Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fightin' Smack In Tha Orphanage

That great 1970s hero, Black Dynamite, stops by the set of the beloved children's classic DING DONG ROAR to remind the kids to stay off drugs:

The brilliance of Michael Jai White and Scott Sanders' BLACK DYNAMITE never ends. I don't think this video showed up on the Blu-ray, dang it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Laser Battle

The fifth Enforcer novel gets back to its pulp sci-fi roots of the first. In BIO BLITZ, released by Manor Books in 1975, Alex Jason battles swarms of killer insects that have been trained by his archenemy Lochner to attack through ultra-sonics.

Jason still works for "Big John"--the John Anryn Institute--as a security agent of sorts. He is also a clone, but his clone body can exist for only 90 days before he must be transferred into another. Author Andrew Sugar's Objectivist agenda is more pronounced in BIO BLITZ than in previous novels, and I have to admit that getting past the book's politics can be difficult.

Lochner, who has appeared in previous Enforcer novels, but eluded capture, plans to kidnap Big John's leader, the portly Mortimer Flack. His first try is clever, but somewhat of an effort. He sends a swarm of termites to chow down on Flack's summer home. When Flack and Jason arrive and go to Flack's third-floor observatory, their weight causes the entire house to collapse!

Both men manage to escape, killing Lochner's flunkies in the process (with laser pistols!), but the villain eventually gets Flack in his clutches. Jason's rescue attempt is pretty exciting, as he must battle thousands--maybe millions--of bugs on his path to Lochner's stronghold, including a horde of man-eating ants!

Only one more Enforcer novel remains in the series. Though each has its moments, I can't really recommend the series to anyone except the most hardcore men's adventure reader. Not just because of the extreme political slant, but the books also feel padded, and some have barely any action at all.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

An Age Of Mystery And Magic

There once was a warrior named Kain, who was played by David Carradine, who played Caine on TV’s KUNG FU. On a strange desert planet with two suns, Kain entered a tiny village ruled by two opposing tyrants, Zeg (Luke Askew) and Balcaz (William Marin). Both sides claim ownership of the town’s only well. Why one of them doesn’t just dig his own hole someplace else, I don’t know.

The village peasants live only for the few drops of water provided them by whichever ruler controls the water that day. Kain thought this process was not very fair. Since he had seen YOJIMBO nine times, he decided to pit both sides against each other, hiring out his sword to both sides surreptitiously and plotting against them until all the bad guys were dead.

There was a sorceress too, that’s true, although she did precious little sorceressing. Her name was Naja (Maria Socas), and what she did best of all is walk around naked. Oh, my, was she naked. Really, her only job involved being naked, and she did that job very well. Rarely have I seen such majestic nudity for so little purpose. Not that I’m complaining, mind you.

THE WARRIOR AND THE SORCERESS, directed by John Broderick and released by New Horizons in 1984, runs about 80 minutes, which is what it has going for it the most. Carradine isn’t trying very hard, but he is having a good time. Of course, I imagine it’s hard to be miserable when you’re pretending to mow down 200 Argentinean stuntmen and extras while staring at Maria Socas’ luscious breasts all day. Thank Roger Corman for this pallid CONAN imitation that does manage to entertain on the simplest level.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Clock Is Ticking, And the Hands Are Dripping Blood

WHITE WASH was the third and last of the Mr. Jury novels to be published during the 1980s. All three, including .357 VIGILANTE and MAKE THEM PAY, were written by Lee Goldberg while he was a sophomore at UCLA. I've never understood why the series was called .357 Vigilante, when the character is only called Mr. Jury in the books.

Goldberg is today a very popular novelist and screenwriter (he has recently combined the two jobs with a series of MONK novelizations), but as a college sophomore, he had already demonstrated a knack for telling a crackling action story in a lean manner (as a disclosure, I should mention that Lee and I are Facebook friends and have shared a few friendly emails). Unfortunately, 1985's WHITE WASH is the least of the three .357 Vigilante novels and appears to have been a rush job.

