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Friday, January 15, 2021

Gamera vs. Guiron


Gamera vs. Guiron (aka Gamera tai daiakuju)
1969
Noriaki Yuasa

We live in trying times and it's a good excuse to turn to some comfort films. Out of the entire Gamera oeuvre, Gamera vs. Guiron is the most comfortable for me. Many people came to Gamera after the 1960s, through Mystery Science Theater 3000. Much like some other films on that show, I realized that I liked the movie that Joel and bots were riffing on. It captures that essential magic that makes Showa era Gamera so much fun, it's serious, silly, sneaks in some monster gore, and as a bonus it generally whips along at such a quick pace that doesn’t get bogged down in reusing stock footage or rehashing scenes from the previous films.

Part of the charm of Gamera vs. Guiron is that it plays out like a story written by children. Akio (Nobuhiro Kajima) and Tom (Christopher Murphy) are obsessed with space, so naturally, they spot a flying saucer land nearby. They find it and board it. The saucer takes off and after one unsuccessful encounter with Gamera they end up on a Counter-Earth populated by two people and one monster. The aliens, Florbella (Reiko Kasahara) and Barbella (Hiroko Kai) are attractive humanoids who have a vested interest in eating children’s brains and their pet Guiron is a knife-headed kaiju who defends them. The kids run around and thwart the aliens. Giant monsters fight and spill multi-colored blood everywhere and everyone goes home happy singing the Gamera theme.

WHO WILL SURVIVE AND
WHAT WILL BE LEFT OF THEM?

You’re here for Gamera and although he takes his time showing up you are treated Guiron slicing and dicing up a Space Gyaos (which is just a regular Gyaos costume spray painted silver) in a surprisingly graphic fashion complete with Guiron mutilating the corpse after the fight. Not only is it a big goofy rubber monster fight but it does set Guiron up as a threat and one who can potentially do a lot of harm to Gamera (which he does). The fights show a lot more life than some other Gamera films and the higher than normal amount of bloodletting gives the scenes some spice.

The aliens drive up the creep factor when they are introduced with their shadowy faces, blinking light-up eyes, and their interest in cracking open children’s heads to get to the delicious brains inside. Despite being creepy, these aliens are never threatening. They are barely able to keep two children at bay and are totally out of their depth when dealing with giant monsters. The rest of the human cast only occupy the first act of the film and aside from goofball cop Kondo (Kon Ohmura) none of them are worth much of your attention.

"Watch out, sometimes these things
pop open like a tube of biscuits."

Gamera vs. Guiron is my favorite sequel in the Gamera series, it has the sense of loopy fun that is unique to the Gamera films and it is enhanced with some cartoonish gore that gives just a little edge you don't normally find in giant monster films. It is a delight for young gorehounds and a cozy afternoon film for older ones.


Friday, January 8, 2021

Beyond the Rising Moon

Beyond the Rising Moon (aka Outerworld aka Star Quest: Beyond the Rising Moon)
1987
Philip J. Cook

Beyond the Rising Moon was a charming surprise. When I originally selected it, due to the date it was released and the fact it looked like it was a small direct to video feature. I expected something akin to the numerous Alien (1986) rip-offs that were very popular around this time. I was delighted to find a more cyberpunk film that was filled with ambitious miniature and model effects. Beyond the Rising Moon borrows actually ends up borrowing from Star Wars (1977)  more than Alien. There are plenty of shortcomings but there is also so much love and effort put into the production that it is easier to overlook these things. 

The writing is perhaps the weakest element of the entire movie. The first act of the film contains endless amounts of expository dialog all of which add up to very little. We learn of a corporate created cyborg assassin and her companion as they race against that same corporation to locate and claim a spacecraft created by an ancient alien race. Nothing explained is especially relevant to the story. It gives the characters some minimal motivation, but it comes across as workmanlike at best.

Waiting around for the plot to happen.

The acting is stiff and awkward, but this feels more like a combination of amateur acting and the less than perfect writing, than the actors being bad. The dialogue is stiff in a way that harkens back to SF films of the 1950s. If you are in a generous mood you can pretend that is a deliberate choice.

The special effects on the other hand a quite good and once I found out that the film was made for around $8000, they are downright stupendous. The models and cities go a long to building an interesting future world. The spaceship designs are cool and sleek. The space dogfights are exciting and dynamic in ways I did not expect from a small film like this. When you are used to seeing the same 6 effects shots from Corman films from this era, seeing a bunch of lovingly filmed sequences is refreshing. This is still an obviously amateur effort but that makes it even more impressive at times.

Space Hotel (Spotel)

During the home video boom, it was easy to find clone after clone of big-budget films looking to grab the interest of people. The best of them approach their subject in a unique way or push their content into places that a large studio would never dare to do.  Beyond the Rising Moon takes what could have been a typical Star Wars clone and breathes life into it with a lot of enthusiasm and love. It cloaks the film with a charm that might otherwise be absent in a more mercenary production.

