Thursday, December 24, 2015

A GHWP Christmas Memory - The Monster's Christmas

     That magical period between the age of three and four. One's first real memories start to take hold, and one begins to look back at experiences for the first time and cement some of those moments in vivid detail... or allow some of them to skew until you almost convince yourself that some of them were just in your imagination. For me, that year was 1981, and I have a little of both in the memory department. Since the original Star Wars was before my time, it wasn't until 1981 that I saw it for the first time in theatrical re-release, and my first memory of it-- perhaps the earliest memory I have of anything-- is a towering C-3PO and R2-D2 cardboard standee in front of the theater. I stared at it while my mother complained to the ticket seller that the traffic had made us late to the start of the movie. I think she was afraid that the theater wouldn't let us in or that it might have sold out. I remember the packed house. It took a minute or two to find seats, but I wasn't paying attention to that. As my mother led me by the hand, my eyes were locked on the vast expanse of Tatooine as Threepio and Artoo wandered through the desert. Mom claims she took me to see The Empire Strikes Back a year earlier, but I have no recollection of that. She often told me that she never would have given the movies a chance at all if not for having a child, and she remained a fan for the rest of her life, glad that she hadn't passed it off forever on looks alone (she found the prequel trilogy "terrible," by the way... her word).

     And so this is Christmas, and my memory goes back once again to 1981. My mother had remarried someone who seemed like a successful and loving man (AT FIRST), and I was having what would be the last few moments with my biological father that I would have for the rest of his life. But this is a happy time, so I'll forego the sad stories of what went on in my family most of the time and focus on the point: that sponge phase when a child wants to soak in the entire world. I didn't watch television as much as one might think I did as a child despite my vast memories of movies and shows, but when I did, I had the benefit of early 1980s premium cable in my home. It was, indeed, a time of great privilege (i.e.: starry-eyed parents of poverty living beyond their means and unable to see it would come back to bite them in a couple of years after the honeymoon was over). Cable was dying for programming in those days, and they still didn't run on a 24-hour schedule yet. Premium cable used to go off the air, folks. Believe it. Even in 1981, a lot of theatrical movies hadn't made the jump to television, so many stations turned to low-budget films and foreign programming to pick up the slack. Channels like HBO had been around for a decade already, but premium cable was just starting to find its place by 1981. When it came to children's programming on cable in the early '80s, I can't think of a single program that came from the United States. I had Romper Room and Friends and Sesame Street, but those were on public broadcasting. I got most of my enjoyment in children's programming from cable, and perhaps it was that multicultural and international diversity that lured me into it. HBO had Babar (Canada/France), Nickelodeon's Pinwheel came out of Canada and featured cartoons and shorts from no less than a dozen foreign countries (Denmark, Italy, Sweden, France, Norway, Germany, Finland, just to name a few), and The Movie Channel and other premium outlets were filling their prime youth hours with animated shorts like Hungary's Állatságok (AKA Animalia, not to be confused with the 1986 children's book or the 2007 Australian CG-animated series) Animalia has an IMDB entry and aired as filler on HBO, but I have yet to find any video or other information about it. I used to have one episode on VHS, but it is long since lost. Finding a complete set of the series is one of my holy grails. Many of these cartoons were open to the domestic market because they had no dialogue, but the foreign market also drew in English language programming from Britain, Australia and New Zealand, which brings us to our live tweet feature.

     Memories of annual Christmas specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas are a dime a dozen, but my memory of The Monster's Christmas was so vivid and yet so hard to substantiate that I almost had myself convinced that it never really existed. I saw it a total of one and a half times on a premium cable channel in December 1981, possibly 1982, and then it was gone. All I had was the memory of it for thirty years until I found it again, and it was exactly as I remembered it. The Monster's Christmas was filmed in New Zealand, and it gave audiences an early view of the magnificent landscape that would become a standard filming location for Power Rangers, Hercules - The Legendary Journeys, Xena - Warrior Princess, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, among many others. In a sort of Wizard of Oz/Alice in Wonderland style, The Monster's Christmas tells the tale of a little girl who must become a champion and save the denizens of the land of monsters. A wicked witch has cast a spell and taken away all of the monsters' voices, reducing them to creatures capable only of grunts and groans. Only the power of a magic scepter and the actions of a human with the power of speech can break the spell. Journeying across the land, the girl meets a number of different monsters that aid her in her quest while the witch's rat-like servant attempts to steal the scepter and foil the monsters' chances of being free to sing again.

     I'm glad places like YouTube and the Internet exist so that obscure little gems like this don't disappear forever, and I hope you'll join me as we send the 2015 holidays off into their own corner of well-deserved obscurity on Twitter with The Monster's Christmas at 10PM EST on #GHWP, following a special 8PM EST presentation of the 1974 classic Black Christmas hosted by one of the great folks of #TrashTue, @SullaBlack.

REMINDER: #GHWP kicks off its Star Wars celebration Sunday, December 27, at 4:45PM EST with the Toei classic Message from Space.

Monday, December 7, 2015

GHWP Tuesday Movie Dec. 8, 2015 - Monster in the Closet

     I've steered away from the blog promos for a little while since Spectreman ended, and the holidays, frankly, just aren't my favorite time to be social these days. I felt like dusting off the blog this week in an attempt to shed a little light on how I feel about Troma movies, and I think I might have left with more confusing questions than answers. I'm not a big fan of Troma movies. I don't say this to be controversial or to start a fight with Troma fans, and I have to say that I'm not a fan of Troma movies because I AM a fan of Troma movies. I like the movies, but I almost never watch any of them for some reason. I never thought I would find an opportunity to unpack that, but I'll try. Troma films look like they are more fun to produce than to watch. I feel like I'm looking through the window of a great party, and my invitation was lost in the mail (or I just didn't have the nerve to go through the door because there was some embarrassing social hang up holding me back). I certainly don't like to watch them alone because fans of Troma movies are my kind of wacky people, but I also never found myself riffing on them very much even when I did. The only way I found myself able to watch some of them in their entirety was with the help of Gilbert Gottfried and Rhonda Shear on USA Up All Night. Horror/movie hosts made me feel like I had a friend sitting with me, and I've made it no secret that I had a lonely childhood surrounded by kids who just didn't get my movie tastes. People like Elvira, Grampa Munster, and Commander USA were the only real friends I had.

     This Tuesday night at 8PM EST, #TrashTue will be live tweeting The Toxic Avenger, which is, for all intents and purposes, the Troma standard. At 10PM EST following Toxie, #GHWP features my favorite of the Troma bunch: Monster in the Closet. I first saw this one on late night television, most likely Up All Night or perhaps Saturday Nightmares. I count this one as my favorite above all because it stands as a spoof of 1950s-era science fiction and horror movies. It is entirely tongue-in-cheek and features a load of celebrity guest stars from the best corners of film and television like Claude Akins and Henry Gibson, and I hold it in high regard with the likes of Airplane!, Matinee and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. I wouldn't say it's as "good" as those by any stretch, but it delivers an impressive monster while taking some good-natured jabs at the social sensibilities of Cold War-era irradiated creature movies by the likes of Roger Corman and others (as well as poking fun at a superhero trope or two such as how a mild-mannered man can become an irresistible Adonis just by taking off his glasses). If you grew up on movies like It Conquered the World, The Monster That Challenged the World, Beginning of the End, From Hell It Came, or Attack of the Crab Monsters, then Monster in the Closet should be an amusing treat. It likely is one of the tamest movies Troma ever put out in terms of subject matter, and even the trailer boasts it as a horror movie for the whole family. Still, a few spots in this movie spooked me, particularly the death scenes early in the movie that leave everything to the imagination. It's just a bit jarring to hear a lot of screaming and monster roaring just off camera and not knowing what's going on. Your mind starts wandering to some dark places, and that's how real horror movies are supposed to get you in the first place. Then again, my sensibilities are a bit off when it comes to movies. I can watch an Italian horror movie where a person gets his/her throat slashed, but I have to turn my head and cringe if someone gets their knuckles smashed in a door. Go figure.

