Friday, June 25, 2021



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

Whether or not one agrees with me that the 1936 FLASH GORDON incorporated some adult themes into its adaptation of the famed comic strip, no one is likely to make any such claim for the sequel. 

Whereas the script for the first serial takes assorted incidents from different comics-arcs and blends them into a whole, MARS does nothing but involve the three main heroes-- Flash, Dale and Zarkov-- in a repetitive campaign to destroy Ming's world-destroying ray on the Red Planet. The arbitrary decision to transplant all of the action to Mars was someone's brilliant idea to profit from the notoriety of Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" broadcast. Possibly it would have made no difference to the writers had all the action stayed on Mongo, though. The writers, instead of exploiting Mongo's wealth of weird demi-human life-forms, confine themselves to just three Martian tribes-- the followers of Queen Azura, the bumptious Forest People, and the Clay People, the latter having been transformed into their muck-ridden state by Azura. Indeed, for complicated reasons Flash and his friends seem to spend more time freeing the Clay People from their curse than trying to ferret out the death-ray.

In the comic strip Azura was one of Flash's most memorable foes, as noted in this analysis.  But here the queen is just a dime-a-dozen tyrant who for vague reasons joins Ming in his plot to seek vengeance on Planet Earth. Her function in the strip-- to tempt Flash away from his beloved Dale-- is tossed, aside from one moment where she starts to fancy the blonde hero. She's said to use "magic" on a regular basis, though most of her effects-- like her ability to teleport-- could be easily explained as technological accomplishments. One minor plotline deals with the heroes trying to find a "black sapphire" that can neutralize Azura's powers, but this detail doesn't amplify Azura's sorcerous status, serving only to burn up time. Actress Beatrice Roberts makes some attempt to give Azura a haughty regality, but she lacks the exoticism needed to pull off such a role.

The returning actors don't fare much better. Buster Crabbe swashes buckles adequately, but Frank Shannon and Charles Middleton have little to do. Jean Rogers's Dale isn't as much of a dishrag as in the previous serial-- she refuses Flash's suggestion that she stay behind during the journey-- but her only good scene is a mind-wipe that makes her into Flash's enemy, leading to her attempting to stab her lover to death. The voyage is not markedly improved by the inclusion of a comedy relief, reporter Happy Hapgood (Donald Kerr), who proves strenuously unfunny.

The FX are adequate but the script repeats them a lot-- an energy-bridge, the transformations of the Clay People-- and there aren't even any standout hand-to-hand fights, except for a few sequences cadged from the first serial.

ADDENDUM: A poster on CHFB asserted that this serial was in theaters months before the influential "War of the Worlds" broadcast, so whatever brought about the script's change of venue from Mongo to Mars, it wasn't because of Orson Welles.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021



FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

Prior to REVENGE OF THE NINJA the Cannon group issued ENTER THE NINJA, which, while watchable, is mostly notable for introducing martial-artist-turned-actor Sho Kosugi to American audiences. Kosugi had made about three films prior to ENTER, but evidently he impressed Cannon with his performance as the villain in that film, for here he's the hero. Similarly, though this was not the very first directorial role for Sam Firstenberg, it was his first martial arts movie, made about two years before Firstenberg launched the popular AMERICAN NINJA series.

Without inflating the significance of REVENGE, it does actually have a fairly tight plot in comparison with the average Cannon schlock. Since most of writer Jim Silke's cinematic outings were not all that interesting, maybe he or one of his producers decided they really wanted to expand on the mythology of the cinematic ninjas. Here we have two ninjas for the price of one-- one bad and one good-- and both of them make heavy use of all the exotic weapons associated with the medieval clans: caltrops, blowdarts, and the ever popular shuriken.

Kosugi plays Cho Osaki, one of the last members of a modern-day ninja clan in Japan. He's befriended by Braden (Arthur Roberts), one of the few Caucasians trained in ninjutsu, but a clan-feud breaks out and costs the life of Osaki's wife. Distraught, Osaki takes his young son Kane to America. He starts up an art gallery devoted to Asian art, in partnership with Braden. Though Osaki forswears the way of the ninja, he and his son continue training in the various martial arts, and even Braden's associate Cathy (Ashley Ferrare) joins them in some bouts, though it appears that she'd like to have a "bout" of a different kind with Osaki.

Braden, however, is using the gallery as cover for a heroin smuggling ring, concealing the dope in some of the art-figurines. However, Braden butts heats with local Mafia boss Chifano, who wants to ace Braden out and deal directly with the suppliers. Braden dons his ninja gear and starts killing members of Chifano's family to make the mobster capitulate. Kane witnesses Braden kill Osaki's aged mother and the boy flees for his life, and Chifano sends men to steal the dope from the gallery, thus bringing about a fight between Osaki and Chifano's goons. This "turf war" plotline is reasonably efficient about bringing the two ninjas into conflict over the good ninja's son, while allowing for the slaughter of a lot of the bad ninja's gangster-enemies.

Now, although this isn't your average Cannon film, where all the action erupts without cause to keep the audience happy, there certainly are some oddball setups. In one, Osaki and a policeman buddy randomly go looking for the missing Kane, confront a group of scummy looking layabouts in a park, and get into a fight with them, though the bums really have nothing to do with the boy. More amusingly, Braden uses ninja hypnosis on Cathy to make her capture Kane when he shows up at the Osaki dojo-- and the duel between a very skilled grade-schooler and a semi-trained grown woman is certainly not something you see every day.

Overall, the fight-scenes in REVENGE are much better than the average American chopsocky, particularly the climactic contest between Osaki and Braden. On a minor point, the credits bill Kosugi as both Osaki and "the Black Ninja," though no one calls Osaki that, and both of the ninjas here wear the same ebony attire. "The Black Ninja" is also the name bestowed on the villain of the next collaboration between Firstenberg and Silke, NINJA III: THE DOMINATION, which makes REVENGE OF THE NINJA looks like a John Ford film by comparison. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *metaphysical, psychological, sociological*



According to a George Lucas reminiscence in Chris Taylor’s HOW STAR WARS CONQUERED THE UNIVERSE, Indiana Jones came into being partly because Eon Pictures, who controlled the James Bond franchise, refused to let Lucas helm an entry in the adventures of the famed superspy. Yet it’s hard to see any connections between Lucas’s hero—whom I’ll call “Indy” henceforth—and the Bond of the movies, aside from their mutual propensities for globetrotting.


