Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Special Kind Of Hell

You oughta know the only American pro-Vietnam War movie (as far as I know) could only have been made by John Wayne, who triples as star, producer, and co-director with Ray Kellogg (THE KILLER SHREWS), whose experience with special effects and directing second units must have come in handy staging the explosions and battle scenes. Wayne needed the help making THE GREEN BERETS, because direction is frequently sloppy (an early scene with Aldo Ray demonstrating captured weaponry to journalists is poorly blocked) and pacing slack.

THE GREEN BERETS was savaged by most critics in 1968—and deservedly so—for its absurd politics and flag-waving, but probably hasn’t received deserved props as an action vehicle. When the propaganda stops and the shooting starts, Duke’s film isn’t a half-bad action vehicle. And to be fair, despite the critical brickbats, THE GREEN BERETS was a big box-office hit.

Wayne is Colonel Mike Kirby, who takes his squad of Green Berets to Da Nang on a mission to kidnap a North Vietnamese general. David Janssen, who jumped straight from THE FUGITIVE to this, struggles with a thankless role as George Beckworth, a weak-kneed liberal journalist who tags along with the Berets and slowly comes around to their cause, even to the point of lifting a gun himself. Jim Hutton has a sillier role as Sergeant Petersen, a scrounger who adopts an insufferable Vietnamese orphan. James Lee Barrett’s (THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD) screenplay based on Robin Moore’s novel is straight outta 1943 with the clichéd dialogue, hackneyed characterizations, and tired comic relief that goes along with it. What do you think happens to the captain who’s scheduled to go home the next day?

If you separate the movie’s politics from its visceral thrills, you may enjoy the shoot-em-up stuff, which is staged on an epic scale with helicopters and explosions and lots of extras flying through the air. If only there were more of it, as too much of THE GREEN BERETS’ flabby 142-minute running time is spent talking in old-fashioned platitudes. Also, this may be the bloodiest G-rated film in history.

Also with Bruce Cabot (KING KONG), Raymond St. Jacques (COTTOM COMES TO HARLEM), George Takei (who left STAR TREK temporarily to make this), Jason Evers, Mike Henry (then the movies’ Tarzan), Jack Soo (BARNEY MILLER), Patrick Wayne, Luke Askew, Edward Faulkner, Chuck Bail, and Irene Tsu, who provides a touch of glamour to Wayne’s testosterone-driven picture. Music by Miklos Rosza includes Ken Darby’s version of the #1 hit “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” which was co-written by Moore. Shot in Georgia, which doesn’t look much like Vietnam.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Princess Of Mars

Science fiction and fantasy fans have been waiting decades to see Edgar Rice Burroughs’ pulp hero John Carter of Mars immortalized in a thrilling film adventure. Unfortunately, nearly a century after Carter’s first story appeared in 1912, The Asylum slopped together 2009's PRINCESS OF MARS, a lumbering and poorly cast picture starring 41-year-old porn star Traci Lords as the titular princess, Dejah Thoris—hardly the “chiseled and exquisite” beauty described by Burroughs.

The dumbest thing writer/editor/cinematographer/director Mark Atkins did was provide a cockamamie scientific explanation for John Carter’s disappearance from Earth. Burroughs decided, probably wisely, to leave it to the readers’ imagination. Was Carter teleported to Mars, or did he just dream his adventures? Writer/editor Marv Wolfman stayed faithful to the original vision in the Marvel Comics series JOHN CARTER, WARLORD OF MARS during the 1970s.

However, Atkins decided it would be cooler, I guess, to make Carter (Antonio Sabato Jr.), not a Confederate soldier, but an American Special Forces sniper operating in Afghanistan who is mortally wounded. Since all the data needed to reconstruct Carter’s body (and soul?) rests on a 16GB memory stick (!), the Army zaps a perfectly healthy Carter to Mars. Not our Mars, though, but a Mars in the Alpha Centauri system, which the government thinks may be inhabitable. All this exposition happens in a couple of minutes, and Carter seems not the least bit confused, frightened, or overwhelmed to suddenly be on a desert planet surrounded by aliens.

On the planet its natives call Barsoom, Carter earns the respect of reptilian Thark warrior Tars Tarkus (Mark Lasky) by strangling a giant spider. After initially capturing Dejah Thoris and handing her over to the Tharks, Carter encounters a thoroughly idiotic plot twist that leads to him battling to protect the pumping station that provides breathable air for everyone on Barsoom. Why Atkins decided to create this preposterous villain in the final third is beyond me. It makes zero sense logically or dramatically.

