Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973)

Invasion of the Bee Girls is a staggeringly bad movie, but at least it knows just how bad it is. It’s played purely as campy fun, and on that level it succeeds quite well. Scripted by Nicholas Meyer, who went to to write so quite interesting movies, it has a premise that is so silly you can’t help liking it.

The small town of Peckham is home to a top-secret government research lab, so when a number of scientists die in mysterious circumstances State Department investigator Neil Agar is dispatched to find out what is going on. It turns out that the scientists, and quite a few other male citizens of this community, have died from an excess of sexual excitement.

The local police chief thinks it may be just coincidence, or mass hysteria, and urges the good people of Peckham to stop having sex. But Agar works for the government, so he has a much less far-fetched theory to explain these deaths. What if someone were creating woman-insect hybrids, driven instinctively to kill after mating? Wouldn’t that be a far more logical explanation?

Of course it turns out that he’s correct. With the help of a beautiful (not non-insectoid) female member of the staff of the lab, he sets out to prove his theory. Unfortunately most of those who could assist him fall victim to the dreaded bee girls.

The acting is bad, the plot is ludicrous, the special effects are laughable, and it’s all great fun. At any point in the movie where the plot starts to falter, the female members of the cast start taking their clothes off. Apparently creating a woman-insect hybrid can only be done naked, and to ensure success it is vital that the other insect-women should spend as much time as possible fondling the breasts of the new recruits. And such is their dedication to the cause they don’t hesitate to do so.

It’s all very silly, but it’s so obviously done with tongue planted firmly in cheek that one can’t really do anything but take it in the spirit of high camp zaniness with which it is intended.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Flash Gordon (1980)

The 1980 Flash Gordon movie successfully captures both the naïve charm and the campy silliness of the original serials.

In this case Flash Gordon isn’t a spaceman superhero, he’s a football player. Dr Hans Zarkov is an eccentric (well not so much eccentric as totally insane) scientist who is convinced Earth is under attack. He has built a rocket ship and intends to use it to travel through the galaxy to find the source of the threat to our planet. Just as his assistant decides not to accompany him, as luck would have it, a small plane crashes into his laboratory. Zarkov kidnaps the passengers, football player Flash and a young woman named Dale Arden, and they find themselves en route to the planet Mongo.

They are caught up in the megalomaniacal plans of the Emperor Ming the Merciless to dominate the galaxy. Ming wants Dale as his bride, while Ming’s beautiful but evil and lust-crazed daughter wants Flash. The only hope seems to be to try to precipitate a revolution against the Emperor, but this will require the co-operation of Prince Barin and Prince Vultan, leader of the hawkmen. Can Flash and Dale escape with their virtue intact? Can the untrustworthy Barin and Vultan really be relied upon? Can the Earth be saved? What ensues is lots of breathless adventure and high camp outrageousness.

Sam J. Jones is handsome and vacuous as Flash and Melody Anderson is a bland heroine as Dale, but fortunately there’s galaxy of great acting talent on hand to enliven the proceedings. Max von Sydow is a wonderfully sinister Ming, although he’s overshadowed by the always marvellous Peter Wyngarde as his evil henchman Klytus. Ornella Muti is sexy as the licentious but not entirely wicked Princess Aura, while Mariangela Melato is even sexier as the thoroughly wicked General Kala. And the icing on the cake is Brian Blessed, chewing the scenery (as only he could chew it) as Vultan.

Visually the movie is both spectacular and fun, the sets are suitably over-the-top, and director Mike Hodges keeps the action moving along nicely. And there is of course the music by Queen, which is incredibly bombastic and that is of course exactly what this film demands, and it works. It’s all great fun, managing to send up the Flash Gordon serials but doing so in an affectionate and good-natured way. It’s a popcorn movie, but it’s a classy and stylish popcorn movie and I highly recommend it.

