Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May 31 - The Last Hunter

The cover of my VHS copy of The Last Hunter

The Last Hunter (1980)

Director: Antonio Margheriti
Format: VHS (Roadshow Home Video)

From the prolific sub-genre of Vietnam War flicks shot in the Philippines in the 70s and 80s comes Italian-produced The Last Hunter (aka L'ultimo cacciatore).

Directed by Antonio Margheriti (CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE), billed here as Anthony M. Dawson, it stars David Warbeck (THE BEYOND), who I was surprised to find out while researching this movie is a fellow countryman of mine (he was born in my home country of New Zealand, but lived in England for most of his career). Not that you'd know by watching this, as his voice is over-dubbed with an American accent.

We open to a group of GIs in a Saigon brothel during the Vietnam War. It becomes a tense scene as one of the soldiers, Steve, snaps and shoots another GI (while screaming "Where's Carol, why isn't she here?"). His buddy Captain Morris (Warbeck) tries to reason with Steve but the place is destroyed by a rocket attack in a huge explosion (a great way to start any action flick!).

Next we get a credits sequence with music that makes it feel like it should have Stephen J. Cannell's name attached to it, it's so reminiscent of 80s TV shows like The A Team.

After the credits, we see Morris in a helicopter being flown into Cambodia. After the helicopter is attacked, Morris leaps from it into the jungle, behind enemy lines. He meets Sgt George "Wash" Washington, played by Tony King (who played the similiarly-named Washington three years later in ATLANTIS INTERCEPTORS). They join up with the rest of the platoon, including the burly Carlos (Bobby Rhodes, DEMONS) and photographer Jane Foster (Tisa Farrow, ZOMBIE).

After a shootout with the enemy and some nasty VC booby-traps take care of a couple of their group, Morris and company arrive at an outpost led by the slightly crazy Major Cash (John Steiner, Mario Bava's SHOCK). Cash and his men are pinned down and losing morale thanks to a radio station spewing out VC propaganda.

Along the way Morris has a flashback to a scene with Steve and Carol (Margit Evelyn Newton, HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD), showing the trio together in happier times. We also learn Morris' secret mission is to knock out the radio transmitter and cut off the propaganda.

There's a zany scene (complete with wacky music) where one of the trapped soldiers runs through enemy fire to get a coconut from a nearby tree, while his comrades time him. Then the VC attack the GIs' underground bunker, resulting in a big shootout in which Morris busts out a flamethrower(!) but the VC make off with the girl.

Now running solo, Morris heads off to rescue her but ends up being captured and taken to the same village where she's being kept. Together they escape and head for a finale which wraps up both the main plot and the Steve-Carol subplot.

The Last Hunter is highly enjoyable. Its storyline is never boring and the action moves at a steady pace - Margheriti makes sure to have plenty of the gunfire and explosions (and there's some mighty big ones) you'd expect from this kind of movie.

My experience of watching these Philippines-shot war flicks (of which I understand there's hundreds) is sadly limited, so I don't know if they're all as gory as The Last Hunter. The blood and gore here is impressive - there's rotting flesh, wounds squirting blood, people on fire, a leg shot off leaving a bloody stump, a POW with half his face eaten off by rats, and more to keep the gore fans happy.

My VHS lists a running time of 96 minutes, which runs a minute longer than the two DVD releases available. But there's a Swedish VHS release listed at 97 minutes (called the 1980 banned version, according to IMDB), and I noticed one definite cut in my video. It is the attempted rape of Jane Foster by the GIs at the underground base, which is cut completely, leaving her referring to it after the fact, following a harsh jump from one scene to the next.

For me The Last Hunter ticks all the boxes of a good action movie.

Previews on my VHS: Caligula, Breathless, Survive!, Lone Wolf McQuade, Jaguar Lives, Zulu Dawn, Triumphs of a Man Called Horse, Full Moon High

Monday, May 30, 2011

May 29 - Two very different army flicks

Today I watched two movies that share one thing - they're both about soldiers during a war. But that's where the comparisons end. One is an Italian flick directed by a cannibal movie legend and the other a made-for-TV monster movie.

The awesome cover of my VHS copy of Bridge to Hell

Bridge to Hell (1986)
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Format: VHS (Cannon)

Bridge to Hell, AKA Un ponte per l'inferno, is an Italian-made World War II movie directed by Umberto Lenzi, who of course is best known outside of Italy for his fleshmuncher gorefests like Cannibal Ferox, Eaten Alive and Man from Deep River.

The plot follows three soldiers who have escaped a Nazi prison camp in Yugoslavia. They are an American air force pilot (Andy J. Forest, MARK OF THE SCORPION), an Italian (Carlo Mucari, NIGHT OF THE SHARKS) and an Austrian deserter (Paki Valente). They join up with a group of freedom fighters and agree to fly their planes in bombing raids against the Germans.

One of the partisans, a former nun (Francesca Ferre), tells our trio about treasure held at her order's convent and, after running a second bombing raid, they decide to go after the booty (the gold that is, not the nun), with her in tow.

After some battles with Nazis along the way, the foursome arrives at the convent. Tricking the nuns, they make off with the treasure (the nun still in tow but unaware they've taken the loot) but must cross a heavily-guarded bridge (the titular Bridge to Hell) in order to make a complete getaway.

In the climactic battle there's the usual machine gun fire, grenade tossing and explosions and even some abseiling down the side of the huge bridge (which ends with some fantastically cheesy dummy work).

The acting is above average for this kind of movie, while the voice dubbing is about on par with what you'd expect from a low budget Italian movie. There's some great awkward overdubbed dialogue (After being rescued from a firing squad: "Vanya, are you still alive?", "Yes, but I'm surprised").

There's a good amount of action, but the low budget shows. According to IMDB.com, some footage is recycled from a couple of 1970s Yugoslav war movies, including some involving Nazi officers with attack dogs and, I'm guessing, the majority of the aerial combat scenes. Some of the miniature work is extremely cheesy.

A highlight is the excellent electronic music score is by Fabio Frizzi, who did the soundtracks for a bunch of Lucio Fulci movies (THE BEYOND, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, ZOMBI 2 etc).

Most of the supporting cast seem to be Yugoslavian, so I'm guessing that Lenzi filmed it on location in that country, adding an authenticity to proceedings.

My VHS runs at 88 minutes and doesn't seem to be cut. It's rated PG-13, so there's no nudity (in a scene where the nun-turned-fighter bathes in a river, she does so in her bra. Boo-urns!), swearing or gore.

The action's not as balls-to-the-wall as I would like, but overall Bridge to Hell is a good little Italian war flick. I'm not very well versed in this genre, so can't really compare it to others of its ilk, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Previews on my VHS: Nightmare Weekend, Thunder 2, The Adventure of the Action Hunters

Sand Serpents (2009)
Director: Jeff Renfroe
Format: DVD

This one should be called Tremors in Afghanistan. Not that Sand Serpents is as much fun as that 1990 movie, but its "monsters" are somewhat similar. They're a lot bigger (up to 60 feet high), but otherwise the titular sand serpents are very familiar. They're blind mutant sandworms that can travel underground at high speed (causing a ripple on the surface) and pick up potential victims by feeling the vibrations of their movement.

