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!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

This Bud's for You: An EXTRALARGE Month of Bud Spencer!

We haven't done a flagrantly fraudulently named "Theme Week" (which usually lasts multiple weeks) in ages and what better to get back into the groove than with Bud Spencer! While we have devoted a lot of time to a lot of things, we have never paid homage to the Bambino himself.

On Halloween in 1929, Carlo Pedersoli was brought kicking and screaming into this world. And punching. I wasn't there, but I'm pretty sure that after the doctor spanked him, little Carlo brought the hammer down on that podiatrist's head before marching off to eat a skillet of beans with a wooden spoon.

Growing up in the Santa Lucia neighborhood of Naples, Pedersoli showed an interest in swimming and politics. At the age of 21 he became the first Italian to swim the 100 meter freestyle in under a minute, breaking records at 59.5 seconds. He won a medal in the 1951 Pan Mediterranean Olympics, and he also participated in the Helsinki Olympics in 1952 and the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. He also was a professional water polo player, assisting team Italy to win the Championship in 1951. Apparently born without need for sleep, while he was swimming he also graduated law school with the intent to become an attorney and started getting small parts in films.

As Pedersoli's swimming career ended, the acting bug took a firm foothold. In 1959 Pedersoli was given the biggest part of his career in the historical epic HANNIBAL (1959) starring Victor Mature, which is not the basis for the NBC TV show, but the loosely told story of Rome's defeat at the hands of Hannibal the Conqueror during the Second Punic War of 218-203 BC (the same war that is currently the subject of the new... wait for it... Vin Diesel movie. No, seriously.). HANNIBAL was also a significant breakthrough for a 10 years younger, but more experienced Venetian actor, Mario Girotti.

At some time during the 1960's, Pedersoli decided he needed to change his name for the benefit of the film world and, reportedly, chose the first name of "Bud" because it amused him that a man of his size would have such a diminutive name and "Spencer" after his favorite actor, Spencer Tracy.

1967 saw the break-out hit of his film career. Given the lead role as "Huch Bessy" opposite Pietro Martellanza's "Cat Stevens" in Giuseppe Colizzi's new western GOD FORGIVES... I DON'T! (1967). It was through a stroke of misfortune that Mario Girotti, who was now known as Terence Hill, took over the role of "Stevens" after Martellanza broke his foot and had to bow out of the production.

GOD FORGIVES... I DON'T! was a straight-faced, violent western and it was an international success in an era of international spaghetti western hits. The following year a sequel was made with Spencer and Hill playing off against Leone star Eli Wallach in ACE HIGH (1968). Again, the film became an international success demanding the third and final sequel BOOT HILL (1969). The sequels, though serious in tone, added slightly more comedy as they progressed with Spencer and Hill playing off of each other almost as brothers. Their partnerships were amusingly antagonistic, never sliding down into sentimentality. This lead to Enzo Barboni satirizing the trilogy and the conventions of the 1960's western era in the masterpiece THEY CALL ME TRINITY (1970). While the "Hessy and Stevens" trilogy were successful, it was "Trinity and Bambino" that became something of a phenomenon, so successful was that one little film that their partnership expanded to no less than 18 films together over the course of almost 30 years. In addition to their wildly successful outings together, Spencer and Hill also appeared in many films on their own or with different partners. Like all aging film stars, they both found the siren's call of the small screen too difficult to resist.

After finding himself cast as the Genie in Bruno Corbucci's modern-day updating of ALADDIN (1986), Spencer took a few years off to contemplate his next move. "Big Man" was Spencer's first forray into a television series. Sort of a "Columbo meets Flatfoot" style of private investigator, this 6 episode, feature-length series had Spencer playing a two-fisted sleuth, Jack Clementi, solving inexplicable murders under the nick-name The Professor. It's no surprise that the original title is "Il Professore". It's even less of a surprise that someone thought that nobody in the English colonies would want to watch something about a college school teacher. "We need something simple, something that their tiny monolinguistic minds can wrap around. I know 'Big Guy who Hits People!' Hmmm... no, too complicated." Thus the brainy-sounding Professor became simply a male of inordinate size.

The success of "Il Professore" lead to a similar series "Detective Extralarge", in which he plays a Miami detective named Jack "Extralarge" Costello. The series opened up the scope with the now popular Miami setting and gave him a partner, the fresh off of "Miami Vice" star, Philip Michael Thomas.

While Spencer was seeing his stock in the TV trade rise with "The Professor," Thomas was watching his small screen success come to a close across the pond as "Miami Vice" was ending its run.

 A moderate success during its initial 1984-85 season, the Florida-lensed "Miami Vice" became a full fledged neon-drenched sensation during the 1985-86 season and finished the year as the #9 most watched show (and the lone cop/action show in the top 20). Unfortunately, the attraction was short lived and soon got older than five day stubble. The series was shifted to Friday nights in its third season and ratings tumbled each successive year as a result.  By the time the series was wrapping up, it finished in 61st place and the final episode aired on June 28, 1989 (an unaired episode did air in syndication in January 1990, hence the 1984-1990 airdates). Surprisingly, or not, Thomas – who began his career in theatrical features in the 1970s – was unable to parlay his work on this series back to the silver screen. While his co-star Don Johnson moved on to vehicles like THE HOT SPOT (1990) and HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN (1991), Thomas was relegated to guest appearances on syndicated shows like "Superboy" and "Zorro". It was a long way from designer Italian jackets and Ferraris, so maybe that is why an offer to co-star in an Italian TV series looked so appealing at the time. After all, nobody will see these, right?

The latest Bud Spencer TV series, "Detective Extralarge", was announced to the press in 1989 with Thomas inking the deal in 1990. With Spencer's son Giuseppe Pedersoli producing, the first series of six ninety-minute episodes shot for 37 weeks, on location in Florida.

There were so many Italian productions going on in Florida in the late '80s and early '90s, I'm amazed they didn't trip over each other. This was during Miami's sudden boom in tourism that was kicked off by the 1979 Art Deco section of South Beach being christened a historic district. "Miami Vice" capitalized on that boom and expanded it, making it seem like a stylish and glamorous destination spot... unlike the rest of Florida. The Italian TV and film productions benefited from the movie and TV friendly city while exploiting the locale. No doubt much to the relief of cast and crew members who may not have relished the idea of yet another trip into the Amazon jungles.

A second series of "Detective Extralarge" followed, with stand-up comic Michael Winslow taking over for Thomas. Presumably tired of playing someone's sidekick, Thomas passed on the second series in order to make the shot-on-video crime-thriller MIAMI SHAKEDOWN (1993; aka MATCH POINT) for European television. I'm sure it sounded like a good idea at the time. Thomas would find himself re-teamed with Spencer in the 1997 series "We Are Angels".

