Monday, 24 August 2009

Fast and Furious (2009)

This image is a perfect distillation
of The Fast and the Furious franchise.

After the first The Fast and the Furious movie was released Vin Diesel seemed destined for action superstardom: He had a deep voice, big muscles and his ambiguous ethnicity alienated as few people as possible. He left the franchise to pursue his own career, but unfortunately it seemed that the viewing public had lost it's taste for muscled action heroes. After a couple of poorly received action vehicles he made a last-ditch attempt at Schwarzeneggerian self-aggrandizing family-friendly comedy. The rapid rise and fall of Vin Diesel's career casts a dark cloud over his return the definite-article-deficient Fast and Furious. He's not the only one either: Michelle Rodriguez as Letty, Jordana Brewster as Mia and Paul Walker as Brian O'Connor, they all return from the first film too. It should have been called The Fast and the Furious: Our Careers Didn't Pan Out The Way We Hoped, Please Give Us a Paycheck.

As The 4st and the 4rious begins, Dom, Letty and Han are in the middle of another ridiculous high-speed robbery in the Dominican Republic, stealing the fuel from a tanker truck while it is still in motion. In the world of The Fast and the Furious, transit vehicles must be fitted with Speed-like motion-sensitive bombs because their whole plan would have fallen apart if the driver had the good sense to just stop the truck. Instead he grabs his pet iguana and leaps from the moving truck, causing it to flip over and explode spectacularly. After their harrowing escape, Dom decides to retire from his career as an international car-based criminal. Han fucks up continuity by leaving this movie to appear in the previous sequel while Letty decides to start her own criminal career where she is killed off-screen, so Dom's gotta get revenge etc.

Meanwhile, O'Connor is busy trying to find a drug kingpin named Braga. The Feds saw his history of contempt for authority and reckless property damage and recognised his potential, so now he works for the FBI. It turns out that Braga is the guy who Letty was working for when she was killed, so both Dom and O'Connor go undercover as drivers/smugglers. Again. I don't know how much longer these two can keep going undercover as getaway drivers before criminals start catching on. Diesel isn't the most inconspicuous guy around. Naturally Braga has set up a series of increasingly ridiculous driving tests for them to go through, culminating in a high speed chase through a mine shaft. So, much like O'Connor combines the parts of three impounded sports cars to create his own super-car, this film combines the cast of the first film with the retarded plot of the second film and the director of the third film. Maybe some other stuff too, I didn't see the third one.

They also find time to fit in some manly emoting between the car chases. O'Connor tries to repair his damaged relationship with the estranged Mia, while Dom gets to do a lot of brooding while he stands in front of sunsets looking all serious and shit. I especially liked the shot of all the candy-coloured import cars lined up in front of Letty's funeral while Dom looks on sadly from a distance. I would have liked it better if they'd cranked up their pimped-out stereos or flashed their neon lights in union as a tribute, but it's still pretty funny. A huge drill pumps away in the background behind Dom, reminding us that, yes, he fucked Michelle Rodriguez. Not a funeral appropriate metaphor if you ask me, but true to the spirit of the movie.

An important fact about the Fast and the Furiverse is that hot babes are uncontrollably attracted to the bright colours and flashing lights exhibited by souped-up import cars, even if you're a douchebag with a blonde mullet. Every time you bring your pimped-out Honda Civic to a stop a bunch of sexy babes in booty shorts will gather around it and start shaking their butts around, which makes the morning commute a real bitch. Even GPS navigation systems display animated girls shaking their asses. They are so hot for cars that people regularly employ clumsy car metaphors in their pick-up routines, like "I'm the kind of man that appreciates a good body regardless of the make". Our heroes don't really take advantage of this fact, since Dom is too busy mourning his lost love and O'Connor is too busy boning Mia in the kitchen, but you can be assured that every racing scene is decorated with babes in shiny hot pants.

Another important fact about the Fast and the Furiverse is that people with awesome cars project an aura of cool that no amount of logic or rationality can penetrate. This epitomised in Vin Diesel's character. Paul Walker claims he let him go at the end of the first film because he respected Dom's personal code of honour (he hasn't figured his code out yet, apparently it doesn't involve catching career criminals) but we all know it's because he drove an awesome car and had a cool growly voice and was bald. In this film Dom even has amazing CSI powers where he can stand in the middle of a crash site and watch as the crash is reconstructed around him using CGI. Pretty cool.

Naturally O'Connor cannot compete with Dom in this respect, but he drives a cool car so the law of cool still applies to him. For instance, when he plants a big bag of crystal meth in a guy's apartment to get him out of the way, his colleagues react with a conspiratorial chuckle. The best bit is when he beats the shit out of a fellow agent for chewing him out. His boss takes O'Connor's side and bitches the other guy out for "bleeding on my floor", followed by a comedy shot of his glowering bandaged face at a meeting. Haha, that's what you get for mouthing off to Special Agent Paul Walker, asshole. I bet you drive a hybrid. Naturally there are many scenes of Agent Asshole watching an enormous monitor in bug-eyed frustration, such as when O'Connor is forced to ditch his secret high-tech undercover FBI tracking device because it emits loud beeps and is fitted with a blinking light.

Although O'Connor flips the bird to authority wherever possible, he's still a tool of The Man. Dom lives a far more respectable life of robbery, property damage and vehiclular manslaughter (plus he has large pecs and a faster car) so he's the star and the movie lets you know it. When Dom and O'Connor get into a fight Dom starts tossing him around the room like a hairless sasquatch and the camera is extremely careful not bring attention to the fact that he is several inches shorter. In the end Dom says he is tired of running and turns himself in, but when the judge gives him life in prison O'Connor and Mia decide to bust him out with a high-speed hijacking of his prison bus. Facing your past is one thing but dealing with the consequences is for chumps who drive Hyundais. I enjoyed this stupid movie and I appreciated it's central message that you need not heed the laws of man or God or physics so long as you have an awesome car.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Seed (2007)

Guess who in this photo is about to die.
The answer may surprise you.

It's kind of surprising that it took so long for Boll to jump on the "torture porn" bandwagon. The genre seems to be at the end of it's life cycle which is probably a relief to a lot of people, although I'm probably easier on these films than most. I really liked Wolf Creek and Martyrs and I thought the first Saw film was okay. I don't think Eli Roth is worse than Hitler; I actually thought that Hostel and Hostel II were okay (not great, but okay). When Seed was released it spent a long time languishing in the depths of imdb's bottom 100, and I guarantee you that most of the people who had rated it hadn't actually seen the film. I tried to keep an open mind and review the film on it's own merits.

