27 February 2010

Street Law

Italy - 1974
Director - Enzo Castellari
VidAmerica, 1984, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 17 minutes

This is a very cheap and heavily edited version of the Italian Death Wish knockoff. It runs a good 28 minutes shorter than the theatrical version. Blue Underground released a full length version of it back in '06 which I'm sure is quite nice. I saw Bill Lustig, the honcho of Blue Underground years ago at a screening and he told an amusing tale. He worked in some capacity on the set of Death Wish, which of course spawned a whole cottage industry of vigilante films including Lustig's own Vigilante. At some point thereafter, Street Law was re-released in the US under the title Vigilante II, so the whole thing kinda came full circle.
Check out the trailer at Cult Trailers.

United States - 1995
Director - Damian Lee
Triboro Entertainment Group, 1995, VHS
Run Time -1 hour, 38 minutes

This is some sort of "martial arts" petty gang violence thing with a badly Photoshopped cover featuring a ponytailed goon. But I get it, they're pointing their guns at each other and that's prophetic right? I don't really remember what happens so I'll probably have to watch it again soon.

25 February 2010

Monster Truck Bloopers 3

Monster Truck Bloopers 3
United States – 1993
Director – a bunch of drunk rednecks
Superior Promotions Inc., 1993, VHS
Run Time – 30 minutes

I have no personal experience with monster trucks. I have never been to a monster truck show and so, the only way I can make an assessment is through secondary sources. My impressions of monster truck culture are filtered through other people’s interpretations. They tell me what they think is interesting or important or fun about the event. Television advertisements for monster truck shows I assume, are intended to appeal to a slightly wider audience than the typical attendee. People who like something will consume it because they already know its merits. But you do have to present it in a format that will be comfortable to the established audience.

As such, my understanding of monster trucks is based on the accounts of people I know who have gone, and a handful of advertisements. From the former I have learned that monster truck shows are very, very loud, almost deafeningly so. Additionally I have been led to believe that monster truck shows are mostly just a stadium full of drunk redneck fistfights with trucks in the background. Understandably most of us notice the most shocking aspects of any experience, those things farthest outside our personal “normalcy”, and are likely to overemphasize those things in retelling. Hence it may be an artifact of cultural experience that all of the eyewitnesses whom I have talked to emphasize the overwhelming presence of rednecks and/or hillbillies brawling in the stands at monster truck shows.

That said, nobody has ever told me about what the trucks actually do at one of these events. It doesn’t appear to be entertaining enough for my friends to mention, or to keep the rednecks in their seats. My hope was that this tape would give me a glimpse into the monster truck culture as its participants see it, a self identification. Hence, I watched it with a feeling of anticipation, a desire to get an inside look at a foreign culture. Having done so, I found that it was simply monster trucks and other cars driving over and through stuff and then wrecking, machines pushed to cartoonish extremes. The tape lays this bare. I expected copious accidents, broken shit and wrecks, and I got them. But if this tape is really the primary source I believe it is, then clearly the breaking and wrecks are as much par for the course as the wheelies and crushed station wagons. There really is no such thing as a “blooper” in a niche field defined by boisterous extremes.

22 February 2010

The Longest Day

1962 - United States
Director - Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton (Darryl F. Zanuck)

Back when I first moved to Seattle from the backwoods of New Mexico I had no money and no job, but I still had to feed the movie beast. My solution was to get a library card in the first couple of weeks and check out loads of documentaries, classics and foreign films. I was also really interested in military history and so  quite a few of those ended up being old war films. The Longest Day is one of the better World War Two movies to come out after the war, partially because it made a point to tell "both sides" of the story. Nevertheless, it is still definitely a part of the heroic myth-making tradition of American popular history. From a technical standpoint though the film is still pretty good and stands well above the other low caliber war-movie garbage that the US was producing just prior to Vietnam.

This poster is striking to me because of its exceptional use of negative space. It's a great example of less-is-more and conveying a message more effectively with what is not explicitly stated. While the film is about D-Day, to me the image itself actually brings to mind a battlefield in the Pacific Campaign, specifically Tarawa, but that doesn't change the fact that I love the design of this poster.

This half sheet from The Poster Palace demonstrates how adding one element can profoundly alter the aesthetic of the design, and consequently change the message.

18 February 2010

Death Ship

UK/Canada – 1980
Director – Alvin Rakof
Embassy Home Entertainment, 1986, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 31 minutes

Death Ship is a film best watched alone, for it is explicitly about the sudden, nauseating horror of helplessness and loneliness. George Kennedy is the perfect actor for this; he looks drunk already. Kennedy captains a cruise ship, a veritable city-sized floating metaphor for emotional isolation. It's no surprise that he opts to drown his bitterness with drink, a cruise is the ultimate in manufactured socialization. A group of people who have little in common voluntarily remove themselves from their comfortable home environment and force themselves to engage in staged, scheduled group activities. Kennedy rants at length about the hateful cruise-ship life while sweating out pure distilled gin. He is a man alone, the uranium rod in the reactor of misanthropic solitude.

