Saturday, May 28, 2011

Nemesis (1992)

* * *

In the future, cybernetic beings are replacing humans with perfectly duplicated cyborgs which mimic human behavior and look the part. Oliver Grunner is an LA cop, Alex Raine, who is a human with cybernetic parts, who hunts terrorists for his department, under Commissioner Farnsworth (Tim Thomerson). What Alex doesn’t realize is that Farnsworth has been “replaced” with a state-of-the-art cybernetic recreation who is to lead a revolution with a plan to wipe out humankind.

There are characters like Angie-liv (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), Max Impact (Merle Kennedy, who moves like a monkey), Jared (Marjorie Monaghan, a “good cyborg” and once Alex’s lover before he discovered she was in fact an “it”), and Julian (Deborah Shelton, Jared’s cybernetic ally whose naked body actually looks synthetic) who are trying to stop the evil cyborg’s from the planned human holocaust.

The plot, with a lot of technical mumbo jumbo as dialogue to explain facets of the story play second fiddle to the non-stop action and you can most definitely see the John Woo influence in the grand ways director Albert Pyun and cinematographer George Mooradian stage action sequences. Gruner, in exceptional shape, even moves like Chow Yun Fat , at times, with how he shoots his various guns, particularly hand weapons.

Lots of buildings take abuse, sparks emitting when metal is blasted into, the ground exploding from missiles and bullets, trees in Java toppling, old factories no longer in use taking an ass whooping thanks to the stunt coordinators and action choreographers allowed to work their cinematic magic.

Lots of recognizable faces inhabit the cast, the aforementioned Tagawa, who appearance always brings a smile to my face, Thomerson who had to check his dependable personality at the door because he portrays a cyborg, Merle Kennedy who many might remember from Night of the Demons 2, Yuji Okumoto (a dimestore Java hotel owner who plays a more important role in the plot than first realized) some might recall as Ralph Macchio’s nemesis in Karate Kid 2, the late, great Brion James as Farnsworth’s right-hand man with a peculiar accent that turns him into a clown, a very young Thomas James, naked as a jaybird, holding up in a Java hotel room with Julian as they assess Alex’s motives from a distance, and Deborah Shelton who many will remember as the “woman of interest” for oft-tormented hero Craig Wasson in Brian DePalma’s classic Body Double.

Still, it is all about the action in Nemesis as Pyun just lets it all hang out, exploiting Hawaiian locations which substitute for Java, getting a ton of mileage out of areas like the Kaiser Steel Mill in California, among other places where he can allow lots of shoot outs where those discharging their weapons hit everything else than their desired targets it seems. Coolest scene could be where Gruner must escape from certain death by blowing out several floors under him in order to escape. Plenty of “cyborg effects” which should appeal to fans of “cyberpunk”.

I particularly love one scene where an old lady, picked on by one of Farnsworth's cybernetic henchmen, pulls a gun and blows him away! Haha, good one, Pyun! There's even one scene where Farnsworth petitions Alex to help him find a "rogue cyborg", Jared, who fled with certain data important in helping a renegade human terrorist group, where Gruner has long hair a bit too reminiscent to Rambo. Essentially, though, Gruner is a half-human robotic version of Rambo, able to take unrealistic abuse and keep forwarding ahead.

It's all about fun. I love action movies if they give me what I crave: carnage and destruction. Nemesis does just that. It was much to my surprise, although I don't know why, that Pyun has made something like four of these movies! Geez, Louise. If you want more of the Thomerson we fans of his know and love, I suggest Pyun's irresistible, Charles Band-produced, sci-fi action junk movie, Dollman. As you might expect, Nemesis does recycle storylines from other popular cinematic fare, but this is of no consequence to those of us who eat this shit up.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)

* * * *

The city in Hobo with a Shotgun is a cesspool of crime and brutality because a powerful monster rules it. The citizenry of this hellhole are scared to death because “The Drake” is a crazed sadist who loves the fear his rule brings, with two sons (who dress in Starter jackets and wear ray bans mimicking 80s Tom Cruise; they also drive a car similar to the Delorean from Back to the Future, the closing song very much an 80s pop tune you might hear at the end of a song from that particular decade) who are just as ruthless as he is. These three laugh and celebrate when they destroy people and bask in the glory of their terror. The rugged pauper known as “Hobo” becomes fed up with the violence and horror that he sees on a daily basis, packs a shotgun he lifts from a store and starts ridding the streets of the vermin who have brought nothing but evil and cruelty to innocent people.

Before the Hobo goes vigilante, he tries the right way. Slick, Drake’s volatile younger son, snaps a teenager’s arm for not paying him money for dope, almost takes a whore for a dangerous joyride and is punched in the face by the Hobo who brings this scumbag to the police station. Hobo, however, doesn’t realize that the Chief of Police is corrupt, in Drake’s hip pocket. The Chief allows Drake’s boys to cut him up and toss him in the trash. It will take Hobo’s own brand of vigilante justice to carve a bloody trail just as Slick cut SKUM into his chest.

