Yeti: Curse Of The Snow Demon (2008)

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This SyFy Channel effort annoyed the heck out of me, and not just for the normal reasons. It’s “Alive” with a yeti in it, which is a cool idea actually, but that’s not the annoying part. It’s based on two things which 100% wouldn’t happen in real life, and aren’t given any good reason for happening in the world of this movie.

 

Firstly, the pathetic way they’re rescued. Imagine the news story today. “College football team’s plane goes down in Himalayas”. Imagine, below that headline, “the search party is going to be two people, four days hike away, and we’re not going to even try and find them before that”. I would bet my bottom dollar that one of the dozens of US military bases within a couple of hours flight of that crash site would be there to pick them up within a day. One of them has a rich Dad, and everything!

 

Secondly, and I’ve put this second because it might sort of be a nit-pick, the reason for the rescue outpost not sending a helicopter. “Air’s too thin, it can’t fly up here”. The place where the plane crashes is covered in trees as well as snow, and in case you were wondering, the “tree line” altitude above which they don’t grow is about 10,000 feet. Well, helicopters recently airlifted people out of basecamp at Everest, which is at 18,000 feet, and one guy even made it to the top of Everest in one, which is 29,035 feet. Boo, movie!

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Okay, that last one might have been a bit much, but if you mess up that sort of thing so even a dummy like me can notice the problem, I’m going to trust you less on the other stuff. Turns out I needn’t have worried, as the other stuff is rubbish too. I’ve already pretty much described the plot, which is a bunch of college athletes going to a Bowl game in Japan, and taking the “all the way across the Atlantic, Europe and Asia” route, rather than just hopping over the Pacific; they crash in the Himalayas, and encounter the Yeti, who’s been living there and dining on the locals for a long time. The two groups don’t meet each other for some time, though, because the people have to get desperate enough to want to munch on human flesh.

 

Now, this could be part 3 of my “there’s no way!” expression of annoyance. Think of every plane you’ve ever been on. What’s the one thing they have lots of? Food. Plenty of drink too, but they never mention being short of that. You’re plied with food from the minute you get on a plane, but these people not only have absolutely nothing (5 energy bars between 8 of them), but they’re such awful people they only wait (at the absolute outside) 3 days before frying up and eating their dead classmates. The people in “Alive” resorted to chewing on leather and trying to find straw inside the seats before cannibalism, and lasted 8 days with less food and less shelter than this group of scumbags, plus they had no means of making fire and no fuel.

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The Yeti, when we meet him, has (for some reason) developed the ability to leap through the air like the Incredible Hulk. I guess being a large, strong, fur-covered beast isn’t enough nowadays? And he’s there from the beginning too, no hiding this creature in the shadows because they must be proud of the effect, or something. He certainly looks a lot better than the one from “Abominable”, which is the definition of damning with faint praise, but still.

 

The casting is…sort of okay. Carly Pope is, I guess, a cheerleader? I’ve completely blanked on why she was on that plane. She’s great, though, I’ve liked her since her days on “Popular”, and she’s still in cool things now. Marc Menard as football star Peyton Elway is blandly dependable, and there’s a couple of smaller roles for TV legends Ed Marinaro and Peter DeLuise. The rest of the cast are, honestly, just dumb cannon fodder except for one brilliant role, the guy who goes off to find the plane and keeps surviving the most unlikely situations, including using his friend’s severed arm as a splint for his own injured leg, all the way to a brilliant post-credits coda. He feels like he was beamed in from a movie with a slightly better sense of humour; but that’s not the worst of it, and this next one is another “maybe this just bothers me” moment. Menard was 32 and Pope 28 when this was filmed, and they’re both supposed to be college students (early 20s at the latest?). Neither of them look like college students either, so it’s just visually irritating.

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Factor in one of the all-time least appropriate “haha all our friends are dead” moments ever (when Pope and Menard fall down in the snow to laugh and kiss when the Yeti ceases to be a problem and rescue is there), as the pair doing it are literally surrounded by the corpses of their friends, some of whom THEY ATE, and you’ve got a SyFy movie.

 

It feels way more shambolic in its execution than average – director Paul Ziller and writer Rafael Jordan really ought to know better, as they’re old hands. I repeat this a lot, but if you can’t have great locations, top actors and brilliant special effects, you can control the script and the editing. Don’t have your leads laugh and get horny when everyone they know is dead. Don’t have a “30 years earlier” prologue when it has absolutely zero link to the rest of the movie. Spend ten minutes thinking about the logic of your movie, and if it’s got holes, try changing it.

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Rating: thumbs down

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Code Name: Wild Geese (1984)

Most misleading DVD cover ever?

