Boyka: Undisputed 4 (2016)

Scott Adkins enjoyed playing Yuri Boyka, gone from foil to Michael Jai White to deeply religious (and newly escaped from prison) ass-kicker; he wanted to make a part 4 based on Boyka but as he honestly told fans, money was pretty tight in the low-budget world and there just weren’t the same investors any more as there were in the heyday of Van Damme, Seagal, etc.

But luckily for us, by 2016 they’d rustled up enough money and we’re back with our favourite Russian MMA-ist, significantly more humble than the man who screamed in part 2 that he was the world’s most complete fighter but no less deadly. He’s living in (unspecified Eastern European place, but probably Ukraine) and, having spent all the money he made in part 2 on donations to his local church and repairing his still-injured knee, he’s working hard to get himself onto the official MMA circuit and start earning some decent money.

I feel like I’m burying the lede, because the first person we see is the Big Bad, a monster who needs a face mask and four guards holding him with those pole things, a prison fighter by the name of Koshmar (the 6’8”, 320lb Martyn Ford, one of the scariest individuals you’re ever likely to see). He’s fighting in Boyka’s old stamping grounds, and sort of casually beats his opponent to death. Now, if I was a fighter and this dude was in my prison, or league, or general area, I’d 100% take a month in solitary confinement over taking him on! Now, you sort of know how the movie is going to end, but the prospect of what’s going to happen when Boyka and this monster get together keeps you pretty riveted throughout.

In a rather interesting parallel, Boyka has a fight to qualify for the big leagues, and in a brilliantly-filmed but rather one-sided fight, he also kills his opponent, just accidentally. Because he takes his faith seriously and thinks deeply on what he’s done, he decides to take his winnings from the fight and give them to the dead man’s wife. Problem is, she lives in Russia, and he’s still a wanted fugitive there, so he needs a fake passport.

In one of those “really? They’re going with this as the plot?” choices, the dead fighter’s wife, Alma (Teodora Duhovnikova), runs a community centre and (along with her dead husband) had to take a loan out from a local gangster by the name of Zourab, who also runs…a nightclub with an MMA ring in the middle of it! Can you tell what’s going to happen? Yes, she rejects Boyka’s blood money so he approaches Zourab (who wants Alma for his very own) and offers to fight for him three times to clear Alma’s debt – but because he only has a very short amount of time before his big fight back in (unspecified country), he has to take all three fights in a week.

So, for the next half-hour, we get what amounts to a very long training montage. Boyka slowly wears Alma down with his quiet, decent nature, he discovers he likes showing the kids how to defend themselves, and he beats the crap out of a bunch of tattooed Russian guys. It’s only when we get down to the final fight, against the best fighter in the club, that we begin to wonder “when’s that Koshmar fella turning up?”

When you’ve seen one of the all-time great twists pulled off, in a boxing movie no less, in “Diggstown” (aka “Midnight Sting”), then the rather laboured trick they pull on Boyka here can only look weak in comparison. Sadly, the whole last section is a little on the weak side, like they couldn’t quite figure out what to do with it – although the final fight is a rare example of story being told through fighting, and is great. The ending, though, is kinda just a setup for a potential part 5 like they were petrified of thinking of something new to do with the series.

I’ve passed over this, because I’m an atheist and it means absolutely nothing to me, but Boyka’s religious belief, tied to the same person he’s been all his life, makes an interesting character. His local priest says, while accepting a donation bought with fight winnings, “violence has a way of consuming men” to which Boyka replies “I think God gave me this gift. And I think it would be a sin to waste it.” This intensity of belief makes it entirely understandable that he would sacrifice his new, better life in order to help Alma, because he’s not motivated by cash or fame, but by the prospect of saving his soul. Also, because he loves fighting, which is kind of a crucial part of his personality. This is reflected very well by Scott Adkins, who’s quietly become a very strong actor to go along with his superb ass-kicking capabilities.

I think it’s kind of interesting to reflect on why we’ve gotten 4 “Undisputed” movies, and that’s thank to director of part 1, the great Walter Hill. He insisted that both stars of his movie be black, and that made it very difficult to find funding in 2002 (plus, he’d hated every second of working on 1998’s “Supernova”, so had no particular love for major studios). He got money from all over the world, and one of those companies, Millennium Films, saw the potential in it and gave the series to Isaac Florentine, and we can all be very grateful they did.

I love this sort of movie, which will come as no surprise to those of you who’ve read any of my reviews. I appreciate money is tight, but if you can steer some of your entertainment cash towards product like this and not, say, the latest Marvel blockbuster, then we might start getting more of this sort of thing again. I would be delighted to see Florentine and Adkins given a serious budget.

