Sunday, December 31, 2017

Year in Review: 2017

Misery Mill Year in Review: 2017

2017, Jesus. Even without politics it's been a year. I'm having difficulty remembering what movies I saw this year, specifically remembering that they were from this year. Spider-Man: Homecoming was only just this summer, as was Get Out, which seems impossible. As I'm writing this, I still haven't managed to see the new Star Wars and I probably won't for a while yet--not because of any of the vitriol, though. Frankly, all the complaints make it sound like something I'd like. I'm putting it off because there will be time to see Star Wars and I'm more concerned with seeing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri before that leaves theaters. I did manage to catch a few screenings at this year's Philadelphia Film Festival, which was nice since it'll be my last one. Of course, most of the movies I saw came from the Graveyard Shift, aka the festival's genre offerings. Three stood out:

Takashi Miike's Blade of the Immortal was nice, but felt like it was trying to make too many nods to what are larger plots in the manga and anime. One very nice aspect of the movie was its repetition of every character having their own story, but having to recognize that this story isn't their story.

A movie I enjoyed a bit more even though narratively it's a bigger mess than anything I've seen recently was Jeong Byeong-Gil's The Villainess. The opening sequence had a higher body count than most films I've seen, and I've seen some monstrous movies. The plot is profoundly absurd and all the better for it. Plus the action sequences aren't just brutal and inventive, they necessitate a making-of documentary. If there isn't a visual effects special on the Blu-ray, it's not worth buying.

The final movie I'll mention actually comes out next year: Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead's The Endless. The only thing I'll say is don't watch any trailers, don't read any descriptions, just go in cold. The movie has a turn that I'm sure will make a lot of people check out, but it's best to go in and have the elements unveiled for you the way they are for the characters. What I can safely say of the plot is the starting point: two brothers escaped a UFO cult ten years before. After receiving a video from the cult, the two decide to go back to answer lingering questions. I really loved it.

In my personal life, for a variety of reasons, I decided to quit working in higher ed and pursue teaching English overseas. I'll be getting my teaching certification in the next few months and, hopefully by August I'll be in Korea starting a new job. I'm excited, nervous, and reconsidering a lot of my life. On a less introspective note, I've also started hosting a bad movie night at a local bottle shop, specifically The Bottle Shop. Trash Tuesdays every Tuesday at 8. I only started this December, but I'm hopeful it'll be a thing by the time I leave in August. I can guarantee several peak pieces from the Misery Mill will be screened.

Anyway, what all this means for the Misery Mill itself is very little. I'll have all the movies with me and will continue to watch and review them at the rate of two a week, hopefully getting everything done in a reasonable time. All that said, let's get to the purpose of this post, the Misery Mill Year in Review:

So far I've watched 237 of the 400 movies, but, because some of the movies are on multiple sets, I've actually knocked 292 movies off the list (because my list includes the movies from the Sci-Fi and Horror packs that I watched before, the number is actually 392 out of 501). I said when I started this project that it would take me until August 2019. Last year, I said the final date will be March 15, 2019. The current end point is January 18, 2019. The thought that I'll be finishing off most of these box sets in the next year is staggering.

Fun movies of note from this year:

A Bucket of Blood
City Ninja
Click: The Calendar Girl Killer
(kind of)
Fighting Mad
The House That Screamed
The Kidnapping of the President
Memorial Valley Massacre
Ninja Champion
The Patriot
(WTF WTF WTF)
Top Cop

Here, as of 31 December, 2017, are the movies currently available through the Internet Archive. Links lead to the Misery Mill posts which have links to streaming copies:
All the Kind Strangers
The Amazing Transparent Man
Anatomy of a Psycho
Atomic Rulers of the World

The Bat
Battle Beyond the Sun
Beast From Haunted Cave
The Big Fight
Black Cobra
Black Fist
Blood Mania
Bloodlust!
The Bloody Brood
Bloody Pit of Horror
A Bucket of Blood

Carnival of Crime
City Ninja
Counterblast
Curse of Bigfoot

The Day the Sky Exploded
Death Machines
Death Rage
Deep Red
The Demon
Devil Times Five
The Devil’s Hand
The Disappearance of Flight 412
Don't Look in the Basement
Doomsday Machine
The Driller Killer
The Dungeon of Harrow

Embryo
End of the World
Eternal Evil
Evil Brain From Outer Space

Fighting Mad

The Giant of Metropolis
Good Against Evil
Grave of the Vampire
Green Eyes
Guru, the Mad Monk
The Guy From Harlem

Hands of a Stranger
Hands of Death
Horror Express
Horrors of Spider Island

I Bury the Living
I Eat Your Skin
The Image of Bruce Lee
The Impossible Kid
Infernal Street
Invaders From Space
Invasion of the Bee Girls
Iron Angel
It's Alive

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter

Keep My Grave Open
Kung Fu Arts

The Legend of Bigfoot

Mama Dracula
Man in the Attic
Manos: The Hands of Fate
The Manster
Mesa of Lost Women
The Mistress of Atlantis
Monstroid
Moon of the Wolf

Night Fright
Night of the Blood Beast
Ninja Death
Ninja Heat

Prisoners of the Lost Universe

Radio Ranch
Rattlers
The Real Bruce Lee
The Return of the Kung-Fu Dragon
The Revenges of Doctor X

The Sadist
Scared to Death
Shadow Ninja
Shadow of Chinatown
Shaolin Temple
Shock
Silent Night, Bloody Night
Sisters of Death
Slashed Dreams
Snowbeast
Star Odyssey

Throw Out the Anchor!
TNT Jackson
Track of the Moon Beast

War of the Robots
The Werewolf of Washington

Saturday, December 30, 2017

237. It's Alive

237. It’s Alive (1969)
Director: Larry Buchanan
From: Sci-Fi Invasion
Watch: archive.org

Three people are captured by a backwoods trapper who plans to feed them to the prehistoric creature he discovered.

Another movie where the blurb really sums it all up. A couple is driving across the country on a road trip because the wife hasn’t been outside of New York City. Her husband, Norman, is a prick. Not just to her, to everyone, so at least he’s consistent. He dies, which is not unexpected or unenjoyable. Before we get there, though, they take a wrong turn while heading for a national park. As they’re running low on gas, they get directions to a farm down the way. When they arrive, the owner says his drum is dry, but the truck will be by any time and invites them in.

And I’m not going to detail this because you know how it goes. The owner is a master trapper and has caught a prehistoric creature. He imprisons the couple and the man who gave them directions, in the cave that leads to the creature’s lair. Norman gets et which, as I noted above, is pleasant so I decided to mention it again, and the other two try to figure out how to escape.

Part of their plan involves Stella, a woman the owner has kept in a state of servile terror for the past two years. She overhears the owner tell the new woman that he might let her take Stella’s place, which is the proverbial straw. Stella tells her story in an extended flashback that only has narration and bed music, no dialogue, not even when Stella and the owner are talking. She agrees to smuggle in dynamite to help them escape, the owner realizes something’s up and doses their coffee, but Stella manage to stand up to the owner as the creature approaches, lights the dynamite, and the couple escapes as the cave collapses. Stella and the owner are dead and the fate of the creature is unknown as the words “THE END?” appear on screen.

So it’s a bad movie. That’s not impressive. What is impressive is just how bad it is. The pleasure of this movie is its incompetence. There’s the long opening sequence of people driving with narration over it. There’s the long middle section that’s a flashback with only narration and bed music. And there’s the monster. Oh my, the monster. It’s the Creature’s nerdy little brother. This monster isn’t threatening the characters, it’s looking for its inhaler.

The movie is a made-for-TV piece by Larry Buchanan who made several low-budget goofball TV horror films, among them Attack of the Eye Creatures, Zontar: The Thing From Venus, and Curse of the Swamp Creature. He’s a seminal figure in the so-bad-it’s-good canon and it feels like he’s a poor man’s Roger Corman.

