive enhanced biblical jargon and even does a ventriloquist act with a dummy Moses aboard his battle scarred bus fashioned into a church on wheels!

After Melmoth rips him off a couple of times (in some of the films funnier bits), he and Ambrose form a partnership that ends quickly so as to move on to the romantic comedy subplot between Ambrose and Louise Lasser's character. She, too, provides some religious offensiveness in that she plays a prostitute named Mary. One scene in the movie has her backlit while standing in a doorway signifying Christian iconography. This precedes Ambrose having to run and take a cold shower after becoming preoccupied with her "bumpy bits".

"...Gawd is in the hospital! And do you know who put him there?! Y-O-U!"

The other major stand out character is that of Armageddon T. Thunderbird, devilishly played by controversial comic, Andy Kaufman. This was his first major role and Kaufman (who'd already appeared as a killer cop in GOD TOLD ME TO in 1976) gobbled up as much scenery as possible. It was as if his life depended on it. 

Nearly every scene with Kaufman is magnetic, forcing all eyes on him. Speaking of eyes, Thunderbird's orbs are constantly threatening to fall from their sockets. Kaufman revels in the flamboyance of his maniacal mannerisms, golden pompadour and over the top drawl. The scenes with him emerging onstage wearing a cape echo the similar carnival theatrics of professional wrestling; a sport Kaufman was fascinated with, and took part in during the early 1980s. During this time in his career, he stirred up lots of heat for wrestling women and getting bitchslapped on Letterman and piledriven by Jerry Lawler.

This blashpemism in Feldman's movie, as playful as it is, was no doubt biting to Christians and believers of the day. Looking back, it's a reminder of just how big of an enterprise the hucksters of the holy book were back then despite Marjoe Gortner famously outing the hypocrisy of evangelism with his award winning documentary in the early 1970s

While these scenes with Kaufman's character are the major highlight, it also leaves a bitter taste in the mouth knowing that the elderly and easily beguiled in the audience seen tossing their lifesaving's into Thunderbird's coffers was an all too real occurrence.

"Haul thy ass aboard!"

Still, Boyle's character of Sebastian Melmoth is the blasphemer of the bunch while Thunderbird is merely a reflection of a harsh reality that far too many fell victim to. It's also ironic that both characters are far more interesting than Feldman's monastic outcast.

Some of these wholly (haha) offensive moments include Ambrose getting a job at a Christian novelty company where he works an assembly line nailing Jesus figurines to wooden crosses. Can I get an Amen?

Sebastian Melmoth's game of 'Find the Lord' consists of a chip with a cross painted on it hidden inside of one of three coconuts. Findeth the lord and try thy luck for a lousy buck.

Armageddon T. Thunderbird's outrageous burlesque show at the end has him giving one of his speeches in a comically exaggerated Southern drawl that emphasizes the words 'Seek' and 'heal' to the point that when his "followers" begin repeating his mantra, it sounds like 'Sieg Heil' -- fist pumping included. Hallelujah.

IN GOD WE TRU$T has yet to be released on DVD in America, but did garner a release on videocassette in the late 1990s. Unfortunately, VHS copies are missing the main theme song by Harry Nilsson, 'Good For God'; it being replaced by a different tune. In 2011, the film was put out on disc in the UK. The cable version of the film is complete.

"Who feedeth the hungry? Is it mana from heaven, or fried chicken from Kentucky? Who clotheth the naked? Is it JC, or JC Penny?"

The problem with IN GOD WE TRU$T is it wants to be too many things at once, and fails at what it's supposed to be -- a comedy. Feldman's picture wants to poke fun of evangelism, carry a political theme on its shoulders and periodically morph into a romantic comedy. It does two of these quite well. It's often touching in some of the scenes between Ambrose and Mary, although the politics become heavy handed at times. The one area where it fails to be consistent is in the comedy. There's lots of it, just these are only intermittently humorous when they should be more harmonious. Have faith thine followers. Feldman's final film behind the camera shall maketh its way to DVD before ye find divine providence. So sayeth Cool Ass Cinema.
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