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, July 10, 2012

Listomania: Thomas' June Junkyard Pickin's

It's been a long fistfull of weeks for me personally, so the movie watching is down for June. Even though I got fewer movies in, I did actually manage to get a theatrical viewing! Even more amazing is that it is my second month in a row for theatrical screenings. Pretty rare for me these days. Here are some of the more interesting items salvaged from my cinematic scrapyard:

WALLANDER - FACELESS KILLERS (1994): This 3.5 hour adaptation of Hennig Mankell's 400 page novel of the same name may be a little too long for its own good, however it does set up the rest of the films in the series (all nine Wallander novels), which are a more subdued 90+ minute affairs. The always great Rolf Lassgård plays Wallander, in a performance that many consider not only the best Wallander, but one of Lassgård's best period. In a remote snow-covered farm house, an elderly couple have been brutally tortured, the husband murdered and the wife left for dead with a noose around her neck. Before she dies in the hospital, the wife says the men that attacked them were "foreigners". So starts an investigation that sparks controversy over Sweden's liberal immigration policy and sets nationalist supremists on the hunt for immigrants. Voicing similar questions of racism and hard-line immigration reform as we have heard over the past decade in the US, this film, thematically, feels very much like a US film and could easily be retooled to be set in America. Even the protagonist, Wallander, is an overweight alcoholic, who's wife has left him for a more successful man and who's daughter barely talks to him. How American is that? Uncanny. Then again this is actually a little bit of a downside when doing a 209 minute movie. After about the first dozen scenes with Wallander being his own worst enemy by getting stupidly drunk and being a jackass, I started actually feeling his ex-wife and daughter had damn good reason to want to keep their distance. Even so, it's worth the watch and honestly, I'll take this over the toothgrindingly histrionic BBC adaptations with Kenneth Branagh sobbing his little eyes out at the slightest provocation.

LARGO WINCH (2008): This MTV-modeled goof-fest proposes that a mega-buck business tycoon has stashed away an extra son, Largo Winch (Tomer Sisley) in Asia. Largo has learned how to be a badass fighter dude, though not too bright as he is easily duped by a pretty girl right after his father is murdered. It's like Luc Besson wanted to direct his own version of WALL STREET. Heir to a fortune, trying to be eliminated with extreme prejudice, Largo must battle whip-pans and smash-cuts (complete with whooshing sound effects) in order to save his family empire and prance about in tailor made suits. An action movie for pre-teen preppies, if ever there was. The most ludicrous scene happens early on where in flashback, Winch Sr. gives Winch Jr. the big "with great power"-slash-origins speech. With solemn gravitas Sr. talks about how the money, the power, the fame, all of that is unimportant. What is important is the pocket knife he holds in his hand. When he was a boy his abusive father used to terrorize him and his mother, and he saved his pennies until one day he could buy this knife and wave it in his father's face and make him stop and now this knife is yours my son and... Zzzzzzzzzzz... *snork* huh, what? Oh yeah, with cheap rhetoric comes cheaper melodrama. Based on the French TV series, the film was popular enough somewhere (presumably France) to spawn a sequel in 2011 in which Largo is accused of crimes against humanity and, uhhhh, stuff. Honestly, I think these movies are made to sell to airlines so they can show them on international flights to people who've had several screwdrivers at altitude and are strapped to a seat. The trailer almost makes it look mildly entertaining though...

PROMETHEUS (2012): It's pretty obvious that the script was retooled to be an ALIEN prequel and this is a double-edged sword for sure. On the one hand, it feels like someone is doing a mega-budgeted ALIEN rip-off that's just different enough to avoid a lawsuit and on the other hand, it's nice that it's not a totally plodding, paint-by-numbers prequel that sets up everything for the original film. I knew Scott wasn't going to be making a massive, action packed, sci-fi/horror thrill-ride and would go for more of a drama tinged with sci-fi/horror and action, and I am totally ok with that. What is dissapointing to me is the lack of substance for the majority of the dramatic screen time. In ALIEN, we had a host (no pun intended) of great actors filling out the cast, lending their skills to make these workers real people. Here we have barely two-dimensional periferal characters who are completely uninteresting. There's times where characters pop up and I was thinking "who the hell is that guy?" because he was just random crew guy #2 who all of a sudden has a close up. Even the more major characters are pretty irritating. Who cast Logan Marshall-Green as a frickin’ scientist? He acted like one of those hip-hop kids that hang-out at gas stations with tags on their clothes, gold chains and their pimped-out Honda Civics. “Yo baby, dat alien don’t mean nuttin’ to me, yo. It was just dat one time, yo. Ya know I luvs yo.” And any time he’d see something he’d do the Ric Flair “whooo!” and start giggling. What, was Emminem not available? You had Noomi trying to act at least slightly scientific next to a drunken fratboy that wants to chug likker and talk shit to “the help” instead of study their findings. I don’t get it.
The compounding injury is that the script has no twists. Well, none that you can't figure out lightyears before you are told (except for the myriad of questions that the filmmakers don't even know the answers to). You can figure out everything this movie has to offer without even trying. Hell, the big super-spoiler reveal at the end has been pretty much stated flat out elsewhere in the ALIEN universe. It almost feels like fan-fiction that was written 12 years ago when a certain acronym (WMD) was a hot-button basis for a Hollywood hit. And while I'm ranting... Why do CGI aliens have to be monochrome humanoids with big doe-eyes? Did Scott completely miss the point of why Geiger's alien was such a massive global icon? Let me spell it out - because it looked alien. I get that it's supposed to be the proto-human, but the Engineers just looked lame. On the plus side, it is visually brilliant (as should be expected from Scott), and I'm sure there's an exec at Fox was tearing his hair out because Ridley wouldn't let him title the film ALIEN: PROMETHEUS, so I appreciate Scott being able to maintain some dignity in this production that would have turned into a total Hollywood clown-act otherwise.

