Wednesday, June 29, 2011

June 28 - Born a Ninja (1987)

The cover of my VHS copy of Born a Ninja

Born a Ninja (1987)

Director: Lo Gio
Format: VHS (City Lites)

Talk about a hard movie to research. I looked up the name on IMDB and was taken to a Godfrey Ho movie from 1989, but the plot outline didn't gel at all. Then I looked up the director and actors... nothing. A google search turned up a few random snippets of information, but they left me even more confused than when I started.

What I do know from watching this Hong Kong movie is that it's a Godfrey Ho-type cut and paste job. The main plot is about a guy named Tanaka who is trying to get hold of a formula, while some bad guys are also after it. This part would seem to come from a TV series or movie called Born Invincible, which might be a sequel to something called both Risky Commando and American Commando Ninja. The reason I'm not sure if it's a movie or TV series is the camerawork, lighting and film stock all point to TV rather than a movie.

The other part has a camoflaged ninja fighting a white ninja. The origin of this material I'm not sure. Given his cut and paste job it is entirely possible that "Lo Gio" is Godfrey Ho (who is renowned for c&ping bits of movies into incoherent messes - see my review of Instant Rage). The on-screen credits list Joseph Lai as a producer and Steven Soul as the writer, and they both worked a lot with Ho, so I'm going with that theory, although there is a noticable absence of Richard Harrison, Ho's go-to guy for dozens of flicks in the late 80s.

But let's put all of that aside, along with our brains, because Born a Ninja is one fantastically-crazy mess of a movie. Forget about trying to figure out what the hell is going on with the plot and just enjoy what's happening on screen, and there's a whole heapin' helpin' of fun to be had here.

There's lots of 80s fashions (bright fluoro clothing, bad hair and makeup) to giggle at, the music almost never fits what is happening on screen and there are more over-dramatic extreme close-ups than in your average Mexican soap opera.

Here are just some of the other highlights:
- One of the ninjas can not only disappear in a puff of smoke, but he can also disappear and replace himself instantly by a straw dummy!
- Lots and lots of slow motion and wacky sound effects!
- A dude breathing fire (not like a firebreather performer, like a dragon!)
- Some kind of hand-off goes down between two guys sitting in bumper boats!
- A guy catches the blade of a sword in his mouth, then deep-throats it without any effect!
- One of the girls looks like an Asian Valley girl, but her dubbed-in voice is uber-posh English!
- "Hey Larry, great job, two chicks at the same time" (a similar one-liner to one in Instant Rage, again convincing me this is a Godfrey Ho flick).
- Two ninjas fighting in front of a waterfall (another similarity with Instant Rage).

I really have to reiterate that those are just some of the highlights. There's so much happening on screen of the WTF variety that by the time the movie ends (without credits) you're left slack-jawed wondering what on earth just happened.

I'm not sure how easy this one is to find (I doubt it's on DVD), but it's a must for any fan of bizarre, nonsensical ninja flicks.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

June 27 - Contagion (1987)

The cover of my VHS copy of Contagion

Contagion (1987)

Director: Karl Zwicky
Format: VHS (CBS/Fox)

What starts off as a killer-in-the-Australian-outback flick in the style of Wolf Creek, with elements of Deliverance, soon turns into The Shining in the Australian outback, in this rare Ozploitation offering.

John Doyle (who according to IMDB went on to semi-fame playing a recurring character, Roy Slaven, on various Australian TV shows) is real estate agent Mark, who is driving along a deserted road one night when he sees a girl being attacked. He tries to intervene but falls foul of a group of feral bush people (which is where the Deliverance part comes in - even down to the butt-rape).

Escaping, Mark ends up at a beautiful mansion owned by eccentric multi-millionaire Roderick Bael (Veteran actor Ray Barrett, THE REPTILE, also the voice of John Tracey on the 1960s THUNDERBIRDS TV series). It is also home to a pair of alluring platinum blonde babes, both of which Mark ends up in bed with.

Soon Mark is promised wealth and all the naughty times he can wish for, but there's a price. To make his every wish come true, he has to start murdering the people in his old life.

His girlfriend (Nicola Bartlett) finds the "mansion" and tries to save her man, but is he victim to an evil trio of people, or something more supernatural? Or is Mark just plain going crazy?

The plot is different enough to be interesting from start to finish, kind of like an extended Twilight Zone episode, only set in the Australian outback. That setting makes for a great sense of remoteness, adding to the sense of dread, while director Karl Zwicky (best known for directing and producing Aussie soap operas) employs some excellent camerawork that adds to the suspense and intensity.

The acting is also excellent, particularly Doyle and Barrett. The women at the "mansion" are quite hot and get their kit off regularly. There are a couple of nice kills (including the use of a fire extinguisher) and enough blood and gore to keep most horror fans happy.

Previews on my VHS tape: War of the Roses, Nightwish, Nightbreed, The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover

Sunday, June 26, 2011

June 26 - Kickboxer 2: The Road Back (1991)

The very wrinkly cover of my VHS copy of Kickboxer 2

Kickboxer 2: The Road Back (1991)

Director: Albert Pyun
Format: VHS (First Release)

Sasha Mitchell (the goofy brother on 90s TV comedy STEP BY STEP) takes over from Jean Claude Van Damme in this sequel to 1989's Kickboxer. He plays David Sloan, younger brother of JCVD's character Kurt (who we learn died in Thailand, shot by the man he defeated at the climax of the first movie, Tong Po).

A retired kickboxer himself, David owns his own run-down gym, where he trains fighters and helps out local kids, but the business is struggling. Out of desperation he gets back into the ring to fight for ruthless promoter Justin Maciah (Peter Boyle, the hiliarously-grumpy dad on TV's EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND).

When he beats Maciah's champion (Mattias Hues, DIGITAL MAN) and badmouths the crooked organisation, Maciah's men attack David and burn down his gym, killing a young student.

In comes his brother's former teacher from Thailand (Dennis Chan, reprising his role from the first movie) to help him recuperate. David is reluctant ("you didn't do my brothers any good") but eventually agrees to the guy's unconventional training methods, while an ambitious former student of David's (Vince Murdocco) trains under Maciah's people makes his way up to the championship match (via one of dozens of montages in this flick).

When Maciah's business partner (the always great Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO) pulls a switch in the championship match, bringing in Tong Po (Michael Qissi, also reprising the role), David's former student is destroyed and killed in the ring.

It soon becomes clear the whole thing was a setup to get David in the ring with Tong Po, so the Thai fighter can finish off the Sloan family (remember he also killed Eric, which was Kurt's motivation in the first movie).

The finale has David and Tong Po facing off in an unsanctioned muay thai match (with the by-now familiar broken glass-encrusted fists), with a twist that is well foreshadowed.

The fights in Kickboxer 2 are well-done, but that's not surprising considering most of the participants were actual martial artists (Mitchell was an amateur kickboxing champ and taekwondo black belt, Hues was a world kickboxing champ and Murdocco was North American kickboxing champ).

The plot is also very good, written by David S Goyer, who went on to pen the Blade trilogy, Batman Begins and the Dark Knight. The acting is top notch, particularly Boyle and Tagawa, who are great as the "bad guys in suits".

My only minor complaint is Mitchell's way of talking reminds me of Keanu Reeves in that it makes him sound like a surfer dude (maybe due to his California accent), which doesn't help me take him seriously as an asskicker. But otherwise he has good screen presence and, while he's no JVCD, he does a good job of taking over the lead in this series (3 more sequels followed in the 1990s, 2 with Mitchell).

Keep your eyes peeled for a very young future Mr Megan Fox, Brian Austin Green (BEVERLY HILLS 90210) in a brief role in the opening moments.

There's not much in the way of cheesiness (aside from the great, cheesy songs that play during the opening and closing credits), but Kickboxer 2 is just a solid martial arts actioner.

Previews on my VHS tape: Mortal Thoughts, Switch, The Commitments, Barton Fink, The Addams Family, Bingo!

June 21 - Door to Door (1985)

The cover of my VHS copy of Door to Door

Door to Door (1985)

Director: Patrick Bailey
Format: VHS (Media)

I have a soft spot for 80s comedies. Even those that I don't necessarily find overly-funny (Meatballs 3: Summer Job, Summer School, Up the Creek) usually have a certain charm to them (and quite often some nice T&A to go with the cheese factor).

I bought Door to Door primarily because it's quite rare. I had low expectations going into it. But there's a reason this one isn't out on DVD - it's a snoozefest. Not only does the comedy fall flat, but it's all done in a G-rated way, so there's not even any toilet humour or sleaziness to fall back on.

The biggest problem is the plot. Arliss Howard (LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK) plays a down-on-his-luck travelling salesman who pairs up with a veteran of the trade (Ron Leibman, UP THE ACADEMY) to hit the road and try to sell vacuum cleaners.

The bulk of the running time consists of these two visiting people and trying to make a sale. Then Howard's character falls for a girl (Jane Kaczmarek, the mom on Malcolm in the Middle) who is the niece of an elderly woman his partner is trying to swindle. Usually that would lead to some kind of zany hijinks, but not so here. It's all very run of the mill.

