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, June 25, 2018

Lifetime Lessons: The STALKED BY MY DOCTOR films (2015-19)

For the uninitiated, the Lifetime channel here in the U.S. advertises under the slogan "television for women" and unleashes weekly original thrillers featuring "women in peril" situations. Over the last few years I've grown more familiar with them and seen several of the films on there. Most follow a set pattern, but can be fun in the execution. So when I found out writer-director Doug Campbell created a trilogy about an obsessed doctor played by Eric Roberts, I knew I had to check them out.

STALKED BY MY DOCTOR (2015) opens with brilliant cardiologist Dr. Albert Beck (Roberts) being stood up on a date and being told "don't write on my wall, I'm blocking you." You see Dr. Beck may have the brains to be the top heart doc in the world (he's on the President's Fitness Council), but he is a bit possessive and unhinged, often asking women to marry him on the first date. His obsession reaches new heights when Sophie Green (Brianna Joy Chomer) arrives in the ER after a car wreck caused by her boyfriend texting while driving. Beck is immediately smitten and his love only intensifies when Sophie gives him a card thanking him for saving her life. Her parents notice his odd behavior right away, but the doc always smoothly explains the situation. Soon he is showing up at shopping malls, sneaking into her house, and trying to break up her relationship.

The original proved popular enough that Dr. Beck returned nine months later in STALKED BY MY DOCTOR: THE RETURN (2016). Hiding out in Mexico under a fake name, Beck's romantic obsessions are awoken again when he saves high school senior Amy Watkins (Claire Blackwelder) from drowning. Knowing the danger he put himself in last time, Beck goes full Nabakov and woos Amy's mom (Hilary Greer) in an effort to get closer to the daughter. Naturally, Beck lets his inner creep slip out and Amy brings her concerns to her widowed mother, but she thinks Amy is just jealous of her new relationship. What she doesn't know is that her falling for Beck means falling off a ledge.

The third part arrived in June 2018 and brings everything full circle. Dr. Beck managed to get off scot-free during trial for his actions in the first film (he charmed a female juror). Two years removed from the ordeal, Sophie (Chomer, returning now with dark hair) is pissed the justice system has failed her and decides to get her own revenge. She enrolls in the college where Beck is now a teacher and begins a campaign to get him ousted. Beck, however, has found a new ally in Melissa (Anna Marie Dobbins), a 20-year-old student who admits to him she has daddy issues. Naturally, such issues lead to a relationship and Melissa helping Beck to silence his former object of affection.

As I mentioned before, these films are all about execution and Campbell, who wrote and directed all three films, handles it all great. This wasn't his first stalking rodeo as he had previously done STALKED AT 17 (2012) and STALKED BY MY NEIGHBOR (2015). Those (and earlier Lifetime work) prepared him for this lightning in a bottle situation in what has become akin to SyFy's SHARKNADO film success (not in terms of campy quality, but in terms of a ratings winner that fans have embraced). One of the great flourishes of the series is how Dr. Beck's hallucinations are played out on screen. This is perhaps best showcased in part two when a film noir on television starts talking to him and in part three when he has a song and dance number with Melissa (yes, really!). There is also some intentional comedy worked into all three films, showing Campbell recognizes the tropes of the genre and is having fun with them (at one point in part two Beck is seen eating pancakes that spell out Amy's name). These tiny directorial flourishes and twisty plots keep the films entertaining. This all works because of Roberts, who seems to be having a ball playing the role. The original STALKED was one of nearly 40 (!!!) films he had released in 2015. As Vanity Fair said, he is Hollywood's busiest actor but he isn't phoning it in like say Bruce Willis is at this point in his career. Beck gets funnier as the films unfold and Roberts pulls off that complicated balancing act since he is still a psycho (he never goes full Freddy Krueger). Part three even has double Beck as Roberts plays both the deranged doctor and his conscience onscreen. The door is left open for a part four and I fully welcome it. In fact, Lifetime should start world building like Marvel and Star Wars, culminating in giant "event movie" where all the crazed characters come together (hey, a boy can dream!).

All in all, an amazingly entertaining trilogy of Lifetime at its finest. I probably wouldn't recommend watching them unless you have at least a dozen Lifetime films under your belt. However, if you do watch them I say marathon them like I did as you are basically getting a six hour movie about the ever lovelorn life of Dr. Beck.

UPDATE! (in Robert Stack voice): Lifetime is the gift that keeps on giving and delivered a fourth entry in the series in July 2019 with the gloriously titled STALKED BY MY DOCTOR: A SLEEPWALKER'S NIGHTMARE. Dr. Beck is still on the run, hiding in plain sight as a waiter at a roadside diner. An opportunity to revive his Hippocratic oath falls into his lap when he notices a rude customer is a sleep disorder doc. One kidnapping later and Beck is now on his way to Arizona to assume the doctor's new position at a sleep institute. This is bad news for Michelle (Emilie Ullerup), who has come to the clinic for help with her sexsomnia (she legit sleepwalks and makes out with strangers). Even better, she has a young niece, Katie (Angeline Appel), that our stalk doc soon latches onto. Yes, Dr. Beck still just wants love.

