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!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

On the Celluloid Chopping Block: Fangoria's MINDWARP (1990)

Having championed horror cinema since 1979, it seemed inevitable that Fangoria magazine would get into the business of making horror movies. And that happened a decade into their run with the creation of Fangoria Films, an offshoot that would produce one low budget horror film a year to be distributed by RCA/Columbia. Also seemingly inevitable was that whatever Fangoria Films produced would clash with the Motion Picture Association of America (M.P.A.A.), a Draconian film ratings board run by Jack Valenti that repeatedly took the scissors to low budget horror films. Hell, if you made a slightly gory horror film in the 1980s, chances were high that it got cut. And seeing as how Fangoria repeatedly took the M.P.A.A. to task in their pages, it was a forgone conclusion that whatever blood they spilled would end up on the chopping block. Such is the case with MINDWARP, the first of three films produced by Fangoria in the early 1990s.

Opening with the cliché nuclear cloud to represent World War III, MINDWARP takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that is split between Dreamers and Crawlers. Dreamers are the rich elite who spend all day in a dream-like state while hooked into virtual reality machines provided by InfiniSynth. Want to live out your dream of being a lauded star of the stage? InfiniSynth can help. Crawlers, on the other hand, are mutated humans who live underground and eat humans. Dreamer Judy (Marta Alicia) rebels from her somnambulist state and is exiled by The Controller (Angus Scrimm) into the wasteland for her trouble. Attacked by Crawlers, Judy is saved by human survivor Stover (Bruce Campbell), who takes her in before they are both captured and taken to the underground. There they are at the mercy of human ruler The Seer (Scrimm again, maintaining comb over chic post-apoc), who believes he alone knows what is best for his mutant masses (hmm, shades of Valenti?). Naturally, this means putting Stover into manual labor while Judy is primed to be a breeding vessel for The Seer to produce a pure race.

Shot in the spring of 1990, MINDWARP is a decent little entry into the sci-fi horror apocalypse subgenre. Co-writers Michael Ferris and John D. Brancato's script tackles virtual reality before it was a fad and actually seems like a blueprint for THE MATRIX in some ways (neck portals anyone?). Unfortunately, the film has a really lousy ending where – I kid you not – the lead actress says, “There’s no place like home.” Surprisingly, both writers went on to do big budget stuff including the last two TERMINATOR sequels. Director Steve Barnett was a graduate of Roger Corman’s Concorde so he gets the most out of his roughly million dollar budget. He gives the film some energy, nice photography and weird sets. The exterior wasteland location showcases his style the best.

You can tell the filmmakers wanted to snag Fangorians right off the bat with the casting of two fan favorites, Bruce Campbell and Angus Scrimm. Campbell, of course, from the EVIL DEAD series and Scrimm as the famous Tall Man from the PHANTASM films (a character he also played in a Fango TV ad). In addition, they courted the Fango faithful by hiring K.N.B. EFX Group. If Fangoria was the Rolling Stone of horror movies, than effects gurus Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger were the hot rock stars at the time, same hair and everything. Anyway, like nearly every project they touched at the time, K.N.B. saw most of their gore hit the cutting room floor. The reason for a movie like this to be made is mostly for folks to marvel at the technical innovation of bloodletting. Sadly, the ratings board felt otherwise and imposed trims. A cheap-o horror film missing its gore is, as noted 80s philosopher Oran Juice Jones said, “Like corn flakes without the milk!”

Thankfully, an uncut version of the film did surface on DVD in Germany of all places with the amusing title BRAINSLASHER. First off, you have to love the German artwork (see pic). Yes, the film does contain mutants, a person with tubes on their head and a severed arm. But leave it to the Germans to combine all of that into one image that isn't in the film. Second, it contains all the gore excised from the R-rated US RCA/Columbia VHS release. Both films play exactly the same until around the 50 minute mark. After that, each and every scene containing blood is trimmed. Here is a run down:

*Stover kills a mutant guard to escape

This is the first bit of cutting. Stover discovers a Cuisinart blade in the rubble and attacks the guard hounding him. He slices his throat, the shot of blood spraying being a few frames longer. When the guard hits the ground, we get a second spurt of blood coming out of his throat that lasts roughly 1 second (see pic below; if you are man enough to handle it, that is).

*Stover fights off another mutant guard

Here we have Stover involved in one of those classic bits where both fighters are reaching for a weapon. The mutant gets a machete first and swings as Stover ducks. The blade then tears open the belly of another mutant hanging from the ceiling and his guts spill out. We are treated to a second shot of the spilling entrails and the next shot of them landing on the face of an out cold mutant lasts roughly 2 second longer. Stover then grabs a hook and juts it into the head of the last mutant, resulting in blood spraying from the head’s right side and two extra gurgles of gore that barely add up to second. See the video below for comparison.

