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!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Prison Prescription: CHAINED HEAT (1983)

Want me to blow your mind?  Back in May 1983, RETURN OF THE JEDI burst onto a thousand screens just in time for Memorial Day weekend and grossed $41 million in 5 days (a record back then).  No one in Hollywood would dare to go up against the LucasFilm Monster Money Machine (© George Lucas).  Well, except for Jensen Farley Pictures, a small distributor that specialized in horror and T&A films.  What did they unleash that fateful weekend in 404 theaters to combat the power of The Force? Why a W.I.P. (Women in Prison) flick rife with nudity, sleaze and b-stars in CHAINED HEAT. You won’t get that in today’s market at all.

HEAT centers on innocent Carol Henderson (Linda Blair) who is sentenced to 18 months in a women’s penitentiary for accidentally killing a man.  Carol realizes what a tough time it will be when some chicks in the holding cell get into a fist fight over their favorite soap operas.  She quickly learns the prison's segregated caste system where the blacks are led by Duchess (Tamara Dobson) and the whites by Erika (Sybil Danning).  Well, we assume there are black prisoners there as their wing is never really show and only two black girls are in the picture.  Carol soon finds herself in the middle of this when she witnesses the killing of a black inmate…on her first day in the joint…on her way to her cell.

Racial tensions are the least of Carol’s worries in her new home though as she also has to contend with a thoroughly corrupt staff. You have lascivious Warden Bachman (John Vernon) who seduces female inmates with drugs in his 70s porn style office (complete with a jacuzzi!) so he can make X-rated videotapes of them (“Don’t call me warden, call me Fellini,” he utters at one point).  Under his nose, head guard Captain Taylor (Stella Stevens) is in cahoots with sleazeball pimp Lester (Henry Silva) to traffic drugs and execute the ever popular prisoners-to-high-priced-escorts exchange program.  After one of Carol’s only friends is killed alongside the warden, the prisoners forget their differences and unite to find the secret video tape of the foul play.

As even that short synopsis will show, CHAINED HEAT has something for everyone.  There are sleazy movies and then there is this one.  German helmer Paul Nicholas crafts a film that is like a wayward child acting out in a dozen horrible ways in order to gain the love their parents.  Well, you had me at the scene ten minutes in where John Vernon admonishes one of his hot tub conquests about her needle drug habit by saying, “Why can’t you just snort it like the rest of us?”  Nary five minutes of screen time will go by without something seedy happening.  You have knifings, catfights, transvestite beatings, shower scenes, drug runs and everything else under the sun.  Hell, the film even leaves the confines of the prison about a hour in as Carol is one of several prisoners taken out of the jail by Lester so they can serve as pieces of meat at a party for elites (where one coked up guy goes nuts on Blair, attempts to rape her and holds a gun to her head).

Of course, the film also holds a special place in our heart here at Video Junkie because it features one of moviedom’s most iconic image montages ever.  Yeah, film scholars will talk about the editing of the stair sequence in Eisenstein’s BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (1925) or Hitchcock’s shower scene in PSYCHO (1960).  But film history would be a total bust if it did not mention the topless shower encounter between Linda Blair and Sybil Danning.  King Kong vs. Godzilla?  You ain’t got nothing on this showdown of epic proportions.  Rather than drool, er, talk about it, I’ll let the images doing the speaking:

No doubt the allure of seeing young Regan from THE EXORCIST (1973) nekkid drew a lot of people to the film, but director Nicholas is a man who knew his exploitation and paired her up with Austrian ultravixen Danning.  This is truly one of cinema’s greatest back-to-back (front-to-front?) shots of all-time and probably sent Russ Meyer into convulsions.

