"QUITE SIMPLY, THE BEST HORROR-THEMED BLOG ON THE NET." -- Joe Maddrey, Nightmares in Red White & Blue

**Find The Vault of Horror on Facebook and Twitter, or download the new mobile app!**

**Check out my other blogs, Standard of the Day, Proof of a Benevolent God and Lots of Pulp!**

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Visceral Visionaries: Austin James

It's been a while, but I'm finally bringing Visceral Visionaries back with someone who really does fit the bill, the amazing illustrator Austin James. I recently came across his Tumblog, the appropriately titled The Work of Austin James, and was particularly struck by a horror film-themed collage illustration he recently completely. I subsequently got him to sit down and answer some questions. Behold the results...

What were some of your inspirations, both horror related and otherwise?

I draw most of my inspiration from things I see every day. When you're drawing consistently, you just seem to get in this grind where you're constantly over-analyzing how everything moves and looks around you (at least in my case). It gets to be a bit much, but it's important when you're drawing things that represent real life. Even when drawing strange fictional creatures, it is essential to have some knowledge of how real-life animals move and look.
Modern artists that consistently inspire me are the likes of Paul Pope, Frank Quitely, Daniel Clowes, Ross Campbell and Charles Burns. All of these wonderful artists have such amazing attention to detail and an amazing eye for weight and movement in their work.
Horror always inspires me, especially the truly bizarre, like movies by Frank Henenlotter, David Cronenberg, Larry Cohen and Stuart Gordon. I love movies like Brain Damage, Re-Animator, Society and The Thing. Whenever I see such creative creatures and practical effects, it drives me to create something of my own. And while not really as much horror-related, the wonderful Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen have always motivated me.

You're using Tumblr to promote your work. Do you find this to be effective in getting it out there?
Everyone and their grandmother seems to have a blog now. It's such a great way for any nobody to be noticed. It's so easy for someone to do one thing that gets them out there and have that re-blogged over and over again till they receive their fifteen minutes or so. It's a fantastic way to network. I just recently jumped on the bandwagon, but it seems to be working out pretty swell so far.

For me, of course, the highlight is the
horror movie poster. What led you to do that work?
I normally don't do much fan art, but I have a near unhealthy passion for film (particularly horror films). So much of my time is spent watching and reading about movies. I think horror is such an impressively diverse genre with such a devoted fan base. It's great that someone can see the same slasher film done over and over, and really appreciate the little differences that make one so much more special than most of them. It is the most distinctive, polarizing genre, and I think that makes it absolutely special. It was only a matter of time before I put my passion for horror on paper. It was the definitive "labor of love" for me. I enjoyed it very much and it probably will spawn a number of pieces related to movies, particularly cult films.

I notice that most of the flicks referenced in the poster are from the '70s and '80s. Is this a favorite period?
In my opinion, the '70s is the most important era for film, and not just horror. Of course that's debatable, but you can really see this huge creative surge happening at that time. As for the '80s, it is filled with examples of fantastically bizarre cult film-making. The characters I chose to draw were the most prominent in horror culture, as well as some of my favorites. I didn't want to have three werewolves on the poster, so I stuck with my favorite of the lycanthropy movies, An American Werewolf in London (sorry, Lon Chaney).
Some of my choices came down to simply what would look more interesting. I thought the Bride would be a more interesting choice than simply drawing Frankenstein's monster, but also because Bride of Frankenstein is my personal favorite among the Frankenstein films. There were plenty of movies/characters that I wanted to involve, but there just really wasn't space. I'm actually thinking about either expanding it or doing a companion piece.

Some of your imagery is quite bizarre. From where does the impetus come?
Ever since I have had a pencil I've loved to put it to paper and let my mind wander. It's a lot of fun to just see what can come out of you when you push yourself.

Some of your recent posts have depicted animals. Is this from a love of living creatures, or more like they just come easy for you, artistically speaking?
As I mentioned before, I love drawing things around me and I think it's very important to have an understanding of how these things move and look. Besides that, I do genuinely love animals. I've grown up with pets, I've been around them my whole life. I talk to my animals like a crazy cat lady. Put me in the group that loves seeing people getting brutally murdered on film but dreads when an animal is put in danger.