*The first display of the Human Grinder

Truly an example of how only a few seconds truncation can alter a scene. The Seer sacrifices a young girl named Claude (Wendy Sandow) to this machine that chews up the victims and processes their blood as sacrament for the mutants. Since he wears a mask made of human eyeballs, it is safe to assume this guy has an orbital fetish and to prove it he plucks out Claude’s right eyeball with his claw hand attachment. In the R-rated version, we just get two shots of Claude’s dry mouth screaming. The unrated version has one shot of her mouth spitting out blood and the second mouth shot replaced with a shot of the eyeball being pulled out of her head. Claude is then fed to the machine with both shots of her body being chewed up trimmed to avoid the SHOGUN ASSASSIN-esque geyser of blood spraying from the entrance. See the video below for more cross comparison.

*The Seer kills Cornelia

The Seer decides to kill underground nurse Cornelia after she lets Judy escape. He picks her up and puts her onto a meat hook dangling from a track in the ceiling. He then pushes her through the room where she ends up impaled on two spikes in the wall. The unrated version offers roughly 2 more seconds of blood spurting from her abdomen before a mutant comes in and gives a quizzical look.

*The Seer meets the Human Grinder

As all good horror movies know, the villain should meat, er, meet their comeuppance at the hands of their infernal killing machine. So, of course, The Seer must end up in his flesh fraying furnishing. As with Claude’s aforementioned Grinder death, the R-rated cut trims down the jet of blood that sprays out of the machine.

So there you have it. Surprisingly, all of the bits involving the leeches that infest Stover’s body are identical, including a gory bit where he pukes blood all over Judy in the film’s climax. In total, the amount of gore cut out is less than 25 seconds. But for some reason those precious pictures of plasma were deemed not safe for US consumption. Honestly, I’m glad the M.P.A.A. was there for us on this one. Who knows how many kids would have gone all Charles Whitman had they been allowed to see that extra blood spurt lasting 1 second? Seriously, you’d almost think this ratings board had a personal vendetta against the folks who constantly challenged them in print. The amount of gore on display is freakin’ innocuous compared to the stuff folks get away with today. I mean, freakin’ R-rated RAMBO (2008) had more in the last 20 minutes than probably all of the notoriously edited 80s horror flicks combined. The only things more pathetic than this being cut down is that some loser took the time to compare the two versions and edit a comparison video. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The "Never Got Made" File #20 - #23: It's alive, it's alive, it's ali...oh, maybe not!

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has been an integral part of horror cinema. From the Edison Studio’s 1910 adaptation to Universal’s iconic films, Dr. Victor Frankenstein and his various creations have been featured in over 100 productions in the last century. With Guillermo del Toro announcing his work on a Frankenstein redux, it seems only fitting to check in on the Frankenstein monsters that were never fully brought to life. Question is, will del Toro succeed or end up adding to the list?


In 1960, stop-motion animator extraordinaire Willis O’Brien came up with the idea for a second sequel to KING KONG (1933) that would feature the giant ape taking on a huge version of Frankenstein’s monster. The creature would have been created by Frankenstein’s grandson and the action set in modern day San Francisco. O’Brien even did some preliminary sketches to map out the size of the title beasts (see below). The project was scripted by George (FRANKENSTEIN 1970) Worthing Yates and here is where things get complicated. First, the title was changed to KING KONG VS. PROMETHEUS to avoid potential lawsuits with Universal studios. The project was then shopped around and the studio that bought it was Japan’s Toho Film Studios, home of Godzilla. Initially they had plans to change it to GODZILLA VS. FRANKENSTEIN, but the project then morphed into KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962). But the Japanese weren’t done yet with the Frankenstein monster as Toho eventually also made FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (aka FRANKENSTEIN VS. BARAGON; 1965), which featured a Godzilla-size monster tearing it up.  For more on the film's potential plot, check out Toho Kingdom's write-up.

#21 – Dario Argento’s FRANKENSTEIN

Following the success of his animal trilogy, Italian director Dario Argento tried to mount a Frankenstein adaptation. Little is know about the project, but here is some info offered by in the Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds book on Argento:
Luigi Cozzi, who co-wrote the screenplay with Argento, says: “He wanted to take a very classical approach, but to set the story in pre-Nazi Germany, during the Weimar Republic. The Frankenstein monster would have been kind of a symbol of the birth of Nazism. We had trouble with the Americans there [specifically Universal Pictures] – they said Frankenstein was dead, and anyway, no one who wanted to see a horror movie cared about politics.” Packaged with Timothy Dalton (now James Bond) in the lead, the project was also offered to Hammer with no luck.
Prime Dario Argento doing Frankenstein with Royal Shakespeare Company era Timothy Dalton as Dr. Frankenstein? Sign me up! Sadly, it never got made but with Argento remaking DRACULA, who knows what the future holds?

#22 – David Cronenberg’s FRANKENSTEIN

Fresh off the success of SCANNERS (1981), David Cronenberg was announced to be developing his own take on the Frankenstein mythos. According to this interview with Cronenberg at Greencine, there wasn’t really much to it other than the title. Producer Pierre David mentioned the idea to Cronenberg and he said, “Sounds good to me” even though he said he had no interest in making it. David apparently took him at his word and ran ads in Variety announcing the project. Instead, Cronenberg moved away from David’s Filmplan International and made VIDEODROME (1983) – a film infused with a bit of Frankenstein itself – instead. Thank you Dave!

