Wednesday 26 October 2022

The Snow Devils (1967)

In the mid-1960s Antonio Margheriti teamed up with a couple of American producers to make four space operas, beginning with The Wild, Wild Planet (1966). The Snow Devils was part of this series, appearing in 1967. All four of these space operas take place in the same universe, much of the action takes place in space station Gamma One, sets and props were sometimes re-used. Today we’d call this a franchise. In fact I’d refer to it as the Gamma One franchise.

These movies are often patronisingly referred to as camp classics or sneered at as “so-bad-it’s-good” movies. This is rather unfair. Margheriti was perhaps no auteur but he was a professional who turned out good well-crafted entertaining movies in many different genres. He was not a hack. And he was not an Italian Ed Wood Jr. either. The Gamma One movies were low-budget productions but the people involved were doing exactly what Mario Bava did in movies such as Planet of the Vampires - they were trying to stretch limited budgets as far as they could whilst making movies that looked striking and interesting. These Gamma One movies do have an outrageous 60s Pop Art sensibility to them, but that’s a feature not a bug. They really are visually arresting. This was the 1960s vision of a science fiction future.

The special effects are crude but that’s just the nature of low-budget movie-making.

The Snow Devils is available on DVD in the Warner Archive series.

The Snow Devils opens in a weather station in the Himalayas. The crew have picked up some truly startling temperature readings. So startling that they’re reluctant to report them for fear of being thought crazy. And then all hell breaks loose at the station.

Commander Rod Jackson (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) and Captain Frank Pulasky (Goffredo Unger) from United Democracies Star Command are sent to the Himalayas. Young Star Command scientist Lisa Nielson (Ombretta Colli) wants to accompany them. She was engaged to be married to the commander of the weather station and she’s convinced he survived the disaster. Jackson vetoes her request but of course you know that she’ll find a way to join the expedition.

When their helijet is destroyed Jackson and Pulasky set off into the mountains on foot, with a native guide and several porters. And yes, Lisa Nielson has managed to tag along.

Given the fact that the weather station had been located in yeti country there are of course jokes made that what they’re looking for is the yeti, the Abominable Snowman. The locals refer to the yeti as Snow Devils.

Jackson and his team find the Snow Devils but they’re not all what Jackson (and the audience) might have expected. At this point the movie changes gears somewhat, moving into more overt science fiction territory. I’m not going to tell you what they actually find in the Himalayas because it’s supposed to come as a shock revelation (and it is definitely a surprise).

Now Jackson has a real fight for survival on his hands.

The movie will then switch gears again. This was promised as a space opera but so far all the action has taken place on Earth. That is about to change. We are going to get spaceships and space battles.

The acting is what you expect from this type of movie although since the Warner Archive disc includes only the English dubbed version it’s difficult to make a real judgment on the performances.

Since this is 60s Italian space opera you’re going to be hoping for outrageousness and craziness and you get plenty of both. You get cheap but cool sets as well. And the ultra-groovy bubble cars, which appear in other Gamma One movies as well.

There’s zero sex or nudity. These were clearly movies aimed at a family audience. There’s a very slight hint of romance - the glamorous Lieutenant Teri Sanchez (Halina Zalewska) obviously thinks Commander Jackson is pretty hunky.

The Warner Archive DVD offers a reasonably OK transfer with no extras aside from a trailer.

I reviewed the first of the Gamma One movies, The Wild, Wild Planet (1966), a while back. It’s one of the grooviest sci-fi movies of the decade and is very highly recommended. The second of the Margheriti space operas, The War of the Planets (1966), is also enormous fun.

The Snow Devils is a crazy ride but I don’t see that as being due to any lack of ability of the part of the people who made this movie. They set out to make a fun popcorn movie and they succeeded. Highly recommended.

Sunday 23 October 2022

Kommissar X - Drei blaue Panther (1968)

Released in 1968, Drei blaue Panther (AKA Three Blue Panthers AKA Kill Panther Kill) was the fifth of the seven Kommissar X eurocrime/eurospy movies made in Germany between 1965 and 1971. They were based on a prolific and hugely successful series of books written by Paul Alfred Mueller under the name Bert F. Island. He wrote no less than 620 Kommissar X books!