Rating: thumbs up

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Undisputed 3: Redemption (2010)

One of my favourite topics to ponder while watching the sort of movies we love here at the ISCFC is Bad Guy Economics. Like, how does this criminal enterprise run? Is it a sustainable long-term model? Or would they get themselves murdered by competitors on day two? And so it is we come to the third instalment in the excellent “Undisputed” series.

To briefly summarise the plot – Boyka (ISCFC Hall of Famer Scott Adkins), the villain of part 2, has been reduced to toilet cleaning duty due to his horrific leg injury sustained at the hands of Michael Jai White in the previous movie. He’s become a religious man in the meantime, and ignores money thrown at his feet by his former organised crime handler, but when he learns of a tournament to crown a prison champion, one who will go to another inter-prison tournament where the ultimate prize is freedom, he starts exercising his damaged knee again.

Of course he wins, and of course he goes off to Georgia for a tournament featuring 8 men from all round the world – North Korea, the USA, Brazil, Colombia, and a few generic Eastern European guys who lose in the first round so who cares. It’s starring Scott Adkins and is directed by Isaac Florentine, so you know it’s going to be decent even if the plot is somewhat on the generic side.

So it’s right here that this tournament, organised professionally enough that high-level criminals from all over the world are in attendance with their best prison fighters, begins to raise doubts. The competitors are all locked up in a Georgian prison and forced to do hard labour while the home-team fighter (the Colombian, for some reason) gets to relax and train as much as he likes. Also, the losing fighters are taken out into the woods and shot after their fights.

I know I mentioned this in part 2, but imagine you’re a big criminal who’s bet a lot of money on this fight, only to discover that the people who organised it are cheating to ensure their guy wins. Would you laugh off the loss of all your money or would you send a team of mean dudes round with shotguns and slaughter the prison warden and his entire family, in case anyone thought of messing with you ever again? If you were the handler of one of the fighters who was murdered after losing, would you enter again the next year or would you tell everyone you ever met to never do business with that Georgian psychopath; or hell, just organise your own tournament and not invite him?

To be fair to the movie, it makes a half-hearted attempt to circumvent part of the criticism, but I’m really not sure it works. I feel like I could be a really successful criminal just by being nice to other criminals, honestly.

I like the gradual redemption of the Boyka character, how he’s still a mean guy but one who understands, perhaps, the impact of his previous actions. And although it’s obvious as hell, I like the gradual building of his friendship with the American boxer, one “Turbo” (Mykel Shannon Jenkins, a former winner of a reality show where the prize was a gig on a soap opera). I also like the development of Gaga, the Russian mobster who’s Boyka’s handler and perhaps friend; as both characters are now more central, they’ve become more sympathetic and the movie works better as a result. Mark Ivanir, perhaps best known as a voice guy in computer games, is having a good time as Gaga, even given a curious character quirk (he’s been forced to become a vegetarian to combat his high cholesterol).

I think the budget is a little lower than part 2, not just because of the relative lack of star power. The extraordinarily filthy prison is barely glimpsed, and the new prison feels like a repurposed industrial facility and all the scenes are filmed in some decaying part of eastern Europe or other. Still, at least they’re not pretending it’s the USA!

A quick note about the fighting in all three “Undisputed” sequels – it’s supposed to be MMA, but it’s more like the martial arts that are being mixed together are high-flying ones from movies, not effective ones from real life. People fly through the air and do complicated spin-kicks, when if that was tried in a “real” fight, the opponent would probably do something short (like a punch or simple kick) that landed while the other guy was still half-way through his spinning thing. Listen at me, pretending to be an expert on fighting styles! What does come across a little in part 3, though, is that it feels like an 80s classic, where people of radically different fighting styles get together to see who’s best, the sort of thing that the early UFC bouts finished off forever. Let it be said that Scott Adkins is absolutely superb, though, and the benefit that’s gained by being able to shoot him in long, continuous takes of multiple moves is a huge boon for the entire series.

As well as colourful styles, we get some colourful characters, too. My favourites were the two prison guards, who were so specifically odd-looking that I wondered if they were archetypes from some Eastern European tradition I was unaware of. I also liked how ludicrously camp the main Colombian villain was, reading magic realism underneath a parasol while watching the other prisoners break rocks.

