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!

Friday, July 22, 2011

The "Never Got Made" Files #66: Cannon's CAPTAIN AMERICA (1984-87)

With Steve Rogers throwing his mighty shield at audiences this weekend in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, we figured it would be time to examine the unmade cinematic adventures of one of America’s most iconic comic book heroes. Born in the minds of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1940, Captain America made his comic book debut in March 1941.  And this wasn’t any normal superhero unveiling as the premiere issue had him punching Adolf Hitler in the face.  While historians like to cite things like a withering armed forces and undermining subordinates for Der Führer’s downfall, I bet it was seeing the image of getting socked by a guy in red, white and blue tights that really did him in.  Rumor has it Hitler was found clutching a weathered copy of Captain America #1 in his bunker after his suicide.  Or maybe not.

Now here is some useful knowledge in case you ever find yourself cornered on the street and asked, “Which Marvel character was the first adapted into film?”  It was Captain America. Perhaps still feeling his patriotic usefulness, Republic Pictures brought the character to life on the big screen with a 15-part serial in 1944. Sure, they changed a lot of it around (he was now a District Attorney named Grant Gardner), but the character was there in all of his glory. Well, kind of as star Dick Purcell was kind of chubby (he actually passed away shortly after finishing filming this serial).  But audiences did get to see a live-action version of their hero complete with the star on the chest and winged mask emblemized with the trademark A.  Not surprising, World War II ended a year and a half after this came out.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

After a re-release of the serials in 1953, development of live-action Captain America adaptations ceased, frozen like America’s superhero in a block of ice.  With Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN (1978) proving that audiences for superheroes did exist, Captain America was thawed and made into a live-action superhero again.  Unfortunately, it was for two abysmal TV movies for CBS with Reb Brown cast as the daring Cap.  The less said about these films the better as they seemed to get everything wrong, wrong, wrong.  They even gave him a goofy motorcycle helmet.  Seriously, check this guy out and tell me you totally couldn’t see him in a disco circa 1979.  Even the folks on Broadway spent several years developing an unrealized Captain America musical through most of the 1980s...really! You can read all about that failed project at this link if you want (as Broadway ain't my specialty).  Just for kicks though, here is an ad that the Broadway producers ran in the trades looking for kid dancers to be in their Captain America show. And, uh, wow...I'm speechless. If made, this could have been the 1980s SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK.

Surprisingly, these two misfires didn’t tarnish the comic hero’s legacy forever and the 1980s brought renewed interest in the character.  Big spender producers Menahem Golan and Yorum Globus, co-owners of The Cannon Group, decided to get into the superhero business in a big way.  In 1984 they secured the movie rights for both Spider-Man and Captain America from Marvel Comics for the sweet sum of $225,000 for a 5-year deal.  This was back before Hollywood went gaga over every comic book character.  All of that changed the after the summer of 1989 with the release of BATMAN and cinema hasn’t been the same since. Anyway, Cannon – notorious for their 20-page spreads in Variety film market issues – wasted no time in announcing their live-action CAPTAIN AMERICA film project.  Here is their first full-page ad for it from an issue dated October 24, 1984.  The only information gleaned from the ad is that the screenplay was going to be by James R. Silke.  He had previously delivered a trio of action scripts for Cannon in REVENGE OF THE NINJA (1983), SAHARA (1983) and NINJA III (1984). Damn, I bet he had Captain America fighting ninjas.  Sign me up!

Seven months later in May 1985, the Go-Go boys debuted this eye-catching color ad in a Variety Cannes spread.  It is the exact same design as before, but with some addition production info.  Marvel big wigs James Galton and Joseph Calamari are now credited as executive producers and the ad inexplicable says it is “based on Stan Lee’s Marvel comic strip character.”  Those words got Marvel into a wee bit of legal trouble and let’s just say you don’t see that credit in their ads ever again.

In the same issue’s profile on Cannon, there is a small little blurb about their two-picture deal with Marvel Comics.

Further production developments occurred in the fall of 1985 as Cannon unveiled a huge two-page ad announcing that British helmer Michael Winner would be directing the project. Winner had done several films for Cannon, most notably the first two DEATH WISH sequels. In the same October 16 issue, Cannon declared that filming would begin in January 1986.

