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!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Gweilo Dojo: KARATE WARRIOR 6 (1993)

Since I’m getting all into birthdays, yesterday (November 15th) was Italian producer-director Fabrizio De Angelis’ birthday. De Angelis got his first producer credit in the industry with VIOLENT NAPLES (1976), a poliziotteschi (the Italian tough cop crime sub-genre) starring Maurizio Merli and John Saxon. He later earned his highest recognition by producing Lucio Fulci’s considerable horror genre output from 1979-82 and the “Bronx” post-apocalypse flicks with Mark Gregory. De Angelis decided to slide into the director’s chair in the early 80s, debuting with the FIRST BLOOD inspired THUNDER WARRIOR (1983).  For his sixth feature, he decided to do a riff on the successful THE KARATE KID franchise and gave the world KARATE WARRIOR (1987).  Filmed in the Philippines, it tells the familiar story of the put upon new kid (Kim Rossi Stuart) who finds a way out of his troubles via an unlikely martial arts instructor (Ken Watanabe).  It is pretty standard stuff, but notable to me for delivering one of the funniest lines in exploitation cinema history (“Quino? He’s damn good. Damn good. Damn, he’s good” says Rossi of the villain).  Amazingly, De Angelis usurped the KARATE KID series and eventually produced five KARATE WARRIOR sequels over the next five years.  Oh what a lucky man I am.

I was initially reluctant to dive into part 6 of this series seeing as I had not seen parts 2-5.  “Eh, what could I possibly miss? It’s not like there is some super connected plot,” I thought. Dumbass.  It appears that parts 3-6 were all shot together with the series introduction of Ron Williams as Larry Jones, the new Karate Warrior (Stuart had returned for part 2).  So this opens with a group of characters in Florida already familiar to KW regulars (are there any of those?). “It seems like only yesterday you were kidnapped,” geeky Larry tells his girlfriend Betty. Well, at least I know she survived.  KARATE WARRIOR 6 gets into gear when fat comic relief Leo (“he’s a congenital retardee” says a friend) is almost hit by limo.  As Leo feigns injury, the limo’s wealthy occupant pays him off with $10,000.  Leo informs the gang of his good fortune and this can only mean one thing – vacation time!  He tells them they are going to Athens, Greece. Well, with one exception (see if you can spot the difference):

Yup, they left the black guy back in America.  Classic!  With bouzouki blasting on the soundtrack, our foursome (filled out by redhead Greg and stud Teddy) wanders around the Acropolis before always hungry Leo (it’s funny ‘cuz he’s fat) loses all their money by being scammed (the old “I’ve got a mermaid to show you” trick).  Damn, you Leo! Penniless, these wacky kids pretend to be tour guides for money and end up on Hydra Island.  The main plot finally kicks in at the 26 minute mark as the boys save Helena from the rough men of her persistent wannabe-beau and island tough guy Mustafa. The gang finds out a motocross race with a prize of $2,000 – enough to get them home – is being held in town and – wouldn’t you know it – Larry is a great motorcycle driver too!  KARATE WARRIOR 6: MOTOCROSS WARRIOR?

The guys rebuild a clunker owned by Helena’s dad and Larry wins the motocross race with ease.  Mustafa doesn’t take kindly to losing and challenges Larry to a karate match in 3 days time at the Festival of Saint Anastasius.  Damn, looks like De Angelis finally got around to renting THE KARATE KID, PART II (1986).  While Larry trains, the gang spies on Mustafa’s training and see him breaking trees with his head. Uh oh, Larry ain’t ready for this shit.  So they make a frantic phone call back to Betty back in the U.S. and try to convince her to get Sensei Mizura to fly over and prepare Larry.  Mizura is initially reluctant (“I gotta get da westwant weopened”), but eventually flies over to train him.  Mizura is familiar with Mustafa’s technique called the “Turkish Variant” (done by a Greek?) because he faced someone who used it before.  “I lost,” he reveals, “but won the rematch.” Greeeeeeat.  So the big day arrives and Larry and Mustafa face down in a huge arena filled with thousands of screaming fans.  Ha, just kidding.  They are in a tiny room with about fifty people watching. Mustafa proceeds to be the living hell out of Larry until Larry’s dad (David Warbeck) shows up.  Somehow the arrival of a Eurocult legend imbues him with the strength to hit his signature Dragon Blow move (the exact same move as KARATE KID’s crane kick) and Larry wins.

