Saturday, 28 November 2009

No Retreat, No Surrender 5: King of the Kickboxers II: American Shaolin (1993)

Man, these Hare Krishna are getting really
aggressive about donations

It's fairly obvious that this film was never supposed to be a No Retreat, No Surrender film, given the ungodly clusterfuck of a title. Naturally it doesn't have any connection to the first King of the Kickboxers either, save for director Lucas Lo. It opens on a training session for the villain of the piece, a goofball in a ponytail named Trevor Gottitall. I know I say this a lot, but that's the best name ever. He's a self-absorbed asshole with a whole evil entourage straight out of a Rocky film, including nurses, scientists and tracksuited lackeys. During a training match with a Bruce Lee wannabe, his opponent's pants fall down and Trevor takes the opportunity to deliver a wicked side kick. It's through this that Trevor develops an entire fighting system revolving around the strategic pantsing of his opponents. "Beat your opponent once and he's a threat." says his sleazy manager, "Humiliate him and he'll fear you forever."

Cut to the Jersey Shore Karate Championship and Trevor Gotitall is facing the Daniel-Larusso-esque Drew Carson (Reese Madigan) in the final round of the tournament. Even though you have no idea who this kid is you know it must be important because the lights dim, scary music plays and lightning flashes. When the match begins Trevor thoroughly creams Drew before demonstrating his Deadly Move of Ultimate Pantsing, whipping off Drew's belt (while wearing fighting gloves, which is quite impressive in itself) and sending him 'a' over 't' in his tighty-whities. In a stunning display of insensitivity, the entire crowd points and laughs while Drew's Mr Miyagi equivalent Master Kwan (Kim Chan) bows his head in shame. Drew is humiliated after his ignoble defeat and Master Kwan reveals that although he claimed to have studied at the Shaolin Temple, he actually made all that shit up. As a result, Drew is inspired to travel to China and become a Shaolin monk.

After wandering around China like a stupid tourist he finally reaches the temple and unsurprisingly he is refused entry gets tossed on his ass. After consulting a local girl he manages to get around their strict "no whiteys" policy by going on hunger strike outside the temple until they give up and let him in. He doesn't speak a lick of Chinese and although you'd think that not being able to communicate with other monks or read the Buddhist scriptures might be a problem for an aspiring monk, luckily everyone inside the temple speaks perfect English. Indeed, many of the monks are played by American actors, leading to strange situations such as where fellow initiate Gao (Daniel Dae Kim) refuses to sleep next to him because he's an American, even though Gao has an American accent himself; or where monks speak to villagers in English and get replies in Chinese.

Naturally Drew's all-American sass causes all sorts of friction and he rebels when a 'roided-out senior monk (Cliff Lenderman) assigns them menial tasks such as sweeping and breaking rocks. I guess Drew hasn't seen Shaolin Temple or 36th Chamber of Shaolin or pretty much any film ever made about Shaolin monks. Eventually their training moves onto more traditional fare such as strengthening their hands in braziers of hot coals, walking on logs etc and Drew teaches the other students how to pop-lock and air guitar to Summertime Blues (with "Shaolin Temple Blues" awkwardly inserted into the chorus). Rockin'! I hope you like this song too, because it's used at least half a dozen times throughout the film. I guess they paid their licensing fees and they were determined to get every penny's worth.

It wouldn't be a movie about Shaolin training without a few fuck-ups along the way. A fight with Gao gets out of hand when Drew accidentally kicks the head off a sacred statue, although Gao ends up taking some of the blame under the temple's "dobbers wear diapers" approach to discipline. Drew's biggest snafu is when he convinces some of the other students to go with him to a party at a local girls' school. When the monks hit the dance floor with the girls (there's that Summertime Blues song again) a bowl-cut doofus in aviator shades picks a fight with them. The police arrive at the temple the next day and demand that Drew be expelled, but in the end the head monk lets him stay. Phew!

In Drew's final trial he has to test his skills against a whole bunch of Shaolin wooden men like in Jackie Chan's 1976 film, uh, Shaolin Wooden Men. This involves a whole bunch of goofy looking wooden golems rocketing towards him while flailing their limbs madly. Drew gets completely creamed and I've got to admit that watching him get put in an armlock and punched repeatedly in the gut by a bunch of wooden automatons is completely hilarious. Watch out for splinters! Of course, Drew eventually emerges from the test, battered and bruised but victorious, and is made an honourary monk.

But what about Trevor Gottitall? Well, he's dealt with in the final ten minutes of the film, when the group head off to Beijing so they can compete in an International Wushu Exhibition. Turns out that Trevor is one of the competitors (local Karate tournaments, international Wushu exhibitions; the guy really gets around) and starts beating up Gao in an effort to goad Drew into fighting. Drew initially refuses ("I will not fight for personal glory or my ego") until Gao is severely beaten and the senior monk gives Drew permission to kick ass. The match is pretty entertaining and Drew manages to defeat Trevor even after falling for his secret pantsing move again. You'd think by this stage he would have learned to wear suspenders or a firmly fastened belt.

I particularly enjoyed the ridiculous premise of this movie. In a typical movie of this type, like Shaolin Temple or 36th Chamber of Shaolin, the hero seeks training from the Shaolin monks so he can avenge the murder of a loved one and/or overthrow a political tyrant. In this movie the hero seeks training after being pantsed by an opponent during a New Jersey Karate tournament. It kind of lacks the dramatic heft, you know? Unfortunately it also lacks the quality fight scenes, and although Corey Yuen does a good job with the choreography it's clear that Reese Madigan is the weak link. Occasionally some extras would demonstrate great weapons skills and I would think "Why can't this movie be about those guys instead?" Hopefully the sequel will focus on the awesome character of Trevor Gotittall. Title suggestion: No Retreat, No Surrender 6: King of the Kickboxers III: American Shaolin 2: The Rise of Trevor.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

No Retreat, No Surrender 4: The King of the Kickboxers (1990)

Let's see your angry faces! Grrrr!

