Friday, June 29, 2018

My Top Favorite Filmmakers Pt. 1

Anyone who has followed Retro Revelations knows that I'm a man who loves movies. In fact, when I first started this blog back in October 2012, it was originally going to be a purely film-centric blog, focusing only on movies, TV shows and animation. Thankfully, I decided to expand, and chose the more generic "Retro Revelations" name/theme, because while I could certainly write near-endlessly about JUST that subject, the broader RR horizon means I've also been able to write about any OTHER kind of old thing that I happen to love, including but not limited to: video games, comics, books, toys, and even music.

But film has still always had a major focus, and I have previously done multi-part series on my favorite Comedy Films, my favorite Christmas Movies, and even my (more or less) Top Favorite Movies of All Time. I've also done a series looking at icons of Classic Horror films. Today, I'm here to talk about the people who make these wonderful bits of magic we call movies. Today, I'm here to talk about what I consider to be my personal Top Favorite Filmmakers. So let's get it started!







Ray Harryhausen - Ray was not a director, but in some ways he was far more important to the films he made. His works, his art-form of Stop-Motion Animation, was the main attraction that made the movies he worked on, special. It was his art that brought people to see those films, and very often, it was his vision and imagination that fueled the projects in the first place, especially later in his career. Starting his life as the young fan and student of Stop-Motion pioneer Willis O'Brien, he proved the old axiom true, that of the student surpassing the teacher. What O'Brien, someone Ray held very dear, had popularized with the movie-going public, Harryhausen took to the next level and beyond, pushing the boundaries of what was possible in film, and inspiring multiple generations of future filmmakers. My only complaint about Ray's work, is that there should have been even more of it. Meaning, I feel his career ended too soon, with 1981 being his last movie work. As his career went on, his ideas became more and more ambitious, and the more ambitious they got, the longer it took him to animate them. It became grueling and tiring for him, and that coupled with the seeming shift in Hollywood away from Stop-Motion effects, convinced him to retire, when I wish he would have made at least another film or two.  For more on Ray's life and career, refer to this tribute piece I did on him years ago.



The Master at work.



His work also inspired people of a myriad of other backgrounds, myself included. As a writer, particularly of fiction, Ray's films had an unbelievably huge influence on my own imagination. Especially as a child, his movies set my mind alight, and the creatures he brought to life, would become ingrained in my psyche permanently. It is no small statement to claim that I consider Ray Harryhausen to be, easily, my TOP-most favorite filmmaker of ALL time. Not my favorite DIRECTOR, mind you, as he (generally) didn't direct films, outside of his own very early Stop-Motion work. But his work as an animator, a special effects guru, a producer, and sometimes even writer/conceptualist on his films, is untouchable. His portrayals of the struggle of Good against Evil, his displays of the surreal and fantastic, his penchant for taking little metal and foam models, and giving them more life, more vibrance, and more personality, than any CGI creation cold ever hope to have, was his gift to the world. It was his gift to me, and he was a HUGE part of my childhood, and a major source of escape FROM that childhood.

Ray Harryhausen is a legend of the film industry, the likes of which was never quite seen before, and surely will never be seen again. Like his films, he was singularly unique.

My Favorite Works: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Clash of the Titans (1981), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), The First Men in the Moon (1964)

Other Works I Like: Mighty Joe Young (1949), The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953), It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955), Earth vs. The Flying Saucers (1956), 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), The Three Worlds of Gulliver (1960), Mysterious Island (1961), One Million Years B.C. (1966), The Valley of Gwangi (1969), Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)








Ishiro Honda - As longtime readers are surely aware, the two biggest influences on my childhood, at least film-wise, were far and away Harryhausen movies, and Godzilla movies. While I appreciate the works of Akira Kurosawa and others, it goes without saying that my favorite Japanese director, and favorite non-American director period, is the man who was behind the camera for MOST of the classic "Showa Era" (50s-70s) Godzilla films: Ishiro Honda. A real life close friend and sometimes collaborator with Kurosawa, in his native country Honda was known for making a wide variety of films, from romances, to comedies, to war dramas, and beyond. But, of course, both nationally and internationally, he became best known, for his science fiction films for Toho Studios, most specifically his Godzilla films.



Having a chat with The Big G, on the set of "Monster Zero".


At a cursory glance, non-Godzilla fans, especially of today, are usually quick to point out how "campy" and "cheesy" these films are, especially the old ones of the "Showa Era". And the fact is, just as with most science fiction/fantasy/horror films made in Hollywood (until more recent times), these movies were rarely given the budget, or the production time, they deserved. That alone certainly never helped with the alleged "cheese" factor. And yet, the work that went into these films was enormous, and the best of them were considered to be pioneering in special effects work for the era. In their own way, Godzilla/kaiju films too, were highly responsible for pushing the boundaries of what was possible in film, and Ishiro Honda was one of the key figures responsible for that, along with special effects guru Eiji Tsuburaya. The original 1954 film Gojira most especially, was a very dark and sombre work, a direct response/reaction to the horrors that Japan suffered at the hands of American nuclear weapons. While later films became lighter, more fun fare, the original was essentially a drama, with fantastical/horrific elements, and is rightly considered one of the best Japanese movies ever made, right up there with Kurosawa's top works.

Honda's output for Toho in the 50s and 60s was enormous, and even just in science fiction, he more or less single handedly defined the genre's output from Japan.

My Favorite Works: Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (1965), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Destroy All Monsters (1969), Gojira (1954)

Other Works I Like: Half-Human (1955), Rodan (1956), The Mysterians (1957), Mothra (1961), Atragon (1963), Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (1964), Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965), King Kong Escapes (1967), Latitude Zero (1969), Space Amoeba (1970), Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975) 









Mel Brooks - As much as I love so-called "genre movies" such as sci-fi, fantasy and horror, a strange idiom unto itself considering EVERY film belongs to some kind of genre, I also have an avid love of comedies. And no filmmaker has given me more classic, timeless comedies that I enjoy pretty much every time I turn them on, than one Mel Brooks. Brooks was a man who started out in television during its early days, working with the likes of Sid Caesar and Carl Reiner, and went on to help redefine comedy films in Hollywood.



Hangin' with the cast of Young Frankenstein.


My first personal memory of a Mel Brooks movie, was seeing 1987's Spaceballs on television as a kid. In fact, instead of just buying a retail copy, my grandmother recorded it onto a blank VHS tape off of TV (which eventually saw the sound warp from time to time, which my grandmother stubbornly INSISTED was just part of the movie). My mother, who lived with us at the time, as she often did, glomed onto that movie, and watched it over and over and over, to the point that I got sick of it. But I still liked it, and certainly laughed a lot (even while not understanding all the jokes as a child), upon first seeing it. We also rented Robin Hood: Men in Tights when I was a kid, which I found absolutely hilarious. In my teens, I would encounter the likes of History of the World Pt. 1, Blazing Saddles, and Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Ironically, or perhaps unironically given my childhood history of films I missed out on thanks to my grandmother's eccentricity, I didn't wind up finally seeing the film of his that would become my favorite, Young Frankenstein, until I was in my 20s. That movie actually became a permanent top candidate for "Favorite Movie Ever", alongside the likes of the 1977 animated The Hobbit, The Dark Crystal, and Ghostbusters.

Mel Brooks was, not unlike the filmmakers preceding him on this list, a singular personality. And his works in comedy, helped completely reshape what American comedy films had been up until that point. And not unlike the men above, he is a filmmaker the likes of which will not be seen again.

