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, November 25, 2010

Heinous for the Holidays: THANKSKILLING (2009)

Chances are you’ve stumbled across some of the ridiculously hyperbolic promo material for this backyard horror spoof and chances are you said to yourself “Maybe I’ll check tha – hey, JONAH HEX!” Not to worry, you haven’t missed out on anything like this since you missed the last Todd Sheets effort.

Shot on video by a group of friends in Ohio for the resale value of a used Doge Neon, this is not the worst SOV attempt I've ever seen, but then again, it sure ain't the best.

Opening with a tacked on prologue that looks like it was shot after distributor’s balked at the lack of nudity (and rightfully so), in 1621 after the first Harvest Dinner a topless puritan (ungracefully aging porn star Wanda Lust) is presumably attacked by a rubber turkey head who says “nice tits bitch!” before we see an axe that presumably is wielded by said turkey and presumably ends her life. Presumably, because all of this is static shots edited together and the kill is not only off screen, but doesn't even have the requisite blood-splash on a sign post. Man, you guys aren’t even going to deliver some blood in the opening kill? You are going to have to do some serious catching up to recover from that fiasco, because you know what comes next, right?

One of these things is not like the other...

Flash forward to a modern day college campus. Our main characters, who are apparently the only people who go to school here, meet up on the college steps. Obligatory fat-guy (who of course smells bad and eats constantly) Billy 'The Hick' (Aaron Ringhiser-Carlson) runs down the steps and rips his shirt open Hulk Hogan-style shouting “Thanksgiving break! Yes!” This, as he explains to Johnny 'The Jock' (Lance Predmore), is merely an excuse to get the local hoochie Ali (Natasha Cordova) “to show her big ol’ titties”. Ummmm… I think Billy has been hittin’ the holiday beverages a bit early as Ali is obviously a card-carrying member of The Committee. You know, the Itty Bitty… oh never mind.

Accompanied by Kristen 'The Good Girl' (Lindsey Anderson) and Darren 'The Nerd' (aka The Weird Guy, Ryan E. Francis), the group sets out to make the rounds dropping everyone off at home for Turkey Day. Along the way Darren, who seems to have a man-crush on Johnny, divulges that he is going to get “buck wild” and “have sex with someone in this car!” Dude, there’s only two chicks, one isn’t sleeping with anyone and the other is hot for the jock, and it’s a jeep.

Meanwhile, a white-trash dude who desperately wants to be mistaken for The Motor City Madman, named Oscar (General Bastard), is out in the sticks when his dog Lassie manages to find the one spot in the forest to piss on that would return the killer turkey to life. As luck would have it at this very same moment the jeep blows a radiator hose (which is later fixed without any parts or tools) and the kids are forced to camp for the night since none of them have cell phone reception. Seriously, I’ve been to Ohio, I know how empty some of those roads can be, but a) this is supposed to be New England and b) it’s freakin’ Thanksgiving. You should be so lucky to have no traffic whatsoever, not to mention a complete lack of snow or even cold weather. Anyway, once they realize they are stuck for the night, they also realize they have tents and beer! Sweet! Then of course comes the realization that they are in Crawberg, the site of the Crawberg Pilgrim Massacre. Cue animated backstory. Ok, more like static cartoon drawings, but whatever.

While the alleged college students argue about the legitimacy of the tale of the killer turkey who was summoned by an Indian necromancer to get vengeance on the white man, the killer turkey hitches a ride. One of the genuinely amusing conceits of the movie is that average joes perceive the turkey as a midget, not an unplucked holiday fowl. After a driver decides to add “cornhole” to his holiday menu, the killer turkey backs out of the deal and shoots the driver in the head with a shotgun for a little CGI splatter. Jumping behind the wheel, the turkey takes off to intercept each of the kids at their parent’s houses. I’m not sure why he would do that as he had just terrorized them at their campsite and could have killed them all in one fell swoop! Seems a little bird-brained to me (ok, ok, stop throwing those croutons).

