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, September 25, 2010


Video Junkie Conference, Aug. 2010.

Video archeologist Dr. Wilson and his native guide Simmonstipo are trying to divvy up the films for their upcoming coverage of Indiana Jones rip-offs.  The conversation goes something like this.

Dr. Wilson: Give me the Italian ones!
Sueyrestipo: Throw me the Cannon ones! No time to argue, you throw me the Cannon ones, I throw you the Italian ones.
Dr. Wilson: But who will cover The Asylum rip-off?
Sueyrestipo: Adiós señor!

Okay, that might not be exactly how it went down, but that is how I felt after watching The Asylum’s wannabe flick – betrayed, seriously let down and knowing my death might be impending.

The Asylum is a low-budget studio that got their start with horror and action flicks in the 1990s.  They rose to prominence in 2005 when they released their own $1 million dollar version of WAR OF THE WOLDS starring C. Thomas Howell on DVD literally one day before Spielberg’s $100 million dollar plus “Tom Cruise saves the world” remake hit theaters.  Lawsuits flew, alongside audience confusion no doubt.  It was a bold move that would make Roger Corman proud. Amazingly, The Asylum won out in the end and the era of the “mockbuster” was born as they produced cheapjack knockoffs to anticipated big budget flicks. The already stupid SNAKES ON A PLANE begat SNAKES ON A TRAIN; KING KONG brought KING OF THE LOST WORLD;  TRANSFORMERS was greeted with TRANSMORPHERS; and I AM LEGEND brought out I AM OMEGA. Unfortunately, unlike the variations Corman used to produce, their movies suck.  Suck hard.  So when news broke that Lucas and Spielberg were finally dusting off the fedora for a fourth Indiana Jones adventure, the fine folks at The Asylum jumped on public domain Allan Quatermain to birth their imitation.  Hey, it worked for like a charm for Cannon, right?  

This opens with two prospectors finding a map to King Solomon’s Mines (which I’m pretty certain the filmmakers got off the KSM Wikipedia entry) and splitting it 50-50 by tearing it in half.  Huh? Obviously that makes no sense to one of these guys so he clocks his partner and takes off with both pieces.  After his horse laughably jumps a cavern, our double-crosser is killed by a spear chucked by a local native.  Cut to Allan Quatermain (Sean Cameron Michael) reading a letter that he needs £10,000 for his son’s boarding school tuition. He opts to sell half of the map (we’re never told how he got it) to evil Anisley (Christopher Adamson) for that amount.  Heading to the bar meeting point, Quatermain meets Lady Anna (Natalie Stone) and Sir Henry Curtis (Daniel Bonjour), who are searching for her missing brother Neville (Nick Everhart).

"Talk to the hand!"
Things predictably fall through with Anisley and Quatermain escapes up with Anna on the world’s slowest train.  The young bluebloods reveal they have the second half of the map and request his services to take them to the location and hopefully find Neville. Quatermain agrees for the sum of £40,000, with £20,000 of it upfront.  Back at his house, Quatermain stuffs the money in two envelopes – one to mail to the school and one for his son if he dies – and gives it to housekeeper Umbopa (Wittly Jourdan).  Yes, he is sending £10,000 cash through the mail in a thin envelope.  And, yes, they made Umbopa a chick and a housekeeper. But plans get mucked up when some of Anisley’s men show up.  So their journey starts sooner than expected as our four characters head into the treacherous South African landscape with Anisley in not-so-hot pursuit.  Along the way they encounter CGI locusts, ankle sprains, and an African tribe (where, of course, Umbopa is the true queen) that likes to rip people’s skulls out with a CGI hand claw thingy.

Words can’t describe how bad this flick is.  Seriously, look at these randomly selected Netflix reviews and try to fathom that the film is actually worse than this:

That's right, The Asylum even angered the fans of "Indiana Johns" with this movie! Michael, who looks a bit like Russell Crowe, has the look and is a decent actor, but director Mark Atkins can’t be bothered to capitalize on it.  The script offers him absolutely nothing along the lines of clever lines and the occasional bits that might offer some energy (the train chase; a shootout while Anna is in the tub) are so bungled by Atkins.