Most misleading DVD cover ever?

For British people of a certain age, Lewis Collins occupies (still, probably) a big place in their psyches. As the former SAS paratrooper and mercenary turned anti-terrorism operative Bodie, Collins and Martin Shaw (as Doyle) kicked ass, indulged in light-to-medium sexual harassment of women and saved the day for the UK in “The Professionals”, which ran from 1977 to 1983. Loved by many, but…I never watched it. I was 7 when it finished and, so the story goes, Martin Shaw almost immediately disowned it and blocked any repeats til the mid 90s, by which time I was firmly in the grasp of the nerdy interests I still have. Collins, on the other hand, loved it, and got himself a black belt and joined the Paratroop regiment of the Territorial Army – he was also a drummer in early 60s Liverpool and turned down the chance to audition for the Beatles, the idiot.

 

So, “The Professionals” was a huge hit, and afterwards Martin Shaw went off to a long career in TV and film. Collins, on the other hand, had a slightly different arc, meeting with producer Cubby Broccoli  for the part of James Bond (which he lost due to being too aggressive in the audition, apparently); making the hit movie “Who Dares Wins”; then signing a contract with some German / Italian producers to make three action films which were commercial flops, of which “Code Name: Wild Geese” was the first. After that, he did bits and pieces of TV  before retiring from acting to sell computer equipment in the USA.

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Collins’ director for his three Italian / German movies was Antony M Dawson (Antonio Margheriti), who also directed ISCFC non-favourite “Yor The Hunter From The Future”, and had a hand in the Andy Warhol-produced “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” movies too. I discover, delightfully, that these movies represent the end (along with ISCFC favourite “Strike Commando”) of the “Macaroni Combat” genre, Italian movies, with Spanish or German involvement, often filmed either in Italy or the Philippines – a genre that lasted from the early 60s to the late 80s. This is a long preamble to a movie which, realistically, doesn’t deserve that much, or any, research.

 

I’ve not even mentioned the weird casting! As well as Collins and his gang of European soldiers, there’s Ernest Borgnine as their DEA handler Fletcher; Lee Van Cleef as the helicopter pilot who signs on to help partway into the mission; and weirdest of all, Klaus Kinski with a dubbed English accent playing Charleton, the rich guy who’s funding Fletcher’s mission out of the goodness of his heart. That mission is to go into the “Golden Triangle” and destroy some opium refineries and distribution systems, so off set Commander Robin Wesley (Collins) and his guys.

 

Such emotion!

Such emotion!

To say it’s one-note is almost an insult to things that are one-note. They go into the jungle; kill some drug producers and blow up a refinery; some of them die; go to another place and blow something else up; more of them die; by the time of the last thing to blow up most of them are dead. A woman shows up at 35 minutes, but she’s really not that important and feels like she was inserted because one of the producers realised at the last minute it was a total sausage-fest. There’s also the twist reveal of who the real villain is, which is so obvious I was sure it was going to be a double-bluff – sadly, that was crediting the movie with too much intelligence.

 

Borgnine and Van Cleef have a grand old time, both seemingly doing it for the sake of a free holiday – although Margheriti directed many of Van Cleef’s spaghetti westerns, and I suppose he wasn’t that expensive to hire by the late 80s. Kinski goes nicely over the top, but his accent is so weird that it was difficult to concentrate on him. Collins, though, was a complete charisma vacuum, a stoic who betrayed no emotion at any time – if it was a character choice, then it’s a really weird one. It’s not like Collins didn’t have the range (he got his start on a sitcom) so, er, I got nothing. It’s hard to have any sort of connection to a lead character when he’s just a blank slate, I guess. There’s a thing about his son dying due to drugs, and this making it personal for him, but you’d never guess that was the case.

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The thing is, its very relentlessness and curious choices make it rather entertaining. There’s very little down-time in terms of action and bizarre conversations (seeing Ernest Borgnine act opposite Klaus Kinski is just entertaining in itself), so if you give its leading man a pass, you’ll probably have a good time with this. Just don’t expect too much.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Youtube Film Club: Lethal Panther 2 (1993)

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At the end of the second “Lethal Panther” movie, I counted zero panthers, zero people with the nickname “Panther”, zero central characters to whom the soubriquet “Lethal Panther” could be appended, and zero links between the two movies. Not even director, as Godfrey Ho chose not to return for part 2 (part 2 has three directors credited on IMDB, although the credits just have one); I suppose the plot is sort of similar, but the same could be said for literally hundreds of movies from Hong Kong in that era.

