John Agar against the INVISIBLE INVADERS: The Most Fantastic Battle Ever Fought!

“You would see nothing! We are invisible. We are invisible, Adam Penner! Long ago we learned to change¬†the molecular structure of our bodies. You cannot see us.”

It’s difficult to say for certain whether 1959’s Invisible Invaders has an awful lot on its mind, or awful little. One suspects the latter, but whether genuinely trying to say something or just trying to fill time screenwriter Samuel Newman’s hyperbolic prose (excerpt above)¬†pushes¬†a dozen or so hot-button topics just the same, bemoaning nuclear proliferation and the militarization of science on the way to banding humanity together to squander the colonial ambitions of a dictatorial race of invisible extraterrestrial whatsits.

The narrative here is of pretty simple stuff:¬†Peace-minded atom scientist Adam Penner (Philip Tonge, Witness for the Prosecution) makes a stink after a colleague is killed while conducting nuclear weapons research for the government, but¬†is soon at work building weapons for peace (sort of?) after mankind¬†finds itself in the sights of the eponymous menace. Along for the ride are Penner’s daughter and secretary Phyllis (Jean Byron,¬†Jungle Moon Men) and¬†his pro-MIC colleague John (Robert Hutton,¬†They Came From Beyond Space), as well as¬†John Agar (The Mole People) as requisite strong-jaw Major Bruce Jay.¬†Together the¬†four work tirelessly¬†to repel the invaders and save Earth, all from the confines of a¬†tiny lab¬†buried below¬†the intractable wilderness of Los Angeles’ Griffith Park.

There’s plenty of parity to be found between¬†Invisible Invaders and its contemporaries. That mankind’s unchecked scientific and military expansion into the upper atmosphere and beyond might invite an unwanted ultimatum¬†from extraterrestrial civilization echoes the likes of¬†The Day the Earth Stood Still and¬†Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, while the unnamed invaders’ conquest and colonization of the moon as a base of operations recalls Toho’s color sci-fi spectacles¬†The Mysterians and¬†Battle in Outer Space. That’s not to say that the ideas are ever substantially realized in¬†Invaders,¬†which treats them¬†as little more than a bit of expositional window-dressing – a few big concepts¬†to distract from the production’s own tininess.

Elsewhere Invisible Invaders reminds heavily¬†of the earlier Sam Katzman-produced¬†thriller¬†Creature With the Atom Brain, in which an army of revivified and radioactive un-dead are unleashed upon the world by an ambitiously ego-maniacal criminal. That¬†Invaders‘ own Edward L. Cahn also directed that picture should come as no surprise, nor the fact that both screenwriter Samuel Newman and producer Robert E. Kent were employed in¬†Katzman’s script department at¬†the time of Creature‘s production.¬Ļ

Invisible Invaders may substitute malicious invisible aliens for vengeful ex-mobsters, but the end result is much the same. Having no weapons of their own which work within the Earth’s atmosphere (something of an oversight, methinks) the invaders opt instead to possess the bodies of the recently dead, who rise to visit¬†all manner of cut-rate havoc upon human civilization. There are some reasonable effects takes (including not one but two miniature dam demolitions) cut into the mix, none original to Invaders, but the majority of the footage is stock newsreel stuff – fires, riots, and assorted other devastation. That supervising editor Grant Whytock (here in the fifth decade of his film career) was not also veteran of Katzman productions is one¬†of the bigger surprises of the picture – between Creature With the Atom Brain and¬†Invisible Invaders, the montages of destruction are practically interchangeable.

That’s not to say that¬†Invisible Invaders doesn’t have its own quirks and peculiarities. There’s a distinctly nasty edge to the “us or them” aspect that dominates the film’s second act, with Agar’s Major Jay coolly disposing of a meddlesome shotgun-toting farmer (Hal Torey, Earth vs. the Spider) to ensure the survival of the team under his care. While the¬†sentiment would¬†become common among the survivalist doomsday fantasies to follow (the derivative yet none-the-less formative¬†Panic in Year Zero comes to mind) it’s a grim turn for a ’50s sci-fi, though Newman twists it to relatively banal purposes. In¬†Invaders the killing serves largely to ratchet conflict between the more intellectual Phyllis and the action-minded Jay, but the tension is short-lived – by the end of the picture the two are an item. Even the farmer¬†gets a second chance, his body immediately taken over by an invader in an effort to suss out the good guys’ secret bunker, but is sidelined once more when he and his possessor become the team’s test subjects.

Invisible Invaders reserves most of its action for the third act, in which¬†John Agar dons a radiation suit and a fancy wooden sound-gun, taking the fight to the invaders for god and country and what-not. As is the film in its other respects, the action here is pretty cut-rate stuff. Agar battles maybe a dozen radioactive zombies – only one of whom has the foresight to have brought a firearm (“We cannot be defeated. We have never been defeated!”) – and lays¬†waste to an invader spaceship single-handed. The special effects, limited to¬†a few opticals of the un-invisibled invaders¬†melting into frothing goop, are the early work of¬†effects tech Roger George¬†(Repo Man,¬†The Terminator), here working with¬†a monster suit re-purposed from¬†It! The Terror From Beyond Space. Details of Doc Penner’s newfangled sound-gun are eventually¬†divulged to the rest of the world, the salvation of which occurs, as was most affordable, off-screen. One supposes that little more should be expected of a feature that conspires to both begin and end an alien invasion in little more than an hour, and I will confess to finding it all ceaselessly compelling as a child.

To that and, despite its distinct¬†paltriness, I still find Invisible Invaders to be a¬†perfectly watchable affair.¬†A good deal of that is owed to Philip Tonge, an English actor whose substantial career had begun on the stage in 1902,¬†who delivers his performance with a passion and sincerity well in advance of what the material deserves.¬†Invisible Invaders has the inauspicious distinction of being one of his¬†final films, if not indeed his last – Tonge died in late January of 1959, several months¬†before¬†Invaders went into regular release. The ever dependable Carradine helps as well, doing his usual level best in an appearance that must have taken whole hours to complete (what glamorous lives these working actors lead!). A brief scene as a stereotypical scientist (lab coat, test tubes) looks to have been shot almost entirely for exploitation purposes; stills from it were well represented in¬†the film’s press materials. Carradine is only on-screen for one other scene,¬†as the Marley’s-Ghost device¬†through which the invaders deliver their surrender-or-else ultimatum, though he resurfaces from time to time as the (voice only, natch) vanguard of the invasion.¬≤

Otherwise, the overwhelming silliness of the thing has appeal enough on its own. It’s tough to really hate a film whose alien invaders conspire to announce their nefarious intentions to the world at hockey games. Some game play¬†footage was evidently handy.


Invisible Invaders looks great in its improbable Blu-ray edition, released by Kino Lorber just last year (a DVD is also available) and from which I reviewed the film. The new scan from MGM frames the film to 1.66:1, improving well upon the open-matte editions of the past, and detail and contrast levels tick up nicely. A few minor scuffs and bumps and the persistent stock footage aside, Invisible Invaders¬†looks almost embarrassingly good in motion. I’ll confess that I haven’t¬†listened to the provided commentary track, featuring B-cinema historians Tom Weaver and Dr. Robert J. Kiss, but its inclusion is welcome – Weaver is always a dependable presence, and certainly knows his stuff. Theatrical trailers for¬†Invisible Invaders and¬†The Magnetic Monster, also on Blu-ray from Kino, round out the disc. And for those less keen to¬†purchase,¬†Invisible Invaders is also streaming now (albeit in an older open-matte SD iteration) via Amazon Prime Video.


¬Ļ¬†Invisible Invaders may be the most singularly Katzman-esque production ever to be made without his direct involvement. In addition to¬†Invaders‘ producer, writer, and director, cast members John Agar (The Magic Carpet), Jean Byron (Voodoo Tiger), Paul Langton (Utah Blaine), and Hal Torey (Crash Landing) were all familiar faces around “Jungle” Sam’s Clover Productions. John Carradine’s connection is more tenuous to¬†this comparison, but goes back even further – Carradine had played under Katzman during¬†his pre-Clover tenure with Monogram Pictures.

¬≤ Though credited as “Carl Noymann”, a mistake reiterated in¬†Invisible Invader‘s opening narration, Carradine plays a character named “Karol Noymann” – also the name of¬†the scientist (played by Edgar Barrier) who reveals the intergalactic anti-matter origins of the big bird from Fred F. Sears¬†The Giant Claw. Both films were written by Samuel Newman, who has the name, in full, almost obsessively repeated¬†throughout¬†Invisible Invaders‘ early scenes.


The Depression-era spectacle of Felix E. Feist’s DELUGE

It’s been nearly 90 years since RKO’s¬†Deluge first raged across the silver screen, leveling the concrete modernity¬†of 1933 to rubble and inviting audiences to ponder the consequences, but its history, beyond those first furtive months of general¬†release, has been a troubled one. Indeed, one could argue that Deluge‘s history was troubled almost from the beginning.

