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.