Friday, July 21, 2017

H-Man (1958)

Another film in the Icons of Sci-Fi Toho Collection, H-Man is directed by Ishiro Honda (the man behind The Mysterians, Battle in Outer Space, and Mothra, among many others).


There are no giant monsters to be found here, so don't expect a large H-Man to run around stomping on miniature models of Tokyo. Instead, this film is a strange mix of police procedural and atomic monster movie. But mostly a police procedural.

In other words, there are lots of interrogations.

The story hinges on a drug dealer who goes missing during an exchange. His body literally vanishes, leaving his clothes behind. The police suspect his girlfriend knows where he might be, and the rival drug dealers believe the same thing. Meanwhile, a scientist gets caught up with the police when he approaches the girlfriend, wanting to speak with her about what she may know about the circumstances of her missing boyfriend. The scientist believes that the drug dealer was attacked and dissolved by an atomic creature.


This is a rather lame cops and robbers story, but the addition of the atomic creatures (the H-Man from the title) add a twist. The police stubbornly don't believe there's some being in Tokyo that can completely liquefy a human, and the lounge-singer girlfriend of the drug dealer must team up with the scientist to unravel the mystery, all while under the gun of the rival gang boss.

There's no big shootout in the film. And only one chase sequence (which has got to be the least intense one in the history of cinema).

So, the action is sub-par for a police film (despite trying to pull a Third Man in the final act). No, the intriguing part of this movie is the green, atomic H-Man.

With some thrilling special effects that are actually quite gross (especially for the time), the H-Man dissolves his prey as they cry out for help and futilely attempt to shoot it.

Interestingly, this DVD collection includes both the Japanese and the American versions of the film. The changes made in translating a Japanese film about nuclear weapons (released so close to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) have interested me for a long time, and comparing the two versions revealed a couple of key changes.

First, there are a couple scenes that were altered or removed from the American version, probably due to their graphic nature.

American Version (including the cut away from the dancer's death)
Japanese Version

More significantly, the Japanese film opens with a shot of a ship at sea. That ship, it's revealed, was accidentally contaminated by a nuclear test and its sailors were turned into the H-Men. They return to haunt Tokyo because some latent part of their brain pushed them to go back home. The key word here being "victim."

On the other hand, the American version of the film states that the H-Men were "produced" by the nuclear test, not created from human victims. This change side-steps the idea of people as casualties of atomic tests and bombings.

While there's no commentary track for this one (unlike Battle in Outer Space), this rarely seen movie looks great and includes both the American and Japanese versions. Anyone who loves old science fiction films will find a lot to enjoy here.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Battle in Outer Space (1959)

In a lot of ways, this is a kaiju film without the giant, rubber-suited monster. It's directed by the same guy who made The Mysterians, and the same special effects guy (Eiji Tsuburaya) worked on both. What works here is that there's a lot of the same, enjoyable special effects stuff on display with a story that sticks to its simple, straightforward charm while taking the action off of the Earth's surface.

True to its name, there is a great battle in outer space in the final act of the film. But to get to that point, the story begins with a space station under attack from aliens.

The world gets together and decides to send two teams into outer space to confront the aliens on their moon base/waystation. First though, the aliens show that they can mind control humans. Not on a mass scale, apparently, but one at a time. At first, they use this special power to get an Iranian ambassador to sabotage the special ray-gun that the scientists have invented to combat the aliens. When that plan doesn't work out so well, the aliens brainwash a member of the outer space team being sent to the moon to attack them.

Apparently, the mind control ray will also steer the car.

The rest of the film plays out with a variety of fantastic special effects. From retro spacesuits and laser rays to model buildings being destroyed by the aliens, there's a lot to appreciate here.

I highly recommend the "Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection" DVD set. The optional audio commentary on this film by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski really offers some fantastic insight to fans of kaiju films and Japanese Sci-Fi.

Amazon link

Friday, June 9, 2017

Wolf Guy (1975)

There are certain things that cannot, no matter how great, live up to the expectations they bring upon themselves. Sometimes that's because of an errant description (see: Shock Waves). And other times, those expectations are high because of the elements present, and the high bar each part has set.

Case in point, Wolf Guy. It stars Sonny Chiba (from Street Fighter, The Executioner, and Kill Bill)! The movie was directed by the guy who also directed Sister Street Fighter! And it's about the last of a clan of werewolves who uses his special powers to solve crimes!

There's a lot to be hyped about in those pieces and parts.

And the film delivers! Not exactly fulfilling your wildest imagination, but it's absolutely a FANTASTIC mix of mashed-up weirdness, Sonny Chiba at the top of his game, funky music, and a plot that keeps things moving and interesting.

Throughout its running time, Wolf Guy is teeming with strange little moments that are both delightful and unbalanced.

From excessive spurting blood...

Taking out the bad guys with tossed coins...

Re-packaging spilled intestines with the power of moonlight and strength of will...

And a heavy dose of Sonny Chiba being generally badass...

Ultimately, Wolf Guy is more than the sum of its parts. It's that rare film that has nuanced, awesome weirdness in every single scene, in a twisting plot that makes hair-pin turns without hitting the brakes for a second, and a star with a gripping presence on-screen. Highly recommended for anyone interested in a wild, entertaining ride from start to finish.

Available from Arrow Video and Amazon and worth every penny you throw at it.