Arliss Howard is likeable enough, but Leibman's character is a con-artist and not even a likeable one at that. I didn't end up caring about any of the characters, which is always a problem. And sorry, but I couldn't look at Jane Kaczmarek without thinking of her Malcolm in the Middle character (one of the most unlikable TV parts of all time), which is another problem when her character in Door to Door is supposed to be a sweet, innocent love interest.

I don't say this often, but I really do wish I could have the hour and a half back that I spent watching this dreck.

About the only interesting thing that came out of watching it was when I was reading through its credits on IMDB and noticed a strange, unexplained connection with Antonio Margheriti's 1980 gutmuncher Cannibal Apocalypse. Five or six of the cast of Door to Door (who are in mainly small roles) also acted together in that earlier cannibalfest. There's no connection between the directors, writers or producers of the two movies that I could find and you couldn't get more different films in terms of genres and content matter, so how did this happen? Beats me.

Anyway, if you ever come across Door to Door, do yourself a favour and skip it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

June 20 - The People Who Own The Dark

The People Who Own The Dark (1976)

Director: Leon Klimovsky
Format: AVI (VHSrip)

Alright, a bit of full disclosure to start - I don't think I've seen a Paul Naschy movie until now. I know, I know, that's pretty shocking for any serious fan of horror movies. I'm well versed in the Italian branch of the Euro horror family tree, particularly the giallos of Argento, Fulci, Bava etc. But I've been quite lax in my efforts to investigate the Spanish branch, despite regularly hearing Naschy's name bandied around with that of fellow countryman Jeff Franco (another hole in my viewing experience).

Anyway, that admission aside, I do realise that The People Who Own The Dark is not a typical Naschy film. Here he has something of a supporting role, and a convetional one at that, but he does team up with regular collaborator Klimovsky, the Argentinian director who directed eight of his films.

The People Who Own The Dark is an effective post-nuclear survival tale that throws together a group of rich, influential men (including Naschy; Alberto de Mendoza, THE CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL; and Antonio Mayans, ZOMBIE LAKE) with a number of beautiful models for a weekend of pleasure in the basement of a castle somewhere in Europe - kind of an upmarket swingers' retreat.

But before they can get down to business, nuclear war breaks out. The guests are safe in their underground bunker, but everyone else in the surrounding countryside, including a nearby village, is left blind by the blast.

Venturing out to get supplies, the group of protagonists soon realises these blinded, half-insane villagers are not interested in becoming facebook friends. They want to kill the sighted (how they know the difference is beyond me, but what the heck).

Barricading themselves in the castle, the non-blind soon have to cope with the growing tension and paranoia in their group, as well as the villagers when they come looking for blood. Well, not exactly looking. More like stumbling.

Naschy is great as the snake of the group, who is only interested in saving his own skin. The women are all beautiful, none moreso than German softcore queen Nadiuska (who also played Arnie's mother in CONAN THE BARBARIAN), who is the only one to get fully un-kitted. The female cast also includes Julia Saly (NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF), Diana Polakov (in a supporting role four years before her feature role in the rip-roaring SUPERSONIC MAN) and Teresa Gimpera (CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD). Maria Perschy (MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE) is simply stunning as the host of the party.

Klimovsky does a very good job of building suspense and dread with material that could have come off as corny. Scenes of dozens of blinded people surrounding a main character while waving walking sticks above their heads could have been campy, but instead is quite chilling.

Comparisons with Night of the Living Dead are unavoidable. Trade zombies for staggering blind people, Pennsylvania for the European countryside and a farmhouse for a castle and you've got basically the same plot. Even the ending is similarly-bleak.

But while it may be a ripoff of sorts, The People Who Own The Dark is effectively filmed with a great cast, so is definitely worth checking out.

June 18 - Zarkorr! The Invader (1996)

The cover of my VHS copy of Zarkorr! The Invader

Zarkorr! The Invader (1996)

Directors: Michael Deak, Aaron Osborne
Format: VHS (Video Unlimited)

What would happen if Full Moon, the now-defunct production company responsible for a string of demon doll movies (Puppetmaster series, Dollman vs Demonic Toys etc), went to the other end of the scale with a Godzilla-esque rubber suit monster flick?

Luckily for me, I won't have to go to my grave without ever knowing the answer to that question, because I've now seen Zarkorr! The Invader.

After the titular Zarkorr ("185 feet tall, 300 tons & deadly laser eyes" the front cover screams) busts its way out of the side of a mountain, New Jersey postal worker Tommy Ward (Rhys Pugh) is visited by a pint-sized alien who tells him he's been chosen to save mankind from the monster (apparently because he's the most average person on the planet).

He kidnaps a crypto-zoologist (Deprise Grossman) and enlists a cop to help his cause. They in turn go to a nerdy genius (Charles Schneider, BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR) and spend what seems like an age in his laboratory talking about how to beat Zarkorr. Determining that they need to go to Arizona to find the monster's off-switch (or some such baloney), our trio impersonate government agents and head off. They find some kind of egg and use it to defeat Zarkorr. The End.

While the plot has a few quirky elements, it doesn't throw up any surprises. The actors are a bunch of nobodies. In fact the male and female leads have no other credits to their names. Schneider is the standout, both for giving the most lively performance and the most grating one. Boy does he ham it up bigtime.

The one thing that I will forever associate with Full Moon movies is chintzy keyboard music. Zarkorr doesn't disappoint on that front, with Richard Band once again twinkling the keys with cheesy enthusiasm.

And what about the monster effects? This is a man-in-rubber-suit monster mash right? Yes it is, and there are enough shots of Zarkorr laying the smackdown on model buildings to keep most kaijuu fans happy.

Zarkorr doesn't take itself seriously and has the right vibe for what it is - a low budget American homage to Toho movies (Godzilla, Mothra etc). Go into it with the right mindset and you're in for a fun time.

Friday, June 17, 2011

June 16 - Paul Kyriazi double feature

Paul Kyriazi's directorial output amounted to five movies in a 14-year period and none of them are easy to find. Luckily I happen to own two of them on VHS. It's Double Feature time!

The cover of my VHS copy of Death Machines

Death Machines (1976)
Director: Paul Kyriazi
Format: VHS (K-Tel)

I always know I'm onto a low-budget gem when I check IMDB and find that most of the actors in a movie have only a couple more credits to their name. That's the case with Death Machines, the debut effort from director Paul Kyriazi.

The Death Machines (who, according to the back of my VHS "are the ultimate exterminators") are three superhuman hitmen who use martial arts, guns and more to do the bidding of their evil mistress, a giant-haired Oriental dragon lady (played by Mari Honjo - check out to read the real-life story of her disappearance). She's in turn taking orders from a shady guy who never shows his face, but that has no bearing on the plot.

The Death Machines are the imaginatively-named White Death Machine (Ron Marchini, NINJA WARRIORS), Asian Death Machine (Michael Chong, TO LIVE AND DIE IN LA) and Black Death Machine (Joshua Johnson, THE WEAPONS OF DEATH).

These three cool dudes, who are impervious to bullets, start off by knocking off the hitmen of a rival ganglord. They hurl one hitman off a roof, blow up the next one with a bazooka(!) and then take out a guy in a phone booth with a bulldozer(!).

Then they massacre a whole dojo full of ineffectua karate students, but one of the students survives, albeit minus one of his hands. This one-handed dude (John Lowe) vows revenge, accompanied by a hot nurse from the hospital he ended up in (played by some mystery, uncredited girl).

The rival crime kingpin, Mr Gioretti (Chuck Katzakian), joins forces with the dragon lady, who orders her Death Machines to kill our hero and his new love. How can a one-handed karate student possibly defeat three undead ninjas?

The plot is nonsensical and full of holes, but never predictable or boring. As a straight action movie there's not much to recommend about Death Machines, but as a cheesefest full of unintentional laughs, it's a goldmine.

The music and fashions are so cringingly 70s, especially Katzakian's super-snazzy suits. The fight scenes are mostly slow-paced and uninspiring, but how can you complain when weapons like bazookas and a bulldozer are thrown into the mix?

Cheesy highlights include:
- A hilarious scene in a police station where White Death Machine takes on a bunch of cops, who end up accidentally shooting each other instead of him.
- The Death Machines take out bikers in a restaurant with a knee-slapping country song playing.
- The lack of chemistry between our hero and his love interest. Their sex scene consists of a silhouetted kiss, then her lying in bed with a look of disgust on her face.

My only gripe is the lack of gore, but at least there's some brief nudity to add to the sleaze factor.

Death Machines is highly recommended for fans of cheesy 70s martial arts action flicks. It's fun from start to finish.

Previews on my VHS: Junkman, Alone in the Dark, The Raiders of Atlantis (aka Atlantis Interceptors, which I reviewed last month).

The cover of my VHS copy of Omega Cop

Omega Cop (1990)
Director: Paul Kyriazi
Format: VHS (Triumph)

Death Machines was Paul Kyriazi's first feature. This is his last (he's still alive according to IMDB, so I guess he could make a return to directing, but after an absence of 21 years that's pretty unlikely).

