Wednesday, January 30, 2008

See Acts Of Incredible Savagery

I have been a big fan of trailer compilations for a long time. Long before Something Weird Video and Sinister Cinema began selling VHS tapes packed with two hours of spellbinding coming attractions for movies I never thought I’d get to see, I recall a company called Trailers on Tape (I think) that did mail order sales. Over the years, I’ve collected several videotapes full of trailers, including compilations devoted to Elvis Presley movies, 007, horror, science fiction, martial arts and general exploitation. Someone once gave me two tapes filled with trailers for XXX features of the 1970s, but I quickly gave those away (can’t remember now where I got ‘em or who eventually got ‘em). I’ve even made some DVD-R collections of various trailers, nearly twenty of them by now. They’re fun to pop in when company is over, ‘cause they’re usually fun when caught out the corner of the eye, and you don’t have to pay much attention to enjoy them (though they’re better when you do).

Synapse just released its third DVD collection of exploitation and drive-in trailers under its 42ND STREET FOREVER banner (another company, Ban 1, also did a 42ND STREET FOREVER DVD that is also worth having). It has been awhile since I reviewed a trailer comp, not since SWV’s old DUSK-TO-DAWN DRIVE-IN TRASH-O-RAMA collection, but since this one is brand new, you might be interested in what’s on it. 42ND STREET FOREVER, VOLUME 3: EXPLOITATION EXPLOSION begins with the strange Restricted clip featuring the cute kittens that was featured in last year’s GRINDHOUSE. Then, the first of nearly fifty trailers starts…

• SUDDEN DEATH—I saw this years ago, but don’t remember it kicking as much ass as this trailer does. It’s an action movie filmed in the Philippines starring TV star Robert Conrad (THE WILD WILD WEST), Felton Perry (MAGNUM FORCE), Don Stroud and John Ashley, who produced and starred in several Filipino drive-in flicks. Conrad and Perry are “two masters with 1000 ways to kill,” and they demonstrate most of them in the trailer, which tries to sell SUDDEN DEATH as both blaxploitation and kung fu. I wonder why Conrad didn’t make more movies. He probably could have been a major drive-in star if he wanted (he was also in MURPH THE SURF and THE LADY IN RED), but he was also on television virtually all through the 1970s, which probably paid a lot more than junky action flicks. The great cast and bloody violence on display here makes me want to pull that crummy old SUDDEN DEATH VHS out of the closet.

• THE ONE ARMED EXECUTIONER (sic)—“The ultimate in action and adventure” is an entertaining and typically crazy Philippines production about a guy who has his arm cut off by the mob, then learns to kick ass one-armed and go after revenge. I’ve seen this movie several times. A trailer used to appear on old Paragon VHS tapes (like A NAME FOR EVIL), but this is a long version. I should note that Synapse has done a fine job cleaning up these old trailers, presenting them in widescreen (they look like original ratios and are probably close) with good sound. Some have scratching and speckling, but most look quite good.

• JAGUAR LIVES!—Laughingly attempts to sell its star, karate champion Joe Lewis, as the heir apparent to Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood and Bruce Lee. Lewis was none of the above, and this international production is quite dull, despite the trailer’s focus on action and its great supporting cast, including Christopher Lee, Donald Pleasence, Barbara Bach, Joseph Wiseman, Capucine, John Huston and Woody Strode. All the good parts are in the trailer.

• ENTER THE NINJA—Cannon sets up the trailer for this big hit by explaining to America what a ninja (“the oldest and ultimate martial art”) is and punctuating it with tons of fighting action. What’s odd is that Christopher George, a well known leading man who plays ENTER’s villain, is neither seen in any clips nor mentioned along with stars Franco Nero, Susan George and Sho Kosugi. George must have been something of a draw then, certainly more so than Kosugi and maybe more than Nero and Susan George (no relation). I’d like to hear the story behind Cannon’s decision to shut Chris out, though it didn’t hurt the box office. Every ninja flick that came out of the 1980s was as a result of this film’s success.

• LIGHTNING SWORDS OF DEATH—If you liked SHOGUN ASSASSIN, you might like this Japanese action flick, which Columbia released Stateside in 1974. It appears to be the third “Lone Wolf and Cub” film, but released in the U.S. six years before New World combined the first and second films to make SHOGUN ASSASSIN. I thought it was odd to see Columbia’s name on it, as I don’t recall that studio getting too involved in picking up independent exploitation movies (though I’m certain someone will correct me).

• 5 FINGERS OF DEATH—If you don’t recognize that weird musical sting as Quincy Jones’ IRONSIDE theme, you’ll know it from KILL BILL. Tarantino was influenced by the “acts of incredible savagery” in this movie, which Warner Brothers released in the U.S. It was the first Hong Kong martial arts film to make big bucks in the U.S. and opened the door to dozens more over the next six or seven years.

• THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER—Deep-voiced actor Ted Cassidy (Lurch from THE ADDAMS FAMILY) narrates this trailer, an unusual combination of kung fu flick and spaghetti western. Lee Van Cleef and Lo Lieh (5 FINGERS OF DEATH) star in this Italian/Chinese co-production directed by Antonio Margheriti. It’s unusual in that it’s played with a light touch, a humorous tone rarely seen in the two genres. It’s a good trailer for a fun movie. I remember seeing it at a drive-in back in the mid-1970s.

• BEYOND THE DOOR—I’ve seen this trailer for a blatant EXORCIST ripoff many times. The prime selling point may have been seeing squeaky clean Juliet Mills from the bland NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR sitcom as the woman possessed, spewing bile and rotating her head all the way around.

• DEMONOID: MESSENGER OF DEATH—A hilariously bad Mexican horror movie spawns an equally hilarious trailer, which shows Stuart Whitman pounding a nail through a rubbery hand. American Panorama, whoever they were, released this junk, which features nudity, gore, Satan, a burning man, a flying hand and Samantha Eggar.

