Sunday, November 30, 2008

Splitting Hares

This was Turkey Day weekend, and what would be a more fitting Mis-Treatment than one of the classic turkeys of all time.

Here’s what happened. In 1965, an Australian author named Russell Braddon wrote a political satire called The Year of the Angry Rabbit. The book is set in the future (that is, the late 1990s, which was the future in the mid-1960s) and details what happens when a myxomatosis-resistant strain of rabbit appears and becomes the scourge of Australian farmers. The government develops a chemical weapon that is supposed to kill off the rabbits, but instead proves fatal to humans, not rabbits. The Australian government decides to use this weapon to try to take over the world. As I said, it’s political satire, and is supposed to be pretty funny in a deeply cynical way (I have not read it and, since even Amazon can’t get it for less than $70, I suspect I will continue to not read it).

Somehow, someone in Hollywood got the bright idea to option the book, but take out all the satire, change the setting to the southwest United States, and make the rabbit-killing drug instead turn the rabbits into giant man-eaters. And thus we ended up with the 1972 “horror” movie Night of the Lepus, one of the classic bad movies of all time.

It stars Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun (not the UConn basketball coach, but the actor who stood on his hind legs), and DeForest Kelley (“Bones” from Star Trek). Actually, what many people don’t realize is that Janet Leigh has been down this road before. In the original draft of Psycho, Norman Bates attacks her in the shower dressed not as his mother, but instead as a giant rabbit. Hitchcock wisely made some script changes.

Other entries in this Mis-Treatment series of silly sci-fi movie recaps include:
Gammera the Invincible
Kong Island
The Skull
Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women
Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet
The Wasp Woman
The Horrors of Spider Island
The Atomic Brain
The Amazing Transparent Man
She Gods of Shark Reef
Moon of the Wolf
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Queen of the Amazons
The Incredible Petrified World
Night of the Lepus (1972)
Auteur/Perpetrator: William F. Claxton (he directed this shortly after installing the first printing press in England—oh, wait, that was William Caxton; never mind)
Star(s) of Shame: Take your pick
Monster: Giant flesh-eating bunnies
“Plot”: Um, well, giant flesh-eating bunnies...what more need be said?

By the way, here’s a bit of nerdiana for you (OK, us) Trekkies out there: the movie co-stars, along with DeForest Kelley, Paul Fix, who played the U.S.S. Enterprise’s chief medical officer in the second Star Trek pilot episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Too bad they couldn’t get John Hoyt, who was the ship’s doctor in the first Star Trek pilot. Then it would have been a hat trek. Ahem.

Also, let’s get this out of the way right at the outset:
That’s no ordinary rabbit! That’s the most foul, bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on....That rabbit’s got a vicious streak a mile wide! He’s a killer! He’ll do you up a treat, mate. He’s got huge, sharp... He can leap about... Look at the bones!
Anyway, moving right along. I hit Play, and oh, no, a lion! Oh, wait, that’s just the MGM logo. We open on a newsreader, discussing the population explosion. “We think of it in terms of human beings.” Well, yes, what else would we think of it as? Table lamps? “Will they have enough clean air to breathe?” In all the discussions of overpopulation, I have never heard “not having enough air” coming up. Is there a danger of running out? “Will there be enough food to feed an increasing number of mouths?” Maybe we need to breed people without mouths. That would solve the problem, right? “Nature, up to now, has maintained a carefully controlled balance.” It has?

He then cues up a film. Uh oh. Whenever these types of movies open with a pseudodocumentary explaining the premise, you know it’s going to be a tough one to swallow. In this case, the documentary is called “Rabbits Threaten Pastoral Lands of Australia.” How does this tie in with overpopulation? “This imbalance occasionally happens in the animal world.” I would say it almost entirely happens in the animal world. We then zoom into the grainy black-and-white footage of a plague of rabbits Down Under, “rabbits so numerous they threaten man’s existence by devouring crops, killing animals, and destroying property.” What about delivering colored eggs. That’s never good. Wait...rabbits kill animals? How does that happen? “Does man have a right to defend himself against an enemy that threatens his life and property?” Oh, but I kid the health insurance industry...

On the screen, we see herds of rabbits scrambling here and there. Looks kind of fun, actually, especially when they bounce against the rabbit-proof fence. Boing! Hee hee. Boing! That looks like fun. Can we watch this for 88 minutes? Please? (There is no truth to the rumor, by the way, that the 2002 movie Rabbit-Proof Fence was a remake of Night of the Lepus.) So how did the rabbits get there? Apparently, they were imported to Australia as a food source, and their reproduction got out of control. You have to admit, you wouldn’t have had the same problem with, say, potato chips or Snickers bars, although that would make for an interesting movie—chocolate bars running rampant across the landscape, hurling themselves against candy bar-proof fences, killing animals, devouring crops. It would be no more ridiculous than this movie.

We then cut to an on-screen graphic you don’t see very often: “Rabbit War”! Not many people realize this but in the original draft of the Star Wars saga, Lucas originally had, in lieu of the Clone Wars, the Rabbit Wars, where the Jedi Knights fought against wave after wave of killer rabbits. Come to think of it, it might have been a better movie than Attack of the Clones. But wait, about that rabbit war: “U.S. Battles Pests to Save New Trees.” How did we get from protecting man from threats to his very existence to saving trees? Apparently, all over the American west “the same battle lines have been drawn.” Isn’t it mostly desert? Wouldn’t the problem sort itself out before too long? We are told that “Science is doing everything it can to control this population explosion.” Not scientists, but science. I would have thought a few ranchers with shotguns would pretty much take care of the problem—hell, that pretty much took care of the passenger pigeon.

Okay, newsman, bring us on home: “Right now, a new plague of rabbits has broken out in the Southwest, as seen in these color films just received from our news team in Arizona.” I’ve been to Arizona; it’s mostly desert. How does a plague of anything break out?

We are then told that the rabbit is “scientifically known as Lepus.” Actually, that’s not true. Hares—of which there are 30 different species—are biologically distinct from rabbits (hares have longer ears, longer hind feet, and longer tails than rabbits) and are classified under the genus Lepus. Rabbits—28 species of them—are classified into 10 different genera (Sylvilagus, Pronolagus, Nesolagus, Brachylagus, Bunolagus, Caprolagus, Oryctolagus, Pentalagus, Poelagus, and Romerolagus; I suppose Night of the Sylvilagus doesn’t have quite the same ring to it). Both rabbits and hares belong to the family Leporidae. But, well, I suppose that’s just splitting ha— oh, let’s not go there. It’s a good thing this is only the night of the Lepus. If it was the year of the Lepus, could we call it a Lepus year? Anyway, moving right along...

The newsreader ends on an ominous note: “Can this population explosion be contained?” Cue titles...

Okay, so, there is a plague of rabbits in the Southwest, and science is being called on to stop them. Got the premise? Good. Let the carnage begin...

But first, the tender “Love Theme from Night of the Lepus.” This is interesting: the director of photography was Ted Voigtlander who, as it happens, was the director of photography for the TV series Wild Wild West, each episode of which was titled “The Night of...” something. Not many people know this, but there is actually a union rule in Hollywood that stipulates if you title a production “The Night of” something, you are contractually required to call Ted.

The movie also co-stars I. Stanford Jolley. There’s not much else he will stand for; I stand for even less.

All right, that done, we see rancher Cole Hillman (Rory, not John C., Calhoun) riding his horse across the prairie. There are a number of mounds, which contain rabbit holes. They’re pretty clear to see and maneuver around, but Hillman rides his horse directly into one, and the horse trips in a hole, and goes down. The horse’s leg is presumably broken, as Hillman then shoots the horse. Don’t blame the rabbits for that one, buddy; you could easily have ridden around the rabbit mound. I hope this guy doesn’t own a car.

Hillman walks back to his ranch, and sends a ranchhand out to retrieve his saddle from the dead horse. He couldn’t have carried it? He gets on the phone and calls Mildred, presumably the telephone operator. Ah, those were the days, when telephone operators ran the world. “Get me president Elgin Clark at the college in A-hole.” In what? Oh, Ajo; I get it. He was a trifle brusque and we get the sense that Mildred is reading him the riot act, because he apologizes. You didn’t mess with telephone operators back then; it would be like dissing the Pope.

Cut to the college and Hillman is walking briskly across the campus with said president Elgin Clark (DeForest Kelley). “These rabbits are eating me out of house and home,” says Hillman. “Dammit, Jim, what the hell do you want me to do about it?” No, wait... Bones, I mean president Clark, has set up a meeting with Professor Taylor. “Not that guy,” says Hillman. Taylor had gotten rid of Hillman’s coyote problem. “He’s just a little bit too good.” Huh? “I haven’t heard a coyote yapping around there in over a year.” Is that bad? “That’s terrific news for the rabbits, but lousy for me.” There’s no pleasing this guy, is there? Clark then offers Hillman Plan B: a young couple from the east named Bennett. They are there on an exchange program. Exchange program? Anyway, they are working on “new ways to control insects without killing everything else at the same time.” That is a noble cause. Did they phrase it that way in their grant proposal? Naturally, Hillman is a grouch. “I got rabbits, not bugs. There’s nothing left for the bugs to live on.” Then what are the rabbits living on? Are they having pizzas delivered? “Trust me, Cole,” says Clark. “They won’t go around killing everything in sight.” Who, the Bennetts? Do they put that on their resumes?

Cut to said Bennetts, Roy (Stuart Whitman) and Gerry (Janet Leigh, who is starting to bear a slight resemblance to Norman Bates’ mother by this time). The sky is thick with bats (kind of like my old apartment) and the Bennetts are standing outside a cave, picking bats off a mesh fence they had set up across mouth of the cave. It’s about noon. Aren’t bats nocturnal? Why are they flying around at this hour? Are they insomniac bats? Gerry smiles lovingly at Roy as he cuts a bat loose from the mesh. I’m guessing these two get Halloween and Valentine’s Day confused. They are joined in this endeavor by their eight-or-so-year-old daughter Amanda, whom I will henceforth refer to as The Cause, for reasons that will soon become apparent.

Roy is carrying the bats in a wooden box and starts shaking it vigorously. Is that really the best way to handle live bats? Why not pitch the box off a cliff, or throw it in front of a truck. Jeepers. He then holds a microphone up to the box. Is he interviewing the bats? he says he is “trying to record their sound.” Yeah, man, the bat sound was all the rage in 1972. He shoos the womenfolk away, and Gerry makes some joke to Amanda about how “bats like hair.” No, that’s actually a myth. I think this movie needed a science advisor because so far it has gotten just about everything wrong.

President Clark arrives and is greeted by Gerry, and Roy is trying to keep them quiet so he can record his bat sounds. He keeps banging on the box to get them to squeak. “That’s the cry of fear,” he says smugly. Yeah, wait for Act III, pal. Heh. So what the heck is this guy working on? “If we can drive them away with that sound of fear, we can control their entire flight,” he explains. Huh? “By introducing them into areas infested with mosquitoes, we can get them to do the same job that DDT does.” So...he’s trying to figure out ways of persuading bats to eat the things they normally eat already. Are these bats on a hunger strike as well as being insomniac? I think president Clark should ask for the grant money back. Clark then asks a favor, involving Cole Hillman. “He’s got a rabbit explosion.” “Rabbits aren’t exactly Roy’s bag,” says Gerry. She’s right; the rabbit-skin handbag doesn’t go with his shoes. Bones, I mean Clark, is persistent. “Cole Hillman’s on your side. He’s trying to avoid poison.” Roy is nonplused. Clark continues, “Once those rabbits spread out, ranchers will bomb the whole countryside with cyanide.” Uh, really? Is that a good idea? That gets Roy’s attention, as well it should, and they head on up to Hilman’s ranch.

