Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ground Zero

BLOODFIST VI: GROUND ZERO is DIE HARD in a missile silo.  Bearing no resemblance to any of the first five BLOODFIST movies, numero seis stars Don "The Dragon" Wilson as an Army courier who stumbles upon terrorist Jonathan Fuller's plan to hijack a nuclear missile base and hold the world's largest cities for ransom. 

Sgt. Nick Corrigan (Wilson) doesn't appear to be a highly respected soldier—his dispatcher calls him an idiot over the radio—but he reveals a few hidden talents when he is trapped inside the base with only Fuller's motley band of machine-gun-toting sycophants for company.  Since we already know Wilson is a real-life world kickboxing champion, no points for guessing that Corrigan is an ex-Secret Forces commando who was demoted for disobeying a direct order to abandon his men in a combat zone.

GROUND ZERO might be the cheapest BLOODFIST film yet.  Executive producer Roger Corman's excuse for a base is a guard booth set up next to what looks like a radio station transmitter, and the massive underground facility is really a couple of corridors and some rooms lined with chintzy electronics.  The fight scenes aren't up to Wilson's usual standards; not that he's Jackie Chan or anything, but the action isn't as fast or as brutal as it should be. 

Rick Jacobson demonstrates few directing chops, but he could have used a better cast—Fuller is over-the-top awful, but at least he shows some energy.  Robin Curtis (Kirstie Alley's replacement in STAR TREK III) is dead wood as Wilson's outside contact, and Cat Sassoon's best scene (playing a different character than in BLOODFIST IV) is a topless one.  Former L.A. Dodger Steve Garvey oddly appears as a brave Army major who gets to make out with a nearly nude Sassoon.  Nice gig if you can get it.

Wilson and Jacobson must have gotten on well, because they made four films together in three years, including BLOODFIST VIII.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Last American Hero

Glenn Kenny interviews VANISHING POINT director Richard Sarafian at his Some Came Running blog. The 1971 existential classic, which was penned by Cuban novelist Guillermo Cabrera Infante, received its first Blu-ray release this week. Much of what Sarafian says is covered in his audio commentary track for the original VANISHING POINT DVD, but the short interview is still worth checking out.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Is That Your First Name Or Your Last Name?

If you’re curious to know how many different monsters, swordfights and nude women Roger Corman can stuff into an 80-minute movie, 1983's barbarian classic DEATHSTALKER is a great place to start keeping tally.

Shot in Argentina to capitalize on the success of CONAN THE BARBARIAN (and maybe, to a lesser degree, THE BEASTMASTER), DEATHSTALKER stars TV actor Richard Hill (TODAY’S F.B.I.) as, er, Deathstalker, an arrogant warrior who urged by an ousted king to overthrow evil wizard Munkar, who has kidnapped the king’s nubile daughter Codille (PLAYBOY’s Barbi Benton, also in HOSPITAL MASSACRE). Munkar terrorizes the land with a magic amulet and chalice and needs only Deathstalker’s mystical sword to become completely unstoppable. With traveling companions Oghris (Richard Brooker) and Kaira (the late Lana Clarkson, who moved up to her own BARBARIAN QUEEN movies for Corman), who enjoys swordfighting while topless from time to time, Deathstalker invades Munkar’s celebration and volunteers to fight in the ruler’s competition to become the land’s greatest warrior. Munkar’s plan is actually pretty clever; after all but one competitor have died in the arena, he’ll kill the winner, ensuring that no badasses are left alive to threaten his reign.

Director Jim Sbardellati and writer Howard Cohen surprisingly play it all straight, which just makes the movie funnier. I don’t know how they expected us not to giggle at the rubber hand puppet that subsists on human fingers, the giant pig man that battles Deathstalker, or the lengths to which they go to show another gratuitously nude woman. With Corman as executive producer, DEATHSTALKER is never boring and is one of New World’s most entertaining trash classics of the ‘80s. Counting Benton’s lines is great fun; I think her ratio of boob shots to spoken words is close to even.

Corman may not have realized how silly DEATHSTALKER was, but Jim Wynorski did. When he was hired to direct the sequel (also in Argentina), he camped it up, casting the non-buff John Terlesky as the hero and piling anachronisms, jokes and puns on top of the action and nudity. Deathstalker rescues cute seer Reena (Monique Gabrielle) from perverts and becomes convinced by her that treasure lies at the castle of Princess Evie. What she fails to let on is that she actually is Evie, who was deposed by ruthless sorcerer Jurak (John LaZar--Ronnie "Z-Man" Barzell himself!) and replaced by a sexy evil clone (also Gabrielle).

The road to the castle is a dangerous one, filled with assassins, exploding midgets, zombies, boobytrapped crypts, 300-pound female wrestlers, an army of scantily-clad Amazons and plenty of anachronistic gags ripped from Bugs Bunny, Abbott & Costello and even HAWAII FIVE-0.

LaZar (BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS) and Toni Naples as his sultry sidekick are appropriately over-the-top antagonists, while Terlesky and Gabrielle, while decidedly lightweight as performers, milk the spoofy material for all it's worth. The action and swordfighting (and bevy of beautiful damsels) are handled quite well by Wynorski, including a climatic battle choreographed by Terlesky himself, and Gabrielle provides a much-needed nude scene.