Perhaps Atkins was unaware that Southern California’s Vazquez Rocks is among the most photographed movie locations ever, because he shoots half the movie there. No matter how far Carter and his party travel through the desert, they always end up in front of that same notable pointed rock formation (later scenes take place in the equally familiar Bronson Canyon). Unlike many movies from The Asylum, I think an actual effort was made to produce a good movie, but deficiencies in budget, casting, and scripting make that difficult.

PRINCESS OF MARS is not a complete disaster, and is in fact one of the better Asylum pictures I’ve seen. It’s boring and woodenly acted, but some of the visual effects are striking for the money, and occasional scenes elicit a sense of awe that the film, in general, lacks. The Asylum also adapted Burroughs’ THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT the same year.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

On A Peaceful Sunday In The Country

Cinerama released 1974's VENGEANCE IS MINE, a rough Canadian exploitation movie, in the U.S. under its better-known title of SUNDAY IN THE COUNTRY. Under any name, it’s a real treat with a terrific layered performance by the great character lead Ernest Borgnine.

Borgnine plays Adam Smith, a simple farmer and church-going man living in the country with his college-age granddaughter Lucy (Hollis McLaren). The whole county is buzzing about the three crooks who knocked over the local bank and killed two tellers. Suspecting the deadly trio may try to hold up at his place, Adam returns home from the Sunday sermon and prepares a rude welcome for his visitors. A real old-fashioned sort, Adam laments the changing world, that things ain’t what they used to be, and while he’s no zealot, he believes in hard work, the fear of God, and solving your own problems, even at the barrel of a shotgun.

Michael J. Pollard (BONNIE AND CLYDE), Louis Zorich (NEWMAN’S LAW), and Cec Linder (Felix Leiter in GOLDFINGER) play the bank robbers, and are almost as good as Borgnine in this. In fact, they go from cold-blooded to darn near sympathetic right quick after Adam decides he doesn’t want to call the sheriff (Al Waxman) right away and teaches the invaders a lesson instead. McLaren, making her film debut, is a nice contrast to Borgnine’s character, a young, progressive college student with a healthy respect for her elders—a respect that degrades in response to her grandfather’s perceived brutality.

As good as VENGEANCE IS MINE is, I can’t help feeling its climax is something of a cop-out. Director John Trent (MIDDLE AGE CRAZY) and his co-writer Robert Maxwell demonstrate a cake-and-eat-it-too attitude towards Adam’s violent actions that left me a little disappointed, as if they wanted to provide suitable punishment for both hero and villain. Which is fine, but I think the film would be more powerful with one fewer corpse at the end, audience’s desire for bloody closure be damned. Because of a certain existential overtone that infects the final scene, I’m not sure Trent doesn’t agree with me.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Final Notice

I bought this crime drama based solely on this review at the Mystery*File website. I found it very reasonably priced on eBay in its original hardcover edition, published in 1980 by Dodd Mead. It may also be the first mystery novel I've read set in Cincinnati, Ohio, which I found of interest as a fan of the baseball Reds and football Bengals.

FINAL NOTICE was the second of eleven novels by author Jonathan Valin about private eye Harry Stoner from 1980 to 1995. Told in first person, I thought it was remarkably similar in structure and tone to the Alex Delaware procedurals penned by Jonathan Kellerman, though I'm sure they're two different people and not meant to be similar.

Stoner is on a real barn-burner of a case (that's being sarcastic), hired by a public library to find out who's been vandalizing expensive art books. The culprit appears to be a real sick puppie though, cutting the breasts and genitals out of photos of female figures.

Harry is also saddled by a partner, the library's security consultant, a young and likable woman named Kate Davis, who gets a romantic kick out of Stoner despite their 13-year age difference. She's eager but a little naïve, though when Harry suggests maybe he knows more about detective work than she does, she's unwilling to bend.

The case gets more sordid than expected when Kate ties the unknown vandal to a vicious murder two years earlier—a young art student found in Hyde Park brutalized, sodomized, and cut into little pieces. Now Harry will take all the help he can get.

FINAL NOTICE is 246 pages, but I whipped through it in a couple of days. It's a good tight story with interesting characters and close attention paid to its unusual Ohio setting. It was reprinted in paperback editions in 1982 and 1994, and even made into a TV-movie in 1989 with Gil Gerard (BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY) and Melody Anderson (FLASH GORDON) seemingly well cast in the leads (I haven't seen it, but I'd like to).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Random TV Title: It's About Time

I'm sure you know the theme song to GILLIGAN'S ISLAND by heart. That 1964-67 sitcom was created by Sherwood Schwartz, who recognized a winning formula and duplicated it to open his next show.

