Monday 30 October 2023

Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (1972)

Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41, released by Toei in 1972, was the second of the Female Prisoner Scorpion movies. These fit into the very successful Japanese pinky violence genre but are also women-in-prison movies. They do however have a flavour of their own that distinguishes them sharply from other women-in-prison movies.

The extraordinary Meiko Kaji returns for this second outing.

Nami Matsushima (Meiko Kaji), nicknamed Matsu the Scorpion, is a prisoner in a maximum-security women’s prison. She is considered so dangerous that she is kept in solitary confinement in a cell which is in fact merely a hole in the ground. Just to make sure she is kept chained. The Warden also has a personal grudge against her.

What makes Matsu so dangerous is her patience. She is prepared to wait a very long time for her revenge. She often appears so passive that one might think she has lapsed into catatonia. But all the while Matsu watches and waits. Sooner or later her enemies will make a mistake. If you wait long enough everybody will eventually make a mistake. When that happens Matsu strikes, just like a scorpion.

Of course Matsu escapes, along with six other women prisoners. They find themselves in a weird almost post-apocalyptic landscape. They find refuge in a village buried beneath volcanic ash.

They are being hunted, but these women are very dangerous prey.

What makes this movie so interesting is that it abandons any pretence at realism. This is more like a folk tale. It has some of the flavour that you get in Japanese stories of the supernatural. There are hints of the supernatural, or at least hints that we are in a world that is not the world of everyday reality. Matsu is like a figure from a story of ghosts, demons and monsters.

This feeling is increased by some extremely interesting choices by director Shun'ya Itô. He directed the first movie in this series but this second film is very very different. The colour palette he uses is all blues and greys. This has now becomes one of the most tiresome of all cinematic clichés but in 1972 it was fresh and original. It emphasises the feeling that we are in a kind of fairy tale/folk tale world.

He uses lots of disturbing camera angles, freeze frames and moments of total silence. Matsu often appears as if she is in the frame, but perhaps in another plane of existence, cut off from ordinary reality. At times we wonder if she is a woman or a ghost.

He uses colour boldly. He will suddenly switch from blues and greys into an explosion of reds.

This is an incredibly brutal movie. The brutality is made slightly more bearable by that subtle feeling of unreality. It’s worth mentioning that while most of the male characters are vicious sadists the women in this movie are just as vicious.

There is a temptation to approach this movie in feminist terms but while it might be valid I don’t think that’s a rewarding approach in this case. When Japanese movies in the 70s dabbled in politics they invariably did so in excruciatingly obvious and heavy-handed ways. When this movie gets into political territory it loses direction badly. Fortunately soon afterwards it make another much stranger and more interesting detour, into the world of dream and the unconscious.

Meiko Kaji is incredibly intense, even by Meiko Kaji standards. She does not get a single line in the movie until very close to the end and she speaks a total of half a dozen words. Apart from that the only time we hear her voice is when she sings the movie’s theme song.This all adds weight to the suspicion that she is not really of this world. Perhaps she was once a woman but is now something else.

You can see this as a female revenge movie but it’s more complicated than most such movies. If you look at other female revenge movies made at that time, such as the excellent Hannie Caulder (1971) or Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1974), they’re quite straightforward. They’re about women seeking vengeance on men who have done them great wrongs. But Matsu (in both the first two Female Prisoner films) takes her revenge on women who have wronged her as well as men. And in Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 the lines between good and evil are not always clear-cut. Is Matsu a woman seeking righteous vengeance or some kind of avenging angel or even an avenging demon?

We also do have to consider the possibility that Matsu is in fact totally insane.

This is a bizarre movie, a blend of surrealist dreamscapes and pop art and exploitation. It has no right to work but it does work. And there are plenty of wild crazy visual flourishes. Highly recommended if you’re not afraid of the bizarre.

Arrow have released all four Female Prisoner Scorpion movies in a Blu-Ray set.

I’ve also reviewed the first Female Prisoner Scorpion movie, Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion.

Friday 27 October 2023

Sinbad of the Seven Seas (1989)

Sinbad of the Seven Seas is a 1989 Cannon Films adventure fantasy with an interesting history. It was originally a Luigi Cozzi project. Cannon then decided it would be cool to do a series instead. Cozzi dropped out and Enzo G. Castellari came in as director. Cannon took a look at the huge amount of footage that Castellari had shot and decided it was totally unreleasable. Cozzi was brought back to try to rescue something from the disaster.

With those things in mind you’d expect this movie to be a trainwreck. In fact it’s magnificent.

Cozzi’s first step was to add a prologue which tells us that this is a story told by a mother to her little girl. That’s perfectly appropriate for an Arabian Nights tale since the Thousand and One Nights had a similar framing story, the tales being stories told by Scheherazade to the king.

