Night Claws (2012)

I present to you what might be the ultimate ISCFC movie, a culmination of so many different review threads and interests that we’ve shown in our 6 years of operation (don’t worry, we’re carrying on. As long as there are weird B-movies, we’ll be here). So here goes:

Reb Brown! He was in two Bruno Mattei / Claudio Fragasso movies (“Robowar” and “Strike Commando”), an Albert Pyun movie (“The Sword And The Sorceror”), a cheap superhero movie (“Captain America”), an MST3K episode (“Space Mutiny”), and the not very great “Yor, The Hunter From The Future”.

Sherrie Rose! She’s been in teen raunch (“Lauderdale” and all-time classic “Summer Job”), martial arts movies (“No Retreat, No Surrender” parts 3 and 4), an old David A Prior movie (1992’s “Double Threat”) and a bunch of genre gems that I watched before I started working for this site and never got round to re-covering – “Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight” and the Cynthia Rothrock classic “Martial Law 2: Undercover”, to name but two.

Leilani Sarelle! After being very good in “Basic Instinct” (she was Sharon Stone’s girlfriend) she was not very good in Italian 80s horror “Neon Maniacs”.

Frank Stallone! The all-important “relative of someone much more famous” quotient of ISCFC reviews (see: Joe Estevez, Chris Mitchum, many others), he’s also been in “The Roller Blade Seven”, in the conversation for all-time worst ISCFC movie.

The “we can’t close the local festival even though there’s loads of deaths or we’ll ruin the economy” plot!

Sasquatch movie!

David A Prior! The director who’s filled our review schedule for the last six months or so.

All we’re missing is a link to Donald Farmer, Charles Band, and Len Kabasinski, and this would be at the centre of some FBI agent’s board, with bits of string going to all these other photos and genres (when they were trying to work out why I went crazy and committed those heinous acts, obviously).

Anyway, I suppose I’d better get on with it. Several different groups of people descend on the woods outside of Mobile, Alabama (which we’ve come to know and love as the budgets of Prior movies have gone down the toilet) – first up, is two couples and a guide, who’ve gone for a three-day wilderness adventure, learning to live off the land. Of interest to us is Ted Prior as Charlie and his trophy wife Cindy (Alissa Koenig, who was also in “Zombie Wars” and apparently retired from the acting game after this movie). Anyway, Charlie is, for absolutely no reason we’re ever given, a tightly wound ball of rage, threatening to murder the husband of the other couple after knowing him for about 30 seconds and nothing but wildly hostile to everyone he meets. I can’t help but think he told his brother that’s how he was going to play the character and David never bothered writing any explanation into the script.

Group two is led by Colonel Hunter Crawford, played by returning David A Prior villain David Campbell. Now, Campbell’s character has the same name and rank as his character from 1985’s “Killzone”, but whether this is a pointless Easter egg for us Prior obsessives or he just forgot is a question that we may never get answered. They’re huntin’ something!

Group three is the cops, led by Reb Brown and Sherrie Rose, who are just starting on a relationship, it would seem. I’m not sure even Alabama cops allow their deputies to wear their shirt as low-buttoned and cleavage-revealing as Sherrie Rose, but never mind. They’re accompanied by group four, which is Sarah (Sarelle), a scientist from a local-ish college, and her assistant.

All of a sudden, Bigfoot has awoken and started killing people, and that’s all the explanation we get. There’s a subplot about the real reason one of the characters is there which may or may not tie into “Killzone” (I mercifully remember almost nothing about it), but that’s about your lot.

“Night Claws” features some of the all-time worst “day for night” shots ever – when it’s very obviously daytime but the film is either underexposed or darkened in post-production to make it appear like it’s night. They even film a fire, which looks every bit as murky as the background around it, which is just lazy.

We’re also treated to a stealthy sasquatch, as the 8-foot tall, huge, hairy beast is able to get the drop on our human characters over and over again. I don’t care how naturally agile you are, if you’re that big, someone would hear you coming. And then there’s a few twists at the end which just leave you annoyed. Also high on the annoyance scale is how major characters are just killed off seemingly at random, as if the people who’d made this had no idea how drama works.

I’m genuinely delighted we’re getting to the end of this series now, dear reader. This might as well be a SyFy Channel original movie, just one with an older cast who’s slightly better at acting; I’m just annoyed now. I think I’ve found the person to blame, and that’s Fabio Soldani. He appears to be a rich kid who wanted to be a producer so threw some money at David A Prior – he also has story credits on these later movies, so I guess he went “hey David, I want you to do a sasquatch thing”. He even appears as a money man in the next Prior movie, so I may be on to something.

