We broke the rules a little for our latest movie marathon (back story and previous write-ups can be found here – 1, 2, 3 & 4), for once we didn't watch anything on VHS (accidentally more than anything – we had a bunch on our shortlist) and there were a couple of classic and decent titles that shouldn't really be labeled 'trash'. Nonetheless, everything we watched was a genre film of some sort and we certainly had a lot of action, horror and exploitation on the menu. It was a mixed bag in terms of quality, era and subject matter too so read on to find out how it went.
Charity Hurts is a zero budget martial arts comedy about a man hell bent on bringing down a mob network operating a fake door-to-door charity collection service. It's an incredibly amateur piece of filmmaking, but if you can accept that it was made by a martial artist and his mates for nothing and run with it, it's 70 minutes of goofy fun. It's full of non-actors butchering lines they are clearly reading off a script/screen, camera men in mirrors, horrifically childish special effects and it clearly looks and sounds like it was shot on a point-and-click handycam. This does make for an enjoyable 'so bad its good' experience at times, although the actual scripted humour falls incredibly flat due to the inexperienced performers. From an action perspective, the fights in the first half of the film are pretty embarrassing, but once Thatcher takes on some foes that have a similar level of expertise in martial arts, there is some fast-paced and athletic choreography on display. It's thankfully all shot in long takes too which shows off the true skill of some of the fighters. Unfortunately this doubly highlights those performers with little or no prior training as well as makes a lack of contact clear in most of the action scenes.
You can never call this a good film due to it's beyond poor presentation, but if you're into homemade action movies this certainly has it's heart in the right place and contains enough decent fights to keep it entertaining.
Game of Death
This was an infuriating watch. With a fantastic direct-to-video action cast and high production values, this could have been great fun, but due to some terrible stylistic choices the film is crippled and tedious. The big culprit here is the avid fart. The film can't go two minutes without a faded jump cut, black and white cut-in or some other crappy 'flourish' media students who've just discovered the effects palette like to use. It's so unnecessary and poorly executed that it made me want to put my head through the screen every time they did it – which was an insane amount.
All this wankery littering the film merely acts as filler to pad out a sparse narrative, dragging what could have been a fun action flick out into a chore. It's all a bit too po-faced and unnecessarily serious too, which is a shame because the action scenes were bone-crunchingly violent and the film looked really nice when it wasn't vomiting out editing effects.
Piranha 2: Flying Killers (a.k.a. Piranha 2: The Spawning)
Director: James Cameron & Ovidio G Assonitis (uncredited)
Screenplay: James Cameron, Ovidio G Assonitis & Charles H Eglee (all credited together as HA Milton)
Starring: Tricia O'neil, Steve Marachuk, Lance Henriksen, Ricky Paull Goldin, Ted Richert
Duration: 84 min
Piranha 2 is notorious for being James Cameron's low-rent directorial debut and he gets a lot of flack for it although he has fought back claiming he got left out of the editing process and some added scenes got filmed without his consent. I must say though, I don't fully understand all the derision aimed at the film as I actually quite liked it. Yes, it's clearly ridiculous having piranha sprout wings and fly at people out of the water and the fish effects are hilariously bad, but it's a hell of a lot more fun and well made than most cheap exploitation films of it's age.
What stood out for me was the fact that the characters were almost all pretty likeable and fairly well performed. A young Lance Henriksen in particular has a decent presence and must have impressed James Cameron as he went on to feature him in his following two films. In fact, without wanting to sound like I'm taking a cheap shot, I think the human element of Piranha 2 surpasses that of Cameron's Avatar in a number of aspects. The characters are all pretty textbook and lifted straight from Jaws but in a B-movie like this they worked and I had no problem sitting through the scenes of downtime in between fish attacks which is a lot more than I can say about most B-movies.
The gore effects are occasionally decent too when we get to see what's left of the piranha's meals, adding to what I think is a pretty effective and enjoyable low budget monster movie.
As a side note, our copy actually broke during the film's climax, which prompted repeated cries of 'we want fish, we want fish' – a chant from that very scene as well as the DVD's menu. Luckily we found a second copy of the film lurking in the house (you wouldn't believe how many films Justin has) and managed to finish it off in the morning.
A short sample of the film (I couldn't find anything better – the trailer seems to have disappeared off the face of the Earth):
The Devil Rides Out (a.k.a. The Devil's Bride)
Director: Terence Fisher
Screenplay: Richard Matheson
Based on a novel by: Dennis Wheatley
Starring: Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Nike Arrighi, Leon Greene, Patrick Mower
Duration: 96 min
This was an historic occasion, as it was the first time I had ever watched a Hammer Horror film. I don't know why it had taken me so long, especially considering my penchant for oldies and horror as well as the fact that I'm British. After the build up I'm pleased to say that I very much enjoyed my introduction to the campy yet classy world of Hammer. The film has dated over the years of course with it's theatrical performances as 'oh so polite' vision of British life, but that's all part of the charm. What hasn't dated is the film's creepy atmosphere and stately beauty. It's subtly grand production design and craftsman-like cinematography is a joy to behold. It was also interesting to see Christopher Lee in a 'good-guy' role too. He still has a powerful presence, making for an incredibly intense hero which is an odd choice, but works well.
The Devil Rides Out is an engrossing watch and remains quite menacing at times despite it's lack of truly 'scary' set-pieces. It has made me ashamed of the Hammer-shaped gap in my life, which I'm looking to plug over the coming years.
