Saturday, February 10, 2018

249. Terror

249. Terror (1978)
Director: Norman J. Warren
Writers: David McGillivray from a story by Les Young and Moira Young
From: Cult Cinema

A witch cursed the Garrick family centuries ago. Now, people close to the last two descendants of the family start dying in brutal ways.

One of the IMDB user reviews of this movie notes similarities to Argento’s Suspiria, and I think that’s a good starting point. Terror isn’t as strange as Suspiria or as visually ambitious, but they feel like aesthetic neighbors. The makers of Terror saw Suspiria and went, “that’s nice, but a bit much.” Where Suspiria’s bright and lurid with an unrelenting fable/nightmare logic, Terror mutes the colors and, when it doesn’t try to offer an explanation for what’s happening, tries to trick you into thinking there is one.

We open with a woman running through a forest pursued by a torch-wielding mob. She’s captured after stepping in a bear trap. The local lord and lady are alerted and arrive to watch the woman get tied to a stake. She calls on Satan to protect her and one of the townsfolk catches fire. Pretty nice man-on-fire, to be honest. She dies, but her ghost kills the lord and lady in their house and curses their family until the end of time. “THE END” flashes on screen because this has all been a movie within the movie.

Cut to the people watching the movie in the house where the film is set. The film’s been produced by James Garrick and the film is about his own family. The group breaks up to drink and chat and one of the friends says he can do hypnotism. As he starts, a wind rises outside and breaks a window. While James is looking for something to cover the hole, the friend hypnotizes James’ sister Ann. In the kitchen, James finds all the glassware broken including a pitcher that is sliced through, but still in one piece until he touches it. When he returns to the party, Ann is stuck in a trance. She takes the family’s ancestral sword from the wall and tries to kill James. She’s brought to and runs out of the house in horror. A friend follows shortly thereafter and is stalked and murdered with a blade by someone in the woods.

Are these supernatural murders? The work of Ann in a psychotic fugue? James attempting to drum up publicity for his film? The movie doesn’t do a good job of making you wonder. There are various victims, but the one I’ll highlight that demonstrates the problem with the film isn’t a victim at all.

So Ann lives with a bunch of other young woman in a hostel. The night of the murder, Ann comes home with blood all over her hands and is seen by her roommate. Later, her roommate mentions it to Ann, but Ann acts like she doesn’t remember. The roommate leaves, her car breaks down in the middle of the woods, and she finds an abandoned cottage. She finds a phone, calls a mechanic, someone arrives outside, and… it’s the mechanic who gives her a tow.

The bait-and-switch is fine, we’re used to that in movies, but what is the bait-and-switch trying to distract us from? Are we supposed to suspect Ann? There’s no way for Ann to be near her roommate or to have sabotaged the car. Are we supposed to suspect James? He’s less likely to be there than Ann. Are we supposed to think it’s the witch’s curse? Then why would people who aren’t part of the family be endangered? The people who die are, a family friend who’s a cousin (so curse maybe), a guy bothering Ann at work, a director who annoys James at the studio James owns, the actress from that shoot who lives with Ann, James’ co-worker at the studio, a cop trying to question Ann, and then James and Ann themselves because, surprise, it was the witch all along. THE END.

The movie doesn’t make sense on its own terms or in the sense of it trying to follow an Argento-esque nightmare logic. Characters appear largely to get killed and, since there’s no context for who they are to start with, there’s no sense of shock when they die. In fact, the whole time I kept wondering why these were the characters that died (when I was able to tell them apart). If it had been James doing it for whatever reason, that’d fit with the horror trope of “everything in the movie tells you it’s this person, but, twist, it’s not!” but it’s the witch’s curse. Why would the witch, whose only goal is to make the family suffer, kill people that antagonize or suspect the family?

To the movie’s credit, it’s a passable semi-gothic creepie. The cinematography is fine and the set-ups are strange enough. Once it abandons the pretense that there’s an actual killer committing the murders, the set pieces become much more interesting—one character is engulfed in film, another is threatened by a levitating car. It’s fine for a rainy afternoon or to have on in the background at a Halloween party. Since none of it lines up, you don’t have to pay close attention. Plus there’s a weird S&M-inflected stripper scene in the middle that’s odd enough on its own to be worth a few giggles. While the movie’s nothing fantastic, it’s watchable enough.

