Friday, July 29, 2016

085. Shaolin Temple and 086. I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now?

Jump to I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now? (1975)

085. Shaolin Temple aka Seven Spirit Pagoda aka Xia Nu Bao Ta Jie (1976)
Director: Sheng Tang
Writers: Yin Yi
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: archive.org

After the Emperor is assassinated by his War Minister, the prince must be smuggled out of the city so that he may one day return and get revenge. Unfortunately, the prince is poisoned during the escape and the only antidote is guarded at a secret temple.

We open with a shot panning, jerkily, up a waterfall while an unseen narrator talks about the wonders of China and the abiding patriotism of its people. This becomes the primary theme of the movie as countless people die for the sake of the Emperor's lineage purely out of principle.

After the credits, we get an extended dance sequence for the Emperor's pleasure. At the end of the performance, a messenger arrives announcing that the minister of war has turned traitor and his forces are approaching the throne room. The minister immediately arrives and announces his plans to seize the throne. The Emperor expresses his disappointment since he'd only given the minister the position because he was the Empress' cousin. She's so humiliated by the betrayal that she commits suicide by walking at a moderate pace into a pillar.

Yup. It's basically, “Bonk, dead,” and not the only time this happens in the movie. This is about as good a barometer of the film as you're going to get.

The princess commits suicide by stabbing herself with a small hairpin and the Emperor is killed by the minister. General Ho, the Emperor's bodyguard, is tasked in the Emperor's dying breath to get the prince out safely so that he may one day get revenge by killing the minister with the same blade that killed the Emperor. Cut to the next shot with no explanation of how the General and prince escaped the throne room.

To be fair, that is a good plot hook for a samurai-based D&D game. It even suggests the basic arc of the campaign: escape the city, train the prince, return for final confrontation. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't follow that arc.

The prince is spotted while trying to leave the city, the General stays behind to hold off the guards, but the prince gets hit with a poisoned dart. The General tells his men to take the prince to the General's daughters who will then go to the sacred temple where the antidote is kept. The General dies facing off against the guards and the prince escapes. The boatman who helps him escape, by the way, kills himself afterward by bonking his head on a rock rather than accidentally reveal the General's plan.

After a few more sacrificial peasants, they meet the General's daughters, citizens die to protect him, and the prince, in no way, proves worthy of the sacrifice. He's a whiny idiot before he's poisoned and a big old sack of useless after.

The daughters split up. One stays to protect the prince, the other goes to the temple filled with swastikas (yeah, it's more than a bit weird) where she has to fight seven abbots to get the antidote. Meanwhile, the evil guards catch up with the prince and the leader who killed the General squares off with the daughter. Both fights play out concurrently so the timeline doesn't make any sense.

Temple daughter gets the antidote and returns just in time to see her sister get poisoned. They both kill the evil leader and the poisoned daughter commits suicide rather than let her sister give her the antidote. The prince is saved, immediately returns to the city, disguises himself as a beautiful dancer, and gets his revenge on the minister. The final shot of the prince is him dressed as the Emperor looking out over his court with the same stupid smile the minister had. This implies that he's going to be just as bad a ruler which I don't think was the filmmakers' intention and makes all the deaths on his behalf wasted.

Honestly, this flick was a bit of a slog. Writing out all the plot points, I actually get excited. That sounds like a good movie, game, comic, whatever. I'm down for that story. The execution, though, is just so bad. This is 100% a case of “take this story and do it better.” The dubbing is awful, the sets are cheap, and the fight scenes aren't that impressive except for one moment.

The daughter guarding the prince is fighting two of the minister's men. She kicks the sword out of the hand of one and, as it's coming down, she stabs one guard in the stomach and kicks the sword into the gut of the other. It was the one time I liked the imagination of the film. Apart from that, it almost feels like it's a parody of martial arts films, but without any wit.

This appears to be in the public domain: my copy has no copyright logos and several other sources list it as PD. I've uploaded a copy to the Internet Archive here if you feel compelled to watch it, but I can't give it much of a recommendation.