The heroes of both the books and the films are American private eye Joe Walker (played in the films by Tony Kendall) and New York cop Tom Rowland (played by Brad Harris). Joe Walker is a devil-may-care sort of guy fitting pretty neatly into the stereotype of a glamorous private eye. Tom Rowland is a tough no-nonsense cop who thinks his pal Joe is wild and irresponsible.

This adventure begins with the ambush of a police van. The object was to spring convicted robber Arthur Hillary. Hillary knows where the loot from a spectacular jewel robbery is hidden. His brother Robert has the jewels and Arthur doesn’t know exactly where they’re hidden.

The two brothers don’t get on, partly because Arthur thinks Robert stole his girl Elizabeth (Erika Blanc). Elizabeth is now married to Robert.

In the English dubbed version the surname Hillary is changed to Tracy.

Robert lives in Canada and that’s where Arthur and his accomplices are heading. That’s also where Tom Rowland is. He’s helping the local Canadian police on this case.

Tom is rather taken aback when he discovers that Joe Walker, who is supposed to be Brazil has just checked into the same hotel he’s staying in. What on earth is Joe doing in Canada?

Joe is in fact working for the insurance company so he’s trying to recover the jewels. Since Tom is trying to find the thieves it makes sense for them to coöperate which, after much squabbling, they do.

There’s much more serious disagreement between the two Hillary (or Tracy) brothers. When I tell you that they’re twin brothers you’ll have some idea of the likely nature of those complications.

Arthur’s accomplices want the jewels as well. There’s not much honour among these thieves.

Finding the jewels is the challenge. Whenever they are they’re very well hidden.

Another complication is Robert’s nurse/secretary Emily (Corny Collins). Robert seems very fond of her, and Elizabeth has noticed this.

Tom also seems to have grown very fond of Elizabeth, in a way that might conceivably affect his professional judgment.

The plot revolves around those missing jewels, with various characters willing to bump each other off and resort to other nastiness in order to get them.

At this point you might be thinking that this doesn’t sound like a eurospy movie. Where are the gadgets? Where is the outlandish spy thriller plot in which the fate of the world hangs in the balance? You’d be right to wonder. The Kommissar X movies certainly started out as typical (and very fine) examples of the eurospy genre. By the time we get to this fifth film we find that the series has morphed into something entirely different. This is a pure crime thriller. There’s no hint whatsoever of spies or diabolical criminal masterminds or international intrigue.

It seems that the producers had decided that the 60s spy craze had just about run its course and that glamorous crime thrillers set in exotic locations (liberally sprinkled with pretty girls) were going to be the wave of the future. They may have been correct in feeling that the eurospy genre was close to being played out.

You might also think that Canada is an odd choice as the setting, since eurospy movies usually had more exotic settings. The reason may have been that Expo 67 was happening in Montreal at the time the movie was being shot. Expo 67 was the biggest and most successful world’s fair in history. It’s used as the background for much of the action in the movie and at the time it would have given the movie a very up-to-date and topical feel. And since this is a crime movie rather than a spy movie the futuristic trappings of Expo 67 (monorails and such things) supplied some of the technological coolness that had been provided by the secret spy headquarters and the gadgetry of the earlier spy-oriented films.

The action moves along at a brisk pace. There’s a pretty cool fight scene in a martial arts club. Theres an epic fight scene later on. Being outnumber six or eight to one doesn’t even slow Joe and Tom down. Corpses slowly accumulate. Lovely ladies are threatened with torture.

Tony Kendall (who was of course Italian) and Brad Harris always make a great team. In this film their constant efforts to get the better of each other provide extra amusement. There are very satisfactory villains and three lovely ladies all of whom can act. There’s mayhem aplenty but no graphic violence and no sex.

The early Kommissar X movies have long been available in English dubbed versions but sourced from very poor washed-out prints. The recent German DVD boxed set provides lovely bright vibrant transfers and the English-dubbed soundtrack of Kommissar X - Drei blaue Panther is provided as well.

Although it’s not technically a eurospy movie it still has much of the eurospy vibe to it. A fast-paced fun movie. Highly recommended.

