Q: The Winged Serpent (1982, Larry Cohen)

“Maybe his head just got loose and fell off.”

Shitty scat-singing pianist turned incompetent diamond thief Jimmy Quinn stumbles across the nest of a winged monster that has been terrorizing New York, snatching up rooftop sunbathers and window washers, and tries to use this knowledge for profit. As in God Told Me To, Cohen shines in picking up crowd scenes seemingly out in public and not on a closed set. I like that Cohen casts skilled but unattractive actors – lead cop David Carradine (Kill Bill, Boxcar Bertha) and thief Michael Moriarty (The Stuff, Pick Me Up) don’t seem much like movie leading men, but they’re perfect for this story.

Moriarty is dwarfed by the city:

Murderous cultist takes a volunteer:

Moriarty is the fascinatingly doomed, black center of the movie, on the run from his partners in the jewel heist he botched, but Carradine and his partner Richard “Shaft” Roundtree kill time trying to solve a series of grotesque murders, apparently committed by a cult trying to appease the beast. I have to question the skills of the investigators when Moriarty is brought into the station for beating a security guard who works at the top of the Chrysler building, and they continue to bargain with Moriarty, offering him a million (which he never gets) to tell them which tall building hosts the monster. Besides that little plot hole, it’s a pretty great movie.

“I can’t imagine that the monster would want to kill YOU, Richard Roundtree.”

The monster, just after crushing Richard Roundtree’s spine and dropping him 200 stories:

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Q: The Winged Serpent DVD

It Came From Beneath The Sea (1955, Robert Gordon)

Faith Domergue is a gorgeous scientist of the type you’re not likely to find in a real science lab, smirks Robert Osborne in his TCM intro. How would he know? His intro sounded like a description of Godzilla, and sure enough, a serious newsman-sounding voiceover at the very beginning invokes the atom and prepares us for the worst.

First off, there’s a stiff young fellow named Griff (which makes up for the lack of Griffs in Sam Fuller’s submarine movie one year prior) and hunky Kenneth Tobey (Thing From Another World, later a Joe Dante cameo regular), who doesn’t generally act much like a military commander. Disturbances are detected, people are disappearing – what could it mean? Enter marine biologists Dr. Carter (Donald Curtis of Spellbound) and Joyce (Faith Domergue, of This Island Earth the same year, with heavy-looking eyelashes – she can barely keep her eyes open) who excitedly study evidence and declare it might be a giant octopus. Finally, 20 minutes in, we get to see a real octopus, and after another ten we see the real prize, Ray Harryhausen’s giant animated tentacles.

The narrator returns frequently, and he is welcome since not much else is happening, to make statements like: “In the weeks that followed, the North Pacific was closed.” After explaining to the audience what octopuses are, in typically patient cheapie science-film fashion, the marine biologists, who should’ve really been sent home by now, start ordering the military around. Between lessons about cephalopods we get an instructive speech about how women can be as capable as men, proven when biologist Joyce invents a new kind of torpedo. In California they meet local plaid-jacketed sheriff Harry Lauter (Escape from the Planet of the Apes) who is killed by the monster minutes later.

“The coastal waters of the Pacific were mined,” declares the narrator. I hope the Navy plans on cleaning those up later. Needing a device to keep piling on the exposition, the Navy is surrounded by inquisitive reporters, culminating in a LOL moment when a short newsman asks Joyce a question she doesn’t know, so he follows dramatically with: “If you don’t know, who does?”

When the radio announces the ferries are closed then a mob of peeved suit-and-hat wearing men rush down, elbowing past police to assert their rights to ride the ferries, I am just rooting for them all to be eaten by giant fish. Tentacles crawl aground, looking like giant tongues, but only grab a few people, falling upon them Blob-style. Disaster flicks had disappointingly low body counts in the 50′s. Old Dr. Carter gets in trouble as the monster attacks the Golden Gate bridge, in the first scene really worth watching, and I thought he was a goner for sure. After all, the commander and Joyce have shared a hot beach-love scene, so it’s time to kill off the elder third-wheel… but surprisingly, he makes it back.

As we began in a submarine, so shall we end, as the navy takes the battle down below (not too far – the octo stays about 50 feet down). Unexpected meta-humor when the octo grabs their sub and Tobey says “this is where we came in.” Of course, now it’s personal, so he and Dr. John grab scuba gear and harpoons to finish the thing off. I don’t think Tobey ends up with Joyce, dedicated as they are to their careers, but I was sleepy and can’t be sure.

