Sunday, February 28, 2016
While Chuck Norris and Michael Dudikoff were being directed by action aces like Sam Firstenberg and Joseph Zito, Carradine was sweating it out in the Philippines with AMERICAN NINJA producer Gideon Amir, who had never directed a film. He didn’t even get a good-looking one-sheet.
It doesn’t match up with Cannon’s best work, but despite its dumb title, P.O.W. THE ESCAPE is a serviceable action movie with solid work by Carradine as an American prisoner of war. Sadly, it’s also another film that wastes the wonderful Steve James, whose charisma and talent deserved more than playing sidekick to a white action star (Carradine, Dudikoff, Ginty, Norris) in low-budget movies. Even though he gets third billing in P.O.W. THE ESCAPE (behind some schmuck named Charles R. Floyd), James has little screen time and obviously much less than he deserved.
Carradine was a master at headlining schlock, and he’s fine in Chuck Norris mode as Colonel James Cooper, whose mission to rescue POWs goes awry and places him in a camp run by sadistic Captain Vinh (Mako). As the highest ranking American officer in captivity, Cooper has propaganda value, and the Viet Cong intend to take him to Hanoi in two days time.
Vinh, however, offers a deal: help him defect to the United States in exchange for helping Cooper and his men reach American lines. That means a rough trip through the jungle with the enemy nipping at their toes, a traitor within Cooper’s ranks, and the treacherous Vinh, who obviously has a trick up his sleeve.
Like many a Cannon production, P.O.W. THE ESCAPE shows signs of behind-the-scenes strife. Some shots appear to be the Los Angeles County Arboretum, and the closing credits back up suspicions of Hollywood reshoots. Marcus Manton’s editing is choppy, including a car chase that just kind of vanishes. With all that, P.O.W. THE ESCAPE manages to be entertaining. The second act lapses into loginess with too much of it based around Floyd as a jerkwad named Sparks who causes a lot of trouble.
Fans of explosions and machine guns should find little to dislike about P.O.W. THE ESCAPE, however. Amir doesn’t skimp on the violence and even provides a topless hooker for a different kind of thrill. Carradine holds it all together like a pro and even manages to liven up the action with doses of humor (his quip about what outfit Jimi Hendrix served in sounds like an ad-lib). It’s not up to Cannon’s MISSING IN ACTION trilogy or PLATOON LEADER, but P.O.W. THE ESCAPE is a fun action picture.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
TOBRUK lacks the scope of similar men-on-a-mission movies of the 1960s, such as THE GUNS OF NAVARONE and KELLY’S HEROES, but it still packs enough explosions and gun battles to keep a war buff happy. Set in North Africa during World War II (wonder how they missed running into the Rat Patrol out there), TOBRUK teams up a Canadian major with a group of German Jews working with the British Army.
The commandos led by Colonel Harker (Nigel Green) and the friendly Germans led by Captain Bergman (George Peppard) plan to trek 300 miles across the Sahara to blow up a Nazi fuel depot near Tobruk. To lead them, they recruit (against his will) Major Donald Craig (Rock Hudson), who knows the Sahara’s geography.
Arthur Hiller (THE IN-LAWS) directs the usual genre tropes—a minefield, a strafing, exploding tanks, a sandstorm, suspicion among the various nationalities. It’s all a big lark, but a loud and occasionally exciting one. The Rock is The Rock, but Peppard struggles with a German accent that would get him kicked off the HOGAN’S HEROES set. Leo Gordon, who is in the film, also penned the screenplay for producer Corman.
Sunday, February 21, 2016
Most of the cast would be surprised to learn they were even in a film called HELL’S BLOODY DEVILS. Adamson directed stars Broderick Crawford (ALL THE KING’S MEN), Scott Brady (HE WALKED BY NIGHT), Kent Taylor (TV’s Boston Blackie), Keith Andes (THIS MAN DAWSON), and John Gabriel (RYAN’S HOPE) in a story about the FBI investigating Nazi counterfeiters. Long after their scenes were completed, Robert Dix (BLOOD OF DRACULA’S CASTLE) came aboard as Cunk, leader of the Bloody Devils biker gang, who were now in the employ of war criminal Otto von Delberg (Taylor, who doesn’t bother with a German accent).
