Sunday, 19 January 2020

Cloak and Dagger (1946)

 

"Classic Fritz Lang Thriller"

The film Fritz Lang made as his follow up to 1945's SCARLET STREET gets a UK dual format DVD & Blu-ray release courtesy of Eureka.


World War II. Alvah Jesper (Gary Cooper) is a nuclear physicist who gets recruited by America's Office of Strategic Services. He's sent to Switzerland as an undercover agent to meet up with former colleague Katarin Lodor (Helene Thimig) regarding the Nazis plan to construct an atomic bomb.


However, things go wrong when Katerin is killed and Alvah finds himself travelling to Italy to meet Dr Giovanni Polda (Vladimir Sokoloff) whose daughter has been kidnapped by the Nazis so that he will work for them.


Alvah joins forces with resistance fighter Gina (Lilli Palmer in her first Hollywood role) and together they plan to smuggle Dr Polda out of Italy. But there are plenty of obstacles in their way.


A stylish wartime espionage picture with Cooper and Palmer having great onscreen chemistry, CLOAK AND DAGGER was the plot template for 1984 Jim Abrahams / Zucker Brothers spoof TOP SECRET! Admittedly Gary Cooper's science professor does possess a somewhat unbelievable ability to beat up bad guys but treated as the piece of suspenseful action cinema it was intended as it still holds up as a fun ride. 


       Eureka's disc gives us a brand new commentary track from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, a new video essay from David Cairns, a 1946 radio adaptation of the story starring Lilli Palmer and Ronald Reagan, 11 hours (!) of Cloak and Dagger: The Radio Series and a booklet with new writing on the film from Samm Deighan.

Fritz Lang's CLOAK AND DAGGER is out from Eureka on dual format on Monday 27th January 2020

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Cosh Boy (1953)


        
         Lewis Gilbert's tale of juvenile delinquents causing mayhem in post-war London gets a dual format DVD and Blu-ray presentation as the 40th release in the BFI's tremendous Flipside series.


        Teenager Roy (James Kenney) is a complete bastard. When he's not being rude to his granny, forgetting his mum's birthday or beating up old ladies to get their handbags he's ruthlessly seducing 16 year old Rene (Joan Collins) and driving her to attempting suicide when he finds out she's pregnant. He and his gang go on a series of crime sprees that escalate to the point where firearms are involved, and it's not long before Roy's entire world collapses in on him.


Opening with the kind of ballyhoo prologue statement that we'd still be seeing twenty years later in Pete Walker's 1973 HOUSE OF WHIPCORD, before we even get to the credits COSH BOY is warning us of the dangers that juvenile delinquency might escalate to in this country if strict discipline is not instigated. Of course translated that means 'You are about to see a smashing film', and COSH BOY is nothing if not salacious and edgy for its period. Indeed, while other BFI Flipside release from the era like BEAT GIRL now seem like harmless silliness, COSH BOY, for all its breathless 'ripped from today's headlines' X-certificate adult-entertainment content is still remarkably grim underneath, depicting a country that has lost so many of its men in the war that the younger generation, and as a consequence society as a whole, had been affected immensely as a result. 


Hammer fans will note the presence of several key personnel in the credits. COSH BOY is photographed by Jack Asher, Anthony Nelson-Keyes was production supervisor and the music director is Phillip Martell. Perhaps most interesting  of all is the production design by Bernard Robinson, whose backstreet sets here echo some of the work he would later do for Hammer. 


The BFI's HD transfer of COSH BOY looks excellent, with a clean, sparkling print. Extras include some Lewis Gilbert shorter subjects - THE TEN YEAR PLAN (1945 with Charles Hawtrey), JOHNNY ON THE RUN (1953 for the Children's Film Foundation) and musical comedy HARMONY LANE (1954).
You also get STRANGER IN THE CITY (1961) a short film from director Robert Hartford-Davis (CORRUPTION) about Soho, TEDDY BOYS (1956) and an interview with Ian Whitaker who plays one of the cosh boys. The first pressing also gets a smart little booklet with new writing on the film.


