Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Super Inframan (1975)

Directed by:  Hua Shan
Screenplay by: Ni Kuang
Starring: Danny Lee, Wang Hsieh, Terry Liu, Bruce Le, Yuan Man-Tzu
Running Time: 90 min.
Tagline: “The Man Beyond Bionics!”

There must be something in the water because lo and behold, as soon as I decided that I’d be reviewing THE SUPER INFRAMAN for Psychoplasmics to mark its first year anniversary, both Teleport-City and 1000 Misspent Hours tossed up pieces of their own about Shaw Bros. Studios thoroughly loopy attempt to cash-in on Japan’s tokusatsu craze. Thankfully, rather than getting discouraged over somebody beating me to the punch, I took this as a pretty clear sign to do as the Romans instead. THE SUPER INFRAMAN is an infectiously joyous bit of B-movie obscura that deserves as much attention laid on it as it can get and my only slight regret in discussing it is that I don’t have an anecdote of my own to contribute along with the two aforementioned reviews of how they discovered this doozy of a movie when they were kids. Me? I just rented it off of Netflix a couple years back, give or take but I was fortunate enough to revisit the movie this year as the closer to the B-Fest film festival in Chicago this past January. It’s as much of a comment on how great it was to see this in a packed auditorium with a crowd of super-enthusiastic nerds as it is, unfortunately, a comment on the rather anemic offerings we’re having at the theater this year that I can say that nothing is going to top that as a movie going experience in 2016.

To swipe that line from Tim Lehnerer yet again because it’s too good not to, the first fifteen seconds of THE SUPER INFRAMAN are kind of slow but then a pterodactyl monster bellyflops onto a highway in front of a school bus full of children, an earthquake happens and Hong Kong explodes. Then things start to get weird. If nothing else, you have to admire this movie for not wasting time screwing around. This string of disasters – which dialogue indicates also includes monster attacks that they clearly didn’t have the budget to show but hey, take their word for it – culminates in the eruption of the long-dormant Mt. Devil, revealing a massive fortress topped off with a gigantic stone dragon head. Naturally, the Chinese government takes note of a supervillain lair popping up in their backyard, and enlists the help of Professor Liu Ying-de (Wang Hsieh), head of the Scientific Headquarters (of Somewhat Ambiguous Science) to figure out just what the blazing blue hell is going on. While scanning Mt. Devil, Professor Liu and his team intercept a transmission from the pterodactyl monster from before, who transforms into a blonde Chinese woman dressed up as some sort of draconic Brunhilda.

This would be Princess Dragon Mom (Terry Liu) – or Princess Elzebub if you’re going with the subtitles – which I can only assume was meant to be Princess Dragon Ma until somebody involved in INFRAMAN’s dubbing fell asleep at the wheel. She rattles off the usual evil overlord spiel about how she has come to conquer the Earth and it would be in all of our best interests to surrender to her and her forces right now. While I myself am completely okay with being ruled over by an evil sexpot who’s part dinosaur, the rest of the world isn’t so keen on that idea and therefore the authorities gather together for an intelligence briefing to determine what is to be done about this situation, which I quote, “is so serious it’s the worst in all of human history!” Profession Liu is present at this meeting and informs all assembled that he has determined that Prince Dragon Mom is a member of some prehistoric race which once ruled the Earth but was driven beneath the planet’s surface by the Ice Age and has spent the past few million years in suspended animation. Now revived, she’s declared war on the human race and has an army of mutants breed from prehistoric monsters to back her up. Seeing as Professor Liu has the best grasp of the situation, the Chinese government puts him and Science Headquarters in charge of the effort to combat this menace.

Now the name Science Headquarters seems to be something of a misnomer because as far as I can tell from the many times I’ve watched this movie, Professor Liu seems to be the only actual scientist employed at the place. (They do, however, have the requisite of every B-movie science lab: huge computer banks covered in blinking light that don’t seem to actually do anything.) The rest of Science Headquarters’ staff seems to be some sort of paramilitary disaster response team made up entirely of motorcycle riding martial artists, led by the heroic Lieutenant Rei Ma. (Danny Lee) Professor Liu realizes it’s going to take more than a bunch of guys in matching silver and blue jumpsuits to put a stop to the Princess’s evil schemes but fortunately, he has something up his. Taking Rei Ma to his personal laboratory, Professor Liu reveals his plans to transform a volunteer into The Inframan, an invincible, atomic powered cyborg superhero that can be more than a match for whatever Dragon Mom throws at them. Despite the very real risk of the operation killing him, Rei Ma agrees to undergo the transformation, which mostly involves him lying on a cruciform slab while Professor Liu glues computer parts to him.

Princess Dragon Mom, however, has no intention of waiting around for whatever Science Headquarters is cooking up. She recognizes what a threat the organization poses and assembles her legions of mutants to launch a pre-emptive strike and oh, what a collection of monstrosities it is. We’ve got her army of cannon fodder mooks, the explosive spear wielding Skeleton Ghosts. (Skeletons can have ghosts?) We’ve got her right hand henchwoman She-Demon (Dana Tsen Shu-Yi), a lady in silver booty-shorts who has eyes in the palms of her hands that can shoot lasers. There’s a pair of robots that seem to act as the princess’s elite guards and can extended and retract their heads and weaponized limbs  via wire coils. Then there are the mutants themselves: a lumpy toad man with a drill and shovel for hands, a tentacled plant monster, a humanoid dragon man, an onibaba-style demon with long hair, and a frankly adorable looking red bug monster. Toad Man and Plant Monster are dispatched first. Toady ambushes and kidnaps a member of Science Headquarters named Chu Ming (Lin Wen-Wei) – who, while every one else gets a cool motorcycle, is struck driving a beat-up Volkswagen – and takes him back to Mt. Devil to get brainwashed while Plant Monster attacks Science Headquarters’ um…headquarters itself by transforming into a cluster of massive vines and tearing the building apart. The damaged caused cuts off the power to the professor’s lab and nearly kills Rei Ma until somebody manages to switch on the back up generator. Being subjected to an invasive full body surgery and nearly dying does nothing to slow down Rei Ma, who promptly transforms into Inframan and gets to try out his new abilities by flipping around the professor’s lab and smashing some of his equipment. Professor Liu doesn’t seem to mind that much though, likely because that’s totally coming out of Rei Ma’s next paycheck.

Despite the Inframan being a top secret project not five minutes ago, everyone excitedly exclaims “It’s Inframan!” immediately upon seeing him spring into action. The plant monster puts up a good fight but in the end is no match for the super-powered Rei Ma. Good thing for Princess Dragon Mom that she already had a back up plan in place, as that poor sap that Toady captured, Chu Ming, has been brainwashed into turning traitor and is sent back to Science Headquarters to swipe Inframan’s blueprints so she can scan them for an exploitable weakness. Chu Ming gets caught in act but intervention from Toady, Red Bug and Onibaba help him get away, though not without the latter two monsters getting destroyed in the process. With the plans for Inframan in Dragon Mom’s hands, Professor Liu decides to upgrade Rei Ma with a number of new weapons to counter act whatever traps she may throw at him, leading to a favorite and off-quoted exchange among friends of mine: “To have success, it is necessary for you to have Thunderball Fists!” “I can have such a thing?” “That’s right. Thunderball Fists!” Well, those Thunderball Fists are going to come in really handy real soon because Princess Dragon Mom has Chu Ming and Toady kidnap Professor Liu’s daughter in order to force the Professor into building her an Inframan of her own. This leads to Rei Ma heading up an all-out assault on Mt. Devil with the other members of Science Headquarters and a massive battle royal as Inframan fights his way through a gauntlet of mooks, mutants, and deadly booby traps on his way to a final confrontation with Princess Dragon Mom.

Much like the term giallo, tokusatsu started as a general catch-all before transforming into a specific genre all of its own. Meaning “special filming,” it was coined in regards to the original GODZILLA, the first Japanese film to utilize special effects such as actors in suits and miniature sets on the scale that it did, and would later be used to refer to science fiction films in general. That shifted with the popularity of serialized television such as MOONLIGHT MASK, AMBASSADOR MAGMA, SUPER SENTAI, METAL HERO and the ULTRAMAN and KAMEN RIDER franchises, which resulted in the term becoming more associated with Japan’s equivalent of costumed superheroes. They never fully abandoned their roots in the kaiju genre, however, as many episodes of these shows would climax with the rubber monster of the week growing to gigantic size and wrecking havoc in a model city before being stopped by hero / heroes who themselves can undergo such a transformation or summon a gigantic robot that they can pilot into battle. In fitting bit of cross pop cultural pollination, the American superhero of the time, The Amazing Spider-Man, would get his own tokusatsu series, complete with big dang robot, and United Artists would pick up the popular ULTRAMAN for American audiences.

As is expected, something achieving that degree of international success means other studios out there start looking for ways to cash in and one studio in particular would be the Hong Kong based Shaw Bros. Studio. Founded in 1925 as the Tianyi Film Company by brothers Runje, Runme, Runde and Runrun Shaw, the Shaw Bros. Studio is known today mostly for their martial arts output, with movies like THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN and THE FIVE DEADLY VENOMS needing no introduction, but released films in a number of genres, including horror, spy thrillers, and exploitation flicks and would even collaborate with western studios for international co-productions. (Did you know Shaw Bros. had a hand in making BLADE RUNNER? Well, you do now!) By the 1970’s, though, the studio had never done a science fiction film and Run Run Shaw, a long admirer of the Japanese film industry, figured doing their own spin on tokusatsu shows was the way to go.

THE SUPER INFRAMAN isn't exactly shy about the fact that it is, in fact, a literal made-in-Hong-Kong knock off of ULTRAMAN and KAMEN RIDER. Not only does INFRAMAN'S "Science Headquarters" scream "ULTRAMAN'S Science Patrol but with the serial numbers filed off" but INFRAMAN rather gleefully cribs a number of Ultraman's signature moves and abilities for its titular hero --  including the ability to spontaneous grow several stories tall, something that is neither eluded to beforehand or ever mentioned again afterward -- but it's no accident that Inframan's bug eyed helmet and biker jumpsuit get up invokes Kamen Rider's hero; Michio Makami, INFRAMAN's special effects director, created a number of monster suits for Toei's tokusatsu shows at Ekisu Productions. On top of that, the film's musical score mixed in a number of cues from ULTRA SEVEN and MIRROR MAN with Yung Yu-Chen's own contributions.