With the fourth entry of the series, the producers introduce new blood behind the camera as series creator Doug Campbell hands the reins over to director Jeff Hare. The only thing I'd seen on Hare's filmography was the enjoyable killer bee flick KILLER BUZZ (2001) and he acquits himself well here. Roberts is his usual amazing self and having a ball as Beck and Beck's Hawaiian-shirted conscience. There is also a fun new character in Nicky Bismar (Michael Perl), a guy stalking Beck who will surely create even more chaos down the line. Cult horror fans will also get a kick out of seeing Felissa Rose as one of Beck's new colleagues who starts to suspect something is wrong. You can guess what happens to her. Perhaps the biggest genius move of this film is the writers brought in a character from another Lifetime flick. Yes, Michelle and her sleepwalking plight was originally featured in the also deliciously titled SLEEPWALKING IN SUBURBIA (2017). I love that there is the possibility for a Lifetime Universe (see my review for part 3 above where I dreamed it could happen). Bring on part 5 and even more crossovers!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Redbox Reject: THE TERRIBLE TWO (2018)

I was recently talking with a friend about the wild world of Redbox horror movies. Occasionally I will check out their listings online and you will always find at least 4 or 5 cheapo horror flicks you’ve never heard of showing up on there. The latest crop I saw included films with titles like MANDY THE HAUNTED DOLL, THE LOST TREE, BAD APPLES, and THE TERRIBLE TWO. All uniformly featuring Photoshopped art (see pic on left), they arrive by the dozens every year to only disappear from sight soon after. So I started to wonder - are these any good? Is anyone out there chronicling them all? Is there a hidden gem out there somewhere? I had previously reviewed one with THE ELF (2017) back in the holidays and it was terrible, but maybe six months of Redbox sobriety would give me something better this time. With a bit of naive enthusiasm and $1.75, I decided to find out by renting THE TERRIBLE TWO by writer-director Billy Lewis. Wilson, you’re an idiot.

The film opens with an ominous narration a la John Larroquette on THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974). The narrator tells of an insane story that happened in January 2016 to the Poe family at 106 Chelsea in Greenfield, North Carolina. It was something so horrific that it attracted media attention worldwide. Jeez, must have missed a mortgage payment. We then cut to seven years earlier with Albert Poe (Reid Doyle) and his pregnant wife Rose (Cari Moskow) looking at the said abode with realtor Fred (Donny Boaz). We also get the first sign of lackluster direction when Rose sees a room perfect for their child and says it is going to make her cry. Fred then whispers under his breath, “One day it will.” Really, Lewis, really? You’re gonna red flag the bad guy this early on? Yikes. Anyway, the duo love the place, but think it is too good to be true. When asked about the previous owners, Fred just says, “I think the house became too much for them to handle.” Man, five minutes in and we’ve already got more red flags than China.

Cut to the present where Albert and Rose are living in a parents’ nightmare. You see, they are now coming up on the one year anniversary of the deaths of their two twin daughters, Addie and Jade. Albert is handling it better than Rose, who spends all day in bed and avoids working. Of course, the strange goings on aren’t helping her mental state. What is happening? Well, a toy cart rolls towards her, a picture falls off the wall and someone writes “why” in a fogged up mirror. That last bit leads to THE TERRIBLE TWO’s biggest feature - looooong scenes where Albert and Rose discuss things with bad dialogue. For your reading pleasure, I present the riveting “why would you write why” dramatic moment:

Albert (pointing to “why” in the mirror): This, Rose.
Rose: What?
Albert: This. Why would you write the word “why” in the mirror while I’m in the shower? Especially on this day.
Rose: I didn’t do that, Albert.
Albert: Well, if you didn’t do it then who else did?
Rose: I don’t know. I’ve been asleep in the bed the whole time you were in the shower.
Albert: Well, what the heck, Rose?
Rose: I don’t know what to tell you.
Albert: I don’t have time for this. I’ve got to get ready for work.
Rose: Alright.

This bit also showcases the penchant of writer-director Lewis to always have the lead  characters mentioning the other character’s name. Seriously, if you did a drinking game where you took a shot every time you heard Albert or Rose, you’d be in the hospital with alcohol poisoning by the thirty minute mark.

Alone in the house and hearing the voices of her dead children, Rose is obviously cracking up. When she heads into the attic to find birthday party decorations for her ghost kids, she sees an old typewriter (“I don’t remember having this.”) and finds a typed manuscript by a guy named Jack Wilson. More lazy direction here as she just spots it halfway under a drain pan. Really, Lewis, really? You couldn’t be bothered to have a tiny scene where she finds it hidden in a better place? Yikes. Anyway, things trudge along as Dr. Connor (Devin McGee) shows up to talk to Rose about her problems. Yay, more talking! He mentions he is also an ordained minister and the house is spooking him out. This actually leads to a small bit that had me howling as the doc asks Rose to explain what strange things have been happening.

Rose: Pictures have been falling off the wall. My little girls’ toy cart keeps moving around. And yesterday in the attic I found this manuscript about demons. It’s called Chasing Legion. I’ve never seen it before, so it must have belonged to the previous owner.
Dr. Connor (literally pulling up his sleeve and looking at his watch): You know, I just remembered I have another appointment I have to get to.