And here is a little blurb from Fangoria about the death of Cronenberg's FRANKENSTEIN project (with a bonus "Never Got Made" about a cool sounding anthology):

#23 – George Romero’s FRANKENSTEIN

Like Cronenberg, Romero was fresh off the biggest financial hit of his career with CREEPSHOW (1982) when a potential Frankenstein adaptation was announced. Laurel Entertainment seemed to have a “throw it all at the wall” approach with their projects and announced at least 5 Romero directed projects in the fall of 1982. Titles including this, COPPERHEAD, CREEPSHOW 2, and Romero’s adaptations of Stephen King’s THE STAND and PET SEMATARY. None of the projects got made by Romero (although he did provide the screenplay for CREEPSHOW 2). Anyway, here is the artwork they ran for Romero’s attempt:

Since ol’ George is still churning out flicks, this is still something I’d like to see him tackle. I mean, anything…ANYTHING to get him to stop making those damn zombie flicks.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Obscure Oddities: DEATH COLLECTOR (1988)

One of the side effects of being a Video Junkie is that you always have more movies than you can watch. It is sad, but an inevitable truth. Currently I have somewhere in the range of 500 unwatched DVDs and I’m sure just as many VHS titles. This endless supply of orbital medicine gives me plenty of opportunity to play Video Junkie’s Video Roulette. This basically involves randomly selecting an evening’s night of great entertainment (or torture) out of a box while an Asian guy yells, “Mao!” at me. Video Roulette has led me down some strange paths before, but what I grabbed last night was really odd. Not to be confused with the Joe Pesci/NJ mob flick of the same name that haunts dollar bins everywhere, DEATH COLLECTOR is truly a one of a kind flick.

In the near future, the town of Hartford City is controlled by a ruthless guy named Hawk (Loren Blackwell). The law is represented by the Holt brothers, Jack and Wade. Jack (Frank Stewart) is the serious one who wants to carry on the family tradition, whereas Wade (Daniel Chapman) has dreams of being a singing cowboy. Problems erupt when Wade awkwardly seduces Hawk’s squeeze Annie (Ruth Collins) and Jack is fatally shot in the chaos. “Here’s a life insurance policy for $10,000. It’s all I got,” says Jack as he lies dying (really!). But little brother Wade has revenge on his mind and heads to Hawk’s corporate headquarters for, uh, revenge. He isn't very good at it apparently because he confronts Hawk, but his gun is out of bullets. D’oh!

For his trouble, Wade has his knee crushed with a sledgehammer and is then sentenced to 50 years in a prison work camp. You can tell it is the future by the prisoner’s outfits. Wade manages to hit several prison clichés (hard labor, the hot box, black friend Bucky) in five minutes before the prison is shut down five years into his run. I’m not kidding, the warden gets a phone call and all he says is, “What? Shut the prison down? Okay.” He is then on the PA system telling all the prisoners they are free. How did this happen? Seems the outside world has changed a lot according to Mr. Exposition Prison Guard. The banks have bankrupted the world with “a few changes of a decimal points” (hmmmm, sounds familiar) and Hawk has seized control by privatizing everything. And everyone in Hartford City now loooooves Hawk because he offers insurance premiums whereby you get $1 million dollars if you live in his city and hit age 35. No one seems to notice nobody has ever collected on it. But recently released Wade just wants what is his and goes goes to Hawk to cash in his brother’s insurance policy. Naturally, Hawk refuses so Wade (along with pal Bucky and love interest Annie) must become the death collector. Oh, I get it!

What...the...hell? I'm not sure how films like this exist. Shot entirely in Connecticut, DEATH COLLECTOR plays out like someone saw Walter Hill's STREETS OF FIRE and said, "I can do that" with a budget of $50,000. Seriously, like Hill’s film or Alan Rudolph’s TROUBLE IN MIND (1985), this takes place in some kind of futuristic retro land. Folks walk through rock quarries (the future!) in cowboy hats and boots, yet everyone drives around in 1950s cars. You can’t fault this low budget production for not having ambition. And director Tom Gniazdowski (aka Tom Garrett) ain't done yet. No, he adds bizarre little quirks like main villain Hawk being obsessed with bowling. How obsessed? He kills a guy who makes him 5 minutes late to the lanes. There is an entire scene in the bowling alley where Hawk is giving Annie some advice on how to throw the ball. Naturally, she sucks at it and it allows for some risible dialogue where Hawk says, “You did it, babe. You became the ball. And you ended up right in the gutter where you belong.” And this isn’t even the oddest line from scripter John McLaughlin. Later in the film Annie is talking to Wade about killing Hawk and says, “Don't try setting him on fire either. I found out the hard way, he's just not flammable.” To quote the great Jack Burton, “I don’t even know what the hell that means!”

I'm not sure this is even a good movie, but it was oddly compelling and had me hooked for an entire viewing (and if you know me, that is quite a feat). Of course, there are the low budget aspects that make it entertaining too. One thing I loved was during Wade’s first performance, two audience members shown are an old guy and a beefcake shirtless dude playing cards. After Wade spends 5 years in prison, he heads back to the same bar and guess who is in the background? The old guy and the buff dude! That must have been one hell of a card game…or sloppy filmmaking.