This Hellhole City has every kind of horror imaginable. Hobo views this madness, such as a psychotic pimp, a giggling pederast in a Santa Claus suit driving a car with a pleading child crying for help as she bangs her fists against the back seat glass, a cretin with a camcorder who pays desperate people to take a beating or chew broken glass (among other atrocities, Hobo actually eats broken glass, later returning to get awesome revenge), among other criminal scum who commit any number of inhuman acts. There’s one horrifying scene where Slick and Ivan decide to board a school bus full of kids with blow torches, setting them on fire! It’s simple: these various infidels are so cruel, ruthless, vile, and sick, you will celebrate their demise and revel in Hobo’s violent methods. That shotgun leaves a definite impression, and The Drake finally has an adversary who threatens to bring his reign to an end. The carnage left in his wake is epic.

“You vultures--circle the city tearing off the flesh of everything that is innocent.”

My favorite newspaper article title during Hobo’s “cleansing of the streets” is “Parents Smile as Bodies Pile”. Of course, when the Hobo starts taking the headlines away from The Drake he answers back in kind by having his corrupt police force and other slime willing to commit murder for the hell of it find and slaughter the homeless, which includes one scene where a woman and her baby are burned alive inside a trash bin!

Slick and Ivan eventually find where Hobo has a place to stay, with Abbie, the whore who wants more out of life than providing a service for the depraved and this really sets the movie off. Slick, The Drake’s prized boy, gets his dick shot off while Ivan must exit the premises after suffering an electrocution when his skate blade catches the inside of a toaster Hobo uses to protect himself (not before multiple stab wounds in the back). Poor Abbie suffers her share of body damage before the film is over: Slick cuts into her neck with a hack saw and Drake sticks her hand in a spinning blade! No one escapes unharmed that’s for sure.

Slick’s fate is probably my favorite scene, how we see him being taken away in the burning school bus, charred in black, taking him to hell. The shotgun ultra violence really is the ticket gore item for the movie. Heads are blown apart, bodies are torn to pieces, and stomachs spew globs of blood, the works. You also get punks using bumper cars to crush an old man’s head to mulch, not to mention, a poor fellow hanging upside down in The Drake’s lair, getting clubbed by blindfolded whores, later disemboweled by a bat with razor blades!

This movie just gets more and more bizarre as it continues. The Drake summons “The Plague”, two ominous assassins in full metal suits of armor, who, in the search of Hobo, annihilate the nursing staff on call in the hospital where Abbie is being treated from the neck hacksaw wound. When The Plague capture Hobo, imprisoning him temporarily in a cell, he peeps out a small hole and sees them contending with some sort of creature with octopus tentacles—what the hell was this all about?!?!

Rutger Hauer is a legend to B-movie aficionados like myself. Hobo with a Shotgun just augments his legacy for those of us who love practically everything he stars in. Sure his character has lost some of his marbles but if you witness the same atrocities he does throughout The Drake’s Hellhole City you might not come away unscathed psychologically either. Hauer has a terrific scene where he addresses a maternity ward with babies, speaking about what they will probably wind up as, prostitutes and crackheads, maybe even a Hobo with a Shotgun, although he does hope they find a better life than what is currently plaguing the streets. There are times where he talks gibberish, especially to Abbie, but these are his most endearing moments, with her, away from the violence, death, and destruction, where he talks about bears, her being a teacher, and starting up a lawnmowing business.

The movie has a comic book look to it, with lots of bright colors, graffiti walls, trash in the streets and sidewalks, weary public faces, a city with its fair share of fiends and sickos who have a safe haven in this nightmarish world until a savior in rags packs a shotgun and turns avenger for the downtrodden and victimized.

I was definitely amused with how this film opens, startled to tell you the truth, so serene with lush green pastures and picturesque environs, an Eden compared to the Hell Hobo is about to inhabit once he steps off of the train box car (perhaps the worst mistake he could've made, or was it? He did serve a purpose and rid the streets of a sadistic dictator.).

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Dark Age (1987)

* * *

What I like about the Australian killer croc movie, Dark Age, is that the giant crocodile of this movie is not presented just as a dangerous animal, but as a god-like beast, the Aboriginals in the movie, always a spiritual culture with a shroud of mystery around them, further emphasizing the creature’s mythos.

Numanwari is the Aboriginal name for the crocodile of Dark Age, a humongous specimen who seems to cooperate with the “blacks” while the “whites”—that is those who poach and kill crocs and are racist towards the Aboriginals—seem to irritate it quite a bit.

John Jarrett is a crocodile conservationist who is at peace with the Aboriginals, good friends with the “blacks” while certain “whites”, such as a loathsome bastard named John Besser, treat his love for these animals with scorn.

“No white fellow can kill Numanwari, we go now.”

I did mention above that the Numanwari of this film seems to *cooperate* with Aboriginals, but this is somewhat of a misnomer, as evident in one horrifying scene which even had my mouth open agape with eyes bugging—reminiscent to Jaws, the croc arrives for a snack, finding little Aboriginal kids playing in the shallow water, one who ventures out too far is caught in the beast’s mouth and eaten! Holy shit, was this a surprise! The director goes one step further by showing a little toy boat floating about without an owner!

