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!

Monday, February 18, 2013

The "Never Got Made" Files #90 - #92: The Many Journeys of C. Courtney Joyner

With Shout Factory releasing PRISON on Bluray this week, we figured it was time to unleash our mega-interview with that film's writer, C. Courtney Joyner, about some of his unmade projects over the years. Enjoy!

We’re a pretty easy going bunch here at Video Junkie, but we do have some rules.  And rule number 187 is that you must love C. Courtney Joyner.  If you don’t, you are gone, simple as that.  And if you don’t know who Joyner is then you best learn quick, partner!

C. Courtney Joyner is first and foremost a screenwriter responsible for some of the most memorable B-movies of the late 80s and early 90s.  He made his debut as a co-writer on THE OFFSPRING (1987; aka FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM), Jeff Burr’s horror anthology that proved to be one of the best omnibuses of the decade.  The success of this feature was quickly followed by PRISON (1988), the pinnacle of Hollywood’s glut of horror prison pictures at the time.  The hard hitting action/horror hybrid led to the sci-fi sequel CLASS OF 1999 (1990).  Returning to Mark Lester’s land of futuristic education dystopia, this sequel offered some of the hardest hitting cyborgs this side of Arnold Schwarzenegger and holds up to this day in terms of slam-bang action.

The success of PRISON also lead to a working relationship with producer Charles Band, who was forming his new company, Full Moon Entertainment, from the ashes of Empire in the late 1980s. Joyner scripted two of the best features from Full Moon’s golden era (PUPPET MASTER III: TOULON’S REVENGE [1991] and DOCTOR MORDRID [1992]) before stepping into the director’s chair for the mini-mogul Band.  And while he might be self deprecating about the quality of his two directorial features (TRANCERS III [1992] and THE LURKING FEAR [1994], which he both wrote as well), each feature holds up well and proves he did his best with limited resources.  Seriously, tell me any other Full Moon film that has a series of steadicam shots like TRANCERS III.  He has worked steadily since with over 25 features to his name.  In addition, he has authored several film books and contributed fiction to several anthologies.

Professional work aside, there is an even bigger reason to like Joyner – he is a film fan just like you and me.  His knowledge on cinema is both diverse and seemingly endless.  It is also enthusiastic and genuine (perfect example: a recent Facebook posting by Joyner of a rejection letter from Don Siegel circa 1977).  When I called him to talk about some unmade film projects, we spent nearly a third of the time talking about everything ranging from SH! THE OCTOPUS (1937) to Charles Bronson features.  In fact, if you’ve ever wondered why old Chuck is so pissed in the strip club scenes of MURPHY’S LAW (1986), it is because a certain Mr. Joyner was the man ogling Bronson’s love interest Jan (Angel Tompkins).

Joyner somehow survived Bronson's wrath:

Thankfully I was able to look past Joyner’s salacious past.  Assuring me he was fully flowing with some vitamin B12 and ginkgo, Mr. Joyner graciously allowed me to pick his brain on nearly a dozen unrealized projects from his past.


With such an expansive career over three decades, you just know Joyner would have other unmade scripts that I couldn’t unearth anything about.  And we started off right away as he told me about this unheard of early project that happened while Joyner was still in college at U.S.C. (amazingly, he wasn’t in the film department).  Joyner’s aforementioned love of genre cinema found him investigating one of the 1930s/40s most iconic and memorable bad guys – Rondo Hatton. The duality of the large actor, who suffered from the pituitary disorder acromegaly, proved to be an inspiration for the fledgling screenwriter. “When I was in college, a friend of mine started discussing Rondo Hatton’s life with me,” Joyner explains.  “And he didn’t really know who Rondo Hatton was, but he had read a really interesting article about his involvement with Sawtelle battle hospital here in Los Angeles.  He in fact was a counselor for soldiers who were coming back with facial combat injuries.  This was such a direct contrast because back then he is shooting THE SPIDER WOMAN STRIKES BACK and these horror movies at Universal.  Anyway, I got very interested in this.”

Joyner started doing his research on Hollywood’s “brute man.”  Film historian David Del Valle got him in touch with Gale Sondergaard, who shared the screen with Hatton in THE SPIDER WOMAN STRIKES BACK (1946), and Martin Kosleck, who co-starred with Hatton in HOUSE OF HORRORS (1946).  Both actors were able to give the investigative screenwriter some first hand information on working with Hollywood’s leading bad guy.  Looking to gather further insight, Joyner called Universal Studios in the hope of meeting up with someone from the make-up department who might have worked with the legendary Jack Pierce.  It was here that Joyner made the shocking discovery that Universal was – as oft is the case in Hollywood – simultaneously developing a project on Hatton.  “Nick Marcelino, who was the head of the Universal make up department then, said, ‘Oh, are you working on this project with Virgil Vogel,’” Joyner reveals. “And I’m like, ‘What?’ He says, ‘Yeah, we’re doing the Rondo Hatton story here as a television movie.’  I was devastated.”