The difference between the two movies is handily illustrated in the first five minutes, an extremely long gun-battle that obviously wanted to be like John Woo, but ended up just being confusing. A group of cops, led by a spunky female, are raiding the criminal base of…someone?…which looks a lot like a disused hospital. Thanks to poorly chosen angles, it’s very difficult to tell who’s shooting who, but a heck of a lot of people get shot; then there’s the kung-fu. The first movie had a lot of decent fights that all seemed fairly realistic-ish, but in part 2, everyone who fights is super-powered. The wire-work is insane, with normal cops able to kick people through walls, do that thing where they jump into the air and kick their opponent 6 times before they hit the ground, run up vertical surfaces and generally defy the laws of physics. I can’t tell if they just intended it to be this way or the wire guy they hired was absolutely terrible at his job – either way, it’s certainly visually unique!

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The main focus of proceedings, though, is a cop by the name of Albert Moran (Edu Manzano, now a politician / game show host in the Philippines). His wife and kid were killed by goons from the Nichi Group, gun-runners who try and look legit; this has perhaps understandably made him a little touchy on the subject of crime. This behavior translates itself into slaughtering any gang members he comes across in elaborate, Stallone-in-Cobra ways. After brutalizing one poor fellow, he’s told by his captain not to do it again, or he might get in trouble! Wow, would I love to be a cop wherever he is!

 

I’m a little confused about the women in this movie, in that it’s now a day later and I’m really not sure what their purpose was. Ah, okay! One of them is a well-regarded HK actress who I’m unfamiliar with, Yukari Oshima, playing an Interpol agent called Shoko – have you noticed how much the Far East loves having Interpol in its movies? Does it just have more powers in that part of the world or something? Sharon Kwok is Sue, a local cop, and then one of them has a brother who’s shady as hell right from the beginning, in perhaps a nod to part 1, or perhaps just no-one cared about checking the script to see if it didn’t just rip off their own previous movies. The scene where the two ladies go for dinner, and one of them has a parrot on her shoulder for some reason, is a real puzzler.

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The only obvious lift from another movie in “Lethal Panther 2” is the bit from “Police Story” where Jackie Chan falls from the top of a mall to the bottom, riding on a string of lights and crashing through a bunch of stuff on the way. It’s a little less elaborate here but still quite good fun – still, never quite seen the point of borrowing scenes like this, as all it does is makes you wish you were watching the original. Luckily, they didn’t rip off the bit where Shoko says to the mother of a murdered cop, “take it easy”, in the same way you’d talk to a confused child – I’ll give them a break for language, I suppose, but it still seems incredibly harsh.

 

There’s an absolute ton of action in the first half, then things go off the rails in what must have been a cost-cutting measure. All the various cops are looking after a witness to some Nichi Group badness, but she’s a model and needs to go to work. So, rather than just driving her there, they drive to Albert’s mother’s house, and just decide to stay there for the night. Huh? There’s no reason for it, other than to kill off some of his beloved family members when the goons inevitably attack, and to put Albert’s son in a bit of peril.

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Without our old friend Godfrey Ho at the controls, this movie just turns into a dull mess, as opposed to a glorious one. There’s the barest whisper of information about why these groups of people are all trying to kill each other, and wasting the talents of Yukari Oshima seems a cardinal sin in the eyes of most hardcore Hong Kong action fans. Also, if you were buying this as some sort of girls-with-guns completist, you’d be pretty damn bored by the end, as the women are definitely secondary here. It’s free to watch, I guess, but then so is whatever’s happening outside your house right now.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Youtube Film Club: Lethal Panther (1991)

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We have the good person behind Youtube channel “Godfrey Ho Cinema” to thank for this, and several subsequent, reviews. They’ve put up dozens of of the great man’s movies, and as a service to you, dear reader, I’ll watch some, more or all of them, and tell you what’s worth bothering with.

What’s sort of surprising is that Ho was influenced by other things. So far, his movies have existed outside time, sort of vaguely modern kung-fu / ninja efforts, but this one is definitely hugely inspired by John Woo. From pigeons (subbing for doves) in the middle of a battle, to good guy assassins, to elaborate (for Ho) gunplay, to moral ambiguity, it’s just surprising to see Ho try for something like this. It’s even more surprising that it’s not two films bolted together – none of this says it’s good, necessarily, but the sights have been set a little higher.

 

Betty (Sibelle Hui) is in the CIA, despite looking like a suburban mother just back from taking her kids to school. She and her partner discover a counterfeit money ring, and this takes them to Thailand; also on their way there are two assassins, Eileen (Maria Jo) and Amy (Yoko Miyamoto), who are set up doing jobs in Japan and Hong Kong – this has the potential to be a classic Ho mashup, but the three women meet relatively early in proceedings. So, Eileen and Amy are both assigned the same job, to kill the boss of the crime family in charge of the counterfeiting, because his nephew wants to take over…it’s all a bit silly, but it seems Ho is really trying, doing some nice intercutting of the two women’s lives and jobs. Then they’re assigned to kill each other!