You also have a knack for striking portraiture. Is this something you've pursued professionally? Is art more an amateur pursuit for you, and if not, explain.
Thank you. I haven't done much portraiture professionally beyond a few freelance projects. I am a graphic designer/illustrator trying to make money doing what I love. Most of my work for money is dry promotional material, but I always try to put some sort of my own energy into it. I do very much enjoy drawing portraits, though.

Is there anywhere else my readers might be able to look to find some of your work?
The best place to keep up with me is on my Tumblr, but I do have a new website coming soon that will have prints and such purchasable on there. My art can be found floating around a few coffee shops and galleries in Orlando, Florida occasionally. I'm always available to be contacted by email if anyone wants to know where/how to see or obtain any of my work.

Any projects coming up that you'd like to mention?
I'm working on quite a few new pieces that should be up soon. I'm doing two graphic novels at the moment, but it's a slow process as I'm trying to find time in between my random pictures and work. I'll be sure to have any updates on my blog as they come.

Monday, March 29, 2010

TRAILER TRASH: Invisible Man Edition!

* NOTE: Trailer for the original Invisible Man is fan-made.

Bram Stoker Award Winners Announced!

I'd like to take some time out from the regularly scheduled programming here to recognize the winners of the illustrious Bram Stoker Awards, the premiere accolade in horror fiction the world over. True to the international spirit, the awards were presented yesterday outside North America for the very first time--at the World Horror Convention in Brighton, England, to be exact.

So, without further ado, here are the 2010 honorees:
  • Novel: Audrey’s Door by Sarah Langan
  • First Novel: Damnable by Hank Schwaeble
  • Long Fiction: The Lucid Dreaming by Lisa Morton
  • Short Fiction: “In the Porches of My Ears” by Norman Prentiss (Post-Scripts #18)
  • Collection: A Taste of Tenderloin by Gene O’Neill
  • Anthology: He is Legend edited by Christopher Conlon
  • Non-Fiction: Writers Workshop of Horror edited by Michael Knost
  • Poetry: Chimeric Machines by Lucy Snyder
Great to see Sarah Langan, a relative newcomer, snag another Stoker for her fourth novel. This is her second Stoker, as she previously won in 2007 for The Missing. She also contributed to last year's winner for Best Anthology, Unspeakable Horror--a volume put together by LoTT-D members Chad Helder and Vince Liaguno.

Speaking of anthologies, Christopher Conlon's winner is a tribute to the great Richard Matheson, containing original stories by some great writers like Joe Hill and others. And that Writer's Workshop of Horror is a fine little volume for those looking to break into horror fiction, worth checking out for sure.

The Bram Stoker Awards are presented every year since 1987 by the Horror Writers Association of America. And no, my first short story was not nominated... Oh well, gives me something to strive for with the next one!

* * * * * * * * * *

In other random developments, please be sure to check out my guest review of Dead Snow over at Day of the Woman! And I would be remiss if I did not give another plug for the Rondo Hatton Awards--voting ends Saturday night, so get those ballots in!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Many Faces of John Carradine

Friday, March 26, 2010

Psycho Semi-Centennial: The Underrated Genius of Saul Bass

Now more than ever, it seems that opening title sequences for films are crucial elements of the whole picture. In recent years, the ante has certainly been upped with the introduction of CGI, and we've been seeing some of the most elaborate and attention-grabbing opening titles ever. But let me take you back to an earlier time.

Let me take you back to the days of the cut and paste board, and the color wheel; when miracles could not be accomplished with a keystroke. Don't get me wrong, I have great respect for artists and what they can accomplsih with the tools currently at their disposal. But I lose a bit of awe watching giant 3-D letters float above the NYC skyline when I know my nephew probably has a halfway clever friend who could do the same thing on his Macbook.

In that aforementioned earlier time, graphic design in film was an entirely different discipline. And men like Saul Bass were at the forefront of a legitimate form of pop art. Not too familiar with the name? You should be. Because along with that of composer Bernard Herrmann, it is his work that first hits the viewer of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. He was the guy who first pulled you into that movie and assured you weren't going anywhere for a couple of hours.

