Vampire’s Kiss (1988)

300_141757To mark the 25th anniversary of its cinema release – a Criterion edition must surely be on the cards – I’m revisiting cult Cage classic Vampire’s Kiss. The late 80s and early 90s were a troubled time for Nic – his career wasn’t one long succession of critical and commercial smashes like it is today [citation needed] and Vampire’s Kiss was one of a trio of inexplicable misfires, along with Fire Birds (Top Gun, but with helicopters) and Zandalee (erotic thriller co-starring Judge Reinhold) to be released around this time.

Nic plays Peter Loew – a sleazy literary agent by day, and even sleazier womaniser by night. Events take a turn for the sexual when he gets an erection whilst trying to shoo a bat out of his apartment (yep, this film is literally batshit). The next night he pulls Jennifer Beals and before you know it he’s down to his socks. And when Nic’s down to his socks you know what time it is – it’s ACTING time. Flashdance proceeds to chow down on his neck but the next morning she’s vanished quicker than her own topline film career.

Almost immediately Peter begins to feel rundown and anxious, eventually convincing himself that he’s become a vampire. And it’s here that the psychodrama, and the acting, really begin. In a searing yet subtle critique of the yuppie lifestyle, Peter has been metaphorically sucking people’s blood for years, but now he’s doing it for real. Truly this film is a ringing endorsement of the Garth Marenghi maxim ‘subtext is for cowards.’

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What follows is a masterclass of kamikaze acting – he’s taking the film down with no survivors. Nic wheezes, lurches, cackles and gurns his way from one scene to the next. He terrorises his secretary, and in a plotline which even the makers of the Twilight saga would deem ‘a bit pedestrian’ he genuinely spends a good 50 minutes of the film harassing her with increasing vigour until she finds a crucial misplaced file. Yeah, vampires may be pure evil, but they’re sticklers for administrative integrity too. As his behaviour becomes more debauched and debased we’re left to question whether his transformation is happening at all, or if it’s just the result of mescaline-induced hallucinations. Certainly I felt like I must be hallucinating watching it, and whichever lousy Hollywood fatcat saw the treatment for this and thought it had ‘solid gold hit’ written all over it DEFINITELY was.

The pace may be funereal, the storyline illogical, and the direction diabolical (the director only has one piece of stock footage of traffic in New York which he uses about half a dozen times) but Cage is never less than intensely watchable – this is the stuff YouTube compilations are made of. Even by his own standards Nic makes one of the most bizarre accent choices of his career, unveiling a unique hybrid of Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan and C Montgomery Burns, with a dash of Engerlish thrown in for good measure. In one key scene he eats a live cockroach – not only a Method tour de force, but also one which allowed Nic to exorcise some childhood demons, as in later years he would recount that he used to have nightmares that his mother’s head was attached to the body of a cockroach.

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When asked to describe the film himself Nic thoughtfully comments ‘It’s not a film that can or should be analysed. It’s like a bad dream or a scary painting. People either hate it or absolutely love it – both viewpoints are valid.’ The New Yorker were slightly less charitable, noting ‘Cage delivers a remarkable portrait of a completely obnoxious jerk’, with fellow late 80s hellraiser Jim Carrey adding ‘He’s really talented, but what the fuck is he doing?’ That’s a question that has vexed seasoned Cage watchers for years, and never more so than here.

There are three archetypal Cage performances. The first is where a director and Cage are in perfect harmony, his maniacal energy and maverick instincts reined in and utilised to maximum effect. The second is where he’s on autopilot – not so much phoning it in as sending a sloppily spelled text. The third is where Nicolas is uncaged – he destroys the film from within with a blizzard of demented tics and untamed overacting. This falls squarely in the latter camp – he’s less Bram Stoker and more Ham Stoker.

Over the years Nic has ended more film careers than McCarthyism, and this was pretty much a stake through the heart of the celluloid careers of all involved. Jennifer Beals was barely spotted on the big screen again, and first time director Robert Bierman can more recently be found directing episodes of The Bill and Holby City. Over two decades on however, and the man himself continues to rise from the cinematic dead to terrify audiences, baffle critics and bleed one film studio after another dry.

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Project Shadowchaser 2 (1994)

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Do you remember the first “Project Shadowchaser” film? Well, the producers of this are sure hoping you don’t, because they’ve decided to sort-of remake it, only in a slightly different location.