086. I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now? (1975)
Director: Steven Hilliad Stern
Writers: Mickey Rose from a story by Jerry Cutler and Mickey Rose
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In

A man in desperate need of money puts a hit out on his wife after buying a life insurance policy. When the policy is declined, though, he has to run through the list of all the people the hit job's been handed down to before his wife is killed.

I'm trying, and failing, to find a way to describe the film more than the little blurb above this. That's the plot. The movie itself is a series of goofy gags of an increasingly-frantic Oliver going down the line of people the hit job's been passed down to. Initially, Oliver paid Bobo $25,000 to kill Clarice. Bobo paid Patlow (a man in brownface doing an Indian stereotype, which, just, no) $20,000. Patlow paid Dr. Binay $16,000. He split it with CIA spy Kirsten, who split it with fascist Italian Col. Ameche, who paid an actor $6.95 to carry out the hit.

The movie has a 3.6 on IMDB and what commentary I could find on it was pretty negative, so I'm a little hesitant to admit that I like this movie.

This is unapologetically a goofball comedy in the spirit of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World or the films of Peter Sellers (who was supposed to star in this, but had a heart attack shortly before filming). Tonally, this even seems a bit like Get Smart, and that maybe highlights the central problem—those are all products of the 60's and this movie's from 1975. This doesn't have a 70's sensibility.

My perspective, though, is skewed by watching all the dreck in these Mill Creek sets. Compared to the dragging “Get it?” timing of the Crown International comedies or, god forbid, the Marimark productions, this has wit, a sense of what kind of comedy it's trying to be, and a relentless pace. There are constant gags, including my favorite line, “Divorce is serious business. It could put a severe strain on your marriage.”

And that's maybe the test. If you like that line, you'll probably enjoy the movie. If not. . .

This is listed as public domain everywhere I look, but I can't find a free copy streaming anywhere and Mill Creek stamped their name on my copies so I can't add it to archive.org. I enjoyed it and would recommend it, but not so much that you should try to pay money to watch it. If you stumble across it somehow, though, give it five minutes. You'll know if it's for you or not within that span.

Friday, July 22, 2016

083. The Crater Lake Monster and 084. Fangs of the Living Dead

Jump to Fangs of the Living Dead (1969)

083. The Crater Lake Monster (1977)
Director: William R. Stromberg
Writers: William R. Stromberg and Richard Cardella
From: Cult Cinema; Sci-Fi Invastion
Watch: Riffrax

A meteor lands in Crater Lake awakening a long-dormant monster that starts feeding on the local populace.

A scientist and his wife bring Doc into a cave to show him thousand-year-old cave paintings depicting early humans fighting a plesiosaur—a large, water-based dinosaur with flippers—proving that humans somehow co-existed with dinosaurs. A meteor crashes in the nearby lake, though, setting off tremors that collapse the cave after the scientists and Doc only just escape.

Get used to seeing a lot of Doc because the movie returns to him constantly for no reason whatsoever. Also, he looks like the dad in every mid-50's TV sitcom. It's kind of awesome.

The next day, Steve the Sheriff, played by the co-writer Richard Cardella, joins Doc and the scientists to go out on the lake and investigate the meteor. The meteor is still too hot for them to remove, so the scientists leave until the end of the movie.

In the meantime, the titular monster wakes up, eats a John Oates-looking guy, is spotted by a birdwatcher, then eats a bull. Only the report of the bull's disappearance arouses Sheriff Steve's attention, presumably because he's worried about having enough bullcrap for this movie.

On the lake, Mitch and Arnie are running a boat rental/bait shop business. They're the comic relief, which, in these films, means they're not funny. Also, they become the main characters for the next 45 minutes to an hour. They rent a boat to a tourist, he gets eaten by the monster, they bring Doc in to examine the blood-filled boat, and he doesn't have anything to say.

Mitch and Arnie bicker with each other over how they're going to keep the business running, who really does the work, who's going to get a date with the waitress at the local diner, and stumble across the head of the guy who disappeared on the boat. Sheriff Steve yells at them to stay out of the water and not do any more rentals, but they've already rented to a couple who are currently out on the lake.