An accomplished visual designer, Bass was responsible for the unforgettable opening title sequence of Psycho. A longtime Hitchcock adviser, he had also done titles for Vertigo and North by Northwest previously. More than just a titles designer, his graphic abilities were put to use by Hitchcock in the design of storyboards and even shot composition. Only a few years into his career by Psycho, Bass would go on to design stunning opening sequences for decades to come. But Psycho would remain his best known work--an urgent, hypnotic, brilliant set-piece that instantly sets the tone for a cinematic classic.

In fact, Bass would become known for his ability to do exactly that, to let the viewer know just what he or she was in for. If you've never seen them before, his credits for Psycho grab you from literally the first second the film unspools, and positively demand that you give yourself over to the rich tapestry of intrigue Hitchcock is about to present to you. With Hermmann's unmistakable strings pulsing, screeching and lilting menacingly behind it, Bass' opener throws a series of spiraling linear shapes and interlocking words our way, and right off the bat we're sent into a state of tense confusion.

Prior to the '50s, most films had very basic title cards--almost an extension of the literal cards used in vaudeville and other stage presentations. But Bass was part of an a vanguard of artists who helped to change that, and made title sequences far more dynamic, kinetic affairs that engaged the audience in and of themselves. He got his start on the 1954 film version of the all-black modern operetta Carmen Jones. His work on Psycho was clearly prefigured by the work he did in the '50s for movies like The Man with the Golden Arm and Anatomy of a Murder, where he also played with angular shapes and contrasting colors in similar fashion.

Following Psycho, Bass was tapped for the title credits to such '60s favorites as the original Ocean's 11, Exodus and the beloved film adaptation of Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story. His opening for Stanley Kramer's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World are especially memorable, showing he could employ the same kind of energy and movement to inspire hilarity as well as he could tension.

Saul continued to work his magic in later decades, including title credits for another horror classic, Ridley Scott's Alien. In the '90s, he fell in with Martin Scorsese, providing credits for Goodfellas, Cape Fear and The Age of Innocence. In fact, his last project was Scorsese's Casino, which he completed a year before his death in 1996.

Psycho, needless to say, provides many reasons to love it, and to take it with you always. The riveting performances of Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh. Herrmann's score. Hitch's pacing, sense of suspense and overall genius. But whether you realized it or not, another important reason why you love Psycho is the work of Saul Bass--a visionary in the truest sense of the word.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Horror vs. Thriller: A Conversation

It's the eternal question: Is it a horror movie, or is it a thriller? What's the difference? Are they two distinct genres, or is there an overlap? Fans have been debating these issues since forever, and it's not likely to be settled anytime soon. Nevertheless, I recently had a long conversation on the subject with VoH contributor and self-professed girly-girl Marilyn Merlot, which I think touched on a lot of interesting points with regard to these questions. So in the interest of hopefully adding something to the debate, here's the transcript of that conversation:

B-Sol: I think the biggest thing that separates horror and thriller is the supernatural. If a movie has supernatural stuff in it, to me it's automatically horror. Even though there are horror movies that are reality-based and not supernatural. So it's tough.

Marilyn Merlot: I don't know if I would consider the supernatural automatically horror. Sometimes you can even have a mix of horror and thriller.

BS: So what makes you consider a movie a thriller and not horror? Like you've said Silence of the Lambs is not a horror movie, and I kind of agree.

MM: Yes, Silence of the Lambs is a thriller. To me, a thriller is a movie that has some kind of mystery to the story, and a creep factor. It may have some suspense to it, and some fast-paced action.

BS: Yeah, I think Silence of the Lambs and movies like that get more involved in the crime aspect of things, in the detective work and all that.

MM: Where horror is fear, and wanting to scare and terrorize viewers.

BS: Yes. The main purpose of a thriller is not to terrify you. It's to build suspense, but not necessarily to scare the shit out of you.

MM: For example, Jaws. The ocean at night is creepy, and when she jumps in the water at the beginning, you know that shark is coming. That's where it starts to get suspenseful. Jaws is also a thriller, not horror.

BS: Very interesting, because Jaws is another one that I've never found to be a horror movie. It's suspenseful, but not horrifying. Jaws, to me, is more about the adventure of killing the shark, than the fear it's instilling in people.

MM: It can also come down to someone's personal perception, what they find to be horror or thriller. You and I may not agree. I think it can also be different for men and women. Women are generally more scared, or creeped out easier. So what I might find terrifying, you may find laughable. I've got a great example, if you want to debate the movie with me... I know we dont agree. Let's talk Blair Witch Project.