IT'S ABOUT TIME starred Frank Aletter and Jack Mullaney as astronauts Mac and Hector, whose space capsule went off course and landed back on Earth...millions of years in the past! They befriended cavepeople Shad (Imogene Coca) and Gronk (Joe E. Ross) and their family, as well as the other English-speaking (!) primitives in the village.

At least that was the original series concept. After a few episodes, the ratings were not impressive, so Schwartz spun the premise upside-down, having Mac and Hector fix their spaceship and bring the cave family with them to 1967! This idea didn't work either with viewers, and IT'S ABOUT TIME was canceled after one season.

The memorable theme song was written by George Wyle, Schwartz, and Gerald Fried, who also scored the episodes. Here are the opening and closing titles from the pilot, which was directed by LETHAL WEAPON's Richard Donner (!) and aired on CBS September 11, 1966.

P.S. Coca's (YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS) character was named Shag in the pilot, but was later changed to Shad.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

He'll Replace You On The Bullseye


If you've watched any Fox at all this month, you know HUMAN TARGET debuts this week with the premiere tonight and another episode on Wednesday. The new series, which stars KEEN EDDIE's Mark Valley, is based on a DC Comics character created by Len Wein and Dick Giordano that debuted in ACTION #419 (December 1972). See that little blurb at the top? That's the only indication of something new and interesting sneaking into a Julius Schwartz-edited Superman book, aside from the awesome Neal Adams cover.

The Human Target was Christopher Chance, a non-superpowered bodyguard whose gimmick was a mastery of disguise. Instead of following his clients around, he actually became his clients using makeup and lured the potential killers into the open. Of course, that idea was much too interesting for contemporary network television, which has completely jettisoned that concept and turned Valley's Chance into...another bodyguard who follows his clients around? Then why call him the Human Target, when he's not?

Although the Human Target debuted in ACTION and appeared eight times in backup stories (which I think may have all been done by Wein and Giordano), Chance never appeared on a DC cover until almost six years later on BRAVE AND THE BOLD #143 in another Wein/Giordano teamup.


And some of us will remember that this is not the first HUMAN TARGET TV series. In 1992, Chance appeared in a spring tryout on ABC starring Rick Springfield (!). Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, who also made the excellent THE FLASH for CBS, were the executive producers. As far as I know, this is the only clip from that original series on YouTube (which I uploaded myself) and features Springfield in a kung fu battle with the great David Carradine!



And, yes, Springfield did play the master-of-disguise version of the Human Target as envisioned by the character's creators.

EDIT: According to the new series' credits, Wein and DC's then-publisher Carmine Infantino are the creators of the Human Target, though Giordano did indeed draw his first ACTION appearance.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The President's Plane Is Missing

THE PRESIDENT'S PLANE IS MISSING is one helluva page-turner.

Originally published by Dell in 1967, my paperback copy is the 13th printing. In 1970. Obviously very popular, and as the cover blurb says, a resident on the New York Times bestseller list for a long time. And it's easy to see why it captured the public's attention.

It was written by Robert J. Serling, whose brother Rod was the creator and chief writer of CBS' TWILIGHT ZONE. Robert was a pilot and a journalist (he worked as a consultant on some TWILIGHT ZONEs involving aircraft), and THE PRESIDENT'S PLANE IS MISSING is the perfect example of "write what you know."

Post-LBJ, the President of the United States is Jeremy Haines, and the U.S. is on the brink of nuclear war with either Russian or Red China. To do some solid thinking about the Earth's future, and to get some much-needed rest, Haines, a bachelor, decides to take Air Force One to his Palm Springs, California home for a working vacation. Leaving the press corps behind this time, the popular President boards with just his press secretary and his assistant aboard, as well as Air Force One's normal pilot and crew. But the airplane never arrives in Palm Springs.

As days go by and Haines is feared to be dead, those in Washington D.C. are left in a sort of panic over what to do next. Haines' incompetent and insecure Vice-President, Fred Madigan, takes over as Acting President. Meanwhile, Gunther Damon, head of the International Press Service's Washington Bureau, and his reporters begin a thorough investigation of Haines' disappearance, figuring it would be the world's biggest scoop if they could solve the mystery.

THE PRESIDENT'S PLANE IS MISSING is nothing like the men's adventure novels I often write about. There's no sex, no violence, no sleaze. Just a slow unraveling of a fascinating mystery through the eyes of a large cast of well-delineated, sharply drawn characters. It may be a cliche to say you won't be able to put this book down, but Serling's prose worked on me that way (even though I was able to eventually guess the big reveal).