This is one of those kind of movies where the lead guy need a shotgun and there just happens to be one on the wall. I also love that in the future that Double Dragon and After Burner are still popular in arcades. And there is a country-esque guitar theme that is played ad nausem that you will be humming it by film’s end. Lead Chapman looks kind of like really skinny Dolph Lundgren and sings his own songs with some challenging lyrics ("You make the breakfast...I make the bed") in this one. He was also featured in PHILADELPHIA (1993) as a guy who tells his story in a clinic (where he looked much worse) and he passed away from AIDS in 1994. Ruth Collins is good as the bimbo love interest, but doesn’t do any nudity. I only mention this because she was more than happy to pop her top in DOOM ASYLUM (1987). Also look for splatterpunk authors Skipp and Spector in a one scene cameo. Like I said, all of this makes the film hypnotic and kept me watching the screen from beginning to end. The film was originally released on the RaeDon home video label. But you can find it easily in vol. 1 of Media Blasters RareFlix sets alongside the entertaining THE DISTURBANCE (1990) and POSED FOR MURDER (1989).

Monday, July 5, 2010

Prison Prescription: THE CHAIR (1988) and DEATH HOUSE (1988)

Maybe it was something in the L.A. water, but horror movies set in prison became all the rage in the late 80s. The market was flooded with titles such as DEATH ROW DINER (1988), DESTROYER (1988), PRISON (1988), SLAUGHTERHOUSE ROCK (1988), and TERROR AT ALCATRAZ (1986). Even slasher flicks like THE HORROR SHOW (1989) and SHOCKER (1989) couldn’t resist throwing in some ol’ electric chair excitement. I’m shocked 80s Hollywood never got us a horror prison movie set underwater! Two of the lesser entries in this subgenre are THE CHAIR (1988) and DEATH HOUSE (1988).

Warden Edward Dwyer (Paul Benedict, the doorman from THE JEFFERSONS) re-opens a dilapidated prison with the help some trustee inmates (including Brad Greenquist and Stephen Geoffreys). Along for the ride are psychologist Dr. Langer (James Coco) and his assistant Lisa (Trini Alvarado), who try to help the prisoners with some 80s "I'm okay, you're okay" therapy. Of course, this prison has - I hope you have already guessed - a history and there is a ghost out for revenge. Seems some rowdy prisoners executed the former warden several years before and Dwyer, a guard at the time, failed to intervene. Naturally, this means lots of innocent (and presumed innocent) folks get chopped and zapped before the warden gets his comeuppance.

Believe it or not, this is one of the few flicks produced by Angelika Films, a production company from the folks who founded NYC's famous Angelika Film Center (same logo and everything). For a group known for having its finger on the indie film pulse, they sure didn't know crap about making a viable commercial product. Actually, husband and wife industrial filmmakers Waldermar Korzenioswsky and Carolyn Swartz are mostly to blame here as they never make it horrific enough, unless you count their terrible attempts at comedy and the ill-fitting piano score and opening jazz tune. Just what the hell was the film supposed to be? And how can you waste such a good location and actors? The film ends with an on screen dedication reading "For Jimmy" as lead Coco died during filming. Poor Jimmy (in both regards).

The many stages of THE CHAIR grief:

THE CHAIR is one of those classic examples of my growth period as a teen when I learned that movies aren’t necessarily as good as the stills run in Fangoria to promote the film. I remember being impressed by the blue-hued pics of the first warden being fried with his skin bubbling as a result. Then you have Stephen Geoffreys in the mix. “Damn, that’s Evil Ed,” thought my fourteen year old brain, “He is gonna be awesome as a wacko prisoner. And James Coco, he is a respectable actor, right?” So with visions of Renny Harlin’s PRISON dancing in my head, I expected a dark prison ghost revenge tale. What I got instead was sentenced to my own video execution with a film that can’t decide if it is a comedy, drama, or horror film.

If heightened expectations were one of the reasons for my disappointment in THE CHAIR, they may be the sole reason for why my head hangs in my hands after watching John Saxon’s DEATH HOUSE. Originally profiled in Gorezone magazine, this one got built up in my brain by a certain mindset that was forever exorcised from my mind after I saw Bruce Campbell direct movies. “John Saxon is directing!?! He has worked with masters of horror like Wes Craven and Bob Clark. And tons of Italians! Surely he must have picked up something from them over the years,” rationalized my naïve 80s brain once again. And the plot sounded awesome: the Government was trying out an experimental serum on prisoners that makes them go berserk. “Wow, it will be like RE-ANIMATOR in prison,” said Will’s optimistic mind. Well, I had to wait much longer to catch this bad boy (20 years) and the only common ground it shares with Stuart Gordon’s classic is that it is in focus.

Framed by mafia boss Vic Moretti (Anthony Franciosa), Derek Keillor (Dennis Cole) ends up on death row, right alongside the mob boss' brother Frankie (Frank Sarcinello Jr.). But this is the least of Derek's problems as rogue government agent (and mob stoolie) Col. Burgess (John Saxon) is using the prison as a testing ground for a new experimental super-virus. Soon Keillor’s sole prison friend is executed and he turns into a rage filled zombie that causes a prison riot to break out. This doesn’t fare well for visiting TV reporter Tanya (Tane McClure), who just happens to also be a former biochemist (really!). And wouldn’t you know it, today just happens to be the day Warden Hagan (Alex Courtney) brought his family to visit.

