30 November 2009

Classics on Key


The Hustler
United States - 1961
Director - Robert Rossen
Key Video, 1986, VHS
Run Time - 2 hours, 14 minutes



Notorious
United States - 1946
Director - Alfred Hitchcock
Key Video, 1988, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 43 minutes

I won't say much about these movies except that both of them are superb. Of course.
Personally of the two I prefer The Hustler because Paul Newman is a brilliant actor particularly at this stage of his life, and because it's subject is far seedier than the high-class world of Notorious. That's not to say Notorious is by any means bad, I just prefer the underbelly.

Really this post is about Key Video, a subsidiary of CBS/Fox. While I don't particularly think that the history of the company is terribly interesting in and of itself, I do find the intentional differentiation of the home video company from the parent studio to be interesting.
In the early days of home video this happened frequently as the middlemen who sprang up to deliver product to retail stores had to basically talk the studios into going along with the whole home video thing in the first place. When the studios realized there were huge profits being made, they bought out these distributors. In the case of CBS/Fox, the distributor was Magnetic Video, basically the midwife to the birth of home video.
What I find interesting about these old Key boxes is their lack of artistic skill. Both boxes, but The Hustler in particular appears to be designed primarily for product recognition more than anything else. The spine in particular, the title is difficult to read superimposed over the stripes and is not aligned in the same place because of the barcode. The Notorious box is much better, oh what a difference two years can make.

26 November 2009

Lovely But Deadly

This review has been reformatted to fit your screen, and to make sense.

Lovely But Deadly
United States – 1981
Director – David Sheldon
Vestron Video, 1985, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 35 minutes

Just before the glory days of Supply-Side Reaganomics really took hold, the most pressing concerns in the American mainstream were the cornucopia of narcotics available on every street corner, and karate. In the very hallways of any given high-school at this time could be found the hardest drugs known to man side by side with capable (if not technically proficient) practitioners of that exotic new oriental sport known as “kara-tay.” There was little gray area, and the mixing of these two elements almost never took place except on the field of battle. When these worlds collided, karate enthusiasts brought together by their affection for brightly colored matching outfits held forth in gruesome combat against irretrievably stoned filthy-rich play[persons] intent on publicly flaunting both.But fortunately Mary Ann “Lovely” Lovett has come of age just in time to challenge divisive conceptions of social legitimacy. Her young brother Arthur has just flipped his wig on the hard-shit and drowned himself in the ocean. As such she has taken up the karate vs. drug challenge that will come to epitomize 80’s cinema (see alnything w/Chuck Norris, from 1980-88.)

But not just yet, Lovely But Deadly seems to bridge a gap between the all inclusive 70’s and the hyper dichotomous 80’s. When I think of the former what comes to mind are disco clubs where it was equally legitimate to wear “country-western” as it was “love-child” or a “tennis-club” looks. There seems to have been, at least on the surface an acceptance for any sort of new idea or combination of ideas. But it wasn’t to last. The transition was epitomized by Jimmy Carter’s resounding election beatdown at the hands of Ronald Reagan, and the subsequent rise of the post-industrial polyester sportcoat set. Soon it was either rich cool or poor cool and never the twain shall meet (until poor cool was co-opted, again).



In this way Lovely and her Patrick Nagel inspired karate/cheerleading coach and karate/cheerleader classmates struggle seems Sisyphean. Supplied by a filthy rich pensioner and some mentally disabled tough guys the school quarterback Mantis is openly distributing the hard shit in the halls through a network of stringy haired “former honor students”. And soon it is revealed that Lovely’s own rockstar boyfriend Javelin is sheepishly acting as the post-groovy/pre-rad mouthpiece for the latest fads in burgeoning suburban narco-culture. Lovely herself embodies the quickly eclipsing quaintness of the 70’s and it’s almost as if the whole movie, James Bond knockoff theme song included, is the last gasp of an eccentric and inclusive populist culture.


For more awesome Vestron Video sleeves visit Vestron Video International.

Swedish VHS sleeve from Rolfens DVD.

Poster from Moviegoods.

23 November 2009

Escape 2000


Australia - 1981
Director - Brian Trenchard- Smith
Embassy Home Entertainment, 1983, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 20 minutes

I'm not entirely sure why, but it may be the alternate title for Escape 2000, "Turkey Shoot" which has garnered it attention on several different blogs at this particular time of year. Primarily I would like to point out The Scandy Factory's nice writeup of a Turkey Shoot DVD which includes some cool video clips (his box scan is also much nicer than mine.) I picked up this tape years ago on the merits of its cover art, realizing only later that Smith directed numerous other awesome B-movies that I already knew, most notably Siege of Firebase Gloria.