January 1986 came and went with no film start as behind the scenes turmoil took over. Director Winner opted to drop the Silke script and wrote his own version with British TV writer Stan Hey.  Marvel exec Galton was not pleased as a December 1985 letter to Golan reveals (the full letter can be seen here).  He calls Winner and Hey’s screenplay “bloody awful,” “convoluted” and “totally implausible.”  I guess he didn’t like it?  He also suggests going “back to the drawing board again to get a more credible script.”

In February 1986, Cannon ran the following bland ad for the upcoming film with some major changes.  First, it now declares it is “based on the Captain America comic book character” (wink, wink).  And now we have a new trio of screenwriters attached: Michael Winner, crime novelist Lawrence Block and – surprise, surprise – Stan Lee!  They literally did go back to the drawing board as Lee had made his debut in the comic field as the text filler in issue #3 of Captain America in May 1941.  He also oversaw the CA line in the late 60s and early 70s for a 41 issue run (which is why a lot of people conflate him with having created the character).    

Amazingly, this production never got going after Cannon actually missed a payment to Marvel Comics in 1986 and briefly lost the movie option rights.  Finances (or the lack thereof) would play a major role in this film non-filming.  Winner eventually left the project, but did stick around Cannon to make APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH (1988).

Word on the live-action CAPTAIN AMERICA was silent for most of 1986, but the project reared its patriotic head again in May 1987.  Cannon once again trotted out that same Captain America image to announce the film would be moving forward with some brand new players. Proclaiming to be “based on the characters created by Stan Lee” (clever how they got around that), this version promised a script by Stephen Tolkin and direction from John Stockwell.  Tolkin had earned his Cannon cred by doing an un-credited rewrite on their live-action MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987). Stockwell, at the time, was mostly an actor and is probably best known to audiences as the best friend in CHRISTINE (1983).  He had just transition to directing with the Cannon high school action flick UNDER COVER (1987).

A June 1987 start date was promised and, once again, principal photography never materialized.  As mentioned earlier, the company’s finances were in incredibly bad shape. Movie folks loved the pageantry of Golan and Globus and the Go-Go boys had no problem living up to their reputation as they spent millions upon millions upon their productions.  The problem was none of their movies were making money and – according to this article in the same May 6, 1987 Variety issue – Cannon was in debt up to the jaw-dropping amount of $600,000,000.  Yeah, you read that right, SIX HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS!

Golan eventually left Cannon in 1989, with the French company Pathé with Italian financier Ginacarlo Parretti at the helm taking control of the fading studio.  As part of a severance package, Golan was given control of 21st Century Film Corporation, another film entity Parretti had purchased before bankruptcy.  And one of the projects Golan carried over to his new company was the long-in-development CAPTAIN AMERICA.

Another carryover from the Cannon era was hardworking director Albert Pyun.  Pyun had delivered 5 feature films for Cannon and also helped out on their troubled JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1989).  Towards the end of Cannon’s life, he was also seemingly their go-to director on everything of note including their long-gestating SPIDER-MAN, MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE 2, SPITFIRE: DELTA FORCE II and SUPERMAN V.  We were lucky enough to chat briefly with Pyun via email and he gave us the lowdown on how the live-action CAPTAIN AMERICA finally got off the ground at 21st Century.

VJ: Around what time did you come onto the CAPTAIN AMERICA project?

Pyun: When Menahem Golan was leaving Cannon to start 21st Century, I asked him to take CAPTAIN AMERICAN with him. I grew up a big fan of the comic book and I wanted to convey the character that I grew up loving.  That was 1989.

VJ: Did you get to read James Silke's screenplay for the proposed Michael Winner version?

Pyun: No I did not read it. I loved the screenplay I shot, written by Stephen Tolkin.

VJ: Who else tested or was considered for the lead role?   

Pyun: Howie Long was tested. He did not fit the pre-experiment Steve Rogers. I had wanted two actors (pre-and-post experiment), but Marvel said, “No.”

VJ: 21st Century reportedly cut the budget on you while in production. What changes did you have to make?