Filled with more questions than answers (much like the viewer), Rose decides to Google “Jack Wilson and Greenfield NC” to find out more about this manuscript. Much to her horror she finds an article in the Greenfield Times dated January 22, 1990 that says “well known author” Jack Wilson lived in the very house she is sitting in and was under suspicion for the disappearance of two Girl Scouts (remember that name and date for later; also note they did a "if you're still reading this..." gag in that framegrab). Naturally, Rose is freaked out and tells Albert in another classic dialogue scene. Ladies and gents, I now present the equally riveting “don’t believe what you read on the internet” dramatic moment:

Rose: There’s something I need to tell you, Albert.
Albert: Anything.
Rose: I found an old manuscript in the attic yesterday that I’ve been reading.
Albert: And?
Rose: And it’s not finished so I’ve been doing some research and I’m not liking what I am finding.
Albert: What are you talking about, Rose?
Rose: A man who has a connection to this house was apparently tormented by a group of demons named Legion. It is the same group of demons in the New Testament that Jesus drove out the man [sic] that lived in the cave for all those years.
Albert: I didn’t read the Bible, but go on.
Rose: I know. The only way that he could rid himself of these demons was to kill someone.
Albert: Where are you getting your information?
Rose: From the internet. I was doing some research. And from the book as well. Like I said.
Albert: There you go. Baby, please don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
Rose: That is your response to what I just told you?
Albert: Yes, Rose. Look, this sounds like some religious taboo crap that some demonic cult made up just to justify their agenda.
Rose: Read the manuscript then.
Albert: I’m not reading anything.
Rose: Will you at least pray with me tonight then? It will mean a lot to me.
Albert: Sure. If it will make you happy.

They get their prayer on that night, but within seconds they hear a loud thump and find a creepy old lady in their foyer. Cue another great line as Albert says, “Excuse me, how did you get in our house?” The old lady issues some generic warnings and then pulls a knife of them before splitting. A bit later we find out she is in cahoots with the realtor, which is not a shock since he was portrayed as the bad guy in the movie’s first scene. He says something to the lady about staying out of it and to let the natural course of events take place.

Concerned for the couple, Dr. Connor returns to talk with Albert. He says he did some research on what Rose told him and found that Jack Wilson was the pseudonym for an author named Donovan Peebles. It turns out that when their girls died, it was the 25th anniversary of when Peebles killed two Girl Scouts on the porch of this very home in a ritual he thought would expel his demons. To prove this, he shows Albert a newspaper clipping from the Greenfield Times on January 20, 1990 showing Peebles was on the run after killing the two girls. Wait, wait, WAAAAAAIT! Just a few minutes earlier Rose found a Greenfield Times clipping dated January 22, 1990  that said Wilson/Peebles was under suspicion for the disappearances. But two days previous it was reported he was already on the run for the killings? Man, the Greenfield Times needs a new editor...and I need a life. Jesus, this is some sloppy stuff and I think I’ve put more effort into checking this plot line than the filmmakers. Anyway, let’s speed this up. During this conversation we find out that Albert actually killed his girls a year ago while possessed and then Rose flies into some demon voice possession in the girls’ bedroom while wielding a knife. Naturally after that happens they - what else? - sit at a table to talk about it. Things finally start coming together as the terrible two emerge at the 70 minute mark to stalk their parents in scary masks. I will say that this section does offer what will probably be one of the best lines I hear all year as Albert says, “I just found a death threat note in my sock drawer from the girls.” It all thuds to a typical conclusion where someone dies and Fred is soon offering the house to a new family. Moral of the story? Always do your due diligence when buying a house.

Before I go off on the filmmakers, I should state that I admire that they made the film in my neighboring state of North Carolina on a budget of  apparently $35,000. Making a movie is hard work and getting something on to the shelf, er, kiosk is something that should be applauded. The actors are actually decent as well and Lewis moves his camera, both of which are huge wins for an indie horror production. Pretty much everything else in THE TERRIBLE TWO should be condemned. It is, well, terrible. As outlined in the review, writer-director Billy Lewis spends waaaay too much time having characters discuss things over and over.  Now having a slow burn horror film drawing out the tension is fine, but there is nothing going on here. When we finally get into the Wilson/Peebles mystery, Lewis muddles it beyond comprehension. Of course, I shouldn’t expect much since Lewis shows his cards with the realtor being the villain within the very first scene. C’mon, man. So looks like I’m 0 for 2 when it comes to Redbox horrors. Moral of the story? Always do your due diligence when renting from Redbox. I am in agreement with most Redbox users who gave this one star (see pic below). I do have to admire that 5 star giver “Philliebutt” felt that a film about satanic rituals and dead children was family friendly though.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Redneck Rampage: POP'S OASIS aka SWIFT JUSTICE (1987)

In the '70s, we had a plethora of drive-in yarns about small towns being corrupted by sleazy politicians and sheriffs who invariably have to have their asses kicked by an unbuyable sheriff, an idealistic half-breed, or a returning 'Nam vet. I'm sure there were precursors, but arguably WALKING TALL (1973), the story of the very real Tennessee badass Sheriff Buford Pusser set the ball rolling for a slew of revenge movies that culminated with FIRST BLOOD (1982), which then set off its own chain reaction of post 'Nam ass kickers along with James Glickenhouse's THE EXTERMINATOR (1980). Yes, I realize that David Morell's book on which FIRST BLOOD was based was written in 1972, which predates Doug Warren's 1973 WALKING TALL novel, but we're talking movies here. The popularity of DEATH WISH (1974, novel written in '72) also played a role in creating this action-thriller sub-genre.

This blenderized version of the core ideas bled over into the '80s with a massive spate of films that finally started to run out of steam and mostly died in the '90s when the target demographic was too young to even know what the hell 'Nam was. Even RAMBO III (1988) dumped Vietnam to relocate to a more current war zone, some place called...  Afghanistan? Sounds vaguely familiar. Were we allowed to win that one?

