Sunday, December 2, 2012

AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK (VESTRON VIDEO - 1983)


No doubt that the term “ripoff” is rarely used in a positive light when describing a movie. The base word even connotes violent extraction. When you receive something of lesser value than what you paid for, you might say you’ve been ripped off. Any time somebody refers to something as a “ripoff” it’s bound to be an accusation rather than a term of endearment. You never hear anybody say, “man, that was a great ripoff!”
Sergio Martino’s “2019: After the Fall of New York” is routinely trapped, tagged as some “Escape from New York” ripoff, and tossed back. Sure, it's obviously derived from other more popular films. In fact, this Spaghetti Apocalypse also braids together an overwhelming host of elements from familiar future bummers such as “The Omega Man,” “Death Race 2000,” “Max Max,” and “Planet of the Apes.” The influences are plainly all over its sleeve, but calling this film unoriginal isn’t entirely fair or true. That would be like calling Edward Hopper a hack simply because he didn’t invent the paint he used. In much the same way an artist might work in clay, Martino uses other films to create something that is unique and original in its own way to create a total rager that might actually be better than a few of the films that inspired it.

Set after certain nuclear doom, the world is now a radiation infested wasteland teaming with elegantly spiked barbarian types, all of whom are sterile and dwindling toward extinction. Amongst them is Snake Plisken clone Parsifal, a celebrity of the times with a shadowy past who sees fit to spend the last of his days competing in lethal demolition derbies. Shortly after his latest victory, the spoils of which are some gold and a hermaphrodite, Parsifal is tapped by the Pan-American confederacy and spirited away to an Alaskan compound. Hefty promises are made in exchange for his mercenary services. The job: penetrate New York City and extract from it the last fertile female on earth. Unfortunately, the island is now inhabited not only by rat-eating warlords, but a sleek and nihilistic governmental faction known as the Euracs.

Parsifal’s odyssey through the bombed out Manhattan borough features a colorful call list of mutant scum, some of whom become useful allies in his effort to repopulate mankind. Like I said, the movie proudly waves its influences in your face, but then there also a handful of curious references scattered throughout the film. For instance, one of Parsifal’s mutant helpers is a dwarf known as “Shorty.” We’re first introduced to Shorty when he’s mistaken for a child by a pack of blood thirsty rat eaters. Upon discovering that he’s merely a dwarf, one of the scuzzy villains refers to him as one of those “time people” – perhaps in reference to Gilliam’s “Time Bandits.” And certainly not least, there’s the simian-faced rebel Big Ape, who is perhaps the most memorable character Parsifal encounters.

There’s no denying the level of enthusiasm which powers this Frankenstein of familiar parts, but it is entirely held together by a fresh mortar of imagination and creativity. There are tons of terrible post apocalyptic themed films out there made by assholes who think all they need to make a successful film of this nature are the keys to a junkyard and a few punk jackets. The aesthetic of a destitute future is probably one of the cheapest and easiest to achieve. We get the grit and rubble galore here, but it's also infused with an element of fantasy. There are a lot of sleek design elements that give this movie its own identity. In particular the medieval design of the Eurac soldiers on horseback are something entirely different from not only everything else in this film, but for the genre altogether. Beyond that, the script itself is great, and the cast is strong. Much credit must go to Michael Sopkiw who plays Parsifal. Beyond raw charisma, he also makes the part his own rather than trying to imitate actors who portrayed the characters his role is no doubt modeled after. Honorable mention also goes to the odd and lovely Anna Kanakis, who provides an ample dose of villainy despite her limited time on screen.

The only motive anybody could have for calling "After the Fall of New York" a ripoff is that it's convenient or easy. It's a cheap conclusion, which is ironic and hypocritical because these same people fault the film for its low production values. It may have that strange, dated feel that is so prevalent throughout eighties Italian productions (which I find personally appealing), but overall the production has a much grander feel to it than the Castellari’s Bronx films. Despite some obvious miniatures, which are still well-done, the action and the sets feel epic in scale.

Overall, this is not fine cinema, nor is it intended to be. It is technically made well enough to let you completely escape into its world. It also manages to exceed expectations and even trump its influences to some extent by virtue of the fact that it follows that Italian methodology of distilling and multiplying the best parts of what makes something classic. As an experience it is purely fun with no wasted moments. 



Thursday, November 15, 2012

HOLLYWOOD HOT TUBS 2: EDUCATING CRYSTAL (IVE - 1990)


This shallow sequel to the 1984 sex comedy classic “Hollywood Hot Tubs” only taps a few of the ingredients which made its predecessor so endearing, but it takes more than a few boobs and bubbling whirlpools to protect it from the rest of itself.

In the original film, prankster delinquent Shawn is treading on thin ice after vandalizing the landmark Hollywood sign by changing it to read “Hollyweed.” He’s given two options: repeated, random sodomy in prison, or going to work at Hollywood Plumbing with his uncle.  Naturally, he chooses the least rape-filled option and soon he is thrust into a seedy underworld of massage parlors and bath houses. Among the bevy of colorful characters we’re introduced to are mother/daughter duo Pam (Remy O'Neill) and Crystal, who run the venerable Hollywood Hot Tubs. While Crystal, a slack-jawed valley girl whose jiggles frantically under her tube top, is more of a peripheral character in the first film, she takes the central role in the sequel.



The fact that this was produced six years after the original made me a little wary to begin with. Even the unfortunate brightness and color scheme of the box screamed “don’t do this!” Coincidentally, the “Hollywood Hot Tubs 2” box actually bears striking similarities to the art for the terminally wretched “Hardbodies2” – the worst sequel of all time to one of the greatest sex comedies ever. I don't know what the fuck it is, but there are actually a bunch of past-due sequels that feature boxes with white backgrounds and aqua/yellow lettering. It's like some subliminal military warning code that something is going to eat shit.

There is an overwhelmingly good idea at the heart of this sequel: the return of Crystal, once again played by Jewel Shepard, who is easily one of the best and most memorable characters from the original film. While Shepard is primarily known as a B-actress, she was always more than just a solid rack. Shepard coupled centerfold perfection with great comedic ability. There were plenty of actresses from her period who had no trouble baring all, however Shepard easily transcends them by not only being hot, but by being a hot COMEDIAN.

Shepard is always a joy to watch, but I wasn’t sure if anyone could extract a good full-length feature based entirely on the Crystal character. While “Hollywood Hot Tubs 2: Educating Crystal” is anything but good, it’s not a failure because of Shepard. Once again, she’s wonderful here. Unfortunately, everyone that surrounds her is unlikable, and the story itself trades in the real heart and grit of the original film for cartoon laughs.

Our tale begins with Crystal in a mild panic as Hollywood Hot Tubs falls into minor disrepair, which does not bode well for her bid to take over the family business. On the side, the man responsible for the upkeep, aging guitar guru Darby (JP Bumstead), is being hounded to join a band called Brain Dead. In the midst of it all, Crystal’s mother, Pam, is being woo'd by the swarthy sheik Prince Ahmet (a waste of veteran Bart Braverman) who wants to turn Hollywood Hot Tubs into a publicly traded franchise. Crystal is desperate to prove that she has what it takes to run the place, so she enrolls in business school, where she meets the obnoxious Jason. Jason convinces Crystal to let him mold her into a respectable character, hence “Educating Crystal.” At some point, Prince Ahmet’s chauffeur, Gary, spots Crystal and falls madly in love with her at first sight. Gary is also a struggling author who’s attempting to cobble some horrible romance noir crap together, and he thinks Crystal just might be his muse. Eventually, Gary discovers that Ahmet is plotting to marry Crystal’s mother so he can snake Hollywood Hot Tubs out from under her. Seriously, it’s a boring fucking mess that alienates itself tonally from the original film. The sub-plot with Darby really drags this thing down; it’s given too much time, but not enough for Darby to feel like a real character. Aside from that, Bumstead wasn’t the right guy for the part.