Anyway. Avoid, obviously.

Rating: thumbs down

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Youtube Film Club: Robowar (1989)

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A low rent “Predator”. That’s really all you need to make a judgement on whether you should watch this movie or not, but if you’d like to hang around for a thousand words or so, I’ll make some jokes about the director, writer and star, talk robots and their annoying sounds, and perhaps inform you, from my many hours of experience, which is the nicest 80s jungle to visit.

Because I enjoyed “Strike Commando” so much, I decided to plunge right back in with another Mattei / Fragasso / Brown epic. Mattei has given us “Hell Of The Living Dead”, “Zombi 3” and “Rats: Nights Of Terror” (among many, many more); Fragasso wrote “Troll 2”, as well as a lot of Mattei’s other movies; and Reb Brown has screamed his way through many a low-budget gem, like “Yor: The Hunter From The Future”, the 1979 “Captain America” and “Space Mutiny”. Fun fact: Brown appeared to quit acting in the late 90s, but returned in 2012 with “Night Claws”, directed by the same guy who made the classic “Deadly Prey”, and also starring Sherrie Rose from “Summer Job”. That sounds amazing!

 

Rather than an alien, because they’re expensive to do special effects for, our creature is an escaped military robot. And by robot, I mean in the “R.O.T.O.R.” sense, of being a bloke in a mostly leather suit, with a dark-visored helmet on. We see the military guys trying to control him, with some of the finest technobabble known to humanity – and the way those tech guys deliver the lines, you can tell they’ve got absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. So the army needs a group of bad hombres, and they call on BAM.

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Oh man, this is a fun bit. BAM stands for, wonderfully, “Big Ass Motherfuckers”, not “Bad-Ass Motherfuckers”, for some reason. And you know the team all have nicknames! I won’t bother you with the names of the cannon fodder, but the team’s medic goes by the name “Papa Doc”. Now, I don’t want to tell people how to do their business, but you need to be certain before you name a character after one of the 20th century’s more famous and violent despots – for our younger readers, that’s Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, who ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1971 and was responsible for the deaths of around 50,000 of his own people. Telling you Reb Brown’s is almost a let-down after that, but he’s great as well, going by the nickname “Killzone”. Yes!

 

The thing is, we’re never quite sure what the team’s mission is in the jungle. They’re clearly completely unaware that they’re supposed to be tracking a robot soldier, and while there’s a war of some sort raging where they are, they’re not supposed to get involved in that either – although they do, slaughtering bad guys right, left and centre. It’s a bit like a hike that just gets interrupted, maybe? Credence is given to this theory, as when they arrive via boat, they’re all in street clothes, which for Killzone means a bright pink cropped shirt which exposes some sweet toned abs.

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Mattei had clearly watched “Predator”, but he’d taken some very odd lessons from it. The biggest was that, about every ten minutes, all the BAM should shoot fairly randomly into dense undergrowth, based on one of them seeing some movement – movement of what, we’re never informed. There’s a scene later on where they liberate a village from the bad guy soldiers, and they’re throwing grenades, firing millions of bullets and rocket launchers…and find a flimsy building full of dead children. They’re obviously blaming the bad guys for this, although why they wanted to kill a load of kids is never mentioned, but the film never considers for a second that the heavily armed guys who fire indiscriminately might be responsible for one or two of those.

 

The cannon fodder is cannon-foddered, dying like a bunch of idiots (although there’s a really cool visual when one of them gets punched by the robot and spits like a gallon of blood over the camera). Oh, and there’s the merest whisper of a romantic subplot, but that’s really because “Predator” had a feisty local woman in it, so “Robowar” has to have one too. And there’s the member of the BAM who’s got secret knowledge of the robot and how to beat it, but of course wants to save it and take it in.

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I haven’t even discussed the robot yet! Omega-One is its name, and using the wrong weaponry for the situation is its game. You will leave the movie, much as my wife did, trying to replicate its “computer” speech – a mix of flat-out gibberish and garbled military commands, with a word that sounded like “re-heat” or “repeat” spoken maybe a thousand times. In other words, it’s an amazing amalgam of low-budget tricks – there’s even a “Robocop” style twist at the end.