"Yo, we hitting the mall after this?"
Don’t even get me started on the continuity of this film. Okay, I’ll start.  The opening credits claim it is based on King Solomon’s Mines, so that would put the period setting around 1880. So that gives absolutely no excuse for the villain to mention the Nazi party!  What? But, for the sake of argument and filmmaker leniency, let’s say it is set in the 1930s.  That couldn’t excuse the embarrassing fact that the filmmakers have members of Anisley’s gang decked out in modern clothing (see pic).  Why would you spend money giving Anna period clothing, but then not be bright enough to go, “Hey, that guy in the jeans and GAP shirt might not match the period setting.”  Believe it or not, that isn’t even the most embarrassing gaffe!  Incredibly, the filmmakers briefly capture Coca-Cola and Smirnoff Vodka logos on film.  No doubt their excuse will be, “Hey, we checked Wikipedia and both those products were around then.”  But I’ll like to bet they weren’t using their modern logos and – silly me – hadn’t penetrated the South African market at that point.  Don’t believe me?  Here you go:

How does this happen?  These guys went all the way to South Africa to film, but are boneheaded enough not to think, “Hey, maybe we should move that Coke machine or at least shoot from a different angle.”  Of course what do you expect from filmmakers who accidentally film a blinking security alarm inside a turn of the century house in Africa? Christ!

As with their entire mockbuster product, The Asylum went out of their way to ape the object of their “inspiration” and even boldly claim the film is “from the story that inspired Indiana Jones.”  But Quatermain never uses a whip once in this flick. Hell, nothing on the cover is in this flick!  Thai looking temple?  Nope. Three bi-planes? Negative.  Lion? Nada. Gold coins?  No way.  Decent movie?  Aw, hellllll nah! They do get a Zulu looking tribe in there, but is composed of about five guys and they don’t have any bones through their noses. So much fail pretty much encapsulates the product of The Asylum – tons of promises that never arrive and potential flying away faster than a swarm of CGI locusts.  It is the worst case scenario as the inmates running The Asylum aren’t crazy, just lazy (didn’t think I would get my “inmates” and “asylum” line in, did ya?).

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: The Gold Lamé Age of KING SOLOMON'S MINES

In the interest of being excessively anal, we bring you a bird’s-eye view of what happened after the Golden Age of KING SOLOMON'S MINES. To be clear, obviously we love our '60s and ‘70s cinema, but even we just don’t have enough time to cover everything in one month. Hell, we started out with the plan of just doing "weeks" and you can see how that went!

After the success of MGM’s Academy Award winning KING SOLOMON’S MINES (1950) there were plenty of safari epics, but no one really went to plunder Solomon’s riches directly until 1959 when MGM decided to craft a sequel-slash-reboot titled WATUSI (aka THE QUEST FOR KING SOLOMON’S MINES) based on a screenplay by James Clavell. This time out it is Quatermain’s son Harry (George Montgomery) who is trying to retrace his father’s steps back to the fabled mines. Essentially a rehash of the original right down to trying to create that same sexual tension with a female in the wild but this time in a triangle. Of course stumbling across Umbopa’s tribe of tri-hawk/pompadour ‘fro sportin’ freaks, the witch and the mine are included as well. Notoriously padded with stock footage and churned out fast and dirty, this film has become increasingly rare. I'll give you one guess as to which '80s film prompted it's release on VHS. Man, how many suckers do you think they reeled in with that cover? Surprisingly they never got my three bucks, or if they did I successfully perfected my "Memoreez" serum that deletes memories that are too painful to relive. I’m not sure which.

In 1964 Piero Regnoli took a turn directing an entry in the staggeringly popular series of Italian sword n’ sandal films based on the legends of Maciste (aka Samson or Hercules) made from 1961-1965. Regnoli’s entry, MACISTE IN THE MINES OF KING SOLOMON (1964), had the conceit of having Maciste (Reg Park) captured and forced to work in a slave mine owned by the titular biblical king. The link to H. Rider Haggard is a little tenuous maybe, but Maciste interacts with native African tribes and saves everyone from the Mines of Doom. The movie showcases the usual male-bondage themes, so if you are into that sorta thing, this one’s for you.

In 1973, perhaps inspired by the success of Maciste, prolific Spanish director José L. Merino decided that Tarzan had done just about everything a dude in a loincloth in the jungle could do in front of a family audience and directed TARZAN IN KING SOLOMON'S MINES. He decided to have The Lord of the Jungle (David Carpenter, looking like he's ready to hit the waves after knocking back a few bongloads) drop in on an expedition to Solomon’s mines by Quat-erm, I mean “Stanley” (Paul Nashy) and the woman he’s helping out, Doris (the smokin’ hot Nadiuska, who also starred in the superb 1976 horror film THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK and went on to play Schwarzenegger’s mom in CONAN [1982]). This film can be found in Spanish, but is quite the rarity in an English dub.