Pyun: 21st Century lost their financing.  I had to scale back the action and scramble for finishing funds. I made the most of it by going more deeply into Steve Roger's character.

VJ: Did you screen it at all for Marvel folks?

Pyun: I screened it for 21st Century and Columbia Tri-Star. Don't recall if Marvel was there.

VJ: What was their reaction?

Pyun: Crushing disappointment because they had wanted their expectations to be met even though they didn't bring the money.

Sadly, once again financial matters clipped Captain America’s little wings.  CAPTAIN AMERICA was finished by 1990 with Golan’s 21st Century pimping the hell out of it in Variety (also note the banner for their unmade SPIDER-MAN film; you can read all about that film's convoluted history in "Never Got Made" file #19).

A proposed August 1990 theatrical release date came and went. Eventually the film went straight-to-video via Columbia Tristar Home Video in the United States, a poor fate not befitting America’s superhero.  The Cap also suffered further indignity as Pyun’s film was taken out of his hands and edited down in the meantime.  Thankfully, fans of Pyun’s film can now get a chance to see his version of the film as he has recently released his own director’s cut of the film on DVD and Bluray.

VJ: What can you tell us about the DVD release of your director's cut?

Pyun: I'm happy, after all these years, to be able to share my cut with fans. It has 13 minutes of scenes that were not in the released version. The story makes more sense now and Cap's struggle with what it means to be a hero and an American is more clearly understood. My cut is screening at the Austin, Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, Sunday July 18 at 10pm, Frightnight/Fandom Fest, Louisville, KY, July 22 at 5:30 pm, and Fantasia Film Fest in Montreal on August 6 at 11am. I will be at all the screenings for Q&A. Email for more info about the director’s cut.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Redneck Rampage: TRACKDOWN (1976)

We have a great love here at VJ for all things Mitchum.  Robert Mitchum?  Nah, I’m talking Chris Mitchum, youngest son of Hollywood legend Robert.  Chris earned his cred by going abroad in the 70s and 80s to star in some of the wackiest and enjoyable action flicks you can find.  Chris, however, wasn’t the only Mitchum son to head into acting.  Eldest son James Mitchum also got the acting bug from a young age, making his debut as a kid in 1949.  He later landing a plum role in pop’s THUNDER ROAD (1958), where he was hilariously cast as his father’s younger brother. Wonky onscreen genealogy aside, it works because James is the spitting image of his pops.

No doubt this worked as both a blessing and a curse when it came to casting directors, but James worked steadily throughout the 1960s in both big and low budget films.  Things cooled considerable for James in the early 1970s, with him taking a long hiatus from the screen after appearing in Dennis Hopper’s THE LAST MOVIE (1971). Hmmm, I wonder if there is any connection between that film’s legendary chaotic production in Peru and Mitchum being absent for nearly 4 years?  Regardless, James returned to the big screen in 1975 with the lead role in MOONRUNNERS, a hicksploitation classic that served as the basis for the TV series THE DUKES OF HAZZARD (1979).  This got into theaters via United Artists and someone there must have been impressed with the returns as Mitchum was quickly booked for TRACKDOWN, which premiered almost a year to the day after his successful return.

The film opens with Jim Calhoun (Mitchum), a Montana cattle rancher, heading out to take care of his stock, but not before admonishing his sister Betsy (Karen Lamm) to mind their mother.  The film wastes no time as within five minutes Betsy splits from home and arrives in Los Angeles via a Greyhound bus.  Naturally, this naïve newbie is ripe for the picking and is quickly robbed by a group of cholos.  Penniless, she is befriended by Chucho (Erik Estrada), not knowing that he was in on her mugging.  He didn’t do it because he was a mean guy; he did it because he was in debt to this gang. Soon he is taking Betsy out on the town and – eyes fluttering – falling for this chick, mang.  Of course, all good one-day romances come to an end as the gang breaks up his lothario routine when they rape, drug and kidnap Betsy.  Poor little Chucho.