The plot is stock standard stuff. The city of Basra is a joyous place ruled over by a kind and wise caliph until an evil wizard named Jaffar (John Steiner) casts a spell that turns the city into a cauldron of evil and misery. Jaffar also intends to force the caliph’s beautiful daughter Princess Alina (Alessandra Martines) to marry him. Alina is currently engaged to a prince named Ali who is a member of Sinbad’s crew.

Sinbad is off adventuring when all this happens. He is shocked and dismayed when he returns to Basra.

Naturally he is determined to thwart Jaffar’s plans but the problem is that Jaffar has used his magic to scatter the sacred jewels of Basra to the four corners of the Earth. Only the sacred jewels can restore peace, sanity and happiness to Basra. Sinbad and his brave crew set off to retrieve the jewels. That’s all there is to the plot.

What follows is a series of crazed action set-pieces as Sinbad and his men battle assorted monsters, ghostly knights and wicked sexy amazons. The amazons are particularly dangerous - their main weapon is seduction.

This is obviously not an expensive movie but it looks wonderful. Jaffar’s lair looks more like a mad scientist’s laboratory from a 1930s movie serial than a wizard’s haunt but that just adds more fun and craziness.

The very imaginative production design looks strange and exotic, as it should. There’s no real attempt to maintain the Arabian Nights look. The movie is like a mashup of elements from multiple fairy tales and adventure stories from lots of different historical periods and settings with a few science fiction elements thrown in as well. Anything that seems like it might be fun gets thrown into the mix. Vikings are cool, so let’s have a Viking in the movie. Mediæval knights are cool so we’ll have some of those as well. Mad scientists are fun so let’s make the villain a combination of a mad scientist and a sorcerer.

Some of the effects are cheesy but mostly the effects are clever, inspired and pretty convincing. The monsters are varied and they look terrific. The scenes with the ghostly knights are superb. The knights are just empty suits of armour but they’re very creepy.

All the action scenes are done with style and imagination.

The pacing doesn’t let up. The plot is so simple that there’s no need to waste time with boring exposition. The movie rushes from one frenetic action sequence to another. We know that Ali and Alina are in love so there’s no need for endless romantic buildups. When Sinbad encounters a crazy good wizard with a beautiful daughter we know that she and Sinbad will fall for each other so there’s no need to slow things down while they figure that out.

Muscle-bound bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno had starred in Cozzi’s wild insane Hercules movies. He makes a more than adequate hero. John Steiner chews every piece of scenery he can get his hands on. The actors playing Sinbad’s crew (which includes a dwarf, a Viking and a samurai) put everything into their performances. Alessandra Martines doesn’t have to do much more than look beautiful and frightened which she manages to do quite successfully. The amazon queen is suitably seductive.

Jaffar is an amusing villain. He’s very evil but very cowardly.

The violence is all cartoonish without any gore. There’s no nudity, there are no sex scenes. This is a fairy tale told to a kid.

Sinbad of the Seven Seas makes very little sense but it’s crazy fun from start to finish. Highly recommended.

The 101 Films DVD has no extras apart from the trailer but the transfer is excellent.

I’ve also reviewed Cozzi’s Hercules (1983) and Starcrash (1978). They’re both fabulous movies.

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Good Little Girls (1971)

Jean-Claude Roy’s Good Little Girls was based on the 1858 novel Les petites filles modèles (which translates into English as Good Little Girls) by the Countess of Ségur. The novel has not just been updated to the 1970s it’s been turned into a sex comedy. Which, surprisingly enough, works extremely well.

The Comtesse de Fleurville (Michèle Girardon) makes a successful living as a television sex therapist and as you might expect she has a fairly free-wheeling attitude to sex. She has two daughters, Madeleine (Jessica Dorn) and Camille (Marie-Georges Pascal). They’re keen to emulate their mother’s sexual adventurousness.

A car accident brings Madame de Rosbourg (Bella Darvi) and her daughter Marguerite (Cathy Reghin) into their lives. The two newcomers move into the Comtesse de Fleurville’s spacious chateau.

There are now three girls but there will soon be a fourth. The de Fleurvilles’ neighbour Madame Fichini was going to send her daughter Sophie (Sylvie Lafontaine) off to boarding school but she is persuaded to allow Sophie to move in with the de Fleurvilles.

The four girls are all sex-mad and obsessed with the pursuit of boys, especially the handsome François. Meanwhile the family doctor, Dr. Luçon (François Guérin), is attending to the sexual needs of the comtesse and Madame de Rosbourg and to the equally voracious sexual needs of the maid Elisa as well. The poor man is on the verge of exhaustion.

We’re surprised when the rather butch Madame Fichini joins the parade of women eager to be seduced by the doctor. We had the impression that men were probably not of interest to her and that she was more interested in finding her way into the Comtesse de Fleurville’s bed.

Madame Fichini is a firm believer in strict discipline and Sophie’s back shows evidence of that. But Sophie seems to share her mother’s belief in discipline.

