Thursday, January 31, 2013

Kickboxer 5: The Redemption (1995)

The end is near, finally. One mans quest to watch a Van Damme movie made him go further into the catacombs of unloved sequels and finally his journey has come its end: Kickboxer 5: The Redemption! No Van Damme in sight of course, but even more strange, no Sasha Mitchell. Instead Mark Dacascos took over the tired franchise, now worn out like a cheerleader trapped in a dorm of horny jocks. You get my point. But I like Dacascos, even if he seem to spend every living hour nowadays being some judge at a cooking show and ignoring the fine legacy of DTV action films and supporting parts in more mainstream projects. Good for him, bad for us.

Anyway. David Sloan has been killed - which is mentioned quickly and we now follow kickboxing trainer Matt Reeves and his student, the very happy and optimistic Johnny (Denney Pierce). Everything is well until the day a couple of henchmen, controlled by the mega-evil psychopath and kickboxing-enthusiast Negaal (played by South African cult actor James Ryan), shows up offering Johnny a deal to join Negaal's kickboxing association - and if he doesn't join they'll kill him! And that's what happens! Soon Matt is on his way to South Africa to take revenge on Johnny (and David Sloan, I guess) and stop Negaal and his organization for good!

This actually doesn't much to do with the Kickboxer-saga at all. They manage to squeeze in the name of David Sloan, but that's about it - and I guess it just was another action script until someone needed another sequel as fast as possible. The setting is moved to South Africa, which is nice - but the setting isn't just as good as it could have been, and we're treated to a lot of claustrophobic hotel rooms and anonymous streets. Mark Dacascos is, I need to state very clearly, a good choice. He's a bit stiff acting-wise, but he's always been a talented action actor and often delivers some cool fighting and has that special, non-acting, charisma that keeps so many action actors alive over the years. But his masterpiece is still Drive, which is also one of the finest US martial arts action-comedies ever made.

The fighting by Dacascos is nice but it's sad that there's hardly any ring fights - except from one in the beginning, and it's fairly short. This is even more about chases and traditional action, which is surprising because the whole story kinda sets up to have a big finale in a ring, or during a tournament, but it never happens. Weird. Maybe they ran out of money? Or just got tired of yet another fight in such a controlled environment.

Kickboxer 5: The Redemption is more of a normal martial arts film (yes, with Dacascos posing in different forms of Kung Fu poses) set in South Africa. Can't say it's bad, but it's also a missed opportunity to do something more in the vein of part 4 (who clearly was going in the right direction after the odd part 3).

Here's a suggestion: why doesn't that someone who owns the rights to the franchise come up with some money, hire Van Damme again and do what Stallone did with his latest Rocky and Rambo - a more serious follow-up. A depressed and aging Van Damme sitting in Thailand (ignoring the all the other sequels of course) trying to survive as a failed kickboxer, until that day Tong Po shows up again and offers him something he can't say no to... and he's back in the arena for his last, and most brutal, fight.... 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor (1994)

Albert Pyun is back in the director's chair in Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor, which also introduces Tong Po (this time played by Van Damme regular Kamel Krifa) back into the Kickboxer-saga. This means several things - It was probably shot very, very fast, it features at least one of Pyun's "own" actors, this time Nicolas Guest and, as usual, an interesting musical score by Tony Riparetti. For us "pyunboys" this is good stuff, we want it to be this way. It's like meeting old friends once again, it's safe and we know what we're getting.

It has a good start, a typical Pyunginning. A voice-over, someone recollecting the past, it's dark and edgy compared to part 3 and in a nice montage from the first two movies we learn how David Sloan (good ol' Sasha!) now is in prison after being wrongfully accused of killing a drug lord (well, he DID killed a drug lord and tried to take the body from Mexico to the US, so maybe he's guilty anyway...). Now he gets a chance to get out with helping the cops to go undercover and once and for all take down Tong Po - who also happens to have kidnapped his wife! David must now enter an illegal tournament and kick some ass once again!

Pyun really tries hard with his meager budget to go back to the seriousness of the old movies and he almost succeeds! The first part is damn fine, with a good performance from Sasha Mitchell and some short but effective burst of violence. Tong Po is this time even more over-the-top (and with a less effective make-up), a comic book villain played with a sense of humour. Here another of Pyun's trademarks shows up: the quirky, off-beat comedy - which is an odd thing in a movie like this, but when the budget is so low and the shooting schedule probably was shorter than a normal working week, it just adds some odd charm to the story. The scene where Tong Po tries to play sitar is both fun and unexpected.

My biggest problem with Kickboxer 4 is the last half hour. I'm pretty sure it just wasn't time to choreograph and shoot a better fight, but even with Pyun's standard it's pretty weak - and sloppily made. After some slow-moving pre-fights in the main arena, the end fight is basically David and Tong Po stumbling around in the garden (and on a dinner-set long table) in a very not-so-impressive "fight". It just doesn't seemed to had been time for much rehearsals...  I'm a big fan of Pyun and very forgiving because I know under which circumstances he worked, but I know he can do better than this! The rest of the film is packed with stylish cinematography, some imaginative directing and a decent cast.

