January 2023 Mini-Reviews – Invasion of Astro Monster to Thief of Baghdad (1978)

Hey, it’s the first month of 2024!

Well, actually, I’m writing this in February, but I’m reviewing January 2024.  And since this is the shortest month of the year (even with Leap Year), I have even less time to mess around with posting these than usual.  Ha ha.

Viewing for 2024 starts with some kaiju fun — including Monarch, Kong, a “lost” Japanese monster whale movie, and a Chinese Kong imitation with a crocodile — plus more MST3K, who have decided to turn their Holiday Stream into a Forever Stream on YouTube.  Yay!

I also accidentally dived into Arabian Nights movies (which are not part of my ongoing and oft-delayed Sword & Sorcery film survey).  And there’s the usual mix of complete TV series — the new Percy Jackson show — and other miscellanea, too.  So, let’s dive right in!

Ratings are out of five stars. Here’s what those stars mean to me…

* – This film is not good. Avoid it unless you tolerate dreck well.
** – A flawed film. You may enjoy it if you like this genre or the folks in it.
*** – A good solid film. If you like this genre, you’ll probably like this film.
**** – A superior film within its genre. Thoroughly enjoyable.
***** – An outstanding film on many levels. A great example of its genre.

Note that some shows I’ve given a parenthetical star rating, either adding or subtracting stars, depending on how your amusement may differ from mine. I’ve explained the meaning in the reviews themselves.  Usually.  Though in the case of Mystery Science Theater 3000 reviews, usually the parenthetical is the stars to add when watching the riffed versions.

