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!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Medical Deviates: FRANKENSTEIN'S ARMY (2013)

Remember that very cool looking Dutch demo reel titled WORST CASE SCENARIO that got everyone excited back in 2008? Directed by Richard Raaphorst and presented by Brian Yuzna, it stemmed from a film that was to be a film about Germany invading the Netherlands with a zombie army. It began shooing in 2004 and after a variety of financial stumbling blocks and a few re-cut trailers, finally was buried in a shallow grave. After reworking the premise and securing funding, Raaphorst finished the much publicized FRANKENSTEIN'S ARMY. Perhaps not as polar as the difference from the amazing demo reel to the shockingly misfired IRON SKY (2012), but definitely a contender for second place.

Set during WWII, a Russian squad behind enemy lines is sent on a mission to locate the source of a distress call that seems to be originating from another Russian squad that have been pinned down by the Germans. Upon reaching an abandoned factory (*groan*), they find that they are in some sort of experimental facility where someone has been Herbert Westing bizarre proto-cyborgs in an effort to create a super-soldiers. That someone is clearly a long way off. As it turns out, it's a top secret mission that must be filmed by the one guy who knows of their true goal: they have been sent to extract Viktor Frankenstein (Karel Roden) the grandson of... Viktor Frankenstein, so he can make his life-size PUPPET MASTER dudes for Mother Russia!

Told through the use of the gratingly irritating "found footage" gimmick, director Richard Raaphorst compounds that error by ensuring that only two shots in the movie would have any sort of stability. If you are a shakey-cam enthusiast, you will positively love this movie. If not, I suggest a strong dose of Dramamine before watching. In addition to the shakey-cam, Raaphost loves to shove things in the camera lens as if this was one of Count Floyd's 3D "House" movies. When it's not the annoyingly gleeful sadist Vasilli (Andrei Zayats) leering into the camera, it's fists, floors, severed body parts and lots of mechanical appendages coming from the videogame inspired creatures, that pop up out of nowhere like a local Halloween haunted house. This is primarily the bulk of the film, silly looking monsters that pop up, wave their arms in the camera which is running around in narrow corridors like a fan-made "Castle Wolfenstein" adaptation while the cast screams and runs off like a bunch of school girls. In order to provide exposition and, presumably, increase the body-count, the squad runs into a farmer who they torture to find the location of the doctor and a family of survivors from the local village that was raided to provide the Doctor with his parts. Mostly what these extra characters are there for is to provide some emotional conflict and to make some sort of half-assed metaphor that the Russians are no better than the Germans.

Honestly, it felt like it had reached the very end of its whisper-thin premise by the 50 minute mark. Then I realized we haven't even discovered Doc Stein yet! It annoying rips off CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and RE-ANIMATOR and then does nothing remotely interesting or even gory with the pilfered goods. Add a soundtrack that is nothing but screaming and machine noise and after it ended, I actually felt that same sense of relief that you get when the dentist stops drilling.

The movie is lit like midnight road construction (then made to look grey and hazy by the "filmlook" technique) so there's no atmosphere and the goofy monsters do not hold up well under the bright lights. Hell, they aren't even made with any sort of function in mind and they move so slowly that you can easily out run them. I can't imagine any military wanting these for any reason whatsoever. One of the creatures is a guy with an airplane propeller for a head. Since this has clearly no tactical advantage in the field, you think "well, this will be a good excuse to have him run into someone, making a huge chunky mess!" Nope. We get nothing of the sort. The cast just runs around him screaming until they figure out that if you turn off the electricity, you turn off the monsters. This seems like a bit of a design flaw. To fight a war with these things, you are going to need a shitload of extension cords and all it would take is one bomb on your generators and your army of ubersoldats would drop like a sack of messerschmidts. You'd think with all of these elaborate creature designs (that were hyped to the nth degree before the release), you'd have some really creative gore as the monsters kill off the cast. Matter of fact, not only is this not the case, but most of what little bloodletting there is happens off camera and occasionally the camera whips around to see the results.