But what makes it interesting for us pyunboys is the atmosphere. The editing, the music, the noir-ish voice-over in the beginning. That special, almost surrealistic and poetic form of filmmaking that Pyun is unique for. I doubt others will see it, but we who have lived with the guy for our whole lives can smell it, sense it. That's what makes even a very generic kickboxing-film like this interesting.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Kickboxer 3: The Art of War (1992)

Yeah, I'm one of those who have no clue when he should stop. If I've watched one movie with kickboxing I need to watch 'em all! Today, for example, I ordered Bloodfist part 1 to 8! Why? Because I need to see them... and own them. Even if I hate them. I guess that's some kind of disease? This time the Kickboxer-franchise, Kickboxer 3: The Art of War, goes a bit further than just being about sports and into that lovely territory called low budget action. Sasha Mitchell is back as David Sloan and Dennis Chan is, once again, Xian, and this time they're battling an evil white slaver, who also happens to have an interest in kickboxing.

The story is set in Rio de Janeiro and David and Xian is going there for a tournament. But first they have seven days of training and relaxing. The first day learn to know a boy, a thief who steals David's camera, and his sister - and it won't take long until the white slaver himself, played excellently by Richard Comar, starts lusting for her. So he kidnaps her and forces David to fight against the most evil fighter around, Marcelo (Miguel Oniga) - and loose of course, so Comar (or his character's name is Lane actually) can earn a lot of money on him. Something like that. Anyway. People die. And stuff.

Oh, that was a shitty synopsis! But you get the idea what's this is all about: trying to expand the Kickboxer-universe to something more thaan just fighting in a ring - and that can be both good or bad. The movie itself isn't bad at all - for being what it is. It delivers some action - but very little fighting, except during the finale scenes of course - but most of it is running, chasing and a lot of very bloody squibs. Not sure that Sasha really fits in those parts of the story, because he still looks like someone from Scooby Doo. What's even more odd is how Xian suddenly shoots down baddies with a gun, without hesitation. Very out of character for a peaceful, smart middle-aged Thai who's suppose to be the kickboxing-version of Mr. Miyagi.

Kickboxer 3: The Art of War looks good and boasts a fun cast, but for having a title like The Art of War it has too little action, or at least excitement, to feel interesting. I like Sasha and the rest of the cast and those few action sequences there is isn't bad at all - they're gory and bloody and very violent, but hey... these movies are about action and not people talking to each other, so on that front it's a little bit disappointing. It also misses the many silly soft rock songs that's smeared over every second of non-action sequence in the first two movies. I need songs where a generic male rock-soul voice literary sings what's happening on the screen or in the mind of the tormented hero!

In the end, at least,  I wasn't bored. Kickboxer 3 is fun but misses that little extra (maybe the steady direction of Albert Pyun?). I hope part 4 or 5 gives me a better mix of generic sports drama and b-action. And if I'm not that bored with life I will watch them also very, very soon and scribble down a few worthless words about them here.

If you want to read about them, that is. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Kickboxer 2: The Road Back (1991)

Of course it didn't take long until there was a sequel out to the highly successful Jean-Claude Van Damme classic Kickboxer, but this time without JCVD and with a new director doing his job, the one and only Albert Pyun. Like all good exploitation sequels a new character is introduced, the unknown brother (well, he's never mentioned in the first movie) David Sloan, played with charming charisma by Sasha Mitchell. He's not Van Damme, but isn't bad at all. I entered this viewing experience with some hesitation. I love and respect Albert Pyun, I've been a fan of his work since my teens, but I never really heard any good stuff about Kickboxer 2: The Road Back. That's of course a fact about most movies from the "Pyuniverse", but as usual that's just a sign of the stupidity of mankind. Pyun is awesome and will always be awesome, no matter the budget. I might one of the few that absolutely adore Heatseeker for example. Where's the special edition, restored blu-ray release of that one?

Anyway. In Kickboxer 2 the last of the Sloan brothers continues his family's legacy by working at kickboxing club/gym he owns. One day the greedy Justin Maciah enters the gym and offers David to be a kickboxing superstar. He, of course, says no and instead his friend and student Brian (Vince Murdocco) signs up for fame and money - but it's all very sinister, because behind Maciah is the EVIL Thai (most Thai's in kickboxing-movie is very evil it seems) businessman Sangha, played by the awesome and cool Japanese actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (remember, in the US all Asians look the same!) and he wants to set up David against... Tong Po! Yeah, the ultra-mean bastard from the first movie (who also - we learn - killed the two other Sloan brothers since last time we saw him). Lucky for David, Xian (Dennis Chan) shows up very unexpected and learns him to be THE BEST KICKBOXER IN THE WORLD!!! Something like that.

Kickboxer 2 probably had a smaller budget than the first one and everything is shot in and around the gym and the arena, so don't expect jungles and explosions here. But this is also a good time to point out that Albert Pyun is THE best director to handle a sudden loss of budget, few locations and short of time to shoot the friggin' thing. He just knows that what the audience need is a lot of stylish camera work and better and bloodier fights. And he delivers. Everything is very similar to the first movie, but without the exotic locations, and even if it starts of quite slow it soon builds up to be a damn fine sequel - with the same amount of cheesy soft rock hits that populated the first film. The fights is brutal. Lots of slow-mo, feet crashing into faces, blood spurting all over the floor and the heaviest use of swollen make-up since Raging Bull.

