All posts by John Humphrey

John Humphrey

About John Humphrey

John Humphrey grew up in the Washington, D.C. area where he is a graduate of American University. His interest in art led him to continue his education at Rhode Island School of Design. Since 1987, John has lived in the beautiful coastal city of Wilmington, North Carolina (home of EUE/Screen Gems Studios). John has held several creative positions in graphic design, advertising and publishing fields. He has also created illustrations for magazines, newspapers, children's books, CDs and more. Following a long career in the publishing business, John's love of film guided him to spend more than three years as assistant manager of a 16-plex, all-digital movie theater. He is currently working in the technology industry and pursuing an MBA in Marketing.

The Legend of Billie Jean, ‘Fair is fair’ edition [Blu-ray review]

Not only has the phrase “Fair is fair” become synonymous with the cult classic teen drama The Legend of Billie Jean, it also is the edition name of the newly remastered Blu-ray from Mill Creek Entertainment.  If you aren’t familiar with this movie, you need to see it.  From executive producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber (Batman [1989], Rain Man, The Color Purple), The Legend of Billie Jean has become one of cinema’s best teen movies.  I don’t mean in the John Hughes sense of teen drama, but a film dealing with real and difficult issues.  At the same time, it also adds a sense of the surreal.  Let me explain.

©2014 Mill Creek Entertainment
© 2014 Mill Creek Entertainment

You see, in 1984, while making The Legend of Billie Jean, Helen Slater’s first film, Supergirl, had just opened across the country.  Remember, this was at a time when women were not portrayed as strong, heroic characters.  Now working on her second feature, Helen Slater was to play Billie Jean Davy, a small town girl who won’t let anyone, or anything, stand in her way to seek justice.  The plot seems simple enough at first.  An altercation at the local drive-in between Billie Jean’s brother Binx (Christian Slater in his first feature role) and local bully Hubie Pyatt (Barry Tubb) sets off a chain of events that drives the teens to breaking point.  After Binx’s Honda Elite scooter is stolen and trashed by Hubie, big sister Billie Jean goes to Hubie’s father to make him pay $608 for the cost of the repairs.  Mr. Pyatt (Richard Bradford), being a snake in the grass, tries to take advantage of Billie Jean.  As Billie Jean tries to leave his store, Binx shows up and finds a gun in the cash register.  When Mr. Pyatt confronts him, Binx fires accidentally, striking Mr. Pyatt.  This sets into motion the hunt for the outlaw teens, as they try to set the record straight.

Toss into the mix the comic relief of Billie Jean’s friends Putter (Yeardley Smith – the voice of Lisa on The Simpsons) and Ophelia (Martha Gehman), a determined cop (Peter Coyote) who doesn’t believe Mr. Pyatt’s accusations, a rich kid with too much time on his hands (Keith Gordon), and a cameo by Dean Stockwell, and you have a surreal crime/thriller/teen/comedy/drama that could only have been pulled off in the ‘80s.

The film’s moral issues come to a climax when Billie Jean catches a scene from Saint Joan (1957) on a television.  The image of the steadfast Joan of Arc burning into her memory (and later in a more cinematic way).  Suddenly, Billie Jean is no longer a teenager on the run, but a young woman who will not be stopped.  She crops her golden locks and the teens then devise a plan to expose Mr. Pyatt, get the money they are owed, and be vindicated.  Fair is fair.

Christian Slater and Helen Slater in The Legend of Billie Jean ©2014 Mill Creek Entertainment
Christian Slater and Helen Slater in “The Legend of Billie Jean” © 2014 Mill Creek Entertainment

The plot seems a bit far fetched, but as with many ‘80s films, it works.  Upon seeing Billie Jean’s plea for justice, teens across the region cut off their hair in a show of support.  Billie Jean finally confronts Mr. Pyatt in a fiery [literally] showdown.  The film closes with another staple of ‘80s films – a rock anthem.  This time it’s the powerful sound of Pat Benatar’s triumphant theme song Invincible.

The film itself looks great on Blu-ray, with only minimal grain visible in some shots.  My only complaint is that there is only one extra on the disc.  It’s a commentary track featuring Helen Slater and Yeardley Smith.  By the way, Helen Slater and Christian Slater are not related, as most people thought when the film premiered.  As I said before, The Legend of Billie Jean is more a cult film than a mainstream film.  It certainly won’t please everyone, but if you were a teenager in the 1980s, it will take you back in time, and I hope younger audiences will give this movie a shot.  The message of teen empowerment remains the same today, even if styles have changed.

