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, February 12, 2011

Deadly Farce: HOLLYWOOD COP (1987)

As someone who has worked in the video retail business for some years there are certain questions that pop up from time to time that are really freakin' annoying. My favorite is probably "is this movie any good?". Seriously, how am I supposed to answer that? Could you ask something a little more subjective? Unless it's a repeat offender (meaning they have been a customer many times before), there's no way for me to answer that question. Some folks think Jennifer Ansiton makes "good" movies. If this is the case, as The Duke once said, "I can do nothin' for you, son." So, is HOLLYWOOD COP good? Hell man, I don't know if it's "good", but I can tell you, this movie is freakin' great!

I'm a sucker for bad movies with bad actors portraying bad people. I've seen a lot of 'em and have some cherished favorites, but nobody really captures the essence of what bad movies are all about like writer-producer-director Amir Shervan. I haven't been able to track down much info on Shervan, but it appears that he is prolific in Iranian cinema and as far as I know has only made three English language films, HOLLYWOOD COP being the first, SAMURAI COP (1989) being the second and the tantalizingly titled KILLING AMERICAN STYLE (1990) being the last. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem as if KILLING, which stars Jim Brown and Robert Z'Dar, was ever released on video.

In an ode to truth in advertising the box copy does not lie. "Raping, robbing, kidnapping, killing... the action never stops!" the box screams. Damned if it ain't the truth! HOLLYWOOD COP starts out with a massacre on a farm in which a group of balaclava-clad mobsters kill everyone except blond mom Rebecca (Julie Schoenhofer) and her equally blond kid. After snatching the kid, they are thoughtful enough to leave a note explaining that they want their $6 million that the kids' father stole  from them and promptly skipped town with. The LAPD detectives are seemingly baffled by a case with more clues than complications so our blond mom decides to seek help from renegade cop John Turquoise (David Goss) who is recommended to her via a street vendor.

Turquoise, or as everyone calls him "Turkie," is such a loose cannon that he is causing his chief (a scene stealing Cameron Mitchell) heartburn and err... incontinence (dude, TMI, man, TMI!). After instigating a bloodbath during a brutal rape and robbery in which he kills all of the suspects, Mitchell, looking as if he is about to have a stroke, strips him of his badge. In spite of this, the local hotdog vendor with her heightened perception of human nature recommends him to our distraught mom in this profound exchange:

Rebecca: "Who is he?"
Hotdog Vendor: "He's Turk!"
Rebecca: "Who's that?"
Hotdog Vendor: "He's a cop!"
Rebecca: "He is?"
Hotdog Vendor: "He's a good cop!"
Rebecca: "Really?"
Hotdog Vendor: "Yeah!"

Good enough! That's all Rebecca needs to hear to take off with Turk to find the dead-beat dad, the $6 million and the precocious kid... with token black partner named Jaguar (Lincoln Kilpatrick, who clearly knows he is slumming) in tow.

In a scene of keen insight, we are given Shervan's idea of what a typical American schmuck would do with $6 million in stolen mob cash. When the dad is found he is sitting in a small suburban back-yard, dressed for a tennis match and sipping cheap liquor while a bunch of not-very attractive women dance about in bikinis to bad '80s dance tunes. Damn, if that's Shervan's dream come true, life must be real fucking tough in Iran!

Why Kilpatrick signed on to the production
Shervan packs this 101 minute epic with all manner of exploitation value including rape, decapitation, bloody shootings, nudity, boat chases, car chases, more shootings, more nudity, Pepsi product placement and lots of hilarious dialogue from some choice Z-grade actors including VJ fave Jim Mitchum and Aldo Ray. As if that weren't enough there is numerous attempts at martial arts fights in which Turkie and Jaguar lay out badass asian dudes bustin' out some mean kata with good ol' American haymakers and bent-leg kicks. Shervan understands that no proper American action film is complete without stunt work. There is one seriously painful stunt, which probably sounded easy on paper, in which some poor slob is supposed to get shot and fall out of a car window. After being "shot", he throws himself out of the car, but does so as the car is turning and doesn't get enough clearance resulting in a really painful looking fall that is exacerbated by the car's tire catching him in the back. Ouch!

Is this a "good" movie? Come on now, any movie in which the lead shows his bedside manner when the rape victim's husband is holding a machete to the rapists throat by saying: "Look mister I know this guy just fucked your wife, but he's our prisoner now, so how about backing off, ok?" has got to be called "good"!  HOLLYWOOD COP may not reach the dizzying heights of unintentional hilarity that Shervan reached with his follow-up SAMURAI COP. But it's close.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The "Never Got Made" Files #48 - #52: Charles Band Unmade Empire Madness

B-movie producer Charles Band is a favorite around these parts.  Well, his early stuff from the 80s (PARASITE; METALSTORM) to his Empire years to the early Full Moon stuff.  Once he started going cheap on us and his productions, things fell apart quickly for both him and audiences.  Regardless, Band was a producer who knew his exploitation and target audience well.  Like his predecessor Roger Corman, Band would often get backing for a film based on nothing more than a catchy title with some equally eye-catching artwork.  Here are just a few of a plethora of titles Band had in the planning stages through his 80s company Empire Pictures.