Meanwhile, big brother Jim has made the four-state journey in his big ol’ pick up truck to come find his sister. He knows she is in L.A. because she apparently called him (this is never shown onscreen), but finds disaffection at every turn when he tries to get help from the authorities. That is until he meets runaway teen counselor Lynn Strong (Cathy Lee Crosby), who offers to help the gruff cowboy look for his sister and take him up on his dinner offer.  She totally did it for the free dinner.  In the meantime, Betsy has been sold by the gang (for only $500) to big time crime boss Johnny Dee (Vince Cannon) after his main madame Barbara (Anne Archer) takes a liking to her.  Barbara cleans Betsy up and soon begins grooming her for a life of prostitution by spoiling her with the finer things in life. “Hey, why not get paid for what you give away for free” is her pitch and it seems to work as Betsy loves that money.  Damn, I knew I should have moved to the big city.  After beating their feet on Hollywood Boulevard, Jim and Lynn uncover the Chucho connection and pay him a visit. Feeling bad for letting this mamacita out of his life, Chucho agrees to help the duo find Betsy, which sets up for an all-out war with Johnny’s mob.  Somehow I think this country boy is gonna teach these here city folk a lesson.

TRACKDOWN is an interesting hybrid, cashing in on the good ol’ boy chic of Mitchum’s previous film MOONRUNNERS while echoing the urban crime plight of the earlier DEATH WISH (1974). Surprisingly, this fish, er, bull out of water works.  The film is a bit clumsy during its set up (we never see any of Betsy’s family in Montana outside of Jim, for example), but picks up substantially when it gets into the city. Director Richard T. Heffron handles all of the action well and the country-boy-versus-city never actually seems forced (even when Mitchum is beating up three black drag queens trying to hustle him or being hit on by a gay cowboy).  The best thing about the film is that it actually – gasp – takes chances!  Some spoilers in the next paragraph...

The biggest example is that Betsy is actually killed by a sadistic john.  Had this film been made today (hell, even if it was made in the mid-80s), that would have been a huge no-no. We can’t kill the poor, innocent girl.  We must have the tearjerker ending where she is reunited with her brother and they live happily ever after.  It is refreshing to see a film do something like that, also because it works in the context of the plot.  Jim is totally willing to muscle his way around and bust some heads, but he doesn’t actually kill anyone until he finds out about his sister’s death.  After that, his aggression (including an awesome finale on a desert highway) is totally justified and the audience totally has his back.

The many expressions of
James Mitchum
The last half is where the film really delivers as Mitchum is required to do more action rather than speaking.  And let’s just say that is a good thing because words don’t seem to be Mitchum’s specialty.  Despite being a dead ringer for his pops, James never really had that “it” factor that his father had.  That shouldn’t be held against him, but I must admit that James seems to have all the personality of a dead frog. We have enjoyed Mitchum in obvious trash like HOLLYWOOD COP (1987) and RAIDERS OF THE MAGIC IVORY (1988), but this was made by a big studio at the time when he was supposed to be serious action lead.  Mitchum is so one-note that he actually makes Jason Statham look like he has range. I can’t tell if he is drunk, doped up or just naturally a mellow guy, but I don’t think his facial expression changes once in this flick (see pic).  Angry? Sad? Happy? Horny? Pissed off? They all get that same, nonplussed expression.  If anything, I’d hate to play poker with James Mitchum.  Now, if you have the right frame of mind that can work in this film’s favor as he is supposed to be a stoic Malboro Man, cattle rancher type.  And, of course, he is more believable as that than Erik Estrada is as a streetwise chicano hood. Regardless of the unemotional lead performance, TRACKDOWN is definitely worthy of tracking down.

Box Office review, 3/29/76 (spoilers):

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Comedy Cataclysm: UP YOUR LADDER (1979)

Wakka, wakka, wakka
Pull out the stops
Zakka, zakka, zakka
Don't call the cops
We'll be wiggling up your ladder
We'll be jiggling your gallbladder
         -UP YOUR LADDER theme song

A bad shipment of drugs must have made its way into Hollywood in the late 70s.  Sure, 1979 had some great comedies like LOVE AT FIRST BITE, MEATBALLS and THE JERK.  But I can’t figure our how the painfully unfunny flicks we’ve been viewing from that year like SWAP MEET and RACQUET got made other than someone out of their mind on some mind-altering substance that made them think they were hilarious.  Or maybe they just read the script for UP YOUR LADDER and thought, “Hell, if they can do it, so can I?”  How bad is this movie?  I’m seriously considering calling up RACQUET to see if she will take me back.  I mean, I know I said some bad things about her, but, c’mon baby, I didn’t know how bad it was out there in the real world.

