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!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Newsploitation: Is there a DOCTOR MORDRID in the house?

“When things get a little crazy, someone always remarks, ‘Must be a full moon tonight.’” - Dr. Anton Mordrid

With the publishing of IT CAME FROM THE VIDEO AISLE just weeks away, it is amusing that this film anniversary popped up when I was doing some research. Although Full Moon Entertainment has been around (in various fashions) for nearly 30 years, it is still hard for me to process that one of their films is turning 25 years old. Yet this is the case as everyone’s favorite “Master of the Unknown” turns a quarter of a century old this month.

Like most Band productions of this era, there is a long history behind the eventual product. DOCTOR MORDRID’s roots actually started growing in Charles Band’s previous company, Empire Pictures. Band was never mum about his love of comic books and by 1986 he steered his first company in that direction in a big way with the hiring of comic icon Jack Kirby. The legendary pensman signed on to tackle two very comic book oriented projects in MINDMASTER and DOCTOR MORTALIS. Advertised heavily in Variety, both projects never saw fruition and Kirby’s legacy with Empire ended with some nifty trade ads.

Variety mentions for DOCTOR MORTALIS:

That said, when Band started his new company, Full Moon Entertainment, he brought the concept with him. To flesh out this character, Band looked to the typewriter of C. Courtney Joyner. The screenwriter established himself by co-writing the terrific anthology FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM (1987) and had previously written PRISON (1987), which Band’s Empire had a hand in. Two other elements probably factored into Joyner’s selection. One: He was a bonafide comic book fan who understood what Band wanted. Two: He had just written PUPPET MASTER III (1991), which had been the studio’s biggest success to date. Joyner was the ideal person to bring this “prescription of movie magic” (as the Videozone called MORDRID) to life. Joyner created the character of Dr. Anton Mordrid, a wizard who guards Earth while under the tutelage of the Monitor. His skills are put to the test when outlaw sorcerer Kabal begins a series of thefts to allow him to open Hell.

MORDRID saw Charles Band sharing directing chores with his father Albert (this was the senior Band’s first outing for Full Moon). In regard to casting, they wisely chose Empire vet and fan favorite Jeffrey Combs to essay the lead doctor and veteran b-movie bad guy Brian Thompson as the villain. Beginning principal photography in January 1992, MORDRID had one of the largest Full Moon budgets to date (an estimated $2,000,000). As the VJ boss Thomas Sueyres mentions in his VIDEO AISLE chapter on MORDRID, the expense certainly makes it onto the screen as MORDRID is one of the more lavish films from that era.

Production was rather quick by Hollywood standards and the film was ready to screen by June 1992. This is pretty amazing considering David Allen Productions was working on some really fantastic effects pieces (the most memorable being the dinosaur skeleton brawl in the film’s finale). The film was given a rating in late June as it received a R-rating (for “language and a scene of sexuality” according to the MPAA notes posted in Variety on June 18, 1992). Although it did carry the restricted rating, MORDRID was perhaps not fitting of this distinction. It lacked the bloody horrors of previous Full Moon films such as PUPPET MASTER or SUBSPECIES. In fact, MORDRID is relatively tame in comparison and is more in the vein of Band’s comic book ideal. 

Storyboards from DOCTOR MORDRID:

MORDRID was an instant success for Full Moon when it hit video shelves in September 1992, with the VHS on every Blockbuster shelf in America. The film was such a success that there were plans for a number of sequels for the further adventures of Dr. Anton Mordrid in the ever expanding Full Moon portfolio. In fact, Full Moon had hired a certain screenwriting duo to pen DOCTOR MORDRID 2 and 3 and they complete a full draft of MORDRID 2 that was well received within the company. Also, a director was in pre-production on the second film when the company’s deal with Paramount abruptly ended. Who were these mysterious folks? Well, you’ll have to buy the book to find out.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Newsploitation: From a Whisper to THE OFFSPRING

Hard to believe but the classic tales of terror FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM (aka THE OFFSPRING) turns 30 years old today. George Romero’s CREEPSHOW aside, SCREAM is for me easily one of the best horror anthologies of the 1980s and perfectly captures that dark EC Comics spirit. It is also another great entry in the long running history of the “little horror indie that could” as it defied the odds to become a cult classic and launched a bunch of careers.

