Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor

The two-headed giant
Watch out for the two-headed giant!

Three Technicolor Popeye two-reelers (Popeye Color Specials) came out in the thirties, with POPEYE THE SAILOR MEETS SINDBAD THE SAILOR (1936) being the one that’s full of monsters and creatures.

Giant snake monster
Giant snake monster!

In this 16 minute story Sindbad the Sailor (Bluto) lives in a castle on an island full of chained creatures, including lions, vultures, reptiles, apes, dragons and even a two-headed giant. He also has a pet roc that he sends to kidnap Olive Oyl and sink Popeye’s boat, which is sailing past the isle. Popeye gets to fight the roc (which he serves up like a big roast chicken), the giant and, with the help of his spinach, he finally has a brawl with Sindbad.

The roc!

The story is mainly told in song, with Sindbad proclaiming himself to be the greatest sailor and a most remarkable, extraordinary fellow. (He even namechecks King Kong!) The characterisations are straightforward and fun, with anarchic, rubbery, Fleischer-style animation that is loose and free, with no effort to mimic reality. This short also showcases some impressive scenes using the Fleischer Studio’s ‘setback process’.
Here’s a little background info on the ‘setback’ rig: it consisted of a forced-perspective, miniature set mounted on a turntable. This served as the background to the cel art that was held in a vertical glass plate. The turntable would be rotated incrementally behind the cels, creating the effect of a ‘tracking shot’, with the 2D animated character, in a side-view walk cycle, traversing a quite realistic-looking 3D environment.

The ‘setback process’ in action
The roc takes off!

Interestingly, Ray Harryhausen credited POPEYE THE SAILOR MEETS SINDBAD THE SAILOR as an inspiration for his movie THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958). Ray’s movie featured a dragon and a roc – and a sequence was planned set in a valley of serpents, but this wasn’t shot. In the Popeye cartoon, however, Sindbad sings about going into a Valley of Serpents and we see him make two big, green snakes faint simply by giving them a ‘dirty look’.

Sindbad and two serpents
Sindbad gives the serpents a dirty look
Popeye serves up the roc!
Popeye serves up the roc!

The short has a creepy (at least for modern audiences) running gag featuring Wimpy chasing after a yellow duck with a meat grinder, presumably wanting to grind it up alive to make a hamburger!

Wimpy wants the duck
Watch out, duck!

This Popeye short was deemed culturally significant by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

So many critters!
Lots of creatures!
A dragon!
Just some of the creatures on Sindbad’s island!

Night of the Demon (1957)

The demon
I love this demon!

Also known as CURSE OF THE DEMON in America, this British horror movie is an adaptation of the 1911 M.R. James story ‘Casting the Runes’. Its plot focuses on Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) travelling from the USA to England to meet with colleagues and investigate a black magic cult that is linked to the death of Professor Harrington (who is shown being killed by a demon at the very beginning of the film).

The UK poster
UK poster

As the story unfolds Holden is approached by suspected cult leader Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis) in the library at the British Museum, where the well-mannered cultist offers to show Holden a rare book kept at his mansion. Holden does go to Karswell’s home, accompanied by Joanna (Peggy Cummins), Professor Harrington’s niece, where they see Karswell entertaining the local children dressed as a clown. After a strong storm ruins the party, Karswell says that he had actually created the wind himself with a spell. Holden remains sceptical, even when Karswell tells him that he will die in a few days time.

Karswell plays the clown
Karswell plays the clown

Some people (including the director) think that the demon should not have been shown at the start of the movie (or anywhere else) because this gives the game away that there actually is a demonic monster doing the killings. I don’t agree: because we viewers have SEEN the creature in the first reel murdering Harrington, we know that Dana Andrews’ self-assured, I-know-best, skeptical hero IS in trouble!

US poster
US poster

As events become harder to explain away in a scientific manner, Holden must finally admit that supernatural forces are at work, and he realises that he must find a way to return a rune-covered parchment to Karswell before the giant demon comes calling…

Dan Andrews is chased through the woods
The chase is on…

I really, really like this movie. It is well written by Charles Bennett and directed wonderfully by Jacques (CAT PEOPLE, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE) Tourneur, who creates a movie permeated with a moody, spooky atmosphere. He handles the escalation of events intelligently, carefully ramping up the chills, building the sense of approaching doom slowly and effectively.