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Every scene is one of three things. It’s either a bullet-storm, a kung-fu fight, or sex. The sex is plentiful and rather graphic, which ensured its Cat III rating (basically, an 18 / NC-17), with women being stripped completely naked, multiple full frontal shots, while the men keep their trousers on at all times they’re shot below the waist. There’s one scene in a strip club where the only thing in a fairly lengthy shot is the “middle area” of a naked lady, which is more unusual than anything else.

 

Because it would literally be impossible for this time and this culture to make a movie where women were in charge and their thoughts and feelings were paramount, a surprising / annoying amount of the plot is driven by their menfolk. Eileen has a brother who’s just channelling Chow Yun Fat (he’s supposed to be living in France) and a boss who’s unable to shoot any more due to the shakes; and Amy has a boyfriend who’s also an assassin. Although their on-screen time is relatively short, it’s their plotlines which dominate the movie, and the casual indifference the movie shows when Eileen’s brother just straight up murders another main cast member is pretty amazing. Although saying that, Betty stakes a guy out to the ground and is about to run over him with a truck (to get information) but he has a heart attack and dies – no-one gives a damn.

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There’s a couple of very curious choices towards the end. Eileen and Amy are taken in and helped by a woman who must have heard the raging gun battle going on on her lawn, yet appears entirely unfazed by it – it turns out she’s a prostitute, who casually picked that line of work to allow her to keep her enormous mansion. After bonding with the two ladies, patching them up and letting them live with her, she says “at least my job is safe, unless the men have AIDS”, delivered the same way you’d talk about changing the sort of milk you used.

 

My favourite, though, is the plight of the brother. He’s sent away to France as a kid, to escape the life of murder that plagues Eileen’s family, but they’re so appallingly racist there, they torture him to the extent he can’t continue at school and decides to become an assassin instead. You know, that old career route!

 

The sex is weird and creepy (you’ve not lived til you’ve seen a guy squeeze milk over a woman’s crotch, from a condom with a hole pricked in the end), the actual hand-to-hand combat is fine, and the gun battles are sub-sub-Woo, but at least they try. They don’t try with the soundtrack, which is just straight lifts from other movies – keep an ear out for the “Halloween” theme, just accompanying some random scene.

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Unlike so much of Ho’s work, it’s able to focus all its efforts on one goal, and that’s being the best damned B-movie it can be (it’s only missing a car chase, really).  It’s trashy, but it never lets up for a minute, and if you can ignore it’s supposed to be about strong women, but is really driven by the actions and decisions of their men, it’s fun to see such a female centred movie – it’s a whole genre, girls with guns, apparently, although I don’t imagine any of them are much better than this. By a mile, the most coherent Godfrey Ho movie we’ve yet covered, although not quite the most entertaining.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

 

U.S. Catman: Lethal Track (1990)

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It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed any of Godfrey Ho’s movies, which means you get the recap of the great man’s career once again. His business model was to buy cheap films from elsewhere in the Far East, whether finished or unfinished, then film a bunch of footage with his stable of white actors, which would be edited into the action he already had. This ungodly concoction was then sold round the world, and it’s a business model that worked, as a conservative estimate of his output has him directing over 130 movies. We’ve covered tons of them, and it’s very difficult to pick a favourite, but if you’d like to dip your toe in, go for “Ninja Terminator”; if you’re feeling brave, go for “Death Code Ninja”.

And if you’re in the mood to be genuinely baffled by a movie, go for “U.S. Catman: Lethal Track”. This is genuinely one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen, and reminds me of the book “Infinite Jest”. In that book, one of the characters, James Incandenza, is an experimental filmmaker, and one of his movies begins with two separate stories, but rather than coming together at the end, they just continue getting further apart. “U.S. Catman” could be a James Incandenza movie (although he’d have probably had fewer martial arts fights in his).

 

The beginning is a mini-masterpiece of dumb, as three groups of people come together – the world’s dumbest, laziest delivery drivers, with a radioactive cat in the back; a couple of extremely clean-looking junkies, desperate for a fix after not having had one “for days”; and a couple of guys who’ve evidently just come from a softball game, just having a good time. These guys are Sam and Gus, and they’re the only two we’re interested in, as they protect the drivers from the junkies, but in the process Sam gets scratched by that cat. The “U.S.” in the title is presumably to differentiate Sam from the dozens of other cat-based superheroes that litter the world?