The only sci-fi flick made by Robert Gordon, a former actor (played Al Jolson as a boy in The Jazz Singer). I’m hoping he’s the younger brother of MST3K “fave” Bert I. Gordon. I can find no proof of that, but this film’s writer George Yates wrote five of Bert’s films (the other writer, Hal Smith, was a major voice actor in 1980′s cartoons).

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The Fantastic Films of Ray Harryhausen

Godzilla GMK (2001, Shusuke Kaneko)

The full title (one of my all-time favorites) is Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack!

Sparkling print (because it’s never screened anywhere) of the English dubbed version. Dubbing is always humorous, but it was less hilarious here than in For A Few Dollars More. Maybe that’s because the dialogue here was too worthless to worry about lip-sync… 90 minutes of soapy garbage surrounding an awesome 15-minute monster movie.

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Forgetting about the garbage (it involved a disreputable docudrama production company somehow having handy all the equipment necessary to do wireless live reporting, a possible love triangle dropped early due to disinterest, a spooky old man/ghost who tells everyone about the spirits of dead soldiers trapped in some guardian stones, and somebody’s dad driving a research sub into Godzilla’s mouth to explode his insides), Godzilla is back and is fucking pissed. Reborn as a purely evil human-extermination machine with milky-white eyes and atomic breath, he easily stomps a friendly-looking burrowing Barugon halfway through the movie.

Big G. unleashes the mighty tail-flip upon Barugon:
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This awakens the other two guardian monsters, honestly-not-all-that-powerful Mothra and three-headed dragon Ghidorah, who head to Tokyo for the big showdown. Ghidorah’s knocked cold, then Mothra is incinerated while trying to sneak up behind G. (who sometimes seems to be toying with his opponents).

Mothra sneak-attack:
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But gold-sparkly Mothra-dust descends upon Ghidorah, turning him dramatically into the golden, winged KING Ghidorah, to the cheers and applause of the sold-out Plaza Theater. King G. bullies Godzilla underwater for a bit, finally eats atomic ray, and just when all hope seems lost for humanity, that girl’s dad does his thing with the submarine.

Triumphant rebirth of Ghidorah:
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Yuri, our reporter heroine, appeared in Ju-on:Grudge 2, and her boss – is that the long-haired guy? – was in Godzilla 2000, the terrible Final Wars, and Evil Dead Traps 2 & 3. The ghostly old fella is a 60′s Godzilla veteran, also appearing in King Kong Strikes Again and Farewell to the Ark. Our director made the fully-decent 1990′s Gamera trilogy, a supernatural teen live-anime thriller series called Death Note, and a pyrokinesis horror called Cross Fire which I’ve had for seven years on VHS but never watched. His D.P. shot the non-Kaneko-affiliated Mechagodzilla follow-up feature, and Tsukamoto’s Hiruko The Goblin. And the guys in the monster suits all did motion-capture acting for the Metal Gear Solid video games.

Mothra (1961, IshirĂ´ Honda)

So you’ve created Godzilla AND Rodan, directed The Mysterians and made almost thirty other movies. Now what?? Well, Mothra, obviously.

When a ship is in trouble (it’s always a ship in trouble with these japanese monster movies) some guys wash up on an island long thought to be empty and used by Japan for nuclear testing. They meet some natives and tiny girls who give them something to drink that makes ‘em impervious to the radiation. Neat. Back home in Tokyo, scientists want to know more and set up a team to check out the island.

Amer… I mean Rolisican jerky businessman Nelson leads the expedition and intrepid reporter Fukuda sneaks along without permission. They find the “tiny beauties” (just like in the 90′s Rebirth of Mothra) and Nelson kidnaps them to make money showing off their tinyness and their beauty and their singing to sold-out theater in his home of New Yor… I mean, New Kirk City.

But their song awakens Mothra, who is drawn towards the song like a moth to… well you know. Fukuda and photographer friend Michi and some damned kid team up to return the tiny beauties to Mothra… but not before many, many models are destroyed, usually by being blown down model streets by Mothra’s giant flapping wings.

This director would later make about fifteen more monster movies and end on a high note, co-directing two of Akira Kurosawa’s final three movies.