Youtube Film Club: Krush The Serpent (2002)

Let’s make a deal, dear reader. Any movie that comes along looking like this, let’s just assume it’s terrible, stop watching it and move on with our lives. The warning signs:

1. The IMDB budget is listed at $10,000, and I’d suggest that’s being generous

2. There’s no lighting, but not in a Dogme 95 way, in a “we made this with one video camcorder and nothing else” way

3. Someone spectacularly blows a line in the first five minutes and no-one cares enough to re-shoot it

4. It’s back-door religious propaganda

 

Life is too short to watch something that I’m reasonably sure anyone with a weekend and a few friends could make something better than. This is barely a movie, so we’re not going to need to be here all that long. But if you want to check for yourself, here goes:

Jacqueline Lovell has had an interesting career. From a decade or so of soft-core late night cable-style thrillers and extra roles in mainstream TV (there’s a lot of “uncredited” next to her character name on IMDB), she made a fantastic performance in the Full Moon movie “Hideous!”, then…back to being an extra and doing soft-core stuff for a few more years. Plus, there’s a brief appearance in one of our bottom ten of all time, the painfully terrible “Dead Country” and quite a lot of her own projects (of which this is an early example).

She’s married to a fellow called Ed Nyahay, and together the two of them have decided to make a lot of movies and cable access shows with a heavily religious message. Take for example “Bug Boy Adventures” from 1999, about a bug who tries to find his place in the world as he seeks out God. If that was too subtle for you, here’s a segment from their own website, www.krushtheserpent.com :

God Bless Our New Pope Francis !!!

Our Lady of All Nations predicted a “final Marian dogma” proclaiming Our Lady “Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate”.   Pope Benedict XVI when he was head of the Propagation of the Faith of the Catholic Church prompted the re-investigation and release of information pertaining to this dogma.  He reportedly wrote the visionary Ida Perleman that there were no theological barriers to the possible proclamation of the dogma.

Our Lady of All Nations is the inspiration behind “Krush the Serpent”.

This is something the Nyahays feel strongly about, and good for them. But if you’re going to make a movie, might I suggest making something that other human beings might actually want to see? Lots of great movies wrestle with religious themes, but no great movies have dialogue in the first few scenes drowned out by a toddler unaware it was being filmed, or an aforementioned adult woman blowing a line so badly I was a little embarrassed for her.

 

There’s a plot. Lovell is sad over the death of her husband, and goes to Our Lady Of All Nations shrine in Amsterdam to get some closure, communicate with her husband, etc. And that’s pretty much it, for a way-too-long-for-a-movie-this-cheap 103 minutes. You’ll see unlit scenes, you’ll see Dutch angles, you’ll hear poorly recorded voiceovers, well you won’t see or hear any of this stuff because unlike me you won’t bother watching it, I hope.

Even Jacqueline Lovell is terrible in “Krush The Serpent”. I think she’s a talented actor and absolutely deserved a better career than being in tons of soft-core porn, a few Full Moon movies, and this. I’m reasonably sure, if she’s got a Google alert on her own name, she’ll read this review and go “someone bothered watching it?” On their website, the Nyahays have home video footage of a road trip they took in 2012, and that footage, which is nothing other than a loving family seeing the sights of the California coastline, is better than this – better shot, more interesting (they see seals! Yosemite is really beautiful!), actually audible dialogue, all that good stuff.

 

So there you go. I may be the only person not related to them to have seen this movie all the way through, and…I’m not thrilled about it. I have a book I’m about halfway through and am really enjoying, I could have read some more of that. I could have been mowing the lawn. Pretty much anything else.

Rating: come on, you really don’t need a rating

 

PS. Digging further into Edward Nyahay’s work, he fancies himself a musician, a “Gotholic priest”, and I guess “gotholic” means “to do a terribly bad impression of Marilyn Manson with songs about religion”. He’s also written a book about a rock star trapped in a war between heaven and hell, and has made a video promo for it. Here’s a screenshot:

Would you trust the strengths of a novel if the guy who wrote it can’t spell “strengths”? Me neither. Ah, he’s married Jacqueline Lovell, he doesn’t care about my mockery.

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Youtube Film Club: Expect To Die (1997)

We here at the ISCFC are long-time haters of Jalal Merhi. He’s perhaps the worst actor to ever headline multiple movies – he made his money from his family’s jewel business and plowed all that cash into making his own starring vehicles, always producing them, and often directing too. It’s really hard to over-emphasise just how bad an actor he is, though, seemingly unable to portray any emotion or deliver a line in anything other than a monotone.

But, he knows how to surround himself with actors we like, and he’s at least competent as a director, so here we are, on our…tenth?…Merhi review. Today’s movie features David “not the British character actor” Bradley and Evan Lurie, both high-quality B-movie veterans, and tells a story of virtual reality, managing to get the future weirdly right (there’s a VR game coming out this year for the Oculus, PS4 and Steam called “I Expect You To Die”, coincidentally enough). Apart from the thing about VR killing people, I guess? Also, it’s not to be confused with the previous year’s “Expect No Mercy”, also about virtual reality being too powerful, also with people fighting inside it, also starring Merhi.