Because Taylor had completed his scenes two years earlier, Adamson brought back Vicki Volante (HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS), playing von Delberg’s lover, to connect the two shoots as the liaison between the Nazis and the bikers. Not that Adamson bothered to keep her wardrobe and hairstyles consistent, resulting in the most blatant continuity errors you’ve ever seen. Of course, since Adamson hired William Bonner (BLACK SHAMPOO) to play different roles in both shoots, he must have figured anyone watching would be either too dumb or too stoned to pay attention.
Gabriel hasn’t the billing, but has the starring role of Mark Adams, an FBI agent undercover within the Syndicate organization of Las Vegas mob boss Joe Brimante (Andes). He and Rocky (FIRST BLOOD’s Jack Starrett) are sent to broker a deal for counterfeit $20 bills between Brimante and von Delberg, who needs the Syndicate to circulate the phony dough and the cash payment to fund the Nazi Party’s return to glory in Germany. What Cunk and his gang are doing for von Delberg isn’t really explained, just that they show up for periodic payments from Volante.
In the most hilariously dumb scene in a film filled with them, Adams shows up at a dress shop to invite a young woman (Erin O’Donnell) to lunch. Cut to the two sitting in a Kentucky Fried Chicken with a full (!) bucket of chicken on the table and Colonel Sanders himself stopping by to ask if that isn’t “the most wonderful chicken you ever ate.” Besides the obvious incongruity of it, the 30-second scene serves no purpose except as a paid commercial, and I hope the actors were properly embarrassed.
Top-billed stars Crawford and Brady hang around the FBI’s chintziest office giving orders to new recruit Jill Harmon (bikini-clad Emily Banks), John Carradine (THE GRAPES OF WRATH) has a scene in a pet shop with the twins from “I, Mudd,” and Playmate Anne Randall (STACEY) goes topless as jailbait hot for Adams. Strangely, THE FAKERS, in its original form, appears to have been a decent film. Not good, of course — no Al Adamson film is — but it seems as though it may have been coherent with a good performance by Gabriel. However, HELL’S BLOODY DEVILS is a bait-and-switch mess. By virtue of its fast pace, though, it isn’t boring and is one of Adamson’s most watchable films. By 1971, HELL’S BLOODY DEVILS was playing double bills with another I-I biker film, SATAN’S SADISTS.
Director Hikmet Avedis, who also wrote and produced this slow-moving turkey, popped up occasionally during the ‘70s and ‘80s with low-budget exploitation yarns like MORTUARY and DR. MINX, none of which are much good. SCORCHY suffers from an uneven tone, which bounces from scenes of extreme violence to Jackie’s flirtations with seemingly half the Seattle police force to strained comedy relief, and poorly defined characters.
Surprisingly, Avedis (who was sometimes billed as “Howard” Avedis) manages to string together a pair of long and well-staged action sequences. The first is a chase involving Stevens and Smith which begins on foot and ends with them riding a dune buggy and motorcycle respectively (and which manages to rip off the chases in BULLITT and THE FRENCH CONNECTION). The second is a bloody, drawn-out fight scene between Smith and Danova on a waterfront rooftop that features some veteran stuntwork and Smith displaying some pro wrestling moves.
The balloon-voiced Stevens must have taken the role as an attempt to goose her airheaded image. She appears in a couple of nude scenes (both of which were obviously, disappointingly, and abruptly spliced out of the DVD released by Shout Factory), and participates in a bit of gunplay at the end. She is, however, wildly miscast as a tough narc, and, although beautiful, looks a bit silly in her mod, dated costumes. Stevens later played a parody of Angie Dickinson’s POLICE WOMAN character in the made-for-TV spoof MURDER CAN HURT YOU. Only Smith manages to stand above the thin material and add some weight to his scenes, especially the ones in which he engages in violence.