     Interesting note: Monster in the Closet marks the film debut of the late Paul Walker, star of the Fast and the Furious franchise, and his child genius character reminds me more than a little of the Japanese kids with top level security clearance in any given giant monster movie.

     The following biographical passage is stream-of-consciousness nonsense rant as my eight-year-old inner child proceeds to bitch at his peer group and the ridiculousness of his elders in the 80s. It has no real bearing on the point of this blog other than for me to discover I was more a Troma fan than I thought before I sat down to write. I already plugged the movies, so I'd skip the rest if I were you... unless you're that twisted.

      In defense of my childhood peers, I was too quiet and shy to find out if any of them did share my movie tastes, but I found out firsthand in elementary school that I spent too much time at opposing ends of the spectrum and not enough time in the boring middle of the mainstream popularity contest road like they did. When the seasonal vote came for a holiday party movie in my 3rd and 4th grade classes, anything I would have picked would have been either too wildly inappropriate for an elementary classroom or so childish that it would paint a bullseye on my chest. Of course, I was optimistic and hopeful (i.e.: dumb) enough to pick at least the latter of the two for being responsible and kid-friendly to my classmates and think that a room full of children that largely teased and ignored me would believe that it was worth more than dumbfounded glares and raucous laughter to suggest the direct-to-video My Pet Monster movie over the hugely popular mainstream classic Labyrinth.
     I know what you're thinking. I enjoyed Labyrinth, but I loved that painful obscurity of dark corners of the direct-to-video world. Don't try to tell me it wasn't perfectly normal for an eight-year-old to watch My Pet Monster, and don't try to tell me you don't know exactly why a classroom full of little eight-year-old sheep voted for Labyrinth. Labyrinth was everywhere, and our teacher was none too happy to show it in the first place because it had "cuss words" in it. She actually had to find out exactly where those words were in the movie so that she could fast forward past them. I think Jennifer Connelly said "damn" twice in the movie, and that was it. That apparently would have been enough to warrant a PTA fiasco if any of our innocent ears heard it in our most holy temple of learning.
     I was a shy and bullied little kid, but I'm just now realizing that I was an elitist little punk when it came to movies. It gives my inner child a relieving sense of superiority to drown out some of the childhood trauma of those popularity-driven little posers. I may not have your movie tastes, but I could still sit down and discuss, at unimaginable length, the nuances and brilliance of Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird like George Plympton hosting friggin' Masterpiece Theater. I will, however, admit that Alyson Court was one of my first childhood celebrity crushes while most of the boys around me were trying to propel themselves into early puberty with Jennifer Connelly. Court was in both Follow That Bird and My Pet Monster, and it was hard not to love her voice in the Beetlejuice animated series among her many, many credits.
     Did any of my childhood peers care to understand the real reasons I watched such a diverse blend of movies and television? Of course they didn't because the bandwagon hate of film demographic splits starts early with that "only little babies watch Sesame Street" playground logic. Children are dumb little lemmings that want attention and pretend to have taste in anything, saying they like or dislike anything that makes them part of the crowd. They're too dumb to realize that there are mere months between the little cutoff periods they invent in their minds when they become "too old" for something and decide with great irony that "too old" means "expert on cool," and a lot of them grow up into adult "experts on cool" that think it's fine to ridicule a subjective concept just because a lot of other people expressed some displeasure with it. I followed that logic against my own integrity for survival because I didn't want to get beaten up on the playground, but I'd be damned if I stopped watching what I wanted to watch on television because someone else told me it wasn't cool. That's why everyone likes to shit on the Twilight saga today, and family movies end up with some of the worst IMDB scores for the same reason: people commenting are not part of the intended demographic. I'll defend Twilight for that reason alone because that sort of criticism is dismissive and borders on mob mentality. This may sound hypocritical to anyone reading this from a movie-riffing standpoint, especially when I won't extend that same defense to any cartoon adaptation Michael Bay gets his hands on, but I assure you there is a difference. You know the difference between good-natured ribbing and bullying, or at least you should by now. I don't like that sort of ganging up on even a bad movie any more than I liked being the only one who tried to defend one emotionally disturbed kid from the entire population of third grade boys every day at recess while the teacher aide chaperones turned their heads because they didn't like the kid either. But I digress. Somehow, I took this conversation completely off the rails and became unusually bitter. I don't dislike children, but 1986 was a difficult year for me as one.
      Even my best friends didn't really get it, but I won't make any claims I could wrap my head around it either. Well, one of them sort of got it, but that was an awkward sleepover watching Gator Bait II with his mom. She didn't have a problem with her eleven-year-old son and three of his friends watching a blatant I Spit on Your Grave ripoff, yet she almost turned it off when one of the actors said the word "fuck" more than three times in the span of ten seconds. This was still the 80s, and moral parental inconsistency was mind-numbing. For most kids I knew, the closest thing to daring adventures into naughtiness was a poster of a nude model covered in soap bubbles (she might as well have been wearing a floor-length wool coat because you couldn't see anything). That poster was hanging on a closet wall hidden behind a mass of clothes, and it required a flashlight to see because his mother didn't know it was there. For me, I guess there was a parental effort to distinguish that nothing I saw on television was a big deal compared to the real world, but for the most part it felt like my elders didn't supervise anything I watched at all. I almost went off the rails again biographically with a few more real world stories that proved them right, but I'd rather not publish those little tidbits for the sake of good taste. Irony, I'm sure, in a blog about movies with deliberately bad taste, but decorum is important and blah blah. My apologies to any Troma fans reading this for denying you the benefit of tales of my disturbing neighbors and extended family. Some other time.

     As much as I love a sitcom like The Goldbergs for how accurately it relates to some of those parts of my childhood, it's a show on a network that loves to leave out gory details. The family television demographic is a world of talking unicorns and happy endings, and how dare you make incest jokes about the Brady Bunch. Troma, on the other hand, takes no prisoners, and its movies don't take themselves seriously. They delve freely into those weird and outrageous corners without any hang-ups, and I guess one small part of me couldn't let go of all my inhibitions. I suppose a part of me wanted to hold on to a little bit of what I called sanity, and now I'm having a therapy session instead of talking about movies.

     I don't know if I successfully made a point anywhere in all that gibberish, and I wouldn't blame you if you didn't believe me when I say that I am completely sober when I write this stuff down. If this were a cop action movie, my commanding officer would have told me I was out of control and demanded my badge somewhere in the middle of the second paragraph.

     If you're still reading this far and haven't backed slowly away, tune in for the Troma double feature Tuesday night starting with The Toxic Avenger at 8PM EST on #TrashTue. Then stick around for #GHWP at 10PM EST with Monster in the Closet.

Monday, November 2, 2015

GHWP Live Tweet November 2015 Tuesday Movie Line Up & New Friday Time

     With Spectreman behind me, I'm looking to the horizon for... something to do. For what the show offered in entertainment and zany dubbing, I'm not sure I can top it on Friday nights, but I'll try. It was sad to give our cyborg hero and his space ape enemies a final sendoff, but a soft spot in my heart has chosen to believe that Dr. Gori and Karas escaped their fate and opened a little bed and breakfast in Indiana.

Throw pillows, Karas! Just think of what my ultimate genius can do with throw pillows!
     The Japanese Wikipedia page for Spectreman had an interesting notation on Gori and Karas, labeling them as having a master-slave relationship so strong that they couldn't live without each other. The final episode came off as a little anti-climactic, but after looking at the show from this angle, it strengthens my belief that Gori and Karas were perhaps the most unique villains in any Japanese superhero show.

"Why did you save me, master?"              "... because you complete me."