The real pisser is that there is a solid metric ton of potential here. If it had been shot on film and had ditched the whole "found footage" crap, and the stupid CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST "homage"... and made the monsters scary... and delivered the gory goods... and skipped the stupid comedy and... oh, never mind, you get the idea.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tales from the Snark Side: TAKUT (2008)

Prolific producer/director Brian Yuzna is as erratic as they come. The stuff he produces tend to be reasonably slick and can occasionally be on a creative plateau far above his competition. The stuff he directs, well, that tends to be slickly produced, but painful to watch. There are exceptions to the rule of course, which makes his movies a total crapshoot, sometimes literally. This risk/reward factor is why I always have to give him the benefit of the doubt. If his name pops up on something good, it can pretty damn exciting.

Taking a break from his poorly received Spanish-produced Fear Factory films, Yuzna headed out to his native neighbor, Indonesia, to make two movies for local consumption. The second one, AMPHIBIOUS (2009), was co-written by S.P. Somtow, shot in 3D (which immediately makes it more watchable than the mega-buck fake 3D crap) and in spite of its tiny budget and risible premise (a giant scorpion is attacking a fishing platform run by child-slave labor), turned out to be better than your average Asylum or SyFy outing. Though it did get a run on the SyFy network where viewers seemed to be upset that it was a low-budget movie with a not-true-to-life monster. Uhhhh... yeah. And this is different from the rest of the SyFy line-up, how?

Ah, the old "scary cellphone light" trick.
TAKUT was the first of Yuzna's Indonesian efforts and it's an anthology of sorts with a title that is the Indonesian word for "frightened facial expression". Released on the international circuit with the title TAKUT: FACES OF FEAR, the title now translates to FEAR FACE: FACES OF FEAR. Less of an anthology and more of a collection of Indonesian short films spackled together with some of the worst CG graphic animation this side of a '90s porn site, the films run about 15 minutes long and varies widely in production vales and themes. The one thing five of the six films have in common is disappointment. Is there an Indonesian word for the expression my face made when they pull the old "scared in the dark with a cellphone" ploy?

The first tale is SHOW UNIT, an SOV in black and white with color accents (for no reason whatsoever) and tells a tale of a guy who accidentally stabs his stepdaughter. Instead of calling an ambulance, he decides to stab her father who comes looking for her. When a neighbor tries to blackmail him, this jackass tries to make it look like a kidnapping attempt, but the wife finds the girl's body in the house. The end. Yeah, spoilers, sorry. Why is is called SHOW UNIT? Because the last scene is of the neighbor's wife (who is a real estate agent) trying to sell the house. Uhhh... yeah. Irritating and amateurish, SHOW UNIT gets this collection out on the wrong side of the bed.

There are six stories, two of which (INCARNATION OF NAYA and PEEPER) are about Indonesian superstitions that spend 14 minutes setting everything up and one minute delivering the conclusion, which is completely obvious in spite of my knowing nothing about the rituals/superstitions involved. For instance in one a girl makes a big deal out of not believing in demonic possession. I'll give you one guess as to what happens. Though it should be pointed out that demonic possession here just makes you dance slowly while everyone watches you. Nicely shot though. THE LIST is about a crazy ex-girlfriend who has a local shaman cast curses on a hapless schmuck who just wants to watch BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR in the comfort of his own home. This one feels like Yuzna, even though he had nothing to do with it, paying homage to the old Hong Kong curse films like CENTIPEDE HORROR (1984). Whisper thin plot and lots of creepy-crawlies. It actually could have made for a fun full-length film, instead it feels like you walked into the room just as the final scenes are playing out.

Of course we have to have an obligatory zombie entry. Sorry, "infected", I meant. THE RESCUE feels like a proof-of-concept demo reel, as it basically sets up the scenario, has two quick zombie vs. military action scenes that we've seen a million times before and then it ends with a gotcha that is far more cliched than interesting. An Indonesian reviewer claimed that TAKUT was fun as it was big budget compared to other Indonesian-produced horror films. I can see that if you are Indonesian, it might be fun, since it was made for the Indonesian market. If you are not Indonesian, the only thing you will take away from this is the final entry.