To direct the film Shaw enlisted Hua Shan, a cinematographer who had got his start as an assistant on COME DRINK WITH ME and lensed a number of films for the studio. Screenplay duties would be handed to Shaw Bros. regular Ni Kuang, who’s an interesting character. A former public security official for the CCP, Ni Kuang left China due to fears for his own life and set up shop Hong Kong where he found success as a writer / co-writer of serialized novels, including the Wisley series, Dr. Yuen, and the wuxia series Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils. He would also contribute a staggering number of screenplays for Shaw Bros. including THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN, 8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER, THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN, and my personal favorite of the Venom Mob movies, CRIPPLED AVENGERS, as well as Bruce Lee’s international hit FIST OF FURY. A number of contract players would be tapped for key roles in the film, two of the most notable being Huang Jian Long and Danny Lee. Long, better known as Bruce Le, would be one of the myriad actors who would make a career in the seventies and eighties out of the fact that if he combed his hair just right and you squinted hard enough he could sort of pass for Bruce Lee, appearing in faux-sequels to The Little Dragon's films and truly weird Brucesploitation entries like THE CLONES OF BRUCE LEE. Here he plays Xiao-Long, Rei Ma's right hand man at Science Headquarters, and even gets to show off some of his martial arts skills during a couple of big battle scenes. Danny Lee is probably the most recognizable actor in the film, thanks to the international success of John Woo's bullets and male bonding epic THE KILLER, where he played the cop determined to capture Chow Yun Fat's reluctant assassin, and has definitely had one of the most bonkers careers of anyone I've heard of. Lee (born Li Hsiu-hsien) turned to acting after his original plan of becoming a police officer flamed out due to difficulty completing the training exams and spent a number of years primarily as a "hey, it's that guy" supporting actor in a number of Shaw's films until he landed the lead role in INFRAMAN, which seemed to cement his status as Shaw Bros. go to guy for the studios battier productions. His later credits with Shaw would include BRUCE LEE AND I, a softcore film based around Bruce Lee's final days and relationship with Betty Ting Pei; the King Kong rip-off THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN; the nutso kung fu fantasy film BATTLE WIZARD; and something called THE OILY MANIAC, which, according to the IMDB, is about a "cripple taking revenge on criminals by using a magic spell that transforms him into an oily monster/superhero." Co-starring his INFRAMAN cast mates Terry Liu and Wang Hsieh, by the way. Lee would eventually cut ties with Shaw Bros. and form his own production company where he would regularly cast himself in the same "tough but honorable" cop role he would eventually play in THE KILLER and in the nineties release a number of rather infamous CAT III films. (Short for "Category III" a designation comparable to the American NC-17 rating.) The most successful of these would be the rather innocuous sounding THE UNTOLD STORY, which featured Anthony Wong as a criminal who takes a Sweeney Todd approach to the disposal of his victims. As Tim put it when he introduced INFRAMAN at B-Fest, "that's one hell of a resume!"

Unfortunately, despite the major marketing push, which apparently included a hot air balloon being used to promote the film -- and let me tell you how disappointed I was that wasn't able to dig up a picture of that -- INFRAMAN underperformed at the Hong Kong box office, forever denying us any further adventures of Lieutenant Rei Ma and Science Headquarters. Of course, the fact that I found myself sitting in a crowded college auditorium full of like-minded nerds whooping it up as THE SUPER INFRAMAN played across the screen makes it pretty clear that the film developed something of a cult following in the -- holy crap -- forty years since its initial release. Believe it or not, we very likely have Rogert Ebert to thank for that, as not only did the famous critic give the film a glowing review upon it's initial American release, not only did he feature it on Siskel and Ebert's "Guilty Pleasures" episode -- which is likely how a number of people first heard of it -- but when reviewing the video release of THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN, he announced that as much as he enjoyed that movie, he couldn't with good conscience give it a higher score than INFRAMAN and went back and added an additional star to the earlier film's score. That's just beautiful.

It's easy to see why one could come to champion this movie. THE SUPER INFRAMAN is a thoroughly delightful film, one that aims at being a frenetic adventure through a bizarre comic book world and succeeds at doing so with considerable flair. It's very episodic feeling, almost as if someone took three or four episodes of a television series and spliced them together, trimming all but the minimum necessary scenes that didn't revolve around punching monsters. As a result, there's hardly a moment in this movie that makes one lick of sense but thanks to the film's enjoyably crazed sense of pacing, you won't care as the film throws yet another bit of pure insanity your way before you can question just what happened in the scene previous. The highlight of this would have to be the climatic confrontation between Inframan and Princess Dragon Mom's monstrous true form, where Inframan blasts her head off with one of his many laser weapons, only to discover that she can regenerate. At which point, Inframan just blasts her head off again. And again. And again and again, creating a modest sized pile of severed dragon heads, until Rei Ma finally remembers he brought Thunderball Fists to this fight and lets her have it. The film's budget doesn't always back up its ambitions -- a number of its monster suits have visible seams and zippers and more than one suit actor is clearly wearing shoes -- but it's creatures are just cheap looking enough to be charming and the rest of the production more than makes up for it with inventive sets and action set pieces that are on a much bigger scale than your standard Shaw Bros. martial arts film. (In fact, the action scenes were so elaborate and expensive, INFRAMAN became the first Shaw production to use pre-production storyboarding.) There's motorcycle stunts, a miniature power plant destroyed in a battle between a giant Inframan and the Red Bug, a final showdown in a lair fitted out with everything from volcanic pit traps and death rays, and so many explosions, all supported by the quality martial arts choreography and stunt work that were Shaw Bros. standards. And let's not forget the film's wonderfully absurd English dubbing which just ads to the entertainment value.

As I said, it's a movie that wants nothing more than for its audience to have a good time and that earnestness is another factor that makes this movie so appealing, especially in this day and age when superhero comics and superhero comic films have maybe become too serious for their own good. Even friggin' Superman is in the hands of people who balk at the idea of a hero who smiles and wears bright colors, Batman is grimmer and grittier than ever and every superhero film seems required to be a two and half hour plus epic. So it's refreshing then to be able to kick back and enjoy a fleet-footed movie clocking in at just under ninety minutes and starring a colorful hero who doesn't have time for things like existential angst about what his transformation means for his humanity because he's just too dang excited about being able to beat down alien invaders with his shiny new Thunderball Fists.

A Little Something Extra:

"Monster Man" by Devo, which also features an off-brand Ultraman.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Q, The Winged Serpent

Directed by: Larry Cohen
Screenplay by: Larry Cohen
Starring: Michael Moriarity, Candy Clark, David Carradine, Richard Roundtree
Running Time: 93 min.
Tagline: "You'll just have time to scream "Q" before it tears you apart!"

Some directors out there just aren’t built to work within something as play it safe as the Hollywood studio system. Larry Cohen, an exploitation auteur whose output includes everything from blacksploitation films like BLACK CASEAR and ORIGINAL GANGSTERS to bizarre science fiction thrillers like the long lost relative of the X-FILES, GOD TOLD ME TO, would be one of them. This isn’t a criticism, mind you, and I think the world of B-movies is better off because of it. But I bring it up because it’s pertinent to the movie we’re talking about here. Because you see, back in the early 80’s, Cohen was taking a stab at his first major studio picture, I, THE JURY with Armand Assante, an adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, and wound up butting heads with the studio executives over the production not having enough money. Cohen worried that his reputation with the various New York businesses he had worked with on several other films before would be damaged by his inability to pay the production costs and called them up to warn them “Look, you better get paid now or you might not get paid at all.” Well, that resulted in Cohen getting the boot from I, THE JURY barely a week into filming.

But here’s the thing about Larry Cohen; he’s what you would call a resourceful type and has a knack for putting together a movie in less time than…um, insert your own overdone metaphor here. If the studios didn’t want him to make I, THE JURY, well then, he was just going to go make his own. And he did just that. Within a week, he had a script, a cast and had secured the necessary budget, in the neighborhood of a million dollars, from none other than Samuel Z. Arkoff himself. You couldn’t find a more fitting producer for the project, because Arkoff, along with his former partner-in-crime Roger Corman, had pretty much wrote the closest thing to the Ten Commandments for how to produce, film, and market low budget B-movies in the 50s through the 70s via American International Pictures. (Google “The Arkoff Formula.”) Furthermore, Arkoff had a hand in bringing movies such as THE SHE-CREATURE, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, VIKING WOMEN AND THE SEA SERPENT, REPTILICUS and even a few selections from the GODZILLA franchise to American screens and despite the gritty Reagan-era New York setting and comparably higher level of gore, the film Cohen had in mind, a mix of police procedural and giant monster film, would fit in right at home with those movies.

I imagine that detectives Shepherd (David Carradine) and Powell (Richard Roundtree) have seen their share of weird shit as New York police in the early eighties but I don’t think anything they’ve run across so far prepared them for the two different corpses that drop into their laps on this day. The first was a window washer who, while using his job as an excuse to leer at a woman working in the same building, rather suddenly finds himself deprived of everything from the neck up. There doesn’t seem to be any clear sign of what decapitated the man and even more bizarre, his head is nowhere to be found! That’s one for the books by itself, but the second dead body Shepherd and Powell are called in to investigate manages to top that: a skinned corpse found in a hotel room. And the grisly strangeness of the crime doesn’t end there. When Shepherd consults an expert at the Museum of Natural History that our victim was in town to visit, he learns that the second crime is reminiscent of the manner in which the ancient Aztecs would offer up a human sacrifice by flaying them alive. The kicker? The one being sacrificed in this ritual has to offer themselves up willingly! Well, unfortunately for Shepherd and Powell, this is simply the start of it, because faster than you can say Johnny Gossamer (go watch Shane Black’s KISS, KISS, BANG, BANG if you don’t get that reference), it turns out the two cases are connected and what connects them just happens to be this big flying something that’s snatching up and devouring any New Yorker it can get its claws on.

This is where Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty) enters the picture. Who is Jimmy Quinn, you may ask? A “nobody” if we’re being honest. One gets the feeling calling Jimmy a two-bit crook would be a bit generous. To his credit, though, he wants to go straight and has dreams of a career as a jazz musician, working at the same bar as his girlfriend, Joan. (Candy Clark) -- Just like to add, that this was a touch added to the script after Cohen discovered that Moriarty was himself an aspiring piano player. The song he plays for the audition is one that the actor wrote. -- Well, the audition doesn’t go to well, leaving Jimmy with only one option to procure any money; going in with a gang of mob goons on a diamond store heist. Jimmy is the squeamish type and argues that he doesn’t like guns or taking part in the actual robbery itself and will serve only as the wheelman. Unfortunately for Jimmy, his argument isn’t nearly as convincing as the one Ryan Gosling would give a couple decades and change later so he ends up right smack dab in the middle of the robbery when it goes south, holding the case full of diamonds. He doesn’t hold onto it for long, mind you, losing it after getting clipped by a cab while fleeing the scene and I’m willing to bet that the mobsters aren’t going to be too happy about that, if they believe his story at all. When his lawyer up closes up shop following Jimmy’s panicked plea for help, needless to say, Jimmy is in deep shit.