Most people would never consider a movie like this a good movie, but hey... it delivers what you expect it to deliver. It's quick and dirty entertainment, made with talent and style and less money than what you probably earn during a year. I like it that way. Little money often boosts the creativity of the filmmakers and Pyun is one of those who always finds a solution. His movies has been fucked with his whole career, from the studios to the critics and audiences - but they sell and he's continuing to quirky stuff that no one else would do. This film belongs to the less quirky stuff, far from oddities like Hong Kong '97 and Radioactive Dreams, but is fine piece of silly action.

Kickboxer 2: The Road Back has so much cheese you can build a moon of it. Quote me if you want. I'll stand by my words.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Kickboxer vs. The King of the Kickboxers!

No, this is not some re-edited Thai movie "directed" by Godfrey Ho (but if it existed I would be the first one to watch it!), it's just me who had a weekend filled of cheesy kickboxing on the TV! I've been in a Jean-Claude Van Damme phase recently and decided it was time to watch Kickboxer (1989) again after approximated 150 years. I probably watched it the last time as a young teen on a censored VHS and most of it was erased from my memory by now.  In all honesty, I kinda stayed away from the kickboxing phenomenon at its peak. I felt it was too repetitive and just an excuse for stiff actors to try too look cool on the screen. I preferred (and still do) the more creative and imaginative Hong Kong cinema where everything was used in the fights and not just two dudes kicking each other in the face for 90 minutes.

What makes Kickboxer work is the presence of a very innocent looking Jean-Claude Van Damme and a cheesy, but honest, story about a young man, Kurt, who wants to take revenge on his brother (played by Dennis "The Terminator" Alexio) - who got his back broken during a fight against the dreaded Tong Po - and becomes a student under the slightly mad Xian (Dennis Chan). In a series of tests and exercises Kurt learns to control himself and be the best kickboxer in the world! And he also listens to the ghosts of Ayutthaya and flexes his muscles under water.

Kickboxer is very, very silly. But the story is timeless and the gorgeous locations makes it a nice movie to look at. It almost borders to parody and the drunke dance scene with JCVD is a sight to behold. But Van Damme is a good sport and it's quite visible that he's giving it all, even when the scenes is more than embarrassing both for him and the movie itself. The fighting is pretty decent also, but it's hardly the most spectacular ever filmed. Van Damme is excellent, but both him and the rest of the fighters seemed to be held back. Maybe the director is to blame for this. Still, it's a damn fine little action-drama and Van Damme is doing a better performance than he's credited for in countless reviews.

A film that doesn't hold back on the fights is The King of the Kickboxers (1990), which more or less is a remake of Kickboxer, just with the added concept of snuff filmmaking into the mix. This time goofy-looking Loren Avedon wants revenge on his dead big brother who was killed by the evil, evil, evil Khan (Billy Blanks) and heads back to Thailand to be taught by mad drunk master Prang (Keith Cooke) and, to quote myself "In a series of tests and exercises Jake learns to control himself and be the best kickboxer in the world!". And like Van Damme's Kurt he also runs around in the ruins of Ayutthaya, finding his inner self. TKOTK is a lot bigger and fancier than Kickboxer, more advanced, Hong Kong-inspired fights and explosions - but it's very similar to the 1989 classic. Several locations look the same also - and two actors worked on both of the movies.

It's a lot of fun, but the cockiness of Jake is more annoying than the more subtle, human Kurt. A lot of it is for fun, for a laugh, but it always irritated me when Americans come to some Asian country to show them that Americans are bigger, better and stronger. But I guess it's part of the genre. TKOTK also have a few interesting character actors showing up, Richard Jaeckel and Don Stroud, and both Loren Avedon (doesn't that sound like a soap or something) and Billy Blanks is awesome during the fight scenes. But it still lacks "it". That special kinda movie magic, that passion.

Kickboxer, a more modest and less bragging film, still goes winning from this fight. Much like the character of Van Damme. It has less action, but more heart.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012)

In 2009 director John Hyams surprised everyone by delivering Universal Soldier: Regeneration, a sequel that actually felt fresh and had non-stop, very violent action - and also marked the return of both Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. Even if both of them mostly have extended cameos, especially Dolph who pops up from a box, kills a bit and then... well, I don't want to spoil anything, but I think you can guess what happens to a bad guy like him in a movie like this. That was the second official sequel to the 1992 hit (fourth if you count the two miserable TV-movies starring Matt Battaglia and Burt Reynolds - Matt actaully plays the same character as JCVD, so they should be considered sequels and not spin-offs, but Van Damme himself seems to disagree) and how the hell could you take this franchise another step and still feel fresh? The answer came in 2012 when Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning was unleashed on the world, with Scott Adkins taking the lead and the two old farts doing the same old extended guest appearances - but still makes it works like never before!

John (Scott Adkins) wakes up after being brutally beaten. He's been in comatose for nine months and he's ready to go out in the world again, but this time without his wife and daughter - who both got executed during the attack. The only face he saw was that of Luc Deveraux, now a rouge Universal Soldier who seem to have gathered an army around him, of other Universal Soldiers longing to find peace and freedom. John sets out to solve the crime and get back his memory, but Deveraux is on his back all the time and John is in constant danger, mostly from a man called The Plumber, a human war machine who is almost impossible to kill! Will he ever reach the heart of darkness or will Deveraux get him before he finds out the truth?