Director Virgil Vogel on the
set of THE MOLE PEOPLE (1956)
However, the disappointment was short-lived.  At Marcelino’s insistence, Joyner contacted the veteran director Vogel about the project.  “I’m like, ‘My God, you directed THE MOLE PEOPLE,’ he explains with enthusiasm.  “He couldn’t have been nicer and I had one thing he really wanted to see which was [a copy of] Rondo Hatton’s death certificate.  So he invited me to lunch at Universal.  I went there – I was still in college at this point – and Virgil was working on this project with a writer named Robert Heverly.”

Joyner soon found himself co-scripting the project now titled HOLLYWOOD’S STRANGEST LOVE STORY with the television veteran Heverly.  Unfortunately, the interesting project never got past the writing stage.  “It was going to be for NBC and I was paid,” Joyner says, “but the network decided not to go ahead with it. So that started my collaboration with Virgil.”

#91 - NIGHTCRAWLERS (early 1980s)

Director Jeff Burr
While his first screen credit may have eluded him, Joyner didn’t have time to be disappointed.  His relationship with Vogel soon found him a busy man.  “I was working a lot with Virgil Vogel at Universal at that time,” he relates of his time at the studio in the early 1980s.  “I was very lucky and Virgil and I got to be very good friends.  So by the time I got out of college, Virgil and I were working together on some spec MAGNUM P.I. stuff and I was doing rewrites on AIRWOLF and all kinds of things because of him.”

Also at that time Joyner began collaborating with the man who would eventually end up getting him his first onscreen credit – fellow U.S.C. student Jeff Burr.  “Jeff Burr wanted to do a feature and so I wrote NIGHTCRAWLERS as a feature for him to direct,” he discloses of the beginnings of their working relationship.  “Jeff had done a film [in college] that I actually did the make up on called DIVIDED WE FALL that he co-directed and co-wrote with Kevin Meyer. NIGHTCRAWLERS was going to be the first shot that we tried to get a feature going with Jeff as director.”

While plot specifics are a bit hazy, Joyner does remember the general idea behind the picture and it shows his excellent understanding of exploitation elements.  “It had vampires on motorcycles that lived in the sewers of Los Angeles and they come out at night and drink the blood of street gangs,” he says.  Wait, people that suck the life out of you in L.A.?  No way!  The group did try to get the feature going by taking it to one of Burr’s old bosses.  “We took it to Jim Wynorski [at New World] because Jeff had worked for Jim back when we were all in college.”

Ultimately, the project never happened, but this spec script did pan out professionally for Joyner in many ways.  As mentioned before, he went on to co-script Burr’s feature debut.  But NIGHTCRAWLERS also helped secure Joyner his first-post THE OFFSPRING gig.  “That was the screenplay that Irwin Yablans and Bruce Cohn Curtis read at Voyager Pictures and that’s how I got hired to write PRISON,” he reveals.

#92 - SUBTERRANEANS (1987/1988)

The Joyner-scripted PRISON is notable for a number of things.  It marked Renny Harlin’s U.S. film debut, effectively opening his avenue for a residence on ELM STREET and subsequent big studio success.  It also was the first lead role for relatively unknown Viggo Mortensen, who would soon find himself a leading man and eventually co-star in the biggest trilogy of all-time.  Perhaps less notable is that PRISON was the last film from Empire Pictures to be granted a theatrical release (via New World).  A modest success during its limited run of less than 50 theaters, PRISON showed Empire’s Charles Band that Joyner had a firm handle on successful shockers and the screenwriter was brought into the fold. Unfortunately, the Empire was about to fall.

SUBTERRANEANS was a pre-existing picture that Joyner was assigned.  Band has previously taken out an ad in Variety for the film in 1987 that featured tiny sinister simian-esque monsters carrying away a buxom beauty.  “Charlie would call you in the office and sometimes he would show you a poster, sometime he would show you a model,” Joyner explains of the producer’s movie making methods. “There were all kinds of different ways he would get projects initiated.”  The inspiration for this feature came from a far more practical purpose: Band’s recently purchased studio in Italy had a set in it he wanted to use. “The set was like an oil rig that was built for another project, not an Empire picture.  It was a standing set that was over there in Italy, maybe from Dino De Laurentiis or somebody.  So the whole thing was written around that standing set.”

Project announcement in Variety 
(alongside the ill-fated PULSE POUNDERS):

Roger Corman would be proud, no doubt.  As Joyner got to work on the screenplay, he fashioned a story that would have stood tall in the 1950s monster-mania era. “It involved giant worms,” he reveals, “kind of a REPTILICUS deal where they’re drilling and then they drill into this nest of worms.  They don’t know that is what it is so they go down into the caves to try and hunt them.”  To put the exploitation project more succinctly, he says, “The men get eaten and the women get raped.”  Sold!

Film announcement with projected
principal photography and delivery dates
As PRISON was unspooling on screens the summer of 1988, Joyner was working with director Danny Steinmann on preparing this killer worm magnum opus.  A veteran with three solid exploitation pictures (THE UNSEEN [1980], SAVAGE STREETS [1984] and FRIDAY THE 13th PART V [1985]) under his belt, Steinmann proved to be Joyner’s fondest memory of the unmade film.  “He was a pistol,” Joyner recalls. “I loved working with him. He was something.  He was a real New York guy.  His main thing that I remember is that he directed all of the narrative sequences with George C. Scott and everybody for the National Geographic specials.”  The relationship also allowed Joyner to unleash his inner film geek. “He had also done a very famous X-rated movie around the time of DEEP THROAT called HIGH RISE.  That was around the time of MISTY BEETHOVEN and stuff.  So I quizzed the hell out of Danny about the New York exploitation film scene, and he loved to tell tales.  He was a real character.”    