Finally in 1977, the notorious Harry Allan Towers produced a mish-mash of both of Haggard’s Quatermain books titled KING SOLOMON’S TREASURE, directed by Alvin Rakoff (the man also responsible for the 1980 cult crapfest DEATH SHIP). A full review is forthcoming, but just to whet the appetite, here’s the ad that they ran in Variety. Looks amazing doesn’t it? Oooooooh, yes it does.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: The Asian Invasion

Pardon the 3 day interruption in VJ service, but even junkies get burned out every once and a while. We’re nearing the end of our month long “week” of Indiana Jones knock offs and things are getting rough.  Let’s just say Patrick Swayze and The Asylum are not our favorite people right now (you’ll understand why over the next week).

As we’ve shown time and time again, after RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) became a worldwide hit, everyone with a camera and a fedora was doing an imitation.  Not to be left out was the burgeoning Hong Kong film industry.  And while we never got a straight up scene for scene rip-off, those crazy Chinese made sure to work some archeological adventure into their films.

Jackie Chan delivered the earliest and perhaps best known of the Hong Kong Jones inspired film with ARMOR OF GOD (1987).  Following the stunning PROJECT A (1983) and the brilliant POLICE STORY (1985), Chan brought his archeologist style adventure on as Jackie (what a stretch) aka Asian Hawk, a former pop singer turned adventurer (!). He is called into service to help friend Alan (Alan Tam, another stretch) after their friend Laura (Rosamund Kwan) is kidnapped by some evil monks that want the other pieces of the treasure of the title.  Opening with Jackie taking on an African tribe, this is totally the Asian Indiana Jones bolstered by some insane stunts that Lucas and Spielberg would never attempt.  In fact, Jackie came closest to death while filming the opening and falling from a tree.  He cracked his skull on a rock and it left a big hole in his head.  No doubt this is how we can explain later decisions like the RUSH HOUR series, THE TUXEDO and THE KARATE KID remake.

The film proved to be Jackie’s biggest hit at the time and he returned with the big budget sequel ARMOR OF GOD II: OPERATION CONDOR (1991).  This time around Jackie is given the task of tracking down some stolen Nazi gold.  That’s a slim plot that offers nothing more than an excuse for Jackie to kick some butt.  At the time this was the highest budgeted HK movie ever (roughly $15 million) and Jackie did everything bigger and better.  He shot all over the globe (Spain, Morocco, Hong Kong) and really delivered some amazing set pieces.  The last half hour inside the underground Nazi base is one of the highlights of the man’s astonishing career.  Naturally the film came out and was even more popular at the HK box office.  In fact, it was the biggest HK film of Jackie’s career until DRUNKEN MASTER II (1993) beat it (quick trivia: Chan’s biggest film ever at the HK box office was quasi-POLICE STORY sequel FIRST STRIKE [1996]; odd, ain’t it?).  Ever since the film came out Jackie has been talking about a third part.  Lately he’s been getting real serious about it, promising ARMOR OF GOD III: CHINESE ZODIAC will start shooting in 2011 and that it will be he last epic action movie. We’ll see, but we’re smart enough to know now that Jackie ain’t Jackie no more.  This new guy is Stepford Jackie.

While Jackie was gobbling up finances and shooting for years, the opposite end of the budget spectrum in Hong Kong was also adding some Indiana Jones flavor.  One such film is Wong Jing’s MAGIC CRYSTAL (1986), an action-adventure about an extraterrestrial jade rock.  Andy Lau stars as Andy Lo (so versatile!) aka Hunting Eagle (what’s with the nicknames?), a master thief who gets wrapped up in international intrigue after his archeologist friend Shen Kun (Phillip Ko) unearths the titular object in Greece.  Russian baddie Karov (Richard Norton) wants the object but Shen slips it into the luggage of Lo’s nephew Pin-Pin.  Back in Hong Kong the glowing rock befriends the little kid (shades of E.T.) and muuuuuch bad comedy ensues before the rock tells Pin-Pin to head back to Greece.  Naturally the annoying tyke is kidnapped and Lo, along with some Interpol agents (including Cynthia Rothrock), try to stop the bad guys.

