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!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The XXX-Factor: THE AVENGERS XXX (2012)

You might have heard of this little film called THE AVENGERS that is currently breaking box office records worldwide.  Grossing over $200 million in the U.S. during its opening weekend, THE AVENGERS is freakin’ huge.  Everyone knew it was going to be big, but I don’t know if anyone figured it would gross more in just over one week what the last HARRY POTTER film earned during its entire three month North American run.  One group that has to be pleased with this success is adult entertainment company Vivid Entertainment. Hot of the success of STAR WARS XXX, Vivid again teamed with Axel Braun, the premiere adult porn spoof maker, to produce a XXX parody that will ride the coattails (cape tails?) of its popular big budget counterpart.  Vivid is basically like the mockbuster studio The Asylum if you replace really crappy looking CGI with sex scenes.

THE AVENGERS gets off to an ambitious start with a long pan of the Nevada desert as Dr. David Banner (Corey Matthews) awakens wearing only his trademark torn jeans.  Location filming in a porn movie?  Yowza!  News reports fill us in that he got into a big brawl with Abomination in Las Vegas. We then cut to the headquarters (the porn staple of an empty warehouse) of The Avengers.  Nick Fury (Lexington Steele) says that S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to get together a team of superheroes.  Damn, who leaked the plot of the big budget AVENGERS? Anyway, currently present are Hawkeye (Eric Masterson), Scarlet Witch (Danni Cole), Ms. Marvel (Lexi Swallow) and Spider-Woman (Jenna Presley).  Iron Man (Dale DaBone) then joins them.  Bonus nerd points if you know which one of those characters isn’t a real Marvel superhero.  Boom!  Gotacha, they’re all from the Marvel universe.  If you knew that, I feel bad for you, son.  I got 99 problems but a comic addiction ain’t one.  Hit me.  Ouch. Anyway, the heroes start quarreling until the Scarlet Witch cancels all of their vocal patterns and storms off.  Iron Man flies off to the desert to try to snag the Incredible Hulk, not noticing that Spider-Man is hanging around watching his every move.

Meanwhile, Hawkeye goes looking for Scarlet Witch, but runs into Natasha aka Black Widow (Brooklyn Lee).  Admiring her tight outfit, Hawkeye makes the move and they proceed to get it on in the film’s first sex scene.  That is how you do it, Joss Whedon you tease!

After this spirited superhero sex session, Iron Man locates Banner but he is now full on the Hulk (Jordan Lee) in the desert and tries to convince him to join the team. Somehow Stark’s plan to do this is by shooting him with a laser. Anyway, Hulk does take too kindly too it and punches Iron Man across the desert, where he crashes in probably the film’s best effects work. Sadly, if you rented this hoping for some XXX Hulk action, you will be sorely disappointed as the jolly green giant’s role ends here.  “Don’t make me horny. You wouldn’t like me when I’m horny” will just have to wait for another day.

Back at Avengers headquarters, Nick Fury is excited about the prospect of his plan working and his assistant Sharon Carter (Phoenix Marie) notices this.  We then get our first great porn dialogue bit with the following exchange.

Carter: “You’re really excited about this aren’t you?”
Fury: “I am.”
Carter:  “We should do something about that.”

And that something just happens to be a helping of one-on-one sexual healing in the film’s second sex scene.

When this scene ends, we immediately cut to Scarlet Witch practicing some of her magic on some flying targets.  Ms. Marvel admires her work and then her body as we jump immediately into our third sex scene as our two female superheroes experience some Sappho sensations.  Damn, this movie so many people stripping out of their tight superhero costumes that I thought I was in the bathroom at Comic-Con.  Oh jeez, now I have that visual in my head.

Anyway, after that we get another set up for a sex scene as Thor (Brendon Miller) is visited by She-Hulk (Chyna).  Damn, Braun is playing fast and loose with his superheroes here cuz there ain’t no She-Hulk (or Spider-man for that matter) in the big screen THE AVENGERS.  Of course, who in their right mind would turn down the casting of former WWE wrestler Chyna for the role?  This is something she is perfect for.  She-Hulk apologizes for the behavior of her cousin (damn, someone did their homework) and Thor rages about how he would never succumb to the Hulk.  “We’ll find out,” She-Hulk says and we dive headfirst into sex scene number 5.


When that wraps up, everyone reconvenes at headquarters and I realize the movie only has 20 minutes left.  Holy crap, have we even gotten to any plot here.  I mean, are there villains? And am I seriously complaining about lack of plot in a porn movie?  I guess I won’t find out as we get the film’s final sex scene between Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel.  He seems insecure in his standing in the group (“So this isn’t about Thor is it? Because, seriously, if it is I’m going to like hurl in my mask”) and Marvel assures him she is only interested in tingling his Spidey senses.

After their energetic romp, the team convenes once again and Fury tells them they are going to Antarctica.  Why?  They are going to retrieve Captain America out of the ice.  We see America’s hero frozen in ice and then…credits!  Wait, what?  Did I just get the freakin’ porn equivalent of “to be continued…” laid on me?  Why you sneaky, porn spoofing bastards.

