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!

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Living Hell of Ulli Lommel: KILLER PICKTON (2006)

The other day something odd hit me about our Ulli Lommel hell marathon. During the first four reviews, Tom ended up getting two titles where Lommel does terrible fanfic about the title characters, whereas I got standard serial killer biopics that stumble from one murder to the next. The odd part is when we started this project we picked these titles totally at random. Tom said, “I’ll tackle THE ZODIAC KILLER” and I said, “Okay, I’ll snag GREEN RIVER KILLER.” Honestly, I’m not sure who got the better end of the deal as it is like being told you are going to have your toes snipped off by garden shears or scissors. Either way, you suffer. It is even odder that I picked the story of Robert William “Willy” Pickton to follow Gary Leon Ridgway. The Canadian Pickton is said to have killed 49 victims while the American Ridgway was charged with killing 49 victims. The cases are so similar, right down to the police not doing their best since a majority of the victims were prostitutes. Heck, the two killers were arrested within three months of each other. The universe has a plan. Unfortunately, watching these movies is part of it. 

The film opens with some on screen text stating that the Canadian Government has banned all information on Pickton and how it is an affront to our freedom of expression. Damn, Ulli already back on his bullshit. It is also a rather dubious claim since everyone knows about him, but we will get into that a bit later. We get the “film” off properly with a girl’s corpse being fed into a woodchipper and some rather twisted shots of Pickton (producer Jeff Frentzen, who also convinced his parents to use their house) terrorizing a prostitute with a severed pig’s head while oinking. I feel your pain, girl. We then cut to Pickton in custody and talking with authorities. This allows Lommel to unveil his patented “voice over does the heavy lifting” routine as various questions are asked. It is revealed that Pickton started picking up and killing girls in the early 1980s and that he was D.S.A.F.. When asked what the acronym means, one person replies, “Doing society a favor.” This is visualized by showing Pickton put a woman’s body in a garbage can and hauling it out to his woodchipper. Viewers should get used to this montage as they’ll be seeing it A LOT. We then get an extended scene of Pickton preparing some ground meat. This scene just goes on and on and on. The voiceover mentions Pickton and his siblings inherited their family’s multi-million dollar farm. The next scene has Pickton sitting with his brother and sister for a meal, allowing for the film’s lone highlight to appear early on. As his siblings chow down on what we assume are human-infused sausages, Lommel cuts to Pickton’s plate and, I kid you not, it has one large raw carrot and two pieces of asparagus on it. Seriously. Here is my early Christmas present to you: 

The sister then comments that the family business is preparing to sell their sausages nationwide in supermarkets. While there are rumors Pickton did serve human meat to people, I doubt it was on this grand scale. Pickton then wanders around the family farm before settling down to listen to some tapes of himself torturing victims. Another monotonous voice over has him delivering the worst spoken word poetry ever as he says, “Women, dirt. Women, scum. Women, bitch. Women, cunt. Women, death. Women, burn. Women, hell.” Jesus, what’s his Andrew Tate subscriber number? As with the woodchipper montage, viewers should get used to this audio clip as they’ll be hearing it A LOT. 

That seems to be quite a bit of set up for a Lommel serial killer biopic, so he finally settles into Lionsgate’s preferred “kill after kill” routine. The next victim is shown being picked up at a bus stop and is taken back to Pickton’s sister’s house. He gives her a spiked drink, which hits her within ten seconds of taking her first sip. Damn, I wish I had some of that while watching all of these Lommel flicks! Shockingly, we get a deviation from the plan as a cleaning lady arrives and Pickton just lets her in. The ubiquitous voiceover mentions the cleaner reported the strange incident, but the authorities didn’t care. We then get the patented garbage can scene before he puts the victim’s hand in a meat grinder. 

We then cut to the brother and sister discussing their brother’s issues. The sister responds by saying, “Lord knows he has a right to enjoy himself. Always so withdrawn and lonely.” In rather quick succession, we get more murder montages with each girl being picked up at the exact same bus stop location. Sharp-eyed viewers will catch this Canadian set location with Boston, Massachusetts advertising on it (see pic below). I’m sure if Ulli was around he would argue the utilization of the same location was to show the banality of Pickton’s actions or some bullshit. The next victim is taken to his house and fed booze and pills. When she is barely conscious, Pickton forces her to eat pills off each stair of the staircase. It is here that Lommel commits a rather disgusting bit as the voiceover says the victim was pregnant and bits of the fetus were found in Pickton’s freezer. Not content to rely on such vile mental imagery, Lommel then cuts to two shots of real aborted fetuses on screen. Seriously, fuck off. Enter the garbage can and woodchipper. The next victim is taken to the house and has her face shoved into a pile of cocaine before being chased around the property and killed. Shockingly, Lommel doesn’t reuse the woodchipper scene and instead has Pickton bury her alive and then stab the dirt. The scene ends with Pickton planting a cross on the grave and saying, “I piss on your grave, bitch.” So, Ulli, tell me about your mother. 

This carnage is juxtaposed with some bizarre scenes trying to somehow establish Pickton had a good side when he wasn’t grinding up women into hogslop. We see him encounter three hiking teenagers and he helps one of them with a spider bite. We see him pet his dog. We also see him read the Bible with a prostitute in a hotel. This girl escapes him as he gently falls asleep and she places a big ol’ cross on his chest. Later, his sister asks him about the fresh grave she spotted on the property and Pickton says he buried his dog Hogan. She says she just saw the dog and he says, “Oh, it must have, um, been another dog then.” Damn, no wonder this dude outsmarted the cops for two decades. He’s a freakin’ criminal mastermind. Ah crap, I forgot to mention that ol’ Ulli has Pickton constantly having dreams of a woman recording a man who seems to be dying. This all culminates with Pickton revealing that he hates his mother because she recorded his father dying and forced him to watch. Uh, yeah.

