Saturday, 21 February 2009

Today You Die (2005)

Treach hangs his head in shame at Seagal's
mangled attempts at street slang

Although I've watched most of Seagal's Direct-to-Video efforts, Today You Die is one of the few entries that managed to slip through the cracks. It's the first team-up between director Don E. FauntLeRoy and Seagal, which would be followed by Mercenary for Justice the following year and Urban/Renegade Justice the next (I guess he's big on justice). It's another Seagal/rapper team-up, trying to recapture the questionable magic of Exit Wounds. First it was DMX, then Ja Rule and now Naughty By Nature's Treach. Wow, it's been a while since I heard anything about Naughty By Nature. I guess MC Hammer is next.

In this one Seagal plays Harlan Banks, a Robin Hood kind of thief who steals from "scumbag drug dealers" and gives to the poor. His latest robbery goes tits up when a gang of crooks interrupt him (not the owners of the house, some different guys) and Seagal is forced to kill/maim about half a dozen guys. His foxy young wife Jada (Mari Morrow) is understandably worried about his line of employment and wants him to go straight, so he takes a legitimate job in Vegas driving an armoured car. On the way to he drives past a childrens' hospital that has a "Going Out of Business" sign plastered over it like it's a shoe store or something. A sad nun wheels a little girl into the street, presumably to dump her into the gutter. You can't tell from his expression, but I think this makes Seagal sad.

He probably should have been suspicious about this "legit" job, since they didn't ask for references or do a background check or anything, plus his boss Max (Kevin Tighe) is obviously evil. During their first pickup Seagal's co-worker Bruno (Robert Miano) kills a couple of guards and forces him to drive off with 20 million in stolen cash. This leads up to an impressive-for-Direct-to-Video car chase with cop cars crashing, exploding and flipping through the air. Seagal wrecks the van and stumbles away, leaving the unconscious Bruno to get picked up by the cops. Eventually the cops pick up Seagal as well, but he manages to hide the money before he is captured. Seagal refuses to tell the cops where the money is and gets dumped in prison.

After he takes out a couple of 'roided up guys in the prison yard, he attracts the attention of top dog Ice Kool (Treach), and Seagal agrees to share the hidden loot with him if he's allowed to tag along on an extremely convenient helicopter-based jail break. After an uneventful escape they pick up some weapons from a blind guy named Dinky-D, who remarks that Seagal "walks like a black man, breathes like a killer"). Seagal and Treach then bond over a series of poorly motivated shootouts and fights with Max's men. There's a bit where they sit in their car make fun of a guy's walk and imply that he was a "prison bitch", seems pretty homophobic. Come on Seagal, what would Forrest Taft say? Most of their banter seems weird and stilted and sounds improvised. Between Treach's so-called "G-bonics" and Seagal's weird attempts at street slang (he sounded more like a Southern preacher most of the time; "Ice cool, y'all!") I was thankful for the English subtitles.

Pretty standard stuff so far, but the film differs from the rest of the pack in that it has a slight supernatural bent. In fact, the film starts with Jada visiting a Tarot card reader. She always has these dreams/psychic visions and whether they're sitting in bed together or yapping on the phone (both of which occur surprisingly frequently in the film), she's always rambling on and on about mausoleums and French writing and little girls and that Max is "not of this world". Seagal dismisses her visions, saying that dreams are purely symbolic and don't mean anything. He's wrong about them being symbolic (they are, in fact, absurdly literal) but he's right about them not meaning anything because they have no bearing on the plot whatsoever, except maybe the scene where Seagal finally confronts Max.

You see, when Seagal faces Max (who up until this point was assumed dead by the cops, and it's never explained why he's still alive) he's sitting at a piano surrounded by skeletons and candles all the other spooky stuff from Jada's dreams. He says "I was born with the devil inside me." and makes a weird speech about innocence and power and as he fondles a photo of some little girl (I think the one in the wheelchair from earlier). Admittedly there was a weird line earlier where a cop calls Max a "lowlife freak who dabbles in black magic", but this is a weird twist, especially since his black magic doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the film.

Another way in which this film is unique is that Seagal plays a pretty different character from normal. He's a thief (probably ex-CIA, but it's never mentioned) and while he does have the Robin Hood thing going on, he's not squeamish about killing/injuring anyone who gets in his way. There's a bit in a car where, after getting the information he needs, Seagal pretends he's going to let a guy go and then shoots him. Then he makes a quip to Treach about him having committed suicide and blows up the car. That's pretty cold.