Sand Serpents is the 16th movie produced by RHI Entertainment for its Maneater series, which originally showed on Scifi channel (now Syfy) in the US. Scifi/Syfy original movies are much maligned but I love them. They're nothing if not consistent - you always know you're going to get some kind of nature run amok plotline, cheesy CGI and usually some washed-up actor from the 1980s.

In Sand Serpents said washed-up thespian is Jason Gedrick, star of 1984 cheesy, fun Top Gun knockoff Iron Eagle. Gedrick plays Lieutenant Richard Stanley of the US Army, who is charge of group of soldiers in Afghanistan. They're sent to investigate a disused gem mine and run into Taliban extremists, a resulting explosion awakening a group of ancient killer sandworms.

With a refugee father-and-daughter duo thrown into the mix, the soldiers must escape from the sand serpents, while also surviving firefights with the Taliban.

Unlike some of the other Maneater series flicks I've seen, the CGI is very good in this one. The acting is also pretty good. Gedrick is a competent lead man and the supporting cast is adequate if unspectacular (we get the smart ass guy, the street smart chick, the gruff sergeant and of course the former love of our main guy - the latter is a pre-requisite for these flicks).

Sand Serpents' biggest asset is its setting. Romania stands in for Afghanistan with a great barren landscape and bombed out buildings.

If you've seen any of these Scifi/Syfy movies before you'll know what to expect. They're not everyone's cup of tea, but I like them and Sand Serpents is probably the best of the half dozen I've seen so far.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

May 28 - Vigilante Cop

The cover of my VHS copy of Vigilante Cop

Vigilante Cop (1991)

Director: Mel Damski
Format: VHS (VM Distribution)

Vigilante Cop. It's a promising title, but one that comes with expectations of something a bit grittier and more action-packed than the TV movie that is attached to it. The more appropriate title is the one it had when it originally showed on TV - Shoot First: A Cop's Vengeance.

Farrell Tucker (Dale Midkiff, PET SEMETARY) and Stephen Smith (Alex McArthur, the DESPERADO series of TV movies) are two rookie police officer buddies patrolling the mean streets of San Antonio, Texas. Smith is idealistic to a fault, but soon finds that life on patrol isn't as black and white as he thought it would be.

When a street thug escapes justice on a technicality, he starts taking matters into his own hands as his world unravels. Now the titular vigilante cop, Smith kills off those who escape justice while becoming paranoid and alienating those close to him, leading to a climactic showdown with his best buddy (foreshadowed in an opening scene).

Let's be clear. This isn't an action movie. There are a few shootings and one explosion, but in essence it's about the breakdown in the relationship between the two friends. And remember, it's a TV movie so don't expect any nudity or gore.

The supporting cast is solid. Terry O'Quinn (THE STEPFATHER) is a police sergeant who first suspects a vigilante is at work, Dan Bell (one of Wayne's and Garth's stoner buddies in WAYNE'S WORLD) is a street criminal, Jeremy Davies (RAVENOUS) is briefly on screen as a punk, Bruce McGill (ANIMAL HOUSE, MACGYVER) is a crooked cop and Loryn Locklin (Christopher Lambert's wife in FORTRESS) is a diner waitress who falls in love with and marries Smith.

Fans of TV movie melodrama might find Vigilante Cop worth watching (if they can get their hands on it - it hasn't been released on DVD), but otherwise it's safe to give this one a miss.

Previews on my VHS tape: The Fatal Image, Captive, Immortal Sins.

Friday, May 27, 2011

May 27 - Masterblaster

The cover of my VHS copy of Masterblaster

Masterblaster (1987)

Director: Glenn R Wilder
Format: VHS (CBS/Fox)

An action slasher in which the participants of a paintball game are picked off for real? Check. The one-and-only directing credit for a stuntman who did stunts on movies like Die Hard and Terminator 2? Check. Starring a bunch of other stuntmen and actors whose credits include Martial Arts Opponent in Blue Shirt? Yes indeed. Count me in!

To say my expectations were high going into this one is an understatement. I mean, for a start check out that cover! And those expectations only got higher when the opening credits rolled and a corny theme song started to play, with lyrics like "You'd better look ahead as well as behind you; At anytime someone could disqualify you".

The plot: $50,000 is up for grabs in the Master Blaster Grand National Championships, a simulated war game that is like paintball with booby traps. Only once the game begins, someone starts killing players one by one (despite the back cover of the VHS saying "REAL bullets kill!", most of the kills are by other methods, like strangling and stabbing.

The early part is used to set up the usual red herrings, before we're introduced to the players. There's a couple of comic relief Hispanic goofballs, three racist rednecks, a massive mafia bodyguard, a Japanese warrior and other assorted fodder.

The main characters are Vietnam vet motorcycle rider Jeremy Hawk (Jeff Moldovan - a stuntman with 39 stunt credits and a few bit part acting credits) and his love interest, police officer Samantha Rosen (Donna Rosea, PORKY'S REVENGE). There's also rock star Lewis Carlisle (Peter Lundblad - his only acting credit), who has the most awesome blond mullet since Patrick Swayze in the famous SNL Chippendales skit.

Watching this I couldn't help but think of the paintball scenes in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. There's a scene where the killer reaches down from above to grab a victim, just like Jason, and one of the players even wears a camoflage hockey mask.

We all know 80s slashers need to have two things - nudity and gore. Unfortunately they're both sparse (we get one token topless shower scene and a nice beheading), but my VHS is 81 minutes and IMDB lists it at 94 minutes, so who knows what has been cut out. In the version I saw you couldn't really class it a horror.

The acting is about what you'd expect from a bunch of no-names and on par with most slashers - not great but not too wince-inducing.

For a movie directed by a stuntman and featuring stuntmen, you'd expect good fight scenes and while there are disappointingly-few of them, there's a nice barroom brawl early in the piece and a lengthy fistfight later that incorporates knives and even nunchucks!

The reveal of the killer's identity is a bit lame but not the worst I've seen.

Masterblaster isn't a classic by any means, but it's a rare gem (not available on DVD as far I can tell) that I'm glad I got the opportunity to see.

Previews on my VHS: Big Trouble in Little China, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Lightship.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

May 26 - The Hammer visits the Philippines

Black Cobra II (1990)

Director: Edoardo Margheriti
Format: TV

By 1990, former NFL hardman Fred "the Hammer" Williamson's best days were behind him. He was 52 years old and well removed from the height of his cinematic career, which came in a string of blaxploitation movies of the 1970s.

The age of 52 might not seem that old (Chuck Norris still kicks butt in his 60s), but for someone with a lengthy career in the rigours of American football, 52 might as well be 82. And the Hammer looks about that old early on in Black Cobra II (in which he plays cop Robert Malone) as he hobbles after a criminal through the streets of Chicago.

Somehow he manages to catch up to the crook and ends up blowing him away. His police captain isn't happy (are they ever?) and sends him to Manilla, Philippines on some sort of Interpol exchange as punishment.

There he has his wallet stolen at the airport and meets local cop Nicholas Hammond (your friendly neighbourhood web-slinger in the 1970s TV series THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN). Together they search for the crim who stole Malone's wallet, who ends up dead. They investigate and come across a group of shady underworld characters. What we essentially get is a buddy cop movie with two "partners" who start off not liking each other.