The women hear that in the nearby woods there is a workman’s camp and that the workmen have been stuck there for months without women. They are now sex-crazed and no woman can safely enter the woods. Naturally two of the girls immediately head for the woods. They do encounter a young man there but much to their disappointment it turns out that his intentions are entirely honourable. His name is Julien and he’s part of a religious group and he’s into spirituality rather than carnal pleasures.

Julien gets invited to a party at the de Fleurville chateau. The girls have not given up hope that they can convert him to the pleasures of the flesh.

There’s not much more than that to the plot but it’s executed with a certain amount of style.

I’ve come to rather enjoy the sex comedies of the 70s. It’s fascinating to see how they differ from country to country. The British sex comedies aimed for good-natured schoolboy naughtiness. The Italians aimed for style and sophistication. The Japanese went for inspired craziness. French sex comedies on the other hand are somewhat whimsical and oddball.

Good Little Girls is witty and charming and it’s cheerful lighthearted fun. There is nothing approaching graphic sex and while there’s plenty of nudity it’s limited to topless scenes and the occasional bare bottom. There’s a certain likeable innocence to this movie. The girls are boy-crazy but they’re really very nice girls.

Nucleus Films released this one on DVD on their aptly-named Naughty label. The transfer is acceptable but clearly there’s been no attempt at a full restoration. For which they can hardly be blamed since it would be unlikely to be financially viable for such a niche film. It’s in French with English subtitles.

Jean-Claude Roy made rather a lot of movies and the ones I’ve seen have been quite interesting with a certain distinctive flavour. I’ve reviewed several of his movies. I highly recommend the quirky Justine’s Hot Nights (1976). Éducation Anglaise (1983) is also quite good as is Scandalous Photos (1979) which has the advantage of starring the always wonderful Brigitte Lahaie. In fact Miss Lahaie makes an appearance in Éducation Anglaise as well.

Good Little Girls is tame but classy erotica and it’s highly recommended.

Sunday 22 October 2023

Crazy Desires of a Murderer (1977)

Crazy Desires of a Murderer (I vizi morbosi di una governante) was released in 1977 making it a fairly late entry in the giallo cycle. It’s included in Vinegar Syndrome’s Forgotten Gialli Volume 3 Blu-Ray boxed set and it certainly qualifies as a forgotten giallo.

Filippo Walter Ratti’s directing career had begun way back in 1946, with Crazy Desires of a Murderer being his last directing assignment. Ratti also qualifies as a forgotten director.

Ileana (Isabelle Marchall) is a young bubbly blonde who has just arrived back in Italy after an extended holiday in the Far East. She sets off for her home, her home being a castle. The castle belongs to her aged father, the Baron De Chablais. Ileana arrives at the castle with a group of friends in tow. She’s picked them up on her travels. Her daddy is not pleased. The old baron’s memory is failing but he does remember that he hates having guests.

What Ileana doesn’t know is that one of her friends has been using her as a drugs courier.

The baron is very rich. He’s a collector of Asian art and antiquities and his collection is worth a fortune. The De Chablais clan has the kinds of family secrets that you expect in a family that lives in a gothic castle.

The old baron had had a very young Thai wife. She died very young some years earlier, leaving a son. Something traumatic happened before she died, an event that left the son totally insane. No-one seems to know where the son is. He is assumed to be confined in an asylum somewhere. The viewer however knows that the son is still alive, kept locked up in a dungeon. The son, Leandro, amuses himself with his hobby - taxidermy.

So far the movie seems just as likely to turn out to belong to the gothic horror genre as the giallo genre, but it is a giallo.

There are two servants, Berta and Hans. Among his other duties Hans is responsible for keeping Leandro safely locked up.

After a night of booze, sex and erotic charades (yes really) the young people turn in for the night. One of them will not live to see the morning. It’s a shocking and brutal murder.

Anyone in the castle could have committed the murder. There are plenty of plausible motives. There is a fabulously valuable emerald that belonged to the baron’s late wife. That would be worth killing for. There are plenty of sexual intrigues that could lead to jealousies that could in turn lead to murder. The servants seem to be as debauched and sleazy as the guests. Even they could be suspects. The middle-aged family doctor has his secrets as well so he can’t be ignored as a suspect. The police commissario (Corrado Gaipa) is elderly and crippled but he’s no fool. He is however baffled. He knows there are a lot of secrets he needs to uncover if he hopes to catch the killer.

The acting is quite competent. Filippo Walter Ratti also proves to be competent as a director. Ambrogio Molteni’s screenplay contains a few twists and plenty of red herrings.

There’s not much gore but there are a couple of gruesome scenes involving eyeballs. One of those scenes is very gruesome indeed.

There are quite a few topless scenes and sex scenes but overall it’s fairly tame for 1977 (some sources suggest the movie may have been made a few years earlier).

Crazy Desires of a Murderer is a fairly routine giallo with fewer murders than you might expect. There’s really only one spectacular killing and it’s the aftermath that is shocking rather than the murder itself.

Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-Ray (from their Forgotten Gialli Volume 3 boxed set) provides an excellent 16:9 enhanced transfer. This set also includes Autopsy (1975) and Murder Mansion (1972). The latter is well worth seeing.

Crazy Desires of a Murderer is apparently still not available uncut in the UK but Vinegar Syndrome’s release is the full uncut version.

Where this movie does score is in the creepy scenes set in the castle dungeons and the atmosphere of decadence (a common enough feature of the giallo genre). Overall Crazy Desires of a Murderer is reasonably entertaining and it’s recommended.

Wednesday 18 October 2023

The Quick and the Dead (1995)

Sam Raimi's The Quick and the Dead (1995) is a western with a definite spaghetti western vibe.

A Mysterious Stranger rides into town. A gunslinger who doesn’t say very much and mostly gives the impression of being tortured and dangerous. But the twist is, the gunslinger is a girl! Since she doesn’t talk much you could call her The Woman With No Name (although eventually we discover that her name is Ellen). The fact that the gunslinger is female and is played by Sharon Stone who was, in the wake of Basic Instinct, briefly a very big star was the movie’s main selling point. In fact, its only real selling point. The producers figured that was enough but they were wrong and the movie performed poorly at the box office.

There are lots of gunslingers in town (the town is called Redemption). They’re there for a gunfighting competition organised by John Herod (Gene Hackman), a slimy individual who runs the town. The competition will be a series of gunfights with the last man left alive walking off with a huge cash prize.

The Woman With No Name has, naturally, a secret. She has come to Redemption for revenge. She wants revenge for something that happened many years earlier. At the time she was just a little girl so of course the man she wants to kill doesn’t recognise her. She enters the competition.

The only other notable contestants are the Kid, played by Leonardo DiCaprio (who looks about twelve years old although he was twenty at the time), and Cort (Russell Crowe).

Cort doesn’t want to be there. He was once a killer and an outlaw but he got religion and became a preacher. He doesn’t believe in killing any more. Herod intends to force him to fight. It’s not clear if Herod wants Cort dead or just humiliated.

There are about sixteen gunslingers in the competition but we know that the only ones likely to survive long enough to make it to the movie’s inevitable final showdown are the ones played by top-billed cast members. Which means Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman and Russell Crowe. The others, played by supporting actors, are just there to get gunned down one by one which means that most of the movie’s interminable series of gunfights generate no suspense whatsoever. Crucially, we have no reason to care what happens to these guys. We just want them to get killed off as quickly as possible so we can get to the important climactic gunfights.

That’s the movie’s single biggest problem. It’s too long and there are too many gunfights and it gets repetitive. It lessens the impact of the gunfights that really matter, the ones involving the movie’s stars.

Cort is of course forced to fight. Ellen isn’t interested in winning the competition but she will have to fight as well. Eventually only four gunslingers are left alive and none of them have any interest in winning the money. They have other motivations.

I’ve never been the biggest Gene Hackman fan but he’s OK here. Herod is of course just a stereotypical western sinister bad guy. He’s a bit too much of an evil comic-book super-villain which means the final confrontations become simplistic good vs evil battles.

I don’t think I’ve seen more than one or two of Leonardo DiCaprio’s movies so I have no feelings one way or the other about him as an actor. He’s adequate here in a not very interesting rôle.

I’ve only seen a handful of Russell Crowe’s movies but I thought he was superb in Master and Commander. The Quick and the Dead was his first Hollywood movie. He has the most interesting part and gets to do some real acting and he’s very impressive.

Sharon Stone (whom I loved in Basic Instinct and Total Recall) spends a lot of time brooding. The Quick and the Dead really did nothing for her career. On the plus side there is some attempt to give her character some complexity. Unlike the other gunfighters she is not a natural killer. She is repelled by killing but her desire for revenge compels her to kill. She doesn’t like what it is doing to her. This inner conflict is the movie’s biggest strength and it’s handled reasonably well.

Another problem is that the central premise is just a little bit silly and far-fetched. OK, there’s a big cash prize but realistically why would any gunfighter enter a competition in which his chances of being killed are ridiculously high?

The look of the film is an uneasy mix of grunginess and cartoonish exaggeration.

Lady gunfighter movies were nothing new. Raquel Welch had made such a movie, Hannie Caulder, way back in 1972. Hannie Caulder is also a revenge western and it also dealt with the consequences for a woman of becoming a killer. Hannie Caulder is a much more successful and thought-provoking movie than The Quick and the Dead and in my view Raquel Welch’s performance is slightly more impressive than Sharon Stone’s. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Stone’s performance but Welch was absolutely superb in Hannie Caulder.

It’s interesting that in the same year this big-budget major-studio Girls With Guns western was made another Girls With Guns western appeared, Jim Wynorski’s ultra low budget Hard Bounty. Hard Bounty has its problems as well but it’s more interesting and more fun than The Quick and the Dead.