They drive past ranchers shooting rabbits, and The Cause is upset. “I like rabbits, mommy,” she says. Yeah, wait a couple of acts, kid. Heh.

Roy examines a rabbit. “Out here in the southwest, they’re called Silver Lagers.” What? How many silver lagers has this guy had? Hillman explains where the rabbits came from. Someone was raising domesticated rabbits, he had a fire, and a couple hundred got away. “Oh, so these are mongrels,” says Gerry. Mongrel rabbits? (I stand corrected; according to the Microsoft Encarta, the term “mongrel” can be used to refer to any animal or plant that is a mixture of different breeds or strains.” Okay, movie, I’ll give you that one.)

Hillman then asks how the rabbit plagues were take care of in Australia and New Zealand. “Poison,” says Roy. No, that’s not what they used (they introduced the disease myxomatosis, caused by the Myxoma virus, and which is only lethal to rabbits). “But the poison killed the birds which caused a plague of grasshoppers just as bad as the rabbits.” No, it didn’t; now he’s just making stuff up. Maybe that college town was called A-hole, since that seems to be where he’s pulling all his facts from.

Roy then come up with a hare-brained idea: “Hormones.” Isn’t that kind of what caused the problem in the first place? The idea is to “disturb their breeding cycle.” Or, he also suggests, “a disease that would affect only the rabbits.” Oh, like, um, myxomatosis? Roy then asks to borrow a few rabbits to make some tests. A rabbit test? Gerry had said that rabbits were not Roy’s bag, and truer words have never been spoken.

I think for Roy’s edification, we should cue up Radiohead’s “Myxomatosis” (actually the best track on their Hail to the Thief album...well, okay, “2+2=5” is pretty good, too).

As Roy is filling up a galvanized trash can with rabbits (!) one bites Hillman. Roys says, “You should have that looked at. the bite of the Lepus—that’s a Latin word for rabbit—can be dangerous.” Come on, Roy, you know you want to add, “Thousands of people are killed each year by rabbit bites. See, rabbits are poisonous and their venom is 100 times deadlier than that of the black widow spider. In fact, rabbits have been known to spin silk webs and trap their prey in it.” I mean, if he’s gonna make stuff up, he may as well go all out. Anyway, it bears pointing out that any bite or cut can be dangerous if it gets infected.

Some time later, we are at the college which, if it hired Roy, can’t possibly be accredited. The Cause is examining a row of rabbit cages—I guess this is Roy’s rabbit test. Gerry explains hormone experiments to an eight-year-old: “Well, we were trying to make Jack a little more like Jill and Jill a little more like Jack.” Just show her Dame Edna’s show. Adds Roy, “We can’t shoot them full of hormones without sending their nervous system into shock.” They’re rabbits; what doesn’t send their nervous system into shock? “We could spend months developing the correct lab procedure. Well, nothing seems to work.” He the takes out a test tube and fills a hypodermic needle with its contents. “On the other hand, here’s something they’ve never been exposed to before.” Raspberry preserves—but why? “Dr. Dirkson from the Public Health Department sent it over this morning.” Is he a member of the Mysterious Vial of Fluid of the Month Club? Gerry grabs a rabbit, which I suspect is affectionately named Keith Richards. “I wish I knew what the effects of this serum would be.” Is this guy just injecting random liquids into rabbits? Forget whether that’s ethical; is it even sensible? “I’m going to try some windshield wiper fluid next. And then get me a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth syrup.”

As Keith Richards the rabbit is removed from the cage, The Cause cries out, “Not that one, mommy. It’s my favorite.” They’re all the same, you little— As he injects the rabbit, Roy says, “This is a villain in certain birth defects.” The rabbit, the serum, or the kid? Oh, must be the serum. He continues, “It causes hereditary changes.” Gerry asks, “Will it transfer to other rabbits?” “I should hope so. It’s difficult to inject 10–15,000 wild rabbits.” So...birth defects are contagious? What? This guy doesn’t really have a degree in anything, does he? Okay, so, the serum causes some kind of genetic mutation which can somehow be transferred to other rabbits. Okay movie, if that’s your premise, let’s move along...

At that point, Hillman calls, and after Gerry puts the “infected” rabbit back in its cage, she conveniently joins Roy on a teleconference...why they need to have a lengthy teleconference with that guy is anyone’s guess. But it does give Amanda the opportunity to surreptitiously switch the infected rabbit with one from the control group. Good one, kid.

But wait a minute: after they hang up—and, by the way, they have this conversation conveniently out of view of the rabbit cages—Roy says, “Cole says the rabbits are getting meaner and hungrier.” Why then do you need to muck about with hormones or sera? If they’re hungry, that means their food supply is dwindling, which in turn means that the population will soon correct itself . This is what you guys are actually talking about when you rabbit on about “nature’s balance.” Any animal population grows or shrinks based on the available food. Although it occurs to me that the real question is: why am I going on about this in a recap of a dumb killer rabbit movie? Oy...

Anyway, as The Cause is busy switching the rabbits, Roy says, “Heaven help us if any of these rabbits get away before we know the effects of the serum.” Dum dum dum!

The Cause then pleads with her parents to let her have one of the rabbits as a pet. They agree. “One from the Control Group?” asks Gerry. They’re not real clear on the whole science thing are they?

Naturally, The Cause chooses the one she had switched—which is to say, the infected one. Let the fun begin.

To make matters worse, The Cause shows off her rabbit to Jackie, Hillman’s son, who, quite understandably, hates rabbits. “They killed my chickens!” And you know what they say about a boy and his chickens. So he grabs the rabbit and lets it run away. Now we’re off to the races! Jackie apologizes; The Cause is oddly forgiving.

Back in the lab, the “scientists” have noticed that rabbits injected with the serum are getting bigger. “One more week and these won’t be babies anymore.” Wait a minute—they’re experimenting on juvenile rabbits? Then of course they’re getting bigger! If was a bold choice of president Bones to let Ph.D.’s in business administration run the Biology Department. “If Cole’s gonna use poison, he’d better do it soon.” Then what are they doing there?

Out here in the fields, where the rabbits fight for their meals...ahem. Out in the fields, Hillman is pouring gasoline in the ground. Apparently his plan is to...uh...burn the rabbits? Can that be right? His neighbor confronts him and says that poison would be a preferable alternative.

Kill the wabbits...kill the wabbits...

They light up the field, and we watch as tons of rabbits scamper away...presumably the infected one, too.

Some time later (that same day? A week later? A month?) Hillman, Roy, and Gerry are out riding in the field, and Gerry spots a strange animal track. They all muse about what it could be. Hillman estimates that the animal that made it is about 100–150 pounds. Big Rabbit Foot?

Meanwhile, The Cause and Jackie are hanging out and Jackie wants to introduce her to a friend of his—Captain Billy (?), who owns a gold mine. A gold mine? “Well, he hasn’t found much yet, but he says he’s going to.” Ah, so in the same way that I’m a millionaire, but I just haven’t made a million dollars yet. Got it.

Over at the “gold mine,” Captain Billy is nowhere to be found, but the house (well, shack) is a shambles. Jackie notices some large animal tracks in some flour that had spilled on the floor. The Cause wanders into the mine and finds Captain Billy...on the ground, being eaten by giant rabbits. He’s dead, Jim. Take a good look kid...this is all your fault! We then get the first of many many closeups of rabbits’ faces smeared with red paint; apparently the best way to convey their huge size is to shoot them in extreme closeup. The Cause screams. As well she should.

At Roy’s house, the doctor pronounces The Cause’s problem as “mild shock.” She should be given a mild shock. Jackie is asked if he saw anything. “I can’t be sure. It all happened so fast.” No it didn’t; it took forever. Glaciers move faster. Gerry says, “Something must have happened. She didn’t just imagine it. Amanda’s too sensible.” Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Only a mother... Then again, Janet Leigh has the same reaction to showers, I would imagine.

Roy says he’s going to talk to Dr. Dirkson...for some reason.

That night, a truck is driving in the middle of nowhere, and pulls off the side of the road. The truck says “Refrigerated Lines” on the side. Hm. Someone is delivering the movie’s dialogue. Why does it need to be refrigerated? God knows it’s already turned.

For some reason, the driver opens the back of the truck seemingly for no other reason than to attract creatures. Which he does. We then get a montage of rabbit faces and low growling. Something leaps, and the truck driver screams. He’s dead, Jim.

Jump cut to he next morning and a police car pulls over to where the truck has been left. Interesting police car. There are no markings on it, but it does have two red lights on the roof. I guess the county wasn’t too clear on the concept of unmarked police cars. Deputy Jason (not wearing a hockey mask) looks inside the cab of the truck, then in the back of the truck, then notices all the empty boxes on the ground directly behind the truck—and, finally, the horribly bloody and dismembered driver. I’ve had mornings like that. I guess he is under strict orders to make sure the truck was all right first because the body would have been completely visible from his car as he pulled up.

The deputy must have made a call when we weren’t looking, because another police car pulls up—Sheriff Cody (Paul Fix). “What’s so urgent?” growls the sheriff. Now the deputy is in a fix. The deputy points out the body. “What’d they use on him, an axe?” Why the rabbits didn’t eat the guy is a good question. And if they weren’t going to eat him, why just randomly sever his limbs? For sport? The sheriff then gets a call. “What?!” he barks. “Get the body into town. Get Doc Wilson to do a post on him immediately.” What? They’re going to put a post on him? Oh, I get it, the sheriff’s department has a blog and they’re going to do a blog post about the dead body. Okay. “Looks like we got another one.” That is, Captain Billy’s body had been found, “hacked to pieces.” Maybe it was Steve Hackett.

At the lab, or, more precisely, from what it looks like, a dentist’s waiting room, Dr. Leopold is examining...something through a microscope and waxing poetic about how much you can uncover by looking at things through a microscope. He holds up a damaged aluminum can. “This can was not opened with an axe.” What about a can opener? “Something punctured the metal.” Wow, Quincy’s got nothing on this guy. (I guess I should say the CSI people have nothing on this guy; why dwell in the past...except for the fact that I liked Quincy a lot more than I like CSI.) “The crates on the truck weren’t broken either. They were gnawed.” He then rattles off an entire thesaurus entry for “gnawed.” He also found traces of dried saliva on the cans, the boxes, and the victim. Sheriff Cody then looks through the microscope, sees some red and yellow wriggling ooze, and is satisfied. Was that dried saliva? “What have we got here—vampires?” he growls. “Possibly,” says the medical examiner with a straight face. “The only thing that could have caused this sort of destruction is a saber-toothed tiger. As a matter of fact, a lot of them.” Does he have a lot of data on saber-toothed tiger attacks on delivery trucks? If so, that’s quite a feat, since they’ve been extinct for a few thousand years. Is there some other medical examiner they can consult?