#48 - CASSEX

One can only imagine what this might have been about!  Note that the credited writer is one Gregory Widen, who would hit it big a few years later with something called HIGHLANDER (1986).


This project started at Empire but never got made before they went bankrupt.  Band brought the concept over to Full Moon and promised a feature about the head-switching hero there.  Eventually facets of this concept entered into PUPPET MASTER IV & V.


Producer Irwin Yablans re-established himself as a genre force after HALLOWEEN (1978) with the Renny Harlin helmed PRISON (1988), which Band executive produced.  Apparently the duo planned on working on this feature and a two-page ad with a detailed plot synopsis hit Variety in the late 80s.  Fans of brownstone horror were no doubt disappointed.


This is an interesting project coming from Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo.  This writing duo had already supplied Band with TRANCERS (1985) and ZONE TROOPERS (1985), two of the more creative sci-fi efforts from Empire. JOURNEYS was also billed as Bilson's directorial feature after ZONE TROOPERS.  Unfortunately, the movie never got off the ground.


If you hadn't already noticed (how could you not?), Charles Band has some sort of weird obsession with little monsters.  I guess it started when GHOULIES (1985) brought him some big cash.  After that he went large on small horror.  Oddly enough, the lay out of this poster mirrors the first SUBSPECIES design from his Full Moon company a few years later (see below).

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Halloween Havoc: HAUNTEDWEEN (1991)

One of the great things about being a Video Junkie is meeting folks who share your addiction.  Just when you think you have seen it all, someone will pop out of an alleyway and offer you a new fix.  Thanks to VJ fave Jon Stone, that is exactly how I entered the world of HAUNTEDWEEN (1991).  I’d never even heard of the dang flick until last fall where Mr. Stone told us about it being part of his Halloween viewings.  Naturally, anything that is can be described as “obscure slasher” is a must and I wasn’t disappointed.  And, yeah, I’m reviewing a Halloween themed flick in February.  Deal with it.

HAUNTEDWEEN opens in 1970 on Halloween night with teen Eddie Burber collecting entrance fees at a haunted house in his home.  Not wanting to miss out on all the fun, little Eddie sneaks into the house and scares a young girl, who accidentally gets impaled on a stick.  Eddie does the sensible thing and runs for help.  Ha, just kidding.  He grabs a nearby machete and chops her head off (???) before running out into the field.  His mom finds him and her plan is to split from the scene with Eddie before the authorities arrive.  Well, at least I know where he got his problem solving skills.



Cut to 20 years later and the brothers at Sigma Phi are in a bind.  They need to pay their national dues and opt to hold a party to raise funds.  It barely works, but fate deals them a nasty hand.  Seems Mrs. Burber died recently and Eddie (now BIG Eddie) decided the best course of action is to throw her body in the van and head for the ol’ homestead. The frat guys decide the Burber house is the best place to hold a haunted house to raise more cash and a little hell (no joke, Eddie was kind enough to show up and give them the key).  So they do a '80s house repair music montage before the haunted house is ready to roll.  Eddie has done his own work too, creating a “kill room” (he paints that term on the wall) where he will off frat brothers to the amusement/bloodlust of unsuspecting patrons who think it is all fake.  Why so angry, Eddie?

Kid killer kills girl on Halloween night and returns to his hometown 20 years later to start the killing anew?  Damn, that sounds so familiar.  Oh, I know!  John Carpenter totally ripped HAUNTEDWEEN off.  He saw it on video in the '90s and jumped in his time machine that all Hollywood people have to go back to the late '70s and try to make us think he did it first.  But I’m on to you, Mr. Carpenter.  Besides, Michael Myers is no Eddie Burber. Eddie can lift a guy up with one hand and impale him with a knife.  Oh, ripped that move off too, eh, Mr. Carpenter?