Check out Beyond the Rising Moon, but make sure you track down the original version on YouTube. At some point, the SFX sequences were redone with CGI for the SyFy Channel. Much like the Star Wars Special Editions they look terrible, out of place, and diminish the film.


Friday, January 1, 2021

Outpost Zeta 2021 C.E.

After a year that could be charitably described as 'challenging,' we start 2021 with the chance to make things better. There isn't anything magical about the changeover in the year. It is a completely arbitrary marker that parts of the world have decided has meaning, but that doesn't mean it doesn't provide the opportunity to start again.

People are generally pretty terrible at predicting the future. It is not really anyone's fault. The world is complicated, people are complicated, chance, and chaos factor largely into our lives. Films that are set in the future aren't predictions based on careful consideration of what is coming but instead are used to write our current fears and hopes at that time as bigger and more broadly examined.

It is interesting to see that two visions of 2021 have similar fears and hopes for us.


Moon Zero Two (1969) is a silly satire of the future and specifically an American driven future of cowboys, expansionism, and hyper-capitalism. It is basically just a western set on the moon but told in a garish plastic style. It is the collision of the cowboy icon and the disposable modern world of 1969. The goals of people haven't changed one bit, it is the acquisition of money, and power. People are willing to kill for it if necessary. Corporations rule the lives of the common person.


Johnny Mnemonic (1995) is a silly satire of the future and specifically a Japanese-American driven future of cowboys, expansionism, and hyper-capitalism.  The expansionism here is in data. Physical concerns like money and power all exist at the core as an electronic code rather than an asteroid made out of sapphire, but the core threat comes from the same place. The goals of people haven't changed one bit, it is the acquisition of money, and power. People are willing to kill for it if necessary. Corporations rule the lives of the common person.

Where Moon Zero Two takes its tale of acquisition out into space, Johnny Mnemonic takes it inward, specifically into the mind of our main character.  Faceless corporations put the stars in their grasp. Faceless corporations put our minds in their grasps.  It’s easy to laugh off the excesses of both of these films in the actual 2021 (so far) but in both cases neither is far from the truth. Space is becoming increasingly commercialized and our personal data and identities are already bought and sold online. It’s just that the set dressing is a little dourer. The important thing is that these films show that we still resist. Even at the most hopeless, there's the will fight back and carve out a life worth living.

People are generally pretty terrible at predicting the future, but they aren’t always wrong. Still, 2021 provides us with a mental reset and time to take a look at what has driven us to this point. It is a time to assess, organize, and create a future that we actually want.

Happy New Year from Outpost Zeta!


Friday, December 25, 2020

Happy Holidays from Outpost Zeta!

You've seen it million times now see it while getting progressively trashed! Rules from nerdsontherocks.com.  Edited by Garbage Day!


Friday, December 18, 2020

Hot Rods to Hell



Hot Rods to Hell
1967
John Brahm

Tom Philips (Dana Andrews) is a family man who suffers a bad car accident that puts him in the hospital for some time. Shaken and withdrawn he moves his family out to the desert to take over running a motel. Next to the motel is a seedy club that is home to some local wild teenagers. Tom and the teens end up butting heads and soon enough his entire family is in peril. Tom has to face his fears and face the kids before they run him off the road for good.

Hot Rods to Hell promises quite a bit. Angry teens with no regard for their lives or others, a family beset by these rogue elements, and kick-ass 1960s hot-rods racing each other to the death. In truth, it offers very little of these things, instead turning into a milk toast drama that forgets it has anything to do with hot rods until the climax of the third act. Hot Rods to Hell has a set-up that could have provided some real action and drama but fails to ever capitalize on things in any real way.

"THERE'S NOTHING BUT COUNTRY
 STATIONS ON THE RADIO!!!"

If there is anything interesting going on in Hot Rods to Hell, it is its main character, Tom Philips. More often than not the adults in a juvenile delinquent film are unassailable moral figures or absolutely corrupt. Adult men are usually the source of authority and power, but Tom is consumed by his fear from his accident. It is a flaw that allows the teens to walk all over and him and it makes the focus of his arc as he fights to regain the confidence he lost. Hot Rods to Hell isn’t about revenge or adults taking out their anger on children, in the end, Tom asserts his authority over these wayward kids. It is a clever and surprising turn of character that denies the normal bloodletting and revenge JD films indulge in to show the downfall of their young characters.

This above-average arc is lost in a sea of flat characters who are sketched out barely more than ‘angry teen,’ ‘shifty guy,’ or ‘useless son.’ There is no one for Tom to play off on screen. All of this could be forgiven if there was some decent action but Hot Rods to Hell fails there. The car chases are murky and badly filmed. They are never as exciting or potentially deadly as they should be given the story. Hot Rods to Hell was originally intended for television broadcast and we can see that here. This film could have benefitted from unleashing something more savage.

"Pardon me, do you boys know how to get to hell?"