Sadly, THE AVENGERS XXX doesn’t seem to be aiming as high and comes off more like just an excuse to have the iconic characters getting it on while half in and out of their famous costumes. Now, don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that is ultimately the point of porn spoofs, but director Braun has done much better than this.  I guess I got really spoiled by Braun’s STAR WARS spoof as that one followed the film note-for-note and actually did some funny spins on the material. The high point of comedy here is Spider-Man giving Hawkeye the finger during a catty argument.  Now I’m not asking for some scene-for-scene remake where you risk life and limb by sneaking a stolen script past Marvel security, but, damn, give me something.  The plot is so shallow that the “non-sex version” offered with in the 2-disc set runs a laughable 16 minutes and 19 seconds.  And characters such as the Hulk and Iron Man, major players in the theatrical film, are only afterthoughts here with a couple of scenes each.  Seriously, no Iron Man sex scene?  That’s just wrong.  Of course there is still plenty of sex on display.  All of the performers are attractive and seem enthusiastic in their roles.  Amazingly enough, 90% of them are actually decent as far as acting goes too.  Only one performer gives a bad performance *cough*Scarlet Witch*cough* so, by that standard, it is just like THE AVENGERS *cough*Scarlett Johansson*cough*.

It is a shame the film focused so little on the storyline aspect as the production is another well handled affair.  Vivid knows where to put their money and it is grateful to see the biggest special effects in a porn aren’t the women.  The CGI for Iron Man is actually really well done and the film actually has a few bits that outshine the aforementioned CGI sluts The Asylum. Of course, you won’t be mistaking anything seen here with the stuff from the big screen.  Here’s a test, guess which still below is the floating air station from the X-rated film and which one is from the $250 million dollar movie.

If you got that test wrong, it is time to get your eyes checked.  If you're reading this, get your head checked out too.

THE AVENGERS XXX deleted scene
"Hammer me! Hammer me! Hammer me!"
One of the odder things about this flick is that Jenna Presley was cast as Spider-Woman but she doesn’t have a sex scene.  That wasn’t always the case as she originally had a scene with original Thor (Evan Stone, in the old school Thor costume) that ended up on the cutting room floor (it is featured as an extra).  You know your acting must suck if you are cut out of a porn film.  Sad.  Seriously, this was to accommodate one of the more notable things about this film in the casting of Chyna as She-Hulk.  While she did the sex tape thing a few years ago, she officially signed with Vivid last year to star in features for them.  I’ve got to say, it is a bit of a casting coup as I’m sure that will bring lots of attention, they once again fail to capitalize on it by not having her throw down with anyone.  Yes, you get to see her do the nasty in all of its glory, but I want a fight scene too dammit!  Oddly, Chyna keeps on her top during her entire sex scene, but you can see her topless as she gets painted green in the special features.  Since I’m sure a billion of our hits will be from “Chyna topless She-Hulk” I’ll offer you this gift.  You’re welcome.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The "Never Got Made" Files #72: SEA OF SIN (1991/1993)

Sincerity and a go-for-broke attitude in low budget filmmaking will get you a long way with us.  Case in point: the film WINTERBEAST (1991).  Director Christopher Thies knew the odds were stacked against him when working with such a low budget, so he managed to throw everything into his picture.  It features demons, stop-motion monsters, zombies, nudity, clown masks, ever-changing mustaches, and more.  While it will never be confused with a horror great, WINTERBEAST displayed enough creativity and “what in the world?” charm that we couldn’t help but like and admire it here at Video Junkie.

I contacted Thies on a completely unrelated matter and, after revealing my penchant for unfinished films, he informed me that he had his own “never got made” skeleton in his closet titled SEA OF SIN, a horror flick about killer mermaids.  Color me interested.  The project was supposed to be Thies’ sophomore feature, but never got finished.  It also holds the distinction of being the only project we’ve covered so far that never got made…twice!  “The project had a couple of false starts,” Thies explained via e-mail. “We almost started shooting in 1991, but eventually shooting ended up taking place in late September and October of 1993.”

Michael Anderson reacts to
the film's cancellation
Regarding the first attempt, Thies explains that SEA OF SIN was a significantly larger production than his debut.  “The initial production in 1991 was budgeted around $300,000,” he reveals. “We had an investor the first go-round who was a venture capitalist. I was working in a video store as we were making WINTERBEAST and I had a friend and co-worker who had a lot of the same interests and taste in movies as I did – Larry Aufiero. He wasn’t involved in WINTERBEAST at all. His sister Dorothy had just finished up working as production manager for the TV show MONSTERS and was interested in producing – so we all got together and they liked the script so decided to make SEA OF SIN with them producing and me directing. Before shooting began the funds fell though- either the stock market tanked or the investor finally got a look at WINTERBEAST, but that ended the first version.”  It is a shame too as Thies discloses that the group had cast Michael J. Anderson, best known as the diminutive “Man from Another Place” in TWIN PEAKS, as the magician in the film.

John Waterhouse's
A Mermaid
So what exactly was SEA OF SIN about?  The script – co-written by Thies, Kevin Maguire and Delia Huse – focused on a killer mermaids coming from the sea and descending upon a seaside town in New England.  Lovecraft would be proud.  “The story revolved around a seaside amusement area,” Thies explains, “and a mysterious mother and two daughters who come to town with a drunken magician to perform at one of the bars. They end up being a family of killer mermaids and the magician is their human hostage. They’ve actually come to town to sacrifice 7 victims (one for each of the seas) so Poseidon will rise from the sea and impregnate them to carry on the race. He does arrive at the end and runs amok at the town’s “Miss Neptune” contest killing and maiming and carrying one of the mermaids off into the ocean.”