Meanwhile Bud Spencer wrapped up the second series of "Extralarge" and re-teamed with Terence Hill for the first time in almost a decade with the final, and surprisingly good, Trinity and Bambino film THE TROUBLEMAKERS (1993). In which nobody is named Trinity or Bambino due to copyright issues. Following that, Spencer has appeared in a few TV shows, small Italian films and in 2011, Pedersoli published his autobiography "Bud Spencer: My Life My Films". To date it has not been translated into English, though it has been translated into German. Bastards.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Obscure Oddities: TORMENT (1986)

“There is a review out there that says this is obviously a made up name.  I always wanted to write that guy and say, ‘Here I am.’”
                                                          – Samson Aslanian, co-creator of TORMENT

Thank goodness for unique names.  When it comes to film research, you’re always happy to see a subject with a distinctive name, since common names can send you into Google seizures.  The underrated thriller TORMENT (1986) gave me both in co-directors/writers/producers Samson Aslanian and John Hopkins.  Sharp-eyed horror fans will probably recognize their names as production manager and assistant director, respectively, in the credits for THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1982) and THE POWER (1984), the first two features from another directing duo, Jeffrey Obrow and Stephen Carpenter.  Care to guess who I was able to locate?  Not only was Sam Aslanian easier to find, he was also easy to approach and within days of our initial contact we were talking his feature debut TORMENT.

A first generation Armenian-American, Aslanian was born and raised in the city of San Francisco.  Growing up, he had the desire to become a comic book illustrator and later a psychologist; little did he know that a vocation awaited him that would benefit from both interests.  It was while in high school, where he enjoyed studying drama and art, that Aslanian first caught the filmmaking bug.  “In twelfth grade they had advanced placement art and I was really excited,” he explains.  “So I went in the first day and I realized they were going to do filmmaking for that semester.  At first I was bummed and going to change classes, but then I thought I should just stick it out and I just really, really liked it.”

Post-high school Aslanian pursued college, but still felt unsure of his direction.  It was a fortuitous meeting with a guidance counselor at San Francisco City College that soon sent him on his way.  “I was sitting across from this really crusty counselor who had seen it all who goes, ‘So, kid, what do you want to do?’ And I said, ‘I think I want to be a psychologist’ and he goes, ‘Is that what you really want to do?’ And I go, ‘No. No, I really want to be a filmmaker’ and he goes, ‘Then why the hell are you sitting here telling me you want to be a psychologist?’  And he pulls out stuff from USC and UCLA and showed me if you do this, this, and this you can get into these schools.”

With a fire lit under him, Aslanian worked to meet the required goals to transfer and was soon accepted by both USC and UCLA.  He opted for the latter due to financial reasons, and soon found himself in the filmmaking program where he fell in with the right crowd – namely Jeffrey Obrow. “He was my teacher’s assistant on one of the courses and he was best friends with Steve Carpenter,” he says.  “They had come up with this plan that they were going to make this low budget horror film out of UCLA.  I sort of fell in with them and I became the production manager of THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD.  Here I was 21-years-old, production managing a feature and not knowing anything about what I was doing.  There I met the first assistant director, John Hopkins.”

Released theatrically by New Image in April 1982, THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (aka PRANKS; aka DEATH DORM) landed right in the middle of the slasher cycle and proved to be successful enough to warrant a second feature.  The same team quickly reunited for the supernatural film THE POWER (1984) with Aslanian and Hopkins again picking up the same production duties.  It was while wrapping up this sophomore feature that talk of a third film began.  Having seen success in directing/writing duos, Obrow split his friends up into groups of two and gave them a specific twist to build a film around.  Naturally, Aslanian and Hopkins were paired up with each other and quickly came up with their spin on Obrow’s plot point, which we won’t reveal here.

“John Hopkins and I went on a walk,” he reveals of the film’s genesis, “and we talked about the old ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS.  John remembered this one where there was a killer loose [after a] nurse and they lock up the house and they realize he is in the house.  We kind of took that and riffed on it.  Literally the TORMENT you see we came up with in about 45 minutes.”

The duo took their idea to Obrow who, surprisingly, didn’t like it.  Not wanting to let a good idea go, they asked if they could develop it and Obrow agreed.  Thus, TORMENT was born.  By now living as roommates, Aslanian and Hopkins spent the next few months writing their script.  “We would work on a job,” he says, “or I would go to school and come home and then we would spend the evening writing.”

Although primarily fans of the action and western films of the 1950s and 1960s, the duo did look at some classic thrillers in order to create a model for their film. “There was an Audrey Hepburn movie called WAIT UNTIL DARK (1967), we took that as one of our templates.  And there was a movie with Mia Farrow from the early ‘70s called SEE NO EVIL (1971), where she is blind.  We took this ‘put upon women in large houses’ [subgenre] template.”  The neophyte screenwriters ended up with a script they were happy with and soon began the pre-production process on their story of a serial killer loose in San Francisco who targets the mother and fiancĂ© of the lead detective investigating his crimes.

Funding was obviously the first step.  As with the two earlier features they had worked on, Aslanian and Hopkins looked toward their film school friends for support. “We went to our families and friends,” Aslanian explains of the film’s financing.  “John put in a lot of the money, he had some family money.  My parents and sisters put in money.  It wasn’t very much money.  It was back then, it seemed like the weight of the world to us.  We had these cocktail parties at my parents’ house where we invited friends over and we sold $500 dollar shares [in the film].”  In total, they amassed $100,000 to begin their film, which would ultimately it cost $160,000.

This support from friends also extended behind the camera.  Many alumni from DORM and THE POWER returned and, in a bit of a role reversal, Stephen Carpenter worked as the director of photography for his former assistants and Jeffrey Obrow served as a production consultant.  And Stacey Giachino, associate producer on both Obrow/Carpenter films and co-writer for DORM, came on as line producer.

Next up was casting the film, which proved to be hard despite the film only offering four major roles.  Warren Lincoln, the obsessive boyfriend in THE POWER, came over to play the role of the young detective Michael Courtland; veteran stage star Eve Brenner essayed the role of Mrs. Courtland; and Taylor Gilbert was chosen via casting sessions in San Francisco to play Michael’s fiancĂ©e Jennifer.

However, the final role of the nameless killer was the most difficult to cast until Aslanian went back to his recent past.  “That’s the best story there,” Aslanian relays. “We were looking for somebody to play that role and I remembered my high school drama teacher, Mr. Witt.  We drove up to San Francisco and went to my high school. He’d been more than a drama teacher.  He was the guy who got me interested in theater and directing.  He was kind of a mentor figure to me.  So we showed him the script.  He read the script and said, ‘This is a piece of crap.  If you shoot it like this, you’re going to be in for a world of hurt,’ which we were.  And then we asked him and he said, ‘Yeah, okay, I’ll do it.’” Not only did Witt agree to the project, he also got his wife, Najean Cherry, a role as one of the victims.  “The housekeeper was Bill Witt’s wife in real life.  He was looking forward to her death a little too much,” he reveals with a laugh.

Having production managed two features that were distributed theatrically Aslanian knew the pitfalls facing a low budget production.  He had built a rapport with several rental houses and was able to get great rates.  An extra dose of youthful gravitas on Aslanian’s end also helped in making the film look good.  “I actually asked for a meeting with the president of Panavision and they gave it to me,” he says.  “I went in said I’d like to use a Panaflex for this movie I’m doing on 35 millimeter.  He took out a pencil and said, ‘So how much are you willing to spend?’ And I said, ‘Nothing.  I’ve got nothing. I’m asking you to donate it.’  He laughed and goes, ‘You have a lot of balls’ and he said whatever you need, just call in.  So he let us use the Panaflex for free.  When you’re 23 or 24-years-old, people want to cut you breaks, especially if you are really serious and really care about what you are doing.”

