Thursday, August 17, 2017

Killer Angels (Hong Kong, 1989)

This flick is the first of two on a cheap, German double DVD entitled Megaforce 1 & 2, which we bought alone due to the wonderful cover art: with its big-boobed white babe with Farrah Fawcett hair (could it be Ronda Jo Petty?) and macho male Caucasians bearing big guns, we imagined something trashy along the lines of Juan Piquer Simón's Dirty War  (1984). (Indeed, the cover art of both DVDs seems to be from the same talented illustrator, whoever that might be.)
Little did we suspect that the seriously whitewashed cover art totally obliterates the fact that the two films, Megaforce 1 & 2, are actually from Hong Kong and at least the first film more or less features an entirely Asian cast. (The "more or less" are two minor Caucasoid bad guys who show up briefly, one played by Mark Houghton, seen below, who is also to be found somewhere in Knock Off [1998 / trailer] and Fight to Win [1987 / German trailer], among other films.) Not that that matters, as a bad Hong Kong flick is more often than not as good as or better than a bad Spanish one.
Pop Megaforce 1 in the DVD player, and suddenly a title card informs you that the movie is actually called Urban Force 1. Later, should one decide to do a little research on the web about the movie, one learns that neither title is the "real" title, and that the movie is actually Sha shou tian shi, aka Killer Angels — and Megaforce 1 and Urban Force 1 are later, possible bootleg titles. (My god! Ebay sells bootlegs!) And finally, one discovers a trailer (embedded far above) revealing that the film even has an English dub out there somewhere. The dialogue doesn't seem any better than in the German dub, though.
In any event, under any title, it must be said, the movie is a truly fun discovery, and definitely whets the appetite for Megaforce II one day, though it is doubtful that the latter is in any way a "real" sequel.
But then, sequel, prequel, schmequel: who knows where Killer Angels itself actually stands. Killer Angels is merely one of a mass of interchangeably titled "angel" movies that poured out from Hong Kong in the late 80s and early 90s, a series of girls-with-guns flicks the exact order and titles of which is possibly known to no one for sure. But all, if one is to accept what James Ursini & Dominique Mainon say when talking of the beautiful Moon Lee in their entertaining read, The Modern Amazons: Warrior Women On-Screen, are modeled after the TV series Charlie's Angels (1976-81 / trailer) — though one might argue the true roots go all the way back to Ted V. Mikels's The Doll Squad (1973 / trailer), with the iconic Tura Satana), where the women kicked ass way better than the angels of TV, even if the directorial and acting skills don't surpass Saturday morning kids drama level.
Moon Lee, by the way, is one of the three ass-kicking women of this film, Killer Angels, and undeniably the lead. According to Ursini & Mainon, she initially gained notice in the first and classic Mr. Vampire (1985 / trailer) — definitely a movie worth seeing — but only gained true Hong Kong fame with "her watershed film Angel (1987 / trailer?) and its sequels. In the Angel films, she played a character named after herself: Moon [...]. Although Moon's character looked deceptively innocent, she could be tough and vicious in a fight, even utilizing the traditional male weapon of nunchakus."
Here, in this German release of a probably typical Angel film, she is  neither called Moon nor does she use any nunchucks, but she and her fellow angels definitely kick, chop, shoot, and kill as well if not better than any man. (Sock it to them, baby!) And all the while not only do they have to fend off the sexist statements and behavior of the men around them, but their prime 80s outfits stay clean and their makeup doesn't smear, even after being thrown up in the air by nearby explosives. (Had they only shot a scene in nighties! Oh, wait. Was that sexist?)
Speaking of outfits, look at the accessories: Why do none of the eyeglasses worn by any of the women, including their team leader (Pui-Kei Chan of Tai tin hang do: Sat hing / Brother of Darkness [1994 / full film] and Hei hai ba wang hua / Brave Young Girls [1990 / fight scene]), have any lenses? Was hip once upon a time to wear glasses without lenses? Could be: after all, those ugly-as-sin, baggy, above-the-belly-button jeans that gave everyone big, ugly, misshapen butts — male show dancers included — were hip once, too. Beanies, on the other hand, can never be cool enough. They always look charming, as they make any woman look like a brainless, harmless, sweetheart — even as she machineguns men dead left and right, or shoots some bad-ass, leather-clad hitwoman (Nadeki Fujimi aka Takajo Fujimi of Crystal Hunter [1991 / trailer]) in the back.