My Favorite Works: Young Frankenstein (1974), History of the World Pt. 1 (1981), Silent Movie (1976), Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993), Spaceballs (1987)

Other Works I Like: The Producers (1967), Blazing Saddles (1974), High Anxiety (1977), Life Stinks (1991), Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)









John Carpenter - My earliest memory of seeing a John Carpenter movie certainly left an impression on me, it just wasn't a positive one. For some insane reason, even though she wouldn't let me watch FAR tamer old Dracula or Frankenstein or Mummy movies (for example), my grandmother rented The Thing when I was about 8 or 9 years old, and regardless of what SOME horror fans (or parents) will tell you about how it's "totally fine to let a little kid watch scary movies" of this caliber, let ME tell you, AS a kid who lived it: no, it's NOT okay. Why? Because that movie is both disturbingly gruesome, as WELL as being incredibly dark and scary. For a little kid, that was a complete mindfuck to me, to put it mildly, and both the horrific visuals, and the horrific IDEA central to the plot, absolutely terrified and at least mildly traumatized me. I did NOT like that film as a child, with very good reason, and in all fairness to little me, no self-respecting parent should be letting their 8 or 9 year old KID, watch John Carpenter's The Thing.



Johnny C and Lo Pan, BFFs?


Ironically, as an adult, I came to love The Thing for many of the same reasons that I hated it as a kid. The ensemble cast is great, and the unbelievable, unrelenting sense of tension, from the very opening seconds of the film, to the closing credits, is almost unmatched, I think, in the history of scary cinema. It is, in THAT sense, his master-work in my opinion. My grandmother also rented the FAR less scary science fiction classic Starman when I was a kid. But I, again, wouldn't encounter most of his films until my teens and twenties. Films I came to love, like Escape From New York, They Live, and the one that would become my absolute favorite, Big Trouble in Little China. In this man's humble view, Big Trouble is one of the single greatest movies ever made, and while I do contend that Thing is Carpenter's master-work of HORROR, I feel Big Trouble is his strongest work overall.

One of the main reasons John Carpenter is one of my favorite filmmakers, is because regardless of trends, studio politics, or career pressures, he made movies that he wanted to make, the way he wanted to make them. Which is probably why in part, even though his talent was obvious and his films were often outstanding, that he never quite became the status of a Spielberg. But he was always true to himself, and honest through his art. And for that, he should always be honored.

My Favorite Works: Big Trouble in Little China (1986), The Thing (1982), They Live (1988), Escape From New York (1981), The Fog (1980)

Other Works I Like: Starman (1984), Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), In The Mouth of Madness (1995), Escape From LA (1996)









Joe Dante - I also experienced Joe Dante films as a child, and at least one of them, the most infamous one in fact, did also scare me a bit. But it also didn't have nearly the same effect on me, and I actually wound up loving it. That movie, of course, being his biggest hit, Gremlins. Just about the only work that advanced puppetry techniques and technology in that era that WASN'T made by Jim Henson and Co., Gremlins was not only popular, it was also revolutionary in more ways than one. Most notably, beyond special effects, would be something that would be a hallmark of most Dante films: charm and warmth, no matter the subject matter or genre. As originally written by Chris Columbus (who went on to become a great director in his own right), Gremlins was much darker and more violent, and would have basically just been a run of the mill horror film, with "black comedy" elements. But with Dante under the helm, and with input from producer Steven Spielberg, the gremlins, instead of being murderous monsters, were instead scary and threatening, but also more mischievous than anything, and kind of lovable in a messed up way. If you watch Gremlins, you'll notice that they only actually verifiably kill two people the entire movie, one out of revenge, and another dies because she's old with a bad heart (though she also DOES go flying out of a window into the street). But mostly, the gremlins just like to cause chaos, and that, while the film absolutely has scary moments, to me makes for a much more effective and memorable movie. Plus, as he always does, Dante put a lot of focus on the human characters, and their relationships. 



On the set of The 'Burbs.


The other two Joe Dante movies I saw as a kid, rentals naturally, were the sillier Gremlins 2, and what would become my favorite work of his, the Tom Hanks classic The 'Burbs. One part goofy mystery movie, one part satire on American suburbia, Burbs is pure Dante from beginning to end. It and Gremlins are fairly close as far as my love for them, but Burbs wins out just barely. Other movies of his I would discover later in life, include Matinee, a 1993 love letter to both his 1950s childhood, as well as classic sci-fi and monster movies of that era, and one of his 80s sleeper hits, Explorers. The latter is, at its heart, one of a series of 1980s "kids on the loose" type of movies, where you have a bunch of kids having adventures, more or less unsupervised by adults. Of course it also involves them getting messages from outer-space, which help them build their own spaceship to reach the stars, but that's just garnish, really. Plus it stars a young Ethan Hawke, and River Phoenix.

Much like John Carpenter, or even Mel Brooks, the 90s saw Dante's career tapering off, which is honestly a damned shame in all of their cases, because they are each some of the best directors Hollywood has ever seen. Dante has continued to make movies here and there in the 2000s, even popping out a solid but little-seen gem called The Hole. But his 80s body of work especially, like Carpenter, is almost legendary unto itself.

My Favorite Works: The 'Burbs (1989), Gremlins (1984), Explorers (1985), Matinee (1993)


Other Works I Like: Innerspace (1987), Gremlins 2 (1990), Small Soldiers (1998), The Hole (2009)









So that's it for Part 1 of my Top Favorite Filmmakers list. Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon!











Thursday, May 31, 2018

Godzilla Chronicles: Invasion of the Astro Monster





Picking up where we left off last year in the Godzilla Chronicles, last time I talked about the movie directly preceding today's subject. It was a movie I did not grow up with, or even get to see until my 20's, that being 1964's Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster. That movie established the character of Ghidorah, the space dragon, a being who would become, in many ways, Godzilla's Arch-Nemesis, and certainly most powerful and dangerous foe. I wish I had seen that movie as a kid, because I would have adored it. But even if I had, I still feel that I would have loved the movie I'm about to talk about, far more.

This is a very special entry, for me, in this particular sub-series. The entire series is special, because Godzilla himself and most especially those old Showa Era films, are very dear to my heart, and were a huge part of my childhood and pre-teen years. But the movie I first knew as "Godzilla vs. Monster X" was, as I seem to recall, one of the first two Godzilla films I owned on VHS tape, when we first got a VCR around 1989 or 1990. It's a special entry, because this movie very quickly became, and has remained, my favorite Godzilla movie of all time, and one of my top favorite movies of all time, period.



Astronauts Fuji and Glenn



Now as I may have mentioned in previous entries, in a very real way, all of the Showa Era Godzilla films, and even Toho monster and sci-fi movies that didn't feature "The Big G" at all, can very well be argued to exist in the same "shared universe" (to borrow a modern buzz term). But even so, certain movies would not always perfectly line up with those preceding them, you kinda have to use your imagination to make the pieces all fit. But with Ghidorah, it did get what is essentially a fully direct sequel, in the form of 1965's Invasion of the Astro Monster (the original Japanese title).

Me personally, I am a bit more fond of the American title (or the most used one anyway), Godzilla vs. Monster Zero. Neither title uses the name Ghidorah directly, that much is true. Both "Astro Monster" and "Monster Zero" are rather vague, and really, "Astro Monster" is just a vague reference to Ghidorah being from space. To my mind, at least "Monster Zero" is a direct reference to the movie, as it is explained (most directly in the English Dub), that on Planet X, everything is numbered, not named, and they refer to King Ghidorah, as "Monster Zero". But I'm getting ahead of myself.




The Dudes from Planet X can pose like nobody's business.