The Italian film industry was dying a slow death in the early 90s and KARATE WARRIOR 6 might be the embodiment of this period as it is cheap, cheap, cheap.  De Angelis falls into the time-honored tradition of long-running series and takes it on the road.  I’m sure the film’s budget consisted of enough money for plane tickets to Greece.  Ah, who am I kidding, you just know they went there by boat.  Everything about this flick is just off.  Williams’ karate “skills” really have to be seen to be believed.  Who casts a guy who can’t kick as the lead in a series called KARATE WARRIOR?  Fabrizio De Angelis, that’s who.  Was it that hard to find a kid throwing down at dojo in the States or did you just cast the first guy who walked through the door.  I’m picking the latter.  In the time honored tradition of goofy Italian miscasting, this might be the champ.  Even funnier is the effeminate villain Mustafa, who looks like Mark Dacascos if he continually sucked on lemons.  The film’s action highlight is the motocross race and that is just as goofy.  The race itself extends far into the mountains, but De Angelis keeps cutting back to the people in the town cheering, even though there is no way they can see the action.  One the plus side, the movie did deliver in the dubbed dialog department and gave me this priceless exchange.
Mizura: “He is an expert in Greco-Roman and that mean an open stance so he can attack from the left or from the right.”
Larry: “From either side?” 
Mizura: “From either side. There’s nothing more I can teach you.”
The sad part is that after seeing how bad this one is, I’m dying to see the rest of the series. Such is the power of cheesy Italian knock off cinema.  Fabrizio De Angelis? He’s damn good. Damn good.  Damn, he’s good.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ginty Gone Wild: SCARAB (1984)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Richard Stanley interview

Chances are the if you have found our blog delving into cinema obscura that you have have heard (and damn well better be a fan of) director Richard Stanley.  With only two features (HARDWARE and DUST DEVIL) to his name, Stanley has proven to be one of the last auteurs in the genre, hellbent on making films devoid of wisecracks and the committee process while overflowing with atmosphere and creativity. You know what the means, right?  He is persona non grata in Hollyweird.

After years of development hell and screenwriting gigs, Stanley is returning to the genre in a big way with a contribution to the upcoming anthology THE THEATER BIZARRE (alongside fellow filmmakers Tom Savini, Douglas Buck, Buddy Giovinazzo, David Gregory, and Karim Hussain). Stanley recently wrapped his entry THE MOTHER OF TOADS, a bizarre tale that evokes Lovecraft and Argento that also sees the return of Catriona MacCall to the screen.  Lovecraft news hound Craig Mullins at the awesome was lucky enough to score an interview with the man and I was fortunate enough to help throw some questions in.  So check out the detailed interview with Mr. Stanley where he discusses the past, present and future of his one-of-a-kind career.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Carpocalypse Now: THE LAST CHASE (1981)

In 1975 Roger Corman saw the America’s obsession with cars and its ultimate future in an adaption of Ib Melchior’s story DEATH RACE 2000 (1975). Essentially about a cross country Gumball Rally/Cannonball Run, except that it is a massively popular, televised bloodsport where the divers score points for killing pedestrians. Flash-forward six years and a single boarder later and Canadian director Martyn Burke gives us an adaptation of the only screenplay written by C.R. O'Christopher, who’s only other credits include single episodes of "B.J. and the Bear" and "Airwolf". Are you buckling up? This is going to be a bumpy ride!

Set in the super-futuristic year of 2000-ish, 20 years after a plague has wiped out most of humanity, the world is being rebuilt though liberal utopian ideals mixed with the conservative ideal of subjugating the masses to the will of an elite few. It’s almost like Jerry Brown got elected to public office again. Ha! Like that would happen. Somehow this still mysterious epidemic has translated to a governmental ban on fossil-fuels and the machines that run on them. Never mind that the police have electric golf-carts to carry out their raids on uncooperative members of society, nobody gets to own a car, regardless of fuel source. Because of this, our downtrodden masses are forced to do the unthinkable – use public transportation! (cue gasp from audience)

The government is watching you...
walk to work!
In this vision of a world gone to heck, former racecar driver Franklyn Hart (Lee Majors) has lost his family and his pollution-prone profession and has been given the job as a spokesperson for the government run public transportation agency. He lectures on the evils of oil barons and provides rote rational as to why the public cannot be allowed to own their own vehicles. Of course he thinks this is all hogwash being pushed by the government and in the wee hours of the night breaks into “Confiscation Yards”, stealing parts from cars to help repair his fire engine red 1972 Porsche 917/10 race car. At the same time a hacker is hijacking government computers and television with videos for “Radio Free California”, promising a life free from government persecution. Hmmmm… where could this be headed?

