Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Universal Soldier (1972)

..definitely one from the 'fascinating but I can see why it's forgotten these days' school of early 1970s Brit flicks, I suppose you could consider Universal Soldier the British equivalent of one of Tom Laughlin's 'Billy Jack' movies, what with its indulgent interludes of left-wing theater and political debate, its art movie aspirations and stubborn refusal to be the action movie that its audience wanted. Considering that it is from the director of Zulu and stars a former Bond, its story about an arms dealer (George Lazenby) ridden with guilt over profiteering from violence and war, invites a degree of autobiographical interpretation. Seemingly born out of a pacifistic reawakening, Universal Soldier is a simultaneously bold and aimless movie about a man trying to find direction and purpose in life, yet never really getting it together. Still you gotta love the amusing dishonesty of Universal Soldier's pre-cert VHS release, which hypes it as an action-fest ('James Bond's George Lazenby is the Universal Soldier...this man's business is WEAPONS') concealing 90 or so minutes of somber, soul searching around rain drenched pop concerts, the sleazy streets of soho and a drab London still very much hung over from the 1960s. As I say its forgotten status these days isn't difficult to understand, but when it comes to people you never expected to see onscreen together George Lazenby & Germaine Greer has to be up there with Billy Connolly & Richard Burton, Steven Seagal & Imelda Staunton, and Old Mother Riley & Bela Lugosi.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Giselle (1980)

Ay, Caramba. From the land of Coffin Joe, Sergio Mendes and Pelé, comes this Brazilian sex odyssey, charting the steamy adventures of its titular heroine. Having spent most of her childhood in Europe, Giselle (Alba Valeria) returns to her well to do family in Brazil for her summer vacation. As Gis has a seemingly endless supply of sexual energy, she wastes no time in seducing Angelo (Carlo Mossy) her father’s ranch hand, as well as her own stepmother Haydee (Maria Lucia Dahl). Gis then decides to form a tag team with her stepmum and the two women take on Angelo at the same time. The arrival of Giselle’s effeminate stepbrother Serginho (Ricardo Faria) proves no obstacle to the amour, as Giselle discovers when she catches Serginho making out with Angelo. Far from being appalled or offended, Giselle just shrugs, laughs, takes off her clothes then joins in a bi-sexual threesome with her stepbrother and the hardworkin’ Angelo.

Not everyone is so friendly towards poor Serginho though. When Angelo takes him to a local bar they are immediately set upon by three thugs who taunt and sexually come on to Serginho, forcing Angelo to defend him in a fight scene rendered in ridiculously slow motion. Sadly we haven’t seen the last of these three troublemakers, who return later on in the film to ambush the protagonists at gunpoint. The three thugs then decide to rape Giselle and Haydee, as well as going all Deliverance by raping Serginho as well. Quickly becoming disillusioned by her privileged surroundings, Giselle falls in love with Ana (Monique Lafond) a lesbian Communist, and leaves the family home having set her heart on helping Brazil’s poor and spreading the socialist message. Actions that have a particularly devastating effect on Haydee, who sees Ana as a love rival and politically undesirable. “It’s upsetting to see you looking at that little Communist” complains Haydee, emphasizing the word ‘Communist’ as if it were an extreme expletive. Senseless violence however puts an end to Giselle’s political awakening and sends her back to the drama of her sex crazed family.

Few sexploitation films will leave you quite as speechless as Giselle, a film with a truly uninhibited attitude towards all forms of sex. Literally anything goes here, and while it is not uncommon for sexploitation movies, especially those of a European variety, to tackle themes of incest, rape and lesbianism, Giselle fearlessly ventures into the more traditionally off limits taboo of homosexuality. Displaying no reservations about erotizing its male stars as much as its female ones. It’s as if director Victor Di Mello was laying down the gauntlet to his audience over just how open minded and sexually liberal they really were. Di Mello seems equally interested in testing his audience’s tolerance towards the Scott McKenzie song ‘San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)’. Victor Di Mello must have really, really loved that song. An easy listening cover version of which is repeated over and over and over on the film’s soundtrack. Rightly or wrongly Giselle’s soundtrack choices (when it isn’t using ‘San Francisco’ its drawing on similar, easy listening versions of The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Let It Be’) paint its director as being something of an ageing hippie, still preaching about free love and the gentle people with flowers in their hair. “The world is full of beauty if we can only see it” gushes Giselle’s stepmum.

In America the film was re-titled ‘Her Summer Vacation’ and apparently marketed as a Porky’s/Lemmon Popsicle type romp, and c’mon…admit it you’d just love to be a fly on the wall when the insanity of Giselle unfolded for an audience expecting frat humour and harmless T&A. What did they make of the Angelo/Serginho action, the socialist tub-thumping or the explicit footage of horses being mated, which opens the film à la Borowczyk’s The Beast….I’m amazed heads didn’t explode. Giselle also contains a dubbing faux-pas that never fails to crack me up, when Serginho introduces his black lover Bobo (Vinicius Salvatori) as being “a male nurse in the merchant marine”. Now, I’m sure that line was meant to be “in the merchant marines”, but given the bi-sexual free for all that ensues, its probably safe to assume that Bobo was no stranger to being in a merchant marine anyway.

Giselle is the kind of movie that makes you glad physical copies, as well as posters and stills from the film are still out there, because no one would buy into the existence of this film based on oral evidence alone. Its storyline, and character’s behavior, are so outlandish that you’d be forgiven for dismissing it as a dirty minded tall tale…but trust me amigo, Giselle is very much real.