And if you’re thinking, Roger Corman ain’t pricey, you’re right. Still, generally speaking, Buchanan’s pictures are small, simple affairs that are competent enough to entertain for 80 minutes. It’s Alive is really low-budget, really stripped back, and is a hairsbreadth away from being Manos: The Hands of Fate. In fact, it’s probably films like Buchanan’s that made Harold P. Warren think he could pull off Manos. However, that hairsbreadth matters and it’s the difference of being watchable or unwatchable. This movie gets pretty close to the latter, especially during that extended flashback, but remains on the side of the angels. As a bonus, it’s in the public domain. Unfortunately, my copy has a BS copyright claim stamped on it by Mill Creek claiming it as the “Retromedia Special Edition.” There’s nothing special about this edition. However, someone else found a copy without that vandalism on it and uploaded it to archive.org here. I wouldn’t recommend this for casual viewing because it does get so dull, but it’d be a hoot to riff and maybe even do some interesting editing projects with.

Friday, December 29, 2017

236. Trauma

236. Trauma aka Rings of Fear aka Enigma rosso (1978)
Director: Alberto Negrin
Writers: Marcello Coscia, Massimo Dallamano, Franco Ferrini, Stefano Ubezio, Alberto Negrin, and Peter Berling
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In

A young girl’s body is found brutally violated. The investigation into her death uncovers a sordid situation at a nearby private school.

I’ve read a few descriptions of this movie and it seems like there are a variety of versions with events in different orders. I’m not wholly surprised by that since this was a Spanish/Italian/German co-production which means there are potentially translations to English from each version. Also, with six credited screenwriters (IMDB offers a further two for the German version), I’m not surprised that there’s confusion over what the movie’s about or what happens. I’m going to describe the version I watched, although it sounds like “sordid” is a fitting description no matter what version you stumble across.

The movie opens with the girl’s body being dumped from a car. Then the car and a motorcycle leave the scene. Since the movie is trying to keep the identity of the killers a secret the entire time, it constantly cuts back to this motorcycle and car pair to indicate “something is up.” Police arrive at the scene and call in our hero, Inspector Di Salvo, played by Fabio Testi. Since “Testi” is more fun to say, that’s what I’m going to call him.

The girl has deep abdominal wounds caused by a blunt object and the autopsy reveals that she might have been pregnant. I say “might” because the audio wasn’t great and I couldn’t tell if Testi was saying that she was, had been, or at least wasn’t. “This point wasn’t made clear” is the leitmotif of the movie.

The girl went to an elite private school where she was part of a group called “The Inseparables.” The girl’s little sister gives Testi a satchel from the girl’s locker that’s filled with money. Meanwhile, in a shower scene involving several young women in full-frontal nudity, one of the Inseparables starts feeling sick.

Things start moving forward: Testi is abrupt and rude to all his potential subjects, moving the investigation forward more due to accident than through active investigation. The little sister continues to provide him with evidence and information from within the school. As this is happening, someone keeps attacking the surviving Inseparables.

I’m not going to go into more plot details because it is as mystery/thriller and part of the pleasure is seeing that plot unfold, even if it makes no sense in the context of this movie. Obviously the Inseparables are having sex for money—the sick girl is pregnant and has to get an abortion—but the nature of the situation and who’s involved unfolds in an interesting way. I’d almost recommend this as a companion piece to The Silencer since that movie also dealt with moving through a child sex ring member-by-member. The difference here is Trauma actually focuses on the victims and perpetrators as characters instead of the weird drama of their hunter.

On the one hand, I feel like I’m giving the movie short shrift. I was pretty tired when I was watching it and had to rewind several times to catch parts I’d drifted off through. That said, I set my alarm to wake me up because I assumed I’d be falling asleep constantly and largely didn’t need it. The movie is visually interesting enough, establishes questions and ramps up tension largely through the cinematography. Plus it’s over-the-top in a way that borders on camp, but not so much so that you can only take campy pleasure in it. You can watch this as a serious thriller, although with a bit of the surreal logic giallo films tend to have, or you can watch this ironically to riff on and laugh at. The line, I think, is between if you want to be shocked at the attempts at titillation or laugh at the idea that this is titillating.

I’ll admit that I was surprised by the ultimate villain, but most of that was due to the fact that there was no way for you to know that this character was behind everything. Then it turns out there’s a twist, which I’d called early in the movie, only I had the motivation wrong. So I have to give the movie credit for that: it surprised me, although not for the reasons it meant to. Ultimately I’d give this a light recommend. It’s not a movie I’d encourage anyone to seek out, but it’s one of the better ones from these sets. As a flick, it’s watchable, riffable, and executed with more than a minimum of competence. It’s just not anything remarkable.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

235. Hands of Death

235. Hands of Death aka The Tongfather aka Da e kou (1974)
Director: Peng Tien
Writer: Peng Tien
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: archive.org

A pair of special agents is sent to destroy a drug cartel after an undercover agent is killed.

I don’t have much to say about Hands of Death. The movie doesn’t really have characters, just actors who end up in fight scenes. In fact the movie felt like a beat-em-up video game. Our heroes spawn in the level, they fight off a series of interchangeable goons, and then face off against the level’s boss. In the end the meet up with the big bad, defeat his two bodyguards, and then defeat him. THE END.

Normally I have the super-brief summaries for movies that I kind of hate. There won’t be anything to say about the movie and I was generally bored throughout it. For Hands of Death, I’ll admit to being a little bored, but that’s mostly because I’m interested in story and character moments in movies. This didn’t have any character moments. Initially it seemed like the heroes were going to lurk in the background and spark a clan war amongst the local drug dealers, but that falls by the wayside pretty quickly and it’s just them working their way up the ladder to the head drug dealer.

The movie has style, though, and is a straight-forward action flick. All the fat has been cut away to just leave you with the characters arriving, spotting the villains, and then kicking their asses. The fight sequences were good—well-shot and choreographed—and things moved along well enough. My only disappointment was there was no longer any sense of momentum or space by the halfway point. The movie had just devolved into fight after fight after fight. I never even had a sense of how close they were to the main guy until the final battle and he was sitting there.

Overall, it’s an all right flick. Good fights, zero character, but at least my print was in widescreen. This is a better-than-okay looking movie. Plus, it appears to be in the public domain. I’ve added a copy to archive.org here. I’m sure there are ways you can find to enjoy it.

Friday, December 22, 2017

234. Good Against Evil

234. Good Against Evil (1977)
Director: Paul Wendkos
Writer: Jimmy Sangster
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: archive.org

A young woman, unbeknownst to her, is being groomed to eventually give birth to the devil’s child. Strange events start to surround her as she begins a relationship with a young man.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Here’s a movie about Satan! This timing was not intentional, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t delight me.

A woman is having troubled dreams in bed. A black cat climbs her window, casting a shadow across her while a man walks down the street, his shadow joining the cat’s. Visually, very Exorcist meets Nosferatu, and I won’t fault the movie for that. The flick is cribbing from other pictures, but doing it in a way that’s invoking a visual shorthand as opposed to directly ripping things off (that comes later). In the beginning the movie is hitting specific notes so you know what you’re watching and that allows the movie to quickly move to its central plot. Which then moves slowly.

Anyway, the woman gives birth, has her daughter taken by a nun, and then has a fatal fall down a flight of stairs when confronted with the cat from her window. The nun goes to the house of the man from the street, who is holding a gathering of high-society types, and they present the child before an altar to Baphomet. The people gathered pledge to guide the girl's life so that nothing goes wrong.

22 years later, Jessica, presumably the girl all grown up, now lives in San Francisco as a fashion designer. She’s moved from blessing to blessing as though she has some benefactor looking over her shoulder. Then Andy hits her car which becomes their own meet-cute. Most of the middle of the movie is focused on their courtship. Initially a man is stalking them, taking pictures of Andy’s professions of love, and it turns out the man is part of the cult. Then Andy and Jessica are out horse riding one day and Andy is thrown from his horse. Jessica is knocked down and the man, protecting her, runs in and gets killed. That night, Jessica tries to break things off with Andy noting that this isn’t the first time someone’s died around her—a crush in art school committed suicide and a boyfriend the year before was shot in a hunting accident. However, Jessica is in love with Andy and rushes to find him again.