A major asset of this movie is Niall MacGinnis, who is especially memorable as the occultist Karswell. He adds immeasurably to the quality of the film with his multifaceted turn: he is sometimes playful, sometimes courteous, sometimes threatening and finally he is just fear-filled after he realises the runes have been returned to him.

Niall MacGinnis is amazing as Karswell

Despite the artistic differences (between the film’s producer and the director & writer) concerning whether or not to actually show the demon onscreen, I think this supernatural creature is the icing on the cake for this perfect horror picture. There’s a medieval feel to the massive demon’s horned, pointy-eared design, and its appearances are made that bit more haunting thanks to the use of swirling, glowing smoke and creepy music & sound effects as the hell-creature takes form in our world. I love the look of its scowling face!

The demon reaches out
The demon reaches out…

NIGHT OF THE DEMON is a perfectly formed tale of the occult, effectively highlighting the conflict between ancient superstition and modern day scientific rationality in a brisk, articulate manner.

This is one of my favourite movies: I can re-watch it and know I will enjoy it just as much this time as I have done previously… and, of course, it boasts a huge, winged, grimacing, furry demon!

The demon amongst the trees
It’s in the trees! It’s coming!

Okay, there have always been conflicting claims about different running times of the UK and US versions of this film.
These, I believe, are the facts (based on information/versions contained in Indicator’s 2-disc Blu-ray edition): there was a 96 minute UK pre-release version and the US re-issue, which was the same length but went out under the American title CURSE OF THE DEMON. There were then the original UK and US theatrical cuts, both of which had running times of 82 minutes.

Is it an oncoming train... or oncoming demon?
Is it an oncoming train… or oncoming demon?
Karswell gets his comeuppance...
Karswell gets his comeuppance…

The Ritual (2017)

Don’t enter the forest, guys…

Based on Adam Nevill’s immersive, creepy 2011 novel, this movie tells the story of a group of male friends, including guilt-ridden Luke (played by Rafe Spall), hiking across the Swedish countryside as a tribute to their dead friend Rob.

When one of the group sprains his knee, the fateful decision is made to take a shortcut through a forest, where they stumble upon runes carved in trees, a gutted deer and finally a cabin, which they sleep in to avoid the rain. From now on things get ever-creepier, after a statue of a headless human body, made from twigs and antlers, is discovered in one of the cabin’s rooms…

THe friends together
Remembering Rob
The statue
The weird headless twig statue

This is a very satisfying horror tale with a well-sustained atmosphere, shot impressively on location in a seemingly endless forest. Rafe Spall’s character has some well-handled flashbacks/nightmares of the night Rob was murdered in a bungled store robbery and the inference is that these ongoing nightmares aren’t solely due to Luke’s guilt over not helping Rob, but also because something has got into his head and is messing with his emotions. Luke isn’t alone in this, as his buddies are also suffering from bad dreams, with one of them (Arsher Ali) seemingly praying to the twig statue whilst asleep.

The creature grabs Luke
Just what the hell is this?

As the friends trudge onwards through the forest, they soon realise they are being stalked by a creature, something massive enough to push aside trees as it passes through them. This is where THE RITUAL really stands out, creating a very intriguing beast referred to as a Jötunn, a god-creature from Norse legend: a bastard-offspring of Loki.

The Jötunn
The Jötunn comes calling…

We find this out after the two surviving friends enter a forest village inhabited by people who pray and sacrifice to this creature in return for a kind of immortality. This everlasting life is shown to be quite a ghastly fate when Luke goes into an attic and finds a large group of withered ‘corpses’ that are actually still alive, imbued with a horrible version of eternal life through their worship of the Jötunn.

The Jötunn in all its glory
Such an amazing critter!

As the finale kicks-in we are shown the Jötunn in all its glory: a huge elk-monster with a very weird head that sports human arms, small glowing eyes and antlers. This beast is very novel-looking and it helps make a good horror movie even more special.

Behind the scenes…
Here’s the maquette of the beast, based on concept designs by Keith Thompson. The model stands 2 feet tall and was used as photogrammetry reference for the VFX department for details and colour.

The maquette
The maquette for the creature

Here are behind the scenes shots of dummies used for the ‘congregation’ (the living dead ‘corpses’ seen in the attic). Two of these dummies had components for puppeteering. There were also eight background makeups on actors used to complete the congregation group. Head sculptures were by Clint Ziccoli, based on designs by Keith Thompson, and animatronics & fabrication by Mark Villalobos.

corpse dummies
corpse dummy
Dummies used for the ‘congregation’
Ritual gif
What a creature!

