SON OF KAIJU DAY MARATHON: Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare (1968)

EDITOR’S NOTE: There really needs to be an Arrow box set of these movies, which are all wonderful. The best of them all is this one, which I encourage everyone to watch. This originally was on our site on January 5, 2021.

1968 saw the release of Yokai Monsters: 100 Monsters, but just seven months later, director Kuroda Yoshiyuki (Daimajin, several Zatoichi films) made this sequel, which takes the main ideas of presenting Japan’s native monsters, perhaps finds some inspiration from the manga GeGeGe no Kitaro and the story of Momotaro, take a strong shot of national Japanese pride and remembers that no one cares about the humans in the story. We’re here to see monsters. And oh man, are we gonna get them!

In the Babylonian city of Ur, the body of the great monster Daimon lies amongst the ruins. That is, until some treasure hunters rouse him from his dark sleep, which leads to him flying to Japan, vampirically taking over the body of samurai Lord Hyogo Isobe.

As Isobe, Daimon goes wild, burning all the religious altars, killing the family dog and even rousing a kappa — a “river child” turtle creature who loves to wrestle — from his slumber in the river. Hurt in combat with the much stronger Daimon, the kappa begins his quest to unite the yokai and stop the foul beast.

Soon, the kappa meets Kasa-obake (a one-legged umbrella with eyes), Futakuchi-onna (a two-mouthed cursed woman), Rokurokubi (a long-necked woman who often appears in the more adult kaiden stories), Nuppeppo (a clay creature who resembles a blob of meat) and Abura-sumashi (a wise ghost of a human who once stole oil). They tell him that according to coloring books and field guides, no such yokai exists.

Meanwhile, Daimon has stopped his attempted exorcism and responded by killing the parents of several children. As his men hunt for the surviving kids, they hide in the yokai shrine. Soon, the monsters realize the kappa was telling the truth and join him in battle, which ends up involving nearly every single monster from across Japan.

Takashi Miike remade this movie in 2005 as The Great Yokai War, which also features Kitaro creator Mizuki in a cameo.

Seriously, this movie took a bad day and made anything seem possible. This is pure joy on film.

You can watch this on YouTube.

KAIJU DAY MARATHON: Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1968)

This movie started as a vehicle for the Japanese version of King Kong, with the title Operation Robinson Crusoe: King Kong vs. Ebirah. It was rejected by Rankin/Bass Productions, the folks who created all your favorite holiday specials and who had the rights to Kong, producing a licensed TV show — The King Kong Show — which was amongst the first original cartoons to be produced in Japan for Americans.

King Kong’s role was replaced with Godzilla under the title Ebirah, Horror of the Deep*. It’s the first of two Godzilla films — Son of Godzilla is the other — set on a South Pacific island instead of Japan.

What most filmmakers have never realized is that no one cares at all about the humans in these stories. As a child and an adult, I do not care if people find their brothers that have been lost or if the Red Bamboo terrorist group sells heavy water weapons. I only care to see the monster crab named Ebirah and our friend Godzilla fight.

Yet as an old man, I also feel for Godzilla, who just wants to hide in a cave and sleep after defeating the menace of Ghidorah. Instead, these kids make a lightning rod** and zap him to awareness before he has to kill a giant condo (which is totally a Rodan costume), knock down some jets and then set that big crustacean*** straight by ripping his claws off.

Bonus points to Godzilla to remembering that just because Mothra**** is the friend of humanity, she and he are not on speaking terms. The movie ends with another big battle, an island getting blown up real good and Godzilla going back into the murky depths. Soon, he would meet his son, but that’s a story for another day.

This one has a really lower budget and reused the Daisenso-Goji suit. At some point during filming, the head of this suit was combined with the Mosu-Goji suit for episode ten of Ultraman to create the monster Jirass. That head was replaced with a different head that shows up after Godzilla fights the Red Bamboo and is noticeable for the bug eyes and raised eyebrows.

A lizard with eyebrows. This is why I love Godzilla.

*It’s known by so many names around the world, but my favorites are Germany’s Frankenstein and the Monster from the Ocean, Poland’s Ebirah: The Monster of Magic and Holland’s Mothra the Flying Dracula Monster.

**Godzilla being powered by electricity is totally because the script was written for the Japanese King Kong, who is powered that way. It’s also why he’s so protective of Dayo, as falling for human females is a Kong characteristic.

***Ebirah’s name comes from the Japanese word ebi. That means shrimp, so he’s really one of those and not a crab, but he has crab claws, so…

****This is the last Showa-era Godzilla film where Mothra’s twin helpers the Shobijin, appear. They’re played by the same actress, Pair Bambi, instead of The Peanuts (Emi and Yumi Itô).