Friday, February 09, 2018

248. The Wild Rebels

248. The Wild Rebels (1967)
Director: William Grefé
Writer: William Grefé
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: Mystery Science Theater 3000

A race car driver joins a bank-robbing motorcycle gang at the request of the police to help take the gang down.

I saw that there was an MST3k version of this movie and you bet your ass I watched that instead. This flick is pure MST fare: overly loquacious thugs, a plot that adamantly refuses to move, and a hero that’s a doughy white guy who does nothing. In fact, I think I just summed up the movie. I’m going to get drunk.

Okay, the “plot.” We open on stock car superstar Rod Tillman wrecking his car in a race. He’s so mad about the wreck that he decides to quit racing entirely and auctions off all his equipment. Shades of Burnout, although this movie does more than just have the whiny driver have everything handed to him. Rod catches a ride to a bar with just the bag on his back and his trusty guitar. Is he going to sing later? Do you believe in a just and loving God? Well you’re wrong because of course he sings later and it’s awful.

At the bar, the “Satan’s Angels” biker gang recognizes Rod and asks him to visit their “pad” to hear a “proposition.” While these are the exact words they use, everything they say sounds like there’s a non-zero chance they’re inviting him to participate in a three-way. Rod leaves with Linda, the woman in the gang, while the three other gang members, Banjo, Jeeter, and Fats, hang back to beat up some college boys at the bar for having danced with Linda. (This is how you know they’re bad. Because the swastikas all over their jackets weren’t enough of a clue. Let’s not be presumptuous though. Let’s reserve judgment until the third fawning New York Times profile on the group.)

Back at the gang’s shack, Linda and Rod are making out in front of a giant Nazi flag.

Jesus fuck… Give me a minute… Okay.

He calls a stop to it just before the gang arrive. Turns out they’re bank robbers and want Rod to drive the getaway car for them. He refuses, leaves, and is immediately arrested by the cops. They convince him to flip and work as the getaway driver so they can successfully arrest the gang. Apparently they know the gang is involved in all sorts of crimes, but can’t prove any of it because the gang is too smart.


Anyway, Rod agrees. The gang keeps him in the dark about the details, but the cops are constantly watching. Tensions rise when Banjo catches Rod making out with Linda leading to a minor fight that doesn’t go anywhere. They steal some guns from a pawn shop and then get ready for the bank robbery itself. The cops follow them, but the gang manages to give them the slip. Since the cops don’t know which bank is going to be robbed, they’re left trying to follow Rod who gives them the slip pretty easily.

At the bank, Rod flashes his brights at some passing cops who stop to talk to him. He tells them there’s a bank robbery going on, but Banjo sees the whole thing. The cops get shot and Rod has to drive the gang away. Cops start following them, they get cornered at a lighthouse, cops shoot Banjo and Fats, and Rod tries to run up the stairs to escape. Jeeter follows, corners Rod, but is then shot in the back by Linda. Cops come in, arrest Linda, and walk away with Rod. THE END.

That’s right, the hero of the piece flashes his brights and that’s it. That’s the extent of his heroic action. Linda kills Jeeter, the leader of the gang, for no explicable reason. Also, there’s no explanation for why the cops don’t arrest them after the gun heist. That’s armed robbery and they have the stolen guns in their possession. Isn’t that enough for an arrest? Then again, what do you expect from a police force that can’t pin any crimes to the swastika-wearing biker gang that doesn’t wear masks during robberies? Yeah, right, forgot, the gang’s too smart. Brutally stupid.

Watching the MST3k version was so much more fun. This was a season 2 episode so still pretty early in the show’s run. Joel has a small chin beard, like an inverse soul patch, and the host segments largely focus on Gypsy’s emotional state. A solid enough episode, though.