They plan to get married, but the priest asks Andy to delay the wedding saying Jessica has been touched by Asmodeus and that Andy should find an expert in exorcisms, Father Kemschler, to address the problem. Andy decides on a civil ceremony instead, which, to be fair, is the reasonable response. Then the priest is killed, the church vandalized with Satanic graffiti, and Jessica’s boss is killed for failing to end the relationship. Turns out she was part of the cult and Andy is not part of the plan. The man from the street reveals that if Jessica’s in love with someone else then she won’t be able to become the bride of Asmodeus. So he kidnaps Jessica, hypnotizes her, and makes her forget the previous two years. They both go to visit her aunt who’s also part of the cult, and Jessica basically vanishes from the movie.

Meanwhile Andy sees a news story about a girl in a coma drawing pentagrams like the graffiti he saw in the church, flies to New Orleans, and finds out it’s the daughter of his former lover, Linday. The whole thing’s being orchestrated by the cult who’ve had the daughter possessed to bring Andy and Linday back together and kill his love for Jessica. However, Father Kemschler has broken into Linday’s house and says her daughter needs an exorcism. We get a cheap rip off of the entire second half of The Exorcist and the girl is saved. The cult realizes their plan has failed and spirit Jessica off to parts unknown and Andy and Father Kemschler leave together to try to track her down. THE END

I initially liked this movie's lackadaisical pace (it was a nice companion to my knitting and cocoa-drinking). The whole middle is just Jessica and Andy together with vaguely unsettling events sometimes interrupting their cuddles—a window blows open, a cat breaks a giant window over them, etc. I imagine it’s all due to poor pacing but it made the movie interesting for just how uninteresting everything was. We’re just watching two people in a relationship. Because it’s in the context of this Satanic cult though, there’s always an underlying tension. Until the third act, it wasn’t clear if Andy was part of the plan or not. Were these interruptions and accidents planned to get him out of the way or planned to bring them closer together?

However. once it’s revealed Jessica’s boss is working for the cult and the leader isn’t happy about the relationship, a lot of the drama drains away. The movie also makes the mistake of shifting at this point to focusing on Andy, not on Jessica. She becomes the MacGuffin, the thing both he and the Satanists are competing to possess. Whatever else a MacGuffin is, it’s not a character.

IMDB notes that the movie initially was a pilot for a TV series about Andy and Father Kemschler traveling around the country searching for Jessica and, while I don’t mind that as a plot, it’d be a little more interesting if Jessica were somehow an active part of that--either trying to stay in or escape the cult herself. The fact that she’s kept ignorant really just cuts a lot of potentially novel plots out entirely.

And that lack of novelty is what’s disappointing. I’ve seen other Satanic cult movies, possession movies, etc. and this wasn’t treading new ground. As I noted at the top, initially the movie seems to be working in the shorthand that genre fans would recognize. That’s good because it allows the movie to move into the new things it has to offer. Then it admits that it has nothing new to offer by ripping off The Exorcist and petering to an end.

Here’s a better plot: there’s a power struggle within the cult and different factions are using Jessica in different ways to gain power over the other factions. I very rarely see Satanic cult movies with cultists, amoral power-mad characters who are relatively powerful already, jockeying for power with each other. Likewise, let Jessica in on it. Maybe the producers of these movies think they need a pinch of sexual assault to give the piece that extra bit of frisson or maybe thwarting Satan’s plan isn’t reason enough to stop the ritual if the woman is a willing participant, but what if she’s in on it? What if she wants the power being the bride of Asmodeus will bring her? There’s a nice Hellboy story where exactly that happens and it’s a nice twist in that it makes Hellboy someone who’s killing a demon for being part of a consensual relationship.

Anyway, the movie’s not spectacular. It doesn’t so much drag as amble and, curiously, only gets boring when the “action” kicks off. The third act is when all doubts are cleared up and everything stops being interesting. However, it’s just a TV movie so my standards shouldn't be too high. The film’s in the public domain and I’ve added an MPEG2 copy to archive.org here. I’m sure some fun can be had with it--it’s certainly riffable and passes the time--there just isn’t much in the movie to grab you. It’s merely sort of okay throughout.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

233. The Oval Portrait

233. The Oval Portrait aka One Minute Before Death (1972)
Director: Rogelio A. González
Writers: Enrique Torres Tudela based on the short story by Edgar Allen Poe
From: Pure Terror

A woman believes she is being possessed by the spirit of her late cousin.

Lisa and her mother arrive at the house of Lisa’s late uncle Robert. He recently died in an asylum and the family is gathering at his estate for a reading of the will. The only people there are Mrs. Warren and the strange Joseph who largely keeps to himself. Rumors have it that the house is haunted and Lisa, very quickly is spooked by a portrait of Rebecca, her late cousin.

Which is the set-up. What follows is a film that looks like Andy Milligan directing a Hammer Horror film. The movie is set just post-Civil War and is trying to maintain a gothic edge, but it never quite manages it. Frankly, the movie feels like a real movie where the entire cast was replaced by actors from the local community theater.

Lisa stumbles across Joseph in the middle of the night seemingly talking to Rebecca’s ghost and the next day he attacks Lisa because she’s wearing one of Rebecca’s dresses. Lisa continues to imagine the house is haunted and Mrs. Warren finally tells everyone the story leading us to a flashback that takes up the majority of the movie. In fact, the flashback is the story and the opening and closing are merely framing devices.

During the Civil War, Joseph, a traitor who murdered in defense of slavery (ie. a Confederate soldier) breaks into the house while running from Union soldiers. Rebecca and Mrs. Warren hide him from Robert because he’s insanely jealous of men. He tells Rebecca if he ever catches her with a man, he’ll kick her out of the house.

They nurse Joseph back to health and Robert is called up to serve in the Union army. Joseph and Rebecca fall in love, but just as they’re about to get married, the Union soldier returns and arrests Joseph. Rebecca is pregnant with his child, though, and the night she goes into labor, Robert comes home. In a fit of rage, he throws her out of the house causing her to miscarry. Robert slips into a catatonic state leading to him being institutionalized and Rebecca is having fits about the loss of her child.

Finally, Joseph, the traitor who murdered in defense of slavery, returns to find Rebecca, except it’s the day of her funeral. The traitor who murdered in defense of slavery is so distraught that he digs her body up that night and brings it back to the house. Mrs. Warren is allowing the traitor who murdered in defense of slavery to stay there as long as he needs to get himself back together.

Which brings us up to the present moment. The reading of the will happens, but Mrs. Warren has a more recent edition that leaves her the house. Lisa runs in, possessed by Rebecca’s ghost, and has a mad romp through the house until she finds Rebecca’s dessicated corpse. Lisa and her mother leave the house with Lisa still seemingly mad with the idea of being Rebecca, and Mrs. Warren is left alone with the traitor who murdered in defense of slavery.

She wakes up that night to find him romancing Rebecca’s corpse. It’s at this moment that she realizes he’s mad, tells him he’s her son, and then shoots him. The final shot is of the field, the ghosts of Rebecca and the traitor who murdered in defense of slavery walking off together. THE END.

It’s boring and not well-done. On top of that, there isn’t a lot of camp value. Nothing’s particularly over-the-top, even though some of the acting is remarkably bad, so the movie never rises to the level of being funny-bad. Plus there’s the narrative problem of making the wronged romantic hero a traitor who murdered in defense of slavery. The Union soldiers become the villains in the set-up, which is problematic on its own, but it also makes things confusing. The setting feels like a plantation house and if Robert were going to be part of any army, he’d be a member of the traitors who murdered in defense of slavery. Instead, he’s a member of the Union. Which means the estate is relatively far north, so how did this traitor who murdered in defense of slavery get there? The fighting wouldn’t have crept that far north.

Of course, if you try swapping the sides, it still doesn’t work. If Joseph is Union, then the father returns after losing the war, but he’s relatively high-ranking so he wouldn’t be able to return so quickly if he could have returned at all. They could have made Joseph a deserter. Then he’d be a Union soldier, but he wouldn’t have been injured and then in need of a long period of recovery at the house. The set-up itself doesn’t offer any good solutions.

Nor does it offer any surprises. The moment Mrs. Warren finds Joseph, we know he’s her son so the revelation at the end isn’t a twist, it’s just clarification that you did figure it out before the movie told you. The house is haunted, but the ghost doesn’t do much until the final sequence where she closes several doors. Lisa’s gone mad, but since the majority of the movie was a flashback about Rebecca and a traitor who murdered in defense of slavery, we neither see that transition nor care because the movie isn’t about, well, the main character.