© 1985, 95 minutes, Rated PG-13

 

The “Queen” of Horror – An Interview with Brinke Stevens

Edgar Allan Poe wrote, “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.”

How true this is, especially in the film industry. Would the horror film even exist without a damsel in distress? Predators and their prey are a constant theme throughout horror novels and movies. Would King Kong have been so tragic without Fay Wray? Would Psycho have been so nerve-racking without Janet Leigh? Femme fatales are an essential part of the horror genre. As the home video market gained strength in the 1980s, small studios frantically produced scores of lower budget films, or B-Movies, to satisfy the ravenous fan base. The actresses who pioneered this new age of horror and comedy in the home video entertainment became known as “Scream Queens”. At the peak of the B-movie revolution, Director Donald Farmer interviewed many of the hottest scream queens in the industry for his documentary Invasion of The Scream Queens. Fans of Brinke Stevens and B-movie fanatics can now see these rarely seen interviews thanks to Wild Eye Releasing’s new 20th Anniversary DVD release of this sought-after documentary.

Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, eager young horror fans rented scores of direct-to-video movies and stayed up all night watching cable TV to catch the latest offerings by their favorite actresses and directors. With titles like Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, Slumber Party Massacre and Teenage Exorcist, a cult movie craze had exploded. One of the most admired stars of the genre is Brinke Stevens, a petite, raven-haired beauty with an uncanny ability to portray predator, prey and girl next door with ease. Not limited to acting, Brinke has also worked behind the scenes as a producer and director, with several screenplays to her credit. She has even written and appeared in her own comic book series, “Brinke of Eternity” and “Brinke of Destruction”, as well as modeling for everything from magazines to trading cards to art prints. We asked Brinke about her start in the movie industry and find out what’s been keeping her busy lately. Join me on this Brinke of discovery

JOHN HUMPHREY: Considering you have a Master’s Degree in Marine Biology from Scripps Institute and are a member of Mensa, my first question would have to be: Brinke, when did you begin your film career, and what was your motivation for working in the film industry?

BRINKE STEVENS: It was a total accident. I just wanted a quiet little lab in Hawaii where I could work with dolphins. In 1980, I married my childhood sweetheart [“Rocketeer” creator and artist] Dave Stevens and moved from San Diego to Los Angeles, California. While looking for a scientist job, I wandered past the open door of a casting office – and was immediately hired as an extra in All the Marbles. Soon, I was cast in my first major speaking role, Slumber Party Massacre (1981). I quickly landed many more film jobs, and magazines were suddenly calling me a “Scream Queen”. I always say, “My career chose me, I didn’t choose it.”

HUMPHREY: Why do you think the 1980s was such an important decade for independent horror films?

STEVENS: When the revolutionary home-video boom created a huge demand for new product, young filmmakers like Fred Olen Ray, David DeCoteau, Charles Band and Roger Corman set up their own independent studios to churn out dozens and dozens of films that went straight to video. I also think the 1980s were better known for horror comedies. Many of the films I did back then were rather innocent and fun-loving. Later, horror got much gorier and mean-spirited.

HUMPHREY: Did you take “Brinke” as your stage name after starting in the film industry, or was it a nickname prior to that?

STEVENS: My maiden name was Charlene Elisabeth Brinkman, and all my childhood friends called me “Brink”. When I married Dave Stevens in 1980, I adopted “Brinke Stevens” as my stage-name.

HUMPHREY: Of all of your films, what was your favorite movie and role, and why?

STEVENS: Haunting Fear (1990) was the biggest part I’d had so far. When director Fred Olen Ray sent me the script, I thought he had me in mind for the sexy secretary. But no! The lead, a woman whose cheating husband drives her crazy to collect her inheritance. A very complex role. On any given day, I had to ask myself, “How crazy am I today?” By the end, I played it totally insane. It was an amazing opportunity to stretch my range as an actress.

HUMPHREY: Where would you like to see the future of your career heading?

STEVENS: More of the same: acting, writing, directing, producing.

HUMPHREY: You said in an interview in Invasion of the Scream Queens that you hoped to one day “graduate” from B movies. Do you feel you achieved that goal?