As for the movie itself, catch the MST3k version or just skip it. It’s not terrible, but very little happens and it’s pretty cheaply made. One of the jokes they make constantly in the episode is how bright everything is. Despite most of the movie taking place at night, everything is shot in the middle of the day. We’re not talking day-for-night, we’re talking daylight with a motorcycle’s headlights on to indicate that it’s dark out. Hilariously bad on that level. Otherwise, pretty dull.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

247. Hundra

247. Hundra (1983)
Director: Matt Climber
Writers: John F. Goff and Matt Climber
From: Sci-Fi Invasion

The last survivor of an all-female tribe must go out into the world to rebuild her nation. However, she’ll face many challenges from the men of the surrounding cultures.

A barbarian fantasy flick where Hundra is a warrior in an all-female tribe. A narrator tells us that the tribe has expelled all men and struck out on their own to create a life more pleasing to them. They have everything they need except the ability to “plant the seed from which to create new life.” So members periodically go out to get pregnant. The movie opens with one member giving birth, unfortunately, to a boy. The child will be handed off to someone somewhere and the woman will try again.

Hundra is preparing to go hunting and gets teased for not having tried to get pregnant yet. She says no sword or man will ever pierce her and goes on her way. Of course, a gang of raiders from an opposing tribe is surrounding the camp and attacks just as she leaves. She returns to find her tribe wiped out and she, in turn, kills all the tribesmen that attacked her camp. She goes to see the matriarch of her tribe who tells her to seek out a man to get pregnant and thus continue the people.

Which is the first misstep in the film for me. With the film being made in 1983 and being about an all-female tribe (and being in these box sets), there was a better-than-even chance it was going to descend into farce or some terrible gender-essentialist nonsense. Hell, there was a better-than-even chance that it was going to use its setting as an excuse for lots of rape-tinged nudity. To the movie’s credit, it doesn’t do that, mostly. Hence the misstep here.

The more interesting plot, to my mind, is Hundra rebuilding her nation by being a leader and converting women (and men) to her way of thinking. That plot would be doubly interesting because the story eventually takes Hundra into a city ruled by a High Priest and his lackeys who kidnap women from the town, train them to be sex slaves, and then sell them off to the chieftains of the surrounding clans. If the movie had a more explicit agenda, that setup would be a pretty didactic condemnation of patriarchy. Not only is it exploitative and inherently corrupt, no one is benefiting from it. The movie has presented a setting begging for a revolution.

Instead, Hundra needs a man to knock her up. I mean, if this was a Conan movie and he were the last member of his people, he wouldn’t be tasked with finding a wife, he’d set out to conquer an empire and turn that into his people. Considering my concerns about the movie, to see it doing all right and then make this move was disappointing.

Anyway, back in the city, she fights the priests a bit, falls through a roof into a doctor’s home, and falls in love with him. She then decides to allow herself to be taken to the temple because she believes she’ll get pregnant there. The expected, “we’ll break your will,” “you’ll never break me” stuff happens and Hundra makes a deal with the woman who’s supposed to teach her to be feminine: Hundra will learn the lessons to get one over on their oppressors in exchange for teaching her teacher how to fight.

Once feminine, Hundra returns to the doctor, becomes pregnant, and gives birth to their daughter. She decides to leave the day that the chieftains expect her to submit, but her teacher betrays her/gets caught (happens off-screen so unclear), and the high priest has kidnapped her daughter. Hundra bows to the chieftains, but her teacher has slipped away and saved the baby. When Hundra sees her child and the doctor throws her her sword, she massacres all the chieftains. The High Priest tries to murder the baby, but gets attacked by Hundra’s dog (who’s been a coward throughout the movie as a running gag, but saves the day here. It’s a whole thing). The High Priest is then attacked by all the women in the temple. They dogpile him and sit on his face until he suffocates.

Did I mention the High Priest was a neat freak? So that’s part of his death. I’m saying it’s not 100% “are we seeing someone’s fetish here?” It’s 97-98% "we're seeing someone's fetish here."

So, temple falls, Hundra leaves with baby, everything happy. THE END.