Lewis Gilbert's COSH BOY is out on Blu-ray and DVD from BFI Flipside on Monday 20th January 2020

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Top Twenty Films of 2019

Yes you read that correctly. There have been just too many great films (and great festivals at which those films were shown) for me to do a Top 10 this year. My final list of great stuff came to 20 & so to eliminate having to make any difficult choices I have decided to include the lot. 
The Rules. For those who aren't familiar with what I do here, nothing gets on the list if it had a widespread UK cinema release, widespread acclaim or anything else that might lead to the film in question already being well known about. There are plenty of sites around who can give you that in any number of regurgitated forms. This is the list of brilliant stuff that you might not have seen or even heard of. Each film must have had a showing in the UK this year, either at a festival, the cinema, or on your TV screen through disc or streaming release. 
Because there's a lot more quality than usual, it means my annual round up of the worst of the year is going to be confined to just this paragraph. The worst film I saw on the big screen was probably ARE WE DEAD YET? a 'comedy' about a gang of 'lovable' criminals who break into a country house & get more than they bargained for. At least someone did. DVD gave us ROBERT REBORN, the latest in the 'Robert the evil doll' franchise. Director Andrew Jones appears to be trying hard but after five films in this series alone he ought to have at least learned to alter the aspect ratio settings on his video camera. A couple of glove puppets and some dodgy actors were not meant for Cinemascope. Netflix gave us a whole swathe of movies. Amongst the most notable was ELIZABETH HARVEST (not on my best of list but worth a look). The most disappointing was probably THE INFLUENCE. Ramsey Campbell's excellent novel will hopefully one day get the atmospheric and sensitive treatment it deserves, but this was definitely not it. 

Right! That's enough of that. 20 great films to get through. Let's go!

20 Death of a Vlogger


One of the best films at this year's Frightfest, this tiny-budget first time effort was a surprising and worthy addition to the 'corner of the retina' ghost story genre made famous by M R James. Graham (played by writer-producer-director Graham Hughes) gains fame on the internet for posting a video showing an apparent haunting. Then events take a turn for the worse. Is Graham really starting to see weird things in his flat, or is it just all in his head? Made on a tiny budget but with some of the scariest scenes in Frightfest, this one's still awaiting a distribution deal. Look out for it when it gets one.

19    Vivarium


        Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg are looking for their dream home. A chance meeting with an estate agent finds them prisoners (and sole occupants) in a housing estate from which there seems to be no escape. One day a baby is delivered in a cardboard box with the instruction 'Raise the child and be released', but who is keeping them there and why? Influences here include Nigel Kneale and Sapphire and Steel. This one gets grimmer and grimmer as it goes on. Plenty of subtext too to reward multiple viewings.

18.    Daniel Isn't Real


Director Adam Egypt Mortimer redeems himself after SOME KIND OF HATE with this. As a boy Luke had an imaginary friend called Daniel. That is until Daniel made him poison his mother - after that Daniel was banished to an old doll's house. When Luke heads off to university, various stressors cause Daniel to resurface. Luke's new / old friend helps him to be successful with women and to express himself artistically, but it all comes at a terrible price. With a storyline that reminded me a bit of Christopher Fowler's novel Spanky (in a good way), DANIEL ISN'T REAL is a delicious, mind-bending Boschian melodrama that provides plenty of nightmarish imagery along with its is-he-or-isn't-he-mad plot. 

17 Extra Ordinary


Time for comedy! A grape, a toaster and a wheelie bin are amongst the mundane items possessed by ghosts in Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman's tale of an Irish driving instructor who can communicate with the spirit world and exorcise ghosts from all manner of inanimate objects as well as living creatures. Add in a plot concerning one hit wonder Christian Winter and his attempts to use satanic rituals to have another bestselling record and you have a film that even Dennis Wheatley would have found funny. EXTRA ORDINARY was utterly charming and I hope co-director Mike Ahern's suggestion that the characters may get a TV series comes to something It's a warm and funny film with added gore, reminiscent of Nick Whitfield's 2010 SKELETONS (GHOSTBUSTERS in Derbyshire). 