The basic plot, is that it is some time in the future, where man is making his way out into space. If one is to consider the Showa Toho sci-fi films to be connected, then technically man already made his way out into space, somewhat, with films like The Mysterians, Battle in Outer Space, and Gorath. But I digress. Astronauts Fuji (Akira Takarada) and Glenn (Nick Adams), are on a mission to explore a newly discovered "planet" hidden on the other side of Jupiter, dubbed Planet X. When they land, they quickly discover that this strange, seemingly barren new world, has inhabitants of its own.

The people of Planet X, who seem to be strangely lacking in individuality or diversity from one another, live in an elaborate underground network, they claim in part, to protect them from the space monster who is terrorizing them, King Ghidorah, whom they call "Monster Zero". They seem friendly enough, and offer Earth an exchange that the Astronauts find they cannot pass up: If Earth allows Planet X to "borrow" the monsters Godzilla and Rodan, to help drive of Ghidorah, they in turn will give them "the cure for all disease" (in the Japanese dialogue I believe it was simplified to curing all cancer). Sufficed to say, Earth cannot refuse the chance to advance medical science and ease human suffering, so they agree. Problem, is, things with Planet X are not quite what they seem.




Monsters in Spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace!



For anyone who has more than a passing familiarity with Godzilla movies, and more specifically these old 50s-70s Showa Era movies, the one thing that is bound to jump out immediately and stands apart about this film, is that it holds the singular distinction of being the ONLY Godzilla movie where the action leaves the planet Earth at all. There are other films, multiple in fact, where aliens from other worlds come to Earth to try and invade or what have you, but this is the only instance where we the audience get to see another world. And far more importantly, it's the only film where Godzilla goes to another world, and battles a space monster!

Now granted, this was NOT the first time that Godzilla and Rodan fought King Ghidorah. Obviously, they both encountered, and managed to somewhat defeat the three-headed demon, in the previous movie. That is why the people of Planet X claim to want Godzilla and Rodan's help driving Ghidorah away from their planet,  because that is essentially what they did in the last movie, managing to defeat him JUST enough, to make him leave the Earth and fly back out into space. It seems that he flew to Planet X, and has been messing their shit up since.

In point of fact, in Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster, it took the combined might of Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra (in larva form), to defeat Ghidorah. And Mothra was originally supposed to be in this sequel as well, but they cut her out, having something to do with Toho being cheap and it costing more to have an additional monster. Nevermind that these Godzilla movies were becoming something of a cash cow for Toho, otherwise they wouldn't have started pumping them out on an annual basis for many years. But in all honesty, as neat as it would have been to have Mothra (in larva or moth form) in the movie, even as a cameo, the movie doesn't lack or suffer from the loss either.




Let's Get Ready to Rumble!



In one of the coolest parts of the entire movie (as a child and still as an adult), Planet X show up on Earth a bit early, making humans a bit nervous, and they proceed to use their high technology to capture the sleeping behemoths, and transport them safely through space. Once on Planet X, they wake the old boys up, and just in time, as Ghidorah rears his ugly heads, and a brawl for the ages ensues! It is a neat, albeit slightly short, battle, mainly because, again, it takes place on another planet. After G&R (no, not Guns 'n Roses) seemingly manage to drive Ghidorah off, the Earth folks are given their shiny golden tablet, holding to secret to curing all disease, and they take off, on a perfect replica of their original rocket, leaving poor, forlorn looking Godzilla and Rodan behind, presumably to keep Planet X "100% Ghidora Free".

Of course, when they get home to Earth, they eagerly play the tape for the world to hear, only to hear the REAL truth behind Planet X: that it's been a set-up this whole time, and they are told to surrender themselves to Planet X control, or suffer the consequences. As it turns out, Planet X is short on water, their most precious resource, and something Earth has plenty of. So the X dudes figure, you know what, let's just move to the cooler planet, and set up shop, because what the hell are those stupid humans going to do about it anyway? After all, they already have killer UFOs at their disposal. And as it ALSO turns out, they were controlling Ghidorah the whole time, and now they also have control over Godzilla and Rodan too! Those bastards.




The dangerous and tragic Miss Namikawa.



So, in the meantime, a somewhat silly (and mildly annoying to the ear) sub-plot of the story, is that Fuji's sister Haruno, is dating an aspiring inventor named Tetsuo, whom Fuji naturally disapproves of. Thing is, Tetsuo's only invention so far, is this crappy little noise-maker thing, that he calls the "Lady Alarm", which emits a shrill sonic barrage that you can hear for blocks. Nobody wants the damn thing, nobody that is, except for the "World Education Corporation", an alleged maker of educational toys and other such things. It's a real mystery why a toy company would want an obnoxious noise maker for kids to drive their parents nuts with (and also maybe go deaf from), but they still offer Tetsuo big money to buy the rights off of him.

And at the same time, it seems that slick ol' Glenn, has been getting an education of his own on the side, from none other than the representative who wants to buy Tetsuo's crap, Miss Namikawa (played by Kumi Mizuno). But then while snooping around on Planet X like the renegade he is, Glenn discovers other women there who all look JUST like Namikawa! Turns out, she's an advance spy from Planet X, and wants to buy that stupid thing from Tetsuo, because it seems that noise REALLY bothers Planet Xians. At one point, after this is all revealed, Namikawa admits to Glenn that she is from Planet X, and tries to convince him to join her peacefully, but he refuses. When he is then captured, she tries to warn him that he'll be destroyed, because it turns out she really has come to love him (even though Xians are supposed to be emotionless), and for her action they tragically kill her instead.




Three Gravity Beam Spitting heads are better than one.



In the end, it turns out that Tetsuo's stupid invention, just so happens to not only seriously disable Planet X dudes, but the principle behind its garbage ass noise, also leads Earth to discovering how to disrupt Planet X control over the monsters. So then, in the climax of the story, Godzilla and Rodan, after having briefly gone back to their old ways of trashing human cities, are finally free of control again, and turn on their new "pal" King Ghidorah. It would seem that what three monsters barely managed the first time, would be even harder for just two to accomplish, but G&R do manage to beat Ghidorah's ass in just enough to make him fly off again.




My original VHS copy.



On a minor side note, as you can see above, this is the VHS box art for my original childhood copy of this movie, which by some miracle I managed to hold onto (along with several other old VHS tapes). This copy is seemingly unremarkable, except that in searching around the internet to try and find a picture of this box (before just taking a picture myself), I discovered that this specific version may well be pretty rare, I guess. Because I couldn't find this exact box art anywhere, no one else seemed to have it. Even the website Toho Kingdom didn't have it listed. So if it really is rare, I guess that's pretty neat. It is the 1990 release, by a company called Simitar Entertainment Inc., which seemed to specialize in many things, but most especially home video releases.

All in all, there are many reasons that I love Godzilla vs. Monster Zero the best. For one thing, it just seems to have everything going for it. It's a great old school science fiction tale, it's got space aliens, Planet X, monsters being controlled and then being good again (a theme that would be reused later), one of the best scores by composer Akira Ifukube, etc. It is greatly because of this movie, that I love Akira Takarada, whom I call my favorite Japanese actor, and Nick Adams. Nick Adams, I feel, was  a really good actor in his day, who just didn't get the recognition and success he perhaps deserved.

But I just feel like everything works so well in this movie. The pacing is great, the story is intriguing, it doesn't ever really "drag" in spots a certain other Godzilla films do. Ghidorah is hands down the coolest Godzilla rival ever created, and the Planet X people are far and away the best "evil invaders from space" Toho (or almost anyone else for that matter) ever managed to come up with. Hell, even the infamous "Godzilla Victory Dance" that he does after the initial defeat on Planet X, that even many Godzilla fans mock and deride, is honestly pretty great. I loved that moment as a kid, and I'll still back it as being great now, and for the rest of my days.