I mean, it’s all right. It’s not great, not terrible, and does slightly better than I expected it to. Even before we get into the gender stuff, the movie faces the challenges all fantasy movies face and that’s world-building. The joy of fantasy novels is how expansive, strange, and fantastic their settings and events can be. This is shot in the hills of Spain. The cast are people running around in animal skins. I’m saying it doesn’t grab the imagination.

Then there’s the gender stuff. As I mentioned above, I was really worried and the movie largely side-steps my concerns. What nudity there is is fleeting, the violent sexual situations get shut down real quick, and the attack on the village at the beginning could have gone either way. The women fight back and kick a lot of ass. Nowhere, besides the dialogue of the obvious villains, is the idea floated that women can’t take care of things for themselves.

Which is what makes the direction of the rest of the film a little odd. Rather than seek revenge or lead a revolution, Hundra is sent out to fulfill her destiny as a woman and get pregnant. Rather than train all the women in the temple and ultimately lead a slave revolt, she only teaches the one. It feels like the movie imagines itself as more progressive than it is, which only serves to highlight how it falls short.

The acting is bad, but not hilariously so and there are attempts at humor that fall real flat. I mentioned the dog above, but there are others. Before Hundra gets to the town, she finds a guy who’s keeping 4-5 women as slaves. The sound design around him, and throughout the movie, is pretty atrocious. His belches and farts are amplified to the level of low roars and I’m left going, wait, is this movie doing fart jokes?

The movie is what it is. I’m not recommending it, but not saying to avoid it either. You might get some fun out of riffing it if you’re so inclined, but it didn't seem to be lending itself to jokes. It avoids some pitfalls and does some things well, however, IMDB rates this a 4.6/10 at the moment and that seems about right. The movie’s pulling a C- in my estimation, but I may be feeling generous after the slog that was Burnout. I at least liked some of the characters in this.

Friday, February 02, 2018

246. Burnout

246. Burnout (1979)
Director: Graham Meech-Burkestone
Writer: Martin J. Rosen
From: Cult Cinema

A rich man’s son enters the world of drag racing with his father’s help only to give up and try to work his way up from the bottom.

The movie opens with our “hero,” Scott, being put on trial. Via flashbacks and a later expository conversation with his girlfriend, we learn that Scott was drag racing and there was an accident. The editing makes it seem like Scott killed an old lady, but he tells his girlfriend that he killed a dog instead.

Great way to introduce your lead character movie: start with him killing a dog. Is there any way to top this? Well…

The judge in the trial calls Scott’s dad back to his chambers to have a chat about how to sentence Scott. That’s right, the movie opens with our lead killing a dog and then getting off because his dad is rich and chummy with the judge. People ask how Brock Turner happens—this his how Brock Turner happens.

Scott’s dad runs a company. Some sort of firm of manufacturing business inc engineering llc associates & son. The company is never defined. What is defined is Scott’s unwillingness to follow in his dad’s footsteps even though his dad doesn’t pressure him to do that at all. He asks Scott what he’d like to do and Scott says drag race. So dad drops $40,000 on a top-of-the-line drag racer and team to make Scott a driver. Scott blows it on his first three races and quits because he’s a brat. However, Scott says it’s because his dad’s putting too much pressure on him and is the reason he’s losing. So he runs away from home, signs on as a pit boy with the team that had been working for his dad (and who are out a lot of money because of Scott’s tantrum), and tries to learn the trade from the bottom up.

After the team loses a few races, they finally do well in Vegas and Scott takes the driver out drinking. The driver suggests ending the night, but Scott insists on one more and then convinces the driver to flirt with one of the waitresses. Scott leaves and, the next morning, the driver isn’t there. The team puts Scott in the car instead and he wins. Turns out the driver got assaulted by the waitress’ boyfriend so Scott has to drive for the rest of the season.

Another driver, who put his driving career on hold to be part of Scott’s team and is pissed that his job evaporated due to Scott’s brattiness is now pissed at Scott’s team leader for not hiring him as the driver. They’d been wanting to work together for years and now that an opportunity opens up, Scott gets the slot. It’s almost like this driver who has dedicated his life to the sport is resentful of this entitled little shit having every opportunity handed to him and then squandering it at the expense of the people around him.

