Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Revenge of 3-D: Sexploitation posters

When I was a kid, my parents got me this book called AMAZING 3-D that was, well, amazing. It came with its own glasses and had plenty of stuff that popped off the page at you. The biggest eye-grabber, however, was a poster for the Jane Russell feature THE FRENCH LINE (1953). "How could this not be the greatest film ever made?" thought my developing brain. Indeed, you can bet your bottom dollar that when the 3-D process was first hit it big that enterprising producers knew the best thing to get on film were naked folks. Makes you wonder how in the world Jayne Mansfield or Russ Meyer never made a 3-D film. Perhaps they knew it cause the end of humanity as we know it?

Enjoy a collection of colorful 3-D skin flicks that no doubt gave new meaning to the term comin' at ya! Much like our earlier PRISON GIRLS (1972) and WILDCAT WOMEN (1975) reviews, we hope to review them all down the line

And just so you don't think we are 3-D sexploitation snobs, we would be remiss if we didn't mention one of the 3-D sex genres pioneering titles in HEAVY EQUIPMENT (1977). This was made by Tom DiSimone, who previously gave us the softcore 3-D PRISON GIRLS. This is not only one of the first gay themed 3-D films but it is also considered a classic of the genre. More importantly, according to the book FLESHPOT, it is the only 3-D film to feature a "flying winged dildo." Ah, to have been a fly on the wall in a theater when that went down!


Damn, how did I get stuck with another long-ass title to review? I’m surprised I didn’t get STARCHASER: THE LEGEND OF ORIN too! Believe it or not, I actually got to see this one in the theater. Unfortunately, like most 3-D films from that era that I saw (PARASITE, JAWS 3-D, AMITYVILLE 3-D) it was projected flat, so no extra dimensions for my 8-year-old brain. In fact, for the sake of total disclosure, I will openly admit that the first 3-D experience I had was the last 15 minutes of FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE (1991). Like they say, you never forget your first (unfortunately).

Intergalactic garbage man Wolff (Peter Strauss) heads to a virus plagued planet to rescue three Earth chicks whose escape pod landed there after their ship randomly blew up. Wolff normally wouldn’t be bothered, but the promised 3,000 mega-credits (the future!) reward would help pay his debts and satiated his ex-wife. He lands on Terra XI with his droid Chalmers (Andrea Marcovicci) and locates the women. Unfortunately, the ladies are quickly abducted by minions of The Overdog (Michael Ironside), a former doctor sent to the planet that has mutated into a half-man, half-machine ruler. After losing his robot in the chaos, Wolff teams with teams up with scavenger Niki (Molly Ringwald) and former friend-turned-rival-hunter Washington (Ernie Hudson) as they follow the yellow brick road to Overdog’s command center.

That’s it for the plot. But you can’t fault it for being misleading as you do get a spacehunter and, indeed, we see his adventures in the forbidden zone. There are lots of weird encounters including retarded Molotov cocktail launching children; amphibious women who have a fire-breathing dragon; and some fat cannibals that look like John Candy on a bad day. What it lacks in plot in makes up for in fast action and excellent production design. The film features some great vehicles and "The Maze" (a torture obstacle course that Overdog sends victims into) is a sprawling set. It is funny because SPACEHUNTER was obviously inspired by MAD MAX and THE ROAD WARRIOR but you can see "The Maze" clearly inspired the Thunderdome and Bartertown in MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME. The 3-D effects consist of lots of folks pointing weapons at the camera and firing their laser beams. With a poster declaring, “The first movie that puts you in outerspace” there is surprisingly very little time spent there (maybe 10 minutes max) and they never fully exploit what could have been done there in 3-D (hyperspace anyone?).

The acting is good all around. Strauss is handsome and witty enough for the heroic lead. Hudson acquits himself well in the thankless “We should be partners” buddy role. Ironside is appropriately psychotic and I really pity him for having to get in and out of Overdog’s complex costume – which involved him wielding big claws and being leg locked in a hydraulic lift – every day. I’m sure Ringwald’s character grated on lots of people’s nerves. I guarantee you that script described her as “spunky.” The relationship between Wolff and Niki is questionable as the filmmakers always show her cuddling up to him while they sleep. Add in the filmmakers giving her a skimpy costume and having Wolff wash her in said tank top (Ringwald was 15 when this was shot) and you get a film that Chris Hanson approves of.