If you’re looking to experience what it’s like to chance upon something that is way, way off the usual cinematic path, then Giselle is just the ticket. The exotic Brazilian locations, blatant cover versions of well known hits, outbursts of violence and bi-sexual agenda all lend the movie the allure of danger and lawlessness. No matter when and where you encounter Giselle, it will always feel like you’re watching it in some smoke filled backroom, with the film being shown via a noisy projector and an audience made up of sweaty, tequila drinking men, all of whom look like Danny Trejo.

Inherently sleazy as Giselle is, it is also a film with an infectious joie de vivre about it. A celebration of life, love, friendship, and sexuality that is hopelessly enamored with its main characters, especially Angelo. The impression you’re left with is that Di Mello really wanted the film to be centered around Angelo, but that chasing the ‘Emmanuelle’ craze forced his hand into following Giselle around instead. Everyone in this film loves Angelo… Giselle, Serginho, Haydee. The film is flat out infatuated by him…Angelo, the fighter…Angelo, the lover…Angelo, the friend…Angelo, the loyal employee. Even Giselle’s father Luccini (Nildo Parente) has the hots for Angelo, on account of the fact that when they were teenagers Luccini and Angelo’s father were lovers, and Angelo reminds Luccini of all the good times he had with Angelo Sr. An admission that is actually one of the more wholesome aspects to Luccini, whose sexual tastes form the basis of the film’s big revelation. How can we put this?....Luccini has ‘weaknesses’ not dissimilar to the guy who directs all those Jeepers Creepers movies. While Giselle doesn’t exactly celebrate this side to Luccini (nor thankfully depict it), the film’s blasé, often jokey attitude towards it is a shocker. ‘Problematic’ has become something of an overused word when it comes to describing movies from the 1970s and 1980s, but in Giselle’s case it feels just about right.

Victor Di Mello was a prolific director of Brazilian erotica, but Giselle seems to have been the only film of his to gain much exposure outside of Brazil. I must embarrassingly confess that my own encounters with Brazilian sexploitation cinema begin and end with Giselle. Although the recent Brazilian TV drama ‘Magnifica 70’ (currently available to stream on All 4) which is set in the country’s sex film industry of the 1970s, did provide a crash course, not only in the ‘pornochanada’ film genre, but in the era of military rule, police brutality and politically motivated film censorship that Giselle emerged from. Seemingly well versed on its subject matter…Victor Di Mello gets a name check at one point, there is a Coffin Joe reference in the first episode and Angelo himself…actor Carlo Mossy has a supporting role, Magnifica 70 frequently touches upon how the government controlled censorship board would frequently force their will upon the makers of pornochanada. Threatening them with bans or persecution, if their films didn’t extol the virtues of the military, patriotism and the Church. Evidence of which can be found in Giselle, the Brazilian release version of which opens with footage of an atomic bomb blast and text lamenting the decline in morals and warning of ‘Sodoma ‘e Gomorra’. Not dissimilar to the ‘this film is dedicated to those who are disturbed by today’s lax moral codes ’disclaimer that opens our very own House of Whipcord, and equally disingenuous. It all comes across as a heavy handed, but clearly necessary, attempt to appease the Brazilian censor.

In Britain the film was cut down for both its theatrical and pre-cert video release, which removed part of Serginho’s seduction of Angelo, scenes of male and female rape, a drug fuelled flagellation scene and Haydee goading Angelo into beating her. Missing also from the British version is a lengthily scene of Angelo picking up Serginho at a train station, presumably for pacing reasons. The cover versions of The Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’ and ‘Yesterday’ were also removed from the soundtrack and replaced with generic disco music, presumably for copyright reasons. No less of a hot potato in the 1990s, when Giselle was released on UK video in the post cert days its distributor Harmony video chose to remove 13 minutes and 36 seconds of footage from the film before submitting it to the BBFC, who cut it by a further 1 minute and 31 seconds. Today, finding the film in English and uncut doesn’t appear to be an easy task, even its nearly uncut Greek video release, which has all the Beatles tracks intact, trimmed out a scene where Angelo uses amyl nitrate and ends up whipping Giselle, Serginho and Bobo, much to their enthusiastic enjoyment.

Considering the turbulent times and place Giselle was born out of, its remarkable the amount of mischief Di Mello got away with here. For all of the fire and brimstone warning that opens it, the film doesn’t have a single conservative bone in its body. Giselle is 39 years old now, and it’s aged disgracefully, a shameless old hussy of a film that doesn’t care less what anyone thinks of it.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Plutonium Baby (1987)

Toxic waste, corporate villains, muggers, aerobics classes, and the problems faced by working, single mothers whose offspring will only eat goldfish. This film truly wears its social concerns on its sleeve. Whatever else can be said about Plutonium Baby, it sure doesn’t short change you when it comes to mutants. There is a mutant rat, which bites a jock, which briefly transforms him into a mutant. A mutant mum who has given birth to a mutant kid, who during the course of the film becomes a mutant man, and who (slight spoiler) sires another mutant kid. Not forgetting a mad doctor who is responsible for turning the mutant mum into a mutant, and who himself becomes a mutant. Thats more mutants than you can shake a slime filled stick at.

Did the UK video industry of the 1980s have an aversion to the use of long, highfalutin words in movie titles. You’d certainly think that was the case when considering this film, which lost its original title, Plutonium Baby, in favour of becoming ‘The Mutant Kid’ on UK video. In fairness Plutonium Baby does lead you down the path of thinking that this film will be a monster baby movie akin to the ‘It’s Alive’ series, which it really isn’t. The Mutant Kid on the other hand feels like a grab bag of VHS buzzwords from the era. Films with the word ‘Mutant’ in the title were quite popular at the time, there was errr. .. Mutant, Mutant 2, Mutant Hunt…and ‘The Kid’ could imply the film was in the tradition of The Karate Kid, The Coca-Cola Kid, The Heavenly Kid, and The Invisible Kid. In short, there were allot of movies with the word ‘Kid’ in the title back then, so why shouldn’t we have The Mutant Kid.