Author¬†S. Fowler Wright was responsible for the film’s eponymous source material, but little of the novel’s preoccupation with interminable personal¬†introspection or post-calamity sexual politics would find their way into the RKO film. Though Wright had been shopping a self-written screen¬†treatment for Deluge around Hollywood on his own in the early 1930s, it was to go unproduced.¬†After purchasing¬†the story for film development in February of 1933, K.B.S. Productions’ Samuel Bischoff hired¬†scenarist John F. Goodrich (The Last Command) to adapt it for the screen. Deemed unfit for production for reasons that go unpublished, Goodrich’s screenplay was eventually to be re-written by¬†Warren Duff (Angels With Dirty Faces) and an uncredited Joe Traub (The Death Kiss;¬†Traub, as Variety reported, was brought in “to insert laughs”). By the end of May ’33 financing had been secured through distributor RKO and Deluge,¬†under novice director Felix E. Feist (Donovan’s Brain) and the producers of K.B.S., began production.

RKO appear to have had few ambitions for¬†Deluge, excepting that it be made cheaply and help to pad their ever-imperiled bottom line. K.B.S. felt differently, with the result that¬†Deluge swiftly overwhelmed its low B-picture budget. As Feist toiled away in the field, the¬†run-ins with his penny-pinching producers helping to pad the margins of the Summer trades,¬†Deluge‘s hired effects talent were busy running up the tab. Pioneering effects director Ned Mann (later renowned for his work under Alexander Korda) was purportedly given carte blanche¬†to manufacture the film’s singular highlight; the utter annihilation of New York City by earthquake and tidal wave; and¬†cost K.B.S. backer RKO a small fortune in the process. By mid-August¬†Deluge was in the can, but at well more than double the anticipated expense.

On September 15th 1933 Deluge went into regular release,¬†and though often noted for its novelty, swiftly developed a reputation as a poor earner at the box office. Good¬†showings (like a whopping $15,000 take during its run in Chicago’s 2,600-seat State-Lake Theatre) were few and far between, and the Autumn trades are full of instances in which¬†Deluge “disappointed”, or worse, was a “miserable flop”.¬Ļ

Deluge continued to fizzle, often as the bottom half of a¬†B-picture double bill, through much of 1934, and with the founding of Herbert Yates’ Republic Pictures the stage was set for the film to slip into obscurity entirely. Desirous of special effects and other stock for their film serials,¬†Republic moved to purchase¬†the special effects takes from¬†Deluge¬†from RKO outright, with one historically relevant caveat:¬†that Deluge itself be pulled from circulation. And so it was for some fifty years.¬†Deluge‘s epic disaster footage lived on, cobbled into Republic serials like¬†S.O.S. Tidal Wave and¬†King of the Rocket Men, its production¬†(illustrated with fantastic images of Ned Mann and his crew strolling among their plaster replica of New York City) spotlighted in the occasional book or magazine, while the film languished, unpreserved through RKOs final mid-century upheaval and ultimately feared lost.

Deluge first re-emerged in the 1980s, when a release print of the Italian-dubbed version (La Distruzione del Mondo) was unearthed from a private collection. This was eventually subtitled and restruck, granted the odd theatrical screening and a short-lived VHS release², but the film, as originally produced in English, remained as obscure as ever.

. . . Until now, that is. Following the discovery of a 35mm nitrate dupe negative, France’s Lobster Films have restored Deluge in its original English, allowing the film to be seen in the closest approximation of its original form that has been available in nearly a century. The restoration thrilled attendees at various festival screenings in late 2016, and Kino Lorber have made it available to wider audiences still, courtesy of new Blu-ray and DVD editions released in February of this year.

As for Deluge itself, it remains a¬†distinct curiosity among 1930s film productions. While spectacle was the order of the day post-Depression, end of the world scenarios were a rare sight in cinemas of the time.¬≥ In this sense¬†Deluge was well ahead of its time, even if a century of post-civilization fiction has left it feeling more than a little rote. The narrative follows lawyer Martin¬†(Sidney Blackmer, Tammy and the Bachelor), who is separated from his family by a world-ending cataclysm, and the bond that forms between him and fellow survivor Claire (Peggy Shannon, Turn Back the Clock), a record-setting swimmer whom he discovers beached at his doorstep. Together they combat a rapacious criminal element and eventually¬†rediscover civilization in the form of an unsubmerged rural town, but complications arise when it is discovered that Martin’s missing family, long presumed dead, are also alive and well there.

There’s little of significant interest to be found in¬†Deluge‘s post-disaster melodramatics, an indifferent and mercilessly spare distillation of the novel’s original narrative that hits upon the major points, but little more – with only 67 minutes at its disposal, the¬†film has little time for else. The Bronson Canyon-bound siege that dominates the middle third of the running time is a serviceable piece of action for the time, with some violent pre-Code appeal besides (Shannon hacking lead baddie Fred Kohler to death with a pike is the ferocious non-effects highlight of the film), but the rest is passable at the best of times. Much of this is down to Wright’s novel, which has not aged at all well in its politics since it was first published in 1928. The film deftly sidesteps the author’s most controversial subject (the novel’s polygamist finale, in which Martin’s estranged wife and Claire both opt to devote themselves to him), substituting a visually poetic, if substantively disturbing alternative. Here Claire, vowing to die rather than lose Martin to another woman, flings herself back into the¬†sea as her¬†distressed beloved¬†looks on, ending¬†Deluge on a note of tragedy.

Deluge ultimately appeals more in its bits and pieces than as a whole. Shannon holds up well, even as the screenplay can’t decide quite what to do with her. Claire is at once headstrong and driven and utterly dependent, a confusing quality that persists across the novel as well (in which she regularly¬†effaces herself in light¬†of Martin’s righteous male superiority, regardless of any evidence to the contrary). She is also the most exploited element of the film, second to the effects, her scant dress, implied nudity, and binding a¬†frequent object of the film’s affections. Blackmer stumbles through the awkward scripting well enough, his occasional Southern inflection adding interest to an otherwise disposable performance, but serves the film best in a purely visual sense. The image of his lonesome figure, shocked by and dwarfed within¬†a landscape now sparse and alien, is iconic, and closely echoes the finale of Geoff Murphy’s 1985 sci-fi¬†The Quiet Earth.

Still, it’s Deluge‘s effects production which remains its prime selling point, even if¬†it seems almost entirely dissociated from the rest of the film when viewed¬†in context. Feist frames the action with scenes of a meteorological community (headlined by Samuel Hinds, The Boy with Green Hair,¬†and Edward Van Sloan,¬†Dracula) in turmoil, assured by the increasingly ominous¬†evidence that something awful is on the verge of happening. It’s a novel sequence, wholly contained as it is within the film’s first reel, and the flickering¬†montages of stock footage and Bible-thumping evangelists that divide¬†the drama remind of those¬†found within Abel Gance’s troubled 1930 effort¬†La Fin du Monde (a truncated and bizarre hour-long version of which would release to American screens in¬†1934).¬†When the inevitable disaster strikes it does so¬†in grander fashion than had ever been seen on screen¬†before.¬†The impossible upheaval Mann constructs¬†echoes the similarly implausible¬†disasters of Emmerich’s¬†The Day After Tomorrow and¬†2012 and the more recent spectacle of¬†San Andreas, but retains a wondrous phantasmagoric¬†aesthetic all its¬†own.¬†It’s amidst all that crumbling plaster that¬†Deluge finds its place as art.

Deluge is ultimately more a blip than a milestone, more curiosity than classic, but the momentousness of its present reemergence is no lesser for that. Lobster Films’ restoration is not perfect, dictated as it is by the state of the materials in question (there are splice-y segments here and there, and the new restoration lacks¬†both an opening insert shot and the first line of the picture), but one doubts¬†Deluge will ever play better. Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray and DVD editions are well worth it for those curious, offering the restored¬†Deluge¬†with informed commentary from Richard Harland Smith and alongside the¬†low budget 1934 drama Back Page, also starring Shannon.


¬Ļ A rare exception was reported in Variety from Tokyo, of all places, where¬†Deluge thrilled audiences on a double bill with Charlie Chaplin’s¬†City Lights in February of 1934. One suspects that the theatre had more¬†to do with the film’s success than¬†Deluge itself did, in this case. The cinema in question was the historic¬†4,000-seat Nippon Gekijo (iconically demolished in the 1954 Gojira), which was still riding a wave of public interest only three months on from its grand December 1933 opening.

² Wade Williams, who produced the first restoration and under whose name the VHS issue was released, continues to assert his control of all rights regarding the film Deluge via his website. To say whether such claims are legitimate or otherwise would go well beyond my realm of expertise, but neither the recent Kino Lorber video editions of the film nor the restoration upon which they are based make any mention of them.