As kids are often known to do, I watched my VHS copy of this, as well as Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster and others, over and over again as a kid. Outside of the original 1954 Gojira (or Godzilla: King of the Monsters), if you were only inclined to ever watch ONE Godzilla film, then Monster Zero would be my top recommendation for you. It contains and embodies everything that was great about the Showa Era movies, especially their 60s prime. So please do yourself a favor, and give it a whirl!



Until next time, keep watching the skies, and keep your "Lady Alarms" handy.








Monday, April 30, 2018

The 1980s: The Greatest Movie Decade?



It's a question that I'm sure movie buffs have conjured up many times, in either private or public, even published conversation: What is the greatest movie decade of all time? 

And honestly, there are some serious arguments to make, depending on genres you like best, or eras you like the most, as to which decade that might be. Unless you're a major fan of silent films (which, I'll be honest, I do like several), most film fans tend to consider the 1930s to be when the Hollywood engines really started roaring, because that is when sound movies, or "talkies" came into prominence, replacing the silent scene that had existed from the late 1800s, through the 1920s (and with a few exceptions, even into the 30s). The 30s and 40s are considered the "Golden Age" of cinema, and rightly so, as that was when American film (and in many ways international film) really started finding its footing, along with its voice.

The great Universal Horror classics were from this period, excellent noir films starring the likes of Humphrey Bogart, or the dramas of Gary Cooper and musicals of Bing Crosby. Crime mysteries such as the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films, the early westerns and war films of the likes of John Wayne, adventure epics starring the likes of Errol Flynn, the uplifting classics of Frank Capra or the early budding thriller career of one Alfred J. Hitchcock. And of course, I would be remiss without mentioning what many consider the height of comedy films, featuring the likes of Bob Hope, Charlie Chaplin, Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, The Three Stooges, and The Marx Brothers.


 




One of my personal favorites, from one of my favorite eras.




One of my personal favorite eras, as good as the Golden Age was, is the following 50s and 60s era, which I suppose if you were following comic book naming conventions, we could call the Silver Age. Now, my reasons for loving this era are probably not quite the same as others who do. The more mainstream reason that many love this era, was, for example, the continuing career of icons like John Wayne and Cary Grant. It saw the continued rise, and some of the most essential works of Alfred Hitchcock, such as North by Northwest, Strangers on a Train, and Psycho. It featured poignant dramas, like The African Queen, Rebel Without a Cause, and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? It was an era rife with westerns, and war epics, and the rise of what would come to be known as "action films". And when it came to comedy, there was no one from this era bigger than the duo of Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin in the 50s, or Jerry Lewis as a solo star (and even director) in the 60s.

But for me personally, what makes this era of film a strong candidate, are the types of movies that some, both back then and even today, would consider more "schlocky" fare. Personally though, I've never cared for the popular or critical opinions of others much, and so I embrace these movies as being some of the very best ever made, from any era, because they are. The 1950s, for one thing, saw the rise of one of my greatest heroes, Ray Harryhausen, as THE singular special effects powerhouse of what would go on to be three decades of film. His work in stop-motion animation, carried on from his great mentor Willis O'Brien, was untouchable, and it helped to revolutionize special effects films of the era. Films like Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, Jason and the Argonauts, and my personal favorite, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, would inspire multiple generations of future filmmakers.




Another personal favorite.



And it wasn't just Hollywood cranking out the classics (and not so classics) in this era. Movies from the international scene were rising to greater prominence as well, especially in the "genre" markets. The 1950s saw the rise of two specific studios, one that was a huge part of my own 80s/90s childhood, and one that I would come to know and appreciate in my adult years. The Japanese juggernaut, Toho, known for their Akira Kurosawa samurai epics, would also come to be known as the "King of Kaiju", or giant monster movies, with the seminal masterwork of a friend and colleague of Kurosawa's, Ishiro Honda, in the form of the 1954 classic Gojira. From this dark and brooding film, as much a scary monster movie as it was a highly poignant statement on the horrifying and evil effects (and legacy) of "The Bomb" being dropped on Japan in WWII, not only an entire movie franchise, but a long-lasting movie genre, was fully born, that of the "Giant Monster on the Loose" film.

1933's King Kong, or even the preceding 1925 silent gem The Lost World, could and should rightly be called the first "giant monster movie". But the genre didn't fully establish itself, and take off as a popular movie convention, until the 50s. And "Godzilla", as he would come to be known in the West, while inspired himself by Harryhausen's The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, would in turn inspire many other giant monster flicks, including some that were direct ripoffs or even direct competition (such as Daiei's Gamera). In my personal opinion, the 1960s was the height of both Godzilla films, and of the "Kaiju" genre in general. The 60s was certainly Godzilla's most prolific period, as in the ten years from 1960-1969, there were Godzilla films released each year except '60, '61, and '63. The original Showa Era of Godzilla films would stretch on to 1975, but the 60s, with personal favorites such as King Kong vs. Godzilla, Invasion of the Astro Monster, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, and Destroy All Monsters, was easily his greatest period of success.

Of course the other studio I previously mentioned, was the United Kingdom's Hammer Studios, who would in the 1950s begin to establish themselves as, in their own right, "The New Universal", at least for a decade or so, when it came to horror films. Their genre film fame started in the 50s with minor science fiction hits such as The Quatermass Xperiment, X the Unknown, and The Abominable Snowman. They even produced one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes films, The Hound of the Baskervilles, one of the first pairings of their two future top stars, Peter Cushing (as Holmes) and Christopher Lee. But it was 1957's Terrance Fisher adaptation, The Curse of Frankenstein, followed by '58's Horror of Dracula (also by Fisher), that would kick off a solid decade and a half or so of horror film dominance by Hammer. They would go on to make long franchises (for better and for worse) out of the Frankenstein and Dracula movies, almost all starring either Cushing or Lee (sometimes both). They would also have their own series of Mummy movies, and many other one-off gems such as The Man Who Could Cheat Death, The Gorgon, and The Devil Rides Out.

Much like Toho, in my opinion at least, Hammer followed a similar trajectory, rising in the 50s, having their absolute height in the 60s, and starting to taper off, ultimately falling somewhat flat in the 70s.




Yet ANOTHER personal favorite.



But the "Silver Age" wasn't just about Ray Harryhausen, or Godzilla, or even Hammer Horror. The period produced what I am not afraid to call some of the very best science fiction stories ever put to film. There were many that were genuinely "schlocky", often because of budget and time constraints, and I happen to love many of those too. But some of them were pure class, and had "something to say" beyond just lasers blasting and alien monsters roaring. A movie like 1951's The Day the Earth Stood Still, a movie I saw on TNT's MonsterVision as a kid, and it profoundly affected me, even in the early 90s. That film was about an alien, yes, and he had a giant "killer robot", but the message was deep as hell, certainly for the period, speaking out against war and human cruelty. Another, lesser known film with a similar premise, was 1957's The 27th Day, a movie wherein aliens give people from various world "Superpowers" hi-tech bombs, that if used, would essentially wipe out the human race, leaving the planet free for alien occupation. But the catch was, the aliens wouldn't invade, unless these humans used these bombs against their "enemies". And in very touching fashion, uncharacteristic for this "Cold War" era, even the people from the "evil" countries of China and Russia, refuse to use their bombs or divulge their secrets. In a rare turn, in that story, the human race was saved by nobility, and compassion.