The film was born among a group of USC students (Jeff Burr, C. Courtney Joyner, and Darin Scott) looking to make a horror feature. Burr had some early directing experience with DIVIDED WE FALL (1982), a USC project he co-wrote and co-directed that Joyner had also done some work on. The film even played some festivals throughout the U.S. After this Joyner wrote a vampire script called NIGHTCRAWLERS for Burr to direct (you can read more about that unrealized project here). When that idea fell through, the idea of a horror anthology began to take shape.

Notice of DIVIDED WE FALL at a Florida film festival: 

SCREAM has the distinction of being listed in Variety’s “Production Log” twice with two locations all the way across the United States. The first mentions were in November 1985 when the film was listed as having shot in Dalton, Georgia with a start date of 8/1/1985. The film popped up in the listings again in April 1986 with Los Angeles listed as the filming location. According to what Burr told Fangoria at the time, this happened as they ran out of money during editing. This down period allowed them to raise more financing. It also allowed for SCREAM’s biggest casting coup as they got horror legend Vincent Price to do the wraparound segment opposite Susan Tyrrell (an early Fango report mentioned Carol Kane was considered for this role). With production wrapped, the film was given a multi-page profile in Fangoria #62, where it was mentioned the filmmakers were hoping to sign with a distributor.

That hope became a reality a few months after the magazine streeted as independent distributor The Movie Store picked up the film. Formed in 1981 by former HBO acquisitions exec Ken Badish, The Movie Store had seen earlier success with films like TOO SCARED TO SCREAM (1985), which made their next move unusual. From Variety on August 26, 1987:

TMS (The Movie Store) Pictures has acquired full North American rights to two full-length feature films, THE OUTING and THE OFFSPRING, and is planning an early September regional rollout for the duo in various markets throughout the U.S. THE OFFSPRING, filmed under the title FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM, is produced by Darin Scott and William Burr for Conquest Entertainment. 

Box Office notice on the pickup:

Yes, the film was unceremoniously renamed THE OFFSPRING. While the title certainly fits the film’s town legacy theme, it isn’t quite as evocative as FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM. Marquee title changers nationwide, however, loved the title switch. The Movie Store wasted little time getting the film to theaters via their TMS Pictures imprint as it debuted in 55 theaters on September 4, 1987. Locations during this initial rollout included Chicago, Illinois and Indianapolis, Indiana.

The Indianapolis Star review on September 4, 1987: 

Ad from The Indianapolis Star:

The retitled THE OFFSPRING did decent that weekend, amassing $154,991 over the Labor Day weekend. The film continued to open in markets throughout September and October. Despite lacking a million dollars plus P&A budget, THE OFFSPRING kept performing solidly in every market it opened in. The Movie Store was apparently proud enough to take out a full page ad in Variety’s MIFED issue in October 1987 touting the amount of money the film had collected so far. The good fortune continued as Badish spoke to Variety in December 1987:

TMS (The Movie Store) attributes majority of its 300% boost over $2,500,000 generated during the same period last year to tail-end video sales of MEATBALLS III, proceeds from its entire library, and the bulk of box office take from latest theatrical releases THE OUTING and THE OFFSPRING. 

The exec predicted “he expects video sales to exceed 65,000 units when the horror/thriller films go on the market in the second quarter of 1988.” As mentioned in Variety on January 23, 1988, the U.S. home video rights for both films were purchased by IVE (International Video Entertainment). And this is where your humble writer comes in as my own personal relationship with the film started on VHS. My family was living in Munich, Germany and the military base stores used to get everything. As a horror junkie, I already knew about it and was probably thrilled the second I saw it on the new release shelf. I loved every minute of it and took special note of names like Burr, Joyner, and Scott. Smart move as the would soon be providing tons of stuff to feed this horror junkie’s habit. For more on the history of the film, I highly recommend Daniel Griffith’s excellent documentary RETURN TO OLDFIELD on the special edition disc of FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Dr. Jones I Presume: BLOODSTONE (1988)

I’ve always had this weird loyalty thing with directors who cut their teeth in the horror genre. Not sure why, but it just makes them more endearing to me. Such is the case with Dwight Little, a helmer who first caught my eye with the serviceable sequel HALLOWEEN 4 (1988) and the Robert Englund version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1989). A good one-two punch that showed Little had a good visual eye. He quickly transitioned to action pics with MARKED FOR DEATH (1990) - unofficially Steven Seagal’s best film - and RAPID FIRE (1992). He even endeared himself to Tom by shooting the live-action footage for the video game GROUND ZERO TEXAS (1993). (“Where my damn re-release of that?” shouts Tom.) Now I’ll admit I got off the Little train by the time he was making FREE WILLY 2 (1995), but it was cool to see the guy rise up the ranks. I’m not so sure I would have been as enthused if BLOODSTONE was the first film I saw from him.

