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!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The XXX-Factor: More Classic Adult Ads

A bit too busy for a big review post (yeah right, you say), so here are some more great classic ads for the adult films of yesteryear.  This was back when mainstream industry mags like Variety and Box Office had no problem advertising smutty product right across an ad for a PG-rated kids flick.  Enjoy!

Finally, here is a funny as hell article from Box Office about the set of a John Holmes flick being raided by the cops and shut down.  First, I love that the whole thing was found out by Peeping Toms, er, cops peeking through a window. Second, poor Roberta Findlay getting no respect in that last paragraph with her name misspelled.  Click to embiggen!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Gweilo Dojo: THE LOST EMPIRE (1983)

It’s times like these when the tragic loss of fine exploitation talent hurts the most. When Bill Wynorski took over after Jim’s tragic accident, it was clear who was in the front of the talent line in that family. None makes this point more clear than Jim Wynorski’s freshman outing. When people ask us why we like Jim Wynorski (which, to our dismay, no one ever does), this is what we’re talking about. Virtually exploding with cinematic enthusiasm, young sonny Jim grabs all of his favorite movie clichés and frappe’s them on high. The result? The polar opposite of “suck”. Sporting a fantastic b-movie cast, catchy electronic score and lots of eye-candy, it's amazing nobody has seen fit to give this a full-blown special edition DVD. 

Opening with an oddball scene that really sets the stage for the oddball antics to come, a busty blonde is trying on jewelry in an old Chinese man’s store only to have three ninja-lookin’ dudes with spinning shuriken on chains appear out of nowhere. The old man busts all Dirty Harry on them, but they are able to deflect the bullets with their stars! Faster than you can say Sho Kosugi, the cops are on the scene and for some inexplicable reason are able to shoot the bad-guys (firearm training, perhaps), but not before being taken out themselves. One cop, mortally wounded, ends up in the hospital.

At least she dressed
for the occasion
As it turns out, he is the brother of tougher than leather karate copette Angel Wolfe (Melanie Vincz). Before he dies he passes on one of the stars and a cryptic, rambling message about the devil and hands off one of the ninja's shuriken. Of course this makes perfect sense to Wolfe’s fed boyfriend Rob (Paul Coufos), who sees the star and declares “I’m talking about international terrorism, mass murder and a legend of supernatural horror that goes back over 200 years!” Of course he is talking about the legend of Lee Chuck (not to be confused with the legend of LeChuck), an asian crimelord who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for immortality. Apparently he had a lousy agent at the time because there was a stipulation in the contract that stated that Lee Chuck had to provide one soul every twenty-four hours to stay alive. Even on a Sunday? What a pain in the ass!

Lee Chuck, as it turns out, is after the Eye of Avatar; a set of jewels created by a long forgotten race called the Lemurians. Ummm… ok. If the eyes are joined then the wielder becomes all powerful. Fair enough, though this sounds a bit like DEATHSTALKER (1983) and damned if Lee Chuck doesn’t smack of Lo Pan, who came along some three years later. Anyway, the presumed guise of Lee Chuck is Dr. Sin Do (Angus Scrimm), a megalomaniacal cult leader who has an island fortress, is plotting to take over the world and… wait for it… holds secret deathsports in his private arena! I wonder if he ever invites Master Bong Soo Han over for tea?

So now Wolfe has got it all figured out and there is only one thing to do… sign up for the tournament of course! But not so fast! See Dr. Sin Do is a little crackers (and who wouldn’t be after killing people every day for 200 years, the tedium would surely drive you mad), so he has a stipulation in the entry rules. Entrants must be in teams of three. I’m sure you can see exactly where this is heading, right? Now Wolfe must search for a duo of hot female ass-kickers so she can enter in the tournament. First stop? The local Indian reservation to summon an ex-policewoman named Whitestar (Raven De La Croix) who arrives on a white horse and cracks one liners like May West and dispenses pearls of Indian wisdom. When learning that Wolfe’s brother is dead she offers her sympathy by saying “you’ve endured great sadness… the winds will take care of him”. What the hell is that supposed to mean? Who wants to have a breeze be actively involved in their well being, even if they are dead?

Wolfe and Whitestar decide that they need a couple cans of redneck champagne in order to figure out what their next move will be. To achieve that end, they get up in a couple of skimpy outfits and head to the local Saddle Rack. C’mon, you know that this will not end well. Sure enough, on their way out the door a couple of shitkickers decide they are going to get some… the hard way. This leads to a bout of busty femme-fu that would make Russ Meyer shed a tear in appreciation.