16 Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson


There were a lot of documentaries on the festival circuit this year, & this was the best. A superb, exhaustive documentary on the career of Al Adamson, director of such poorly regarded cinematic fare as BLOOD OF DRACULA'S CASTLE, BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR and BRAIN OF BLOOD. The final act takes a bit of a left turn to become something of a true crime movie, as Adamson's murdered remains were notoriously discovered buried beneath the cemented over remains of his jacuzzi. It's a fascinating, enlightening documentary and both David Gregory and his co-producer Heather Buckley are to be praised for going the extra mile (in fact several marathons) to get some of the info presented here. I look forward to Severin's promised box set of Adamson movies so I can properly fry my brain. 

15 Driven


In which taxi driver Casey Dillard picks up man with a mission Richard Speight, Jr and has to drive him to various locations to help him save the world. I would say more but that would spoil the surprises, suffice to say this is a creative, charismatic, low budget gem, with engaging leads and a plot that wrong-foots and entertains in equal measures.

14 Heavy Trip


The adventures of Finnish heavy metal band Impaled Rectum are documented in this endearing and frequently hilarious comedy that gets crazier and more outrageous as incident is allowed to pile on incident, HEAVY TRIP has been likened to Rob Reiner’s classic SPINAL TAP but it some ways it’s a funnier, tighter, and much more economical version of John Landis’ THE BLUES BROTHERS (which even gets referenced in the dialogue), most obviously in the way the climax builds and builds. A real surprise.

13 Ready Or Not


This did get a cinema release and didn't do well, which shouldn't stop anyone from checking it out. Samara Weaving marries into a super rich family that has made its fortune selling games only to discover that after the wedding guests have gone home she has to pick a game to play with her new in-laws. Unfortunately the family has made a pact with Satan that demands they sacrifice a blushing bride now and then to keep him happy. Hide and seek was never so bloodstained or as outrageously entertaining as this, a sterling effort from the Radio Silence team (who gave us the best episode of the original V/H/S)

12 Come To Daddy


Seemingly playing at every single festival going this year, COME TO DADDY is the story of Urban hipster Norval (Elijah Wood) who receives a letter from the father he hasn't seen since he was five inviting him to the man's remote Oregon home. When Norval gets there he is met with nothing but animosity, threats, and a refusal to discuss why his father has even invited him from a man superbly played by Stephen McHattie. 
        Then something happens that plunges Norval into a world I wasn't expecting at all & neither will you which is why I'm not going to say any more. Great performances, a quirky script from Toby Harvard (who co-wrote THE GREASY STRANGLER but don't let that put you off) and carried off with a serious amount of style from director Ant Timpson (the man behind THE ABCS OF DEATH).

11 The Siren



Premiering at this year's Glasgow Frightfest under the title THE RUSALKA, THE SIREN was the latest from Perry Blackshear (THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE). A touching folk horror love story, beautifully filmed, sensitively acted and very well directed indeed. Each of the three main characters is so well rounded and developed that you feel the pain and joy of each of them. It's a very difficult feat to evoke a measured balance between loving tenderness and 'monster' horror but Blackshear makes it look effortless. Don't expect lots of blood, gore, or nudity, however. THE SIREN is much more a horror fan's 'chill-out' picture. It's lovely to look at, lovely to take in, and the whole experience is actually rather lovely for the soul.

10 Knife and Heart


As dirty as D'Amato and as lyrical as Rollin, the PR kits for KNIFE + HEART compared it to Argento and de Palma but I thought this was far trashier - quite deliriously & deliciously so. A series of brutal murders of gay porn stars in late 1970s Paris by a leather-masked razor-blade dildo-wielding psychopath is the raison d'ĂȘtre for a film that had me chuckling and open-mouthed by turns. Likely getting an arts circuit release earlier this year because of its queer theme rather than because it's got the most overt Jess Franco tribute smack bang in the middle of it that I've ever seen, but for 102 minutes KNIFE AND HEART is like watching prime 1970s EuroTrash at your local arts cinema. More films from director Yann Gonzalez, please.