Seriously, HAUNTEDWEEN is one of the plethora of low rent slashers that flooded the market after HALLOWEEN (1978).  This one just came a decade or so late.  One-and-done director Doug Robertson appropriately follows the Carpenter model, but tends to bog things down with his own additions like a lame love triangle and a keg party completely lacking in fun.  The murders are plentiful in the film’s last 20 minutes and you have to love that Eddie had the good sense to adorn his “kill room” with posters and standees from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4, GRAVEYARD SHIFT II, PUMPKINHEAD and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2.  What sets this one apart is the location filming in Kentucky (John Carpenter’s home state). One need not look any further than the college cut up Hanks (Brad Hanks) to get a taste of that lovely Ken-tuhhh-keee accent. Just hearing him talk made my throat dry (“I got him.  I cooked him like one of mama’s home cooked biscuits. Son of a bitch!”).  I also love the end where Eddie’s van gets blown up in a HUGE fireball (by a shotgun blast to the backdoor) and then the final shot is of it revving up again and driving off in flames.  The end credits promised HAUNTEDWEEN II, but we never got it.  I imagine a sequel 20 years later with Hanks, older yet wiser and raspier, warning off a group of new college punks about the evil Eddie.  Of course, no one will listen and he once again has to save the day.  I will not rest until I see more Hanks!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Cinemasochism: AMERICAN CHINATOWN (1996)

I’ll give you a little peek into the behind-the-scenes machinations here at Video Junkie. Just how do we select the cinemasochistic classics we review? Sometimes it is a grand plan intricately thought out months in advance, like our theme week(s). Other times it is pure fate. For example, Tom decides to review MANCHURIAN AVENGER and I send him a quick e-mail expressing my admiration and condolences for jumping on that cinematic hand grenade.  A quick exchange occurs as follows:

Will: “I totally expect you to review Bobby Kim’s entire filmography.”
Thomas: “Whoa! Check out AMERICAN CHINATOWN, which he did with the director of NINJA TURF!”
Will: “I have that DVD sitting right here.”
Thomas: “Oh man! You should totally write that one up!”
Will: “Dammit!”

So it is like the fabled VJ Video Roulette with Tom playing the part of the Vietnamese guy yelling, “Mao! Mao!” as I push the DVD closer to my player.

AMERICAN CHINATOWN opens – I’m not kidding – with three cholos trying to rape Lily (Liat Goodson) in the back of their car by a well-lit graffiti wall (“The bitch liked it. She should be paying us!”).  No set up, we jump right into the scene.  Heroic Yong (Henry Lee) walks up out of nowhere, stops it and humiliates the gang by stripping them down to their underwear.  He tells Lily that she shouldn’t hang out in this area and he takes her to L.A.’s Chinatown to spend the money he secured off the would-be rapists. They hit up a burger stand run by Jim (Bobby Kim), Yong’s father figure and reformed gangster. Yes, you read that right.  They went to Chinatown and ordered burgers and a Pepsi.  Lily fancies Yong but he is a loner…a rebel…with a secret. Ah, such drama.

Yeah, seems Yong is some sort of 125-lb Korean enforcer for the local mob.  This is established in the next scene where he walks into the gang headquarters of Wong and beats everyone up.  After taking care of enemies, Yong screams, “Don’t fuck with Eric!”  Wait, who the hell is Eric?  We find out after the fight that Eric (Robert Z’Dar) is the head of a bunch of criminals and Yong’s boss.  Yes, a white dude runs the biggest gang in Chinatown.  Oh, did I forget to mention that Eric is also Lily’s older brother? Damn, Mr. Shakespeare, you sure can write up some scenarios.  So, as you can guess, overprotective Eric doesn’t take kindly to Yong liking his sister and kicks him out of the gang and stabs him.  But true love knows no bounds and Lily tracks down Yong, now working on a boat, and declares her love for him. They decide to move to Korea, but the very same night they plan on leaving they find out that Eric is in trouble with Wong’s men once again.  What’s a Yong to do?

So, yeah, this movie is called AMERICAN CHINATOWN and is about Koreans.  I guess AMERICAN KOREATOWN just didn’t have that ring to it?  They do cut away to shots of Chinatown every few minutes though.  Maybe they were betting on the viewing public utilizing the “they all look alike” theory and not giving a damn?  This movie almost seems like a collection of random scenes thrown together.  For example, after Yong takes Lily to the burger stand, the movie randomly cuts back to the area of the opening rape and two gangs are going at it.  We have no idea who these guys throwing down are and the end declaration of “you stay out of here or I’ll kill your mother, your sister and your dog” still leaves you with no answers.  Even funnier is the relationship between Eric and Lily. At one point she says to him, “How’s the search going for my real mother?”  Later Eric tells her that he found someone with the same name as her mother and Lily is so excited.  Then it is completely dropped and never mentioned again! Then again, this is the kind of movie where a villain attacks the hero with a knife, the hero spins the villain around and holds the villain’s hand with the knife to the villain’s throat and the guy continues to hold onto the knife as if he has no choice.  Open…your…hand…dumbass!

Of course, all of this would be forgivable had the film delivered good fights.  I mean, hell, director Richard Park made me accept 40-year-old Jun Chong was a high school student in NINJA TURF because he delivered in the fight department.  Not the case here. Just like there are no Chinese in this Chinatown, there are no good fights on display.  Lead Henry Lee seems to have sufficient moves but Park can’t be bothered to stage anything too complex.  You have to laugh when he does stuff like jump onto a wobbly table and tries to hold his balance. In fact, the film’s best performer is an eye-patch wearing villain at the end who looks like Al Leong’s ugly brother.  He does some great flips and stuff.  I guess I am easily entertained. Matching the poor choreography is some wretched acting.  Lee, looking like a 80s HK boy band reject, is awful and Goodson, who has a strange British accent, matches him move for move in terms of bad acting.

