Film Review: Wrath of Daimajin (1966)

Also known as: Daimajin gyakushû (original Japanese title), Daimajin Strikes Again, Majin Strikes Again, The Return of Giant Majin, Return of Majin (US alternative titles)
Release Date: December 21st, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Kazuo Mori
Written by: Tetsuro Yoshida
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Hideki Ninomiya, Shinji Hori, Masahide Iizuka, Muneyuki Nagatomo, Junichiro Yamashita, Toru Abe, Takashi Nakamura, Hiroshi Nawa, Tanie Kitabayashi

Toho Co. Ltd., Daiei Studios, 87 Minutes

Review:

This is the third and final Daimajin film. These movies were all shot and released in the same year. Sadly, this great concept didn’t continue on like other kaiju and tokusatsu franchises but maybe that’s for the best as every Daimajin film has real quality.

From memory, this was my least favorite. However, seeing them all again after so long, I have to say that this one slightly edges out the other two. I think that the first one had the better story and the second one had the better finale. However, this one seems to be the most balanced, as its story rivals the first film, its action rivals the second while both of those things are really, really good.

This installment in the series is also carried by a group of child actors. This can often times be disastrous or just lack in quality but these kids were great and loveable.

I also really liked the three samurai that were trying to capture the runaway kids. They had good chemistry and they played off of the kids really well.

The story primarily follows these kids on a great journey across a region of feudal Japan. It draws allusions to The Fellowship of the Ring in that way, as they have to reach their objective over a long distance while being pursued by a great, deadly force.

In the end, we get to see the giant stone demon come back to life and crush vile tyrants. This is always the highlight of these films and it is used to great effect, here, even if some of the shots appeared to be reused from the previous films. This was pretty common in Japanese kaiju pictures, though, but at least it isn’t a technique that was as bastardized as it would become in the Gamera movies.

I love the hell out of this series. But what I love even more is that they don’t lose steam and that the series goes out on a bang.

That being said, I’m fine that there are only three of these and the short-lived franchise quit while it was ahead.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in the series, as well as other ’60s kaiju flicks.

Film Review: Return of Daimajin (1966)

Also known as: Daimajin ikaru (original title), The Return of Giant Majin (US TV title), Majin (Spain)
Release Date: August 13th, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Kenji Misumi
Written by: Tetsuro Yoshida
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Kojiro Hongo, Shiho Fujimura, Taro Marui, Takashi Kanda

Toho Co. Ltd., Daiei Studios, 79 Minutes

Review:

Return of Daimajin was the second of three Daimajin movies, which were all filmed at the same time and were all released in Japan in the same year: 1966.

All the films have a very similar premise in that they see a giant, stone protector arrive to smash the hell out of tyrannical warlords who try to exploit the weak and the poor.

These are also period pieces and have the feel of a jidaigeki picture until the big demon monster shows up and essentially transforms these into kaiju movies in their third act.

Overall, I found this film’s story to be a bit weaker than the first picture but that was offset by the big finale, which I liked a lot more in this installment. I think a lot of that has to do with Daimajin literally parting the water like the Red Sea in the Bible and slowly walking towards the village full of tyrants, building tension and horror.

Also, the evil tyrant’s death was simply awesome.

I also thought that the special effects felt a bit more refined and perfected. The miniature work was solid and it holds up over fifty years later.

The action also played better and it was just cool seeing the big demon crush these scumbags while tearing down their town.

While at face value, this movie might just come across as “more of the same”, it’s the subtle differences that make it work. I guess it’s kind of like Friday the 13th movies where they follow a predictable formula in the same type of setting but if you’re a fan of the films, you don’t care and each one just has something special and unique within it.

Most people probably won’t dig these movies and that’s fine. However, for kaiju cinema fans that haven’t experienced any of these, you really should check them out.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in the series, as well as other ’60s kaiju flicks.

Film Review: Daimajin (1966)

Also known as: Majin (France, US), Majin the Monster of Terror, The Devil Got Angry, Majin the Hideous Idol, Majin the Stone Samurai, The Vengeance of the Monster (US alternative titles)
Release Date: April 17th, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Kimiyoshi Yasuda
Written by: Tetsuro Yoshida
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Miwa Takada, Yoshihiko Aoyama, Jun Fujimaki, Ryutaro Gomi

Toho Co. Ltd., Daiei Studios, 84 Minutes

Review:

The Daimajin trilogy is mostly forgotten today. Many fans of kaiju and tokusatsu flicks haven’t even seen or heard of the movie. There are several kaiju film friends I’ve met online over the years that were actually introduced to these movies by yours truly. However, I didn’t know about them either until I came across some photos of the movie’s monster online in the late ’00s.

