Karate Warrior 2 (1988)

That’s a fine pout

Making its third appearance in an ISCFC review is a new favourite low-budget Italian movie trick, the “boat in New York harbour”. Want to look like you filmed there, despite you not having the money to do so? Well, sail a boat with one or two actors in it to Manhattan, get a nice shot of them against the skyline, then go back to whichever cheap location you had – in this case, Miami – and make the rest of your movie. If you’re anything like director Fabrizio De Angelis, you’ll film palm trees and stuff that says “Miami” on it in big letters and not even worry one bit!

Or, you know, he could have been going from New York to Miami at the beginning of the movie, and the terrible dubbing might have tricked me. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed. But we’re back with part 2! Of a series that I only checked out because Ted Prior has a tiny role in this one! Fun fact – he must have realised he wasn’t going to get much screen time, as there’s a scene in a dojo where he’s wearing a gi with “Ted Pryor” (his screen name at the time) written on the back. Good work Ted!

But as he’s barely in it, so we’re not going to talk about him too much. Kim Rossi Stuart returns as Anthony, who’s gone back to the USA to visit his grandparents then go to college – his parents, who were also USA-bound, are never mentioned again, and he (I think) breaks up with his Filipino girlfriend in a phone call right at the beginning. If you were wondering if he’s as big a dick to everyone around him as he was in part 1, then the answer is “yes, only more so”. He knocks over a couple carrying their shopping and causes the arrest of a few guys by kicking their car as he bikes past, which makes them chase him – he ducks out of the way while they get stopped by cops, then bikes past them with a cheeky “have a nice day”.

Then…gets a new car from his grandparents, and while he’s taking it for a drive (in the middle of the party, which is never referred to again) he annoys a group of local thugs and they run him off the road into a pond. Car destroyed! He hitches a ride with someone who insists, before he gets in, that they become friends – he goes to the same college, although as they’re on a random stretch of highway nowhere near anywhere, I’m not sure why either of them assumed that about the other. Anyway, new best friend Luke (Winston Haynes) also puts him up in his huge mansion and serves him food – the only thing he has in the entire mansion is champagne and caviar. Perhaps this is how the director thinks all Americans live? Luke also tells Anthony that the group he messed with are “The Tigers”, college bullies – not sure they’re a thing that exists, but whatever – and are all karate experts too.

If you thought the plot of part 1 was thin, then part 2’s is positively transparent. He goes up to the gang of toughs (who, remember, were minding their own business until he pissed them off) and challenges their leader to a real in the ring style fight – their leader being the charmingly named Dick (Christopher Alan). And Anthony hits on Dick’s girlfriend too, to the point he dumps her and allows his friends to physically threaten her – just stopping short of rape, so, thanks movie!

So anyway, he wins the fight despite the Tigers cheating, and gets the girl despite her not particularly wanting him at any point, so the Tigers hire the founder of their evil organisation, who I think is called Tommy Bull, to come back to town and kick his ass. To get him to fight again, they threaten to break Luke’s neck – Tommy holds said neck while talking about defending the honour of the Tigers, which is a curious juxtaposition of image and dialogue. But whatever.

Master Kimura comes to town to spout more of his rotten philosophy, we get another fight, etc. And that’s that for another in this series of “Karate Kid” / “No Retreat No Surrender” (but only the first one) ripoffs! Anthony remains among the least likeable of all movie heroes, but in this, unlike the first, there’s no-one to cheer on as the bad guys are also super-evil.

Everything’s ugly and sort of poorly filmed and dubbed, and the budget is probably even lower than the last one as Anthony does his special punch…but the rubbish blue light effect doesn’t show up. I mean, how can you tell he’s performing what is essentially magic? And how does the blow that can knock a tree over not instantly kill the person he’s doing it to?

Annoying git wins and wins and wins, is the lesson of the first two parts of this franchise. Parts 3-6 were so unwanted by the American viewing audience that they’ve never been translated into English – the only way you can watch them is on an Italian DVD, which only comes with Spanish subtitles. So that’s the end of all that nonsense, and we can move on to “Deadly Prey”. *

Rating: thumbs down

  • I just discovered that part 6 is available in English but life’s too short.
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Mankillers (1987)

Because I’d like some of that sweet Twitter recognition, here’s my 140-character review of an almost completely forgotten movie by a director whose recognition even in cult movie circles is pretty patchy – in other words, guaranteed to get countless thousands of retweets:

“It’s the Dirty Dozen, only with women. Except they’re just normal convicts, not military ones, and also the movie is rubbish”.

Now please stay with me for another thousand words or so of largely the same thing. Yes, we’re back in the land of David A. Prior, for his first movie without any involvement from his actor brother Ted (who was possibly working on “Surf Nazis Must Die” at the time). I’m beginning to notice some themes creeping into Prior’s work, so we’ll discuss them, should you be remotely interested.