Comparisons between Indy and the world-weary Bond of Ian Fleming’s books might be more appropriate; there’s a lot more sense that both characters have lived hard, danger-filled lives that may have cost them any shot at a normal existence. The first closeup of Indy (Harrison Ford) in his debut film catches the hero showing the world a grim, forbidding face. Admittedly, he’s just foiled another man’s attempt to take Indy’s life for the sake of treasure. But the appearances of movie-Bond boast nearly no scenes like this, except for ONHER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, which was the closest adaptation of an ennui-filled Ian Fleming original. The opening RAIDERS sequence establishes Indy’s fortitude and daring, as he successfully braves an ancient Indian temple filled with traps set by long-dead men—but then the hero loses his prize to his smooth-talking rival Belloq (Paul Freeman). Both hero and villain are in essence thieves, but Indy is admirable for his courage in taking on the challenge of the temple, while Belloq uses smooth talk (and arguably, better preparation) to achieve their common end of raiding archaic treasures for the enrichment of modern museums.


Nor do you find this sort of world-weariness in the kid-oriented serials to which RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK pays homage. As much as Lucas and the first Indy-director Steven Spielberg may have loved old chapterplays like LOST CITY OF THE JUNGLE— or even B-westerns like those of the whip-wielding cowpoke Lash Larue—Indy’s character seems drawn from the heroes of A-level Hollywood adventure-films. When Indy remarks to his considerably younger paramour that “it’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage,” he seems to be channeling Bogart—but it’s a Bogart who can perform prodigies of athleticism worthy of Errol Flynn or Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Some of this character may have been formed by Lucas’s credited co-author Philip Kaufman, or from Lawrence Kashdan, who wrote the screenplay. Yet Lucas probably had the principal idea of mining any and all adventure-films from Hollywood’s heyday—which makes Lucas something of a “raider of lost art,” to repeat a pun that others have made before me.


Although some modern audiences would frown upon Indy’s theft in the service of archaeological science, the film doesn’t really interrogate these matters closely. When we first see Indy in his “Clark Kent” academic guise—teaching a boring archaeology class while the girl students moon over the sophisticated older man—he seems quite content with his avocation as a relic-hunting adventurer. Then a crack appears when he confers with members of the State Department. Indy’s told that the Nazis are in Egypt, looking for the legendary Lost Ark of the Covenant. The government guys, unlike the hero, seem to seriously countenance the idea that the artifact might be used as a weapon by Adolf Hitler, and they want to Indy to find the Ark first. But to get a line on this particular part of ancient history, Indy has to face up to a dark part of his own history, for the only relic that can lead the hero to the Ark is in the possession of two people from whom he’s estranged: his former mentor (and father-figure?) Abner Ravenwood and Abner’s daughter Marion.


(Side-note: Campbell Black’s paperback novelization of an early RAIDERS script contains the nugget that Teacher Jones isn’t just getting adoring looks from girl students; he’s actively getting some action from at least one of them. I don’t know if this should be read as a backhanded compliment to Marion.)


Anyway, Indy journeys to Nepal to find the Ravenwoods, only to learn that Abner died there, leaving Marion (Karen Allen) with nothing but a beat-up tavern as her stock in trade. The source of the estrangement between the hero and the Ravenwoods seems to have been Indy’s affair with Marion, who by her account may have been underage, though the late Abner’s opinion of the matter is not spelled out. Marion, still in love with Indy despite her hostility, puts him off—but she can’t put off the Nazi goons who come looking for the relic with the Ark’s location. The role of the Nazi agent Toht (Ronald Lacey) is nothing less than a love letter to the career of Peter Lorre (well known for his cinematic interactions with Humphrey Bogart, by the bye). Still, the main purpose of the Nepal adventure is to forge new ties between Indy and Marion—even if they are based on financial remuneration, after Indy’s battle with the Nazis and their stooges results in the tavern’s destruction.


The couple arrives in Cairo with the relic. Marion seems totally on board with Indy’s plan to find the Ark, though she never makes any express comments on the hero’s mission: to somehow find the sacred Ark in the Nazis’ archaeological dig before the Nazis themselves can. More importantly, Marion’s animus toward Indy vanishes. She baits him a little, but the bitterness is gone, and it’s plain that they’ve both falling in love again. However, the heroine finds herself getting into overly deep waters with another attack by Nazi henchmen, who have been sent after Indy by their collaborator Belloq. Marion appears to be slain in a fiery explosion—and though I doubt many audience members thought her sincerely dead, Indy is forced to mourn his loss of something more valuable than any museum acquisition.


To make matters worse, Indy’s enemy Belloq shows up to mock him, claiming that the two of them are both lapsed followers of the archaeological “faith,” and that Belloq himself is a “shadowy reflection” of the hero, as indeed all the best villains tend to be. The conversation takes an extra note of sadism when one realizes that by this time Belloq must know that Marion is not dead, because she’s been taken back to the dig-site. The Nazi’s motivation for doing this is never very clear. In any case, the Nazis in Cairo somehow lose track of Indy, who sneaks into the camp with the correct info, hijacks some diggers to uncover the Ark’s real resting-place, and, incidentally, stumbles across Marion, alive but captive.


It’s no doubt a supreme test of Marion’s patience that Indy puts her rescue on hold to go after the Ark—which action might make more sense if the hero actually believed that the Ark had supernatural powers that might help the Third Reich win the war. To be sure, when Belloq interviews the captive heroine, he indicates that he’s trying to get information out of her—but at the time of the attack in Cairo, Belloq probably would have believed he had all the info he needed. He might have been sincerely trying to kill Indy in the Cairo attack, just to get him out of the way—but then, with Marion captive, why not use her to bait a trap for the hero? Was his original motivation just the desire to “take” away something from Jones, since he also sets up a possible seduction?


None of these quibbles take away from the film’s undeniable mastery of kinetic thrills and chills, which are far more important to this film than niggling continuity. Yet it’s arguable that even though Lucas et al have Indy betray Marion for the sake of the Ark, he does re-evaluate his priorities later on: seeking to protect her more than a relic of ancient history. Indy fails to liberate Marion, but it seems that all the warnings he’d received about the Ark’s baleful powers finally sink in. When Belloq attempts to summon forth the power of the Ark with a Jewish ritual, Indy keeps his eyes shut and advises Marion to do the same—which saves them both from the destruction wrought upon Belloq and the Nazis by the Ark, much as Lot saved himself by not beholding the devastation of Sodom. The couple’s bonding through Nazi-fighting then sets up the closure of their romantic arc at film’s end.