This movie is by no means a total loss. The climactic showdowns, when we finally get to them, are tense and well-staged with a few surprises. The Quick and the Dead is worth a look but don’t set your expectations too high.

Monday 16 October 2023

Dracula's Fiancee (2002)

Dracula's Fiancee (La fiancée de Dracula) was one of Jean Rollin’s last films, made at a time when serious health problems meant that there were long gaps between his movies. These late movies don’t get as much attention as his earlier vampire and zombie movies and this is a pity. These late movies represent a distinctive phase in his career which in its own way is every bit as interesting as the earlier phases.

Two men, an elderly professor and his much younger assistant Eric, are trying to track down the Master. In a conventional vampire movie we would assume that these are the good guys and that the Professor is a Van Helsing analogue. In a Rollin vampire film we should be very careful about jumping to such conclusions. The Professor believes that the key to finding the Master is a woman named Isabelle. Isabelle (Cyrille Gaudin) is a madwoman confined in a convent. Her madness has infected the nuns and they’re all quite insane.

The Master is in fact Dracula.

The Professor is told that the Parallels have the answer. The Parallels represent a new element in Rollin’s ever-shifting vampire mythology. The Parallels are monsters. There’s the dwarf court jester Triboulet, the Vampire, the Ogress, the She-Wolf (played by the always wonderful Brigitte Lahaie) and others. The Parallels have their own reasons for seeking the Master.

Others are looking for the Master.

Isabelle is destined to be Dracula’s bride. Whether Dracula survives, whether he currently exists in our reality, whether he exists in another universe entirely or whether he exists only in an imaginary universe remains unclear. What will happen if the marriage between Dracula and Isabelle goes ahead? We eventually get the answer but it’s not the kind of straightforward answer most people would like.

Most vampire movies draw their inspiration, directly or indirectly, from Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novel Carmilla or from Stoker’s Dracula but not Rollin. In his vampire movies he creates whole new vampire mythologies. And he created several totally distinct vampire mythologies. The vampire mythology of The Nude Vampire is radically different from the vampire mythology of Requiem for a Vampire or Fascination.

When he returned to the vampire film with his superb 1997 Two Orphan Vampires he did it again, with a mythology based on the pop culture of the past that he loved so much. The two blind orphan vampire girls inhabit a world created out of adventure fiction, 19th century French serial fiction, comics, children’s books and old movie serials. Whether they simply inhabit this world or whether they themselves have created it is an open question. The two girls understand nothing of what the rest of us think of as reality.

Amazingly with Dracula's Fiancee, so late in his career, he does it yet again. Even though there’s a Dracula in the story the movie has no connection with Stoker’s Dracula (in fact the the use of the name Dracula may have been forced on Rollin by distributors for commercial reasons). This is the strange world of the Parallels. As with all of Rollin’s mythologies you will have to decide just how imaginary this world might be and whether it has any connection with reality.

We might be dealing with a parallel universe or with the world of the imagination, or perhaps the world of madness. Or is it the world of art and literature? Is this universe more real or less real than the reality most of us take for granted.

Two Orphan Vampires deals with similar themes but in a different way, as does Rollin’s very underrated and very neglected Lost in New York. Rollin had played with such themes many times but always with interesting variations. If a theme interested him he would look for different ways to approach it.

Like Two Orphan Vampires this movie showcases Rollin’s fascination with fairy tales and the gothic.

Rollin is often misunderstood by those who expect vampire movies to be horror movies. Rollin only ever made two movies that can truly be described as horror movies (The Grapes of Death and The Living Dead Girl) and even those two films are hardly conventional horror films. Rollin’s movies belong to the genre the French call the fantastique which combines science fiction, fantasy, horror, gothic and thriller elements with healthy doses of the surreal and the world of fairy tales in an intoxicating and playful (and very French) way and also combines artiness with pop culture.

There are no twinned girls in this movie but there are plenty of other classic Rollin elements. There is a clown (a jester being a species of clown). There are girls in filmy see-through nightdresses, almost naked and yet not naked. There is an obsession with clocks. There is his famous beach at Dieppe. There are ruins. There are vampires, but each Rollin vampire movies offers a different type of vampire. Some really are vampires. Some might be actual vampires. As always Rollin provides us with more questions than answers.

I’m learning to like Rollin’s late movies very much indeed. In some ways he was returning to his surrealist roots but it’s not quite the surrealism of his early movies. These late movies have a kind of magical vibe. At times they resemble the Latin American literary genre magic realism. There’s no attempt to explain the magical elements. And the line between dream and reality becomes steadily more blurred. Dracula's Fiancee is highly recommended.

Redemption have released this movie on Blu-Ray. The transfer is excellent. And as an extra they have included the absolutely wonderful Lost in New York making this Blu-Ray a must-buy.