 

Things kick off with a military test of virtual reality software, where a soldier dies because the VR was too real – a solid standard 90s plot device. The guy who invented the software is Dr Vincent MacIntyre (Bradley, completely bizarrely miscast) and he’s furious that the military want to cancel the research; and he’s even furiouser that his company kicks him out because he’s a loose cannon. This is tied into his dead father, who was a Colonel who was framed for murder by the military establishment? This completely undeveloped plot thread makes “Expect To Die” feel like the sequel to an unmade movie.

Luckily, both the Army and the software company are okay with MacIntyre selling the software to a criminal, I think?

 

Hold on, I need to try and establish how confusing this whole thing is. There’s an illegal arms sale in a warehouse, where all these wealthy bad guys have women on their arms as nothing more than set dressing (Merhi is among the most sexist of the 90s action crowd, no mean feat), but one of the bad guys wants to pay for the merch with computer disks, which has “Expect To Die” on it. This is the game created by MacIntyre’s old company, but is a normal “Mortal Kombat” style fighting game – we learn this thanks to Merhi’s girlfriend, a computer programmer / plot device (she gets kidnapped later on). The virtual reality “game”, with the same name, is being developed in secret for some criminals, but why is either never mentioned or I wasn’t paying attention for those five seconds. How much profit is there in a game which just straight-up kills you?

 

Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. Merhi’s female partner gets shot (while in her underwear, for the flimsiest of reasons) so he needs a new partner. Evan Lurie! There’s a bunch of references to Lurie getting shot when they were partners before, which again leads me to believe this script is the sequel to something which never got made? Anyway, Lurie tries his best with the dead weight of his co-star but it’s tough at times.

What’s most important to note about this movie is it’s a complete ego trip for Jalal Merhi. He’s got a gorgeous female partner but he’s devoted to his wife; he’s also the best martial artist in the world. Want to know how I know this? Evan Lurie, a talented screen fighter, only has one fight scene, and David Bradley, who was the star of an entire action franchise, doesn’t fight at all. Can’t distract from the star! Merhi kicks ass all over the place, of course, and even shows off how buff he is in the VR bootcamp program he’s plugged into, but even then, there’s a weirdly small amount of martial arts in a movie with three martial arts stars as the top billed actors, especially as the plot seems designed to have fighting in it?

 

This is a really bad one. Even though it’s got two great action stars in it, it uses them terribly – Lurie really ought to have had a few starring roles, not second banana to a charisma-vacuum like Merhi; and it’s interesting seeing Bradley as the bad guy, even if he’s given a really weird character. But everything else just feels like it was thrown together at the last minute, mostly at random. The number of dropped plot threads might be, in the hands of anyone with a modicum of skill, a joke in and of themselves, but here you’re pretty certain they just didn’t consider why anyone would care about anything other than Merhi being the ultimate badass.

Definitely one of the more confusing 90s action B-movies. Worth watching for that purpose? I don’t know. Merhi’s previous directorial effort, “Operation Golden Phoenix”, was quite good, and “Expect No Mercy” was at least fun and didn’t take itself too seriously. This is po-faced, not very exciting and probably not worth your time (even if it is available for free).

Rating: thumbs down

Ninja: American Warrior (1987)

Someone set up as the hero who dies after a few minutes! People wearing masks so they can appear to be other characters! Two entirely different plotlines running simultaneously! Yes, dear reader, we’re in Godfrey Ho country!

 

Although I’ve given you a potted biography of him several times, I keep finding out new information or thinking of new ways to mock him. Anyway, for a time in the 1980s and early 1990s, Ho worked for a company called Filmark – sadly, their offices burned in 1996, resulting in the deaths of 40 people…and the destruction of the only known list of every movie Ho ever directed under his multiple pseudonyms. Filmark were particularly notorious for buying up movies produced elsewhere in the Far East, whether finished or unfinished, and either splicing in parts of other unfinished movies, or filming new scenes with white actors, with the perception that would make it easier to sell them overseas. As I’ve said before, I think if you were white, could stand upright, and wandered into the Filmark offices on any day in the 1980s, Godfrey Ho would give you work.

 

If you’ve read any of my reviews before, or know anything about Ho, you’ll also remember that the amount of effort put in to make the two halves of movie bear any relation to each other was minimal at best, and non-existent at worst. Often, this produced dull, confusing movies (see reviews passim) but every now and again, the gods shined down on them and some piece of bonkers outsider art was given to the world. I adore “Ninja Terminator” and a few others, and I’m very happy to say that “Ninja: American Warrior” is right up there with the weirdest, most confusing but gosh-darned entertaining of the lot.