Meanwhile, another cop radios in from some picnic grounds, where a family of four has been “horribly mutilated.” They’re dead, Jim. We’ve all had family outings like that. We then pan slowly over the bloody corpses—and again the bodies are simply smeared with red paint. Why didn’t the rabbits eat them? Did they prefer the potato salad?

Back at the Ajo State College and Delicatessen, The Bennetts and president Clark are conferring with Dr. Dirkson, who has been studying abnormalities and birth defects all his life—“which comes pretty close to home for me,” he says. That explains the hair. Says Roy, “Rabbits as big and as ferocious as wolves? That’s inconceivable.” This explanation should be good. Says Dr. Dirkson, “The genetic code for every living thing is contained in each cell of that organism.” No, it’s not. What about red blood cells, which lack nuclei? “Assuming we introduced defective cells into that one rabbit, it’s conceivable that we could have created the seeds for a mutated species.” Roy finds this inconceivable. Now wait a minute—wasn’t this his entire plan for getting rid of the rabbits in the first place, introducing genetic mutations that could then be passed along to other rabbits? And wasn’t he remarking earlier that he noticed the rabbits getting bigger? “It’s just too hard to believe and I won’t until I see one.” Heh. Wait a few minutes. “All we have to go on is what Amanda had to say.” Maybe she sees Harvey. It is suggested that the sheriff be notified, but Bones, I mean Clark, thinks a cover up would be a better idea. “Can you imagine the kind of sensational publicity that would bring down on the university if it became generally known?” Dammit, Jim, I’m a college president, not a scientist! (You knew that was coming.) I think your college’s reputation is far more endangered by hiring professors who don’t actually know anything about their field of study.

Roy agrees. He tells Gerry to call Hillman and have him join him. “Tell him to bring poison feed, cyanide, dynamite, and anything else he can think of.” Soup? Baking powder? Mini marshmallows? Plastic tubing? Swim fins? A snorkel? I mean, someone can easly think of a lot of things. But he still doubts that there are any giant rabbits. Says Dr. Dirkson, “I don’t suppose there’s a chance you could bring back one of those rabbits alive.” Roy just wanders way. So, the answer is “no.”

They drive out to the mineshaft. Inside, we see closeups of bunny faces. Outside, Roy orders Bones and another guy, Frank, to go to the top of the hill and see if there are any other allow the things he doesn’t think exist to escape. Hillman goes into the mine to set the charges to blow up the things that Roy doesn’t think exist. Up top, Bones, I mean Clark, radios down and tells Roy that he has found additional holes, created presumably by the things that Roy doesn’t think exist. Bones then has an idea; he drops a tiny rock into the hole, and we hear a mad scramble of giant rabbits. Bones holds the radio up to the hole and lets Roy listen.
Roy abruptly decides that he wants to go in and investigate whatever is in the mine that was making the weird noises. “Whatever’s back in there is a mystery. If we cave it in, we’ll never know.” Oh, come on, pal; you’ve proven at all turns up to this point that you’re really a high school gym teacher, so don’t start pretending you’re an actual scientist now. He says that he is going to try to pull one of them out. “Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my...cave?” He says he wants to analyze its cells and blood, “Or if I can’t do that, I’ll take a picture of it.” Or, if he can’t do that, an amusing caricature. Hillman decides to go in with him. Gerry takes her own sweet time to call Bones and tell him to hold off on setting off the dynamite. Not that I can blame her.

Inside the mine, Hillman says, “We must be in about half a mile by now.” No, you’re not, you’ve gone about six feet. More closeups of bunny faces. The insomniac bats are up and active. Hillman believes the rabbits are right around the corner. He lifts his gun. “Don’t shoot,” says Roy. “The whole place’ll come down on us.” Really? They round the corner and lo and behold: the rabbits! Roy takes out his Kodak Instamatic and starts snapping pictures. “There must be thousands of them. This must be their breeding ground.” I think a rabbit’s breeding ground is pretty much wherever rabbits happen to be at any given time. We are then treated to another means of conveying the huge size of the rabbits: having proper sized rabbits hop about a miniature set. Hillman and Roy decide to run. However, Roy is attacked by one, and we are treated to the third, and to my mind best, way of conveying the rabbit’s size: quick cuts to a guy in a bunny suit. Hillman smacks the bunny-suited guy in the head with the butt of his rifle. He (that is, Hillman, not the guy in the bunny suit) and Roy run.

Meanwhile, a short distance away, a giant rabbit emerges from a brand new hole and charges into the wooden shack, where one of the guys—Jud—is eating something. Immediately, the guy in the bunny suit jumps on him. Peter Cottontail, no! Gerry hears him screaming and runs in with the rifle. Closeups of the guy being strangled by bloody, hairy paws are intercut with closeups of a proper rabbit covered in red paint, and the effect doesn’t quite work. Gerry starts shooting, and the guy in the bunny suit jumps out the window. Jud is horribly mauled and covered in blood and is in shock. Gerry consoles him as if he just got a paper cut. “We gotta get out of here,” says Jud. “They ain’t coming out of the mine alive.” Meaning, I guess, Hillman and Roy. “Yes, they are,” says Gerry. “And we’re not going anywhere.” Shouldn’t they get this guy to a hospital or something? He’s lost rather a lot of blood by the looks of it.

The rabbits in hot pursuit, Hillman and Roy barely make it out of the mine. As they run through the adit (hey, I get to use a crossword puzzle word) they shout to blow the mine. Which they do. Is that the end of the rabbits? Well, the movie is only half over so, no.

Some time later (that same day? Next week? A month?) Roy, Gerry, and Bones are looking at the photograph Roy had taken of the rabbits. How come no one has asked how an infected rabbit got loose? The Cause should get her effect, if there’s any justice. They finally decide to tell Sheriff Cody. Everyone is afraid to broach the subject with him, aren’t they? It’s only Paul Fix. Don’t they call him The Fixer? Roy is suddenly afraid that after the picture hits the newspapers, the press will be all over the place, and he suggests that Gerry and The Cause should flee. Funny, he was cool with them being around the giant rabbits, but the press? Gasp! Anything but that! Says Gerry, “I suppose we’ll drive up to Wooddale and stay at the lodge.” Yep: “I know this little motel away from the interstate. Run by a Norman Something-or-other.”

As they share a tender moment, the rabbits stir inside the mine, and find a way out. Now they’re on the move and hop through a Lionel model train set on their way toward the Hillman ranch. They spook the horses, which start freaking out, even though the rabbits are about a mile away. Sensitive creatures, they. Suddenly, the rabbits are on a ridge overlooking the horses (this is so the director can use his favorite shot in the movie, which is to have rabbits jump over the camera). Anyway, the guy in the bunny suit decides to go horseback riding and jumps on a horse. It goes down, awash in red paint. More horses get attacked. Meanwhile, Jud steals a truck and gets the heck out of there. Since he was the one who had been attacked earlier, he’s understandably skittish around giant rabbits. Unfortunately, he drives right into the herd of them, and they swarm the truck. He spins around and goes back to the ranch, the rabbits in hot pursuit.

At the ranch, Hillman is getting everyone into the cellar. Hillman tries to make a phone call to Mildred, but Jud, who is a bigger danger to himself than the rabbits are, loses control of the truck and knocks over the telephone pole (of course he does.), making the phone go out. It’s dead, Jim. He scrambles out of the truck directly into the path of the rabbits. He is soon pounced on. He’s dead, Jim. Hillman tries firing his rifle at a bad process shot of the rabbits in front of the truck. He runs down into the cellar. I’ll bet in the porn version of this movie they used Playboy Bunnies instead.

The rabbits break into his house and raid the kitchen. “Sounds like a cattle stampede,” says Frank. Actually, it sounds more like a popcorn popper, or perhaps a half dozen hamsters in a drier. The kitchen is directly above them, so Hillman and Frank shoot though the ceiling, hoping to hit the rabbits. It’s probably not a good idea to weaken the floor so the rabbits crash down on top of them. Just a suggestion. A paw pokes a hole through the floor, and they continue shooting. They hit the rabbit, and blood drips through the bullet holes. Either that or they hit a bottle of ketchup. It’s hard to tell.
The rabbits hit the bunny trail and head toward the General Store, which is where you go when you don’t want to buy anything specific. The store is run by Mildred, who bears a striking resemblance to a fish. If they ever make Night of the Large-Mouthed Bass, she’d be a natural for the lead. At any rate, the two men who were keeping her company leave just in time—just after they drive off, Mildred hears hippity-hopping in the distance. And, of course, just as she turns her back to the front window, in they charge. The guy in the bunny suit knocks her to the ground and slathers red paint all over her neck. Again, they don’t eat her; just knock her down. I bet she’d taste like seafood. She’s dead, Jim.

Down the road, another rancher is attacked, despite his valiant attempt at self-defense by trying to hit the rabbits with a wooden stool. He’s dead, Jim.

The next morning, Roy bids farewell to Gerry and The Cause (they’re still there? I thought they left days ago.) They climb into their RV (which I bet has no shower) and head off to what will have to be certain doom. Bones, I mean Clark, pulls up in a station wagon that, in true 1970s fashion, is larger than the Starship Enterprise. He says that Sheriff Cody is on his way back from the crime lab in Phoenix and they will meet him at the airport. Yep, Sheriff Cody was bigger than The Beatles and his legions of fans would gather en masse at the airport to greet his arrival. However, for some reason, the sheriff arrives at the airport in a car. What? “Sheriff, we have something horrible to tell you?” says Roy. The movie isn’t over yet? “Your frantic call wouldn’t have anything to do with rabbits, would it?” barks the sheriff. Sheriff Cody says the crime lab people (well, the one guy) discovered that what killed Captain Billy and the truck driver were giant rabbits. I guess he rethought the saber-toothed tiger hypothesis. Well, you know, saber-toothed tigers, giant rabbits. It’s a fine line.

Bones, I mean Clark, and Sheriff Cody commiserate. After all, they’ve both worked with Shatner so they’re used to large creatures that devour scenery. The three of them then go up in a helicopter to head out to the mine.

Meanwhile, Hillman is walking along the highway and tries to hitch a ride. Unfortunately, he is carrying a rifle and tries to “thumb” a ride by waving both his arms, and the gun in the air. Oh, sure, I’d stop and pick him up! Needless to say, the one car that passes him does not. He soon realizes what the problem is and chucks the gun away.

In the car that passed him by is a family of four and, like every other child in the movie, the two kids have blond hair and blue eyes. Was the children’s casting call for this movie conducted at a Hitler Youth meeting? Neither parent has those features, so I guess these are Mr. and Mrs. Recessive Gene. The kids are whining that they want to stop, and the car pulls over at the destroyed General Store. The neglect to see the dead Mildred, or the herd of giant rabbits inside, and instead muse that they found a real “ghost town.” Ba-dum-bum.

Meanwhile Janet Leigh and The Cause are motoring down the highway, the latter quite perky, even though she was responsible for about a dozen deaths and thousands of dollars of destruction so far. Where’s the justice? They approach the turn off the Wooddale, which is a dirt road that leads into the middle of nowhere. Oh, no! The “lodge” they’re going to is the Valley Lodge—this is turning into Manos, The Hands of Fate. Ahhhh!!!! The road they take apparently requires a mountain bike or a Sherman tank to successfully traverse, so their RV immediately gets stuck in the sand. Of course it does. Oh, good: maybe The Cause will get eaten by rabbits, proving that there is some justice in the world.

