High And Low: Les Vampires Terrorize Without Sucking, Godzilla Puts Smackdown On Megalon

Les Vampires: Movieline High and Low

Movieline is excited to welcome Alonso Duralde back to the pages of this site with a new regular feature we're calling High and Low. Every week, the dauntless Duralde will wade through the mind-numbing number of home-entertainment choices out there and recommend two must-see releases:  His first pick will be geared for cineastes looking for essential viewing. His second will be aimed at movie lovers seeking out the highest form of guilty pleasure available:  the offbeat, the campy, the kitschy and the just plain wacky. Take it away, Alonso:

HIGH: Les Vampires (Kino Classics; $34.95 DVD/$39.95 Blu-Ray)

Who’s Responsible: Written and directed by Louis Feuillade; starring Musidora, Édouard Mathé, Marcel Lévesque.

What It's All About: Consisting of 10 serialized chapters, such as “The Severed Head” and “Satanus,” Feuillade’s silent 1915 crime drama follows journalist Philipe (played by Mathé) as he attempts to investigate the notorious syndicate known as The Vampires. (Sorry, Twilight fans, no blood-sucking here.)  Over the course of this epic, which has been strung together as a single six-hour-and-40-minute (approximately) movie, we get murder, robbery, identity theft, poison rings, codebooks, gas attacks, paralysis drugs and orgies. What’s not to like?

Why it’s Schmancy: Critics of the era despised Les Vampires — even in 1915, crime stories were considered old-fashioned and beneath Feuillade’s abilities — but the serial was embraced by André Breton and other founders of the Surrealist movement, particularly for the way that Feuillade combined a very realistic portrayal of Paris’ streets and sewers with his fantastic tale of masked bandits and their over-the-top skullduggery. More recent fans include Olivier Assayas, whose 1996 Irma Vep featured Hong Kong superstar Maggie Cheung (playing herself) coming to Paris to star in a remake. (Sexy assassin Irma Vep — played by Musidora in the original — is one of the key members of The Vampires, and her name is, of course, an anagram.)

Why You Should Buy It (Again): This two-disc set comes beautifully mastered in HD, from the 1996 35mm restoration produced by the Cinémathèque Française and supervised by Feuillade’s grandson. The score for the silent film was compiled and performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

Godzilla Versus Megalon: Movieline High and LowLOW: Godzilla vs. Megalon (Tokyo Shock; $16.99 DVD)

Who’s Responsible: Written and directed by Jun Fukuda, story by Takeshi Kimura and Shinichi Sekizawa; starring Katsushiko Sasaki, Hiroyuki Kawase, Yutaka Hayashi.

What It's All About: In this 13th outing for one of Japan’s most enduring franchises, the underground kingdom of Seatopia protests the damage that atomic testing has inflicted upon them by stealing the robot Jet-Jaguar and using it to guide their demon god Megalon to destroy mankind. (Megalon flattens Tokyo first, naturally.) Jet-Jaguar’s inventors use a remote control to regain power over their creation, and the cyborg joins forces with Godzilla to whomp the tar out of both Megalon and giant alien insect Gigan.

Why It’s Fun: 1973’s Godzilla vs. Megalon sees the series moving in several entertaining directions; for one thing, the actual Godzilla suit has become more streamlined and less cumbersome, allowing the actor inside (Shinji Takagi, this time) to move around more and to engage in more physical combat. Also, the introduction of Jet-Jaguar came at a time when lots of Japanese kids’ shows, inspired by the success of Ultraman, started throwing in more robots, and giving Godzilla an automaton sidekick with which to defeat the bad guys gives the movie a real jolt. (This is one of those rare films that’s as much fun to watch unadulterated as it is on Mystery Science Theater 3000.)

Why You Need to Buy It (Again): Both the original Japanese version and the English dub, as well as a trailer and photo gallery.

Alonso Duralde has written about film for The Wrap, Salon and MSNBC.com. He also co-hosts the Linoleum Knife podcast and regularly appears on What the Flick?! (The Young Turks Network).  He is a senior programmer for the Outfest Film Festival in Los Angeles and a pre-screener for the Sundance Film Festival. He also the author of two books: Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas (Limelight Editions) and 101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men (Advocate Books).

Follow Alonso Duralde on Twitter.

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