Igo Kantor is credited with “Music Supervision,” which means he provided the lousy and inappropriate library tracks recorded at least a decade earlier. The “Mickey-Mousing” effect is hilarious, punctuating every pull of a knife or firing of a gun, and the “wacka-wacka” guitar is used at every available opportunity. I have no idea who or what SCORCHY is or means. The word is never used in the film, but that’s the title AIP released it under. Shot as UNDERCOVER GIRL, the film was retitled RACE WITH DEATH before hitting theaters and reverted to the latter title sometime after.
Saturday, February 20, 2016
A former Special Forces officer, Bulletproof earned his nickname because of his uncanny ability to survive being shot 39 times (he removes the slugs from his body himself and keeps them in a Mason jar!). Played by the one and only Gary Busey (THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY), McBain is recruited by his old Army boss to parachute into Mexico and find an Arab dictator named Kartiff (Henry Silva), who has kidnapped some American soldiers and hijacked a top-secret nuclear-powered tank called Thunderblast. Wouldn’t you know that McBain’s old flame, Devon (Darlanne Fluegel), is among the captives.
Packed with intentional humor among the chases and explosions, BULLETPROOF comes darn close to parody on occasion. Dozens of bad guys, spraying the air with machine gun fire, are unable to hit their Busey-sized target, even at close range, while McBain can blast ‘em back with just a couple of shots. McBain also has the strange habit of calling people “butthorns,” a term the writers probably thought would become part of our daily vocabulary. For all the humor and over-the-top action, though, an off-screen rape seems out of place here.
Presumably meant as a directing project for Ray, BULLETPROOF was helmed by journeyman Steve Carver (AN EYE FOR AN EYE), who put the scenery-crunching supporting cast through the paces. In addition to hams Busey and Silva (MEGAFORCE), you get Thalmus Rasulala (BLACULA) as Bulletproof’s “Murtaugh,” Rene Enriquez (HILL STREET BLUES), R.G. Armstrong (RACE WITH THE DEVIL), L.Q. Jones (LONE WOLF MCQUADE), Luke Askew (THE WARRIOR AND THE SORCERESS), Lydie Denier (SATAN’S PRINCESS), Mills Watson (THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO), Lincoln Kilpatrick (HOLLYWOOD COP) as Bulletproof’s angry black superior officer, William Smith (RUN, ANGEL, RUN), and the rare sighting of Danny Trejo (SPY KIDS) wearing a suit.
Friday, February 19, 2016
CODE OF SILENCE isn’t just good for a Chuck Norris movie. It’s a very good action thriller, period. Davis opens the film with a well-coordinated heist, chase, and shootout in a Chicago slum and lets the action escalate from there. A car chase and explosion on Lower Wacker Drive is impressive, as is a chase atop a barreling elevated train on which you can see Norris doing some of his own stunts. The addition of a missile-shooting radio control robot to the violent warehouse climax is a lot of fun, but seems like overkill in what is otherwise a fairly grounded urban thriller.
It’s no surprise Norris acquits himself quite well in the action scenes, but he’s not bad in the more dramatic scenes either. Perhaps being surrounded by a great supporting cast of local Chicago actors (god, those faces), such as Dennis Farina (MANHUNTER), John Mahoney (FRASIER), and Ron Dean (THE DARK KNIGHT), inspired Chuck to up his game. Certainly, Norris never had a script this good before, nor would he again. The screenplay by THE GAUNTLET’s Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack and THE CHINA SYNDROME’s Mike Gray holds together between action sequences, and Chicago native Davis does a great job capturing the sights and sounds of his hometown. He even shows Norris drinking RC Cola!
