Friday, December 30, 2016

Not So Super Superheroes

Most people, especially boys, enjoy a good ol' superhero movie. You have them everywhere now with DC and Marvel films battling it out in the theaters as well as infiltrating broadcast and cable TV in mostly equal numbers. Even non-geeky fans have come to enjoy seeing beefy hunks and sexy ladies in tight outfits clobber the snot out of bad guys, aliens, Nazis, and each other. Spectacular light shows of glittering CGI work pounds your brain into submission as octophonic sound batters your ears into believing you are Ground Zero for a 30-plus minute climatic battle.

Not all superhero films are made equal. Many were filmed way before the innovations in special effects allowed the blockbuster action films we see today. They had to rely on character, costume, music, and a massive amount of willing suspension of disbelief to bring you their tales of heroes and adventure.

Today, we want to take a fond look back at some of the more interesting, yet little-known, superhero movies that you might want to add to your collection.

The Black Ninja
Directed by Clayton Prince

Ever watch a movie that hit you like a hammer between the eyes and left your brain so scrabbled that you didn't know whether to laugh or seek medical attention? That you just kept shaking your head and muttering, "Wow!" because there are no coherent words to summarize the experience you have just survived?

Have another one.

The Black Ninja tells us the story of Maliq Ali (Clayton Prince), an obscenely successful defense attorney who routinely saves the worst scum in the city from conviction. In his spare time, he dresses up and becomes the Black Ninja, who tracks down the scum he helped free and beats the living shit out of them. Kind of a conflict of interest, don't you think? Or is that job security?

You want a plot? Batman -- sorry, the Black Ninja finds his lady love is suddenly threatened by some scum he helped free. He has to protect her while hiding his secret identity. Yup, that covers it.

There are occasional flashes of what might of been humor if handled by a decent director. Everything else, just avoid. Having said that, I have to add that if seen in the right frame of mind, The Black Ninja can be quite a hoot.
If you happen to get the legal DVD version, there is a documentary on the making of the film. The documentary is definitely worth watching as it is inspiring, and you can't help but respect the loyalty the crew projects.

Honestly, the documentary is way better than the movie.

Flesh Gordon
Directed by Michael Benveniste and Howard Ziehm

You are probably wondering if it is possible for me to make a list without adding a porn title into the mix. The answer is: Yes, but not today.

Before Star Wars, kids thrilled to adventures of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. These were superheroes with ray guns! Those same children grew up still loving those space adventures, but found them lacking. The space rangers took themselves way too serious. Enter Flesh Gordon.

It's the same old story of the All-American Boy saving the world from evil aliens, but it is told through the eyes of a perverted 14-year-old boy. Flesh Gordon, Dale Ardor, Dr. Flexi Jerkoff, and Emperor Wang are our cast of characters. The ray guns look like dildos. The spaceship looks like a penis. You get it, I'm sure.

As goofy as it sounds, Flesh Gordon is rather entertaining. The sex basically gets little more than eye rolls as it is mostly suggested and over the top. If you watch some of the orgy scenes with an eagle eye, you will see some actual sex, but it's far from being the focus of the shot.

Not everyone's cup of tea, but how many porn flicks have you seen that featured a stop-motion animation monster voiced by Craig T. Nelson? That's what I thought. Now go watch it.

Abar: Black Superman (aka Abar, the First Black Superman, In Your Face)
Directed by Frank Packard

Abar is an odd film. It passes itself off as a superhero movie, but it is more of a social message film that has a superhero in it.

Dr. Kincade (J. Walter Smith) and his family move into a new neighborhood. At first, the neighbors think they must be the hired help, but slowly they realize that their block now has a black family living on it. This results in one woman flipping out, which leads to a small crowd of white folks tossing slurs and insults along with trash at the black family's new home.

Eventually, a black community group steps in to protect Dr. Kincade, his family, and their home. After a couple of politically-minded conversations, Dr. Kincade offers Abar (Tobar Mayo) the chance to become a superhero with a formula the good doctor has whipped up.

Don't get too hopped up about action. You don't get it. This superhero is kind of like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Charles Xavier (the guy Patrick Stewart plays in the X-Men movies) were blended together. I won't say anything more as I want you to be as surprised as I was at how Abar deals with crime, hatred, and injustice.

Made on a low budget, Abar has iffy acting, stiff dialogue, and a pace that could bore a sloth. Sounds like gold to me.

Supersonic Man
Directed by Juan Piquer Simon

A straight-up Superman ripoff, but with one exception: This movie isn't nearly as smug as the American versions of Superman. In fact, this film seems to accept the fact it is silly and runs with it. Some say it is meant as a spoof of superhero films. I don't know if I agree completely, but when Supersonic turns a gun into a banana, you have to wonder what the filmmakers were trying to say.

Supersonic (José Luis Ayestarán as Richard Yesteran) is sent to Earth to foil a master criminal. On Earth, Supersonic assumes the mundane identity of Paul (Antonio Cantafora as Michael Coby), a private investigator who helps the daughter (Diana Polakov as Diana Polakow) of a famous scientist. The scientist has been kidnapped by the master criminal Dr. Gulik (Cameron Mitchell as Cameron Mitchell) so his formula can help Gulik take over the world.

The prize-winning moment of this joyfully bad movie is when Supersonic lifts a steamroller that is shot close enough that you can see the machine is made out of what appears to be wood of some sort. Hell, the front "roller" almost pops loose when Supersonic sets the vehicle down.

From the crappy "flying" effects to the models of a helicopter and Supersonic being twirled around miniature sets, this movie has enough entertainment for you and all your friends. Of course, you might not have any left after watching this.

