2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,800 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


Calamitous War God

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Japan does not have the monopoly on giant monsters. Throughout the years, other Asian countries have contributed to the genre, notably Korea, Thailand, Honk Kong and Taiwan.
The surprising thing about these films is how they often recycle a religious or historical figure as the hero. Further examination, however, reveals that this is not so much a question of faith or folklore but rather one of economy: the central character is one for which costumes already exist and that audiences already identify with.

Thus, Thailand, for example, will match-up monkey god Hanuman with Ultraman and the Kamen Riders, the Thai Giant will be paired with Jumborg Ace in co-production deals of various levels of legality.

Taiwan chose to make the legendary general of The Three Kingdoms, Lord Guan into such a gigantic hero.
Who is Lord Guan? For most westerners, he guards the door of many a Chinese “all-you-can-eat” buffet. This warrants the following educational interlude.

It does make sense to make him the hero. Not only are the costumes available but so are the stage swordsmen, capable of wielding Guan’s battle axe with great artistry.

(Frankly, I think that’s a great idea and I’m trying to script one about a giant Easter Bunny that lobs chocolate eggs as a method of attack. It’s proving a very impractical idea as I keep eating the bunny’s arsenal.)

War God (a.k.a. Calamity) casts Guan as defender against a full fledged invasion by Martians.

Not aliens- martians.
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And not just any martians but the cartooniest, goofiest martians you ever did see.

Starting at around the mid-movie mark (45 minutes to be exact), these three gigantic denizens of the Warrior Planet start smashing everything in sight. Fortunately for humanity, “grampa” has been busy carving a big red faced likeness of Lord Guan which becomes gigantic and starts wielding that battle axe around like a gargantuan Bey Blade. (He also makes this bizarre buzzing sound as he fights.)
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The calamity that ensues is jaw dropping and puts even Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel to shame. Buildings come crashing and overpasses full of model cars collapse with apocalyptic abandon. The filmmakers want to make sure we understand the gravity of the situation and pepper the carnage with shots of drivers crushed in their cars or office workers having the floor collapse from under them. Buildings turn to rubble. Rubble gets smashed to pebbles. Pebbles get crushed into sand. Sand becomes dust. It’s that final.

Everyone dies, but the important thing is we defeated the alien menace. Yay!

SPOILER ALERT: Everything is fine again. (!)

Just like that. Grampa resumes his sculpting and everything is just back to normal.

Has there been an ellipse during which all was rebuilt?
Did everything get fixed with a bat of Lord Guan’s eye?
Before we can even ask these questions, the movie is over.
Who cares how? The important thing is everything is fine again.
And thus begins your new mission in life: to tell everyone you know about this incredibly awesome epic.

Here it is in all of its faded glory. Originally a “scope” film (2.35:1 aspect ratio), this copy has it cropped at the sides to fit your 16:9 screens. This means that the “chinglish” subtitles are often missing the first and last words of a line. This only adds to the spice.

Pain Level: 8/10

Quality of Pain: Full combo with Egg Roll
Painjoyment™ Index:
MAX


Double Header

head-transplant-rhesus

Scientists are claiming that face transplants are not just for John Travolta and Nicholas Cage anymore; in fact, complete head transplants are now feasible.

Personally, I think they’re getting it all backwards. It’s not the head that should be transplanted but rather a whole new body grafted onto the head. Call me old fashioned but a new head on an old body just wouldn’t be the same person.

Of course, the first thing that came to my mind was The Head That Wouldn’t Die but it turned out I already had a blog entry for that masterpiece. Here it is with the links fixed:

http://thecinemasochist.wordpress.com/2011/11/10/cerebral-cinema/

But of course, that movie is only about an attempt at such a transplant so my piece, which I hoped would be a serious cautionary tale, needed to show the consequences of a successful transplant.

I was blessed with not one but two films. A real double-header.

Though those films are not about a full on head swap. They’re really about having to share a pair of shoulders with another head and the friction that may cause.

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Now the first one is the straight-on exploitation B-flick The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant which sees a crazed murderer having his head grafted onto the body of a gigantic but powerful moron. What could possibly go wrong?

Frankly, there’s not much to recommend in this somewhat pedestrian film. It just barely lives up to the goofy promise of its premise. Even former Marilyn Munster Pat Priest can’t save it.

A year later, though, the ever prolific R Lee Frost would crank out this memorable Blaxploitation classic The Thing with Two Heads.

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This movie is a vast improvement over AIP’s previous dual-noggin epic. For one thing, it has star power: not only does it feature Oscar winner Ray Milland (now working through the “anything for a cheque” phase of his post-Oscar career); it has Rosey Grier, the former NFL player who became a household name after wrestling Sirhan-Sirhan to the ground at the Robert Kennedy assassination (which, as a bodyguard, he failed to prevent) . For anyone who grew up in the 70s, Grier was as ubiquitous as Charo, clocking in more airtime than even Regis during that decade. There’s not a game show or prime time drama or variety show from that era that didn’t get a visit from the gentle Rosey. More recently, Grier’s claim to fame was to be spiritual counselor to O.J. Simpson.
A true renaissance man, Grier was also the bestselling author of this manly manual.