My theory – the company that made the first film wasn’t interested in doing a sequel, or in doing much of anything with part 1 (still yet to be released on DVD), so the actual filmmakers decided to make their own “sequel”, (see the name on the VHS cover above) but with a number of glaring similarities to the first – Zagarino has a female sidekick with short blonde hair; there’s a helicopter rescue at the end which is almost spoiled by a thought-to-be-dead villain; and excessive use of air-ducts. They decided not to make ol’ Frank an android in this one, though, and have a slightly cleverer plot. Then, about three-quarters of the way through filming, they managed to get the rights to the “Project Shadowchaser” name, which led to some last-minute rewrites. Zagarino’s character name is never mentioned, and he displays no signs of anything you could call android-y behaviour until 59 minutes in. His voice is completely different, and he’s far more…animated in this one than he was in part 1. An example, you ask? Well, this is what he wears when he mows down a Christmas party in full swing:

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I kind-of want that picture in HD and to turn it into a poster, but I think it’s unlikely. Anyway, Android (how he’s listed on the credits) and his chums infiltrate a nuclear research place, take over the weapons and threaten to blow up Washington unless…here’s where I’m a bit vague on the details. I think it’s all a cover for the theft of something from the secret lab’s storage vault, which they’re pretending is all about getting a few of their friends out of prison, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. I guarantee not one of you will read this review and be disappointed at the lack of fine plot details. About my rubbish writing style, maybe.

Luckily for humanity, the lab has Frank (Bryan Genesse), a kickass martial artist / former baseball pro who’s working as a maintenance man; along with his beautiful but hard-ass boss and her unhappy teenage son, they’re all that stands between Android and…doing whatever he needs to do (I’m sure he had a good reason). Also luckily, and in keeping with the first, everyone in this film is a rotten shot. Bullets are sprayed liberally in any and every direction and most of the time hit no-one at all, and don’t even appear to be aimed at anyone, really. Also, my notes have the line “everyone in this film is scum”, indicating a fair few people that it’s difficult to root for. And with there being a kid in it, you know he’s going to survive, which makes any scenes of peril featuring him boring – as, in fact, are 99.9% of all scenes featuring kids in peril in films.

I feel a bit silly writing a new review for something so similar to its predecessor, but there are some fun moments. Frank is fighting one of Android’s minions, and he gets set on fire BUT CONTINUES TO FIGHT, surely one of the most badass things captured on film. Android, to prove he’s serious about whatever it is he’s up to, takes control of some surface-to-air missiles and blows up a passenger aircraft which is flying overhead, killing hundreds (which feels like footage from another film, as it’s a lot of money to burn on a set which is on screen for maybe a minute).

Ultimately, of course, it’s designed to be a fast-paced sci-fi action film. Despite the sci-fi element being so small as to be effectively invisible (it’s only the lip service paid to Android’s non-human nature that differentiates this from a thousand Die Hard clones), it’s plenty of fun. Zagarino and Genesse clearly worked well together, as they did a few other films with each other, and their fights are probably the best thing about this. If you weren’t immediately put off by the name, you’ll probably want to stick around and watch it all.

Rating: thumbs up

The Doll Master (2004)

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Directed by: Yong-Ki Jeong

Mark has recently covered ‘Dollman vs. Demonic Toys’ on the site; so continuing along a similar theme, here is a South Korean film about dolls, the most creepy of all Children’s toys. Seriously, I remember as a kid wandering through Kerrisons en route to the Airfix model section and those bloody Cabbage Patch dolls would scare the beejeezus out of me down as I hurried down this narrow shadowy aisle, they seemed to peer blankly through the window of their clear plastic boxes. A chubby face full of evil intentions. Like former dead eyed Russian MMA phenom Fedor Emelianenko pre-fight, they tended to stare right through you.

‘The Doll Master’ is one of those films which contain many familiar horror tropes. The film begins with a scene from the distant past when a tragic event occurred, one of those events that will likely leave haunt a place for decades to come. In this case, a doll maker’s wife was found dead. The doll maker was accused of murder, got beaten to death by an angry mob and buried on the edge of a forest. The doll he made in his wife’s image sat mournfully by the doll maker’s grave (a comment on that to come later). Then there’s a creepy old building, an ideal setting for a horror movie, a doll museum with dangerous and mysterious inhabitants, and finally a group of fresh faced mostly good looking victims… I mean young folk (the handsome macho guy, the weird and pervy guy, the Scream Queen, the bimbo and the odd one) who are invited to stay at the museum with no objections whatsoever. Who wouldn’t want to stay for a few nights at a doll museum without knowing the reasons why they were invited?