We’ll also get into one of my favourite new topics – “Bad Guy Economics”! Yes, dear reader, it’s that time where I single out something a bad guy does and wonder just how economical it really is. Our villains in this epic are led by renegade agent John Mickland (the wonderfully named William Zipp). Anyway, he’s trading three women to some sleazy guys for a suitcase full of cocaine, but rather than do the deal he suspects a double-cross and kills them all – turns out he was right to suspect that, but it’s not important to our discussion. The number of double-crosses in drug deals in bad movies are super-frequent, which leads me to wonder, if you were a drug dealer, would you go and do business with a guy who slaughtered the last lot of salesmen who went to his place? How would Mickland, in the world of the movie, ever be trusted to buy drugs again? This is a question that can be asked about hundreds of movies, and one that’s never satisfactorily answered.

Our hero is Rachel McKenna (Lynda Aldon), described by the head of the CIA as too much of a loose cannon – she’s crazier than the criminals! But as she has a previous relationship with Mickland – she went rogue when he did, although he double-crossed her and left her for dead – she’s called in as the only person who can bring Mickland down.

She says she’s going to need a team of 12 women, which inspires the wonderfully dismissive line “how in the hell are you going to pull off this mission with women?” (her response is sort of reasonable for the genre and year). However, when you’ve finished watching the movie you realise that the gender of the strike team is entirely irrelevant – maybe they were going to go undercover as “merchandise”? Nope they’re just there to fight, and apart from maybe one tiny scene, you realise Prior had an idea for a female Dirty Dozen but couldn’t be bothered to provide any justification for it.

Nor could he be bothered to write a scene where McKenna picks her team – to all intents and purposes, it looks like she wanders through a prison and picks 12 women at random. Luckily, they’re all skinny model-types, and unluckily about two-thirds of them are blonde and look very similar to her, which would’ve been a problem if they’d bothered trying to give them any character. We get a training montage and one character – the really mean woman who becomes the most dedicated member of the team after being whipped into shape; and then the CIA guy tells them they only have 12 more hours to finish their training. Why not just hire 12 women from the army if they needed them combat-ready so quickly? Sorry, more questions the movie chooses not to answer.

The fighting and gunplay is genuinely pitiful, like I felt sorry for the people who had to do it. At least Ted Prior, bless him, could throw a punch – neither women or men in this movie look like they’ve ever fought or shot a gun before. There’s a scene where the women set off on their mission and just run into the bad guys in the middle of the woods – neither group is in any sort of cover, but the death rate is remarkably low.

A quick mention of how un-titilating “Mankillers” is. I know I normally complain about the preponderance of T&A in these things, but a trashy 80s movie about a gang of women with absolutely zero nudity is unusual enough to be worth commenting on. This was one of the very first movies from A.I.P., the production company that specialised in action-trash from the late 80s to the mid 90s, and with Prior being one of the founders, he presumably had a lot of control over what went into his movies. Another producer might have demanded nudity? I certainly can’t accuse him of being a feminist, or of lingering on the male form either, so who knows. Perhaps he was too cheap to pay women to disrobe – although given one of the gang, Edy Williams, is very well known for getting naked on camera, even that sounds unlikely.

There are times when this feels like it’s using sets or plot ideas left over from “Killzone”. Someone is tied to the wall of a corrugated iron shack and tortured. It’s yet again about a large, heavily armed group living in a bunch of shacks out in the woods. Yet again, precious little information is given about why they’re doing what they’re doing or why the authorities are so desperate to bring them down. It’s safe to say that Prior had a central set of ideas he liked working through multiple times, much like Andy Sidaris or Coleman Francis. Given I’ve seen the next movie we’ll be covering, “Deadly Prey”, years ago, I can confirm that these themes will show up again. Making its first appearance, though, is Prior’s love affair with grenades, although the explosions they cause here are a little embarrassing.

The final fight is fun, as it starts with Mickland getting shot in the chest and just goes on from there – he’s one surprisingly resilient fellow. But the rest of it is just a waste of time. It feels like he had about half an hour’s worth of money that he stretched to 90 minutes – there’s no variation to anything, no logic, and no fun. It has none of the surreal touches that made previous Prior movies so entertaining, but it does have plenty of plot holes. Kudos to some fine overacting from lead villain Zipp, though, who looked like he was doing cosplay as porno legend John Holmes.

Probably one to avoid if you’re selecting a Prior marathon for some masochist film festival.

Rating: thumbs down

Scanner Cop 2 (1995)

So, we come to the end of the “Scanners” series, which has been…alright? I didn’t love Cronenberg’s original (although it’s clearly the class act in this field), part 2 was terrible, part 3 was great, and the first “Scanner Cop” was dull. So what of the final entry?

