APES ON FILM: Death Scrambles Some Eggs; Plus – MOTHRA!

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

 

DEATH LAID AN EGG (SPECIAL EDITION) – 1968
3 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Gina Lollobrigida ,Jean-Louis Trintignant, Ewa Aulin
Director: Giulio Questi
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Cult Epics Press
Region: Region Free
BRD Release Date: November 10, 2020
Audio Formats: LPCM 2.0 Mono / English & Italian Language with optional English Subtitles
Video Codec: Fully Restored 2K HD Transfer, MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:00
Run Time: 105 minutes (Director’s Cut)
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

DEATH LAID AN EGG is aptly titled. Translated from the original Italian, of course, but right on target for a film that never makes up its mind about what it is; Giallo? Sex Melodrama? Science Fiction? Murder Mystery? Psychodrama? Parody of all of these? All of these genres are present and as a result the film squeaks past as viewable for its cast, some interesting attempts at breaking stereotypes, and for being the only movie I can recall seeing that was so damned concerned with the politics of chicken farming.

Yes, chicken farming. The radiant Gina Lollobrigida and Jean-Louis Trintignant own a high-tech poultry ranch, where cousin Ewa Aulin comes to stay, creating sexual tension for all three. Gina admires her body, Jean-Louis falls in love, and Ewa has an affair with Trintignant intending to alienate the couple, then murder her cousin and frame her wayward husband for the crime with the help of interloper Jean Sobieski who knows Trintignant’s dirty secrets. Or does he?

The movie suffers from an utterly awful musical score. Composer Bruno Moderna attacks a piano like a two-year-old with a broken hand trying to make the viewer feel uneasy. This works for the first few seconds but ultimately becomes annoying. Few interludes of actual music occur, and I ended up thankful for the silence most of the time. The brightest light that shines is the gorgeous Ewa Aulin, who should have been a bigger star in the US. Can she act? Who knows? She’s not given much of a chance here, but she’s ultra-appealing.

Cult Epics’ presentation is beautiful to look at and is packaged nicely. The director’s cut has been edited from several element sources and switches back and forth between the English dub and Italian with English subtitles, which can be jarring. I thought I had received a flawed copy until I did a bit of research and got the whole story. Supplemental materials are plentiful and quite good, including a Director’s Cut audio commentary by Troy Howarth (Author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films vol. 1, 2, 3) and Nathaniel Thompson (Author of DVD Delirium and founder of Mondo Digital), a review by Italian critic Antonio Bruschini, Giulio Questi: The Outsider – the last video interview in HD (2010) (13 mins), “Doctor Schizo and Mister Phrenic” (2002) a short film by Giulio Questi (15 mins), English & Italian language Trailers in HD, and more. The packaging includes a reversible sleeve with original Italian poster art and slipcase printed with fluorescent inks, both limited to first 2000 copies.

If nothing else, DEATH LAID AN EGG is a unique viewing experience, and one you’ll likely never forget. Recommended for Giallo lovers and chicken farmers of all ages.

 

MOTHRA (Limited Edition Box Set) – 1961
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Furankî Sakai , Hiroshi Koizumi , Jerry Itô
Director: Ishirô Honda
Studio: Eureka Video (UK)
BRD Release Date: November 16, 2020
Region: B
Audio Formats: LPCM Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Resolution/Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Run Time: 191 minutes, 90 Minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

All kaiju movies owe a debt to the American films that inspired them (such as Ray Harryhausen’s THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS), but none more than MOTHRA, which was heavily influenced by KING KONG. Both films involve expeditions to a mysterious island, which result in a smarmy capitalist kidnapping fantastic beings in order to exploit them for entertainment purposes back in civilization; in KONG it’s the giant ape, in MOTHRA, it’s a pair of diminutive fairies who turn out to be high priestesses of a giant monster goddess who comes to rescue them from captivity. In her nascent form, Mothra even attempts to climb Tokyo Tower, Empire State Building style.

The film does fall back on some classic kaiju tropes – the ship in distress in a typhoon, a giant monster wreaking destruction on the city (Tokyo and New Kirk City in this case, in the fictional nation of Rolisica, the filmmakers’ combination of Russia and America), scientists of all stripes expounding theories – but deviates from the formula set by earlier Toho offerings by delving into questions of religion, humanity, and offering a decidedly feminine point of view not only via the fairies – adorably portrayed by the Peanuts, a popular singing duo at the time in Japan – but also via supporting characters, and even Mothra herself. Not affected by the radioactive fallout from atomic testing that everyone keeps talking about in the first half of the film, Mothra is actually a goddess that’s been around for thousands of years; a departure from the Toho kaiju norm. The overall tone of the movie is lighter than its predecessors as well, making for a fresh viewing experience.

Unconventional leading man Furanki Sakai (also a standout as Lord Yabu in the SHOGUN television miniseries from 1980) shines as Fukuda, a journalist set on getting to the bottom of the island’s mysteries, as does Jerri Ito in an over-the-top performance as the villain Nelson, so set on capturing the fairy twins that he’s willing to gun down an entire village of innocent islanders (played by Japanese actors in dark body paint, which would certainly be frowned upon in modern times) in the film’s darkest moment. Hiroshi Koizumi plays the stoic leading man, Dr. Chujo with the same look of knitted-brow concern throughout the film.

MOTHRA features some great special effects work by Eiji Tsubaraya and his team as well, including a large amount of optical effects combining miniature work with real crowds and other live action footage. These effects help convey to the viewer that the wholesale carnage happening onscreen is affecting real people and are used well to this end. Fukuda’s rescue of a baby in peril is especially effective.

The giant moth became so popular that she appeared in many of Toho’s other kaiju eiga, and even got her own trilogy of films in the 1990s. She proved to be a highlight of the American GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS as well.

Eureka has gone all out for this limited edition which comes in a hardbound slipcase with reversible art featuring the original Japanese poster art, the American art, as well as the original Japanese version of the film which runs 101 minutes and the 90 minute U.S. cut. Also included is a brand-new commentary with writer David Kalat, and a commentary with authors Steve Ryfle and Ed Godzizewsky, which has appeared on earlier releases. Anno Dracula author Kim Newman weighs in on the history and legacy of MOTHRA as well, and the first 3000 copies include a 60-page collector’s booklet. The package is Region B encoded, so make sure you have a region free player or live in the UK.

All in all, a very robust package and worth the price of admission. MOTHRA is a wonderful film and always worth a watch…or a re-watch.

 

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video*WatcHDog, and more.

*Excerpts from the MOTHRA review first appeared in Screem Magazine #38.

*Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

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