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!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Giallo Pudding: DARK BAR (1988)

Just when I think that if it's Italian, from the '80s, if I haven't seen it, I've at least heard of it, I stumble across something that I never knew existed. Most Italian genre films from the '80s were made for export and because of that they were shot either in English or mostly in English, then looped in post. This means, that unlike say, Russian genre product that is shot in Russian and distributed in Russia for Russian audiences, kiss my ass yankee, the Italian stuff got around. Even if it never saw the light of day in US theaters or on US video, most likely some country has a copy, and you would have at least heard of it via old school scribblers like Chris Poggiali, Steve Puchalski or hell, even Fangoria. So if you've heard of it, you're cool. I was freakin' clueless.

Starting with an incredibly cryptic plot, an apparently desperate Elizabeth (Barbara Cupisti) has some debts that are owed, a book to hide and some frantic phone calls to make. Her estranged sister Anna (Marina Suma) gets a phone call about a meeting at the Dark Bar at midnight, as does her seemingly partially estranged boyfriend Marco (Richard Hatch). While Anna blows it off, in order to blow her trombone at another club, Marco makes the appointment only to discover that Elizabeth is nowhere to be found. At the same time a man inconspicuously dressed in a black fedora and trench coat walks into the ladies room and shoots Elizabeth dead. Anna eventually finds out that her sister was murdered and hooks up with Marco in order to figure out who killed her. It doesn't take them very long as the killer has friends and they are hunting the hunters.

DARK BAR is the one and only feature film directed by Stelio Fiorenza, who cut his teeth as assistant director on a few obscure sleaze flicks (the most notable being Mario Gariazzo's '79 sex giallo PLAY MOTEL). For a first time writer-director, I really like where Fiorenza is going, but the road he travels is filled with pot-holes. Granted some of his issues can be chalked up to budgetary issues, but at the same time he seems like he has ADD and is off on tangents at the drop of a fedora.

Fiorenza creates an atmosphere that feels like it should be an off kilter, underground film with some amazingly cool shots, hand-held cameras and interesting locations and costumes. During the beginning of the film when Elizabeth is spending the last few hours of her life, there are some great details; a telephone shaped like a stilletto-heeled shoe, a black dress covered in eyes, the black dress on a white bathroom stall with red blood. Oblique, stylish angles combined with an almost cinema verite style makes the movie feel like it should be pushing the envelope with something. When Anna first meets up with Marco, she arrives at his presumed work, a small, remote and deserted screening room where he is setting up a projector. When Marco asks Anna to go down to the auditorium to check the sound, he finds out that the intercom has been cut and realizes that something is about to go wrong. It does, but Fiorenza doesn't really play the suspense out like he could have, nor does he go for a string of bloody murders as you'd expect. Then we are left with the dialogue that runs like this:
Marco: "What was your sister like?"
Anna: "I don't even know what I'm like!"

Fiorenza also feels like he is lifting a page from Alex Cox's REPO MAN (1984) with an almost surreal punk/new wave motif for the Dark Bar itself, which is really interesting, but completely undeveloped. Fiorenza decides he's also going to try to throw in a film noir angle as well. The villains are clad in black trench coats and fedoras and are working with a blind woman who is obsessed with listening to sea shells and is taken care of by a tarot-reading girl. This is yet another weird, but cool idea that he really doesn't completely follow through on. Once you discover what exactly is going on (there is no spoon-feeding of the plot here), it's rather banal. Worse still, Fiorenza doesn't or can't consistently create the lighting to reinforce that feeling of noir. Film noir requires the use of light to create deep shadows that lend immeasurable texture to the visuals, here we get an occasional scene, but mostly flood fills that chase away every shadow and kill the atmosphere almost completely. The juxtaposition between the punk, giallo and noir is really interesting, but it ends up being a collection of really interesting ideas rather than a great film. For instance, at the Dark Bar, there is a long sequence where a bartender slowly and deliberately uses a pair of ice tongs to place an eyeball in a very dirty martini. The drink is delivered, the recipient holds it while in conversation... and that is it. We move along and the sequence is completely forgotten about. Maybe it's Fiorenza tipping his hat to The Misfits, but who knows?

The saddest thing of all is that Fiorenza never got the opportunity to make another film. As far as I know, the only thing he has done is a short film in 1998 titled A STRANGE ENCOUNTER. With DARK BAR, it feels like he has a sack of great ingredients, but isn't quite a skilled enough as a cook to bring them together into a perfect dish. But just like cooks, filmmakers get better with practice (yeah, ok, Jess Franco did exactly the opposite) and I would have really liked to see him evolve. As it is, it's still worth checking out for the die-hard Italo-philes like... well, us.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Way back in the ancient times before the popularity of the internet(s), we actually had a Video Junkie magazine.  Now remember kids, this was all the way back in 1996/97 when information could be conveyed in 140 characters or more.  Crazy stuff, eh?  The magazine proved to be so popular that we had to stop it after only two issues.  Why?  Well, because you can’t improve upon perfection.  Seriously, we had a good run but the combination of enthusiasm and knowledge didn’t mix well with the lack of funds.  It is a shame because – if I may be so bold – I think we really started finding out rhythm in issue #2.  Nestled among plenty of reviews, overviews and our first (and only) interview was a nice piece titled Video M.I.A. Written by Fangoria’s own Mike Gingold, it profiled films currently missing in action on the home video format (back then dominated by something called VHS).  Mike featured 7 titles in his piece and nearly all of them actually got released from motion picture purgatory in the ensuing 15 years since that article first appeared.  Here’s an update on most of the titles featured.

