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!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

On the Celluloid Chopping Block: SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (1974)

One of the great things about having a network of fellow Video Junkies is you can usually get your fix pretty quick.  Last month I reviewed the underappreciated Christmas slasher SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (1974) and mentioned the pitch black Paragon VHS transfer and the online chatter that the print of the film in the Chilling Classics horror set looked far better. Almost as quickly as I posted it, fellow movie buff (and amazing people locator) Bill Picard hooked me up with a copy of that print.  Sure enough, the quality is a million times better. Now, keep in mind this is still a scratchy print and not the optimum release, but at least you could make out the important details in stuff like this.

Paragon VHS transfer:

Chilling Classics DVD transfer:

And, of course, my favorite bit is where Mr. Towman (John Carradine) is killed.  The Paragon tape was nothing but a swarm of black with the occasional white blip.  Here, you can actually see Jeffrey Butler looking at the body and there is even a visible tiny waterfall in the background (it is still pretty dark in the DVD print).

What the hell is going on here?

Ah, somewhat better:

Also, the less dark print gives more details in stuff like when Tess is killed and audiences get a quick glimpse at her severed hand on the floor.  With the print not as dark, you can see the blood on the stump.  Important stuff, I tell ya!

Even more exciting than a watchable print is the fact that the Chilling Classics version actually runs longer than the Paragon version (1 hour, 24 minutes and 57 seconds for the Chilling Classics versus 1 hour, 22 minutes and 34 seconds for the Paragon tape).  Discussions found online chalk it up an edited ax killing (not true; both versions are identical) to a difference in NTSC vs. PAL transfers (possible, but not entirely).  What I did find when comparing the Chilling Classics DVD version to the Paragon VHS version was that the better looking print also had three extra scenes in it.

The first and longest extra scene occurs after lawyer John Carter meets with the town folk about selling the house.  In the Chilling Classics print, there is a 50 second segment of him and his paramour driving back to the house. Interestingly, this drive back to the house repeats two shots (passing a “no trespassing” sign and going over a bridge) from their first drive to the house earlier in the film.  They arrive and John gets out of the car.  The film cuts away to the inside to the killer rushing out of a room in the house, establishing they were already in the house watching them when the couple arrived.  John then gets his girlfriend out of her side and she walks up to the house to unlock the door.  The Paragon version starts with her already at the door.

The couple arrives:

John gets out of the car:

Killer's POV as they run through the house:

John helps his girlfriend out:

She walks to the door to unlock it:

The second extra scene involves the sheriff heading out the Butler house after receiving the creepy phone call.  We get a POV shot of the car driving down a dirt road (very rough looking even in this print).  The sheriff tells the dispatcher, “Sheriff to 301.  I'm heading west on route 5 to Butler house. You'll hear from me.”  The film then cuts to a shot of the killer with a shovel in the cemetery putting dirt on the ground.  We then cut back to the driving POV and the sheriff sees the killer’s lantern and says, “What the hell? What is that light out there?”  We get another shot of the dirt being tended to by the killer.  We then get a shot of the sheriff’s lights illuminating the cemetery’s wooden fence and then a shot of the car’s headlights as he pulls up (looking like something out of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS due to the darkness of the scene). The Paragon tape features none of the aforementioned bits and begins with a shot of the killer’s feet as they run away (from the same shot as the earlier digging shots) and then the cop car pulling into frame.  This 33 second bit is important as it establishes exactly why the sheriff stopped at the cemetery on his way to the house.

Driving down the road:

Killer throwing dirt on buried bodies:

Sheriff sees the killer's light:

Sheriff's car illuminates the cemetery fence:

Sheriff pulls up to the cemetery (or UFO sighting):

The last extra bit I noticed occurred after the killer has called Diane (Mary Woronov).  Both versions have the killer shutting the police car trunk with the body inside and then shutting off the squawking CB radio (this scene itself creates an interesting continuity error as how did the killer call Diane if they were still at the graveyard).  The Chilling Classics version then has a tiny 12 second bit of the killer returning to the house.  It is just one shot of the killer bringing the lantern past and inside the front door (established earlier with a shot of the killer closing that door after killing the dog). This tiny scene is nothing major, but still interesting in showing the killer’s return.

