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, June 21, 2014

Abyss-mal Cinema: 30,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (2007)

Six features deep into our Abyss-mal Cinema coverage and we really haven’t yet encountered anything cinematically soul crushing.  Sure, I (re)endured THE EVIL BELOW (1989) and Tom suffered through SECTOR 7 (2011), but I don’t think either of them made us question our decision to do this.  It takes a special breed of film to do that. Fittingly, the films that drive us insane come from a place called The Asylum. To quote Carlito Brigante, “Here comes the pain!”

When we kicked off this series, the one film I mentioned that seemed to set this underwater genre afloat was Disney’s 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954).  Their adaption of Jules Verne’s fantasy tale has become the blueprint for most films in this genre and is still a classic today.  At the time of its release, it was the second most popular film at the US box office with total revenues exceeding $28 million dollars.  Keep in mind this was when the average ticket price was 45 cents. In 2014’s dollars, this total would be just shy of $500 million dollars.  So, in Hollywood terms, a total flop!  I kid, I kid. Surprisingly, a large scale remake has never been attempted by Hollywood (French director Christophe Gans toiled on the unmade, big budget NEMO for years).  As a result, this has allowed the stragglers to jump onboard.  With the last live action versions being two made-for-television movies appearing in 1997, The Asylum felt it was safe enough to sink their claws into it by throwing an extra 10,000 leagues onto the title.  Sadly, this is the only genius thing they did with their version.

Opening with some gorgeous underwater stock footage, 30,000 LEAGUES gets right down to business as the submarine USS Scotia is cruising the deep ocean when they suddenly catch something huge on their radar. They are attacked by mechanical squid and sent twirling to the bottom of the ocean floor.  Naturally, the rescue is a job for only one man.  James Cameron!  Uh, I mean, Lorenzo Lamas!  Lamas is Lt. Michael Arronax (hey, someone read the book even if they spelled the name wrong), who runs the Aquanaut 3 dive vessel with his crew, Sustin (Kim Little) and Ramirez (Emilio Roso). They are contacted by the captain of the USS Abraham Lincoln and told to dock with them to prepare for a rescue mission to save the stranded 160 seamen.  Arronax is instrumental because he has developed something called the Oxygenator, a device that turns “water molecules into breathable air.”  Trouble arrives when Arronax is told his commanding officer will be Lt. Commander Lucille Conciel (Natalie Stone).  Why is this bad news? Because she is his ex-wife.  Oh, the drama!  By the way, the character of Conciel (spelled Conseil in the book) was originally the assistant character played by Peter Lorre in the 1954 version.  Let that sink in for a second.

After getting their squabbles out of the way, the team – including fifth member and Conciel’s right hand man Blackwell (Damien Puckler) – head down to the incapacitated sub, but start losing their air pressure.  Naturally, it is all Conciel’s fault as she ordered them not to attach certain things she deemed unnecessary. Hell, she felt SCUBA gear at 15,000 feet below wasn’t needed to bring along.  Yes, really. Anyway, much like your humble reviewer, these folks end up passing out due to lack of oxygen to the brain. When Arronax wakes up, he is stunned to find himself onboard a huge underwater vessel.  Cue CGI pull back through the window shot.  After the crew is reunited, they are introduced to Captain Nemo (Sean Lawlor).  You can tell he is a captain because he has Navy insignias all over his sweater.  Oddly, he feels only worth enough to give himself 2 stars, making himself a Rear Admiral.  Wait, why would he even be wearing those?  Nemo explains that they are all his guests on the Nautilus, his billion dollar submarine that houses tens of thousands.  This is conveyed by using the same hallway set over and over.  Ever the kind host, he invites them to dinner (we don’t get the famous dinner scene) and has repaired the Aquanaut 3 to send them on their way to rescue the people.  Or so they think.  Turns out Nemo is a bit bent on the world topside and figures he can nuke it with the missiles he has stolen off the sub.  A ruthless white billionaire who wants the world molded to his liking?  What is this fantasy that would never happen in the real world?  Why is he so driven?  Well, seems he has just discovered Atlantis and wants the Oxygenator to revive the submerged city.  “Down here you can live for 200 years,” he crows.  Oddly, no one questions that.  Of course, our boy Lorenzo ain’t gonna stand for this and decides he and his crew will sink Nemo’s plans.