At this point the movie begins to feel a bit episodic, but hell, the episodes are so much fun, who cares? Next on the whistle-stop tour through the exploitation cinema chestnuts is a women’s penitentiary! Wolfe decides she’s going to recruit a tough (and yes, busty) badass named… err, Heather (Angela Aames), what? No special name for her? The only problem is that they have to wait to talk to her until she is done having a brawl in the yard with superbitch Whiplash (Angelique Pettyjohn) who is attired in what must be a prison-issue sectional leather dominatrix outfit (yes, you read that right) and their brawl is conveniently located near a big patch of mud. Fuckin' A, Jim, you are, errr, I mean were, the man! Since this whip-cracking, top-ripping brawl is perfectly acceptable for this prison, also acceptable is the fact that you can go visit inmates, not in a visitor’s area behind bullet-proof glass, under heavy security, but you can just go and hang out with them while they take a shower! Yep, Heather’s release back into the free world is negotiated while she is naked, wet and soapy. To be honest, it took me the third viewing for it to actually dawn on me that this might not actually be very realistic. I don’t know why it never occurred to me before. No idea.

Lost Empire Girl Fight by Sleazegrinder

So now that we have our team together, it’s time to head off to Sin Do’s island, courtesy of his henchman Kodo (Robert Tessier) who’s giant, fluffy eyebrows seem to appear and disappear throughout the rest of the film. Once on the island the girls are run through a battery of tests (many of which involve a noticeable lack of clothing) before the tournament. They also discover that the island is a prison for failed combatants and that the security team will hunt down escapees with a gorilla on a chain! Add to that killer robot-tarantulas, a UL approved death ray, and a decapitated, smack-talkin’ zombie head and you have a movie that packs in so much entertainment value, that you might actually forget that it really doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense. Actually, it makes very little sense, but trust me even if you do notice, you'll never care.

You could criticize THE LOST EMPIRE for hitting tons of cinematic clichés on it’s way to it’s ultimate goal, which is yet another staple of drive-in cinema, but that would cheapen it. And it’s already cheap. This is Wynorski paying homage to all of the things we love about drive-in movies and exploitation flicks in general, almost in the vein of a spoof, but with without the cynicism. Without actually ripping anyone off, he utilizes influences from James Bond, Jack Hill, Dirty Harry, Bob Clouse, Russ Meyer, and many more, all done at a breakneck pace and tongue-in-cheek style. In a great bit that introduces us to Officer Wolfe, a group of thugs are holding some gradeschool kids hostage. The captain (Kenneth Tobey) calls for Wolfe to go in and kick ass, while Sgt. Prager (Blackie Dammett) is calling for moderation. Naturally Wolfe goes in guns-blazing on a black motorcycle, blowing away perps left and right and when it’s time for the bad guy to go down, he’s sure she’s out of ammo “Ok, pig, that’s six, you are all mine!”. Wolfe blasts him across a desk and says “if you are going to come to school punk, you better learn to count!” and if that doesn’t get a chuckle out of you, you should probably pass this one up because you will never understand the true genius of Jim Wynorski... not Bill.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The "Never Got Made" File #57: THE OVERLORDS

It is always sad to see an unrealized project.  It is especially sad, however, when a project dies because someone behind it literally dies.  Such is the case with the proposed THE OVERLORDS.  Riding high on Lucas and Spielberg's coattails post-STAR WARS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS respectively, exploitation director William Girdler was planning an epic sounding sci-fi flick.  In just a few short years, Girdler had established a keen exploitation eye.  When THE EXORCIST hit big, he came out with the blaxploitation version in ABBY (1974).  Warner Bros congratulated him on his success and even sent him flowers.  Yeah right, they sued his ass off and got the film pulled from theaters.  Of course, this didn't stop Girdler.  With THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE raking in big bucks, he put out THREE ON A MEAT HOOK (1975). When Spielberg hit it big earlier with JAWS, Girdler transported the action inland and gave us GRIZZLY (1976).

There is no reason to doubt his riff on aliens and close encounters would have been awesome.  Tragically, it never got made as Girdler was killed in a helicopter crash on January 21, 1978 in Manila.  He was there scouting locations for this upcoming sci-fi project that boasted it would be shot in 17 (!) countries.  Here is a mention of the soon to be abandoned project in Starlog circa 1978:

And here is a trade ad that Avco Embassy ran for the film in Variety in 1978.  Listed screenwriter Harry Kleiner gave the world FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966) and BULLITT (1968), so you know it would have at least had a good script.  I don't know about you, but seeing this ad makes me sad for whatcouldahbeen.  I, for one, would have welcomed our new film THE OVERLORDS.