The plot is a string of clichés, but little time is given to the viewer to consider the logic of the events. As put together by longtime Hong Kong scribe On Szeto, whose unsung career seems to have spanned from 1954 to 1992 — he wrote, among others, fun stuff like  Mo / The Boxer's Omen (1983 / trailer), Gu / Bewitched (1981 / trailer), Che dau che / Hex vs. Witchcraft (1980 / trailer), Che yuen joi che / Hex after Hex (1982 / trailer), Du gu / Brutal Sorcery (1983 / full film), and more — Killer Angels / Megaforce 1 / Urban Force 1 is a string of familiar plot elements and scenes also found in any number of other movies. As uncreative as they might be, put together in such as excess and at such a speed, they work well and are immensely entertaining. Szeto seems very much to have written his script with the assumption that if you can't original, then at least be a fast barrage. A smart idea.
Killer Angel opens with a string of killings conducted by Michael, a hitman for the mob (played by the great Chia-Hui Liu, of too many movies to mention, including Kill Bill: Vol. 1 [2003 / trailer], Kill Bill: Vol. 2 [2004 / trailer] — you see him in both trailers — and the film that made his name, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin ([1978 / trailer below]). Soon thereafter, the gangster Chen shows up, supposedly with "a list of names" — the McGuffin of the movie — and in short order he is under the protection of the three angels. For whatever reason, Yau Li (Moon Lee) goes undercover at a local nightclub owned by the big bad guy of the movie, Godfather Chu Chung-Seng (Ka-Yan Leung of the Surreal masterpiece The Miracle Fighters [1982 / trailer], Jiang shi pa pa / Close Encounters of the Vampire [1986 / full movie],  Wui wan ye / Out of the Dark [1995 / trailer], Yong zhe wu ju / Dreadnaught [1981 / trailer], Yi tin to lung gei: Moh gaau gaau jue / Lord of the Wu Tang  [1993 / trailer], and Long fa wei  / Drunken Dragon [1985 / full film]). She does a music number and she and Michael get sort of romantic and there's a lot of shooting and fighting and a lot of people die and a white slavery ring gets busted and then the movie ends
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) —
original trailer:
Seriously, it is doubtful that there is ever more than a few minutes between any given action scene anywhere in the movie. True, the film looks oddly cheap around the edges, but still, Killer Angels barrels along like an out-of-control Fiat Palio with a Porsche engine. Between the violence and deaths and plot twists and laughs both intentional (like Yau Li's job audition) and unintentional (like Yau Li's job audition), one hardly has time to breathe. Killer Angels is simply good, stupid, fun stuff with good fight scenes and lots of bodies, including a few unexpected ones. One of the best fight scenes, interestingly enough, is the last one, especially since it looks like the man knows what he is doing but has often gone on the record that he knows absolutely no martial arts and merely imitates what the fight chorographers show him. Hats off to you, dude!
Director Chin-Ku Lu, who seems to have been around since the 70s as an actor, director and scriptwriter of Asian exploitation films — some films of note include The Holy Virgin vs. the Evil Dead (1991 / fights), The Death of Bruce Lee (1975 / trailer), and Wu lin sheng huo jin / Holy Flame of the Martial World (1983 / trailer) — isn't exactly the most creative of directors, but thanks to the speed of the narrative his occasionally haphazard direction is in no way a flaw. One occasionally wonders whether he or the editor is the true force behind the narrative, but whoever it is, Killer Angels works well as a truly entertaining if slightly cheap-looking piece of mindless, fully-dressed-girls-with-guns fun. Recommended.
Killer Angels (1989) —
Moon Lee killcount:

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Tremors 2: Aftershocks (USA, 1996)

Way back in 1990, Kevin Bacon, deep in a career slump at the tender of age of 30, bemoaned the fact that he was "doing a movie about underground worms!" Bacon's career eventually revived itself — thanks, in part, by taking the Shelley Winters approach and moving into character parts — and that movie about underground worms, Tremors (1990 / trailer), went on to become a cult classic (despite its initial less than spectacular box office success).
Today, Tremors is one of those ageless movies that even still works on every level. A modernized version of the typical Jack Arnold monster movie, but with way more humor, the cast, acting, and direction and story are all dead on. It is a movie worth watching, and one that many people (like us) are always happy to watch again.