It was a wild subject, no doubt, and mermaids – long used in scary maritime folklore – have rarely been used as the subject for horror films (Curtis Harrington’s NIGHT TIDE being the most famous example).  So where did Thies exactly draw his inspiration for this idea?  The answer might surprise you. “The Bermuda Triangle,” he states.  “Not the actual place, but an old amusement park ride at an oceanfront amusement park [Paragon Park] in Hull, Massachusetts. The whole place was torn down in the 80s but I went there a lot as a kid. They had what was originally an ‘Old Mill’ dark ride where the current would carry these boats through pitch black tunnels past a few black lit animated fiberglass dioramas. In the mid 70s they changed the theme from a jungle cruise to the Bermuda Triangle. They had these great set pieces of mermaids and King Neptune tormenting drowning sailors that were really amazing.”

The Bermuda Triangle ride at Paragon Park:

Joe Pallister as Martin
With belief in his concept, Thies decided to give production another go a few years later. He eschewed attempts to gain funding in Hollywood, something they had tried with WINTERBEAST to no avail. “Two years later we started again with Larry and me funding it ourselves,” he explains, “by that point he owned a video store and I was working in insurance.”  While the budget was significantly less ($30,000) than their first attempt, Thies and company still maintained a professional attitude.  They started by casting actors down in New York.  PLAYGIRL centerfold staple and 1993's "Man of the Year" Joe Pallister was a cast as Martin, the Coast Guard member who must combat the sisters, and Dina Dillon and Alexandra Adi were cast as the good and evil mermaid sisters, respectively.  And while Thies had separated from his WINTERBEAST producer Mark Frizzell on this project, a few of that film’s alumni helped on this new production.  “Bill MacLeod, who played Dick Sargent in WINTERBEAST, was the key grip. And Kevin Maguire, who was the bartender at the Wild Goose Lodge, was going to play a street preacher at the beach,” he explains.  Could we also see a return of everyone’s favorite WINTERBEAST villain, the super strange Sheldon?  “I wrote a part for Bob Harlow, who played Sheldon, but by the time we started production, he was nowhere to be found.”

So production began anew in the fall of 1993.  Shooting on 16mm film, the production has established a shooting schedule of 15 days. Actors were bused up from New York to the Boston area and shooting began at an amusement park in the Salisbury, Massachusetts area. Unfortunately, the production began to quickly fall behind.  “I think we shot a total of about 6 days,” Thies confesses.  “We were falling behind schedule more each day, but the goal was to complete the exteriors around the beach before the cold weather set in and then go to interiors.”

Ultimately, only 20% of the live action footage was shot.  Not only was Thies dealing with the pressures of directing a film, he also had to deal with a low budget director’s worst nemesis – a disgruntled spouse!  “I can tell you that my wife at the time was not happy with the whole idea,” he amusingly reveals.  “It didn't help that on the fist day of shooting she came up to the location and some drunk checking into the motel we were all staying at forgot to put his truck in park and it rolled down the hill and smashed the back of her brand new car. I remember later that night we were shooting at a beachfront arcade and she was parked across the street glaring at me from her dented car.”

Director Thies (in black) on location

Dina Dillon as
The Good Mermaid
Eventually the project collapsed under the combination of the weight of its own ambitiousness and a lack of funds.  Money dried up to the point that the producers couldn’t even get the processed footage out of the lab.  It is a shame too as Thies promises the script offered some truly one-of-a-kind onscreen mayhem that, given the madness displayed in WINTERBEAST, would have given the horror genre some true firsts.  As examples of the craziness, he mentions a scripted scene where the evil mermaid sister, Marina, zaps onto a Navy sub and turns the crew members “into piles of flopping fish.” There is also this wild scene from the film’s finale where Martin chases Marina through the amusement park with a trident.  “He chases her through the amusement park at night and ends up at the top of a waterslide, where she beheads the attendant with a garrote and her and Martin and the head all end up sliding to the bottom in a battle to the death. In the pool at the bottom she turns into her mermaid form and he kills her while the other swimmers run for it.”

It was in the creatures that SEA OF SIN, like all good monsters movies, was going to shine.  “Steve Fiorilla, who worked on WINTERBEAST, had designed some great mermaid creatures,” Thies reveals, “that I wanted to do in stop-motion.  Each one was a different sea creature- one a crab, one an octopus, etc.” Here is his lone surviving design:

As evidenced by the above drawing, the mermaid monsters were truly unique.  Alas, the killer mermaids drowned in a sea of debt, rather than a sea of blood.  It is too bad as Thies liked the look of the footage he saw that did come out of the lab.  Today, the project is lost and Thies owns none of the footage.