Speaking of poor casting, it doesn’t get much worse than Patrick Day here, who plays the Higgins to Crystal’s Dolittle. This has rarely been said, but this is one of those instances where Corey Feldman could have really elevated this project. Rob Garrison ("The Karate Kid," "Punk Vacation") also has a small part here as Billy Dare, a cockneye British hair rocker who's out to prevent Darby from stealing his spot in Brain Dead. I couldn't even get excited about that.

I have trouble believing that those responsible for this sequel held the original film in any sort of high esteem. While the original Hot Tubs digresses into utter insanity, the bulk of the film feels very real up until its wild finale. There’s depth to the relationships, and some of the performances in the original are alarmingly strong. The sequel on the other hand is pretty much just a goofball comedy from start to finish, and it is lacking a prime ingredient: The seedy environment. In “Hollywood Hot Tubs,” we’re treated to a custodial-bird’s eye view of Sunset’s sex culture. Here, Hollywood Hot Tubs has been transformed into an innocuous health spa, complete with juice bar. The adult aura and sense of taboo are nowhere to be found. No one’s jaded or just out to get laid, and that’s the problem. None of the characters are sexual or interested in sex. It's a movie that has tits and some jokes, but that doesn't make it a sex comedy. Instead, it's a romantic farce about a day spa making its IPO. It's a movie that accepts and settles into its own cheapness, and never really bothers to get dirty. Altogether, this is a depressing lack of effort. 

I couldn’t find a trailer, but here’s some of the magic from Part 2, featuring Patrick Day as Jason coaching Crystal on how to be a better business woman.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

THE SEDUCTION (MEDIA HOME ENTERTAINMENT - 1982)

"The Seduction" is the curious result of director David Schmoeller ("Tourist Trap," "Crawlspace," "Puppetmaster") taking his theater studies with Alejandro Jodorowsky, work with Klaus Kinski and mentoring in film by Luis Buñuel and throwing them in a deep, dark hole only to be retrieved at an undetermined point following the completion of this film. "The Seduction" was profoundly mediocre and excellent practice for the three seasons of "Silk Stockings" Schmoeller would later go on to direct in the 90s. It begins with all the promise of a "Red Shoe Diaries"-esque late night cable movie channel softcore, Morgan Fairchild swimming nude while a mysterious onlooker is taking photographs all set to a soundtrack of breathy, delicate violins and electric piano solos scored by Lalo Schifrin ("Cool Hand Luke," "Prime Cut," "Dirty Harry"). This really sets a precedence for the remainder of the film of getting the worst possible outcome from everyone involved, unless you count the acting/facial paralysis Fairchild seems to be suffering from. I guess that's what happens when you pool your talent from television actors famous for their guest appearances on "The Love Boat." "The Seduction" was released during Morgan Fairchild's lucrative career in television embedded seamlessly between her two episode stint on "The Love Boat" and her appearance on the "Billy Crystal Comedy Hour." Playing TV newscaster Jamie Douglas's (Fairchild) boyfriend Brandon is unremarkable Canadian treasure Michael Sarrazin ("They Shoot Horses Don't They"). The slightly more unremarkable Andrew Stevens (10 to Midnight, Death Hunt), who plays Jamie's stalker Derek, road a wave of television softcore work through the mid-90s and into great films such as "Point of Seduction," "Illicit Dreams," "Subliminal Seduction" and so on. Stevens also had the esteemed honor of doing a two episode guest spot on "The Love Boat."

This film has all the suspense of an episode of the "The Andy Griffith" Show with minimal amounts of sex, violence and nudity but revolves around a vaguely interesting concept, lonely people with nothing in their lives but fantasies and the relationship between fan and celebrity. Derek falls in "love" with Jamie because she is an on air personality then begins attempting to inject himself into her life. "The Seduction" is a castrated attempt at a thriller but a step by step instructional on how to make a stranger fall in love with you. Take secret photographs of her swimming, send her flowers, call frequently and always unwantedly, rub your muscles while starring at a photo of her whispering "you can't keep your eyes off me can you", surprise her at work by lurking in her office with chocolates then lay in wait hoping your handsome chiseled face will wash away all the creepy shit you did subsequently. Lover boy doesn't really seem like much of a threat through most of the film but eventually motivates Brandon to turn to the police who can only advise "get a gun" reducing Jamie and Brandon into rifle-toting vigilantes.

"The Seduction" is a thriller falling back on it's softcore erotic qualities which barely exist outside of the music, steamy hot tub sex and peeping toms hiding and sweating in closets. The only potential for merit I can see are the brief Morgan Fairchild nude scenes... a soapy nipple or two and some slow leg caresses, my favorite.


Friday, November 9, 2012

FUTURE HUNTERS (AVID WORLD ENTERTAINMENT - 1986)

I knew when I picked up this movie it would be good simply by judging the box.  Never mind that hunting the future is a stupid idea that is impossible.  Never mind that this is Robert Patrick's first film and his acting skills were probably not yet up to the level of his trademark role, a robot.  There's a scantily clad lady with a crossbow, T-1000 holding a scimitar, and a Nazi shooting a laser-sighted uzi in the jungle.  Boom, I'm already sold.  Then I scanned the credits.  *Double gasp* This movie was directed by Cirio Santiago, esteemed pupil of Roger Corman, and written by J. Lee Thompson, whose fingerprints are all over my two favorite Bronson flicks, "10 to Midnight" and "Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects" not to mention many more traditional film classics like "Cape Fear" and "The Guns of Navarone".  Still, I had to keep my expectations reasonable, I didn't want to set myself up for a let down.

I wasn't let down.  "Future Hunters" starts in 2025 with post-nuclear wanderer, Matthew (Richard Norton) searching for the the Spear of Longinus, which pierced Jesus' side while he was on the cross.  He hopes to harness its supernatural powers to save mankind just as evil warlord Zaar hopes to obtain it for destruction. As Matthew touches the relic, he is transported back in time to prevent the nuclear holocaust. Upon arriving in 1986, he gives the head of the spear to a young couple, imploring them to find a man named Hightower who can protect the artifact.  The man from the future dies of mortal wounds in Slade's back seat after saving the couple from would-be attackers in a biker gang.  Here is where we meet our protagonists, Michelle and Slade.  It's kind of funny, but these two lovebirds don't seem to like each other that much and seem to bicker at every opportunity. Maybe they just need a wacky super dangerous world-saving adventure to rekindle their romantic essence...?

As the gung ho Michelle and reluctant Slade attempt to learn more about the spear and look for the man named Hightower, trouble starts heading their way.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that the main henchman, Bauer, is totally the guy who played Thorg in "Gymkata", Bob Schott.  He's like Dobber from TV's "Coach", but bigger and a Nazi.  Bauer works for a power hungry Fielding played by Ed Crick.  Crick's portrayal adds a certain bit of silliness to the movie since he has kind of a Glenn Beck/Rush Limbaugh look.  The adventure vibe is officially ramped up by about 7-8 minutes of straight kung fu action that is hilariously crammed into the beginning of the second act of the film.  I won't lay out the sequence of events, but I will say this film has Mongols, Pygmies, Amazons, Bruce Le, Jang Lee Hwang, helicopter chases, and alligator pits surrounded by fire. 'Nuff said.