Saturday 14 October 2023

Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo (1970)

Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo was the second of Nikkatsu’s five Stray Cat Rock pinky violence movies. It was released in 1970.

It should be explained that this was not a franchise in the sense that we understand the term today. These were five totally separate movies with the only real connection being that all deal with juvenile delinquents. Meiko Kaji appears in all five movies but playing a different character each time.

The Pelicans are a youth gang of four boys and a girl, the girl being C-Ko (Meiko Kaji). Their deadly rivals are the Seibukai gang. The Pelicans might be juvenile delinquents but they’re pretty good-natured. They’re a bit wild but really they’re just kids looking for some fun.

They do kidnap a girl, but it’s not exactly a kidnapping. They know that one of the Pelican gang members, Taki, has developed a major crush on rich girl Asako (Bunjaku Han). Taki is a bit scared of girls and the other gang members intended the kidnapping as just a way of bringing these two together. They never intended to hurt Asako, and they don’t. In fact Asako is amused rather than scared. And the plan works. Asako and Taki fall for each other, and Asako is soon an unofficial member of the Pelicans.

At this stage Wild Jumbo is almost as lighthearted as an early 60s Annette Funicello beach party movie.

One of the Pelicans is behaving very strangely. He spends every night digging up the grounds of the local high school, much to the bemusement of the other Pelicans. Maybe he’s digging for buried treasure? That is exactly what he is doing, but the treasure he is after (and which he finds) is a cache of very old machine-guns. This is the first hint that the movie might eventually take a slightly darker turn.

Another such hint is the fact that Asako is the mistress of the leader of the Seikyo Society. They’re a kind of quasi-religious quasi-political group and they’re very rich and very powerful. And very dangerous if you get on the wrong side of them. Playing around with the mistress of the top guy could certainly land you in trouble.

Asako has been cooking up a plan that will make the Pelicans very rich. It isn’t legal but she thinks it’s foolproof and Taki agrees. They persuade the other Pelicans to agree as well.

This has now become a heist movie. It seems like it’s going to be a very lighthearted heist movie but in the third act it takes a very much darker turn.

It’s a movie that certainly springs some surprises on the viewer, with not just plot twists but major tonal shifts.

Of course the heist doesn’t go the way the Pelicans had hoped.

Meiko Kaji was not yet a major star but she was on her way. It was during the course of the Stray Cat Rock that her star quality started to become evident. In Wild Jumbo she’s just one of the six principal players. She would go on to play some very dark rôles so it’s interesting to see her here in a much lighter rôle, and handling it well. C-Ko is a nice fun-loving girl.

There is some violence in this movie but it’s not the slightest bit graphic. The shock value of the violence comes from its unexpectedness. There’s absolutely no sex and no nudity. This movie came very early in the pinky violence cycle. Later movies in that cycle would ramp up the violence, sex and nudity rather spectacularly.

In fact Wild Jumbo is so tame in those areas that some might question whether it really qualifies as a pinky violence film.

Arrow have released all five Stray Cat Rock movies in a Blu-Ray set. It’s a very welcome set. Prior to this very few pinky violence movies were available on DVD or Blu-Ray in English-friendly versions. Wild Jumbo gets a very nice anamorphic transfer.

The five Stray Cat Rock movies are all different and Wild Jumbo has quite a different feel compared to the first movie, Delinquent Girl Boss.

Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo isn’t one of the great pinky violence movies but it has a certain quirky quality which I found rather appealing. Recommended.

If you’re new to the pinky violence genre you’re better off starting with something more typical, such as Girl Boss Revenge (1973).

Wednesday 11 October 2023

The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984)

The Warrior and the Sorceress is a 1984 sword & sorcery flick and with Roger Corman as executive producer you more or less know what to expect. It’s generally regarded as a rip-off of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. I generally find these low-budget rip-offs to be a lot of fun.

It takes place on an Earth-like planet inhabited mostly by humans.

A Mysterious Stranger (played by David Carradine) rides into town, only he doesn’t ride. He walks. There don’t seem to be any horses on this planet. In fact there don’t seem to be any animals at all. Wagons are pulled by slaves. The Mysterious Stranger is named Kain (an obvious nod to Carradine’s famous 1970s TV series Kung Fu) but he is also referred to as the Dark One.

He’s a Holy Warrior but his religious order has collapsed and now he’s cynical and disillusioned. Now he fights for money.

The town is the scene of a struggle for power between two rival warlords, the sinister Zeg and the fat debauched Bal Caz. They’re the first two major bad guys to be introduced.

Much of the struggle concerns the town’s only well which is apparently the only water source for miles around.

Kain spends most of the movie playing the two rival warlords off against each other. He changes sides countless time and always seems to end up with a large bag of gold as a result.

When he arrives in town he meets a Wise Old Man known as the Prelate. The Prelate still believes in the Holy Warrior concept and seems to think that Kain will come around to his way of thinking.