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is without a doubt the darkest film in the series, and for being - in all honesty - a movie mostly made to be released on DVD and BD it's a stunningly ambitious project. It would have been so easy to do something more easy, something less complex, but instead the filmmakers gives us what could be called a Universal Soldier-take on Apocalypse Now and Rolling Thunder, with a healthy dose of David Lynch and mindfucking stuff like Jacob's Ladder and Hellraiser Inferno. The style is more European than American, with lots of wide shots, characters taking their time to say stuff, people looking at each other - and not just before kicking each other in the head. John Hyams and his teams clearly wants to tell a story here and not just a series of fights. I love Scott Adkins but I never really seen him act that much before - he's an awesome fighter, but can he act? He actually can act - it's a bit uneven at times, but it works and I'm pretty sure this performance will give him a new start in more character-driven movies (and I see now he's also starring in Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty).

Jean-Claude Van Damme is brilliant, as usual, doing a Deveraux how seems high both on himself and on drugs, cold and zombie-like, but with a rage inside that's hard to beat. Dolph has less to do, like in Regeneration he's mostly an excuse to deliver some danger for our hero. But don't worry, his character has some interesting turns and the use of him is original and a little bit radical.

As you all know, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is also about action and while it doesn't have the absurd amount of action as Regeneration, it also probably the most brutal and graphic fights shot in a long time. We're taking long takes here, wide angles, lots and lots of bloody hits against head and body, often with a bloody and nasty conclusion. The Raid was fun, but there's a different seeing small guys kicking each other and seeing very heavy, tall dudes bashing baseball-bats in each others face in slow-motion. I prefer the later and it's very impressive fighting and stunts with lots of gore and squibs. This is an action movie for adults, not for people who wants to have yet another Jackie Chan-clone. I'm a bit mean to The Raid, it's good, but it's also very repetitive and unimaginative - it lacks that "it" that's so damn important.

And as I wrote here, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is one of the best genre movies of 2012. Watch out for the US DVD and blu-ray, it's cut - I, myself, got my BD from Australia - so check around first so you'll get the movie in it's original version.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Friday the 13th Part III (1982)

WTF, Ninja Dixon is going mainstream? Well, Ninja Dixon has always been mainstream but what I'm doing is reviewing mainstream, commercial, movies that are so commercial that they nowadays stops to be mainstream. Get it? They're mainstream for a small amount of people or was mainstream for a huge amount of people ages ago. Friday the 13th Part III was one of the most successful sequels in the franchise, it scored 9 million dollars in one weekend, with a budget of 4 million - and generated over 30 million in total gross. That's pretty good for a movie at that time.

Much of it is because of the wonderful gimmick called 3D. I never seen in it 3D, until yesterday, when I decided to pop the cherry on the blu-ray and with some adjustments on the TV settings and trying out several different glasses we watched the whole movie like it's supposed to be watched and it's one of the best 3D I've seen on one of these old movies (The Hobbit still has the best 3D I ever seen, it's just stunning and so natural). I've always liked the movie itself, even without the extra dimension, but at the same time - it was missing something.

The story is without a doubt the thinnest ever in the saga of Jason, and with that I mean that it usually has some interesting emotional twists or just smart ideas to keep us interested. In part III some kids goes to Crystal Lake (two of them being over-aged hippies, which is very odd) and gets killed. That's it. I'm not even sure why they're going there, but it's probably only for the reason to fuck and smoke dope. Then there's some extra characters, some motorcyclists and the owners of a local store added just to be killed. It's not much to chew into actually.

But that's also part of what makes part III so strong when it's shown in 3D. Because the visual style of the movie, excellent work by Steve Miner by the way, and the silly characters fits perfect together with the extra dimension. It has no real story to tell, but it has fun angles, a camera that more or less always moves and awesome deaths. That's what part III is about. It was also the reason why the actors are among the worst in the series. All attention was put into the technical aspects of the film and the actors was more or less left alone doing their job. Larry Zerner is, without a doubt, the worst actors of the bunch - but also the most iconic character from the movie. He manages to give us some sympathy for him, even if he's the most irritating guy since the wheelchair dude in the first Texas Chainsaw, but utters his lines like he's never acted before. I think this is partly because of lack of involvement from the director.

Like every other Friday this was also trimmed to fit the fascists at the MPAA, but it's still blood and graphic and has some of the coolest deaths so far. Cheesy stuff, yeah, but that what works in a 3D sequel. My favorite is the eye popping out towards the camera and of course when Jason slices a guy in two, when the victim is walking on his hands! Lovely stuff.

The 3D gives this film the extra boost it needs and it's really the only way it should be watched to feel complete.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Santo and the Vengeance of the Mummy (1971)

We're back into the wonderful world of Mexican wrestling with this charming adventure, Santo and the Vengeance of the Mummy! Santo, who's real name was Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta started his professional wrestling career in the middle of the thirties and kept fighting until his retirement in 1983. About one year later he did a talk show appearance and showed his face, quickly, for the first and only time. He then went home about a week later he died. Did he break the magic? "Bullshit or Not?" as Henry Silva would say in Amazon Women on the Moon. We will never know, but deep inside I feel it was something weird going on. On the other hand, he was a great artist - an entertainer, and what a way to go!