¬≥ Journalist and script doctor Ferdinand Reyher was working on a screen treatment¬†of M.P. Shiel’s bizarre last-man novel¬†The Purple Cloud¬†under various titles (Purple Cloud,¬†The Last Man, and End of the World) throughout the decade, but no film resulted. His work was eventually credited as the source for writer and¬†director Ranald MacDougall’s¬†The World the Flesh and the Devil, from HarBel and MGM in 1959. Also unmade was Cecil B. DeMille’s production¬†End of the World, which was to be a¬†$400,000 adaptation of Wylie and Balmer’s novel¬†When Worlds Collide. The film was announced in the trades in mid-1933, but just as quickly disappeared – Paramount cancelled the project before it had really begun, reportedly on account Deluge‘s thematic similarities, and DeMille switched focus instead to his historical epic¬†Cleopatra.


A very brief note:¬†I used Archive.org’s collection of¬†historic issues of Variety *a lot* for this article, and thought it deserved a shout-out all of its own. Those curious are encouraged to set a few hours aside and dive into an issue or three.

All Brand New! An Important Film of Our Age Starring Russ Tamblyn, Kumi Mizuno, and… Kipp Hamilton?

Tokusatsu Tuesdays is a regular feature relating to Japanese special effects entertainments and their associated whatsits, and a bridge, so to speak, between ExploderButton.com and its sister site, Eiga · Bouei. 


Just a short write-up for all of you this Tuesday. The artwork shared below comes courtesy of a trade ad Toho placed in the September 14th 1966 issue of the industry publication¬†Motion Picture Herald, in which it serves as the back cover image (which is great, as it means I didn’t have to dismember the entire mag just to get a decent picture of it). The sharp two-tone design is¬†a variation on the key poster image Toho produced to advertise the film to international buyers, and which served as the basis for the final theatrical poster art¬†in territories like France and Spain.

The film itself should need little introduction. 1966’s¬†„ÄĆ„Éē„É©„É≥„āĪ„É≥„ā∑„É•„āŅ„ā§„É≥„ĀģśÄ™Áć£ „āĶ„É≥„ÉÄŚĮĺ„ā¨„ā§„É©„ÄćWar of the Gargantuas, the kind-of sort-of sequel to the prior year’s¬†„ÄĆ„Éē„É©„É≥„āĪ„É≥„ā∑„É•„āŅ„ā§„É≥ŚĮĺŚúįŚļēśÄ™Áć£„Éź„É©„āī„É≥„ÄćFrankenstein Conquers the World, received significant distribution both in theaters and on television worldwide and remains one of the best-known and beloved of Toho’s special effects productions. Toho have a fine all-region Blu-ray available, albeit in Japanese only, and an inexpensive domestic DVD is available¬†which features both the Japanese and American¬†versions.

Toho’s international key art speaks well for the film’s charms – two monsters locked in a duel to the death, the military amassed against them and the fate of a city in the balance. The film’s opening attraction – a malevolent giant octopus – even makes an appearance. Perhaps my favorite thing about the piece, however, is how also-ran guest star Kipp Hamilton finagles a third-place credit, right behind genuine stars Russ Tamblyn and Kumi MIZUNO. Hamilton appears briefly to regale¬†audiences¬†with¬†War of the Gargantuas‘ enduring anti-classic lounge tune “The Words Get Stuck in my Throat“, before running afoul of a not-so-jolly green giant. The lamentable number is shared, below the ad,¬†in its DEVOlved version.

Kikuchi’s GENOCIDE: Music for Insects to War By

Tokusatsu Tuesdays is a regular feature relating to Japanese special effects entertainments and their associated whatsits, and a bridge, so to speak, between ExploderButton and its sister site, Eiga · Bouei. 


Out of the string of grim and out-there sci-fi horrors Shochiku Company produced at the tail end of the 1960s, perhaps the grimmest and most¬†out-there of them all was¬†1968’s „ÄĆśėÜŤôꌧߜą¶šļČ„Äć Genocide.

A sort of precursor to the ecologically-minded nature-gone-wild horrors of the 1970s, Genocide finds a small island in the South Pacific serving as ground zero for clandestine biological warfare experiments, a wrong-man murder mystery, simmering Vietnam-era East-West tensions, and an apocalyptic revolt of the insect world as well. Drug-addled soldiers descend into trauma-fueled murder frenzies, fifth-columnist hotel managers letch, and scientists elucidate insidious insect intent from out of a groovy psychotropic haze, all while a lost H-bomb ticks ever more ominously away.

Needless to say, Genocide had an awful lot on its plate.

The production boasts plenty of talent with recent experience in¬†Shochiku sci-fi – director Kazui NIHONMATSU, a long-time assistant director for the company best known for 1967’s one-of-a-kind kaiju goof-off The X From Outer Space, X‘s effects supervisor¬†Keiji KAWAKAMI (The Thick-Walled Room), X and¬†Gok√© Bodysnatcher From Hell photographer Shizuo HIRASE, as well as X-actor Keisuke SONOI (Affair of the Heart), Gok√©¬†co-star Kathy Horan,¬†and long-time scenarist and¬†Gok√©¬†scribe¬†Susumu TAKAKU (The Blood Sword of the 99th Virgin). Chief among the returning staff however, for the sake of this article at least, is¬†prolific composer Shunsuke KIKUCHI, who had been tasked with¬†Gok√©‘s score just a few months prior.

Kikuchi’s work on Genocide is marked by his usual trademarks (staccato low-brass for action¬†and extended muted brass for suspense and atmosphere, with ecstatic ascending motifs to punctuate the major plot beats), but it is also possessed of a nuance and subtlety not typically expected of the composer.

The latter is evident from the very beginning, with the main title’s more emphatic strains complemented by a¬†Vertigo-esque layer of violins and flutes and the first tentative appeals towards¬†Genocide‘s melancholic love theme. The theme reveals itself in full for¬†Joji and Yukari (love theme), a restrained minute and 43 seconds whose judicious blend of high and mid-range strings perfectly evoke the fated nature of the two lovers – Joji, in over his head with a mysterious foreign mistress and jailed for murders he did not commit, and Yukari, faced with the prospect of raising their unborn child on her own.

As Yukari is to the greater film, Kikuchi’s bittersweet love theme is a glimmer of hope and humanity amidst¬†Genocide‘s overwhelming gloominess, receiving¬†plaintive reprises all the way through to the film’s doom-ridden finale. In¬†Mankind’s Final Sunrise¬†the theme emerges tentatively from a plume of nuclear destruction, a single¬†violin¬†with increasingly rich harmonized accompaniment, but its resolution is cut short by Ending‘s resounding and atonal piano din.

Cinema-Kan’s restored CD release of¬†Genocide‘s score makes it easier to appreciate Kikuchi’s work than ever before. The film’s eccentric¬†narrative seems to have compelled him towards more variety than his scores typically achieve, from the bright chords and jungle-trotting exoticism of¬†Jungle Search to the insectine woodwinds and mounting¬†tonal chaos of¬†Revived Fear. Cinema-Kan went back to the original 6mm tape recordings to build this 42 minute release, which collects the film’s music in total for the first time ever, and with excellent sound to boot – Kikuchi’s laser brass is crisp and clear, free of the distortion I’ve become accustomed to hearing with it.

In addition to the requisite liner notes¬†(in this case a heavily illustrated booklet complete with film credits, release notes, a listing¬†of Genocide‘s past LP and CD releases,¬†track-specific commentary, and a biographical section on the composer) Cinema-Kan offer a few on-disc surprises as well. The incidental music heard over the radio in the film is present in full, and what a weird mix it is.¬†Lobby BGM is in the light chamber music style, while¬†Radio Music 1 is pure glitzy pop, electric guitar and all.¬†Radio Music 2 and¬†3¬†are different still, lurid and torchy numbers to compliment the seediness of the hotel bar they’re overheard in. Listeners get a couple of bonus tracks as well – a¬†percussion-only alternate take for¬†Jungle Search, and a recording of the isolated music from the film’s trailer.

Cinema-Kan’s CD release of Genocide is available now, through third-party sellers at Amazon.com and directly through Amazon.co.jp and elsewhere. The film itself is available on DVD, with English subtitles, through the Criterion Collection’s Eclipse sub-label as part of the four-film set When Horror Came to Shochiku.

‘X’ploder: Mister Hipp Goes to Town – The UNDERCOVERS Notes

Undercovers_big_boxWhere golden-age pornography is concerned, 1982’s Undercovers is no lost classic. I had certainly never heard of the film before it found its way into a package of big-box VHS tapes I ordered, and having watched it, I can say that’s no surprise.