The helicopter arrives at the mine—oh, that’s right: at this point, only Hillman knows that the rabbits escaped from the mine. I forgot about that. They come across a fresh hole and surmise that some rabbits got out. Bones, I mean Clark, again tries his trick of dropping a rock in the hole. This time, no sound. Roy points out that it gets dark at 5:30, so they have a few hours to find out where the rabbits got to. The sheriff calls his office, and asks that the National Guard be sent out.

Hillman finally arrives at the General Store and sees the carnage—and the rabbits. He quickly dashes away, and tries to hitchhike again—this time, sans gun. A car does stop for him—a Mystery Machine-like van driven by a priest. “What the matter?” the priest asks. “If I told you, you’d think I’d been drinking.” Oh, I don’t know; I’ve been to Catholic mass.

Bones, I mean Clark, Roy and Sheriff Cody arrive back at the airport. Deputy Jason is there to pick them up—and his car now finally has a “Sheriff’s Department” sticker on the side. I guess it was on order and it finally came in the mail. The Deputy tells the Sheriff that the response from Phoenix was that they can use the National Guard however they’d like. Cool; will they cook and do laundry?

At the Sheriff’s office, the military has arrived. Roy asks if there are any other mines in the area, “or any place they could hole up”? The sheriff doesn’t know. Even Jason doesn’t know. So, basically, the only two policemen around have absolutely no knowledge of the area. With his near-handlebar moustache, Deputy Jason is Mr. 1970s; and wasn’t he in the Village People?

Now get this: The phone rings, and the sheriff picks it up. He listens for a moment, then says, “Put him right on.” We cut to Hillman in a phone booth. “It’s me, Cole Hillman.” The sheriff is surprised. “Cole!” Wasn’t he just told who it was before he said “Put him right on”? Or does he have the worst short-term memory on the planet? “Now listen to this,” says Hillman, “the rabbits attacked the ranch last night and killed Jud. Also Mildred, her husband, and less.” What? Oh, Les. Never mind. “They’ve only been moving at night, and are heading in your direction.” Says the sheriff, “Stay right where you are. I’ll have a car pick you up.” He then hangs up. Since Hillman didn’t say where he was, that will probably take a while. Hillman also might have mentioned where the rabbits were now, especially since, when they were last seen in the General Store, they weren’t moving in anyone’s direction. The sheriff really isn’t very good on the phone, is he? After he hangs up, he tells everyone, “Cole just came from Golanos. He says they’re holed up in a building there.” No, he didn’t! Hillman said none of those things! Don’t tell me the sheriff is now making stuff up? The military guy—whose armband says M.P., so one wonders how much authority he’s got—says “We’ll hit the whole town with rockets. I’ve got two fighter bombers on the runway right now in Tucson.” Fighter bombers? And, uh, what about...

Ah, good, took the words right out of my mouth: the sheriff is worried about survivors—a fair point. “It’ll be dark before I can get there with enough men to handle the situation.” Really? According to my Rand-McNally road atlas of Arizona, it’s less than 100 miles from Tucson to Ajo. It takes a long time to fly a “fighter bomber” that distance? Chips in Roy, “When it gets dark, you won’t be able to handle the situation.” Why? Does he turn into a pumpkin after sundown? “When those rabbits start coming, they could be here in a couple of hours.” They made pretty good time the previous night. And giant rabbits move faster than “fighter bombers”? Asks Roy, “Does that give you enough time to evacuate the town?” Nope; apparently the town is full of trailer parks and ranches all spread around, “many of them without telephones.” Says the sheriff, “What we need is a fence, about 10 miles long and about 20 feet high.” Do you want to put it anywhere in particular, or do you just have a thing for fences?

Roy then muses that he hasn’t heard from Gerry and The Cause. He confesses to Bones, “I didn’t want the girls here when reporters came around.” Says Bones, “Wooddale’s a good 20 miles west of the rabbits.” Non-Sequitur Cinema! He wasn’t worried about the rabbits, he was worried about the reporters. And is 20 miles that big a distance when you’re talking about the rabbits?

Night starts to fall, and a military convoy heads...somewhere. And, likewise, the rabbits start heading...somewhere. It’s kind of like Pamplona, Spain, and the running of the bulls, only weirder (well, on second thought, not that much weirder).

The sheriff is on the phone getting a status report. “The National Guard reports that the rabbits are near Four Corners, killing as they come. Other companies are setting up machine guns outside Ajo.” This makes no sense geographically. Four Corners? How did the rabbits get there? Four Corners is in the very northeast corner of Arizona, and Ajo is down not far from the very southwest corner of Arizona. That’s a good 500 miles. I thought these rabbits started out not far from Ajo. Did they go visit Monument Valley and are now coming back? Even more bizarrely, we see the rabbits hopping down State Route 83, which runs near Tombstone in the southeast corner of the state. These rabbits are taking quite the tour of Arizona. Not that I blame them, of course.

Meanwhile the town—presumably Golanos—is being evacuated. Suddenly, it seems to be quite the little metropolis. The sheriff and Deputy Village Person are overseeing the evacuation. Officer Lopez radios in and says that the rabbits are 15 miles from Golanos. Wow, they do move fast. “At the speed they’re going, I figure you got 40–50 minutes.” So they move about 20 miles an hour. Not bad for rabbits.

The military guy is looking at a map. “If they’re coming across a front that wide, I can’t possibly stop them.” But the line of them was only as wide as a street. You can’t fend that off? The sheriff suggests waiting until they hole up for the night, but Bones grouses, “Dammit, Jim, the town will be a disaster by then.” Which town? Then Roy chimes in. Hoo boy. “Sheriff, you were saying something about a fence.” Uh, he was actually kidding. I think. I hope. “Yeah, about 2 miles long and 20 feet high.” No, you said 10 miles long the last time. I think it might be time for the sheriff to retire. Roy asks Bones, “Doc, how far do you think those rabbits travel with each stride?” Doc? Since when is college president Clark, I mean Bones, the “Doc”? True, he probably has a Ph.D., but how did he suddenly become an expert on anything in this movie? Although, for some reason, Bones has the answer: “Judging from the tracks we’ve seen, I’d say, oh, four, maybe five feet.” Roy asks, “Do you think that railroad dispatcher is still on duty?” What railroad dispatcher? “He should be, unless he’s been evacuated.” Ewww. Says Roy in an odd voiceover that was ineptly dubbed in later, “We’ll funnel them into a five-mile area at the tracks.” Really?

Roy calls the railroad dispatcher and asks if they can isolate a stretch of railroad track about two miles long. I thought it was five miles. Was this entire movie improvised? The dispatcher says something about a siding five miles to the east, and fiddles with some knobs. However, there is a freight train on the track, which they have to wait to clear before they can do anything. Tell me about it; this is just like any Amtrak trip I have been on.

At this point, the military guy quite sensibly asks what Roy is planning to do. (Yep, another case where a kooky scientist who has been wrong about everything the entire movie is put in charge of military strategy. They should call in Dr. Hidaka and the Japanese Orville Redenbacher.)

Roy’s brilliant idea: “A fence between the rabbits and the city. An electrical fence. We’ll electrocute them on the railroad tracks.” Why can’t they just shoot the rabbits?

Here is my favorite moment in the movie. A cop pulls into a drive-in movie theater, which has more patrons than I think live in that town. Anyway, he gets on a bullhorn and announces, with a straight face:
“Attention, attention. Ladies and gentlemen, attention. There is a herd of killer rabbits headed this way and we desperately need your help.”
I think everyone would need to stop laughing first. Anyway, everyone is instructed to turn their lights on and follow the cops. Surprisingly, everyone goes along with this!

As the Sheriff, Roy, and Hillman (hey, how did he get there all of a sudden) head out to the train tracks, Roy discovers from Bones that Gerry and The Cause never arrived at Wooddale. He panics, and has the sheriff order the helicopter to meet him at the railroad tracks. “Sure!” chirps the sheriff. The idea is to run the power lines down to the railroad tracks and, as soon as the freight train clears, electrify the rails. Is this really the best idea? After leaving them all with this dopey idea, Roy takes off in the helicopter to look for the womenfolk. Then, the cars from the drive-in arrive, and the military directs them to park in a straight line and leave the lights on. And the rabbits keep on a-comin’.

Meanwhile over in the middle of nowhere, it has been about six hours since Gerry and The Cause got stuck and they are finally now getting around to doing something about it. What have they been doing all day? Watching videos in the RV? They hear something. Three guesses what it is. Yes! The little creep is gonna finally get her comeuppance. Gerry instructs The Cause to lock herself inside the RV. Yeah, kid, go read Watership Down. That’ll take your mind off things. Gerry takes some signal flares out of the glove compartment. she lights one and holds the rabbits off with it. She tosses it and it sets one of the rabbits on fire. Well one down, a few hundred left to go. (On the plus side, this seems like a less daft idea than the whole electrify the train tracks thing.) The rabbits then start swarming on a model RV. And just when things looked bleakest (or most promising, depending on your point of view), Roy arrives in the helicopter and rescues the women. So why didn’t the rabbits swarm the helicopter?

Anyway, the rabbits go on the move again and this time take out a herd of cattle.

Over at the train tracks, Sheriff Cody is getting grouchy. Well, more grouchy. He asks the dispatcher what is taking the train so long; the dispatcher says it’s a slow freight and will take five minutes until it passes the switch it needs to pass before they can electrify the tracks. Yeah, right; that’s what they always say on Amtrak, and then two hours later you’re still sitting there.

One of the military guys then tells the line of cars from the drive-in that the herd of rabbits is nearly there, and that it is the car lights that are going to funnel them onto the train tracks. Oh, and there will also be a lot of rifle and machine gun fire. Um, I question the legality of suddenly drafting civilians and putting them right in the middle of harm’s way. And if all the people get killed, why do they need to care if the town gets destroyed? Are the buildings more important than the people? This is kind of like “if realtors ruled the world.” And the again, why do they need the people to stay in the cars? They just need the lights to stay on. Can’t the drivers get out and go someplace safe?

They take some time connecting the power to the tracks. Roy returns to watch his dippy plan come to fruition. Or fail miserably. Shortly, the freight train passes—curiously, it was only one car long. Yeah, right. I have been stuck at enough railroad crossings to know that freight trains are usually miles long and take forever to pass. The train gone, the turn on the power, just as the rabbits come over the hill. The military opens fire. And we see they are still on Route 83. Nope, one shot later they are on Route 82. That would put them around Sonoita, which is still about 300 miles from Ajo—or where everyone is waiting for them.

The helicopter reports that they are heading right for the tracks. So why are they avoiding the cars? They never seemed especially shy before. (It get the sense that somewhere along the lines in this movie they seemed to have picked up the idea that rabbits were afraid of light. I’m not sure how or why they got that idea.)

