30 July 2009

Terror Vision

United States - 1986
Director- Ted Nicolaou
Lightning Video, 1986, VHS
Run Time – VHS: 1 hour, 24 min.

Terror Vision is 80’s culture on steroids, or rather, 80’s culture on Charles Band’s production dime. It is but one of the many pieces of the puzzle that composes the Band legacy. I have never felt any affection for anything that came out of Full Moon, I watched all 9 Puppet Master films in a row once and literally had to be physically restrained from committing suicide. But there was a strange and wonderful period of time during the 80’s when Band (and his brothers Richard and Albert) were responsible for some of the awesomest cheesy movies in history, among them Terror Vision and its philosophical sibling Shrunken Heads. Terror Vision is a campy assault on 80’s pop culture that isn’t afraid to bring up homosexual group sex but still never lets slip a single expletive. It’s part of the 80’s microculture of overt on-screen shout-outs to the history of B-film and goes on to openly mock said history’s delusional detractors.

In the 80’s TV options exploded when satellite television began entering the average American home and access to all that untapped brain-rot was considered a mark of affluence and modernity. Never mind that in those early days of satellite (and cable) TV most of it was totally banal crap, that didn’t stop (and still doesn’t I guess) uptight moral tyrants from blaming the tube for societies perceived ills.

Family patriarch Stanley Putterman is determined to get his malfunctioning dish working and don once again the mantle of cool guy. This accomplished, he and his wife leave for a swinger’s party leaving raving bloodthirsty war-vet Grandpa and their son Sherman on the couch watching an old horror movie show (including the epic Giant Claw) hosted by a well-endowed floozy dressed as Medusa. Grandpa who lives in a fully stocked, fully armed fallout shelter says “war stories and horror movies are educational, they’re survival stories and they always neutralize the enemy in the end.” Hmmmm, only in a literal sense…

Social corruption, manifested as alien monster stares out from the TV then steps off the screen into the house, quickly consuming the least hip, Grandpa and reducing him to an appealing 2-dimensional caricature of “Grandpa”, kindof like on you would expect on TV. Mom and Dad replete with ascot and high heels return home with another couple with whom they intend to share the decadent luxury of the pool/satellite setup. They soon meet the same fate as Grandpa, but in the interim Sherman, his punk sister and her metal boyfriend "O.D." (Jon Gries) befriend the monster and teach it to love junk food and television (that’s too much of a mind-fuck metaphor for me to describe in this space). It spends the rest of the film hanging out in the Putterman’s pool watching Earth vs. The Flying Saucers.

So you see, It’s not the TV that promotes sex and violence, but rather that these things are already there. The popularity of vice media can be traced to its nascent presence in the home, people consume what is familiar and makes them feel good. Any assertion otherwise is just so much rhetorical paid advertisement.

Terror Vision trailer from the Monsters A GoGo YouTube channel.

Or a slightly longer, more METAL version of the trailer at Cult Trailers.

27 July 2009

Braddock: Missing In Action 3

Chuck extends his disdain for Asians beyond adults and applies it to their offspring in this VHS cover from the compulsive VHS fiend Scandy Factory

United States - 1988
Director – Aaron Norris
Media Home Entertainment, 1988, VHS
Run time - 1 hour, 41 min.

I know you've been jonesing for the conclusion of this epic series just to get it over with, so here it is. Aaron Norris' first feature film after years of serving as Chuck's stunt double/stunt coordinator. No surprise that MIA3 once again stars his older brother, a partnership that has lasted with almost mutual exclusivity until the present. Hell, I'll say it, they're married. On top of that, as if it could get any more grotesquely fraternal, Chuck co-wrote the script.

Disregard the timeline and events of the first two movies, and MIA 3 quickly makes sense. Braddock is a random Colonel in Saigon during the withdrawal of '75. His Vietnamese wife gets lost in the crowds of refugees and just as he arrives he sees her friend get incinerated, and thinks it's her. Years later a priest working in Vietnam (Yehuda Efroni from Delta Force) visits the US and informs a "bitter, distant vet" Braddock that his wife and child are alive, and not well in Nam. An immovable Braddock scoffs. Seconds later he is harassed by the CIA who confirm the rumor of his wife but warn him not to step on their toes.