An unambitious spy farce that’s less saucy than it is sleep-inducing, Undercovers follows an aging dime store James Bond through his ineffectual and booze-addled efforts to track down a vaginally-installed diplomat-stupefying device using the most advanced secret technology available to him – a Milton Bradley Pocket Simon. Non-secrets are revealed in grindhouse bathroom stalls, Turkish barbershop patrons meet their ends in the name of comedy, and geriatric Bond gets head from an unfortunate pornographic also-ran. Top-billed Samantha Fox (A Night to Dismember) does her good-natured level best with a screenplay that does neither, shags a janitor, and is forgotten as soon as Undercovers remembers its own plot. Sharon Mitchell (Night of the Juggler) makes more of an impression as androgynous Blofeld stand-in Enema, and the leather-heavy interpretive dance orgy that unfolds in her fog-bound lair is the film’s only real highlight. The rest is a drowsy mix of bland scripting, worse acting, and unwavering technical indifference, punctuated with sex that forgets to be sexy and comedy that forgets to be funny. It may be far from the worst the porn world has to offer, but as an entertainment it barely rates.

I’m unaware of if, when, or how widely Undercovers was distributed as a theatrical feature, but in the early 1980s it appeared on VHS from Caballero Video (a branch of the insidiously, delightfully named Caballero Control Corporation). The release is pretty typical of the time – the tape is housed in a generic clamshell case, which is itself packaged in an attractively designed (and in this case, generally tasteful) oversized box. I’ll confess that it was the box, and not so much its contents, that led me to add it to my order. After all, as one who grew up during the first home video boom, and who later found his first employment in a declining rental shop, these big box releases hold a lot of visceral appeal.¬† Still, I like porn, so aside from the few bucks the seller was asking I figured there was precious little to lose.

Undercovers_big_box_backWhile I may have found Undercovers a less than memorable experience, some unknown someone almost certainly felt otherwise. The evidence for this is one of the weirder things I’ve ever encountered in my years of collecting second-hand whatsits; six small pages worth of hand-scrawled notes which relate, in surprisingly detailed and suitably bizarre fashion, the events of the film in question. These I found lurking behind the tape within its clamshell case, where they had remained for long enough for the ink on the first page to discolor from¬† contact with the tape’s reels. How long might that take, exactly? I have no idea, but given the tape’s age (thirty-plus years) it has the potential to have been quite a while.

From the enigmatic first line (“Mister Hipp Goes to Town”, a reference to a non-pornographic cartoon that was included at the start of the tape) and numeric cataloguing of the film’s cast to the the systematic abbreviations for sex acts (“CL”, “DS”, and the ever-popular “‚ú≤ on butt”) and context-free narrative details (“9) talks to 11) go to Istanbul” or “waves flag”), these cards are far more interesting than the film itself. Would that Undercovers had half of their crudely poetic appeal. Indeed, deciphering the author’s nigh-inscrutable handwriting became the default household pastime in the week following the tape’s arrival, as did an effort to discern the film’s plot from the notes prior to our actually watching the thing. Whoever said that pornography can’t bring a family together?

MisterHipp

Photos of the individual cards appear below, with each side followed by ExB’s attempts at a transcription. In the case of the latter we have endeavoured to remain as true as possible to the original text, spelling errors, punctuation, and grammatical oddities, but the author’s often inscrutable handwriting has made the task a daunting one to say the least. With regards to the formatting of the transcription as it appears on this blog:

‚ÄĘ The original author sometimes separates scenes or shots with a variety of vertical lines, which are represented here with a vertical stroke |

‚ÄĘ Ejaculations and other semen-related events, abbreviated with asterisks by the author, are represented by an open centre asterisk ‚ú≤

‚ÄĘ Paragraphs are denoted by ¬∂

‚ÄĘ Any complementary notations from ExB will appear in brackets []

And that’s all, I believe. Enjoy the weird!

Undercovers_side_1

UNDER COVERS (1982) (1:27)

1) Becky Savage – Luciana [excised text below]
2) Samantha Fox – Dilly
3) Sharon Mitchell – Enema [excised text above]
4) Deep Throat – Deep Throat
5) Debbie Ross – Member
6) Drea – Slave
7) Tigr – Slave
8) Mcrane – Slave
9) Laurence Rothchild – Commander James
10) Bobby Astur – Harry
11) Sir John Feelgood – ‚ÄúQ‚ÄĚ
12) Baron Fritz Von Schleff – Gross-Finger
13) Tommy La Roc – Janitor
14) Ken Starbuck – Diplomat 1
15) Richard Russell – # 2
16) Johnny Stagl- Slave
17) Anthony Venuti- Slave
18) Mac Laurin- Slave
19) Richard McCoy- Chauffeur


¶ Mister Hipp Goes To Town.
¬∂ 1) + (2) kiss, | lay on bed, kiss, CL, Fing, | She’s on all fours, DS, pull out, ‚ú≤ on butt, | Both smoke, he asks her to put

Undercovers_side_2

[continued from side one] atomic device in vagina, will pay her $$$, ‚ÄúWhen do I start‚ÄĚ
¶ 12) calls 3), being attended by slaves, tells her 1) has agreed to implant. Perform ASAP.
¶ 1) on operating table, legs spread, nurses assist 9) clean pussy, table, cream, on pussy, fing, implant device, in pussy.  Lay out knees, put her on gerney, wheel back to room.
¬∂ 12) calls 11) and tell about operations, implant will make men ‚Äúan idiot‚ÄĚ upon ejaculation, 11) tell him to get someone to remove it suggest 9), 2) overhears call, morgue, wrong #.
¬∂ 9) out of jail, kills guy in barber shop, 12) in London, 2) runs in on 10) playing piano, tells him about operation phone call, also about 9) looking for 1) to get devise, 10) tells 2) to get device back from 9) when he gets it | 2) undresses 10), drops his pants, cock out, she kneels, BJ. | She nude on bed, rub own pussy, he’s on top, kiss, kiss tits, moves down, CL, kiss, pull out, she makes cock ‚ú≤ on belly, kiss.
¶ 9) arrives at headquarters.  Sees 11) in office, gives him drawing of girl, devise to detect her, must check out a lot

Undercovers_side_3

[continued from side two] of women, tells him about 10) + 2) trying to get device also, mention 12), 11) mentiotion brother, has finger + ¬Ĺ | 12 goes outside finds, (7), sitting in car, tells 2) wants to meet him, meet at pub.
¶ 2) tells five girls about being out to get 9), wear black outfits,
¶ 3) tells other girls by pool to wear white outfits, takes device from 9) when he gets it, 3) drunk
¬∂ At pub, dart practice, 9) shoots, 2) arrives in pink feathers, 9) orders champaign, kiss at bar 2) hand out of champaign, red files.¬† About him, sip beer, more beer, lossen up, more beer, grabbing cock, more beer, 2) asks him to fuck, at his flat, he can’t stand up, can’t do it now, gives 2) his address, 2) leaves, place bombed.
¶ 2) at 9) appt house, asks 13) janitor to unlock door, follows her in, he sits in chair, she undresses, kneels unzip pants, BJ
¶ 9) calls 11) about bomb blast.  Thought she was going to blow me not blow me up.

Undercovers_side_4

¬∂ 2) continues BJ on 9), | She’s on all fours on sofa, DS, pull out, she pulls cock, ‚ú≤ on butt, kiss. | she grabs her cloths he leaves, she searches appt, can’t find ‚Äúit‚ÄĚ.
¬∂ 9) reads in paper about ‚ÄúDeep Throat‚ÄĚ – goes [excised text below “goes”] to theater, goes inside, sits, guys jerking off, 4) calls him over, kiss, unzip pants, BJ, moist cock, ‚ú≤ in mouth, spat ‚ú≤ in handkerchief, asks for message, no message, charge 25 lbs, pays her. He leaves, goes to men’s room, pisses, hears guy in stall, Deep Throat, talk to him personally, plan aborted, protect gismo, go to first call 11)
¶ At first, 9) calls 11), plan changed, go to Venice Italy, he leaves, two agents, one is black other is white, shoot each other when he ducks. | Flys to Venice, rental car lot, goes to hotel, white agent (girl) shot. | In room, girl calls 9) to meet him and remove devise.  3) gets girl ([unknown scribble]?) to go to him, | 9) in gondola, meets her, run to lonely spot, kiss, checks her with decoder, no device, he runs off.