Before Rogue, Dark Age has a thirty foot crocodile(the head about two meters) which poses a major threat wherever it goes and, despite being a specimen worthy of study, will have to be killed or else. The white hunters gather, machine guns and rifles in hand, expecting to catch and destroy the terror, but the crocodile is rather elusive despite its massive size.

The hunters begin a senseless slaughter, wiping out a slew of regular sized crocodiles, unable to find or kill the giant they are after. The protection of salt water crocodiles is a subject Jarrett’s passionate about, but if the Numanwari continues to lunch on humans, this desire to keep them from being extinct will fail.

There’s no doubt that Dark Age is a killer croc Jaws. Jarrett’s Steve Harris and two Aboriginals, Oonabund (Bumham Bumham) and Oonabund’s son, Adjaral (Aussie great, David Gulplil), hunt the great ancient crocodile just as Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw went after the great white shark in Jaws. Where the movie differs is that the hunters in Dark Age want to find the crocodile and take it to place where the animal will not harm anyone else.

The true villain of the film is Max Phipps’ poacher, John Besser, who is Harris’ nemesis, a croc hater considering those who want to keep them safe an aggravation. Besser tries time and again to catch the Numanwari but eventually loses an arm which only fuels his rage further. Besser and some of his cronies invade Harris’ croc farm, obliterating the animals that are within the reserve, a particularly heinous reaction to the knowledge that the Numanwari was captured by him and the Aboriginals. The film will finish with Besser and his men chasing after Harris and the Aboriginals who are transporting the croc to a certain destination chosen by Oonabund.

I believe there will be those same critics who often complain about the alligator in Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive who will bitch and belly ache about the croc in Dark Age, how it doesn’t look real enough for them. I personally prefer a man-made croc than some digital creation you can whip up on a computer, although the one in Rogue was pretty cool. I loved the croc in this picture, its size and girth quite impressive. John Jarrett will be familiar to those who have seen him as the psychopath in Wolf Creek. The lovely Nikki Coghill is Jarrett’s love interest, Cathy, quite spunky and spirited who lends support to Harris and the Aboriginals when Besser starts raising hell.

I imagine it will not be easy to find a copy of Dark Age just anywhere, but thanks to Not Quite Hollywood, about "Ozploitation", I was introduced to it for the first time, luckily acquiring a VHS version of the film.

Teenage Zombies (1959)


A South American scientist, experimenting on a gas capsule which will turn Americans into mindless zombies to control, has an island laboratory with test subjects. Four teenagers find the island while on a boating trip, stumbling upon zombies and the scientist, with a hulking slave named Ivan who obeys her every command and subdues the kids, imprisoning them. The teenagers’ friends and their local law enforcement will conduct a search for them.

Producer/director Jerry Warren probably gathered together some actors and friends from the local Playhouse theater to star in this corny, no-budget horror/sci-fi schlock using mad science, mind-controlled human zombies, and the commie threat as themes for his movie.

The “golly, gee whiz!” acting style, with all the heightened melodramatics, from the “teenagers” (they all look like they are in their twenties) can become tiresome, unless you get a kick out of these sorts of performances—instead of talking to each other, we get a lot of “loud” conversations where the cast attempt to put emphasis on the dialogue.

The sets are as cheap as you can expect from a Warren production. There are sidesplitting scenes where the adults talk down to the teenagers, like when the sheriff scolds two kids who come to him believing the scientist on the island is holding their buddies hostage, as if they were uneducated children.

There is, I must admit, a nice twist involving the sheriff and his association with the scientist which comments on what Hitchcock presented in the film Saboteur, that there are those hidden within our country who are secretly plotting against us. There is also an amusing scene where the teens duke it out with the scientist and two of her “clients” working for a hostile country who wants to use America as slave labor, permanently controlled with the capsule once it is perfected.

Teenage Zombies
is the kind of movie shown at the drive-in playing while the teenagers were more concerned with making out than the plot or characters:the movie was basically just background noise. Ivan reminded me of Torgo from Manos:The Hands of Fate, except he never talks or trembles/fidgets. You even have a guy in a gorilla costume (you know, it’s a gorilla used in the dangerous scientist’s research who is turned loose to subdue the evil agents) and cheesy dialogue such as “Hey, anybody for horseback riding?!?!” Fans of such cinematic sludge, rejoice!

I do reckon there were some disgruntled audiences pretty pissed that the film doesn't feature teenage zombies prominently in the storyline. Shit, we barely get any mindless zombies at all, just a bunch of banal conversations about turning people into controlled slaves. You'd think Warren could have at the very least threw the dogs some bloody meat to devour, but nope, he doesn't.