Don't bother with DEATHSTALKER III or IV, though Richard Hill returned to the role he created in the final film. Both are cheap bores. The first two DEATHSTALKERs are also on the cheap side (very much so), but are never dull, despite their disparate approaches to the corny material.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Shadowmen

After busting some corrupt Seattle cops in NORTHWEST CONTRACT, the Penetrator stays Stateside to break up Midwestern terrorists in DODGE CITY BOMBERS, Pinnacle's 9th book in the series, published in 1975. A letter to the Penetrator's Native American friend David Red Eagle leads Mark Hardin to a small Kansas town, where a sinister group known as the Shadowmen is poisoning cattle, burning crops, and blowing up barns and grain bins worth millions on the futures market. Who could possibly profit from such a massive food shortage?

Inquisitive detective work reveals a consortium of farming bigwigs who are holding on to their crops, rather than selling them on the open market. These three men have hired a group of violent locals to destroy as much food across the country as possible in order to drive up the demand for their own crops. Although author Mark Roberts (as Lionel Derrick) fails to adequately address the fates of the splinter Shadowmen around the country, the Penetrator puts the big hurt on the Kansas branch, killing mercilessly and saving most of his terror for the men at the top.

Roberts continues to float the notion of the Penetrator becoming a Robin Hood-like legend. The FBI has a special task force dedicated solely to capturing the Penetrator, who is accused of dozens of murders and other acts of violence, including the destruction of the cannery ship in New Orleans. However, the public and much local law enforcement appear to be on Hardin's side. He certainly made a fan in DODGE CITY BOMBERS, a widower whose husband was murdered and young son mutilated by the Shadowmen. The Penetrator avenges those brutal acts and many others during the course of this entertaining novel with no fantastic elements but much rough-and-tumble action.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Few Quick Thoughts About Oscar

Basically, it was another dull, predictable show with awful direction. As host, Hugh Jackman was fine, but it seems as though most of the post-Crystal hosts have had very little to do after the opening bit. He seemed to be having a good time at least, and I thought he handled the opening number very well. I was more impressed with Anne Hathaway, an actress who hasn't interested me much, but showed good humor and a decent voice with Jackman in the opening piece.

Direction was quite bad. Many shots were taken from far above the audience, much too far from the stage. In particular, the In Memorium piece was messed up. You had to squint to see Cyd Charisse's tribute, and the entire presentation seemed to have been created to entertain the 1000 people in the Kodak Theater, not the millions watching at home.

I did very well with my Oscar picks, and the only major award I missed was Best Actor. I really thought Mickey Rourke had the Big Mo heading into the night, but the Academy must have feared a Rourke acceptance speech. That said, Sean Penn's speech was one of the best of the night...who would have guessed? Of course, I would have liked to have seen Richard Jenkins win, 'cause you gotta root for a talented journeyman in a situation like that. He was very good in THE VISITOR, but I can't imagine who would pay $12 to see what is basically a made-for-TV movie.

I love the idea of having five past winners on stage to announce winners, but it would be nice if they would go back past a decade to find them (okay, I'm exaggerating, but not a lot). The really bad part is having them speak directly to the nominee. In some cases, like when Kate Winslet had to listen to some ingenue that no one remembers give her a pep talk about acting, it comes across as very condescending. On the other hand, Shirley Maclaine's speech to Anne Hathaway was very good. I wonder whether she wrote it herself. It sounded more natural than the others. At any rate, the nominees seemed to enjoy it, probably because it was a moment in the spotlight, win or lose.

The Seth Rogan/James Franco PINEAPPLE EXPRESS bit was good. The Academy's recent insistence upon trotting out young unknowns to present awards sadly continues. Seriously, do we need to see performers from TWILIGHT and HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3 at the Oscars? And Doris Day is at home with nothing to do, probably.

I think this is the first time I've ever seen Jerry Lewis with little energy. I was relieved that he was classy about his Jean Hersholt Award. You never know when the guy is going to say something stupid. Maybe he was too weak to act up, I don't know. Such an interesting guy. For someone who is as much of a jackass as he often seems to be, he certainly deserves to be honored for his work with MDA, even if it's difficult to reconcile the two sides of Jerry.

On my recent L.A. trip, I climbed those steps to the Kodak Theater, so it was fun to see it on TV.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Silent Night, Unholy Night

Silent Night, Unholy Night
December 15, 1979
Music: Stu Phillips
Writer: Michael Sloan
Director: Vince Edwards

BJ AND THE BEAR's first and only Christmas episode (a Writer's Guild strike pushed back the 1980-81 fall season, so there were no original episodes during Christmas that year) is most notable for its guest-starring role for 31-year-old Ted Danson, less than three years away from beginning CHEERS. Danson had very little television experience at this time, though he was coming off a well-received small part in THE ONION FIELD.

On his way to deliver a load of Christmas turkeys, BJ (Greg Evigan) rescues a pregnant woman from an exploding car and sings "The Christmas Song" for a classroom of little kids. The woman, Allison Spencer (Pamela Susan Shoop), is on the run from another corrupt sheriff, Nathan McCandles (Dana Elcar), who's after the incriminating diary her lawyer husband Tom (Danson) has stashed in her purse.