STEVENS: Not at all! I was so typecast in B-movies that I was never able to break through that glass ceiling. However, there’s been a real advantage to being an indie horror star, i.e., a big fish in a small pond, like getting hired for my name-value without having to audition.

HUMPHREY: What is your definition of a “Scream Queen” and do you think there are current day “Scream Queens”?

STEVENS: By happy accident, I was in the right place at the right time. I was given that label in the late 1980s, after screaming (and usually dying) in so many horror films. It’s often said that me, Linnea Quigley, and Michelle Bauer were the three original Scream Queens. A decade later, I was also very impressed with Debbie Rochon and Tiffany Shepis. I doubt it’s even possible to follow in our footsteps anymore, because the indie studio system no longer exists. It’s a catchy title, and I don’t mind being called that. At least it’s got the word “Queen” in it. Makes me feel like horror film royalty.

John Humphrey and Brinke Stevens at Dragon-Con in Atlanta, Georgia.
John Humphrey and Brinke Stevens at Dragon-Con in Atlanta, Georgia.

HUMPHREY: Which of your films do your fans most often inquire about?

STEVENS: My favorite film Haunting Fear (1990) was never released on DVD (except bootlegged), so it’s the one movie that everyone wants to see.

HUMPHREY: What’s the one project you’ve always wanted to do but have yet to be able to?

STEVENS: A while back, I was cast in a vampire movie to be shot in the Philippines. I’d have big black wings, and flying wire-work would definitely be involved. I’ve never done that before, and it seems so very exciting! The film shoot hasn’t happened yet, due to financial setbacks… but I sure hope to play that winged Vampire Queen someday.

HUMPHREY: What do you feel has been your most important professional accomplishment?

STEVENS: All of it, really – the sum of the parts. To some people, it may not seem like a proud accomplishment to become a B-movie star. But hey, I DID it… to the absolute BEST that I could… and a lot of people were entertained. I’ve acted in almost 200 films, sold a half-dozen scripts and published my own comic book, co-produced several documentaries (like Shock Cinema), and I just directed Personal Demons, a film I also wrote and starred in. For me, it’s been a very fulfilling life so far.

HUMPHREY: What is your favorite book, and why?

STEVENS: I’ve had many favorite books over the years. One that’s remained on my shelf is “Bridge of Birds” by Barry Hughart. It’s a magical-realism novel of an ancient China that never was. He’s a wonderful writer, very evocative.

HUMPHREY: What is your favorite film, and why?

STEVENS: I enjoy many of the old classics like Laura (1944) with Gene Tierney, and Portrait of Jennie (1948) with Jennifer Jones. Those actresses were so luminously beautiful; they really stole the screen.

HUMPHREY: In your life, who has been the greatest positive influence on your career?

STEVENS: When I was a young girl, seeing Maleficent (in Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty) made me gasp, “I want to BE her!” Since then, I’ve channeled that evil queen in many of my films.

HUMPHREY: What is your next project?

STEVENS: Directing The Halloween Party in Orlando, Florida for producer Rick Danford.

HUMPHREY: Who is Brinke Stevens today?

STEVENS: Older, wiser, and happier in general because I don’t stress over the little things anymore.

Brinke’s official web site: http://www.brinke.com

 

 

‘Ride For Lance,’ a Personal Film Meant as Inspiration to All [DVD Review]

rideforlance-bikes
On the Lance Vaccaro Memorial Ride.

“The Legacy of My Teammates Steadies My Resolve.” Since the time of the Samurai and the Spartans, the warrior code of ethos has served to guide and strengthen the members of elite fighting teams. These words from the US Navy SEAL Code, honor those who have sacrificed all and inspire those yet to come.

© 2014 Anchor Bay Entertainment
© 2014 Anchor Bay Entertainment

June 28th marks the ninth anniversary of Operation Red Wings, where 19 US Navy SEALs lost their lives in Afghanistan while on a mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. Marcus Lutrell’s book Lone Survivor gives the details as only one of the SEAL team members can describe. The film by the same name was based closely on the book with Marcus Lutrell acting as advisor to the production. Even the actors had to undergo rigorous training to learn the tactics and skills of the SEALs they were to portray. You see, this is the story of the team, told so their sacrifice would always be remembered, and to steady the resolve of those still in the field.