As is usual with Region 4 DVD releases there are no extras at all.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Six Hours to Live (1932)

William Dieterle’s Six Hours to Live is a definite oddity. This 1932 movie is a science fiction murder mystery, and an unusual love story. It’s also a mad scientist movie, and a film about the conflict between science and religion.

An international conference is unable to each agreement on a new trade treaty because of the intransigence of the representative from the Republic of Sylvaria, Dr Paul Onslow (Warner Baxter). Tensions are running high, and Onslow is murdered. The identity of the murderer seems likely to remain unknown, until Professor Otto Bauer reveals his latest scientific discovery, a machine that can bring the dead back to life. But only for six hours. Restored to life, Onslow now has six hours to live, and in that time he must resolve both political and personal crises, track down his murderer, and come to terms with death.

You’d expect a movie like this to focus on the revenge sub-plot, or to be played out as a horror movie, but Six Hours to Live is more concerned with the spiritual and emotional journey taken by Onslow in those six precious hours. He wants to ensure the happiness of the woman he loves, and to do this he comes up with an ingenious scheme involving his rival for her affections.

He has an encounter with a woman whose in was killed in the last war, a woman who believes that his stand on the trade treaty will lead to another war. He also encounters a prostitute who takes him to the Carnival of Venus, in a somewhat Expressionist scene that is one of the movie’s high points.

Dieterle directs with flair and energy, and the movie has some great visual moments. Baxter is effective as Onslow. The worst feature of Hollywood horror and science fiction movies of this era is the comic relief that the studios were convinced formed an essential part of such movies. Mercifully there is almost none of that in this film.

I had some issues with this movie, mainly to do with the way the science vs religion theme was handled and with its tendency towards sentimentality, but those issues are really matters of personal taste. Six Hours to Live is a strange but interesting little movie, and it’s one that is well worth seeking out.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Common Law Cabin (1967)

Even by the standards of Russ Meyer films Common-Law Cabin is a strange one. It’s a kind of transitionary film, between the dark and violent weirdness of movies like Mudhoney and Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and the more colourful and rather lighter surreal sex comedies like Vixen.

Dewey Hoople runs a tourist resort on the Colorado River. It’s actually not really a resort; more a tourist trap. In fact it’s just a cabin in the middle of nowhere! Unsuspecting travellers are lured there to be fleeced by his partner, a drunken old sailor. Once there they are sold over-priced booze, and treated to some truly bizarre entertainment - there’s a kind of wild woman act by his scantily clad and very well-endowed housekeeper Babette, and a floor show provided by his equally well-endowed daughter Coral.

Coral’s go go dancing is proving increasingly disturbing for her father given that she’s a rather well-developed girl, and her go go dancing costume leaves little of her charms to the imagination. His housekeeper certainly thinks he takes far much too much interest in those very womanly charms!

A fairly unhealthy situation gets a lot more unhealthy when the latest party of suckers arrives. There’s a slightly sinister individual who for some inexplicable reason decides to wants to buy Hoople’s place, and there’s an obviously not very happily married doctor and his very well-endowed wife (yes, this is a Russ Meyer movie, and there are the usual outrageously ample bosoms).

As usual in a Meyer movie, the mood gradually darkens as it emerges that one of the tourists is most definitely up to no good, and events build towards a violent and bizarre climax. But again as usual in a Meyer movie, the violence is very much cartoon-style and is much too outlandish to be offensive or really disturbing.

This movie also marks a change away from the black-and-white cinematography of the film that preceded it, and the colour photography has the bright vibrant feel of his later movies.

Common-Law Cabin may be Meyer’s most underrated movie. Definitely not his best, but it’s most emphatically worth a look if you’re a Meyer fan.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Bride of the Gorilla (1951)

Bride of the Gorilla, written and directed by Curt Siodmak (brother of the more celebrated Robert Siodmak), boasts an all-star cast. Well, an all-star cast of low-budget movie actors anyway - Lon Chaney, Tom Conway and Raymond Burr (always fun in B-movies). It has a great B-movie title, and the central plot idea does have potential. Unfortunately what it doesn’t have is a budget, so we get lots and lots of stock footage of assorted jungle creatures and only the most feeble attempts at special effects for the man-into-monster transformation scenes.