KAIJU DAY MARATHON: Destroy All Monsters (1968)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally ran in the original first articles on this site on May 7, 2018. Today for our 24-hour celebration of Godzilla vs. Kong, we’ve gone back to retell the story of one of Sam’s favorite movies of all time.

Has there ever been a better movie than Destroy All Monsters? It is everything that is magical about film: giant monsters smashing cities and fighting one another while people run and scream in terror. It is cinematic junk food, a treat for the mind that returns me to watching Action Movie on Youngstown’s WKBN 27 as a little kid, jumping around the room in pure glee.

Every giant monster on Earth has been captured and sent to Monster Island, where they are kept secure and studied — until all communication is mysteriously cut off.

Turns out that the scientists on the island are being mind-controlled by the Kilaaks, who demand the human race surrender or face total destruction. They control the monsters to attack famous cities all over the world: Godzilla decimates New York City, Rodan smashes Moscow, Mothra takes out Beijing, Gorosaurus crushes Paris and Manda, a giant Japanese dragon, goes shithouse on London. All of these attacks are to keep the UNSC forces from finding out that Tokyo is the real target.

Luckily, the humans are able to take out the control signals and the good guy monsters take on King Ghidorah, who is overcome and killed (Minilla, Varan, Anguirus and Kumonga show up, too). The Kilaaks also have a Fire Dragon, a monster that starts setting cities on fire. Godzilla takes out their base and the forces of good triumph.

This was meant to be the final Godzilla film, as the popularity of the series was waning. However, the success of Destroy All Monsters led to even more Godzilla films.

When I was a kid, I was impatient for the human scenes to end and for the monsters to show up. I’ve never changed. All I want to do is watch giant monsters destroy cities and fight one another. This movie delivers all of that and more. It’s not high art, but does it have to be?

A Lovely Way to Die (1968)

Kirk Douglas is Schuyler, a hard-boiled police detective who gets charges of police brutality bought against him, which made him a hero in 1968 but would make him not such a great guy in 2021. Nevertheless, Eli Wallach hires him to protect Rena Westabrook, who is played by Sylva Koscina, who was in Deadlier Than the MaleLisa and the DevilSo Sweet, So Dead and more).

Of course, the way these things work, Schuyler falls for Westabrook and all the twists, turns and complications make this anything but boring.

This movie has a great supporting cast, including actor/singer/director Martyn Green, Sharon Farrell (It’s Alive), Ruth White (No Way to Treat a Lady), William Roerick (The Wasp Woman), Dolph Sweet (TV’s Gimme a Break!) Dana Eclair (MacGyver) and Ali MacGraw making her film debut in a blink and you might miss it appearance.

Director David Lowell Rich is always dependable, a made for TV director of some renown in my universe. He made Satan’s School for Girls, Eye of the CatThe Horror at 37,000 FeetSST Death Flight and The Concorde … Airport ’79, which are all the kinds of movies that I enjoy.

The new Kino Lorber blu ray of A Lovely Way to Die comes with trailers and audio commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger and Steve Mitchell. Kino has been releasing some interesting films as of late and this is just another example.

The Ghastly Ones (1968)

Shot on short ends, made with costumes designed by director and writer and Andy Milligan, decorated with animal organs for special effects, The Ghastly Ones was made for all of $13,000 in a country estate somewhere in Staten Island. It may as well have been made in another dimension.

Also known as Blood Rites and refilmed again by Milligan in 1978 as Legacy of Blood, this movie is all about Veronica, Victoria and Elizabeth, the daughters of a man who has ordered them to stay for three nights in his home before they learn what he has left to them. I mean, how dangerous can that be? It’s not like his hunchback butler hasn’t already killed two people before the credits and torn a rabbit apart, leaving it in the bed of Veronica with the note, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit.”

What follows are family members and their husbands sliced in two, stabbed with pitchforks, beheaded and even smashed directly in the face with axes. Yes, there’s something here for everyone, if by everyone you mean people who can deal with Andy Milligan films, which have been critically destroyed for years, by people like Stephen King who said it was “the work of morons with cameras.”

It’s also one of the original video nasties, even though that list was made a decade after its release.

You know why I love it? Because the costumes and story say centuries ago while the traffic outside the windows say late 60’s. Because you can hear Milligan end some of the scenes. And because, well, it feels like another world, another place, an escape from this day in day out work work work.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

I’ve debated writing about this film for the site for a long time. It’s beyond a seminal movie and it’s also from right where we call home. There’s probably no modern horror movie as important as this one for so many reasons and so many films have their inspiration right here.