Years ago I initially began recording my impressions of films on VHS (call them reviews if you like) because I wanted to remember the forgettable details that connected them; no-name actors, voice actors, stolen music etc. An interesting factoid about Escape 2000 that has always brought a smile to my face is that the monologue recited by Steve Railsback in his pirate radio truck at the beginning of the movie, is sampled by the militant Islamic Wu-Tang spinoff group Killarmy on their 1998 sophmore album Dirty Weaponry. It apears in the breakdown of the third song, "5 Stages of Consciousness."
So there ya go, obscure history in music and film collide once again.

This poster comes from IMPAwards


A Thai poster I got from Bearded Movie Afficionado, and another from a retail site.


Australian DVD cover from Flinders Students.

Gorezone #25 - Umberto Lenzi

Hey, who doesn't like eating meat? I mean really, besides vegans and lacto-vegetarians, who doesn't like dead-body food? What's not to like about a good old fashioned corpse feast? For this reason I must digress back into my regular Danksgeben mode and celebrate the consumption of human flesh. Because I know of absolutely zero cannibal movies that haven't been reviewed to pieces, and even fewer of those that haven't made it to DVD, I'll give you the next best thing; an interview with the prince of Italian cannibalsploitation, Umberto Lenzi. This issue of Gorezone came out in 1992.





Friends over at B Movies and Beyond, and Cult Trailers have posted some good Lenzi flavored stuff, check it out.

And.....
here is one of my favorite trash posters, a German version of Lenzi's Cannibal Ferox snagged from an American DVD release insert from 2002 or so.

19 November 2009

Schizo

Somehow I procured a factory copy of the tape in a clamshell case with this badly photocopied cover art.

Schizo
United Kingdom - 1976
Director - Pete Walker
United Home Video, 1986, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 49 minutes

Far be it from me to judge the English on the basis of a few films. I’ve always been a little jealous of all their castles and crumpets and whatnot. But as with Japanese horror, I struggle to grasp British stylistic sensibility. The first British horror film I really liked was Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers (2002). Perhaps this is because Marshall's style has been so informed by the American milieu.
Now I'll laugh and nod my head at all they stereotypes of Americans and their fims as well. Hell I agree, we’re all slovenly, boorish, gorilla-fisted mouth-breathers. But as a mouth breather, I find that too much British film fulfills the excessively proper “I say old chap” negative stereotype. Hence having just watched the 1971 film The House That Dripped Blood, I’m looking for something that isn’t drawing room horror (literally). British director Pete Walker helmed a series of what are widely considered horror classics in the late 70’s, including House of Whipcord and The Flesh and Blood Show so I’m hoping for something good here. These two are memorable mostly because the first is a particularly bleak W.I.P. film and the later mostly because of the skin.

Sadly, that is also the only reason I can find to like Schizo. Ostensibly I’m supposed to believe that Sam (Lynne Frederick) is a professional ice skater, the problem is she’s built like a 1950's burlesque dancer. This fact will actually pay off, though. The ice skating is soon subsumed under a series of motiveless murders. Some Old Chap sees a newspaper story about an upcoming skating performance, and decides that it’s his job to drive home the whole, “you’re not really an ice skater who do you think you’re fooling” thing. The intention is to confuse Giallo style, whether the killer is Sam or Old Chap.


But that’s all really a side story, a mere distraction to the crucial few moments of plot which wiggle across the screen during Sam’s 7:30am shower scene. If what I’m seeing on screen is accurate, in England shower curtains are merely useless paisley window dressing, and front-door locks, superfluous paranoia. Subsequently, on every single viewing over the last ten years I have found a single curvaceous 1 minute and thirty second reason why Schizo is worth sitting through. The rest remains a boring drone of Englishmen pontificating on the fundamental psychological weakness of women while making cagey swinger innuendoes.

Like a psychiatrist trying to coax a building-jumper down from his perch, all the condescending, long winded explication that comes before and after Sam’s climactic "performance" makes little practical sense to the final outcome. The story is ultimately far less interesting than the real life of star Lynne Frederick. And I have to admit on this one that my tastes can be pretty crude at times, I guess that’s what makes me such a good American.


I ran across this very old school Media VHS box a couple of weeks ago. The box is copyrighted 1978, probably just the text content because the tape itself said 1980.

Found image on German Ebay.





Can't find my original source for this poster, but Giallo Fever has the same one.