• THE NIGHT CHILD—Another Italian horror movie with Richard Johnson (aka BEYOND THE DOOR).

• DEVIL TIMES FIVE—All (or most) of the wild killings are seen in this spot. Killer children chop, poke and trap their adult prey. Seen is the notorious shot of the child actors dragging a nude female corpse—played by the mother of two of the young actors (!)—through the snow. Narration compares it to VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED. An apparent reference in the copy to THE OMEN may mark this as a re-release.

• PATRICK—An Australian thriller that looks intriguing and perhaps similar to PSYCHIC KILLER.

• JENNIFER—AIP released this blatant CARRIE ripoff about a plain-looking teenager who uses her mind powers to get back at the rich bitches who tease her. “She’s a holy terror.” And Bert Convy is in it!

• PHASE IV—Intriguing visuals dot this intellectual killer-ant movie, the only film directed by noted designer Saul Bass.

• BUG—“The bug lives. The bug grows.” Large, meat-eating cockroaches set people and buildings (and trucks!) on fire in this dorky horror flick.

• THE UNCANNY—This killer-kitty movie looks awful, though it does star Peter Cushing (just after STAR WARS, I think), Ray Milland and Donald Pleasence. The logo is cheap and horrible.

• THE PACK—I’d like to see this one, as Joe Don Baker fights a pack of wild dogs! Probably better than the crummy DOGS, which at least had a great trailer that claimed, “See Spot run! See Spot…kill!”

• ALLIGATOR—A teaser that presents this clever monster movie as straight-up horror with no indication that it’s a sendup or mention of its stars. No wonder it was a box-office flop that blossomed later.

• KILLER FISH—I think this made MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, a “terrifying adventure” with very fake-looking piranha and an all-star cast including Lee Majors (yay), Marisa Berenson, James Franciscus, Margaux Hemingway and Karen Black.

• SHARKS’ TREASURE—I like this eccentric adventure, which was apparently “filmed at the risk of life and limb” using actual sharks—“no trick photography, miniatures or mechanical models.” Cornel Wilde (THE NAKED PREY) was the writer, producer, director and star.

• BLOOD BEACH—Someone doing a Burt Young impression narrates like an old detective movie. I’ve never heard of anyone liking this film, and I think it’s a bore, despite John Saxon being in it and it’s having a great title. Saxon says in this monster movie about a creature pulling its victims under the sand, “Just when you think it’s safe to go back in the water, you can’t get to it.”

• HOT T-SHIRTS—I never heard of this sex comedy, which apparently has disco, women with humongous breasts, and a plot about a wet T-shirt contest to save Walter Olkewicz from losing his bar.

• CHEERLEADERS’ WILD WEEKEND—“If you think fifteen naked cheerleaders is not that exciting, ho ho on you. We’ll prove you wrong.” FLESH GORDON’s Jason Williams, ALICE IN WONDERLAND’s Kristine DeBell and BLAZING STEWARDESSES’ Marilyn Joi star.

• SUMMER SCHOOL TEACHERS—Candice Rialson is Conklin T. in this fun New World comedy, part of Roger Corman’s unofficial “3 Girls” series. Also with girl football players, dune buggies, Dick Miller, Candice topless and an O.J. Simpson joke.

• GORP—Producer “I.M. Gross” introduces this “unredeeming and offensive” trailer. I’m sure that’s the general level of humor in this comedy that at least offers a hot young Fran Drescher and a red-haired Eddie Deezen wannabe.

• KING FRAT aka KING @$#! FRAT—A guilty pleasure if I ever saw one, this unabashedly dumb ANIMAL HOUSE ripoff is introduced by actor John DiSanti (who’s gotta be almost forty) in character as Bluto-wannabe Grossout, wearing a Howard the Duck T-shirt that couldn’t possibly have passed legal clearance (he wears it in the film too). I’ve seen the film a zillion times, and the best stuff ain’t in the trailer. I can’t realistically recommend that anyone watch KING FRAT, but I love it. Best. Fart Contest. Ever.

• PRISON GIRLS—Looks to be a skanky porn flick in 3D. “Announcing a major motion picture event.” In a pig’s eye.

• 1,000 CONVICTS AND A WOMAN—Nowhere near as lurid or fun as its concept and title promise. SKIDOO’s Alexandra Hay is the woman. “White man, black man, every man.”

• CHAIN GANG WOMEN—One of exploitation’s most notorious cheat titles. Let me warn you that no chain gang women are in this film, and no women at all for about 45 minutes.

• THE PENTHOUSE—Looks somewhat similar to OPEN SEASON, also directed by Peter Collinson. Stagey-looking thriller about punks who invade the home of Suzy Kendall and her husband.

• THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE—Also known as DEATH WEEKEND, this Canadian thriller isn’t really the horror film promised, even if it did win the “grand prize at the International Terror Film Festival.” Brenda Vaccaro, Don Stroud and Chuck Shamata star.

• NIGHT CALL NURSES—“They always come when you call.” This and the following THE YOUNG NURSES and CANDY STRIPE NURSES are basically the same and follow the same formula as the earlier SUMMER SCHOOL TEACHERS. All are short (usually under 80 minutes) mixtures of sex, humor, drama, action and politics featuring three sexy young nurses, one of whom is a minority (black in NIGHT CALL and YOUNG, Latina Maria Rojo in CANDY STRIPE). I think CANDY STRIPE NURSES, with topless Candice Rialson and Robin Mattson (now a big soap star), is the best of the three.

• THE LIFE AND TIMES OF XAVIERA HOLLANDER—Actually isn’t (she sued to get the producers to change the title of this hardcore movie). WOMEN’S WEAR DAILY allegedly gives it a good review.

• THE HAPPY HOOKER GOES HOLLYWOOD—If you ever wanted to see Adam West and Richard Deacon naked in bed together (and later in drag), this is the place. Martine Beswick (also in THE PENTHOUSE) is Xaviera in this embarrassing Cannon film.