BS: You know I hate it, right?

MM: Yes. You know it creeped me out, right?

BS: But even though I don't like it, I will definitely say it's a horror movie, and not a thriller.

MM: And I was going to say it's a thriller.

BS: Wow, really? Explain.

MM: First off, I have a tendency to over-think a little, and try to put myself in that moment. I guess you can say I'm a girly girl. Yes, I like horror, but I do get freaked out pretty easily. With that movie, think of being lost in the woods, with knowing the back story, and hearing all the creepy things at night. Anyone would be a little freaked out. Then again, i think it comes down to girls being more scared.

BS: But don't you feel like since the whole thing is about making you scared, that it's horror?

MM: The movie had its suspenseful moments and creep factor, but nothing compared to what horror is. Did I find it terrifying? No. The movie wasn't violent, nor did it have a villain--that we saw, anyway.

BS: It did have an evil spirit, though. See for me, that totally takes it into horror territory. Maybe if it was something human, i might think differently.

MM: Yes, but as I said, in my opinion a movie can be supernatural and still be more thriller than horror.

BS: Yes, we disagree there. I think if there's something unreal, something beyond reality that can't be explained rationally, it's automatically horror. You're saying some movies like that can still be thrillers. So let me turn it around this way. Give me an example of what you would consider definitely a horror movie, and not a thriller.

MM: OK, let me stick with the classics: Halloween.

BS: Great example, because that's a movie that is not supernatural. It's a human killer, so someone might say that makes it a thriller. But i would agree, it's totally horror. It's not like Silence of the Lambs, because in Halloween, we're not mainly focused on Dr. Loomis and the cops trying to stop Michael. We're mainly focused on watching Michael stalk and kill these kids.

MM: Well most people may disagree, but The Shining is not horror. I really like it, but it's not horror.
BS: Totally disagree. Maybe because I'm thinking thrillers always have to make sense somehow in the real world. And Shining totally doesn't, it's like a nightmare.

MM: He's a writer, taking care of a hotel. That's real-world.

BS: Yeah, but what happens to him? Unless you take the position that it was totally in his head. That might turn it around and make it a thriller...

MM: There are strange happenings, and you wonder about Jack and the other characters. He's losing his mind. He's not all there, that's basically it. I'm not terrified, sitting on the edge of my chair. Is it creepy? Yes, all children in these types of movies are creepy, so once again theres my "creep" factor. That, for me, makes it a thriller.

BS: I could totally see that one depending on how you interpret it. Because some people (like me) see it as him being influenced by spirits haunting the hotel. Although Nicholson plays it like a lunatic from the beginning, but that's just Jack.
Here's something I was reading recently [in Taschen's Horror Cinema] about this whole thing that makes sense to me. A thriller is all about the buildup, about the expectations, about the terror of wondering what's going to happen. The suspense. But horror is about actually having that terrible thing happen, seeing your worst fear actually happen, and the effect of it. It's all about absorbing the shock.

MM: I totally agree and again, I think it's going to come down the individual, and what people can and cannot handle.

BS: True. I do think, though, that sometimes filmmakers set out to make a horror movie that turns out to be more of a thriller to a lot of people, and vice versa. But here's something else about this whole thing that bothers me. I think sometimes people use the word thriller because they think it makes a movie more respectable than being a horror movie.

MM: Good point, I agree. A lot of people shun horror movies, they automatically think all that blood and guts and torture, it's awful, who wants to see that? I think a lot of people think that way once the title of horror is thrown in there.

BS: Right. Sometimes a studio will want to sell their movie as a "thriller" even if it isn't. Although I was afraid they were doing this with Shutter Island, and I was wrong. At first, it looked like a straight-up horror movie. But in the end, it did turn out to be a total psychological thriller. Once you learn the nature of what's really going on, instant thriller.

MM: It's a fine line and will always be--but it makes for good arguments!

BS: Yes. There will always be a fine line between the two genres. And it led us to this very intriguing debate, so hopefully we made some kind of sense on this tough issue. But in the end, it's up to the viewer to decide!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

VAULTCAST: Conversations in the Dark... w/Brad McHargue

Seems like everyone loves to point out which horror films are "overrated". Hell, I just made my own list of them last month. It's one thing to point out certain movies that a lot of people can agree get more credit than they deserve, but what about those films that everyone just seems to love but you? Brad McHargue, writer for HorrorSquad and author of the blog I Love Horror, is used to this problem, as his opinions are often far from the majority. Good thing he's not afraid to piss people off.