She Freak (1967)

* *

Jade Cochran(Claire Brennan), a sexpot stuck in a dead-in job at some nondescript café in the middle of nowhere Texas, desires more out of life than her tired mama who had nine kids, didn’t graduate high school, worn out at 42, life unfulfilled, opportunities nil. Jade vows to herself in a monologue heard by her café owner slob(Claude Earl Jones, familiar to many because he was in lots of television and the made for tv horror classic, Dark Night of the Scarecrow) that she will do whatever it takes—cheat and steal if she has to—in order to escape a mundane existence where expectations weren’t reached.

“From here it’s all the way up.”

Jude leaves her waitress job at the diner with designs on *higher livin’*, winding up waiting tables at the traveling carnival. Jade makes friends fast—the “ferris wheel foreman"(Lee Raymond), a stripper(Lynn Courtney), and specifically St. John(Bill McKinney, whose notoriety derives from making Ned Beatty squeal like a pig before raping him in the backwoods in Deliverance), a wealthy man with the carnival who woos her with little effort because Jade is eyeing his pocketbook. Jade loves attention and gets it. She walks past as heads turn and Jade shakes her ass a little so that the boys get an eyeful of her curvaceous figure. You’d think she casts a spell, her essence causes practically every man to look her direction, to view her caboose and have that moment of reflection as they ponder what it’d be like to land her in the sack. She gets one look at “the freaks” and is instantly repulsed—so sickened, that she flees, as if Jade were about to vomit. Jade is looking for a sugar daddy, someone loaded who will provide all her heart could desire, a life of luxury.

She Freak is every bit the carnival movie. If you have a fascination with carnivals, this movie is for you. It shows the construction of the carnival, those who work in the industry and the locals who populate it when the show comes to town. Celebrated producer David F Friedman, who recently passed, shows his love for the carnival business in every way using She Freak as a tool to exploit his passion for the business. The plot, rather tepid and dull, plays second fiddle to the carnival’s inner workings. The pacing isn’t exactly a priority to the filmmakers, either. I have to admit that I wanted a reason to really embrace the picture, but I was rather indifferent towards it. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I was bored a bit, but the insider look into a carnival in the 60s I imagine will be of interest to those who are fascinated in “time capsule” movies which give us a peek into a way of life at a certain time.

Right out of Tod Browning’s Freaks comes the ending as Jade has gained a certain amount of power within the carnival after marrying St John, mistreating the human oddities, parading her advantage over them with a wicked grin and haughty attitude, eventually getting her comeuppance with a hideous makeover which was the main reason I rented it besides Friedman’s association with She Freak. We also witness the return of the café owner she scorned at the beginning, Jade’s fate a reason for him to gloat as his stuffs his face with popcorn.

I think the Something Weird dvd of She Freak is worth pursuing just because of David Friedman's audio commentary; he's far more interesting than the movie, to tell you the truth, and has a million stories. I definitely was curious of the film's backstory and fascinated with Friedman's life and career.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Indestructible Man (1956)

* * ½

“Just remember what I said. I’m gonna kill ya..all three of ya.”

“Butcher” Benton has a reason to be bitter and pissed off. Sentenced to die for his role in an armored truck heist, Benton burns to get revenge for those who framed him. While not completely innocent (he was part of a criminal gang, wanting $600,000 of the money caused the other two, including his attorney, to turn state’s evidence against him), Benton is sentenced to die, but knows where the money is and will not tell the one who orchestrated the job, Paul Lowe, swearing to get even with the three who sent him to the gas chamber, including “Squeamy” Ellis and Joe Marcelli.

That money is somewhere and the police have given up on finding it, while Detective Richard, despite being reassigned, decides to continue working on the case during his off-duty hours. It was an armored car heist, Benton keeping all the money to himself, never relinquishing the whereabouts of that cache to those who were part of the gang. Eva Martin, a stunning blond burlesque dancer, was a girl Charles “Butcher” Benton desired (even though she made her intentions clear that she was not interested in him that way), and unknowingly had a letter with a map providing a location inside the city sewer system where the money was hidden, Lowe stealing it so he could find the loot.

You might ask how Chaney’s Butcher Benton will return from the dead. Well, this movie’s excuse to do just that is through a scientist working on a cure for cancer, his experiments resurrecting Butcher Benton so he could get his revenge. Why else would we be attracted to a movie with the title Indestructible Man unless he was given an avenue for which to become an unkillable weapon of vengeance? A machine which sends thousands of volts through the body is the method for which the scientist tests his theories regarding the resurrection of a dead human being, and this will furnish Chaney with the incredible power to exact punishment upon his enemies. Multiplying cells, a beating heart shocked back to life, Chaney will be equipped with strength and abilities such a man as dangerous as him truly doesn’t need. Chaney’s Butcher, after the resurrection, has damaged vocal chords so he doesn’t have to bother with dialogue, which means he can lumber around with look of madness on his face, his character a hulking beast with only hate in his now beating heart and murderous intentions.

How indestructible is he? Well a hypodermic can not penetrate his skin. He can knock a door off its hinges with a shoulder block. He can choke two grown men and incapacitate them in mere seconds. He takes a missile launcher blast to the chest and a blow torch to the face. These are the best bits in the movie where we see just how much the indestructible man can endure.