Call it what you will The Mutant Kid…or Plutonium Baby…centers around Danny, a teenage boy who has been raised in the wilderness by his grandfather, and not without good reason. For Danny, isn’t like other boys, he has a birthmark on his neck that throbs when he is around toxic waste, can light fires with his hands, is able to eat fishes whole, and has allot to learn about women…but more about that later.

This is all down to the fact that while she was pregnant with him Danny’s mother had been exposed to toxic waste, and mysteriously disappeared while working for a yuppie doctor called Drake. In fact, Dr Drake had mum locked up in a toxic waste canister, where she has remained for 12 years until some bozos open the canister, and mutant mum emerges, looking pretty much like you’d expect for someone who’d been locked in a toxic waste canister for 12 years. Fearful that his wrongdoings are about to be exposed, Dr Drake and his thugs descend on Danny’s woodlands home, intent on wiping out mutant mum as well as Danny’s grandfather, who has been threatening Drake with legal action.

As this is a 1980s horror movie, also descending on the woods are a bunch of teenagers, whose quest for listening to loud music, pulling pranks on each other and having pre-marital sex is never going to work out well in a film like this. Sure enough, things quickly turn sour for the kids, one of them gets bitten by a mutant rat, and Drake and his thugs show up to kidnap the women. The kids also get to meet Danny and his grandfather. An encounter that goes awry when Danny, who has never seen a woman before, decides to grab one of the girl’s boobs out of curiosity, before being taken aside by his grandfather and given a quick prep talk on how women’s bodies are different to mens, and how women have places they don’t like to be touched, especially by under aged strangers. It’s here the filmmakers and the audience may have a bit of a parting of the ways. See, while the film insists on sympathetically portraying Danny as this poor little dude, who doesn’t have a mother or a father, and is all sad and lonely…all you tend to get from him is this ‘future sex pest in the making’ vibe. When he isn’t grabbing boobies, he is spying on couples having sex…and may well be the creepiest horror movie kid since Michael in Burial Ground, Zombi 3, Nights of Terror…call it what you will.

Despite the film’s title, it is the mutant mum who does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to dispatching the bad guys and finally getting revenge on Dr Drake, by locking him in the toxic waste canister. Unexpectedly, and rather confusingly for the audience, nearly all the characters are dead, and all the plotlines seemingly resolved around the 40 minute mark, forcing Plutonium Baby to pretty much restart itself and begin its narrative again. Now, was this unorthodox structure part of the filmmakers’ plan all along, or did the production run into some turbulence? I’m inclined towards the latter, because…well put it like this, have you ever read something on the IMDB and wondered if the information in question was added by a disgruntled individual who actually worked on the film? Such is the vibe you get from looking up Plutonium Baby on the IMDB, the IMDB trivia for which states “Originally scheduled for a ten-day shoot in August 1986 with director William Szarka and a crew who are now thankful they were never credited. Filming halted after five days when the director fired the assistant cameraman and the rest of the crew quit in protest.”

So, it doesn’t sound like Plutonium Baby was the happiest of film shoots especially that bit about the crew being “thankful they were never credited”. An editor by trade, William Szarka has a few other directing credits, including South Bronx Heroes from 1985, and Phantom Brother, a shot on video slasher/haunted house movie from 1988. I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure of South Bronx Heroes, although goodness knows you used to see that movie everywhere during the VHS era, but even the briefest exposure to Phantom Brother, with its crap jokes and juvenile, sex obsessed tone, leaves you in no doubt it was cut from the same cloth as Plutonium Baby. Szarka’s name is nowhere to be seen on Plutonium Baby though, which attributes direction to the mysterious Ray Hirschman, a man who has no other credits and no connection to other movies. So was Hirschman a pseudonym for Szarka? Or was he a separate entity brought onboard to salvage the production and direct the second half of the film? Answers on a postcard please.

Whatever went on there, Plutonium Baby act 2 resumes Danny’s story ten years later, with Danny now a surprisingly well adjusted adult working as a construction worker in New York. Wendy, one of the teenage survivors from the first half of the film, has not only never aged a day in ten years but has also bettered herself in life and is now a semi-famous aerobics instructor…because what late 1980s horror film would be complete without a gratuitous aerobics class sequence.

I suppose you could classify Plutonium Baby as a superhero film, although it’s a low budget late 1980s idea of a superhero film, which is considerably different to how we think of superhero films today. Danny certainly has superpowers but they are never really that impressive. While Danny has the ability to start fires with his hands, he only ever uses this talent to start a small wood fire going, something your average person could just do by rubbing two sticks together, or bringing a lighter along with them. Taking into account Danny’s lonely, isolated childhood versus the ability to start small fires and eating fish whole, and you’re left with the impression that the negatives to being a mutant kid far outweigh the positives.

As with any good superhero film, you also have to have a supervillian who is the mirror opposite of the hero, blessed with the same powers but who has taken a very different path in life. So, welcome back Dr Drake, who has been stuck in that toxic waste canister for ten years. That is until two guys come along and decide that a rusty canister with ‘danger radioactive’ written on the side would be an ideal place to put their beer cans. Behavior that even by Plutonium Baby standards is pretty dumb, but does push the narrative along and gets Dr Drake out of toxic waste jail. As with any facially disfigured villain in a late 1980s horror film, Dr Drake clearly has aspirations on being the next Freddy, what with his non-stop onslaught of one-liners. Dr Drake also seems to fancy himself as something of a Jack Nicholson in The Shining tribute act, and begins lumbering around hollering “Danny”. In fact, you can’t help wondering if the sole reason the main character in this film is called Danny, was so that they could set up that l’ttle Shining reference.