Kain also encounters the sorceress of the story, Naja (María Socas). Zeg is holding her captive. He wants her to make him a magical sword. She doesn’t want to do this but Zeg is confident he can persuade her. His methods of persuasion are crude but they’re usually effective.

There’s a third major bad guy, Burgo the Slaver (Armando Capo). Burgo and his fellow slavers are some kind of reptile-men. The three chief villains are all quite happy to try to cut each other’s throats. Kain is happy to work for the bad guys, and to betray them.

We don’t really know at first what Kain’s agenda is. He seems to be as violet and immoral as any of the bad guys, although he does seem interested in the beautiful young sorceress.

There’s a great deal of action and the action scenes are handed quite well. Despite the countless killings I don’t recall seeing a single drop of blood in this movie. It’s entirely gore-free. The movie’s R rating obviously had nothing to do with violence. It was probably large due to the scene in which Zeg has a naked slave girl hurled into a kind of giant fish tank. The scene includes some fairly explicit frontal nudity.

Of course the R rating might have had something to do with the fact that María Socas is topless for the entire movie.

The acting is generally quite passable.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about David Carradine as an actor but he’s not too bad here. He gets across Kain’s moral ambiguity and cynicism and Kain is supposed to be a slightly mysterious guy so for me Carradine’s performance works.

Luke Askew as Zeg and Guillermo Marín as Bal Caz make fine villains. Anthony De Longis is good as Zeg’s chief henchman, a worthy opponent for Kain in a swordfight. María Socas is a fairly convincing sorceress.

It’s a Roger Corman production so it’s obviously made on a very low budget but that’s not a major problem. The monster effects are a bit cheesy, but a movie like this benefits from a bit of cheesiness.

The plot is quite serviceable and it more or less makes sense.

John C. Broderick proves to be a competent enough director.

This movie is included in Shout! Factory’s four-movie Roger Corman sword and sorcery set and the anamorphic transfer is fine.

The Warrior and the Sorceress isn’t as much fun as Deathstalker II (1987) or Barbarian Queen (1985) but it’s still rather enjoyable. Recommended.

Sunday 8 October 2023

Stripped To Kill (1987)

Stripped To Kill is an erotic thriller directed by Katt Shea for Roger Corman’s Concorde Pictures in 1987.

The story of how the movie came to be made is in some ways more interesting than the movie itself. Katt Shea had acted in movies for Roger Corman but had never directed a movie. She came up with the idea as a result of a bet she lost with her husband Andy Ruben. The penalty for losing the bet was that she had to visit a strip club. He thought that was the worst penalty you could impose on a woman. She visited the strip club, and she absolutely loved it. She was totally captivated by what she saw as a fascinating form of female artistic expression and she was blown away by the effort and imagination the girls put into devising their acts. She decided that she absolutely had to direct a movie about strippers.

More than that, she wanted to make a movie with real strippers playing the roles of the strippers. Which is what she persuaded Roger Corman to allow her to do. Apart from the lead actress Kay Lenz and one other all of the girls are real strippers. And although a choreographer was brought in to teach the girls how to hit their marks so that their routines would be filmable all of the strip-tease routines seen in the movies were the girls’ own routines.

Shea also wanted her movie to make the point that strippers are not trash, they are in fact artists.

Shea sold Roger Corman on the idea and Shea and her husband came up with a script, and Corman gave the go-ahead.

Somebody is murdering strippers. Undercover cop Detective Cody Sheenan (Kay Lenz) discovers the first body while on another case so she has some personal interest right from the start. She is persuaded to go undercover as a stripper. She tries out in an amateur night contest at the Rock Bottom Club. The guy who runs the club, Ray (Norman Fell), tells her she is the worst dancer he has ever seen but when she assures him that she is reliable he hires her.

Cody starts out with the usual prejudices against strippers but she discovers that she likes the girls, she is impressed by the work they put into their routines and she is fascinated by their world. She also discovers that she actually enjoys stripping.

There’s an obvious suspect, a creepy guy known to the girls as Mr Pocket, and her partner Detective Heineman (Greg Evigan) is convinced that he’s the killer. Cody has a strong feeling that Mr Pocket is weird but harmless.

Of course the killer ends up going after Cody and that leads to a not totally satisfying conclusion.

While the movie is indeed an erotic thriller Shea saw it more as a movie about the world of strippers and it is more successful on that level than as an actual erotic thriller. The plot isn’t all that fantastic and it relies on a gimmick that has been used before and used better and always comes across as a gimmick.

There are however plenty of things to like about both the screenplay and the movie. The strippers are interesting colourful characters. Ray is not the sleazebag you might expect. He’s a pretty nice guy. The awkward relationship between Cody and Heineman is handled extremely well. There’s an attraction between them that they have never got around to consummating but it’s obvious that eventually they will. He’s disturbed by the fact that Cody enjoys stripping but he isn’t a clichéd character. He might be disturbed but he doesn’t turn against Cody.

