Blood Street (1988)

Friend of ISCFC Len Kabasinski, low-budget movie auteur par excellence, has a new release coming out on Christmas day, called “Challenge of the Five Gauntlets” (if you get on his Patreon, $2 a month, you’ll be able to watch it on the day of release). It sounds amazing, and one of his co-stars in that movie is a fellow by the name of Leo Fong.

Fong is a name I’ve been aware of for some time, as he’s made at least one bad movie classic, “Low Blow”. Born in China in 1928, moved to the US in the early 30s, became an amateur boxer, was allegedly a friend of Bruce Lee, then in his mid 40s, decided to get into the movie business. His first movie was also the first movie of a beloved ISCFC figure, Ron Marchini (“Omega Cop”, “Karate Cop”), and it looks like he spent a few years appearing in small roles in other Eastern-made movies and even occasionally writing them, before his first starring role in a Western movie, 1984’s “Killpoint”. Don’t worry, dear reader, after this incredibly strong first showing we’ll definitely be doing a season of Leo Fong movies!

Anyway, it’s a period from 1986’s “Low Blow” to 1993’s “Showdown” that appears to be prime Fong – not only did he star in everything, he had writing credits, producing credits, and even a few directing credits (including some movies he didn’t star in, which is something of a wasted opportunity). He’s worked with Loren Avedon and Cynthia Rothrock as well as Marchini and Kabasinski, and after one movie we’re hooked!

This is a minor entry in our “The Future Already Happened” review series, being released in 1988 but set in the heady far-off days of 1990, by which time San Fransisco will have become a drug-riddled hellhole. The opening text crawl is perhaps the most magnificently literal thing I’ve ever read, as it tells us who the characters are going to be, who’s fighting who, where it’s set and what the first scene is going to contain. I admire a movie that can leave you off guard and confused before it’s even started!

Feels like they just made up the last name with whatever spare letters they had lying around

There are two gangs of drug dealers. One of them is led by “some Italian guy” (as the movie’s official IMDB synopsis states!), whose character name is actually MacDonald; he’s got a couple of lieutenants, two genuine That Guy actors (Stack Pierce and Chuck Jeffreys, whose names you won’t recognise but whose faces you definitely will) and plenty of goons. The other gang is led by Richard Norton, legendary screen martial artist who’s been in plenty of Cynthia Rothrock movies and whose career has ranged as far as “ABBA: The Movie” and “Mad Max: Fury Road”. Both of these groups of people are vicious monsters.

Oh, in one scene you see Richard Norton spar with a guy in a ring, as if he told the director “you know I’m a really good fighter, right? Would you not like me to do at least some martial arts?” He’s even in charge of what looks like an underground fighting league! But doesn’t fight in it, and we only see the fight league in the background of one scene!

Leo Fong is a private eye, the same character as in “Low Blow” apparently, but I’m pretty sure I’m not missing too much character continuity. The one amusing thing about him is, unlike most other movie heroes, he doesn’t wait to be hit or attacked by villains before beating the crap out of them. Like a taciturn Han Solo. He enters the story when MacDonald’s wife Vanna (Playboy playmate Kimberley Paige) asks him to find her apparently missing husband, but she’s got no money so she shows him her boobs and offers to pay him in sex (he refuses, but takes the case anyway).

It’s not so much that “Blood Street” has any one thing which identifies it as a so-bad-it’s-good classic, it’s just got lots of little things. Like the opening crawl. Or the crime scenes, which Fong just casually walks into even though he’s not a cop, passing the time of day with the two cops there and then leaving again. The crappy mics they used, which pick up so much background noise you can barely hear the dialogue. The way the same room, with it’s ugly artexed walls, stands in for like four or five different scenes. Fong’s backup team, made up of an insanely overdressed lawyer and an old-timey bodybuilder with a weird moustache. How Fong just walks up to people and asks to buy a kilo of heroin, like you or I would talk about the weather.

I would like to talk about how I think “Blood Street” was originally filmed as two different movies, or two sequels to “Low Blow”, but that idea was abandoned halfway through and all the ideas they had were just shoved into one movie. The plot moves at a genuinely insane pace, with people shot and characters showing up and then disappearing again and Fong moving from one place to another with nothing but the slightest whisper of an explanation as to why he’s now somewhere entirely different, kicking the ass of a whole new group of people (his sudden departure to and equally sudden return from Mexico is perhaps the classic example of this). The fight league, which could have been a whole movie in lesser hands, is briefly alluded to, shown for a few seconds then completely ignored.

My favourite part of the entire movie, though, is a little after half-way, when we see Fong teaching a bunch of teenagers some martial arts. Isn’t he a private eye, not a teacher? Never mind that. Then his daughter walks in, who has never been seen or hinted at previously, with her new boyfriend, who Fong approves of thanks to his chaste and conservative nature. Then, in the next scene, the two of them are out on a date and are murdered by some goons we’ve never met before! Fong is seen cradling his daughter and crying, but like three or four minutes later he’s back to his normal self, even coming out with a few wisecracks. What? It’s like if the entire plot of the movie “Taken” was actually just five minutes in the middle of a movie about a different mystery, and is a genuinely bizarre choice.

