Merry Christmas, Stormy readers! Today we dispense with the usual news reports, political chatter and social commentary, except for a few yuletide roasts.
Instead we present the original Russian animated feature known as Snezhnaya Koroleva, or The Snow Queen. Released in 1957, it runs with the original music and Russian dialogue, translated into English subtitles. Cartoonist Lev Atamanov wrote and directed it, adapting Hans Christian Andersen’s original story.
This adventure, which serves as the basis for the movie Frozen, sometimes airs on television on New Year’s Day, but we consider it the perfect treat for Christmas. There are some dark passages, so you might think twice before showing it to little tykes, although most children aged 8 and above can follow and enjoy it.
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And, as an added treat, here is Ballerina on the Boat, a 1969 short also by Atamanov, with music by Alfred Schnittke. In keeping with the dance theme, everything is conveyed through movement and the characters’ expressions, rather than dialogue.
Gigantic, mutant crabs attack a party of scientists on a shrinking Pacific atoll in today’s Trillion Dollar Movie. Attack of the Crab Monsters is the handiwork of legendary B-movie filmmaker Roger Corman. It’s one of 10 pictures he completed in 1957 alone, shooting this thriller on several locations in the Los Angeles area, including the Bronson Caves, Marineland of the Pacific and Leo Carrillo State Park.
Long before he played “The Professor” on “Gilligan’s Island,” Russell Johnson appeared as Hank Chapman, a technician who emerges as the hero on a scientific expedition to stop the killer crabs. We’re told there are many crabs, but in actuality, we only see one at a time, flailing its pincers menacingly, not only dismembering its victims but also devouring their brains. In the process, the crab inherits the victims’ thought processes and speaking abilities.
The perfect date: Dinner at Red Lobster, followed by a nightcap watching this silly, but often quite hilarious example of that ultimate 1950s genre — the A-bomb test that goes horribly amok, spawning monstrosities in some remote locale. As Eccentric Cinema reviewer Brian Lindsey attested, “Ridiculous and cheesy, with a nonsensical plot completely shot through with holes, Crab Monsters is also surprisingly fun.” Enjoy and do return again next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.
Today’s Trillion $ Movie, Dark Star, was the debut feature for two filmmakers who later became Hollywood heavyweights — director John (Halloween) Carpenter and screenwriter Dan (Alien) O’Bannon. This bizarre, low-budget sci-fi comedy from 1974 has amassed a well-deserved cult reputation over the years. Never has a beach ball appeared so ominous on the big screen!
The film follows a group of what appear to be bored and stoned astronauts on a far-out mission. They cruise the fringes of the galaxy, bombing the smithereens out of unstable planets that are going rogue, careening out of orbit and thus posing a threat to Earth’s space colonies. Recent talk of NASA dispatching a crew to lasso threatening asteroids brought this picture to mind. If the NASA scientists are as lackadaisical as these surfing fools, we better batten down the hatches and prepare to be bombarded!
You can certainly trace the origins of Alien here, but also fun references to 2001: A Space Odyssey and other sci-fi classics. Some critics have carped about the cheesy special effects, the wacky uniforms and dingbat music, but hey, what can you expect from two young filmmakers working on a $55,000 budget? That’s O’Bannon, by the way, playing Sgt. Pinback and Carpenter delivering the vocals for Talby. At least they seem to have enjoyed themselves immensely making the movie, and it’s often a hoot to watch. The late Roger Ebert called it “wry, laid back and fond of its situations.” Enjoy and do return again next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.
Today’s Trillion Dollar Movie, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, helped transform an upstart 24-year-old actor into the world’s most recognized martial arts star. The performer: Jackie Chan. While the film Drunken Master was Chan’s first huge breakout hit, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow — shot immediately before Drunken Master in 1978 — gave Chan his first genuine opportunity to define his acting style and create the screen persona that his legions of fans would come to cherish.
Here, he begins to experiment with all of the signature elements of his style — the slapstick gags, the self-effacing humor, the exuberant fight scenes choreographed with pinpoint precision. The stuntwork is perhaps more rudimentary than in Chan’s most eye-dropping features, but this role still puts him through his paces, involving plenty of agility and physical stretching as a performer.
He plays a naive, bullied janitor, Chien Fu, who serves as a sort of a human punching bag at a local martial arts academy. His life is miserable until he’s accepted as a protege by Pai, a crafty old master trained in the Snake Fist fighting style. Pai’s motives aren’t entirely altruistic. He’s one of the last of his breed, as a rival school, the Eagle Claw, has waged a protracted war against the Snake Fist fighters and nearly wiped out the entire society. Pai sees Chien Fu as perhaps the last hope to defend the Snake Fist clan and prevent its extinction.
Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow not only established Chan as a rising star, but also burnished the reputation of first-time director Yuen Woo-Ping. On the basis of his work here and in Drunken Master, Woo-Ping enjoyed a long career as one of Hong Kong’s most successful action filmmakers, sought out by Hollywood to stage the fight scenes in The Matrix as well as Kill Bill. Enjoy, and do return again next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.
Today’s Trillion Dollar Movie is The Tale of Zatoichi, the 1962 film that introduced Japan’s most beloved action hero, the blind gambler and master swordsman Zatoichi. Created by novelist Kan Shimozawa, Zatoichi has graced the screen nearly as long as James Bond. All told, the character appeared in more than 25 movies, as well as a long-running television series.
The Tale of Zatoichi stars actor Shintaro Katsu in the title role. He has not been the only Zatoichi or “Ichi,” but he is closely identified with the character. Much like Sean Connery, Katsu set the standard against which all future Zatoichi performers would be measured.
Zatoichi usually travels incognito, passing himself off as a harmless and lowly country bumpkin. He performs massage and acupuncture, but makes most of his money playing dice. His sense of hearing is so acute he can tell when the dice are loaded, or whether an even or odd number has been rolled. Often, these games of chance end in swordplay, with Zatoichi going up against yakuza gangsters or oppressive, rich villains who have preyed upon the weak and the poor.
In reviewing The Tale of Zatoichi, Rob Larsen wrote, “Everything that makes Ichi special is present and accounted for here: his innate sense of right and wrong, his amazing way with women, his bumbling charm, his quick wit, and, of course, plenty of work with his deadly cane sword.” Enjoy and do return again next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.
Two officers of the French Foreign Legion marooned in the Sahara Desert stumble upon the lost civilization of Atlantis in today’s Trillion Dollar Movie. This version of the oft-told fantasy adventure, shot in 1949, casts sultry Maria Montez as the lustful Queen Antinea of Atlantis. Montez never looked as glowing, although in a true departure, her beauty isn’t showcased in radiant colors, as this was a low-budget, black-and-white production — a step down from her days as Universal’s most exotic starlet.
She’s a vixen who treats her lovers as playthings, subjecting them to sundry mind games, before discarding them and moving on to her next victims. A la Goldfinger, she gold-plates her conquests and puts them on display in her own private gallery, where they are entombed and enshrined for all eternity. The story is reminiscent of H. Rider Haggard’s classic She, but the original source is Pierre Benoit’s 1919 novel L’Atlantide.
Siren of Atlantis has some strange jumps in its plotting, but it’s a fascinating relic, combining elements of campy escapism with the darker psychological twists commonplace in the noir thrillers popular at that time. Jean-Pierre Aumont, Montez’s real-life husband, plays one of the French adventurers, and Henry Daniel is snarling and amorally good, as always, as one of the villains. Hope you enjoy and do return again next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The full movie is currently not available on YouTube, so we offer this extended clip.)
Today’s Trillion Dollar Movie is the 1933 horror thriller The Secret of the Blue Room. If you like stories about haunted houses full of secret passageways and plagued by longstanding curses, give this one a try. The picture is a staple of that genre, first released by Universal Pictures and remade at least twice by that same studio as The Missing Guest and The Murder in the Blue Room.
The premise: Three different suitors are all in hot pursuit of Irene Von Helldorf, a rich, eligible debutante played by Gloria Stuart (seen some 50 years later as the old Rose in Titanic.) There’s a decorated soldier (Paul Lucas), a veteran reporter (Onslow Stevens) and a brash young man who isn’t as accomplished as the other two men, but is the most cocky in pushing his cause as Stuart’s best potential soulmate. To prove his mettle and courage, and also to show up his rivals, he issues a boastful challenge, that the three of them each spend a night in the ill-fated “Blue Room” on the Von Helldorf estate. It’s been locked up for 20 years for a reason — the last few people to stay there all died mysteriously.
I won’t give away the plot twists but the mysteries, the bodies and red herrings all begin to pile up. Some of this Gothic gimmickry has become so conventional, you can see where it’s headed long before it gets there. But considering its age, this isn’t as creaky as you might think. The cast is exceptional, including two of the most memorable characters actors from the 1930s, the urbane horror film fixture Lionel Atwill as Stuart’s wealthy father and the acerbic Edward Arnold as a police investigator poking around into eerie happenings in the Blue Room.
Enjoy and do return again next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.