In total, these three new scenes account for 1 minute and 35 seconds of new material.  With a difference of 2 minutes and 23 seconds between the Chilling Classics DVD and Paragon VHS, I’m not sure what accounts for the other 48 seconds, although it is entirely possible that it is a transfer issue.  I’ve compared them both and the three scenes mentioned above appear to be the only differences I can find.  These definitely aren’t cuts due to censorship and just the result of different print being transferred for both releases.  And, yes, to answer your question, I truly have no life.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Gweilo Dojo: GANG JUSTICE (1991)

Director Richard Park (aka Woo-sang Park) has been one of our favorite discoveries in the past couple of years here at Video Junkie.  While he apparently began his action filmmaking career in the 1970s in South Korea, it wasn’t until Park came to the United States in the 1980s that he really hit his stride.  Starting with NINJA TURF (1985), Park traveled the U.S. like a circus, rolling into random towns to make movies and (most likely) exploit the generosity of the Korean community.  TURF found him in Los Angeles; he ran all the way across the country to Florida to make MIAMI CONNECTION (1987); and somehow after that he found himself in Wisconsin (!) to make this hilarious “gang” film.

Asian high school student Paul (Joon Kim) is constantly being harassed by thug Billy (Johnathan Gorman) and his cohort Johnny (Shannon Gross).  You can tell Billy really hates Paul because he calls him “chink” all the time. Seriously, he says it over and over and over.

In order to squash the various beefs that come up, Paul must fight guys of Billy’s choice in amateur combat bouts in a cold warehouse (“You know where the old, vacant building is?”). Cornered by his only friend Charlie (Ho Sik Pak), Paul always seems to win though and this really pisses Billy off. Also, Billy’s chick Judy thinks Paul is hot stuff after seeing his kung fu moves.  Of course, none of this can settle the internal inferno in Paul’s life as he has to deal with his drunken father who yells at him in Korean (with no subtitles!). Apparently what dad says is pretty harsh because it causes Paul to hop trains and ride around in this cold, barren town. You know you are real bastard when your son forgoes sitting in his nice warm room for the blistering Wisconsin winter wasteland.

Somehow Paul actually had a destination when he hopped on a train in the ghetto and he ends up in the more affluent suburbs.  He stands looking forlorn outside a house where a Korean woman lives with a rich(er) dude (Erik Estrada).  You can tell Estrada’s character is rich by his wild 80s sweaters he sports in each scene (I suspect these are from his personal wardrobe).  Suddenly, bully Billy shows up on his motorcycle.  Jeez, he have bully E.S.P. or something?  He warns Paul, “When you least expect it, expect it!”  And then the dramatic bomb drops – Billy heads into the aforementioned house. Oh damn, Billy is Erik Estrada's son and the Korean woman is Paul’s mom.  Now it all makes sense – Billy harbors some deep anger at his dad for re-marrying and takes it out on his stepbrother.  Of course, Paul’s world is about to open up when he meets Jenny (Angel Dashek).  Looking a bit like Lady Gaga, this young high school hottie takes an interest in our young Korean stud, even if he is the brooding type who kicks people's faces in.

Of course, Paul always attracts drama and Jenny’s dad (Ken Bowman, formerly of the Green Bay Packers, with his real wife playing his wife) just happens to be the Governor. So when Jenny brings home an Asian kid, her parents are aghast and we get this amazing dialogue exchange.

Jenny’s dad: “What do you think my constituents would think if they knew that my daughter was dating some Oriental kid?”
Jenny: “But dad, not only are your constituents Caucasian, they’re niggers and hisp…”
Jenny’s dad (cutting her off): “Still, there are more Caucasians than any others.”