Raymond Burr is Barney Chavez, the overseer of a plantation somewhere in the Amazon rainforest. Which of course explains the title, the gorilla being the most feared of all denizens of the Amazonian jungles. He has fallen in love with the young and very beautiful wife of the owner of the plantation, but if he is to have her he will have to do something about her ageing husband. His actions cause an elderly witch to place a curse upon him, by the use of a plant that has magical powers. The curse will make him appear to be, to himself and to the inhabitants of the jungle, a wild beast.

Tom Conway plays the local doctor and part-time coroner, and he’s also in love with the plantation owner’s wife. Lon Chaney is the local police chief, a native of the rainforest who has received an education and is now torn between civilisation and the ways of the jungle.

Sadly the movie is not quite as much fun as it sounds. Due to the lack of budget it’s quite talky and (again due ti the zero budget) almost all the action takes place offscreen. If you’re expecting lots of excitement as the man-gorilla rampages through the countryside spreading death and destruction you’re going to be very disappointed.

The acting is reasonable B-movie acting,with Tom Conway charming but oily and slightly sinister as always, Lon Chaney vaguely tortured, and Raymond Burr effective as the villain of the piece driven by lust and greed. Barbara Payton (better known for her tragic and lurid private life) projects a nicely smouldering sexuality as the faithless wife. It’s entertaining enough in a bad jungle movie kind of way.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Cherry, Harry & Raquel! (1970)

Cherry, Harry & Raquel!, released in 1970, is a fairly typical Russ Meyer movie of that era. It’s very similar in feel to Supervixens . Which is no bad thing!

Harry is a sheriff’s deputy in a one-horse town in Arizona. He’s been involved in a drug-smuggling racket, and now it’s time to close down the operation and eliminate the witnesses. But Harry and his crime boss aren’t as smart as they thought they ere, and their plans go badly awry.

Cherry is Harry’s live-in English nurse girlfriend. But that doesn’t stop him from having is off with Raquel, who is also having it off with pretty much every other character in the film. Including Cherry. It’s the usual Meyer mix of outrageous cartoonish violence and outrageous cartoonish sex. There are the usual surreal touches, with characters who keep appearing but they’re not really in the film at all, but they’re used to comment on the action (like Kitten Natividad as the Greek Chorus in Up!), or maybe they’re just there because they have very large breasts and Russ thought the movie really needed more actresses with enormous busts. But they add to the strangeness.

The movie has all the visual style and energy and the manic editing we expect from Meyer. Charles Napier is terrific as Harry (and went on to give an even better performance in Supervixens ). There’s not much to say about the plot, which is more or less non-existent, which matters not at all.

Cherry, Harry & Raquel! isn’t quite in the top rank of Meyer movies but it’s still undeniably a terrific romp.

Friday, 19 December 2008

The Ghost Galleon (1974)

To make a fun horror movie what you need is an idea that is both really dumb and really clever. Amando de Ossorio’s The Ghost Galleon (Horror of the Zombies, or El Buque maldito) qualifies on both counts.

What you do is, you take two glamorous swimsuit models, put them in a tiny pleasure cruiser, and drop them in the middle of the ocean. But you drop them in the middle of a busy shipping lane, so they’re guaranteed to be discovered by a passing ship of some kind within a few hours. When they’re found, the headlines will proclaim, “Bikini-clad glamour girls found at sea.” And you’ll get lots of great publicity for your company.

Unfortunately in this case instead of a passing passenger liner or cargo ship, our two heroines encounter a ghostly galleon. Filled with an even more ghostly crew, of blind zombie Knights Templar. As the radio messages from the two models become more and more mysterious, those behind the publicity stunt (accompanied by the obligatory eccentric scientist) set off on a rescue mission. An ill-fated rescue mission, naturally.

