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, July 29, 2012

Backwoods Bastards: SENNENTUNTSCHI (2010)

Seems like every country has their own version of backwoods horror. Every country has some scary, inbred mutherfuckers living in hills that just ain't right in the head and are liable to use your filleted corpse as a dancing partner in the pale moonlight as soon as set on that thar tree stump. Half-baked myths and legit legends are always a good basis for a movie, I reckon, and with SENNENTUNTSCHI (gesundheit!) it seems particularly appropriate since this is, allegedly, the first Swiss horror film ever made.

There is an actual old Swiss legend that tells of three lonely herdsmen in the Swiss Alps who decide that they will make a woman out of a broom, some straw and some rags. The "woman" helps with the chores and at night keeps the men company. The Devil takes pity on them and makes the woman real. The herdsmen rape her and she exacts a poetic revenge. Sorry, that's all you get out of me, no spoilers for this one. This Swiss, Austrian and French co-production is all about following the twists and turns and picking up the clues.

Set during 1975, for reasons that aren't readily obvious, a priest is found hanging from the bell tower. In spite of his apparent suicide the pastor decides to give him a proper burial (very Christian of him). A filthy and disheveled young woman stumbles into the town and collapses, dropping a carved figurine of a goat. While the villagers get lathered up, goaded by the pastor's escalating indictments of satanism, the village's police officer, Sebastian Reusch (Nicholas Ofczarek), takes pity on her, finding that she cannot speak or write and seems to have the mind of a child... except for one thing. She keeps trying to put the moves on him. While the priest tries to lather his flock into lighting their torches and sharpening their pitchforks, Reusch digs deeper into the mystery trying to figure out where this girl came from and how she found her way to the remote village... if she did at all.

A city slicker, Martin (Carlos Leal) decides to get away from it all and volunteers to help out on a farm in the hills above the village run by a cantankerous old hillbilly, Erwin (Andrea Zogg) and his backwards boy Albert (Joel Basman). In between herding goats and making cheese, Erwin also makes his own worm-wood absinthe. One night a few drinks turns into a deranged drunken bender in which Erwin tells of the legend of the sennentuntschi and its horrible consequences. Apparently at the command of the green fairies, Erwin demands that Albert make a sennentuntschi and offhandedly remarks "he's made one before". Oh, this is not going to end well, is it?

All of this is bracketed by a completely superfluous wrap-around set in modern day that feels tacked on and unnecessary. It seems like the 1975 setting was just another pointless hipster filmmaker wallowing in kistch (see 8MM, LET ME IN, etc), but in fact it is a point in history where technology had yet to make the big leap to personal computers, cell phones and all of the other things that would bring the rest of the world to a little Alpine village. It adds a sense of claustrophobia and makes police work much more primitive.

Yep, that's all I'm going to give you for the plot. While the cinematography is simply stunning the best thing about the film is the structure and editing. Rarely does a film come along in which time is manipulated so cleverly and the editing of scenes are very specifically made to give the audience enough information to think that they might just have figured out the truth, only to have you guessing again the next minute. Is she really a hellborn succubi, or is there some deeper, more twisted human plot? Director Michael Steiner and writer Michael Sauter, with editors Ueli Christen and Benjamin Fueter have very carefully crafted this film minute-by-minute, dropping pieces to the puzzle every couple of minutes along the way until the very end where all of the pieces fall into place.

Well, almost the very end. There is that wrap-around segment that just feels tacked-on and a little cheesy and adds nothing to the film, even detracts a bit from the strong finish. Ironically the only real problems I have with the film is that is almost too gorgeously photographed, as if they were so proud of the scenery that they felt that having any darkness would be an insult to the countryside. While it's creepy, engaging, and has some seriously nasty stuff going on (including a few rape scenes), it's never really scary. Some deep, textured shadows go a long way to build atmosphere. Still, finding a movie that's scary these days is a rare thing indeed, and this film does offer that other rare thing, a horror-thriller that is really well laid-out and keeps you guessing to the end.

