Sora no daikaijû Radon (1956)

Directed by Ishirô Honda [Other horror films: Gojira (1954), Gojira no gyakushû (1955), Jû jin yuki otoko (1955), Godzilla: King of the Monsters! (1956), Godzilla (1957), Tokyo 1960 (1957), Bijo to ekitai ningen (1958), Daikaijû Baran (1958), Half Human: The Story of the Abominable Snowman (1958), Gigantis: The Fire Monster (1959), Mosura (1961), Varan the Unbelievable (1962), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963), Matango (1963), Mosura tai Gojira (1964), Uchû daikaijû Dogora (1964), War-Gods of the Deep (1965), Furankenshutain tai chitei kaijû Baragon (1965), Furankenshutain no kaijû: Sanda tai Gaira (1966), Gezora, Ganime, Kameba: Kessen! Nankai no daikaijû (1970), Gojira tai Hedora (1971), Godzilla (1977), Godzilla 1985 (1985), Gojira vs. Desutoroiâ (1995), Gojira tai Megagirasu: Jî shômetsu sakusen (2000)]

Released beautifully in color, this Japanese monster movie, a follow-up of sorts to the Godzilla movies, is a pretty fun film, and while, much like the recently-seen The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, it isn’t my normal cup of tea, I can indulge in a sip or two.

What makes Rodan work is how the story unravels – it starts out with mysterious murders, and then it’s discovered those deaths are caused by a creature long-thought dead. And then we find out there are more of these creatures, and then there’s a giant egg, and then there’s two Rodans, so it’s all fun.

The design for Rodan isn’t the best, and the effects are questionable, especially since you can clearly scene the strings holding it up in multiple scenes, but I thought they were fun anyway. The fact that they flew at supersonic speed (and certainly had the sound effects to back that up) and caused utter destruction with their sound-waves was cool. One of the Rodans (or Rodani) just flew above a jeep, and utterly fucked it up, so when it happens to whole parts of the city, it’s hella fun.

I can’t say there’s much in the way of memorable characters here aside from maybe the lead, Kenji Sahara, and even he wasn’t amazing, but he did have cool hair. Really, in a movie like this, with so many moving parts, it’s not easy to have a plethora of important and interesting characters, so the fact that Sahara was about the only one that stuck out to me isn’t that much a deterrent.

Toho monster movies aren’t something I’ve a lot of experience with, but I’ve seen Rodan before, and it’s enough fun that I’m sure I’ll see it again. I don’t think it’s a special movie (though the color is smashing), but it is a decent one.

7/10

Uchû daikaijû Girara (1967)

Directed by Kazui Nihonmatsu [Other horror films: Konchû daisensô (1968)]

This Japanese film, commonly known as The X from Outer Space, is pretty poor in comparison to both other movies from the same production company (Shochiku) and other movies from the overall decade. This isn’t to say The X from Outer Space is terrible, but it is pretty unremarkable in most ways.

Shochiku isn’t a well-known name, but they made films such as Genocide (Konchû daisensô), The Living Skeleton (Kyûketsu dokuro-sen), and perhaps most famously, Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro). The best of these may well be Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell, but the other two are decent enough also. This one just can’t match any of those others at all. It’s as if they were trying to be Toho, and just failed miserably at it.

I think the first big problem is the fact that, until you get 48 minutes in or so, you can’t even tell this is going to be a giant rampaging monster movie. Personally, I thought the first half was decent (albeit in a rather cheesy, very 60’s type way), but the story of the astronauts going up into space could have been trimmed a bit in places. They could have gotten to the meat of the story quicker. The thing is, I don’t think there was that much meat to get to, which is probably why the first half was so dragged out.

Few of these characters are really worth much. In his own way, I did sort of like Shun’ya Wazaki as the straight-laced captain, and the idea that both Itoko Harada and Peggy Neal’s characters wanted to jump his bones was fine (though the cat fight I was hoping for never happened), but it doesn’t much go anywhere aside from a scene in the finale that was somewhat laughable. Otherwise, the only character in the film worth watching this for was the monster, called Guilala, which was just an overly goofy-looking lizard thing with bouncing antennas.