Honestly this only gets into our breakdown thanks to the last 20 minutes that are set in a booby trapped cavern under some ancient Greek ruins.  The filmmakers directly lift the treacherous arrow spewing hallway from the opening of RAIDERS.  Of course, they make sure to have a guy get snuffed out by hundreds of them.  The final battle takes place in a large throne room where the calcified remains of an alien remain inside a UFO control booth (amazingly, it has left a recorded message for visitors in a modern language).  Everyone throws down in the brawl until Russian badguy Karov gets sucked into another dimension.  Wait a sec…aliens, magic crystals, spaceships and a Russian getting zapped into a vortex?  This is INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL!  Seriously, did LucasFilm screen this one?  If they did, they thankfully left out all the bad comedy (well, maybe).  Like all flicks by Wong Jing (who also co-stars as a “funny” sidekick), this is filled with awwwwful comedy for the first hour.  How bad? The comedic “highlight” is the crystal switching the hands and feet of a doofus.

It is a shame because there are some pretty damn good fights in this.  I’m surprised at how much fighting Andy Lau did on his own and 80s Norton and Rothrock were in their absolute prime here.  One could make an edit that removes all the comedy and you would have a pretty kickass 40 minute short film.  

Thankfully lame comedy doesn’t permeate THE SEVENTH CURSE (1986), one of the wildest and wackiest HK action flick to imitate Indiana. The film opens with Dr. Yuan Chen (Chin Siu Ho) and friend Wisely (Chow Yun Fat) telling a bevy of Asian babes about their craziest past adventure (thanks, Mr. Director, for letting us know they survive). Chen, it seems, had contracted a blood sickness while doing some anthropological work in Thailand.  He was saved by native Betsy, but her cure only lasted for a year. Twelve months later, Chen is visited by villager Heh Lung, who warns him of the curse and says he must return to Thailand to cure himself.  The disease quickly manifests in the form of loud popping blood blisters while Chen is getting it on with a white chick (major bummer!).  He consults with Wisely, who advises him to return to Thailand to cure himself.  Uh, didn’t Heh Lung just tell you that?  Anyway, the whole group heads there and prepares to battle with the Worm Tribe and their High Priest who likes to feed little children into a crusher so he can use their blood to resurrect their ancient King.

If I had to recommend one Asian flick that delivers the Indiana Jones level of thrills, this would be it.  Not only does it carry over the adventure elements (the sacrificing of children is like TEMPLE OF DOOM), but it excessively goes overboard on them.  How over-the-top is this movie? There is a throw away gag where a helper is caught in a booby trap between two bamboo trees and graphically ripped in half.  Later, there is a bit at the end where a guard unnecessarily gets shot with an arrow and blasted by a shotgun at the same time.  You have to love that level of ridiculousness.  It is also worth noting that the supporting character of Wisely is a popular Asian adventurer character started in novels in the 1960s.  Like MAGIC CRYSTAL, the last 20 minutes are really where the Indiana Jones replication lies with a fight on a giant Buddha statue.  The head even falls off it and we get a variation of the giant boulder scene from RAIDERS.  Director Ngai Kai Lam – who later made the equally crazy cult flicks THE STORY OF RICKY (1991) and THE CAT (1992) – leaves no exploitation stone unturned. You can count on a fight or something crazy happening every five minutes.  And that is why we love this flick!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: Godfrey Ho's HANDS OF DEATH (1987)

Godfrey Ho is an exploitation God! If you agree with that statement, you might want to get your head checked. Despite rumors to the contrary, Ho is a real person and he is one foolish filmmaker. He is perhaps best know for taking newly shot ridiculous ninja footage starring some of the world’s oddest gweilo actors (most notably Richard Harrison) and splicing it into older Asian films. They usually make little sense, yet we still love him for his cinematic cut-and-paste transgressions. The dude has even stolen music from RAIDERS for his ninja epics. Oddly enough, HANDS OF DEATH makes it into our RAIDERS rip-off retrospective not for the Ho lensed inserts or any illegal music sharing, but for the unknown film that makes up the bulk of it.

Okay, we’ve got two unrelated storylines working here that the dubbers somehow try to tie together so please forgive me if you get confused. The film opens with evil Baron (Mike Abbott, looking like a plush doll version of Robert Z’Dar) killing two guys and stealing their map to a hidden treasure inside Devil’s Cave. “It’s in Willy’s territory,” says the elated Baron since he and the equally evil Willy are partners. Smash cut to the other film as some women are trying to escape from Willy’s slave camp. One woman is shot and dies near the camp of an Army dude/ninja (Richard Harrison, whose name is never given so I’ll call him Harrison). She tells him about Baron and Willy’s operation, so Harrison decides to stick around in the forest to stop Baron. Meanwhile (we’ll get lots of those), Indiana Jones looking Chester saves his sister who is among the group (she mistakenly once refers to Chester as Robert).

