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

Blu-ray review: Samurai Cop (1991)

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“Samurai Cop” has been a bad movie cause celebre for a few years now – one particularly brilliant scene became a hit in the early days of Youtube, and Red Letter Media, among other places, have done retrospectives about it. Watching its initial VHS-quality release was truly amazing, and it became one of my favourites too; but we all read that star Matt Hannon had been dead for some years and were sad we’d never get a hilarious tell-all interview.

Then, a couple of years ago, Hannon, who’d been living a quiet life as an events organiser, his co-workers completely unaware of his former “fame”, resurfaced with a video online, and things really began to move. The cast members renewed contact with each other, and although director Amir Shervan was dead, most of the people involved with the movie were still around, and began attending conventions and midnight showings. The cult grew, until the current rights holder decided the time was right to get the gang back together and make a sequel.

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Partly thanks to Kickstarter, which I contributed to, this is all happening. Samurai Cop 2 looks amazing, full of insane casting choices (Bai Ling and Tommy Wiseau, to name but two) and a ridiculous number of original cast members returning, either for cameos or full involvement. “Adult actress” Kayden Kross looks like, from the behind the scenes videos, this could be a breakout role for her too – what I’m saying is, I’m looking forward to it more than just about anything. One of the Kickstarter gifts was a blu-ray of the first movie, remastered with a ton of special features, so that’s what I’m going to review.

The film itself doesn’t need a ton of recapping from me – check out Red Letter Media’s “Half In The Bag” episode about it below:

http://redlettermedia.com/half-in-the-bag/your-highness-and-samurai-cop/

Joe (Hannon), known as “Samurai Cop” due to his training in the east, is brought in from San Diego to combat a “Yakuza” gang; along with his partner Frank, they kick ass, and Joe romances the ladies, including fellow cop Peggy and, for most of the movie, restaurant owner Jennifer. The bad guys’ main enforcer is Yamashita (B-movie legend Robert Z’Dar), and he attempts to kill Samurai Cop and protect his boss’s interests, sort of.

Anyway, enough of that. The film is famous for its staggering level of technical incompetence and bizarre script, and the blu-ray really allows you to revel in it. Hannon had his hair cut after principal photography was done, but Shervan needed to still shoot something like half the film and hadn’t really told anyone – so his answer was to buy Hannon a wig that sort of looked a bit his real hair. It didn’t, and it also kept falling off during fight sequences, one example of which is left in the final film. Lots of pickup shots were filmed in Shervan’s office, so you’ll have Joe delivering monologues or Frank looking surprised against a white wall, while the people they’re talking to are in a wood-panelled restaurant. Locations are used almost at random throughout.

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The blu ray looks really “good”, weirdly. Everything is crisp, but for a film which presumably didn’t have a makeup person through most of its filming, it’s perhaps a bad idea. Every uncovered skin blemish is there in glorious HD, accidental pubic hair which was once lost to nice fuzzy VHS is restored, every bit of filth on the set (and there’s a lot) is there for all to see. But it’s so good to have a favourite film in this quality, that all those things just add to the wonder of it. It’s no exaggeration that I smiled through every moment of this disc.

Of course, it’s packed with special features. There’s a great interview with Matt Hannon and Mark Frazer (Frank) where they reminisce about their time on the set, and then an extended interview with Mike and Jay from Red Letter Media which is just lovely – two hardcore fans nerding out with a clearly delighted Hannon. Also, we get three different commentaries, which is an absolute treat. Frazer isn’t much of a raconteur, and I’m sure he’d be the first person to agree, but his is fine, as is the one from the superfans at 80s Picture House.

 

It’s the commentary with Matt Hannon which is perhaps the most problematic. He’s dabbled in standup down the years, so is a confident talker, and clearly has a million stories to tell but for some reason the production people have saddled him with an interviewer whose job is presumably to keep things moving and ask the right questions. Only problem is, he’ll interrupt Hannon to ask a question about, for example, the sort of lenses the cameraman used. What? Hannon gives no indication of wanting or needing an interviewer and the interjections, or asking a question which was just answered because he had it written down, really spoil the flow.

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One tiny flaw in what is a magnificent blu-ray. One of the weirdest, most thoroughly incompetent films ever made, with every choice being a wrong one, now brought into 2014 for us to enjoy forever.