“Scanner Cop 2” has, perhaps, the most Aggressive Staring (TM) of any of the franchise. There’s one scene where the villain is doing his thing (which involves sucking the life force out of another scanner, a hitherto unknown power) and it goes on for what feels like three or four minutes – just him staring at another guy, and that guy gradually turning into a skeleton. I think I’ve officially reached my limit of watching movies where people just stare at each other, and you know who’s winning via whose musical sting is loudest.

It’s an unwelcome return for Samuel (Daniel Quinn), the only person to appear in more than one “Scanners” movie, now an LAPD detective (whether he’s still got the same ludicrous mansion he had when he was just a trainee is never mentioned). He’s getting called on by his superior officer, Captain Jack Bitters (Robert Forster, just before Quentin Tarantino briefly saved him from obscurity), to do all sorts of scanner-based crime-solving, and for those of you who remembered him taking Ephemerol at the end of part 1 to control his powers, it’s handwaved away rather magnificently by Bitters saying to an underling “he’s got a special new sort of Ephemerol which allows him to use his powers with no side-effects”. Never mentioned again, never paid off.

There’s a subplot about him searching for his birth mother, which involves the Trans Neural Research Center, and their lovely employee Carrie Goodart (Khrystyne Haje). She distributes Ephemerol to people who can’t afford a prescription for it, and although it’s never mentioned at this point, she’s a scanner too. “Hey, sexy doctor lady, I have this special new Ephemerol that allows you to still use your powers, if you’d like to try it” – NO. This doesn’t happen. Anyway, despite his mother not giving him up, so there being no issues of privacy, and him being a damn cop, he needs help to find her.

The sole bright spark is the villain, one Karl Volkin (Patrick Kilpatrick). His motivation is terribly boring (revenge after Samuel tried to arrest them, and scannered Karl into shooting his own brother), but he realises how silly all this is and goes with it. His scenes from when he’s in the mental hospital are hilarious, and he appears to be doing an impression of the Tasmanian Devil (animated version) – despite them saying he’s getting crazier the longer he goes without Ephemerol, he never reaches those wild heights of overacting again.

Pretty much everything about “Scanner Cop 2” is just sort of okay. There’s dumb logic holes everywhere you look, and the plot is completely standard, but there’s an occasional spark of comedy, or a decent performance from a b-movie regular (such as Ellen Dubin or Eugene Robert Glazer), to elevate things ever-so-slightly. And some of the effects are really quite gross, but I got a bit bored of the camera focusing on them twice as long as was necessary.

I do have one more weird thing to mention, though, and that’s the fact his mother is in a retirement home. How old do you think Daniel Quinn is? (serious question, he doesn’t have it listed on IMDB). Let’s say, at the outside, 35. His mother appears pretty sprightly, she runs down a corridor, doesn’t look frail at all…so why the hell is she in a retirement home? I’d expect her to still be working, looking like she does! Why didn’t they just have her in a mental hospital, trying to deal with her scanning powers?

Ultimately, though, it’s so bland I can’t even be bothered to write a full-length review of it. Cut every EXTREME STARING scene down to 20 seconds (which is about as long as they ever lasted in the original), remove the scenes they just re-used from the first “Scanner Cop” (cars pulling into hospital – the scene is a straight lift) and you’ve got a reasonably punchy hour-long movie. As it is, thumbs down for the last of the series. See you when the remake comes out!

Rating: thumbs down

Scanner Cop (1994)

After a part 3 that was chock full of comedy, head explosions and OTT acting performances, it’s sort of sad that we’re back down in the dreck for part 4 (for that is what “Scanner Cop” is in the “Scanners” franchise). I guess all you really needed to make a tidy profit in the era of VHS rental was a name and a few snappy images for the back of the box.

This is the directorial debut for Pierre David, who was the producer who very cleverly secured himself sequel rights to “Scanners”, way back in 1981. Clearly. Paying an actual director would have cut into his profits, so he took the knowledge and experience of being around movie sets for so many years, and…well, it looks exactly like a movie, I guess? And he must have called in some b-movie favours, as the late great Brion James shows up for 2 minutes near the end, Richard Lynch is the bad guy, and “that guy / gal” actors such as Gary Hudson, Hilary Shepard and Darlanne Fluegel play large roles.

In a filthy apartment lives a father and son – any other movie, you’d assume he was a junkie, but he’s obviously a scanner trying to block out the incessant noise in his head with some Ephemerol (the sole through-line of these movies). Now, I’d probably throw away the empty pill-bottles, as it makes it a lot easier to find the one that still has some in it, but then I’m not a scanner who’s been driven half-mad, so what do I know? His son Samuel also has the scanner gene, and is having just as bad a time of it as Dad. Into this chaos walks cop Peter Harrigan (Stacy Keach-alike Richard Grove) and there’s a few of the “classics” – Dad wobbles his head at the cops, they struggle as if they’re about to turn their guns on each other…Dad almost kills one of the cops, he gets shot, and Samuel is about to do some head-exploding when Peter manages to talk him down.