Today’s Trillion $ Movie is the 1962 sci-fi thriller The Day of the Triffids, based on John Wyndham’s novel of an eerie meteor shower that blinds most of the human race, leaving them helpless to fend for themselves against the triffids — a mutant strain of carnivorous Outer Space plants. The thing that’s creepy about these gigantic plants — they can move around and pounce on their hapless prey.
Fans of the novel complain that the movie’s a cheap imitation, and it does seem overly melodramatic, including the focus on an alcoholic scientist and his wife (played by Kieron Moore and Janette Scott) who are constantly bickering, as if they were auditioning for parts in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The fate of the world rests in the hands of a diffident sailor (Howard Keel), who is spared the blindness because his eyes were bandaged the night of the meteor shower. In a prelude, he’s shown recuperating in his hospital room while a nurse lights a cigarette for him. Now, those were the days…
The Day of the Triffids has its flaws, but it remains quite chilling and horrifying, ushering in a new era of post-apocalyptic zombie movies. 28 Days Later owes a particular debt to this film. It was so influential that there’s a lyric in The Rocky Horror Picture Show that goes, “And I really got hot when I saw Janette Scott/Fight a triffid that spits poison and kills.”
Hope you enjoy it, and do return again next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.
All this month, we’re saluting the Kaiju, the giant monster movies of Japan. In case you’re thinking we’re unpatriotic, today’s Trillion Dollar Movie is the all-American-made Tarantula. This 1955 release from Universal Pictures wasn’t the first big bug thriller to come out of Hollywood. That honor belongs to Them!, the 1954 Warner Brothers’ hit that turned loose an army of giant, atomic-mutated ants in the deserts of New Mexico.
Tarantula lifted the same premise — oversized insects running amok in the desert — but gave it a different spin. The ginormous arachnid is the byproduct of a misfired scientific experiment with an altruistic goal. At a secret lab outside an Arizona town, researchers have been injecting animals with a nutrient serum in hopes of solving world hunger. With the serum coursing through their veins, the animals transform into king-sized grubsteaks. It’s never explained why the experiments involve creatures like tarantulas and rats instead of cows and chickens, but hey, why spoil the movie-making magic by insisting upon any adherence to standards of realism?
Tarantula has a few slow stretches and also asks us to buy the silly notion that a country doctor (John Agar) and his hot-looking girlfriend (Mara Corday) are best-equipped to stop the spider menace. It’s also funny how, even after it swells up to the size of a barn, no one ever seems to spot the tarantula on the prowl as it devours a pen full of horses and begins to feast upon human prey. These inconsistencies aside, this is one chilling creepy crawler spectacle, with top-flight special effects and dramatic shading by director Jack Arnold, who also gave us the Black Lagoon Creature movies as well as The Incredible Shrinking Man. As an added bonus, an uncredited and quite young Clint Eastwood appears as one of the fighter pilots assigned to blitzkrieg the rampaging beast.
Enjoy, and do return again next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.
Later today, we’ll be launching a new, month-long series — Know Your Monster — celebrating Japan’s fantastic movie monsters. Each day through March, we’ll present a clip introducing a new monster wreaking havoc and destruction, often upon Tokyo, but sometimes on a global scale. To kick off this series in style, today’s Trillion Dollar Movie revolves around the granddaddy of all Japanese movie monsters, Godzilla or Gojira. Our feature is Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, the 14th movie in the Godzilla franchise, released in Japan in 1974 and three years later in the United States. It’s one of the better Godzilla sequels, popular enough that it spun off its own sequel (The Terror of Mechagodzilla) and a couple of remakes.
Stateside, it was originally called Godzilla Vs. the Bionic Monster to capitalize on the popularity at that time of The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. But when the producers of those TV shows objected, the Bionic Monster was rechristened Mechagodzilla. He’s a titanium robot fascimile of the real Godzilla, under the power of mysterious space aliens intent on conquering the Earth. Just where do they originate? Their commander spills the beans, declaring he’s from “the Third Planet of the Black Hole.” They look humanoid, but kill them and they turn into monkeys, a ruse no doubt inspired by Planet of the Apes.
In a bit of a plot twist for the series, Godzilla isn’t a holy terror but rather the Earth’s savior, called upon to whip Mecha’s butt. Godzilla has a bizarre ally, a giant Pekinese dog named King Seesar. There’s also a fetching lady archaeologist who wears short skirts and go-go boots on the job. Now, that a fashion maven! While the dialogue is silly and the dubbing hilariously weird, the action is fast-paced and often spectacular, especially the final grudge-match between Godzilla and his nemesis from outer space. Enjoy, and do return again next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This one is no longer available free online so we bring you a good clip collection of Mechagodzilla.)