Monday, September 01, 2008

This Was Never In The History Books

When I was growing up, my dad pretty much was in charge of what we watched on television. After all, he did bring home the paycheck. He did pay for the TV. It was his house. So, for many, many years, we were treated to whatever Western happened to be on. We sat through John Wayne, James Arness, Chuck Conners, Henry Fonda, Kirk Douglas and pretty much anyone else who slapped on a cowboy hat and pulled a gun, whether it was a TV series or a movie.

I hated Westerns. Everything was dusty. Everyone looked sweaty. Someone was always gunning down the poor, simple folks. I was a poor, simple folk, and I didn't like to be sweaty, and I didn't like dusty hot climates. Plus, it seemed like there was ALWAYS a Western on. We only had three channels, for the love of God! How in hell could there be that many Westerns?!?! Of course, it didn't help that one local channel seemed to show The War Wagon every other week, and Dad just HAD to watch it.

Dad passed away a number of years ago. I still didn't like Westerns, but the fact he seemed to love those damned things stuck with me all of these years. About ten years ago, I made up my mind to sit down and watch The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. This one movie was THE movie my dad raved about. Every time they showed it on TV, it took nearly four hours. Why in hell would I want to watch cowboys for four hours when I could be reading my monster magazines? Anyway, I sat down to watch this thing, fully expecting to give up less than halfway through. I loved every minute of it. It was dark, full of seedy characters and sudden violence, and not one glimpse of a moral compass to be found. I fell in love with the "Spaghetti Western".

Of course, you CAN find the Clint Eastwood Italian Westerns at reasonable prices. Heck, go to your local Wal-Mart and you can score the "Man With No Name" trilogy at five bucks per movie. But this is the Bargain Basement, and we want volume at low overhead. Once again, Mill Creek Entertainment comes to the rescue. Well, rescue may not be the best word. They deliver the goods. As I'm always quick to point out, it isn't Mill Creek's fault that a lot of the movies they can afford to put on these compilations are, well, iffy; they are just out to give you lots of movies for a minimal price. And deliver, they do, with the 20-movie pack Spaghetti Westerns. No Clint, sorry. But you do get Lee Van Cleef in few from his "I'm waiting around to play a ninja with one of the Van Patten kids" era.

On the downside, you get the reason we are gathered here today: Apache Blood. Now, there are those who would tell you that this is THE worst Western ever made. These misguided folks have apparently never seen HAWMPS!, which is probably best for everyone involved. Apache Blood is, at best, a good-intentioned attempt at a stream-lined tribute to the Italian ideal of the Western. At worst, it is poster child for retroactive film abortions.
The storyline, such as it is, has Yellow Shirt (played by Ray Danton, the only star in the film), apparently an Apache warrior, hell-bent on wiping out the white folks for having slaughtered the village he was a part of. Okay, mainly soldiers, but I don't think he'd pass up a group of tourists. As soon as the cast is made aware of his presence in their area, you know that you are looking at a cast of victims. This could have gone the route of the slasher flick, and that actually would have been an interesting premise. Nope. The soldiers are dusted off within the first 20 minutes or so. We end up with a mountain man who had helped the soldiers but was left for dead after the single most guffaw-laced bear attack on film being chased across the countryside by Yellow Shirt and his buddies. No, it isn't as exciting as it sounds. Ants trying to get a leaf into their nest is more action-packed. Dead ants under that leaf are more exciting.

