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, December 14, 2011

Buns and Ammo: PICASSO TRIGGER (1988)

I hope you didn't think we had abandoned our "Buns and Ammo" overview of the world of Andy Sidaris. This is third in his beach, bullets and babes chronicles where he somehow believes the C.I.A. is inhabited by a bevy of beauties.  Naturally, his casting sessions probably involved nothing more than flipping through some Playboy issues as lots of 80s Bunnies get nekkid to on and off screen oglers.

Crimelord and businessman Salazar (John Aprea) aka Picasso Trigger is assassinated after donating a painting of a Picasso Trigger fish to a Paris museum. Somehow this is related to events stateside with Texan L.G. Abilene calling in the services of his nephew Travis (Steve Bond). Yes, we are officially on our third Abilene sibling, who is also a detective with bad aim. Travis assembles a team that includes HARD TICKET TO HAWAII holdovers Donna (Dona Speir), Taryn (Hope Marie Carlton), Jade (Harold Diamond), Edy (Cynthia Brimhall) and Pattycakes (Patty Duffek), who now works a Vegas show with Kym (Kym Malin). Along with new acquisition Pantera (Roberta Vasquez), the team plans to take out the remaining members of an organized crime family because...uh...they are going to do something terrible on Monday. Who am I again?

As you can guess from my synopsis, this is a totally confusing mess that sees the opening 15 minutes jump from Paris to Texas to California to Hawaii. I kept trying to remind myself of what was going on, but then I remembered that I didn't really know. There is even a group meeting an hour in that is supposed to explain what is going down but it left me even more confused. Even worse, this is where Sidaris started using actors from the two earlier films in different roles. Black muscle man John Brown is now a good guy and Richard LePore - looking like a Charles Nelson Reilly clone - is now a weapons expert. Well, I don't know about expert as one of his devices is a boomerang with a bomb on it. Think about that for a second. Thankfully Sidaris isn't confused when it comes to delivering in the exploitation department. Once again, there are massive helpings of nudity and explosions every ten minutes or so. Nothing is as outlandish as HARD TICKET's skater or frisbee deaths, but I was definitely never bored. Perhaps the highlight is leg crutch that doubles as a rocket launcher (see below).  It also doesn't take much brainpower to realize who the main villain is since the film is named after the guy and he is "assassinated" in the first 5 minutes. Hmmm, who will the big surprise villain reveal be?  As always, pictures are better to essay the highs and lows of a Sidaris flick.  Enjoy!

Old C.I.A. agents: 

Their replacements. Yay progress!

Donna & Tayrn, back in business!

Is he superglued to the wall?

Meeting of the minds:

WOAH! Check out that awesome painting!

There's a new sheriff in town, boys.

"This is where I do my best thinking."

"Uh, so where is the whey protein?"

"We were told you had a phone problem." (real line)

Patty Duffek, Playboy Playmate May 1984:

Kym Malin, Playboy Playmate May 1982:

"You made a big mistake, sucka!" (real line)

"Don't even blink!" (real line)

Who wears short shorts?

The horrifying realization you're getting 
blow'd up by a crutch rocket launcher:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Listomania!: Thomas' November 2011 Viewings

ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011): Ummmm, so our heroes are teenage thugs who mug innocent girls and deal drugs, all of which is played for laughs? Huh. This suckered me in with the marketing campaign that proudly announced its tenuous relationship with SHAWN OF THE DEAD, and I guess some folks found the foul-mouthed, nihilistic, ghetto delinquents to warm the cockles of their hearts, but I’ll be damned if I could find a single likable thing about them. CG alien shadow beasts crash land on Earth and a group of pint-size gangstas decide that they are gonna “kill the motherfuckers!” That’s pretty much the long and the short of it. Personally I was hoping that the aliens would kill them off one by one, but no, no, that is so ‘80s. In our new age of enlightenment, the xenophobic future cons escape from the police and the aliens at every turn. I don’t really want to get on a high-horse and say that this is irresponsible filmmaking, but it does glamorize the thug life. “Hey kids, get your buddies and have fun assaulting young girls at knifepoint! It’s fun and funny!” Even with that aside, the film has nothing to offer other than a very weak attempt to remake CRITTERS (1984) in an urban setting.

THE SQUEEZE (1977): "Fuck Andy Williams". It still blows my mind that there are so many films out there with name casts and prolific directors that somehow get lost in the shuffle and never see a proper video release. I mean, seriously, there isn't a day that goes by in my life where I am not thinking about and scrounging for movies from the '70s. Don't get me wrong, I love movies from the '60s and '80s too, but the '70s were both technically proficient and yet they still hadn't become the cynical, soulless, corporate product like the films we see today. Risks were taken, conventions ignored. The way it should be! A washed-up, alcoholic, ex-Scotland Yard detective Jim Naboth (Stacey Keach) finds a renewed sense of purpose when a brutal mob kidnaps his ex-wife (Carol White) and daughter, not to mention forces him to strip naked and dumps him in front of a local church. This film is loaded with moments that would never be done the same today and features characters that behave in a realistic way. The mob kidnappers don’t sit around and talk about pop culture, instead they decide to force the mother of their victim to do a strip-tease before being raped. It’s un-sexy and unpleasant and she is powerless to stop it. In this day and age, the scene would be completely different. It would be a sexy strip with the woman using her femininity to gain power over her captors and she would definitely turn the tables on them at some point with a big macho (yeah, I said it) revenge moment. The always-great Edward Fox plays the new husband who is absolutely useless, Stephen Boyd is the over-confidant mob boss, David Hemmings is the respectable-looking leader of the gang, and Freddie Starr plays a klepto who seems to be quite fond of ol’ sonny Jim.