Film announcement with a little white lie
SUBTERRANEANS went through the normal scripting process with table readings, notes from the producer and the like.  Casting was never started by the director, but Joyner does recall that noted director of photography Sergio Salvatti had signed on to shoot the picture. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to many in the company, Empire was going through its death throes.  Despite the claim “principal photography has begun” in Variety, the film never went before cameras and by the fall of 1988, Empire was seized by Credit Lyonnais for its failure to make payments on a loan.  Joyner survived the ordeal unscathed as he went on to script CLASS OF 1999, resulting in his biggest box office hit.  And Band, never to let a good title die, morphed SUBTERRANEANS into the SUBSPECIES franchise for Full Moon, complete with a similar poster.  Steinmann, however, never recovered.  After this and toiling on the unmade LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT PART II in the late 1980s, Steinmann’s film work came to an abrupt halt after he was involved in a motorcycle accident.  He retired to Delaware due to his health, but still remained positive about his films, appearing in documentaries and offering several audio commentaries.  Sadly, he passed away in December 2012 at the age of 70.

Also interesting is the SUBTERRANEANS artwork lived on as it was used (most likely unauthorized) for an English VHS release of the Filipino fantasy film SALAMAMGKERO (1986).  Thanks to Torsten Dewi at Wortvogel for the scan:

Make sure to check out part two where we dive into some of Joyner's unmade works from the 1990s.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The "Never Got Made" Files #89: THE MINING CAMP ENCOUNTER (1981) part 2

Last week we looked at the history of the unmade early 1980s flick THE MINING CAMP ENCOUNTER.  One of the more amazing things in my research was that Donna Fagone, producer-writer Marc Fagone’s widow, had saved everything about the project.  From original promotional art to location scouting notes and photos, she had thoroughly cataloged the film’s tumultuous preproduction process.  Blended among all this information was a decade’s old correspondence between Marc Fagone and one of today’s premiere FX artists who was just starting out in the business, Bart Mixon.

Bart Mixon works on FRIGHT NIGHT PART II (1988)
If, like me, you grew up on an (un)healthy diet of Fangoria and horror flicks, Bart Mixon is a household name.  Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Mixon got his start in the special effects industry on independent films like THE CURSE OF THE SCREAMING DEAD (1982) and Fred Olen Ray’s SCALPS (1983).  He quickly worked his way up the FX ladder in Hollywood and created cinematic nightmares on a number of popular sequels (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2 & 4, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2).  You might recall him best from a photo in Fango that showed him touching up his Regine vampire monster in the underrated FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 (1988).  And perhaps his greatest claim to fame during this era was giving millions of people nightmares worldwide by bringing Stephen King’s terrifying Pennywise clown to life for the IT (1990) miniseries. The new millennium saw his stock rise even further as Mixon’s make-up talent was displayed on huge big budget features, including the HELLBOY, MEN IN BLACK and STAR TREK series.  His realistic work also earned him two Emmy nominations in 2010 for his labor on GREY’S ANATOMY and NIP/TUCK.    

Despite such a demanding career, Mixon has never lost his passion for genre cinema and the fantastic. Just check out his Facebook page and you’ll see him posting about films and comics with regularity.  In addition, he even maintains a museum in South Houston where you can check out his special effects work from over the years.  Matching his enthusiasm is a congeniality that I got to experience when I contacted him in December 2012 to see if he could recall this project.  He was amazed to see his nearly 30-year-old work reappear out of the blue and was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to let me pick his brain about working on something that never got made.

In the early 80s, Mixon was trying to establish himself as a special effects artist for the silver screen.  This meant scouring for any production that could use his services (this is how he initially hooked up with Fred Olen Ray).  Just as the preproduction ad for THE MINING CAMP ENCOUNTER caught my eye in the 2000s, it drew in Mixon as well.  “I must have heard about MINING CAMP from an ad in either The Hollywood Reporter or Variety, as I would look through their production slate for upcoming projects that sounded like they would need FX work,” he reveals via email.  Mixon sent Fagone a package about his work, including a profile in “Between the Lynes” magazine.  (Interesting, among Fagone’s files was also a brief correspondence with New York-based special effects artist Ed French.)

While exact details on their initial contact are fuzzy for Mixon, it does appear that Fagone responded positively to the make up man’s query.  Soon Mixon found himself with a copy of the script and he did an amazingly exhaustive breakdown of what the film would require in terms of special effects (see bottom of this article).  He also offered a number of detailed sketches of what the film’s mutated alligator monster might look like. “In general, I seem to recall thinking it could be a cool project and a nice portfolio project, sort of like Rob Bottin's work in HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP,” he explains.  Here’s a glimpse of his artwork that he submitted for the film's mutant monster:

Had the film moved forward, he expected to have used a relatively small crew, including his twin brother Bret.  Alas, the collaboration between Fagone and Mixon proved to be short lived.  “No actual FX construction was started,” Mixon reveals.  “I know I did the breakdowns and sketches, but I don't think anything beyond that.”