Boll tries to push your buttons straight away, opening with the killer watching some PETA stock footage of real dogs getting skinned and beaten on TV. PETA may have pulled some pretty stupid stunts over the years but getting in bed with Uwe Boll? That's a new low. Preceding this footage is a disclaimer insisting that it is being used to make a statement about humanity. I guess the statement is that humanity totally blows. Or something. That kind of thing wasn't all that effective a device in Italian cannibal films and it isn't here either. Besides, if he really wanted to be shocking he would have had the killer beating off while he watched it.

The disturbed individual is Max Seed, a serial killer who in 6 years has managed to off 666 people in the small town of Sufferton (this film is not exactly subtle). That's a little over two a week, pretty impressive batting average. During his rampage he sent the police video tapes of his animal and eventually human victims starving and decaying in time lapse photography, including a baby. Detective Matt Bishop manages to track the killer down and capture him at his booby-trapped farmhouse, although several policemen are killed in the process. Seed is send to the electric chair, but Ol' Sparky has seen better days and isn't up to task: After three jolts Seed is still kicking. This is unfortunate, since due to state law after three unsuccessful execution attempts he must be set free (the movie claims this is true but it's an urban legend), but the Warden decides to bury him alive anyway. Naturally Seed manages to dig his way out of the grave and kill everybody involved in his execution. After that he swims back to mainland, determined to continue his rampage and seek revenge on the man who put him away.

This whole story is told non-linearly, Pulp Fiction style. The movie starts with Seed's failed execution and then mixes together scenes of his pre and post execution rampages. It doesn't really add any revelations about the killer or the detective, all it does is muddle things. Throw in a few dream sequences (including one where Seed kills a baby) and flashbacks with flashbacks, and you've got a recipe for confusion. I'm still not sure where a couple of scenes fit in the timeline.

The cast is made up of all of Boll's usual suspects. Rolf Moeller appears as Warden Calgrove and it's kind of weird that he's played by an enormous German, but I guess it's no worse than Schwarzenegger playing a small town Sheriff in Raw Deal so I'll let it slide. The hero, Detective Matt Bishop, is played by Michael Paré and seed's executioner is played by Michael Eklund. These guys were okay surrounded by the campiness of Boll's other films, but here they are asked to carry the burden of an atrocious script that takes itself entirely too seriously.

Seed himself is played by Will Sanderson, and most of the time he's just a big slab of beef standing around in silence with a creepy sack on his head (gotta love the sack mask, always a classic look). Apparently his face was burned in a childhood accident but you never see him without the mask, they even let him wear it in jail which is pretty thoughtful. The only time it's removed is immediately before his execution and in a rare and commendable bit of restraint from Boll you only see the reaction shot from the crowd watching. When he's in action he's one of those ridiculous horror-movie juggernauts. There's a good bit when a few cops try to beat him up in his cell but he breaks a guard's arm, gouges out an eye and finishes with a cool effect where he kicks a guard's head through the bars of his cell. Then he just sits down calmly and waits for backup to arrive.

There's a lot of other decent kills, Seed impales a guy with a pipe, bites another guy's face off and puts his would-be executioner in the electric chair (irony). The most impressive kill of the film is a scene where Seed ties a woman to a chair and beats her head around with a hammer. They really drag it out too, he starts with a few light taps and gradually ramps things up until he's pounding her skull into mush and painting the walls with blood. The scene is done in one continuous take except for a few camera jolts used to mask some dodgy CGI. It's really brutal, but the impact is a little lessened by the fact that I didn't know who the fuck she was. The audience should have some sort of attachment to the victim, Uwe. Maybe you should take note of that for next time, write it down on the back of your hand or something. Pass it onto the Saw guys too.

Eventually Seed decides to get at the Detective through his wife and daughter. I don't know if it's intentional but the daughter is kind of creepy. There's a bit where they are sitting in front of the TV and her mother brings her an enormous tub of popcorn, as if they are about to watch a movie. She immediately announces that she is going to bed and takes the popcorn with her. Who the hell does that? Anyway, Detective Bishop comes home to find his bathtub crammed with body parts and his wife and daughter missing. He immediately leaps into his car and drives to Seed's isolated farmhouse for the final showdown. I kind of expected him to scream or cry or something, but he just glowers and mutters "son of a bitch" as if he realised he'd forgotten his wallet. It goes without saying that the film has a serious bummer of an ending. Kind of goes with the territory I guess.

The film is set sometime in the 70s and although it never really feels authentic (this ain't Zodiac) there are some other surprising attentions to detail. There's a couple of scenes where characters pore over their scrapbook of newspaper articles. I paused, expecting to see some amusing gibberish, perhaps "insert article here" cut-and-pasted a couple hundred times, but somebody had gone to the trouble of writing out entire articles. Nice job. Boll's improved in other areas too. Apart from a bobbly handheld camera, the cinematography, coming courtesy of Boll longtime DP Matthias Neumann, is actually pretty decent and he makes some effective use of natural lighting. Maybe it's the fact that I've seen a lot of crappy horror films but I thought this was tolerable. I tolerated the fuck out of it. If you're in the mood for a shocking and pointless exercise in nihilism, you could do a lot worse.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Dagon (2001)

That hat? Yeah, it's just a little OTT.

Like many nerds, I really like H.P. Lovecraft. Sure the dude couldn't plot a story to save his life and had no idea how human beings speak or behave and he was kind of a racist and an anti-Semite and I think he was afraid of vaginas, but damned if he didn't know how to use lots of big, scary-sounding words. It's probably because of these qualities that his stories have had such a rocky time making the transition to the big screen. Stuart Gordon has made some of the more enjoyable (if not exactly faithful) attempts by injecting some levity into the source material. Of course there's 1985's The Re-Animator, the gory horror-comedy that earned him a cult following, and the following year's From Beyond that isn't as well known but still pretty good. Fifteen years later came Dagon, based on two of Lovecraft's short stories (Dagon and The Shadow Over Innsmouth, mostly the latter).

Paul (Ezra Godden) and Bárbara (Raquel Meroño) are a couple of fresh dot-com millionaires who have decided to buy a yacht and sail around the Mediterranean coast, along with their friends Howard (Brendan Price) and Vicki (Birgit Bofarull). Naturally Paul is a glasses-wearing nerd who can't stop checking his stock prices online, so his wife casually tosses his laptop into the water. This seems to happen a lot in movies but nobody ever gets too mad. I guess he's got a rigorous backup procedure. Off the coast of a remote Spanish fishing village they are hit by a sudden storm and their boat is blown onto some jagged rocks. Vicki is trapped below deck and as the boat slowly sinks Paul and Bárbara are forced to head into the run-down village of Imboca to look for help.

