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, September 30, 2010

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

Wrapping up the modern adaptations has been fraught with peril more perilous than any of the perils Pauline ever had to face. You’d think in this age of fast-paced, action oriented, mega-budgeted action vehicles that it would be a no-brainer to throw a fedora on a well-groomed head and retread the steps Cannon took to re-invent the turn of the century adventure piece via Indiana Jones. Not so easy as it turns out.

In 1986, the Australian Burbank Film Company decided that the world was crying out for an animated adaptation of “King Solomon’s Mines” suitable for the whole family. The BFC made a career of sorts from ’82 to ‘88 cranking out a slew of literary adaptations of Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and many others. To be fair, the idea of doing an animated adaptation of such things as Homer’s “The Odyssey” and Alexandre Dumas’ “The Man in the Iron Mask” is not really inherently bad. What is bad is the fact that BFC decided that nobody would want to see an animated adaptation of a literary classic unless it was done with the sensibility of a poverty-stricken Hanna-Barbera, except without the sense of irony or drug-culture hipness.

Combining the two glorious achievements of complete bastardization and skid-row animation, BFC gave us a version of “King Solomon’s Mines” complete with a Germanic villain (see how far Cannon’s influence spread?) in lederhosen and a rather disturbing flashback to the Biblical era. In this flashback King Solomon is shown hoarding away his vast wealth in a labyrinthine cave so that no one else could touch it. Because he feels she is too greedy, he decides to entomb his wife in with the gold as she screams and begs for her life. We aren’t told which wife this was, but since most accounts indicate that he had a plethora (seven hundred, according to the western bible), it’s obviously not a big deal. The main cruxt of the story has Quatermain, Good and Curtis searching for Good’s brother as in Haggard’s novel, but adds comic attacks via hot air-balloon and other slapstick sequences (such as one villain being bonked on the head with coconuts) that would make a four-year old cringe. The only thing more amazing than the fact that they were able to pawn off this paste bauble is the fact that they did it with 37 different films in a mere six years!

In 2004, HBO films decided to take a crack at Rider’s epic with a three hour adaptation titled KING SOLOMON’S MINES. With Patrick Swayze in the lead role and the deep pockets of HBO, you’d think now is the time to get our adventure on! Never mind that the story was keeping the re-tooled formula of the 1950 adaptation with a woman in the wild, this is gonna be great! Hell, the woman in question is Allison Doody, who as we all know had her brush with the progeny of this literary classic in INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989)!

You want action? Adventure? Hemmingway-esque machismo? Forget it! You get what HBO gives you bitch, and you’ll like it! This tedious chore of a film starts out on a bad note with the first title card reading “Hallmark Entertainment”. Brace yourself! This is gonna hurt.

Since the entire concept of the safari is distastefully un-PC, we need to make sure that we establish Quatermain as a sensitive ‘90s male… even though it’s not the ‘90s anymore. While taking out a boorish, fat, loud jackass on an elephant hunt, issues arise. The fat man wants to shoot anything that moves and is particularly keen on shooting at the herd of female elephants. As anyone who’s never been laid knows, females are sacred temples of life that should be worshipped and protected with as much chest-thumping as possible. Here Quatermain declares with a righteous fervor that females are off limits and they will continue to track and hunt a male as per the contract.

After being cold-cocked by his own partner (because they are being paid a lot of money), the hunter takes some wild shots into the female elephants and their floppy-eared toddlers while giggling maniacally. We haven’t even reached the punchline for this pre-credit sequence and you can already see that the next three hours are going to be about as much fun as a prostate infection. When Quatermain comes to, back at the camp, he gives a huge stirring speech about how there is nothing in the world more dangerous than a wounded female elephant. They are mothers and their instinct is to protect their offspring and if they are wounded they know who did it and they will hunt that person down... and will not stop until you are dead! Ok, so I added that last part but still, it’s a hell of a moment. After making the big speech our douchebag hunter chuckles at the silly man with a lump on his head and walks into the bush to drain the main vein. Suddenly he notices something hiding, peeking at him through the foliage. It’s the mother elephant just waiting to pounce! Really. Seriously, I am not making that up. The elephant snuck up on the camp like some sort of four and half ton ninja and hid in the freakin’ bushes! The elephant goes on a rampage through the camp and stops short when faced by Quatermain whose sad eyes look into her sad eyes, the strings swell and the elephant slowly lays down and dies. The strings swell even more as Quatermain tears up and says “sorry girl”. Are we done now? Can I go home? 