The premise of UP YOUR LADDER is a series of comedy skits with the linking device being the apartment building.  But this isn’t just any apartment building, it talks!  Yes, the Villa Elaine apartments come alive in the form of Cindy Morgan (CADDYSHACK) as she is superimposed over parts of the building and gives us the lowdown on the tenants. The film lets audiences know right off the bat how lowbrow the humor is with the opening bit involving a randy bachelor.  He has a girl in his apartment and is ready to pounce before she says she slept with someone the night before but can’t remember if they told her they VD or TB.  He calls a doctor to ask how he can tell if she has VD or TB and the doc says, “Have her run around the room for a while.  If she coughs, fuck her!”  *long sigh while slapping forehead* Yes, that is the joke the filmmakers thought would get the audiences rolling in the aisles.  The probably were, from the pain. No joke, to really bring it home, they add a slide whistle on the soundtrack at the punchline.  What is this a vaudeville comedy routine?

Actually, that might not be far off.  The makers of this mess (Josh Hayes [co-director], Eddie Ryder [co-director & co-writer], and Chris Warfield [producer & co-writer]) were all born in the 1920s/30s.  So their comedy styling is about as hip as your granddads. Seriously, their writing sessions probably included flipping through a worn 1950s copy of “Dirty Jokes Your Folks Never Told You” while they laughed hysterically.  Their idea of funny is a bit where an Asian guy and a black guy decide to paint their white friend black the night before his first day at a new job after he asks them to make sure he wakes up in time.  He rushes into work unaware of his condition and we get an exchange like this.

Manager: Who are you?
Guy: I’m the new guy you hired.
Manager: You must be mistaken.  I don’t hire blacks.
Guy: I’m not black.
Manager: Take a look in the mirror.
Guy (looks in mirror): Oh no, they woke up the wrong guy.

Several “jokes” are drawn out over the course of the film and range from the lame to the totally bizarre.  You have a kid who says he wants to run away from home, so his dad helps him pack.  Then he is shown throughout the film walking the same stretch of block over and over again.  The punchline is the kid is sitting crying and a cop asks him what is wrong. He says, “I ran away from home…but I’m not allowed to cross the street.”  Bah-dah-dah!  Another stretched out bit has the maintenance man Virgil (Michael Pataki, hiding under the pseudonym Caleb Goodman) who finds he can’t get an erection unless he sees a woman dancing (huh?).  He frolics on the roof naked with a girl who tells that he is Richard Burton’s brother, gets badly sunburn so he can’t make love, and then wanders into a salsa dancer’s apartment where she puts his penis on a platter and then stomps on it.  WHAT?

I’m sure you wouldn’t be surprised if I told you some of the filmmakers behind this had long careers in Hollywood’s underbelly.  Co-director John Hayes directed z-grade horror flicks like DREAM NO EVIL (1970) and GARDEN OF THE DEAD (1974) before dabbling in porn in the 1980s.  Producer, actor and co-writer Chris Warfield was all over the map, going from being in a few LASSIE episodes in the 1960s to directing porn as Billy Thornberg.  His greatest achievement might be producing DIXIE RAY, HOLLYWOOD STAR (1983), a respected adult title that managed to get Cameron Mitchell in it (in a non-sex role, thank goodness!). You’ll also spot some familiar faces in this (if you dare watch it) including Michael Chan, Chuck McCann, Ray Halpern (the killer from BARE KNUCKLES), ILSA producer Don Edmonds and even Ilsa herself Dyanne Thorne getting topless in one segment under the pseudonym Penny Walters.  Think about that for a minute – the star of notoriously nasty Naziploitation flicks felt that she better use a different name on this.  The film’s lone highlight is a thirty second bit starring the great George “Buck” Flower, who was also the associate producer.  Here it is in all its glory.  Consider your gallbladder jiggled.  You owe me $50.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Gweilo Dojo: KARATE WARRIOR 2 (1988)

