New Print of Gorgo (1961) Discovered in Kansas and Now Released on Blu-Ray

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To say that Gorgo was the British version of Godzilla is quite the unfair statement. It immediately creates some very big shoes for Gorgo to fill. However, it cannot be denied that Gorgo was heavily influenced by the legendary monster from Tokyo. But does it truly deserve a spot in the Honorary Kaiju Hall of Fame?

GorgoGoing to back to 1961, it’s important to remember where Godzilla was in regards to monster status. The original, Gojira, had been released in Japan in 1954 but hadn’t seen a theater in the states until 1956. There was only one other film in the series, Godzilla Raids Again, and even that was better known at that time under the title Gigantis, The Fire Monster. And that’s it…two films. Godzilla hadn’t even clashed with King Kong yet. So, in reality, the field was wide open for anyone to challenge Godzilla for the title of “King of the Monsters”. In 1961, director Eugene Lourie was given the task of bringing life into the tale of a monster emerging from the bottom of the sea and tearing up downtown London. He would never really venture into the genre again but is remembered for his art direction on the cult classic Shock Corrider (1963).

The story behind Gorgo is simple enough. A salvage ship runs afoul of the weather off the coast of Ireland and drifts into a port where they receive a less than warm welcome. On the way there, they encounter dozens of fish floating in the water. After Captain Joe Ryan and first offer Sam Slade tangle with the harbor master, they are given until morning to leave. It turns out the harbor master has been bringing up gold from the ocean and wants no competition. Several men are soon missing and we discover why. There is a sea beast (who looks amazingly like a smaller version of Godzilla) that comes ashore before being forced back into the ocean. Ryan and Slade capture the monster and take him back to London. Once there, he becomes a featured attraction in a circus. Do these people not know the story of King Kong? It’s soon discovered that Gorgo is just a baby and his mother isn’t too far behind. What follows is the standard monster destroying the city scenario with destruction reminiscent of any Godzilla flick or even of King Kong and the Empire State Building. The only difference is that this time the destruction has a purpose as mother wants her baby back and is willing to demolish anything standing in her way.

The change in location is refreshing but the poor special effects do tend to make this movie seem a little cheaper than your average Godzilla flick, as hard as that may to be believe. At one point, there is a painfully obvious painting that is meant to be real. I had to rewind it to see if maybe it was just meant to be a painting but it clearly does not appear to be seen that way. There is a lot of matte work that simply doesn’t work well. It is cool to see Gorgo destroy the London Bridge. However, some of the battle scenes are reused, adding to the overall cheapness of the film.

The cast is appealing enough. Bill Travers plays Joe Ryan. Besides Gorgo, he is best remembered for Born Free (1966). William Sylvester is his sidekick Sam Slade. He did a few other genre flicks, such as Devil Doll (1964) and Devils of Darkness (1965). The somewhat annoying role of the young boy, Sean, was played by Vincent Winter, who is better remembered today for his work as a Production Manager on such films as Superman II (1981) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). The rest of the cast was entirely male. We weren’t even given one obligatory screaming female to round out the cast.Gorgo issue 21

Gorgo never generated a sequel but did spin-off into a comic book. Charlton Comics published 23 issues between 1961 and 1965. A few other random comics would be released over the years but the original series is still sought after by comic book collectors due to numerous contributions from Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko. Despite the lack of a sequel, the movie has remained a cult favorite. I really enjoyed it even though some of the poor special effects pulled me out of the moment from time to time.

Gorgo has just been released on Blu-ray, which is the obvious way to go. The picture has never looked better thanks to a newly discovered print in the salt mines near Hutchinson, KS. Less than half an hour from my home, these salt mines have been used for decades to store film copies to the preserving qualities found underground. It does make you wonder what else might be stored somewhere below the Earth’s surface. This Blu-ray has an assortment of special features, including two comic books, making this a title worthy of a Saturday afternoon matinee.