Aslanian’s ability to get things for free also extended to the locations.  The production was able to secure Fort Point – a former military installation and National Historic site in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge – for one of the crime scenes (see pic right).  And the main location, where 80% of the action takes place, was even closer to home.  “That’s my parents’ house,” he reveals.  An unperceivable bit of on location trickery involving a tiny matte painting transported the house from a San Francisco suburb to a seemingly isolated locale on a hillside.  “We shot and slept there.  They had kind of a ballroom thing in the basement.  We rented out a bunch of cots and 15 guys slept in there.  It was called ‘The Pit.’ Not only did my parents not mind, my dad cooked all the food and catered for the crew the whole time.”

The Aslanian home isolated via movie magic:

Filming took place over the course of 1984 with an initial shoot 10 day initial shoot and a few subsequent shoots to pick up sections.  “It was shot piecemeal because we could never keep a crew for long enough to shoot a whole feature,” he relates.  “So we shot in sections.  The crew was our friends – David Cunningham, Walter Gorey and Chris Hopkins – guys that we went to school with who did multiple jobs.  So when they were available, we’d say, ‘In three weeks we want to go and shoot for four days, can you take a couple of days off school?’”
Co-directing is rare on feature films.  When asked exactly how the directing dynamic worked with Hopkins, Aslanian said it became apparent very early on that each of them had their own strengths – Aslanian handled many of the intricate camera moves, while Hopkins worked with the actors.  “I really like photography so Steve Carpenter and I sort of worked hand-in-hand making sure those shots happened correctly,” he says.  “And John had a great aptitude in working with the actors.  He was great at sitting with them, going over their dialogue and blocking them.  I’m not saying I didn’t do that and he didn’t work on the camera stuff too.  It is just that is kind of how it split up after a while where I became more interested in the visuals and lighting schemes and John worked very well and hard with the actors.”

Working with trained theater actors such as Brenner and Witt also improved the production.  There is a section in the middle of the film where the two elder characters play a bit of cat-and-mouse.  This is Aslanian’s favorite section of the film and it was enhanced by some improvisation from the actors. “We would meet mid-morning and let those two improvise and then we would type that up as the evening’s scene,” he says of the organic developments.  “It was just so much better than the stilted stuff we’d been writing.  It was just a lot funnier and a lot fresher.  [Witt] came up with the ‘Good Ship Lollypop’ thing.  He had two daughters and said that’s what he sang to them.  And so now he is demented so how would he [sing it].”

Once the principal photography was in the can, the team sat down to edit.  Editing was complex and employed the use of three friends to piece the film together.  “When we were editing, all three of the editors – Earl Ghaffari, John Penney and Bret Shelton – had regular jobs,” Aslanian explains.  “So they would work and after work come over.  We’d make them a dinner and they would work late into the night, go home and then go to work the next day.” An early screening of the film for friends convinced the filmmakers to cut back on their material a bit, dropping dramatic portions of the opening hour in order to get to the action faster.

With their endeavor complete, the filmmakers began shopping their product around.  As with the preproduction period, they knew the importance of getting it into the hands of the right people.  “Sometimes young filmmakers make a movie and then don’t get the top quality people afterwards – the right attorneys, the right producers representatives.  Our representative at the time was Jeff Dowd,” Aslanian says. Interestingly, Dowd – an eccentric who would later be the basis for Jeff Bridges’ character in THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1999) – was representing another thriller at the time by a directing duo. That film was Joel & Ethan Coen’s BLOOD SIMPLE (1984).  Amusingly, a positive review of TORMENT in the L.A. Times compared it to Coen brothers’ debut.

One of the many atmospheric shots in TORMENT:

With Dowd’s help, the film was screened to various companies over the course of a week and eventually found a home at New World Pictures.  “There were other people who wanted it, but they just weren’t willing to pay as much up front,” Aslanian recalls of the film’s studio courtship.  “New World paid $400,000.  We paid the crew, accountants and production representatives.  In the end, for 25-year-olds making movies, we ended up with a nice payday.”  Yes, TORMENT is that rare cinematic beast – a low budget film that actually made the creators money.

TORMENT ad from Illinois
Unfortunately, once the film was under New World’s umbrella, the filmmakers were cut out of any creative discussion on how to market the film.  While an effective poster was designed (see above), the studio came up with a horrible tagline (“If the suspense doesn’t get you, the terror will?  It’s such a crap line,” Aslanian laughs) for its theatrical run in the spring of 1986.  To make matters worse, the eventual New World home video release actually spoils the film’s major twist right on the back of the box.  Adding insult to injury, the studio borrowed behind-the-scenes photographs for potential promotional materials and promptly lost them all.  “We took all these photos during the film,” Aslanian explains. “They took all the negatives and then they lost them all.  All these personal photographs of our life are gone.”

New World rolled the film out across the country with 100 prints.  Aslanian and friends were there front and center when the film opened in Los Angeles, only to find out their low-key ending didn’t satiate viewers hungry for blood.  “We went to see it the first night in Westwood when it opened,” he says.  “The audience – a bunch of UCLA kids – were really into it.  And then it ended and the credits come up and the whole audience erupted in boos.  And we were like, ‘Ohhh, shit.’  We were on such a high though.  We were just so happy that it was out.  It was a three year process.  We were exhausted but happy to have money in our pockets and glad that it had good reviews.  It was too late to do anything.  In retrospect, we should have gone through the floorboards with a TERMINATOR kind of ending.”

TORMENT folks circa Halloween 1986:

Top (l-to-r): Jon Penney (co-editor), John Hopkins, Sam Aslanian, Earl Ghaffari (first AD, co-editor), Michelle Ghaffari 
Bottom (l-to-r): Greg Hollobaugh (formerly Unknown Suicidal Man), DD Aslanian 

Such negatives did little to dampen the filmmakers’ elation of having successfully completed and released their first feature.  Their agent lined them up to interview with Universal about directing PSYCHO III (1986) in 1985, but they turned the meeting down, opting instead to work on their next script.  Their sophomore screenplay, an action-thriller titled SIEGE, drew attention and soon found them an office at Warner Bros.  The duo seemed to be on their way when they suddenly encountered Hollywood’s equivalent of a serial killer – development hell.  Also known as BROTHERS IN ARMS, their screenplay was a RIO BRAVO (1959)-like story about two black brothers – one a sheriff, one a criminal – in an isolated Washington town who must fend off a group of White Supremacists trying to break out one of their members.  Cue the politically correct studio execs.

“The first thing that happens is they didn’t want both characters to be African American.  One brother is the Sheriff and the other brother is a con coming out of prison on parole.  They said, ‘The other brother has to be a white guy.’” Aslanian relates with a sense of astonishment. “And then Warner Bros. chickened out on the White Supremacist thing. They said, ‘Let’s just make them mercenaries.’  Mercenaries that do what?  So much was based on that fact that White Supremacists thought the white citizens of this town would fully turn against the Sheriff because he’s black.  And in the end, they didn’t and stood right by him.”