But then! We see him dialling a phone, and they keep every second of him doing that, being kept on hold, etc. I would love to have been a fly on the wall during the editing process.

The puzzling choices keep coming right to the end. We even get a mini-version of the “Ultimate Badass” speech, where one of the characters, lamenting their inability to seduce or just kill Fong, says he’s like “a combination of Columbo, Philip Marlowe, Bruce Lee and a Catholic priest”. Fong is perhaps the ur-example of the invincible hero, as I’m not sure anyone so much as lands a punch on him at any point, but he kills a heck of a lot of people with his moves. It’s not that he’s a bad actor, either – I mean, he’s not great, but he doesn’t sound and look like he’d rather be anywhere else than in front of a camera.

I have nothing but positive words for “Blood Street”. A genuinely bizarre experience, with the wonderful Fong, who remained independent and therefore free from people telling him “maybe this movie ought to make sense” or “why did you hire Richard Norton and not have a big final fight with him?” A genuine bad movie pleasure, and one I’d wholeheartedly recommend.

Rating: thumbs up

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Future Fear (1997)

Neither of them dress remotely like this at any point

Welcome, dear reader, to the heady far off days of 2017 as imagined in 1997, which even though it’s a dystopia is slightly less hellish than the actual 2017 we all lived through. If only you knew how badly it could get messed up, children of Blair and Clinton!

Anyway, it’s 2017 and a comet, last seen in 1997 (based on Hale-Bopp, which showed up then and was perhaps the brightest comet of the 20th century) is coming back round for another pass, and because there’s signs of alien life on it, a probe is sent out to have a look. The probe, on its way back to Earth with real genuine alien RNA on board, crashes in Africa and the plague unleashed from there wipes out almost all the human race.

The guy doing the voiceover – yes, a B-movie which needs to explain its central plot at length in the first five minutes is probably going to be tough going – is anti-establishment genetic scientist Dr John Denniel, who we meet in a helicopter, being chased by a red helicopter, piloted by his wife, who’s now his most hated enemy, Anna. Couple of gems of casting – Anna is played by Maria Ford, who’s a bit of a B-movie legend (we’ve met her before in “Deathstalker 4” and “Future Kick”); and John is the great Jeff Wincott. Because he’s a legit martial artist, he’s done a bajillion straight-to-video martial arts movies, but he’s also an actual actor and won awards for his TV work (“Night Heat”). We love him here at the ISCFC, and have covered his work in the “Universal Soldier” sequels and “Prom Night”, and it appears that while making this movie no-one ever thought to tell him to dial it down a little.

There are three things to note if you’re thinking of embarking on an evening of “Future Fear”. One is the title doesn’t really match the action – it’s being set in the future is never referenced and there’s not so much as a whisper of any cool future tech. Two – it’s 75 minutes long, and doesn’t waste a second of it, jumping between times and plots with reckless abandon. Three – it’s produced by Roger Corman, and don’t let the fact that Corman produced 17 other movies that year (!) convince you of its lack of quality.

I want to leap around a little less than the movie does. Stacy Keach, who must have owed someone some money, is the main US Army guy, until it’s revealed he’s actually a Nazi whose plan to wipe out the human race apart from the pure Aryans works perfectly (he crashes the satellite into Africa deliberately). John and Anna try to come up with a cure, fall in love, get married, then almost immediately turn to murderous rage towards each other – she gets pregnant and he suggests abortion, as bringing a baby into this world is sheer folly; then their solution to the virus is some embryos of animal-human hybrids with natural immunity, and she sees them as her children, he sees them as sources of valuable genetic information. And thus lies what might charitably be called the plot.

The first half gives us four timelines simultaneously – the early happy relationship of John and Anna; the miserable breakup time; the bit where he’s still trying to save humanity but she’s actually a secret recruit of Stacy Keach; and then the bit where Anna is trying to kill John. The second half of the movie is pretty much entirely their fight through the corridors and air ducts of their research base, with lots and lots of “hey, I caught you! No, you escaped really easily!” moments; and because “Die Hard” cast a long shadow, John has a friend who he only communicates with via radio, who’s trying to help him.

Wincott really goes all out here, enjoying the chance to do what appears to be intentional comedy. He quotes from “Alice In Wonderland” throughout, which is an interesting touch but not one which really goes anywhere, like an earlier draft made it part of the plot but they forgot that bit and left the quotes in anyway – sadly, they never quoted a very important line, “it would nice if something made sense for a change”. There’s a fight scene where John uses a toilet plunger, which is stuck to the wall – some of my fellow reviewers don’t seem to have a sense of humour and treat it like it’s intended to be serious. Come on!