What is it exactly that makes this film, well...uh...lame? It is an action film at its heart. What action there is, it just sort lays there. You should be wondering how the mountain man is gonna get out of the next mess, but you find yourself thinking about the leftover meatloaf in the fridge. You should be hoping the poor Native American rights the wrongs heaped on his people, but you start thinking you might need to mow the yard one more time before autumn hits. You just want someone to die so you can move on to something better, like Spice World or, for the love of God, Can't Stop The Music.
Apache Blood attempts to redeem itself in two ways. The first is the feeling of trying to say something about race relations and personal motivations and how we all are basically the same on the inside and that what makes one person a savage makes another person a righter of wrongs and...what the hell am I getting at? That pretty much sums up the intellectual underpinnings of this film. The other way they try to win you over is through blood. Notice I say that they try. I'm sure there exists a pristine copy of this film somewhere that has ample blood to even out the utter waste of time the rest of this film happens to be, but the version we are offered here seems to be heavily edited. When they recap the highlights of the film at the end (I recommend jumping ahead to this and bypassing the rest of this shit storm), you get to see more blood than you saw in the entire running time.
Is it worth your time? Really, would I waste this much time stomping it under my feet if it had any qualities that would make it worthwhile? Yeah, I would. Watch it at least once, but just beware of what you are walking into. It is one of those landmark pieces of crap that make you say, "If I see anything worse than this, I'm not going to finish it. I swear." But your loved ones will have already vacated the area, and will have removed you from their wills.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Fenomenal Is Fundamental!!

Ah, the simple pleasures of the superhero genre. Good guys, bad guys, ass-whuppings, cool trinkets, incredible costumes, mysterious women. All these things make superheroes and their kin interesting.

Someone should tell Phenomenal about all of that stuff, and then he'd be cool, too.

I grew up with superheroes. Batman and Spiderman were always my favorites because they seemed more human. One well-placed bullet, and they would be dead. Yet they escaped death on a regular basis and proceeded to save the day. It was always black and white when I was a kid, and these costumed heroes always knew what side to be on.

In Europe, they had grown bored with standard tales of good versus evil. What if the heroes weren't so sure what was right? What if we stopped rooting for the heroes and started rooting for the villains? These were questions too complex for a kid who could barely figure out how his favorite horror magazines made it to his local drugstore so he could buy them every month. Tales of these movies crossed my path, but how could you make a movie about a bad guy and make him the hero, I wondered.

Well, if you happen upon Danger: Diabolik, you can see that rooting for the bad guy can be fun. Master criminal showing up the people who think they are so moral and upstanding. Pure entertainment. Excitement, action, cool costumes, groovy chase scenes and alluring women. Yup, all the things the superheroes promised with the added thrill of being naughty. The stuff teen-aged boys dream of.

I'm not here to do a breakdown of all of the European anti-heroes who donned capes or costumes. I'll leave that to the folks who want to read far more into their movies than I do. I will go on record as saying
Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankamen does to the European comic book anti-hero, or the fumetti genre, what Adam Sandler does to comedy. What would that be? you ask. Ruin it.

If you scan for other reviews of this film, you will find most of them like the first few minutes of the film. Phenomenal kicks the snot out of a boatload of guys while his turtleneck is pulled over his face. He laughs like a loony after every seaman falls. Hokey but fun. It turns out the boat was involved in a drug smuggling setup. Hooray, Phenomenal can kick ass AND he's a good guy.

Now you can forget about Phenomenal. You won't see him for at least 20 minutes or more, and then it is only for a second or two while he watches a bad guy steal something from a museum. But don't be alarmed. You'll be treated to inane dialogue that is poorly dubbed. You'll meet a bewildering array of characters. You'll watch as Paris grinds to a halt the second a bike-load of baguettes falls to the sidewalk, and a cop directing the insane traffic leaves his post to check on the condition of the bread. To hell with safety, there's baked goods on the ground! You'll watch crosses and double-crosses and triple-crosses until you don't give a flying fart because you just want to see Phenomenal kicking some more ass.

As Westley said in The Princess Bride, "Get used to disappointment." Oh, sure, the guy in the dopey all-black costume shows up, only to have people throw themselves at his fists until they get tired then they just fall down. And that cool, you hear it once, maybe twice. No cool trinkets. The women are okay. The whole thing is kind of like filming Superman with Woody Allen in the costume.

As for the secret identity of Phenomenal, forget it. If you can't pick out the guy who dons the black duds the second he hits the screen, you really should just stop the movie and go play with some Tinker Toys or something. Just don't get any splinters because you'll most likely let it abscess, and you'll die of blood poisoning.