As is often the case in the superhero genre, the hero here is something of a dull, non-entity, leaving the far more charismatic Dr Drake to steal the film away from Danny, and ham it up. At one point, Dr Drake stumbles around central park singing “O Danny Boy” as a way of taunting Danny, since one of the side effects of toxic waste in this film is that you develop a psychic connection with other people who’ve been affected by toxic waste. Chalk that up as another one of the utterly useless superpowers that characters in this movie have.

Dr Drake’s reign of terror soon encompasses turning the tables on muggers, killing several of Danny’s friends and terrorizing Danny’s girlfriend. A quite literal display of toxic masculinity, that forces Danny into one final rooftop confrontation with Dr Drake, because, well….nobody puts Plutonium Baby in a corner.

In contrast to the rural, wilderness setting of the opening, the second half of Plutonium Baby is a distinctly New York piece. The film has the same type of atmosphere you get from the contemporary horror films of Tim Kincaid and Roberta Findlay, and equally seems to revel in portraying NYC in the most dangerous, threatening light possible. Much as exploitation film fans, especially those born after the fact, are fond of romanticizing the grindhouse era of 1970s and 1980s New York, films like this do bring you back down to earth and make you realize that realistically you’d have probably lasted five minutes in that place before you’d have been stomped, robbed and left in the gutter. 42nd Street and Central Park have rarely been as unflatteringly captured on film as they are here. While any footage of 42nd Street is now of historic value, there is something quite sad about the shots of the semi-deserted Deuce and the decaying grindhouses in this film, you’re left in little doubt that you’re witnessing the end of an era here.

The films of the aforementioned Tim Kincaid and Roberta Findlay might actually be the litmus paper test over how much you’re going to get out of Plutonium Baby. If those two names cause you to prick up your ears rather than run for the door, then this film speaks your language, and is on your wavelength. Plutonium Baby does typify the era of entrepreneurial filmmakers chasing the horror film dollar and slipping up on toxic waste along the way. It’s definitely part of the slimy, crude family of films like Breeders, The Suckling, Slime City, Street Trash and The Toxic Avenger.

Plutonium Baby does also have a rather odd history with Troma films, it was for years written up as a bit of a Toxic Avenger rip-off and even sometimes accidently credited as being a Troma production. Then after years of people being corrected over this being a Troma film, Troma went ahead and acquired the film at some point in the late 1990s, releasing it on DVD in 2010. Giving Plutonium Baby the status of being the Troma wannabe that eventually became an official part of their library, the Rupert Pupkin of schlock. Presumably out of the goodness of their hearts and for the benefit of all mankind, Troma have of late made Plutonium Baby available for nothing on Amazon Prime and their own Youtube Channel. Yes, in 2019, you can legally… and freely, watch Plutonium Baby online….WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE !!!!!!!


Thursday, 23 May 2019

The Dragon Unleashed (2019)

Rene Perez, Mr. ‘Death Kiss’ himself, is back with another mixture of bone crushing action and ‘pay it forward’ philosophizing, as a lethal ninja assassin (Chase Bloomquist) embarks on much soul searching after contemplating whether his 5 year old self would be proud of the fact that he grew up to become a lethal ninja assassin. Haunted by visions of his 5 year old self looking none too pleased that he grew up to become a lethal ninja assassin, the ninja’s conscience is further pricked after his scumbag boss (John ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ Schneider) sends him off to kill a lady doctor who has found a cure for malaria. Thankfully, a cute goody two shoes neighbor (Emily Sweet) is on hand to bake the ninja some cookies, and through her he learns to be the kind of lethal ninja assassin that his younger self would be proud of. Soon the ninja discovers the valuable life lesson that shooting lots of bad people, staring meaningfully at waterfalls and giving large amounts of money away to ill children will help make you a better person.

If you’ve ever seen any of Perez’s other films you should have a good idea of what to expect here. All of Perez’s trademarks are present and correct, guys beating the bejesus out of each other amidst breathtaking Shasta county backdrops, over the top gore (people always got time to bleed in Rene’s movies), familiar faces from his other films (Eva Hamilton, the guy with the Mohawk from Death Kiss), sincere yet heavy handed moralizing worthy of an episode of Walker: Texas Ranger, gentlemanly protagonists who avert their eyes at the sight of boobage… and yes there is a grunting, mask wearing Leatherface type character here as well. If you’re not on board with Perez’s movies yet, this is unlikely to win you over, but if like me you unashamedly dig his distinct brand of cinema then The Dragon Unleashed reliably serves up more of the same.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Demonwarp (1988)

To misquote Feargal Sharkey “a good Bigfoot movie these days is hard to find”. From the boggy creek inspired pseudo-documentaries of the 1970s to the direct to DVD titles that currently plague our supermarkets, there have been an awful lot of Bigfoot movies over the years, and the number of bad ones far outnumber the good ones. Indeed the Bigfoot movie genre has such a stigma of awfulness attached to it, that it’s understandable if people choose to give it a wide berth these days. 

