Friday, September 15, 2017


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, cosmological*

GODZILLA 2000 started out the "Big G" reboot known as the Millennium series, but 2000 is somewhat less than "millennial" in quality.

The film runs two parallel plot-lines which eventually dovetail, but to no great effect. The principal viewpoint characters are members of a small group of "Godzilla sighters," made up of scientist Shinoda, his precocious young daughter Io, and a jaded lady reporter, Yuki, who hangs around with them to get advance info on the monster's rampages. Shinoda makes clear in his speeches that he wants Godzilla contained but not destroyed, since he's an important example of post-nuclear adaptation. However, the "Godzilla Prediction Network" has no clout, and the officials of the "Japan Self Defense Force" continue with their plans to destroy the giant reptile. In fact, the JSDF is led by the obsessive Katagiri, whom Shinoda knows from his days working for the same organization. Both the scientist and the military commander are fairly flat figures, designed to embody "good view of Godzilla" vs. "bad view of Godzilla."

The JSDF is also responsible for giving Millennium Godzilla his first sparring-partner, when the military tampers with a sunken UFO. The UFO comes to life and promptly seeks out Godzilla, blasting the reptile in order to harvest the creature's DNA. However, the aliens in the UFO can't control the monster's "wild card" genes, and the whole shebang-- the craft and whatever beings are inside it-- morph into a big monster, whom the Japanese dub ":Orga," There's a seesaw battle between Godzilla and Orga, which Godzilla predictably wins. Katagiri actually gets the best scene: roaring his defiance of Godzilla just before the monster destroys him.

While Ogra is a dull opponent that made me long for the days of the Smog Monster, 2000 at least boasts an impressive new design for Godzilla, certainly better than the slinky iguana-critter from America's 1998 GODZILLA. The 2000 film even does its own version of the 1998 film's much longer and more involved "car fleeing big monster's feet" scene. Still, the Japanese characters are not as appealing as those of the American version, much less those of the earlier "Heisei period."

2000 was followed by the equally weak GODZILLA VS, MEGAGUIRUS, which allegedly did not do well at the Japanese box office. This spurred the producers of the next fun to attempt another "monster mash" with roots in the original Godzilla-series. Originally the plan was to oppose the Big G with three revamped versions of Angilas, Varan, and Baragon, though only Angilas had any explicit connection with Godzilla's series. Marketing considerations led to the use of Mothra and King Ghidorah, who had always been two of Godzilla's more popular foes. The stratagem proved profitable, as the third film did very well, despite (or because of) its exhaustingly long title:GODZILLA, MOTHRA, AND KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL-OUT ATTACK.

Picking up on some of the more mystical elements from the Heisei days, ATTACK advances a new origin for Godzilla's three opponents. Now Mothra, Baragon and Ghidorah are all spiritual defenders of Japan, and all are much less powerful than in their earlier versions. This time there's no strong opposition between the military and civilians, for the main viewpoint character is reporter Yuri Tachibana, daughter of Commander Tachibana of the JSDF. There's a minor conflict between the two over the proper investigation of Godzilla, but by film's end they are reconciled-- not that their interpersonal drama is all that interesting.

Despite the film's box office success, I found the battle-scenes routine at best, and even a scene in which Mothra and Ghidorah fuse to produce "King Ghidorah" did not help. Baragon actually gets the best scenes, for though he's no match for Godzilla, his burrowing-talent literally knocks Godzilla's feet out from under him-- which is something you don't see every day in Big G films.

Thursday, September 7, 2017


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: (1) *fair,* (2) *good*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological, cosmological*

I'm continuing in my eccentric habit of reviewing Godzilla films that weren't even intended to be part of the same continuity, if only for the personal pleasure of having a "G VS. MG II" show up in 1992 before a "G VS MG 1" appears in 2002. Of course, this is mere semantics. "G VS MG II" is in theory a conceptual sequel to Mechagodzilla's first 1974 appearance, known as GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA in Japan as as GODZILLA VS. THE COSMIC MONSTER in the U.S. Even so, it seems odd for the Japanese to call the 1993 work "second in the series," partly because it's actually Mechagodzilla;s third appearance (following TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA), partly because the producers of the 1993 film have chosen to give the Big MG a brand-new origin.

Building upon developments in GODZILLA VS, KING GHIDORAH-- though another film, GODZILLA AND MOTHRA, interposed itself between GHIDORAH and the 1993 film-- MECHAGODZILLA II posits that a Japanese self-defense batallion, G-Force, is empowered to dredge up the remains of Mecha King Ghidorah. Mechagodzilla is to be constructed from these remnants, thus establishing that this robot has no connection with the alien-made mechanism from the 1970s.