Ok, so now that we have that shit out of the way, we’ve set the stage for Quatermain to be the sensitive big-game hunter, so now we can get on with some awesome action, right? Right? Ha! What were you thinking? Now it’s time for a dramatic scene in which Quatermain decides to leave Africa and return to England to see his estranged son. After much sensative man-love between Quatermain and his native buddies, not to mention swelling strings... Now it’s time for some action! Oh, wait, no. No, now it’s time for some heavy drama between separated father and son with lots of hugging, eye-watering and disapproving grandparents. Ok, now it’s time for some – oh fuck it, never mind! As if the  never-ending sappy-ass drama wasn’t bad enough, Quatermain is now a wine connoisseur (complete with swirling and bouquet sniffage) and his quest to the mines is made because he, the cultured white man, must stop the local political factions, the ignorant natives, from using it’s treasure to finance their military regimes! Ok, that tears it. Sorry, I refuse to sit through the rest of this crap. “But you are like some totally anal, completist movie nerd of doom” I hear you say. Yeah, ok, so I did fast-forward to see if I missed anything remotely action oriented, but, sit through this for the sake of posterity? Hell no. The line has to be drawn somewhere and this is it. I’d rather sit through some damn Asylum crap than this wannabe Lifetime Network special.

In 2004 TNT debuted their first film in a trilogy of successful Indiana Jones knock-offs, THE LIBRARIAN: QUEST FOR THE SPEAR. Inspired by the popularity of the 2004 uber-RAIDERS plagerist NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS (not reviewed here simply because of who it stars), the TV movie was mostly Indiana Jones with liberal doses of HELLBOY (2004) and, erm, NIGHT AT THE MEUSEUM (2006) which it predates. In 2006, the sequel, THE LIBRARIAN II: RETURN TO KING SOLOMON’S MINES, saw the affable, not entirely macho Flynn Carsen (Noah Wyle) return as the archaeologist who is working for a secret organization who keeps magical antiquities out of the hands of bad guys in a secret basement in the New York library.

In the opening sequence Carsen and his ummmm… “native” guide are trying to grab the mythical Crystal Skull from the hands of black leather trenchcoat wearing ruffians in the Utah dessert. Clearly these guys aren’t the sharpest spades in the dirt as it is a desert… and they are wearing black leather coats. However it does provide for a rather well shot chase sequence with our heroes on horseback and the villains throwing dynamite at them from their motorcycles and dune buggy. Oh, and yes, that is the same mythical Crystal Skull that another more well pedigreed archeologist went looking for in Peru in 2008. Jesus, how un-freakin'-original was that wretched sequel anyway?

Anyway, in spite of the Native American sidekick being about as subtle as Eddie Anderson’s Rochester routine, there’s plenty of action, big camera shots and a good, solid sense of adventure. Doubly so when the setting switches to Cairo where machine-gun toting mercenaries chase a professor who is carrying the location to the secret mines of King Solomon. Directed by veteran TV director Jonathan Frakes, best known for his role as Riker on the relentlessly melodramatic “Star Trek: Next Generation”, there are actually a lot of things to like about this movie. The cast is for the most part good for a TV movie, with Bob Newhart being the stand-out as Carsen’s boss. Sure Bob is doing the same shtick that has served him well for decades, but it’s still entertaining, particularly when the alternative is the comedy involving the fact that the relics that Carson retrieves all develop a life of their own when ensconced in the Library. Yeah, the comedy is goofy TV stuff and the CG effects are pretty low-rent and over-used, but believe me, I have seen worse.

If you are looking for fast-paced, light-weight Indiana Jones-esque adventure, this will certainly fit the bill. While this is definitely the Bud Light of the subgenre, as opposed to the Guinness that is RAIDERS, at least it’s not the American hefeweizen (served with orange slice and Virgina Slims) that was the Swayze version. Proceed at your own peril.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: ROBBERS OF THE SACRED MOUNTAIN (1982)

You hear that sound?  That is us scrapping the bottom of the barrel as we wind up our Indiana Jones knock off spectacular.  You know things are getting rough when we tackle Canadian Indiana Jones rip-offs!  Ha, I kid our loveable friends to the North as they make exploitation movies as good as the rest of us.  And while they jumped on the Jones bandwagon rather quickly, this is, sadly, not one of their good exploitation flicks.  This made-for-pay TV feature started life as FALCON’S GOLD but then got the decidedly more RAIDERS-ian title of ROBBERS OF THE SACRED MOUNTAIN.  