THE ETRUSCAN MASK (2007): This film answers the question on everyone’s lips; “what happened to Ted Nicolau?” Oh and you will be so glad to find out the answer to that. Actually the movie starts out great with an old farmer selling an ancient Etruscan demon-warrior mask to an antiquities collector. After the sale is complete, the farmer retreats to his woodshed where we find the maggot-filled remains of his tortured victims. He then blows his brains out with a shotgun. Cut to a few short years later and a group of college kids (yeah, see, I said “starts out great”), while working for the smallest newspaper ever, stumble across a rich recluse and his witch-like wife who have their home adorned with satanic imagery with the mask as the centerpiece. This causes weird hallucinations and general creepiness until the end when we find out that the mask actually possesses people with a demon who uhhhh… kills people and stuff.
Full Moon veteran Nicolau has never really been a master of his craft, but I’m always going to give an independent, Italian-produced effort a fair shake. Unfortunately here he manages to take a great set-up and blow it in every way conceivable. After the first five minutes, there is literally no horror to be found for the next hour. It’s about the super-duchey kids and a lot of plot exposition that leads to some bad CGI and the most fumbling attempt at a slasher set-up that I’ve ever seen. For this one scene Nicolau decides to do the slasher thing. The mask is worn and the demon stalks a pair of kids (one being Nicolau’s irritating, hipster son) who are about to get it on. Yes, the ol’ Voorhees syndrome is in effect, but the kids don’t even get their clothes off before the knife comes out (so demons must resort to kitchen tools to get the job done?) and even then, after a slow stalk, the actual killing happens off screen. In a later scene he does bring the grue, only to completely obscure a well-crafted latex disemboweling effect with CG blood spray that looks like it was created on someone’s laptop. I’m surprised the effects guy didn’t throttle Ted after that. Come to think of it. Has anyone seen him lately?
Even worse, the female lead, Majlinda Agaj, who was clearly cast solely for her wondrous set of attributes, has a line in the beginning of the film where she says “I’ll keep my clothes on, thank you!” True to her word, she does just that, even in the laughably lame “love” scene. On the plus side, Nicolau turns in a technically accomplished effort for a (did I mention this?) digital video production, with tons of camera set-ups and crane shots. Only to be felled by acting so amatuerish it would make HG Lewis wince, one hour of dullsville and some embarrassingly bad CG effects. Maybe not as bad as THE CHILL, but bad.
How bad is the acting, you ask? Only a video clip will do it justice:

Oh Ted, what are we going to do with you? I give you an “A” for effort and a “D” for execution. The only reasons you didn’t get an “F” was because the opening scene hooked me in and THE DUNGEONMASTER (1982) is always welcome in my home.

NINETEEN RED ROSES (1974): Interesting and obscure Danish police thriller that actually managed to get a US release back in the day. A killer (who we are introduced to in the first scene) is selecting victims who are seemingly unconnected. The police on the case have to piece together the dates, locations and try to figure out a motive. Ok, I don’t think I could be any more vague about it, but I’m trying to go spoiler-free here. While it is dated and feels like a wannabe Martin Beck thriller, it has its moments. Like the Swedish police thrillers, it goes in for a lot of gritty procedural work, while at the same time trying to draw a little influence from Italian giallos. Neither is totally successful, but it still manages to hold your attention.

BECK - BAIT BOY (1997): First in a series of 26 top-notch Swedish TV movies based on the Martin Beck novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Imagine CSI without the Hollywood. No trendy emo haircuts, realistic characters and some real nasty grit, thanks to Sjöwall and Wahlöö. Unlike US TV shows, these telefilms pull no punches. While a show like CSI may tackle the same subject there would be plenty of mincing around the nastier elements. Here we are introduced to Martin Beck, a Stockholm homicide detective who's small squad is in charge of solving the ugliest of Sweden’s crimes. While worrying about his daughter trying to rent a black-market flat (the legalities of housing in the over-populated Stockholm area are insanely complex), Martin Beck finds himself thrust upon a rash of murders of young teen boys. In addition to shockingly graphic and unsettling content (bloody killings and descriptions of a boy vomiting up semen before his murder), this telefilm sports great production values and doesn’t go overboard into over-the-top silliness and soap-opera relationships that CSI gets up to.