*insert record scratch* WHAT!?!  First off, do we really have a politician in the 1990s acting like his voters are from the 1940s? Second, did the daughter really use the N-word in order to make her point?  Even more hilarious is her delivery. I mean, I get what the screenwriter was trying to prove, but Dashek just puts the word out there with no emotion or emphasis at all.  So it ends up dropping your jaw when you hear it.  Anyway, all this drama weighs heavily on Paul.  So much so that he wanders the city streets at night alone, works at a gas station (where Billy shows up wearing a mocking Asian Coolie hat), shows up randomly while Charlie is playing his flute and then walks past a liquor store just as his father is receiving a beat down for trying to steal a bottle of liquor. Like Estrada said to Paul’s mom (she isn't really given a proper name) earlier – “He’s an Oriental boy having to grow up and adjust in a predominantly white society.”  Livin' in a lonely woooooorld, he took the midnight train going anywhere!

So you like all that gang justice on display?  Behind the misleading GANG JUSTICE re-titling is probably one of the wackiest race dramas I’ve ever seen. Park makes no bones about it being a tough life for Asians in America and, as Tom said after watching it, “I love how it totally embodies the classic Asian racist view of the world everybody else is a racist stereotype, except them and hot chicks.”  Literally the only nice white character is Jenny.  Well, I take that back. Two white cops show up and somehow know to arrest Billy right away during a warehouse fight.  Shouldn’t Park have had them immediately grab the Asian guy and throw him in jail? There is even a great part where Paul goes off on his mom for abandoning their family and marrying “a rich, white man.” What kind of distorted worldview does one have where they see Erik Estrada as white?  And poor Estrada – he was willing to work in anything at the time this came out, but the filmmakers don’t even have the decency to give his character a name.  Same goes for the Governor, who is merely billed as Jenny’s dad.  Ha! Although I’m sure if they were given names it would be something like Archibald P. McManis or Logan Maxwell Bradley, Esquire, respectively.  You know – real white devil sounding names.

Confused racial politics aside, this continues Park’s fine efforts of establishing him as a true bad film auteur as you can totally tell the film was made by him.  Sure, you don’t get a black guy crying about his father like NINJA TURF or MIAMI CONNECTION (will white kid Billy crying about his mother suffice), but we do get the same level of wooden line delivery from most of the players.  Also, we get the standard line screw up this time when Billy’s stepmom welcomes him home from being bailed out.  Hoping for a fresh start, she says, “I’ll cook you some chicken for you.”  Ha!  I also love that she thinks a chicken dish will smooth over the fact that he kidnapped a girl.  This is, of course, when the characters speak English.  Just like Park’s AMERICAN CHINATOWN (1996) we get extended portions all in Korean with no subtitles where people give out plot points.  Since this is a drama, the fights definitely aren’t on the level of his earlier films either and that does diminish the fun factor.  And, of course, we get the ridiculous depiction of American gang tough guys which Asian filmmakers always seem to get so wrong.  For example, Billy is attempting rape in one scene and a few scenes later holed up in his room crying and hugging his cat.

Even funnier are the budget DVD labels trying to push it as a Latino gang film, complete with a still of Estrada from TRACKDOWN (1976) from the 1970s on the front.  This actually got several releases on DVD and you can also find it under the original, head scratching title LOOK AT ME AMERICA.  That DVD promises Troy Donahue in the film but he is nowhere to be seen.  Seriously, I don’t want to read too much into stuff, but when I opened the used DVD I bought of this, there was a live cockroach inside.  Really!  Finer symbolism for such a misguided film cannot be obtained.

How to best view GANG JUSTICE:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Listomania!: De Rigueur Recap 2011

Man, and it came to pass, I was sore ashamed. My list doesn’t quite measure up to my usual intake. I blame my job and my wife and kids. Oh wait… I don’t have a wife and kids. Dammit. I blame Bethesda Softworks. I was a productive writer once, until I took an arrow in the knee.

My viewing total was 177 movies this year.  So, yeah, I pretty much suck.  Unlike Will, I have been all-over the revisits this year. While a majority of the movies were new, I revisited lots of movies that I hadn’t seen since they originally hit video back in the ‘80s. From crap that didn’t really get better with age like BERSERKER (1987) to stuff that has become even more gobsmacking, like SHE (1983).

The theater was definitely not my refuge this year. I went from seeing everything that even flirted with a B-movie premise to the all time low of one. Yep, one solitary, single film actually dragged me into the theater. A sad, sad state of affairs...

