Thursday, April 12, 2012

Listomania!: Thomas' March 2012 Viewings

Oh hell, we're almost halfway into April and I never posted my March list. Nor did we post a funny April Fools review. Nor did we mention that this is our second anniversary. Yep, two years and we haven't even scratched the surface of our little world of thread-bare cinematic gems. What we are amazed by is what we haven't written about. Our favorite aquatic horror movies are a no show, we barely touched on ninja flicks, not a single Earl Owensby review, Indonesian action epics? Zero. Tomas Tang? Nada. Ron Marchini? Nope. Jim Brown? Zilch. Brian Trenchard-Smith? Nothing. Chris Mitchum? Barely. Damn, we got our work cut out for us!

STARHOPS (1978): Fun, ultra-lightweight would-be teen sex comedy. I say "would be" as it was directed by Barbara Peeters, who was famously removed from the director’s chair on HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1982) due to the fact that she didn’t want any nudity and violence in the film. There's a reason Roger got paid the big bucks! Jerry (Dick Miller), the owner of Jerry’s Drive-In, loses his marbles after mismanaging his business finances and being crowded out of the market by modern mechanized fast food chains (not much has changed in 30 years). Of course his car hops, Danielle (Dorothy Buhrman) and Cupcake (Sterling Frazier), decide to buy the place after using their feminine wiles on a bank officer. Unfortunately for them, an oil baron wants their patch of land for a full-automated gas station of the future (“I got 300 employees I want off my payroll!”) and resorts to all manner of dirty tricks to bring them down, including a disastrous health inspection. There are some funny jabs at big business, bureaucracy, and the food biz, too bad Peeters keeps it so squeaky clean. Some nudity (particularly from the one-and-done Frazier) would have made this an absolute classic. As it is, it's still a lot of fun. Oh, and just to be clear... STARHOPS is not Stephanie Rothman's fault. If it was, there would have been boobs in front of the camera.

INTO THE BADLANDS (1989): Sam Pillsbury blew us away with atmospheric, creepy coming-of-age chiller THE SCARECROW (1982) last month, so I figured I had to give his star-studded western anthology a shot. Phew! Man, can’t really fault Pillsbury, as what is essentially a great idea on paper is gunned down by script that is as flat and parched as a Nevada desert. Three short western themed tales of the unnatural are at the center of this OUTER LIMITS-ish anthology with a wrap-around starring Bruce Dern as an eccentric bounty killer who may just be death incarnate. While the direction and cinematography are on point, the short stories are so flatly adapted by TV writers, that even the accomplished cast cannot seem to breathe any life into them. Dylan McDermott and Helen Hunt are actually excruciatingly painful to watch as a doomed outlaw on the run and a prostitute with a heart of gold and a fatal disease (respectively). Andy Robinson is given absolutely nothing interesting to do as the law man chasing McDermott, and that my friends is a cinematic felony.

THE SEXY SECRETS OF THE KISSOGRAM GIRLS (1986): If you are male, live in England, and were a teenager during the ‘80s, you no doubt know of Peter Kay’s infamous work. Regarded as the poor man’s Russ Meyer (if only due to the bust-lines of his stars), Kay cashed in on the DTV market at a time where you could get anything into a videostore, particularly if it might make the establishment wince, without actually getting yourself thrown in jail. Shot on home video equipment for little more than the cost of hiring busty nude models (such as the beloved Pauline Hickey), the movie is virtually plotless. The tiny bit of story that we get is that a kissogram agency is recruiting new talent and is willing to give them extensive training at a posh mansion where they will learn the art of stripping… and jogging topless… and soaping up another girls breasts while in a clawfoot tub. All of the necessary skills that will make your resume bust out – I mean, stand out. Stand out.
The scenes with the girls doing topless exercises, such as running up stairs (which they are clearly not accustomed to doing), trying on clothes, “dancing” (badly) are fun, but go on so long and presented so, ummmm, flatly, that not only does the 88 minute running time feel like 880 minutes, but numbness sets in to the point where I feel like watching MARY POPPINS just to refresh my palette. It’s like eating five pounds of bacon in one sitting. After a while all that rich, fatty succulence will start to have the opposite effect and leave you yearning for a strip-mall salad bar. This actually makes the few scenes of extremely wooden dialogue actually much more entertaining than they would have been otherwise. This is Kay’s first “feature” and would prove so successful that he would go on to make at least eight other movies along similar lines (such as the tongue-twistingly titled THE SEXY SECRETS OF THE SEX THERAPISTS), some of which actually included plot elements from what I understand.

DEATH SCREAMS (198): God damn that was an endurance test. After the murder in the pre-credit sequence, there is absolutely nothing horror related for the next 79 minutes, except for one scene where a girl is sitting in the parking lot of the local carnival and she suddenly catches an arrow in her shoulder. Instead of, I dunno going to a doctor, she runs into the now deserted carnival and hops on the carousel and sits on a horse, when a plastic bag appears over her head and she suffocates to death. The rest of it is just the “kids” (one of whom is my age!) goofing off. The goofing off at the carnival comprises over 30 minutes of the film! And that completely inappropriate, almost James Bond-ish, score blares over the soundtrack constantly during the final 4 minutes, just to make sure you don’t enjoy any of it. There’s a couple of funny bits, but it’s tag line should have been “No Killer… All Filler”. It’s literally 80 minutes of the Sheldon bits from FRIDAY THE 13th Part 3 and then four minutes of badly played out slasher film at the very end. At the 45 minute mark I was thinking “are we at least going to get a shower scene?” Then, they gave me a shower scene… with the male lead. Fuckers. I can see why the producer made a comedy (SNOWBALLS - seriously, do not Google Image that title) for his next flick. Clearly they weren’t interested in making a horror movie.