The inhabitants are some pretty weird and suspicious folks. Their skin is all pale and clammy, they hate foreigners and their hotels probably cop a beating on those online rating sites. It's a lot like Scotland (especially the weather) and like the Scots the people of Imboca have gills, webbed fingers and are murderously insane. A creepy priest agrees to help them out and the next thing you know Bárbara has been kidnapped, Howard and Vicki are missing and Paul is being chased all over town by a bunch of angry freaks. Eventually Paul runs into a crazy drunk named Ezequiel (Francisco Rabal), the only other non-mutant in town, who spills the beans about the history of Imboca.

During a particularly lean fishing season, a strange man came to town and suggested that they all start worshiping this fish-god called Dagon. Seems like a pretty crazy thing to do but it gets results and soon they raking in the fish. Jesus may have been down with the fishermen and done that thing with the loaves and the fishes, but did he make gold statues wash up on shore? Well Dagon did. At one point a guy mentions that they have the equivalent of 10 billion dollars in gold which by my calculations is about 1.1 tonnes, quite a bit in my opinion. The villagers are like "Jesus who?", so they strip all of the Christian junk out of the church and turn it into a shrine to Dagon, complete with crazy religious headgear and some sweet ceremonial daggers.

Unfortunately, with religion there's always a downside. With Catholicism you have to feel guilty all the time and send the Pope money so he can buy more gold leaf toilet paper. With Judaism lots of people will hate you for no reason. With Islam you have to live next door to a bunch of Jews. With Dagonism, however, you slowly morph into a gross fishperson. Maybe you get webbed fingers or gills or if you're really unlucky your legs turn into tentacles and you have to crawl around on a little cart and make clicking noises like Flipper. They also like to skin outsiders alive and then wear their skins like cloaks to hide their mutations. Don't hide your tentacles, be proud of your fishiness. WWDD? It's crazy Dagon fundamentalists like this that give Elder God worshipers a bad name.

Paul's visit to the village might be more than just bad luck, however. For a while now Paul's been dreaming about a sexy mermaid and it turns out that the high priestess of the village looks exactly like girl from his dreams. She's hot for his bod, ranting about true love and destiny, but unfortunately she's got tentacles for legs and as we learned from The Little Mermaid, these kind of above/below water relationships are nothing but trouble. Naturally she wants to use Bárbara as a sacrifice to Dagon (not a virgin sacrifice according to the opening scene) and impregnate her with his demon-spawn. They strip her naked and lower her into a pit while the crowd chants "Iai! Iai! Cthulhu fhtagn!" You'd think Dagon would be pretty pissed that they are worshiping another elder god during his ceremony, but Cthulhu's got all those tentacles on his face so I guess Dagon would be on friendly terms with him. Paul tries to rescue Bárbara and there's a couple of twists but it's based on a Lovecraft story so I wouldn't expect a happy ending.

It was filmed on-location in Spain with a mostly Spanish cast and crew so the film looks quite convincing, not like they are running around on a back lot in California with a bunch of Mexicans playing Spaniards. There's some pretty cool practical effects in this film, but unfortunately it's marred here and there by terrible CGI. If you want to show us a nameless horror from beyond but you can't afford big-budget special effects, just don't bother. Show us a tiny glimpse or just keep it off screen and let us use our imaginations for a change. The acting isn't great and Ezra Godden isn't particularly convincing as a nerd or when he starts kicking ass. He's just there, not very funny and not very badass. Most everyone else is passable and the girl who plays the priestess is so hot that you'd be willing to overlook the tentacles.

Much like Gordon's other Lovecraft adaptations, this is a slightly above average B-movie horror flick with only some themes, plot points and in-jokes (eg Paul wears a Miskatonic University t-shirt) to tie it to the source material. It isn't faithful to the tone and atmosphere of Lovecraft's books, which is the most interesting thing about them. That's never been Stuart Gordon's style though and to be fair his films, including this one, work pretty well for what they are. Cheesy horror fun. Cthulhu Fhtagn!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

The Last Mercenary (aka Rolf) (1983)

Don't let go Rolf! You could fall three feet to your death!

In Mario Siciliano's The Last Mercenary, Antonio Marsina (Slave of the Cannibal God) plays Rolf, a man who has given up his evil life as a mercenary and found underpaid employment as a pilot in Tunisia. At least I assume it's Tunisia, judging from the flag on the wall and the vaguely Middle Eastern sounding music they were able to coax out of their Casio keyboard. He's so distant that his hot bartender girlfriend Joanne is at the end of her tether and the local cops hate him so much that when they mistakenly arrest him for a murder they take his fingerprints by dipping his fingers into poop. So it's not a great life, but at least he gets a groovy Fabio Frizzi theme song for whenever he's brooding, which is most of the time.

We all know it's not going to take long for his former war buddies to try and bring him back into the fold, and sure enough a guy appears on his doorstep to offer him One Last Mission (tm). Naturally Rolf refuses and as a sign of his commitment to his new life he takes his neglected girlfriend out on an intimate date the next day. On their date they inspect the wares of Tunisian street vendors and have a cup of tea at a street cafe, where Joanne reminisces about pulling the mangled torso of her father from the fatal car crash that left her an orphan. Rolf counters with a story about his hooker junkie mother being given a fatal drug overdose by her pimp. You know, typical date talk.

Immediately after their romantic date Rolf is cornered by his former mercenary buddies. Rolf may have a catchy theme song but Fabio Frizzi is no Isaac Hayes and Rolf is definitely no Shaft. Rolf is the anti-Shaft. Whereas Shaft's theme song assures us that Shaft "won't cop out when there's danger all about", Rolf's theme song whines that he's "taking a road that leads to paaain." Shaft is a bad mother who always succeeds no matter the odds while Rolf's confrontation leaves him a bloody mess, lying in a ditch covered in leeches until his girlfriend rescues him the next morning. Rolf kind of sucks, actually.

The next day Rolf interrogates his pilot friend Mark, who admits that he is assisting the bad guys with their smuggling operation and agrees to help Rolf steal their package and their charter plane. Rolf's childhood experience has left him with such an intense hatred for drugs that when he discovers that they are smuggling a crate of China White he pisses all over it and tosses it out of the plane. It's pretty hilarious, but it's also pretty shortsighted on Rolf's part. It doesn't even occur to him to tell his girlfriend "Uh, you might want to leave town for a couple of days", so as soon as pulls his little stunt the bad guys immediately ambush her at home, run a train on her (with a succession of ugly mugs leering into camera, thanks Mario) and then kill her. Mark doesn't fair much better, he gets a pan of hot oil thrown in his face and then roasted over a hot plate. Geez Rolf, I know you like brooding, but try thinking of someone else for a change.