There have been a couple of standout Bigfoot movies along this otherwise bumpy cinematic path though. A film from 2006 that deserves a shout out is ‘Abominable’, which we didn’t get in the UK till 2014. Abominable is basically Hitchcock’s Rear Window, but with Bigfoot. A wheelchair bound man who observes his neighbours through a telescope witnesses one of them being killed by Bigfoot, then has a tough time convincing others about what he has seen. It sounds like a joke movie, but Abominable really is a terrific, suspenseful, overlooked gem...written and directed by Ryan Schifrin, son of Lalo Schifrin, who provided the music for his son’s film. Abominable recently had a bells and whistles Blu-Ray release in the States, so hopefully that will cause it to appear on peoples’ radars, and earn it some much overdue acclaim.

When talking Bigfoot movies we can’t also overlook the disreputable, bad boy of the genre that is 1980’s Night of the Demon. Hands down the most goriest bigfoot movie ever made, whose enduring infamy rests on its appearance on the ‘Video Nasties’ list in the UK, and a scene in which a biker stops off to piss in a bush, only for an angered bigfoot to emerge from the undergrowth and pull the guy’s dick off. That film’s message is clear, be careful where you urinate when in the great outdoors, a pissed on bigfoot, will always be a pissed off bigfoot.

This brings us along to 1988’s Demonwarp, which gives Night of the Demon a run for its money in the ‘goriest Bigfoot movie ever’ stakes. It’s something of a photo-finish, but I think Night of the Demon takes the prize and Demonwarp has to settle for being the second goriest Bigfoot movie ever made. I can’t think of another movie though whose plot could so easily double as a series of ‘Weekly World News’ headlines ‘ALIENS TURNED MY UNCLE INTO BIGFOOT’, ‘POT-GROWING CO-ED HAS HER HEAD PULLED OFF BY BIGFOOT’, ‘ZOMBIES INVADE BRONSON CANYON’, ‘PASTOR ACCIDENTLY MISTAKES ALIEN FOR THE SECOND COMING’...incredibly all of that actually happens in Demonwarp, the only things that seem to be missing are an appearance by Bat-Boy and the cryogenically frozen corpse of Walt Disney.

Demonwarp stars George Kennedy, who of course everyone remembers from Hollywood classics like The Dirty Dozen and Cool Hand Luke and in his later years as Leslie Nielsen’s straight man in the Naked Gun movies. There was though this near forgotten chapter in George Kennedy’s career where he was getting a reputation as a ‘name’ headliner in low-budget horror movies, with appearances in this, Creepshow 2, Nightmare at Noon and Uninvited, before the Naked Gun series pulled him out of that career path. Whatever the genre though, few actors have played so many characters cursed with bad luck as George Kennedy. If George Kennedy gets onboard a ship in a movie its sure to sink, be possessed by ghost Nazis or a mutant car will stow away onboard, and if George gets onboard a plane in a movie you can be sure it will be hi-jacked by Islamic terrorists (lest we forget “I’m Jewish, and so was Jesus Christ”).

George’s run of cinematic bad luck spills on over into Demonwarp, where his character is spending some quality time with his daughter at a cabin in the woods...for all of about two minutes before, what would’ya know, fricking Bigfoot gatecrashes his way into the cabin. After his daughter is senselessly killed, George goes all Rambo on our asses, begins roaming the woods while armed to the teeth and sets up all manner of booby traps ....Bigfoot having after all drew first blood. George also takes to wearing a yellow hat, the stated reason for this being that it makes him more visible to Bigfoot. I guess the colour yellow is meant to have the same effect on Bigfoot that red does to a bull, and I’m sure George Kennedy’s adoption of this silly headgear had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that it made him easier to stunt double.

Demonwarp is very much the late 1980s horror movie in a nutshell, you can immediately tell that the Friday the 13th series was still holy at the time this film was made. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before...there is this remote part of the woods that has developed a reputation for people mysteriously disappearing or being violently murdered there, so natch’ it’s a mecca for loud, fun loving teenagers who all wanna party with their ghetto blasters, take drugs and have pre-marital sex....yeah, you can see where this movie is going. Demonwarp’s second act is essentially a Friday the 13th movie with Bigfoot standing in for Jason. The film even has its own version of Tommy Jarvis, a guy called Jack, who has been mentally scared by a previous encounter with Bigfoot, but whose warnings about the creature fall on deaf ears.

Demonwarp also typifies the rise of the special effects artist as a horror movie selling point in the 1980s. It was one of the first, but certainly not the last, movies I remember seeing on the rental shelves whose cover emphasised its special effects team’s connections to other, more well known, horror movies “special effects by the team responsible for Re-Animator, From Beyond, Nightmare on Elm Street 4”.

Demonwarp appears to have originally been conceived as a vehicle for the special effects of John Carl Buechler. He designed the Bigfoot suit for the movie, wrote the original script, gets a ‘story by’ credit and was meant to direct the film before he got the gig to direct the seventh Friday the 13th movie instead. The job of directing the movie went to Emmett Alston, who was also responsible for a not very memorable slasher movie (New Year’s Evil) and a not very memorable Sho Kosugi vehicle (9 Deaths of a Ninja), on the basis of which Demonwarp and being replaced as the director of Enter the Ninja were probably his career highlights. It is understandable why Buechler chose to direct a Friday the 13th movie over Demonwarp. After all the Friday the 13th movie had probably four times the budget of Demonwarp, was made by a major studio and was part of a hugely successful movie franchise. Much as I like Friday the 13th part 7, I’ve always thought that Buechler was an odd choice as its director, especially as he wasn’t really a splatter effects kind of a guy, in the way that Tom Savini was. Buechler being better known as a wiz when it came to creature effects in fantasy movies. Demonwarp does feel like a movie more suited to his talents than Friday the 13th part 7.