Undercovers_side_5

¶ 9) talks to 11) go to Istanbul,
¶ 10) tells 2) she will have one more chance, 1) + 9) will be at Istanbul,
¶ In Istanbul, 9) wanders street, goest to park. | 11) calls 9), waves flag, | 9) open violin case, radio, discuss 1), gone home.
¬∂ 3) on back, gets invitation to ‚Äúball‚ÄĚ 6); 7), 8) + 16) 17) 18)
¬∂ 3) sends out girls, watch by window, bodies against glass, guys dance around 3), she stands, guys rub her body, one guy CL [centered dot] | gives 3 BJ, CL BJ guy, CL, CL/BJ | 3) on back asks girls to go 11) to stay, kiss, kiss tits, CL, kiss | she’s on all fours, DS, ‚ú≤ on butt.
¶ 9) gets mail, invitation to ball, |11) get one too.  Opens it. | 9) talks to 11), discuss invitations, 11) tells 9) to go, meets [number and parenthesis, scribbled out] ? ? .
¶ Big house, limos drive up, 9) checks out women with decoder as they go inside, decoder finds 1), guy with her; gets her apartment address.
¶ 9) goes to her appt, goes inside, couple 2) and 12) come to door, enter, 9 hides, he wants to fuck, she wants romance,

Undercovers_side_6

[continued from side five] they undress each other | she sits on bed, drops his pants, BJ) she lays back, dress off, on floor, kiss her tits, kiss, CL, | he’s on back, BJ, she sits on cock, FF XO, pull out cock, makes ‚ú≤ on pussy, rub cum on tits, 1) hears decoder, looks under bed, 9) comes out, 12) now an imbecile, | 9) talks to 1), appeal to her decency, pardon + $10 M, tell them it was flushed away, she agrees | she lays back on bed, legs spread, he gets vacuum cleaner, sucks pussy, get device (from hose), she thanks him.
¶ 12) in  limo, gives 9) a ride, tells him about device, gives it to 9), 9) looking at girls, | stop car kick out 9),
¶ 9) goes to 11) office, gives bag to 11), takes out device, test w/ decoder, not device, 11) chews out 9) about giving 12) the device, | 11) tells 9) to watch demented diplomats.
¶ 9) herds them off, down street

Special thanks are owed to my wife, who did the bulk of the work transcribing these things. I found the handwriting to be mostly illegible, so without her assistance it’s safe to say this article never would have happened.

flaggif

Banned Japan: From Tsuburaya Productions with Love

Given the very nature of the sort of cinema I gravitate towards its an unavoidable fact that every now and again I stumble onto something that’s banned somewhere, but this may be the first time I’ve ever crossed paths with a banned episode of a television series. The now-infamous episode 12 of Tusburaya Productions’ superior¬†Ultra-sequel¬†Ultra Seven ran afoul of the same cultural sensitivities that would land Toho’s¬†Prophecies of Nostradamus: Catastrophe 1999 in the hot seat just a few years hence, the result being that it has not been seen (officially) in its native Japan in decades. Those of us elsewhere have proven luckier. While Tsuburaya Productions have pulled the episode domestically and now (according to the interwebs) refuse to so much as acknowledge its existence,¬†Yusei yori Ai o Komete („ÄéťĀäśėü„āą„ā䜥õ„āí„Āď„āĀ„Ā¶„ÄŹ / From Another Planet With Love) was marketed in foreign territories none-the-less. Those fond of Cinar’s mid-80s English adaptation of the series may remember it as the modestly spelling-challenged¬†Crystalized (sic) Corpuscles.

The fuss in this case is all to do with¬†Cristalized Corpuscles‘ requisite villains, a race of chortling backroom baddies from the nuke-ravaged planet Spellia who are out to fill their irradiated veins with delicious Earth blood (“This planet gives good blood!”). For a television show produced in a nation in which A-bomb survivor lobbyists are still counterbalanced against lingering stigma and discrimination the concept of bomb-happy galaxy-trotting vampires gleefully bleeding Earth-men dry is already treading on¬†thin ice. While that narrative hook was likely more than enough on its own to illicit¬†protest¬†from victims’ rights organizations,¬†Crystalized Corpuscles takes the issue one step further in its physical depiction of the Spell Aliens in their native form:

In retrospect it’s easy to see why the appearance of the Spell Alien – a gargantuan pallid figure with a sinister, expressionless face, covered in glowing keloid scars (lingered upon in close-up, no less) and raving about his desire for the blood of children – proved offensive. Even with my Western sensibilities firmly intact I find the presentation a bit tasteless, though it’s done nothing to lessen my innate personal revulsion to censorship, self-inflicted or otherwise. To that end I’m not entirely positive that the word “banned” is even appropriate to this case. Tsuburaya Productions have certainly pulled the episode from domestic circulation, but that appears to have been of their own volition – an effort made, no doubt, to avoid or mitigate any possible scandal.¬†Crystalized Corpuscles was still made available to foreign markets, and well after the domestic moratorium went into effect. And moratorium be damned, even the original Japanese version is but a few clicks away anymore.

With words like “infamous” and “banned” weighing so heavily upon it, it’s easy to neglect the episode itself, which is second to none as an example of the heady ambition and audacious absurdity that mark the best of classic tokusatsu television. The premise is as ludicrous as they come, concerning a nefarious alien scheme to harvest the blood of women and children with wrist watches, but director Akio Jissoji (Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis) delivers not just a rollicking pulp actioner, but an oddball satire of romantic cinematic conventions as well! Even the compulsory episode-ending Ultra-fight is handled with unexpected artistry, the battle cast in rich sunset color and depicted in freeze-frame style complete with audible shutter clicks. It’s as surprising a 24 minutes as has ever been produced for Japanese genre television, and with an intriguing cultural significance as well. One only wishes it were more officially available…

Ultra7

Saturday Monster Matinee:„ÄĆ„āī„āł„É©„ÉĽ„Éü„Éč„É©„ÉĽ„ā¨„Éź„É© „ā™„Éľ„ÉęśÄ™Áć£Ś§ßťÄ≤śíÉ„ÄćAll Monsters Attack

G007_AMAMy memories of Godzilla’s tenth screen adventure are fonder than usual. It aired on television constantly as I was growing up, being one of the U.P.A. Productions of America properties that TNT broadcast on a regular basis, and thanks to a grandmother sympathetic to my monster obsession it was also one of the first of the series’ films¬†I ever owned.

All Monsters Attack¬†(or Godzilla’s Revenge¬†for those partial¬†to the series’¬†Stateside titles) is easily the most compact of all the monster’s outings, focusing not on prehistoric behemoths laying waste to modern civilization but on a child who, in his day-dreaming, visits Monster Island as a means of coping with the problems in his everyday¬†life. You’ll be forgiven for thinking that sounds a little strange (it is),¬†but it also makes the film one of the most narratively intriguing of the lot. All Monsters Attack¬†takes place in a Japan unlike any other in Godzilla history then or since; one in which the monster and his brethren are all¬†entirely fictional.

More drama than fantasy, All Monsters Attack follows young Ichiro Miki, a latchkey kid growing up in one of the outlying industrial districts of Tokyo. His surroundings are oppressive, a suburban wastelend of cramped apartments, smoke stacks and defunct industrial parks in which he is bullied on a daily basis by neighborhood brat Gabara and his band of pint-sized thugs. With few friends and parents who are rarely at home Ichiro has become shy and introverted, seeking escape from the real world through his extravagant daydreams.

And what should a young boy in late-’60s Japan dream about but monsters, which were to be found everywhere¬†in the popular culture of¬†the time. Ichiro dreams about all of his favorites: Gorosaurus, Manda, Angilas, Godzilla, and even little Minya, with whom Ichiro develops a close friendship. Ichiro even dreams up a monster equivalent of the neighborhood bully, an enormous Gabara who relishes in pushing little Minya around. Through the trials and achievements of his imaginary monster friend Ichiro gains confidence and learns to stand up for himself, life lessons that prove indispensable for¬†him when people far worse than his own Gabara come knocking.

Given the prevalence of fantastic concepts in¬†tokusatsu pictures made before and since its easy to understand why the low key¬†All Monsters Attack¬†isn’t very popular compared to its brethren – though it features monsters, it only tangentially¬†qualifies as a monster film. The lonely life of little Ichiro may not make for the most thrilling of entertainment (especially not for anyone¬†expecting a raucous kaiju smackdown), but his quest for self confidence can still be quite rewarding for viewers in the proper frame of mind. It certainly struck a chord with my friends and I when we were younger – we watched this film a lot. I still find it easy to empathize with Ichiro’s¬†situation, not to mention his interests, some twenty-five¬†years later, and count myself lucky in that I’ve never had a Gabara of my own.

Screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa took an unusual step in focusing on a typical working-class Japanese family instead of the usual scientists, detectives, astronauts, or reporters here –¬†All Monsters Attack¬†is perhaps the only example of this in the series. Sekizawa and director Ishiro Honda craft¬†some truly poignant moments, particularly for¬†Attack‘s¬†conclusion (the only time Ichiro and his mother are seen together has genuine¬†emotional impact), and make what might¬†have been a drab and depressing look at contemporary Japan into something positive and uplifting. There’s a remarkable humanity to¬†All Monsters Attack, and I’d rank its dramatic direction among Honda’s best.