Video Junkie Moment of the Year:
I have to agree with Will’s pick. Seeing the "never got made" blog series on the IMDb's Hit List was definitely this year’s highlight and it’ll be a tough one to beat in 2012. Not even our exhaustive coverage of CONAN knock-offs, Clonin’ the Barbarian, topped this.

Video Junkie "What were we thinking" Moment of the Year:
Our desperate attempt to do justice to all of the noteworthy (for one reason or another) sword n’ sorcery flicks that attempted to cash in on the mountain of gold pillaged by CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982). We finally reached a burn-out point before finishing up, but hey, that can only mean one thing… Sequel! Crom help us.

First film seen in 2011:
CHANDLER (1971): Also one of the year’s big disappointments for me personally, as you’d think a movie starring Warren Oates a noir-era gumshoe drawing inspiration from Ramond Chandler would be nothing short of awesome. Sadly, this incomprehensible mess was apparently the fault of then MGM studio chief James T. Aubrey, who was so displeased with the allegedly convoluted story-line of director Paul Magwood’s finished film, that he personally drastically re-edited the film and inserted deleted scenes in place of removed content, in the process bringing down the running time of a mere 85 minutes. I’m not sure if Aubrey was completely insane or just shockingly inept, but the film, as it stands now, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. I challenge anyone to sit through the film and give me a detailed plot synopsis at the end.

Last film seen in 2011:
DEADLY INTRUDER (1985): This is one that I always passed up in the video store. Back in ’85, the poster art with the silhouette just didn’t do it for me. Hell, you can forgive me for passing on it, since in that same year, you had RE-ANIMATOR, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, EVILD DEAD 2 and dozens of other classics beating down your door, demanding attention. To be honest, it can’t compare with those classics, but on its own, isolated from its context, it is well worth the watch. Farting dogs, lazy cops, dogshit coffee, the lamest dinner party ever, the lamest department store ever, the biggest red herring ever and a nice little twist at the end that you will probably see coming a mile off, but will forgive because it shows that they were really trying.

Best Re-Visit in 2011:
SKY PIRATES (1986) blew me away… the second time. Back in the day I was completely underwhelmed by this Aussie adventure yarn. In hindsight I’d say it was because it lacked RAIDERS’ grit and viscera. I mean, can you seriously have a WWII-era adventure without fascist cranial combustion? I think not. There are better movies that I revisited this year (MAN ON THE ROOF being one), but revisiting this in widescreen completely changed my opinion of the film. A masterpiece? Not so much. Tons of fun? Hell yeah. This was actually a tie with BEASTMASTER (1982). Yeah, I know, I know, everybody loves the first one, but I didn't dig it the first time around. I was so very wrong.

Biggest disappointment in 2011:
THE VALDEMAR INHERITANCE (2010)and THE VALDEMAR INHERITANCE II (2011). One movie, two parts, a whole mess of disappointment.

Oldest film seen in 2011:
THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN (1966): Beware of the old Simmons place, indeed! Arguably one of Don Knotts’ best movies, this chestnut was one that amused my family (I’ll let you guess why) when I was a kid. Remember when they ran movies on TV instead of infomercials? This used to be one of KTLA’s favorites, but I hadn’t seen it in 30 years, easy. Knotts plays a printing press operator for the local paper who desperately wants to be an investigative journalist (clearly made before the days where journalists were the people you see on Fox and Friends). After witnessing a murder in front of The Old Simmons Place… well, witnessing an almost murder… well, more like a loud accident, events lead up to his investigation of the haunting of the aforementioned house and quite possibly, a real “moider”.