It is probably the slow-cook success of the movie that resulted in the six-year span between the Tremors and Tremors II: Aftershocks, the first of four direct-to-video/DVD franchise flicks, a short-lived TV series of  13 episodes in 2003, and yet another direct-to-DVD sequel due next year (not to mention a TV series reboot being developed for Kevin Bacon). Six years isn't much, however, in comparison to the 21 years it's taken us to get around to watching the first sequel. Was the wait worth it? Well, we've seen worse, we've seen better. (Were we a teacher, and the flick a term paper, we'd give it a solid "C".)
For whatever reason, Kevin Bacon didn't return for Aftershocks, but the always likable Fred Ward did. Direction was taken over by S.S. Wilson, who co-wrote the script to the first movie and this one with his regular collaborator Brent Maddock. Basically, they took the original story from Tremors and tweaked it a little and made Tremors II: Aftershocks, adding only one truly original idea: evolution. Thus, the underground "Grabiods" beget the "Screamers" — they, in turn, go on to beget "AssBlasters" in Tremors III: Back to Perfection (2001 / trailer), but we won't get into that.
Whereas the ending of Tremors infers that that the three core characters — Valentine McKee (Bacon), Earl Bass (Ward) and Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter of Sweet Justice [1992 / trailer]) — ride off to fame and fortune, by Aftershocks bad contracts and bad investments have brought down-on-his-luck Earl back to Nowheresville, struggling to make a living from ostriches. (Valentine, on the other hand was busy filming, dunno, Apollo 13 [1996 / trailer] or maybe Murder in the First [1996 / trailer].) 
As luck would have it, Petromaya, an oil firm down in Mexico, is having its own difficulties with the carnivorous Grabiods, and through the power of money ($50,000 for each dead Graboid) they convince Earl to go down across the border and solve their problem.
Through the kind of contrivances scriptwriters think up when they need a specific character, Earl ends up partnering with Grady Hoover (Chris Gartin of Friends and Family [2001 / trailer]), a man of similar intellect and character as Valentine (imagine if Valentine had been a city slicker instead of a country bumpkin). Along the way, a romantic interest is introduced — this time around for Earl — in the form of geologist Kate 'White' Reilly (Helen Shaver of Amityville Horror [1979 / trailer], The Believers [1987 / trailer] and The Craft [1996 / trailer]), and then Perfection's survivalist Burt Gummer (Michael Gross of all the sequels) joins the show. And then: evolution.
OK, the dialogue is funny and the characters likable if barely sketched or clichéd, but the whole movie comes across pretty much like a weak second brewing of the same teabag of your favorite tea: it echoes all that you loved in the first brewing, but it just doesn't cut the mustard. And that is the problem of Aftershocks: we have seen it all before, not only that but done better, so it fails in general to interest even though it is professionally made. If you have seen Tremors, Aftershock just comes across as completely unnecessary, if not a bit dull and uninteresting. In turn, it well made enough that if you have never seen Tremors, and you can get past the jokes (visual and spoken) that build upon the first movie, Aftershock will probably mildly entertain the child within you. 
Also, the bodycount is surprisingly low for a horror movie, comedic or not. In Tremors, about nine or ten people (of varied nationalities) went to meet their merry maker in ways funny to tragic, while in Aftershock the death toll is a measly three men, all of whom are Mexican. (Do we detect a certain level of subconscious racism here?) For the life of us, we couldn't figure out why the screenwriters didn't at least do away Grady, who for all intents and purposes is an expendable character. Hell, he doesn't even return for Tremors III or V: Bloodlines (2015 / trailer). (As Tremors IV: The Legend Begins [2004 / trailer] is a prequel, it at least makes sense that he's not there.)
As for the titular monsters, most of the killings of the Graboids & Co. are reduced to scenes of flying guts and debris, which always seems to land just where the main characters are located and nowhere else, or CGI effects instead of any amazing old-school special effects, so there ain't much thrill there either.
Tremors II: Aftermath is like virtually any major American beer: it leaves no aftertaste, but has no punch even as it seems oh-so-fondly familiar. As a movie, it is not terrible, but not great: it's a faded, less-colorful rehash of the first film that sits smack-dab in the middle of perfunctory. But at least it has laughs: laughs go a long way, baby.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Short Film: I Live in the Woods (USA. 2008)

God is Dead! Long live the New God!