Amazingly, as the film wraps up we actually get something interesting inserted into this cadaver cavalcade. Pickton picks up Annie (Heidi Rhodes) at the bus stop, of course, and they go back to his sister’s house. Sitting outside in the woods, Annie says to him, “How is your attic? You must have a nice attic.” Now I’ll admit this nonsensical dialogue got a huge laugh out of me, but it actually leads to the film’s most interesting part. Annie mentions as a child her best friend was the ghost of a war veteran in her attic and her conversations with him were “the last time the world felt whole. The last time I felt promising, I was in the attic.” Annie and Pickton hang out in the attic, take drugs, and then walk around the property before she asks, “What do you want to do now?” He replies, “I want to kill. I always do.” Back at the house, she reads him some Edgar Allan Poe before asking him how many people he has killed. Stoic in her realization she will die, she simply says, “Can you put me to sleep first?” This whole section is actually engaging and offers a tiny dramatic window in what would compel a broken person to end up in this monster’s hands. I suspect the dialogue was all improvised and both actors - particularly Rhodes - play it really well. Alas, this ten minutes is too good to last and soon we are back to hauling the garbage can. The film ends with Pickton’s brother finding him in the barn with the can and the police saying they received an anonymous call to report him. On screen text states he was arrested on February 22, 2002, which is actually correct. I’d totally be overcome with joy that Lommel and crew got an arrest date right…had they not gotten it completely wrong in a faux newspaper shown earlier in the film! Make sure to read the text here too:

I’ll be honest when I say I seriously considered copying-and-pasting my earlier GREEN RIVER KILLER review to save myself some work (and sanity), especially since Lommel seems to have pretty much done the same thing. KILLER PICKTON is bottom of the barrel (garbage can?) stuff. Rather than sticking to any facts, Lommel is again doing his freeform jazz interpretation of reality. Lommel has all of the characters call him “Billy” instead of “Willy” like in real life. These films are so slapdash that I seriously wondered if that was a clever way to avoid being sued or just another screw up by Lommel and his team. Most likely the latter. Nowhere is this tenuous relationship with truth more on display than in the “subplot” of Pickton hating his mother and worshiping his father (again, footage most likely stolen from another Lommel project). I just did the tiniest bit of research on Pickton and the prevailing fact is he loved his mother and hated his abusive father. Leave it to Lommel to screw that up. Hell, can I really be surprised when their onscreen Pickton looks like a first year English Lit professor while the real life Pickton looked like Ed Harris on a meth bender: 

This brings me to my “more about that later” mention. In a rare bit of showmanship, Lommel tried to create some kind of controversy about this film with his planned release. Courting the press, he claimed his film was too controversial and he was pulling it. As he told The Globe and Mail in 2006: 

"It was supposed to be released in Australia next month, but I pulled the film," director Ulli Lommel said yesterday in an interview. "It will be on hold until [Mr.] Pickton is judged and then we'll see." Mr. Lommel also said he has abandoned plans to have the film distributed in Canada. "It cost me a lot of money, but I decided that it was the right thing, out of respect for the Canadian court and the victims. "I like Canada very much; I like Canadians. They are not as brainwashed as most of us, and I've always been treated really nice when I visited Canada," the German-born director said. 

What a bunch of irritating nonsense, especially for any Canadian officials who had to mentally devote a second to thinking about this film. Naturally, no one cared about his piece of shit film, but he tries to turn it into some kind of valiant and persecuted thing. What happened to the big, bad Ulli who moaned about “freedom of expression” in the opening credits? I’m sure if Lommel were around in the #metoo era he’d cancel himself and then run around screeching about how everyone was trying to cancel him. That lame attempt at “controversy” coupled with the shoddy filmmaking on display had me rocking on my couch saying, “Lommel, dirt. Lommel, scum. Lommel, bitch. Lommel, cunt. Lommel, death. Lommel, burn. Lommel, hell.”

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Living Hell of Ulli Lommel: THE BLACK DAHLIA (2006)

I know, I know. I declared THE ZODIAC KILLER (2005) something like "the worst movie ever", but I am here to tell you that I was wrong. I honestly had no idea how sharp the drop would be. Naively I thought, "hey, after a successful string of serial killer cheapies, Ulli may be inspired to invest more thought and creativity into the next one!" Yeah, yeah, I hear you laughing, but holy shit this movie is rough. Lionsgate knew what they wanted from a movie, as Will indicated in his coverage of GREEN RIVER KILLER (2005), Ulli associate Jeff Frentzen said in an interview: "Lionsgate was happy with the episodic 'kill scene after kill scene' approach and wanted more of that." With BLACK DAHLIA, Ulli served at his sugar daddy's command.

As I'm sure everyone knows, Elizabeth Short was a 22 year old woman, originally from Boston, who moved around quite a bit, but in 1946 settled in Los Angeles, reportedly with the intent to become an actress. Six months later, in 1947, Short's naked body was found in a vacant lot, cut in half at the waist. The cut was done surgically and the body cleaned with gasoline. There are a staggering amount of details in the case, with an equally staggering lack of answers, leading to a wealth of speculative fiction and speculative fiction masquerading as non-fiction. Of course, none of this matters to Ulli Lommel. He's got a buck to make!

In a moment that is literally irony defined, Lommel opens with a quote from the Geneva Convention stating that acts of cruel treatment and torture are prohibited. I guess that only applies to wartime. In peacetime, Ulli Lommel is able to inflict the most heinous of atrocities on unsuspecting (or in my case, suspecting) viewers. This leads to the credits droning on for as much time a Lommel can chew up with B&W and color montages of tight shots of a woman, presumably the Dahlia herself, Elizabeth Short (Danielle Petty), laughing up a storm while being taunted by an off-screen person (De Palma?) with various tools. Maybe she's just a visual representation of Ulli Lommel on his way to the bank. Finally as the credits peter out, the off screen person rubs a hacksaw across her stomach and she is instantly dead. Or maybe not, since the blood that is squirting on her face make her flinch, not once, but three times. No second takes! De Palma's movie is almost out!

While giggling (in what is supposed to be a crazy/creepy way) a girl in a school uniform and twintails writes some stupid shit in a book marked "666" (going on to appear in 2007's THE TOMB) about how the Black Dahlia represents the number 666. What does this have to do with the movie or the actual story of the infamous unsolved murder? Not a damn thing! And you should know better than to ask. This is an Ulli Lommel flick! Meaning, facts and logic are just things that society imposes on you to keep you down, man!

As it turns out, Kate (repeat Lommel offender Elissa Dowling), is an extremely grating proto-Margot Robbie Harley Quinn type, who has a forced "psycho" laugh that is reminiscent of Flipper and behaves like she's seven years old. So cool, right? Living with an old man named McCoon (Johnny Holiday), and so obsessed with the Black Dahlia is she, that she sets up fake auditions for aspiring actresses in an abandoned prison using on-line ads that are unlike anything that ever existed on the internet and computer printed signs scotch taped to the prison entrance. I know that a lot of people do a lot of things to get into showbusiness, but you'd think a piece of paper taped to an abandoned prison might be a bit of a red flag.