You get some funky music here rather often, but the first half of The X from Outer Space can come across as particularly dry, the quickness at which they can travel in space seems ridiculous, and the rather silly destruction of models – sorry, Japanese cities and power plants – wasn’t much what I’d call thrilling.

There are some fun space-based movies from the 1960’s, one of them being the Italian Planet of the Vampires (Terrore nello spazio), and there are some fun monster movies, such as Monster from a Prehistoric Planet (Daikyojû Gappa), but this tries to combine the two, and it really doesn’t work out. Stick with the other Shochiku movies instead, and go to this only if all else fails.

5/10

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Directed by Zack Snyder [Other horror films: Army of the Dead (2021)]

Perhaps one of the best zombie movies of the 2000’s, this remake does a lot right. I happened to see this before I caught the original, and while I do like the original more, this version is no slouch, and it’s a solid ride throughout.

I think a large part of this is how some of the characters here develop, such as Michael Kelly’s CJ, who started off as an utter jackass, but then becomes quite a valuable team member. It’s accurate, actually, to say that most focal performances here are solid, from the lead actress, Sarah Polley, to the sarcastic rich asshole, Ty Burrell (who cracked me up throughout).

With such a large cast, I want to at least give kudos to most of these performances. R.D. Reid, Boyd Banks, Jayne Eastwood, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, Kevin Zegers, and Michael Barry (who I randomly know from the Goosebumps two-parter The Werewolf of Fever Swamp) were all solid in their roles. I didn’t care much for Lindy Booth (though her actions may play a role in that) or Inna Korobkina, but it was nice seeing Ken Foree and Tom Savini here.

Being a big budget film, the special effects and cinematography were pretty top-notch. I don’t think I have a favorite scene of gore, but some of the shots early on in the film, showing the destruction of Sarah Polley’s suburban life, are shot beautifully. The chaos there is fantastic, and you have to love it. Also, throwing on what may be one of Johnny Cash’s best songs (“The Man Comes Around”) during the title sequence was a solid choice.

There are some scenes throughout the film that personally never did that much for me, such as the baby sequence, and, in relation, the degradation of Mekhi Phifer’s character, who was somewhat interesting at the beginning. It makes sense in context, but I still don’t care much for it. Lindy Booth (who, if she looks familiar, you may remember from Wrong Turn) plays a character who suffers multiple losses, but still ends up making a rather stupid mistake late into the film. Still, the parking garage scene in fun, and their escape attempt, with their decked out buses, was quality too.

Dawn of the Dead is a somewhat longer film (the version I went with was an hour and 50 minutes or so), but it doesn’t really drag at any point, even when some characters are thrown in who never really get screen-time (such as those played by Jayne Eastwood, R.D. Reid, and Kim Poirier). We get some time lapses of their life in the mall, which are equal parts amusing and realistic. And when the action comes around, it sure do come around, brahs.

This is a fun movie throughout, and there’s a reason why so many fans of the genre give it such props. Like I said, I don’t think it’s as good as the original Dawn of the Dead, but this is still a well-done zombie movie well worth the respect it’s gathered.

8.5/10

Batoru rowaiaru (2000)

Directed by Kinji Fukasaku [Other horror films: The Green Slime (1968), Fukkatsu no hi (1980), Makai tenshô (1981), Chûshingura gaiden: Yotsuya kaidan (1994), Batoru rowaiaru II: Chinkonka (2003)]

Undeniably more than just a horror/action movie, Battle Royale (or Batoru rowaiaru) is an utterly beautiful, yet violent, film which never fails to leave an impact on me when watching.

We all know the story – a bunch of classmates are dragged to an island and forced to kill each other off due to a fascist Japanese government. If the adults are scared of the youth, I’m not sure making one of them into a super killer is the best idea, but the faulty logic aside, it’s a story that really gets to me, and it’s just so tragic.

The adolescent view of life is apparent in most of these kids. You have people harboring untold crushes which influence their actions, or people relying on past friendships in the hope that they’ll work toward a peaceful outcome as opposed to slaughter. Loners and the misunderstood now have a chance to make something of themselves, and petty disputes can now turn kids murderous.