About the novel…

One of the cover designs used for the novel
One of the cover designs used for the novel

Adam Nevill’s original novel is different in places, compared to the movie plot, though the central story is the same: the characters go on a trekking holiday through a Scandinavian forest, though it is not undertaken as a tribute to a murdered friend, which is the trigger for the trip in the movie.

The main character in the book (played by Rafe Spall in the film) isn’t wracked with guilt, as in the movie, but is someone who struggles with a quick-fire temper and feelings of bitterness, caused by his perceived lack of success with jobs and relationships compared to his better off friends.

The creature in the novel is very different, and is effective in its own way, racing through the trees like some long, black, hard-to-see beast that can easily merge into the background foliage.

The people living in the forest that the protagonists encounter are also quite different compared to those portrayed in the film. These odd denizens in the novel are pretty interesting characters, including some young, black metal-loving dudes and a hoofed old lady, though I think the forgotten community of Norse villagers seen in the movie are equally as compelling .

Where the book really scores highly, however, is in its ability to really place the reader in the midst of an almost impenetrable, ancient forest, where each step becomes a struggle to push onwards past roots, sharp twigs and closely-packed tree trunks. You really feel like you are stuck in that dank, dark place with the characters. Great stuff.

King Kong vs Godzilla (1962) or Godzilla vs Kong (2021)… which is your favourite?

The two posters

KING KONG VS GODZILLA (1962) is a Toho critter classic featuring a great Godzilla suit and a not so great Kong suit. This movie is retro fun with suitmation & scale model sets. It was a big money maker at the time!
GODZILLA VS KONG (2021) is the new MonsterVerse epic that boasts a final neon-lit battle of the CGI god-beasts in Hong Kong. The most successful release of the lockdown period!
Enter the poll below to let Monster Zone know if you’re a fan of the Toho movie or the Legendary release… or maybe you’re a fan of both?

Feed the Gods (2014)

Bigfoot or Wild Man?

Two bickering brothers decide to trace their biological parents, leading them to a forgotten, backwoods town. Accompanied by the younger brother’s girlfriend (Emily Tennant), they eventually discover that the townsfolk sacrifice people to the local bigfoot creatures via a pact, which allows some of the locals to leave the town if they want to.

The protagonists
The trip begins!

Tyler Johnston plays the younger, sensible, lawyer brother Kris and Shawn (DIARY OF THE DEAD) Roberts plays Will, the older slacker brother who is a wannabe filmmaker and looks like he works out a lot. These two bicker throughout the film, with Kris being the more snarky of the two and Will coming across as impulsive but easy going. This constant sniping works some of the time but can get a bit much.

Nice poster

I think the premise of this movie, about the secret sacrifice to the local wild man ‘gods’, is great – plus there are interesting moments, such as when Will stumbles upon the skull of a creature in a cave.

A creature's skull
The skull

I enjoyed the movie till the start of the third act, when the plot should really have shifted gears, giving us more interactions & confrontations between the protagonists and the mysterious wild man/bigfoot creatures. This, unfortunately, doesn’t happen.

Film poster
He’s a legend. You’re history

Instead of this, the plot just keeps its focus on the leads and the local townsfolk who are part of the sacrificing-outsiders-to-the-bigfoot pact.

 up of creature
The creature's face
The creature is always shown in close up

Another element of the story that gets ridiculous is the way Will keeps accidentally killing people. He does this not just the one time, not twice, not three times… but four times! It just gets silly how he keeps inadvertently offing people, including the time he manages to kill one villain by pushing the guy onto a bear trap that is hanging on the wall, primed to snap shut! Now that’s what I call a dangerous living room decoration!


The plot remains bogged down with the townsfolk planning the sacrifices, capturing the protagonists, etc, rather than showing the main characters encountering the creatures – and, when a bigfoot/wild man does appear near the very end of the film, the makeup is not anything special.

Roaring bigfoot
Angry bigfoot!

Such a shame, really, as the film did show a lot of promise in its premise.

The bigfoot looks a bit like the Grinch here!

The Reptile (1966)

Don't get bitten!
Don’t get bitten!
The Reptile poster

Harry Spalding (Ray Barrett) moves into his late brother’s cottage in a village in Cornwall with his new wife Valerie (Jennifer Daniel). The village’s inhabitants are all on edge due to the odd deaths that are plaguing the place and only the local pub owner (Michael Ripper) is friendly to the newly arrived couple.

