Latitude Zero

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Latitude Zero (1969) is my kind of special effects movie; every effect is practical. I grew up watching Stingray (1964) so these sorts of model heavy effects from the sixties have a special place in my heart. It’s amazing to me how good the effects are for their day in Latitude Zero. There’s plenty of detail in the miniatures, the matte paintings have excellent depth and the “creature” actors in the monster suits are more than competent at conveying animal-like movement and mannerisms.

Overall Latitude Zero is about nothing more than campy fun. The film, written by Ted Sherderman and based upon his radio serial, isn’t concerned with an adult’s concept of believability or reality, proposing that the logic of the world in Latitude Zero operates more in line with childhood fantasies of adventure. Ishirō Honda excels at this type of picture making because he understands that for a film as ludicrous as this to be engaging it cannot be satirical or ironic; it must be utterly sincere and compulsively playful. Honda made over a dozen kaiju films during his career and that experience is what pulls Latitude Zero off.

Patricia Medina and Cesar Romero are excellent as the “big bads”. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything quite so over the top and campy as the sequence where Romero and Medina transform Hikaru Kuroki into a monster. Kuroki, in her own right, has already stolen a few scenes from Romero and our hero Joseph Cotten before being surgically fused into a plush animal hybrid monster on wires.

Richard Jaeckel and Joseph Cotten are the primary heroes in this film; given more screen time in the American release version I saw than their Japanese sidekicks Akira Takarada and Masumi Okada. I personally really like Takarada so I was a bit disappointed by his lack of screen time but you also can’t go wrong with Jaeckel hamming it up. Cotten on the other hand is relatively restrained in his performance which stands in harsh juxtaposition to his bizarre costumes. For some reason or another the choice was made by the wardrobe department at Toho to outfit Cotten so he looks like the resident ladies’ man at a retirement home in Florida.

Cult movie icon Linda Haynes makes her debut in Latitude Zero playing Dr. Anne Barton. As is the case with most of her appearances her talents as an actress are under used by Honda. Costumed like an extra in The Tenth Victim (1965), Haynes is relegated to serving as both eye candy and a mouth piece for exposition. For this reason Hikaru Kuroki remains the most memorable female player in the cast since she manages to avoid ever having to serve herself up to the audience as an image of sexual titillation.

Latitude Zero is classic Toho studios and a cult film on par with Star Crash (1978) in terms of ambition and star power. Unfortunately I don’t believe that it’s currently in print on disc. I rented the two disc DVD by RareFlix from Viva Video! and was able to see it that way. Hopefully it’ll come back out on blu ray soon cause this one is definitely worth adding to any collection.