It is surprising SPACEHUNTER even made it to the screen as it was a troubled production that saw the budget balloon from $4 to $12 million. They started shooting in October 1982 with a different director under the title ADVENTURES IN THE CREEP ZONE. The original script title was ROAD GANGS (where on earth did that get that concept?). Anyway, after two weeks, the production was halted and the footage by original director Jean LaFleur (ILSA THE TIGERESS OF SIBERIA) was deemed so bad that it was all scrapped. Ivan Reitman, the producer, fired him and hired TV vet Lamont Johnson to come in and finish it starting in November 1982. Given that tumultuous history, it is surprising the film even made it to theaters. Yet the film hit theaters on May 20, 1983 and did pretty decent, debuting in the no. 1 spot that weekend (it was the only new film opening). The adventures in the forbidden zone didn’t last long for audiences though as some film called RETURN OF THE JEDI debuted 5 days later and Overdog proved to be no match for Ewoks.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Revenge of 3-D: FRIDAY THE 13th PART III (1982)

There has been little debate over what exactly caused the extinction of the newly reborn 3-D film in the ‘80s. Some claim it was fussy people who didn't want to put on glasses to see a movie; others point the finger squarely at cheap filmmaking with poorly realized 3-D effects. FRIDAY THE 13th PART III is a film that in spite of the fact that it did solid box office and is well liked among fans, it is unfortunately without a doubt one of the movies that brought about a heartbreaking death of 3-D cinema in the '80s.

Paramount and Universal, much like the dinosaurs, have always lead the pack in stogy resistance to anything new. They were the hold-out studios that refused to accept DVD as a new format back in the ‘90s. They called it a “fad” and insisted that it would die a quick consumer death, like Beta, but faster. After studios like Warner Brother’s who had quickly adopted the new format started seeing booming sales, only then did Paramount and Universal grudgingly adopt the new format, but flat out refused to release anything other than barebones theatrical releases. This attitude mirrors their feelings about exploitation films. Don’t get me wrong, they are more than happy to exploit their cash-cow franchises and I suppose they should be given credit for even sticking their crusty toe in the tri-dimensional waters, but their approach is cynical at best.

Like any Hollywood studio of the era, Universal and Paramount have a history of making sequels to their franchises. Unfortunately they seemed to have little faith in them. Even accounting for the law of diminishing returns, many of their sequels have been on the whole low budget and indifferently executed, or even just completely out of touch with audiences. Paramount's STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986) is a good example of the latter. Stuck in their backward thinking, didn’t put the money or the effort into these sequels and then made the logic leap to the inescapable conclusion that there’s no money to be made in doing them. The classic self-fulfilling prophecy. I firmly believe that Universal had no idea that PSYCHO II (1983) would be anything more than a cheap way to cash in on one of their old library titles, and expected it to be as memorable as your last meal at McDonalds.

The summer of 1982 saw the release of the film that really kicked off the 3-D revival. Charles Band’s indy flick PARASITE (1982) hit screens in March causing a lot of commotion, but in August, Paramount unloaded the marketing machine for their milestone 3-D flick, FRIDAY THE 13th PART III (1982). This was first big studio 3-D movie in over 25 years (last one being Universal's REVENGE OF THE CREATURE in 1955), and it turned into the second highest grossing 3-D movie ever made until JAWS 3-D (1983) came out the following summer. For something so seminal to an era and indelibly marked in pop culture, it is amazing how low-rent and shoddy this film really is. Because it was such a draw, it brought in a lot of people who were interested in seeing a 3-D film from a big studio, and a high-profile film like FRIDAY THE 13th PART III did just that. Got asses in seats that may not have been there otherwise. JAWS 3-D (1983) managed to do this also, and it is because of the sloppy, careless attitudes of these two studios that turned off a major portion of the movie-going population, leaving only the hard-core fans to throw-down the ducats. Any studio will tell you straight-up, they aren't in it for the hard-core fans. They don't want to appeal to you (I'm assuming you are as crazy as us), they want your neighbors and co-workers.