It is truly mind blowing that this actually got released into theaters. Now the happy ending to this story would be that HEAT fought tooth-and-nail against the big budget blockbuster that weekend and won. Sadly, we can’t say that.  But it survive past the first round. CHAINED HEAT finished in 7th place in the top twenty and, after JEDI, sported the highest per screen average out of any film.  Just knowing that somewhere in America kids were lined up to see JEDI and got to glance at the HEAT poster brings a tear to my eye.  Think about that the next time you line up for a $200 million dollar blockbuster.  Try to imagine a poster in the lobby promising blood, babes and bars.  Hard, ain’t it? Amazingly, this still has not see a DVD release in the US.  It has shown up on Showtime within the last few years, but is sadly an edited version that omits a lot of the violence (including Blair being raped by Vernon). Lionsgate apparently now has the U.S. rights and chances are if they ever release it that it will be this cut down version.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Soppy Cinema: LORDS OF THE DEEP (1989)

As mentioned in the ENDLESS DESCENT review, the hot genre commodity in the late 80s was “close encounters of the underwater kind.”  And you know if anyone was going to jump all over that it would be Roger Corman and his Concorde Pictures.  To a 14-year-old like me, this was the greatest news ever. If anyone could bring bloody ballast to this sub-genre, it would be Corman. Concorde had delivered some gooey monster-pieces at the time like THE NEST (1988) and THE TERROR WITHIN (1989).  Plus, the title LORDS OF THE DEEP conjured up images of another Corman production, the classic HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980).  And what’s that?  The lead is Bradford Dillman, the same guy from PIRANHA (1978)?  This is going to be awwwwesome, right?

LORDS opens with a scrawl about how the year is 2020 and the human race – having depleted all natural resources above ground – is looking to colonize underwater.  Makes sense, right?  We enter a submerged station run by the Martel Corporation just as the entire crew (whose outfits look like they were made out of old blankets) finds out they are being replaced.  Scientist Claire (Priscilla Barnes of THREE’S COMPANY “You’re not Suzanne Somers” fame) has discovered some jelly type substance (we don’t even see her find it) and, being the genius she is, decides the best course of action is to stick her hand into it.  The result is some kind of trippy visuals that make you think her head got invaded by Ken Russell circa 1982.

Anyway, a big earthquake causes the replacement crew’s sub to crash and the power in the station to go down.  A diver is sent out to fix it, but returns as a gelatinous filled wetsuit. Capt. Dobler (Dillman) orders the body quarantined and no one to speak of this.  But Claire wants to study it and goes against his orders.  Dobler can’t handle the insurrection and, with secret orders from above ground, attempts to kill the crew and this now shape-shifting blob.  This thing turns out to be a benign alien that wants to warn humankind about mistreating the Earth.  Awwwwww.  And Claire just happens to be a clairvoyant who they want to tell their message.  Or, as she so aptly puts it, “I only know that something is trying to tell me something.”

Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, damn it!

LORDS not only holds the distinction of getting everything wrong, it might also be one of the worst Concorde Productions of that era. Yes, worse that PURPLE PEOPLE EATER (1988). My adolescent expectations aside, the film is just terrible.  It is like Corman had a spy on the set of THE ABYSS (1989) who would get pieces of the plot over lunch breaks.  Underwater station? Check.  Corporate giants? Gotcha.  Aliens looking to protect man from himself? Yup!  But these aliens say stuff like “stop now so the Earth can heal.”  Damn, did Al Gore check this out when it hit 32 theaters back in the day?

To back up the weak environmentally friendly screenplay, we have some truly bad acting.  It says something when Roger Corman gives the best performance in a cameo as a corporate exec.  Barnes is the worst of the lot, constantly having this look on her face that can only be described as a cross between a smile and slack-jawed “duh” face.  It ends up making her look like Jack Nicholson’s Joker most of the time. Dillman looks to only be picking up a check. Even worse is the level of cheapness on display in this movie.  I think there are a total of three sets and they all look shoddy.  I slapped down ENDLESS DESCENT for having only one true underwater scene, but at least they had some seaweed and a floating corpse.  Here, director Mary Ann Fisher has one real underwater shot (miniatures excluded) and it is a close up of the diver working on an electrical box that was surely shot in a pool.  See that awesome poster at the top of this review?  Don't get your hopes up.  Fisher even includes a bit where characters get scared by a rat…in a unit 20,000ft. deep in the ocean!  What makes it hurt so bad is Corman and co. damn well knew how to properly exploit this “bottom of the sea” fad and still opted to go the softie route.  It should have been a low-budget THE THING (1982) underwater. Instead we got E.T. (1982) minus the Reese’s Pieces but plus some ecological mumbo jumbo. To quote Bill Duke from MENACE II SOCIETY, “you know you done fucked up, don’t you? You know it, don’t you? You know you done fucked up.”