Tuesday 18 October 2022

Caligula: The Untold Story (1982)

When Caligula came out in 1979 a lot of people thought it was the last word when it came to depicting the depravity of the Roman Empire.

Then along came Joe D’Amato who figured he could do something much more depraved. So in 1982 he made Caligula...The Untold Story ( storia mai raccontata).

At this point I should note that Tinto Brass was the original director of the 1979 movie but had his name removed from the credits. Simply for convenience I’ll refer to it as Tinto Brass’s Caligula.

When seeing these movies you have to remember that they’re only mildly exaggerated versions of the accounts that we have from ancient historians. Of course we also have to remember that almost all of the primary sources describing Caligula’s reign are lost. What we have are much later accounts that are absurdly biased and unreliable. Almost everything written about Caligula at the time and in the two centuries after his death was written by people with axes to grind. The generally accepted story, that Caligula was a debauched madman and a cruel sadistic tyrant, might well be quite untrue. As Napoleon said, history is just lies that have been agreed upon.

But in the popular imagination Caligula remains a lunatic and a tyrant and that’s the view of him that we get in both Tinto Brass’s movie and in D’Amato’s movie (or at least in the first half of D’Amato’s movie).

Caligula: The Untold Story gets us into the cruelty and depravity right from the start. Caligula (played by David Brandon) comes across a nice young Christian girl named Livia innocently flirting with her boyfriend, the son of a consul. Caligula rapes the girl, she tries to kill him, he kills her and then has her boyfriend killed. We get the message that Caligula is not a nice guy.

Caligula is also troubled by dreams. So we get the idea that he’s perhaps not too stable mentally.

Part of his mental instability is that he thinks he’s a god. Literally a god. He also has grandiose plans to make himself the greatest man in history by constructing a vast new imperial palace that will be the wonder of the world for generations to come.

And we find out that there are lots of people plotting against the Emperor’s life. He’s made a lot of enemies. And a lot of people think he’s ruining the empire. Doing things like making his horse a senator. And turning the Vestal Virgins into whores.

One of the enemies he’s made is a young Egyptian woman, Miriam (Laura Gemser). Miriam is a freed slave, a priestess of the Egyptian god Anubis and she also happened to be Livia’s best friend. Miriam wants revenge. She’s prepared to make herself one of Caligula’s whores in order to get close enough to him to get that revenge.

This is essentially a movie in two halves. The first half is typical (if extreme) Romansploitation with extended orgy scenes (including a lot of hardcore footage) and some very very brutal scenes of murder and torture. The second half is a totally different movie. It’s a bizarre love story. There’s not a huge amount of graphic violence in the second half, and there’s almost no sex and nudity.

It all hinges on a change in Miriam’s feelings, and in Caligula’s. It presents quite a challenge to David Brandon. He has to make Caligula human. That’s not to suggest that we actually come to feel sorry for Caligula, we still know he’s insane and evil, but we have to be convinced that he is capable of suffering, and maybe even capable of love. Brandon does a pretty effective job. His performance is actually very good indeed.

Laura Gemser faces an even bigger challenge, playing a woman whose feelings are very conflicting and contradictory and possibly puzzling even to herself. She does a fine job. The change in Miriam makes some sense. When she enters Caligula’s service she is a virgin. She then discovers, to her own surprise, that she likes sex a lot. She likes sex with the emperor very much indeed. If a woman is having very satisfying regular sex with a man it’s certainly possible that she’s going to develop feelings for him. And Caligula, for all his cruelties to others, treats Miriam with surprising kindness. Miss Gemser seems rather detached at times but that’s probably a plus. Had she tried to give an emotionally charged performance it would have seemed rather fake. The movie works better if we’re not quite sure what Miriam’s feelings are, given that she doesn’t really know her own heart either.

The scene in which Miriam suddenly decides that she can’t kill Caligula upsets a lot of people who find it unconvincing. I have no idea why. Killing someone isn’t that easy. For a woman to kill a man with whom she’s just made tender love isn’t easy at all. Miriam realises that she just isn’t a killer. Some people aren’t. She has, against her will and contrary to her expectations, discovered that she feels a strange closeness to this man. I suspect that those who have problems with this scene don’t know much about women.

