Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sci-Fried Double Feature: STEEL FRONTIER (1995) and HOLOGRAM MAN (1995)

If Joe Lara had been born a decade earlier, he might have been a bigger action star.  He could have easily been the poor man’s Lorenzo Lamas (before Lorenzo Lamas became the poor man’s Lorenzo Lamas).  Alas, the man arrived on the scene in the late ‘80s and quickly did a career defining turn as Tarzan.  By the time the ‘90s rolled around, he found his footing in B-movie action flicks like Cannon’s swansong AMERICAN CYBORG: STEEL WARRIOR (1993).  When 1995 rolled around, direct-to-video seemed to be Lara’s only avenue and he hooked up the explosion-loving gentlemen at PM Entertainment for a two-picture deal that would result in, naturally, some big explosions.

STEEL FRONTIER was the first of his two films, hitting video store shelves in March 1995.  Now stop me if you've heard this one before – a post-nuke town is filled with folks struggling to survive and beat back a bunch of motor-crazed psychos who rape and pillage their way across the wasteland.  The violent group in question is known as The Death Riders and they are led by the psychotic leader Lord Humong…er, General J.W. Quantrell (Brion James).  You know he is a psycho because as his gang raids the town in question, he goes to the barber to get a shave. After shooting anyone who won’t join his gang, Quantrell installs his son Julies (James C. Victor) as the town’s de facto leader, with the unexcitable Roy Ackett (an unexcited Bo Svenson) as the real muscle and brains behind it all.  Trouble arrives in the form of Yuma (Joe Lara), a stranger who rides into town and immediately humiliates Julies with his sharpshooting skills.  The stranger joins the gang and eventually plays them off each other to achieve his goal of anarchy within the group to free the town.  Yup, we've got a post-apocalyptic YOJIMBO (1961) on our hands, with a heavy helping of THE ROAD WARRIOR (1982) about 13 years too late.

Yuma - man of action...and chicken legs!

This PM vehicle has always escaped me…or so I thought.  I revisited it a few weeks back and it seemed like a whole new experience to me.  Trouble is I later found myself commenting on Mobius about how I had watched it a few years ago.  Is this a sign of old age?  Thankfully, my opinion of the film was the same both times.  This wasn’t something that got Richard Pepin or Joseph Merhi as director.  Instead, PM employees Jacobsen Hart and Paul Volk share that duty with Hart also providing the screenplay.  It is pretty obvious the cinematic exploits of Mad Max were the major influence on this production.  Hell, they even have a character named Chicken Boy who might as well be The Toadie.  And while this will certainly never replace the classic status of THE ROAD WARRIOR, there is a lot to admire in STEEL FRONTIER.  I like how Hart makes you think Yuma is literally death incarnate like THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976).  This is showcased best in the opening where Yuma meets a legless man in the desert and kills him mercifully.  Sadly, the concept is never taken to its fullest potential (if he is The Grim Reaper, why is he killing a desert rat to eat…unless that rat’s time was up!?! Hart, you genius!).  In terms of action, the film starts off promising with a great PM chase but quickly slows down.  The opening car chase along a desert highway has some great stunts, including a shot like this that would make George Miller as proud as a new father.

Nothing big in terms of action happens for about an hour until the climactic showdown, which also hits PM levels of action including one of the biggest fireballs I have ever seen in a movie. Seriously, I’m not kidding.  There are so many explosions in this film that some kind soul edited them all together.  The one that impressed me can be found around the 3:20 mark.

Cleverly nestled on the STEEL FRONTIER VHS opening is a trailer for Lara’s second PM feature, HOLOGRAM MAN.  I guess they had to hook the Lara fans while they had a chance. Anyway, this one hit video store shelves three months later in June 1995 and I somehow missed it.  Now I have friends who are shocked that I’ve never rented something called HOLOGRAM MAN back in the day, but, hand on my heart, I swear I never saw it until this year.  Maybe the cover threw me off and made me think it was some cheapo rip off of THE LAWNMOWER MAN (1992).  Instead, it is a cheapo rip off of DEMOLTION MAN (1993). How could I have been so foolish?