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Netflix Purge Results in a Shadow Double Feature

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In the good old days, the announcer would come on and say, “Because of the following special program, tonight’s episode of MonsterMovieKid will not be presented this evening. MonsterMovieKid will return next week at this same time.” I had originally intended to review the new Blu-ray release of Gorgo today. However, my “friends” over at Netflix have decided to remove a great deal of streaming content effective May 1. Quite literally, half of my existing queue is set to expire in less than a week. I’ve had to choose the titles I most wanted to see and adjust my viewing plans accordingly. So, let’s take a look at two titles that I’ve long been waiting to watch.

Kane RichmondMy love for The Shadow dates back to the late 70s. I was an impressionable ten year-old boy who had heard of old time radio from my Dad. I would stay up late and listen to the CBS Radio Mystery Theater on a local AM radio station. Many a night I would have my transistor radio pressed against my ear, often falling asleep without ever hearing the end of the story. Then, my Dad brought home an audio cassette recording of The Abbott and Costello Show which featured their classic “Who’s on First” routine. I was hooked and soon discovered a world of entertainment that I continue to enjoy to this day. It wasn’t long before my Dad suggested I try The Shadow. He knew what I liked and he was dead on with this recommendation. Soon I was buying record sets from Murray Hill Records (which I still own to this day). My Dad and I would listen to these after dinner with the lights out. Over the years, I would collect paperbacks and the 1970s DC comics series and even recently acquired an original pulp novel from the late ‘30s. In the last decade or so, I finally tracked down all of the various chapter serials or low-budget movies with two exceptions. About a year ago, I found the last two films on Netflix, added them to my queue and there they sat.

With this impending Netflix purge, it brought a new urgency to finally sit down and watch these flicks. But why had I waited so long? To be honest, I’ve never really read anything good about them. There were three films, all made in 1946, that had a shoestring budget. Upon hearing the name of their production company, Monogram Pictures, one gets the idea right away that we’re dealing with the bottom of the barrel here. I had seen the first film, The Shadow Returns, years ago and was disappointed. Unfortunately, the second and third films, Behind The Mask and The Missing Lady aren’t much better. Kane Richmond plays the lead role of Lamont Cranston, wealthy young man-about-town, who is in reality the crime fighter known as The Shadow. Unlike the novels, but following the radio version, Lamont is the only identity used by The Shadow. We never really see him as most of the screen time goes to Lamont. His girlfriend is the lovely Margo Lane (also played by Barbara Reed in all three films). Margo is pretty much dead-on in The Shadow Returns and the third film, The Missing Lady. However, she is beyond annoying and very out-of-character in Behind The Mask. Cabbie and comic relief Shrevvy is played George Chandler in the last two films and does a good job of bringing the character to life. We also have the familiar characters of Commissioner Weston and Police Inspector Cardonna.

The Missing LadyKane Richmond does an adequate job of playing the detective side of The Shadow but brings nothing to the table when it comes to being a mysterious crime fighter. Unfortunately, that’s how the character was written and he couldn’t do much more with the material. There’s nothing about his ability to cloud men’s minds and his costume, which we virtually never see, isn’t quite right either. He’s been water downed to an ordinary sleuth. In Behind The Mask, The Shadow is framed for a murder in a plot that involves blackmail and a corrupt news reporter. I cannot stress enough how off this movie was. It wasn’t bad for a comedic murder mystery but horrible for an adventure of The Shadow. Margo is portrayed as a jealous and meddling busy body. The less said about this mess the better. However, in The Missing Lady, we go back to a more straight-forward mystery concerning a jade statue being stolen after its owner is killed. Lamont Cranston gets blamed for various murders as he pursues the original owner. Parts of the script seem lifted right out of the previous movie. Even the opening scene sounds like a word-for-word rehash. But I enjoyed it more than Behind The Mask and would recommend it as a passing curiosity for a rainy afternoon. Just go in with low expectations.

There were other films made between 1937 and 1940, including two low budget efforts and a chapter serial. These sound more promising and may have to be bumped up on my list of movies to watch. But first, I need to check out my Netflix queue to see what’s next before it disappears. Hopefully, they provide a little more enjoyment than these two did.