That very night when his cruise ship is rammed by a mysterious and persistent radar blip, it is literally the collapse of manufactured polite society with explosions, crashing walls of water, and falling pianos. So why is it that the main characters are always the ones who survive the opening scene cataclysm? Why, even the quasi-suicidal George Kennedy was unlucky or drunk enough to survive his own ship’s sinking and be hauled aboard a tiny raft with the other survivors. When their colossal rusting adversary drifts out of the mist, they row their tiny raft around and around it screaming up the battered sides for help. None is forthcoming, but they soon find a gangplank, and the first thing they do is to send the children up first.

A plot about an evil ship should be corny, particularly coupled with a second-thought Nazi back-story. It’s just like a haunted house with some stupid historical plot: a lot scarier without a boring reason. Explicable terror is, in its lack of mystery, much less terrifying than inexplicable terror. Anything else just adds mood-killing logic, and grounds the experience far too much in the real world for it to be any fun. But despite this aside, and because the Death Ship literally “needs blood”, and takes it, it persists. Each and every death is such a bleak solitary thing, yet filled with so much screaming, shrieking and wailing, that it’s unnerving. Like life, it is a prolonged screaming solitary struggle, unassisted by friends who sometimes add to the horror by standing there unable to help and screaming right along with you as you sink. And if fighting alone against a giant evil ship doesn’t get you, no problem. Here comes George Kennedy, drunk again, and now he has a gun!

15 February 2010

Black Cast Westerns

United States - 1937
Director - Sam Newfield

United States - 1938
Director - Richard C. Kahn

United States - 1939
Director - Richard C. Kahn

All three of these films star French-Canadian/Ethiopian Jazz musician Herbert (Herb) Jeffries. He and director Kahn did a third movie together called The Bronze Buckaroo in 1939. That and Harlem Rides the Range are available from NetFlix. Two-Gun Man From Harlem can be bought on DVD. No sign of Harlem On the Prarie, VHS or DVD, but that second one sure is a purty poster.

13 February 2010

Garden of the Dead

Garden of the Dead
United States - 1974
Director -John Hayes
Showcase Productions, 1988, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 26 minutes

I will probably never get around to writing anything of significant length about this film because it, or in any case, my copy of it, is absolutely terrible. I've gritted my teeth and drank my way through it twice, but it is a visual train-wreck of home video. The box art consists of a heavily cropped version of an already crappy poster and the synopsis reads like it was written by a warehouse clerk. The transfer of the film itself is a murky, grainy and painfully dark print that makes shooting day-for-night seem like a good idea.
Seeing as this tape was squeezed out some twelve years back, I can only hope that there is a better version available out there in this modern age of computronical video. The plot of the thing was pretty ridiculous and the acting on par with the hillbilly characters, but it seemed like it might be at least groan-worthy amusing. I can usually take bad, as long as I can see it.

11 February 2010

Mr. T's Be Somebody or Be Somebody's Fool


Mr. T’s Be Somebody… Or Be Somebody’s Fool
United States - 1984
Director – Jeff Margolis
MCA Home Video, 1984, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour

It’s hard to say something positive about this movie without sounding like I’m trying to be retro and ironic. I have a hard time separating the history of the Reagan years from its consumer products. Hence I am more than just a little suspicious of anything retro 80’s. Mr. T’s Be Somebody Or Be Somebody’s Fool may be one of the few exceptions to my 80’s complex, though now that I’ve said so I’m sure I’ve screwed that up too. Except for memories of my everyday life, my cultural memory of the 80’s is dominated by Mr. T. He was on The A Team, had his own cartoon, was in movies, had toys, cassette tapes, breakfast cereal, the list goes on.

As one of the original generation of kid’s motivational video-tapes it’s easy to look back with incredulity on this genre. They seem almost crude, but they were the first of their kind, experiments. Child psychology is more sophisticated now, and those of us doing the ridiculing are all grown up and we like to pretend that we’re no longer impressionable. But watch Be Somebody, and you know for sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt that even though it’s scripted, Mr. T was fucking sincere when he made this movie (and the separately available companion book, LP and cassette.) And you still watch with rapt attention because after all these years you can’t dilute the potency of the T. Unlike Charles Barkley who 9 years later would claim that he “wasn’t a role model,” Mr. T knew he was, wanted to be, and took the job seriously. (and yes, made some money at it.)