So many other greats came from just the 1950s alone, such as one of my all-time favorites, 1956's Forbidden Planet, starring the at-the-time serious dramatic lead (and of my favorite actors of all time), Leslie Nielsen. That film alone is a unique classic, both from a special effects point of view, where it would influence future Sci-Fi the likes of Star Trek, Doctor Who and Star Wars, in different ways, but as a story, it too had something deep to say to the audience, warning of the "Monsters From the Id", and the hidden darkness that lurks in all people's minds. Then there's The Incredible Shrinking Man, more of a sombre and introspective story, as a man deals with the existential crisis of his place in the world, as he continues to shrink to the size of a mouse, and smaller. Or the psychological thriller Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which drums up paranoia and fear about "whom among us can you trust?".

There were minor classics that launched careers, such as 1958's The Blob, which was mega-star Steve McQueen's first starring role. Or films catching old stars at the end of theirs, such as the brief clip of Bela Lugosi in Plan 9 From Outer Space, or the legitimately wheel-chair ridden Boris Karloff in Die Monster Die! Another rising star of the 50s and 60s, was the incredible Vincent Price, who with the help of movies like William Castle's The House on Haunted Hill and The Tingler, or Roger Corman's 1960s series of Edgar Allen Poe films, became America's new leading man of horror for the better part of three decades. And this era also featured some really excellent adaptations of classic literature, such as The War of the Worlds, The Three Worlds of Gulliver, First Men in the Moon, Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Mysterious Island, and The Time Machine, among others.

But for all that greatness, while I feel confident I could make a strong argument for this era being THE quintessential era for Sci-Fi and "Monster" type movies (in fact I think I just did), I would not say that, all around, the 50s and 60s were THE best movie era, or certainly standalone decades.




Such an incredible film.




Moving on to the 1970s, before I finally get to the crux of this article's point, I have to say, while the decade produced many REALLY great films, some well known and some lesser so, I personally feel that compared to the decades that preceded it, as well as followed it, that the 70s as a decade for film falls kinda short. In fact, when trying to piece together my own Top Movies lists on the website Letterboxd, while I had no problem coming up with a personal Top 100 movies for the 80s or 90s, I actually failed to come up with 100 movies I really liked from the 1970s.


That is not to say, by any means, that I think the decade SUCKED for movies, it surely didn't. For example, the two movies that I site as basically being my 1A and 1B candidates for "Favorite Movie of All Time", are Mel Brooks' amazing 1974 classic Young Frankenstein (starring another of my fav. all time actors, Gene Wilder), and the 1977 Rankin-Bass masterful TV animated adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. The 70s also provided the world with two more incredible Ray Harryhausen Sinbad fantasy epics, in the forms of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and Sinbad and Eye of the Tiger. The decade had great comedies like Monty Python and The Holy Grail, Murder By Death, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Silver Streak. It saw science fiction greats like Logan's Run, Soylent Green, Silent Running, Westworld, Alien, and a personal favorite, Disney's The Black Hole. It saw cult classics like Rocky, The Warriors, and Enter the Dragon. And even though they were in a low period, Disney still put out some great films, such as Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Robin Hood, and The Rescuers.  

And it would be neglectful not to mention that some of the biggest directors in the history of cinema saw their rise in the 70s, such as Francis Ford Coppola with hits like Patton, The Godfather, and Apocalypse Now. Richard Donner with The Omen and Superman. Mel Brooks with the aforementioned Young Frankenstein, along with comedy masterpieces like Blazing Saddles, High Anxiety, and The Silent Movie. John Carpenter with his (at the time) most successful "indie" film of all time, Halloween. George Lucas with American Graffiti and one of the biggest movies in history, Star Wars. And of course, arguably the most financially successful director in Hollywood history, Steven Spielberg, who started the decade small with the great TV thriller Duel, and then went on to make cinema history with the likes of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

But even with all of that, I think the 70s "falls short" for me, and certainly when compared to the decade that we're ACTUALLY here to talk about: The 1980s.




Legendary.



I know that I took, in typical Jesse fashion, a LONG time to wind up at this point, but what this article is REALLY about, and why I'm here, is to make a case for the 1980s being, all around, THE best decade in film history. That is a very bold statement, I know. But I feel rather confident that the sheer body of incredible films, from ANY genre you could care to mention, that this decade presents, speaks for itself. Mind you, as I've already said, I think strong arguments for OTHER decades can definitely be made, when it comes to specific genres, for instance the 1950s and Science Fiction, or perhaps the 1990s and Animated films. But I think that, across the board, the 80s presents such an overwhelming cross-section of greatness in every single genre, that it would be really hard to argue, objectively, any other single decade has produced anything close.

For instance, let's start with a genre that one of my lesser personal favorites: Drama. And don't get that twisted, I really LOVE a great many drama films, and depending on my mood, I really enjoy sitting down and watching a good drama. But the fact is, for me personally, when I make an attempt at listing what I feel are my approximate Top 100 Favorite Films, there are very few drama films on it. I just happen to like Science Fiction, and Monster Movies, and Animation, and Comedies, etc., a lot more. Having said that, the 80s was an incredible decade for drama, giving us some of the strongest films the genre has ever seen, such as Raging Bull, Scarface, Full Metal Jacket, The Color Purple, The Outsiders, Good Morning, Vietnam and Wall Street. And those aren't even (mostly) films that I'm personally very big on. Some of my own 80s drama favorites include The Boy Who Could Fly, On Golden Pond, Rain Man, Stand By Me, and Dead Poets Society.




THE Don Bluth Masterpiece.



While the 90s I think you could argue was a "bigger" decade for animated theatrical films, certainly for Disney, the 80s was still home to some of the best animated movies ever made. In no small part to one man, Don Bluth, who rose from being an animator at Disney, to breaking out on his own and not only finding success, but in the mid-to-late 80s, actually finding MORE success than Disney itself. For a few years there, Bluth movies were doing bigger box office than Disney, even though Disney's 80s output was still excellent. The 80s was absolutely Bluth's high period, as he would sadly slip in the 90s (as several other prominent 80s directors also did), but his string of hits like The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, The Land Before Time, and All Dogs Go to Heaven, was legendary. Disney meanwhile, was hardly slacking, as their 80s output included The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver and Company, and the first hit that "put them back on top", The Little Mermaid.

Another at-the-time unknown name, Japan's Hayao Miyazaki and what would become Studio Ghibli, were also on the rise in the 80s, with incredible films such as Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind, my personal favorite Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Grave of the Fireflies and Kiki's Delivery Service. Tragically, theses movies and more would go largely unknown and unseen in the United States until the 2000s, thanks to Disney, but they are still amazing works of the 80s. While they were known as a television company, Rankin-Bass also had several great 80s films, both traditionally animated as well as stop-motion, such as The Return of the King, The Last Unicorn, The Flight of Dragons, and The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. And of course, the 80s was THE decade of cartoon series' based on toys (or vice versa), and many of these produced films as well, including Masters of the Universe, the Care Bears, the Transformers, G.I. Joe, My Little Pony, Rainbow Brite, and The Chipmunks. Most of those films, by the way, are surprisingly anywhere from ok to rather good.




Harryhausen's last film.



The 80s was also a very strong decade for fantasy films, arguably THE strongest. Including some of the animated fantasy films mentioned above, there were also many live action fantasy epics, some great, some not so much. But among those greats, is included Clash of the Titans, sadly the last film that Ray Harryhausen would ever work on. Ray did most of the stop-motion work by himself, and because his concepts were very ambitious, and quality of work very high, working on each successive film, especially into the 70s, took him years. The work was not only grueling, but Titans also tragically fell short at the box office, not making as much as it deserved to. Ray had concepts for future projects, but I think he felt dejected, and that perhaps the movie industry was moving beyond him, and stop-motion. He would eventually prove to be right, and I think that sucks. But if he had to leave us one final film, I think Clash was one hell of a way to go out.