THE PREY (2011): Damnit! It takes the French to make a good American-style action thriller? What the hell is the world coming to? Or maybe this is an apology for LARGO WINCH. After several bloody melee's a convicted armed robber Franck Adrien (Albert Dupontel) breaks out of prison to hunt down the serial killer who stole his cash, killed his wife and has kidnapped his adopted, mute daughter. The cops believe he is the one who killed a string of teenage girls around the countryside, but the cop on the case (Alice Taglioni) has a hunch that maybe it's Franck's former cell-mate trying to set him up. It's really refreshing to see a serial killer portrayed as they really are in real life. Nice, clean-cut unassuming types instead of the annoying American stereotypes of the incredibly obvious loud-mouth social misfit with beard or mustache (cause men with facial hair are scaaaaaary). Hollywood wants to reassure Mr. and Mrs. Flyover that the beer drinking delinquents that they suspect of being up to no good are, in fact, up to no good. Granted this movie won't change your religion, but if you are looking for a solid summertime action-thriller, this one moves like a hot knife through warm butter and satisfies that popcorn craving. I'm actually amazed this hasn't been remade in the US yet. It almost seems to be made for that. Well, except there would have to be a lot more one-liners. and explosions. and a comic relief sidekick... preferably black. and he'd die... and... yeah, you get the idea.

KING OF THE STREETS (1986): Absolute and total insanity from low-rent director Ed Hunt - a Canadian, no less! This movie is so freakin' deranged, I don't even know where to begin. It's got an educational break-dancing party, motivational graffiti, a generous and friendly homeless guy! More? Ok, it's bloody, violent, sleazy as hell, loaded with nudity and a positive Jesus message! Seriously, I haven’t seen anything that schizophrenic in a long time. If you haven't read Will's review, do it now, then see the movie!

VARG VEUM - SLEEPING BEAUTY (2008): Seedy and morose sequel to 2007's seedy and morose Norwegian detective yarn VARG VEUM - BITTER FLOWERS really starts hitting it's stride… and I'm hooked. Varg Veum (Trond Espen Seim) is an ex-police officer turned private investigator in the stunningly picturesque town of Bergen. Of course underneath Bergen's fastidious facade lies all manner of skeletons and Veum is just the guy to dig them up. When some parents want Veum to find their missing son, he warns them that he has a knack for unearthing the guilty secrets of his clients. Of course they protest that they are squeaky clean and Veum suddenly finds himself involved in drugs, murder, teenage prostitution, insider trading, adultery and the mob. The family is pissed off about his discoveries, the cops are pissed off that he's sticking his nose in their crime scenes and the mob is pissed off at him for muddling about in their affairs and because someone tipped them off that he has their drug money. Based on Gunnar Staalesen's series of 18 (or is it now 20?) novels, no less than 12 were adapted into feature films, some hitting cinemas, others going direct to DVD. The acting is all above average as is the cinematography, which like most Scandinavian DTV features offers far more quality than their US counterparts.

VARES - PRIVATE EYE (2004): I guess the Finns really enjoyed PULP FICTION and THE USUAL SUSPECTS, because a full decade later they are still plundering that booty. Jussi Vares (Juha Veijonen) is a private investigator who spends most of his time drinking with his old, not too bright army buddy. After a badass (Jorma Tommila of RARE EXPORTS), who stole a pile of mob money, breaks out of jail with the help of his new wife (Laura Malmivaara) who happens to be another of Vares' army friends, the mob are on their asses along with a masterbating crooked cop (is that a BAD LIEUTENANT reference or are you just happy to see me?). Add in a vampy mistress, two odd-ball hitmen who talk about pop culture, a mulleted getaway driver named "pizza boy" and you have a wacky, uber-stylized crime flick with lots of zany characters and a lot of empty, fast-paced dialogue. The hit men actually reference PULP FICTION once or twice in the midst of their obnoxious pop-culture, self-referential discussions. Damn, I really wanted to like this movie. Oddly, the titular character is actually only in the movie for maybe 10-15 minutes. Fortunately there are seven sequels which gives the series plenty of opportunity to improve.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Cine M.I.A. #4: BLOOD NASTY (1989)

For our latest Cine M.I.A. entry, we head to the late 1980s, a time where seemingly anything could make it onto video (hello HACK-O-LANTERN!). Stores were starving for product, so chances were good for an exploitation filmmaker if you made something halfway proficient (meaning: in focus) and featured some nice exploitation elements (gore and nudity).  So that makes the case of BLOOD NASTY - a competently made horror-comedy that features Linnea Quigley in all of her glory - totally baffling as to why this has never received a U.S. video release. Thankfully, we got in touch with one of the co-directors to shed some light on this film and its situation.