AVENGING FORCE (1986): Sam Firstenburg is about as erratic a director as I can think of. After rocking the world with a pair of iconic Sho Kosugi ninja sequels (and an infamous break dancing sequel), he delivered the Michael Dudikoff dud AMERICAN NINJA (1985). It was everything it shouldn’t have been. Bad acting, very little action, not much in the way of ninjas and relentless padding. As if to apologize for that, Firstenburg did an about face with his next movie and gave us a whacked out, flamboyant and much more political reworking of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932), written by James Booth, who had just come off of his trash masterpiece PRAY FOR DEATH (1985). A group of wealthy right-wing uber-patriots (lead by the incomparable John P. Ryan) spend their free time dressing up in weird costumes and setting up man-hunting games in the backwoods of Louisiana. They carefully pick their targets, ensuring that they have skilled military history to provide a challenge. The justification for this? To ensure that they will be ready for the revolution that will take down the liberals who are ruining the country by allowing foreigners on American soil (so, American Indian’s are cool, then, right?). After setting up an elaborately idiotic assassination of a black man, Larry Richards (Steve James), who they are shocked to see running for governor, the group focuses on hunting down Richards’ friend Capt Matt Hunter (Michael Dudikoff), who turns the tables and becomes the hunter. Sound familiar? Yeah, that would be because almost the exact same movie was made (minus the political overtones) as HARD TARGET seven years later! Funny, I don’t remember Chuck Pfarrer ever mentioning this in any interviews. Either way, it’s probably the best thing Dudikoff has done, for whatever that’s worth.

John P. Ryan's nuts!

TIFFANY JONES (1973): Peter Walker finally managed to bore me to tears, or at least unconsciousness. I’ve always thought that even in a rough patch, Pete Walker could still manage to muster up some entertainment value (is that Kitley I hear yelling about DIE SCREAMING MARIANNE?). This is a really rough patch for ol’ Pete. Based on a comic strip about a Tiffany Jones, a model who is recruited to do some James Bond espionage, frequently running afoul of nefarious villains who tend to get her into some apropos bondage and remove her blouse, I’m sure this movie appeals to Brits who grew up with it. If you don’t have nostalgic recollections, this film wears thin really fast, mainly due to the lack of the whole 007 spoofery angle. Most of the film is Tiffany Jones (Anouska Hempel) living her breezy life, being photographed, teasing the boys, being photographed some more, talking to her roommate, flirting with guys, watching TV, answering the phone, etc, etc. After a while, I honestly got bored with seeing her topless. That just ain’t right.

THE PERFECT WEAPON (1991): Hey, Jeff Speakman, what ever happened to you? You had everything Steven Segal had except that frog-in-the-throat dialogue delivery and a severe drinking problem. Oh wait… sorry, I didn’t realize that you were playing bit parts in DTV flicks starring Lou Diamond Phillips. Damn, my bad.
Speakman’s second leading role (the first being the obscure 1988 drama/thriller SIDE ROADS) is actually just as much fun as it was back in the day, but for completely different reasons. In ’91 it seemed like a pretty slick, if stock, action flick with lots of usual trappings and Speakman’s low-power, multi-strike skills bringing some of the same freshness that Segal brought to the party in 1988 with ABOVE THE LAW. Nowdays though, a whole different set of elements jump out at you. The grim seriousness of Speakman doing his kata in his apartment while Snap!’s “The Power” blasts on the soundtrack is nothing short of hilarious. Equally amusing is Speakman’s attempt to portray deep concern while dressed in a fluffy, blue bathrobe. But really, like Speakman’s masterwork, THE EXPERT (1995), it’s all about the supporting cast. You have Mako as a family friend who is harassed and finally killed by Korean mobsters (played by Japanese and Chinese actors) who want his tiny storefront to run drugs out of (because it has lots of storage space!). Professor Toru Tanaka is contract killer who likes to headbutt his victims to death and leave flowers on their corpses. James Hong as a double-talking mob boss. Pre-MORTAL KOMBAT Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa shows up as a gang thug. Also, Mickey Hargitay and Jane Mansfield’s offspring Mariska Hargitay of "Law & Order" fame, appears as the love interest, although the US version cuts most of her scenes. Sure, to those jaded by Hong Kong cinema, the fights could be a little longer and have fewer edits, but for American action fodder, it’s still damned entertaining.

Ok, give me deep concern! Deep concern... Deep... Ok, in your own time...

1 Reactions:

  1. A couple weeks back I picked up a quite a few "not released on DVD" films. Due to Susan Kiger, DEATH SCREAMS was near the top of my list. Regrettably, AVENGING FORCE was the last film cut from my list of purchases. I may have to pick it up next time.

    Your assessment of DEATH SCREAMS is dead on, however I didn't find it to be a chore. The ways in which the film is inept made it oddly compelling. Its certainly dull at many points but well worth sitting through for the top-notch nudity and batshit crazy finale. The skinning dipping scene is a good as any with long looks and some quality underwater photography.

    That sheriff sure is quick to pull the trigger.


All comments are moderated because... you know, the internet.