Killing American Style (1988)

We’ve covered Amir Shervan before, he directed the super-entertaining “Hollywood Cop” and “Samurai Cop”, the latter of which became a cause celebre among the bad movie elite a few years ago, leading to a (terrible) sequel. Shervan directed tons of movies in his native Iran before the revolution there, when he moved to the USA – it took him a few years to get the money together, but he then continued his directing career, giving us a handful of delightful bad movies before finally hanging up his hat after “Samurai Cop” in 1991.

The poster / VHS case for “Killing American Style”, his second US movie, is amazing and misleading. Long-haired “star” Harold Diamond, last seen by us in a handful of Andy Sidaris movies, doesn’t really do anything that action-packed, and the great Jim Brown, seen with his giant head in the background like some benevolent but slightly puzzled god, is barely in it. The group of guys doing like a heroic army pose at the bottom are a gang of psychopathic killers and rapists, and Hottie McBoobs is barely in it long enough to have her picture taken.

But, we’ve got a smorgasbord of oddity and bizarre choices to enjoy, so let’s strap in and do a little recapping. We open on an audition at a strip club, I think – the extremely sleazy Lynch (John Lynch) is auditioning a group of women at a strip club. Given he doesn’t appear to work there, and the woman he ends up having sex with in the dressing room is being openly mocked by the other dancers, I’ve really got no idea what the point of it was. Lynch doesn’t exactly look like the sort of man who’d find female strippers attractive, if you catch my drift, although he gives it his all in what was apparently his only movie performance. But he’s interrupted by the rest of his gang – leader Tony Stone (the late, great Robert Z’Dar, one of Shervan’s regulars); Uncle Loony, every bit as bad as his name would have you believe (Jimmy Williams, who was also in “Samurai Cop” and has had quite the career, also appearing in Andy Milligan and Fred Olen Ray movies); and Tony’s brother Jessie (Bret Johnston, whose IMDB bio describes him as an “actor and legal representative” – I hope he’s had more work as the latter, as this appears to be his sole film performance). So, before we move any further, I’d like to welcome John Lynch and Bret Johnston to…

THE ISCFC ONE-TIMERS CLUB

One of the most exclusive clubs in Hollywood. Anyway, a dedicated Shervan-a-holic like myself will notice some trends which start in this scene. It appears the great director had certain phrases and ideas that were very important to him, much like the aforementioned Sidaris, and they stick out here because he was never all that bothered about making himself understood in English. Matthew Karedas, star of “Samurai Cop”, tells a story about working with Shervan, and he once asked him if he could rewrite his own dialogue so it sounded more natural coming from the mouth of an American. Shervan said no, it was to be read out exactly as it was written down – and here we are. Lynch tells his paramour to “keep it warm, baby”, the exact line that Karedas uses on Melissa Moore in “Samurai Cop”; in terms of other similarities, the ice-cream truck storage yard is used in both movies – here, it’s the location of the robbery that Stone and his gang pull off; there’s a restaurant which is used for exactly the same purpose in both – the gang are sat down enjoying themselves, the cops come in to hassle them; there are many other location similarities, so thanks to the people who owned those places for being generous to ol’ Amir. There’s also the theme of good guys accidentally profiting from robberies, but that’s sort of incidental.

They do a robbery and pretty much immediately get arrested, but not before they stashed the cash. The scene where they’re being taken to prison and are busted out of the truck by the rest of their gang allows me to talk about one of my favourite b-movie tropes – the dirt track. The gang were arrested in LA, so at what point between an LA holding cell and a nearby prison would the transport truck need to drive down a dirt track? Are roads really that poor in the USA? Yes, this is the sort of thing that wanders through my mind.

So most of the villains escape, with just Jessie getting shot in the gut. They need to wait for the cash to turn up, and because they’re a bunch of violent psychopaths, hiding in plain sight is right out. So, they find a ranch (making its first of many Shervan movie appearances) and decide a home invasion / hostage taking is the way to go.

