30 April 2012

The Birds

United States - 1963
Director - Alfred Hitchcock
MCA Home Video, 1985, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 59 minutes

Unceremoniously remade by Mexican biologist Rene Cardona Jr. in 1987 under the title Beaks: The Movie, Hitchcock's The Birds was itself based on a short story in which the birds were a metaphor for the sinister specter of communism. That's deep.

25 April 2012

Switchblade Sisters

United States - 1974
Director - Jack Hill
Poster art by - John Solie

After over ten years since my last watch I revisited Switchblade Sisters over the weekend. I think I'm able to appreciate it more this time around. My personal favorite is the opening title starting with the switchblade snapping action of the main title itself. The first time I watched it I think I was expecting more. It had been talked up so much I thought it was going to be epic and my tastes, tempered as they were by the relative extremes of 80's and 90's cinema, couldn't process what seemed like bland 70's flavor.

One of the things that I still find a little bit disappointing is what seems to me as a lost opportunity for some explicit feminism. There are a few moments which in a certain light might appear to reject the standard film portrayals of 'tough girls' (that is, still within gender norms) but I suppose one can't expect too much in an exploitation flick from 1975. In particular though I think it's interesting that the white girl gang are just directionless hooligans and subordinate to their boyfriends (until the end) while the Black gang are thoroughly militant and led by a woman. Those roles would be largely reversed by the '80's thanks to the advent of the "War on Drugs." But don't get me wrong, it is fundamentally just a movie about a bunch of white girls doing things that white girls aren't supposed to which is apparently 'shocking.'

The artificiality of the sets (especially the street battle sequence at the end) and the shallow scripting which harken back to the delinquency films of the 50's, definitely strikes me as more of a parody than anything else. Fortunately, director Hill seems to have intended it that way. Which, as it turns out, is not a bad thing. With a little perspective, I can understand why Switchblade Sisters is regarded as a classic.

16 April 2012

Nail Gun Massacre

United States – 1985
Director – Bill Leslie and Terry Lofton
Magnum Entertainment, 1987, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 30 minutes

I’m still pleasantly surprised by the tenacity of physical media formats. Of course, the physical ownership aspect of consumerism will be hard to kill, but if you asked me a couple of years ago I never would have believed that some crazy ass would still be putting out quality DVD releases of just plain obscure, wonderfully shitty movies like Mardi Gras Massacre. I personally never thought that one would see the light of day again. Apparently there is a large enough community of bad-taste aficionados like myself to make it worth Code Red’s while. I’m not complaining mind you. There is a little bit of selfish desire to be the lone holder of some secret esoteric knowledge, but in the main I would rather people get a chance to see these flicks.

A perfect example is this film, the Texas masterpiece known as Nail Gun Massacre. I first saw this beauty almost 15 years ago on a second generation bootleg tape. It’s a very special thing, among my favorite horror films of all time and I finally, finally picked up the Synapse DVD release of this re-found-classic. Nail Gun Massacre’s detractors may be many, but there’s no accounting for taste. There are a host of no-budget shibboleth’s in this film, all of which I find profoundly endearing. In the tradition of Zombie, I will present a laundry list of reasons that Nail Gun Massacre is a video classic.

What's this getup Doc, ya'll a foreigner?
  • I talk a lot of shit about Canada here on LVA, but in my real life, the one in which I interact with physical objects and three dimensional space, I am actually fine with Canada and biased against Texas. Long story, silly geographic/political reasons. Nevertheless, Texas somehow managed to push out some of the finest low budget video-era exploitation cinema. (I’m adding the label “Texas” right now so you can see what I mean.)

  • Rape revenge films have a long history which doesn’t seem to want to stop. Lucky McKee’s recent film The Woman being a fine example of the perennial appeal of brutalized women and “justified” retaliatory violence. Nail Gun Massacre gets the rape over quickly and without unnecessary graphicness. Then it moves instantly right on to the revenge which, despite the obvious anatomical proportions of the killer in a number of scenes is not the rape victim.

  • See if I use you in one of my movies again!
  • I get the connection between construction workers and sex, so all the killing of framers/carpenters and copulating couples makes sense. Nevertheless, for some unknown reason the killer goes on to murder a number of random women, leaving the question of motive still ambiguous enough for a possible sequel. (Please?)

  • The nail gun makes a wet-fart sound and the actor gives it a little jerk to make it look like its firing.

  • I’m sure we’ve all seen enough action films to be familiar with, and probably tired of the corny one-liner. Still, you haven’t heard them like this; there are so many in Nail Gun Massacre that they’re fucking paragraphs.

  • From a purely base, heterosexist point of view, the irony of anatomy is too good to be true. In the first sex scene the woman has small breasts and the guy groping her has huge meaty ogre-hands, while in a later scene a very well-endowed woman is paired up with a skinny, weasely little freak. I’m sorry, but I just think that’s funny.