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The "Never Got Made" Files #41 & #42: Craving some Wes

Hard to believe now, but Wes Craven used to be persona non grata in the film world thanks to his shocker LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972).  Well, it isn't like people didn't want him around but he did have a helluva time trying to get projects funded (before he became the Weinsteins' whipping boy).  Following THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977), Craven spent time in TV land with the Linda Blair starring STRANGER IN OUR HOUSE (aka SUMMER OF FEAR; 1978) before doing Hollywood's project limbo dance.

#41: One project Craven found himself attached to (and I don't even know if he knew) was something advertised in a 1982 issue of Variety called THE FALLEN.  Who wouldn't love a film "in the genre of THE OMEN, THE EXORCIST, THE RAIDERS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS" to see?  THE RAIDERS, yes!  The only mention I've ever been able to find from Craven on this project is in the book Screams & Nightmares: The Films of Wes Craven where he said (when talking of the failed MARIMBA movie [see below]):
"I've since turned down two more jungle things - one was a RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK type movie; the other about a sniper in the jungles of Vietnam."  

#42: MARIMBA is quite a different project than the unidentified THE FALLEN.  This was a film that Craven actually researched heavily, cast and was fully prepared to direct.  As relayed in Screams & Nightmares, the film's genesis stems from some Italian producers approaching Craven to write two scripts.  Craven on the project:
"I had written a script called MARIMBA about drug smuggling.  Dirk Benedict and Tim McIntyre were cast, but the money I was promised never came through."
"I spent years in the jungles of Colombia on this thing that never got made about cocaine smuggling, called MARIMBA."
Sure, Wes, we totally believe your story about spending years in the Columbian jungles in the late 70s doing "research" on a film about cocaine.  Was Dennis Hopper with you by any chance?  Anyway, the Italians heavily advertised MARIMBA in the late 70s/early 80s issues of Variety.  One ad confirms Craven's casting story and adds an additional cast member of Chris Mitchum.  Damn you Movie Gods!  According to Craven the producers refused to give him back his script and they eventually morphed it into the entertaining CUT AND RUN (1985), which featured Craven alum Michael Berryman. This appears to be true as MARIMBA's credited producer Alessandro Fracassi did in fact produce CUT AND RUN.  Ain't the movie world weird?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Soppy Cinema: ENDLESS DESCENT (aka THE RIFT; 1990)

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water.  For reasons only known to coke-addled Hollywood execs, underwater monster movies became a craze in the late 80s.  “It’s like JAWS but totally underwater,” I can hear them saying.  Studios flooded (ah, boo yourself) the market and within the first six months of 1989 audiences got big-budget titles like THE ABYSS, DEEPSTAR SIX and LEVIATHAN.  That’s enough to give you a bad case of the bends.  The indies tried to stay afloat and gave us titles such as THE EVIL BELOW and LORDS OF THE DEEP (both 1989 as well).  Naturally, an enterprising exploiter like Juan Piquer Simon was more than happy to sail in their wake and gave us ENDLESS DESCENT (aka THE RIFT) the following year.

E.D. (hey, that don’t sound right) opens with sub designer Wick Hayes (Jack Scalia, in Kip Winger hair) being told by Steensland (Edmund Purdom, in a one-scene role) that Siren-1, his pet project the Government took out of his hands, has gone missing 35,000ft under the sea.  They ask him to help a NATO rescue team, but Wick wants none of it until he is told that “Mark Massey was on board.”  Damn, we all know how important Mark Massey is, right?  So he reluctantly agrees to join the team.