Omega Cop reunites Kyriazi with two of his stars from Death Machines - Ron Marchini, who played the White Death Machine, and Chuck Katzakian, who played crime boss Mr Gioretti. Marchini is the star, which marks a big change of pace from his silent Death Machines role.

Omega Cop starts with narration by Adam West(!) about the greenhouse effect. Sorry, but I've seen far too much Family Guy to take West seriously. His narration is meant to be heartfelt and scene-setting, but I keep expecting him to say something like "I love this job more than I love taffy ... and I'm a man who enjoys his taffy."

This movie is set in a world which has, in the words of ol' Mayor West, "gone to pot". Solar flares kill anyone who doesn't get undercover in time and drive others crazy if they're burnt. Huh? I'm no scientist but that seems to lack logic. Bah, who needs logic in a b-movie action flick, right?

Anyway, Marchini is John Travis, a cop who loses his three partners during a shoot out at a place where kidnapped women are being auctioned off. He escapes and saves one of the slave women (Meg Thayer, SATURDAY THE 14TH STRIKES BACK), then saves another chick (Jennifer Jostyn, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES), the daughter of a trader who gets murdered by another gang of scumbags.

With two sassy chicks now in tow, Travis tries unsuccessfully to get back into police headquarters, but his boss (West) is worried they might be infected. So it's off to find the crime boss, Wraith (Katzakian).

But wait, first he has to go get his hat(!) from a group of baddies and... surprise, surprise, rescue another girl. Travis sure is the chivalrous type! He's captured by Wraith's gang, who for some reason take him alive. He escapes and re-unites with his harem of rescued babes, but predictably the baddies snatch up two of the chicks while he's away getting supplies.

So it's up to our knight in tight pants (with the other girl in tow) to do what he does best - rescue the girlies - and take down Wraith. After kicking ass on a few dozen baddies first, naturally.

With a movie like this, it's all about the action and there's a good amount of it here. Like in Death Machines, the fight scenes are wooden and slow, but there's enough punching, kicking, shooting and falling from high places to keep things interesting. That is, when Travis isn't running - there's way too much screen-time taken up with him chasing down people.

The original music by Cecil Ramirez and Ralph Stover (whose only other credits are two more Kyriazi flicks, including the sequel to this, KARATE COP), is hilariously bad and derivative. There's a Beach Boys rip off riff that plays during driving scenes (and the end credits), Leone-esque western music that cues during any kind of stand-off or showdown, the odd bit of Japanese flute to remind us that this is a martial arts flick, and other assorted generic synth music.

The acting is pretty damn bad, but bad enough to add to the cheese value. The worst perpetrator is Katzakian, who grumbles and mumbles while trying to act menacing, and Thayer is easy on the eyes but as wooden as a tree. Marchini's no leading man or action star, but he does a passable job. The best of the actors is Jostyn - it's easy to see why she's had the most successful career out of this cast.

Rugged 50s/60s leading man Stuart Whitman (NIGHT OF THE LEPUS) has a cameo as a doctor who finds out sunscreen isn't a bad thing. Adam West is only onscreen for a short time at the start and end. I'd say that's a shame, but as I mentioned earlier, Family Guy has reduced him to a caricature, so no real loss. Plus, he gets to go out with a bang.

And sorry lads, but there's no nudity here. For a movie about women slaves, it sure could have done with some gratuitous nekkidness. Travis doesn't get anything more than a peck on the cheek from any of his three damsels in distress. How's that for gratitude!

So, to summarise: Bad acting, bad music and action that makes up for its low quality with quantity = a cheesy good time!

Previews on my VHS: Four Weddings and a Funeral, We're Talking Serious Money, Philadelphia, Morning Glory, Warlock, Gunmen, Time Runner, Laser Mission, Wolf, All Tied Up.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

June 14 - Highway Racer (1977)

Highway Racer (1977)

Director: Stelvio Massi
Format: DVD (First Look's Grindhouse Experience Vol 2)

AKA Poliziotto Sprint or Convoy Busters (not to be confused with another Stelvio Massi movie, Un Poliziotto Scomodo, which is also known as Convoy Busters).

I'm a big fan of giallo, spaghetti westerns and jungle/cannibal flicks, but I have to admit I've seen very few from the another Italian genre from the 1970s, the crime and action combination known as Poliziotteschi.

This movie is from that genre, but... well, it's just not very entertaining. I'm hoping it's not a fair representation of the bulk of Poliziotteschi, because it's rather tedious viewing.

Merizio Merli (MANNAJA), who by all accounts got a lot of work because of looking similar to Franco Nero, plays Marco Palma, a hot-headed police driver whose impulsiveness sees him wrecking cars and getting into hot water with his superior officer, Tagliaferri (Giancarlo Spragia).

A group of bank robbers are out-running and frustrating police, led by Jean Paul Dossena (Angelo Infanti, who played the traiterous Fabrizio in THE GODFATHER), an old rival of Tagliaferri. The older officer must mentor Palma, ridding him of his impulses and teaching him to be the ultimate driver. Palma goes undercover in the bank robber gang but his cover is blown, sending him towards a showdown with Dossena.

If the sight of small European sports cars racing through narrow European streets gets your motor running, you might enjoy Convoy Busters, but I can't say it does much for me (I'll admit I despise motor sport in all forms). And the problem is, apart from the car chases, there's not much more to this movie.

There are a few unintentional laughs (such as squealing tyres when cars are on loose metal), and Lilli Carati (who by the looks of her IMDB credits went on to become a regular in erotica) is easy on the eyes as the love interest, although sadly she keeps her clothes on throughout.

If you don't like cars you'll probably find yourself bored to tears with this movie. If you are a car fan, maybe it's worth seeing.

June 13 - Hellhole (1985)

The cover of my VHS copy of Hellhole

Hellhole (1985)

Director: Pierre De Moro
Format: VHS (Hoyts)

Hellhole is a nifty little women in prison exploitation flick, transplanted from the usual prison setting to a mental hospital, produced by b-movie auteur Samuel Z Arkoff and his son Lou.

Susan (Judy Landers - who looks damn recognisable but I can't place where I know her from, even with the help of IMDB) witnesses her mother being murdered by a sleazeball called Silk (Ray Sharkey) and ends up in a mental institution with amnesia. Silk disguises himself as an orderly to try to find out the location of discriminating papers, but he's not Susan's biggest problem.

The mental hospital is run by the evil Dr Fletcher (Mary Woronov, DEATH RACE 2000), who is turning patients into zombies for her own sexual perversion in a hidden dungeon the patients call Hellhole. Coming to Susan's aid is an orderly (Richard Cox, THE VINDICATOR), and together they try to uncover Dr Fletcher's secret and expose it to the world, while avoiding Silk, some of the nastier patients and Dr Fletcher's corrupt security guards (including Robert Z'Dar from the MANIAC COP series, in one of his earliest roles).

Hellhole is full of the standard WIP fare, with bucketloads of full frontal nudity. There's a topless fistfight in the girls' shower room with a dozen or so naked girls cheering, two lesbian scenes and even a threesome in a mudbath.

The horror elements are minimal, although the "zombie" patients make for some nice, chilling moments. Woronov is in great campy form as the deviant lesbian boss woman and Sharkey oozes sleaze while looking like the lovechild of Freddie Mercury and Bowser from Sha Na Na.

For a movie with a great title like Hellhole, I would have liked to have seen more gore, but it delivers as a WIP sexploitation flick, with an abundance of naked chicks with 80s hair.

Previews on my VHS: American Ninja, White Nights, Santa Claus: The Movie

Sunday, June 12, 2011

June 11 - The Killing Grounds (1998)

The cover of my VHS copy of The Killing Grounds

The Killing Grounds (1998)
Director: Kurt Anderson
Format: VHS (Video Box Office)

It's always interesting to see an actor try to break away from an unwanted stereotype. Whether it's the "girl next door" doing something edgy (Katie Holmes in The Gift), the action hero trying comedy (Sly Stallone in Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot) or a comedian playing a dark character (Robin Williams in One Hour Photo) it can be refreshing or a train wreck, but almost always at least interesting.

I grew up watching Anthony Michael Hall during his brat pack heyday. When I watch John Hughes' 1980s teen comedies they bring forth a great deal of nostalgic feeling. To me, Hall will always be the geeky kid from those flicks - Rusty Griswald from National Lampoon's Vacation, The Geek from Sixteen Candles, Brian Johnson from The Breakfast Club and Gary Wallace from Weird Science.

I watched The Breakfast Club the other night with my wife and my sister. Tonight, while perusing my shelves of VHS, I spotted ol' AMH staring at me from the cover of The Killing Grounds, much older and brandishing a gun. An obvious attempt to break the geeky stereotype and one I had to view for myself.

I'm aware that Anthony Michael Hall has successfully broken his stereotype by headlining the successful TV show The Dead Zone in recent years. But The Killing Grounds came in the years between his John Hughes collaborations and The Dead Zone - how did he fare then in breaking free of the geek we all know and love?