Were this short not already nine years old, we would be tempted to say this is some obscure, symbolic reflection of the current state of the American presidential office. But  nope. It's just a quick and violent, mostly stop-motion short full of surreal violence. Sort of like the current state of the American presidential office.
Over at Daily Film Dose, they hit the nail on the head with their description: "[Max] Winston's stop motion/live action quickie about a wildly violent hillbilly punk is told with the energetic momentum of a Road Runner cartoon, and a fresh Henry Selick meets Terry Gilliam meets Sam Raimi style. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any throughline whatsoever other than the random bombardment of manic energy, pace and bloodsplattering gore. [...] Proceed with caution."
We see a throughline. It's a symbolic reflection of American politics.
As for caution: Fuck that — throw caution to the wind. (But always use condoms.)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Dinocroc vs. Supergator (USA, 2010)

"I'm telling you. It's aliens! First they go for our animals, then they go for our women."
Roy (Jim Wynorski)
"I've seen your wife. Trust me, Roy; she's safe."
Charlie Swanson (John Callahan)
"I know."

Way back in the day of Poverty Row, say the 1920 to the mid-1950s, a multitude of low-tier studios (the most famous probably being Monogram Pictures, Republic Pictures, and Producers Releasing Corporation) produced a continuous supply of low-budget and quickly made B-films and second features populated by unknowns, B and C personalities, and stars on the slide, out of favor, simply slumming it or on the rise.
Among the directors of Poverty Row, some like Douglas Sirk (26 Apr 1897 – 14 Jan 1987) went on to respectable fame and fortune; others like Edgar G. Ulmer (17 Sept 1904 – 30 Sept 1972) and to a lesser extent Arthur Dreifuss (25 Mar 1908 – 31 Dec 1993) gained later cult repute as under-appreciated masters; most, like the western specialist Robert N. Bradbury (23 Mar 1886 – 24 Nov 1949) or William Whitney (5 May 1915 – 17 Mar 2002), simply disappeared into obscurity; and others, like the highly productive William "One Shot" Beaudine (15 Jan 1892 – 18 Mar 1970), with around 180 movies to his credit,  and Sam Newfield (6 Dec 1899 – 10 Nov 1964), with over 250 movies to his name, attained eternal infamy as "bad movie" directors.
Poverty Row is long gone, needless to say, crumbling like dust once the chain-theater distribution system was broken, television appeared, and the major studios began making A-budget B films. For a long time, the almost cookie-cutter, scrappy product of the studios and directors like Sam Newfield was simply no longer needed.
Today, however, thanks to advent of DVD releases and the plethora of channels populating contemporary cable TV, "poverty row" has almost been reborn; perhaps not as a location — most of the studios of the past were all located on Gower Street in Hollywood — but definitely in regard to cheap, cookie-cutter product (admittedly with a bit more knowing irony than in the old days) from a "house" and some truly productive director.
The Asylum, of course, is a prime example of a highly productive "house", as is SyFy Films, nee Sci Fi Pictures, of the SyFy Channel, while Charles Band’s Full Moon, though almost venerable in age by now, is somewhat less fecund. (Roger Corman stands in the heavens above them all, of course, the Holy Deity of contemporary non-major production houses.)
Among the current directors vying for the sobriquet "One Shot" are David DeCoteau (of Creepozoids [1987], Blonde Heaven  [1991] and Retro-Puppet Master [1999], among many) and Jim Wynorski, the director of Dinocroc vs. Supergator (and, among other stuff, Vampirella [1996]), and whom Paste Magazine, on their list of "The Best of the Bad", already refer to as "the 'sleaziest' director on this list". (An oddly placed appellation, seeing that DeCoteau, who is likewise on that list, actually made hardcore porn movies, whereas Wynorski has yet to go further than soft-core.)
Much like the horror films of Sam Newfield — The Monster Maker (1944) being a prime example — invariably featured a stupid story, a "name" actor, a bad man & minions, a monster, an ape, cheap special effects, and a girl & guy, movies from SyFy Films invariably feature a stupid story, a "name" actor, a bad man & his minions, cheap special effects, a girl & guy, and one or more monster animals (or, quite often, mutated monster animals).