"This sub's only seventeeeeeen!"
Leading this rescue operation on Siren-2 is Capt. Phillips (R. Lee Ermey, radically cast against type as a gruff military guy).  Other crew members includes some Swedish divers with French accents, a Trapper John look-a-like M.D., a cook (yes, they have a mess hall), token black guy “Skeets” (who says “Aw, man” or “Damn” every other line), computer geek Robbins (Ray Wise) and – wouldn’t you know it – Wick’s soon to be ex-wife Nina (Deborah Adair).  Heading to Siren-1’s last known location, the crew gets a SOS signal and dives to the region.  Once there they discover unheard of plant growth in the area (“I could open a sushi bar and retire a millionaire,” chimes the cook).  Sven goes diving (in the film’s only underwater scene; more on that later) and is killed by something.  The sub is then attacked by some big ass octopus (I think that is what it was), which Wick is smart enough to shock off the damaged vessel before he lands it on shelf.

Such terror would send me for the surface, but these are dedicated movie characters so they continue to the SOS signal.  In one of underwater moviedom’s biggest cheats ever, they discover a “naturally pressurized subterraneous cavern” and the expendable crew members get off the sub here to explore the cheap sets, er, caves.  To their surprise, they find some labs set up and the SOS sender long dead.  Wick grabs some data discs just before everyone is attacked by some slimy mutant creatures that stand no match for the crew’s highly pressurized special guns.  Back on Siren-2, they watch the discs and find out the Government was conducting genetic experiments down here.  Yeah, you read that right.  The U.S. Government decided the best place to set up their huge DNA mutating machine was in a cave 35,000ft deep in the ocean.  So what was the real reason the crew was sent here and who set them up?

Running a scant 79 minutes, you can’t ever fault ENDLESS DESCENT with being boring.  In fact, this plays like THE ABYSS mixed with ALIENS on fast forward; the sub drama comes from the former with the monster chase and slimy double crosser guy from the latter.  Of course, Simon knows he can’t possibly compete with these Cameron big budgets so he does the next best thing – he makes it goofy and gory.  Any monster that get blow’d up with be done in gooey fashion and there is plenty of that in that last half hour.  The same goes for humans.  When one guy gets infected, he asks a crew member to kill him and she complies by blowing his entire head off.  Uh, thanks?  The film is definitely cheap (ever see a sub interior with ceiling tiles?), but that lends a certain charm.  The leads (Scalia, Ermey, Wise) are all good in their roles, even if Simon completely refuses to get imaginative in the camera department (point and shoot territory here).  While not the worst waterlogged feature from that era (that would be LORDS OF THE DEEP), it is definitely worth a view if you are in the right mood.  You know, the kind of mood where you accept a person will see mutated seaweed and automatically touch it or where Jack Scalia – feathered hair and all – designing submarines for a living isn’t that farfetched.  Just make sure you don’t get the bends on your way back to the surface.

Ray Wise reacts to the script.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Life in Poster Art: Juan Piquer Simón (1935-2011)

It seems like they are dropping like four flies on grey velvet nowadays.  This past week saw Spanish genre filmmaker Juan Piquer Simón pass away due to lung cancer.  We here at VJ have certainly had an odd relationship with the man (yes, we heard of him before Eli Roth gave his seal of approval and started singing the praises of PIECES).

For me personally, Simón (or J.P. Simon, his anglicized name for US markets) films were a two-viewing experience. The ones I saw as a kid (PIECES, SLUGS: THE MOVIE, ENDLESS DESCENT, CTHULHU MANSION) I absolutely hated, but they grew to really enjoy them when I revisited them a decade or so later.  Not that they had improved in quality by any means, but there was just a different light to them when not taken so seriously.  And shame on me for ever taking a film about killer mutant slugs seriously!

This week we will be looking at some of his flicks.  And you can check out our earlier review of CTHULHU MANSION as well.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The XXX-Factor: Early 80s Adult Ads

The following Adult film ads are from a May 1981 Variety Cannes issue.  It is wild to go back and see a time period where XXX films were allowed as much recognition (well, ad space really) as mainstream fare.  Of course, this was before every household had a VCR and the VHS porn revolution.  Click on the ads to see full size.