One interesting thing that my wife pointed out to me as a positive is that there are no women in this movie. Not a one, none on camera anywhere as far as I can tell (there might be one in a crowd shot somewhere?) To have a story which doesn’t resort to cheap unearned sex, or the exploitation of nude ladies, is something of a relief honestly. And, you know, a movie about prison-fighting men doesn’t perhaps need any women in it – obviously, that lack of female representation is its own problem, but just telling a story simply and reasonably is a win in my book.

This is a surprisingly decent movie. There’s a good central friendship between Boyka and Turbo, lots of great, well-filmed action, and while the Bad Guy Economics once again let us all down, you’ll have a fine time with this one.

Rating: thumbs up

Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing (2006)

After a sadly flawed first part to the franchise, the major studio financing went away but, not wanting to abandon a potential profitable name, Miramax farmed it out to Eastern Europe and the low-budget, unashamedly old-school action factory out there. Luckily for us, the director they hired was Isaac Florentine, the future ISCFC Hall of Famer who’s given us such gems as “Bridge of Dragons”, “The Shepherd” and both “Ninja” movies.

In one of the more curious pieces of continuity you’ll see, Michael Jai White, this movie’s star, plays the same character as Ving Rhames from part 1 – George “Iceman” Chambers. Only they don’t make any reference to him having previously been in prison, or the rape (that part 1 certainly seems to think he did) that landed him in prison, or even bother to have White play the part remotely the same way Rhames did. There’s also the curious visual of having White, 8 years younger than Rhames, play the older version of the character.

But we don’t really care about that! What we do care about is how much fun this movie is, how it’s tightly plotted, well directed, with plenty of exciting fight scenes that avoid a problem from part 1 – that boxing is sort of dull visually – by pivoting to mixed martial arts; a couple of great central performances; and by filmimg in one of the most legitimately filthy-looking prisons in movie history.

Chambers has been reduced, thanks to the downturn of his boxing career, to selling vodka in cheesy ads in some unspecified Eastern European country, and he’s angry / contemptuous of it, But he doesn’t have to put up with it for very long, as he has some drugs planted in his own personal Bible and, thanks to the legendarily corrupt legal systems in that part of the world, sent straight to prison.

We know he’s going to have some company there, as we’ve already met Boyka (the amazing Scott Adkins, Florentine’s muse), who dominates the underground fight league in prison with high-power, high-speed mixed martial arts, along with some way-too-flashy-to-be-effective-in-real-life spinning high kicks and stuff like that. He’s such a good screen fighter, and it’s a pleasure to watch him at work here – he even did it after bulking up considerably, as his normal walking-around weight would look too small next to the massive Michael Jai White. We also have fight choreographer JJ “Loco” Perry to thank for these fights, and it’s clear Hollywood recognised the talent as he’s now doing stuff like the most recent “Fast and Furious” movie.

One of the other problems of part 1 that I mentioned previously is how I didn’t buy the motivation of either of the main characters, or why I should be remotely interested in the outcome of their fight. One was a murderer, the other a rapist. Here, Chambers is an asshole, but one who’s been imprisoned under false pretences, and he has an arc! He refuses to fight and stands up to the guards, then agrees when his manager negotiates a deal with the Russian mobster who runs the fight league to let him out if he takes part. He earns the respect of the other inmates for his attitude during and after the first fight, and this seems transformative for him. If you can buy he’s just a wrongly convicted guy with a bad attitude at the beginning, he becomes a decent person at the end of it. His transformation is also mirrored by him having to learn a new style to combat his far more rounded opponent (handily, White is also a top-level on-screen fighter in all styles).

Things are similar for Boyka. He’s undoubtedly a psychopath, who kills fellow inmates, beats his opponents half to death and uses fear to get what he wants; but he’s honest about his fighting skills, wanting to prove that his mixed style is the ultimate evolution of fighting against the world’s best. He also has an odd hobby (stamp collecting) to tie into the Wesley Snipes character and his model-building from part 1.

We learn an important thing about Boyka during the course of the movie, too. Spoilers, I guess, but it’s an important spoiler! (Skip the next two paragraphs if you don’t want to read it). Boyka’s backers are worried that Chambers might actually win, so they persuade Chambers’ ring second / cellmate Parker (Ben Cross, who’s one of British TV’s premier “that guy” actors) to give him drugged water by threatening to withhold his heroin supply. He comes out for the second round staggering round, barely able to keep his eyes open or stay on his feet, and Boyka wins very quickly and easily. But when he finds out what happened, he’s disgusted, loudly denouncing the Mafia backers and demanding a straight rematch to prove his superiority. This is an interesting character beat and sets him up for parts 3 and 4, where he’s the central character.