One thing does go Jimmy’s way, though he doesn’t quite realize it yet. His lawyer’s offices happen to be in the Chrysler Building, you see, and Jimmy’s attempt to get into it gets him chased by security. It’s there in the maintenance area at the very, very top of the skyscraper, hiding from a guard, where Jimmy stumbles across the nest of whatever it is that’s been attacking people. The creature isn’t home when Jimmy finds it but a giant egg it laid is and the corpses of several people it’s been snacking on. That’s enough, though, to tell Jimmy that he’s better off any where but here and he amscrays. That nest comes in handy for Jimmy, however, when the mafia goons come calling at his girlfriend’s apartment later on. When they finally corner Jimmy, he gets the idea to lure them to the nest so that whatever has made itself at home can take care of his personal problem for him and that’s just what happens. It is also isn’t too long before Jimmy makes the connection between the attacks and the nest he discovered and he realizes that he’s in possession of information that the authorities would really like to get their hands on. From there all three separate plotlines join up, as Shepherd discovers that not only are the attacks being carried out by some sort of prehistoric monster, not only is there are an Aztec death cult running loose in New York that reveres this beastie as the god Quetzalcoatl – though you’d think they of all people would know that ole Quetzie was one of the Aztec gods who wasn’t big on human sacrifice – but he if wants to stop this insanity, he’s going to have to wrangle with a low life who’s willing to hold the city hostage if it means he’s can weasel some serious money and an official pardon out of it.

I know everyone says “they don’t make ‘em like this any more” about any old movie but seriously, they really don’t make ‘em like this any more. As I said earlier, even when released, (Guh, over thirty years ago!) Q was a bit of a throwback to an earlier era of monster movie making. The early eighties were the hey day of the slasher film and if monsters rampaged through anything back then, it was usually through spaceships or sewers, something of considerably smaller scale than the Big Apple, so a movie which featured a claymation beastie snatching sunbathers off of New York roofs was going to stick out somewhat. Then there’s New York itself. Like many of Cohen’s movies, such as the aforementioned GOD TOLD ME TO and the MANIAC COP trilogy he wrote and produced, Q is a snapshot of a city that doesn’t exist any more, the New York of the seventies and eighties; grimy, crowded, and covered in graffiti but feeling alive in a way that few places do. This is one of those movies where the city itself is as much a character as anyone in it. Part of the reason for this is that Cohen shot a lot of the film documentary style right there in the streets and alleyways of the city, often improvising scenes on the day and grabbing who or whatever was nearby that he could get some use out of. Those baskets hanging off the side of the Chrysler Building that the police use to shoot at Q during the film’s climax? They were already there, being used by electricians to install lights. Most of the “police” you see in that scene were the steeplejacks that were working up there when Cohen showed up. It’s movie-making without a net and unfortunately, I doubt you could get away with shooting a film this way in the New York of today. A production of a scale this small certainly wouldn’t be able to use the Chrysler building as its major set piece and that would be a shame. I mean, where else in New York would a giant bird-god want to make itself home at?

A fairly ridiculous premise, low budget and short shooting schedule, with a lot of scenes made up as they went along, starring actors that didn’t even know the sort of movie they were in until they showed up on set and were handed the script. – David Carradine was an army buddy of Cohen’s who agreed to do Q as a favor – and a special effects team that had to integrate their stop motion monster into footage that wasn’t shot to accommodate that. All in all, it sounds like a recipe for utter schlock and to be honest, Q, THE WINGED SERPENT is schlock but its schlock of a very entertaining and smartly written sort. Oh sure, it has some plot absurdities to it. Nobody thinks to call the military in, somehow our monster can snatch people up and there be no witnesses, and it’s never explained how Q can reproduce without a mate. (Though Tim has interesting take on that.) But it gets things right where it counts. Cohen knows how to make even minor characters feel distinctive, giving them their own little stories -- like a construction worker whose lunch keeps getting stolen -- so that they feel like actual people with lives instead of just cannon fodder there to get gobbled up by an airplane sized death-turkey. The movie also contains a number of witty little touches: whether it’s the monster coming to rest on a pyramid like building in its death throes or that whole requirement of the sacrifice having to be a willing one saving Jimmy’s bacon when the cult leader comes after him. There’s humor here and a lot of its pretty funny, occasionally dark (like some suggesting that the monster’s here because New York’s “known for its good eating”) but thankfully no matter how goofy it gets, with kite jump scares and scenes of a cop undercover as a mime, Cohen never plays things less than one-hundred percent straight. He knows not to talk down to his audience but invite them along.

It helps a lot that Cohen has the cast that he has to work with, and the stand out performance among all of them is unquestionably Michael Moriarty as Jimmy Quinn. Moriarty was an actor who had a few film credits under his belt, including co-starring in BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY with Robert DeNiro, but mostly thrived on television and stage, winning several Tony and Emmy Awards. (He would be one of the main cast in the early seasons of a little show called LAW & ORDER, too.) He was a largely improvisational actor, and since Cohen was a largely improvisational director, it’s no surprise that two enjoyed working together immensely. According to the commentary track, Cohen would come up with and shout lines for Moriarty to say while they were shooting scenes and Moriarty would slip them in without missing a beat. Q would be their first collaboration together and the two would work again on THE STUFF, IT’S ALIVE III: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE, RETURN TO SALEM’S LOT and Cohen’s MASTERS OF HORROR episode “Pick Me Up.” There’s a rather infamous anecdote involving Rex Reed meeting Cohen after a screening and exclaiming “All that dreck…and right in the middle a great Method performance by Michael Moriarty!” Cohen responded with “That dreck was my idea.” It’s easy to see why Moriarty leaves such an impression though, with the way he manages to instill Jimmy Quinn with such nervous, fast talking, unable to sit still or slow down manic energy. (Anybody who’s been around drug addicts much will see a lot that’s familiar.) Let’s be honest here, Jimmy Quinn isn’t remotely what you’d call a decent person, especially once his negotiations with the city give him carte blanche to act like a real asshole, but dang if Moriarty doesn’t make him mesmerizing and even make you want to root for him a little. In a weird way, Jimmy Quinn is the heart of the movie and if you took out everything around him, leaving only his relationships with his girlfriend and Detective Shepherd, you’d still have a pretty good flick on your hands. I’m not exaggerating when I say the scene with him and Carradine in the coffee shop is the most entertaining “cop and crook have coffee” scene this side of HEAT. Quinn’s suggestion of how they should catch Q and Carradine’s disbelieving and sarcastic reaction to it crack me up every time. The rest of the cast acquits themselves well, though it is a shame that Richard Roundtree is given so little to do.

Fittingly, Q, THE WINGED SERPENT opened the same week and almost right up the block from where I, THE JURY finally opened and proceeded to outdo the much bigger budgeted movie in terms of both box office and critical reception. I’m not saying I believe in karma but if I did… And if you want my opinion, I feel pretty sorry for whatever dimension in the old multiverse where Cohen’s I, THE JURY went off without a hitch and were deprived of this little gem as a result.

Hey, speaking of how things could have been different, here’s a little bit of trivia that might blow your mind. When casting the film, Cohen had strongly considered two other people for the roles of Shepherd and Jimmy Quinn; one a struggling actor working as a bartender that had auditioned for I, THE JURY, the other a comedian who Cohen had caught at an improv-comedy show. However, Cohen was shot down because the distributors wanted actors that would be more recognizable, making it easier to sell the film to foreign markets. So, next time you settle down to watch Q, play a game of “what could have been” and try to image how this flick would have played starring Bruce Willis and Eddie Murphy!

This review is part of NATURE'S FURY, a blog-a-thon hosted by Cinematic Catharsis for the weekend of June 18th through the 20th and dedicated to those movies where Mother Nature really, really has it in for you. Click on the image below to see the what the other blogs taking part have to contribute...

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Death Wish Series (1974 -1994)

I’ve never read Brian Garfield’s novel DEATH WISH but everything I’ve heard about it makes it sound a world and a half away from the image of Charles Bronson stalking hellish urban landscapes. Published in 1972, “Death Wish” told the story of Paul Benjamin, a New York CPA, and his downward spiral following his wife’s murder and daughter’s brutalization during a home invasion. Inspiration for the novel came from incidents in Garfield’s own life, the theft of his wife’s purse and his car getting vandalized, leaving him so enraged he was ready to quote, “kill the son of bitch” should he ever get his hands on him, which left Garfield wondering what would happen to a person that fell into that way of thinking and couldn’t pull themselves out of it. Clocking in at a slim two hundred and nineteen pages, Paul doesn’t even get his hands on a firearm until the book is nearly three quarters over, with the bulk of its page count being devoted to detailing our protagonist’s unraveling mental state before he turns to violence as a way to retake the control he’s felt he’s lost. As Zack Handlen noted in own discussion of the book and original film on his much-missed site The Duck Speaks, the “death wish” of the title is Paul’s, his vigilante spree motivated as much by a desire to commit suicide by cop or crook than anything else, really.

With this in mind, I guess we can all understand why Garfield wasn’t too happy with the film series that sprung from his novel. Garfield had sold off the film rights to DEATH WISH with those of another of his books, RELENTLESS, to producers who eventually took the project to United Artists. Early drafts of the script were handled by Wendell Mayes, as Garfield had chosen the write the RELENTLESS adaptation himself. By all signs, Mayes work stuck relatively close to source material, and Sydney Lumet was slotted to direct the film with Jack Lemon and Henry Fonda in the lead roles of vigilante and pursuant cop respectively. However, a chance to direct a certain movie named SERPICO came up and Lumet jumped ship to that project instead. British director Michael Winner was chosen to step in for his experience in directing violent action films like THE MECHANIC and THE STONE KILLER, both of which starred Charles Bronson, who would be slotted into the role of Paul Benjamin, now re-christened Paul Kersey for the final film. The production would hit a few more speed bumps before it finally made its way to the screen though. Budgetary constraints would lead United Artists to drop the project and the original producers were forced to give up the film rights which would eventually find their way into the hands of infamous Italian film giant, Dino ‘When monkey die, everybody cry” DeLaurentis, who would take the project to Paramount Pictures. Paramount would eventually release the movie in 1974.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Gate (1987)

Directed by: Tibor Tak√°cs
Screenplay by: Michael Nankin
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Christa Denton, Louis Tripp
Running Time: 85 minutes
Tagline: "...Pray It's Not To Late."