There's also the issue of the stolen money, which Seagal has no problem taking (not that we find out where he hid it) even though it's clearly not the property of "scumbag drug dealers". He does give some of it to that children's hospital, but from the look of the "Grand Re-opening" I doubt he gave them the whole 20 million. By the way, the little girl in the photo is at the party for the hospital re-opening and Seagal shows up to give her necklace and a hug. The film ends with him sitting in his car and saying "I think she's going to be alright." Huh? Who the fuck is she? I doubt it's random kid, the way he talks to her gives me the impression that we are supposed to know who she is.

Considering the amount of plot holes, it's not surprising that there were all sorts of production problems on set. Apparently Seagal was difficult to work with, showing up late on set and leaving early. Stunt doubles are used liberally. A fight in a mansion is shot almost entirely with Seagal's head out of frame. It gets kind of surreal after a while, like they're fighting the headless horseman. Also, Millenium Films raided their back-catalogue for stock footage. That car chase I said was impressive? Taken from 1998's Top of the World with Peter Weller.

There's really not much else to say about this one. It's just another apathetic entry in a string of Direct-to-Video films that average somewhere below "competent" on a scale of quality. It's better than Submerged and Black Dawn but worse than Into the Sun, making it the second best Seagal film of 2005. So at least it takes home the silver medal.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Slave of the Cannibal God (1978)

Snakes. Why'd it have to be snakes?

Sergio Martino's Slave of the Cannibal God may seem like just another scummy Italian cannibal flick, probably because it is another scummy Italian cannibal flick, but it distinguishes itself from the competition by starring actors a normal person might have actually heard of, like Ursula Andress and Stacy Keach. Ursula Andress, of course, is best known for wearing a sexy bikini in Dr. No, and although she doesn't do that here, she does strip naked and get slathered in brown goo by cannibals. So it's almost as good. Stacy Keach is best known for his brief stint in jail on drug charges and while I'm not sure if starring in this flick was the reason for his downward spiral into drug abuse and crime, it was probably a contributing factor.

Susan Stevenson (Andress) has come to New Guinea (a helpful title card tells us how savage and primitive it is) with her asshole brother Arthur (Antonio Marsina) to find her missing husband Henry, a world famous explorer. A meeting with a magnificent moustache (and the man attached) at the British Consulate is pretty useless, they claim that Henry was on an unauthorised expedition and don't want to waste any more resources to find him. The next morning she heads to one of Henry's associates, an explorer named Edward Foster (Keach). He thinks Henry might just have headed to a remote island upon which sits the hidden, forbidden mountain of ultimate mystery, called Rei-Rei-Me or doh-ray-mi or Billy-Ray Cyrus or some such. Together they gather up a few expendable natives, along with Keach's suspiciously-acting houseboy, and head out on a suicidal mission to find a guy who by now has surely passed through the digestive tract of a cannibal.

Well, as Keach says "The journey is difficult enough for a man, for a woman it would be impossible", and although Andress claims she has the chops, you know she's going to spend a lot of the film screaming, running and tripping over vines. Sure enough, only a few minutes into the journey she gets all tangled up in a bunch of vines and is approached by a curious tarantula, no doubt attracted by the light gleaming off her massive forehead. Well, she lets loose a girly shriek and Keach comes racing in to cut it in half with a survival knife. The natives aren't happy about the death of the spider (it's a bad omen or something) so they sacrifice an iguana, gutting it and munching on the entrails. Keach insists that "It's part of their religion", but I guess religious tolerance isn't one of Arthur's strong suits because he rushes in and starts kicking them around, blaming them for blowing their cover to the helicopter flying overhead. Keach's houseboy punches Arthur, Arthur punches him back, Keach punches Arthur and a couple of natives run off. Not the best start to the expedition.

When they finally reach the island they stumble across a dead leper, I guess because nobody has died yet (except the iguana) and the audience is getting pretty restless. People don't have to wait much longer for violence, because over the next leg of their journey most of the team gets caught by booby traps, eaten by hungry crocodiles and decapitated by cannibals. Luckily they're just natives so nobody cares, but eventually someone that matters is put in mortal danger. Ursula gets separated from the group and a masked cannibal tries to chase her down and stab her in the face, although judging from her plastic surgery it wouldn't be the first time.