Normally I cringe at directors with cheesy DJ nicknames, but here "The Mo Brothers" (Kimo Stamboel and Timothy Tjahjanto) pull off one of the best short films I've seen in ages, titled DARA. A beautiful chef, Dara (Shareefa Daanish), feeds unwitting male suitors at her restaurant and invites them back to her home where they find out exactly what makes her food so good. No spoilers for this one, though you find out her secret right away, the filmmakers do a superb job in the telling. From cinematography to sets, these guys know exactly what they want from every scene. Daanish completely steals this film with a wonderfully creepy china-doll performance that puts similar efforts to shame. So good is she, in fact, that the Mo Brother's first feature film is the 2009 remake of sorts titled RUMAH DARA (DARA'S HOME aka MACABRE on the international market). This 26 minute short has been playing festivals, so if you have a chance to see it, don't even worry about the other shorts in TAKUT. This is a must see and showcasing it is probably the entire reason TAKUT was put together in the first place.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Black in Action: WILLIE DYNAMITE (1974)

I stumbled across this recently and was stunned and amazed that I had never seen it before. I'm not a huge fan of the "Mack" subgenere of black exploitation cinema, but with Richard D. Zanuck producing and an amazing cast, I can't understand how I missed it. The cast? Try this on for size: Roscoe Orman (of "Sesame Street" fame), Thalmus Rasulala (of pretty much everything), Diana Sands (of A RAISIN IN THE SUN and a whole mess of TV), George Murdock (pretending to be Vic Morrow), Albert Hall (of APOCALYPSE NOW and countless others), Robert DoQui (what hasn't he been in?), Jophery C. Brown (stuntman/actor in everything from SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT to SWORD AND THE SORCERER and this year's OBLIVION), and (sort of) Alan Weeks (from TRUCK TURNER). Damn!

Now that I've seen it... I understand. Starting off pretty much like a way over-played, virtual parody of THE MACK (1973), the film tells the story of superfly pimp Willie D whose threads are so over the top (one outfit is red, trimmed with white fur making him look like a Harlem Santa Claus) that all the other pimps have to viciously chew the scenery to even get noticed.

Willie's the number two pimp in NY and he aims to be number one, but before he can even make the attempt, he shoots himself in the proverbial foot by dissin' the guy who is number one, Bell (Roger Robinson, who lays on the ham and cheese heavier than the Denny's breakfast menu). Says Bell "When the heat comes down, you gotta collectivize or... run." Now, the peevish Bell is bringing down the heat on little ol' Willie. To make matters worse, an ex-hooker turned social worker (Sands) who is the Assistant DA's (Rasulala) girlfriend, has him in her crosshairs too. Next thing you know, his hos are getting busted, his car is getting impounded, he's getting his fine threads messed up by the man. What's a pimp gonna do? So you figure at this point, he's gonna get a plan and stick it to the man, right? Uhhhh, no. Nope, he's going to get shafted more and get his ass beat more and finally... wait for it... yes, he's going to realize the error of his ways and turn over a new leaf. No I'm not kidding. Totally serious.

Lots, and I do mean lots, of TV-esque dramatic scenes go into making him go straight. Some scenes are almost like a soap opera, which makes sense since most folks involved worked in daytime "stories". Don't think a bunch of shoot-outs and car chases did it, nope, this sheep in wolf's clothing is as earnest and tame as an ABC After School Special, with the exception of a dramatic scene in which one of the girls gets her throat cut by a competitor. Matter of fact, the bulk of it sports the kind of cornball drama that can usually only be found on the small screen. For instance when Willie is brought up on his first charge, his estranged mother just happens to be in the courtroom. So distraught by is she by her son's possession charge, as well as the (inadmissible) police claims of other crimes, she suffers a heart attack right there on the spot. Even worse is the saccharine final scene where a smiling, de-pimped Willie catches a child's football and throws a return pass to the cheers of the crowd. Again, not even kidding. Since virtually everybody involved, aside from Zanuck, worked in or was going to work in TV land, it's really no surprise that this feels like a TV movie. Don't expect nudity or any sort of gratuitous anything other than Willie's wardrobe, that's not what this movie is all about. As long as you don't buy into Universal's marketing, it's kinda cool to see the cast go through their paces (Albert Hall should have had his own cop flick after the blistering Poitier-esque performance here), but if you want some COFFEY, this ain't the pick-me-up you are looking for.

Anybody else remember this cast, or am I the oldest man alive?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


When I'm not busy wistfully reminiscing about the days when cars weren't simply motorized child-carriers and when it would never occur to a rock musician to cut his hair and play acoustic, I reminisce about the good old days when crackers from Montana were the people who conspired to kill Americans. Yes, back then you knew who the loonies were. They were us.