Wow.  No, I’m sorry, wooooooooooooow. Words really can’t do justice to how bad this film is.  Even by the very low standards of The Asylum, this is some rough stuff.  With the end credits rolling at the 80 minute mark, this flick feels like it goes on for days.  Now I know those motorcycle tanks and tanning beds aren't going to fuel themselves, but, goddamn, this is some rough stuff from the Renegade Snake Eater.  How bad is this flick?  So bad that I suspect our buddy Jon Stone (aka Lorenzo Lamas’ biggest fan) would give it a pass.  On the technical side, you’d have to say this is the also the lowest Lamas has gone in his career.  Shot on very flat digital video, the film comes across cheap on nearly every level from the sound recording to the same cheap spaceship set hallway used over and over and over.  It says something when their lackluster CGI is one of the better aspects of the film.  Nothing sums this cheapness up better than director Gabriel Bologna in the behind-the-scenes video talking about how they got to shoot in a water tank and it cuts to a shot of the crew literally filming something in a pool in someone’s backyard.

Now I do not begrudge filmmakers working with limited resources.  But at least try, damn it! Their brainwashing machine is a pair of goggles with a blinking light strip attached. Then there is the continuity that shows this is total D.I.C. (Do I Care?) filmmaking. No joke, during a scene where Lamas and his crew escape to their mini-sub, one of Nemo’s men shoots a traitor. They clearly show the bullets being fired into the guy and he falls down.  In the very next shot, Lamas runs into the bridge of the Aquanaut and his arm is not only bleeding but has a bandage around it.  Yes, they were too cheap to actually show him get shot and treat his wound.  Instead, they cover it with Sustin asking, “What happened to your arm?” That is what kids do when they shoot home movies and the next day their friend shows up with a different outfit on.  My personal favorite is when Lamas dives outside of sub to rescue his wife and emerges minutes later completely dry.  Then there is a bit where Sustain is snagged by a robot squid in the ocean through an open hatch.  Um, wouldn’t the ship flood? Of course, deep down the folks at The Asylum could care less as this is cynical moviemaking at its best/worst.  If they make a shitty movie, great!  Then they can say, “Haha, laugh at our shitty movie.”  Their sole purpose for a title like this is to trick some unsuspecting parent at the Walmart $5 DVD bin.  Well, those folks and idiots who openly choose to review it for their blog. You got me, The Asylum, well played.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Abyss-mal Cinema: DEEP GOLD (2011)

Filipino movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s are a special breed of cool. The Philippines have always been a cross cultural nation and just like their food, their movies are a combination of a variety of different influences. Much like I felt the jones to see what modern Turkish genre cinema was doing with DRAGON TRAP (2010), I decided to dig deep for some modern Filipino gold. Or pyrite, as the case may be.

If you thought THE EVIL BELOW (1989) was late in the game for a knock-off Peter Benchley’s THE DEEP (1977), this is so late that I suspect that they were thinking they could simply get away with heisting the plot. A pair of sisters, Amy and Jess (Bebe Pham and Jaymee Ong), are on vacation with their boyfriends on their late father’s yacht on the island of Cebu. After bouncing a check to the waterfront hotelkeeper, Mr. Chang (who is Chinese, therefore very loud and cash obsessed), locks up the yacht until he gets paid. Even worse, Amy’s boyfriend Tony (Jack Prinya) is suddenly called by the air force to fly a top secret mission. A massive cache of gold bars were found in the jungles of a Filipino island and the military is going to send it back to Manila where it belongs.

Naturally, while the air tower controllers are stuffing their faces with Jollybee hamburgers (hmmm… how did this movie get financed?), things take a nasty turn in the air over San Vincente. After one of the pilots leaves the cockpit, someone in a pilot uniform (we don’t know who) gives the co-pilot an injection of something (what it is, we aren’t told). Was it Tony or was it someone dressed as Tony? Or someone completely different? This question might possibly be answered later in the film. The plane crashes into the water and sinks like a... uhh, a plane that is filled with gold bars. The plot thickens to the viscosity of, well, sea water.

Things look so different from the air

The military decides that this top secret mission’s utter failure should be kept top secret, so their first order of business is to go out to the hotel and accuse Amy of being in on a plot to steal all the gold due to her financial issues. See, in spite of owning a yacht so large it could hold Shia LaBeouf’s head, the sisters are strapped for cash. I guess the air force doesn’t pay much in the Philippines. Fortunately, a totally random white dude named Frank who apparently is friends with the sisters shows up at a bar to give them enough money to persuade Mr. Chang to give them their boat back so that they can go look for Tony. As we all know, the military can’t possibly find a crashed airplane, that is a job for an untrained civilian! To get some inside info Amy hits up John (random white guy #2) who can’t tell her anything because it’s top secret. He does prove useful by chasing down a black van who kidnap Amy and gives her some sage advice before dying from a bullet wound: “there is going to be more trouble”. Uhhh, yeah, thanks John. You’ve been a great help.