The film is narrated to the hilt by a detective, Lieutenant Richard “Dick” Chasen, and it’s the kind of narration that spells out entire scenes and the storyline; he doesn’t just draw us a map, but presents an architectural design of the plot.

By this point in his career, Chaney had gained the “haggard, with jowls” look, thinning hair, wrinkled face, he was showing the effects of his alcoholism, although, interesting enough, it seems to add to his menacing characters. His menace in this film kills a carnival showman and two highway patrolmen, withstanding bullets to the body, quite literally an indestructible force.

The thing is even though Chaney was aging, his big and burly build still gave him quite an imposing presence on screen. One scene, where he returns to Eva’s dressing room for the map, discovering that Paul had took it, Chaney looms over her like an ominous thundercloud, tossing her to the side with ease. Men of smaller stature are thrown around like rag dolls; when his hands grip around the throats of these men, there like necks caught in vice grips. The real mystery of the movie is how anyone will be able to stop him—what is the Butcher’s weakness?

My reasons for watching this is to see Chaney destroy people. I love this one scene where he lifts the crippled “torch man” (the one who can open locked safes with blow torches) in the air, hurling him to his doom. Squeamy’s fate isn’t any different, except that Butcher picks him up and throws him from three stories instead of down a flight of steps.

Problem is that Chaney’s scenes are few and far between. The director loves to shoot Chaney’s face—particularly his eyes—up close, so much to the point that it grows tiresome, and his stature, as I mentioned previously, fills the screen. Still, the rest of the film, when he’s absent, is standard crime drama, just enough of the “mad science” is included in the story to return Chaney from the dead and make him superhuman.

The ending was rather neat—it starts inside the sewer when a cowardly Lowe, with no other choice since his life is on the line, gives the police the map to the payroll, with them following after Butcher, concluding with Benton attempting to *recharge his batteries* at the top of a power plant, resulting in a fireworks show . It’s just a shame Lowe doesn’t get his just desserts. One promise that isn’t kept which is too bad because Lowe was a shitheel.

The cast includes Max Showalter as Dick Chasen, Marian Carr as blond bombshell (although, not the greatest actress in the world) Eva, Ross Elliot laying on the slime as Lowe, with Ken Terrell and Marvin Ellis as the two robbers who get quashed by Chaney.

Vigilante (1982)

* * ½

Following Maniac, director William Lustig had crossed disturbing boundaries and shocked audiences with his repulsive psychopath and the human monster’s violent activities. It was violence made even more potent due to Tom Savini’s exceptional make-up which elaborated the explicit nature of the crimes. It was about smaller females caught by a real sick individual who unleashed the savage on them. How could he possibly follow up such a film whose notoriety continues to this day? Interesting enough, Vigilante has lingered in relative obscurity while Lustig’s Relentless with Judd Nelson has acquired a cult following over the years. Vigilante is a *message movie*, announcing to us that the police and other law enforcement aren’t successful in maintaining law and order; that the scum and lowlifes polluting the streets are alive, that it might take vigilantism for any sort of order to be restored.

What makes this film so sickening and distasteful is what happens to Robert Forster’s wife and cute kid, victims at the hands of a foul pack of despicable cretins who look as if they came right out of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, no conscience or moral sense of right and wrong. The Death Wish series made these dregs of society famous for how a civilian decided to take the law into his own hands, roaming the streets, looking for justice by different means, packing heat, and dishing out a brand of punishment these scumbags deserve that the courts or the police seem powerless to provide.

Forster, whose son is shot-gun shot by the leader of the “Headhunters”, tries to seek punishment the right way, through the court system, but when a crooked judge, in lieu with a shady attorney (played by Joe Spinell, as oily and reprehensible as ever), releases the man who killed his son, the film follows the theme set by Death Wish—Forster will seek retribution against all of those who ruined his life. When Forster goes after the judge for his letting the killer go free, he is sentenced to prison.

Look, I realize that all of this is to stir up the emotions so that we root and cheer for the demise and abuse of street punks. I also realize that pacifists will consider movies like Vigilante incorrigible because there seems to be a statement that the only way to rid society of its criminal element is to exterminate them like cockroaches, to maintain the peace and keep the city safe you have to sink to their level, violence begets violence. When Forster gets out of prison, that bitterness and anger that has been fermenting must be released and it’s the Headhunters who become the hunted.

Unlike the Death Wish movies, Vigilante doesn’t show Forster hunting down every single member of the Headhunters, just the one he thought was responsible for murdering his child (although this rat bastard did cut up his wife for slapping the gang member for pouring gasoline all over the service station attendant), the gang leader who did shoot the kid in cold blood with a smile on his face, and the judge who sent him to prison (and was responsible for allowing the rat bastard who cut up Forster’s wife to go free). However, in this movie, we are introduced to a trio of vigilantes led by Fred “The Hammer” Williamson who look for the head honchos responsible for pushing drugs on the streets and street gangs who commit violent crime. For instance, Williamson and his men kidnap a rapist, then later hunt down two drug pushers (one a pimp, another selling narcotics to teenagers) so they can discover the mastermind behind the product moving throughout the New York City streets.