"I don't step on toes. I step on necks."

Flash to Bangkok. Outside a bar in a Thai cop-car Braddock's fake, highly irritating Australian friend is waiting, and together they have a car chase with the Bangkok police. Flying to Vietnam minutes later, Braddock pushes his tiny jet boat out the back of the plane and jumps after it. After landing he equips himself with a massive unwieldy boom-stick but no extra ammo. After a touching reunion with his family they are all captured by another evil Vietnamese. The wife is killed outright and Braddock and the son taken to prison camp where Braddock endures some creative tortures administered by an eager General Quoc. After predictably resisting, he is escorted back to his cell where, due to ineffectiveness of evil lackeys,, he escapes, and conducts string of explosive narrow-escapes.

A disturbing scene is inserted here of a guy attempting to rape a young girl as the camera cuts back and forth from her tearful dirty face to his sweaty mustachioed balding face - then to Braddock's vengeful kick to the face! Now, Braddock flees with all the children in tow, sniffing the air for signs of trouble.

To keep the poor weak children from having to walk, Braddock steals another damned plane, and as it takes off lumbering along, the Vietnamese military, suddenly the epitome of ridicule, is unable to hit a moving object with sheets of gunfire. Inexplicably, not due to said gunfire, an engine quits, and the plane goes down, forcing the children, who all survive the crash, to walk anyway. Pointless plot device inserted for no other reason than to shallowly epitomize lead character's impossible invincibility.

At the last moment, a few feet from the border, Braddock expresses a single heartfelt sentence to his son Van; "You're everything I wanted in a son."
And mid reply: "You're everything I wanted in…" Braddock gets up machine gun in hand and walks away to go kill more people.
If I wasn't alone, I'd try and choke something to death to prove to someone how fucking brutal this movie is making me feel right now. YES! Bring it! Oh, it's been broughten.

UK VHS cover above and this trailer for MIA 3 from the epically resourceful Cannon Films Archive YouTube channel.

20 July 2009

Missing In Action II: The Beginning

Another awesome Missing In Action oversize VHS box scan from The Scandy Factory.

United States - 1985
Director – Lance Hool
MGM/UA, 1996, VHS
Run time – 1hour,

This is the epic tale of Colonel Braddock's harrowing years in a North Vietnamese prison camp. Only alluded to in Missing In Action, these are the soul-trying times that turned Braddock from a soldier into a soul-less flesh golem, deadened-moving, protein mass. If there was ever a predictable Chuck Norris movie, this would be it - even though I haven't seen them all yet(since writing this I have), I'll go out on a limb. And with an almost eerie, unwavering hunger, it plods wearily down the formulaic path.

Braddock (Norris) hops on an outgoing chopper to rescue a surrounded recon squad and the helicopter gets shot down. Quickly captured, Braddock and the other GI's become the victims of the worst possible camp warden ever, Colonel Yin (Soon-Tek Oh.) To get Braddock to confess to war crimes, Yin tortures the other POW's. Why Braddock is important is not explained, or for that matter important. Braddock beats the crap out of a fellow prisoner because he has turned traitor. Inner rivalry it would seem, is good and patriotic. Tortured to sign a confession, Braddock is hung upside down and has a burlap sack with a huge rat in it, taped over his neck. Sack is soaked with blood, (we fear the worst) but the sack is pulled away, and Braddock clutches the dead rat in his teeth.

A French asshole shows up at camp with some prostitutes and a brief discussion with Yin about a big opium deal, a discussion which is quickly forgotten, later repeated, forgotten again, and never resolved. An Aussie shows up "investigating", and, probably due to his stomach turning idocy, is executed almost immediately, in slow motion.

What happens next is epic. A string of ridiculously, laughably and increasingly painful, cruel tortures are performed, one after the other, on Braddock and his boys. Then suddenly, surprise, Braddock escapes!

Silently creeping, Braddock frees the others and then, having already wired the entire camp, blows it up building-by-building with plastic explosive. Supporting characters not blown up must be dispatched with the fully-auto-bullet-hose-pose.

Norris vs. Yin (Soon-Tek Oh)
Because I don't have many of my old screencaps I got this and the large picture above from Moviegoods.

