Sunday, July 16, 2006

What Have I Been Watching Lately?

  • LIGHT BLAST (1985) is an amazingly ridiculous, hilarious and action-packed Italian action picture. You could usually count on director Enzo Castellari to deliver cheap, well-crafted nonsense that goes out on a storytelling limb and dares you to take it seriously. Filmed in San Francisco, LIGHT BLAST casts CHIPS star Erik Estrada as a tough cop who is introduced stripped to his briefs to defuse a hostage situation. Erik gets the case when rejected scientist Ennio Girolami (THE NEW BARBARIANS) creates a death ray and uses it to melt the skin from his victims (like in the climax of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK). There is a ton of action, including wild slo-mo shootouts, explosions, car chases, squibs, you name it. Near the end, Estrada steals Albert Arciero’s racecar and jumps practically every hill in Frisco in pursuit of Girolami’s machine. As usual, Castellari mixes live stuntwork with unconvincing miniatures to add to the film’s bizarre tone. Estrada is actually fairly charismatic and seems to fit well within the director’s world.
  • U.S. TV star Anthony Eisley (HAWAIIAN EYE) went to Rome to headline 1966's LIGHTNING BOLT, a spaghetti spy movie set in Florida. Obviously inspired by the Bond films, particularly GOLDFINGER and DR. NO, it’s cheap and clumsy, but not unentertaining once the action picks up in the second half. American agent Harry Sennett (Eisley) goes to Cape Kennedy to discover who is sabotaging NASA’s moon rockets. The answer is Rehte, a mad beermeister who plans to rule the world from his underwater city by putting a laser on the moon and pointing it at major Earth cities. There’s something mildly delightful about Sennett’s non-confrontational approach to escaping his captors--he just pulls out a checkbook and offers to buy them off with taxpayers’ money! If you’ve seen a Bond film, you know where this movie is going--the escapes, fights, gorgeous women, slight sci-fi trappings and an exploding hideout. Margheriti needed more time and more money to make this anything like a Bond film, but it kinda works.
  • 1974's THE KLANSMAN is one of those rare movies that makes you utter "What the hell?" under your breath over and over. Samuel Fuller was the original writer and director of this notoriously tasteless racial melodrama, but was dumped by the studio in favor of ex-Bond director Terence Young (DR. NO). As with Paramount’s later MANDINGO, THE KLANSMAN was based on a novel and features big Hollywood stars humiliating themselves in an overwrought, uncomfortable stew of crude sex, violence and epithets. The biggest offender is Richard Burton, who appears to be drunk and pasty in most of his scenes, playing Breck Stancill, a rich liberal landowner who allows blacks to squat on his Alabama mountain rent-free. His friend and occasional rival, Sheriff “Big Track” Bascomb (Lee Marvin), advises Breck not to encourage an upcoming town-square demonstration encouraging blacks to vote. Atoka County is a boiling hotbed of racial tension: the Ku Klux Klan, including Bascomb’s deputy “Butt Cut” Cates (Cameron Mitchell), castrates a black man accused of raping a white woman (Linda Evans); Bascomb covers up Cates’ rape of black virgin Loretta (hot Lola Falana); and a vengeful O.J. Simpson sneaks around town shooting the white men responsible for his friend’s murder. O.J. is even seen hiding in the back of a Bronco waving a gun and then getting away with murder at the end--just like real life! You might need a shower when it’s all over; Marvin smearing the blood of Falana’s busted hymen across Mitchell’s face is one of THE KLANSMAN’s grimier moments, whereas the stolid Burton’s uncoordinated karate fight with Mitchell is perhaps the most hilarious. An amazing film. Fans of THE BIG LEBOWSKI will love David "Jeffrey Lebowski" Huddleston as the racist mayor.