Invasion of Astro Monster (1964) ***** One of the great 60s Godzilla movies, as G teams with Rodan to fight Ghidrah & space aliens. Nick Adams is fab.
Ebirah Horror of the Deep (1966) *** Rewritten from a King Kong story, Godzilla awakens to help islanders enslaved by villains. Mothra & giant lobster, too.
Son of Godzilla (1967?) *** I confuse this with Ebirah, but though the giant lobster appears, its goofy Minilla vs. giant insects, with Godzilla, mostly.
Destroy All Monsters (1968) ***** Last of the great 1960s kaiju films, Toho crammed every monster they had into this aliens vs. Earth epic. Lots of fun!
Doctor Who: The Church on Ruby Road (Christmas Special 2023) ***** A strong finish to the 2023 Doctor Who specials, as airship goblins try to kidnap people out of time to gobble them up.
Monkey Business (1931) **** One of my least seen Marx Brothers movies still has some great bits, including the Chevalier-imitation scene.
Sword & the Dragon, The (MST3K) **(**) A Russian fantasy epic featuring mass battles & a giant dragon gets, the MST3K treatment. A better print would help.
Radar Secret Service (MST3K) **(**) Law enforcement agents use (a super-science version of) RADAR to hunt down a gang of thieves. Good with MST3K.
Brute Man, The (MST3K) **(**) Rondo Hatton plays the titular character, a.k.a. the Creeper, who commits mayhem but only wants love. MST3K gives it.
Horror at Party Beach (MST3K) ***(**) I love this cheesy beach monster movie, zombie-gill-men mutants besiege teens. MST3K ads their brand of fun to top.
Teenagers from Outer Space (MST3K) ***(**) Sincerely made low-budget SF about invasion plans led by young prince who falls in love. Ripe for MST3K riffing.
Severed Arm, The *** Friends trapped in a mine cut one guy’s arm off to survive. Years later, they’re killed one by one. TV actor special.
Death in Paradise (S3) *** Otherwise good season starts with totally unnecessary murder of the previous star. Continues as if nothing happened.
What If…? (S2) **** Marvel digs into its barrel of obscure characters — Why? — but it all wraps up pretty well in the end. Peggy Carter rules!
House of Long Shadows, The *** 7 Keys to Baldpate gets a modern remake, but it’s stars Lee, Price, & Carradine that make it worth the watch. Decent.
Blood Beast Terror, The **** Hammer Reptile-like film about scientist raising a killer moth/woman. Peter Cushing helps, despite low-budget ending.
Invisible Boy, The *** Boy makes friends with computer, becomes invisible, controls (Robbie the) Robot as machines plot against Earth.
Dark Shadows (1944 short) *** Police psychiatrist is enlisted to solve the murder of a doctor & uses his skills to narrow the suspects. Surprisingly noir. No relation to the classic modern Gothic horror series.
Body Disappears, The (1941) *** Jane Wyman & mad scientist dad try to raise the dead, but merely turn drunk man invisible. Unclothed hijinks ensue.
Midway (1976) *** Plenty of real WWII footage & recreated scenes, but despite good cast, this battle film rings emotionally hollow.
Poirot 13-1 Elephants Can Remember **** Poirot’s friend Ariadne Oliver sucks him into the mystery of whether a girl’s mother killed her father before committing suicide years ago. Poirot discovers the connection to a current case & a girl from Boston & the twists pile on.
Vera 1-3 the Crow Trap **** A woman found dead in her barn leads Very to investigate her heirs, a local building scheme, & a long-missing child.
Midsomer Murders 15-5 The Sicilian Defence ***** Teenage chess prodigy is attacked & develops amnesia while her boyfriend vanishes. Barnaby & Jones must sort out the suspects & discover what the girl has forgotten after a chess master is murdered while tensions mount.
Jungle Book (1941) ***** Korda’s classic adaptation features Sabu and a variety of real & puppeted animals into a satisfying adventure whole.
Whale God, The (1962) **** Japanese take on Moby Dick, man devotes his life to killing the whale that killed his father, despite ruining his life & love.
Siren of Atlantis (1949) *** Lost in the desert, treasure hunting legionnaires discover lost Atlantis, ruled over by an immortal queen with a penchant for dipping her lovers in gold. when she’s finished with them. Will they turn on her or each other? Surprisingly dark.
Adventures of Tin Tin, The **** The uncanny valley still rears its weird head in this Spielberg film, despite the cartoony elements of the character design. The plot is a typical adventure treasure hunt, but more over-the-top than an Indiana Jones. Decent family fun.
Monarch (S1) **** Godzilla & other monsters are appearing all over the world & Monarch wants to know why, as do the heirs of one of Monarch’s scientists. Middle lacks monsters, but the 1950s sequences are great, almost overcoming the whiny “teen” characters of the present. Kurt Russell and his son Wyatt play the same character generations apart & make it worthwhile.
Midsomer Murders 22-3 Happy Families ***** When a game creator is killed during a live murder mystery game, Barnaby & Winter soon find themselves stranded on the recluse’s island, trying to solve the murder. But a house full of heirs & game players makes the solution tricky.
Creeping Flesh, The **** Peter Cushing finds a mysterious pre-human skeleton that regenerates when went & tries to use its strange properties to fashion a cure for evil. All the while his brother Christopher Lee plots & Cushing’s daughter, whom he is trying to protect, goes wild. Are there real monsters here, or…? I like this Amicus “classic” better each time I see it.
Rare Exports ***** A mining company opening up an ancient hill discovers what appears to be a strange, violent Santa Claus, which is taken captive by a reindeer hunter, his son, & their friends. But a bigger, stranger threat is soon revealed. Finnish fun!
Troll Hunter (2010) **** Students making a film about hunting in Norway stumble across a traditional Troll Hunter, kept secret from the public & follow him on his adventures trying to keep the weird monsters out of the public eye. Strong low-budget “reality” film.
Quatermass & the Pit (1959 serial) ***** The best of the Quatermass stories got a first-class live BBC serial production that happily survives to this day in a format good enough for blu-ray. Construction workers uncover what’s revealed to be a space ship older than humankind.
Infernal Cauldron, The (1903) *** Georges Méliès short about a demon throwing victims into a cauldron who then return as ghosts & chase him.
Crocodile Island (2020) **(*) A Chinese group stranded on a remote island must face killer crocodiles & other bad CGI monsters. Silly near-fun with elements of propaganda, of course. Probably inspired by Kong: Skull Island, but for fans of goofy, only.
Kong – Skull Island (2017) **** In the 1970s, a group of scientists & military personnel & a photographer race to Skull Island before the USSR can find it, but discover far more than they bargained for in Kong and the creatures there. Action in MONARCH overlaps with this film, though that was added for the TV series & not planned at this point.