With the subtext seemingly lost on the executives in subsequent meetings, the script went unproduced over a period of years.  Aslanian and Hopkins eventually went their separate ways in 1990 (with Hopkins later seeing a film noir script he wrote about a boy in a hotel who admires a detective morph into the “kid and orangutan in a hotel” epic DUNSTON CHECK IN [1996]).  Aslanian, however, went in the opposite direction of features as he joined the world of music videos. He contacted old UCLA pal Tim Clawson at Propaganda Films and started working on music videos there before moving over to the company DNA.  There he rose to the role of Vice President and oversaw projects for artists such as Madonna, Ice T, Nine Inch Nails, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Sam Aslanian
(photo by Marc Webb)
The combination of the audio and visual mediums proved to be a perfect fit for Aslanian. “First off all, I love music.  I have over 3,000 vinyl albums,” he explains.  “Second of all, honestly, it was the speed.  Your idea goes in on a Monday, it’s accepted by a Tuesday, you’re shooting by the weekend, and you’re delivering by the next Thursday.  And you’re being paid.  I liked the energy of music people.  They are almost always high energy and have a lot of passion for what they do.  It was a lot more fun being on music videos than being in our condo writing.”

Ironically, with only one feature film from the 1980s to his name, Aslanian has made a huge contribution to current cinema.  While at DNA, he discovered and helped to develop two major talents – future blockbuster directors Francis (THE HUNGER GAMES) Lawrence and Marc (THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN) Webb.  “We started them both off as baby directors straight out of college,” he explains, “and we developed them into good music videos directors.  Those guys work harder than anyone you’ve ever seen work in your life.”

While not everyone knew his directing past, Aslanian was able to impart advice that he wishes he had given himself.  “John and I made some stupid mistakes along the way.  Nah, we don’t want to do PSYCHO III, we want to do our own stuff,” he reveals of their post-TORMENT times.  “It was like, ‘You idiots! Go out, learn how to direct. Do some work, make some money.’  It is funny because that is the advice I gave dozens of young directors in the music video world.  I wouldn’t allow them to turn down projects.”

Aslanian retired from the music video industry in 2005 (“I get bored after a while,” he jokes).  He is currently a fine art photographer specializing in the artistic use of old film stock and has just released a collection of his work, Perspective Napa Valley. When asked for his thoughts on the film from 30 years ago, he is surprised and impressed that they were able to get so much done on so little amount of money. Even more impressive is that it was a 100% collaborative effort, a feat usually susceptible to conflict and tension.  “It was very much a co-writing, co-directing, co-producing situation,” he says of the union that bore TORMENT.  “John couldn’t have done it without me and I couldn’t have done it without John.”

Note: This entry should really read "Written by Bill Picard and William S. Wilson."  Mr. Picard, the Internet's Miss Marple, not only turned me onto the film, but helped provide valuable research and questions for Mr. Aslanian. Also, we tried out damnedest to find John Hopkins, but such a common name combined with a certain private research University made that a tough one to crack.  If you are out there, I hope you get a chance to read this and thanks for the movie!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Listomania: Thomas' Tormented Tales of 2013

Holy crap! Is it 2014 already? '13 lived up to its numeral for me personally, but on the movie front, there was a lot of good stuff. Mostly because I lived quite a bit of it in the past. Yep, I am that guy. The one who cranks Deep Purple, drives a 1970 Superbird, has an Olympia Beer sign in his home and still thinks that MAGNUM FORCE (1973) is one of the best cop movies ever made. Ok, so I don't actually really own a Superbird, but the rest of it is sadly true.

This was the "Year of the Re-Visit" for me. I binge-watched virtual careers and entire series' of films (or at least most of them). Part of this due to the discovery that older films, even the production-starved ones, when treated with care can look absolutely breathtaking in HD on a giant flat-panel TV. Films that are intensely visual like say, an old Argento film, have that intensity magnified almost like seeing it in the theater. Sometimes new things are pretty awesome.

Total Movies Watched:
413 (for those keeping score at home, that is a whopping 110 more movies than last year)

Total Theatrical Movies:
4 (one more than last year! Clearly Hollywood is making progress... or their marketing departments are.)

WORLD WAR Z (2013): Utterly monotonous, plotless tripe that barely qualifies as a zombie movie in spite of a few scenes with hundreds of zombies on screen at once. It certainly isn't a horror movie, it's not even remotely an action movie, it's laughably undramatic and obvious, so what is this? It's a mess, that's what it is. The much publicized production difficulties and a script that was torn apart during production much like Captain Rhodes at the end of a legit zombie flick, makes this the most uninspired, overhyped and relentlessly apologized-for snoozefest in recent memory. Brad Pitt runs from continent to continent acting worried and pining for his sad family (awwwwww!)... oh yeah, and he escapes from zombies once or twice. The entire film boils down to the final scenes in which a bunch of white guys are terrorized by a single black woman in an empty building. If you've seen the trailer, you have literally seen everything this movie has to offer. To add insult to injury, the hasty, post production 3D conversion was, of course, only a ploy to sucker in people who have never seen a real 3D movie and don't know they are getting completely ripped off. Come to think of it, they've probably never seen a real zombie movie either.

IRON MAN 3 (2013): If asked which movie of 2013 I hated more than WORLD WAR Z, it would have to be IRON MAN 3. WWZ was like unflavored jello. Completely bland, but not too difficult to choke down. IM3 on the other hand was like chewing on dogshit flavored thumbtacks. This is the first IRON MAN film I've bothered to see in the theater and I'd say it was a complete waste of $20 and two and a half hours of my life, except for the fact that I do enjoy movie theater popcorn. While I found the first one enjoyable in a pandering jingoistic sort of way, part 2 wasted the talents of one of Hollywood's most entertaining loons and went the ALIENS (1986) route of "if we make it louder, bigger and dumber, it will be better!" So what do we have this time out?
Let's go over the cliche check-list to make sure we have everything:
Witty married-couple arguments? Check!
Precocious kid? Check!
Trite, canned drama? Check!
Longest, most painfully unfunny "fanboy" scene ever? Check!
Lots of poorly executed terrorist drama? Check!
Lots of comic "acting" from Favreau? Check!
No action for interminable stretches at a time? Check!
Minimal action, minimal Iron Man, maximum cringing comedy? Check and double check!
My reaction to IM3
I think it's obvious Shane Black didn't really want to make an Iron Man movie, but apparently it was the only job he could get. His apathy towards the title character even has him executing the majority of the movie, including the final (haven't we seen this before?) action scene without Iron Man! Just Downey and Cheadle running around with 9 mils like they saw LAST BOYSCOUT one too many times. The whole Mandarin thing is played for laughs, having nothing to do with the comics, and Ben Kingsley's performance is, I guess fine, but the character is awful. We have the inspired casting of Bill Sadler and Miguel Ferrer as the President and Vice President, but they have literally nothing to do other than stand around looking like guppies at feeding time. There were several points during the first hour where I almost walked out, but kept thinking "we gotta get some action here soon". Then they have a quick, weak action scene with some villains in suits and it's back to plodding through grating comedy and drama that would touch the hearts of the kind of people who re-post sparkly gifs on Facebook.
Add crap 2D to 3D conversion and this was a miserable waste of over 2 hours and $20.