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We need volunteers to tell Mr. Grier this endeavor isn’t very masculine.
Anyone?
Yeah…thought so.

But despite all of Grier’s efforts to grab enduring fame over the decades, he will most likely be remembered for his role in The Thing with Two Heads as a convict who volunteers to be a human guinea pig which leaves him with a rich old-fart bigot’s head (Milland) grafted onto his neck and his girlfriend wondering “is there two of anything else?”.

They say pain makes memories stick. This could be a prime example of it.

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So here we go with our double-header:

and

The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant
Pain Level: 7/10
Quality of Pain: Dull
Painjoyment Index: Mild

The Thing with Two-Heads
Pain Level: 6/10
Quality of Pain: Emancipated
Painjoyment™ Level: High


Now on Facebook!

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The Cinémasochist now has a Facebook page with links to videos and articles that might prove to be of interest to fellow enthusiasts of Cinematic Painjoyment™.

Like it!

https://www.facebook.com/cinemasochism


Nap time

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In his album Werewolves and Lollypops, comedian and nerd-god Patton Oswalt rants about a film he (mistakenly) calls Death Bed: The Bed that Eats People.



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The film, shot in 1977, either went missing or was never released (I found conflicting information) until 2004 on DVD. There is even word the director, George Barry, claims he forgot he even made it. (?)

Needless to say, it has now achieved some kind of cult status. Frankly, it’s really more of a film you want to dare your friends to watch than anything: This movie can seriously tax your patience as it goes about exploiting its incredibly stupid premise. Oswalt is right in getting laughs not from what is IN the film but by trying to wrap his head around its very existence.

Here is the damn thing in its entirety.
Try not to fall asleep.

Pain Level: Very high
Quality of Pain: You better lie down

Painjoyment™ Index: Advanced Cinémasochists only

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Whizzin’ with Roger

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I actually cried when I learned Roger Ebert had died. Part of those tears were relief that his struggle was over but most were sadness knowing that the “voice” would now fall silent not just to the ears- as had been the case for the past six or so years- but on the page as well.

For those who followed him via social media, Ebert was truly a wonder to behold. Years of typing as a journalist enabled him to thrive online where he now had an unfair advantage over all of us two-fingered typists. Robbed of his vocal chords, he took to texting, tweeting and blogging like a fish to water and redefined film criticism as an ongoing dialogue. In the Global Village, Ebert was a superhero.

As he polished his writing for the day, he often held an impromptu late-night guessing game on Facebook.  He would post a picture  and challenge us to identify it. It was obvious Ebert delighted in the immediate feedback he got from his readers online, something which had been lacking in previous media.

Ebert understood media better than most, which was key to the success of his review programs. I first tuned in to Sneak Previews on PBS to watch his special episode on Cult Movies an was genuinely impressed by the fact Ebert and his partner Gene Siskel really knew their shit”. I stayed on to catch the “Dog of the Week” and was in seventh heaven when they would devote a half hour to “Guilty Pleasures”.

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My favorite Ebert books have to be his “Your Movies Sucks” anthologies, where his most vitriolic prose is dished out. You can always tell how passionate a man is by how mean he gets when disappointed. Clearly his approach had an effect on yours truly.

Over the years, I had many encounters with Ebert as I worked in various capacities. By far, my favorite moment came when, as a budding film critic, I attended a conference on criticism and worked up the courage to go talk to him, this time as a colleague.

I was surprised to see him acknowledge me. I’m sure he couldn’t place exactly where he knew me from but it was clear Ebert was one “never to forget a face”.

“This is not our first meeting but I wanted to talk with you about something that I never had a chance to address before: It seems you have written one of my “Guilty pleasures”.”

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls?” he guessed.

“Oh, I love that film but I meant Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens.

“Oh!” he chuckled “That’s a VERY guilty pleasure indeed! I’m more than happy to talk about Russ but I’ve been sitting up on that stage for the past couple of hours and need to make this screening. But if you’re willing to walk and talk…I just need to go to the bathroom.”

“No prob. I need to head there as well.”

So the next thing I know, I’m standing shoulder to shoulder with Ebert staring blankly at a tiled wall and chatting about what makes Russ Meyer a “subversive feminist”. Needless to say that pee break was more informative than any semiology lecture I ever attended.

It is a moment I will cherish forever.

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Mario. How could you?

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Some mistakes in life, you just have to experience for yourself.

