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Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi: Halloween Roundup, Part 2

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, October 29, 2018 01:55pm | Post a Comment

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to the second special Halloween themed Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi, where I review recent Blu-ray releases. Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year because that’s when we get a glut of new horror and sci-fi releases. This is my second column this month where I just try and catch up with all of them.

Laserblast, Full Moon Features:
This is kind of a crappy little sci-fi movie from the glory days of VHS that has been given a super deluxe Laserblastedition for it's first Blu-ray release. The film comes in a full-size reproduction of the original video packaging. Inside the huge VHS box you get a DVD/ Blu-ray combo pack of the remastered film and a tiny toy reproduction of one of the aliens from the movie. These are the kinds of goodies that drive hardcore fans crazy and I'm sure somewhere in the future when this goes out-of-print copies will go for big bucks on Amazon and Ebay. Like I said, this is a crappy little movie but there are those of us out there (like myself) who love this film because it was on television when we were growing up. After re-watching it recently, I came to the conclusion that the movie has a really great beginning and end but really drags in between. The film starts with a crazed monster madman shooting a laser gun in the Southern California desert. He is killed by two aliens who soon depart but leave the gun behind. Shortly afterwards, a young man named Billy Duncan discovers the laser gun and that's when things start to go bad for him. At first he is overjoyed by the destructive power of the weapon but it soon starts to take over his life and physically change him. His skin starts to turn green and his behavior becomes increasingly violent and psychopathic. His relationships with his supportive girlfriend and others are increasingly strained as he becomes an alien madman who eventually goes completely berserk and finally goes on a rampage with his new laser gun. That's when the aliens need to come back...

This film has gotten a deluxe remaster but parts of it still look completely washed out and damaged, and I can only assume that that is what the original print looked like. It's not that bad though because the parts you care about most, such as the scenes with the aliens and the ending rampage, look far better than they ever have before. The highlight of this film has always been the aliens, which were created and animated by David Allen. Allen was the most talented stop motion animator of his generation. His work graced such films as The Dungeonmaster, Equinox, The Crater Lake Monster, and Puppet Master. Even though he worked on a couple of big features like Willow and Ghostbusters II, I felt like his talents never actually got the exposure they deserved. If he got a couple of big budget features devoted to his animation he could have given Ray Harryhausen a run for his money. But this new Blu-ray makes some of his best work look better than it ever has before. His aliens are just amazing and far better actors than anyone else in the film, except a slumming Roddy McDowall who only shows up for about ten minutes and probably wished this movie could be scrubbed from his IMDB page.

Village of the Damned, Warner Archive:
I've reviewed a lot of cheesy bad pop culture movies recently but this is a film that actually has some Village of the Damnedliterary merit. It's one of the best sci-fi movies of its era and is well made on every level. The script is tight, thought provoking, and truly unsettling. The acting by leads George Sanders and Barbara Shelley is excellent, and the cinematography top notch. Its seventy-seven minute running time has no padding -- each shot and each line of dialogue has a purpose, and leads irrevocably to a frightening but inescapable conclusion. It's one of the best British science fiction/horror movies ever made and belongs in the same company as Quartermass and The Pit, The Wicker Man, and Curse of The Demon. Something about the rationality of British culture makes them uniquely suited to telling stories about unnatural occurrences.

The film opens with just such an occurrence. One morning, every living thing in the peaceful British village of Midwich suddenly becomes unconscious: people, farm animals, birds...nothing escapes. The police and army soon arrive on the scene but anyone who tries to enter the town immediately blacks out. Scientists are baffled; there is no gas or radiation or any other detectable reason for what is happening. After a few hours everyone wakes up and it seems like that is the end of the situation until it is discovered that every woman in town who is biologically capable of it was impregnated while they were unconscious. Some of these women are virgins, others have husbands who weren't even in town. When the babies are born months later, they are perfect...too perfect. Things get darker and weirder from there. The suspense ratchets up irrevocably and this movie goes to some truly dark places as it examines themes of eugenics, Aryanism, and filicide. The film's vision of unbridled intellect devoid of any mitigating emotion is truly terrifying. Even though the movie comes to a tight ending, it brings up more questions than it answers and lingers in your mind long after you've viewed it, just the kind of thing a great work of art should do. The Warner Archive's print of the film is pretty much flawless and by far the best presentation of the movie that has ever been released. There's just a commentary option as far as special features go, but I still highly recommend purchasing this because its the type of movie you can watch over and over.

Battle In Outer Space, Sony:
In my last column I was bemoaning the fact that there were no Toho Japanese monster/sci-fi movies Battle In Outer Spacebeing released on Blu-ray, and then lo and behold this release popped up out of nowhere. While this isn't a monster movie, it is one of the best science fiction films Toho ever created thanks mainly to the efforts of director Ishiro Honda and special effects maestro Eiji Tsuburaya who created all the major Japanese monster movies of that era. It's a fairly simple story about aliens in flying saucers trying to conquer earth, but what really makes this film unique is its look and style. It's kind of the perfect fifties-era vision of sci-fi. The space stations, UFOs, and rocket ships all have those streamlined, futuristic designs that were so popular during the cold war. The film is filled with bright, gaudy colors and painted laser beams. The special effects look fake by today’s modern CGI standards but they look fake in such a cool way. This movie has always been one of my favorite pop culture confections and it's great to see it come out on Blu-ray even though this release is kind of a mixed bag. When this came out on DVD years ago, you got two versions of the film: the original Japanese cut and the American/international release. There were differences between the two and the Japanese version had a better print. This new Blu-ray release only has the American version of the movie, so this wasn't restored from the original print and there are parts of this Blu-ray where that really shows. The overall restoration is excellent though and this is easily the best this film has ever looked, which is great because there are all kinds of details to the spaceships and little model cities that you could never see before. The last half hour of the movie is a concentrated elixir of pure fun. The major cities of the world get destroyed. The tiny model of New York City is a beautiful work of art that gets blown to smithereens. I collect movies that depict the destruction of San Francisco and the scene where the aliens blow up the Golden Gate Bridge in Battle In Outer Space is one of the favorites in my collection. As I was watching the climatic battle scene where fighter jet-style rocket ships from Earth shoot it out with UFOs in a delirium of colorful laser beams and explosions, I was suddenly hit with the realization, "Hey wait, this is Star Wars." Not just Star Wars, but Battlestar Galactica, and every other space war movie that came after this. The seeds and the inspiration for all of them started right here in this film. If you are a fan of films like Forbidden Planet and The Day The Earth Stood Still, you would love this movie, and if you're a kaiju fan you need to buy this because, as I mentioned before, releases for Toho Japanese monster/sci-fi films are few and far between.

In these past two columns, I’ve reviewed just some of 2018’s Halloween releases. There are other great new releases like The Cyclops, The Night Stalker, and new editions of the Universal Monsters Legacy Sets that I didn’t even get a chance to review. Oh well, maybe in future columns. Happy Halloween everyone!

Relevant Tags

Ishiro Honda (1), Toho Studios (2), Barbara Shelley (1), George Sanders (1), David Allen (2), Sci-fi (51), Horror (206), Halloween (84), Movie Moment (7), Jon Longhi (12), Eiji Tsuburaya (1), Cult Film (0)