Luckily, some dude named Manolo (Claudio Cassinelli) appears out of nowhere and saves her, taking them to a secluded mission run by a guy named Father Moses. It's here that Keach spills the beans about his past. You see, "Pooka" may sounds like the name of a Pokemon or a childhood teddy bear, but it's actually the name of a vicious native tribe who live on the mountain and worship a cannibal god. Keach got captured by them and forced to eat human flesh but eventually escaped, along with one of the tribe who is now his houseboy. He hopes by journeying to the mountain and killing every one of those motherfuckers he can get that "closure" that Americans are so fond of.

Later on it's party time, and while Ursula is pretty grossed out when she sees some native women hocking lugies into a mortar and pestle, Manolo explains that their saliva mixes with seven secret herbs and spices to create a potent liquor. I think that's how they make Jagermeister. Once they're good and liquored up she makes a pass at him and convinces him to come with them to the mountain. Aren't you supposed to be here looking for your husband, lady? She also gets her top off at one point, probably should have mentioned that earlier. She looks pretty good for a 42 year old.

Meanwhile some native chick bursts into Arthur's tent, strips off and starts making out with him, and he didn't need to buy her one of those lugie-drinks or anything. Unfortunately that one cannibal from earlier busts in and she catches a spear that was meant for him. They chase down the cannibal and kill him, but it turns out to be Keach's houseboy. I guess you can take the boy out of the cannibal-infested jungle but... well, you know the rest. The next day Father Moses boots them out for corrupting his village with violence and fornication.

From the moment they reach the village you get this weird feeling that Manolo is supposed to be the hero even though he only appeared over half way in, with Keach being relegated to a second-string, Quint kind of character. Well, pretty soon the torch is officially passed when Keach loses his balance while climbing some slippery rocks. Arthur just sits there staring at him while he begs for help and Keach slides back down the rapids and cracks his skull. If you were rushing for an elevator, I bet Arthur is the kind of guy who would just pretend not to hear you and let the doors close. What an asshole. Manolo is pissed, but Ursula flutters her eyelashes at him and he lets Arthur live.

After they montage their way up the mountain (during which Manolo bites into a whole crab like it's an apple, shit at least take the shell off first) it turns out Ursula and Arthur are actually here for the precious uranium hidden in the mountain, the location of which they plan to auction off. Manolo refuses to help them, saying something about protecting the pristine jungle and the native's way of life (uh dude, they're murderous cannibals), but suddenly the Pooka show up to impale Arthur with a spear and capture them. This the part in the movie everybody is waiting for, the 15 minutes or torture and gore that is the payoff to the preceeding 75 minutes of bearded Italians and racial insensitivity. It's not as gory as a Cannibal Ferox or something, but it's pretty gruesome.

When they get to their secret cave, Henry's corpse (or what's left of it) is sitting propped up in a throne with a Geiger counter stuck in his chest. They worship him as their god, so much so that the chief wipes the goo from his decomposing body all over himself and Ursula. With these kind of unsanitary practices it's no wonder the Pooka have almost died out. The chief then turns Ursula over to couple of native women who give her a makeover. They wipe her all over with brown goo (looks like a fake tan) and put on a pretty cool outfit and headdress. She must be pretty hot shit by Pooka standards because a cannibal tries to rape her even though he gets his dinghus cut off as punishment.

Arthur's body gets cut open and all of his organs get pulled out and eaten. After that appetiser, they have a feast of all these raw lizards and snakes and a midget cannibal (between this and 2019: After the Fall of New York, I think Martino has a midget obsession) forces Manolo to eat a lizard. Later that night the same midget starts poking Manolo with a spear, but Manolo manages to trip him over and crack his head open on a rock. Manolo manages to free himself and Ursula (those cannibals are real deep sleepers) and together they escape. Ursuala's plans for a uranium mine are not addressed, but I'm assuming she changed her mind, or at least napalmed the cannibals first.

Aside from having some real actors in it, there's nothing here to separate this film from any old Italian cannibal flick. The gore effects aren't all that extensive or convincing and it doesn't have (or even pretend to have) the subtext of something like Cannibal Holocaust. There's also some of that good old animal cruelty that seems to go hand-in-hand with cannibal flicks like this. Some iguanas and other lizards get killed and there's an extended sequence of a monkey getting eaten by a big snake. It's gory and it goes on forever. It's doesn't even have anything to do with the film, it's just inserted at random. Yeah, I get it, the jungle is a cruel and savage place, you don't have to rub our noses in it like a dog that pissed on the rug. There's not a lot to recommend about this one except that Andress looks pretty good naked if you aren't too distracted by her enormous forehead.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Emanuelle in Prison (1983)

Oh come on, Laura, this film isn't that bad.