With nothing left to live for except a burning desire for revenge, Rolf decides to retrieve his hidden stash of guns and go on a Rambo style rampage in the forest. It's here that Rolf finally comes into his element, but that's mainly because the bad guys are so busy infighting and raiding each others' corpses for valuables. Rolf sets up a few sweet jungle traps but he gets shot in the hands and his arch nemesis escapes. Rolf snarls "You filthy bastard" and then stretches out his bleeding hands and asks for God's help, making for one of the weirdest and sleaziest Christ metaphors I've ever seen. You can't really blame Rolf for feeling self-righteous about killing these guys though, because they are pretty damned evil. Did I mention that during a flashback sequence they toss babies into the air and use them for target practice? Six of them? In front of their mothers? As blood splashes on the floor in slow-motion? To the sounds of a Fabio Frizzi disco score? I can say without hesitation that I'm against all of those things, especially the musical score.

Eventually Rolf gets his revenge on the main villain with a low speed truck chase followed by a fist fight that ends with the bad guy being repeatedly slammed in a car door and meekly slumping into unconsciousness. What the shit, Rolf? This guy ran a train on your girlfriend. He tortured your friend to death. This is your ultimate act of revenge? Punching him in the back until he collapses? I'm sorry but after gang rape, torture and infanticide it just seems a little anti-climactic. To be fair we don't see what he does with the guy's body and in the next scene Rolf is taking a shower in a waterfall, so I'm willing to assume that the subsequent orgy of violence left him soaked in blood and was too depraved to depict on film.

I must say I was quite surprised by this film. From the title I was expecting your typical cheap Italian actioner, but the experience of watching Rolf is not unlike having your hand dipped in poop. It starts conventionally enough, lots of exploding huts and machine guns firing wildly, but pretty soon it takes a hard left into sleazy exploitation territory. For lovers of sleaze though, this film hits all the bases: drug abuse, torture, rape, feces, urination, racism, misogyny. Something for everyone. This is a mean, nasty, ugly exploitation film, miserable and hateful in tone with few redeeming qualities. Highly recommended.

Patrick Vive Ancora (Patrick Still Lives) (1980)

I had to work long and hard to find a
screenshot without boobs

Back in the 70s and 80s, the Italians made a profitable little business out of shamelessly imitating Hollywood blockbusters. Jaws, the original blockbuster, spawned a rip-off from pretty much every Italian B-movie director you can think of: Joe D'Amato made Deep Blood, Enzo G. Castellari's made The Last Shark, Mattei cobbled together Cruel Jaws, Lamberto Bava made Monster Shark and Tonino Ricci made Night of the Sharks. Many other Hollywood films received this treatment. Obviously they couldn't compete with big-budget special effects, so they compensated with heaping helpings of blood, profanity and boobs. Things brings us to Patrick Vive Ancora, unofficial sequel/remake of Australian suspense thriller Patrick. It was directed by Mario Landi, who also directed the incredibly sleazy Giallo a Venezia, and in this film he does away with all that boring stuff from the first film: tension, suspense, plot, character development and anything else that could act as a speed bump between the sex and violence.

In a sudden and somewhat hilarious roadside prank/accident, Patrick cops a glass bottle to the face, which puts him into a coma and gives him telekinetic powers (naturally). His father, Professor Herschell, stashes him at a luxury villa and uses another trio of comatose patients and some giallo-esque coloured lighting to amplify his psychic powers. Then he invites five rich assholes, each with their own skeletons in the closet, to stay at the isolated Italian villa for a bit of therapy/R&R. These fucking idiots all show up without even considering why a total stranger has invited them to stay at his house. Turns out they are the final suspects for Patrick's accident and the doctor intends to use Patrick's powers to kill them in various gruesome ways.

Actually, this film reminded me a lot of Andrea Bianchi's Burial Ground: Nights of Terror. It was shot at the same villa and it has a very similar "plot" ie a bunch of rock-stupid upper-class morons get naked a lot and suffer gory deaths. It even stars Mariangela Giordano who famously got her nipple bitten off by a creepy midget in that film. Surprisingly she spends even more time naked in this film and suffers an even worse death, the most sleazy and graphic death-by-fireplace-poker-in-the-vagina scene I've ever seen, which knocks Argento's Mother of Tears down to second place. Sorry Dario.

That's probably the showstopper of the film, but there are a lot of other gory deaths, usually filmed in the most tasteless and misogynistic way possible. A groundskeeper goes for a naked midnight stroll and ends up mauled by her own dogs, who repeatedly bite her in the crotch like she's got Smackos in her vagina. Another guy gets hung up by a hook lodged in his neck, some lab techs get electrocuted, a woman gets decapitated by a car window and her husband gets locked in a car full of poisonous gas. The police aren't much help, when they find a guy who has been boiled to death in the swimming pool they conclude that his "death was due to a fatality." Thanks guys.

There is a lot of graphic violence but what really surprises is the amount of nudity. It's just shy of a softcore porn film. As I mentioned earlier, Giordano is naked in practically every scene. It's kind of hilarious, she just strips down for no reason whatsoever. At one point she is talking with her boyfriend in their hotel room and suddenly she adjusts her underwear so that her nipples are peeking out the top of her bra. "Whoops, almost went a full minute without exposing my boobs, lemme fix that." She also has a drunken rant at the dinner table while she's bare-ass naked, gets into a sexy naked cat fight with another woman and then has a bath. Later she dons a sheer robe and hits on a guy, but he gets so mad that he bitch slaps her twelve times.

Pretty much every female character spends a fair bit of screen time in the buff. Even the coma patients. One of the film's highlights is when Dr. Herschell's sexy assistant is compelled by Patrick to strip naked and unhygienically rub herself on his bed frame and masturbate on his couch. Surprisingly no hand jobs like in the first film, though he does fuck with her typing. The rare times they aren't naked the women are usually involved in hysterical screaming matches, calling each other ugly whores, assholes, cows, pigs, ugly bitches, you name it. When Giordano calls one guy a faggot, he counters with "Die alone, whore!" Ouch. There isn't a lot here for the ladies though, except for a few shots of John Benedy in his hairy, mustachioed glory. And a 60 year old guy in a speedo.