I'll admit that I'm being a bit hard on this film. There is one delight within the whipped confection of pointlessness, and that is the music. Don't just trust me on this. Go to and hear for yourself. In fact, I'd recommend buying the soundtrack and bypass the movie completely. Unless you just really have to watch the hero get outted by customs at the end of the film, as if we didn't already know who he was.

It would seem that Video Asia's Grindhouse Experience really did scrape the bottom of that Dumpster behind your local choke-n-puke joint to find these films. Better luck next time, we hope.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Death-Dealing Dumbass

A friend of mine, many years ago, said, "Every red-blooded American boy wants to grow up to be James Bond." At the time, I shrugged, thought about how I always wanted to be Lancelot Link, tried really hard to bridge the intercontinental weirdness his comment made in my head (like saying every liberal prays for the death penalty) and turned back to watching the Oklahoma sun bake the ground outside. Every time I see a James Bond film, I think of that comment. I've always had my doubts.

Until now.

It would seem that every young boy, including African-American boys, wants to be James Bond. The adventure. The foreign locales. The sexy women. All of those pretty, deadly gadgets. And guns, lots and lots of guns. Apparently David Broadnax wanted to be James Bond so bad that he created a movie in which he could play a very similar character. There are adventures. And foreign locales. And sexy women. And guns and gadgets. It would seem Broadnax had everything to make his James Bond fantasy come true. He forgot something.

It has to be interesting.

Enter Mister Deathman. I'm not opposed to vanity pieces when it comes to films. In the right hands, they can be entertaining as well as revealing. Charlie Chaplin comes to mind. But Mr. Broadnax just wanted to be the biggest, baddest dude to stride across a film set. And, well, he just didn't have it in him.

You have Broadnax as Graves, a top something-or-other who can outrun, outfox, outshoot, outsmart -- blah blah blah -- everyone. He's recruited to recover a scientist who may be delivering up important scientific secrets to the mysterious Mister Zee. After many threats to his life, he uncovers a conspiracy of global proportions. Can he overcome the odds and save the world? Feh. Can he keep me from drinking myself into a stupor? That's a more pertinent question.

As much as I love craptastic films, I find myself groaning at this stuff more and more as I get older. Prime examples of scenes to make you want to throw your pizza at the screen: They attempt to capture Graves by slipping him a bottle of drugged whiskey. But the seal has obviously been broken. This organization has wracked up millions and millions of dollars to finance their global domination, so you'd think they could find a way to tamper with a guy's booze without being so stupid about it. And then there is the scene in which Graves picks a lock with a long needle held between his teeth while he's being swamped by the incoming tide. I can't even bring myself to think about that scene. Or how about when he sprays down two armed thugs with a fire extinguisher. Okay, paper beats rock, rock beats scissors and a gun beats a damn fire extinguisher any day.

I've actually read commentaries in which people compare this cinematic abortion to Guy From Harlem. At least Harlem had the discreet charm of showing people throwing themselves at the main charcter's fists. Deathman has people quake in fear just because the "hero" swaggers into camera range. They must have, because all the bad guys in this movie have guns, and half the time Graves doesn't. Why didn't someone just freakin' shoot the guy?!?!?!

Other oddities to take note of in this film: Why does the guy who hires Graves have all his dialogue poorly dubbed when Graves sports a voice more girly than Cyndi Lauper? Why do the bad guys send a muscle man after Graves, but they let him tell Graves what is about to happen instead of just freakin' killing him? Why do they chain Graves to rocks to die instead of just freakin' killing him? Why does everyone pronounce NASA as if it is an Italian word for "nose"? And, for the love of God, why do they show you the end of the movie AT THE BEGINNING?!?!?!!!!

I conked out during this little gem around the fifth or sixth time Graves "lets" himself get captured. He seems to be better at doing that than dealing death. Sadly, the pizza delivery person woke me up and I had no good excuse for falling asleep again. Damn you, Pizza Hut!

Actually, you could do worse. You could watch a Bill Rebane movie. I notice VideoAsia didn't add any of his trash to their Grindhouse Experience collections.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Grindhouse? More like Craphaus!