Harold Diamond, who I guess is the star, only shows up at this point as the splendidly generically named John Morgan. He has a wife and a kid and his wife has a sister, I think. He’s just some guy, not a cop or anything like that, but he is a badass fighter, which we learn when he takes his son to a contest and has to fight one of the asshole dads.

Up to now, the movie has been typically wonderful Amir Shervan. Stuff happens for the flimsiest of reasons, the acting is bizarre, the dialogue choices even more so, the camerawork is slipshod…a good time is being had by all. But then they get to the mansion and suddenly Shervan’s editor decided to take a few days off. John is forced by the crims to go and sort the money out (being held by a female friend of the Stone brothers) but, rather than go and tell the cops what’s going on and get some help, he just does exactly as he’s told. His wife is raped by one of the villains (another Shervan “favourite” and nothing really comes of it. Lots of padding happens, and until the big shootout / fight at the end, which is just the same as every other Shervan ending fight, you could comfortably tune out a solid half-hour without missing anything.

I’ve not even mentioned Jim Brown. He’s been in more great / cheesy b-movies than I care to remember, but here it felt like Shervan was three-quarters of the way through filming and met Brown in a bar, and got him to drunkenly sign a contract. He’s a cop and does absolutely nothing – this point is hammered home at the end when John tells him “thanks for everything you’ve done” and amazingly manages to keep a straight face throughout. There’s only the tiniest bit of interaction with the rest of the cast, too! Shervan favourite Joselito Rescober (the super camp barman from “Samurai Cop”) here plays a relatively low-key doctor; that he was also the producer of this one is just another layer of weirdness to this onion.

It’s almost great. If it had been a tight 80 minutes, it’d have been talked about the same way as the other greats from the great man; as it is, it’s that one which people chuckle about because of the poster but no-one’s ever really seen.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Preview! Fags In The Fast Lane (2017)

Sorry, dear reader, for a brief break – I’ve been working on some reviews of upcoming movies for St Louis’ own QFest, a celebration of queer cinema. “Women Who Kill” comes highly recommended from this scribe, and you can check the reviews out at “We Are Movie Geeks”.

 

Anyway, this isn’t about that, although with this title it ought to be. I feel like QFest isn’t sleazy enough for this magnificent-looking piece of cinema.

 

 

I’ve seen the trailer several times now and it’s still every bit as intriguing as it was the first time. It came to my attention thanks to the involvement of rock-n-roll legend King Khan, but now I’m fully on board. What the hell is it about? How does one qualify as a Cocksmith? Could it possibly be as amazing as the trailer? Kitten Navidad is still alive? (Please check out our review of “Red Lips”, also featuring Ms Navidad, HERE)

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be queueing up for this movie on its release – if you were a fan of the director’s previous “Pervirella” from 1997, then you’ll definitely be interested. Please follow the movie on Facebook, Twitter, other sites I’m too old to know about, and drop a few dollars on it when it’s released. Because we can’t have another twenty years before the next Josh Collins movie!

Puppet Master news!

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Although it’s been a while since our review series ended (January 2014 was when we covered “Puppet Master X: Axis Rising”) we’ve always retained some love in our hearts for the franchise, even when it was doing absolutely dreadful highlight movies (“Legacy”, part 8) or wantonly ignoring its own continuity (all of them past part 1). We interviewed the star of “X”, Jean Louise O’Sullivan, and she was great, too.

 

So, much like every other time we’ve tried to do “news” on here, we’re months late with fun information. “Puppet Master: Axis Termination”, which Charles Band calls the 11th film because he’s ignoring his own “Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys” as non-canon, had an Indiegogo campaign which finished in January and was completely successful. Watch the video here. Even though I’m a reviewer (okay, bottom rung, but I’m still  on the ladder) and asked to be put on Full Moon’s mailing list years ago, I had no idea this even existed. The $50 “mystery box” reward sounded amazing, absolutely 100% guaranteed to be whatever stuff they had knocking around that didn’t sell – Full Moon clear out their storage space, you all get valueless tat.