The rabbits charge across more of the Lionel model train set they have been using throughout the movie. They hit the rails and start sparking like it’s the Fourth of July. And, after quite the melee (and sea of bad process shots), against all odds, the dippy plan worked. They’re dead, Jim. They all gaze in awe at the pile of singed fur. So, get out all the hasenpfeffer recipes. Still, I get the sense that next Easter is going to be a rather muted affair.
Some time later (the next day? Some weeks later?) Hillman drops by the college, where Roy, Bones, and the rest are playing football. Wow, and I thought Syracuse had a crappy football team. Hillman tells Roy that he heard some new coyotes, but the rabbits are still there—“but not like they used to be.” I guess that means “not huge.” Roy and family are invited out to the ranch, an invitation that they take up. Hillman was only being polite; they weren’t supposed to accept! The Cause runs off to frolic with Jackie, as some normal sized rabbits sit calmly by.

The end.

Hey, wait, I have a complaint. Well, okay, several actually, but one in particular. How come The Cause got off scot-free? So that’s the moral lesson I take away from this movie. A creepy kid can be as much of a spoiled brat as she wants, can have free reign of her parents’ science lab, and demand that she be given a pet rabbit, then unleash a wave of death and destruction and not even be punished in any way? No slap on the wrist? Not even a stern talking to? Kids need to be taught that actions have consequences.

You know, just like they pointed out in the prologue: if you introduce foreign species into an environment, very often unintended consequences wreak havoc. Rabbits introduced for pets or meat can become major pest. Or, if you star in one of the best, most popular horror movies of all time, some day you may have fallen on hard times enough that you have to take a role in a crappy giant rabbit movie—and play the role of the mother of a major pest.

Still, I do have to love whatever college it was that Bones was running. It was a bold choice to hire faculty who had absolutely no actual knowledge about their fields of study. I can see the college’s promotional literature now: “Come to Ajo College. Our illustrious and esteemed faculty includes Stephen Jay Gould as dean of the business school, John Kenneth Galbraith heading the mechanical engineering program, Carmelo Anthony is the dean of the medical school, and Doris Kearns Goodwin serving as head coach of the men’s basketball team.”

On the other hand, it kind of sounds like high school, if I remember high school correctly (and I try not to).
“I don’t know why I feel so tongue-tied
don’t know why
I feel so skinned alive.”
My thoughts are misguided &
A little naive
I twitch & salivate
like with myxomatosis
You should put me in a home or you should put me down
I got myxomatosis
I got myxomatosis
Now no one likes a smart-arse”
“But we all like stars”

Friday, November 28, 2008

La La Londinium

As I eagerly anticipate my and Ken A.'s Christmas jaunt to London next month, I finally got around to uploading pictures from my last two London trips to Picasa. Anyone interested can click the links to check out online slideshows of my August 2007 and April 2008 trips.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Soon We'll Be Talking About Real Money?

Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture blog puts the current financial bailout in perspective:
If we add in the Citi bailout, the total cost now exceeds $4.6165 trillion dollars. People have a hard time conceptualizing very large numbers, so let’s give this some context. The current Credit Crisis bailout is now the largest outlay In American history.

Jim Bianco of Bianco Research crunched the inflation adjusted numbers. The bailout has cost more than all of these big budget government expenditures – combined:

• Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $115.3 billion
• Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $217 billion
• Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion
• S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $256 billion
• Korean War: Cost: $54 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $454 billion
• The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est), Inflation Adjusted Cost: $500 billion (Est)
• Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551b, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $597 billion
• Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $698 billion
• NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $851.2 billion

TOTAL: $3.92 trillion

data courtesy of Bianco Research

That is $686 billion less than the cost of the credit crisis thus far.

The only single American event in history that even comes close to matching the cost of the credit crisis is World War II: Original Cost: $288 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $3.6 trillion

The $4.6165 trillion dollars committed so far is about a trillion dollars ($979 billion dollars) greater than the entire cost of World War II borne by the United States: $3.6 trillion, adjusted for inflation (original cost was $288 billion).

Go figure: WWII was a relative bargain.

I estimate that by the time we get through 2010, the final bill may scale up to as much as $10 trillion dollars…
Or, as the famous quote from Everett McKinley Dirksen has it, "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money." Although perhaps if we inflation-adjust his quote: "A trillion here, a trillion there..."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lights, Gamera, Action

In the 1950s and 60s, the Godzilla films were a very popular and successful movie franchise, and soon the Toho Company (the studio that produced many of the most successful of the Japanese monster movies) were inflicting all manner of giant, mutated creatures on Japan—Rodan, Mothra, Ghidorah, and all the other denizens of Monster Island. There were 28 Godzilla movies alone, and soon the daikaiju eiga (giant monster cinema) was a thriving industry. For American audiences, these movies often included additional filmed scenes of the U.S. military calling most of the shots (as it were).

Naturally, other studios started getting in on the action, including the Daiei Motion Picture Company which launched the successful (though not as successful as Godzilla) Gamera giant flying turtle series. Like the Godzilla movies, these were staples of 1970s Saturday afternoon UHF station creature-feature series. The Gamera movies also featured additional American footage—interestingly, there are several versions of the original Gamera floating around. In addition to the original Japanese version, there are two American versions, which feature different footage. The Sandy Frank version called simply Gamera was shown on MST3K and features an American general who sounds like a cross between Buddy Hackett and Curly from the Three Stooges, as well as some bad dubbing (well, not that any of the dubbing was especially good in these movies). Another, which is the one I have in my sci-fi box set, is called Gammera the Invincible (the extra “m” is for extra “monster” perhaps) and features a slightly higher caliber of American character actor (Brian Donleavy, Dick O‘Neill, Albert Dekker, Alan Oppenheimer—no, the names are not familiar, but you’d know them if you saw them). Gammera the Invincible also features a cool surf-guitar theme song.

Of course, all the “m”s in the world won’t make Gam(m)era any more watchable. Still, it does have that goofy cheese factor that makes them so appealing as lazy Saturday afternoon TV fodder.

Other entries in this Mis-Treatment series of silly sci-fi movie recaps include:
Kong Island
The Skull
Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women
Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet
The Wasp Woman
The Horrors of Spider Island
The Atomic Brain
The Amazing Transparent Man
She Gods of Shark Reef
Moon of the Wolf
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Queen of the Amazons
The Incredible Petrified World
Gammera the Invincible (1966)
Auteur(s)/Perpetrators: Noriaki Yuasa/Sandy Howard
Star of Shame: a 1960s character actor buffet
Monster: Giant flying turtle (aka sweaty Japanese guy in rubber suit)
“Plot”: Prehistoric giant turtle is accidentally released from frozen Arctic ice, destroys Japanese cities, befriends child

By the way, no model shop owners were harmed in the making of this movie.

Speaking of which, we open on a squadron of model airplanes and cut down to a bathtub where a toy boat is cutting through the ice. Don’t you hate it when you run out of hot water in the middle of a bath? It is, the narrator tells us breathlessly, an expedition of Canadian, American, and Japanese seamen cutting through the Arctic looking for “an open route across the top of the continent: Henry Hudson’s fabled Northwest Passage.” Unfortunately, all they found was Northwest Airlines, which is hardly the same thing.

Meanwhile, Dr. A.J. Hidaka and his team of zoologists (is that what they are?) are also in the vicinity, studying the native animal life (which shouldn’t take long). They approach an Eskimo village. Accompanying Dr. Hidaka is a photographer named Aoyagi, and Kyoke, Hidaka’s assistant. The photographer immediately complains about the cold.

Out of an igloo comes the Eskimo leader. “Hi, boys and Girls, I’m Jimmy Carl Black and I'm the Eskimo of the group.” He welcomes Dr. Hidaka, and then advises him, “Watch out where the huskies go and don’t you eat that yellow snow.” (Nah, I'm only kidding; Jimmy Carl Black didn't play on Zappa’s Apostrophe(’) album.) They are buzzed by sound effects of jets passing over.
Back in the bathtub, the captain of the toy boat is freaked out by the planes. It is also insinuated that Dr. Hidaka and co. were on the boat, but it’s really not clear. They send a telegraph to what the onscreen graphic identifies as “adquarters Air Defense Sect” in North Alaska. I guess this was a widescreen movie at one point, or someone was trying to type the graphic while wearing mittens. (It was apparently widescreen, because the violent panning and scanning can very easily make one seasick.)

We meet some of the American military personnel. Sgt. Susan Embers isn’t in the scene for a minute before she is leered at by her male “superiors” (in rank only, methinks, and “rank” is certainly the right word) with lines like “Baby, it’s cold outside” and “He’s right, gorgeous. You gotta thaw out.” Where’s Gamera when you need him? Can we go back to Jimmy Carl Black and the Eskimos of Invention? “Remember that airmen don’t drool, they obey,” she says by way of retort. Gamera! Gamera! Gamera!

Thankfully, we are interrupted from this witty, Aaron Sorkin-esque dialogue by the clacking of the teletype machine. A report is handed to General O’Neill, played by character actor Dick O’Neill. He looks so familiar—what was he in? (A check of IMDb instead prompts the question, “What wasn’t he in?”)

Anyway, he receives a message from the Japanese explorer ship Cheddar Romero. Can that be right? So what was in the message? “Four UFOs headed toward our missile sites.” The general is not pleased, and starts barking random orders, only a couple of which make actual sense. (What does “ride herd” mean? Is that military code?) He asks to speak with another general. I’d prefer to speak with someone specific, but that's probably just me.

Finally, air defense is calling. Well, a guy in a plane. The general informs him that four unknowns are “in your area.” Yow, that can't be good. The pilot is ordered to escort them to base. “If they resist, you are to use Plan Skylark and destroy.” Plan Skylark? “Hail to thee, blithe spirit” indeed. The general is one tough son of a Bysshe. The pilot then calls the general Roger, for some rea— Oh, I get it...

General O'Neill gets a call from the President. Everyone looks at each other oddly. O’Neill hangs up. “Red Alert.” The music kicks in and everyone begins scrambling. Even the teletype machine starts typing furiously...for some reason.

Models of Air Force jets chase down the “four bogies.” No bacalls, though. “Identify!” the pilot calls to the bogies. “Or I’ll cut the strings holding your planes up.” It would be pretty easy. “What is your nationality and flight plan?” And, “Do you like pina coladas? Getting caught in the rain? Making love at midnight in the dunes of the cape?” The bogies do not respond, but fire something at the Air Force models— I mean, jets. The Air Force returns fire, and one of the UFOs goes down and explodes in the ice.

The pretty small explosion attracts the attention of Dr. Hidaka and the Eskimos. “Only a nuclear explosion could cause a blast like that,” says Kyoke. That tiny blast? Aoyagi kicks himself for staring at a cloud instead of taking pictures of it “A fine news photographer I am,” he says. But then given how he’s dressed I assumed he worked for Fop Monthly or something.
Back at adquarters, it is reported that a “one-megaton atomic bomb” has been detonated. The remaining bogies are heading back toward the Siberian border. “It appears to have been a single incident,” says the lieutenant. “Do you regard a nuclear explosion as a ‘single incident,’ Lieutenant?” barks the general. Well, when there is just one of them, by definition, yes.

Meanwhile, in the Arctic, the ice splits apart. Yep; guess who’s coming to dinner? The star of our show. And he is given quite the elaborate introduction. The ice loudly breaks apart, gusts of steam billow out, a blinding light shines from the chasm, and the spraying snow looks like someone is snowblowing their driveway just off-camera.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Tropicana is proud to present, in his one-man show, “Turtle! Turtle! Turtle!,” Mr. entertainment himself, Gamera!