Ride For Lance is the second biopic by Director Scott Mactavish, himself a US Navy veteran. His 2013 documentary, MURPH The Protector, focused on the life and sacrifice of Navy SEAL LT Michael P. Murphy. In the film, Murph’s family and friends recount their memories as we see his life come full circle, and his enduring legacy. The true heroism of Michael Murphy’s final days became even more vivid in the film Lone Survivor, where we feel we are fighting alongside Murph (portrayed by Taylor Kitsch) and his team in the remote Afghan mountains. Although the larger budget and known actors appeal to a larger audience, it is through the words of those who know these warriors best, that we also know them more intimately, and in turn see them as real people and real heroes.

Mactavish realizes that the story of someone’s life is best told by those they knew, with his documentary film style knitting us into their family. Following a tragic parachute accident that took the life of his fellow SEAL team member, Chief Petty Officer Lance Vaccaro, the director helped launch the Lance Vaccaro Memorial Ride. On June 17, 2010, four Navy SEAL motorcycle riders departed Virginia Beach, Virginia and headed toward Alaska. The 31-day journey covered 12,000 miles and connected with thousands of lives. Each tale of sacrifice, pain and pride carries us further along the journey. Ride For Lance is a personal film, and is meant as inspiration to all and a salute to the veterans and heroes who have paid the ultimate price for their dedication.

Murph: The Protector.
Lt. Michael P. Murphy (left). ©Mactavish Pictures

It would be impossible to tell the complete story of each and every veteran, although they deserve the recognition. If they could speak, though, I think each would disagree. Through the words of their family members and friends, we learn that these elite warriors care more for their teammates than themselves. Their strength is derived from their bond. Each a link in a chain that can’t exist without each other. We can not remember one without speaking of the rest. They are true heroes. They are unified. They are the tip of the spear.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the DVD go to the Navy SEAL Foundation, in perpetuity.

Release Date: August 26, 2014
Anchor Bay Entertainment
86 minutes
Not Rated

Overlord, Remastered for the 70th Anniversary of D-Day [Blu-ray Review]

overlord5
© 2014 The Criterion Collection

Operation Overlord, that was the code-name for the for the allied invasion of France on June 6th, 1944. This month marks the 70th anniversary of that invasion, better known as D-Day. Many films have been made about World War II and D-Day, most notably The Longest Day (1962), Saving Private Ryan (1998) and the 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers. What sets Overlord apart from the others, is its use of actual war footage, obtained from the archives of the London Imperial War Museum.

overlord-blu
© 2014 The Criterion Collection

Gun-camera footage, training maneuvers, D-Day preparations and the horrendous fire bombings of London are inter-cut with John Alcott’s beautifully shot footage documenting a fictional British lad named Thomas Beddows (Brian Stirner) who leaves home during the German attacks on London to join the British Army. As Private Beddows progresses toward the invasion, his self-doubt and fears of mortality grow. In one of Thomas’ letters home he sums up his feelings, “I am part of a machine that grows bigger and bigger, while we (the soldiers) grow smaller and smaller, until there’s nothing left.”

His dread is echoed throughout the film by several premonitions and much foreshadowing. These scenes often appear as dreams or daydreams that haunt Thomas. There really isn’t much of a love story in Overlord either. While many movies about World War II keep up the viewers’ morale with love interests and patriotism, Overlord does not. When Thomas meets a young woman at a dance, I felt I would be seeing the clichéd romance of a young soldier off to war. They kiss and set up a date, but the gears of war are ever-turning, and their romance can never be realized. Thomas is sent away early to prepare for the invasion, leaving the girl (Julie Neesam) behind.

Thomas’ journey through boot camp is bleak. Cinematographer John Alcott, best known for the four films he made with Director Stanley Kubrick, including Barry Lyndon (1975) that won him an Oscar, expertly matches the grain and lighting of 1940’s film to his 1975 footage. And, as you would expect, everything is shot in black-and-white with a 1.75:1 aspect ratio, giving a near-seamless transition between old and new. The only thing I noticed that gave away certain documentary scenes was the dust and scratches that popped up from time to time, while the newer material was flawless.

Overlord is a must-see film for anyone interested in World War II. But be warned, the images are at times horrific and gruesome, and the reality of war gives Overlord a very dark and humbling tone.