BLOOD NASTY opens with two-bit criminal Roy Flowers (Todd McCammon) helping fellow hoodlums Felipe and Mona dig up the body of Luis “Blade” Orlando (Richard Rifkin).  A serial killer Satanist dubbed “The Butcher of Bogotá” (he’s so bad he gets two nicknames), Orlando has a priceless ring on his finger that they want to steal.  However, Roy isn’t too bright and receives a shovel to his head for his trouble by his double crossing partners.  They halfway bury him with Orlando and impale the two corpses with a pipe in the stomach before splitting with Roy’s plane ticket back to California.  Bad news as the plane explodes just after take off and the magic ring lands right back on Roy, bringing him back to life with part of the killer’s soul in him.  Are you still with me?

We then join the rest of Flowers clan – Mom (Catherine Grace), Sis (Allison Barron), her boyfriend Danny (Richard Gabai), and Roy’s girl Sylvia (Shannon Absher) – as they tool around their dilapidated house.  Things pick up when Barry Hefna (Troy Donahue) shows up with a check for $350,000 from a life insurance policy for Roy, since his ticket was used on the plane.  The family starts to live it up on the cash, but problems arise since Roy is now a zombie (with a 4 foot pipe in him) and he’s heading home. Even worse, Orlando’s old flame, psychic stripper Wanda (Linnea Quigley), senses his aura and seeks him out as well.  With the prodigal son back home, the family must try to keep his “living” a secret while Barry romances Mom and zombie Roy/Orlando switches back-and-forth between his personalities.

As it stands, BLOOD NASTY is neither great nor terrible.  It is just one of those standard 80s horror flicks that were a dime-a-dozen back in the day.  Running just 81 minutes, it never really has enough time to wear out its welcome and gorehounds will enjoy some of the rather graphic effects.  Also, the film was shot on location in the California suburbs (think E.T. and POLTERGEIST but with 1/20 the budget), so it really captures that era well from the clothes to those lovely angled homes.  And, of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t show the films biggest assets.

Yeah, prime (naked) Linnea Quigley is always a good reason for cinematic viewing.  And given what she has been in afterward that has gotten released, it is bizarre that this still sits on the shelf in terms of a U.S. release.  Hell, even slashers from the same era like TERROR NIGHT (1987) and CAMP FEAR (1991) eventually got released when DVD hit. Not so for BLOOD NASTY.

Co-director/co-star Richard Gabai was kind enough to answer our inquiry about this obscure little movie and gave the following answers about the film and elusive/mysterious director Robert Strauss (who went on to write the great sci-fi flick RETROACTIVE and co-producer FIRE IN THE SKY) via email.  Probably more info about BLOOD NASTY than you ever wanted to know.  Gabai has continued on in his career as both an actor and director and you can check out info on his latest directorial release INSIGHT (2011) here.

Gabai as the doomed Danny
VJ: How did you come to be involved in BLOOD NASTY?

RG: Robert Strauss hired me as an actor then as things got closer to production he asked me to help him crew up and then co-direct. (Gabai had previously helmed ASSAULT OF THE PARTY NERDS.)

VJ: Is it something you and Robert Strauss developed together?

RG: Nope, it was all him and the writer [Burford Hauser].

VJ: Was the part of Danny that you played specifically written for you?

RG: Nope.  But I had a great time playing that role.

VJ: If you can recall, when and where was the film shot?

RG: It was shot in the San Fernando Valley somewhere - maybe Northridge in 1989.

Variety production listing, May 1990:

VJ: The film has been released in Japan, Greece, Germany and other countries. Ultimately, what kept it from being released in the U.S. (at one point I see it was associated with Moviestore Entertainment as a U.S. distributor)?

RG: Yeah, I helped sell the film to my friend Joe Drake (now COO of Lionsgate) who was then at Moviestore.  I don't know why it was never released.  I think Moviestore went under or something.

Writer-Director Strauss in a cameo
VJ: Any interesting anecdotes about the film (casting, filming or reactions from folks you know who saw it)?

RG: Some of my industry friends who saw it thought it was great - one of them asked me about doing a re-make. There were good times on the set but I shall plead the 5th.

VJ: Are you still in contact with co-director Robert Strauss?