The film does take a little while to get going. Plenty of subplots are introduced early on, but they are completely abandoned by the halfway mark. The secret motives for the killings is trotted out with a half-assed shrug, and the whole thing is wrapped up with a sudden and anticlimatic ending as if they ran out of film. All in all it's an incredibly sleazy film featuring terrible dialog, hilariously bad acting and cheap special effects. I particularly like the cheesy effect where Patrick's glowing green eyes are superimposed over the screen. I'd heard that this film ups the ante on gore and nudity from the tightly restrained Patrick, but I wasn't prepared for exactly how much. This is a pretty bad film but in terms of highly entertaining sleaze it rates four and a half Joe Spinnel's out of five.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Raiders of the Magic Ivory (1988)

Cråppen desk lamp: $17.95
Available in black or ivory

Have you ever been watching one of these cheap Italian jungle war/adventure movies and thought "Yeah, this movie is okay, but it really needs more walking." Or maybe sometimes you're confused by basic storytelling, such that two contiguous scenes will show the heroes in different locations and you'll wonder "How the hell did that happen?" Well, have I got the movie for you! Raiders of the Magic Ivory packs in more footage of jungle walking, river boating and cave exploration in it's 80 min run time than all 7 hours of Apocalypse Now Redux. No instance of our heroes moving from point A to point B was deemed too unimportant to commit to celluloid.

Sure, all of this hardcore walking action may be enough to satisfy some people, but director Tonino Ricci knows that without some shootouts and a desperate jungle mission to tie it together it's all just empty thrills. It begins with Mark (Christopher Ahrens) busting his buddy out of a South American prison. His comrade-in-arms is named Sugar (Peter Mitchum) which leads to some pretty confusing instances of people shouting "Come on, Sugar!" "Hurry up, Sugar!" or "Call me Sugar." Sugar may have been trapped in a pit for several months with only a curiously well-groomed mouse for company, but when Mark tells him he "stinks like a latrine" he still manages to lay him out with a right hook. That's how you know these guys are destined to be BFFs.

Cut to our two heroes lounging by the pool and I'm sure there's nothing more than these two manly men would like to do better than lounge around in their fruity silk robes for the rest of the movie, but their mission has only just begun. The rescue was funded by Lee Chang, a Fu-Manchu-ish Chinese stereotype played by a white guy in makeup and probably the least convincing Asian since Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice. Chang wants them to retrieve a magic ivory (plastic) tablet from a death cult in a jungle on the North Vietnamese/Cambodian border called the Hell From Which No-One Returns. Sounds nice. They're offered $250,000 to do so, under the condition that they bring along Chang's creepy manservant Tao (Franklin Dominguez).

Naturally they have a few run-ins with the local military, but luckily the soldiers' tactics seem to be modeled after the British military strategy of WWI ie sending waves of troops headlong into a hail of gunfire. After commandeering a boat from a bunch of skeletons, they eventually they find their way into the monks' "temple" (a cave). Descending to the inner sanctum, they discover the monks, dressed in their finest potato sacks and Halloween masks, in the middle of a ritual sacrifice. They led by a guy with a bushy white beard in a bright red robe that I like to call Bathrobe Santa. When they interrupt the ceremony with a shotgun blast and rescue the sacrificial victim, Bathrobe Santa uses his spooky black magic powers to summon a few floating spectral monster heads that do precisely dick. Sugar replies "It's some kind of bullshit, man" and walks right through them. You know, these black magic powers are failing to impress.

Once they've escaped they get a chance to talk to the girl they rescued. Luckily she speaks perfect English, enabling her to spill out a headache-inducing level of exposition nonsense. She is named Me Lai and she is the Keeper of the Celestial Peace, the only one with the power to neutralise the dark magic bestowed by the tablet. If you're Chinese this is probably old hat to you, since according to Me Lai this stuff is known by all Chinese people. As they travel to the extraction site they are attacked by more cultists who swarm them en masse and are mowed down like so many paper targets. Unfortunately at the last minute they are betrayed by Tao, who steals the tablet and escapes in their rescue helicopter. This forces Mark, Sugar and Me Lai to battle their way back to civilisation by stealing a truck and murdering about a thousand soldiers. I assume they are Viet Cong, but their uniforms are wildly off model and they are played by Latinos so who knows.

Once they get back to China, or wherever it's supposed to be, they confront Chang Lee only to have him escape and a bunch of ninjas to pop out of the woodwork (the 80s). Me Lai catches a bullet but before she dies she transfers her sacred powers over to Sugar and feeds him some Peter Pan bullshit about having to believe. They track Chang Lee to his private yacht, where Sugar and Mark battle Tao and some more ninjas. Eventually Sugar retrieves the tablet from Chang Lee and "renders him inoffensive" by turning him a smoking puddle of goo. A brief epilogue shows our heroes sailing away in a yacht with a couple of hot 80s babes. Sugar raises a brewski towards the camera and says "Here's to keeping the Celestial Peace!" Amen to that, Sugar. Amen.

If I close my eyes I can imagine the efficient, assembly-line process by which a film like this is made. Some producers think up a popular Hollywood film to rip off (Rambo and Indiana Jones in this case) and Dardano Sacchetti is given a few days to turn out a script (he wrote eight other scripts that year, a new personal best). Obviously nobody is going to watch a film made by a bunch of Eye-talians, so Ricci, directing under his Anglicised pseudonym Anthony Richmond, and a couple of American actors are flown out to a jungle in whatever third-world country will let them film for the cheapest. Sure you can't afford any real actors, but Peter Mitchum shares enough genetic material with his father (Robert Mitchum) to provide that coveted "vaguely familiar" feeling. Then bus in a bunch of confused locals for extras (ethnicity unimportant) and raid an amateur theater production of The Mikado for costumes.

Put together some awesomely misleading cover art for the VHS cassette and BAM! You've got yourself a movie that does the bare minimum to distract you from your miserable life for 80 minutes. Or as I like to call it, Keeping the Celestial Peace.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Patrick (1978)

She could at least take care of that monobrow.

Okay, I finally broke down and rented Not Quite Hollywood, last year's hit documentary about the history of Australian exploitation film. Aside from the coining of the stupid term "ozsploitation" it was very good, but as I predicted I ended up with a bunch of films on my DVD rental queue. First in the list is Patrick, a 1978 film by Australian Hitchcock fanatic Richard Franklin, who directed the quite excellent Road Games. Franklin was a student and personal friend of Hitchcock, and ol' Hitch didn't just leave his fingerprints on Franklin's work, he left three forms of ID, a copy of his birth certificate and a blood sample, so Franklin has managed to turn out some great suspense thrillers.