  • THE BOOGENS (1982) – shortly after the article, this early 80s monster mash saw release on VHS from Republic Pictures in July 1998.  Sadly, THE BOOGENS proved to be a worst case scenario – a long desired release that really wasn’t very good and definitely not worthy of its reputation.  Many a Fangorian – who had dreamed up far better scenarios in the 16 year wait – was disappointed. Still not on DVD though.
  • THE CANDY SNATCHERS (1973) – this cool little crime caper really lucked out in a big way in that it got the Holy Blessing of Saint Quentin Tarantino, who brought it up in interviews.  This meant every film geek suddenly had to see it and, naturally, it got a DVD release from Subversive Cinema in 2005.  It was a nice Collector’s Edition with tons of extras.  It is currently out-of-print, but it is out there.
  • HITCHER IN THE DARK (1989) – Umberto Lenzi’s take on the popular THE HITCHER (1986) ended up finally hitting legit DVD via Shriek Show in 2003.  No word on whether lead Josie Bissett was happy or sad about this as her MELROSE PLACE fame was definitely in decline by this point.  The company re-released it in 2005 as part of a High School Horrors triple film set, alongside HELL HIGH (1989) and THE MAJORETTES (1987).
  • THE JOHNSONS (1992) – Rudolph van den Berg’s atmospheric horror film broke free from Video Search of Miami’s bootleg prison and was officially released on DVD by Anchor Bay in May 1999.
  • THE LAUGHING DEAD (1989) – this gore-laden flick from writer-director S.P. Somtow (aka Somtow Sucharitkul) got some high profile coverage in Gorezone, but even that couldn’t facilitate an immediate video release. Popular on the bootleg circuit for years, the film eventually hit legit VHS and DVD in the UK.
  • WITHOUT WARNING (1980) – Greydon Clark’s sci-fried alien flick has still not hit legit US VHS or DVD.  However, a gorgeous print of the film debuted on MGMHD in the summer of 2010.  And for once, excited fans unable to see it weren’t disappointed; we reviewed it here.
Of course, that still leaves us with one flick – THE BOY WHO CRIED BITCH (1991).  The tale of psychotic 12-year-old kid (played by Harley Cross) who makes his mom’s life a living hell, this has still not been released on home video.  This despite the fact that several of its actors (Jason Biggs, Adrien Brody, Jesse Bradford, Moira Kelly, Chris McKenna) went on to big careers and that director Juan Jose Campanella won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film for THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES (2009).  The film's writer/producer, Catherine May Levin, even made the semi-sequel THE BOY WHO CRIED BITCH: THE ADOLESCENT YEARS (2007), which has been released while the original still has not.  So what better way to kick off our new series focusing on films that actually got made (as opposed to “never got made”), but never got released on home video than with this entry still missing in action?  Here is what Mike had to say about it back then:

Friday, March 30, 2012

Oh Canada: THE PHOENIX TEAM (1980)

Choosing what we review here at Video Junkie is a very complicated process. Sometimes we review something because it is awesome and sometimes we review something because it is so bad that is awesome.  Either way, we’re trying to get the word out on what we deem required viewing.  Other times we just decide to feature something because it has the dreaded film seal of notoriety – no reviews on the IMDb!  In this day and age of superfast “I want it now” information, how can there still be stuff that was readily available on VHS with no reviews? That is why I’m taking a look at THE PHOENIX TEAM (1980), a Canadian spy flick that puts the zzzzzz in espionage.    

THE PHOENIX TEAM opens with a Government official being killed during a pheasant hunt in Essex, England, with the assassin mentioning something to his victim about Section D.  Cut to Ontario, Canada and David Brook (Don Francks), former Canadian Intelligence field operative turned desk jockey, is on his way to work when he sees his boss Mr. Mason kidnapped off the street by his own people. Wait a sec, Canada has a counterintelligence division?  Anyway, curious Brook inquires with his mysterious superior The General (Mavor Moore), who converses only via video screen, and is told Mason was a double agent for the Soviets. For some reason this doesn’t sit right with Brook and he begins to investigate.  Aiding him in his quest is old flame Valerie Koester (Elizabeth Shepherd), a MI6 agent who has flown over from London on her own to investigate Section D.  She also drops a bomb on Brook by saying, “Mason killed my father.”  Duhn-duhn-duhhhhhhhhnnnnnn!  So our not-too-super spooks decide the best course of action is to kidnap Mason back (he is being held in a public hospital!) and figure out what in the hell Section D really is.  

If that synopsis sounds rather episodic, it makes sense as the Trans World Entertainment VHS release of THE PHOENIX TEAM is actually just a two-part episode from what was a Canadian TV series (the opening credits even read “Old Time’s Sake Part One”) for the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation).  Entering with hopes of finding the Canadian THE AVENGERS or MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, I instead got a show that was as slow as Canadian maple syrup.  I think I figured out what the “D” in Section D stands for – dull! Seriously, nothing exciting happens during this telefilm’s 90 minute running time.  The opening shotgun blast is the only gunfire in the film and a chase a few minutes later encompasses the action content.  It is a shame as the scenario is ripe for some nerve wringing.  For example, the idea of posing as doctors to sneak a patient past security and out of the hospital is a time honored suspense creator. Instead writer/creator John C.W. Saxton – who wrote ILSA, SHE WOLF OF THE SS (1975) before this and would later write CLASS OF 1984 (1982) and HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1982) – has the thrilling idea of Brook and Koester hiding in a room with their patient and talking.  Hell, Koester even takes a nap.  How does a guy with those exploitation credits fail to exploit the spy genre properly?  To add insult to injury, the script also has so much bureaucratic babble (“I want to file an M-15 request” or “I have access to a gray card”) that it almost sounds like a spoof at times.  I did get a chuckle out of a line when the true nature of Section D is revealed (SPOILER: it is a hit team) and the villain says, “Who would suspect it out of Canada?”