Now days we have lots of knuckle-heads running around saying that the government needs to be overthrown. It's become mainstream and instead of American terrorists, now they are wealthy republicans who have made a fortune with the governments help, but are just mad that a black democrat is in the White House. Back in the '80s it was so much simpler. Half-cracked loonies who stock-piled guns, water and cans of Beenie-Weenies because they were sure that the world was going to be nuked and it would be every man for himself and there would be no laws keeping your average citizen from raping and killing whoever they liked. Utopia, right? Back in the early '80s, the waning days of "Men's Adventure" novels, there were a series of 29 post-nuke survival books written by Jerry Ahern titled "The Survivalist". This series has been said to be the basis for the film, but having not read the books, I can't say for sure, but from what I can tell, the relationship, if it's not in title-only, certainly isn't an official one.

After a nuclear explosion in the Siberian highlands, the Russian government quickly points the finger at the US and threatens retaliation. The US claims they did nothing, but you never know with those dirty politicians, particularly since they declare a state of emergency and impose martial law, which they were probably planning on doing anyway. Bastards! Citizens are urged not to panic and to make them rest easy in this non-event, the constitution is suspended and all personal assets are frozen. Yep, the anti-government paranoia bypasses reality and heads straight into the realm of the tinfoil-hat.

Jack Tillman (Steve Railsback) has been waiting for this day and starts stockpiling firearms and family members in his cabin, while his learned friend gives him the low-down on the situation: "this is all just another bunch of bull-crap from Washington. Another tax hustle." His friends, of course, are skeptics of Jack's "survivalist lifestyle" but suddenly come around to Jack's sweaty, paranoid way of thinking after being robbed by local townsfolk who have decided that the end is nigh. Jack is reluctant to loan out one of his eight shotguns (three more than he has family members) to a friend, but finally does it because he's a hell of a guy.

Railsback vs. Gortner...
Texas isn't big enough for these two assholes.

Chaos has broken out in town and the reason we know the country is on the brink of collapse is because we see hippies stealing food from Mexicans! Mass hysteria! Meanwhile Jack's wife and daughter are raped and murdered in his house. Of course this is the greatest day in Jack's life, because now he can finally take the law into his own hands! His first act? He grabs a Caterpillar, smashes into a bank past the National Guard and takes his safe-deposit box, seriously pissing off the bike-riding troops. Why are the National Guard looking like Hell's Angels? The only thing I can think of is that we are viewing the world through Tillman's blood-tinted glasses. Biker's represent Jack's mental image of lawlessness while Jack sees himself adopting the role of post-nuke wild-west lawman (never mind that nothing has really happened other than an outbreak of panic). This Jack-o-Vision is the only way to explain scenes like the one in which Tillman fights his way into a hospital, cold-cocks his doctor friend, kidnaps him and his wife and casually shoots a completely random stoner dude, for their own good!

Jack decides that the town is a write-off (so much for the old "saving the town" heroics) and that he is going to take his kidnapped doctor friend (Cliff De Young) and his wife Linda (Susan Blakely) to a camp in the mountains to find his son, in his bulletproof 4x4. Of course things are not that simple. Not only does the National Guard MC (headed up by Marjoe Gortner) want to make an example of him, but roving bands of outlaws want their supplies and everyone wants the Doc's woman. Since the Doc is such a liberal pussweeb, his wife is just longing to be taken by a real man (this the part where tea-party activists grab the baby-oil and a box of tissues) and nothing says "real man" like paranoid delusions and homicidal intent. Not to piss on Jack's good fortune of finding a replacement for his mere days-dead wife, but wouldn't a "real man" go toe-to-toe with the bikers, instead of running off into the brush, allowing the scumbags to abuse an innocent woman while he found a good sniper spot? Not in Jack's world baby! When Jack isn't being cunning and killing peeps in sneaky ways, he waxes introspective, comparing himself to the doc, "he's a highminded guy who can afford ideas and I'm just a country boy who can't. I can't even afford reality and reality's shit!" Damn, Jack has a deep soul.