Also we have a DJ that works out of a lighthouse named Lulu (Laury Prudent) not Stevie Wayne, who saw the plane go down in San Vincinte and knows that the whole thing is some sort of military cover-up. While she can’t help with any details or even depth charts (because she ain’t no “lie-berry”), she can whip up a fully functional ocean sonar rig complete with instrument panel out of spare parts she has lying around the lighthouse! Ummm, if she's so electronically adept, what in christ's name is she doing as a DJ in a lighthouse? After Amy finds that the depth charts seem to be a little screwy, the older male librarian tells her a secret because he thinks she’s hot: The maps are wrong. Yep, in dubya dubya eye eye, the maps were falsified to keep the Japanese from discovering that one of their ships sank in the area. Uhhh, what? For no apparent reason the maps were never corrected. It could happen! Who knew that depth charts could be as complicated as deciphering the staff of Ra?

After meeting up with a pair of globe-hopping journalists Benny (writer-producer-director Michael Gleissner) and Claire (Amelia Jackson-Gray), they pitch a yarn about how this would make a fantastic story for their magazine. The girls see absolutely nothing suspicious about this and don't even ask for some sort of identification. We are looking for a massive stash of gold, who would want invite themselves on to the boat with less than savory intentions? Yep, you can see this plot point coming like a whale carcass at twenty paces. As if that weren’t enough, there is also a German boat tailing them. They must be up to no good! I mean they are German, right? The Germans while appearing to be partying (by themselves) are actually spying on them. Why? Hell if I know and hell if I'm going to find out.

At this point the movie finally kicks into gear with some reasonably well staged action scenes – one in which Amy (dressed like an extra from 1984s ANGEL) is trying to dodge a group of bad guys (who we know are bad because they dress in black and have stylish facial hair) in the library. As she tries to escape them on a second story balcony, they are trying to shove book cases over on top of her while she dodges out of the way in the nick of time. It may not sound like much, it sure ain't the domino sequence from POLICE STORY 2 (1988), but one takes what one can get in this kind of outing.

Feeling the need to provide some sort of back story explaining how these skinflint babes are in possession of a rather large boat, we get a flashback establishing that the ship was left to the sisters by their father who was an oceanographer. After coming up from a dive, one of the eight year old sisters accidentally kicks Dad’s camera into the sea. Dad naturally flips out and dives in after it even though he has no air left in his aqualung and is never to be seen again. Can you feel Gleissner tugging at your heart strings? No? That's not surprising because it is the most laughable tragedy since the Santa-stuck-in-the-chimney story in GREMLINS (1984). The problem with this, of course, is that if I were a cynical man, I’d say they killed pops to take his boat.

If you want to see if you can find a copy of this movie and watch it spoiler free, skip the next paragraph.

It’s not long before they discover that Benny and Claire are up to no good with Claire cutting Amy’s hose and attempting to lock her in the sunken plane with the gold and a bomb. I guess the bloom is off the vine. At the same time top side, Jess has discovered via her onboard fax machine (what yacht doesn’t have one?) that Benny is not in fact a journalist at all. What is he? Well, we never find that out, but he is a bad man with a gun… and a lighter that seems to have a mind of its own. After dousing the girls with gasoline he finds his Zippo doesn’t work so he must run around the boat trying to find matches (no, really). After spotting his henchman lighting a cigarette with a disposable Bic lighter, Benny is back in business, except that when he goes to set the girls on fire he’s back to using his Zippo, which now miraculously works. This is explained by the fact that in the credits there is no listing for “Continuity”. And who were the lurking Germans anyway? We never find out because they are killed as soon as Amy tries to take refuge on their boat in a scene where they discover the gold is actually fake! Wait, so where did the real gold go? Apparently Gleissner is shit out of answers, so I guess we’ll just have to wait for the sequel. Seriously we are never told what actually happened. I'm guessing that one of the bad guy's henchmen injected the pilots making the plane crash, but then why didn't he just sail out to where the plane crashed instead of trying to pretend to be a journalist so he could ride with these girls who are trying to find it? Was the henchman also killed in the crash? You'd think he would have some sort of escape plan. Maybe the Military took the gold and set up the plane as a decoy? If so, why send soldiers all over the country harassing people about it? WTF Mike?