Creature head sketch by Mixon
As outlined in our earlier piece on THE MINING CAMP ENCOUNTER, producer Marc Fagone was constantly dealing with the stop-start game of independent film financing.  This frustrating predicament didn’t seem to deter Mixon though. Although he gave a lot of his time to the MINING project on spec, he wasn’t worried because he was making sure to stay busy in starting what would soon be a legendary career. “I can not really say when I realized it was not going to happen,” he says. “I was contacting everyone I could at that time about possible work, and was doing similar breakdowns and designs for what ever I could, so if one was not active I would turn my attentions to another.”

Ultimately, THE MINING CAMP ENCOUNTER was not to be.  On his end, Mixon feels a bit of disappointment for the struggling Fagone.  “He seemed to have his act together, and I was happy that he was doing something in the horror/monster genre,” he says.  Indeed, in an era flooded with slasher films, an honest-to-goodness monster picture would not have only been a nice change of pace for audiences, but a great training ground for the burgeoning FX artist.  “I do feel it's a shame that this show was never made,” Mixon discloses. “Again, I recall it being a fun monster script and I am sure it would have proved to be an interesting challenge for me at the time.”

breakdown by Mixon circa 1983 (click to enlarge):

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Black in Action: THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN (1975)

In the world of low-rent directors there are many who make you suffer for their art.

I'm not talking about guys who at one time made great films and then spiraled down into the dark abyss of cheap, joyless vampires and video effects, like Albert Pyun, Dario Argento or Alex Cox (though to his credit Cox has yet to make a vampire movie). I'm talking guys who have made insufferable films virtually without let or hindrance for the entirety of their careers, and yet we keep giving them chances. Lamberto Bava comes to mind for some reason, but on these shores it's Matt Cimber.

For over 25 years, I have self-administered controlled doses of Cimber's work in the hopes that some day I would become inoculated and I would experience something that lives up to it's concept, if not the poster art. I mean, that's not much to ask. YELLOW HAIR AND THE TEMPLE OF GOLD (1984) only had to provide a sexy female variant on the Indiana Jones formula and it would be, well, gold! No such luck. Cimber ain't havin' none of that. In that regard, he's like a blackout drunk stumbling in the dark trying to find a toilet after waking up in someone else's bed. In many movies, as an audience member sometimes you want to shout at the actors that Valentine's day isn't a good day to go to the hospital or that this part of God's Country is not the best place to spend the night, but with Cimber's films, the audience is inclined to yell at the director, pointing out the direction in which he should take the film. Just like the kids who go into the basement, things don't end well. Except...

Finally, after years of dull, listless, films that skimp on the exploitation components that would make you forgive the awful acting, flat dialogue and complete lack of production values, I finally watched THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN. I've been putting it off for decades and it's time had come. It was like a post-Christmas miracle. Cimber actually made a movie that was goo - err, well... fun!

Right off the bat, Cimber lets you know he means bidness by listing in the opening credits that he used "actual hookers and blades of the Sunset Strip." Oh, man, even Cimber can't screw that up... err, I think.

The Baron (John Daniels, of BARE KNUCKLES infamy) is the sharpest blade in the drawer, cruising Sunset Strip in his right-hand-drive, macked-out Rolls Royce, lookin' after his girls and staying one step ahead of the clumsy sting operations by the local vice. Yeeeaaaaah baby. Hard-hittin' pimp on the weeknights and a honest, loving family man on the weekends. Can you di - wait, huh? Yep, Baron rules the streets as a pimp with a heart of gold. This soft metal vascular organ is thrown front and center when Baron starts an avalanche of hell after getting a fresh Indian (or rather very obviously Asian) girl out of the hot hands of rival pimp Dusty (all of whose lines were improvised). Unfortunately for Baron, Dusty is on the payroll of mobster Vincent Di Nunzio (Mikel Angel) who ain't too happy about the deal, no matter how fairly won. Di Nunzio sends some goons after Baron, who sits in his Rolls and casually shoots their van full of holes until it blows up via the pop-out machine-guns above the headlights of his bad-ass ride! Holy crap! Did Matt Cimber just do that? Yes he did. Not only that but Baron also gets in a fight with some appropriately greasy goons and after this quick exchange:
Goon: "Nobody's workin' for you any more! Motherfucker!"
Baron: "The only mother I ever fucked, was yours."
Baron sends one of them flying through a window, in what appears to be a third story apartment building. We haven't even hit the 20 minute mark yet! This has got to be a record for Cimber.

Di Nunzio takes this like any Sicilian worth his salame and decides to utilize one of Baron's weekend absences threaten Baron's bitches. Threatening always works best when mutilation is involved and Di Nunzio has one carved up like thanksgiving turkey. Says sleazeball while grabbing an exposed breast "yeah, I'd like to cut this off and have it for breakfast!" Whoa! Dude, Milwaukee is that-a-way. Here in California we have the decency to torture and kill our victims, yet leave them uneaten, regardless of what says. So, yes, Baron is a pimp who gets weekends off and then wonders why business isn't so good and mutherfuckas be movin' in. Maybe he ain't the crunchiest chip in the bag after all. Of course when Baron returns from his mini-vacation in suburbia to discover that one of his hoochies has been given a mastectomy, it's on like neck bone sucka!