The film wastes no time getting down to the action as first-day-on-the-job cop Decoda (Lara) and his veteran partner Wes Strickland (John Amos) are blasting it out with some thugs in futuristic Los Angeles (which looks a lot like mid-90s L.A.).  They’re trying to find out the nefarious plans of “Slash” Gallager (Evan Lurie, who also co-wrote the screenplay) and, sure enough, one goon squeals about how Slash plans to assassinate the Governor Hampton (Alex Cord). Decoda and Strickland get assigned to the Governor’s security detail and, sure enough again, Slash and his goons attack, resulting in a car/bus/limo chase that is the film’s highlight.  During the chaos, both the Governor and Strickland are killed, but Decoda still gets his man and Slash is sentenced to “holographic stasis.”  Five years later, the once bright-eyed Decoda is a beaten down and cynical man.  How is this conveyed?  He has a beard!  Anyway, thanks to help from his gang, Slash’s virtual form is released from cyberspace and given a physical form (in the form of a “morph polymer” that can even recreate his terrible cornrows).  Decoda is on the case, but when he gets killed during an explosion he too must be placed into the cyber world and fight Slash on his own terms.

Evan Lurie's acting:

                             Joe Lara reacts to Evan Lurie's acting:

Prior to watching this film, a friend warned me that all the best bits were in trailer. Damn it all to hell, he was right. Yes, HOLOGRAM MAN makes for an amazing trailer (see below) but only for an okay film.  It is doubly painful as the opening credits got me psyched big time.  I mean, after Lara and Lurie (that sounds like a daytime talk show) the number of great character actor names that pop up on screen is amazing.  In addition to the aforementioned Amos and Cord, we all get: Micheal Nouri (as a seedy politician), William Sanderson (as a computer programmer named J.F. Sebastian…uh, I mean, Giggles), Nicholas Worth (as a Slash crony sporting an eye patch), and Tiny Lister (as a Slash gang member named Eightball!).  That cast alone make is worth seeing at least once.  Just don’t go in expecting PM’s greatest film.  One of PM’s biggest mistakes during their tenure was placing the film’s best action scene in the opening and HOLOGRAM MAN is definitely one of those.  It is a pretty insane limo vs. passenger bus chase scene where the bus is shorn its top half thanks to an overpass (located near Pepin Road, haha).  After that slam-bang opening, the rest of the film relies mostly on shootouts and, as a result, pales in comparison. I’m sure HOLOGRAM MAN was born when PM execs read in Variety how virtual reality was the future of the movie industry (a fad that died almost as quickly as it was born, much to Brett Leonard’s chagrin).  Their concept of cyber space is funny (apparently computers will house your holographic image in a white leotard) and you have to laugh at how they shoehorn in a virtual reality CGI bit with a scene where Decoda brushes on his shooting skills.

Virtual insanity!

So if you somehow end up having a Joe Lara craving, I guess I would recommend STEEL FRONTIER over HOLOGRAM MAN.  The former has plenty of action and a surprising amount of style.  Plus, they get great use out of that rundown factory location that appeared in seemingly every 90s sci-fi flick.  HOLOGRAM MAN is one I would save for a rainy day where you are just craving some non-demanding mid-90s sci-fried theater.  Or you can just watch this edit where Youtuber Geographica skillfully cut the film down to 4 minutes and move on with your life.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Obscure Oddities: CRIES OF ECSTASY, BLOWS OF DEATH (1973)

As a cinema archaeologist (of the lowest order), it is always fun to unearth some title that few have written about.  CRIES OF ECSTASY, BLOWS OF DEATH is one such film.  I spotted the full page ad for the film in an old issue of Box Office magazine (the one to the left, complete with a "ecstacy" spelling error) and was drawn in by the art.  And then there is that title which rolls off the tongue like exploitation poetry. Checking it out on the IMDb, I see two things that further whet my appetite.  One, it has no user reviews or ratings; obviously a good sign.  Two, it features voluptuous sexploitation goddess Uschi Digard.  Yeah, I’m pretty easy.  Okay, time to make this one a priority.  Thankfully, Tom was able to hook me up with a copy and I could feast my eyes on this mostly unknown flick.

Following a nuclear war in December 1961, the Earth is a barren wasteland housing roughly a million people.  These were the folks lucky enough to be underground doing stuff when the big bomb hit.  100 years later, the badlands we see only seem to have about 10 people or so and the voiceover lets us know that a social hierarchy exists among the survivors in the form of color coded tents (yellow, green, and pink).  Each tent is furnished with purified air and water.  The punishment for leaving your tent without permission is death.  There are some non-conformists who ride around on their motorcycles, raping and pillaging.  Jeez, the post-apocalyptic world is harsh.  On the bright side, the narrator says that the nuclear fallout resulted in folks having a sexual overdrive and our story will focus on the “ecstasy rather than the despair.”