ROBBERY (1967): Solid, straightforward account of the infamous 1963 "Great Train Robbery" in which a coordinated group of 15 criminals from different mobs robbed a postal train of £2.6 million (about $65 million today). Peter Yates could be accused of flat direction here, but I like to think that he's letting the great cast (Stanley Baker, Barry Foster, Frank Finlay, James Booth, George Sewell and others) play out a great story that needs little embellishment. Watching this really puts Ronnie Biggs into perspective. He's become famous for this heist, but really had almost nothing to do with it other than help the team find a train operator who couldn't drive the train after all! A little dry in spots, but good stuff in spite of it.
VIDEO NASTIES – MORAL PANIC, CENSORSHIP & VIDEO TAPE (2010): The central part of the amazing 3 DVD set titled THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO THE VIDEO NASTIES, this is surprisingly nicely done. Jake West and Marc Morris have made a career out of making featurettes for DVDs in London, and truth be told, this is nothing more than 3 discs of extras, the main feature being a moment in history. Tracing the evolution of the video rental business from its primitive beginnings in which you had almost literally a guy in a closet renting uncensored videos, through the hysteria over films that were believed to be real snuff movies, to the actual banning of films that were barely even questionable on a thematic level, this documentary is fascinating whether you remember those days or not. One of the best things about the documentary is that West and Morris avoid (for the most part) the pitfalls that plague so many other featurette producers (*cough* Code Red *cough*), such as the heavy reliance on obnoxious, alleged “expert / fans” or worse, Eli Roth. West and Morris amazingly get the real players to talk candidly about what happened from journalists, professors and filmmakers, right through to the MP who authored the bill, an arch bishop, a film censor and a former Scotland Yard head, and many, many more. In addition to the interviews for the documentary, West and Morris unearth a plethora of archival clips to add additional insight and give a true feeling for the hysteria of the day. It’s amazing in this day and age how some of these people feel that what they did was completely justified, such as incarcerating the proprietor of a video shop for a longer sentence than a murderer and arresting people for renting THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS. Come to think of it, I've seen the film and that might be justified after all. Amazingly some of these witch-hunters are still adamant that they were cracking down on a real snuff film epidemic and saving the children from becoming killers and rapists. Amazing stuff that is well worth hunting down, particularly if you are the kind of person that reads blogs about trashy movies and gets that Damned song stuck in your head for days at a time.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Lovecraft Legacy: SHADOW OF THE UNNAMABLE (2011)

So apparently I am a bit of a "blog whore" as I took up with another blog to do a review of the H.P. Lovecraft adaptation SHADOW OF THE UNNAMABLE.  Not to be confused with the 80s THE UNNAMABLE flicks, this is a sixteen minute short film out of Germany that set about to faithfully adapt Lovecraft's 1925 short story.  Does debuting director-producer-writer Sascha Renninger succeed or fail?  Head on over to my mistress at the Unfilmable blog to check out my review of SHADOW OF THE UNNAMABLE and find out.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Listomania!: Will's November Universal THE MUMMY marathon

Growing up as a kid, I caught most of the Universal horror classics (DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY, THE WOLF MAN, and all the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON flicks) but missed a lot of the sequels. In October, I decided to fill in quite a few of the gaps and watched all of the films in the FRANKENSTEIN series.  In November I decided to start filling in the holes on another classic monster series. I saw Universal's THE MUMMY (1932) as a kid, but never really got into it. Mostly because the title creature in the form I best knew him (from countless horror film books) was only in one scene at the opening. As an adult, I appreciate it more (mostly for Karloff's performance) but still think it has some really bad pacing issues. Regardless, I never went further in the exploits of Universal's bandaged baddie until last month.

THE MUMMY'S HAND (1940) - Down-on-his-luck archaeologist Steve Banning (Dick Foran) and his annoying sidekick Babe Jenson (Wallace Ford) find a vase for sale in an Egyptian market that they believe has clues to location of the tomb of Princess Ananka. They take it to Dr. Petrie (Charles Trowbridge) of the Cairo Museum who agrees, but his colleague Andoheb (George Zucco) deems it a fake. Of course, Andoheb is doing this because he is also moonlighting as the new high priest of Karnak, whose job it is to protect this sacred burial ground. Not to be deterred, Banning convinces a Brooklyn magician (!), Solvani (Cecil Kellaway), to finance his trip. They find the tomb rather easily and discover the mummified body of Kharis (Tom Tyler), who was buried alive for trying to resurrect Ananka. Andoheb arrives on the scene and, using magical tana leaves, resurrects the mummy to kill everyone.

More of a semi-remake than a sequel, this new decade's mummy movie is pretty rough stuff. The film's worst problem is that the title creature doesn't appear until the 43 minute mark. Not good for a film that runs 67 minutes. Also, that mummy-less time is filled with some reaaaaally bad comedy, from Brooklynite Babe to the embarrassing Solvani (there is an actual bit where the tries to locate his contract and pulls everything from oversize cards to mountains of scarfs from his pockets). Coming from westerns, Tyler is a good mummy and I like the effect of his eyes being blacked out. One interesting thing is they use footage from the THE MUMMY to tell the history, but edit in Tyler in for Karloff.