I’ve spent a lifetime in advertising, so I can see how making television commercials and industrial films as part of The Latent Image pushed George Romero, John Russo and Russell Streiner to make their own movie.

And horror movies? Horror movies sell.

Shot between June and December 1967 in Evans City with friends, relatives, local actors and interested locals, this movie was made for around $114,000 but looks like so much more. The crew had been through the ringer — they did the original Calgon “Ancient Chinese Secret” commercial — and they knew how to get the most out of every shot.

You have no idea what it was like as a kid to drive past Evans City nearly every day, knowing that the dead lived there.

The movie was a huge success, obviously. That’s why we’re talking about it here. And yet, there’s so much that makes it a regional film, as it has local people like horror host Bill Cardille in it. And it feels, well, exactly like living in Western Pennsylvania. We’ve been preparing for the zombie uprising since before people knew there was such a thing.

The movie starts with Barbara (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny (Streiner) in a cemetery, arguing over visiting their parents. Their sibling games soon give way to terror when what looks like a homeless man murders Johnny and sends Barbara racing away, finally discovering what seems to be an abandoned farmhouse. There, she meets Ben* (Duane Jones), a black hero saving a white woman in a time that these things just weren’t done. But the true joy of Night of the Living Dead is that unlike modern elevated horror, this is no message movie. These are just the right people to tell the story.

It’s funny because Romero has often cited Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend as his inspiration, but that author has said that this movie was “kind of cornball.” What does he know?

The movie ups the tension when we discover that a married couple, Harry and Helen Cooper, and their daughter Karen have been hiding in the basement, The young girl has been bitten by a ghoul and Harry is obsessed with barricading himself and his family in the house while Ben wants to escape. In truth, no one is right and everyone pays the price. There is no happy ending in Evans City.

Perhaps the most astounding thing to me about Night of the Living Dead is its public domain status. Its original distributor, the Walter Reade Organization, never put a copyright on the prints. There was one under its original title, Night of the Flesh Eaters, but when the name change occurred, Walter Reade also removed that copyright notice.

That’s why when the VHS era started, you could actually buy this movie, as well as why it shows up in so many other movies and in DVD multipacks. There’s also the unfairly maligned Savini remake that this site needs to get to someday, which I love because Barbara is a more capable heroine and also because I saw it in a theater near Zelienople and when they said the name of the town, people lost their minds.

Roger Ebert’s review of this film has always stuck with me: “The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying … It’s hard to remember what sort of effect this movie might have had on you when you were six or seven. But try to remember. At that age, kids take the events on the screen seriously, and they identify fiercely with the hero. When the hero is killed, that’s not an unhappy ending but a tragic one: Nobody got out alive. It’s just over, that’s all.”

That’s probably why I like it so much.

*According to an interview on Homepage of the Dead, Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman said, “Duane Jones was a very well educated man [and he] simply refused to do the role as it was written. As I recall, I believe that Duane himself upgraded his own dialogue to reflect how he felt the character should present himself.”

Savages from Hell (1968)

“Makes the Hell’s Angels look like Boy Scouts!”

Alright, I’m confused.

Director Joseph G. Prieto* — that’s who IMDB says made this — has the kind of resume we love around these parts. He wrote and directed Shanty Tramp, plus was behind the camera for Fireball Jungle and Miss Leslie’s Dolls, a movie that is all about a young college professor and three of her students hiding from a storm in the farmhouse of a mannequin obsessed woman. Under the name José Prieto, he was the assistant director of Alfredo B. Crevenna’s Santo and Blue Demon vehicle Las Bestias del Terror and the William Kerwin-scripted Six She’s and a He.

However, plenty of Letterboxd reviewers and The Grindhouse Database list  Joseph P. Mawra, the director of White Slaves of ChinatownAll Men Are Apes!Olga’s Girls and Olga’s House of Shame as the real director of this.

So after doing some research — I learned from this The Rialto Report interview with Mawra in which he claims to have directed Fireball Jungle and this movie. However, right there in the comments, Daniel Griffith — who has directed tons of documentaries that show up as DVD extras — writes “Thank you for tracking down and interviewing Mawra! However, Mawra did not direct Shanty Tramp or Savages from Hell. Both of those films were directed by the actual José Prieto. He was Cuban. I know this because I filmed hours of interviews with the cast and crew of Savages and Shanty as well as tracked down behind the scenes photographs from those films. I also believe he directed Miss Leslie’s Dolls, but I cannot confirm this.”

