All posts by Ken Miller

Snail Fairy Vs Kung Fu Killers (1977)

Cheng Fu falls asleep and has a dream
Cheng Fu falls asleep, holding the sea snail shell

Directed by Ling Shang and starring Candice Yu, Tony Wong, Little Unicorn and Tien Ching.

Candice Yu as the snail fairy and Tony Wong as Cheng Fu
Candice Yu as the snail fairy and Tony Wong as Cheng Fu
Tien Ching plays the hero's extremely obnoxious cousin
Tien Ching plays the hero’s extremely obnoxious cousin

Nice guy Cheng Fu (Wong), who his bullied by his uncle’s family, picks up a sea snail shell, takes it home, and has a dream, in which a small fairy implores him to drip some blood into the shell. Cheng Fu wakes from his dream and does, indeed, dribble some blood from his finger into the snail’s shell.

In Cheng Fu's dream the snail fairy asks for his help
In Cheng Fu’s dream the snail fairy asks for his help

The snail fairy, now in the form of an attractive woman (Yu), falls in love with Cheng Fu, starts providing him with lovely meals, then magically tidies-up and repairs the shack-like home that his mean-spirited uncle has banished him to. The mollusc fairy and Cheng Fu eventually decide to get married. Ah, how sweet!

Hong Kong poster
Hong Kong poster

But the couple must deal with Cheng Fu’s nasty relatives, especially a slimy, obnoxious cousin (Ching), who hires thugs to kidnap the fairy. The pair also come under threat from a snake demon villain (Unicorn), who can take on the form of an actual snake, a larger (puppet) serpent, a frog-eating monk or a snake-human. 

When in the guise of a monk, the snake demon gobbles-up a bunch of frogs!
When in the guise of a monk, the snake demon gobbles-up a bunch of frogs!
At one point the demon becomes a large, striped snake
At one point the demon becomes a large, striped snake
The quality of the snake-human's makeup is, ah, less than Oscar standard
The quality of the snake-human’s makeup is, ah, less than Oscar standard

The cheap budget means that the snake-human is basically actor Little Unicorn with face makeup of the standard seen at a children’s birthday party, the trick effects are achieved by such simple methods as double exposure, music is ‘borrowed’ from various movies, including KING KONG (1976) and CARRIE (1976), and the undersea world of the snail fairies is a realism-free set with lots of bubbles floating about in it.   

Bubbles float about in the world of the snail fairies
Bubbles float around in the realm of the snail fairies

A moderately interesting moment involves Cheng Fu becoming a skilled fighter when his fairy love’s spirit enters his body, enabling him to beat his adversaries using different styles of kung fu, plus there’s a diverting sequence in a theatrical-looking cavern, where the snail fairy’s two sisters combat several supernatural demon fighters, including a gold dude, a red dude and a ‘wood’ dude, who creaks when he moves and can transform into multiple flying logs.

Red demon-dude
Red demon-dude
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screenshot-2023-01-27-at-22.55.45.png
This golden demon-dude actually turns into a large bar of gold during the fight!
This golden demon-dude actually turns into a large bar of gold during the fight!
The wood demon-dude makes creaking sounds when he moves his arms and legs
The wood demon-dude makes creaking sounds when he moves his arms and legs

Money limitations, however, mean that what ends up on-screen usually fails to do justice to the ideas, but the tale is actually quite charming in a fairy tale kind of way, ensuring that you keep watching as the put-upon hero and his snail fairy bride overcome all obstacles and live happily ever after. 

A servant girl who loves Cheng Fu and is jealous of the snail fairy is eventually killed by the snake demon...
A servant girl who loves Cheng Fu and is jealous of the snail fairy is eventually killed by the snake demon…
...and she transforms into this hyper-realistic skeleton
…and she transforms into this hyper-realistic skeleton
Thai poster
Thai poster
This DVD cover features imagery not featured in the movie itself
This cover art features imagery not featured in the movie itself
A final look at the world of the snail fairies
A final look at the world of the snail fairies

The Fairy and the Devil (1982)

'Red Devil' towers over ancient battlements!
‘Red Devil’ towers over ancient battlements!

Directed by Chiang Tai and starring Chen Hsiu-Chen, Hsi Hsiang and Chin Ling Chih.

Poster
Poster

Yun Chung Lung, also known as Prince 3, is a golden dragon deity. He is banished to the human world as penitence for causing catastrophic flooding during a battle with another, evil dragon. Lung, now in human form and aided by a young, lovestruck couple, takes on the devils causing problems in the kingdom, including one flesh-hungry villain disguised as an ill, old lady.

Yun Chung Lung
Yun Chung Lung
REd DEvil...
Red Devil…
...confronts a giant, white ape...
…confronts a giant, white ape…
...and they fight...
…and they fight…
...and, at one point, the ape downs Red Devil with a drop kick!
…and, at one point, the ape downs Red Devil with a drop kick!

Also known as MOTHER GODDESS VS THE SEA DEMON, this Taiwanese fantasy production uses stock footage from THE FOUNDING OF THE MING DYNASTY (1971) and EXORCISING SWORD (1975), music purloined from the likes of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) and is of most interest when giant monsters take centre stage. These creatures include a colossal, red-haired, fanged demon-dude with reptilian hands & feet, a massive white ape, two serpentine (marionette) dragons, a bat-eared lake monster that resembles a kind of gigantic gill-man, a large (puppet) cobra, a huge, humanoid monster with long white hair and bulging eyes, plus various giant, floating heads!