What wasn’t lost in the process though was determination and Thies eventually did get his sophomore feature off the ground.  Reteaming with WINTERBEAST producer and friend Frizzell, Thies recently shot another nautical themed horror film called HOOKED.  “Mark called me out of the blue about 5 years ago,” he discloses. “He was good enough to track me down and it wasn't long before we decided to self-release the WINTERBEAST DVD and launch into a new project.  Not because it made sense, but just because that's what we love to do. I had written a number of scripts in that time and HOOKED was the first one I showed him. He called it JAWS meets PSYCHO meets PEE WEE’S PLAYHOUSE. It had plenty of animation and we've added more along the way. It was incredibly over-ambitious, but I think we've pulled it off.”

Telling the story of a man who begins to chew on the inhabitants of a fishing town courtesy of some shark teeth dentures, HOOKED delivers on the weird and wild promise previously seen in SEA OF SIN.  Any chance it could have a killer mermaid in the mix? “There is a mermaid in HOOKED,” Thies reveals, “but she is an aquarium toy that comes to life and talks to the main character when he’s hallucinating. Other than that, it’s a different kind of film altogether.”

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Strung Out on Slashers: BLOOD RUNS COLD (2011)

Ok, so I said I could quit watching Swedish movies any time I wanted, so just to prove it I headed straight for the Video Junkie comfort zone: a low-rent slasher movie. To be totally honest, I tend to avoid most modern slasher films. At least in the '80s during the (original) slasher boom, everybody would try to throw their own twist in the tale. Say a re-incarnated viking killing campers. These days the smugness of the filmschool grads who boast their contempt for the genre with quotes that they are "making a stupid horror movie" or just as bad, do nothing but steal ideas or entire scenes from other movies and assemble them for an unwitting audience while patting themselves on the back for being so cool.

BLOOD RUNS COLD, set in North Carolina, sported a snowy, bloody trailer that advertised it was shot on a budget of $5,000. No, that is not a typo. Five thousand American greenbacks. What's more impressive is that it was shot with a common Canon EOS 7D, a digital camera that you can buy at Costco for under $2,000 with lenses! Ok, you've got my attention.

A man with a badly bleeding gash in his forehead wakes up in the snow only to find that he can't move and someone with an ax is moving in quick. Just when you think he might be able to get free, the ax comes down and we get some snowy credits with... Hey! These guys are Swedish! Doh! A presumed musician (it's only implied), Winona (Hanna Oldenburg), heads deep into the North Crackolina woods to stay at a tiny run-down old house. The house was provided by her manager, who is clearly not interested in her well being as it has no insulation, no heat, and since everyone goes outside to piss, unless it is a plot convenience (it is), no lavatory facilities. Oh and there's an ax-wielding maniac running around outside.

Be it ever so humble...

Getting bored with the rats, banging shutters and the run-down, creepy house, Winona heads off to the local watering hole, The Dart Room. Decorated with Lowenbrau banners, soccer pennants and trophies, where everyone (the six other people who are in the bar) drinks Budweiser (and Carlsberg), has tattoos with foreign names and listens to bad, unplugged emo rock (wait, was that redundant?). This lets you know that it's an American bar, if you couldn't tell from the guy in the corner who is being loud, vulgar and saying "fuck" every other word. Never mind that nobody speaks with any accent other than a Scandanavian one. Turns out, one of the guys in the corner, Rick (Patrick Saxe), is Winona's ex-boyfriend, who she broke up with to go pursue her career, apparently elsewhere. Because fucking Carl (Andreas Rylander) is fucking bored, Winona invites the boys and Carl's girlfriend Liz (Elin Hugoson), back to the house to get their drink on. Actually she just says "do you want to see a creepy old house" and apparently fucking Carl is so fucking bored that this sounds like a really fucking great idea. This is actually a good thing as I was thinking it was going to be one slow slay-ride with just a single character. Even so, man, I sure hope fucking Carl is the first one to fucking go.

Once back at the house, they listen to the same emo unplugged band that we heard at the bar (damn, they must be popular in the south), drink more Bud, piss in the snow, Carl says "fuck" about 20 more times, then everyone heads off to bed. There's some attempt at some character-work here where Carl tries to have a deep conversation with Rick about getting back with Winona. After that we get some nudity via some badly simulated sex scenes (Rick and Winona don't seem to be having sex, so much as struggling to get out of a bear trap) and then the group starts getting picked off one by one.

Just like in Italian movies of the '80s that desperately wanted to be mistaken for American films, there are some amusing bits that really show how not American it is. When Winona first gets to the house, she takes in a grocery bag that prominently displays Oreo cookies and white bread. Yep, totally American. At the bar, Winona orders a white wine and it's served in a balloon glass, which is a red wine glass, you can't clean it with the bar glass washers and either way it's still a backwoods bar in North Carolina! On the other end of the spectrum, at one point Winona actually falls down next to a fully loaded, fully-automatic rifle that's just lying on the floor. Then I realized... oh, yeah, it's North Carolina.