And I have to touch on the whole darn reason I watched this thing – Bobby Kim. Seemingly aged 50 years in the decade between this and 1985’s MANCHURIAN AVENGER, Kim is given little to do except limp around and spout off half his dialog in Korean (with no subtitles!). He does get to throw one of his trademark high kicks during the final battle but it is too little, too late.  If the film has any positive quality, it is in granite chinned Robert Z’Dar.  It is refreshing to see him not cast as the bad guy (although he is a criminal).  And I have to smile when he is the only genius to show up to a karate brawl with a shotgun.  Now when I am saying that Z’Dar is a film’s lone bright spot, you know something is definitely wrong.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Gweilo Dojo: THE MANCHURIAN AVENGER (1982)

If there’s one thing I like it’s a good western. Preferably a revisionist western with a twisting plot, oodles of visual style and gritty retribution. Films like DJANGO KILL (1967) and THE PRICE OF DEATH (1971), two completely different styles of films, use the western setting as a launching pad for stories and characters that are so far removed from the pre-‘60s cowboys and Indians archetype that they are not so much westerns, per se, as period pieces.

If there’s another thing I like it’s a Western-made martial arts film. Preferably with real champion martial artists and a completely ludicrous plot about world domination. Films like KILL THE GOLDEN GOOSE (1979) and FORCE: FIVE (1981) ape their Hong Kong counterparts but with totally anglo sensibilities, making them a breed unto themselves.

So what could be better than creating a Frankenfilm hybrid of the two genres? Sort of a Reese’s peanutbutter cup of exploitation films. You got a western in my kung fu! You got kung fu in my western! Two great tastes that taste great together, right? Sadly, aside from classics of the subgenre like THE FIGHTING FIST OF SHANGHAI JOE (1972), the kung fu western tends to be a good excuse to bungle both genres and THE MANCHURIAN AVENGER takes this unhappy trend to an all new low.
The basic premise of the film is that Joe (Bobby Kim, looking like he could start a career as Charles Bronson's stunt double) is returning to his home town in dirt-water Colorado after fleeing as a child. As we learn in flash-back, his father was murdered by an unseen man and his gang who were after gold. Upon returning, Joe finds that his brother and sister are now, some 25 years later, are being beaten and harassed by a local black-clad thug, Sam and his gang who are… yes, you guessed it, looking for gold.

On the coach-ride back home the stage is beset by Mexican banditos, or rather some community theater actors in Poncho Villa mustaches sporting what is unequivocally the worst freakin’ Mexican accents since master Mexicano thespian Speedy Gonzales graced the screen. Honestly, these guys are about as legit la raza as Jeff Dunham's Jose, the jalapeño on a stick. Naturally Joe kicks their asses while they stand there and stare at him. Right as they are ready to kidnap him anyway (because he must know where gold can be found), Joe whips out a throwing star and decapitates a rattlesnake that was within several feet of biting Diego, the leader of the bandits. Of course now Diego owes Joe his life and an uneasy bond is formed. “You, you are some kind of devil who look like a man. A man that fight like a lion!” exclaims Diego. Matter of fact his long-winded admiration of Joe’s fighting ability is repeated so often that there will come a point where you will be ready to hurl a throwing star at your TV screen the next time Diego shouts “he fight like a lion!” Seriously, how the hell would a Mexican bandit in the 1800s know anything about lions and their fighting abilities?

Upon arriving in town Joe discovers that his uncle has been killed by Sam’s men because (wait for it), they thought he had some gold stashed somewhere. Now Joe must avenge his family against Sam and his men by means of kicking them in the head while they practice the ancient white-guy martial art style of Standing-Still-and-Waiting-to-get-Hit. Turns out Sam and his men are merely lackeys for the local crimelord Master Cheng. Cheng, when not flaying the skin off of innocents with a straight razor, amuses children with magic tricks before bedtime. Since Joe is such a threat to a man who’s mystic martial arts can levitate objects and control the very elements (trust me, this sounds much more exciting than it really is), Cheng must send for reinforcements. His ace in the hole? A group of five badasses called The Four Winds, who dress in rags and live in a cave. Why are these five guys called The Four Winds? Beats the shit outta me. When Cheng’s lacky gazes upon the one with the neat neatly combed haircut, he stammers “Kamikaze, I am honored to meet you!” before comically fainting. You bet your ass son! That’s Bill Mothafucking “Superfoot” Wallace standing in front of you! ...pretending to have at least a shred of integrity.