THE MUMMY'S TOMB (1942) - 30 years have passed since the events of THE MUMMY'S HAND (so this is set in 1970?). Andoheb (Zucco again) survived the events of the first film and now places Mehemet Bey (Turhan Bey) in charge of getting revenge on the members of the Banning expedition (what did he do in the 30 years between?). Bey travels to Banning's home of Mapleton, Massachusetts with Kharis (now Lon Chaney, Jr.) in tow and takes a job as a cemetery caretaker. This gives him the perfect cover to send out the mummy to get revenge. It does so rather quickly as Banning (Foran again) is dispatched of by the 20 minute mark. Babe (Ford again; although is character's last name is inexplicably changed to Hanson) comes into to console his friend's son, John Banning (John Hubbard), but he gets offed too. Bey is a revenge master, but then gets sidetracked by Isobel (Elyse Knox), John's fiance. Beautiful white women - foiling madmen for ages! So he uses Kharis one more time to kidnap this hottie, which finally causes John to spring into action.

I watched this one right after THE MUMMY'S HAND and was glad I did because it is a direct sequel. Well, a 30 years later sequel. I prefer this one to its predecessor because it dispenses with the comedy and gets right down to the mummy mayhem. Running just 60 minutes (with 9 minutes of it being summary footage from HAND), it hits the ground running and rarely stops. Poor Chaney went from spending hours being made unrecognizable in THE WOLF MAN (1940) to spending hours being made unrecognizable in this. I really like Jack Pierce's design in this one with the attention to the previous film's mummy demise (he is slightly darkened from being burnt and missing an eye). The end is actually a great set up as the mummy once again attacks the huge Banning home and the villagers set fire to the place (during the town rally, the sheriff even says, "Pass out the clubs and torches!”).

THE MUMMY'S GHOST (1944) - Taking place a few years after the events of THE MUMMY'S TOMB, this has Yousef Bey (a young John Carradine) becoming the Egyptian high priest heir who is now charged with bringing Kharis the mummy (Lon Chaney, Jr. again) back to Egypt. He travels to Mapleton, Massachusetts to revive and retrieve the creature. Local college kids Tom Hervey (Robert Lowery, as a college "kid" in his 30s) and Amina (Ramsay Ames) soon find themselves targets as Amina just happens to be Princess Ananka reincarnated. Of course, the villain again finds his plans sidetracked by a certain weakness for the opposite sex. What is with these guys getting weak kneed at first glance of a woman?

Third in this MUMMY reboot series, it seems like Universal's only demands were "give us a mummy movie and make sure it runs 60 minutes." I do like that they continued on the chronology of the small town besieged by the mummy menace (newspaper headlines scream of the monster's return). The filmmakers do cheat a bit as they never explain how the mummy survived being burnt to a crisp as he appears just as before (no joke, his first scene is just him walking out of the woods looking no worse for wear). Carradine gives his all to the performance, but Chaney seems a bit stiffer than usual. The film’s best attribute is a major downer of an ending.  I kept looking at the counter and wondering how they were going to wrap up everything in a happy ending so quickly.  Turns out they didn’t and I’m grateful for that.  This is one of the bleakest endings in any monster movie.  One other memorable (and amusing) scene had the mummy roughing up a museum security guard.  When I watched this, I immediately thought that wasn’t supposed to happen.  Afterward, I read in Universal Horrors that indeed that Chaney got a bit carried away and cracked the glass that no only gave his co-star a headache, but gave Chaney a sliced arm.  Here’s the clip:

THE MUMMY'S CURSE (1944) - Arriving just 5 months after THE MUMMY'S GHOST, this was the final Universal entry in the Kharis mummy series. Set 25 years after the events of GHOST (we’re in the late 1990s now!), this has the drainage of a swamp spooking the local workers due to their fear of the mummy legend (there is no explanation as to why primary location Massachusetts is suddenly Louisiana; even odder is the foreman has a picture of the mill from the climax of the last film behind his desk). Dr. James Halsey (Dennis Moore) and Dr. Ilzor Zandaab (Peter Coe) arrive to look for the mummy during the excavation and, of course, the Egyptian of the pair has ulterior motives. Also rising from the swamp is Amina/Princess Ananka (Virginia Christine), who is rejuvenated by the suns rays but is still the object of Kharis' (Lon Chaney, Jr. one last time) affection.  For once, the Egyptian is impervious to a woman’s charms and…oh, what’s this…his henchman is digging her.  Oh jeez.

With the series as tattered as the mummy’s bandages, it is fitting this is the last one in the series.  The plots seem pretty unchanged for these last three sequels (mummy chases people), so I can understand why Universal buried the mummy after this one. Despite the unmentioned extreme location change, the screenwriters surprisingly didn't include any voodoo stuff in the proceedings. The film also features a really embarrassing "yes massa" character, which I found surprising since the other entries avoiding anything like this. It is too bad we never got to see him throw down in one of their monster rallies.  This entry does feature one of the best sequences in the series though when Ananka rises from her muddy grave.  It is really a haunting scene that poor mud-covered Christine, who is quite stunning, managed to get in one take.

So with the mummy series officially put to rest, this month I will focus on THE INVISIBLE MAN series.  I mean, if I can see him.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Clonin' the Barbarian: CONAN THE BARBARIAN (2011)

I know, I know, I can hear you. “What were you thinking?” My only defense is that Marcus Nispel did make one underappreciated sword film in 2007 and I figured he might be able to bring some of that here. It was like he was Clint Eastwood and I was Albert Popwell, and as he is putting this film in the can, I said “I gots ta know.” And when I found out, I had the same reaction.