 

If you watched “Predator” and wished there were more dead children, or that the Predator spoke more, then this could be the movie for you. Much like yesterday’s “Strike Commando”, it rips along, there’s lots to enjoy about it, and it’s another fine entry on anyone’s bad movie night rotation.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Strike Commando (1987)

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Plucked at random from a huge pile of old VHS tapes, I feel I may have re-discovered a classic, of sorts. If you have any room in your heart for movies with covers like this – where an angry man, often with a headband, fires a large gun, while there’s baddies, a large vehicle and jungle in the background – then you will 100% love this. Made in the Philippines during that country’s domination of the B-movie filming industry (memorably chronicled in the documentary “Machete Maidens Unleashed”), it stars a couple of ISCFC favourites and manages to pack in more stuff into its 106 minutes than most trilogies.

 

The Strike Commandos are a special unit of the US Army, doing all the super-dangerous missions during the Vietnam war. Well, we’re told this more than shown it, because during a particularly tricky mission to…blow up a Vietcong military base, probably?…they’re all captured or killed, with the exception of one man, Mike Ransom (Reb Brown, “Space Mutiny”, “Yor – The Hunter From The Future”), who jumps into the river and manages to escape. I cheered as soon as I saw one of those giant wooden towers so beloved of rural military bases – has there ever been one of those in a movie that didn’t have either get blown up, have someone take a dive off it after getting shot, or both? I was rather surprised they set the unit up as these badasses only to have almost all of them not survive the first five minutes, but there you go. They even mention forming a new Strike Commando unit about halfway through, but that idea’s dropped like a hot potato.

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Anyway, all this nonsense is obviously a trap organised by the US’s own Colonel Radek, as obvious a villain as I’ve ever seen, but the movie tries to sort of pretend it’s not him for a bit. Although, seriously, “Strike Commando” moves at such an insane pace that you’ve barely got time to ponder anyone’s allegiances before you’re already in another location, with a bunch more jungle-gunfire. There were legitimately three points in this movie where my friends and I checked the time, expecting it to be almost over, and the first time was before the halfway point! Ransom has some serious adventures, let me tell you. Actually, let me not tell you, because I kinda want you to track this down and watch it.

 

Okay, I’ll tell you about the first bit, because it’s loads of fun, and because it illustrates something of the oddity of this movie – made in the Far East by an Italian director with an American star. Ransom survives the first mission, and finds himself in a jungle village, which is full of local people who are also opposed to the Vietcong. They ask him to kill a soldier in cold blood, and he straight-up refuses, so they just do it – a smarter movie would have Ransom realise how war makes monsters of us all. But two minutes later he’s friends with everyone and agrees to lead them all to the American lines so they can be rescued! Luckily Ransom’s issue with killing in that particular instance isn’t encountered again in the rest of the movie, as he is a slaughtering machine! Oh, and the village also has one of my favourite “That Guy” actors, Luciano Pigozzi (billed in many movies as Alan Collins), as a friendly French fella. There’s a kid who wants to know about Disneyland, there’s a woman who falls in love with him, every single cliché is trotted out.

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So Ransom escapes the battlefield and goes back to the base a few times, but is sent back out by Radek, who conspires to have him killed out there. There’s some amazing set pieces (including a scene where Ransom is running across a paddy field to get to his helicopter, and the Vietcong keep firing rocket launchers and heavy artillery at him, but always 20 feet behind wherever he is, handily) and an absolute ton of cannon fodder. There’s also a plot of sorts, where Ransom is trying to prove Russian involvement in Vietnam, and Radek is…well, obviously a KGB agent and trying to hide that fact. The Russians are represented by two people – the gigantic Jakoda and the female Olga. I was trying to give Olga a personality, but she sadly doesn’t have one – Ransom kidnaps her to take her back to the US, and basically instantly she reverts from the presumably well-trained soldier to a pathetic simpering damsel in distress, unable to defend herself or hold a gun.

 

As “Strike Commando” rips through its plot, you might – if you were particularly uncharitable – notice one or two “homages” to more popular or well-known jungle-based action movies. It wanders through “Missing In Action”, “Rambo”, “Apocalypse Now” and no doubt dozens of others I’ve not been lucky enough to catch. Okay, it rips them off mercilessly, just in a weird and wonderful way.

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What none of those movies have, though, is a lunatic leading man who spends more time screaming in incoherent rage than he does talking. Reb Brown, memorably mocked by “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, is firing with both barrels here, giving a performance which is crazy even by his standards. Anything remotely bad happens? He screams. Mild disappointment? He screams. Luckily, he appears to be the only person in the entire sub-continent who can shoot straight, as he takes on absolute legions of baddies and mows them down without so much as a second thought; while there are numerous people who not only don’t respond when he starts firing at them, but even those who do, and have a gun, and are extremely close when they start firing (there are lots of these people throughout) are still unable to hit our brave hero.