Perhaps it’s the first time Caligula has ever shown kindness to another person.

For the rest of the movie both Miriam and Caligula try to make sense of their feelings. Caligula is still crazy, but he’s now a psycho with emotions rather than an emotionless psycho. Screenwriters D’Amato and George Eastman don’t try to convince us that Caligula is now a nice guy aqnd that we should see him as a romantic hero. Caligula has simply developed some complexity. Perhaps Caligula thinks he’s a god because he’s never known what it is to be a man, with normal male emotions. It’s much too late for him and he’s done too many unforgivable things and made too many enemies, but perhaps he can still find some small measure of redemption. Perhaps.

So this is a seriously weird movie. The fact that it departs quite a bit from the historical record isn’t too much of a problem, given that the historical record is so incomplete and unreliable.

Severin’s release (on DVD and Blu-Ray) offers an excellent transfer without any extras. This is the full uncut version which includes a great deal of hardcore footage and it’s about forty minutes longer than the softcore version. I don’t have a huge problem with the hardcore footage but the hardcore stuff in the orgy scene goes on for much too long and slows the movie down.

Compared to the 1979 Caligula this is a very low-budget effort. That’s something you just have to accept. You’re just not going to get big budget production values without a big budget.

There’s certainly plenty of trashiness here, but there’s also an attempt to take a completely fresh view of the subject matter.

Most reviewers don’t give this movie a chance at all. They go into it expecting trash and having already decided to give it a blisteringly bad snarky review. If you approach the movie with an open mind it’s rather interesting. It’s not in any sense a sequel to or a remake of Tinto Brass’s film. This is a whole different movie that takes an entirely different approach.

D’Amato doesn’t entirely succeed but in its own way this is quite a fascinating movie and I’m going to recommend it, provided you can cope with some gruesomeness and a great deal of explicit hardcore sex.

Friday 14 October 2022

Devil Hunter (1980)

Jess Franco’s Devil Hunter was released in 1980 and its main claim to fame is that it got caught up in the 1980s video nasties moral panic in Britain and was banned. The whole video nasties thing was pretty absurd and Devil Hunter is really not all that extreme a movie at all. Since it is often included in the notorious cannibal sub-genre of that period you might be a bit wary of it. Such movies had a reputation for including rather disturbing animal cruelty. If you’re worried about that I can put your mind at rest. There’s no animal cruelty in this movie.

This movie was released with at least a dozen different titles.

There is gore. Much more gore than you expect in a Franco movie.

This is one of the movies that Franco made because he needed the pay cheque. He disliked the cannibal movies intensely which is probably why this film doesn’t really quite belong to that sub-genre.

Laura Crawford (Ursula Buchfellner) is an up-and-coming movie star. She’s being groomed to be the biggest star of the 80s. Then she gets kidnapped. The kidnappers demand a ransom of six million dollars.

For reasons which are never explained the kidnappers decide to take Laura to a remote island off the coast of South America. They possibly should have done a little research on the island first. Things like finding out if the locals are friendly. It turns out the locals are very unfriendly indeed. They’re cannibals. They don’t actually eat people, not entirely, but their god (a guy with amazing popping eyes) likes to eat the hearts of pretty young girls. He rapes them first. So the island is not exactly what you’d call a safe refuge.

Laura’s manager hires Peter Weston (Al Cliver) to deliver the ransom money. If possibly Peter is to bring back both Laura and the money. It’s not clear what Peter Weston usually does for a living but he’s a seriously tough dude. He sets off for the island by helicopter, the helicopter being piloted by Vietnam vet Jack. Unfortunately Jack is one of those Vietnam vets who has never recovered. He has flashbacks and he’s jumpy.

The exchange of the money for the girl goes badly wrong. This sets up the main action of the movie. Laura is wandering about the jungle on her own, having escaped from the kidnappers. The kidnappers are hunting Laura. The cannibals are hunting Laura. Peter is trying to find Laura before either the kidnappers or the cannibals find her. Peter is hunting the kidnappers. The kidnappers are hunting Peter. The cannibals are hunting everybody.

There’s also the nude girl on the boat. What nude girl and what boat? The boat the kidnappers used to reach the island. They left the nude girl to guard it.