GRAVITY (2013): This movie has so much hype behind it that any praise I give it will ring hollow, but this is the perfect Hollywood film. Ironically, it was made so remotely that Hollywood wasn't able to WORLD WAR Z it (my new euphemism for wrecking a movie by committee). It's a full 90 minutes of nail-biting tension that jumps into the fray where most Hollywood movies would be after 45 minutes of dry, hackneyed character set-up. Like many great movies of the '70s, it takes a few minutes for the car to get cranked up to the top of the hill before sending the audience flying down the first drop on the roller-coaster. As much as I've hated movies made with far less than 90% CG, this is CG done right. Never did I actually feel like I was watching a CG movie, matter of fact I was quite shocked to see that damn near everything except the actors was made in a computer. The movie worked so well that I even forgave it for being a 3D conversion. To be fair, since it was all done in a computer, you couldn't really shoot legit 3D anyway. Easily the best Hollywood film I've seen in years and definitely the best thing I've seen in the cinema in recent memory. I love a good space thriller, hopefully this paves the way for some solid imitators. Oh, Bruno Mattei, if only you were still with us.

RIDDICK (2013): First off, I am not a fan of Vin Diesel by any means. I find him annoying and cheesy and I don't like his movies. That said, I saw PITCH BLACK (2000) in the theater with one Jon "Correctly" Kitley and got a kick out of it. Was it a masterpiece? No, but it was fun for what it was and Vin Diesel's aping of Clint Eastwood is tolerable at worst. CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK (2004) was an odd, misfired sequel that decided the stoic survivalist should play second-fiddle to a tedious '80s-ish sci-fi Dungeons & Dragons plot about a bunch of whispery goth dudes in armor that worship a religion about death. Oh and it's a halfway decent prison break movie too. David Twohy will always have points in my book for CRITTERS 2 (1988), and I was itching to go to the movies and get out of the heat, so RIDDICK it was. Damned if this wasn't the most entertaining genre flick I've seen in the theater in years (GRAVITY doesn't count since it's a mainstream film).
As much as Twohy was vocal about not wanting to rehash the first film, he found himself compelled to do it after everyone on the planet rightfully bitched about part 2. Once again, he inserts the character of Riddick into an '80s throwback, but this time it works. Essentially a throwing the mostly metaphorical "spaghetti western on a parched alien planet" theme of the first film into sharp relief, Riddick must survive in a Harry Harrison-esqe Death World, while attempting to cut a band of bounty hunters off at the knees, before they do the same to him. The bounty hunters are holed up in a small outpost and are not even aware of the deadly storm that is about to rain down on them all. ...And I don't mean Riddick. This impending doom device works to add a sense of urgency to the stand-off and keeps things from dragging. Occasionally feeling like it was pulled straight out of an '80s Charles Band film, RIDDICK sports some excellent art direction with western visuals and Twohy's fantastic eye for detailed, lived-in sets, props and vehicles. Even if the movie is let down by a rather by-the-numbers finale, it's still way more fun than it has any right to be.

The First Film of 2013:
HAMILTON 2 - BUT NOT IF IT COMES TO YOUR DAUGHTER (2012): As the (unintentional) tradition dictates, the new year must be started off with a highly anticipated sequel. Unfortunately this hasty follow-up to the previous year's surprisingly good original turned out to be stunningly bad. How bad? It had the world-class super spy rescuing a cat who is stuck in a tree. Damn near chewed my finger nails to the bone over that excitement.

The Last Film of 2013:
NINJA II (2013): A full four years after Issac Florentine absolutely gutted us with the hotly anticipated non-action film NINJA (2009), he returns to amend his wrongs with one of the most action-packed fight-fests this side of DRUNKEN MASTER II (1994). Florentine serves up a bubbling fondue pot of fromage with nearly every martial arts cliche imaginable skewered for dipping. Sure the scriptwriting is staggeringly bone-headed even for a Florentine film, but honestly, how many times have you sat through a '70s kung fu movie for the plot? Absolutely loaded to the breaking point with ridiculous excuses for eye-poppingly choreographed fight scenes that could go toe to toe with an HK production, we also get Kane Kosugi, son of the legendary Sho, showing off his father's legacy. My only gripe is that Florentine, aside from a fantastic opening sequence, still doesn't seem to want to put ninjas in his ninja movie. I realize that Scott Atkins is going to need his face time, but how about some evil ninjas for him to decimate? I don't think that's too much to ask. I'll be expecting that in part 3, Florentine, just so you know.

The Biggest Surprise of 2013:
It's a tie between GRAVITY (2013) and RIDDICK (2013). The edge goes to RIDDICK as I was not even remotely expecting to like it as much as I did, but at the same time I was expecting a lot of plasticine Hollywood drama out of GRAVITY and was rather shocked to find it absent. Two big surprises in one year out of my local multiplex. Pretty amazing.

The Biggest Disappointment of 2013:
THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR (2013): Just in case you live off the grid, this special is a feature-length psuedo-wrap-up of Matt Smith's tenure and a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the show. I figured for the milestone of 50 years they'd do something impressive on an epic scale. Unfortunately it was just more of Steven Moffat's non-event writing with lackluster 3D. Moffat has seemed absent minded over the last couple of years, probably due to having his hand in just about every damn show on the BBC. His scripts have been about characters who talk really intensely about how really, very, extremely important everything thing is accompanied by a lot of running around, ultimately leading to absolutely nothing. As if that wasn't annoying enough, every single episode has his painfully artificial "poignant" moments that make 12 year old girls cry.
This special is more of the same and sports a completely wasted bit part for Tom Baker, who has been my hero since childbirth. Even worse, websites like run gushing articles about how profound and touching it was. Ugh! It was a jumbled, cliched mess with no real plotline that Moffat scrached out on the back of a bar napkin while on break from his gruelingly insipid series SHERLOCK (in which a young metro-sexual Holmes solves crimes via his cellphone - really).
I don't know if you know who Maffat is, but he's a BBC writer who used to write episodes for various genre shows. His single episodes used to be really good, until he did a groundbreakingly fantastic episode for David Tenant's "Doctor Who" titled "Blink". That was the episode that turned DW into this giant juggernaut here in the US.
The BBC was so happy with him for the breakthrough success of the new doctor that they decided to simply hand the show over to him and greenlit pretty much any other projects that his grubby little heart desired. So he took over producing and scripting every single episode of DW and it was cool at first, but suddenly he decided that since he had complete control, he could have the doctor making left-wing political speeches and defending the rights of homosexual aliens (not even kidding). DW doesn't need political soapboxing. If you want to insert a subtle message, great. Club us over the head with it and then skip out on any real plot? Hell no. He also decided that there had to be a completely manufactured "sad" moment in every episode where someone dies (slowly) and all of the cast members gather around and sob for a bare minimum of 10 minutes. Then he started producing and writing SHERLOCK and other shows and his writing got sloppy to the point of having episodes that made no sense and had nothing happening in them, but were pretending to be setting up future episodes in which he would figure out some sort of half-assed explanation. This last season, other writers stepped in which made it better, but he clearly is no longer interested in DW and needs to go away. Or as Bernard Brook-Partridge said of The Sex Pistols "I would like to see somebody dig a very, very large, exceedingly deep hole and drop the whole bloody lot down it." *ahem* Ok, I'm better now.