Sadly Steiner's follow up that is now in production is the (groan) horror-comedy THE MISS SWITZERLAND MASSACRE, in which a killer is stalking a beauty pageant. I guess everyone wants to get on the teen-comedy-with-fake-blood bandwagon after PIRANHA (2010) made a killing. Dammit.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


There are a handful of American low-budget exploitation movie actors that verge on hero-worship around the VJ HQ. Ok, to be fair, there's more than a handful and "verge" is probably not the right word, but high up on that list is Jason Williams. No, no, not the guy from the Nick Millard films, that's Marland Proctor, man! Focus here. I'm talking the man who put the err... "flesh" in FLESH GORDON (1974)! Hmmm... how about the "killer" in COP KILLERS (1973)? Would you believe the "wild" in CHEERLEADER'S WILD WEEKEND (1979)? As slim as his repertoire is (a mere 15 films, if the IMDb is to be believed, 16 if it's not), almost all of them are damned entertaining and you can always count on Williams to give 110%.

Nowhere is this 110% more evident than in his own exploitation epics, THE DANGER ZONE series. Playing an undercover cop Wade Olsen, a biker who is hell bent on taking down the sadistic drug-smuggling outlaw biker Reaper (veteran TV actor Robert Random), Williams pulls out all the stops going *ahem* hog wild with so many ideas over the course of the series, it is completely eye-popping, gut-busting and brain-straining. Williams wrote, produced and starred in all four entries in the series (the IMDb is strangely unaware of the fourth one, released in 1992 and titled THE DANGER ZONE 4: MAD GIRLS BAD GIRLS), not counting a budget release titled DEATH RIDERS (1994) that edits the first three movies into one massive trainwreck of awesome.

In part one, we had a pretty straight-forward (bear with me) tale of a bunch of colorful '80s high-school girls who decide to drive out to Las Vegas to enter in a singing competition (they had those before American Idol?). Of course their car breaks down and a scurvy band of iron horse cutthroats kidnaps them and takes them to their hideout in the middle of the desert where an old prospector and his dog live in the catacombs underneath, unbeknownst to them, and they try to smuggle drugs with a remote-controlled airplane. Olsen infiltrates the gang, in spite of being the most obvious undercover cop EVER and foils their plans by strapping a giant signal box to his chopper that causes the toy plane to crash, and Reaper to get arrested after a shoot out in the desert. Yep, that is straight-forward, uh huh. Compared to what was to follow, that is!

Apparently THE DANGER ZONE sold well enough to make a sequel. Not just well enough, it must have sold shitloads, as the budget for the sequel is multiplied by roughly π.

THE DANGER ZONE II takes us deeper into the life of Wade, opening with a bust gone awry at Chuck's bar, which oddly enough, looks like a junkyard from the outside! Wade plays it cool making the deal happen, when suddenly the sellers try to take the money and the dope (concealed in a canned ham), only to find out that they are busted! Furious at being crossed by the man, when he was trying to double-cross the man, the biker shouts at Wade "motherfuckin' porker!" To which Wade replies "hey man, whadju expect? Sellin' ham to a pig." I always knew there was something addictive about ham. I'm going to have to be really careful who's around the next time I order at Denny's.

We also get a little of Wade's home life complete with a girlfriend Donna (Jane Higginson of 1987's SLAUGHTERHOUSE fame), a swimming instructor, who is demanding some serious commitment, venting her frustration with the old line "you sound like a police computer!" Man, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that old saw... Unfortunately for her, she is about to get a lot more attention in a way she never anticipated, as suddenly Reaper's conviction is thrown out due to an "improper jury selection" which allows him to walk. And walk. Until he is picked up by an Oldsmobile. Hey, at least it's not an auctioned squad car, right? Anyway, Reaper is only interested in one thing: paying back the sumbitch cop that wrecked his airplane! The plan? Kidnap the girl, take Polaroids of her topless in front of the Christmas tree, kill the dog and inscribe riddles on the back of the pictures leaving them strewn all over Nevada for Wade to follow. Yes, I said riddles. The first one goes like this:
"Olsen, if you want to get your bathing beauty back alive, get in the wind on highway 5. Ride to the Good Springs and stop and have yourself a fling. Ain't life a bitch."