As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, BLOODSTONE is about a giant ruby and not an adaptation of the Judas Priest song (many thanks to Tom for the info there). The film opens in India in 1221 with some onscreen text about a Princess dying in an accident. At her funeral her father points a clear sword at the titular gem in her crown and says, “May your blood bring fortune to those who have good in their hearts. May your blood bring death and destruction to those who have evil in their minds.” This causes a lot of wind, so we know it must be magic.

Anyway, cut to the present day and the film proper begins as we are introduced to a myriad of characters. First, newlyweds Stephanie (Anna Nicholas) and Sandy McVey (Brett Stimely), who are on a train bound to Bangalore. On the train they meet Paul Lorre (Jack Kehler), a thief who has stolen the priceless bloodstone (sadly, the heist occurs offscreen). Lorre has planned to sell it the evil Ludwig Van Hoeven (Christopher Neame), whose evilness is established by sneaking up on a guard and threatening to slice his throat. And by being named Ludwig Van Hoeven and having a haughty accent. LVH dispatches some thugs to meet Lorre at the train station. Also waiting for him is Inspector Ramesh (Charlie Brill) and his deputy. When Lorre spots the cops, he slides the bloodstone into Stephanie’s tennis bag. Not a wise move as we find out Sandy’s job in the US is being a street smart cop who can spot trouble anywhere...except when it is stuffing a big ass jewel in his wife’s luggage. Also entering into this fracture plot is taxi driver Shyam Sabu (Rajinikanth), who unwittingly ends up having the bloodstone in his possession when it slips of of the tennis bag in the trunk of his taxi.

Thanks to this modification of the old satchel switcheroo trope we now have a group of bad guy folks chasing after a group of newlywed folks being followed by one dude who is being followed by a group of cop folks. Got all that? Before you can scream THE PERILS OF PAULINE (1914), Stephanie is kidnapped and Sandy must team up with Shyam to locate her. The streetwise Shyam says he is looking for the bloodstone ruby, which is really weird as he has already found it in his trunk. “A man of all things, I am,” he says in his Yoda. All things except recognizing you don’t need to be involved in this danger. Van Hoeven gives them a call and arranges a prisoner-for-bloodstone exchange at a waterfall. So at the 50 minute mark we finally start to get some Indiana Jones-ing going on as we head into the jungle.

An American-Indian co-production, BLOODSTONE should have been better than it turned out to be. For example, look at the cover at the beginning of this review. There is truth in that advertising as everything depicted on there happens in this film, yet it never seems as cool as the poster implies. While it gives a distinct Indiana Jones flair (hell, that art is why we grabbed it for this theme week), this is actually more of a ROMANCING THE STONE (1984) clone than anything. Perhaps the most surprising thing for me as a Little fan is how poorly he stages the action. Very much along the “over the shoulder, punch, cut” line and shows he definitely improved over time. There is one impressive sequence though on rickety bridge over a waterfall, which benefits from the India locations. Even more unforgivable is a definite emphasis on comedy and that might be the film’s downfall. It is rough. How rough? We get one shot where a guy gets pigeon poop falling on his face and instead of a drum rim shot, we get a sting of sitar strings. Most of this comedy comes from Brill as Inspector Ramesh, which might be the most stereotyped portrayal of Indians since Fisher Stevens in the SHORT CIRCUIT films. Nothing says Indian more than a guy from Brooklyn.

Such casting also is also dubious when one finds out that co-star Rajinikanth -given top billing in the end credits, but relegated to small dude on the poster - is actually one of India’s biggest cinema stars. As one of five films he had in released in 1988, this is sort of Rajinikanth’s THE BIG BRAWL (1980) or THE PROTECTOR (1985), the first two films to try to introduce Jackie Chan to the American market. (The Chan analogy is also apt as, according to Wikipedia, Rajinikanth was the second highest paid actor in Asia at one point in time.) A veteran of over 150 films by this point, Rajinikanth has a natural on screen charisma so you can understand why he was so popular. Interestingly, it was after BLOODSTONE that his career became huge, but there were no more crossovers with American cinema. He is still working to this day and his hit KABALI (2016) even made it to US screens in July 2016.

There is one really odd thing I learned from BLOODSTONE though. It is the second film I’ve seen where Christopher Neame quotes Shakespeare to someone and gets a modern quote thrown back at him.