This is the only flick Saxon directed during his storied career. Sure, it is low budget, but that can't excuse the stilted staging, shooting gaffes, or clumsy exposition in the first 15 minutes. Seriously, the first 15 minutes are filled with so much stuff going on that you might need a chalk board to keep track of it all. Try to follow me: Derek is a Vietnam vet who stays with an old combat buddy (SUPERFLY’s Ron O’Neal) before getting a job as Moretti’s mob chauffer. He falls for mob trophy wife Genelle (Dana Lis) by a fast glance in the rearview mirror and they are (even faster) getting it on. Derek also foils a dirty deal gone bad in a back alley, even though he just “wants to stay out of it.” Moretti then kills Genelle in the hot tub (but not before lathering her breasts) and frames Derek for the murder. He goes on trial (voiceover time!) and is sentenced to death. This all happens in the first 15 minutes! To his credit, Saxon did make it slightly gory and he works in a hilarious nude scene (our lead actually falls asleep during a prison riot only to fantasize about a female scientist-turned-reporter). Cole, who looks like a more rugged Jan-Michael Vincent, is decent as the stoic lead and Franciosa - sporting a really bad rug - gives it his all as the cliché mob boss.

In the end, DEATH HOUSE is a total mess that is still an oddly watchable mess. According to director Fred Olen Ray, Saxon fell behind schedule rather quickly and he was brought on to help move the project along. Perhaps sensing the film needed some extra umph, Olen Ray’s Retromedia released this on DVD as ZOMBIE DEATH HOUSE with the title addition not even trying to look like it wasn’t meant to be there. As for my childhood delusions, I finally got my “RE-ANIMATOR in prison” with BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR (2003). Guess what? It sucked. But that didn’t stop my stumbling brain from thinking at the time, “Damn, RE-ANIMATOR in a prison? This is gonna be awesome!”

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Exterminators of the Carpocalypse: WHEELS OF FIRE (1984)

After Filipino legend Cirio H. Santiago’s first post-apocalypse epic STRYKER (1983) did bang-up box-office of about 1.7 million in the US (which is easily 20 times the film’s budget), Santiago decided to stryke again (sorry, they can’t all be gems) with the quasi-sequel-ish, semi-remake-ish, “big” budget WHEELS OF FIRE!

Utilizing some of the same costumes and err… sets (can rock quarries and sand-dunes be construed as sets?), this time Santiago goes balls-freakin-out with the suped-up cars, post-nuke motorcycles (one has plastic devil forks mounted on the front - sweeeeet) and serious military hardware. You know you are in for a bigger event when the credits are splashy, loud and sport a fantastic, adrenaline-pumping, Brian May-inspired score by none-other than genre fave Christopher Young (back when he was just "Chris")!

A leather-clad wasteland wanderer driving a matte-black muscle-car named Trace (Gary Watkins, who bears a rather freakishly uncanny resemblance to Gerard Butler) decides to visit a nomad group so he can visit his sister Arlie (1982 Playboy Playmate Lynda Wiesmeier). Arlie has shacked up with another two-bit loser, Bo, who has bet her car keys in a steel pipe fight in the circled square. When he is about to be killed by the ringer that he eventually fights, Trace steps in a lays down a whuppin’ saving sis’ car. This pisses off the local wasteland chapter of a badass gang and the next thing you know, the tires are burnin', the engines are roarin' and the chase is on!

Headed up by the villainous Scourge (Joe Mari Avellana of CAGED FURY [1983] and BLOODFIST [1989], doing his best James Earl Jones impersonation), black cars tear up the roads, motorcycles jump off of dunes, and cars blow up for no reason after they fly off cliffs, and this is all in the first 15 minutes! At one point Trace plays possum and Scourge’s aviator-wearing, cigar-chewing henchman, Skag, yells at the rest of the gang “we got him where we want him, let’s go assholes!” only to find themselves running straight into Trace’s vehicle-mounted flamethrower! Meanwhile, Arlie and Bo decide this is the perfect time to start making out like a couple of high-schooler's on a prom date and are promptly captured by Scourge’s men. Bo shows that big brother was right about sis' crappy taste in men and without missing a beat yelps that Skag should take the girl and the car and let him join the gang. Skag agrees, but on the condition that he "survives the initiation". Suddenly, Bo’s pants are down and he’s being chased through the desert, dragged behind a jeep and finally left for dead. Damn man, what happened to the pledge paddle?

Arlie isn’t treated much better as the bikers rip-off her top and tie her to the hood of their car, in a scene surprisingly similar to the infamous sequence in the Australian film FAIR GAME (1986). Scourge is pleased with his catch and remarks that she is a “good looking piece” to which Arlie retorts “too good for you, greasball! I'm not dogfood!” Trace, like his name implies, spends an extraordinary amount of time finding people. At this point he finds Bo, still tied to the jeep, in time for Bo to tell them where the thugs took his sister before a very displeased Trace puts several bullets in him. Whether it's because he was putting him out of his misery or just because he was a duchebag is unclear. From here you’d think this would be a simple fetch and retrieve mission, right? Wrong amigo! Trace runs into a girl who has a hawk for a pet, a girl who hears what people think, subteranian, albino cannibals, a commune of “True Believers” who are way too cheerful to live, the cheapest rocket-ship ever, a corporate army, the dwarf from STRYKER, and more explosions!