The Best TV Show Watched for the First Time in 2013:
This wasn't much of a challenge, but there were a lot of good nominees in this category. The British cop classic "Sweeney" spin-off "Minder" and the British quasi-adaptation of Douglas Adams' "Dirk Gentley's Holistic Detective Agency" were strong runner's up, but there is one thing to rule them all...
EERIE INDIANA (1991-92): Big props out to Will for recommending this show. When this came out I was so busy watching HK action movies and offending every eligible single woman in the pathetic San Jose bar scene, that I didn't really have any time for a TV show. Much less a kid's TV show. What a mistake that was.
Sort of like BILL & TED meets "The X-Files"... sort of. The family is hyper-normal, but the town is weird, and nobody notices the weirdness except for two boys, Marshall Teller (Omri Katz) and Simon Holmes (Justin Shenkarow). As Teller narrates in the opening credits, "Elvis lives on my paper-route... Bigfoot eats out of my trash..." it's just not like New Jersey.
Boasting an amazingly eclectic sense of humor (particularly for a kid's show) the series features the likes of John Astin, Henry Gibson, Dick Miller, Ray Walston, Julius Harris, Archie Hahn, Matt Frewer, Joe Dante, Claude Akins, Michael J. Pollard, Mark Blankfield, Tom Everett, Paul Sand, and Danielle Harris (look out for pre-fame Denise Richards, Nikki Cox and Tobey Maguire as well)! All of this awesomeness packed into 19 22-minute incredibly creative segments. In one episode the original owner (John Astin) of the local diner/store, The World of Stuff, agrees to help the guys with a little problem, saying "ok boys, let's go bag this werewolf... then I'm going to take a shot at this 'Warren Commission' thing." No 11 year old kid is going to get that joke, which makes it even funnier. It's sad that it only lasted one season, it was just too cool to live. Oh yeah, there's a second season that got made titled "Eerie Indiana: The Other Dimension", but the new cast and lack of cool celeb bit roles are definitely a let-down.

The Best Birthday Present of 2013:
Shockingly, it's not the Xbox One that came completely out of left field. It's a copy of the now utterly unobtainable director's cut DVD of TITAN FIND (1985)! Remastered in it's correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio with the original title and even a few interviews. Sadly this release got caught up in a legal entanglement that may take years to sort out. One of these days I should send Will something nice for his birthday instead of junk food and junk movies.

The Coolest Actor That I Never Realized was Awesome in 2013:
Mr. Fugitive himself, David Janssen. How have I lived all of these years without appreciating this guy? After watching THE GOLDEN GATE MURDERS (1979) and ending up completely obsessed with bagels and lox (ok, more obsessed than usual), Will, who has been a founding member of the Janssen fanclub for decades, turned me on to the "Harry O" pilot films which are nothing short of amazing. Particularly good is the second pilot, "Such Dust as Dreams are Made of" which co-starred a young Martin Sheen as the punk who put a disabling bullet in Harry and now needs his help. Margot Kidder and Sal Mineo also show up as a far too young love interest and a drug-dealing hood, respectively.

Pumpernickel bagel with cream cheese, lox, red onion, tomato, cucumber and capers.

Most Movies Watched in One Month:
January held the record with a total of 48 movies. The highlights (and lowlights) of the month can be found here in Listomania: Thomas' January Jetsam of 2013.

Least Movies Watched in One Month:
June sported a disgraceful total of 16 films. In those 16 films, I watched both WORLD WAR Z and THIS AIN'T JAWS XXX, so maybe you can't blame me for completely giving up on cinema for a while. The highlight of that month has to be the special edition blu-ray of one of my favorite animated movies:
ROCK & RULE (1983): Essentially a post-apocalyptic amalgamation of Don Bluth and HEAVY METAL (1981) in which Earth has been re-populated by human/animal hybrid mutants. When an aging rocker named Mok seduces a young singer with the help of high-tech drugs, it's up to her boyfriend and bandmates to rescue her and put a stop to Mok's plans to summon a world-eating demon from the bowels of hell. Not only is the film startlingly original, but it is surprisingly well scripted. It may take a few viewings, but there is a point where you will realize that almost nothing in the movie would be made the same today. Then you realize that it would never even get financed in today's market.
A dark, menacing-but-funny, post-apocalyptic film in which animals have mutated with humans and an aging rock star kidnaps a young singer to help him summon a demon to destroy humanity as an act of revenge for his declining popularity? No freaking way in hell that pitch meeting would end on an up note. The amount of work that went into the film is just stunning. I mean they did enough work to make two movies over the span of five years in production and some of the tricks that they used to make many scenes work are so incredibly labor intensive that you may not even appreciate them unless you watch the outstanding extras on the disc. Plus, I love the fact that their completely fictional 1983 aging rocker looks exactly like about three different real-life 2013 aging rockers.

Check out a separate post for the De Hart Attack Awards Top 12 Best of 2013!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Thomas' De Hart Attack Awards for 2013

Top Dozen Favorite First Time Viewings in 2013:
Welcome to the first annual De Hart Attack awards. This a way to honor the movies that I saw for the first time in 2013 that became instant favorites. There were so many that I had to pare down the list to just the top 12 most memorable.

THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN (1975): Best Matt Cimber movie ever.

DEMON OF THE ISLAND (1983): Creepy, weird French technophobe horror.

METAL HURLANT CHRONICLES (2012): It was like a long movie, it counts.

CORALINE (2009): Not even remotely comparable to NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, thankfully. A great movie made better with outstanding use of 3D.

ADAM CHAPLIN (2011): Someone call a doctor, I need my jaw reattached!

MACHO CALLAHAN (1970): Gritty, mean and dirty western with a fantastic cast and some neat twists.

GRAVITY (2013): The impending 3D blu-ray will be mine.

THE TAKE (1974): Amazingly cool and off-beat Billy Dee Williams cop flick that doesn't go where you think it will.

THE MASTER DEMON (1991): With a cast of Eric Lee, Sid Campbell, and Gerald Okamura, this is the Paul Kyriazi film that Paul Kyriazi never made!

THE WORLD OF YOR (1983): The extended TV version is really an amazing thing and my New Year's resolution is to actually finish my epic write-up of it, come what may, here to stay.

ACTION USA (1989): This movie totally lives up to it's name.

THE SPIRITS OF JUPITER (1985): Fun, low-budget, regional indy film that throws in every genre staple it can get its hands on.

