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, 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.

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