I'm guessing Reaper had a lot of time on his hands during the two years he spent in the joint and took a couple of correspondence courses in creative writing. Wade tosses his badge, grabs extra bullets and rides out to the historic Pioneer Saloon. Tapping the vast experience, skill and wisdom that comes with being a veteran undercover police officer, Wade decides the best way to get a lead on Reaper's whereabouts is by shouting "Where's Reaper?!" and busting the heads of the bar patrons. As luck would have it, a stockbroker named Doug (Walter Cox) is in the bar and he too is seeking Reaper! Though his methods, err, differ, he offers to team up with Wade who, incidentally has found another photo/riddle taped to his bike. Doug manages to pull on Wade's cold, hard heartstrings with a story about how he got into a shady deal with Reaper (no shit? A deal with a dude named Reaper went bad, you say?) and unless he gets Reaper's signature on some documents he is going to lose his family, who apparently will leave him because he is not worth anything without money.

Heeeey, is this The Elk's Lodge in Oak View?

Wade spits. Wade contemplates the night fire while thinking about Donna. Can a brother get a power ballad up in this bitch? Meanwhile, accompanied by the same power ballad, but for some reason during daylight, Reaper leans on a rock in the desert, strokes his beard and fantasizes in slow-motion of tasering Wade. Whaaaaa?? Why don't you just shoot him now? I mean, I'll go get a gun. We'll shoot him together. It'll be fun. Yeah, I don't get it either. Reaper says he doesn't do coke, so I guess he's just naturally confused. That natural confusion would explain why, when he is handing out pound bags of coke for distribution, he decides to send six pounds to Santa Cruz and only four pounds to Fresno! What?! Come to think of it, I guess it makes sense, because SC would want the natural product, while the cheap bastards in Da No would rather take meth. Oh, and while were on the subject of cocaine deals: Mr. Composer, a little FYI for you. The moody Chinese flute music on the soundtrack is for scenes involving opium or heroin only. Or, perhaps, a ninja meditating on the floor of an empty dojo - but that's it. Thank you for your cooperation in this matter going forward.

While following Reaper's riddles, Wade is ambushed by extras from "The A-Team" (we know this because the only thing they can shoot with deadly accuracy is inanimate objects), negotiates tripwire traps, and finds another companion in an old man named Rainmaker (Barne Wms Subkoski), who ironically can't make rain, not because he's some random white dude who looks like the love child of Frederick Offrein and Kenny Rogers, but because Reaper gave him a cursed bracelet that will prevent him from making rain until he gives it back! He also gives Wade and Doug some protective rocks, which are presumably not affected by the curse.

You'd think at this point, we're good with the stable of travelling companions and we're set for some good revengin' (yes, that's a word)! ...And you'd be wrong. Williams apparently ate the wrong kind of cactus while out in the Nevada desert and things get even more bizarre. We get a fortune-teller in a wedding dress (Texas singer/artist Carol Cisneros) who sings a Reaper riddle, a stripper with a clue tattooed to her boob (Stephanie Blake), another stripper Francine (Alisha Das), who is a snarled ball of hate because Reaper ruined her life and stole her baby. So vicious is this woman, that she takes down all the road signs, thus blackmailing the trio into letting her join the posse, lest they be lost for, presumably, perpetuity. Brother, hell hath no fury like a stripper mom. And, just in case you were wondering at this point we are only about halfway through the movie!

Oh, the humanity!