Scott continues to do well, ends up in the finals against the driver who’s angry at him, and ultimately loses. The driver wins the trophy and Scott gets the second-place puppy. Someone asks him what he plans to do with it and Scott says he’s going to give it to the old woman from the beginning. Scott’s dad and girlfriend walk up to congratulate him because they’d secretly been watching the whole time. THE END.

Credit must be given to a film that so deftly combines loathsomeness and vacuity in such a short span. Burnout is only 75 minutes in my cut, but boy does it feel longer. On top of that, it feels like they’re constantly padding the film. While what I describe above sounds like a plot, it’s merely a summary of the few scenes where something happens. The first fifteen minutes are dedicated to “shooting the rodeo” as Scott and his dad go to various drag races and we watch footage of people racing. Scott’s dad buys Scott’s way into the sport which just leads to a car building montage and then Scott is on the track. He qualifies to race, gets disqualified from his first two races for starting before the green light goes, and then his engine blows out on the third race. So he quits because his dad is ruining everything for him.

Thirty minutes in now, by the way. All the rest is padded with stock footage of drag racing. That’s it. That’s the entire movie. Poorly-shot footage of drag races that never communicates what’s exciting about drag racing. And then it ends.

Almost a year ago, I watched Hell On Wheels, a movie about a country superstar/Formula One champion that faces off against moonshiners. It’s not as good as that makes it sound, but it’s leaps and bounds better than this. I said of that movie that the director wasn’t “padding his movies with stock footage, he’s padding his stock footage with a movie,” and I should have saved that statement. This movie is Stock Footage: the Motion Picture. It has no pretense of a plot or motion or character development. It doesn’t even do a good job showcasing the drag racing. All it has is the face-like-a-slapped-ass hero who is the root of all his own problems whining that people aren’t catering to him enough.

So, yes, it’s the Donald Trump Jr. story, but in drag racing. That’s just more reason to stay away, though.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

245. Shaolin Deadly Kicks

245. Shaolin Deadly Kicks aka Tai ji ba jiao (1977)
Director: Wu Ma
Writer: Hsiang Kan Chu
From: Cult Cinema

A gang steals a treasure map and divides it into 8 parts, pledging to reunite in 3 years to claim the reward. 3 years later, a dogged cop is hunting down each and every member.

Not much to tell about this movie. A gang called “The Dragons” breaks into a house, steals a map, and kills the man who lives there. The gang leader didn’t want anyone to be murdered, but it happened anyway. Since the murder is going to put increased attention on the gang, the leader decides to wait three years before following the map to the treasure. Some members disagree so the leader breaks the map into eight pieces, giving one to each member.

Just shy of three years later, one of the gang is caught robbing a place and put in jail. He breaks out, but learns that his escape was a scam engineered by a cop hunting down all eight members of the gang. They fight, cop wins, crooks dies.

And that formula generally plays out through the rest of the film. Eventually the cop is down to only two pieces, but is gravely injured. He’s taken in by a woman he’d joined with earlier to beat up some thugs and it turns out her father is the gang leader. The other surviving member arrives as well. The father wants to be done with his criminal past and gives both his piece and all the pieces the cop has found to the final member, but the final member decides to kill the father anyway. The cop and daughter track the killer down, face off against him, and eventually kill him. THE END.

The cop is after too many people. If this were a tv series or several movies, you could get away with eight distinct villains, but this is a ninety minute movie. Assuming you have ten minutes for set-up and credits, that gives ten minutes per villain. Granted, you can do incredible things in short films, but it’s hard to make each villain unique and threatening when they have so little time.

Not that the movie doesn’t try. The cop finds one crook caring for the crook’s blind mother and ailing son. The cop offers to leave the guy alone and provide money for a doctor for the boy if the crook just hands over the map piece. The crook declines the offer, they fight, he dies, but it’s a character moment and an attempt to differentiate him from the other characters. The reason it fails is that it’s so short. We don’t see the crook weighing the decision, the consequences of the cop killing him, or much of the reaction from the crook’s wife. It’s a good impulse, well-executed, but just hamstrung by the available time.