It is a shame the proceedings are so boring as THE PHOENIX TEAM has a lot going for it. Director John Trent gets the most out of some wintery locations in Ontario and he has a capable cast.  Most notable is Francks in the lead.  With his Peter Graves sound-a-like voice, Francks was immediately recognizable to me, but I couldn’t figure out from where. Then it hit me – he was the sheriff in the superior Canadian slasher MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981).  He is very good in the lead and actually won an ACTRA (Association of Canadian Television and Radio Artists) award for his work on this show.   The series was short-lived, lasting only 9 episodes, with the majority of them airing in the fall of 1980 before it disappeared into the foggy memories of our friends up north.  Thankfully, it has now been reviewed and we offer these press clippings (courtesy of the generous John Charles) about the show should any curious Canadian come to the internet looking for info to resurrect their memories of THE PHOENIX TEAM spy series long gone.  And that makes us officially the internet’s biggest THE PHOENIX TEAM resource!  You're welcome, world!

Articles and reviews for 
THE PHOENIX TEAM (click to enlarge):

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Films of Mats Helge: ANIMAL PROTECTOR (1988)

From the box:

“A group of naïve but well meaning animal lovers and conversafionists (sic) mount their own campaign to free the helpless creatures they considerneed (sic) rescuing. All hell breaks loose as these girls find themselves in a situation way beyond their capabilities. Bravely, with the help of Santino and Lomax, they battle against the almost insurmountable evil forces of Withlock’s (sic) private army. The girls find themselves trapped in the middle of small scale war leading to tragic consequences.”

Any film synopsis that has multiple spelling errors on the back of the case automatically gets points from me. So, have you ever wonder what it would look like if PETA were ever to make an action flick? Its plot might resemble the one of Animal Protector. But, thankfully, PETA didn’t have a hand in this film and it came from the master of over the top Swedish action cinema, Mats Helge.

P.E.T.A. - Pretty Euros Treasure Animals
This was only my third exposure to Swedish action madman Helge’s work (the first two being the even more insane THE NINJA MISSION [1984] and the singing slasher BLOOD TRACKS [1985]), but it is safe to say that he has a style that is all his own. First and foremost, Helge loves his explosions. He doesn’t just love them – he reallllly loves them. His films seem to be the predecessor of the PM Entertainment action films where bigger definitely means better. No joke, if the IMDb is to be believed, he is apparently half-deaf due to the big ass explosions from his movies.  ANIMAL PROTECTOR is no exception, although Helge saves the Mat-atude for this film’s last half. Secondly, Helge likes to have a plot that is a bit left of ludicrous. I mean, the aforementioned BLOOD TRACKS had snowbound cannibals taking on a hair metal band. Here, the animal activist group “Animal Protectors” decides to free some animals on a top secret island the same night C.I.A. agents Santino (Hellquist) and Lomax plan on taking the corrupt Whitlock (Carradine) out. What a stroke of luck! And who can be tougher than some ladies dressed in tapered jeans with big teased blonde hair? Once they get on the island they bust out some camouflage shorts.  Way to blend in there, sisters!

The cast is predominantly Swedish with the exception of top billed star David Carradine, who is enjoyable as Whitlock. He is surprisingly pretty physical for the role, throwing down in quite a few fights.  He also adds a clever little wink after he says something evil. Looking at his filmography, it appears Carradine did a three-film stint with Helge in the late '80s.  I guess ol’ Dave heard there was a ton of snow in the mountains of Sweden and took his chances.  I’m sure he was disappointed.  The film’s real star is owner of one of the best names I have seen in years, A.R. Hellquist.  He is a dead ringer for Kurt Russell in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986). Check out this photo if you don’t believe me:

"Jack Burton."
It was fun to envision this as a pseudo-sequel where Jack Burton gets wrapped up with some wacky animal lover chicks (actually, I want Carpenter to make that film now!). Hellquist is pretty agile and a good fighter, but has all the range of a VCR remote. Helge does him no favors by putting him ridiculous situations. For example, when Santino decides it is time to get down to business, he rips off his shirt to reveal a camouflage tank top and yells, “Whitlock, now it is time for you to dieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” What makes this even funnier is that Santino is completely alone when he does this and Whitlock is nowhere in sight.  And that, my friends, is why we love the cinema of Mats Helge.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


You know how guys are. Always screwing around, trying to get each other into trouble. When you're kids it's "I dare you to lick the frozen flagpole"; when you're in your twenties it's "dude, you could totally kick that biker's ass"; and when you're middle-aged movie nerds it's "you should totally do a review of that new Hustler porn parody!" Yep, that's why I'm here today. It's not bad enough that I sat through that crap-even-by-modern-remake-standards CONAN remake with Jason Moma posing his way through an embarrassingly dull and idiotic film, now I have to sit down and watch one of Hustler's grueling parodies that, as usual, is neither funny, nor erotic. To paraphrase Mako, while the manacled children were hauled from the village, "this is a tale of sorrow."

Opening with an admittedly cool Poledouris-esqe brass/percussion score that could easily fool the casual viewer, THIS AIN'T CONAN, tromps from A to Z in workman-like fashion, re-envisioning a handful of scenes from the film in totally budget-starved fashion. Actually, that's doing a disservice to workmen.

This ain't Conan

The first scene introduces Conan (Lee Stone) in his slave cell, looking like Harvey Kitel and Gerard Depardieu's love child. When the jailer throws a slavegirl (Jayden Cole) in the cell to mate with Conan, he continues to play with his scimitar leaving the slavegirl to attempt to get his attention by fondling herself and eventually getting into some multipositional masturbation. This actually goes on for a full 15 minutes before Conan realizes the sword in his codpiece needs to be sheathed as well. Taking a cue from the Jason Moma remake, Conan shows his tender side and after delivering the money shot, wraps the slavegirl in a faux fur for a little cuddle time. Kill me now. Amazingly this scene actually delivers the best production values of the entire movie. Someone actually made some bamboo and leather bars for the cell and hauled in a real hay bale in a spray foam stone-wall set. Heeeeey, did Hustler hire Ann Perry?