Another pleasant surprise was the wonderful, if not overly ambitious, soundtrack and score.  I was moved to look up the music credits and found that Ron Jones was responsible.  His credits include Star Trek TNG, Family Guy, DuckTales, and Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers.  It's plain to see that this film was an excellent demo for him.  While the editing was uneven and silly, the music itself was great, especially the Amazon themes which reflect an acute Enter the Dragon influence (anyone who knows me knows Lalo Schifrin is one of my favorite composers).

This movie has lots of great action, killer 80s synth music and scoring, and really cool locations in South Asia.  It manages to balance the action and plot well despite the slow first act.  It gets more fun as it goes along and builds to a heroic ending.  I will definitely give this another spin sometime with friends, but will definitely look for a different copy than the SLP mode copy I happened upon. I was very pleased to find this little piece of history and would recommend it if you need a bit of fun.

In lieu of a trailer, here is a clip from the kung fu portion of the film...


Monday, November 5, 2012

SWEATER GIRLS (WORLD PREMIERE HOME VIDEO - 1978)

Ahh, those 1950’s summer memories: The drive-in, the soda shop, the make-out point, your house invaded by a group of drunk rapists. This is a very uncomfortable comedy. Not surprising given that director Donald M. Jones prior to this made "Schoolgirls In Chains" and "The Love Butcher." 

During 4th of July weekend a group of girls make a virginity pact after growing tired of their boyfriend’s persistent advances. They each wear matching sweaters to show solidarity. Even Joella (Julie Parsons, "Hometown U.S.A."), the town tramp, is in on the deal. This course of action makes the already sexually frustrated town boys even more crazy and out of control. They try to blow off steam by having a little fun at the lake. For the first part of the film they can’t stop talking about the lake. They’re going to drink beers there and have just the best time. It’ll be such a blast that they’ll even let the nerd partake. This lake seems like it’s gonna be a cool place. Now dear reader let me tell you with no exaggeration that this is without a doubt the worst movie lake I have ever seen. It is literally a puddle in the desert. I wouldn’t even give it that much credit. It looks more like they sprayed some dirt down with a hose. It is just some wet ground in the middle of nowhere. The façade is ruined even more when they are finished partying and drive ACROSS the lake. 

The men in this film are real boneheads. Most of their screen time is filled with them wrasslin’, peeing, vomiting, and littering. All of this while they are drunk out of their minds. Not since "Leaving Las Vegas" have characters been this drunk for most of a movie. After some dangerous intoxicated drag racing the dudes finally decide to crash the first official sweater girls meeting. They storm a house by loudly stumbling through 2nd story windows and doorways. The scene is comically terrifying; "Assault On Precinct 13" by way of Foster Brooks. What’s most strange about this sequence is how not frightened the girls are. When they notice the first inebriated idiot passing by a window, one of the girls says very matter-of-factly that it’s “probably just a rapist.” This shocking casualness is continued later on when Joella has no problem ultimately with the nerd forcing himself upon her. Yes folks, this movie is supposed to be a comedy. Another questionable moment features a nude man post attempted rape, falling down a flight of stairs, ending up unconscious with a boner.

Jones later did cinematography for "Goin’ All The Way!"

Sunday, October 28, 2012

TRAXX (HBO VIDEO - 1988)

After years of voice work and regularly appearing as the middle square on the bottom row of Hollywood Squares or more importantly attaining a cult success with his character Fred Rated in over a thousand commercials for Federated Electronics, Shadoe Stevens finally decided to grace the world with his leading role debut in "Traxx." As soon as I picked up the box and read the first sentence of the summary I knew I was in store for pure gold.

Shadoe Stevens (who, if you’ve never seen him kind of resembles a lighthearted Klaus Kinski meets Lethal Weapon era Mel Gibson) portrays a mercenary for hire who goes by the name Traxx, but after a brief montage of him single-handedly annihilating enemy forces in Central America and the Middle East he decides that he wants to follow his true passion and go into the cookie baking business. After moving to a small Texas town called Hadleyville, he hits the kitchen to develop the perfect recipe. But soon he discovers that he has no idea how to bake cookies and ends up spending all his money on failed concoctions of various baked sludge. So to obtain capital for his cookie company he decides he’s going to offer his mercenary services to the police department of Hadleyville who is overworked with rampant crime and corruption. Actually the town resembles the New York from "Death Wish 3" more than any small southern town ever; full of brothels, gangs, and a powerful crime lord running the streets the police chief and his bumbling department have no other option but to accept Traxx’s fee for being a self proclaimed “Town Tamer."

Upon his first encounter with fighting some of the towns street thugs he befriends one of them and offers for him to become his sidekick in return for showing him around the seedy underbelly of Hadleyville. Traxx then proceeds to go on an insane rampage of justice, involving blowing up entire buildings and leaving a massive trail of destruction in the streets, yet he still finds time to admire his reflection and work on his cookie recipes. In the aftermath of one of his street cleaning sessions the morning sun is shining down upon a completely demolished city street with bodies of dead criminals strung up everywhere and somehow the geriatric residents are not only okay with this but are thrilled. The mayor(played by b-movie and tv actress Priscilla Barnes) however is not keen on Traxx’s methods and wants him arrested, but upon meeting him turns into a drooling nympho-maniac, practically humping his leg. The mob boss is also not happy about Traxx’s town taming and decides to hire three psychopathic brothers to kill Traxx, however this subplot is one of the least coherent parts of the movie and devolves into nonsensical scenes of them riding around in a car while crossing over the Mexican border.

One of the most bizarre scenes in the movie however is when Traxx pays a visit to the home of the crime boss Aldo Palucci and interrupts him getting a flaccid handjob from his lover. Upon pointing a gun at him he obtains an erection and Traxx leaves, but on the way out runs into a strange frat boy with neon punk hair wearing a diaper who says he is Aldo’s son. The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet remains just unaware enough of its self to be incredibly funny on a whole other level and at times resembles the surreal insanity exhibited in his work in the Fred Rated commercials.


The movie ends with Traxx rescuing a kidnapped little league team and opening up a popular cookie bakery in town despite his foul cookie baking skills, complete with a cameo by Wally Amos, better known as Famous Amos, buying some of Traxx’s cookies.

We couldn't find a trailer online, so here's a sample of great scenes from "Traxx."




Tuesday, October 23, 2012

DEFIANCE (VESTRON VIDEO - 1980)


Man, I don’t know what the fuck happened here, but this turned out to be a brutal let down. It has all kinds of killer ingredients for baking up a fulfilling tale of revenge set in urban New York. In fact, what makes it most disappointing is that it was helmed by director John Flynn, a man considered to be a luminary within the cinema of vengeance for his cult hit “Rolling Thunder.”  This guy of all people knows how to make a movie like this work! After all, we've seen it, and it's one of the ultimate revenge movies! Though "Defiance" begins with a glimmer of promise, it never delivers that moment of excessive cruelty or violence that usually drives films of this nature. In fact, the stakes are pretty low here. You never really feel an unquenchable thirst for vengeance against the antagonists, mainly because they never get the opportunity to make your skin crawl. What actually might be the ultimate death of this movie is that it is so accessible. It is virtually a PG take on the revenge formula.

Jan-Michael Vincent stars as Tommy, a sailor who’s been forced into an extended leave due to a suspension they never bother to really bother to go into. In fact, they never really pierce the character’s mystique. Instead, we’re left to wonder what brought him to this point. Was he smuggling drugs? Did he rape another crew member? You just really never know much about the guy, which makes it difficult to get invested. He could have been a total dirtbag, which honestly would have given the story a little more weight had they gone in that direction. While this vague hardass waits out his punishment, he decides to move into a shitty neighborhood where the inhabitants are more or less forced to acclimate to his no-nonsense attitude. Eventually he meets a girl. Then he crosses a gang. You're probably thinking, "hey, I can do the math real easy on this one," but you'd be wrong. Though putting Tommy’s girlfriend in peril would have been the most logical way to kickstart this mess, the movie is too sensitive to “go there.” As alluded to before, “Defiance”’s primary ailment is that the bad guys never do anything that’s really that bad. Sure, there’s potential for bad things to occur, but the menace stops at mere suggestion. In fact, between the points where they rob a church bingo parlor and smash a roof top garden is when this thing careens into a ditch – and a really clean one at that.