• SURVIVE!—I was stunned to see the names of Robert Stigwood, Allan Carr and Paramount Pictures on this trashy Mexican film about plane crash survivors who go cannibalistic. Yeah, it’s based on a true story—“the most shocking episode in the history of human survival.” Fakest looking snow I’ve ever seen.

• GUYANA: CULT OF THE DAMNED—The director of SURVIVE! produced this sleazy exploitation for his director son. Stuart Whitman is “Jim Johnson” in this slimy but fascinating feature that co-stars (somehow) Gene Barry, John Ireland and Joseph Cotton.

• SEVEN—Lots of explosions and hot women in this 1979 action/adventure directed by Andy Sidaris, who also made the great STACEY!, HARD TICKET TO HAWAII and PICASSO TRIGER. “Death is their way of life.”

• SCORCHY—Connie Stevens, one of cinema’s most underrated hotties, is miscast as Seattle cop Scorchy. Lot of action in the trailer, but the movie ain’t much, even if it does feature William Smith (also in SEVEN) as the heavy and a Connie nude scene. “She’s the hottest cop on the force.”

• SAVAGE STREETS—I have always liked this nasty, scummy, perverted exploitation revenge flick about teen Linda Blair who goes after the scumbags who raped her deaf-mute little sister (Linnea Quigley) with a crossbow. John Vernon, who was with Linda in the equally sleazy CHAINED HEAT, is her unsympathetic principal. The trailer gives you a good indication of what the film’s all about.

• CONVOY—No mention is made of director Sam Peckinpah or its big-name cast until the very end. The trailer is basically C.W. McCall’s hit song playing over footage of trucks smashing into things and Kris Kristofferson with no shirt on.

• HIGH BALLIN’—Jerry Reed, just off SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, relates the plot of this Canadian action flick in which he plays virtually his SMOKEY role again. More cars smash into things. Peter Fonda is the main star.

• FROM NOON TILL THREE—Intriguingly sells the underrated Charles Bronson in a change of pace role where he plays comedy and romance.

• TELEFON—I like this fun thriller with an oddball premise. Charles Bronson is a KGB agent on a mission in the U.S. Lots of explosions in the trailer.

• LIES—Not sure what this is about, nor have I even heard of it. From 1983, it stars Bruce Davison, Clu Gulager and Ann Dusenberry and is a thriller.

• TATTOO—Looks like a pretentious bore, but I’d love to see it. Bruce Dern (perfectly cast as a psycho) still intimates that he and Maud Adams really “did it” during their love scenes.

In addition, 42ND STREET FOREVER, VOLUME 3 offers a handful of short TV spots: JAGUAR LIVES!, HIGH BALLIN’, CHAMPION OF DEATH, SENIORS, THE LAST SURVIVOR (it’s amazing this movie was ever advertised on TV), THE JESUS TRIP, NAKED ANGELS, BILLY JACK and GOLDEN NEEDLES.

The big extra is the crowded but informative commentary track by cult movie experts Edwin Samuelson, Chris Poggiali and Michael Gingold. In the spirit of disclosure, I’ll admit that Chris and I are friendly acquaintances and that I wrote two DVD reviews for Edwin’s Web site a few years ago (and Synapse head Don May Jr. is a regular at Mobius Home Video Forum, where I moderate several message boards). The commentary is enjoyable, and any criticism would likely be nitpicking (is that really Ernie Anderson voicing the SUDDEN DEATH spot?). These guys, primarily Chris, know their subject matter, have done the research, and do a nice job of imparting information in a casual manner that’s fun to listen to. I do think three guys in the booth, like on MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL, may be one too many though.

Thanks, Synapse, for the good work. Fans of good ol’ violent, sexy, bizarre drive-in trailers won’t wanna be without this one. Looking forward to Volume 4.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

This Man Must Be Killed On Sight

When we last left The Lone Wolf, he was in San Francisco, blowing up a freighter, stealing a half-million bucks worth of heroin, and killing every bad guy he could see. Since then, he's gone to Boston to kill a bunch of mobsters there, stopped off in New York to see his old patrolman partner, and headed to Vegas to, well, blow up a casino. Oh, and he's also undergone a name change from Burt Wulff to Martin Wulff.

In Mike Barry/Barry Malzberg's DESERT STALKER, the fourth in Berkeley Medallion's "bloody saga of The Lone Wolf," Wulff is tipped off about a corrupt New York City police detective who absconded to Las Vegas with a suitcase full of drugs heisted from the NYPD's evidence room. Strangely, this plot point goes nowhere, as the chief villain, a mobster named Vinelli who manages the Paradise Hotel and Casino for the Mafia, kills the cop in his first scene. Most of the novel finds Wulff barging into Vinelli's office, shooting him in the leg, and holding him hostage, while mob goons from around the country collaborate on the best method of dealing with the Lone Wolf.

The cover, cool though it is, is heavily misleading, as Wulff does most of his killing indoors, and there are certainly no women around to get in his way. Barry's writing is denser than I prefer these tough men's adventures to be; I find myself skipping through paragraphs of needless description or introspection to get to the dialogue and action. Maybe that's my failure for not recognizing Barry's attempt to add depth to his characters.

I'm not really complaining about DESERT STALKER. It's a competent novel and a brisk enough read. Unlike many of these series, the Lone Wolf does maintain some continuity from book to book, as a character from the earlier BAY PROWLER makes a cameo here, and I've read that the final book, #14, makes a stab at wrapping up the Lone Wolf's story. So, it's not one of my favorites, but good enough.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

No Sin Shall Go Unpunished

It ain't exactly innovative, but MISSIONARY MAN is the best of the direct-to-video action movies Dolph Lundgren has directed to date. His first two—THE DEFENDER and THE RUSSIAN SPECIALIST—are also pretty decent, as DTV actioners go.

It takes its plot from half the westerns ever made--mysterious stranger rides into town and rescues it (nearly) singlehandedly from the evil rich man (and his thugs) who run it. It's the kind of movie where the villain's goons call him "boss." Yeah, like ROAD HOUSE, you got it.