 

There’s a real cockfight caught on camera, a whole bunch of possibly innocent people getting blown up because they happen to be in the same building as the villain, a Russian calling someone “Americanski!” on multiple occasions, telling a dying child that ice cream grows on trees at Disneyland, grenades being used for every problem, one of the weirdest, worst-shot, dumbest-looking final fights ever, and I’ve still barely scratched the surface of the magnificence that is “Strike Commando”. We have director Bruno Mattei to partially thank for this, previously seen by the ISCFC as director of the abysmal “Hell Of The Living Dead”; but we’ve got genuine bad movie royalty here, with writer Claudio Fragasso (who also wrote “Hell…”). Yes, ladies and gentlemen, “Strike Commando” was written by the same man who gave the world “Troll 2”.

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Now, as I hope you’ve picked up, under no circumstances do I want you to think this is a good film. What it is, though, is a very entertaining one, much like the wonderful “Troll 2”. It has enough plot for three movies, but there’s still filler, weird little segments where it’s just a dull conversation in a room, as if they needed to save money that day. It has a range of bonkers central performances. It never met a cliché it didn’t like.  I can’t praise it highly enough, but, full disclosure: the other two members of this week’s Awesome Movie Monday, both sensible fellows with a fine taste in movies, thought it was terrible.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Yor, The Hunter From The Future (1983)

This would have been coll if it had actually been in the movie

This would have been cool if it had actually been in the movie

If you’ve ever seen “Planet Of The Apes” on video, you’ll probably wonder what all the fuss is about with the big twist at the end, seeing as how it was revealed on the poster / front cover. This movie tries to go one step further by actually revealing the twist in its own title – at every moment of this rather oddly paced movie, you’ll be thinking to yourself “when is this bloke going to hurry up and get to the future?”

 

Part of this problem may be explained by Yor’s provenance – this 90 minute movie is edited down from a 4-part miniseries on Italian TV. So, people will pop up and be villains, for about 20 minutes or so, before disappearing, getting summarily dispatched, or whatever; and Yor gets himself into a number of romantic scrapes that resolve themselves remarkably quickly. As it’s co-financed by Turkey, you get to see a lot of locations which fans of bad movie gold like “Turkish Star Wars” will remember very well too, and when a movie is this difficult to explain, it’s almost guaranteed to be some fun.

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Yor is Reb Brown, bad movie royalty from his roles in “Space Mutiny”, “The Sword And The Sorceror” and the original awful “Captain America”, and he appears to just be strolling through the Stone Age wilderness when he rescues a tribe from a rampaging Triceratops. Pag (Luciano Pigozzi, Italian “That Guy” actor) is the “protector” of Ka-Laa (Corinne Clery), who likes what she sees when she sees Yor. Some guys with blue-ish skin attack the village, and our three heroes, after the barest minimum of resistance, just run off and leave their friends and family to die. Hurrah!

 

Yor, Pag and Ka-Laa make friends, enemies and see some of the truly beautiful and unusual sights of Turkey, and they find someone who has the same weird medallion thing as Yor, which sort-of sparks the quest to find out who he really is. Then, with the movie about two-thirds done, the sci-fi stuff kicks in and the plot, not so much as hinted at to this point, kicks in. Blame it all on nuclear destruction, although where the dinosaurs popped up from is anyone’s guess, and this ends up with Yor heading off to the island where all the technology still is. Will he stop the bad fella’s quest for world domination? How little self-respect does Ka-Laa have?

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It’s certainly an unusual movie – although I’m sure there’s backstory in the TV series that would have made all this make a little more sense, the impression that the people making this were very worried about their audience getting bored is strong. Although…the sheer amount of stuff does become tiring, partly because it’s so samey. He rescues some villagers from a monster! He meets a lady! Ka-Laa is jealous of the lady! He walks through some caves! I was a little disappointed that one of these ladies, the staggeringly beautiful Marina Rocchi (as Tarita, who avoids getting blown up by lasers near the end) didn’t have a bigger role, and indeed had a career that didn’t go much of anywhere.

 

By the time the albino-looking people and their Darth Vader-ripoff adversaries have shown up, the excitement that should be there from having a movie with stone age stuff suddenly go full sci-fi has been worn down a bit. The last section is, dare I say it, a bit boring even?