I bought the American Blu-ray set when it came out around 2012 or so and since then, I’ve developed a really deep appreciation for these movies due to their uniqueness and coolness.

They’re not traditional kaiju movies and I guess you could even debate whether or not they even fit the kaiju genre, as they play more like a jidaigeki with heavy fantasy elements. Plus, the monster is just a giant stone statue that occasionally comes to life to crush tyrants and their minions.

My brain categorizes it as a kaiju flick, though, as ever since seeing this, I’ve always thought about how this film’s big stone demon would fare against Godzilla, Gamera and other well-known giant monsters if he were scaled up to a similar size.

The story here is simple and it’s pretty much the same for all three movies despite the smaller details. A tyrant in feudal Japan does bad shit and draws the ire of this angry god, who feasts on the sounds of the crunching bones of a tyrannical army.

Daimajin doesn’t say anything but his presence is greatly feared as he is simply a force of nature in the form of a stone man, cleansing the Japanese countryside of scumbags. He’s unrelenting and will not stop until small corrupt empires are flattened and crushed.

The story that leads up to the monster coming to life in this movie is pretty good. It filled in the blanks nicely and made you have an emotional connection to the people being victimized by the evil bastards that deserved their fate.

I love this movie, the film series and the monster. This is one of the coolest kaiju film series of all-time and frankly, it deserves a lot more recognition than it gets. These are much better movies than what’s typical in the kaiju genre.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in the series, as well as other ’60s kaiju flicks.

Film Review: Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966)

Also known as: Rasputin (Spain)
Release Date: March 6th, 1966 (UK)
Directed by: Don Sharp
Written by: Anthony Hinds
Music by: Don Banks
Cast: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews, Richard Pasco, Suzan Farmer, Joss Ackland 

Seven Arts Productions, Hammer Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

“When I go to confession I don’t offer God small sins, petty squabbles, jealousies… I offer him sins worth forgiving!” – Grigori Rasputin

This might not be Christopher Lee’s best film but it is certainly one of his greatest performances of all-time and the greatest out of all the Hammer Films pictures he starred in.

The movie is a very loose biopic about Grigori Rasputin, a man whose legend has grown well beyond reality. Still, the guy was damn interesting and gained control over some powerful, influential people.

Also, his death is pretty legendary but I’m not going to rehash all the details about the man and his death. Go to Wikipedia for that, if you’re unfamiliar with it.

This film doesn’t cover Rasputin’s whole life, it just covers the end of it. It essentially starts with some character building and context to setup who he is and then immediately gets into how he “mesmerized” an influential Russian family, causing some serious harm to the people trapped in the gravitational pull of his orbit.

The film also eventually gets to his death. However, being that this was a superb picture for Hammer, I’m actually kind of shocked that they didn’t find a way to resurrect the madman for a series of sequels that would be a lot more horror heavy. It definitely feels like it was a missed opportunity. Plus, I would’ve liked to have seen what a director like Terence Fisher could’ve done had he gotten a crack at the Hammer version of the Rasputin character.

This is well acted and honestly, it really stands out in that regard, compared to other Hammer movies of the time.

Rasputin: The Mad Monk is one of the best motion pictures that Hammer ever made and I feel like it’s sort of been forgotten, as people tend to gravitate more towards the films that feature Dracula, Frankenstein and vampires in general.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films with Christopher Lee.

Film Review: Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966)

Release Date: July 29th, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Castellano & Pipolo (Italian version), Louis M. Heyward & Robert Kaufman (US version)
Music by: Les Baxter (US version), Lallo Gori (Italian version)
Cast: Vincent Price, Fabian, Franco Franchi, Ciccio Ingrassia, Laura Antonelli, Mario Bava (cameo – uncredited)

Italian International Film, American International Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“That’s not Rosanna. That’s a jigsaw puzzle.” – Bill Dexter

I haven’t seen this film in a long time and the two Dr. Goldfoot movies blended together in my memory. I was a bit intrigued to check this one out, though, as I noticed that it was directed by giallo and horror maestro, Mario Bava. He’s a director that has a fantastic style.

Sadly, this was a bit of a let down. That’s not to say that the first movie was great by any stretch of the imagination but it was entertaining and full of charming whimsy. This picture is a big step down.

I think that this may just be a problem with the American version of the film, however, as the jokes and gags don’t seem to land. This could be due to this being an Italian production, unlike its predecessor, and some of the humor got lost in poor translation.

The film does seem more concerned with showcasing gags than any sort of interesting, coherent story though.

I still enjoyed Vincent Price in this but his performance is weaker, overall, because he didn’t have his assistant from the first movie, who was a good goof for Price to play off of. They had good banter and decent chemistry but in this film, the new henchman barely speaks and just sort of follows orders.