9 Chained For Life


At a hospital a "German" director (even that is questioned) is making what seems to be one of those old mad scientist EuroTrash movies. Individuals with actual medical conditions have been employed to act as some of the patients. What follows is an absolutely fascinating examination of how cinema treats a person's physical appearance. CHAINED FOR LIFE is tremendously clever & having now read various reviews I can see it will benefit from several rewatches. It's that rare thing - an arthouse movie that can quite rightly be labelled 'important' but which is also tremendously enjoyable, whisking you along with its characters without ever being preachy.

8 Bullets of Justice


Because very silly films get onto this list too. Basically MAD MAX meets ZOOLANDER. A very homemade, very funny post-apocalyptic bit of daftness where mankind has been mastered by a group of genetically mutated humanoid pig creatures. The only film on this list where the sexy leading lady has a moustache (that changes from scene to scene) and the hero has an obsession with the bottom of a leading male catwalk model. Watch it and feel sorry for any kid called Benedict whose schoolfriends get their hands on this.

7 After Midnight


An ultra low budget meditation on relationships with an added monster, AFTER MIDNIGHT manages to be both touching and surprisingly funny. Hank (Jeremy Gardner) and Abby (Brea Grant) live in Hank's rambling old house in a tiny town in nowhere USA. They've been together ten years but never married. One day Abby ups and leaves for a month. While she's away Hank suffers nightly attacks by a monster with huge claws that tears his front door apart and eats the family cat. Do the monster and Abby's departure have anything to do with one another? I won't spoil it but AFTER MIDNIGHT is a lovely film with excellent acting from the leads and some very funny supporting characters. 

6 Why Don't You Just Die?


A huge surprise and another one that seemed to be playing at every festival going. If Sergio Leone had met Ade Edmondson & Rik Mayall in the eighties then the result might well have been something like this - a spaghetti western that takes place almost entirely in someone's front room. A fantastic music score adds immensely to the hilarious and beautifully choreographed mayhem. The trailer for this one doesn't do it justice as it's far funnier and far cleverer than you may think. Let's have that score released, shall we?

5 Harpoon


Three people (rich bloke, rich bloke's girlfriend, rich bloke's considerably less well off best friend) set sail on the rich bloke's yacht to celebrate his birthday. Soon things start to go horribly wrong. How wrong I'm not going to reveal because HARPOON deserves watching pretty much cold. What I will say is that it starts off deceptively cocksure and smart-alec, making you think you're going to watch a comedy, but ever so slowly the film tightens into a knot that had me on the edge of my seat by the end.

4 The Nightingale


Director Jennifer Kent's latest is part I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and part CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH with its brutal rape-revenge plot line set against the backdrop of merciless Australian colonialism. Those two films are excellent, and so is THE NIGHTINGALE. It's been called 'a hard watch' and 'relentlessly grim'. Back in the 1970s it would just have been called 'a film'. Ignore those behaving overly preciously about the unrelenting and very grown up approach this one takes. It's very, very good indeed & destined to become a classic.

3 Color Out Of Space


Richard Stanley's long awaited return to feature film-making is his adaptation of H P Lovecraft's story THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE, presumably getting a spelling change to avoid confusing potential audiences on the other side of the Atlantic. When a meteorite lands on the property of Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) it heralds a change in both wildlife and vegetation as whatever the rock has brought with it strives to change living things into 'something it knows'. A feast for the eyes and ears, COLOR OUT OF SPACE really needs to be seen in a cinema with a 7.1 surround system to get the most out of it. The visual effects are astounding, Cage's performance is mesmerising and Richard Stanley's direction walks the razor's edge between the fantastic and the absurd with assured confidence. Spectacular, memorable and as faithful as any modern-day adaptation could hope to aspire to be. 