     #GHWP Tuesday Movie Line Up for November 2015: 

                    November 3 - Terror Train

    On November 3, it's like Halloween never ended with one of my all time favorites, Terror Train. An early 1980s slasher, Terror Train got its hands on Jamie Lee Curtis just before slasher movies became cliche and Curtis moved on to other roles. It didn't take long after Halloween for that to happen, but Curtis would squeeze four horror roles in between her career as Laurie Strode in the first two Halloween films before moving on to other genres: The Fog, Prom Night, Terror Train, and the amazing Australian-produced film Roadgames (co-starring Stacy Keach). Terror Train, produced in Canada in 1980, is standard slasher fare and was not highly acclaimed, but it does have the significance of being one of the first horror movies I ever saw as a child. It's become a habit for me to repeat the statement that "I first saw this movie at the age of four," and that is turning out to apply to a lot of movies. I might have seen it at age two when it premiered because my parents, being movie nuts and having a child born knowing to shut the hell up in a movie theater, took me with them to movies all the time, but my memories of it are, like many movies, cemented in that age four bracket of 1982 when my family first decided to get premium cable. For me, the draw was not only Halloween's Jamie Lee Curtis but also celebrity magician David Copperfield, making his first feature film appearance in Terror Train and his only film acting credits outside of his many illusionist television specials in which he did not play himself (but let's face it... he really was playing himself in Terror Train anyway).
     The story revolves around a pre-med school prank gone horribly wrong. Curtis' character reluctantly takes part in luring a fraternity pledge named Kenny Hampson into a dark room for a romantic interlude, but Kenny unwittingly gets into bed with a woman's corpse. I guess pranking friends with cadavers is the logical equivalent of dentists having Nitrous oxide parties. Kenny suffers a complete mental breakdown from the experience and is institutionalized, and the story cuts to three years later as the people responsible begin to drop off one by one during a train-chartered New Year's costume party.

Watch my film career closely. Now you see me. Now you don't. Mindfreak!

      November 10 - Android Kikaider (1972) episode 1 and Mechanical Violator Hakaider (1995)

     Tuesday night, November 10, we go back to Japan for a special Keita Amemiya-themed movie and a show with the first episode of the 1972 Japanese superhero series Jinzou Ningen Kikaider and the 1995 film starring a former Kikaider villain elevated to the role of anti-hero in Mechanical Violator Hakaider. Created by one of the fathers of Japanese manga superheroes Shotaro Ishinomori, Kikaider is the story of an android's struggle against evil to protect his creator and his family. Kikaider and Hakaider might seem more familiar to some from their recent appearances in an anime series as well as a new 2015 film called Kikaider: ReBoot. Hakaider would show up in the 1972 series as a major enemy in the story, but action/sci-fi director Keita Amemiya had something different in mind for Hakaider's starring film role. Amemiya cut his teeth in tokusatsu with Toei in the 1980s with a number of Super Sentai and Kamen Rider series, and he made the transition into feature films in 1988 with Mirai Ninja. Amemiya would go on to produce the successful live action adaptation of Zeiram and its sequel as well as the underrated Moon of Tao: Makaraga.
     Mechanical Violator Hakaider, released in 1995, is a post-apocalyptic tale sure to make any religious studies major question his/her life choices. This world of the future focuses on Jesus Town, a Utopian city ruled by the supposed holy angel Gurjev and his android right hand Mikhail. Suffering from a fragmented memory and rumored to be a prophesied dark savior of the people, Hakaider is released from a centuries-old prison and cuts a path through Jesus Town straight to Gurjev's doorstep.

I am the law... I think. I'm fuzzy on the details, so I'll just shoot everyone until I figure it out.

               November 17 - Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious (1946) (my contribution to #noirvember)

      Yes, Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious. With all the flashy costumes and giant monsters and talking eyeballs, you didn't think I liked "good" movies, did you? I like a little bit of everything, but it wasn't until recently that I took part in enjoying some of the classics with #TCMParty. It was that little Twitter social group that drew me to Twitter again after several years when I saw a few of them showcasing their favorites on a Turner Classic Movies fan favorite Saturday matinee. Before I knew it, a new door opened up to enjoying both ends of the movie spectrum. I love every aspect of movies, but older dramas and thrillers are somewhat new territory for me. As a kid, I loved black and white movies and television, but my experiences were limited mostly to comedies like The Three Stooges, nearly the entire catalog of Abbott & Costello films, and horror/sci-fi like Frankenstein and THEM! I had to grow up and develop a little more maturity and sophistication before I could watch the likes of The Stranger, the first black and white drama I ever watched with any attention span courtesy of an old double feature VHS set with The Trial. I would follow this up a few years later with Touch of Evil after its first DVD release coincided with a heavy focus on the film in a film literature class I took in college, but I soon found myself swept away from the genre again as I developed tastes in more Japanese films by Akira Kurosawa and Italian westerns by Sergio Leone. Old time radio dramas from the 1940s were my true first love of drama, and it took me a little while to move from the stories of The Shadow and Boston Blackie to screen drama with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Shadow of a Doubt, Casablanca, Attack, Key Largo, Suddenly Last Summer, Gaslight, and Laura, just to name a few (but the list is still pretty short). I still have not seen most of the real classics, and part of my reason for picking Notorious is that this will be my first viewing of it. I have seen a number of Hitchcock films, but, in my entire life, I haven't seen a Cary Grant film. Not a single one. I'd never heard of #noirvember until just a day before this writing, so it's serendipity that I already had this one in mind months in advance. I had hoped it might be on TCM's schedule sometime, but this offers a better guarantee that I don't just push it to the back of my DVR list and accidentally delete it again before getting to watch it. My DVR is always full to bursting with movies from TCM, but I seldom get around to watching any of them. I run out of time and space too quickly, and I end up making a note of film titles in a list that never stops expanding. I only know the basic plot of Notorious, so I'll leave it up to you and Google to find out more about it if you wish. It's classic Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains, and I have no doubt it is an amazing film. But of course this is a riffing group, and I don't hesitate to pick even the best movies apart piece by piece to heighten my enjoyment.

For this, however, I have no comment other than "Awwwwww."

                    November 24 - Mega Monster Battle - Ultra Galaxy Legend The Movie

     And directly from Hitchcock majesty, we go immediately back to men in rubber suits.

    I would like to take this time to offer a disclaimer. The word "Ultra" appears several times from this point, so I highly recommend you avoid using it as a drinking game word. I take no responsibility for any alcohol poisoning that may result from ignoring my warning.

    Ultra Galaxy Mega Monster Battle was the unique 24th entry in the Ultraman franchise in 2007. Rather than introduce a new Ultraman, Ultra Galaxy focused on an amnesiac man named Rei. He joins a mining expedition crew known as ZAP SPACY, and their travels through space bring them into a number of encounters with giant monsters on numerous planets. Rei, however, has a trick up his sleeve in the form of the Battle Nizer, a mystical device that summons giant monsters from thin air to fight his battles for him, but before you start shouting, "that sounds too much like Pokemon," remember one important detail: the Pokemon franchise might not exist today if not for the inspiration of "Capsule Monsters" introduced in Ultraseven way back in 1967. The Ultra Galaxy series put the monster summoning at the forefront of the plot, digging into its classic catalog of monsters from past Ultraman shows and reviving them for new stories. One kaiju that would find a place on the side of heroes was Gomora, an ancient Earth dinosaur species and the first giant monster to fight the original Ultraman to a standstill in 1966, and he cemented a new role as an ally of justice after years of appearances as one of the Ultra family's most popular adversaries.
     After Rei regained his memory and learned of his alien heritage (he was not a member of the Ultra family but a similar alien race called the Reionyx), Tsuburaya decided to create a story that would tie together all of the past aspects of their Ultra franchises and offer an explanation of some of the Ultra universe's theology with the revelation of the Monster Graveyard, a dimensional warp in time and space that serves as the final resting place for all of the giant monsters, aliens and even Ultramen that have fallen in battle in multiple parallel worlds. The Graveyard had been mentioned several times in past series, but this film expanded upon it as a crucial plot setting. The Ultra series of the late 90s (Ultraman Tiga, Dyna, and Gaia, respectively) took place in a parallel universe, and the same was true for Ultraman The Next and its television sequel Ultraman Nexus. Ultra Galaxy Legend The Movie also introduced the first evil Ultraman, Belial, who escapes his ancient prison and seeks to lay waste to the Ultraman home planet of M-78 and take over the universe with an army of one hundred monsters from the Graveyard. Virtually every member of the Ultra series is incorporated into the story including the Ultramen of the parallel 1990s universe, the 1987 animated Hanna Barbera Ultramen (from Ultraman: The Adventure Begins), Ultraman Great (from Australia's Ultraman: Towards The Future), Ultraman Powered (from the USA's Ultraman The Ultimate Hero - see new Friday details below), and the former anniversary spoof hero and "runt of the litter" Ultraman Zearth, and the film was notable for introducing the impetuous son of Ultraseven, Ultraman Zero. Mega Monster Battle - Ultra Galaxy Legend The Movie was designed to appeal to Ultra franchise fans of all ages. Anyone unfamiliar with the Ultra series might want to do a little homework because they threw all of it into a blender and hit puree, but I would like to hope that some of the time I have taken to familiarize my audience with the series will have paid off by the time this film is featured.