Although it sports the same creative team and the same lead actor, The King of the Kickboxers was intended to be a spinoff rather than part of the No Retreat, No Surrender franchise. It might as well have been part of the series, it's not like it has any continuing story, so they decided to distribute it as No Retreat, No Surrender 4 anyway. I guess they figured that somebody, somewhere must be thinking "Sure, I loved the first three No Retreat, No Surrender films but I really don't think they said everything that needed to be said about refraining from retreating and/or surrendering."

The fourth film starts with a place familiar to No Retreat, No Surrender fans (or NoRNSies as we like to be called): Thailand. Sean Donahue and his spotty kid brother Jake are heading home after winning the national Thai kickboxing championship when a bunch of armed Thai leap out of the bushes and hold them at gunpoint. The leader of these armed men is Khan, played by 7-time world karate champion Billy Blanks, who says "An American can never be champion." and blows up their tuk-tuk. I believe Blanks is supposed to be Thai, which is pretty hilarious because he's an enormous 6-foot black guy with an American accent. He then starts whipping Sean's ass so thoroughly you have to wonder why Khan wasn't fighting in the champsionship if they wanted a Thai to win so bad. Anyway, Khan flat-out murders Sean with a succession of brutal kicks and gives Jake a few kicks in the skull for good measure.

Ten years later Jake Donahue has become an undercover cop played by Loren Avedon. I thought after Jessie Roby, tough guy for hire, we'd seen the last of Avedon's attempts at undercover work, but here we get another peek as Donahue goes undercover as a drug dealer, complete with huge shades, leathers and what I assume is a gravelly biker voice. Donahue is a Tough Cop Who Plays by his Own Rules (tm) so he gives his backup the wrong address and flat out tells the bad guys he's a cop just so he's got an excuse to whip some ass. This leads to an Angry Chief Moment (tm) where Jake is ordered to go to Thailand and investigate some illegal black market tapes. No, not those kind of illegal tapes.

Jake refuses to go back to Thailand at first but later that everning he decides to take a look at the tapes anyway. At first they only seem to show clips of No Retreat, No Surrender 3: Blood Brothers (Jake remarks "Looks like a Bruce Lee movie without Bruce", cue wah-wah trumpet) so I was hoping the film would be turn into a Charlie-Kaufman-esque meta-comedy about Avedon tracking down the makers of the No Retreat, No Surrender franchise. However, it seems that the tapes also show people getting beaten and murdered IRL by his old nemesis Khan, who has used the intervening ten years to accessorise his crew cut with a couple of braided rat-tails. Yes, it seems that before he was hawking Tae Bo tapes to the masses, Billy Blanks was making kickboxing snuff films. Unfortunately Jake doesn't shout "Khaaaaan!" but he does have a flashback to his brother's murder followed by a ridonkulous anguished scream, which is almost as good.

Upon arriving in Thailand, Jake has his big travelogue moment, posing in front of various Bangkok landmarks in a ridiculous Hawaiian shirt. He then meets up with his local contact and tells him that he's going to conduct the investigation his way, which involves heading to Bangkok Kickboxing Academy in a hilarious denim vest, dissing the fighting skills of everyone there, whipping the asses of a few of the students, insulting everybody and leaving. It's basically the same as America's foreign policy for the last few decades, but unlike America's foreign policy it yields some positive results and his impressive fighting chops attract the attention of the snuff film producers.

While this is going on we get to see Khan making one his famous martial arts snuff films. They are produced by a sleazy fat guy who is constantly surrounded by some Thai babes and they are directed by a goofball in a flowery shirt. They lure in a martial arts champion with the promise of a starring role in an action vehicle, but by the time he figures things out (the complete lack of fight choreography was a major clue) Khan leaps onto the set and beats him to death. As a reward Khan gets his pick of a bunch of blonde girls (I'd say foxy babes, but some of them... aren't). He picks the most attractive one, Molly (Sherrie Rose), but she manages to escape onto the mean streets of Patpong where Jake saves her from Khan's goons.

After charming the pants off her, Jake is stalked by one of the academy's top students who, when Jake reveals his true motives for being in Bangkok, takes him to see Prang, the only man who has come close to defeating Khan in the ring. Prang (played by the awesome Keith Cooke) appears to be nothing more than a reclusive alcoholic, but when some of Khan's men show up he snaps out of his drunken stupor and starts kicking ass. This is actually a pretty awesome sequence; Cooke's kicking skills are, as always, top notch. After one of those master/student "Teach me!" "No!" "Teach me!" "No!" "Teach me!" "Okay." arguments, it's time for a training montage! Oh yes, I do love a good training montage, especially one involving weights suspended from intricate pulley systems. Of course, true martial arts training isn't just about honing the body, it's also about honing the mind. Prang tests Jake with koan riddles and drops pearls of wisdom like "There is no pain" and "Success comes through pain". Well, which is it, smartass?

When Jake hops in a canoe and paddles to the remote shooting location, I was impressed. For a snuff film they have some pretty good production values. There are dozens of extras in costumes and facepaint and a massive bamboo cage reminiscent of the Thunderdome. They've got decent lighting, a full camera crew... a real professional set-up. Jake feigns ignorance and dons a traditional Thai dancing costume, beating up on a few extras before Khan steps into the ring holding Molly in one hand and Prang's corpse in the other. Molly is tossed into a net and suspended from the top of the cage while Jake dons his best anguished/constipated face and throws a burnt up photograph of his brother at Khan. Oh it's on, now.

The fighting was choreographed by Corey Yuen so the final battle is really good. There are few moments where it looks like Avedon is a little out of his depth and there are some obvious stunt doubles, but it's a fun, Hong Kong style battle utilising a few different weapons and fighting styles. It also incorporates another of my favourite kung fu cliches: the training montage flashback, where Jake uses his newly acquired skills to defend against Khan's deadly triple flying kick attack. Khan uses his final breath to try and kill Molly, who is so scared she can't decide whether the hero's name is Jake or Jack, before Jake saves her and puts Khan down for good. The army bust in (led by his Shouty Chief) but from the looks of things the snuff director and the producer manage to escape. Jake may have completely botched his mission, but at least he avenged his brother's death and won the affection of a hot blonde babe, and isn't that what's really important?