From Hard to Kill to Kill Bill to Til Death, there is a rich cinematic history of coma/revenge films. Patrick is unusual, however, in that it's about a guy who seeks revenge while still in a coma. It all begins when Patrick flips his lid after hearing his mother fucking her asshole boyfriend next door. When will mothers learn that after they give birth they are supposed to live a life of wholesome celibacy? Patrick wanders into the bathroom where they are having a post-coital bubble bath and dumps a lamp into the bathtub. They get fried while Patrick somehow falls into a braindead coma and there he remains for the next three years.

Enter Kathy Jacquard (Susan Penhaligon), a former nurse who is returning to work after a recent separation from her husband. During an extremely awkward job interview, Matron Cassidy (Julia Blake) gives an incredible speech about how their small, out-of-the-way hospital attracts all kinds of undesirables and perverts; lesbians, nymphomaniacs, enema specialists, zoophiliacs, algolagniacs, necrophiliacs, pedophiliacs, scoptophiliacs, exhibitionists and voyeurs. Wow. She is assigned to look after Patrick, which seems like a pretty cushy job at first. All you have to do is inform the doctor of his bowel movements and periodically spritz his wide-open eyeballs (apparently they aren't allowed to suture his eyes shut, Matron's orders). Sure there are downsides to the job too. He's got a nasty spit reflex and did I mention the homicidal psychokinetic powers?

Sure enough Patrick falls in love with her, leaving every male in her life vulnerable to his seemingly omniscient psychic attacks. Dreamy neurosurgeon Dr. Wright (Bruce Barry) almost drowns during his swinging pool party and her husband Ed (Ron Mullinar) gets some nasty burns from a casserole dish. Patrick also jealously trashes her apartment and fucks with her typing. Things start getting out of hand. Naturally nobody believes her story, so when Kathy is discovered giving Patrick a handjob under the covers (long story) the Matron punishes her by assigning her to more Patrick duty. A pretty inappropriate punishment under the circumstances, no wonder the hospital attracts so many sexual deviants.

A few secondary characters flesh out the proceedings, including the sinister Dr. Roget (Robert Helpmann) who is using Patrick as a test subject to determine the existence of a soul. He also likes to eat/mutilate frogs. Don't ask. There's also Captain Fraser (Walter Pym), a grumpy old man who likes to jump out at suspense-filled moments and shout at people. Don't expect a huge body count, this is very much a slow-burning, character-focused horror film. There's only a few deaths, often off-screen and mostly amphibian, but this is a film that is more about suspense and atmosphere than death and destruction.

The film was written by Everett De Roche, who wrote a whole bunch of great Australian films, including the excellent Jaws rip-off Razorback, ecological horror film Long Weekend and the trucker thriller Roadgames. The DVD included a De Roche penned script treatment for a sequel to Patrick, but I'm kind of glad they didn't go through with it because it looks pretty bad. There's also a really nice score by Brian May, who is not the guitarist from Queen but the composer for Mad Max, Roadgames and many other Australian films from the 80s.

Patrick is a solid and underrated little suspense thriller. Hitchcock's influence is so strongly felt that when Universal Studios saw this film they selected Franklin to direct the surprisingly good Psycho II. It was the inspiration for Uma Thurman's comatose spit reflex in Kill Bill and there was even an unofficial Italian remake/sequel called Patrick Vive Ancora (Patrick Still Lives), which in true Italian horror fashion trades the careful suspense-building of the original for tits and violence. If you're ever in the mood for a 70s style, slow-burning, Hitchcock-ian suspense thriller about psychokinetic powers and Carrie is unavailable, this would be a great backup choice.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Fireback (1983)

A young Rob Liefeld watched this movie and his
destiny was changed forever...

Richard Harrison was one of a number of muscle-bound American actors who made his way to Italy in the 60s to capitalise on the swords-and-sandals boom. In the subsequent decades he appeared in a number of genre films, from spaghetti Westerns to Eurospy movies but these days he is most well-known (much to his chagrin, I'm sure) for his string of Godfrey Ho "directed" ninja films in the mid 80s. Ho was a thrifty man and would film a few scenes of Harrison and edit it together with some randomly scrounged fight footage to create Ninja Terminator, Ninja Champion, Ninja Kill and dozens of other titles containing the word ninja. These films are all pretty much an incomprehensible mess.

Fireback is one of a few films Harrison and a bunch of other actors (Mike Monty, Bruce Baron, Jim Gaines) made for Silver Star in the Phillipines. It was one of director Teddy Page's first films with Silver Star and for the rest of the 80s he managed to turn out a couple of cheap war films a year It predates Harrison's ninja films, but disappointed ninja enthusiasts should be aware that Harrison does dress up in a ninja uniform in the last scene, which I'm sure Godrey Ho stole and spliced into a dozen other films.

The film begins at a US military outpost in Vietnam and Jack Kaplan (Harrison) is there to demonstrate a new multi-barrel superweapon that combines a built-in radio, automatic rifle, 30 caliber machine gun, grenade launcher, bazooka, mini missile, infrared scope and the ability to paralyse enemy troops with laughter when they see it. It probably weighs about 300 pounds and I'm not sure why anyone would need a bazooka and a mini missile, but still it puts the "firepower of one platoon in your hands". I bet you can't wait to see it in action. Well tough shit, because the Viet Cong immediately attack and Kaplan is captured before he can fire a shot.

With a senior weapons expert captured and dwindling morale, things are looking pretty bleak for the US forces. They are so starved for equipment that a senior military officer is forced to order the rescue mission out of a shoddy makeshift office in somebody's living room. Nevertheless, the mission is carried off without a hitch and Kaplan is rescued. As he recovers in hospital he is unable to contact his wife Diane (Ann Milhench) and becomes increasingly worried. He expresses concern to a friend who casually tosses him his keys and says "Here's my car." Now that's a good buddy.

When he arrives back home he finds that his wife is indeed missing and sets out on a mission to find her. His first stop is a strip club where a bunch of goofy losers clap out of time while a stripper dances seductively without actually stripping. Kaplan, in a pimping disco suit, is instructed to find the Man with the Golden Hand (aka Dennis). First he talks to Digger, a jive-talking black guy clearly dubbed by a white guy (he says "I thought you were in Angelsville, man!") and is told to speak to a club owner named Eve. So he goes to see Eve and she tells him to see a guy named Bart McNeil. McNeil is killed before he get any information, but eventually he is put onto the trail of a guy named Johnson.

The film just goes on and on like this, with Kaplan following clues from location to location in search of his wife, beating information out of anyone he comes across. After a while it gets kind of surreal. While he is following the trail of clues a series of assassins are sent out to kill him. These include a blind (or is he?) man with a sharpened cane, a guy in a spiffy leather cap/neckerchief combo, a would-be bomber played by Harrison's own son and a ninja named Shadow (the 80s). Naturally they are all wildly unsuccessful.