Join me on the dark side, Luke, er... Ultraman Zero.

                    New Friday Schedule starting November 6, 2015, 10PM EST
      Starting Friday night on, November 6, 2015, at a new earlier time, 10PM EST in between #Kolchak and #bmoviemaniacs, the henshin (transforming) hero adventures travel a new path to some obscure corners of the Ultraman universe, and we're going to Japan by way of Hollywood for a little while. Hollywood adaptations of foreign franchises generally are not considered happy occurrences. The notion of live action American versions of stories like Akira and Ghost in the Shell personally make me cringe, and we already have a decent list of horrors with movie adaptations of Japanese video game franchises such as  Street Fighter, Resident Evil and even Super Mario Brothers. One particular Japanese franchise, however, managed to achieve a decent level of success, Toei's Super Sentai franchise which, when licensed to Saban in the early 1990s, became known as the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
     With any successful product, everyone else wanted to get into the act. The USA Network cranked out its own Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills, UPN got its hands on the digital world Japanese superhero Denko Choujin Gridman and adapted it into Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad with Tim Curry as the voice of the lead villain. Saban tried their hands at off more Toei franchises with Masked Rider (Kamen Rider), Big Bad Beetleborgs (Juukou B-Fighter), and VR Troopers (a stock footage mishmash of Uchu Keiji Shaider, Choujinki Metalder, and Jikuu Senshi Spielban) as well as a few original series such as The Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog.
     As most of these shows would reveal, the concept of live action Japanese superheroes was best left to the originators. Before Power Rangers achieved its fame, however, Tsuburaya Productions decided to cross the ocean to co-produce a new Ultraman series in Hollywood following the American reception of the Australian-produced Ultraman: Towards The Future (known in Japan as Ultraman Great), which some could argue was a logical inspiration for Saban to grab up the Super Sentai franchise. Towards The Future had notable exposure in the US with a line of Dreamworks toys, home video releases, television broadcasts, and one of the first video games released for the domestic Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Teaming with an American production company called Major Havoc Entertainment, Tsuburaya produced the 13-episode English-language series Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero (known in Japan as Ultraman Powered).

We've got Hollywood behind us. What could go wrong?
     What? You never heard of it? Well, there's an explanation for that. Despite its roots, Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero never aired in America. Although it did broadcast in Japan, the entire project was considered less than a success due to delicate costume construction that forced action scenes to be toned down ("Made in USA" isn't what it's cracked up to be when it comes to Japanese products), and it would be three years before Tsuburaya would revive their own Ultra series for a new generation with Ultraman Tiga.
     Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero focuses on the members of the WINR (Worldwide Investigation Network Response) as they try to protect the Earth from the invasion of the Baltans (an insectoid alien race resembling cicadas). A number of classic Ultra series kaiju are summoned by the Baltans (classic Ultra foes themselves) including the ancient space dinosaur responsible for defeating the original Ultraman, the monster Zetton. The human race has renewed hope when Ultraman Powered (voiced by renowned Japanese martial arts actor Sho Kosugi) forms a bond with WINR member Ken'Ichi Kai (played by Sho Kosugi's son and veteran stunt actor Kane Kosugi) to transform and combat the alien threat.
     Depending on the reaction to this series, I will be sprinkling in a few other odds and ends or possibly shifting gears to something else entirely. Hopefully this will be enough to fill the void Spectreman left behind just a little. I know nothing will fill it completely.

    #GHWP kicks off a new post-Spectreman journey on Friday, Nov. 6, 2015, with the first two episodes of Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero at 10PM EST following #Kolchak on Twitter. Don't forget the new earlier time.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

GHWP Live Tweet Oct. 27 - Halloween Bookends Week 1 - Girls Nite Out

     Non-sequitur #1: As I write this, I have just learned of the passing of the great Maureen O'Hara. She will be missed greatly, and at least three of my favorite movies (The Quiet Man, McLintock!, and Only The Lonely) likely would not be favorites at all if not for her talent.

     Non-sequitur #2: I lost sleep over the Spectreman finale. I must have tossed and turned in bed for two hours with the whole thing hazily repeating itself in my mind. Being on the edge of a dream state, it felt like a lot of other difficult life experiences were intertwined with it, so it was hard to let it go. It was a somber and rather quiet occasion, and a couple of people couldn't bear to stick around to see it end. I almost regret featuring the final episode at all, but we had to push through and get past it. It gave me some insight into the characters that I'm not sure was discussed in past live tweets or even fan discussions of the series elsewhere, and I think some of those conversations will come up when I start live tweeting the series all over again. I will live tweet the series again, but I'm going to let it have some time and rest. Depending on where life takes me in the next year, I'd say to keep an eye out for May 2016, the first anniversary of GHWP, to take the journey again. In the meantime, there will be a Halloween Spectreman special on October 30 as well as a New Year's tribute.

    Now on with the scares. Back in May 2015 when GHWP was just starting out and before Spectreman helped me get my foot in the door and draw an audience, I tried my hand at hosting a few random movies here and there, always falling somehow on mutant fish and killer shark movies such as Bruno Mattei's Cruel Jaws and Roger Corman's Screamers. When I hosted Mako: Jaws of Death, I opted for an obscure choice with a 1987 USA Network broadcast version hosted by the great Commander USA. The original 80s commercials turned out to be a bigger hit with the crowd than the movie itself. A number of trailers for USA Network and theatrical premieres stood out, and one of them was for our first Halloween bookend pick. On Tuesday night, October 27, 2015, at 10PM EST, GHWP presents the 1982 college slasher Girls Nite Out.

     Originally filmed as The Scaremaker, the film wasn't released until two years later in 1984 after receiving a new distribution title. Hal Holbrook pops up fresh off the set of Creepshow for the first feature film role of his son David Holbrook (who would go on to have a role in Creepshow 2).

No, I will not say the "Billy" line again. I've moved on, and so should you.
     If you know slasher movies, then you have a pretty good idea of what's going to happen. A bunch of young people are going to be offed one by one, and this time around, it's a killer in a bear mascot costume doing the dirty deed.

Oops. Sorry. Wrong killer bear mascot photo.

     Starting at 8PM EST Tuesday night, October 27, 2015, #TrashTue will be presenting Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Then, stick around with #GHWP at 10PM EST for Girls Nite Out.