The film’s humor is also goofier, as it relies pretty heavily on slapstick and people falling all over the place like a Benny Hill sketch.

Still, this isn’t a complete waste of time if you like ’60s era spy parodies and Vincent Price. He’s surrounded by a weaker cast but at least he’s still fun to watch when he gets to ham it up.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as the Dean Martin starring Matt Helms films.

Film Review: The Wild Angels (1966)

Also known as: All the Fallen Angels, The Fallen Angels (working titles)
Release Date: July 20th, 1966
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles B. Griffith, Peter Bogdanovich (uncredited)
Music by: Mike Curb
Cast: Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra, Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd, Buck Taylor, Norman Alden, Michael J. Pollard, Frank Maxwell, Dick Miller, Peter Bogdanovich

American International Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“We don’t want nobody telling us what to do. We don’t want nobody pushing us around.” – Heavenly Blues

While people mostly remember Easy Rider as the counterculture biker picture of its time, The Wild Angels predates it by three years, features the same star and was actually the film that kicked off a whole slew of biker and drug movies.

Directed by Roger Corman and starring two of his regulars, Peter Fonda and Bruce Dern, this picture also inspired some other counterculture films by Corman, most notably The Trip.

Overall, this is a pretty dark picture but it has some charm to it, mainly because the main players are so good. Despite the fact that they’re mostly despicable pieces of shit, there is that part of you that wants them to find the freedom and fantastical utopia they are looking for.

At it’s core, this is just a cool movie with cool stars and the film really does a superb job at manufacturing a pretty genuine feeling story about outlaw bikers and their flimsy philosophies. I think that’s the main reason as to why this picture sparked a cinematic trend that saw more films like this getting made for several years.

I wouldn’t place this among Corman’s best films but it is certainly a good one that stands on its own and showcases the director’s talent in spite of his rapid shooting style and microbudget economics.

I also wouldn’t call this the best of the counterculture pictures of its day but it is most definitely a great example of this sort of cinematic social commentary done well.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman films from the ’60s, as well as other counterculture and drug pictures of the time. Especially those starring Peter Fonda or Bruce Dern.

Film Review: Secret Agent Super Dragon (1966)

Also known as: New York Calling Superdragon (informal English title)
Release Date: February 17th, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Giorgio Ferroni (as Calvin Jackson Padget)
Written by: Giorgio Ferroni (as Calvin Jackson Padget), Remigio Del Grosso, Bill Coleman, Mike Mitchell
Music by: Benedetto Ghiglia
Cast: Ray Danton, Marisa Mell

Films Borderie, Fono Roma, Gloria-Film GmbH, 95 Minutes

Review:

Secret Agent Super Dragon is just one of several attempts of the Italians trying to capitalize off of the James Bond phenomena. It’s a film that fails in just about every way but luckily for us, it was so bad that it was showcased on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This is one of those films that is unintentionally funny. It’s not officially a comedy but some of the stuff in it is so ridiculous that it plays like parody in parts.

The story is flimsy but that could also be due to a bad English language dub. But films like this get a lot lost in translation so it’s hard to say if there are actual details left out and if the really atrocious dialogue is just a really atrocious translation.

Still, the movie looks bad. It’s poorly shot, badly lit and shows no signs of competent cinematography. While one could claim it’s at least stylish, I could claim that it’s just due to the time and the country it was made in and that whatever style there is, is just a byproduct of it trying to mimic a James Bond picture.

Apart from its lack of technical and artistic merits, the film is just a dreadful bore to get through. It’s only really worth checking out on MST3K.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other terrible ’60s wannabe Bond movies of which there are many.

Film Review: Red Zone Cuba (1966)

Also known as: Night Train to Mundo Fine (original title)
Release Date: November, 1966 (los Angeles)
Directed by: Coleman Francis
Written by: Coleman Francis
Music by: John Bath, Ray Gregory (theme)
Cast: Coleman Francis, Anthony Cardoza, Harold Saunders, John Carradine, Lanell Cado, Tom Hanson, George Prince, Frederic Downs

Hollywood Star Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“That’s my daughter. She’s been blind and all, ever since her husband was killed in the war.” – Cliff

Coleman Francis movies are synonymous for being actual poop on celluloid. Thankfully, three of them were shown on episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which are the only versions of these movies worth watching.

Red Zone Cuba is exceptionally bad, even for MST3K standards. It is almost always featured on bloggers’ lists about the worst films featured on the show and honestly, I agree with the consensus.

There is not much redeeming value in this film, unlike other mega-schlock like Manos: The Hands of Fate or Space Mutiny. This is just a slow, boring, ugly turd.

But hey, at least it has John Carradine in it! Granted, he mostly did a lot of crap pictures after his heyday.