Critics have made a cliche out of comparing films with roller-coasters. If DANGER ZONE II was a roller-coaster, it would be a wooden roller-coaster in desperate need of structural reinforcement. It moves at breakneck speed and rattles, slams and occasionally slips right off the track and plows through a fruit stand. Reaper is probably one of the most entertaining villains in a low-rent DTV action flick. Not only is he an evil, sadistic, drug lord, but he's sometimes kind of a whiny hypocrite. Case in point when he complains that Wade's goals aren't as lofty as his and all Wade is interested in is revenge. Wait, what?? So just who was it who got out of prison and kidnapped someone's girlfriend and killed his dog? Did you not see the title card, Mr. Reaper? In another scene, we find out that Reaper knows how to apply make-up and yet another he has an understanding of psychology, telling Donna that he knows Wade will never save her because she has no ring on her finger. Oooooooh, ouch, buuuuuurn!

Of course there are plenty of brawls, shoot-outs (including the spectacular ending sequence in an airport and hotel), and random bits of thuggery (during a party scene a biker clocks his old lady for absolutely no apparent reason). As if that weren't enough, there is a staggering amount of visuals from seedy bars and strip-clubs (I love the run-down massage parlor with a sign that says "se habla espanol"), to great little bits like the paperboy throwing a paper into the Blessed Virgin's face in front of Wade's house. All of this adds up to a fantastic way to spend 95 minutes of your life.

With all of the mind-bending insanity of THE DANGER ZONE II, can you even imagine what part III will hold? Not even a singing psychic in a wedding dress could predict that!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The "Never Got Made" Files Mini-update: Green Giants and Evil Priests emerge

We interrupt our (not so) regularly scheduled “never got made” pieces for a tiny little update on a couple of rare unfinished titles – GODZILLA VS. THE WOLF MAN and THE EVIL CLERGYMAN – that have left fans wondering for decades. Footage from both unfinished films has long been sought after and it appears to have finally surfaced via the convention circuit.  So let’s take a look at what is going down in fandom town.

GODZILLA VS. THE WOLF MAN is the simplified Western titling of a Japanese fan film originally titled DENSETSU-NO KYOJU OOKAMI OTOKO TAI GOJIRA. That literally translates to WOLFMAN, THE LEGENDARY COLOSSAL BEAST VS. GODZILLA.  This was a fan-made flick was started in the late 1970s under the direction of Shizuo Nakajima.  While Godzilla’s home studio Toho was not involved with this, rumor has it that they did offer their blessing for the film. Nakajima created a Godzilla suit alongside effects man Fuyuki Shinada (who would later go on to work on the real Godzilla films) that resembled the 1960s era green monster.  A few stills from this 8mm epic surfaced over the years, but nothing else much in the way of footage.  Well, that all changed this month at the annual G-Fest in Illinois.  Our blogging buddy Dr. AC was on hand and got to check out the minutes of super rare footage screened.  Check out his blog about it here (scroll down a bit for the write up) for the lowdown on the footage and how it came to screen.  And if that weren’t enough, some kind soul uploaded the footage (shot via handheld phone) onto Youtube, which you can see at the following link.  So if you ever wanted to see the G-man tangle with a big, albino werewolf, your dreams have finally come true.

Hot on the heels of that amazing convention premiere, Charles Band is now preparing to screen the long-considered-lost THE EVIL CLERGYMAN.  This H.P. Lovecraft adaptation was 1/3 of an anthology title PULSE POUNDERS that Band shot during the dying days of his Empire Pictures in 1987.  Something for the ADD crowd, it featured sequels to two of Band’s more popular titles – TRANCERS and THE DUNGEONMASTER – alongside this standalone Lovecraft adaptation. Band’s company had struck pay dirt mining the work of Cthulhu’s daddy with the films by director Stuart Gordon.  So he recruited Gordon screenwriter Dennis Paoli to adapt Lovecraft’s 1939 short story that originally appeared in Weird Tales.  Not leaving anything to chance, Band also brought back RE-ANIMATOR stars Jeffrey Combs, David Gale and Barbara Crampton to star.  Joining them was veteran actor David Warner.