"Ooooh! Jan Michael Vincent worked hard on that garden, you hooligans! He’s gonna get you!”

Even more unfortunate is that Rudy Ramos, who plays gang leader Angel Cruz, is probably the best thing about the movie. Not only does he look like a proto-“Parade” era Prince, but he’s an obvious heavy with built-in sympathy, which is a total waste since you never see him do anything really fucked up. There’s little point in going out of your way to humanize the villain if you’re not going to make the audience feel conflicted about connecting with them.

The majority of the movie feels like total filler, with the gang being jerks and the neighborhood beckoning Tommy to join their ranks and fight back. Tommy eventually decides to join their effort after a fairly minor character is murdered off screen by the villains. You get the feeling that the writers were into the idea of that feel-good moment at the end where evil is usurped, but they didn’t want to commit to depicting the sort of rousing nastiness that’s so germane to the payoff they wanted. They knew where they wanted to get to, but they took a really shitty, in-direct, and overly-long way to get there.

The second best thing about this movie is probably Danny Aiello, who plays Carmine. Now older and pot-bellied, Carmine spends most of his time with his cronies at a local watering hole reminiscing about how they used to run the streets. What’s interesting is that these old-school gang bangers really resent the new youth gangs even though they probably weren’t dissimilar to them. Conceptually, the idea of an overweight Aiello stretching out his “Lords of Flatbush” jacket coming out of retirement to teach these new punks a lesson is pure gold. This arc should have been the film’s main focus. Instead, too much time is spent on some limp-dick romance that doesn’t really drive the story anywhere.

There are fine points that could have been expanded upon, making this even more of a bummer. Some say this is a film with heart, but that’s only a misnomer for softness. The tender moments are meaningless due to the astonishing lack of grit, as they are too constant and with little contrast. Glimmers of happiness and soul in the ghetto have more meaning when the dire reality of the environment is given more punch. Instead, this feels like an attempted inner-city “Waltons” with some melodramatic moments that veer into unintentional chuckles. Overall, this was a waste of time for a lot of great actors, including Art Carney, who is basically relegated to playing “old Jewish guy who gets beat up.” This is easily the palest revenge flick of all time.

Friday, October 12, 2012

AMERICAN CYBORG: STEEL WARRIOR (CANNON VIDEO - 1993)


Anyone who grew up on '80s flicks has a special affinity for the dynamic duo of Monahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the mutant dual backbones of the Cannon Films empire.  They brought us an incredible array of films ranging from insane terrorist action to fairy tales.  They introduced us to Van Damme and Boogaloo Shrimp.  Their influence on my young developing mind is immeasurable.  I have absorbed their films with eager eyes and ears throughout the last two and a half decades. This appreciation has been enabled by two things - HBO in the '80s and '90s, and my last seven years working at a used retail store that carries thousands of VHS tapes.  My search to find any and all of these Cannon titles has lead me to many wonderful films, including this fringe gem of a low-budget cheeseball.

"American Cyborg: Steel Warrior" is one of the lesser-known releases on Cannon Video, being produced by Global Pictures (Globus sans Golan).  The most interesting nerd fact about this movie is that it was one of the few American cinematic releases to be directed by Boaz Davidson, who has produced countless SciFi channel megamonster flicks, but also "The Expendables" 1 and 2 and the "Conan the Barbarian" redux from 2011.  I believe his direction explains why the movie is so enjoyable despite the bad acting and humble budget, which is typical of the final year or so of Cannon Pictures.

The acting is pretty much cardboard.  The two leads look more like catalog models than survivors of a nuclear holocaust, or whatever it is that makes people not have babies (the voiceover prologue doesn't really go into all that).  Mary, our lady protagonist, has kind of an Olivia D'abo thing going on.  She also has three things that make her stand out in this bleak world; a live fetus and big boobs. Austin, our protagonist, looks like Lorenzo Lamas' dumber cousin.  He does, however, deliver one of my favorite lines in a movie in a long while...


The plot unfolds quickly and goofily, but the flow of the action scenes is consistent with everything I've come to expect from a Cannon film.  The cyborg villain played by John Ryan ("Delta Force 3") is creatively menacing, never simply killing someone but usually painfully inconveniencing them until he needs to move to the next scene.  His ruthlessly inhuman prowess at enforcing the harsh directives of "The System" would be far less enjoyable if he could run.  Fortunately for the viewer, in this dystopian future, bad guy cyborgs can't run, but they do walk upstairs two-at-a-time and fairly effortlessly.

This movie could have had a better beginning and ending when it comes to the story, but it doesn't need those to be a good watch.  Aside from the very decent action and laughable dialogue there isn't much here, but I found it entertaining and an interesting piece of Cannon history.  I would definitely watch this again with some buddies.

TRAILER

Monday, October 8, 2012

KING FRAT (ALL AMERICAN VIDEO - 1979)


I didn’t realize I had a VHS collection until it had reached a modest size. In fact, it was a completely accidental thing. Some folks have comfort foods, and well, I have comfort films. Initially, all I really wanted was to have access to all the movies I had fond recollections of seeing on local TV as a kid. That eventually expanded to include all the flicks with haunting box art that I was never allowed to rent as a child. Then there came my desire to find a lot of the brutally edited-for-television flicks I enjoyed as a teenager on USA Network’s Up All Night. It was a good hobby in that it was cheap and easy to track a lot of this stuff down. Places like Hollywood Video and Blockbuster, which had absorbed cool libraries from the mom and pop shops they had taken over years before, were dying off and getting rid of this stuff for pennies, literally. It also brought to me a sense of warmth and nostalgia from a secure point in my life. The fact that I had purchased a lot of these titles on VHS wasn’t intentional either. It just so happened that a lot of these movies never made the leap to DVD. Collecting sort of took on a historical precedence as I became aware of exactly how many films were likely going to slip through the cracks as schools of VHS-only, out-of-print tapes were being tilled into landfills across the country. You know how they have those statistical ads on television that tell you how often a burglary or sexual assault occurs? Well, just as horrific to me was the fact that a lot of films were dying, potentially never to be rediscovered, around the clock. So, my collecting criteria expanded to include a lot of stuff I’d never even heard of. It has become less about nostalgia and more about actually discovering lesser known titles and preserving them by sharing through screenings. It’s viral magic.

As with any hobby, there are probably people out there who collect based purely on the “obscurity” of the title. When you’re collecting, it’s good to be aware that there are two brands of obscurity. The first and most commonly sought-after type of obscurity is the kind that is brought upon by the rarity of the item. This is perhaps the most dangerous type of obscurity because a lot of people will celebrate a title for its sheer rarity even if it happens to be a total piece of shit. It can create a deceptive hype around an ultimately disappointing title. The second kind of obscurity is when there is a title that is relatively common and yet is not very well known. This can be equally deceptive, as it can cheat you out of seeing a lot of great stuff. However, there’s also the other side of the coin, where something might be obscure because it is a total piece of shit that fucking sucks soooooo bad – and this brings us to “King Frat” on the All American Video label, a subsidiary of Mogul.