Anyway, to solidify my point about how bad this movie is, the voice of Tom Servo, Kevin Murphy, has often times referred to it as the worst picture he had to watch while working on and writing for MST3K.

The film’s plot sounds kind of interesting but this is Coleman Francis, so it is terribly executed and presented.

The story revolves around an ex-con that recruits other ex-cons to get involved in the Bay of Pigs while also looking for hidden treasure in Cuba.

Frankly, this is a monotonous dud. It’s even hard to watch on MST3K and I really only revisited it this time because I’m trying to review every film featured on the show and I’ve put this movie off for far too long.

Rating: 1.5/10
Pairs well with: other Coleman Francis schlock but watch the MST3K versions of them all.

Film Review: The Deadly Bees (1966)

Release Date: December 23rd, 1966 (Deming, New Mexico)
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Robert Bloch, Anthony Marriott
Based on: A Taste for Honey by Gerald Heard
Music by: Wilfred Josephs
Cast: Suzanne Leigh, Guy Doleman, Frank Finlay, Michael Ripper, Katy Wild, Michael Gwynn

Amicus Productions, Paramount Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“[Referring to a liquid he has] I’ve made this especially for you, Vicki.” – H.W. Manfred

The Deadly Bees has a really low rating on IMDb and pretty much everywhere else you might look. Despite what seems to be most people’s disdain for the film, I actually like it.

I think this may be due to my love of British horror from this era but I’ll always have a pretty big soft spot for Amicus Productions, along with Hammer Films: the two studios that really made their mark in the ’60s and ’70s and epitomize the second wave of classic horror.

The Deadly Bees was also lampooned by Mystery Science Theater 3000 in one of the later seasons. I understand why it was rife with material to riff but there is still something truly eerie and effective about the film.

The biggest factor working against the movie is the special effects where the bee attacks are concerned. I mean, even for the ’60s, it’s kind of horrible. All of these scenes are comprised of victims flailing around, simulating a bee attack with yellowish bee blobs superimposed over the screen. It’s really bizarre looking and I know that funds on these sort of pictures were very limited but it bogs the rest of the film down in its cheap hokiness.

The plot is actually decent, most of the characters are good and there is a predictable twist at the end but I think it still works and it doesn’t diminish the feeling of dread when the damsel is in mortal danger.

The film also features Michael Ripper and Michael Gwynn, two actors that you’d see pop up in several Amicus and Hammer films.

I thought that Suzanne Leigh was pretty good in this and put in a convincing performance. She truly is an old school beauty and with that, has an enchanting presence.

Guy Doleman did a good job too, as you never really knew where he stood in the story. Was he an evil bastard or was he just kind of a jerk?

The Deadly Bees does have some issues but I don’t think any of them outweigh the positives to the point that this deserves a 3.6 out of 10 on IMDb. I think that its inclusion on MST3K has negatively effected the public’s view of the film. It’s far from the worst movie that you’ll see on MST3K.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other Amicus and Hammer horror films of the ’60s and ’70s.

Film Review: Agent for H.A.R.M. (1966)

Release Date: January 5th, 1966 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Gerd Oswald
Written by: Blair Robertson
Music by: Gene Kauer, Douglas M. Lackey
Cast: Peter Mark Richman, Carl Esmond, Barbara Bouchet, Martin Kosleck, Wendell Corey, Robert Quarry

Universal Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“This could’ve been you, and don’t you forget it! Better go back to the judo range.” – Adam Chance

This is a bad and bizarre movie but it was also riffed in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, so that probably goes without saying.

Agent of H.A.R.M. was released in the mid-’60s when there were a slew of spy films coming out due to the success of the James Bond franchise. This one also adds in some crazy sci-fi elements, which was also popular at the time.

The threat in this film is a special gun that shoots spores. When these spores come into contact with flesh, it turns them into fungus, which basically transforms its victims into mushroom goo. I can’t believe I just typed those two sentences but that’s the MacGuffin in this sci-fi spy turkey.

Originally, this was developed to be a television pilot but Universal ended up deciding that it would be best to be released as an actual motion picture on a double bill with Wild Wild Winter, which was a beach party movie that left the beach behind for the slopes. So this wasn’t really a logical pairing but studios didn’t care when they were just trying to make a dime back off of a dollar thrown away.

I didn’t find this as terrible as most of the reviews I’ve read on it. It certainly isn’t good but it’s also far from the worst thing to make it on an episode of MST3K.

I also didn’t get too bored watching it but I’m also fascinated by batshit crazy sci-fi plots and I’ve got a soft spot for ’60s spy films regardless of their quality.

In the end, if you are into weird shit like this, it’s worth a look. If you’re an MST3K fan and haven’t watched this one, it won’t drive you to madness.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’60s spy movies with a weird sci-fi twist.