     Write-up to come for the second Halloween bookend feature for November 3, Terror Train. One of my all time favorites.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

GHWP Live Tweet Oct. 23, 2015 - Spectreman Finale

     I have Rod Stewart's "Faith of the Heart" playing in the back of my mind as I write this, and I must confess I'm welling up just a little. Full disclosure: before I began these live tweets of Spectreman, I had not seen beyond episode 24. That's right, folks. For all of you journeying through the show for the first time, I was on that same journey with you. You and I both will be watching the final episode of Spectreman together for the first time, and it might have an impact on my delivery of witty high comedy.
     When I was five years old, Spectreman was on the tail end of its 5-year syndication run, and I only saw a few episodes after Kindergarten before it went off the air. I never forgot it, and I was fortunate enough to find a few VHS releases at local video rental stores through my childhood until I finally managed to get my hands on those first 24 VHS episodes in my early 20s. I knew those stories well, but traffic monster Kuruma-Nikuras was the end point for me in Spectreman's adventures because I didn't have access to the complete series until about seven years ago. Even then, I didn't really get beyond those first 24. I read a little about the episodes to follow and saw a lot of pictures of monsters and stories, but part of me didn't want to see it end. I knew inevitably that Dr. Gori would be defeated and that Spectreman would bid farewell to the Earth someday, but I didn't expect to reach that point in this manner.
     Live tweeting Spectreman has been an uplifting experience for me. Enjoying the shows and laughing with others' observations pumped some much-needed positive thinking into me, and it renewed a childhood joy that I had all but abandoned during several years of depression and family difficulties. As much as I owe the origins of that youthful happiness to the likes of Godzilla, Gamera, Ultraman and Jet Jaguar, the real credit for that first exposure to wonder belongs to George, Dr. Gori, Karas and Spectreman. On the creative side, I owe the same thanks to Mel Welles, who never expected that the English dub project he supervised would have had as much of an effect on anyone as it did on me. On the riffing side, I have to thank #DriveInMob. It was their live tweets of P Productions' Spectreman predecessor The Space Giants that put me in the mood to look at Spectreman's adventures again, and I didn't want to do it alone. I'm glad I didn't have to, and I'm thankful for the dozen or so people that have been with me almost every week since episode 1 as well as reruns of the first one-third of the series (and four or five people who have never missed a single live tweet). I also can't offer enough thanks to the OnlineFilmCollection for uploading the entire series to YouTube. For anyone reading this that has not seen the Spectreman series and wants to do so, that is your best source (except for the case of episodes 5 and 44, which require alternate viewing methods). Unfortunately, Spectreman may never get a restored DVD release with subtitles let alone its original English dubbed version. Spectreman has achieved cult status all over the world, with some of his greatest and most dedicated non-Japanese fans coming out of France, Brazil, and the United States, and it was those late 70s/early 80s syndication years that cemented him in our minds forever. And now... on with the show.

Episode Selections:
61 - The Terrifying Monster Show
62 - This Is It - Gori's Final Death-Match
63 - Goodbye Spectreman

     Single-episode stories in Spectreman were a rarity. In fact, episode 61 is one of only three single-episode stories in the entire series. Serving as a retrospective, the story flashes back to George's past experiences with Dr. Gori's schemes and monsters as he investigates an alien invasion hiding in plain sight at a local carnival. A race of former galactic slaves decided to focus their efforts to serving their new master Dr. Gori (I think they missed the point of being free from slavery), and they infiltrate a popular children's monster stage show. Their sinister plan? To lure humans into a transformation chamber-- disguised as an innocent carnival attraction-- and turn them into monsters.

Go on in, kid. We have liability insurance.

     While George and a crowd of children enjoy a live stage show recycling some of the monster suits from past episodes, the aliens succeed in turning a young boy into a chicken monster and blackmail him into breaking up the stage show and attacking the crowd. After putting the hurt on the entire squad of G-Men (including Otto... yay), the chicken monster convinces everyone that this isn't all part of the show, and the alien invaders reveal themselves. George and his friends are captured, but the chicken monster is still just a little human boy at heart and wants his normal life back.

Thank you for not killing me indiscriminately, Spectreman.

     After the circus ends, Dr. Gori is at the end of his rope. In past preview blogs, I have provided a preview synopsis of the story, but I'm not doing that this time. That would force me to skim through the episode and spoil it for myself, and I don't want that Baby Ruth in my swimming pool. Dr. Gori is out of monsters and out of alien allies willing to aid him in his conquest of the Earth. For all his genius, his track record is no different than any other alien invader in a Japanese superhero television series, but he has one final experiment up his sleeve that will combine all of his past failures into what he believes will be an ultimate success.

A fancy lab coat and big science goggles! This is serious!
     #GHWP faces Dr. Gori's final assault and Spectreman's spectacular farewell this Friday night, October 23, 2015, at 1AM EST. The story might be coming to an end, but the memory will live on. And if you missed out on the experience the first time, then don't worry. Spectreman live tweets with #GHWP aren't dead. On October 30, we revisit the weirdest Spectreman story for Halloween with the alien vampire Kyudora, and Spectreman returns on New Year's with a special tribute live tweet.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

GHWP Live Tweet Oct. 16, 2015 - Spectreman

     The final five are upon us. This week, Dr. Gori is almost out of ideas, out of monsters, and out of genius plans to take over the Earth. Before he embarks on his final assault against Spectreman, the mutant genius of Planet E has one more ally from the depths of space.

59 - Alien Genos: The Messenger from Hell
60 - Deadly Dance of the Monster Dokuron

      Hailing from the Planet Genos, an emissary that sounds a lot like Edward Everett Horton arrives in a pick-up truck (?) to discuss a new plan for world conquest with Dr. Gori: Operation Genocide.

     When Dr. Gori asks for a demonstration, the swashbuckling Genosian is happy to oblige... by killing Karas! The Genos alien runs Karas through with his sword, and Karas falls lifeless to the ground. But before Dr. Gori can take his revenge, the Genosian proclaims that he can bring Karas back from the dead. Pouring a special formula through the hollow center of his sword's blade, he revives Karas, but Dr. Gori doesn't have time to celebrate. The Genos formula has turned Karas into a mindless killer who only obeys the Genosian's orders, and Karas assaults his former master with blood lust. The Genos alien calls Karas off, and Dr. Gori seems more than willing to lose the obedience of his most faithful servant in exchange for a plan that will bring him closer to his goals. So much for loyalty.
     Meanwhile, a young psychic boy named Johnny has a premonition of the coming threat, but only George is willing to listen to his worries. The Genosian and Dr. Gori begin to infect people with the berserker formula to create an army of mindless killers, and Gori ups the ante by raising a demonic monster from the dead with the same formula: the skeletal beast Dokuron.

     Will Karas come to his senses and serve his idol and master once again? How will George fare when he falls into Dr. Gori's torturous clutches, and how can Spectreman kill a monster that's already dead? Is one little psychic boy enough to tip the scales of justice in the cyborg hero's favor and put a stop to Operation Genocide for good? Tune in to the #GHWP hashtag on Twitter at 1AM EST Friday night, October 16, to find out what happens.

Next Friday, October 23, #GHWP will be here for the final first-run Spectreman live tweet with the final three episodes of the series.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Spectreman Comics (French to English Translations)

     First off, I want to give the warmest thanks to the efforts of French Spectreman fan and blogger Ludosan13 for his page Les Intercalaires Nucleaires.  As much as I love Spectreman, I've never taken the efforts to preserve all of that information on a blog like he/she has done. Whether or not you speak French, that page is amazing, and I recommend paying it a visit especially if you follow along with my blog from time to time. If not for the collected information and trivia posted there, some of the material I am posting here would not be possible.