This movie is most often referred to as an “Animal House” Clone, though it is nothing of the sort. The process of cloning something would imply some sort of sophisticated process, whereas “King Frat” is about as scientific as shitting into an empty bottle of Old English; instead, it would be more fair to call it a blatant ripoff, and it’s a complete fucking mess. Don’t let people fool you with that “so bad it’s good” bullshit, either. It’s actually so bad it’s sobering. The night I decided to watch this, I was actually totally trashed, so I was in the right frame of mind to enjoy a sophomoric comedy, but it completely assailed my buzz and left it for dead. 

There’s nothing to synopsize in terms of plot because there isn’t any. There is no real dilemma, nor is there any adversity for the characters to go up against. It’s basically just a bunch of crap that happens. In fact, there aren’t even any characters really. Instead, you get a handful of people who are just consistently on screen. About the most development we get is for some 50 year old Native American dude who gets dumped from the movie about a quarter-way in. Other than that, there are no arcs. The only guy who stands out is 41 year old John DiSanti as JJ “Gross-out” Gumbroski, who is essentially “King Frat”’s Belushi, only DiSanti comes across like a far less charismatic Joe Besser.  You don’t even really get the sense that these guys are rebelling against anything so much as they are just being assholes since the movie doesn’t really have a main antagonist that’s out to get them. Instead, we just have a bunch of loosely strung vignettes with them carrying out unlikely pranks, such as putting smoldering weed in a funeral home’s air vent so the service turns into a laugh riot. After that, Gross-Out appears in a fart contest to get beer money. At some point some dipshit in a gorilla suit gets his penis stuck in a girl, which really makes no sense. Then, the movie concludes when the barely present token black guy gets beat up by the square white guy frat. Otherwise, the jokes are impotent, the nudity is scant, and the annoying theme song is wielded with maddening repetition.

About the only kind thing I can say is that it is competently shot. Other than that, the actors and script collide to create a soulless vacuum. The gross-out humor is “Garbage Pail Kids: The Movie”-caliber - pathetic when you consider "King Frat" only meets a bench mark set by a film designed to appeal to stupid little kids. The most debilitating absence is that of a legitimate trial or tribulation, and the conclusive "triumph" is just sort of tacked on. These are supposed to be misfit characters, and yet there’s never any downside for them to bounce back from. However, this isn't to say that this film couldn't have been good somehow. There are plenty of films in this vein that have virtually no plot, and yet kick copious amounts of ass because they're witty and have great performances. Films such as "Hot Moves" and "The Party Animal" prove this. Unfortunately there is noone on Michael Zorek's level anywhere in this film. Overall, this is an uneventful bag of shit that deserves to remain obscure. Consider this a head on a pike and ignore the hype.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

DRILLER KILLER (MAGNUM ENTERTAINMENT - 1979)

The dirty, screaming stench of a city coursing with cynicism, hypodermic needles and widespread poverty, gay men rendezvousing in abandoned warehouses, hookers, muggers, rapists and the kind of on-screen halitosis one can usually only find in gritty portrayals like Maniac... ahhh 1970s New York, where $200 could commission an art piece and buy you an abortion. There's really nothing like an Abel Ferrara film to make you never want to move to New York City. Driller Killer is reeking of punk, sex and death. A New York City that few like to remember. One of seedy vulgarity with vile woman of ill repute, crawling out of disco and into broken glass.

Abel Ferrara seems to almost pull off the greasy, devastatingly nihilistic sleaze we see in his later work, here directing and playing artist turned bum-murdering fix-it man, Reno Miller in Driller Killer. Widely noted as Ferrara's debut film, though considered just as shameful by Ferrara himself as his actual first feature Nine Lives of a Wet Pussy (1976), Driller Killer is the sordid tale of a discontented New York artist (Reno), his annoyingly inane girlfriend Carol (Carolyn Marz) and her lover Pamela (Baybi Day) trapped in the sort of Lustigian hell only New York could offer. Not quite as admired as Taxi Driver nor as masterful as Ferrara's follow up Ms. 45, this film does offer a lot of the same crushing, social injustice but with more blood and more lesbians.

The depravity is set in motion when Reno runs into an old, degenerate bum reminiscent of his father while repenting his sins in a Catholic church. This, combined with Reno's struggle to pay the rent and his girlfriend and her lover's long distance phone bill, is seemingly the only justification for the string of homeless men he then sets out to drill in the hands, chest and face. The struggle of living in crime infested Union Square and his fear of becoming indigent like his father, bleed dry his last ounce of humanity. Another standout feature of the film would be the often idealized, highly influential music scene in New York at the time, represented by neighboring, no wave punk band The Roosters and front man Tony Coca Cola, who move into a nearby scum-infested apartment driving Reno insane with their laborious "practices". No drugs, no money, no dope, no friends, just television and a heart full of broken dreams. A man beside himself, his pet rabbit and his artistic masterpiece... a poorly received painting of a buffalo. The obvious solution? A porto-pak and a power drill.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

FUNLAND (VESTRON VIDEO - 1987)


Clowns aren't funny. They are horrible, terrible monsters deserving of our disgust and contempt. Their twisted faces have produced nightmares in the dreamstates of the innocent for decades. The filmmakers behind "Funland" have found a solution to this problem which allows them to succeed in making a clown humorous. Mental illness! David L. Lander (Squiggy from "Laverne & Shirley") plays Bruce Burger, the mascot for the local Funland amusement park. Bruce shows a level of commitment to his job that borders on the pathological. When a new owner takes over the park and starts making changes it sends him into a downward spiral. Bruce has conversations with imaginary people, many of whom have been dead for many years. His evenings are spent with everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Humphrey Bogart, not to mention the recently murdered former owner of Funland. As the park prepares for reopening, his plans turn towards homicide. 

 The screenplay comes from power duo Bonnie and Terry Turner, years before they would have their careers launched by scripting studio comedies like "Wayne's World" and "Tommy Boy." There is a mean streak and a subversiveness here that disappeared completely from their work after this point. The grossly bottom-line driven mentality of the corporate world is savaged throughout the runtime, something that probably proved difficult to do when writing for a major television network during their time on "Third Rock from the Sun." Nonetheless, it is fortunate for all of us that they were unleashed and raging hard at this point. The result is a comedy that has a certain amount of heart and warmth without sacrificing the sting of its bite.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

R.O.T.O.R. (IMPERIAL ENTERTAINMENT CORPORATION - 1988)

The framework of "Terminator" has been replicated ad nauseam. The bulk of these clones turn out to be technically inferior. But some, like "R.O.T.O.R.," more than make up for this shortcoming with a winning combination of cheap action and idiotic fun. Director, producer, and idea man Cullen Blaine stands up to James Cameron admirably with the kind of hopeless positivity about the challenge that one might find in a ten year old who proclaims that they will one day be president. "R.O.T.O.R." moves forward on slim rails of its shoestring budget and its shoestring plot. It’s core elements being wonderfully odd reinterpretations of several 80’s blockbusters. The result is a fun, wildly-spraying hose of leaking thoughts on "Robocop," "Dirty Harry," and "Beverly Hills Cop."