This all leads to a showdown between Joe and Diego against Cheng’s men and The Four Winds. There are two climactic duels, the first being between Joe and Kamikaze which you’d think would be amazing. I mean, hell, this is what we have been waiting 80 minutes for right? Director Ed Warnick (of whom, inconceivably, this film is his only credit), takes what should be an easy score and fumbles it with extreme prejudice. Instead of tireless choreography allowing for exciting fight sequences, Warnick takes the easy way out and shoots all of the action from behind the attacker and the attackee, so that the performers can miss by a country mile and supposedly no one will be the wiser. In the end Kamikaze disappears in a cloud of smoke and Joe discovers that Cheng was the man who killed his father. But seriously, by this point you won’t give a flying crap, in the same way you won’t care that you never find out if anyone had any frickin' gold to begin with!

Yeah, MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE this is not, but it has the potential to be entertaining. While some kung fu westerns tend to faceplant by making the proceedings slapstick comedy, for the most part MANCHURIAN AVENGER plays it straight... I think. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. The acting is so amateurish, in a surprisingly unamusing way, that at times it seems like Warnick is trying to elicit laughs from the intentionally broken English of the Mexican and Chinese characters. At other times he is clearly trying to get laughs from Cheng's yellow-bellied (oh stop groaning!) lackey whose whiny cowardice is supposed to provide comic relief, but does nothing more than add to this film's extensive list of sins.

The movie is super low-budget with a bare minimum of sets and non-existant production values, and in spite of the R-rating has nothing except the shot of a removed hand to warrant this. Don't expect this Manchurian Joe to be gouging out eyes and ripping out hearts like Shanghai Joe. No sir. Just some reasonably impressive kicks that obviously don't come anywhere near connecting. Also, the day for night shots are so badly done that at times it is impossible to see anything at all. There's also no real visual style with scenes being a collection of close-ups that appear to be edited with a shotgun. All this would be forgivable if the film wasn’t so deadly slow paced. Warnick lingers on long shots of people slowly walking, sitting and lying still,  punctuated by dialogue flatter than Paris Hilton’s brainscan. In addition, for no other conceivable reason than to pad out the films running time, Warnick has a bit where Joe wanders out into the brush and has a five minute long flashback to scenes that we just saw! This excruciatingly monotonous concoction could still be elevated by some great action, but Warnick clearly doesn’t have the money or the patience for heavily choreographed action sequences delivering fight scenes that look as if they were improvised on the spot. It’s one thing to waste a perfectly good premise; it’s another thing to waste the awesomeness of Bill Wallace. That’s just criminal, amigo.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Quick Fix: Recent Viewings and Video Ramblings

Yeah, I'm too lazy to do full blown reviews for these flicks so this is what you get.  Enjoy my non-readers!

DIRTY LAUNDRY (1987) - Nope, this doesn't feature the Don Henley song.  That would have at least given it some merit. Concert sound man Jay (Leigh McCloskey, fresh off the classic HAMBURGER: THE MOTION PICTURE) finds himself in a pickle after he accidentally picks up a sack of cash during a coke deal (involving two grandmas) at a laundromat. This puts him in the cross-hairs of mobster "Macho" Marty (Frankie Valli), his goon Vito (Nicholas Worth), and music manager Maurice (Sonny Bono). Teaming with music reporter Trish (Jeanne O'Brien) and neighbor kid inventor Oscar (Robbie Rist), Jay runs all over L.A. trying to escape the villains. 

The only thing worse than this flick is knowing that some loser in his thirties - yours truly - was compelled to watch it based off that cover art. Because we all know this POLICE ACADEMY style drawing means hilarity. Director William Webb has no idea what comedy is with the film falling flat at every turn. To give you an example, Webb's idea of humor is to have two male cops with the last names Betty and Veronica. Or Crockett & Tubbs look-a-likes slipping on a wet floor with a cheap-o MIAMI VICE riff on the soundtrack. Or the top F.B.I. guy being named Zimbalist and everyone making cracks about it. It is so odd a cast of "legit" folks like Valli and Bono got signed onto this. To be fair, Bono's character completely disappears halfway through and never shows up again. Maybe he was embarrassed and didn't show up for work? Even odder are the brief appearances by two Olympians, Carl Lewis and Greg Louganis. Lewis is one of the MIAMI VICE cops and Louganis is cast as Jay's womanizing surfer roommate (yeah right!).  Couple all of that with a complete absence of T&A (a requirement for these kind of flicks) and you get a film that is a total wash.