The film opens with a couple of women being attacked by a motorcycle gang. One of them is killed while the other is rescued by John (John Martin).  He and his men take her back to their bubble tent where, naturally, two women – Dala (Sandy Carey) and Kima (Kim Lu) – are getting it on. Meanwhile, General White (Michael Abbott) and his men in yellow robes fire arrows at some of the motorcyclists, who killed some green tent folks.  General White, the apparent male leader here, proceeds to get it on with Hera (Sherri Mason), the apparently female leader, and for some reason this bothers his main squeeze Dala.  Dude totally has a thing for chicks with names ending in “a” doesn’t he? Meanwhile, John can’t be pulled away from his chess game.  Bad news finally arrives when some sort of police patrol catches White outside of his tent.  He is sparred the death sentence.  Why?  He is told the tents only have hours of air left and everyone is going to die. Ain’t life grand?  I wonder how these oversexed folks will spend their final hours.

Damn, that must be one hell of a chess game 
to keep one from staring at the all the bare flesh:

White is apparently a hard ass though and when Colonel Janus (Clayborne Whitcombe; is that the greatest fake screen name ever?) shows up with his pregnant wife (DeDe Tiaz; I take that back, this is the best screen name ever) looking for shelter, he shoots the wife. Able (Steve Bennett) then shows up with three Amazonian chicks – Nia (Neola Graef), Reina (Uschi Digard) and Keisha (Dianne Bishop) –and they make the pink tent their safe haven.  Pregnant chicks, no go.  Massively busty chicks, the place is all yours!  Or maybe White just liked that their names all ended with an “a” on it?  After thwarting Able’s advances, Keisha does the impossible and manages to draw John’s eye after from his Kings and Queens.  I guess checking out a mate trumps checkmate when you only have hours to live.  While Able engages in a foursome with Kima, Reina and the now sexually insane Hera, John chases down Keisha in the desert. She plays hard-to-get though and karate chops him over and over.  I guess these are the blows of death I was promised. Meanwhile, in the cries of ecstasy department, Able and the Amazonian ladies strangle and kill Dala during sex.  I believe this is cinema’s first (and only?) post-apocalyptic erotic asphyxiation.  Anyway, the biker gang shows up and starts killing everyone.  Able and Nia run out of their collapsing tent and the jealous Dala jumps off a huge pipe to her death.  The survivors wander off to die as the narrator (who may or may not be God) ponders why human have screwed things up so much.  The end.

CRIES OF ECSTASY, BLOWS OF DEATH might be one of the top 10 best sexploitation titles ever. And while the film definitely delivers what its title promises, it fails to live up to it at the same time. Like a lot of the T&A movies from back in the day, it gets monotonous in its presentation of nekkid flesh. To be honest, I even had trouble remembering the plot details and characters despite having notes and only watched it a few days ago.  I’m going to guess the impetus of this film was someone saying, “Hey, I have access to these cool, futuristic looking tents.”  I will give the filmmakers credit for at least trying something different with their plot and I think this might be a first in terms of presenting nuclear apocalypse motorcycle gangs marauding through the desert (something that would dominate the filmic landscape a decade later thanks to the Aussies). The film seems to be derived from ZARDOZ (1974), which is odd as this was actually out before that John Boorman film that came out in February 1974 (the Box Office ad is from October 1973).  The costumes are definitely ZARDOZ-esque and lead Abbott even sports a Sean Connery look (see pic on the right). Perhaps the filmmakers spotted some early stills from that sci-fi flick and decided to pump out a quick one to capitalize?  Anyway, they made the right move of putting the skimpy outfits on the women.

CRIES vs. ZARDOZ: Which do you prefer?

There seems to be quite a bit of confusion regarding this title online. Some folks think it is an Italian film as for a while the only print available was an Italian one under the title SESSO DELIRO.  To make matters even more confusing, this version boldly splices in 15 minutes of stolen footage from George Romero’s THE CRAZIES (1973) in the opening in an effort to explain the cause behind the nuclear holocaust. There is also some real life footage of the aftermath of bombings that I’m sure the Italians threw in.  This is obviously not the original version and was probably done sometime in the 80s (given the fact the soundtrack on that version also steals music from THE SHINING). Something Weird recently released the film on DVD-R minus the unauthorized footage. Director Antony Weber is equally a mystery with this being his only credit on the IMDb. Fearless online sleuth Bill Picard was able to find he also made another feature with Carey called THE SAVAGE CONNECTION and a few more softcore grinders with Digard (including one with the amazing title LOVE AND THE GREAT GRUNT).  Other than that, little is known about the man.  But he caught Ushci naked on film so he has my utmost respect. Like I said, I’m easy.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Gore Galore: TAETER CITY (2012)