It's a bizarrely structured episode that starts with the semi-regulars (Janet Louise Johnson, Marc Alaimo, Joshua Shelley, Bert Rosario) trimming a tree at the truck stop, then cuts to a standard crime plot writer Sloan could have borrowed from another series with stops for Evigan to fill time singing or riffing with chimp Bear. BJ is so awesome, he blows up some police cars, evades bullets, mocks archrival Captain Cain (Ed Lauter) in a Santa suit, delivers a baby, drops off the diary to the authorities, and still manages to get the turkeys in on time.

Danson's role is pretty small, as the episode is pretty much a chase with BJ and Allison flirting and avoiding McCandles and his men. The love story between them is surprisingly touching and appropriately downbeat.

Director Vince Edwards was once a major television star, toplining BEN CASEY for five seasons on ABC. By 1979, he was still a working actor, though was just as often found behind the camera as in front of it. His output as a director was almost always decidedly workmanlike. So were his acting performances, for that matter. All of his directing was for television, and I'd love to see his TV-movie MANEATER, in which Ben Gazzara and wife Sheree North are stalked in the forest by nutty Richard Basehart's killer tigers.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Human Target

Martial arts buffs may relish this opportunity to see exploitation stars Don "The Dragon" Wilson and Steve James, the co-star of Cannon's AVENGING FORCE and AMERICAN NINJA movies, fighting each other.  The fine actor and stuntman James died of pancreatic cancer the year this was released, and while it isn't among his best credits, BLOODFIST V: HUMAN TARGET isn't the worst way to go out either.

Wilson is drabber than ever as an amnesiac who wakes up in the hospital and discovers a lot of people want to kill him.  He's rescued from the hospital by a prostitute named Candy (Denice Duff) claiming to be his wife, who takes him to see her pimp (James).  From there, he encounters a friendly jewelry store clerk who places a $5000 bracelet on his tab, Chinese terrorists, renegade National Security Agency operatives, stolen plutonium, and plenty of arm-breaking, face-kicking martial-arts battles.

To say much more about director Jeff Yonis' twisty script would reveal too much, but suffice to say that many of the story elements I just listed turn out to be something else entirely, leaving us about as confused as Wilson.  Really, there are too many plot twists that don't hold water, and by the time the good guys have become the bad guys—again—you begin to feel that Yonis has gone too far.  Still, the pace is fast enough, Duff is attractive and holds her own in a fight, and there's more action—mild as it is—than in the last couple of BLOODFIST films.  Look for NYPD BLUE's Sharon Lawrence in her first film.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

2 Quick Links

Roger Ebert remembers Gene Siskel on the 10th anniversary of "the skinny one's" death.

Dr. Hermes briefly profiles actress Frances Gifford, the star of Republic's 1941 JUNGLE GIRL serial and one of the most gorgeous women I've ever seen.

His Name Was Jason

Director Marcus Nispel and producer Michael Bay, after remaking THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE to massive box-office returns, do the same with Sean Cunningham's 1980 summer-camp sleeper, presenting moviegoers with a "reimagined" version of FRIDAY THE 13TH. Unfortunately, it's clear they really have no idea how to make a thrilling movie or even what made the first eleven (!) FRIDAY THE 13TH movies so popular, since this admittedly slicker slasher is relatively free of suspense or fun. Nispel is a terrible director, and I'm not kidding when I say he's no better than the eighth best director to make a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie. Seems like all the ingredients are here—hot girls, goofy dudes, spooky woods, plenty of sharp instruments—but the movies falls flat.

Writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift retain the basic premise of Cunningham's film, that of mongoloid Jason Voorhees, traumatized as a child after seeing his murderous mother's head chopped off by her next victim (this seminal moment is dispensed with as a throwaway during the opening credits), taking his gory revenge on anybody who enters his personal space, which is primarily attractive young people into drinking and screwing.

Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki of TV's SUPERNATURAL), who is described as an irresponsible, uncaring person, yet is clearly the most level-headed character in the film, arrives in the Crystal Lake area in search of his sister Whitney (Amanda Righetti of TV's THE MENTALIST), whose group of pot-seeking campers mysteriously disappeared some weeks before. What we already know is that Jason wasted them all, except for Whitney, who bears a resemblance to Mama Voorhees and has been taken prisoner to his secret lair for safekeeping. Clay's arrival coincides with that of another group of great-looking obnoxious students, who settle into rich kid Trent's (Travis Van Winkle) country house for a weekend of…um, yeah, drinking and screwing.

Nispel's clumsy handling of such low-rent material demonstrates his belief that he's above such grimy material. I'm questioning whether he has any affinity for horror movies, or is just bad at making them (or both). One potentially spectacular murder, involving a spike through a policeman's eye, is completely botched, as Nispel cuts away from the kill before its "punchline"—that the eye is protruding on the end of the long spike—properly registers with the audience. Daniel Pearl, who shot both versions of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE—films the action too dimly, perhaps in trying to create a "realistic" atmosphere that misses the point of what a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie is about. It's supposed to be a geek show, a rollercoaster ride that lets the audience celebrate Jason's mastery of murder and cheer along with him.

I know this film has earned some measure of respect from the mainstream media that none of the earlier films ever did, but most of the others, as low-rent as they are, are better made than this one. Also with Derek Mears as Jason, Daniella Panabaker (TV's SHARK), Willa Ford, Richard Burgi, Julianna Guill, Aaron Yoo, America Olivo, and Nana Visitor (STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE) as Mrs. Voorhees. Shame on composer Steve Jablonsky for virtually ignoring Harry Manfredini's classic score—another example of the filmmakers having no idea what made the more crudely accomplished original film such an unprecedented success.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tanna Hunts The Strip Ripper!