‘The Doll Master’ is proof that even in the clever, innovative world of South Korean cinema there exists directors who rely on other people’s tired ideas and oft repeated scares in order to make a below average horror movie. Actually below average is maybe too kind, ‘The Doll Master’ runs like a bad American horror movie, one of those post-‘Scream’ flicks like ‘House of Wax’, only decidedly less jumpy and without Paris Hilton getting gruesomely killed. The film is also badly paced, ponderous in fact, half the film drifts by before any scares occur.

What else did I hate about it?

I think the problem with dolls is that though as I’ve already said they have a creepy aura about them, in that the more lifelike they are, the more frightening they appear, making them scary on film relies either in ‘Child’s Play’ levels of absurdity or as a contrast to that careful suspenseful subtlety. ‘The Doll Master’ gets it horrendously wrong. It is one thing to have an actress playing a doll come to life, in the case of the living doll Mina. It is quite the other to suggest that with the other decidedly unlife-like dolls are capable of killing, just by a stiff arm moving slowly, or eyes moving shiftily from left to right like an arthritic ‘Action Man’. In the opening scene it is particularly painful to watch the director trying to create emotion by placing the apparently grieving but ultimately still and lifeless doll next to the doll maker’s graveside.

The story is ridiculous. Hae-mi doesn’t recognize that the young girl in a red dress who lurks around the house is a doll with a soul from her childhood. But then again why would she, given that there is only a passing resemblance. Yeong-ha seems mentally disturbed, yet the other guests see her more as nothing more than a teeny bit eccentric. They don’t find it odd that a young woman in her late teens / early twenties would carry a doll around with her. Unless she is a goth teen circa Marilyn Manson fandom era then why would this be even remotely socially accepted? Why? Why? So many god damn Why’s? The biggest Why? Being – Why are the guests there in the first place? The reason is shoehorned in towards the end that all the guests are descendants of men who killed the original doll maker. Gosh, it must’ve took a hell of a lot of researching Korean family trees to make that happen, and most of all Why? Who had a stake in their demise? What was the point of this vengeful act? Again, why?

– RJW
3/10

The Doll Master on IMDB

Youtube Film Club – Project Shadowchaser (1992)

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Labs and hospitals in low budget films seem to suffer from a problem of lighting – despite being, in everyday life, the best lit places you could imagine, when it comes to the sort of thing the ISCFC loves, they’re oceans of murk with the occasional bulb dangling. “Project Shadowchaser” is particularly good at this, although the title should have been a clue (it certainly doesn’t refer to anything that happens in the film).

I almost forgot – this is a Youtube Film Club entry!

This film is a glorious addition to that surprisingly durable genre, “guy gets brought out of retirement / prison / cryogenic suspension in order to save the President’s daughter”, and that guy is Desilva (Martin Kove, dependable baddie in “The Karate Kid” and many others, doing a rare good guy part). The powers that be have a problem at the Hospital, and they think he’s the hospital’s architect who was put in prison for killing someone in self-defence – unfortunately, he’s a former NFL player who’s not much of a fighter either.

The problem at the hospital is Romulus. He’s an android killing machine who escapes from the lab (named, for reasons which I presume will never become clear, the Shadowchaser project), rounds up a gang of ne’er-do-wells and takes the President’s daughter hostage at the hospital she’s visiting. He needs $50 million so he can be free, they don’t want to give it to him, and that is the central issue of the film.

"What? This is totally a real beard"

“What? This is totally a real beard”

Desilva rescues the woman fairly early on, so the problem then becomes trying to get out, with booby-trapped doors, other hostages and a large group of heavily armed terrorists. I was going to say “well-trained”, but no-one in this film appears even remotely capable of firing a gun properly. Sub-machine guns are sprayed wildly about, and for as many spent bullets as this film has, very few of them land anywhere useful.