The stranger (Lundgren) is called Ryder in the credits, but isn't identified on screen. What's unusual about him is that he drinks tequila straight and reads the Bible through tiny reading glasses. He rides into a sleepy New Mexico town on his hog to attend the funeral of J.J., a Native American who leaves behind a sister, father, niece and nephew. It isn't revealed how Ryder knows J.J.—"something like" serving in the military together—but he knows him well enough to get involved when Reno (Matthew Tompkins), the local dealer in used cars and drugs, accelerates his reign of terror on the town and on J.J.'s family in particular (it has something to do with needing them out of the way, so Reno can build a casino on the local reservation).

I think Dolph has a good eye for shooting action and doesn't get too carried away with boring camera gimmicks (he does like slo-mo though). I'm not fond of the washed-out flavor MISSIONARY MAN's director of photography chose, but at least he didn't pump the colors way up. He also doesn't mind getting the screen a little bloody, though he saves the worst gore for the end of the picture and builds up to it.

What should be mentioned is how much MISSIONARY MAN cribs from BILLY JACK, right down to the scene where Dolph tells his foe he's gonna take this knee and break that nose and there's not a damn thing you're gonna be able to do about it. It also has a touch of HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER; it's suggested that Lundgren's character is the reincarnation of a man killed years previously by a biker (who's played by John Enos III, who looks like the actor you get when Daniel Baldwin is too stoned to work).

As Lundgren, who most memorably fought it out with the Italian Stallion as uber-Russkie Ivan Drago in ROCKY IV, turns 50 years of age, his facial features, as well as his acting skills, have sharpened. While his MISSIONARY MAN is a typically tight-lipped action hero, Lundgren is charismatic and manages to project a lived-in demeanor that has so far eluded most of his action-star contemporaries. Good score by Elia Cmiral. This actually played theatrically for a brief time in San Diego, but premiered in Dallas (near where it was shot).

Friday, January 25, 2008

Killin’ Is As Easy As Breathin’

Can you really go home again? John J. Rambo does so figuratively and literally in this incredibly bloody movie. RAMBO, the fourth in a series that began with the terrific FIRST BLOOD (1982), but has been absent from screens since 1988's RAMBO III, has the simplest screenplay of any of them, and times out at a lean 80 minutes or so (plus closing crawl). In a nutshell, Rambo (writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone, as if you didn't know), now a lonesome cobra wrangler in Thailand, is approached by American missionaries to take them into war-torn Burma on his boat. He does, against his better judgment, and when the missionaries are eventually kidnapped by some real bastards, Rambo only slightly less reluctantly agrees to accompany some mercenaries into the jungle on a rescue mission.

RAMBO is one of the goriest R-rated films ever released, making SAVING PRIVATE RYAN look like SGT. BILKO. Frankly, I can't figure the MPAA ratings board. If the splatter on display here isn't graphic enough for an NC-17, then I can't imagine what is. Unfortunately, Nu Image, the production company that made its name shooting dozens of direct-to-video action and horror flicks in Bulgaria, cheaped out on the gore effects. Instead of using squibs and makeup, Nu Image hired the same Bulgarians who did CROCODILE 2 and SHARK ATTACK 3 to perform the CGI decapitations and limb removals. When will Hollywood learn that computer graphics will never be an improvement over physical effects? Perhaps the action was moving so fast, Stallone and Nu Image thought nobody would notice. It appears the MPAA didn't.

To be honest, I thought the violence in RAMBO was too brutal, for the most part. It's a simplistic action flick, nothing more, and while it succeeds at making the villains so damn hateful that you cheer when Rambo shows up to waste them, the opening violence was so realistic that it ceased to be "fun," if you know what I mean. It's curious how these movies have become politicized over the years, particularly during the 1980s, when President Reagan proclaimed that Rambo must have been a Republican. The irony is that the character is an expatriate with little love for the country that let him down after the Vietnam War and literally left him to die in the Vietnamese jungle years later. If anybody "hates America," it's John Rambo.

Still, Stallone is a talented action director, and it would be interesting to see what he could do with a film that he wasn't acting in. He unquestionably stages more dynamic action sequences than, say, Christopher Nolan and Doug Liman, not that anyone is going to be brave enough to give Sly a Batman movie to direct. Outside of Stallone, no other cast member or character really has much to do. The lead antagonist doesn't even have a name, as far as I could tell, and the film's most familiar supporting actor, Ken Howard (THE WHITE SHADOW), appears in just one scene. Of course, the movie is called RAMBO after all, so perhaps it can be forgiven.

Killer's Justice

Detective Joe Ryker is still an asshole in THE TERRORISTS, #3 in Leisure Books' series by Nelson DeMille, though I presume paperback readers wouldn't have him any other way. Partnerless this time, Ryker is assigned to a major case: terrorists calling themselves the American Freedom Army are kidnapping wealthy people, blowing up buildings and machine-gunning hundreds of disco dancers as their way of sticking it to The Man. DeMille, who appears to despise anyone under thirty, doesn't even let the cops ultimately take care of business, as Ryker drops a dime on the AFA to the Mafia, who clean up the garbage in gut-busting splendor. Once again, Leisure's proofreaders miss references to "Blaze," rather than "Ryker," making it a certainty that DeMille's Ryker novels were originally intended for the Super Cop Joe Blaze series. I'm not a big fan of Ryker, though the violence and sleaze are plentiful. I realize most of these men's adventure paperbacks were written quickly, but I wouldn't be surprised if DeMille cranked this one out in a couple of days, and he way overdoes the use of capital letters to denote shouting or radio conversations.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

We've Got To Get Out Of Here

Did you know that KISS once starred in a film in which an evil mad scientist created evil KISS robot doubles, kidnapped the band, and substituted the evil KISS for a rock concert at Magic Mountain, so he could brainwash KISS fans into going crazy and destroying the park? And that it was produced by Hanna-Barbera? And it aired on NBC as KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM? Here's the NBC promo:

Great line reading, Paul. Goodtimes Video released on a cheap VHS as KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK. It wasn't advertised well, but the film appears on the KISSOLOGY: VOLUME 2 box set, which is where I saw it recently. It's a letterboxed version of the print that played theatrically overseas as ATTACK OF THE PHANTOMS. Strangely, there are no phantoms anywhere in the film, at the park or otherwise. There are some white robot kung-fu werewolves, however. Oh, and Anthony Zerbe plays the villain. Sweet.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Rx: Kill!