The film opens in Mexico in 1931 with some monks guarding a sacred treasure.  Some banditos arrive to steal it, but the crafty monks get away and hide the plate-size gold medallions in a volcano.  Brother Juan is the only one who survives the journey and he is saved by some Indians.  Cut to 50 years later as archeologist Christopher Falcon (John Marley) is contacted by a friend to verify an unusual piece.  Seems some random dude has one of these ten precious ornaments and – in the mother of all exposition speeches – Falcon explains how the center of the discs is made from pieces of a meteorite that can shoot freakin’ laser beams.  Naturally, this is a hot commodity amongst local villains as Falcon soon finds out when assassins attack him and the treasure holder at a museum.  The unlucky owner is stabbed to death, while Falcon is sliced in the calf with an axe (but not before Marley gets some licks in; a true sight to behold).  Falcon is saved by British reporter Archibald “Hank” Richards (Simon MacCorkindale), who has been incessantly hounding Falcon for an interview.  Archibald?  Yeah, he might be a Brit.

Obviously indebted to Richards, Falcon asks him to pick up his granddaughter Tracy (Louise Vallance) at the airport in exchange for an interview.  Wait a sec, you saved his life and now he is asking for more favors?  Richards picks up the school girl outfit clad Tracy, but the duo is quickly kidnapped via the old “gassing in the back of the limo” trick.  The orchestrator of this abduction is a Mexican super villain with the Hispanic challenged name of Ivar Murdoch (George Touliatos).  He visits Falcon in the hospital and demands an expedition to find the remaining treasures in exchange for the release of his granddaughter.  Of course, Murdoch doesn’t count on the cheeky Archibald, er, Hank escaping via clever use of a gas line and Tracy’s skirt.  Later, in a completely incongruous bit, we find out why Murdoch wants these gold plates as he displays a high tech laser beam for various heads of countries.  He blows up a satellite, which effectively shuts down all the power in the city.  How exactly a satellite can cause cars to die in traffic is beyond me.

Falcon can’t let a super villain with an odd name find the remaining discs so he organizes an expedition into the jungles of Mexico.  Since Falcon is incapacitated, Richards offers to go and the team hires guide B.G. (Blanca Guerra) and troublesome Tracy sneaks onto the team disguised as a Mexican chef (in a disguise that makes her look like the Frito Bandito).  So we are off onto (as the VHS box claims) “a thrilling jungle adventure for mysterious treasure.”  Naturally, B.G. is double teaming the group and working for Ivar, but Richards turns a blind eye since she is always getting it on with him.  The group makes it to the monastery from the opening, but the monks have no idea where the treasure is.  Cue Tracy finding a mysterious key and a crazy old guy who will tell the story of what happened to Brother Juan.  So Richards, B.G. and Tracy decide to head down river to find the Indians but they are captured by Murdoch’s men.  But suddenly they are saved by some of the Indians we keep hearing about.  What stand up dudes!  The Indians then force Richards to square off in a loin cloth against one of Murdoch’s men in a fight over a pit of flames.  Not so cool dudes.

Naturally the guy named Archibald prevails when it comes to a tough man contest.  Ha, just kidding, he is saved when Falcon arrives via helicopter.  Damn, dude, I thought you said you couldn’t travel?  In the village our team finds a spot where Tracy’s acquired key fits and, wouldn’t you know it, it forms a map to the location of the volcano where the remaining treasure is hidden.  Our group heads to the mountain and proves to be the luckiest treasure hunters ever as the volcano is erupting and said the resulting shaking reveals the location of the hidden gold plates.  They get away, but soon find Murdoch waiting for them.  Gee, I wonder if the good guys will win this one.
The face of viewers while watching this:

Sorry if that review is a bit long on scene description, but there is really not much to say about this routine flick.  Director Bob Schulz was a technical director on '70s sitcoms like GOOD TIMES and THREE’S COMPANY and this is the only feature he ever directed.  It is obvious why as this is pretty flat all around.  There is just nothing in the way of thrills here.  You know you are in trouble when the film’s highlight is a dummy falling from a helicopter during the climax (see pic to the left).  The IMDb lists this as being based on a story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but the film itself does not.  I can’t find any corresponding story in his bibliography, so I suspect it is an error.  The cast is fine but MacCorkindale is an odd choice for the Indiana Jones-esque role.  He is verrry British, so much so that I could see Michael York (who MacCorkindale slightly resembles) meeting him and saying, “That is one smarmy sounding bastard.”  Guerra, who you might recognize from SANTA SANGRE, delivers the film’s nudity, which is unusual for a TV production (gotta love the open minded countries).  Marley is good in his role and it is a hoot seeing him jump into a boxing stance and throw some punches during one of the early fights (see pic below).  His stunt double that looks like Alex Trebek circa 1986 then gets some work in.  If you haunted video store aisles in the 80s, ROBBERS OF THE SACRED MOUNTAIN is one of those titles you probably saw all the time and passed up.  You’ve survived this long without seeing it, so no need to see it now.

Kimbo Slice, watch your back!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: KING SOLOMON'S TREASURE (1977)

Nearly 20 years after the last cinematic adventure of Mr. Quatermain, the time was right to bring him back to the silver screen. 1965 had seen Hammer Films release an adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s most popular book SHE with international success, in no small part due to the casting of Ursula Andress as the tit-ular character (oh, stop groaning!).

Low-rent, high-concept uber-producer Harry Allan Towers apparently decided not only was the time right to exploit Haggard's work, but all three of Haggard’s great novels in one fell swoop! I’m not sure what Towers was planning to do for a sequel, not leaving himself much to work with if the need arose, but I suspect he figured that he’d burn that bridge when he got to it. Apparently he was not the only one high on the idea, as Towers managed to assemble a reasonably impressive cast of not-quite A-list English actors and signed on Canadian-born, British TV director Alvin Rakoff. Uh oh, did I say “TV director”? That can only mean one thing... this well-trod ground might be a bit more parched than usual.

The story is told in flashback by the senior member (Wilfred Hyde White) of an English gentleman’s club in a scene that looks as if it was completely lifted by Ngai Kai Lam for the opening of THE SEVENTH CURSE (1986). Allan Quatermain (John Colicos) is shown hunting a taxidermied leopard that is poking it’s head up and down behind some rocks. Quatermain moves in for the kill and… hey, it is a dude in a dead leopard skin! Quatermain shoots him, grabs his spiffy medallion and heads back to jolly old England. Sir Henry Curtis (David McCallum) examines the medallion back at the gentleman’s club and declares it to be Phoenician. He decides that an expedition is in order to find the origins of said medallion and that all the chums should jolly-well do it. John Good (Patrick Macnee) wants nothing to do with another one of Quatermain’s hare-brained adventures but is roped in after losing a game of billiards. Supposedly Good is along for the ride as the navigator, but clearly seems to do little more than use the group as guinea pigs for his experiments in French cookery. This is the ‘70s after all and French cooking was a hot pop-culture topic… ten years ago.

Once in Africa, after being attacked by Good’s recipe for Hungarian goulash with “a trifle too much pepper”, the party is attacked by natives! Before you can say “poor man’s ZULU”, servants are being stabbed by spears, white men are ducking and a covered wagon careens over a rock and explodes in a ball of flame! Ummmm… I guess that was the dynamite cart. Right Alvin? Showing up out of nowhere is Quartermain’s old friend, the axe-wielding Umslopogaas (the ever reliable Ken Gampu) to hack the crap out of the bad natives with his army of good natives. In one “wtf” moment, two natives are shown rolling around on the ground with one biting the other one on the thighs and ass. For a minute there I was wondering if I had gotten the right film in the mail!

The movie spends an extraordinary amount of time showing the party walking, riding, climbing and… yes, dancing. Because of the tradition of the native dance scenes in previous SOLOMON adaptations we get a nice long one here. Umslopogaas leads the dancing with what is clearly a real African tribe while Quatermain and Curtis drink something presumably lethal and Good chases topless native jailbait. Oh, those wacky sailors! Along the way to the place where Quatermain killed the leopard man, the group stop at church where they eat soufflé and allow a French chef to join them. Why? So they can work in a scene where the chef trades some natives a soufflé for some boats and get some comic relief out of watching the natives flee in terror as the soufflé falls. I know, I know, it is every bit as hilarious as it sounds. In one memorable moment, the reverend’s daughter is found being threatened by a giant frilled-lizard head that is poking it’s head through a cave opening via blue screen looking exactly like an outtake from the old “Land of the Lost” TV show. It's like Will and Holly got yet another uncle! Though as much as I’m not huge fan of John Colicos wardrobe-dummy approach to acting, I think Uncle Quatermain would kick Uncle Jack’s ass any day of the week.