How you know this was shot in the Philippines

It doesn't take a marine scientist to see this movie as utterly and completely idiotic. It is cheaply made, doesn’t follow any sort of recognizable logic and the acting is slightly sub-porn parody. On the other hand, it is somehow remarkably entertaining in spite of, or because of, this blundering attempt at an aquatic thriller. I guess you’d have to watch it in the right frame of mind, but it reminds me a lot of films made in the ‘70s and ‘80s in as that it takes itself seriously. These folks are genuinely trying to make a seaborne action-thriller. There is no winking and mugging at the camera, nobody thinks that they are too cool to be in this stupid movie and there is enough random details and subplots to keep the film moving at a quick sprint. Ineptitude is best served straight, no chaser and Gleissner does his best to create a web of intrigue but manages to get himself completely tangled in it to the point where he must come up with incredibly absurd machinations to keep his plot moving. Gleissner is a 12 year veteran TV producer in the Phillipines and it’s pretty obvious this is his attempt to break into feature filmmaking. Mostly known for producing series’ involving fashion, here he has Pham gussied up in the most inappropriately provocative attire and has the sisters looped by what sound like the kind of teen girls that go into Starbucks in their pajamas. Maybe not the greatest 90 minutes of my life, but it still managed to keep me mildly entertained.

[Edit: George White is the sharpest pencil in the drawer it seems as he correctly pointed out that this is more of a rip-off of INTO THE BLUE (2005), which itself was a very late in the game rip-off of THE DEEP (1977). I like to pretend that Jessica Alba and Paul Walker do not actually make movies and completely forgot that the film existed. Thanks go out to George for reminding me that they do and it does.]

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Abyss-mal Cinema: CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS (1994)

True story: I once got a disc from Tom that had no title on it, just the words “worst film ever made?” written on top.  The film in question turned out to be THE MUMMY THEME PARK (2000), an Italian disaster-piece from director Al Passeri.  And it lived up to that hype.  Another true story: When we were divvying up the titles for this Abyss-mal Cinema category, Tom freely allowed me to have CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS (1994).  That film’s director? Al Passeri.  (Raises fist in air) Tooooooom!

We’re including this water-bound entry because – shockingly – it is the closest the Italians came to doing a rip off of America’s banner year of H20 hokum in 1989.  If you know anything about the Italian film industry, this is incredibly surprising.  There wasn’t a subgenre they didn’t love to exploit, from westerns to post-apocalyptic to slaying sharks.  Perhaps they were like, “Eh, water issa too mucha work.  I likea rock quarries.” Sadly, one of the reasons is because the Italian film industry was dying around this time and exploitation that required a bit more effort like underwater bases and aliens took a bit more money and work.  So while Spain gave us THE RIFT (1989), the closest the Italians came to an underwater flick was Bruno Mattei’s SHOCKING DARK (1989), which had a setting of a submerged Venice but was mostly an ALIENS (1986) remake filmed in factory boiler rooms.  It is truly a shame as I would have loved to have seen what Xerox cinema masters like Mattei or Claudio Fragasso would have done with a riff on THE ABYSS (1989) or LEVIATHAN (1989).  As it stands, the closest we can get is CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS, which might not be from one of the replication masters but is definitely a kindred cinematic spirit.

The film opens on a beach in Miami, Florida (onscreen: Miami, Fla) as five friends head out for a day in the ocean in their rubber raft. They are a loveable and carefree bunch, evidenced by their playful antics of getting Mike (Clay Rogers) caught in a fishing net and leaving their gas can onshore.  D’oh!  The kids include Mike’s girl Margaret (Sharon Twomey), macho braggart Bobby (Michael Bon), and sisters Dorothy (Laura Di Palma) and Julie (Ann Wolf).  Running out of gas at night, they get stuck out in the middle of the sea during a raging storm.  If things couldn’t get any worse, they also bump into a chewed up dead guy floating in the ocean.  Lucky for them they see a ship off in the distance and paddle towards it.  The ship reads Oceanographic Research Institute on the hull, but no one responds to their calls for help.  They board only to find no crew seems to be on board and they find a creepy looking laboratory filled with weird aquatic specimens.  Proving he can read, Mike says, “It’s an Oceanographic Research ship.”

The boys head up to the ship’s bridge and find the radio not working and no one at the helm (symbolic of this film!).  Eh, not a big deal as the kids soon find out this scientific vessel has a sweet ass disco area (!?!) with a fully stocked bar and kitchen. What they don’t see is a mysterious creature (shown via fish-eye lens POV) that is scurrying around and sounding like a cat with severe allergies.  The boat also has some fancy quarters for sleeping that look like they were designed by Larry Flynt and a high-tech bathroom that includes a shower that has a creepy female video command that encourages one to fondle oneself while showering.  Bobby the Genius decides that this boat must have really been a front for drug dealers (after all, he found white powder in the lab so it must be drugs) and feels that the legally sound finders keepers rule of law will let him turn this into one bitchin’ party boat.