On top of that, the fight choreography didn’t pull me in. The cop had a specific move he’d make with his foot just before he was about to fight, but that was the only distinction. I may not understand martial arts movies enough to tell what is good and bad choreography. Tiger Love is obviously bad with hits that don’t land and stuntmen clearly waiting for the swing to come in, and Shaolin Deadly Kicks at least doesn’t fall into that trap. However, it’s mostly people hitting each other. Very few of the encounters showed any invention or novelty.

In the end, it’s so-so—not that good, but not terrible. I’m sure you could find ways to riff it if you were so inclined and the movie seems to be public domain so there’s fun to be had with that. I’ve added a copy to here for ease of use, but it’s not something I’d suggest going out of your way to watch.

Friday, January 26, 2018

244. Jocks

244. Jocks (1986)
Director: Steven Carver
Writers: Michael Lanahan and David Oas
From: Cult Cinema

A ragtag college tennis team has to win the conference championships in Vegas or lose their scholarships. But will they be able to withstand the temptation of Sin City?

To switch things up, here’s what the plot should have been:

LA College hasn’t won a championship since Coach Bettlebom took over the athletic department nearly a decade ago. The college president, played by Christopher Lee, demands Bettlebom produce a trophy to keep the alumni donations coming in. The school’s best chance is the tennis team, but Bettlebom hates them: partly because he thinks tennis is a “pansy” sport, and partly because he thinks the team is a bunch of degenerates, none more degenerate than team star, the hotshot “Kid.”

The team is a rag-tag bunch of freaks who are serious about tennis, and nothing else. Their antics on and off the court give the tennis coach, Richard Roundtee, panic attacks since his job is on the line, but when the game is on the line, the Kid’s talent always gets them the win. Among the freaks is Jeff, a clean-cut milquetoast who could be great if he believed in himself, but is generally treated like a twerpy little brother by the Kid.

As the competition approaches, the Kid’s cavalier behavior puts the team’s success in jeopardy and particularly harms Jeff. Even though Jeff’s always working hard, he’s the perpetual loser. He’s engaged to the girl of his dreams, but she dumps him. He makes it into a frat, but it’s the one that doesn’t party. He’s got a 4.0, but he’s dependent upon this tennis scholarship. Just before the trip, he receives his scholarship check to pay for tuition and the Kid convinces Jeff to let Kid bet it on blackjack. It goes how you’d expect.

With everyone at their lowest—the coach’s job being threatened by Bettlebom, Jeff disconsolate about the Kid losing the money, the team facing defeat—the Kid is offered the chance to transfer to an elite school with a winning tennis team: full ride and brilliant future if he throws the match. He considers it because it’s the best option for him, but recognizes there are values higher than selfishness and supports his team. In the final doubles match, the Kid is doing great, but it’s Jeff who delivers the winning shot. And, because it’s the 80’s and some plot contrivance like this was set up earlier, someone gives Jeff a bunch of money that covers his losses. I don’t know, some sad sack to whom Jeff gave his last dollar after the Kid screwed him ended up turning that buck into ten grand on the slots and wants to repay his kindness.

The team is saved, the school gets their trophy, and the tennis coach is promoted to Bettlebom’s position. The girl who’d been wanting the Kid to live up to his moral potential shows up and the two leave together. THE END of a cut-and-paste 80’s teen sports movie, but entertaining enough for what it is. These formulas developed for a reason—they have a fundamental narrative satisfaction. All the parts kind of fit together.

Now, here’s what really happened:

The start with Lee and Bettlebom is largely the same, but Bettlebom never comes around or recognizes his fate is tied to the tennis team. He’s always looking for ways to undermine the team and get them out of the tournament. Roundtree, who’s given nothing to do in this movie, never gets that stressed over his players’ irresponsibility. They’re a rag-tag group of non-traditional players: the Kid, Jeff, Chito—a Hispanic player, Andy—an African-American player, Ripper—large and angry (and familiar), and Tex—who isn’t distinct from the Kid.

