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!

Monday, February 27, 2012


We’ve been molesting our blog every now and then with reviews of the X-rated parodies hitting DVD seemingly every week.  Our category of choice has mostly been horror spoofs (with reviews of SAW, FRIDAY THE 13th, WET DREAM ON ELM STREET and the two HALLOWEEN spoof) as that is the genre we are probably most familiar with. Yeah, we’re still waiting on Tom to hit up that THIS AIN’T CONAN XXX.  But there is one film that nearly the entire world is familiar with.  It is a film that has crossed cultural and generational boundaries, still permeating our society nearly 35 years after its initial release.  The most recent Super Bowl had yet another commercial cashing in on its familiarity.  You can evoke it just by doing some heavy breathing. And, hell, one of the films spawned from it is once again haunting theaters. Of course, I’m talking about George Lucas’ legendary STAR WARS (1977).

It is frankly shocking that a straight up porn parody of STAR WARS – one of the most well known and revered films of all-time – has taken this long to get off the ground.  Perhaps it was a fear of Lucas’ notorious ability to dispatch his legal Stormtroopers faster than Han Solo’s Kessel run that kept porn producers away, but fearless Axel Braun Productions and Vivid have decided it was finally time to stand up to the Dark Side and give the legendary sci-fi film it official seal of approval as a true cinematic and cultural icon.  After all, can any film truly be considered a masterpiece until it has depictions of its characters doing the nasty onscreen?  No it can’t, which is why CITIZEN KANE (1941) won’t truly be considered a classic until we see CITIZEN SHARON KANE.  Get on that one quickly, producers, before we need to call it SENIOR CITIZEN SHARON KANE.

Opening with a theme that reminds me more of 1970s BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, STAR WARS XXX: A PORN PARODY lets you know right off the bat that this will be serious parody business as they perfectly recreate the opening text crawl (the rebels got the Death Star plans by hacking Vader’s Spacebook page) and the iconic big Destroyer ship reveal. On board the rebel ship, C-3PO (given campy voice by legendary gay director Chi Chi LaRue) and R2-D2 sneak into an escape pod while Darth Vader (Lexington Steel) keeps screwing up and choking rebel hostages to death.  Once on Tatooine, the droids split up (“Go that way, you rusting little Twink,” cries C-3PO) before being captured by Jawas.  On the Death Star, Vader interrogates captured Princess Leia (Allie Haze), resulting in our first sex scene at the 8 minute mark.  Vader tells Leia that he knows her father and that “he’s had more tail than a Nerf herder.”  For some reason she gets turned on and begins to play with herself before giving him a blowjob. *Nerd voice: wait a sec, knowing what I know about Darth Vader and his past, this scene is creeping me out* Well, for once I guess the really heavy breathing fits in a sex scene.

Meanwhile, C-3PO and R2-D2 are picked up by Luke Skywalker (Seth Gamble) and his Uncle Owen.  Instead of looking for a droid that knows the binary language of moisture vaporators, Owen is looking for one “that understands women well enough to tell me what my wife is saying half the time.” Ha, good luck with that.  The family picks up the units and, while Luke is cleaning them up, R2 shows his hologram message from Leia (“Come for me Obi-Wan. Come for me.”  Ha!). R2 refuses to show the message again (“The first taste is always free,” coos C-3PO) and bolts to find this mysterious Obi-Wan. Meanwhile, Vader chills with Grand Moff Tarkin, who tries to get the location of the rebel base out of Leia (“I feel like breakfasting somewhere civilized and then perhaps blowing it up.  Set your course for Alderan.”).  Luke and C-3PO eventually locate the paranoid droid, but Luke faints when he sees one of the Sand People. *Nerd voice: they’re called Tusken Raiders!*  Thankfully, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Tom Byron) shows up to save him.  Well, kinda. He uses the Force to subdue the female Sand Person (Jennifer White) trying to attack him.  “Don’t be afraid. You won’t need your weapon…or your clothes,” he says.  Why you crafty old Jedi.  Here’s our second sex scene and most of it takes place on the hood of the Lightspeeder.  Have you no shame, Obi-Wan?  I won’t tell you how the scene ends, but let’s just say Obi-Wan’s blast points have far too much precision for the Sand People chick.

Back at Obi-Wan’s place, the elderly Jedi confirms he once fought alongside Luke’s father in the Clone Wars and the duo decide to head to Mos Eisley (“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.  Believe me, I’ve looked,” says Obi-Wan) to hire a pilot to fly them to Alderan.  After a funny play on the Jedi mind trick scene with two scantily clad Stormtroopers, our heroes head into the cantina and meet up with Chewbacca (Dick Chibbles) and Han Solo (Rocco Reed). After the flight arrangements are made, director Braun deviates from the original by having two long sex scenes. The first is a lesbian scene involving the two Cantina Tonnika twins (Aiden Ashley, Kimberly Kane) with braided hair.