Dragon versus Red Devil
Dragon versus Red Devil
Dragon versus dragon
Dragon versus dragon
Lake monster!
Lake monster!
He's got bat-ears, fangs and whiskers!
He’s got bat-ears, fangs and whiskers!
What big, orange eyes you have!
What big, orange eyes you have!
Giant, floating monster head fires green lightning bolts from its eyes!
Giant, floating monster head fires green lightning bolts from its eyes!

These beasties, mainly men-in-suit creations, possess varied powers, including the ability to breath flame, shoot electrical power beams from their eyes and, at one point, flip from one monster form to another.

Monster footage from THE FOUNDING OF THE MING DYNASTY is used in this movie
More monster footage is taken from EXORCISING SWORD, also known as THE DEVIL FROM THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA
More monster footage is taken from EXORCISING SWORD, also known as THE DEVIL FROM THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA

Miniature sets get flooded, cel animated energy bolts fill the screen, suicide is treated very lightly, the human drama moments tend to drag and, generally, the movie comes across as a cheap, sometimes plodding merging of fairy tale, sub-Toho kaiju flick and baffling mythological yarn.

The non-monster stuff ain't so hot
The non-monster stuff ain’t so hot
Yun Chung Lung zaps the gigantic gill-man

Kung Fu Zombie (1981)

Eyeless zombie
Eyeless zombie

Directed by Hwa I Hung, starring Billy Chong, Chan Lau, Chang Tao and Cheng Ka Ying .

Poster
Poster
Ocean Shores video sleeve
Ocean Shores video sleeve

A renegade priest brings the dead back to life as eyeless, hopping zombies to help a bad guy called Mu Tai kill his opponents, but the villain dies in one of his own boobytraps, so his ghost demands to be reincarnated in another body. Mu Tai’s spirit ends up residing in the corpse of hero Pang’s father, but a faulty ritual turns him into a white-faced, part-human & part-ghost being, who’s hellbent on murdering several folks. To make matters worse, Pang (Chong) is also targeted by scar-faced undead villain Long, a guy so tough he even carries on fighting when his hands and feet catch fire! Fortunately for Pang, the handy intervention of a Buddhist monk imbues him with the power to defeat Long, who is finally lynched with prayer beads and stabbed to death with a tree branch.

Is Pang's dad dead or unwell or a zombie?
Is Pang’s dad dead or unwell or a zombie?
Nice eyebrows!
Nice eyebrows!
Splash!
Splash!
This is a corpse, innit?
This is a corpse, innit?

This Eternal Film Company production is a comedic fantasy-horror-actioner, starring the likeable Billy Chong, which merges lively bouts of kung fu, humour and supernatural hijinks with music borrowed from the likes of MOONRAKER and EXORCIST II. The movie informs us that spirits need to be nailed to the corpses they are going to inhabit and reveals the fact that a hat constructed from leaves can make its wearer invisible to the living dead! 

This leaf hat will make you invisible to vampires and zombies, honest!
This leaf hat will make you invisible to vampires and zombies – honest!
Video cover
Video cover

There’s some super-fast editing for several fight scenes, plus speeded-up farcical chases, though this all actually works out fine within the context of this film, which is, after all, an exaggerated comedy kung fu horror flick.

German poster
German poster

Crocodile Fury (1988)

Croc attack!
Croc attack!

Directed by Ted Kingsbrook, produced by Tomas Tang, starring Kent Wills, Trudy Calder, Lucas Byrne, Sorapong Chatree, Sun Chien and Jack Mackay.

Lots of people get eaten!
Lots of people get eaten!

Master Cooper, who controls people-munching killer crocs from a golden cave, plans to team-up with Monica (Calder), the blonde sorceress who is running a ‘vampire business’. Together they hope their crocodiles and hopping vamps will take over the world, but agent Bruce Thompson (Wills) is determined to prevent this evil plan from happening.

VHS cover
VHS cover
A grungy-faced hopping vampire
A grungy-faced hopping vampire
Master Cooper dwells on his golden cave, sitting within the skeletal jaws of a croc
Master Cooper dwells on his golden cave, sitting within the skeletal jaws of a croc

OMG! Where to start with this incredibly weird cut-and-paste flick?! Well, here’s just some of the things that occur…
There are multiple crocodile attacks, both in the water and on land, with a high bodycount and much screaming. Monica performs seemingly pointless incantations, at one point causing several fish to spill from a vampire’s mouth, into a fishbowl, which then fly up into a different vampire’s mouth. A levitating dude loses his concentration and falls prey to a hungry crocodile. A guy vomits up maggots. A smaller man-in-suit croc does tricks for villagers. Some of the vampires are of the Chinese hopping variety, whilst others are more like zombie-vamps with green blood. Oh… and the crocodiles are actually the spirits of people who have become reptiles, so they often appear in human form too!

Witch-woman Monica has long, steel nails!
Witch-woman Monica has long, steel nails!

The croc footage stems from a Thai film called KRAI THONG 2 (1985) and the main crocodile, though not exactly a Hollywood-standard animatronic creation, is a pretty serviceable full-size model that munches down on many, many extras. The low tech attack scenes actually possess a pacy verve, as loads of people run, shout and get bitten or carried away. One of the reasons these reptile assaults stand out is because they are never isolated incidents: the various crocs don’t bother waiting around to pick off lone victims, they launch onslaughts against groups of people near their homes or at riverside markets. Most of these attacks involve the actors struggling in the reptile’s jaws, but there’s one particular scene that is quite gory, with limbs being bitten off, and I’m sure actual amputees were cast to portray these legless or armless victims.  