18 November 2009

Eaten Alive


Eaten Alive
United States - 1977
Director - Tobe Hooper
Diamond Entertainment, 1998, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 36 minutes

Here is another "nice" Diamond Entertainment Corporation VHS with an extra five minutes of run-time(?). Admittedly despite the low production value of their product, these guys carried a lot of otherwise obscure foreign horror and action flicks on DVD before anyone else ever touched 'em. I still have a Fulci movie and kung fu movies that they released from about 7 years ago. Still, I never saw any of their VHS tapes until I found this a couple of months ago.

Eaten Alive is one of my favorite discoveries of the past couple of years. It could be more accurately described as a re-discovery since I'd seen it years before. However, that first time I hated it for some reason, lets blame it on the transfer. My discovery that this movie is actually good can be blamed on the 2007 Dark Sky release whose cover is featured below. Y'know, for posterity and all that. This brings the total number of good movies by Tobe Hooper up to a grand total of 2, officially out of the one-hit-wonder club. My review of this was one of the first I posted on this blog oh so long ago.


14 November 2009

Eurocrime


My Friend over at I Spit on Your Taste / Italian Film Review turned me on to this project. The following text is copied from the Eurocrime Kickstart page:

YOU can help us complete the highly-anticipated feature-length documentary about the last great action subgenre to be rediscovered! EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE '70s has already pulled together a roster of the top actors and directors in the Italian crime genre in order to get their perspectives on these tough, brutal, and occasionally dangerous films.

The film is currently in post-production, but even with the bevy of euro-superstars who have offered up their time and support for the film, the biggest challenge still lies ahead – licensing all the great film clips that really showcase the genre and demonstrate why it was such a dynamic and prolific part of cinematic history! Hundreds of dangerous stunts, chases and explosions – not to mention some of the most inspired dialogue you will hear in ANY genre – are integral to illustrate the film’s numerous anecdotes, and YOU can help make it happen!

As a backer of this project, you will be the recipient of numerous perks, many of which are unique to the world of EUROCRIME! and ensure that you are acknowledged and kept in the loop as a key part of the process.

More About EUROCRIME!:

For decades, the prolific Italian film business was a notorious "copycat" industry (e.g. Exorcist and Mad Max clones), so it's easy to assume their massive wave of '70s crime movies (The Godfather's Friend, Magnum Cop, etc) were just imitators of U.S. films like The Godfather and Dirty Harry. But a closer look reveals these movies actually dealt with violent homegrown problems of the Red Brigade, Camorra and the Sicilian Mafia.Facets of the genre discussed, among others, will be:

* the Italians' quick, spontaneous style of action moviemaking (no direct sound, stealing shots, leading men performing their own stunts)

* the real-life violence of the day (the Red Brigade, the Camorra, the Mafia)

* the genre's envelope-pushing violent extremes (including shocking treatment of women and children)

* the attempts to market (and mis-market!) these films in America

* the end of the genre cycle (as brought about both by the rise of television and the genre's self-parody)

* the ultimate influence/legacy of the genre, including its belated, newfound popularity in America, as largely promoted by Quentin Tarantino

The interview roster boasts an impressive 20 people connected to Eurocrime movement -- including tough-guy movie stars (John Saxon, Franco Nero, Henry Silva, etc), a leading lady (Nicoletta Machiavelli), character actors (Sal Borgese, John Steiner, etc), directors (Enzo Castellari, Mario Caiano), a stuntman (Ottaviano Dell'Acqua), a screenwriter (Claudio Fragasso), a dubber (Michael Forest), and even a former cinema manager (Greg Stephen).
Through action editing, the interviews will be intercut with film clips and artwork, and the documentary's tone is intended to rival the excitement generated by the films themselves.

11 November 2009

Fists of Dragons/Ninja Terminator via Ninja Theater & Sho Kosugi

There is only one thing worse than a mutilated box. No box at all, but still.

Fists of Dragons (Hao xiao zi)
a.k.a. Little Rascals of Kung Fu
China - 1980
Director - Yeh Yung Chu
Trans World Entertainment, 1986, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 32 minutes

The uncut box claims that the film was directed by Yeh Yung Chu, and the opening credits on the tape confirm this. The actors listed at IMDB are exactly the same, but the director is listed as Wing-Cho Yip. Furthermore IMDB gives one of the alternate titles as Cunning Kids, which was confirmed by an image search that turned up the artwork below at Rare Kung Fu Movies under bothFists of Dragons and Cunning Kids. And in fact, after re watching the film, I can confirm that they are the same, except for the dubbing of course.