Now, this is some awesome television. Fun truckin' with CHARLIE'S ANGELS, then "Call girl buys it" on VEGA$.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Based On A True Story

DOLLHOUSE star Eliza Dushku is absurdly miscast in the now-on-DVD thriller THE ALPHABET KILLER as a police detective named Megan Paige, whose investigation of the rape and murder of a teenage girl in upstate New York turns to obsession. For some reason, she is fixated with the victim’s initials—C.C.—and believes they’re the key to solving the crime, even though there is no evidence that indicates that. Her boss (MANHUNTER’s Tom Noonan) takes her off the case after months of no leads, and she attempts suicide in a schizophrenic state.

Two years later, the killer strikes again using the double-initial M.O. Megan, now on medication for her mental illness and back on the force with a desk job, convinces her new captain, Ken Shine (a doughy Cary Elwes)—her ex-fiancĂ©—to put her on the case. Teamed with a reluctant new partner, Stephen Harper (screenwriter Tom Malloy, who slyly gives himself a kissing scene with Dushku for no other reason than he wanted to make out with her), Megan’s return to the case also brings back the hallucinations that led to her meltdown.

It’s not a very good movie, but THE ALPHABET KILLER at least assembles a surprisingly good cast. Oscar nominee Melissa Leo (FROZEN RIVER), Oscar winner Timothy Hutton (ORDINARY PEOPLE), Michael Ironside, Carl Lumbly, Larry Hankin, Bill Moseley, Martin Donovan, and Jack McGee play brief scenes for director Schmidt, who reunites with his WRONG TURN star Dushku.

Continuity errors, drab digital photography, and Dushku’s unconvincing performance make this humorless mystery something to miss. Neither Schmidt nor Malloy seems very interested in the thriller aspect of the movie, choosing instead to focus on Megan’s character arc. However, Dushku can’t find a way to make her twitchy detective likable or interesting, and there’s little reason to care whether she catches the killer or not. That the killer’s revelation is so idiotic indicates that the filmmakers didn’t much care either.

This may be the first review of this film that doesn’t mention Dushku’s half-second nipple slip.

I couldn’t resist.

Random Comic Book Splash Page #13

Paramount's spooky chiller LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH was already playing theatrically when DC Comics' THE UNEXPECTED #139 hit newsstands in the summer of 1972. Editor Murray Boltinoff--writing as "Bill Dennehy," one of many pseudonyms the prolific author used in comics--and artist E.R. Cruz were responsible for "Let's Scare Lisa to Death," the second of three stories in this September 1972 issue, which actually came out in July.

The terrifically atmospheric splash page may have actually been Cruz's first work for DC. For fifteen years, the Filipino artist was a DC mainstay, specializing in spooky art for the company's horror/mystery and war titles, including G.I. COMBAT, GHOSTS, HOUSE OF MYSTERY, WEIRD WAR TALES, HOUSE OF SECRETS, and many others. I don't remember Cruz ever drawing one of DC's superhero titles, which may have kept him off the comic book business' A-list, but his work was tremendous, just the same.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Spying, Anyone?

I am a huge I SPY fan, so I came into the Popular Library series of tie-in paperbacks with some reservations. I have owned several of the seven published I SPY novels for many years, but I don't think I ever read them all, and I didn't remember anything about the books I did read. The first novel, simply titled I SPY, is, of course, based on the popular television series that starred Robert Culp and Bill Cosby as free-wheeling U.S. secret agents Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott, respectively.

Groundbreaking in its use of foreign location shooting, heavily improvised dialogue, and a black leading man—Cosby was the first Negro to share top billing on a network television drama—I SPY debuted in 1965 on NBC. Partially inspired by the James Bond movies and the many, many films and television shows it influenced, I SPY was anti-Bond in many ways. No fantastic gadgetry, no madmen plotting to rule the world from their palatial underground bunkers, no camp of any kind.

There was humor, of course, which is mainly why the show is remembered so fondly today. The bond that quickly developed between Cosby and Culp remains unsurpassed among television actors, in that they not only became very close personal friends, but also soulmates of a sort that became able to complete each other's sentences. Cosby's sense of humor rubbed off on Culp, and the more experienced actor's dedication to his craft definitely influenced Cos, who picked up three consecutive Emmys as Scott. Writers were often infuriated that the two men would change their dialogue and hopelessly ad-lib inside jokes between gun battles, but it's hard to deny that Culp's and Cosby's heavy influence on the show's writing improved the episodes immensely.

One thing that author John Tiger gets right about the show in his I SPY novel is the dialogue. No, it isn't as funny or as quick as the stuff Culp and Cosby were coming up with on the set, but the tone of the dialogue and the relationship between Scotty and Kelly feels right. When the novel was published in 1965, the series had just barely been on the air, so Tiger may not have been very familiar with the series at that point. He certainly takes a few liberties with the TV show's premise, though I wouldn't say they're dramatically costly.