Here is THE OVERLORDS in an Avco Embassy ad from the same issue.  I like the filming location being listed as "the universe."

UPDATE (to be said in Robert Stack voice)! Reader Jerome alerted us to this project living beyond Girdler's demise (see his link in the comments section below).  A little further digging unearthed some additional details. Here is a small item from the June 12, 1978 issue of Box Office promising Marvin J. Chomsky taking over as director with filming to begin in August 1979.

And this news item appeared in Starlog in April 1979.  This gives plenty more plot details and still lists Chomsky as taking over as director.  Ultimately, it never got made but it still did manage to kick around for a while after Girdler's untimely passing.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cinemasochism: SAVAGE VENGEANCE (1993)

If there is one subgenre of horror films that I particularly don't like, it is the rape-revenge flicks.  They tend to reinforce any misconceived notions about the genre being overly mysoginistic and I visibly cringe when someone says they “enjoyed” something like I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978).  But we have to remain professional here at Video Junkie and take the bad with the good.  And who am I to pass up something described as "not worthy of spit" on the IMDb?  So while most horror neophytes were going nuts over the recent remake of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (“oh man, it is so much better than the original and I love hardcore horror”), we decided to take in writer-director (I use those terms lightly) Donald Farmer’s shot-on-video semi-sequel SAVAGE VENGEANCE (aka I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE PART 2), where he somehow managed to convince Camille Keaton to reprise her role from the original film. Yeah, we're talking true hardcore horror here you sissies!

The “film” opens with Jennifer Hills (Keaton) pulling her car off the side of the road and trapsing through the woods so she can go read a magazine by a waterfall.  Really (there’s gonna be a lot of those)! For some odd reason four dudes in a Volkswagen pull off the same road and park next to her car.  What is it with this place?  They then head out into the woods as well, spot Jennifer and then rape her. Before you have flashbacks to the griminess of the first film, I should tell you this is the tamest rape ever as the guys just tend to dry hump her.  In addition, director Farmer actually captures shots where you can clearly see Keaton still has her jeans on.  Yeah, we’re dealing with this kind of sophisticated filmmaking.

When the ordeal finally ends, we get a graphic that says “5 years later” and cut to skuzzy Tommy (Farmer, proving to be a triple threat and looking too much like Randy Quaid) trying to pick up a chick in a bar (with future scream queen Melissa Moore badly lipsynching on stage). When his “can I buy you a Slim Jim” line doesn’t work, he stabs her outside the bar when she leaves. Cut to a college law class. The professor wants to test the knowledge of his class and asks if anyone can name a famous case from the past few years.  One girl mentions the case of Jennifer Hills and the professor recounts the details of the rape, her subsequent revenge and the not guilty verdict.  Yup, the opening rape was supposed to be a recreation of the first film.  Even better, the professor says he heard this famous female vigilante is even in this very class (they never actually show Keaton in the classroom).  Really!  The next scene has Jennifer running into her friend Sam (Linda Lyer) in the student union and saying she is quitting college on the first day because of that professor.   “I need to get away,” she says and invites Sam with her to a rented house in the country (did she rent this house between leaving class and now?).  Sam is reluctant until Jennifer says she will buy some beer. Really!

"Can I buy you a Slim Jim?"
On their way to the rental house, the ladies stop at a gas station where Sam runs afoul of Tommy, who is thrown out by white knight Dwayne (Phil Newman).  Such a chivalrous act results in Sam inviting Dwayne out for a visit at their place, but she doesn’t know that Tommy and Dwayne were doing the ol’ good rapist/bad rapist routine.  Jennifer and Sam make it to the house, but Sam is offened by the condition of it and says she is going for a walk in the woods. She gets lost and ends up at Dwayne and Tommy’s cabin where they rape and kill her.  Really!  Jennifer goes looking for Sam, who she claims has been missing for a few hours even though we went from day to night and back to day.  She meets Dwayne and Tommy back at the gas station and they say that Sam is back at their place and invite her back for some pork belly pie to which she agrees. Really!

Once at the cabin, Jennifer sees that Sam is dead and splits into the woods with our two killers in pursuit.  She fights off Tommy and proceeds to beat Farmer with a big stick; an act I am truly envious of.  Dwayne finally catches her in the world’s worst cinematic sneak up. Seriously, watch this clip and tell me how he snuck up on her.