This horror short shot in early 1987 under the direction of Band, with the two sequels filming later in the summer.  Unfortunately, the anthology became one of several films that got caught up in Empire’s financial collapse and subsequent sale.  Until recently, very little footage of the film has been seen.  Stills emerged for both THE EVIL CLERGYMAN and the TRANCERS follow-up, but little has been seen from THE DUNGEONMASTER follow up.  In late 2011 when Band launched, he announced a workprint of the film had been found.  He teased fans with a tiny bit of footage and the promise that THE EVIL CLERGYMAN would be available to fans one day.  Well, it looks like that day is finally upon us as Band is giving the film its world premiere at the Flashback Weekend convention next month in Chicago.  Lucky fans will not only get to screen this rare 25-year-old film, but actors Combs and Crampton will also be on hand to discuss it.  More info about the film’s premiere can be found here and info about the convention here.  If you’re in the Chicago area, definitely try to check it out.  Oh, and make sure to harass the guy running the Kitley’s Krypt table.  Thanks!

Rare PULSE POUNDERS ads circa 1987/88:

Friday, July 20, 2012


Just when I thought I had nailed down every single KING SOLOMON'S MINES adaptation in, what I thought to be, an excessively anal, and ridiculously obsessive overview during our week (or rather month) of Indiana Jones rip-offs... Apparently an even more excessively anal and  ridiculously obsessive reader pointed out that we missed one! Armed with this information, Indiana Will donned his fedora and whipped a copy out of the hands of the krauts and flew it out to me via a tiny map with a red line showing it's progress. Yep, it was with serious team effort that this review hits our little blog. We are expecting exactly three people to be thrilled by this. Which, incidentally, is about one more than usual.

Amazingly as late as the year 2000 Harry Allen Towers decided to produce a film that would plunder the tombs of the late-great Indiana Jones, who passed peacefully in his sleep in 1989 after finding out that he was named after the family dog. Actually I don't know which would be more of a shock, discovering the source of your name came from the resident testicle-licker, or that Sean Connery is your dad. Not only was it a full decade after the final sequel (yes, I said final sequel, don't argue), but also after countless other raiders had come and gone leaving their own artifacts behind. So how are we going to take another crack at this? Well, follow the examples lead by the masters Golan and Globus of course. Knock-off KING SOLOMON'S MINES! As if Indy wasn't getting a little long in the tooth for shameless exploitation, the last time Allan Quatermain was seen on film was four years earlier in 1986! Ah, but how to make it "budget friendly"? Set it in modern day and christen your protagonist... "Chris"!

Allan Quatermain's grandson Chris Quatermain (Thomas Ian Griffith) is carrying on the family tradition of fedora-wearing, grave-robbing and, well, at least in as far as the Cannon films went, wisecracking. Come to think of it, wisecracking might top the list. This would place Allan Quatermain's adventures to be taking place in the 1950s (instead of 1885), so perhaps Towers was envisioning this as a sequel to the Stewart Granger production of 1950. Not that it has any bearing on this film in any way. While engaged in a tense game of cards with our Belloque-du-jour, Madame Lorenzo (Kendra Torgan in male drag for no perceivable reason), a german frau, Hope Gruner (Anja Kling), is desperate to get Quatermain back to her compartment to get Quatermain to... uhhh, unfold her map. Indeed, a map to the legendary tomb of Alexander the Great, where, rumor has it, lots of, uhhhh, stuff can be found. The only real spanner in the gears is that Lorenzo wants that treasure and the loot she lost playing cards with Quatermain (who gleefully calls them "wiiiiinings!" whenever possible) and sends her MMA goons to grab them both. Of course Quatermain sends them packing with his granfather's wit and fisticuffs, and we are treated to the age old flying-kick-out-of-the-open-door gag. Kato yu fewel!