One of the kidnappers is a glamorous blonde, Jane (Gisela Hahn).

Of course the cannibals are hunting for any women they can find.

The kidnappers are a nasty bunch but they don’t realise that they should forget the six million dollars and Laura and just try to get off this island of death. But they’re too greedy to do that. They have lots of guns but guns are only useful against enemies you can see. And the cannibals know the island better than they do, and they have the island riddled with fiendish traps.

Franco apparently felt that some of his ideas from this movie were stolen for the movie Predator. And he definitely had a point.

Al Cliver makes a fine square-jawed action hero type. Antônio do Cabo is creepy as Thomas, the leader of the kidnappers. Most of the acting is OK, with both Jack and a couple of the kidnappers played as highly strung types who are not good in a crisis, especially a crisis involving cannibals.

Ursula Buchfellner was Playboy magazine's October 1979 Playmate of the Month and later posed for Penthouse as well. You would expect her to be stunningly beautiful, and she is. Having been a nude model you’d expect her to be OK with the idea of taking her clothes off and this was obviously the case since she’s totally naked for most of the movie. The lovely Muriel Montossé plays the nude girl on the boat. She made quite a few appearances in Franco’s movies. She spends all of her limited screen time naked.

The setup offers the opportunity for action and suspense. Action and suspense were not exactly the things we associate with Jess Franco. Franco’s strength was his ability to create hypnotic dreamscapes. He had little interesting in taut storytelling. He didn’t mind if the narrative was all over the place and he didn’t even care if there was no discernible straightforward linear narrative. This is a movie that needed a much stronger narrative drive. He was simply not the right director for such a movie.

By the standards of cannibal movies it’s not particularly gory but it does have some gross-out moments. Gore was something Franco wasn’t interested in and wasn’t good at.

Severin’s DVD (released some years ago) has an oddly washed-out look with very weak contrast. Given Severin’s track record of superb transfers this is presumably the result of problems with the source material. Severin subsequently released his movie on Blu-Ray and I’m told the transfer was considerably upgraded. The only significant extra is a brief interview with the director.

There are a few Franco touches and it does have that characteristic Franco fever dream feel. Franco completists will find just enough here to keep them interested but it’s not one of Franco’s better efforts.

Sunday 9 October 2022

Naked You Die (1968)

Naked You Die is a 1968 giallo from Antonio Margheriti. A heavily cut version was released in the U.S. as The Young, the Evil and the Savage.

It’s generally considered that Mario Bava invented the giallo and there were some other obvious influences at work - Hitchcock’s Psycho, Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, the West German krimis. Bava’s Blood and Black Lace established the basic giallo template in 1964 but it didn’t have too many immediate successors. It wasn’t until 1968 that the giallo really started to take off, with movies such as Romolo Guerrieri’s The Sweet Body of Deborah. So Naked You Die (the Italian title was Nude... si muore) counts as an early example of a full-blown giallo.

Margheriti doesn’t get a huge amount of respect as a director. He worked in lots of different genres and if you like to view movies through the lens of auteur theory it’s not easy to see Margheriti as a full-blooded auteur. His movies don’t have that personal signature that the movies of Bava and Argento have. I doubt that Margheriti would have greatly cared. I suspect he was just trying to make entertaining movies.

I’ve had a good time with Margheriti’s movies over the years. They may not reach great cinematic heights but they’re always enjoyable.

Naked You Die has a classic giallo setup. It’s the beginning of term at a girls’ boarding school and some new teachers have arrived. When we see the schoolgirls lounging by the pool we get the message that this is a very expensive girls’ school and these are very rich girls.

Then one of the girls, Betty Ann, disappears. We know she was murdered because we saw the murder but nobody at the school knows what happened. She just vanished.

Lucille (Eleonora Brown) will find the body but then the body disappears. She has no proof that Betty Ann is dead. Nobody is going to believe her story. They’ll think she’s just an hysterical schoolgirl.

Lucille has fallen madly in love with one of the new teachers, Richard Barrett (Mark Damon). He instructs the girls in horse-riding. He’s terribly good looking which explains why Lucille (who has never before shown the lightest interest in horses) has suddenly developed a passion for riding. Much to the amusement of the other girls.