Poirot 13-2 The Big Four ***** Poirot must foil the machinations of the Big Four, a quartet of criminals who seem poised to send the world into war.
Wicked, Wicked *** Early proto-slasher movie shot in widescreen but split into 2 different POV images much of the time. Interesting oddity.
Ali Baba & the Forty Thieves (1944) *** Young Ali is adopted by the 40 thieves after his father, the king, is betrayed & murdered. Grown Ali & his bandits are pursued & plot to win back his throne. Standard action film in glorious technicolor. Similar end to Arabian Nights (’42).
Arabian Nights (1942) *** Sabu helps John Hall pursue Maria Montez (Sherazade) & his stolen kingdom in standard non-fantasy Arabian tale.
Uncanny, The (1977) *** Peter Cushing is an author hoping to publish a book containing tales of murderous cats, setting the frame for this feline-centered set of horror stories. Some good fun. Nothing too surprising.
Kismet (1955) *** Based on the musical, the staginess hurts this tale of a mendicant (Howard Keel) who rises from beggar to advisor to a (wicked) king through combination of luck, circumstance, & kismet (fate). But helping his daughter may cost everything.
Cat’s Eye (1985) *** Trio of Stephen King cat-based tales includes a cure for smoking, a climb around the ledge of a high-rise, & a very creepy tale of a troll trying to steal Drew Barrymore’s breath, while her parents blame the cat. King fans will enjoy.
Last Voyage of the Demeter (2023) **** Tale of the doomed ship that takes Dracula to England has some interesting turns, good special effects, & plenty of creepiness as the Demeter makes its way to Whitby. Nice to have a film where Drac is evil, not romantic.
Midsomer Murders 22-4 The Scarecrow Murders **** The Midsomer Scarecrow Festival turns gruesome when villagers turn up murdered & posed to resemble scarecrows. As the body count climbs, Barnaby & Winter must find the killer before they have no suspects left.
Innocent Blood *** A modern day vampire takes on organized crime in John Landis’ sexy comedy-shocker. Amusing
Quatermass & the Pit (1959 serial commentary) ***** Not only is this a good serial about a pre-human spaceship found in London, but the blu-ray has excellent commentary.
Last Warning, The (1928) **** Years after a tragic death, attempts to re-open a theater lead to plenty of Old Dark House type goings-on in this superior entry from the end of the silent era. The part-talkie version is lost, but silent version survives & is thrilling & fun.
Mysterious Island (1929 color) **** I didn’t know that a color print of this silent-talkie SF “classic” had survived… But it has & I wish someone would give it a full restoration.(Captain) Nemo’s island is overrun by invaders & his subs sink to the sea bottom where they find a lost civilization of mermen & monsters. Crew must overcome mermen & invaders for explosive finish.
Infernal Cave, The (1905) *** Satan creates 2 demon women to dance with him in this early Méliès-like hand-colored Pathé short
Poirot 13-3 Dead Man’s Folly **** Ariadne Oliver summons Poirot when a festival’s planned murder mystery turns into a real murder.
Reacher (S2) ***** Reacher is reunited with his old team to investigate the mysterious deaths of former team members. Exciting action scenes & strong characters make one willing to forgive a bit too much green-screen work at the end. I want more!
Man’s Best Friend *** A TV reporter releases a genetically engineered (killer) dog from a lab doing animal experiments. The dog is devoted to her but doesn’t much like her boyfriend, the neighborhood cat, or the scientist who made & pursues it. Silly but OK.
Hammer House of Horror (S1) **** Production values are strong in this 1980s Hammer TV series, though the tales vary wildly from good & creepy to straightforward & predictable. It’s the casts, including Peter Cushing & Kathryn Leigh Scott that make it worth watching.
Tales that Witness Madness *** Freddy Francis anthology centers on psychiatric treatment in a mental hospital. A young boy has an imaginary tiger for a friend. A penny-farthing bicycle seems to take a man to the past. A sculptor takes an old dead tree home to work on. And a luau needs a virgin to make sure a mother goes to heaven. Uneven but still entertaining.
Sinbad & the Caliph of Baghdad (1963) *** Sherazade is promised to an evil Caliph (who kills women for fun) & Sinbad (Simbad) must make sure things turn out right in this Italian take on the classic character. The print looks like video, rather than color film, sadly.
Sinbad of the Seven Seas **(*) Lou Ferrigno’s Sinbad looks more like Hercules & the story plays like a TV show, yet I find some charm to this fantasy.
Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning (Pt.1) **** Ethan Hunt & his crew are back, pitted against the forces of a malevolent AI that seems determined to kill the MI Team in order to take over the world. Sadly deadly for some cast, but with exciting scenes & spectacular practical stunts.
Poirot 13-4 The Labours of Hercules **** Poirot pursues a thief to the alps & finds himself trapped by an avalanche & blizzard in a resort with a variety of shady types, including a crooked concierge & a possible wife beater. Murder ensues, of course, & an old crime resurfaces.
Buck Rogers (serial) **** Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon) stars in one of the original space opera serials pitting Buck & allies against Killer Kane.
Adventures of Hajji Baba, The (1943) *** John Derek is a clever Arab who rescues a wayward princess in disguise & must then choose between ransoming her & falling for her, while evil political forces want her back. Good production, but the story is pretty standard.
Sinbad – The Fifth Voyage **(*) Low-budget production in the Harryhausen tradition has some fun stop-motion monsters but scripting isn’t great & the end result seems to have been color graded within an inch of its life. Not sure if I saw the original or Director’s Cut.
Percy Jackson & the Olympians (S1) ***** Disney’s adaptation of the Riordan series is more faithful than the movie versions & all the better for it. Teen learns that he’s the son of an Olympian & attends demi-god camp, where he’s given a quest to stop a war among the gods. Fine casting, clever writing & scripting & first-class special effects make this a treat. Can’t wait for season 2!
Shetland (S3) ***** The series goes to full-season mysteries, starting with a sad teen death, a mysterious stranger, & a heartbreaking personal turn for one of the team members while they all unravel a series of connected murders. Really good.
Hocus Pocus 2 *** The three witches are back with a brief origin story & then an extended comical stay trying to rule the present. Kid stuff.
Thief of Baghdad, The (1978) ***(*) Roddy McDowell as the titular Thief who helps a prince reclaim his throne & the princess from evil Vizier. Good TV fare.