With the help of musical arrangements by Ice-T and special appearances by New Edition (w/Bobby Brown) and Valerie Landsburg (Fame and Thank God It’s Friday) T admonishes kids to exercise, avoid corporate apparel schemes, control their anger, rap about who they are and above all be themselves. The undeniable purity of message climaxing in a phenomenal solo piece about respecting ones mother, performed by T and backed up by the moms of three kids in the film. The kids themselves include a number of future stars including members of The Dimples, among them Stacy Ferguson.

It’s true, Mr. T cannot escape his bubble in time, ensconced as he is within the dichotomous optimism of 80’s urbania, but through a series of well-timed costume changes in Be Somebody, he still effectively delivers his message a quarter century later.
Be Somebody boils that message into one potent essence. T is not pandering, the delivery here is deadpan and absolutely serious. On the surface Mr. T is larger than life; absurd but undeniably genuine. That is the whole point, and that is why it works. T is simultaneously the front-man and the hype-man, dropping knowledge and working the crowd. He is a beast, a huge man of simple enthusiasm, dedication and most of all honesty. His willingness to try and make a difference while wearing tiny camouflage tennis shorts is ample proof.

I scanned the three images above from the companion book advertised in this flyer that came with my video. Watch the whole video on YouTube in 6 parts.

This review first appeared in issue 8 of Paracinema Magazine, Dec. 2009.

08 February 2010

Gumby and the Wild West

Gumby and the Wild West
United States
Director - Art Clokey
Avid Home Entertainment, 1991, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour

This volume is a mixture of anything remotely referring to the mythical American west and a few that don't. A confusing mix of naive racism and naive empathy and Gumby's usual childlike association with fantastic nonsense. I cannot find exact dates for any of these episodes. Amazon has this tape listed as "volume 4", though I can find no such label on the cassette or box. As with Gumby Magic, I think it's just an arbitrary designation particularly because the tapes with actual volume numbers are released by F.H.E.

The Kachinas
• The Glob*
• School For Squares
• Goo For Pokey
• The Golden Iguana
• A Groobee Fight
• Hidden Valley
• Tricky Ball
• Ricochet Pete

*features the same public domain music that is featured prominently in Night of the Living Dead.

04 February 2010

The Quiet Earth

New Zealand – 1985
Director – Geoff Murphy
CBS/FOX Video, 1986, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 31 minutes

This may be the first post-apocalypse film in which the apocalypse isn’t cataclysmic, at least not in the nuclear holocaust/return of Christ sense. Although it does in fact begin immediately post-apocalypse, for some time it is not clear that there was in fact an apocalypse at all. This key question persists for the entire film; was there an apocalypse, and if so what was it? Here our protagonist (Bruno Lawrence) simply wakes up in the morning to find a world devoid of people. All of them have simply vanished at the same time, in the middle of whatever it was they were doing at that instant; flying aircraft, driving, crapping, making coffee. He proceeds to go very nearly ape-shit.

But is there ever a post-apocalypse movie that doesn’t succumb to the need for secondary characters? Is there any film about isolation or solitude that doesn’t? Once our protagonist meets a woman, Joanne, and then another man, one can’t help but shake the feeling that this is supposed to be a subtle sci-fi sociology lesson. Being the only three people on Earth reduces them to a primitive uncivilized survival situation, a textbook experiment in inter-gender socialization. The woman is a vacillating opportunist, looking for the best deal and changing her mind on a moment by moment basis. The rest is a philosophical and/or psychological lesson about the duality of man. Does the intellectual archetype offer the most attractive options for the future, or is it the physical, warrior type? Which is the true apocalypse; the potential disaster of scientific achievement, or the violent barbarity of hierarchical tribalism? The whole thing begs the further intriguing question; how do you define apocalypse?

Here's The Quiet Earth trailer from TkrB via YouTube. While you're there, check out the Saturn rising sequence, it's cool.

01 February 2010


Denmark/US - 1961
Director - Sidney Pink
Orion Home Video, 1994, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 22 minutes

This used to be one of my favorite movies to hate. It really is as terrible as people say, but I guess since my last viewing almost ten years ago my tastes have, ummmmmm, matured? I love it now. Reptilicus is on par with The Giant Claw for howling-laughter, rubber-monster fun, if just a little bit slower and dumber. But at least you can't see the wires, wait is that a bad thing? I love how you needed approval to rent Reptilicus at this particular store. Whatever for, did they warn you at the counter that it was terrible so you didn't ask for your money back on return?

Watch the Reptilicus trailer at Cult Trailers

 This one from Paleoblog

This pic from Micro-Brewed Reviews

See piles more Reptilicus stuff at Random Acts of Geekery.