There are much better car movies, there are much better juvenile delinquent films, Hot Rods to Hell is a disappointment on several levels. It may be worth a view if you have seen your fill of this particular genre already and just need to complete things. It should be titled Hot Rods to Heck because it never has enough oomph to make it hell.


Friday, December 11, 2020

Drifting Classroom


Drifting Classroom
1987
Nobuhiko Ôbayashi

Sho Takamatsu (Yasufumi Hayashi) is a schoolboy who has a fight with his mom before running off to class. While in the midst of a song about the school principal marrying another teacher the whole school is catapulted into a strange desert landscape. The bottom floors fill with sand and strange monsters invade. Sho must try and hold together everyone in his school as well as find a way home, but there may be no way home after all. 

Drifting Classroom is a glorious mess. Tonally it is all over the place. Initially, it has the look of a Spielberg movie of the same vintage. The is a quality of light and a kind of joyous youthful vibe. Later there are weird musical numbers, cute monsters, and some light drama. Then the movie shifts gears and the horror and mystery settle in. That’s fine. Plenty of movies handle a major tonal shift, but then Drifting Classroom just keeps going. Broad comedy sits side by side with some graphic horror. Children die by the dozens, but hey there’s a romance subplot that seems cute, but then that ends in tragedy too.

I know there's a monster but I just keep staring at that kid on right's haircut.

A well-structured movie can navigate tonal switches, but this is not a well-structured movie. It is more a collection of moments that constantly pile on top of each other. It’s difficult to know what or who to invest yourself in, there are just so many characters and they all run around having their own disconnected moments. There is a struggle for leadership, there are romances, there is the mystery of what has happened to the school, and although there are a lot of the things happening none of them feel like they have anything to do with one another.

The look of film mirrors its jumbled narrative. We move from the cheery soft light of Earth to the strange bluish light of the school on the alien desert. There are some gorgeous sets and scenes, these run headfirst into the clumsy green screen and stop motion effects that don’t exactly take you out of the film because the whole thing never lets you forget its strange artificiality. There are some large-scale monster effects that clever and quite fun. The film certainly could have used a little more of their presence.

#MovieForChildren

No more is the weird disconnected nature of this film more apparent than in its closing moments.  We have what is without question q tragedy of children trapped in a hostile environment and torn away from their families.  We get impassioned speeches by their parents about how this is a good thing, as they desperately try and force some kind of happy ending into place. While you are reeling from that the movie wallops you with a) an underage girl talking about how she is going to have another character’s baby and b) a black kid pouring sad out of an extremely racist bank. 

It’s a confusing mess but Drifting Classroom is an engaging mess at least.


Friday, December 4, 2020

Violence Voyager


Violence Voyager
2018
Ujicha

Bobby and Akkun are two young boys who decide to go out for an adventure. After being warned about climbing a mountain (which they promptly ignore) they discover Violence Voyager, a theme park where you shoot at cardboard aliens with water guns. The boys discover an unconscious girl in the park and that is when the true nature of Violence Voyager is revealed and if they don’t escape they are destined to become food for the thing that lives there.

The look of Violence Voyager is the most immediately striking thing about it. The entire film is told through painted cardboard puppets in front of painted backgrounds. The characters wiggle around as they talk and act. The fluids however are all very real, water, blood, and uh... other fluids splash and drip over the puppets and it manages to get pretty gooey by the end.

Sponsored by the Oozinator™

Despite the seemingly innocent opening act, the odd character design gives everything an uneasy air. The world that the characters inhabit with its open spaces, foreboding mountains, and random chimps boils with menace just underneath the surface. If anything, Violence Voyager evokes an aesthetic of MTV’s Liquid Television from the 1990s. I could easily see this film spliced up into segments and put on that show. 

Soon enough that menace explodes as the movie shifts gears. Once the horror kicks into full gear it doesn’t hold back. The cast is largely children and the unusual presentation allows Violence Voyager to not hold back from visiting some extreme body horror on these characters. Many people get their faces melted by acid and to be honest, they are getting off easy compared to others. There is a real sadistic streak throughout the film. It doesn’t feel gratuitous as it helps create an air of suspense. I was honestly not sure if our protagonist was going to survive or not after the pure hell he has been put through.

What happens when you set the clock on your VCR wrong.

Despite all the horror and violence, there is also a strong comedic streak throughout the film as well. The premise itself is absurd despite its deadly seriousness. A mad scientist has constructed an entire amusement part to trap children to turn into food in the most roundabout way possible to feed his monstrous child. Our heroes are aided by a band of animals including a chimp with giant whiskers, a wayward bat, and a seemingly unkillable cat.

Violence Voyager is many things, it’s funny, absurd, horrific, mean, and genuinely touching at times. It is a striking labor of love from its creator and although it can be a tough watch for some, it has a unique vision that we could use more of in film. It is a quirky little movie that isn’t for everyone, but I think that those who are inclined towards weird personal projects will love it. It is also freely available on YouTube, so go give it a watch.