Fabrizio De Angelis brings the whole KARATE WARRIOR (1987) crew back to do his KARATE KID rip off right this time.  Well, maybe not, as Ken Watanabe, Janet Agren and Jared Marten figured they had better things to do (Marten actually got a semi-decent gig on the WAR OF THE WORLDS television series; no doubt due to his fine work as the dad in KARATE WARRIOR).  But we do get Kim Rossi Stuart returning as constantly put upon karate schmuck Anthony Scott.  Having defeated the damn good Quino in the Philippines in the first film, Anthony has now returned to the US and gets ready to attend college in Florida.  His grandparents host a surprise birthday party for him and give him a car. Naturally, he immediately goes for a spin it in and runs afoul of some jerks in a car airbrushed with a tiger on it.  He passes them on a double line (a no-no) and they send him off the road into the swamp.  Well, if he hadn’t cross the double lines, none of this would happen.

Anthony is picked up in by Luke (David Haynes), a lonely/creepy rich kid who demands Anthony “become my friend” before he lets him in the car. Seriously, it is a really awkward exchange.  Check it out.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhh-kayyyyyyy.   So Luke drives Anthony into town and Luke fills him in on the local scene including a “gang of delinquent karate fanatics” called the Tigers.  Wait a second - do they tool around town in a car with an airbrushed tiger on it?  And hold on one more second, didn’t we just pass a car just like that?  STOP THE CAR! Anthony isn’t going to let this car drama pass and he goes to confront gang leader Dick (Christopher Alan).  What he doesn’t know is this gang means business.  I mean, they hang out all day in a Ben & Jerry’s! Anthony beats down a couple of Dick’s men and then boldly tells him that he wants…wait for it…a check to get his car towed out of the water.  Yes, a check!  Gee, I certainly hope he also asks Dick for two forms of ID.

Anyway, Anthony enrolls in school and, wouldn’t you know it, Dick and his crew also go to school there.  But it gets better as this dialog exchange between Dick and an underling shows.

Underling: Hey Dick!
Dick: So, what’s the dirt?
Underling: Well, it turns out his father went here about 20 years ago.
Dick: So what?
Underling: He was in your father’s class.
Dick: Who cares?
Underling: Well, looks like he’s the one who had him expelled.
Dick: Okay, the bastard’s dead.  Where is he?
Underling: Somewhere on campus.
Dick: Okay, let’s go!

Haha, yes, this shit’s personal now. Dick and his crew punch Anthony a few times before being scared off by a janitor.  Oh, it is real personal now. Anthony says he won’t break the promise he made Master Kimura (Leon Elalout, replacing Watanabe) to only use his karate skills in sanctioned combat (guess he forgot about kicking those guys in the ice cream shop), so he tells Luke to challenge Dick to a sanctioned karate match in the school’s auditorium.  Not only that, they go to the local radio station and soon everyone in town is dying to see this go down.  Dick readily accepts, but has a trick up his sleeve in that they will force the hard-up auditorium manager (“he always needs money because his daughter’s sick”) to pat Anthony down with a sponge soaked in chloroform between rounds.  Meanwhile, Anthony has been putting the moves on Patty (Amy Lynn Baxter), Dick’s main squeeze (maybe I should rephrase that).

Anyway, the big fight (held on the stage of a theater) goes down at the 50 minute mark so I am fully expecting Anthony to lose and train hard to get his big redemption in the next 40 minutes.  But what the hell is this?  They do the chloroform trick but Anthony still wins by knocking Dick out.  What? Seems De Angelis is messing with kung fu convention and he fooled me.  So Anthony is victorious and we all live happily ever after, right?  Well, no.  Dick now has a super plan – pay Mark “The Killing Machine” Sanders (Ted Prior) $5,000 to beat up Anthony…in a sanctioned match, of course.  It is personal again you see as Mark founded the Tigers 10 years ago and he can’t stand to see his boys humiliated. Ha, yeah right, he is doing it for the money and didn’t even know the gang was still around.  So Anthony writes a letter to Master Kimura, who flies to Florida for some training time.  It’s on!