Sporting some great camera work with oblique angles and follow focus shots from first time feature filmmaker Sonny Laguna, and a very professional sounding musical score from Samir El Alaoui, BLOOD RUNS COLD is pretty damn impressive in many ways, particularly for it's $5k budget. The cheese factor of the ramshackle sets and clumsy dialogue can be easily over looked due to some graphic gore and a potentially interesting killer. I say "potentially interesting" because for some reason, the script is so completely lacking that we don't even get any cool back-story for the character. There are no creepy legends of woodland stalkers, no breaking news about institutional escapees, no incantations performed by the original occupants, no scooby doo ending, nothing whatsoever. On the one hand, I guess it's refreshing to not have the "kids" sitting around a fire talking about yet another boogieman, but on the other hand, there is no story here. At all. I dig how everything is implied about the main character (very Swedish), but nothing is implied about the killer, and if you are going to dress your killer up in that silly outfit and make him unkillable by tools and firearms, throw us some sort of bone as to who or what he is or just some sort of plot. The 35,000 Kronor budget doesn't even enter into it. Writing dialogue scenes that advance a plot are free, and if time is an issue, ditch fucking Carl's lame dialogue about how he pulled down his pants at work or goofing off with his poor girlfriend who is trying to have a conversation with the jackass.

My biggest gripe by far is the lack of plot, coming in second is the fact that the trailer not only shows us all of the major gore effects in the film, but one of them is a major spoiler. I really don't want to bash the film, what they pulled off with minimal resources in zero degree weather, with home camera equipment and a 35 day shooting schedule, is pretty amazing. On the other hand, it's a shame that they didn't spend a little more time writing some plot into the film, ditching some of the CGI breath effects (which you'd think would be unnecessary in zero degree weather) and trying to dial up the scare factor by creating a story and maybe a bigger climax. The real irony here is that after all of the snicker-inducing attempts to present an American slasher movie has led to them getting video releases everywhere except America. Maybe there's a lesson to be learned there; more time with the script, less time with the Americanisms. We're still pissed off about the uncomfortable furniture, kissing up isn't going to help.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Strung Out on Slashers: DEAR DEAD DELILAH (1972)

I’m always a sucker for a good poster and the one seen here for DEAR DEAD DELILAH more than does its job on selling me on wanting to see the film.  Call me a sucker, but the surreal image of a bleeding, headless body will usually (will always!) get me to stand in line.  And, believe it or not, this isn’t a case of poster histrionics as everything depicted on here happens in the film. Of course, it happens to several different characters and takes place over a looooong period of 97 minutes that offers so much Southern soap opera drama that you’d swear you stumbled upon a mash of GONE WITH THE WIND and BLOOD FEAST. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

DELILAH opens with a bang in a pre-credits sequence set in Tennessee in 1943. Luddy (Ann Gibbs) is dolling herself up for a USO dance, but when she stands up she reveals the front of her slip is covered in blood. The slightly pregnant lass apparently had an argument with her mother and settled it the only proper way – by chopping mom to death with an axe.  26 years later, the grown Luddy (Patricia Carmichael) is released from prison and hops on the local bus into town.  She jumps off the bus after seeing hunky Richard (Robert Gentry) playing a game of touch football at the local campus.  When Richard knocks the poor lady down during a play gone wrong, he and his wife Ellen (Elizabeth Eis) decide to handle it the only proper way – they take Luddy back to their stately mansion and hire her as the maid.  Geez, if I had a dime for every time I got hired that same way.

And Rosie O'Donnell in the role of Luddy...

Of course, this is a big ol’ rich Southern family and, as dictated by cinematic law, they must all be crazier than Tom in a Swedish video store.  The head of household (and financial matters) is Delilah (Agnes Moorehead, in her final theatrical role), a wheelchair bound old witch who plans to end her siblings' money grubbing ways.  Also at the house are brother Alonzo (Dennis Patrick), the dope addicted doctor who is no longer allowed to practice medicine; brother Morgan (Michael Ansara), a guy with a gambling problem as bad as his toupee; sister Grace (Anne Meacham), who is having an affair with Richard; Buffy (Ruth Baker), Morgan’s latest girl toy; and family lawyer Roy (Will Geer), who is there to handle the legal matters. During a dinner with all parties present, Delilah reveals she has only a few weeks to live and has willed both the mansion and the estate funds to the city. Sensing her family’s greed, she has also hidden $600,000 of deceased father’s “horse money” – funds he got in 1931 after the stock market crash by surreptitiously selling his prized steed collection and scamming the insurance company – somewhere on the grounds.  Ready, set, go!  Of course, someone wants all this money for themselves and might just have an axe to grind.  Luckily for them, the perfect scapegoat just arrived in the form of Luddy, who starts having major flashbacks.

Mama's got a splittin' headache
Sadly, a badass poster and a 1970s pedigree aren’t enough to raise DEAR DEAD DELILAH into a classic status.  Director-writer John Farris spends a lot of time focusing on the family strife, but it is pretty apparent who is behind all of the killing when it all starts to go down (hint: when only certain characters know about another certain character’s criminal past, they just might be the killers).  To be fair, it is kind of amusing to see the mean mother-in-law Endora from BEWITCHED as a really mean old lady in a wheelchair. Additionally you get to see “Grandpa Walton” Geer with his hand chopped off and Dennis Patrick begging for a fix.  So maybe it has some value in the “I never thought I’d see that” category.  Perhaps the film’s biggest positive feature is that once the killings start, they are really, really gory.  I was actually kind of shocked at how gory they were.  Sure, BLOOD FEAST and the like had already come out, but this stuff was done with an eye towards realism.  The opening axe attack is already done before the scene starts, but the reveal of a severed arm and mom resting on the stove with an axe in her head is well done.  The finale has the main villain getting totally blasted in the face with a shotgun and features a squib that would make Savini blush.  And then there is this graphic decapitation in the video below.  I’m sure someone can correct me, but I can’t think of another graphic horror film decapitation previous to this one (meaning where we see the head lopped off and blood gush out).  Watch this clip and save yourself 97 minutes.  You’ll thank me later.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Spy Who Flubbed Me: THE GOLDEN LADY (1979)