I'm not sure whether this one is better than the third film in the series, but it was pretty awesome. The rubbish script is by Keith W. Strandberg, who wrote the script for every film in the series. It features a lot of grimacing, shouting and many endlessly quotable lines thanks mainly to the bizarre stylised acting of all involved, particularly Avedon, who makes lines like "Ive been there... for ten years WAAAH!!" into comedy gold. As such it's impossible to take seriously despite the grim subject matter. Never has Billy Blanks repeatedly kicking a child in the head been so funny. The only thing that's important in a film like this are the fights, which are frequent and well choreographed. It's a worthy non-entry in this non-series.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978)

D'awwww! Cutest satanic Hell hound ever!

If the 1970s were to be believed, Satanists were everywhere. Sure they had their two-pronged strategy of recording hidden messages in heavy metal music and corrupting the youth through Dungeons & Dragons (apparently sweaty teenage nerds were Satan's prime demographic) but did you know that roving gangs of Satanists were also seeding happy suburban communities with devil dogs? It's all documented in this made-for-TV movie from 1978, which I'm assuming is 100% true and historically accurate. Yep, evil Satanic cults were picking out the finest breeding bitches they could find and after an occult ceremony, replete with purple robes (one guy is wearing huge sunglasses with his outfit which is actually pretty awesome), candles, pentagrams, chanting etc, the poor dog is up-the-duff with a whole litter of devil dogs.

A couple of months later, happy suburban couple Mike and Betty Barry are driving home after making the final preparations for their daughter Bonnie's 10th birthday party. Uh-oh! It seems that their poor dog Skipper is roadkill. Their neighbour claims he was run over by a mysterious black station wagon. Sure, a sedan would have been more menacing but Satanists need plenty of room in the back for devil dogs. You'd think somebody would have at least moved Skipper's corpse out of the road; he must have been there a while because when Mike picks him up he's as stiff as a board.

Bonnie is inconsolable, but luckily a way-too-friendly farmer pulls up out front offering locally grown fruit and vegetables. After pointedly offering the boy a shiny red apple (symbolism!) he reveals a big pile of puppies in the back of his truck, claiming he has to get rid of them before sundown (or he stuffs them in a bag and drowns them in the bathtub, I assume). Who could turn down an offer like that? Of course the guy is a Satanist in a rather elaborate disguise, but what I want to know is, are the fruits and vegetables evil too? Did some poor suburbanite buy a harmless-looking eggplant only to end up making the Baba Ghanoush... of Beelzebub?

Bonnie names her new dog Lucky and the whole family immediately falls in love with him. Everybody that is, except for the housekeeper, Maria. Confronting Mike, she says the puppy gives her a "scary feeling all over" and begs him to get rid of it. Mike condescendingly replies "Let me think about this, Maria" and all but makes a "cuckoo" gesture with his finger, but Maria is proved right when Lucky uses his psychic puppy powers to burn her alive with the candles from her own Catholic shrine of warding. Cut to a year later and Mike knows there's something suspicious about that dog, especially when it tries to hypnotise him into sticking his hand into a whirling lawnmower blade. Could've been a tense moment but it's a TV movie so you know nothing is going to happen.

Unfortunately, that's one of the big problems with this film. Don't be fooled by the DVD with the angry dog and firghtened Haley-Joel-Osment-looking kid on the cover. Devil dog doesn't actually maul anyone in this film; in fact he doesn't even growl or bare his teeth (except for the rare times he appears in his true demonic form). The neighbour's great dane is mauled to death, presumably by devil dog, but it occurs off screen and it's corpse is discreetly covered by a white sheet with nary a drop of blood to be seen. The neighbour himself also suffers an offscreen death at the hands of devil dog, but it's apparently by drowning in the pool. Come on, he's a satanic hell hound! Let's see some claws and fangs! All devil dog does is stare. He stares and he stares, and any dog owner will tell you that staring is pretty typical behaviour for a dog. It's one of their favourite things to do.

In one particularly hilarious scene, devil dog has a staring competition with Betty as she sits in an easy chair reading a magazine. Every time she looks up she is shocked to see that devil dog has moved a little bit closer, which might be scary for an inanimate object but I'm pretty sure that it's normal behaviour for a dog. Nevertheless, Betty is so terrified that she flees into the bedroom with devil dog trotting lethargically after her, his corrupting influence transforming her into a super-slut. Suddenly she's wearing low-cut dresses and wants to bone Mike in the neighbour's pool. Scandalous! Before long Betty and the two kids are standing around giggling like hyenas while playing table tennis (aka the devil's tennis).

Bonnie and Mike receive a visit from Charlie, the school counsellor, who reveals that both of the children have been lying and stealing. Their son has even blackmailed his way to class presidency! Mike is concerned but Betty is now part of Team Devil Dog and tells Charlie, in a safe-for-TV manner, to go fuck himself. Charlie vows to look into things further but devil dog ain't having none of that shit. He runs to Charlie's house in slow motion with spooooky music (although I like to imagine the Baywatch theme song instead) and reveals his true form: a dog with a wig, devil horns and a cheesy filter effect. By this stage I was hoping for a good old-fashioned mauling but instead Charlie goes insane with fear (what a pussy) runs out into the street and gets splattered by a passing car.

By this time Mike thinks there is definitely something Satan-y about all this and his suspicions are confirmed when he follows his wife and kids up to the attic and finds them performing occult rituals and painting pictures of demons. Naturally the family GP thinks he's nuts but when Mike sees a news report about a dog that mauled a bunch of people (shit, why couldn't the movie have been about that dog) he knows something has to be done. He grabs a pistol, loads devil dog into the car and drives out into the desert, but when he tries to give Lucky a .44 caliber lobotomy the bullets have no effect. Foolish mortal, devil dog cannot be destroyed by mere bullets!