We're talking real cookie cutter stuff here - Malone is the loose cannon and Hammond's character the conservative cop who likes to play by the rules. Gee, I wonder if they'll end up respecting each other by the movie's end?

There's also an attractive love interest for Malone, played by some girl who never acted again, according to IMDB.com (despite the fact her acting isn't as bad as Williamson's or Hammond's).

Some of the Philippino cultural stuff adds colour to proceedings, but otherwise Black Cobra II is a snorefest. The acting is flat across the board (Hammond being the biggest culprit) and the action is sparse. When Williamson busts out his "martial arts" skills to beat on bad guys it's frankly embarassing watching him try to get his leg up past waist height.

The final act features shootouts, a couple of explosions (accompanied by groovy 80s-style synth-and-cowbell music) and a finale involving terrorists, but you'll be lucky if you're still awake by then.

I haven't seen the first Black Cobra (1987) or the third (released the same year as part 2 and, I'm guessing, filmed at the same time in Manilla), but if Black Cobra II is anything to go by, I'm not missing much and won't be seeking them out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

May 25 - "Bad actors fight evil in the future" double feature

Today I watched two cheesy action flicks featuring uncharismatic lead actors battling evil in the future.

The cover of my VHS copy of Lunar Cop

Lunar Cop (1995)
Director: Boaz Davidson
Format: VHS (Nu Image)

In the year 2050, 27 years after an "ecological apocalypse" called the Big Burn (climate change on steroids maybe?), rich survivors live on a moon base. They've developed a serum that will "refoliate" the planet, but a pesky bunch of terrorists steal it and flee to Earth.

Michael Pare (EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS) stars as Joe Brody, a cop sent to earth to retrieve the serum. Upon arrival he saves pretty "savage" Thora (Walker Brandt, CITY SLICKERS) from rape at the hands of Kay (Billy Drago, CYBORG 2), the leader of The Rough Boys, a gang of motorbike-riding savages who look like they're late for a Mad Max convention.

Brody befriends the people of Thora's peace-loving colony and from there Space Mutiny boils down to a "good guy helps peasants fight back against baddies using unconventional methods" scenario, which we've all seen a million times, mosty in westerns.

There's a twist that makes Brody question his allegiance to the moon dwellers and a final showdown with his robot partner from the moon (foreshadowed in the opening), and then a final twist that is definitely more of a surprise and ends up quite heartfelt.

Now, I love a good post-apocalyptic flick. Love 'em. But one of the major problems I have with Lunar Cop is it doesn't feel very apocalyptic. Aside from some Road Warrior-esque costumes, it could be set in the deserts of present day Mexico or the South West of the US. Everything's too clean and polished to be post-apocalyptic. At least make it dirty and gritty!

That gripe aside, the action is pretty good, with director Boaz Davidson (AMERICAN CYBORG: STEEL WARRIOR) making sure there are lots and lots of motorcycles flying through the air, explosions, shot gun blasts and fist fights to keep things interesting. This is Davidson's last credited directing job though, so I guess the studio wasn't happy with his efforts.

Pare has always relied on his good looks and as usual here he comes up short in the charisma department. Luckily that's something Billy Drago has plenty of, and aside from the action he's the reason to watch Lunar Cop.

Previews on my VHS: Streetcar named Desire (1995), Bird of Prey, A Walk in the Clouds, The Brothers MacMullen.

The cover of my VHS copy of Space Mutiny

Space Mutiny (1988)
Director: David Winters and Neal Sundstrom
Format: VHS (Palace)

At some point in the future the remnants of the human race are travelling through space on a massive spaceship that is virtually a floating planet. Sound familiar? Battlestar Galactica maybe?

I haven't watched the new TV series, but I'm very familiar with the original 70s series, so straight away I recognised the space battle footage early on in Space Mutiny as being recycled from it. It's unmistakeable - the same Star Wars-ripoff fighters and Cylon ships, even the laser sound effects remain unchanged.

Onto this colony ship comes Dave Ryder (former American footballer Reb Brown, who played Captain America in two CAPTAIN AMERICA TV movies), who is a ruggedly-handsome fighter pilot. He immediately gets mixed up in a plot by one of the ship's commanders (John Phillip Law, who played Sinbad in 1973's THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD), who sabotages things in the hope the ship will be forced to land on a nearby planet. He's sick of floating through space and wants to feel terra firma beneath his shiny space boots. Assisting him in this plot is another traiterous officer, played by James Ryan (KICKBOXER 5).

Cameron Mitchell (TOOLBOX MURDERS) is the Lorne Greene of the ship, all wise with his bushy white beard and flowing robes. His daughter and Ryder's love interest is played by Cisse Cameron, who ended up marrying Brown.

As Ryder battles to save the ship from the mutineers, there's a weird subplot involving a group of female space witches, which feels like it was added to pad out the running time. And it probably was.

As well as the recycled Battlestar Galactica footage, there's plenty more space cheese to go around. Some of the costumes are right out of American Gladiator, while others are the more conventional Star Trek/Wars ripoffs. Apparently in the future they use hula hoops to boogie to corny synth music while dry ice fills the dance floor. And wait until you see the chase scenes involving what amount to galactic bumper cars.

The acting? Oh, it's bad. Brown struggles any time he is called upon to emote, but luckily most of his lines consist of yelling "Let's move" or "Son of a bitch" while running around shooting lasers. Law's bad guy is quite dastardly - we know that because of the amount of times he gives an uber-evil Mwa-ha-ha laugh. All that's missing is a curly mustache for him to twirl.

Bad acting. Cheesy special effects and costumes. A lame plot. What does all this add up to? A damn good time, naturally! Space Mutiny sits right up there with some of the best cheesefests going around. Definitely recommended!

Oh, and apparently this was riffed by Mystery Science Theater 3000. I like MST3K but haven't seen that episode, of which I'm kinda glad. It was fun to see Space Mutiny in all of its natural glory first.

Previews on my VHS: The Invisible Kid, Tiger Warsaw, Cameron's Closet, Across the Lake

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

May 24 - Sinai Commandos and a Franco Nero double feature

Today's viewing consisted of a nice little triple feature of b-movies set in exotic places - the Middle East, Colombia and Mexico - two of them featuring Italian action star Franco Nero.

Sinai Commandos (1968)
Director: Raphael Nussbaum
Format: DVD (First Look's Grindhouse Experience Vol 2)

The concept of a rag-tag bunch of soldiers fighting their way through enemy territory to destroy a radar station/ammunition dump/gun position/whatever has been done countless times in war and action movies. But while the setting for these tales is usually World War II (Pacific, Europe or North Africa), Vietnam or Korea, Sinai Commandos offers a new setting - the Six Day War in the Middle East.

I'll admit to knowing very little about that conflict before watching this movie (and subsequently doing some internet research). As the name would suggest, it was fought for six days (June 5-10 1967), between Israel and the combined forces of its Arab neighbours.

Depending on your political leaning, the war was either an act of aggression by Israel or a pre-emptive strike of a defensive nature. Either way, when all was said and done, Israel had taken control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, Golan Heights from Syria and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt.

But enough about the history - you want to know about Sinai Commandos, am I right? Well, needless to say this Israeli-American-German production is firmly on the side of Israel being the heroic underdogs fighting back against the evil Arabs.