A dude has his leg bitten off
A dude has his leg bitten off
A man tries to pull a victim back out of the croc's mouth!
A man tries to pull a victim back out of the croc’s mouth!
KRAI THONG 2 provided much of the footage for this cut-and-paste production
KRAI THONG 2 provided much of the footage for this cut-and-paste production

It’s a real WTF moment when one of the crocs turns into its human form (a young woman called Maria) for the very first time. It’s revealed that Maria is the deceased girlfriend of a local man called Jack and she says such things as “If you really cared for me, Jack, you’d be a crocodile too, and then we could both be together right away, what do you think?” 

Jack makes a crocodile let go of its latest victim...
Jack makes a crocodile let go of its latest victim…
...and the croc transforms into his dead sweetheart Maria!
…and the croc transforms into his dead sweetheart Maria!

The film focuses more on the crocodile spirits in their human form later in the story, in scenes mainly based in the golden cave, referred to as Sea World. This is the location where two croc-demon guys, one called Donald and the other named Stephen, fight one another, with Stephen hurling small, stuffed-looking crocodiles at Donald! 

Okay, now THAT is what you call a poster!
Okay, now THAT is what you call a poster!

The film reaches dual climaxes, one involving Jack as a croc-fighting hero with a special spear & dagger, the other finale boasting a showdown between Bruce, vampires and witch-lady Monica, who suddenly develops a fake-looking, throbbing belly, from which bursts a slimy human head!

Bruce Thompson versus Monica!
Bruce Thompson versus Monica!
The zombie-vampires leak greenish blood when they are stabbed
The zombie-vampires leak greenish blood when they are stabbed

This dumb, fun Tomas Tang production, often mistakenly credited as a Godfrey Ho film, is utterly batshit crazy, filled with so much incident, including a croc biting the head off a water buffalo, a machine gun assassination attempt, and a crocodile with diamond teeth, that the film actually makes other cut-and-paste epics like SCORPION THUNDERBOLT look like coherent, perfectly normal movies by comparison!

At one point one of the crocodiles glides through the air!
At one point one of the crocodiles glides through the air!

Finally, here’s a behind the scenes shot…

Trudy Calder and Kent Wills
Trudy Calder and Kent Wills

Robo Vampire (1988)

It's the robo-warrior!
It’s a robo-warrior!
He's got as big gun!
He’s got as big gun!

Directed by Joe Livingstone, produced by Tomas Tang, starring Robin Mackay, Nian Watts and Harry Myles.

Japanese VHS cover
Japanese VHS cover

Tom, an anti-drug agent, is mortally wounded whilst taking on narcos, who are using Chinese hopping vampires as weapons and as a means to smuggle their heroin shipments. Tom dies on the operating table, but it is decided to transform him into an android… enter the robo-warrior! 

We can rebuild him! We have the technology!
We can rebuild him! We have the technology!
Narco villain
Narco villain
Dastardly priest
Dastardly priest

ROBO VAMPIRE, a cut-and-paste movie courtesy of producer Tomas Tang’s Filmark International, closely resembles the kind of productions made by director Godfrey Ho, the king of such chimeric flicks, which is why the film is very often falsely attributed to him. So who is ‘Joe Livingstone’, then? I don’t know the answer to that, but the owner of IFD Films & Arts Ltd, Toby Russell, assures me that it isn’t Mr Ho. So let’s move on…  

Hopping vampire
Hopping vampire
A scab-faced vampire with a mouthful of his victim's flesh!
A scab-faced vampire with a mouthful of his victim’s flesh!

Much of the footage in ROBO VAMPIRE, especially the hostage rescue mission sequences, is sourced from the Thai actioner PAA LOHGAN (1984). The new spliced-in material is all the hopping vampire and robo-dude stuff and, interestingly, these additional scenes are actually better lit than the original movie footage, which usually isn’t the case.

At one point robo-warrior levitates!
At one point robo-warrior levitates!

The main character, a stomping, low tech, silver-suited dude with a big gun, is not actually a vampire, as you might have expected considering the film’s title. He’s just a cut-price android, though he does skirmish with many scabby-faced, hopping bloodsuckers throughout the film’s running time.

Android versus vamps!
Android versus vamps!

In one action sequence, the robo-warrior battles armed bad guys on a beach, where they attempt to immolate him, but when this fails he is assailed by vampires that pop-up from the sand. This is a shoddily-shot, gloriously cheesy set piece that ends with a tin foil-covered dummy, representing the android protagonist, being blown-up by a rocket launcher! But don’t you worry, the tech guys weld robo-warrior back together again pretty quickly and easily.

Such amazing special effects!
Such amazing special effects!

Though the jungle-based rescue subplot is a mainly underwhelming series of shoot-outs, fights, some water torture and explosions, with far too many characters being introduced into the story, a lot of the other incidents in the movie are quite memorable, including drugs being hidden in a real dead cow’s slit-open belly, romantic interludes between a ghostly woman and her gorilla-faced super-vampire lover, a bloody eye-poking, fireworks being fired from the ape-mask-vampire’s sleeves, and a fight between the now-topless female ghost and a priest! Once the she-spirit defeats the evil holy man, our android hero then scorches the gorilla-vampire with his machine gun, which is now in flamethrower mode (cue burning dummy on a wire)!

The female ghost
The female ghost
A gorilla-faced vampire! Yes, you heard me right!
A gorilla-faced vampire! Yes, you heard me right: a gorilla-faced vampire!
Another shot of the girl ghost
Another shot of the girl ghost

Weird, cheap, trashy and cheerful nonsense. 