Opening with an apparent agent to the stars (Cameron Mitchell who may have inconvenienced himself by leaving the Dunes crap table for 20 minutes), making a phone call to a young Hollywood wannabe Marcy (Cindy Rome channeling Pia Zadora), telling her to drive out to Las Vegas to star in a new musical at the Aladdin Hotel. So thrilled is she by this news that she overlooks the impending doom on four wheels in front of her. Yep, her first mistake is using her '68 VW Bug to make the trip. Or rather to not make the trip. In one of the most plausible breakdowns in cinema history, the VW conks out stranding her in the middle of the desert.

So distraught by the heat, Marcy does the only thing she can think of to stay alive in the sweltering heat - take her bra off. Since she simply slides it out from under her shirt, the best part of this scene is when Rome flails on the steering wheel in frustration, she accidentally knocks the rear-view mirror off the window. Loosely applied rear-view mirrors were a notorious issue with old Beetles, but clearly not wanting to do a retake, Hope leaves it in and then actually covers for it later in the film. This guy is talented!

Just as Marcy has decided to give up and cook under the desert sun, she is rescued by musclebound, dimple-chinned ex-Special Forces Vietnam vet badass with the most un-macho name ever: Phil (John Greene). Phil carries her back to his tiny gold mine shack, and while not creepily watching her while she sleeps, he fixes up her Bug so she can get back on the road to Vegas... and leave poor Phil behind. As a parting gift, Phil gives her a bracelet he made by hand with a real gold nugget on it. So grateful for his mechanical skills and the piece of jewelry, she bestows upon him an 8x10 glossy of herself in a swimsuit. Oh yeah, she's from L.A. alright.

In another utterly believable bit of scripting, her Bug breaks down yet again, but as luck would have it, she breaks down in a town called Pop's Oasis. Unfortunately Pop's Oasis is a rundown little town populated with greasy, filthy locals with rotten teeth and bad manners who are looking to fleece anyone who gets within spitting distance.

After paying an extra $1.50 for the ice in her coke ("it comes all the way from Barstow!"), the slimeball mechanic decides to cut the hoses on her car so that he can rack up a bigger bill. Just when things were going from bad to worse, the corrupt judge and mayor (Chuck "Porky" Mitchell) and the corrupt and bumbling sheriff Benny (Aldo Ray) decide to pad the city coffers by citing Marcy for all the damage to her car, saying that it's not road-worthy. In what I'm pretty sure is an add-libbed afterthought, Judge points out that she is also missing a rear-view mirror. Genius!

Not having any way to pay for all of the money that these scumbags are trying to extort from her, they, along with Cyril (Wilson Dunster), the inbred son of the local madam, decide to take it out in trade, viciously raping her in a junk yard. Man, I don't want to sound all PC and shit, but I just don't get the appeal of this kind of stuff. Maybe I need to work on my nerd rage. This is Rome's best bit of acting, presumably because she doesn't appear to be acting at all when she's being assaulted by these creeps. She's perky, bubbly, polite and pretty much adorable, and then we have to see her get completely traumatized in a way that reflects way too much of our current news cycle. It certainly isn't fun to watch. Aldo Ray making the "O" face will be haunting my nightmares for generations to come. As if being raped wasn't bad enough, Judge whips Marcy with his belt until he has an orgasm in his pants. Ok, ok, jeeze, I get it, these guys are bad.

Leaving her for dead, Cyril is tasked with disposing of the body, which he doesn't bother to do. Instead he heads into the bar and, does what I'm guessing all rapists do after the fact, pours a bottle of whiskey over his head.

Fortunately for Marcy, Sheriff Benny has the brilliant idea to poke around Phil's gold mine, looking for gold that he can steal. I mean, how tough could a loner 'nam vet be? Of course Phil catches his clumsy ass, and after a fight in which we are expected to believe that an out-of-shape Aldo Ray who looks like he's on the verge of a heart attack, goes toe-to-toe with a strapping 25 year old buck, Phil discovers what happened to Marcy. In retaliation, Phil bites Benny on the face (!?), cuffs Benny to his own patrol car and sends it over a cliff. And now, finally, it's payback time! Phil's gonna kill 'em all and let god sort 'em out! Right? No wait. First Phil has to go rescue Marcy and profess his love to her comatose body, telling her that he "should have never let her leave". Yeesh! Poor Marcy is a legit creep magnet. Of course, the man has spent 12 years post 'Nam in a tin-roof shack in the middle of the Nevada desert, so I guess we have to cut him a little slack.

It's a pretty long, though admittedly sleazy and weird, slog to get to the 'Nam vet going nutso on the hicks, but when it finally gets there, it's surprisingly fun. Not that there aren't a few moments along the way. For some unexplained reason, there's a bit where Cyril gets all bent out of shape that they don't actually cannibalize Marcy's "corpse", plus there's a nice ironic moment in which Judge is shown reading bible passages to children warning them of the evils of corruption. Then there is Aldo Ray who is exceptionally good at playing a drunk sheriff. So meticulous is his acting that to sell the performance he trips over some of his lines. That's a master at work, I tell ya. When he's at a card game, the boys are talking about how much they'd like to get Marcy, Ray shouts "turn 'em upside down, throw the skirt over their face and... [awkward pause where Ray clearly has forgotten his line] ...they're all sisters! Hahaha!" What? I don't even know what the hell that means! One of the best moments is a scene Phil where buries the mechanic in the desert with just his honey-covered head sticking out. In short order the desert ants swarm over his head and tear out his eye! Remind me never to piss off any 'Nam vets if I get stuck in Nevada.