Because Samuel saved his life (eh, okay I guess?), Peter adopts him. Is this something that cops do as a matter of course? Anyway, the Harrigans are just childless with lots of love to offer, so they bring up Samuel right, and…15 years later! He’s just graduated from police academy – but presumably the boring, normal sort of police academy, with no roommates who can make any sound at all with their mouths.

The villain, one Karl Glock (Lynch) and his assistant Zena (Shepard) are kidnapping people and brainwashing them into attacking cops – like, whenever they see anyone in uniform, the cop transforms in their heads into a weird monster. Herein lies the first problem – if you saw a giant zombie wandering towards you, would you attack it with whatever you had at hand, or run like hell? Perhaps some offscreen brainwashing got rid of the “flight” part of “fight or flight”. So, random people start butchering police officers, and it’s up to Harrigan to stop them – he’s the only person who knows Samuel is a scanner, keeping him supplied with Ephemerol, but he asks him to stop taking the drug and use his psychic powers to help him get to the bottom of things. Oh, and fans of “Aliens” will appreciate seeing the great Mark Rolston as Harrigan’s underling Harry Brown (not that Harry Brown), aka “the world’s dumbest skeptic”.

Leaving aside the head-wobbling, it’s a very standard mid-90s straight-to-video thriller with a few grotesque touches. At the beginning, we see a brief glimpse of a mental hospital and it’s straight out of a Victorian nightmare – a corridor full of people tearing their hair out and gibbering and rocking back-and-forth. Surely, not even the worst 90s-era hospital has stuff like that?

I’m not sure what to make of some stuff, like Samuel’s home (he moved out of his adopted parents’ home some time ago). It’s a gigantic place, with an incredible view, high up in the hills of LA, and must have cost – even in the mid 90s – a solid $500,000. Where does an orphan who’s not even started his first job yet afford a place like that? And there’s also the thing of how Samuel’s a super-fast reader, able to get through every page of a massive series of crime reports in the time it takes Brown to get him a cup of coffee. When did that become a scanner power?

Because it’s filmed in a blandly competent style, credit due to the professional Nu Image behind-the-camera team, it leaves us much more time to talk about the bizarre script choices. We see inside Zena’s head at one point, and it’s like a cliché of what the dark parts of someone’s psyche are like – an even grimmer mental hospital than the one in “reality”. Zena appears to fund the brainwashing operation with her tarot card reading storefront, but the curious thing is, she seems to genuinely be psychic, and not in a scanner-y way either. They perhaps ought to have elaborated on that a little, as it’s just confusing.

The first resistance of any sort our villains face doesn’t come til about 1:10 in, and honestly I was getting a bit bored by then. There’s only so long you can spend watching a series of plans be executed smoothly while the people you’re supposed to be cheering for stand around with puzzled looks on their faces! You might also expect to see a relationship develop, but Samuel and Doctor Joan Alden (Fluegel) just aren’t a good visual match at all. In the grand tradition of Scanners stars, Samuel (Daniel Quinn) has a sort-of-unappealing face, while Joan just seems a lot more mature than the apparently-in-his-early-20s leading man. Luckily, the movie realises this, and while there’s an odd scene that implies things are going to happen between the two, nothing does…but that leaves an empty space where the emotional connection ought to be.

Factor in a steel plate in someone’s head apparently being able to block psychic powers, and a main actor who’s scanning face is identical to his constipated face, and you’ve got yourself a movie. While it’s not horrible (lots of b-movie professionals, technically fine) it’s just a bit boring. The only movie that’s really been able to forge a path between the seriousness of the subject matter and the inherent silliness of staring at someone until their head explodes is part 3; this is probably the dullest of the series so far.

Rating: thumbs down

Tremors 3: Back To Perfection (2001)

This might be the ugliest video cover I've ever seen

This might be the ugliest video cover I’ve ever seen

It appears “Tremors 2” has a lot more fans than I previously thought, as feedback for my review has been “that was a bit harsh” – I’m moderately surprised to even get feedback, honestly, but it happens when you review films that other people have actually seen. I feel fairly confident that many fewer of you’ll have watched anything from the “Tremors universe” past part 2, though, so we can continue.

 

This does give us an opportunity to talk about the straight-to-video sequel. It look like Disney and Universal led the way, with sequels to “Aladdin” and “The Land Before Time” being released that way in 1994, but now everyone’s into it, and all the major movie studios have departments that exist solely to exploit their most popular movies, although now they’ll be on Netflix or DVD rather than “video” (I’m too lazy to change the name, though). These tend to follow a certain business plan, which roughly speaking is:

 

“How much money can we cut from the budget of these movies before people stop paying to watch them?”