Mike then visits a crazy old woman in an occult bookstore who tells him to hold a mirror to the face of his sleeping family to see the true nature of their souls. When he does so his daughter Bonnie looks like Regan from The Exorcist, so I guess they fail the Satan test. Next Mike is off to Ecuador to find more information about the demon (apparently it's from Ecuador or something) and it just so happens that his cab driver's great grandfather is a Shaman who knows all about devil dogs and speaks perfect English, so that's handy. It seems that Mike is the chosen one, the only one with the power to defeat the devil dog bla, bla bla, and he gives Mike a tattoo on the palm of his hand that he can use to destroy the devil dog once and for all.

It probably won't surprise you to learn that Mike's final showdown with Lucky is pretty lame, but as Mike loads his back-to-normal family into the car for a well-deserved vacation, his son asks, pointedly: "What about the rest of the dogs in the litter?" Do I smell a sequel? Well, no actually. It's really hard to imagine what the makers of this film were thinking. A cute puppy with Village of the Damned style glowing eyes and a dog that just stares at people are not exactly the stuff of nightmares, unless you have some really fucked up nightmares. I still think it's worth a watch and it's pretty entertaining for a 70s TV movie but one thing's for certain: The wallpaper in the Barry household is far more frightening that anything conjured up by Devil Dog.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Harlequin (1980)

Never trust a clown

Yep, another Australian horror/thriller produced by Anthony Ginnane. I can't get enough of the damn things. The plot is a mixture of political intrigue and the supernatural, basically a clever reworking of the Rasputin story. It's written by Everett De Roche who like always manages to inject some depth and ambiguity into the script, putting enough twists on the historical tale to make things mysterious even for those intimately familiar with the story. He does gloss over some of the more ribald and potentially entertaining aspects of the Rasputin legend but I guess this isn't that kind of film. It's directed by Simon Wincer, who also directed the De Roche penned thriller Snapshot and went on to do a lot of American TV and a few movies including, uh, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles. Well, they can't all be winners.

David Hemmings (Thirst) plays up-and-coming politician Senator Nicholas Rast (I see what you did there). When Deputy Governor Eli Steele disappears under mysterious circumstances while swimming in the ocean, Rast is thrust into the shady world of high-stakes politics. His long working hours add considerable tension to his relationship with his wife Sandra (Carmen Duncan), a marriage also strained by their son Alex's terminal illness. Late one night they are visited by a mysterious faith healer/magician named Gregory Wolfe (Robert Powell, who spends most of the film dressed like an extra from Star Trek) and the next day their son makes a miraculous recovery.

Sandra and Alex immediately become enchanted by Wolfe, who becomes a constant presence in the Rasts' life. Nicholas becomes increasingly creeped out by Wolfe's influence over his wife and son. Can't really blame him; Wolfe's weird dress and habit of dangling his son over a cliff is positively Michael-Jackson-ish. Plus there's his relationship with Sandra which starts like a gay-best-friend kind of deal ("Everybody should have their own Gregory" she says) but soon turns uncomfortably amorous. Nick also has to deal with his political rivals and the machinations of the slimy chief political advisor Doc Wheelan (Broderick Crawford). What are Wolfe's motivations for helping his family, are his powers genuine and who is playing whom?

It's a great premise for a film but I've got to admit that it drags a little at times. The scenes of political intrigue in particular can get a bit tedious. However, when this film is good it is very good. There's a great score by Brian May (I think it would be easier for me to note when an awesome score for an Australian film is not by Brian May) and great performances that manage to sell the film even when it gets a bit silly and melodramatic. Early in the film Sandra Rast is preparing her terminally-ill son for bed and he asks whether the clown can come to his birthday party next year; the look on her face is just heartbreaking. Of course special attention must be paid to Robert Powell's fantastic performance. Wolfe is a character that could have easily been overplayed but Powell makes him charismatic, enigmatic and subtle.

This is one of Ginnane's films that was made specifically for international distribution. It was shot in Perth (the exterior of the Rasts' home is actually that of famed/disgraced Australian businessman Alan Bond) but in the end the film was scrubbed clean of any traces of Australia-ness, dubbing over several actors and sound effects to give it a more American feel. Unfortunately they did a really lousy job. About half the cast have Australian accents and there are many weird incongruities, such as cars with Western Australian license plates, cars driving on the right hand side of the road and so on. There's also the subplot about the drowned Deputy Governor, which seems to mirror the death of Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt. It could have been a uniquely Australian film but the half-assed Americanisation only makes it awkward and confusing. Out of national pride, I'm going to have to take a few points off.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Guy N. Smith Book Review - The Wood

The residents of the sleepy English village of Drow have but one rule: Never go into the woods... alone! Shrouded by fog and filled with boggy marshes, Drow wood claims the lives of many unwary villagers every year. Sure, nature fucking blows, but there are worse horrors that await those who enter the woods. It is also home to evil spirits that roam the mists looking for living souls to terrorise.

The first person to fall victim to the living forest is Carol Embleton. She is forced to hide in the wood after she is assaulted by a crazed rapist named James Foster. Her attacker chases after her (he doesn't even bother to dress so they are both bareass naked) and pretty soon they are both completely lost. The next day there is no sign of her so her boyfriend, nature expert Andy Dark, heads into the woods himself and soon the police are on the lookout for all three of them.

The first thing the police do is contact Thelma Brown, BFF with Carol Embleton and the last person to see her alive. She is asked to take part in a re-enactment of the crime but they aren't filming it so I don't know what they expect to achieve. Unfortunately as soon as they approach the evil woods the police officer is driven insane by it's dark energies (or something) and tries to rape her. Thelma too runs off into the woods and, to cut a long story short, gets raped to death by a zombie in a pit of filthy swamp water. There's a lot of raping going on in this book. If I had to sum this book up in a word it would probably be "rapey".