HUMAN HUNT (1987) - I've been digging some 80s Mexican exploitation cinema lately.  The only problem is few of their titles have an English option.  Thankfully, this one was dubbed into English.  A young couple elopes and they decide to spend their honeymoon in a small Mexican beach town. Bad move as there is some crazy psycho in a big black truck who is pushing people in their cars off a cliff. Rod (Valentin Trujillo), the brother of the deceased boy, arrives in town to claim his body and begins investigating. The law thinks it is just bad drivers that keep flying off this cliff, but Rod soon finds out otherwise and he suspects the Sheriff might be the killer. Naturally, this stay in the small coastal town also gives him a chance to romance a local waitress, whose sister was the first victim. This is my second Trujillo flick (the first was the highly entertaining OCCUPATIONAL KILLER) and it is pretty good. The mystery isn't much as they try to make everyone a suspect, but one reaction by a character during a pivotal scene will tip you off easily. The car chases are pretty good and the menacing big black truck reminds me of the Lance Henriksen segment in NIGHTMARES (1983). Trujillo also co-wrote and directed.

THE KILLINGS AT OUTPOST ZETA (1980)Another one of those "SOS because monsters are attacking us" low budget sci-fi flicks. Starfleet sends a rescue team to the barren planet Zeta after two exploratory teams go missing. This mission is of the utmost importance as they were hoping to begin colonization on this Earth-like rock within two months. Once the team of six (four men and two women) get there, they discover everyone dead due to some weird rock monsters (to be said in Fred Schneider voice). In the post-STAR WARS age, it is weird to see something this cheap on screen. Co-directors Robert Emenegger and Allan Sandler certainly seemed ambitious, but only had enough money to create some cheap space suits (motorcycle helmets) and maybe three sets. The monsters are most likely paper mache and are never given a good glimpse. The surface world stuff (shot in some desert) is actually pretty well done. Emenegger and Sandler had an extremely prolific two years after this film, producing close to a dozen cheap-o sci-fi flicks (with titles like LABORATORY, LIFEPOD, TIME WARP) before disappearing in 1981.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Carpocalypse Now: RUN LIKE HELL (1995)

Some filmmakers start with no budget and a group of friends making crappy little home movies and work their way into the Hollywood system commanding ever increasing budgets and bigger stars. Director’s such as Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson made movies on home equipment with not even a thin dime to their names and now are internationally famous multi-millionaires. Other filmmakers do it the other way around.

A personal favorite of ours in the VJ vaults is the obscure DTV classic THE DIVINE ENFORCER (1992) from writer-director Robert Rundle. THE DIVINE ENFORCER boasts an amazing cast of has-beens including Jan-Michael Vincent, Erik Estrada, Jim Brown, Robert Z'Dar and Don Stroud as the titular sweaty, psychotic, toupeed priest-slash-vigilante killer. Do I even need to elaborate further? Freakin’ genius. After that brilliant low-rent insanity (and his previous CYBERNATOR) I have been on the look-out for other films in Rundle's repertoire. I've been looking for this one for over a decade and thanks to Media Blasters I've finally gotten to behold it in all of it’s SOV glory... Holy crap, I gotta start being more careful what I wish for.

You know you are in for something good when the credits are pixilated from a cheap computer program. Shot on home video equipment that makes the film look only slightly less professional than CANNIBAL CAMPOUT (1988), Rundle can’t take the blame for the hilariously inept direction; that distinction goes to prolific trash porno videomaker Eric Brummer (aka Slain Wayne) who you may remember from such literary epics as SLUTS, BUTTS AND HOUSEWIVES 2 (2000) and FUCK PIGS 4 (2000). What Brummer fails to realize is that people watching cheap porn will forgive fumbling camerawork, clumsy editing and a total lack of production values. People watching cheap sci-fi/action flicks don't. On the other hand, Rundle’s script is freakin’ amazing in all the wrong ways. Put the two together and you have trash video gold! Ok, more like pyrite, but still…

Ok, you ladies can get dressed now... please
Set in the post-apocalyptic future of 2008, the government has branded single woman as “a threat to society” (hard to argue that point, I guess) and forced them to live in abandoned refineries, clad only in black thongs. Oh shit, I think I just lost 98% of my readers to an e-bay search. But wait, wait! It gets better! Comprised of seemingly two rooms (one of which, the jail cell, appears to be a public restroom with a drop ceiling), the sadistic warden (Robert Z'Dar) watches TV monitors as the topless inmates take showers (in what appears to be a home shower-stall) and get in fights. He breaks up his heavy breathing sessions to “invite” some of the girls to his “office” (a closet with camouflage fabric draped on the walls) where he tries to rape them... while breathing heavily. After two of his latest would-be conquests roll his ass like a Hollywood drunk, they declare their “plan” to be a success, grab some weapons and organize a group of (yes, topless) girls to make their daring escape, complete with badly edited shoot-outs. So wait, what was the plan again? Make-out in the shower until the warden gets tired of jerking off and has you hauled up to his office for an attempted rape session? Damn, I gotta hand it to the girls, that's a hell of a plan.