Creepy Creature Double Feature Volume 2 Even Better Than The First

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Following up on my review of the Creepy Creature Double Feature Volume One DVD, let’s take a look on what volume two has to offer.  The selection is a step above volume one but is still hovering around the lower end of the typical B movie offerings. First up, The Crawling Hand (1963).

Creepy Volume TwoMuch like The Monster From The Ocean Floor, this movie has a definite made-for-TV feel to it. An incredibly cheap opening title sequence leads into our opening segment. Steve Curan (Peter Breck, TV’s The Big Valley) works for a space agency and is dealing with another loss of an astronaut after not hearing any word for nine hours. After Steve and his partner begin mourning another failure, a frantic message is received begging for help. Some 20 minutes has passed since the air ran out and the astronaut couldn’t possibly be alive. When they see the image coming in, he appears to be the living dead (or at least the pasty-faced, black-eyed version). The spacecraft blows up but we soon discover that not all of him was destroyed. Cut to our main victim Paul Lawrence (Rod Lauren, Black Zoo) and his girlfriend Marta (Sirry Stefan) who are frolicking on the beach when they discover a severed arm. Paul takes the arm thinking it’s his ticket to fame and glory. However, the arm comes back to life and kills Paul’s landlady before it attacks him, possessing him into a murderous rampage.

The movie actually looks really good and the crawling hand sequences don’t come off looking as cheap as one would anticipate following the title sequence. The transformation sequences that display Paul’s going from good to bad weren’t much though and the makeup really does resemble a zombielike appearance. However, the movie surpasses low expectations mostly due to a recognizable cast. Peter Breck is best known amongst 60s and 70s TV hounds as Nick Barkley in The Big Valley. Film historians will also remember him from Shock Corridor (1963). Watching him here you clearly see that much of who Peter Breck was as an actor is visible in his portrayals on screen. Several times I could easily hear and see Nick Barkley acting out in his typical hot-headed fashion. Alan Hale Jr. plays Sheriff Townsend, putting in a very good small town performance. Hale is best remembered as the goofy Skipper on the TV classic Gilligan’s Island. However, his earliest roles usually had him in a much gruffer persona than he would be known for as the Skipper. Another familiar face is Allison Hayes as Donna, Steve’s assistant. Hayes is best known for her starring role in Attack of the 50-Foot Woman (1958). Sadly, she has very little to do here.Crawling Hand

Director and writer Herbert Stock did most of his work in the 50s and 60s. While he never achieved star directing status, he did leave his mark with several B movie classics such as Gog (1954), I Was A Teenage Frankenstein (1957) and How To Make A Monster (1958). He also is responsible for several episodes of Boris Karloff’s “lost” series The Veil and Science Fiction Theatre.

One odd highlight of the movie is the prominent use of The Rivington’s hit song “The Bird’s The Word”, even getting a special mention after The End of the movie and being used in the trailer. It doesn’t fit the movie but clearly somebody felt the need to include a popular song to attract attention to an otherwise forgettable movie at the time. This was a common practice amongst B movies of the day but not usually with a hit song.slimepeople1

The second film on the DVD is a slightly more well-known flick called The Slime People (1963). Barry Harding did a great write-up over at his blog, monsterminions, so no need to go into any more details here. It’s a fun film about reptile creatures coming up from the ground and using a mysterious fog to conquer Los Angeles. Yes, it makes no sense but it is fun for an afternoon matinee. I enjoyed both films in volume two for what they were. The only time I had seen these before were a few years back on AMC, full of commercials and heavily edited. At just $10, take the time to check it out on Amazon. It’s a good addition to your collection and the quality surpasses some previous versions.

Creepy Creature Double Feature Volume 1 Worth The $10 Investment

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While Blu-ray has certainly taken over the store shelves, forgotten gems continue to be released on DVD. VCI Entertainment just released two volumes of double features under the Creepy Creature Double Feature moniker. At $10 each, these double features are just too good to pass up.