First the turkey kills off Jonny’s mom and dad (mostly off screen) leaving Johnny to cry about missing the pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce. Then he’s off to Ali’s house where he catches her taking it doggy-style (fully clothed) with some random dude. After slashing the dude’s throat with his beak, he tags in on Ali’s ass… or yellow pillow! C’mon guys, do you think nobody can tell the difference between a chick’s ass and a pillow? Hell, I guess we know who the target audience is now. Its details like this that pop up constantly where the “filmmakers” show that they just don’t care. “We’re making a stupid movie! Who gives a shit?” Clearly not you.

When the kids get to the scene of the crime they find an extra-small, gravy-flavored condom and Billy is pissed because he thought he had a shot with the local slut, “we gotta find a way to kill this cock-blockin’ turkey!” he rants. So it’s off to Kristen’s house to get to her father’s collection of antique books that will contain the ritual for killing the bird. Unfortunately they arrive after the turkey, in one of the films few inspired moments, kills the sheriff father and uses his face as a Leatherface-style mask to take the father’s place and lure the kids to their deaths. While the kids look through books, the fat guy eats French fries and complains about being hungry. Yep, director/producer/writer Jordan Downey sets the bar high.

Soon they discover that in order to kill the turkey, they need to remove the talisman it’s wearing, chant a prayer for sacrifice, then kill it. From here it’s a game of hunt and peck as the turkey kills off the kids one by one as they try to figure out how to dispose of it once and for all. In one of the other few inspired moments, Darren laments over his fallen fat comrade initiating a music-montage flashback of their friendship, sharing ice-cream and skipping through fields. It’s a bit too obviously inspired by identical moments from the animated TV show “South Park”, plus it’s over-long and could have used a punch-line at the end, but it beats the hell out of the lame attempts at comedy in CANNIBAL CAMPOUT (1988). Then again, there are the other jokes, like the turkey’s head poping out of a guy’s chest proclaiming “gobble, gobble, motherfucker!” and of course the tacked on epilogue where a family is sitting down to thanksgiving dinner and the roasted bird jumps up and says “do I smell sequel BIOOOOOOOTCH!?” Ummm, no, I just smell a half-baked turkey.

Don’t let Downey fool you with the “extreme” marketing, this ain’t even in the same ballpark with zero-budget gorefests like VIOLENT SHIT (1989) which was made for almost half of the budget of THANKSKILLING. I’d love to give this flick major props for the ol’ indy spirit, but the bungled comedy, barely adequate gore, bad CGI, limp acting AND lame wannabe early ‘90s Freddy lines don’t give us a lot to be thankful for. Some folks have made the claim that they feel this is the successor (or sucfailor) to Troma’s legacy, but I don’t think that comparison does either of them any justice. Sure the comedy is forced and fowl-mouthed, and yes, a modern Troma staple of having unattractive people naked is represented by the opening scene, but there’s not much else that bears comparing, good or bad. If you are a teenager and like movies made by hipsters who are intentionally making a crap movie, and are desperately looking for someone to give you your one-liners this Holiday season, I guess you’ll get a kick out of it. Poultry-seasoned veterans beware.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cinemasochism: 555 (1988)

As evidenced by our CANNIBAL CAMPOUT review, the shot-on-video projects are really the wild west of the horror genre – anything goes and it is usually going to get real ugly, real quick.  One of the most legendary and sought after SOV nightmares is a film called 555.  Its notoriety is thanks mostly to its rareness and an eye-catching cover.  I can remember first catching a glimpse of that decapitation in an quarter page ad inside an issue of Slaughterhouse magazine back in 1988 (posted at the end of the review).  It was burned into my brain and (foolishly) I knew I had to see this film.