This is all a set-up to get aspiring actresses to come and audition in a prison cell with two flabby, mute dudes in costumes that appear to be items salvaged out of the Goodwill's dumpster. Apparently this bait n' switch works, as after luring in her first actress, she is tied down, sliced, stabbed and eventually dismembered. I know what you are thinking, you're thinking "hey, this means at least it's got some gore effects," right? Wrong! You forget who we are talking about here. This is Ulli Lommel and he ain't going to spend no damn money on effects when it could go into his pocket! Yep, it's mostly a lot of screaming, shakey-cam, smash-cuts and a few ounces of cheap stage blood splashed around and Kate jumping up and down, "crazy" laughing like she's trying to emulate the characters in a Rob Zombie movie. Joy. Because Ulli has to make his usual allusions of the military being the same as serial killers, we get strobe edits of Kate, in a camo fatigue t-shirt and cap, marching in place and doing push-ups edited in. It's every bit as fun as it sounds.

Of course this leads to Kate and her boys to leave cling-film wrapped body parts in an alley for the cops to find. Apparently there isn't much for LAPD's homicide department to do, so there are no less than six plainclothes detectives on the case, including the Police Captain (producer of all of these serial killer quickies, Nola Roeper) who shows up in order to ramble about how great it is to have bangers and mash for breakfast and how she met some guru who did nothing but sip water and look at the sun all day. If that is Ulli being autobiographical, this movie suddenly makes sense. At one point, in a later, nearly identical discovery scene, one of the detectives actually says that this "has the same M.O. as the Hillside Strangler!" WHAT?! Ulli drops the mic and exits stage left. The M.O. of the serial killer is in the fucking name, man! Hillside Strangler means that people were strangled in the Hillside area! It's not that hard! I mean, there's not giving a shit, and then there is mindblowing, next-level not giving a shit. Ulli does not skimp on this.

The movie is mostly just these two sequences, casting call murders and cops talking, repeated over and over. Kate lures in an actress, the boys kill her, they dance to old music, dump the body parts in an alley, cut to the cops standing around a bunch of cellophane-wrapped body parts mumbling about nothing. Presumably the body parts are wrapped so that we can't see that they are the same couple of Spirit Store pieces and a Sunday roast. In order to pad out the movie's running time, Lommel uses black and white inserts of Short laughing during very small parties in a very small rooms with an uncredited Tony Bennett on the soundtrack. This is an odd choice as Tony Bennett returned from WWII in 1946, but didn't have any recorded music until 1949. Oh wait, this Ulli Lommel is we're talking about here. No fucks are given or implied.

Also breaking up the monotony is one of the most rapidly promoted cops in history, 20 year old Kevin (no idea who this guy is, the credits don't list character names). Kevin, like all kids of his generation goes on the internet to find things out. He finds out that the oldest living suspect in the Black Dahlia case is this a fossil named McCoon, a producer who was going to cast Short in a movie before she died. So his hunch tells him that this guy - again, the only living guy who was ever on a suspect list of over 600 people - is, extremely conveniently, the killer. Because he is a cop, he gets McCoon's address and just knocks on his door. Pretending to be a Black Dahlia obsessed fan, he talks to McCoon and Kate (their relationship is never established or even hinted at) about McCoon's memories of the case in bland, vague way that feels, like all of the dialogue, flatly improvised. Thankfully, Ulli isn't one of those pretentious SOV movie guys who thinks that their POS is profound because it runs three hours long. Oh, don't get me wrong, he's pretentious, but not that kind of pretentious. Credit where due, I guess.

Kevin's internet sleuthing leads him to find a casting call for Black Dahlia auditions and decides to go to the suspected serial killer's lair without any back-up. There's a reason kids aren't promoted to detective right out of high school. Again, very conveniently, Kate gets McCoon to shuffle over to the prison on the double to meet this dead ringer for The Black Dahlia. Even though Kevin has a gun and the drop on the room full of the killers, he manages to bungle the whole thing, get tied down and is slightly tortured while his passed-out drunk partner finds out where he is via a beeper message. McDrunk drunk-drives / stumbles his way to the scene of the crime... so that he can bust the criminals. I have no idea what Ulli was going for here. The alleged partner is some detective who is always shown on the sidelines of the police alleyway sequences drinking from a hip flask. At the end of the movie, he chugs an entire bottle before vomiting and passing out on the street and being awoken by his beeper which gives him the address to find Kevin. I assume this just another one of Ulli's flailing, shallow attacks on authority, done with all of the finesse of a "Fuck the Police" sticker. Don't get me wrong, the real life cops on most of these serial killer cases give about as much of a shit about police work as Ulli does about making movies, but still. The drunken detective arrives with backup and arrests everyone. "But what about Detective Kevin," I hear you cry! Uhhh, he's dead... maybe? As the arrests are being made, Ulli intercuts b&w and color strobe shots of Kevin embracing the last actress who was auditioning for Black Dahlia and there's a shot of a cemetery thrown in, then McDrunk checks Kevin's pulse and the credits roll. Maybe Ulli was thinking sequel, or maybe he was trying desperately to be artistically ambiguous. Neither happen.

Lommel has many pretentions of grandeur with TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) and SEVEN (1995) style blown-out brightness, strobing, smash edits, oblique angles, etc. All of this is completely undercut by the utter lack of substance or talent. You could make a movie that is all style and no substance, it's an oft relied on trait in the world of horror movies, but you need to have a cinematic visual style, not a video camera pastiche. It also helps to at least have some sort of grasp of the subject matter. Honestly, if Ulli had made the monumental effort to try to do the entire thing as a black and white period piece (which he still would have gotten wrong) and actually tried telling the story of the Black Dahlia, I might have to give him a little credit, but he just does not care.

Even though I have no evidence to back this up, I'm guessing that Ulli Lommel read about DePalma optioning the 1987 James Ellroy novel "The Black Dahlia" and decided to cash in on the name since, hey, it's a news story and he doesn't even have to use any of the actual people and facts, so it won't cost him a dime! In a sick, perverted way, I kind of have to admire the cold-blooded avarice that drives his "filmmaking" career. De Palma's BLACK DAHLIA was first released to theaters in August of 2006 in Japan. Lommel's BLACK DAHLIA was dumped to video in October of 2006. Since Ulli's movie appears to have been shot in about a week, it is entirely possible that he may have decided to cash in after the promotional material for De Palma's film started. Either way, his goal was to cash in on the free publicity and it worked so well that he managed to reel in suckers who actually thought that they were renting the theatrical film! Say what you want about the De Palma film, but even though it sucks, it comes nowhere near the absolute abyssal depths of cynical, consumer-gouging movie making as Ulli Lomell's mindless rotgut.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Living Hell of Ulli Lommel: GREEN RIVER KILLER (2005)

It all started with a simple email from Tom titled “Seen this one?” In the message was a link to Ulli Lommel’s NIGHTSTALKER (2007). I replied that - shockingly - I had not seen this film but I was aware of it and Lommel’s serial killer movie spree that took place from 2005-2010. Sadly, the next day I sealed my fate when I wrote Tom again and said we should totally use Lommel’s late career resurgence as the theme for some October reviews. Your honor, I plead insanity. Even though I knew how far Lommel had fallen as I was still recovering from being burned by RETURN OF THE BOOGEYMAN (1994) and THE TOMB (2007), I honestly didn’t know it was going to be this bad. Yes, just like hell, there are levels to this shit and we’re hanging out at the final one. Don’t believe me? Well, allow me to explain.  