I can't claim to be a Jose Larraz expert, but I've seen enough of his films to where I have a handle on his particular outlook and look forward to anything of his that happens to pass through my hands. Juxtaposing sensual visuals and graphic bloodletting, YAMPIRES (1975), sorry, I mean VAMPYRES is probably Larraz's claim to fame worldwide. Very much a Spanish take on a Jean Rollin film, VAMPYRES, even though it was shot in England with an English cast, belies it's meager budget with a great location, gorgeous naked vampire girls, soft-core sex and lots of the red stuff. Larraz was one of those Spanish filmmakers that really felt the need to push back after Franco died. Most of his stuff I've seen has been low budget, but he always has something compelling going on, usually involving people not being very nice to others. For some inexplicable reason, someone felt that he would be just the man to throw a spanner in James Bond's gears with a bafflingly befuddled re-working of "Charlie's Angels". Yep, he would be my top pick for this sort of thing. The guy who made the Satanic orgy flick BLACK CANDLES (granted that wasn't made until 1982, but you get my point). When I think Bond rip-off, I think Jose Larraz... and disco.

Allegedly sexy British mercenary Julia Hemingway (Ina Skriver looking about as sexy and deadly as your aunt) runs the best securities firm in Europe, staffed only with deadly, sexy ladies doing the dirty work their way. When the heir to a murdered Arab oil baron offers his fields up to the highest bidder, influential British cigar-smoking, asthmatic blowhard Charlie Whitlock (Patrick Newell) hires Hemingway to "take care" of the other bidders so that the Brits can score the contract. Of course they don't tell you that right out, no, no, it must be picked out with tweezers, like a game of Operation, after slamming a beer and being spun in a circle. Oh, like you never did that.

With airplanes and a theme song by The Three Degrees, a Philadelphia soul/RB/disco group that are desperatly trying to be mistaken for ABBA, our story takes flight. Or at least gets off the ground... somewhat. Whitlock is actually planning a screwjob, as he tells some random guy that we aren't introduced to, after Hemingway leaves his estate: "We'll use her as long as we have to, then you can take over." Or maybe it's not a screwjob. Who knows? Back at Hemingway's headquarters, Professor Dixon (Desmond Llewelyn) meets Hemingway and tells her assistant (June Chadwick) "I think you'll find these satisfactory", handing her a tray of scrap metal. He then walks out the door, never to be seen again! Apparently he was on his lunch break during the shooting of MOONRAKER and needed some drink'n money. After making some really canned comments about having seen him somewhere before, the girls settle down to the task of picking out their lethal force of commando kittens via a computer that looks something like the original Apple. It helps them pick out suitable members for the mission by listing their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Weaknesses such as "vanity" and "nymphomania". Huh?

After finally getting all of her recruits selected and mustered, it's time for Hemingway and company to kick some ass, right? Chicks in skin-tight, gold-lame outfits that leave little to the imagination, toting M249 SAW rifles, wrecking cars and blowing shit up! Uhhhh... no. It's time for them to sit down and relax while discussing the players. Apparently the German liason (who the Jewish agent is suspicious of) goes both ways, so they figure there might be a way to exploit that. There's an American guy, Max Rowlands (Stephan Chase), who everyone thinks is a hottie, in spite of his peach fuzz mustache and a balding mullet. Then there's the... Oh jeezus, can we just get some action here? And the answer is a resounding "no!" There is one point in the film where you think the action is going to kick in with a badass car chase. The cars take off after each other, turn two corners, then everyone stops to get out and confront each other! Bastards!

Now this is the Larraz I know!
To be fair there is a gag with a cigarette lighter that doubles as a smoke bomb, and a bit of nudity here and there, though the Hungarian bombshell Ava Cadell is shot in such a way that you barely get glimpses of her knock-out physique. There's also a body found in a bathtub, though, to be honest, it's not really clear who it was that was killed. The print quality of my copy is so fuzzy it's hard to make out details at a distance, so it took until near the end of the movie in a dialogue exchange to find out it was the German's boy toy. When this character is found dead, we also find out he was killed because he was after "the briefcase". Hemingway is pretty steamed up about the murder and wants to find out just "what was in that briefcase?!" A fine questions since up until that point there was no mention of a friggin' briefcase in the movie at all!