The second has two couples (Gia DiMarco, Rihanna Rimes, Danny Wylde, Derrick Pierce) going at it with Rimes dressed as Oola, Jabba’s dancer.  *Nerd voice: wait a sec, that character was from RETURN OF THE JEDI! It’s a trap!*

We then get the famous Greedo scene, where Han not only shoots first, he shoots his green adversary about 8 times.

Meanwhile, the evil Tarkin has ordered the Death Star to blow up Alderan, but they miss on their first try.  The Falcon boys hits hyperspace and soon arrive to find the planet all blow’d up and then they get sucked into the Death Star by the tractor beam.  Once inside, Obi-Wan heads out to shut off the tractor beam while Luke and Han sneak into a control room. This leaves Chewie all alone and what can the poor walking carpet do? Why get it on with two female Stormtroopers (Brandy Aniston, Eve Laurence), of course!  The resulting sex scene is truly terrifying, the stuff your nightmares are made of (although I’m sure it will get a strong reception from some Furries).  As everyone already knows, R2 locates the Princess and Luke, Han and the satiated Chewie go to break her out (“Aren’t you a little hairy for a Stormtrooper,” she asks). They escape into a big turbo laundry dryer filled with jock straps (really!) and get out just in time to watch Obi-Wan and his flask get sliced down by Vader.  Okay, I think you know what happens next.  The rebels get their shit together and blow up the Death Star and everyone gets medals.  Oh, one small difference, Luke, Leia and Han have a threesome before the ceremony.  The sex scene culminates with Han apologizing to Luke for cumming before him.  “Sorry, farm boy. I always shoot first,” Han quips.  No better way to wrap up the STAR WARS porn than with some good ol’ geek “Han shoots first” sex humor.

With the XXX parody genre at an all-time production high, I’m glad that a full on takeoff didn’t happen until now.  If it had happened it the 1970s, it would probably have only had someone in a bed sheet wearing a Stormtrooper helmet (that actually happened in STAR BABE).  The 80s and 90s would have just given us a double entendre title and not much else. The 2000s gave us things titled STAR WHORES, but they were just compilations.  And Private did a PORN WARS series, but those spoofed the prequels (boooooo!).  Yes, a film of such magnitude as STAR WARS required a spoof with a certain level of technical expertise alongside some loving hands. Thankfully, director Axel Braun was the man who decided to do it.  The son of porn pioneer Lasse Braun, Axel began his career in the adult entertainment industry in the late 1990s.  Since 2009, Braun has been dabbling almost exclusively in the porn parody genre with the THIS AIN’T… series that has seen him lampoon everything from STAR TREK to superheroes like SPIDER-MAN and SUPERMAN to GLEE (!) to AVATAR (which, like its source, was the most expensive film of all-time).

As a director, Braun brings an incredible eye for detail.  There is some dodgy CGI here and there (C-3PO and R2-D2 are 100% computer generated), but Braun actually trumps Lucas in that he uses it sparingly.  As far as the sex goes, what can I say that won’t make you think I’m even creepier than the notion that I’m reviewing a STAR WARS porn?  It is all handled well and Braun casts attractive women in all of the roles.  I’m just glad he didn’t do an Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru scene.  And, thankfully, Braun did us all a favor and didn’t shoot this in 3-D (ouch, what is that in my eye?).  There are even some sci-fi in jokes for the ultra geeks (check out the photos of the droids a few paragraphs up).  Sure, most of the acting is done in front of green screens, but the few sets they do utilize copy the source material very well.  And speaking of copying the source material, some of this stuff is so dead on that you might actually think you are watching STAR WARS for a split second.  The attack on the Death Star is a great example.  I’m sure the computer effects folks making these scenes followed the original as a blueprint very closely.  Braun is well aware of the foundation and even takes the pains to recreate the camera sets up to look similar.  Oh wait, Obi-Wan was supposed to be on the other side.