This film beings, as usual, Santo fighting two dangerous opponents: Gori Casanova and Angelo, and is almost defeated - when he's suddenly gets his strength back and beats them both! Lucky for us, wouldn't be so much movie left without him! This time he follows his a professor and his crew out in the jungle to excavate an old Aztec (I suppose it is...) temple and their gold is to find the tomb of Nanoc, a legendary warrior! The find it - very easy - and goes back to the camp... but so does Nanoc - armed with bow and arrow, and he starts killing of the team members one by one... and now it's up to Santo to stop him!

Like the one I reviewed yesterday, Santo & Blue Demon vs. Doctor Frankenstein, this one has an amazing flow. It waste no time with character development, and instead we gets an awesome wrestling match - shot with a real audience and with the same typical flair as usual from director René Cardona. It feels real and the handheld camera and lack of a static studio background helps the action. Then there's a very typical, close to mega-generic, jungle adventure, but in that charming way - in a studio and with a few pick-ups here and there on location. It also sports some very neat stock footage from a bigger budgeted movie with Aztec Indians slacking around a very cool temple.

One annoying detail is the presence of Son of Santo, Santo's real son, who plays some farmer boy being adopted (!) by Santo! He's not as annoying and awful as the Japanese kids with short trousers and cap slumming in our beloved Kaiju films, but because of his stupidity the mummy actually kills more people than he what was probably planned from the beginning - and the boy even doesn't feel sad when his dear grandpa dies by the rotting hands of the monster!

There's not much wrestling in the jungle either, except the end fight between Santo and Nanoc - but it's never boring and there's two great fights in the ring to look forward to. Maybe not the best Santo movie to start with, at least if you want wrestling all the time - but its a good matinee adventure and well worth watching!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Santo & Blue Demon vs. Doctor Frankenstein (1974)

I'm pretty new to Mexican wrestling films and I'm sure I've reviewed everyone I've seen so far (not many) here on Ninja Dixon. The thing is that I've love what I've seen so far. It's right up my alley of entertainment. It's like Godzilla, but with beefy Mexican wrestlers fighting baddies instead of monsters (well, some of them are monsters!) and saving girlfriends instead of the world. The biggest is of course Santo, but I'm sure Blue Demon wasn't far behind in popularity. They did a couple of extremely entertaining movies together and Santo & Blue Demon vs. Doctor Frankenstein is one of the more famous and popular ones. Not that it's original in anyway, but it has an amazing flow, it's never boring and a story so silly it's genius.

Dr. Irving Frankenstein, the son of Victor Frankenstein, has used some of inherited knowledge to give himself eternal life. But guys who lives forever easily gets bored and instead of just relax, see the world etc, Irving decides to be a master criminal instead and creates living dead henchmen who will help him to rule the world or something like that. He also needs a new brain for his girlfriend. But this time his luck runs out - when he kidnaps the girlfriend of Santo! Santo and his pal, Blue Demon, takes over the investigation - as usual - from the police and saves the day!

Spoiler? No, come on! It's a Santo movie. They're - what I have seen - built the same way: bad guy doing something bad, Santo having  a wrestling match with someone, baddie kidnaps his girlfriend, he takes over the investigation from the stupid cops and finishes the whole movie with yet another exciting game of wrestling. I love it. It's safe and entertaining and you won't be disappointed. But let's be honest. It's often not that much to analyze with a movie like this. It's exploitation. It's made to earn a quick buck at the local cinema, be sold to TV and then fade away into obscurity. But thanks to DVD many of these awesome productions gets a new life.

I'm not especially nostalgic, but I enjoy a movie like this for what it is - and that it's so shamelessly out there. It's just colours, cool fights, men in masks, beautiful women and cheesy storylines. Perfect for a hard-working Mexican man to sit down with after work, open a can of beer and fall asleep to. It's working-class cinema without teaching any lessons or pretending to have a message.

Truth be told, this one - and the others - are quite well-made. The stunts, often mixed into the fights, is cool and the fights themselves are fast and looks dangerous. Probably more choreographed than they look. This movie is also very stylish, in a comic book way. It's the same director, Miguel M. Delgado, who directed another fine piece of Santo/Blue Demon cinema: Santo & Blue Demon vs. Dracula & the Wolfman, a movie as awesome as its title. If you want to start watching Mexican wrestling cinema and think both these movies a prime examples of entertainment, a perfect start!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile (1974)

After Alan Ormsby-Honda heard of his twin brother's success with Gojira, in 1953, he bided his time and came up with the ultimate Kaiju, based on the real killer and, maybe, necrophiliac, Ed Gein. The result was Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile, or like it was called in it's Japanese release: エドGein対メスの恐竜, which means literary "Ed Gein versus the Female Dinosaurs. He casted Roberts Blossoms, fresh from the success of his latest Tokusatu: "FIGHT! STRIKE! Pale Poetry Old Man, You Rule!", 110 episodes of Kaiju-action between a superhero reciting poetry and rubber monsters from France.

Shot in Canada, because the actors are more beautiful there, Ormsby and his team constructed a impressive miniature landscape in the form of a barn and a house, ready to be burned down at the end - a detail that was missed because lack of time and it's just explained in the end. It tells the story of giant monster Ed Gein, who can skin other monsters alive with his Mega-Laser-Action-Beam (from his nose) and an impressive knowledge of wrestling moves. It's cheesy, but never childish. The "female dinosaurs" (to quote the Japanese), Macobbalon, Maureenselbytron and Sallyorgon delivers a good fight before they're killed off one by one in spectacular, explosive fashion.

