Saturday, January 21, 2017

Monsters (TV Series) Season 1 (1988) Part 2

Horror anthologies used to be all the rage. Tales from the Crypt, Tales from the Darkside, and Friday the 13th The Series were just a few. My favorite was always Monsters, which aired on USA Network on Saturday nights just before USA Up All Night's comedian-hosted B-Movie. As a kid, it didn't get much better, or rather you'll see in my reviews. This series was enjoyable, but not "good" television. So it felt perfect here! A couple of years ago (2014), the series was released on DVD for the first time. Below, you'll find a brief review of each episode of the (second half of the) first season. Brief reviews of the first half of season one can be found here.

Episode 13 - Glim-Glim

Three survivors of a city-wide plague are trapped in a library with an alien creature. When the young daughter of one of the survivors befriends the alien, the two men are forced to confront the creature.

Guest Starring: Jenna Von Oy! (Six from "Blossom")

Monster: Glim-Glim

(but really, the people are the actual Monsters)

A standard "humans letting their anger get in the way of their humanity" story. There's even a Christmas message at the end of this one, in case you need to be bashed over the head with the symbolism.

Episode 14 - Parents From Space

An adopted girl gets every 80s foster kid's wish when her mean, adoptive mother and father are possessed by aliens.

Guest Starring: Frank Gorshin! (The Riddler!)

Monster: The Aliens

Again though, it's really the people of the story (the foster parents)

Why were there so many orphan stories in the 80s? This episode is pretty kid friendly and almost gives off a twisted Punky Brewster/Diff'rent Strokes vibe with the aliens as the kindly benefactors to the little girl.

Episode 15 - The Mother's Instinct

The abusive son-in-law of a gardening, wheelchair-bound old lady discovers that she's concocted an energy drink that super-charges human strength..from melons. He wants to sell it, but his mother in-law refuses to give up the recipe. He decides to steal the melons, but the giant worms that feed on the melons have other ideas.

Guest Starring: This guy's unibrow!

Monster: The Worms

The abusive husband is the real monster here as the series solidly establishes a trend that will continue throughout. Humans are the ones to be feared, and sometimes the "monsters" actually save the day.

Episode 16 - Their Divided Self

A pair of conjoined brothers, famous for their work in showbiz, get a visit from a psychiatrist to help them work through their relationship issues. They finally come to terms when they agree on the murder of the psychiatrist.

Guest Starring: Rich Hall

Monster: The Brothers

A terrible and boring episode. It's like sitting in as two equally annoying brothers squabble through petty differences. This is definitely the worst episode so far.

Episode 17 - Taps

A dancer poisons her tap-dancing partner so that she can get out of a contract and move on to bigger things. When she dismembers his body, she discovers that his passion for dancing didn't die with him.

Guest Starring: Puns

"You always said I'd be a hack actress, but all I really need are some good parts."

Monster: The tap-dancing half-leg (that somehow sews itself onto the woman)

This episode is like Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart...but with a tapping leg instead of a heart under the floorboards. Credit for the attempt, at least.

Episode 18 - The Match Game

Four teens spend the night in an abandoned mansion to tell a scary story. Each has a match, and as the match burns, they tell their part of the story. When the match goes out, the next person in the circle takes up the story. Unfortunately for the teens, their story comes true.

Guest Starring: Tori Spelling!

Monster: Herbert Waverly

A toned-down version of the "teens tempting the fates" trope of 80s horror movies. A lot of build up, then a lot of screaming when the monster finally shows up. Tori Spelling's screaming face gets crushed into goo, so that's pretty worthwhile. Plus, I'm kind of a sucker for the whole "stories that become real" thing, so thumbs up.

Episode 19 - Rain Dance

A couple procures native trinkets (both real and fake) for their own personal gain come across a statue with mystical powers. The statue brings rain, but it must take a life to do so.

Monster: God of Death Statue

Fairly standard "Monster in the house" story without anything to defy expectation or earn any interest from the viewer. Not even a guest star to liven things up.

Episode 20 - The Cocoon

A woman with amnesia after a car accident meets with a psychic at the behest of a detective. The psychic discovers that the amnesiac woman is actually some kind of creature that spins a cocoon around herself and her lovers to consume them in order to stay young.

Guest Starring: Billy Drago

Monster: The Amnesiac

Besides the overly long PG-13 sex scene in the middle of this episode, it moves pretty fast and keeps you guessing long enough to make things interesting.

Episode 21 - All in a Day's Work

When a man's doppelganger (here, someone's evil copycat inhabited by a demon) taunts him, he seeks the help of a woman familiar with magical spells. The woman must call upon the help of her own demon before the doppelganger takes her son.

Guest Starring: Adrienne Barbeau!

Monster: Dramon the Demon

A solid episode that works in large part due to Barbeau's interactions with the demons. Everything else is just window dressing.