I have a real soft spot of this movie, but let’s be honest here, it's pretty cheap, even by the inexpensive nature of the franchise, or the genre, itself. It also abandons the "realistic" characters of the first two films and creates more of a comicbook world with a wannabe Tommy Chong and an absurdly cartoonish biker "gang" that consists of two dudes and a chica. It also features a classy white girl, who we are supposed to view as a ghetto Latina. "We don't take no food stamps!" It also slams the "annoying funnyguy" character into overdrive and gives us Shelly (Larry Zerner), the most pathetic and annoying loser of the entire franchise. In spite of this goofy approach to the material, it was the movie that really solidified the slasher film as a genre in the ‘80s, made the hockey mask an icon and hell, it was in 3-D! Yes, as much as I bitch about the relentlessly bad choices of things to shove in the face of the audience, I still get a kick out of it.

With only a handful of shooting locations, most of them being studio sets, you’d think they might be able to muster some claustrophobic atmosphere, but Steve Miner was unfortunately constrained by a tight shooting schedule and the difficulty of working in the 3D format. Shooting in 3D often meant an obscene amount of takes had to be done, the lighting had to be bright, and the actors had to hit their marks exactly. While the use of a new 3D lens made it possible for Miner to get some good movement out of the camera, some aspects of the production slipped.

At times Miner and company almost seem to be more interested in making a virtually sex and nudity-free sequel to PORKY’S (1982) rather than a sequel to his own dark and gritty FRIDAY THE 13th PART 2 (1981). The movie features two scenes of guys getting attacked while in toilets, hippies who smoke so much weed their van appears to be on fire, a dude who looks like Scott Baio, a snarky sex-pot, and a chubby Jewish kid that just wants to be liked to the point where the audience is ready to kill his annoying ass after his very first scene. And let's not forget the "farmboy" character, who talks like a city guy and not only wears a sweater, but wears a sweater around his neck like some sort of Eurotrash dude! Show up for work on any farm in the US and you will either be laughed out of the county or shot at, one of the two. The movie seems to be plotted in a way to go from one 3-D gag to another, which would be fine if the 3-D gags were even somewhat horror-ish. Instead we get yo-yo’s (which, I’ll admit, did make me flinch), apples, popcorn, joints, wallets, baseball bats, bales of hay, swinging ropes, etc. We do end up with the classic "eye popping" gag in addition to the really effective scene in which Andy (Jeffrey Rogers) looks up while walking on his hands to see Jason swinging a machete straight down between his legs. A scene that deeply disturbed me at the time. Actually, even with the lack of censorship in today's films, it's still an "instant clench" scene.

There are many films of the era that rely on stupidly conceived 3-D gags (such as 1983 AMITYVILLE 3-D’s long sequence in which a boom mic is slowly pushed into the audience), but for some reason the gags here wears thinner than most. Even AMITYVILLE 3-D had more going on in the first hour; John Harkins (Rush Limbaugh and John Quaid’s lovechild) chokes to death on evil, kamikaze flies fer cryin’ out loud. Here there is no Crazy Ralph character per se, just a crazy coot who is only in the beginning of the film due to studio edits, not really much of anything to whet the appetite except the presumably sit-comish white trash couple that provide more character annoyance, a cheap scare (a cameo from the white mouse in 1975s WILDCAT WOMEN), and a couple of mediocre kills that could be from any random '80s slasher. Why is it I can see a teenage Rob Cummings (aka Zombie) sitting in the theater thinking that this was the best part? "Lookit the white trash people! They are so, like, white and trashy!"

I can see a Paramount exec in a script meeting saying “who cares? The kind of people who go to see this will either be stoned or screwing in the back seat of their parent’s station wagon. Just get it done so we can shoot it!” The final 20 minutes is where this movie really musters up some iconic moments that will serve the series well for years to come. The scene where Jason, hanging from a noose, opens his eyes, lifts himself up, pulling the noose off and accidentally removing his mask to reveal his twisted fact, before quickly sliding it back on and dropping to the ground is a classic that never gets old. The scene where Jason takes an axe in the head and then raises his arms appearing to lunge right into the audience is without question a defining moment, not just in the series, but in cinema pop culture the world over. There are some other great moments as well, including Harry Manfredini’s notorious “disco” re-envisioning of the original score and the cheesy, but effective eye-popping scene, and the sadly edited split-torso bit, which keep me coming back and make me wistfully nostalgic of an entry that is book-ended by better films.

