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.

Wednesday, 28 September 2022

The Sinister Monk (1965)

In 1926 Edgar Wallace wrote a novel called The Black Abbot. It was very popular and the following year he turned it into a stage play under the title The Terror, which then became another novel. The play was filmed more than once, the 1938 British movie The Terror being a particularly good version. The original novel was the subject of one of the West German Edgar Wallace krimis, The Black Abbot, in 1963. Two years later Rialto adapted the stage play under the title Der unheimliche Mönch (The Sinister Monk). This movie was directed by Harald Reinl.

A very very rich old man is dying. He considers his children to be a sorry lot (and as we will find out his judgment is spot on) so he writes them out of his will. His home, Darkwood Hall, will go to his daughter Patricia so she can continue to run her girls’ boarding school but the rest of his vast estate will go to his beloved granddaughter Gwendolin (played by krimi regular Karin Dor).

The will goes missing. Without a will the estate will be divided equally between the children, except for Gwendolin’s father who is serving a life sentence for murder.

One of the sons has come up with a rather nasty scheme. And Patricia’s oily son Ronny has come up with a nefarious scheme of his own. There’s obviously plenty of potential for trouble, and just as obviously there are going to be quite a few people with motives for murder and other crimes.

Patricia invites Gwendolin to stay at Darkwood Hall. Most of the schoolgirls are on holiday but about a dozen have no place to go during the holidays so they remain at Darkwood Hall.

Ronny starts putting the moves on Gwendolin right away, as part of his plan.

At about this time the monk makes his appearance. The legendary monk of Darkwood Hall is the ghost of a long-dead monk (Darkwood Hall was at one time a monastery). Of course in an Edgar Wallace krimi we tend to suspect that ghosts are not necessarily actual ghosts.

A Scotland Yard inspector has an unfortunate encounter with the monk, not far from Darkwood Hall. Scotland Yard is now very interested in this case.

And then the bodies slowly start to accumulate.

Apart from the family members (all of whom are potential suspects) there are other suspicious characters hanging about. There’s Monsieur d’Arol (Kurd Pieritz), the newly arrived French master who behaves rather oddly. There’s Mr Short (Rudolf Schündler), an artist who rents a room at Darkwood Hall. He could be an eccentric but harmless old gentleman or he could be a raving loony. There’s the school butler Smitty. Since Smitty is played by Eddi Arent we assume he’s one of the good guys but there’s still the chance he’s not what he appears to be. There are strange men lurking in the woods. And of course there’s The Monk.

That missing will provides a motive for murder but there are other possibilities, other nefarious schemes that may be hatching at Darkwood Hall.

Pretty soon the schoolgirls start getting drawn into the action although it’s not clear whether they’re innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire or whether someone has some reason for targeting one or more of the girls. One of the girls, the glamorous Lola, seems to be mixed up in something but whether as victim or conspirator is not clear. Lola carries a water pistol for protection. You might think that a water pistol would not be much protection for a girl but Lola has filled it with sulphuric acid making it a very nasty little weapon. And Lola is prepared to use it.

Mr Short’s pigeons also arouse the curiosity of Scotland Yard.

Sir John of Scotland Yard (Siegfried Schürenberg) is very worried. He has to find a murderer, and as well he has to protect not just Gwendolin but a dozen schoolgirls. Inspector Black (Harald Leipnitz) seems confident at first but soon he has things to worry about, such as staying alive.

The plot has several strands to it and lots of twists. Even as the bodies pile up we’re still left with multiple suspects and the eventual solution is both neat and outrageous.

Harald Reinl was one of the two best directors employed by Rialto on their krimi series (along with Alfred Vohrer). In this movie he keeps the action moving along briskly and keeps the complex plot fairly coherent.

Mention should be made of Peter Thomas’s totally bizarre score.

This was an important movie in the history of the krimi genre. It was director Harald Reinl’s final krimi, it was Karin Dor’s last appearance in the series, and it was the last of the Rialto krimis to be shot in black-and-white. It was the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.

The German Tobis Blu-Ray Edition 3 includes this movie and two others, Der Schwarze Abbot (The Black Abbot) and Der Mönck mit der Peitsche (The College Girl Murders). All three movies come with multiple language options including German with English subtitles and English-dubbed versions. The transfer is excellent.