Oh Emanuelle, you mischievous minx, what saucy adventures are you getting up to this time? If you've never heard of Emanuelle before (shame on you), here is a brief run-down. In 1974, a French film named Emmanuelle was released, with Dutch beauty Sylvia Kristel as the titular character. The plot isn't worth mentioning but it did feature lots of sex, nudity and a woman inserting cigarettes into her vag, so naturally it became the most popular French film of all time. A bunch of sequels followed with other actors stepping into the role and various ripoffs began to crop up, with different spelling permutations used to distance themselves from the original. The name Emmanelle became synonymous with softcore titillation. If you see an Emanuelle film (or an Emanuelle film or an Emmannuelle film or an Emmmannnuellle film), you are guaranteed to see at least one boob, but usually two or more.

One such ripoff is the Black Emanuelle series, so named because of star Laura Gemser's slightly darker skin, but mostly to avoid copyright infringement. Complicating things are a bunch of unrelated films starring Gemser that changed her name to Emanuelle in the English dub to tie them to the series. Bruno Mattei's Emanuelle in Prison (aka Emanuelle Escapes From Hell aka Women's Prison Massacre aka Blade Violent) is one of those movies.

The movie starts, strangely enough, with Emanuelle and her two cellmates performing a bizarre performance art piece where they soliloquise about how much their lives suck. At first I thought they were going to burst into song like in Chicago, but when one of them starts babbling on and on about how much of a slut she is, I started thinking of that old screen-writing mantra "Show, Don't Tell". What does it take to get a naked shower-room knife fight around here? Luckily one of the prisoners in the audience manages to voice exactly what we were all thinking, and pretty soon our three would-be actors are being splattered with tomatoes and lettuce leaves. The head warden (Lorraine De Selle, from Cannibal Ferox) then takes Emanuelle to task for her inflammatory theater production, claiming it's full of gratuitous sex and violence (I think she must have got a copy of this film's script by mistake). My first thought was "Where did the prisoners get all the vegetables?" but my second thought was "I hope this film isn't going to be about a playwright's struggles against a corrupt system to bring her vision to the stage".

Luckily the whole incident with the play is just a setup for an old-fashioned prison cafeteria confrontation. Top dog Albina (Ursula Flores, and I'm sure you can guess why her character is called "Albina") goads Emanuelle into an arm wrestle by calling her a "haughty hot'n'tot" and threatening to bite another prisoner's nipples off. Emanuelle is winning until one of the screws breaks it up by hysterically shouting "Haven't you had enough violence?!" Not really, lady. The wardens aren't happy about Emanuelle's victory since she has been falsely imprisoned on drug charges by the corrupt DA and he has ordered them to be extra tough on her. Consequently, they set up a continuation to the Albina-vs-Emanuelle grudge match in the shower room, where Emanuelle kicks Albina's ass again and pulls off her bad blonde wig to boot. Despite the fact that Albina is about as adept at fighting as a three-legged guinea pig, the wardens figure third time must be the charm, and set up another fight in the exercise yard. This time they arm Albina with a knife, which Emanuelle subsequently acquires and stabs Albina in the thigh.

To be honest I've never really found girl-fights in films to be all that exciting. It's not like they pick the actors for their fighting skills, so they tend to be clumsy, awkward and entirely unconvincing. There's always the hope that the fight will end up with a wardrobe malfunction (sure enough Bruno manages to sneak in a panty shot here and there, he knows why we're here) but it's a long, hard slog in a film that has no shortage of tits anyway. Thankfully, the continued antagonism between Albina and Emanuelle is just the B-story, it's here that the actual plot kicks in.