Eventually the would-be rapist policemen comes to his senses and tries to find Thelma but he is killed in the process. Serial rapist James Foster gets his just desserts at the hands of some undead Druids who roam the forest. Carol and Andy are captured by Bertie Hass, a German fighter pilot who crashed into the woods during WWII. You see, the forest exists in a place outside of time, undead souls from all periods of history are caught in a perpetual time loop, doomed to live out the last few moments of their lives for all eternity. The worst of them all are the customs officers, brutal thugs who in times' past captured smugglers and dragged them back to Drow House where they suffered horrific torture.

It's a pretty good idea and Smith is in his element when it comes to describing spooky natural settings like this, so there's plenty of atmosphere. Unfortunately there isn't much of a plot. A bunch of spooky shit happens and that's pretty much it. The ending is a bit of a let down in particular, the survivors manage to escape the spooky woods by basically running in one direction for a long time. Well done guys, but why didn't you do that 150 pages ago? Basically, it's typical Smith: Lots of incomplete sentences, spooky ellipses and whenever something exciting happens he starts using italics, but it's probably one of his more atmospheric ones and it tops out at 170 pages so it's a really short read.

Monday, 9 November 2009

No Retreat, No Surrender 3: Blood Brothers (1990)


"The first was for honour, The second for his country, This time it's family." The tagline may suggest continuity but No Retreat, No Surrender 3: Blood Brothers continues the series' tradition of abandoning the previous film's plot and characters like a baby in a dumpster. The first film was a shoddy Karate Kid knockoff, the second was a shoddy Rambo knockoff (incidentally it wasn't really "for his country", he was trying to rescue his girlfriend; mowing down commies in the name of freedom was just the icing on the cake). The third film is a revenge-based action movie about two bickering brothers seeking vengeance after father is murdered. This time... it's personaller.

By this stage in the series Corey Yuen had buggered off back to Hong Kong, but Seaonal Films continued to produce the series. Lucas Lo stepped in as director where he would remain for the rest of the series. Loren Avedon, the only other returning element from the previous films, plays Will; a Karate teacher who rebelled against his CIA father by running away and founding a Karate dojo. His brother Casey (Keith Vitali of Bloodmoon and American Kickboxer semi-fame) on the other hand, followed his father's footsteps into the CIA and is a shameless womaniser to boot. The two of them are invited up to their father's house for his 65th birthday celebration and it looks like a pretty cool party - even the boom mike is invited - but Will has to ruin things by rolling up in his V-dub wearing a leather jacket with "CCCP" and a hammer and sickle stitched on the back. A big fashion don't.

Later that day, after the party is over, a bunch of terrorists bust into the place and kill the birthday boy despite his somewhat paranoid habit of hiding weaponry all over the house. Will and Casey discover his body and after a flurry of bad acting ("The only thing that kept us together... is DEAD!") they decide to put aside their differences and seek revenge. Casey uncovers their first clue by breaking into his dad's secret file (cunningly named TOP_SECRET.DOC). He discovers that his father was on the trail of Franco, an international terrorist plus albino mullet-enthusiast, currently located in Tampa, Florida. After getting into a fight with some cross-dressing terrorists, the two brothers separately decide to head down there and try to out-stupid each other in their attempts to find Franco.

Will's plan involves going undercover as Jesse Roby, tough guy for hire, and it's probably a good thing he didn't become a spy like his brother because his idea of going undercover is wearing huge sunglasses and combing his hair a lot. He gets his karate buddies to stage a bar fight so that Will can leap in and save Franco's right hand man Angel. This impresses the hell out of Angel, who immediately takes him back to their hideout where Franco hires him for their secret mission. Who knew that bar fighting was such a important skill for international terrorists?

Meanwhile Casey meets up with an old flame named Maria (Wanda Acuna) who just so happened to have worked for Franco in the past. This may seem like a ludicrous coincidence until you consider the fact that Casey is such a mega-stud. Statistically at least one of his conquests had to have been affiliated with Franco's international terrorist organisation. She gains their trust by tipping them off about a police raid but they worry that she's no longer "sympathetic to their cause". This is pretty interesting because I have no idea what their cause actually is. Franco speaks vaguely of "the revolution" and he occasionally uses the word "comrades" so I guess he's a communist. One thing's for sure though, the guy hates contractions. It's always "I cannot do this" and "I will not let that happen". Maybe his cause is strict grammar reform.

Pretty soon they discover that Maria is actually working for Casey, so it probably won't surprise you to learn that Will's final initiation test is killing his brother. After discovering Will's true identity, Franco's men capture Casey and Maria and offer him a deal: Help them kidnap the Mozambique ambassador as he arrives into the country or they die. Casey and Maria manage to escape, but I guess they forgot the terms of the deal because instead of explaining the situation to the police Casey heads straight to the airport and helps Will with the kidnapping. There's no time to worry about that gaping plot hole though, because it turns out that the kidnapping is just a diversion so that Franco and his men can drive out onto the tarmac with a rocket launcher and blow up the President as he arrives on Air Force One. Even for pre-9/11 that's some pretty lax airport security.

Will smacks a terrorist in the face with a motorcycle just before he can launch a rocket at a smiling and waving President Bush I. Apparently it's business as usual for the US President even with a police siege going on and armed kidnappers on the loose. Will and Casey then chase Franco and his men into an aircraft hangar for the final showdown. The battle is actually pretty cool with lots of flying kicks and climbing on scaffolding, although it's marred a little by some obvious stand-ins (Franco's stunt double is a 5 foot Asian dude in a terrible blonde wig). Franco tries to kill them with one of his signature metal throwing darts, but Casey manages to deflect the dart with the arm-cast he acquired from an injury in the opening scene (what is it made from, kevlar?) and Will kicks it back at him, impaling him in the chest. Pretty awesome but a shame to see him go down. Good fight skills, a distinctive look and a rich, full evil laugh. An excellent villain.