Christopher Neame: “What’s in a name. William Shakespeare.” 
Brett Stimely: “Fuck you. David Mamet.” 

 A few years later he was the baddie in STREET KNIGHT (1993) and we got this exchange: 

Christopher Neame: "Good night, sweet Prince, may flights of angels wing you to thy rest. Shakespeare." 
Jeff Speakman (shooting Neame): “Hasta la vista, baby. Schwarzenegger." 

That’s about all I got out of BLOODSTONE. Well, that and the fact that Rajinikanth has some mad cigarette-to-mouth catching skills.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Dr. Jones I Presume: THE SECRET OF THE INCA'S EMPIRE (1987)

In the annals of the INDY rip-off, there have been some bastardizations of classic literature. Well, two, anyway. That would be Cannon's 1985 epic KING SOLOMON'S MINES and its sequel, which take broad liberties with H. Rider Haggard's 1885 novel and its 1887 sequel. Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan were visionaries after all (yeah, I said it), but at the time few other films had the genius to use a highly respected book as an inspiration for their faux Indy efforts. Case in point, Gianfranco Parolini's THE SECRET OF THE INCA'S EMPIRE. Based on a novel titled THE SEARCH FOR THE BURIED CITY, author Gualberto Sanchez Alvino also helped pen the script, although that seems to be the bulk of his work at the time and while I admit I've never read the book, I seriously doubt you could call it "classic literature". In recent years Akvino has written a few books about writers, but I'm guessing his foray into adventure fiction was not very successful. Much like this movie.

Opening in a professor's classroom, Professor Alexis Xristopoulos (played by Parolini himself) is teaching a very appreciative class about a pre-Incan civilization that was founded by red-haired, fair skinned humanoids from space who came from "the cortadeiras" and have co-mingled with humans for centuries. He uses a drawing on a chalkboard showing what appears to be a submarine in an ocean trench to make his point about as clear as a blind man's glasses. His very brief speech is said to be the theories of two professors, one La Fuente and one Rivera, aaaand class dismissed! I know I learned a lot, how about you? If I was one of the poor saps in this guy's class, I'd be demanding my tuition back.

In the jungles of Columbia, which are strangely populated almost entirely by Filipinos, a rugged, fedora wearing "ethnologist" (why not just an anthropologist?) improbably named Professor Clifton Bradbury III (Bruno Minniti) is being stalked by what appears to be a member of a Doobie Brother's cover band in a loincloth (Kenneth Peerless). Why is he being stalked? Why does this guy want to kill him? This is never made clear in the entirety of the film's running time. Apparently someone realized this and in one of a few attempts to explain many inscrutable things in this film via a voice-over track, we get somebody presumably saying something in the "native's" mind: "Don't kill, Inca, don't kill. The man must get there before us, it is the will of Inty, the will of your god". Thank goodness for that voice-over. That explains everything!

Suddenly out of the jungles and back in civilization, a reporter asks Clifton at a news conference what he thinks of a book by fellow ethnologist Linda Logan (Kelly London). Without hesitation, he brutally slams the book and Linda personally, who as luck would have it was sitting by the radio preparing to eat what appears to be the world's largest hot dog when she hears this. Unfortunately we never get to see the hot dog being eaten. What are the chances that these two are going to meat, I mean meet? That's a sucker bet for sure.

Suddenly back in the jungle (although the plaque on the hacienda says "Los Angeles"!), Linda stops a man from trying to get in the door to speak to her boss, professor La Fuente, causing him to be shot by the men that are chasing him. The dying man instructs her to give his hat to the professor immediately, to which the professor exclaims "Straw hat! Call the police!" I understand that some head-wear can be alarming, but this is ridiculous. Of course the hat contained a map to the secret, buried city to which everyone is looking for. The killers get inside the house and with his dying breath La Fuente charges Linda with getting the map to professor Rivera, who apparently is also somewhere in this very jungle... or Los Angeles... I don't know. Linda finds the RLF (Rivera La Fuente) camp, but is cornered by the thugs who killed her boss. Clifton just happens to be there driving a giant drill into a large stone artifact (wtf?!) and fights off the killers. Since Rivera is not at the camp, the pair set out to find the professor or plunder the alien treasure. Which ever comes first. I mean, what's the point of being an ethnologist if you can't score some sweet loots, amiright?