After the sleeper success of Emanuele De Santi's ambitious amateur outing ADAM CHAPLIN (2010), the same production company, Necrostorm run by his brother Giulio De Santi, returns with a new SOV sci-fi / gore outing. Sporting a title that will leave a lot of viewers who are not fluent in 5000 year old dead languages confused ("taeter" is a latin word meaning "foul" or "offensive"), Giulio De Santi aims for sensory overload with an episodic, disjointed mess that plunders a whole slew of genre classics without doing justice to any of them. Of course as some wise Aussies once said, "if you want blood, you got it."

Set in the presumably distant future, Taeter City is run by The Authority, a faceless corporation that employs cops and freelance "biker" units to judge (Dredd) the cities criminals on the spot. The criminals are few and far between however because of the Zeed units (which look suspiciously like power transformers). Zeed units are planted around the city and send out a signal that causes people with particular brain abnormalities that indicate a potential for criminal activity to suddenly kill themselves in the most gruesome way. The cops then come to pack up the mess and deliver the remains to a processing facility that turns what was once a time-bomb of criminal behavior into... lunch. Yes, in this future, animal farming and all of its ugly by-products (slaughtering and eating) is a crime punishable by death. The perp-meat is packed up and sent to Authority run fast food chains called Taeter Burger, who live up to their name by running obnoxious ads all over the city. Literally.

When not gore-ging themselves on "boiled brain with bone sausage" the residents of Taeter City watch the Authority TV channel which is a guy holding half a mask on his face, giggling maniacally and pimping The Authority and Taeter Burger ala "Max Headroom". Apparently in this urban mecca, people can invent a signal generator that affects a percentage of the population with a specific brain anomaly, but nobody has ever thought of spirit gum. Giulio De Santi apparently loves this guy as we get clips of his campy giggle played everywhere. On the DVD menu (which also runs the Taeter Burger ads), as interstitials between scenes, on the sides of buildings, in the background, everywhere. This, above all else, wears out its welcome in really short order and probably made me less forgiving of this movie than I would have been otherwise.

Insert Uncle Bob Martin
"Splitting Headache" joke here.
After a series of clips introducing the viewer to the city, we sort of stumble across a plot. One of Mega City's - err, I mean, Taeter City's inhabitants, named "Trevor" (Giulio De Santi ), is not only resistant to the Zeed signal, but has actually been mutated by it allowing him to shout out a Zeed signal of his own that mutates other people, causing them to become what the Authority fears most: deranged, blood-thirsty, zombie criminals! The cops are hip to this and in order to escape and make use of his new talents, Trevor decides to take over The Oriental Hotel, forcing a biker unit named Razor (Monica Muñoz) who has slicing laser finger things ala "Neuromancer" and her faceless partners (ie zombie fodder) to kill wave after wave of relentless attackers floor by floor as they pursue Trevor. Sound familiar? Unlike ADAM CHAPLIN, the inspirations here are writ so large that if you've seen any genre movies, TV shows and books over the years, you will have no problem assembling a list off the top of your head while the film plays out.

Probably the worst thing for me to do is try to compare ADAM CHAPLIN with TAETER CITY. I admit that if you watched it after something less outstanding, like a Timo Rose flick, my perception of it would be vastly improved, but since these are cut from the same cloth, it's impossible not to notice the striking differences along with the similarities. Where ADAM CHAPLIN was subtitled, TAETER CITY dubbed and I would guess that they were attempting to give it a campy dub job. It sounds as if the dubbers are drop-outs from the Columbia School of Broadcasting, with booming radio announcer or high-pitched camp voices. This doesn't make the clumsy dialogue any better, but some of them that expand past the mono syllabic are pretty damn funny. When Razor discovers that Trevor has sought refuge at The Oriental Hotel, she says "My god, that place is full of people!" A hotel? Really? Not to be derailed by the obvious, she charges on "We can't waste time, let's go, take everything necessary to kick that motherfucker's ass badly!" I guess it isn't too much of a spoiler to say that she does speak the truth there. They kick his ass and do it quite badly. Speaking of Razer, there's a huge amount of footage of her taking off and putting on her helmet. Much is made of Monica Muñoz's cleavage in the advertising and random close-ups, but god forbid they actually have some nudity to cash those checks that their ads wrote. Still, that isn't the biggest issue here, just an annoyance.