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Sam (with an assist from Gus, who’s also apparently an undercover CIA agent) aren’t really the focus of the movie, though, because they’re the white people re-shoots. The bulk of the action is almost stranger, if such a thing were possible, and features Father Cheever, the head of the Cheever Church. He’s a Russian agent, and wants to destabilise the entire world so Russia can take over, as well as maybe being a Satanist, wanting to murder, rape and otherwise brutalise everyone. His plans are magnificent in their scope!

 

It’s around the time we’re introduced to the two young guys who I thought were the same guy, the two old guys who I thought were the same guy, and the young biker woman Frederick who the movie pretends is a guy for the first half, despite it being screamingly obvious it’s just a girl with short hair (the voice they chose for dubbing her is light and feminine, somewhat destroying the illusion) that I wrote “is this just a random collection of scenes?” They’re in a feud of some sort with a gang of criminals who want to destabilise the government, or deal drugs, or something; this gang is led by Bull, the one-eyed villain with very big plans, and several lieutenants who I couldn’t pick out of a lineup, 24 hours after watching it.

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Every fifteen minutes, the drug-dealers vs. random people movie is interrupted with the Catman movie, and it is glorious. Despite him being able to punch through walls and use laser-vision, he helpfully never uses these powers in an actual fight, or indeed any powers relating to typical cat-like activity, perhaps because the effects would’ve been too expensive to film? He just runs about a bit, punching and kicking, oh, and at one point says , “to the cat-computer!”, which I guess qualifies as a joke.

 

It just keeps getting better, though, which is super-unusual for a Godfrey Ho movie. The Russians have a bunch of agents, and they’re the wackiest gang you could imagine. A room full of people, some of them lifting weights, some dancing, some breathing fire…I don’t know what government they’re going to bring down, but I’d sure like to see it! Cheever starts banging on about the anti-Gospel, and being the most evil you can be, but his ultimate base is, not terribly evilly, just a banner slung between two trees, out in the jungle.

 

The good guys vs other lot of bad guys side of the movie is good fun too, even if you can’t really tell who anyone is or what they’re trying to do. At some point, everyone figures out that Frederick is a woman, and even though she’s been a dick to everyone she’s met, she ends up being the hero. Ah well.

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Even though I said it at the beginning, it bears repeating – the two sides of “U.S. Catman” never come together at any point. With your average Godfrey Ho movie, there’s at least characters pretending to have a conversation on the phone, linking movie A and movie B, or a conversation shot in some wasteground, or something – here they just don’t bother with any of that stuff. It’s a really peculiar feeling, because even though we know how lazy Ho was, I’ve never seen him be quite this lazy. Did the crucial linking material just get left on the cutting room floor and no-one bothered checking it to see if it made sense before releasing it?

 

I think my favourite thing about this movie is the dubbing. TV show “Eurotrash” has made a decade of fun out of dubbing weird old Europeans with broad British regional accents; while it’s not quite so specific here, I would bet every penny I’ve ever earned that the people in charge of the dubbing were having a laugh at someone’s expense. When you combine that with the less-than-professional acting chops of most of the cast, you’ve got a recipe for success!

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It’s weird enough that even non-fans of martial arts movies or Godfrey Ho ought to check it out.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Youtube Film Club: American Samurai (1992)

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Why to-the-death underground fight leagues wouldn’t work in real life, in three simple bullet points:

 

  • How would you get fighters? If every guy has a 50% chance of death, then you’d exhaust the area’s supply of crazy people and over-confident martial arts guys in the first few weeks.
  • I just don’t believe you’d get enough people who’d cheer on mutilation and murder to make a financial go of it. Are there that many bloodthirsty sociopaths in the world? What about when fights end in one strike? How do you bet on a fight which lasts three seconds?
  • Most importantly – competition. Pro wrestling stopped being “real” and boxing introduced padded gloves in large part because if you want to create rivalries, which are hugely important for drawing money, you need your main guys to stay healthy enough to fight reasonably regularly. There are no best-of-three fights when it’s to the death (obviously).

 

That’s leaving aside that the police might eventually get interested in the dozens of disappearances / bodies being dumped just outside town, although the local cops are usually bought off in movies like this. But, as well as being an underground fight league movie, “American Samurai” is also an example of that surprising durable favourite plot of martial arts movies, the feuding brothers. Those “brothers”? David Bradley, star of the later “American Ninja” movies, and Mark Dacascos, of all sorts of things but most notably to us, “Double Dragon”, “Kickboxer 5”, “Drive” and “Sabotage”. This entire smorgasbord is thanks to Cannon Films, which decided that “American Ninja” was such a hit, they’d try and start another, effectively identical, franchise, with the same leading man.