We get another full-pants rape scene that ends with Tommy cutting Jennifer on the chest.  For some reason they think this has killed her and go about their small town lives again.  They get a visit from the Sheriff, who just wants to warn them to “stay clear of them new girls.”  Too late, we’ve already killed them.  But Jennifer has survived and stumbles out of the woods (with no cut on her chest) and stops a passing motorist. No joke, the next scene has Dwayne at a country and western bar where his buddy Bulldog says some redhead was asking about him while she was at the hardware store buying a shotgun and chainsaw.  She said to meet her in the woods tomorrow at noon. Really!  Anyway, Dwayne shows up and Jennifer slices his head in half with a chainsaw (the only worthwhile FX).  We then cut to Tommy in his house playing with his corpses.  Jennifer shows up with a shotgun, calls Tommy out and then shoots him in the balls (they never actually show it). The end. Really!

Sorry if that summary is all over the place, but that is exactly how this movie monstrocity unfolds.  Watching this gave a new meaning of cinemasochism and this epic launched right into my top 5 of the worst films I’ve ever seen. Hell, this might be top 3!  How director-writer-star Donald Farmer convinced anyone, let alone the star of the first film, to appear in this is beyond me.  It was shot in the late 80s but didn’t hit video until 1993.  Original GRAVE director (and Keaton’s ex-husband) Meir Zarchi apparently sued Farmer over it and this resulted in changing Jennifer’s name.  How did they do this?  By blanking the audio any time someone says her last name!  Of course, this is a "film" that opens with a title card that reads SAVAGE VENGANCE.  Yup, you know you are in for a good time when the capable filmmakers misspell their title.  Don't believe me?  Check it out:

But copyright infringement is the least of this film’s worries.  It is so horribly shot that you will be begging for the sophistication of SOV epics like BLOOD CULT or THE RIPPER.  The plotting is also so bad that you have to wonder if Farmer is touched in the head.  I mean, he can’t even properly convey how many days this action unfolds in. Plus, he couldn’t even arrange to have a scene where Jennifer is actually shown buying her instruments of revenge? Instead we get a guy named Bulldog giving us plot exposition!  I never listen to guys named Bulldog.  Of course, this might be because rumor has it Keaton apparently walked out on the filming, er, videotaping.  She took the pseudonym Vickie Kehl on the "finished" product.  I don’t know if that makes me happy or frightened.  I'm sure Farmer wanted this to be hard-edged and shocking like the original.  But, in fact, the only thing that made my jaw drop in this flick is Jennifer getting ten gallons of gas for $10.50.  Really!  The only positive thing about this “film” is that the thing runs 65 minutes, which is still pretty tough to endure.  Well, that and the misspelled title.  I'm just glad my saintly name, William Wilson, has never been associated with something this bad.  Oh, goddamn it, Farmer!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Clonin' the Barbarian: The End...for now!

Hope you enjoyed the coverage on CONAN THE BARBARIAN rip-offs.  After a month of staring at nothing but swords and loin cloths, we figured it is time to end it.  And what better way than with the best Conan spoof ever put to film?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Clonin' the Barbarian: THE NEW BARBARIANS 1 & 2 (1990)

Hey, we promised we’d go out on our Conan coverage with a bang, right?  As we mentioned in our (insanely popular) SAW porn parody review, we’re sure the mainstream filmmakers didn’t really feel they were a success until a XXX version of their film arrived.  I’m sure the people behind CONAN THE BARBARIAN felt the same way (especially that perv Schwarzenegger).  Surprisingly, there wasn’t a true adult take on the Conan character around the time he was king of the box office.  The fleshmerchants did, however, get clever with the Conan-style.

The first notable Conan-influenced title appeared in 1987 with BARBARA THE BARBARIAN.  This featured Barbara Dare in the title role as a leader of female warriors who use men as slaves.  She battles a female adversary (Nina Hartley) and tyrannical king (Randy West) who is after Barb’s virgin sister (Jeanna Fine). Yeah, a virgin in a porn flick.  Haha.  Anyway, the interesting thing about this flick is that it was directed by Gary Graver under his nom-de-porn pseudeonym Robert McCallum.  He was a long-time exploitation cameraman and even directed a few mainstream flicks (most notably the 1982 slasher TRICK OR TREATS).  We haven’t seen this one as it is pretty hard to find, but figured we would give it a mention for historical purposes.  Yeah, that’s right, this is all done for the sake of film history, not because we like ogling nekkid women.  We are serious students of the game here.

Perhaps the most well known of the barbarian breeders are Henri Pachard and Erica Boyer’s THE NEW BARBARIAN flicks. Yeah, I know, you’re thinking of Fred Williamson and the Italians right now, but these are definitely not in the same genre.  Seemingly one giant three hour flick shot at the same time and split into two, these films take place in a land of sword and sorcery.