Having just escaped the worst place in the world, and a hail of bullets, Braddock fights his way back to the compound. Breezily pummeling his way through more secondary actors who still aren't dead, he arrives at Yin, whom Braddock is clearly not too starved, beaten and over-worked to defeat handily. Except that after all of that, the struggle, the pain, the escaping, he doesn't want to do it with his hands. He'll walk to the waiting helicopter use his remote control to blow up the freshly crippled Yin, and then, not even watch.

UK VHS cover from Cannon Films Archive

Trailer from the Cannon Films Archive YouTube channel.

Missing In Action

All the Missing In Action VHS cover scans on Lost Video Archive were borrowed from The Scandy Factory.

United States - 1984
Director – Joseph Zito
MGM/UA, 1996, VHS
Run time - 1 hour 52 min.

While I'm going through a 'Nam binge it seemed like a good time to bring out the classic series that started the trend (I ignore Rambo). This is the real jungle. The real Vietnam, the real war and the real men who fought it. This jungle, although pleasantly sunny and cleared of brush, holds the mystery and deadly menace of “Sir Charles”, the Viet Cong. A platoon of brazen and bold American Special Forces men crashes through that savage well-trimmed wilderness lead by super-troop Col. James Braddock, played with grace and pious perfection by Chuck Norris. Leading his team, as befits a soldier of his rigor and caliber, from the front, Braddock’s rifle fires ceaselessly and with deadly accuracy into the ranks of his enemy. Alas, though made of high carbon steel, Braddock is only a man, and despite his best efforts is overtaken by sheer numbers and his entire team is either captured or killed just as their rescue choppers arrive. Seeing some of his surviving buddies cruelly bayoneted by their captors, he leaps onto them armed with handfuls of (WWII vintage) grenades and suddenly wakes with the explosion, years later, safe but soaked with a cold sweat in his dark barren apartment somewhere in the US.

This agonizingly tense scene left me uncomfortable and sweaty just like Chuck Norris as he quietly started awake from his nightmare like a reanimated golem, sweating and wired tight as an automatic rifle’s recoil mechanism. So damn wired in fact that he goes back to Vietnam, ostensibly as a member of an MIA negotiations committee, but really just an eerily emotionless killing machine, the physical embodiment of aloof infantile American sore-loserism. Every move, every facial gesture is tuned to its perfect xenophobic pitch and Norris’s impeccable harmony unleashes a withering orchestral performance of a man on fire. A gruff and deadpan staccato of one- (and occasionally two-) liners are delivered with such magical precision and unity as to nearly rival Braddock’s impeccable marksmanship.

I never got any screencaps when I first watched this movie, so I stole these. They're probably not even from the right movie in the series.If you have some good ones send 'em my way.

Deported for doing his gook-stabbing American duty, Braddock recruits an old buddy, earmarked for senseless martyrdom the moment he lumbers onscreen all fat and chuckles, and together they stock up on fancy high tech military gear. O ye of little words. Braddock himself is so scary that he hardly needs a rifle. Looking into his dead, hollow eyes is like staring down the muzzle of his M-60. And like the finely oiled mechanisms of that weapon, Braddock crashes forward, kills, and resets to kill again, with about as much emotion. At long last America can win this war with all the sloppy excessiveness we’ve come to expect. Grease everyone, mercilessly shoot up and explode everything, and turn, cabled muscles rippling beneath camo grease paint, tear poised to fall, emotion and unfathomable concern written like a primitive cave painting all over the stony wall of his face, and commiserate deeply with the pitiful suffering victims of cruel injustice. I think I smell the acrid tang of invincibility.

Director Joseph Zito had his finger on the pulse of the main vein of America and within a year would direct the epic Invasion USA.

You can now get all three MIA flicks on one of these DVD sets. I got rid of my VHS tapes of the series a couple years ago but I'm still tempted to replace them with this American Hero Collection.

After watching this trailer from Cannon Films Archive YouTube channel and you really don't need to watch the movie.

18 July 2009

Platoon Leader

Platoon Leader
US – 1988
Director – Aaron Norris
Video Treasures, 1990, VHS
Run time - 1 hour 37 min.