One of the more important aspects is the film’s script (really!).  Co-written by Braun and Mark Logan, the screenplay follows Lucas’ film pretty close.  In fact, I’m sure they probably just copy and pasted a version found online and then added their own dialogue in places.  The writing is infused with a real knowledge about the STAR WARS universe though, both on film and in fandom.  The “Han shoots first” closing line is a great example.  Or during the final threesome where Leia seduces Luke with “I’m an orphan too.  So since we’re not related to each other…” (insert porn music). Believe it or not, I actually laughed out loud at several gags in the film. For example, the “stay on target” bit has a female fighter repeating that popular line over and over as she focuses on her scanner before she slams her X-wing right into the wall.  There are lots of plays on familiar STAR WARS lines that will make long time fans laugh.  One of my favorites is when our heroes escape Mos Eisley in the Millennium Falcon and we get one of Luke’s famous whiny lines.

Luke: I thought you said this thing was fast?
Han: I was talking about your momma, farm boy.

Of course, this semi-witty, semi-large production also requires the actors to pull it off and that is no easy feat in the porn industry.  Thankfully, Braun has managed to cast a group of capable actors who seem up for the task.  In the lead roles, Seth Gamble and Allie Haze (if those are your real names) are both good as Luke and Leia, respectively. Haze is very attractive, a plus since she is playing the equivalent of every boys 1977 to 1983 fantasy.  Most importantly, they both look the part.  Rocco Reed is good as Han Solo, but I wouldn’t say he really looks like Harrison Ford.  The casting of Lexington Steele as Darth Vader is clever (he is black, after all), but the voice acting for Vader leaves a bit to be desired. I’m not sure if it is Steele or not, but there is little attempt to mimic the deep voice of James Earl Jones.  And speaking of voiceovers, Chi Chi LaRue portraying C-3PO as a camp drag queen is fantastic.  In the non-sex roles, Bryn Pryor shines as Grand Moff Tarkin (I’m shocked they didn’t name him Grand Muff) and does all of Peter Cushing’s great lines with gusto.  Last but definitely not least is Tom Byron as Obi-Wan Kenobi.  A veteran of the adult industry for over 30 years, Byron delivers a performance for the ages as the veteran Jedi Knight.  Not only does he look like Sir Alec Guiness, but he has his voice and inflections down.  Not only that, but he is actually funny. Seriously, it is one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in a porn parody and the man deserves the porn equivalent of an Oscar.  It is a performance that could have easily been done by lazy line reading, but Byron gives his all to the role. I am officially knighting him as Sir Tom Byron (not to be confused with Lord Byron).

What has been seen can not be unseen:

So STAR WARS XXX: A PORN PARODY is a smashing success and probably better than any fan could have hoped for.  Not only is it a technically superior adult film, it is actually funny too.  That is more than I can say for something like those terrible ______ MOVIE spoofs by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer that Hollywood keeps puking onto the public. I applaud Braun and his entire cast and crew for the effort.  We can only hope that THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK spoof is coming soon.  Just, please, no Yoda sex scene.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On the Celluloid Chopping Block: PRAY FOR DEATH (1985)

Newton’s third law of motion states “to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction”. This may be a principle of physics, but I believe it also applies to the way humans are wired in general. What is the action movie cliché? They pushed him too far, now he’s going to push back! The same can be said of the film industry when controlled by censorship, and the film industry is fueled by the demands of the audience. If a child is allowed to have anything they want except ice cream, what is that child going to want more than anything else? Of course it’s going to be ice cream. Cinematically this was demonstrated in bold print by the Franco era in Spain. Here in the US, it’s the ‘80s.

The ‘80s started off with the Iran Hostage Crisis (technically November of ’79), setting a tense mindset for the decade. The “Action Movie” was invented as a release for some of the political tensions, the rise of terrorism, corporate oppression and even worse, drugs and sex turning from acceptable recreational pastimes into a deadly debilitating epidemic. Horror movies played the same role, releasing the tension and dealing with public fears, but the one thing the majority of the public was not afraid of, was something the minority was. So flipped out about all the things that were going on in the world, a few religious wingnuts, scrambling for an explanation, decided that art and entertainment were to blame for all of the world’s ills. Actually, this is nothing new, but in the ‘80s it reached a fever pitch. Filmmakers wanted to deliver more cathartic thrills, and Jack Valenti and the MPAA, feverishly worked to deny them.

Behind the scenes at the MPAA offices.