Later, Baron and Willy “meet” (re: are edited talking together) to discuss the map. They decide that Willy will do the digging while Baron will do the protection (odd because the girl who died in Harrison’s camp in the opening already knew this before the agreement). Alright, now is where my head starts to hurt. Jenny, the girl who escaped with Chester’s sister, tries to convince him to go on a mission to find the treasure but he declines because of his sister’s condition. Jenny’s friend Jack then goes to persuade him and gets the same negative answer right as a guy runs into the room saying the doctor needs to see Chester. Seems his sister just died, so Chester says “now I can go on my treasure hunt.” So Jenny, Jack, Chester and a guy named David all head into the jungle. Meanwhile, Harrison is busy setting booby traps while his men Ronnie and Mickey (great ninja names) stalk Baron. They apparently suck at it as they are both killed.

Back to the main film, we get a nonsensical bit where some peeping toms spy on the bathing slave girls before they are scared off by a pistol shooting babe. Our heroes trek through the jungle and are all captured by Willy with the men taken off to be executed. They are thrown into a flaming pond (!?!) but are saved by a – hold onto your seats – a jungle girl named Jane. Everyone escapes, but before they get to Jenny she is raped in a hotel (???) and then sold to cannibals in the jungle (2x???). The group attack the cannibals (whose leader looks like Peter Lorre) and save all of the girls. Willy, who is now sporting a Jones-like fedora, and his team make it to the cave, but don’t know that Jane and her witch mother live in the cave too. Chester and his team make it to a different entrance, which is far more treacherous as they encounter a cheap rolling boulder and a bunch of snakes. It is a hilarious bit as everyone stands there all scared before bolting to the huge 10-ft wide pathway that is just a few feet to their right.

Eventually everyone converges outside the treasure’s location and clash in an explosion of kung fu fighting. Our heroes win and enter to grab the treasure, only to find the room is full of nothing but skeletons. “There’s no treasure here,” says one member who throws down the map. We follow it as it falls just a few feet down a cavern to expose a bunch of hidden gold. The group leaves without looking around AT ALL, so they get no fortune. Cut to the severely beaten up Willy crawling out and finding the gold. “I’m rich,” he exclaims before he dies on the spot. The film then wraps up with the requisite ninja vs. ninja fight as Baron and Harrison get in their best day-glo ninja duds and duke it out. As is always the case in a Ho movie, the good guy is victorious but quickly loses out to the world’s fastest “The End” title card.

Like all of these Ho ninja flicks, this is one schizophrenic movie. His slapped together movies (and those of fellow cut-and-pasters Tomas Tang and Joseph Lai) are always tough to follow in a narrative sense, but this one is doubly difficult. Godfrey Ho’s HANDS OF DEATH indeed! But I enjoyed it because of the goofy nature of the newly shot stuff. Seriously, it is hilarious seeing guys refer to Harrison as Colonel and he is decked out in fatigues but still sporting a ninja headband. Is this some new branch of the military? Also, the main feature is actually a pretty decent movie. It is really a shame that the main feature that Ho cannibalized doesn’t get any proper credit. They are obviously doing a RAIDERS rip off and, for the small budget, it is pretty entertaining. There are fights every few minutes and Dr. Jones surrogate Chester (yes, an Asian guy named Chester) gets plenty of action out of his shotgun.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


After the success of Cannon’s adaptation-cum-rip-off KING SOLOMON’S MINES (1985) it took a surprising amount of time for Golan and Globus to get their act together and do what they do… well, maybe it wasn’t exactly what they did best, but sequels they did! They didn’t even need a reason! They were crazy, you couldn’t stop them! Though many of their awful sequels are getting lavished with praise for being the cinematic equivalent of a mullet, let’s be honest, a lot of ‘em really sucked. You can talk up the merits of Cannon’s exploitation efforts and I’m with ya until you start bringing up those roman numerals. No amount of alcohol can put THE EXTERMINATOR II (1984) anywhere near on par with the original. SUPERMAN IV (1987), I don’t think so, and this is coming from someone who finds SUPERMAN III (1983) to be a misunderstood classic. Don’t even get me started on the DELTA FORCE or MISSING IN ACTION sequels. I gots me some strong love for da Cannon, but a man’s gotta know their limitations.