Jill (Sally Smith) likes to fantasise that she’s a crime writer or even a spy. Jill is not the slightest bit crazy. She’s just a normal healthy schoolgirl with an overactive imagination.

One thing that’s nice is that all the girls are likeable. They’re not bratty. They’re not mean girls. They squabble occasionally and there are a few jealousies concerning handsome male teachers but on the whole they’re nice normal girls.

Another murder follows. The police (in the person of Michael Rennie as Inspector Durand) are called in. Durand is confident that normal investigative procedures will solve the case but his confidence seems misplaced when yet another corpse turns up.

This being a giallo and the victims being young women we naturally suspect that these are sex murders but Lucille isn’t so sure.

There are quite a few suspects. Richard’s behaviour is at times difficult to explain. There’s the gardener, La Foret, who likes to watch the girls while they shower. There’s Professor André, whose domain is the “bughouse” where he keeps his collection of birds and insects. He’s wildly eccentric but apparently a nice old chap. But naturally in a giallo we can’t be sure. There’s gym teacher Di Brazzi who often seems to be wandering about in a mysterious fashion. And that’s not taking into account the remote possibility that the murderer might be a woman. One or two of the female staff members are a little odd.

All we really know about the killer is that he wears black gloves when he kills.

This movie doesn’t have the wildly extravagant murder scenes that you get in later giallos but several of the murders are very effectively staged, especially the one with the murderer wearing scuba gear and the bathtub murder.

There’s no blood. This killer is a strangler. There’s very little nudity.

There is a decent story which turns out to be a very giallo-esque plot. Interestingly enough Mario Bava and Tudor Gates had a hand in the screenplay. This was originally intended to be a Bava film. There’s some effective misdirection, a wide choice of suspects and some colourful characters.

The acting is very solid. The standout performance is Sally Smith as Jill. She’s amusing and adorable and great fun when she decides to play amateur detective.

Dark Sky’s DVD is uncut and offers a very good 16:9 enhanced transfer (the movie was shot in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio). The only extra is a trailer.

Margheriti was an honest journeyman director, he builds some decent suspense and he delivers a fine ending.

Naked You Die is not a top-tier giallo but it’s a well-crafted entertaining second-tier effort. It’s definitely recommended, and worth seeing if you’re interested in the evolution of the giallo genre.

Wednesday 5 October 2022

Malibu Express (1985)

I have a shocking confession to make. I have never seen an Andy Sidaris movie. I know, I’m embarrassed about it. The reason is simple. For me cult movies has always meant cult movies from the 1930s to the 1970s, and especially the 60s and 70s. The 80s has been largely unexplored territory for me. And the 90s has been almost totally unknown territory. I now intend to correct this shocking omission and I’m going to start with Sidaris’s 1985 offering Malibu Express which seems to be one of his better known movies.

Cody Abilene (Darby Hinton) is a PI. Cody likes being a PI but mostly he seems to like girls. Early on we get one of those clichéd scenes in the gunnery range where the hero demonstrates what a crack shot he is with a pistol, usually amazing the instructor with his prowess. But in this case the cliché is wittily turned on its head. It turns out that Cody is a lousy shot. It’s a promising start.

Within the first few minutes we also get lots of boobs. That’s also a promising start, given that the Andy Sidaris formula seems to be action, humour and boobs. That’s not such a bad formula really.

Early on we also get a scene at a racing track with fast cars. I don’t think it has anything to do with the plot but fast cars are cool, especially when driven by gorgeous babes such as June Khnockers (that’s Khnockers with an “h”). Gorgeous babes who disrobe as soon as they’ve finished driving. I’m liking this movie already.

This is not just a private eye movie, it’s a spy movie as well. Those dastardly commies are stealing American computer technology. Someone has to infiltrate their organisation but it has to be someone unknown to the bad guys’ intelligence services. Cody is selected. He isn’t exactly qualified for the job but maybe that will be an advantage. Nobody is going to suspect a laid-back girl-crazy cowboy like Cody.