Once Conan is freed, he stumbles out into CGI weather that makes Sid & Marty Croft look like masters of exorbitant production values. While Conan slogs through a snowstorm and subsequently a sandstorm, the droning narration (that doesn't even try to parody Mako) tells us that "he headed out in search of adventure... unfortunately, he forgot to pack a lunch." Oooof! Did that hit you right in the gut too? Yes, that's the level of the joke writing here, if you can call it that. Fortunately the uncredited screenwriter(s) frequently forgets all about joke writing in their hurry to get this mess over with.

If you were to go about selecting scenes from CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982) that would be good for a porno, there are plenty, but the obvious choice has to be the witch scene. Here we get a sloppy rendition where Conan bangs away at another average-looking wannabe pornstar (who really should be more gothnasty if she's going to use the name Asphyxia Noir), before discovering that she spilled oatmeal on her face and wants to hug him with a dagger. Or she's a witch and is trying to kill him. I'm not sure. One thing I am sure of is that I've seen better sets on Gilligan's Island. Though, I guess I really shouldn't complain, because that is one of the last real sets we are going to see! From here on out it's mostly CGI backdrops that makes TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE (2010) look spendy. I mean, if Joe D'Amato, who admittedly made a couple of stultifyingly dull movies in his day, could make porn with enthusiastic, attractive performers on real sets with some effective results, why can't Hustler. I'm pretty damn sure they have pockets and connections far in excess of Senoir D'Amato.

The dagger, as it turns out, is the same one used by... well, the guy who is never named, but slaughtered Conan's village and sold him into slavery (Sean Michaels desperately trying to do a James Earl Jones impersonation). So Conan, vaguely annoyed, sets out on his path of revenge, running into a thief-y type, Subotai (Tommy Gunn) and a, uhhhh, Sandal Bergman type, Valeria (Jazy Berlin). They run across a merchant's wife, whose large breasts are strangely marked with scars around her nipples, no doubt from some pre-matrimonial gladiatorial contest... or something. Next up is the temple of the snake cult, or rather a badly rendered CGI hallway with CGI torches that would have looked lame in one of those awful SOV PC games from the early '90s. Suddenly a golden image of a cobra pops up for something like two frames and we're done. This is where I start cursing at my TV. I mean, seriously, Hustler has gotten so fat and lazy, they can't be bothered to even compete with all of the really impressive productions that have been coming out lately. It's all about cranking 'em out as fast and cheap as possible and reelin' in the suckers.

This ain't Max Von Sydow

The follow-up scene in the tavern, includes the famous face-pant in a bowl of... something, and we are then treated to a rendition of Max Von Sydow's speech that goes on way too long, contains nothing remotely amusing and in general makes me wish for something with some sort of production values, like say any DEATHSTALKER sequel. Oh, and Conan schtupps Valeria in another by-the-numbers, uninspired sex scene, where are the positions are rotated in the same order as the scenes before. This actually makes me feel really old. Not because the performers are younger than I am, but because if I was a teenager, the bland, passionless sex scenes wouldn't have bothered me that much at all. Now it's just tedious, particularly when they have nothing else to offer other than an hour rental of couple of horses for two shots in someone's backyard.

In the final scene in which our unnamed Thulsa Doom gets it on with the princess (Missy Maze), only to be busted in on by the trio, we get the final insult. Valeria is killed, but while our Thulsa is making his "I made you" speech, Valeria's ghost pops up and shouts "just finish him already, so we can finish this movie!" Yep, if you needed proof of their desire to just get it over with, there it is. Definitely an example of screenwriting from the gut. As if to add injury to insult, Conan takes a swing at Thulsa and we cut to credits. Not even going to give us a lame decapitation? Seriously, you guys suck.

It'll be a very long time before I give Hustler another shot. If I'm going to sit through shitty, no budget porn parody, I'll take the Arentinian porno parody LAS TORTUGAS MUTANTES PINJAS... No, really, wtf is growing out of that pizza?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Strung Out on Slashers: SKARE (2007)

We love covering the obscure here at Video Junkie, but just how obscure is obscure?  I mean, names like Ted V. Mikels, Donald Jackson and Nick Millard are surely going to get you a resounding “who?” (in Carter Wong voice) from the average folks.  Despite that, these men have detailed filmographies at the IMDb and garner plenty of discussion in print and online by knowledgeable folks over the years.  So who, in our estimation, is really obscure?  My vote goes for British film director Michael J. Murphy, a guy who has been working steadily (commercially) for over three decades and made over 20 films, yet only three of them (INVITATION TO HELL, THE LAST NIGHT, DEATH RUN) are actually listed on the IMDb.  If we were Horror Hipsters, we would coo a sarcastic, “I’m surrrrrre you’ve never heard of him.”

SKARE opens with Dan (Warren May), an escaped mental patient, bolting through the English countryside.  He soon finds himself at the Skare Valley Country Club and is taken in by its owner, Martha (Judith Holding).  She clothes and feeds the young lad (including her special green “vitamin” concoction) in exchange for his help in various labor chores around the estate. Martha has been given the affectionate nickname “Mad” Martha by the locals, but they don’t realize how true that moniker really is.  You see, she likes to take in strays because they help provide the meat for her lodge and she has been priming Dan to be the best meal he can be.  Of course, the unexpected happens and Martha actually falls for this hunk of meat.  At the same time, Dan falls for restaurant manager Charlotte (Trudi Tyrrell), who also just happens to be Martha’s former lover.  Poor Dan!  Not only has he found himself residing at MOTEL HELL (1980), but he’s hanging out with the cast of BASIC INSTINCT (1991) too.

A latter day production for Murphy, SKARE keeps up with the themes seen in his earlier short INVITATION TO HELL (1982). While the Satanism angle is dropped, we once again focus on a character being held against their will in the English countryside by someone with ulterior motives (human meat production replacing a satanic ritual here) while playing kinky sex games. Interestingly, Murphy weaves in some flashbacks about formers land owners (also played by the leads) having been burnt at the stake for witchcraft.  It gives the film a slight supernatural edge, as if this location is destined for love and murder. The sex is plentiful, although Murphy does tend to spend more time having his camera ogle the male lead.  The gore is equally plentiful and there is an ending involving a severed head that reminded me of Lamberto Bava’s MACABRE (1980).  As far as I know, this was Murphy’s first time shooting on digital video and he makes it look serviceable.  While not overly stylish, there are some well done nightmare sequences with some nice superimpositions in them.  I’m sure Murphy would have preferred film, which brings us to SKARE’s interesting cinematic history.