The Enforcer is back in CALLING DOCTOR KILL!, the 2nd Lancer paperback by Andrew Sugar, published in 1973. This time, Alex Jason is cloned as a pathologist named Douglas and sent undercover inside a fancy hospital owned by the Syndicate and run by a sinister physician named Guider. Inside the highly guarded D ward, Guider is holding hostage Rosegold, the resident genius at the John Anryn Institute--Jason's bosses--who created the complex formula for keeping minds alive indefinitely inside a series of clone bodies, each of which lasts for no more than ninety days before the mind is transferred to a new body. It's up to Jason to either snap Rosegold out of his trance (self-induced in order to not give Guider any secrets) and get him out of the hospital or kill him to ensure he never talks.

As with the original novel, the science fiction elements are there, but not overpowering, and almost make you believe Jason's exploits are possible. Also like THE ENFORCER, Sugar's series is one of the sleazier men's adventure series, injecting racist dialogue and graphic sex scenes into the chapters and introducing a particularly lurid subplot about the rape of a retarded young boy. With nearly the entire book set inside the hospital, CALLING DOCTOR KILL! runs short on torture and action scenes, saving most of the fun for the last chapter. If you don't mind the often lurid story points and the placid setting, CALLING DOCTOR KILL! is entertaining enough, though a letdown from the jungle adventure of the first Enforcer novel.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Cheer Up, Sleepy Jean

John Stewart, a former member of the Kingston Trio who had a solo hit of his own, "Gold," in 1979, died over the weekend in San Diego. He was 68.

However, the song he wrote that will outlast all of us is "Daydream Believer," which was an enormous smash in 1967 for The Monkees, who took it all the way to #1. It's a great song, even though I don't know what the hell it's all about.

Here is the music video The Monkees produced for the song (not that it was called a music video at the time). This and several other videos were filmed and aired on the group's NBC sitcom, usually as the tag after the main story and before the closing credits.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

B-Fest 2008

It's Sunday morning, and another B-Fest has come and gone. For the seventh consecutive year, I managed to stave off hunger, restlessness, sleep deprivation and pangs of common sense to experience another 24-hour period of the worst Hollywood has to offer. A period filled with strange sights, such as Godzilla locked in mortal combat with a gleaming metal robot Godzilla from outer space, the Creature from the Black Lagoon furiously forced to wear a sports jacket, a chiropractor pretending to be the late Bela Lugosi, and Sean Connery wearing a knotted ponytail and a tiny red diaper. Obviously, we're not at the multiplex anymore.

B-Fest is an annual event that occurs at the Norris Center (the student union) at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, in which “B movies” are screened consecutively over a 24-hour period—6:00 pm Friday through 6:00 pm Saturday. It began sometime in the early 1980s, and I have attended every B-Fest since 2002. It's a communal experience where audience participation is tolerated and encouraged, sort of in the tradition of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000.

Contrary to popular opinion, “B movies” does not mean “bad movie” (though many of the movies shown at B-Fest are quite bad). Technically, there is no longer such a thing as a B-movie, which was a term coined to connote the second half of a double feature, back when theaters ran such a thing. B movies were more cheaply made than its “A” co-feature and starred less famous actors. Without a big budget and big-name stars, B movies often turned to exploitation elements like action and scares to bring in audiences, usually within the horror, mystery, western, and science fiction genres.

These are the movies celebrated at B-Fest, which began by mostly focusing on science fiction and monster movies of the 1950s, but has since expanded its palette to include Chuck Norris action movies, a Soviet fairy tale, blaxploitation, and disco musicals. Armed with our B-Fest essentials—which include a pillow, a blanket, comfortable clothes, and plenty of refreshments (I chose water, Coca-Cola, a couple of sub sandwiches, Fritos, and Fig Newtons), my friends and I hunkered down in Norris' McCormick Auditorium seats for one solid day of crazy movies.

This year, B-Fest opened with TENTACLES, a 1977 Italian production about a giant octopus stalking the ocean floor near Miami. It humorously attempts to add legitimacy by including small roles for Hollywood legends Henry Fonda and Shelley Winters, but is ultimately just another movie in which a diving champion's pet sharks are sent out to fight a big octopus to the death. Among the thirteen other feature films we watched: ZARDOZ (1974), an impenetrably pretentious sci-fi allegory with Sean Connery inside a giant floating stone head; XANADU (1980), an awful disco musical that teams Olivia Newton-John and dance legend Gene Kelly on roller skates (!); 1974's GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, which is exactly what you think it is; 1956's THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US, the second sequel to CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON; DRACULA'S DAUGHTER (1936), the follow-up to the Bela Lugosi classic DRACULA; 1968's BARBARELLA starring Jane Fonda as a French comic strip heroine; and the crowd-pleasing LONE WOLF MCQUADE with Chuck Norris as a karate-kicking Texas ranger.

And of course there was PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, a B-Fest tradition that dates back to long before I began regular attendance. PLAN 9 runs every year at midnight before animated audiences that treat it as though it were THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. Often referred to as “the worst movie ever made” (it isn't), PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE was directed by the notorious angora-sweater-wearing Edward D. Wood, Jr., whose life and films were depicted by Johnny Depp in the Oscar-winning film ED WOOD (1994). Beloved by B-Festers, PLAN 9's cheap flying saucer special effects are accompanied by hundreds of paper plates tossed in the air, audience members debate whether the film's patio furniture is made of wicker or rattan, Wood's bizarre mixture of daytime and nighttime shots within the same scene are punctured with shouts of “Day!” and “Night!”, and the beloved cast of oddball Hollywood icons, which includes Lugosi, Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson, and the bravely monickered Dudley Manlove, are regularly applauded. A bittersweet addition to this year's showing was a group of young men who placed roses on the stage during the film's opening funeral scene—a tribute to PLAN 9 actress Maila Nurmi, better known as the Los Angeles TV personality Vampira, who passed away earlier this month.