Though I believe that the main symbolic thread here is psychological—that of a world-weary man putting aside the lure of adventure for at least some romantic attachments—I also think RAIDERS has some strong metaphysical content. When I first saw the “death angels” that come forth from the Ark at the climax, I thought Spielberg, being of Jewish extraction, might have playing with the traditional idea of the mystic Shekinah. Now I think that’s a little ambitious. Still, when the Ark’s power manifests in a fiery “pillar of cloud,” that image is almost certainly derived from the narrative of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. Even in my first viewing I thought it odd that the Nazis, the enemies of Jewry, would have thought they could call on an Israelite relic’s power with impunity, though I suppose the base idea might’ve been the real-life Nazi notion that all the great occult discoveries stemmed from Aryan ancestors.


Arguably, the aforesaid James Bond model does rear its head in the next three Indiana Jones films, one of which asserts that the Indy-Marion romance of the first film did not have a happy ending. Perhaps Lucas wanted his hero to have more latitude in his sexual conquests, though if so, Lucas never succeeded in making audiences think of Indiana Jones as a major lady-killer. Still, taken by itself, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK stands as the premiere salute of the “movie brats” to the adventure and romance of Classic Hollywood. 

Monday, June 14, 2021



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous* 


CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological*

The last film in producer Herman Cohen’s “teen monster tetralogy” is the oddest of the four, and the one least like a standard low-budget exploitation film. It may well be the first time a Hollywood film was used to deliver a valentine’s card to the entire genre of horror movies.

I know that even among fans it’s common to assume that during the era of Classic Hollywood, the raconteurs who made horror films were not particularly engaged with the genre; that it was all Just a Job. And ninety-nine times out of a hundred, this is probably true. However, HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER is the first time I ever saw a mainstream horror-film talk about using fright-films as “therapy” for the masses. I won’t say that Cohen and his co-writer Aben Kandel were trying to “make a statement” precisely—although Cohen did continue to work almost exclusively in the horror-genre for the remainder of his career. But I think that their story of a crazed Hollywood makeup man was one in which they drew upon some real moviemaking history—more on which later.

TEENAGE WEREWOLF and TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN were both traditional monster-films about teens turned into horrors by malevolent older men. MONSTER, however, presents the viewers with a world where both creatures were just movie-fiends created by the makeup wizardry of makeup-wizard Paul Dumond (Robert H. Harris). Dumond, together with his assistant Rivero (Paul Brinegar), has spent years in the business of making monsters for AIP Studios (or rather, a very fictionalized version thereof). When the movie starts, Dumond has just begun work on a film that brings together both the Teenage Werewolf and the Teenage Frankenstein for a battle royale. But a new regime, represented by two Eastern businessmen looking for quick profit, decides that horror films are on the way out. As is often the case with regime change, a lot of people on the AIP lot get pink-slipped, including Dumond and Rivero, who are expected to leave after finishing their current project.

Dumond is fanatically devoted to his craft, and does not go gently into that good night. He argues with the new bosses’ decision, making the claim that horror films have therapeutic uses, but to no avail: the businessmen have decided that the public wants only light entertainment. Yet plainly Dumond is not really devoted to psychological therapeutics, any more than the mad scientist of TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN really cares about scientific progress. Late in the film Dumond calls his makeup-creations his “children,” and the fact that he has no family to speak of indicates that he’s thrown all of his passion into his art. In this he strongly resembles the mad wax-sculptors of both MYSTERY IN THE WAX MUSEUM and its very successful 1953 remake HOUSE OF WAX, since they too deemed their sculptures to be their “family.” But unlike the wax-men, Dumond also has something of a god-complex. In his earliest speech, as he chats with one of the teens he’s made up as a nightmare, Dumond talks about God having created both mild and fearful forms of life. It can hardly be doubted that he’s praising his own creation-skills, though if he ever created anything but fright-figures, the script remains mum on the subject.

The God of Monster Makeup can’t keep the regime from changing, but he can visit divine vengeance upon the impious studio managers, and upon the studio, whose financial success he attributes to his own genius. Dumond tells Rivero that he just happens to have invented a foundation cream initially designed to relax the actors being made up, a cream with hypnotic properties. The calmly mad makeup man uses hypnosis on the two actors playing his monsters, causing them to go forth and slay the callous Eastern businessmen—and since the artist can’t resist signing his work, he sends the actors out dressed in full fiend-regalia. The Werewolf has no witnesses when he murders his target, but the Frankenstein is seen after his crime. Nevertheless, the investigating police, though they interrogate a lot of studio personnel, aren’t seen interviewing either of the monster-thespians.

Very little time is devoted to the teenaged actors or their alter egos; they both just get one kill apiece, and neither assumes a monstrous form for the big climax. As if to underscore the fact that Dumond is the real star, he also dons monster-makeup to kill off a nosy studio guard who stupidly hints of his suspicions about Dumond and Rivero. One scene includes an acerbic agent who gets in Dumond’s face for having interfered with the actor whom the agent represents. But the character never appears again, and it may be that the scene was added both to pad the film and create false anticipation for another murder. In the hurried climax, Dumond lures his two pawns to his home, apparently planning to cut their heads off and mount them for his makeup-collection. The actors, who have dimly begun to suspect that something’s off, manage to escape after Dumond murders his assistant and perishes in a fiery blaze.

Dumond is too much the catchpenny fiend to be as compelling as the aforementioned wax-sculptors. However, the setup provided by Cohen and Kandel seems to be a direct commentary on the fall and rise of horror films in Classic Hollywood. Putting aside the mixed bag of the silent era, America’s cinematic horror essentially began in 1931 with the first successful Universal adaptations of DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN, while the company was under the aegis of the Laemmle family. A regime change in 1936 ousted the Laemmles, and while horror films were still made for the next eight years, after that the genre was almost extinct at Universal until roughly 1950. Particularly during the reign of studio boss Joe Pasternak, horror was essentially passed over in favor of the same sort of “light entertainment” favored by the fictional studio bosses of HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER. On a minor note, old-fashioned studio makeup artists like Jack Pierce received short shrift as well, though in real life Pierce found a number of other work-venues that the mad Dumond would have scorned.

Now, when I say that MONSTER was a “valentine” to the horror genre, I don’t want to overstate the sentimentality factor. For me the most logical scenario is that Cohen and Kandel were aware of all the chaos that had arisen at Universal during that regime change, and that they decided that they could use that chaos as a template for an entertaining “behind the scenes” story of the moviemaking business, crossed with their established motif of evil older citizens manipulating victimized teenagers. (The motif makes a minor appearance in Cohen’s 1963 KONGA as well, though not with quite the same pattern.) As an added fillip, since 1950s audiences could look around and see that horror and its near relations had indeed made a comeback, Cohen and Kandel could play games with the anti-horror stance of the 1940s producers, as if to say, “see how dumb you were to cross horror off your list, you weenies!”