Larry Ludman…1980s…you know what I’m talking about.  This was a period right before the bottom fell out of the Italian film industry, especially the exploitation market.  Ludman aka director Fabrizio De Angelis was making the most of this dwindling era in the late 80s.  He had just finished up his THUNDER WARRIOR series and was nursing the KARATE WARRIOR series to all of its 6 film glory. The switch from the Philippines to Florida is definitely welcome as it helps as setting it in the US gives it the KARATE KID feel.  Of course, that and karate kicking kids is about as close as you will get. Anthony Scott is such an oddball that you don’t have any sympathy for him like Daniel LaRusso.  And don’t get me started on Kimura. He is definitely no Mr. Miyagi as most of his knowledge consists of lines like “you must win” and “do it now.”  He doesn’t even show Anthony any moves.  His training consists of him saying spouting some fortune cookie philosophy and saying “trust the words” before karate chopping Anthony in the neck.  Thanks boss.  Kimura even shows himself to be unethical as he reveals after the final bout that he bet $2,500 on Anthony at 20-to-1 odds.  So what does he do?  He buys the kid a BMW.  Well, this should end well.

The first KARATE WARRIOR has one of my favorite lines of dialog of all-time in it ("Quino? He's damn good. Damn good. Damn, he's good."), so I'm glad to report this carries on the tradition.  When Luke tries to tell Anthony not to confront the gang, he says, "You don't know Dick. He's...Dick!"  The film's biggest highlight, however, is that awkward way the Italians love to portray America.  Their America is the one where radio DJs not only hype a karate match on the air, they show up to do the play-by-play coverage. De Angelis apparently watched ANTHROPOPHAGUS 2 and believes every American is obsessed with football as every male on campus is sporting a football jersey.  Even better is when Kimura arrives in the US and Anthony drives him home.  They drive past a street where half a dozen hookers show their wares while hollering at every passing car.  “So, this is America,” says Kimura.  The best, however, is De Angelis’ depiction of a US street gang, which is second only to Hong Kong films in terms of accuracy.  I’m pretty sure any “gang” that drove around with a tiger airbrushed on their hood would be laughed off the streets, even in the 80s. During the final fight, De Angelis even has the gang supporters in the crowd with hand painted signs and a huge tiger poster.  Best of all, there is even a guy in a tiger costume. Ah, those wacky Italians, how I love them!

Monday, July 11, 2011

El Terror de Mexico: BIRDS OF PREY (1987)

Our recent journey into Mexploitation cinema certainly hasn’t been by design, but he is another great offering for you.  Chances are if you’ve made it to our darkened corner of the internet(s) that you’ve heard of a film director named Alfred Hitchcock.  People go on and on about how he was the greatest director of all time with films like VERTIGO (1958), PSYCHO (1960), and THE BIRDS (1963).  Well, if he was so great, how come he couldn’t shoehorn some rampant gore and gratuitous nudity from a double for the female lead into his birds-gone-amuck epic?  Because that is what Mexican exploitation director René Cardona Jr. did in BIRDS OF PREY (aka BEAKS: THE MOVIE), his delightful stab at copying the master’s fowl fright flick.

Cardona kicks things off properly with some globe hopping to show a worldwide epidemic of bird attacks. No joke, we jump around from Peru to Mexico to Spain to Puerto Rico.  The film finally settles down and focuses on three separate storylines.  The largest one centers on TV reporter Vanessa Cartwright (Michelle Johnson) and her cameraman Peter (Christopher Atkins). She is apparently pissed that her director sends her to cover a story on a guy being attacked by his chickens, but slowly begins to connect the dots that these attacks aren’t just random.  This sends her all over the globe (quite a budget this TV station she works for has) as she starts interviewing scientists and attack survivors before ending up in a town besieged by birds.

The second storyline focuses on a husband, wife and their two kids on vacation in Puerto Rico.  Poor dad has more problems than just a nagging wife after their car gets stuck on the beach and the family has to run for their lives from crazed birds.  The third storyline focuses on old hunter Arthur Neilson (Aldo Sambrell).  He recently got his eyeball plucked out by a bird and now has to deal with more bird attacks the same day his granddaughter – gasp – is having her big birthday party outside on his estate.  Everyone fights these pissed off winged warriors in their own way, but will mankind survive?