However, the dream of sweet sailing on someone else’s dime is quickly squashed. After the kids eat a dinner of fish, they hear a noise down below.  Mike and Bobby check it out and find a catatonic survivor hiding along with some journals and more of that white powder. The old guy turns out to be a professor on this scientific expedition and he impresses the ladies by going into a drooling seizure and then hiding under the staircase.  Mike appears to be the only inquisitive one in the bunch and decides to investigate in the lab, where a frozen fish comes to life, flies around the room and bites Margaret on the neck.  Surprisingly, she is the only one freaked out by this and wants to get the hell off this ship.  Bad news – their rubber dingy is flooded and the boat’s lifeboat has a hole in it thanks to an axe.  So this means they just have to stay on this ship and deal with whatever comes their way.  Badder news – Mike starts reading about the discoveries of this scientific team and it seems they found a deep sea fish that swims into a rage when sexually aroused (“This is some weird shit,” Mike exclaims) and the fish have mutated due to some toxic plankton.  Baddest news – the kids have some of this fish in their bellies from dinner and Bobby is a total horndog!

We here at Video Junkie have always considered Al Festa’s FATAL FRAMES (1996) to be the death knell of the Italian horror industry.  I’d formally like to nominate CREATURES FROM THE ABYSS for that honor as it really has that Italian exploitation B-movie spirit – something Festa’s insanely bad film was lacking – going for it. FRAMES was just depressing while CREATURES is depressing but with slime.  That makes it all better.  Having dreaded watching it due to the aforementioned THE MUMMY THEME PARK, I was pleasantly surprised by this film.  Was it good? Hell no!  But it did have that wacky Italian flair that I like from their low budget films from back in the day like Fragasso’s TROLL 2 (1990) or Joe D’Amato’s THE CRAWLERS (1993).  You know, where the depiction of Americans is just a tad off and events unfold in the most nonsensical manner.  Where a person will find a white powder in a lab and their first instinct is to lick it.  Where two fish come alive and scream while in a frying pan and the people react with the “hmmm, that was odd” reaction.  If you can tune into that goofy wavelength, it is all good (in a bad way).

The English dubbers seem to be having a bit of a laugh at the film’s expense as well, throwing in random non sequiturs here and there.  The biggest example is when Mike confronts the professor about his work and we get this exchange.

Mike: “Professor, how long have you been fucking fish?”
Professor: “They were old enough, they were old enough!”

Truthfully, that actually brings the film down as I much prefer the unfiltered weirdness that emerges from straight dubbing. Not a lot happens in the first hour or so of the flick, but once things start rolling the film is surprisingly over-the-top.  First off, this is one of the few Italian films where they used some stop motion FX.  Second, the monster stuff is actually pretty gross (a woman giving birth to fish eggs) and the mutant fish are pretty well realized.  So plan your post-viewing meal at Red Lobster accordingly.  Believe it or not, Media Blasters actually got this flick into stores like Best Buy back in 2001.  It is truly a testament to how strong the DVD industry was back then that something of such low quality could share shelf space with the latest Harry Potter blockbuster.  It was a strange time.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Abyss-mal Cinema: SECTOR 7 (2011)

As someone on Facebook said: "I can't believe I'm getting nostalgic for the '90s".

I don't know about you, but a whole mess of movie nerds - I mean scholars, that's it scholars, in the late '90s discovered that the little country of South Korea could make some great genre movies.

Mostly known for Ki-duk Kim's silly (but fun) ecologically-aware kaiju epic YONGARY (1967), South Korea overcame that stigma in 1999 with an anti-terrorist action-thriller SHIRI. SHIRI sported slick visuals, a fast pace and universally appealing themes: secret agents, high-tech terrorists, star-crossed lovers and shit blowin' up. Arguably this was the first Korean blockbuster. So blown away by this $5-8.5 million film that it kicked the crap out of the box office record held by the bloated $200 million TITANIC (1997) which had dominated the box offices throughout Asia. TITANIC had held the record at 4.3 million tickets sold (remember South Korea has a population of 46 million in 1999, as opposed to the US which had a population of 275 million), which was smashed by SHIRI with 6.5 million tickets sold, which means three out of four people in the country bought a ticket to the film. Hollywood execs would murder their favorite coke dealer for those kind of numbers.

In addition to SHIRI (which is a Korean freshwater fish, but in Japanese means "ass"), 1999 saw the release of TELL ME SOMETHING, an extremely dark and bloody homage to Italian giallo films of the '70s and '80s that even got coverage in Fangoria magazine - two years later. These two films sparked a new wave of South Korean filmmaking that continues to this day. Well, sort of. Unfortunately, like all successful cinema, the creative and intelligent side of this new wave only lasted a few years before corporate mentality took over. Suddenly a big business, by 2004 the scripts had become tedious, homogenized rehashes of stale Hollywood cliches. You still have the occasional break-out pop culture hit, such as THE HOST (2006), but they are hip with the kids, not because they are really all that good, but just because the kids don't know much about movies made before the new millennium. Yes, I'm being an elitist. I'm fine with that.