The Sinister Monk ended the black-and-white era on a high note. Lots of gothic atmosphere, some real horror, a fine plot. Highly recommended.

Sunday, 25 September 2022

Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss (1970)

At the beginning of the 1970s the Japanese film industry was on its knees as a result of competition from television. Drastic steps would have to be taken. The obvious solution was sex. Or, even better, sex and violence. It was a brutally realistic assessment of the situation. This resulted in the birth of two new exploitation film genres, roman porno and pinky violence. Nikkatsu’s roman porno series (a mixture of sex and violence movies and sex comedies) was prolific and immensely successful. Pinky violence films, which were also very successful, were made by various studios.

These movies were made in series, each series comprising from two to five loosely linked titles.

Which brings us to Nikkatsu’s Stray Cat Rock pinky violence series, and to the first movie in the series, Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss (released in 1970). And at this point I’m going to have to confront the rather confusing subject of Japanese exploitation movie titles. In 1970 Toei made the first film in a pinky violence series of its own, the Delinquent Girl Boss series (beginning with Delinquent Girl Boss: Blossoming Night Dreams). Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss has no connection with the Delinquent Girl Boss series. It’s a totally different movie belonging to a different series from a different studio. To add to the possible confusion Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss was also released under several alternative titles - Female Juvenile Delinquent Leader: Alleycat Rock, Wildcat Rock and Alleycat Rock: Female Boss.

The movie with which we are concerned today is Nikkatsu’s Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss and that’s the title we’ll stick with.

The pinky violence movies all had female protagonists. These movies launched the careers of some superb actresses. The most famous was Meiko Kaji. Miki Sugimoto and Reiko Ike should also be mentioned.

The female protagonists were invariably Bad Girls, but they were Good Bad Girls. They were Bad Girls in the sense of being outsiders and outcasts and often criminals but they were never evil (although they could be extremely vengeful). They always had a sense of honour. They were loyal to their friends and to fellow members of their gangs. They were loyal to their men, unless and until their men betrayed them. They were brave and resourceful. They could be ruthless and ultra-violent, but their violence was always (in their own minds and according to their own sense of honour) justified. They had no time for the forces of authority such as the police. If these girls had a problem they would solve it in their own ways.

They’re usually women who have rejected conventional society because it seems corrupt and seems to offer them nothing, or they have themselves been rejected by conventional society. These girls have tried to create their own little alternative societies, living by their own code of honour. It’s a brutal violent code of honour but they live by it and it offers them a self-respect that mainstream society denies to them.

Another thing that needs to be said is that these were not low-budget independent movies. These were big studio productions, made by film-makers with all the resources of a major studio behind them. They’re professionally made movies and production values are quite high.

The star of this movie is pop singer Akiko Wada. Meiko Kaji plays a supporting rôle but she had such obvious star potential that she became the lead in the remaining movies in the series.

Mei (Meiko Kaji) is a girl gang leader. There’s a major fight between her gang and a rival gang. The rival girl gang leader brings in men to help her. That’s contrary to the code of honour by which the girl gangs live. You don’t get men involved in a women’s fight. Mei gets some help from a girl biker named Ako (Akiko Wada). Ako isn’t a member of Mei’s gang, or at least she wasn’t a member, but she becomes a kind of unofficial member.

Mei has other problems. Her boyfriend Michio has become mixed up with the Seiyu Group. They’re kind of a mix between an organised crime gang and a right-wing political group. Mei thinks that Michio should have nothing to do with them. She mistrusts and fears the Seiyu Group. Michio isn’t bad but he’s weak and not too bright. Mei loves him anyway, because he’s her guy. Mei and Ako find themselves, rather reluctantly, having to take on the Seiyu Group. This comes about through Michio’s involvement in trying to fix a boxing match for the Seiyu Group.

Since Akiko Wada was the star it’s Ako who is the lead character although in some ways it’s a kind of female buddy movie with much of the focus being on the friendship between Ako and Mei. There’s also plenty of emphasis on loyalty, and the price of loyalty.

It can be tempting to see the pinky violence films as feminist films. You have to be careful about doing that. There are male characters who are evil, treacherous and vicious but there are female characters who are pretty damned nasty as well. There are good people and bad people in these movies and whether they’re male or female isn’t terribly important. In these movies the divide is between those who have honour and those who don’t.