In many ways, Battle Royale is drenched in the angst of being a teenager. Some of these kids have more to deal with than others, but the core of it is they’re all still kids (well, mostly, aside from one of the transfer students, a winner of a previous Battle Royale). It’s due to this that I think the movie has a greater impact – not just shock value due to the fact that they’re young, but in that these characters have only lived for 15, 16 years, and are now expected to fight for an adulthood they may not even comprehend on violent terms (there’s four who opt out and commit suicide in the situation, and I can’t say that’s a bad choice).

Also, it’s a movie of friendship. Sure, some of these characters love one another, but the bonds of friendship really shape most of the relationships. Look at the tragic story of Chigusa (Chiaki Kuriyama) and Sugimura (Sôsuke Takaoka). Hell, look at Mitsuko’s actions and the basketball flashback – she’s never felt like a part of the group, so do her actions really come as a shock, given her background? If she had some solid bonds, would she have taken a different route?

Battle Royale isn’t for the light-hearted, not with this level of violence beautifully melded with a very tragic story. I won’t even get into specific scenes to watch out for – there’s fantastic gunplay, of course, but there’s also more traditional horror deaths, such as knives, axes, and other fun sharp implements. It’s a bleak movie, but don’t be surprised if a few surprising moments of levity arise.

I won’t go as far as to refer to this one as a black comedy, but there certainly are elements here and there, especially in the jubilant Battle Royale explanatory video and Kitano’s (Takeshi Kitano) commentary and obsession over the cookies. Or his final scene, as a matter of fact (not counting the requiems at the end).

If there are any standout performances here, it’s either Tatsuya Fujiwara (Nanahara) or the aforementioned Takeshi Kitano. Kitano has a pretty good scene with Aki Maeda (Noriko), and Maeda’s really good too. Maeda and Fujiwara have solid chemistry, and I buy their adolescent affections.

Tarô Yamamoto (Kawada) was a bit of a mystery at first, but really came into a pretty good character. If you discount Kitano, the two main antagonists are Masanobu Andô (Kiriyama) and Ko Shibasaki (Mitsuko), both of whom are strong. It could be said that maybe Andô’s performance is a bit on the cliché side, but I still think it was good.

Others who positively stood out include Eri Ishikawa (Yukie, who really only had one scene of note, but it made her a lovable character), Takayo Mimura (Kotôhiki, who’s heartbreaking scene with Sugimura was amazingly sad), Sôsuke Takaoka (wish he would have done more than look for Kotôhiki, but the heart wants what the heart wants), Chiaki Kuriyama (Chigusa, who added another rather depressing scene in the film), and Takashi Tsukamoto (Shinji, who had a cool, revolutionary uncle and was perhaps one of the most interesting and apt characters in the film).

Battle Royale, if it hasn’t been made clear by now, is an emotional experience. The way that flashbacks and dreams are utilized just work really well, and gives depth to some characters who might otherwise just be seen as one-dimensional caricatures. There’s a sense of hopelessness throughout the film, but come the ending, with the final monologue, we’re told to “run for all you’re worth”, and if that’s not an optimistic conclusion, one of a hopeful future, I don’t know what is.

It could be said that the three requiems at the end aren’t necessary, and the third one (an extended dream conversation between Noriko and Kitano) is just bizarre, but what the hell, they still add some flavor into the film.

And speaking of flavor, that music, tho. Sure, you get some quality classical pieces, such as Johann Strauss’ Blue Danube and the epic Dies Irae by Guiseppe Verdi, but the whole score is gold, and the cherry on top is the concluding song by Dragon Ash, titled “Shizuka na hibi no kaidan wo.” I fell in love with this song when I first saw the film, and even now, the song sends chills down my spine. An utterly fantastic song to end with.

All things said, Battle Royale is a film that, if approached with an open mind, you can really fall in love with. I didn’t fully follow the events when I first saw this movie (I was much younger, and couldn’t tell many of the characters apart from each other), but even then I sensed this was special, and Battle Royale certainly is. It’s a horror movie in my eyes, no doubt about it, but it’s so much more. A perfect movie, with great violence, amusing black comedic moments, and characters you can find yourself getting attached to. I doubt films get much better than this.