For some reason the persistent thought kept nagging me, “why wasn’t this in 3D?” Man, it would have been perfect and a great way to fix the damn walking scenes! Granted in one of the scenes they discuss wine pairings to keep you riveted to the screen and throw in more yuks such as a monkey stealing a priceless bottle, chugging it and belching. Phew! Comic relief, you are a cruel mistress. Admit it, a wine chugging monkey would be much more entertaining in 3D. Plus, cheesy monsters, I think, demand 3D. When the party get their boats stuck, by chance they also happen upon a surprisingly lumpy brontosaur. After a stroke of brilliance, they decide to tie ropes to their boats and to the bronto’s tail and then scare it into moving. A feat which is only achieved by whistling with a blade of grass. It seems a shame that if you are going to do a claymation dinosaur scene, they couldn’t think of something just a bit more interesting to do. C’mon, I’m not expecting Harryhausen here, but honestly, if Scott Speigel and Sam Raimi can make it happen on Super 8, I'll be turning a deaf ear to Towers’ excuses.

As if to make up for that rather dull dino scene, the party are attacked by a hoard of giant crabs with glowing eyes! One snaps a claw around Curtis’ leg. Umslopogaas hacks the entire claw off and Quatermain throws it away! What the hell dude? Man, you have a French chef and a giant crab claw. Do the freakin' math! You and Curtis have been bitching about the food the entire trip. What are you thinking? Eh, maybe they were out of butter.

Finally they find the mysterious city of the Phoenicians Africa. It’s been a while since I took an anthropology class, but weren’t the Phoenicians in the Middle East? Like everything biblical? No matter it’s the Phoenicians: white guys who speak English and whose guards dress like Roman centurions. Sure, makes perfect sense. The group is told that the city is surrounded by a moat of poisonous snakes! Awesome! We then cut to a close up of six snakes squiggling around in the dirt. Bogus! Once in the city, they find that Queen Nyleptha (Britt Eklund) digs gold lamé, English twits and fruit and cheese courses. What she doesn’t like is the crazy leopard priest dude (Sam Williams) that has any strangers who get near the city killed. The Phoenician’s seem to have come into possession of the treasure of King Solomon’s mines and have hidden it away, thus abolishing greed and therefore abolishing all strife. Except for the greed of strangers and the strife of killing them, I'm assuming.

I’d guess that centuries of inbreeding and isolation has left her a couple asps short of a moat, as the queen decides to make Curtis to choose between her undying love or a cryptic map to the hiding place of Solomon’s infamous stash. Curtis doesn't hesitate for a second to leap at this once in a life-time opportunity to get filthy rich! Suddenly the priest decides to stage a coup with his squad of plumed leopard dudes, just as the volcano over the city begins to erupt. Man, did they steal my 6th grade science project? Baking soda, red food coloring and vinegar, right? This is easily the highlight of the film as the city falls apart and citizens run directly under falling masonry while our chums idly try to decipher the clues to the location of the gold. Interestingly the location of the treasure is revealed by the sun hitting a crystal which focuses a beam of light on the correct obelisk which is covered with Egyptian hieroglyphics. Ok, so it ain’t exactly the Tanis Map Room, but damn the similarity is pretty damn eye-brow raising.

This is certainly not the best adaptation out there, but it managed to hold my attention, mostly due to the cast and rampant silliness. At the same time, the ridiculous amount of padding and general uneventfulness of major portions of the film really make this something I can’t really rave about. I think the most disappointing thing about the film is the casting of John Colicos as Quatermain. He doesn’t need to be a pretty-boy like Stewart Granger, but damn, he looks more like a cranky plumber than a rugged adventurer. Even so, that would be fine if he had some decent acting chops or some screen charisma, of which he has neither and is constantly outshone by every one else in the cast. Brother, if you are the lead and David McCallum is stealing your scenes, there’s something seriously wrong. Clearly these video companies felt the same way:

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Video Junkie Conference, Aug. 2010.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 24, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: The Asian Invasion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 19, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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