What you’ll notice most obviously, though, is how disjointed it is. As well as the classic Corman touch of splicing in scenes from other movies he was making at the time, to save money, the editing is so offputting that I wondered if it was deliberate – probably not, is the answer. There are a few scenes that feature a ticking clock graphic at the bottom, but what that time is counting towards is never revealed. Good old Roger Corman!

This does break one of my most treasured movie rules, though – never directly remind someone of a more fun movie they could be watching instead. As he escapes one trap, John quips “I feel like I’m in a poor man’s version of Raiders Of The Lost Ark”, and while it’s more a very poor man’s Die Hard, just don’t draw attention to it!

I’ve been a little harsh to “Future Fear”, but – puzzling editing aside – it’s a fun little movie. OTT performance from Wincott, cheap and cheerful, rips along and is so puzzling, you’re unlikely to be bored at any time.

Rating: thumbs up

Sci-Fighters (1996)

I’m 100% sure the makers of “Sci-Fighters” came up with the title first and the plot second, without worrying about any of those pesky things like what it meant, if it made any sense, etc. Looking for a plot, they made an amalgam of “Blade Runner” and “Die Hard” (two movies with titles that also don’t make much sense); voila, another 1990s video shop classic is born.

It’s a fond return for one of the more long-lasting ISCFC genres, the “space prison” movie. So far, we’ve covered “Alien Space Avenger”, “Moonbase”, “Lockout”, “Assault on Dome 4”, “Starfire Mutiny”, “Total Reality”, “Critters”, “Fortress” 1 and 2, and probably a few others I’ve forgotten; I am prepared to go on the record to say I will watch pretty much anything set in a space prison. Although “Sci-Fighters” only uses it as a jumping off point, but makes sure to make it as confusing as possible, in case you had any crazy ideas about enjoying it or anything like that.

Billy Drago, one of the all-time great “That Guy” actors, is Adrian Dunn, in prison on the Moon, and because one of the other inmates steals a cigarette from him, he starts a circular saw fight (!) and ends up by beating the other guy to death. While trying to make it look like an accident after the fact, Dunn digs an alien parasite of some sort out of the dead guy and puts it in his arm, then “dies” from the exposure. He definitely does this deliberately, although why he does it and how he knows it will have any effect on him is a matter the movie chooses not to bother itself with.

Back on earth, our good friend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper is Detective Cameron Grayson, who’s a special cop with a black badge, which means he can investigate whatever he likes, no matter what his super-stereotypical Captain has to say about it. Thanks to some very crude exposition, we discover the Earth has been under a layer of night (called Econight, caused by volcanic ash maybe?) for 79 days, and everyone’s getting a bit tired of it. They try and simulate daylight by turning on as many lights as possible during the “daytime”, but it’s not working. Oh, and it’s 2009! I love a good “future that’s already happened” movie. He was partners with Dunn but they had a very unpleasant (and, at least initially, unspecified) falling-out, many years ago.

Turns out Grayson and Dunn were partners on the police, way back, and had an (at least initially unspecified) serious falling out some time ago. Presumably, before the being locked up in space prison thing? Anyway, Dunn is brought back to Earth for burial, but he revives thanks to his body’s guest and goes back to his old killing ways, while gradually deteriorating, both physically and mentally. The spore thing he carries inside him spreads, sort of a bit like “The Hidden” but not really, and Grayson has to stop him. To this end, he ropes in scientist Dr Kirbie Younger (Jayne Heitmeyer, “Earth: Final Conflict”)…

Okay, there’s a rather large and entirely pointless coincidence here. Turns out that Grayson’s dead wife, who he “stole” from Dunn and who Dunn then killed, looks exactly the same as Dr Kirbie. There are no flashbacks, and aside from one moment where she tries to convince Dunn she’s still alive and he should stop murdering people, it’s a sub-plot they do nothing with. I presume there was something left on the cutting room floor?

Anyway, there are no real surprises in store if you choose to watch this, just lots of bits cribbed from other, both better and worse, sci-fi / action movies. Piper and Drago are both excellent, pitching their performances perfectly for the material, and once again Heitmeyer shows she was wasted on cheap genre stuff like this. The OTT captain is lots of fun too, there are plenty of fun minor characters…but it’s really really slow in the middle, and the weird way the three main characters are linked ends up being rather annoying.

There’s some fun world-building, though, and you might be forgiven for expecting a sequel. Director Peter Svatek dipped his toe in these genre waters before becoming a TV movie guy, but writer Mark Sevi has previous ISCFC form, having given the world “Scanner Cop 2” and “Terminal Rush” (and lots of movies we really ought to cover). There’s plenty of talent involved, is what I’m getting at in a rather roundabout way. I’m just not sure any of them could be bothered in this instance – maybe there’s a really interesting story about the production? It just feels like they thought up a cool future-world, some great characters but then abandoned the script after writing a beginning and an end.

Not one you’re going to remember much a few days after seeing it, but still good fun. Ish.

Rating: thumbs in the middle