Proof that computers are never wrong.
Writer-producer Joshua Sinclair (who is better known for his acting in Italian low-renters), tries to gussie up this simple premise by burying it under loads of long, occasionally surreal dialogue that will sometimes veer next to a point relevant to the plot. Occasionally. Mostly it's just long speeches that make you think that he spent the weekend reading Tom Stoppard and thought to himself "that's easy! I can do that!". For example, the major player is a Greek guy named Yorgo Praxis (Edward de Souza), who doesn't break any plates, but does bust out the old "Greeks invented everything" card, in this excerpt from yet another lengthy exchange:

Praxis: "I am a self-made man, as you would call it. I started from nothing many years ago, I'm not all that afraid of ending with nothing. I believe in circles, they are perhaps the most perfect geometric form that exists and after all, we Greeks created geometry." (looks smug)

Hemingway: "You also created tragedy, but Wayne Bentley's death was more in the realm of a cheap soap opera. If you wanted to hit Schouster, you could have been more direct. A straight line is also an exact geometric form." (looks smug)

That sort of thing is pretty much 80% of the film, by the way. As if this wasn't enough to completely dash the hopes of anyone expecting to get anything close to what this film pimps as a "female James Bond", for some reason Larraz features a long musical number by Nina Carter and Jilly Johnson (Blonde on Blonde) that features the duo in some Marlene Detrich-inspired costumes performing the entirety of their song "Woman is Free" (which doesn't make any sense lyrically or visually). Of course all of this becomes necessary when Hemingway asks Rowlands if there is somewhere they could go to talk. Oh, yeah, a nightclub is the place to have an intimate, important discussion involving secret world events that could tip the balance of power. We are then treated to the second act, a musical dance review that features a school girl, a dominatrix and a couple of black men doing a gay bondage number. I shit you not. What this has to do with the price of tea in China we will never know. Just to add to the weirdness, the gay bondage number is actually intercut with Heminway and Rowlands, in soft focus, messing up the sheets in a hotel room. Ok, everybody, all together now... "WTF?!"

I really can't imagine how Larraz got sidetracked into such a collossal mess of a film. I mean, if it had been a soft-core romp without the pretension of being a legit espionage-thriller, I could see that. It's also interesting that many sources on the internet(s) claim that this is a Hong Kong co-production, yet that doesn't seem to be reflected in either the casting or the credits. As much as I like Larraz, this doesn't even feel like one of his films, instead we get a "thriller" that Lindsey Shonteff should have no trouble looking down his nose at.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Listomania: Will's Awesome April 2012 Viewings

April saw me getting back into my viewing groove a bit.  I took in 27 viewings and only 1 of those was a revisit (the cyberpunk actioner CLASS OF 1999).  Of that group, only two were on VHS.  The rest were either DVDs or DVD-Rs (most courtesy of the Simmons Museum of Modern Mayhem).

THE LOCKED ROOM (1993) – Yep, looks like I’ve caught a case of Martin-Beckitis from Tom as I took in this Sjöwall and Wahlöö adaptation after watching ROSEANNA (1993), which Tom reviewed here.  In terms of lineage, this Dutch production adapts the eighth book (Det Slutna Rummet) in the series.  This sees seasoned detective Martin Beck (Jan Decleir) returning to the force after being shot during the events of the previous novel (adapted into film as THE MAN ON THE ROOF [1976], reviewed by Tom here).  Hoping to slowly re-accustom Beck back to the rigors of police work, his chief assigns him a bit of “occupational therapy” in the form of a mysterious case of a decomposing body of a warehouse worker.  The body was found next to running heaters inside a tiny apartment with the windows all sealed and the door locked from the inside.  The police ruled it a suicide with a gun wound to the chest, but there is one problem – there was no gun found at the crime scene. Meanwhile, Monita (Els Dotterman), a recently unemployed immigrant single mother, must decide the best way to provide for her daughter – either by posing nude or resorting to crime.

Now I won’t ruin how these two storylines intertwine, but they eventually do. This was fascinating to watch right after ROSEANNA to see not only a different filmmaker’s take on the material, but also how a different actor handled the portrayal of the famed detective in the same year.  Decleir, looking like the lovechild of Gerard Depardieu and Steve Coogan, is far more cynical and gruff compared to ROSEANNA’s Gösta Ekman as Beck.  Director-writer Jacob Bijl also casts Beck as much more of a loner, who doesn’t work well with others and scoffs at his inept superiors.  The film does have one major problem when it comes to a plot point that is a HUGE matter of convenience, but other than that, it is well worth seeking out.  Especially if you enjoy seeing a actor give a different spin on an established character.

From Swedish supercops, we now got to American asskicking cops with…

TERMINAL FORCE (1989) – Renegade cop Nick Tyree (Richard Harrison) gets suspended after blowing away a liquor store robber who interrupts his alcohol purchase. Naturally, his hot headed chief wants him back when the young daughter of key witness against mob boss Johnny Ventura (Jay Richardson) is kidnapped because Tyree's law pushing ways are the only solution. Poor Richard Harrison never got a fair shake in the United States film scene. After traveling the globe from the 1960-1980s, he ended back up in America and got stuck in this Fred Olen Ray disaster. Not much really happens in this flick and Ray proves that sometimes he is only a step above Nick Millard when it comes to shoddy action. If the film is worth seeing for any reason, it is to watch the completely terrible performance by FX man Cleve Hall, currently on SyFy in his own reality series THE MONSTER MAN, as demented stooge Leonard. Sporting a GODZILLA t-shirt, ill-fitting black trench coat and teased hair, it is truly one of the worst performances I've ever seen. Troy Donahue shows up for two scenes as bar owner Slim. FOR's wife Dawn Wildsmith is the female lead and Angela Porcell, who provides the film's only nudity, is the kidnapped girl. And poor Joseph Pilato (DAY OF THE DEAD) gets one scene as a detective being tortured and has his name butchered in the credits (as Josef Piato).