Victor Brain, a half-Native-American murderer/rapist who is ironically pretty stupid. Blade Von Bauer, an overacting murderer who uses razor blades to cut up his victims. O'Hara, a violent criminal whose worst offense is his terrible Irish accent. Worst of all is Crazy Boy, a murderer/rapist/thief who murdered half a dozen cops during his last escape and figures to do the same again here. Until their sentencing is finalised, the authorities figure they should house these four worst-of-the-worst in the local women's prison. This may seem like a pretty sketchy idea at first, but from the looks of things the women's prison is severely underutilized, with maybe a half a dozen prisoners on-screen at any one time. They need to get some use out of those empty cells. Despite an attempted hijacking en route that leaves two officers dead, the remaining cop manages to get the four prisoners to their destination all by himself. Unfortunately, despite the fact that Blade Von Bauer has a reputation for hiding razor blades on his body, they didn't think to check in his mouth. Soon the head guard (Franca Stoppi from The Other Hell) has her throat cut, the head warden is held hostage and the cop is lying on the floor with a shoulder full of buckshot.

What follows is an orgy of violence, rape and debauchery that hasn't been seen since Bruno Mattei's last film. Crazy Boy, jonesing for some morphine, wanders in on the still-recovering Albina and starts rummaging around in a rickety glass cabinet full of medical supplies, which you'd really think they'd keep locked up. He makes some smooth remarks and soon they are having one of those softcore sex scenes where two naked people lie motionless on top of one another and pretend they are having sex. Albina must be totally into it because her stab wound doesn't bother her at all. Crazy Boy then knocks her unconscious with chloroform, something about not letting anyone else have her. I don't know, I really don't think these guys would let something trivial like consciousness get in their way of a good time.

Meanwhile, Blade Von Bauer gets molested by some horny inmates before he humiliates Emanuelle's two buddies Laura and Irene by forcing them to dance with Laura's blow-up doll, Bobby. Bauer then slashes him with a razor blade and I must admit I got a little teary as Bobby slowly deflated in Laura's arms. When she then stuffs a stolen razor blade into a cork and the cork into... well, you can probably guess where, it's only a matter of time before Blade Von Bauer receives the ironic punishment of a lifetime. While that is happening, Emanuelle and Albina are forced into a Deer Hunter style game of Russian Roulette that leaves Crazy Boy cursing out Albina for splattering him with gobs of her brain matter. He had his mouth open too, I bet he was tasting that for weeks!

Eventually they decide to make a break for it, taking Emanuelle and the injured cop as hostages. Crazy Boy pushes their crappy getaway car too hard and it breaks down, leaving the injured cop chasing down an injured Crazy Boy, and let me tell you, nothing is more exciting than a low-speed footchase between two near-death invalids. Nothing! A brief and unsatisfying fight that follows takes down Crazy Boy for good. The film abruptly ends with the cop chatting to a still-imprisoned Emanuelle, saying he had re-opened her case and set things up so that "even an idiot would find [her] innocent". It won't happen today though, since the credits roll with Emanuelle being led back into her cell. What a bummer!

This is a Bruno Mattei film, so there's probably no point in discussing the quality of the film, but special mention must be made of the worse-than-usual monotonous synthesizer score. All that aside, if this film has one fatal flaw (and it doesn't, it's got plenty more) it's the disappointing lack of nudity from Laura Gemser. If there is one guarantee with a Black Emanuelle film, it's that Laura Gemser will get her kit off at some point. I know this film isn't technically part of the series, but I think my point is still valid. Despite this oversight, it's got enough nudity and sex from the rest of the cast to make up for it, and more prison-violence that you can shake a shiv at. If you can't get enough of Emanuelle taking on the Women-In-Prison genre, you might want to check out Violence in a Women's Prison. Not only did Bruno Mattei shoot it back-to-back with Emanuelle In Prison, he reused the same cast, crew and most of the plot. Huzzah!

Monday, 9 February 2009

Bronx Warriors 2 (1983)

To recreate the experience of watching this film, drink heavily then
stare at this image for 90 minutes while making exploding noises.

Bronx Warriors may have been a near-perfect film, but one of it's few flaws was that it left so many unanswered questions. What happened to Trash now that his motorcycle gang is completely wiped out? How does he maintain his mane of curls in an Escape From New York style wasteland? What kind of parents would name their kid "Trash"? Thankfully, Enzo G. Castellari saw fit to give us another entry in the saga of Trash: Bronx Warriors 2 (aka Escape From the Bronx), a film that answers at least the last of the above questions.

Although he retains the head of hair that made him famous, Trash (Marc Gregory) has gone through a few changes since the first film. He's still got his bike with skull headlamp that he uses to traverse stairwells instead of the traditional walking, but no more sleeveless leather vests. He must have been too busy to work out in between films. He has also traded in his metal club for a tiny six-shooter, which may seem like a step down but in his first scene he uses it to take down a helicopter with a couple of shots. Sure it's a model helicopter, but still, pretty impressive.