It's difficult to explain the various levels of relief, joy, exhilaration, exhaustion, and longing that occur at the conclusion of B-Fest. Although I bring a change of clothes to switch into around the midway point, along with toothpaste and deodorant, I still wander out of the auditorium into the bitterly cold evening air in a slight daze, as though I've weathered another tough war. After 24 straight hours of mummies, werewolves, giant robots, killer octopi, dragons, disco dancing, and diapered Connery, maybe I have.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ready for B-Fest

I'll be attending Northwestern University's annual B-Fest in Evanston this weekend. According to the Web site, tickets are still available, but word on the grapevine is that the event is sold out. If you're curious about what I'll be doing for 24 consecutive hours, this year's schedule is here and my diary of last year's B-Fest can be found here.

The Bounty Hunters

I had the opportunity tonight to see THE BOUNTY HUNTERS, a one-hour pilot intended for CBS' 2005-2006 fall schedule. It didn't go, and I have to wonder why, as it's a pretty decent pilot with good performances and action scenes. One thing not in its favor is that it's a light action/adventure series, which the networks don't seem to be interested in. THE BOUNTY HUNTERS is the kind of series that might have made it to the air in 1985, but today everything has to be dark and trendy and realistic. A show about a family of bounty hunters that tracks bad guys and puts them in jail is just not in vogue, and I think we're the poorer for it.

THE BOUNTY HUNTERS stars veteran Robert Forster (an Oscar nominee for JACKIE BROWN) as Jerry, a widower who has brought his adult sons Colin (David Cubitt, now a regular on MEDIUM) and Matty (Ryan Browning), into the family business. Also a member of Jerry's team is Tess (Lauren Holly of PICKET FENCES fame), his girlfriend, who handles the finances, but itches to get back into the field.

Since THE BOUNTY HUNTERS is an Aaron Spelling production, it has a lot of warmth and humor to go along with the action, which is kind of impressive in the hands of stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos, who's among Hollywood's best. The show opens with a funny chase through a house where the guys are chasing their subject, a college wide receiver dragging behind him the chair he's cuffed to.

If CBS had bought it, I imagine THE BOUNTY HUNTERS would have crossed the action of T.J. HOOKER with the family values of 7TH HEAVEN. Except, of course, this family packs heat. And considering how much time they spend in the garage fixing up old muscle cars, I assume plenty of car chases were in the show's future.

Too bad the series didn't get picked up. It seems tailor-made for CBS' more traditional lineup, and Forster, who had just come off the short-lived KAREN SISCO, could have used a hit.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Canadian Terror

Here's an earlier adventure of the Penetrator, #15 in Pinnacle's series, written by Mark Roberts as Lionel Derrick (Roberts wrote the odd-numbered episodes, and Chet Cunningham the evens, both "as" Derrick). In THE QUEBEC CONNECTION, Mark Hardin heads to Canada to investigate a terrorist organization calling itself the 23 May Liberation Front, which has been blowing up banks and other federal institutions across the border in Buffalo, New York. They've also been dealing a new narcotic called Ziff, which is becoming quite popular among addicts.

The plot isn't quite so straightforward, as the Penetrator ends up in Paris fighting a cadre of dwarfs who head the Ziff organization, but are cutting the drug with a special chemical that provides an unusual side effect that strikes its users after only one snort. The Ziff affects the user's genetic material so that all of his or her offspring will be dwarfs. Yep, these druglords are trying to create a world of people just like themselves, leading up to an amazing climax in which three midgets dressed as Athos, Porthos and D'Artagnan are armed with rapiers and fighting the Penetrator atop the Eiffel Tower.

I prefer men's adventure novels that are unafraid to branch off into somewhat offbeat storylines, though Roberts/Derrick saves the big surprise until you've long accepted the book as a straight hero-battles-hippie-terrorists story. The leading bad guys are mentioned, but never their physical appearances until Roberts is ready to drop the bomb. Entertaining stuff.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

These Fucking Bleeds?

I think the closing crawl of CANNONBALL RUN is even more quotable than the movie is. Who would'a thought seeing Dom DeLuise getting the shit slapped out of him would be so funny?

"You want another slap?"

Vampira, R.I.P.

I expect to get back to a normal blogging schedule soon, now that I'm learning to adjust to my new computer. B-Fest is coming up this weekend. A regular feature of this annual event is the midnight showing of Edward D. Wood, Jr.'s spellbinding 1959 release PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. One of the film's stars, Maila Nurmi aka Vampira, passed away last week. Much has been written about her death, but Chris Stangl's piece is perhaps the best I've read so far.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


More blogging is to come. Eventually. My computer sprung a leak last week, and I've been without one for several days. Today, I picked up an HP Pavilion a6300f PC that runs Windows Vista, which I'm not loving so far. Still doing some surgery on it. More later.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

It Only Hurts When I Cry

Originally appeared on my old blog April 23, 2006. I'm currently without a home computer for, hopefully, just a few days.

I was listening to a few cuts from this Donna Loren compilation album recently, which got me thinking about why she never became a big star. Donna was a child star of sorts, acting and singing on television while still in grade school. As she grew into a teenager, she signed a recording contract with Capitol and began appearing in small roles in the BEACH PARTY movies cranked out in the 1960's by executive producers Samuel Arkoff and James Nicholson and director William Asher at American International Pictures. Most of the time, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello played the leading roles, but Donna, along with several other cuties, could be seen in the background and occasionally got a song of her one to perform. She also did a series of Dr. Pepper commercials, so someone was definitely grooming her for stardom.