It’s probably more useful to see them as anti-authoritarian movies, with a kind of nostalgia for a world in which honour mattered. Those who claim to stand for the establishment and tradition pretend to live by a code of honour, but they don’t. It’s the outcasts such as the girl gangs who truly live by a code of honour. Mei would cheerfully beat a rival girl gang leader to a pulp or even kill her, but she’d do it in a fair fight. She’d do it the way a samurai would do it. And like a true samurai, she would only do it if she felt it to be necessary, either for survival or for her honour.

There’s also a focus on youth culture, with lots of pop songs and with youth culture being portrayed as preferable to the greed and dishonour of groups such as the Seiyu Group.

This being a pinky violence film there’s torture and there’s some pretty graphic violence. This being a very early pinky violence film there’s very little nudity (in fact almost none). There’s no shortage of action. There’s a very cool very cleverly staged car/motorcycle chase.

Akiko Wada makes an interesting heroine. She’s a loner who finds friendship and a sense of belonging. It’s hinted that she may have some lesbian leanings but they’re really just vague hints.

Arrow’s Blu-Ray release offers all five Stray Cat Rock movies in very fine transfers.

Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss provides excellent entertainment with action and emotional involvement, and plenty of style. Highly recommended.

Thursday, 22 September 2022

Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971)

Aldo Lado’s Short Night of Glass Dolls seems to be widely regarded as a giallo. It has stylistic affinities with the giallo genre but it doesn’t quite fit, but it’s certainly rather giallo-esque.

The story takes place in Czechoslovakia (there was such a place in 1971). Gregory Moore (Jean Sorel) is an English journalist working there for a while, in a city (probably Prague). When the movie opens Gregory Moore is dead. But he doesn’t think he’s dead. He can still remember things. He remembers the whole strange story.

He had a very cute Czech girlfriend named Mira (Barbara Bach). She was hoping to go with him when he returns to London and Gregory thinks there’s a good chance he can pull some strings to allow her to do so.

Then Mira disappears. The police tell him to keep out of the case but of course he ignores them. With some help from his journalist friends Jacques (Mario Adorf) and Jessica (Ingrid Thulin) he starts looking for Mira.

This will cause some awkwardness, given that Jessica is Gregory’s former girlfriend and she’s still carrying a torch for him, in a big way.

Mira hasn’t been seen by any of her friends, she hasn’t been arrested, she hasn’t been taken to hospital, she hasn’t turned up at the morgue. Gregory clings to the hope that she’s still alive. The odd things is that if she left she must have been naked - all her clothing including her underwear has been left behind.

He figures that a good place to start his investigation would be by looking into the disappearance of other girls. There have been quite a few in the past few years. All seem to have left their clothing behind.

He gets an obscure clue from a crazy blind man but Gregory fails to spot its significance. He doesn’t recognise it as anything other than the rantings of a crazy man.

Gregory has a very vague suspicion that Mira’s disappearance may be connected to a very boring party they attended. The guests were all very important old people.

Butterflies and a tomato that feels pain (yes really) are also involved.

This is a mystery thriller but with added offbeat elements. We know early on that something very strange is going on, but we don’t quite know what it is. It takes Gregory a bit longer to realise that there’s something bizarre behind this mystery.

We can see why Gregory has so much trouble unravelling this puzzle. He knows he has some clues but they make zero sense and can’t possibly be related.

We expect that the final revelation will be fairly weird. And does it pay off satisfactorily? I think it does.

What’s nice is that even when we start to suspect that we understand very roughly the kind of territory we’re heading into there are still multiple ways that the ending could play out. The suspense is kept up right to the very last shot of the movie.

Jean Sorel is a French actor who made several giallos including the excellent The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968).

Barbara Bach of course went on to be a Bond Girl.

Writer-director Aldo Lado also made Night Train Murders (a movie I don’t care for) in 1975 but in 1972 he made the out-and-out giallo Who Saw Her Die? (a movie I like very much indeed). Short Night of Glass Dolls was his first time in the director’s chair and it’s a very assured and rather ambitious debut.

The 88 Films DVD (there’s a Blu-Ray edition as well) provides a very fine transfer. Both English and Italian language (with subtitles) options are included but the only extra is a trailer.