Romulus (Frank Zagarino, veteran of more rough-sounding B-movies than you can shake a stick at) and the cops, then Romulus and Joss Ackland, play a game of video-call cat and mouse during the action, and it’s surprisingly effective. While clearly hired for his physique and unusual looks, Zagarino carries his side of things and you can at least understand his motivation. Kove clearly relishes the chance to play a good guy too…

But I fear I may be leading you up the garden path a little with this positivity. Why Romulus chose a situation he had basically no chance of escaping from to make his freedom money is never made clear; and it’s very very obviously a huge rip off of “Die Hard”. It manages to make technical mistakes I never thought possible, and gives the impression it was made by a group of non-professional filmmakers who learned everything they knew from other B-movies. And I know I mentioned the murk before, but it’s so murky!

If you’re thinking of popping in a film like “Project Shadowchaser” though, you know what you’re going to get, and this film delivers. If you want a sci-fi film which pays the faintest lip-service to science fiction, and is instead a perfectly normal film with a villain who just happens to be virtually indestructible and have no morals, then this could be the one for you.

Rating: thumbs up

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The VRAs – Don’t Go In The Woods (1981)

This is our ongoing series about films that were banned by the British government, using the Video Recordings Act of 1984. You have the right-wing gutter press and a few Christian pressure groups to thank for these films becoming more famous than they had any right to be (in all but a few cases), and the fact they’ve now virtually all been re-released, uncut, while the law remains in place, tells you more about moral panics than it does about the content of the films. See the VRAs “mission statement” here.

From the video nasty list to being freely available to anyone on Youtube, “Don’t Go In The Woods” (occasionally with “…Alone!” appended to its title) has a strong case for being the worst of the VRA films we’ve seen so far, and I get the feeling it’ll be right down there when we finish this project too.

This is a real slasher film. You want plot or characterisation? Get the hell out of here. You want good acting? Then go to the theatre. But if you want plenty of seemingly randomly-picked people wandering about a forest, getting themselves butchered, then come sit down with me, friend, and let’s discuss this movie.

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My notes feature an awful lot of “why do all the women shriek so much?”, so if I’m talking about a woman in this film, chances are she screams in a nasty high-pitched way (or repeats the name of the man she needs to come and save her about 50 times in a row), and the movie starts with one of these. Then a guy who appears to be an oddly-dressed birdwatcher gets killed in the most confusing way possible – see if you can figure it out – before we meet the people who you’d probably have to describe as the film’s stars, a group of four hikers. Their “leader”, the boring wilderness-rule-spouting guy, could be used as foreshadowing, so it’s people who forget to follow his rules that get killed – or someone who remembers one of his survival tips is able to beat the killer. Want to guess if that happens or not?

As they wander round, and a few other people get killed, we see the local police responding to a missing persons report. Is this from a previous murder or one of the ones we’ve been watching? If the latter, who reported them missing and how long had they been gone for? Sorry, questions. This is a film devoted to murder!

We are soon to meet my second-favourite characters in the film, Dick and Cherry. They’ve gone for a honeymoon, in a camper van, in the middle of the woods. Their van is decked out in a wonderful variety of colours, and weirdly includes that iconic poster of Farrah Fawcett, which I feel would be an at best unusual choice for the ceiling above your marriage bed. But they pull it off! Until Dick goes out because he hears a sound, takes a sound thrashing and then the as-yet-unseen baddie manages to flip the entire camper van over on his own, plunging Cherry to her death too. He’s strong! Or this film is stupid!

The film became so dull round around halfway, and it wasn’t exactly starting from a high point, that I began imagining how to make this movie in several simple steps.

1. Go to the woods with a decent-sized group of your friends

2. Make sure none of them are particularly attractive or good at acting

3. Film them just wandering about, doing normal camping things

4. Every now and again, film one of them getting killed in a really confusing way, and chuck a load of fake red blood about

5. Explain nothing

6. ???

7. Profit!
Only read the rest of the review on the proviso you’ve watched that Youtube video above, or don’t care about having the film spoiled for you. It turns out the killer is some filthy hillbilly, unable to talk, who it’s implied has lived in a cabin in the woods for his entire life. He steals a baby at one point, and the last scene of the film is that baby, sat in the middle of a clearing playing with an axe. THE CIRCLE OF HORROR WILL CONTINUE, YOU GUYS

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Two of the four manage to escape the woods, and the police round up a big posse and go huntin’. Problem is, the male survivor is wracked with guilt at leaving his friends so decides to go back up into the woods – and the doctor brings the woman up as well, because the experience will be good for her. Huh? This whole bit has the feel of a tacked-on-at-the-end sequence, inserted between their lowest point and their final fight with the killer. Or maybe it’s just terrible.