I picked up this film not because of Sho Kosugi, but because it was recomended at some point as a potential film for Kung Fu Grindhouse. As I recall it was not worthy, though it's been years since I watched it. The interesting thing to me now is of course the presence of Kosugi who merely presents the film. Really it's more of an introduction, and let me tell you, at bit of a sad one at that. The series name should give you some clue to the depths to which the video marketing industry had already sunk by 1986. Last time I checked, Ninja's didn't really have much to do with China, so why is this wu-shu movie under the title "Ninja Theater?" Because the American public were slaves to the very word ninja.
Kosugi himself offers only a brief demonstration of the use of the ninjitsu katana, noting that it is straight and shorter than the typical Japanese sword. Then he fights some guys for a minute or two before introducing the film as a "demonstration of some excellent Chinese Boxing."
There's something more than a little disheartening about lumping all of these distinct elements under the concept of martial arts.
Ninja, kung-fu, ehhhhhhhh, it's all oriental, right?


The Chinese VHS box art for Cunning Kids from Rare Kung Fu Movies

But there is more...
Over at The Scandy Factory, the Scandy Man has posted this nice image of the Ninja Theater version of Ninja Terminator. (right) His awesome post includes the intro sequence with Sho Kosugi's demo, a must watch to be sure, and some ephemera from the Sho Kosugi ninja fan club. This is one of my all time favorite movies of all fucking ever, comparable perhaps only to Challenge of the Tiger. Both of these are highly contingent on the fact that they star Richard "God Among Men" Harrison. Ninja Terminator was given a fantastic DVD release from Video Asia as part of the Silver Fox collection, and Challenge of the Tiger was double-featured by Mondo Macabro b-sided with For Your Height Only.

A Swedish VHS box insert courtesy Rolfens DVD.

German insert box courtesy Critical Condition.

From my own meager shelves.

Not to be confused with this Ninja Terminator, part of an Anchor Bay double VHS box from 1995. I haven't watched this specific film, but Ninja Wars, the A-film is a chopped version of "Black Magic Wars" (?) or Iga Ninpocho, a graphicaly violent but ultimately slooooow Japanese samurai gorror film. Aren't they all?

This started as a post about one movie and evolved into a morass of ninja insanity. Thanks for your dedication.

08 November 2009

Techniques of Stamping


Techniques of Stamping: video 3
United States - 1992
Director – George Ayrouth
Stampenous Inc., 1993, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 5 minutes

Terri Oulette anchors this third volume in the Stampendous Brand/Fun Stamps! franchise of instructional videos. I don’t know if she held ground on any of the other ones, I haven't seen them but when it comes to stamping, Stampendous has the market pegged and they have the experts under lockdown.

And Fran Seiford it would seem is such an expert. The co-host with the sheer grit and leathery skin to get through an hour sitting next to Terri whingeing and pandering in pancake makeup at her shoulder. We’re literally going to be playing around with Kleenex and sponges, you can make such cute patterns with the simplest materials. It’s just that the level of complexity that Terri is able to cope with requires some pretty severe couching. By stamping your card with a crumpled Kleenex you can get a new marbled look…. Did you use the rainbow pad on that Fran? My! That gives it a whole new look!


In an effort to distract Terri, Fran dives right into the complexity of overlapping patterns. We’re shooting for sheer busywork minutia here, a sort of magicianship. Snapping your fingers over to one side to draw attention away while the flip happens on the other.
Fran’s ability to play two instruments at one time is uncanny. She actually demonstrates the product (and really, this is just an infomercial,) and keeps Terri from licking the inkpads at the same time. She comes across as a zookeeper, carefully giving Terri enough leash to keep her entertained, but not enough to hurt herself. A special helper for Terri’s gushing duncity.

All things are “wonderful”, “neat” “beautiful”, “cute” or interesting. Almost near cracking, Fran remains polite, contrite and accommodating, smiling to every one of Terri’s knuckle chewing questions; “Oh, that’s a neat card, you make it look so easy. Can I try?” At this point we’re crossing the line between stamping and coloring. Fran is pushing this whole stamping charade beyond the limits of tolerance. She’s breached the definitional boundary in a valiant attempt to scramble Terri’s tiny cerebrum into silence.

Are you kidding me Terri, really?

It’s like having a Stepford-wife who thinks she’s you’re best friend. A benign parasite that is always around and always amenable to everything, unshakably accommodating but completely devoid of personality. You could sit and watch an irritating instructional film about decorative stamping and she would sit there quietly next to you, poised to agree with vapid eagerness with absolutely anything you might say.

"Wow, that's a neat technique!............I like that."