Probably my favorite unintentionally amusing moment occurs when, after much bickering (“sexual tension” ala The Lockhorns) between Trace and hawk-girl Stinger (Laura Banks), they trip and fall on a sand dune and are supposed to fall over and roll down the hill together in storybook romance style. Unfortunately they fall, but fail to catapult themselves over the lip of the dune and Watkins has to stand up and pull Banks over the edge at which point they still don’t tumble, so they have to throw themselves down the dune where they finally come to a stop and Trace rips open her top cueing the romantic transparency shot complete with strings in the background! Nobody, I mean, nobody does post-apocalyptic romance like Cirio H. Santiago.

While the US Vestron version of the film seems to be complete, it does seem to be missing some graphic violence. The credits list "prosthetics", "make up" and "special effects" crew-members, but there are less than a handful of appliances used in the film. While STRYKER featured an array of cheap, grizzly demises, here all of the violence cuts away rather quickly, some of it is heard on the soundtrack while a cut-away is seen on screen. This is the usual MO of a censor at work. It's not damning evidence, but it does seem odd that Santiago ramped up the level of action and nudity exponentially, but cut back on the blood. That's just not adding up, but until I can find something with extra footage, it's going to have to do.

There are a couple of things that stand out in WHEELS OF FIRE, two of them belong to Lynda Wiesmeier who spends roughly 99.5% of her screen time topless and screaming, topless and struggling, or topless and spewing more trash talk than a possessed Linda Blair. When grabbed by Scourge’s goons she yells “Get your hands off of me you miserable faggots!” (considering what happened to her loser boyfriend, that, I guess, is not really much of a slur) and when they bring her to Scourge she screams “don’t touch me you miserable jerk-offs!” Combined with her rampant, jiggling nekkidity, Wiesmeier pretty much steals the show. Of course there are some people who have gotten astride their high-horses and condemned the film as “misogynist”. Presumably because Arlie is given nothing to do other than be manhandled, show off her mesmerizing set of… uh… “genetics” and cuss like a sailor. Pretentious, but that hasn't stopped some half-assed critics who, I'm guessing, expect everyone in genre films to be respectful of one another. It's interesting that Jack Hill and Johnathan Demme's trend-setting women's prison films such as THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972) and CHAINED HEAT (1983) are given not only a pass, but a pat on the back for making movies about “strong women”, however, if a foreigner makes a film where an attractive western woman gets roughed up, the same cracker-barrel psychologists start screaming “misogyny” in a crowded room. Here Wiesmeier is simply an icon used to demonstrate the evilness of Scourge and his gang, in the exact same way the bad guys in DEATH WISH (1974) were shown to be deserving of their ultimate fate by raping and killing Paul Kersey's wife and daughter. In fact, I'd say if you were one of those people really looking for misogyny, there are much easier targets than this one. Not only is the rape implied and not shown, but both men and women are raped. Even more importantly, out of the five lead actors, three of them are female. Two of the three female leads are shown to be strong, capable and intelligent and all of them perform straight-up heroic acts. So much for being a misogynistic film!

Just because a film has misogynistic characters in it, doesn't make it a misogynistic film. If that were a legitimate train of logic then Walt Disney would be a misogynist (though I'm not saying he wasn't). How so? In SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959) the sorceress Maleficent hates the princess Aurora and tries to kill her, therefore she is a misogynistic character. As we now know, misogynistic character equals misogynistic film. The film was made by Walt Disney and this leads us, ipso facto, to the unmistakable conclusion that Walt Disney was a misogynist. Seriously, if you can’t find amusement from Alrie’s foul-mouthed hollering every time one of the bad guys so much as looks at her with lines like “hand’s off me, filthy pig! Stinkin’ fuckin’ goon!” and find her rather tame torment abhorrently misogynistic then obviously you need to stop watching genre films and go settle down with A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT or FIELD OF DREAMS. Though I might warn you, there is a little of bit of testy verbal conflict in FIELD OF DREAMS, so make sure there are no children in the room.

For those of you who are still reading... there are so many kids thinking up elaborate drinking games for lame TV shows with intricate rules and posting them on the net, I figured we should have an old school drinking game posted here.

- Take 2 Shots: Anytime Scorge’s henchman Skag yells “come on!”
- Take 1 Shot: Every time Lynda Wiesmeier is shown topless.
- Take 1 Shot: Every time there is an explosion.