I’m not even going to get into comparing two CONANs. Comparing the 1982 CONAN to the 2011 CONAN, is like comparing 1983 Ozzy Osbourne to 2003 Ozzy Osbourne. Suffice to say, that nasty sinking feeling in your gut that you got when the first pics of Jason Momoa came out was right. An insipid pretty-boy saddled with one of the most uninspired scripts since INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL.

How crap is the script, you ask? Well, Conan falls in love and shows his romantic side… do I need to continue? Both the lousy casting of every single actor on the set, and a script that is so banal and trite that it is stunning that it got a green light, even in Hollywood, this clunker is a chore to sit through. Even Morgan Freeman can’t seem to muster any enthusiasm as his narration is about as spirited as a reading from a 5th grade history text. Sure, there’s plenty of bloody swordfights, but there is nothing interesting about them. Nispel had some very creative set-pieces for his carnage in PATHFINDER (2007), but here, it’s mostly straightforward hack n’ slash. Ironically the three credited writers actually lift elements from PATHFINDER to prop up their lack of imagination. For instance there is a lengthy prologue with our hero as a child who grabs a sword and manages to dislodge a section of the face of the villain’s right-hand man. Which film am I talking about? Yep, both!

A famous critic once said that a James Bond movie is only as good as its villain. This actually applies to a lot of genre movies, in particular the fantasy film. PATHFINDER had Clancy Brown as a bloodthirsty, genocidal Viking leader, bent on conquering and enslaving a new land. Nothing fancy, but easily his best turn since The Kurgan. Here we have Stephen Lang as a would be conqueror searching for a mask that will turn him into a god, but, as it turns out, a god who is easily defeated by falling off a bridge. Yeah, sorry about the spoiler, but that is how it goes down. Does Conan savagely decapitate him in front of his followers? Nope. Is he drawn and quartered by angry villagers? Nope. He falls off a bridge. I’m not much for theology, but I’m pretty sure gods have the power to maintain their balance, no matter how challenging the situation. Matter of fact this movie seems to think that falling from heights is the worst fate that could befall (no pun intended) a person. Conan fights magic sand dudes that come up from the sand, attack and fall back into the sand. Yet, when they are knocked off some scaffolding in a sequence that seems to be lifted straight out of a Jackie Chan movie, they fall down and are destroyed. The sorceress also dies from a fall and Conan's love interest is threatened with one! I can only surmise that the writers were all severely acrophobic.

Yeah, I just spoiled the hell out of it. Sorry, but you should really thank me for it. I just saved you 113 minutes of your life that on your deathbed you will desperately want back. I can't believe this got made and released while the vastly superior Robert E. Howard adaptation SOLOMON KANE (2009) still languishes in purgatory. The impenetrable wisdom of Hollywood I guess.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The XXX-Factor: Sybil Danning in Playboy, August 1983

One of the great things about Blogspot are the "traffic sources" stats on what search items brings readers to our blog.  Running a close third behind Boyka (Scott Adkins' buff villain-turned-hero in the UNDISPUTED sequels) and Linda Blair (a certain OUI pictorial pops up) is 80s action/b-movie cult queen Sybil Danning.  It is almost like sex sells or something.  Danning is definitely a favorite around these parts and, like most folks, we got introduced to her through her Sybil Danning's Adventure Videos.  She was like the Elvira of the action scene, introducing some great (and not-so-great) movies with terrible puns and incredible skimpy outfits.  We were in love.  As if a hot lady and z-grade action weren't enough, Danning also had her own acting career and the Austria-born actress had no qualms getting nude.  Hell, she even refined the art of being nude without being nude.

Anyway, long story short, we obviously weren't the only ones smitten with Miss Danning's charms and we're doing this post to satiate all of the like minded folks typed "Sybil Danning + nude + Playboy" into Google every five minutes.  Below is her spread for Hugh Hefner's seminal nudie mag that appeared in August 1983.  And for you Tom types out there, we've also included the text from the article about her.  It begins with her kicking out her boyfriend (yay!) and then talking about some of her films (she even bags on Lou Ferrigno).  Fans of "never got made" stuff will be interested in reading about BLACK DIAMOND, her planned female James Bond film.  It never got before cameras, although a comic book of it did get released.  Behold the power of Danning (click to enlarge, but try not to break your computer screen)!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Strung Out on Slashers: BERSERKER (1987)

It’s that time of the year again. The weather gets crisp, the leaves are falling and our sofas get even more comfortable. The smell of fir trees and roasted meats; exotic spices and fresh-baked sweets makes our thoughts turn to a subject that is near and dear to our hearts here at VJHQ… yes, it’s time to stoke the Yule logs, whip up a hot beverage and settle in for some really bad slasher movies.

Back in the day when this hit video the box copy did its job and sucked me in with promises of a Viking warrior on a blood-soaked rampage, cutting swath through the scum of the western world… pot-smoking promiscuous teens. Holy shit! This could be the greatest movie ever! Or not.