The story of the Green River Killer Gary Leon Ridgway is pretty damn abhorrent. Beginning in the early 1980s, Ridgway began killing prostitutes indiscriminately in the Seattle and Tacoma, Washington area. A majority disappeared from the sleazy “SeaTac strip” near the airport where prostitution was rampant. His killing was so out of control that sometimes he abducted and killed women on back-to-back nights. Equally horrifying to Ridgway’s crimes was some rather egregious police work involving the killings. Ridgway was known to the cops very early due to getting aggressive with prostitutes. Hell, one time he drove away with a victim and she never returned. The victim’s friends and family located his truck and notified the police. Guess what? They let him go. Even more outrageous is that he was semi-cleared because he passed a polygraph test. Yes, you know the lie detector thing that is so unreliable it isn’t admissible in court. And then you find out stuff like the lone cop handling it as a “cold case” in the early 90s wanted to test Ridgway’s hair and basically being told, “Eh, that was so long ago, why bother?” while Ridgway was still killing. While he eventually pleaded guilty to murdering 49 victims, the number of victims is estimated to be over 70 and, if you believe him (and the cops certainly do), the majority of his killing took place between 1982 and 1984. That is preposterous and only helps the police timeline for when they cared. The only thing that could make this horrible situation worse would be a filmmaker who plays fast and loose with the truth making a film purporting to tell the true story. Enter Ulli Lommel. 

The film opens with shots of a green river next to a sign that says “Green River” on it. To be honest, I’m shocked Lommel and his team got this part right. As if a cheap direct-to-video flick about a serial killer wasn’t exploitative enough, Lommel crafts his opening with his Gary Leon Ridgway (George Kiseleff) laying around while audio from a real Ridgway interrogation is interspersed with random footage from real autopsies. Jeez, I’m only five minutes in and already feeling nauseous. We then cut to 1981 and Ridgway enters a bar. To accurately establish the very specific time period we just saw seconds earlier, Lommel manages to catch two anachronistic products (a Rollercoaster Tycoon pinball game and House of the Dead arcade game) in various shots. And to establish this is truly set in the Pacific Northwest, the place is plastered with Philadelphia Eagles memorabilia. This is gonna be rough. Anyway, Ridgway brings the prostitute home while his son Kevin is there. Shockingly, this is a true fact although the filmmakers stumble since Ridgway’s son was named Matthew. Ridgway takes her into the bedroom and demands she take a shower. When she questions his intentions, he whips out a gun and points it at her face. Her completely natural reaction is to say she needs another hundred dollars for her time. Lommel’s completely natural reaction is to show a close up of a modern $100 bill. After she takes her shower in front of the leering Ridgway, she sets the romantic mood before the deed by saying, “I have to take a shit first.” Honestly, the scariest bit in this scene is the toilet paper roll is upside down. Truly terrifying stuff. Once on the bed, he makes her suck the gun barrel, the two have sex and Ridgway strangles her. He then proceeds to dispose of her body.

Okay, so far so routine, but this is a Ulli Lommel serial killer biopic, so we can assume some “alternative facts” will be coming our way. Sure enough, as Ridgway disposes of his victim we get a voice over where he talks about his buddy named Boris, who was killed on Thanksgiving in 1979. WHAT?! Where the hell does this come from and what does it mean? We’ll find out…I think. We then meet Detective Dawson (Ron Robbins) and Lieutenant Cole (Christian Behm, a frequent Lommel collaborator who also edits these films), two cops who are on the case in an office that looks like the backroom at a car garage. They talk about the missing girls and mention bar owner Mona might know something. Meanwhile, Ridgway is being harassed by his co-workers at a warehouse. His two dimwitted co-workers joke about how everyone is calling him “Green River Gary” because of how much time he spends down by the river. Ridgway just stands there immobile, much like this movie. We then get a scene of Ridgway in bed with his second wife acting frigid toward him. In the first of two chuckles I got from this film, his wife complains that Gary doesn’t make enough money and he crosses his arms like a toddler and grumpily turns over to his side to avoid her. Trust me, it isn’t worth the pain for that one genuine laugh. 

Ridgway returns to the out of time bar to pick up another prostitute. They go to her RV in order to do the deed and Lommel once again shows his eye for 1980s period detail by leaving a big ass CD player in the shot. After Ridgway sucks her toes (gah!) with a terrible ballad blasting on the soundtrack, he strangles her and then drives her body out to his favorite dumping ground. Meanwhile, our intrepid police are interviewing Mona (Nola Roeper, another Lommel ensemble member/collaborator/victim) and she mentions how odd Ridgway is. No, nothing about him leaving with a girl who ended up missing, just that he was odd. In the next scene, Ridgway is visited by the two cops at his job and they show him photos of a victim who is named Gina Bellweather. Dawson actually says the name twice to make the audience know. That is not the name of a real Green River victim, but important as I will explain later. After the cops leave, Ridgway beats up his two co-workers while screaming “what’s my name?” because…well, because. He then has another dream about Boris.

Around the 50 minute mark we finally get some kind of explanation about this Boris bullshit. After saying he would “maybe suffocate a cat once and a while” and that he stabbed a toddler when he was 16-years-old (an actual legit fact), Ridgway gives us another voiceover where he explains that Boris taught him how to kill. Uh, okay. We then get lots of footage of Boris leaving a bar with two women and voyeuristic shots of them engaging in sex games that are shot through a window. Uh, okay again. We then get another bar victim pickup that Ridgway takes back to his house. She expresses that she is uncomfortable doing the deed in the bedroom because she finds a picture of his wife. In the film's second big laugh, she says, “Do you want to do it in the kitchen? We could do the dishes.” Alas, no dishes are to be done as Ridgway’s wife and son come home. Proving to be as deft on her feet as in the sheets, the prostitute quickly improvises and says, “I’m Gary’s cousin Louise.” What is this unicorn? A prostitute with a conscience, desire to do household chores, and quick on her feet? Ridgway takes her to an empty warehouse and kills her. Oh damn, I actually recognize this place as the main location from THE TOMB (2007). Sadly, we get another Boris dream/flashback. In this one it reveals that Ridgway was concerned about Boris so he decided to kill him. It was during Boris’ long, drawn out death as he craaaaaaaaawls over the floor that I realized the purpose of this subplot. It was just Lommel reverting back to his BOOGEYMAN II (1983) habits and using footage to pad out the running time of the film. I’d wager it is another Lommel production, but I’m not the slightest bit interested in digging to find out. 