Oh, and now we get the titles. I think that was actually in Gamera's contract. And as the titles roll, Gamera does a little dance which is rather upsetting.

Back at adquarters, General O’Neill is on the phone with the President, and LBJ (I would think) informs him that the four Russian fighters—which is what the bogies apparently turned out to be—flew off course by accident. “Bull!” yells Captain Lovell with a cigar in his mouth. The General agrees with the President. They seem to be ignoring the 400-pound turtle in the room... Of course, part of the reason could be that “something” is interfering with the radio signal. What about the teletype that had been so trusty in the past? Ah, now it sits ever silent. “It just doesn’t make sense!” He orders Lovell to put more interceptors in the air to find out what is happening. He then orders Sgt. Embers to get him some more coffee. “And better make a new pot. I have a feeling it’s going to be a long night.” Sure, the woman has to make the coffee. I bet Sgt. Embers is smoldering over that.

Back in the Arctic, the radio is not working, and they assume it is interference from the bomb, so Aoyagi and Dr. Hidaka decide to head back immediately. They bid farewell to the Eskimo chief, who then remembers an ancient Eskimo legend, wherein it is written...on whatever it is that they write it on up there...that if anything bad every happens to your eyes as the result of some sort of conflict with anyone named Nanook... (Sorry.) Anyway, the Eskimo chief reaches into his pocket and removes what looks like a petrified porterhouse steak. I guess he used to be a waiter at Morton’s Steakhouse and this is what happens when those demo cuts of meat are used a little too often. (And why is the Eskimo elder wearing a crucifix attached to rosary beads? I didn’t know that Eskimos were Catholic. If that is a porterhouse he’s proffering, I hope it’s not Friday.) The Eskimo hands it to Dr. Hidaka and explains that it “is very old stone about cloud of death.” Dr. Hidaka immediately recognizes it, and reaches for some A1 Steak Sauce. “It is a primitive carving of a proto-chelonian.” A what? “An ancestral turtle like the leatherback.” Right. He asks the Eskimo guy if there is a legend associated with the porterhouse. Oh, what are the odds? “Yes. A very old story about death and evil.” Of course. Aren’t all ancient legends about death and evil? Just once I’d like to read an ancient legend that featured puppies and butterflies and happy children frolicking. But no. They always have to be about evil and death. The Eskimo adds, “About Gamera!” And at that, dogs start yelping and children start running. I think we’re all on board with that. Dr. Hidaka shows the steak to everyone else. “There is a weird pattern in the background.” That’s just fat marbling. They try to decipher the pattern, which they initially think represents the sea. All the old Eskimo guy can offer is that it is evil and frightening. A big help he is.

While they are studying their cut of meat, across the tundra, Gamera destroys the model boat. Oh, and Gamera can shoot flames while at the same time making a noise that sounds like a combination of a cat in heat and bagpipes. It’s a noise not far removed from nails on a blackboard.

At adquarters, Capt. Lovell reports that the Cheddar Romero was destroyed “and all that remains is a huge crack in the ice—“ “What?!” shouts the general incredulously. And whatever you do, don’t call it a single incident. Lovell goes on to explain that Captain Foster (that must be one of the Air Force pilots) saw “a giant turtle walking away from the crash site. A huge creature, 150, maybe 200 feet tall.” Oh, that goes over well. General O’Neill barks orders to Sgt. Embers, including, “Tell General Arnold he must meet me.” In your usual candlelit restaurant, sir? He pauses for a beat. “A giant turtle!” he grouses. Bah!

We then cut to an obligatory montage of newspapers from around the world—all of which oddly enough have only the single relevant headline in English, and the rest of the text in their native languages—reporting on a giant turtle controversy.

In New York, we are treated to a clip of a talk show—curiously enough shot without actually having a set—hosted by Mr. Standish, who could very easily be played by Joe Flaherty from SCTV. His guests are Dr. Contrare (!) and...some other guy. They immediately begin fighting about whether or not Gamera could exist. This is SCTV! Where’s Earl Camembert? Dr. Contrare takes Dr. Hidaka’s side, stating that his theories are the results of a life’s studies. Really? He was just given the porterhouse steak that explained it all a few minutes ago. Talk about life in a day... He also adds that tales of chelonians (turtles) date back to ancient Greece. Yes, and let’s not forget how one killed the playwright Aeschylus. “How big were turtles a million years ago? Or even a hundred million years ago?” asks Dr. Contrare, rather smugly. If only an eagle would drop a turtle on his head. The other guy says, “Oh, Dr. Contrare, every time you bray you make a bigger jackass of yourself.” “Read, you ignorant ape, read what intelligent men have written for thousands of years!” Dr. Contrare returns, in quite the lather. Then they start bellowing at each other. Still, they do advance more cogent arguments than any of the shrieking heads on cable news. “Where did you get your diploma,” asks Contrare’s adversary, “‘Made in Japan’?” Uh, is that really a line that should appear in this movie?
Blissfully, we then go to a Pan Am flight. Dr. Hidaka and his Scooby gang are flying back. Aoyagi reads a newspaper report of a flying saucer, and asks if there is a connection between it and the destruction of the Cheddar Romero. There is also a cigarette ad; is that related to the destruction of the Cheddar Romero? What about the white sale at Macy’s? Or story about the building code under fire? Dr. Hidaka is also convinced that all of this has something to do with Gamera, especially given the “overwhelming” evidence of the pilot’s report (which somehow he had heard of) and the Eskimo’s petrified porterhouse. They muse about how destructive Gamera would be if he were real. “Well, you’ve convinced me, Doctor,” says the photographer, who is credulous as hell. “Let’s hope General Arnold can convince the American people.” Why? What are they going to do about it? And who’s General Arnold? Did a couple of Japanese zoologists exploring the Arctic get a top secret American military briefing?

Anyway, we go to Washington, and a meeting of Senators and military brass. “Gentlemen, I think we all know why we’re here,” begins...someone (I think he’s the Secretary of Defense). General Arnold is asked for his report. Oh, so that’s General Arnold. He reports on the finding of giant footprints “like that of a giant turtle” leading away from the spot of the explosion toward where the ship was discovered. The Senators all roll their eyes, especially one who looks like Joe Flynn (he is never given a name). He’s having none of it. General Arnold explains that a UFO has been sighted over various world cities, moving around the globe in an easterly direction. It’s Gamera’s world tour. And where will the giant turtle end up? “It will be sighted next over Japan. I would estimate in five or six hours.” For some reason, he looks at his watch as he says this. Are he and Gamera synchronized? He then makes reference to Dr. Hidaka, and the Senator who looks like Joe Flynn complains that he has never heard of Dr. Hidaka and smugly announces that he has chaired science councils, and thus should apparently know every scientist in the world. He then does everything short of calling for the head of Dr. Hidaka to be brought to him on a pike. Which, in retrospect might not be a bad idea.

The Secretary of Defense cuts Joe Flynn down by saying “Dr. Hidaka is eminently qualified” Well, that told him. Apparently, Dr. Hidaka was rescued from the ice by “one of our heelicopters.” Heelicopters? They then apparently took Dr. Hidaka to the airport to catch the Pan Am flight, although you would think it would have made more sense to give him military transport if he was so important. Joe Flynn thinks the public should not be informed of Gamera, and thinks everyone is being alarmist.

This argument drags on for a while. No wonder nothing ever gets done in Congress.

“Gentlemen, I think we’re in for a time of it,” says the Secretary of Defense. Ya think? General Arnold is put in charge of the “Gamera Operation.”

Meanwhile, in Japan, a radio announcer informs a breathless public that Dr. Hidaka is due in Tokyo in a day. Back then, in 1960s Japan, Arctic zoologists were bigger than The Beatles, and throngs of teenage girls would frequently be waiting at the airport to greet their planes.

That evening, a drunk is staggering along a wooden bridge singing and swinging a Japanese lantern. He looks in the sky and beholds a flying saucer—presumably Gamera. Of course; there is always a drunk in these movies who sees the monster before anyone else. He gives a horrified cry in Japanese, which I think translates as “What crappy animation.”

The next day, we go to a lighthouse. Noburu Sakurai is a teenage girl and her nine-year-old brother, Toshio, apparently has some obsession with turtles. He is inseparable from his pet turtle, and he is reprimanded in school for drawing pictures of turtles instead of doing his schoolwork. He can’t even stop singing “Happy Together” or playing Terrapin Station. Toshio lives in a lighthouse without any friends. Gee, I can’t imagine why that would be.

That night after dinner, Noburu and their father stage a turtle intervention, because liking things is just wrong. He is ordered to set his turtle free. “This may sound cruel—and it is—but I’m doing it for your own good.” Yep, you gotta be cruel to be kind. Sad music plays as Toshio walks outside and lets his turtle run free.

Speaking of turtles, guess who’s back? A head pokes up from behind a dune. Oh, it’s just Julian Cope. And with that breath of fire, fried indeed.

Nope, it’s Gamera, and Toshio for some reason runs to the top of the lighthouse. Man, that kid can sprint; he gets to the top before his father can finish yelling the name “Toshio,” which he does 500 times. Gamera knocks over the lighthouse, and Toshio hangs from the railing by his little hands—and falls. However, Gamera has a change of heart, catches the kid, and gently places him on the ground. Gamera then heads back out to sea, as Toshio realizes that Gamera saved his life—but neglects to consider that Gamera actually put his life in jeopardy to begin with. I suspect this won’t do much to quell Toshio’s turtle obsession.
Meanwhile, at the Tokyo Airport, Dr. Hidaka and his entourage finally arrive, even though it’s been like three weeks. He is swarmed by his throngs of admirers, his reputation only having grown the longer he has been in the air, for some reason. Walking through the terminal, he is immediately called to the phone. He makes some odd oinking sounds, then says “I’m practically on my way.” It was professor Murase, who reported that Gamera was spotted in Hokkaido “by a number of reliable witnesses.” I guess that means “sober ones.”

At Toshio’s house, everyone think the little loon is in bed, but he really runs out to the beach to look for his turtle. The turtle, wisely, refuses to come out of its shell.

At a nearby geothermal power station, workers react to what seems like a tremor. “We have them here all the time.” Was it wise to build a power station on a spot that has a lot of earthquakes? Anyway, it is decidedly not a tremor, but our old be-shelled friend, as the pilot of a model plane soon discovers. There are more tremors. “What is that?“ everyone yells. “It is an earthquake. Or a steam explosion.” You know, it might have been a good idea to hire people, or at least install instruments, that could tell the difference.

At Japanese military headquarters, Dr. Hidaka is treated like royalty, but Aoyagi the photographer is barred. Hidaka can’t do anything without his foppish sidekick, and pulls some strings. King Hidaka is then given the Gamera status report, and is told that Gamera has been spotted near the geothermal power plant. It then needs to be explained to him what geothermal power is. This guy knows everything there is to know about mythological giant turtles, but he doesn’t understand steam? I think he’s specialized a little too highly. The upshot, though, is that Hidaka does not know how to stop Gamera. He then asks what the power output of the power station is. 350,000 kilowatts. “It might just work,” he says cryptically. Well, the movie is only half over, so don’t count on it.