So Forster will join forces with Williamson and his group in order to get even with those who have wronged him. The film follows Forster’s time in prison, how an old-timer, played by the great Woody Strode, saves him from a shower room raping, beating two prisoners to the pulp. Strode, only in the film a few minutes, leaves more of an impression than most do in two hours.

There’s the car chase as Forster pursues the gang leader throughout New York City streets, ending with the two men having scaled a building within a maze of factories. Plenty of blood squibs are put to good use as the Headhunters gang open fire on a pair of police officers inside their patrol car and an infamous Italian businessman is gunned down by Williamson after he finds out that this is the one who has been supplying the drugs poisoning the streets. The film really pours the anguish on Forster as he loses his child, the wife leaves him after he gets out of prison, and he has to resort to murder in order to get penance for all that has happened to him.

I think the film does have enough action and its relation to the Death Wish types of movies should appeal to fans who look for movies featuring ordinary men, middle-aged, who become fed up and wish to settle a score with the worst kind of vermin.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Carson City (1952)

* * *

Lots of plot complications in this solid little Randolph Scott western.
Sure Scott might've been considered an imitation western hero alongside
John Wayne, but I haven't found a dull movie of his out of the bunch
I've seen.

In this film Scott portrays a charming roughneck engineer named Jeff
Kincaid, hired to create a railroad system through a tough mountainous
territory located near a small town named Carson City, his home town.
Screen veteran Raymond Massey, as AJ Jack Davis, is the new villain
Scott will have to contend with, the leader of a group of thieves known
in the papers as the "Champagne Bandits", using an old mine as a front
for his nefarious activities.

What started out as robbing stagecoaches for loot results later in the
murder of a driver carrying parts for an automatic drill to assist the
railroad. Zeke(Don Beddoe), in charge of the Carson Clarion newspaper,
discovers that Davis' partner in crime, Squires (James Millican), was
the one responsible for the stagecoach driver's murder and is killed
for such knowledge, the railroad workers accused of carrying out their
grievances on him. When Davis quits using the local stagecoach driver
to move his bullion, Kincaid becomes aware that something's amiss.

All the traits of the classic B-western is here and accounted for:
• The tall and stalwart hero who can lead men and shoot a gun(Scott).
• The treacherous and conniving heel(Massey).
• The lengthy barroom brawl which has men toppling over tables, chairs broken, mirror behind the counter destroyed, blows landed, bodies pummeled until the hero is left standing (there are actually two of these featuring Scott, the first early on a humorous free-for-all, the second a serious affair where our hero must teach one of his railroad workers a lesson in manners).
• The romantic entanglements (Kincaid and his brother Alan(Richard Webb) are in love with the same woman, Lucille Norman's Susan, daughter of Zeke).
• The hero having to come to the rescue of the damsel in distress (Susan is kidnapped by Davis' gang when she catches him on the verge of detaching a car containing riches with Alan attempting to save her, as Kincaid and his railroad workers ride hard to stop the bandits).
• The instance where the hero has to draw his gun from its holster when one of the villain's men challenges him to a duel (in this case, Squires).
• The big action sequence (an avalanche caused by Davis' gang sending rocks and debris catapulting down the mountain killing a few workers, trapping Kincaid and some of his men in a tunnel) which has our hero in peril.
• And, last but not least, the hero and villain in a shootout, Kincaid losing one of those close to him in the process. As is often the case, some innocents Kincaid cares for die due to actions by the main villain who is determined to escape with stolen loot to better his living elsewhere.

Massey is up for the demands of a strong villain, perfectly loathsome,
a smile on his face after every successful stagecoach robbery. Massey's
Davis is quite assured in his tactics and organized crime, willing to
shoot anyone in the back if they interfere with his payday. The
California locations are stunning; Scott is believable as the
workhorse, confident in his own abilities, who gets dirty right next to
his men.

I've always considered Scott more than just "someone who is skilled at
riding horseback", as he is more than capable in establishing the
proper pathos and emotional duties the roles he inherited provide. Not
just surface laconic hero characteristics, Scott was also adept at
evoking pain, regret, anger, love, joy, seriousness, integrity, and
other emotions important in making his characters real and viable.
Above all, without charisma and a genuine screen presence, I doubt
Scott could have remained such a western star for so long. He can say
little and yet get his point across. Regarding dialogue, Scott—such as
one scene where Alan continues to push his buttons regarding the
railroad and the tumultuous situations which have spurned from its
territorial presence and he warns him subtly to stop—can take a few
words and add just the right bit of emphasis which informs the other
person that his tolerance for their behavior has reached the breaking
point. Some actors are gifted at speaking volumes with a certain
expression, the depth and breadth of how they feel inherent without
theatrics or overindulgence in performance. Scott, I feel, is one of
those kinds of stars. Did Scott receive Wayne's leftovers? I dunno, but
if he did, I couldn't think of anybody more talented to do so.