My favourite character in this, or possibly any other, film pops up around this point. To give a little background, the wilderness where most of the film takes place is not pretty. It’s overgrown and everything is gnarled and about as far from a rural idyll as you could get. So, it’s a somewhat surprising development when we see coming up a winding, fairly steep path…a guy in a wheelchair! He’s clearly ready to camp, as he’s got a rucksack on the back of his chair, but unfortunately he’s unable to talk, as all we hear is grunts and moans coming from him. We see him fall over a few times, and as he’s completely on his own he has to pick himself back up. His arc ends when, after yet more grunting and attempting to push a wheelchair over very rough ground, the killer just chops his head off. What?! I’m all for people who need wheelchairs being able to do anything they want, but solo camping up a fairly steep mountain forest seems to be courting disaster (okay, he maybe wasn’t expecting to get his head chopped off, but you get the idea).

The title of this film is misleading. As the film starts in the woods, it’s already too little, too late, and I think “Sod Off Out Of The Woods” would be a much better title. As I realised that the film was mercifully over, I rued the day that it was banned, for that was the only reason I – or any other sensible human – would have to watch it. It’s not particularly gory (by today’s standards, it’s almost laughably quaint), and I suppose the toddler-in-peril was the thing that pushed it overboard with the censors.

I don’t know if I’ve hammered home how awful this film is. There’s no dramatic tension, no character you care about, no sense of moving from one place to another place. It’s a chore to watch, and I feel bad for the drive-in and grindhouse cinema patrons who had to sit through this for the lack of anything better.

Rating: thumbs down

Memories of Murder (2003)

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Directed by: Bong Joon-ho

With its influence undeniable on suspense filled murder mysteries like ‘Zodiac’ and ‘The Texas Killing Fields’, ‘Memories of Murder’ is a jewel of South Korean cinema containing some unbelievable acting performances. It’s a tale of police incompetence, as Detective Seo Tae-yoon arrives from Seoul to work with a bumbling local police department who are perplexed by a number of grisly murders.

Detective Seo comes up against Detective Park, a man whose methods aren’t exactly by the book. Park intimidates and tortures suspects alongside his high kicking, military boot stomping partner; he looks suspects in the eye because he believes he can tell whether or not they are telling the truth. Events take place in 1986, the body of a young woman is found in a ditch near a rice field, a few days later another body is found, again in a field. Park gets to the scene too late, and the crime scene has been spoiled by bumbling policeman and curious reporters. There’s a humorous background joke, when the camera follows Park irately wandering, he is bemused by panicked policeman who keep slipping down a grass verge.

Seo works out that the murders occurred on a rainy night, and that both victims were wearing red. He looks at a missing persons report and speculates that there may well be a third body lying somewhere, as another young woman disappeared on a rainy night. She was last seen wearing red and sure enough she is found dead. An ambitious female police officer, held back by her male superiors, works out that whenever a murder is committed there a request is made to play a rarely played love song called ‘Sad Letter’ on the local radio station.

There is a real sense of helplessness as the police struggle to get any leads. Any kind of forensic evidence is hard to come by, mainly thanks to the rain washing everything away, and when they do get a semen sample it has to be sent across to an American crime lab, further delaying their investigations. As time goes on it almost appears that the killer is sadistically taunting the officers, as they begin leaving behind objects within his victims. This also could be interpreted as a possibility that there was a copycat killer also on the loose. Certainly director Joon-ho presents the police as flawed, morally duplicitous characters; the unsettling brutal treatment of a mentally handicapped suspect is an especially cruel illustration of this. It seems that if this is the way that things were done back then, it is no wonder that innocent people died, and the guilty didn’t get caught. Inevitably the police get so deep into this case they become obsessed, this clouds their judgement and causes them to overlook key details. Even the rational Seo becomes consumed by frustration.

Given that all the murders occur on a rainy night, the mere fall of raindrops creates so much suspense. The murders don’t seem to make much of a dent with the local populace because there is so much focus on local uprisings, and besides there is an inherent distrust of the police. You really get a sense of rural, small town South Korea; and the political climate of the time. The battle is intimate, between the murderer(s) and the investigation team.