Time passes, during which the movie's viewpoint character Kazuma is more or less drafted to serve in G-Force, where he's something less than a great fit. Nevertheless, he ends up being part of the crew working with Mechagodzilla, along with the "monster-whispering" psychic Miki, previously introduced in earlier "Heisei era" Godzilla films. To further complicate G-Force's situation, a Japanese research team visits a Pacific island, where they discover a giant egg. No sooner do the humans show up than so do Godzilla and a radically redesigned Rodan (making his first apperance in the Heisei series). The monsters fight over the egg and the team escapes with the egg. Back at G-Force a lady scientist examines the egg, and figures out that it contains a mutated dinosaur of the same species as Godzilla  (so that MECHAGODZILLA II is also a reboot of the "Son of Godzilla" character from the original film-series). Once G-Force knows that the infant in the egg is sending out telepathic broadcasts, they decide that they can use the hatchling to lure Godzilla into the city and then attack him with Mechagodzilla. However, Rodan also shows up for the party, and good havoc is had by all.

Given that I have never liked the classic version of Rodan, whom I considered too cartoony, the Heisei Rodan is a huge improvement. When he fights Godzilla this time, he looks like he has a chance to peck a hole in the Big G's head. The hatchling is also less cutesy than the original Son of Godzilla, and the scenes in which it imprints on the lady scientist is handled without too much false sentiment. However, the plot doesn't accomplish anything beyond getting the monsters together for another battle, and the human characters don't have much heart. And I never figured out why Rodan wanted the egg. Surely, even with the telepathy angle, the pteranodan monster never thought it was its own offspring? Or did he/she just really want to make a monster omelet?

GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA, is the fourth film in the so-called "Millennium series," and it gives the Big G one of his best human opponents, Lt. Ayane Yashiro. The Godzilla films have always been erratic in their creation of strong female characters, but Ayane is almost certainly the best of these.

Ayane, a member of Japan's self-defense force, is called into action when Godzilla makes one of his peripatetic attacks on her country. She and her fellow officers operate a maser-tank, but due to a storm that hits even as Godzilla attacks, her maser-rays fail to slay the monster. Ayane refuses to defend herself for her failure and so she's made a scapegoat for the JSDF's embarrassment. Then someone gets the idea to create a mechanical version of Godzilla to fight the real one. However, whereas the 1993 film chose to cobble its robot out of Mecha King Ghidorah's pieces, the JSDF goes to the source of all Godzillas: the bones of the 1954 monster, still in one piece all these years later and resting on the ocean's bottom after the original was slain by the oxygen destroyer.

Ayane's piloting skills earn her the chance to redeem herself by piloting the new Mechagodzilla, who is here given the proper name "Kiryu." Her fortunes are also improved (sort of) by a possible romantic encounter with maladroit scientist Tokimitsu, who even comes with ready-made family (his precocious daughter Sara). However, when Godzilla returns to Tokyo again, Ayane misses her chance to close with the enemy once more. Once Kirya sees Godzilla, the organic matter in the robot's makeup rebels against human control, and Kiryu begins to ravage Tokyo instead of fighting Godzilla.

However, Tokimitsu manages to submerge the organic instincts of the robot, and finally Ayane manages to square off in her long-delayed combat with Japan's favorite monster. She succeeds where most human-operated devices fail, and drives Godzilla back into the sea, at least for a time.

The 2002 film succeeds best in its exacting view of Ayane's military world, and this in turn resonates with the original GOJIRA's post-war themes. Both Ayane-- again played by the excellent Yumiko Shaku-- and Kiryu return in the next entry, GODZILLA TOKYO S.O.S, but they take something of a back seat to the development of new characters and an involved Mothra subplot.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, sociological*

GHIDORAH was the third film in the so-called "Heisei series" of Godzilla films. I commented that the previous film in the series, GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE, tried to bite off more than it could chew. GHIDORAH also takes in an awful lot of story-developments, but manages to produce some decent "food-for-thought" nourishment, even if the plotting is a little helter-skelter at times.

