Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ginty Gone Wild: SCARAB (1984)

As VJ vice mayor, I officially declare November 14 to be Robert Ginty Day (shoots flamethrower into the air).  Today marks the action lead’s birthday and what better way to celebrate than with a new Ginty Gone Wild review.  As evidenced with our WHITE FIRE review, we have a soft spot for the man who is probably best know to audiences as a flamethrower wielding Vietnam vigilante in THE EXTERMINATOR (1980). Like Bronson and Eastwood, Ginty had an everyman quality to him that worked in making him believable in crazed action scenarios.  Unfortunately, it would work against him in the muscle-bound mid-to-late 1980s and early 90s action cinema and most of his work was relegated to direct-to-video stuff. But we still held love for the man who tragically passed away last year at the age of 60.

SCARAB opens with Dr. Wilfred Nanz (Rip Torn) performing a Dr. Frankenstein-esque resurrection on a scarab beetle.  No joke, he has the little bug wired up in his lab and, after an accidental infusion of human blood, resurrects an ancient Egyptian deity.  And we all know what happens after that right? Yes, Nanz decides to adopt the name Khepera and becomes a cult leader who lives in a cave.  He promises his followers to return to the “dark ages” of mankind “before these imbeciles destroy it with an atom bomb.”  Uh, what?  You want to destroy mankind before mankind destroys mankind? Ooookay.  We then meet freewheelin’ foreign news correspondent Jack Murphy (Ginty), who spends most of his time in Spain chasing the ladies rather than stories.

A major story, however, falls into his lap when he goes to see the Spanish Prime Minister give a talk about morals (aka them damn kids today). After closing his snoozer of a speech, the politician starts laughing uncontrollably. Everyone joins in until he grabs a guard’s gun and starts opening firing on everyone before shooting himself. Murphy spies a young nurse attending to the man and then removing a flower the politico was wearing that had a scarab beetle pinned to it. Sensing he has a killer story here, he follows the nurse – who can magically heal open sores on her patients – but she wants nothing to do with him.  So like all good journalists, he breaks into her apartment and finds the scarab beetle and a photo of a man with his face crossed out in like two seconds.  This can only mean one thing – occult bookstore scene! Murphy gets a book about Egyptian mythology (“the scarab repels evil” which it ain’t doing here). The clerk is also hip to the scarab and tells Murphy all about Khepera.  This guy’s good.  Meanwhile, Khepera spends his time cavorting with topless chicks and haunted by bizarre hallucinations of a young boy crying.  After all, this is what religious cult leaders like to do.

Murphy tries to convince his editor he is onto something (“if this isn’t Pulitzer time, I don’t know what is”), but we all know newspaper bosses hate stories involving beetles so he is on his own. He follows the nurse onto a train (by unsubtly jumping his motorcycle into the luggage car) and confronts her regarding this mystery.  She reveals her name is Elena (Cristina Sanchez Pascual) and that Nanz/Khepera, the man crossed out in the photo, is her father. She knows of his evil plot to assassinate (“murder by remote control with the scarab as a transmitter”) and is heading home to whoop his ass.  A quick stop off at home to see her mom Saturna ends with Murphy getting plastered (an Irish guy that drinks?) before the house is besieged with flaming arrows.  The duo then head to Khepera’s cave, but they don’t know he is drawing Elena there to use her in an ancient ritual.

If you laugh, move along
SCARAB is weird…really weird.  In fact, it is one of the most bizarre films I’ve seen all year and I watch some weird shit.  It reminds me of one of those pulpy 80s horror novels that were always dealing with demonic possession and ancient religions.  The first scene is really the test for the audience.  If you can accept the image of a little beetle hooked up to some wires like Frankenstein’s monster, then you are in. If not, this is not the kind of film for you as it only gets weirder from here on out and there is just tons of odd stuff.  Director and co-writer Steven-Charles Jaffe has enough strangeness with the physics-guy-turned-cult-leader angle, but decides that isn’t enough so he includes topless rituals and assassins who can disappear at will and fire explosives from their pointed fingers.  This gives us a great scene where Murphy is walking down a city street, oblivious to the explosions around him because his headphones are blasting saxophone music.

Of course, I look at this peculiarity admirably while other might just be turned off by it.  Jaffe does get some great use out of the Spanish locations and does some inventive work on the interior of Khepera’s cave (a blacked out stage with odd items hanging here and there).  Torn actually gives his all to what many would consider an embarrassing role.  Of course, his rubbing down tons of nubile hot chicks might have had something to do with his willingness.  Or tons of booze. Ginty is equally good and believable, but it is funny to me that he is cast as a sex symbol. Seriously, when they introduce Ginty’s character, he is seduced by an ambassador’s wife in like 5 seconds.  It says a lot about how strange this flick is when the oddest thing is the director having every lady who eyes Ginty thinking he is the hunkiest thing since Tom Selleck. Resurrected ancient Egyptian beetle gods?  That I can believe.  Robert Ginty as a hounded ladies man?  C’mon, I can only suspend my disbelief so far!

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