     From what I could glean in the limited research available, a French publication produced these Spectreman comics in 1979, one year after the series began its syndication in the US. Spectreman was dubbed and syndicated in several other countries including France and Brazil, where it seems to have had its greatest impact outside of Japan. Brazil produced a very large number of Spectreman comics, many of which can be found on Ludosan13's blog, but unfortunately I don't speak Portugese to create English translations for those. I do, however, have some limited French background, so I've taken it upon myself to start translating the French Spectreman comics into English a little bit at a time.
     My French is a little rusty, but with a little additional assistance from a French-English dictionary and Google Translate, I've come up with what I believe are faithful translations of the original French text. As I went through a number of lines, I discovered that the stories were written rather simplistically, and I took liberties in a few spots to make them sound more like what I imagine the dialogue would have been on an actual episode of the show. I had some trouble in a few spots because literal translations don't sound exactly as they should in English, so I added or altered a few words so that they would both make sense and not always sound so simple and matter-of-fact. It may be just my personal opinion that the writing felt a little bland and lifeless compared to the action on the page, and I tried to balance them out a little more. The resulting English text is translated almost 100% literally, and the majority of tweaks to the dialogue were made with synonyms, rearranging a few sentences, and adding a few words here and there to display emotion.
     Interesting to note is the female member of the Pollution Squad in this story, named Nakaya. Unless I've made a mistake in research, none of the ladies that appeared on the series in Japan used that name, so this appears to be yet another member of the revolving roster of G-Women. Her artist rendering also does not resemble any of the ladies from the series, so I treated her as a new character and kept her name from the French text intact. No other names have been changed in the translation, either, except for Karas. In French, his name was spelled Carasse, and I changed it to the English spelling to avoid confusion. This forced me to make one artistic little change on one page when George shouts his name, and I think it worked out well. I did, not, however, make any changes to the action words elsewhere, so just remember that when someone looks like they are shouting, "Noon!" they are shouting, "Nooo!" I considered changing Nikki to Nicholas, but I had enough difficulty trying to get the text to fit properly and still be as faithful as possible to the original.
     So, without further ado, here is the Son of Karas' AKA The QuandaryMan's first attempt at scanlation with "Spectreman - A Child Like the Others." Enjoy!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

GHWP Live Tweet Tuesday Oct. 13, 2015 - Salute to Ultraman

     Before there was Spectreman or Jet Jaguar, there was Ultraman. I have my doubts that anyone that has or hasn't read my past blogs doesn't already know who Ultraman is, and this little live tweet event is set up to pay a roasting and riffing tribute to the giant hero that started it all. This is also a little introductory journey into the post-Spectreman days of GHWP that are on the horizon. The GHWP Spectreman finale will live tweet on Friday, October 23, with the final three episodes of the series, and, following a Halloween encore of the alien vampire Kyudora episodes on October 30, Spectreman will bid farewell to the schedule to make way for Ulysses 31 and the obscure English-produced Ultra series Ultraman Towards The Future and Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero.

     When Godzilla designer Eiji Tsuburaya made the legendary decision to transition his giant monster effects from the big screen to the small screen and start Tsuburaya Productions, the impact on television history was widespread. I can't tell the story better than one of the top experts himself. For more information on the history and legacy of Tsuburaya, I would recommend picking up the book Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters by August Ragone. August is the authority I could have been if I had more confidence and less distraction from focus, but c'est la vie. The best I can do is show my own little style of appreciation for something that had a lasting effect on my life from early childhood.
     Tsuburaya would begin his television career with the successful Ultra Q, a series very similar in tone to The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits but with the signature style of giant monsters from myths and outer space. The following year, history would take a sharp turn when simple human confrontation with giant monsters wasn't enough, and the world needed a hero. The call was answered from M-78, and Ultraman was born.

     I have to admit that Ultraman was totally unfamiliar to me for most of my young life. As my blog readers and riffing acquaintances know, my first exposure to Japanese superheroes was Spectreman, which was on the last leg of its 5-year English syndication run when I was in Kindergarten in 1983. I had seen my first few Godzilla movies shortly before discovering Spectreman on what would become the local CW affiliate, Houston's Channel 39, and I was heartbroken to come home one day from school to find out that the show had gone off the air for good before I had the chance to see more than a handful of episodes. Ultraman was nowhere to be found in reruns during my childhood, and I had no inkling of the Ultra franchise at all until 1996, when I saw the third entry, Ultra Seven, on TNT late one night after Monstervision with Joe Bob Briggs. I was just out of high school and starting to earn a little of my own money for the first time, and Ultra Seven came into my life at the same opportune moment I was getting to see a lot more Japanese monster movies for the first time courtesy of mail-order fan-subtitled VHS, but I still had no real exposure to the first Ultraman, often referred to as Ultraman Hayata.
     Hayata needed some distinctive identification eventually because the Ultraman family exploded. Since 1965, there have been almost 30 Ultra series and a large number of theatrical and made-for-television movies expanding upon the heroic beings of M-78, and the franchise is still going strong. In 1990, a unique English-language incarnation came out of Australia in the form of Ultraman: Towards The Future (known in Japan as Ultraman Great), which aired in the United States in 1992 shortly before the popularity explosion of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. This version of Ultraman would go on to be one of the first video games ever released in the US for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System upon its launch. In 1993, Hollywood tried to get into the act with Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero (Ultraman Powered in Japan), but the American-produced series, with famed actor Sho Kosugi as the voice of Ultraman, never broadcast in the US.
     For the first Ultraman's 30th anniversary in 1996, Tsuburaya Productions introduced the "runt of the Ultraman family" in the short film Ultraman Zearth, a comedic take on the franchise with Zearth as a cowardly germophobe and the Iron Chef chairman himself, Takeshi Kaga, as the villain alien Benzen.

"Allez cuisine!"
    Zearth's appearance was so popular, however, that he would receive a full-length theatrical sequel with a slightly more serious tone in 1997's Ultraman Zearth 2. Zearth still stands as one of my all time favorites of the Ultraman family, combining giant monsters and slapstick humor.

Also notice how his costume colors are simply a reverse of the original Ultraman's.

     Tsuburaya rebooted the Ultraman universe from scratch in 1996 with Ultraman Tiga, the first of a trilogy of Ultra series set outside the original continuity of the other Ultra franchises (though those eventually would interact with the M-78 Ultramen by crossing their parallel universes). Ultraman Tiga, similar to Spectreman and the USA Network's early 80s episodes of Dynaman, was shown in a tongue-in-cheek English dub on FOX's Saturday morning children's television block The FOX Box in 2002. The English version, however, was short-lived and unsuccessful compared to the Power Rangers franchise, and the dubbed version never received a home video or DVD release. Tiga did, however, have the unique (at the time) opportunity to be released in its entirety on DVD in the US with English subtitles. In 2000, the finale movie Ultraman Tiga: The Final Odyssey had a Hollywood premiere at the Egyptian Theater as part of a film festival for G-Fest 2000 (along with the first US screening of Gojira 1954 uncut and Keita Amemiya's Moon of Tao). I saved up for six months, took a Greyhound bus 1700 miles, slept at a youth hostel with no air conditioning, and walked until I had blisters on my feet the size of silver dollars, and it was one of the greatest moments of my life. Recently, the son of Ultra Seven, Ultraman Zero, became the focus of the first Ultra movie to feature an evil Ultraman, Belial.

That's a lotta Ultramen. Tiga is pictured at the far bottom right and Ultra Seven at the far bottom left.

     For this little live tweet, I have put together some odds and ends to cover just a few little corners of the Ultra franchise. You'll see the very first episode of Ultraman as well as a few trailers for series and movies such as the funny Ultraman Zearth and Ultraman Zearth 2, all leading up to our feature presentation, the 2004 film Ultraman The Next.

Behold my updated looks for the modern age!

     Ultraman The Next (simply titled Ultraman in Japan) was an attempt to reboot the original Ultraman with a dramatic story for a more mature audience. The Ultra series, of course, was aimed successfully at the children's television market, and this re-imagining of a mature-oriented Ultra series (the Ultra N Project, which consisted of the project mascot Ultraman Noa, the film Ultraman The Next and its sequel television series Ultraman Nexus) also took place within a parallel universe separate from the Ultramen of M-78. Despite having an adult target audience, Ultraman Nexus replaced the departing live action Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon in its 7:30AM Saturday morning time slot, and the results were pretty much what you would expect from putting a Japanese superhero series for adults in the middle of children's block programming. The low ratings of Ultraman Nexus led to the proposed second Ultraman The Next film being canceled, and Tsuburaya Productions returned their primary focus to the youth-oriented Ultra franchise.
     For this live tweet, we'll take a look at what could be compared somewhat to today's constant Hollywood revamps and reboots, and we get to do so thanks to an obscure English dub. When an English-speaking person that grew up in the 60s, 70s, or 80s thinks of an Asian movie, bad dubbing usually is the first thing to come to mind. This is no different even for the English dub of this 2004 Ultraman movie. Ultraman The Next did not have a proper English-language commercial release outside of a Hollywood theatrical premiere in 2005, but an English dub was produced in Malaysia. It's not a good dub, but let's face it: we're getting together to riff a movie, and a bad dub opens extra doors for humor. Additionally, the complete Ultraman Nexus is on YouTube with English subtitles. Something to consider for future GHWP live tweets.