I was on the edge of my seat throughout, and really I haven’t been impressed with a serial killer film since the already mentioned ‘Zodiac’.

– RJW
8/10

Memories of Murder on IMDB

The VRAs – Dead And Buried (1981)

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This is our ongoing series about films that were banned by the British government, using the Video Recordings Act of 1984. You have the right-wing gutter press and a few Christian pressure groups to thank for these films becoming more famous than they had any right to be (in all but a few cases), and the fact they’ve now virtually all been re-released, uncut, while the law remains in place, tells you more about moral panics than it does about the content of the films. See the VRAs “mission statement” here.

Part of the fun of these films is trying to figure out why they were banned, and without looking it up I’d honestly have no idea about this one. Is removing peoples’ will to live a reason for banning something?

The first thing to notice is this is appreciably higher-budget than any of the VRA films we’ve covered so far. A whole small town is used and the special effects, by Stan Winston, while occasionally terrible even by the standards of the time, are often excellent. There’s also a decent cast assembled, with many future TV stars and dependable character actors early in their careers. But enough of that!

A photographer has driven to the small town of Potters Bluff to take photos of the beach, apparently. After being entranced for what would pass for a beauty in small town standards, he’s tied up by a bunch of mean-looking locals, photographed repeatedly and then burned almost to death, which brings in Sheriff Dan Gillis. He’s a solid guy, but the same definitely can’t be said for the rest of the inhabitants of Potters Bluff – the woman serving him coffee was one of the people present at the burning, and a few others around him look a bit suspicious too.

The photographer is visited in the hospital by a nurse, who drives a needle through his remaining good eye and walks off, no-one thinking of stopping her even though the guy starts screaming and the Sheriff definitely sees her leaving his room seconds before. But the rest of the murders are almosty equally un-subtle – hitch-hikers, families passing through, a drunk fisherman – all are fair game for the locals, and the bulk of the film is a sort of cross between “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “The Wicker Man”, with the Sheriff gradually suspecting more and more while the town’s remaining friendly inhabitants meet grisly ends.

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This film was co-written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, who also wrote “Alien” a few years previously. O’Bannon is one of those guys who just seemed to not give a damn, and had a fascinating career – friends with John Carpenter at film school, and he wrote and co-starred in “Dark Star”; special effects work on “Star Wars”, was attached to the Alejandro Jodorowsky version of “Dune” before it fell through; wrote and directed “Return Of The Living Dead”; and wrote “Total Recall” among many other films. Sadly, it appears his contribution to this was name only, as Shusett asked him to attach his name to it to make it easier to sell, promising to make some changes from the rather crude original draft which ended up not happening.

The thing that’s surprising about this video nasty is that it’s not that nasty. With a few seconds of trims, this could easily qualify for a 15 certificate in the UK of today, and the best guess anyone has it that it’s the special effects, including some fairly unpleasant autopsy scenes and a “live” burial which were the reasons for its banning (it had already enjoyed a fairly successful cinema run in the UK).

There are moments where you want to shout at the Sheriff – hey dum-dum! In a town as small as this apparently is, why aren’t you noticing the new people suddenly doing menial jobs? but, to be fair, the ending has a decent crack at explaining all that. While not the most surprising conclusion in the world, it’s done well and provided you aren’t too squeamish about endless facial scarring, and can tolerate that peculiarly slow-paced horror which was in vogue at the time, you should enjoy “Dead & Buried”. Up to now, this is by a mile the best of the VRA films we’ve covered, and probably the only one which would be remembered now with any degree of fondness.

Rating: thumbs up

The 3 Musketeers (2011)

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The Asylum wins some and loses some when it comes to its mockbusters. When the big film they’re ripping off is a success, their cheap little film can suck up some of the money floating round; but when it’s not, their choice to ride its coattails can seem odd – and so it is with “The 3 Musketeers”, the big version being a critical and commercial disaster. The Asylum’s version, which thanks to the public domain nature of the original story, could have been a much closer adaptation than they ended up making, owes a lot to films like “The Losers”, “Red”, and “The A Team” – while still keeping some of the main, more famous plotlines and characters from Dumas’ novel.