Amando de Ossorio was a rather odd director. At times he’s disappointingly crass and obvious, and at other times he shows a real flair for atmosphere. This was the third of his Blind Dead movies, and it’s an entertaining mix of kitsch and genuine chills. The effects are reasonably well done, apart from a few scenes towards the end with rather unconvincing ship models! He wisely spends a lot of time building up atmosphere before revealing the blind Templars, and when they do appear they’re pretty spooky even if you’ve seen previous movies in this series. Terrifying mindless monsters and a small group of people trapped on a ship with said monsters is a good recipe for terror, and de Ossorio exploits it fairly skillfully.

European exploitation stalwart Jack Taylor is fun as the man who came up with the original idea for the publicity stunt. The remainder of the cast is adequate. There are some reasonably good visuals, and the plot is original and entertaining. It makes for an entertaining slice of mid-70s eurohorror.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Flesh Gordon (1974)

I’ve been watching an old 1940s Flash Gordon movie serial and quite enjoying it, so I thought I should check out the 1980 movie version, having heard good things about it. When I checked with Quickflix (an Australian version of Netflix) I noticed they also had available for rental Flesh Gordon, apparently a 1970s softcore porn spoof of the original Flash Gordon serials. So I thought, why not add both to my rental queue? As it happens Flesh Gordon arrived first.

As an erotic film this one is a dismal failure. I can’t remember the last time I saw something quite so un-erotic. On the other hand as a sci-fi spoof it’s a lot more successful. It appears to have been by someone with a genuine affection for sci-fi and for the old movie serials.

OK, it’s not Citizen Kane, but it does have some humorous moments and there are a few memorable dialogue moments. William Dennis Hunt’s performance as the Emperor Wang the Perverted is suitably outrageous and over-the-top. The special effects are amusing. The acting is bad, but it doesn’t matter.

The jokes are fairly obvious, but it‘s a bit like one of the British Carry On films, were the very obviousness and expectedness of the jokes adds to the fun. If you think of it as Carry On Flash Gordon then there’s some entertainment to be had.

Don’t even think about buying this one. The image quality on the Region 4 DVD is awful, and contains no extras at all. Perhaps the Region 1 version is better (the R1 releases are almost invariably better than the R4 releases) but it’s still a movie to rent rather than to buy. Moderately amusing if you’re in the mood, and best enjoyed with copious quantities of alcohol or other substances. I found that after a few drinks it was reasonably enjoyable. Do not watch this movie sober.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Werewolf vs Vampire Woman (1971)

Werewolf vs Vampire Women (La Noche de Walpurgis) is a quite amazingly cheesy 1971 German/Spanish horror flick. Ideal Halloween viewing I guess.

It’s one of countless movies starring Paul Naschy as werewolf Waldemar Daninsky. He’s an Angel-from-Buffy kind of werewolf, tortured by the evil he’s done and searching for redemption, a redemption that can only come through love. In this case he’s brought back to life when a police surgeon unwisely decides to remove the silver bullet that killed him from his heart, to prove that the legend that this will bring the werewolf back to life is just silly peasant superstition. That’s one mistake this particular police surgeon won’t make again.

Naturally the plot involves two attractive female students wandering about eastern Europe researching legends about vampires and werewolves, a particular hazardous undertaking in the 1970s when vampires and werewolves seemed to be remarkably common in those parts. They’re especially interested in the legend of Countess Wandessa, who was put to death for drinking the blood of virgins. She was killed by a holy cross, the only certain way to ensure she cannot return to life, and of course the first thing our students do when they discover and dig up her remains is to remove the cross from her breast.

Meanwhile the girls have befriended a slightly gloomy local nobleman, not realising he’s the famous werewolf Daninsky. One of the young women fall in love with him, and he allows himself to believe she may be able to release him from his curse. But first something has to be done about all these vampire women.