10/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one.

Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

Directed by Christopher Landon [Other horror films: Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014), Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015), Happy Death Day (2017), Freaky (2020)]

While it’s true that this sequel isn’t near as good as the first movie, Happy Death Day 2U is still pretty strong, and treads some new waters along with keeping some emotional content within as to not over-focus on the comedy.

If there’s one problem with the film, it’s that the comedy is more prevalent here. It’s just a more light-hearted affair, and while the first film obviously had it’s moments, just the montage of suicides in this movie was enough to put it over-the-top. Also, that sequence with Rachel Matthews’ character pretending to be a French blind girl could have probably been toned down.

Another problem dealt with the fact that the mystery killer portion of the film didn’t seem near as interesting as it was in the first movie. Not that much time was spent on trying to figure out who it might be, and honestly, there’s not that many suspects to begin with, so when we get to the end and find out, it’s not that much of a shock.

The film started out interestingly enough, focusing on a time loop that Ryan (a side-character from the first movie played by Phi Vu) was stuck in, only to move back onto Tree (Jessica Rothe) once an experiment goes awry. I thought sticking with Ryan’s character would have been okay, but with where they took Tree, I didn’t think this fake out was a big let-down.

As such, Phi Vu gets a bit more character here (though still not that much), which was nice to see. Much of the accolades, though, go to Jessica Rothe, especially during the scenes in which she spent time with her mother (alternate universe which her mother’s alive = fun times for Tree). It’s not quite as strong as Tree’s emotional scene with her father in the first movie, but I still think it brought this movie a much needed tone check.

Israel Broussard was just as good in this one as he was in the first, and he and Tree had some sweet moments. If there’s a big flaw insofar as performances go, it’s that Charles Aitken’s character seems so obviously evil, it borders on ridiculous. Sure, he wasn’t that different in the first movie, but here, I just couldn’t get out of my mind that he was a dark doppelganger of Jesse Spencer’s Chase from House.

Happy Death Day 2U isn’t a terrible film. I still found it above average, even, but compared to the first one, which was surprisingly fantastic, it doesn’t leave near as much an impact. I mean, come the end, we get a hideous rendition of “Stayin’ Alive” and a mid-credit sequence which just didn’t land for me. The idea of an alternate world was decent, and it lead to some okay additions, but really, it’s the first movie alone that I find actually special.

7.5/10

Kyûketsu dokuro-sen (1968)

Directed by Hiroki Matsuno [Other horror films: N/A]

Though at times incoherent, this Japanese film, commonly known under the title The Living Skeleton, has a creepy vibe and seems to be a movie worth seeing at least once, although it may not be the most enjoyable time.

It’s somewhat hard past a certain point to keep up with who’s who, and that’s what causes much of the potential confusion toward the latter half of the film, but even so, there’s enough here to keep the viewer engaged, especially as the movie draws to a close and there’s even a pretty fun twist thrown in there.

The skeletons in the water may not have the most realistic look, but I did enjoy it when they popped up. What’s less engaging was the focus on some Japanese gangsters, but they don’t last all that long, and hell, it is a movie of ghostly revenge from the watery grave, so it works fine.

Being a black-and-white movie (which certainly isn’t a given for a late 1960’s Japanese flick), The Living Skeleton had a lot of atmosphere, and though the story itself wasn’t always the most clear, the fog throughout the film, along with the coastal town and characters attempting to locate a friend gone missing, do make this an atmospheric, beautiful film, and possibly an influential one for Carpenter’s The Fog.

Really, no characters stood out that much to me, but the story, if you can keep up with the names and faces, was still worth watching, and though this would be far from the first recommendation when it comes to classic Asian horror, The Living Skeleton still merits a look, albeit a tepid one.