Which is also why he makes a great guest. This week on Conversations in the Dark, he joins me to talk about movies like Drag Me to Hell and Grace, which many people adored, but Brad thought were dogcrap. Plus, I get into my own continued disdain for the beloved Blair Witch Project, and we both scratch our heads at those who call Paranormal Activity overrated.

It's a whole lot of angst and perplexedness this week in the Vaultcast, so listen in below! Or proceed to the Vaultcast home page and download the sucker...

* * * * * * * * * *

In other news, when you have a chance, release your inner Kraken by heading over to Bloody-Disgusting.com to check out my latest list: The 21 Most Kick-Ass Giant Monsters in Movie History, in honor of the impending Clash of the Titans remake...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Shark Shenanigans at 92Y Tribeca!

Y'all know me... Know how I earn a livin'... Well, not actually a living--more like a time-consuming hobby/obsession. But be that as it may, let me just say that I was as pleased as Jabberjaw with a brand new drum set when I learned that 92Y Tribeca's amazingly hysterical film-clip/variety series "Kevin Geeks Out" would be using a shark theme for its next show. Some folks might remember how I extolled the virtues of Kevin Geeks Out About the Future last January, and I was supremely bummed that I could not join in the simian hijinks last month at Kevin Geeks Out About Monkeys. But I'm happy to report that spending an evening in NYC cinematically swimming with the sharks has more than made up for it.

I can honestly say that I never truly comprehended what a vast and varied (well, maybe not terribly varied) subgenre the whole "sharxploitation" thing was (new pop culture term?) But thanks to Emmy-nominated TV writer Kevin Maher and his co-host, writer/director Matt Glasson, I now grasp more about the breadth of shark cinema than I previously thought possible.

The event was timed at precisely 124 minutes--the exact running time of the original Jaws. How's that for dedication? And although that might seem like a long time for a clip show, Kevin and company filled every moment with aquatic predatory madness to such a degree that not one person would have dared question the decision. For instance, we learned all about one of the ultimate "what-ifs" of movie history--a John Hughes-scripted (!!) 1980s parody of Jaws that never came to be. We got to see sharks fighting Batman (shark-repellent bat-spray, anyone?), giant alligators, giant apes, and yes, zombies (the infamous underwater fight scene actually got the loudest cheer from the crowd, much to this blogger's delight.)

New Yorker cartoonist Karen Sneider regaled us with a true romance comic strip of unrequited shark/human love. Matt lovingly detailed the sordid history of the Italian movie industry's relentless attempts to shamelessly rip off Jaws, including screening a super-rare bit of footage (courtesy Tenebrous Kate) from the most blatant of all Jaws copycats, Enzo Castellari's Great White, a movie whose very existence was almost completely stamped out by Universal.

If it was even tangentially shark-related, it was referenced in this exhaustive tribute to maneaters at the movies, from the early days of pre-Jaws cinema, through Spielberg's mega-blockbuster and its many imitators, through the Jaws sequels, and right up through the modern era of CGI sharkitude. Throw in Scatman Crothers, the Olsen twins and Mario Van Peebles, and you can begin to understand the magnificence that was on display. Oh, and did I mention that all audience members received an authentic 1978 Jaws 2 trading card? Because we did.

In keeping with the tradition of themed treats, this time around we all got delicious shark cupcakes, made by artist/blogger Sara Reiss. Unlike with the Dippin' Dots of last time, I was not sent home with a giant styrofoam container of cupcakes; but that was a disappointment I was willing to bear. After all, there were so many other incidental joys throughout the evening. Kevin's Quint costume, for example (although a recreation of the U.S.S. Indianapolis speech would've been appreciated); or witnessing Matt debating with Dread Central's Heather Buckley as to whether John Landis killed Vic Morrow. If these aren't reasons to sojourn hundreds of miles from the soil of my homeland in southwestern Connecticut, I don't know what would be.