Tiger states expressly that Scott and Robinson work for the CIA and specifically for a man known to them as Mars. This was not acknowledged in the series, nor did they have a codename: Domino. The plot is more epic than any episode, pitting the two spies against an international cartel called Force One, which plots to start World War III by planting nerve gas inside all of the Pentagon's fire extinguishers! After detonation, the U.S. government will blame the Soviets, leading to both sides wiping the other out, and the men of Force One stepping up to rule the new world.

Briskly paced at 142 pages, I SPY should be a good read for fans of '60s espionage, if not the TV show. Tiger also works in a few non-offensive jokes about Scott's skin color in his and Robinson's dialogue, which is a switch from the episodes, in which Bill Cosby's race was barely ever mentioned. Wisely, it was decided to just let Scotty be Scotty—not a black man, but a man who was just as tough, just as smart, just as clever—if not more so—than his white best friend and co-star.

I haven't mentioned it yet, but John Tiger was the pen name of noted author Walter Wager, who wrote, among other things, the novel TELEFON and an episode of ROSETTI AND RYAN.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Siskel & Ebert Really Don't Like Friday The 13th

More accurately, here are some clips from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert's AT THE MOVIES review of 1984's FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER. This segment has become somewhat notorious among horror fans, who generally feel the respected critics went way overboard in their harsh criticism of what is one of the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise's best entries. During the 1980s, there was a huge critical backlash against slasher movies that was very similar to the more recent backlash against so-called "torture porn" movies, such as SAW and HOSTEL.
Siskel and Ebert slash Friday the 13th IV-Clip 1

Siskel and Ebert slash Friday the 13th IV-Clip 2

I'm not saying it's a classic, but THE FINAL CHAPTER is certainly a well-produced shocker with nice stunts and imaginative special effects. It wasn't cool for serious film fans to admit that in 1984, and probably really isn't now, but you know I always shoot you straight when it comes to Crappy Movies.

If anybody knows where to find this, I'd love to know, but reportedly Siskel was so incensed at the original FRIDAY THE 13TH in 1980, he ripped actress Betsy Palmer a new one and gave out her home phone number, so outraged audience members could disturb her. It's hard to believe that could be true, but if it really happened on SNEAK PREVIEWS or in his Chicago Tribune review, let me know. That would have been a very gutless call on Siskel's part.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Die Trying

By this point, executive producer Roger Corman had given up any pretext that the BLOODFIST movies should have any more in common than having World Lightweight Kickboxing Champion Don "The Dragon" Wilson star in them.  In BLOODFIST IV: DIE TRYING, the friendly fighter plays Danny Holt, an L.A. repo man who accidentally repossesses the wrong BMW, this one belonging to a foreign agent named Weiss (soap actor Kale Browne) who was carrying a box of chocolates in the front seat.  Danny delivers the candy to a female friend, not knowing that it camouflages nuclear warhead triggers that are being sold to a Middle Eastern country!

The body count is quite high, as Weiss and his goons murder everyone at Danny's car lot in an effort to retrieve the MacGuffin, and when they don't find it, chase him around the city, leaving more bodies in their wake.  Of course, the cops and the FBI believe Danny to be responsible for the spree killings; the only one who believes in his innocence is a total stranger, Shannon (Amanda Wyss).

Nobody, especially the colorless Wilson, can add much zest to this routine and quite cheap DTV martial-arts flick.  Paul Ziller, who would later work with the Dragon again on MOVING TARGET, writes and directs with little flair, moving his characters from point A to point B with little visual flair or excitement.  Even the fight scenes, which were partially staged by Wilson, are of little interest.  Character actors James Tolkan (BACK TO THE FUTURE) as an intense FBI agent and Liz Torres (THE JOHN LARROQUETTE SHOW) as a heavy-eating detective impart as much impact as they can, but Ziller's slight material lets them down. 

The striking Cat Sassoon, an actress blessed with a hard body and exotically unusual features, plays an early story twist quite well and certainly makes her presence felt in the climax.  Interestingly, her brother Oley Sassone directed Wilson's previous film, BLOODFIST III. Cat died New Year's Eve 2001.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Random Comic Book Splash Page #12

I barely know a damn thing about this issue of COWGIRL ROMANCES, though I love the idea of a regular comic book titled COWGIRL ROMANCES. Who was the target audience for this? Little boys into cowboys wouldn't be caught dead reading it, and I can't imagine little girls were into westerns very much, even if there probably was a lotta kissin' among the shootin'.

Looks like John Starr was the writer of this splash page for "The Bride Wore Buckskin" from COWGIRL ROMANCES #3, published by Fiction House around 1952. Don't know who the artist was, but Starr also wrote a series called "Cowboy Bob" in Fiction House's RANGERS COMICS around the same time.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Love Me Two Times

Big thanks to Amanda at Made for TV Mayhem for awarding me another Premio Dardo. Much appreciated, especially considering the source.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

An Outlaw, An Outcast

MAD MAX meets YOJIMBO is the best…hell, the only way to describe this 1984 Dell paperback original. After THE ROAD WARRIOR was an enormous international box office hit, movie screens and book shelves were flooded with post-apocalyptic rip-offs that usually detailed one man's struggle to survive in a world without law, fashion sense, and air conditioning. FIRST, YOU FIGHT by D.B. Drumm kicked off a series of quickie novels about the mysterious Traveler and his various desert adventures.