While I still don’t think this is a true giallo I think giallo fans will find a great deal here to enjoy. This is a leisurely-paced movie that relies on mystery and suspense rather than blood and gore but it does have some very macabre moments and the ending packs a punch.

If you enjoy the slightly more unconventional types of eurocult movies Short Night of Glass Dolls delivers the goods. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday, 20 September 2022

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)

The Satanic Rites of Dracula, released in 1973, more or less marked the end of the Hammer Dracula cycle. Whether The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, released in the following year, can truly be considered part of that cycle is debatable. But The Satanic Rites of Dracula did mark the final appearance of Christopher Lee in a Hammer Dracula movie.

Like other 70s Hammer vampire movies this one is a mixture of the old and new. Like The Vampire Lovers and Dracula A.D. 1972 it still adheres in many ways to the time-honoured (some would say time-worn) Hammer gothic horror formula. At around this time more daring film-makers were starting to abandon tired old clichés of vampire lore, such as the power of crucifixes and garlic to repel vampires and the idea that vampires can be destroyed by sunlight or running water. The vampire in Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos (1971) enjoys sunbathing. Hammer seemed determined to cling to every one of the hoary accumulation of vampire clichés.

On the other hand Hammer knew they had to update their gothic horror formula in some way. And they did add some interesting new twists. Vampire movies in contemporary settings were already being made but Dracula A.D. 1972 added a new wrinkle by bringing Dracula face to face with early 70s Swinging London youth culture. The Satanic Rites of Dracula adds conspiracy theory/political thriller elements.

Neither Dracula A.D. 1972 nor The Satanic Rites of Dracula can be considered to be total successes but they are pretty interesting and they’re much better movies than their dubious reputations would suggest.

The Satanic Rites of Dracula
opens with an MI5 investigation into a psychic research institution. MI5 thinks that all the occult stuff going on in the institute’s headquarters is a cover for an espionage ring. They soon discover that there is something stranger going on here. They’re going to need some help from somebody who understands all this occult guff. The man they choose is Professor Lorrimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing). Van Helsing of course immediately suspects vampirism (he always does), and that Count Dracula has been brought back to life (or to unlife) once again.

This is the same Lorrimer Van Helsing who confronted the Count in Dracula A.D. 1972. In both movies he is assisted by his beautiful daughter Jessica. In Dracula A.D. 1972 she was played by Stephanie Beacham. This time around she’s played by Joanna Lumley.

Van Helsing realises that this time Dracula is planing more than his usual programme of vampiric mayhem. Dracula has some kind of grandiose master plan. In fact in this movie Dracula takes on some of the characteristics of a Bond villain. Which is interesting since a year later Christopher Lee would play an actual Bond villain in The Man with the Golden Gun.

As you might expect the MI5 guys and Inspector Murray of Special Branch (Michael Coles) are hopelessly ill-equipped to battle vampires. And Van Helsing finds himself out of his depth as well, having to battle both vampires and a vast criminal organisation.

Dracula is of course hopelessly out of place in the 1970s. He’s a monster from the past, from an age of supernatural horrors. Van Helsing is straight out of the 17th century. The fact that both Dracula and Van Helsing don’t belong in the world of 1973 could have been a serious weakness but actually it makes the move rather interesting. One interesting touch is that there are hints that Dracula’s motivations are not just those that Van Helsing would have expected.

An odd touch in this film is that there are lots of killings early, and they’re all deaths by gunshot wounds rather than by vampiric attacks.

One of the themes of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was the clash between science and the supernatural. Dracula’s enemies fight him not just with traditional vampire-hunting methods but with technology. The Satanic Rites of Dracula reverses this in an interesting way. In this movie Dracula uses the methods of modern science and technology while Van Helsing relies on the weapons his ancestors had employed against the undead.

I’m a huge admirer of Peter Cushing as an actor but I’ve never really liked the various Van Helsings that he played. They’re grim humourless fanatics. They always make me sympathise with the vampires. Christopher Lee gets more dialogue than usual. Freddie Jones is typically over-the-top but very effective in a small role. Joanna Lumley, a couple of years away from her breakthrough rôle in The New Avengers, looks lovely and her acting is fine.