The military deploys its weaponry in an attempt to head off Gamera, but Brigadier General Hidaka asks that it be stopped to try his plan first. Ah, remember when scientists had complete control of the military?

Lord Hidaka gets on the walkie-talkie, and as Gamera approaches the power plant, starts getting all the circuits ready for full discharge. Gamera severs one set of wires, makes the cat in heat/bagpipes noise, and Aoyagi comments, “It didn’t even slow him down.” Dr. Hidaka then says, “Yes, this was a mistake.” Now we know why kooky scientists aren’t put in charge of military operations. “Captain, you’d better give the order to attack.” Oh, is the great Lord Dr. Hidaka relinquishing command now? Tanks, cannons, and other large guns open fire, having even less effect on Gamera, just bouncing off his shell. And then Gamera starts eating flames. Or, as the military captain says, “It looks like he’s eating it.” Oh, I they’re all eating it right about now. Hidaka still continues barking out orders. “Evacuate the area, or at least the civilians. And call me a car.” What?

Hidaka and his Scooby gang pay a visit to Dr. Murase, another kooky scientist who is a dead ringer for a Japanese Orville Redenbacher. “You mean he ate the flames?” asks Dr. Murase, thinking that flames would be perfect for popping popcorn. Gamera eats fire? Well, there’s an Indian restaurant in Saratoga that makes a lamb vindaloo that’s pretty much the same thing. “His metabolism is not like ours.” Wow, a giant mutated turtle that was encased in ice for millions of years and eats fire has a metabolism that differs from that of humans? Inconceivable! “It’s not only conceivable but highly likely.” Ah. “His cell structure differs radically from known lifeforms.” “For example silicon or metallic elements replacing carbon in his tissues.” Now you’re just making stuff up. Says Dr. Murase, “I think his cells are made from popcorn kernels.” Hidaka had remembered to bring along the petrified porterhouse, and Dr. Murase ponders the strange wavy line symbols. “It could be melted butter,” he perhaps is thinking. “I don’t think they’re rhythmic enough for waves,” he says. What? It’s a rock carved by Eskimos, what do you want, photorealistic artwork? It’s probably not drawn to scale either. “Dr., it would be very useful if we could decipher this.” No! Really? Is there maybe another scientist they could consult?

At the power plant, the military watch helplessly as the bombs and missiles have no effect on Gamera. One officer comments, “Nothing short of an atom bomb would be any use.” His superior has a wild hare...

And he calls the American military and asks to borrow a cup of missiles. In the Senate council meeting (where it appears no one has moved for days), Joe Flynn is aghast. “One of our missiles! But that means getting the approval of our allies. I’m sure you’re aware of our peace treaties and our international obligations.” Surely they can make an exception for a giant mutated turtle. General Arnold is not in the mood for Senate stonewalling. “The destructive power of Gamera is beyond comprehension!” Well, not really; he just pulled down some power lines and broke a smokestack. Oh, and knocked over a lighthouse. I can pretty easily comprehend that. Hell, I’m more destructive before my second cup of coffee in the morning. Anyway, Joe Flynn starts pounding the table again, but the Secretary of Defense immediately shuts him up. He says to General Arnold, “You may inform General Yotobashi, Dr. Hidaka, and Dr. Morass (?) that our missiles are entirely at their disposal.” Should we really be arming flaky scientists? The Secretary then orders General Arnold to “get to it.” He then suggests they order lunch, “if you approve, senator,” he says sarcastically to Joe Flynn. And Joe Flynn responds, without moving his mouth in the slightest, “You can expect my complete cooperation.” How did he do that? Is he a ventriloquist? The Secretary then says, “I expect nothing less, sir,” and his mouth movements do not match the dialogue. Wow, they can’t even properly dub American dialogue in this movie.

Meanwhile, in Japan, Dr. Redenbacher arrives at the front line. He is informed that “The Americans are going to attack Gamera with nuclear missiles.” Lord King Hidaka then chimes in. “No, wait. The missiles won’t do any good. It’s more likely they’ll serve as a source of energy.” Hasn’t this guy been wrong about everything up to now? “All right, if you say so,” says General Yotobashi. Well, that was easy! “So, Professor Murase, what do we do?” I believe you’re Japanese military officers. Oh, I see what he means... Responds Orville, “I don’t know, since our most powerful weapons are useless.” He then adds, “Perhaops if I started wearing a bowtie...” General Yotobashi, who is probably getting sick of scientists by now, asks Dr. Hidaka, “Do you have any ideas?”

And, from our You’ll Be Sorry You Asked file, comes his response: “One, and it’s not even an idea, just a thought that occurred to me.” Oh, boy, hunker down... “We assume Gamera is invulnerable, obviously with a great deal of justification.” Oh, those scientists and their empirical observations! Oh, do go on: “But Gamera is vulnerable: to cold. Remember he was frozen in the ice until the bomb released him.” Professor Murase concurs. “We must devise some means of freezing Gamera.” Oh, so they’re going to bring Gamera to Syracuse. “Dr. Hidaka,” starts General Yotobashi, “bite me.” Oh, wait: the general says, “Our scientists have developed a freezing bomb.” Have they now? It’s still in the experimental stage, and there is one drawback: “The gases used in this bomb dissipate in 10 minutes.” Dr. Hidaka likes the idea, and instructs General Yotobashi to get started on acquiring the freezing bomb. So there’s not even any question about who’s giving orders at this point, is there?

Meanwhile, Gamera is leaving the power plant and heading for the mountains, specifically, what we are told is a resort area in the mountains. What would a mountain resort be without a view overlooking a giant geothermal power plant?

Atop the mountain, they await Gamera. Lord King Hidaka addresses the troops. He points out that effect of the freezing bomb doesn’t last long. So...they’re planting dynamite and when Gamera is frozen, they’re going to blow him up. Can that be right? Isn’t that what thawed him to begin with? Again, is there some other brilliant scientist they can consult?

Dr. Hidaka says it’s OK to begin, and they fire the freezing bomb at Gamera, who starts slowing down. They now have 10 finish whatever it is they are doing. They then start drilling holes to plant the dynamite, even though they only have three minutes left. Wow; tempus fugit. Now, I’m not an expert in logistics, but might it not have been a better idea to plant the dynamite first, and then freeze Gamera? Somehow, they make it with 30 seconds to spare, then ignite the dynamite. It goes off, and Gamera topples down the mountain. Everyone seems relieved that he has landed on his back. Even Orville is pleased. “Because Gamera, as with any turtle, once he’s on his back, he can’t get up again.” I know how he feels. Everyone starts cheering (“Hey, he didn’t screw it up this time!”) and Dr. Hidaka starts basking in the glow of adulation. “In a month from now, he’ll be just another zoological specimen.” Yeah.

I think they’re counting their turtles before the eggs have hatched. They notice that Gamera is pulling his head and legs inside his shell. “He knows he’s licked.” Yuck. “That’s what you call turning turtle!” Ha ha ha. But Gamera has more tricks up his sleeve—literally. Flames shoot out of his arm and leg holes and he begins to spin. He then lifts off into the air. “An amazing adaptation,” says Orville, wondering how he could incorporate that idea into a new kind of popcorn popper. And soon Gamera vanishes into the air. Well, another brilliant idea, right down the crapper. Dr. Hidaka then asks Kyoke for the Eskimo’s porterhouse. He now understands the weird pattern. “They are clouds, meant to represent that Gamera can fly.” Now wait a minute. Didn’t they already know that Gamera could fly? All those UFO sightings earlier? Heck, even the drunk guy with the Japanese lantern knew Gamera could fly. I hope these two professors were denied tenure.

Meanwhile, at the U.N., Secretary General Ponce E. Brit snidely announces that the American weapons have been useless against Gamera, and the Japanese radar systems barely offer enough warning to evacuate the civilian populations. He then proceeds to heap shame on every country in the world in alphabetical order. “We must now work as one cohesive unit.” Oh, yeah, that’s gonna happen. The mission: “To destroy Gamera before he destroys civilization.” I think I’m with Gamera at this point.

He then turns the mic over to General Arnold, who is still spouting off the theories of Dr. Hidaka and Dr. “Morass” who “are convinced that Gamera is continually on the hunt for food.” I guess that’s why they’re eminent scientists because no one else could ever possibly have figured that out. “There is some chemical substance in our fuel that it needs to exist, perhaps the same chemical substance it consumed over 200 million years ago.” Wait—how can there have been fossil fuels before there were fossils? “In the beginning, in the Earth’s atmosphere...” Oh, boy, this’ll take a while. Zzzzzzzz..... You see, Gamera dates from a time in the geological history of Earth when there was no oxygen in the atmosphere, before creatures developed lungs. He had— NOW WAIT A MINUTE! First of all, we’re really talking a couple billion years, and how did a giant turtle evolve spontaneously when at the time that the earth’s atmosphere started becoming oxygen-rich, there was nothing more than bacteria and simple plant life? Talk about punctuated equilibrium. Second of all, what the hell does that have to do with his ability to eat flames? “This all came within the radii of our microscopes.” Uh, oh, now General Arnold is just babbling. Can we get a resolution or a point of order or something here? “Do you mean it literally eats fire?” the General is asked apropos of nothing. “Yes. The beast actually eats fire.” The beast! Twas fire that fed the beast. That gets everyone murmuring. “He’s most destructive when he is unable to satisfy his ravenous appetite.” I think we’ve all been to buffets like that. “He is least destructive when he is gorging himself at some oil refinery or fuel reserve.” Kind of like Dick Cheney. The meeting is then thrown open to discussion. Wow, Gamera must really be a threat: both the Soviet Ambassador and the American ambassador voice no complaints about offering whatever assistance they can. Funny, they couldn’t even get all the U.S. Senators to cooperate.

Ah, but the amity doesn’t last long. The Russian ambassador starts getting belligerent and challenging General Arnold’s taking charge of the military operation. Now that’s more like it! When’s he going to start pounding his shoe on the table? You know, Japan is curiously unrepresented in this meeting of the U.N. They decide on a joint command between General Arnold of the U.S. and General Sokolovsky of the U.S.S.R. General Arnold then announces Plan Z. This should be good. Did he run it by Dr. Hidaka and Orville? Suddenly, we do see a Japanese ambassador, who says, “Pran Z is hope of world.” Oh brother.

Meanwhile, Dr. Hidaka and Kyoke are studying photographs taken of Gamera from around the world. “But only in the air. The freezing bomb frightened and upset him.” I know how he feels. At this point, Toshio and his sister arrive at Dr. Hidaka’s office...for some reason. I guess in Japan, you can’t visit Tokyo without paying your respects to Lord King Hidaka, like paying one’s respects to the Pope. They are staying with an uncle in Tokyo and are also in town for some sightseeing. “See there,” says Noburu. “That’s the Tokyo Tower,” which is visible outside Dr. Hidaka’s office window. Well, that takes care of the sightseeing. Toshio is more excited by it than anyone really should be.