Not only are the story and characters not flushed out as well as they could have been (we never learn anything about the killer except his name), but at 151 pages (with larger-than-normal type), WHITE WASH is much shorter than the earlier books. The concept is a good one, and the sex and violence levels are appropriately gruesome.

Brett Macklin, who stalked and killed infinitely deserving bad guys in the first two books as the street vigilante Mr. Jury, is about to be publicly exposed by Jessica Mordente, a horrified newspaper reporter who learned his secret. She gives him three days to get his affairs together before going to the cops, during which time Macklin must clear his name by finding a racist Mr. Jury copycat killer that targets black people.

The murderer is unsurprisingly in the employ of Anton Damon, a wealthy white supremacist who is the subject of an article Jessica is writing. Goldberg, writing as Ian Ludlow, also creates a murderous Los Angeles mayor in a subplot that doesn't play too well.

The book's highlights are its action sequences, which work very well, even though some of the villains' motivations seem weak. When Macklin is introduced in the first chapter while tinkering with his new gadget-equipped 1959 Cadillac, I turned the pages in great anticipation waiting for him to use that sucker (which he does in a bloody scene that could have come right out of an Executioner novel).

I was surprised to read the announcement on the back page of KILLSTORM, which would have been the fourth .357 Vigilante novel, to be released in January 1986. I didn't recall a fourth book existing, and I was right. Pinnacle went under before KILLSTORM could be published.

The good news is that you and I can read it now. Twenty-five years later, Goldberg has released all four .357 Vigilante novels, including the long-lost KILLSTORM, as Kindle originals. You can learn more about them and find links to their Amazon pages here. I don't have a Kindle, but I have an iPad, and once I acquire the Kindle app from Apple, I look forward to finally reading KILLSTORM. I think the new covers are dull and lack the character of Pinnacle's paperback covers, but according to Goldberg, they have improved his books' sales, so I can't argue too vigorously.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION is the second "official" sequel to the 1992 hit UNIVERSAL SOLDIER and a highly anticipated reunion of that film's stars: action icons Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. Like all of their recent films, it went directly to home video, but probably deserved better treatment. Director John Hyams hired his father, the noted action director Peter Hyams (CAPRICORN ONE), who worked with Van Damme on TIMECOP, to be his cinematographer, which lends the low-budget production a high-budget sheen. It’s a good, not great, action movie held back by a limited budget and routine screenplay.

Like his dad, John shows a real flair for staging exciting action sequences, including a very nice opening car chase. Unfortunately, the stars we really want to see are only given glorified cameos (Dolph only worked five days on the project), leaving the bulk of the emoting to the incredibly stiff mixed martial artist Andrei Arlovski. It also means that the many fights and stunts, as well done as they are, have little dramatic weight, because they’re being performed by characters we don’t know or care about.

OG UniSol Luc Devereaux (Van Damme) is pressed into service to rescue the children of the Russian Prime Minister from terrorists who have hijacked the Chernobyl nuclear plant and threaten to blow it up. Their secret weapon is a badass new Universal Soldier, played by Arlovski, who is seen demolishing four other UniSols with his brutal fighting style. Lundgren’s turn as Luc’s archenemy Andrew Scott is short but definitely sweet.

The score and sound design are compatible with Hyams’ vision, and with a better script and more participation from its name stars, this UNIVERSAL SOLDIER sequel could really have been something.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

This Fall, Daddy's Home

Dylan Walsh (NIP/TUCK) demonstrates that he’s no Terry O’Quinn in THE STEPFATHER, a limp remake of the 1987 film that did little box office, but became a cult favorite on cable and home video. Based on the true story of family murderer John List, the original STEPFATHER was a smart understated thriller with a corker of a complex performance by O’Quinn (LOST), who returned for a 1989 sequel. Under the direction of TV journeyman Nelson McCormick (who worked with Walsh on NIP/TUCK), the remake is routine boogeyman stuff.