The couple, in full daylight, keep talking about how beautiful a night it is (how can you not love this?), and then the monster shows up. They flee, ground the boat, and set it on fire, for some reason, which manages to scare the monster off. Mitch and Arnie find the couple, bring them back to town, and get yelled at by Sheriff Steve.

Then we cut to the apartment of a mustachioed man who puts a gun in his belt, goes to a liquor store and murders both the clerk and a customer. 100% “Meanwhile, in another movie.”

Back at the lake, Mitch and Arnie bicker, nothing moves forward, then the mustachioed man from the other movie shows up, has a shoot-out with Sheriff Steve, drives his car off a cliff, runs, and gets eaten by the monster. This is when Sheriff Steve starts to suspect something is up. So he talks to Doc.

Finally, Sheriff Steve is attacked by the monster, escapes, and brings Doc to examine the tracks it left. They both go to the scientists, who are part of the movie again, who decide to capture the monster instead of killing it. Sheriff Steve objects, but he has no idea how to kill the monster. At a town meeting the next day, Mitch and Arnie agree with the scientists that the monster should be taken alive because it'll mean lots of tourism dollars for the town. Unfortunately, the monster is already moving about.

They drive to where it is, Arnie gets bit, dies, and Sheriff Steve, somehow, kills the monster with a snow plow. Doc arrives to examine the carnage as Mitch collapses to the ground in grief over his partner Arnie.

Oh man, is this movie deliciously stupid. It's perfunctory on the one hand, but has at least the hint of a budget and evidence of competence behind the camera. What torpedoes it is a mix of the idea that they're doing something amazing and the ham-fisted attempt to turn Sheriff Steve, the co-writer, remember, into an action star. That dog don't hunt.

Don't flush!
The Wikipedia page for this movie is kind of interesting for noting Cardella's complaints about Crown's financing of the film. His issue with the soundtrack is legit—this sounds like an episode of Gilligan's Island. It's also worth mentioning the monster, which looks all right. It's Ray Harryhausen-esque stop-motion, and generally works, except for a few scenes of the monster's neck rising from the water which looks like a turd with a face. The movie doesn't skimp on the beast, either. It shows up at 14:30 and then consistently throughout the rest of the picture. So often, in fact, that you have to wonder how Sheriff Steve missed it for so long.

Definitely a recommend. It's a silly movie, but actually looks pretty good and moves along quickly enough. As I noted above, Riffrax did a take on it, and it's certainly highly-riffable. Gather your popcorn, pizza, and pals and I guarantee you a grand time.


084. Fangs of the Living Dead aka Malenka (1969)
Director: Amando de Ossorio
Writer: Amando de Ossorio
From: Pure Terror
Watch: Riffrax

Sylvia, two weeks before her wedding, learns that she's inherited a castle and title, so goes to see the estate. Once there, though, she learns of her family's vampiric past and of her own cursed existence.

Sylvia, one of Italy's best models, has learned from her uncle that, with the death of her mother, Sylvia has inherited not only her mother's castle, but the title of Countess as well. She goes to the little village to look things over, but finds the townspeople horrified once they learn of her heritage. At the castle, her uncle tells her of her family's great history, particularly of her grandmother Malenka, a brilliant biochemist who started dabbling in the dark arts and learned how to raise the dead. Malenka was burned as a witch, but not before bringing Sylvia's “uncle” back from the dead as a vampire. He tells her she can never leave the village or get married because of the family's curse.

Sylvia breaks off her engagement, but her fiancé comes to the castle with his friend to find out the truth. In town, the fiancé treats a woman with anemia, but she dies that night after a visit from the uncle. The local doctor suggests burying her in the old way with a stake through the heart, but the fiancé refuses.

Meanwhile, in the castle, Sylvia is refusing to drink her uncle's blood and become a vampire. The woman from town returns, now a vampire. Sylvia escapes to the Inn, her fiancé, friend, and the doctor go to kill the new vampire, and Sylvia is kidnapped and taken back to the castle. The trio end up there as well where the uncle ties up the fiancé and reveals the plan all along has been to drive Sylvia insane, make her think she's a vampire, and then steal her inheritance from her.