A quick word about our leads – both actors improved after this. Dacascos was at the beginning of his career, and while Bradley had already starred in several “American Ninja” instalments when this was made, he got better too. Bradley is acting like he’s just taken strong painkillers and Dacascos like he’s just taken speed.

 

A plane carrying an American family crashes in Japan, with the only survivor being a tiny baby. Rather than reporting it to the authorities or allowing the remaining family the slight respite of knowing the baby made it, a local samurai master takes the baby and raises him as his own, alongside his own son. Luckily, they all speak perfect English, and the baby is raised without a hint of a Japanese accent, even. The two brothers feud, because Drew (Bradley) is hard-working and devoted – while not having the slightest interest in meeting any of his extended family, even into his 30s – and Kenjiro (Dacascos) is a bit of a scumbag, and indeed joins the Yakuza when it turns out that their father is going to give the Clan’s sword to Drew. Drew is now “keeper of the blade”, although this seems to be solely limited to just putting it in a nice case on his mantel.

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This bit is so standard as to be barely worth recapping. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve seen four or five movies with a similar opening sequence; but what you won’t have seen is the next scene, where suddenly Drew is living in the USA as an investigative reporter. Did he go to college in Japan? He’s being sent to Turkey to check out some drug smuggling activity, and is assigned a photographer. Yes, of course the photographer is a hot woman, and of course their relationship is prickly at first, come on! I don’t need to tell you all this stuff!

 

That sword is really important to Kenjiro, for some reason, so he sends a bunch of goons to steal it, and they succeed, but not before Drew has beaten a bunch of them up and taken a bullet to the gut. After they leave, he hears his Dad’s voiceover (which ought to be third-billed in the movie, it’s in it so often) telling him to manage his own pain, or some such nonsense – this is just so he can pluck the bullet out himself and heal, with zero help, virtually instantly. Well, it’s more accurate to say “the movie just didn’t bother showing him get better, in about a day, from a gunshot wound”.

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He goes to Turkey, and we discover he’s just looking for his brother, who he knows is there. He helps out a big ol’ redneck in a bar fight – who’s definitely not supposed to be a cheap ripoff of Ogre from “Bloodsport” – then gets kidnapped, and forced to fight in the to-the-death underground fight league, or they’ll kill Pouty McLoveinterest, who was kidnapped at the same time. Guess who’s champion of this league? And guess which big redneck is also signed on as a competitor? This whole section (which takes up a good half the movie) is so weird and wonderful – rather than one martial art vs another, it’s just dudes in fancy dress with blades, killing. There’s a Conan-looking guy, a Viking, a not-racist-at-all African jungle guy, and…a plain boring old white guy!

 

There’s so much to talk about! Let’s discuss some of the more bizarre technical choices – and there’s a lot of them. The plane that crashes at the beginning is going so slowly it actually bounces off the tree it’s hitting, and is such an obvious model that they might as well have had a kid’s hand guiding it in. Conan is killed in one scene, but he keeps showing up in the background, training, for the rest of the movie. There’s a really bizarre editing choice which only happens in the first half, where the last line of dialogue of a scene is played over the beginning of the next scene, even when the two have nothing in common. Then there’s the sex scene. Oh, the sex scene! While their faces are entirely in shadow, and their bodies are suddenly, mysteriously, quite different, Drew and Pouty have sex. Did the actors hate each other to the extent they refused to film a sex scene? Or (and this is way more likely) Cannon ran out of money and inserted these scenes much later to get it to a release-able length?

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Talking of inserting scenes, the final fight between Bradley and Dacascos isn’t really much of a fight. At the beginning, there’s lots of talking and a few blindingly fast but brief movements…so seeing the fight really kick off is pretty exciting, until you realise they’re not fighting each other all the time, and footage from other fights is being spliced in. You cheeky devils!

 

It’s not like the director was a novice, either. Sam Firstenberg was one of Cannon’s go-to guys, directing instalments in the “American Ninja”, “Ninja” and “Cyborg Cop” series. He’s even responsible for the movie which spawned a thousand terrible “name a fake sequel” jokes, “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo”! So quite what went on here is a puzzler, dear reader. It’s the only credited script of actor John Corcoran, so maybe he’s to blame? He certainly didn’t spend too much time making this a particularly original script, but I doubt he wrote “now put in some really weird editing for no reason”.

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I really enjoyed it, and it being free on Youtube certainly didn’t hurt. The constant “you must defeat the demons inside yourself” crap from Dad was a bit boring after a while – and, according to dialogue, he’s still alive, so they probably ought to have brought him in for the final fight (again, probably budgetary). But, it’s hard to really hate a movie with this many odd choices, which is based around a fight league – even the worst one is at least a bit of fun. Also, Bradley does some of the funniest acting I’ve ever seen, in an extreme close up, trying to convince us he’s using his sixth sense, an eye in his mind. Boy, is he going all out pretending like the middle of his forehead is looking at stuff!