I give Paramount a bit more leniency than Universal as they actually come around and realize that sequels don’t necessarily need to be completely budget starved. FRIDAY THE 13th PART V: A NEW BEGINNING (1985) fumbled the ball by offering a cheap, scattershot and ill-conceived cash-in that did great the opening weekend, because nobody knew they were going to see what was essentially a side-story. After taking a lot of flack from fans (and, of course, critics) they got their heads screwed on straight and laid out a significantly improved budget for a solid cast and great premise that completely brought the series back to life (so to speak) with FRIDAY THE 13th PART VI: JASON LIVES (1986), though in fairness, it wasn’t as successful at the box office. I remember there being a sense of lingering resentment from friends and acquaintances (which to my mind means all audiences) who felt they had been duped the last time. Paramount may may be slightly better than Universal, but when it came to screwing up in 3-D, they decimated the competition. A month after the release of JAWS 3-D, Paramount released their true 3-D killer, THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (1983).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Director Charles Band was one of the first producer-directors to sense the impending 3-D craze in the early 1980s and unleashed the low budget but entertaining PARASITE in 1982. For his follow-up, he secured triple the budget to produce METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED-SYN, an adventure in a galaxy not so far away (California’s Bronson Canyon) that plays like a mix between THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981) and STAR WARS (1977), but sometimes looks a bit like MEGAFORCE (1982).

“It’s High Noon at the end of the Universe” promises the film’s tagline and that is about all the set up you will get as Band drops you right into the action with nary a hint of where this film is set. Dogen (Jeffrey Byron) is a bounty hunter called a Finder who is on the trail of evil Jared-Syn (Michael Preston, doing a complete 180 from his heroic leader in THE ROAD WARRIOR) and his half-cyborg son Baal (R. David Smith). Jared-Syn is collecting souls in crystals and recently killed the crystal mining father of Dhyana (Kelly Preston). Dogen teams up with Dhyana but she is promptly kidnapped by the evil warlord. So Dogan enlists the help of washed up former Finder Rhodes (Tim Thomerson) and the duo head to the Lost City of Set in order to secure a magic mask that somehow will stop Jared-Syn from achieving his goal of restoring this barren wasteland.

So, as you can tell from that synopsis, this is a great example of M.S.U. (Makin' Shit Up) cinema. METALSTORM doesn’t make a lick of sense outside of its comic book plot logic. Hell, I don’t know what METALSTORM means! Regardless, that doesn’t stop the film from being a damn enjoyable flick. The influences are obvious but Band spares no expense putting the action on screen. Band also displays some of the strongest directing in his career with a series of slow motion hallucination sequences that are really atmospheric. The action moves at a quick clip and features some good car stunts (watch for one stuntman getting clipped bad). The acting is good throughout, especially for a B-movie. Band again shows his casting prowess by featuring the future Mrs. John Travolta in her first starring role (Band also gave the world Demi Moore in PARASITE... damn it!). You also get Richard Moll showing up as a leader of a group of Cyclops.  And Tim Thomerson is great as Han Solo, er, Rhodes.

And, of course, there is the 3-D action. I wasn’t lucky enough to see this one in the theater, but reports from the field are that it was quite impressive. In fact, when genre film mag Cinefantastique did a round up on the 1981-83 3-D spell, they christened METALSTORM as the best of the bunch in terms of best utilizing the 3-D process. Band and director of photography Mac Ahlberg got a practice run on PARASITE so they knew exactly what to do this go-around. The film opens with the customary relief titles and then throws an impressive trick out every five minutes or so. Highlights include a glowing electrical beast that terrorizes Dogen; Baal’s extending arm that shoots green goo towards the audience; weapons (including the said arm) thrown toward the camera; and a climactic chase through a psychedelic dimension that probably left kids puking all kinds of day-glo colors in theater aisles. Seriously, how did this not cause Pokemon-esque seizures?