You don't mess with a flamethrower-wielding android!
You don’t mess with a flamethrower-wielding android!

Some artwork for ROBO VAMPIRE…

DVD cover
DVD cover
Poster
Poster
Also known as ROBOVAMP. VHS sleeve
Also known as ROBOVAMP. VHS sleeve

Silver Hermit From Shaolin Temple (1980)

A monster hand reaches up to grab a buddhist monk...
A monster hand reaches up to grab a buddhist monk…

Directed by Roc Tien, starring Roc Tien (who also wrote the script), Meng Fei, Chun Sing and Tien Ho.

Also known as THE SILVER SPEAR, this Taiwanese wuxia production begins like a murder mystery, with several warriors dying of poisoning in a mountain valley. The hero, Silver Hermit, is accused of the killings and becomes embroiled in a story that encompasses concealed identities, buddhist monks, hidden allegiances, secret siblings, the search for a tunnel to the much-desired Green Jade Villa, the destruction of an entire town, and the return of a vampiric villain called Immortal…

VHS sleeve
VHS sleeve
A coupla monks
A coupla monks

This movie, from IFD Films & Arts LTD, starts really well, with a nicely-paced first act located in misty, snowy valley sets that mix together artificiality and atmospherics effectively. However, after the villain Silver Spear reveals that he poisoned the victims as part of his plan to ensure he inherits Green Jade Villa, the movie becomes more and more confusing, thanks to choppy editing, many over-dark sequences and the introduction of a multitude of characters, many of whom are concealing their real identities.

 Green Jade Villa
Green Jade Villa

SILVER HERMIT FROM SHAOLIN TEMPLE is based on a novel by Gu Long, so perhaps the filmmakers tried to cram too much of the book’s plot into the movie. Whatever the reason is for the semi-incoherence, by the time the blood-sucking bad guy Immortal is introduced into the tale you do begin to wonder whether the story is actually being made up as it goes along. On the plus side, the involvement of this villain, who sports a wild, Albert Einstein-esque haircut (and is referred to as ‘a beast from Persia’), does mean you get the opportunity to enjoy watching a tall, clawed, pale-faced, fang-mouthed monster-man rampage about the place during the hectic finale!

Poster
Poster
Video sleeve
Video sleeve

God Told Me To (1976)

A woman is levitated towards a spacecraft...
A woman is levitated towards a spacecraft…

Directed and written by Larry Cohen, starring Tony Lo Bianco, Deborah Raffin, Sandy Dennis, Sylvia Sidney, Sam Levene, Robert Drivas, Richard Lynch and David Morten.

Poster
Poster

Peter J. Nicholas (Lo Bianco), a devoutly religious police detective, deals with several cases of mass murder, including a New York sniper attack. He discovers that each perpetrator utters the same excuse to explain their killing sprees: “God told me to”.

the sniper
The sniper
Detective Peter J. Nicholas is a devout catholic
Detective Peter J. Nicholas is a devout catholic

Digging deeper, Nicholas eventually finds out that an androgynous, glowing, christ-like being, identified as Bernard Phillips (Lynch), has influenced all these murderers… and this dude is actually a product of alien artificial insemination! Nicholas realises that he, too, is one of these hybrid beings, though his human genes overpowered his alien genes just enough to enable him to pass for ‘normal’ for most of his life, but now it is time for him to confront Phillips…

Richard Lynch as the glowing, messiah-like product of alien insemination of human women
Richard Lynch as the glowing, messiah-like product of the alien insemination of a human female

Larry Cohen, as usual, throws lots of ideas into the pot. We have a horror-sci-fi-police-procedural plot encompassing mass killings, religious overtones, UFO abductions, psychic powers and throbbing alien vaginas! Cohen doesn’t quite pull it all off, unfortunately, and you’re left wondering what Phillips was hoping to achieve with his psychically-induced mass killings, what was the story behind the cabal of businessmen that believe Phillips is the new messiah, and whether the unseen, meddling aliens actually had an objective.

Chaos after a policeman starts shooting folks during New York's St. Patrick's Day Parade
Chaos after a policeman starts shooting folks during New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade

That said, there’s a lot of memorable moments here. There’s the horribly compelling scene where one of the killers, a family man (Morten), describes to Nicholas, in an easygoing manner, how he systematically murdered his own wife and children. Plus there’s the opening sequence, where members of the public are picked off by a gunman standing atop a water tower.

Cover for the Blue Underground Blu-ray release
Cover for the Blue Underground Blu-ray release

Cohen includes the alien abduction plot thread in an interesting fashion, never over-focusing on it, inserting these details as flashbacks and reminiscences. It’s here that we first get a glimpse of an unexpected close-up of a palpitating vagina (!), as a naked woman victim is levitated into a space vessel (actually footage of an Eagle spacecraft from the Gerry Anderson TV show SPACE: 1999). I remain utterly surprised that such up-close anatomical shots of a very vagina-like sex organ managed to make it into the movie!

Alien abduction flashback
Alien abduction flashback

Later, during the climactic showdown, Phillips pulls up his smock to reveal that he has a large alien vagina throbbing away on his torso! Phillips suggests that he and Nicholas should mate, to produce more progeny. Nicholas isn’t a fan of this idea, however, and decides to attack Phillips instead, leading to the glowing hybrid dude’s death and the destruction of a building.