Aaron Norris was a busy monkey in 1988, dropping the threequel to Missing In Action, (the ‘Namsploitation franchise that started it all and made his brother Chuck a household name) and squeezing out this nugget of rapid-fire ‘Nam mayhem based on the actual memoir of the same name by James R. McDonough. The book was good enough to read twice, but the films parasitic association with the Norris family, and its crudely bifurcated Platoon mimicry pretty much eclipse the source material.

Not to mention the nominal lead, Michael Dudikoff who doesn’t have a beard or any of Chucks parlor tricks to offer, that might actually be worse. Dudikoff plays a green as grass Lieutenant fresh out of West Point and sent into the bush to command a platoon of the 173rd Airborne. Understandably all the GI’s at his new command expect him to get one whiff of the shit and scramble home. That’s what they’d like too, keep your head down and Leave Charlie alone so you won’t get shot. Our green Lt. won’t have it and institutes all sorts of regulation mickey-mouse bullshit that earns the ire of his men. But in the field you gotta learn by doing which doesn’t help the Lt. who manages to bumble-fuck himself into the hospital by tripping a mine on his first patrol.

Contrary to expectations he returns to command again, instituting more by-the-book operations including squad-sized night patrols and synthesizer war-movie trumpet music. Thankfully, Norris did do his research on visuals, there are lots of shots -particularly involving Hueys- that closely resemble any number of period photographs. There seems to be a musical divide here mirroring the greater conflict between the Americans and their enemies. First the tinny trumpet music that evokes Norris’ admirable attention to visual and historical accuracy (most movies can’t even get the type of chopper right) and accompanies tearjerking prideful militarism. Gradually however a two note synthesized pipe-organ theme begins to creep in, each time accompanying some scene of excessive explosions, bottomless rifle magazines and machismo.

As Lt. Knight (Dudikoff) attempts to inject some killin’ spirit into the men, he necessarily pushes them into more and more risky situations. The trumpets and organ grow closer together, closing the distance between the believable and bombastic, and groaning with a sickening gravity towards an ultimate devastating accretion.

Finally the climax breaches the dam, and like two volatile molecules the canned themes rush together with a terrible nauseating rush and explode into a delicate new isotope of pure ‘Namsploitation. Waves of faceless “gooks” pour onto the base camp and crash against American jingoism, our weeping sympathetic killer-men fire ceaselessly from the hip and clap each other on the back in cardboard stereotypes of touching macho camaraderie.

Some very nice foreign VHS covers courtesy The Cannon Films Archive.

And a trailer from the Cannon Films Archive YouTube channel prominently featuring the heroic trumpet music mentioned above.

If you search YouTube for the title of the film you can watch the whole thing in several parts, as well as a student video project to re-create one of the scenes from the book.

15 July 2009

Body Chemistry 3: Point of Seduction

Body Chemistry 3: Point of Seduction
US – 1994
Director – Jim Wynorski
New Horizons Home Video, 1994, DVD
Run time - 1 hour 30 min.

When I rewatched Naked Cage several months ago to write about it, I took a shine to Shari Shattuck. I tracked down a couple of her other films including Tainted and this, only to discover that she never went beyond B-list TV and exploitation with a few saucy photos thrown in.

Forster's gettin' ready for another night in the ring.

This films thin plot-like gruel in which the tits will swim begins in a fancy hotel or brothel. A drunken Robert Forster beats-up two hookers and his buddy Alan is called in to diffuse the situation. The hooker abuse is quickly forgotten because Forster is under a lot of pressure man, and that's what dudes do. And hey, business calls, Alan has a hot lead on a great TV movie that he wants to pitch to Forster. Speaking of calling, Shari Shattuck is Claire, a TV sex-psychologist with a live video-call-in show. Her recently deceased lovers are the subject of Alan’s script

Alan’s source is an old buddy and alcoholic radio personality cum-script writer. He claims that his story is great but the idea has to be okayed by Claire herself, and that just might take some doing. After getting an eyeful of Claire, Alan is prepared to do some doing, but she is appalled by the idea of a TV bio-pic, unless she has total control over the whole process. To this end she later calls on Alan in his hotel room where she proposes a special deal in which he provides, the “doing” and she will let him make the movie, with the aforementioned stipulations.

What's that? I can't hear you over the sound of my wife's makeup.

