I remember getting excited about seeing “Day of the Triffids” (1962) for the first time. It was the early 2000’s, and the advent of DVD-by-mail services enabled me to hunt down all the various apocalyptic sci-fi movies I’d heard about as a kid — including a few that I’d only seen portions of, because I’d tuned in late. (The local video stores I’d grown up with had some of these films, but not all — and my interest in the sub-genre was truly exhaustive.)
“Day of the Triffids” was mildly disappointing. It was positively lethargic for an end-of-the-world monster tale, even if those monsters were slow-moving plants. (It’s a good bet that John Wyndham’s 1951 source novel did a better job with the story concept.)
I ordered this DVD through Blockbuster Video. Here’s a little movie industry trivia for you — Blockbuster briefly had a DVD-by-mail offer that was better than the one pioneered by Netflix. (You actually got more movies out of it, and you got them quicker.) But this was around the end of the prior decade; Netflix had already won the war for the home movie market, while Blockbuster was suffering its first location-closing death rattles. And the DVD-by-mail business model was itself becoming largely obsolete, anyway — the twin threats of Redbox kiosks and online movies saw to that.
As I explained last year, monster movies were simply a part of Thanksgiving if you lived in the Tri-State region around New York City between 1976 and 1985. This was due to WOR-9’s “Holiday Film Festival” broadcast, which actually also extended to the day following the holiday after the lineup’s first year. (People just called it the “Monster Movie Marathon.”)
As a kid, I was a hell of a lot more thrilled with the monster movies than anything being served for dinner. (Remember, video stores only began arriving the early 1980’s. Before that, you usually had to catch a movie on television if you wanted to see it at all. It’s why every house had a “TV Guide.”)
“King Kong vs. Godzilla” (1962) was one gem in the marathon. (Or, at least, it seemed like an amazing film to a gradeschool boy.) I was raised with the enduring myth that this Japanese film had two endings — an American version where King Kong prevailed, and a Japanese version where its native Godzilla was the victor.) My Dad told me that, and I remember being fascinated that a movie could have two different endings. I actually only learned just now, writing this blog entry, that it was a particularly widespread urban legend — stemming from an erroneous report in “Spacemen” magazine. The American version of the film had tons of alterations, but the outcome was essentially the same — King Kong won.
There were always a few more Godzilla movies on the day after Thanksgiving, too. “Son of Godzilla” (1967) was one of them; that was always hit with the kids. (I could swear at some point there was a cartoon adaptation in the early 80’s.) It was weird how 80’s kids apparently loved that ostensibly “cute” character; the adult in me today swears that “Son of Godzilla” looks like an upright, reptile-shaped poop. (Seriously, check out the second clip below.)
“Godzilla vs. Megalon” (1973) was another one I seem to remember being pretty thrilled with. I was even occasionally scared of the giant monsters in flicks like these. (Hey, I was a little kid.) Even as a first- or second-grader, though, I was smart enough to question why these movies were weirdly inconsistent. (Why was Godzilla a bad guy who destroyed Tokyo in one movie, but the “good monster” that the Japanese rooted for in another?)
I’m learning now that “Godzilla vs. Megalon” was the target of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode. I’m going to have to hunt that one down.
I revisited “Phantoms” (1998) the other night, and I thought I’d just speak up briefly here on its behalf. For one thing, I really chatted up Dean Koontz’ 1983 source novel here at the blog not too long ago. And for another, this critically and popularly panned movie is one that I happened to like.
Ben Affleck actually wasn’t “‘the bomb’ in “Phantoms.'” (Referring to something as “the bomb” was, at one time, a high compliment in American slang.) He mostly phoned it in, and even seriously flubbed a scene or two. (Hey, I actually like the guy a lot, and I’m willing to give him a chance as the next Batman.) The headline above is actually some particularly meta humor from another character played by Affleck, in Kevin Smith’s “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” (2001). Affleck was poking fun at himself a little here, along with his fellow denizens of Smith’s “View Askewniverse.”
Roger Ebert dismissed “Phantoms” as “another one of those Gotcha! thrillers in which loathsome slimy creatures leap out of drain pipes and sewers and ingest supporting actors, while the stars pump bullets into them.” You can read his entire review right here:
No, “Phantoms” isn’t classic sci-fi-horror. It’s sometimes pretty thin stuff on a number of levels … but primarily the levels of acting and screenwriting.
But, dammit, I still liked this movie a lot. If you’re a fan of the book (I’ve suggested it’s Koontz’ best), you’ll be happy to discover that it indeed conscientiously sticks to its wicked-cool source material. We see a small Colorado mountain town where all the inhabitants have vanished; a clutch of wayward visitors then try to escape the same grisly, mysterious fate as its residents.)
The book’s central plot device is a nicely conceived and executed idea for a monster, with some effectively creepy historical and scientific context. (I can still remember a colonial victim’s warning, which is referenced in the book, but not the movie: “It has no shape; it has every shape.”)
Despite its clunky script, the film brings us a story that is pretty intelligent — thanks to retaining so many elements of the novel. This is a thinking man’s monster movie — like somebody rewrote “Beware the Blob” (1972), but put a hell of a lot of smarts and creativity into it. We’ve got two groups of bright people who fight back against “the Ancient Enemy,” and their actions and strategies generally make sense.
Also … Liev Schreiber does creepy incredibly well, and Peter O’Toole does everything incredibly well. The former’s face and mannerisms do much to unsettle us. And the latter brings the “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962) treatment to the fifties-esque trope of the monster-fighting hero scientist.
Finally, this might be an odd thing to praise a film for, but I loved its sound effects. Because that voice (or voices) on the story’s single working telephone was exactly how I wanted the adversary here to sound.
Slam it all you want. I’ll watch this one again.
My reaction to the pilot episode of “The Man in the High Castle” (2015) here will be brief. I am inclined only to praise it, and that would just be redundant with the accolades already heaped upon it by better reviewers than me. (Yes, I still have only seen the first ep.)
It’s wonderfully well written, directed and performed, with some layered world-building and unexpectedly interesting character interaction (particularly among the bad guys). I’d give it a 9 out of 10.
I might not be quite as confident as other viewers, however, that this show can continue to sustain my interest at this level. The espionage subplots are well executed, but seem by the numbers. The world has seen a hell of a lot of spy fiction and cinema since Philip K. Dick wrote this source material in 1962. It might be tough to keep those elements fresh. And this might be an even greater challenge for a story somewhat constricted by 1960’s-era technology, as opposed to a modern technothriller.