Oh dear. We did so well with the last two films. White Fire sent everything crashing down to Earth. Bo (Robert Ginty) lives in a creepy overly loving relationship with his sister Ingrid (Belinda Mayne) in a strange future world where everyone seems to mine diamonds or tries to steal them. Through Ingrid's job in the mine's headquarters, they are smuggling bags full of diamonds out of the main compound for some time, but get into trouble with a rival gang. This results in the murder of Ingrid, but not before she discovers a powerful and huge mega-diamond known as 'white fire'. Bo gives up hope and wallows in misery at the local bar where he discovers a near doppelgänger of his much-loved sister in Olga (Diana Goodman – at first). Things get really creepy (and sort of rip-off Vertigo) when he falls for this look-a-like and convinces her to get plastic surgery in order to look exactly like Ingrid. This of course means she can gain access to the 'white fire' and they can steal it and make millions. During all of this Fred Williamson is hunting down Olga for some reason, meaning he can join in on the carnage at the end as everyone meets at the diamond mine.
OK, so maybe I took a little too long to explain the plot, but it had to be done to show how overly complicated and dumb the film was as well as explaining the twisted the brother/sister relationship at the centre of it all. There's even a scene where he 'frolics' with her whilst she's completely naked. These are just a couple of the film's many flaws though, the biggest being that it's just plain dull. For a trashy exploitation film there is very little violence (although our version looked badly cut) and although the plot is a big mess it's never in a hurry to move it along. Also, the performances are infuriatingly flat and uncharismatic. Williamson is watchable as always, but is barely in the film and when he is he seems thrown in as an afterthought.
Maybe the uncut version would have had more to recommend as it is supposed to be rather brutal and contain some sort of chainsaw duel, but little of this was left. What we were left with was utter crap from beginning to end and pretty damn hard to sit through. I can't imagine a few more scenes of exploitation would have changed our opinions that much.
Below is the film's trailer which seems to contain most of the footage cut from the version we saw:
This was the unexpected gem of the weekend. A western horror film, The Burrowers follows a band of men who set out across the plains on horseback to find two missing girls who they believe to have been taken by native Americans after the rest of their family was found butchered. As the men travel further on they realise something else entirely has been preying on their townsfolk and has turned it's sights on them.
It's a slow burner of a film which begins as a standard western with suggestions of horror in the corners, then builds in tension and drama but never quite goes where you expect it to. The film just keeps getting more impressive as you watch. It's a bleak and uncompromising experience too as you can never second guess who will survive and win out, if at all. The 'creatures' are kept in the shadows for most of the film which works in it's favour and when they are fully revealed in the climax they actually look really good considering the mediocre budget. The production values in general are impressive and it has a handsomely authentic look to it.
Fans of dark westerns and horror in general should really track this down as it gets nowhere near enough credit as it deserves. A disturbing, captivating watch from beginning to end that regularly surprises and impresses.
New Killers in Town (a.k.a. New Kids in Town or Master of Disaster)
Late on during Saturday evening we put on New Killers in Town for a bit of a lively action-fest to keep us awake. A typical Hong Kong martial arts movie from 1990, it plays out pretty much as expected (bar a strange rollerskating sequence) with two country-boys moving to Hong Kong and getting into trouble with the local gangsters. It was a bit of a mistake putting this on last after three back to back movies though as it follows a common habit of these types of film when the first half is quite slow, bizarrely complicated and uninteresting and the action doesn't kick in until later on.
After the initial disappointment and difficulty staying awake the film did pick up nicely though. There are a couple of impressive fight scenes in the first half, but by the end these become much more frequent and extravagant, ending with an awesome showdown in a dock. There's a nice mix of action going on too, with a healthy dose of weapons combat thrown in with fist and foot-fights. They even have a cool face-off on the back of a van.
Because of the slow start and the film's overly convoluted plot, it's not the most memorable of kung-fu movies, but it's decent set-pieces make it worth the time for fans of the genre.
Watch the epically long trailer (HK version) here:
Knives of the Avenger (a.k.a. Viking Massacre)
Director: Mario Bava
Screenplay: Mario Bava, Alberto Liberati & Giorgio Simonelli
Starring: Cameron Mitchell, Fausto Tozzi, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Luciano Pollentin
Duration: 85 min
This was another surprise for me. I'd bought a Mario Bava boxset a while ago with five titles (this, The Mask of Satan, Black Sabbath, The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Kill, Baby... Kill!), most of which are supposed to be among his best work. Knives of the Avenger was the only one I hadn't heard much about previously and the other two I watched first (The Mask of Satan & The Girl Who Knew Too Much) impressed me visually but I found them a bit dated and slightly disappointing. So of course I didn't expect much from this, a fairly minor addition to his cannon, but I actually really enjoyed it and as it stands it's my favourite Bava film.
Content-wise it's in fairly standard sword-and-sandals territory, with a mysterious and powerful warrior drifting into town and getting drawn into protecting an exiled queen and her son from an evil viking warlord hell-bent on claiming the crown for himself by forcing the queen to marry him. The plot has a soap-opera slant to it, but the film generally avoids any heavy-handed melodrama and plays down it's predictable twists so that they don't feel too clumsy.
Being directed by Mario Bava, the film looks great of course. It's not as obviously stylish as most of his work, but is classily shot, making great use of it's widescreen aspect ratio, gorgeous locations and convincing sets. The whole look and feel seems to be quite authentic, especially for a film of it's age and genre. This isn't Conan, filled with magic and over the top one-man-armies (well maybe a little of that), it's more of a gritty historical action drama. The fist-fights in particular, of which there are many, are impressively realistic looking and shot in very long takes, standing tall today against any Bourne-style one-on-one set-pieces.
It's got it's dated elements (the young boy's costume is bizarre and the pacing is a little stately), but on the whole this was a healthy slab of manly action and Viking drama that went down well on a Sunday morning.
The trailer (which is in black and white for some reason - the film isn't):