The people hunting Trash are the private army of the E.C. Corporation, an evil company that wants to turf out the residents of the Bronx so they can build a gleaming new metropolis. Although they claim they are financially compensating the residents and giving them houses in New Mexico, what they are really doing is sending in a team of silver-jumpsuited "Disinfestors" to roast every resident they can find with a flamethrower. They are led by Floyd Wrangler (Henry Silva, picking up slumming-actor role from Vic Morrow) who hates the Bronx almost as much as he hates sugar in his coffee ("It makes me crazy!!"). Most of the surviving gang members are hiding out underground, led by the violently overacting Dablone (Antonio Sabato).

Among the Bronx natives willing to fight it out above ground are Trash's own parents, no doubt inspired by the enormous poster of their son (a publicity still from Bronx Warriors) that they keep on their living room wall. In hindsight it should have been obvious that Trash's father would be Ratchet from 2019: After the Fall of New York (or the actor who played him anyway), and needless to say he greets the neighbourhood Disinfestation team with a baseball bat to the face. Unfortunately Pa Trash quickly learns that you should never take a baseball bat to a flamethrower fight, and pretty soon Trash's folks are stinking out the building with their barbecued corpses. Although grief is clearly outside his acting range, you can tell Trash is upset because he shoots some scavengers a bunch of times with an angry scowl on his face. Go get 'em, Trash!

Meanwhile, a former-Bronxian reporter thinks the Corporation's cover story is a little suspicious (the fact that they have Disinfestation Annihilation Team written on the side of their trucks was probably her first clue) and during a press conference she launches into an angry rant that she concludes with a succinct "The E.C. Corporation sucks!" before getting tossed on her ass. Subsequently, she sneaks into the Bronx in order to gather photographic evidence of their dastardly deeds. Although her cameraman gets roasted like a Christmas turkey, she joins Trash's crusade against the evil Corporation.

Together they come up with the idea of kidnapping the President of the E.C. Corporation and forcing the Disinfestors to evacuate their gang-run hellhole. As Dablone says, "Nobody will sit on a john full of dynamite." Who knows what that is supposed to mean, but Trash's plan requires enlisting the help of a mercenary named Strike (Giancarlo Prete, last seen getting fucked up the ass by George Eastman in The New Barbarians) and his explosives obsessed son. In his first line this kid called Trash a "fag", so I immediately liked him. Strike is reluctant to take part in Trash's stupid plan, so Trash convinces him by telling him something or other about sitting around and "scratching his balls". "I like scratching my balls", replies Strike. We all do, buddy. We all do.

Together their team treks through the sewers and into Manhattan, where they capture the President during the public opening of the new demolition project. The reporter uses her gift for shrill, hysterical rants to distract the cops while Trash nabs the President, and together they escape into the sewers. One police officer says what we were all thinking about Mark Gregory's bizarre effeminate walk when he remarks "What a fag! Look at him run!", although it's possible that he was referring to Trash's hasty retreat. What follows is almost half an hour of sewer chases and dudes in silver jumpsuits jumping away from explosions in slow motion.

After some convincing from Wrangler, the Vice President (Paolo Malco, everything) decides to bomb the entire Bronx, President and all, so he can take over the company. This leads to an insane firefight where the remains of the gangs are smoked out of their hidey-hole and pretty much everyone gets a bullet sandwich. I didn't count how many Disinfestors and gang members were shot or exploded, but a conservative estimate would place it at around five billion. More magic bullets are fired that explode vehicles in a single shot.

Bronx Warriors 2 seems to be a much different film that the first. The tone is a lot more bleak and serious. The characters just aren't as interesting, and I'm not sure who could fill the hole left by Fred "The Hammer" Williamson and Vic Morrow, but a bored Henry Silva isn't it. The awesome tap-dancing gang make a brief cameo but unfortunately you don't see them fighting the Disinfestors using the power of dance. It's more action packed than the first film, but it's not as interesting and varied... the guys in silver jumpsuits doing flips in slow motion starts to get a bit repetitive the 100th time around. There aren't as many deliciously quotable lines from Trash this time (I call it "Trash Talk") since he seems content to let his tiny pea-shooter do the talking. I'd consider this an slightly inferior follow-up to Bronx Warriors, but essential viewing for fans of Trash (pretty much everyone).