Creepy Volume OneFirst up, The Monster From The Ocean Floor from 1954. This is a straight forward monster flick with little action and plenty of filler. Julie Blair (Anne Kimball, guest star in TV series such as Boston Blackie and The Cisco Kid) is an American on vacation in a village in Mexico near the ocean. As she gets to know the locals, she begins to hear of a mysterious creature in the ocean who some feel is responsible for a series of unexplained disappearances.  She meets a marine biologist named Steve Dunning (Stuart Wade, Teenage Monster and The Thing That Wouldn’t Die). They fall deeply in love in mere hours, per the usual script device of 1950s monster flicks. While diving in the ocean, Julie encounters a monster but nobody will believe her. The creature seems to resemble a cross between an amoeba and an octopus. Apparently all the budget could afford. Meanwhile, a local drunk named Pablo (played by director Wyott Ordung) is coerced by an old woman to sacrifice Julie to the monster as the locals feel that will calm the beast per the legends. After a sample of the creature is analyzed by Steve and his associate, Dr. Baldwin, they rush back to help Julie, who is on the verge of becoming another victim. Using his fancy little submarine made for one, the creature is defeated and our happy couple is ready to go off into the sunset.

I’ve been aware of this one for a while but never took the time to sit down for the 65 minute runtime. This new DVD release was enough to convince me and it wasn’t a horrible way to spend an hour. The movie was reportedly made for $30,000 and it more than made its money back. Legendary producer Roger Corman (403 titles and counting), in his first full producing gig, got the idea for the movie from an article he read on the one-man submarine that features so prominently in the plot. Director Wyott Ordung was a jack-of-all-trades. In addition to playing the character of Pablo, he was also an assistant director on The Navy vs. The Night Monsters and writer of Robot Monster. Yes, you can see his standards were quite low. With some painfully obvious post-production dubbing, the movie suffers from an overall lack of action. It’s worth a novelty watch for Roger Corman fans and it does have a certain amount of charm as long as you go into it with low expectations. Perhaps the best part of the DVD is a great interview between Tom Weaver (author, Universal Horrors: The Studio’s Classic Films 1931-1946) and Roger Corman, as well as some additional trivia from Tom that plays out as more entertaining than the movie itself and almost as long.Monster Ocean Floor

The second half of our double feature is Serpent Island (1954). I’m not going to write too much here as Barry Harding did a great write-up over at his blog, monsterminions. Suffice to say that this is another 63 minutes with a meandering script and horrible acting. A plot that takes forever to develop, a giant rubber snake and the entertainingly bad Sonny Tufts (star of my number 3 worst DVD watch of last year, Cat-Women on the Moon). Not to mention it has a fair amount of footage from an apparent voodoo ceremony and some crazy narration from Tufts. It’s worth a watch once if for no other reason than some of the great color imagery from another legend, Bert I. Gordon (The Amazing Colossal Man and The Cyclops).

This DVD is readily available on Amazon and the usual sources. Its well-worth adding to your collection for some mindless diversions. Next time, we’ll take a look at what volume two has to offer.

Quick Flick – The Forest (1982)

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Cutting my teenage horror teeth on a healthy supply of 80s slasher flicks (watched on HBO through a black and white TV in my bedroom), I thought I had seen them all. Every now and then though, I’m proven wrong and a movie pops up that I’ve never heard. Usually, there’s good reason the movie was buried. Such is the case with The Forest (1982).

The ForestTwo husbands decide to go on a camping trip in the woods to get away from the big city. Their wives decide to go too but only to prove they can do it. However, the guys decide to meet up with the girls later. Of course, there is a crazed slasher living in the woods so not everything goes as planned. Sounds like a pretty ordinary 80s set-up for gore and sex. However, gore is at a minimum and the sex is practically non-existent. Unfortunately, the acting doesn’t have much going for it either and the filmography is not stellar. Most of the cast never acted again or, if they did, this was the highlight of their career. In fact, two of the cast used other names. Michael Brody played our slasher John (under the name Gary Kent). His credits included Dracula vs. Frankenstein and Schoolgirls in Chains, so you can see his agent was the crème de la crème of Hollywood.