Where KING SOLOMON’S MINES was a fun, fast-paced, and totally ridiculous puree of Indiana Jones and Allan Quatermain, ALLAN QUATERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD is a blue streak of insanity that gleefully plunges into the sun after discovering that you can’t make wings out of crap.

The huge deficits in the film’s fun factor start early on. We find a soft-focus shot Quatermain (Richard Chamberlain) living a cloying life of an almost married couple with Jesse (Sharon Stone). Quatermain idles away the time by having African boys set up a see-saw that they jump on to launch fruit and vegetables into the air for Quatermain to shoot. Jesse is all excited about a package she just got via the train and is bubbling with excitement as it is a suit for Quatermain. They are to be married in the states and it just won’t do to have him dressed up in his safari gear. Is your enthusiasm starting to wilt yet? Not to worry, the “Little House in the Bush” thing ends soon. A white man, being pursued by black men in hoods with lots of gold jewelry (how do they go to the bathroom with all that stuff on?), collapses on Quatermain’s front porch. Quatermain runs after the attackers, fights them and comes back with an ornate kukri knife and a ruined suit. The man is an adventurer named Dumont who is a friend of Quatermain’s brother (when did Quatermain get a brother?!) with whom he went searching for the fabled city of gold that is supposedly home to the lost white African race. Ummm… What?

Quatermain embarks on his new adventure much to the dismay of Jesse who actually takes off to America without him, then half way to the train has a change of head, flips out and starts throwing off her travelling clothes in the back of the convertible and throwing them over a cliff. Quatermain, meanwhile follows up on some leads that Dumont gave him before being killed by the white hooded dudes who managed to sneak into Quatermain’s house, grapple with a screaming Dumont, strangle him to death and sneak out again without anyone being the wiser. On the way to following Dumont’s clues, Quatermain is hounded by a street peddler who insists that he has some silver shirts that will repel daggers, Quatermain finally buys some just to shut they guy up. You don’t think they’ll factor into the plot later, do you? This brings Quatermain in contact with his new travelling companions: Swarma (Robert Donner) a phony swami who claims to be the holiest of men but is actually a greedy coward, and yes, his character is the *ahem* comic relief, and Umslopogaas (James Earl Jones), an axe and platitude-wielding barbarian warrior who seems much more suited to be a character in a sequel to CONAN THE DESTROYER (1984). James, buddy, what was it? A new swimming pool? A pony for your daughter? What?

After some serious slogging Quatermain and company find The Walls of Jaupura (aren’t those in India?), which has a path leading right down the middle. The thunder peals through the sky and Umslopogaas gravely intones “it is the wrath of angry souls”. Or just the foley guys trying to distract you from the fact that they are on a tiny foam set. Of course it is a trap and Quatermain and Jesse come face to face with the rotting corpse of his brother’s travelling companion. The episodic nature of this film really kicks in at this point with an angry native tribe who refuse to accept a teapot instead of Jesse, an encounter with a super-scary (at least to Swarma) whirlpool, the Magic Mountain log ride done via a painfully unexciting blue-screen with a giant pillar of fire erupting from the whirlpool as rubber river monsters belch giant toothy worms. This is the part where I stared down the neck of an empty bottle of likker and muttered “what do they put in this stuff?”
As they paddle closer to… whatever… they start sweating from the heat.
Swarma: “You are entering the devil’s heart!”
Jesse: “Are we entering a volcano?”
Quatermain: “No, just the devil’s heart.”

Once out of the boat, screenwriter Gene Quintano suddenly seems to run out of crazy to throw at us and decides to turn a scene where the group must leap across a five-foot chasm into an epic affair. Seriously, it goes on for eeeever with the increasingly grating Swarma babbling in terror. Once across they are attacked by a lion who leaps into the scene, is promptly shot dead by Quatermain, exit stage left! Cue rubber bat attack! Or well, actually rubber bat fly-by. If it weren’t for all the not-terribly-special effects and the single animal wrangling, I’d say someone just made this stuff up on the day of shooting.