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Yowzer

I think “Yor” has been helped by its reputation, much like “Plan Nine From Outer Space” (which isn’t really one of the worst thousand films ever made, much less right at the bottom). It won a few of the early Razzie Awards, it’s got a wacky title, it’s got Reb Brown doing that weird shouting thing he does…it’s a fun story more than a particularly fun movie. Cast your eyes over the ISCFC’s other sword and sorcery reviews for something a bit more exciting.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Captain America (1979)

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I wouldn’t call this the worst film I’ve ever reviewed, because the cast appear to be able to act, and the cameras are by and large pointing in the right direction. But I’d say it’s right up there with the dullest, as it resembles and feels like a below average feature-length episode of “Quincy”, with a star who’s more hippie Evel Knievel than American superhero.

I don’t have a patriotic bone in my body, and that “my country, right or wrong” attitude feels dangerous to me, so I was never the biggest fan of Captain America growing up (showing how different our national discourse has been, Captain Britain is a mostly forgotten embarrassment). The recent films have been a lot of fun, though, and while I’m unlikely to start reading his comic, he’s okay by me; but this isn’t anything about them. Marvel have had a few goes at doing “Cap” – once in 1944, a TV series in the 1960s, another film in 1990, and two TV movies in 1979, of which this is the first, starring Reb Brown as Steve Rogers, possibly most famous to bad film fans as the star of the MST3K episode “Space Mutiny”.

Steve is fresh out of the Marines and is driving a van down the West coast of America, generally being mellow (he actually says this). Visiting an old friend, he gets sucked into some police investigation about scientists getting murdered and secret papers going missing; while this is happening it appears someone’s trying to kill him too. Turns out his Dad invented a super-serum and spent his life helping people out with his super-strength, agility, vision and hearing, and his old colleagues are trying to replicate its effects. It doesn’t work, of course, because it’s keyed to Pa Rodgers’ specific genetic makeup. Guess who shares it? Impressively, Steve refuses at first, wanting to “look America in the face” rather than work for the Man any more, but after the villains nearly kill him, his friends need to dose him to save his life and Captain America is born.

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Get ready for lots of scenes of people in brown suits standing around offices discussing the details of a pretty boring-sounding crime. I’m yawning just thinking of it again…it’s 38 minutes before the words “Captain America” are uttered and 49 minutes before he gets the super-serum. It’s so slow! I don’t think it even counts as an origin story, it’s more a guy getting a new job story. What it also is, is the thing we know and love, the pilot that crashed. Check the list – sidekicks get lots of backstory, plus they have skills the star doesn’t; none of them die; the villain also survives; and there’s irrelevant world-building detail (although this one was so dull it forgot most of the last one).

 
After a bunch more standing around, Steve gets his Captain America gear. They fit his van out with a special bike, which manages to be far less convenient than his old bike-rack (there’s zero clearance, so he’d have to crawl into place to drive it out of the van). It has a “silent” mode, to which the only reasonable question is “why doesn’t he use silent mode all the time?” (perhaps it’s tough on petrol consumption, is the only answer I could think of). He’s given a bullet-proof plastic shield which also doubles as his bike windscreen, and then there’s the outfit. I wasn’t joking about the Knievel thing – he was a much bigger deal than some boring old superhero at the time, and I’m positive that’s how the movie was sold. I doubt it was sold as “it’s like the most boring elements of a lot of already boring things”.

Cap has to stop a neutron bomb and a plan to steal some gold (I think, I was seriously struggling to pay attention by this point). He takes a helicopter ride to the scene of the “action”, and the ride goes on for what feels like days. I said, after a really long time had passed “well, they’ve finally established he’s in a helicopter”, but then it just kept on going, making my poor attempt at a joke feel terribly sad. Anyway, he defeats the villain in perhaps the most hilariously low-key, low-stakes ending a superhero movie has ever had.

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None of this makes any sense, even if you assume it’s the first two episodes of a potential TV show. Captain America would never exist if the villains of the piece didn’t try to kill him – he was ready to drive away from it all, which would have made it a great deal easier for them to complete their nefarious plans. Anyway, imagine you’re a youthful comic reader in the late 70s, surely the only possible audience for this trash. You’re excited about a movie featuring an iconic character, ready for the guy you’ve seen take on supernatural foes to kick some ass, but what you actually get is a tedious police procedural with a good half of its running time devoted to middle aged men having conversations. Who thought this was even remotely a good idea? Who was this supposed to entertain?

Rating: thumbs down