We see the Musketeers in action in North Korea first, wisecracking their way through a few fights, some gun battles and the stealing of a helicopter. They’re an elite special forces unit – the best of the best from all the wings of the armed forces. We’ve got Aramis (Michele Boyd), the sexy ass-kicker; Athos (Xin, I love actors with one name) the martial arts / parkour guy; and Porthos (Keith Allen) the tech genius / comic relief. They’re doing great until they’re betrayed by the evil Cardinal, who’s trying to start a war between the USA and North Korea…

Okay, I need to step in for a moment. North Korea is a country so poor it can’t afford to feed its own people, and there is absolutely no way it would ever be the remotest threat to the USA. Films like this and “Red Dawn” would much rather use China, a country that absolutely could be a threat, but the problem with real actual threats is they don’t love being insulted, so films that show them as the bad guy don’t get sold to China, and film companies like profit much more than they like sticking to reality in any way.

So, the Musketeers are personae non grata, and it’s all down to the mysterious shadowy “Cardinal” (Alan Rachins, aka the hippy Dad from “Dharma and Greg”). He’s in charge of a group of former Musketeers who are now some private military contractors – again, a nice scapegoat when the people you really want to show as the villains are the US Army. He’s even got a rough approximation of Milady DeWinter helping him out in the field!

But it’s when D’Artagnan is introduced that things get a bit confusing. She’s an analyst for some wing of the Army, reporting to the General, David Chokachi from “Baywatch”! Not only is she super-smart, but she’s a former Olympic fencer (as is he, which comes in important near the end), knows tons of martial arts, you know the drill. She wants into field agent work, but needs to learn patience according to ol’Chok. This scene takes place on the same set as the military base in “Super Cyclone”, and if I had to guess I’d say it was The Asylum’s offices (there’s a scene later on, the nerve centre of the military contractor’s headquarters, which was also the control room for the oil rig in “Super Cyclone”. I love that film).

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She’s given a bit of nothing work by a co-worker, which involves going to see a bonkers old man…who’s not bonkers at all!…and it’s here she gets sucked into the conspiracy and tracks down the Musketeers to get their help. So…she’s an actual descendant of a chap called D’Artagnan who was a Musketeer for Louis XIV, but Portos, Athos and Aramis are all code names. It’s a confusing clash – is the book famous or not? Ah, who cares.

So, she’s on the run, but has the information about the Cardinal’s plans. How do she and the Musketeers get on? Porthos drops obscure quotes from old 1980s action films, and while they’re trying to resolve “Operation Dumas” D’A gets double-crossed by the General, and there’s capture and escape and a mission to stop the Cardinal from killing the President and starting war with North Korea.

Before I get on to the bit about if it was any good or not, there’s a couple of quite jarring moments in this. While escaping, two of our heroes – rather than knocking one of their assailants out, as they’ve been doing up to this point occasionally, set him on fire! This seems over the top, I hope you’ll agree. And secondly, while escaping in a helicopter, D’A (who happens to be black, played by the beautiful Heather Hemmens from the sadly missed “Hellcats” and the sadly unmissed “Rise Of The Zombies”) orders Porthos to hurry up. He turns and goes “yes massa, sorry massa”. I can understand them writing the script before they cast any of the parts, but to keep that line, so redolent of slavery, and have a white man say it to a black woman must have set off an alarm bell somewhere on set, surely? Maybe I’m being too sensitive.

The weird thing is, this is a pretty good film! If you can ignore the extraordinary cheapness of the film – Camp David, the President’s rural retreat, appears to be represented by a portakabin and a small cottage, for one – then there’s a lot of fun to be had. There’s a lot of banter between the Musketeers and it works well, being light, funny and character-appropriate (although I have to assume if I’m ever in the middle of a firefight I won’t try and hit on any of my female co-workers) and while they could do with hiring a decent fight co-ordinator, or training their actors better, I understood why person A was fighting person B and enjoyed it. It feels distinctly strange to say this, but I enjoyed a film made by The Asylum, with basically no qualifications.

Rating: thumbs up

PS. When you start noticing it, you won’t be able to stop, but it seems like they hired a different editor for the last half-hour of the film. There’s hundreds of weird stuttery little cuts in the middle of nothing scenes – so, someone will be getting out of a car and what would take 5 seconds of screen time has some frames chopped out so it ends up taking 3. I have no idea what they were trying to achieve with it, but it’s bit odd.

"Wait, the ISCFC like one of our films? Hell frozen over yet?"

“Wait, the ISCFC like one of our films? Hell frozen over yet?”