     Tuesday night, October 13, 2015, join #TrashTue at 8PM EST for Blood Diner, and then stick around for #GHWP at 9:45PM EST for this special little Ultraman tribute show.

Friday, October 9, 2015

GHWP Live Tweet Oct. 9, 2015 - Spectreman

     I studied way too much Sonny Chiba material for Tuesday night. I hope everyone had fun with it. Also, as of writing this blog entry, some very exciting news came down that everyone's favorite giant turtle Gamera has a proposed 50th anniversary film on the table with a very nice 4-minute proof of concept trailer online. In it, yet another swarm of Gyaos descends ravenously upon the city, and only one young boy survives to see the flying creatures turned to ash by the friend of all children. Ten years later, a new monster bursts forth from beneath the city, attacking with destructive bubbles...

I can't be the only one who was thinking it.
     Anyway, with the Halloween season thrust upon us (a season that has been a double-edged sword of joy and sadness for me with the second anniversary of my mother's death falling on the 29th), Spectreman takes us on the road to the final five episodes with a proper supernatural evil story... with an alien twist, of course.

Episode Selections:
57 - Resurrection of Great Satan - The Witch
58 - Goruda The Phantom Monster 

 Dr. Gori and Karas discover that an alien cult known as the Mephistans from planet Mephista has arrived on Earth looking for something. Some 200 years ago, their demonic witch queen Mephista (yes, I did confirm that the dub called both the planet and the queen by the same name) was exiled from their home planet, leaving the cult of followers aimless and wandering.

And lacking in fashion advisory.
     Dr. Gori is delighted to find out that the witch queen's tomb is located on Earth, but he finds it empty. The Mephistans converge on the tomb cave, making a fool of Karas before Dr. Gori finally convinces the high-pitched cultists that they can be allies in the search for the queen. Meanwhile, at Pollution G-Men headquarters, George is monitoring the control panels alone, and he discovers a peculiar signal that appears and disappears so quickly that he decides to investigate it alone rather than to convince his colleagues that it was ever there in the first place (for all of his 100% deadly accurate "hunches" these past 56 episodes, he sure has to do a lot of convincing). George follows the signal to a large house in the country, where he quickly stumbles upon someone else's breaking-and-entering interrupting George's own breaking-and-entering. The young man claims to be an artist and that his girlfriend Lisa is locked in a room with barred windows on the top story of the house. George can't stop himself from getting involved when he discovers that Lisa is chained to her own bed, and he helps the young man free her from her prison home. George quickly finds himself on the wrong end of a police chase for a kidnapping charge, and he drives the young lovers straight to Pollution G-Men HQ to consult with his friends about where the fugitives could hide out for a few days.
     While George helps the young couple hide from the police, the rest of the G-Men investigate Lisa's home, and they discover that her father and captor is, in fact, not her blood relative. He confesses that he discovered her one day in a cave, and... I'll give you three guess where this is headed. Lisa conveniently prevents George from hearing the truth on his radio receiver when a painful headache assaults her with ancient memories, but the truth makes little difference when the Mephistans attack moments later. While George is distracted, Lisa is spirited back to the cave to reacquire her royal garb and staff. Lisa's true alien identity-- Queen Mephista-- returns to the conscious world to lead her followers in the conquest of Earth, and she uses her evil magic to summon the poison-fanged monster Saladin. Saladin was known as ゴルダ (Goruda) in the Japanese version, hence the episode title, but this was one of many times that the English dub altered a monster's name in the final product. On the same note, the titles of these episodes have been fairly literal translations of the titles in Japanese. A more accurate (or at least sensible) English translation of episode 57's title likely would be "Resurrection of the Great Satanic Witch." I know I'm just a little late offering these alternative English language episode titles, but better late than never.

     The venomous phantom monster Saladin seems unstoppable, and Dr. Gori has betrayal in mind for his alliance with Mephista as her plans seem fit to succeed. I don't want to spoil the surprising twist this story takes with some of our main characters, but almost anything can happen with only a few episodes left before the finale. Tune in to the #GHWP hashtag on Twitter at 1AM Friday night, October 9, 2015, to find out what happens.

    And on Tuesday's GHWP Movie and a Show, Oct. 13, we keep the tokusatsu train running with a salute to Ultraman, whose 50th anniversary is also on the way in 2016. First, we'll look at the first episode of the original Ultraman, and then we'll follow it up with the 2004 "new millennium" take on the hero with Ultraman The Next. The schedule is subject to change, so keep an eye out for blog write-ups on these upcoming live tweet events.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

GHWP Live Tweet Tuesday, Oct 6, 2015 - The Street Fighter (1974 Sonny Chiba)

     "They keep pulling me back in." I've been trying to figure out just what I want to do with my Tuesday #GHWP time slot, and I've run across a nice little assortment of goodies that should sustain it for a little while. Spectreman will continue on Friday nights as usual until its finale on Friday, October 23, 2015, and I also have a number of little riffing goodies on hand to help ease the pain of his farewell.

     Starting Tuesday, October 6, 2015, I am doing away with Spectreman reruns for the foreseeable future in favor of filling in #TrashTue's second film slot with my new Tuesday movie feature "GHWP Movie and a Show" (Note: TrashTue does have another double feature or two planned for October, but GHWP Movie and a Show will become semi-regular starting in November). Why debate over whether to take in a movie or a show when you can do both with Gaping Head Wound Playhouse? Tuesday nights after #TrashTue, #GHWP will bring you a movie as well as an episode of an obscure television series to fit a theme or even an assortment of trailers and shorts.
     Following another popular episode of The Hypnotic Eye a few Tuesdays ago, one particular movie trailer jumped out at the audience, and it fits perfectly with the sort of themes GHWP has focused on so heavily since nearly the beginning: tokusatsu and Japanese heroes. That film is none other than the Toei Company Sonny Chiba classic The Street Fighter. How does Sonny Chiba fit in with Japanese superheroes, you may ask? That's what I'm here for. If you've followed my blog as a fan of movie riffing, then there's a good chance you're also a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, in which case you're probably also well aware of how Sonny Chiba got his start as an actor even if you didn't realize it: as a Toei superhero. He had appeared in a few Toei roles beforehand such as his first acting role in Nana-iro Kamen AKA The 7-Color Mask as well as two Fûraibô tantei AKA Wandering Detective movies, but Japanese superhero and MST3K  fans know and love him as Space Chief (known in Japan as Iron Sharp) from his fourth credited role in the Toei space action series Invasion of the Neptune Men (Uchi Kaisoku-sen). "They took out the Hitler building!"

Not to be confused with Prince of Space.
     Shin'ichi "Sonny" Chiba and Toei Company go hand in hand with some of the earliest as well as a few of the most popular Japanese space action hero series, and he remains perhaps the company's biggest star. Long before Toei marketed out some of their famed television series to Saban, Chiba gave Toei global recognition at the box office with The Street Fighter after he'd had a career in their acting stable for over fifteen years. If you've followed my movies and live tweets (or take this moment to go back and read a few of my earlier blog entries, particularly the Toku Tuesday material), then you already know I can go a little nuts with Toei stuff. Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds (Toei, 1977) remains one of my favorite movies of all time (freely admitted), and I have been more than a fan of Super Sentai and Kamen Rider since a few years after Saban introduced them to the English-speaking public as the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Masked Rider. Of course, my history with Toei goes all the way back to the early 1980s when the fledgling USA Network, Night Flight, and Nickelodeon produced a comedy dub of the Toei Super Sentai series Kagaku Sentai DynaMan, which debuted shortly after Spectreman's English dubbed syndication run sadly went off the air. DynaMan filled a void that Spectreman and far too few Godzilla and Gamera movie marathons left behind, and I became a closet teenage Power Rangers fan in the 90s because the giant monsters and robots and color-coded heroes took me back to some very happy memories.
      Space Chief/Iron Sharp followed in the footsteps of American space serials like Rocky Jones: Space Ranger, and Chiba's acting career under Toei eventually led him to the The Street Fighter, which launched him to global stardom as one of the martial arts superstars of the 1970s in what were perhaps the best films Toei Company ever produced. After the success of The Street Fighter and its sequel and spin-off films, Chiba starred with Vic Morrow in the Toei epic Message From Space, a film GHWP still has been trying to find an audience to riff (unfortunately, the film is not on YouTube, so viewers will have to own a copy or view it on a streaming service). In the early 1980s, Chiba would return to his Toei roots with another hero franchise, Toei's Metal Hero series which, like American shows such as Battlestar Galactica, took place among the stars, and he co-starred in two of Toei's Uchuu Keiji or Space Sheriff series, Space Sheriff Gavan and Space Sheriff Sharivan.