The verdict is - pretty well. It helps that in The Killing Grounds he plays a bad guy. I've got to admit that surprised me. When I read the synopsis on the back of the VHS I was expecting AMH to be one of the hikers caught up in the situation, so to see him appear as a unscrupulous hitman was a pleasant surprise indeed.

Now, I should mention that there aren't actually any "good guys" in The Killing Grounds. Everyone is flawed in some way or another, making it hard to find a protagonist to latch onto.

The plot surrounds a swag of stolen gold which is being flown across the border into Mexico, but the plane crashes in mountains in the Southwest enroute. The gold is discovered by a group of hikers (Priscilla Barnes from DEVIL'S REJECTS, Charles Rocket and Rodney A Grant, both from DANCES WITH WOLVES and Cynthia Geary from NORTHERN EXPOSURE). They decide to split the loot, but are soon fighting it out with two baddies who come searching for it - played by Anthony Michael Hall and Courtney Gains (who played evil whippet Malachai in CHILDREN OF THE CORN), the latter rocking a sweet ginger mullet.

Whereas the hitmen are meant to be bad guys, the hikers aren't very sympathetic, thanks mainly to their petty squabbling and greedy backstabbing. Geary's character, an undercover cop, is the most likeable, but even she turns out to be a doublecrosser.

Likeability aside, each of the actors does a good job (Gains is both hammy and entertaining at the same time; Hall is more subdued; Rocket is sleazy as the womaniser) and director Kurt Anderson keeps the action moving at a fair clip. He also manages to mix in subtle humour and there's a nice ironic ending. This was his last directing gig though, so maybe his efforts weren't to somebody's liking.

At the end of the day this is a low-budget straight-to-video effort, and at times it plays out a bit like a TV movie, but it's worth seeing just to witness the 1980s' top geek playing a hitman.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

June 9 - Final Exam (1981)

The cover of my VHS copy of Final Exam

Final Exam (1981)

Director: Jimmy Huston
Format: VHS (Embassy)

"Some may pass the test... God help the rest"

That's the tagline for Final Exam, a low-budget Halloween-influenced (or should that be rip off) slasher from 1981. Now, you're probably expecting me to say something witty like "God help anyone who has to sit through this dreck", but the truth is I thoroughly enjoyed Final Exam.

The plot follows a group of students at a North Carolina college (the shy girl, the slut, the nerd, the party animal etc), who are seeing out the last week of the semester. They're concerned about exams and what they'll do over the summer but unaware that a killer is stalking campus.

Much of what director-writer Jimmy Huston (MY BEST FRIEND IS A VAMPIRE) puts on screen in Final Exam is very, very derivative of the slashers that came before it (the aforementioned Halloween mostly, but also Friday the 13th and Black Christmas). There are a lot of shots of the killer standing in the shadows or just out of shot, ala Michael Myers, and the teens bouncing around in shorty-shorts and feathered hairdos wouldn't be out of place in a Friday the 13th movie. His identity and motive are never revealed, like in Black Christmas.

But what sets Final Exam apart from the myriad of other cheapie slashers that followed throughout the 80s is the amount of time it spends on character development. Some might see this as a disadvantage - there are no kills beyond the opening scene for a good 45 minutes - but the various antics of the students (frat boy stunts, runs in with the sheriff, romance etc) are well done and allow the characters to be built up before the expected bodycount.

I'm not going to name actors because, frankly, you won't know any of them. A look at IMDB shows this as the sole acting credit for many of the cast, with others doing a handful of obscure titles. The only one with an extensive credit list is the guy who plays the nerdy lead, Radish, who went on to become a producer.

This is a slasher, so how good are the kills? Well, Huston keeps most of the blood and gore off-screen, but there is at least one imaginative kill, involving a gymnasium weights room and electronic scoreboard. Slashers are usually also known for their T&A and there is one nude scene, but that's it.

Last, but not least, I have to mention the great musical score by debutant Gary S Scott, who later did music for such TV shows as Fame, Beverly Hills 90210 and Freddy's Nightmares. The score, coupled with some nice camera work by Huston, makes for effective suspense.

I understand the DVD of this is out of print, so it might be hard to come by, but I would definitely recommend it for slasher fans, especially those looking for something a bit different.

Previews on my VHS: Paradise (complete with Phoebe Cates' bare breasts), They Call Me Trinity, Murder by Decree

June 8 - Cyber Tracker (1994)

The cover of my VHS copy of Cyber Tracker

Cyber Tracker (1994)
Director: Richard Pepin
Format: VHS (21 Century)

Early on in this movie a cybertracker (ie Terminator-ripoff) looks at a statue of some kind of robot in a bar and his internal scan flicks through several names - Gort, THX 1138 and T1000.

It's a shame that tongue-in-cheek humour doesn't continue for the rest of the movie, but regardless Cyber Tracker is a fun little scifi action flick.

Starring everyone's former kickboxing champion Don "the Dragon" Wilson, this movie was released the same year as another Wilson vessel, Bloodfist V: Human Target (see my recent review of that as part of Cormania 2011).

Set sometime in the future, Cyber Tracker has Wilson playing Eric Phillips, a bodyguard for corrupt Senator Robert Dilly (John Aprea, GODFATHER II). When he refuses to go along with Dilly's evil plans, Phillips is framed for murder and becomes a target for a series of cyber trackers (all played by Jim Maniaci), cyborg cops who hunt down and carry out death sentences on condemned criminals.

Along with the pre-requisite love interest, a reporter-turned-resistance fighter (Stacie Foster), Phillips has to survive being hunted by the cyber trackers while trying to bring down Dilly.

From what I've seen, futuristic scifi action b-movies from the 1980s and 90s tend to go one of two ways - over the top futuristic sets and costumes, or the bare minimum. Cyber Tracker is definitely the latter. You wouldn't know this was set in the future if it wasn't for the cyborgs and some little touches (like a talking computer that controls a house's functions).

But while the plate is virtually empty for the scifi fan, there's plenty of explosions, gunfights, fistfights and car chases to keep the action fan's belly full.

And fans of unintentional humour, you're in luck. From the corny, out-of-place Omenesque music that plays at several points, to terrible soap opera-like footage of Phillips and a former love and chuckle-inducing sped up running as a cyber tracker chases down a car, the laughs keep coming.

The supporting cast is mostly unremarkable, but noteworthy are Australian Richard Norton (ROAD HOUSE 2) as the snarling head of Dilly's security team and crater-faced Joseph Ruskin (SWORD AND THE SORCERER) as the boss of the cyborg company - the latter bringing some unintentional laughs during a nonsensical rant about the state of society.

Previews on my VHS: Housewife from Hell (complete with lots of naked boobies in the trailer), The Custodian.

Monday, June 6, 2011

June 6 - Project Shadowchaser

Not the cover of my VHS copy of Project Shadowchaser

Project Shadowchaser (1992)
Director: John Eyres
Format: VHS (Hoyts Home Video)

I'm sure most b-movie enthusiasts find themselves in this situation: You see a tagline like "Die Hard meets the Terminator" on the front cover of a movie and, knowing that it can't possibly live up to the either of those movies, decide you just have to watch it.

That exact tagline is on the cover of my VHS copy of Project Shadowchaser, and yes, I just had to watch it. Looking over the cast, I saw the names Martin Kove and Frank Zagarino, and the need to watch grew even greater! The Kobra Kai sensei and Argan from Barbarian Queen in the same movie? Sign me up!

Directed by John Eyres (who helmed the not-bad 2001 teeny horror flick RIPPER), Project Shadowchaser is set in the future, when a team of terrorists led by silver-haired cyborg Romulus (Zagarino) take over a hospital and hold the President's daughter (the weird-eyed Meg Foster, THEY LIVE) hostage. The FBI (led by Paul Koslo of ROBOT JOX) order the hospital's architect unfrozen from the jail he is in for murder, so they can get inside the building and free her.

The only problem is they unfreeze the wrong man, Desilva (Kove), who plays along with the mistake on a promise of a full pardon. When the team of agents sent in with him winds up dead, it's up to Desilva to try to beat the terrorists himself. He rescues the President's daughter, but rather than escape she chooses to stay and kick some terrorist butt with Desilva. Romulus proves to be virtually unbeatable, leading to a showdown between man (and woman) and machine.

Joss Ackland (Hans in MIGHTY DUCKS) also features as the scientist creator of Romulus.

Everything you need to know about Project Shadowchaser is in that tagline I mentioned at the start of this review. There's lots of crawling around a high-rise building attacking baddies ala Die Hard, and Romulus is clearly a Terminator rip off. Of course, Martin Kove isn't Bruce Willis and Frank Zagarino isn't Arnie, but Kove has barely enough charisma to pull it off and Zagarino is actually quite good as a cyborg. I was critical of his wooden acting in my review of Barbarian Queen, but here it's an asset.

There's nothing special about Project Shadowchaser - the special effects, camera work and fight scenes are okay if unspectacular. It rates poorly on the cheesyness scale, so don't expect any unintentional laughs. But hey, it's an okay way to spend an hour and a half.