Sylvia comes to kill her fiancé, but is actually aware of the plan, unties him, and he stabs the uncle with a torch which makes him age, crumble, and die, apparently having been a vampire all along.

The movie doesn't make much sense at the end.

This starts out promisingly enough. You have doctors smoking while doing research, seriously bad dubbing, and some legitimately fantastic aesthetics. The sets look great, the colors and costumes really pop, and the whole thing looks like what Elvira was parodying in Elvira's Haunted Hills. The movie just loses its way after the first act, though. The fiancé shows up and is just kind of boorish, Slyvia's trapped in the castle, not exploring or trying to escape, and there really aren't any vampire antics going on. The film just kind of stops.

There is a Riffrax version of this, which would certainly make the experience better, and there's plenty to make fun of here, it's just that it's never quite campy enough to be really funny or enjoyable. It's one that I'm going to have to pass on recommending.

Friday, July 15, 2016

081. Slipstream and 082. I Eat Your Skin

Jump to I Eat Your Skin (1971)

081. Slipstream (1989)
Director: Steven Lisberger
Writer: Tony Kayden
From: Sci-Fi Invastion

In a post-apocalyptic world dominated by a globe-spanning wind known as “the slipstream,” Matt Owens steals the fugitive Byron from lawman Tasker to claim the bounty for himself. Now it’s a race to get downstream before Tasker catches up to them or any of the myriad threats they encounter seal their fate.

Byron is on the run from lawman Tasker (Mark Hamill) and his partner Belitski. Just as Byron is about to ride the titular slipstream—the super-wind that dominates the planet after worldwide ecological catastrophe—the pair capture him. However, they lose him at a little dive bar once huckster Matt Owens (Bill Paxton) learns there’s a bounty out on Byron and kidnaps him. As they’re escaping, Tasker shoots Owens with a poisoned dart that includes a tracking device. Now the movie is off and running with a very straightforward chase narrative.

Only it’s not. There’s never any sense of a clock in this film or any tension arising from how close Tasker and Belitski may be to Byron and Owens. Instead, the movie plays out almost as a picaresque of this only-just post-apocalyptic world. Characters talk about what they were doing before the “Convergence” that caused all the destruction, but the spaces seem generations away from anything we’d call familiar or modern day. I mean, Owens makes a pitstop at his home where all the people he knows are sitting in a hot tub together, fully clothed. Meanwhile, Tasker and Belitski are talking about quitting the law game and opening up a mink farm. Throughout the movie, Owens talks about opening a hot-air balloon company. I never imagined an apocalypse that left people considering small-business loans.

So they move on. Byron and Owens land in a village populated by wind cultists and then travel to a hidden city where the rich try to live in a manner they remember. Tasker periodically catches up with them, is thwarted, and finally gets killed by Byron after having killed a woman Byron had fallen in love with.

Oh, and Byron’s an android. That comes out about halfway through and it plays out in a very Commander Data-ish sort of way. And that’s really it. The movie doesn’t have a driving plot or much incident at all, it’s mostly a half-hearted tour through this science-fantasy landscape that can never quite make up its mind as to what it’s supposed to be.

This film is an odd duck that should be much better than it is. It has an amazing cast including Mark Hamill, Bill Paxton, and Bob Peck, along with cameos from Robbie Coltrane, F. Murray Abraham, and Ben Kingsley. The director did Tron and the producer did Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. There’s no lack of talent or skill here, but every part of the movie doesn’t work, but only just. The line deliveries—especially by Belitski—are just a little off, the metaphors are just a touch too heavy-handed, and the sense of place never quite congeals. The movie’s slow and boring, which you can get away with if you’re presenting something fantastical, but the images and ideas here are so pedestrian.

That said, this is highly-riffable. It’s a bit excruciating to watch alone, but has so many poor line deliveries and odd choices that you can rip it up one side and down the other. This feels like something Mystery Science Theater 3000 should have done. I see mentions online of it being public domain, including on the film’s Wikipedia page (which is worth a read just for the sad story of how this tanked Gary Kurtz’s career), but that seems unlikely. It’s more likely an orphaned work, which is slightly different. Either way, it’s not too hard to find and can be a lot of fun with the right friends.