2 Mutant Blast


It's unashamed love and bouncing up and down on my chair with enthusiasm time now. MUTANT BLAST is, well, a blast. There's a zombie apocalypse. People wander the wasteland. Very strange (and often very silly) things happen. Blending the surrealistic absurdism of Richard Lester's 1969 film of THE BED SITTING ROOM with zombie mayhem and possessing genuine heart, MUTANT BLAST is, I suspect the only film ever that will feature a man whose hand turns into a rat, a human-sized lobster in a suit, and be able to have me in tears by the final scene. Wonderful, unique stuff that fully deserves all the plaudits it's been getting around the world.

1 Depraved


"God is dead and all we have left is our technology and our nightmares." It was a year of welcome comebacks and Larry Fessenden gets the top spot for his magnificent take on the Frankenstein story. Taking place mainly in a loft and filmed on a very low budget, DEPRAVED is an acerbic satirical take on modern American culture. It's getting a US Blu-ray release early next year on a disc that looks loaded with extras. I've already got my pre-order in.


That's it! As always my thanks to the organisers of all the wonderful festivals we attend (Frightfest, Mayhem, Abertoir) and to the PR companies who are kind enough to send me films to review. I'm going to have a lie down before it all starts up again next year. And hooray for when it does! 

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Hell Is Where the Home Is (2018)



"Hell is where they're showing this"

Receiving its world premiere on the main screen at London's Frightfest last year, HELL IS WHERE THE HOME IS makes its digital debut on that festival's very own label through Signature Releasing.


Four ghastly obnoxious young people rent a luxury isolated mountain getaway for the weekend, not knowing that the owners have been despatched in a pre-credits sequence. They have booze (it looks like sherry but I suspect it's not) and at least one of them hoovers up cocaine as if a national shortage has been declared. Do not play a drinking game with this man's onscreen habit or you will be under the table before the end of the first act.


While they're all drinking, drugging, shagging and squabbling (and thus endearing themselves not a jot to the audience unless said audience consists of similar superficial narcissitic nobodies & surely such have far more frivolous and self-damaging ways to spend their time than watch a film), the doorbell rings. It's Fairuza Balk. Her car has broken down and can she use the phone?


Needless to say, an actress of Ms Balk's calibre (and therefore cost) isn't going to last long in a low budget film like this and sure enough soon something happens to her to render her offscreen EXCEPT the film-makers forget we need to see her later on so when we do it's a stand-in with a flannel on her face.
Our leads argue some more and get themselves into even more trouble before the bad guys turn up, wielding machetes and going full home invasion. They are brutish, tattooed, boast gold teeth and speak in grunts and you'll be rooting for them all the way as the far more sympathetic individuals in this frankly miserable film that takes far too long to get going for something that only runs for 83 minutes. 


Director Orson Oblowitz tries the odd nod to Argento (a blade being forced between teeth by a black-gloved assailant) and lights the end of the film in Bava greens and pinks but the opening half an hour is so devoid of any redeeming features that by then we're not prepared to cut him any slack. Composer Jonathan Snipes opens and closes with a tinkly giallo theme that has you hoping that with its isolated glamorous setting we're going to get a FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON. Instead we get four morons for a bad night in. The Frightfest Presents label has brought out a lot of great stuff in the last couple of years, much of it covered on here, but unless you are a label completist you can give HELL IS WHERE THE HOME IS a big miss.


HELL IS WHERE THE HOME IS is out on Digital HD on Monday 16th December 2019

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films 1954 -1975


For their 1000th release, Criterion has made good on their promise of releasing something 'Big' - in more ways than one. 15 films spread over eight Blu-ray discs, presented in a package many may find virtually unshelvable (how many bookcases is this going to find itself sitting flat on top of?), GODZILLA: THE SHOWA ERA FILMS 1954 - 1975 collects all the movies to feature the titular character made by Toho studios during the reign of Emperor Hirohito (1926 - 89) aka 'Showa'. It's been a long time since I've watched these (and a few of them I've never seen) so for fun I thought I'd post my notes & thoughts as I go. Therefore this isn't a 'review' as such - if you want to know about all the extras they are well documented at the Criterion website. Okay - once I've stopped posing with the box we can get started!