Previews on my VHS: Strictly Ballroom, 1492, Stepfather 3, Prototype, Hangin' with the Homeboys, Bram Stoker's Dracula

Sunday, June 5, 2011

CORMANIA 2011 - Finished

Well, that's it. Eleven Roger Corman movies over two days. And you know what? I could probably start watching another one right now. I better not though - time to go and breath some fresh air and spend some time with the family.

Cormania 2011 was a lot of fun. Out of the 11 movies there actually weren't any real stinkers. None that I wanted desperately to escape from. I covered a lot of ground in terms of genres, styles and years, which is exactly what I set out to do.

I hope you've enjoyed reading - I know my movie marathon reviews aren't as fully written as my regular ones, but that's because I don't want a lot of work when doing these things. Jotting down a few observations here and there works for me.

I'm not sure when I'll be doing my next movie marathon, but I'm open to ideas. If you've got a good idea, let me know in the comments section. Or just let me know what you thought of this marathon.

Finally some stats from Cormania 2011:

Films: 11
Total running time: 866 minutes (14 hours and 46 minutes)
Oldest: Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)
Newest: Dinoshark (2010)
Most Boring Film: The Berlin Conspiracy
Most Fun Film: Chopping Mall
Best Quality Film: The Masque of the Red Death

And once again, hail to the King (of Bs) baby!

CORMANIA 2011 #11 - Little Shop of Horrors

3.20pm - Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
Our King's role: Director and producer
Cast: Jonathon Haze (IT CONQUERED THE WORLD), Jackie Joseph (GREMLINS), Mel Welles (ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS), Dick Miller (BUCKET OF BLOOD), Jack Nicholson (THE SHINING).

Plot: Seymour (Haze) is a klutz who works in a skid row florist shop. He can't seem to do anything right, until he brings in a strange plant that grows after eating human blood. He names it Audrey 2, after the daughter (Joseph) of the store owner (Welles). It begins attracting onlookers and bolstering the store's business, making Seymour more popular than ever. But he has to keep feeding Audrey 2 human flesh to keep it alive, and sooner or later that's going to be a problem.

- Full disclosure: I have never seen this version. I've seen the 1980s musical remake, but not this one.
- Animation opening to show "skid row". I guess it was the cheap option. Apparently this movie was made in two days, so plenty of shortcuts had to be taken.
- Dick Miller on screen right away, seguing us nicely from Chopping Mall.
- Mel Welles is great as the harangued shop owner, providing most of the early laughs.
- I'm a huge fan of the Gremlins movies, but up until now didn't realise that the old couple (Dick Miller and Jackie Joseph) in Gremlins had appeared together in this film. It's always great to find out about hidden homages like that.
- "Feeeeeed me".
- Ah, the famous Jack Nicholson appearance as Wilbur Force, the sadomasochist dental patient. Good stuff.
- Just noticed on IMDB that Audrey 2's voice was provided by screenwriter Charles Griffith. Another similarity to our last movie (where writer and director Jim Wynorski voiced the killbots).
- So many great, wacky characters. The old lady whose relatives keep dying is fun, as is Seymour's hypocondriac mother.
- Hey, I guess you really are what you eat.

Overall thoughts: What a fun way to finish this marathon. I had read enough over the years to know that this original Little Shop of Horrors wasn't a musical, but I was also expecting it to be lacking in the comedy department. Boy was I wrong. This one's funny from start to finish, with great, quirky characters. Coming a year after Bucket of Blood, it's in the same vein, centring around a bumbling klutz who gains popularity by accident (through art in BoB and the plant in this one) and has to kill to keep that popularity going. Black comedy at its best!

CORMANIA 2011 #10 - Chopping Mall

Chopping Mall (1986)
Our King's role: Executive producer
Cast: Kelli Maroney (NIGHT OF THE COMET), Tony O'Dell (KARATE KID), Russell Todd (FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2), Barbara Crampton (RE-ANIMATOR).

Plot: A group of young 20-somethings decide to party it up in a furniture store inside a mall after hours, unaware that the mall's new high tech security system (three robot security guards) has gone haywire thanks to a lightning strike. The robots are now out to kill anyone they see. Included among the various horny party-goers are two straight-laced kids on a blind date (Maroney and O'Dell), but will they survive as the killbots start picking off their friends?

- Full disclosure: I've seen this one before, once, but (sorry to sound like a broken record) it was quite a few years back.
- Ah the old movie-within-a-movie opening.
- Early sightings of Mary Woronov from Death Race 2000 and Angus Scrimm, the Tall Man from the Phantasm series.
- The opening credits music is so generically 80s. Awesome!
- Directed and written by B-movie legend Jim Wynorski, who apparently also does the voice of the security robots.
- Barbara Crampton looking hot as a perky waitress and our main girl's best friend.
- Wait, lightning makes the robots kill? Where's the smart-cracking hilarity? Short Circuit lied to me!
- Young people with huge hair bopping along to synth-based dance music. God bless the 80s!
- It would be remiss of me not to say: Boobies!
- Hey, it's Attack of the Crab Monsters (of course directed by Our King)! Our nerdy main couple watch it while the other couples are screwing.
- Dick Miller cameo, woohoo! And he's a janitor called Walter Paisley. Nice homage to Bucket of Blood (another Corman flick).
- Funbagos!
- Holy exploding heads Batman!
- Peckinpah's Sporting Goods. The tributes in this movie are awesome.
- Little Shop of Pets. Another good one and quite fitting given the last movie of my marathon coming up. Hint hint.
- Freeze frame credits. How old school!

Overall thoughts: When it comes to low budget 80s slasher flicks, they don't come much more awesome than this. I mean, it's killer robots killing good-looking teens/young adults in a mall - what more could you want? Well, how about some subtle humour? Because Chopping Mall has plenty of it. Everything is done tongue-in-cheek but not to the point of sillyness. Add to that some T&A and gore and you've got one rockin' good time. I love Chopping Mall.

CORMANIA 2011 - Lunch break

I wish I had more interesting stuff to write here, but it's mundane I'm afraid. I broke for lunch at just after 1pm (closer to 1.15pm by the time I had scanned the cover of my VHS copy of The Berlin Conspiracy). Toasted sandwiches and potato chips for lunch. You'd think I'd go for something a bit healthier given all the junk I've eaten in the last few days, but eh.

I had given myself an hour for lunch, but was actually ready to get going ahead of time so headed back down to the cinema and watched a few of the great previews at the start of the VHS copy of my next marathon movie, Chopping Mall.

Alright, let's get back into it with the first of the last two movies of the marathon, some 80s killer robot slasher horror awesomeness!

CORMANIA 2011 #9 - The Berlin Conspiracy

11.42am - The Berlin Conspiracy (1992)
Our King's role: Executive producer
Cast: Marc Singer (BEASTMASTER), Mary Crosby (ICE PIRATES), Stephen Davies (BLOODFIST 7)

Plot: In the days surrounding the collapse of the Berlin Wall, four cannisters of biological weapons are stolen from East Berlin by terrorists on order for Iraq. In order to get them back, an East German spy (Davies) is forced to cross to the West and team up with an American CIA agent (Singer). It turns out they are both involved with the same woman (Crosby), creating tension in their new partnership. Will they still be able to work together to stop the cannisters from ending up in the wrong hands?

- I got this rare flick in a bulk lot of VHS tapes I bought recently. As far as I know it's not on DVD.
- Directed by Terence H Winkless, who also directed the first Bloodfist movie. So can we expect some good action?
- We're in East Berlin, two days before the wall came down. I know that because it said so onscreen.
- Love the Film Noir-esque narration.
- Marc Singer! One of the most underrated actors of the 80s. Loved him in V and the Beastmaster series (movies and TV series).
- Hey, what do ya know, a good fight scene in the first five minutes.
- Biological weapons. Iraq. How topical for the time.
- I actually recognise some of the footage they're using from the Berlin Wall coming down.
- So now the East und za Vest... I mean West... are working together.
- Full frontal hooker nudity alert.
- The American is a partying womaniser, the East German a stiff-collared by the book man. Holy lazy stereotypes Batman!
- Corny one-liner alert: "That's one bad Czech that didn't bounce".
- Oh no, our buddies are fighting! I hope they sort out their differences by the end of the movie.
- Out of control tramcar!
- Who left that pile of empty boxes there?
- Shootout on top of the Berlin Wall. There's something you don't see every day.
- Maybe they'll raise the baby as a kind of German version of My Two Dads?

Overall thoughts: Political thrillers just aren't my thing. The Berlin Conspiracy is part political thriller, part buddy cop movie. The latter can be okay (I quite like the Rush Hour movies), but this one's pretty much by the numbers (partners don't get along, one's a rebel, the other a bit square). The best stuff is early on when we see inside East Berlin as the authorities scramble in the lead up to the wall coming down. I really wish this one had gone whole hog on being a film noir homage, with Marc Singer playing a hard-boiled detective going inside East Berlin, and Crosby playing the sexy damsel. That would have ruled it bigtime. Instead it's a passable action thriller. There's a reason this one isn't on DVD.