I'm not sure THE PRESIDENT'S PLANE IS MISSING is still in print, but there are obviously millions of copies floating around out there that shouldn't be too hard to find. More obscure is the 1973 made-for-TV movie based on Serling's novel. Although it changed some character names and appears to have added some gunplay, it has a terrific cast, including Buddy Ebsen as Madigan, Peter Graves, Rip Torn, and Arthur Kennedy. I'd love to see it.

Here's a trailer for THE PRESIDENT'S PLANE IS MISSING that was cobbled together for its VHS release. I'd like to see a modern remake of it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Double Dose Of Ernie Anderson

Here are two vintage ABC promos voiced by the great Ernie Anderson. First, Susan Saint James (MCMILLAN AND WIFE) and William Conrad (CANNON) star in the 1978 ABC SUNDAY NIGHT MOVIE chiller NIGHT CRIES:



Then, after DONNY & MARIE, it's Christopher George in director William Girdler's 1976 film GRIZZLY, which was retitled KILLER GRIZZLY (!) for network television:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

CBS Late Movie

In the pre-Letterman days, CBS used to compete with Johnny Carson with something called THE CBS LATE MOVIE, which actually was sometimes a movie. Often it was nothing more than old reruns airing under the banner, but in this 1981 case, it was both. Here's the intro for an episode of KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER and the 1969 Hammer horror film TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA. I wonder if this was a Friday night.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Miami Wice Is Number One New Show!

I really believe EUROTRIP is a great unsung comedy and, in fact, one of the best comedies of the '00s. It's a perfect example of what can happen when smart people attempt something dumb. DreamWorks’ amiable teen sex comedy was written, produced, and directed by a trio of Harvard graduates whose credits include NATIONAL LAMPOON, SEINFELD, and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM.

What David Mandel, Alec Berg, and Jeff Schaffer (who takes sole directing credit to appease the DGA) have cobbled together is a surprisingly charming formula movie that offers plenty of satisfying lowbrow comic bits, as well as several clever out-of-left-field moments that suggest the filmmaking trio may be too bright for the material. What EUROTRIP also supplies in healthy doses is good old-fashioned nudity of both the male and female varieties. Hollywood in recent years seems to have forgotten that teenagers like to see beautiful naked teenagers, so Mandel, Berg, and Schaffer make up for past offenses by splashing enough skin on screen to fill a century of Coppertone ads. And lest you believe the nudity is entirely gratuitous, a NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD homage set on an all-male nude beach provides one of EUROTRIP’s most inspired comic setpieces.

The plot is a simple one, designed solely as an excuse to parade its youthful cast through the Prague locations unconvincingly disguised digitally as various European cities. Scott (Scott Mechlowicz), reeling from a graduation-day dumping by girlfriend Fiona (SMALLVILLE‘s Kristin Kreuk in a vampy cameo), discovers that his German pen pal, “Mike,” whose e-mails he blocked when he believed Mike was coming on to him, is actually Mieke (pop singer Jessica Bohrs), a major hottie who was saving herself for him. Desperate to make amends with her, Scott recruits slacker pal Cooper (Jacob Pitts) and twins Jamie (Travis Wester) and Jenny (Michelle Trachtenberg) for a backpack trip across the continent, where they encounter a series of comic misadventures: an overly amorous Italian (Fred Armisen), a rowdy rugby team led by Vinnie Jones (SNATCH), a goose-stepping little boy, a losing battle with absinthe that summons a profanity-spewing fairy (Steve Hytner), a Eurosmoothie named Christoph with an eye for Jenny, a Bratislavian MIAMI VICE junkie, and a Dutch dominatrix named Vandersexxx (Lucy Lawless), to name just a few.

Thanks in part to EUROTRIP’s game cast, none of the potentially embarrassing or incendiary comedy feels offensive or forced. Of the leads, only the former child actress Trachtenberg is a familiar face, and she certainly has matured into a game foil, equally at home playing the tomboy Jenny as the film begins and the sex bomb into which her European coming-of-age transforms her. Mechlowicz brings a Tom Hanks-ish charm to his role (don’t forget Hanks started out in similar ventures like BACHELOR PARTY), although it’s the sarcastic Pitts who steals the film with a funny performance that perfectly walks the line between likable and obnoxious.