Other live-action fantasy films of the 80s include the likes of Excalibur, Dragonslayer, The Neverending Story, Krull, The Beastmaster, Return to Oz, Ladyhawke, Legend, Willow, and The Princess Bride. And with the 80s rise of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, also came one of the hits that first helped establish him as a star, 1982's Conan the Barbarian. I like that film, but happen to be an even bigger fan of the two follow-ups, Conan the Destroyer, and Red Sonya. Naturally, Conan being such a big success, gave rise to a variety of (mostly shitty) ripoff films, trying to cash in on that resurgent "Sword n Sorcery" success. And last but hardly least, there were also the two Jim Henson fantasy films, the popular Labyrinth, and The Dark Crystal, which I consider his finest piece of work.





A highly underrated movie.



 Science Fiction is another genre that I feel you could definitely argue saw one of it's strongest periods in the 1980s. Steven Spielberg's 1982 mega-hit E.T: The Extra Terrestrial alone, was one of the single biggest smash hits of the decade, not to mention of all time. There was also the James Cameron trio of Sci-Fi hits, The Terminator, the 1986 Alien sequel Aliens, and his 1989 oddball success, The Abyss. Another major fixture of the 80s, were theatrical Star Trek movies. Having returned in movie form in 1979, the 80s saw Star Trek movies becoming a continuing franchise, with four of them in the decade (my favorite being Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home). Of course, George Lucas followed up his creation, Star Wars, with two epic sequels to complete a now legendary trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi.

But it wasn't just well-known players getting in on the action. Pictured above, you can see the poster for 1984's The Last Starfighter, a childhood favorite of mine, which was directed by Nick Castle, the prime player of the original Mike Meyers, from Halloween. Another childhood favorite, was the Disney produced Flight of the Navigator, which featured a sentient UFO that was voiced by non-other than Paul Reubens, of PeeWee fame. Other 80s Sci-Fi films included (but were hardly limited to), remakes to 50s films such as The Fly, The Blob, and Invaders From Mars, as well as varied works like Flash Gordon, DuneTron, The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Cocoon, Alien Nation, Batteries Not Included, Short Circuit and Short Circuit 2.




A Schwarzenegger classic.



One genre that really made a resurgence in the 80s, even though it had certainly been around in the 70s, was the "Action" genre. Arnold's rising star was a huge part of that, with hits like Commando, Predator, Red Heat, and The Running Man. Another actor whose star had begun to rise in the 70s, was Sylvester Stallone, who absolutely blew up in the 80s as well, with many action hits like First Blood and its Rambo sequels, as well as movies like Cobra and Tango & Cash. Mel Gibson was another star to get established in the 80s, with his first major blip on the radar being the dystopian 1979 film Mad Max. The 80s would see two sequels to that, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, and Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome. Gibson would also rise to further fame through the Richard Donner film Lethal Weapon (also starring Danny Glover), which would go on to have three sequels. Bruce Willis was another up-and-comer, who gained major notice for the action hit Die Hard, which would have several sequels. 

Other 80s action movies would include everything from Sci-Fi tinged films like Robocop, to Action-Comedies like Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hours (both starring Eddie Murphy), and Burglar and Fatal Beauty (both starring Whoopie Goldberg). There was also the Charles Bronson-led sequels of the Death Wish franchise, and the Chuck Norris-led Missing in Action films. Martial arts films became more popular outside of Hong Kong, and new stars in the genre like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal led the way with hits such as Bloodsport, Kickboxer, and Above the Law. There were others in addition, such as the Eric Roberts-led Best of the Best, and the early attempt at an American Jackie Chan film, The Big Brawl.

And one would be remiss not to mention the continuing James Bond franchise, though in my personal opinion, the 80s represented a dip for a fatiguing franchise, though there were still successful hits like A View to Kill, For Your Eyes Only, and The Living Daylights. A big part of Lucas and Spielberg's individual ascents to fame also included their collaboration project, Indiana Jones, which formed a trilogy of 80s films, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, and The Last Crusade.




One of the best.


Another genre to see a massive resurgence, arguably the biggest of the decade, was that of horror films. One of the absolute best ever made, and certainly the best the decade had to offer, seen above, is the Spielberg produced, Tobe Hooper directed Poltergeist. Helping to establish what I informally refer to as "Family Horror", this movie absolutely has its share of dark and spooky moments, but it also has a heart that is centered around a family, as they are the focus of the story, not the scary shit happening to them. While officially directed by Hooper, of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame, I hesitate to call this the best movie HE ever directed, because the fact is, even though he was busy at work on E.T. at the time, Spielberg also spent a lot of time on this film's set. It was his other pet project, and Hollywood studio rules stated he could not director more than one movie at a time, so he hired Hooper to direct this one. But it carries all of Spielberg's own trademarks, and it just plays out and FEELS like a Spielberg film. So it is hard to call it 100% a Hooper movie. Regardless, it is a classic, and one of the best supernatural "haunting" films that has ever been made.

The 80s really gave rise to the phenomenon of the "Horror Franchise". That isn't to say series of horror films didn't exist before, as they did. Universal in the 30s and 40s had their Dracula and Frankenstein and Mummy and Wolfman movies. And Hammer had their own Dracula and Frankenstein and Mummy series in the 50s and 60s. But often, those series were not direct sequels, or only loosely related, sometimes totally unrelated. In the 80s, driven in large part by the success of John Carpenter's Halloween, the "slasher" sub-genre became very popular, and it included not only sequels to Halloween, but also many sequels to the films A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th as well. Many other movies, such as Critters, Goulies, Hellraiser and Child's Play, which really didn't need sequels at all, still saw attempts at franchises too. They even tried making franchises out of older films that 100% didn't need sequels, such as 1960s Hitchcock classic Psycho.

The decade saw an almost ridiculous number of horror films, in fact I would suggest that there may well have been more horror films theatrically released in the 80s than any other decade. Just some of these films include: C.H.U.D., The Shining, The Evil Dead, The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, Fright Night, The Gate, Return of the Living Dead, The Changeling, Creepshow, Lifeforce, and Killer Klowns From Outer Space.  



John Candy, the Master.



On the lighter side of things, the 80s ALSO happened to be a huge decade for comedy. Again, there were some good comedy films from the 70s, as Mel Brooks attests to. But the 80s did once again see something of a resurgence, or even a comedy "renaissance" if you will. Much like the action genre, the rise in 80s comedy films was directly tied to the rising careers of many fairly new comedians, names such as: Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Eddie Murphy, Martin Short, and Rick Moranis. There were also stars who had risen in the 70s such as Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, who still had a big string of hits in the 80s. And while not as much as comedian as just a comedic actor, Tom Hanks became a huge star in the 80s, with films like Splash, Big, The Money Pit, and Turner & Hooch

Steve Martin's 80s hits include Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, The Man With Two Brains, Roxanne, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Eddie Murphy, of course, was all over the place, with movies like The Golden Child, Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hours, and Coming to America. Chevy Chase, the master of pratfalls and goofy sarcasm, had hits like Vacation, European Vacation, and my favorite Christmas Vacation, as well as Fletch, Modern Problems, Funny Farm, Three Amigos (also starring Martin and Short), and Caddyshack. And John Candy, who I personally consider the "biggest" comedy star of the 80s, also had many hits, like Going Berserk, Summer Rental, Spaceballs, The Great Outdoors (also starring Dan Aykroyd), and Planes Trains and Automobiles (which also starred Steve Martin).

The 1980s saw the rise of "buddy cop" movies, "screwball" comedies, and just plain weird comedies. Some of these included Stakeout, Jumping Jack Flash, Airplane!, The Naked Gun, A Christmas Story, Revenge of the Nerds, Police Academy, Scrooged, Look Who's Talking, Throw Mama From the Train, Haunted Honeymoon, and many more.