Directed by German Raphael Nussbaum (whose credits also include 1976's intriguingly-named THE AMOROUS ADVENTURES OF DON QUIXOTE AND SANCHO PANZA), it stars Robert Fuller (a veteran of westerns, including long stints on TV shows LARAMIE and WAGON TRAIN) as the leader of a group of Israeli soldiers sent into the Egypt-held Sinai region to blow up a radar station that will allow Israel to turn the tide in the war.

Joining their mission is a pretty woman (Esther Ulmann - her only acting credit) who sneaks them into enemy territory on her father's speedboat and tags along after the boat is sunk. The rest of the commando characters aren't fleshed out too much, with the exception of womanising Private Bulgaro (Reuven Bar-Yotam, making his on screen debut before going on to a career in US television).

While things start off quite slowly, once the action starts Nussbaum does a good enough job of keeping things interesting. As you would probably expect from a movie of this nature, the plot boils down to a string of firefights, as the commandos move on from one incident to the next amidst the barren rock landscape of the Sinai.

Baring in mind this movie was made in 1968 (they didn't mess around in getting it done after the war), it's missing the trappings of later war-action movies. Forget outrageous explosions and cartoonish characters, but if you're after a straight forward war flick with lots of machine guns and grenades, Sinai Commandos is worth a watch.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula in 1982. History lesson over.

Alien Terminator (1988)
Director: Nello Rosatti
Format: AVI (VHSrip)

When I was preparing to sit down and watch this, I thought it was the 1995 film with the same name, an erotic scifi flick starring former Las Vegas showgirl Maria Ford. That's the problem when all you've got is a computer file with a name - there's no cover, so mix ups can happen.

So imagine my delight when I started watching and the opening credits appeared. Franco Nero! George Kennedy! Directed by Nello Rosatti!

Instead of a bad 90s skin flick, here we've got an Italian production, shot in Colombia, which was originally titled Top Line. Alien Terminator is the name it got upon video release in the UK.

The previous year Rosatti had
directed Django 2, the sequel
to the groundbreaking 1966 scifi western Django. The sequel once again starred the great Franco Nero as the title character and was filmed in Colombia. It doesn't take much deduction to figure out Rosatti probably filmed Alien Terminator while he was on location, especially since the two movies share another couple of actors in common - William Berger and Rodrigo Obregon.

Nero plays drunken author Ted Angelo, who lives in Colombia on the dollar of his rich publisher ex-wife (Mary Stavin, HOWLING V). When he comes across some priceless Aztec artefacts that get his museum curator friend (Berger) killed, he and his friend's assistant (the lovely Deborah Moore, WARRIORS OF THE APOCALYPSE) are thrown into a dangerous series of events that involve secret agents, an evil artefact collector (Kennedy, COOL HAND LUKE) and a UFO buried inside a mountain.

The first two thirds of the movie are entertaining enough, unfolding like a jungle adventure mystery, but with a name like Alien Terminator you could be forgiven for expecting more... well, alien terminators. For that you'll have to wait until the last third, which is thankfully when things really pick up. As well as the long-awaited arrival of a terminator-ripoff alien robot, there's also an exciting highspeed pursuit through windy mountain roads with Angelo on the back of a truck being driven by drunk chicken farmer, as well as shootouts, explosions and a twist ending that's nicely done.

Nero struggles through his lines in English, but does well as an ageing action star. His funniest line comes during a shootout with the alien terminator, when his lady friend asks "Who could have built a machine like that?" and he replies "Not even the Japanese".

It's a shame there couldn't have been more of the fun stuff in the last portion of this movie throughout its running time, as the build up takes a bit too long to get going. But if you go into Alien Terminator knowing what to expect - a jungle adventure with some elements of scifi - you shouldn't be disappointed.

The Shark Hunter (1979)

Director: Enzo G Castellari
Format: DVD (First Look's Grindhouse Experience Vol 2)

In the late 70s, Jaws rip-offs were a dime a dozen. Following Spielberg's 1975 blockbuster came Mako: Jaws of Death (1976), Orca: The Killer Whale (1977), Piranha (1978) and a whole host more.

The Shark Hunter (aka Il cacciatore di squali, aka El cazador de Tiburones) isn't a direct riff on the adventures of Bruce the shark, but it is clearly cashing in on the craze. Directed by Enzo G Castellari (1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS), it stars Franco Nero (DJANGO) as a Quint-esque grizzled shark hunter haunted by the past. In his case it's the deaths of his wife and child and a plane crash in the waters off Mexico.

Sporting ridiculous long blonde hair, Nero's character (Mike di Donato) lives at a Mexican beach resort (shades of the other Nero movie I've watched today, where he was an American living in Colombia). He is
happy hunting sharks, but has also devised a plan to
retrieve 100 million dollars from the sunken plane
from which he was the only survivor.

A local crimelord (Eduardo Fajardo, DJANGO) and his assorted hired muscle are also after the money, as is a former colleague of di Donato's from a shady American agency (Michael Forest, BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE). Jorge Luke (CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER) offers the comic relief as loud mouth local Acapulco, who becomes di Donato's sidekick.

The race is on for the money, with plenty of shoot outs, explosions, fist fights and high speed chases (including one between a seaplane and a speedboat) to keep things interesting. And the sharks? Well, they mostly just swim around looking menacing until the finale, when they finally get to chomp on some suckas.

The DVD I watched was a straight rip of a VHS (with hard Dutch subtitles), so the picture quality wasn't that great. A lot of the underwater shots were too dark to see what was going on, but luckily there's not too many of them.

The Shark Hunter is above-average 1970s action and a must for any fans of Franco Nero.

Monday, May 23, 2011

May 23 - Final Justice

The cover of my VHS copy of Final Justice

Final Justice (1985)
Director: Greydon Clark
Format: VHS (Vestron International)

"You got the right to remain silent (kicks criminal in the head)... and all that shit".

Eight years after playing Buford Pusser in the
original WALKING TALL, Joe Don Baker is back in familiar territory as a no-nonsense lawman who doesn't like to play by the rules. For the third time in three years he's paired up with exploitation director Greydon Clark, after starring in 1982's Wacko and 1983's Joysticks, which were both helmed by Clark.

Here Baker is trigger-happy, milk-drinking Texas Deputy Sheriff Thomas Jefferson "TJ" Geronimo III, who transports Italian gangster Joe Palermo (Venantino Venantini, CANNIBAL FEROX) back to Sicily after Palermo kills his partner (director Clark in a cameo). Except the flight is detoured to Malta and Palermo escapes, so Geronimo hunts him down while battling assorted mafia baddies.

Add to the mix plenty of female nudity (including full frontal in a shower), exploding cars and boats, a speedboat chase or two and a murdered stripper and you've got an above-average 80s action flick.

The scenes with Geronimo and the Maltese police get a bit repetitive and tedious (we get it - he doesn't play by the rules) but otherwise the action unravels at a good clip.

Some people don't like Joe Don Baker, but I do. Admittedly he was never going to win an Oscar, but he does a good enough job here. He's in his element here as a gruff good ol' boy, which suits him better than some other roles I've seen him in (like his god awful performance in Mitchell).

May 21 - What kind of tomfoolery is this?

Supersonic Man (1980)
Director: Juan Piquer Simon
Format: AVI (VHSrip)

The first sign that Supersonic Man is a low budget movie is the listing of veteran actor Cameron Mitchell as "Cameron Mitchel" in the opening credits.