Films seen in theaters: 1 (one *tenth* of Will’s all-time low)

Best and Worst Film Seen Theatrically:
Damn, Ric Mayall looks great for his age!
TRON: LEGACY (2011) wins and loses by default. Man, those Recognizers look (and sound) uh-maaaaaazing! Too bad they are only in the movie for a few seconds. Too bad director Joseph Kosinski and the four credited writers don’t really bother to make much use of the incredible groundwork of a full-realized world complete with countless references to then-cutting edge computer programming, and instead use the, admittedly impressive, light-cycles as a climactic action scene to a laborious, breathy, neon-lit cyber soap opera. In addition to a tedious script cheesy characters (which Tekken sequel is Zues from?), and the obligatory STAR WARS dogfight sequence, we are given some really bland performances as well. Granted Bruce Boxleitner has never been an award-winning actor, but Garrett Hedlund? Headlining the most anticipated sequel in modern memory? Really? Well, I guess we should be grateful it wasn’t Shia LaBeouf. The best thing to come out of T:L was the release of the original on blu-ray… oh, and this video:

Most movies watched in one month:
August: 25

Least movies watched in one month:
April: 7 (ouch!)

My favorite movies viewed in 2011:
-HARD KNUCKLE (1987): The CITIZEN CANE of dystopian-future movies.

-DEAD MOUTAINEER’S HOTEL (1979): Stylish, atmospheric and fascinating future-noir.

-THE NINJA STRIKES BACK (1982): Just when I thought it could get no better than Bruce Le and Dick Randall’s CHALLENGE OF THE TIGER (1980) along came Bruce Le and Dick Randall’s THE NINJA STRIKES BACK! Priceless trash that left me speechless in awe.

-MIAMI CONNECTION (1987): Starting off with a gory ninja attack on a mob drug deal, and careening straight through to an amazingly silly, upbeat finale that sports old age make-up that would make a middle school production of Blithe Spirit look professional, this movie is an absolute masterpiece of fromage from the amazing Richard Park.

Worst films that I saw for the first time in 2011:
RESIDENT EVIL AFTERLIFE (2010): Granted, not the greatest series of films by any standard, but this redefines the adjective “sucks”. Boring, uneventful, been-done, terribly written and not much in the way of zombies, this film decides that the best way to take the series after Russell Mulcahey’s marginally entertaining third entry, is to stick a few people in a room and let them fucking argue for the next 90 minutes. Yes, a monster (from Resident Evil 5) does barge in at one point, and is quickly dispatched in the longest slow-motion action scene in the history of cinema. In a movie starved for action sequences, it really says something when you finally introduce some action and have the ability to make said action boring.
For my money, the only way to go for an R:E movie is actually the CG animated feature, RESIDENT EVIL: DEGENERATION (2008). Crazy, I know, but it's actually surprisingly good.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Listomania!: Another Year in the Life of a Video Junkie

Yet another year down, so it means we'll throw up our highly anticipated (by us) year end "best and worst" lists.  My viewing total was 308 movies this year, down from last year's total of 362.  So, yeah, I was slacking big time.  I'd love to say it was quality over quantity, but we all know that would be a total lie.  I did try to make up for the slower volume by trying to cram in as much new stuff as possible.  Well, new to me.   Of the 308 movies viewed, only 65 of them were revisits.

Theatrical viewings keep dipping further and further with my new all-time low of 10 set this year.  To be honest, had our local theater not had $5 Tuesday matinees during the summer, it probably would have been even less.  And two of my viewings (DYLAN DOG and CREATURE) were merely self sacrifice missions for the internet when I found out that they had bombed so badly (with CREATURE setting a new record in terms of box office lows).  I'd go on and on about the sad state of affairs of Hollywood cinema (no joke, before SUPER 8 every trailer was for a sequel or book/comic/toy adaptation), but I'm sure you already know the deal.

First film seen in 2011: YOU’RE GONNA MISS ME (2005)
Last film seen in 2011: NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)
Films seen in theaters: 10 (my new all-time low after 11 last year)
IMAX viewings: 1 (TRON: LEGACY)
Double features in theaters: 0
Oldest film seen: THE UNKNOWN (1927)

Video Junkie Moment of the Year: 
Had to be seeing the "never got made" blog series on the IMDb's Hit List.  A kind mystery reader named "vertigo" submitted us and - someway, somehow - they found it worthy of sharing with the masses.  Not only did it bring thousands of readers our way, but it lit a fire under my ass to do even more detailed research.  We've got some even more amazing things lined up for 2012.