(Dis)Honorable Mention: GETEVEN (1993) So you think you've seen self-indulgent vanity projects, have you? You ain't seen nothin' till you've seen L.A. lawyer John De Hart's attempt to set himself up as a singing, fucking, fighting action-star badass. A humiliating embarrassment for all concerned and mandatory viewing for hecklers like us.

Worst Film Viewed in 2013:
I would say JOHN CARTER (2012), but it is without a doubt HALLOWEEN (2007). Just a gawdawful movie, no matter how you slice it. Yes, I know you are looking at me with your "duh" face, but I kept seeing these posts on that damn internet thing saying how mindblowingly awesome it was. Not that I believed the slavering fan-boys and Rob Zombie apologists, but I just wanted to know what it was that divided people into camps. Now I know and I'm not a better man for it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Listomania: Will's 2013 Cavalcade of Cinematic Carnage

Well, we have another year down in the Video Junkie record books.  My total was 289, down from last year's total of 344. “Hell, this boy ain’t living up to his name,” I hear you cry.  232 of those films were ones I had never seen before and 57 were revisits.

First film seen in 2013: SILENT NIGHT (2012)
Last film seen in 2013: THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD (1978)
Films seen in theaters: 5 (all time low for me)
Best film seen theatrically: GRAVITY (2013)
Worst film seen theatrically: STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)
Biggest surprises in 2013: ANTIVIRAL (2012), CURSE OF CHUCKY (2013) and DREDD (2012)
Biggest disappointment in 2013: COSMOPOLIS (2012)
Oldest film seen: MAD LOVE (1935)

Video Junkie Moment of the Year:

Damn, as much as I’d like to crow about my “Never Got Made” entries again, I think our best moment this year was getting a copy of the still unreleased NINJA BUSTERS (1984) from director Paul Kyriazi (technically we got it in 2012, but wrote it up this year), who was incredible gracious and accommodating.  If you haven’t read it, you should!  Not only was it exciting to see, but it was a reminder that there are plenty of unreleased/unfinished films out there so we’ll keep searching.

Video Junkie “What were we thinking?” Moment of the Year:

I regret noth-zing!  Haha, there wasn’t much I could conjure up that made me feel too bad this year.  Yeah, I did another insane theatrical-versus-television comparison (AIRPORT ’79) that makes me a hit among the ladies, but I properly spaced out my work on it so it wasn’t too painful.  The only thing I can think of is an impromptu David Janssen fest in September that suddenly ended with Tom and me eating bagels and lox on separate ends of the country.  And people say we are impressionable.

Most in one month:
October: 36
Least in one month:
September: 17 (too busy eating bagels?)

Films watched more than once:
-GRAVITY (2013) - twice
-THE LOVE BUTCHER (1975) - twice
-DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973) - twice

Directors most watched (individual films):

-Armand Mastroianni (9)
-Don Coscarelli (4)
-John Eyres (4)
-Sam Firstenberg (3)
-Curtis Harrington (3)
-Tobe Hooper (3)
-Gary Jones (3)
-Ivan Zuccon (3)

Best films that I saw for the first time in 2013:

-DREDD (2012)
-GRAVITY (2013)

Worst films that I saw for the first time in 2013:

-MAMA (2012)

Best “the kind of cinema I live for” I saw for the first time in 2013:

-BLOOD BEAT (1983) (Tom's capsule review)
-HOUSEBOAT HORROR (1989) (Tom's review) 
-GETEVEN (1993)
-ADAM CHAPLIN (2011) (Tom's review)

Yes, I watched THE ASTROLOGER and THE VISITOR in the same year and lived to tell the tale.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Aus Deutschland mit Scheisse: ROBIN HOOD - GHOSTS OF SHERWOOD (2012)

The legendary tale of "Robyn Hode" originated in the middle ages and is presumed to have been derived from a minstrel ballad. Hood's story was simply about a farmer who was an expert swordsman, archer and outlaw. None of this giving to the poor after stealing from the rich stuff. Presumably, being a yeoman of the middle ages, he needed the gold that he stole to buy food or other such extravagances. Over time, his story changed considerably. At one point he was a deposed nobleman fighting to regain his title, and in modern times, he led a group of cutthroat supporting characters known, presumably ironically, as "The Merry Men" against a corrupt law enforcement official.

This legend has been retold and retooled so many times over the centuries that in the present era, we've had a Disney animated film, (ROBIN HOOD, 1963), a breathy romance (ROBIN AND MARIAN, 1976), a Kevin Costner action/comedy (ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, 1991) and a cringe-inducing Mel Brook's send up (ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS, 1993). Of course there are also the questionable comedies ROBIN-B-HOOD (2006) with Jackie Chan and a baby, and ROBBIN' IN DA HOOD (2009), set in the projects, but we aren't going to even go there. No sir, we've got smaller fish to fry.

The filmmakers seem to have
interrupted the lamest Ren Fair ever.
After all that shuffling around, where can a fledgling movie maker take the concept? Horror of course! For those audience members who have thinking "damn, what the legend of Robin Hood needs is a satanic/witchcraft/zombie angle" this movie is for you! For those audience members with any sort of discriminating taste, it's not.

The opening credit sequence is a Doris Wishman-like montage of shots of the forest, soldiers riding on horseback in the forest and soldiers getting killed in the forest. The voice over has the soldiers interrogating a woman who is in the forest. What this has to do with the film proper, I'm not sure, but it's the only bit of action we are going to see for a very long time.

Don't miss the riveting Laundry Scene!
During what I think is supposed to be a different fight, Robin Hood (Martin Thon) attempts to save Marian (Ramona Kuen) with his mad archery skillz. His shot flies wide of the mark and Marion must hack at her attacker with a sword. As it turns out, the girl he has uhhhh... "rescued" is the cousin of the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham (Tom Savini, whose acting is so bad, he can't even put the "ham" in "Nottingham"). Of course this trifling matter of blood relations causes a bit of a tiff between the two which is quickly settled when Marian admits that she herself is no fan of the man. Why? Because he cheated on his wife while she was on her deathbed miles away. Fair enough, he definitely qualifies as a douchebag. Now that the little matter of the Sheriff is settled, we need to spend another 5 minutes arguing about where to spend the night. Marian wants to make camp in the forest, so she can bury the dead in the morning and Robin just wants to get her back to his place. Yeaaaaaah baby! Nothing happens.

Robin introduces her to his commune of woodland dwelling folks and when Marian questions the whole thing, Robin drags out his soapbox and launches into the most long-winded discussion of class and community since Friedrich Engels decided to dabble in socio-political commentary. "We share everything." Robin insists. "No one man is better than the other. The community provides for the individual and the individual for the community." Honestly I am amazed that Marian was able to stay awake through this prattling, pretentious drivel, but I put it down to the jagged rocks that the actors were sitting on.

After discovering that this man of the land has a massive stash of gold and jewels, Marian throws a fit and Robin then has to launch into a speech about his theories of the redistribution of wealth and his own particular version of trickle down economics. Finally convinced, Marian decides that she should help Robin's cause by helping him infiltrate the Sheriff's castle. "But," she says, "leave the bow and arrow behind. I do not want you to accidentally shoot me while trying to protect me." Wah, wah, waaaaaaah! Yes, in addition to relentless bickering, this film fancies it has a sense of humor. God help us.