Coming two years after Richard Donner's Superman, this Spanish rip-off is directed by Juan Piquer Simon (PIECES), and stars Mitchell (THE TOOLBOX MURDERS) as Dr Gulik, a mad scientist intent on developing - what else? - a death ray.

An alien being is sent from an orbiting spaceshop to stop Dr Gulik's nefarious plans. In civilian garb he's suave, moustachioed Antonio Cantaforia (DEMONS 2). But when he utters the words "May the force of the galaxies be with me" he transforms into Supersonic, a masked superhero in a red costume with sparkly blue mask, gloves and cape. Interestingly, Cantaforia's moustache disappears in Supersonic form (actually because it's a different actor - Richard Yesteran, who played Tarzan in a couple of Spanish movies).

In between romancing the daughter of a good-natured scientist kidnapped by Dr Gulik (including using his superpowers to steal some champagne for a romantic dinner), Supersonic battles Gulik's stormtrooper-esque, laser gun-wielding troops and comes face to face with his fearsome killer robot (a man in a bulky,
restrictive suit).

Just about everything is played straight but comes off as unintentionally funny. Ironically, the comic relief (a drunk character who pops up several times) is about the only unfunny part of the whole film.

The special effects are hilarious. Marvel at the unconvincing green-screen work as Supersonic "flies" around New York City. Watch a car containing two baddies burst into flames for no reason after running off the road and down a gentle slope. Rejoice at the terrible model work involving houses, a helicopter, ships, submarines and more. Recoil in terror as Supersonic fights his way through jets of air, uh, I mean "corrosive gas". Gasp as he hoists a bulldozer over his head (which is clearly made of balsa wood).

Mitchell hams it up big time, providing a definite highlight of the acting on display. Some of the dialogue is awesomely cheesy (a scientist upon seeing the killer robot: "What kind of tomfoolery is this?"). The music is meant to be epic but comes off as a poor imitation of the Superman score, but Superman doesn't have banjo music playing during a bar fight, now does it?

All the ingredients for a B-movie classic are there. Unfortunately the end result isn't as good as it could have been, but it's still a good old time for any fan of cheesy, bad z-movies.

One last thing: Not once does Supersonic Man fly at above the speed of sound. But I guess Quitefast Man doesn't really have the same ring to it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

May 20 - Instant Rage

my VHS cover for Instant Rage

Instant Rage (1989)
Director: Godfrey Ho
Format: VHS (Filmpac)

After enjoying Ninja USA so much yesterday, I decided to throw another ninja flick into the old VCR. Instant Rage seemed a good bet for more cheesy, unintentionally-funny good times. I mean, look at that cover - it has the pre-requisite ninja, plus an exploding helicopter, trucks smashing cars out of the way, a girl having her face ripped with some kind of hook... how could it not be all sorts of awesomeness?

Let me tell you how.

The main culprit is the plot. If you read my Ninja USA review, in it I asked "who needs plot to get in the way of action and laughs?". Well, it turns out, I do. At least a semi-coherent one anyway. Instant Rage's plot is a mess, but doing a bit of research on director Godfrey Ho (billed as Philip Fraser), it's easy to see why.

Apparently Ho loved him a ninja flick. According to IMDB he has directed 118 movies - 51 with word Ninja in title (including the awesomely-named Full Metal Ninja and Zombie vs Ninja the same year as Instant Rage). And apparently this king of the Hong Kong z-movies was known for taking two or three sources (usually including unfinished Philipino and Thai efforts) and mixing them together to make his end products.

So in Instant Rage there's scenes involving a guy with super-human strength, who joins with a woman and her uncle to try to bring down a mafia family. I think. Then there's totally unrelated scenes involving two caucasian ninjas, who... uh, well... they have some sort of rivalry going on. I think there's also some sort of love triangle - two chicks fight over one of the guys, to which a cop says "Boy if I had two ladies fighting over me I wouldn't be able to control myself!"

The aimless plot wouldn't matter if the action was non-stop, but there are way too many boring sections that get in the way of the butt-kicking. They're not even cheesy enough to keep it interesting.

There are a few laughs to be had - see a guy get killed when he can't escape from an incredibly-slow moving bulldozer and the ninja fights have the usual cheesy magic (disappearing into thin air, throwing explosions) - but the best thing about Instant Rage is its music. It's all shamelessly stolen from other, bigger-budget movies, making for a score that sounds far too classy for a movie of this quality. I recognised a piece from Nightmare on Elm St, and even 10 seconds of the keyboard opening of Bon Jovi's Let it Rock.

My last criticism of Instant Rage is that it suffers from falsecoveritis. Where is the exploding helicopter? The truck smashing through cars? The chick taking a hook to the face? There is a ninja, but even that is false advertising to a certain degree. This is 90% a mafia flick and 10% a ninja movie, with gunplay far outweighing martial arts.

Wow, I've written alot about a movie I didn't enjoy very much. I will say I'm happy to own the VHS of this movie because it seems it's quite rare. As far as I can tell it has never been released on DVD. In fact, the internet has very little info on it. IMDB.com doesn't have a listing for its actors, and the actors named on the back of the video box are generically named (Elton Gibbs? The love child of Elton John and the Bee Gees maybe?) and don't correspond to anything on IMDB.

In closing... Instant Rage isn't even bad enough to be good. There's very little here to enjoy. Go find Ninja USA instead.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

May 19 - Ninja USA!

the cover of my VHS of Ninja USA

Ninja USA (1985)

Director: Kuo Ren-Wu
Format: VHS (Pace)

I'll be the first to admit I generally missed out on the ninja movie craze of the 1980s. And if Ninja USA (also known as Ninja in the USA) is a good indication of this type of movie... I've been deprived all this time!

1978 Taiwan taekwondo champion Alexander Lou (THE SUPER NINJA and umpteen other ninja movies) plays Jerry Wong, who along with his brother Ronnie (Alex Yip) was saved as a child during the Vietnam War by GI Tyger McPherson (George Nicholas, SAKURA KILLERS). Now grown up. Jerry must choose between his loyalty to Tyger, a major drug dealer who has trained an army of evil ninjas, and his brother, a cop.

When Jerry's girl is kidnapped by Tyger's men, it's up to him to rescue her, while kicking butt on several dozen ninjas in the process, of course. But only after getting the required training in the art of Ninja 2 (don't ask) by a sensei in white (no albino eyebrows and beard sadly), which includes learning how to cause "spontaneous explosions" as he leaps through the air. There's not much more to the plot than that, but then who needs plot to get in the way of action and laughs?

The action: Multiple fight scenes involving ninjas, dirt bikes, speed boats, gymnastics apparatuses, a swing bridge all sped up. And a final fight scene that has to be seen to be believed for its magically appearing and disappearing ninja costumes smoke explosions and other cheesy goodness.

The laughs: The sped-up fight scenes, the dodgy sound effects, the bad music and the hilarious dubbing. The voice-over work had me in stitches, especially that of African-American bad guy Eugene Thomas (who did 7 movies with Lou in the 80s). His dubbed lines are like a cross between any blaxploitation pimp and cartoon character Wally Gator.