As it turns out professor Evans was responsible for professor La Fuente's execution and has an army of thugs looking for that map and killing everyone in their way, including professor Rivera. Professor Evans (who is also Professor Xristopoulos!) has an encampment filled with people wearing ERS logos (not to be confused with RLF) and has made it his priority to loot the buried city by fair means or foul. Mostly foul. Although we only see Evans once or twice, we hear his voice from a loudspeaker on a helicopter as he tells his thugs not to harm Clifton and Linda and that he just wants to be partners! This doesn't stop main henchman, Angel (Vassili Karis), from shooting bullets and grenades at them and at least twice threatening to rape Linda! I guess you can't get good help these days.

If you are thinking that there are an awful lot of professors in this movie, brother, you are not wrong. The professors are rarely on screen and are sometimes referred to as "professor", which turns following what should be a fairly simple plot into a labyrinthine nightmare of Who's on First. Not that all of the characters being clearly identified in the movie or even in the credits would make the script completely straight forward. The film jumps around without warning or explanation and has characters pop in and out of the film with even less. Quite honestly, I have no idea what Kenneth Peerless' character is supposed to be doing. He pops up every now and then to glower meaningfully into the distance or put an arrow in someone who is trying to harm our romantically stoned duo.

The bulk of the film has Clifton and Linda on the run from Angel and his gang, leading them into pitfalls with piranha (which are not shown other than a small fish that seems to be glued to one of Clifton's pant legs), papier-mache crocodiles, inclement weather, indigenous primitives who cannot throw a spear, and a bunch of head hunter cultists who worship a fertility idol that's perched on top of a rock by decapitating woman and hauling their heads on a rope up to said rock. Yeah, I have no idea what that's all about. Probably my favorite bit involves a scene where an arrow grazes Linda's lovely backside. Clifton is one smooth dude, as he tells her that the wound could get infected and there is only one thing to do! Yep, gotta suck out the poison. I have to remember that one for the next time I'm stuck out in the jungles of Columbia/Philippines/Los Angeles with a hot British ethnologist girl.

As it turns out the much ballyhooed buried city is merely a couple of water-logged caves that look like left-over sets from one of Parolini's 1960s sword and sandal flicks. Well, except for one room that has a church organ installed next to an alter so that The Golden Condor, a cat pawed, gossamer winged, laser-eye shooting deity can play ominous music. No, really, I'm not making this up. Why someone would want to hang out in a small, wet cave playing the organ until someone finally shows up a this secret location is beyond me. There is a twist ending here that not only clears up nothing that came before, but doesn't make any fucking sense whatsoever! Highlight for spoilers: The Golden Condor is actually professor Rivera in the Inty god outfit. So he is not dead, was at the city all along and told the Inca not to kill Clifton so that Clifton could find him playing the organ and - WHAT?! I am so confused.

I guess it's not surprising that some of the people involved never did anything after this. London clearly had so much fun being rained on, sliding down muddy hills and falling into pools of water every day of the shoot, that she must have reconsidered her career options. I don't know how she would have fared in other films, but she's easy on the eyes and is far less annoying than the usual Kate Capshaw wannabe. Hell, she's far less annoying than Kate Capshaw and could have easily gone on to make other low-rent genre films. Bruno Minniti's rather short film career dried up after this, but he made most of his career on soap operas and as a singer. Kenneth Peerless, on the other hand, had a nice little career following this film working in a few Cirio H. Santiago films (he started with the 1986 classic FUTURE HUNTERS) and a few Italian efforts. He may be best remembered as Hal in the original BLOODFIST (1989).

Gianfranco Parolini (aka Frank Kramer) is an interesting director as his work is very hit and miss, particularly in his later days. Most folks would probably say miss, but I think IF YOU MEET SARTANA PRAY FOR YOUR DEATH (1968), SABATA (1969) and ADIOS SABATA (1970) are damn fine spaghetti westerns that, while they may not be the cream of the crop, are a long way from scraping the bottom. Parolini also directed the first four films in the very popular German/Italian James Bond knock-offs, the KOMMISSAR X films, that started off with KISS KISS KILL KILL (1965). Then came THE RETURN OF SABATA (1971) and everything goes to hell. Well, with the exception of the Michael Colby, Paul L. Smith Hill and Spencer knock-off WE'RE NO ANGELS (1975) and the stunningly inept, but hugely entertaining, King Kong knock-off YETI - GIANT OF THE 20TH CENTURY (1977), which is really required viewing for fans of Italian schlock.