For those of you who shy away from the low-end of the cinematic gene pool, let me offer up a suggestion for getting your feet wet. JUMP IN! Yeah, that's right. Jump in, right over your head. You'll panic. You'll freak for a few moments. But when your head breaks the surface, you'll then realize you just dove into a swimming pool full of sewer water. Trust me, once you get used to the smell, you'll find yourself being amazed at the variety of turds you can find in that over-sized punch bowl.

A prime way to dive in is with VideoAsia's Grindhouse Experience. There are two volumes of this series out. Both have 20 movies that you probably never heard of and, well, to be honest, you couldn't really care less if you ever did, unless you are used to swimming in the sewer water of cinema, and then these fecal chunks have a touch more character. So, with this installment, which is already mired in bad taste due to so many scatological asides, let's focus on the first volume and pick a nasty bit of bowel displacement called Demon Witch Child.

Now, as you know from my last posting about Devil Times Five, I'm not a fan of children as a rule. So you can imagine a movie in which a child is possessed would fall low on my "I loved it!" meter. Ah, but you would be wrong. Allow me to explain.

This film, a Spanish production from the mid-Seventies, sought to capitalize on the whole Exorcist routine that was popular at the time. Everyone and their dog was pumping out bile-spraying, anti-Catholic profanity-spewing movies to cash in on the popularity of the film version of Mr. Blatty's novel. Italy was the primary source for a lot of this nonsense, and while the country IS Catholic for the most part, there was this whole undertone of thumbing a collective nose at the primary religion.

Now Spain, they seemed to be a bit more inclined to view any breach of the religious norm as a deviance in Life itself. In this film, the possession comes about at the hand of a band of Gypsies. They get such a bad rap in this movie that you can begin to understand why they claim to be persecuted along the lines of the Jews. In fact, if you watched this movie, you'd begin to think Gypsies are the spawn of Satan Himself. They seem to exist only to subvert the holy mission of The Church. Maybe they are, but when I was raised by a band of them, they were nothing but kind to me. Okay, so I wasn't raised by Gypsies. Still, they are treated like scum in this movie. So what if they kidnap a baby for a blood sacrifice to Satan? At least the kid is earning his keep.

How in Hell does any of this relate to kids, you may be asking. When the old Gypsy ringleader of the coven nosedives out the window, her spirit is sent to inhabit the body of the police commissioner's young daughter. The sweet, wholesome child seems to be perfectly okay with taking the ugliest trinket from a weird Gypsy woman, so she basically had this coming. As little Miss My-Poo-Doesn't-Stink, I didn't like her. Once she cuddles up with the Devil's toy, she cops an attitude as big as the outdoors. Then she becomes interesting.

Yes, I understand, she offers up the standard possession antics. She just looks so cute calling the self-important priest a faggot. And when she castrates her governess's boyfriend, she shows that even young teen girls have Girl Power. The only low point comes when she unleashes a plushie attack on one of the many servants in the household. What the Hell is so diabolical about being pelted with stuffed animals? Some people actually find it sexually stimulating. I guess even wicked Gypsies can have a bad day. In the end, the kid, with her eyes practically on opposite sides of her head, still makes you think that Nabokov had something going when he wrote Lolita. Except she didn't spew anti-Christian obscenities. Or show her panties to the camera while crawling upside-down on the outside of the house she lives in.

Is the movie any good? It has cheap thrills. It moves at a good pace. It doesn't leave any bad after-taste, unless you are a hardcore Catholic. It does sport a weird sub-plot about the uptight priest that leaves you wondering if you should root for him or wondering if he really is a mincing homosexual as the little demon witch child suggests. Plus, you get to see a baby sacrificed. When was the last time you saw that, huh?

Worth checking out if you've bought the Grindhouse Experience set on its own merit or because you just had to have a bad VHS reproduction copy of The Children. Everyone else, out of the sewer water pool and hit the showers.

This stinker has also been released on video as The Possessed. The cover has been added for those of you who think this blog is written in a vacuum. We can Google, too.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Devil Does Math!