Sadly this is referencing "Mortal Kombat",
This flick has clearly been made by someone with severe attention deficit disorder so basically you have a bunch of hastily shot scenes in which Giulio had some random idea and sort of worked it into a DREDD (2012) knock off that didn't run long enough to be a feature. So sloppy is the production that one of the settings, The Oriental Hotel, is identified in a screen caption as "Horiental Hotel". How do you have typos in the screen captions in a SOV flick? While that is pretty embarrassing, the real problem is that even the plotted elements are so bizarrely laid out, without really paying attention to structure, it takes a while to figure out that a) there is a plot and b) that everything is happening in present tense. Much of Trevor's back-story is told via many police "simulation" videos. A "simulation video" to me that means that it's a projection of a possible happening. The Oxford dictionary agrees, saying it is "a situation in which a particular set of conditions is created artificially in order to study or experience something that could exist in reality." Here it means "surveillance video". It took a while to figure that out, causing more than a bit of confusion when they would cut away from the "simulation" to the (equally) real world where people are reacting to the events in the simulation! Add to that the hypno flashing, blaring advertisements and you have something that is really more of a party disc than a coherent movie.

Where CHAPLIN amazed me with its inventive, possibly revolutionary blend of CG and practical effects, TAETER CITY is definitely a step backwards. In CHAPLIN a few characters wore prostheic face masks through out their scenes, so that when their head-crushing demise arrived, it wouldn't look so different from what we had been looking at previously. It's effective on an amateur level, but here in CITY we have every character wearing a mask. The cop showing the simulation wears a half-skull mask, the guy responsible for Trevor's mutation wears a baby-face mask ripped out of BRAZIL (1984), hell there's a random "simulator" scene where Trevor walks into what is presumably a hamburger joint (hard to tell as the establishing shot looks like a gas station) and the cook is wearing a cut-out, paper pig mask. Why? So Trevor can stab him in the eye with a fork and they won't have to do any difficult effects work. Why does Trevor stab him with a fork? He be crazy an' shit.

There are a few well done effects (mainly another head crushing which is used in the promotional material), but they don't make up for the major short comings.With so much stuff lifted from other movies, intentionally campy dubbing, sloppy effects, mock ads that repeat ad nauseum, and the scant near 65 minute running time (which doesn't include the slowest credit scrawl ever, which clocks in at almost 8 minutes and warns of an impending TAETER CITY 2), this turns out to be a major letdown following ADAM CHAPLIN, but still it beats the hell out of VIOLENT SHIT 4 any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

I think that first line explains so much about this movie

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Cinemasochism: GETEVEN (1993; aka ROAD TO REVENGE)

We’ve often said that being a Video Junkie is perhaps the riskiest job in the world because you are exposing yourself to unknown dangers all the time.  90% of the time, you end up smashing your head against the TV while crying, “What am I doing with my life?”  But it is those rare 10%-ers that make it all worth living; films that are so wrongheaded that they just seem right.  I’m talking about stuff like THE TERRORISTS (197?), MIAMI CONNECTION (1987) and SAMURAI COP (1989). These are films that transcend their bad movie origins to become mini-masterpieces.  The kind of films where you immediately email your friends about them and lengthy email back-and-forth ensues as you recount all the hilarious lines/scenes.  Thanks to Marty McKee, I was able to experience this rush last night with one of the crowning jewels of cinemasochism, GETEVEN (1993; aka ROAD TO REVENGE).

GETEVEN (that is how the title reads onscreen) opens with three LAPD cops – Normad (William Smith), Rick Bodie (John De Hart) and Henry “Huck” Finney (Wings Hauser) – on the trail of some drug dealers inside a trailer.  When a shootout erupts, Finney is shot and Normad doesn’t seem to give a damn.  You see, he is more interested in the drugs as he is a crooked cop.  Rick takes offense to his lack of care for Finney and knees Normad in the gut. “You just made a big mistake,” Normad says. “Not a problem,” replies our hero.  Except it is a problem as the very next scene has the trio in an Internal Affairs hearing and Normad is weaving a web of lies that would make Fred Adelman blush.  He somehow manages to convince the judge that Rick and Huck were drug users (“Their eyes were weird, like someone using drugs.”) and both guys are kicked off the force.  Now, we’re never told this but just have to
Pant-less Wings, Indian dummy, John De Hart
Tom: "That scene just screams 'I'm on a shitload
of coke and I don't care who knows it!'"
infer it as they are both working as drivers for a limo service.  Rick doesn’t take any crap at this job, showcased by him evicting some rowdy prom clients.