(ASIDE: much like “Ninja Terminator”, this movie features at least one song that they 100% didn’t licence officially – that one had “Echoes” by Pink Floyd, this one has “In The City” by Joe Walsh, plus a song from the Warriors soundtrack whose name escapes me. Next time you want to complain about movie piracy, bear this in mind)

 

It starts with a nice normal-looking woman with 80s mom hair fighting a bunch of badass ninjas and pretty easily dispatching them all. She has a bit of trouble, though, with a guy who sets his gloves on fire and fights her with flaming gloves! I guess he treated himself and everything around him with flame-retardant gel before beginning the process, as the dry grass and the rest of his own clothing stays remarkably flame-free, but it’s a fun fight to watch. After beating the last of them, the nice lady says “well, I’m now the best ninja of them all, I just need to fight the Black Cougar Ninja” and, for reasons which any fan of Ho will guess immediately, puts on a rubber mask and a black wig.

 

Boom! Next scene, she’s now an Asian lady, wandering through a large house and again, dispatching everyone she meets. But the Black Cougar Ninja whups her ass with embarrassing ease, and then, which is weird because how did they know she was wearing a mask, they (well, an offscreen hand) pulls it off to reveal the nice lady from the beginning, whose story is over before it even began. The bad guys expect this to be someone by the name of Amazonia, so they’re upset she’s not dead yet, and the Black Cougar Ninja says he’s a master of time-travel ninjutsu (at least, that’s what I think he said) but, don’t worry, this never comes up again.

I did a bit of research about this one, which is weird for me, but I enjoyed it so much I wanted to find out about it. There are two movies called “Queen Bee” and “Queen Bee’s Revenge”, both from 1981, both of which were bought by Filmark and spliced in with fresh footage for re-sale. “Queen Bee” was turned into “Ninja And The Warriors Of Fire”, which has largely the same plot just with a few ninjas in it, and “Queen Bee’s Revenge” was turned into this, which I have been reliably informed bears almost no resemblance to the original’s plot at all.

 

There’s a drug deal which is almost stopped by the dumbest cops of all time, then the bad guys fight back, then the cops win, just letting one bad guy escape, a big blond guy who bears a passing resemblance to Frank Zagarino. Now, all this is new footage, as is a scene where Amazonia meets up with a CIA agent who’s also got some ninja training…seriously, weren’t these supposed to be secret arts? Literally everybody knows how to fight ninja-style in these movies! The CIA agent and Faux Zagarino were friends at one time, in Vietnam together, and there’s some amazing newly shot footage of the two of them rampaging through hordes of Vietcong, getting drunk and ranting about the soldier’s lot, all that.

There’s an unusually large amount of new footage here, so the plot of the original is reduced to a bunch of really cool fights and scenes featuring primary villain, “The Shrew”. She’s the sort of boss who’ll stick a cigarette holder through your throat if you even slightly annoy her, and she inspires this exchange between two good guys.

 

“She’s a mean old cow!”

“I’m not afraid of cows, I’m a real man!”

 

Something get lost in translation, or were there a spate of frightening cows in the 80s? Amazonia is trying to track down the Shrew because not only is she an international drug dealing lunatic, but she also killed her friend, a pretty nice normal guy called Charlie (I think). You’ll forgive me for getting the finer plot details of this insane classic a little confused, I hope?

I don’t want to just recap this movie, as it’s right there at the top of this page, available for all to see on Youtube (and wow, do I recommend you do so). I’ve given you a flavor of the main plot threads, but I want to mention a little about how it ends. If you’ve seen any of the Ho / Filmark movies before, you’ll know they almost always end with an incomprehensible battle in the woods, between multiple ninjas in brightly coloured outfits, ninja being known for their love of colours which don’t blend into the scenery at all. This, of course, happens, but it’s what comes before that that made me laugh – a final showdown between the good guys on one side, and the Shrew along with her goons on the other. I love a good abrupt ending, and going from gunfire to the Shrew being sheepishly marched off in handcuffs in the space of seconds is a doozie.

 

There are so many movies from Godfrey Ho and his cohorts, and almost all of them are weird and terrible and force you to pay extremely close attention to try and figure out what’s going on only to reveal to you that they didn’t care about making things make sense at all. Just casting an eye over his IMDB page a few minutes ago reveals dozens I’d never heard of, and I’m a fairly big fan of the guy.

But “Ninja: American Warrior” is different. It packs in enough plot for two movies, and the new footage shot by Ho is actually pretty good – the Vietnam war stuff, the fights between the CIA guy and the other ninjas…The violent scenes in the “Queen Bee’s Revenge” original are decent too, so there’s a heck of a lot to enjoy here.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Misfit Patrol (1996)

There’s a story to tell here, so let’s start off with “Mystery Science Theater 3000”. One of their more beloved directors was a fellow by the name of Coleman Francis, who made “The Beast of Yucca Flats”, “The Skydivers” and “Red Zone Cuba”, incompetent and weird but made with a genuine black heart. Francis’ producer for those movies was Anthony Cardoza, who’d made a little bit of money in the welding business but had also produced an Ed Wood movie by the time they met.