Smash cut to the date March 12, 2001 being typed up on the screen. Must be a pretty significant date in the Green River Killer investigation in order to put that specific day up on screen, right? Nah. Lommel doesn't play by the rules, so heaven forbid he learn that Ridgway was arrested on November 30, 2001. By the way, around this time I actually started to marvel that Lommel hadn’t cast himself in a role in this one. Just as it entered my mind, guess who shows up to read Ridgway his rights? ULLI! Of course it was our German cinema cowboy who took him down. The film wraps up with footage of an older Ridgway (for some reason they make him look like Robert Shaw) in cuffs leading Lommel to crime scenes mixed with stock footage of DNA machines as on screen text mentions Ridgway’s DNA being matched. Oh yeah, remember Gina Bellweather from earlier? The onscreen text refers to her as Regina Bellwith in this finale. Nothing better to prove the pointlessness of this film than the filmmakers mangling a name of a character they created. If they can’t bother enough to care, why would the audience? 

Screw Lionsgate. No, seriously, screw Lionsgate. Things didn’t have to be like this. The company was flush with cash thanks to the buzzsaw box office success of SAW (2004) and SAW II (2005). And, hell, they were even experiencing award success around this time with HOTEL RWANDA (2004) and “Best Picture” winner CRASH (2004). The last thing they needed to be doing was hanging out with the reprobates in the alley. However, they just couldn’t escape the overwhelming desire to fleece the rubes via the tubes. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised they hooked up with Ulli Lommel. After all, they were releasing the early exploitation efforts of fellow German trash auteur Uwe Boll around the same time with HOUSE OF THE DEAD (2003) (via their Artisan arm) and ALONE IN THE DARK (2004). As Tom outlined in his ZODIAC KILLER (2005) review, serial killer cinema was flying off the Blockbuster shelves and Ulli’s attempts to convey some kind of story with his Zodiac interpretation hooked enough viewers that the company jumped on the idea faster than Guillermo del Toro abandons film projects. Look I’m not trying to “slut shame” this company as exploitation is the name of the game, but at least show some standards.

Reading Tom’s review, I was blown away that he actually got Ulli attempting something that might be construed as a plot. With his next feature, Lommel abandoned all pretense and opted for just a series of scenes of random killings linked together by terrible voice overs. As Ulli’s producer/partner-in-crime Jeff Frentzen said in an interview, “Lionsgate was happy with the episodic ‘kill scene after kill scene’ approach and wanted more of that.” Well, they definitely got that. This is pretty much the same scene repeated over 80 minutes as Ulli’s Ridgway goes to a bar, dances, picks up a prostitute, kills her, and then dreams about Boris. Rinse-and-repeat. As the incongruity outlined above shows, Lommel didn’t give a damn about anything like facts. Hell, he starts the film in 1981 even though Ridgway said his first murder didn’t happen until July 1982. If only Lommel had access to some kind of machine that could tell him that. That ineptitude coupled with some ugly video cinematography, some truly horrendous editing (they loooooove to overlay shots; see example below), and real autopsy footage results in a truly uncomfortable experience. I’d love to meet the Lionsgate exec who greenlit all of these and force them to watch these films because you know they never did. I’d also punch them in the gut. Hard.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Living Hell of Ulli Lommel: THE ZODIAC KILLER (2005)

Oh holy shit, what have we gotten ourselves into? Ulli Lommel has had an amazing career out of making terrible movies that keep making money in spite of the almost no discernable talent. Sure someone, probably Ulli himself, might claim that he indeed had an auspicious start with Rainer Werner Fassbinder and even briefly moved into making a couple of successful low-rent horror movies, but cratered into a mad grab for cash that dumps all but the pretension of filmmaking. Even the worst dishwasher can work at a great restaurant for a while. Sound harsh? I have met a lot of genre movie fans over the years, across the US and overseas, and while many, if not most, have seen some of Lommel's work, not one of them could be considered a fan. Lommel benefited greatly from the insatiable demand for VHS and DVD content and as such was able to churn out staggeringly cheap "movies" for the DVD era that were little more than home movies shot with a cheap video camera in homes or public places. But to sell these ramshackle videos, you need a hook with which to reel in the suckers. In the late '90s, after David Fincher's SEVEN (1995) became a runaway hit and ingrained itself into pop culture, serial killer films became big business. You could argue that the low-budget arthouse hit HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986) really kicked things off leading to big studio films like SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991), but SEVEN was so huge that it lead to every aspect of it, including its credit sequence, influencing everything that came after it. Throughout the early 2000s we got high-profile serial killer hits like AMERICAN PSYCHO (2000) and MONSTER (2003), to a glut of indy titles like ED GEIN (2000), DAHMER (2002) and TED BUNDY (2002). Just like Leatherface is purported to have said, "what better hook to hang it on?"

In 2005 received no less than two ZODIAC movies. Alexander Bulkley's THE ZODIAC was low-budget, but aimed for legitimacy with actual film and a limited US theatrical run starting with a July 2005 German festival screening. ULLI LOMMEL'S THE ZODIAC KILLER (this is the actual title card) didn't get such honors and, after a US festival screening in March of 2005, went straight to DVD. Distributed by Lionsgate with an eye-catching cover, ZODIAC KILLER dropped the same year that SAW (2005) sold over 3 million copies in the first week of its DVD release. Lionsgate knew that they had a blueprint to vacuum money out of pockets in a booming horror market. Low-budget (or in Ulli's case, no budget), movies about serial killers who preferably torture their victims were big business and ZODIAC KILLER proved them right. Though, it certainly wasn't the actual movie that brought in all the sales, it was just the cover and title. You could have had 80 minutes of Ulli Lommel doing his laundry and that sucker would have still flown off the shelves at the time. 