The Trailer on my VHS is for Ninja American Warrior, which looks just as fun as Ninja USA. I gotta find more of this stuff!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

May 17 - a twister wannabe and a thrill-less thriller

A couple of movies I've watched in the last few days that aren't worth a real review:

Tornado Valley (2009)
Director: Andrew C Erin
Format: TV

I caught this made-for-TV movie when it was on TV a couple of days ago. Essentially it's a weak rip off of Twister - its main character is a woman who lost a parent to a tornado, but in place of Helen Hunt we get former Dawson's Creek actress Meredith Monroe, this movie's biggest name star.

With a limited budget the twister effects aren't very good, but don't worry, you won't see them much anyway. For a movie about tornadoes there sure isn't many of them - most of the running time is taken up with women's channel-type melodrama. Very cheesy, and not in the good way.

Future Murder (2000)
Director: Andre Ovredal
Format: VHS

I got this in a bulk lot of about 50 VHS tapes I bought and spotted director Ovredal's name. A couple of weeks ago I watched his only other directorial effort, the fantastic Trollhunter (2010). Figuring it would be cool to see his freshman outing, I popped Future Murder into the ol' VCR.

I'm not sure how these two movies were directed by the same guy. Future Murder is a bland thriller which is predictable (you'll see the twist ending coming a mile away) and just not very interesting. The VHS box lists it as an independent film, and if it is, the overall look and acting aren't too bad for low budget, but the plot is by-the-numbers. Maybe worth a look if you're bored. Very bored.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

May 14 - We're immobilised!

Atlantis Interceptors (1983)
Director: Ruggero Deodato
Format: DVD (Part of First Look's 5-disk Grindhouse Experience Vol 2 box set)

In the past couple of years I've seen exactly two movies that feature a Crystal Skull - the newest entry in the Indiana Jones series and this one. One was a steaming pile of crap, the other... was Atlantis Interceptors! And it was awesome!

This is exactly the kind of flick that this blog was made for. It's cheap, derivative, unrealistic, but so much fun!

Italian director Ruggero Deodato (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, JUNGLE HOLOCAUST) takes a break from entrails and flesh-munching to helm this action flick, which has scifi thrown in for good measure.

A pair of mercenaries for hire - Mike Ross (Ryan O'Neal lookalike Christopher Connelly, 1990: BRONX WARRIORS) and Washington (Tony King, SHAFT) are cruising in their boat when they end up at a deep sea oil rig. It's being used by scientists who have discovered an Incan-looking relic on the bottom of the sea and are trying to refloat a sunken Russian submarine.

When they do refloat it, the weather goes nuts and a mysterious island comes to the surface as well, completely covered in a see-through dome. Seeking refuge on another nearby island with some of the scientists - including beautiful Gioia Scola (CONQUEST) and Ivan Rassimov (SHOCK, THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER) - they find it has been trashed by a gang of misfits who look like extras from THE ROAD WARRIOR.

Mike, Washington and friends engage in a lengthy firefight against the gang. Machine guns, explosions, flamethrowers, bad guys dying via spectacular dives (and strange echoey screams) - it's balls to the wall action!

The bad guys (who turn out to be from Atlantis - hence the movie title) kidnap Scola and our heroes go to her rescue, commandeering first a bus (see gang members leaping from a helicopter onto the roof of the bus!), then a helicopter.

The island offers more awesomeness, including a cameo from Michelle Soavi (when he was just an actor, prior to directing the likes of STAGEFRIGHT and CEMETERY MAN) and statues that shoot lasers out their eyes. We also get a humorous moment when our heroes come under the influence of the Atlanteans and Washington, leaning close to Mike, says: "Can't move, we're immobilised!"). Did I mention statues that shoot lasers out of their eyes?

The climax doesn't make much sense but is satisfactory enough.

Oh right! At the start to this review I mentioned a Crystal Skull. The leader of the Atlantean gang wears a clear plastic skull mask and is credited as Crystal Skull. His gang is just awesome - their costumes and vehicles are straight out of MAD MAX, BRONX WARRIORS etc and, like all good b-movie bad guys, they jump out and make a lot of noise when attacking, rather than just shooting, giving the good guys time to react.

If you're any kind of fan of 70s/80s Italian scifi action, or just b-movies in general, seek out Atlantis Interceptors. You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

May 13 - BLACK FRIDAY double feature

Friday the 13th part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
Director: Rob Hedden
Format: DVD

So today was Friday the 13th, Black Friday. It's a tradition in my house to watch, well, what else but a movie from the Friday the 13th series on this day. It helps that I'm an unashamed fan of the series.

I've watched parts 1-7 numerous times over the years, but I've managed to limit my exposure to part 8 to just a single viewing many years ago (when it first came out on video). I remember being so disappointed and disgusted by it back then, and that bitter taste has stayed in my mouth since.

Tonight I bit the bullet and gave it another watch. I'm not sure if it's because I had such low expectations or just because I was in the right frame of mind, but I actually enjoyed it this time around. No, not as a serious horror movie, but as an unintentional comedy.

First, the cast and crew. Director Rob Hedden's career since Friday 8 has consisted of made for TV movies. No one, and I mean no one, on the cast went on to become a big name (think about that - the earlier entries had Kevin Bacon, Corey Feldman, Crispin Glover, Ron Palillo etc). The most success any of them had after this movie was pretty boy male lead Scott Reeves becoming a regular on soaps General Hospital and Young and the Restless.

The plot has a bunch of teens (what else?) who celebrate graduating high school by taking a cruise to New York City from near Camp Crystal Lake. Only they have an unwanted stowaway, ol' hockey mask himself, Jason Vorhees. And then... well, he kills a bunch of people. What else would you expect?

There are a few things that bother me about this movie, but none more than the way Jason is portrayed. Namely the fact that he seems to have the speed of a ninja. Sure, in the other films he always manages to catch up to whoever he's chasing without breaking his leisurely pace, but at least he doesn't flaunt the laws of physics. In this one, one second he's over there, the next he's over here - it's just not possible!

Plot holes? Ho boy, big enough to drive... well, a cruise ship through! Since when did Crystal Lake join up with the ocean? How did Rennie (Jensen Daggett - about the only decent actor on screen here) have a run in with a young Jason when he's been hunting teens as an adult (albeit an undead one) for decades now? And the ending - I don't want to spoil it, but it makes no sense whatsoever.

But, and it's a big but, if you manage to switch off the ol' brain and overlook the plot holes, if you embrace the unintentional comedy unfolding before you, you might just enjoy it. The bad acting, the fashions, the music, the flaws in logic... they're all worth a few laughs. Hell, it's the only way to make it all the way through this movie.

Zombie Strippers
Director: Jay Lee
Format: DVD

Zombie. Strippers. And if that's not enough to get you to watch, the two names at the top of the marquee are Robert Englund (NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST) and porn star Jenna Jameson. How could you resist?

Englund plays the sleazy owner of an illegal strip club that becomes the unwitting scene of a zombie outbreak. Jameson is his star stripper, who gets infected but rather than becoming a mindless shuffler, keeps on stripping, while munching on some manmeat in between pole routines.

Director and writer Jay Lee presents all this with tongue in cheek and really delivers for B movie fans. He doesn't hold back on the nudity and gore, dishing out bouncing titties and exploding heads with equal fervour.