Of course there's more than that for Jack and his kidnapped crew to get through. One of the obstacles is a local sheriff barricade. Jack decides to sneak around in camo gear in order to outflank, subdue and humiliate the yokels, who are for some reason allowed to live. Perhaps they are merely puppets of the corrupt government and are thus, in his eyes, safe from a shotgun execution. They are the lucky ones. In one sequence Jack and Linda find an abandoned motel. After making it with the doc's wife, Jack spies a dork with glasses peeping in on them. Jack's reaction is to blow six bloody holes in the peeper's chest. Jack is the law and his sentence is death! Of course, when the guy's friends open fire, Jack is totally justified in shooting all of them and blowing up their car too! No matter whether a breach of etiquette or an outright act of murder (though generally only 2nd degree), there is a strained justification to be found in there somewhere. I mean, if you can chase down and kill a guy armed with Skittles and an iced tea and be justified, there is no question that the rest of society is just begging to eat a face full of hot lead.

Jack acts as if the world has ended, even though nothing more than martial law has actually happened. No bombs have fallen, no foreign troops have invaded American soil, nothing but Americans going nuts and killing each other... and that is probably the most truthful speculation this movie makes, even though it's not trying to. Matter of fact we, the audience, are supposed to be on Jack's side, we are supposed to like Jack even though for the most part what he is doing is morally, even Biblically, reprehensible and amoral, the script contorts logic to the breaking point to create legitimate reasons for his rather unconcerned fury. After finding his son, he finally has a ROADWARRIOR-lite showdown with the biker-reservists at speeds of up to 20 miles an hour!

JACK TILLMAN: SURVIVALIST could have been easily made today. The whole anti-government militia thing (that went hand in hand with white supremacy) became a little bit unfashionable after the Ted Kaczynski and Timothy McVeigh killings in the '90s, but seems to have picked up momentum again. It's just a wee bit too close to the kind of thinking that made "The Turner Diaries" very popular in some circles, making it a bit uncomfortable if you stop and think about it for a minute. It is basically ROADHOUSE for repressed gun-nuts with cheery electronic flute and drum music accompanying the somewhat disturbing random shootings, attempted rapes and dangerously paranoid philosophy. Because of this, and the great cast, this makes it a must see for fans of misguided cinema. No actor can do sweaty, paranoid and unstable yet quite likable (well, sort of) like Steve Railsback, and here he doesn't phone it in, but doesn't overplay the role either. The movie is hilarious in its absurdity, yet if you think about it too long, it's an unintentionally grim statement about how fucked up some Americans can be.

My reaction to the film.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Cinemasochism: ANABOLYZER (1999)

The fall of the Italian horror industry was pretty damn fast.  One minute we have Lucio Fulci lined up to direct the Dario Argento-produced THE WAX MASK, the next Fulci is dead and Argento is beginning a career slide that he has never recovered from.  It was especially rough on the fans.  Gone were the stylish auteurs (save for Michele Soavi) and workmanlike directors (Joe D’Amato decided the porn world was more stable).  In their place we got guys like Al Festa.  I still have friends who will go slack jawed with a thousand yard stare when you mention Festa’s FATAL FRAMES (1996).  Another director just getting his start during this period was Roger A. Fratter.  Having made the D’Amato documentary TOTALLY UNCUT (1999), Fratter decided to dive into film, uh, video production and ANABOLYZER is one of his earlier works.

The film opens with a woman being attacked in her home by some dude who breaks her neck.  The next scene has rookie cop Max (Giuseppe Cardella) commenting on the killing with his chief, who tells him this isn’t the first murder in their town.  We then cut to an opening credit sequence showing a guy and a girl working out. Uh, okay.  The main plot finally starts kicking in with the introduction of Sandro Kaufmann (Carlo Girelli), a semi-doctor who owns a cable company (as in a place that makes cables) and runs a gym called Hard Game.  And he wonders why his colleagues don’t take him seriously.  You see, he’s been developing an “anabolyzer” steroid to help out people during their workouts.  He spends so much time on it that he neglects his wife Lorna (Irene Giordano), instead opting to sign new clients like model Pamela (Alice Andreis).  His star clients are Monica (Samantha Jameson) and Alfio (Mike Hudson), the couple we saw breaking a sweat in the credits. Okay, it is starting to make sense now.