Hammer regular Michael Ripper!

The nearest place to the Spalding’s cottage is Well House, which is owned by Dr. Franklyn (Noel Willman), who lives there with his daughter Anna (Jacqueline Pearce) and a moody Malay servant. As the deaths continue to occur the horrific truth is eventually revealed, involving curses and bodily transformation.

Anna entertains the guests
Anna entertains the guests

THE REPTILE was shot back to back with THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES by John Gilling, shares some of that film’s sets, and several actors appear in both of the films (Ripper & Pearce). It was released on a double bill with RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK.

Double bill poster
UK quad poster

Jacqueline Pearce is affecting as the tragic daughter in this Hammer horror tale about a woman cursed by a cult to become a murderous snake creature – and the look of the reptile woman that Pearce turns into is quite striking, I think, despite the low-tech techniques used to bring her to life. Roy Ashton created the makeup, which entirely covers Pearce’s head, and only the unblinking eyes detract somewhat from an otherwise memorable creation.

The reptile attacks
The reptile attacks!

Ashton’s treatment of the faces of all the victims bitten by the creature involves turning them green/black and adding foam that dribbles from their mouths. One of these unfortunates is Mad Peter, played by John (DAD’S ARMY) Laurie.

Mad Peter dying
He’s doomed!

Hammer regular Michael Ripper is likeable in his role as the helpful local publican and Noel (KISS OF THE VAMPIRE) Willman plays Dr. Franklyn, who tries to keep his daughter’s condition secret, as someone who is equal parts sinister and guilt-ridden. There’s an effective moment when Franklyn, full of revulsion and impotence, lashes out at his daughter’s shed snakeskin lying on her bed.

The father is attacked
The father eventually becomes a victim of his cursed daughter…

If there’s a problem with THE REPTILE it’s the fact the film treats its story as something of a mystery, despite the poster showing us what is causing all the deaths, resulting in the reptile woman attack scenes feeling a little too rushed in the latter parts of the movie.

The Reptile face-on

But, hey, this is a Hammer film about a were-snake-woman and I will always be fond of it!

Italian poster
Italian poster
French poster
French poster
She's fangtastic!
She’s fangtastic!

Dracula A.D. 1972

Dracula holds out his hand
Respect the ring!
Dracula AD 1972 poster

In 1872 Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) battles Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) atop a runaway coach in London’s Hyde Park. Dracula gets impaled on a broken wheel spoke, causing him to disintegrate. Van Helsing also dies… just as a youthful Dracula acolyte (Christopher Neame) arrives on the scene and collects the powdery remains of Dracula. He hides the evil dust in a church graveyard where Van Helsing has just been buried, then the camera points up at the sky… and a jet plane flies overhead!

Dracula AD 1972 titles
A jet plane! In a Hammer Dracula film?!
Dracula is impaled!
Dracula gets spoked!

This entry in Hammer’s Dracula series is very enjoyable!

This was the first of Hammer’s Dracula series to take place in a contemporary setting, with Dracula being brought back to life in modern London by an acolyte called Johnny Alucard (also played by Neame). Dracula then preys on a group of young ‘hip’ partygoers, one of whom is actually a descendant of his arch enemy… Van Helsing.

Johnny Alucard
Johnny Alucard! Wait… what if you spell that backwards?

DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972) was the sixth Hammer film to star Christopher Lee as Dracula, with Peter Cushing returning to play Van Helsing: the last time he’d played the part was in THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960), which hadn’t featured Lee. So this film was also the first to star both Lee and Cushing in their respective roles since DRACULA (aka HORROR OF DRACULA) in 1958.

Caroline Munro
Caroline Munro’s character doesn’t find the ceremony that funny anymore

This film is looked down upon by many Hammer fans and critics, and I am aware of its shortcomings. Dracula never strays from the derelict deconsecrated church and the ‘swinging London’ trappings seemed dated even at the time of the film’s release (as filmmaker Brett Piper pointed out to me a while back: the “kids” are some old men’s idea of “the younger generation”). It’s also hard not to smile at the scene where Cushing needs to use a pen and paper to work out that ‘Alucard’ is ‘Dracula’ spelled backwards!