Of course, elusiveness and superiority are two things that rarely meet in the SOV horror subgenre.  I was finally able to track down a copy in 2007 at a video store going out of business.  This place had an odd policy in that they didn’t have a set price and instead set the sale price based on the film’s rental history.  So I got up with my stack of videos, palms sweating at the prospect of hearing, “That’ll be $90 for 555.”  I tensed up when told the MCA VHS of DEATH VALLEY (1982) would be $22.  Surely 555 is going to cost me big time.  The girl at the register looks at that cover, probably judges me and types it in.  “555 will be $8,” she says. Obviously not a big renter, but I am giddy knowing I will be getting such a rare title for cheap.  As you might know already from this blog, I'm dumb.  One man’s garbage is another man’s gold as they say.

Well, if you pick up that trash can and dig about five-hundred-fifty-five feet into the ground, you might find this garbage. This actually makes SOV champ BLOOD CULT look sophisticated.  A killer in Chicago is preying on young couples having sex and the film opens with a bloody slaughter (a naked chick gets blood thrown on her) of a hot-n-heavy duo.  The only witness is retired Army Col. Wayne (Charles Fuller), who was walking on the beach and discovered the bodies after hearing the screams.  Hot-headed police sergeant Conner (Greg Kerouac) doesn’t buy Wayne’s detailed description of a killer dressed like a hippie.  “You gave us a description of the murderer, yet no description at all,” says by D.A. Ralph Kennedy (Greg Neilson) in a real head-scratcher piece of dialog.  Hey, isn't Wayne trying to help you?

Of course, since these are movie cops, Wayne immediately becomes top suspect and the cops begin harassing him.  After all, it is best to focus your investigation of several murders on just one guy because your gut tells you he is bad.  The go to his house and find out - gasp - this former Army guy has a collection of knives.  And his Army medical report says being in combat effected him.  This must be the "sicko son of a bitch who can only get it up once a night" as Conner eloquently puts it.  Exploiting Wayne is female reporter Susan Rather (Mara Lynn Bastian), who uses her female, uh, attributes to seduce him.  Did I mention Bastian isn’t the most attractive lady out there?  Argh, my eyes!

Meanwhile, more murders happen as another couple is killed in their van; a fornicating pair is killed in a warehouse; and aesthetically unpleasing lovers in a bedroom are murdered by this dirty hippie.  Our detectives – through no work of their own – find out this series of murders has happened before.  Twenty years ago in Springfield, Massachusetts.  Fifteen years ago in Buffalo, New York.  Ten years ago in St. Louis, Missouri.  Five years ago in Baltimore, Maryland. Every five years as series of five attacks spread over five nights. Five...Five...Five!!! Hey, this is also the fifth time it happens so shouldn’t the movie be called 5555?   Now what that all means or why the killer dresses as a hippie is anybody's guess.

This “film” is the handiwork of one Wally Koz.  His IMDb bio says he was a gold prospector and he probably had a better chance of striking it rich that way than making a good movie. You'll guess the killer in about 10 minutes because, frankly, the "film" only has five characters. Two are the detectives, one is the suspect, one is the reporter and the last one is never shown outside of his intro.  Gee, I wonder who it could be.  You have to love that the film is basically telling you the lead detective is also an idiot because he is completely wrong about everything.  Koz spends 80% of the time shooting in the police office as Conner rages about his top suspect.  He even reuses the distinctive bile green office set over for a victim’s bedroom.  And it is all captured in gross, porn-level videography.

