Saturday, January 11, 2020

Oni (1972)

... aka: 鬼
... aka: Demon, The

Directed by:
Kihachiro Kawamoto

Director / writer Kawamoto began his career as an assistant production designer at Toho before branching off on his own. Always with an interest in both puppets and stop motion animation, he co-founded his own commercial animation studio in 1958 and studied under both Tadahito Mochinaga in Japan and Jiří Trnka in Czechoslovakia. By the late 60s he was making his very own animated shorts, which melded model, cut-out and stop motion animation and usually involved puppets in some capacity. The Demon was the third of around a dozen shorts Kawamoto made before his death in 2010. He also made three feature films and was president of the Japan Animation Association for over two decades, starting in 1989. This seven-and-a-half minute short was based on one of the folk tales from Konjaku-monogatari ("Anthology of Tales from the Past"); a collection of 1000+ very short stories seldom running longer than 3 pages apiece that dates back to 12th-century medieval Japan. The authors of these stories, and origin of the 28 volume collection, are still unknown but these tales are still read, and sometimes even adapted for film, TV and theater, to this very day.

Living a miserable and impoverished life, two young hunters who live at home with their sickly old mother, venture out into the woods with their bows and arrows to hunt a deer. On the way to a good location the younger brother hears noises and sees a pair of gleaming red eyes off in the brush that the older sibling writes off as, respectively, wind and fireflies. When the younger brother positions himself in a tree, a pale arm reaches down and grabs him by the hair. The elder then shoots the demon's arm off with his bow. The two take the severed arm back home where they make a startling discovery. Seeing how the story itself is very predictable, one's enjoyment of this will depend almost entirely on how much they take to the visual presentation and animation style.

This has been released on DVD several times, including as part of the 2007 Geneon release "The Collected Works of Kihachiro Kawamoto" and as part of the 2008 Kimstim release "The Exquisite Short Films of Kihachiro Kawamoto." While both sets contain optional English subs for all of the shorts, the Geneon release is the more complete of the two and has three additional shorts not found on the Kimstim one.


Transylvania 6-5000 (1985)

... aka: Reise nach Transilvanien (Trip to Transylvania)
... aka: Transilvânia - Hotel do Outro Lado do Mundo (Transylvania - Hotel Across the World)
... aka: Una notte in Transilvania (One Night in Transylvania)
... aka: Ursäkta var är Dracula (Sorry, Where Is Dracula?)

Directed by:
Rudy De Luca

After receiving a videotape titled "Frankenstein Lives" that purports to be an actual monster attack, tabloid newspaper editor Mac Turner (Norman Fell) purchases two airplane tickets to Transylvania for his brown-nosing, awkward son Gil (Ed Begley Jr.) and intelligent but cocky reporter Jack Harrison (Jeff Goldblum). The objective? Come back with a headline-grabbing story about a monster terrorizing the area. Upon arrival, Jack makes it clear that he doesn't take the assignment seriously and makes a mad dash for American tourist / single mother Elizabeth Ellison (Teresa Ganzel) instead while Gil makes a laughing stock of both of them when he point blank inquires about Frankenstein. They are ushered off to a castle hotel owned by shady Transylvanian Mayor Lepescu (Jeffrey Jones), who uses a mini guillotine to cut eggs, and populated by an oddball staff that includes thoroughly obnoxious doorman Fejos (Michael Richards), faux hunchback butler Radu (John Byner) and his klutzy cook wife Lupi (Carol Kane), who have a bizarre love/hate thing going on.

While Jack hassles Elizabeth on the phone to try to get a date, Gil gets to work on the actual assignment. That leads him to the shooting location of the video as well as an old gypsy (Inge Appelt) who points them in the direction of a supposed werewolf that turns out to just be a philandering man. After that dead end, the monster story starts coming to them all by itself, starting with sexy female vampire Odette (Geena Davis), who pays nighttime visits to Gil in his room through a hidden passageway. Secretive behavior from a local police inspector (Bozidar Smiljanic), the mayor and the heavily-guarded asylum of Dr. Vittorio Malavaqua (Joseph Bologna) arouse suspicions. Jack and Gil eventually realize there's a cover-up of sorts going on.

The director / writer, who also has a cameo as suspected werewolf Lawrence Malbot, was a co-founder of The Comedy Store and frequent collaborator of Mel Brooks' so it's quite surprising how spectacularly unfunny most of this mess is. It seems to want to do for the entire Universal monster collective what Brooks' Young Frankenstein (1974) did for Whale's classics but doesn't work at all due to terrible jokes, awful dialogue (much of which was clearly improvised or sometimes looped in later... and horribly so!), grating overacting from nearly the entire cast and a monotonous noisy / obnoxious tone from start to finish. And yet it's not for lack of trying. They manage to make room for a mummy, a vampire, a wolf man, a Frankenstein monster, a hunchback, a mad doctor with Jekyll & Hyde tendencies and more, but seldom come up with any clever gags to involve these "creatures" in. As an added insult, the entire film is flat and ugly to look at.

The cast is a huge selling point - perhaps an even bigger selling point now than when this was first released - but even this front loaded comic ensemble can't save writing this bad. While Begley Jr. at least adequately feigns being in the spirit of things, Goldblum seems utterly disinterested in the material. Richards, already fine-tuning his spastic form of ungainly slapstick this far back in his career, is nothing short of annoying, and I found Kane (who I usually like) every bit as irritating. There are awful attempts at Eastern European accents, with Jones and Bologna being the worst offenders there. While this may even be intentionally bad, it's still not funny in the least. Ganzel is at least cute and Davis looks great in her vampire costume but neither are given enough to do. And poor Donald Gibb aka Ogre from the Revenge of the Nerds films, ends up with some of the worst one-liners ("I'll tear every bit of hair out of your ass!"). I did at least enjoy Fell's cameo in the opening scene.

This 3-million-budgeted, PG-rated New World Pictures release was financed by Dow Chemical Corporation (!!) solely so they they could unfreeze some locked assets they had in Yugoslavia. The investment returned just over 7 million in a domestic release and this didn't even crack the Top 100 for its year. Critics also hated it. Over thirty years later, all it really has left are nostalgic "fans" who saw it on TV when they were younger. And it's probably true that this may play better for children than adults; at least adults who don't enjoy things like Paul Bart: Mall Cop and Dumb and Dumberer.

The title is a play on the famous Glenn Miller song "Pennsylvania 6-5000" which had already been used for a 1963 animated short featuring Bugs Bunny in a vampire count's castle. That short is just six and a half minutes long and is funnier and more clever than this.

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