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Abominable (2006)

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This is the first of three different Abominable Snowman movies that the SyFy Channel have made (perhaps they got a good deal on fake fur?), not related to each other that I can tell. Oh, Abominable Snowman! You poor cousin to the Bigfoot / Sasquatch, you get no love from poor quality “reality” TV shows, possibly because it’s too expensive to film where you normally hang out. Well, would hang out if you existed, which you don’t. At least with the fun fictional creatures, I don’t have to put up with some idiot out in the woods trying desperately to prove their existence.

 

This is the only long-form directorial effort from a fellow called Ryan Schifrin. You may recognise the surname, and that’s because he’s the son of Lalo Schifrin, the 6-time Oscar nominee, Grammy winner, composer of the “Mission: Impossible” theme, and legend of movie and TV music. In case you were wondering why the sound on this low-budget SyFy movie was so good, it’s because his largely retired Dad helped out. Factor in the guest appearances from people like Jeffrey Combs, Lance Henriksen and Paul Gleason, and you’ve got something that looks like a movie!

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“Abominable” stars Matt McCoy, who non-fans of comedy may remember as Steve Guttenberg’s replacement in the later “Police Academy” efforts. He’s Preston Rogers, and is in a wheelchair, being taken back to his home in mountain country by a nurse at the…mental hospital?…he’s been at for the last six months. His wife died in a climbing accident and he was paralysed from the waist down, or was it a climbing accident? (hint: no, it wasn’t). Across the street, a group of girls have rented the cabin for a bachelorette party, and with the rather large Yeti (seriously, I can’t be bothered to type “Abominable Snowman” every bloody time it shows up), things are shaping up nicely.

 

The first time Preston wheels over to a window and looks out at the hotties across the way, I (and every other person who’d ever seen other movies) went “oh no, this is going to be Rear Window with monsters, isn’t it?” And while that’s sort of the case, they try and do fun stuff with it.

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But before I say nice things, I wanted to have a word about details. Details are important when it comes to making low-budget movies, as they’re one of the few things you have control over. When they mess up simple things, it takes you out of things and gives the movie less chance to win you over. Case in point – there’s no way a guy who couldn’t walk would ever be able to live in a place like that, on a steep hill,  with steps everywhere. But even excusing that, he gets into the cabin, wakes the laptop up from sleep mode and makes phone calls. He’s not been there for 6 months! And if he’s been in a mental hospital, who’s he calling with important business information? What meetings was he going to before?

 

He’s able to contact the police via the satellite internet when the phone lines are down. Who was paying the bills for the last six months? Sorry, I’ll stop doing that. So the police say he’s a crank and threaten to arrest him if he keeps it up – keep it up! Get them to come and arrest you! Given that a potential Yeti sighting, and disappearances of people, are front page news in this town, you’d think the police would be a little quicker to trust. Talking of the police, when the girls call them to report their friend missing, they’re told you can’t report a person missing til 48 hours has elapsed. No! There’s no limit on how quickly you can report a person missing, the whole “you have to wait 24 hours” thing is an invention of the movies.

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So the girls across the way get picked off, the Yeti turns from ground-shaking monster to light-footed stealth-ninja depending on the needs of the scene, the police eventually show up, and the guest stars all get eaten. And it’s sort of fun! The music’s great, it’s all shot and lit well, there’s plenty of decent actors (including ISCFC favourite – and occasional Donald Farmer employee – Tiffany Shepis as one of the bachelorette group). Matt McCoy is a bit bland, and his dramatic monologue near the end is rotten, but it’s mostly fine. Respect to the way they keep the monster off screen as much as possible, because if you’re doing “man in a furry suit”, it’s never going to look that good – and the face, when we see it, looks like a mentally disabled Harry (from Harry and the Hendersons) crossed with Wilford Brimley.

 

The DVD is chock full of decent special features (including Jeffrey Combs on commentary, who’s only in the movie for five minutes), so if you’re in a forgiving frame of mind, you could do worse than “Abominable”.

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Rating: thumbs in the middle

100 Feet (2008)

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Credit where credit is due, SyFy Channel will occasionally try something different. This movie looks and feels nothing like their monster-of-the-week format; factor in what for them would be a super-A-list cast (Famke Janssen, Ed Westwick, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Pare) and this is something altogether out of their comfort zone.