Financial and job woes are the least of Rick’s problems though as he recently got dumped by Cindy (Pamela Jean Bryant, a Playboy Playmate of the Month in 1978).  Or maybe it wasn’t recently as she’s been away a year.  Again, we’re never given specifics as those are for sissies.  Anyway, Huck, who talks to an Indian mannequin in his living room, has this bright idea to head out for a night on the town.  And guess who they run into at the bar?  Cindy!  The lovebirds reconnect and Cindy remembers just why Rick sent her heart aflutter when he pops up on stage (“Hey Rick, come up and sing!” screams a voice off camera) and uncomfortably sings the non-hit “Shimee Slide.”  Now I should tell you that this is where the film took off from B-movie to insta-classic.  Seriously, watch this scene that some kind soul uploaded.

The main plot finally kicks in when a group of scummy looking dudes come in and start harassing Cindy. Rick takes no shit and he and Huck beat the crap out of these guys. Amazingly, Huck gets arrested in the melee.  Wait, why were the cops there?  Because an overly concerned girl in the bar called them to report a case of public nudity after a stripper got on stage following Rick’s mind-blowing singing.  Yes, public nudity is the problem here. That’s just how this movie rolls.  The next day Rick bails Huck out of jail and in a true howler, says to the processing officer as they are leaving, “Here’s a quarter.  Go buy yourself a personality.” Keep in mind two things.  One: this cop wasn’t hassling Rick at all. Two: Rick has zero personality; hell, he might have subzero personality.  That line is the cinematic equivalent of a bald guy flipping his head side-to-side to showcase the beauty of his comb over.

Anyway, we are just getting started here folks. Rick and Cindy head to a fancy restaurant to celebrate their reunion. After torturing the matre d with some terrible jokes, Rick gets down to rekindling their love.  How?  By buying a polaroid picture from a girl who comes up and sings, “Hello, my name is Tamara, the reason I have this camera, is if you really love her, you’ll take a picture of her.”  Rick follows the advice and offers no money in return. Following this jaw dropping scene, we finally get down to what happened to Cindy in the year since she last saw Rick. She got mixed up with a bad crowd (worse than this?) and got into drugs.  Oh yeah, they were Satan worshippers.  Then, in a flashback, we show how she raised all kinds of hell at a Satanic ceremony where she objected to the sacrifice of the baby and she is tied up (“Yeah, you were right. This bitch isn’t good enough to follow Satan!”).  Oh, one small detail I forgot to mention.  The leader of this coven is Normad.  Back in real time, Cindy admits she is getting better after seeing Rick and then asks if he is still pursuing being an actor.  WHAT!?!  Rick then launches into the famed “To be, or not to be” speech from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  I f’n kid you not.  It must be seen with ones own eyes.

Believe it or not, we are only just 30 minutes into this movie.  And now the thing goes totally off the rails as we get a ten minute segment that can only be defined as Wings Hauser’s Masterpiece Theater. The first bit has him doing a drunken rambling at the bar with Rick where he accuses him of ditching him for Cindy and with sleeping with his ex-wife.  Again, it must be seen to be believed (make sure to watch until the end).

Following Wings is in his apartment shooting holes through his bills (!), his ex-wife shows up to demand her alimony. He says he doesn’t have any money so she decides to call the cops and falsely say he was beating him.  But not before she reveals she was sleeping with – you guessed it – Normad!  She tears off her blouse to reveal her breasts and screams, “You remember these? You don’t know how to treat them either!” Wow. Naturally, he is arrested and has to face the judge.  And who is this judge? Normad, of course!  Jeez, this guy has certainly done a lot in the year since he was last a Lieutenant for the LAPD.  Wings drunken behavior and general non-compliance get him in the slammer, where he drinks bleach in order to get out and sent to the hospital.  He is visited by a nun (watch for Hauser making her break character and laugh) before Rick and Cindy show up to say they are heading to her folks to pick up her clothes.  We love Wings here and the intensity he brings to any role is always a welcome addition to any film.  Yet in this film he just goes absolutely nuts in two back-to-back sequences.  I’m not going to theorize on what was flowing through his veins during filming, but whatever it was, it made him the Super Hulk version of Wings Hauser. This is the kind of performance that would make Gary Busey say, “Whoa! That dude’s a nutcase.”

Now, if you are still with me, I thank you for your efforts.  But I’m going to make you watch another video as this is how the confrontation goes with Cindy’s parents.