082. I Eat Your Skin aka Zombie aka Zombie Bloodbath (1971)
Director: Del Tenney
Writer: Del Tenney
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: Elvira, Shocker Internet Drive-In, archive.org

Tom Harris travels to Voodoo Island to research an upcoming book. While there, he finds sacrificial rites, zombies stalking the island, and a mad scientist's plot to conquer the world.

The movie opens with a voodoo ceremony that, frankly, sets the wrong tone. It's boring, annoying, and potentially racist, which are certainly things that can be said of the film, but it lacks the breezy, almost flip tone of the rest of the movie.

We cut from the over-long opening to the pool at a swanky resort. Author Tom Harris is telling a story to a group of enraptured women when his agent shows up telling him to leave. The agent has found out about a mysterious place called “Voodoo Island” that should be a great setting for Tom's next book. When one of the womens' husbands tries to chase Tom down, Tom decides it is time to leave.

Tom, his agent, and his agent's wife fly to the island, arriving just as they run out of gas. Tom goes looking for help and finds a local who is then decapitated by a zombie. The overseer of the island's plantation saves Tom and takes him and the rest of his party to the plantation where he works for a doctor who's researching a cure for cancer. The doctor's daughter Jeannie is also on the island and Tom immediately begins courting her.

Things escalate: zombies keep appearing, there are rumors of an upcoming sacrifice that will involve Jeannie, and things keep interfering with Tom's attempts to leave the island. Ultimately, it's revealed that the doctor has developed not a cure for cancer, but the zombie formula and the overseer has been using local Voodoo traditions to seize control and create an indestructible zombie army. The doctor kills the overseer before he can sacrifice Jeannie, the doctor gets stabbed, and Tom, Jennie, the agent, and his wife manage to escape the island just before it blows up.

There is the trope that Mystery Science Theater 3000 pilloried constantly of the doughy white guy who really doesn't do anything. Tom doesn't so much investigate things as stumble upon information. The movie avoids the worst parts of that trope, though, by having Tom constantly trying to get off the island. He's not interested in the mystery, he's not trying to figure out the source of the zombies, he's trying to GTFO at the first sign of trouble and take his friends with him.

Plus the film has a flippant tone. The agent and his wife are always joke-bickering with each other that feels like a nod to screwball comedies and they spend most of the movie just getting drunk together. In fact, the ethic of the movie could be described as trying to get back poolside before the martinis arrive. I dug that tone.

Yes, there are slow parts, and, yes, there are goofy effects: the zombie make-up looks like dried oatmeal and, despite the title, no skin gets eaten. You do see a zombie walk into a moving propeller while carrying a box of explosives, so I appreciated that. Overall, I enjoyed the movie. There is an episode of Elvira's Movie Macabre that features it and, since it's in the public domain, there are several copies on archive.org (that link goes to the MPEG version). It's also featured as part of the Shocker Internet Drive-In double-feature. Any is a good way to see the movie for yourself, and I recommend it. It's light, breezy, short, easily-riffable but fun enough on its own.

Friday, July 08, 2016

079. End of the World and 080. Doomsday Machine

Jump to Doomsday Machine (1972)

079. End of the World (1977)
Director: John Hayes
Writer: Frank Ray Perilli
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: archive.org

A NASA scientist decodes messages from space that predict natural disasters. As he investigates a companion broadcast coming from Earth, he begins uncovering a plot for world destruction.

This movie opens with Christopher Lee going into a local diner to call the police, but as he approaches the phone, it explodes as does some of the equipment in the kitchen, which kills the diner’s owner. Lee returns to his convent only to be greeted at the door by his doppelgänger and then vanish from the film for the next hour.