 

Now, crowdfunding for successful movie companies like Full Moon is just a way of making money. They’re always full of stuff like “we’re going to use this to do extra effects shots”, or whatever, but I’d lay every penny I would’ve spent on this campaign on a bet that the movie was already finished and this is just adding to their bottom line. It’s like pre-release piracy insurance – not necessarily the worst idea in the world, but still a pretty sleazy trick. I’m not exactly helping my case to get on the review copy list for the new one, am I?

"I must have been really drunk last night"

“I must have been really drunk last night”

But that’s not all! There’s also going to be a reboot of the franchise! The guy who directed the amazing-sounding “Bone Tomahawk” is on board to write, and it’s got people with serious money behind it. I have literally no idea why anyone would choose to do this, the last “Puppet Master” film that had more than pocket change spent on it was 20 years ago and even at its best, it was pretty poor. But there you go. Stuff that current movie execs, probably around my own age, liked as kids is always going to get another look, and it’s always been this way.

 

Enjoy all this Full Moon-related news, and I’ll see you for a review of “Axis Termination” (as soon as it pops up on Full Moon Streaming, a seriously great site) and for a review of this reboot, when it comes out (I’ll guess never, when someone with sense and money finds out about it).

Shark Exorcist preview!

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Like other people get excited at a new “Star Wars” movie, I get excited at news of new Donald Farmer movies. Okay, maybe not that much. But it’s still cause for happiness! On that note, I’ve just found out that one of our favourite DVD labels, Wild Eye Releasing (“They Will Outlive Us All”, “The Disco Exorcist”) is releasing “Shark Exorcist” (no relation) in June. Here’s the trailer:

 

 

Will it be terrible? That is the wrong question to ask, my friend. Will it be amazingly good fun? Oh yes. I also have a million questions to ask Mr Farmer, so I might even ask for an interview as pre-release publicity. Like, would he direct a future “Witchcraft” movie? That combination would be the culmination of all our work here, I think.

 

Anyway, “Shark Exorcist” is available from Grindhouse Video, and while you’re there check out some of their other stuff. “Grimewave” sounds like a winner, for one.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

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I’ve always thought that you have to be a certain type of person if your job only entails taking money off people without a particular trade or skill set involved and nothing tangible to offer for your service, just simply talking people out of their money for your own gain. Technically it’s not theft but there’s a whole lot of lying involved and if you have no qualms about earning your living this way then you’re most definitely that type of person. The Wolf of Wall Street goes a little deeper in and shows the humble origins of a small New York stock market company and how it grew into an empire.

The Wolf of Wall Street was adapted from Jordan Belfort’s memoirs of the same name by Terence Winter who also collaborated with Scorsese on the sumptuous Boardwalk Empire and he produces a surprisingly light, funny script that flows neatly around Belfort’s stooges but centres wholly on the man himself. It also surprised me how much of a comedy the film was considering it has Winter on writing duties and Scorsese directing, plus DiCaprio revels as Belfort and hits the funny notes simply by concentrating so much on the character and giving one of his most focussed yet wild performances. After an uninspiring start together with Gangs of New York (2002) this director/actor pairing has developed into one of the more interesting duos around today.

After a frantic opening scene where Belfort is introduced to the rigours of his new work place, colleagues cuss each other in every sentence and label him ‘pond scum’, he is taken to lunch by his new boss (an hilarious Matthew McConaughey cameo) after impressing him in his interview. At lunch he’s taught to abide by the main two lessons of broking;” hookers and cocaine.” However, the day Belfort passes his broker exam happens to be Black Monday and the firm closes down so he finds himself jobless. This happens to be the making of him as he takes a job selling penny stocks and, through his successful selling technique, builds an empire after recruiting the help of some friends including a perfectly cast Jonah Hill as Donnie who gets the lion’s share of the funniest lines.