Everyone should see this at least once.



Just as the 1970s gave rise to names like Coppola, Lucas and Spielberg, the 1980s also saw the rise of several names that would go on to become big time, such as James Cameron, Tim Burton, Ron Howard, John Landis, and Chris Columbus, among others. But three such names that make it onto my "favorite directors ever" list, are Robert Zemecikis, Joe Dante, and John Carpenter. While Zemeckis is less-so one of my ALL time favorites, his 80s output especially was really stellar, with Romancing the Stone, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and the fantastic Back to the Future films. Joe Dante, who now runs the excellent Trailers From Hell site (among other things), started out his directing career with the horror films Piranha and The Howling. But he really took off, when he was chosen to direct the Spielberg produced, Chris Columbus written classic, 1984's Gremlins. That movie alone is timeless, and immortalizes Dante as a director, but he rode that wave to make several other 80s films, such as Explorers, InnerSpace, and one of my top favorites of all time, The 'Burbs.

As for John Carpenter, well, as previously stated, his career started in the 70s. Even before his breakthrough hit Halloween debuted in 1978, he had done the small-time films Dark Star and Assault on Precinct 13. But it was the 80s when he really came into his own, with films like The Fog, Christine, Starman, Prince of Darkness, and They Live. However, the films he is perhaps best known and loved for, were also tied directly to the rise of yet another 80s star: Kurt Russel. Carpenter and Russel are real life friends, and he wound up casting him in a total of five films over his career, the biggest of which were the 80s hits Escape From New York, The Thing, and one of my Top 5 favorite movies ever, Big Trouble in Little China. I like most (but not all) of Carpenter's work in general, but those Kurt Russel films are my favorites of his, and Big Trouble is a movie I wish more people would see, because it is all at once SO weird and SO awesome, and was criminally overlooked for it's time.  





100% 80s.



Last but hardly least, even though this article has run long (big surprise right?), I'd like to take the time to talk about what I call "80s Films". Granted, ALL of the films I've been talking about from the 80s, are 80s films. And one trait that I would say a lot of the BEST ones share, is that they are very much so a product of their time. But while I could easily have stuffed most of these in other genre sections, I think at least some of these best embody the 80s as a decade. Not only are these films a product of their time, but that is a big part of what MAKES them great, and also a huge part of why they should NEVER be remade, because they ARE "80s Films".

One of the most "80s Films" I can think of, is also one of my personal favorites, and that is Richard Donner's The Goonies. In the midst of making comedies like The Toy and Scrooged, and dark, violent action movies like Lethal Weapon 1 & 2, Donner decided to make this weird, wonderful family adventure film. The Goonies is, I'd even go so far as to say, a little hard to describe, BECAUSE it's "So 80s". It's a movie about a bunch of kids, who go off on their own (happens in a ton of 80s movies) to look for treasure to save their family homes from foreclosure, and they run into criminals and a Sloth and forgotten caves and dead pirates, you name it! As 80s as it is, it's also timeless, and such an amazing classic, it really makes me sorry I didn't see it as a kid, for whatever stupid reasons.

In fact, many of these I didn't see as a kid, such as PeeWee's Big Adventure, where a grown man who acts like a goofy child, goes on a road-trip looking for his stolen bike. Or Monster Squad, where another pack of mostly unsupervised kids set out to save their town, and the world, from Dracula and a gang of classic Hollywood monsters. Or the Karate Kid films, directed by John G. Avildsen, who also directed the first (and fifth) Rocky movies, where a goofy kid from New Jersey moves to California, gets bullied, gets trained by his Japanese apartment handyman, and winds up accidentally winning an entire karate tournament. Or Adventures in Babysitting, where a teen girl babysitting a bunch of suburban kids, winds up in all kinds of danger and crazy situations in Chicago. Or Beetlejuice, where a young married couple tragically dies, and then try mistakenly hire a ghoul named Beetlejuice, to "excorcize" their house of its new living residents. Or hell, pretty much all of the John Hughes films, which all basically scream 80s, from Sixteen Candles, to Weird Science, to Ferris Bueller's Day Off, to The Breakfast Club, to Planes Trains and Automobiles, to Uncle Buck (another John Candy great). And of course, you simply cannot bring up 80s movies, without talking about Ghostbusters. That movie (and its sequel) IS the 80s, as much as it is anything else.


                                                                 *****************


The truth is, there are a TON of other movies I haven't even mentioned that could be talked about, but I've already said way more than enough. The SHORT version, of course, is that the 80s were, I put forth, the overall BEST decade for films, beyond nostalgia, beyond personal preferences, because it just had a ton of great films in pretty much every genre you could think of. No matter what "kind" of movie fan you are, the 80s had something for you. And even for people who aren't "movie people", there are STILL landmark 80s classics that most of those people know of, and MOST of them likely like, if not love. A major film fan and amateur student of film history myself, while hardly an "expert", I'd say I know enough and have seen enough, to say with some kind of authority, that I don't think there is a single other decade someone can point to, and say that it has AS many amazing classic films, in AS many genres. And I say that as an 80s kid who grew up in the 90s, and trust me, there were/are a LOT of 90s films that I love.

Before I finally shut up, I'll leave you all with a list of what I'd say are some of THE top and "MOST 80s" films that really represent the decade, and my argument that it's the best decade in film. Some of these movies I personally love, some aren't, but all are considered major classics, so they deserve inclusion:

Ghostbusters
Gremlins
Scarface
The Terminator
Aliens
Robocop
Escape From New York
E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial
Poltergeist
Die Hard
Lethal Weapon
Full Metal Jacket
Adventures in Babysitting
Stand By Me
The Breakfast Club
Big Trouble in Little China
Trading Places
Beverly Hills Cop
PeeWee's Big Adventure
Beetlejuice
The Karate Kid
Rocky III /IV (take your pick)
National Lampoon's Vacation
Caddyshack
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Return of the Jedi (or Empire)
Wall Street
Top Gun
The 'Burbs
First Blood
Short Circuit
Back to the Future
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Friday the 13th
Predator
The Great Outdoors
Honey I Shrunk the Kids
Land Before Time
Batman
Superman II



Thank you for reading, and make sure to go watch some great 80s movies!



Friday, March 30, 2018

Childhood Memories: Dino-Riders

Dinosaurs, extinct for 70 million years, are back!



I've spoken in the past about my childhood love of dinosaurs, and of one of the main 80s shows that really helped fuel that along, in the form of 1987's Dinosaucers. That show, which played during my First Grade school year, was in an hour block along with a goofier cartoon called Denver, The Last Dinosaur, and at 6 or 7 years old, I absolutely ate them up. Now, Dinosaucers was supposed to have an accompanying toy-line, and prototypes were even created, but because the show was cancelled after one syndicated (65 episode) season, they also cancelled the toy line, which I think was foolish.

 But in 1988, there was another dinosaur-based animated series that came along, which was designed specifically to SELL toys, and thus while it too had only one short (14 episode) season, to some kids of that era, it is still kinda legendary.




This is the one set I KNOW I had.



The cartoon was called Dino-Riders, and it was co-developed by the Tyco toy company, and Marvel Entertainment, the animation wing of Marvel Comics. They developed the cartoon series, a full and robust toyline, and various other merchandise. It didn't last very long, sadly, but it was a blitzkrieg while it was happening.

