Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Mortuary (1983)

The same year TV goody-goody Melissa Sue Anderson (LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE) sullied her image by acting in the slasher flick HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, WALTONS girl Mary McDonough played the heroine in this tame slasher. Less effective than the Anderson film (but blessed with a great trailer), MORTUARY suffers from typically clumsy direction by Howard Avedis (née Hikmet Avedis) and a lack of surprises. For example, the obvious red herring really is the killer (Avedis is so bad at concealing the killer’s identity that one wonders whether he is trying to), and a dopey witchcraft subplot is left unfulfilled.

MORTUARY is notable as the last (to be released) film appearance of Christopher George, an ex-Marine who found stardom on television as the leader of THE RAT PATROL and ended his career in a series of junky exploitation pictures, often co-starring with his wife Lynda Day George (a regular on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE). Lynda is also in MORTUARY, playing McDonough’s mother, while Christopher slums as a mortician who joins her in Satanic seances. Film Ventures International slowly rolled out MORTUARY to theaters during 1983 (it was filmed in the fall of 1981), and George died not long after the film’s Los Angeles release at the age of 52.

High school student McDonough continues to believe the swimming pool accident that killed her father one year ago was actually a murder. Neither her mother nor her boyfriend David Wallace (HUMONGOUS) believes her, though she has nightmares about the incident and sleepwalks into the pool on occasion. Also, nobody believes her cries after a knife-wielding creep in a black cape tries to slice her to pieces. Also in the cast: a young Bill Paxton (ALIENS), whose Texas accent is out of place here as Christopher George’s weirdo son who listens to Mozart and (literally) skips through the cemetery. Wallace is a drip, but the girls always had the best parts in these things.

The funeral home setting is ripe for a creepy thriller — and John Cacavas (HORROR EXPRESS) contributes a fine score — but Avedis (THE FIFTH FLOOR) and his partner/wife Marlene Schmidt (SCORCHY) were just not capable of writing, producing, and directing a film of great quality. When McDonough gets out of the pool after a midnight dip, the deck is already wet, meaning it was Take Two and Avedis was too lazy to either dry it off or have the actress emerge on the other side.

Not to completely bash Avedis, some of the stalking scenes manage to raise suspense, partially because the killer’s look is patterned after Death in THE SEVENTH SEAL (why the killer dons such an elaborate guise is never addressed). The ludicrous ending was obviously inspired by FRIDAY THE 13TH, but it isn’t scary this time. GREEN ACRES’ Alvy Moore has a quick bit as Wallace’s father. McDonough appears to have been doubled in her nude scenes — don’t want any WALTONS fans to vapor-lock — but she did pop her top on down the road in a direct-to-video quickie called ONE OF THOSE NIGHTS.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Game Of Death (1978)

GAME OF DEATH is exploitation at either its cheekiest or most tasteless. A personal project of Bruce Lee, GAME OF DEATH was left unfinished when director/writer/producer/star Lee died after making ENTER THE DRAGON. Out of either a tribute to the action footage Lee had already directed or a desperate effort to continue making money off the dead legend (take yer pick), Golden Harvest and ENTER THE DRAGON director Robert Clouse decided to fashion a new martial arts film around Lee’s fight scenes. Considering Clouse included news footage of Lee’s corpse inside his coffin in a scene of Lee’s character faking his death, it’s safe to believe respecting the icon’s dignity was not a top priority.

Actors Yuen Biao (WHEELS ON MEALS) and Kim Tai-jong (who played Lee’s ghost in NO RESPECT, NO SURRENDER) fake-Shemp Lee in the new footage shot by Clouse. Neither resembles Lee in the slightest, so Clouse films them from behind, in disguise, wearing sunglasses, or, in the film’s most ludicrous shot, in front of a mirror with a photo of Lee’s face taped to it!

Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who fights Lee in perhaps the most memorable scene, refused to participate in Clouse’s film, so even he — at 7 feet 2 inches tall — is unconvincingly doubled. So, yes, basically, GAME OF DEATH is a ridiculous mess — Clouse even recycles the Lee/Chuck Norris fight from WAY OF THE DRAGON — but not an unwatchable one.

Though only ten minutes or so of the 100-minute running time features the actual Bruce Lee (not including occasional cutaways taken from some other movie), they are a terrific ten minutes with Lee, clad in that iconic yellow track suit, choreographing exciting fight scenes with Abdul-Jabbar and Dan Inosanto (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA). Bob Wall and Sammo Hung fight each other for no other reason than to eat running time. Objectively, GAME OF DEATH is terrible, but it’s also hilarious if you’re in that mood (and there is no shame in openly mocking a cash grab this cynical). The last half hour, beginning with the motorcycle chase in the warehouse, is fun.