Lobby card

But I think the modern day setting does add to the story: just how many more period-set Hammer Dracula stories could have been made? The ‘hippy’ protagonists are far more interesting than the rather bland leads in the previous couple of Dracula outings, Christopher Lee looks great as the Count and Cushing is good, as always, playing a descendant of Van Helsing. Christopher Neame is memorable as smarmy acolyte Johnny Alucard, who has a great fight with Van Helsing, Caroline Munro & Stephanie Beacham supply the Hammer glamour and Michael Coles provides solid support as Inspector Murray.

Johnny Alucard meets his end in the bath!
Bath time for Johnny
Michael Coles would go on to play Inspector Murray again in the next Hammer Dracula movie
Stephanie Beacham's character would also return in the next film, but this time played by Joanna Lumley
Stephanie Beacham’s character would also return in the next film, but this time played by Joanna Lumley

There’s an enjoyable final showdown between Lee and Cushing, where the contemporary score (guitars, etc) contributes to the sequence as Van Helsing combats the Count in the church ruin with a silver knife, holy water and a stake-filled pit.

Dracula is in trouble!
Van Helsing vs Dracula

Mike Vickers’ great soundtrack has a blaxploitation vibe to it, really adding to the viewing pleasure of this film, which has been re-evaluated by the likes of Kim Newman, who chose DRACULA A.D. 1972 as one of his top 10 favourite vampire movies. Newman also featured a character called Johnny Alucard in his fantastic ANNO DRACULA series of novels.
Author and actor Mark Gatiss is a fan too, setting the third episode of his BBC/Netflix DRACULA (2020) miniseries in modern times. The episode sees the descendent of Van Helsing lying in a hospital bed, and the number of her ward is… AD | 072.

Dracula AD 1972 poster
The place: Kings Road, Chelsea

Give the movie another viewing, I’m sure you’ll dig it, man!

Dracula decays
Dracula is defeated once more… until the next time

Hammer pre-production flyer, illustrated by Tom Chantrell, for Dracula Chelsea '73", which became Dracula AD 1972
Hammer pre-production flyer, illustrated by Tom Chantrell, for Dracula Chelsea ’73”, which became Dracula AD 1972

Gonji: Dark Ventures

Detail from the GONJI: DARK VENTURES book cover
Detail from the GONJI: DARK VENTURES book cover

Okay, time for a book review! I know this blog focuses primarily on movie & TV monsters, but literary beasties can also receive some love on this blog from time to time…. and this particular book is FULL of weird critters!

GONJI: DARK VENTURES is written by T.C. Rypel and comprises two tales featuring the heroic fantasy character Gonji Sabatake, a wandering samurai with Nordic heritage.

First, a bit of background on the Gonji character…
T.C. (Ted) Rypel created this half Scandinavian/half Japanese samurai character in the 1980s, placing him in an alternate reality version of 16th century Europe, where firearms & gunpowder mix with swordplay, sorcery and supernatural beasts. Previous Gonji books include DEATHWIND OF VEDUN and FORTRESS OF LOST WORLDS. Here’s a painting by Joe Rutt, depicting a wyvern-battle scene from the Gonji novel RED BLADE FROM THE EAST…

A painting of a scene from Red Blade From The East
Now this is something I’d love to see depicted on the big screen!

And here’s a painting of the carnivorous Cave Worm from THE SOUL WITHIN THE STEEL…

Cave Worm painting by Woody Welch
Painting by Woody Welch

Anyway, let’s get back to GONJI: DARK VENTURES. The first story is the novelette ‘Reflections in Ice’, which is linked to a previously published Gonji novel and features a cool encounter with cannibal trolls. The yarn has the hero pursued by otherworldly foes and is basically a revised and expanded version of the opening chapter from the novel FORTRESS OF LOST WORLDS.

The second story, the novella ‘Dark Venture’, is the real reason you should seek out this book. It is an action-packed tale that follows Gonji and a disparate group of pirates as they become trapped in a truly weird ship’s graveyard zone.

Here's the GONJI: DARK VENTURES book cover in full
Here’s the GONJI: DARK VENTURES book cover in full

This place is filled with all kinds of dangers and horrors!

Instead of the ocean, this zone has a massive, white mass of sentient, evil-controlled, protoplasmic gloop that ensnares vessels. This gloop is able to form semi-transparent, pseudopod-like tentacles that swallow victims whole and digest them very, very slowly.