Okay, before we go any further, I should probably tell the Hitchcock nerds that I was only kidding and I don’t think BIRDS OF PREY will be replacing THE BIRDS in film history any time soon.  If Hitchcock’s film is the gold standard, than PREY is that knockoff fake gold that people use to make cheap grills for their teeth.  But that doesn’t stop this from being entertaining as hell.  Cardona lets you know from the first five minutes what kind of film this is going to be – exploitation to the max.  I mean, Hitchcock only dreamed of opening a film with a hang glider getting their eyeball plucked out while sailing through the sky.  And Cardona certainly knows how to pile on the gore.  Here is Neilson getting his eyeball stolen:

If you didn’t know the director and country of origin, you would think that is straight out of a 1980s Italian horror flick with the banging score, gushing gore and seductive slow-mo shots.

Also keeping in line with the Italians was the ability to snag down-on-their-luck actors.  The surprise here is that we have young Hollywood actors showing up rather than boozed out has-beens. Michelle Johnson made her debut co-starring with Michael Caine in BLAME IT ON RIO in 1984 and somehow managed to end up in this just a few years later?  She must have been kicking her agent.  To add insult to injury, Cardona inserts some fully nude body double shots of her getting out of the tub (they are all shot from the neck down).  I don’t doubt Johnson saw this and was mortified when those bits came up. Even worse is poor Christopher Atkins, who is about as far from his hunk status in THE BLUE LAGOON as you can get. Seriously, that was one of the top ten films at the box office in 1980 and now he is swatting off pigeons being thrown at him?  He even has to recite dialog like “those birds certainly know what they’re doing.”  If Johnson kicked her agent, Atkins probably beat the holy hell out of his.  His career never recovered and he was doomed to star in flicks that would regularly end up on the SyFy Channel.

Cardona and his Mexican team also seem pretty adept at creating that nonsensical plotting that some of the Italian filmmakers indulged in.  The cause of the bird attacks is never quite clear (apparently they are pissed at man for its poor treatment of the environment).  Equally fuzzy is why the attacks stop.  No joke, the film ends with an announcement coming over the TV basically saying, “Well, looks like it is over.”  What?  They even end with a shot of a polluted lake and something else being pissed.  You can’t tell if it is bugs or fish so there is an end crawl that quotes the “Prophecy of Joel” about the plague of locusts from the bible!  Sadly, Cardona never made LOCUSTS OF PREY.  I also love that when the people try to escape the city via train that they get held up by some…wait for it…sheep on tracks!  We certainly can't plow through some innocent sheep with our speeding train while we race for our lives.  Oh wait, maybe the sheep are in on it too.  Cardona, you genius!  Too bad he never made SHEEP OF PREY.

Cardona mostly uses pigeons here, making me think this animal wrangler consisted of a guy with a loaf of bread. He certainly knew how to make the most of his birds though and gives them an eerie quality.  This is thanks mostly to tons of slow motion.  Seriously, they must have extended the run time by 15 minutes with all the slow-mo on display here.  He also has a knack for the Kuleshov Effect, filming some poor birds glancing at the camera and somehow making it look sinister.  I actually started to feel sorry for these poor birds as you know the ASPCA wasn’t on set for this one.  Lots of pigeons were violently thrown during this film’s production.  Some unlucky birds even appear to be tied to their victims.  All of these ingredients add up for one enjoyable flick.  BIRDS OF PREY definitely ain’t no turkey (ah, boo yourself)!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The XXX-Factor: More Classic Adult Ads

Once again, sorry for the downtime between blog posts.  We'd like to say it is due to being busy with family and friends over the holiday, but we ain't got no family and friends.  To make up for it, here are some more classic adult ads to tide you over until the next amazing movie review.

$50 says Arnold Schwarzengger is such a megalomaniac that he has probably seen this 80s porn ripoff of his most famous character.  And I'm not talking about the soft version either:

And if Schwarzenegger wasn't safe, you know Stallone wasn't far behind:

And if Schwarzenegger and Stallone weren't safe from porn parody, you know Jane Fonda was next.  Uh, what?  I don't remember no harp in ON GOLDEN POND.