I'm sure everyone reading this is at least familiar with the Zodiac Killer's brief reign of terror in the San Francisco Bay Area, from December 1968 until October 1969. The case is complicated and other murders with similar M.O.s have been alleged to be linked to the presumed single killer. No less than seven victims, six of whom were couples, are confirmed to be linked to a person who wrote cryptic letters to the San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Herald and The Vallejo Times-Herald (Vallejo being a middle-class community just north of SF) in which he took credit for the killings and what are believed to be cypher codes that have never been cracked. The solitary survivor of his attacks described him as wearing a hood and had a symbol of a circled cross on his chest. Many other cases into the mid-'70s have been thought to have possible connections, but whether they actually were the same person or a copy-cat or just some cop's fever-dream, is unknown since the killer was never caught. Considered one of the great unsolved crime cases in history, along with Jack the Ripper and B.D. Cooper, it is "solved" every year, usually in the Fall, by an amateur sleuth or retired detective and is splashed about the newspapers and social media so that we can all laugh at the absurd conclusions. It probably goes without saying, but Ulli Lommel doesn't give a shit about any of this.

Set and shot in Los Angeles (because that's where Lommel lives) and based on "his story" titled "The Nature of Evil" (which a Google search could not find any mention of) this no-budget sucker-bait outing makes the WITCHCRAFT series (1988-2016) look like A-list entertainment.

A douchebag at a rest home is loudly talking on his cellphone about needing to kill off his elderly relative in order to receive an inheritance. Unfortunately for him, she and the orderly (Vladimir Maksic) are right within earshot causing the orderly to frown with disapproval. After work, the orderly spends a long time travelling through L.A. until he finally comes upon an apartment laundry room where the d-bag is washing his clothes. The orderly, Michael Cosnick (who looks like a Mikey to me), takes out a nickel plated .45 and shoots him in the base of his spine. Are you horrified? No? Well, Los Angeles DJ's are! After what I assume is a pleasant night's sleep Mikey awakes to morning radio blaring about how this murder is "reminiscent of the string of killings nearly 30 years ago by the infamous Zodiac, a serial killer who is still at large!" Yep, you shoot a guy doing laundry and the next thing you know, you're branded a serial killer who hasn't been around for 36 years and operated about 400 miles away. I mean, you can understand why people would freak out and claim it is a Zodiac killing when there are only 71 gun-related deaths per month in 2005 Los Angeles. Makes perfect sense. The DJ helpfully goes on to inform Mikey, "you can read more about the Zodiac in Simon Vale's '70s best seller, 'The Hunt for the Zodiac'." I'll give you two guesses who plays Simon Vale, and one of them doesn't count, because it ain't David Hess.

Did I say "David Hess"? We jump to a room in which David Hess plays Mel Navokov, a forensic pathologist who is looking at some very real crime scene photos of bodies in various states of dismemberment. The reason we know he is a forensic psychologist the fact that he yells at his presumed friend Simon Vale (Ulli Lommel): "I'm a forensic psychologist, remember!?" So he's going to assess this alleged Zodiac based on pictures of his alleged victims on his laptop? It's almost as if Lommel has no idea what a forensic psychologist actually does. It doesn't take long for Mel to make an assessment: "The guy knew what he was doing... Makes ya puke doesn't it? When I get sick, I get horny!" Simon responds that when he gets lonely, he prays. These guys could kill a party faster than a visit from your parents.

Mikey easily finds a copy of Vale's book and we get one of the first, but definitely not the last, monotonous voice-overs reading the personal history of the Zodiac (here referred to as just "Zodiac" as if it is his name). That's right, detailed biographical information about a guy who was never identified. Since Lommel has a budget that starts at zero and counts backwards, he decides to use black and white footage swiped from THE BOOGEYMAN (1980) while the V.O. narrates what Zodiac did as a kid. This resonates with Mikey, for some reason, and in a desperate attempt to give the movie some sort of depth, Lommel has Mikey narrate his rambling thoughts about his desire to kill all the people who don't visit their relatives in the home where he works. Not sure how he's going to find people that haven't actually been to his workplace, but whatever. He also muses "I love old people. They need help." See? He's not a bad guy! Actually I have no idea whether that is Lommel's intent because the dialogue is seemingly adlibbed and barely coherent.

We also get long scenes of Mikey, who is apparently able to mimic the handwriting of the Zodiac flawlessly, writing letters to the police claiming to be the original killer. Additionally, we get absurdly boring scenes of Mikey killing people, like a young couple of non-actors who are looking to buy a Mercedes from some random guy in a small garage. Amusingly, the couple are shown getting shot and then shown dead in completely unnatural positions and in a way that their bodies never could have fallen. Yeah, that's me; expecting visual continuity from an Ulli Lommel movie. There is also a subplot that is introduced late in the game about a bunch of guys who sit around a dinner table wearing black hoods who are the "real" Zodiac killer. They have meetings in which they bitch about the new guy trying to take credit for their crimes and who killed which deserving person that week. Again, implying that serial killers are not entirely bad.

We get more rambling, stream of consciousness voice overs that culminate with a bizarre scene in which Mikey orders pizza. It is delivered by a girl in a black and white restaurant waitstaff outfit who Mikey just stares at for a while. Then, on the pretext of getting money to pay for the pizza, he gets a canteen filled with an unnamed knockout gas, causing the pizza girl to faint into a comfortable chair. After staring at her even more, he goes to bed and dreams that they are sitting on his bed tickling and wrestling each other. After waking up, he decides not to kill her. Riveting cinema! Lommel strains to make profound statements about how the military (in this case the US Navy, which is bizarrely specific) are state sanctioned killers. Yeah, he's got a point, but it's so tortured that I yearn for the subtlety of Monty Python's Zulu War bit in THE MEANING OF LIFE (1983). Here he thinks that he'll go into the Navy because "they kill for a reason". I'm beginning to think that Ulli doesn't have a point, just a rounded tip. We also get more of Mikey's Jack Handy-esque musings such as: "One thing I miss reading about the Zodiac is his purpose. He doesn't have a purpose." Makes ya think, doesn't it? Also, while stalking a victim, Mikey thinks "He really got on my nerves, so he had to go. If you know what I mean." No idea. He had to go home? To the grocery store? Piano lessons? What?

As if all that wasn't boring enough, we have another subplot about Vance meeting up with Mikey. Vance is trying to investigate Mikey while updating his book for a rerelease for which he is being fronted half a million dollars (welcome to Ulli's other fantasy world). It starts with letters, then phone calls, then getting a friend to hack into US Homeland Security computers and track Mikey's cell phone and then requests for dinner dates at French restaurants and invitations back to his place. Yeah, nothing creepy. For all of the stumbling, half improvised, one-take dialogue, this is the part where Lommel seems right at home, delivering his come-on lines so smoothly that you'd think he's had a lot of practice with them. Draw your own conclusions. One of the "best" moments of this squirm-inducing letchery is when Vale gives Mikey an opera DVD and a people-killing knife and gets him back to his place to feed him ice cream and make him watch REVENGE OF THE STOLEN STARS (1986)! Man, this fucker is creepy and evil!