While John Greene's turn as an enraged vet is possibly even more comical than Ted Prior's take in DEADLY PREY (1987), Cindy Rome (aka Sugar Ray Renee) really should have gone on to other things. Known mostly for her clothed appearances in the '80s phenomena of nudie sports videos, such as the infamous FOXY BOXING (1986), this is pretty much her only straight acting role. Other than the videos, she is best known for having dated Nikki Sixx and Brett Michaels in the late '80s. Granted she's not in danger of winning any Oscars, and has a bit of a speech impediment that manages to come off as cute, but is charismatic and looks great in a bikini. You'd think that's all you really needed to get gigs in cheapo indy movies in the '80s. Given the fact that she was, if memory serves, the only participant in FOXY BOXING to remain fully clothed, perhaps her shyness closed a few doors.

The elusive Harry Hope, may be best remembered for his contributions to Al Adamson's DEATH DIMENSION (1978) and SUNSET COVE (1978), as well as producing the musical comedy SMOKEY AND THE JUDGE (1980), also had the promising sounding entry in the Brucesploitation subgenre, ENTER ANOTHER DRAGON (1981) which was to have been shot in the Philippines, staring Bruce Le and Ron Van Clief. This was to be Hope's first film that he wrote, produced and directed, but sadly appears to have never actually been made.

Released direct to video a year after Harry Hope's death, this film, bearing the title SWIFT JUSTICE, is a video burn that was clearly added for the video release. The amusing title HATEMAN: BORN OF HATE was used in Germany, but oddly neither has any real bearing on the content of the film. Justice comes... eventually and there is more than one hate-filled man. In some parts of Europe the film was released as POP'S OASIS, which is a title that hardly sells a rape/revenge film. As it turns out, Variety archive obsessionist Will Wilson found an ad selling the film under the title POP'S OASIS, which proves that it's the original title. I imagine it was a pretty tough sell under that moniker.

It seems that the inspiration for the film came from the very real Pop's Oasis in Jean, Nevada. Peter "Pop" Simon, a wealthy mine investor, actually owned the town of Jean that featured a whopping population of eight people. The inbreeding must have been a nightmare. Can you imagine the office politics? This is clearly the basis for the film and as further proof of this, Pop's Oasis actually closed shortly after the film was released. An admission of guilt if ever there was one.

I would love to be able to interview Harry Hope and find out exactly what happened, during what I must assume was a stop-over in Jean, that inspired him to make this film. Hope was clearly very proud of this film as he managed to cram his name into every available gap in the opening credits, even going so far as to have a card that reads "A Harry Hope Film".

It was the only original film he wrote, produced and directed (except for DRAGON, which may or may not have even existed in any form). I'm not sure whether he was trying to give it an air of legitimacy or whether he really thought this was his signature masterpiece. And maybe it was, it's probably the best of his films with some ambitious effects work in the final reel. As genuinely unpleasant as the film is in parts, there is some ramshackle charm about it if you are killing brain-cells, nursing a concussion or are just in the right frame of mind.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Gods Must Be Lazy: AFRICAN EXPRESS (1990)

In the annuls of Indy knock-offs, there are sub-genres that seem to want to capture everything about the Indiana Jones mythos, except for all of that old stuff that he keeps trying to find. Ark-e-logy or sumpthin'. Too complicated! All you need are bad guys, preferably German, a nifty jacket and hat, and maybe an old airplane and presto, you are in business! This was probably done best with the Aussie film SKY PIRATES (1986), but that is another story, though it does seem that AFRICAN EXPRESS was definitely influenced by it.

In the middle of World War II, an African neutral zone called Mira Mira is the home of the African Express delivery service. Crew-cut American flyboy Brad Stevens (US TV actor Patrick Dollaghan) is returning with some cargo in his temperamental dual engine prop plane named Emily and finds himself not only fighting the weather, but some Nazi schwein have stowed away and are now trying to kill him and destroy his plane with a bomb! Why? Oh, don't worry we will get to that, trust me.

Unfortunately for the Reich, these two aren't the most lethal bullets in der fuhrer's pistol. In the process of getting out of the compartment they stowed away in, they cut loose a massive crate which slides around at the plane pitches from the turbulence, causing SS officer Helmut (Danny Keogh trying his damnedest to be Ronald Lacey) to get knocked out so that trooper Fritz (Norman Anstey) can get punched out of the plane and crash through the ceiling of a dwarf and a fat lady's bedroom. Are you starting to get the picture now? Yeah, it ain't just the weather that's getting rough.

After managing to fight off Helmut and safely land via the miracle of editing, Brad tells his South African mechanic George (Russel Savadier), an American girl, Jo (Karen Mayo-Chandler), and pretty much anyone who will listen, about his mid-flight fight with the krauts. Of course nobody believes him. There are many points in the movie where I believe that something might be intended to be a joke, but it's really hard to tell. This is one of them. I think it's a joke because it is repeated several times. Nobody believes him! Ha, ha, ha? One of the bits that I'm sure is intended to be funny, is the exchange where a frustrated Jo yells at Brad "you are such a smart ass!" to which Brad smirks and replies, "does that mean you like my buns?" Oh, the paaaiiin! This is just the first ten minutes or so. By the time this is over, a med-kit and a fifth of whiskey couldn't ease my suffering.