I don’t entirely buy the gay interpretation of the “teen monster tetralogy” seen in some analyses. All of the malefactors in the four films seem utterly uninterested in sexual satisfaction, in comparison with obtaining validation for their enormous egos. Yet it must be admitted that manipulations of all sexual persuasions were also going on “behind the scenes” in Hollywood, so nothing’s completely outside the realm of possibility.



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*


CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological, sociological*

According to one online source, Hammer’s CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN enjoyed enough good box office in America that it was still playing when producer Herman Cohen began the shoot for TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN in late 1957. CURSE, of course, is known as one of the first Frank-films in which the mad scientist is more central to the story than his patchwork creation. The success of the British film might be why the script for Cohen’s film does not place as much as emphasis on the monster as had the two previous entries in this quasi-series of teen monster flicks, I WAS A TEENAGEWEREWOLF and BLOOD OF DRACULA.  All three, as well as the subsequent last hurrah HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER, were written by Cohen and Aben Kandel under various cognomens, but the latter two films shift the focus from victimized teens to the menace of middle-aged men. They are also much talkier films, partly due to the generally dull, set-bound direction of Herbert L. Strock.

Lead actor Whit Bissell plays the (allegedly English) Professor Frankenstein, and since no one in the story seems thrown off by the famous name, apparently in this world there’s never been a Frankenstein film, though the professor hints that he had an ancestor in the real-life monster-making business. The modern Frankenstein’s colleagues ridicule the scientist’s overly ambitious theories about organ transplant, and the frustrated scientist rants to his physicist buddy Karlton that he plans to make his associates eat crow, while tossing in occasional platitudes about the advance of science. Providentially, Frankenstein and Karlton (the latter possibly being blackmailed into giving aid) get access to the body of a teenager killed in a car-crash, and they begin their resurrection game. The monster—a bulky teen with a disfigured face (Gary Conway)—has no memory of his previous existence, but he submits to Frankenstein’s tutelage, up to the point that he starts getting anxious about being squirreled away in the scientist’s basement.

While many versions of Shelley’s scientist already have fiancees when they start building their monsters, this Frankenstein takes notice of Margaret (Phyllis Coates), a fangirl of his abstruse theories. Frankenstein courts her, not because he feels anything for her, but apparently because he wants a free secretary to maintain his privacy while he concentrates on his Great Work. The prof eventually reveals his callous, self-involved nature to Margaret, with the result that she noses around and learns about his monstrous project. Unfortunately, Margaret still thinks she can win over the prof by helping him with the monster’s upbringing. Instead, Frankenstein deals with her as the Baron of CURSE did with an inconvenient mistress, siccing the creature on her. It’s probably not a coincidence that though the camera declines to show viewers just how Margaret is killed by the teen monster, her screams go on for a little longer than necessary just to indicate her death. The writers may well have remembered the ambiguous way Mary Shelley handled her monster’s encounter with his “father’s” betrothed, so as to imply rape as well as murder.

Though the scientist does accede to the monster’s pleas to give him a new face—that of another teen, also played by Conway—the teen transplant becomes suspicious of Frankenstein’s true intentions. This results in a hurry-up-and-finish climax that spells doom to Frankenstein and his creation. Though the film’s standout line is the much quoted one about the “civil tongue,” Cohen and Kandel do give the main character a number of other offbeat lines. In one scene, Frankenstein rambles to Margaret about the wonders of science with a quote supposedly from Thomas Huxley. I couldn’t find the line on the Internet, but it sounded a lot like a similar quote from the art-critic Walter Pater. So even though this Frankenstein is an immoral madman, you can’t say he didn’t have a proper Classical education.

BATMAN (1966)


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological, sociological*

Most fans know that the theatrical BATMAN movie was rushed into production as soon as the show’s first season proved a massive hit with TV audiences. The writers and producers of BATMAN ’66 had successfully mined the structure of old movie serials to produce a program that both celebrated and mildly satirized the tropes of superhero fiction. However, the same trick didn’t work quite so well for a movie of roughly 100 minutes.

The two-part episodes of the first and second seasons were perfect for playing with the apparent absurdities of the established tropes. A supercrook would start committing crimes. Batman and Robin would track him/her down, often thanks to the criminal leaving a lot of clues around. The fiend would capture the heroes and place them in a death-trap. The heroes would escape the trap, track the villain down and vanquish him/her and all henchpersons.

Movie-BATMAN starts out with the notion that not one but four supervillains—Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman—have teamed up to use a super-weapon to control the world. Batman and Robin gather a few clues to track the villains down. However, because the heroes can’t be allowed to track the villains down too soon, what occurs is that the villains keep setting traps to kill the heroes and failing. Eventually the villains go ahead with their plan anyway—to kidnap the diplomats of several premiere countries and use them to leverage control of the entire planet. (Yeah, that didn’t make sense to me even when I was a kid, either.) Batman and Robin overtake the villains—whom they weren’t able to find earlier—capture the evildoers and set things right.

As I argued in my series of reviews of the ’66 episodes, beginning here, the most mythic stories were those that gave the Dynamic Duo the chance to spoof various aspects of social organization—politics, literature, Hollywood movie-making—and yet making it seem (maybe unintentionally) as though the entirely artificial world of superheroes and supervillains was, by its very absurdity, comparatively rational. Movie-BATMAN doesn’t play that game, and in many ways the film is closer to an overt spoof of superheroes than most if not all episodes of the teleseries.

Most of the movie’s high points revolve around Batman and Robin’s reactions to the villains’ newest sally. Some of these are moderately amusing, like Batman coping with an exploding shark, and some are lame, like the Dynamic Duo’s encounters with a magnetic buoy and with a missile that almost shoots down the Bat-copter. Without question, the scene in which Batman finds that “some days you just can’t rid of a bomb” stands as the movie’s best sequence, but that sequence probably owes a debt to the dynamics of silent film comedy. The failed schemes of the villains become particularly wearisome with Penguin’s plan to ambush the duo with a gang of “dehydrated thugs.” Because of all these repetitious schemes, I found myself missing the more human-sized goof-ups of support characters like Alfred and Commissioner Gordon.