The Contessa Luciana (Sybil Danning), who works for some high-powered intelligence agency, has recruited Cody for this mission. She explains his mission to him, but first they have sex. A girl has to get her priorities right. The Contessa suspects that somebody in the household of Lady Lillian Chamberlain (Niki Dantine) may be involved. It’s a very odd household. Lady Lillian lives there with her son Stuart, his wife and Lady Lillian’s daughter. The chauffeur, an oily character by the name of Shane (Brett Clark), is having sex with both Lady Lillian’s daughter and daughter-in-law and he’s blackmailing them.

Shane and the women are mixed up with a shady computer industry guy.

Pretty soon there’s a whole assortment of goons gunning for Cody. Luckily he gets some help from one of his many girlfriends, a lady cop named Beverly (Lori Sutton).

Then there’s a murder in the Chamberlain household. There’s an important clue to the murderer’s identity, a clue that Cody initially fails to spot.

There’s lots of mayhem. Lots of unarmed combat and lots of gunfights. There are a couple of extended gunfights that are quite cleverly done, making use of an important fact established at the beginning of the movie - Cody is the world’s worst pistol shot. He fires hundreds of rounds in the course of the movie and he just keeps missing. It’s an amusing reversal of the usual action movie cliché that the hero is always a better shot than the bad guys. Cody would have been dead several times over had Beverly not been on the scene. She actually can shoot. Cody isn’t bothered by the fact that a woman has to get him out of trouble. Later on, in a similar situation, June Khnockers has to get him out of trouble. She doesn’t carry a gun but she has a much more effective weapon (actually she has two of them).

Cody has so much easy-going self-confidence that his male ego isn’t the slightest bit fragile. He doesn’t mind that a woman can shoot better than he can and he doesn’t mind when a weird hillbilly family keeps inveigling him into drag races which Cody keeps losing. It’s a nice touch that makes Cody a very likeable character. It’s not that he’s a bad PI. He’s quite smart and he picks up some very obscure clues. He’s brave and resourceful. He just can’t shoot.

It’s rather cool that the hero drives a DeLorean. You can’t get much more 80s than that.

While I had never seen an Andy Sidaris movie I had heard of him and I’d formed the impression that his movies were total trash. It tuns out that my impression was correct. Malibu Express really is total trash. But I love cinematic trash as long as it’s entertaining trash and Malibu Express is very entertaining trash indeed. This is high-grade top-quality trash with an incredibly high fun content.

Sidaris wrote the script and it has some genuinely funny moments. There’s some amusing dialogue. When the two babes who are neighbours of Cody find out he’s a PI they tell him, “We heard you were a private investigator. We wanted to know if you’d investigate our privates.” Sidaris knows the right ingredients for a movie like this. Lots of action, lots of humour, lots of nudity (T&A only) and lots of simulated sex. And the ladies really are lovely and this movie is genuinely sexy in a fun way.

You can’t complain that the nudity is gratuitous. Everything in this movie is gratuitous.

Darby Hinton is pretty good. He has charm and charisma and he’s likeable. Sybil Danning doesn’t get enough to do but what she does she does well. The rest of the acting is pretty bad, but it’s bad in a good trash movie way.

Sidaris understood the essentials of low-budget film-making. You don’t need a story that makes much sense and you should never delude yourself that you’re doing anything other than making pure entertainment. You need to make your movie fast-paced and you need to load it with entertainment value. Entertainment value means action scenes, humour and babes. He was also a firm believer in location shooting in glamorous surroundings. It makes a cheap movie look a lot more expensive than it really is.

I bought the Mill Creek Andy Sidaris DVD boxed set, Girls, Guns and G-Strings. Amazingly good value and it even includes commentary tracks and the transfers are quite acceptable. Most of these movies now seem to be on Blu-Ray but I thought the bargain DVD set would be a good introduction to the cinematic world of Andy Sidaris.

Malibu Express comes with an informative and very amusing audio commentary by Sidaris and his wife and collaborator Arlene. It’s one of the best audio commentaries I’ve come across in years - Sidaris doesn’t take himself the least bit seriously and he clearly had a great time making his movies. His enthusiasm is infectious.

Malibu Express isn’t a great movie in conventional film-making terms, in those terms it’s not even a good movie, but it is a great exploitation movie. It’s just non-stop fun. Highly recommended.