Once on the outside of the refiner- I mean, prison - the group of girls make their way to a shanty town, all two houses of it, kill the men there and steal weapons, ammo, and a surprising amount of perfectly fitting women’s clothing including a plaid skirt and halter top. Really, don’t think about it too hard because there’s some shit coming up that blows that bit of absurdity out of the water. After using some telephone lines as a cut-away, we see the warden commanding his cyborg trackers to hunt down the girls and the… err… “plot” is set in motion! Well sorta. See, in his infinite wisdom Rundle doesn't actually use the bounty hunters until the end of the movie, so instead, he decides to throw in random encounters that do nothing to further any storyline at all!

In an attempt to establish some characters and maybe focus some of the uhhhh "action", Rundle gives the girls a serious discussion around a campfire in which one of them declares that they are on their way to Paradise City “where everyone can be themselves!” Ummm, yeah, ok, fine. “Where dreams lie in wait for those who seek them!” Huh? What exactly are you burning on that fire, girl? Whatever it was caused them to sleep soundly into the middle of the noonday sun and awake to the sight of a ninja fighting a cowboy. No. Really. After dispatching the presumably evil cowboy, the ninja, Jag (Henry Olvera), decides to take the girls under his wing and help them reach Paradise City which is apparently right on the way to his own clichéd destiny: The Arena of Death! A secret deathsport held in the middle of the dessert in which the current champion is a mysterious figure named “Chainsaw.” Seriously, I’m not making any of this up. Nor could I make up the line in which Jag imparts his ancient ninja wisdom on the girls by saying in total earnest “You must learn to fight, cause when the time comes to fight, you must fight like a badger.” Uhhhh... yeah, thanks sensei!

While treking through the desert wastes, they run into totally non-sequitur sub-plots about white-trash slavers and a beef-cake bounty hunter and his rescued, bikini-topped daughter of a VIP, in between cutting back to the classy shenanigans back at the prison, including a topless fist-fight/wrestling match! At this point I was thinking to myself, “this isn’t so much the future per se, as just Barstow.” Come to find out, the movie was shot on location in beautiful Victorville (or as we like to call it “Victimville”)! This explains so much. Such as why the girls in this film appear to have been hired from an, errr... “affordable” local gentleman's club.

Finally the group stumbles across a couple of schmucks fighting on a railcar, featuring some of the worst fight choreography EVER. Hey, I don’t say this lightly. I’ve seem a lot of bad, bad movies that have no reason to exist and this, my friends, is unquestionably the bottom of the MMA fight barrel. These weak kicks and jab don't even come anywhere near to connecting and one guy tries to do a nifty leap up off the ground after getting knocked down, blows it and has to get up with every bit as much dexterity as I would. Might as well leave it in, who's going to notice, right? Come to find out this is just the tip of the iceberg. As they walk over a dune they find themselves overlooking (cue dramatic pause)... The Arena of Death! Or, rather, just a couple of dudes standing around, pretending to fight, in the middle of freakin' nowhere. Even though there are no spectators, some announcer guy, who looks like your average college student who got lost on his way to Burning Man, starts bellowing about the fighters including a ninja who comes straight from the CIA training facilities! Wait, what? The CIA trains ninjas?? The fights commence and are stunning to behold. Some of the fakest hits you’ve ever seen and what is probably the funniest climactic martial-arts arena sequence ever in which the fabled chainsaw comes out and wins all of his duels because his opponents are too busy trying to hit his chainsaw (instead of him) and then drop their guard so he can kill them by painting a red line across them with his chainsaw. The final duel between Chainsaw and Jag is staggeringly inept, but that doesn't stop Brummer from actually deciding to loop the fight so it will last twice as long! Again, who's gonna notice?

The dreaded Chainsaw's first victim! Yeah, that's all you get.

Best of all, the film abruptly ends after the final duel and is set up for a sequel in which the wardens boss says that he is sending in a couple of “class A battledroids” to help the warden clean up his mess and promises that it will be “Armageddon!” As far as I can tell that promise never came through and the world will never know whether those girls and their ninja made it down to Paradise City. All those unanswered questions still remain: is the grass green? Are the girls pretty? Did Axel Rose get taken home? I guess we will never know.

Another quiet night at the Victorville library
It’s really amazing that this movie actually has such an extensive credit listing including a second unit director! For so many people to be working on this, you’d think one of them would catch at least a few of the plethora of technical errors. Audio from lines of dialogue are missing, edits cut away from scenes too soon or too late; shots are fired, but only part of them are heard on the soundtrack; random shots of the girls firing their weapons are spliced in to scenes for no reason whatsoever; lens hoods are visible in some scenes, curtains blow into shots, and the list goes on. One reviewer said that this film appeared to be made and written by 12-year olds. I think that might be a tad generous. That said, if you like budget and brain starved trash that is the equivalent of a dixie cup of bathtub likker, this is a great way to kill a perfectly good evening on the sofa.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The "Never Got Made" Files #43 - #47: Night of the Living Dead Romero projects

Horror legend George Romero has made a lot of great films.  What is surprising is he has probably been attached to more unmade films than any other horror director I can think of (Guillermo Del Toro will surely take the crown before his career is over).  I could go on and on about the various projects he toiled on to no avail, but that would probably kill the internet.  Instead, I will only focus on the projects that actually got so far as to have visual representation in the form of pre-production advertising.