Kay Lenz and Greg Evigan are excellent and they have the right chemist.

There’s some real subtlety to the characterisation of Cody. She’s obviously a bit uncomfortable about sex and stripping is for her a way of becoming more at ease with her sexuality, and more confident about it.

The strip-tease routines are very tame (the movie was from the beginning intended for the straight-to-video market and Corman clearly did not want the movie to be shelved in the porno section of video stores). There are countless topless scenes but breasts are all you ever get to see. These routines would have been considered tame in a burlesque theatre in the 1940s. But the routines compensate for this by being energetic and imaginative and filmed with a certain amount of flair.

Despite her inexperience and the low budget Shea pulls off some reasonably effective visual set-pieces. The murders are not all that graphic but they’re cleverly staged and manage to be unsettling without relying on gore.

As a movie aimed at giving the viewer a glimpse into the actual world of strippers rather than the popular conception of that world it works very very well. And it succeeds in making us really care about these girls.

Overall Stripped To Kill is quite interesting and it’s recommended.

The Scorpion Releasing DVD looks good and includes lots of extras including a director’s commentary track.

Friday 6 October 2023

The Terror Within (1989)

The Terror Within is a 1989 Alien rip-off produced by Roger Corman for his Concorde Pictures production company. It was directed by Thierry Notz.

Instead of being set in space it’s set on a post-apocalyptic Earth (which was obviously going to make it much cheaper). The apocalypse was the result of a plague. This movie does not waste time giving us any complicated background.

The eight or so surviving personnel of the Centre for Disease Control’s Mojave Lab are besieged by gargoyles. The gargoyles are monsters which are apparently some kind of human mutants. The Mojave Lab is in intermittent contact with the CDC’s Rocky Mountain Lab. How many humans have survived the plague is unclear. There are some but their prospects seem grim. The Mojave Lab personnel are safe within their fortress-like facility, or at least they think they’re safe.

Two of the personnel leave the lab to look for more human survivors. Those two do not come back.

One human survivor, a woman, is found. She is pregnant, but the father was definitely not human.

If you’ve seen Alien you know that the mother-to-be is going to be in for a really bad time.

Things get worse. One of the lab’s crew, Sue (Starr Andreeff), gets raped by a gargoyle. She is found to be pregnant but she’s been having an affair with David (Andrew Stevens). The baby could be David’s or it could be the gargoyle’s, which leaves the lab’s doctor Linda (Terri Treas) and the mother-to-be in a quandary. This also provides the movie’s sleaze factor.

The real action starts with a gargoyle running loose in the laboratory. The lab people are hunting the gargoyle, or maybe the gargoyle is hunting them. The problem is that gargoyles are just about unkillable. If only the gargoyles had some weakness. Of course it turns out that they do, but it might not be enough to shift the odds in the humans’ favour.

There are no original ideas in Thomas McKelvey Cleaver’s screenplay but at least he and the director understand the formula they are ripping off. They know which ingredients need to be included and they make sure those ingredients are present. The screenplay might be unoriginal but it’s perfectly serviceable.

Thierry Notz knows what he’s doing. There’s no need for subtlety. This movie requires action, scares, nasty monsters, gore and monster rape creepiness. It needs to be fast moving, and it is.

Considering that this was made on a Roger Corman budget it looks quite acceptable. The sets are simple but they provide a decent arena for the action scenes.

The big problem with the low budget is that the film cannot possibly reproduce anything approaching the monsters special effects of Alien and instead has to rely on guy-in-a-rubber-suit monsters. The monster is a major weakness. It looks a little bit silly rather than terrifying. It didn’t bother me because I happen to love guy-in-a-rubber-suit monsters, although it has to be said that this is not one of the great guy-in-a-rubber-suit monsters.

The acting is generally quite adequate. Andrew Stevens as David makes a perfectly fine hero. The two female leads are quite OK and both Sue and Linda get the chance to be heroic.

The acting weak link is the movie’s only well-known name, George Kennedy. He’s the lab commander, Hal. Usually the problem with George Kennedy is outrageous overacting but here he gives a very flat lifeless performance. He just doesn’t seem interested. Admittedly the part is badly underwritten and Hal is the least interesting character.

Instead of Ripley’s cat we have David’s dog, Butch. Butch ain’t pretty but he’s likeable and brave. I’m not going to tell you which (if any) of the humans survive the movie but I will tell you that Butch survives. I know some people find a movie impossible to enjoy if they think the animal star isn’t going to survive.

If you can accept the very cheap monster effects then this is a very competently done Alien ripoff. The action scenes are well-staged and it’s exciting violent fun with some decent suspense. I liked it. Recommended.

This movie is paired with another Concorde movie, Dead Space, in one of Shout! Factory’s Roger Corman double-feature DVD releases. The Terror Within gets a good anamorphic transfer.