Man, these guys were just trying to make money and crank out films. Did they ever expect a maniac to be sitting in his basement, surrounded by DVDs, pounding away on his laptop trying to track down the facts on a movie that so many people — including those that made it possibly — have forgotten?

But I digress.

Biker movies are cheap and that’s probably why I love them so much. All you need is some outdoor scenery, a biker gang that will turn up just to be in it — and they’ll bring their bikes — and a script that throws morality out the window. This does that and ups the ante by having the bikers make fun of Mexicans, who are more than willing to rise up and fight back.

Another reason to love this movie is by looking at who wrote the story and produced it: K. Gordon Murray. Yes, he’s nearly a patron saint around these parts, thanks to his bonkers remixes of Mexican films and frightening children’s cinema that he produced.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Dope (1968)

Drug films come in two flavors. Those that make you want to try them to open your mind and explore the palace of wisdom or those that warn you that horrible things occur when you’re an addict. This film would be in the latter camp.

A documentary by Sheldon and Debbie “Flame” Schon, this movie follows a junkie named Caroline as she moves through the drug scene of 1960s London, like being painted head to toe in the style of her mentor, psychedelic artist Vali Myers.

The Schon’s lived with the characters in this film for months and there’s a disturbing downward trend toward all of their lives. The only positive is that you get to see a sequence filmed at the original UFO Club on Tottenham Court Road where Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd are playing.

This film was lost for some time, but Flame Schon was selling copies of it through her website at one point. It’s not a movie for those that hate seeing needles going in arms or worrying about addicts attempting to take care of childen, who are caught in their drug haze.

You can see how drugs grabbed people in this era, but you’re on the outside, unable to fully know its lure and how it destroyed lives because you are just someone watching from the normal world. That said, this is a strong movie that needs to be watched.

You can learn more at the film’s official site.

Mantis In Lace (1968)

Oh Harry Novak just seeing your name makes me realize that I am about to see something incredibly scum-sodden. You have such a fancy signature and make movies filled with such pulchritude. Let’s all have a moment to think of all Mr. Novak has done for us.

Like this movie, which is exactly what I was looking for when I started this week of drug movies.

Lila (Susan Stewart, The First Nudie Musical and credits for additional voices on Scooby-Doo, which really could be the best IMDB credits listing ever) is a go-go dancer who gets turned into a literal mankiller thanks to C20H25N3O. All she wants to do is make it with the men she picks up on the Sunset Strip, but once they get back to her pad, she hears her theme song and sees an old man with a huge stack of money and a handful of bananas. That’s when she must kill them with garden tools and then she imagines that she is chopping up fruit while she’s really dismembering their bodies to dump off into cardboard boxes. I kid you not!

Then, we get lots of drug use, topless dancing and strobing and zooming camerawork. I’m in. I’m all the way in. And hey look — it’s Pat Barrington from Orgy of the Dead! Yay!

Speaking of Pat, she dated Melvin Rees at the time that he was arrested for mass murder. She was working as Vivian Storm in mob-owned go go clubs and he was a jazz musician. Pat’s life really could have been made into a movie, as she kept on dancing until the mid 1990’s when she was in her fifties. Rees? Well, he was arrested for at least five murders and numerous other crimes.

As for Mantis In Lace, it’s a film awash in sin and debauchery. They don’t, can’t, won’t and maybe even shouldn’t make them like this anymore.

Jigsaw (1968)

Look, if you wake up from a trip and you find a girl dead in the bathtub, you should probably not hire a detective and trip out all over again.

A remake of 1965’s Mirage with a drug angle, this movie finds Bradford Dillman as Jonathan Fields as the man who has woken up to find that dead body in the bathwater and bloody hands. He hired a detective named Arthur Belding (Harry Guardino, Rollercoaster) to discover the truth.

Meanwhile, the truth lies with the scientific think tank where Fields works, where a romantic entanglement and the need to succeed has led to a double homicide.

Look for Diana Hyland, who began dating John Travolta after playing his mother in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble*, as well as Hope Lange (TV’s The Ghost & Mrs. Muir), Pay Hingle (Commissioner Gordon from the Burton Batman movies), Michael J. Pollard (Bonnie and Clyde) and Victor Jory, who was the voice on so many Peter Pan Records.

Director James Goldstone would go on to make RollercoasterThey Only Kill Their Masters and When Time Ran Out, a late in the game disaster movie. Strangely, this was due to be a TV movie, but NBC refused to air it. Universal released it in theaters and a year later, NBC ended up airing it anyway.

*She sadly died of breast cancer the following year and Travolta remained with her until the end.