In conclusion, the fights are good but everything else is fucked. The boom mike and camera crew appear on screen so often they deserve an acting credit. I know nobody watches these films for the acting but... Jesus; Avedon is okay but Vitali seems like he is reading his lines for the first time. Early in the film he is asked to read a document aloud and thus provide some clumsy exposition. A difficult feat for the most skilled of actors but with Vitali it's laugh-out-loud hilarious. Acuna is just as bad, making the flirtatious banter between the two particularly painful, but she is acquitted on the basis of looking awesome in a bikini. So as an acting showcase it fails miserably but then nobody watches The Hours to see Meryl Streep deliver roundhouse kicks to "Terrorist 1" through "Terrorist 15", although that would be a vast improvement.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

No Retreat, No Surrender 2: Raging Thunder (1988)

"Raah, I am evil Russian! Ignore mein German accent!"

The tagline to this movie states "It's not a rematch, it's war!" which is actually quite accurate since the movie has a completely different cast and plot from the first movie. It was originally intended to be a direct sequel to No Retreat, No Surrender, with both Jean-Claude Van Damme and Kurt McKinney reprising their roles, but Van Damme decided to break his contract to go and make Bloodsport instead and McKinney left with him. Neither showed up for the first day of shooting, so the crew were left scrabbling to rework the plot and cast a couple of different actors in the lead roles. This worked out pretty well for a number of reasons. Firstly it resulted in Van Damme's appearance in Bloodsport, an 80s classic. Secondly, the talented Loren Avedon picks up the lead role from McKinney. The movie was shot under the name Raging Thunder but the producers saw the No Retreat, No Surrender name sitting in the corner collecting dust and decided to use it anyway.

Scott Wylde (Avdeon) is an American with an awesome name who travels to Thailand to meet his fiance Sulin's parents. After a date at a fancy Bangkok restaurant turns into one of those "wow, foreigners eat some crazy shit" gross-out sequences, the two of them head back to Scott's fleabag hotel. Even though she's a rich girl she's cool with the filth, the door-to-door pimps, the broken bed and all of the strategically torn photos of naked women plastering the walls and they totally do it. What she does mind is a bunch of kidnappers busting into the place the next morning and abducting her. Scott rushes to her parents' place to try and find some information about the kidnappers but he discovers that her family has been murdered by Vietnamese refugees and the Thai police want to pin it on him. He is arrested despite his plaintive cries of "You can't do this to me, I'm an American!", but escapes at the first opportunity, intent on rescuing his girlfriend and clearing his name.

On his first stop he visits his Vietnam vet buddy Mac Jarvis (Max Thayer). I guess he's supposed to remind us of Han Solo since he's a smuggler who is older and more rugged than Scott plus he calls Scott "kid" in almost every line. He trades mostly in heavy machine guns, explosives and tanks, a good guy to know when you want to wage a one-man war. They act like old friends but I have no idea how these two guys could possibly know each other. Scott's a known fugitive by this stage and the two of them can't even enjoy a glass of freshly-squeezed snake blood without a bunch of bounty hunters showing up, so they hire a helicopter pilot Terry (Cynthia Rothrock) and head out to a Khmer Rouge resistance group to try and find out where Sulin in being held.

It turns out that Sulin is being held for ransom at a secret North Vietnamese military base. They are trying to get to Sulin's father but I'm not exactly sure why because big chunks of dialog were in Vietnamese and there weren't any subtitles. The base is run by a huge Russian muscleman named Yuri. He is played by Matthias Hues, taking over the "evil Russian" role from Van Damme. In the first film it was a Belgian and now they've got a German so I guess they are working their way eastward through Europe. Maybe by the fifth film they'll have a Russian played by an actual Russian.

Terry gets kidnapped somewhere along the way and by the time the two of them arrive at the secret base they discover that it is too heavily guarded for them to take alone. It's only when the two of them are kicking back with a few brewskis (Wylde cools down by spraying himself with a room temperature Bud, which is disgusting on many levels) that they get the idea of using the empties to rig up a remote-fire system for a bunch of M60s. If these kinds of movies have taught us anything it's that Commies are helpless against aimlessly-sprayed machine gun fire. They also set up explosives and plant dozens of claymore mines that I guess they carrying with them (along with the beers)?

Despite the fact that Wylde probably smells like luke-warm Bud (ie cat piss and hobo vomit) he manages to sneak up on the guy in the guard tower and stab him. You'd think they would then slip into the camp under the cover of night and rescue the girls, but instead Wylde strings up the guard's corpse and leaves it there while the two of them catch some shut-eye until the next morning. This gives the bad guys ample opportunity to prepare for the climax of the film, suspending the two hostages over a crocodile pit from a rickety death trap.

Wylde's final battle with Yuri is pretty hilarious. Yuri tears his shirt off at the first opportunity and starts grunting and screaming so much he's liable to drop dead of a brain aneurysm at any moment. Eventually the fight spills into Yuri's office, giving plenty of opportunity for politically-symbolic beatings eg Wylde smashes a portrait of Lenin over his head and wraps him up in a Russian flag. Then Wylde ties him to the back of a jeep and drags him into the crocodile pit, pushing the jeep in after him and shooting it until it explodes. It's a pretty thorough ass-kicking, A+ for effort. A nice touch is that Wylde actually takes off the gas cap and makes sure that the tank is full first, as if the audience would cry foul if the jeep exploded without adequate justification.

The first film was a tale of Karate-Kid-esque competitive martial arts and teenage romance, so the shift into Rambo territory is pretty jarring. Wylde even wears a red headband for most of the film. Normally in a film like this the hero would have military training of some description but as far as I can tell in this film it's just an average college kid, and by the end of the film he's mowing down dozens of commies, setting death traps and firing a crossbow with pinpoint accuracy. Shit, if the US had just sent in a bunch of Scott Wylde's the cold war could have been over that much sooner.