Opening with a prologue set (as we are informed by a title card) in the 10th century, the front of a Viking longship hits a fog shrouded beach and after a long pause to observe clouds of mist float past the camera, what appears to be a reject from a Man-o-War cover-band audition, in a wolf mask, jumps off the boat. Cut to what we presume is present day (did the title guy fall asleep already?) and a couple, clearly eligible for the silverhair discount at Denny’s, are savagely attacked by what appears to be a bear. You can’t really tell as it is all POV shots with the paw from a cheap bear costume gently wiped across the faces of the victims leaving a smear of blood. Hey, it could get better, right?

Yes, in case you are keeping track, that was two prologues. We finally arrive at the main plot; a group of unsurprisingly obnoxious teens (surprisingly not ethnically diverse), loaded down with beer and pot and books (!), head up to an old camping ground with some of the shittiest cabins you can imagine. When one of the plot conveniences revolves around the renters of one of the cabins not actually staying in the cabin, but preferring to sleep in their tent, it is actually really easy to accept. The camp grounds are run by one “Pappy” Nyquist (George “Buck” Flower in a rare non-transient role), an Amish-bearded old salt with a Swedish accent. Pappy is cousin to the local Sherriff (trash movie veteran John Goff), and spends most of his free time reading books about Viking mythology. One of the tomes is actually the same as the one that the nerd teen, Larry (Rodney Montague, no really), is reading aloud on the trip up to the cabin. The book tells the history of the Viking berserkers, who were cannibals, kept on chains and in cages, and outfitted in wolf skins and wolf masks that they would use to tear up their victims. After the berserkers died it is said that their spirit remains on this earth and will possess its descendants. It is believed that the Vikings landed on US shores and this very patch of woodlands is where their ancestors still live to this day…
Ok, ok, we get it already! Someone’s gonna git possessed by a berserker and shit’s gonna go down! Awesome, bring it!

Or, maybe we’ll just wander around in the woods, hang out in the cabin and bitch, piss and moan about every goddamn thing under the everlovin’ sun. Mostly though, it’s just the obnoxious tool Josh (Greg Dawson) who tells his heart-wrenching tale of how his dad was an asshole who was obsessed with his job, left his mom, but when they came up to the cabin he was, like, totally cool n’ stuff. It’s no surprise that he is the only dude flying solo on this camping trip, as his eloquent mastery of the sublime art of humor is demonstrated frequently. When Larry brings books on the camping trip, Josh leans over to Larry’s girlfriend, Kathy (Valerie Sheldon), and says “does he read to you while you hump? What are ya gonna do? Teach Smokey the Bear to read?” He also tells the group about how the woods are dangerous as a little girl was found “all tore up” in a river. The authorities decided that it was due to the rocks in the river, in spite of the recent bear warning. Oh yeah, that’s great, thanks for bringing us up here Josh!

Naturally all this is a set-up for the impending attacks, but first we need to hit some of the important highlights from the ‘80s Slasher Movie Checklist. The highlight of this pawful of clichés grueling montage with the “teens” goofing off to an awe-inspiringly cheesy rock tune “Cool Dude”. Since words cannot do this justice, here’s the video:

And yes, we ticked off another one on the list, the skinny dipping scene in which the writer-director Jeff Richard decides he is a rebel filmmaker who is going to buck the system by having the girl start to take off her clothes and then decide not to. Hmmmmm… Let’s see, Jeff doesn’t want to see boobs, but does want to see two men greased up and stripped to the waist grappling and rolling around on the ground. Uhhh, Jeff? Is there something you would like to share with the group?


When we finally hit number 14 on Kasey Kasem’s top ‘80s Slasher Hits (which as we all know is the girl going off to go pee while camping at night), the perpetually giggling Mike (Joseph Alan Johnson) and Shelly (Beth Toussaint) go look for our pee-girl, Kristi, and decide to just have sex in the woods. I was a teenager once, I can totally see that. Apparently Mike and Shelly, in spite of having the quietest sex ever, are completely oblivious to Kristi’s screams, as she is mauled by what appears to be a bear. So now at the hour plus mark, we get to the attacks, but is it a possessed kin of a Viking warrior, or is it a bear?! Ummmm, yeah, what? We get the big Viking set-up and now Richard is desperately trying to make us think that a killer bear is stalking the woods.

Even after giving us the first prologue and our exciting premise of possession, Richard spends a lot of time trying to suggest that it’s a bear who is running around the woods attacking people and that there is in fact no berserker as the title would suggest! Nope, it’s a bear and we are going to move forward with that until the end in which… surprise! It actually is a berserker! Gosh, I bet they won’t see that coming, what a surprise that will be! Jeff, come here so I can smack you. At this point we discover that the bear was actually chasing the berserker who runs in out of nowhere and bum-rushes the bear like he’s some buffed out Leslie Nielson. Our epic throwdown between berserker and bear turns into a trainer and a bear playing cut with the berserker wrasslin' a dude in a Spencer's Halloween costume. Even better, as soon as the bear starts to get the upper... uhh, paw, our berserker tucks his tail between his legs and runs off into the forest howling for his momma!