RG: Nope.  Haven't heard from him in years and years.  If you find him say hello :-)

German VHS sleeve
(courtesy Torsten Dewi):

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Listomania: William's June Jaunts of Movie Joy

Damn it!  It is July 1st already?  Does this mean 2012 is officially half over?  Well, since Tom handled the Listomania solo last month, I guess I better get on it.  Despite going mad doing my TWO-MINUTE WARNING theatrical vs. television versions write-up (which garnered me a Pulitzer nomination, by the way), June was still a pretty active viewing month for me with 27 films seen.  That breaks down to 20 DVDs, 5 VHS titles, 1 theatrical viewing (PROMETHEUS), and 1 computer viewing.  I even managed to muster enough energy to review KING OF THE STREETS and THE THEATRE BIZARRE during the month. Below are some of the more interesting titles that crossed my eyeballs this past month.

Michael and Roberta Findlay’s FLESH trilogy – I’m a huge fan of Roberta Findlay’s solo work as a director, but I’d never seen the softcore FLESH trilogy that she worked on with her then husband Michael that started their careers in exploitation success.  THE TOUCH OF HER FLESH (1967) opens with Richard Jennings (Michael Findlay, hiding behind the name Robert West) finding out his wife is cheating on him.  This sends him running into the streets, where he is hit by a car and loses his right eye.  Released from the hospital, wheelchair bound Jennings decides to enact revenge on his wife and a bunch of other women he deems slutty.  He easily succeeds in his task during the film’s scant 75 minute running time.  The next year delivered the ambitious sequel THE CURSE OF HER FLESH (1968).  Having disposed of his wife, Jennings now focuses on killing her lover Steve (Ron Skideri).  His rather complex plan involves running a small NYC theater where Steve is an actor.  That seems like a lot of work, actually.  Jennings then convinces Steve’s girlfriend to go through an even more elaborate set up to get his ultimate revenge.  Naturally, he is successful because Jennings is, like his one eye, focused.  Having acquired his revenge, the third film, THE KISS OF HER FLESH (1968), has Jennings in full bloodlust overdrive as he seems to be attacking any immoral female he sets his eyes, er, eye on.  But he may have just met his match in the all-knowing Maria (Uta Erickson).  So the duo battle it out as Jennings devises his most sadistic tortures.

"OMG! Look at that fine ass Shine-O-Mat!"
I managed to watch all three of these films over a two-day period and that is how I would suggest best watching them.  One of the more enjoyable aspects of this trilogy is the fact that you actually follow Richard Jennings exploits over the course of the films.  Ambitious, no doubt, for a grindhouse trilogy that is basically there to show paying pervs as much female flesh as possible.  But the film’s excess also results in their downfall.  There is so much T&A on display here that it becomes boring.  The segments of nekkid girls up on a go-go stage seem to go on for days.  I’d never thought I’d say this, but I was more interested in the story and exploits of Jennings than the voluptuous ladies revealing all for the camera.  The B&W photography (done by Roberta under the pseudonym Anna Riva) is very sharp at times and the NYC and surrounding area locations are awesome to see (Tom: “Is it sad that the location shooting captures our interest more than loooong scenes of ladies getting naked?”).  They may not have intended it, but the Findlays captured the era amazingly, from the dilapidated apartments to the amazing appliances.  The films can also be damn creative when they want to be.  A perfect example is the opening of CURSE where the opening credits are graffiti that Steve is reading on a bathroom wall as he takes a piss.  The third film is definitely the sleaziest of the three with Jennings creating out there methods of death (he poisons his own sperm!) and cracking wise while he sounds like W.C. Fields.  If I weren’t so lazy, I’d probably do a version that whittles down the series’ 3 hours and 45 minutes to an awesome 90 minute sleaze classic that focuses on Richard Jennings character arc.  Damn, did I seriously think of doing a Findlay fan edit?  I’ve lost it.  One of the more amusing things about this series is Earl Hindman made his screen debut as the hero (and killer of Jennings) in the third film.  He went on to be Wilson in Tim Allen’s sitcom HOME IMPROVEMENT.  No wonder he always hid his face!

Of course, Something Weird flicks are like Lay’s potato chips in that you can’t have just one.  So after getting a taste with the FLESH trilogy, I immediately hit some other SWV flicks I’d had for a while but not watched.

CONFESSIONS OF A PSYCHO CAT (1968) - Psycho cat Virginia (Eileen Lord) is disappointed she can't go with her hunter brother on safari in Africa. So she decides to do the next best thing - hunt humans in NYC! She brings three men acquitted of murder to her house and offers them a deal. If they can stay alive for the 24 hours after getting a letter stating the hunt is on, they will each collect $100,000. First up is Mr. Freeman, a washed up actor who murdered the husband of his mistress when he came home unexpectedly. He gets offed rather easy as he is lured to do a play and we know actors can never resist being in the limelight. Next up is Rocco (played by boxer Jake LaMotta), a former pro-wrestler who stomped his opponent to death in the ring. This burly guy gets offed after he becomes enraged when Virginia keeps taunting him over the phone saying he isn't really the champ. Wow, he was easy. Finally, we have a junkie Buddy, who caused his girlfriend to OD. Can you guess how he is lured out? Yep, he needs his fix and just can't stay inside, despite earlier narrowly escaping Virginia with her crossbow. This is worth seeing for two reasons. First, it is wild to see LaMotta, the inspiration for RAGING BULL, onscreen in his sweaty and growling glory. Second, the lead performance by Eileen Lord is simply marvelous. She is so over-the-top and loony that she makes it work. Some softcore footage has been shoehorned into the film to pad it out, but I think the best stuff comes from the proper thriller the film intended to be.  As with the FLESH trilogy, it is a movie time capsule of 1960s NYC.