The most potent Bat-trap set by the fearsome foursome is a romantic one, even if it’s not intended to specifically target the Big Bat. In order for viewers to accept the sequence, they must go with the idea that even though Batman has fought and captured Catwoman on some previous occasions, he’s never seen her without her domino mask, and so doesn’t recognize the villainess when she poses as Russian journalist “Kitka.” Later, the villains decide to kidnap Bruce Wayne in order to lure Batman and Robin into a death-trap, and to use Kitka as the bait for Wayne—though the villains scarcely guess that the alter ego of their nemesis will fall hard for the disguised Princess of Plunder. Though I can’t say any of the other Bat-actors have much of a chance to shine, Adam West gets to stretch his thespian muscles a bit, as stuffy Wayne pursues a passionate, albeit essentially chaste, rapprochement with the lovely Russian journalist. Lee Meriwether’s Catwoman lacks both the overripe delivery and the raw sex appeal of Julie Newmar—who, to be sure, had only completed one Catwoman episode prior to the movie’s production. Yet I must admit Meriwether handles the faux romantic scenes better than Newmar would have, since the latter never showed much ability to play romance “straight.”

The first BATMAN feature—not counting any of the multi-part serials of the forties—remains good fun for the most part. But it’s sloppy fun, having more in common with the loopiness of the show’s third season than with the best offerings from Seasons One and Two.  


Tuesday, June 8, 2021



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*  



In “The Ballad of East and West,” Rudyard Kipling averred that East and West would never meet in any meaningful way, except in the situation where “two strong men” of the opposed cultures took one another’s measure and came to appreciate one another’s substance. In BATMAN NINJA we have a sort of meeting—or maybe just a collision—between the Western pop-mythology of Batman comics and the tropes of a specific Eastern culture, that of Japan. Given the way Japanese pop culture has thoroughly imbricated that of the United States, this sounds like this ought to be a good idea. It’s still a good idea, even if this is a terrible execution.


The producers might have opted for an “Elseworlds” approach, in which Batman and his support-cast might have been transformed into Japanese avatars of their normal selves. Instead, they go the time-travel route. For no sound reason, Gorilla Grodd—best known as a villain for the Flash more than for Batman—decides to test a time-travel machine at Gotham’s famed booby hatch, Arkham Asylum. By accident or design, Grodd gets flung back in time, along with six Bat-villains: Joker, Harley Quinn, Penguin, Two-Face, Poison Ivy and Deathstroke (the last also not a Bat-regular). Batman happens to be on the scene with four, count ‘em four, of his Robin-brigade, and his butler Alfred too. Oh, and Catwoman is also caught in the time-vortex, though it’s never clear what she was doing at Arkham. All of them end up in medieval Japan, In order that the script can make Batman the “odd man out” who gets everything explained to him, the caped crusader materializes two years after everyone else in the cast. Thus, all the other characters have established themselves in Nipponese culture during the era of “the warring states,” when various feudal states were in perpetual conflict for the goal of power.


Catwoman, clad in a not-very-Japanese version of her costume, gets to explain to Bats how all seven villains have taken control of assorted Japanese domains. The script glosses over how seven non-Asian criminals—one of whom is a talking ape—managed to edge their way into the command of kingdoms made up of a very homogenous people. In essence, the script merely recycles the idea of crime-kingpins divvying up different quarters of some big city, with no notion as to how such a concept would play out in a medieval Asian country. Most of the super-crooks are content to fight amongst themselves, and to prepare for the advent of the “Bat-ninja,” but Grodd has some sort of plan to get rid of all humans and turn everything into a “medieval world of the apes.”


Though the wandering script cries out for more humor—maybe someone could have sung, “I think I’m turning Japanese?”—at least Joker, unlike the other fiends, more or less fits the mold of the autocratic feudal lord. Maybe it helps that his clown-face may make one think of kabuki-actors. He gets all the good lines and most of the fights, while the others are mopped up by Catwoman and the Robin-brigade. The art-design is very florid and busy, but it does give the viewer something to look at, given that the action scenes are overly mannered. Batman transforms into a bat-ninja credibly enough, but the writer should have confined the conflict to the hero and the Kabuki Prince of Crime, since no one else comes off well. It’s merely annoying to have Alfred whip together versions of the Batcave and the Batmobile for his master. But when the script decides that it’s going to riff the “transforming giant robots” genre in this non-technological era, this indicates that the writers had scant respect for the basic idea. (The Japanese script differs in some minor ways from the American dialogue, and since I watched the American dub with the Japanese subtitles, I tend to think all the creators were equally meretricious.)


Grodd is defeated, the world is saved, and everyone goes back to the 20th century. I’m rather surprised that the writers didn’t work in any important Japanese characters, fictional or historical, to either help or hinder Batman. There’s a cadre of ninjas who take Batman as their totem, though none of them are developed individuals, and one of the Robins befriends a pet monkey. Not exactly a stellar showing for the culture of Old Japan.



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological, sociological*                            


Not only is this DTV Bat-video one of the few DC animated releases that I’ve rated with a “good” mythicity, it’s also the first one that excels its source material.


The original GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT is a routine exercise in the “Elseworlds” concept, which involves a franchise character being re-imagined as if he’d been born in some radically different cosmos. Here the concept is that Bruce Wayne becomes “the Bat-Man” not in the 20th century but in Victorian times, when Gotham City is still in its early stages of growth. “Victorian Bruce” goes to the continent to study crimefighting and psychology, and then returns to America to take up his new avocation. But a notorious serial killer takes his victim-hunting to Gotham at the same time as Wayne’s return, a coincidence which results in the millionaire being suspected of being none other than Jack the Ripper. The graphic novel’s art by Mike Mignola is pretty but holds no surprises, except for a witty moment when Wayne converses with his mentor Sigmund Freud, and the artist pays heavy attention to the cigar in the psycho-analyst’s clutches. Far weaker is Brian Augustyn’s script. Thoth knows, no one seeks out any Batman comics for ingenious detective puzzles. But Augustyn doesn’t even try to camouflage the Ripper’s real ID, since the author provides readers with only one viable suspect. The main appeal of an Elseworlds adventure is seeking how the story dresses up aspects of the franchise character’s mythos in new clothes, but Augustyn blows this too, cobbling together just a few unmemorable tweaks on the Bat-mythos.


In contrast, writer Jim Kreig, working under the directorial helm of Sam Liu, barely uses anything of Augustyn’s script beyond the basic setup and Bruce Wayne’s accusation of being the Ripper. For one thing, Kreig's Gotham uses a few more "steampunk" SF-elements than does the original tale. For another, while the graphic novel contents itself with showing a few perfunctory killings by the notorious madman, Kreig transfers the trope of “Victorians obsessed with sex but guilty about it” to Gotham City with great inventiveness. The Ripper’s musings on the lasciviousness of whores—by which he really means all women—are much more thorough and indicative of his psychosis, and this time, there’s at least three characters who could be the murderer’s “secret identity.” (For what it’s worth, I didn’t see the big reveal coming.) 