But, there’s a crucial and rather unfortunate plot hole here. Imagine you’re a villain, and bet on a fight, only to discover that the promoter drugged one of the fighters to make sure he lost. Would you go “oh well, easy come easy go” and bet just as much on the rematch, or would you find that promoter and tear his fingernails out? Luckily, this movie assumes answer two, although I think in real life the response would be slightly different.

While I didn’t hate part 1, this is just better in every way. According to those in the know, part 3 is even better, so I look forward to sharing my opinions on that with you soon.

Rating: thumbs up

Undisputed (2002)

Because Michael Jai White was so fantastic in “Blood and Bone”, I’ll be taking a brief break from our blood-titled movies to cover a fighting series which involves him.

White stars in part 2 of the “Undisputed” franchise, which was a straight-to-video Eastern European production directed by the superstar of modern B-movie action, Isaac Florentine, who’d also direct part 3; part 1, on the other hand, was a fairly high budget affair, starring two pretty big names, by 2002 standards at least, Ving Rhames and Wesley Snipes. There’s also roles for Peter Falk, Michael Rooker, Fisher Stevens, and Yo MTV Raps’ own Ed Lover, and was written and directed by the great Walter Hill (The Driver, The Warriors, Southern Comfort, 48 Hours, and many many others).

George “Iceman” Chambers (Rhames) is the undisputed world boxing champion when a conviction for rape sends him to jail for 6-8 years; of course, there’s an inter-prison boxing league which several people, including old school mobster Mendy Ripstein (Falk) are very interested to see Chambers take part in. The prison already has its own champion, Monroe Hutchen (Snipes) who’s occasionally interested in defending the honour of the prison fighting league against the wealthy outsider, and occasionally sits in his room making models from matchsticks.

The problem that the movie never really gets over, although your mileage may definitely vary, is that boxing is sort of boring, visually. Especially modern boxing, which is largely a dull tactical display (the reason very very few boxing matches do big business these days), and even though “Undisputed” features all sorts of flashy moves that no pro would do, it’s still a little on the dry side.

But anyway. The prison authorities get Chambers to fight by promising him an early release, and by offering Hutchen’s family on the outside some cash. The two men circle each other, occasionally coming to blows, until they have the inevitable fight at the end.

The original plot is not why we watch movies like this. But, some sense of characterisation is quite important. A question I asked myself repeatedly throughout is “who are we supposed to be rooting for here?” Snipes is, probably, the hero but he gets far less screen time than Rhames and is seen, over and over again, to not be a particularly sympathetic person (he’s also in prison for murder). Rhames, on the other hand, protests his innocence of the rape charges but the movie repeatedly cuts to TV interviews with his accuser, who is never doubted by the movie for one second. Smarter experts than me have said this creates an interesting air of tension in that either man could win, but I disagree. You could have done that by making both men at least a little decent, but this way seems odd and discordant.

Women are seen as the root of all the main men’s woes – Rhames is obvious, Snipes was just trying to make money to feed his wife, Falk is in prison thanks to the women in his life, who he spends one memorable monologue cursing with some excellent expletive-filled dialogue. I’m not sure I like this?

One last curious thing – Falk draws up the rules for the final fight, which includes bare knuckles. He’s really into this, making a point of mentioning it several times. Then Rhames says bare knuckles is a bad idea and Falk immediately withdraws the suggestion without so much as defending his idea once. What gives?

What I like about it is the lack of irrelevant B-plots – it gets right to the central conflict and does it well. It also has some strong supporting characters, such as nice-guy-but-corrupt guard Rooker. But…I just can’t get behind it fully. Not upset I watched it, but if I were you I’d probably jump into things with part 2 (more on that tomorrow).

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Blood And Bone (2009)

While I love writing about movies, I’m not the best at it – call me an enthusiastic amateur, if you’re feeling generous. There’s a guy who covers the same sort of stuff as me who may well be the best at it, Vern, and if you’re not reading his stuff as well as mine, then you really ought to. “Blood and Bone” is one of his favourite movies, and you can read his take on it here.

 

But hopefully you’ll enjoy mine too! I love martial arts movies, how they take the same rough building blocks and do all sorts of fun things with them. It’s not so much the originality that we fans of the genre are looking for, it’s the skill – both behind the camera, in how you keep the pace up, shoot fight scenes, and plan out stunts; and in front of the camera, when guys who normally work in Hollywood as stuntmen or goons get their chance to shine, and black belts / martial arts champions with less-than-stellar acting skills are front and centre.