Everyone in the cast is community theater level in terms of acting and, not surprisingly, they were all one-and-done.  Lead Kerouac looks like Elliot Spitzer on meth and I guess should be commended for keeping a straight face during the whole thing.  Roy Koz’s script is full of some real howlers, like inept Conner’s astute observation that “criminals are stupid fuckers.”  Even funnier are the bits trying to portray Susan Rather as a sexpot as actress Bastian looks like Rosanne Barr’s slightly more attractive sister.  Her beau Kennedy says “she has the morals of an alley cat, which makes her wonderful in bed” and she later says that no man would give up her fine piece of ass.  And, yes, she does supply nudity sadly.  As mentioned before, the mystery factor is nil and gets even more convoluted with a super-duper explanation that actually works to confuse audiences even more.  Amusingly, the end credits show this was a family affair with a Koz name popping up every other credit.  I checked the unemployment rate in the U.S. in 1988 and it was roughly 5.4%.  I can only assume Koz & co. are to thank.  Thankfully the threat of more Koz productions in the end credits never came to fruition.

The only thing going for 555 is the effects work, which is suitably gory. Of course, they are shot-on-video so they can't look that good. But it does offer the gore and nudity that are required so you can't accuse Koz of cheating the fans who desire this stuff.  No joke, the only entertainment I got out of this flick is when I sold it on eBay and went to mail it to the winner. My total at the post office?  $5.55!  *cue eerie music*  Believe it or not, I recently saw a copy of this sell on eBay for $121.50.  It is not even close to being worth that much. Trust me.  Hell, I paid $8 and felt ripped-off.  In fact, I’m going to save your $121.50 and show you the film’s highlight in GIF form.  Amazingly, this shot isn't in the actual killing but during a highlight section at the end during the killer's death.  Why?  Cuz Koz said so, kidz!  In fact, I think you owe me $121.50 for the pleasure of seeing that. You’ll thank me later.  Payments, donations and pity can be sent to


Friday, November 19, 2010

(Naked) Chick Flicks: HOT T-SHIRTS (1980)

“They just don’t make movies like they used to” seems to be our mantra, but they really don’t make cheap nudie comedies like they used to! Today’s T&A flicks have taken a page from the porno world and are half-assed, low-rent parodies of popular movies or video games with some soft-core sex scenes provided by surgically manipulated barbies. Meh. In the ‘70s and ‘80s it was all about the girl next door, and when I say “girl”, I mean it. Barely legal to barely past legal was the age bracket. We had seminal classics such as THE CHEERLEADERS (1973) paving the way for frivolous comedies that grabbed hold of a theme and used it for some cheap laughs and a lot of all-natural skin and there was not a damn thing wrong with it.

Just to make sure you know exactly what you are in for (and to pad out the scant running time), the film starts out with a credit sequence pumping out the disco theme song with the lyrics “my body is wet, my body’s so wet, my body’s soaking wet, my body’s dripping wet, wet, wet, wet!” Yep, you can see exactly what level this film will operate on. It’s using the same sountrack that they play on the PA at 42nd St. porno shops. Uhhhh... not that I have ever been in one. I mean, it was only that one time and I thought it was Kim's Video. Yeah, that's it... and I’m positive that it was Will's idea!

Made by someone clearly stuck in the late ‘70s, infamous porn director Chuck Vincent made more than *ahem* a handful of R-rated pictures of varying entertainment value. Some folks say their entertainment value starts in the negative and works their way up. Some folks have very boring taste in movies.

Dumpy loser Joe (Ray Holland) owns a bar that he doubles as an Italian dinner house. He’s got his senile bartender Pops (Nathan Tamarin), his ditzy, nimpho waitress Violet (Pauline Rose) and his obese, matronly, righta offada boata E-taly-ano cooka Rosa (Licia Colombi). It’s the damnedest thing, nobody wants to come in to the joint. Joe can’t figure out why. While hanging out at the popular bar that boasts flashy disco balls and topless chicks, polyesterized super swinger Charlie (Glenn Mure) hypothesizes on why that might be: “all your dump needs is a few go-go girls and you got it made” says Charlie in a thick long-island accent, but Joe ain’t buying it. Maybe it’s because Charlie is getting slapped by every girl in the club and the head of the college cheerleaders (Laura Osment doing shades of Mary Waronov) says “he looks like the creature that ate Cleveland!” Damn, which creature is this exactly? I want to see that movie! A lounge lizard rampaging through Ohio? Oh wait, I think that was probably just Jon Stone in the '70s.