THE NEW BARBARIANS opens with wizard Zarkon (Pachard) trying to figure out the secret of a glowing emerald crystal.  For some reason it makes everyone in the village horny, but no one, including his daughter Talia (Victoria Paris), believes him when he says it can open doorways to alternate “time zones.”  The flick shows it has its heart in the right place by having their peaceful village ransacked by warriors in the opening minutes.  Well, okay, one guy named Gorgo (Jon Dough), who steals the crystal after killing Zarkon and rides off. Talia sets off (on the same horse, you cheap-o filmmakers) to get her revenge and saves hunky Dak (Randy West) from some Drainer Bitches in the forest along the way.

Gorgo, meanwhile, returns to his camp and gives the crystal to Brog (Randy Spears), the evil warlock who proves his evilness by being mean to his mute woman Yanna (Sabrina Dawn).  “It is ordained that I have a woman who can’t speak,” he remarks.  Lucky dude.  Brog tries to unlock the mysterious secrets of this crystal but has little success.  Yanna, however, seems to get the thing working when she starts masterbating near it.  Hey, I think I know how this thing works now. This causes a time portal to open as a modern day couple (Nina Hartley and Joey Silvera) having sex by their car suddenly appears in the woods by Talia and Dak.  Oh, nice ploy you cheap-o filmmakers (not so fast there, it is all part of the plot).

Anyway, Yanna steals the crystal, escapes by drugging Brog and meets Talia and Dak in the woods.  Turns out she isn’t mute and, even better, she is Dak’s sister!  Yay, our heroic duo is now free to get it on, which they do with abandon.  This, of course, causes the crystal to heat up again right as Brog shows up to reclaim his stolen treasure. He kills Dak in a sword fight that would make Rudy Ray Moore blush before Talia, Yanna and Brog are all zapped to modern-day Los Angeles.  Wait a sec…this is the plot twist from BEASTMASTER II which came out a year later.  Bwhahahahahaha! The film ends with our two females leads trapped in time in an alley by a biker club.  “Where are you from? CONAN THE BARBARIAN?” asks a biker chick before we get the “to be continued…” graphic.

THE NEW BARBARIANS 2 opens with an 11 minute “our story so far…” recap of the events of the first entry.  Seriously, I don’t think anyone is watching this for the plot.  Well, except for me, Mr. Studious Film Historian.  Talia and Sabrina wander around the city in their skimpy outfits, while villain Brog steals some clothes from a dude who looks like a Styx fan in an alley.  He meets up with the girls and convinces them he knows how to get back to their time.  Now here is where the film gets semi-clever (well, as clever as you can get for porn).  Brog convinces a couple he met in a bar to get it on around the crystal so that the sexual energy can open the time portal again. The couple?  Loop (Joey Silvera) and Doris (Nina Hartley), the two folks we saw getting it on in part one during that random time displacement.  So they repeat their sex scene from part one (way to save some $$$), but something goes wrong and our modern day folks find themselves trapped in the barbaric times.  Oh man, time travel displacement in a XXX flick. I’ve truly seen it all.

So Loop and Doris make their way to Brog’s old camp and run into Gorgo, who proves to be quite the Alpha Male as he takes Loop’s woman (“We eat and then I fuck your woman.”). Meanwhile, back in L.A., Talia is in Doris and Loop’s apartment when Melanie (Sharon Kane) shows up looking for Doris for a nude photo shoot.  With her client M.I.A., she convinces Talia that she should do the nudie spread.  Okay, now this is kind of intricate porn plotting I know and love.  The photographer is a guy named Harley (West again), who just happens to be the spittin’ image of Dak.  Brog, meanwhile, has grown accustomed to modern life (that didn’t take long) and is glued in front of the TV (“I must meet the one they call Magic Johnson”). He has no interest in using the crystal to get back to his time period. Helpless, Talia blabs her sob story to Harley and Melanie. She says her father was trying to use the crystal to “prevent the great conflict from happening.” What was this conflict?  It was an epic battle between men and women according to Talia.  “Sounds like World War III,” mentions Melanie, to which Talia replies that “the great conflict came after World War III.” What?  Oh no, quick thinking Harley figures it all out – you’re not from the past, you’re from our future.  DUN DUN DUNNNNNN!  Obviously the only way to remedy this is to have a threesome to see if it can zap you back to your time zone.  Smooth thinking, Harley, smooth thinking.  It works and Talia is sent back to her time zone before her father Zarkon and her lover Dak are killed.  Yay, happy endings!  Hmmm, maybe I should rephrase that.  Yay, plot resolution.  Of course, we end on an ominous note as Zarkon finds the glowing emerald once again.