As the film develops we see this motley crew find more, underhand ways of making money like taking advantage of Donnie’s school friend and shoe maker, Steve Madden and we also see the excess with which they spend it. Multi thousand dollar client dinners, endless supplies of drugs, a constant flow of prostitutes and flamboyant jewellery are highlights of the decadence and debauchery on permanent display but it’s hard to take the film seriously as Scorsese’s leaning is always towards the more comedic aspect of the ridiculous situations the characters find themselves in; whether it’s Belfort negotiating his way back to his car in an eerily lifelike overdosing scene or their yacht sinking in a storm you never really feel a sense of peril or that any real danger will befall these people. Maybe it’s because they have so much money it seems impossible they can get hurt or maybe it’s because Scorsese has decided it’s time to inject more fun into his work so the focus is less on building tension unlike in Scorsese’s seminal Goodfellas (1990), specifically when Tommy gets ‘made’.

The Wolf of Wall Street is quite suspect on its morals, in fact it’s pretty murky; Belfort is shown as a great leader of his people, they confess their love and adoration for him, they protect him willingly from the boring feds and the only character who questions Belfort about his techniques is his first wife, Teresa (Cristin Milioti) but she is soon divorced and replaced by a younger, prettier model. Also, the only authority figure in the film is Kyle Chandler’s FBI agent, Patrick Denham and, due to a lack of serious screen time, his character isn’t elevated above two dimensions and is simply portrayed as a fun burglar, someone who wants to ruin the party like a drab, joyless school teacher but gets his comeuppance when he’s shown taking his miserable tube journey home with the “ugly, poor people” as Belfort categorises earlier in the film.

We laugh with him through his drug use, we cheer when he makes another few million and we cry when he’s close to ruin, it strikes me how the film promotes moral corruption as Belfort never really suffers even when he’s convicted, this is quickly brushed over in a short scene that shows how happy he is in jail and before you know it he’s out again giving sales seminars. I had originally thought that this was Scorsese’s best film since Casino (1995) but, having slept on it, it isn’t as memorable as The Departed (2006) and, even though it’s quite well paced for a three hour film (considering it could’ve wrapped up anywhere after the 120 minute mark), it peaks and troughs through a succession of superficial sequences and set pieces that lose their lustre soon after.

– Greg Foster

The Wolf of Wall Street on IMDB

Puppet Master: Axis of Evil (2010)

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Just when you think a film series can’t get any worse, when the bottom of the barrel was reached and breached some time ago, a skilled group of guys like Full Moon find lower, ever more pointless depths. That pointless depth is “Axis of Evil”, Puppet Master 10 for anyone still keeping count.

First up is possibly the only genuinely interesting sequence of film this entire series has produced. We watch the first five or so minutes of the original “Puppet Master”, but they splice in new footage to make it appear as if Dan, our hero, is in the hotel along with Toulon and the Nazis. Some of the matching attempts are a bit ropey, but all in all it works pretty well – the problems begin when Dan takes the puppets (Toulon trusted the guy who worked fixing furniture at the hotel well enough to tell him his secret, apparently) and goes home with them.

This film is set in 1939. It says it right at the beginning, in case you think I’m just assuming. Dan’s brother Don is ready to ship off to war to fight the Nazis, and makes numerous less-than-pleasant references to the Japanese and their evil kamikaze pilots too. In case you’re from a different planet and know nothing of our Earth ways, America only joined the war in December 1941, and the first kamikaze pilot didn’t appear til 1944. I can sort-of maybe forgive the filmmakers for getting the kamikaze thing wrong (as I had to look it up) but to be wrong on the date of America joining the war by 2 years?

The two Nazis who were hunting Toulon decide to hang around California for a bit, and go to Chinatown in order to meet up with a Japanese agent. They’ve got a plan to blow up a munitions factory by going undercover and getting jobs there, and decide to work together. They make reference to their two countries not working together at the time, but that really doesn’t make it better.