 

Anyway, Francis died in 1973 but Cardoza’s dreams didn’t, so he hung around the movie business. He produced a few things (most famously and profitably, 1968’s “Hellcats”), but it’s his directing work we’re interested in at the moment. We already covered 1979’s “Smokey and the Hotwire Gang”, one of the more confusing / rubbish “Smokey and the Bandit” ripoffs, and then almost 20 years later came this. Apparently, someone saw a hole in the market for a police-based comedy at the time?

 

For those curious movie buffs among you, the first question might be “why?” Why did Mr Cardoza, seven years after his last job in the movies (line producer on “Crime Of Crimes”), and so long removed from his last directing job, want to make another one? I’m going to go out on a limb here and give you one of my patented unfounded movie theories!

 

Dave Fuentes, writer / star (and, if we’re being honest, probably financial backer), was a big fan of Ed Wood. He wanted to make a movie and approached the star of “Plan Nine From Outer Space”, Conrad Brooks, then in his early 60s and still working in the same sort of bargain-basement entertainment that had made him “famous” almost 40 years previously.  Brooks had met Cardoza while working on “The Beast Of Yucca Flats” in 1961, his last movie before taking a twenty year break from the movie business, and as Fuentes needed a director called his old friend, who accepted. Or the original director pulled out at the last moment and Cardoza stepped in to protect his own investment, as he was also listed as producer. Or something else. Like I’ve said, I’ve really got no idea how any of this works but I like to speculate. This was Fuentes’ only movie, though, which at least hints at it being a vanity project of some kind. Oh, and there’s the fact he wears heels in a bunch of scenes so he can appear taller than his female co-star.

This is the best screenshot of his heels I could find

“Misfit Patrol” was never released, anywhere. I contacted the writer, Baltimore journalist “Buzz” Beeler, still working and generous with his time. Sadly, he didn’t even have a copy (or didn’t want me to watch it) so I gave up, mentioning my fruitless search to a friend who used to run a site like this, only better, back in the very early days of the internet. He also helped distribute micro-budget movies back then, and casually mentioned that he had a copy! A little while later, and a package arrived in the mail, more anticipated by me than any hot new Marvel epic.

 

The tape itself is unusual (to me, anyway) – a finished product, sent to potential investors to secure investment and distribution. As well as playing the trailer, which I’ll include a link to below, it features a little segment with all the positive words people said about it at the time and a “hey, you could make money with this great movie” bit.

 

I may be the first person to watch this movie in 20 years, and I appreciate it’s not exactly going to drive traffic to this site as it’s almost impossible that you’d be able to track it down based on my recommendation, or lack thereof. So I’ll have to try and paint a word-picture of this absolutely 100% forgotten, zero reviews on the internet, buddy cop comedy, and hopefully it’ll be entertaining. Let’s journey through “Misfit Patrol” together!

 

There are two cops, Dave (Fuentes) and Murphy (Brooks) and they suck. No particular reason is given why they’re so dumb, they just are – answering a grenade like a telephone, sticking a shotgun in their own face to see why it’s jammed, etc.  – and are hated by both their co-workers and boss, Captain Cook (Vernon Wells, who must have owed someone a favour). But all the other cops look like old bums who got pulled off the street and given uniforms, like you can see one person in white sneakers trousers that are 6 inches too short for him in the background of one scene.

 

There’s so much miserable comedy misfiring on display here. Like getting “gynecologist” and “geologist” mixed up, which might be the best joke they have. Or when they mock a midget by talking to her like she’s a child. Or a bit where Dave is busted down to crossing guard and uses his Stop sign like he’s riding a horse. Or the way they seem incompetent at being human beings. There’s a courtroom scene where the judge just accepts a bribe in full view of everyone, then lets the murderer off.

There’s a plot, kind of, which leads me to the most curious thing about “Misfit Patrol”. Dave and Murphy stumble upon a turf war between rival gangs of drug dealers, and find, pretty much by accident, a witness prepared to testify against them. She happily comes down to the station, and you assume a romance is on the cards – she’s a nice, normal looking woman of around 35. Then, it turns out she’s a high school student? What? Then they still sort of get together? But if you read the IMDB profile of the movie, you’ll know that she’s actually (SPOILER, BUT YOU’RE NEVER EVER GOING TO WATCH THIS MOVIE) an undercover DEA agent, and might actually be age-appropriate – in movie terms – for Dave. But then why was she so willing to help the cops against the people she’s undercover with? Why go undercover as a student when there’s no indication those particular drug dealers are operating in schools?

 

I appreciate this will be curious to you, dear reader, as you’ve never seen it. I’m really trying to get across how wrong-headed “Misfit Patrol” is, how devoid of anything approaching laughs, or dramatic tension, or sense.