Drumm is said to have been either John Shirley, Ed Naha, or both. Naha is credited with the book's copyright, and the writing seems consistent with his work, though I haven't read any Shirley. Naha's film reference books confirm that he certainly must have seen the Mad Max movies and, if not YOJIMBO, then certainly A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, the Italian Clint Eastwood western that cribs its storyline.

Traveler, who roams what's left of the American West nearly two decades after an atomic war that devastated the world, drives his customized and booby-trapped minivan (nicknamed the Meat Wagon) into a small town ruled by rivaling bosses, Milland and Aikens. Both men, who were probably dull middle-management types before the explosions, have managed to recruit private armies and strike a balance of power that gives each an equal share of the raping, pillaging, and looting of the town. Local business owners live in fear. Most of the town's young women, including the daughter of the alcoholic ex-mayor, are captives.

Traveler is recruited by each ruler to join his empire, and in turn uses his combat-sharpened wiles to turn both sides against each other and help the innocent townspeople fight for their freedom. It's a simple story told with precision if not grace. The 175 pages trot along rapidly, and although Drumm isn't one for lengthy descriptors or detailed character pieces, your familiarity with the stock characters and plot helps keep the story clear. Violence is rapid, but not graphic, and one suspects FIRST, YOU FIGHT could have been an entertaining low-budget film, if there hadn't already been dozens just like it.

Little is known about Traveler, except that he lost his wife and child in the holocaust, but Drumm develops an ongoing subplot that one assumes is paid off later in the Dell series. While serving in combat in Central America, he and his three buddies were dosed with a chemical that heightens his senses somewhat. Part of what keeps Traveler going is his search for his war pals and an explanation for what happened to them. Here, he learns that one of his friends had passed through the town some months earlier, motivating Traveler to keep going.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Out To Lunch

Expect posting to be light here over the next couple of weeks. I'm planning a vacation to Southern California as a toasty alternative to brutal Central Illinois. I know it will "only" be in the 60s in L.A. next week, but that's better than the 14 degrees we have in Champaign-Urbana right now.

I have some previously prepared posts that I can toss up sporadically to give the four of you who read this blog something to keep you entertained. By the end of February, hopefully, I'll have transcribed my interview with a prominent genre director (hint: I recently reviewed one of his cult films here) and have that up.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Why Isn't This On DVD Yet??

Jeremy Richey at Moon in the Gutter is paying tribute this month to great films that are inexplicably MIA on Region 1 DVD. I could think of several wonderful movies that I'd love to see on DVD, particularly many, such as RITUALS, that never even got American VHS releases in their uncut form.

In tribute to Jeremy's efforts in attracting attention to those films that are nearly impossible to see, but well worth your efforts to find them, I'm linking to three earlier posts I wrote on this subject. Do yourself a favor and read more about these movies, then check Jeremy's blog to discover more nifty sleepers nowhere to be found on DVD in this country.

DARK OF THE SUN

SITTING TARGET

GORDON'S WAR

Forced To Fight

After two BLOODFIST films set and shot in the Philippines, producer Roger Corman tossed out the previous formula and cast kickboxing champion Don "The Dragon" Wilson in a prison picture affixed with the BLOODFIST name.  It's more than likely that director Oley Sassone (THE FANTASTIC FOUR) made a movie called FORCED TO FIGHT (the closing credits bear this out, by the way), and Corman added the BLOODFIST III part to the title after the fact.  I don't think the film needs whatever promotional push was gained by making it part of the presumably lucrative BLOODFIST franchise, since it stands up pretty well on its own and is, in fact, better than the two previous entries.

Inmate Jimmy Boland (Wilson) quickly finds himself in hot water when he kills a brutal rapist and murderer named Luther in self-defense.  That his assailant was black makes the situation even worse for the half-Asian Boland in a concrete-surrounded world where racism is a way of life.  Out for revenge is Blue (Gregory McKinney), a buddy of Luther's whose drug trade is greatly diminished by the death of his supplier.  Boland also makes the shit list of white supremacist Wheelhead (the late Rick Dean), who offers to accept Boland into his gang's ranks, despite Jimmy's Asian heritage, but feels disrespected when his offer is rebuffed.  Alone and awaiting a shiv in his back at any time, Boland finds a friend in Stark (SHAFT himself, Richard Roundtree), a jailhouse lawyer of intelligence and quiet dignity whose age and skill against the appeals courts have earned him a reputation among the prisoners as an elder statesman of sorts.

What's most surprising about BLOODFIST III is the multi-layered screenplay by Allison Burnett (AUTUMN IN NEW YORK) and Charles Mattera, which attempts to address the issue of race in an exploitation-film setting, while simultaneously creating characters that have slightly more depth than most Corman movies.  I don't want to give the impression that this is an art film, but there's more happening below the surface than any movie titled BLOODFIST III has the right to have.  The actors appear to have realized this, since even Wilson, never renowned for his dramatic skills or presence, appears more assured than usual.  Corman regular Dean also manages to add charm and even a shade of likability to his Aryan brute, and Roundtree is outstanding, serving as mentor, priest, father figure, and voice of reason to his fellow inmates, especially the black prisoners, whom he regards as victims of a White society.