Kids are a lot tougher than most adults will give them credit for and stuff that parents are certain will scar ‘em for life may very well end up rolling off of them like water off a duck’s back. Personal example: when I was a wee little sprout, probably not too long after my family had purchased a VHS player, we ended up renting ALIEN to watch some weekend afternoon. Memory is a little fuzzy on whether or not somebody told me that the film would be too scary for me or I came to that conclusion myself but I had elected to sit out the movie and went to play in my room. However, curiosity would eventually get the better of me and so being a stealthy little ninja, I snuck out of my room and stood at the end of the hallway, peaking around the corner at the TV screen, my family unaware of my presence.

This, coincidently, happened to be right at the time in the film where that nasty little phallus monster announced itself by exploding out of John Hurt’s chest cavity. After taking a moment for the shocked crew of the Nostromo to take in what just happened, the wormy little critter let out a weird shriek and skittered across the dining hall table, scattering glasses and dishes as it exited stage left.

I laughed, which probably startled my parents and my sisters, and sat down to join them for the rest of the movie. No nightmares at all that night about H.R. Giger’s Xenomorph, though weirdly enough I do remember having bad dreams about another movie I watched right around the same time: THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN. Go figure on that one.

What does this have to do with THE GATE? Well, for starters, I was struggling with the opening for this write up for a bit and even if it ultimately fit into things a bit clumsily at the very least it worked that little writer’s block loose for me. More importantly though, my reaction to ALIEN as a kid does make me wonder how I’d have taken to THE GATE if I had caught it back then, back before I had even heard of H.P. Lovecraft*, as opposed to how dumbfounded I was when I saw it a couple of years ago via Netflix. How, I asked myself, even in the days when movies that had monsters getting exploded in the microwaves and guys getting their hearts ripped out in cultic ceremonies could be marketed as tentpole family entertainment and even R-rated gorefests like ROBOCOP and PREDATOR had action figures kids could sit on their shelves next to Transformers and G.I. Joe, had the makers of this movie managed to get away with making what amounted to a kid oriented Cthulhu mythos tale?

OK, now that I think about it, maybe this isn’t too weird. It was the eighties, after all, a lucrative time to be an effects-driven horror movie. At the same time, Spielberg and Joe Dante had made a ridiculous amount of money with a movie about a swarm of tiny monsters laying waste to suburbia. It wouldn’t be too far of a reach to suggest that some producer looked at screenwriter Michael Nankin’s script about kids being menaced by vicious little creatures and saw a chance to get some of that sweet GREMLINS cash. Heck, this is probably the only time a movie like this could have gotten made at all.

We’re introduced to the first of our three main characters, Glen (Stephen Dorff, in his first role) as he awakens from a nightmare. In it, he was trapped in his tree house as a violent storm blows up and the tree is cut down by a sudden lightning strike. You can imagine Glenn’s surprise when he wakes up the next morning and discovers that there was a storm last night that did tear that tree down. As the crew Glen’s parents hired to clean up this mess chop up the tree to be hauled off, a strange stone gets dislodged from its roots, which Glen’s heavy metal fanatic friend Terry (Louis Tripp) identifies as a geode. With thoughts of all the money they could make by selling it on their minds, Glen and Terry grab a shovel and start digging to see what else they can unearth. Their attempts pay off, even if Glenn does end up gashing his hand on a splinter from the shovel handle, with discovery of another geode, this one roughly the size of a basketball. Weird thing about that hole, though, it seems to be considerably deeper than it at first appears to be and despite repeated attempts to do so, can’t seem to stay filled in.

Glen and Terry don’t have time to dwell on that or the rather unnatural number of moths that have been gathering around his house since Glen found the stone the day before. Mom and Dad are going on a trip for the weekend and for the first time, Glen and his older sister Alexandra (Christa Denton) will not be having a babysitter. A couple of things undercut Glen’s excitement at this prospect, though. He’s grounded, for one, punishment for the burn mark one of his toy rockets left on the roof of the house, and while he and “Al” were close once, she’s reached that age where things like high school and boys take precedent over whatever little brother had planned. Once mom and dad are out of the house, Al gives in to her friends’ insistence on having them over for a party. For Glen it looks like it’s a weekend of nothing but sitting in his room and hanging out with Terry.

Then strange stuff starts to happen. First, Glen and Terry crack open that large geode, from which strange glimmers of light spill forth, and the metal shavings in one of their magnetic drawing pads arrange themselves in the shape of words and arcane symbols. Never a good idea to read strange words that just appear out of nowhere aloud, especially if you’ve have just dripped into a little blood in a strange, creepy hole, but that’s exactly what Glen does. It’s then that everything really starts to come unhinged. Glen is nearly hurt when a party levitation trick ends up working too well and after both he and Terry suffer bizarre dreams during the night, Angus, the family dog is found dead. (Whether the dog died due to natural causes or was some killed by Terry while sleepwalking isn’t clear.)

Just what is going on here? As good an explanation as any comes from an unlikely source. I mentioned that Terry is a metal head, an image he seems to be using to cope with the recent death of his mother and already distant father becoming even moreso. Well, one of his most prized possessions is a gift from his father on return from a trip to Europe, the sole album put out by British band Sacrifyx, died in a plane crash after releasing the album. Terry believes that there might be some sort of connection between what’s going on with Glen’s house and the song’s subject matter, which speaks of prehistoric evil that was banished long ago but can re-enter our world through interdimensional gateways. It’s looking more and more like that hole in Glen’s backyard is one of those rifts and they’ve cracked it open only tiny sliver; who knows what kind of nastiness will come boiling out if it’s thrown open all the way. They need a way to shut it, and while i doubt their local library has copies of The Book of Eibon and The Necronomicon stashed in the back, Sacrifyx helpfully provides one via an incantation that will close the gate if recited aloud over it backmasked into one of their songs. Unfortunately, it seems that the incantation is rendered useless if a sacrifice is sent through the gate beforehand and what Glen and Terry don’t know is that Al passed the responsibility of burying Angus to one of her friends before they all went to the that afternoon. Antsy to head out with everyone, he concluded that that hole in the backyard is as good of a place to dispose of the dog as anywhere. Hey, nothing said it had to be a human sacrifice…

Getting back to what I discussed earlier, I can see myself having had a much more visceral reaction to THE GATE than I did ALIEN as a child. While yes, big scary thing hiding in the shadows is a fear for all ages, where ALIEN really got under your skin was by clawing at things that were much more adult oriented; twisted phallic and rape imagery, and more importantly, body horror that took every bloodcurdling nightmare a woman has had about pregnancy and inflicted them on a man. No wonder that ALIEN didn’t quite get it’s hooks into me until I caught it again on cable TV during high school and had the everlovin’ bejeezus scared out of me; at age six or seven, whenever I had seen it, such things would have flown right over my head. THE GATE, by comparison, is a film all about childhood fears and anxieties, whether real, such as Glen’s anger and frustration that the big sister he’s been so close to now no longer has time for him, or imagined, like the first monster attack coming from under Glen’s bed. Those would hit much closer to home to someone my age at that time. The fact that the film is told entirely from the children’s point-of-view and there’s no adult presence for most its running time emphasizes all this.

None of that would work as well as it does if Glen, Al, and Terry weren’t believable as actual children, of course, so kudos to THE GATE to pulling that off. Dorff, Denton, and Tripp successfully sell the characters they're playing and it's nice to see, in a day when horror movies were passing off people in their twenties and even thirties as teenagers (I swear I remember one of the "teenagers" in FRIDAY THE 13TH Part 3 having gray hairs), actors cast who are the appropriate age. Credit must also go to the ways in which Nankin and director Tibor Takacs manage to communicate a very complicated personal dynamic between and personalities of the three main characters while saying very little. Moments like Alexandra, dressed in kid's pajamas, giving herself a fairly self-conscious once over in a mirror, or how Terry, dressed in denim and his wall's covered with heavy metal posters, using his rainbow colored blanket like some sort of cloak while singing along with his music. 

Of course, this is a review round-table devoted to bizarre and surprisingly hardcore kids movies, (At least it was when we started, priorities seemed to have shifted.) and now that I've established what makes this a movie for children, allow me to now go into what makes it so unsual. The film has an appropriate title because, despite the suburban California setting and protagonist's age, it really does feel like an unofficial entry into one of Lucio Fulci's "Gates of Hell" movies. When THE GATE gets down to business it has no problem going for the same kind of surreal, doesn't-give-a-damn-if-it-makes-sense-or-not nightmare logic that marked that trilogy of films. You might even be reminded of THE BEYOND's cranky undead sorceror when the reality warping powers of this particular hellmouth makes Terry's ghost-story about a dead worker walled up in Glen's house come unpleasantly true. Jesus Christ, in fine Fulci fashion, THE GATE even contains multiple examples of horrific eye trauma! THE GATE ends up being such a perfect little primer for the kind of batshit insanity and repulsion that you can find in Italian horror films, I'm honestly amazed that nobody from Italian film industry was involved in making it!

I imagine a good bit of this is what's leftover from what writer Nankin originally intended the film to be. He had written the script at a low point in his career following the collapse of a film project and, drawing on what he called "the nastier impulses from childhood," had envisioned it as a hard-R horror film starring even younger protagonists. Obviously that wouldn't fly at all, so when the project was picked up it was refashioned into a more family-oriented PG-13 movie with some year's added to the protagonist's age. However, these changes I think may be a major cause for what ends up being one of THE GATE'S big missteps: the monsters themselves.

THE GATE, as a stated, is a horror film cut from the same cloth as H.P. Lovecraft, where mankind is constantly threatened from reality warping alien gods and their spawn. When it came to visualizing his creatures, though, Lovecraft had the benefit of being a prose writer, and so therefore he all needed to do is provide a few vague hints at whatever squidgy tentacled terror from beyond currently threatening his neurotic protagonists looked like with a few greater implications hanging on the fringes of the narratives and his audiences imagination could do the heavy lifting for him. Movies have had a much more difficult time selling whatever eldritch creatures they create as an apocalyptic terror. Just being able to see the thing undercuts some of that, after all. And the problem with THE GATE is that it never quite successfully sells its creatures as the world ending threat that it wants you to believe they are. These things seem to have a difficult time bringing down three kids no matter what form they take and the chief demon that appears in the final act, impressive looking as it is, doesn't seem to do that much. Which is disappointing because the techniques used to create these creatures are absolutely fantastic. The aforementioned boss demon is an amazingly well done piece of Harryhausen-esque stop motion animation and its imp-like minions are realized through a combination of men-in-suits and some of the most seamless forced perspective cinematography I've seen. It's no surprise that the film's FX supervisor would go on to work on Peter Jackson's LORD OF THE RINGS films.