 

Conrad Brooks gives it his all, but he’s not a natural comedy actor, so his mugging comes across as vaguely offensive, only I can’t figure out to who. Jeff Celentano, who’s been featured by us before in “American Ninja 2”, “Puppet Master 2” and “Demonic Toys”, tries his best but is subject to maybe the worst gag in this or any other movie, as the Captain keeps getting his name wrong. It has no pay-off and isn’t remotely funny the first time, let alone the twentieth. Another ISCFC regular, Jimmy Williams (“Samurai Cop”, “Cybernator”, “Silent Night Zombie Night”, among others) shows up as the villain, should you be a completist of his.

 

There’s perhaps a good reason why some movies never got official releases. Made cheaply as vanity projects or misguided investment attempts, they have nothing going for them at all and every distributor, mercifully, leaves them well alone. Perhaps even some of them are comedies, like this, with nothing approaching a joke in them. But I feel even the lousiest self-produced never-released effort would struggle to approach the dismal beyond-failure of “Misfit Patrol”. But it’s so bad that it becomes fascinating, not the sort of fascinating I’d ever want to watch again, but fascinating anyway. Thanks to Conrad Brooks for selling copies of it at conventions and to the people re-selling it on Amazon for $60.

 

One last thing – go back to the top of the screen and check out the poster. That indicates it’s some sort of Police Academy-style everyone’s-crazy cop comedy; only it’s not, at all. I’d be annoyed at the false advertising, if it had ever actually been released.

 

Rating: thumbs down

 

 

 

Drones (2010)

One of the drums I used to beat regularly was “if you have cash, why spend it on some low-budget monster movie?” My theory, such as it was, follows thus – if you’re a producer with $200,000, the chances of you making a great monster movie with that are almost nil – it will look cheap, the actors will be bad, and no-one will like it. So why not give it to some comedians or an improv troupe? There’s a vastly better chance of a weird little comedy being a sleeper box office hit, you might get a big name to pop in for a brief cameo, and at the very least it will be different.

 

(ASIDE: Okay, I may be completely misunderstanding how movie financing works. But who cares? This is my damn site, I’ll write whatever I like. And I’m bored to death of cheap horror!)

 

But, we live in a world where there are almost literally endless amounts of zombie / vampire / shark / post-apocalypse movies, and precious few weird little comedy concepts. Which is why it’s so nice to find one like this, a genuinely odd but hilarious and quite sweet little movie, which could have easily been a stage play but uses its cameras in an interesting way, where a core cast of talented comedy actors nail their parts and a microscopic budget is used to its fullest.

OmniLink is a mega-corporation that seems quite nice, that gives us a training video where staff are compared to bees, but bees are super-good and do important work so that’s fine. We never find out what OmniLink does, unless I really wasn’t paying attention, but that’s definitely not important. Working there is Bryan Dilks (Jonathan M Woodward), who seems happy in his monotony; his best friend is Clark (Samm Levine), and there’s a handful of other, similarly happy, office folk – Amy, who he flirts with a little (Angela Bettis), Cooperman, the hippie who’s wood-panelled his cubicle (Dave Gruber Allen), Powerpoint-loving boss Pete (James Urbaniak), and the seemingly happy couple Miryam and Ian (Tangi Miller and Marc Evan Jackson).

 

Bryan’s world is turned upside down by two things – one, is finally getting up the courage to ask Amy out on a proper date, and two is walking into the office supplies room to witness Clark…I really don’t want to spoil anything, because this is a damned delight and I want you all to watch it. But it is in the trailer, I guess? Anyway, he discovers that his office has an unusually high number of aliens in it, and it turns out that they have designs on our planet. But are also cool with working for OmniLink and being nice and friendly and having relationships and stuff. The filmmakers described it as “The Office meets Close Encounters”, which renders most of my lame description moot?

 

Using aliens to comment on human activity is old hat, so it’s impressive that this feels so fresh and original – few aliens, admittedly, are that interested in alphabetical vs. chronological when it comes to file storage. It reminds me a little of Ford Prefect (the TV version, never seen the movie) from “The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy”, and his odd but totally believable friendship with Arthur Dent.

Bettis and Woodward work very well together, and the central relationship is completely believable as well as having that sparking high-end comic dialogue that you’d normally get in a classic screwball comedy. This is down to writers Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, who are best known for being the creators / writers of “The Thrilling Adventure Hour”, the monthly live show / podcast which occasionally uses those classic screwball comedy tropes to great effect. The plot is fun too, there’s a ton of really funny jokes and brilliant comic business, and because they only have one set, really (a floor of an office, with a few cubicles and a conference room) they use it cleverly, making it almost cinematic. Well, okay, but it’s certainly never boring to watch.

 

The co-directors are two people better known as supporting actors on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” – Amber Benson and Adam Busch; Busch dealing with the actors, Benson the technical stuff. They also made a short film a couple of years after this called “Singlewood” but I wish this entire creative team had made a bunch more movies together. Perhaps I’m just annoyed at having seen more than my fair share of comedy from the Apatow / McKay / Feig stable and wishing there were more options out there that received the same level of publicity.