The most bizarre thing about The Forest is that it can’t decide what it wants to be. We have a slasher and even get the obligatory flashback to his first crime. However, we also have the ghosts of his two dead children and his dead wife popping up. So, it’s a cross-breeding of a slasher flick and a ghost story. Unfortunately, neither is done very well. It was supposedly shot in 13 days and it shows. Director Donald M. Jones is responsible for some sleazy horror flicks, including the aforementioned Schoolgirls in Chains. He also had his one and only screen appearance in this film as the forest ranger.

I won this lost classic via an auction supporting Desmond Reddick and his Dread Media podcast. If you’ve never listened, check it out and support his show if you see fit. While I can’t recommend The Forest, it’s not the worst movie I’ve seen, so that’s saying something. It was available on both a single DVD and as a double feature set with Don’t Go In The Woods (1981). However, both are now out-of-print and seem a little pricy, so do some checking around before diving
in.

AM 1200 (2007) is Well Worth Tracking Down

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We’ve all had the experience of driving on a dark, deserted highway at night. It can be quite unnerving. All you can see is the road ahead, as far as your headlights will reach. Maybe you can see some shrubbery on the roadside. Occasionally a car will pass. In the days before satellite radio or cell phones, a driver would be truly alone. If you were lucky, you could tune into a radio station to keep you awake and make the time pass quicker. The mind would wander and you ask yourself what would happen if the car broke down…here…out in the middle of nowhere. Sounds like the background for a horror movie doesn’t it?

am-1200AM 1200 (2007) has been on my radar for several years now. Desmond Reddick at Dread Media and Brother D at Mail Order Zombie have both mentioned it. While not based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, it is clearly influenced by the literary legend. It is also based in part on a true story by filmmaker David Prior, best known in Hollywood for his video documentaries on such films as Panic Room and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. David wrote a fascinating and eerie description of some real life events in 1998, which are included with the DVD. Take the time to read it after you watch the movie. Well, it’s not really a movie since its only 40 minutes long. However, it plays out longer than an average short subject. Consider this an extra-long segment of The Twilight Zone.

Our story follows investment analyst Sam Larson (Eric Lange, TV star on such shows as Cult and Lost). Part flashback, we see how he is tipped off to a potential scam by a business partner (Ray Wise, countless character roles including X-Men: First Class and as the Devil in the TV series Reaper). The setup channels Psycho as Sam is driving at night, fearing police cars and everything that goes bump in the night. He just knows he’s going to get caught for stealing the money. Trying to stay awake, he tunes into AM 1200. He hears a faint message asking for help and the call letters KBAL. Ending up on a dirt road with a dead end, he soon finds himself at the gated entrance of the radio station. The sign is rusted and it looks abandoned. On cue, his car dies and as he leaves his car, all of the insect and animal sounds in the forest beyond stop. He sees a light in the woods that suddenly disappears. Of course, he enters the gate for help. Clearly, he’s never watched a horror movie or he’d know that he’d be better off hiding in his car.AM1200Pic2

David Prior, who was the writer, producer and director, creates an atmosphere of foreboding and dread that I haven’t experienced in a film since The Woman in Black. In fact, he does so more effectively. However, there are no real jump scares to lighten the mood. We do get the crazed individual in Jonah Henry, the radio station attendant played by John Billingsley (Dr. Phlox on Star Trek: Enterprise). And, of course, there is the Lovecraftian twist. Sadly, Prior hasn’t done any more original work since AM 1200. He’s kept busy with video documentaries but he really should be making films. I think the reason he hasn’t done more is that so few have actually seen AM 1200. It is incredibly hard to find. It’s not on YouTube or streamed anywhere else on the internet. You can’t buy the DVD in stores or on Amazon. It made the festival circuit upon its release in 2008 (winning numerous awards) but only recently became available through the website www.am1200.com. At $14.95, it is a little pricy for a 40-minute flick. However, it is money well-spent and I highly recommend you track it down. Hopefully, it gets a wider DVD release so more people can see it. I’d really like to see more from David Prior. It took me back to my youth on those nights where I would play around with my AM radio trying to get signals from far away. AM 1200 is one of my favorites so far this year.AM1200Pic3