“But hey,” I hear you say, “isn’t censorship unconstitutional?” The answer is yes! To get around the fact that they were doing something unconstitutional Valenti and company stated that they were only providing a “voluntary” service that would rate the content of the films. Never mind that in order to get your movie shown or advertised, it had to have a rating. There was also a fee involved. Filmmakers had to submit the film, pay a fee based on a sliding scale determined by the film’s budget and receive some vague reports as to what they needed to remove from the film to obtain a specific rating. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the bigger your budget, the more connected you were and the more preferential your treatment. If you had a big budget movie like say ANGEL HEART (1987) were given specific instructions that allowed their films to get through with minimal submittals (excessive “buttock thrusts” during the sex scene, in case you were curious), and stuperstar movies like say, INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984) could slide through with a PG rating after showing a man getting his heart ripped out of his chest. Smaller budgeted movies, such as the notorious HENRY PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986/1990) which was, like many other low-budget movies, given the cryptic reason that the “tone is too dark” for an R-rating. This requires edits based on the guesswork of the producers and costly resubmission, sometimes, as in the case of LEATHERFACE (1990), leading to re-shoots of scenes that were considered simply thematically offensive (a child setting off a contraption that kills someone is considered X-rated content).

Some of these movies that were heavily oppressed by the MPAA gained cult status simply because of this. The ‘80s had not only Jason Voorhees sending moral outrage throughout the minions of bible cults, but apparently 15th century covert operatives got their panties in a bunch too. While post-cert England has always been fussy about martial arts weapons in movies, we, the enlightened Americans, have never really had issues with that until Sam Firstenberg’s REVENGE OF THE NINJA (1983) came along. Of course, few martial arts films made in the US were as bloody as REVENGE. Newton’s law kicks in here as well. Whenever a movie (not made by Spielberg) sets a precedent for violence, the MPAA will come down hard on those that follow. Ask any director of the FRIDAY THE 13th sequels and they will recount the nightmare of multiple submissions and indirect answers.

Following the success of REVENGE, Firstenberg toned down the violence in favor of supernatural hokum for NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984), and Emmet Alston took the reins for his jaw-droppingly fromage-laden espionage/jungle actioner NINE DEATHS OF THE NINJA (1985). 1985 also saw the last of Sho Kosugi’s proper ninja films, and the most notorious, PRAY FOR DEATH. Easily the most infamous ninja movie of all, Gordon Hessler decided to go back to the themes that made Sho a household name in the first place. A good man, who is secretly a ninja, wronged by the mob and out for bloody revenge. Worked great for REVENGE, right? At this point the MPAA had a bone to pick with Sho and they weren’t about to let him continue to damage the mental health of this great land, and maybe make a few extra shekels in the process.

Hessler decides that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Here Sho plays Akira Saito, a Japanese man who has descended from a long line of shinobi and secretly trains with his father. His wife Akia (Donna Kei Benz) talks him into moving his family to the violent land of America. Once there the old man who sells them the house, Sam (TV vet Parley Baer) tells him it’s a bad neighborhood and to keep their doors locked (I guess escrow already went through). So now you know shit’s gonna go down. For some reason the local mob uses the shed behind their new house as a drop point for stolen merchandise. After a dirty cop decides to steal a pricessless necklace instead of leaving it in the shed, the mobsters decide it’s time to crack some skulls! Their first suspect is Sam, who they catch on the way out of town. They decide that sorting through all of his stuff (which is all tied to his car) is too time consuming, so they simply beat him to death and set his car on fire. Hey now, these are the same guys who think that nothing is conspicuous at all about armed guys in suits stopping in a suburban neighborhood, and going into someone’s back yard to make illegal deals! This is actually one of the first cuts in the movie. In the edited version Limehouse Willie (James Booth in a slimy role that he wrote for himself) hits Sam's car with a crowbar, shouting “liar!” He then raises the crowbar to hit Sam, and we cut to Limehouse's henchmen dousing the car with gas. In the uncut version, Limehouse beats Sam repeatedly with the crowbar, shouting “liar!” with each hit, until one of his lackeys stops him, apparently feeling that it is acceptable to kill someone with a crowbar, but hitting them after they are already dead is an embarrassing breach of etiquette. I realize that beating ol' gramps to death with a blunt object isn't exactly a nice thing to do, but if movie mobsters only did things that would only be acceptable behavior in films such as, say PETE'S DRAGON (1977), there would be no need for the ninja to get revenge and thus no movie. Which is exactly what the MPAA wanted. And probably Leonard Maltin too.

Of course one thing leads to another, one of Saito’s kids (Shane Kosugi) is kidnapped, his wife and that same unlucky son are run down by a car, and finally the wife is assaulted and murdered in the hospital. Now Saito is going to “go back to the shadows” and enforce Newton’s third law. Oh yeah, time for some equal and opposite reaction, muthafuggas!