 

One of the most common templates is what I christened “The Typical Martial Arts Movie Plot” – guy’s brother dies in martial arts tournament, guy tries to get revenge, gets his ass kicked, goes off and learns a new martial arts, gets with either a local hottie or the brother’s girlfriend, gets revenge. That’s not the case for “Blood and Bone”, which is more your classic “mysterious stranger comes to town” story, but it has some of those classic beats which I’ll be telling you about in a moment.

If anything, the plot is fairly similar to that of the Charles Bronson / James Coburn classic “Hard Times”, about a depression-era prizefighter who drifts into town to make some money on the bare-knuckle circuit. But that’s just the first half, as there’s a lot more packed into the running time here (I say nothing bad about “Hard Times”, the directing debut of Walter Hill and one of the more underappreciated classics of the 70s).

 

Although we never get the “ultimate badass” speech, where some ancillary character breaks down the history of the main character, we get an opening fight scene which does all that heavy lifting for us. Michael Jai White – who was so ludicrously entertaining in “Black Dynamite” and divides his time between kicking ass and Tyler Perry projects – is Bone, and he’s in jail. No explanation, but none is needed when a group of mean-looking dudes, led by former backyard-street-fighter turned real MMA fighter Kimbo Slice, come up on him while he’s at a washbasin with murder on their minds. He calmly assesses the situation, all while keeping his back to them, then explodes in a perfectly choreographed blur, kicking the ass of all five assailants without even, really, breaking a sweat. He’s an almost supernaturally good fighter, is the message we’re getting across.

 

So, Bone gets out of jail and goes to a boarding house, run by a friendly woman who’s looking after a few foster kids. He also gets involved in the nearest underground fight league by just turning up, finding the promoter and putting up all the money he has left to get in a fight on the ground floor (he wins almost embarrassingly easily, of course). The fight hype man / promoter, a hyper fellow by the name of Pinball (Dante Basco) becomes his manager, but the person he seems most interested in is James (Eamon Walker), the manager of another fighter, the accurately named Hammerman (Bob Sapp, one of many real MMA stars and pro wrestlers to have bit parts in “Blood and Bone”). He wants to fight Hammerman but to everyone around, he’s just some new guy and not worthy of a “championship” shot; he’s also very interested in James’ girlfriend / moll Angela (Michelle Belegrin), but you’re immediately caught off guard because she doesn’t appear…special? Like, why is he so interested in her?

One of the many reasons “Blood and Bone” works so well is that it carefully and slowly reveals its twists and turns, laying plenty of groundwork while giving us plenty of top-level action. Bone’s plan, the motivations of James, the real story behind Angela and the people living at the boarding house…it’s a fantastically paced movie. As we see characters go back on their firmly held beliefs as the noose tightens around their neck, it’s done subtly and in the background and expects you to be paying attention. Also, kudos to Michael Jai White’s performance, which manages a subtle strand of comedy while also playing an invincible fighting machine with a secret plan.

 

It’s technically superb as well. They make it easier on themselves by having superb martial artists in the main fighting roles, which reduces the need to cut around them to the stuntmen, as big budget Hollywood movies are more likely to do. So the fights look amazing, and you see a lot of Michael Jai White’s athleticism and fluid movement in the scenes. Also, the styles on display contribute to the story – Bone can jump-kick multiple people at once with the best of them, but most of the time he’s just interested in finishing an opponent as quickly and efficiently as possible. When he gets into a fight, we see his mental process as he identifies his opponent’s main weakness and adapts to it. Bone is something of an irresistible force, as he barely ever gets touched in any fights and spends most of his time just relentlessly beating on guys. This is not a bad thing! Bruce Lee destroyed pretty much every opponent he ever faced, and there’s fun to be had in watching a badass destroy wave after wave of goons.

 

I mentioned above that a few MMA and pro wrestling stars feature in “Blood and Bone”. As well as Sapp, there’s an early cameo from Ernest “The Cat” Miller, legit kickboxer and pro wrestler for late-era WCW, as “Mommie Dearest”, the gay fighter – I guess he wins, so the weird air of homophobia can be slightly excused? There’s former UFC champ Maurice Smith as “Fasthands”. There’s the legendary “Judo” Gene LeBell as a security guard who gets punched out in his three seconds of screen time. There’s even Gina Carano, right on the cusp of mainstream stardom, in a part I imagine the producers wished had been much longer.

The final fighter that Bone takes on is Matt Mullins, who we’ve encountered before in “Bloodfist 2050” (he’s much better known as a stunt guy). Their fight is technically superb from both a human perspective (both combatants are absolutely top-level screen fighters) and from a camerawork perspective, as everything is caught very well, no blurring or having to cut round either of them.