A certain amount of cheesiness is almost unavoidable in a werewolf movie. Despite this director León Klimovsky does manage to pull off a few effective scenes, with the floaty vampire women being fairly spooky. Paul Naschy does the sympathetic, tortured but romantic werewolf thing well. It has reasonably effective gothic atmosphere. I suspect the Region 4 release has been substantially cut. The running time seems suspiciously brief compared to that given on IMDb, and for a 1970s eurohorror movie it’s also remarkably lacking in eroticism.

Not a great movie, but entertaining enough, and it should satisfy hardcore werewolf fans.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Satan’s Slave (1976)

Nothing is more fun that a good piece of satansploitation cinema, and Norman J. Warren’s Satan’s Slave certainly delivers the goods a far as entertainment is concerned.

Catherine Yorke, who has been having some strange premonitions, sets off for the countryside with her parents to spend some time with her uncle and his son. The uncle is a bit mysterious, and in fact she was only vaguely aware of his existence. His son isn’t just mysterious, he’s downright creepy, and we in the audience know because of the opening scenes that he’s prone to extreme violence when thwarted. Catherine doesn’t know any of this of this however. Her week in the English countryside, in her uncle’s magnificent old manor house, gets off to a disastrous start with a car crash. Catherine’ parents are killed, and Catherine finds herself being cared for dear old Uncle Alexander.

Uncle Alexander is a doctor, but he also has several hobbies, including black magic and necromancy. He hopes to restore life to a long-dead witch possessed of extraordinary powers, which will make his coven all-powerful. To do this he needs a direct descendent of the witch Camilla, which young Catherine just happens to be.

Norman J. Warren’s career was somewhat mixed and remarkably varies (embracing everything from softcore porn to science fiction to spy movies) and he’s not really regarded as being in the top rank of British horror directors. While Satan’s Slave is not quite in the classic mould of British horror classics of this period, like The Wicker Man or Blood on Satan’s Claw, it’s actually a pretty little horror chiller. It has the features you’d expect from a 1976 gothic horror flick - quite a bit of gore, plentiful nudity, and lots of black masses and satanic rituals. lIke Eye of the Devil and The Wicker Man it deals with occult practices in a contemporary setting, and like those films it has a rather bleak tone.

Michael Gough is in sparkling form, overacting outrageously and delightfully as Uncle Alexander. Martin Potter is skin-crawlingly weird and disturbing as Akexander’s son Stephen. The other cast members are adequate.

It’s a well-paced and well-crafted movie with some nicely sinister atmosphere and some nifty plot twists. It’s really a much more competent film than I was expecting given Norman J. Warren’s less than stellar reputation. It also looks reasonably slick. It’s available in Region 1 from BCI in a Grindhouse Experience double bill with another Norman J. Warren feature, The Terror, and I believe it’s available in Region 2 as part of a boxed set. Needless to say it’s not available in Region 4 at all. I bought the R version. The transfer has a few minor scratches but on the whole it’s pretty good. If you’re a fan of 70s British horror it’s definitely worth tracking down - it’s tremendous fun.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Harlequin (1980)

Harlequin (also released under the title Dark Forces) is another off-beat Australian movie from the late 70s, produced by Antony I. Ginnane whose company was responsible for so many interesting Australian genre films of that period, including Thirst and Patrick. This one scores points for sheer oddness. It’s a supernatural political thriller, combining conspiracy theories with magic, and based loosely on the career of Rasputin.

Senator Nick Rast is a rising politician, being groomed for leadership by a mysterious cabal of rather sinister power-brokers. His son is dying of leukemia, or at least he is until the arrival of an eccentric, colourful and generally extremely weird stranger. The son undergoes what seems like a miraculous cure, but the ambiguous and enigmatic faith healer, Gregory Wolfe, soon turns out to be taking a rather excessive interest in the senator’s wife, and to be aiming at establishing himself in the senator’s household as an all-purpose political, ethical and spiritual adviser. Is he a figure of good or evil? And what exactly is it that he wants?