CORMANIA 2011 #8 - Attack of the Giant Leeches

10.14am - Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)
Our King's role: Executive producer
Cast: Ken Clark (12 TO THE MOON), Yvette Vickers (REFORM SCHOOL GIRL), Jan Shepherd (KING CREOLE)

Plot: Down in the bayou, an old trapper sees a giant creature in the water, but his buddies don't believe him. He turns up dead, discovered by ranger Steve Benton (Clark) and his girl (Shepherd). Then other people start disappearing and it's up to our intrepid couple to try to discover what the creatures are and destroy them.

- Full disclosure: I have seen this movie before, but not for quite a few years.
- Love the organ music that accompanies the opening credits. Definitely gets you in the mood for some good ol' 50s scifi b-movie greatness.
- Ah, domestic violence. "Some day I'm gonna give that shecat the whuppin' she deserves".
- Damn that's a small robe Yvette Vickers is wearing.
- Classic line: "Oh, go soak your fat head".
- Poor old storekeeper Dave Walker. His cute young wife gives him grief and she's screwing around on the side.
- A young couple can't outrun a big ol' fat guy? Really?
- Men in rubber suits alert!
- Nan. There's a name you don't see young women using much these days.
- Nothing takes the work out of canoeing better than drinking moonshine out of a jug.
- Man, those rubber suits are awesome.
- Nice shots of bodies floating up through the water.
- Gotta love hokey science. Apparently these giant leeches might have been caused by "some kind of gigantism" caused by atomic energy from rocket launches at nearby Cape Canaveral.
- Hmmmm, it must be cold in that water. Her headlights are on full beam.
- There ain't no problem dynamite can't solve.

Overall thoughts: If you're a fan of low budget 1950s scifi monster movies, this is right up your alley. Of course by today's standards it's all a bit hokey, but take yourself back to when this movie was released and it must have been quite chilling. Despite Mystery Theatre 3000 having riffed on this, it's actually a fairly decent little movie. Gotta love those rubber suit monsters!

CORMANIA 2011 - Start of Day 2

I got out of bed at around 9am this morning, nice and refreshed. Ate a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs, caught up on the news, played with my son a bit, then started getting ready for day 2 of Cormania 2011.

I struck a slight snag - I had originally planned to open today with the classic It Conquered the World, but discovered that I don't actually own it. I could have sworn I did. But instead I will be watching another Corman scifi effort from the 1950s, albeit not quite as classic - Attack of the Giant Leeches.

Snacks at the ready, let's do this!

CORMANIA 2011 - End of Day 1

Seven Roger Corman films in one day. Not bad.

It's just about 1am and I'm about to go get some sleep. I'll be back in the morning to start day two, which brings four more Corman movies.

Until then, Hail to the King (of Bs) baby!

CORMANIA 2011 #7 - Slumber Party Massacre 2

11.24am - Slumber Party Massacre 2

Our King's role: Executive producer
Cast: Crystal Bernard, Juliet Cummins (FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING), Heidi Kozak (FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE NEW BLOOD), Kimberley McArthur (MALIBU EXPRESS)

Plot: Courtney Bates (Bernard) is the younger sister of a girl who survived the events of the first Slumber Party Massacre movie. She's in an all-girl rock band who head away to an empty condo for a few nights of partying. But Courtney keeps having bad dreams about her sister, people dying and some guy playing an electric guitar with a giant drillbit coming out the end of it. As the girls head to their slumber party weekend away, Courtney's dreams become more and more vivid and her friends start to think she's going mental. But when the dreams become reality, they're suddenly fighting for their lives.

- I'm guessing the clips at the start of the movie are from the first one, but I haven't seen it so I don't know for sure.
- I have seen this sequel, but again it was quite a few years ago.
- Crystal Bernard. I remember her from the 90s TV show Wings.
- Girls wearing suspenders. So 80s.
- OMG, a dead bird. That's a sure sign that... well, a bird died I guess.
- Rock chicks are hot. Hey, this girl group sounds kinda like The Bangles.
- Today's viewing comes full circle, and not just because of Roger Corman. This movie is directed by Deborah Brock, who was post-production superviser on Barbarian Queen, the movie that got this marathon rolling.
- Corndogs and champagne. The breakfast of champions.
- A pillow fight breaks out. We all know that's what happens any time two or more women get together without guys around.
- Hello boobies! Damn Juliette Cummins is hot. Today's portion of the marathon started with boobs and it's closing with boobs.
- Even Rocky had a montage.
- Keeping with tradition, all of the "teenage" girls in this movie were 23 or older when it was filmed (according to IMDB).
- Okay, the gore's been pretty lame so far, but that exploding zit was pretty gnarly.
- Officer Krueger? Wink, wink.
- A breakdancing slasher killer. It doesn't get much more awesome than that.
- His one-liners are pretty awful though. Freddie Krueger you've got a lot to answer for buddy.
- Yikes, lame ending alert.

Overall thoughts: If it wasn't for its over-the-top, campy killer, this movie would be just any other run-of-the-mill 80s slasher. As it is, Slumber Party Massacre 2 is an unashamed ripoff of Nightmare on Elm St, but like that series it is the killer that keeps the weak material interesting. This flick is at its best when the driller killer is dancing about with his crazy ass drill guitar, sticking it into screaming girls with a sense of fun. It's a damn shame they didn't do any more sequels.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

CORMANIA 2011 #6 - The Wild Angels

9.44pm - Wild Angels (1966)
Our King's role: Director and producer
Cast: Peter Fonda (EASY RIDER), Nancy Sinatra (SPEEDWAY), Bruce Dern (SILENT RUNNING), Diane Ladd (WILD AT HEART)

Plot: Heavenly Blues (Fonda) is leader of the San Pedro, California chaper of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang. He brings his buddy Loser (Dern) back into the fold from an honest life, but a run-in with the heat ends up going not so groovy, and Loser winds up in hospital (sorry, don't know any 60s slang for that). The Wild Angels spring him, but Loser ends up dying. His funeral turns into a "party", in which a church is trashed, a preacher beaten up and Loser's woman (Ladd) raped. Even when they take him to be buried it turns into a big brawl between bikers and townsfolk.

- Brief Dick Miller sighting in the first scene.
- Even tough biker guys liked to shake their tailfeathers in the swinging 60s.
- Heavenly Blues don't like no hard drugs, ya dig?
- Diane Ladd was quite attractive in her younger days. I only know her from David Lynch's Wild at Heart, when she plays a crazy old bat.
- Ladd plays the "old lady" of her real-life hubby, Bruce Dern.
- I have to wonder what Old Blue Eyes thought about his daughter Nancy appearing in a movie about long-haired nogoodniks.
- This movie came out the same year as Nancy's hit song These Boots Are Made For Walking.
- Nazi flag draped coffin. Classy.
- Blues' famous speech during the funeral: "We wanna be free to do what we wanna do. We wanna be free to ride our machines without being hassled by the man. And we wanna get loaded. And we wanna have a good time. That's what we're gonna do".
- You know it's a real party in the 60s when they bust out the bongo music.

Overall thoughts: Those who think of Roger Corman as a low-budget director who mainly followed the latest fads can take a look at Wild Angels to see the great man actually starting a trend. This is the first biker flick, three years before Easy Rider. It started the counter-culture fad, simple as that. Does that mean it's a good movie? Well, no. It's all a bit pointless really, with no real narrative thread. Just a bunch of bikers doing rebellious stuff. The acting is pretty great, led by a brooding performance by Fonda, but there's just not a lot of meat in this sandwich.

CORMANIA 2011 #5 - Dinoshark

8.02pm - Dinoshark (2010)
Our King's role: Producer and actor
Cast: Eric Balfour (The TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remake), Iva Hasperger (EXORCISM), Roger Corman.

Plot: Trace McGraw (Balfour) returns to his hometown, a beachside resort in Mexico to run a fishing charter, just as a giant shark begins chomping on people. It's no ordinary shark though - it's a prehistoric dinosaur shark and it's hungry. McGraw teams up with a beautiful biologist (Hasperger) to try to kill the creature before more people die.

- Rip off Jaws music. Check.
- Hello bad CGI dinoshark (which looks like a shark with the head of a T-Rex).
- Syfy movie cliche #21: Guy who returns to his hometown after being away for a while.
- Chompity chomp, byebye surfer!
- Nice gore as we see a half-eaten girl on the beach.
- This is a TV movie, so there's no nudity, but there are plenty of bikini-clad hot chicks.
- For the first time in this marathon, our King appears onscreen. Here he plays Dr Reeves, a scientist.
- They mention a sighting of a dinoshark in New Zealand, but they show a map of Indonesia on screen? Sloppy guys!
- Mariachi band sighting. But no guy with the giant guitar? Boo-urns!
- Yes! Dinoshark 1, helicopter 0. "You're gonna need a bigger chopper".
- Hey, that rocketlauncher looks like it was bought at the dollar store.
- More nice gore in the form of a decapitated head (yet another homage to Jaws).
- Ol' Dinoshark is on a roll, chomping all manner of floating vessels.
- Cheesy one-liner alert during the climactic showdown.