Buechler of course, sadly passed away recently, and reading his obits does cause you to remember just how many brilliant movie monsters he was responsible for in films like Cellar Dweller, Ghoulies 1, 2 and 3, From Beyond, TerrorVision, Troll...he will be missed. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that Buechler was to the VHS generation, what Ray Harryhausen was to people who grew up in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Buechler is also key to a theory I have that Troll, Ghoulies and The Garbage Pail Kids Movie are all part of a shared cinematic universe. Hear me out...in Troll, you see a portrait of a bald, gregarious looking fellow, which is actually a portrait of John Carl Buechler himself, but in the context of the film is meant to be the wizard Torok before he was transformed into a Troll. Hidden way in the background of that portrait is the ‘fish’ ghoulie from Ghoulies, and what do we find in the basement of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie but... the portrait of Torok from Troll, which also contains the fish ghoulie from Ghoulies. Anyway, that’s my theory as to how Ghoulies, Troll and The Garbage Pail Kids Movie are part of a shared universe...not that I’m holding my breath for a crossover movie anytime soon.

Buechler did have an instantly recognisable style when it came to creature effects, you really don’t need the video cover blurb to know that the Bigfoot costume in this film came from the guy who also worked on Troll, Cellar Dweller or Ghoulies. Buechler’s Bigfoot costume is undoubtedly his greatest gift to this production. In keeping with the late 1980s vibe of Demonwarp, the Bigfoot we get here is a super pumped Bigfoot who looks like he has been hitting the gym with Arnie and Sly. Bigfoot’s attacks on his victims resemble wrestling matches, with Bigfoot displaying a preference for pulling chokeholds on his victims. Suffice to say, this is one Bigfoot that the Hendersons wouldn’t want to take home with them.

Demonwarp does unfortunately suffer from a bit of downtime in-between Bigfoot attacks, where the film isn’t doing a great deal but lingering on an uninteresting bunch of teenagers and showcasing some young, rather wooden actors. My main issue with Demonwarp is one I have with allot of slasher movies, it is extremely predictable in terms of who is gonna live and who is gonna die. Pretty much from the get-go you know that Jack and his smart, sensible girlfriend are gonna go the distance, and that other characters like the pair of jocks who love pulling pranks are dead meat, ditto the pair of beer swilling co-eds who are trying to grow pot in the woods. It makes you wonder why none of these films succumb to the temptation of tearing up the rule book, killing off the goody two shoes characters and letting the obnoxious pranksters or the airheaded co-eds live to fight another day. Demonwarp though is a stickler to tradition in that respect, everyone you expect to die, dies, everyone you expect to live, lives.

one of these people is related to George Kennedy, the other is topless.

George Kennedy probably wished one of those beer swilling co-eds had more screen time as well, especially as one of them is played by his daughter Shannon. The behind the scenes story is that as part of his contract- Kennedy was paid 15,000 dollars for three days work on the film- there had to be a role for his daughter in Demonwarp. Now, when I first heard the story about George Kennedy’s daughter being in this film I automatically assumed that she played his daughter in the film, which would make sense, and Kennedy and the actress who plays his daughter do have quite the natural, onscreen chemistry. This isn’t the case however, Shannon Kennedy is one of the two airheads who break so many of the rules of how to survive in a 1980s horror film, they listen to rock music, they drink beer, they’re promiscuous, they’re trying to grow pot, and one of them takes her top off. Not Shannon though, the story is that there was allegedly some pressure put on Shannon Kennedy to take her top off for the film, which she wouldn’t do, and this incident is meant to have lead to some ill-feelings between George Kennedy and the filmmakers, which is understandable.

The other girl in this scene is played by 1980s Scream Queen Michelle Bauer, who of course was allot more forthcoming in the nudity department, and as a result does get a bit more screen time to bare the breasts and exercise the lungs that she was famous for back then. If it’s any compensation Shannon Kennedy does –hands down- get the most spectacular death scene in the film. However given this story about her being pressured to do nudity for the film, you can’t help but wonder if there was a degree of vindictiveness behind giving her such a thankless role in the film and such an ultra-violent death scene.

For all its occasional dull spots (just how many times do we need to see characters walking about in the woods) stick with Demonwarp, as it comes back strongly in its third act. Demonwarp’s greatest trick is conning you into thinking that it is just a simple Bigfoot movie and something of a spent force at its midway point. By that stage you’ve seen allot of the Bigfoot, you’ve seen nudity and you’ve seen gore, and there is the feeling that the film has run out of steam. Don’t be fooled however, for Demonwarp has a whole bunch o’ crazy to hand that it has yet to offload on you. How nutzoid does this film get? How about all of Bigfoot’s victims coming back to life as zombies, who steal electronic equipment in order to rebuild a UFO? How about Bigfoot turning out to be a normal man who had been abducted by an alien and transformed into a beast (as I said, this film’s plot is straight out of the Weekly World News). How about throwing in a mad Priest who sacrifices nude girls on an altar, and feeds their hearts to the aforementioned alien...who following in the footsteps of Robot Monster, hides out in a cave in Bronson Canyon. Demonwarp might be a Bigfoot movie, but it eventually reveals itself to be a Bigfoot movie with lots of extra toppings.