The difference between the two films is evident from their opening scenes, in which the Stepfather cleans up, changes his appearance, and leaves his house after the off-screen murders of his family. Whereas Joseph Ruben, the director of the original, played the scene in a calm, understated fashion, echoing the cool sociopathy of the main character, McCormick adds whooshing camera tricks, “scary” music, and close-ups of the murdered children, which is much less interesting and respectful of its audience.

Now calling himself David Harris, the Stepfather finds a new family in Portland, Oregon with divorcee Susan (Sela Ward) and her three children. The two youngest take to David immediately, but the oldest is Michael (Penn Badgley), a high school senior home from military school, a supposed bad seed with a bad temper, but not played that way by Badgley (GOSSIP GIRL), who’s also too old to be convincing. He’s a bit suspicious of his new stepdad’s temper and the way he can’t keep the details of his backstory straight.

Scripter J.S. Cardone (SNIPER 3) apes the structure, but not the nuance of Donald E. Westlake’s original. Act Three really ramps up the stupid and adds an insulting coda. McCormick overdoes the horror clichés—the springloaded cat, the face in the mirror, a raging thunderstorm—making this STEPFATHER a technically polished but dramatically void affair. Amber Heard is Michael’s petulant girlfriend in a hilarious variety of bikinis. Paige Turco (THE AGENCY) and Sherri Stringfield (NYPD BLUE) are wasted as Susan’s sister and her partner. Also with Jon Tenney as Susan’s ex, Nancy Linehan Charles, Braeden LeMasters, Skyler Samuels, Jason Wiles, and Jesselyn Gilsig.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

More On Robert Culp

Anyone interested in the life and career of the late Robert Culp, the I SPY star who passed away last month, should probably read Stephen Bowie's fine appreciation of the actor on his Classic TV History blog.

Meanwhile, if you're into junky movies, pay a visit to a new blog by Don Guarisco, Schlockmania, which covers spaghetti westerns, Roger Corman movies, and reviews of old FANGORIA issues, among other offerings.

Finally, you know I've been covering the tough, gritty, strange world of men's adventure novels here at Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot, but nothing on the "men's sweat" magazines that lined drug store and newsstand shelves during the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. I hope to review some eventually, but until then, pay some attention to the Men's Adventure Magazine blog.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Boy Magician On A Fabulous Adventure

Roger Corman was at his laziest during the mid-1980s, when he appeared to recycle James Horner’s BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and Christopher Young’s DEATHSTALKER scores and tons of stock footage into half the films he made. His Concorde Pictures was very busy churning out sword-and-sorcery quickies in the aftermath of CONAN THE BARBARIAN and THE BEASTMASTER, and the 1985 release WIZARDS OF THE LOST KINGDOM is packed with scenes ripped straight out of Corman’s DEATHSTALKER and SORCERESS. The stock footage isn’t even used well; it’s often just tossed in at random with narration poured over it to fill gaps in the narrative.

Like Corman's BARBARIAN QUEEN, WIZARDS OF THE LOST KINGDOM was shot in Argentina by native director Hector Olivera. The PG picture also aims at a family-friendly audience, which surely disappointed fans looking for the blood and boobs common to the genre. At least there’s plenty of unintentional humor to be found in its incompetence and hammy performances.

The plot by Ed Naha (TROLL), who wrote a book about Corman, finds evil sorcerer Shurka (soap actor Thom Christopher, just off the BUCK ROGERS TV series) conspiring with Queen Udea (luscious Barbara Stock, who moved from this to SPENSER: FOR HIRE) to bump off the King of Axholm and take his throne. Trying to stop him are young magician Simon (Vidal Peterson, the young star of SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES), whose father was also murdered by Shurka; his large white furry companion Gulfax (Edward Murrow wearing the silliest Chewbacca costume you’ve ever seen); and Kor the Conqueror, lazily played by Bo Svenson in an amusing lark of a performance.