Yep, you guessed it, [SPOILER] Smokey is the Bandit! Vale then gasses and shoots Mikey in his bathtub and we discover that he is the head of the Dining Room Table Zodiac Club. Oh and because Lommel doesn't know when to quit, we get a few tacked on scenes of Vale tying up loose ends. He sends Mikey's naked corpse in a giant Looney Tunes present to the detective on the case, who is not remotely impressed, along with a note saying that Mikey is the Zodiac. He then talks to a guy who he was interviewing for his book because his father was a serial killer. The guy really wants his father to be thought of as the greatest serial killer ever and Vale tells him that he wasn't because he was caught and executed (via guillotine!) and the greatest serial killer is the Zodiac because he was never caught and he then walks into the night. Roll credits.

Lommel puts so little effort into this rambling, dreary home-movie that it is amazing that he actually coordinated his schedule so that he could steal footage during an alleged Christmas parade and an alleged Halloween street party, where nobody is in costume except the "actors". These are cellphone-esque shots (IMDb says that this was shot with a Sony Arriflex 35, which is complete bullshit) just showing Vale following a wandering Mikey or the corpulent and aging ex-Zodiac detective Fisk (Peter Beckman), who lives with a young rockabilly wife and watches THE DEVONSVILLE TERROR (1983) in his spare time. There are no special effects outside of a tiny bit of stage blood dribbled on the victims, so Lommel resorts to pulling out footage from damn near every horror movie he's made including many scenes from TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES (1973), as well as the afore mentioned real crime scene photos. The whole thing lends a sleazy feeling that THE ZODIAC KILLER is little more than an excuse for Lommel to attempt to put the moves on the lead and make some money off of the lucrative serial killer movie market at the same time. 

It should be mentioned that this is the first in a string of 10 real-life serial killer movies (that have nothing to do with the real-life serial killers) from Ulli and his new best friend, actor/producer Nola Roeper. Prior to hooking up with Ulli, Roeper's claim to fame was AM radio in the '80s and some minor comic acting and stage roles in '70s. She has produced at least 20 of the cheapest, crappiest shot on video movies that you can imagine for Lionsgate and a whopping 19 of them were with Lommel behind the camera (iPhone?). She has small acting parts in most of them and, let's say, she does nothing to raise the value of the production. Interestingly, she took her ill-gotten gains and put them into a Hollywood event planning / party rental company that has staged events for A-list actors. Or at least so she claims.

Presumably inspired by the trail-blazing 1971 cult film, THE ZODIAC KILLER, it's hard to say whether Ulli heard about Bulkley's production and raced to make his own, or whether it was just one of those Hollywood hive-mind occurrences where you have two or more very similar movies being produced concurrently, seemingly in a vacuum, separate from each other. Seeing as how Lommel's movie probably took about a week to shoot, I'm inclined to believe the former. The most amusing thing about these completely dissimilar competing turkeys is that they were financially successful, possibly paving the way for David Fincher's unsuccessful, but surprisingly good, big-budget take on the events with ZODIAC (2007). While I'm usually all about supporting the underdog, in this case I'm glad something good came out of Ulli's gawd-awful tripe.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Dr. Jones I Presume?: MARK OF THE SCORPION (1986)

Just like Indiana Jones travels the globe in search of objects of art that people have rarely seen, our job here is to do the same. Ok, so these days, travelling is, uhhh, minimal, but still we dig in obscure places for hand crafted things that are stunning to behold, at least in one way or another. I'm sure not all of Indy's adventures have led him to incredible finds that warp men's minds (and faces). There have to be plenty where he scratched around in the dirt and came away with the jawbone of an ass. Much like we did here. Actually, a jawbone of an ass was something that was useful to someone at some time. MARK OF THE SCORPION (aka KISS OF THE COBRA and BETTER KISS A COBRA) could only be described that way because it brought the filmmakers some money by producing the cheapest hunk of junk possible and pawning it off on unsuspecting distributors hungry for product to stuff onto video store shelves complete with box art that is nothing more than a nest of lies.

Set in "West Sahara" in 1936, we are told of a group of soldiers, known as The Scorpions because of their scorpion tattoos, are rounded up and imprisoned for robbing the military and providing arms to the Berbers. So I guess what they are saying is that The Scorpions were mercenaries assisting the Berber rebellion against the Spanish occupation and the eventual combined forces of the Spanish and French armies that put down the rebellion in 1934. Too bad they didn't actually say that because most viewers in 1986 probably had no idea what the hell they were talking about because they would have had to actually dig out an encyclopedia and look up the history of Western Sahara.

Our hero, Phil Stone (Andy J. Forest) - yes, that's his name - descends on a rope into a small hole filled with human bones, gold treasures and snakes. Why did it have to be snakes? Because RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), that's why. Oh, and also Egyptian statues. Even though the Egyptian empire was literally on the other side of the continent. But whatever, adventure! After searching the burial site (by which I mean, just kind of glancing around his general vicinity), Phil climbs up to find he is surrounded by angry Arabs who accuse him of profaning their tombs! You know what this means, right? Yeah, we got a fight! After a quick scuffle that puts Phil ahead, he is quickly knocked unconscious because one dude has a bullwhip. So this means that he'll grab the whip and use it in the rest of the movie, right? Nah, too much effort. The Arabs search him and find no treasures that whitey has profaned, so they just decide to give up and leave. Unbeknownst to them, our brave hero was playing possum and had secretly stashed a golden ring in his mouth. Because Phil is an archaeologist and therefore respecter of antiquity, he immediately goes to sell it to an Arab friend in the middle of the desert who is busy having a hand chopped off of some schmuck who dared to rob a tomb. Seeing that this plan might be unwise, Phil instead just tries to bum a loan. The Arab tells him "My religion says that loans are impure," to which Phil replies "I don't agree with your faith." Zing! The Arab decides gifts are ok, and gives him the necklace that was stolen by the profaner! His faith definitely is strange.