So it’s not a recommend for a whole host of reasons, but first and foremost is that it’s dull. You can get away with a lot of crap in a movie, but the moment it’s dull, everyone’s gone.

Friday, December 15, 2017

232. The Silencer

232. The Silencer (1992)
Director: Amy Goldstein
Writers: Amy Goldstein and Scott Kraft
From: Cult Cinema

An assassin is tasked with killing 5 operators of a child sex ring, but she’s being stalked by her former partner who wants her to return to killing with him.

This movie is a Marimark Production and I’m already angry.

Which is unfair because the movie, from the intro, gives every indication of being really clever trash. The title sequence is done as a 90’s arcade game that’s activated by someone putting a token with a gun on it in the coin slot. That decision is so stupid that I couldn’t help but get my hopes up.

A man is playing the game, or at least watching the movie happen on the screen. We’ll call him “the guy” because screw this movie and any pretense of trying to figure out what it’s doing. He’s watching “Angel” get assigned her new list of targets: five people involved with child sex slavery. The people in charge have chosen her for this job because she apparently was trafficked herself.

She takes the job and the guy says, “It doesn’t matter which side you’re on, as long as you play the game.” They’re talking about sex slavery! Having seen the entire movie, he’s not. He sees the assassination trade as a game and talks in terms of “the game” and “playing” in an annoying way throughout the movie, but it’s a bad moment to have at the top of your film.

We cut to her leaving the site of the first kill—we don’t see who she killed or how—and finding some douchecanoe stealing her motorcycle. Since she’s the baddest badass to ever badass, she stops him and immediately uses him as her alibi so she can safely leave the scene of the crime. She takes douchecanoe with her and has sex with him.

The sex scene, by the way, lasts longer than any other scene up to this point in the movie.

And this pattern plays out throughout the movie. She gets the assignment to kill someone by playing The Silencer arcade machine, kills the target almost immediately, then returns to hook up with someone. After douchecanoe, who initially seems like someone she’s going to groom a la The Professional, she dumps him and hooks up with an employee at the arcade. The only reason they don’t have sex there is the condom machine is broken. She returns to him throughout the rest of the movie, though they never have a sex scene.

Anyway, the killings aren’t the plot, this not-quite love story is. Maybe? The guy kills douchecanoe for hooking up with Angel and makes vague threats about killing arcade boy. Arcade boy won’t leave unless Angel quits being an assassin. Meanwhile, Angel saves a young girl from getting kidnapped and raped. Angel gives her a pair of sneakers and then runs into her again when someone’s trying to steal said sneakers. Angel buys the girl a whole new outfit and gets her a job at some car repair joint whose owner owes Angel favors or something. The whole time I’m just wondering why my assassin movie has a distinct lack of assassination plotting and scenes.

She kills all her targets, the guy shows up demanding she rejoin him, she shoots him but he’s wearing a vest. She finds arcade boy, tells him she’s quit the business and wants to leave with him. Then the greatest moment in the movie happens. Arcade boy agrees to go with her, says, “What I got to lose?” and is immediately shot in the back by the guy. I have rarely seen such perfect comic timing.

Angel is distraught, guy taunts her because she threw her gun away, but she still refuses to go back with him. She walks away and we hear a gunshot off-screen, presumably the guy shooting himself. Then she walks off into the night. THE END.

This movie has the same fundamental problem nearly every Marimark production has: it doesn’t commit. The premise is absurd, but it’s a 90’s direct-to-video/direct-to-Cinemax piece. Absurd is not a flaw here. However, the movie doesn’t commit to its absurd premise—an assassin who gets her assignments from an arcade machine. What a stupid idea, but at least show me that stupid idea in action. That means seeing her track her targets, getting a sense of who these targets are, why we’re rooting for them to die, and seeing her execute them in compelling ways.

The video game tells her literally where the person hangs out and she goes there and shoots them. Sometimes she has a quip, but usually not. What I’ve said here is the extent of every assassination scene. The final guy she kills is playing a priest in a movie and she’s suddenly there, cast as the nun who assassinates him in the movie. Nothing leads up to that moment. She gets the name and then she’s in a habit with a gun. Getting there would be a movie itself and we get nothing!

So the movie doesn’t commit to its killer plot, but it’s also trying to pitch itself as softcore porn. After every kill, she needs “the thrill,” as the guy says. We don’t see the first kill, but we see her hook up with douchecanoe for an extended sex scene in a bathtub that includes a fair amount of nudity.

That scene is the first and only sex scene in the movie and the only instance of nudity. I’m not someone champing at the bit for more sex and nudity in movies, I’m saying decide what your movie is and do that. If this is a cheapo titty flick with a whisper of plot, fine. That’d be boring, but it’d be something. This movie isn’t even that, although it’s purporting to be that in the first ten minutes. Somehow, that has always struck me as being worse.

Ultimately the movie is boring when it’s not confusing. It has a cartoonish logic but is trying to have sincere emotional moments. It has pretenses of being a thriller but never has any set-ups that would cause tension. It has a variety of kills but none of them are novel or visually interesting. The movie is, 100% a Marimark production. As such, you can gleefully skip it.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

231. Fleshburn

231. Fleshburn (1984)
Director: George Gage
Writers: George Gage and Beth Gage based on the novel by Brian Garfield
From: Cult Cinema

A man institutionalized for holding four people in the desert until they died kidnaps the four psychologists who voted to institutionalize him and holds them in the desert.

I have literally nothing to add beyond that capsule description. What I’ve listed there is the movie. The first five minutes while the credits are running is the villain Duggai escaping the mental institution. Then the movie briefly checks in on each doctor learning Duggai’s escaped, the check-in coming shortly before Duggai pops up and seizes them. By the half-hour mark, he’s left them in the desert to die. If the desert doesn’t kill them or they try to escape, he’ll shoot them.

Then nothing. No character studies, no plotting to escape, no use of psychology by psychologists to try to figure out a means of escape. One character had quit being a psychologist to become a forest ranger and he gives the rest of the quartet instructions on how to survive. Eventually, another character goes off looking for a salt lick. Several days later, the forest ranger goes looking for him. They find each other, keep walking, and eventually find the highway. Only Duggai finds them at that point, kills salt lick and ties ranger to a rock to die. Ranger cuts himself free, though, finds Duggai, and defeats him by banging his head against a rock. Then he eventually finds the other two. THE END.

I don’t have anything to say about the movie because nothing happens. It’s barely a movie. Everything interesting about it are its connections to other movies. This was the first movie produced Ashok Amritraj who went on to eventually head up Hyde Park Entertainment Group. The second movie he produced, by the way? Nine Deaths of the Ninja which is also barely a movie, but at least more of a movie than this. Another connection: the movie is based on a novel written by the guy who wrote the novel that Death Wish was based on. This movie is not as over-the-top as that.

So, yeah, I don’t have much to say. Fleshburn isn’t really a movie. It’s just ninety minutes of video. Don’t watch it.

Friday, December 08, 2017

230. Nightmare in Wax

230. Nightmare in Wax (1969)
Director: Bud Townsend
Writer: Rex Carlton
From: Cult Cinema

Actors from one particular movie studio start disappearing shortly before exhibits of them show up at the local wax museum. The police start investigating, but find something more sinister than they expected.

After a Marie and Tony, a celebrity couple at Paragon Pictures, announce their engagement, Tony is attacked with a syringe by a figure he recognizes. Several weeks later, Tony still hasn’t been found and the police are questioning Vinnie (Cameron Mitchell, our lord and savior), the operator of a local wax museum. The museum has a display of three other Paragon actors who’ve all likewise disappeared under similar circumstances and Tony will soon join their ranks.

Vinnie wears an eye patch and has scars on the right side of his face from an incident with Max Black, the head of Paragon. And before I go further into the plot, I have to mention the make-up: it’s terrible. The make-up looks like Mitchell fell asleep on some silly putty and no one told him. The awfulness is emphasized by the fact that his character is a brilliant make-up artist. The movie repeats how good he was at his job and has several scenes of him applying make-up to the ultra-realistic wax heads he’s molding. So you end up with a narrative problem, this make-up genius couldn’t find a way to apply make-up to his own face, and a technical one, the movie’s calling attention to make-up work when its own make-up work is garbage.