Things get stupidly complicated as Alan’s actress wife, Morgan Fairchild -basically playing herself- gets the notion that she should play Claire in the movie. The writer meanwhile does some investigation and finds out that Claire’s priors include extreme S&M that caused her lovers deaths. The mystery here is apparently supposed to be who Claire’s lovers were and why. Ostensibly she had some ulterior motive for fucking them to death, but this seems pointless to the overall plot and added after the fact to add screen time between Shari’s disrobings. To keep the writer from revealing her motives to Alan, she repeatedly uses her vaginal mind control device to reduce Alan to a speechless idiot with a stiffy. Despite this, each time he’s being “coerced” by Claire (or his wife), he wears a look of uncomfortable revulsion on his taut and pallid visage.

Whatever. The overarching theme is that Claire is downright predatory which seems pointless because she doesn’t have to be, she is an attractive and successful doctor, author and TV personality after all. Rather, the real point is that sexually aggressive/confident women are so intimidating that there has to be some evil intent working behind the scenes, right? Men aren’t just so stupid that they’ll do anything for poontang are they? Absolutely not, from the evidence presented it’s clear, any woman who likes sex is obviously trying to bring about the downfall of modern civilization.

14 July 2009

The Boys In Company C

US/Philippines – 1977
Director – Sidney J. Furie
Pacific Family Entertainment, 2002, DVD
Run time - 2 hours 5 min.

And so, my friend Daniel and I continue our brief foray into semi-obscure Vietnam War films.
This one was something of a myth when I first started studying the Vietnam War 10 years ago. Nobody gave a shit about Vietnam, and nobody gave a shit about a low budget indie feature about Vietnam. This movie wasn’t available anywhere which was tragic to a history nerd because it was supposed to be the earliest (fiction) movie that tackled the GI experience in the war. I couldn’t find it until years later on this low quality DVD that looks transferred from VHS, since then a newer and presumably nicer DVD has been released.

Boys In Company C predates Full Metal Jacket by a good 10 years, but you might think you’re watching an early screen test of the latter as a group of dumb kids line up and get their asses handed to them by a bunch of Marine Corps drill instructors led by R. Lee Ermey.
Each of the recruits is a narrow stereotype, and Ermey quickly gets them in line by sticking up for loner Tyrone Washington. Before induction Washington was a “street-wise” pimp who got drafted and now plans to ship heroin back to the States in body-bags (presaging American Gangster by a good 30 years.)

The boys all end up in Vietnam where each scene plays out as the height of irony, with all the legendary futility of 'Nam encapsulated in every scene. The men are nevertheless pitted against their distant, self-interested officers and resort to typical war movie stoicism. Alas, with all the ironic or wacky vignettes too little time has been devoted to generating much sympathy for any of them.
If it doesn’t have much new to offer the war genre, it is the first cinematic release to apply those clichés to the unique cultural milieu of Vietnam. Boys In Company C is if nothing else a historical hinge upon which the American war film turned from patriotism to cynicism. Its themes are nothing new, the men are still everyday heroes and victims of the “system”; only the system is no longer implicitly “good”.

In this way it might also be compared to some extent with Robert Altman’s 1970 classic M*A*S*H* (which was also a dig on Vietnam), for it tries with all it’s might to capture some of the same camaraderie and war weary insanity of its predecessor, right down to the big game at the end. In this case it’s a soccer game in which the boys are told to intentionally lose in order to make their South Vietnamese opponents feel good. For this humiliation they will earn their way out of combat into a plush multi-game circuit, but at the last minute tragedy strikes again in the form of more clumsy stoicism squeezed out under duress.

This gem was executive-produced by Raymond Chow, who founded Golden Harvest Pictures after he split with Shaw Brothers in 1970. Since then he has produced such classics as the China O’Brien series and the first three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films among numerous Chinese titles.
Director Furie has done a few other war films including the Iron Eagle series and another ‘Nam picture called Going Back.

In addition to coat-tailing a line from the MASH marketing scheme, this poster seems to be trying to appeal directly to Vietnam Veterans with the sub-script.

A nice 1 sheet from Movieposter.com with images from the film.

US VHS box art, the 2008 DVD, some other thing, A Spanish DVD, and a UK DVD.