For this film Ginnane imported no less than three international stars. Robert Powell as Wolfe provides the kind of charismatic yet disturbing performance that he did so well, while David Hemmings is superb as the ambitious but essentially weak Senator Rast. Broderick Crawford is the chief power broker backing Senator Rast. Australian actress Carmen Duncan is extremely good as the senator’s strong-willed but slightly unstable wife. It’s an entertaining and unusual movie, and well worth a look.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Phantom Ship (1935)

Phantom Ship (also known as The Mystery of the Marie Celeste) was the first horror movie from Hammer Films, way back in 1935. Yes, 1935. OK, it’s perhaps more accurately a mystery/horror/thriller, but it still occupies an important place in movie history. It’s also the only Hammer movie to star Bela Lugosi.

As the alternative title would suggest it tells the story of the Marie Celeste, and attempts to account for that famous ship’s unfortunate fate and the even more unfortunate fate of its crew. It’s a story of jealousy and revenge, of shanghai’d sailors, cruelty and horror at sea, and two men who are deadly rivals for the love of the same woman.

It’s a little clunky at times, but the mystery and suspense are maintained fairly effectively. There are several possible motives that could explain the series of murders that starts soon after the ill-fated ship sets out on its last voyage, and it’s not clear until the end what the actual explanation is.

Lugosi has a reasonably rewarding role and makes the most of it. His performance, as so often, dominates the film. It’s not a great movie but it’s entertaining. The British horror movies of the 1930s are rather underrated in general. It’s worth a look to see where Hammer horror all began.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Indecent Desires (1967)

Indecent Desires, made in New York in 1967, is another slice of mega-weirdness from legendary sexploitation auteur Doris Wishman, brought to us by those terrific people at Something Weird Video. This time Wishman offers us a heady mixture of voodoo and sexploitation.

A sad loner, the kind of guy that women cross the street to avoid, has become obsessed by an attractive young blonde woman. He finds a discarded blonde doll, a doll that reminds him of the woman he’s obsessed with, and it soon becomes apparent that this doll has some kind of voodoo-type psychic link with the woman. When he fondles the doll, she feels herself being fondled. In fact she feels everything the doll feels.

If that all sounds rather creepy, it is! The blonde woman, Ann, naturally starts to think she’s going mad. She decides to break things off with her boyfriend, since she doesn’t want to impose her craziness on him. And it’s difficult to know where to turn for help when you have no idea what is happening to you. Her best friend Babs is too busy with her own sexual escapades to be of much assistance. Ann’s isolation intensifies, and she ends up locking herself away in her apartment while she becomes steadily more unbalanced and confused, rather like Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion.

Wishman’s eccentric approach to film-making suits this sort of material perfectly and the movie has an effectively disturbing ambience to it. Great black-and-white cinematography by C. Davis Smith adds to the mood of paranoia and depravity. and The acting works well for the kind of film it is, with Michael Alaimo being wonderfully sleazy and menacing, while Sharon Kent conveys Ann’s descent into madness surprisingly well.

Indecent Desires works quite well as an off-beat horror movie, a bit like a Twilight Zone episode but with lots of added nudity and sleaze. Something Weird’s DVD transfer can’t be faulted - the image quality is superb. I recommend this one.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Atlantis, the Lost Continent (1961)

For some reason I was expecting George Pal’s 1961 movie Atlantis, the Lost Continent to be a species of sword and sandal epic, but in fact it’s more of a sci-fi movie, albeit with a setting in the ancient world. In fact once I started watching I found myself remembering having seen this one many years ago.

A Greek fisherman, Demetrius, finds a girl drifting at sea, and he and his father take her back to their village. She claims to be a princess, from a land they've never heard of. Life in a fishing village not being to her taste she begins to pine to return to her home. She persuades Demetrius to help her, promising that if within a month they haven’t found her country she will marry him and settle down to domesticity in his village.