Much like the Koreans and Yongary, Ormsby-Honda hoped for a similar success - and it worked well. The script is gritty and quite violent for being a Canadian Kaiju, with impressive special effects and a wonderful dread all over the film. It's moody and has a lot of atmosphere, a dark and quite nasty monster movie the way only the Japanese-Canadian could do it. Especially Blossoms impresses with a multi-layered portrait of a monster who just wants to kill other monsters, but in the end kills one to many and is put under psychiatric care.

The film became quite a success and a sequel was planned, Ed Gein vs. Mecha-Ed Gein, but was scrapped because Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel made a similar movie, much like Toho's Destroy All Monsters, with a whole family of flying, rotating, fire-breathing rednecks called the Sawyer Family. The movie is mostly known as The Texas Chainsaw Monsters, but we fans prefer to call it by it's original title: "The Super-Angry Flying Machine Man - The Friend of All Children" (that's a direct translation from Japanese).

Still controversial today, it's also one of the best Japanese-Canadian Kaiju-productions ever made. The miniature work is impressive and the fight between Ed Gein (or Ezra Cobb as he's called here, legal problems during the production) and the enormous Maureenselbytron is the highlight. Blossoms continued to work in television doing the lead in "Super-Mega-Canadian: Strike Force 10000!" and "Canadian Rider 1-2-3: GO GO GO!". Ormsby-Honda later tried to revive his success in the early nineties with Ed Gein vs. Mecha-Dahmer, but it failed at the box office.

It truly deserves a special edition blu-ray release and IF they can dig up that alternate ending, where Ed Gein is fighting a giant "Walrupus" I'm sure it's not only me that will be very happy!

The Fourth Man (1983)

This is going to be spoiler heavy, so if you haven't seen Paul Verhoeven's classic erotic thriller The Fourth Man I recommend you to stop reading now and see the film first, then come back to see what absurd things I have to say about it.

I'm not especially familiar with the earlier stuff of Verhoeven. The oldest movie I've seen directed by him is the excellent and totally insane Flesh+Blood, starring our favourite Rutger Hauer - and the legend says he and Verhoeven never got along good again after that movie, which is a damn pity. I love them both.

The Fourth Man is a masterpiece, there's no question about. It's a wild, European version of what Brian De Palma could have done the days he woke up brilliant, with a big dose Hitchcock and the usual European style of sex and violence and gorgeous cinematography by Jan de Bont - who later became a terrible and shallow director of Hollywood blockbusters. Fuck him. It's a steamy and graphic - both sexually and violently - story about a gay writer (Jeroen Krabbé) who gets spellbound by a blonde goddess (Renée Soutendijk) and starts a sexual and economical relationship with her, more or less to get his hands on her young, hunky lover (Thom Hoffman). But soon he notices that something is odd, something is wrong - she's been married three times and all of her husbands has been killed in macabre accidents. Is it just a coincidence, or is she a murdered - or even a witch?

I love every second of this film, it's so original and intelligent and open-minded. Lots of sex and even a very graphic, almost humoristic, death scene who could have come directly from an Eighties gory horror film. But what struck me the most is the films that the mysterious woman shoots with her Super 8 camera. Films of her three dead husbands, up to their very death, in graphic detail!

There's a lot of this footage to choose from, but what do you think of when you see these three screenshots?

Now, I'm a disturbed person. I often see stuff that's not there. I get bored if I don't do that. But here I see something very interesting, I see three clear references to famous Mondo-sequences. Yeah, well - it's more clear if you see the whole footage - and especially when it ties together in the end, in a true melodramatic, unrealistic Mondo-fashion.

The first two is obviously inspired by 1978's Faces of Death, the infamous fake documentary that was produced for the Japanese market and became very controversial - and a big success, bigger than Star Wars in Japan at the time. 99% of the footage is fake, not so well-done either, but it's pure, traditional exploitation. In that movie we see a girl (I think it's a girl, it's been a couple of years since I saw it the last time) getting killed by a boat propeller, crashing into her and also a skydiver who lands in the middle of a croc pond! What we see in The Fourth Man is one husband, first with shaky handheld amateur camera getting killed when a boat crashes into him and the other husband falling from his death when the parachute won't open. The footage is very similar to that in Faces of Death, and like this footage - or more like a flashback in the end - it suddenly transforms to something more advanced than just amateur footage. There's suddenly several cameras, different angles - stuff that would give away that the Faces of Death-footage was fake - but very few, at the time, dared to think that far. Real deaths is more fun, it seems.

The third one is even more interesting (and I'm not sure it was included in Faces of Death). When I was a kid I saw something on TV that I never forgot: a man stepping out from his car in a safari park and getting eaten by lions. This is footage that was created for Antonio Climati and Mario Morra's 1975 Mondo "Savage Man Savage Beast", and has since then become the truth. People still debate if it's fake or not, but it's fake - it's just too many cameras, too many angles, too many dramaturgical tricks to make it real. It's well-made, but it's just smoke and mirrors - and very similar to the scene in Verhoeven's film. 