With the respectfully credited Eiji Tsuburaya in ailing health (he would pass away just a month after the film’s premiere) Ishiro Honda was tasked with directing¬†the special effects of¬†All Monsters Attack himself,¬†with Teruyoshi Nakano, soon-to-be chief of the Toho special effects department,¬†serving as assistant director. Honda’s sole¬†turn in that capacity was a fortuitous¬†one for a film that so frequently blurred the line between drama and fantasy, with Ichiro spending a good deal of his time wandering Monster Island with a size-shifting Minya. It’s a testament to Honda and Nakano that their freshly produced material never looks so threadbare as the budget must have demanded. Sure the sound stages are smaller and the monster action more contained than in prior outings, but the modest, colorful setups suit the film just fine. It’s tough not to root¬†for Godzilla and Minya in their father-and-son fight against the warty green Gabara, a sequence that nicely parallels Ichiro’s confrontations with real-life bad guys later on.

Though the quality of the new effects material is generally high there’s really not much of it, and the budgetary limitations¬†of the production left Honda and Nakano to rely on library footage to an extent the series would never see again.¬†All Monsters Attack lifts whole scenes from Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla as well as a few brief snippets from Destroy All Monsters and King Kong Escapes. For its part the production¬†uses the footage fairly¬†well, cleverly incorporating new material and altering some of the older with mattes (some that work, some that don’t), though¬†it’s impossible not to notice the shifting locations and Godzilla’s frequent change of face. The saving grace is that the footage is still so much fun and well cut besides, and bolstered as it is by a lively¬†score from Kunio Miyauchi (The Human Vapor,¬†Ultra Q). The success of All Monsters Attacks‘ plundering of the Toho vaults¬†is perhaps best judged against the comparable Daiei cost-cutter Gamera vs. Viras, a similarly brief children’s fantasy whose pacing is frequently stopped cold by the appearance of repurposed footage.

Revisiting Godzilla’s mountain of screen exploits¬†isn’t always as pleasant an experience as one would hope, and it’s a bit depressing when an entertainment¬†you held dear as a child fails to hold up to the more scrutinous perspective of adulthood.¬†All the better then that¬†All Monsters Attack still plays so well. Those of you looking to introduce your youngsters to the King of the Monsters need look no further, as¬†the only series¬†film made exclusively for children still makes for great family-friendly entertainment nearly five¬†decades after the fact. I certainly know where I’ll be starting when that time arrives.


 

Screenshots were gleaned from the Toho Visual Entertainment Blu-ray of All Monsters Attack, which was released in July of last year in conjunction with Toho’s celebration of Godzilla’s 60th anniversary. The 2.35:1-framed image is softer and brighter than some may prefer, and suffers from some notable telecine wobble as well, but is relatively clean and plays well enough¬†for my tastes.¬†Technical specs are very strong, owing to Toho’s dedication to dual-layered releases, and the 69 minute¬†film receives a robust Mpeg-4 AVC video encode at a¬†sky-high¬†average bitrate of 38.4 Mbps. Audio is Japanese only, with no English subtitle or dub support, and offered in either the original monophonic mix (2-channel 16-bit LPCM) or 2004 5.1 surround remix (DTS-HD MA).¬†The former sounds very good to these ears (better than most of these Godzilla discs do in fact), with a healthier degree of punch than one typically associates with aged monophonic mixes. Kunio Miyauchi’s score comes across especially well.¬†By contrast,¬†the center-heavy surround mix sounds quite processed and dense, and I found it more distracting than engrossing for the most part. Optional Japanese SDH subtitles are offered in support of the feature.

For such a minor entry in the franchise, supplements are¬†certainly¬†plentiful enough. Newly produced is Production Department vs. Photography Department: Toho Special Effects Daishingeki!, a lengthy discussion with¬†All Monsters Attack‘s assistant effects director Teruyoshi Nakano and assistant effects photographer Takao Tsurumi¬†that covers their¬†work dating as far back as 1959’s¬†Battle in Outer Space. The featurette runs roughly 26 minutes in HD.¬†Special Effects Film & Music: Kunio Miyauchi Interview is a new packaging of an archival interview (previously unreleased to the best of my knowledge) with the late composer, noted for his contributions to¬†Japanese SPFX¬†film and television, and runs 13 minutes in upscale HD. Less substantial but still plenty of fun is a recording of the original All Monsters Attack¬†promotional sonosheet / flexi disc¬†(1:58, HD), followed by a digital reproduction of the film’s appropriately brief theatrical program¬†(HD) and a short history of Toho’s Champion Festival revival of its classic special effects films (text only). Rounding out the video supplements is the original theatrical trailer (2:29, HD), while an audio commentary with¬†All Monsters Attack‘s late assistant director Koji Hashimoto (moderated by screenwriter Kenji Konuta) is thoughtfully carried over from the older DVD to round out the on-disc content.

I’ve found it difficult to level too much criticism at Toho Visual Entertainment’s Blu-ray releases in the past, but¬†All Monsters Attack is an effort with which I am more satisfied than most.¬†There’s a lot of value to be had in the modest selection of supplements (more is not always better, and Toho have generally chosen their additional material well), and the HD presentation serves the film quite well even if it does leave room for improvement. I dig it.¬†All Monsters Attack¬†can be purchased¬†now through Amazon.co.jp and the other usual retailers, though my copy came by way of a third party seller (Japanworld) at Amazon.com. Classic Media’s domestic DVD remains¬†available as well for those less inclined towards exorbitant import prices.

Disc Love: Luigi Cozzi’s ‘Contamination’ (2015 Arrow Video Blu-ray)

A love note to the classic science fiction cinema of the past by way of an¬†Alien-derived horror fantasy about Martian eggs that make people explode, Luigi Cozzi’s¬†Contamination isn’t quite like anything else that emerged from the Italian¬†genre film scene of the latter ’70s / early¬†’80s.¬†The film’s penchant for brief outbursts of outlandish comic-book gore has earned it much of its current reputation (the scenes were trimmed considerably for the film’s R-rated domestic release as Alien Contamination, and were deemed obscene¬†enough to land the film on the wrong side of the UK’s Video Recording Act for a time),¬†but Contamination¬†seems an ill fit among the glut of zombie and cannibal films (and occasional zombie cannibal films) that dominated the Italian horror slate at¬†the time. Indeed, it often feels more like an elaborately produced fan film than anything, with the drama playing less like a contemporary¬†sci-fi than an old Republic serial (Contamination‘s ex-astronaut villain, breeding and exporting sinister alien eggs from his jungle plantation, would have been fine fodder for the King of the Rocket¬†Men or the Panther Girl of the Kongo). Cozzi’s adoration for the sci-fi of his youth¬†is made apparent early and often, and accounts for a large part of my own enjoyment of the film. It’s not often that a modern thriller pays this sort of¬†lip service to the likes of¬†Quatermass 2: Enemy From Space,¬†The H-Man, and¬†The Monster that Challenged the World.

Unlike many of its contemporaries, I can’t really complain about¬†Contamination‘s past history on home video (domestic outfit Blue Underground released a fine uncut¬†DVD¬†of the title a little more than a decade ago), but that doesn’t make the picture’s new edition from Arrow Video any less fantastic. Having recently expanded to license¬†releases for¬†North America as well, the UK-based label is¬†set to grant¬†Contamination its Blu-ray world premiere via a simultaneous UK / USA release early next week. Fans of Cozzi’s exploding egg opus should be very pleased indeed.

The promotional details for this release do not specify whether¬†Contamination was freshly scanned for this release or not, but I’d say it’s a distinction without a difference – the transfer on-disc is easily up to the high standards set by Arrow’s recent work in that regard.¬†Contamination is presented in 1080p at its theatrical 1.85:1 ratio with a robust Mpeg-4 AVC encode (35.0 Mbps average video bitrate) to back it all up, and plays very well. Giuseppe Pinori’s (The New Gladiators)¬†photography is nicely supported, even in its heavily diffused moments, with natural color and well layered contrast.¬†Detail is at high levels where the photography allows, and with no excessive digital manipulation bogging it down the film’s original texture shines through just fine. Damage is limited to a bit of dust and speckling and a few heavier marks, but¬†there’s very little here to indicate that¬†Contamination is a film entering its 35th year. Good stuff!

Audio is available in two flavors of monophonic 24-bit LPCM, English and Italian, each of comparable fidelity.¬†There’s a little dynamic punch here and there (mostly to be found in Goblin’s memorable score), but¬†Contamination‘s audio is relatively flat for the most part. There’s a bit of high end distortion from time to time, but nothing unaccounted for in a post-dubbed Italian audio mix of its vintage, and I noted no egregious background noise or damage otherwise. I’d say¬†Contamination sounds precisely as it was intended to. Optional English subtitles are offered for both tracks, and those sick of dubtitles will be pleased to find that where the Italian track differs from the English, so do the subtitles.