Fast forward to 2011 and South Korea decides it is time to jump on the deep sea bandwagon and in 3D no less! Little did I suspect that their concept wasn't the only thing that was tragically dated.

Opening with a prologue set in 1985 (presumably to try to fool the audience into thinking that they are predating Hollywood's brief deep water fetish), a Korean oil platform off of Jeju Island (South of Korea and West of Japan) sends a diver down to the ocean floor to see why their drill is stuck. Once down there the floor cracks and little glowing fish swim out followed by a roar and we fade to black. Things can only go up from here. I say, "go up from here". ...because he is on the ocean floor. Oh never mind.

Picking up 16 years later, the ill-fated diver's daughter, Cha (Ha Ji-won, best known for romantic comedies) nicknamed "Hard Ass", is now a roughneck on the very same rig. In addition to being improbably hot, she also is better at the job than the rest of the crew, who are all men of course. Apparently she's been calling the shots on where to drill and they still haven't tapped the motherload. Of course this being an Asian film, they are a team and will overcome all obstacles to reach their goals. Unlike Westerners, who would just sit around drinking coffee and bitching about their bonus situation.

In no time at all, the little glowing fishies start showing up, but only in time for the operation to be shut down by the nameless powers that be. Of course the team's hard work and determination are validated when Cha's uncle Lee (Ahn Sung-ki), a high-ranking muckymuck (we are never told what his rank or position is) flies in and because of their plucky spirit, allows them to keep drilling... Presumably for an interesting script. Says Cha while gazing into the sea, "the ocean is beautiful because it holds oil." Jeezus, it's like she running in the Alaska primary.

Pretty soon they discover that the pretty fishies actually put a hell of a welt on you if they sting - this is played for comic relief as the idiot who is short of a village tries to hit on one of the female scientists with a swollen face and all the subtlety of Jerry Lewis on bath salts.

All the archetypes are represented here. We have the captain (Jeong-hak Park) who gets no respect because he is a bit of an insecure prick who just graduated from the "captain's academy" - presumably an institute of navel contemplation. Hell, this schmuck doesn't even have a scar to show off while they drink beer around one of those cute little Asian barbecues. While everyone shows off their scars the captain earns their trust by telling his crew that he doesn't have any because scars are an indication of carelessness. Even Kim Jong Un couldn't force people to like this guy. Not even with Dennis Rodman.

In addition to the anime drama characters, we also have a pop-rock music montage where Cha and her would be suitor Kim (Oh Ji-ho) are racing motorcycles around the rig. Yes, motorcycles. On an oil rig. And you thought flamethrowers in a sub-oceanic mining shack were implausible (though we find out they do actually have these on the oil rig also. I repeat: Flamethrower. Oil rig.). We know these two are destined to be together because both have the ability to keep themselves clean, their skin soft and have immaculately coiffed hair. Even when it is messy, it's stylishly messy. Come to think of it, the rule of the rig seems to be that one must have perfect hair, unless one is wearing a wig that appears to be ripped off from a dollar store in East Oakland.

What died on this man's head?

Wait, I hear you say, isn't there supposed to be a monster in this? Keep your banpal on chingu! First things first. We need to have the female scientist plummet to her death, only to have Mr. Swollen-Mouth accused of killing her because there is a glob of goo on her neck that the MD on board announces as semen! Whaaaaa? Who wrote this? As we find out later (not really a spoiler at all because you already know there is a monster involved at some point) that it not in fact semen, but some other substance that is never explained and no, she wasn't killed by the monster. Whaaaaa? Oh, and we need a cheap scare to keep the audience awake, so when Cha opens a random cupboard in the med lab, a black rat leaps out at her (oddly, not at the camera, being 3D and all). How that rat got on the rig, much less in the cupboard is never explained either, but it sounds like the basis for a Disney animated hit if I've ever saw one. I'm thinking RATATOUILLE II: OILS WELL THAT ENDS WELL.

Finally the LAWNMOWER MAN-era CG monster shows up out of nowhere and chases the crew around some hallways, frequently roaring CG spittle into the camera and pausing in its pursuit long enough for characters to have frivolous conversations discussing their next move, the monster, how scared they are, and possibly hair-styling tips.  At one point the monster whips Cha's uncle around a room with its prehensile tongue. While being flailed around like a ragdoll, uncle manages to look over to the shelves and pick out a bottle of acid and wind up a pitch throwing it directly in the monster's mushy mug. This is probably one of the stupidest things I have ever seen in a film. Ever. I'd recommend avoiding this movie like a Detroit prostitute with the bubonic plague, but if you really do want to watch this movie spoiler-free, skip the next two paragraphs.