Who hasn’t had an instance where everyone warned you in advance- either to save you time, aggravation or even injury- and yet you climbed every hurdle only to experience the disappointment for yourself or realize the warnings were, in fact, quite mild?

To me, such an experience has been my quest to see Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs.

I won’t HarryKnowles™ you with the details but, over the years, the mere fact this film always managed to elude me made it a bit of a Holy Grail.

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But every time I read about Girl Bombs, writers were either dismissing the film or doing their best to discourage the reader from seeing it. It was often singled out as one of Vincent Price’s most disappointing efforts and definitely pegged as the stain on director Mario Bava’s carreer (despite the film being his biggest box-office success).

At the dawn of the new Millennium, the first film starring Vincent Price as the builder of bodacious babe bots, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine made its debut on DVD via MGM’s “Midnight Movies” label. When that label began adopting the “Double Feature” format, we all assumed a Doctor Goldfoot double-bill was just down the pipes. Alas, the label folded.

But last year, the long-expected double-feature did make an inauspicious debut on DVD via the new landlords of MGM library, Fox.  It showed up in bargain bins for $5. So, after decades, my OCD-tinged quest to be a Goldfoot completist came at an end.

The movie begins with a rather maingy-looking recap of the first film. Not only is the stock footage grainy, faded and red but it also appears not to have been spliced into the film but projected and re-photographed off a really dirty screen. It’s is, in fact, the same filthy screen which will be used for rear projections shots later in the film. You can recognize the stains.

As daunting as the rear projections are, they are a notch more convincing than most of the sets for this film.  The set representing an Arctic military base is so minimalist, The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari looks like it’s the work of William Cameron Menzies by comparison.

Doctor Goldfoot is up to his old World domination shenanigans again. This time ‘round, he’s built an arsenal of sexy exploding fembots he uses to eliminate high ranking generals in hopes to infiltrate a something or other that I’ll just get a headache explaining.

Stepping into Frankie Avalon’s shoes is Fabian, who- let’s face it- is no Frankie Avalon, especially in the comedic acting department. But fear not, comedy mavens, as the producers have prepared for every contingency by hiring not one but two comedy reliefs to provide plenty of yucks: Franco and Ciccio.

And that is where the film goes from being a cringing disappointment to the rip-your-eyeballs-out-of-your-socket descent into hell Girl Bombs becomes.

If you were to watch the film in its (longer) Italian version, you’d find out these two intestinal-worm grade comedians are actually the stars. The first Goldfoot film was only a modest success in America but became a blockbuster  in Italy so this film was conceived as vehicle for these two Mussolinis of mirth.

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Vincent Price is no stranger to mugging but in this film, he strains to keep up. Franco’s mugging is particularily over the top and one has fight an instinct to grab him by the throat and slap him repeatedly.

The (mostly improvised) chase sequence through the amusement park is most likely the stupidest waste of silver nitrate on record.  While shooting outside does provide relief from the film’s clautrophobic sets (where even open skies can make you feel boxed in), they’re just undercranking Price and his minions as they moronically board rides (that go in circles) to elude Fabian’s party who also board another car on the same ride (as if it could in any way catch up).  Crowds of onlookers assemble and it takes a couple of shots before someone realizes they shouldn’t be in the shot.

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Next sequence, they seem to be gone, however, you can see them all pressed against the windows of the cafeteria where they have been herded; gawking at the insanely well crafted “comedy”.

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But, alas, this bit of fresh air is short lived as the pursuit takes to the heavens in a hot air balloon. This airborne chase  makes the rest of the film look totally feasable as the director has seemingly given up trying. The interior of the airplane they board (by simply guiding the nacelle to the door of the apparently stationary plane and knocking) is even cheaper and more minimalist (the be polite) than the cockpit in Ed Wood’s Plan 9  from Outer Space.

I keep repeating the safe word, “Diabolik”, but it’s no use, the film continues to hurt me. And it’s from one of my favorite Italian directors to boot-  One I’m sure to mention when I’m discussing with poseurs throwing in the name Fellini to pretend they know what they’re going on about.

There is one visually impressive moment when Bava does pulls out his patented in-camera tricks to multiply the number of bathing beauties while they are collectively shaking their booties over at Goldfoot’s secret hideout. There is a multiply exposed establishing shot edited with shots using mirrors which make you feel up to your ears in golden clad fembots. But that moment is short lived and, frankly, the girls in this film have nothing on the ones in the first film- which is hard to believe given this film was shot in Italy.

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It is often said that a bad sequel can devalue a franchise. In the case of Doctor Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, that notion can be empirically verified. If you look it up on Amazon, you will find that the original edition of the Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine is selling for $45.  The double feature disc that includes Bombs, however sells for under $10.

PAIN LEVEL: 10/10

QUALITY OF PAIN: Slow building but eventually intolerable

PAINJOYMENT™ INDEX: KA-BOOM!


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