  • I don’t know if MAD FOXES, a tasteless 1981 Spanish/Swiss co-production, is the work of a creative madman or an inept moron. It’s basically a rape/revenge exploitation picture with gore and softcore sex, but the crazy dubbing and wild plot make me wonder whether it’s really an intentional comedy. Hal, trying to get his drunk 18-year-old virgin girlfriend home to have sex with her, is beaten by Nazi-loving bikers who rape his girl. Pissed as hell, Hal recruits some kickboxers to invade the funeral the bikers are throwing for a fallen comrade at an amphitheater. They beat up the bikers and castrate their leader. Later, after Hal shags another chick at his pad, he picks up a sexy hitchhiker and takes her to his parents’ country home. While he’s out shagging her, the bikers show up and slaughter his family and the servants. This WTF movie is like watching Wimbledon. So, yeah, you guessed it, it’s Hal’s turn for revenge in the gruesome finale. Horribly filmed and dubbed with oddball scenes like a naked drunken biker doing karate kicks outdoors and a long, pointless skinny-dip, MAD FOXES is absurd and takes a lot of patience to watch. I can see how bad-movie lovers could have quite a laugh at it, but it’s too grimy for my tastes. Believe it or not, Krokus did some tunes for it.
  • Poorly acted and possessed by some of New York’s stiffest actors, 1986's BREEDERS is a sleazy sci-fi gem. A slimy space monster (in a rubber suit with boots!) is raping and impregnating Manhattan virgins. After a short incubation period, they strip off all their clothes and walk into an abandoned tunnel below the Empire State Building, where all the women climb into an alien hot tub filled with what I can only assume is extraterrestrial semen. An ineffectual detective and a wooden-Indian female doctor are the only humans who know what’s going on. This movie is amazing, and by "amazing," I mean "sleazy and stupid." My favorite scene is one where the virgin bikini model does some coke and then exercises in the nude for a couple of minutes for no apparent reason. I'm guessing there are very few virgin cokehead supermodels in Manhattan. I also like when the virgin nurse comes home after a hard day at work, pulls a gigantic pot of something (I mean huge) out of the fridge, puts it on the stove, turns it on (but there's no fire on the burner), and then takes all her clothes off while standing in the kitchen. Rampant female nudity and rubber bladder makeup effects abound.
  • Russ Jones, the first editor of Warren Publishing’s landmark CREEPY black-and-white comic magazine, wrote stories for GALLERY OF HORRORS, a cheesy 1967 anthology feature. It was made extremely cheaply with sets and performances that resemble a student film--a junior-high-school student film. You can see the Warren and EC influence in the Gothic settings and twist endings, but the movie is so dull and incompetent that no one will be either shocked or surprised. John Carradine introduces all five segments with long-winded introductions that were written merely to stretch the running time to feature length. Many of the actors appear in more than one story, but the big names--Carradine and Lon Chaney--star in just one each. Chaney is miscast as a scientist who tampers with Dr. Frankenstein’s old experiments and brings a convicted murderer back to life. Carradine stars in the opener, “The Witch’s Clock,” about newlyweds who move into a castle and discover a cursed grandfather clock. Production values are next to nil, and Hewitt directs by putting the camera on a tripod and letting it roll for four or five minutes.
  • MERCENARY FOR JUSTICE is the third direct-to-video action movie Steven Seagal has released this year. And it's still only July! It opens with a violent, action-filled prologue modeled after SAVING PRIVATE RYAN or BLACK HAWK DOWN, but is so confusing and poorly shot that we’re left trying to figure out what happened long after the sequence is over. Big Steve is a big-shot merc who is forced to help a slick-talking Eurotrash villain bust a gunrunner out of an African prison. It’s really a plot to rob a bank using Seagal as a decoy, which really pisses him off. Lots of flashy camera work, desaturated cinematography and thumping techno try to disguise the fact that there isn’t much here. On the bright side, Seagal, known for not putting much effort into his DTV features, is actually on the set and providing his own voice most of the time, although an ill-matching stunt double does much of the heavy action.

2 comments:

John Charles said...

I honestly can't decide whether MAD FDXES has the worst ending of all time or the greatest ending of all time. Either way, I'll remember it until they plant me in the dirt.

Marty McKee said...

I'll go with greatest.