Here it is, for those who want to see:

So Verhoeven uses three famous faked scenes from fake documentaries about death and destruction, as inspiration for his own little masterpiece. Is this deliberate or is it just coincidence? Personally I think it could be something he noticed and used, maybe even thinking it was real - like many others at the same time. Faces of Death was a big hit and the lion-sequence is still a famous piece of mythical "found footage". Maybe one of the best of it's kind, because it's still alive and still talked about.

The Fourth Man is a movie about confusing reality with dreams and visions, what is real and what is fake. What is madness? What is murder? Maybe we'll never now. Maybe the deaths in The Fourth Man just is strange coincidences and our hero is getting too absorbed in his storytelling and religious guilt.

Or maybe we're all fooled by the magic of film. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971)

He might be in the shadow Dario Argento, a director who always aimed for very spectacular thrillers (brilliant stuff by the way), but a giallo directed by Sergio Martino is without a doubt among the finest in the genre you can see. Torso and The Suspicious Death of a Minor is two of my favourites, but thankfully I've actually skipped a few of his other films just to have something to watch in the future - and today was one of those futuristic days when popped the cherry of Mrs. Wardh, well... or at least The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (aka Next! aka Blade of the Ripper)! Now this is one of the most twist-packed gialli I've seen, on the boarder to be parody - but it's so well done it's very easy to buy.

Edwige Fenech is Julie Wardh, married to ambassador Wardh (Alberto De Mendoza). A happy life in Italy, a dream come true. Well, Julie isn't happy at all. Instead she has a lover, the hunky George (George Hilton), who wants her to divorce her husband and marry him. It would still be an okay life if it wasn't for her ex-lover, Jean (Ivan Rassimov), who's a raving jealous psychopath! When a maniac is starting to slice his way through the ladies of Rome, Julie suspects it's Jean - but is it him, or can it be her husband? Or George? She's getting more paranoid when the killer goes after her, armed with a sharp, shiny razor...

I'm not sure everyone would agree, but The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh is one of the smartest and trickiest gialli ever made. I can't say why or who or when or what the fuck, but it's built up in a genius way and with a script so packed with red herrings and clues and wonderful, wonderful characters, it's easy to just get drawn inside the intrigues and forget this boring real world. Martino has sometimes been accused of just being a gun for hired, but that's very far from the truth. A gun for hire would never put so much energy into telling a story, with intelligent use of angles and camera movements and getting the best out of his actors. 

He has a stellar cast here, from the beautiful talent of Fenech, the raw hunkiness of Hilton, the restrained unhappy husband of De Mendoza (and I can never get it out of my mind that he plays the crazy priest in Horror Express) and the edgy madness of Rassimov. It's one of the finest quartets ever in an Italian thriller.

While not as gory or graphic as the work of Argento or Fulci, in the same genre, Mrs Wardh still gives us a couple of nasty set-pieces where the razor-killer slices away the ladies with an uncanny frenzy. The sexiness of the film is also higher than normal and there's enough nudity to please the dykes and straights, but very little for the women and gays - even if George Hilton's butt is quite okay. But it is a movie about sex, about romantic affairs and (something that's mentioned very discreet) some kind of kinky sex that Julie likes.

The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh is another masterpiece from the Martino-brothers and it will go to history as one of the very best of Italian thrillers. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Warning from Space (1956)

Warning from Space was the first Japanese sci-fi/kaiju movie in color and also made after Godzilla made a lot of money around the world. But Daiei Studios realized a bit too late that what they needed was BIG monsters and designed the posters to make the monsters look bigger (and also seemed to release promo material featuring fake screenshots from the film picturing the aliens as giants!). It actually got mostly negative reviews, but slowly became a small success all over the world, but since then it's quite forgotten and badly distributed. 

I bought on DVD ages ago, released by the infamous public domain company Alpha Video and since then it's been collecting dust on the shelf. Until today, when I decided it was time to give it a spin. I wish I didn't wait so long, because this is a neat little sci-fi movie, partly inspired by American sci-fi's from the same time, but without losing its national identity.

There's UFO sightings all over Tokyo and weird starfish-style creatures is seen, and it's not imagination. Up there somewhere a race of aliens really needs to contact us, but they look too weird and we're just scared by their looks. One of the mutants into a woman and through her the earthlings learn that a gigantic planet/sun/something is hurling through space and it's gonna crash into the earth! What to do?! The planet is getting closer and soon disasters strikes! Is it too late to save us all?!

It's never too late. At least not in the magic of movies. Warning from Space is a damn nice little sci-fi flick which perfectly in with the other more down-to-earth productions like The H-Man and The Mysterians, and with that I mean movies who's not focusing by huge rubber monsters fighting other creatures in miniature cities. The story takes an interesting turn from being a normal alien invasion story to something more positive and constructive, maybe a unique hopefulness that sometimes can be lacking in alien invasion films from the time (where a new danger often lurks around the corner). The nuclear weapons also is used to something good instead of blasting each other to pieces or creating monsters. I know, it's stuff like this that we love, but instead there's a couple of nice disaster scenes towards the end - all using them same excellence in building miniatures as usual.