Maria Socas, whose nude acting was the highlight of Corman’s lame THE WARRIOR AND THE SORCERESS, pops up just long enough to introduce clips from SORCERESS’ climax and turn into a woman-sized rubber insect. For sure, WIZARDS OF THE LOST KINGDOM moves. It may not make any sense, but it throws one clumsy action scene after another at the audience at a rapid clip. One of them has Svenson hacking up zombies, even though he was obviously never on the same set with them (nor is he present during the big climax—just close-ups of him on a black set waving a sword over his head). Another swordfight between Svenson and a giant uses no special effects; the camera is placed on the ground pointing up to make Svenson’s opponent look huge.

Given that Naha was probably assigned to write the screenplay around the stock footage, it’s no surprise that the story is illogical. The American stars, recognizing this, let their hair down and gave loose performances. Svenson even sings something like an Irish folk song during a battle with ghosts. Christopher camps it up big time, zapping his midget minions with poorly animated rays and turning soldiers into mice. WIZARDS OF THE LOST KINGDOM is terrible, but also one of the most entertaining Corman fantasies of the ‘80s. It also made some money, since the related-in-title-only WIZARDS OF THE LOST KINGDOM II followed four years later.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Scream (Not That One)

Stuntman Byron Quisenberry scraped together some bucks for two weeks of shooting at the Paramount ranch, and emerged with SCREAM, a somnabulent horror flick that may well surpass FINAL EXAM and THE FOREST as the most boring slasher movie ever made.

Quisenberry was the writer, director, and executive producer, but his best talent was hiring veteran character actors whose presence provides what entertainment value SCREAM has. Alvy Moore (GREEN ACRES), Pepper Martin (SUPERMAN II), Hank Worden (from a zillion westerns), Gregg Palmer (FROM HELL IT CAME), and badass Woody Strode (SPARTACUS) worked a couple of days for Quisenberry, but most are killed off too soon.

Rafters spending the night in a Texas ghost town are picked off one by one by an unseen killer who brandishes a bloody array of tools. Unfortunately, Quisenberry chose to depict most of the murders off camera, cheating viewers of any visceral thrills to make up for his slack pacing and confusing plotting. The killer may or may not be the ghost of a 19th century sea captain; even the Shriek Show DVD commentators are confused. You’d have to be a hardcore horror completist to want to try to figure it out.

Composer Joseph Conlan moved from this to SIMON & SIMON and other mainstream TV fare, and cinematographer Richard Pepin became one-half of PM Entertainment. I don’t know why Shriek Show bothered to release this on DVD. Commentators Marc Edward Heuck and (the unidentified) William Olsen struggle to find something to talk about with Quisenberry. Olsen argues with the director about story nitpicks, and Heuck amazingly compares SCREAM to Luis Buñuel. Aquarius released SCREAM in New York City in 1983 as THE OUTING, and Quisenberry says he made money on it. I'm not sure it was ever titled SCREAM until the VHS release. The young cast includes John Wayne’s youngest son Ethan.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Share The Ultimate Modern Adventure

Producer/writer/star Tony Anthony (an American star of several Italian westerns of the 1960s and 1970s, such as GET MEAN and THE SILENT STRANGER), producer/writer/co-star Gene Quintano (later to flirt with Hollywood filmmaking by directing NATIONAL LAMPOON’S LOADED WEAPON 1), and director Ferdinando Baldi (who helmed Anthony in BLINDMAN) teamed up with the Go Go Boys at Cannon (Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus) to create the world’s first (and only?) 3D ripoff of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

Baldi, Anthony, and Quintano, as well as co-screenwriter Lloyd Battista (another American actor who found success writing and appearing in European genre pictures), were just coming off a massive success: the spaghetti western COMIN’ AT YA!, the first mainstream 3D movie to play U.S. theaters in a long time. Made quickly and cheaply in Spain, COMIN’ AT YA!, fueled by an entertaining marketing campaign that emphasized stuff whizzing past the camera into the audience, grossed something like $12 million at the American box office in 1981, ensuring a nice payday for its makers and a followup for audiences.