 

ASIDE: from reading about “Drones” appearing at festivals, I discover that the script was written in 2 weeks, and Acker and Blacker had never written a movie before; Busch and Benson had never directed before either, and worked out an unusual division of labour that worked well. Some of the actors improvised a lot, others stuck rigidly to the script, yet all those things which would normally spell disaster contributed to make this a winner.

Directors and cast

I won’t go on, because you need to go spend money on this movie. Maybe a sudden rush of purchases in mid-2019 will persuade some bean-counter somewhere to give them money to make another movie. It’s charming and funny and deadpan and sweet and even a little romantic and absolutely should be better known than it is. And I’m now determined to find one of those OmniLink mugs featured in the office and make it my very own.

 

Rating: thumbs up

 

GO BUY IT ON AMAZON BY CLICKING THESE WORDS RIGHT HERE

Cy-Warrior (1989)

If any of this stuff had happened, it would have been a fun movie

Our Youtube Film Club reviews are a bit more spoiler-y, as it’s right there for you to watch for free. Go have fun! Then stop having fun and read this : (

Frank Zagarino is one of our favourite b-movie actors here at the ISCFC – we’ve enjoyed his work in many action epics, but of course his best work is the “Project Shadowchaser” series, where he portrays an android (well, I’m pretty sure he’s an android in at least three of the four movies, I think he’s an alien or something in one of them).

It would appear, to be honest, that he was working out the kinks in his “robot acting”, as this movie predates “Project Shadowchaser” by a couple of years, and he’s really weirdly terrible in this. He moves like a stereotypical boxy robot, except when it’s inconvenient for him to do so; he does a weird stilted sort of talking, except every now and again when he shows some sort of emotion, seemingly at random.

Italian genre cinema has gone in all sorts of interesting ways. They started off with the Westerns, obviously, and some time around the turn of the 1980s they switched towards post-apocalyptic movies, using their arid landscapes and empty villages to create convincing hell-scapes. Since, oh, let’s stick a pin in a board and say 1979’s “Zombi 2” (“Dawn of the Dead” being known by the title “Zombi” in that part of the world), filmmakers also discovered they could abuse Italy’s non-existent copyright laws and produce “sequels” to well-known franchises. Then there’s filmmakers like Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso who made movies that sort of look like normal Hollywood fare, only made for a fraction of the budget – action, horror and sci-fi were the order of the day for them and the people even less inspired than them.

1989 represents the very end of this period, though, when…this is the section when a reviewer who’d done more homework than me would tell you the tax law that changed, or the cultural shift, but I’m more a big picture kind of guy (or “lazy”). Suffice to say, while there were a trickle more movies of the sort we cover from Italy, by the early 90s it was all over with.

Onto the topic of the day, “Cy-Warrior” (aka “Cy-Warrior: Special Combat Unit”). The opening credits are laid over the top of the creation of one of these machines, but they go one step further by having goo poured over the top of the robot parts to form the human flesh. Problem is, the goo wasn’t mixed very well by some poor underpaid production assistant, so it occasionally comes out as powder, or is lumpy, or is too watery and spills all over the side. Or maybe that’s the correct recipe for cyborg warrior fake skin, I’m no scientist. A group of lazy naval guys are transporting Cy-W (for that’s the name he’s given) and accidentally knock against his box, which is all it takes to wake him and force him to kill the soldiers, who are levelling guns at him – most of which happens off screen, because of course.

That stuff is supposed to be under his skin, I guess?

So, we get a healthy exposition dump from a nerdy scientist, and then the great Henry Silva shows up as the US government guy tasked with getting Cy-W back. Only problem is, they dub him! One of the best voices in the game, and they dub him with some generic guy! So, Silva is immediately the most hostile guy in movie history, calling Cy-W a “goddamn bastard” and a “piece of garbage” when, I have to stress, he’s done absolutely nothing! I mean, he offed those few guys in the beginning, but that doesn’t count – he was defending himself! Anyway, Silva and his men use comically over-the-top language to describe their opponent throughout proceedings, despite him really not being any sort of threat to them.

Because…no damn reason I can think of…the movie takes a sharp turn into sentimentality too. Cy-W saves a kid, or the kid saves him (I’m certainly not going back to check) who then takes him back to his house to meet his mother / older sister (again, not going back to check). The mother is an ISCFC favourite, possible Hall of Famer, Sherrie Rose (“Summer Job”, “Lauderdale”, “No Retreat, No Surrender 4”`) and…well, my notes read “please ask What Is Love? In that dumb robot voice soon, please”. They take his being a robot designed for killing in their stride and soon they’re giving him encylopedias to read and changing his hair and clothes, making him burgers and taking him out dancing. Unfortunately, they can’t teach him to move his head like a normal human, but we can’t have everything.