The coolest thing with Warning from Space is the design of the aliens, created by artist Tarō Okamoto. If you do a google image search of his name you'll see some of his statues and paintings and it's not surprising he got the job. It's the same kind of surrealistic, high-flying psychedelica we see in this movie. A couple of the statues could be monsters from Ultraman or Gamera! Another interesting thing is that it's claimed, in John Baxter's 1997 biography over Stanley Kubrick, that Warning from Space was one of several kaiju's that inspired Kubrick to explore the world of science fiction.

I'm very sure Warning from Space will get a better reputation the day it gets a remastered new English-friendly release. It's worth watching even on the Alpha DVD, the quality is passable and just crappy and not mega-crappy, but it's not a worthy disc for such a fine little movie. 

The Cat Creature (1973)

Here's an interesting TV-movie, originally aired december 11 on ABC, 1973. The Cat Creature was made mostly because producer Douglas S. Cramer wanted to make an old-fashioned, occult-themed thriller in the same vein as The Cat People and similar stuff from the forties and seventies. He hired Robert Bloch as a writer and Curtis Harrington as director and a very competent cast with Meredith Baxter, Stuart Whitman and David Hedison in the bigger parts and with a lot of great supporting actors - but more on them later.

After a real estate appraiser is found clawed to death in the villa of a rich collector, super-cop Stuart Whitman is on the case. He contacts Egyptologist David Hedison, because the dead dude was specializing in Egyptian artefacts and soon they're noticing how people is starting to die around them, and everything seems connected to a golden amulet stolen from the estate. ...and the presence of a black, nasty, angry cat near every victim doesn't bode well...

The Cat Creature is a by-the-numbers TV-movie, but it's also extremely cosy, perfect for a lazy morning. The wonderful cast is inspired - especially Gale Sondergaard, the talented and colourful actress who became a victim for the McCarthy-fascism, who also got a little comeback here and worked up to her death in the middle of the eighties. She had a successful Hollywood-career, but after getting fucked by the American paranoia she and her director-husband Herbert J. Biberman moved to more liberal New York and started to worth in theatre instead of the shallow film industry. John Carradine shows up in a cameo and Peter Lorre Jr. in an even smaller part. And he's an oddity in the cast.

Lorre Jr. wasn't really Peter Lorre's son, but he looked a bit like him and when he wanted to break into acting he changed his name to Peter Lorie Jr, which both Lorre and his people objected to. But lucky for Eugene Weingand (his real name), Peter Lorre died months after and he quickly changed his name to Lorre Jr. and claimed he was the son - and therefore got a few parts here and there. What a guy!

Curtis Harrington is even more interesting. Considered one of the founders of Queer Cinema (he worked with Kenneth Anger, among others) and very interested in the occult, he became some kind of specialist on cheap, colourful genre movies, some of them made for TV. He also made a trio of name-themed movies, Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?, What's the Matter with Helen? and How Awful About Allan. He did some jobs for Roger Corman also but later turned mostly to TV. I prefer to remember him for the insanely cheesy but awesome Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell!

Anyway. It's not a perfect movie by any means, mostly because it had some troubles during production. Shortly before shooting was going to begin, Harrington told Bloch the script is twelve pages too long. Bloch carefully shorted it to fit the TV-format, but after shooting was done Harrington discovered that the movie needed twelve pages more! Now Bloch had to write new scenes, who would fit in with the now already filmed shorter script, and that resulted in a less coherent story and a bit more episodic feeling.

It's still a good production and worth seeking up for you fans of old TV-movies. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Psychopath (1966)

After Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho in 1960 every producer wanted their own hit starring a dysfunctional family with incestuous atmosphere.  Psycho's screenwriter Robert Bloch was himself the man behind several of these similar-themed knock-offs. Tonight's episode features the lesser known, but interesting, The Psychopath. Directed by Freddie Francis, the first half of this thriller feels more like a German Edgar Wallace movie with the same stiff police procedures and cheesy set-up with a mysterious murder leaving doll-copies of the victims beside the body.

The traces leads to the crazy old Mrs. Von Sturm (Margaret Johnston) and her son Mark (John Standing), who's living in a housed filled with creepy dolls - the only interest the old lady had since her husband committed suicide after being falsely accused for something... very serious. Anyway, the victims seems to be connected to this case and the question is: could this dysfunctional family be responsible for the murders?

Here comes the biggest weakness of The Psychopath, it's not surprise at all who the killer is. The rumour says it was re-edited to become more whodunit, and that might also have caused it to be a much weaker movie than it really is. They struggle to keep the killer a secret, while it's not a secret at all (just check the official poster) - which makes the whole set-up quite confusing. What do they want to do with the story? A whodunit or a normal thriller? Hell knows, but it's still worth watching and Bloch uses a couple of very interesting ideas, but feels a lot more rushed than most of his other writing from the same period. I'm the first one to admit that I love good whodunits or early slasher-style movies, but The Psychopath doesn't get really interesting - on several layers - until the last victim is killed and director Francis (and the actors) can focus on the interesting characters.

The ending, which goes on for a while with several endings in one is excellent, creepy delivers a few subtle shocks without being especially violent or graphic (no, I'm not one of them who wants to be pretentious and claims that less gore will generate more tension, that's just bullshit - it's all about storytelling, no matter graphic violence or not). But it works and that's also the part of the film you will remember.

The Psychopath isn't the best film from neither Francis or Bloch, but if you tend to enjoy moderately twisted sixties thrillers or just yet another production from Amicus, this might be something for you.