The supporting cast is eclectic to say the least, with appearances by a former ultimate fighting champion (Tito Ortiz), a goth rock singer (Roxy Saint), a former child star (Whitney Anderson) and a production assistant from The Apprentice (Jen Alex Gonzalez).

The best laughs are for latin comedian Joey Medina (THE ORIGINAL LATIN KINGS OF COMEDY), who plays a Mexican janitor forced to clean up after the zombies go a-munching. The other comedy is very hit and miss, some of it coming off as just plain silly. But it doesn't spoil what is a damn good time for any B movie fan.

Think zombies and you want plenty of blood, entrails and headshots. Think strippers and you want hot women taking their clothes off. Combine the two and you get both. Ain't life grand?

May 12 - The Wrong Arm of the Law is back

Maniac Cop 2 (1990)
Director: William Lustig
Format: VHS (CBS Fox Video)

Two years after the original, director William Lustig and writer Larry Cohen are back with the continued adventures of the Cop with the Chop, the Wrong Arm of the Law, Matt Cordell (Robert Z'dar).

Picking up where the first movie's ambiguous ending left off, the seemingly-invincible undead cop returns to the streets of the Big Apple to kill off innocent people in gruesome (and often-times humorous ways).

Bruce Campbell and Laurene Landon are also back as our good guy couple, but their appearances are nothing more than cameos. Once they're gone we get new protagonists in the form of the brooding Robert Davi (THE GOONIES) and Claudia Christian (THE HIDDEN), who like Campbell and Landon play cops, although not lovers. Christian is definitely an upgrade over Landon's sub-par acting, and while I'm a big fan of Campbell, Davi brings a hard-boiled, gritty edge to things.

Often filmmakers can be tempted to simply repeat what worked in the original, offering nothing new, but to their credit Lustig and Cohen mix things up. They give their bad guy a sidekick, a sleazy serial killer played by Leo Rossi (HALLOWEEN 2), looking more than a little big Charles Manson-esque.

Other new cast members include Clarence Williams (THE MOD SQUAD TV series), Charles Napier (RAMBO) and Danny Trejo, the latter in a brief cameo.

As well as adding the serial killer sidekick, Lustig and Cohen take their original ingredients and increase the dosage - in this case amping up the levels of action (including one cool scene where Christian's character is handcuffed to a car which is sent down a hill), sex (lots more boobage than the original) and violence.

The comparisons to more famous 80s slasher series can again be made - Cordell is essentially Jason Vorhees with a badge, there's a cool scene at a shooting range where he looms out of the darkness in a very Jason/Michael Myers-like way, and the opening sequence of the film has a real Nightmare on Elm St feel to it.

My overall verdict is that Maniac Cop 2 repeats what made Maniac Cop so good, while also switching up a few things to keep it from getting repetitive. I can see why these movies have a cult following - as far as 80s B-movie action-horrors go, they're top notch.

Oh, and be sure to keep watching during the credits to hear the awesome Maniac Cop rap! With lines like "You can run him over, you can feed him poison, push him out a window, it only annoys him", we're talking movie soundtrack gold!

Pre-movie trailers on my VHS: Home Alone, Predator 2, Coup de Ville, Edward Scissorhands Marked for Death, Cold Justice.

Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence (1993)
Director: William Lustig
Format: VHS (Triumph Releasing)

Completing the Maniac Cop trilogy, Badge of Silence treads familiar territory and unfortunately is unable to live up to the standard of it's two superior predecessors.

Robert Davi is back as Detective McKinney, who once again is embroiled in a mystery surrounding a series of killings. Well, it's a mystery to him. We know the culprit is undead cop Matt Cordell (Robert Z'Dar), now looking dark and crispy after his firey finale in the second movie.

The first two movies (the original in particular) feature interesting supporting casts made up of character actors and genre favourites. Sadly the best Badge of Silence can offer is a guy who ended up as a regular on Melrose Place (Doug Savant) and the teacher from The Breakfast Club (Paul Gleason). Jackie Earle Haley (Freddie Krueger in the abysmal Nightmare on Elm St remake) also features as a scumbag criminal who assumes the sidekick roll filled by Leo Rossi in part 2.

The filmmakers try to keep things interesting by introducing two subplots - one involving voodoo, the other a female love interest/obsession for Cordell - but the humor is gone, as are the crazy characters Cohen loves to write. The inventive kills continue and there's plenty of gun-play and a visually-striking ending, but watching this one back-to-back with part 2, it just feels like there's something missing.

Badge of Silence isn't a bad movie by any means, but is easily the weakest entry in the Maniac Cop series.

Pre-movie trailers on my VHS: Hard Justice, Red Scorpion 2, Bad Boys, Blankman, Oblivion, Brainscan, Nighttrain to Venice, Gettysburg

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

May 10 - You have the right to remain silent... FOREVER!

Maniac Cop (1988)
Director: William Lustig
Format: VHS (4 Front Video)

Robert Z'dar and Bruce Campbell in the same movie? Holy giant chins Batman!

Eight years after his gritty, low-budget slasher Maniac, William Lustig recycled that name, adding Cop to the end of it and... well, that's where the comparison ends. Maniac Cop is bigger budget, more polished and has more in common with Hollywood slasher series like Nightmare on Elm St and Friday the 13th than Maniac, while at the same time having more of an action slant.

The titular Maniac Cop (Z'dar, SOULTAKER) is a hulking specimen in a police uniform who walks the streets of New York killing innocent people. Another cop, played by Campbell (EVIL DEAD), is suspected of the crimes and along with a female cop love interest and a grizzled lieutenant has to fight to prove his innocence.

The killer is from the Jason Vorhees/Michael Myers school of horror movie villains - a hulking guy who never moves at anything but a snail's pace and is seemingly invincible. He even gets an ambiguous ending, setting up a sequel. However, one point of difference Lustig gets to play with is the fact his killer is a cop, the very person the victims are meant to be able to trust.

Maniac Cop also has more humor than most of the movies of its ilk, but that's hardly surprising when you see it was written by Larry Cohen. If you've seen any of the movies he has directed and/or written, like The Stuff and It's Alive, you know that he always operates with an undercurrent of humor. One of my favourite kills in this movie has a guy suffocating as his face is pushed into wet concrete. The next morning the police are there removing him with a jackhammer.

The biggest asset of Maniac Cop is its cast. Campbell is always entertaining, and plays it straighter here than in the Evil Dead movies. His support cast is an impressive assembly of B-movie veterans - including Tom Atkins (NIGHT OF THE CREEPS), Richard Roundtree (SHAFT) and William Smith (PIRANHA), although the later is wasted in a nothing role. Also keep your eyes peeled for an uncredited cameo by Sam Raimi as a news reporter.

My biggest complaint is that this movie lacks a clear protagonist. Is it Campbell or Atkins? Without spoiling the movie, one of them doesn't make it to the end credits, his demise coming rather jarringly.

But overall Maniac Cop is a nice offering from the tail end of the hey day of the 80s slasher - before this kind of movie became completely cliche and almost self-parody - with a great cast.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

May 8 - Italian scifi and a sexy thriller

Cosmos: War of the Planets (1977)

Director: Alfonso Brescia
Format: TV

2001 A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Star Trek, Barbarella - they're all ripped off in this, one of a string of Italian scifi offerings from director Alfonso Brescia (War of the Robots, Beast in Space etc), who is billed as Al Bradley.