Gonji and his companions must also ward off ape-hound hybrids, dodge attacks from flying, razor-faced manta ray creatures, wriggling worm-lampreys, floating killer bubbles, rogue black hole discs (?!) and loads of shambling protoplasm-zombies. But that’s not all! Other dangers include blue lightning charges that can burn victims to a crisp, a wretched, multi-limbed being created by sorcery and a daemon that becomes a massive spectral cobra. Of these monsters I have to say the flying manta rays are my favourite critters.

Whilst reading this story it occurred to me that I could imagine Robert E Howard and William Hope Hodgson getting together to rewrite the script for THE LOST CONTINENT (1968) – and this would’ve been the result. Now believe me: that is a massive compliment!

Poster for Hammer’s THE LOST CONTINENT

That Hammer film told the story of a tramp steamer ending up in a Sargasso Sea full of killer seaweed and giant crustaceans. It’s certainly a colourful, sweaty, bizarre treat, but GONJI: DARK VENTURES is about a thousand times more outlandish and incident-filled!

Hermit crab monster from The Lost Continent
A giant hermit crab attacks in THE LOST CONTINENT

Writer Ted Rypel (a member of Monster Zone’s Facebook group) has told me that he is ‘a sucker for “Sargasso Sea”-type terrors’ and with this Gonji story, set in a twilight zone of corrupted magic, he has produced a very colourful, violent, acid-trip-mad, monster-filled, thrilling read set in a ghastly blob-sea!

Finally, here’s the GONJI: DARK VENTURES book cover illustration without the blurb. It depicts Gorgulho, who is revealed later in the story to have been made from the sewn-together limbs, torso and features of various men. It was painted by Larry Blamire, the writer/director/actor of such wonderful sf spoofs as THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA (2001) and DARK AND STORMY NIGHT (2009)…

Gonji: Dark Ventures book cover without blurb

Captain Sindbad (1963)

Captain Sindbad poster

The villainous El Kerim (Pedro Armendáriz) uses magic and brute force to take control of the kingdom of Baristan. Hearing that Sindbad (Guy Williams) is sailing there to see his girlfriend, the Princess Jana (Heidi Brühl), El Kerim decides to rid himself of this potential thorn in his side by sending rocs to destroy the adventurer’s ship. Sindbad, however, is not going to be stopped so easily, but El Kerim will be hard to beat as he cannot be killed with normal weapons… because his heart has been magically removed from his body and is protected at the top of a seemingly unassailable tower.

One of the rocs holding a boulder

Produced by the King Brothers, who also made GORGO (1961), and directed by Byron (WAR OF THE WORLDS) Haskin, this fantasy adventure was shot at the Bavaria Film Studios in Germany. Maybe being filmed in Munich is what gives this Arabian fantasy yarn the hint of a quirky European fairy tale vibe: the invincible villain keeping his heart guarded in a tall tower certainly has a Grimm’s fairy tale feel to it, as do moments like the belching wizard magically stretching his arm super-long in an attempt to steal the villain’s ring, and that same ring being used by El Kerim to comically twist the wizard’s head 360°!

Monster's head seen in close-up

The monster special effects aren’t a patch on what you’d see in a Ray Harryhausen Sinbad film, so CAPTAIN SINDBAD is always compared unfavourably to Harryhausen’s Dynamation adventures. It is definitely frustrating when, for instance, the rocs are shown flying high in the sky and it is obviously just some stock footage of seabirds, but where this production does score well is in its use of large sets with lots of extras. The movie features little location photography, with most of the film shot in colourful sound stages, helping to heighten the theatricality of the whole thing.

Large set
A spiderweb dance number!
The wizard’s long, stretchy arm!
indoor cloud
Storm in a plant pot!

Some of the quirkier visuals, like the bumbling good wizard creating an indoor rain cloud to water a plant, also help to give this movie its own distinctive feel.

Hawk attack
Stuffed hawk attack!

Monsters and creatures featured in this film include rocs (well, just close-ups of model bird legs holding boulders), a Firebird (a myna bird with a small crest added), an invisible arena monster and a multi-headed dragon-beast.

hydra monster
Hydra creature
C’mon, you gotta love this monster just a little bit, right?!

The arena scene is a good example, actually, of the pros and cons of this film compared to Harryhausen’s trilogy of Sinbad films. Where Harryhausen’s movies would’ve focused on a well-realised, well-designed stop-motion creature that is on screen for a decent amount of time, CAPTAIN SINDBAD features an invisible beast (so that it merely has to show big footprints in the sandy ground), but this film DOES boast a very impressive-looking arena set with a large amount of extras: something seldom seen in Harryhausen’s productions.