You hear that loud thud?  That was my jaw dropping on the floor after that bit.  “Get thee behind me, Satan” is how I plan to greet all of my kids’ friends (if I ever have kids and I turn into a crotchety old, box chucking bastard).   The scene actually ends with her dad saying she will end up “dead in a roadside ditch” due to her sinful ways.  No worries for Cindy though as Rick knows how to calm her storm – a bubble bath!  In a true example of her dedication to the acting craft, Bryant gives her all in making you believe she is enjoying this skin-on-skin romp. Tom said it best in one of our emails: “Damn, I hope that girl’s check cleared. She earned every penny of her miniscule wage.”

Pamela Jean Bryant earning that pay:

Alternate title: JOHN ASTIN GETS LUCKY!

Okay, let’s start to wrap this up.  Rick asks her to get married and she accepts. Huck starts a new religion based on Huckleberry Finn (no, I’m not kidding). Normad’s men kill Cindy when she and Rick are out motorcycling; technically Rick kills her because he can’t handle his bike and crashes (off screen, naturally). Cindy’s dad beams at her funeral about how he was right (he’s correct, she did end up dead in a roadside ditch).  Huck gives Rick his Indian mannequin to help him get over tough times (“He fucking saved my life!”). Rick goes on the road to revenge against Normad and gets it.  And then Rick learns Cindy was alive this whole time because someone (cops?) wanted to make it look like she died.  Why? Who knows?  The only person who is hurt by pretending she is dead is Rick as the cops sure didn’t seem to be doing any investigating.  Anyway, I bet her dad is going to pissed when he finds out she survived dying in a roadside ditch.

Are you still there, dear reader?  If so, I thank you.  I must also apologize about making you work so hard (watch videos and read!?!) on a review.  To be fair, GETEVEN isn’t something that one should be first exposed to in a review.  It should be seen and not heard about.  If I had the means, I’d fly to all of your houses just so I could sit back and revel in the joy of watching you get your brain smacked by this masterpiece. Or, at the very least, I’d like to release it on DVD for the masses.  Ah, screw that, I’m coming to your house and you better have dinner ready.  And a bubble bath and champagne for later after we do the “Shimee Slide,” of course! This isn’t merely a bad movie that got made, it escaped!  But where exactly did it escape from?

GETEVEN appears to be the brainchild/vanity project of lead actor John De Hart.  Looking like the missing Mitchum brother, De Hart is not only credited as the film’s lead but he was also the writer, producer, co-director and wrote and sang several songs on the soundtrack.  Now we all have dreams of stardom, but very few have the means to make it happen. I’m stunned that no one stopped him during his song – where he sounds like a hoarse Kermit the Frog with an Elvis sneer – and said, “Are you sure you want to do this?”  Matching his lack of singing ability is his acting chops.  I don’t think I need to say anything more after you’ve viewed the HAMLET scene posted above.  Not only did De Hart have the funds, he had the cajones to blow what I can only believe was a small (yet substantial enough) amount of money on this.  Did I say balls? I meant to say mental imbalance. That this film got finished is amazing.  Snagging Wings Hauser and William Smith to be in your ensemble couldn’t have been cheap and the darn thing is shot on film.  Well, most of it.  De Hart does have some inserts (including one bit where he awkwardly kickboxes and then feeds his poodle some ice cream) that are shot-on-video.  Post-GETEVEN, De Hart went into the field of law.  He passed the California bar exam on June 4, 1993 and has been practicing ever since.  I’m seriously tempted to fly out to California and commit some minor offense, just so I can hire him and ask all about GETEVEN.  First question: “What were you thinking?”  From the opening appearance of the grammatically incorrect title to the final “surprise” moment, GETEVEN will keep your attention like – how do they say in GETEVEN speak – a poodle wanting some ice cream.  Highly recommended!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Gore Galore: ADAM CHAPLIN (2010)

When it comes to shot-on-video movies, I can seem as grouchy as an old man who just ran out of Gold Bond and Tucks, but there are some that I don't need any Cialis to get all worked up about. No matter how wearisome the zombie genre has gotten these days (oh, it so definitely has), there's always room on my plate for Perecles Lewnes' genuinely hilarious and super-splattery REDNECK ZOMBIES (1988). Olaff Ittenbach's THE BURNING MOON (1992) has a special place in my spleen for raising the gore effects bar in a SOV movie to professional heights that few, if any, have been able to match. There are a couple of others, but it looks like there is a new one to add to this very short list.