All of this takes up the first 15 minutes of the movie in order to showcase a huge disco dance number that is so ridiculous that it is impossible to even try to conceive that anyone would shoot it with a straight face. Did I say “straight”? Man that dude in the cowboy hat and the unitard is about the gayest thing I’ve ever seen… and I sat through The Paul Lynde Halloween Special! One of the amusing things about this sequence is that at random intervals during the dance number, Vincent cuts in some completely gratuitous shots of topless dancers moving in semi-unison on a completely different set! Hey, the guy clearly made a judgment call during the rushes: “Fifteen minutes in and we got no titties! This won’t do!” Damn skippy Chuck, you da man.

Meanwhile the Harrison College cheerleaders are working on their initia – err, I mean, tryouts, with the freshmen girls using their favorite chant: “we’re gonna roast them, toast them, cover them in spit, we’re gonna maim them, shame them, make them look like shit!” When the football players stop their push-ups to cheer for the cheerleaders, the coach (Paul Giaccobbe) yells (with a lisp) “Whadda you guys think this is, a Las Vegas nightclub? Work you sonsabitches! On your backs!” Ummmm… what Coach? I think working on your back is a very Las Vegas kinda thing. Conveniently Joe just happens to be in the stands watching with his way-too-understanding girlfriend June (Stephanie Lawlor), who just so happens to be the cheerleading coach. Joe’s flash of brilliance occurs after the cheerleaders blow some attitude in the direction of the jocks (including porn star Randy West) who then steal a hose and spray them down… soaking their shirts! Aha! The connection is made! Joe is going to host a wet t-shirt contest! Genius! Can you hear Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland spinning in their graves? Ok, so maybe Mickey Rooney isn’t dead yet, but I’m sure he will be after he sees this!

Couldn't afford Mary Waronov huh?

At first Joe tries to rope his girlfriend into doing it, and she firmly draws the line there. This is fine since she is cute, but she ain’t no Penthouse Pet. That means it’s up to Charlie to bring in the chicks. Cue the muted horns… yep, Charlie brings in a dizzy dame in a dimestore wig (Cecile Mann) to compete against Violet. The outcome of the competition leads to some slightly dissatisfied patrons and the conclusion that maybe if they offered prizes for the winners, their competition might attract better talent. Again... Genius! The next one brings in the cheerleaders who compete against the local girls. Joe decides against the snotty cheerleaders (who are clearly hotter) and you know what that means? Bar fight! Of course this latest contest attracts the squinty gaze of the local morality enforcers who decide, over tea, that this smut has to be stopped before men crazed with lust run amok in the town raping anything in grabbing distance. Joe being the idio – err, I mean, gentleman that he is sets them up with a table to get them to stop picketing and saying things like “didn’t your mother tell you not to play with wet t-shirts?”. After pops gives them something akin to jungle juice instead of their iced teas the ladies become quite the fan of dancing, paving the way for the final contest.

Since the prizes have now reached epic proportions (a color TV!!), The Hot Chick arrives, none other than Penthouse Pet 1982 and former Mrs. Ken “The Soldier” Wahl, Corinne Alphen. Naturally she steals the show from the locals and the cheerleaders. Her prize? She gets to dance with this guy:

Be warned, this movie is cheap, cheesy and does not exactly sport cutting edge wit, but, for some reason strangely compelling and it unquestionably blows away wannabe playahs like the terminally un-fun PICK-UP SUMMER (1980). Seriously, it may have taken me three separate viewings to take it all in, but I kept coming back for more skid-row cheese and hilarious disco fetishes. Yeah and the rampant toplessness sure didn’t hurt either. Did I mention Corinne Alphen? You can keep Jenna Jameson, I'll take Corinne Alphen any day of the week. Thank you Mr. Vincent.

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.