As if Baron's one-man slaughterhouse routine weren't good enough to hold down the film, Cimber shovels on the sub-plots like he's trying to bury a body after catching his wife with the pool boy.

First off, we have his ratty burglar friend who manages to score $150K in bonds that Baron gets a banker to launder for him by having one of his girls piss on him. This leads to his book-keeper (I guess it makes sense, someone has to do the accounting) stealing the cash to take to her greedy, trashy family, who Baron has to fight off with a broom. What do you mean "broom"? He's a pimp with a heart of gold, remember? He isn't going to use any weapon on the ladies harder than a floor sweeper, not even his dick! Yep, he's such a softie that the only woman he bangs a gong with is his wife. Aaawwwwww...

Better still we have a sub-plot with wildly over-acting racist vice cops, played by George 'Buck' Flower and Richard Kennedy, who are hell bent on nailing Baron by any means possible. This includes trying to dupe him with a rookie cop in drag who gets his nuts crushed for his efforts, or trying to set him up on charges when Baron sets the "Indian" girl free to go "to a reservation" and "find an Indian or Mexican" to go live out her days with (slightly racist and patronizing, but a softie all the same). Another tatic, at least I'm going to assume it was a tactic, is their rape of the "Indian" girl who stupidly decides to come back to LA. For some reason Kennedy finds to be the funniest thing ever. Or maybe he's just laughing at Flower with his pants down.

The horrors of the 'burbs
Unlike most of Cimber's oeuvre, this sleazy sucker moves along at a good clip, delivers on the expected exploitation values and features a lead that can actually hold down the role. Cars blow up, people get thrown out of windows, others are stabbed in the throat and one has his hand shoved into a garbage disposal. Plus some of the characters are hugely entertaining, including rival pimp Dusty, who probably couldn't speak without rhyming if you held a gun to his head ("check me, I got more moves than Ali!") and after scratching in a game of nine-ball, cusses out the ball calling it a "honkey, white, motherfucker shit!". It's a good thing this wasn't the first Matt Cimber movie I saw, because my disappointment with his other films would have been bitterly cruel as well as gruelingly painful. With Cimber's other films finding their way on to DVD (a two-disc set of HUNDRA - wtf?!), hopefully someone can snatch this up for a nice widescreen restoration. It can't be too hard, Cimber is actually shooting a new movie in Portugal as we speak.

Audiences react to the news that Cimber is shooting a new film.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Listomania: Thomas' January Jetsam of 2013

Good lord I watched a lot of movies in January. I'm sure Mr. Christensen still has me beat, but my count of 55 feature films is a pretty respectable number, I think. Depending on your definition of "respectable". Here are some of the titles that are notable, that didn't, or have yet to, make it into full reviews.

DREDD (2012): This has gotten a huge amount of post-theatrical praise and it’s definitely one of the best action movies to get a wide theatrical release. Set in a hyper-contemporary re-envisioning of MegaCity 1, crime lord MaMa (here re-envisioned by Lena Headey in a slightly dumpy, petite version) has the hot new street drug slo-mo which causes time to move at a fraction of its normal rate for the user. After making an example of a couple of double-crossers, by skinning them and throwing them off of the top of her apartment bloc, 200 stories up, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) take the call. Once in side, the Judges find themselves trapped in the bloc with a bounty on their heads. Yep, that’s it for plot, it’s action on top of action with Urban and screenwriter Alex Garland doing a great job of staying true to the characters (which Stallone found impossible). Dredd and Anderson are so well represented here that it is a real shame that the rest of DREDD’s trappings have absolutely nothing to do with the source material. It's interesting that the filmmakers comment on how rich and deep the source material is and then use hardly any of it. It looks like a slightly more futuristic modern city – which it is, as Johannesburg is MegaCity 1 with very few changes.
The costumes (of everyone except the judges), vehicles, buildings, cars, etc; none are from the source material and MaMa is in the comics (dealing Umty Candy) and she’s a older, fatter and angrier. There are so many details they could have put in, but weren't  The set dressers were the only ones who got it as they threw in little authentic details in the graffiti. I can see how they would think that the bizarreness of the comic might not come off right to a modern audience who hasn't read the comics and maybe there’s some truth to that, but at the same time it sure would be nice to see an adaptation that stayed true to the source material for once. Stallone’s version had fantastic production design, but completely destroyed the characters with a insipid and moronic script. Here, the characters are great, but the production design is for a completely different film. In spite of my nerdy gripes (which, granted, make up the bulk of this review), it is a lot of fun and those of us who skipped it in theaters can hold ourselves responsible for its untimely demise and lack of sequel. Since it’ll probably be another 20 years before anyone can convince backers to try another adaptation, maybe we’ll at least get some sort of incredible animated film like BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS (2012). Maybe.