PRAY FOR DEATH really signaled the end of the violent ninja movies. Even Mats Helge toned down his RUSSIAN NINJA, the 1989 follow-up to his gory classic NINJA MISSION (1984). For one, Sho Kosugi wanted to pursue other types of projects and like Bruce Lee before him, there was really no-one else to fill his lethal footwear (though like Lee, that didn't stop anyone from trying). Also, the film had a brutal time making it through the MPAA’s meatgrinder. It was heavily edited and that cut version was distributed to almost all other markets. Even countries that normally only buy the unedited versions of films for distribution, such as Japan and Holland, for whatever reason ended up with the censored release. This has led to long speculation about the graphic content that it once held. It’s long been believed that there was some very extreme footage left on the cutting room floor that warranted an X-rating. Years back I finally got my hands on the long rumored uncut version of DEATH WISH II (1982), and that film had some footage that understandably caused some sphincter clenching in the MPAA’s screening room. It has long been thought that PRAY FOR DEATH ran along the same lines. I’m here to tell ya, it ain’t so. If anything, PRAY FOR DEATH is the epitome of the MPAA’s total lack of objectivity and extreme hypocrisy in the ‘80s.

The basic cruxt of the movie is a back and forth between the mob’s main lackey, Limehouse and Saito. After Saito goes to the docks to meet with Limehouse to get his son back, Saito is shackled and Limehouse uses a balisong to slice Saito’s chest. In the cut version we see Limehouse over Saito’s shoulder doing the cutting, there is a few reaction shots from both and then a shot of a line of blood across Saito’s chest drawn by the knife. In the uncut print, there is a shot of the knife starting to cut into Saito’s chest before the reaction shots. Apparently two shots of a knife drawing a line of blood across someone’s chest is X-rated! Later there is a shot of Limehouse slashing his own forearm with the balisong to get into the hospital where Saito’s wife and son are. There is no prosthetic effect in either of these shots, simply the old trick of having a tube on the opposite side of the blade that pushes a bit of blood out as the dull knife is moved across the skin. Oldest trick in the book and apparently… X-rated!

Once Limehouse is in the hospital he heads to Aiko Saito’s room where it has often been rumored a major edit occurs. In fact, this is true. Almost the entire scene is missing from the cut version. Limehouse enters the room slams a strip of gauze over Aiko’s mouth and then a big clumsy cut to the cops and the detective in the hospital. It has often been speculated that the scene was a graphic rape, complete with genital mutilation. This is only partially true. In the uncut scene, Limehouse savagely beats Aiko with a closed fist three times, rips her top open and lifts one of her legs up. We cut away to a police detective and a patrolman in the hallway, so if he does rape her, it is completely implied. We cut back and he’s making a grunting, stabbing motion and lifts a bloody pair of scissors. None of the stabbing is shown, but it could be taken as implied that he is stabbing her in the abdominal region. Either way, it is a rough scene, but X-rated? Hardly. So extreme that the entire scene had to be cut? Totally ridiculous, but the MPAA had an agenda, and they would not be denied.

The second of the two major cuts in the film is the scene where Limehouse machineguns dirty cop Joe Daley (Matthew Faison) in a supremely cheesy Italian restaurant (why are Mafioso types eating at a Fuzio’s type of place?). Limehouse is shown firing the gun, but the shot of Joe and his contact being peppered with lead is missing, as is the rest of the violence. After Limehouse presumably kills Joe, he shoots up the restaurant decorations, is shown nudging Joe's corpse with his shoe, spits on the floor and that’s it for the cut version. In the uncut version of the sequence, Limehouse guns down some of the diners hitting the restaurant decorations in the process and we see Joe’s body face-down on the floor. Limehouse uses his foot to turn him over showing him covered in blood, then Limehouse spits on his corpse. Yep, that’s X-rated too! But wait! It gets better. Limehouse hears some whimpering coming from behind the bar, so he walks over looks down at someone off camera and says “hey, what’s the matter? I ain’t gonna hurt you”, a quick insert shot of a girl standing up and then he fires two shots and we cut to a quick insert of the girl dropping out of frame. Not even a squib is present in this bit and the girl isn’t even in the same shot, but somehow, yes, this is X-rated material! Will pointed out something that I completely missed. This cut was undoubtedly a knee-jerk reaction to the infamous McDonald's massacre of the Summer of 1984. The second largest one-day, single-person mass murder in recent US history, having that scene in a film mere months after the fact probably was a little too close to the bone. Regardless, it's not the responsibility of a supposedly objective ratings board to decide what the public, or in fact the world, is in the mood to see, but to rate the content of films to advise the movie-going public. A concept Valenti only gave lip-service to.

