Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Short Film: The Heisters (USA, 1964)

Four days ago, on Saturday, the 26th of August, 2017, famed horror director Tobe Hooper died — one hopes not at the hands of some x-girlfriend. In honor of the passing of this influential director of one of those horror films everyone who says they like horror must see, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), we have dug out something from the vaults: his earliest known directorial project, the 10-minute short The Heisters.
A quaint and cute and amusing exercise of slapstick surrealism as ever-so-popular in the 60s (see:  Help! My Snowman Is Burning Down, also of 1964), The Heisters is arguably an inconsequential little film, but it does reveal that the then 26-year-old Hooper had a solid grip of direction and editing. But the short's obvious indebtedness to the lush and colorful films of Hammer and Roger Corman's Poe phase — not to mention the Three Stooges and any number of silent movie comedians — does little to indicate that one day Hooper would shake the horror film world with a movie as raw and visceral and disturbing as the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre was and still is. (It does, on the other hand, indicate a propensity for the lush colors found in both Eaten Alive [1976] and The Funhouse [1981], as well as the artificiality found in the first of the aforementioned movies.)
In regards to the narrative, on the other hand, scriptwriters Michael England & Hooper display a slight inability to truly combine all three characters into one movie and, instead, rely on two separate storylines that are only linked by the fact that the three characters are introduced as trio at the start of the short.
The Heisters:
Of the actors involved, the bikini babes are all unnamed so who knows whether they even went on to get married, have kids, and fall apart into old age. Of the three main actors, despite what the imdb infers by stating the good man can be found in Frederic Goode's pop music documentary Pop Gear (1965), we ourselves doubt that this Larry Ray, who plays "Villamosh Anousslavsky", is the same Larry Ray of the Californian psychedelic band Syndicate Of Sound which, in 1965, became a one-hit wonder with their classic song Little Girl.
Syndicate of Sound performing
Little Girl:
Of the other two actors, Norris Domingue (22 Jun 1925 — 12 Apr 2009) went on to become a character actor of small note seen somewhere in movies such as The Kiss (1988 / trailer), The Amityville Curse (1990 / trailer), Twists of Terror (1997 / scene), The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire (2002 / full TV movie), and the cheap but unjustly forgotten independent horror, Enter the Devil (1972 / 5 minutes).

Sunday, August 27, 2017

R.I.P.: Tobe Hooper

25 Jan 1943 — 26 Aug 2017 

Like George Romero (4 Feb 1940 — 16 July 2017), director Hooper was possibly plagued by the fact that his first general release feature-film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), was such a stylistic and influential masterpiece that there was no place for him to go but down. But for all the bad or mediocre or decent movies he made thereafter, he still made one more masterpiece than most directors, as well as a small number of early career horror movies of note. May he rest in peace.

Go here for Part 1: 19641982
Original Trailer to the Movie
We all Know Him For —
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974):

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Misc. Film Fun: Two Levi's Advertisements

A good film, long or short, generally succeeds on many levels: technically, emotionally, visually. On occasion, usually a rare one, commercial advertisements manage to succeed at these levels to such an extent that they literally transcend the product they're selling.
Unlike movies, however, which get released on DVD and TV and VoD or whatever new form of exploitation that arises, even the best and most popular advertisements are more or less doomed to eventual oblivion. Possibly fondly remembered by a few, but almost never seen again.
Over at Sound Identity, they speak of the nineties as "the golden age of jeans," claiming that in the nineties "denim brands had global influence and their advertising campaigns were a concentrate of brand values and creativity. Jeans were a status symbol, your chosen brand and model sent out a clear message about you, your interests and the icons that inspired you." 
Maybe, but then as before and as now we wore 501s. Which is maybe also one of the reasons why some of our favorite, fondly remembered ads of that last decade of the 20th century are those for Levi's — with Brad Pitt's being one of the least memorable (despite the fact that both he and the unknown babe were three-way material).
Of the many Levi's adverts we caught pre-movie at the cinemas back then, two have remained forever ingrained in our head for transcending their function as an advertisement to become enjoyable, memorable "short films": The Creek and Mr Bombastic. Both were from the global advertising agency of BBH Bartle Bogle Hegarty, whose first job was (according to some sources) Levi's advertisement above. (BBH and Levi's worked together a total of 28 years, until 2010, when the firms parted company.)
The Creek, from 1994, supposedly also counts among the favs of BBH's very own Sir John Hegerty. It was directed by Vaughn Arnell & Anthea Benton, and uses the song Inside by Stiltskin which, if we are to believe Wikipedia, "was written by Peter Lawlor for the British […] advert Creek"; it has proven to be thei group's only Number One hit ever. The commercial itself has the feeling of a pastoral western shot by Ansel Adams.

The Creek:

Even more successful on every level was the Levi's advertisement BBH made the next year entitled Mr Bombastic, a wonderful stop-motion spot that has humor, sex, adventure, total coolness and yitloads of irony all set to the soon-to-be pop classic by Shaggy (aka Orville Burrell), Bombastic
The first animated Levi's spot ever, Mr Bombastic was directed by Deiniol Morris and Michael Mort, who went on to create the memorable if underappreciated British series of thirteen 5-minute shorts Gogs! (1995 / episode 1) which, in a convoluted manner, went on to [definitely not] inspire the Dreamworks movie The Croods (2013 / trailer). Michael Mort's feature film directorial debut, the stop-motion Chuck Steal: Night of the Trampires (trailer), a follow-up to his 15-minute short Raging Balls of Steel Justice (2013 / fullshort), is due to be released this year.

Mr Boombastic:

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 an 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.