SPIDER-MAN (1978): Much has been said about the Toei SPIDER-MAN TV series over the years and I have always meant to get around to seeing it, but haven't until now. Remember the whole Peter Parker / Daily Bugle / Doc Oc stuff? Forget all that. They Japanese ain't havin' it! A spaceship called The Marveller crashes into Earth awakening a 400 year old warrior from the planet Spider. The spaceship, carrying Professor Monster (who apparently is a cyborg), is the spearhead of an invasion by the Iron Cross Army. Using his telepathic powers the warrior summons a motorcycle racer named Takuya (Shinji Tôdô) to find him in a cave, where he can snap a spider bracelet on the hapless tween, altering his DNA and turning him into "Spidah-man"! Not only can he spin a web any size and catch thieves just like flies, but he can also command the Marveller to transform into a giant robot (named "Leopardon" - really), drive the GP7 (a flying, jet powered car) and wield a deadly sword. That's right, Spider-man uses a sword. While at first it seems completely freakin' wacko, it's actually really familiar stuff to anyone who has seen any Kamen Rider episodes. Ultraman too, come to think of it. It's a pretty blatant rip-off of Kamen Rider, with Takuya racing around on his custom cycle, then using a device to transform into Spider-man so he can then fight a group of clones (none of them say "Eeeeeee" though) and ultimately fight a cybermonster straight out of any one of the Shocker labs. The GP7 flying out of the Marveller is pretty much the Science Patrol's shuttle on the VTOL from ULTRA-MAN.
Spider-Man realizes that he's...
Once you get over the initial culture shock of seeing Spider-man reinterpreted as an alien with a sword, it is actually a fairly unimpressive Kamen Rider wannabe with Tôdô providing some of the most ghastly over-acting you've ever seen, even by Japanese TV standards. When he receives a slight nick on the left side of his neck from a badguy's blade, he writhes around on the ground screaming like he's lost a freakin' limb and then proceeds to limp and gasp like a dying man for the next 10 minutes favoring the right side of his body! Plus you get some dialogue that is definitely "amazing", such as when a badguy asks Spidey "who are you?", Spider-man throws a pose and says "I'm the messenger from hell - Spider-man!" Prove to me that Japan is not on a completely different planet.

SOMETHING CREEPING IN THE DARK (1971): Mario Colucci's haunted house movie in which nothing creeps and it's never dark. It should have been called PEOPLE ARGUE IN THE LIGHT.
A group of mismatched people head to a remote mansion after discovering that a bridge is washed out on a dark and stormy night. Two cops with a "homicidal maniac" named Spike (Farley Granger in a 50's greaser outfit), a rich married couple who spit venom at each other faster than you can say WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, a chain smoking doctor, his mousy assistant, and a professor who's mind is open to possibilities of the occult kind. At the mansion they meet a couple who are caretakers for the estate of a woman who was widely believed to be involved in the dark arts. Hey, I'm a sucker for "old dark house" kind of movies and it doesn't take much to make me happy, but this movie doesn't offer much, but what it offers ain't a ghost story. It offers a lot of aggressive drawing-room beatnik discussions about social conformity and a couple of murders, one being Spike killing a cop while trying to escape the other two being involved with a spirit possessing one of the cast and making them look bored and mute. I'd act the same way if you put me in this snoozefest. The dialogue scenes are the bulk of the movie and boy are they something! Spike, who we discover is an accomplished, soulful pianist has this to say at the wealthy socialite after she asks him how it feels to kill someone:
"Do ya think you could really understand? Tied to a thousand prejudices  a thousand fears, a thousand superstitions? No, you live a life of vanity and compromise. You couldn't be able to understand what it means to free yourself of all the hypocritical and stupidity of this decadent world!"
Well, ask a stupid question...

BLOOD BEAT (1983): Holy freakin' jumped-up jeezus!  Sorry, but words fail me. I saw this back in the day and remember thinking it was pretty crappy, but somewhere over all these long beers - I mean, long years, my brain decided that it was GHOST WARRIOR (1985) or maybe SWORD OF HEAVEN (1985). If you've seen them, you know that those two can get mixed up pretty easily, but how the hell did BLOOD BEAT get in there? Maybe it was just wishful thinking.
A cracker-ass family gets together for Christmas at a house in the Wisconsin woods to do some huntin', some drinkin' and some paintin'. Painting? Oh yes. Mom, Cathy (Helen Benton), is a bit on the different side. She likes to paint and make her would be husband Gary (Terry Brown) miserable. He wants to get married, she's lukewarm on the subject. She loves him until he tries to reciprocate, then she pushes him away. Ugh, it's like my social life back in highschool, why am I watching this? Oh yeah, there's supposed to be a killer on the loose, according to the box. Mom doesn't like her son Ted's (James Fitzgibbons) new girlfriend Sarah (Claudia Peyton) and gets really wound up screaming at him about how she's not trustworthy. While painting Mom starts getting strange visions of Sarah, while a sleeping Sarah has some serious orgasms while having visions of a samurai warrior stalking the woods. Of course, to get there it takes a good 80 minutes of some other family's unpleasant Christmas, complete with abuse, crying, shouting matches and lingering resentment. Fun, right?
An audience member at the half-way point
Loaded with long, dry tracking shots of the forest ground, the floor of the house, a fence and so on, for no other purpose than to pad out the running time. Same with the never-ending shots of people shouting other people's names: "Sarah? Sarah! Sarah! Sarah? Sarah!" Shut up! *ahem* Yeah, if that doesn't drive you off the deep end there's the soundtrack. Virtually every single scene has a completely different library soundtrack and they are all awful. At one point we have cheesy electronica, cut to another scene and we've got ear-shredding violin, cut again and we have a harmonica, again and we have gregorian chanting, and so on. I'm pretty sure the dialogue is ad-libbed and the script was made up while they shot the movie. Sometimes the scenes seems to have been something made up after collecting all of the pieces that spilled on the editing room floor. There is no way for me to adequately describe how completely brain-bruising this movie is. It has very little bloodshed, but there is some amusing nudity. If you can make it to the end, there's a hilarious confrontation between the kids (who suddenly have supernatural powers) and the possessed suit of armor which actually possesses a voice that sounds a bit like a whiny Dalek when expressing it's disdain at being defeated. I guess there's a reason that writer-director Fabrice A. Zaphiratos has never made another movie. You've been warned.