Brad convinces the clearly unappreciated, but smokin' hot, Jo to run a package for him. All she has to do is deliver this small crate to the customs office in Chrundu, but while in the air, Helmut pops up from the passenger seat of her bi-plane to demand that package at gun point! Didn't Jo do any pre-flight checks? Engine oil pressure? Check. Fuel quantity? Check. Nazis hiding in passenger seat? Che - ah, crap.

After Helmut forces Jo to land in a desolate airstrip, we learn that the evil Nazi officer Baron von Kleinschmidt (Crispin De Nuys) is grounded because his plane has a broken fuel pump, which they have somehow managed to order for delivery, so that he, Helmut and Fritz can repair the plane and take a stolen British radar device back to Berlin so that they may win the war and the Reich will live for a thousand years! Or just get their asses kicked by the Allies anyway. There is a reason these dithering dumpkoffs are stuck in the middle of Africa during the war. While Helmut is trying to force Jo to land in the ten foot square patch of Nazi occupied Zambia, he actually tells her "I have no wish to hurt you." Uhhh, wait - what? In a much later scene, after you think that maybe Jo will never be coming back into the movie, we find she is able to escape after playing on the sympathy of the Baron. Yes, that's right, the Nazi's in this movie have sympathy. Matter of fact they have Brad, George and Jo at gunpoint at least a half a dozen times in the movie and only once does any of these schnauzer stuffers take a shot at them, and even then it's just a warning shot! You could say these guys are the wurst. Did their plane really "break down" or did someone up the chain of command make sure that their aircraft would get them only just so far?

Directed by Bruce McFarlane, directly after his other boneheaded African adventure outing, KILL SLADE (1989), that also starred Patrick Dollaghan and Danny Keogh, it's surprisingly confusing for having such a minimal plot. Where as KILL SLADE featured lengthy scenes of people walking and driving in the African bush and played the kidnapping, chloroforming, and subsequent blindness of a female reporter for light chuckles and romance, EXPRESS tries to be less ROMANCING THE STONE and more like a '40s screwball farce. The film rapidly cuts from character to character, who run around from a variety of different, uninteresting locations, trying to grab the box that contains the fuel pump which keeps getting mixed up with another box of women's undergarments that are to be delivered to same location. Of course the boxes both have the same markings on the side and... I would say hilarity ensues, but oh, my friends, it most certainly does not. It isn't until a significant way into the film that we discover this "plot", and really what it boils down to is that the Nazi's just want the gottverdammt package they ordered! Man, as a regular user of Amazon, I'm kind of feelin' for these guys.

In one scene Fritz, after walking for miles through the African desert to make it to Brad's favorite watering hole, The Red Garter Saloon. Once there we set up a running joke. The bartender Heinrich (Lance Vaughn) tells the broke soldier that his drink is "on the house" at which point Fritz looks up and says "the roof?" Oooooooh yes that did actually happen. Not only is this grueling butchery of a great MUPPET MOVIE (1977) throw-away gag, but it becomes a running joke with the character offering to pay people for rides and then telling them to put it "on the roof!" This dire attempt at comedy came from South African writer Terry Asbury, who also wrote KILL SLADE and, oddly, the sleazy Wings Hauser / Arnold Vosloo thriller REASON TO DIE (1990). Clearly after two attempts at making things like violent rape joke fodder, Asbury lent his talents in bad taste to the grimy side of cinema, but I'm guessing the damage was done and REASON was his final film.

There's also a couple of odd scenes with a Chinese merchant trying to sell potions that will do everything from making people fall in love to knocking out that same person. The potions have been known in the past to do nothing more than make people run without using their legs (ifyouknowwhatimean), and when Wolf tries to use one in Brad's drink, it explodes. Uhhhh, ok. Maybe it's an African thing? What do I know? It's like a comedy of errors, except for the comedy part.

As if the terrrrible comedy wasn't bad enough, it is frequently punctuated with "amusing" tuba notes. I think these guys got their ideas of what Nazis are like from watching too many episodes of HOGAN'S HEROES (1965-1971). Don't get me wrong, I watched the shit out of that show when I was a kid, but I never thought that anyone should get their ideas from it. Even worse than the occasional tuba that is used to remind audiences to laugh, is the musical score (credited to two people) that is one jaunty ragtime piece that plays over and over and over through-out almost every scene. In one scene there's a cheery march and in another scene where Jo is trying to sneak the six feet between the Baron and his airplane, we switch to an appropriately moody suspense tune for all of 10 seconds. Then it's right back to the cheery ragtime theme. By the end of the movie I was ready to go out and bust up a Shakey's Pizza! What do you mean they don't do that anymore? Crap. So much for that metaphor.

It is interesting that, like the more heavily RAIDERS influenced South African film JEWEL OF THE GODS (1988), the Nazi's have zero menace to them. Both films, maybe EXPRESS more than JEWEL, portray's the world's most evil, bloodthirsty, and insane military group in modern history as little more than Keystone Kops. In Ivan Hall's South African martial arts classic KILL OR BE KILLED (1977), the Nazi villain is mostly ineffectual and insecure. Perhaps this is due to the 1973 formation of the neo-nazi party the Afrikaner Resistance Movement. Numbering in the thousands these were an organize, political gang of brutal murderers who attempted to put a stop to the abolition of the apartheid in the '70s and '80s. The police turned a blind eye to their activities until 1986. I am assuming since this was so close to the bone for South African filmmakers, that lampooning them was a good way of fighting back. There's nothing Nazi's hate more than not being taken seriously. Just look at the orange clown in the white house.