Damn, did I just summarize two 1990 porn flicks?  I did, but so are the perils of being a serious film historian *puffs on pipe*.  Believe it or not, I actually got a kick out of these flicks.  I have to laugh when the films open with a credit that says “from a concept by Erica Boyer.” I’m sure it probably went something like, “We should totally do a porn version of CONAN THE BARBARIAN!”  Sporting a cast of dozens, these are actually pretty ambitious for the time period.  They actually took the time to have some costumes made and built a tiny village set.  The cast is also game, which is a plus. Victoria Paris always had a rep for being a bit of an airhead, but she is fine (in both senses) here.  Her acting is no worse than anything I’ve seen from Anna Nicole Smith.  Randy West, Sharon Kane and Sabrina Dawn are all actually really decent actors to the point you actually wonder why they were doing porn.  Randy Spears (why so many Randys) hams it up as the villain and adopts a voice that makes him sound like Harvey Fierstein.   For some odd reason, he grunts like Frankenstein’s monster when in modern times.  I also got a kick out of the comedic relief from Silvera and Hartley (and she was, as always, looking mighty fine).

Now don’t go into these expecting some super fantasy flicks. They make the DEATHSTALKER flicks look like CONAN THE BARBARIAN in comparison.  Never lose focus that these are porn movies. They are, however, a time capsule back into what the late 80s/early 90s porn industry looked like on a good day (meaning when the videocamera stayed in focus and the mic only picked up a little bit of wind).  As it stands, they are the best CONAN wannabe XXX features available.  Of course, that is probably going to change soon as Hustler just announced they will be doing a THIS AIN'T CONAN XXX to coincide with the release of the new film this upcoming August.  I’ll definitely check it out…for analysis purposes, of course.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The "Never Got Made" File #56: KING CONAN: CROWN OF IRON

The old saying in Hollywood is you’re only as good as your last picture and Andy and Larry Wachowski were suddenly the best film makers everrrrrr according to Hollywood execs after the release of THE MATRIX (1999).  When asked what they wanted to do post-success, the brothers shocked Warner Bros. by saying they would like to produce a third Conan film.  Not only were they fans of Howard’s orginal writings, but they worshipped the first film and demanded John Milius be brought back as writer and director.  Damn, that move almost makes me want to fogive them for THE MATRIX.  Almost.

So it looks like business is definitely about to pick up.  Oh wait - did you forget where our story takes place?  This is Hollywood and you can damn well bet they will screw this up.  Milius delivered a 180-page beast of a screenplay in February 2001 entitled KING CONAN: CROWN OF IRON.  According to reviews that can be found online (type “King Conan” + “review” in Google), the basic plot has Conan ascending to the throne and then dealing with politics and power.  In addition, he ruminates about his lost love for battle and the estranged relationship with his warrior son Kon.  The script got rave reviews from Conan and Arnold fans for its dramatic take on the aging Conan and WB seemed to be fully behind the project.  Rumored to be up for the role of Kon were flavors of the month The Rock (fall of 2001) and Vin Diesel (spring 2002).

The Wachowski brothers, however, got wrapped up in the production of their MATRIX sequels and things slowed considerably.  Rumors started circulating that WB was trying to get rid of Milius on the project and, surprisingly, an online petition by gathered 10,000 signatures, enough to change execs minds for now.  In April 2003, Milius spoke with that site about his casting ideas.  He wanted old friend Sean Connery in the villainous role of Alba Metallus Fortunas and wrestlers Triple H and Chyna in the role of adversaries Felexio and Carnifexia, respectively.  Uh, wow at those characters names and wrestler casting choices.  Can I take my Milius praise back?

Warner Bros. decided to lay the fate of the KING CONAN project on the box office take of their upcoming summer Schwarzenegger release TERMINATOR 3 (2003).  Despite making $433 million worldwide, the film wasn’t considered a success and talk of KING CONAN cooled again.  The project took a major hit on August 6, 2003 when Schwarzengger announced on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno that he was running for Governor of California given the inevitable recall of Gray Davis.  Yes, the guy who made a career of flexing his muscles and delivering one liners was now running for the most important office in the state.  Even sadder?  He won in October 2003!  Around January 2004 the Wachowski brothers officially left the project as well.  No doubt they were no longer the hot commodities at WB after the MATRIX sequels “underperformed” artistically and financially (only in Hollywood can the $1 billion worldwide gross of the combined sequels be see as bad news).