Monster footprints!
Arena set
Very nice arena set

My favourite sequence in CAPTAIN SINDBAD involves Sindbad and his men making their way through a walled zone that surrounds the tower housing the villain’s heart: here they trudge through cool swamp & volcanic rock sets, encounter strangling vines, a killer sinkhole, (model) crocodiles and a (rather oddball but somehow still memorable) many-headed monster. I really like this glowing-eyed, hydra-type beast: sure, it has rubbery necks and you can see the wires holding up the heads, but it is a goofy-looking, fun critter that sticks in the mind (and clips of this creature were used years later in NATURAL BORN KILLERS).

The tower: home of the villain’s heart!
killer vines
Killer vines!
(Model) swamp crocs!
Watch out for the volcanic pools of boiling water…
Rubbery, cool hydra-beast!

In the centre of this walled zone Sindbad has to climb a giant bell rope to reach the detached heart… which is guarded by a giant glove! This whole sequence is really well done, with the interior of the base of the tower proving to be another nicely art directed set.

Fist-tastic foe!
Giant glove
You shall not pass!
Bad glove!
Bad glove!
Love this set!

With an acrobatic spiderweb ballet dance, the princess threatened with a death-by-elephant-foot execution, a smoke-burping wizard, Guy Williams as the sword-wielding hero, a disembodied heart that is so stylised it looks about as real as a party balloon, and a mishmash of different costumes (at one point the villain seems to be dressed like a Cossack), this is a very entertaining film.

Cackling baddie with a Cossack hat!
The villain is very heartless!

An escapist, quirky, colourful action-adventure tale: give it a go!

Danish poster
French movie poster
French movie poster

Matango, Fungus of Terror (1963)

Crop of poster
Don’t eat the mushrooms…
Matango poster
Japanese poster

Also known as ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE or simply MATANGO, Ishiro (GOJIRA) Honda’s horror film is partly based on the short story ‘The Voice in the Night’ by William Hope Hodgson.

Attack of the Mushroom People poster

The movie starts in a Tokyo hospital, where a man (Akira Kubo) recounts events that have led to him residing in a barred hospital room. The story then jumps back in time to tell the tale of a group of characters, including professor Kenji Murai, who are on a yacht that ultimately sails into a storm.

Tall Japanese poster

After the yacht almost capsizes, it drifts to a island where Murai and the others go ashore and begin to explore it. They find a dense forest and masses of mushrooms. A wrecked ship is discovered, food supplies are found, then begin to dwindle, there are conflicts as characters try to take control, and hungry members of the group decide to eat the mushrooms…

The shipwreck

This movie is wonderful to look at, oozing atmosphere, with swirling island fog, a moody-looking shipwreck with ripped, decayed sails and misty, rain-soaked forest sets festooned with fungi. The art direction for the ship sets is top-notch: the various cabins are grungy and dirty, initially coated with a layer of fungus.

There’s also an abandoned lab in the wreck, which adds to the mood and mystery too, as do shots of rapidly-growing groves of mushrooms in the wet forest, with the sound of ghostly, girlish, echoing laughter playing on the soundtrack.

An infected victim

The effects of the mushrooms on the various people depends on exposure to the fungi: so we get to see characters mentally influenced after eating them, through to people with deformed, infected faces, and finally victims who have basically become human-sized perambulating mushrooms!

Mushroom people attack!

I was lucky enough to see a pristine new print of this film several years ago, when it was screened in a double bill with KING KONG VERSUS GODZILLA at the Prince Charles cinema in London. Joy!

This is what I call an awesome double bill!

If you haven’t seen MATANGO please seek it out and give it a go. If you accept the slow-burn pace of the movie at the start and soak up the eerie atmosphere you won’t be disappointed. It is a disorientating film, which initially has some jarring shifts in tone between comedic scenes, drama, a couple of musical numbers (!), mystery & horror. The way characters become deformed after ingesting the fungi adds the theme of body horror to the mix and, well, who can resist a film that boasts mushroom-headed fungi-beings shambling around a drenched island forest?!

Italian poster
Italian poster

Devoted to every kind of movie and TV monster, from King Kong to Godzilla, from the Blob to Alien.