6.5/10

Gojira (1954)

Directed by Ishirô Honda [Other horror films: Gojira no gyakushû (1955), Jû jin yuki otoko (1955), Godzilla: King of the Monsters! (1956), Sora no daikaijû Radon (1956), Godzilla (1957), Tokyo 1960 (1957), Bijo to ekitai ningen (1958), Daikaijû Baran (1958), Half Human: The Story of the Abominable Snowman (1958), Gigantis: The Fire Monster (1959), Mosura (1961), Varan the Unbelievable (1962), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963), Matango (1963), Mosura tai Gojira (1964), Uchû daikaijû Dogora (1964), War-Gods of the Deep (1965), Furankenshutain tai chitei kaijû Baragon (1965), Furankenshutain no kaijû: Sanda tai Gaira (1966), Gezora, Ganime, Kameba: Kessen! Nankai no daikaijû (1970), Gojira tai Hedora (1971), Godzilla (1977), Godzilla 1985 (1985), Gojira vs. Desutoroiâ (1995), Gojira tai Megagirasu: Jî shômetsu sakusen (2000)]

Very much a political statement against nuclear weaponry (a statement I entirely agree with), this is a classic movie that I’ve seen bits and pieces of before, but never the whole thing at once. To the modern eye, Gojiria may not seem that special, but it’s still a decent amount of fun and overall a well-made monster movie.

You can definitely get an epic scope from the destruction that Godzilla causes during his rampages. How many people were dislocated, how much property damage, how many killed? These questions apply both to the lizard monster, and also to the U.S.A.’s dropping of nuclear bombs on two Japanese cities. It’s utter destruction, and the only viable solution is an idea that a scientist doesn’t want to share, for the sole reason that he knows it’ll be weaponized in the future.

Godzilla has a lot to say about the state of war, and I think it says it well. I found the distinction between approaches interesting (Takashi Shumura’s desire to study the creature vs. Akira Takarada’s agreement with the military to destroy it), and I see the validity behind both points (in a way, it reminds me of Day of the Dead). Takashi Shumura made for a very compelling character, and when he threw Akira Takarada’s character out (in front of Shumura’s daughter, who Takarada was hoping to marry), talk about dramatic.

I think the most interesting character here, though, is Akihiko Hirata’s, the scientist with an idea to destroy the threat of Godzilla, but the unwillingness to share with the military (for good reason). The very moral arguments that he had with himself would have been difficult, as again, you can sort of see both sides of the argument. When this opportunity is made clear to Momoko Kôchi’s character on the promise of silence, she eventually breaks her word to let Takarada know, and that leads to perhaps my favorite scene in the film.

Much more than just a giant monster causing untold death and dismay, Godzilla is a moderately deep and pretty moving story. I can’t personally say it’s one that I’d watch again and again, but I thought they did really well with the issues at hand, and I’m happy that I’ve finally seen this, despite taking me this long to get here.

7.5/10

Konchû daisensô (1968)

Directed by Kazui Nihonmatsu [Other horror films: Uchû daikaijû Girara (1967)]

I’ve not seen that many Japanese horror films from the 1960’s, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from Konchû daisensô, better known as Genocide, but I was pretty happy with it come the conclusion.

The plot here isn’t really that stellar, but the consistent anti-war message throughout was certainly welcomed (and, from a post-World War II Japan, logical), and one of the characters references both the arms race between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. as foolish, along with both the Superpowers being arrogant, which is a nice sentiment to see (and largely accurate).

With topics like this, not to mention the horrid experiences Jewish people, and others, went through in Germany, or issues of environmental concern, it’s probably not a surprise that Genocide (even the title’s invocative of a dismal story) has a somewhat nihilistic conclusion. Not that it’s entirely dark, but certainly it’s probably one of the more depressing endings I’ve seen in recent times.

The cast is generally solid, though not perfect. In particular, I think Kathy Horan was a bit over-the-top at times, which didn’t feel right for this movie. Most main performances, though, such as Emi Shindô, Yûsuke Kawazu, and Keisuke Sonoi, all do commendably enough.

Like I said, I’ve seen only a few Asian horror films from this time period, and to be honest, I was thinking that this would be a lot cornier than it even came close to being. I won’t go as far as to call the movie ‘amazing,’ but I had a fun time watching it, and would certainly recommend it, especially if they want a slice of horror that deals with more serious topics.

7.5/10

Gehenna: Where Death Lives (2016)

Directed by Hiroshi Katagiri [Other horror films: N/A]

I think that this film had potential, certainly more potential than what the final product displayed. While I liked some aspects, including much of the conclusion and some of the plot, overall, I was underwhelmed, and because the film runs on a tad long, even bored at points.