Based off a short story that Murphy wrote in the 1990s, SKARE was actually filmed completely twice.  The first time was in 2001, where the director shot it on 16mm with a budget of roughly £10,000.  According to Murphy on the DVD’s “making of” segment, trouble arose when the Royal Mail actually lost a majority of the footage sent to be developed in the mail.  That give’s new meaning to their tagline, “With us, it’s personal.”  So the original version is forever lost, no doubt probably resting at the bottom of a pile of hoarded mail by some insane Royal Mail worker.  Not to be deterred, Murphy returned to the material several years later and reshot it on digital video (a small surviving snipped of the original film is shown as something the lead is watching on TV late in the film; the Murphy production MOONCHILD also cameos in the opening).

SKARE (2001):

SKARE (2007):

Sarcophilous Films gave SKARE a loving special edition DVD presentation.  Like their earlier Murphy double feature INVITATION TO HELL/THE LAST NIGHT, it is a nice special edition that includes a “making of” segment and audio commentary by Murphy and his lead actress Holding.  The DVD also contains both scripts in PDF format and a extensive still gallery that includes several stills from the first shoot of the film.  Sacrophilous were planning on doing more Murphy productions (including BLOODSTREAM and ATLANTIS) and even some Renato Polselli films, but, sadly, nothing has been heard from the company since 2010.  Like the subject of their only two DVD releases, they are destined to become as obscure as the man they are paying tribute to.  Let’s hope that changes in the future.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Listomania!: Will's Funky February 2012 Viewings

The year’s shortest month proved no challenge for me as I got in 33 movies during the 29 days of February (thank you, Leap Year!).  Of those, 27 were films I had never seen before and 6 were revisits.  I caught a bit of Sho Fever mid-month thanks to Tom so 4 of those revisits were Sho Kosugi ninja flicks.  The other two were Nick Millard revisits from January’s case of Millard malaria I had.  Once again, DVD dominated as only 4 of the 33 were on VHS.  My player must have been angry at me for the neglect as it tore up my tape of Millard’s GUNBLAST (1986).  I was so pissed I fired three gunshots into my door. Anyway, here are some of the better new flicks I experienced during February 2012.

FIND THE BLACKMAILER (1943) – I just finished up the 6-film Warner Archive Mystery set.  All of the films were entertaining, but this one turned out to be one of the best.  Down-on-his-luck detective D.L. Trees (Jerome Cowan) is hired by Mayoral candidate John Rhodes (Gene Lockhart) in order to find a real-life crow. Seems this porky politician is being blackmailed by a mystery person who claims the crow can utter some scandalous material about the man (I guess the courts were more accepting of evidence back in the day).  While the plot doesn’t sound like much, this one is highly enjoyable thanks to the performances and snappy dialogue.  Cowan, who was Bogart’s doomed partner in THE MALTESE FALCON (1941), sort of resembles John Waters and his Trees character is a hoot.  He is always cracking wise ("the last four plays she was in had to be raided,” he says of the femme fatale’s stage skills) but is always one step ahead of the cops.  The plot may be absurd (yes, a political candidate is scared of a bird ratting him out in a court of law), but director D. Ross Lederman keeps it moving so fast for its 55-minute length that you won’t be that bothered.

THE SCARECROW (1981) – I had never heard of this New Zealand horror-thriller until I saw an ad for it in Variety a few years ago. Then Video Serendipity hit as Tom sent me a copy without us ever discussing it.  It was truly meant to be.  Young Ned Poindexter (Jonathan Smith) and his buddy Les (Daniel McLaren) are just twiddling away their summer vacation in the 1950s. The same night they steal some chickens, a young girl is found murdered and the arrival of a stranger (John Carradine) coincides with this event. Ned begins to fear for his sister, Prudence (Tracy Mann), as she is fast approaching womanhood and he suspects she might be the killer's next victim. This is definitely more of a mood piece than a FRIDAY THE 13th-style slasher (no murders are onscreen) and director Sam Pillsbury pulls it off the "dark town with even darker secrets" incredibly well. Ultimately it is a story about the loss of childhood innocence, be it through the kids finding out about murder or Prudence finding out about sex. Carradine is actually very creepy as the stranger and, despite his clear illness, has one incredibly powerful scene where he performs some magic tricks for the family and briefly hypnotizes the young girl.  Just try not to laugh when the director has him thumping some folks during a fight scene.

NIGHT FLOWERS (1979) – For anyone who found TAXI DRIVER (1976) too damn cheery, here is this bleak 70s drama. Two Vietnam vets, Tom (Gabriel Walsh) and Nordi (Jose Perez), live pretty sad lives in a crumbling New Jersey town. Sharing a one room apartment, they talk about their inability to hold down real work, struggle to get noticed at the VA and fail to connect with women. Things change for Tom when he meets Marcella (Sabra Jones) and they begin a relationship. However, he can't escape his past with Nordi and the co-dependent, toxic relationship soon takes a gruesome turn. I wasn't quite sure what to label this independent flick, but I guess cult drama is the best term since not a lot of people have heard of it. This is one depressing flick, but I was captivated by it the whole time. Walsh also penned the screenplay and he gives a really good, subdued performance. Director Louis San Andres does a great job of capturing a decaying New Jersey and New York to match the characters mental breakdowns and increasing isolation. There is also a really harrowing scene about 40 minutes in that is totally unnerving, thanks mostly to Andres filming it in a wide shot done in one long take. Sadly, this was his lone feature.

NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984) – Telephone line worker Christie (Lucinda Dickey) becomes possessed by an evil ninja spirit after she tries to help a bullet-ridden ninja in the middle of the desert. Lesson learned?  Never help bullet-ridden ninjas in the middle of the desert.  Her supernatural task is to kill all of the cops who sprayed led into her, er, him. This proves pretty easy as she starts dating a cop and every one of his colleagues was in on that shootout. Yamada (Sho Kosugi) is called over from Japan to settle this mess as he has a history with this evil ninja.

The last of Cannon's Kosugi ninja films, it is also one of the strangest films in U.S. ninja history (note I said U.S. ninja history as the Asians love them some wacky and strange ninja films).  It is as if Golan and Globus decided to mix every popular genre at the time, resulting in a ninja film that also utilizes parts of FLASHDANCE and THE EXORCIST. Fans of Sho will probably be disappointed as he takes a supporting role here. He first appears onscreen around the 30 minute mark and doesn't throw his first kick until the 60 minute mark. Returning REVENGE OF THE NINJA director Sam Firstenberg handles all of the action well though, although the violence has been considerably toned down. It looks like they also utilized that turning set from BREAKIN' 2 for a scene in this that resembles POLTERGEIST. Kosugi left the chambers of Cannon after this film and started doing ninja films (like PRAY FOR DEATH) on his own.

THE MISSING ONE (1972) aka EL AUSENTE – Last year I professed my love for Mexican action star Valentin Trujillo. This was one of his early 1970s westerns. When he finds two kids bullying his sick son, Valente, Sr. is forced into a standoff with their parents and is killed. Young Valente, Jr. wanders off to another town to live with his Godfather. 20 years later, the grown Valente, Jr. (Trujillo) returns with revenge on his mind. He finds the town is under control of the two families, Beltran and Landeros. The objects of his rage haven't fared well though as one is crippled and the other is dead. Naturally, Valente creates new enemies in his old enemies the two bullies, Alberto (Fernando Balzaretti) and Jorge (Octavio Galindo). Matters get more complicated when Valente falls for Julia (Verónica Castro), who has been promised to Alberto for marriage. This western is mucho dramtico, but enjoyable and interesting if you want to see a young Trujillo. In his early 20s at the time, he hadn't yet fully grown into the bullet spraying tough guy I know from his 80s efforts, but he is still very good here. Love interest Castro is quite attractive as well.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Listomania!: Thomas' February 2012 Viewings

TNT JACKSON (1974): Just because Cirio H. Santiago is the man, doesn’t mean everything he does is a classic, but for some reason this movie is one that I keep coming back to. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a bad, bad movie. Diana “TNT” Jackson (Playboy Playmate Jeannie Bell) arrives in Hong Kong looking for her missing brother who has been killed by karate badass Charlie (Stan Shaw) for double crossing the local drug cartel. After the mob catches wind of her plans, the hit is on and many badly choreographed (and I mean badly choreographed) martial arts brawls ensue. Sure Bell can’t kick her way out of a doggie bag, but if you came for some Corey Yuen fight scenes, you are missing the point. Cirio decides that shooting on location in Hong Kong is much too costly, so he makes a hilariously feeble attempt at dressing up the sparse Filipino locations with a random Chinese banner or movie poster. Presto chango! Manila is now Hong Kong! But wait, we need some “chinamen”, what to do? Don’t worry, we’ll just throw a bunch of Filipinos in kung fu uniforms! Nobody will know the difference! For the lingering doubters in the audience, Santiago throws in a couple of scenes of an alleged Chinese New Year’s celebration with a Dragon Dance that wouldn’t fool a nine year old. He doesn’t even worry about the police uniforms; they are just typical Manila cops. If that isn’t enough for you, there are lots of bad attempts to imitate the tough trash talk of black action classics such as SLAUGHTER (1972) and COFFY (1973) and as far as I know, Santiago pioneered the topless fight scene. Yep, ESCAPE FROM THE BROTHEL (1992) and the stunning ANGEL OF DESTRUCTION (1994, produced by Santiago) were just bowing their heads in respect for the master. It should be noted that most of the prints of this movie were in really bad shape, some of them being from censored 16mm prints. The recent Shout! Factory DVD is nothing short of stunning in its uncut and widescreen glory.

SON OF DRACULA (1943): I haven’t seen this since I was a kid and at the time I did not appreciate its finer points at all. The concept itself seemed so lame at the time, but I now feel it is a stroke of brilliant outside-of-the-coffin thinking. Ok, “brilliant” may be pushing it, but seriously, the idea of transplanting Dracula’s dirt from a European gothic castle to a Southern gothic plantation took some real ingenuity. I can’t even imagine how the pitch meetings must have gone over. The Universal execs must have been really broad-minded in those days. In addition to the Louisiana setting, the film is more of a pulp-noir thriller than a horror movie and is actually conceived as a sequel to Bram Stoker’s novel, rather than a direct sequel to the Bela Lugosi film! Pull that shit in a pitch meeting these days and Universal’s security would work you over with a rubber hoses before throwing you out into the street. Sure, you could say that Lon Chaney jr. was hooooooribly miscast as Dracula and I can’t really argue that point other than to say that I think it adds to the movie’s charm. Chaney’s sad, hound-dog visage adorned with a stylish (for the era), little mustache is, errrm, unique to say the least. He genuinely seems like a fish out of water. Maybe not exactly what you would traditionally be looking for in an interpretation of Dracula, but hey, it definitely makes the film interesting and unusual if nothing else. Of course, I’m one of those that thinks A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE (1985) is the best sequel of the lot, simply because it is so completely off base.