SECRET was Parolini's last film and it came after a ten year gap following YETI, though he was only 57 when SECRET was made. While many of his films are ramshackle, inscrutable messes, that's hardly stopped people like Ulli Lommel from continuing to pummel unsuspecting audiences into submission with gawd-awful movies for decades. I think if Parolini had been a little less conservative and indulged in some gore effects and nudity, as was demanded of Italian genre films at the time, he would be fondly remembered today. Err, by degenerates who like that sort of thing, I mean.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Dr. Jones I Presume: TREASURE OF THE MOON GODDESS (1987)

With the Jack Hunter trilogy scratched off our scroll, we are now in what they would call uncharted waters. This is where I allow my muse to take over and lead me to whatever suits me best. Sometimes it can be something like a title. Sometimes it can be an actor. And sometimes it can be a poster that catches my eye. In this case it was a little bit of all three of those. Seriously, how could not love something called TREASURE OF THE MOON GODDESS? And it reunites Don Calfa and Linnea Quigley after RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985)! Plus, look at that gorgeous poster on the side there. How could this movie not rule? How? Let me show you.

In an ominous sign, TREASURE opens with a voice over in the very first shot as Don Calfa says, “Okay, so here’s the picture…” We then see a treasure hunter (co-writer Eric Weston) running across a muddy field while being attacked by some natives. After some fisticuffs and the guy getting blown away in a hotel room, we get bad sign number two as we cut to “real time” as Harold Grand (Calfa), Hollywood agent to the non-stars, is explaining to his bikini clad secretary all about his adventures down in Central America with his top client, Lu De Belle (Quigley). Harold is apparently a really bad agent because as we jump back to the story proper he has Lu singing in a Central American dive where pigs and chickens are roaming freely. Man, I can’t wait until Jon Taffer gets to this place. To make matters worse, Harold is beaten up by some henchmen of Mr. Diaz (Danny Addis). Seems Diaz wants Harold to deliver Lu to a place called Cantana with the vague instructions of “you must get her there.”

The right thing to do would be to split, but then we wouldn’t have a movie so some threatening knuckle-cracking, neck-grabbing and angry-stancing has Harold chartering the boat of Brandy (Jo Ann Ayers) and Sam Kidd (Asher Brauner) to the required location. Things don’t initially go well as Sam, our Indiana Jones-clone, throws Harold off his boat into the water. What could convince Sam to help them out? Money and booze, of course! After Harold offers to buy him a drink later that night at a bar, Sam gladly accepts the job of taking them down river to Cantana. The power of alcohol. Well, that and Brandy reminding him they are flat broke a few minutes earlier. They are about to be broker as some thugs catch up to them on their own boat the next day and their leader screams, “You give us the blonde woman and I give you your life.” Jeez, these dudes really liked Quigley’s nude scenes in ROTLD and SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984), didn’t they? Sam ain’t about to hand over the ‘80s top scream queen, so naturally his boat is blown up. The foursome escape though and keep heading down toward Cantana. Why? Because some random baddie said so.

It is all soon explained but not soon enough. As they slog through the jungle, we get “funny” dialogue like this -

Harold: “Hey, look at that lizard.”
Lu: “That’s an alligator, Harold!”

Naturally, this dialogue is laid over some random shot of an alligator (more on that later) We also get hijinxs like Calfa riding in a bus with a cow and being bitten on on the ass by a tarantula (more on that later too). Our mysterious plot is finally unveiled when our group reaches a tribe and finds Mr. Diaz impersonating the leader. His reason for desiring Lu is the age old W.T.W.W.A. (“Where the white women at?”) conundrum. Seems Lu is the spitting image of the Moon Goddess and Diaz wants her to impersonate the deity in order to claim some treasure. Sam and crew out Diaz to the tribe, but they say that to prove themselves they must enter the Temple of Imak in the Cave of the Moon and bring back some treasure after a series of challenges. Wait, isn’t that the basis of the kids' game show LEGENDS OF THE HIDDEN TEMPLE? Finally, at the 70 minute mark we start getting our Indiana Jones on.

