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, August 5, 2012

The XXX-Factor: THE DARK KNIGHT XXX (2012)

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Friday, August 3, 2012

Listomania: Thomas' July 2012 Summertime Beatdown

Man, this was a month of highs and lows. Out of the mere 18 films watched this month, there were a plethora of clunkers. Though, I gotta say, the clunkers sure make you appreciate the gems. While there were some instant classics, there were a lot of groaners. Here are the most notable ones:

REYKJAVIK-ROTTERDAM (2008): Damn, I really wanted to like this movie. Icelandic director Óskar Jónasson (who went on to adapt JAR CITY) collaborated with JAR CITY novelist Arnaldur Indridason on a thriller about a smuggler Steingrímur (Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson), who finds himself pressured into returning to the life after his druggie/loser son-in-law screws up a deal with the mob. To make matters worse, his best friend Kristófer (Baltasar Kormákur) is actually setting him up so that he can move in on Steingrímur's wife, who used to be Kristófer's woman. Seriously, this should be amazing. In spite of all the talent working on this film, it manages to be a rather evenly-paced set of predictable moments, crime clichés and an incredibly out of place very happy ending. Not the worst ever; Jónasson directs well (though nowhere near as well as he would with JAR CITY), Kormákur is excellent as a very real human villain, and there are a few great moments (mostly involving Kristófer's vicious right hand, played by up and comer Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson), but they are few and far between. The irony here is that it was remade with Mr. Funky Bunch as the financially successful CONTRABAND (2012), which in spite of annoying critics and moviegoers is helping pave the way for more remakes of recent Scandinavian films.

NEWSMAKERS (2009): Solid, if a bit too linear Russian remake of Johnny To's BREAKING NEWS, directed by Swedish Anders Benke (responsible for the groan-inducing FROSTBITEN). A stakeout of a gang of bank robbers goes pear-shaped when a couple of beat cops stumble into the scene and start hassling the thugs until they snap. A massive firefight ensues spreading out into the streets of the nation's capital. The police chief at a loss, decides to let the daughter of a respected official turn the hunt for the gang into a media opportunity, a reality show that will get the cops some good PR and bring in the perps. This sounds great until the gang holes up in a tenement and starts broadcasting PR spin using videos from a cell phone. Also in the mix is the detective (Andrey Merzlikin, of THE INHABITED ISLAND) whose stakeout was ruined, determined to bring in the bad guys dead or alive, orders from some woman be damned! Yeah! Or rather, meh... I've never been a big fan of Johnny To (let the hate mail commence) and never saw his original, BREAKING NEWS (2004), but it feels like they have captured his essence. Trying too hard to be clever, yet lacking any interesting character exposition or plot twists. The action scenes are fairly intense, a field day for firearms enthusiasts who could spend days, if not weeks, identifying all of the hardware on display. On the one hand, it is pretty straight-forward, on the other hand Merzlikin is good in his one-dimensional role and there are an assload of bullets being thrown about. Entertaining, but totally forgettable.

BEYOND TERROR (1980): Odd hybrid of your typical juvenile delinquent killing spree / sadistic home invasion / satanic horror movie co-written by J.P. Simon. The first half of the film is typical, hyperbolic youth gang stuff and the second half is sort of a Lamberto Bava-style horror movie. The gang wildly over-acts and tediously shoots and kicks every upstanding member of society that crosses their path. After beating up an elderly woman in her home, they find some catacombs with a satanic shrine underneath the house. They decide to hang out there and we get some very tame masturbation and fornication, after which the kids accidentally summon some zombies. Trust me, it sounds so much better than it really is... Unless you are one of those people who absolutely loves overwrought JD/home invasion flicks.

WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (1969): I've been meaning to see this for years and years and after finally pulling the trigger… Meh. Even the brief bits of unclothedness included in the European version can't prop up the total lack of production values and story. Plus, after years of press concerning the babes in prehistoric bikini factor, it really is only three girls, the rest are a bunch of toothless crones who have absolutely no right to wear anything close to a bikini, prehistoric or futuristic. As if that wasn't bad enough, watching this is really made me feel like I walked into the wrong bar. There is so much well-oiled manflesh (complete with buffalo shots) on display that I imagine this was aimed for a more specific audience than I had expected. On the other hand, all is not lost since MGM released it on a double bill DVD with MOON ZERO TWO (1970), which I still maintain is absolutely brilliant.
THE PRIEST OF EVIL (2010): Slick, highly stylized Finnish serial killer film based on the novel, one of a series, "Harjunpää and the Priest of Evil" by Matti Yrjänä Joensuu. After Inspector Harjunpää's (Peter Franzén) daughter is senslessly and brutally attacked and killed, a hooded killer stalks the subway. Photographing his victims and attacking abusive males, Harjunpää, awash in a sea of prescription drugs, starts thinking that perhaps there is a connection between the hooded killer of his daughter and the stalker in the subway. Borrowing themes from SE7EN (what is with the Finns? Quit watching Hollywood movies already) and some well-worn detective cliches, director Olli Saarela keeps things just barely engaging enough to get you to the next scene, helped out by the always cool Jorma Tommila (of RARE EXPORTS fame) and the seriously attractive Jenni Banerjee who is really given little to do except be a rather unbelievably nice cop. The real coup de grace on this movie is the complete lack of consistancy with the story and characters. After all of this stuff about the uber-christian killer saving the innocent from evil, next thing you know he's raping and torturing a woman simply because it is an easy convenience for the plot. Oh, and there is a white dove shot in slow-mo in the subway. Did I just hear you wince?

THE APOCALYPSE CODE (2011): Damn, those Russkies! I keep thinking they are going to pull it out and give up some crowd-pleasing blockbuster with the quality of content that they are historically known for. Don't get me wrong, I'm not expecting Leo Tolstoy reworked with Ian Flemming's sensibilities, but I can't say I'd be against that either. Instead we have Ian Flemming re-imagined by Michael Bay. It should be noted that this has nothing to do with the wing-nut book by Hal Lindsey. But anyway, here we have a super-slick contemporary thriller in which an Arab terrorist (he's wearing a thawb, therefore bad), named Jaffad, has stolen four nuclear warheads off of a sunken US submarine and planted them in four major cities. These warheads can be detonated by entering in a series of codes on a remote detonator hidden away in his Pakistani compound. Jaffad's safeguard is by giving one section of the code to four of his friends around the world. Since Soviet Intelligence knows that one of the warheads is somewhere in Russia, they put their top agent on it; the ridiculously hot agent Mari (Anastasiya Zavorotnyuk). After Jaffad is killed during an assault on his fortress, Mari heads to Paris with the one lead she has, Jaffad's banker Lui (Vincent Perez). Attempting to romance him out of his part of the code, it turns out the Lui has his own meglomaniacal designs on the codes (this is not a spoiler). Instead of killing each other, Mari and Lui must grudgingly team up to get the codes, then kill each other. Lots of cutesy, flirty moments ensue.
As usual for a Russian blockbuster, it is a stunning film to look at. The scope is huge as we hop around the globe to eye-dazzling locations such as Italy, France, Japan and Russia, the sets are detailed and the costumes are so haute couture that they make Vogue look like Abercrombie. And this, aside from one of the thinnest plots ever, is actually a major stumbling block. Mari is so ultra-glamorous, even when she's dressed down in jeans, she looks like she's ready for a Maxim cover shoot. She is actually so stunningly attractive that I cannot for the life of me suspend my disbelief enough to accept her as a cold, lethal agent of the SVR. In addition to that, the biggest problem the movie has is that while it does have a fair amount of action scenes, they are quickly over. The biggest and best set-piece happens in the first ten minutes of the film. The assault on Jaffad's compound with swarming missile-firing attack helicopters and machine-gun toting black-clad footsoldiers is stunningly composed, loud as hell and appears to be quite possibly completely free of CGI. After getting all pumped up, it's a bit of a cold shower when we settle in to Mari and Lui's flirting and catfighting. Oh, did I say "shower"? Oh yeah, Zavorotnyuk does give us one of those, which, also comes in the beginning of the film. Think of this as sort of the cinematic equivalent of a Summer beach novel.