THE GATE had a successful run at the box office but really took off once it hit home video and cable, which convinced the studio to green light at sequel, though behind-the-scenes troubles kept THE GATE II: TRESPASSERS from being released for nearly two years. The film is considerably different from the first and involved a teen aged Terry (Louis Tripp again) summoning up and binding one of the little imp creatures so that he can use its wish granting abilities to help his alcoholic dad. There's some interesting things going on in the sequel; Terry's increased interest in the occult is a logical enough step for the character, the finale features yet another impressive stop motion monster and the film takes some stabs at dealing with a home broken by the loss of a loved one in the same way the first dealt with childhood anxieties. However, it never quite comes together and later developments in the movie feel like the filmmaker's couldn't quite decide what they wanted the sequel to be about. There was talk of a remake not to long ago, directed by Bill S. Preston, Esq. himself, Alex Winter, that used Nankin's original screenplay and creature designs by ALIEN's H.R. Giger but nothing ever came of it and Giger's recent passing probably means nothing ever will. Oh well, what could have been.

This review is part of the "You Know, For The Kids" round table hosted by the Celluloid Zeroes blogging cabal, dedicated to both the weirdest movies aimed at kids and movies that serve as gateway drugs for future cinema junkies. If you're itching for more, click on the links: THE MAGIC SERPENT at Micro-Brew Reviews, THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T over at Web Of The Big Damn Spider, TIME BANDITS at Checkpoint Telstar, GAMERA Vs. VIRAS at The Terrible Claw Reviews, and SPIDER-MAN at Seeker of Schlock. 

A Little Something Extra:
Obviously, I couldn't write up a review about a movie where heavy metal music plays such a big role with out throwing in something at the end? So here's arguable one of the most metal tunes of all time: "Number of the Beast" by Iron Maiden.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Delta Force (1986)

Directed by: Menahem Golan
Screenplay by: Menahem Golan and James Bruner
Starring: Chuck Norris, Lee Marvin, Robert Forster, Shelly Winters, George Kennedy, Martin Balsam, Robert Vaughn.
Running Time: 2 hrs. 5 min.
Tagline: "The Siege...The Ordeal...The Rescue..."

EDIT: Unfortunately, no matter how muuch messing around with the settings I do, seems that half the text in this is locked in at "eyestrain," so you might want to adjust your browsers zoom settings accordingly. Thanks a lot, Blogger.

Well, if things had gone according to plan, the next thing you'd have read on this blog would have been the first of my requested reviews; DEATH WISH 3, one of the most ludicrous sequels ever filmed and standee alongside COBRA and INVASION U.S.A. in Cannon Film's Glorious Trinity of garbage action movies. But ya'll know that line from DEADWOOD I'm always quoting. The passing of George Kennedy, co-star of COOL HAND LUKE, THE DIRTY DOZEN, THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT, and numerous other films and television series and a welcome sight whenever he appeared, couldn't go un-remarked upon. So me and the other knuckleheads in the CELLULOID ZEROES blogger cabal decided it would only be right to pay tribute to the memory of Captain Ed Hocken by doing a round table about some of the loopier movies he's put an appearance in. For my contribution, I give you THE DELTA FORCE, yet another in a long line of movies that illustrate why getting on a plane with George Kennedy is a bad idea.

THE DELTA FORCE kicks off, like all good military themed exploitation movies, with a big explosion, as in the very first thing we see is a helicopter go up in flames. It's 1980 and we're dropped into the tail end of Operation Eagle Claw, a real-life attempt to put a kibosh on the Iranian hostage crisis that went south due to mechanical failure and bad intel, resulting in the death of eight American serviceman and at least one Iranian civilian. As the troops are getting the hell out of Dodge, Captain Scott McCoy, since he's being played by Chuck Norris, establishes himself as our movie's Gung Ho Man of Action type by ignoring his commanding officer Colonel Alexander’s (Lee Marvin, in his final film role) orders and charging recklessly into the burning wreckage of that helicopter we saw get blown up really good to rescue one of his comrades, who is actually in fairly good condition considering he was just in the center of a huge fireball. Once he's back on the plane, McCoy, obviously not happy with how the powers that be caved to public pressure and ordered a hastily thrown together op that was botched from the get go, announces that he's resigning from the military when he gets back to the States. Obviously, since that's Norris's name and granite mug right up there front-and-slightly-off center on the poster, we can safely bet that his retirement isn't going to last for very long.

Anyhow, with our heroes properly established, the film now needs to set up the stakes and introduce those enemies of freedom, mom and apple pie that are going to be in dire need of a good old fashioned all-American boot to the face. Fast forward about five years and things pick up again at the Athens International Airport, where an American airliner is hijacked by a pair of Lebonese terrorists and forced to fly to Beirut. Proclaiming themselves as members of the New World Revolution, the terrorists (Robert Forster and David Menaham) announce that they are declaring war against “American imperialists, Zionist and all other anti-socialist atrocities” and will kill the hostages if their demands are not met. Which, y’know, I’ve seen this movie about three or four times, twice just for this write-up, and I don’t think they ever actually specify what those demands are. Regardless, news of the hijacking makes its way to the proper authorities and the Delta Force is called in to deal with the situation. And yes, it should come as no surprise that that they’ll be joined by Captain McCoy, who was given a presidential decree by Ronnie Reags himself to come out of retirement (and a promotion to Major) for this mission because Chuck Norris is just that dad-blasted important to the American military.

Of course, the hijackers aren’t just sitting on their hands while all of this is going on. For starters, they separate the Jewish passengers and a trio of Navy divers from the other hostages to have them smuggled off the plane while bringing in at least a dozen more terrorists on board. With a clutch of hostages stashed away in a militant controlled section of Beirut, the terrorists now have a bargaining chip in place should the authorities try anything. That done, they order the plane to take off and fly to Algiers, where after landing they agree to let the women and children go. Delta Force is on stand by to raid the plane once the freed hostages are clear. Unfortunately, the order to go ahead is given moments before Colonel Alexander learns about what transpired on the plane from a stewardess and his attempt to warn the McCoy and the others that they’re about to go charging into a death trap tips the hijackers off. There’s a brief gun battle and one of the hostages ends up getting executed before the plane takes off again, returning to Beirut.

If you were alive and aware of things in any capacity at any point during the mid-eighties than it’s pretty clear to you that what we’ve just seen is Menaham Golan and company doing a serial-numbers-filed-off version of the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 by members of Hezbollah. Quite a few of plot points in THE DELTA FORCE’s first half were pulled from the hijacking itself, such as a German stewardess being forced to help the hijackers determine which passengers were Jewish and the murder of a Navy diver whose body was then dumped on the tarmac. There is a key difference between the film and actual events, though. In real-life the situation was resolved when Reagan negotiated the release of over seven hundred Shi’ite Muslim prisoners in exchange for the hostages, something that’s conveniently forgotten when Reagan-worshippers blow a gasket over two or three prisoners being let out from Gitmo. In the alternate universe that THE DELTA FORCE takes place in, however, the president has no patience for resolving things peacefully and informs Delta Force that it’s clobbering time. Sure, the hostages are scattered throughout Beirut but Beirut just happens to be within spitting distance of Israel and by total coincidence, the American heroes of this Hollywood film produced, co-written and directed by an Israeli guy (the film was shot in Israel, too!) will have the full cooperation of the Israeli government in launching a small-scale invasion on the terrorist’s base of operation.

Yes, what started as a fairly straightforward “ripped from the headlines” scenario transforms at the film’s midpoint into a whole lotta exploding, bullet riddled jingoistic wish fulfillment. THE DELTA FORCE is what I like to call a “We Get To Win This Time” movie, where thanks to Hollywood, the United States can take a mulligan and get to do over situations that didn't go so hot for them in real life but with the messy and complicated situations of actual reality now simplified into something that can be solved with a lot of crowd pleasing brute force. It probably won't come as a surprise that this type of movie really found its home in the Ronald Reagan-era, where the country was still smarting from that whole Vietnam thing. RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD, PART 2 would be the iconic example of this sort of film, which ditched the original FIRST BLOOD'S somberness for a lot of triumphant chest thumping and presented a new version of the Vietnam War where all we needed to win it was a muscled up, stony-faced super-soldier with a machine gun. Funny thing is that FIRST BLOOD, PART 2 wasn't the first movie to tackle this subject: Golan and Globus beat Stallone to the punch by about a year with their own Vietnam Revenge flick, MISSING IN ACTION (another Chuck Norris vehicle) and the original FIRST BLOOD'S director Ted Kotcheff and writer John Milius gave us UNCOMMON VALOR the year before that. UNCOMMAN VALOR, which featured Gene Hackman leading a Dirty Dozen-esque team in a raid on the prison camp holding his son, is actually my favorite of the bunch, as rather than going for the obvious gung-ho route, becomes a story about coming to terms with loss and in many ways, feels like more of an actual successor to FIRST BLOOD than anything with RAMBO in the title. Stallone’s movie was the one that made all the money, though, so it was the one that set the template for the imitators that followed, which included the other Rambo sequels, which saw our All-American hero winning other countries’ “Vietnams.”

- I’d actually love to see a better writer than me take a stab at examining the different kinds of action films that were born from the post-Vietnam mentality. If movies like RAMBO and MISSING IN ACTION presented a fiction where real life events weren’t losses just delayed victories, on the opposite end you’ve got movies like ALIENS, SOUTHERN COMFORT, and PREDATOR which present fictionalized faux-Vietnam operations that are doomed from the word go. Plus, I’d like to see someone go further into how the DNA of these sorts of movies live on in the modern action / superhero blockbusters of today, where we’ve got Iron Man fighting the War on Terror and The Avengers and Superman stopping airborne attacks on major American cities. -

Which brings us back to THE DELTA FORCE. We’ve got the same idea as RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD, PART 2, it’s just applied to a different conflict. In fact, THE DELTA FORCE gets two for the price of one, because this faux-TWA hijacking also gets to be framed as payback for the Iranian hostage crisis. Hell, Ruhalloh Khomeini gets name checked at one point, with our Delta Force heroes laughing at how their monkey wrenching of the terrorists’ attempted escape into Syria is really going to give the Supreme Leader the ole stink-eye. You will note that our hero is still a Vietnam vet, though, which begs the question of how we managed to lose Vietnam in the first place if we had a bunch of invincible super-soldiers like Rambo, Braddock, and McCoy on our side. Willing to bet INVASION U.S.A.’s Matt Hunter was running around there somewhere, too. Weirdly enough, THE DELTA FORCE also seems to be a bigger-explodier quasi-remake of another film Menaham Golan made back in Israel, OPERATION: THUNDERBOLT, which itself was based on a real-life hijacking that took place in Uganda.