Westerns were, of course, already passé by the time COMIN’ AT YA! came out, but the 3D gimmick was novel enough to draw a paying crowd. For the “sequel,” which came out barely a year later, Cannon (which was not involved with the 3D western) and company turned to the big hit RAIDERS for inspiration, cast the tight-lipped Anthony again as the wry hero, and returned to the Marks 3-Depix StereoSpace Converter 3D process (the SuperVision and WonderVision hoopla on the poster is pure hooey) to craft some cheap thrills.

Perhaps sensing that audiences’ excitement for 3D would be dead by the time they could make another movie, the filmmakers go all out to exploit the process as rarely seen before. If you can name it, Baldi probably throws it into the camera. Indeed, the 21-minute prologue is an all-out assault of phantasmagoric 3D mayhem pitting soldier of fortune J.T. Striker (Anthony) against a formidable array of snakes, spikes, skeletons, dogs, chasms, broken glass, buzzards, flaming boulders, and an exploding castle.

From the castle, Striker retrieves a key that opens four jeweled 6th-century crowns containing treasure. One is already destroyed before the movie opens, and one is in a museum. The two that Striker has to worry about are in the possession of a psycho cult leader named Brother Jonas (Emiliano Redondo), who holds them in his mountaintop compound protected by masked followers. To get the crowns, Striker assembles his madcap squad: alcoholic mountain climber Rick (co-writer Jerry Lazarus), circus strongman Socrates (Francisco Rabal), and Socrates’ daughter, acrobat Liz (Ana Obregon, still a sexy star in Spanish television).

A caper movie is essentially what TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS is, and the center portion goes through the typical MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE standbys of assembling a team of specialists and mapping out a plan on a scale model of a heavily fortified enemy camp. We’re also introduced to Brother Jonas, who is said to be a regular old thug from Brooklyn, but is obviously from the Dr. Doom school of megalomaniacs (and so sketchily drawn that to call him the film’s antagonist is purely perfunctory).

I imagine the film was a real pip in 3D, but there’s still some kick to its 2D presentation, if only due to the silliness of all the stuff jammed into the camera lens. It isn’t a good movie by any real standard, but it’s an enthusiastic one and completely insane in the way so many Italian genre movies are. Take for example the climax, which doesn’t make a damn bit of sense, but involves flamethrowing gems, lasers, a revolving head, masked ninjas with machine guns, stained glass, the fakest-looking 3D serpent ever, and a melting face a la the end of RAIDERS. And that final shot…what the hell? And an Ennio Morricone score to match!

Despite (well, because of, really) the lunacy of its storyline and setpieces, TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS failed to do anywhere near the same level of box office that COMIN’ AT YA! did, and the shortlived 3D craze was dead as well by the end of 1983. Tony Anthony never acted again, though he did produce a pair of action movies for Quintano to direct.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Random Comic Book Splash Page: The Occult Files Of Dr. Spektor #18

Dr. Adam Spektor was one of the few original characters published by Gold Key to make any kind of lasting impact on readers. Created in 1972 by writer Don Glut and artist Dan Spiegle as a detective who investigated the supernatural (very much like Dr. Terry Thirteen over at DC Comics), Dr. Spektor premiered in the anthology MYSTERY COMICS DIGEST #5, but soon jumped to his own book, THE OCCULT FILES OF DR. SPEKTOR.

"Masque Macabre" was a full-length tale in the 18th issue of DR. SPEKTOR, penned by Glut (who wrote most if not all of Spektor's stories) and drawn by veteran Jesse Santos, who gave our bearded hero a foxy foe in this adventure set in Vermont--Spektor's Native American assistant Lakota!

While Spektor may have had its fans at the time, less than two years after this splash page was published, the character made his last appearance in GOLD KEY SPOTLIGHT #8 (probably an inventory story). THE OCCULT FILES OF DR. SPEKTOR had been canceled a couple of months earlier in 1977, and though the book produced one final issue five years later in 1982 (!), it was merely a reprint of #1. And Dr. Adam Spektor goes out with a whimper.