Is EUROTRIP the SEINFELD of sex-and-slapstick teen comedies? Besides a few surface resemblances in the characters, both offer similarly anarchic and occasionally un-PC comic styles that reach beyond the conventions of their genres. I’m not ready to anoint a movie that contains the finest robot-mime kung fu battle ever filmed as the heir apparent to one of TV’s all-time smartest comedies, but there’s much to admire about EUROTRIP. Including, of course, the finest robot-mime kung fu battle ever filmed.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lethal, Slimy, Slithery, and Lithe

ISLE OF THE SNAKES is the second Ace paperback to feature the character of Jose da Silva, the mustachioed Brazilian captain of Interpol introduced in 1962 in the Edgar-winning THE FUGITIVE. Robert L. Fish, who also frequently wrote as Robert L. Pike, authored ten da Silva novels in all, in addition to many others. His most famous work, published in 1963, the same year ISLE OF THE SNAKES came out, is probably MUTE WITNESS, a crime drama about a New York City cop named Clancy, which was adapted as the film BULLITT.

ISLE OF THE SNAKES is not a bad little adventure. A little padded, even at 157 pages, as the first 28 feature a long stalking sequence that really could have done in less than half the time. And don't be fooled by the title. Oh, yes, there is an island of snakes, but it doesn't factor until the last twenty pages, and no one ever even sets foot on it.

It's up to da Silva to solve the mystery of a man found tortured to death on a Rio de Janeiro beach, leaving behind a mysterious package: a stuffed coral snake. It seems innocuous enough, if a bit creepy, but someone is going to a lot of trouble to find the package, killing people and even blowing up da Silva's beloved Jaguar.

The detective eventually figures out that a treasure map is concealed on the snake's body--a map that leads to something on the titular island, which is literally crawling with millions of deadly snakes. I'm sure not going there, treasure be damned, but da Silva's dogged investigative nature leaves him little choice.

da Silva is an interesting, likable character who shares friendly banter with an American diplomat named Wilson, who goes undercover to help his pal solve the mystery.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

One Big Happy Family

Here's the CBS promo for the excellent "One Big Happy Family" episode from HAWAII FIVE-0's sixth season. Slim Pickens and Bo Hopkins guest-starred as members of a Southern redneck family that roamed from state to state coldbloodedly murdering and robbing folks. Incredibly disturbing stuff.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Murder On His Mind

Director Tobe Hooper’s followup to THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE was a black-comic killer-croc thriller released under an incredible number of titles in the late 1970s and probably even into the 1980s: HORROR HOTEL, HORROR HOTEL MASSACRE, DEATH TRAP, BRUTES AND SAVAGES, LEGEND OF THE BAYOU, MURDER ON THE BAYOU, and STARLIGHT SLAUGHTER, among them. The most common title—and the one used on Dark Sky’s lovingly presented 2-disc DVD set—is EATEN ALIVE. By any name, it’s an impressive, intense scare ride.

A long-haired Neville Brand (RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11) plays Judd, the crippled, sexually repressed doper owner of the Starlight Hotel, who enjoys hacking up his guests with a scythe and feeding them to the crocodile that lives in the swamp next door. His guests include a naive prostitute, a family of three (including a little girl), the father and sister of the young runaway hooker (who have come looking for her), and a local redneck stud. Stuart Whitman (THE COMANCHEROS) plays the local sheriff who pooh-poohs the notion of any fishy stuff going on at the Starlight. Carolyn Jones (THE ADDAMS FAMILY) is the local madam, and Mel Ferrer becomes, with this and GREAT ALLIGATOR RIVER, one of the few actors to do two killer croc/gator flicks.

Producer Mardi Rustam didn’t fork over much dough to work with—most of the action takes place in and around the Starlight, which is an obvious though atmospheric soundstage set (including the exteriors)—though Hooper manages to generate a good deal of suspense anyway, especially during the scream-filled climax, which is almost as tense as the end of TCM. Brand, who specialized almost exclusively as killers and psychos at this stage of his long career, is amazing to watch. The old ham rants to himself, rolls his eyes, screams, yells, and generally acts like a lunatic. It isn’t exactly a subtle performance, but it is fun (though I can’t imagine what kind of desperate traveler would agree to spend a night at a rundown hotel run by this crackpot). The screenplay by Kim Henkel (who also scripted CHAINSAW), Rustam, and Alvin L. Fast is serviceable in that it introduces one character after another, merely to kill them off (which is the point of the movie anyway). It lacks focus, which keeps EATEN ALIVE from attaining any sort of classic status.