Friday, 6 February 2009

Cat O' Nine Tails (1971)

Interior decorating by
Throwing-Gold-Shit-At-The-Walls Pty Ltd.

Much like the last Fulci film I reviewed, Don't Torture a Duckling, Cat O'Nine Tails is a more subtle film from early in Argento's career (his second film, in fact). There is less attention paid to shot composition, colour and gory death scenes, but it trades that for a more coherent and well-developed plot. Argento claims this film as his least favourite, and while it's certainly not his best it's got some of the well-crafted set-pieces and creative cinematography that would be expanded on later in his career.

The film revolves around the Terzi Research Institute, a genetics laboratory where they are investigating the controversial (and long since debunked) theory that those with an XYY chromosome configuration are more likely to commit violent crime. Early in the film somebody breaks in and steals some files, but we don't see who they are or what the files contain. Soon, those with a connection to the laboratory start turning up dead. One man is pushed in front of a moving train (a pretty spectacular sequence) and a photographic technician is strangled (and his face slashed) when he discovers that a newspaper photo may hold a clue as to the identity of the killer.

Franco Arno (Karl Malden), meanwhile, is a blind and retired newspaper reporter with a penchant for puzzles. While taking a night-time stroll with his niece, her overhears some talk of blackmail in a parked car. Once he discovers that one of them has been killed, he teams up with another journalist, James Franciscus (Carlo Giordani, who looks like a young Charlton Heston), and together they try to uncover the identity of the killer. This involves looking into a whole bunch of leads (nine in fact, hence the title of the film). So with the police bumbling along (they surmise that the cuts were made with a "razor or a knife or something sharp", thanks guys), our two heroes uncover all sort of juicy tidbits: Incestuous lovers, gay love triangles, the typical giallo stuff.

One of the chief suspects is Professor Terzi's daughter, Anna Terzi (Catherine Spaak). She spends much of the film slinking around in an enormous perm and the most ridiculous, slit-happy dresses the early 70s had to offer. In fact, at one point she demonstrates that the only thing holding her dress together is a delicate strip of velcro at the shoulders. This leads to a love scene is tastefully obscured by two tetrahedrons of milk. Tetrahedrons of milk, you say? Why yes, I'm not sure what's wrong with the traditional rectangular carton, but it does give rise to a suspense sequence involving a glass of poisoned milk, complete with milk-cam.

Other suspects include Dr. Braun, who is homosexual. This leads to a freak-show scene where James has to go to a gay bar and elbow his way through a bunch of trannies and girly-men gazing at themselves in the mirror. Dr. Braun has a much younger lover named Manuel, and later in the film Manuel's ex-lover (also much older) shows up to tell James where Braun is hiding out. He says if Manuel doesn't come back to him he's going to kill himself. Wow, what a drama queen. Surprisingly, Dr. Braun isn't treated as too much of a stereotype and his sexual preference isn't assumed to make him an insane pervert.

There are some pretty good bits in this film. A grave robbing sequence is a particular highlight (Franco keeps a blade in his cane like Zatoichi, who knew?) There's also a decent car chase and some pretty good Argento trademark killer POV sequences. There's a pretty nice, jazzy Ennio Morricone score, too. If this film has one big flaw it's that the central mystery doesn't hold together as much as I would like. When the killer is revealed it isn't a huge surprise. Really, it could have been any one of the surviving suspects. However, it does lead to a thrilling rooftop chase and there's a pretty good bit where killer plummets to their death down an elevator shaft, hands smoking as they try to get a grip on the cables. Ouch!

Bad dubbing and weirdly stilted dialog combine to create some pretty hilarious moments. Franco's niece says she calls him "Cookie" because "cookies are sweet and besides, I like them with chocolate milk." A-whuh? We also see one of James' associates at the tail-end of an insult competition, where he wins with 132 non-stop insults, including "slime", "snotnose", "bed-wetter" and the big finisher, "ball-brain". They should really judge on quality, not quantity, but I guess he could have used up all the really good ones at the start.

Argento may consider this film a failure but I thought it was a pretty good giallo. Certainly not up to scratch with his later films or even his first film, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, but it's still head and shoulders above many giallos from around that time. A good film to enjoy with a tetrahedron of milk, preferably chocolate and served with sweet, sweet cookies.