After lying in bed with his married squeeze Maria (Italian porn star Milly D'Abbraccio), he flees the jealous husband by leaping out of a closed window. Savor this moment like a 1934 Chateau Lafite Rothschild because this is pretty much the only action you are going to get in this somnia-inducing cash-grab. Because we have established that he needs money to get on a boat (he has been carrying a random picture of a cruise liner in his pocket for years), he decides to bet the ring, necklace and all of his cash on the Gom Jabbar test. Ok, so it's basically a bet on whether him or some other idiot can put their hand in a box that contains a "cobra", which looks a lot like a European Grass Snake*, and not die. Phil wins, but is instantly arrested by the military police for "killing that man". 
*(thanks to the amazing herpedude Mike Howlett)

Turns out this was an astoundingly elaborate set-up, assisted by Maria(!), to get him back in the local prison camp where Warden Fontaine (Paul Muller) wants Phil to find Cleopatra's treasure. This treasure, which he believes is not only here, nearly 2000 years and 3000 miles away from where Cleopatra sat on her asp, but is actually somewhere in the prison camp! WHAT?! Ok, ok, deep breaths, willing suspension of disbelief, willing suspension of disbelief. Phil, who may be the laziest, slowest and most unemotional hero I've ever seen, at least is no dummy. To this he replies "Do you still believe in Santa Claus?" Yeah, that's tellin' him, Phil!

Phil hooks up with another Scorpion prisoner (who the writer couldn't be bothered to name) to help him out in his hunt. At the same time, the camp's Sargent Kemal (Mohamed Attifi) is suspicious of Phil's constant visits with Fontaine. His master plan to find out what is going on? Kill Phil. Yep, that's his plan. To be fair, the guy is a prison guard in a desert prison camp, so clearly he's about as sharp as a sack of wet camels. The reason Fontaine thinks that the cache is nearby is because he has a medallion that a prisoner found in "The Pit"; a hole in the ground that Fontaine likes to drop surprisingly well-fed looking prisoners into. To accomplish the goal of hunting for treasure in The Pit, Phil says he needs 24 hours of freedom. Fontaine agrees to this, but poisons him with cyanic acid, which he says is fatal in 12 hours. I'm not a chemist, so I don't know, but considering the level of bullshit this movie has shovelled on viewers already, I'm a bit skeptical.

While driving away from the prison, Phil manages to get beaten up by Maria's husband without leaving the Jeep and is unconscious for 6 hours! So that means shit is going to get into gear, right? Nope! Instead Phil casually drives out to see his hand-chopping buddy in the middle of the desert who gives him a history lesson about an earthquake that happened in the region during the reign of Cleopatra. I'm not sure what baffles me more: the fact that an ancient history expert is hanging out in the middle of the desert hacking off hands or the fact that we are expected to believe that an earthquake caused all of Cleopatra's treasure to horizontally move 3000 miles! After some incredibly dull car trouble, Phil heads back to jail where his unnamed Scorpion buddy looking at the marks from his encounter with Maria's husband says "who did that to you?" to which Phil replies "some guy." Did I mention Phil has a wit like a razor?
Scorp dude: "Promise me one thing; should the time ever come, Kemal is mine."
Phil: "Um-hm."

Finally we get into a little action as Phil and Scorp Bro get the prison to riot while they sneak scuba tanks (which weren't invented for another seven years) into The Pit. After travelling through a waterfilled tunnel, they find themselves in some dangerous caves. Why are they dangerous? Phil and Scorp Bro have this exchange to explain:
Phil: "Hold on, with Cleopatra you can't be too careful."
Scorp: "What does that mean?"
Phil: "She was an expert in traps!"
After finding a chest, the cave starts to crumble and Phil shouts "Run!" Just kidding! Phil, blasé as ever, says "The old girl sure knew her traps." Yeah, everybody knows that.

Once back on the surface (Phil planted some dynamite and blows out the entire side of a mountain to escape the crumbling cave), Phil and Scorp Bro open the chest, to find a scroll and some bits of treasure. Phil who has clearly had his brains blown out along with the cliffside, says is worth $2 million! I think Phil needs to find an alternate line of work. Just then Phil's anti-profaner buddy shows up with an army of rifle-toting Berbers. Uh oh, shit's about to get real, right? Ha! You wish! The scroll is just a note left by a grave robber saying that he stole all the treasure, thanks! Phil's Arab buddy decides to take the scroll from the profaners and says he's going to sell it at auction (WHAT?!) and Phil can keep whatever treasure he found. So much for this dude's faith, sheesh.

This white-knuckle adventure comes to a close with Phil and Maria on a ship and Maria telling him that she is going to spend all of his money in America and "didn't you say you'd kiss a cobra? Now you're going to marry one." And again... WHAT?! Are we supposed to cheer at this point? I guess it's just a way to explain the title MEGLIO BACIARE UN COBRA (BETTER TO KISS A COBRA), but man, if my married hook-up got me framed and sent to a desert prison camp, the only ring she'd get from me is a lifepreserver after I throw her off the bow of the ship.

I always talk about us scraping the bottom of the barrel, but damn this one left me with splinters under my nails. In addition to being lethargically paced and stunningly bereft of action and adventure in an action-adventure movie, American actor Andy J. Forest is quite possibly the worst possible pick for an action hero. Or really any role. Inexplicably, he made a small career for himself in Italian exploitation movies, several with Umberto Lenzi. He moves like a sloth on lithium and manages to look incredibly bored even when he's being punched in the face. Though, maybe the movie was as exciting to make as it was to watch. Making this even worse (or maybe better) is the fact that the English dubber clearly didn't think much of Andy either and gives him a voice that sounds like that of a lazy child, which I have to say is a perfect choice. We also have Milly D'Abbraccio popping up occasionally, but strangely doesn't show an inch of skin even in the bedroom sequence. I realize Italians have a much more open and accepting attitude towards adult stars, and maybe they thought this would bring some folks into theaters, but if that were the case, why is there no nudity? Seems a little odd. We also have veteran actor Paul Muller who, while no stranger to schlock, must have wondered how he had sunk from Jess Franco to this.

Also, I know the filmmakers in those days rarely had anything to do with the artwork, but somebody has to take the blame for it! There are a couple of variations, but none tell the ugly truth. There is no blond woman, in blue outfits or not; there are no shotguns; our hero doesn't have brown hair; our hero doesn't have muscles, and never wears an outfit as shown; there is no scene of a person dressed like Indiana Jones repelling with a rope down a giant statue of Amenhotep; and while we're at it, there is no sun with a city surrounding it and the words "New York Video" on it. Unsurprisingly this has never been released to optical media and as such has an incredibly poor VHS transfer that crops off a huge amount of the image on the left and right sides of the screen, like many Italian genre films on home video, without even bothering to pan & scan. Additionally the image is fuzzy and blown out, adding insult to injury. Since it has zero exploitation value, it's no surprise that it's become so hard to come by, but considering what some of the shovelware that boutique blu-ray labels are mega-hyping and over-charging for these days, hell, we may just see this arrive in a 4K UHD remaster. Consider this fair warning.