GHIDORAH rethinks several key ideas associated with the Godzilla franchise, particularly with respect to the origins of the "King of Monsters." In the original GOJIRA, the monster is a multivalent presence, at times seeming like the incarnation of Japan's traditions, at other times like the forces of modernism that threaten those traditions. Writer-director Kazuki Omori, who also performed both functions on BIOLLANTE, seemed to apprehend this ambivalence. In the original conception, Godzilla was a dinosaur who somehow remained alive beneath the earth until he was both awakened and mutated by an American atom-bomb test. Omori imagines a period, previous to the dino's mutation, in which the creature happened to be awake on a Pacific island during the end years of World War II. A squad of Japanese soldiers have retreated to the island, fleeing the advance of American troops. By chance the bombings disturb the dino, which attacks the American ground troops. This makes it possible for the Japanese soldiers to get away, though the dinosaur is killed by fire from an American ship. Implicitly, the "Godzillasaurus" revives from the dead, rather than from sleep, when its body is irradiated by a bomb-test ten years later.

The film's rather forgettable viewpoint character-- Kenichiro, a science fiction writer-- first learns of this incident from the Japanese field commander, Shindo, now a wealthy businessman. Kenichiro is joined in his investigations by a biology professor and psychic Miki, previously introduced in BIOLLANTE, who has been able to communicate with giant monsters to some degree. The three of them are also brought in as consultants when Japan receives a visit from a UFO, containing three denizens of Earth in the 23rd century.

The "Futurians" inform Japan that the world stands in danger to total destruction because at some point Godzilla will start attacking nuclear plants on a regular basis. Not only will there no longer be a Japan in the future-- although of the three time-travelers, a female named Emi is of Japanese stock-- the rest of the world will suffer devastation as well. The Futurians' solution is to go back in time and prevent the dinosaur's irradiation, so that there will be no Godzilla.

Given how much destruction Japan has suffered from Godzilla's attacks, the modern-day Japanese characters have no problem lending aid to the Futurians (though, to be sure, I was never sure why the time-travelers even needed their aid). The moderns and the Futurians travel back to the Pacific isle in 1944, and witness all the events narrated earlier by Shindo. They even see Commander Shindo salute the courage of the fallen dinosaur, just as if it were a fellow soldier, rather than an animal who aided the Japanese squad by accident. At the right moment, the Futurians teleport the dinosaur's carcass away from the island, tossing it under the ocean waves. (Given what transpires later, one may wonder why they didn't hurl the corpse into an active volcano, just to be sure that it was entirely disposed of.) Unbeknownst to the moderns, the Futurians also leave behind three cute little bio-engineered imps called "Dorats," whose purpose unfolds later.

The Futurian named Emi, due to being exposed to the authentic culture of her ancestors, reveals to Kenichiro's bunch that the mission has been a lie. Future Japan, rather than being destroyed, becomes an economic superpower in the 23rd century, to the extent that all other countries have become subservient to Japan. The Futurians don't make any claims about Future-Japan being a tyranny; they just want all countries to be of equal stature (thus proving that Marxism is still around in their century). The Dorat-imps undergo the mutation that would have happened to Godzilla, and turn into King Ghidorah. For some reason, though Ghidorah is created at the 1954 bomb-test, he waits around almost forty years before attacking 1992 Japan. The country's utter destruction will ensure that it never dominates the future economy, while the elimination of Godzilla from history makes sure that the Big G cannot interfere with the Futurians' plans, if only by accident.

"All we have to do," says Kenichiro, "is blast [the submerged corpse of the Godzillasaurus[ with some radioactivity." But, in one of the movie's weakest plot-developments, the good guys somehow find out that the dino-corpse has been exposed to radioactivity by a sunken nuclear sub at some past point in time. Just like that, Godzilla appears in Tokyo once more, and successfully thrashes King Ghidorah. However, with Ghidorah gone, Godzilla begins another of his many rampages, making it possible that he may do the same thing the Futurians wanted their pawn to do. In a rather confusing turnaround, Emi journeys to the future, and brings back Mecha-Ghidorah, a cyborg composed of the original Ghidorah and various mechanical parts. The battle ends with Godzilla being hurled into the ocean for a "cooling-off" period. Emi departs, leaving open the possibility that Japan will still become the future world's economic overlord.

While I wasn't crazy about the rewriting of Ghidorah's raison d'etre, the film does successfully take the mythos of Godzilla in some interesting new directions. Prior to the successful worldwide  marketing of manga and anime in the 1990s, Godzilla films were one of the few products of Japanese culture that achieved widespread recognition, and so, in a loose way, the success of Godzilla in the 1960s does approximate Japan's later "economic miracle." When the modern Japanese agree to get rid of the Big G. they open the door to a worse menace, and this comes close to stating that Godzilla is essential to Japan's destiny.