A Bondian John Barry (THUNDERBALL) score and opening title sequence (with a gambling theme, even though no gambling is in the movie) give Clouse’s film some respectability. So does the name supporting cast, including a drunk Gig Young (THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY), who killed himself before this ever got into American theaters; stolid Hugh O’Brien (KILLER FORCE), who laughably kicks “Bruce”’s ass; Colleen Camp (APOCALYPSE NOW) in the girlfriend role; and Dean Jagger (VANISHING POINT) as the world’s most avuncular Mafia don.

Kill Or Be Killed

“The Greatest Hollywood Martial-Arts Movie Ever Made!” Actually a South African action picture lensed in South Africa in 1977, KILL OR BE KILLED was imported to America and given a successful ($30 million box office!) domestic release by Film Ventures International in 1980. By the end of that year, it was playing double bills with BREAKER! BREAKER!, Chuck Norris’ leading man debut.

Taking a cue from the Bond pictures and perhaps the men’s sweat magazines of the 1960s, KILL OR BE KILLED’s screenplay by C.F. Beyers-Boshoff involves Nazis, always an excellent screen antagonist. Karate master Steve Hunt (Ryan) is invited to participate in a martial arts tournament by a former Nazi general, Baron von Rudloff (Norman Coombes). The Baron’s opponent is a team led by wealthy Japanese benefactor Miyagi (Raymond Ho-Tong, the Asian Wally Cox), who defeated von Rudloff in a similar tournament forty years earlier, which led to the Nazi being humilated, stripped of his ran, and exiled.

Set mainly within von Rudloff’s desert compound (represented by an unconvincing miniature castle), the plot teams Hunt with cute karate colleague Olga (Charlotte Michelle, who has wonderful chemistry with Ryan), who becomes a convenient hostage when Hunt escapes from von Rudloff and is eventually coerced into throwing the championship match.

Though flagging in pace somewhat while von Rudloff’s midget sidekick Chico (Daniel DuPlessis) travels the world seeking fighters in various “humorous” asides, KILL OR BE KILLED is the real thing if you’re seeking authentic karate action. The actors are actual members of the Japan Karate Association (the South African branch), and the fight scenes were choreographed by well-known karate master Stan Schmidt. Instead of gymnastics and acrobatics, the fighting is mainly (except for Ryan’s signature back-flips) straight, no-frills karate, which may appeal to purists.

Rated PG with minimal sex and bloodshed, KILL OR BE KILLED was a breakthrough for South African star James Ryan, who reunited with director Ivan Hall for the slicker sequel KILL AND KILL AGAIN. Later Ryan action pictures include RAGE TO KILL and the notorious SPACE MUTINY, but none were better than the Hall films.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Kill And Kill Again

South African action star James Ryan returns in this humorous PG sequel to KILL OR BE KILLED as karate champion Steve Chase. Though the title has more kills than the film does, KILL AND KILL AGAIN is very well shot by returning director Ivan Hall and cinematographer Tai Krige, who spice up the action with inventive camera placements, unusual angles, and even a “bullet time” sequence decades before THE MATRIX.

In Sun City to compete in a martial arts tournament, Chase is recruited (for $5 million) by gorgeous blond Kandy Kane (Annaline Kriel) to rescue her father from the clutches of evil megalomaniac Marduk (Michael Mayer, stuck with one of cinema’s worst fake beards on his face), whose plan include extracting fuel from potatoes. Dr. Horatio Kane (John Ramsbottom), Kandy’s kidnapped father, has stumbled upon a mind-control drug, which Marduk uses to create an army of kung fu zombies ready to follow his commands in a bid to conquer the world.

Chase can’t tackle the kung fu zombies alone, so he contacts his buddies—former pro wrestler Gorilla (Ken Gampu), levitating Zen master Fly (Stan Schmidt), taciturn Gypsy Billy (Norman Robinson), and wacky Hotdog (Bill Flynn)—for help smashing Marduk’s stronghold. Cue a great assembling-the-squad sequence with Chase showing up just in time to see one of his buddies stumble into a skills-establishing kung fu fight.

Fast-moving chopsocky with a Bondian men’s adventure plot by John Crowther (THE EVIL THAT MEN DO) that doesn’t take itself seriously, KILL AND KILL AGAIN clearly inspired THE A-TEAM, right down to a huge black guy who hates flying and a wacky white dude who wears funny hats. Ryan, a handsome fellow who hates to button his shirt, is perfectly cast as a four-time world karate champion and leader of men, and it seems as though he and director Hall worked hard to make the fight scenes both exciting and realistic. Of course, Marduk delays killing Chase in order to describe his evil plan and show off his army of paunchy, balding kung fu warriors.