Now rumor is Schwarzenegger called up Milius and gave him his blessing to continue the project without him.  Bad move as Milius had some sort of weird hard-on for WWE mainstay Triple H and decided to cast him as Conan (the duo also developed a biker flick called JOURNEY OF DEATH around the same time).  Sadly, this rumor was true as Triple H confirmed with news sources in 2004 that he was involved in the new Conan film as the lead.  In the fall of 2004 Milius said he had gained full funding in Turkey and that WB wouldn’t have to foot the bill.  They still weren’t biting.  Thank Crom this version never got before the cameras and, while I’m sure Milius’ script is good, seeing former WCW jobber Jean Paul Levesque in the Conan role would have been downright embarrassing.  Wrestlers aren’t particularly known for their thespian abilities, but Triple H was even stiffer than most, a nearly comatose personality that delivered his wrestling lines with all the range of a cheap motel's TV remote.  Damn, can things get any worse?  Yes, apparently they will.    

In April 2005, Milius was unceremoniously removed from the project (“Eh, what does he know about CONAN movies,” I can hear the execs saying), even though a new Conan film was being kept alive at Warner Bros. studios.  The following month WB announced that Robert Rodriguez was going to produce and direct the new Conan film.  However, Rodriquez’s propensity to do 5 billion projects at once and conflicts over him not being in the Directors Guild of America (DGA) led to him not doing it.  In June 2006, Warner Bros. announced that Rodriguez semi-associate Boaz Yakin would be taking over as writer and director.  What were Yakin’s contemporary projects around this time? Directing the comedy UPTOWN GIRLS (2003) and writing the sequel DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS (2004).  No joke.  Truly the kind of work that would make me jump up and scream, “This guy should do a Conan movie!”  Nothing much happened here and Warner Bros. lost the option to make a Conan film in June 2007. Yes, you read that right – WB spent 8 years developing this film without a finished product.  To put that in perspective, that is double the time it took for Pressman and De Laurentiis to get TWO Conan films made and released.  This is doubly hilarious as the studio’s own 300, released in March 2007, had suddenly made the muscle-bound warrior genre hot again.

Damn, can things get any worse again?  Yes, apparently they will…a lot worse.  Paradox Entertainment, the current owners of the Conan license, sold the film rights to Millenium/Nu Image films in August 2007.  Thus began a roundrobin of directors who were rumored being attached to the new Conan project (predicitibly called a “reimaginaning”) scripted by Josh Oppenheimer and Tom Donnelly.  Suspects included Rodriguez again (also attached to a RED SONJA remake), James McTeigue, and – lord help us – Rob Zombie.  No doubt Zombie left the project when he found out he couldn’t work cursing rednecks into the Conan landscape.  Millenium also spent the better part of 2008-9 negotiating with hackmeister Brett Ratner to make the film.  That ultimately (thankfully?) fell through and they settled on remake specialist Marcus Nispel to create the new CONAN THE BARBARIAN.  Yes, Hollywood ultimately decided to take the project from the hands of its film creator (Milius) to give to the guy who helmed the FRIDAY THE 13th remake.  As if fans of the original weren’t insulted enough, the braintrusts behind this project decided to cast Jason Momoa – previously a dreadlocked alien from STARGATE: ATLANTIS – as Conan.  Fan support was minimal as most couldn’t stop to collect themselves from laughing.  To put it more succinctly, fuck you Hollywood.  Yes, this is your new Conan:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The "Never Got Made" File #55: CONAN III

As we wind down our coverage of cinematic Conan clones, we figured we’d have to get in at least one “Never Got Made” piece.  Conan may have fought many tough battles and wicked foes, but nothing could prepare him for the harshest realm of existence – Hollywood development hell.  Sure, it seems like sequelizing a huge breakout hit would be a no-brainer (emphasis on the “no brains” part), but this is Hollywood we’re talking about here.  So buckle your seatbelts for the up-and-down rollercoaster that is the attempts to get another Conan flick with star Arnold Schwarzengger made.

Early in the production process of the first film, producer Edward Pressman did a smart thing and signed Schwarzenegger for 5 Conan movies.  Makes sense given the plethora of material.  Discussing the upcoming sequel CONAN THE DESTROYER (at the time titled CONAN, KING OF THIEVES) to Starlog in 1983, Schwarzenegger seemed optimistic about the future films and said he loved playing the role.  As the world knows, always trust an Austrian.