JOHNNY FIRECLOUD (1975) - Following a stint in Vietnam, Johnny Firecloud (Victor Mohica) returns to the small town of his upbringing, only to encounter trouble at ever turn. Sheriff Jesse (David Canary) gives him a hard time for no reason and Johnny constantly finds himself butting heads with rich man Colby (Ralph Meeker), who disapproved of Johnny's pre-war relationship with his daughter June (Christina Hart). Colby gets Johnny locked up on a fake charge (the sheriff is in his pocket) and then hangs Johnny's grandfather by "accident." This prompts Johnny to bust out of jail and spend the last 40 minutes hunting and killing everyone who was involved with his granddad's death (including George "Buck" Flower). Tom’s been championing this one for years and I finally got around to it.  It is really a great movie, mixing 1970s vigilantism with one pissed off Indian. The violence in the film's last half is really over the top with effects by Joe Blasco that make it look like a slasher movie. But the film establishes a nice build up to these events, even if some of it isn't very subtle (graffiti on the jail cell wall reads "to hell with niggers and Indians!"). It features great performances from the entire cast and Canary gets to really shine in a role that is more complex than the standard thug cop.  And you get the classic line, “One of these days, you and me gonna tangle assholes.”

DIRTY WAR (1984) - Top mercenary Paul (Pierre Oudrey) is in high demand. The first ten minutes of this film sees him running around in a battlefield, blowing up a chemical plant, and saving the Pope from an assassin. But when Paul wants to "get out" of the organization, Mr. Fox (Mariano Vidal Molina) doesn't take too kindly to the idea and sends goons led by Kurt (Frank Braña) to convince him to do one final job. Paul goes on the run with his girl Virginia (Carol James), but as everyone knows, you can't escape the organization (whatever it is). Juan Piquer Simón had made two of his goofiest movies (PIECES and THE POD PEOPLE) in the two years prior to this, so I was hoping this would be just as entertaining. Sadly, it is not as this is a pretty straight forward crime flick. There are a few funny bits thanks to some of the dubbing (like when Virginia first meets Paul's friend Bob and he says, "You got a problem with blacks?") and some nonsensical bits (like the organizations men shooting laser sounding guns during a raid; it's never explained or mentioned again). But most of it is just the same old, same old. They did shoot in lots of different places (Milan and Munich to name a few) and got Pope John Paul II to do an unwitting "cameo" (he gets around as he was also in a Bruce Le flick).

GRAVEROBBERS (1988) - Nora Mae Edwards (Elizabeth Mannino) is a waitress at a tiny diner who gets swept off her feet by wealthy John Henry Cox (David Gregory). Well, not really. She accepts his marriage proposal after knowing him for all of three minutes ("I've waited for something like this my whole life"). He takes her to his home of New Bury, New York and they get married in the Cox family funeral home (ah, romance!). Of course, things aren't as they seem in this small town and soon Nora Mae finds out the locals are all horny necrophiliacs because, well, they just are. This low budget horror film comes from writer-director Straw Weisman and producer Lew Mishkin (son of William). It is really a mixed bag as the production is pretty horrendous at points (the music changes sound like someone moving the needle to separate tracks on a record and the voiceovers are horrendous) and the script is a total nightmare (they couldn't think up a better story than a random guy picking up a waitress; why not have them start as college sweethearts and he is finally taking her home to meet the family?). Yet there is something oddly compelling about the film. Maybe it is the small town or the gore effects. Or maybe it’s just that I'm not that discerning of a viewer? I would only recommend this if you have the desire to see a guy riding a motorcycle at top speed which causes his skin to peel off.  Ah, screw it, I’ll save you 89 minutes and show it to you here:

Monday, June 18, 2012

On the Celluloid Chopping Block: TWO-MINUTE WARNING (1976)

Our latest entry in the examination of films that are cut/edited/altered is a rather unique one in that not only was a significant amount of footage removed from the film, but nearly forty minutes of newly shot footage was added when the film debuted on NBC.  The plot of TWO-MINTUE WARNING is rather simple.  A crazed gunman climbs atop the flag tower at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before a huge football game drawing 100,000 spectators. The police, led by Capt. Holly (Charlton Heston), are quickly made aware of him and a S.W.A.T. team, led by Sgt. Button (John Cassavetes), must find a way to get this guy out of firmed nestled position without anyone being killed or the gunman being alerted.