Best cabin... EVAR!!
Twenty years later I am sucked in (again) by the premise and the promise of a Viking berserker bustin’ all Jason Voorhees on some nitwit campers and twenty years later I get to feel the same disappointment all over again. That is not to say that there aren’t any points of interest along the way. Josh is totally obsessed with staying at the same cabin that he stayed at while growing up. He makes a big deal about it, damn near throws down with ol' Pappy when he can't get it and generally will not shut the fuck up about it. Once they get there, you can see why... Mike, once he stops giggling, is a runaway freight train of social incompetence. When he hops on an ATV to go get the sheriff, he tells a terrified Kathy that she has to stay at the cabin. Why? Because “I can drive faster with less weight!” Hoooboy, Mike, I’d rather take my chances with the berserker!

As long as your expectations are very, very low and your pain threshold is very, very high, you might get out of this one alive. All others beware, unless you are a "Cool Dude".

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cheap Plug Dept.: I Dig Your Blog

We interrupt this blogging for a special announcement...

The kind Dr. AC, M.D. (Medical Deviant) of HORROR 101 has bestowed an "I Dig Your Blog" award upon us and we can't thank him enough.  If you don't know this medical marvel's work, head on over and check out his blog with some great reviews in his Fool's Views section.  The Doc will forever have our admiration (poor guy) for having watched 115 movies in October alone!

There are some rules to the award though.  Wait a sec, he's making us work?  Grrrrr.  Okay, here we go:

1) Gratefully accept this award. (Done)
2) Link to the person you received it from. (Done)
3) Post 3 interesting facts about yourself. (See below)
4) Pass this award around to at least 5 blogs you dig. (See below)
5) Notify said 5 bloggers (Done)

Damn, interesting facts about ourselves?  Well, since there are two of us here, you lucky readers will get 6 interesting facts.

Interesting facts about Tom:

1. Believes that if god truly existed, bacon would grow on trees. 

2. Studied film, journalism and culinary arts and then discovered that nobody would pay for reviews of movies about food. 
3. Is the one man who has bought a copy of Penthouse just for the articles.

Interesting facts about Will:

1. Despite being a film addict, has never seen THE GODFATHER.

2. The first R-rated movie he saw in the theater was ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.  
3. Once found a copy of Penthouse on the street and wondered who tore all the articles out.

Okay, 5 blogs that we dig:

1. By John Charles - While new to blogspot, Mr. Charles has been a internet presence for over a decade with his (now defunct) Hong Kong Digital.  He bravely stepped back into blogging this past year and we are always excited to see what he is reviewing next.

2. The Dead Next Door: A Field Guide to Regional Horror Films - Jeez, could they have come up with a title to appeal to me more?  Always throwing up trailers for some of the best from this sub-genre.  And they will forever be champs for find a LIFE story on a teen Tobe Hooper making FRANKENSTEIN.

3. The Horn Section - I found Hal Horn's blog via his posts on Mobius and he runs a great "why the hell isn't this on DVD yet" film series.  Great fun reads that covers a wide range from Burt Reynold's PATERNITY to DARKTOWN STRUTTERS.

4. Fist of B-List - Any blog that has the dad from NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER screaming in their banner is amazing by my standards.  Covering the direct-to-video action market, you'll get hilarious reviews covering everything from Gary Daniels to Sean Donahue.

5. Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot - MCKEE!!!  Most folks will know Marty McKee for his Mobian God status.  He also runs this blog where he covers everything from old published reviews for stuff like 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (poor guy) to new reviews of stuff like Charles Napier's THE NIGHT STALKER (lucky guy).We won't hold the fact that he saw SCREAM 4 against him.

So check all them bad boys out as they have the VJ seal of approval!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Gweilo Dojo: MIAMI CONNECTION (1987)

If you grew up in the US in the 1980s, escaping exposure to the television series MIAMI VICE was pretty damn hard.  The adventures of Crocket (Don Johnson) and Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas) set standards – for better or worse – in both the entertainment and lay person fashion industry. People were showing up to work with 5 day stubble on purpose after, no doubt, spending a weekend jamming to Jan Hammer’s MIAMI VICE theme in the clubs.  While too young to fully indulge in the MIAMI VICE inspired nightlife, I am grateful to the show for inspiring the team behind the glorious NINJA TURF (1985) to make the equally glorious MIAMI CONNECTION (1987). It is the kind of cinema we live for here at Video Junkie – a film full of some many laughable “holeeeeey shit!” moments that it easily secured a spot on our “best film EVER” lists.

MIAMI CONNECTION opens with a big cocaine deal going down that is interrupted by some ninjas who ride around on loud motorcycles.  Hmmmm, I don’t think they know how ninjas are supposed to act.  Anyway, ninja leader Yashito (Si Y Jo) takes his haul to a club to sell to epically bearded Jeff (William Eagle, if that is your real name).  Jeff, however, gets perturbed when Dragon Sound – the club’s house band offering “the new dimension in rock and roll” – takes the stage.  Seems his sister Jane (Kathy Collier) has joined the band and, oh lordy, she kisses band member John (Vincent Hirsh) on stage, which makes Jeff angry and uneasy.  Think about that for a second.  A guy who is in a club to conduct a major cocaine deal is pissed his sister is in a band and kissing a guy.  That about sums up the craziness on display here in MIAMI CONNECTION.