Patrick Dollaghan comes off as a poor man's Sam Jones, which is probably the nicest thing I can say about the film. They do have some aerial photography and they half-ass a couple of air stunts, but there is almost no action to speak of. In one of the rather weak stunts, Fritz jumps from a very low-flying plane into the back of a moving pick-up truck, yet it's edited in such a way that it appears as if they simply had Fritz's double standing in the doorway of the airplane about to jump and then they cut to a shot of him landing in the truck bed. Clearly they didn't actually do the stunt. Though the bump that the stuntman takes when he tries to hop from the back of the moving truck onto a speeding motorcycle and missing, definitely was not faked. Even so, it wouldn't even be worth a mention if there was something, anything else to provide some entertainment. It's a damn shame that those are the only notable moments as South Africa has a lot more to offer in exploitation movies than just being a place to film a Hollywood or Hollywood-style movie. In addition to Ivan Hall's action films, actor Cobus Rossouw made quite a few outstanding thrillers, such as the excellent crime outing THE BANKROBBER (1973) with Marius Weyers and the gothic suspenser MY BROTHER'S GLASSES (1972). All well worth hunting down and capture the flavor of South African cinema far more than this.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

This Bud's for You: BIG MAN (1988) Complete Series

Here is an easy way to navigate our coverage of Bud Spencer's BIG MAN, the complete series. We hope you enjoy reading our coverage as much as we did writing them!

Stars Bud Spencer, Denis Karvil, Mylène Demongeot
Directed by Steno

Guest star: Armand Meffre

Guest stars: Raimund Harmstorf, Jacques Sernas

Guest stars: Ursula Andress, Paul Guers

Guest star: John Steiner

Guest stars: Michel Constantin, Venantino Venantini

Guest stars: Hartmut Becker, Mariangela Giordano

Click here for our coverage of Bud Spencer and Philip Michael Thomas'/Michael Winslow series' DETECTIVE EXTRALARGE (1992) and EXTRA LARGE (1993) and WE ARE ANGELS (1997)

Monday, March 19, 2018

This Bud's for You: BIG MAN: A POLICY FOR HELL (1988)

After the surprisingly grim $395 AN OUNCE, what could be in store for Jack Clementi's final outing? In just the previous two outings we've from "wacky" to "wtf?", from laser guns to rapists. Here the writers aim for somewhere in the middle and turn out a solidly enjoyable episode that goes from sensible to manic so fast that it should be prescribed Lithium.

When a German construction contractor, Alfred Merkl (prolific German actor Hartmut Becker), is almost killed in what was obviously a rigged "accident" on one of his sites, it's time for Jack to get the call from Winterbottom (Geoffrey Copleston) at Lloyd's. Apparently, Merkl's near-fatal, almost-accident was the third in a string of suspicious incidents concerning prominent people with extra large life-insurance policies. One man was killed by robbers during a home invasion, one was killed in a car accident and both died with a couple months of signing their new policies and it looks like Merkl is next. It doesn't take much to realize that there's something fishy going on here.

In spite of the fact that Jack's aquatic obsession is now inexplicably gone, he's on the case! His first stop is to see a friend in the police department, Detective Kraus (prolific Austrian actor Josef Fröhlich). Since this is now Germany and not Italy, maybe he will be able to investigate a case without the cops trying to pin any murders on him. Just to make sure, he brings Kraus a case of French wine to mellow his harsh. While Jack is wheedling information out of Kraus, Merkl has decided that things would be better for him if he skipped the country. Though to be fair, he only went from Germany to Austria. That's like fleeing New York to go hide in New Jersey. I think the bad guys might find him. I kind of want them to at this point as he leaves his wife (Italian genre vet Mariangela Giordano) and kid at home to fend for themselves, when it's pretty obvious that home is going to be the first stop for the thugs who want to kill him! Nice guy.

For no adequately explained reason, Jack suddenly, in the final installment, decides to allow Simon (Denis Karvil) to do some of the heavy lifting and go interview the witnesses to the two suspicious fatalities. The fact that this is the final episode and clearly a dangerous assignment makes me wonder if Jack has taken out a rather large life insurance policy on Simon. Simon's first stop is to talk to the old farmer who witnessed the auto accident. While the duffer said in the original police report that he saw a grey truck run the car off the road, now claims that he never saw anything of the kind and to back him up, his son shows up to say that he's senile. Uh huh, you can't pull anything over ol' Simon, he knows something is rotten in Denmark! Too bad he's in Germany.

Meanwhile Jack visits Merkl's shrink (Claus Ringer) who apparently has no patient confidentiality laws to worry about in Germany, and with almost no urging spills the beans on Merkl's history of schizophrenia and depression. Additionally, Merkl was apparently also in debt to loan sharks, who as it turns out, is an Italian who talks like he has a sore throat and is named Mr. Big. Of course, Jack only finds out what his voice sounds like after he knocks a few goodfellas around in what an Italian gangster would consider a "classy" club. After giving the bodyguards boxing lessons, Big tells Jack that Merkl always paid on time and he never had any reason to threaten the guy. The plot thins!