Throw all that together and you’ve got one very odd movie. Like I said, THE DELTA FORCE has that whole FROM DUSK ‘TIL DAWN thing going for it where it starts out as one movie and shifts into a completely different one halfway through only this time it’s a bug, not a feature. For the first hour or so, it’s this claustrophobic suspense film which, turns out, actually succeeds at generating some drama and even genuine tension, such as a stewardess having to stick the pin back in a grenade or Colonel Alexander’s rush to warn the assault team about the trap they’re about to go charging into. Even the terrorists get have some sympathetic moments, like one telling a young girl that he’s only fighting because his family was killed or helping out a pregnant hostage. Of course, it also has a scene where the same guy says “six million Jews wasn’t nearly enough” when the German stewardess refuses to help them single out the Jewish passengers on the grounds of that whole Nazi thing. Something of a mixed message there, movie. Regardless, you get the sense that for the first half of this film, Cannon is attempting to make something that resembles, y’know, an actual movie, rather than the assembly line schlock they were known for. People coming here to see Chuck Norris kicking ass from minute one will probably get rather frustrated waiting on that to happen, as it’s a good hour before a single shot is fired or karate kick is thrown. Once the action does ratchet up, though, the film goes into total la la land and becomes exactly the kind of movie that one would expect from Golan-Globus. What started as a fairly grounded movie ends with Chuck Norris sliding down zip lines while firing a machine gun and nailing faceless terrorists a hundred yards away with pinpoint accuracy while everything explodes around him. The last half hour to forty minutes of this flick is almost one extended action scene as the raid on the terrorist compound leads into a chase through the desert which gives way to the Delta Force finally retaking the plane, with Norris taking a detour to hand out an incredibly one sided beat down to the terrorist leader before blowing him up with a rocket launcher. Hey, come to think of it, that’s how INVASION U.S.A. ended, wasn’t it? Well, wouldn’t you know it; both movies have the same screenwriter. (“INVASION U.S.A. had a script?” we ask, horrified.) Heck, with its crack commando unit running around the desert driving dune buggies and motorcycles with rocket launchers mounted on them, the second half of THE DELTA FORCE feels like Menaham Golan decided what the world really needed in 1986 was a gritty reboot of Hal Needham’s MEGAFORCE. Can’t help but wonder how this movie would have played if somebody stuck Norris in the gold spandex / blue headband combo that Barry Bostwick was rocking in that flick. 
Better, probably.

I don't know how much THE DELTA FORCE made at the box office but the film was successful enough to get two sequels greenlit and even inspired a Pre-Asylum made-for-video cash-in called OPERATION DELTA FORCE which managed to get more sequels than the movie that inspired it. I also remember this movie playing all the time on TBS's MOVIES FOR GUYS WHO LIKE MOVIES back in high school, so I'm willing to bet that video and cable played a part in that. As for the critical reception it received upon release, well you can imagine that it was quite a bit chillier. (Though the film did get a good review from Roger Ebert, oddly enough.) Naturally, people weren't too happy to see an actual tragedy that occurred a year before being used as an excuse for Chuck Norris to blow up foreigners. (I especially don't think the family of Navy diver Robert Stethem appreciated seeing their loved one's murder recreated for that purpose.) One wonders how RAMBO would have gone over in 1976. Now, if you've seen ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, Mark Hartley's amazing documentary about the rise and fall of Cannon Films, you'll know that Menaham Golan actually had people at the site of the hijacking, reporting back to him to what happened. He was developing this movie while the actual event was going down. Damn, even by the standards of Cannon Films, that is pretty shameless.

But, jingoistic political leanings and tasteless origins aside, I do think that THE DELTA FORCE is a fairly decent b-level action movie. I will admit that a good chunk of this is due to the fondness I have for Cannon Films in their hey-day. The Go-Go boys were this weird, one-of-a-kind mix of opportunists looking for the latest trend to cash in on and filmmakers who sincerely loved making movies. They were the kind of studio that could be producing some chintzy ninja movie one minute and then give someone like John Cassavetes carte blanche to make whatever movie he wanted to make the next. Sure, a lot of their output was schlock but there was something genuine behind it, something that gave it more character than you’ll find in a dozen “you’re supposed to like it ironically” movies today. Lord knows that something as completely insane as THE APPLE couldn’t have been made by someone who wasn’t being one hundred percent sincere. (And, yeah, high on cocaine. So much cocaine.) The other thing about being a schlock assembly line is that Golan and company had been doing for this for so long they had managed to get making this kind of movie down to something of a science. THE DELTA FORCE clocks in just a hair over two hours but the film keeps things moving quickly enough that it never feels like you’re watching a two hour movie. Considering the bloated, two and a half hour plus action blockbusters were getting inundated with today, I’ve come to appreciate Cannon’s no-frills approach more and more. Hey, anybody ready for that three hour long cut of BATMAN V. SUPERMAN?

Another thing in its favor is that THE DELTA FORCE was made in that weird little space where Cannon wasn't quite overreaching themselves like they would when they made SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE or MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE but could still throw some actual money at some of the movies they were making. It's a favorite joke among my friends and I that THE DELTA FORCE is the flick where Cannon could afford to wreck two fruit carts during the big car chase. This was the period where Cannon could afford Sylvester Stallone's paycheck, remember. Not only does this mean that the movie could get away with having some pretty elaborate stunt work and a lot of it, but could also have a cast of recognizable faces in front of it. Now, Marvin, Forster, Kennedy, and Vaughn weren't of Stallone's pay grade but these are people that starred in actual movies that folks have seen. Furthermore, they’re a group of actors that know how to not overplay things and prevent things from getting too histrionic. (Norris is still Norris, though, his face stuck in that perpetual grimace that’s either communicating steely-eyed determination or profound confusion depending on the camera angle.) Which brings us back around to talking about George Kennedy, finally. It had been a while since I had seen this movie, so I was a surprised to discover that his role wasn’t nearly as big as I remembered from my last viewing of the film. His Irish priest is a major supporting character for the first part of the movie but once the hostages are removed from the plane, he’s regulated to the background, only coming forward to say a prayer over a dying soldier in the film’s closing moments. He does get one of the better moments of the film, where he throws in his lot with the Jewish hostages, informing the terrorists, “I’m Jewish, just like Jesus Christ.” Yeah, you could argue that’s a pretty corny line, but I’ll be damned if Kennedy doesn’t sell it like a pro. So, I’m putting my memories of Kennedy having a more substantial role down to his skills as a seasoned character actor who knows how to make the most of his limited screen time.

I am disappointed that Lee Marvin gets little to do beyond barking orders at people. I had almost hoped that during the film’s closing moments, where scenes of the hostages being joyfully reunited with friend and family are being contrasted against the Delta Force members solemnly carrying away the body of their slain teammate, for him to turn to Norris and declare, “No, it was the hostages who won. We of Delta Force always lose.”

This review is part of PETRONI FIDE! a round table review session dedicated to the memory of George Kennedy, presented by the Celluloid Zeroes blogger cabal. Want some more? Pop over to Micro-Brewed Reviews for their look at NIGHTMARE AT NOON, then onto Cinemasochist Apocalypse for THE UNINVITED, and settle into the Web of the Damn Spider for STRAIT-JACKET. And if that's still not enough for ya, Checkpoint Telstar has a look at THE HUMAN FACTOR and The Terrible Claw finishes things off with DEMONWARP.

A Little Something Extra:
"The Delta Force" by Alan Silvestri of PREDATOR and BACK TO THE FUTURE fame, from that weird period where every composer seemed to be slathering everything in synthesizers:

Friday, February 12, 2016


And we are back! Apologies to anyone who was sticking with this blog for the past couple of months and getting nada in return, but circumstances had motivated me to put Psychoplasmics on the back burner for a brief spell. Irregularly scheduled updates should begin again in the next few weeks, including a series of reviews requested by friends of this blog from various spaces around the internet. Heck, if you want to add to that particular workload, feel free to drop into the comments and request a movie / book / video game / whatever that you'd like to see covered here.

Now, as to why I've been quiet for the past few weeks...

Poster by Mitch O'Connell

...that would be because the year of our Lord two thousand and sixteen would be the year that I would finally attend B-Fest, a marathon session of as many of the weirdest and worst movies you could cram into twenty four hours, hosted by the good people at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. It was crazy. It was exhausting. It was an absolute test of one's endurance.

Damn straight I'm going again.

Some quick backstory: Without digging too much into the gruesome details, I was in something of a slump personally last year and had to finally admit to myself that the current direction I was headed was a dead end street. College and the career path I had chosen was a complete bust. I found myself struggling with staying employed and an emotional mess. I needed a change.

So, I'm going back to school. Local technical college, taking a year long course in instrumentation tech and then we'll see where things go from there. Classes won't be starting until later this year, though, which left the question of what I'm going to do in the meantime. And this got me to thinking, "Y'know, I've never really taken a trip by myself."

Which brings us back around to B-Fest. First heard of it through the B-Movie Message Board, former mutant appendage of the old Stomp Tokyo movie review site and one of the first Internet forums I posted at with any regularity under the alias "NeoKefka." (Because when you're a video game fan fresh out of high school, you think naming your on-line identity after the villain from FINAL FANTASY VI with "Neo" prefixed on sounds like a Good Idea. A decade and change later, however...) B-Fest, started way back in the 80's, had become the defacto annual meet-up for folks from the forum and myriad associated sites. It sounded like fun but y'know, that whole "It's in Chicago, I'm in Louisiana and just shy of broke most of the time" deal put the damper on any notions I had about attending for the time being, which was always a huge disappointment. Because let me tell you something I've learned: In a final analysis, geography doesn't mean squat when it comes to connecting with people. The folks I had met through that message board and kept in touch with had, over the years, become this weird little extended family of mine, a much needed constant over my life's shifts and turns and that geography was a factor in preventing me from meeting with them was frustrating.

Well, when faced with the fact that you really have no idea where your life is going to take you in the next couple of years, you realize there some things you don't want to find yourself looking back on and thinking "It would have been nice if I had done that." So, I said to myself "Just go."

Obviously, this whole deal was going to be a little more complicated than just up and going. First off, I needed some extra cash to pay for all of this, which lead to me taking a seasonal stint over at nearby Best Buy. I got hired to do the early morning inventory shift, which meant I got to spend the next two months completely wrecking my sleeping and eating habits so I could get the real important work done, like peeling price stickers off and making sure we could cram one more friggin' Disney Infinity Star Wars figure on that shelf. Granted, the money and a little something extra to throw on the resume was appreciated but when I was done, I came to the conclusion that if I ever tried to get another retail job again, I want someone to please slap some sense into me. (If I try to get said job during the holidays again, slap me twice.) I'll die a happy man if I never see another Fitbit or Beats by Dre headphone set again, let me tell you.