This dude has got a torso-vagina
This dude has got a torso-vagina
Nicholas finally unleashes his own psychic powers
Nicholas finally unleashes his own psychic powers

GOD TOLD ME TO, also known as DEMON, is shot in Cohen’s typical style, meaning that it’s not overly well-lit or particularly glossy, it seems very choppy, editing-wise, but it is filmed with a no-nonsense verve and immediacy, with a lot of handheld location footage, that keeps the story’s momentum from flagging too much, even in the slower third act, which discards the mass killings plot line to concentrate on Nicholas’ unearthing of his own forgotten past. Cohen, as usual, gets his lead actor to deliver a compelling performance, in this case Tony Lo Bianco, who is a driven, earnest presence throughout the film.

UK VHS sleeve
UK VHS sleeve
Another shot from the alien abduction flashback
Another shot from the alien abduction flashback

Some posters for the movie…

US poster
US poster
French poster
French poster
Also known as DEMON
Also known as DEMON

Sexual Devil (1991)

A holy man does some fancy hand movements
A holy man does some fancy hand movements

Directed by Lien-Chou Ho and starring Lawrence Ng, Gon-Ha Yick, Hark-On Fung, Mo-Hau Cheung, Tau Chu and Paul Che.

The film's title
The film’s title

SEXUAL DEVIL: quite a title for a Hong Kong ghost movie, right? However… this film turns out to be one of those productions that has a lurid, tasty title that is attached to a rather anaemic, flavourless story.

Female ghosts in Hong Kong movies very often wear white robes...
Female ghosts in Hong Kong movies very often wear white robes…
...and they also very often have echoey voices
…and they also very often have echoey voices

Basically, the plot concerns a fashion photographer (Ng) and a ghostly girl, with some magic spell-making scenes added.

VCD cover
VCD cover

Shot on video, this production from Dragon Film Limited begins with some footage of animal cruelty (a lizard is stabbed in the mouth by a holy man) before, very quickly, becoming exceedingly dull.

When the main character does a photoshoot with two models...
When the main character does a photoshoot with two models…
...they look like blue-faced ghosts in his camera viewfinder
…they look like blue-faced ghosts in his camera viewfinder

Video trick effects are used towards the end of the flick, of a white-robed girl spirit whizzing about the trees, but this only reminds you of how cheap ‘n’ TV-ish this film is when compared to bona fide Hong Kong cinema releases, such as A CHINESE GHOST STORY (1987) or even ESPRIT D’AMOUR (1983).

The protagonist drives towards the ghost...
The protagonist drives towards the ghost…
...and she ends up peering at him from the car roof
…and she ends up peering at him from the car roof

The one novel thing to occur in SEXUAL DEVIL is the silly scene in which an evil man uses lizards as projectiles, hurling ’em onto an attacker!

The ghost doesn't like daylight
The ghost doesn’t like daylight

The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

Gwangi snags a cowboy! Yum yum!
Gwangi snags a cowboy! Yum yum!

Directed by Jim O’Connolly, produced by Charles H. Schneer and Ray Harryhausen, written by William Bast and starring James Franciscus, Richard Carlson, Laurence Naismith, Gila Golan, Curtis Arden and Freda Jackson.

'Cowboys battle monsters in the lost world of Forbidden Valley': how can any self-respecting monster movie fan resist that tag line?!
‘Cowboys battle monsters in the lost world of Forbidden Valley’: how can any self-respecting monster movie fan resist that tag line?!

THE VALLEY OF GWANGI is a dino-tastic story set in Mexico at the turn of the 20th century. It follows the adventures of rodeo circus owner T.J. Breckenridge (a dubbed Gila Golan), her former beau Tuck Kirby (Franciscus), a British paleontologist (Naismith), a Mexican boy called Lope (Arden) and various cowboy members of the circus, as they find themselves in peril in the Forbidden Valley, a rocky zone that is full of prehistoric creatures! Woot!

Gwangi won't be caged for long!
Gwangi won’t be caged for long!

THE VALLEY OF GWANGI is a vibrant monster-fantasy-western that features stop-motion effects courtesy of the great Ray Harryhausen, a rousing score by Jerome Moross and likeable performances from the likes of James Franciscus and Richard Carlson.

Pteranodon attack!
Pteranodon attack!

Plot-wise, the movie is a lost world adventure with a western twist, which then transitions into a King Kong-style finale, where the titular dinosaur Gwangi is brought back to civilisation to be displayed at Breckenridge’s circus but, as always happens in these tales, the beast escapes and runs amok in the local Mexican town.

Gwangi on the rampage, reaches the big cathedral...
Gwangi on the rampage! The dinosaur reaches the big cathedral…
...and there's a cat-and-mouse encounter inside the building, as Tuck takes on the giant predator...
…and there’s a cat-and-mouse encounter inside the building, as Tuck takes on the giant predator…
...and eventually Gwangi is burnt to death, as the cathedral catches fire and starts to collapse
…and eventually Gwangi is burnt to death, as the cathedral catches fire and starts to collapse
'The strangest round up of all as cowboys battle monsters!'
‘The strangest round up of all as cowboys battle monsters!’

Harryhausen’s effects are definitely the movie’s main selling point, and for this production we get to see an Eohippus, a Pteranodon, an Ornithomimus, a huge Allosaurus (Gwangi) and a Styracosaurus roaming across the screen. A stop-motion model of an elephant is also used when the pachyderm fights Gwangi during the finale.

Ornithomimus
Ornithomimus
Styracosaurus
Styracosaurus
Dinosaur versus elephant!
Dinosaur versus elephant!