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From part 1, user of many inventive special effects, and one that still looks great today; to part 2, which used whatever they had lying around left over from part 1, but still looked sort of okay; to part 3, which is mostly CGI and crappy-looking models, the budgets fall and fall and fall. The other thing about straight-to-video sequels is that they obviously can’t afford to pay the stars of the original, so part 2 had Fred Ward and a sort of vague Kevin Bacon-alike, and now with part 3 we’re down to Michael Gross, who worked in the first movie because he had a tiny part as the wacky survivalist guy who was there because he had lots of guns and was enthusiastic about getting the chance to use them. But as the lead?

 

Let’s recap. It’s 11 years since part 1, and Burt Gummer (Gross) has lent his Graboid-killing abilities to the government of Argentina. This immediately robs the film of any tension or scares, as he’s seen destroying hundreds of the “Shriekers” with a couple of huge aircraft guns mounted to the back of a truck. There’s also the small question of why no-one else appears able to just point a gun in one direction and shoot a lot, as Gummer’s skill doesn’t seem any greater than that. Anyway.

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But this is just preamble, as he’s soon back in Perfection, the tiny, remote town which was the site of the first movie. He’s had his compound completely remodelled with a concrete barrier (which goes all the way underneath his house), but other than that the town has barely changed, with the population being down to 5. The kid from part 1 is now a sleazy property developer in his mid 20s, who wants to buy the entire valley up and build houses, and there’s a new guy called Jack (Shawn Christian), who runs very low-rent Graboid tours of the local area. Oh, and Chang’s convenience store has been taken over by his niece Jodi (Susan Chuang). There’s a nice cameo near the beginning, where Mary Gross, aka Michael’s sister, aka off the terrible years of “Saturday Night Live”, pops up and calls him “Mr Goober”, but sadly she’s not in it more as I quite like her. Pretty much everyone who wasn’t Kevin Bacon or Fred Ward and was still alive at the end of part 1 pops up in part 3, but you could be forgiven for not remembering as some of them were pretty minor.

 

I know no-one likes an armchair quarterback, but think about it for a minute. Imagine the town had turned into a Roswell-style tourist trap after the events of part 1 (where the two stars were pretty big celebrities for a while), and now, 11 years later, there’s no Graboid sightings and all the businesses are closed up, with the area being a complete ghost town. The rest of the film could run the same, even, and the “evil property developer” subplot would make a lot more sense – why’s he so fixated on building in that extremely inhospitable valley with no phone service and nowhere near anywhere? But those things would have cost money, I guess.

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So now we’re treated to yet another evolution of the Graboid, the Ass Blaster. Think they were running out of ideas? These creatures fart fire, which propels them into the air, where they can glide. Having a sequel to a movie called “Tremors” with a monster which flies through the air is about the same as making “Revenge of the Dragon” which reveals halfway through the dragon is a mere evolutionary stage to an angry dog. These creatures, much like their parents, the Shriekers, only sense heat, unlike the Graboids, which only sense vibration. Why not?

 

Oh, another thing. There’s a rack of comics in the shop at the beginning, the fictionalised tales of what happened in parts 1 and 2. Only no-one told the guy they hired to draw the covers of the comics how to spell “Shrieker” – proof:

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So, the acting’s sort of alright, but it’s just not that funny. It thinks just having weird creatures in it, and people shouting at each other occasionally, is good enough and it really isn’t. They’re being sold as funny monster movies but by this point, they’re just not trying hard enough at that side of things. There’s also an extremely unconvincing and irrelevant central “romance”, which feels like an extremely hasty last-minute addition and doesn’t really make sense in the world of the movie. Perhaps it’s the fault of writer John Whelpley, who also worked heavily on the abysmal “Earth: Final Conflict”. Or perhaps it’s the fault of Brent Maddock, with this being his only directorial credit (he wrote the first movie, as well as “Short Circuit”)?

 

A small aside: throughout the three movies, Michael Gross is sporting an “Atlanta Hawks” hat. The Hawks are an NBA team, and Atlanta is all the way on the other side of the country from Nevada (where this and part 1 are set, I think). It’s a nice touch that he’s both a fan of basketball (him being a bit of a redneck) and a team from so far away. Or perhaps it’s just Michael Gross’s own hat and they let him wear it.