The story centers around Dr. Coldyron (pronounced, “cold-iron”), a police scientist charged with the task of building the perfect, automated police officer. Unfortunately all funding allocated for the ROBOTIC OFFICER TACTICAL OPERATION RESEARCH has been picked clean by a descending ladder of corrupt officials. They’ve left only crumbs of the pie for Dr. Coldyron to work with. A clever piece of writing when used to explain away the under-developed R.O.T.O.R. technology that's prematurely animated by sex-deprived janitor “Shoeboogie”; he does this by sticking his switchblade-comb into an electrical field, which should give you some idea of the level of in-joking present. At least a Mona Lisa smile is occurring here. Now I understand that when you skim from the R.O.T.O.R. fund, your product isn’t going to come out looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the William H. Macy look-a-like that emerges from the plexiglass chamber is an unexpectedly perfect casting of "failure." It works perfectly as an undermining, non-force to be reckoned with that resonates hilariously throughout scene after non-threatening scene. The R.O.T.O.R. is left with little more than a stiff walk and “the ability to see things that already happened," a technology just one step up from the Casio watch. With this, he is supposed to stalk a third rate Linda Hamilton through the movie, not on the premise of destroying her unborn son, but because she was speeding. In my book, these things are successes. Look, it’s a silly, but fun film. Richard Gesswein is so fucking fun to watch in this. Any time this guy talks it is worth my time. A tenth-rung Marlboro Man type with a queasy Dirty Harry delivery that would be more appropriate for a NyQuil commercial, he takes the part of sub-Clint Eastwood badass to soaring new heights of  action-hero absurdity as Dr. Coldyron. Coming in at a close second is Dr. Steele, a female scientist with body-builder frame that comes in handy while running interference with the power of the R.O.T.O.R. Her skunk-striped mullet-perm tops off muscles bursting from a black tank-top and huge cargo pants.



The first twenty minutes of the film are the absolute best, featuring a deliriously surreal board meeting where the R.O.T.O.R. technology is introduced. The ambition of the filmmakers is held out on their sleeve here, take it or leave it. Please, take it! Take everything about it! Dr. Coldyron explains in great detail why complicated (see “expensive to put in a movie”) robotics are unnecessary thanks to Dr. Steele’s design. The crammed table of curious officials endlessly rub their chins. Meanwhile, a shitty looking dime store robot demonstrates its ability to salute, bend over and kung-fu kick! The choppy stop motion display is interspersed with an AMAZING Q&A session from which everyone's answering machine deserves a clip. The esteemed panel offers priceless dialogue juxtaposed against the cheesy effects expounding on the philosophy of crime and punishment in the overall context of a film called "R.O.T.O.R." for God's sake! This is the shit dreams are made of! The film can often be felt bursting out of the seams of its tiny budget like this, and the viewer benefits in SPADES!

Some other notable highlights include the good doctor exploding dead trees on his ranch using lassos of dynamite, more equally juicy dialogue between Dr. Coldyron and his boss, the token black cop named “Detective John Mango”, and the R.O.T.O.R. waiting in the bushes to issue speeding tickets like any good police technology of the future would. My only complaint involves the missed opportunity to use the shot of Gesswein feeding coffee to his horse from a massive “TEXAS COFFEE CUP” for the back of the box art.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

SLIME CITY (CAMP MOTION PICTURES - 1988)


I’ve seen a lot of people compare “Slime City” to films like “Basket Case” and “Street Trash,” but there’s just absolutely no fucking way it comes anywhere near being as great as either of those two films. In fact, it’s not really great at all. It’s merely okay. Granted, it has some fun gore and neat scenes, but the stuff that strings it all together is mediocre. The films people often compare this to have all the good parts, but they also have characters you feel invested in, and the stories are beyond bizarre. On the other hand, director/writer Gregory Lamberson’s “Slime City” is a very basic possession tale in a goopy casing. We’ve seen this story done before, and way better.

Basic premise is this: Alex moves into an apartment building. Alex’s neighbors consist of some Nick Cave looking vegetarian poet by the name of Roman and an over-sexed metal groupie named Nicole. Nicole is almost a selling point for Alex since his girlfriend Lori is a total virgin prude. Soon Alex is fraternizing with his co-habitants, and he’s turned onto some odd green goop via Roman, who passes it off as Himalayan yogurt. He also imbibes a green alcoholic elixir from Nicole, which was brewed by some warlock relative. Soon, Alex is leaking plasma and feeling not so well. The only thing that seems to stabilize “the slimening” is visceral, splattery homicide.

Alex, being the college type that he is, quickly puts two and two together, and dogs Nicole into a reveal. The apartment building was in fact the sight of some mass death pact orchestrated by cult leader Zachary. The Himalayan yogurt he’s been addicted to is actually ectoplasm containing the essence of the spirits that died in the building – and this is probably the only thing in the movie I really loved. The more he consumes, the more possessed he becomes. From here, the movie meanders toward its conclusion with a few cool gross-out spots.


First off, Robert C Sabin, who plays Alex, is fucking horribly cast here. I’m not saying he’s untalented, but he’s an unlikable type that should only be playing villainous nerds, or the annoying fag hag that cock blocks his hot female friends, or maybe a homicidal hairdresser. He exudes a smarminess that makes you want to punch the guy in the throat repeatedly. There’s no way that anyone could possibly want to root for this guy, and I certain had a hard time believing he was sexually frustrated from lack of heterosexual action. He’s just a totally unlikable personality. In fact, he’s down right bratty, which is not something you want to see in your male lead.

So-so Mary Huner plays both Lori and Nicole. Not sure why, as it serves absolutely no creative purpose. Whenever she plays Nicole, she dawns a horrible Cher wig that smothers her already limited sex appeal.

And then there’s the location. While the movie was shot in New York City, you just never get the feel that we are IN New York City. In fact, it feels like more Dayton, Ohio. 

I think by 1988, writer/director Greg Lamberson had a very clear idea as to what kind of movie he wanted to make, which was a cult film. As a result, the whole thing has a very disingenuous feel to it. I DO think he was very passionate about the film, and the enthusiasm is there, but “Slime City” attempts to fit a mold rather than create one of its own. It aspires toward a cheap aesthetic already defined by a host of other films that were honestly struggling to be free of their budgetary constraints. There’s just little that feels natural about “Slime City,” though I do think the enthusiasm with which it is executed is entirely genuine and rooted in a true appreciation for the kind of films it aspires to be like. I just can’t call this a cult classic as it lacks a real independent spirit that you see in movies like “Street Trash” and “Basket Case.” They not only went for the throat, but they weren’t trying to be anything other than what they were. They were and still are odd ducks in spite of the fact that a lot of people strive to emulate them.

Still, Lamberson is to be commended for a showing a lot of heart. Unfortunately, it takes more than passion to make something entirely worthwhile. This is a very nice tribute, but heart and soul are not necessarily the same thing. 

Lamberson returned in 2010 with a sequel titled, “Slime City Massacre.” It looks both interesting and horrible.

THE PARTY ANIMAL (LIGHTNING VIDEO – 1983)

 First of all:


Goddamn right.

You ever have one of those out of town trips where absolutely everything that could possibly go wrong does, but then several months down the line you’re looking back and see the humor in the absurdity of your awful luck? Well, “The Party Animal” is kind of like that. I totally enjoyed my initial viewing of the movie, but it's become hysterical in retrospect. I'll replay the scenarios from the film in my head and realize I missed some minor detail that augments the entire mess and makes it that much funnier.  It is so packed with nuance that things are bound to slip by you the first time. At its core, it’s a typical boner comedy, featuring a level of stupidity that is so ornate that it must have required a level of genius to construct. It is sophisticated yet it never aspires to SEEM sophisticated, and therein lies its genius. 

The story follows Pondo Sinatra, a hopelessly horny redneck doofus who literally falls off the turnip truck at a university that’s brimming with amply endowed co-eds. Unfortunately, Pondo is so exuberant in his attempts to get laid that most of the girls want absolutely nothing to do with him. Enter Pondo’s best friend, Studly (Timothy Carhart), a guy who seems to have all the luck with the ladies. Studly runs Pondo through a ringer of advice on how to score, but nothing really pans out. In fact, our protagonist winds up virtually mutilated anytime he listens to Studly.


The events of the film itself are relayed through a mockumentary wrap-around, with Studly recollecting Pondo’s pathetic attempts to get laid while a bevy of beautiful women rue the day they met this confederate chump. We also learn that Pondo has somehow achieved cult celebrity status, which they don't fully explain til the final quarter of the film, when Pondo unwittingly invents a chemical that inspires uncontrollable nymphomania in women and SOME men.  I won’t go any further into detail since that would actually spoil things for the uninitiated, but the conclusion is really quite surprising.