Kreig works in over a dozen revised versions of famous Bat-characters in his opus (and even a version of the Bat-signal). While many of these are just throwaways, some have thematic depth. Early in the story the Bat-Man encounters three street-kids known as the “Cock Robins,” all of whom share the names of famous Bat-partners, and the kids are used to remind the reader of class inequities. Selina Kyle appears, using her whip though not her cat-costume, but her 19th-century version is not just an adventurer, but a suffragette who seeks to call attention to male culture’s marginalization of women. This part of the script, which might have become preachy, enlivens the character interactions between Kyle and Wayne, who are inevitably drawn to one another even without the criminal/crimefighter dynamic—so drawn that one scene justifies the video’s “R” rating. Most telling is a scene suggesting that even women can be seduced by the rampant guilt-tripping, when the Ripper’s female lover makes the suggestive remark that “it’s the women’s sins that are the worst, because they’re hidden inside.”

On top of all that, the action-scenes are much more compelling than anything in the fusty graphic novel. All in all, a stellar achievement for the DC animated universe.



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, sociological* 


Though I liked GODZILLA VS. KONG, the movie was certainly replete with daffy notions. The weirdest by far was the idea that this version of Kong descended from a race of giant apes who weren’t just big animals, but some sort of semi-intelligent, tool-using creatures. The movie even built on the “king” part of the giant ape’s name by having him sit in a throne, bearing an ersatz version of a scepter. But goofy as the idea was, the 2021 film was not the first time Kong wore kingly raiment.


Prior to checking out this streaming animated video, I had seen the same production company launch the 2001 KONG THE ANIMATED SERIES on kidvid-TV. The show may have taken a page from the 1933 SON OF KONG, where the savage, man-eating colossus Kong somehow sired a kinder, gentler offspring. In the TV show, Original Kong is long dead, and there’s no mention of any of his human opponents. But a scientist took genetic material from the dead ape and produced a new giant anthropoid to rule over the monsters of “Kong Island.” For good measure, the scientist also used genetic material from an adventurous youth named Jason, with the result that Kong and Jason have a psychic connection, enabling the human guy to merge with Kong when the big ape thrashes giant-sized opponents. And for even more good measure, a copper-skinned jungle beauty, Lua, also hangs around Kong in order to tell him how to use his big muscles in the service of justice.


The series ended, but in order to profit from Peter Jackson’s KING KONG, the showrunners decided to turn out this DTV item. The basic concept is that of the “innocent duped into royal service.” It seems that after being off the grid for centuries, ancient Atlantis gets reborn, and the reigning quasi-human race, who are mostly human-serpent hybrids, decide they want Kong to be their king. Although Lua and Jason don’t always agree on how to counsel Kong—and there’s a very tedious sequence devoted to their disagreements—they both suspect the big guy is being sold a bill of goods. Not surprisingly, since the script recycles numerous old “palace intrigue” tropes, the serpent-tyrants are opposed by another bunch of hybrids seeking to overthrow the bad rulers. The evil snake-people, who sport names like “Reptilla” and “Sycopha,” have some ulterior motive in making Kong their king, but I’ve already forgotten that detail. Suffice to say, thanks to his human buddies Kong remains uncrowned—though, since the big ape can’t communicate, one never knows what he thinks of the whole royalty game.


I’ve seen a lot of worse animation than ATLANTIS, though the creators lose points for injecting a lot of awful doggerel-songs into the mix. There’s a little good action toward the end, when Kong fights two big lizard-dinos—and unlike GODZILLA/KONG, it’s the lizards who are swinging big weapons. The idea of Kong being a literal king of any sort is pretty stupid, but the stupidity certainly fits this oddball offering more than it gelled with the multimillion-dollar monster-mash.  

Saturday, June 5, 2021



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: (1) *fair,* (2) *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, metaphysical*






To justify their existence, movies adapted from video games need to fulfill one requirement: lots of spectacular action-sequences with a minimum of character motivation. Whereas a few creators have been able to slightly upgrade characterization in movies based on the somewhat related form of chapterplay serials—RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK being the obvious go-to here—in video game movies, this would seem like gilding the lily.


In the first Lara Croft movie, the titular daredevil archeologist (Angelina Jolie) has just one strong motive for her derring-do: to obey an injunction left behind by her missing-and-presumed-dead archeologist father (Jon Voigt, Jolie’s real-life paternal unit). A note from dead daddy informs the adventurous English heiress that she must seek out an arcane relic, the Triangle of Life, and destroy it. The Triangle, created from a fallen meteor by a prehistoric civilization, gives its owners control over time and space, and it can only be accessed when all nine planets become aligned—which they are just about to do, for the first time in 5,000 years. Both Lara and an inevitable band of enemy tomb raiders, the Illuminati, have just one chance to find the Triangle, though its usage has already destroyed the people who first created the object, and may well spell doom for modern existence.


The time-changing element of the Triangle holds the greatest significance for Lara Croft. Her father’s disappearance has cheated her of the time she could have enjoyed with him, and she considers going against her late father’s wishes in order to violate time and bring him back to life. Clocks and clockwork symbols abound throughout TOMB RAIDER, as if the scripter was afraid the audience might not pick up on The Temptation of Lara regarding escaping the surly bonds of time. As a slight mirroring of the heroine’s father-dilemma, her primary opponent, an Illuminati servant named Powell, reports to an older commander at first, but eventually overthrows his mentor in his quest for power. Throughout the adventure—and director Simon West supplies the viewer with numerous strong set-pieces—Lara has ambiguous encounters with entities that may be time-guardians of some sort—talking to her dead father in a dream, meeting Asian children who seem to know all about her. The climax includes Powell offering Lara a devil’s bargain, that of using the Triangle to resuscitate a love-interest she’s picked up along the way (a not-yet-famous Daniel Craig). But Lara proves herself a hero both by refusing the bargain and kicking Powell’s ass in one of the more credible female-against-male battles in American action-film. Indeed, Jolie’s transformation into a lean-and-mean tough girl sells the film far more than any single set-piece.


Whereas the first Lara Croft film wrapped itself in the metaphysics of time and space, CRADLE OF LIFE attempts to do so with the genesis on all life on Earth. The titular cradle refers to a domain in Africa where a meteor (another one?) fell to Earth and was forged into a mystic box, later conflated with the Pandora’s Box of folklore. In an illustration of the aphorism “Nothing repeats like success,” this item is like the light-triangle another means by which unscrupulous tomb raiders can seek to rule the world—but only by getting Lara’s help.