After having a Glenn Beck-esque breakdown in the middle of a lecture on a college campus and ranting about how the government is depriving them of the awesomeness of German engineered reciprocating oil burning machinery, he lands smack on the government radar as a radical who is going to need a hearing and subsequent rehabilitation. Meanwhile, a bullied boarding school kid, Ring (Chris Makepeace essentially continuing his role from the previous year’s MY BODYGUARD), is on the lam from the cops (as he is our subversive hacker), hunting down Hart to hook up with him since they are both rebelling against The System. Hart has invented a special pump that can get the last bit of gas out of any gas station reservoirs in the country, so conceivably he can never run out of gas. With the cops beating down the door, this leaves them no option but to jump in Hart’s Porche and make a bee-line to California, land of the free! But wait, it’s not as easy as that. A specialist from Washington (George Touliatos) has the master plan to fix Hart’s little red wagon; recruit ace veteran Vietnam and Korean war fighter pilot Captain J.G. Williams (Burgess Meredith and whiskey bottle) out of retirement to chase him down! Of course this means pulling his old Korean war fighter out of mothballs, fixing her all up and giving her a spiffy new paintjob in a matter of mere hours. Rick Dale would be green with envy. While the plane is being fixed up, Williams stomps around shouting things like “Let’s go! Whaddaya think this is, a chicken party?!” Ummmm... is it too late to reconsider the options?

In one of the film’s many disturbing scenes, Williams talks dirty to his jet as soon as they are off the ground giving whole new meaning to the term “cockpit”. Burgess Meredith cooing “oh baby, oh yeah, give it to me baby, right there” is awkward enough, but this flick starts heading into some really weird territory when the film settles into its groove. Instead of being a tense and exciting, futuristic updating of the gritty classic VANISHING POINT (1971), it sort of aims more for “amiable road picture” territory descending into some seriously sappy melodrama and several scenes between Hart and Ring that are verging on… uhhh... well, for example; the scene in which Hart and the very emotional and somewhat effeminate Ring argue about whether Ring should even be going with Hart as it is unsafe leads to a tussle with the man and boy rolling around on the ground in a weepy embrace. Should I even point out that Ring sent Hart video messages saying things like “you are not alone” and that they are heading to San Francisco where they can live free from persecution? Later Hart gazes at Ring and says “I’ve done a lot of losin’ the past 20 years, I just don’t want to lose you too.” Not enough? After they run across a small commune out in the middle of nowhere and Majors has a fling with one of the female locals, Makepeace has a total emotional meltdown demanding to know if he loves her. The screenwriter is obviously working on some very personal issues in this script turning it into sort of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST 2 of car chase movies.

Canadians are so… different. It’s like they are from another country or something. Their perception of futuristic America is almost a random pastiche of various political issues that don’t seem to be separated into the partisan lines that we seem to embrace as a country. For instance, you can still own a gun apparently as people roam the roads with rifles, even though they’ve been deprived of their cars. On the other hand, the whole fuel crisis scenario and the fact that the world was devastated by a plague that may have been a terrorist germ-warfare attack, is almost prophetic. Seriously, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Half of the film is the set-up for the chase sequence and by the time we finally get to it, it ends up being rather unexciting due to the fact that the filmmakers are more interested in telling the stories of these quirky, but genuinely uninteresting characters. The amiable competitiveness and eventual camaraderie between Hart and the loony Cap’n Williams is a poor substitute for a proper villain. If this were made a few years later by American filmmakers, the government would have recruited an ace Russian pilot (then you would really know that the government was evil!) with a super-mega-high-tech plane and it would be non-stop explosions and one-liners. I’m not really saying it would be totally better, since you’d probably lose all that contemplative anti-establishment stuff, but then again, we probably wouldn’t have the creepy NAMBLA sub-plot either.

The fact that this movie has a great premise and gets its fair share of things right, makes it all the more of a bummer than they squander all their potential by shunning exploitation value. I realize the filmmaker are trying to be a cerebral antidote to “The Dukes of Hazzard” (1979-1985), but is it too much to ask for a few car stunts?  What little action there is feels like it was made in the editing room with a close-up of Makepeace’s hair blowing in the wind and a quick cut of the car cornering at about 12 miles an hour while the government employee monitoring their progress shouts stuff like “he’s going 125 miles an hour!” Uh huh, you Canadians think you are clever. You can’t fool us. If only Hal Needham or H.B. Halicki had been involved. Man, now that would be something. Or... dare I even say it? In the right hands, this could be turned into an amazing remake.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Life in Poster Art: Dino De Laurentiis (1919-2010)