The Censored Eleven – A Doorway To Our Cinematic Past

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I’ve always been interested in the topic of film censorship. We all know that what was once considered acceptable on film, such as Caucasian actors playing Asian characters, is now considered politically incorrect. To a modern audience, many people wonder why white actors always played Charlie Chan or why Boris Karloff had makeup applied to turn him into Mr. Wong. It is something we’d never consider today as we have become more racially sensitive and have evolved as a society. However, I strongly oppose censoring such films because it is a part of our past and film history. We cannot simply ignore it. Instead, we should view these and be prepared to educate those who question why we once did what we did.

Cartoons were no exception to racially insensitive images. While there are quite a few cartoons withheld from circulation today, the most well-known (but not the worst) are known as the Censored Eleven. These eleven cartoons from Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies were pulled out of television syndication in 1968 after United Artists purchased the distribution rights to the Warner Brothers library. They all have depictions of black people that are considered too offensive by today’s standards. The ban continues to this day, even after Warner Brothers reclaimed the rights in 1996.

Censored Eleven 1Many of the cartoons I watched growing up in the 1970s are no longer seen. Not because of racism but because of other topics such as smoking, violent acts and suicide. It does seem that we’ve gone too far until you consider that, while many children are exposed to much more than we ever were, certain acts just come across as wrong in older cartoons. However, are the Censored Eleven really that bad? Once, these were virtually impossible to find with a few exceptions. Now, through the wonder of the internet and sites such as YouTube, they are all available in varying degrees of quality. New generations can decide for themselves just how bad they are. Recently, I finally sat down to watch all eleven.

Below is a list of the Censored Eleven:

Hittin’ The Trail for Hallelujah Land (1931)
Sunday Go To Meetin’ Time (1936)
Clean Pastures (1937)
Uncle Tom’s Bungalow (1937)
Jungle Jitters (1938)
The Isle of Pingo Pongo (1938)
All This and Rabbit Stew (1941)
Coal Black and the Sebben Dwarfs (1943)
Tin Pan Alley Cats (1943)
Angel Puss (1944)
Goldilocks and the Jivin’ Bears (1944)

All of the cartoons have similar themes and images. Some characters are portrayed as slow, dim-witted, lazy and prone to drink and gambling. Jive music is a common background device while dice continue to pop up time and again. References to terms such as “sambo” or “boy” were heard a few times. We also had images of mammies, which most children today would be clueless to its’ origins. A couple of the cartoons clearly stood out. Uncle Tom’s Bungalow had slavery as a main storyline while Jungle Jitters had the usual cannibal/jungle native stereotype with one odd exception: one of the natives speaks in an Asian accent (the humor admittedly went over my head). The hardest to watch is All This and Rabbit Stew, starring Bugs Bunny. This cartoon is actually one of three in the public domain, so it pops up on cheap DVDs from time to time. The hunter, substituting for Elmer Fudd, is really offensive and quite painful to watch, even keeping it in historical context. However, one thing to consider is that the cartoons were not considered offensive at the time of their release and many of them were quite popular.Censored Eleven 2

In recent years, there has been a lot of attention given to these cartoons along with many others, including wartime cartoons featuring offensive images of Japanese people. Cartoons with offensive Native American images have also been pulled from circulation. The general perception amongst cinematic historians is that they should not be censored but available as educational tools to a part of our American history. Not all of our past is glorious but rewriting history to make it more acceptable only leads to the dangers of repeating it. Allowing the films to be seen with disclaimers opens the doorway to discussion and education. I challenge anyone to argue that point.

Eight of the eleven were recently screened by Turner Classic Movies and it does appear that Warner Brothers plans on releasing restored prints of all eleven sometime in the near future. Until then, ten are readily available on YouTube through various sources while Uncle Tom’s Bungalow can be found on eBaum’s World.