Anyway, the cops talk to Vinnie and learn that he was originally engaged to Marie while she was Max’s object of affection. When Max was told, he threw a cocktail at Vinnie while Vinnie was lighting a cigarette, setting Vinnie on fire. Vinnie suggests to the cops that Max has murdered his actors to collect the insurance money. When the police talk to Marie, they learn she tried to stay with Vinnie, but he drove her away.

Up until about half-an-hour into the movie, the cops seem like the point-of-view characters and that the story is going to be a mystery with some fantastical or gothic overtones. Is Vinnie murdering people and hiding the bodies in his museum? Is Max orchestrating these disappearances for his own purposes? Is Marie a black widow and covering up her crimes with Max or Vinnie’s help?

Nope, this is post-House of Wax so it’s just Vinnie kidnapping people and injecting them with some zombie serum as part of some convoluted revenge scheme against Max. Granted, that’s what you suspect from the moment the credits roll, but because the movie makes an effort to hide the assailant in the beginning and then uses the cops to build up the backstory, you get the sense that something more interesting might be at work. Then the movie tells you you’re wrong.

Vinnie’s been making a wax model of a go-go dancer that’s dating Max and convinces her to bring him to the museum. Max gets dosed, the girl gets killed, and Vinnie manages to pin the murder on Max. Finally Marie comes to the museum, Vinnie traps her, explains his plan, and commands all his zombies to help him kill Max. Just as Max is about to be lowered into the molten wax, he starts laughing at Vinnie, enraging him to the point where Vinnie lunges for Max and falls into the vat himself. As he’s drowning, Vinnie sees all the people he’s kidnapped laughing at him.

Then he seemingly wakes up without any scars. Marie is calling him saying tonight’s the night they tell Max about their engagement. Then Vinnie, to his horror, has visions of everything that happened after that point. THE END

So… it was all a dream? Maybe? Or the wax museum stuff was a dream? Or it’s a psychosis he’s having after getting attacked by Max? I really couldn’t tell you because I really can’t care.

This movie has some connections to other pieces in the Misery Mill, and not just because it stars our lord and savior, Cameron Mitchell. Director Bud Townsend also directed the misguided and seemingly willfully dull Coach and The Beach Girls and writer/producer Rex Carlton also wrote and produced Blood of Dracula’s Castle and the classic The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. In fact, if you hit the IMDB page for Carlton, you can see the movie posters for all three flicks and their similar aesthetic.

Townsend’s flicks are from the loathed Marimark Productions and this film shows that his vision as an auteur had always been to strip away the interesting parts of a film and leave the audience bored. Nightmare in Wax is more interesting than his later works, I’d call it the best of the three, but it still hits a moment where all the air leaks out and the movie’s left to putter for more than an hour to its conclusion.

Carlton’s script is a little more interesting and it’s doubly-interesting to think of him as the producer. The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is public domain and I don’t think any of Carlton’s other works are, even though there’s nothing there to be protected. He likely learned from the mistake of letting Brain slip into the public domain, but didn’t recognize that it’s replayability and attention largely came from the fact that it was free-to-use. He was your standard exploitation producer, trying to crank out films to make a quick buck. Apparently he didn’t do it quickly enough, though, seeing as he ultimately committed suicide because he couldn’t pay the mob back the money he’d borrowed for his films. As with any sordid Hollywood story, that sounds like a better movie than anything he made.

As for Nightmare in Wax, it starts promisingly enough precisely because it feels like it’s not going to be an exploitation film about someone making wax models from corpses. Since that’s exactly what it is, it’s not a recommend. A snarky enough group could get some pleasure from it, though. The pacing is really problematic. Half-an-hour in I thought it was more than halfway done. Instead, it was less than a third. Mitchell does have one good sequence where he kills the go-go dancer. He’s chases her through the museum, trying to make her scream as much as possible, then leads the police on a chase to make them think Max killed the girl. Mitchell is weird, sadistic, and strangely lackadaisical throughout the chase which makes it more entertaining. While that sequence isn’t enough to recommend the movie, it deserves mention.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

229. Top Cop

229. Top Cop (1990)
Director: Mark L. Maness
Writer: Helen R. Pollins
From: Cult Cinema

A tough, play-by-his-own-rules cop faces off against a drug lord after his partner gets killed. But will the cop go too far?

Malone wishes he were this tough
Malone, aka Detective Al Borland, is sent to DC with his partner in case either has to testify in the grand jury trial of Johnny Costello. While there, they have an altercation with Costello and then leave with the women who were hanging out with him. Despite the fact that a grand jury can indict a ham sandwich, it’s a cop movie from 1990 so Costello beats all the charges. Det. Borland learns this shortly after discovering that his partner has been murdered. Since he’s a pain-in-the-ass to everyone he meets, the chief investigator in DC ships him back home to Arkansas.

Borland’s partner was killed by master assassin “The Avenger,” but that plot gets left in DC since Borland’s back in Arkansas. We still need a movie, though, so, for some reason, Costello sends his brother to oversee a delivery of drugs in Arkansas. Borland and his new partner (who he insists he doesn’t need) single-handedly take down the dealers and arrest Costello’s brother.

Costello comes to town with one of the women from earlier (and who Borland subsequently slept with) and Borland decides to go full-bore in attacking Costello’s network. This decision raises two questions:

1. Why does a Miami drug kingpin have an extensive network in Little Rock?

2. If they knew about these drug dealers, why weren’t the cops arresting them before?

Who cares? Costello gets angrier and angrier, there are some weak fight scenes, and finally someone plants a bomb in Borland’s car that fails to kill him. Borland takes Costello’s brother from jail and holds him hostage in a junkyard. Costello’s men try to find Borland, but he kills each of them in unimpressive ways. When it’s just Costello, Borland, and the girl, Borland tricks Costello into shooting his own brother several times, then Borland sets off a bomb that somehow kill Costello but leaves Borland unscathed.

Final twist: the woman and her friend were secretly the Avenger the whole time but the woman lost her nerve when she was told to kill Borland. Her partner is about to shoot him when the woman kills her partner instead. Then she hands the gun to Borland, says she doesn’t have the will to kill anymore, and asks if he does. Then she walks away from him, fade to black, and gunshot because a top cop like Detective Al Borland is never afraid to shoot an unarmed woman in the back! THE END

So stupid and self-important and all the more delicious because of that. Which is not to say that it looks terrible. The movie’s a step or two above Miami Connection in terms of competence. Cinematography is okay, sets are only occasionally garbage, and the acting is enjoyably bad, never incomprehensibly bad. The core problem is the script which imagines that Det. Borland is so cool and we’ll all recognize that immediately as well.

I mean, he’s not Mitchell bad, but he’s basically a doughy thug from the roadhouse.

The movie is, by the way, hilariously bad. When it tries, it fails, and it fails spectacularly. During the drug bust, someone jumps in a car and tries to drive out of the warehouse by driving straight through one of the loading doors. Fair enough. Good shot and it’s neat to see this big garage door just burst out. Only it’s a loading bay so the car comes out a few feet above the road and just kind of plops onto two cars that are parked there. And then the car explodes.

I was rolling on the floor.

Add to this that the movie begins with Det. Borland busting in on people shooting kiddie porn and blowing everybody away. We never return to that moment and it only comes up once in passing. Kiddie porn is just something happening in Little Rock, I guess.

Plus there's this great exchange after Det. Borland uses a homophobic slur twice and threatens a butler:

Chief: “We are policemen. You can’t just beat it out of them!"
Det. Borland: “Why not?”

How do you do that?
Yes, obviously I loved this movie. It’s so terrible. Everything about it is wrong and obvious and I couldn’t stop laughing. I mean, the copyright notice at the end of the credits says “©MCMLXXXX” which is wrong. They got the year wrong. God, I love this. I highly recommend finding a copy if you can. Such garbage.