The best thing about the Kevin Geeks Out series is that it's a bona fide underground New York fandom phenom growing larger and larger via word-of-mouth. I'm not kidding when I say that it was significantly tougher scoring a ticket this time around than it was two months ago! And I'm sure it's only going to get tougher, so if you're in the NYC area and you'd like to be a part of this completely unique genre geekfest, head to the 92Y Tribeca website and secure tickets to the next event. It's billed as Kevin Geeks Out: April All-Stars!--and while it's not fully clear yet what this entails, I do know that Don Knotts will be prominently featured. And that's really all I need to know.

Monday, March 22, 2010

TRAILER TRASH: Paul Naschy Edition!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Random Ramblings from the Vault...

  • I have to say I'm less than impressed with the new Clash of the Titans from what I've seen. Not that the trailer isn't impressive or anything, but I'm just saddened to see the sense of fun and swashbuckling adventure of the original replaced with the typical over-the-top gravity and dark tone so common in adventure films today.
  • Did anyone else ever wonder how, if anyone bitten by a vampire becomes one, and so on, the world wouldn't be completely overrun by them within a matter of weeks? I know, I read too much into these things. But this is why I greatly appreciated the Anne Rice explanation of "turning" as an intentional, reciprocal sharing of blood. Always made more sense to me.
  • I've never been one for the "media tie-in" novels, but I must admit that Joe Schreiber's Death Troopers has piqued my interest. I could be wrong, but it might be the first Star Wars horror novel. Zombie storm troopers? This one might just be worth picking up...
  • Seriously, has there ever been a more blatant rip-off than Repo Men? I think the guys who made Volcano, Deep Impact, Deep Star Six, EdTV and Wyatt Earp are all looking at that and going, "Damn, they have some balls..."
  • So there's a Monster Squad remake in the works. A whole new generation of youngsters will now understand why '80s kids get all nostalgic about this one. And with any luck, they won't also get 90 minutes of kids calling each other faggots and homos...
  • "So when I roll on you rappers, you better be/Ready to die because you’re petty/You’re just a butter knife, I’m a machete/That’s made by Ginzu, wait until when you/Try to front, so I can chop into/Your body, just because you try to be basin'/Friday the 13th, I'ma play Jason." Big Daddy Kane, you were awesome.
  • For all you discerning music-lovers out there, I'd recommend checking out Arrigo Boito's 1867 Italian opera Mefistofele--a grim and powerful work based on the Faust legend. It's far superior to Gounod's much more well-known Faust opera, and adapted directly from Geothe's epic play. I'd suggest the 1973 EMI recording, as well as the 1959 and 1985 Decca recordings.
  • Ebirah: Lamest Godzilla opponent ever? Yes, I think so.
  • Had an absolute blast at Kevin Geeks Out About Sharks at the 92Y Tribeca Friday. Nice seeing Kevin Maher, The Family Tie director Matt Glasson, and Dread Central scribe Heather "John Landis is a murderer" Buckley. I never realized the sharxploitation subgenre was such a glorious one. Expect a full review during the week.
  • Rondo Reminder! Go and cast your vote for the 8th annual Rondo Hatton Awards. These are the web's most coveted horror awards, covering the genre across all forms of media. I'm honored to see The Vault of Horror nominated for Best Horror Blog for the second year in a row. Check out all the nominees, and send in your vote via email by Sunday, April 4!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Many Faces of Oliver Reed

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Retro Review: Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965)

This here is the kind of a movie that is going to help determine if you are a tried-and-true kaiju fanatic, or just someone who enjoyed watching a couple of Godzilla movies on syndicated TV when you were a kid. Simply put, Frankenstein Conquers the World is not for everyone. But if you love this sort of thing--Japanese giant monster movies--then it's a veritable treasure trove of rubber-suited goodness.

Who knew the mythos created by Mary Shelley and reinterpreted by Universal would come so far, and be taken to such a nearly unrecognizable point? Toho co-opts the classic Euro-American pop culture figure with an enthusiasm that's just tough to knock. Sure, they seem to have no grasp of what the source material is really all about--but it just seems mean to trash a movie in which the Frankenstein monster grows to gigantic size and fights a classic Japanese kaiju. This is the kind of a movie where you know what you're getting into. Either it's exactly what you're looking for, or it's nothing you'd ever go near. And you can count me firmly amongst the former.