In that sense Demonwarp does begin to resemble Spookies (1986) another non-stop orgy in the special effects department, that feels more like a show reel for its make-up artists than a narrative film. Demonwarp does have the occasional whiff of calculated, cynical thinking behind it, as if the film was conceived by a bunch of corporate suits who brought a copy of Fangoria or Gorezone to the business table, and tried to nail down all the elements that made horror movie such big money earners. “We need lots of dumb teenagers who go to a cabin in the woods, and zombie movies seem to be renting well, we need some zombies in this movie, and we need one of those scream queens to get her tits out in this movie, and some other young actresses to get their tits out in this movie, and a star whose name will look good on the VHS box... Martin Landau?, Jack Palance?...maybe George Kennedy?...George Kennedy is available?, but he insists on his daughter being in the movie, ....will she get her tits out as well?” 

Demonwarp is unwavering in its belief that throwing all of the successful elements of the horror genre into one, big movie is a guaranteed recipe for success. The maxim that ‘too many cooks can spoil the broth’ is completely alien to this movie...zombies, an alien, Bigfoot, a Scream Queen, a star name, they all get thrown in the stew here. Demonwarp is all about excess and stupidity... it is after all a film from the 1980s. If future generations need a crash course in all that rocked the genre’s boat back then, look no further, and if you love the 1980s, and love old school, practical effects then Demonwarp may well cause you to cum in your pants.... ‘nuff said.

Friday, 12 April 2019

The Dynamite Brothers (1974)

The Dynamite Brothers is an Al Adamson film from 1974, and as is often the case with Al Adamson films, it has been different things to different people. The film was released as The Dynamite Brothers for the Kung-Fu crowd, but was also put out as ‘Stud Brown’ for the inner-city/blaxploitation market. Stud Brown being one of the names of the two lead characters in the film...not a nickname...that is genuinely the name of the character...and c’mon how can you not have some love in your heart for a film featuring a character called Stud Brown...and no one questions why or finds that funny. Doesn’t that already tell you everything you need to know about this movie.

This is one of Adamson’s more obscure films, it had a DVD release in America in 2002, and a British one in 2003, but they’re both out of print now, and as far as I’m aware no one has done anything with this movie since the early Noughties. Which does illustrate an irony that Adamson’s producer Sam Sherman has frequently commented on. That the professionally made, straightforward and coherent films he and Adamson did together, never seem to command the same level of fascination as their misfit productions like ‘Blood of Ghastly Horror’ and most famously ‘Dracula Vs Frankenstein’, which were often put together from aborted projects and tied in with footage that had been filmed at different times. The rule seems to be that the more malformed Adamson’s films came out, the bigger their cult following became in the long term.

Which is a pity really, as The Dynamite Brothers is a rather overlooked Al Adamson film that has allot of energy and grindhouse charm on its side, and is one of Adamson’s films that I find myself revisiting allot. Simply put this is Adamson’s take on the 1958 Hollywood film The Defiant Ones, in which Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier played handcuffed convicts forced to overcome their racial prejudices when they go on the run, which had already acted as fodder for exploitation movies. ‘Black Mama, White Mama’ the shot in the Philippines, Eddie Romero film starring Pam Grier, being a famous example.

In Adamson’s film it is the turn of ex-American football player Timothy Brown to slip on the cuffs...in a plot that sees his character...Stud Brown... handcuffed to an Asian guy, played by Hong Kong superstar Alan Tang. Making the most of an opportunity to give the cops the slip, the two men go on the lam, first in San Francisco before ending up in the Watts area of Los Angeles. All the while being pursued by a hot-headed, racist cop played by Aldo Ray. This being a film from the time when Aldo Ray and Cameron Mitchell had pretty much cornered the market in playing racist cops in exploitation movies. It tended to be either one or the other. Aldo Ray basically being the guy you went to for playing racist cops...if Cameron Mitchell was away in the Philippines that week...or was recovering from his latest facelift.

The Dynamite Brothers does differ considerably from The Defiant Ones in that there is little antagonism between the two lead characters. Indeed, racial tensions between black and Chinese characters are notably non-existent in this film, with Adamson seemingly being more comfortable with depicting racism as a predominantly white hang-up, in the form of Aldo Ray’s bigoted cop as well as a bunch of rednecks who pick a fight with our heroes in the back of a pick-up truck.

Hateful as he might be Aldo Ray’s character does though come up with what is, hands down, the best insult in the movie when a guy asks for his gun, only for Aldo to bark back “where do you want it, in your face or up your ass”.

While for most of the film Aldo Ray’s character comes across as your typical blaxploitation movie villain. One scene unexpectedly humanises the character, when he breaks down and admits to his glamorous young girlfriend how tainted by corruption he has become, and there is the realisation that there maybe remnants of a decent man buried deep under all that hard-assed, racist exterior. It doesn’t result in you actually liking the character, but it does leave you with surprisingly mixed feelings when this character checks out.

The Dynamite Brothers has a laid back, easy going quality to it. Its basic ‘run-around’ plot might be action packed, as you’d expect from a seasoned exploitation film director –fight scenes, racial insults and female nudity are never far away in the film- but it’s also very undemanding. Meaning that this is the kind of movie you can put on, kick back and just chill out to. The location work in San Francisco and Los Angeles also takes in lots of 1970s colour, look out for great shots of ‘The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic’, the Chinatown district of San Francisco, the backstreets of Watts, and seemingly just about every Chinese restaurant and fast food outlet the mid-1970s had to offer, Adamson apparently being quite the fast food junkie. You definitely get the grand tour of Al Adamson’s America in The Dynamite Brothers.