Then, of course, there was the whole to-do about getting there. Naive goof that I am, I had planned to make this big road trip adventure out of it, driving over two days from Louisiana to Chicago. In the middle of winter. Considering that I've lived most of my life in a place that shuts down if there's more than an inch of snow on the ground, where the biggest city that I've driven in is Shreveport, which would probably make up a modest sized suburb for Chicago, and the fact that my car is a Ford pick-up, which is not well suited for traveling on icy roads...this was not one of my brighter ideas. Thankfully, my Dad (and a "service brakes soon" light on my dash) convinced me to take a flight out of Little Rock instead. Definitely glad I did so, because not only did the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel convince me that had I gone with my original plan, Chicago traffic would have eaten me alive, but the view from the plane as it flew over the snow covered landscape was absolutely amazing. Roads and cities were little more than blue lines etched into fields of white and words can't do seeing Lake Michigan from the air justice. Wish I had snapped a photo or two. That a eight hundred mile plus trip that was originally going to be spread over two days got hacked down to just a skoosh under three hour drive to the airport and an even shorter flight is nothing to sneeze at either. Unfortunately, my carry-on bag, too big to fit in the overhead compartment, got caught on something when I put it under the seat and I ended up tearing a good sized rip in it trying to get it loose. Crud.

Got to the hotel somewhere around three o'clock. This would be the Best Western Morton Grove Inn, which has become the unofficial official gathering place for the BMMB people coming to B-Fest for the past few years. Cool thing is that since the B-Fest crowd has brought so much business to the hotel and generally behaved themselves, Tim Lehnerer was able to convince the hotel to offer a discount if you were staying for the fest. My checking account definitely thanks him.  Ran into two of the B-Fest regulars, Natasha Lynn Haney and Jacob Smith, in the hotel lobby when I checked in, then stopped by room to drop off my stuff and take a shower to clear my head. Sent Tim a text to let him know I was here, to which I got a reply that he had no idea who this was because I wasn't in his contacts. (Whoops) Thankfully, a phone call cleared that up, and I ran into Tim on the way to the hotel lobby where everyone was gathering up to go to dinner, so we took a quick detour so Tim could hand off the B-Fest mix CD's he had made for me. Since this was my first B-Fest, said CD's ended up being every disc he's whipped up since he started throwing them together in one big brick. I figure I'll finally get done listening to all of them by the time I get another chance to head up to B-Fest.

It had been decided that we'd be having dinner that night at the Squared Circle, a pro-wrestling themed restaurant owned by ex-WWE star Lisa Marie Varon, and then later hit up a used bookstore called Myopic Books. Not a big wrestling fan but hey, food is food, and telling me there's a place that I can get books at a discount is like telling Dr. Zoidberg the buffet is free, so I was down for it. So, we met up with the rest of the crew - Bryan Clark, Lisa Mary, and Scott Ashlin and Jessica Ritchey, - and headed over to the nearest L-train station.  After grabbing our CTA day passes (and then checking to make sure the station was clear of roving bands of Turnbull AC's) we hopped on the train and headed to another station that where we were assured by the Magic Voice Lady on Tim's phone, it was just a short walk to The Squared Circle.

Turns out Magic Voice Lady was a damn liar, as that short walk turned out to be a half hour plus hike through whatever section of Chicago we were in. When I recounted this on twitter the next moring, Sean Frost commented that he was glad to see that the Fiasco Field was still in effect, which tells me that one, things go wrong during these little excursions and two, have done so with enough frequency that they came up with a term for it. The hike wasn't actually too bad, though. First, I'd expected the weather to be a bit worse in the lead up to this trip but when I finally got there things had warmed up from the previous weeks' "somewhere between Hoth and north of the Wall" temperatures to something around the mid-to-upper twenties. Heck, that's downright balmy. Second, the whole "what have we gotten ourselves into" vibe and getting to briefly talk with people on the way over helped take the edge off a bit. See, I was a bit intimidated coming here and meeting everyone. I've never been what you call the most social of people and I don't talk much, so fears that everyone was going to think I was some kind of weirdo had made themselves right at home in the back of my mind. But as someone said later, when I admitted my nervousness, "Have you seen your friends?" Point.

Anyway, we finally get to The Squared Circle. Going there was Jacob and Natasha's suggestion as they're the big wrestling fans and they got to fill us in on various trivia while we were waiting on our food. I ended up getting a macaroni, cheese and bacon calzone, which turned out to be big enough that I could possibly have cut it open and crawled inside it. Not bad, but one can take only so much starch and gooey cheese in one go, so I wasn't able to finish it. (My eyes being bigger than my stomach turned out to be a reoccurring thing on this trip.) That I was snagging fries, chicken strips and what not from other folks when offered probably didn't help things. Still, I had a good time. Then it was another train ride and much shorter "wait, where are we?" walk to Myopic Books, where I managed to snag copies of Stephen King's THE RUNNING MAN, (written under the name Richard Bachman, and nothing like the Schwarzenegger movie), Clive Barker's fantasy novel IMAJICA, and Ray Bradbury's DANDELION WINE, which is one of those books that I've been wanting to get but always seem to vanish from the bookstores in my area whenever I finally have cash on hand. Didn't have a copy of James Ellroy's THE BIG NOWHERE, the only book in the L.A. Quartet I didn't have and another one I've been scouring second hand bookstores for, but Tim was able to snag that for me when he stopped by Half Price Books later on in the week.

So, with our outing for the evening done, we headed back to the hotel, where we all gathered up in Jacob and Natasha's room and let Scott and Jess inflict the "Spock's Brain" episode of the original STAR TREK series on us. There's a workable enough idea at the core the episode, which is basically "what if the Eloi got their hands on the Krell lab from FORBIDDEN PLANET," but the execution is just goofy as all get out, featuring things like a remote control cyborg Spock, costumes that suggested they just threw on what was available in the closet, some prime hammy "in pain" acting from Shatner and company, and choice bits of dialogue like one actress angrily shouting 'BRAIN? BRAIN? WHAT IS BRAIN!?," a line I'm certain Ed Wood's pissed somebody beat him too. Amazingly enough, this was the first episode aired for the series' third season, which means it would be the first new TREK episode fans would be greeted with after they launched a campaign to overturn the show's cancellation. Good grief. With that, I bid everyone good night, deciding that I couldn't stay up too late tonight...and then proceeded to spend another hour and a half watching TV in my room before passing out.

The next day started off with breakfast at Seven Brothers, a restaurant that's a short walk from the hotel, (where again, I ate too much. Next time, order just the pancake stack w/o sides, goofus.) before everyone split off with their little groups to do whatever. Tim, Bryan, Lisa and I, along with new arrivals Kelvin and Melissa, decided to head over to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Naturally, it was in the middle of winter so most of the bigger animals had been moved indoors but there was still plenty to see. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to charge my camera battery, which crapped out about halfway through, so I wasn't able to get any photos of things like the primate houses, where I got to see a baby monkey using a rather resigned adult's tail as a swing, or the big cat house, where a lion was gnawing down on a hunk of meet. Thankfully, I was able to snag some pictures before it gave up the ghost, including this nice shot of a lioness lounging on a snow covered rock.

Plus, I got some shots of a family of meerkats, so it wasn't a total loss. We had also discovered that one of the primate houses had a Mold-O-Rama machine. Y'know, drop a couple buck in and it gives you this cheap-o plastic figurine? Of course, I got one of 'em, which was a green chimp that I think Tim ended up dubbing Green Lantern Monkey. (Sounds like a very Tim thing to say.) Melissa loved the Mold-O-Rama, so she looked up whatever info she could on them. Who'd have thunk it, an injection molding machine is, in fact, pretty expensive, somewhere to the tune of $60,000. She also found out there was another Mold-O-Rama machine at the zoo...this one for cows. Figure that one out.

After seeing everything we wanted at the zoo, we hopped on a bus and headed towards the nearest L-train station. We had get off the bus and walk a couple a few blocks to get to it and en route, we ran across some store called Hollywood Mirror and decide to pop in for a few minutes. Mostly it was costume supplies and vintage clothing but in one of the back corners, we discovered a shelf full of Ultraman, Kamen Rider, and Godzilla toys. The plan to distract the store clerks so we could haul it out of there, possibly with a hat and scarf draped over it as a disguise, sadly, went nowhere and I decided to get stingy with my cash at that moment, so I didn't buy any. Considering I had a fair amount of cash leftover, I'm a little disappointed I didn't take the chance to grab an extra souvenir or two. For next time, I guess.

That evening we ate dinner at the Palace, a Chinese place that was near the hotel, where we were joined by Mike Bockoven and Matt Campbell. I had the pressed almond duck, "duck brownies," on Bryan's recommendation, which was pretty good but as is becoming the regular refrain for this write-up, the portions were a bit larger than I could handle. From there we went back to the hotel to get ready for a B-Fest, tradition, the trip to the Hala Kahiki Lounge, a Hawaiian kitsch themed bar. Tim had the idea for as many of us as possible to wear these horrible looking jackets and ties he had unearthed from various thrift stores, with Bryan coming out the...uh...winner, I guess, with his nuclear nightmare of a jacket and tie. Pop over to his blog to see a picture of it. For better or worse, very likely better, nobody took a picture of me in the 70's drug dealer's accountant jacket that I got saddled with. And if the jacket wasn't bad enough, I was also wearing a black and blue flannel shirt and orange t-shirt with it, and didn't even bother tying the tie because it had been so long since I'd ever needed to do so. The cumulative effect of these very poor fashion choices was, as Jessica described, an "80's action movie henchmen who stopped caring." Funny thing was, when I got home, I showed the jacket to my dad and he didn't think it looked too bad. Didn't really fit him either, though, so back to a thrift store it will likely go. As far as the bar went, I've never been much on alcohol ever since I tried some dark rum my granddad had back in high school, so I played it safe this go around and stuck to the non-alkie drinks and sodas but still had a good time and got to meet some other folks from the forum.

After the bar, and uh..."taking the scenic route" back to the hotel, a group gathered up in the lobby to watch TARKAN Vs. THE VIKINGS, a thoroughly delirious Turkish film about a Hun Turk hunting down the Viking raiders who killed one of his pet wolves like a 10th century John Wick. Highlights include: learning that having two wolves makes you twice as invincible, that both of Tarkan's wolves are named Kurt, which is apparently just the Turkish word for "wolf" anyhow, the Viking's offering up sacrifices to an inflatable octopus pool toy whose appearance is always accompanied by Also Sprach Zarathustra, Tarkan being somewhat terrible at the whole hero deal and Kurt the Younger having to do most of the heavy lifting, the Viking's outfits seeming to made of recycled bathmats, random Chinese villains and a snake pit of doom that is populated with about a dozen or so sleepy garter snakes. That's just the tip of the iceberg and happy days, this movie is the first in a series. I checked to see if it was available to watch on YouTube so I could link it here but it's cropped all to hell. Once TARKAN finished up, a few of us stayed up to watch GYMKATA and chatted with the desk clerk at the hotel, who was enjoying watching these crazy flicks with us knuckleheads. (And was also in training to be a mercenary / bodyguard for hire. Wow.) Unfortunately, the day finally caught up to me and I had to bow out midway through GYMKATA and call it night.