TWO-MINUTE WARNING is one of those standard concept thrillers that still exist today, but it is actually better than its set up suggests. The action unfolds in almost real time and is surprising in its level of detail while eliciting a fair amount of tension. For example, you have some great scenes in the TV control room where the television director (played by Andy Sidaris, who used to do this in real life before becoming an action T&A legend) tries to balance doing his job while the police do theirs. The suspense is well handled until the end where it turns into a mob of people running out of the stands as if Roy Schieder yelled, "Shark!"

1979 newspaper
TV version mention
With the all-star supporting cast in the stands, this actually reminds me a lot of the Irwin Allen disaster flicks of the 1970s. You have Jack Klugman as a degenerate gambler; Beau Bridges as a down-on-his-luck dad taking the family out; Martin Balsam as the stadium manager; David Janssen as a fan and Gena Rowlands as his lady; Walter Pidgeon as a pickpocket (Beau's real-life wife is his accomplice); and former footballer Joe Kapp as, of course, a footballer. (And look for Robert Ginty as a souvenir salesman.) Since the audience spends so much time with these characters, you can guess who is going to get shot. It is a bit disjointed and feels like a book (it was adapted from a George La Fountaine novel), but I think it helps establish the randomness of the shooter, whose motivations are never explained before he dies.

Speaking of which, NBC apparently had a problem with the idea of airing a "crazed gunman goes nuts for no reason" scenario.  Sure, they wanted those boffo ratings from airing a Charlton Heston movie in primetime, but heaven forbid they actually have an insane sniper with no motivation because that kind of stuff never happens in real life *cough* Charles Whitman *cough*.  In order to assuage their refined sensibilities, the network actually paid for extensive re-shoots for this before it aired on February 6, 1979.  And we’re not talking about new scenes to replace bloody deaths.  They added a whole new subplot that significantly alters the film.  In this new version, the shooter is up there in order to provide a distraction for a museum heist that takes place nearby.  So let’s get this straight – version involving a crazed gunman shooting at folks with no motive is bad; version involving a crazed gunman shooting at folks in order to help others get financial gain is good. Yep, sounds like standard television executive logic to me alright.

TV Guide ad (courtesy of Marty McKee):

                      Newspaper article on the extended version:

The differences are noticeable right off that bat with the opening credits.  New co-stars get prominent credits. Screenwriter Edward Hume unwittingly gets a co-writer as Francesca Turner gets a credit for what is now billed as the teleplay.  Additionally, original director Larry Peerce had his name removed from the project and one Gene Palmer (assumed this is the noted TV editor who did similar work on Universal’s TV debut of EARTHQUAKE) receives the directing credit.

New actors:

Film credits (theatrical vs. television):

Since we’re on “no random kill” watch, the TV version immediately removes the theatrical version’s powerful opening scene where the sniper (Warren Miller) tries out his rifle in a hotel room by firing on a random 1970s bicycling couple.

Also removed is the introduction of the football player played by Joe Kapp in his hotel with his lady.  In fact, Kapp must have been pissed when he saw this version as nearly all of his scenes have been removed.  So, all you fans of Joe Kapp shaving scenes and split focus shots will be doubly disappointed.

To replace these bits, we have new footage starting at roughly four minutes into the TV version.  First, we have a scene of the shooter outside of the stadium.  He eyes the tower he will soon climb and then feels the marble surface at the base of the tower (this is explained later).

After this we immediately dive headfirst into the heist plot.  At the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, we are introduced to the new characters of Patricia Owens (Joanna Pettet) and her boss Cooper Adams (William Prince) as they talk with a reporter and museum curator Mr. Kaslov.  You know this is a fancy museum as harpsichord music plays in the background.  Mr. Adams has decided to display his $10 million dollar art collection on football championship weekend, no doubt hoping to cash in on that Picasso and pigskin loving crowd.

As Adams and Patricia leave the museum, they pass by a couple of exposition cops.

Cop #1: “I read where Mr. Cooper Adams is the richest man in Texas.”
Cop #2: “He’s also one of the richest men in the world.”

We then cut to the Fairchild hotel for more new footage (interestingly, this is where Kapp was staying and where Klugman’s degenerate gambler is also at).  Inside a dingy hotel room, the sniper – now finally addressed by his last name of Cook – meets up with the other 5 men who are in on the plan, who spend their time ogling Polaroids of the paintings they hope to steal.  The masterminds are Tony (Paul Shenar), Richard (James Olsen), and the Professor (Rossano Brazzi). 6 white guys?  Yeah, they're trouble alright.

Cook is debriefed by Richard, his former commanding officer in Vietnam, about his role in the heist plan and told there is an escape hatch in the shaft.  The arrangement is simple – Cook will open fire at the two-minute warning during the championship football game to distract the cops, which will allow the other guys to rob the museum.

Concerned about his risky effort and possibly being a patsy, Cook demands a sum of $100,000 more before heading out. You know he is unstable because in addition to breaking down his rifle to hide in his coat (using recycled footage from the excised opening), he also stashes two bottles of booze in his pockets in a later scene.  Ah, money and booze! There’s that motivation the network executives were looking for.