Overall thoughts:
As I said in my review of Sand Serpents, I'm a fan of these cheesy Syfy TV movies and I always go into them expecting three things - cheesy CGI, a nature-run-amok plotline and a washed up actor from the 80s. Dinoshark meets the first two criteria but not the third. It doesn't matter though, because it more than makes up for it elsewhere. I'd almost add a fourth expectation from these movies - the titular monster chomping a helicopter - and this one comes through. And then it keeps going, with boats, kayaks, even a parasailer getting the big chomp. Good cheesy fun!

CORMANIA 2011 - Dinner break

Time for some dinner. Nothing too noteworthy, just some McDonalds to keep the wolves from the door.

I also manage to get in some more quality time with my young son, and to catch the first half hour of the Blues-Chiefs Super rugby game. My team (the Blues) is leading when I head back into the cinema to get the marathon back underway.

Up next... Syfy monster mayhem!

CORMANIA 2011 #4 - The Masque of the Red Death

5:35pm - The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
Our King's role: Director and producer
Cast: Vincent Price (PIT AND THE PENDULUM), Hazel Court (DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS), Nigel Green (JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS), Patrick Magee (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE), Jane Asher (ALFIE)

Plot: A faceless stranger in a red hood warns of impeding doom for an English county, which is ruled by the evil Prince Prospero. While on an outing, Prospero kidnaps a village girl (Asher) along with her lover (David Weston) and father (Green). As Prospero becomes enamoured with his new lady friend, she soon discovers there is more to his evil than it would appear.
He is a Satan worshipper who holds ritualistic ceremonies in his castle. Gathering his "friends" at his castle to offer them sanctuary from the Red Death, Prospero holds a midnight masquerade ball. But who is the stranger in the red hood who shows up? Is he the devil, or something far more sinister?

- Full disclosure: I've seen this movie before, but it's been at least 10 years since I've watched it.
- Corman moved production of his movies to England starting with this one, and the difference in sets is noticeable. They're much more extravagant than in his previous Edgar Allen Poe adaptions.
- Ah Vincent Price. My favourite actor ever. No one else compares.
- Price is fantastic here as the utterly decadent and evil Prince Prospero, who makes other suffer to amuse himself, like making his guests act like various barnyard animals.
- I do love a good black and white flick, but the colours Corman employs here are exquisite.
- There's satanic shenanigans afoot!
- A girl wandering around a darkened mansion/castle at night. Corman mastered these shots to a fine art time and time again.
- Crossbow bolt to the throat. Nice.
- I think the subplot about Hop Toad the midget is from a separate Poe story, Hop Frog.
- Hazel Court self-branding her breast with an upside down cross mark must have been quite edgy for its time.
- You can't say Prospero's parties aren't at least entertaining. That cat sure knows how to put on a shindig.
- There's that evil Vincent Price laugh echoing through the night. Even those who've never seen one of his movies will be familiar with it, thanks to Michael Jackson's Thriller.
- It's racial stereotype central during Court's dream(?) sacrifice scene. Jumping African native? Check. Bearded Chinese guy? Check. Stiff-necked Egyptian? Check.
- A double-bladed axe pendulum? Hmmm, I feel like I've seen that somewhere before.
- I guess they couldn't find a midget girl to play the dancer? That's clearly a little girl with an overdubbed adult's voice.
- Morale of the subplot: Don't mess with a midget's girl.
- The Dance of the Red Death reminds me of that annual event in Italy where people throw tomatoes at each other.

Overall thoughts: Roger Corman's Poe adaptions were the peak of his creative output, as far as I'm concerned. The Masque of the Red Death is probably my second favourite of them, after Pit and the Pendulum, and right up there among my top 5 Vincent Price movies of all time. Price's performance is, as always, top notch. I think Prospero may be the most out-and-out evil of all the characters he has played. I can't speak highly enough of the lavish sets and the use of colours. This movie is a feast for the eyes and a must see for any fan of cinema.

CORMANIA 2011 #3 - Bloodfist V: Human Target

3.50pm - Bloodfist V: Human Target (1994)
Our King's role: Executive producer
Cast: Don "the Dragon" Wilson (FUTURE KICK), Denise Duff (SUBSPECIES 2 and 3), Steve James (AMERICAN NINJA 1-3)

Plot: After being shot by some bad guys and plunging into a harbour, Jim Stanton (former world kickboxing champ Wilson) wakes up in hospital unable to remember anything about his life. His "wife" (Duff) turns up but she's just a girl named Michelle who the bad guys have paid to get him out of hospital. After a run in with Michelle's pimp/friend (James), she helps Stanton as he searches for clues about his life. It turns out his real name is Mike Wilkes and he's a government agent working undercover in a Chinese gang who've stolen plutonium. The gang wants Wilkes dead and the war is on! But everything isn't as it seems.

- Alright, after two DVD movies it's time for some martial arts on VHS baby!
- Full disclosure: I haven't seen any of the previous 4 Bloodfist movies and I'm not sure that I've seen Don Wilson in any other movies. I do remember him from his stints on screen commentating for UFC and King of the Cage though.
- Black guy with a fingerless gloves, a cross earring and a jacket with no shirt? Pimptastic!
- Slow motion spin kick!
- Killer mullet one on of the heavies Stanton/Wilkes deals to.
- Hey, it's Bob from that 70s show (Don Stark) as a government agent!
- Hmmm, they haven't hooked up romantically, yet Michelle is lying naked in a bed next to Mike. What a slut.
- So many slow motion kicks and throws. So many.
- Man, that's some evil acupuncture. Not sure it's gonna fix her ailments though.
- I knew I recognised one of the bad guys in this movie. It's Yuji Okumoto, who played Chozen, the main bad guy in Karate Kid 2.
- Holy plot twist Batman!
- Steve James is quite good as a bad guy. Blood Fist V was his last theatrical role, hitting theatres after his death from pancreatic cancer. RIP tough guy.
- Naturally Wilson has to lose his shirt for the climactic fight scene.

Overall thoughts: Bloodfist 5 fell short of my expectations in some ways but far exceeded them in others. It's the fourth sequel in a low budget marital arts series, starring a real life kickboxer, so I was expecting it to be badly shot, with minimal plot and bad acting, but with plenty of cheese to make up for that. Instead what I got was a plot-driven action drama which was pretty well shot and had good acting performances across the board. There's not much cheesyness to it at all, but there doesn't need to be. The plot twists keep it interesting and the action scenes are above average (if a little heavy on the slow motion effects). Overall Blood Fist 5 is definitely worth watching.

CORMANIA 2011 - a break

Time for a quick break to get some fresh air. It's raining steadily outside, the perfect weather for a movie marathon.

I spend a few minutes playing with my son and check out the baseball scores to discover my Red Sox came back from that 4-0 deficit to beat the As 8-6. Nice!

Alright break over, time to get back into it. Up next: Martial arts from the 1990s!

CORMANIA 2011 #2 - Ga-s-s-s

1.53pm - Gas-s-s-s, or It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save it (1970)

Our King's role: Director/producer
Cast: Bob Corff (FRIGHT NIGHT), Bud Cort (the MASH movie), Talia Shore (ROCKY, GODFATHER series), Cindy Williams (AMERICAN GRAFFITI), Ben Vereen (ZOOBILEE ZOO).

Plot: A deadly gas kills off anyone under 25. A young hardcase anti-authoritarian type (Corff) and his girl (Elaine Giftos) find that life under these new circumstances isn't to their liking and hit the road. They run into a fellow group of survivors (early roles for Cort, Shore, Williams and Vereen) and continue travelling across country, encountering various situations, including a rock concert, a town run by a group of deluded American Football players, a wacky doctor, a golf course community run by a cart-driving gang, some bizarre American Indians and The Oracle. They end up at a pueblo commune and the marauding, dune buggie-driving American Footballers show up before a wacky finale.

- We open with badly-drawn animation about a gas escaping from a nuclear research facility in Alaska. This is going to be an odd flick.
- Great 60s rock soundtrack. Groovy man!
- Amidst all the wacky humour, a shot of downtown Dallas with empty streets and an elderly couple dead in each others' arms is actually quite eerie.
- Ah, Cindy Williams how cute and perky you were.
- I can't look at Ben Vereen without thinking about him wearing animal ears, whiskers and a big ol' grin on Zoobilee Zoo. Haven't seen that show since I was a kid, but it creeped me out back then.
- Why are they shouting out the names of big screen movie stars while pretending to have a western shoot out? Wait, they really died? I'm confused.
- Hey, there's a cameo by well-known anti-war musician Country Joe McDonald of Country Joe and the Fish. The guitarist from that band, Barry Melton, is the man responsible for the soundtrack to this film.
- Free love awash with psychadelic colours and patterns. No 1960s/early 70s hippy movie would be complete without it.
- Gratuitous dune buggy chase scene!
- The one guy has a massive machine gun mounted on top of his dune buggy but never fires it. Lame!
- Gratuitous golf cart chase scene!
- Okay, the golf ball attack is pretty awesome and fun.
- "What was that, a bomb?", "No, it sounded more ironic than that". Uh, okay.
- What a far out ending man.

