The marquee at the Pickwick Theater in Park Ridge says it all; G-FEST has arrived!
G-FEST XXII marks our seventh consecutive Godzilla con, and so there are things that have become somewhat traditional for us. One is arriving early for the sidewalk sale in Park Ridge; once again we scored two theatrical posters (this year's acquisitions: Big Hero Six and Age of Ultron) outside the Pickwick box office. I also have to check in the Park Ridge Public Library that they still have the hard bound edition of Bill Warren's "Keep Watching the Skies" (they do). But the biggest and boldest Thursday tradition is the double-double feature at the Pickwick; four rip-roaring monster movies in a grand old movie palace. Here are my impressions of this year's mini-movie-fest.
THEM! Generally regarded as an American Classic, "Them!" hits all the right notes. I was struck by the quality of the cast, and the appearance of the giant ants, while eliciting laughter from some in attendance, is very effective. The ending, like many 50's sci-fi films, seems a bit perfunctory, but it is better to leave the viewer wanting more, instead of checking his or her watch. In my opinion, the highlight of "Them!" is the performance of the little girl who is found wandering in the New Mexico desert. When she is aroused from her shell-shocked state, the viewer is treated to an iconic moment in 50's cinema.
THE DEADLY MANTIS: Unfortunately, they can't all be classics, and "The Deadly Mantis" suffers in comparison to movies like "Them!" Jam-packed with stock footage, populated with odd characters and weird relationships, this movie just feels like it's trying too hard or something. What's truly deadly about "The Deadly Mantis" is that the titular monster is ponderously slow and stiff, once again suffering in comparison to other movie mantises (such as Toho's). As the second half of an old school double feature it is acceptable fare, but it really cries out to be riffed in MST3K fashion.
Following the dinner break it was time for GAMERA VS. JIGER. It seems to me that this is a somewhat underrated entry in the Gamera canon. In many ways it is the epitome of all Gamera films: It features the Gamera fight song ("You're wonderful, Gamera"), kids (with unfettered access to government officials) save the day, there's lots of monster action, and so forth. It is gleefully un-serious and unrepentantly aimed at kids. Yet in that context there are a number of elaborately staged scenes that are downright impressive when viewed on the silver screen, as intended. "Gamera vs. Jiger" is a straight shot of pure old-school kaiju fun.
GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE: In the mid-90s, Shusuke Kaneko and Shinji Higuchi proved that giant flying turtle movies were still viable, giving the character of Gamera new life, not to mention a relatively serious backstory. Modern viewers may find the Gyaos 'birds' a bit clunky for their taste, but Gamera looks fantastic in this movie and the miniature work is nothing short of staggering. There is an audacity to this picture that seems to say, "look how fun kaiju movies can still be!" A winsome cast and a subtly thought-provoking script make this one of the most enjoyable Japanese monster movies ever made.