“The Daimajin Trilogy” (1966, Arrow Video) Enjoyable blend of Japanese giant monster movie and historical action/drama, all issued in the same year by Daiei (the home of Gamera) and hinged on a similar plot: a massive statue of a warrior god comes to life whenever its people are threatened by nefarious types. The hybridization of genres means while there’s less city-wrecking scenes than, say, Toho’s Godzilla series, there’s also greater depth of character and plot, although the latter is essentially the same in all three films (warlord enslaves small village, the people pray to Daimajin, he comes to life and wreaks absolute havoc); however, the sequences involving the statue’s revenge are wholly satisfying in the break-stuff department and a minor miracle in special effects, combining miniature work, suitmation (with former baseball player Chikara Hashimoto lending an unnerving presence to the cumbersome costume), and photography to lend a sense of palpable terror to Daimajin’s rampage – something that Eiji Tsuburaya’s effects for Toho were not always capable of doing.
Credit goes largely to the capable direction of journeyman filmmakers on each film – Kimiyoshi Yasuda, who handled several of Daiei’s Zatoichi titles; Kenji Misumi, who created the blood-soaked “Lone Wolf and Cub” series; and action vet Kazuo Mori. Enjoyable fare for Japanese fantasy fans and non-devotees alike; Arrow’s Blu-ray set bundles excellent-looking transfers of all three “Daimajin” films with Japanese and English-language options and impressive extras by experts like Stuart Galbraith, Ed Godziszewski (on an excellent making-of doc), Tom Mes, Jasper Sharp, and Jonathan Clements; interviews with cinematographer Fujio Morita and historian Yoneo Ota, who worked on the second film, as well as Japanease and U.S. trailers and titles for the Stateside TV releases, round out the set.
“Drunken Master II” (1994, Warner Archives Collection) Jackie Chan’s final Hong Kong martial arts film prior to his hit-and-miss tenure as a Hollywood star, “Drunken Master II” is also arguably one of his most enjoyable action-comedy hybrids, and an excellent showcase for his physical skills and action setpieces. Cast as the folk hero Wong Fei-hung, albeit filtered through the actor’s own impish persona, Chan is given a film festival’s worth of silent film obstacles to overcome – a comic mix-up involving the Chinese Imperial Seal, overbearing parents (fellow martial arts greats Ti Lung and Anita Mui), and a slapstick taste for alcohol – with which he contends through consideratble determination, a willingness to take incredible abuse, and his signature “drunken boxing” style. Much has been made online in regard to Warner’s Blu-ray, which is described as a 4K remaster of the original and rarely seen Hong Kong version of “Drunken Master II” (previous releases have been culled from inferior sources), and if that is not entirely the case with this Blu-ray (I can’t say, having not seen other versions or the film itself since it played a Boston theater in ’95 or so), the film itself remains enormously entertaining thanks to Chan’s signature abilities and some show-stopping sequences, including a non-stop brawl against a seemingly endless stream of opponents in a restaurant, none of which can be diminished by any alleged technical shortcomings. Warner’s Blu-ray includes three language options: an English dub along with Cantonese and Mandarin with optional English SDH subtitles and a second (somewhat wanting) set from the Hong Kong release, as well as the theatrical trailer.
“Tomorrow I’ll Scald Myself with Tea” (1977, Second Run DVD) In a future 1977 where time travel and long lifespans are commonplace, an aging gaggle of former Nazis decide to improve their current lots by leaping back to World War II and delivering a nitrogen bomb to Hitler. Complications arise when their intended time-travel pilot (Petr Kosta) chokes to death on the morning of the trip, prompting his twin brother (also Kosta) to step in while blissfully unaware of his passengers’ plot. Kosta’s obliviousness breaks both ways for all concerned: he discovers that his twin, whom he holds in high regard, was something of a cad, while the Nazis’s scheme is upended by the addition of two rude Americans and a missed target in terms of bomb delivery. Czech comedy-fantasy by director Jindrich Polak (the harder sci-fi epic “Ikarie XB-1“) has a measured sort of mania, balancing hopelessly complicated time paradoxes and moral quandaries with broad comic turns and slapstick, including several Nazis who accidentally turn green; the result is anarchic and amusing but never grating. Second Run’s all-region Blu-ray bundles insightful commentary by the Projection Booth podcast crew (Katt Ellinger, Mike White, and Jonathan Owen), and liner notes by filmmaker Graham Williamson, both of which discuss Czech comedy, the low-fi special effects, and other production and historical context elements.
“Day of the Animals” (1977, Severin Films) Should ever-rising temperatures this summer leave you feeling jittery about the future, you may (or may not) enjoy director William Girdler‘s berserk prediction for mankind, which suggests that our depletion of the ozone layer will drive the world wildlife population to homicidal mania. Square-jawed Christopher George, in the early stages of his career slide into pure exploitation, leads a dozen hikers through Northern California woods (played by Murphys and Long Barn, CA), which are gradually decimated by hawks, snakes, wild dogs, and a huge, wobbly bear. Those meeting various unpleasant deaths include George’s real-life wife, Lynda Day George, Oscar nominee Richard Jaeckel, Andrew Stevens, and Leslie Nielsen, whose turn as a deranged, Melville-spouting ad exec is far more frightening than any of the carefully orchestrate animal assaults. One of the more eccentric, if entertaining entries in the “nature goes nuts” cycle of drive-in fare inspired by “Jaws” and “Willard” (see Girdler’s “Grizzly,” also available from Severin); the Blu-ray includes two commentary tracks, one by Lynda Day George and co-star Jon Ceder with “Evil Dead II” co-writer Scott Spiegel, and another by author Lee Gambin; George is also featured in a separate interview, as are Stevens, actor Bobby Porter, and animal wrangler Monty Cox; a making-of featurette, numerous promo items (trailer, radio spots), and alternate opening title are also included.
“Guns for San Sebastian” (1968, Warner Archives Collection) International action done in an spaghetti Western style, though it’s actually a U.S./French/Italian/Mexican production with American leads, a French director (crime specialist Henri Verneuil of “The Sicilian Clan” fame), and a Mexican lead (Anthony Quinn) and supporting cast that includes Jaime Fernandez and Pedro Armendariaz Jr. The movie itself is anchored on a well-worn premise – outlaw Quinn mistaken for a priest, takes up arms for a village under siege by Yaquis and undermined by scheming vaquero Charles Bronson. Cult favorite Anjanette Comer (“The Loved One“) shoulders a thankless brownface role as the villager inexplicably hooked on Quinn’s granite charms, but these and other speed bumps are overcome by several impressive battle scenes, including one berserk sequence involving a hail of boulders, and a rousing score by Ennio Morricone. The Warner Archives Blu-ray includes the trailer and a vintage making-of featurette.
Thank you to Warner Archives Collection for providing free Blu-rays for review.