Instead of screen legend Christopher Lee, we’re left with Andrew, a NASA scientist who’s brilliant, just brilliant. So brilliant, in fact, that he’s getting a special award and a banquet in his honor for sciencing. Why, Andrew’s just the best at sciencing! And speaking! We know this because we’re told he’s getting an award for his sciencing and then everyone complements him on his speaking. We don’t ever see either, but these characters seem trustworthy. I’m comfortable just being told what the characters are about instead of seeing it for myself.

Andrew is involved in two projects at NASA. One is his actual job to research or purify or study some kind of gem and it only comes up once so that we’ll remember it for the end of the movie. The other is a lead he’s following on his own of strange signals coming from space, some being repeated back from a terrestrial source. Just before the banquet, he successfully decodes one of the signals as “Large Earth Disruption.” That evening, there’s a massive earthquake. Or volcanic eruption. I forget and don’t have it listed in my notes, but that’s okay because Andrew’s not particularly curious about it either or about why space signals would be broadcast in English.

Anyway, Andrew and his wife Sylvia are sent on a speaking tour because he’s so good at science and convincing people about the importance of science that NASA wants him to talk to college students to convince them to study space science and not ecology, which is what all the hip kids were doing. We don’t see any of these speeches or the crowds won over by his eloquence, but we’re told they exist.

Between speaking engagements, Andrew checks his space answering machine and figures out the signals are coming from a convent not to far from him. He and his wife investigate and are kidnapped by the aliens who have taken the form of the priest and nuns. Christopher Lee reappears and his human version dies. Andrew and Sylvia try to escape, but Lee makes things explode around them. He sends Andrew back to NASA to get the gem Andrew was working on at the beginning so the aliens can power their transporter and leave the Earth. Oh, and spoiler alert, they were there to destroy the planet the whole time, they just wanted to leave before everything went splodey.

As Andrew and Sylvia watch stock footage of natural disasters, they decide it’s better to risk life on an alien planet than die on Earth and walk through the transporter. After they leave, the movie lives up to its title and the Earth blows up. THE END.

A comment on archive.org claims Lee was tricked into being in this movie, and that’s plausible. There’s just not much movie here. Most of it is Andrew and Sylvia going from poorly-lit location to poorly-lit location and not doing much. There is some camp pleasure to be had. This is a Charles Band production so the explosions are pretty good, and gratuitous, and just plain silly, and the aliens’ excuse for destroying the Earth is pretty similar to the ones offered in the Starman movies--specifically that the Earth is going to be a vector for disease throughout the universe so it has to be destroyed.

Yeah, neckbeards got Cheeto dust on Voyager so the universe got together to blow us up before we could gunk up their stuff.

There’s not a whole lot to the movie and the best parts are the ones with Christopher Lee in them. The picture is public domain, but, unfortunately, Mill Creek wiped their dick all over my copy with their logo. There is a copy on archive.org, though, so it can be seen for free. The movie’s good enough to fill some time and be a new addition to the standard horror host rotation, but isn’t quite bad enough to be fun or good enough to excite.


080. Doomsday Machine (1972)
Directors: Harry Hope, Lee Sholem, and Herbert J. Leder
Writer: Stuart J. Byrne
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: Elvira; Cinematic Titanic; archive.org

A two-year manned mission to Venus has three members of its crew swapped out for women after spies discover the Chinese have developed a doomsday machine. Now the crew faces the possibility that their mission is not one of exploration but of survival of the species.

The movie opens with a spy breaking into a Chinese weapons factory by literally throwing a cat over the wall. That really establishes the tone of the film and it never manages to come back. The spy takes pictures of the titular doomsday machine--a bomb that will start a nuclear chain reaction and destroy the planet--and reveals to US authorities that it’ll be detonated in just over two days.

Meanwhile, the ASTRA mission to Venus (where it rains sulphuric acid) has it’s departure time moved up by an hour and three of its crew are replaced by women, much to the consternation of the rest of the crew. On the plus side, one of them notes, there’ll be someone to wash his socks.

On the ship, the crew start pairing off almost immediately, with Captain Kurt (not Kirk), becoming overtly aggressive with Kate. Choice lines: As he forces himself upon her, he notes they’ll be “cozy together for a nice long time. So why don’t you relax and enjoy it?” After she responds, he says, “Do I need to use force?”