Out of the wasteland in 2011, a low-budget Italian SOV flick called ADAM CHAPLIN hit festival circuits, but even though it garnered some praise, not much was made of it on-line or in print. Flash forward a couple of years and somehow the damn thing managed to sneak on to DVD and blu-ray in Europe with a forthcoming US DVD titled "ADAM CHAPLIN: VIOLENT AVENGER" (I can't help but wonder how long it took Autonomy Pictures to come up with that title). Now, suddenly, people are sitting up and taking notice.

Written, directed and starring Emanuele De Santi, ADAM CHAPLIN is set in the near future in which a disfigured, mask-wearing mad scientist, named Denny (Christian Riva), rules the underworld with a, not so much iron, but veiny, fleshy fist. When a young woman (Valeria Sannino) can't pay back the money she borrowed, the creep sets her on fire, burning her to a crisp. Despondent due to his loss, her lover Chaplin (Emanuele De Santi) sets out on a path of ultra-violent revenge with the help of a small demon that lives behind his shoulder in a festering wound in the shape of an upside-down crucifix (Giulio De Santi). While sorting through the scum of the earth, Chaplin's eyes roll back in his head and he becomes capable of throwing flurries of punches that tear through flesh and bone like wet toilet paper making for some extremely graphic confrontations that spray, splash and dump literally gallons of blood across the sets.

After setting out on his rampage the corrupt police decide to recruit a serial killer to take out Chaplin before he can get his revenge. Of course, this really doesn't go as well as the cops' had planned and everything boils down to a massive confrontation between the crooked cops, the criminal kingpin (who has his own chemically induced powers) and a seriously pissed off Adam Chaplin.

Combining what is essentially a live-action adaptation of FIST OF THE NORTH STAR with western-style dystopian future influences of "Judge Dredd" and BLADE RUNNER (1982), ADAM CHAPLIN should be good just with that: some extreme gore and cheap but effective CGI, but  it has much more to offer. It's not just gore that ADAM CHAPLIN uses prodigiously. CGI is used to blend miniatures, modern buildings and re-purposed technology into the futuristic landscape. Granted, it's not the CG that turned Johannesburg into MegaCity1 in DREDD (2012), but remember we are talking about an amateur movie that certainly must have cost a fraction of DREDD's craft services budget. Plus, almost all of the CGI is used in ways that are not only ingenious, but dare I say groundbreaking. There is a scene in which the killer hacks up a transient's face with a meat-cleaver and they use CGI to make the head's eye blink. Most of these little details happen so fast that it takes a second viewing to pick them out, but it is shockingly effective.

So yes, there is gore, sci-fi and special effects, but I think what really raises this head and shoulders above most of the SOV pack, if not the entire DTV pack, is that it's surprisingly well written. Sure, it's not Tom Stoppard, but the plot of CHAPLIN is not handed to the viewer on a plate. Like a high-brow mystery, it unfolds piece by piece making what is the most basic of revenge plots seem fascinatingly complex by effective use of non-linear storytelling. Add to that some extremely effective atmospheric moments, such as one using nothing but flickering lighting, latex and a brick wall, and you have a low-budget, first-time effort that will knock your socks into the next room. For example, when Chaplin assaults a petty criminal in the sewer (clearly nothing more than two walls and a fluorescent light), the criminal starts freaking out that there is a ghost behind Chaplin. This moment sets up a serious "WTF" factor that totally pays off when, in a later scene in a police station, the "ghost" reveals its head in the darkness. It is quite possibly the most creepy and effective set-up and pay-off I've seen in a SOV movie this side of an Ivan Zuccon production.

Looking like the chiseled bastard child of Weird Al Yankovich and Sean Penn, Emanuele De Santi does a fine job as a stoic loner with deadly power. The other actors vary in their effectiveness with Giulio De Santi, his pattern-shaved haircut and waxed eye-brows, badly standing out as one of the police detectives, who is for no perceivable reason, blind. Combining a gamut of other creative influences without actually plagiarizing them (in itself something to be applauded), Emanuele De Santi throws so much at the viewer that some stuff sticks and some goes a bit wide. While not every element works perfectly, ADAM CHAPLIN is definitely marks the arrival of an amazing new talent. It almost feels like the cinematic equivalent of Black Flag's "Damaged" LP. Even if there are wrong notes scattered throughout the work and Gregg Ginn completely butchers the very concept of a guitar solo, that's not just something you'll over look due to the general coolness of the work as a whole, but is actually an integral part of its charm. I have to say, I'm really looking forward to seeing what Emanuele De Santi's next project is, I can't imagine what this guy would do with a budget!