When they play, they’re supposed to be great, but we don’t see that. The Kid doesn’t excel so much as trick his opponent into getting distracted by a girl in the stands. Andy, when he starts to lose, pretends to be gay to discomfit his opponent and flounces around the court. Tex suggests his opponent make the game “interesting” by putting an absurd amount of money on it, because he’s apparently rich or something, and that intimidates his opponent into losing. Finally Chito, prays theatrically in Spanish before the match and then wins in conjunction with that… somehow? Ripper just brutalizes his opponent and Jeff gets pushed around by his. Ultimately, nothing compelling happens on the tennis court.

They’re in Vegas, though, so surely things will happen there! Jeff did get his $3,000 tuition check at the beginning and the Kid says he can use it while playing Blackjack. Then Jeff gives him the money because, inexplicably, he’s feeling lucky and trusts the Kid. Then the Kid kills it at Blackjack, is solicited by a woman who, whoops!, turns out to be a man in drag because it’s 1986 and the transphobic trope of “the trap” is still funny. The movie must think it’s hilarious because the Kid isn’t fooled, Bettlebom is, and the final scene is the transvestite sitting down with Christopher Lee for drinks.

After much non-incident, they go to the final championship, lose the first round because all their tricks are matched by people doing the same thing (Andy is set against an actually gay person (?) leading him to use a homophobic slur, Chito faces off against a devout Jewish player and loses, Tex suggests a $100 wager and his opponent counters with $1,000 deflating Tex, and the Kid plays poorly, potentially throwing the match). As they go in to play doubles, the team finds out that the Kid has placed a bet against them (even though it was placed by the opposing team as a blackmail trick), and they have to win every set. They do, Bettlebom fires Richard Roundtree anyway, is approached by Christopher Lee to discuss something, and then the inevitable scene of Bettlebom getting chewed out and Roundtree being elevated is missing.

No, I literally think it’s missing. Lee says he wants to talk to Bettlebom, they go to Bettlebom’s hotel room, Bettlebom sees incriminating pictures of himself taped all over the walls, and suggests he and Lee have their conversation in the bar instead. Lee doesn’t see the pictures and we don’t see the conversation. All that happens is they sit at different tables, Lee is approached by the transvestite and Bettlebom spills his drink. THE END.

How do you fuck this up so badly? It’s a simple plot simply done: have goofy characters being goofy in Vegas and on the tennis court. Have the seeming villain of the piece, Bettlebom, initially bad-mouthing the team and then becoming sycophantic when he realizes his fate is tied to theirs. Have the team they’re facing be real dicks so there’s a slobs vs. snobs conflict. I mean, you’ve already got Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds so you have someone on your cast who can tell you how it’s done. Plus you’ve got Richard “Motherfucking Shaft” Roundtree, and all you can think to do with him is have him chuckle and shake his head in jovial disapproval?

This isn’t a movie that gets it so wrong that it’s a compelling train wreck, it’s a movie that fails to rise up to the low, low bar it sets for itself. The movie isn’t just incompetent, isn’t just lazy, it’s seemingly resentful of the expectation that it work up the energy to shuffle through the perfunctory scenes it needs to have to reach ninety minutes. They can’t even get the tennis shots right.

The co-writer, Michael Lanahan was one (of several!) tennis coordinators on the film and not only does all the tennis footage look like garbage (these actors can’t play), they never give out any of the scores. You don’t know when anybody’s winning or losing, you just see montages of serves, volleys, and misses. How’s the game going? Does this shot matter? Is this match point? If you can ever tell, you’ve a better eye than me.

Look how long this is and I haven’t even gotten to the casual racism, sexism, and homophobia although maybe that’s a given considering it’s a lazy, lazy 80’s comedy. It’s garbage. Avoid it.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

243. Robo Vampire

243. Robo Vampire (1988)
Director: Godfrey Ho
Writer: William Palmer
From: Sci-Fi Invasion

An anti-drug team turns one of its fallen members into a cyborg to combat drug dealers smuggling drugs in vampires. Meanwhile, one of the agents is kidnapped by the cartel and a team of mercenaries is dispatched to save her.