  • "The Mekong in '68 man, that was bad, but this..."
  • And finally, the murders themselves are so grisly, so ghastly, so godawfully gory, that even the local doctor (who wears a Canadian Tuxedo the entire film) says “I haven't seen anything this brutal since 'Nam.” And that about sums up Nail Gun Massacre too. It’s kinda like what you’ve seen before only more extreme, more shocking and more exhilarating than any of it. Sure, you might say “bad,” (and apparently someone un-ironically did, director Lofton was compelled to repeatedly defend the film in the DVD special features) but we’ve all known since the 80’s that “bad” is a relative term. Nail Gun Massacre is easily one of the baddest. 
Dang, that's bad!

14 April 2012

Blade In Hong Kong

United States - 1985
Director - Reza Badiyi
Interglobal Homer Video, 1989, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 34 minutes

I wish I could end my contribution to this whole Hong debacle with something awesome, humorous or intelligent to say about James Hong's presence in this film. Frankly I wish I could say anything about the film at all. It seems so ripe for asinine drunken ranting thanks to a title that features the actor's name and a plot that appears on its surface to welcome disdain. Iranian American director Badivi was a prolific force in television during his life, helming numerous episodes of shows as diverse as Baywatch, Hawaii Five-O, Mission: Impossible, Cagney & Lacey, Mortal Kombat and Start Trek DS9. This movie just begs to be watched.

Unfortunately the tape was fried. I popped it in the old Video Cassette Recorder and the picture just rolled and rolled and rolled like a toddler at a grade-school gymnastics show. So bad that the audio track wouldn't work and the static prevented me even seeing much of anything. I'm gonna try and burn it to DVD and see if that will take care of the problem, (it often does,) but until then, Leslie and James will have to wait.

I want to thank all the writers (and artists) who participated in Week of Hong. Like our prior events it is always a privilege to have such enthusiastic people wax poetic about such seemingly trivial things. I hope that they, our readers and new writers will be inspired to share their thoughts in upcoming events! Contact us here at Lost Video Archive to participate, more is coming soon!

Week of Hong Contributors
Lost Video Archive - Teen Lust, Gladiator Cop, Cyber Bandits and Blade in Hong Kong

12 April 2012

Gladiator Cop

United States – 1994
Director – Nick Rotundo
Monarch Home Video, 1995, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 32 minutes

If you’ve seen the poet-shirted epic Ring of Steel, you’ll empathize when I say that it is almost impossible to get enough of that fucking film. I watched it five or six times (they blur together) before I was able to squeeze out this shitty review. The subsequent month was difficult indeed knowing that there wasn’t any more. Sure, I could have watched Ring of Steel a seventh time, but as anyone who is passionate about film knows, you have to give it space. It’s like a drug, the more you take the higher your tolerance. After a while it just loses its potency, its magic, and you have to detox.

So it goes with Ring of Steel. As much as I need it, I’ve got to let it steep for a while. Sometimes though, things just work out. When I signed myself up for this Week of Hong debacle I didn’t really know what to do. I figured a plan would shake itself out once I had something to work with, so I just went online and picked a handful of the cheapest James Hong VHS tapes I could find and ordered them sight unseen. Not only did Gladiator Cop satisfy my primal craving for ponytail-man-bangs (a favorite from RoS) and illegal fight-to-the-death LARP nerdery, but it was also my first Lorenzo Lamas movie. That’s a pretty rich meal to digest all at once; like truffles deep-fried in duck-fat.

Mr. Hong doesn’t make his appearance until a little ways into the film, but it’s a zinger of a role. Often times he just has a teeny bit-part in these low budget STV flicks but not so here. Lamas plays Garrett, a cocky and uncouth ex-police detective who moonlights as a champion fencer. When the famed sword of Alexander the Great is stolen from the local museum where his collagen injected curator girlfriend works, Garrett traces the theft to the illicit roid-nerd death-match circuit. Garrett doesn’t know it yet, but as it turns out he is the reincarnation of Alexander the Great and surely destined to wield that damned sword before the end of this epic. Using his telepathic ability to fondle corpses and see how they died, he tracks the sword to one Parmenion (a real historical figure played here by James Hong,) Alexander the Great's rival, now reincarnated to seek revenge. It’s a little far-fetched I know, but these two guys really play it to the hilt. Even though I received the less graphic version (apparently there are some boobs somewhere,) this aperitif is exactly the appetite whetting I was looking for as I count the days until my Ring of Steel anniversary viewing later this month. Bon Apetit!

Thanks to TS Filmvault for the trailer.

Week of Hong Contributors
Lost Video Archive - Teen Lust, Gladiator Cop, Cyber Bandits and Blade in Hong Kong

11 April 2012

Cyber Bandits

United States - 1994
Director - Erik Fleming
Columbia Tristar Home Video, 1995, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 26 minutes

Cyber Bandits is a low-budget middle-90's action/drama that relies on barely-there technological concepts like CD's and virtual reality to lend itself a thin veneer of edginess. While it is probably most notable for starring Grace Jones as the daughter of James Hong, Cyber Bandits also goes down in my ledger for starring a guy who looks like my uncle and for being generally boring and poorly-acted and  laughable.