Friday, December 01, 2017

228. The Guy From Harlem

228. The Guy From Harlem (1977)
Director: Rene Martinez Jr.
Writer: Gardenia Martinez
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In
Watch: archive.org, Rifftrax

Al Connors, Miami private eye, is hired to thwart two kidnappings by local crime lord Big Daddy.

Open on a shack, a black woman asleep on a couch while a white man sits in a chair. While it could be the start of a Beckett play, it’s something far more depressing. The man walks over to the couch and starts feeling up the woman. She wakes up, objects, and then he tells her she’s going to have a friend to spend time with her soon.

Cut to the opening credits! Which should really be the end credits because they cover every position in the crew. Also, as you can see from the title card still at the top, you can’t actually read them because they’re not on top of a black background.

Behold Al, the titular Guy From Harlem, driving into work. Since I mentioned that the shot is of him driving, you can probably guess that a good chunk of this movie is spent watching people go from point to point. The innovation The Guy From Harlem adds is, instead of just watching people driving and parking, we get to see them move from one part of the room to the other, thoroughly. Nary a step is overlooked. And the cameraman is always very far away so you can watch each actor move from one part of the room… all the way over… to… the other part… where the scene… might… be about… to continue… maybe.

Anyway, nothing much happens in the movie so I’ll speed through things. The CIA contacts Al to guard the wife of an African President. They don’t say which country, just that “she’s the wife of an African head of state.” She reveals that it’s a president although she also never says which country. The CIA is hiring Al because they’re afraid there’s a leak in their organization. Al takes her to a hotel, starts hitting on her, thwarts a kidnapping attempt by Big Daddy, and then takes her to his white girlfriend’s place. He asks the girlfriend to stay at a hotel and then hooks up with the president’s wife.

Next day (maybe?), he’s back in the office, job well done. Harry De Bauld, a former gambling magnate that’s moved into the drug trade, wants Al to save his daughter Wanda who’s been kidnapped by Big Daddy. Turns out she’s the woman we saw at the beginning. Harry wants Al to deliver $500,000 worth of cocaine and a $250,000 ransom to Big Daddy to get Wanda back. He’s hiring Al because he’s afraid of betrayal within his organization. Al manages to rescue Wanda without doing the handoff, kills all the henchmen, and then takes her to his white girlfriend’s place. He asks the girlfriend to stay at a hotel and then hooks up with Wanda.

Next day, he hands Wanda over to her dad, tells him he’s disposed of the cocaine to convince him to get out of the drug business. Then Big Daddy calls Al, they agree to meet, and Al and Big Daddy have a fight. Al kills Big Daddy and walks off with Wanda, laughing. THE END

The movie sucks, y’all. It has the aesthetics of a porno but, thankfully, never goes all the way down that road. Not to say this isn’t an exploitation flick and that it doesn’t have gratuitous nudity (hope you enjoy seeing a woman take her top off… from across the room… in a mirror), but it’s pretty fleeting. The Rifftrax version I watched actually cut all of it out and the only reason I knew it’d been cut was that I’d scanned through my copy of the movie to see if there were any Mill Creek bugs in it.

Nothing about the movie is interesting. The few fight scenes it has are plodding and poorly choreographed, there really aren’t any characters, and the whole “facing off against Big Daddy” feels contrived just to have a final showdown with a villain. Big Daddy isn’t even present or a character much in the movie. On top of that, with Wanda being tied up in a shack for a good portion of the movie, things get kind of rapey. She’s never assaulted, but it’s not for lack of trying on the part of the goons. Since the movie has that porno aesthetic, it always felt like the only thing keeping the movie from going down that road was that it would take too much effort.

Obviously, not a recommend, not even the Rifftrax version. They can’t work against how little is going on in this film and even their jokes start to fall into that leery space that the movie seems to invite. They constantly refer to the white girlfriend as “Jessica Simpson with smaller boobs” which just isn’t the Rifftrax tone.

While I suggest giving this one a pass, it is in the public domain. I’ve uploaded an MPEG2 copy to archive.org here, but I’d say the only use you could get from it would be to do a complete redubbing for comic effect. It’s pretty bad.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

227. Spirits of Bruce Lee

227. Spirits of Bruce Lee aka Meng jiao di she long nu (1973)
Director: Ling Shang
Writer: Ling Shang
From: Cult Cinema

A man goes to Thailand to find his missing brother only to find that he’s been murdered.

The other Brucesploitation movie. This time with no pretense of featuring or being about Bruce Lee! That element’s a little curious, in fact. I mean, the movie’s not even set in Hong Kong. The movie is about as far away as you can get from Bruce Lee.

Anyway, the movie opens with a jade trader walking into the woods at night. He’s jumped by a group of bandits and killed. One of the bandits steals an amulet that he’s wearing.

Later, the man’s brother Chan arrives looking for his brother. He meets Yu, a cop trying to take down the local crime boss and the two of them beat up some thugs. Yu pops up periodically throughout the movie, but he’s not really part of it. In fact, I shouldn’t have mentioned him. You see how long my posts usually are, though, right? I need some padding for this one because nothing really happens. I’ll demonstrate.

Chan meets a shop owner who’s also from China and is sort of adopted by him. The man is trying to set Chan up with his daughter. Bit by bit, Chan learns that his brother is dead and starts following the path through all the members of the gang until he finds the leader and kills him. Specifically, he manages to kill the leader because the leader gives all this thugs the day off and Chan finds out. After killing the leader, Chan is about to be killed by the gang, but the cops, led by Yu, arrive and arrest everyone. Chan and the girl leave. THE END.

The movie’s boring. Skip it.

Friday, November 24, 2017

226. The Real Bruce Lee

226. The Real Bruce Lee (1973)
Director: Jim Markovic
Writers: Larry Dolgin, Serafim Karalexis, and Dick Randall
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: archive.org

A compilation of excerpts from Bruce Lee’s early films and then examples of two Brucesploitation films.

In honor of Bruce Lee’s birthday (November 27, 1940), I’m pulling out two Brucesploitation films that I haven’t watched yet. The first, The Real Bruce Lee isn’t much more than the brief description I offer above.

The movie is an exploitation piece in the sense that it’s trying to cash in as quickly as possible following Lee’s death. The movie starts with a brief biography, notes that Lee’s father was an actor, and then has some clips of early films Lee worked in. The movies, from what can be seen, are general melodramas and comedies. I can’t tell from these poorly-dubbed nth-generation bootlegs if Lee is any good, but they’re presented here as curiosities. Then the movie notes his death and starts talking about his impact on cinema.

Which is where the movie becomes an interesting object. The movie is at once describing the phenomenon of Bruceploitation films while being a Brucesploitation film. First it offers a clip of a Bruce Li movie saying Li is regarded by some as the heir to Lee’s crown. They also note that there’s a difference in how Li does his martial arts. Li is a little more clumsy, a little more comic, but he’s also striking real people as opposed to dummies so his action sequences are a little more tactile and immediate. I hadn’t expected that kind of analysis and it’s something that’s going to change the way I look at the remaining martial arts movies in these sets.

Then the piece moves into full exploitation when it introduces “the next great sensation” Dragon Lee. The producers are trying to set up their own inheritor to the Bruce Lee fandom and they do it by tacking on a severely edited Dragon Lee movie. The flick is fine—typical martial arts thing. Villain comes to town, trashes school, Lee beats villain and redeems school’s honor. Then another villain, related to the first, comes and challenges Lee. Kills Lee’s master, kidnaps his girl, then Lee defeats him. Since it’s edited, the movie runs through those beats about as quickly as I’ve written them.

There’s nothing special about The Real Bruce Lee as a piece of entertainment. The movie is the filmic equivalent of a People Magazine special memorial issue—appealing only to fans while offering them nothing new. What’s interesting is thinking of it as a product, thinking in terms of how it was experienced. This was released before the Internet, before home viewing. This movie toured theaters where people didn’t know what it was and I imagine a lot of them were really disappointed. They showed up for a movie about the recently-dead legend and what they got was a 7th-grade-level biography of his life and an extended advertisement for another actor entirely. I wonder how many people stuck it out, hoping it would get better, and still left disappointed.