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If I cared any more, I’d use some big words to describe how silly it is that the munitions factory where Dan’s far-too-beautiful-for-him girlfriend works is the same factory the Nazis are going to infiltrate; and that despite only brushing past each other in a hallway at the Bodega Bay Hotel, Dan recognises them immediately. Whatever. Running alongside the pulse-pounding Nazi plot is Dan’s worry about his polio meaning he can’t go to war, his jealousy / admiration for big brother Don, and his attempts to revive the puppets. While kicking the carrying case, he accidentally opens a secret compartment to introduce new puppet Ninja, who may just come in handy later.

Even though Dan seems a fairly level-headed fellow, his girlfriend’s first instinct is to assume he’s lying about her new co-worker being a Nazi, and she doesn’t believe him til she meets the puppets. The one bit of continuity these films possess, for reasons completely unknown, is Pinhead shaking hands with ladies. I like Pinhead, and if I ever make a penny of money from doing film reviews I will buy a Pinhead doll with my first paycheck.

During reconnaisance at the theatre where the Japanese and Germans are holed up, Dan is able to spy on them fairly easily because they choose to have their secret meetings on the stage. Remember, this is supposed to be secret. The conversations are some of the dullest exposition-fests ever captured on film, and the way they feel the need to recap their plans for the audience every time is less-than-exciting too. Anyway, they discover Dan’s spying, and realise the puppets are a much bigger prize than a munitions factory (luckily, their army bosses are a lot less skeptical about magic puppets than any of the hero’s friends). Don is killed, and Dan transfers his soul into the lifeless shell of Ninja, bringing it to life. An observant viewer might wonder how Dan figured out that was a thing you could do, and then how to do it, despite him never being seen reading any of Toulon’s notes; but that observant viewer really ought to have been beaten into submission by now.

The puppets are set loose and do their thing, in a very rare entertaining sequence, both Nazis are killed but the Japanese woman escapes with some of the puppets…and then the film just ends! WHAT ARE YOU DOING, MOVIE??? Clearly, 2012’s “Axis Rising” is a part 2, but the sheer scumbaggery to make a film, have no real resolution then expect fans to pay again to see things wrapped up almost makes me admire Full Moon. Almost.

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I think, top to bottom, this could be the worst-acted film I’ve ever reviewed. Almost every film I can think of has at least one or two people who can read a line, but this has none. Readers of the previous reviews may remember speculation about director David DeCoteau and how his series of homoerotic vampire films hired actors based on how good they looked with their shirts off – well, even though the men remained fully clothed throughout “Axis of Evil”, they showed no discernible acting talent so I can only assume the same casting process was at play. Makes a nice change from the same being true of women being hired only because the producer wanted to sleep with them, I suppose.

To show my annoyance with a film that finishes halfway through the story, I’m going to

Preview #2: Hate Crime

There’s already been an excellent review of this film on here, but I’d like to offer an alternate take on it. And not be quite as clever or perceptive as he was. But so be it.

I don’t need to recap the plot for you – https://iscfc.net/2012/07/19/preview-hate-crime/ – so this will be a little shorter. First up, the acting was excellent. Whoever found that group of people who were presumably willing to work for no money is a genius, and credit to the cast themselves, who give the film more than it possibly deserved. For example. it appears that this is Debbie Diesel’s first film (playing Lindsay, the daughter of the family), and I predict bigger things for her.

Also, I’m a firm believer in making do with what you have, and not letting a budget of what looks like zero dollars become a hindrance. It’s the people who complain that they couldn’t do something because of cash, or put in half-assed effects, that annoy me. This film plays with what it has, and more power to it.

 
I’ve also got nothing against violent films, and films with a bleak view of society, as this film certainly has. I feel I need to say this to prepare you for what’s coming up. So far, so good. They’ve got a cast which is excellent, they’re playing within their strengths, and I have enjoyed some fairly gruesome films in my time.