I probably enjoyed this one more than the first film. Both have decent fights but watching someone beat up platoons of Commies is more fun than watching a whiny high school student get his ass kicked by bullies. Acting is pretty terrible across the board (the banter between Terry and Mac is particularly painful) but the fight scenes are interesting and varied with a very Hong Kong style. A fight with some counterfeit Buddhist monks is a particular highlight. Avedon has some good fighting skills so it's good that he stayed on for the rest of the series. Unfortunately Corey Yuen left after this one so we'll see whether Lucas Lowe (who's only director credits are the last three films in this series and some obscure film called Diaries of Darkness) is as good at showcasing Avedon's abilities.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Day of the Panther (1988)

Yet another person falls victim to swine flu

From Brian Trenchard-Smith, the stunt-obsessed Australian director who brought us Stunt Rock and The Man from Hong Kong, comes Day of the Panther, an Australian attempt at the kind of martial-arts-heavy, revenge-based entertainment product that flooded the cinema and home video market in the 1980s.

After the most 80s credits sequence ever made the movie starts, as all movies should, with a monologue featuring the soothing, radio-friendly voice of John Stanton. Stanton is a Australian actor known for his commercial and voice over work so seeing him here as a martial arts master is really weird, like if the movie phone guy played Mr. Miyagi. It seems that Stanton is one of just three whiteys to be accepted into the Secret Panther School, an exclusive kung fu school that works for the Hong Kong Special Branch or something. The other two white Panthers are Stanton's daughter Linda (Linda Megier) and her partner Jason (Ed Stazak) and the movie opens with his initiation into the brotherhood.

Jason's full name is Jason Blade, which is pretty much the best name ever and the movie knows it. Normally when you go undercover you'd use some sort of alias. Not Jason Blade, he's got an awesome name and he's going to use it as much as possible. He'll even wear a ridiculous jumper stolen from Bill Cosby's closet and acid wash jeans when he's stalking the back alleys of Hong Kong with his partner. He doesn't give a shit. This must be why, as Stanton puts it, "Undercover surveillance is the most dangerous game we play". Naturally their operation goes tits up and Blade has to fight off a bunch of henchmen while Anna tracks the drug courier back to Perth, Western Australia. She calls Blade to tell him that she's tracked them to an abandoned warehouse, but before he can say "wait for backup" she hangs up.

After poking around the warehouse, Anne gets attacked by three masked henchmen, most notably a hairy, machete-wielding man in a pig mask. These are pretty dedicated disguises too, when she peels a skull mask off of one of the goons his face underneath is painted like a skull as well. It's got some good stunts but it's a long, long chase scene, made longer by the fact that it's inter-cut with Blade arriving on his plane from Hong Kong, checking into his hotel, being tracked by the local police force etc. By my estimation she has been chased around by these guys for at least two hours. Eventually she defeats the goons but is cornered by the drug courier from earlier and killed.

Blade is lounging around in a pink shirt in his all-pink hotel room when he hears the terrible news of her death. Determined to seek revenge, he visits Perth's top drug kingpin/boat salesman Zucor (Michael Carman, who looks kind of like Nic Cage) with the aim of infiltrating his organisation and ferreting out Anna's killer. Blade's idea of a job application is heading out to Zucor's boat showroom and beating the crap out of all his goons, but it works surprisingly well. Blade is invited to Zucor's pool party where he is introduced to Zucor's second-in-command (and Anna's killer) Baxter (Jim Richards) who dresses like a cross between Don Johnson in Miami Vice and Wham-era George Michael. He's an asshole to boot, he pushes a girl in the pool just for smiling at Blade. Blade is offered a job as exchange man in a drug deal but when he gets there it turns out to be a test, which Blade passes by dishing out roundhouse kicks to all present.

Blade also seeks Stanton's rich spiritual wisdom at his Asian-inspired country home, where he partners up with Stanton's niece Gemma. Later she seduces Blade in the gym with a sexy aerobics dance routine which he counters by making his sweaty pecs dance horribly. This is followed by a softcore sex scene, sax music etc. Ah, romance. There's also a comedy subplot about a couple of bumbling cops which follows the Last House on the Left rule of cinema by never, ever being funny. Why did they include this, did they really think there was some tension that needed relieving? Hell, seeing John Stanton walking around in a silk robe like Hugh Hefner is funny enough.

There is much discussion in the film of a massive annual martial arts tournament that Zucor runs, complete with illegal gambling. Baxter wins every year, so Zucor starts a rumour that Blade bested him in an unofficial match in order to drive up the bets. Naturally you'd expect the tournament to be the climax of the film right? Wrong! I don't know if they couldn't afford the extras or what, but instead Baxter does some snooping around Stanton's home and discovers Blade's true identity, forcing Blade, Stanton and Gemma to go on the run.

Blade learns that Zucor has hidden his stash of drugs under the outdoor amphitheater where they are holding the tournament, so the three of them head there to find the evidence that will bring Zucor's operation down. The final battle between Baxter and Blade is pretty cool but it keeps cutting away to the boring antics of Anderson and Gemma, ruining the fight's flow. For some reason Stanton lets Zucor get away and Blade pusses out on killing Baxter so we can have a sequel. As a title card at the end of the film states, "Jason Blade will return in Strike of the Panther".

A lot of this film is pretty terrible, especially the fashion (knitted mesh tank tops, really?), but the fight scenes are actually very good, superior to most of what was coming out of America at the time. Stazak is pretty talented as Blade and the battles are clearly edited and well choreographed. Sometimes it gets pretty ridiculous, such as when Blade beats up a gaggle of henchmen using what is clearly a plastic broom handle. Even Stanton has a brief fight scene, which is pretty terrible but bless him for trying. It's full of mistakes like when a crew member's hand appears quite noticeably in frame during a stunt. Still, if the idea of a jacked up dude named Jason Blade roundhouse kicking thugs while wearing high-waisted slacks sounds like a good time to you, then I'm sure you'll find something to enjoy here.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)

Yes Van Damme, we all know how proud
you are of your ability to do the splits

It's No Retreat, No Surrender, No Vember here at Crustacean Hate and I'm going to be reviewing all five movies in the No Retreat, No Surrender series. The first is directed by veteran Hong Kong filmmaker Corey Yuen and it's pretty interesting in that it had a lot of Hong Kong crew behind the cameras but mostly American actors. Don't be fooled by the DVD cover, though. Although Jean-Claude Van Damme is featured prominently on the box art (in fact he's the only thing featured on the box art) he's in the film for all of two scenes, which means he gets about as much screen time as the boom mike. He plays Ivan Kraschinsky, the most celebrated karate champion in Eastern Europe, now hired goon for some New York mafia types.