Rating: thumbs up

Youtube Film Club – Hollywood Cop (1987)

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If you’re a lover of weird low budget cinema, then chances are you’ll have happened upon “Samurai Cop” on your travels. It’s staggeringly incompetent but rewatchable, often hilarious even if not deliberately, and 25 years after it was made a sequel is in the works, thanks to most of the cast still being alive and not famous enough to warrant a decent payday.

“Hollywood Cop” is from the same writer / director, Amir Shervan, made a couple of years before “Samurai Cop”. If you were wondering what that later film would look like with even less in the way of technical competence, then watch it and rejoin me for a spoiler-filled review.

The big debate over the first few minutes, as a group of henchmen attempted to out-evil each other, was whether one of the henchmen looked like a small Andre The Giant or a large Eric Bogosian. Ultimately, we were both right, I think. They’re told by boss Feliciano (James “son of Robert” Mitchum) to go and kidnap a kid because the kid’s dad owes them $6 million. And they really go all out on the evil front while they do it too, these are some henchmen who thoroughly enjoy their work.

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Enough of these guys for the moment, though, we need to deal with the Hollywood Cop himself, John “Turky” Turquoise III. Imagine the Stallon character Cobra, give him blond hair…and you’ve pretty much got it. He doesn’t play by the rules! His captain can’t control his thirst for justice by any means necessary! To hammer the point home, he finds a rape in progress and rather than wait for backup, he strolls in and starts killing. Two really weird things about this scene – the rape is really shown in an unpleasant amount of detail, including full nudity (female only, of course); and when the father of the raped daughter catches up to her assailant during the melee and chase, rather than hand him over to the waiting police, he chops the rapist’s head off.

Amir Shervan, as you may have guessed from the name, is Iranian, and the family that Turky tried to rescue was Iranian too. So, when a guy cuts a rapist’s head off and says “this is how we do justice”, you can be fairly sure he’s speaking the exact thoughts of the director. Aside from their horrible treatment, it’s sort of nice to see people from that part of the world who aren’t villains.

There’s a heck of a lot of stupidity to enjoy in this film. There’s the foul mouths of most of the main cast – Turky’s captain swears with every other word, and Turky himself almost keeps up. He gets the best line in the movie, too, while trying to talk the Iranian dad out of his plan of retribution – “Listen mister, I know this guy just fucked your wife, but he’s our prisoner now” (this line is closely followed by the Captain’s incomprehensible “You’ll make the word failure a bad name”). There’s the entirely unnecessary oil wrestling scene, where Turky’s partner strips down to his skimpy underwear and fights two ladies. There’s the way the kidnapped kid escapes ludicrously easily, with the help of the kidnappers’ dog, a doberman who seems to understand English perfectly well. There’s the worst father-son reunion perhaps in the entire history of cinema. There’s the way the entire movie could be read as an advert for tight jeans. The way that Turky completely ignores that the $6 million is the proceeds of a crime.

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One character arc in particular needs breaking down. After beating up a bunch of people and threatening some other criminals, they find out where the missing Dad is, who apparently has the money to pay off the kidnappers. As the camera pans across his garden (which is just a normal suburban garden, oddly) we see tons of semi-clad women dancing around for his sole pleasure. Then, after he’s beaten up a bit and persuaded to help get the kid back, he starts talking to the kid about how he left the mother because he had incurable cancer. What? And how did he pay for those dancing women (he doesn’t have the $6 mill and never spent any of it)?

I think this film will entertain you. But, I would remiss if I didn’t relate some of its flaws. The dog dies, for one. I’m a firm believer in spoiling this sort of thing, because there’s no need for it and it doesn’t have any bearing on the plot. Some of the fight scenes just go on for ever. The kid is a rotten actor, and his mother seems like she’s doing an advert for washing powder at all times. Every time someone turns their head away from the camera, their dialogue is dubbed, like the Shervan hadn’t finished the script by the time he was filming.

I feel like I haven’t scratched the surface of this wonderful, terrible, stupid, hilarious film. I haven’t mentioned the police station, or how Rebecca (the mother of the kidnapped son) finds Turky and gets him to help her. It feels like it was made by someone who doesn’t really understand how the world works, and those sort of films are always really entertaining.

Rating: thumbs up

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(PS- credit to http://theggtmc.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/hollywood-cop-1987.html for the pictures, I tried to do some screengrabs but this guy made some excellent juxtapositions)