The film "ends" with the most laughable cliffhanger where Jared-Syn gets away (so the title lied!) and Dogen vows, "I'll find him in another dimension one day." Huh? Obviously Band was hoping this would be a series and Universal Studios also had high hopes for the film when they picked it up for distribution. In fact, METALSTORM holds a bit of cinema history in that it had the first 3-D trailer ever attached to a 3-D film as Universal attached the film's coming attraction to all copies of JAWS 3-D when it debuted the previous July. Alas, it is did not work as METALSTORM flopped when it hit screens about a month later, most likely due to audiences standing outside the theater going, “What the hell is a METALSTORM?” Hell, it came in one place below the also debuting YOR, HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE that weekend. On the bright side, it did eventually beat YOR in terms of total box office. So it’s got that going for it. METALSTORM is still a popular 3-D title in bootleg world, thanks mostly to a 3-D home video release in Japan. Universal has finally announced they will give this title a DVD release in August 2010. The down side? The release will be full frame, which is really a disservice to the widescreen photography. Makes me mad enough to go all metalstorm on their asses!

Alternate art:

Early promo art:

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Revenge of 3-D: COMIN' AT YA! (1981)

The Summer of 1981 saw the first 3-D hit of the ‘80s. A decade earlier Ferdinado Baldi and Tony Anthony had teamed up for the first time to create the “big” budgeted western BLINDMAN (1971) which was intended to be a comedy film following the success of THEY CALL ME TRINITY (1970), but when finished, took on a more serious tone with tongue-in-cheek moments. This formula suited the duo well and became an international success, paving the way for two more westerns from the pair, GET MEAN (1976) and COMIN’ AT YA! (1981).

On his wedding day H.H. Hart (Tony Anthony) has his ceremony interrupted by a pair of filthy bandit brothers who shoot up the wedding party, leaving Hart for dead and stealing his bride to be. After recovering from his bullet wounds in record time, Hart sets out on a path for revenge. Hooking up with a wandering old man who seems to know an awful lot about Hart’s quarry, Hart discovers that the brothers Pike (Gene Quintano) and Polk (Ricardo Palacios) are notorious white slavers who conduct raids on US/Mexican border towns to steal women to sell to brothels and Mexican army officials. Hart manages to capture the super-sleazy, obese Polk, tying him up and leaving him to be eaten by mangy rats, then successfully raids the villa, freeing the women, only to be captured by Pike in the process. All of this culminates in a showdown in a ghost town.

It’s worth noting that it has been reported that US distributor Filmways Pictures cut a sequence from the opening of the film that sets up Anthony’s character as a reformed outlaw. I haven't been able to find any evidence backing this up, but it's something to keep an eye out for. Lloyd Battista, the third part of the Baldi/Anthony team, writing all four of their collaborations, freely plunders the riches of his own themes used in BLINDMAN with the villains being a pair of sadistic brothers with woman issues (the younger brother, again, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and again involved in a rape relationship), a whole mess of captive women (all of whom are in their knickers), a drunken feast at which the women are displayed, and stuff blowing up for no reason.

Some have accused Baldi of creating a thinly-plotted excuse for a massive variety of 3-D set-pieces, and they would be partially right. COMIN’ AT YA! does feature a truly stunning array of 3-D effects, many of which are repeated in sequence to deliver more bang for what is essentially very little bucks. In addition to spears, knives and arrows (courtesy of a Native American member of the gang), guns and hands are Baldi’s favorite things to have bust through the screen. You can imagine the brainstorming sessions that must have been held while they sat around trying to figure out how many different 3-D gags they could come up with.  In a sequence where Pike and what’s left of his gang are waiting for Hart in a ghost town with his wife as bait, the gang members idly wile away the time by throwing things into the audience such as darts, playing cards and even an apple is peeled with the peel dangling out of the screen. In one sequence Baldi even falls back on his old school roots and delivers a menagerie of rubber bats on fishing-line to torment a room full of captive women (rubber creatures on strings is, or was, one of the Seven Deadly Sins of 3-D filmmaking. A cheap 3-D effect that helped kill 3-D twice). On the other hand, 3-D is used to great effect during a scene where Hart is peering out from under the wooden sidewalk to shoot one of the slavers in the crotch.

