Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cult Movie Project #11 (of 200) :: Binging on the Nectar of Gods and Monsters and Those Who Make Them Go: Don Chaffey's Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

Sherman? Set The Way-Back Machine for the summer of 1978. The Rivoli Theater. (Or maybe it was The Strand? It doesn't really matter...) Somewhere, as you enter that darkened theater is a seven year old, who had kinda retreated into his own head after his father suddenly died the year prior and his family broke upon the rock of the headstone. He had yet to see Star Wars (1977), which would also blow his mind. But that was still a couple of months away. And so, then ... Well, now, then, he was kinda lost. 

He was there with some school friends for a screening of some old flick about ancient history and monsters; a re-release, and the bombastic commercials for which seen on the old family wood-grained Zenith looked cool as hell. Here, then, now, he sits and watches. A little trepidatious, perhaps, as Bernard Hermann's opening score pounds him into his seat, and some poor maiden is stabbed to death by the bad guy. (This kind of own-mortality reminder plague him constantly, and keeps him awake most nights.) There's a lot of mayhem, and some Greek gods bickering and playing an ersatz game of Risk, screwing with our hero. Intriguing yes, but where were those monsters? 

And then it happens. Talos, the iron giant, who moves with the spine-tweaking sound of rending metal; winged harpies, ripping the clothes off some beggar; a giant mer-man, his tail impatiently slapping at the water as he holds back an avalanche of rocks, allowing the mighty Argo to sail under his armpit. (A joke about underarm stink zings through one ear and out the other. He is smiling, but not because of the joke.) 

The fight with the Hydra ends too quickly, he thinks, but that was just the pregame warm-up for what happens next: when the Children of the Hydra, an army of skeletons, spring forth from the earth and attack. 

And as the movie ended shortly after the battle is won (by default), he doesn't really remember edging to the front of his seat, wanting a closer look at what was happening onscreen. He was well aware of what stop-motion animation was, but he had yet to see it in action like this. (Rankin and Bass Christmas specials and Land of the Lost be damned.) He was boggled. He was mesmerized. And he hadn't thought about death for nearly an hour. The film had drawn him out, and he was hooked. 

Over three decades have passed since that first encounter with Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and the magic of Ray Harryhausen. And though I heartily agree that this was Harryhausen's best film, my favorite will always and forever be The Valley of Gwangi -- I'm telling ya, that dino-rodeo is just as impressive, if not more so, than the climactic skeleton fight found here. 

Older me can grump that Nigel Green's Hercules left the film too early and Nancy Kovack's Madea arrived too late (and too stripped of her sorcery, while we're at it), and actually, as a matter of fact, I already did for those looking for a more in depth look at the film, but I'm still mesmerized with each viewing, joining the echoes of untold thousands of equally enchanted Harryhausen fans, wondering, just, How in the hell does he do that?

Other Points of Interest:

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"For those of us who thrill to fantasy-adventure films in the Thief of Baghdad (1940) tradition, there is no greater treat than the not-frequent-enough release of a new spectacle featuring the special effects of Ray Harryhausen. It is Harryhausen -- not the actors, not the director -- who is the "star" of the pictures with which he is involved: he is the attraction." 

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The Fine Print: Jason and the Argonauts was watched via  Sony Pictures Home Entertainment  DVD. Watched as a sci-fi/fantasy double-feature with Forbidden Planet (1956). What's the Cult Movie Project? That's eleven down, with 189 to go.  

Jason and the Argonauts (1963) Columbia Pictures Corporation / P: Charles H. Schneer / AP: Ray Harryhausen / D: Don Chaffey / W: Jan Read, Beverley Cross, Apollonios Rhodios (poem) / C: Wilkie Cooper / E: Maurice Rootes / M: Bernard Herrmann / S: Todd Armstrong, Nancy Kovack, Gary Raymond, Laurence Naismith, Douglas Wilmer, Nigel Green, Niall MacGinnis, Honor Blackman

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Fine Art of Sequential Credits :: Jay Wade Edwards' Stomp! Shout! Scream! (2005)

 ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___
"The cop's called me in to take a look at some enigmatic 
debris on the beach. It's got an aberrant odor, they said."
___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___

And as a special bonus, here's the closing credit character cards by Radical Axis Inc., because a good cast is worth repeating:

And to give credit where credit is due.

Jay Wade Edwards' Stomp! Shout! Scream! (2005) is less of a spoof and more of a dramatic (and hilarious) recreation of those mash-up films of the 1960s that threw a monster at Frankie and Annette while Dick Dale or the Del-Aires thundered and wailed away like The Beach Girls and the Monster (1965) and The Horror of Party Beach (1964) -- it even throws in a late Horror of STD curve-ball that I never saw coming and left me flat on the floor. 

I'll admit when if first started, I was a little leery as the film's opening coda nuzzled up to THEM! (1954), right down to two officers finding a little girl wandering the beach in stunned silence, with what's left of her parents strewn about the sand. One officer takes the girl back to town, the other remains to investigate a reeking pile of debris near the water only to find it occupied. Splat. Slash. Screech. OK, I said. Is that all you got? And then the theme song cranked up and those nifty animated credits kicked in and the film had me -- I'm just a sucker for bouffants, mini-skirts, go-go boots, and lo-fi guitar licks. Sue me.

What did follow was a checklist of B-Movie nods and pilfered plot points that were set up and knocked over by The Violas (Bronson, Evans, Kraft), an upstart band with a broken down car, leaving them stuck in a small Florida town where some thing is terrorizing the locals and ripping them to shreds. And while they negotiate a trade for *ahem* services with a local mechanic (Young), enter the squarejaw with the thin tie (Green), a flora and fauna expert from the local university, who realizes the latest hurricane has washed ashore a deadly Skunk-Ape -- Florida's very own version of Bigfoot, who has a taste for blood and a thing for female lead singers. Mayhem ensues.

While poking around Edwards' making of blog, he had originally envisioned a trilogy, with the next feature paying homage to the nature's revenge flicks of the 1970s (Day of the Animals (1977), Night of the Lepus(1972)) with a country soundtrack, and the third a TBD theme (but I'd go with extraterrestrials) with a punk band leading the way (Repo Man (1984)). Here's hoping these, too, come to pass.

What I appreciated most about this flick is it never once stopped to acknowledge what it was sending up and just presented what always drew Edwards and we in the audience to these things in the first place: goofy monsters with crappy costumes (the suit is an off-the-rack gorilla costume, and special shout-out to Edwards for the Skunk-Apes vocalizations being horked from the ultimate crypto-doc, The Mysterious Monsters (1975)), endearing characters, and a kickin' soundtrack with our all girl three-chord power trio standing in for the group Catfight, whose provided tunes are so hideously infectious it's downright sinister. And just like with those old movies, we love them best when they over-achieve to something far beyond their budgetary limitations and perceived lack of skills on both sides of the camera. That's not a knock, honestly. And Stomp! Shout! Scream! not only met my expectations but exceeded them. Give this one a spin, Boils and Ghouls, whatever title you find it under.

Stomp! Shout! Scream! a/k/a Monster Beach Party A-Go-Go (2005) Stomp Shout Scream LLC :: Indican Pictures / EP: Jay Wade Edwards / P: Arma Benoit, Evan Lieberman / D: Jay Wade Edwards / C: Evan Lieberman / E: Jay Wade Edwards / M: John Cerreta / S: Claire Bronson, Cynthia Evans, Mary Kraft, Travis Young, Jonathan Michael Green, Adrian Roberts, Bill Szymanski
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