Episode 22 - Satan in the Suburbs

A struggling writer who runs an unsuccessful cookie company gets a visit from a devil. But the devil doesn't want her soul; he wants her to ghost write his memoirs. The devil even gives the writer (and her son) the powers of a demon in the process.

Guest Starring: Christopher Noth (dun dun)

Monster: Suburban Satan

After that last episode with Barbeau, the series definitely couldn't move on to another strong one. Instead, we get something with the tone of Episode 5's My Zombie Lover, but a lot less endearing. Noth is an annoying devil, and the struggling mom writer is too.

Episode 23 - Mannikins of Horror

A former doctor committed to "perpetual care" in a mental health facility performs surgeries on small, anatomically correct clay figures. When the facility's director decides that the clay is having a detrimental effect on the doctor's mental state, the clay figures fight back.

Monster: Clay Figures

With some great stop-motion work and one of the best endings in Season 1, this episode really shows what Monsters is capable of when it's firing on all cylinders.

Episode 24 - La Strega

A man attempts to kill the owner of a dress shop on the grounds that she's a witch who cursed his mother to die. The witch turns the tables on him though, and he must decide whether to follow through with his plan, or reassess the story his mother told him.

Guest Starring: Linda Blair!

Monster: La Strega (witch)

An overly drawn out and boring episode that tosses in the slightest hint of Rashomon with no positive effect whatsoever. A sad ending to Season 1, especially after the strength of the previous episode.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965)

At the end of World War II, Dr. Frankenstein is working with the Nazis and must pack up his creature's still-beating heart to keep it from falling into the hands of the advancing Allies. After Hiroshima, a doctor (Nick Adams, also seen in Monster Zero) and nurse working on the effects of radiation on the human body encounter a Wild Child who seems to completely lack in any civilized influence...

but he has an abundance of forehead.

As the Wild Child continues to grow exponentially, a reptilian creature (Baragon) emerges from underground. Baragon terrorizes the people of Japan as suspicion about the Wild Child grows. Both scientists and the public wonder if the Wild Child is, in fact, the Frankenstein Monster grown from the still-beating heart that made it to a hospital in Hiroshima before the bombing.

Their suspicions are confirmed when they find the creature's severed hand, still crawling around in his cell.

Baragon's attacks are mistaken for the work of the Frankenstein creature, so the military is called to take him down.

Everyone realizes their mistake when the Frankenstein creature takes on Baragon head-to-head.

Truly, a battle for the ages.

The two giant monsters in this movie are probably two of the worst in the entire Toho Studios lineup. One is basically a dinosaur dog with a unicorn horn nose.

And the other is a skinny kid with a giant forehead.

Sure, the other elements of the story are pretty straight-faced (the mood is a bit somber with so many mentions of radiation poisoning and the Hiroshima bombing), but there's not much getting around the terrible giant monsters in a movie that is about giant monsters fighting one another.

Definitely recommended for fans of 1960s Toho films, recommended with reservations for giant monster movie fans, and not recommended at all to anyone else.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Zombie Doom (1999)

Three adrift sailors land on an island. Unfortunately, that island is home to a clan of murderous murdering murderers who have trash-can lids as shields and wear metal masks.

The leader of the clan employs a doctor to raise an army of the dead needed to fulfill the criteria for putting the word "zombie" in the title, I guess? Anyway, my head hurts from trying to make sense of the first 15 minutes of this movie while being distracted by interludes of gore.

Let's face it, no one is here for the story.

Anyway, a former member of the murderous clan is allowed to attempt escape, along with the sailor guys, for the thrill of the hunt. A chase ensues that includes a lot a gore, a handful of zombies (again, just to fulfill the promise of the title), a couple of ninja, and a completely dubbed film which also features a guy who wears a small square of felt as a mustache unironically.

You've got to admire their commitment to not giving a shit.

There are so many things tossed together on-screen that you'd think one of them would be a plot. But this movie isn't about that trivial aspect of movie-making. Nor anything resembling "production value." Instead, the only value in this production was poured into gore, fake blood, practical gore effects, and everything that's not storytelling, visual acuity, or character development.

The last thing to go through his head is obvious. But tell me what he was thinking in that moment.

It's like somebody gave a 14 year-old, Lucio Fulci-inspired kid an over the shoulder camcorder (yet a ton of money for gore special effects) and said, "Make a movie!" If there was a script, it must've been written in crayon as suggestions for the actors. But more likely, the director just shot a bunch of scenes and then dubbed together a story later through some patchwork editing and a shrug of the shoulders.

"I want a ninja split in half in mid-air. I don't care how we get to that point." - the director, probably

While this movie keeps things interesting throughout its short run-time (78 minutes) with plenty of gore and terrible dubbing, it's not quite strange enough to be funny nor entertaining enough to completely overcome its poor production value.

Recommended for fans of gore and those who study completely absent plotting.