Even more interesting is the extension of the martial motifs of the 1954 GOJIRA. In 1944 Commander Shindo salutes the fallen dinosaur, and by so doing, he also implicates Godzilla in the fortunes of his nation. When Shindo expresses regret at having to leave the creature behind, the scene carries the resonance of an officer being forced to leave one of his own men behind. Later, after Godzilla has defeated the original King Ghidorah, he happens upon a massive building belonging to the modern-day Shindo. In a scene echoing Steve Martin's "face-down" with Gojira, Shindo alone remains in his building, exchanging meaningful stares with the giant reptile, Happily, the film doesn't go so far as to claim that the encounter is as meaningful to Godzilla as it is to Shindo, for Big G then destroys the building pitilessly, killing the same man whose life he spared by chance fifty years ago.

Necessarily, future films in the series did not address this modified origin. But if one could hazard that, in some metaphysical way, Godzilla was covalent with a Japanese soldier deserted by his unit, then that would go a long way toward explaining why Godzilla seems obsessed halt the time with raining destruction on "his" native land, and, at other times, determined to protect Japan against any and all enemies.

Friday, August 25, 2017


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, psychological*

The sixth film in the "Waldermar Daninsky" series proves to be one of the most listless.

Like most of the other films, JEKYLL starts from square one. Englishwoman Justine and her rich husband travel to Central Europe to visit his parents' graves. However, car thieves attack the couple and kill Justine's husband. They are only prevented by the intrusion of a local nobleman, Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy), who beats up the bandits and kills one of them, He then takes Justine back to his castle, where he lives alone with his mother. For reasons undisclosed, Waldemar is cursed to change into a werewolf, which has caused the local village to regard the castle's inhabitants with dread, and to believe (falsely) that Waldemar's mother is a witch. However, one of the thieves resents the killing of his accomplice (and brother), so he rouses the locals against the castle. The bandit even kills Waldemar's innocent mother, but though Waldemar manages to kill him in return, he realizes that he must flee the country, and so he and Justine depart for England.

I've dwelled on this amount of detail about the film's first third for one purpose: to show how much time the script wastes on things that the audience doesn't really care about. Naschy, who scripted a lot of his own "Hombre Lobo" films, may have thought that he needed a de rigeur "old castle" scene, and that this could be used as an excuse to propel Justine into the wolfman's world. Still, even knowing that the innocent young thing is destined to fall hard for hairy-chested Waldemar, as they usually do in Naschy's wolf-films, the script really doesn't portray any romantic tension between Justine and Waldemar. Of course, during her initial stay in the castle, Justine is mourning her murdered husband, but even these scenes are handled in dismissive fashion.

Therefore Justine and Waldemar aren't lovers when they reach England, though she's decided to do everything she can to help him conquer his lupine curse. She just happens to know Henry Jekyll, grandson of the famous scientist of Victorian times, and she appeals to Jekyll for help. Conveniently, Jekyll decides that he may be able to destroy the curse by injecting Waldemar with both the original "Mister Hyde" serum and its antidote. I guess the two serums are supposed to act like a vaccine, driving out one evil with another, though the explanation leaves something to be desired.

The only good thing to come out of this melange is that when Naschy responds to the serum and takes on a "Mister Hyde" persona, he really looks pretty good in the role. He hardly has any time to do anything nefarious, though, because Jekyll's trying to get him ready for the next step in the experiment. Unfortunately, Jekyll nurses an unrequited love for Justine, and his lab assistant Sandra carries her own torch for the doctor, while being insanely jealous of Justine. She kills Jekyll and sabotages the experiment, and probably anyone who's seen even two of Naschy's wolf-films knows that things can only end with the old "silver bullet to end his suffering" routine. JEKYLL may not be the worst Naschy film, or even his worst wolf-film, but it doesn't have much to make one want to watch it again. Even the lead female, who's usually played by some gorgeous model-type, is essayed by a singularly underwhelming actress, one Shirley Corrigan.

Thursday, August 24, 2017


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, psychological*

The shadow of THE EXORCIST looms large over both of these otherwise unrelated "possession" flicks.

The 1974 film used many names, ranging from the sleazy (THE SEXORCIST) to the derivative (THE EERIE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW), but ENTER THE DEVIL is probably the most accurate, since, like the earlier film, it's all about what happens when the Devil is allowed to enter into one's life-- not to mention one's body.