I don't fully remember anymore, which toys I had, even though I know I didn't have many. I know for a FACT that I had the set shown above, which is a Pteranodon, and his Rulon rider, Rasp. I also know that I had one of the good guys, the Valorians, the youngest named Llahd, who came with a little hang-glider like aparatus, which also hung off of a flying dinosaur. I don't remember whether or not I had two separate dinosaur toys, or if Llahd came by himself (which doesn't make sense with his gear), or they BOTH came with the one dino and you could switch them out?

The cool and most memorable thing about this particular dino toy, is that it has a button on its back, which when pressed, cause its wings to flap as if it's flying. To a little kid, in the late 80s, that was pretty damn hi-tech!



The ORIGINAL cool-toed Dino.
 


I'd like to take the time to point out that back as a kid, several years BEFORE everyone and their pet dog became enamored with the Velociraptor, thanks to the 1993 mega-hit film Jurassic Park, I was a big fan of the guy shown above. He is a bigger cousin to the regular raptor (the ones shown in the JP film were actually "Utahraptors", V-Raps are small), known as Deinonychus. And I thought he was bad ass. Sadly, I never owned THIS toy of him, but I DID have A Deinonychus toy of some fashion, I'm sure. There is some scrap of my memory that almost thinks maybe I DID own this guy, but I can't back that up.

But that was one genuinely cool thing about the series, beyond the fact that it was basically G.I. Joe with dinosaurs. Dino-mania was alive and well in the late 80s, in no small part thanks to the amazing Don Bluth masterpiece, the 1988 animated theatrical film Land Before Time. I know I loved it, hell I had a goddamn Pizza Hut birthday party themed after it (they were promoting it at the time). But while it's a classic and bad ass movie, one small negative it did bring to the culture back then, though somewhat harmless, was the film's in-world names that the types of dinosaurs had for each other. For instance, Triceratops were known as "Three Horns", and Brontosaurus were known as "Long Necks", and T-Rex was called a "Sharptooth".

With Dino-Riders, as you can plainly see, they called the dinosaurs by their paleontological names, even when they were big words for kids, like Saurolophus, or Pteranodon, or Monoclonius, or Deinonychus. Each toy, of course, was paired with a rider, either evil Rulons, or the benevolent (and eponymous) Dino-Riders.




The ongoing war.



Taking a step back, the plot of the toy-line and cartoon/comics/etc., is set in the far future, where a peaceful race of humans has been living on the planet Valoria, minding their own business, when along comes the conquering alien conglomerate known as the Rulons, and their leader, Emperor Krulos (shown above). The Rulons are made up of a bunch of different alien races, like snake people, sharkish people, insect people, etc. Krulos himself, while never made explicitly clear, seems to be some kind of frog-type thing.

As a group of Valorians are on the run from Krulos, who desires their "Space Time Energy Projector" crystal (STEP Crystal for short), they are forced to use the STEP to try and escape. But the Rulons are sucked through the portal after them, and they both wind up crash-landing, stranded, far back in time, on prehistoric Earth.

The basic dichotomy of the show, is that BOTH groups make use of various dinosaurs (who appear mish-mashed from various prehistoric periods), but their tactics differ. For the Dino-Riders, they utilize these necklace pendants they all wear, "Amplified Mental Projectors" (AMPs), to communicate with the beasts via ESP. In other words, they convince the dinos to work with them, by basically asking them to, nicely. For the evil Rulons, of course, they are not nearly so nice, so instead of asking nicely, they use what are called "Brain Boxes", harnesses that bend the dinos to their will, basically making slaves of them.




Rasp and Hammerhead.



The cartoon series essentially depicts the ongoing conflict of these two groups, as they try to survive in this hostile prehistoric environment. Every single episode, just about, features Krulos and his army trying to attack the Valorian camp, because he wants that damn STEP crystal, so he can use it to get back to the future, and back to taking over the universe. In true 80s fashion, every episode also shows the bad guys messing up somehow, and losing the battle, turning tail and vowing to return. One reason this show is most definitely a G.I. Joe type of affair, is because in these battles, folks are shooting lasers all OVER the place at each other, all the time, but they rarely ever hit each other.



Always so angry.



Krulos himself was voiced by the great Frank Welker, doing basically the exact Dr. Claw voice from Inspector Gadget. Several of his primary minions are pretty memorable too. He has groups of Vipers and Sharks and whatever, but each has a general, and some of these, as shown above, are Rasp and Hammerhead, who are of course always vying for Krulos' favor, and to become the #2 guy. There is also the calmer Krok, a crocodile guy, who also quietly guns to be top dog, though more through hard work than grandstanding like the other two. There are others as well, such as Antor, the kinda-sorta-ant-guy, Lokus, another bug guy, and Skate who is a...starfish man? I never quite figured that out.




Da Good Guys.



The heroes also have some memorable characters, though of course by virtue of not being crazy-looking alien animal dudes, not AS memorable. There's the leader, Questar, the young and brash Yungstar (get it?), the kid Llahd, the psychic healer lady Serena, the grizzled military veteran Gunner, and the oldest of the bunch, the blind but powerful psychic (and bad ass martial artist), Serena's grandfather Mind Zei (GET IT!?). There were a lot of other characters, mainly to sell more toys, but seeing as I only had Rasp and Llahd (I think), as a kid, there isn't much point going over the rest.




Dino-Riders, the Coloring Book!



One thing I DID have, was this exact coloring book, which at the time I treasured. The truth is, for whatever reasons, I didn't actually get to see much of the show itself. I may have seen an episode or two here or there, but in general I kinda missed out on most of it. But this handy-dandy coloring book not only helped me sharpen my artistic skills (such as they are), but it also actually did a pretty nifty job of telling the story of the show, so I got to know what was going on, and who was who, anyway! That's Questar up there, riding with his trusty Styracosaurus, though in the cartoon, he was often riding atop the mighty battle-station they built on a huge Brontosaurus (or Apatosaurus if you're so inclined).

Fun fact, but there was a period in my early teens, where I very seriously wanted to be a comic book artist, or more specifically, a colorist (because I've never had the patience to be as good at drawing as I would prefer to be). And part of that probably started because of THIS specific coloring book. I had other coloring books, yes, but this one held my attention the most, and I tried super hard to color in those pictures well. I actually had a nice set of like 30 something crayons, including some fancy colors, and that later graduated to having a really cool (though not NEARLY big enough for my tastes) colored pencil set, with even MORE colors. I'm pretty big on colors. I would 100% be down with having a massive colored pencil set (like the biggest you can get), and just doing elaborate coloring books. But I digress.




The short-lived Marvel comic.




All in all, the series was fairly short-lived. They had 14 episodes, one season, that lasted from October 1st to December 31st 1988. But out of that, they managed not one, but FOUR series of toys. I'm not sure how long the toys kept coming up, but still, they squeezed this franchise for all it was worth. I'm honestly surprised it didn't at least get a second season.

To me, as a kid, the Dinosaucers were a much bigger deal to me. Of course, that was largely because I actually got to WATCH a lot of that cartoon, whereas I barely saw this one. But I think it was also because it had such memorable characters, and while the concept of living and working with dinosaurs like the Dino-Riders do is cool, there was something MORE cool to me about having anthropomorphic dino-people, who I was secret friends with, and helped them fight evil (and hilarious) dino-people.

Having said that though, the Dino-Riders concept is still a really cool one, and I did really treasure the few toys of them I DID have. Looking at pictures of that Deinonychus toy, as stated, part of me ALMOST feels like maybe I did actually own it. But regardless, the one I REALLY wanted, was also the one too expensive to ever get, and that was the huge Tyronosaurus Rex that Krulos rode around. I would have just about shit if I had been able to own that as a kid, but alas, we were fairly poor.

Until next time, celebrate all things old and awesome!