The plot sees a strange signal arriving on Earth and a spaceship sent to investigate, finding a planet where an underground race is enslaved by a giant robot/computer.

There's campy fun to be had here - astronauts who wear 70s style jumpsuits and felt helmets with big round buttons on the side, aliens who are just guys covered in silver paint, an evil robot that makes Robby the Robot look like the T2000 and a spaceship computer ripoff of HAL called WIZ (which instantly makes me think of Michael Jackson dressed as a campy scarecrow).

As you'd expect from a cheaply-made Italian scifi b-movie, the special effects are worth a few laughs and the dubbing is atrociously funny. But that's what makes these movies so great, right?

The dialogue is generally bland but there are a few gems ("I ca-n't make it Cap-tain. The cen-tri-fu-gal for-ce has im-mo-bi-lised me!").

If Cosmos: War of the Planets moved at a quicker pace and the campy-to-dull ratio was higher, I'd recommend it. It's in the public domain, so chances are any DVD you watch will be as bad in quality as the TV screening I watched. Not that it'll wreck a good movie.

Double Jeopardy (1983)
Director: Ulli Lommel
Format: VHS (Syme Home Video)

Also known as Olivia, Faces of Fear and Prozzie. As far as I can tell, this one isn't available on DVD.

Ulli Lommel isn't a name I was familiar with before popping this horror/thriller into the ol' VCR. Looking him up, I discovered that I've seen a couple of his movies before - his 1980 hit Boogeyman and The Devonsville Terror, which came out the same year as Double Jeopardy.

From the looks of it his career in recent years has consisted of turning out direct-to-video movies about real life serial killers (The Zodiac Killer, The BTK Killer and DC Sniper among them), but in the 60s he was part of Andy Warhol's crowd (producing a couple of flicks for him) and in the 80s he became known for a string of horror/thriller movies starring his then wife Suzanna Love.

In Double Jeopardy, Love is a troubled young woman who as a child witnessed her prostitute mother being murdered by a john. Now grown up, she emulates dear old mommy's night activities in London, but has a penchant for killing any men she hooks up with, spurred on by the voice of her dead mother.

Then she meets and falls in love with an American (Robert Walker jr, Beware the Blob) who's in London to do work on the London Bridge. The movie takes a unexpected turn when it moves to the US, where the London Bridge has been rebuilt in Arizona (a real life event that apparently inspired Lommel to build his plot around it). Now in America, Walker's character meets a woman who looks just like his former love, but could it really be her?

There are a couple more plot twists before the end - nothing groundbreaking by any means, but Lommel does a competent job of mixing sex (Love spends a fair bit of time in the buff and is very easy on the eyes), mystery and psychological horror into an entertaining and unpredictable package, helped by creepy, moody music.

Note: The image with this review is the cover of my own copy of the VHS. It looks both cheesy and awesome at the same time!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

May 7 - Biker chicks, a black cowboy and zombies

Today I watched a triple feature of movies on DVD from a real mixture of genres.

She-Devils on Wheels (1968)
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Format: DVD (Something Weird)

This is one of two biker chick exploitation movies released in 68 by Herschell Gordon Lewis (the other being Just for the Hell of It). Having moved on from the gorefests (Two Thousand Maniacs, Blood Feast, Color Me Blood Red etc) by which he made his name, Lewis momentarily tried his hand at more traditional drive in fare.

She-Devils on Wheels follows the exploits of an all-female biker gang called the Hellcats, who race their bikes, use men as sexual objects (in a nice role reversal) and have to deal to a male gang that moves into their turf.

Don't expect much in the way of plot or acting (most of the women are genuine biker chicks, so they can ride their bikes but don't have much in the way of thespian skills), but the action is passable and some of the dialogue is great ("Go fumigate yourself craphead!"). The sex scenes remind me of when network TV cops visit strip clubs, in that there's no nudity (check out the fully-clothed orgies), and there's no swearing, making all of the rebellious carry-on a tad G-rated. Luckily there's a decapitation to keep it unseamly.

Obviously shot on a tight budget, She-Devils on Wheels has a certain charm to it but there are far better biker exploitation flicks out there.

Joshua (1976)
Director: Larry G Spangler
Format: DVD (El Paso Pictures)

I'm a huge fan of western movies and have seen all sorts of movies from that genre, but this is my first blaxploitation western. I'm aware of others from this particular branch of the blaxploitation tree (The Soul of Nigger Charley, The Legend of Nigger Charley etc), but haven't laid eyes upon one until now.

Director Spangler only has four movies to his name and two of them are black westerns starring former NFL player Fred "the Hammer" Williamson - 1973's The Soul of Nigger Charley and this one.

Joshua stars Williamson as a soldier who returns from fighting in the Civil War to find a gang of white outlaws have killed his mother. He hunts them down and... well, it's a western so you know the drill.

Williamson takes his lead from Eastwood's various silent gunslingers, offering only a few lines of dialogue. In fact there's plenty in Joshua to compare to the spaghetti westerns of Eastwood, Leone et al - long periods without dialogue, gritty characters and even an attempt at a Morricone-esque score (which is repeated over and over to the point of becoming annoying). Eastwood's great "they killed my family and I'm getting revenge" western The Outlaw Josey Wales was released several months before Joshua, and it's easy to guess that movie influenced Spangler here. Although on all counts Joshua is done with less style and finesse than any of the Eastwood vehicles.

Where other movies of this kind use a brooding atmosphere to their advantage, unfortunately Joshua just comes off as slow-moving and frankly a bit dull. Western fans won't find it a complete waste of time, but others would be well advised to give it a miss.

The Plague of the Zombies (1966)
Director: John Gilling
Format: DVD (Midnight Movies double feature w/The Reptile)

From the UK's legendary Hammer Studios comes this tale of reanimated corpses and mystery in the Cornwall countryside. Directed by Hammer veteran John Gilling (The Pirates of Blood River, The Mummy's Shroud), it stars Andre Morrell (Hound of the Baskervilles, Quartermass and the Pit TV series) and Diane Clare (The Haunting) as a doctor and his daughter called to a Cornwall village to help with a spate of strange deaths. It is soon apparent there's more than science at work.

Released two years before George Romero changed the landscape for zombie movies forever, Plague benefits from the stunning sets of Hammer's Bray Studios and some top-notch acting. These zombies aren't the shambling brain-eaters of Romero's world. They're connected to voodoo, as zombies generally were before Night of the Living Dead, but are just as frightening - the first appearance of one on screen sends chills.

Secret corridors, voodoo ceremonies accompanied by tribal drums, dark old houses, untrusting villagers - Plague of the Zombies is a fantastic gothic mystery/horror and one of the best Hammer offerings since their Universal reboots of the 1950s.

The biggest budget of the three movies I watched today and easily the most enjoyable.

We're back from the grave!

After an absence of more than two years, I'm kicking some life back into this bad boy, albeit with a slightly new purpose.

My aim is to provide a capsule review (shortish, a bit of info and my broad impressions) for all of the movies I watch from here on out.

I watch movies on a variety of formats - DVD, VHS, computer (mainly for out of print and rare stuff), TV and even on occasion at the cinema. I will be noting what format I watch a movie on.

I'll also be searching for interesting artwork to go with the movies I review - old posters, VHS covers etc.

Let the fun begin!