Even so, this could have easily been a straight-forward spaghetti western and a modestly entertaining one to fans of the genre, but it wouldn’t have been the surprise hit that it was raking in $12 million in the US alone. If that number seems low by today’s megabudgeted standards, just remember that the US distributor Filmways Pictures  no doubt paid something in the five figure range for the US rights. I imagine they would have been happy to pull in 10% of that figure. While COMIN’ AT YA was a modestly budgeted western to say the least with only a handful of locations and a tiny cast, Baldi is no piker in this arena and uses every nickel to his advantage, even splurging on extra filmstock to create quite a few atmospheric slow-motion sequences.

Granted some of the slo-mo is for extended 3-D effects (such as beans being spilled out of a burlap sack, gold coins cascading out of Pike’s hands onto Hart’s face, etc), even 3-D blood squib effects, but the scene in which Anthony’s character is skulking in the shadows while is bride is being simultaneously bid on by white slavers and being molested by two potential buyers is incredibly effective, building tension and adding “depth” to a scene that would not have the same punch if played flat and normal speed. In addition to that, Baldi sets the stage for his 3-D assault with an incredibly inventive opening credit sequence (which also serves to pad the running time); Hart walks through a set interacting with various props that have the credits printed on them and in one way or another pop out of the screen in 3-D. It is my opinion that all 3-D films should have credits like this. It’s interesting that instead of creating a trend, subsequent 3-D films (including TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS [1983]) went with a less enthusiastic approach with titles that were either in 3-D relief or simply floated above the action.

Though I can’t imagine why, somehow I missed seeing this in the theater, but I seemed to be the only one. All of my friends and acquaintances went to see it and we’re ridiculously enthusiastic about it. People who would never usually watch a western, much less a foreign one, raved about how awesome it was. Seemingly the only person who was unimpressed was Roger Ebert, who complained on television about the misogynistic violence and having an infant’s bare ass was shoved in his face. While it may not be the best western or the best 3-D movie ever made, it is solidly entertaining and paved the way for the second of a planned trio of 3-D adventures, THE TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS.

Last year a promo video was released for an announced re-issue of COMIN' AT YA! which would be awesome news, except that they've bewilderingly decided to give it a SIN CITY (2005) make over and added part of the BLINDMAN soundtrack. Here's the video, draw your own conclusions.

Revenge of 3-D: TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS (1983)

THE TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS brought back the trio of Anthony, Baldi and Battista who are again accompanied by American executive producer/actor/screenwriter Gene Quintano. This time out Baldi and company decided that RAIDER’S OF THE LOST ARK (1981) was surprisingly uncapitalized on aside from a couple of notable exceptions such as Antonio Margheriti’s ARK OF THE SUN GOD (1983), and in fact most of the Indiana Jones knock-offs were made after the release of INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984).

Tony Anthony is J.T. Striker, a presumable getter-of-things-not-easily-gotten (he has no backstory aside from a few allusions), who is hired to retrieve a mythical key that fits the locks of four mythical crowns that were created by the Visigoths in the 6th century after the conquest of Spain. They are believed to contain secrets of unimaginable power. So unimaginable that the five credited writers couldn’t come up with anything (other than what is amusingly revealed at the end). Once in possession of the key, he is required to assemble a team and infiltrate the high-tech security rigged castle fortress of a demented ex-con who is using the crowns to pass himself off as a mystical guru. His team consists of an alcoholic electronics expert Rick (Jerry Lazarus), an over the hill circus strongman Socrates (Francisco Rabal), and his nimble and nubile daughter Liz (Ana Obregon). Also, Edmond (Gene Quintano), the operation’s liaison insists on tagging along to keep an eye on things and generally be a pain in the ass.