The real stand-out moment is the roping sequence, when the cowboy heroes attempt to capture Gwangi using lassos. This is a wonderful action scene, showcasing Harryhausen’s top-notch stop-motion skills.

The roping scene rocks!
The roping scene rocks!

Another mouthwatering effects set piece is Gwangi’s fight with the Styracosaurus. Lots of roaring and biting! I love stop-motion dino battles!

Dinosaurs duking it out!
Dinosaurs duking it out!

Some earlier scenes with El Diablo the Eohippus, a tiny prehistoric horse, are also memorable, with Harryhausen putting just as much effort into these quieter, sweeter moments as he does with the more bombastic dinosaur encounters later on.

He's a sweet lil' thing, ain't he?
He’s a cute lil’ thing, ain’t he?
Tuck & T.J. with El Diablo the Eohippus
Tuck & T.J. with El Diablo the Eohippus
The Eohippus says 'hi' to its much bigger descendant
The Eohippus says ‘hi’ to its much bigger descendant

I’m not a fan of the solid-latex model of Gwangi that’s used for the scenes where the dinosaur knocks itself out while trying to push its way through the narrow gap to escape Forbidden Valley. I think Harryhausen himself was never pleased with these shots, as this inflexible model definitely has no ‘life’ to it: it looks especially stiff in the shots of Gwangi lying unconscious on the ground. Harryhausen had done similar scenes in his previous dinosaur adventure, ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., for instance, where Ray presented us with a marvellous shot of a dying Ceratosaurus lying on the ground, with its belly inflating and deflating as it desperately tries to keep breathing. So it’s such a shame a similar effect couldn’t have been used in GWANGI, though I’m sure Harryhausen was under a lot of budget and time constraints (but the Styracosaurus model in GWANGI was equipped with an inflatable air ‘bladder’ to simulate breathing).

Gwangi’s skin colour changes a few times over the course of the movie because, as there was so much animation to do, Harryhausen didn’t have enough time to do proper colour testing, so Gwangi ranges from grey to blue to purple-ish. I actually don’t think these colour changes are distracting and I’m sure I never spotted them when I viewed the movie as a kid.

I would've liked more atmospheric matte paintings like this one
I would’ve liked more atmospheric matte paintings like this one

The full-scale Pteranodon model and Gwangi head, used for close-ups, are not as effective as their stop-motion counterparts, but I’ll stop quibbling now and reiterate that THE VALLEY OF GWANGI is a colourful, entertaining fantasy flick, replete with monsters, gypsy curses, a belligerent circus elephant and even a dangerous-bull-in-a-bullring scene!

Trying to break the Pteranodon's neck!
Trying to break the Pteranodon’s neck!
Angry gypsy folk
Angry gypsy folk

Shot in Spain, which stands in for Mexico, the movie utilises the odd rock formations of La Ciudad Encantada, a distinctive geological site near the city of Cuenca (which is also featured in 1982’s CONAN THE BARBARIAN), to create the prehistoric vistas of the Forbidden Valley.

This shot features some of La Ciudad Encantada's mushroom-shaped rock formations
This shot features some of La Ciudad Encantada’s mushroom-shaped rock formations
Nom-nom-nom!
Nom-nom-nom!

Jerome Moross, the composer who worked on such films and TV series as THE BIG COUNTRY, GUNSMOKE, WAGON TRAIN and HAVE GUN – WILL TRAVEL, provides a soundtrack that really injects a thrilling, full-blooded western vibe into GWANGI. It’s a great score, with a main theme dripping with urgency (that I happen to be listening to right now as I write this!)

Here's some free advice, cowboy-dudes: don't use a blanket to ward off a vicious Allosaurus!
Here’s some free advice, cowboy-dudes: don’t use a blanket to ward off a vicious Allosaurus!
I was never quite sure why the cowboy decided to spear the herbivore, rather than the more dangerous predator...
I was never quite sure why the cowboy decided to spear the herbivore, rather than the more dangerous predator…

The scene where Gwangi lunges into view and snaps-up the fast-running Ornithomimus in its jaws was later recreated in JURASSIC PARK, this time featuring a Tyrannosaurus Rex plunging into shot to gobble up a fast-running Gallimimus.

Anyway, this is a Ray Harryhausen movie about cowboys venturing into a lost world of dinosaurs, so of course I will always love this movie!

THE WILLIS O’BRIEN CONNECTION
This film was actually a project that Willis O’Brien tried to develop, many decades earlier. It was titled THE VALLEY OF THE MISTS and it had been in preproduction at RKO for a while but, like a lot of O’Brien’s projects, it unfortunately fell through.

Here are some storyboards drawn by Willis O’Brien…

Willis O'Brien storyboard
Willis O’Brien storyboard
Willis O'Brien storyboard
Willis O’Brien storyboard

Here’s a hand-filled report (by O’Brien) on a printed RKO Radio Pictures form detailing visual effects requirements for an action sequence titled ‘Edge of Cliff’, which would’ve been featured in his iteration of the Gwangi movie…

RKO Radio Pictures form
RKO Radio Pictures form

Even though Willis O’Brien’s Gwangi movie was never made, some of his old production materials came into Ray Harryhausen’s possession and he proposed making his own version of the film to his producer/business partner Charles Schneer, who agreed that it should be their next project. And so THE VALLEY OF GWANGI finally went into production. Hooray! Though, as some people have pointed out, it’s a shame that O’Brien, who put a lot of effort into conceptualising the original Gwangi concept, didn’t receive a credit in the 1969 movie.