Silva ratchets up his campaign to ludicrous levels, slaughtering dozens of innocent bystanders in a market and being delighted about killing hundreds more, again, to stop one escaped robot who’s not shown the least indication of being violent, and definitely hasn’t received the software to turn him into what the military wants. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even use a gun to defend himself at any point, which makes it even more ludicrous that they’d kill so many people to get him.

With Cy-W’s weird robot voice and the servo-motor sound (which isn’t there all the time, oddly), I feel like the sound guy had some fun working on this, but no-one bothered to tell the actors. Like, if they’d been told “we’re going to make this guy sound like a Speak & Spell machine, please react accordingly” the whole “are you really a robot?” conversation might have been a little quicker. I did like that he had a bunch of skin-goo on hand to repair himself after one tough battle, though.

The story comes to a grinding halt when Silva, with delight in his eyes, blows up the kid. I mean, I hated the stupid floppy-haired idiot, but even I was a bit surprised. Of course, the kid survives, and the final final scene, where the kid is in hospital but the power is failing, is one of the more absurdly melodramatic things I can remember.

“Cy-Warrior” feels like something produced by an industry that had forgotten what it was supposed to be doing, which makes the presence of actual real talent behind the camera surprising. Written by Dardano Saccheti, who also wrote “Zombie Flesh Eaters” (uncredited), “The Beyond”, “House By The Cemetery”, “New York Ripper” and “City of the Living Dead” and tons of ISCFC-covered stuff; also, directed by Giannetto de Rossi, who is more famous as a special effects guy (“Dune”, among many others). It’s just cheap and terribly dubbed and way too over-the-top with the simplistic emotional stuff and not original, even a tiny bit.

One to put way down your list of “rainy day Youtube movies”, I think.

Rating: thumbs down

Deadly Reactor (1989)

Some times, post-apocalyptic movies are made because the filmmaker wants to say something about the human condition when it’s under extreme stress. Sometimes it’s because they just want to make a cool movie and have loved other post-apocalyptic movies in the past. But sometimes, it’s because the producers are cheap and they really wanted to make another movie (let’s say a western) but didn’t want to pay for any sets.

“Deadly Reactor” falls into the latter category (obviously). It’s an unwelcome return for David Heavener, who we’ve covered before but are really struggling with the idea of continuing to cover in the future. He’s a bigoted right-wing fundamentalist who releases videos on Youtube (more popular than any of his movies were) with super-lurid titles like “They’ve Destroyed The Family Using LGBT as a Front!” and “Warning! Canada is Breeding Islamic Terrorists to Invade America!” He claims to have actual conversations with God although, sadly, God didn’t show up earlier in his life and give him filmmaking tips; and seems to be trying to fleece people out of their money – sorry, “crowdfund” – for a TV show called “The Last Evangelist”.

Apologies for continuing to dunk on David Heavener after I said I wasn’t going to review any more of his movies, but I need to try and get some entertainment from him. Friend of ISCFC and genre filmmaker par excellence Len Kabasinski suggested I carry on, and you know all it takes is one off-hand comment and I’m in for the long haul!

“Deadly Reactor” is a bizarrely edited, dull nothing of a movie which seems to be a vague homage to the Clint Eastwood westerns, just not as good or as interesting and with worse actors and script and direction. There’s a pull quote for an upcoming DVD release!

ASIDE: the opening credits reveal a link between Heavener and the Prior brothers! We had a “good” time reviewing their work last year, and it turns out that not only did they both make movies for the same company – AIP, Action International Pictures – but this movie is produced by Fritz Matthews, who acted in “Deadly Prey” and a bunch of other early Prior movies. Is this trivia of interest to anyone other than me? Probably not!

Right at the beginning, we get Heavener’s dull voiceover telling us about the nuclear apocalypse. Well, he mentions it once, and it gets one line of dialogue later on, but otherwise is completely ignored by everyone. So, there’s an evil gang, led by Hog (the excellently named Darwyn Swalve) who just rape and pillage all over the place – there’s a pretty high number of exposed breasts in this movie, which dates it almost better than a birth certificate – and Cody (Heavener) who had his family killed by the same gang and was left for dead by them. The gang find out about a town which was largely untouched by the bombs and has food and gas still available; Cody just sort of wanders into town after finally healing up from his wounds.

The guy who helps Cody recover also trains him in how to shoot, the implication being Cody is a sweet family man who’s never had to deal with such things before. He’s told that bullets are incredibly rare, and people are resorting to making their own, but if you then see the number of bullets that are just fired randomly throughout the movie, you might think someone is lying about something. Oh, and he asks Cody to read the Bible to him, which inspires Cody to become a preacher, I guess.

Because this is a David Heavener movie and no-one bothered to tell him that you should probably have exciting or interesting stuff happen, these non-events stretch to over half the movie’s run-time. This is without any backstory, really, for Cody’s character, which is par for the course in an Eastwood / Leone movie but not for some low-budget AIP effort. He gets made Sheriff of the town, lets out one of the criminals and trusts him to be his deputy (a trust that is entirely borne out, despite it making no sense whatsoever) and then trains the townsfolk to use weapons in preparation for the return of the gang.