The first half of ENTER is fairly intriguing. Young art-student Danila observes the restoration of an ancient wooden statue, carved with incredible fidelity to look like Christ in torment. The status fascinates her, in contradistinction to her depressing home-life. Her upper-class parents Mario and Luisa give a lot of loud parties, and Luisa has a young lover, of which Mario is blandly aware. Danila even looks in on one of her mother's trysts, wherein she satisfies masochistic tendencies by letting her male lover whip her with a bouquet of thorn-bearing roses.

Though Danila doesn't do anything wrong, the sins of her parents apparently opens her up to corruption. Later she visits the place where the wooden statue is kept, and, to her dismay, the statue comes to life and rapes her. It then disappears, with the general implication that it was either Satan or some lesser demon, though there's no attempt to explain why this devil chose to assume the form of a statue. Since the experts assert that the statue was carved whole from an olive tree, a pagan explanation, like the statue being inhabited by a lascivious wood-sprite, would make a lot more sense than any Judeo-Christian scenario.

Whatever the statue's provenance, it passes on its demonic nature to Danila, who starts becoming erratic and seductive. Given that one of her attempted conquests is her own father Mario-- who refuses her advances-- it's not hard to see the Freudian "rescue fantasy," in which a daughter seeks to "save" her father from the influence of a corrupt mother. However, the film quickly drops any potential mother-animus, for Luisa responds to her daughter's travails by dumping her lover. He gives her some static and promptly disappears from the story. The loose implication is that the marriage of Marco and Luisa has been "saved" once they bond over their daughter's situation, which I guess would go toward inverting the movie's suggestion of an Electra complex.

In contrast to THE EXORCIST, ENTER has a fair first act while the second and third go down the tubes. Danila runs around, spitting green goo and attacking her exorcist with a chain. Aside from the actress's nudity, the exorcism itself is a bore, and it seems likely that the creators were just phoning things in at this point. ENTER does exemplify the Italian culture's fascination with the disruptive potential of sex, but that's about all it has to offer.

STIGMATA was filmed long after the EXORCIST craze, and it's more ambivalent about what power causes a young American woman, Frankie (Patricia Arquette) to manifest the stigmata phenomenon, in which the victim bleeds from the same parts of the body where Christ was wounded.

Long before encountering Frankie, Father Andrew Kiernan is working for the Catholic Church, seeking to use both tools of science and religion to examine purported miracles. His latest case takes place in Brazil, where, following the death of a beloved priest who experienced the stigmata, a votive statue of the Virgin Mary weeps blood-tears at the priest's funeral. Unbeknownst to Kiernan, a rosary possessed by the dead priest is sold to an American tourist in Brazil, who sends it to Frankie in America. Kiernan is also sent to America to investigate Frankie's stigmata, and makes the connection: that the rosary has somehow "passed on" the priest's nature to the American woman, who is, incidentally, an atheist.

Though Kiernan's superiors strongly suggest that his real job is only to deny, never to confirm, the existence of non-canonical miracles, the priest soon learns that the dead priest had access to a new Christian gospel, roughly cognate with the Gospel of Thomas. Though Frankie does a lot of EXORCIST-like things, such as speaking in a male voice and tossing Kiernan around, the film seems to imply that the unwanted influence is more akin to a ghost than to a demon, though the script never quite states this outright. Indeed, Frankie's experience-- as seen in the screencap above-- puts her through the ordeal of an "imitatio Christi," as when she's seen "crucified" inside a subway-car.
However, the script, taken from an original story by Tom Ramage, doesn't seem to know how to make its ideas cohere, least of all what the viewer is supposed to feel toward the Catholic Church. Are they sentinels who stand against the horrors of possession, or just a bunch of guys trying to protect their own interests? Further, though there's some suggestion of an attraction between the male and female lead, the script also doesn't allow this potential to develop in any interesting directions.

STIGMATA is a well-mounted spectacle in the subgenre of "religious horror," but it doesn't know how to deliver a pay-off on the very issues it raises. The contrast of the two movies makes me wonder: what's worse, to make intellectual pretensions and fail to justify them, or to go "down and dirty" and mess up what ought to be fairly simple?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

In my review of THOSE DEAR DEPARTED I mentioned that the film had probably semi-swiped the title of this Bo Derek film. This was sort of like stealing pennies from a blind man. for John Derek's last film with his then-wife Bo, who continued with his surname after Derek's death in 1998, was ineluctably his worst, and possibly among the worst films of all time.