06 November 2009

Enter the Ninja


Enter the Ninja
United States - 1981
Director - Menahem Golan
MGM/UA, 1991, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 41 minutes

I've referred to this film in several prior posts about Sho Kosugi films, 9 Deaths of The Ninja and Pray for Death. This is the first movie in the classic Sho Kosugi ninja trilogy. I love the international flavor of this film. Director Menahem Golan is an Israeli, half of Golan/Globus and the venerable 80's exploitation powerhouse Cannon Pictures. Star Franco Nero is of course Italian, co-star Kosugi is Japanese, and the film itself was shot on location in the Philippines. If you're feeling brave and want to watch two ninjas fight in a cockfighting ring, you can watch the trailer for Enter the Ninja at Cult Trailers, and the whole movie free on IMDB.

If not entirely believable, which you shouldn't expect anyway, it is pretty fun. As I recall, Nero is called out to the Philippines to help out an old war buddy and some poor campesinos. They are being harassed by the mafia who has discovered oil on the farmers banana plantation. The mafia hires Kosigi I guess because a ninja is more frightening to a bunch of peasants than 50 guys with uzi's?... Yes, uzi's (or something similar), Menahem Golan loves to include high volumes of automatic weapons fire in all his movies. It makes them more, more...shooty.

A UK VHS insert from the awesome Cannon Films.org



The full poster from impawards.com

04 November 2009

C. Winston Taylor


In my recent post about Warriors of the Apocalypse I noted the sheer awesomeness of the box art that accompanied the totally wacky movie therein. The main thing that appealed to me about this cover in particular is its concise encapsulation of the ideology behind men's pulp adventure magazines of the Cold War period. The adventure pulps (and their close siblings the sex pulps) have justifiably garnered their own attention both for sociological and artistic reasons.

On the latter subject it seems to me that the VHS box art, and prior promotional materials from which most of it was derived (in the pre-Straight To Video era) are direct descendants of the pulp tradition. The themes are virtually the same, horror, adversity to evil, sex and machismo, and the coarse appeal to masculinity that is as obvious as the list I just made. Stories popular in trash magazines were easily as popular in trash movies, it just required a new marketing framework. The poster and box art is without a doubt the post-video continuation of exploitation media promotion.
Hence my fascination with VHS/poster art in general, of which C. Winston Taylor's art for Warriors of the Apocalypse is an almost perfect example of the pulp art lineage.
Taylor is a Vietnam Veteran, turned highly talented American artist who did quite a number of film promotional pieces between the 70's and 90's. He seems to be one of the lucky few artists whose signature is regularly preserved on the downsized and cropped VHS box versions of their art.
Upon conducting a little research I found several more of his film illustrations which are included below. A few were credited to Taylor though I wasn't able to see a signature, these are noted. Sorry for the low resolution on some of them, they were all found online and I did what I could.




Guardian of Hell
a.k.a. The Other Hell
Italy - 1980
Director - Bruno Mattei (as Stefan Oblowsky)
image from impawards.com





Evilspeak
United States - 1981
Director - Eric Weston
no signature visible, credited to Taylor at emovieposter.com






Time After Time
United States - 1979
Director - Nicholas Meyer
image from emovieposter.com







Lone Wolf McQuade
United States - 1983
Director - Steve Carver
image from impawards.com







The Swarm
United States - 1978
Director - Irwin Allen
no signature visible, credited to Taylor at impawards.com








The 5th Musketeer
Austria - 1979
Director - Ken Annakin
image found on Ebay








Firepower
United Kingdom - 1979
Director Michael Winner
image from moviegoods.com





More posters and promo art by Taylor:
Mutant Hunt
Robot Holocaust
 
In the early 1990's Taylor was hired to illustrate the covers of the Quantum Leap comic book series based on the TV show of the same name. I don't remember liking the show much and I can't imagine the comics were any better, but Taylor's art is really particularly excellent. See the Quantum Leap images including several pictures of the artist at Al's Place: A Quantum Leap Fan Site. During this period Taylor also did some religious artwork which seems sloppy considering the QL work (his gallery is third from the bottom) but nonetheless showcases his terrific sense of depth.

I'm sure there is much more C.W. Taylor work out there, but these older pulp illustrators from the pre-internet era are hard to track down since they so rarely have websites. Any additional information you might have on Taylor of his artwork are greatly appreciated, send it my way. If more come to light I will post them here.

If you're curious about the pulp adventure and sex magazine illustrations I mentioned above, I recommend starting with It's a Man's World and Sin-A-Rama both excellent books published by Feral House and both chock-full of color illustrations of magazine covers and interior art.