Soon after passing the Pillars of Hercules they encounter an Atlantean submarine, but her homecoming isn’t what she expected. Her father has become enfeebled and the real power now rests with the sinister Zaren. Things are even worse for poor Demetrius. She promised him great rewards, but instead he’s enslaved. Under Zaren’s leadership Atlantis has become cruel and warlike. Atlantean scientists are conducting horrible experiments, turning men into beasts of burden, and Zaren is planning wars of conquest. He has access to a super-weapon, a giant death ray that uses a crystal to concentrate the sun’s energies. There are however ominous signs that the future holds disaster for Atlantis.

The social effects still look (mostly) fairly impressive. There’s the usual mix of action and romance, of treachery and brave deeds as Demetrius proves himself to be a noble hero. John Dall is a delight as the wicked Zaren, hamming it up with great relish. Sal Ponti as Demetrius and Joyce Taylor as the princess of Atlantis don’t need to do much more than look decorative. Edward Platt, better known as the Chief from the Get Smart TV series, makes an appearance as a former scientist turned priest, dismayed by the wickedness of Atlantis.

There’s some moderately tedious moralising about science and technology and human sinfulness and its inevitable punishment by the one true good, but thankfully there’s not enough of this to spoil the movie. I enjoyed the fact that there are no supernatural or fantasy elements at all in the film. It might be far-fetched at times, but it's still far-fetched science fiction. Not that I don't thoroughly enjoyed the supernatural elements in most sword and sandal movies, but the lack of those things gives this one an interestingly different flavour. It’s not quite in the same class as some of George Pal’s other movies, like The Seven Faces of Dr Lao and The Time Machine, but it’s all good fun, with a spectacular climax featuring immense amounts of destruction and with plenty of entertainment value along the way.

Monday, 1 December 2008

T.N.T. Jackson (1975)

The premise of T.N.T. Jackson is simple. If blaxploitation movies are fun, and king fu movies are fun, then a blaxploitation king fu movie has to be a sure-fire winner. And, in its own trashy way, this is a highly entertaining little flick.

Diana “T. N. T.” Jackson is a young black female king fu fighter who arrives in Hong Kong looking for her missing brother. She quickly finds herself embroiled with sundry gangsters involved in heroin trafficking. And it seems that a major gangland war is about to erupt, with heroin shipments being hijacked to the accompaniment of much bloodshed. T. N. T. befriends a Chinese guy named Joe who is not quite a gangster but not quite a law-abiding citizen either, and she makes the acquaintance of a white American woman named Elaine who is the girlfriend of one of the criminal kingpins. T. N. T. and Elaine dislike each other on sight, so you know they’re going to come to blows at some stage, which becomes even more certain when it turns out that Elaine is a king fu expert as well, and that she is not at all what she appears to be.

More significant in plot term is Charlie, an ambitious black guy (and the numero uno king fu expert in the Hong Kong crime scene) functioning as right-hand man to a major crime lord. You just know he and T. N. T. will end up in bed together, and that they will also have to have a major fight scene together.

There’s lots of mayhem, some moderately graphic violence, and some sex and nudity. It’s a pretty standard 70s exploitation formula, but it’s executed with energy and a certain amount of style, and at only 72 action-packed minutes there’s little chance of boredom setting in. This is another of the Roger Corman-produced movies of the 70s (along with films like The Big Doll House) made partly in the Philippines, although there seems to have been some location shooting in Hong Kong as well.

Former Playboy playmate of the month Jeannie Bell stars as T. N. T. She’s at least moderately convincing in the action sequences, and she has a certain presence. She’s no Pam Grier, but she’s adequate. This movie belongs very much at the cheap and trashy end of the blaxploitation spectrum but it doesn’t pretend to be anything more than that, and it delivers solid entertainment. If you’re a fan of blaxploitation, king fu movies or 70 exploitation fare in general then you’re unlikely to have any real complaints.