Lest you start thinking BLOODFIST III slacks in the action department, let me assure you that Sassone has crafted a good number of fights and martial-arts battles choreographed by Paul Maslak, who worked on several other Wilson films as a writer, producer, and stuntman.  As with the other BLOODFIST films, care was taken to provide "The Dragon" with worthy opponents, many of whom, like Peter "Sugarfoot" Cunningham, were authentic martial-arts champions.  While the fight scenes are about as good as they should be, it's the extra care and intelligence in other parts of the production that give BLOODFIST III its real meat.

If The Crew Of The U.S.S. Enterprise Traded Places With The A-Team...

...it might look something like this...

Monday, February 02, 2009

B-Fest 2009

Whew. My eighth consecutive B-Fest. Will I ever retire from B-Festing, in essence, admitting, like Danny Glover, I'm "too old for this shit?" Not likely anytime soon. Whenever I feel exhausted, grungy, and smelly while watching some horrid celluloid, something like MEGAFORCE comes along and reminds me why I love Crappy Movies so dearly.

I'll skip the B-Fest background. See my earlier blogs for reviews of B-Fests 2008, 2007, 2006, and 2005. Most of the prints were 16mm with a few 35mm and I don't know what MEGAFORCE was.

After arriving in plenty of time to get settled in a nice spot in the auditorium, far away from our archenemies with loud voices who yell idiotic stuff all night, Toler, Grady, and I prepared for 24 straight hours of Crappy Movies, beginning with...FIREWALKER.
I actually saw FIREWALKER theatrically when Cannon released it in 1986. It's basically a ripoff of Cannon's KING SOLOMON'S MINES as a buddy picture, which were huge in the '80s. Cannon's leading star, Chuck Norris, teams with Oscar-winner (!) Lou Gossett Jr. and lovely FLASH GORDON leading lady Melody Anderson in an adventure to find Aztec treasure in Central America. FIREWALKER gets a bad rap--and it is very sloppy--but it's fast, funny, and a good time. It also spawned a couple of running gags for the fest. In every other film featuring fire, an audience member would demand a character walk on it. Also, Norris has an (unintentionally?) hilarious line that goes something like, "Well, if the gold isn't there, then it has to be somewhere else." I like when he tells Lou to "stop acting like a dadgum sissy." Chuck is now a B-Fest regular, and it's all the better for him.

I haven't seen this Universal horror classic since the days of the Channel 3 EARLY SHOW. It's short and fun, though Lon Chaney's constant whining about wanting to die grows tiresome, and Bela Lugosi just doesn't look like the Frankenstein Monster at all. Bela really isn't in the film very much, as I assume all the action sequences are a stuntman.

1940's MURDER IN THE AIR was the dud of the night. Not only was scheduling back-to-back black-and-whites this early a bad move, MURDER IN THE AIR isn't interesting enough for a B-Fest. It's actually not a bad little programmer; Turner Classic Movies runs this and Ronald Reagan's other Brass Bancroft movies occasionally. But it has little action, and Eddie Foy Jr.'s comic antics don't translate well to fidgety B-Festers.

Nicole joined us in time for the first short of the night, which Toler actually hoped we'd see again this year. The bizarre COMICS AND KIDS is, I guess, an anti-comic book screed about young boys reading Sgt. Rock comics in their treehouse, while a narrator creepily whispers stuff like, "Yeah! Kill! Kill! Yeah! Do it!" After the boys read their war comics, they arm themselves and go to the beach to blow up other kids' sand castles. It's stupid, misguided, and funny.

A B-Fest tradition is the short version of Mike Jittlov's incredible THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME, which is always followed by the same short, but backwards and upside-down. The stage in front of the screen is covered with B-Festers who lay there and stomp their feet to the music. I don't know why. Jittlov also made a feature version of WOSAT, but here's the short that runs at B-Fest every year. It's truly wonderful.


"Can you prove that it didn't happen?" The biggest B-Fest tradition is Ed Wood's notorious PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, which has its own ROCKY HORROR-like following. Chants of "Bela!"/"Not Bela!", "Wicker!"/"Rattan!", "Tor!", and others reign supreme, and every sighting of a flying saucer sends thousands of paper plates flying through the air. Thankfully, Northwestern's Norris Auditorium provides a recycling bin for the refuse later (I should note that B-Fest crowds are amazingly thoughtful about cleaning up after themselves, which is more than you can say for "regular" audiences who go to regular movie theaters). Our friend Liz showed up in time for the PLAN 9 insanity, which is an essential element of B-Fest.

I dozed off and missed the end of SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM, which I'd seen before, but wasn't blown away by. The awesome Pam Grier is in it, but isn't the badass she would soon become for AIP. William Marshall as Blacula is a terrific actor, making what could have been a silly joke of a character someone truly interesting and frightening. Craig T. Nelson is in it too, though I missed his appearance.

1956's DON'T KNOCK THE ROCK was B-Fest's token musical. This Sam Katzman quickie is good for a few laughs, and the musical acts--including Bill Haley and His Comets, the Treniers, Dave Appell and His Applejacks, and especially Little Richard, who rips the heck outta "Tutti Frutti" and "Long Tall Sally"--are pretty cool. Blond Jana Lund, I could watch do anything, but lead Alan Dale is the world's tamest rock-and-roller.

I missed most of DONOVAN'S BRAIN, the rare B-Fest movie I hadn't already seen. I think the audience missed the fact that Nancy Reagan (billed as Nancy Davis) is Lew Ayres' co-star. I wish I hadn't nodded off during this; most of what I saw was good, including Ayres, who plays two distinct personalities.