In case you haven’t already figured it out, TREASURE OF THE MOON GODDESS is a mess. Jumping back-and-forth between the Mexico footage and Don Calfa’s narration, it was also apparently a mess of a production. The film was originally mentioned in Variety at the MIFED 1984 market as a product of Hemdale with the title DREAMS OF GOLD (“Two newies that Hemdale will dangle as presales for potential buyers are DREAMS OF GOLD, described as a $ 5,000,000 action-drama with Gerald Green producing, Eric Weston directing and Asher Brauner starring.”) By the time production began in November 1984 (meaning Calfa and Quigley pretty much went from ROTLD straight to this) in Central America locations, Weston was listed as a co-director alongside Joseph Louis Agraz. Something strange then happened as the film shutdown and then resumed production two years later in November 1986 in the Philippines. Those cut aways to Calfa and the narration are suddenly starting to make sense. I’d theorize Agraz shot the Mexican footage and Weston directed the later narration footage, but that would appear to be wrong as Weston was on the film before Agraz. But something happened on this film as displayed by its choppy nature and moments of dubbing. Need more evidence? As Tom told me, watch how often Don Calfa’s hairstyle changes throughout the film. At one point his hair is even blonde (it is black throughout most of the film).

Not that there was going to be much hope for either side of the production. Remember that spider bite I mentioned earlier? The natives tell Harold they have a cure for it called Yaksuk. As any fifth grade joke teller will know well in advance, Yaksuk ends up being a gay guy played in over-the-top fashion. Wah, wah, wah. Of course, I’ll accept bad comedy if we get some good Indiana Jones-esque action. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen until the last few minutes and, while somewhat impressive, doesn’t forgive the rest of the film. And then there is Asher Brauner as Sam Kidd. At this point an industry vet for over a decade, Brauner adopts a completely flat delivery on every line. There is no emotion, no humor, no anything. As Tom said to me in an email, it is like he tried to sound tough but comes off sounding deeply medicated. Maybe he was pissed at the dialogue by Weston and his co-writer? Who was his co-writer? Oh, just some guy named Asher Brauner! Dude, you co-wrote a part for yourself and screwed it up? I’d blame the language barrier, but I’m pretty sure Brauner speaks English.

Regardless of the production woes, I guess we should applaud them for getting the darn thing finished after so many years. According to Variety, the film opened at San Francisco’s Embassy Theater on December 19, 1987 and later in the New York market on January 15, 1988. Oh, yeah, it also had a new production shingle (Ascot Entertainment) and new distributor (Manson International) during this release. And its very limited theatrical release pump out a poster that actually featured Calfa, essentially the film’s lead, in the poster.

That wasn’t the case when it had an unceremonious debut on video via Vidmark Entertainment a few months later in February 1988. That is when we got the cover that lured me in. My muse is still waiting for that badass “hanging by a rope, attacked by alligator” scene as depicted in the poster.

Saturday, May 6, 2017


In the previous installment, Jack (Ivan Sergei) and Nadia's (Joanne Kelly) goofy driver Tariq (Mario Naim Bassil) has a moment of prophetic insight when he muses that THE GODFATHER (1972) was a great movie, but the third part, not so much. While I wouldn't call THE LOST TREASURE OF UGARIT a great movie, it and the sequel are entertaining enough, but part three seems to have lost the plot. Almost literally.

Opening in Bulgaria, Littmann (Thure Riefenstein) has snuck into a crowded marina under the cover of broad daylight. Yep, the notorious grave robber and mass murderer has decided to make a grand entrance in a speedboat with a posse, for no apparent reason. Not only has the NSA got the marina staked out, but apparently Littmann's movements are so obvious that even Jack is waiting incognito (ie: sans hat) on a bench. Of course the NSA make a complete hash of things by simply rushing out into the open and initiating a shoot-out in the middle of a civilian gathering with bodies dropping left and right. And why are American foreign ops so unpopular, I wonder? After Jack takes a bullet in the shoulder, which bothers him for at least minutes, in typical government agency fashion, the NSA lay the blame for the massive clusterfuck at Jack's front door. Liz figures since he was there, therefore, his fault! It seems that the NSA is run by my parents.

Littmann's rich, asshole client, Petrovski (Teoman Kumbaracibasi), is more than a little miffed that Littmann has interrupted his pool party to show up empty handed. Why Littmann went back to be humiliated after the shoot-out and didn't just find another way to get the Star is a unexplained. I mean, if your boss told you to bring back a cup of coffee, and your boss had a firearm, would you go back empty-handed? No, because that would be dumb.

Now Littmann is (*ahem*) under the gun to get the final piece of the Staff and bring it back to the unscrupulous Russian for... whatever reason. I mean, he's a Russian that lounges around a pool with hot chicks in bikinis everywhere, whatever it is, it can't be good. Unfortunately for all concerned, as we know from the end of part 2, nobody knows where the Star is.