The rest of the missing footage is little bits here and there that add up to quite a bit. While in the hospital Limehouse is attacked by some cops and he fights them off with his fists and a pair of scissors. It’s hard to tell he’s even stabbing them with the scissors, except in the uncut print there is a shot of one of the cops on the floor with a pair of scissors sticking out of his chest. You got it… X-rated! When Saito kills Limehouse's boss with the folding super-shuriken thing, there is an extra shot of the door swinging open, showing that one of the spokes punched through the door and a patch of blood. During the climactic battle in the mannequin factory, Limehouse stabs Saito in the leg with a square dowel rod. In the cut version you see the rod going into Saito’s leg via forced perspective (it’s pretty clear that it’s going behind his leg). In the uncut version Limehouse gives it a couple of twists after sticking it in. Also there are several shots of the rod in the wound, an extra shot of it getting twisted in the wound and blood running out and a shot of the broken rod being pulled out of the wound. Is it violent? Well, yeah. But that's why we have an R-rating; to advise people that the content of the film might not be for the squeamish. Just in case the title PRAY FOR DEATH and the image of a ninja in body armor didn't deliver the message and you went into the theater expecting THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG (1975).

It’s easy to speculate on the missing footage from Limehouse’s final comeuppance, but there is no extra footage of him meeting his end in the saw blade. There is, however, a quick close-up shot of his bloodless hand impaled on the log and a shot of his leg being stabbed. The shot of his leg being stabbed is particularly surprising since it is simply a shot of a hand quickly stabbing a piece of black cloth, again, without any blood or effects whatsoever!

While the US never went through the insanity of England’s notorious “video nasty” era, we definitely had our own version of wildly inconsistent censorship that in hindsight seems even more absurd than it did at the time. Things like this make it even more grating to read the likes of Eli Roth whining about the MPAA, parroting the filmmakers of the ‘80s who could barely get their films rated R, even after cutting them to pieces.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Gweilo Dojo: THE INSTRUCTOR (1983)

“I'll get you. I’ll mangle you. You turd.”

If you immediately find joy in lines of dialogue like that, THE INSTRUCTOR is a film for you.  A relic from an era where white guys at a karate school could pool together enough money to make a film (aka the late 70s/early 80s), this is the kind of cinema we live for here at Video Junkie.  Is it cheaply made?  Yes.  Is it going to replace ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) as a martial arts classic? No.  Is it entertaining as hell?  Freakin’ A!

THE INSTRUCTOR opens with, naturally, The Instructor (Bob Chaney) jogging with his student Thumper (writer-producer-director Don Bendell).  They seem unaware that they are being followed by a ninja (who picks his nose) before running into some of their kid students at the park.  Meanwhile, a ragtag gang battles by some railroad tracks with swords and trash cans (I’m told that’s how they settle things in Ohio). After playing a bit of soccer with the kids, The Instructor and Thumper continue their jog, but head back because The Instructor has a bad feeling.  Turns out he was right as the ninja has attacked the kids.  But these kids use their masterful moves to knock the guy down and the ninja bolts.  Alas, a man must jog and our heroes keep going until they stumble upon the gang forcing this ninja geek to molest a woman from the gang named Cookie (Shirley Bendell, Don’s wife).  Or as Thumper so hilariously puts it: “Sir, look! That woman’s being raped!”  This leads to a big fight scene where Thumper gets KO’d and The Instructor takes out everyone.  Our heroes find out the ninja is a guy named Fender, who may or may not be mentally challenged, and he says he was following them as he wanted to learn Bud Hart’s moves. “Don’t confuse me with Bud Hart,” The Instructor sternly warns.

The Instructor & his hair!
So who the hell is this Bud guy?  Turns out he is the Bud Hart (Bob Saal), an asshole karate instructor from a rival school.  How much of an asshole is he?  He drinks beer and reads Playboy with his feet up on his desk while others train.  Oh yeah, he also raped and killed The Instructor’s wife Debbie.  The two groups get into a big scuffle at a banquet, but The Instructor’s cooler head prevails.  No doubt due to that insulation on his head he calls hair.  You see, he is a good guy and seems to harbor no ill will toward anyone, despite the fact that his wife was raped and killed by his former best friend. Bud is in cahoots with the local mob and is hired to rough up some union guys. In return, Bud asks the mob to send some boys to trash The Instructor’s school.  This involves them throwing some papers on the floor (the horror!) and attempting to rape The Instructor’s new love interest Dee (Lynday Scharnott).  Despite all of this recreational violence, the men still carry on a civil relationship and agree to meet at a big tournament.  This is where Fender really loses his cool.  Wanting some black belt glory, he steals Thumper’s trophy and, when confronted, beats Thumper to a pulp with it.  The Instructor immediately suspects hothead Bud and an insane 20 minute chase ensues all over Akron, Ohio.