Once our heroes arrive in Los Angeles and become unshackled, the Alan Tang character goes about investigating his brother’s death, leading him to the chief villain of the piece, a ruthless, castle dwelling, drug dealer played by James Hong, in what seems like a rehearsal for his role in Big Trouble in Little China. Stud Brown on the other hand goes about renewing his friendship with ‘Smiling Man’, an outrageously attired bar owner, whose business is being threatened by Hong’s right hand man, a guy known only as ‘Razor’. It’s difficult to not feel a bit sorry for Alan Tang, this is a film awash with brilliant character names... ‘Stud Brown’, ‘Smiling Man’, ‘Razor’....and the name of his character? ‘Larry Chin’...ermm I guess the well of catchy character names had run dry by the time they got around to naming the Asian guy.

Of course, calling a character ‘Stud Brown’ does give a fella a certain reputation to uphold...with a name like that you’d expect the guy to be getting as much pussy as John Holmes. By blaxploitation standards though, Stud Brown is a fairly monogamous guy, who is highly respectful towards women...he must have been such a disappointment to his parents. I mean...if you call your kid ‘Stud’, you obviously have expectations that they’ll grow up to break a few hearts and bust a few hymens in their time. It turns out though that Stud only has eyes for Sarah (Carol Speed), a mute waitress who works for Smiling Man. Stud even comes up with an impromptu love song about the pair of them.

Even if you take nothing else away from The Dynamite Brothers, I promise you’ll never be able to forget ‘The Ballard of Stud and Sarah’, which Timothy Brown, this big, tough ex-American football player, does seem slightly embarrassed to be performing.

“Sarah and Stud, 
Stud and Sarah, 
Sarah and Stud, 
Stud, and Sarah, Stud
Sarah, Sarah, Stud 
Stud and Sarah, Yeah 
Stud and Sarah, Yeah” 

I bet Bob Dylan wishes he could write songs like that.

We’re getting into spoiler territory here, but I find it hard to believe anyone can’t see from a mile away that the Stud and Sarah storyline isn’t going to end well. After all, she and Stud are blissfully in love...she is a mute...she owns a puppy...you can pretty much tell that she is as marked for death as any love interest or family member of Charles Bronson in a Death Wish film, and that Sarah exists purely to act as a catalyst for Stud Brown to extract some righteous revenge on her killers.

One of the misconceptions about Al Adamson is that his films were always a little behind the times and tame throwbacks to a different age. Something that will leave you unprepared for the tough brutality of several of his films, most notably Satan’s Sadists and The Female Bunch, whose viciousness actually pointed the way forward to the grittier tone that exploitation films adopted in the 1970s. While Adamson’s later films might be a bit more mellower, Sarah’s death (she has her face calved up by a man trying to extract information from her, unaware that she is a mute) ranks alongside the distasteful gang rape in Adamson’s Black Heat, and Georgina Spelvin’s seduction and shooting of a mentally retarded man in Girls For Rent, as evidence that Adamson’s films aren’t without their cruel edges.

Despite being born out of the Kung-Fu and blaxploitation crazies of the day, The Dynamite Brothers is a film that is ahead of its time in someways. Here, Adamson stumbled upon the mismatched buddy action movie, long before Hollywood did. As the UK DVD is rather keen to stress ‘...before Rush Hour, there was The Dynamite Brothers’. A comparison that in itself is starting to date that DVD as a product of the early 00s, Rush Hour not really being the new, hip film to name check anymore.

It is worth noting though that Adamson was working with a predominantly black and Asian cast here, long before diverse casting became fashionable. Something I think Adamson deserves more credit for, especially as he wasn’t one of those white exploitation film directors who threw together a few black cast movies during the blaxploitation days, but then never used black cast members outside of that genre. Adamson’s non-blaxploitation movies seemingly being happy to champion black actresses, notably Marilyn Joi in Nurse Sherri and The Blazing Stewardesses.

Whatever you make of Adamson’s films the general consensus seems to be that the man himself was an ok, straight arrow, average Joe kind of a guy, who no one seems to have a bad word to say about. So, it is all the more regrettable then, that in that grotesque Sharon Tate manner, Adamson is more remembered for the fact that he was murdered, rather than the movie career that preceded it, which often tends to get reduced to a quirky anecdote. Adamson’s death is a well told tale, but if you don’t know, in the mid-1990s, decades after he left the film business, Adamson got into a dispute with his live-in contractor Fred Fulford, who beat Adamson to death and buried his remains under the floor of Adamson’s house, where Adamson’s hot tub had once sat.

a typical day in the life of Al Adamson as depicted in 'A Stranger in my Home'

I’m losing count of how many TV documentaries there have been about Adamson’s murder...three at least. The best of the bunch is an episode of a series called ‘A Stranger in my Home’, which juggles talking heads with recreations of scenes from Adamson’s life. The actors they got to play Adamson and Sam Sherman are pretty spot-on facsimiles of their real –life counterparts. Less so their version of Regina Carrol, Adamson’s wife, who didn’t really look like the actress playing her, but the Stranger in my Home episode might be the closest we’ll get to a full-on biopic of Adamson.

That documentary has been repeated ad-infinitum here in the UK, and as a result it’s often odd to bring up Adamson’s name in conversation with people who aren’t B Movie buffs and have them know who he is. Albeit only because they’ve seen that documentary, and albeit only as ‘the schlock film director who got murdered and buried under his hot tub’.

Al Adamson deserves to be remembered as more than just a homicide victim though, while his horror movies will always hold a special place in my heart, The Dynamite Brothers ranks alongside Satan’s Sadists, The Female Bunch, Black Samurai and Death Dimension as one of the legitimately great Al Adamson films. Its badass credentials are such that clips from the film- and part of its title- even found their way into the affectionate, blaxploitation homage Black Dynamite (2009), and let’s face it if The Dynamite Brothers is good enough for Black Dynamite, then it sure is good enough for yo’ honky asses too.