Also with William Finley (PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE), totally off the wall in a confusing role as a button-down father and husband who barks like a dog; Kyle Richards; a pre-Freddy Robert Englund, whose character was spoofed by Quentin Tarantino in KILL BILL; Roberta Collins, beautiful in a curly wig and charming in a small bit as Brand’s first victim; Crystin Sinclaire and Janus Blythe, who have nude scenes; and Marilyn Burns, the lone survivor of TCM, who screams a lot here too. The creepy score was composed by Hooper and Wayne Bell (another TCM alum).

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Random Comic Book Splash Page: Jungle Action #5


Whew, I haven't done one of these in several months. This nifty John Buscema/George Klein splash page from "The Monster and the Man-Ape" is from JUNGLE ACTION #5, cover-dated July 1973 by Marvel. From looking at it, you can be forgiven for wondering what it's doing in a book called JUNGLE ACTION.

Actually, four years earlier it was an issue of THE AVENGERS, #69 to be exact. At this point, JUNGLE ACTION was just a filler book for Marvel that existed to take space away from DC Comics on newsstands. The first four issues contained reprinted stories from 1950s Marvel (Atlas) books like JANN OF THE JUNGLE and LORNA THE JUNGLE GIRL.

Presumably they didn't sell, so editor Roy Thomas turned the book over to writer Don McGregor, who, with a number of fine artists including Rich Buckler and Billy Graham, created an excellent multi-issue storyline with Black Panther called "Panther's Rage," which was also not a huge seller, but was a quality series that garnered Marvel some good notice.

Filling the gap between the cancellation of the Atlas short stories and the new Black Panther stories was this one-off reprint issue set in the Panther's homeland of Wakanda. I suppose this was Thomas' way of easing the readership into the full-fledged Black Panther series.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Billion-Dollar Book

Believe it or not, the bizarre main image on the cover of Signet's paperback novel THE DEATH LIST actually occurs in the story!

THE DEATH LIST from 1974 is the third Narc adventure written by the excellent crime novelist Marc Olden, using the nom de plume Robert Hawkes. Like the previous book, it's a revenge tale, but this time it's hero John Bolt out for revenge.

The culprits are three corrupt Washington, D.C. cops who perform hits for a silky druglord named Frank Spain. Spain's target is the number one pusher in town, the mysterious Mr. Church, who's rumored to have a ledger containing all the names, dates, prices, etc. of every junkie, pusher, and connection in town, including some prominent government officials and other wealthy men who would do anything to keep the list away from prying eyes.

Spain hires the cops to waste Mr. Church, but the list escapes in the purse of a prostitute named Betsy Hawkins, and Bolt's partner is gunned down in the aftermath. What follows is a tough, rapidly paced procedural that takes Bolt all the way to Paris and back again in pursuit of Betsy and the list, including a very exciting chase through the Metropolitan Museum.

I give Olden's Narc and Black Samurai novels my highest recommendation. They aren't as sleazy as other men's adventure series of the Seventies, but they're exciting with fine characterizations and probably the best-written series of the genre.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

You'll Love The Service They Give

Amazingly, GAS PUMP GIRLS is a 1979 Cannon sex comedy with virtually the same plot as USED CARS, which came out a year later.

Uncle Joe (a nice supporting bit for former East Side Kid/Bowery Boy Huntz Hall), who runs a dumpy corner gas station, is having a tough time competing with the bigger, shinier new service station across the street run by venal Mr. Friendly (Dave Shelley). When a mild heart attack waylays Joe, his pretty niece June (Kirsten Baker) organizes her sexy friends to pour themselves into tiny shirts and even tinier shorts and take over the business. While the girls, their boyfriends, and a biker gang called the Vultures use sex and disco music to entice a crowd, Friendly enlists a pair of ‘30s gangsters (vets Mike Mazurki and Joe E. "Ooo ooo!" Ross) and various dirty tricks to shut the competition down.

The girls, including 1974 Playboy Playmate Sandy Johnson, Rikki Marin, and Leslie King, are cute enough, but Joel Bender’s sluggish direction kills any momentum the mild gags may build, and the hijinks are neither wacky nor original. You may remember Baker from FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART 2, but Linda Lawrence as the brunette Betty is the biggest knockout.

Also with Steve Bond (PICASSO TRIGGER), Ken Lerner, and Demetre Phillips as the Vultures, Dennis Bowen (the redhaired kid from VAN NUYS BLVD.), and obnoxious DJ Cousin Brucie. Does anyone own the soundtrack album on Blockbuster Records? The songs by David and Isaac Blech are pretty good soft rock, and one is performed by Baker (or a voice double) as a musical number!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Golden Shaft

Holloway House jumped on the blaxploitation movie bandwagon in the mid-1970s with its Iceman series featuring a hero more badass than Shaft, Superfly, and Slaughter combined.