James Hong manages, despite his roughly 2 and a half minutes of screen time, to be the most interesting character in the film

Thanks to all the Week of Hong Contributors
Lost Video Archive - Teen Lust, Gladiator Cop, Cyber Bandits and Blade in Hong Kong

10 April 2012

Teen Lust

United States - 1978
Director - James Hong
Lightning Video, 1985, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 30 minutes

The distinction between savage and civilized culture is often a hazy and subjective one. Our parents humor seems naive to us now while ours seems cynical to them. But that’s a long and ugly debate which is better served elsewhere because I’m not here to argue about comedic-relativism except as it applies to Teen Lust, an independent comedy produced and directed in 1978/9 by the man of the week, Mr. James Hong.

By most measures, Teen Lust is just your average, albeit extra low budget, teen sex comedy. It’s got sweet cars, over-acted nerds, stoners, an overweight outcast, nudity and loads of lowbrow humor. The protagonists are two just-graduated high-school girls who take summer jobs at the local police department as part of the Explorer Scout program (now called Venturing.) Over the course of the film’s antics and jokes about the mentally disabled, both girls end up having sex with their cop-mentors. These days of course statutory rape is pretty much frowned upon. Relatively speaking though, in 1979 it was a humorous opportunity to show adult men fondling (what are supposed to be) teen aged girls. I would like to think that this indicates some measure of cultural advancement since then, but I doubt that a movie genre that fundamentally relies on sexist objectification is much of a litmus test.

Still, while wallowing in the usual, Teen Lust does do something rather uncommon. Boys in these films are typically congratulated for having sex with older women (getting experience) and/or sleeping around (proving their manhood,) while the girls are confined to the virgin/whore/ dichotomy. In Teen Lust though Carol and Neely essentially reverse this role and become “self actualized” through this little act of rebellion. It’s a bit of a slippery twist the film is performing at this point, suggesting that it is both okay for women to be sexually liberated and yet, still necessary (or at least recommended) for their identities to be defined by their sexual utility and/or attachment to men. The box art is a perfect example of this faux-rebellion, giving us a double-layered objectification experience. As the girl on the box ogles (or hallucinates?) the undressing hunk, we ogle her ogling. In a way it lets us off the self-analysis hook by saying more-or-less “See, they do it too, so it’s okay!”

Without getting too pedantic and concocting a bunch of wind-baggy socio-cultural analysis it would be best to cut to the quick; Teen Lust is not a very good movie. Released under at least three different titles at various times in its 33 year history, it has earned a mostly negative reputation from the people who bother to write online reviews. Appealing to some of these viewers is the fact that Carol is played by Norwegian actress Kirsten Baker who graced a dozen or so low budget features in the early 80’s. But between the boobs (not hers,) which can only carry a movie so far, the jokes only get worse (and more offensive) and Teen Lust begins to drag. It reminds me of Tim Kincaid's "legit" films with the disjointed narrative feeling of a porno minus the sex. It has a sequence of events and a conclusion, but in many respects they feel unrelated. They exist in the same space, but seem unable to coalesce. Sure, Hong's first attempt at non-adult directing is bad in that endearing low-budget laughable-good-try kind of way, but in the end, especially at the end, it doesn’t have much point.

03 April 2012

Beaks: The Movie

A.K.A. – Ataque de los Pajaros (Attack of the Birds)
Spain/Mexico – 1987
Director – Rene Cardona Jr.
International Video Entertainment, 1987, VHS
 Run Time – 1 hour, 30 minutes

From the intrepid Mexican biologist cum rogue scriptwriter/director who brought you the homoerotic Latin Jaws knockoff Tintorera: Tiger Shark comes another film with a full-colon in the title, this one an eco-disaster re-envisioning of The Birds. Where Hitchcock depended on sheer psychological terror and statistical visual illusion, Legacy director Rene Cardona Jr. banks on American "actors", the realism of stock nature photography, a stapler, and the pitching arms of several professional pigeon throwers.

Opening with the finest enucleation by bird-of-prey we’ve seen in the decade since Day of the Animals introduced us to such asinine ornithological antics, Beaks! quickly begins testing ones powers of logical conjunction. When a second attack, this one perpetrated by chickens, takes place, news reporter Vanessa (Michelle Johnson) is convinced, despite her employers totally not-sexually objectifying assessment of her (tits)ability to do actual (sex)reporting that there is some kind of connection between all this feathery antagonism. Dragging along her smart-ass boyfriend/cameraman Peter (Christopher Atkins), the pair do a leisurely and agonizing bickering/flirting-couple tour of stock bird photography scenes.

The casual viewer may have a hard time adding panoramic images of birds in flight to claustrophobic close-ups of pigeons smashing into the actors faces and coming up with horror as a sum, but if Christopher’s groan-inducing one-liners don’t provoke an anticipatory cringe or two, just think of the birds. They must be terrified.

Both of these European VHS covers are from the Cinehound Forum.