The Instructor & his rage!
I’ve got Tom to thank for sending this movie my way.  I mistakenly sent him an email after getting 15 minutes into it and commenting on how amazing it was.  I should have waited until I finished it because nothing could prepare me for this film’s finale.  Seriously, this chase has to be seen to be believed.  They go from cars to motorcycles to a foot chase in what is seemingly a high-speed tour of Akron.  Not to mention these is one of the craziest car stunts I’ve ever seen on film in this movie.  They do the standard car flying through the bed of a semi bit, but manage to sneak a camera person into the bed of the truck, placing them mere feet from the action. Additionally, the car achieves some amazing air time. Seriously, look at the first 45 seconds of this clip.  I was dying because that car looks weightless and seems like it is just going to keep going into the sky like the end of GREASE (1978) or something.  No joke, this is insanely dangerous and insanely cool.

I seriously wish more movies featured chases like this.  Every film needs the battling combatants to fight at a waterfall then stumble upon a logger on his lunch break and have them incorporate his axe and chainsaw into their fight. Another amazing thing about this chase is the entire pursuit springs from one bad assumption (The Instructor thinking Bud beat up Thumper).  So essentially we have the wrong man being chased.  I assume the message is letting anger control you emotions can result in you doing bad things.  But The Instructor gets off with a $500 fine and suspended sentence in the end.  Classic stuff!  And don’t get me started on the Fender character.  That guy is hilarious.  Something is obviously wrong with him as when one of the young kids knocks him down in the opening, he responds by saying to one of the young boys, “Why you little SLUT!”  WHAT!?!  Later, when he is pondering stealing the trophy, he sees a girl he likes and he sits doe-eyed in front of her while his voiceover ponders the most outrageous things (“If I was a black belt she would like me. And if she did, I’d punch her in the face.”).  Here is his delivery of the incredible line I opened the review with:

Remember: Fender is watching you!
The marital arts also leave a lot to be desired, despite some legit talent in the cast.  There is lots of Lanky White Guy Fu on display that would make Christopher Mitchum envious. Anyone expecting something as cool as the cover featured above will be sorely disappointed.  The action depicted (guy kicking another guy on a motorcycle in his helmet) is basically in the film, but let’s just say there is world of difference between concept and execution.  But one has to remember this was shot in 1979/80 when things weren’t as refined as we expect today.  Believe it or not, early reports in Variety had famous karate instructor Ed Parker listed in the cast. Sadly, he eventually wasn’t in the film.  Bob Chaney is still in the martial arts business, having moved out to California where he runs his school. Don Bendell also stayed in the business when he moved out to Colorado.  He also became a prolific author.  Neither man has made a film since and that truly saddens us here at Video Junkie.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mondo Millard: THE TERRORISTS (1980?)

Watching movies late at night can be a completely different experience from watching them early on. When I was growing up, I found that the best movies were on late at night anyway. Well, at least “best” in my mind. No television station would ever dream of running their hacked-to-pieces print of BLACK SUNDAY (1960) during any hours when respectable individuals might flip past it and write letters of protest to the station. It seems more appropriate anyway. At night when your mind is more relaxed and ready to accept the unfathomable weirdness of your own mental cinema in sleep, movies about witches, giant mutations and even military investigations seem much more entertaining. Wait, military investigations? Yes, you heard me. Nick Millard’s inscrutable logic, incomprehensible plots and editing that appears to have been done via a rusty chipper-shredder, work much better in the wee hours of the morning. Trust me.

Opening with the line “Morgan has just come on duty” and the shotgunning of a schmoe in what appears to be a park-ranger uniform on a palm-tree filled street, Millard kicks off a plot of international terrorism, as only he can do. Morgan, as it turns out, was an American Army Corporal in Germany (uhhh, that sure looked like San Francisco!), and was the first victim in a strike against American military supplying arms to South American dictators. As we learn, the terrorist “organization” calling themselves Guerra del Pueblo, singled out Cpl Morgan as he was the son of a Congressman back in the states. So basically Millard wanted to make a movie about the, then, hot button issue of South American terrorism, but found himself in Germany, thus the scenario of the Congressman’s son. I am in awe.