Talk about perfect--Henry Highland West was a poor kid from Harlem who grew up to build the most elaborate playpen in Nevada. The Oasis, located in the desert fifty miles from Las Vegas, is a gigantic casino/whorehouse/resort stocked with the most beautiful women in the world. Not only are the girls excellent bartenders, card dealers, and call girls, but they're also experts in kung fu!

To call THE GOLDEN SHAFT, the second Iceman novel, which was published in March 1974, thin on story and characterization is putting it mildly. Sometimes I think author Joseph Nazel, who pumped out seven Iceman books in a little over a year, was making the plot up as he went along.

The Iceman wants revenge after a trio of bikers murder his friend Dipper, an old gold prospector who suddenly came into a fortune. The ultimate culprit is a South African slave trader named Robert Martin, who visits Nevada to buy a gold mine located on the Iceman's property. To call Martin a racist is putting it mildly, as every other word out of the sadist's mouth is an epithet of sorts. Believe me, you will be happy for him to finally get his just desserts.

The 217 pages went by very quickly, though the experience was emptier than reading most of these men's adventure novels. The Iceman is just too awesome--a perfect hero who can kill anybody, has more money than God, and is surrounded by gorgeous fighting women who are more than happy to sleep with Iceman's customers.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year!


No new posts today, but here's one from about this time last year when I watched the December 31, 1976 episode of THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON: "Here's Johnny."

416

416. That's the number of movies I watched in 2009. That’s an astounding 119 more than I saw last year, but well below my all-time record of 588 in 2004, which I hope I never equal. The number also doesn’t include all the television series on DVD I’ve been digging through this year, including GEORGE BURNS COMEDY WEEK, BJ AND THE BEAR, MANNIX, NICHOLS, and others.

Of the 416 movies I saw, I watched 259 of them for the first time. Here are my rules. As far as the count goes, only feature films count, no matter whether I saw them in a theater, DVD, VHS, or on TV.

• TV shows don't count, unless they were presented in a format resembling a feature film (for instance, the two pilot episodes of HARRY O, which aired as full-length made-for-TV movies)
• Made-for-TV movies count
• Documentaries count
• I didn't count short subjects or feature-length making-of documentaries included as DVD extras (for instance, the 25 YEARS OF HALLOWEEN DVD)
• Movie serials count as one long feature
• Multiple viewings each count as a separate movie

These are my rules. Your mileage may vary.

DVD: 292
HDTV: 32
Theater: 21
TV: 17
Blu-ray: 41
VHS: 5
Netflix Instant Streaming: 8

First film of 2009: Hitchcock’s FAMILY PLOT
Last film of 2009: BILLY THE KID’S RANGE WAR

From the 1930's: 1 (TERROR OF TINY TOWN)
1940's: 10
1950's: 26
1960's: 46
1970's: 111
1980's: 115
1990's: 34
2000-2009: 73

Even though I stopped going to theaters regularly a few years ago, I still managed to see 33 2009 releases, mostly on cable or on DVD. Outside of January’s annual B-Fest at Northwestern University, I went to the theater only 6 times this year, my all-time low. I saw BOONDOCK SAINTS II: ALL SAINTS DAY (on Thanksgiving), STAR TREK, and MY BLOODY VALENTINE (3D!) in Champaign; CORALINE (3D!), the FRIDAY THE 13TH remake (at Grauman’s Chinese!), and the Cirio Santiago double feature THE MUTHERS and VAMPIRE HOOKERS (at the New Beverly) in Los Angeles.

Most in one month:
January: 56
Least in one month:
May: 23

Films I saw more than once:
THE BEES
DEADLY BLESSING
THE DEMON LOVER
FAIR GAME (1986)
THE FIGHTING FIST OF SHANGHAI JOE
FINAL SCORE (3 times!)
FROM HELL IT CAME
GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER
NINJA STRIKES BACK
NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF OZPLOITATION (3 times!)
STUNT ROCK
SUPERARGO AGAINST DIABOLICUS
TROLL 2
WHEELS OF FIRE

The most films in any one 24-hour period:
14, when I attended Northwestern University's annual B-Fest January 30–31

Roman numerals in the title:
ANIMAL INSTINCT II
BOONDOCK SAINTS II: ALL SAINTS DAY
CANNONBALL RUN II
DEATHSTALKER II: DUEL OF THE TITANS
EVIL DEAD II
HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH
NINJA III: THE DOMINATION
STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN

For the first time, I gave star ratings to everything I watched, ranking them for 1 (worst) to 5 (best).
5 Stars:
NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF OZPLOITATION
STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN
SWITCHBLADE SISTERS
SAMURAI COP
USED CARS
ROAD HOUSE
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
MURDER BY NATURAL CAUSES
ANATOMY OF A MURDER
EVIL DEAD II
ARMY OF DARKNESS

1 Star:
88 MINUTES
SHARKS IN VENICE
TIME TRAVELERS
MAGIC WORLD OF MOTHER GOOSE
VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF PREHISTORIC WOMEN
VALET GIRLS
WINDOWS
SCARECROW SLAYER
PREDATOR: THE QUIETUS
JIMMY, THE BOY WONDER
IMPASSE
CANNONBALL RUN II
NATIONAL LAMPOON’S PLEDGE THIS!

Direct-to-Video or Barely Released Films You Haven’t Heard Of, But You Should See:
TRICK ‘R TREAT
IN THE ELECTRIC MIST
THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL
CARRIERS
BLOOD AND BONE
SEX DRIVE
PUNISHER: WAR ZONE
NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF OZPLOITATION
MY NAME IS BRUCE
EXIT SPEED
DREAMS WITH SHARP TEETH
CONFESSIONS OF A SUPERHERO
THE BREED
ABOMINABLE
SLASHER
TIME SERVED
COMMAND PERFORMANCE

Dolph Lundgren movies:
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER
I COME IN PEACE
RED SCORPION
COMMAND PERFORMANCE

Steven Seagal movies:
OUT FOR JUSTICE

Bowery Boys movies:
ANGELS IN DISGUISE
BOWERY BATTALION
CRAZY OVER HORSES
FIGHTING FOOLS
JUNGLE GENTS
PARIS PLAYBOYS
SPY CHASERS

Documentaries you should see:
NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF OZPLOITATION
SHINE A LIGHT
CONFESSIONS OF A SUPERHERO
DEMON LOVER DIARY
DREAMS WITH SHARP TEETH
SLASHER
DANGERFREAKS

They Exist, and I Watched Them:
BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA
BODY CHEMISTRY 4
CAT-WOMEN OF THE MOON
CHINESE HERCULES
CHOPPING MALL
DICK SMART 2.007
THE FIGHTING FIST OF SHANGHAI JOE
GAS PUMP GIRLS
HILLBILLYS (sic) IN A HAUNTED HOUSE
HITLER—DEAD OR ALIVE
MEGA SHARK VS. GIANT OCTOPUS
NEW YORK CALLING SUPERDRAGON
NINJA STRIKES BACK
PINK ANGELS
THE RAPE OF RICHARD BECK
SANTO AND BLUE DEMON VS. THE MONSTERS
SHARKS IN VENICE
STUNT ROCK
THEY CALL ME MACHO WOMAN
ZORRO AGAINST MACISTE

2009 Releases:
12 ROUNDS
ADVENTURELAND
BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT
BLOOD AND BONE
BOONDOCK SAINTS II: ALL SAINTS DAY
CARRIERS
THE CODE
COMMAND PERFORMANCE
CORALINE
DARK COUNTRY
DISTRICT 9
DRAG ME TO HELL
DUPLICITY
FANBOYS
FRIDAY THE 13TH
THE GOODS: LIVE HARD, SELL HARD
HIS NAME WAS JASON: 30 YEARS OF FRIDAY THE 13TH
THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL
I LOVE YOU, MAN
IN THE ELECTRIC MIST
THE INTERNATIONAL
JENNIFER’S BODY
KILLSHOT
THE LODGER
MEGA SHARK VS. GIANT OCTOPUS
MY BLOODY VALENTINE
OUTLANDER
PRISON BREAK: THE FINAL BREAK
SHARKS IN VENICE
SPINE TINGLER!: THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY
STAR TREK
STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI
TRICK ‘R TREAT

My Top Ten of 2009:
CARRIERS
CORALINE
DISTRICT 9
DRAG ME TO HELL
THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL
IN THE ELECTRIC MIST
MY BLOODY VALENTINE
PRISON BREAK: THE FINAL BREAK
STAR TREK
TRICK ‘R TREAT

My Bottom Five of 2009:
FANBOYS
JENNIFER’S BODY
MEGA SHARK VS. GIANT OCTOPUS
SHARKS IN VENICE
STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI

How many movies did you watch this year?