I don't like kids. Sue me. Okay, they have their uses, like shielding yourself from a sniper's bullets or tossing to rabid pitbulls to save yourself. And don't use that argument of "You used to be a kid once" with me. Yeah, I was, and I still didn't like other kids and wasn't too crazy about myself.

How to defend my argument? Okay, how's this? Your local Wal-Mart at 11:30 on any given Saturday and especially around Christmas. Top that. You can't. Screaming, shoving, rudeness, food dribbled down the front of clothes and that faint smell of rot. Okay, that describes the parents as well in Wal-Mart, but the third time within ten minutes one of those little yard apes lets loose with a shriek that could shatter glass as well as your last taboo against infanticide, you'll be looking for a Louisville Slugger bat with the intent of using the little wankers as human T-ball stands.

Further proof? Okay. Sit down. Let me pop in this DVD. Now watch and learn. Yeah, it's a horror movie. No, sit the hell down and watch. I know this is boring, but trust me, something is about to happen. Okay, there. What do you mean you don't understand? The kid has a pitchfork. That little bitty girl has a hammer. Ah, yes, now you understand. Five kids beating an adult to death, slowly. What? Yes, that seemed like a very long beating death because it runs damn near five minutes. And that is just the first person to die at their hands. Yes, you can go scrub with hot water, but you can't get the stench of evil children out of your skin.

What am I talking about? My ultimate proof of the ultimate evil of children. Devil Times Five is one of those little films that, when you hear the premise, you laugh it off. Then you watch it. Bad mistake if you want to walk through life with your head in the clouds about those little moppets. You'll feel a chill when you look up to see a child giving you one of those utterly blank stares. You won't want to be in a room alone with more than one of them. Peace of mind is gone, my friend. Innocence has been lost.

A group of dopey adults who probably don't deserve to live beyond the film's 90-minute running time isolate themselves in a mansion miles from civilization and surrounded by miles of very, very deep snow. What they don't know is that a van full of deeply disturbed children has just ran off the road. (More evidence of their evil: they survive the van rolling down a hill with all of the doors wide open, and not a one of them happened to be wearing harnesses that would make the safety restraints in NASCAR look flimsy. Only pure evil could have survived.) So everyone starts converging on the snow-locked mansion. One throwaway adult character knows how evil children are, and he tries to stop the little bastards, but he gets beaten to death...for a very long time. Long enough that you start to feel awkward and a bit uncomfortable. This guy knew they were evil, and look what happened to him. What do you think is going to happen to the unsuspecting adults?

Okay, you're thinking that since this has a young Leif Garrett who dons dresses and lipstick to a stunning and creepy effect, it has to be great Mystery Science Theater 3000 material in the making. It has a catfight between two lovely women in scanty clothing, so it ought to be fun and sexy. It has a lovable mentally challenged man who talks to his pet rabbits, and that means wholesome entertainment. Go back to your episodes of Davy and Goliath. You aren't ready for this.

Lots of murders by utterly detached children. Brutal and sick murders, like the simple-minded handyman getting strung up by very thin wire pulled tight by a generator or the lady burned to death while trying to profess a desire to love and care for one of the children. It is the kind thing that leaves you slack-jawed and more than a bit uncomfortable in your own skin.

And then the little hellions dance and play and frolic as if there isn't a bloodied body mere feet away. You almost can join in with their seemingly innocent games until reality creeps back in and you remember the piranha in the bathtub scene or the throat slashing bit. Yup, you should disassociate yourself from these creatures, unless you feel like burning the neighbor's house or torturing an animal. You don't feel like doing things like that, do you? However, if you should feel the urge to bitch-slap any child that comes within your reach after watching this film, then, please, enjoy the minor thrill of victory, until they gang up on you and tear you literally to pieces.

Don't say you weren't warned.

This movie can be found in a few places. Check out Code Red for a very nice version with commentary and extras. If you are cheap, then check out Mill Creek Entertainment's collection Demons & Devils. You can also find it on some public domain bit-torrent sites, but you are on your own with that kind of thing.