Up until the halfway point we've had a pretty straightforward TV mystery going, but then, out of nowhere, Bud Spencer jacks a busload of nuns. Wait, I should back up a bit.

Jack and Simon armed with a wealth of new information, and knowing damn well that evil is lurking in the periphery, head out to check out the castle of the prince who was killed in the car accident. After leaving they are promptly attacked by a grey truck that runs them off the road. Recognizing it as the grey truck (obviously it would be the ones that the murderers used because how many plain grey trucks could there be in Germany?), Jack has Simon play dead on the side of the road causing a minibus full of nuns to stop, at which point Jack pulls the nun driving out of the cab and takes off after the presumed murderers! When the nuns immediately start mumbling Hail Marys Jack snaps at them "put a cap on it!" Later, in his own defense, Jack says the nuns "never had such a good time!" Now I've seen everything.

The oddness just piles on from there. Fair warning, thar be spoilers ahead. Very odd spoilers.

Merkl, having a drink by himself, looking like the most miserable loser in the history of humanity is hit on by a girl who passes up every other dude in the place just to have Merkl tell her that he is in a relationship with his glass of Johnny Walker and then walks out on her. When the waiter walks by the table he says "what did you do, scare him away?" to which the girl replies "go stick it in your ear, he was probably a fag!" I can't imagine why she's having man trouble. Instead of going out with the girl, Merkl decides to head down to the hotel pool, which in the middle of the evening is strangely populated entirely by muscley dudes in little trunks. Maybe it's a German thing.

The next morning Merkl is found dead in the sauna of an apparent electrocution. The cops surprisingly haven't accused Jack of murder, but maybe that's only because they are chalking it up to an unfortunate accident. The detective at the scene imparts with some fine-tuned logic, telling Jack "I'm not about to get hung up on the possibility that all deaths are murders! Heart attacks do happen." To which Jack replies "so does Easter." Uhhh, I... I just... What the hell does that mean? I don't even know what the hell that means!

Jack then decides that he needs to talk to Hans (Werner Asam), the guy who was on duty in the pool area at the time, but once he finds him, Hans tells him that he can't talk because he has to take his family to an amusement park. So Jack tells him it will just take a minute and then asks his simple question. Oh hell, who am I kidding? Nope, Jack invites himself along with the family to the amusement park and Hans is like "ok, lets go!" Again, that must be a German thing. You try that shit in the States and you're libel to get shot.

Once at what looks like the world's smallest fair that strangely plays De Angelis brothers songs over the PA, Jack finally asks whether it could have really been an accident. The answer? "No". Glad we made that trip! Of course this is just an excuse to have our pool boy realize that he is about to be killed by the black-coat stalker and sic the cops on Bud, so he can take off to go hide on the rollercoaster. Leave the park? Nah. Hang out with a cop? Nope. Hide behind Jack's massive frame? Uh uh. Jump on the coaster? Great plan! Of course our stalker jumps on with him, waits until they get to the top, then shoots him, dumps his body over the side. While rubberneckers are rushing to get a look at the body, not a single cop who appears on the scene wonders why there is one guy running away from the corpse. The guy must be squeamish, yeah that's it.

After cracking the case, Jack discovers that the murders were being committed by a fraternal order of monks who are dressing up in robes and hoods who are killing people who want to commit suicide, but want to leave a big life insurance policy to their family. Of course the pseudo-monks get a cut of the cash for their trouble. While I was dying to see Jack smack some Klan-looking bastards on the noggin in some sort of bizarre live action Spencer-ized vision of Namco's 1986 ROLLING THUNDER video game, he instead has Simon go in a disguise and record their conversation leading to the revelation of the brotherhood leader's identity. Cue yet another playback of the second BIG MAN theme by the De Angelis brothers (here credited as Oliver Onions). It's nice to see some use of make up ("you look better with that crap on your face" says Jack), but dammit, how could we miss the opportunity to see Bud slugging some hooded killers who hang out in a castle?

I have to say, this was an unexpectedly convoluted way to wrap up the series, in a series of convoluted episodes. Not that it's a bad thing, not at all. Matter of fact, this series puts American detective shows of the same era to shame in the plotting department. Many US shows are more than happy to plant their charismatic stars in the driver's seat and set the cruise control for at least half of the episodes. Of course when you are banging out the seemingly mandatory (for the time) 22 to 26 freakin' episodes per season, there's no way in hell you can make every outing a gem. I don't know who created that television standard, but as soon as time travel is invented, I'm puttin' a bullseye on that foo's head. Just think of how amazing it would have been to have had a season of MAGNUM P.I. that consisted of 6 feature-length TV movies. These are the things that keep me awake at night.

As much as I love Guido and Maurizio, the song "Starshine Rainbow" is arguably the cheeriest, cheesiest song they have ever written with a chorus that ends "it's starshine rainbow time!" Of course it is totally catchy and will get stuck in your head for weeks on end. It's also used as a musical cue throughout the show, and I can't tell you how many times "all my troubles disappear like bubbles" has popped into my head while I'm trying to go to sleep at night. While this isn't the finest of Bud's work, I'm sorry to see it end, but I will say that I will be happy if I never have to hear "Starshine Rainbow" again.

"Whenever I feel down and out, there's a light about the skyline... Here comes my starshine rainbooooowww..." Make it stoooooop!