RING OF FIRE II (1993): Total DTV anarchy! Don “The Dragon” Wilson plays Dr. Johnny Woo (that’s right, doctor) who manages to upset the local beefcake badasses (headed up by legit kickboxing champ Ian Jacklin) who grab his girlfriend (Maria Ford) out of the hospital and take her down to The Underworld. Apparently, below the streets of Los Angeles, there is a network of tunnels that is an underground city (complete with crossdressing radio DJ) where there is no law and gangs run rampant. Woo grabs his posse of fighters (including Eric Lee who seems to be reprising his role from the unreleased 1984 Paul Kyriazi film NINJA BUSTERS) and meets up with a crazy vet (Sy Richardson in fine form) to fight his way to his woman! Mere words cannot describe the insanity of this film. It’s the kind of thing that you could only get made in the early ‘90s when the demand for DTV action movies was so high that you could get away with anything, the more outlandish the better. RING OF FIRE II is like Alex Cox directed BLOODSPORT (1988) after watching THE WARRIORS (1979) on acid. Also, Will made a very good point that the scene where the guys have to fight off a bunch of day-glo attackers was borrowed two years later by Joel Schumacher for his day-glo crapfest BATMAN FOREVER (1995). Admittedly, I haven’t seen all of Mr. The Dragon’s output (that would be Will), but this has to be the pinnacle of his career. He’s made plenty of hilariously crazy movies, but this is the number to put all your chips on. Oh, and to the reviewer on IMDb who said this was a "typical Dragon affair" and that it has "they (sic) guy whose been in all those awful Cyborg Cop movies" is on crack. Neither is it typical, nor does share any cast members with the CYBORG COP series. And for the record, the first installment of CYBORG COP is freakin' amazing. Thanks for listening, had to get that off my chest.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

El Terror de Mexico: TERROR, SEX & WITCHCRAFT (1968/1984)

Mexico has never really had the funds to be a major film capitol back in the day, like say Italy, Hong Kong, or Britain. That never stopped them from trying though and I think that's what makes Mexican films so much fun. The breakneck enthusiasm for filmmaking combined with a dire need to be commercially profitable may not lead to a plethora of high-brow metaphysical dialogues, but who cares? Pretension is something we are well endowed with on this side of the border.

Case in point. Prolific filmmaker of exploitation cinema Rafael Portillo shot a satanic horror film CAPTIVE OF THE BEYOND in 1968 with several veteran actors, and then 16 years later went back and re-edited the film with one of Nick Millard's garden tools, splicing in some punchier horror footage creating the masterpiece TERROR, SEX & WITCHCRAFT! You couldn't ask for a better back story than that.

Vicky (Ana Luisa Peluffo) is all worked up about her man, architect Ricardo (Carluis Saval sporting a Groucho Marx mustache), being hung up on some blondie named Barbara (Barbara Wells, if I'm not mistaken). Like all jealous women she takes it up with the local witch who consoles her by telling her of her dream: "to dream of a bride in her wedding dress is... death! But if the groom is Satan, like I saw in my dream, death is caused by forces from beyond!" Uhhh, thanks? The witch (who is clearly taking things seriously by chewing gum while checking her tarot cards), says she can definitely put a stop to the floozie putting the moves on her papi chulo with black magic! After a misfire with a snake that Ricardo blows away with his 9 mil (an important accessory for any architect, as Paul Kersey would attest), the witch decides that she needs to get serious. First she creates a love spell that will bind the two together for eternity, second she places a death curse on Barbara's father (represented by a shot of a white golf shoe on the brakes of a car, the sound of tires on gravel and an "aaaaaahhhhhhh" on the soundtrack) and then she plays the trump card...