The story begins in Germany at the end of World War II. Nazis raid what appears to be Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory (in 1945? and was it in Germany to begin with??) and seize the heart of the monster--which is inexplicably the only part left of him. The scene in which they steal the heart is quite bizarre, as it is done completely in mime, almost as if the screenwriters couldn't be bothered to write German dialogue. It's weird and goofy, and pretty much sets the tone for the entire flick.

The Gerries hand the heart over to their allies in Japan, just as everything is going to hell in Europe. It's interesting, by the way, to notice how in Takeshi Kimura's script, the Japanese distance themselves from their former wartime buddies--they seem to regard the Nazis as pathetic and desperate losers that they can't wait to see crash and burn.

Anyway, just as scientists in Hiroshima are studying the heart in order to breed a race of super soldiers (what else?), the city is hit by the big one. Well, there goes that experiment. Ah...but you forget, this is a Japanese monster movie, which means that the Frankenstein heart, irradiated from the atom bomb, mutates into a sort of bizarro clone of the original creature.

Fast forward 15 years later, and the young monster is discovered by yet more scientists--who, it's interesting to note, insist on pointing out that the creature is Caucasian, when actor Koji Furuhata clearly is not. And thanks to the dose of radiation, he's growing way beyond the bounds of his platform shoe-wearing predecessor In fact, he grows big enough to be able to take on the mighty Baragon, who for no reason at all shows up out of nowhere to wreak some havoc. Frankenstein (as he's referred to throughout the movie) escapes the lab, and fights Baragon, followed by....a giant octopus! Why? Not a clue. But I loved every minute of it.

The 1960s is often looked at as a golden age by fans of this sort of stuff, and Frankenstein Conquers the World (which he doesn't even come close to doing, by the way), is an excellent example of how much fun these movies were. Ishiro Honda, the director of the original Gojira, takes the reigns, accompanied by his ace special effects man Eiji Tsuburaya, and musical composer Akira Ifikube. Together, this trio delivers a balls-to-the-wall mega kaiju extravaganza which will either have you jumping up and down on your couch with glee, or scratching your head quizzically for 90 minutes. This movie will definitely determine what kind of genre fan you are!

The effects in Toho films take a lot of flak, and much of it is deserved, but a lot of it is also ignorant. Yes, the effects suffered a decline in the 1970s, but during the mid-'60s they were pretty slick for the time. Here in America, the completely different, stop-motion approach of the Ray Harryhausen school may have tended to bias some fans (the constant maligning in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland didn't help, either), but there's definitely something to be said for Tsuburaya's work in this film, and others like it. There's some very cool composite work to be found, for example.

Yes, the whole thing builds to what amounts to a guy with fake teeth, a flattop wig and a furry loincloth wrestling with another guy in a rubber lizard suit, but hey, what were you expecting, Wuthering Heights?

Ifikube contributes some of his best film music, and that's saying a lot. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the score helps save the movie in parts, adding much-needed atmosphere at times. Actually, since with Frankenstein in the title, one would think this movie was vaguely connected to horror, it should be pointed out that Ifikube's music really helps to convey a sense of dread and mystery in places. I was surprised to find that there are several moments in the film, mostly involving the monster, that are actually pretty creepy.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the one and only Nick Adams, the poor man's James Dean, in the role of American doctor James Bowen. This was Adams' first kaiji film, followed soon after by Godzilla vs. Monster Zero. Unfortunately, unlike that film, the version of Frankenstein Conquers the World currently on DVD is subtitled rather than dubbed, which means you don't get to hear Adams own voice speaking English in that woefully out-of-place Bowery boys accent.

The beautiful Kumi Mizuno appears as Bowen's love interest, Sueko. She and Adams would be reunited immediately after for Monster Zero, and in fact Mizuno even appeared in the last (to date) G-flick, Godzilla: Final Wars. Adams' partner, Dr. Kawaji, is played by Toho favorite Tadao Takashima, who had already appeared in King Kong vs. Godzilla and Atragon, and would later turn up in Son of Godzilla.

All in all, Frankenstein Conquers the World delivers on everything one would expect from a movie called Frankenstein Conquers the World. It's boatloads of fun, and just plain cool to see a classic Western monster interpreted in such a foreign milieu. It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but for lovers of Japanese giant monster fare and general Cold War-era cheese, it's a relative rarity that yields some wonderful, oddball things.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...