While a lot of the gags are clever, one still gets the impression that the filmmakers did not achieve everything they had intended in terms of story. In particular, the mysterious blond woman who seems to act as mere watcher over Pondo and his struggles with the opposite sex may or may not have a payoff. Who she is or what her purpose may be is really left up to the viewer's interpretation.

Matthew Causey was blessed with tremendous physical comedic sensibility. The film entirely succeeds because of Causey, whose performance is the centerpiece of the film. Pondo is a lecherous creep, but also incredibly likable and sweet at the same time - a rare and difficult mashup of qualities to pull off. Causey has since gone on to teach drama at several universities, and sadly he has disowned the film. It's really a shame he didn't go on to do more work in this specific vein, as he is truly something special to behold here. This is duel shrine and grave marker dedicated to the career of a truly charismatic talent.

A major contributing factor to this film’s greatness also has to be its soundtrack, the bulk of which is provided by the Buzzcocks. The film also features the track “Rain” by Dream6, who later went on to become Concrete Blond.


Seriously, there's very little that this movie doesn't get right. Even its faults somehow enhance the whole thing. The soundtrack rips, the humor is without any sort of racial or sexual sensitivity, and the nudity is both high in quality and merciless in its abundance. It’s really a shame they don’t let people make fun movies anymore. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

DESTROYER (VIRGIN VISION - 1988)

By special guest reviewer Gerard Cosloy of Can't Stop The Bleeding

A cultured, worldly type like Max has no patience for something as pathetic as football. I, however, am not nearly as sophisticated.  Though I am  fully aware the game is brutally exploitative at the amateur level and far more rigged than professional wrestling , I've been a near religious viewer since a very young age.  Whether it's my taste for intense competition or a latent desire to see burly dudes playing grabass is for others to decide.  Either way, few teams offered nearly as much entertainment value as the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders of the 1970's and '80's. 

Led by the anti-establishment icon Al Davis, the Raiders' rosters featured a dizzying array of reprobates, social misfits and borderline criminals.  Jack "The Asssasin" Tatum crippled one of my childhood heroes, WR Darryl Stingley, in a meaningless exhibition game.  Though remembered by film fans for his tiny roles in "The Goonies" and "Caveman", John Matuszak, aka  "The Tooz", consumed quantities of booze and pharmaceuticals at a rate so rapid, Oliver Reed and Keith Moon come off like Ian MacKaye. But no Raider embodied the club's renegade commitment to ass-kicking nearly as much as Lyle Alzado.

Hailing from Brooklyn and holding a collegiate resume from lightly regarded Yankton College (South Dakota), Alzado terrorized opposing quarterbacks as much as any defensive end of his generation. By the time of his first retirement in 1985, he'd become an unlikely mainstream celebrity. A 1988 Canadian TV sitcom featured Alzado as a prep school vice principal by day, professional wrestler by night ; despite a litany of cameos from the likes of Ric Flair, Jimmy Garvin and The Road Warriors, "LearningThe Ropes" was mercifully cancelled after 26 episodes. 



Alzado died of brain cancer in 1992, but not before publicly attributing his illness to years of steroid use.  "Learning The Ropes" would've been the high-water mark of Alzado's acting career were it not for his titular role in the 1988 feature, "Destroyer".  Alzado plays the hulking, mega-ripped serial killer Ivan Mozer, whose botched execution by electrocution is somehow covered up by a prison riot that happens right after the stoney lonesome suffers a power failure.  Credited with "the rape, torture and murder of 23 people" before the big zap ("24", corrects Mozer, who insists on watching a poorly disguised version of "Wheel Of Fortune" with his final moments on this mortal coil), Mozer is thought to have perished in the riot, but that would make for a rather short film

Fast forward a few years later and the abandoned penitentiary is being used as the set for "Death House Dollies", a rather undistinguished women-in-prison saga with a phoning-it-in Anthony Perkins calling the directorial shots.  As you've probably already guessed, it's a perfect opportunity for Mozer to resume his killing spree, this time with his dear old dad (a security guard on the premises) acting as an accomplice. It's not exactly mind-blowing stuff, except the humongous Alzado chomps into the task with malevolent glee. Sweating, cackling, stomping, Alzado acquits himself nicely as a psychotic killing machine, albeit one who isn't on screen nearly long enough.  Too much of the film concerns the relationship between David Harris (Clayton Rohner) and Susan Malone (Deborah Foreman).  The former has dived headfirst into Mozer's case-file; the latter (only referred to as "Malone", either lovingly by her boyfriend or far less romantically by a gasping or bellowing Alzado) is one of the "Death House Dollies" stunt persons (and as such, soon becomes a candidate for rape-torture-murder at the hands of Mozer).

There's a somewhat murky look to much of Mozer's murderous rampage, and only one moment in the film where Alzado is allowed to employ the awesome jackhammer he's shown brandishing on "Destroyer"'s  VHS box.  It's not exactly a case of false advertising, but you'd be excused from thinking the jackhammer got a little more play in the film.  Perhaps it was a rental (much like some of the lighting gear) and it had to be returned before the film was completed.  You're probably not gonna see a Criterion Collection edition with much background into, so my guess is as good as any. 

All complaints aside, the filmmakers might not have gotten the most out of Alzado, but he had a real physical presence/knack for playing the uber-monster. No interest/appreciation for his athletic exploits --- however chemically-enhanced  they may have been --- is required to enjoy his not-so-nuanced take on mass murder (followed by more mass murder).

  

Editor’s note: The film also features a JimTurner in a small role as burnout special effects guru Rewire. Not much of a stretch for Turner, who is best known as one of MTV’s original mascots, Randee of the Redwoods.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

GOLDEN SUN (UNICORN VIDEO - 1976)


The market for a Bruceploitation encyclopedia is probably the size of a pinhole, but the films which make up the subgenre are such a huge component of the real Bruce Lee’s legacy that it would be a terrible thing if it never happened. Most of the imitators that popped up in the wake of Bruce’s death were poor substitutes, sure, but the cascade of productions that were churned out to sate the leftover demand kept Bruce’s likeness in the public’s awareness for a generous period after his final film was released. After the real Bruce died in the Summer of 73, a slew of Asian studios spent the next decade churning out loving tributes and bio pics which used strained variations of his name and likeness. Most of these films were unwittingly in poor taste, though a small handful deliberately took a seedier rout by expanding on gossip. Some speculate the genre that came to be known as Bruceploitation may even predate Lee’s actual death, with several fake Bruce films said to have been produced in Taiwan in 71 or 72. Really, though, no matter what you think of the slew of Bruce imitators or their films, there is no denying that they have some historical value in the context of martial arts cinema and also with respect to embellishing Lee’s legacy. Despite all this, there really isn’t any one great source of information when it comes to these films. Instead, you’re lucky to find a vague thread or review here or there that is usually woefully inaccurate or may not even have anything to do with the film you’re researching in the first place. Such was the case when I sought out more information on the Unicorn Video title “Golden Sun.” I found a lot of disparaging reviews, but none of them really matched the description of the film I saw. IMDb even lists Bruce Le as the star of this particular film, and adding to the confusion connects Ho Chung-Tao to Le’s page. That’s gotta suck slightly since they are not the same actor, and Le was actually convicted of fraud in China at some point. What I can be certain of is this: “Golden Sun” is not an alternate title for this movie.


Nor is it a Bruce Lee biopic either. Instead, it’s in the same vein as another Li film, “Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger.”