We never did get around to watching any of the movies I brought: CONAN THE BARBARIAN, FLASH GORDON, and HARD BOILED. (Which I was informed broke "the rules" by bringing flicks sane human beings would actually want to watch.) Maybe next time, with something like NINJA III or STARCRASH thrown in.

Kicked off Friday with everyone in our group, which had grown substantially since Wednesday, descending upon The Omega, a fairly fancy little restaurant, for breakfast, Totally recommend it if you're ever up that way because the food was great and they give you complementary coffee cake. Then it was a brief stop back by the hotel to pick up whatever supplies we figured we were going to need for B-Fest before I joined up with Scott, Jessica, Lisa, Brian and some of Brian's buddies for a drive into Berwyn, where we checked out Horrobles and Reel Art, a pair of shops located next door to each other that specialize in horror and sci-fi / comic book merch and memorabilia, respectively. I saw a good bit at both that I was tempted to grab, including a photo of the Faun from PAN'S LABYRINTH that was signed by actor Doug Jones and some full size posters, but the mix of the prices and little room left in my luggage to carry anything put the kibosh on that. I ended up settling for a DVD of SUPER INFRAMAN, so I could take home one of the movies we'd be watching in the Fest. Anyway, it's likely I'd have had to duel Jessica for that PAN'S LABYRINTH photo and I hear she fights dirty.

Oh, and yes, Virigina, that coloring and activity book based on David Lynch's adaptation of DUNE you see pop up here and there on the internet really exists.

Once we were done poking around the shops, it was time to head into Evanston. Before we hit the Fest itself, we decided to grab dinner at the first place that caught our eye, which turned out to be an Ethiopian place called Addis Abeba. If you've never eaten at an Ethiopian joint before, they'll bring out everyone's food in one giant platter and then rather than utensils, they hand out these baskets of flat bread called injera, which is like a big spongey tortilla, and you tear off bits of that and use it to scoop up your food from the platter. I ended up having these beef tips with spices that was absolutely delicious and even got to try some stuff that was served raw.  First time that I had ever eaten at an Ethiopian place and needless to say, we're going to have to stop by one whenever and where ever I meet up with my crew again. And of course, recounting all this got me craving some more, so I just checked to see if there were any restaurants near where I lived and discovered the closest one to me is in Wylie, Texas, which is over three hours away.


We made it to the University and into Norris Auditorium about a half and hour before the Fest started and the place was already packed. Still, I managed to find a spot down towards the front in the general area where most of the BMMB folks had gathered and settled in for the first real stretch of the Festival. Things got off to a great start even before the movies started (I'll discuss those more in-depth in the next post) when Tim, Bryan and a couple other guys went up on stage and did an impersonation of FURY ROAD'S War Boys, spraying their faces with this edible silver paint and shouting "WITNESS ME!" and getting the crowd worked up and chanting "WITNESS!" back at them. I have it on Bryan's word that that paint tasted absolutely godawful.

We had some technical issues with our starter, THE ADVENTURES OF HERCULES, where the volume was too low to be able to hear anything, especially over all the noise the crowd was making, and then the volume was almost too loud when they did get it turned up. Despite all that, HERCULES was the perfect movie to kick things off with, fast paced and completely bonkers. Making it even better it that whenever Hercules (Lou Ferrigno!) would punch somebody, somebody would hold up a sign done up like the old Batman show starring Adam West - y'know, BAM! BIFF! POW! - only they were written in Greek, Everybody absolutely loved that. They'd also break out a really well done drawing of Mothra whenever the twin oracles showed up. It was the only real stage skit that we had for the whole show but it hey, it was a good one. Following up HERCULES was CALTIKI: THE IMMORTAL MONSTER, an Italian riff on THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT probably best known for having it's cinematography done by Mario Bava and the bizarre-yet-distressingly-prescient comedy AMERICATHON came after that, Tim told me that at your first B-Fest that you'd run up against your limits and I ended up crashing and dozing off during movie numero four, the Inner Sanctum mystery CALLING DR. DEATH. However, I was told I didn't really miss anything except Lon Chaney Jr. having an hour long inner monologue, so good timing there. After that came the special effects short THE WIZARD OF SPEED AND TIME, which is shown every year and is one of the big audience participation dealies at the Fest and since it was my first time at B-Fest, I had to take part. Basically, you just go on stage, lay down and stomp your feet in time with the short as they play it forwards and then in reverse. Doesn't sound like much but man, my legs were freakin' humming when we were done and I nearly fell over trying to get off the stage. I also ended up dumping the change in my pocket on the floor while I was stomping along. After that was the other B-Fest tradition, a midnight showing of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. I stuck around for most of it, throwing paper plates along with the rest of the crowd. but stepped out for a bit towards the end to stretch my legs and get some water. I headed back in for the next movie, the completely nutbar blaxpo-flick THE HUMAN TORNADO starring Rudy-Ray Moore. I started drifting off at points during this, so I came half convinced I dreamed some scenes in this movie until I found it on YouTube a couple weeks ago and gave it another watch. Nope, it was all real. After this was THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS movie. Yes, somebody made a movie based on those gross-out cards from the 80's. Everything I've heard about this movie makes it sound absolutely god awful in all the wrong ways. By total coincidence, I started to feel like I could really use a nap about this time and went and crashed on a couch in the student union, Slept through all of THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS and most of BLOOD MANIA, the movie that came after. I'm all broken up about that, let me tell you.

When I got back in the auditorium, I had no real interest in muscling my way back to where my seat was, so I just plopped myself right down on one of the steps and leaned against the wall for the next movie, MOON ZERO TWO. Hilariously enough, this turned out to be the best seat in the house. MOON ZERO TWO, despite some wonderful production design and being from the same director as QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, ended up being a total slog. When it was apparent that LOW BLOW, the next movie, wasn't doing much for me, I decided to head back to the food court to grab a cinnamon roll and sweet tea at the Dunkin' Donuts they had there and then hung out with Jessica and Scott in the student union for a while. (I heard later that LOW BLOW livened up considerably after I had left, including a scene where a guy basically gets snuggled to death by rotwiller pups.) The student union had a great view of Lake Michigan and so, adding to the ever growing list of things that I need to do next time is snag a photo of it. We all headed back in for the next movie, THE FIFTH MUSKETEER, which turned out to be actually a surprisingly decent movie, maybe even too good for B-Fest. We eventually concluded that the main reason THE FIFTH MUSKETEER was shown due to its rather odd cast, including Beau Bridges (who, as Bryan observed, had the same haircut as Audrey Hepburn), Ursula Andress, Emmanuelle-herself Sylvia Kristel, Loyd Bridges, Alan Hale, Ian McShane ("Welcome to Gay Paree! It can be combative!"), and Bernard Bresslaw. Throw in music by Riz Ortolanti of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST fame and we were expecting some weirdly miscast craziness and instead got a fairly entertaining flick, like something you'd watch on a Sunday afternoon as a kid.

After that was lunch and then a raffle where I actually won something! I wasn't paying attention, though, so I had no idea until I got down there to collect it what I had won. Turns out I got a copy of THE MUPPET MOVIE and MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND on VHS. Yeah, I think my niece will enjoy getting those. What came next was one of the movies I had been most curious about when the line-up was announced, ROAR, Noel Marshall's attempt at a SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON-style adventure set on his and Tippi Hendren's large cat preserve but played out more like EVIL DEAD 2 in denial, with lions. The result was complete insanity. Unfortunately, the next movie up, KANSAS CITY BOMBER, somehow managed to make "Raquel Welch does roller-derby" completely uninteresting and felt like it went on forever. Realize that at this point we had been there for over twenty hours, so even if the movie was good, we'd start to feel every minute of it, so no surprise most of this snoozer was spent hanging out and chatting. Thankfully, the movie that followed up would be the closer for the festival and what a note to go out on...SUPER INFRAMAN, a Family Dollar knock-off of ULTRAMAN and KAMEN RIDER produced by the Shaw Brothers. Tim, who sponsored the movie, summed it up best in his intro, "the first fifteen seconds are little slow...then a pterosaur belly flops onto a highway in front of a bus full of kids and causes an earthquake and then Hong Kong explodes. After that, things just get turbo loopy." One of the most bugnuts crazy movies ever made, and honestly, I don't think that I'll have a movie going experience in the remainder of 2016 that can even come close to watching this movie on the big screen with the enthusiastic crowd we had.

And so ended my first B-Fest.

On the way back to hotel we talked about what were our favorites of the bunch, with HERCULES, ROAR, and INFRAMAN being the unanimous winners, with AMERICATHON  being something of a dark horse. After a brief stop at the Best Western to shower off the fest-funk we had accumulated, we all headed out to a place called Portillo's, where I got to try my first Chicago hot dog. Also ran into Gavin Smith and his son Ian, who was just adorable. I had him give me a high five when I got there and every time I walked by afterward he held up his hand and wanted me to give him another one. Afterwards, Scott and Jessica invited me and couple other people to go track down this whiskey bar called Delilah's. Unfortunately, I had to head out early the next morning to catch my plane home, so I had to turn them down and say goodbye. (Boo!) As it turned out, I probably could have gotten away with it because I was so keyed up from everything I barely slept at all that night. Like I said earlier, I'm not much on alcohol, but really would have liked to have one last hurrah with my friends. Oh well, I guess that just means I'll have to come back, maybe stay an extra day. Thankfully, I was able to hang out a little more with Tim, Mike, and Matt the next morning while waiting for the taxi to take me back to O'Hare airport. \

Amusingly enough, I had a much, much easier time getting through security at one of the biggest airports in the country than the one in Little Rock, where I damn near had to strip before I could step in the X-Ray machine. The flight back actually managed to be even shorter than the one over and Dad picked me up when I got to the airport, which meant I could catch some much desired z's on the drive back home. My throat had started to get a little sore that day, and as much as I hoped that I just made raw hamburger out of it hooping and hollering at B-Fest, nope, it turns out that I had caught a case of Con-Crud and decided to stay over at my parent's place for a day or so to recover.

Like Bryan said in his recap over at Cinemasochistic Apocalypse, it took forever get to B-Fest and then it was over before I was ready. But it was worth it. It was exactly the little kick I needed after a fairly rough few months, so you bet your life I'm coming back. Don't know when that will be and y'know what? I may keep it a secret when I do find out, just to surprise everybody.

Want to read more about this year's B-Fest. Hop over to Checkpoint-Telstar and check-out Tim's take.