And that’s it for the start of 2024!

Total for the month is a surprising 66 movies, series, and notable subjects.  Which is also the total for the year, since the year just started. I doubt I’ll be able to keep up that blistering pace, especially since February is a short month — and then March has what’s basically a 2-part, week-long convention as Gary Con adds a pre-con Legends con to celebrate the 50th anniversary of D&D.

Yes, believe it or not, Dungeons & Dragons is 50 years old this year — and I’ve been playing it for 47 of those years and working on it professionally for nearly 44… Longer if you count the 2 D&D contests I “won” (3rd & 2nd) before joining TSR in 1980.  Yow.  It’s almost like I’m getting old or something.

NEXT MONTH: More monsters! More mysteries! And at least one more box set of my favorite show of all time, Dark Shadows!  See you then!

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About Steve Sullivan 420 Articles
Stephen D. Sullivan is an award-winning author, artist, and editor. Since 1980, he has worked on a wide variety of properties, including well-known licenses and original work. Some of his best know projects include Dungeons & Dragons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dragonlance, Iron Man, Legend of the Five Rings, Speed Racer, the Tolkien RPG, Disney Afternoons, Star Wars, The Twilight Empire (Robinson's War), Uncanny Radio, Martian Knights, Tournament of Death, and The Blue Kingdoms (with his friend Jean Rabe).