Video Junkie "What were we thinking" Moment of the Year:
Probably our impromptu dive into the sci-fi world of Italian cheap-o director Alfonso Brescia.  

Best film seen theatrically: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) -- I actually think it is one of the best comic movies I've seen in years.  It is hard to champion a film that cost $140 million as an underdog, but I really think this flick had the deck stacked against it.  I mean, who wants to see a movie that properly sets up a story and takes its time establishing the character before the superhero finally shows up on screen?  I do, damn it!  And, thankfully, that is what we got with this.  So many great details and references (and I only know Captain America lore in passing). Plus, that reference toward RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK was a hoot. Director Johnston does a great job at laying out the drama and the action. And, thankfully, the screenwriters kept it very simple, but with enough good pathos for the audience. I love a comic book movie (and PG-13 movie) that takes risks and actually has people die. The editing during the musical montage was great too. The cast is great too and Hugo Weaving really steals the show as the Red Skull. Easily the best thing I've seen this year in the theater.

Worst film seen theatrically: SUPER 8 (2011) -- Yeah, I saw DYLAN DOG and CREATURE in the theater, but actually thought this was worse.  This movie was just awful, awful, awful. Actually, I feel it isn't even right to call it a movie as it is literally scenes from every Spielberg movie from his peak period. I was leaning over to my friend every three minutes saying, "Okay, this is from JAWS...this is from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS...this is from RAIDERS...this is from E.T." He probably wanted to punch my annoying ass.  We're not talking homages here, we are talking full scene lifts with only the slightest tweaking. No wonder Spielberg produced it, he probably read the script and was like, "Damn, this is good stuff."  We have it all: the JAWS town hall meeting (I fully expected Quint to show up and interrupt); the sheriff inundated with townsfolk telling him their problems as he rushes from place to place (no parade?); the evacuation from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS (sans canaries); and on and on and on. Even worse, Abrams seems to have lifted even the soundscapes of those earlier films (the gas station scene in particular). Even the minutia isn't safe. Let's put it this way - there is a family dinner scene where one of the unruly younger siblings is bashing some toys in the background just like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. This is basically the movie version of sampling. Moviedom wept.

Biggest surprise in 2011: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011) -- I seriously thought all my online movie buddies were pulling my leg when they said this was good.  The trailers looked terrible and didn't sell me on the film at all.  How could such a good movie be hiding behind such a banal trailer? I do find James Franco a bit of a weird guy, but he was never bothersome in this movie. And the effects and ape performances are astonishing. Loved the little nods toward the original POTA and I think they set up a sequel (well, remake) perfectly.  Of course, the jaw dropped is the performance by Andy Serkis as Caesar.  Seriously, it is groundbreaking and paving the way for when one might see someone who was never even onscreen get nominated for an acting award.  While I may be giving it a bit more praise for what it is not (namely, a jerky Michael Bay action picture or terrible Tim Burton remake), I do think this had more thought put into it than your average Hollywood blockbuster.

Biggest disappointment in 2011: ASSASSINATION GAMES (2011) -- Scott Adkins makes the list again after last year's NINJA disappointment.  To be fair, he isn't the lead star in this second co-teaming with Jean Claude Van Damme, but it does disappoint compared to his masterpieces.  Especially following the incredibly entertaining UNDISPUTED III (2010).

Theatrical viewings:

Most in one month:
October: 33
Least in one month:
August: 20

From the 1920s: 1
1930s: 11
1940s: 18
1950s: 4
1960s: 4
1970s: 55
1980s: 98
1990s: 65
2000–2010: 30
2011: 21

Films watched more than once:
-BLOOD SHACK (1971) - twice

Directors most watched (individual films):
-Fred Olen Ray (8)
-Andy Sidaris (6)
-Charles Band (4)
-Jeff Burr (4)

Best films that I saw for the first time in 2011:
-INSIDE JOB (2010)
-CHIMERA (1991; UK mini-series cut down to 90 minutes as MONKEY BOY here)
-RED WHITE & BLUE (2010)

Worst films that I saw for the first time in 2011:

Best “the kind of cinema I live for” I saw for the first time in 2011:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Buns and Ammo: SAVAGE BEACH (1989)

Andy Sidaris is back! Donna (Dona Speir) and Taryn (Hope Marie Carlton) are back! Buns! Ammo! Old Japanese warriors!  Wait, what?