The writers made the assumption that the Romans were responsible for the destruction of Ugarit and the theft of the Staff, and so now everyone has to figure out where the Romans may have taken it. Oddly, Hunter makes the assertion that Octavious (Emperor Augustus) must have stolen the Star when he conquered Egypt. Since Ugarit is only a minor detour to a Roman army, a day or two out of their way, this seems reasonably plausible. The only problem is the fact that The Battle of Alexandria, the final of Octavious' wars against Antony, took place in 30 BC, over 1100 years after Ugarit was destroyed! Jack's story may be good enough for the NSA, but I ain't buying it.

As it turns out, the NSA has computers that can do pretty much anything except the dishes. After scanning in a picture of the box that had been made to hold the Star, they come up with a newspaper clipping of Nadia and her ex-boyfriend Fuad (Mert Yavuzcan) at an auction in which the box is sold by Faud's father. This is going to get awkward. Liz manages to twist Jack's arm to go to Istanbul (not Constantinople) and work with Nadia to get that artifact before Littmann does, which presumably would mean the end of the world as we know it. Fortunately for Littmann, a girl that speaks German literally walks in front of him and is able to give him the information that he needs to start his chase. All of the good will that the writers earned by doing a bit of historical research is slowly being eaten away with these incredibly lazy bits of writing that proliferate this final entry.

Starting off with Faud's old man, Mr. Antaki (Michael Halphie), Jack, Nadia, Tariq and Faud follow a trail that leads up a variety of strange ends. Their second stop is a Christian church to talk to an extremely helpful priest who directs them to an elderly widow who is spending her last days in a convent. When they arrive they are told that she is very old, but find that she is in her early '70s, is sharp as a tack and wants to do nothing more than talk about Puccini's MADAM BUTTERFLY. Nadia gets all mushy as the discuss love lost and maybe something else as this is about where I start discussing interest lost.

These scenes give us two things: Yet another chance to appease the local tourism board and also to find some inexpensive locations that at least give the viewer something to look at while we have yet another scene of talking heads. Wasn't there supposed to be some adventuring going on here? Where's the adventuring? Oh and we get to touch on the subject of Christianity in Turkey. You see, Nadia broke off her engagement to Faud because she was Muslim and he was Christian and their families weren't happy about it.

Littmann, like a slow dog with a slippery bone, is following the their every step, shooting up every place Jack and company visit. This breaks up the rather dry proceedings, as does a car chase around the scenic coast of Istanbul. Unfortunately for everyone (including the audience), the car chase leads to the group being arrested and ending up in a really rather nice jail cell. C'mon now, we've all seen MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (1978), and I'm calling bullshit on that nice clean cell with wood-paneled walls and neatly arranged chairs. Aside from that, is there anything more exciting than our heroes sitting, despondent in a jail? Why yes there is! A second scene of jail sitting! That's right, after getting Liz to fly over and bail them out, they finally discover where the Star is located. The group then rush off to a monastery, but on the way decide to stop to help out at an accident between two cars in the middle of fucking nowhere! Literally (I seem to be using that word a lot), it is two cars who have collided head-on in an empty desert. This, of course, raises no red flags, and it is, of course, a trap. Proving that their entire budget was squandered on the first two films, the producers take this opportunity to have Littmann take our protagonists to a rather odd holding pen in the middle of an abandoned factory. An abandoned factory. In the desert. How's that for excitement?

All of this finally leads up to some action in which Littmann has arranged to meet Petrovski to hand over the completed staff. The NSA are down for this, but instead of using strategically placed snipers to take out Littmann before he can use the staff, simply stumble down a mountain allowing themselves to be gunned down by Littmann's men en masse. Yep, our tax dollars at work.

This final show-down takes place next to a volcano which allows for another cheap, scenic location and better still for more cheap CGI. When I say "more" what I mean is: "only". This final installment is so threadbare that until the end there aren't even any special effects, aside from bullet squibs that make actors look like they are part of the NRA's Bastille Day celebration. I guess they thought that no one would watch past the first two or if they did, the viewers would feel compelled to sit through the last one because they invested the time in the first two. These cheap bastards even have the audacity to pull the old helicopter-exploding-behind-the-hill gag which I had thought went out with the A-TEAM in the '80s. Where are the exploding flower pots, I ask you?

Additionally, this denouement gives us an opportunity to shed a tear when Tariq waxes poetic about love in an attempt to push Jack into making a move on Nadia. Complete with swelling strings and lingering gazes. That said, it's still better than KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008).