Added in the mix of goofy characters is Quatermain's "secretary" Johnny Ford, played without an ounce of subtlety by the porn-pseudonym-sounding TV actor Harry Peacock. Peacock's acting is so animated, yet so completely flat, it almost seems like he is playing a live-action cartoon character. Matter of fact, I was having such a hard time wrapping my head around just what the hell this was supposed to be that at the 60 minute mark I finally came to the conclusion that it must be a children's film! Only kids would be this forgiving. It also explains the fact that it is essentially a very mild PG-rated affair and features a non-stop barrage of none-too-subtle quips and comedic hijinx. That is not to say it's painfully bad, I have witnessed far worse in the cause of cinematic science, but it is definitely relentless, landing this squarely on the Family Comedy shelf at the local Der Videorekorder Geschäft.

Being smarter than the average bear (supposedly), we discover Johnny, somewhere in the mileu, conveniently scanned a copy of the map before it was stolen! Unfortunately scanning the map loses some important details (what they might be are never explained), so they have to set out to steal back the map. Well, it wouldn't be much of a movie if it was that easy, but I have to wonder why even bother having that detail in there anyway? To shut up the one guy on his sofa eatin' Cheeto's and Mt. Dew who decries the lack of tech savvy on the part of our heroes? Well, whatever, so we got the plot convenience, right? You'd figure this should lead to some sort of raid on some sort of amazing Fortress of Doom, or at least a trap-laden cult compound. Well, this is where Harry's meds kicked in and things start getting a little loopy. Apparently the evil Lorenzo is livin' da pimpin' life and throws low-class dance parties for high-class rich dudes. Called "Civic Receptions", these are "no wives" affairs complete with outdoor dance-floor and lots of random hoochies in harem pants and bikinis. Oh, and the security is headed up by a former CIA chief, Jack Gates (Barry Flatman obviously relishing his hambone role), who barks about the old days at Langley at his employees: "it's incompetents like you that screwed up the Bay of Pigs!"

So obviously, to get the map back, Chris and Hope need to don black Danskin's and rappel through a rooftop skylight into a criss-crossing laser trapped room of death to gingerly reach out and steal it from under a glass case in a room full of venomous spiders! Or just dress up as Arabs and try to bluff their way in. Guess which one really happened? Oh yeah, you betcha. Arab disguises (complete with fake Burt Reynolds mustache) it is. Oh and the guards are bumblers who cause Gates no end of consternation. We get the old I'm-kissing-you-to-get-the-guard-to-stop-paying-attention-to-us ploy at which point Hope tells him that he ain't a bad kisser, to which Chris replies "you should catch me without the silly mustache!" Wacky hijinx, I says. My second favorite bit is the fact that the Mercedes they are escaping in is so well built (pandering to the German market here), that it can plow through an iron gate like it's... well, balsa wood. And yes, they foly in sounds of iron bars hitting the ground. Undoubtedly, my favorite bit is the five-camera set-up for a stunt where a Hope's rather masculine stunt double carefully jumps about seven feet into Chris' arms like it's freakin' Jackie Chan plummeting to the bottom of a three story shopping mall while being electrocuted by popping lightbulbs.

Click to appreciate the finer details...