What do you mean, “is that it?”! Damn man, this is an old school drinking game! Follow this and you’ll be hammered long before the end credits roll.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Spy Who Flubbed Me: CALL HIM MR. SHATTER (1974)

Looking to expand beyond their UK borders, Hammer Film Productions signed a co-production deal in the early 1970s with Asian powerhouse studio Shaw Brothers. While the deal was for three pictures, only two resulted from this merger. The first was THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974), an attempt to merge Hammer’s popular Dracula saga with some Far East mysticism. A co-production in every sense of the word, the film saw Roy Ward Baker directing side-by-side with Shaw legend Chang Cheh (only Baker receives credit) and Hammer veteran Peter Cushing taking blows right next to Shaw superstar David Chiang. The second cinematic team up resulted in CALL HIM MR. SHATTER, an action-adventure attempt that abandons horror to move into James Bond espionage territory and exploit the Hong Kong locales.

SHATTER opens with scenes of riots in an unnamed African country (someone got a hold of some stock footage). Gen. Ansabi M’Goya (Yemi Ajibade), the country’s ruler, is shown arriving at a fancy hotel to get it on with his token white lady. While preparing for the lovin’, they are interrupted by a masked man who kills M’Goya with a fancy camera-gun hybrid. The masked man is Shatter (Stuart Whitman), an international hitman who quickly bolts to Hong Kong to collect his pay. Unfortunately, his contact Hans Leber (Anton Diffring), a powerful mafia connected bank head, refuses to pay up, even after given the photographic proof of the assassination.

But Slaughter, er, Shatter ain’t no dummy and has a bargaining chip up his sleeve as he snagged M’Goya’s attaché case containing a list of mob drug processing facilities in the world. Of course, this makes him a marked man by both the mob and the UK government represented by cool Paul Rattwood (Peter Cushing, in his final Hammer film). After getting his ass beat in a back alley, Shatter is rescued by bartender Tai Pah (Ti Lung) and his lady Mai-Mee (Lily Li). Shatter discovers that Tai Pah is also a kung fu master (stereotype much?) and, before you can say YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, he is getting it on with Mai-Mee. Obviously this bothers Tai Pah, but he still accepts Shatter’s offer to be his head-kicking muscle, especially since it means getting half of the cool million Shatter plans to squeeze out of the mob.

SHATTER has all the elements required for an international espionage flick. You have assassination; double crosses; exotic locales; wanted documents; public negotiations; murder; chases; the “a stiff drink will solve my problems” ethic; and hot lovin’! The production obviously benefits from the location filming in Hong Kong and they aren’t afraid to get deep into those claustrophobic alleyways. Also, since it is a co-production with the Shaw Brothers, you get a bit more bang for your buck (or more dropkick for your Hong Kong dollar, if you willlll). They just do things differently there. For example, when someone tries to kill Shatter by launching an RPG into his hotel room, the filmmakers make sure to have a naked Chinese man in the room next door blasted out of his door. Why? Because they can do it, that’s why! And you have to love the two dummies that get thrown off a skyscraper during the film’s climax (see pic).

In addition, you get Peter Cushing as a stuffy UK government type who has to give the mother of all exposition speeches. I bet he got the script and was like, “Damn, I have to make all that sound good?” Naturally, it is a credit to his abilities that he does it and doesn’t have a heart attack in the process. There was a bit of behind-the-scenes drama as well as director Monte Hellman was replaced at some point during the production. Hammer exec Michael Carreras took over and receives sole on screen credit. Original helmer Hellman and Whitman both supplied an audio commentary on the film’s Roan laserdisc. According to reports on that commentary, Hellman says that 80% of the finished film is his work and Whitman admits to be a little more than shattered after hard nights out drinking in Hong Kong. Hey, he is just a method actor! I guess that explains why Ti Lung does all of the heavy hitting, eh?

And Ti Lung is definitely one of the reasons to see the film. Discovered by Shaw mega-star Jimmy Wang Yu, Ti Lung made his film debut in Chang Cheh’s Wang Yu sequel RETURN OF THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN (1968). Lung quickly became one of Cheh’s favorites and starred in a mind-boggling 20+ films in the 6 years between his introduction and SHATTER. Obviously the Shaws were hoping to bring their two stars (Lung and 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES’ David Chiang were their biggest stars following Jimmy Wang Yu’s ugly departure from the company) to the international market. Unfortunately, they do Lung a bit of a disservice as the filmmakers get him to mimic Bruce Lee’s fighting style. Having trained in Wing Chun, Lung has no problem physically imitating Lee’s style but it doesn’t help him stand apart. For example, Lung doesn’t get a single scene to show off his fancy sword skills that made him popular in Shaw Brothers productions in the first place. His highlight in this film is a random martial arts tournament in a nightclub where he fights several foes (including Lo Wei) of different styles. This is also one of the few scenes where Whitman gets to throw down and, uh, lets just say he is better holding a gun to people’s necks.

Regardless of Whitman's lack of martial arts prowess, CALL HIM MR. SHATTER is a good time. If you are looking for some Bondian action with some martial arts mayhem, you can't go wrong here.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Kung Fu Treachery: BLOODFIGHT (1989)

Like most kids growing up in the 70s and 80s, I was obsessed with martial arts movies. Kung fu, karate, tae kwon do, Chris Mitchum Fu…if you threw a kick, I was probably there watching it on video. This is why the fact that I bypassed BLOODFIGHT (aka FINAL FIGHT) on video all the time is truly bizarre. I remember seeing the Imperial VHS release with Bolo Yeung on the cover in stores. Perhaps I was just feeling elitist and didn’t want to support a BLOODSPORT knock off? Or maybe I was still reeling from the effects of Albert Pyun’s BLOODMATCH? In any case, I never watched the film until recently, thanks to the recommendation of my friend Dave aka “Bolo, Jr.”