And Dinocroc vs. Supergator is no exception, though it does feature a larger bodycount and intentional humor, if not irony. (The latter reflected, for example, in such truly subtle touches as the casting of two people, MILFy Dane Delia Sheppard, seen somewhere further below from some nude pictorial, and the plump Jeff Rector, both with accents from different countries, as sibling scientists.) The "name" actor of Dinocroc vs. Supergator  is a whisky-swilling David Carradine, in one of his last roles (supposedly a one-day job) before proving, like Michael Hutchence, Albert Dekker,* and Vaughn Bodé before him, that erotic auto-asphyxiation is a dangerous way to blow a load.
* Maybe Dekker was actually murdered, if only accidentally.
Carradine's minions in Dinocroc vs. Supergator include Victoria (Lisa Clapperton), initially presented as an ass-kicker but, ultimately, totally incompetent, and a crew of mercenaries that quickly become dinocroc or supergator food. Some lean, hunky dude named "The Cajun" (Rib Hills, whom we wouldn't mind seeing naked) is originally introduced as a minion, but he quickly if inexplicitly turns good guy.
The monsters are of course the titular ones, created by science, which both escape at the same time and have insatiable appetites. They are the prime example of the cheap special effects that populate the movie:  unconvincing CGI that ensures that the monsters can never be taken seriously and every death, no matter how "bloody", is funny. Still, whenever one or the other chomps down on somebody, our eyes go all misty due to happy memories of such mid-century, non-Poverty Row, cheesy, stop-motion classics like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953 / trailer).
And though a lot people who you think will die, don't — the two guys who run into the deserted hotel and hide behind the counter, for example, though their survival looks more like something was cut from the DVD release than anything else — a lot of people do: aside from those previously mentioned, other deaths include dozens of people at the science complex, a honeymooning couple, two running blondes in bathing suits,** a photographer, a bus driver, diverse tourists, the lead heroine's father, and more.
** A scene that would have been so much funnier had it been two naked running blondes.
Basically, almost anyone introduced as a character agitating outside the core nucleus of three heroes — a nucleus that includes, aside from the Cajun, the girl & guy, Cassidy Swanson (Amy Holt, seen further below in her itsy bitsy teenie weenie non-yellow polka dot bikini, and in Sharkansas Women's Prison Massacre [2015 / trailer]) and Paul Beaumont (Corey Landis of Camel Spiders [2011]), who of course become a couple — die. The most extraneous of all victims are probably the filmmaker Chaz (Michael Bernardi) and his two bikini brunettes, Bimbo 1 (Aurelia Scheppers) & Bimbo 2 (Brandi Williams), whose entire introduction and presence is only the lead up to the punchline of a joke.*** 
*** A scene and joke that would have been so much funnier had they all been naked.
For all the funnily unconvincing CGI deaths, Dinocroc vs. Supergator plays out pretty much just like the typical second feature movie of yesteryear. The equally insipid story, full of illogical developments and coincidences and filler, barrels along to a specific time length as quickly as possible, injecting an event or laugh anytime the goings threaten to get slow. Many of the stupidities are nicely ironed out by ironic dialog (a prime example is the verbal exchange between Paul and the Cajun when it comes to blowing up tunnels). The acting is generally OK, and even where it is truly abysmal — the Concierge (Jerry Hess) is particularly noteworthy — it remains painlessly funny enough to be passable for a movie of this caliber, and some of the actors (the heroic trio, for example) actually project a level of appeal that makes them likable and the movie a tad more fun than to be expected.
On the whole, nothing about Dinocroc vs. Supergator is particularly memorable or "good", but then it is probably a bit unrealistic to expect anything "good" from a movie entitled Dinocroc vs. Supergator. But it does offer some nice scenery, some good laughs, and it flies by quickly enough. It is basically a kiddy film, perfect for the pre-teen, for whom one assumes, hopes, it was made. Non pre-teens can enjoy it when in the right state of mind.
Perhaps it should be mentioned that Dinocroc vs. Supergator is a sequel of sorts of two previous Roger Corman productions, Kevin O'Neill's Dinocroc (2004 / German trailer), with Charles Napier, and Brian Clyde's Supergator (2007 / trailer), but as neither of those movies really has anything to do with this movie other than the respective titular monsters, the fact is immaterial. Another immaterial fact is that an extended sequence of Dinocroc vs. Supergator is set at a deserted resort on the Hawai'ian of Kaua'I, which, supposedly, according to the tour guide (Tamie Sheffield), was used as the location for Roger Corman's She Gods of Shark Reef (1958 / full movie).
As some reptiles are known to be able reproduce asexually, the last scene leaves open the possibility of a sequel — one hopes with nudity.
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