Meanwhile, Adams stops at a bank to do some business and Patricia goes shopping.  But she has ulterior motives as she called the hotel to speak with her boyfriend Tony.  Dah, dah, dah!  She’s in on the heist.

It is interesting to note that tons of footage has been removed from the theatrical version to accommodate this new stuff.  Long suffering Joe Kapp sees his inviting of friend/fan priest (Mitchell Ryan) during communion removed; the intro of the S.W.A.T. team led by Sgt. Button as they teargas an abusive husband is gone (as is later footage of Button at home with his family); the intro of Beau Bridges driving his family to the game is gone; the intro of a pair of pickpockets (Walter Pidgeon and Julie Bridges, Beau’s wife) is no longer there; and, most importantly, the following shot of Klugman’s gambler character grabbing his lady friend’s breast is missing.  How am I supposed to know he is a degenerate now?

To compensate for this, we have more new footage of Adams and his assistant Patricia riding around in his Rolls Royce. He takes her to a fancy French restaurant (it is intercut with the Klugman restaurant footage above) and it becomes obvious they have more than a working relationship.  Adams gives her some token jewelry and then drops the bomb on her.  “I transferred ownership of my collection to your name last week,” he says.  Oh snap!  Not only that, her sugardaddy says he set up a trust for her.  Double snap!  Then he asks her to look over some insurance papers, but she points out his lawyer screwed up the policy and put the wrong amount on there.  And, yes, the waiter is really wearing that outfit.

Obviously she needs to call this off because everything is being messed up due to Adams’ creepy old man love gestures. But she can’t reach Tony at the hotel as he and his men have already gotten into their white van and headed for the art museum.

Inside the van, we get a conversation between four of the men.  One guy, who is dressed as a cop, says he doesn’t feel comfortable being the contact between them and Cook.  Richard reassures them that Cook is “the best in the business for this job” and the “best man I had in Vietnam.”  They also talk about how the money will be transferred and mention that their client is named Ambassador Lopez.

Meanwhile, all of our star spectators have been arriving at the game.  Cook also arrives and makes his way to the tower at roughly 36 minutes into the TV version.  This is a good example to show you how the creators of the TV version just bounced events all over the place as this happens much earlier in the theatrical version.  And in news sure to disappoint Ryan Seacrest, the National Anthem sung by Merv Griffin is cut down.

And can you guess who else is checking out the game today?  Adams and his sexpot assistant!  Unable to contact her boys about the recent developments, Patricia tries to get away from Adams but he is smitten and says he’ll go with her to the gallery.  No go and she goes to the game.

Just before the hour mark, the white van arrives at the museum's loading dock.  Inside we get another conversation which gives us more into the insight of the relationship between Tony and Patricia.  The Professor seems uneasy about his former student Patricia being in a relationship with Tony.  Tony accuses the Professor of being in love with her and the teacher replies, “I have loved her since the first day she walked into my class.”  Then Richard gets on it and says he has feelings for her too.  Oh boy.

A rather long sequence here has the men walking around the museum doing that art gawker thing.  One man makes a phone call to an airport to confirm their post-heist flight. Richard babbles to some young woman about art. The Professor babbles to some young woman about art.  You get the picture.

Back at the game, Adams just happens to run into his lawyer and asks him to fix the error he made right away.  Yeah, I'll just drop watching this football game and head over to the museum.

Patricia finally reaches Tony by calling the museum and tells him about the change of plans.  She lies by saying Adams got tipped off, but Tony says tough luck.  Patricia decides the next best course of action is to call the museum and tip off the security.  That’s woman logic for ya.  Anyway, after conferring with his associates, Tony and the men decide to still go forward with their plan.

Around 1 hour and 14 minutes into the TV version, we get one of the more interesting additions in that it is one of only a handful of new scenes shot to feature an actor from the original film.  And it isn’t just anyone, it is Charlton Heston himself.  We get a brief scene of Heston receiving a phone call from museum director Mr. Kaslov saying he is worried because he heard rumors of a heist.  Heston says he has so many men at the football game, but he will see what he can do.  It is interesting to note that Heston sports a lighter colored toupee than the one he wore in the original film.

Our thieves get sweaty palms when a couple of extra cops arrive at the museum thanks to Heston’s orders.  They think about calling it off but they can’t seem to contact Cook (obviously giving him a walkie-talkie was beyond their planning) and they opt to send a guy dressed as a cop to go there and kill him when he tries to escape through the hatch. Also around this time, Priscilla convinces Adams to leave the game.

Interestingly, another omission from the theatrical version during all of this cross cutting is when Cassavettes and his men grab a random fan hanging out in the bleachers who they think might be in on it.  In the theatrical version, he is taken into the bathroom and roughed up by Cassavettes, who makes sure to knee him in the balls.

Around the 1 hour and 53 minute mark, the shooting finally starts to happen.  Now this is where it gets interesting as all of the shots of people being, well, shot are replaced.  Instead we get shots of Cook shooting out lights or shooting at empty chairs.

Die, empty chairs, die!