What Vicky needs to do is simply embrace Satan and she'll get everything she wants, including riches and power over men. The Witch easily arranges this and Satan, ever the businessman, says that in exchange all he wants is to possess her body and soul... Oh, and he wants to see her tits. Yep, Satan is a dude. Now topless (no, I wasn't kidding), Satan gives Vicky a special knife that she can use to kill people without ever being caught. Damn, a freebie? Sweet! That Diablo dude ain't such a bad guy after all. My only question is, if she now has all this richness, why does Vicky still have to work in a Cuban club as a fan dancer? Maybe it's just a way to meet men to have power over, that must be it. The Witch's final curse on poor Ricardo is a curse that leaves him impotent with anyone other than Vicky. Faster than you can say "pinche bruja!", Ricardo is handing over the keys to his hacienda to Vicky's eager hands. Damn that little head. Will it ever learn?

After getting a phone call from a private investigator Barbara hired to snoop on him, Ricardo finds out all of the juicy details. That Vicky is trying to keep him away from Barbara and... is in league with the devil! Of course Ricardo finds all of this terribly funny, at least until Vicky puts her satanic knife through his throat and he coughs up blood all over the expensive carpeting. Ok, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "damn, that'll never come out." But wait, there's more! Because it is the Cuchillo del Diablo, as soon as she pulls the knife free, all traces of the murder disappear, even the blood stains on the carpet. You know Billy Mays Hays was jealous as hell.

Now I know what you are thinking, really this time. You're thinking "dammit, you are giving away too much of the movie!" Oh, and you are wrong again! I am here to tell you this comprises less than the first 30 minutes of the film! Director Rafael Portillo has his foot through the floor with this one. The first half of the pelicula moves so fast that Portillo doesn't even have time for segues, transitions or even a freakin' cut-away. He's just throwing scenes at you so fast to make room for the new footage (almost all of which is at the end) that some times he forgets to completely cut scenes out so you get a split second of the beginning of a scene and then, BAM! you slam right into to another one. In the second half of the film, you do get cut-aways, but if you blink, you'll miss them.

The main body of the film concerns Ricardo's spirit coming back from the grave at night to possess his twin brother Carlos (Carluis Saval, of course), who looks nothing like Ricardo, since he doesn't have a fake mustache. His plan while in possession of Carlos is to get revenge on Vicky and the Witch who ruined his life. This movie has it all. A doctor (Roberto Cañedo) who submits Carlos to a polygraph test to find out if he is possessed by an evil spirit. A court trial in which David Reynoso plays a defense attorney who takes the case because the defendant's claims are so outlandish and then uses the science of astral projection as a legitimate means of providing evidence. A zombie who, while trying to attack his victim, is forced to kill a mugger first. A firing squad. Full frontal nudity. A nifty little twist at the end... I mean, what more could you ask for? Oh yeah, the title does in fact say "sex". Well, there is none, really. The closest you get is a hilarious scene in which Carlos is seducing Vicky and clearly he is trying to pull her top off, which she is firmly holding in place while supposedly swooning in his embrace. But! It's got damn near everything else.

Rafael Portillo may not have had much dinero to make the film, but he goes to great lengths to obscure that fact with some very atmospheric nightmare and horror sequences. Sure, it's pretty easy to see that some of his tricks are nothing more than gel filters, one being the cheap psychedelic party light with multicolored gels that rotate over a single bulb. However, combined with oblique angles, double exposures, lighting, fog and wind, Portillo achieves some great, surreal moments that actually evoke some of the classic horror films of the Italian era. Add the bizarre lapses in logic, the often hilarious facial expressions from Saval and you have a damn fine evening's entertainment.

Released on video in 1989 under the title NARCO SATANICO, I can't imagine how many little hopes and dreams were crushed by the fact that there are no narcotics, satanic or otherwise, neither are there any narcotics officers, embracing satanism or otherwise. Add to that the blatant lie of having Reynoso wearing a kevlar vest and brandishing an automatic weapon. On the other hand, Peluffo's portrait, holding a bloody knife is, in fact, completely accurate. Either way this is quite the gem for fans of '60s era horror. Because it was cut up to squeeze the new footage in, it moves incredibly fast compared to other horror films of the day, plus they throw in so much mierda loco that it's impossible not to be entertained by something.