ENTER THE NINJA (1981): Damn, I love this flick. I had forgotten about all the things that made me obsess over it back in the day; Susan George jiggling braless on horseback, or really in every single scene; the guy with the rubber neck, the cool ninja outfits (before Godfrey Ho turned ninjas into a rainbow coalition). There's lots of stuff that I never really picked up on before though. They were totally trying to rip off Lalo Shiffrin’s score for ENTER THE DRAGON, but actually turned out a really cool percussion based theme that makes what are some of the cheapest opening credits, really entertaining. I never really picked up on the fact that Franco Nero has absolutely no martial arts skills whatsoever (check out the scene where he’s practicing with the nunchucks - phew!). Remember that awesome scene where he punches the tall guy with the rubber neck? If you look at Nero’s expression, he actually looks concerned, until the guy’s head swings back around. The Japanese guy they allegedly go to Japan to get to help the bad guys find a ninja? Totally Filipino. I need this on DVD with audio commentary. I’d love to know how they got the idea to set the badguy’s office in an indoor swimming pool. The movie is so great that second unit director Emmett Alston went on to direct 9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA in 1985! He must have caught the Sho bug like the rest of us and spent four years working on his dream project, only to be laughed at. Damn, I love that movie too. Blackie Dammet in a wheelchair dressed up like Prince? What's not to like?

REVENGE OF THE NINJA (1982): Why did it take me so long to revisit this? I haven’t seen it in years! I remember being obsessed with it back in the ‘80s, but I had totally forgotten why. It’s like Sam Firstenberg was so excited to have a budget and a white-hot genre to exploit that he went nuts with ninja awesomeness and forgot that movies usually have plots! Of course, it’s got slightly more plot than a Tony Jaa movie, but that’s beside the point. It’s non-stop action complete with a sequence that Jackie Chan totally ripped off for POLICE STORY (1985), except with a van instead of a bus! That’s right, Jackie Chan ripped off Sho Kosugi and Sam Firstenberg. Is that not freakin’ awesome? As usual Toru Tanaka is completely wasted in another big-guy-who-beats-up-on-hot-chicks role, but the action is really well done for a cracker martial arts film of the era and in its uncut form, it is really violent with a plethora of ninja weapons being put to good use. In addition to the action there are some pretty damned amusing moments, such as one of the best lines ever to be uttered in a ninja movie: "do you really think I forgot my pants?". Plus, you have the thugs stealing the drug-filled dolls and, as Will pointed out, taking the time to carefully pack them in newspaper-filled boxes and best of all, the scene in which Sho goes to meet some hardened ex-cons and finds them sitting in a children’s playground looking like a Village People cover band. Priceless.

SPITFIRE (1994): Albert Pyun decides to try his hand at some international espionage and ends up with a hit and miss hodgepodge of IF LOOKS COULD KILL (1991) and GYMKATA (1985). Permanently tuxedoed, international super-spy Richard Charles (Lance Henriksen) is kidnapped by a spurned ex-lover and rival spy Carla Davis (super-evil Sarah Douglas), who also shoots his main squeeze (1978 Playboy Playmate of the Year, Debra Jo Fondren) in probably the most prolonged topless death scene ever filmed. The McGuffin here is a set of nuclear missile launch codes and Charles takes a moment to slip them into the purse of one of his many illegitimate children, Charlie Case (1987 US Champion gymnast Kristie Phillips). Case is conveniently on a global gymnastics tour which allows her to be chased through locations such as Greece, Malaysia and The Bahamas. Pyun clearly has a decent budget to work with (unlike, say, his follow up film, NEMESIS 2), and sets up a great first act. It’s fast-paced, the breezy send-up is amusing and the fights with Phillips using her gymnast training are cheesy, but a lot of fun (it’s clear that they had to shoot around the fact that she is not very good at choreographed film fights). Unfortunately, Pyun commits two cardinal sins that plague the rest of the film. First and foremost he forgets to exploit the thing that got us to buy a ticket in the first place: Kristie Phillips using her mad gym skills to kick butt. This is really what cripples the movie. The second crime is miscasting one of the greatest comics-turned-actor of our generation, Tim Thomerson. Thomerson is consigned to play a klutzy, booze-soaked, tabloid journalist, which doesn’t sound like a tough gig for a one-time comedian (because alcoholism is inherently hilarious), but the part completely plays against his strengths and is so poorly written that it is painful to watch. Aside from that, it’s still worth a spin for those of us who, in spite of repeated beatings, still keep coming back for more Pyunishment.

Albert Pyun: "Ok, we only pay scale, but you'll get to go to bed with a Playboy Plamate!"
Lance Henriksen: "I'll take it!"

THE CONCORDE AFFAIR (1979): In between his two infamous cannibal epics of the late ‘70s Ruggero Deodato tried to ride the wave of popularity for the AIRPORT disaster epics with some seriously yawn-inducing results.
A divorced, washed up, and burned-out reporter (James Franciscus looking as perfectly flossed and scrubbed as always), finds himself in the middle of the murder of his ex-wife and a conspiracy by terrorists to bring the Concorde project to its knees. The terrorists plot? To have their man in the food service line hide vials of heat-volatile acid in the in-flight meals, so that when they go in the oven, they will rupture and the acid will eat through the trays and destroy the sensitive electrical wiring for the entire plane which is conveniently bundled directly underneath the hotboxes! Now that is what I call a plan! I really, really wanted to like this movie, but damn, it’s tough. It's a bone dry plot pushed along by flat dialogue delivered by talking heads in little rooms. The action is minimal and equally flat, plus we get lots of padding that really does a lot to crush any entertainment value mustered by the bloody scuba-diving scenes and cheesy model miniatures. If only Enzo Castellari had made this, then we’d have something.