Midnight Phantom (1935)

* *

To say that the Chief of Police, James A Sullivan, is intimidating would be an understatement—everyone who enters his office does so with hesitation, expecting to get their ass chewed out. He’s frustrated because of the criminal element in his city, and nobody on the force seems to know how to apprehend those responsible. The opening scene, after an edited series of events such as crime and the police pursuing suspects in the Big City are presented to us, has consecutive visits to the Sullivan’s office, almost everyone he has a bone to pick with. Whether it be an officer eyeing political office to steal his job (rubbing noses with the kind of people he despises), a policeman under his command unable to catch a murderer plaguing the streets, or his captain over the Vice squad, from Paris, who might be receiving inappropriate funds to support a lavish existence, each person poses an annoyance or aggravation which fuels his temper. Chief Sullivan understands that those under his command care little for his tactics, the way his voice is stern and serious, how he approaches certain officers who he considers slack in their duties or questions possible improprieties in their performances as they pertain to law and order. He accepts their prejudices and harsh feelings for his methods as a commanding officer, taking them in stride because he expects results and cannot tolerate crooked cops taking bribes from gamblers/criminals with power.

A lot of these public domain relics do not follow a barometer regarding pace as is evident in Midnight Phantom. I was twenty minutes in and the story had yet to introduce us to the title character. I felt that the point of the movie was to present a mysterious killer and equip the viewer with enough suspicious characters in the opening minutes to decide who he might be and why he would kill a specified target or targets. Midnight Phantom seems interested more in showing the overall crime rate in the Big City, what Chief Sullivan must contend with while in charge, and the alternating problems and characters within his orbit. Lots of story elements are introduced which concern Sullivan but it takes up an incredible amount of the film’s running time, interrupting the true reason why we are watching Midnight Phantom to start with.

Sullivan attempts to avoid scandal at all costs. The gamblers have spread rumors that he is having an affair with the police office secretary (her mother is a hard-nosed policewoman, and convinced the rumors are true, unwilling to listen to reason even though Sullivan denies such allegations), and the man who is engaged to his daughter had a crook brother killed during a heist getaway. Sullivan will not consent to Lieutenant Daniel Burke’s marriage to Diana, his daughter, concluding, “…as long as I live.” That’s an “uh oh” moment in the screenplay which pretty much condemns Sullivan to a grim fate, already established earlier with threatening phone calls not traced while the Chief was in communication with the unknown person.

The acting in the movie illustrates the uncomfortable positions the cast seem to be in front of a camera, instead of on stage in a theater setting. The actors look apprehensive and the dialogue is spoken in a hesitant tone, while other times the cast stumble over their words. Not to mention, the camera is stagnant, lacking a strong sense of style which might lift the movie out of its lurch, where the performances and the lingering, uneventful story are unable to do so.

The movie goes out of its way to present a laundry list of enemies with a motive to kill Sullivan. Even Burke, who persists on marrying Diana, is a suspect because Sullivan insists that he will not be granted such betrothal.
Professor David Graham is the character whose shit doesn’t stink, a revered and respected character throughout the movie toted as one of the world’s “outstanding criminologists”. You just know his Sherlock Holmsian genius will be mined when the midnight phantom’s identity is sought. Graham’s intellect, his quality as a criminologist, is presented for an attendance of police officers as criminals of different types are paraded in front of them, where the Professor profiles each type for the audience, the performance establishing his qualifications as a premier detective/scientist. It is during this performance that someone kills Sullivan. It will be up to Graham to determine the one responsible. It takes damn near 45 minutes of exposition before we get to this point which, by then, might have lulled the audience watching into a coma.

This is the point in the movie where Midnight Phantom becomes an Agatha Christie mystery, the suspects locked in the same room, the poisonous needle which caused a paralysis stopping Sullivan’s heart the possible culprit behind the murder. What is unfortunate is that the investigative portion of the movie is about ten minutes and the reason behind the murder is rather blah, the dismantling of the “perfect crime” too easy, the murderer, while surprising (the formula is turned on its head regarding who usually is the person responsible and who the actual killer is in this movie’s case), discovered not long after the crime is committed. The motive, over the love of a woman, really underwhelmed me personally, in particular, considering the killer seemed too held together to make such a foolish mistake when he could easily win the hand of any number of ladies (and, to be honest, Diana is such a bore, I’m not sure why he’d be so interested in her).

The cast: Reginald Denny as Graham, Claudia Dell as Diana, Lloyd Hughes as Burke, and Jim Farley as Chief Sullivan. Midnight Phantom is the very definition of a poverty row quickie. Slow, uneven/stiff performances, bloated plot, and a deadening dull pace, Midnight Phantom struggles to capture your attention because it takes too long to get to the point we’re interested in.

I believe this film, if not found in those Mill Creek sets available, can be found on the Internet Archive if you are interested.