Overlord_004
© 2014 The Criterion Collection

Beddows (Brian Stirner) fantasizes about the girl he left behind (Julie Neesam) in Overlord. © 2014 The Criterion Collection

I applaud Criterion for preserving cinematic treasures, such as Overlord, for future generations. Admittedly, I hadn’t heard of Overlord until its Criterion 70th anniversary of D-Day release in May. And sadly, even DVDs and Blu-rays are becoming a thing of the past as video streaming becomes more popular. Unfortunately, one problem with streaming is the lack of special features. This is where Criterion shines! Overlord includes some fascinating extras such as an audio commentary track featuring Director Stuart Cooper and actor Brian Stirner, “Mining The Archive” featurette from 2007 with archivists from London’s Imperial War Museum, a 2007 photo-essay on Robert Capa’s influence on Director Stuart Cooper, “Cameramen at War” featurette, Cooper’s 1969 short film A Test of Violence, focusing on Spanish artist Juan Genovés, the 1941 Ministry of Information’s propaganda film Germany Calling, and excerpts form D-Day soldiers journals.

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Overlord
Year of release: 1975
Running time: 84 minutes
Distributor: The Criterion Collection

I, Frankenstein Puts Fresh Spin on a Timeless Tale [Blu-ray/DVD Review]

ifrankenstein-brHow do you take a story that’s nearly two centuries old and make it fresh? Screenwriter/Director Stuart Beattie took inspiration from Kevin Grevioux’s epic graphic novel of the same name. (Grevioux also appears in the film as Dekar, Naberius’ right-hand man.) I, Frankenstein begins with a flashback to the creation of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, who has no soul, but who does have a conscience.

When the creature (Aaron Eckhart) buries his creator, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, in the family cemetery, he is attacked by demons. In the ensuing fight, the monster is saved by the intervention of the gargoyles. For his protection, the gargoyles take the creature to a Cathedral where the Gargoyle Order gathers. Leonore, Queen of the Gargoyles, (Miranda Otto) names the creature Adam and explains the Gargoyle Order has Dr. Frankenstein’s journal for safekeeping. Adam then learns of the ancient war between the gargoyles (created by the Archangel Michael to battle demons on Earth and protect humanity) and the demons, who are under the command of the Prince Naberius (Bill Nighy). She also invites Adam to join the gargoyles in the war to save mankind. Adam prefers his isolated life and departs with weapons marked with the symbol of the Gargoyle Order that can descend demons back to Hell.

Spoiler Alert! (Skip the next three paragraphs if you have not seen the movie.)

Over the next two centuries, Adam fends off the demons that pursue him, until the Gargoyles summon Adam to be punished for the death of the human, but a much more serious problem has arisen.

It seems demons can only inhabit bodies without souls, such as those of the departed–and Adam’s. With Frankenstein’s journal, Naberius (now disguised as billionaire Charles Wessex) and the demons hope to re-animate thousands of corpses, and unleash an army of demons upon the world. The demons could conquer the Gargoyle Order and enslave mankind. A scientist named Terra (Yvonne Strahovski) is researching a process to create life while Naberius is seeking Dr. Frankenstein’s journal to help Terra and raise his army.

Aaron Eckhart ("Adam") stars in Lionsgate Home Entertainment's I, FRANKENSTEIN. Courtesy of Lakeshore Entertainment and Lionsgate.
Aaron Eckhart (“Adam”) stars in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s I, FRANKENSTEIN. Courtesy of Lakeshore Entertainment and Lionsgate.

I won’t divulge the end of the movie, except to say the filmmakers have breathed new life into a centuries-old character. Interestingly, Adam (the monster) was designed to look fit and strong, with only his many scars to indicate his true origin. By joining the fight, Adam transforms from monster to savior. The reversal of roles is an old technique to generate unexpected character twists, but one that works well in this film.

As for the disc itself, I’m glad to see the 2D and 3D versions of the movie are both encoded to a single Blu-ray and the DVD is included. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix gives depth and clarity to the sometimes hectic battles and numerous effects. The picture is excellent, although most of the film is dark with lots of contrast. Occasional CGI effects look a bit unrefined, but  I view I, Frankenstein more as a graphic novel brought to life. Fans of Mary Shelley’s immortal creation have a lot to appreciate in I, Frankenstein. If not for putting a fresh twist on a plot worn thin over time, then for giving the creature a reason to live into another century.