THE NEW PEOPLE (1969) - A group of really annoying college students on a cultural exchange tour in Southeast Asia are called back to the United States by the State Department because, well, they've been really annoying. Flying back, their plane crashes on a remote deserted island that the U.S. had set up to use as a nuclear test site. With only one adult, Mr. Hannichek (Richard Kiley), surviving the crash, the group of around 40 kids must start society anew and it won't be easy given the number of stereotypes on display. Among them are Susan Bradley (Tiffany Bolling), the spoiled Senator's daughter; Robert E. Lee (Zooey Hall), the racist Southerner; Gene "Bones" Washington (David Moses), the self-referred "house negro"; and George Potter (Peter Ratray), the Marine who served in Vietnam who is now a pacifist. Can ya dig?

This Aaron Spelling production lasted only one season and was part of a failed experiment by last place ABC to combat the power of ROWAN AND MARTIN'S LAUGH IN. It was the second half (following a variety show called THE MUSIC SCENE) of a 90 minute viewing block that started on Monday night's at 7:30 pm. So from 7:30-8:15 pm you got THE MUSIC SCENE and then THE NEW PEOPLE went from 8:15-9:00 pm. Genius? This pilot is probably of note solely due to the fact that it was written by Rod Serling (under the pseudonym John Phillips) and tackles a lot of the social issues at the time. Most of the work is routine (did you really name your racist villain Robert E. Lee?), but there is some nice work towards the end where Hannichek stops Bones from leading a lynching against one guy ("I bet if he examined your family tree we'd find twelve branches where your relatives hang," the old man scolds). Director George McCowan did lots of TV work and would later give us FROGS (1972) and THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME (1979). The episode works best in the shots of the creepy deserted town with its mannequins covered in dust and cobwebs.

EMPEROR OF THE NORTH (1973) – A-No.-1 (Lee Marvin) and Cigaret (Keith Carradine) are a pair of Depression-era hobos who run afoul of a sadistic railroad conductor known simply as Shack (Ernest Borgnine). Shack prides himself on no one ever getting a free ride on his cargo train, even if it means having to brain some hapless hobo with a hammer and watch him get crushed and sliced in half on the train tracks. Hey, he takes his job seriously. This rep is threatened when A-No.-1 lets it be known that he is going ride the rails for free all the way to Portland, resulting in a game of cat and mouse in the wilds of Oregon.

This Robert Aldrich movie blew me away.  Not only is it entertaining as hell, but even works on an allegorical level with the main characters acting as different levels of society. Marvin and Carradine are both great in their roles, but the real reason to see this is Borgnine as the villainous Shack. Imagine the bastard boss he played in WILLARD with a thirst for blood. His character seems to love torturing these guys and Borgnine really brings him to life without being over the top in a role that easily lends itself to that. He is also incredibly physical in the role, insane for a guy in his mid-50s at the time of shooting. Second to this excellent performance are the gorgeous Oregon locations. Co-stars include Charles Tyner and Harry Caesar as members of Shack's train.  This film gives new meaning to the statement “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”  If Hollywood tried to remake this (seriously, we know they wouldn’t as they’ve probably never heard of it) we would get Liam Neeson as A-No.-1, Jason Statham as Cigaret, Gary Oldman as Shack (with his face half-burned for no reason), Scarlett Johanssen as Boxcar Annie (the love interest who drives the two Hobos apart) and Taylor Lautner as One Armed Willie (the kid whose arm loss at the hands of Shack inspires A-No.-1's quest).

Last but definitely not least is a film that was originally supposed to be reviewed in Video Junkie #3 way back when.  A revisit shows it still holds up.

RAGE (1995) – Crashing cars! Slamming semis! Monster explosions! Kickboxing! Blazing gunfights! Smashing glass! Have I got your attention? All this and more can be found in PM Entertainment's vastly entertaining actioner. Gary Daniels stars as Alex Gayner, a mild mannered second grade teacher (!) who becomes involved in a complex web involving everyone from the U.S. Government to illegal immigrants from Mexico. Having just dropped his daughter off at a slumber party, Gayner is carjacked by a Mexican gangbanger, who just also happened to be harvesting immigrants for some experiments. Before they get too far, both men are apprehended and taken to a secret lab. Having worked mostly with malnourished Mexicans, the docs see Gayner as the ultimate physical specimen to try out their new superman serum on. It works, but Alex doesn't cooperate and maims a dozen agents. Gayner is taken to the desert to be killed, but they underestimate the martial arts skills of a school teacher. From then on, it is non-stop chases as Gayner tries to escape from Government goons led by Tim Colceri. I might hold this up as the pinnacle of PM Entertainment, the small time studio owned by Richard Pepin and Joseph Merhi. They mostly relied on big explosions and a cavalcade of crashing cars. The end also had a nice POLICE STORY style destruction of several mall stores (including a video store that only seem to stock PM movies). All of this work was done top notch by stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos, who always knew exactly where a car would land and made sure to put a camera there. He started this kind of insane stunt work with William Lustig on the MANIAC COP films and carries it over here. It worked wonders for his career as he is now a top stunt coordinator on big budget films.  If this trailer doesn’t make you drool, you be crazy!