 
Okay, so this film is like being punched in the face for 70 minutes by someone who’s clearly having the time of their lives, only to be told at the end by that same person, “hey, violence and hate is bad, okay? You should definitely not do this”. Its gleeful nature at depicting violence is hard to tally with its literal message. Maybe it’s deliberate, and the filmmakers stripped out anything human, anything approaching remorse, to make a point. I’d like to believe this, but I get the feeling it’s probably not.

 

A problem with this film is a problem with all found footage films, everywhere – all films like this rely on some cast member carrying on holding a camera long past the point it makes any sense at all, to often ludicrous extremes. So, that’s not a problem specific to this film, but a problem inbuilt in this genre.

 
For the first portion of this film, I had a nagging doubt- if these obvious murderers are going to murder these people, why are they bothering wearing masks? Almost as soon as this thought passed through my mind, they revealed they were only supposed to be scaring them out of the neighbourhood. This – being proved wrong about a film almost immediately – is known in my house as a “Mark”, or “being Marked” (named after my good self).

 
We at the ISCFC were given early viewing rights to this film, and for that I want to thank all at PsykikJunky Films for taking a chance on the little film review site that could. They’ve asked us not to spoil the film, as well, and it’s been an interesting challenge. But, the ending…I’ll throw out a hypothetical, and see what you think. Imagine if you’re watching “Cloverfield” and, about 20 minutes before the end, the screen fades to black, and text comes up which just tells you how the film ends. Imagine how bummed out you’d be?

Hate Crime on IMDB

Preview: Hate Crime

Directed by: James Cullen Bressack

James Cullen Bressack’s ‘Hate Crime’ is a bludgeoning assault to the senses. It is an uncomfortable viewing experience, and harks back to some of the darker moments of cinema history found in films such as Michael Winner’s ‘Death Wish’ and Wes Craven’s ‘Last House on the Left’.

The horror takes place within a normal American family home. A birthday party is interrupted by a gang of nameless masked thugs. The family suddenly face evil in its human form. Bressack, it appears has focussed on realism, the kind of horrific stories that are becoming a regular occurrence on news bulletins. The film is unsettling, and contains several scenes which are bound to cause a stir, and dare I even say when the film shows at various Film Festivals it may even lead to walkouts.

The clever use of the Family’s handheld camera to document the intrusion creates a disturbing intimacy, which places the viewer in the middle of the violence. The acting is very naturalistic; it appears that Bressack told his cast to run with it, to veer from the script. This sometimes leads to some unintentionally dark comic moments from Jody Barton, Tim Moran and Ian Roberts who play the masked men.

True violence isn’t set-up, it happens spontaneously and chaotically. The masked intruders are savage animals that are driven by their own perversions and base instincts. I felt unsettled by some of the film’s content, but it did get me thinking. It wasn’t shock for shocks sake, there seemed to be a point. In many ways I’ve felt similarly about several films from the ‘New French Extremity’ movement. Where boundaries are pushed, and as a viewer I’ve often wondered why I’m watching this, and what it says about me as a person, about how I respond when confronted by human suffering.

I wonder if Bressack is interested in the idea of ‘body horror’, as the family are branded, burnt, and bloodied. In more uncivilized times, death was in our households, it was on our doorsteps. Families were ravaged by wars, and some suffered from hideous diseases. A walk into town saw public executions. The insane asylums were glorified tourist attractions. The weak were punished. There was a distinct lack of love, care or empathy. What I’m trying to say is that horror was an everyday occurrence, people were exposed to it. Today, the evil is still out there, flick on the news channels, read the newspapers, only we are sheltered from it, safe in our own homes. This is where Bressack has been quite clever by disturbing the carefully constructed peace.

Cinema will always hold a mirror up to society. Yes, this is a clichéd idea, but Bressack’s transgressive direction makes a social comment in the bluntest manner possible. Harsher critics might view the film as torture porn. Yet, pornography is something that is actively sought out. This isn’t a film you would want to see, it is a film that you will encounter reluctantly, and likely it will leave an impression.

– RJW

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