After busting some cocaine dealers (who smuggle their stock in pineapples), our busty federal agent duo find themselves delivering a medical serum to an island for Shane Abilene (Michael J. Shane). Yes, another Abilene! Anyway, a storm causes the plane to mess up and they get way off course before landing on a deserted island. They get company quick though when TWO groups show up to locate some lost Japanese gold.  You have one group led by Martinez (Rodrigo Obreg√≥n, back as yet another different villain) with his two helpers, Andreas (John Aprea, who just got blow’d up in PICASSO TRIGGER) and Bruce (Bruce Penhall, who was also a different character in PICASSO TRIGGER).  Confused? Good, now I’m not alone.  The other group is led by Anjelica (Teri Weigel) and you know she means business because Al Leong is among her flunkies. But what no one counted on was some some stranded Japanese World War II vet still living on the island.  Yes, HELL IN THE PACIFIC with boobs!!
Not sure why, but I enjoyed this much more than previous entry PICASSO TRIGGER (1988). Maybe because it was a bit more focused in the plot department, even though it is convoluted as hell? My mind was also reeling as this was my first "wait, who is this guy again" experience with director Andy Sidaris' roving band of players as he threw tons of cast members from the previous entry into this, but as brand new characters among the Playboy Playmates. Sidaris really upped the ante here though as he also cast a Playboy and Penthouse vet in Teri Weigel.   This was before she bared all and humped head first into the porn world.  Sidaris also capitalized on the Asian influence and cast James Lew and the ubiquitous Al Leong is supporting roles (rumor has it casting Leong as an Asian baddie was a union rule). The film’s end is the best as it features one of the funniest explanations and flashbacks from the Japanese warrior (who has terrible age make up) as he recognizes Taryn as the daughter of the American WWII soldier he killed on the island…by her eyes!  Naturally, the film is packed with nudity and Sidaris should get credit for what I believe is the world's most gratuitous mid-flight airplane changing scene (“Let’s get out of these wet clothes.”).  One thing that might shock Sidaris fans is the last 30 minutes is completely devoid of nudity.  Sadly, this marked the end of the road for Carlton in Sidaris-land as she moved on to bigger things like SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE III (1990) and GHOULIES III: GHOULIES GO TO COLLEGE (1991).  I'm genuinely sad to see the team of Donna and Taryn break up, but I'll be brave and keep a stiff upper lip with this uncertain future.

I'm guessing they aren't the Fashion Police:

Okay, meeting time:

Easy with that hi-tech computer stuff, guys!

Teri Weigel shows off her...
OMG, look at that lamp!

As my mom always said:
"Never, ever accept room service from Al Leong."

There must be a fetish site for this stuff, right?

Donna & Tayrn using their survival skills:

Must be some kind of Japanese fetish:

Who the hell is the dumbass who coordinated these outfits?

Okay, never mind, all is forgiven on the outfits: 

Now I know there is a fetish site for this:

My God, it's full of stars!

Donna delivers the buns and ammo!

The Magic Sword that makes your eyes wonky:


Sidaris aiming for that "buff Asian male" demographic:

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Heinous for the Holidays: SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (1974)

With it being Christmas Eve and Santa’s arrival imminent, we figured it would be fitting to write up a holiday horror.  Amazingly, Christmas appears to be the holiday that has spawned the most number of horror films. Perhaps my earliest Xmas horror memory (and I’m sure it was for most folks my age) was the “And All Through the House” segment from the original TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972).  The 80s gave us a plethora of slasher Santas with SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT series, CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980) and DON’T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS (1984).  And, of course, there was GREMLINS (1984), which perfectly captured the holiday and horror atmospheres. Overseas we had Alex de la Iglesia give us THE DAY OF THE BEAST (1995), where a priest and a metal head must stop Satan from return on Christmas.  On the complete opposite end of the spectrum are titles like the rancid ELVES (1989), which features Dan Haggerty as a store Santa trying to stop a guy from creating Nazi elves, and PUPPET MASTER VS. DEMONIC TOYS (2004), which has Corey Feldman in the lead (‘nuff said). So if you are looking for some Christmas chillers, the field is far and wide.  