RAY HARRYHAUSEN CONCEPT ART
Here are some really gorgeous examples of Ray’s well-rendered concept art for his movie…

Styracosaurus versus Gwangi
Styracosaurus versus Gwangi
Cowboy chases an Ornithomimus
Cowboy chases an Ornithomimus
In Ray's concept drawing for the pteranodon attack he drew it with accurate-looking pterosaur wings. In the movie his stop-motion model had Ray's stylised bat-like wings.
In Ray’s concept drawing for the pteranodon attack he drew the flying reptile with accurate-looking pterosaur wings. In the movie his stop-motion model was equipped with stylised bat-like wings.
Rays's hand-drawn scale concept for the Pteranodon features Ray's signature bat-like wing design
Rays’s hand-drawn scale concept drawing for the Pteranodon features Ray’s signature bat-like wing design
Rays concept drawing for Gwangi, with cowboys and a horse shown  for scale
Ray’s concept drawing for Gwangi, with cowboys and a horse shown for scale

Interestingly, long before Ray Harryhausen made his Gwangi movie, he actually painted this scene, way back in the 1930s. The painting’s title is: ‘Allosaurus attacking a cowboy’. So, I guess Ray was destined to make THE VALLEY OF GWANGI one day…

Lovely painting!
Lovely painting!

POSTERS FOR THE MOVIE
Uber-talented artist Frank McCarthy, responsible for vivid, astounding poster illustrations for DUEL AT DIABLO, THE DIRTY DOZEN, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, KRAKATOA EAST OF JAVA, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, WHERE EAGLES DARE and many more, produced the striking artwork that adorns almost all of the poster versions for THE VALLEY OF GWANGI.

Here’s McCarthy’s illustration without the poster blurb. It’s a glorious piece of promotional art that exaggerates the scale of Gwangi. The mounted cowboys, dwarfed by the size of the mega-Gwangi, ride their steeds away from the dinosaur and gallop past supersized skulls, adding a lot of dynamism to the composition. A couple of scared, attractive women and the burning cathedral (from the end of the movie) add extra flavour to the artwork.

Stunning stuff!
Stunning stuff!

McCarthy produced several preliminary design sketches that explored possible compositions for the Gwangi poster…

This Frank McCarthy preliminary artwork explores showing Gwangi from a reverse angle
This Frank McCarthy preliminary artwork explores the idea of showing Gwangi from a reverse angle
This rough prelim sketch depicts a very upright-looking Gwangi
This is the Frank McCarthy preliminary artwork design that was chosen for the poster. 'This is it' is even written on the design!
This is the Frank McCarthy preliminary artwork design that was chosen for the poster. ‘This is it’ is even written on the design!

Let’s check out a whole bunch of Gwangi posters now…

US three sheet poster
Italian poster. This puts a scantily-clad female at the front of the action. Those Italians!
Italian poster. This puts a scantily-clad female at the front of the action. Those Italians!
Japanese B2 poster
Japanese B2 poster
German poster
German poster
US six sheet poster
US six sheet poster
Japanese STB poster
Japanese STB poster
UK quad poster
UK quad poster
Belgian poster
Belgian poster
French grande poster
French grande poster
UK quad double bill poster
UK quad double bill poster
US half sheet poster
US half sheet poster
Italian locandina poster
Italian locandina poster
Australian daybill poster
Australian daybill poster
French moyenne poster
French moyenne poster
US insert poster
US insert poster
Poster from Argentina
Poster from Argentina
US window card
US one sheet
US one sheet
Italian poster. This one actually doesn't use Frank McCarthy's dinosaur illustration: it features a spike-backed carnosaur (cribbed from a comic book)
Italian poster. This one actually doesn’t use Frank McCarthy’s dinosaur illustration: it features a spike-backed carnosaur instead (which was cribbed from a comic book)
A much more recent Mondo poster for the movie, designed by Mike Saputo
A much more recent Mondo poster for the movie, designed by Mike Saputo
Poster for a screening of the movie by the Bristol Bad Film Club (I'm sure the club didn't think this movie was actually bad!)
Poster for a screening of the movie by the Bristol Bad Film Club (I’m sure the club didn’t think this movie was actually bad!)

LOBBY CARDS
Here are just some of the bobby cards for the film…

Lobby card
Lobby card
Lobby card. Laurence Naismith is just about to get squashed!
Lobby card. Laurence Naismith is just about to get squashed!
Lobby card. Dino fight!!!
Lobby card
Lobby card
Lobby card. Two big prehistoric beasts have a face-off!
Lobby card. Two big prehistoric beasts have a face-off!
Lobby card. Gwangi gobbles up an Ornithomimus!
Lobby card. Gwangi gobbles up an Ornithomimus!

ART INSPIRED BY THE VALLEY OF GWANGI
Here are some cool artworks by illustrators who were inspired by the movie…

Gwangi-inspired cover art for the 1983 May issue of 'Fantasy Book' magazine, by Alan Gutierrez
Gwangi-inspired cover art for the 1983 May issue of ‘Fantasy Book’ magazine, by Alan Gutierrez

Here are some Gwangi-tastic illustrations by the very prolific and very talented artist Jamie Chase…

Tuck encounters Gwangi
Tuck encounters Gwangi
It's lasso time!
It’s lasso time!