CODE OF SILENCE opened in the spring of 1985 and topped the box office for three consecutive weeks, making it one of Norris’ biggest hits. Though the film helped raise Norris’ profile and turn him into a mainstream action star, he signed an exclusive contract with the Cannon Group, which put him in a series of low-budget pictures that weren’t as well received by critics or audiences as CODE OF SILENCE was. Conversely, director Davis moved up to major studio blockbusters, including THE FUGITIVE, which earned seven Academy Award nominations.
Sunday, February 14, 2016
Nelson, who worked with Corman many times at the beginning of his career, also produced THE BRAIN EATERS and built the titular creatures, because, well, somebody had to do it. Director VeSota reportedly spent $30,000 on the whole picture, and it looks it. Set in rural Illinois, but filmed in Pomona, California (which doesn’t look like Illinois), the picture runs only an hour and only played the bottom half of AIP double bills. While it isn’t very good, THE BRAIN EATERS shows signs of care in VeSota’s occasional flair with the camera and Nelson’s earnest lead performance. Good thing Nelson didn’t quit his day job, because the creatures — actually toy windup ladybugs with pieces of a fur coat glued to them — look ridiculous, no matter how sinister VeSota and cinematographer Larry Raimond (T-BIRD GANG) try to photograph them.
The plot, as mentioned above, is similar to that of THE PUPPET MASTERS (which received an official film adaptation starring Donald Sutherland in 1994). A fifty-foot metallic cone is discovered in the woods outside Riverdale, Illinois. Is it from outer space? It’s impervious to pressure, heat, acid, and diamond drill bits, and scientist Dr. Paul Kettering (Nelson) is perplexed. Meanwhile, the town’s mayor (Orville Sherman) is acting erratically and is gunned down in self-defense. The autopsy reveals a furry creature attacked to his neck and secreting a mysterious acid into his brain. Think it’s connected to the big cone?
Science fiction fans may recognize PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE’s Joanna Lee as Alice, Kettering’s assistant. They may or may not recognize 27-year-old Leonard Nimoy (erroneously credited as “Leonard Nemoy”) as the elderly Professor Cole. Why the future STAR TREK star and not an actor of appropriate age? Probably because Nimoy was a friend of Nelson’s and presumably worked cheap.
The self-flagellating Torquemada captures the beautiful Maria (Rona de Ricci), whom he accuses of witchcraft after she attempts to interfere with a public torture of a little boy. While his minions examine her nude body for signs of Satan’s invasion, Torquemada becomes enthralled and places her in a cell with an old witch (Frances Bay), where he can be near her. Meanwhile, Maria’s baker husband, Antonio (Jonathan Fuller), plots a rescue attempt that provides the film some fun swashbuckling action, but ultimately lands him strapped beneath the titular pendulum.
Torquemada, as portrayed with the intensity of a supernova by Henriksen, walks on broken glass, wears a spiked girdle, and demands to be flogged by flunky Mendoza (Mark Margolis), whose crucifixion wounds Torquemada fingers with sadistic pleasure. Tom Towles (HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER) is another of Torquemada’s torturers, Jeffrey Combs (FROM BEYOND) wears Roddy McDowall’s old Bookworm duds, and a sweaty Oliver Reed (THE BROOD) stops by as a Cardinal with a shaky Italian accent and a taste for amontillado. Gordon and screenwriter Dennis Paoli (CASTLE FREAK) leaven the grue and brutality with humor without tipping into camp.
Filmed economically at Band’s castle in Giove, Italy, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM ranks among the best of the producer’s Full Moon output, as do the other films Gordon directed for him. While splashing plenty of violence and nudity across the screen, Gordon’s intelligent approach threatens to divert the film away from exploitation territory. Henriksen, his head shaven except for two strips on the sides and a Charlie Brown cowlick, glowers admirably in creating one of his best villains.