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An unfunny comedy, and a monster movie where they’re all cheap CGI. Separately they’re awful, but put them together and give it just enough talent to make it bearable, and you’ve got “Tremors 3”. To be immediately forgotten.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Commander (1988)

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Let’s discuss the subject of coincidental similarities between movies. There were a couple of zombie movies from 1980 that used the same trick – of an apparently empty, but infected, boat just drifting into New York harbour, but I think we have a far more unusual one here, after reviewing “The Commander” yesterday. Let’s see what it has in common with the subject of today’s review:

 

  • Same name (okay, there’s no “the” in this one)
  • Released in the same year
  • Directed by an Italian using an English pseudonym
  • Made at least partly in the Philippines
  • An actor (Mike Monty)
  • A mud fight
  • Boxes full of guns replaced with boxes full of rocks
  • A cobra attacks someone
  • Vietnam stock footage
  • Exploding helicopters

 

That’s a decent list, although oddly enough, the two movies aren’t all that similar in any other ways. “The Commander” was a European thriller that just happened to have some of its action take place in the Far East; “Commander” is a proper sleazy Filipino war movie, full of death, not exactly heavy on plot, but very heavy on people shooting other people.

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Part of that sleaziness is a medium-to-heavy indifference to ripping off the plots of other movies, so – as I’m sure you’ve already worked out from looking at the cover above – what we have here is a “Rambo” ripoff. “Rambo”, released in 1985, provided a very simple template for low-budget moviemakers to exploit – the lone white hero, teaming up with a handful of good Asians, slaughters hundreds and hundreds of bad Asians. Both feature traumatised Vietnam veterans, but while Rambo was in prison at the beginning of “Rambo”, here, our hero (referred to only as “Commander” for 90% of proceedings. I had to look up that the character was called “Roger Craig”) just stayed in Vietnam after the end of the war with 12 of his buddies, because they hated the Vietcong that much. Since then, he’s been rescuing Vietnamese people from prisons and blowing up as much Army ordnance as he can; as well as murdering with a great deal of impunity. He’s the hero of the locals, most of whom are of course completely unable to defend themselves and rely on the brave white outsider to help; and he has a pregnant girlfriend, Cho Lin. Guess if she survives or not?

 

ISCFC FAVOURITE THING – the wooden guard tower! We’ve mentioned it before, and you know when you see a wooden guard tower, one of two things is going to happen. Either a guy is going to get shot and fall out of it, or it’s going to blow up (or both). There’s a 0% chance of some low budget movie bothering to build one just to put in the background, so get ready for fun whenever you see one!

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So, the plot is completely and utterly irrelevant. Commander wants to go back to the USA with his girlfriend and their soon-to-be baby; so he calls his old Commanding Officer, who comes to town to help smooth the path back to the US. While he’s in town, he helps Commander kill a bunch of Vietcong and take a load of their explosives; they retaliate by killing the entire village where Cho Lin is living and kidnapping her, including loads of children. It takes a strong movie to show a villain so delighted about murdering kids, and this is apparently a strong movie. Anyway. He takes the stolen stuff back to exchange it for her, but she’s already dead, so he goes absolutely hog-wild on these Vietcong assholes and kills hundreds of them, using a truly jaw-dropping amount of high-explosive devices.

 

The final battle is just full-on spectacle, with any pretence at plot ignored in favour of just a ton of stuff blowing up, then there’s a helicopter battle which is edited so confusingly you think the hero’s friend is trying to kill him, for no good reason; then that’s it. Any movie that finishes with a guy hanging off a rope ladder off a helicopter, firing a bazooka at another helicopter, is alright in my book. I mean, he could have just stayed sat where he was, but that wasn’t badass enough! At every possible opportunity, “Commander” just wants you to bludgeon you – for example, this video estimates that Commander kills 164 people during the course of proceedings.

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While it’s a lot of fun, obviously, it’s not very good, and not just for the reasons already stated. Lead actor Craig Alan is an utter charisma vacuum, picked solely for his resemblance to Sylvester Stallone – he did a few films in the late 80s (including the amazingly named “Get The Terrorists”) then disappeared completely, mercifully for us. And it’s not like anyone else is that much better! Then there’s the matter of excessive accuracy. Every single grenade, rocket, bomb and mortar shell hits its target exactly, presumably because it’s easier and cheaper to do it that way, but when you see an already wounded guy, in the middle of the night, hurl a grenade and hit the exact dead centre of what he’s aiming for, even the least discerning action movie fan will be “come on lads, that’s a bit much”. But on the plus side, the blood-squib guy was working overtime on this one, which I liked.

 

Completely forgettable Rambo ripoff, only to be messed with if you’re in a generous mood.

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Rating: thumbs in the middle

Witchville (2010)

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Because we couldn’t stay away for long, here’s another SyFy review for you. Spoiler alert – it’s dull as hell, so if you’re a busy person who can spare 90 minutes for a movie but not three minutes to read a review, don’t bother. If you’d like to join me in annoyance, read on.