Quatermain finds the lost city! Yay! A lion attacks a small white child! Boo! Quartermain shoots! Lion dead... again. From here we discover that like keys on my piano the legendary “white race” are living here in harmony with the black race. They eat fruit and worship lions… Uh oh. What did Quatermain shoot dead twice? This can’t be good. Even if they are a bunch of fruit eatin’ hippies. The queen of the city is a passive hottie (Aileen Marson) that’s hooked up with Quatermain’s rather foppish looking brother, but the real ruler of the city is the high priest Agon (Henry Silva) who is running a slave mine and dipping his subjects into a pit of molten gold. Oh, and laughing maniacally. I’d accuse Henry Silva of chewing the scenery, but it’s more like he’s in a pissing contest with it. With a massive frizzy wig that makes him look like a taller version of Dio, Silva acts as if the colossal marble and gold sets are trying to horn in on his limelight and by christ he ain’t havin’ none of it!

As it turns out, the Queen isn’t really fond of Agon anyway and is getting tired of him dipping people in his giant pool of molten gold that lies at the bottom of his gold mine of doom. The queen gives the thumbs up for Quatermain and company to mount an epic battle against Agon’s army and kill them all by melting a giant gold statue with lightning bolts. Did I stutter? You heard me. Lightning bolts. Melting gold statue. Dead army.

Yes, H. Rider Haggard did write a sequel to “King Solomon’s Mines” titled “Allan Quatermain”. This movie could be considered an adaptation of it only for the fact that the names of some of the characters are actually in the film and that it takes place in Africa. Oh and Quatermain stumbles across a white tribe of extremely bloodthirsty warriors, except here the tribe has been changed to a lost city of crackers living in utopian peace and a nutty priest that dips people in molten gold. Yeah, I guess you could make the case that the first one didn’t exactly hold true to the book either, but this one just runs completely loony with the premise. Of course, if it didn’t, it wouldn't be nearly as much fun to watch. The movie ends with Quatermain telling Jesse, “I’ve been thinking, it’s time for something else.” To which Jesse replies, “some other great adventure?” The mind boggles at what a third entry could hold. Maybe someday fellow Junkie Will (hoarder of a Variety of ads) will stumble across that trade ad. One can only hope.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: Mr. Lucas and Mr. Spielberg, meet Mr. Mattei

Bruno Mattei is an exploitation God! If you agree with that statement (and you damn well better), you are more than welcome here at Video Junkie. Entering the Italian film industry in the 1950s as an apprentice editor, Mattei eventually began directing films in the 1970s. He succeeded in the Naziploitation genre in the 70s before really hitting his stride in the 1980s with his unique brand of exploitation cinema. The Italians were always doing imitations, but Mattei specialized in doing nearly carbon copies that were as off the wall as they were entertaining. During this prolific period, he copied tons of blockbusters including DAWN OF THE DEAD, EMANUELLE, RAMBO, ALIENS, TERMINATOR 2, JAWS, ROBOCOP and PREDATOR. He never met a movie he didn't like to rip off. In the land of Xerox cinema, Mattei was king and while he never did a full blown RAIDERS rip-off, he did manage to mimic the film twice in his own unique way.

Mattei’s first foray into Jonesploitation came through the oddest of vehicles. His earlier STRIKE COMMANDO (1987) starring Reb Brown was standard ‘Namsploitation and proved to be a big enough hit to warrant a sequel. So when Bruno decided to explore the further adventures of Mike Ransom in STRIKE COMMANDO 2 (1988), he opted to think outside the box. In this entry, Ransom (recast with Brent Huff) tries to locate his in trouble former superior, Vic Jenkins (Richard Harris…yes, THAT Richard Harris). Ransom finds him, only to discover he has led kidnappers to Jenkins’ hiding place. Strike Commando, you dumbass! As a U.S. Government agent informs Ransom, Jenkins was also a “frozen agent” and is now being held hostage in Burma by Huan To (Vic Diaz). Ransom is ordered to pay a ransom (ha!) of $10 million dollars in diamonds. The rendezvous point is a bar in the middle of nowhere called the Moulin Rouge, where Ransom finds owner Rosanna Boom (Mary Stavin) engaging in a drinking contest with a burly patron. Sound familiar? K.G.B. agent Kramet (Mel Davidson) arrives to pick up the diamonds and brings along some ninjas for good measure. Naturally, the place burns down and Ransom suddenly finds himself with a partner. Together he and Rosanna trek to Huan To’s base and quickly free Jenkins. But all isn’t as it appears to be as Jenkins is actually in on the whole thing and a double crossing agent. Strike Commando, you double dumbass!