Toshio asks Hidaka about Gamera. “Gamera saved my life. He doesn’t mean to be dangerous. He’s just so big and clumsy, that’s all.” Again, I know how he feels. Noburu smiles sheepishly. “He goes overboard when it comes to turtles.” Of that I have no doubt. “I like turtles is all,” says Toshio. “I bet Gamera is lonesome, too, wherever he is. A turtle doesn’t like to be alone.” Yeah. Um, look, kid, the Psychology Department is just down the hall. Maybe you should pay them a visit.

Dah! Suddenly there is an abrupt and jarring cut, and Noburu says “Good night, Toshio.” He’s going to sleep in Dr. Hidaka’s office? Oh, they’re suddenly in a bedroom. OK. That was weird. I think Gamera ate the rest of the previous scene. He does chew up scenery—on a variety of levels. Noburu is tucking Toshio into bed; he looks like a large Japanese burrito. “I thought it was nice of Dr. Hidaka to explain everything to you.” Yeah, I bet. Was any of it accurate?

A week later, there are news reports of a mysterious “reversal of the tide” which wrecked several boats and piers, and somehow this is related to pictures of Gamera’s destruction of the power plant. Estimates of the power plant’s rebuilding range in the “millions.” Of what? Yen? Sounds like rather a bargain. The newsreader then discusses the arrival of representatives from around the world to an international conference—but we are breaking in live with comment from Dr. Hidaka. Man, this guy is the king of all media, isn’t he? He and Orville are taking questions from the press. “How did you find America?” “Turned left at Greenland.” In a nutshell, Gamera is back in the Tokyo area. He snuck in wearing a fedora and dark glasses and checking into a hotel under the name “G. Smith.” Dr. Hidaka then says that Gamera’s presence in Tokyo “gives us a chance to try out the, uh, United Nations’ uh, Plan Z for his, uh, disposal.” Get thee to, uh, a public speaking class, Dr., uh, Hidaka. He then shows a short promotional film about Plan Z, which will take place on a dormant volcano on Oshima Island in Tokyo Bay.

That night, Gamera buzzes and destroys the control tower at the airport. He must have flown U.S. Airways.

Then we go to a Tokyo nightclub where teens are movin’ and a-groovin’ to the Gamera song played by a live band. The building starts shaking, and the police politely ask everyone to leave. The teens insist, “Don’t blow your cool. We’re not going anywhere. I say we should stay here and dance!” would be so easy to make a joke about youth in Asia, but I shan’t. The band kicks back in. How do three guitars make the sound of an orchestra string section? A moot point, because the nightclub is very soon destroyed by the subject of their song.

Gamera then goes on a rampage throughout Tokyo. Model trains are ruthlessly destroyed. Large cardboard buildings are crushed like...cardboard. The Tokyo Tower goes down. So much for Toshio’s sightseeing trip.

Speaking of Toshio, while his sister is trying to pack and evacuate, he is gawking out the window, trying to catch a glimpse of Gamera. Yeah, so this is an accident, eh, Toshio? Gamera doesn’t mean to knock down every building in the city and use his flame breath to fry everyone in range? Admit it, kid: your friend has turned bad.

The next morning, everyone is evacuating the city. Noburu cannot find Toshio. She is told he has gone “down to the river.” She then shouts “Toshio!” more times than any human should. Meanwhile, people are running away from the local refinery, which is where Gamera is wreaking more havoc (and it is strangely night all of a sudden). Naturally, Toshio decides to head toward the refinery.

It looks like Plan Z, whatever it is, is going to be put into effect and it apparently involves a train. An oil tanker car is sent toward Gamera, where it explodes. Just another day on Amtrak.

Lord King Hidaka calls the refinery. Does this guy ever rest? The foreman at the Tokyo oil refinery answers the phone. “O’Neill speaking.” O’Neill? That’s a good Japanese name! Anyway, Lord God King Hidaka says that the Plan Z people won’t be ready for another 24 hours. The plan? Keep feeding Gamera oil and gas until the supply runs out. Brilliant! So that’s why oil prices hit record highs. Toshio overhears this and hops on one of the trains heading toward Gamera. O’Neill (yeah) spots him and jumps on the train to try to rescue him. He has to forcibly drag Toshio off the train. “He’s my friend!” protests Toshio. There is an explosion and somehow Toshio and O’Neill (uh huh) are on the ground, having been thrown off the train. Everyone laughs at Toshio for wanting to see Gamera, and for good reason. Toshio is filled with shame...and for good reason.

Back at the U.N., a Japanese ambassador with a ludicrous and borderline offensive Japanese accent is explaining the situation, that Gamera is being held at the oil refinery, “but our fuel suppry is now dangerousry row.” Oy. General Arnold saves the day. “You will receive a steady flow of high-grade fuel.” Responds the Japanese ambassador, “Excerrent.” Ahhh!!!! The Russian ambassador—no less a stereotype either—asks, “How are you coming with Plan Z?” Says the Japanese ambassador, “Our men are working around the crock.” So Plan Z involves a slow-cooker? They’re going to make Gamera into turtle soup?

Plan Z has to work, because, says the U.S. ambassador, “Gamera may destroy civilization as we know it.” If these clowns are any reflection of civilization, I’m with Gamera.

Back in Tokyo, it is announced that the U.N. airlift of fuel has kept Gamera at the refinery, and everyone cheers (one guys says “Smashing!”) when it is announced that Plan Z will be ready that evening.

Orville pops in: “Let’s not congratulate ourselves prematurely.” Especially given that every other plan they have tried has failed dismally.

And the evacuation of civilians from Oshima Island continues. (I thought it was a volcano?) Toshio opts to hide in a box meant for Oshima rather than evacuate.

Watching it all is Orville. “Dr. Murase, a young lady to see you.” That’s not something he hears very often, and he pivots around to see Noburu. She tells him that Toshio is missing. He must be thinking, along with everyone else, “That’s a bad thing?”

On Oshima, Toshio is discovered and brought before Lord God King Hidaka. “I just wanted to see Gamera,” he says shamefully. Hidaka grunts. “OK, but you have to behave.” Behave? Has he yet behaved? Ever? “I’ll take care of Toshio,” says Kyoke. I bet. I say let the beatings begin. Hidaka gives the order to begin. This should be good. I wager 45 seconds before Hidaka once again says “This was a mistake.”

Men with hoses leap into action, barrels are dropped into the harbor, and Orville tells Noburu that Toshio is safe on Oshima Island. Whether this is good news or not is unclear.

Soon, everything is ready, and Orville and Hidaka call each other to coordinate. Then, the two doddering old professors give the military the order to proceed. Yeah. Riflemen shoot the tanks in the harbor, and they burst into flames. This leaves a fire trail to the island; Gamera is attracted to it and follows. Everyone seems happy by this. ”It worked!” exults Hidaka. Yeah, well, they said the same thing about the freezing bomb, so they may want to hold their applause until the end. Hidaka is looking at the tableau through binoculars. Kyoke asks “Can you see Gamera.” “Kyoke, for heavens’ sake,” he chides. Jeepers, what a grouch.

There is suddenly an announcement of a typhoon warning. A small typhoon has changed course and is heading toward Tokyo. No one saw a typhoon coming? Is everyone in Japan an arcane cryptozoologist and no one bothers to study something practical, like meteorology? Someone also says that volcanic activity is expected to increase, too. What? Oh, and earthquakes will split the ground wide open, frogs and locusts will fall from the sky, and they will run out of toilet paper. Could more things suddenly be going wrong simultaneously?

Toshio stands on the shore shouting, “Gamera! It’s a trap! Get back!” Good one, kid! Why, you little—

The typhoon suddenly blows in and puts out the fire trail. Gamera is still famished and starts heading away. “This blasted typhoon!” grouses Hidaka. I’m surprised he can’t actually control the weather.

Meanwhile, someone starts setting the tents behind them on fire. It is Aoyagi, the photographer, who has a cunning plan to lure Gamera back to the island. Shockingly, it works. But then it starts raining, putting the fire out. Doh! Gamera turns away again. Toshio is elated, the little sh— um, brat. But then, just when it seems hopeless, the volcano on Oshima Island starts erupting, which then draws Gamera back again. Oh, brother. This is like “Gammera the Implausible.” Everyone starts cheering except for Toshio. Take that, twerp.

Orville and Noburu decide to fly out to the island. “Not even a live volcano could keep me away,” says Orville to the pilot. How about they drop him in it?

They quickly arrive with three minutes left before...something happens. They tour the vast underground facility that had apparently been built in less than a day. Yeah.

Ten seconds...and Lord God King Hidaka orders Step Two to go into action. Gas jets light up around a circular stage area. That attracts Gamera, and he walks on to the stage—and as he does, panels on the ground slide aside and two half-domes pop out of the ground. “Close capsule!” yells Hidaka. And the two domes trap Gamera inside. OK, now what? There is a countdown...and the capsule is actually the top of a rocket that was buried underground. It ascends above ground—wobbling rather a lot—and is launched into space.
Everyone in all the various other movie footage—the U.N., the Alaskan adquarters—start cheering. Even the Japanese, the ones who actually did everything, start cheering. A U.N. radio broadcast comes on and an announcer points out that the Plan Z rocket carrying Gamera is on its way to Mars. The announcer then stresses that Plan Z was a scientific achievement that was the result of international cooperation, despite the fact that Dr. Hidaka was in charge of everything and no other country came to help the Japanese military.

Toshio is surprisingly cool with this, and says to Dr. Hidaka that “Someday I will be a scientist like you.” What, in charge of the world? “And then I’ll go to Mars in a rocket.” Why wait? Any chance they have another one down there?

Cue Gamera theme music and Toshio bids Gamera “Sayonara.” And Dr. Murase pops some popcorn.

The end.

Ah, remember a day, a day before today, a day when scientists had complete control of the military? Didn’t Mr. Wizard plan the invasion of Normandy? And, unless I’m mistaken, Bill Nye the Science Guy headed up the first Operation Desert Storm. Oh, and the cast of 3-2-1 Contact stopped the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Ah, scientists. Is there anything they can’t do?

In the sequel to Gamera, Dr. Hidaka is appointed Grand Emperor of Earth and his Vice Emperor is, of course, Dr. Murase, the latter of whose only royal edict was that he be submerged in a giant bathtub filled with popcorn. He was never heard from again.

Toshio grew up to become an eminent herpetologist specializing in, of course, turtles, so in Japan he was revered as a god. He would soon force his father and sister to live in a terrarium.

Interestingly, the Jimmy Carl Black-esque Eskimo chief left the Arctic and landed a job as a waiter at a Don Shula’s Steak House. But, alas, it was not to last long, as he could not stop himself from reading legends of death and evil in the cuts of meat he was displaying to patrons. This frightened and confused many of them, who ended up ordering the chicken. The Eskimo guy was fired, but did end up in a Chik-Fil-A in the Del Amo Mall in Torrance, CA, where he also managed to find legends of death and evil written on the surface of fried chicken nuggets. He eventually had to get out of food service entirely. Still, his next career as a shoe salesman was no less checkered.

As for Kyoke and Aoyagi, Dr. Hidaka’s Scooby gang, they eventually divorced each other—which was strange since they had never actually been married. Their attorneys were confused as hell, so it at least had that going for it.

Oh, and what about out titular turtle? Oh, he came back...five times, and in color, too, until Daiei went bankrupt in the early 1970s. Even Lord God King Emperor Poobah Hidaka couldn’t save the company from gross mismanagement.