The Space Sheriffs.
    By the way, if the Space Sheriffs look familiar, some footage from the third Space Sheriff series was used for Saban's VR Troopers. Of course, the Metal Hero and, sadly, even the Kamen Rider franchises would not be remotely as successful in Saban's hands as the Super Sentai franchise has been to this day in its Power Rangers adaptation.

     But let's get on to the meat of the show. I have to go on record and say that I have not seen this movie, nor am I screening it ahead of time. I was not a follower of martial arts movies or television in my childhood and early adulthood unless they involved giant monsters, rubber suits and colorful costumes. I was a bit of a fan of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan as a kid, but that took a sour turn for several years when I became a teenager. Any love I could have had in my teen years and early adulthood was tainted when my mother began dating a real douche nozzle that lived and breathed martial arts movies... and used his study of those arts to commit acts of drunken physical abuse upon my mother. I didn't want to get near anything involving Kung Fu or Karate just because of him, and the violence of the movies was too close to the violence at home. He is too stupid to realize he is the villain of the movies he loves so much (not was, is... the sorry waste of space is still walking the Earth somewhere in Florida doing the same thing to other women, and there are mugshots on the web to prove it). But I digress. This is about the great Sonny Chiba, not some wife-and-child-beating loser. It took me many years to move on from the memories to allow myself to expand my repertoire. Recently, I have been digging into some more Hong Kong martial arts movies, but my tastes always have leaned toward Japan when it comes to foreign television and movies. That brings us here to Toei, tokusatsu, and The Street Fighter.

     In The Street Fighter, Sonny Chiba is mercenary anti-hero Takuma "Terry" Tsurugi, and he is approached with the proposition to kidnap an oil heiress. When he discovers that the Yakuza are behind the kidnapping plot and that they plan to dispose of him to keep their plans a secret, Terry becomes a one-man gang war and turns the tables on his would-be employers to protect the girl. Thus begins a long tale of feudal times in the modern age as honor, family, and vengeance make that vicious cycle go around and around. But since I'm no expert on the film, I'll let the trailer do the talking.

      Although The Street Fighter is available in higher quality with subtitles on YouTube, I will be featuring the original English dubbed public domain version. It captures the essence of how English-speaking movie goers would have seen it the first time, and that's the kind of nostalgia I like to get behind.

     Join #GHWP Tuesday night at 9:45PM EST, right after #TrashTue's presentation of Flesh Eating Mothers, for a special playlist featuring a handful of trailers of Sonny Chiba's earliest work, some of his most popular appearances, and, of course, the feature presentation of The Street Fighter.

Playlist details:
Shin Nana-iro Kamen AKA 7-Color Mask (1959)
    - Chiba's first credited role as "Spectrum Mask"
Furaibo tantei: Akai tani no sangeki AKA Drifting Detective: Tragedy in Red Valley (1961)
Fûraibô tantei: Misaki o wataru kuroi kaze (1961)
  AKA Drifting Detective: Cape Crossed Over the Black Wind (rough translation)
    - Chiba's second and third roles as detective Goro Saionji
Uchu Kaisoku-sen AKA Invasion of the Neptune Men (1961)
    - Chiba's first major starring superhero role as Space Chief/Iron Sharp
Ogon Batto AKA The Golden Bat (1966)
Uchu Keiji Gyaban AKA Space Sheriff Gavan (1982)
Uchu Keiji Shariban AKA Space Sheriff Sharivan (1983)
    - first of a trilogy franchise in Toei's Metal Hero series
    - Chiba played Gavan's father Voicer, kidnapped by the enemy
The Street Fighter (1974)

Plus, after the movie, stick around if you're not too sleepy for some trailers and previews of GHWP features to come!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

GHWP Live Tweet Oct. 2, 2015 - Spectreman (Overlord Revealed!)

Episode Selections:
55 - Order: Assassinate Spectreman
56 - Cosmic Hitman Comet Mask

     There are only four more weeks to go before #GHWP and Spectreman have their final face-off with the mad Dr. Gori and his henchman Karas, and the last nine episodes promise a lot of action and surprises. If the last two weeks weren't any indication that martial arts action is the new status quo of the series, this week's story brings the point home, kicking into high gear immediately as Spectreman is locked in combat with a group of alien assassins known as the Mantra Brothers.

I said no autographs, please!

     Spectreman makes quick work of them, but he is soon taken down... only to reveal that he wasn't Spectreman at all but the Mantra Brothers' father dressed as the hero for a training exercise. A young boy named Jimmy is discovered watching from the bushes, and the Mantras give chase. As George and the Pollution Research Bureau and Monster Squad of Alien Fighting G-Men (not their official name... but they sure do wear a lot of hats depending on the week) detect a space craft landing in the vicinity, Jimmy encounters another strange figure... with a cowboy hat, a mask, and a Texan accent. The masked man tells Jimmy he has nothing to fear, and he tells the boy quickly to hide under his cape from the pursuing aliens

Perhaps we should take a moment to remind the audience that you should talk to your children about hiding under strange men's capes.
     That's right, folks. It's Spectreman with a Western flair this week with the Lone Comet. The alien assassins encounter the Lone Comet. After a snarky and provocative exchange between Comet and the Mantras in which it is revealed that Lone Comet is a hired killer with a price on his head, Comet tells them that he knows Dr. Gori hired them to kill Spectreman and that Comet has come to Earth to "watch the shootout."
     Comet helps Jimmy return safely to his village, but he doesn't have much time to tell them of the Mantra Brothers' plans before the Mantras attack and slaughter the villagers to make sure none of their assassination plans are revealed. Jimmy escapes and is picked up by a passing truck driver, blowing the Mantra Brothers' secrecy completely when George and the G-Men quickly find out about the village massacre. The Mantras' cowardly attack on defenseless innocents also puts them in Lone Comet's sights, and Comet warns the Mantra Brothers that they'll have to deal with him if Jimmy comes to harm. The G-Men run afoul of the Mantras disguised as humans, and the real Spectreman finally engages in battle with them. The Mantras have a secret weapon up their sleeve, and they assault Spectreman's circuits with a concoction of corrosive chemicals that turns the tide in their favor. Before Spectreman can be defeated, the honorable Lone Comet comes to his rescue, separating him from the mercenaries and forcing them to retreat. Unfortunately, Lone Comet didn't save Spectreman just for the sake of honor. Comet confesses that he's gotten tired of hunting scum across the galaxy, and he wants a worthy challenge. The Lone Comet wants to face Spectreman in a contest of strength... but Comet follows the rules of the Old West. At high noon, only one of them will walk away.

     Seriously wounded, Spectreman must return to Nebula Star to heal in preparation for his battle against both the Mantra Brothers and Lone Comet, prompting the shockling(ly nonchalant and mellowed-out) revelation of the face of Overlord, so you won't want to miss this yeehaw and giddyup Spectreman story Friday night at 1AM EST. Stay tuned to the #GHWP hashtag on Twitter for reminders and details.

The face of Overlord finally will be revealed.