Directed by James Gunn

In this world, you have either superhero movies, or you have movies about superheroes. Superhero movies have superheroes dashing about saving the world, and the film focuses on the details of the adventure. Movies about superheroes give you insight into the person inside the suit, which is often a richer story, and whatever plot the superhero is attempting to thwart becomes secondary to the story raging inside our main character.

Super is a movie about a superhero.

Frank D'Arbo (Rainn Wilson) is a basic guy who gets through each day by just trying to live life by the rules. His wife, a recovering addict, is the glue that holds all the loose bits together in his life.

When his wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) leaves and takes up with a local drug dealer (Kevin Bacon), Frank's world no longer holds together, and the rules he had always lived by no longer apply. He has a vision that he believes is telling him to fight crime and uphold the basic rules of being a decent human. He ultimately becomes the Crimson Bolt and takes to the streets to learn how to fight crime and save Sarah.

You see Rainn Wilson is the star of this movie. Couple that with a trailer which plays up the comedic elements of the film, and you might think you are wandering into a giggle-fest. You aren't. Yes, Super is funny, but it is far from being a comedy. Keep that in mind if you choose to watch. I think you might be pleasantly surprised by this under-promoted film.

Superargo (aka Superargo and the Faceless Giants, Superargo the Giant, The King of Criminals)
Directed by Paolo Bianchini as Paul Maxwell

I have opted to bypass the Mexican wrestler films starring such heroes as Santo and The Blue Demon because they deserve their own article.

That being said, I have chosen to include Superargo simply because an Italian/Spanish film with a wrestler superhero just seems a bit weird.

Superargo is called in to help with a series of kidnappings of various athletes. These kidnappings are performed by automated men. Who is behind these faceless robots?

Don't expect to be wowed. Superargo stays in his costume constantly, and he tends to want to use a car to fight the robots instead of his fists. Actually, he looks a bit like The Phantom, but not as exciting.

On the upside, the whole film is played fairly straight, and it is a superhero film, so sit back and let Superargo kick some robot butt and don't worry about subtext.

The Incredible Paris Incident (aka Fantastic Argoman, Argoman, Argoman the Fantastic Superman)
Directed by Sergio Grieco as Terence Hathaway

Every now and then, you just have to respect a movie when it realizes it is so whack-a-doodle that, instead of trying to act edgy or ironic, it swaggers across the screen dripping sweat off 'nads so big that the mind boggles. That's why I dearly love Machete.

Argoman isn't quite as testosterone-laden, but it still swaggers onward while ignoring reality, common sense, and respect for women.

Argoman (Roger Browne) is a superhuman who can control minds, kick ass, and sport a lovely cape like nobody's business. When fighting crime, he wears a bright yellow outfit with a black hood that has Geordi LeForge eye wear. 

In his off time, he is Sir Reginald Hoover, noted scientist, who happens to be on a friendly basis with Argoman. Sir Reggie is also apparently quite the stud as he keeps a video file for all of his "harem" of available women and has all of them on speed-dial for live video calls.

The Crown of St. Edward is stolen. Scotland Yard's representative instantly assumes Argoman is a likely suspect. In a twist of events, Scotland Yard learns it was not Argoman but the evil Jenabell (Dominique Boschero) who returns the crown with a demand that a rare crystal of immense power be delivered to her in a matter of hours.

Argoman races to clear his name and save the world while barely keeping his loincloth attached. This guy is a major horndog.

It's the standard male fantasy of the 60's. Men are clearly in charge, and strong women are equated with evil. If you choose to watch, check your PC-mindset along with your brain at the door.

There seems to be two versions of this film out there. One version is labelled The Incredible Paris Incident. It starts with the opening credits. The version I have is called Fantastic Argoman, released on VideoAsia's Kick Ass Heroes collection. This version has a pre-opening credits sequence showing Argoman foiling an execution attempt and working with the Russians. Maybe this was considered in poor taste during the Cold War and was snipped from some versions. Who knows?

If you see the full version of this movie, I DARE you to get Argoman's chant of "Kill each other! Kill each other! Kill each other!" out of your head after watching it.

The Super Inframan (aka Inframan, Infra-Man)
Directed by Hua Shan

This movie is one of my favorites. I remember walking out of the theater back when I was 13 or so, and my brain was still awash in the blindingly colorful world of Inframan. I had a sequel worked out in my head.

I was like a kid who had overdosed on cotton candy.

Princess Dragon Mom (Terry Liu) decides it is time to strike from her underground lair and take over the world. She sends her monster minions out to stop all who oppose her plans while she spreads fear and destruction. A scientist in a nearby science-type facility full of guys in shiny suits turns one of these young men into a superhero called Inframan (Danny Lee).

The rest of the film is a running series of battles as Inframan and his shiny suited friends fight their way to Princess Dragon Mom's hideout.

The whole thing is like a carnival ride running at double speed. You just keep waiting for the whole thing to fly apart. It slaps you silly with the insanely bright colors of the costumes. It inhibits your ability to think as you attempt to make sense of the silly dialogue and scientific gibberish. 

The Super Inframan is just plain stupid fun. It's like an amped up Power Rangers episode about their black sheep cousin. The whole movie is great alone or with friends who also enjoy a bit a weirdness.

Of course, this isn't an exhaustive list. Don't be shocked if this topic should happen to surface again as there are plenty more oddball superhero movies out there.

Remember, if you're gonna go out on those mean streets and fight crime, don't forget your jacket. You wanna catch a criminal, not a cold. 


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