Overall thoughts: Wow. That was something. What that something is, I'm not quite sure. The main characters were likeable, the concept pretty fun (I'm a big fan of post-apocalyptic films, no matter what the genre) and it was fairly well shot, but a lot of the humour fell flat for me. At times it felt like an extended episode of The Monkees, if The Monkees had featured a few more adult-natured jokes. It could be that I'm from the wrong generation or that the humour hasn't dated well, but I only really laughed once or twice. I'd like to think there's some kind of message at the heart of this pretentious movie, but I'm damned if I know what it is. In saying all that, this isn't a bad movie per se - if you're looking for something quirky it definitely fits that bill.

CORMANIA 2011 #1 - Barbarian Queen

12.31pm - Barbarian Queen (1985)

Our King's role: Producer
Cast: Lana Clarkson (AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON), Katt Shea (PSYCHO III), Frank Zagarino (the SHADOWCHASER series).

Plot: A band of Roman soldiers attack and pillage a village right before the wedding of Amathea (Clarkson) and Argan (Zagarino), taking Argan prisoner and presumably killing Amathea. But she survives and sets off to rescue her man. Along the way she collects together various other butt-kicking chicks to join her on her quest. They arrive at the Roman city and discover Argon is being forced to fight as a gladiator. Joining up with the local underground (literally) and the gladiators, these bitchin' barbarian babes seek to free the slaves and and kill the evil Arrakur.

- My wife: "You know it's gonna be a good movie when there's boobs inside the first 30 seconds". Yep, I married a good'un.
- Let the comical over-dubbing begin! Strange as this is a US production, but it was filmed in Argentina, so I'm guessing a lot of the extras were Argentinian.
- By the look of Argan, I'm expecting Skeletor and Beast Man to turn up any second.
- Nice big fight scene early as Argan proves to be a wimp. He makes a fitting damsel in distress.
- Clarkson changes from revealing animal skins and headband to a frumpy red riding hood-esque outfit. Boo!
- Oh, she's back to the revealing outfit. That was close.
- And now she's topless and stretched out on some weird torture machine. Not sure how a fake metallic hand hanging down and barely touching a breast is torture.
- Frank Zagarino's acting is hilariously bad. His emotional scale ranges from bored to disinterested.
- The harem master is all kinds of fun. A fat guy with what looks like an oversized handbag on his head, a fu manchu mustache and an overdubbed voice that is more campy than a row of tents.
- Boobs galore, some full frontal nudity and now an orgy. This movie is every 14-year-old's dream come true.
- Poor Lana Clarkson. She was able to vanquish baddies like Arrakur but real evil would be her undoing in the frail form of Phil Spector.

Overall thoughts: Man, that was all kinds of good and the perfect way to kick off a movie marathon in honour of the King of the Bs. Three words sum up Barbarian Queen - fighting, swords and boobs. And what else could you ask for in a sword and sandal adventure? Plot? Bah, go watch a drama guy, 'cause we don't need your stinking plot here bucko! Lana Clarkson sure was attractive and looked great running around in her animal skins. Damn you Phil Spector!

CORMANIA 2011 - Prelude

Last night Jen (my wife) and I drove an hour and a half to see a horror movie double feature (Jaws and the original Dawn of the Dead) at the Drive In, which was great. We've never really had Drive Ins here in New Zealand, so this was a rare opportunity, part of a week-long festival where the movies are projected onto the side of a building at a speedway. We got home at around 2am. I slept until about 10am and was feeling surprisingly chipper despite the disruption to my sleep patterns.

As start time approaches, Jen heads out to run some errands and pick up munchies, while I watch the first half-inning of the Red Sox-As game. My beloved Sawx give up four runs in that half inning, so I'm extremely glad to have an excuse not to watch the whole game.

Then it's time for a quick shower and I move my VCR from it's usual position to the home cinema, because a few of the Cormania movies are on my favourite format.

Speaking of the movies in this marathon, 4 of the 11 I have seen before, but it's been quite a few years for all of them. The rest are first time viewings.

On the snack front, I have assorted candy, chocolate and of course some popcorn. I also have celery and hummus for when I get over the sweet stuff, and my drink of choice is Lemon-Lime Gatorade (with a can or two of energy drink in reserve should I need them later).

And finally, a note about how this moviethon blog is going to work. I will be posting about each movie after I finish watching it, so it's almost real time. I won't be doing indepth reviews - expect a plot synopsis, random observations and my overall take on each flick.

Alright, let's get this bad boy started. Prepare to bask in the royal presence of the King of the Bs!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Announcing Cormania 2011

It's time for another movie marathon! I'm pleased to announce Cormania 2011, which will be taking place this Saturday and Sunday (NZ time).

Inspired by the fantastic Doomed Moviethon, I intend to watch 11 Roger Corman movies over two days and will be blogging about it as I go. I wanted a marathon which could provide plenty of variety in terms of years and genres, and who better to provide that variety than the King of the Bs?

Because I want to take advantage of the resources I have at hand (VHS, DVD and a few AVI) and not have to go hunting for anything, I'm opening Cormania 2011 to movies that the great Roger Corman has produced, as well as those he has directed.

I'm not going to give away what titles I will be watching, but it's fair to say the genres are diverse, covering everything from a classy Edgar Allen Poe adaption to a low-budget CGI monster fish flick.

Stay tuned over the weekend (Friday and Saturday nights US time). It should be a lot of fun!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

June 1 - Digital Man

The cover of my VHS copy of Digital Man

Digital Man (1995)
Director: Phillip J. Roth
Format: VHS (20th Century Fox)

After being on a bit of a war movie kick lately, I decided I needed something completely different and cheesy 90s scifi seemed like just the thing. With a line on the back of the VHS that says "He's Terminator, Cyborg and Robocop welded into one", along with a photo of Adam Baldwin, my hopes were high.

I've never heard of director Phillip J. Roth, but it seems he has a thing for cyborgs. His credits include such legendary titles (yes, that's sarcasm) as APEX, Prototype and Interceptor Force 2.

After some cheesy Playstation-esque CGI in the opening sequence, we're thrust into a situation somewhere in space in the future, where terrorists have stolen the launch codes for dozens of nuclear missiles. In response, the authorities send Digital Man (Matthias Hues, KICKBOXER 2 - minus his trademark long blonde hair) to take care of business.

On the flight back from taking out the terrorists, a botched sabotage attempt sees D1 (as Digital Man is officially known) crash land back on earth, in the desolate desert landscape of the Badwater nuclear testing range. The authorities, fearing that D1 has gone rogue, send a crack team of space commandos to decommission him and take back the launch codes.

There are civilians - made up of various cartoonish rednecks - living in Badwater, who soon find that D1 doesn't come in peace. The commandos (led by Kristen Dalton of the DEAD ZONE TV series and Ken Olandt of SUMMER SCHOOL, offering a romantic subplot) come to the defence of the locals, engaging in a series of explosion-laden throwdowns with Digital Man. Can they stop him before he transmits the launch codes and brings armageddon?

Digital Man is a sci-fi western (the soundtrack even features harmonica music). It takes the basic plot of countless westerns (including a number of Clint Eastwood vessels) of a lone stranger coming to town to protect its inhabitants from a ruthless gang of baddies and flips it on its head. So instead we have a gang of good guys protecting the locals from one ruthless stranger (although D1 never comes across as overtly evil, no matter how many innocent people he knocks off).

The line I mentioned from the back of the VHS correctly suggests that Roth unashamedly rips off bigger-budget scifi fare. The fact that Hues speaks with an Eastern European accent (he's German) makes the comparisons with The Terminator unavoidable, but the D1 POV shots with computer options are right out of Robocop.

The costumes are fantastically hokey - Digital Man and the commandos shoot guns that look like giant leafblowers, and the commandos' costumes consist of silver American Football pads over black clothing. The special effects are just as cheesy, particularly anything involving a spaceship or lasers, but there are plenty of big, pretty explosions to make up for it.

The cast of Digital Man includes lots of recognisable faces. On top of the always-enjoyable non-Baldwin-brother Adam Baldwin (PREDATOR 2) there's Paul Gleason (MANIAC COP 3), Ed Lauter (DEATH WISH 3), Don Swayze (DRIVING FORCE), Amanda Wyss (NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST) and even a brief appearance by Clint Howard (EVILSPEAK). The most fun character is a gun-toting granny played by the always-lively Susan Tyrrell, who is on screen too briefly to be able to to ham it up like she did in John Water's CRY-BABY, but still stands out.

Digital Man is good corny fun. Fans of scifi western should enjoy it, as should anyone looking for scifi that's not too heavy on plot and full of flashy explosions. I'm pretty sure it's never had a DVD release, but if you happen to come across the VHS, check it out.

Previews on my VHS: Buffalo Girls, Warriors, Never Say Die, Nine Months, The Brothers McMullen.