Did I just say it is starting to make sense?  I take that back.  We next get a series of seemingly unconnected scenes intercut with each other.  Monica beats up two guys trying to pick her up (“She looks like she likes cock” one eloquently says) at the gym; we meet a lady named Sonia (Belinda Sherman) in a bar who responds to her female friend chastising her promiscuous ways by picking up a dude; we get Monica and Alfio getting into a brawl at home; Sonia takes her pickup back home and bites him on the nipple; and finally we get Chino (Brandon Wilde), the killer from the opening, stalking another girl and killing her.  I guess this is to show us that the anabolyzer users are unstable due to the drug, but we don’t know as no one has been shown using it.  We finally get a hint of what is going on as Sandro and Monica talk about how they are using the drug experimentally on Alfio.  Okay, now we’re getting somewhere as Alfio looks to be the roid rage dude.

Damn, did I just say we were getting somewhere?  I take that back.  Chino picks up a red-haired hooker and kills her.  Unlucky for him, Alfio was standing nearby and they fight, resulting in Chino losing his eyeballs and being killed.  Alfio returns home to find his wife Monica in the shower and they proceed to make out until he decides to carve her open.  Then he wakes up!  It was all a dream (the shower bit, not the other killing).  He then goes out to a bar and is picked up by Sonia (remember her?). Back at her place, he ties her up and kills her with a drill.  We then cut back to Max the cop (remember him?) and his chief hands him a videotape.  When asked what is on it, the chief asks, “Have you ever heard of a snuff film?”  Max is apparently the world’s most green cop as he replies, “No.” He then goes to meet his girlfriend, who turns out to be Pamela (remember her?).  She is pissed at him and wants to break up (Fratter eloquently handles this with them talking in a restaurant while a rock song blasts on the soundtrack).  Anyway, Pamela heads to the gym and overhears Sandro and Monica talking about his experiments.  Okay, now I can see where this is going.

Damn, did I just say I could see where this is going?  I take that back.  Next up we get Max and his chief watching the snuff tape, which, surprisingly, features no characters we’ve seen before.  We then get a long, convoluted sex montage that starts with Sandro and Lorna in bed and Monica and Alfio in bed and ends with Sandro and Monica in bed.  They hatch a clever plan of getting rid of Lorna by having Monica initiate a foursome on a drunken night out and then they’ll give Alfio some anabolyzer stuff that will send him over the edge at the slightest hint of sexual arousal.  It goes off without a hitch as he makes out with Lorna in a pool and then drowns her.  Unfortunately, Alfio wanders into the night still raging (although he did put on his shirt) and ends up at a photo studio where Pamela (remember her again?) is doing a shoot.  He puts a screwdriver in her photographer’s head, but Pamela gets away after throwing acid in Alfio’s face.  The next day, the melted face Alfio shows up at the gym and begins chasing Monica.  She runs to a cable factory (YES!  I knew there was a reason they mentioned Sandro owned one) and watches Alfio melt when he finally corners her.  She walks out to find Sandro who says, “You’re still alive?”  She collapses and cries.  The end.

Oh jeez, what the heck was this? ANABOLYZER is the stuff nightmares are made of.  Look, you tell me “killer steroids” and I imagine a badass movie with some muscle bound guy going nuts and punching heads off.  Like RE-ANIMATOR (1985) on steroids.  Instead, I get this mess that barely qualifies as a cohesive movie.  Just when I think something would tie together, Fratter pulls the rug out from under me. For example, remember the cop character Max?  You know, the guy who has a girlfriend Pamela, who is privy to what is going down?  Yeah, he’s never seen again after he watches the snuff tape.  You think you’re getting a “cop hero comes to save his girlfriend” scenario, but instead you get a “killer randomly wanders into a fashion shoot” set-up.  It is as if Fratter is haughtily saying, “I’a no play’a by the’a rules.”  I’d appreciate it if it was subversive, but it is just really poor filmmaking.  This lackluster filmmaking is also on display during the gore scenes, which are pretty amateurish.  The “big” effects scene is when Alfio starts breaking down and spitting up black ooze.  Fratter focuses on it for over two minutes, resulting in something that becomes boring rather than thrilling. The majority of the film serves mostly to film Italian women getting naked on videotape.  I can’t tell you the number of nude scenes that just go on and on.  If I want to watch sexy Italian women getting nekkid on video, I’ll stick with Rocco Siffredi.  Amazingly, Fratter has continued to make movies.  I’m sure the production values have gotten better because they certainly can’t get any worse. Anyway, rest in peace, Italian horror film industry.

Two of ANABOLYZER's only redeeming factors:

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.