It turns out the one behind his wife's disappearance is a guy by the pimptastic name of Duffy Collins (Bruce Baron). Even though there is nothing remarkable about his appearance or identity, his face is obscured until the very end. He gives a big emo speech saying "I offered her flowers, but she wouldn't accept them" and "I tried to be nice to her, but the more I tried, the more she rejected me". That sounds awfully to familiar to my own love life but while I would deal with things by curling into ball of self-loathing and depression, Duffy kidnaps her (entirely in slow motion) and when he discovers Kaplan is still alive, chains her up in a basement dungeon and murders her so that nobody else can have her.

Eventually Kaplan finds his wife's body (still chained up for some reason) but so do the police and with all of these bodies piling up they are pretty quick to blame Kaplan. The police chief (Mike Monty with absurdly yellow hair) orders his men to bring him in by any means necessary, warning them that Kaplan "can make an ordinary soft drink straw into a weapon" and you don't want to know what he can do with one of those bendy straws. Luckily for them Kaplan doesn't have access to any straws but he does manage to get a hold of a rifle and a bunch of pipes. He uses them to create a superweapon which appears to be a rifle with a bunch of pipes glued onto it.

When Kaplan conducts his brutal assault on Duffy's property we get superweapon blueballs again: Kaplan carries it around with him but he doesn't actually fucking use it, instead relying on a pistol. When he gets overwhelmed he flees, one of the bad guys remarking that "he's heading into the jungle". You know, those jungles they have near population centers in the United States. Once he's in Rambo mode in the jungle he finally decides to use his superweapon, which has a built-in harpoon gun, to silently kill a couple of approaching enemies. Eventually the bad guys give up and the seriously injured Kaplan holes up in a cave.

Even though a whole search party with M16's can't kill him, Duffy decides to call in an assassin because that's worked well so far. He calls the ninja Shadow again (I think he's the only one still alive) and even lends him his horse, you know, for navigating through the jungle. Unsurprisingly, Kaplan kills him (too dark to make out how exactly) and takes his ninja outfit so he can sneak back into Duffy's property. Unfortunately he fails to take into account that he is a strapping 6 foot white guy while Shadow was a tiny Asian man, so Duffy immediately sees through his disguise. Luckily Duffy is a terrible shot so Kaplan still manages to kill him with a series of brutal slow-motion stabs. The film abruptly ends on a freeze-frame of Kaplan in the middle of a particularly rage-filled stab, and a title card explains his post-movie fate, Animal House style:

"Jack Kaplan went into hiding after killing Duffy Collins but he was apprehended by the authorities after a month of close surveillance. He was tried in court and was sentenced to life imprisonment. After a few years in the national penitentiary, he developed a heart ailment and later died of a heart attack. He was 42."

So John "Bluto" Blutarsky became a senator, William Munny prospered in dry goods in San Francisco and Jack Kaplan died of a heart attack in jail. Thanks, movie! Actually, I think more revenge/action movies should include a sobering title card detailing the incarceration and death of the hero. It would kind of bring things into perspective if we found out that, say, after Death Wish Jack Kersey was charged with murder and sent to jail, where he was shanked in the shower at age 54. Kind of ruins the sequel potential, though.

This is a pretty weird film. Badly dubbed dialogue and an abuse of slow motion during dramatic scenes provide a few moments of unintentional hilarity. Apparently Harrison wrote it himself in one night, so I doubt anyone was particularly interested in turning out a watchable product. Still, it's good times for anyone who wants to see Harrison stumbling through the Filipino jungle on a delirious rampage of revenge. With a plot that lurches schizophrenically from one plot point to the next and music that comes from the fevered dreams of a madman, I felt like I was right there with him.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Far Cry (2008)

I felt the same way as you, Til

I love Uwe Boll, he makes the most entertaining video game movies around. Sure, they're terrible but they're hilariously terrible as opposed to being just plain mediocre (I'm looking at you, Max Payne). I don't really care that he doesn't respect the source material because let's face it, video game plots are usually a slapped-together Frankenstein's monster of stolen movie sequences and storytelling cliches. For example, Far Cry. I'm more of a console gamer, so I never got to play the PC game on which this movie is based, although I did play the console version Far Cry Instincts which had the kind of generic video game plot that seems like it was scribbled into the margins of the design document by an unpaid intern. The movie roughly follows the plot of the game, somehow managing to dumb it down along the way.

Jack Carver (Til Schweiger) is a retired Special Forces commando, now the lazy, drunken captain of a charter boat. He is hired by ace reporter Valerie Cardinal (Emmanuelle Vaugier), who wants to investigate a mysterious island (the tropical setting of the game has been exchanged for the budget-friendly Canadian wilderness) where a rogue geneticist Dr Krieger (the always villainous Udo Kier) is turning people into bullet-proof super soldiers. It's also personal for her, as her informant is also her uncle Max (Ralf Moeller from that terrible Conan TV series) and Carver's former war buddy. Unfortunately Max has already been discovered as a spy turned him into the latest guinea pig for their experiments. Soon Krieger's men have blown up Carver's boat and the two of them are on the run with Krieger's men in pursuit.

Krieger is one of those evil movie scientists with an autocratic management style that is probably damaging to employee morale. For instance, when an employee threatens to leave the organisation, rather than arranging further discussion or mediation he immediately murders him. When testing combat effectiveness of his creatures, rather than controlled laboratory tests he sends his unwitting employees into a death trap. If he'd used a more democratic management style then his employees might have been more reluctant to jump ship when all the creatures escaped and he probably wouldn't have ended up murdered by his own creations.

Krieger also invites one of his military sponsors to check out his handiwork. He's surprisingly co-operative when Krieger hands him a gun and asks him to shoot one of their test subjects (they are bulletproof everywhere except the eyes or mouth) and he is pleased with the results. However, he's less than impressed when Krieger tells him that he hasn't yet got that pesky "free will" thing under control and they are basically unstoppable bulletproof killing machines. As if that could possibly go wrong. (spoiler) It goes wrong. (end spoiler)

Carver is an interesting character because he's got a macho, abrasive exterior (he's rude to a couple of stereotypical American tourists who are apparently dumb enough to book a whale-watching tour in a Canadian river) but he's also plagued by insecurities about his sexual performance. Early in the film he bangs Valerie in one of those sex scenes that inevitably happen within 24 hours of the protagonists meeting each other. However, the next morning he starts asking her about his performance and forces her to rate it out of ten. She gives him a 2, which is not a great score but he was suffering from hypothermia and a bullet wound so he's lucky he was able to perform at all. For the rest of the film he continually bugs her about it, which is supposed to be funny but thanks to a bad script and Schweiger's performance it just makes him seem really desperate for approval.