One of my favorite holiday discoveries has been SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT (not to be confused with the aforementioned SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT films).  Having owned but never watched the Paragon VHS cassette for years, I surprised myself by watching it on this cold, gray winter day eight years ago. Even more surprising was that hiding behind the generic title is an atmospheric horror thriller with a great twist. And not only is SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT a great horror film, but it is one that appears to have been cheated by the historians of horror cinema.

The film opens with Diane Adams (Mary Woronov) walking on the Butler estate and telling a bit of the home’s history via voiceover. In 1950, Wilfred Butler was found burned to death on Christmas Eve in what was later deemed an accident at his palatial estate in the small town of East Willard, Massachusetts. One of the conditions of his will is that his house be left to his only surviving family member, child grandson Jeffrey, with the stipulation that the premises never be changed to reflect the house’s “inhumanity and cruelty” to the world. Gee, Grandpa sounds like a real upbeat guy. Twenty years later, lawyer John Carter (Patrick O’Neal) arrives in East Willard with instructions from the now adult Jeffrey (James Patterson) to sell the house for him. Several residents of East Willard take an unusual interest in the house and offer to buy it. But before the sale can be finalized, an escaped lunatic arrives in East Willard and begins calling the interested parties, saying they are Marianne Butler, Jeffrey’s long dead mother.  As the mystery unfolds, the prominent folks are dispatching one by one.

The biggest asset to SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT is the film’s set-up. It packs a big punch in the end and actually left me guessing throughout the film. A few of the red herrings are a bit too obvious but they worked well enough. One of director Theodore Gershuny’s biggest strengths is the subtle number of hints regarding the film’s big twist in the finale. If one pays close attention, there are several tip-offs as to what is really going on in the odd town of East Willard. It is refreshing to see a horror film where you are continually assessing the information as the mystery unfolds.  And it is one of those great experiences where, armed with the plot twist information, a second viewing is just as much fun to watch.  If the film does have any problems, it is that it opens with Woronov’s character telling her story, so you know she is going to survive whatever action you see in the flashbacks.

Director Gershuny, probably best known for SUGAR COOKIES (1973), knows how to build an atmospheric horror film. The wintry locations, especially the imposing house, are used to full effect and he gets great performances (particularly from Woronov, his wife at the time) from his leads. There are also some great character touches, like John Carradine’s character always ringing a bell instead of talking (this little bit of business even factors into the plot twist). The picture has some great cinematography and the visual highlight is an extended flashback that chronicles what happened at the estate in the 1930s. The sepia toned look and use of wide-angle lens makes the entire scene very creepy.  One complaint that pops up in reviews I have seen is the dark night shots. Truthfully, I think this has more to do with bad transfers rather than poor craftsmanship. In fact, my Paragon tape looks so awful that you can barely tell what is happening at points.  Sadly, the film has never gotten a proper DVD release (I hear the one in the Chilling Classics set looks decent) and, since the market is flooded with public domain copies, I doubt we will ever see one.

Actual screenshot:

Gershuny also uses an effective point-of-view (POV) for the killer that echoes the style of Bob Clark’s Yuletide themed BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) from a few years later.  A lot of people credit Clark’s film as the earliest prototype of the slasher genre. But Gershuny’s film predates Clark’s by almost 2 years. According to various reports it was shelved for several years. This fact is further substantiated by the fact that lead Patterson actually passed away in August of 1972. So the film was completed well before the early 1974 filming date for Clark’s film. Given the killer POV shots, scary phone calls the killer makes and high number of murders; one has to wonder if Clark saw this film before making his own. This is not to diminish the power of BLACK CHRISTMAS (it is still an excellent film), but just to question the general belief that BLACK CHRISTMAS begat HALLOWEEN and the subsequent North American slasher genre was born. As it stands, SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT is a great Christmas horror film, a more than pleasant surprise for this holiday season.