Since the first film allowed the heroine to lay her father-complex to rest, this does allow Lara more time for romance, as she rekindles relations with an old flame name of Terry (Gerard Butler, also not yet famous). Lara and Terry have been in the same business, and their past hookups haven’t kept Terry from poaching on Lara’s discoveries. Nevertheless, they seek out Pandora’s Box, while pursued by a rather forgettable group of bad guys. The repetition of familiar elements continues on through the climax, where once again Lara must make a momentous decision in order to triumph.


The LARA CROFT script might have been a little overdone with its reiteration of time-motifs, but the script for CRADLE is by comparison underdone. The metaphysical ideas of the genesis of life and all the association inherent in the myth of Pandora’s Box are trotted out like show-ponies, but they never become an organic part of the narrative. More tellingly, though Jolie still looks great doing her stunts, the script just doesn’t deliver on exciting spectacle. This is presumably not the failure of director Jan deBont, who had become famous for his work on the thriller SPEED, and who more or less dropped out of the directing chair after the second and last Lara Croft movie. In one online interview deBont complained that the producers cut his budget significantly, which may have compromised the action-quotient. Viewers did not embrace the sequel at the box office, and though there are rumors that it might have been just profitable enough for another outing, it’s hard to imagine the studios pumping the dollars back into the series. Thus it was providential that Jolie refused to reprise the Tomb Raider role again, for another entry would have been cheaper still, showing that there’s more than one bad thing that can come from robbing the CRADLE. 





As of this writing I’ve explored the complete, episode-by-episode mythologies of three teleserials, two adventure-oriented (BATMAN, KUNG FU) and one drama-oriented (Classic STAR TREK). In addition, at one time I started to do the same with the SMALLVILLE series but did not get further than the show’s second season. Of these four, three are dominantly serious, while one, BATMAN, combines both serious and ironic elements, but is neither an irony nor a comedy.


So, it’s sometimes occurred to me: is there a teleseries, either belonging to an ironic or a comic form, that utilizes mythic images persistently enough to form its own mythology? And having had this thought, which of the long-running shows of ludicrous intent might deserve one-by-one analysis?


Could it be I LOVE LUCY, with its war between daffy women and sensible men?


Could it be THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, with its picture-perfect portrait of that other Camelot-couple, living not in the White House but in humble New Rochelle?


How about ALL IN THE FAMILY, with its clash of chauvinism and liberality?


But no, much as I like all of these shows, their main appeal is dramatic, not mythopoeic. But if there is one American series with such potential, it would probably be the one whose name is in the title of this essay.


However, MARRIED WITH CHILDREN had eleven bloody seasons, so I very much doubt I’ll ever analyze the whole megillah. But I would like to pinpoint some of the most relevant episodes to show how even raunchy and utterly disrespectful comedy can take on the complexity of myth.


“If Al Had a Hammer” was the third episode of the series’ sixth season. Though many comedy-shows maintained the illusion of a naturalistic continuity, MARRIED’s showrunners were capable of spinning new plot-threads out of nothing at all. Season Six begins with the idea that both Peg Bundy and neighbor Marcy Darcy become simultaneously pregnant, thus bringing chaos to the already erratic lives of their families. Nothing much comes of this development in the series’ long run, given that the plotline may have evolved from actress Katey Sagal’s real-life pregnancy. But the development gives Peg Bundy a new way to lord it over her family.


Peg institutes a ritual in which husband Al, son Bud and daughter Kelly must continuously praise the existence of the fetus in Peg’s womb. All three resent the routine deeply, but not as much as Al resents the idea of having to share his bedroom with a squalling brat.


Yet with proverbial serendipity, Al comes across a bequest from his late father: the hammer with which the elder Bundy could build things. Going by the established sexual politics of the show, Peg’s womb represents the tyranny of female creativity, so potentially Al’s discovery of a tool, a means of male creativity, ought to be liberating. Al seeks to escape the womb’s tyranny by building a new room onto the house, where he can escape All Things Baby.


At first, it seems Al will fail utterly, which gives Peg and Marcy the chance to reflect on how much fun it is to watch men fail at anything and is even more fun than sex. (Marcy doesn’t entirely remain true to this feminine preference, since in the one scene for her husband Jefferson, he complains about her constant sexual demands.) However, somehow Al pulls it together, and completes his project. His wife and kids appear in the doorway of Al’s new addition, and Al banishes all of them from his private room by wielding his father’s hammer like it was Moses’ staff. (The hammer even glows, at least from the POV of the audience.)


Numerous MARRIED episodes doom Al’s best intentions due to betrayals by his wife, his scheming neighbor, his daughter or other female entities. This time, he’s betrayed by the other men in his neighborhood, who weakly reveal the room’s existence to their wives. Marcy and other women invade Al’s sanctum and try to turn it into a women’s retreat. Al, revealing that despite his failures he still possesses the strength of a dime-store Samson, achieves a pyrrhic victory by toppling the main columns of the add-on so that it all collapses like the Temple of Dagon. Al subsequently returns to paying homage to the infant in the womb of the Tyrant Mother.


Nor do the showrunners neglect to chastise Bud Bundy for his inability to escape his subservience. For the first time in the show, Bud takes on a “rap persona” named Grandmaster B to give women the illusion that he’s “dangerous” rather than a wimpy guy living with his parents. Again, though his sister Kelly and mother Peg not infrequently play direct roles in his humiliation, here all they do is repeatedly make fun of his rap name. Bud finds a bimbo dumb enough to believe his nonsense, and when he lures her into the remains of Al’s ruined sanctum, it looks like he’s going to succeed in his male mission (or emission). But for some reason Al happens to have placed the hammer of his late father on a shelf above the spot where Bud tries to make out. Down falls the hammer—sort of an anti-phallus now, dedicated to targeting the failures of the male kingdom—and clouts Bud. The episode ends with him piteously calling for his “mommy,” and though we don’t see his date’s reaction, it’s implicit that Bud’s attempt to enjoy male fulfillment is as doomed as those of his father. It’s hard to say if they fail because they’re inherently weak, or because they’ve both been beat down by the tongue lashings of wife and sister.  

Tuesday, June 1, 2021



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *metaphysical, psychological, sociological*

This was the first of two live-action adaptations of the popular manga, previously adapted to a three-season anime.  The first one adapts much of the original manga’s first arc, which also comprised the first anime season. I have no information on the second movie. But since later arcs in the anime are full of a lot of special FX—not hard to execute in animation, but considerably more expensive in a live-action movie—I don’t know how the second movie could have handled that content without a much bigger budget than the first film.