 

Given information about this is hard to come by, all this is supposition, but…looking under “production company” on IMDB, of the 6 listed, this is the last (or only) film for three of them, there’s the special effects house which got a production credit, and two other producers who didn’t do anything else for at least five years. I think this was a huge financial disaster for the people making it and drove them under, allowing SyFy Channel to snap the rights up for a song, and also for our enemies at The Asylum to get the DVD rights – you know they’re not paying unless they absolutely have to.

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If you recognise the name of writer / director Eric Red, then you loved horror in the 1980s. His first produced script was “The Hitcher”, one of my favourites, and he also wrote “Near Dark”, the beloved vampire movie.  After that? Not so much. Looks like he quit the business for a decade only to come back, make “100 Feet”, then quit again (he does have a directing credit for a dogs-gone-wild movie from 2015). I was happy to see his name, certainly.

 

Janssen is Marnie, being taken in handcuffs to house arrest, after spending a couple of years in prison for murdering her husband Mike (Pare). It was self-defence, thanks to years of beatings, but it seems absolutely no-one believes her – not her sister, certainly not Shanks (Cannavale), Mike’s old partner and the guy driving her. So, she’s taken back to her old house, and is fitted with an ankle-bracelet which will alert the police if she spends more than three minutes over 100 feet from the base unit, fitted at the top of her stairs.

 

*record scratch noise* You don’t need to be particularly eagle-eyed to spot the very significant problem this movie has. She’s not quite able to reach her front door before the alarm starts, meaning she has to do a weird stretch to let people in – if you live in a two-storey house, please go and measure the distance from the top of your stairs to the door. I’ll wait. I’m going to say not a single one of you got over 40 feet, and even the most generous measurement of her old house wouldn’t put it much above that. The alarm also triggers when she’s in her basement, which is probably even closer to the base unit than her door is. Did no-one involved in this say “maybe we should change the title to “50 Feet”? Or if 100 feet is a thing for house arrests, just put in a line about the base unit malfunctioning, or something. It’s really dumb!

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This crack then opens to release something of a floodgate of odd choices from Red. Marnie owns a huge old house in New York, with a value in the millions. Who was paying the taxes on it while she was in prison? They put in a scene with Marnie’s sister, who hates her, just to say that their mother used her life insurance to buy the house for her, but that still doesn’t explain who’s paying the bills. The NYPD? Thinking about it, why did her mother buy the scene of her abuse, and not just get her a nice new apartment somewhere else? She’s seen inquiring about a phone sales job at one point, presumably put in when someone thought about how she’s affording all this stuff, but it’s never mentioned again.

 

All this is a shame, as the meat of the movie is really quite interesting. Mike is haunting the place and starts assaulting her – to avoid the cops thinking she’s crazy, she explains away the bruises and cuts as clumsiness on her part…just as so many battered women do every day. It made me feel very sad at the same time as admiring its mirroring of her old life. The haunting increases in intensity, and she tries to get rid of the spirit by tricks taken from old books – maybe the script was written before the internet was a thing and no-one bothered changing it. Her developing friendship with grocery delivery guy Joey (Westwick) is sweet and believable, and she doesn’t look like she’s 23 years older than him.

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Despite the case involving his partner, Shanks apparently doesn’t read the file on the murder until halfway through the movie, despite the fact he’d definitely have been questioned about the abuse at the trial. He finds out that she’s not lying, and Mike did beat her regularly, so then goes from hating her to angrily wanting to pin the murder on Joey. There’s also the thing of how he spends all day outside her home, apparently – does he not have normal police duties to take care of? Could she not use his obvious harassment of her to get the terms of her house arrest eased?

 

Everyone’s behaviour in the last 10-15 minutes is just inexplicable. A quick word about the priest – at one point, while trying to clear the house of all Mike’s belongings, she finds a bag full of cash, like millions of dollars, and rather than calling her lawyer, then the police (which would help her case a great deal), she decides to give it to her local church. The priest comes round, takes her confession, takes the cash but when she asks him to bless the house, he just says “no” and leaves. What? Actually, she finds the money under some loose floorboards in her bedroom…why didn’t she notice those loose floorboards when she was living there before?

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Should you choose to watch this, I will leave you to ponder the very last scene and think “how is that person going to live, with no money, no social security card, and no family?” And, even though I’ve spent a thousand words laying into it, it’s still way above average for SyFy. Janssen is fantastic (even if the script and direction isn’t), in every second of the movie pretty much, and I like Westwick a lot too. Cannavale is meh, and Pare presumably did the part as a favour to Red (they’d worked together before), as he has no dialogue and spends most of the movie as a blood-soaked ghost. If you can ignore the Grand Canyon-sized plot holes, you’ll probably have a good time if it’s shown on SyFy any time soon. Although they’ll probably cut most of the swearing and bits of the sex scene.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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