 

Luke Goss is presumably quite happy Bros are reforming, and I bet he hopes they make enough money for him to retire from the movies.  He’s been in some interesting stuff, including the two “Death Race” sequels and “Blade 2”, and is much better known as an actor than he ever was as a singer, but…he’s not the best picker of material, let’s put it that way. He and Danny Trejo are go-to guys for low-budget action directors, it would seem (credited together 5 times), and chances are if you see a DVD that looks like a big-budget movie, only you’ve never heard of it, Goss will be in it.

 

Here, he’s Malachy, a medieval type enjoying a beer with his friend Jason (Ed Speleers). Their fun is spoiled when Jason’s brother Erik (Andrew Pleavin) comes in to round them up and get them back to “the kingdom”, where Malachy’s Dad, the King, is dying. Turns out witches have been cursing the place, or just using up the vitality of the Earth for their black magic, for some time, and the kingdom is in a right old state. A magician called, oddly, Heinrich Kramer (Simon Thorp), tells em about the witches – he has a book with all their secrets in it, and wants their help in hunting down and killing them all. He also appears to be doing a Jonathan Pryce impression, but that’s not crucial to the movie or this review.

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The Witch Queen is Sarah Douglas, by a comfortable distance the most famous actor in it (the first two “Superman” movies, a lifetime of TV and film roles, and a regular of the ISCFC, from “Meatballs 4”, “Puppet Master 3” and “Beastmaster 2”). She has an assistant, Jozefa (MyAnna Buring, “Ripper Street”), and a big supply of weird red smoke which possesses people.

 

There’s not really a lot to this movie. The gang goes after witches, the witches try and kill them, there’s a very obvious “this villain will eventually be on the good side” twist, and then there’s the role of China. As this was funded by Chinese money, Malachy meets a group of Chinese fighters who kill his cannon fodder troops, then when they realise who he is and what he’s fighting, join up with him and become sort of background for the rest of the movie – like that was all they needed to secure the funding, and they couldn’t be bothered to write characters for any of them.

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Simon Thorp’s performance is so terrible that I kept expecting him to be the main villain of the piece, undercover, but…no. And Buring is so terrible that I knew she’d be on the good guys’ side by the end. Everyone else is terrible thanks to an appalling script, which has them all talking like brain-dead characters from medieval fan-fiction; Goss is particularly poorly served by the lines he’s forced to read out, but no-one comes out of it well. There’s also a really bad non-following of Chekhov’s Gun – at the beginning, we see Heinrich with a powder that can briefly resurrect dead creatures, so you think, reasonably, that at some point that powder will be used on one of our heroes, to give them that little push over the top to finally defeat evil…of course, that might have been fun or interesting so they just never mention it again.

 

The main problem I have is how grossly mismatched the contest is. The Witch Queen wins constantly, with our heroes buffeted on all sides by forces they can’t possibly match; after seeing them beaten over and over again for over an hour, a couple of the characters suddenly get massive power-ups during the final battle. What’s quite surprising is seeing a movie about witchcraft in 2010 that doesn’t try and do anything interesting with the idea – like it’s an expression of feminism, or men wanting to control women and being upset when they wanted their own lives. But it’s just more evil women, crappy obvious plot twists, and a pair of twins (spoiler!) who in real life are 11 years apart in age. Clearly the distributors wanted you to think it had more of an Eastern flavour, either to sell it to China or set it apart from legions of similar releases, but if I’d bought it on that proviso, I’d have been very disappointed indeed.

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But if you’re a fan of “World Of Warcraft”, then there’s quite a lot to enjoy. All those shoulder-armour-things, ludicrously oversized and entirely unsuitable for combat, feel like lifts from the game, and there’s an apparently almost exact ripoff of a character from a WoW comic (never read it). Also, more than a few people have noticed the similarity to another computer game, “Witcher”, so perhaps they were hoping to get naming rights to one of those, failed but decided to keep the props they’d made.

 

Anyway, it’s only the morning after watching it, and mercifully the details are already fading from my mind. Let’s just all pretend it never happened, eh?

 

Rating: thumbs down

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The VRAs: Delirium (1979)

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This is our ongoing series about films that were banned by the British government, using the Video Recordings Act of 1984. You have the right-wing gutter press and a few Christian pressure groups to thank for these films becoming more famous than they had any right to be (in all but a few cases), and the fact they’ve now virtually all been re-released, uncut, while the law remains in place, tells you more about moral panics than it does about their content. See the VRAs “mission statement” here.

When I discovered that one of the video nasties was filmed and set in St Louis, soon to be my home (if I don’t get turned down for a visa, that is), I had to watch it. It manages to reinforce my belief, though, that the films caught up by the Video Recordings Act might as well have been names drawn from a hat, with a few exceptions. In other words, if I’d spent any money tracking this down expecting a gore-drenched classic, I’d have been very sorely disappointed.