Saturday 1 October 2022

She (1984)

She is a crazed 1984 exploitation movie based on H. Rider Haggard’s 1887 novel of the same name (one of the bestselling novels in history and one of the finest ever examples of the lost world adventure tale). When I say it’s based on Haggard’s novel, I mean loosely based. Very loosely.

It’s an Italian movie shot in Italy but in English with an Israeli director.

This is a post-apocalyptic dystopian action thriller with several other genres thrown in for good measure.

The movie is set sometime in the future after civilisation has collapsed and humanity has reverted to barbarism. Tom (David Goss) and Dick (Harrison Muller) are two brothers who are at a village market when the village is attacked by Nazis. Their sister is kidnapped.

The attackers actually seem like a combination of Nazis, bikers and clowns but they’re mounted on horseback.

Now one thing I don’t want you to think is that this is a movie with a coherent plot. It isn’t. In fact for most of the running time there doesn’t appear to be any central plot. It’s mostly just a series of crazy adventures. Insofar as there is a plot it’s a series of quests during a journey to the kingdom of the Norks (they’re the Nazi dudes).

Tom and Dick are captured also. They’re going to be sold into slavery. They end up in the hands of She (Sandahl Bergman). She (obviously based on Ayesha or She Who Must Be Obeyed from Haggard’s novel) rules a tiny queendom. She’s a goddess. At least her followers think she’s a goddess. She never gives any indication that she has much in the way of goddess powers although she can be healed instantly and it’s implied that she might be immortal (like Ayesha in Haggard’s novel). Her followers are women. She has a devoted lieutenant in the person of Shandra (Quin Kessler).

For no reason that is ever explained She forces Tom to under the brutal ordeal of walking the path (which results in his being stuck with lots of sharp pointy things).

Also for no clearly defied reason She undergoes an ordeal of her own. She enters a warehouse where she has to fight a whole bunch of fearsome opponents some of whom look like mediæval knights and some of whom are robots.

She survives the ordeal but even though she’s a goddess she ends up pretty banged about. Luckily in her palace there’s a magic healing pool.

For reasons that are not made terribly clear Tom, Dick, She and Shandra then undergo a series of adventures. Maybe they’re quests but if so we have no idea what their purpose is. Naturally they encounter mutants (it wouldn’t be a post-apocalyptic movie without mutants), they encounter a bunch of weirdos who seem to be living out some kind of Roman Empire fantasy except they’re not just weirdos but something much nastier.

And then they get captured by communists. Although this movie contains both Nazis and communists I get the feeling that this was just so they could have bad guys wearing Nazi insignias and other bad guys with hammer-and-sickle insignia. They don’t seem to be actual Nazis or communists.

In fact the communists worship a god. They seem to be communist monks. At least he says he’s a god. He does appear to have some god-like powers.

This movie starts weird and messed-up and it just keeps getting weirder and more messed-up. I haven’t even mentioned the mad scientist and the guardian of the bridge yet.

One odd thing is that there’s lots of surviving modern technology (gramophones, chainsaws, etc) but guns seem to be unknown. I think the reason for this is obvious when you think about it. This is a Chicks With Swords movie, not a Babes With Guns movie.

Obviously any post-apocalyptic movie released in the mid-80s was going to be influenced by the Mad Max movies, especially Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. But the 80s sword-and-sorcery boom was starting to get underway. Visually this movie is a mixture of the Mad Max and sword-and-sorcery aesthetics with some truly bizarre surreal touches thrown in. The look of the film really is all over the place but at least it’s never boring.

Despite the presence of Nazis, communists, religious cults and numerous gods I’m not convinced that there’s any intended ideological or religious message here. Unless maybe the message is that all ideologies and religions can get pretty weird.

There’s a wild battle scene and the ending is a slight surprise.

Avi Nesher wrote the screenplay and directed.

Kino Lorber have put this movie out on both DVD and Blu-Ray. It looks pretty good. The only extra is an interview with Avi Nesher.

She is perhaps a bad movie but it’s a weirdly fascinating and hypnotic bad movie. You genuinely have no idea what it’s going to throw at you next.

Highly recommended for its totally unhinged weirdness.