Of course the US is up in arms about the whole affair and sends in uber hoden-zerschlagung investigator Captain James Luke (Millard regular Marland Proctor) from the US Army Criminal Investigations division to get to the bottom of the killings. Of course Luke has a bad reputation of leaving a trail of corpses in his wake and doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks of him, much less the CO of the Berlin base. Luke finds himself teamed up with Berlin’s “best” detective, Inspector Steger (Hans Grabinger), who is co-incidentally also known for leaving a trail of corpses in his wake, which causes his girlfriend to leave him at one point (one of many of Millard’s non-sequitur subplots). Steger is introduced in the act of “investigating” the shooting by going into an apartment building, climbing some stairs and knocking on the door of an elderly lady with coke-bottle glasses and saying “an American soldier was shot yesterday, did you see anything?” and simply walks away after she says no. Clearly the Berlin PD were having a little joke with the US Army, or are in desperate need of good recruits to balance out the stats!

As it turns out Guerra del Pueblo is Professor Karl (Millard himself), who teaches classes on foreign economics at a Berlin university. In his off time, he and his angry girlfriend plan on culminating their attack on America by assassinating the president who is visiting Berlin at the end of the week, and presumably will not identify himself as a German pastry. Actually, there are plenty of fumbling attempts to draw a parallel to that famous “Berliner” of the ‘60s, but Millard’s shotgun approach to scriptwriting ensures that they are never focused into a tangible plotline. Nor are the multitude of oddities that spring up around every corner. After Captain Luke is introduced, in his next scene he is suddenly wearing a black sling on his left arm. To explain this, local reporter Andrea Hueller (Irmgard Millard in another standout performance), who is supposed to be interviewing him about the killing, asks him how he lost the use of his left arm. Luke replies that it was in Seol and there was a large shipment of heroin on it's way to the United States. Just as it seems like we are going to get some deep back story, Hueller switches gears into a new line of questioning. They also quickly throw out the information that Luke "had no part" in Vietnam. Wait, what the hell is that supposed to mean?

Shot on 16mm, it feels like sort of a poor man’s Lindsey Shonteff, except Millard plays everything with deadly gravitas. The terrorist organization is actually just a couple, and no, that’s not a typo it isn’t Guerreros del Pueblo, which would make sense, but Guerra del Pueblo. Of course coming to a Nick Millard film expecting everything to make sense is a losing gambit. At one point Captain Luke and Inspector Steger hit the town to go bar hopping, abruptly the film cuts to a ‘70s stag loop of a girl in front of a curtain doing a strip routine, with no sound except for some sax music, faint sounds of heavy breathing and occasional grunting from the camera operator! The loop goes on for so long (six minutes!), there was a point where I thought I that maybe I fell asleep during that last blink and woke up to stag reel at the end of the movie. The film then cuts back to a shot of a bar and we are left to make the conclusion that Luke and Steger were enjoying a show. Psssshh! Segues are for the weak!

This film in particular showcases Millard’s, uhhhh… “style”. The camera never moves, it’s permanently on close up or mid, and Millard only knows one editing technique, the jump cut. This gives us scenes that cut back and forth between talking heads, more talking heads, and people firing pistols that never run out of bullets until after they’ve already fired twenty rounds. Be it from a six-chamber revolver (that inexplicably is shown loaded with five bullets) or from a double-barrel, side-by-side shotgun, nobody reloads until the end of the firefight. It feels like Millard shot these pick-ups to show that he was paying attention, but then forgot where to insert them during the editing process. In fact Millard is simply using them as a convenient way to end a gun fight when one of the shooters reloads just a bit faster than the other one. Millard is also a fan of the time tested device copped straight out of western where one of the shooters makes a risky move that either pays off or is fatal. This sequence is a shining example of Millard’s style of shoot-out. Will put it best when he said that it reminded him of a sight-gag from an episode of The Naked Gun.

There are more things inane and insane packed into the scant 57 minute running time than most no-budgeters could ever dream of. Your sense of time becomes completely distorted with segments of improperly framed talking heads cutting back and forth that feel like they are going on way too long juxtaposed with his action scenes that hyperactively cut back and forth between people firing guns that feels way too short. This in addition to Millard’s usual leaden acting (Irmgard Millard playing Proctor’s love interest!) and some of his bizarre framing choices really make this verge on a surreal experience.

I actually enjoy Millard’s “action” films more than his horror films. Everybody does no-budget slasher flicks, particularly after the SOV era became a reality. There’s a landfill’s worth of ineptly made, no-budget, back yard serial killer flicks, but not a lot of these budding auteurs try to make action thrillers. Action thrillers with a grand scope and a budget slightly smaller than their last tax rebate after restocking the liquor cabinet. Nick is that visionary.

Nick Millard hates chins