The Blu-ray features: 3D and 2D versions of the film in 2.40:1 aspect ratio, Audio Commentary by Writer/Director Stuart Beattie, Audio Commentary by filmmakers Gary Lucchesi, Richard Wright, James McQuade and Kevin Grevioux, “Creating a Monster” Featurette, and “Frankenstein’s Creatures” Featurette.

If you missed I, Frankenstein in theaters, (possibly due to many overly critical and mostly unwarranted reviews) I recommend fans of horror, fantasy and action films to give it a try on your home theater system. It’s fast-paced at 92 minutes, and rated PG-13 for sequences of intense fantasy action and violence throughout.

 

The Enduring Force of 1954’s Godzilla: The Japanese Original

Godzilla in a scene from the film.
Godzilla: The Japanese Original®, Godzilla®, Gojira and the character design are trademarks of Toho Co. Ltd. © 1954 Toho Co., Ltd. All rights reserved. New material and poster art © 2014 Rialto Pictures LLC.

In 1954 a hydrogen bomb released a force of nature on movie audiences that endures to this day. Godzilla, king of the monsters, was born from the mind of Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka. He had seen Ray Harryhausen’s 1953 film The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, and proceeded to create the first Japanese giant monster film. Coincidentally, about the same time, a horrifying accident occurred in the south Pacific. During the Castle Bravo test on March 1, 1954, the U.S. detonated the largest thermonuclear weapon it has ever tested. A 15-megaton hydrogen bomb, nearly 1,000 times more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, vaporized three islands and rained radioactive fallout hundreds of miles away on a Japanese fishing trawler named “Lucky Dragon #5”. The crew subsequently died of radiation poisoning, and sparked an outrage against nuclear testing.

Tomoyuki Tanaka incorporated this tragedy into his story saying, “Mankind had created ‘the Bomb’, and now nature was going to take revenge on mankind.” Tanaka’s working title became The Giant Monster from 20,000 Miles Beneath the Sea.  He took his idea to Iwao Mori, a powerful executive producer for Toho Studios. No Japanese studio had ever taken on such a huge and costly project. Mori approved of the idea and knew it would require the talents of Toho’s chief special-effects man, Eiji Tsuburaya. Tanaka chose an experienced director who had worked on war dramas involving numerous special effects. That director was Ishirô Honda. As Mori refined the project he also shortened the working title to simply, Project G, giving it top-secret status.

Now the creature needed a name. Because the original concept was for the monster to be part gorilla and part whale, they used an amalgam of Gorilla-kujira (the latter being the Japanese word for “whale”). The beast had his name, “Gojira”! In order to sell the concept to Western audiences, Toho’s marketing team revised the name to “Godzilla”. During the 1950s, giant reptiles and dinosaurs were becoming popular in films, so Tanaka wisely made Gojira a dinosaur-like creature that would threaten Japan. Something so horrifying that citizens would relate its destructive force to that of the atomic bomb.

Production for Godzilla began July 5, 1954, only four months before the film’s release. Critics often ask why Honda didn’t use stop-motion animation for the effects. Given the budget and tight deadlines required, stop-motion animation was out of the question. Instead, Tsuburaya pioneered what is now referred to as “suitmation”. The method worked well with the fine models that Tsuburaya’s team could build to portray the apocalyptic destruction Godzilla could wreak on Japan. In the film, Dr. Yamane estimates that Godzilla is 50 meters tall (167 feet) requiring most of the miniatures to be 1:25 scale. Forced perspective also made the buildings in the distance to appear smaller and farther away.

The first Godzilla suit was said to have weighed over 200 pounds, preventing the average actor from wearing it. The search for strong and athletic men to wear the cumbersome costume led the production team to Haruo Nakajima, a young actor and stuntman, and a teenaged Katsumi Tezuka. Both men had excellent endurance and strength from years of martial arts training and sports. Nakajima would be go on to reprise the role of Godzilla, becoming Toho’s principal Godzilla suitmation actor.