Now armed with the real map, Chris and Hope set off to find the church under which lies a catacomb, in which lies the tomb of Alexander the Great. This means that Lorenzo is mighty pissed off and gives chase with her squad of very bad men. How do you know they are bad? The drive shitty cars, listen to loud rock music and have brightly colored hair - don't fuck with those guys! Not content to stop there Towers decides to throw a blue-clad nomad prince into the mix who I'm assuming is supposed to be some sort of Arab, but in fact looks an awful lot like Patrick Swayze in off-the-rack desert robes. Is that "baby" blue? Ok, ok, stop groaning! We also get a kidnapping, a horse vs. truck chase, and a tour bus scene in which we get the only exposition on the great Alexander in a line of dialogue: "Who was Alexander the Great? He was a great man." Oh, and let's not forget, the long scenes of rock-climbing and spelunking! You heard me. Not content to use one of the two most dreaded exploitation movie fillers known to man, Towers opts for both! Not only that, but he uses them back to back. Does the cruelty of this man know no bounds? After finally discovering the church, Chris and Hope realize that they must bust out all FOR YOUR EYES ONLY and scale a vertical cliff wall to get to the top. Half way up the slow and perilous ascent, Quatermain discovers a hidden switch in the rocks that releases some sort of pneumatic pressure valve that rolls back a giant rock at the base of the cliff. So now we cut to the bottom, right? No, no, no, what fun is that? Now they have to climb back down the cliff, get to the bottom and enter the catecombs so that we can watch them wander around in total darkness! Sweet!

I really don't want to spoil the ending, but... I have to. I thought I had seen some shoddy tomb robbing in my day, but brother I am here to tell you, this wins all contests hands down. Even The Asylum might feel a twinge of embarassment from the production values in the final scenes. In order to enter the tomb proper, without getting shot-up with mystical arrows delivered by dry-ice shrouded archers, one must walk on top of oddly shaped rocks that have been placed on a black cloth on the soundstage floor. No really. Then, as if that wasn't ridiculous enough, Alexander's treasure is a freakin' spear, a shield and a helmet! Ok, granted Rick would probably pony-up pretty good at the pawn shop if you had some proper documentation, but since the legend is that only the chosen one can steal Alex's stuff, it becomes a moot point as Lorenzo finds out when she is engulfed in flames and explodes into a chunky, melty mess after the spirit of the dead god penetrates her body. Yeah, just kidding. She stands inside a square of tiny flame bars while a platform lowers her below the stage. No really. That's what happenes. Sorry I spoiled it for you. Released, so far, only in Germany and Canada, this is completely ridiculous and silly in an impoverished way that only the Germans could love. That said, there is so much absurdity and half-assed story-telling, that it actually is kind of entertaining. Maybe. On a slow night.

Wave your hands in the air, like you just don't care...

Monday, July 16, 2012

The "Never Got Made" Files #73 - #75: Lusting for some William Lustig

We’re pretty big fans of director William Lustig here at Video Junkie.  From 1980-1990 he delivered a sextet of fantastic films (MANIAC, VIGILANTE, MANIAC COP, HIT LIST, RELENTLESS, and MANIAC COP 2) that hold up to this day as great examples of exploitation cinema.  Engaging cinema aside, Lustig is a favorite for us for a whole different reason. Back when we launched the print version of VJ, we sent out a bunch of letters to filmmakers we liked and were hoping to interview.  Only one person responded and that was Mr. Lustig.  So he was our first (and only) interview to grace the print pages of our legendary 2-issue run.  Thankfully, Lustig has maintained that approachability over the years and wasn’t averse to answering a few questions via email about some unmade projects he toyed with back in the day.  So many thanks to him for putting up with our pestering for decades!


Following the worldwide box office success of MANIAC (1980), Lustig switched gears with the revenge picture VIGILANTE (1983).  Featuring an appealing exploitation cast (Robert Forster, Fred Williamson) and hard-hitting action in gritty NYC locales, Lustig’s sophomore feature also struck a chord with international audiences and succeeded at the box office.  While his former star Joe Spinell was looking to get MANIAC II off the ground (something Lustig never worked on), Lustig briefly considered sequelizing his second film for Film Ventures International. “I can’t say there were serious plans, but we toyed with the idea,” Lustig said back in our original interview.  “We actually wrote a treatment which I kind of modeled after I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (1932), the Paul Muni picture.  Robert Forster, because of what he did at the end of the picture, is on the lam.  That is the storyline we took.”