LIVID - THE BLOOD OF THE BALLERINAS (2011): Incredibly slow-moving and pretentious French horror yarn that really just wants to be a Hollywood film. A young nurse trainee, Lucie (Chloé Coulloud), is taken to a creepy old mansion that is surrounded by local superstition. Inside, her trainer reveals that the owner of the house, a wealthy former ballet instructor, is in a coma and has a key around her neck that might be for the rumored hidden treasure. Of course this is simply bait in a trap, and sure enough after telling her loser boyfriend about it, three of them break into the mansion to find the treasure, or, as you could easily guess, gruesome deaths. While there are one or two cool little touches that will no doubt give 13 year old goths screaming hard-ons, this trip is strictly by-the-numbers until the last 20 minutes. It literally takes 50 minutes of the 88 minute running time from the introduction of the main character to the kids walking through the house. Much of the whole breaking into the house-thing is done in real time, so there are painfully long sequences of people walking, opening doors, looking around, walking some more and saying things like "hey, over here! Oh it's nothing". Hell, I can get that on any episode of "Ghost Hunters"! Once you get to the big revelation of who the woman is and why there are missing children in the village, it turns into a goth fantasy film with moths being used to change the souls in bodies and some other odd stuff that seems like a complete departure from the film we have been sitting through for the past 70 minutes. Add to that the fact that none of the scant few ideas the script has are fleshed out at all, instead opting for long scenes of mundane action, and you have something that's paper-thin and rather dull for almost the entirety of its running time, only then to turn good ideas into stupid ones.

Well, at least they aren't any CGI ghosts.

DEMON OF THE ISLAND (1983): Subtle (for the most part) and strange French horror film that uses some of Stephen King's favorite themes, but in a strange, French sort of way. A chain-smoking mainland doctor, Gabrielle Martin (Anny Duperey), moves to a remote island to take over the role as village doctor from Dr. Marshall (Jean-Claude Brialy), who is neither liked, nor trusted by the locals. As a string of bizarre appliance accidents sweep the island, it becomes obvious that Dr. Marshall has no plans of leaving and is working on some very strange medical research involving endocranial disease. Writer-director Francis Leroi, whose other credits almost entirely consist of soft and hardcore erotica, takes a while setting the stage and once he does things get very interesting and bloody. Being French, he has no problem leaving things very ambiguous. He drops hints, but never bluntly tells the audience motivations and explanations. I actually liked it that way, to be honest. The way Leroi builds up to the bits of graphic nastiness is very well done, with the tension being cranked and mis-directional cues perfectly executed. Will it make everyone happy? No, but I really enjoyed it and maybe that's because of all of the completely lifeless swill I've been sucking down this month.

QUEEN BOXER (1973): First time director Yue Fung-chi’s fun, period kung fu flick, was at one point reportedly in violent in the realm of Sonny Chiba's STREETFIGHTER (1974) before it was heavily censored. After a local crime lord kills a would-be hero, his family comes to town looking for him. Just to show 'em who's boss, the boss has them all slaughtered in the street! That'll learn 'em. All, except for his sister, Su Chen (Chia Ling aka Judy Lee) who sure seems pretty and unassuming. A local tea merchant and martial arts badass (Yeung Kwan) has been waging a one-man war against the crime boss after his not-so-badass brother was murdered and it isn't long before the two team up to take the bastard down. She may not be Angela Mao, but Ling's graceful martial arts moves come from formal ballet training and it makes watching her fight scenes pretty riveting stuff. Definitely more than they might otherwise be, considering almost all of the graphic violence is missing from even the longest of available versions. Rumor has it that an uncut, widescreen German DVD was in the offing, but that was months ago and either it was another one of those super-limited pressings that came and went over night, or it's another vapordisc. If anybody has any info on this, I'd love to hear it.