In “Golden Sun,” Li plays a martial arts enthusiast who takes the news of Lee’s passing pretty hard and hits the bars to drink his sorrows away. During the ensuing blackout, a vision of Bruce Lee appears before him. Somehow this rings ominously, and Li decides he has to get to the bottom of his idol’s true cause of death. I don’t really know why or how he comes to the conclusion that something rogueish went down, because Bruce’s “ghost” doesn’t say a damn thing. So, Li makes way to a Buddhist temple, where he is put to the test by the monks to determine if he is ready to avenge Bruce’s death. He passes with flying colors, and has another vision of Bruce, and this time he sees his hero getting his ass whipped by some dude. Shortly after, Betty Ting is introduced as a character, and it’s not long before a shady bunch of hooligans start to get nervous about Li’s inquiries into his hero's death. The whole thing gets muddy from here on out, with a lot of running back and forth and a handful of ploddingly paced, lackluster fight scenes.

Eventually Li discovers that Bruce was bumped off by a bunch of East Asian gangsters who were trying to convince the film star to join their fight promotion. And of course, when Lee declined, they had their goons fatally kick his ass, which makes no fucking sense at all. If you have a guy on your pay roll that can kick the shit out of Bruce Lee, why don’t you just get THAT guy to fight for your promotion?

However, there is one scene that justifies the film’s abundance of mind numbing fight scenes and mangled logic, and that is the re-enactment of Bruce Lee’s actual death. One thing I liked about this is that they actually just let Ho play Bruce Lee instead of getting some other guy for the part. This makes sense mainly because virtually every character in the movie shouts, “Hey, you look just like the real Bruce” whenever they see Li. Even if they just did this to save a couple bucks, it’s ultimately rational from a creative point of view. Anyway, the death scene features Ho as Bruce retreating back to Betty Ting’s apartment after receiving a death blow from one of the heavies, where he proceeds to writhe around like Dick Van Dyke on poppers, doing back flops on the bed, jumping up and down on the mattress, and spitting up alcohol before eventually dying. It is hilarious in its white hot intensity.

Despite the gonzo nature of the film, it still manages to have some fairly dull stretches throughout. Still, it ought to be judged on its own merits instead of being confused for a number of other similar films. Hopefully, someday a tome dedicated to this wild subgenre breaks the surface and clears up a lot of misconceptions and offers a more objective appraisal of a lot of these films. Not to mention, there have got to be some really amazing stories regarding how these films got made. In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from an interview with Ho Chung-Tao, a.k.a. Bruce Li. There are three other parts available on YouTube, and I wholeheartedly recommend that everyone check them out.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

DEVIL TIMES FIVE (VIDEO TREASURES - 1974)


I actually wrote a blurb about this a few months back after acquiring the  Video Treasures edition of this tape. I had gone out of my way to find a copy, as it had been tirelessly recommended to me by people who swore that it was a great movie. There is no shortage of glowing reviews online which praised the film as being innovative for its period, and while some of the violence is absurd for the time, this movie is otherwise a total piece of shit that probably largely enjoys popularity on an ironic level due to Leif Garrett’s participation. I guess that gives it a booster of kitsch, but as a piece of horror cinema this is an otherwise forgettable outing that had been done before even at that point.

The whole mess begins when a bus accidentally rolls down a hillside and unleashes a pack of mentally ill pre-teen passengers, who then make the trek to a snowy cabin in the woods, where they eventually start to terrorize a group of unlikable protagonists. What’s funny is, I can give you the film’s plot in one sentence, and yet it somehow drags on mercilessly before it actually gets to the meaty core. There are a few quirky sequences during the first half of the film that tease your interest, such as a cat fight with some slivers of nudity, but it's mostly dry and plodding after that. Leif Garrett actually turns in a decent performance as one of the deranged kids under delusions of a Fauntleroy-styled Hollywood stardom, so he does bring legitimate worth to the production. Still, this thing is splitting at the seams with horrible creative decisions, production mismanagement, and shockingly bad editing. In particular, the first on screen death, which is stretched out via slow motion and drably colored, is a harbinger of terribleness to come, and is quite possibly one of the worst things I’ve ever seen committed to celluloid.

If this film is innovative in any sense, it’s probably in that it is one of the first slasher-style films to feature protagonists you don’t like. And it’s not that they’re despicable either and you want to see them die. They’re just a bunch of alcoholic, middle-aged leather bags that are almost on the brink of throwing a key party. They’re just very mild and dull. Meanwhile, the kids are only slightly more interesting but difficult to really appreciate because they seem like a bunch of pretentious theater fags.  Eventually, the death count just sort of erupts and they bump all the characters off in rapid succession, so even if you could manage to give a shit about either batch of characters, there’s no room to build suspense.

The film does have one gold deposit, though, and it comes in the shape of albino actress Gail Smale, who plays the homicidal habit wearing nun child. She is conceptually and visually compelling, but it is Smale who really makes the character remarkable. She is not just good by comparison to the other crap she’s book ended by, but rather she is just legitimately good here. The character could have probably carried a feature of her own.


The stories surrounding the production are undoubtedly more interesting that the film itself, but also explain why it was such a mess. Director Sean MacGregor was ousted from his seat due to incompetence and replaced by venerable producer David Sheldon. Most of the film had to be scrapped, but when they did go back to film they were forced to use an entirely different location. Ironically, MacGregor did some time in a mental health facility following his experience on set. There were also some creepy rumors that MacGregor was sleeping with the underage Smale at the time.

I haven't found a copy of the Media Home Entertainment release, but I was surprised by the quality of the Video Treasures release. It's not great, but not as bad as some of their other releases. Still, this is a disappointing mess that makes something like "The Children" seem coherent and very credible by comparison.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

VENDETTA (VESTRON VIDEO - 1986)


The women-in-prison genre is an interesting phenomenon in that it created a surprising number of distinctive and original stories while operating within a very narrow set of parameters. Look no further than this entry which was conceived and co-written by stuntman Emil Farkas. It spins the familiar concept of the avenging enforcer who gets locked up in the big house to get revenge, but it veers in some interesting directions. 

For starters, our protagonist is a Hollywood stuntperson. Laurie Collins (Karen Chase) is working on the set of a feature film when her younger sister is murdered in prison where she is being held after murdering her own rapist. The nature of how these early stunt scenes are presented shows an authenticity that clearly comes from the filmmakers being experienced within that particular world. You see a similar level of accuracy in many biker films of the same period, most of which were being helmed by or at least crewed by stuntpeople. The real advantage to this set-up is that once Laurie lands herself  behind bars you can easily believe that she is physically and mentally capable of the badassery she unleashes. You've already seen evidence of her skills. 

Laurie's chief rival in the big house is the swine-like Kay Butler (Sandy Martin), a perpetually sweaty sociopath with an appetite for chaos. In one of the films more questionable sections, Kay arranges offsite conjugal visits for herself to be ravaged by a man to alleviate the stress of being the queen of the cell block. Kay is responsible for the death of Laurie's sister, which should be enough to get the audience against her. Thankfully, the film never misses an opportunity to have her do something despicable or gross, making the blood-soaked resolution to the revenge plot that much more satisfying. 

Another interesting aspect of VENDETTA is its willingness to slip away on bizarre tangents. One of the highlights involves a talent show performance in the prison mess hall in which a female Prince impersonator executes a full musical number/striptease that is both arousing and sort of hilarious. There is a level of commitment to her performance coupled with the total leftfield nature of the sequence itself that makes your brain contort into brand new and pleasurable shapes. There is ambition here but it never undermines the commercial need to deliver salacious content every 10 min or so. Like the best of the WIP movies, it sneaks clever moments into the proceedings while keeping its brow uncompromisingly low.