This project was announced as a potential film property by Laurel Entertainment in the early 1980s.  However, the genesis actually stems from a pre-NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD period when Romero was at Carnegie Mellon University. According the to the essential Romero biography (well, up to 1985 at least) The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh, Romero did a radio program with friends Rudy Ricci and Diane Lang called “Attack of the Zilches.”  Ricci described it as “a take off on those 1950s science-fiction movies, where teenagers are attacked in cars.”  According to Zomibe’s author Paul Gagne:
Ricci later wrote an as-yet-unproduced script for Romero and Richard Rubenstein based on the same essential idea, INVASION OF THE SPAGHETTI MONSTERS (originally SHOOBEE DOOBEE MOON).
Laurel took out a huge, two-page ad for the flick which looked like GREASE crossed with MAD magazine.  Surprisingly, the idea of bloodsucking aliens looking to impregnate earth chicks didn’t catch on (I blame the next year's E.T.).

Two more ads for the film that appeared in Variety circa 1980:


A few years later, Laurel teased film fans with a mystery film that promised “the creation of the hero of the century” and that it was “coming soon to theaters and wherever magazines are sold.”  Hmmmm, what could this possible be. Well, it turns out Laurel partners Romero and Rubenstein had tried to look into the film rights of various comic book characters, but found the licensing rights too expensive.  Their solution?  Why we will create our own comic book character and make a movie about him while we’re at it.  Laurel teamed with Marvel Comics to create this new superhero and here is what Romero said to the New York Times about it:
“The superhero character is the sheriff of Philadelphia in the not-too-distant future.  According to Romero, the script “will be a typical introduction of a superhero – how he came into his powers – and will take him through his first series of adventures.  It will have some solid social values and a little social satire and there will be a lot of weaponry and vehicles.”
Well, unfortunately for fans of weaponry and vehicles, the project never got off the ground.

Interestingly, comic artist Bob Layton put up artwork from the proposed comic on his site and details his involvement during 1984-85 on this unrealized project.  You can check it out here:

The sci-fi bible STARLOG also ran this tiny blurb about the then unnamed project in 1983:


Do I really need to say anything about this one?  Long rumored to be Romero’s dream project, the adaptation of Stephen King’s epic 800-page virus novel is what initially brought the two horror-meisters together.  When funding couldn’t be realized (they wanted at least $20 million), the duo opted to do CREEPSHOW instead.  After that film’s success, Laurel continued to push the title with Romero attached (even going so far as to propose it as a two film series).  In the end, George and Laurel parted ways in the late 80s and THE STAND was eventually made as a sanitized and bland TV mini-series by Mick Garris.  *shakes head*


This project popped up post-MONKEY SHINES as one of three films Romero was attached to (the other two being Laurel’s long-gestating PET SEMATARY and a remake of THE TURN OF THE SCREW; neither got made by Romero).  While discussing his monkey mayhem thriller in Fangoria #76, Romero said the following about the project:
Fang: What picture’s next on the agenda after MONKEY SHINES?
Romero: Theoretically, I’m supposed to start working on something called APARTMENT LIVING.
Fang: Is it a feature-length DARKSIDE remake, as rumors suggest?
Romero: No, it’s not a remake.  It’s about an apartment that eats people.  The building is alive, and it eats people.
Fang: What do you mean by “theoretically” you’re supposed to start working on it?
Romero: I don’t know for sure about it.  There’s no picture right now that’s ready to start shooting.  I don’t mean to sound evasive, I just literally don’t know what’s going on with APARTMENT LIVING, though it tentatively has probably the best shot – as far as financing – to be the next picture ready to go.
Cinevest ran several ads in Variety for the film during 1988-89, but the film never got before the cameras and Romero went on to make THE DARK HALF.


Not much is know about this project but I include it just for the interesting pic.  Following the nightmare post-production period on THE DARK HALF, Romero came under contract to New Line Cinema to develop new horror films. One title was THE BLACK MARIAH, an adaptation of the debut novel of author Jay R. Bonansinga.  Sounding like horror combination of DUEL and SPEED, the novel tell the story of a black truck driver who comes to the assistance of a guy on his CB radio who says he can’t stop his car because it is cursed and if he does he will die.  The publisher was so sure that this film deal would go through that they sent out the original paperbacks with a line on the cover reading “soon to be a major motion picture directed by George Romero.”  D’oh!  It never got made.