In addition to being the lamest blobtacular monster since your mom tried to make "savory" jell-o molds back in the '70s, the idea is that it (I shit you not) bleeds oil for blood and was created by Cha's uncle back in the day by using the little glowing fishies as a genetic base. Why? Well that's easy, though they don't really spell it out, he decided, fuck all that hydrogen/electric power crap, some big, dangerous mutant creature would make a great alternative fuel source that would never run out! The trick is, we are told, that their blood will burn for three days. In spite of this, our troupe sets the monster on fire, and it only burns for several seconds. Oh well, back to the drawing board! Well, as soon as the monster stops killing peeps anyway. Unfortunately it will never stop, ever, until they are dead. Yep, this sucker has more lives than the freakin Terminator as I actually lost count of how many times the monster is "killed" and then suddenly returns to terrorize the crew all over again. Things get so absurd in the final act that if I had taken a shot for every time the monster appears to be dead, yet roars back to life, I'd be loaded like a frat boy on game day.

The absurdity reaches a crescendo when Cha is able to save Kim from plummeting into the jaws of the monster in the nick of time by tying a rope on to a magically appearing motorcycle (yes, you knew they would figure in at the end) in less time than it takes to fall off a log. As if that wasn't ridiculous enough, Cha proceeds to lead the CG monster on a CG motorcycle chase through the CG rig. This is actually worse than it probably sounds, and it sounds pretty bad.

As much as I am really very forgiving of this DIE HARD-logic type of scenario where you simply change the setting to create a totally original film ("it's a monster on a ship", "it's a monster in a research facility", "it's a monster on a plane"), this is probably the most lazy, careless and embarrassingly halfassed excuse I've seen for a monster movie since the last time I watched an Asylum flick. Shot in 3D, but making little use of the format, the script by writer-director Kim Ji-hun is a tired retread that throws a few ideas on the table and promptly forgets to follow through with them, instead allowing the bulk of the movie to be the cast yelling hysterically and screaming each other's names. Ironically Ji-hun's next film was titled THE TOWER (2012) and was about a luxury high-rise that caught on fire... hmmmm, why does that sound familiar?

Could they not afford a men's room?
While Cha is set up as this beautiful, empowered icon of female masculinity, when it really comes down to it, the screenwriter simply has her neatly stereotyped in an archaic female role of staying virtuous by refusing to even kiss the rig's local pretty boy and doing little more than reacting to situations by screaming names in horror. After about the fifth time you hear someone screaming "Doonggssoooooooooo!" you'll be begging for the film to end. The only other thing she does, aside from telling the guys exactly where they can stick pretty much everything and playing impossible-to-get, is getting teary-eyed over her father who she never really knew and has been dead for sixteen years! Pretty much a metaphor for my feelings about South Korean films. Except after all this time, I'm pretty much over it.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Abyss-mal Cinema: THE EVIL BELOW (1989)

It is kind of amazing how quickly the (water)bubble burst when it came to the underwater flicks that flooded theaters for eight months in 1989.  DEEPSTAR SIX flopped harder than a fish out of water in January; LEVIATHAN did marginally better in March, but still sank like a stone; nobody except Mark Tinta and his two friends went to see Concorde’s LORDS OF THE DEEP in April; and THE ABYSS – the one that was supposed too be “the big one” – choked for air in August, crushed to death in a summer box office tsunami featuring Batman, Indiana Jones, Shrunken Kids and Steve Martin (yes, THE ABYSS failed to unseat Martin’s PARENTHOOD at the box office its opening weekend).  Perhaps most hurt by this though was the little guy hoping to ride this wave to box office treasure. (Damn, have I gone overboard on water puns? Overboard, ha, I kill me.) Unfortunately for screenwriter-producer-director-actor Wayne Crawford, the crest had fallen by the time he got THE EVIL BELOW (1989) onto video store shelves.

Crawford – an exploitation vet who got his start as a jack of all trades with the redneck-ploitation flick GOD’S BLOODY ACRE (1975) – was deep into his second cinematic decade when he started making this one.  But it wasn’t the first time he tangled with the deep waters as he had previously co-written, co-produced, co-directed and starred in the JAWS (1975) cash in BARRACUDA (1978).  So when news hit of an impending flood of underwater movies being planned, you would think Crawford couldn’t get his crew down to South Africa fast enough to film this.  The funny thing is he actually started filming this before all of the other films and THE EVIL BELOW has nary an underwater alien in sight.  Instead, it comes off like a decade-late rip off of THE DEEP (1977) and, as Tom perfectly said, them’s some choppy waters.