I was initially neutral about this movie. Sure, the flick’s a quick cash-in, but there seemed to be nothing inherently offensive about it. Writing it up, though, has made me really aware of just how exploitative it is and how gross the central concept is. I wasn’t going to recommend it anyway because it’s just not that interesting, but now I’m saying avoid it because it’s fundamentally offensive.

That said, it is in the public domain. archive.org has a nice widescreen copy of it here. Since it’s all archival footage anyway, plunder, cut, and remix to your heart’s content.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

225. Ninja Empire

225. Ninja Empire aka Ninja Phantom Heroes(1987)
Director: Godfrey Ho
Writers: Godfrey Ho and Sally Nichols
From: Cult Cinema

Violence breaks out in Hong Kong as three crime lords start betraying each other over an arms deal.

Another Godfrey Ho movie to wrap up Ninaj-vember (next week is something special). Like Ninja Champion, this movie is two movies: the original Hong Kong action flick and a second movie about white ninjas fighting in a playground. Everything’s cut together and dubbed to make it seem like the ninjas are the masterminds of the plot in the real movie, even though they’re obviously playing pretend in a playground. This time, though, the ninja plot takes up a lot more time than it did in Ninja Champion.

The ninja plot, briefly: 715 is imprisoned at a labor camp for smuggling weapons to the Viet Cong. Turns out the former partner in that enterprise is using a group of ninja to smuggle weapons into the Middle East so the CIA is busting 715 out to stop him. They ninja-fight each other a few times, 715’s meddling ruins a few of the deals, then they have their final showdown in a playground. Villain isn’t killed and 715 and his friends literally just run away. THE END

Of that movie. Within that movie is the real movie. Alan is the adopted son of Godfather Wong. Alan’s birth father was part of the criminal gang that included Wong, Chan, and the city’s third Godfather. The three have a general truce and are working together to deliver a large weapons shipment to various groups in the Middle East. Chan, though, harbors some old resentments against Wong over things that happened back when they were starting out.

Alan is courting the daughter of the third Godfather, much to the consternation of the Godfather’s son Albert. Albert thinks Alan is just trying to weasel his way in to steal their money and power. Alan also has a friend, Baldy, who’s a low-level pimp that wants to be one of the big boys and have a job with Mr. Wong. Alan dissuades him because Alan himself isn’t happy being a criminal.

Chan betrays the other two Godfathers by engineering the deal all for himself. Wong tries to undermine things by having Alan kidnap the pointman in the arms deal. However, that was a setup and Chan makes the deal anyway. Then he threatens Wong with a tape recording of a junkie that Alan hired as part of the kidnapping admitting to Wong’s involvement. Alan kills the junkie before he can be taken to the police, though.

Alan marries the third Godfather’s daughter, but a drive-by shooting happens at the wedding killing the third Godfather. Albert goes to talk to Wong about the killing and kills Wong. He goes to Chan and it’s revealed that the two of them planned the whole thing so they could be the only two heads in Hong Kong. Wong, though, with his dying breath, tells Alan about Albert.

Alan goes to Chan’s compound where Chan lets him kill Albert and then sics all his goons on him. However, Baldy, from the beginning, shows up with his two friends and the four of them—Alan, Baldy, and his gang—manage to fight off most of Chan’s crew. However, both of Baldy’s friends die.

Cut to a junkyard being watched by the police. Alan, his wife, and Baldy are walking through when a car pops out and runs Alan down, killing him. Cops burst out, stop the car, and arrest Chan and his men. THE END

The ninja plot isn’t worth discussing because it’s not part of the movie. While it adds the delicious Godfrey Ho touches—ninja in garishly bright costumes, literally jumping up and vanishing, training montages on playground equipment—it’s not part of the movie and, frankly, grew kind of annoying. The opening sequence of 715 takes a while and promises a cheesy 80’s action flick that we then don’t get. Every time we return to that plot, we’re not seeing the other movie and so have to have that cut down further and make even less sense. The process worked in Ninja Champion because the ninja cutaways were so brief and the pretense that they were related to the core movie only happened at the beginning and end. Here, we keep cutting to the ninja story to have everything happening in the real movie explained as part of the ninja story, a decision that makes the central movie even less comprehensible.

For instance, we see the wedding drive-by on footage viewed by the CIA discussing 715’s actions in the field. So he’s somehow responsible for what happened there. However, because we’re seeing it through the CIA’s footage, we don’t get the details of what happened and thus have to learn later that the third Godfather was killed. If we’d just stuck with that movie, we’d know from seeing the assassination itself.

The movie also has a tonal problem, and who would have thought I’d be criticizing the tone of a Godfrey Ho movie? That’s like going to Taco Bell and reflecting on the ambiance. However, if you look at what I described as Alan’s story, it reads as a mafia movie: he’s the adopted son of a crime family that’s ambivalent about his criminal responsibilities and wants out. While there’s violence, there aren’t really action sequences because that’s not what the movie’s about. Ultimately, the movie is a tragedy about how Alan couldn’t get away from the mafia. Tragedy, though, doesn't marry well with absurd ninja action.

This movie never grabbed me. The ninja stuff is nice because it has the tone of great 80’s action cheese run through a translation filter, but it’s all added after the fact. It’s so tacked-on that it doesn’t even have its own ending. The ninja portion just closes with people running away like a parent showed up to shoo them from the playground. As for the main plot, it may have been interesting on its own, but was cut down too much to make room for the ninja stuff. I like collage, I like weirdo cinema, but this felt like constantly switching channels between two movies. For that reason, it wasn’t particularly fun. Plus, since there’s no shortage of Godfrey Ho films (neither of the ones I watched had the Garfield phone!), there’s no reason to suggest looking for this one instead of one of his others. Give it a pass.

Friday, November 17, 2017

224. Ninja Champion

224. Ninja Champion (1986)
Director: Godfrey Ho
Writer: Godfrey Ho
From: Cult Cinema

A woman infiltrates a diamond smuggling outfit to get revenge on the men who raped her.

Ah, you can always count on Godfrey Ho to save Ninja-vember. Ho, for those who aren’t familiar, imported a lot of martial arts movies to the US by extensively re-editing them and cutting in new footage of “ninjas” in garishly bright outfits facing off in a playground. Also, he shamelessly ripped off other larger movies for their music and aesthetics. This movie opens with a direct rip-off of the Columbia logo and features music from Pink Floyd during the climax.

God, I’m loving every minute of this.

So a couple in a tent is attacked by a gang in ICP make-up. The assault is intercut with the woman, Rose, in an operating room. She’s sexually assaulted and gives birth without anesthetic, then loses the baby.

Cut to Rose visiting a crime boss. She takes her top off which fogs the entire screen. She’s smuggling diamonds on her breasts and the light coming off them is blinding the camera! The boss invites her to a party celebrating his brother winning the Asian boxing title. She goes back to the brother’s hotel room and murders the brother by applying poison to her nipples that he licks off. She kills him because he was one of the rapists.

Before we get to the revenge killing, though, we cut to a couple of white guys talking about something. This happens periodically throughout the movie so I’ll just sum it all up here: the diamond smuggling operation is being overseen by some white crimelord who organized the sexual assault of Rose because he knew it’d lead her and her twin sister on a revenge rampage that would clean out the organization and leave no connections to him. The government agents that the other white guy works for took care of wiping out the big heavies. These two white guy ninjas then fight, villain dies, and this is not actually part of the movie. Seriously. Ho just cut this storyline in for his own reasons and cuts to it periodically throughout the movie. These scenes are not part of the movie about Rose.

Back to the real movie, which I’ll run through as quickly as I can because I don’t actually understand it at all.

George, Rose’s former fiancé, meets up with her and asks to help kill the other rapists since he has a license to kill. She pledges to kill him once her revenge is finished because he abandoned her after the attack. She faces off against a few more toughs and rapists and George can no longer make love to his wife because he’s obsessed with Rose.

Rose gets captured by one of her targets and is seemingly killed, her body sealed in a wooden tube. Then the crime boss meets the key contact for the diamond smuggling and it’s Rose! But it’s not Rose, just someone who looks like her. They fight, boss is taken hostage, and his henchmen come back and murder him.

Meanwhile, George visits his father-in-law and accuses him of being part of the diamond smuggling. Father-in-law says he’ll kill George if he hurts his daughter. George says he’s getting a divorce anyway.

