Attack of the Monsters (Japanese, 1969): Aren’t they just precious?

He just needs someone to love him!

He just needs someone to love him!

Attack of the Monsters is the US version of Gamera vs. Giant Evil Beast Guiron, and the fifth film of the original Gamera series. I was initially concerned about jumping into a franchise with the fifth installment, but found I had no need to worry – there didn’t seem to be much backstory that needed filling in. Daiei Motion Picture Company created the giant super-turtle Gamera in 1965 to capitalize on the success of Japan’s best-known daikaiju (giant monster) Godzilla; if you like those films, you’re sure to enjoy Attack of the Monsters.

Even so, the Godzilla films I’ve seen are almost thoughtful, well-crafted examples of cinematic art as compared to Attack of the Monsters. The plot is nonsensical, costuming and set design are laughable, and the special effects are certainly special – though not in a good way. The problems begin with our protagonists – two precocious little boys with a keen interest in “outer space.”  When children enter the sci-fi equation, the outcome is usually 1.) Said children will get themselves into BIG trouble, necessitating heroic rescue, or 2.) Said children will accomplish something wholly implausible – saving the earth from imminent invasion, stopping an intergalactic war, etc. – despite well-intentioned interference from their parents, the police, their teachers, the military, or some other authority figure(s).

Spoiler alert: Attack of the Monsters wasn’t content with one of those options, and gives us both. The boys manage to get the scoop on the entire world scientific community by witnessing the nocturnal arrival of a flying saucer – just down the street from their home. Of course they climb aboard and find themselves (mere minutes later) on a mysterious, desolate planet. They hope to find the planet inhabited by wise, benevolent aliens, but things aren’t quite what they seem. Action and adventure ensue: giant monsters fight, drugged donuts are eaten, heads are shaved, and brain eating is narrowly averted. The film’s conclusion left me with two burning questions: first, why weren’t the boys’ mothers more concerned when their kids disappeared? Second, how can a society that so readily accepts the existence of a giant, fire-breathing, jet-propelled turtle that loves children remain so skeptical about space travel and the possibility of extraterrestrial life?

Memorable visuals: I’m fairly certain I wasn’t supposed to be charmed by Gamera’s irresistible cuteness, but I was. He even does an adorable little victory dance during the climactic, final battle against Guiron. Perhaps more importantly, Attack of the Monsters answers an important question about giant monster anatomy: what’s inside those buggers? Guiron shows us in a scene cut from most U.S. releases of the film: it’s purple. Giant monsters are absolutely full of purple.

Sci-fi cred: Attack of the Monsters may not be a good sci-fi film, but it does – legitimately – fit into the genre. Space travel, aliens, meaningless scientific jargon, etc. abound.

Is it worth 39¢: For me, rarely do films of this sort fall into the “so bad, it’s good” category. This one does. It’s terrible… and terribly funny. Definitely worth the 39¢ I spent.

Find it here: Attack of the Monsters is another public domain treasure found on Mill Creek Entertainment’s Sci-Fi Classics collection.

It’s on YouTube as well – this version includes the “purple” scene cut from most U.S. releases.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

When I began this blog, I intended to concentrate on the obscure – no major Hollywood releases. Just this once, I’ve decided to make an exception and depart from my usual format…

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opened in theaters during 2008, but I consciously avoided seeing it until just a couple weeks ago (2014). Why? I call it “Sequel After a Long Hiatus Syndrome (SAALHS).” SAALHS is a serious condition that primarily affects successful, beloved entertainment franchises that have lain dormant for some years (an exception to the “successful and beloved” rule is Tron, only a modest money-maker upon its release in 1982. For some reason Disney thought it worthy of a big-budget sequel 28 years later, and it grossed over 400 million). Sooner or later, often for financial reasons, Hollywood decides to exhume the moldy remains of a franchise and see if it can be made to work just one more time.

The prognosis for victims of SAALHS is almost universally negative. The three Star Wars prequels are one good example, and the less said about Blues Brothers 2000, the better. Sometimes a franchise can fight its way through SAALHS, coming out stronger on the other side – the new series of Doctor Who is a great example. But far too often, a SAALHS diagnosis might as well be a death sentence. I was none to eager for the Indiana Jones films to join my personal list of SAALHS casualties. I’d heard the jokes – Indiana Jones and the Search for an Effective, Gentle Laxative, etc. I’d seen the reviews, including the rather scathing South Park send-up. Still, I thought it was now time to give the film  a chance to stand – or fall – on its own merits.

My verdict: though it’s certainly the weakest of the Indiana Jones films, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (from here on referred to as IJ&tKotCS – I’m tired of typing the full title) is still solid entertainment. I didn’t experience the desire to deny its very existence, as I did with Blues Brothers 2000. Strangely, many of the most criticized aspects of the film – Indy surviving a nuclear blast inside a refrigerator, the mere presence of Shia LaBeouf, etc. – didn’t really bother me much. I wouldn’t usually describe Cate Blanchett as “sexy,” but I found her strangely appealing as badass Soviet villainess Irina Spalko (though I did keep expecting a short, mustachioed fellow named “Boris” to step out of the shadows and join her at any moment). Harrison Ford remained convincing as an older, wiser Indy, and I enjoyed seeing Karen Allen’s return to the world of Indiana Jones, even if the chemistry between the two seemed a bit forced.

Don’t worry – I’ll drop no further spoilers – but IJ&tKotCS had me playing along until the very end. It may seem strange to criticize anything in the Indiana Jones franchise for being too “over the top” – after all, we’re talking about a series of films that’s brought us melting Nazis and a 700-year-old veteran of the Crusades – but the final act of IJ&tKotCS lost me completely. I simply couldn’t maintain my suspension of disbelief.

Was IJ&tKotCS as bad as I feared? No. But it wasn’t up to the standard of the first three films, either. All in all, that’s not a bad outcome when you’re fighting a bad case of SAALHS.