COHEN & TATE (1988): I remember liking this quite a bit back in the day. Eric Red has always been a bit erratic with well-crafted exploitation like NEAR DARK butting heads with stunningly inept dross like BAD MOON (1996). If you’ve ever read some of his unfilmed scripts (such as his proposed X-rated ALIEN 3 draft), you will know that he is either out of his freakin' mind or that his deformed, basket-dwelling twin occasionally uses his typewriter. In spite of Red's stability issues, COHEN & TATE holds up today as one of his better outings. To be honest, I'll take it over THE HITCHER (1986) any day of the week. I get irritated by movies in which the hero is just a completely helpless twit. In COHEN & TATE, there are no heroes.
Essentially a gritty crime drama that could have easily been a stage play, a pair of mismatched buttonmen, Mr. Cohen (Roy Scheider) and Mr. Tate (Adam Baldwin), execute a family of mob informants, kidnapping the 9 year old son in the process. The film is essentially their attempt to take the boy back to the mob and avoid the police, while the kid uses the tension to bait them into fighting each other. Fairly simple, but the tension is well paced, the performances are excellent (particularly from the late Mr. Scheider), and Mr. Red does a great job of punctuating the effective character drama with fiery car stunts and bloody shootings.
Speaking of bloody shootings, Red had a run in with the mafia of the filmmaking world with this movie. Originally the two major scenes of gun conflict were so extremely bloody that Jack Valenti and his mob of bible-thumping housewives refused an R-rating without significant cuts. In the opening execution is cut in half with many of the killings completely deleted from the R-rated print. The end sequence where Cohen and Tate resolve their differences in an oil field is also shorn of nearly half of its original running time. The film builds up to this point and the audience knows it’s coming, but in the R-rated version it’s a pretty quick affair. The uncut version is so brutal and bloody, that there is a great moment where Tate cannot slide his pump-action shotgun because it has become slippery due to all of the blood on it. Maybe someday this will get an uncut release, but since Mr. Red has, err, understandably, fallen out of favor in Hollywood, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The XXX-Factor: STAR BABE (1977)

A long time ago, in a cinema far, far away, there were some really pissed off filmgoers. People left theaters screening STAR WARS in droves furious because their hopes of seeing Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper double-team a hot babe on a bale of hay never came to fruition. Ok, maybe not droves, but it was at least one. Porn actress and director Ann Perry certainly did. Or maybe she thought she could make a quick buck with the first STAR WARS parody. Yep, beating the classic HARDWARE WARS to the punch(line) by several months, this budget-starved quickie gave people the cheap (oh, and I do mean cheap) thrills so cavalierly denied them by Lucas.

In the year 2088, three intergalactic hotties Star Babe (Tomi La Roux), Twinkle Toes (Cindy Lynn), and Milky Way (Cinthia Lee Scott), are on an intergalactic assignment from The United World Space Agency. Their mission? To head out to the planet Phallus, “interrogate the government men” and steal “the plans for the Earth overthrow”. Was this translated from another language? Who talks like that? Anyway, yes, rumor has it that the Phallus is going to take over Earth, so the three chica’s who look like they just escaped a from a roller derby must do a looooot of space travelling to get to the planet Phallus. Once there, after an embarrassing amount of stock Nasa footage and uhhhh “effects” that I’m guessing are supposed to represent a space ship passing through argyle, they must give out blow-jobs like raffle tickets at a bake sale in the effort to find those plans. Damn, are you sure this isn't an Alfonso Brescia flick?

Ann Perry, who to her credit has made some marginally entertaining sex flicks such as the women’s prison baseball flick BALLGAME (1980) and the infamous porno-western SWEET SAVAGE (1979), which to my knowledge marks the only time Aldo Ray has appeared in an adult film… and before you ask, no, he does not skin his smoke wagon. Here Perry clearly is taking the modern Wynorski approach to filmmaking: How fast can I crank this out to get it to market before the buzz wears off? Too bad she didn’t realize that she could have taken her time, because over 30 years later you can still cash in on the idea of Vader firing up his meatsaber and cumming to the dark side.

Sadly Perry really doesn’t even bother with lampooning STAR WARS at all and really doesn’t bother featuring any good sex scenes either. The very first scene is when the girls are stiiiiill travelling through space and they decide to entertain themselves by going to their bunk-bed in their tin-foil papered room where they keep a guy in a gorilla suit that talks jive. No, really. He just kinda hangs out there. Don’t ask, I don’t know. After peeling his banana, they arrive at the planet Phallus, which apparently is an amusingly trashy ‘70s bar (complete with red-leather booths and bar-tender in a Nixon mask). After ordering cocktails, the break off to find and get it on with the “government men”. The bar scene, which does feature a shot of two toy robots that, I'm guessing, are supposed to give the impression of the famous droid duo, is literally a bunch of guys in Don Post masks wrapped in bed sheets and blankets! Why the bar tender is wearing a Nixon mask is not clear. Equally unclear is why they recorded his dialogue live, through the mask, and didn’t loop it in post! I guess that would be one more thing that would delay it from going to market.

Perry is clearly obsessed with oral sex, as that is what most of the sex entails here. A guy in a mask getting a blow-job is pretty much all she has to offer. Although, Vader and a Stormtrooper do bust into the bar and kidnap one of the girls (at plastic sword-point) and have proper (if badly shot) sex with her in a tiny set with fake stone walls and a couple of hay bales (wtf?). That's really about all you get of actual STAR WARS references. The best looking girl of the lot (and hey, I’m getting old, so they all look good, really) is Star Babe herself and she barely even gets her clothes off and when she does, we don’t even really get to see her in the nip, but we do get to see her do a 69 with a guy in a mask who laps her bearded space-clam, but instead of the standard reciprocation, she tears a hole in the ass of his pants and plays lollypop with his hairy knothole. So basically what we have is a deficit of production values, no actual STAR WARS spoofery and damn, this is about as erotic as a copy of Inspire Magazine. Thanks Ann.

I was actually kind of hoping for an obscure gem that might run like a low-budget porn version of GALAXINA (1980), but in fact is just as cynical an attempt to cash in on STAR WARS as you’d expect, actually a bit more so. It’s a damn shame too, because there are some moments where you think it might take off into campy, zero-budget fun and then it simply gives up and can't be bothered. If nothing else, it shows how far the porn parody has come. Well, except for Hustler’s THIS AIN’T series. Serioulsy, did Will just pressure me into watching another one of those no-budget crapfests? Dammit Will!