Hell High

* * ½

We are introduced to a jerk-off troublemaker named Dickins who throws biology papers in the air after his exhausted teacher, Ms. Storm, asks the prick to file them once he has taken the tests from the other students. He’s part of a group of rejects, misfits who accept their unpopular reputations in school with pride and live it up much to the chagrin of the faculty and other students who find them obnoxious and burdensome. To disrupt and cause anarchy seem to be their mantra, and soon an ex-football player (who loses his girl to the star jock after quitting the team) is “commissioned” to join them.

Jon-Jon has a bright future but is not exactly the kind who normally associates with Dickens kind of crowd, a bunch of loud, abrasive teens who yearn to raise hell while he has folks who expect great things out of him. Yet Jon-Jon decides to hang with them and this slasher film documents the repercussions. Dickens is obsessed with biology teacher Ms. Storm, particularly after seeing her bathe while peeping through her home window. Storm, because of his antics with frog dissection test papers, slapped Dickens, a vow of revenge towards her as a result.

Also part of this gang is Queenie, who is aware of her appetite for sex and doesn’t hide her interest in Jon-Jon, and Smiler as the typical always-eating “fat stooge” who is seen often cramming his mouth with food, generally acting an ass of himself for comic effect. I might have laughed at such a character when I was a teenager, but now an overweight goof causes me to cringe—it’s a stereotype that bothers me.

But, moving on, slashers—and the giallo thrillers of the late 60s/early 70s—often feature (well, most of the time, they do) a psychosis which derives from a form of psychological trauma of the past, and HELL HIGH is no different. Mentioning that, a lot of films from the slasher genre establish an event which is curious because it doesn’t seem to relate to the rest of the story afterward, only to become an important factor in why characters are murdered, in an especially vicious fashion.

Normally, though, something sets off the murders, someone—in this movie’s case, Dickens—contributes to what starts the slaughter. Dickens, the type of cretin who contemplates new ways to raise a ruckus or torment people, has the perfect plan to get even with Force (an incident he started) and that is to gather up bags of swamp slop, climb up on her house’s roof, to stomp their feet, making noise, commencing in splattering the watery mud on her windows. This leads to reawakened trauma for Storm who, as a little girl, accidentally caused a couple to crash on a motorcycle (through the use of swamp mud) which threw them off, impaling on spikes sticking out of the ground.

The plot complications, while interesting compared to the usual slasher movie, become more and more absurd. At first a prank, Dickens, who just doesn’t know when to quit, returns to Storm’s home to ravage her (Storm is given a sedative by the girl’s sports coach), and this decision leads to the voluntary flight out of a window, plan for a frame-up, and eventually death.

The killer is no mystery in the movie, the violence is savage, and the body count small (those who were responsible for mischief which caused Storm to take the flight I previously wrote get what’s coming to them). You could do worse than this movie, but I didn’t think anything spectacular sets this apart from most of the slasher movies made in prior years.

By ’89 HELL HIGH was made during the dying period when the slasher genre was about to stagnate until SCREAM brought a resurgence (and tamer, flashier approach to the genre, instead of regular folks, you have nothing but purty girls and boys, a great deal of them from Aaron Spelling/Dawson Creek type teeny-bopper television, getting killed off-screen) which might explain why the movie isn’t on the tongues of die hard fans.

I think the movie has enough to appeal to those looking for tits and violence, but HELL HIGH, to me anyway, is probably a non-entity for a reason, it doesn’t have a lot of surprises to stand out of the pack. The murders include a stone face bashing, a pencil to the skull, butcher knife to the shoulder, fireplace poker impalement, and blade to the throat. A ton of body double work for the nude scenes regarding the female leads.

The film does enter LAST HOUSE OF THE LEFT territory when Dickens gets on top of Storm, under the influence of the sedative(given to her by the volleyball girls coach as a means to quiet her), Halloween mask half way on his face, contemplating the pervert activities he has in store for her, Queenie “showing him how to really grope a woman.” It is really strange and depraved without any actual sexual contact or nudity—somehow, it still has bite because of the characters, their warped moral decay. And how to set up the football star, the scared group needing a fall guy for their own benefit. There is an unneeded but decent “motorcycle exploding into parked car” stunt included for good measure.

Stryker, a victim of the AIDS epidemic, stands out from the cast as the beyond-help sociopath, Dickens, with no redeeming value whatsoever. Mooney isn’t too shabby either as the teacher who unleashes the beast (particularly when she picks up the stone, pounding a face in multiple times) after being pushed over the edge. Christopher Cousins’ role as Jon-Jon is amusing in that he’s not really a hero because he really only cares about saving his own skin or protecting his own interests. It’s about his future, yet he participates in activities with Stryker, such as peeping on teach and playing the prank on the poor woman; the events that transpire are of his own making—why would he associate with Stryker to begin with? Millie Prezioso is Queenie, her most memorable scene, for my money, when she sits on top of practically comatose Storm to perform for Stryker, with Brill hilarious as Smiler, becoming unglued while waiting for Cousins to get the star quarterback's jersey as a framing device.




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The Boogens - Intro

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