Friday, February 12, 2016
Frederick Stafford, who went over like wet spaghetti in his big break, the 1969 Alfred Hitchcock thriller TOPAZ, made his film debut as French agent OSS 117. OSS 117: MISSION FOR A KILLER, the fourth in the series, based on the character created by author Jean Bruce, and the third directed by Andre Hunebelle, MISSION FOR A KILLER is clearly inspired by the 007 pictures and offers gorgeous women, gorgeous scenery (shot in Brazil), slightly science fiction plotting, inspired action sequences, and Stafford in suave form.
Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath (Stafford) goes undercover as a journalist named Hubert Delacroix—a guise that literally lasts about three seconds before he’s ambushed leaving the Rio de Janeiro airport. Bond could never keep from blowing his cover either. OSS 117’s mission is to find the origin of a mind-control drug that is causing innocent people to carry out political assassinations, but Hunebelle is in no hurry to get there. The story meanders along, doling out an action scene here and a bit of plot exposition there. The mad villain doesn’t even appear until the damn film is more than half over.
Even though the plot is simple, it doesn’t mean the film is poorly paced. Hunebelle always knows where to point the camera. Of course, when shooting in Rio and the surrounding jungles, it isn’t difficult to find a visually appealing shot. MISSION FOR A KILLER is always interesting, and a major reason is Stafford, who is handsome, athletic, equally proficient with a quip or a karate chop. Stafford returned for the next OSS 117 picture, but didn’t stay a movie star for long. He died in a 1979 plane crash.
Surprisingly, Stafford had never acted before. Hunebelle discovered him after previous OSS 117 Kerwin Mathews declined to reprise his role in MISSION FOR A KILLER. He’s certainly believable and makes a smashing romantic team with the darling Mylene Demongeot (FANTOMAS), who performs well in a “Bond girl” role that’s more than decorative. Armed with a generous budget—one large enough to buy lavish sets, stunts, extras, and locations—Hunebelle and Stafford created one of the best European spy flicks of the 1960s.
Friday, February 05, 2016
After NIGHT OF THE COBRA WOMAN, producer Roger Corman used Meyer one more time—to direct Lorne Greene in a few dull expository scenes in the Japanese import TIDAL WAVE—but his decision was probably based on price and proximity rather than talent. Meyer’s direction of NIGHT OF THE COBRA WOMAN is poor, and so is the screenplay he wrote with electrician Kerry Magness.
To give Meyer some credit, he doesn’t waste any time getting to the exploitative stuff. Within a couple of minutes, Army nurse Lena (Marlene Clark) is bitten by a cobra and transformed into a snake woman while her colleague is being raped and murdered by a Japanese soldier (Vic Diaz). Thirty years later, UNICEF researcher Joanna (Joy Bang!), in Manila studying snake venom, and her boyfriend Duff (Roger Garrett) discover Lena living in the jungle, known to the villagers as the “snake woman.”
Lena is able to stay young only by sleeping with young men and stealing their youth. She sheds her skin after her sexual encounters, which sounds disturbing and probably would be with a more creative director behind the camera. It’s weird that these guys have no qualms about having sex with a woman with scales all over her body. Anyway, Duff is also one of Lena’s conquests, so to keep him from turning into Wilford Brimley, Joanna must work against the clock to find an antidote.
Almost nothing about COBRA WOMAN works. One can sense the striking Clark (who also starred in BLACK MAMBA) trying to do something interesting with her role, but there’s little to her character on the page, and she’s often stuck in unconvincing snake makeup. Adding to the confusion is Lope, her mute, feeble-minded, buck-toothed assistant. Lope is also played by Vic Diaz, but Meyer doesn’t make it clear whether he’s supposed to be the same man who committed the rape in the opening reel.
Joy Bang, who specialized in rock chicks and hippies, is hardly believable as a scientist, and it’s doubly hard to believe either she or Clark could fall in love with a dunce like Garrett. Unlike Clark, Bang refused to do nudity, and since her performance is so wooden, I assume she was hired because she would let the director throw snakes on her. Meyer works up zero suspense, and the screenplay feels made up on the set as filming rolled along. It all ends on a Biblical allegory the movie hasn’t earned.