 

There’s a heck of a lot to enjoy in this movie, if you’d not already guessed that. A throwback to the classics of the 80s and 90s, in a good way. Also, it has a black director, a black star and a black villain, which is pretty unusual and almost completely unheard of when it comes to straight-to-video action. If you’ve not already seen it, definitely one to add to the list.

 

Rating: thumbs up

 

Blood Beat (1983)

After having watched this movie last night and then read as much as I can, I’m still no clearer as to what “Blood Beat” is actually about. From the title, which makes no sense, to the plot, which makes no sense, to the ending, which makes no sense, I remain in the dark; but, dear reader, let’s muddle through this together. I’ll share some opinions and theories, you’ll hopefully be entertained, and maybe if anyone reading this is smarter than me (quite likely) you can share what it’s actually about in the comments.

I am sort of predisposed towards liking it, though, from finding out what a low-budget, semi-amateur production it was. For instance, director Fabrice A. Zaphiratos didn’t even realise he was shooting in 4:3 (fullscreen, as opposed to widescreen) until 15 days into the movie! This is Zaphiratos’ only directing job, although his father Henri is a well-known former director and playwright in the French-speaking world.

We’re in rural Wisconsin, and a house on its own in the middle of nowhere. A couple seem happy enough, despite their differences – Cathy (Helen Benton) and her boyfriend Gary (Terry Brown), she a hippie-ish painter of unsettling abstracts, he a rough-and-ready hunting type. Before we really get going, I’d better mention they show the results of Gary’s hunting in graphic detail, as he has a real dead deer in the back of his truck, and we see him gutting the deer as it’s tied up against a tree. Apparently the production bought the deer pre-killed from a nearby farm, but it definitely might be an automatic no for some of my readers.

As it’s Christmas time, Cathy’s adult children are coming for a visit – excellent tomboy-ish Dolly (Dana Day) and Ted (James Fitzgibbons), who would 100% be a date-rapist at some point in his life if he didn’t get disembowelled (spoilers!) Ted has brought along his girlfriend Sarah (Claudia Peyton), who spends 95% of her on-screen time fighting off unwelcome sexual advances or screaming / being upset. Oh, and Uncle Pete shows up later on, but he’s completely irrelevant to proceedings.

ISCFC ONE-TIMERS CLUB!!! Benton, Day, Fitzgibbons, Peyton, come on down! You’d never bother acting again, but you all have a place in our hearts. Also, I’m pretty sure that most of Terry Brown’s other credits are a different actor of the same name (there’s a surprising number of incorrect entries in the non-popular bits of IMDB) but strictly speaking, he doesn’t qualify.

I’m still not getting anywhere near the plot, am I? When Cathy and Sarah meet, Cathy takes an immediate dislike to her; she starts having dreams in a nightmarish reverse-negative colour scheme; she finds a samurai suit under the bed that immediately disappears, which Cathy says never existed in the first place; also, there’s entirely incongruous classical music playing over the top of almost every scene. There’s also a very unusual scene that shows the so-far-unidentified killer stalking their latest prey, while Sarah is writhing in bed, orgasming as the person dies.

Although the scenery is very empty, almost desolate, they’re not cut off from the world or any of those other horror clichés. They find a guy with a huge wound in his chest while they’re out hunting, and the emergency services turn up. They have neighbours, after a fashion.

I’m debating how much of this to spoil, but I think it’s one of those movies where I could exactly relate the contents of every scene and it wouldn’t spoil it too much. It turns out that Cathy and her children all possess psychic powers, for reasons entirely unexplained; Sarah does too, but the movie is frustratngly unclear about whether she always possessed them and is tracking the family down, or is possessed by someone who hates the family. Why there’s a group of “good” psychics and a “bad” one is another matter the movie doesn’t trouble itself with answering. Why the thing doing the killings appears to be a samurai? No idea.

I’m still no clearer on what happened. I think, with oddities like this, made by directors who had no idea what they were doing, working for the first (and last) time, in an unusual location with a group of largely amateur actors, there’s always something that is at least interesting to watch. Even if the actual intention of the movie – like, why everyone bothered making it, and we the potential audience should bother watching it – is sadly lost to the mists of time.

Rating: thumbs down

Blood Diner (1987)

“Blood Diner” is a masterpiece. It was something I found on VHS when I was a kid and watched to death, made my friends watch, and so on. Then I sort of forgot about it for 20 years, until it was released on blu-ray a few years ago. And now I get to enjoy it all over again and tell you, dear reader, about it!