The FX of TOKYO GHOUL are the weakest aspect of the movie; whenever Kaneki and his fellow ghouls attempt to manifest their powers, the film tries to get by with unconvincing mock-ups that are supposed to represent the projection of supernatural energies, or something like that. However, though the first season of the anime is good as far as representing the dilemma of its hero, the GHOUL live-action movie surpasses the cartoon, thanks to the efforts of the actor playing the young human-turned-ghoul, Masataka Kubota. Equally good in her support role as Kaneki’s potential girlfriend Tokha is Fumika Shimizu, playing a ghoul who, unlike the hero, has never had the ordinary experiences of eating human food and who bitterly resents her limitations.

Despite the FX-limitations, GHOUL THE MOVIE succeeds in many of its violent, visceral scenes, and because the cast is small, the viewer isn’t forced to deal with the overwhelming ensemble that dominates the anime’s later seasons. I haven’t read the manga, but noticed one scene not present in the anime. Kaneki, normally a peaceful person, finds it hard to endure the dangerous life of a ghoul. He finally asks the dour Tokha, who’s demonstrated her fighting abilities to him, to train him—and what results is a montage of torturous rigors designed by Tokha to break him of his peace-loving ways, unless his body gives out first. Kaneki survives the training and ends up triumphing over his final opponent as a result, though of course the narrative leaves things open for further developments.



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *metaphysical, psychological, sociological*

Often before reviewing an anime movie or TV series, I attempt to read the source material first. But since I’d heard that the animated adaptation of TOKYO GHOUL did not follow the manga that closely, and since I’d already seen the first season broadcast on Adult Swim, I decided to dispense with that practice.

Rather than a single continuing series, the GHOUL serials are more like three separate efforts, the first two with twelve episodes each, and the last with twenty-four. The story unfolds in a world where human beings have long known that they share the globe with a parallel race known as “ghouls.” I was never clear on whether the ghouls had developed independently from humankind, or whether, like vampires, they only proliferated by infecting the bodies of human beings. In any case ghouls look for the most part like ordinary people, but they can only subsist on devouring human (or ghoul) flesh. The ghouls also possess assorted super-powers, which often seem as diverse as the mutant abilities of Marvel’s X-Men, and like the X-Men, the less numerous ghouls are always on the run from human authorities who would like to stamp out the whole race.

College student Ken Kaneki knows of the existence of ghouls but has no involvement with them, until a female of their species picks him up. She attempts to devour Kaneki, but a severe accident befalls the two of them, wounding Kaneki and killing the ghoul. A physician, assuming that the dead woman was human, rashly transplants some of her organs into Kaneki to save the young man’s life. Kaneki survives, but he takes on the nature of a ghoul, unable to eat human food while craving humans as food. Yet, being a moral young man, he can’t bring himself to start preying on the species to which he formerly belonged.

Fortunately, some ghouls are more altruistic than the one who attacked Kaneki. He encounters the owner of a coffee shop (and Tokha, a sullen female barista) who furnish him with food he can eat without directly devouring human flesh. Kaneki attempts to adjust to a new life in these new circumstances. However, some of his old human friends miss him, and government agents are always looking to find the havens of hidden ghouls, so Kaneki isn’t able to live the quiet life. Particularly vexing to the peace-loving student are rogue ghouls who capture and auction their own kind to be devoured by rich flesh-eaters. One of these, styling himself “the Gourmet,” is so flamboyant that he seems sexually turned on by the idea of eating the body of a ghoul-human hybrid like Kaneki.

The first season is fairly low-key despite occasional scenes in which the ghouls manifest their weird super-powers, which brought to mind similar abilities from earlier manga like the 1997 HELLSING and the 2008 DEADMAN WONDERLAND. However, at the end of season one, Kaneki loses his memory and takes on a new identity, Haise Sasaki, leader of a special unit of human agents who have enhanced their abilities to ghoul-like levels artificially. Seasons two and three are therefore full of multiple super-powered conflicts, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the manga-creator had emphasized this aspect of his mythology in order to make the property attractive as a videogame—which did manifest in 2015, after the end of the first manga series.

The teleserial does attempt some ambitious themes. Kaneki is never only in physical peril, for by the act of defending himself from rogue ghouls, he unleashes dangerous impulses in himself, including the desire to eat his tormentors. When he finally breaks his own taboo, Kaneki loses his human scruples for a time, and late in the series he dreams that he has to wade through a sea of blood, shed by all his victims. In tried-and-true Japanese fashion, Kaneki eventually accepts the evil within himself and recovers a measure of moral perspective, so that he ends being a sort of mediator between ghouls and humans.

There are a lot of support-characters in GHOUL, but though a few have interesting character-arcs, I didn’t feel any of them came alive as consistent characters. The result is that although there are a lot of vibrant super-powered battles, the series never rises above the level of average entertainment.



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

In the first of three DTV flicks devoted to cops who fight cyborgs (not, as the title suggests, a cop who is a cyborg), the lead hero is one Jack Ryan, who’s also in the second but not the third film, and is played both times by David “Second American Ninja” Bradley.

Jack is a former DEA agent who just can’t follow the rules of the game, and so gets forced out of the organization when he antagonizes the great enemy of all action-heroes, the bleeding-heart American press. His brother Philip, also an agent, tries to carry on the fight against a drug-cartel, but the craven commander of Philip’s task force refuses to commit his whole forces to an invasion of the drug-lord’s island HQ. Jack thus has a mad-on for the whole world and makes plans to rescue his brother. On the way he accidentally falls in with an annoying lady journalist. Despite his less than winning ways, she becomes his main squeeze.

The targeted drug-lord, Professor Kessel, is also a designer of cyborgs for sale to third-world countries, and he uses the body of the slain Philip for one of his projects. Kessel, being enacted by John Rhys-David, provides the only bright spot in this predictable thriller, for the script gives the actor the attitude of a winsome child who’s endlessly pleased with his own cleverness. Aside from a mildly interesting villain, it’s a lot of shooting and fighting, a little better photographed than the average action-film—certainly better than Firstenberg’s two American Ninja films.

Bradley, who had attempted to play a stone-faced hero in his “ninja” efforts, goes to the other extreme with his irritable protagonist, but never proves sympathetic at the best of times. Oddly, though Firstenberg never directed any of Bradley’s ninja-outings, he did previously helm a flick devoted to Bradley as an “American Samurai.”