Early promotional art

The film opens with a twenty minute, dialogue-free sequence in which Striker infiltrates a European castle that has been outfitted with a huge variety of traps and a few ghosts as well. Of course we never see the ghosts, but we see things being puppeted around on fishing-line (another of the Seven Deadly Sins of 3-D Film Making). Imagine Indiana Jones’ opening scene in which he braves the trap-laden temple to snag the golden idol. Got it? Now imagine that it is done on a fraction of the budget with Tony Anthony in the lead set in a castle… in 3-D! This entire sequence has Anthony getting a year’s worth of cardio, leaping, falling, climbing, ducking, and dodging everything from flaming arrows, steel spikes, swords, halberds, muskets, crossbows, spinning spiked timbers, flaming spheres, dogs, bats, and snakes (why did it have to be… ah, forget it). Much like COMIN’ AT YA!, Anthony dodges projectiles that come within inches of doing him harm and many shots are repeated a few times in slow-motion just to make sure you are getting every nickel out of that $5 ticket price. For some reason, even though there is a vast amount of reliquary objects heaped about and clutched by random skeletons, Striker is single minded in his purpose and only grabs the key to the crowns, leaving everything else to go up in flames with the castle. Yes, the castle burns. Don't ask me, I don't know, it's like haunted fire or something! The really odd thing here is that while Ennio Morricone is justifiably famous for his incredible scores that often defy genre conventions, for this upbeat, big action scene he provides a slow orchestral score that feels like it needs a Red Bull. While the action flies fast and furious, Morricone’s score delicately meanders along with sweeping strings feeling like it should be used for an appearance by the Queen of England rather than an action-packed Indiana Jones rip-off. Love ya Ennio, but what the hell were you thinking here?

While COMIN’ AT YA! was a pretty decent, straight-faced western, TREASURE is patently ridiculous fun. The key to the crowns has some sort of paranormal power and is prone to going completely batshit at random moments causing earthquakes, explosions and random objects to fly out of the screen at the audience (cue comedic drinking via the alcoholic). The introduction of the villain, Brother Jonas (Emiliano Redondo) is a slide-show briefing cribbed straight out of ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) and his elite followers all wear animal masks. The entire ending (which I won’t spoil) is so far out in left field that it's not even in the stadium parking lot. The final scene is a “gotcha” bit in the final seconds that sets up the scrapped science-fiction follow-up, ESCAPE FROM BEYOND (aka THE MYSTICAL KNIGHT), but makes absolutely no sense on it's own.

In addition, some of the dramatic stuff is a little bizarre:
After Striker convinces Socrates to join him, Socrates has a sensitive exchange with the clown “Popo” (Lewis Gordon) that he shares his dressing room-slash-apartment with, in which Popo is emotionally overwrought by Socrates' impending adventure:
Popo: “You can’t do this kind of work anymore!”
Socrates: “I’m as strong as ever!”
Popo: “Except for your heart!”
Popo then exclaims that Socrates’ daughter “has a right to know” and makes him promise to tell her “everything” when he returns. Say what!? Does the Ringmaster know about you two? This is quite possibly the one of the few times in my life that clowns have made me laugh out loud... I just can't quit you Bamboozle.

One of the most interesting things about this film is that while it was a blatant rip-off of RAIDER’S OF THE LOST ARK, it seems to have actually inspired many films that followed. The robe-clad, evil “supernatural” cult leader is an awfully similar to the Mola Ram character in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984) and the whole “castle raider” theme seems to be echoed in INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989). Interestingly TREASURE was released in Asia in '84 under the title TREASURE OF THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, while TEMPLE OF DOOM followed a year later. Even though those influences could be easily brushed aside, Tony Anthony’s laconic, gum-chewing, safari jacket and cargo pants attired fortune-hunter, color scheme aside, bears an uncanny resemblance to Jackie Chan’s laconic, gum-chewing, safari jacket and cargo pants attired castle-raider Hawk in THE ARMOUR OF GOD (1987). Go check, I'll wait.

In the end TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS continues the ultra-gratuitous use of 3-D effects that Baldi went nuts with in COMIN’ AT YA!, but has a somewhat less successful film underneath, probably due to the fact that Baldi was a little out of his comfort zone and working for Cannon Films meant that you didn’t have the same freedoms that you would if you were shooting an independent film back in Italy. Regardless of that, it’s an entertaining film, though probably not exactly for the reasons intended and it is the final big screen performance of Tony Anthony to date. It must have been having the plug pulled on the third 3-D outing, the aforementioned ESCAPE FROM BEYOND. I know because it kills me too.