William Stout…

William Stout's rendition of the Gwangi vs Styracosaurus battle
William Stout’s rendition of the Gwangi vs Styracosaurus battle

Illustrator & designer Ross Persichetti produced some illustrations, featured on ArtStation, that were inspired by THE VALLEY OF GWANGI. Ross’ faux Gwangi sequel was called ‘Return to the Valley of Gwangi’

Gwangi chases a stagecoach!
Gwangi chases a stagecoach!
Another faux 'Return to the Valley of Gwangi' concept illustration by Ross Persichetti
Another faux ‘Return to the Valley of Gwangi’ concept illustration by Ross Persichetti

PRESSBOOK
Pages from the Gwangi pressbook…

'This is not 50,000,000 years ago... this is today!'
‘This is not 50,000,000 years ago… this is today!’
Page depicting various posters and accessories
Page depicting various posters and accessories

VARIOUS BITS AND PIECES
Here’s a bunch of different Gwangi-related items…

Dell movie adaptation comic cover
Dell movie adaptation comic cover
A page from 'The Monster Times' magazine
A page from ‘The Monster Times’ magazine
VHS cover
VHS cover
Hungarian DVD cover
Hungarian DVD cover
UK DVD sleeve
UK DVD sleeve
German black and white ad
German black and white ad
A shot of Ray Harryhausen with his clever set-up for the Gwangi vs elephant fight scene
A shot of Ray Harryhausen with his clever set-up for the Gwangi vs elephant fight scene

Finally, here’s one more look at Gwangi in action…

I love how Gwangi stops to scratch his nose! Such a great touch from Ray, that adds more 'life' to the animated star of the movie
I love how Gwangi stops to scratch his nose! Such a great touch from Ray, that adds more ‘life’ to the animated star of the movie. It is, of course, also a nice nod from Ray to Willis O’Brien’s dinosaur from KING KONG, which had an itchy snout too.

The Giant Claw (1957)

Just look at that foolish face!
Just look at that foolish face!

Directed by Fred F. (EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS) Sears, written by Samuel Newman and Paul Gangelin, starring Jeff (THIS ISLAND EARTH) Morrow, Mara (THE BLACK SCORPION) Corday and Morris (GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN) Ankrum, produced by Sam (ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU) Katzman. 

Let's just appreciate its cheap wonderfulness!
Let’s just appreciate the space beast’s cheap wonderfulness!
Check out those giant claws...
Check out those giant claws…

Jeff Morrow plays Mitch MacAfee, a civil aeronautical engineer who spots an unidentified flying object near the North Pole. Fighter aircraft are sent to chase the object, but one of the jets goes missing and officials believe it was all a hoax. But then more aircraft disappear and it is eventually discovered that the ‘UFO’ is actually a gigantic alien bird…

US one sheet poster
US one sheet poster

…and this is all we really need to know about the plot, right?
It’s about a giant space buzzard attacking Earth!

It's building a giant nest!
It’s building a giant nest!
It laid a giant egg!
It’s laid a giant egg!
Watch out, dude!
Watch out, dude!

Okay, it’s hard not to poke fun at a movie that boasts a monster that is, well, a shoddy marionette with bulging eyes and flared nostrils!

It’s just so stupid looking!

It’s also hard not to snigger when the movie’s characters repeatedly describe the critter as being the size of a battleship! They say it so often!

Don't ya just love its dopey features?!
Don’t ya just love its dopey features?!

And yet… I like the mad imagination of this film.

The filmmakers actually made a movie focusing on an enormous space bird that is from an antimatter galaxy that has an antimatter forcefield to protect it from bullets and rockets! That’s insane! It’s such a preposterous and absurd concept that you just have to wonder how the hell the plot got the green-light to be made.

But thank goodness it did!

The Giant Claw wrecks planes!
The Giant Claw wrecks planes!
The Giant Claw smashes-up New York!
The Giant Claw smashes-up New York!

The batty, tatty, bent-beaked behemoth gets a lot of screen time and, as a monster movie fan, I appreciate this!

This scene, where a photo of the beaky beast is shown on a screen made me laugh out loud!
This scene, where a photo of the beaky beast is shown on a screen, made me laugh out loud!

What adds to the film’s enjoyment is the fact that the concept is so utterly loopy but Jeff Morrow takes the whole thing very seriously. So let’s spare a moment to respect Jeff for his professionalism!

Jeff Morrow deserves our undying respect
Jeff Morrow deserves our undying respect
It has a beak... with teeth!
It has a beak… with teeth!

Here are some yummy posters for the movie. The artists pretty much never want to show what the bird monster’s goofy face looks like! Can’t blame them…

Australian daybill poster
Australian daybill poster
US half sheet poster
US half sheet – style A – poster
Australian one sheet poster
Australian one sheet poster
Italian Locandina poster
Italian Locandina poster
US half sheet - style B - poster
US half sheet – style B – poster
Italian poster
Italian poster
US insert poster
US insert poster
Italian poster
Italian poster
US six sheet poster
US six sheet poster

Here’s a pressbook…

'Winged monster grips entire nation!'
‘Winged monster grips entire nation!’

Lobby cards…

Lobby card
Lobby card
Lobby card
Lobby card
Lobby card
Lobby card
Lobby card. I think Jeff Morrow is aiming at the Mexican special FX dudes who built the gimpy puppet...
Lobby card. I think Jeff Morrow is aiming at the Mexican special FX dudes who built the gimpy puppet…

Some other materials…

VHS cover
VHS cover
An illustration by hobbyist Tracer67
An illustration by hobbyist Tracer67
This fan-made poster shows the creature's face in all its goofy, bent-beaked glory!
This fan-made poster shows the creature’s face in all its goofy, bent-beaked glory (and even includes lots of drooling saliva too)!
The end