Godzilla (1954)




Here he comes! Hello Godzilla! A Japanese folk legend gives a name to the gigantic prehistoric creature unleashed by H-bomb tests which then proceeds to smash Tokyo to bits. 65 years old and still a terrific piece of work, this 1954 original contains perhaps the broadest swings from man-in-a-rubber-suit-crushing-models mayhem to a deadly serious approach to the catastrophic effect such a disaster can have on human life. Destroyed at the end, Godzilla's body sinking to the bottom of the sea is both reminiscent of the fate of Universal's CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (released the same year) and Christopher Lee's DRACULA in the 1958 Hammer Film with Godzilla dissolving to dust beneath the waves. Which reminds me - I've always thought the newest Hollywood versions of GODZILLA treat him a bit like Hammer did Lee's Dracula, in that they don't really seem to know what to do with him. 
      This is the most extra-packed disc of the set, btw, with interviews, commentaries, & the US version GODZILLA KING OF THE MONSTERS if you want to see Raymond Burr.

Godzilla Raids Again (1955)






They can't pull the metaphorical stake out of Godzilla's dusty heart to bring him back, so the professor from part one is on hand at the beginning here to tell us that the Godzilla in this sequel is a different one. And this is quite the different film, dwelling far less on loss of human life and far more on the squabbling-children-in-a-model-store smackdown between Godzilla and ankylosaur 'buddy' Anguirus, picked out by the pilot who identifies him from a rogues gallery of pictures in a kid's dinosaur book. To continue our extremely tenuous Hammer connection, in their first Dracula sequel DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS Christopher Lee perishes beneath the ice. Guess what happens to Godzilla at the end of this one?

King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1963)






A submarine crashes into the iceberg in which Godzilla was imprisoned and sets him free. Meanwhile a TV crew travels to Elton John island where the natives wear the cast-off gear from some of the legendary singer's concerts. The object of their worship is a mighty ape / man in a gorilla suit who likes getting squiffy on their special berry juice. Taken back to Japan King Kong escapes and ends up being transported to Mount Fuji with some massive balloons so he and Godzilla can tumble about merrily on the slopes. The Criterion disc offers us the US cut with some Japanese footage removed and American sequences added to help explain things. If you want the original Japanese cut you have to go to the supplementary material on disc 8. Both versions ends the same way, btw, but we get a Godzilla roar on the Japanese one which is presumably dinosaur for "The world will hear from me again". Also interesting to spot that some of the US version's music score has been culled from old Universal movies, including Herman Stein's  CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON theme (a lot) and (I think) FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN for one of the Kong sequences. 

Mothra Vs. Godzilla (1964)






Before he became the saviour of Japan from all things monstrous, Godzilla was more the Russell Crowe of kaiju cinema. Here, a land reclamation project results in Godzilla being dug up from where he fell into the sea at the end of the previous film. No sooner is he on his feet than he's staggering about, tripping up and falling into buildings, and constantly on the look out for something to beat up. When Mothra's egg gets washed ashore (and is threatened with being turned into an amusement park item), you can just see the 'hurry up and hatch so we can have a fight' look in Godzilla's eye as he approaches it. When it does two caterpillars defeat his brute strength with the fashion designers secret weapon: silk. This one takes a little while to get going but once it does there's more monster action than in either of the two new reboots. Which I appreciate isn't difficult. 

Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (1964)






Where IS he then? we were wondering over halfway into this and that suspicious-looking meteorite still hadn't hatched. When it finally does we get my favourite kaiju creation. If Godzilla in his early days was the Russell Crowe of kaiju then Ghidorah is more its Oliver Reed, causing controlled chaos and destruction while all the time actually knowing what he's doing. A man's hat falls into a volcano & Rodan awakens (sadly not wearing said hat). Godzilla pops up out of the sea. They fight like two irresponsible schoolboys until the Mothra caterpillar calms them down with a chat. Then all three of them set their sights on King Ghidorah. There's also a princess from Venus and the two tiny twins. The 'anything goes' philosophy of Toho continues to develop apace. 

Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)





The mysterious 'Planet X' has been discovered. Two astronauts travel there but don't follow the letters like Duck Dodgers did. They encounter aliens who look like a proto-Devo rock group. The aliens plead for the use of Godzilla & Rodan to defeat King Ghidorah (presumably they don't like moths or it's just Mothra's day off). But it's all a trap! And a jolly longwinded one at that, one which results in the least monster action of the series so far. The final smackdown is loads of fun but you have to endure a lot of bath-time fun toy flying saucer stuff first. Oh, and Godzilla does that little jumping thing of his which you'll either find endearing or utterly ridiculous. "I didn't create Godzilla for this" director Ishiro Honda is known to have said.

Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966)






Now this is more like it! A much more bouncy, fun, and monster-packed adventure picture than the previous entry, one that manages to cram in a James Bond-style evil atomic bomb-creating organisation (the Red Bamboo!), Godzilla, Mothra, some sort of ginger vulture thing and best of all my second favourite Kaiju monster - an overly aggressive crustacean - in his only starring role. Ebirah the giant lobster gets a great introduction as we see a giant claw rising from the waves to a John Barry-style surf guitar theme. Once up and about he proves he's good at catching and playing bat and ball and is only vanquished when Godzilla pulls one of his claws off. Referee! 

Son of Godzilla (1967)






On a budget-saving island in the Pacific scientists are trying to solve the problem of world hunger. Taking a leaf out of Leo G Carroll's spider-chewed notes they somehow cause the island's already pretty huge mantises to get even bigger. They gang up on a egg which hatches to reveal Godzilla's 'son' which begs the question: Did Godzilla lay the egg? If not, where's Mrs Godzilla? Like EBIRAH this is another brightly coloured fun and monster-filled outing that as well as the title character gives us some excellent giant mantis marionette work (three of them!) and my third favourite kaiju creation, the giant spider Kumonga. All of these help to take the edge off some overly silly 'father and son' sequences (accompanied by just a bit too much clumsy-bumbly music) although the final shot of Godzilla and son in the snow is actually rather touching. 

Destroy All Monsters (1968)






Director Ishiro Honda is back and so are space aliens (different ones with cake tin flying saucers this time) who gain control of all our kaiju favourites (plus some we've not seen before in the Godzilla series) and use them to wreak havoc around the world. Gorosaurus looks like the dinosaur The Goodies find buried beneath their office while Manda has a distinct resemblance to REPTILICUS - if only he had been sent to Copenhagen. Like ASTRO MONSTER, this one has a bit too much alien chit chat and not enough monster action, although the climactic 10-15 minutes is fun, with a special appearance by King Ghidorah. I know this one's a favourite of many but I have to admit I preferred the previous two Jun Fukuda-directed entries. 


All Monsters Attack (1969)






This one's a very different beast indeed from what has gone before, and is actually rather a sweet film. A small boy lives in Japan's equivalent of Hull. His parents have to work all hours and during his daily walk to and from school through an industrial wasteland he is plagued by bullies. Small wonder, then, that when he can he retreats into a fantasy world populated by clips of his favourite kaiju creations from previous entries in the series. In new footage he befriends Minilla (Godzilla's son) and learns how to stand up to both his peers and two criminals who are on the run with a sack of cash. Working with no money at all compared to previous pictures, director Ishiro Honda comes up with something that's surprisingly watchable. In fact I was quite surprised by how much I liked it. 


Godzilla Vs. Hedorah (1971)





Oh Lordy - it's time for The One With The Smog Monster. Starting with the grooviest song ever to feature the words 'sulphuric acid' and 'oxidants', we're soon wondering whose big red eyes those are poking out of the water. Is it tadpole Hedorah, anthropomorphic Hedorah, or daft flying saucer / trilobite Hedorah? Actually it's all three because the pollution-gulping star of this one can change shape. A slimmer than usual Godzilla's arrival is announced by a the kind of music usually reserved for comedy drunks. The two face off and make rude gestures to each other. The only Godzilla film where the closest thing the film has to a hero spends most of his time lying down, even when he's in a car, this one's most notable for the extremely peculiar scene where Godzilla pulls the smog monster's testicles off and then flies backwards through the air at high speed. 