Now on to the action! Or not. First we have to have yet another lengthy, bickering discussion between Robin, Marian, Friar Tuck (Kai Borchardt) and Will Scarlet (Dennis Zachmann) about greed, the wealthy, the poor and, again, the redistribution of wealth as they trudge to the castle. Once there they must have a lengthy argument about how they are going to get into the castle. Shouldn't they have planned this out before leaving? I guess there is a reason the king's men are hip to Mr. Hood's game. He's not exactly a master tactician, is he? After much dispute it is decided that they will take potions that will temporarily turn them into different, yet equally awful, actors. This will be their disguise, so that the guards won't recognize them. Brilliant, right? All goes according to plan, except for the fact that even though Maid Marian looks like a completely different person, everyone at the castle recognizes her as Maid Marian! Even her cousin the Sheriff acts as if nothing is wrong.

Of course even with all of the crafty planning and their magic disguises, they simply charge into the Sheriff's chambers, steal some jewelry and run out only to get caught by the castle guards. The best part of this plan is where faux Will is supposed to tie up faux Marian and throws down the rope in frustration screaming "it doesn't work!" Too many moving parts, apparently. Err... isn't there supposed to be something about ghosts in forests, or something? Never mind, we have a "funny" argument in the market where Friar Tuck steals some produce and puts it on the middle-eastern seller's table in order to start a massive argument that leads to what appears as if it's going to be a Bud Spencer-esque brawl, but would have probably taken too much effort to choreograph, so they simply have Tuck run away.

After watching the guards kill Tuck and Scarlet, Robin escapes only to be shot down by a castle archer that is such a crack shot that he nails Robin dead-on twice, from the castle tower and through the trees in the forest. Perhaps the movie should have been about that guy.

A witch in the forest brings Robin mostly back to life. Apparently he wasn't quite dead yet. The only catch is that to finalize his return to the land of the living, he must give her his soul in three years. Of course this leads to yet another argument with Robin getting all pissed off about the deal. To be fair there are scenes in which Robin isn't acting like such a little bitch, but there are a few. Mainly because he isn't in them. Robin talks the witch into sweetening the deal by allowing him to bring his dead friends back to the witch so that she can give them a potion of "undead" and bring them back to life. The catch here is that they cannot have been dead past "one rotation of the sun" or they will return to life as vampires. Since they were killed this same day Robin will have to hurry because he clearly has no idea that a) the sun rotates or b) that it takes 24 days to rotate, not 24 hours. Oddly the filmmakers didn't seem to know this either. To aid him, she gives him a potion of strength and a potion that will turn his greatest weakness into his greatest asset. Oh, and she'll make him a magic bow and arrow set. Robin remains unimpressed.

Robin quickly retrieves his dead chums, randomly attacks two travelers on the road for no apparent reason and finally squares off with a black knight guarding a bridge who he defeats by simply grabbing him and falling in the water. The witch revives the chums, who find this to be a great time to enter a lengthy discussion about the relative merits of heaven and hell. Will, finding his time in hell enjoyable, tells a "hilarious" anecdote about killing a husband who caught him having an affair with his wife. Oh, good times! Upon returning to the camp we get a joyous re-union followed by a montage of Robin and Marian sleeping, hugging, kissing and enjoying a fire, set to a love ballad so cheesy it would make Michael Bolton cringe. Oh my christ, is this movie still going?

You'd think the filmmakers would be running out of steam, but no. Shot on digital video by Oliver Krekel, one of the seemingly endless horde of Tutonic no-budget videomakers with minimal cash and middling ambition. Krekel's 2007 effort was a 61 minute remake/sequel to John Carpenter's THE FOG, titled FOG 2: REVENGE OF THE EXECUTED. Reportedly the scant 61 minute running time didn't make the movie any less arduous and apparently Krekel felt that making ROBIN HOOD longer would make it better. And brother, lemme tell ya, it is a long, hard slog to the closing credits.

No! Not the laundry!
Robin finally fesses up to Marian that he sold his soul for the lives of his friends. Marian furious that Robin let her fall in love with him (ain't that just like a woman?), marches over to the witch's forest headquarters. Cue another argument! Meanwhile The Sheriff, righteously pissed off about being ripped off, sends out his troops to slaughter Robin and everyone in his camp. Robin Hood is filled with arrows... again. Yes, I get it, it's supposed to be irony. *groan* If the Sheriff knows where the camp is, why didn't he attack them sooner, since he was supposed to be desperately hunting Robin in the first place? I should probably point out that there is another half hour of this movie to go.

Little John (Kane Hodder) pops up out of thin air and joins up with Maid Marian who decides the best plan of action is to go to the witches hut and force her to give up all of her potions of undead so that they can bring Robin and his Merry clan back to life again. Needless to say... this leads to an argument. Then the witch is killed and the duo steal all of her potions. Of course they don't follow the mis-represented rules of the rotation of the sun and everyone revives as zombies (in spite of the fact that the witch distinctly said "vampires"). Said in my best Harrison Ford voice: "Zombies... why did it have to be zombies?" Of course, before reviving the lot, the pair have an argument with some thieves who are looting Robin's treasure! Little John and Maid Marian then have to escape the zombies with the magic potions that they've stolen. Just to give you an idea of how the climax goes down, there is a point where they are comically experimenting with potions such as a "Potion of Exploding Rocks", in which they pour the liquid over a stone and then huck it like a grenade. Pretty exciting stuff considering we've just sat through over ninety freakin' minutes of bitching, pissing and moaning in the middle of the German woods.

As ridiculous as the idea of a Robin Hood horror film is, I am totally down for it. No premise is too outlandish for me to buy into, really and the poster totally sells this concept. Unfortunately I don't know what movie the poster is advertising, but this movie sure as hell ain't it. Not only are there are no ghostly skeletal archers, there aren't any ghosts in it! Oh, ok, so it's metaphorically speaking, right? Ok, fine, there is still no excuse for doing something that amounts to a horribly acted BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) minus the found footage and the vague stabs at horror. There's not much gore, except at the beginning and end and no nudity whatsoever. As much as I hate to say it, I'll take an Andreas Bethmann flick over this non-event any day of the week. Hell, even Timo Rose has the decency, nay, the compassion, to make his torturously dull outings fall shy of the 90 minute mark.

How the director got people to watch his movies
What is it saying when Kane Hodder is far and away the best actor in this movie? I'm not saying his acting is in anyway good, I'm saying that his performance is the best thing the movie has going for it. Matter of fact the cast is so utterly awful that his presence makes the last half hour almost seem vaguely fun. Yeah, chew on that one for a while.

(spoilers ahead) The ending has the pair finally using a potion that traps the zombies in the forest and misleading the Sheriff and his men into going into the woods, after which we get the much needed end credits. Which run for a few seconds, then abruptly stop so we can see an incredibly long "epilogue" scene in which Little John explains to a person in the stockade what exactly happened after the end credits started! Aaaaaaaggghhhh!! Make it end! Make it end!