Delightful.

Anyway, Earth blows up, they realize their situation, Kurt and Katie start going space crazy, and then the ship’s doctor says unless four of the seven crew members blast themselves out of the airlock, they won’t make it to Venus without becoming sterile. Kurt throws a fit, tries to rape Katie, but ends up blowing both him and her out the airlock (in a hilariously bad wire ballet sequence).

The ship continues toward Venus, but as it’s entering orbit, the final booster gets stuck. Danny, the “comic” member of the crew, and Georgianna, the Russian representative, work the booster loose, but end up stranded in space. However, they spot a derelict Russian craft from an earlier mission and climb into that. As they’re following the ASTRA to the surface, the ASTRA vanishes and the collected minds of the Venusians tell them not to try to land on their planet or they’ll likewise be destroyed. After seeing what the Earthenoids did to their own planet, the Venusians won’t let them on Venus (shades of End of the World). Danny and Georgianna are instead sent off beyond the edge of the universe for some kind of adventure something stuff who knows it just says “THE END.”

What to say? I’d seen this before in the Elvira episode, although I’d forgotten that even Elvira makes some racist jokes. The episode’s from 1983, but that’s more explanation than excuse. It’s not like she’s going beyond the bounds that the movie itself establishes. At one point, Danny refers to the Chinese as “chopstick jockeys.”

This is a movie largely without incident. The men are kept in the dark about why the women have been added to their crew, but we, as viewers, already know about the titular threat. That doesn’t stop the men from immediately flirting with the women. In fact, most of the movie is the couples pairing off and pretending there’s chemistry.

Literally halfway through, the Earth explodes in an avalanche of stock footage, and then it’s back to flirting mixed with some weeping and catatonic stares. Then someone has to do the airlock walk, Venus says “Get off my lawn,” and the movie ends. Interesting point about the end: they ran out of money. The final sequence in the Russian shuttle features different actors in different costumes and it draaaaaaaaaaags. It’s very literally tacked on which just adds to the cheapness of the film. Another sign of that: the ASTRA is several different ships throughout the movie because they never built their own model, the producers just used footage of spaceships from other movies. They’re not even spaceships that look like each other.

This flick is real stupid, but passably watchable. It has nice colors, which seems like damning with faint praise, but it was shot in the late 60’s/early 70’s so there’s some camp pleasure in the ridiculous color schemes that appear on the walls. Also, all the chairs on the spaceship are La-Z-Boys and there’s a cameo appearance by the famous Casey Kasem. The movie is public domain, but, as with the movie above, Mill Creek had to write their name all across it. There is, though, a copy on archive.org as well as an episode of Cinematic Titanic. The movie’s retrograde politics plus general silliness make it highly riffable, but I’m not sure it’d be fun with a group of friends. It’s probably best to stick to the Elvira or Cinematic Titanic versions.

Friday, July 01, 2016

077. Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe and 078. Almost Hollywood

Jump to Almost Hollywood (1994)

077. Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940)
Directors: Ford Beebe and Ray Taylor
Writers: George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, and Barry Shipman based on the Alex Raymond comic strip
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: serial on archive.org (ep1)

A compilation of the serial by the same name featuring Flash facing off against the evil Emperor Ming who is attacking the Earth with his evil “death dust.”

Like many of these movies cut together from serials, this one is full of incident, but moves slowly. Imagine whittling an entire season of a TV show into 90 minutes and you have a pretty good sense of what this feels like. On top of that, this is the 2nd or 3rd one of these so there's no character development or explanation of the setting at all. Since I don't know the Flash Gordon story, I was really confused. Apparently there are multiple planets or Ming is the evil ruler of one country on another planet?

The inciting incident is a disease called “the Purple Death” is striking Earth and it's caused by Ming. So Flash faces off with Ming's forces several times, ends up in, and then escaping, Ming's fortress, and eventually saves the day. I'd say more, but every mini-arc within the movie is a variation of that.