It’s one of those movies where a brief recap of the plot will be enough to put some people off immediately, so I’ll get to that and allow some of you to go about your day. The two nephews of psychopathic spree killer Anwar Namtut, shot by police after slaughtering a troop of cheerleaders in a sexual rage, grow up to follow in the same ancient religious tradition as he. As adults, they resurrect Uncle Anwar, who spends the rest of the movie as a brain in a jar, just one who can talk and has a couple of working eyes. He wants them to perform an ancient ritual to bring back the goddess Sheetar; this mainly involves murdering “immoral” women and using bits of them to stitch together a body for her, using other parts to make a “blood buffet” for a big banquet. They dispose of the rest of the corpses by serving them to people at their vegetarian diner.

And it’s a comedy! There are precious few movies where the leads, who we’re 100% supposed to be on the side of, are cannibals who gleefully murder anyone at the drop of a hat, but Michael and George Tutman (Rick Burks and Carl Crew) are two such leads. It’s clever, too, starting from a well-done twist at the beginning, as a radio tells us that the killer of some cheerleaders is on the loose, and two children cower behind their sofa as a cleaver-wielding lunatic hacks through their front door…only to discover it’s their charming Uncle Anwar, who gives the kids a pep-talk about reading the books he’s given them before walking outside to be mown down by the cops.

Because the main plot is so much fun, the sub-plots are either simply weird-feeling or irrelevant. There’s the rival vegetarian restaurant owner who decides to find out what’s going on – he has a sidekick who’s actually just a grotesque mannequin with a crudely animated mouth, but is treated as a normal human being by the rest of the cast. Then there’s the way George is obsessed with pro wrestling, watching a TV channel while cooking which shows nothing but it, to the point where he signs on to challenge wrestler Jimmy Hitler (who, yes, dresses like Adolf, just with a shock of blond hair). George wins, of course, by partially eating his opponent.

The two cops that make a half-hearted effort to track down the people who’ve murdered and hacked up dozens and dozens of people are perhaps the least interesting of the subplots; being hampered slightly by the fact that the female half of the duo, LaNette La France as tough cop Sheba Jackson, can’t act worth a damn (this appears to be her only movie appearance) and the male half, Roger Dauer as Mark Shepard, is such an unpleasant sleazebag that you want him to fail.

“Blood Diner” was intended as a sequel to the original gore classic, 1963’s “Blood Feast”, but because of lord knows why, it was changed just before production started to be a remake, of sorts. The blood sacrifice, the ancient deity, all that is the same, but it’s safe to say that this movie goes a little further than the original. Heck, it goes a little further than pretty much every horror movie ever made.

I think, if you decide to watch “Blood Diner”, and I wholeheartedly recommend you do, then you’ll be able to tell in the first ten minutes or so if it’s the sort of movie for you. Do you find Uncle Anwar’s gravestone (which reads “I’ll be back”) funny? Do you love movies which really go out of their way to gross you out? Are you not too bothered by the occasional technical shortcomings, such as terrible dubbing in certain scenes? Do you find someone getting their head battered, deep-fried and then knocked off with a broom funny?

It also manages to get grosser and weirder as it goes on, which is quite the feat. The final scene, which features the “Lemurian Feast”, and a band which looks like the guy from Dead Or Alive fronting five Adolf Hitlers, is so far over the top that you almost can’t help but laugh. Or how indifferent their restaurant rival is to his ultimate, blood-drenched, fate.

“Blood Diner” was directed by Jackie Kong, one of the tiniest of tiny handfuls of directing credits in the US for an Asian woman – she also does a commentary on this blu-ray which is pretty interesting. She made a few really odd-looking B-movies in the 80s (The Being, Night Patrol and The Underachievers) which we’ll probably cover soon. The writer Michael Sonye worked for enemy-of-ISCFC Fred Olen Ray in the 80s as well, and he seems to have a bent for comedy (“Star Slammer” looks like it has a few laughs in it).

A lot of the favourite films of my youth look poor with my old man’s eyes – either the jokes are weak, there’s strong racist or sexist threads I didn’t notice back then, or they’re just boring. But “Blood Diner” has definitely aged very well, as horror becomes more about the jump scare and less about throwing so much blood at the screen you start to feel ill. It’s hard to be offended by a movie which appears not to take itself seriously for a single second.