No-one seems particularly interested in saving this movie from utter obscurity, with the exception of people like Tom Stockman, the St Louis film historian / cult movie expert who did a public talk on the movie a little while ago. This huge gulf between its brief notoriety over here, and the almost complete indifference to it in its home country, is sort of interesting – probably a lot more interesting than the movie itself.

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Anyway, a rather sad looking fellow called Charlie (Nick Panouzis) goes for what appears to be an interview, and ends up picking up one of the secretaries there, even though he’s almost completely mute; taking her back to her place, and then when he struggles to get an erection, murders her with a conveniently placed spear. Charlie does a whole bunch more killing throughout the first hour of the movie, including one bit where he picks up a hitchhiker, frightens her by driving too fast, then just leaves her in the car to go and sit by a lake. Rather than running the hell away, she joins him, gets naked and goes for a swim, inviting him in (he accepts and murders her).

The thing is, the killer isn’t really the focus of the movie. It’s a “Star Chamber” style group of local businessmen, who have decided to take the law into their own hands. The main guy in the group, a bald chap by the name of Eric (Barron Winchester), is an old army buddy of Charlie’s, and he’s been using him as a sort-of-mercenary for the last year, since his escape from a mental institution. Yes, the Vietnam war traumatised them both, which would have been a very recent memory for Americans of the time. Oh, and one of the group is the guy Charlie was having his interview with at the beginning, which is the tenuous thread holding all this together.

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The final spoke of the wheel is a cop, Larry Mead (Terry TenBroek), who’s got the major hots for the first victim’s roommate, Susan (Debi Chaney). Because he wants to have sex with her, he figures he ought to try and solve the case, so he and his partner go to interview the boss, realise there’s something fishy going on, and keep pulling at that thread.

“Delirium” feels like during its production it was taken over by different people, who all wanted different things. You’ve got a traumatised Vietnam vet movie; a serial killer movie; a vigilante movie; and a cop drama. Honestly, you could cut all the serial killing stuff out, literally all of it, and the movie would be largely the same; this is an indication that something went wrong somewhere. The pieces just don’t fit together – perhaps the best indication of this is, Charlie is killed during a random break-in a little before the hour mark, and it doesn’t change anyone’s motivations or actions at all.

If I was writing this review 15 years ago, I’d have made a lot of hay out of how “Sabotage”, the Beastie Boys music video, borrows footage from this for one segment and rips it off in another; “Delirium” was so obscure even by then that I don’t remember a single mention of it (and that video was talked about for ever by the music press).

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And if I was writing it at the time of its release, I’d have gone “hold on! That’s the Mastermind theme music!” British TV quiz show “Mastermind” (started in 1972, continuing on to the present day with a hiatus or two) used a piece of music called “Approaching Menace” by a composer called Neil Richardson for its theme. It was taken from a library music LP – compilations in various styles, where anyone can licence the music for a low rate (copyright resting entirely with the publisher, as the composition was a work for hire). If you’re reading this in the USA, the most famous use of library music is probably the theme tune to “Monday Night Football”; whereas “Mastermind” is the most famous in the UK, which makes it popping up when a gang of scumbag businessmen are torturing someone quite unusual.

As you can tell by my spending several paragraphs not talking about the movie, it’s sort of a tough one. The action is slow and horribly disjointed, with gore that’s laughably quaint by today’s standards. If they’d figured out which of the multiple plots they wanted their movie to actually be about and concentrated on that, it could have been interesting; but it’s a lot of very wasted effort.I’ve got absolutely no idea why it was banned, unless right-wing businessmen revenge-killing criminals was in the news at the time?

 

A quick note about the cast – most of them appear to be St Louis natives who have this as their only real credit (and there are stories on IMDB about one of them walking round malls with a parrot on his shoulder, like he expected this to be his big break). There’s some weak links, but they’re mostly fine.

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As is sadly traditional, a final word about the role of women. I mentioned it briefly above, but they’re absolutely only there to be sexual objects or murder victims. There’s a woman who works for the police who’s clearly brilliant at her job (retrieving ancient paperwork, quickly) but the male cops just thank her, then ogle her as she walks away. And she gets off lightly compared to the hitch-hiker. It couldn’t be any more of its time, with all the negativity that entails, if it tried. I feel bad for the women in director Peter Maris’s life, to be honest – Maris is the only person from this movie who had a “proper” career, directing as late as 2007 (this makes him an ISCFC two-timer, having also helmed 1986’s “Land Of Doom”).

You’re not likely to stumble on this any time soon. As the years pass from the video nasty moral panic, the movies that achieved brief fame are increasingly only of interest to movie historians; you can find worse violence and better movies on Youtube in a few minutes. Still, it’s the only slasher movie to feature the Gateway to the West, the arch that dominates the St Louis skyline, so it has at least one thing in its favour.

Rating: thumbs down