I know that capsule synopsis makes no sense and I’ll be straight with you: the movie doesn’t clarify it. I have a job to do, though, and that’s to describe this movie!

Sooooooooo… yeah.

Cold open on a man being led somewhere at gun point by two white men in US Army uniforms. They disturb a coffin and a Chinese hopping vampire jumps out. The unarmed man runs away as the two uniform-wearing men shoot at the vampire and eventually get killed by it. Title card!

Cut to Ko, the drug lord who looks like Matthew McConaughey’s greasy cousin (no images provided, you have to find and confirm for yourself), who tells his underlings that he’s ordered the Daoist to train vampires to fight the drug agents.

I rewound that part several times to see if I was hearing right.

Cut to the cellar of the vampires where a couple of lackeys are placing drugs in the coffins. Vampires awaken, Daoist monk comes in and puts them back in their place. Later, when he’s going to demonstrate the vampires’ powers, the ghost of a woman attacks him because she was betrothed to one of the vampires before he died and, since the monk has brought him back as a vampire, they’ve been denied the opportunity to spend eternity together. She fights the monk, the monk raises her vampire ex who refuses to attack her, and the monk agrees to marry the two to each other.

Between those two vampire scenes with the monk, the monk is transporting some drugs and gets caught in an ambush by the drug agents. He summons some vampires who kill the agents and one of the bodies is used in an experiment to create a mechanized human.

I was watching this alone and still shouted, “What the fuck?” as though someone would answer my question.

The scientist glues together discarded mannequin parts and the cut-rate RoboCop rises looking like samurai cosplay made from disposable baking tins and duct tape.

Meanwhile, or later, or elsewhere, I don’t even know at this point, the drug dealers break into a church and demand the priest tell them where he’s hiding the drugs. He says there aren’t any and, in the process of wrecking the place, they find the drugs stashed in the cross hanging over the altar. They kill him, but a woman jumps out from the back and shoots nearly all the thugs. She’s captured though and it turns out she’s a drug agent (but then why was she in the church that was hiding drugs?). The cartel subjects her to water torture to make her reveal the names of the other agents.

How am I still describing this movie? I’m not even at the halfway point!

All right. A mercenary is hired to bring the agent back. He meets up with people he knows who have their own grudges against the drug dealers and, through the standard action movie events, ends up saving the agents and killing all the gang members at the hideout. THE END for that part and, no, vampires and robots never play a part in it.

The vampires and the robot face off several times to no great effect. Bullets don’t hurt the vampires and the robot can’t get killed so those sequences just happen then peter out. Ultimately the monk is betrayed by the woman’s ghost and the robot sets the monk's body on fire. No real resolution for the robot, ghost, or vampires, but the movie’s hit the ninety-minute mark, so THE END.

Ah, Godfrey Ho, where even the English-language footage is dubbed by voices that don’t match. I’d always heard Ho constructed his movies from bits and pieces of other films, but the other movies I’d watched of his were at once more subtle and more overt than this. Ninja Champion and Ninja Empire were largely their own movies with an extraneous ninja plot filmed and spliced in. You could take those moments out and have essentially the same film.

This movie, though, is almost a masterpiece of editing. You don’t just have the separate RoboCop vs. vampires and rescue mission action movies, you have scenes that are clearly composed of shots from at least two different movies. Intellectually, it was compelling because I kept looking for the seams and trying to figure out what shot was from which movie. Narratively, it’s incomprehensible.

With all the cutting, a lot of content gets lost. I don’t know if my attention wandered (I was getting into some knitting while watching this flick, yo), but at some point in the rescue plot the drug dealer’s thug that kidnapped the agent went rogue and started helping the drug agents. Also, characters got separated from the group, they arrived in inexplicable locations, and I never knew what was going on. Then we’d cut back to hopping vampires and JiffyPop RoboCop. What was any of this?

The movie is absurd and I found it laugh-out-loud funny so it’s a recommend on that level. The movie is not, in any way, good, but it’s serviceable for a bad movie fix or as something to make fun of. Apart from that it’s a little too disjointed for watching on its own.