Mattei is really getting his rip off groove on here, and the film should be called RAIDERS ROMANCING THE LOST STONE ARK: FIRST BLOOD pt. II. Obviously John Rambo gets the biggest rip-off percentage (nearly everything from the second Stallone sequel is in here), so the RAIDERS riffs are the delicious icing on this bootleg cake. The RAIDERS-esque drinking scene is hilarious with Mattei spicing up the rules as the “first to belch loses.” The ensuing fight is exactly the same, but Bruno had the foresight to throw in freakin’ ninjas. Kramet is a merging of Belloq and Tot. He is supposed to be Russian but talks with a German accent the whole time. The other big lift is the truck chase from RAIDERS. Mattei recreates it here, even going so far as to have the bit where the grill bars break on the guy hanging from the front. Oh, and freakin’ ninjas instead of Nazi soldiers crawling on the sides! On a completely unrelated to Indiana Jones note, it is a hoot seeing Richard Harris in this. We’re not talking some small cameo either. Dude is in a huge portion of the movie and shares the screen with Filipino exploitation legend Vic Diaz. He must have felt honored (Harris, not Diaz). Rumor has it the Philippines bars haven’t been the same since Typhoon Harris hit.

Mattei returned to the Indiana Jones well over 15 years later for THE TOMB (2004). The Italian film landscape had changed dramatically since Bruno began pumping out his knock offs, so much so that Mattei ended his career shooting on digital video. THE TOMB was one of his early forays into this medium and shows the man still had the mimicking mindset, even if he didn’t have the budget. The film opens with an Aztec ceremony where …well, I’ll let the narrator explain… “on the night of the 21rst day under the sign of the eagle, the stars aligned themselves and Tatamaki (Hugo Barret), disobeying the king's orders, began the sacrificial ceremony that would enable Cohacli (sp?) to arise from the dark world of the hereafter wither she had been exiled by the wraith of Kokokhan, the Supreme God.” Got all that? So he sacrifices some AVATAR looking blue folk before the locals show up to stop it. The priest is killed but his female assistant performs an embalming ritual on him that involves poking out his eyes so she can resurrect him in the future.

Cut the present as Professor Tom Langley (Robert Madison) arrives with a bunch of students in Mexico (actually the Philippines) for an archeological dig. The night before they are scheduled to go out their guide goes to a bar (totally cribbing the dance bit from FROM DUSK TILL DAWN) and is killed in a graveyard (Mattei boldly steals footage from Sam Raimi’s ARMY OF DARKNESS here). In need of a guide, the group settles on Bruha (Anna Marcello), a local witchdoctor who they meet mid-exorcism (not a good sign).  Everyone traipses though the jungle before they find the ancient Aztec soundstage, er, temple from the film’s opening. What no one in the group knows is Bruha is the reincarnation of the evil priest’s assistant and that she plans to bring her mummified boss back. And, even better, group member Liz (Kasia Zurakowska) is the reincarnation of the final victim who never got sacrificed.

This one is pretty terrible, but I think trash fans will appreciate it. Mattei’s movies are like a guessing game where you try to figure out what he stole from. Here the main influence is Universal’s 1999 redux THE MUMMY. How do I know? Well, he cribs stuff scene for scene and even uses ACTUAL footage from that movie. But we’re talking Indiana Jones rip-offs here and I’ll inform you this does apply. Outside of the requisite spiders, snakes, booby trapped tunnels and jungle stuff, Mattei does one special thing to let you know he is ripping off RAIDERS. For two brief shots he actually STEALS footage from the film. How do you say “that takes balls” in Italian? During the exorcism scene, the evil spirit is released and Mattei superimposes the ghost girl/skeleton from ark opening from the end of RAIDERS. Genius! During the film’s finale, he uses a shot from the Well of Souls where the skeletons pop off the wall. Double genius! Don’t believe me? Check out the frame grabs below. While blatantly illegal, this is a true hero move. I’d love to think this is Bruno thumbing his nose at the entire film industry while saying, “Take your big budgets, studios, politics and shove ‘em!” Rest in peace, Mr. Mattei, ya copycat!

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: Indiana Jones and the Lost Expedition

During the Lucasfilm and Disney partnership of the '80s, there were plans to build a massive Indiana Jones attraction taking up, and reconstructing most of Adventureland.

This sort of runs OT when it comes to Indiana Jones movie rip-offs, but hey, it's still some really interesting reading for Indy buffs and theme park freaks alike. Even better if you are both!

These two blogs do a great job covering the plans, concept art and why it was never built. Though that last part is an easy one... Money talks and Indy walks.

The Neverland Files: Indiana Jones and the Lost Expedition

JHM: Indiana Jones and the Lost Expedition... Found!