Oh, and then he leaves town. Why? Absolutely no idea. There’s a huge gun-battle where no-one gets shot, and then Cody comes back to save his love interest, when he should probably have protected her a little more rather than riding off. Fight between main bad guy and main good guy, standard stuff, the end.

It’s not that “Deadly Reactor” is bad, although it’s certainly not good. There’s just enough acting chops and budget on display to stop its mere existence from being funny. It’s that it’s so, so boring. Monotone acting performances and shoddy gunfights and nowhere near enough action or incident to fill a movie – unless you’ve mainlined coffee just before the opening credits, you will be napping by the one-hour mark. And that’s what I think of this.

Rating: thumbs down

Triple Threat (2019)

There’s a long tradition of movies made in Asia having a white / Western villain – think of pretty much any Jackie Chan movie, for example – but most movies made in English, at least partially for a Western audience, with “big” names in starring roles, definitely hew to the template of the brave (white) hero going overseas and whupping ass.

But nowadays, Chinese cash is flooding the movie business, and things are looking different. At the top end of things, that means big budget normal Hollywood fare with a Chinese co-star (such as “The Meg”) and at the level we normally come in at, movies like “Triple Threat”. I presume the title is nothing more than a happy coincidence with the Ben Affleck-starring “Triple Frontier”, and I’m also pretty sure this will be a lot more entertaining, and proper action movie length (not over two hours, in other words).

But enough of my half-assed theories about modern action cinema! You want to know if you should spend your hard-earned time / cash on this movie! I think if you’re a fan of the sort of movies we cover here, then just listing the cast will likely be enough to have you heading for your nearest movie rental service. Tony Jaa (Ong Bak, Furious 7, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage)! Iko Uwais (the two “Raid” movies)! Tiger Hu Chen (Man of Tai Chi, Kung Fu Traveler)! Celina Jade (Arrow)! And that’s just the Asian stars!

On the other side of things, let’s start with Michael Jai White (Undisputed, Black Dynamite). He’s long been a favourite of ours, so it’s cool to see him in a big-budget movie doing his thing. Michael Bisping, former UFC fighter and surprisingly not-terrible actor, is here too; as is another ISCFC superstar, Scott Adkins. We’ve covered a decent amount of his movies and have enjoyed pretty much all of them, and it’s cool to see him here as a really unhinged villain.

There’s a plot, but it’s definitely secondary to proceedings. A criminal syndicate is targeting Chinese people and businesses in the Asian diaspora, but authorities are powerless to stop them. So, two things happen at once. One, Xian (Jade) inherits her family business and pledges her enormous wealth to putting an end to the syndicate and protecting the world’s Chinese people. Two, a group of soldiers led by Devereaux (White) moves through the jungle and murders everyone at an MI-5 black site, to rescue one particular prisoner, Collins (Adkins). Well, they murder almost everyone – one guy, Jaka (Uwais) is thought dead but he survived – he was beaten by Payu (Jaa) and Long Fei (Chen) and is looking for revenge – he didn’t see any of the other terrorists.

Collins, Devereaux and their gang are then sent to kill Xian. Turns out Payu and Long Fei were just trackers they’d hired and then also left for dead as they wired the black site with explosives and destroyed it, so after a fight – in an underground fight league! Never change, movies! – the three men, all from different countries, team up to protect Xian and take down the terrorists.

Nice and simple. The joy in “Triple Threat” is, well, not only seeing some of the world’s best martial artist-actors doing their thing. Director Jesse Johnson (who also works as a stunt performer) knows enough to get out of the way of these guys – they all hit their signature moves and the fights are well choreographed and crisply shot and edited. There are some pretty good set pieces, too, like the assault on the police station and the chases through the streets.

I think it’s hampered, if anything, by its script. Perhaps the stars, from all over the world, all wanted to push things in different directions. Perhaps the Chinese backers insisted on certain plot devices. It’s the clunkiest part of what is otherwise a superb movie.

I had a hell of a good time watching this. Had the feel of an old-fashioned movie while having all the exciting camerawork and effects of a 2019 movie. While a lot of the enjoyment comes from seeing a cast of such legendary martial arts performers work together, it’s not just that. Okay, watching Scott Adkins go toe-to-toe with Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa at the same time is pretty amazing, and their fight delivers in spades. If you’re struggling to understand what a big deal this is for martial arts fans like me, then imagine some superhero you like and some other superhero you like teaming up to fight some iconic villain?

Recommended wholeheartedly. Director Johnson and star Adkins have another movie coming out this year, called “Avengement”, which doesn’t exactly help his “naming a movie something very similar to another, bigger-budget movie” issue with this one. But anyway! It looks great, and more Adkins is a good thing.

Rating: thumbs up