Per the usual for Arrow Video editions, supplements for¬†Contamination are stacked.¬†Luigi Cozzi on Contamination is a¬†fun¬†archival document¬†contemporary to the film’s production, and runs 23 minutes in Italian with English subtitles.¬†Contamination Q & A¬†is a lengthy mix of interview and audience questions with director Cozzi and¬†Contamination star Ian McCulloch filmed in late 2014 at the Abertoir Horror Festival, and runs 41 minutes in English.¬†Sound of the Cyclops switches gears to discuss the production of the film’s score with Goblin keyboardist Maurizio Guarini¬†(11 minutes, English). Cozzi returns for¬†Luigi Cozzi vs. Lewis Coates, a significant new¬†documentary piece¬†in which the writer / director relates his entire personal history and shares a scene from his current independent film project (43 minutes, Italian with English subtitles).¬†Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery: A Critical Analysis of the Italian Cash-In¬†with Maitland McDonagh and Chris Poggiali offers¬†precisely what its¬†title would suggest (17 minutes, English), and is followed by the original English export trailer for the film and a graphic novel based upon the screenplay for the film (55 pages) to round out the video extras. An audio commentary with Fangoria editor Chris Alexander rounds out the on-disc content.

I’m not at liberty to judge the packaging for the release (which includes a reversible cover and a collectible booklet) or the SD DVD which is set to be included, as none of this was included in the review copy I received, but I’m confident they’ll live up¬†to Arrow’s usual high standards for such. As for the Blu-ray, you’ll hear¬†no complaints from me.¬†Contamination sounds just fine and plays¬†better than it ever has before on home video, and¬†the supplements (hours of ’em!) offer¬†plenty of added value for the discerning Cozzi connoisseur.¬†Contamination is available for order both from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk,¬†and comes highly recommended.

 

Earth Attack Order: Godzilla vs. Gigan„ÄĆŚúįÁźÉśĒĽśíÉŚĎĹšĽ§ „āī„āł„É©ŚĮĺ„ā¨„ā§„ā¨„É≥„Äć

Aliens in orange leisure suits plot world conquest from a theme park, and it’s up to a comic artist and his friends (with an assist from Japan’s preeminent monster star) to stop them in Godzilla vs. Gigan,¬†the twelfth entry in Toho Co.’s iconic monster franchise. A conceptual return to form after the previous year’s bizarre and experimental¬†Godzilla vs. Hedorah,¬†Gigan recalls the multi-monster throw-downs that had defined the series in the middle sixties, if only superficially so. From the ostentatious title¬†(best when spoken with multiple exclamation points) and ad slicks to the music (something of a greatest hits of Ifukube library tracks)¬†to the monster roster itself (including frequent series villain and¬†kaiju-for-hire¬†King Ghidorah)¬†the film¬†is calculated to evoke Godzilla’s recent¬†(and more profitable) past,¬†but beneath all that affected pomp lies one of the monster’s shabbiest outings. With dwindling attendance figures driving the series to the lower depths of under-production¬†Gigan was left to build an ambitious¬†tokusatsu epic from slim pickings indeed – in retrospect¬†it’s a wonder that any of it works at all.

Penned by longtime series scribe Shinichi Sekizawa (Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster) from a story¬†by Takeshi Kimura (The H-Man),¬†Godzilla vs. Gigan offers an amusing pop-art twist on the rote alien invasion archetype that¬†had dominated Toho’s special effects productions from¬†1957’s The Mysterians onward. Kimura’s involvement assures at least a touch of substantive meandering by way of the invader’s backstory (their world was driven to ruin by the unchecked industrial ambitions of its dominant life forms, leaving lesser creatures to seek a more hospitable world), but the desperate man-sized cockroaches of Nebula Space Hunter M are mostly a silly bunch. After¬†assuming human identities and amassing a hip collection of belligerently colorful formal wear, the M-aliens begin their quest for world domination (or as they refer to it, “perfect peace”) in a truly unusual fashion¬†– by building a monster-themed amusement park with a monumental Godzilla Tower as its main attraction. The plan from there is simple: Destroy Tokyo with a pair of computer-controlled space monsters¬†in a bid to lure Godzilla from his¬†digs on Monster Island¬†to the M-aliens’ fun-land base of operations,¬†then destroy the King of the Monsters with the space lasers mounted in the head of his own¬†(presumably unlicensed1) likeness. What could possibly go wrong?

Giving the M-aliens a run for their money in the silliness department are the human cast¬†–¬†a down-on-his-luck comic artist named Gengo (non-star Hiroshi Ishikawa in ¬†his next-to-last film appearance), his martial artist girlfriend Tomoko (Bohachi Bushido‘s Yuriko Hishimi), and a pair of hippies hunting for a kidnapped electronics expert (career supporting player Kunio Murai, Nobunaga Concerto).¬†Using¬†balloons, exploding cartoon murals, an affinity for yellow fruits and vegetables, and some considerable narrative gymnastics to their great advantage, Gengo and his cohorts¬†become just the sort of oddball anti-invasion force the ill-fated M-aliens deserve. For his part underrated director Jun Fukuda (Secret of the Telegian) keeps the human action moving at a brisk enough clip, assuring that there are usually enough parts in motion at any given point in the proceedings to keep it all from feeling dull. The pop art-inflected production design doesn’t hurt either.¬†Veteran art director Yoshifumi Honda (Throne of Blood)¬†uses hefty doses of color to keep the palpable cheapness of it all from becoming too obvious or distracting, and generally with good results – the following year’s¬†Godzilla vs. Megalon¬†would have him following the same basic ethos, and with like¬†success.

With the exception of the aforementioned ecological angle and some¬†Invasion of Astro-Monster-derived¬†commentary on the perils of¬†technology (the computer-fixated M-aliens are ultimately destroyed¬†their inflexible reliance on them) Godzilla vs. Gigan is played mostly for kicks,¬†and provided the series with what was up to that point its least complicated perspective¬†on Godzilla as hero. Though Yoshimitsu Banno had presented the character in stark heroic terms the year before he had done so within the context of a film with far more substantive ambitions (so had Ishiro Honda for that matter, in 1969’s All Monsters Attack).¬†Gigan‘s approach¬†is¬†utterly simplistic by contrast, reducing the whole concept to its essence of Good Monsters against¬†Bad Monsters, for better or worse, a trend that would continue through 1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. Still, rarely has Godzilla felt more dissociated from his past than he does here, rising to thwart an alien invasion out of heroic necessity and¬†speaking to his buddy Anguirus via stylized¬†speech bubbles. This Godzilla is pure kid’s stuff, theme song and all.

That’s not to suggest that this is an inherently bad thing, but¬†Gigan‘s climactic kaiju¬†brawl is just too protracted and sluggish to rate with the better among the ’70s films. With too little money and too little time on their¬†side¬†accomplished SPFX¬†director Teruyoshi Nakano¬†(Submersion of Japan) and his associates¬†did¬†their¬†best by the¬†considerable number of effects cuts Gigan demanded¬†of¬†them, but the quality of the work is inconsistent to say the least and is hampered further by an over-reliance on footage culled from prior series outings.¬†An early appearance by Anguirus in Sagami Bay is limited to a few fresh takes on a tiny and unconvincing effects stage, a new¬†process shot¬†of troops running back and forth, and a heap of alienated military assault footage from War of the Gargantuas,¬†Destroy All Monsters and so on. The final four-way monster brawl doesn’t fare much¬†better, and feels at least a reel too long for its torpid pacing and frequent stock footage interruptions (minutes worth of material from¬†Ghidrah the Three Headed Monster,¬†Invasion of Astro-Monster¬†and so on). King Ghidorah must have proven too difficult to operate effectively under the constraints of the production and spends the majority of the fight watching¬†quietly from the sidelines while Godzilla falls increasingly to pieces. The latter suit appears for its fourth (and final, blessedly) time in as many films here, and looks all the worse for wear after its¬†demanding turn in 1971’s¬†Godzilla vs. Hedorah.

If there’s a special effects highlight to be gleaned from¬†Godzilla vs. Gigan¬†it’s Gigan itself, a truly bizarre¬†kaiju creation and one of my favorite among Toho’s menagerie. Nakano and company manage to afford the beast a few minutes of old-school city-stomping action, and¬†despite the modest size of the effects stages it all plays quite well.¬†Late SPFX photographer Motoyoshi Tomioka2 (King Kong Escapes) keeps shots tight for the most part, making good use of a sparse¬†few blocks of miniatures before pulling back to watch it all burn. The sequence is still set back by its dependence on recycled¬†footage (in this film it’s positively unavoidable), but the original material stands¬†as a fine slice¬†of budget-conscious¬†tokusatsu¬†action all the same.