BLACK DOG (1998): Arguably the last of the real, honest-to-fucking-god metal-crunching vehicular mayhem flicks ever made. Ok, maybe someone will come along and make another one, but I doubt it. Using real cars and trucks is like, hard work and stuff! It's so much easier to sit at a computer in an air-conditioned office... eating Funyuns and playing with your 'puter. Jack Crews (Patrick Swayze) is an ex-con looking to make a fresh start in the world of trucking. Like so many of us, he picks a soulless ratfuck bastard to work for and suddenly finds himself trucking illegal weapons through interstate lines with a small army of goons shootin' lead up his tailpipe. That's pretty much the long and the short of the plot. Sure there are some sub-plotty things about how they got his wife and kid, the Feds trying to bust 'em, a traitor in the midst, a fox in with the chickens, and so forth. Plus our good ol' boy gets double-crossed by one Mr. Meat Loaf in what may be his best film role ever (not saying much I guess) and certainly the best work he's done since attempting to sing some song while completely shitfaced at some sort of political thing. Speaking of singing, Randy Travis is also along for the ride as a two-bit loser that wants to sing country, but has no talent. But screw all that. No, no, what we care about here is the stunts, oh the beautiful stunts! Not content to just wreck cars on what is essentially an extended chase scene taken straight out of the mid '70s, writers William Mickelberry and Dan Vining (who have sadly done nothing since) make this a badass trucker movie straight out of the mid '70s as well. Ok, so it's a truck chase movie, but these trucks, smash, crash, explode and get air! Constantly! I am a sucker for a good car stunt, but great stunts with huge 20,000 pound metal, glass and rubber beasts, like semis, flying through the air is nothing short of spectacular. Creating an entire movie around such events? Genius, pure, unadulterated genius.

COP OR HOOD (1978): Considered to be one of Jean-Paul Belmondo’s best films, it certainly is slickly produced, if nothing else. A charmingly roguish criminal Antonio Cerutti (Belmondo) finds out that his prostitute sister was gunned down while having a hotel liaison with a police commissioner, he vows to get to the bottom of it. Except he isn't Cerutti, he’s actually Stanislas Borovitz, head of internal affairs, and he’s going to nail the killers and the dirty cops his way! How? By being incredibly charming, witty and sticking his 6" Colt Python in everybody's face. Yeah, I know, it looks like it's a 12" barrel when he's holding it, but that's just because he's French. Oh and at the same time romancing a wealthy author and dealing with his neglected 14 year-old daughter who, realistically, has every right to be resentful of this self-absorbed jackass.
Clearly Belmondo had reached the “Jack Nicholson phase” of his career and could just show up and completely “jamon” his way through a movie without a backwards glance.
Many of his scenes involve broad physical gestures such as snapping his collar with a flourish, doing pirouettes on the heels of his boots and whipping open his coat to show off his gun, always with a big goofy grin. On the plus side, the movie does have a few really great set pieces, such as when Belmondo jacks a driver’s license test car in an attempt to evade his pursuers. I can imagine Jackie Chan watching this in the theater and getting inspiration for some of the car gags in the LUCKY STARS movies. There are even a couple of explosions, nice cinematography (if a bit over-lit) and some split-screen work, too. Even so, it's only mildly enjoyable and kind of feels like if you've seen one Belmondo flick, you've seen them all. I guess it really seems to rest on how much you enjoy Belmondo’s obvious enthusiasm for himself and don’t mind the all-too-brief action sequences being few and far between.

BUBBA HO-TEP (2003): After being slightly underwhelmed by Don Coscarelli’s latest film, JOHN DIES AT THE END (2012), a friend of the VJ family said that my expectations were probably set a bit too high. It didn’t really occur to me in the moment, but he was right. They were set pretty high. Why was that? Well, yeah, there’s the whole PHANTASM thing, (which, trust me, will be rambled about at another time), but PHANTASM IV (1998) was err, disappointing. But there’s also BUBBA HO-TEP. Based on a Joe R. Lansdale short story, Coscarelli creates what is probably the best film of his career about an aging Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) and a black JFK (Ossie Davis) in an East Texas rest home that is being stalked by a cursed mummy that sucks the souls of those about to die. I mean, does that even sound all that great? I’m not even a big Bruce Campbell fan, but he can go to his deathbed proud of his work in this film. It’s clearly a labor of love and it not only has a multi-layered story, but it also has multi-layered performances, multi-layered visuals and a multi-layered score that works beautifully with a film that effectively mixes comedy, drama and horror. BUBBA HO-TEP is also richly detailed, holding up to repeated viewings, so much so, that I actually enjoyed it even more coming back to it almost a decade later. I think that is why my expectations were so high. Coscarelli set the bar out of arms reach.
I guess I have to mention the cringe-inducing proposed prequel, BUBBA NOSFERATU: CURSE OF THE SHE-VAMPIRES. Written by Stephen Romano and Coscarelli, the plot is supposed to be about Elvis shooting a movie in Louisiana only to find himself battling a coven of female vampires. Campbell refused the role several years back (the guy is obviously smarter than I give him credit for) and the project was thought dead. Post JOHN DIES AT THE END, however, we have had Paul Giamatti resurrecting the project in interviews, saying that is it's on the front burner and he has been cast as the Colonel Parker character (presumably if it ever gets made). Just let it go Don, let it go.