At the crime lair, the villain’s gang is captured by what turns out to be Rose’s twin sister Cherry. She learns that George’s father-in-law organized the rape to get George away from Rose and set him up with his daughter. Then the father-in-law pops up and grabs Cherry. Just as he’s about to kill her, George shows up and stops her murder. She turns around and kills the father-in-law. George, Cherry, and Cherry’s assistant all face off against the gang, kill them all, then flee from the cops. They go to Rose’s coffin where George pays his final respects and we cut back to the white ninjas I mentioned earlier. THE END

That folks, was me being brief. This movie is such a delicious clusterfuck. Bad editing, terrible dubbing, and a convoluted plot made even more confusing by the additional material that’s tacked on. I loved it. I was constantly cackling, “What’s going on?” while I was watching this and will certainly return to watch it again. Do what you can to find this movie because it is so much fun.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

223. Ninja Heat

223. Ninja Heat aka Ninja Blacklist aka Hei ming dan (1972)
Director: Mar Lo
Writers: Mar Lo, Lan Shu, and Yu-Kun Teng
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: archive.org

A man falsely accused of robbery joins with his brother to get revenge on those who betrayed him.

Our lead is released from several years in prison for robbing a jewelry store and is met by his brother who has uncovered the details of the people who were actually involved in the heist and pinned it on the lead. They set out to confront each robber and make them confess to the crime.

Which is basically what happens. I was expecting some kind of twist to emerge in the movie, especially considering how certain characters react to each other, but that never happened. The brother tells the lead that their mother is dead, murdered by the mastermind of the plot and the lead’s girlfriend. When the girlfriend tries to meet with the lead to explain herself or present him with their son, the brother chases her off. I read those scenes as the brother being part of the plot and trying to chase off anyone who’d prevent the lead from bumping off the brother’s enemies.

My sense of the brother being duplicitous was heightened by the first fight scene. The brothers find their first target, beat him up, drive him into the country, and he reveals the details: the boss wanted to pin everything on the lead because he wanted to steal the lead’s girlfriend. The lead lets him go, but as he’s walking across a field, the brother shoots him in the back. Of course I thought the brother was hiding something at that point!

As the first target dies, his death scene is intercut with shots of the woman he was supposed to marry the next day. This adds to the soap opera aesthetic. When each target dies, there’s a montage of the victim with their lover. The movie’s making a strange choice, trying to make you consider the price of violence in a revenge flick, and it doesn’t really work.

So the second target gets into a fight with the brothers on top of a (slow) moving truck. He falls off and gets hit by another car. The third target kidnaps the lead, offers him money to restart his life, then decides to frame the lead for murder when the lead turns him down. They end up fighting, the lead lets him go say goodbye to his wife and children, but he dies from his injuries in the doorway.

Finally the big bad returns. The girlfriend tells the lead the truth about what happened, that she was pregnant with his child when he was sent to prison and the villain attacked her at the lead’s mother’s house. The villain killed the mother and told the girlfriend the only way he’d let her and the child live would be if she married him.

Meanwhile, the brother has gone to fight the villain by himself. He dies just as the lead shows up and the lead and villain fight. The lead finally wins just as the police arrive and both he and the villain are arrested. Then there’s a voice-over from the villain of all people, and that’s THE END

I… hmm… yeah. I don’t have anything to say about this movie. While it makes interesting narrative choices—seeing snapshots of the lives the villains are losing, avoiding having the lead kill anyone in the name of revenge—the choices don’t work. The movie feels a bit like a Spanish soap opera mixed with a martial arts film, but without the heightened energy or absurdity of either. The movie is oddly subdued in many way and that’s not what I want from an exploitation flick.

While the movie’s not terrible, it’s not great either and not something I’d recommend outside of riffing, editing, or re-dubbing. Fortunately, if those are your goals, it appears the movie is in the public domain and I’ve uploaded a copy to archive.org here.

Friday, November 10, 2017

222. Nine Deaths of the Ninja

222. Nine Deaths of the Ninja (1985)
Director: Emmett Alston
Writer: Emmett Alston
From: Cult Cinema

A special anti-terror taskforce is sent to rescue a busload of hostages taken by an ex-Nazi drug-running terrorist cult leader.

I feel like I could just describe this movie by saying, “1985,” and be done with it. Spike Shinobi, Steve Gordon, and Jennifer Barnes are DART, an elite anti-terror squad that works for someone… somewhere? I’ll admit to being fuzzy on that element since the opening is Spike and Steve infiltrating what is either a Mujahideen camp or a foreign US Army base. To be fair, in 1985, the two are synonymous. Spike and Steve manage to bomb the hell out of the place and then some general shows up, calls a halt to it, and praises the DART team for showing what they can do. So are they mercenaries?

Who cares? Because a terrorist leader has been arrested and is being held in the Philippines. The drug cartel run by Alby the Cruel and his second, Honey Hump and her all-female warrior brigade, plan to break him out of jail by taking a busload of tourists hostage. Alby, of course, is a former Nazi. Also, he’s a wheelchair-user and has a pet monkey in a diaper. Because why not add more?!

My notes at this point read, “A TERRORIST PLOT TO BREAK EVIL LEADER OUT BY HOLDING A BUSLOAD OF TOURISTS HOSTAGE ON AN ACTIVE VOLCANO! THIS IS HOW THE 80’S SAY FUCK YEAH!”

Unfortunately the energy drops pretty quickly after that point. The volcano never even comes up again.

The movie has some good craziness: the hostages are taken by the terrorists disguising themselves as a wedding party, and the actor playing Alby (the father of Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) camps it up delightfully. The problem is the movie never holds its very few elements together. We have DART, the terrorists, and the hostages. Only the hostages disappear from the movie relatively early only to, surprise, still be part of this movie at the end. Also, DART is pretty terrible at their job. They spend most of the movie investigating the terrorists, but the leads go nowhere and it’s really only by chance that they find the villains’ base at the end.

I could put in a good word for Shô Kosugi here, although I don’t need to (because he’s Shô Kosugi). He plays Spike, the only active member of DART in contrast to smirking incompetent white guy and literally-reading-the-script white girl. Kosugi has nearly all the action sequences and, since he choreographed them, they do all right. It’s just that none of them matter to the story. When he eventually faces off with the big terrorist who they let out of jail, the terrorist literally stops a bullet with his bare hands.

If you’re movie’s a cartoon, nothing has any consequence.

Anyway, the terrorist is released because DART can’t do their job. They try to follow him, lose him, and then eventually learn where the villains’ base is. They go in, Kosugi fights some ninjas (who’ve been absent from the film since a flashback early on), save the hostages, and don’t get the villains.

Yeah, they don’t get the bad guys in the final climatic fight. Instead, the villains come to the place where DART is hanging out to try to get revenge, but it’s a trap. The villains are caught without a fight and Alby gets trampled by horses in a polo match when he tries to escape. THE END.

I feel like I’m enjoying this movie more writing about it than I did watching it. My notes include the lines, “We Rented a Helicopter: The Movie,” and, “Maimi Connection meets Rambo fight sequences,” which sounds like a formula for a good-bad movie. However, Nine Deaths of the Ninja is mostly boring.

The movie feels either like a pilot for a tv-action series or a movie cut together from several episodes of said series. The events never wholly follow one to the other. Plus, tonally it’s all over the place. For a taste, just watch the opening credits. 80’s torch song over interpretive dance and sword practice in a smoke-filled void. The movie purports to be a ninja-action flick.

So, despite the occasional moments of exuberant madness, I have to recommend giving this movie a pass. It starts strong and then gets real boring real quick. If I can clarify how badly the movie misses its mark, it stars Shô Kosugi but tries to make the white people matter. You have Shô Kosugi. I don’t care about anyone else. Also, I would never care about Tad and Muffy or whatever the hell their names are. “Steve Gordon and Jennifer Barnes”? My fake white names are less white.

Fist of the B-List did a write-up of this movie for their Ninja-vember as well, and, as always, describe it with style and erudition. Furthermore, they hit on several points I didn’t mention due to space. I recommend reading their review more than I recommend watching the movie itself.