I watched most of THE TINGLER, but fell asleep near the end, which is where the good parts are. Right after Vincent Price's acid trip, I was conked out until the screaming audience aroused me at the end. Ludicrous science combines with a smooth Price performance and a swell gimmick for a fun William Castle chiller that is tailor-made for B-Fest, as its audience participation is built right into it.

Uh, yeah, I missed a lot of this one too. A shame, because John Carradine is in it, and co-star Acquanetta is very sexy in her short skirts. Basically, Carradine is a mad scientist who turns a gorilla into Acquanetta, which actually seems like a good idea to me. She falls in love with Carradine and starts killing people when he doesn't love her back. I'll have to catch up with this again some time.

Dudikoff...fuck, yeah! I think AMERICAN NINJA 2: THE CONFRONTATION is Dudikoff's B-Fest debut. I also saw this theatrically when Cannon released it in 1987. A lot of confronting happens, including The Dude's one-on-one against Mike Stone near the end. LAND OF THE GIANTS captain Gary Conway, who also wrote this, is a druglord who genetically creates his own army of superninjas to rule the world with. Army Ranger Dudikoff and sidekick Steve James (a better fighter and actor than Dudikoff, truth be told) go to the Philippines to investigate the kidnapping of U.S. Marines and stumble upon Conway's plot. It's an awful shame that James, who died over a decade ago much too soon, never headlined his own movies, because he was a handsome, charismatic guy who could handle action scenes and humor as well as anyone.

It's true--THE TERROR OF TINY TOWN is the world's first--and only?--all-midget western. With musical sequences. The budget and scripting are so poor that no one would remember this movie at all if not for its cast, which are game performers at least and appear to be in on the joke. Even though the town is populated solely by little people, the buildings are normal-sized, leading to gags where the cowboys duck under the hitching ropes and barge into the saloon through swinging doors that are head-high. It's a five-minute sketch stretched to about 65 minutes, and is essential viewing for all Crappy Movie lovers.

Bruce Dern stars in the second incredible-two-headed-transplant movie of 1971 (the wackier THE THING WITH TWO HEADS was the other). Dern, just about to leave this type of movie forever, is a mad scientist who ignores his hot midriff-baring wife (THE MUNSTERS' Pat Priest) and his earnest doctor best friend (Casey Kasem!) to transplant the head of a drooling homicidal maniac (Albert Cole) onto the shoulder of his hulking retard handyman (John Bloom). It gets loose, of course, and starts killing smoochers and bikers. Ridiculous movie is not unwatchable, even though this is about the fourth time I've seen it.

MEGAFORCE...fuck, yeah! The biggest crowd-pleaser of B-Fest is an idiotic action movie that was the biggest bomb of 1982. It was so bad that even I didn't see it in 1982, and I was the target audience. I have about 200 comic books with a MEGAFORCE ad on the back cover. However, it's hilarious with the right crowd, which was screaming with laughter by the end and rewarded MEGAFORCE with a standing ovation. Barry Bostwick (recently a guest star on SUPERNATURAL) is a Spandex-wearing, blue-rolled-headband-sporting, Barry-Gibb-haired mercenary named Ace Hunter who has his own government-funded strike force that sets off against terrorist Henry Silva. PG-rated with no loss of life, despite the explosions and flying bullets, MEGAFORCE is a dunderheaded delight with a finale that features the worst special effects for a major Hollywood '80s film ever. Make sure you stay through the credits for an absurd coda.

MEGAFORCE was the only film shown on a DVD, though it's not currently available on DVD, at least not in Region 1. It was a fairly good-looking print--better than the VHS tapes I've seen--and was full-frame, which was fine, since MEGAFORCE was shot open matte. Maybe it was a dub of the laserdisc (?), though there were no side breaks.

Despite the poster, the Twin Towers are nowhere near GODZILLA VS. MEGALON, which is totally set in Japan. This is the movie with Jet Jaguar, the size-changing robot that teams up with Godzilla to battle Megalon and Gigan after the evil underground dwellers of Seatopia rise from the ocean and sic the mean monsters on us. The annoying (and terribly dubbed) little boy in tiny shorts was the source of the audience's cruel, but deserved, taunts for the most part, but this movie is the perfect capper to B-Fest. Lots of monster fighting and big laughs, including Godzilla (somehow) flying on its tail to deliver a two-footed finishing move to Megalon.

Then, it was off to Leona's on Sheridan for our traditional Italian dinner to cleanse our systems of the snack foods we subsisted on for the last 24 hours. Since this was my first B-Fest after being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which led to a change in my diet, I didn't eat as much junk as I usually do, though I still had more carbs than my doctor would probably be comfortable with.

All in all, another exhilarating B-Fest. How many days 'til B-Fest 2010?

Random Comic Book Splash Page #11

AMAZING ADVENTURES followed in the footsteps of Marvel Comics' great TALES TO ASTONISH and STRANGE TALES by presenting two different series in each issue. When it debuted in 1970, The Inhumans and Black Widow shared both the covers and the interior. Neither lasted very long, but at least the Inhumans stories provided some exciting artwork. From AMAZING ADVENTURES #5, March 1971, here's Neal Adams and Tom Palmer with a terrific Black Bolt splash page. Words by Roy Thomas.