09 July 2009

The Fog Of War

"We and you ought not pull on the ends of a rope in which you have tied the knots of war. Because the more the two of us pull, the tighter the knot will be tied. And then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you.

I have participated in two wars, and know that war ends when it rolls through cities and villages, everywhere sowing death and destruction. For such is the logic of war.

If people do not display wisdom, they will clash like blind moles and then mutual annihilation will commence."

-Nikita Khruschev in a telegram to President John F. Kennedy October 26, 1962
as quoted by Robert McNamara in The Fog of War

Since Robert Strange McNamara just kicked off I should be recommending you watch Errol Morris’ excellent interview-mentary The Fog of War which is all about the Mac and his feelings of profound guilt concerning Vietnam and the Cold War, and WWII. Consider it recommended.

Thanks to reader regis, HERE is the movie online.

06 July 2009

Fangoria 95 - Total Recall

This issue of Fangoria, #95 published August of 1990 is chock-full of fun articles. In addition to Total Recall (a personal favorite) it has an interview with horror staple Brad Dourif and a full color article on the Romero/Argento film Two Evil Eyes which believe it or not I still haven't seen. I should probably share those articles with you sometime too.

If you happen to be in Seattle this July 25th (2009) I'm having a BBQ at my house and we're gonna project Total Recall on the side of the house when the sun goes down (10pmish) so get your ass to Mars.

05 July 2009

Behind Enemy Lines

Behind Enemy Lines
a.k.a. – Killer Instinct
Philippines - 1988
Director – Cirio H. Santiago
Media Home Entertainment, 1988, VHS
Run time – 1 hour, 23 min.

No, this is not the gung-ho Owen Wilson Gene Hackman vehicle of 2001. I liked that movie when I saw it in the dollar theatre because I knew nothing about the Yugoslav wars, but both of those things have changed.
This Behind Enemy Lines is all about the ‘Nam and is the product of Filipino ‘Namsploitation garbage-grinder Cirio H. Santiago, one of Roger Corman’s protégés in the days when he was farming production out overseas. Just in time too, thanks to Chuck Norris The ‘Nam was a popular product in the States and the Philippines was cheap and full of people who looked to Average dumb Americans sufficiently “oriental” to suspend disbelief. You’ve got to do a lot of that with Santiago.

Somewhere in “North” Vietnam an American patrol led by Robert Patrick is searching for a POW camp but they are caught just as they find it. The sun rises over the same rickety sets and cast of extras as ‘Nam Angels and finds our “hero” and his surviving boys stuck in tiger-cages and watched over by a sadistic Russian who Patrick will undoubtedly fight one-on-one by the end of the film. But for now Patrick escapes and gets back to base where he yells all his lines and recruits some more guys to go back and have another chaotic and ultimately boring firefight that seems to indicate the merciful end of the film.

No such luck. Patrick is wounded and the team flies to Thailand to regroup. A bearded guy shows up to cast an authoritative pall over next several assaults on the shantytown POW camp. The first of these multiple, yes, multiple raids takes place while Patrick is recovering from his wounds with the help of a pacifist American nurse who doesn’t have a warlike bone in her body, until now.

Sufficiently reassured of his manliness Patrick suits up for yet another daring daytime raid to get the Russian, god bless the broad daylight frontal assault. For a movie with such terrible dubbing we can hear every crunching clattering step these assholes make. The subsequent boom-fest and chase scene do indeed end with the long awaited Cold War analogue between Patrick and the Russian, ended in 30 seconds flat by Patrick’s vein-bulging hatred of all things living.
This is confirmed after the battle when he coldly guns down his nurse girlfriend.

It’s remarkable how in every one of his ‘Namsploitation junkers Santiago manages to take the fun parts -like the goofy borderline racist heroics- and drag them out into utter mindless boredom, or blast through ‘em in a few short seconds. I’ll admit, this is an improvement over Caged Fury, but with the awesome insanity of Future Hunters already long gone, and 'Nam Angels just over the horizon, Behind Enemy Lines shows that improvement is a contextual term.

There are at least six other films that go by this name including the David Carradine vehicle I reviewed under the title P.O.W. The Escape, and some other Nam P.O.W. thing that came out in the 90's. Like I said, blame it all on Chuck Norris.