What's evident from seeing her on-screen and listening to her music is that she was a very good performer (and cute as a button). I suppose it's hard to judge her acting from the small roles I've seen, including a guest spot as a sheik's daughter infatuated with Davy Jones on THE MONKEES, but she absolutely was a terrific singer. It may not be immediately obvious from titles like "Muscle Bustle" and "Beach Blanket Bingo," but she had a wonderful voice, and she was still just a teenager when she recorded them. I particularly like "It Only Hurts When I Cry," which she performed in the 1965 film BEACH BLANKET BINGO. Not to slight Annette Funicello, who also had a career headstart working for Walt Disney for many years before, but it's clear from watching the film that Loren had star presence that Annette, I don't think, ever did (maybe boys will be boys, but I believe Annette's notoriously prominent bustline had a lot to do with her success).

After a few more TV guest shots and a busted pilot with Aaron Spelling at ABC, Donna Loren retired from show business to get married. Not an unusual move for a budding ingenue, but she was only 21 years old, and it's a pity to think about the wonderful work she didn't allow herself to give to us. Maybe if her stardom had risen more quickly, she would have thought differently about giving it all up. At any rate, if you find yourself coming across BINGO or BIKINI BEACH or PAJAMA PARTY on cable or on DVD, Donna had solo spots in all of them, so stick with them long enough to catch her number. I think you'll be happy you did.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Bloody Score

Mack Bolan is the daddy of them all. Without the Executioner, there would have been no Penetrator, no Marksman, no Sharpshooter, no Death Merchant, no Expeditor, no Butcher. My copy of Don Pendleton's second Executioner novel, 1969's DEATH SQUAD, is actually Pinnacle's 15th printing, and the cover blurb claims more than 20 million Mack Bolan novels sold (by 1978).

In Bolan's first adventure, WAR AGAINST THE MAFIA, Mack was a Vietnam War hero who returned to the United States to learn that the Mafia had been instrumental in the violent deaths of his parents and brother and had lured his younger sister into prostitution. Out of revenge, he fought back, killing dozens of mobsters in brutal, stylized fashion. Pendleton wrote the first 38 Executioner novels, all of which pitted Bolan against organized crime. Beginning with #39, ghostwriters took over and widened the scale, sending Bolan after all kinds of global villains, usually terrorists. The Executioner is also the only men's adventure hero still out there killing bad guys; including spinoffs, nearly 500 Executioner novels exist.

Bolan continues his vengeful killing spree in DEATH SQUAD, this time recruiting nine former 'Nam buddies to help, all with colorful nicknames like Gadgets, Deadeye, Politician, Boom Boom and Chopper. None of the supporting characters are particularly fleshed out. In 182 action-filled pages, characterization isn't of the utmost importance, and Pendleton's use of nicknames and ethnicities helps the reader draw a bead on each of the cast without expending a lot of pages on backstory. Oddly, Bolan is the biggest cipher of the bunch, though his backstory may have been covered in WAR AGAINST THE MAFIA.

Pendleton's taut pacing and vivid action scenes make DEATH SQUAD a fun read. If all of his Executioner novels are this good, it's no wonder it became "America's best-selling series." For some reason, this is my first Executioner novel, even though I grew up with them. My mother read many of them, and used to trade them with my cousin, who was my age. My brother may also have read some, but I didn't. I guess I got a late start, but better late than never.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Mafia Was Running Scared

In Jon Messmann's third Revenger novel for Signet, THE VENDETTA CONTRACT, published in 1974 (can you imagine what paperback book shelves must have looked like in 1974?), the Revenger is Ben Martin, who previously killed a bunch of mobsters in New York and Chicago, and is now living under the radar in a small town about 25 miles from Indianapolis. He has a steady girl, unusual for the genre; most of the heroes tend to be loners who can't chance caring about anyone, lest she be targeted by his enemies.

THE VENDETTA CONTRACT actually has two points of view, the other being Corbett, a high-level assassin hired by the mob to rub out Martin, once they learn where he's hiding out. The book's second half describes their cat-and-mouse chase across the eastern United States, as the Revenger blows away a couple of mobsters in Indy, and then heads to Pennsylvania to target the Mafia there with hopes of luring Corbett into his rifle sight.

A pretty decent book with the caveat that Messmann's prose is overly flowery. We're reading this for the action and the fantasy, not for lengthy introspective passages. The book is only 158 pages, which is a plus.

Friday, January 04, 2008

I Can't Stop My Leg

One thing that has really jumped out at me while watching SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE's first season on DVD is that Gilda Radner was really, really wonderful. I guess I knew that, but she left us so soon, and I haven't seen her in such a long while, and the end of her career was marked by appearances in terrible Gene Wilder movies that it's easy to forget how sweet and natural and funny she was, particularly when she was just being herself. On the Candice Bergen show, Gilda and Bergen share a short piece in which they sit on stage and chat about the recently defeated Equal Rights Amendment and how Gilda feels insecure around beautiful women. Among the absurd humor that often marked SNL (Land Shark, anyone?), this bit stands out because it's sweet and it's real (and probably written by Rosie Shuster).

Also, John Belushi really was as great as his legend, Dan Aykroyd may well have been the finest sketch comedian SNL ever had (only Phil Hartman is close), and Laraine Newman was pretty hot.

The Robert Klein show features two bizarre and decidedly non-live appearances by ABBA, who were reportedly booked against Lorne Michaels' will. Belushi really stands out in two sketches, one in which he and Klein play exterminators (Belushi seems to be doing a funny Brando thing) and another in which he plays Sam Peckinpah and beats the crap out of actress Radner. It's funny, I swear. Also, Loudon Wainwright III performs some scathingly satirical novelty songs that today's PC SNL--the one that booked Ashlee Simpson as a musical guest--wouldn't dream of (or probably understand).