The film introduced the viewer to the May-December couple of Kate (Bo) and Scott (Anthony Quinn). Scott fears an imminent death by heart attack, and so decides to take his own life because he can no longer make love to his beauteous, younger-by-forty-years wife. To his surprise, after having put his widow through all of this heartache, he learns that he can manifest as a ghost and that only Kate can see him. After a little dialogue with a quirky angel (Julie Newmar), Scott gets the idea that he might still enjoy connubial bliss with Kate. All Scott and Kate need to do-- since Scott can't affect anything in the real world-- is to have Kate kill some young stud, so that Scott's spirit can enter his dead body.

Usually, when professional filmmakers start out with an obnoxious premise, such as the main characters committing murder for their own benefit, the comedy proceeds out of having everything go wrong for the characters. Not in GHOSTS CAN'T DO IT, though. Even though Scott is usually presented as an arrogant, rather sexist SOB, Kate is tempted to do his bidding and kill some young dude so that she can be reunited with her beloved. Her temptation increases when she meets a twenty-something guy who relentlessly pursues her. His name is Fausto, and in most productions, I'd assume that the scripter (Derek again) was referencing the idea of a "Faustian bargain." But I doubt that's the case with GHOSTS, because the whole idea of such a bargain is that-- once again-- it has to go wrong somehow. And Derek, for whatever reason, doesn't want more than extremely minor impediments to Scott's reincarnation.

Derek's sole purpose seems to be just to find borderline sleazy ways to put Bo on display, usually with no more sense of tension than one would get from a video-montage. Even when Kate is threatened by a gunman while she's swimming naked in a pool, there's no sense that this might impede Kate's plans. She dithers a little about the morality of killing a man, and she gets a little absolution from the script in that when Fausto's life is placed in peril, she makes a belated attempt to save him. I've more or less given away the film's conclusion, but I can't really picture anyone caring.

The nicest thing I can say about the film is that Bo tries to put a lot of passion into her stupid dialogue, which is more than one gets from Anthony Quinn or from the cameo of our current President. She does get naked a little, but anyone who tries to watch for those scenes is likely to sleep through them.

Thursday, August 17, 2017



I've often had the experience of re-viewing some film I hated in youth and finding in it some motif that I found interesting, even my general sense of the movie's merit was no greater. However, when I was young I despised Ray Dennis Steckler's INCREDIBLY LONG TITLE THAT I'M NOT GOING TO TYPE, and a recent re-viewing did nothing to change that opinion.

I tend to sympathize with the efforts of low-budget filmmakers, who don't have the luxury of expensive sets and must often resort to shooting "on location" in situations that aren't very enviable. But I think I could forgive Steckler's charmless scenes of carnival rides or vaulting buildings-- lots of tedious zoom shots by cinematographer Joseph Mascelli--  if Steckler had possessed any semblance of a story to tell. But INCREDIBLY doesn't even have the virtue of being good low-budget sleaze, like Michael Findlay's FLESH trilogy.

In essence, Steckler's story is a lot like Universal's 1943 MAD GHOUL, in which a mad scientist takes control of an innocent pawn and sends him out to commit assorted murders. Here the pawn is a young wastrel, Jerry (played by Steckler under the pseudonym "Cash Flagg") and his manipulator is Estrella, a carnival fortune teller who apparently took lessons in being a poverty-row plotter. Though Estrella seems to living a fairly marginal existence, in that she has to fleece rubes for a living while employed at a local carnival, she happens to be a master hypnotist. She takes offense when Jerry pursues her sister Carmelita, and the two sisters, for no particular reason, subject Jerry to hypnotic treatment. He becomes a psycho-killer who kills a couple of women but doesn't remember doing it until the climax of the film, when he returns to the carnival to confront his tormentors.

I might even buy Estrella as a bargain-basement Svengali, except that in her carnival domicile she somehow keeps a dungeon full of earlier victims, whom she and her hunchbacked assistant have mutilated with acid, and who have apparently all devolved into madmen, perhaps due to more hypnotic manipulation. I found myself wondering how many fortunes she had to read to feed all those deformed freaks, whom she didn't apparently keep around for any purpose. Of course the only real function of these "strange creatures" is to go berserk at the film's conclusion, incidentally interrupting one of the film's mediocre musical numbers. (INCREDIBLY was billed as the "first monster-movie musical.)

There are various other support-characters, all of whom exist just to eat up running-time, and none of whom are any more interesting than Jerry and Estrella. That no one can act worth a damn should go without saying.

I haven't seen most of Steckler's later work, but will note that his 1970 SINTHIA THE DEVIL'S DOLL was at least better than this work. INCREDIBLY will probably always be his signature work, though. if only because it was "clean" enough to be shown on mainstream television.