I have a lot of fond memories of watching¬†Godzilla vs. Gigan as a child, back when it was still running in syndication under its Cinema Shares Int. theatrical title of¬†Godzilla on Monster Island, and even if the film¬†holds up rather poorly these days a certain fondness for it remains. The human drama is goofy fun, the aliens bizarrely fashionable, and Gigan is still one¬†hell of a thing. This is yet another of those films that I like a good deal more than I probably should, and despite any earlier bellyaching I find myself revisiting¬†it more often than I care to admit.¬†I’m not sure that really qualifies as a recommendation or not, but in the case of¬†Godzilla vs. Gigan it’s as much as you’ll get from me.


Screengrabs are taken from Toho’s own blu-ray release of¬†Godzilla vs. Gigan, which was issued in July of last year. The disc presents a strong Mpeg-4 AVC encode of a relatively soft 2.35:1-framed HD master, but plays fine for my tastes in motion (I find the excessive noisiness of the Kraken blu-ray rather distracting in playback, and as with Ebirah – Horror of the Deep, tend to prefer the color timing and framing of the Toho release over the domestic alternative). The speech bubbles absent in domestic DVD and Blu-ray editions are of course¬†present and accounted for here, and the original titles are a revelation by contrast to their bland English counterparts. How did such an underwhelming film come by such a groovy opening titles sequence? Audio is presented in monophonic 2.0 LPCM (16 bit), and is decent¬†if unremarkable –¬†the original mix sounds fairly flat, and I suspect this is as good¬†a presentation of it as can be reasonably expected. The 5.1 remix produced for the film’s first Japanese DVD issue is also on board (revamped in DTS-HD MA),¬†and adds a bit of punch to the music tracks as well as a wealth of phasing issues in the sound effects (noticeable on most of the 5.1 remasters I’ve heard from the company). Optional Japanese subtitles are included for the feature, but the all region compatible disc offers nothing in the way of English language support.

As with many of Toho’s blu-ray discs, supplements are unexpectedly weighty¬†(though again, not English friendly), with all of the most noteworthy bits being exclusive to this release.¬†Masaaki Tezuka x Yuriko Hishimi: Special Talk is a substantial and enthusiastic interview featurette between the director¬†and¬†Gigan‘s most prominent star, and runs for 40 minutes in HD.¬†The Man who Made Godzilla Tower: Nobuyuki Yasumaru runs roughly 20 minutes in HD, and covers not only the effects sculptor’s contributions to Toho productions (like his work on Gorosaurus and the various late-Showa Godzilla suits, as well as¬†the eponymous Godzilla Tower) but his non-film art pieces as well. Neat! The rest of the video extras are less substantial, but nice to have all the same – you get a theatrical dispatch¬†(HD, same transfer as on the Kraken disc, for which this dispatch is the only extra), a karaoke presentation of the film’s infectious “Godzilla March”, as well as an HD reproduction of the original theatrical program. The final on-disc supplement is an audio commentary with effects artist and director Shinji Higuchi (Gamera: Guardian of the Universe) moderated by playwright and television writer¬†Kenji Konuta (Ultraman Dyna), which is thoughtfully carried over from Toho’s earlier DVD. Packaging is typical for the company’s¬†tokusatsu blu-rays, and includes an attractive slip case, as well as a 60th Anniversary¬†promotional obi¬†(not pictured), a sticker, and a print advertisement for the rest of Toho’s 60th anniversary blu-ray releases. I love the way these packages look on the shelf, and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t figure somehow into the whys of why I keep buying them.

Godzilla vs. Gigan is available from Amazon.co.jp and the other usual import outlets, though in a rare turn (I had some trade-in credit) I actually picked up my copy from a third party seller (JAPANWORLD, who were lovely to work with) at Amazon.com. I recommend shopping around if interested, as the prices for these releases can vary quite a lot from shop to shop or from seller to seller. The domestic Blu-ray release remains available as well for those so inclined, and is darned cheap besides.

GVGigan_FrontSlip GVGigan_BackSlip GVGigan_FrontCase GVGigan_BackCase GVGigan_InsideCase

1¬†It’s not hard to¬†imagine an alternate Universe in which the world is saved from the M-aliens not by the intervention of giant monsters, but by Toho’s legal department. They could foil the evil scheme through the sheer force of copyright¬†litigation alone.

2 The IMDB credits him as Sokei Tomioka for whatever reason, while Allcinema.net suggests Motohiro Tomioka. The reading in this article was confirmed from the commentary tracks for Godzilla Raids Again and Terror of Mechagodzilla, in which he participated before his passing in 2011.

Creeping! Crawling! Crushing! Bill Rebane’s ‘The Giant Spider Invasion’ to Blu-ray and DVD next week from VCI

Update (6/13/2015):¬†The original post continues below – received the Blu-ray on Wednesday and wanted to share some quick thoughts. Firstly, I¬†really wanted to love this release. The film is a¬†bona fide household favorite, and there was the potential, at least, to really knock the¬†socks off the so-so presentations of the past. Unfortunately, VCI’s¬†The Giant Spider Invasion¬†is pretty terrible, at least in so far as the feature presentation is concerned. People will bellyache about the Mpeg-2 video encode,¬†but that’s an utterly inconsequential technicality in this case – the transfer on-disc would look terrible regardless. The problem here is processing, processing, and still more processing. The grainy, scratch-riddled source elements have been practically sand-blasted, with much of the already modest detail the picture possessed carelessly scrubbed away in the process. Artificial sharpening and motion errors (a stuttered¬†ghosting¬†effect that appears from time to time) just add to the troubles – for all the improvements in color and framing over past editions, the disc just looks¬†bad.

Samples are included below, in uncompressed PNG. The trailers on-disc hint at what might have been. The damage is there in the form of vertical scratches and plenty of dust and speckles, but the unprocessed image is miles in advance of what can be seen in the feature presentation. Unless you’re really,¬†really¬†itching to shell out nearly $30¬†for the newly-produced extras (the HD galleries, trailers, and Rebane interview that accompany the Blu-ray are neat, but only add up to maybe half an hour of material) then this disc is a complete pass. I never thought I’d prefer an early ’80s VHS to a modern Blu-ray release, but I suppose them’s the breaks.¬†What a disappointment.

The Giant Spider Invasion Рfeature screenshots: 

trailer / television spot screenshots:

Original Post:

THE-GIANT-SPIDER-INVASION-BLU-RAY-500x500Does this film even need an introduction? Bill Rebane’s Midwestern big-bug epic is pretty infamous these days (the lampooning from cult program MST3K¬†is, admittedly, hilarious), but was a significant drive-in hit in its own time. I remember seeing it on television as a kid¬†in the late ’80s and thinking it was pretty much the best thing I had ever seen¬†– the gangly spider¬†mock-ups and trashy atmosphere creeped me out in the best of ways¬†back then.

Long available only in editions culled from masters dating at least as far back as my first experience with the film,¬†The Giant Spider Invasion is set to make an unlikely comeback next week¬†courtesy of VCI. The label will be¬†releasing a fresh DVD of the film (with tasty supplemental accompaniment) in wide distribution, but the big news is their web-exclusive (it appears to be available from their webstore only at present) Blu-ray, a loaded deluxe edition that’s set to present¬†The Giant Spider Invasion in widescreen and HD for the first time in its lengthy home video history.

Supplements for the Blu-ray are stacked. Quoting from the VCI site:

  • New 2015 Documentary by Daniel Griffith ‚Äď ‚ÄúSize Does Matter! Making The Giant Spider Invasion‚ÄĚ
  • Bonus CD from ‚ÄúThe Giant Spider Invasion the Musical‚ÄĚ ‚Äď 14 Rockin‚Äô Tracks from the forth-coming Live Musical-Stage Play
  • Mini ‚ÄėTGSI‚Äô Collectible Comic Book
  • The SUPER-8 Version (the original home media format!)
  • The SUPER-8 Version re-edited in HD!
  • Archival Interviews with cult-film director Bill Rebane and other members of the cast, crew and Super-fans
  • Archival Interview with actor Robert Easton (Kester)
  • Bill Rebane introduction by Kevin Murphy and Mike Nelson (of Mystery Science Theater fame)
  • Extensive Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery
  • Original Theatrical Trailer and TV Spots
  • Archival TV News Reports
  • Liner Notes written by Tom Stockman, WeAreMovieGeeks.com

VCI are set to present The Giant Spider Invasion at its theatrical 1.85:1 ratio with LPCM audio (VCI say Dolby Digital, but the DVDDrive-In review disputes this) and optional English subtitles. No complaints here. I’m fascinated to see how it all shakes out, and all the more so given VCI’s spotty track record (in so far as feature presentation is concerned at least). So long as this Blu-ray plays better than my 25-plus-year-old¬†Japanese VHS¬†I suspect¬†I’ll be happy enough.

VCI’s less expensive (and less loaded)¬†The Giant Spider Invasion DVD edition is available for pre-order through Amazon and other online retailers. For now the Blu-ray edition is available only through VCI directly. Both editions are set for release on June 9th.