Jane and John meet up on the campus of the University of Central Florida while she is in her computer class.  Here is another classic bit that had me rolling – the computer teacher asks the class to applaud the University’s computer team for coming in fourth place in an international programming contest. What?  Do these filmmakers know they control the product onscreen? What is to prevent them from putting the University in first place?  Talk about aiming low. Anyway, our lovebirds walk around the campus and Jane tells John about her overprotective brother who hangs around with shady people.  Oh damn, guess who just rolled up in his red convertible with a whole group of shady looking people?  Jeff decks John while Jane watches helplessly (that sounds like a nurse rhyme).  The boys from Dragon Sound show up to offer their boy some support and, when they drive away, John says, “If Jane wasn’t there I would have kicked his ass.”  Yeah, sure, pal.

Meanwhile, the band that Dragon Sound apparently replaced is pissed and shows up at the club to demand their jobs back.  Not a good move as the club owner apparently knows martial arts too and beats down the group.  The causes the scorned singer to contact Jeff about getting rid of Dragon Sound, a task the begrudged brother is more than up for. After this is where one of my favorite bits of the film happens.  Jim (Maurice Smith, who may or may not be the MMA and kickboxing legend) tells Mark (Y.K. Kim) and his other band mates that he has been looking for his father.  Here’s how it breaks to them in the movie. Keep in mind this is the very first time the film ever mentions all five of the band members are orphans.

So can you see why – as McDonald’s would say – we’re loving it? And the Oscar goes too...Maurice Smith!

Of course, abandonment issues are the least of Dragon Sound’s worries now as they are confronted by the other band with a gang of thugs in the middle of the street.  Mark tries to soothe the scene by saying, “Listen to me. I don’t want any trouble. I get the job from agent. Don’t bother us.”  That goes over real well (perhaps they didn’t understand Mark’s thiiiiick accent?) and soon a huge brawl breaks out over the streets. Naturally, since Dragon Sound are also Tae Kwon Do experts (did I forget to mention that?), they whoop everyone’s ass and Jeff is forced to resort to kidnapping.  His gang snatches Tom (Angelo Janotti) from Dragon Sound (rule #1 in music industry kidnappings: always go for the John Oates look-a-like).  This results in a showdown at an abandoned warehouse, which culminates in gang leader Jeff being killed.  For some reason Jane doesn’t seem to care much, but Yashito takes this shit real personal when he hears his “brother” (what?) has been killed. He and his ninjas suit up to get rid of Dragon Sound once and for all.  The ninjas confront them in broad daylight and their timing couldn’t have been worse as they were just driving Jim to the airport to meet his long-lost father.  Someone will have to pay.

In case you are wondering how Jim took the news of finding his father, here you go:

His last exclamation of “Oh my God” is exactly how I sounded when I finished this movie for the first time.  Hell that is how I sounded after the first 10 minutes, which had me quickly sending Tom an email saying, “Watch this film ASAP!” Hiding behind the completely mystifying, postcard looking box art (see above) is the type of film we live for – completely wrongheaded in every way, yet vastly entertaining as a result of that.  How can you not die laughing at bits like geeky Yashito hanging out with some all too real bikers while a song called “Tough Guy” blasts on the soundtrack?  I honestly had a real tough time deciding which clips to upload as nearly every scene is hilarious.  And the dialogue is nearly every scene is priceless.  For example, check out the two cops who show up too late to break up a brawl at a train yard.  

Cop #1: Where did everybody go?
Cop #2: I don’t know.
Cop #1: Looks like another gang.
Cop #2: Ah, we need to get these gangs out of central Florida anyway.
Cop #1: That’s true.
Cop #2: Let’s get out of here.

You also have to love the completely random shifts in tone.  Like Park’s NINJA TURF and AMERICAN CHINATOWN, things can go from jokey to serious and vice versa in a split second.  There is a great bit where a ninja underling tells Yashito about the final attack.  His response is to cut off the head of bearer of bad news and then laugh maniacally. And I love the dudes they find to be in the gangs in these films.  We get all shapes and sizes, from the rotund to the rail thin Kid Rock look-a-like.  Their depiction of US gangs is so bad that I’d almost thought this was a Hong Kong film.  Oh damn, did I forget to mention that Dragon Sound plays several songs?  They pepper such hits as “Friends” (lyrics: "Friends through eternity, loyalty, honesty/We'll stay together through thick or thin/Friends forever, we’ll be together/We're on top because we plan to win.") with an on stage display of bad martial arts.

So MIAMI CONNECTION is pretty much a blast from start to finish of its 83 minute running time.  It is a shame that Park only made a few of these movies. Seriously, if I had the $250 million dollar budget of a TRANSFORMERS film, I’d spend $249 million on a time machine just so I could go back to the 1980s and give director Richard Park a million dollars to make a couple more action movies.  Oh, and I’d totally go to the club with my stubble and neon t-shirt under a white sport coat to scope on the 80s chicks.