The Warner Archive Blu-Ray is barebones but looks great.

The Satanic Rites of Dracula is different enough from the traditional Hammer formula to be interesting and it works surprisingly well. Highly recommended.

Friday, 16 September 2022

Endgame (1983)

I’ve never really been into the post-apocalyptic thing but I’m always ready to give any exploitation genre a go. And Endgame, made in the 80s when such movies were a very big thing, sounded like fun. It’s directed and co-written by Joe D’Amato. Now I know what you’re thinking. With D’Amato involved this movie is going to be sleazy and tacky and total cinematic trash. In this case you’d be mostly right. It’s not sleazy (well OK it’s a bit sleazy) but it is very tacky and it is total cinematic trash. But I like total cinematic trash if it’s done right. And this one is definitely done right.

It’s set in 2025, with the world a post-apocalyptic nightmare after a nuclear war. The endgame of the title is the most popular form of entertainment in this shattered world. The idea is that one contestant is the prey and three other contestants are the hunters. If you win you can make big money. If you lose you die. Since the easiest way for the prey to win is by killing the hunters the game is just as dangerous whichever rôle you play. But there aren’t any other ways of gaining riches and fame in this world so there’s no shortage of players.

Ron Shannon (Al Cliver) is the current champion. He likes to play the prey. He has never lost.

This time he finds himself in big trouble. Maybe his luck has finally run out. But Lilith (Laura Gemser) offers to help him.

Lilith is a mutant. There are lots of mutants but Lilith belongs to a select group of mutants. They’re not physical mutants. Their mutation is that they have telepathic powers. Lilith offers Shannon a job. He’s to escort a group of these telepathic mutants out of the city to a place two hundred miles away. Getting out of the city safely is impossible. That’s why Shannon has been employed. If anyone can carry out an impossible task like this it’s Shannon. Shannon can’t do it alone so he puts together a team of seriously tough dudes to help him.

They run into lots of obstacles, including a group of murderous blind sword-wielding monks. They encounter enormous numbers of bad guys and consequently there are lots of action scenes. And they’re pretty well executed. And when you think it’s all over there’s still plenty of mayhem to come.

The original source for the endgame is of course Richard Connell’s 1924 short story The Most Dangerous Game. It’s a great story about a big game hunter who seeks the ultimate thrill by hunting human prey. The story has inspired countless movies. There are lots of other influences on this movie. John Carpenter’s Escape from New York is an obvious one. And any post-apocalyptic movie made in 1983 was going to be heavily influenced aesthetically by the first two Mad Max movies, especially Mad Max 2 (AKA The Road Warrior).

Nobody in this movie can act, but it’s a movie that doesn’t exactly require great acting. If the actors look right that’s enough. Laura Gemser is of course best known for her Black Emanuelle softcore movies, directed by Joe D’Amato. Gemser isn’t great but it’s a thankless part. Al Cliver as Shannon doesn’t quite have the macho screen presence his rôle requires.

For a low-budget movies it’s fairly impressive visually. Italian film-makers of this era knew how to make a small budget go a long way. There’s a nice atmosphere of ruin and decay and squalor. The makeup effects on the mutants are pretty good.

The telepaths not only read thoughts, they read emotions as well. This makes them very touchy-feely, much too much so for my tastes. They look like they got lost on the way to Woodstock. The telepaths are accompanied by a non-telepathic neurosurgeon. He thinks the telepaths will create a new world of peace, love, brotherhood and group hugs. Amusingly the telepaths will eventually discover that while peace, love and understanding are great it’s handy to have a .50 cal machine-gun to back those things up. That’s what I like about this movie. Just when it starts to get sentimental and starts wallowing in emotional group bonding you suddenly realise there’s a nasty little ironic undercurrent.

You’re never quite sure where D’Amato stands, whether he buys into the peace and love message or not. At times he seems to, but then he undercuts that message. Which makes the movie more interesting. There’s an intriguing mix of idealism and cynicism.

The violence doesn’t let up. It’s moderately graphic. Not quite buckets of blood stuff but action movie fans should be well satisfied. And there are a few grisly moments.

Severin have done a great job with the transfer. It’s quite stunning. There are no extras.

Endgame is a fun roller-coaster ride of an action movie. Highly recommended.