With a total budget nearing $900,000 (in adjusted U.S. dollars), Godzilla was the most expensive Japanese movie of its time, surpassing The Seven Samurai’s $500,000 budget. The expensive gamble paid off on November 3, 1954, when Godzilla broke the opening-day ticket-sales record in Tokyo held by The Seven Samurai. During its initial run, nearly 9.6 million people saw Godzilla in its original form. Toho had more than doubled its investment, taking in 152 million Yen ($2.25 million), and securing the future of the series.

Godzilla in a scene from the film.  © Toho Co. Ltd. All Rights Reserved
Godzilla in a scene from the film. © Toho Co. Ltd. All Rights Reserved

Today, 60 years and 26-plus sequels later, the king of the monsters is as popular as ever. This year Warner Brothers/Legendary Pictures is launching its reboot of Godzilla (this time set in San Francisco), while Rialto Pictures has painstakingly restored the original 98-minute Japanese version of the film for a new release under the title, Godzilla: The Japanese Original. American audiences now have the opportunity to see this classic film as it was meant to be seen. The 20 minutes of American footage (mostly with Raymond Burr) are gone while approximately 38 minutes of the original film are now restored.

What remains from the original production? Sadly, not much. The oldest known prop from the 1954 production is the Oxygen Destroyer that was used in the original to kill the monster (and featured on the poster for Godzilla: The Japanese Original). The original costumes have deteriorated over the years, leaving almost nothing behind for today’s fans to appreciate from the first Godzilla film. However, outside of Toho Studios in Tokyo, stands a statue honoring the monster that started a new era in Japanese cinema. It’s a reminder of the impact that Godzilla and Honda’s original film have had on movies for six decades.

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Godzilla: The Japanese Original screens now though May 8th at the Somerville Theater.

The Quiet Ones, a Beautiful Shell of a Movie with No Substance

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Krissi (Erin Richards) and Professor Coupland (Jared Harris) react as Jane (Olivia Cooke) heats things up during a séance. © 2014 Hammer Film Productions.

“Do you believe in ghosts?” Oxford Professor Joseph Coupland asks his class this question, but with an unexpected response. He believes that ghosts are manifestations of negative energy, and he can cure those affected by drawing the negative force from the body, thereby curing them. The story is very loosely based on actual events recorded by the Toronto Society for Psychical Research (TSPR) that occurred in Toronto, Canada during the Philip Experiment in 1972.

The film is set in 1974 where Professor Coupland (Jared Harris) proceeds to assemble a team of Oxford grad students in an attempt to cure a girl possessed by a malevolent spirit called Evey, thus proving his theory. The rest of the story is set in an abandoned house in the country where the experiment can take place. Harris (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) is perfect as the ambitious professor, out to prove the source of supernatural events. Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) plays Brian, who is chosen to film the experiment and who begins to empathize with the troubled Jane Harper (Bates Motel’s Olivia Cooke). Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne) and doe-eyed Krissi (Erin Richards) tag along to assist with the experiment.

The atmosphere in the house is genuinely creepy and dark, using what appears to be ambient lighting. Brian’s 16mm footage is intercut throughout the story to try to give a documentary feel, but never quite pulls us in. The sound is typically low except for the occasional sharp jolt to keep the audience alert, which is needed since the pacing is painfully slow.

The researchers set up their equipment outside a room with a small slot in the door to view Jane and hopefully record the poltergeist. Initially, the only events that begin to unfold are of a self-destructive nature such as Jane cutting herself with a hairpin. However, when Professor Coupland tries using a séance to evoke Evey and capture the spirit in a doll, things heat up, literally. It’s also during the séance that Jane erupts with a stream of ectoplasm, but even that does nothing to convince Coupland that the entity is not just a figment of Jane’s mind.

At this point, Brian decides to investigate a sigil that appears on Jane. Coupland says it’s the sign of satanists. Returning to the library, Brian discovers something dark in Jane’s and Coupland’s past that throws everyone into turmoil, resulting in a rampaging poltergeist and Coupland’s harshest experiment. He attempts to force Evey from Jane by stopping her heart and capturing the spirit on film as Evey escapes the dying body.

Being a Hammer production, I was hoping for an over-the-top, risk-taking horror film like those Hammer became famous for in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. However, what Director John Pogue leaves us with is a beautiful shell of a movie with no substance. Hammer needs to go back to its roots and be the cutting edge production company that set the bar for genre films during its heyday. I’m afraid The Quiet Ones will quietly fade away from my memory.