The Lily Tomlin show has a great Land Shark sketch (c'mon, the Land Shark was funny when I was eight and it's funny now), but my favorite part was the very end, where Chevy Chase, Garrett Morris, Radner and Newman, dressed as bees, performed a funky "bee scat" with Tomlin at Paul Shaffer's piano. It's the most natural performance I've seen Morris give so far.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Legend Of Nigger Charley

The television sportscasts I delivered over WSIU-TV when I was in college will be on DVD before THE LEGEND OF NIGGER CHARLEY is. Paramount, which released it to theaters in 1972 (and made a lot of money with it), apparently owns the rights, but I doubt it has the balls to splash a movie called THE LEGEND OF NIGGER CHARLEY on Best Buy's shelves. Even when Synapse released 42ND STREET FOREVER, VOLUME 1, a collection of exploitation-movie trailers from the 1960s and '70s on DVD, it displayed the titles of the films on the back of the box. Except for THE LEGEND OF NIGGER CHARLEY, that is.

CHARLEY is hardly an important movie, even in the blaxploitation genre, but it is sincere and occasionally interesting. The script by producer Larry G. Spangler and director Martin Goldman adheres strictly to the standard three-act structure. Charley, played by former pro football player Fred Williamson in his first major leading man assignment, is a slave who is freed by his kindly owner as a dying favor to Charley's mother, but is forced to bolt after killing the plantation's cruel new owner (the late John P. Ryan, who specialized in portraying unhinged sadists).

Along with Toby (D'Urville Martin), an avuncular comic-relief sidekick, and loyal, bald Josh (Don Pedro Colley), Charley escapes to a small town with a dim view towards blacks. There, the trio faces a showdown against the posse on their tail, which is led by a vicious slave tracker named Fowler (Keith Prentice). After settling that account, Charley and his party (which has added two more) agree to protect white farmer Lyons (Doug Rowe) and his half-breed wife Sarah (Tricia O'Neil) against the murderous Preacher (Joe Santos, who battled Richard Roundtree in SHAFT'S BIG SCORE the same year) and his rampaging followers.

It's hard to criticize NIGGER CHARLEY on a technical level, because the (obvious bootleg) print included on the Blax DVD is horrid. Ghosting, color dropouts, smears, audio static, and tracking errors abound on the full-frame image, which was clearly swiped from a television station's 3/4-inch tape (it has been censored for language and possibly violence and nudity, and appears to be missing up to seven minutes). Goldman, who didn't direct many other features, isn't exactly Sam Peckinpah (or even William Witney, for that matter), but the plentiful action scenes pack some punch and are given a degree of dramatic weight by dint of the attractive leads. This is one of Williamson's finest performances. While he would eventually come to walk through his later badass roles, relying on his (admittedly strong) personality to carry him, NIGGER CHARLEY finds Fred playing with more range and doing it well enough to make you forget he's ten years too old for the part.

THE LEGEND OF NIGGER CHARLEY, lurid title or not, was a very profitable film and not a lavishly budgeted one either. A year later, Paramount brought back Williamson and Martin to star in THE SOUL OF NIGGER CHARLEY, this time directed by Spangler and not as successful (though doubtlessly a moneymaker). While it seems virtually every blaxploitation picture of the '70s is now out on a legit DVD, even some really crummy ones, I wouldn't hold my breath for this one, though it apparently used to play on television as THE LEGEND OF BLACK CHARLEY. It's a compromise I'd be willing to live with if it would get the movie more exposure.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

We're Cannon Films And We're Dynamite

And here's sixty seconds to prove it. Norris, Dudikoff, Bronson, Hackman, Caine, Williams, Ann-Margret, Stallone, Reynolds, Field, ninjas, He-Man...Superman!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


476. That's the number of movies I watched in 2007. That’s thirteen more than last year, which surprises me, because it seemed like I saw fewer this year. Thankfully, it’s still way behind 2004, when I saw an astounding 588! It doesn’t include all the television series on DVD I’ve been digging through this year, including MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, THE MOD SQUAD, THE ROCKFORD FILES, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, ARK II and a few others.

Of the 476 movies I saw, I watched 281 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, all of the incredible extras on the James Bond Ultimate Collection DVD sets)
• Movie serials count as one long feature
• Multiple viewings each count as a separate movie

These are my rules. Your mileage may vary.

Just for fun, a few stats:
First film of 2007: A BULLET FOR PRETTY BOY (Fabian is Pretty Boy Floyd)
Last film of 2007: BLOOD, BOOBS & BEAST (documentary about Baltimore filmmaker Don Dohler)

From the 1930's: 0
1940's: 8 (including 1 Tarzan, 4 Michael Shaynes and THE DEVIL BAT)
1950's: 32
1960's: 48
1970's: 106
1980's: 146
1990's: 61 (oddly, I saw nothing from 1999 and just 1 1998 film)
2000-2006: 46
2006: 29

I’m still not going to theaters very much. Outside of January’s annual B-Fest at Northwestern University, I saw a theatrical film only fourteen times this year, which is a slight increase over 2006 and 2005. Three of them I saw in one day (THE TRIPPER, FRACTURE, PERFECT STRANGER), BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS showed at Roger Ebert’s annual Overlooked Film Festival, and I caught HELVETICA at a Parkland College screening, so I actually visited a real theater a mere eight times. As I wrote last year, I am still not willing to visit a theater to endure 20 (or more if you get there early) minutes of ads, high prices, obnoxious crowds, poor theater conditions, bad sound, shoddy projection and uncomfortable seating, when I can Netflix the same movie a few months later.

Most in one month:
January & May: 52
Least in one month:
April: 25

Some of the films I saw more than once:

The most films in any one 24-hour period:
14, when I attended Northwestern University's annual B-Fest January 26-27

Same title, but different movies:
3:10 TO YUMA

WTF is this?:

2007 Releases:
3:10 TO YUMA

My Top Ten of 2007:
3:10 TO YUMA

My Bottom Five of 2007:

How many movies did you watch this year?