Valerie is no prize catch either, not only can she not identify a hand grenade, she does not understand that you have to pull the pin before you throw it. Naturally she gets kidnapped at some point during the film so the wacky sidekick position is filled by Boll regular Chris Coppola as Emillio the "Food Guy". It's been well established that Boll thinks fat people are instant LOLs, and true to form in Emillio's first scene he nearly chokes to death on a meatball sub. For the next painful half hour or so he whines, screams and mugs for the camera. At some point I guess even Boll got sick of him because he just disappears from the movie entirely.

This movie takes a generic 80s action movie plot and executes it with as little creativity or innovation as possible. As such it's a fitting match for Boll's storytelling abilities, and for once he manages to make a film that isn't overly confusing or hard to follow. The action in the film is a mixed bag but generally unremarkable. During a speedboat chase Boll tries to use music and editing to turn a jump over tiny ramp into a spectacular stunt set-piece with less than convincing results but there's also a couple of decent chases in the film that even Boll's editing fails to completely ruin. Unfortunately it all adds up to a film that is merely forgettable rather than jaw-droppingly horrible. The is Boll's most competent film yet, so it's also his worst.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Fist of the North Star (1995)

"Gary Daniels' line delivery... it hurts!"

I have fond memories of Hokuto No Ken aka Fist of the North Star. The 1986 movie was one of my first exposures to anime, and that brief taste of mind-warping ultra-violence was all it took to hook me. It follows the exploits of Bruce-Lee-wannabe Kenshiro as he wanders a post-apocalyptic wasteland, defending the innocent from Mad Max style punks. He is also a master of Hokuto Shinken, a super powerful martial art that allows him to, among other things, punch someone in various hidden pressure points so that they explode into a fountain of gore. It combined my three favourite things: a post-apocalyptic setting, crazy martial arts battles and lots of exploding heads. It's violence-porn at it's most vapid, but it's fun.

A few years later I was in my local video store and I saw it: Fist of the North Star the live-action movie. Even at that age I knew better than to pick it up. First of all it has some goofy white guy with one hell of a mullet posing on the cover. Is that supposed to be Kenshiro? It looked like an Albert Pyun movie. Secondly it was Direct-to-Video, which is never a good sign. So I never rented it and I never saw it, but part of me always wondered "What if it was actually awesome?" All these years later, with a much higher tolerance for goofy shit, I thought I would give it a chance. I mean, I loved Ricky-Oh: Story of Ricky, which was based on a similarly ultra-violent manga, so if had the same level of cartoonish gore-soaked action it could be a hidden gem.

An abusively long opening credits sequence introduces the film's roster of B-movie regulars. The lead character Kenshiro is played by Direct-to-Video action sensation Gary Daniels (Submerged) and the villain Lord Shin is played by Costas Mandylor. I'm not too hung up on the whitewashing of the cast, it's a grand old Hollywood tradition, but it's hard to ignore the fact that you've got a bunch of whiteys (a Brit and an Australian, no less) running around called Shin and Kenshiro (ironically the only Japanese member of the cast, Isako Washio, plays a character named Julia). The racial miscasting reaches it's peak when Malcolm McDowell appears in a shiny robe as Ryuken, a Buddhist monk. I understand that it's a B-movie so you are required by law to put Malcolm McDowell in there somewhere, but wise old master of an ancient martial art is really stretching it.

Ryuken is the master of Hokuto Shinken and The Fist of the North Star (Kenshiro) and the Fist of the Southern Cross (Shin) are his two senior students. As we are reminded about fifty times, they are bound by the sacred rule that the two should never fight, but Shin breaks the oath when he falls in love with Kenshiro's girlfriend Julia. Shin uses his martial arts powers to poke a bunch of holes in Kenshiro's chest in the shape of the Big Dipper. Hokuto is the Japanese name for the Big Dipper (I guess Fist of the Big Dipper doesn't sound as cool) so I don't know if this was an intentionally themed mutilation, but it's a pretty big coincidence if it wasn't. He kidnaps Julia and leaves Kenshiro for dead.

During the next few years Lord Shin amasses a powerful and vicious army (budgetary reasons prevent them from appearing on-screen, you'll just have to take the narrator's word for it) but has no luck winning over the affections of Julia. Who would have thought that murdering her boyfriend would be such a hot-button issue? Meanwhile Kenshiro aimlessly wanders the wastelands. I don't know why he didn't track down his girlfriend right away, but eventually he is visited by the ghost of Ryuken who says "Get off your ass and fulfill your destiny, you lazy fucker" (paraphrased). Before he can do that, though, he's got to do the usual post-apocalyptic stuff like making friends with an annoying teenager and a little girl, help out some villagers in trouble etc.

The village in question is Paradise Village, a cheap-looking soundstage that represents some sort of strategic advantage to Lord Shin. They are frequently attacked by a bunch of post-apocalyptic punks including Clint Howard in a Soviet Army uniform, who laughs maniacally as he shoots women and children with a service revolver. In fact, they all do a great deal of maniacal laughing as they terrorise the villagers. You can tell these guys really love their job. They are led by Lord Shin's second-in-command Jackal (Chris Penn), a former victim of the Hokuto Shinken who now straps his throbbing head in a leather harness so it doesn't unexpectedly burst.

Shin's final battle with Kenshiro is of the typical early-90s variety. Two sweaty, muscular, long-haired men whaling on each other with lots of slow-motion kicking. There's a nice effect where Lord Shin punches Kenshiro, causing bloody squibs to erupt on his body like he'd been shot, but it's otherwise unmemorable. There's a few funny homoerotic touches (Jackal is armed with a couple of bola balls that are suspended below an extendable baton and Shin fights Kenshiro while wearing what appears to be a leather minidress) but nothing too outlandish. Actually it's kind of boring.

I'm going to say the same thing about this film that I did about The Reader: The severe lack of head explosions really hampered my enjoyment. There's only two, and one's off-screen. I know you can't expect a glossy, special-effects-laden film from Direct-to-Video, I get that. I can accept murky cinematography, factory settings, green screens and wobbly soundstages. What I won't abide by, though, is a lack of gore in a film based on Hokuto No Ken. A bucket of stage blood and a few latex heads don't cost that much. I could let it slide if the fight scenes were great, but they are unimpressive and spread way too thin. Hopefully one day someone will remake this film and take a more early-Peter-Jackson approach to the gore, but until then I would recommend that you stick with the anime.