The film opens as all undersea flicks should – above the water!  We see a ship crashing off the coast of San Sebastian during a raging storm in 1693.  Cut to modern day San Sebastian and we finally find ourselves submerged as two scuba divers are swimming around when they find the remains of the sunken ship, El Diablo. That name is certainly a harbinger of bad things to come.  In fact, they come rather quickly as a giant barracuda chomps on one of the divers while the other photographs it (someone obviously saw JAWS 2 [1978]).  Topside we meet boat captain/huckster Max Cash (Crawford), who is taking some tourists deep sea fishing.  It must be a slow day as all they reel in the severed leg of the female diver. Good luck getting that stuffed and mounted on your wall.  Apparently Max Cash has bigger problems though as he has a hard time living up to his name since he owes 4 months back rent in dock fees (“At least your father paid his bills,” says his land…er, sealord?).  Not to worry as Cash has spotted a hot lady in the hotel bar and soon they are making out in her hotel room.  Well, it lasts for about thirty seconds as she suddenly says something unintelligible and starts crying.  Spotting a red flag big enough to please Mao, he splits and returns to the safety of his squeeze/deckhand Tracy (Sheri Able).

Unfortunately for Max, the next day the hot lady shows up at the dock and is looking for a boat to charter.  Turns out she is Sarah Livingston (June Chadwick) and she believes she has located the fabled El Diablo.  The story behind this ship is some heretic priests made off with a bunch of stolen religious artifacts.  Showing she is as mentally sound in her life choices as she in the bedroom, she later tells Max and Tracy that she has invested her life savings in finding this treasure because she read about it in a book. Run, Max, run!  It turns out that she may be right though as soon an island priest is calling his superiors about the rumor and Tracy’s hotel room is ransacked.  Max suspects it was his rival, Ray Calhoun (Graham Clarke), and his two sons.  Unfortunately, their first several dives prove treasure-less.  Max decides to visit his dementia-suffering dad to see if he ever spotted this wreck.  Yes, your best bet is to always consult with a person who has no control of his mental faculties.

Pops is of no help, but Sarah does pick up a piece of red coral in his place that she later finds a gold doubloon in. What great luck! Well, except for dad who is soon found shot in the head.  Max again suspects Calhoun and beats the crap out of him. His mourning, however, is brief as the next day they are out diving again and find a cannon, which may have come off the military ship chasing El Diablo. They take their news to local island historian Adrian Barlow (Ted Le Plat).  If that name weren’t enough to convince you he is the villain, they also have him in a red velvet smoking jacket.  He dismisses their find as inconsequential and warns that “curiosity killed the cat.”  You know what else curiosity killed? My enthusiasm for this movie.  Anyway, Max and Sarah keep looking and through the magic of a diving montage they find a spoon from El Diablo.  They are getting close, so they decide they need to sneak into Barlow’s place because this dude is hiding something.  Like the fact that he is a 300-year-old guardian of El Diablo that practices black magic. What? You thought he was just your average baddie?

The film's highlight right here:

I know we said one of our rules for Abyss-mal Cinema was the films spend a significant time underwater.  But we don’t care about the rules! THE EVIL BELOW gets lumped in here because it really captures the exploitation magic of that sinking year of 1989. Essentially not a cash in on THE ABYSS, it still manages to hook susceptible viewers via that evocative title and a really eye catching VHS box from RaeDon (the German DVD art at the beginning of this article is even better).  Unfortunately, what viewers ended up getting was a clumsy production that defines the term cheap.  Tip offs occur as early as the opening with some suspect miniatures for the sinking ship, which may or may not be stock footage from another film.  An underwater epic lives and breathes on the exotic submerged footage.  While some of the initial treasure hunting scenes capture some nice sea floor scenery, all of the stuff involving the sunken shipwreck is downright terrible. The “wreck” consists of what look like several sawed up picnic tables turned sideways at the bottom of someone’s pool and you never get to see a full glimpse of it.  Even worse, these scenes are filmed in a white filtered haze that you can’t make stuff out.  For example, Calhoun gets attacked by an undead Barlow during the film’s climax.  And dead guy walking around at the bottom of the ocean should be a great visual, but you can’t see anything here.

This is disappointing because you know Crawford should do better.  Hell, he made this just a few years removed from producing VALLEY GIRL (1983) and NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984).  Those are films that look like real films.  This looks like something slapped together by Bruno Mattei but without any real exploitation factor.  It is doubly disappointing because Crawford is pretty amusing in the role.  Reuniting with Chadwick after the previous year’s horror flick HEADHUNTER (1988), Crawford is funny as the way-down-on-his-luck captain who can’t seem to give a shit about anything. Well, except beer. Unfortunately, THE EVIL BELOW comes off looking as nothing more than an excuse to visit South Africa and get a free vacation.  And as ostensibly the captain of this voyage, Crawford must go down with the ship.  Two thumbs twenty thousand leagues down.