Robert Forster on the run being hunted by cops?  Color me interested. Irvin Shapiro’s Films Around The World saw potential (and profit, no doubt) in the sequel and took out an ad in the 1985 Cannes issue of Variety. “The VIGILANTE II ad was taken to test the pre-sale market based on the original's international success,” Lustig reveals today, “there was never a script nor did I have much interest in really making it.”  Regardless of intent and any interest raised, the film never got much further than that as earlier distributor Film Ventures International went bankrupt in November 1984 after Film Ventures chairman Edward Montoro disappeared into thin air in August 1984.  The resulting bankruptcy litigation kept Lustig occupied for years, to the point he seriously considered leaving the film business.  Naturally, any thought of the further adventures of vigilante Eddie Marino vanished as quickly as Montoro did with a few million bucks.


Around the time of VIGILANTE’s debut at Cannes in May 1983, Lustig and producer Andrew Garroni announced a more promising project in NEON JUNGLE, an action flick which, according to Variety, “deals with the drug industry in New York.”  With visions of NYC sleaze as captured by his first two films, we can only dream of what this project would have been like.  “I remember NEON JUNGLE was written as a VICE SQUAD set in Times Square,” Lustig says.  VICE SQUAD set in Times Square?  You’re killing me, man!

Showing once again that he had his finger on the pulse of New York citizenry and being one step ahead of the entertainment industry, Lustig hired a relatively unknown New York crime writer and screenplay neophyte to pen the script for NEON JUNGLE.  So what was this newbie’s name?  Nicholas Pileggi.  “Nic was writing Wiseguy, the book which GOODFELLAS was based on [at the time],” Lustig reveals. “I hired Nic because of his New York magazine articles about New York's criminal underbelly. We did a draft and for some reason I lost interest. I think maybe Nic was unavailable to do another draft.”  The film bounced around for a bit with Variety even penciling in a March 1985 start date.  Alas, it didn’t happen again for Shapiro’s Films Around The World. “I never could get the script to work to my satisfaction,” Lustig tells of the unmade project.


This proposed remake is perhaps the most peculiar unmade project from Lustig’s past because it did get made, but not before morphing into a complete different project.  The first mention of a potential remake from Lustig of Jules Dassin's BRUTE FORCE (1947) came in June 1989.  “Lustig reports that he first started tracking down the rights to BRUTE FORCE six years ago as a result of test marketing of his picture VIGILANTE,” states a Variety article on the subject. A tough-as-nails prison classic starring Burt Lancaster, BRUTE FORCE was something that could have fared well in the 1990s with the right players involved.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.  “It got made as a totally different type of prison film called THE EXPERT,” Lustig explains.  “It was a horrible experience and an even more horrible film.”

Speakman KOs a good film
Originally written by Larry Cohen, BRUTE FORCE was originally scheduled to begin filming in 1992/1993.  What happened between that time and eventual filming in June/July 1994 was a major overhaul by producers to appease their action star.  Who was this powerful thespian? Stallone? Schwarzenegger? Van Damme?  Nope.  It was the one and only Jeff Speakman.  Hot off the resounding “success” of THE PERFECT WEAPON (1991) and STREET KNIGHT (1993), Speakman threw his clout around like Seagal tossing stuntmen and Cohen’s script was significantly rewritten by novelist Max Allan Collins to cater to the kenpo kicking and charisma challenged star.  Lustig stayed on the project, but it was not a happy affair as the two repeatedly butted heads.  “You needed to buy Speakman two plane tickets – one for him and one for his ego,” Lustig says.  Lustig continued on to make the film, but eventually left during production due to the age old Hollywood story of “creative differences.” Stunt coordinator (and Speakman friend) Rick Avery took over and received sole screen credit as director.  It is too bad as buried somewhere inside the film is the germ a good movie.  Perhaps most notable is Lustig’s casting of Jim Varney of Ernest P. Worrell fame as a sleazy mechanic type named Snake.

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.