The basic plot is interesting, especially if you’ve some interest in history. I was reminded a little of a film called Dead Mine (2012), but luckily, not only is this story better, the movie as a whole is more enjoyable (which says far more about how bad Dead Mine was as opposed to how good this is). A group of people exploring an old war bunker and running into several things that don’t make sense is a fun time. It gets less fun the longer the movie runs, but as a basic story, I enjoyed it.

Most of the main characters do well, but not that many really stand out all that much. Eva Swan, despite being a bit of a nobody, did rather good here, and I rather enjoyed how her character was mostly able to keep her cool when few others could. Simon Phillips too did well, especially toward the end when he became more antagonistic toward the others. Used primarily for comedic relief, Shawn Sprawling was decent, though I don’t necessarily care for where his story went.

Occasionally Gehenna: Where Death Lives reminded me of As Above, So Below (though that film is so much more enjoyable than this one, to be sure) due to the characters reliving past mishaps, but more often than not, Gehenna: Where Death Lives plays out as a by-the-numbers ghost story. It’s disappointing, because the setting is unique and some of the aspects aren’t fully explored like I feel they could have been (such as the time issue).

I wasn’t expecting much going into this one, and I didn’t get much coming out. There are portions of the film I enjoyed, such as the finale, and the characters are mostly decently-acted, but the film was an hour and 45 minutes long. At least twenty minutes could have been cut easy, so despite some of the more unique parts of the film, overall, this isn’t one I can see myself ever going back to.

5.5/10

Tokyo Home Stay Massacre (2020)

Directed by Kenta Osaka [Other horror films: N/A] & Hirohito Takimoto [Other horror films: N/A]

This was pretty much an abomination in every way.

For one, much of the movie is in Japanese with hard-coded captions, which is fine. Here’s the embarrassing thing – apparently half the time, whoever made the captions doesn’t know how to use an apostrophe without it causing a glitch in the text. It happened multiple times throughout the movie, and it was just hideously amateur.

But that’s the movie for you. For the first 45 minutes or so, the movie was bad, no doubt about it, but in the final 25 minutes that things take a really terrible turn. The film decides to go all-out, over-the-top comedy, with synchronized Japanese cop twins who use swords and are just 100% too goofy for anything that’s good. There’s blood splatter on the camera, something I’ve always hated. Basically, as soon as one of the characters has a stupid line about having a Green card, what little potential (and I do mean little) this film has goes out the window.

Obviously, they intended to go that stupid zany route at the end. That’s fine. That’s the choice of those involved in the movie. The thing is, while things were a little off at times, that humorous feeling isn’t present until the last third of the film, and for me, that was a very bad turn for the film to make, as that over-the-top goofy idiocy void of anything redeemable isn’t my cup of tea.

Playing the central characters, Alex Deryez, Diana G., and Will Harrell were all pretty bad, Deryez probably being the worst (his acting is legit terrible). Diana G. almost had something interesting going on with her character, but it didn’t really go anywhere, and given the context of the film as a whole, it wouldn’t have mattered if it did. Harrell was semi-respectable, but it doesn’t amount to anything.

Miyatani (who played the oft-exuberant father figure of the house) was sort of fun toward the beginning, and he’s perhaps the most consistent throughout the film, as even toward the end, I can dig what he was doing. Umiyushi (the sister) was under-the-radar and quiet, but okay. Umiyushi (the brother who acted like a rabid dog) was horrible. Kanta Nonaka and Yuuko Kawashima (the synchronized cops) made me want to kill myself.

That said, I almost never blame poor performances for bad movies, and despite how bad some of these performances were, I’m not starting now. Tokyo Home Stay Massacre had potential with some aspects (such as the torture sequences in which a hammer is used to remove teeth and a guy had some toenails pulled out), but they did so much wrong that I honestly just want to forget I gave this a watch.

At the time of this writing, this movie is available free on Tubi. If you’re interested in checking it out because my review can’t properly explain what a mess this movie was, please go ahead, because I just can’t anymore.

0.5/10