Masahiro Kai (Yasuaki Kurata) won the World Championship of Free Fighting back in the late 1970s and can’t seem to get past his glory days, so much so that his drunken wife leaves him and he doesn’t notice. Always on the lookout for new students, he spots local gweilo tough guy John (Stuart Smith) and invites him to his gym. “Wow, I want to master that!” screams John when he watches Kai’s old footage (see pic). But John can’t break that rebel streak and he and his gang (the kind only HK movies can deliver) attack a young girl at a noodle shop and Ryu Tenmei (Simon Yam) comes to the rescue.

Masahiro is so impressed with Ryu, who was taught martial arts by his deceased father, that he asks him to join his school. Maybe this is why your school is failing, Masahiro? Because you only scout talent in back alley brawls? Anyway, Ryu refuses because he is on a basketball scholarship (bwhahahahaha!) at the local university, so Masahiro resorts to stalking Ryu. Really! Cut to a “cute” montage of Masahiro showing up everywhere Ryu goes, including public bathrooms. Creepy! Eventually John’s gang beats Ryu to a pulp so he literally crawls to Sensi Masahiro and begs him to take him on as a pupil. So what does Masahiro do? He refuses! Why you little tease! Cut to “cute” montage of Ryu showing up everywhere Masahiro goes, including public bathrooms.

Eventually Ryu is able to convince Masahiro to take him on and his training is good enough that he enters the World Championship of Free Fighting and breezes through to the finals where he faces the intimidating Chong Lee (Bolo Yeung). Chong Lee is a bit of a rebel as well since he is shown getting drunk backstage before his fight and eventually kills Ryu during the match. Whoops! This sends Masahiro on a bender that lasts two years (!) before WCFF rep John O’Brien (John Ladalski) shows up to offer the sloshed sensei a chance at revenge in a Killer vs. Victim’s Teacher showdown. Damn, is this the first time a master is avenging the death of his pupil? Anyway, Masahiro trains his ass off with John to get ready for the big fight. I wonder who wins and if there will be an amazing comeback?

Well, my 15-year-old Spidey video senses were correct at the time in that this is a BLOODSPORT knock off of the highest order. Hell, it is also set in Hong Kong and features the same tournament format and villain! You’ve heard of Bruceploitation? Well, this is Bolosploitation. BLOODSPORT was a surprise international hit and you can bet Kurata, whose production company produced this, had charismatic BLOODSPORT villain Bolo on the phone within minutes. This was made the very next year and the filmmakers make no bones about wanting to draw a comparison as they name the villain Chong Lee (he is named Chong Li in the Van Damme movie). But see Chong Lee has a cobra tattooed on his forehead here, so it is totally different.

If the knock off factor isn’t enough to amuse you, then you have the rest of the film. Shot on location in Hong Kong, the Japanese production suffers the same fate as most low budget productions of the HK era. I knew I was in for a good time during the opening training montage that shows the four fighters getting ready for their fights. Cut to a wide shot of the dressing room and they are all about two feet from each other (see pic). Also, where do they find these white folks? Seriously, it must be a requirement that if you are a white dude looking to act in an Asian production that you must have all the acting subtlety of Mantan Moreland. Stuart Smith, who is amusingly billed incorrectly as Stuart Smita, is a sight to behold. His acting is so over-the-top that it is highly amusing. To be fair, veteran white dude Ladalski is pretty good in his supporting role.

You also get a street gang that only Asian films can deliver. Tooling around the city in a Jeep with skulls and “Fuck You!” spray-painted on it, this gang is a riot. You know you are in trouble when the guy with the multi-colored pompadour is the least funny. One guy dresses in all red with a red Mohawk and carries around a chicken foot. The big gag is he gets knocked into a rooster, looks at it and goes, “Huh?” The bald guy (see pic) looks like Don Rickles with cancer and makes Smith look like Sir Laurence Olivier. Did I mention he has a back pocket torn off his jeans to reveal his bare ass with the words “Hands off” written on his skin? No joke, these guys make the gangs in Jackie Chan’s RUMBLE IN THE BRONX seem utterly realistic. Finally, you have everyone in the cast speaking English, or at least trying to. I commend Kurata for aiming high, yet it scores so low with lines pronounced like, “I have the scales to protact ewe” and “Ewe only wanta wee veng.” I also got a big kick out of a sign in the dressing room reading “Not Smoking” on it. It is funny because 1) it is not correct and 2) that a group holding an underground death tournament would take the time to make a sign like this. And how would you open a underground fighting tournament? Why with some chick body builder, two dude body builders and some girls doing aerobics on stage, of course!

So learn your lessons from me. Don't be a fool and stay in school. And when you see BLOODFIGHT, you know it is alright! Check it out. Tell them Chong Lee sent ya.