Godzilla Vs. Gigan (1972)





Giant cockroaches from M Space bring to earth King Ghidorah and some kind of immense metal chicken with a buzzsaw in his chest. I can still remember John Brosnan's bewildered review of this one in House of Hammer magazine ("...and what happens if you're the one who plays the Giant Turnip Monster From Beyond The Moon & it suddenly becomes unpopular? Do you just take a long walk into the deepest bit of the Toho effects tank?"). Released in the UK several years later as WAR OF THE MONSTERS & surfacing on HTV shortly after, which is when I first had my brain scrambled by it.  The (far) older me found it far more fun than I expected, with lots of the proper daft monster action that was so lacking in the previous entry. Oh, and this is the one where Godzilla and Anguirus speak to each other in speech bubbles. In the English dub it sounds like Godzilla badly needs the lavatory. Unfortunately that track isn't available on Criterion's Blu-ray, but it looks so lovely compared to my DVD that I will forgive it that omission. And Akira Ifukube is back doing the music. Thank goodness. 

Godzilla Vs Megalon (1973)






Nuclear testing upsets our friends on Monster Island. It also upsets the residents of Seatopia, an Atlantis-like city beneath the sea that's furnished in the style of an early 1970s amusement arcade. Fortunately they have a massive beetle / cicada-type monster called Megalon they can release to wreak havoc when such things happen so that's what they do. Because that's not enough they also contact the M-Space giant cockroaches from the previous film (who would have guessed they were friends?) and they despatch Gigan the Giant Chicken to help out. Earth's only hope is Godzilla. Oh, and a robot called Jet Jaguar that can increase its size to kaiju proportions to help kick some monster bottom. If this all sounds a bit desperate that's because it is, and while GODZILLA VS GIGAN was fun, the use of the same footage yet again from old Godzilla films means it all feels a bit samey. There are only so many times you can watch the same model tanks melt and the same Mobil station get set on fire. And the music is once again terrible. Mind you, the bit where Megalon destroys a dam is really rather good. I suspect they didn't have the money to do much else. 

Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)






I hate to say it's aliens again but...it's aliens again. Warty green-faced space apes from Black Hole Planet 3 have built a robot Godzilla. They keep it in their base inside Mount Fuji. It pops out and beats up Anguirus (boo!). Godzilla does his best to avenge his friend. Meanwhile some ancient underground caves have been discovered that tell of a prophecy, parts of which are now coming true. They include the return of a big hairy dragon / dog called King Caesar who wakes up after he's been sung to at a point when the monster action really should be kicking in. He joins Godzilla for the final battle during which Godzilla turns himself magnetic. No I don't know either, but that, in around 100 words is the plot of this barking mad, slightly desperate film. 

Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)




Director Ishiro Honda and composer Akira Ifukube are back for the final Showa outing. Those pesky monkey aliens from Black Hole Planet 3 are still around and they've managed to put Mechagodzilla back together after he got his head puled off by guess who at the end of the last film. They've also teamed up with a mad scientist who has discovered a giant underwater dinosaur called Titanosaurus. Both Titanosaurus and Mechagodzilla end up under the control of the mad scientist's cyborg daughter. Lots of Tokyo gets smashed / zapped / burned / blown up before Godzilla appears to sort them out. The climax resembles a wrestling free for all amidst colourful fireworks, and if that's what you want from a Godzilla film (and my goodness who doesn't?) then even this, the fifteenth in the series, is worth your time.

And that's it! I can honestly say I've had a blast watching & writing a bit about every one of these films. In fact I've enjoyed the Showa era so much I wish I could go straight on to the Heisei era, but I haven't got them. Maybe if a set gets released then I can review those as well. Until then Sayonara Godzilla! Sayonara King Ghidorah! Sayonara Anguirus! Sayonara to all the other Showa kaiju as you wade off into the deep end of the Toho effects tank! It's been lovely meeting you all again. 

Criterion's 8 Disc Blu-ray set GODZILLA: The Showa-Era Films is out in the US now and is due out in the UK on 25th November 2019