Unfortunately, you could see the cracks beginning to surface.  He bemoaned the idea of Milius not being around and the concept of a PG Conan flick.  Most importantly, he started the interview by saying, “Every decision is based on money.” (You can also see that sentiment in the pic above.)  When CONAN THE DESTROYER came out in June 1984, it did fairly well at the box office.  However, it did less than the original which probably sent the suits into a tizzy because they “worked hard” to neuter the Barbarian for a PG rating to get the kids in the theater.  The film’s tameness, coupled with some really forced comedy, resulted in a film that lived up to its name with – as we like to joke here at VJ – it truly destroyed the series.

Regardless, producer Raffaella De Laurentiis saw enough gold that a third film was immediately planned for a 1987 release.  Around the time DESTROYER was coming out, William Stout dropped this tiny blurb to Cinefantastique that he was writing the CONAN III script.

This actually sounded like a step in the right direction as Stout worked on both the earlier films as a designer/artist and seemed well versed in the Conan universe.  In addition, he had previously co-written the Conan clone THE WARRIOR AND THE SORCERESS.  Little is known about Stout’s proposed screenplay except that it was titled CONAN AND THE EYE OF DEATH.  Sounds awesome!

Around the same time, producers signed on fantasy writer Karl Edward Wagner to do up a sequel script.  Again, this seemed like a great fit as Wagner was well known and respected for his work in the fantasy field.  He had edited several collections of Robert E. Howard’s Conan works in the late 70s and created the popular Conan-esque character Kane in a series of books from 1970-85. Most importantly, he had written the well received Conan sequel novel The Road of Kings in 1979. Here Wagner outlines his involvement in the CONAN III script process to Horror magazine. Interestingly, it seems producer Dino De Laurentiis was initially looking to shoot in China and wanted a direct sequel to DESTROYER as the characters played by Mako and Grace Jones were to come back.  But, as you can see below, the project just kept getting smaller and smaller. Definitely not a good sign.

Two directors considered for the project at the time were Bond vet Guy Hamilton and John Guillerman.  The public, however, seemed to be tiring of the genre as evidenced by the disasterous box office of RED SONJA (1985), which co-starred Schwarzenegger.  The action hero himself wasn’t suffering though as Schwarzenegger suddenly became an even bigger star with the release of the comedy TWINS (1988) – his first film to crack $100 million domestically – and, as the man said, “every decision is based on money” and poor ol’ Dino didn’t have much at the time thanks to expensive flops like DUNE (1984).

Um, thanks?
The new decade saw even more CONAN III developments as writer Charles Edward Pogue (THE FLY remake) pitched a third film to Raffaella.  Using Howard’s The Hour of the Dragon as a foundation, Pogue delivered the screenplay for CONAN THE CONQUERER in February 1992.  Here is what Pogue told Empire magazine of his script:
"What I loved was the idea of a man who had become king by his own wit and prowess, but once enthroned got lost in protocol and politics, and forgot those characteristics. Once dethroned, he had to go back and remember the person he'd lost. Victory always costs something. I felt that Arnold had grown enough as an actor to play that complexity."
Unfortunately, the theme of Schwarzenegger using his clout carried over into the 1990s as he just had the biggest film of his career come out (TERMINATOR 2) and was dragging his feet on the project.  Ironically, he passed on CONAN III to make THE LAST ACTION HERO (1993), the most expensive flop of his career.  The De Laurentiis family had a trick up their sleeve though as they reworked Pogue’s script to fit around Kull of Atlantis, another Howard creation, and gave the world KULL THE CONQUEROR (1997).  But they didn’t learn their lesson from DESTROYER as they again went for less violence and more comedy.  The film bombed upon release in August 1997.  I hear Kevin Sorbo still apologizes at conventions for it.

The CONAN III project seemed as good as dead by the late 90s.  Interestingly a rumor popped up in Starlog in 1998 that Schwarzenegger himself was interested in directing the third film.  Here is a tiny blurb about it from The Arnold Fans in April 1998.
“It may have been 14 years since a new Conan movie hit theaters, but a source claiming links to the Schwarzenegger camp assures us the movie franchise is not dead. Apparently the actor wants to return to his barbarian roots, hoping not only to star in but also direct a third and final Conan film. The story would be based on the tales of an elder Conan, who has ascended to the throne of Aquilonia facing trials that emphasize political intrigue alongside the usual swordplay and sorcery.”
However, having seen a successive string of expensive Schwarzenegger flops (JUNIOR, ERASER, JINGLE ALL THE WAY, BATMAN AND ROBIN), the studios were staying away from expensive Austrian cusine.  The CONAN III project literally needed a savior to resurrect it.  Amazingly, it got one in 1999 thanks to The One.  As Keanu Reeves would say, “Woah!” More on that next time…