Rating: thumbs up

Blood Rage (1987)

Although I’m far from the first person to have noticed this (most slasher movie review sites worth the name have talked about it) we may have happened upon a real underappreciated gem of the genre, with proper actors in it and an interesting plot! That it was directed by a guy who only made one other movie – 1977’s “Scalpel” – and written by a guy whose main credits are the two “Zapped!” movies, back when Scott Baio got his own starring vehicles, makes it even more unusual.

“Blood Rage” was released in 1983, heavily edited under the title “Nightmare At Shadow Woods” and not released uncut til a VHS tape in 1987. It stars Louise Lasser, former wife of Woody Allen and co-star of a bunch of his early movies, and she and director John Grissmer argued to such an extent that he quit halfway through and had to be tempted back by the producer – oh, and the producer plays the part of the psychiatrist because the actor they hired for the part never bothered showing up.

It’s also notable-ish for being the screen debut of Ted Raimi, brother of Sam and low-budget horror legend in his own right. He popped up very briefly in “The Evil Dead” but this is the first time you see his actual face, as a guy who sells condoms to another guy at a drive-in in 1974. For that is where the movie starts, with Louise Lasser, 44 years old at the time of filming, out on a date with her twin ten-year-old sons asleep in the back of the car. This is the first hint that we’re not just in typical low-budget slasher territory – why is Louise Lasser starring in this? Why did she think it’d be a good idea to save the few dollars on a babysitter while she tried to have sex with some young stud in the car at a drive-in? Is the father still around?

The kids, thought to be asleep, sneak out when the couple up front are in flagrante, and decide to explore the drive-in. Well, that’s not strictly true. Terry finds an axe and the first available car with a naked couple having sex in it, then brutally murders the guy (and boy oh boy, does this movie have a lot of gore in it). So far, so typical, but then he smears blood all over brother Todd’s face, forces the axe into his hand and pretends Todd did it.

From here things leap forward ten years, with Lasser, now looking close to the age she’s playing, visiting a psychiatrist. Todd, having been locked up this entire time, is finally emerging from his catatonic state, and is remembering he didn’t do it. Maddy (Lasser) freaks out at this information, treating her son as if he was still ten years old. Despite one thinking all this activity would increase surveillance on Todd, he’s able to escape with no problems soon after all this happens.

Terry, on the other hand, finds this out and the same switch that went off when he was ten (although not, apparently, at any point in the intervening decade) goes off again and he starts killing people – initially, it’s sort of vaguely about sex, then he really gets into it and slaughters pretty much everyone in his path. The psychiatrist, for example, is hacked in two while walking through the woods, trying to find Todd, which is such a strange visual that I have to assume it was done as a gag on the way slasher victims usually meet their fates. Also, for fun, look at the hairline on Todd and Terry (played by the same actor, Mark Soper, in an excellent pair of unhinged performances) and see if you think he’s 18 years old.

So, there’s a ton of murder in this movie, and it shows you one, with lots of gory detail, every few minutes. Suck it, previous movie in this review series! (Seriously, though, both this and “Blood Frenzy” feature psychiatrists who get way too involved with murderers, which is an odd coincidence).

But there’s not just murder, there’s some delightful and unusual touches to ponder on while the action rolls along. First up is Maddy’s boyfriend, a wealthy guy who seems to genuinely love her (perhaps it’s the guy from the car ten years previously, it’s never really mentioned). He goes home for the evening after the couple announce their engagement to Terry and is listening to a heavily religious biblical station, which offers to read out scripture for anyone who phones in. He’s murdered by Todd quite early on but not discovered til near the end, and every time we cut to him the radio station is sort of commentating on the action with an appropriate piece of the Bible. It’s weird and fun and I like it.

Next up is Louise Lasser. I’ve no idea how much freedom she had over her own characterisation, but I’m guessing it was a lot, as she’s full on odd. One scene, apropos of nothing, has her sat open-legged on the floor of her kitchen, stuffing food into her mouth with a vacant look in her eyes. She also constantly mistakes which son is which, but appears to have a sexual interest in them both (her final speech is one for the ages).

Which leads into the final thing, a treatment of sex that’s so odd my wife, who’d barely been paying attention, noticed it. Every man in this movie is a sex-phobic prude, while the women are the ones initiating sex and acting super-horny all the time. Again, it’s entirely likely this is deliberate, and the fact it’s never explicitly mentioned is a classy move by a male filmmaker and male writer (that the producer was female might be of interest here).

There’s a lot to entertain the slasher movie enthusiast here. While it could easily be read as just another low-budget gore movie, there’s enough happening on the edges to convince you that these people ought to have been given a few more chances to make movies and see what they came up with. A weird, unsettling, minor classic of the genre.

Rating: thumbs up