This might be more compelling if watched as the actual serials. Each of those is 15-30 minutes long, so there's probably more going on. Also, it's interesting if you think of it as a structure for a D&D game—you have a constantly escalating series of encounters with the big bad that ends in a crescendo of action. Pretty fun as a game. Not so great as a movie.

I don't think this is actually PD. It's a moot point since my copy has the Mill Creek bug on it, but this is a Universal serial, and I think the studios were pretty careful with not letting their products fall into the public domain. That said, the entire serial is available on archive.org starting here, so you might be able to see a more entertaining version than I did.


078. Almost Hollywood (1994)
Director: Michael Weaver
Writer: Michael Weaver
From: Cult Cinema

A producer at Straight-to-Video productions starts finding his comfortable world under attack as his financers want to up the production value and people who have been crossing him start ending up dead.

Two years after The Player skewered Hollywood pomposity and self-importance, we get Almost Hollywood, a movie that strives to do the same for the world of low-budget filmmaking. If only it were that smart.

We open with a man tied to a bed, a woman in lingerie, and a bad synth score. This may well be a Skinimax production, especially since she’s topless before 2:10. She approaches the bed, pulls out an ice pick, and the guy gives the best line read of the movie. “No. Not you. You’re the one who killed my brother and his boyfriend.” Read it in the flattest, most affectless voice you can and you’ll be close to how gloriously bad the delivery is.

Then someone yells, “Cut,” and it’s revealed that this is all a movie-within-a-movie and we’re on the set of Straight To Video productions, a company that releases low-budget softcore films that it’s head producer insists on calling “erotic thrillers.” The director is a guy in brownface doing a really bad Indian stereotype, which is also his character. I mean, his character is literally a guy from Cleveland who is doing brownface and a bad Indian stereotype so he can get ahead in Hollywood.

And there we have the central problem of the film. Is that clever, or crap? It’s not pulled off at all, I’m not trying to imply that it is, but is the gag there because this isn’t too far from the reality of the straight-to-video scene, or is it just supposed to be its own joke? It’s the question you can ask about every part of this movie.

So the producer steps in, he’s a scumbag cheating on his wife with the lead actress who he’s just stringing along, and no one likes him. The financers want to class up their productions so they’ve signed a multi-picture deal with a former Playboy Playmate to star in films written and directed by her idiot boyfriend. Around the same time, the lead actress, angry at being screwed out of yet another role, tells the producer’s wife about the affair. He’s kicked out of the house, moves back with his mother, and the actress is murdered on set.

This, by the way, is forty minutes into the movie. The producer is the obvious suspect, but there’s no evidence linking him to the crime, so things continue. The Playmate takes over the role in the mid-production film, her boyfriend takes over directing, but he doesn’t know what he’s doing so everything’s going over-schedule and over-budget. Now the financers are breathing down the producer’s neck to sort things out. Then the idiot boyfriend gets murdered.

Again, the producer is the suspect, but the show must go on so his assistant, who’s been gunning for a directing job throughout the movie, takes over the role of director. Because the producer has become a lightning-rod for controversy, the financers fire him and replace him with his assistant. Then the assistant reveals to the producer that, big surprise, he’s the real killer, and has framed the producer. At the last moment, a cop barges in and shoots the producer whose last words are, “I like my movies.”

We close with an extended epilogue on set of everything going great for the killer, then a credit sequence of the killer and the Playmate in a hot tub together. That credit sequence, though, is another meta gag, repeating the trope of it being a movie-within-a-movie.

This is an “edgy” satire without the comic timing or bite of satire, which is a real shame. The Player in the softcore industry would actually make an interesting film. American Movie demonstrates just how weird independent production can get and I’m sure the straight-to-video realm has its own particular quirks. This doesn’t explore that, though. There’s ultimately no wit to it nor any understanding of what makes these low-budget pieces unique. It’s just a bunch of unlikeable people being dicks, and somehow that’s supposed to be enough. That it fails to suffice probably isn’t surprising. Too dull and uninspired to recommend, even as a bad movie. I do recommend, though, the user review on the film’s IMDB page from Wizard-8 who has a glorious hate-on for this film. Having watched it, I will say he is too kind.