The biggest beneficiary of this is actor David Janssen, whose character now gets to live.  In the theatrical cut, he and his girlfriend played by Gena Rowlands are out arguing in the concourse.  They decide to get married (ah, women) in Vegas, but not before they go finish watching the game they flew all the way from New Jersey to see.  Janssen walks into his seating section and becomes the sniper’s first victim.  In the TV version, he mumbles “let’s go to Vegas right now” and that is the last we see of them, as if they are walking away from the game.  Here's how he originally met his end.  Beats getting married, I suspect.

This means poor Branscombe Richmond gets his screen debut removed as well.  And the winner for Best Supporting Actor Covered in Blood is…

The sniper also gets a new lease on life as he never gets wounded by one of the S.W.A.T. team snipers.

Crime also doesn’t end up paying as the characters played Walter Pidgeon and Jack Klugman live to pick more pockets and gamble more money away, respectively, another day.  Here's how they bought it in the theatrical version.

The second new bit of Heston footage appears just after the two hour mark as a uniformed cop runs up to him and tells him he can’t contact the security guards patrolling the museum section.  “That’s it! That art museum,” Heston says, “Take some men and get over there right away.  I’ve got a hunch there is a heist going on and that is what this is all about.”

What no one counts on were 100,000 people to continue rampaging through the streets.  Can you guess where they are headed?  That’s right – the museum!  There is a hilarious bit where some cops see them coming and close the doors.

Intercut between the stampeding masses is a section of Cook trying to escape from the secret hatch built into the tower.  He crawls down to the bottom and opens the door, only to be met by the bad guy dressed as a cop waiting for him with his gun trained.  Trapped!

As the entire over-the-top melee unfolds (seriously, the frenzied crowd looks like a marathon), the criminals in the museum subdue the guards and begin cutting out all the prized paintings.  In the words of Lawrence Tierney, "Let's go to work."

Meanwhile, Heston and Cassavettes are taking care of our sniper.  The poor patsy gets back to the top of the tower just in time to get a gas canister thrown in his face.

The police make it inside the base of the tower and we get our third and final scene of new Heston footage.  For some reason they have him spot the escape entryway and he shouts, "Alright you! Climb out of there, right now!"  It is odd because everyone else is still trained on the guy the know is climbing up the ladder.

Of course, they finally get their man as he is shot and falls from the top of the ladder. 

Back to the museum! As the men try to escape in their white van, they get surrounded by thousands (well, dozens) of still frenzied fans (no joke, they’ve been running for their lives for like 15 minutes; I think you’re safe now). The best part is this is all airing live on TV and Adams and Patricia are watching it unfold in the back of his Rolls Royce. Now why cameras were trained 20 feet across from the escape van is beyond me.

The van driver decides to haul ass and ends up bumping a young girl onto the sidewalk.  Naturally, this sends the hysterical football hounds into an even further rage.  They surround the van like zombies and tip the damn thing over.

Some uniformed cops get onto the scene and immediately arrest the thieves as they spill out of the back of the van.  Art robbery of the century foiled!

UPDATE (in Robert Stack voice): Julian Grainger left a comment below asking about the end credits and I did a few more framegrabs.  The end credits unfold the exact same way (helicopter shot pulling away from the stadium), but we do get some additional new people listed.  Veteran cinematographer and Emmy winner Harry L. Wolf is credited as the DP on "additional photography."  

Two credit listings later, TV version credited director Gene Palmer joins the film's previous two film editors. And Jaroslav Gebr - who used to do the paintings on shows like GHOST STORY and Rod Serling's NIGHT GALLERY - is given credit for the paintings seen in the museum.    

It is interesting to note that the cast listing is exactly the same as the theatrical version, so folks like Michael Pataki ("that guy" in the gang pic earlier) never gets proper credit for his role.  The end copyright notice has been changed as well, now listing 1979 (MCMLXXIX) after the 1976 date.

Good lord!  Did I just unleash 60 plus pictures to describe the alternate version of TWO-MINUTE WARNING that debuted on “The Big Event” on NBC some 33 years ago?  Apparently I did.  As you can see, this revamped version creates quite a different film and I’m sure there were tons of people who saw it theatrically who were going “what the hell?” and wondering if their buttered popcorn had been laced when they saw it debut on TV.  This new version is really amazing because the executives wanted to get as far away from reasonless killing as possible.  Yet the cops still blow away the sniper in the end.  And his crime was nothing more than shooting some empty seats and light fixtures.  That’ll teach him.  The trick worked though as this special edition of TWO-MINUTE WARNING got a monster 28 percentage share of the TV viewing audience.  Yet it still wasn’t the number one program that night. You see, they lost out to something far more deadly than a lone sniper hiding in a tower.  Old Chuck got blasted by the evil combo of LAVERNE & SHIRLEY and MORK & MINDY.  Bull’s eye, baby!

UPDATE #2: If you've made it this far reading (congrats!), be sure to check out the comment from reader Matt below.  He gives a detailed write up of the novel on which the movie is based and it is a lot different and even crazier in some ways.  Great stuff.