For some reason these mobsters are traveling around America and buying up lame strip mall Karate dojos. Tom Stillwell (Timothy D. Baker) refuses their offer to buy his crappy dojo and gets a Van Damme induced broken leg for his troubles. His son Jason (Kurt McKinney), a karate student obsessed with Bruce Lee, attempts to intervene but gets his ass handed to him. Following their humiliating defeat, the family pack up their stuff and head to Seattle to start life anew. We know it's Seattle because the movie holds on a shot of the Space Needle for about 30 seconds, then a subtitle pops up reading "Seattle". Just ignore the palm trees that appear in the background for the rest of the movie. It's definitely Seattle.

Jason soon befriends R.J. (J.W. Fails), a black kid who spends most of the movie doing black guy stuff like rapping, break-dancing, carrying a boom box, playing basketball, skateboarding, dressing up like Michael Jackson etc. Both he and Jason run afoul of this fat guy named Scott, who usually has food all over his face but for some reason is also one of the cool kids. He makes fun of Jason for practicing kung fu and idolising Bruce Lee and for some reason he really hates R.J. I don't know if he's supposed to be a racist but when Scott's friends ask him why he hates R.J. so much cryptically replies "I have my reasons".

Jason's attempt to join the local karate dojo also goes spectacularly wrong when Scott (who is also a karate student despite his physique and hatred of martial arts) convinces the instructor Dean that Jason has been trash-talking Seattle karate. After getting his ass kicked up and down the dojo, he heads to the birthday party of the girl he's sweet on (I assume they met at school but neither school nor the girl are mentioned before this) only to discover that Dean has his eye on her too. Jason gets his ass kicked yet again and heads home in shame, his fancy party duds in tatters, but not before stopping by Bruce Lee's grave and asking for some spiritual guidance.

His dad isn't happy about all this fighting. In fact, all it took was a broken leg to turn his dad from a lethal fighting machine into a sissy-pants pacifist. The two of them get into a hilarious fight that has Jason throwing himself onto his bed in a teary-eyed tantrum and his dad wrecking his makeshift gym, even tearing down his poster of Bruce Lee! R.J. helps him set up a new gym in an abandoned house and this is where things get weird: Jason's prayers are answered when the ghost of Bruce Lee (Tai Chung Kim) appears and offers to train him using the combined powers of cheesy rock music and the montage! Even his dad has to admit that fighting is pretty awesome after Jason saves his ass from some rednecks in a parking lot.

Jason also learns not to seek revenge, so in the end the bullies aren't really the bad guys of the film. In fact he teams up with them against the mobsters that hurt his dad. The epic final battle, despite being a heavily-advertised exhibition match featuring international karate champs, is held in a crappy high school gym with fold-out chairs. Jean-Claude Van Damme wipes the floor with all the Seattle karate champs and starts beating up the referee, so Jason has to leap into the ring and save the day. Things look bad for Jason at first, but R.J. inspires him by calling out the name of the movie and Jason defeats him by employing his secret technique: Bruce Lee's back-flip kick from Enter the Dragon.

No Retreat, No Surrender a pretty amazing in the way it manages to encapsulate everything that's terrible about these kinds of films. Huge hair, terrible fashion, cheesy rock music and a 2:1 ratio of training montages to fight scenes. It shares a lot in common with Karate Kid, which pretty much set the template, but unlike that film it actually has some entertaining fights. Corey Yuen is a skilled fight choreographer and Van Damme stands out in particular. It's incompetent in nearly every other way though, riddled with bizarre continuity errors and editing mistakes. These days a film as badly made as No Retreat, No Surrender would be dumped direct-to-DVD but back then you could buy your ticket and experience the disappointment with dozens of other moviegoers at your local multiplex. Truly the 1980s were a magical time.

Moon (2009)

If Dark Star got 2001: A Space Odyssey pregnant, Silent Running delivered the baby and Solaris was also involved somehow, maybe teaching Lamaze classes or something, we'd have Moon. It's the kind of intelligent science fiction film that they stopped making after Star Wars came out. It's very small story with little to no CG. There aren't any laser guns or aerial battles or weird aliens. It's directed by David Bowie's son Duncan Jones, but Bowie doesn't appear as Ziggy Stardust or contribute any songs or anything. Not even Space Oddity. There are robots but they are friendly and voiced by Kevin Spacey.

The movie takes place at a mining station on the moon that uses some sort of fusion technology to generate energy for Earth. Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the sole occupant of the station and it's his job to oversee the day-to-day operations and occasionally collect the little tubes of energy from the moon-harvesters and shoot them back to Earth. So much of it is automated that you wonder why he's there at all, most of the time he's just sitting around carving models or watching TV. He's got two weeks left on his three year contract and he's looking forward to seeing his wife and kid again so much that he's getting space madness.

Obviously it's a pretty lonely job. Sometimes he gets pre-recorded messages from his bosses or his wife but long range communications have been broken for a while so his only real companion is a robot named GERTY, a big, white boxy thing that travels around suspended from a ceiling track. Science fiction movies have taught us to be wary and suspicious of robots but GERTY is actually really nice. His voice is monotone but warm and friendly (Kevin Spacey does a great job naturally) and he's got a little screen with a smiley face that indicates his mood. He even defies Sam's boss in order to help him out and it's not like he breaks his programming to do it, it's just that he is programmed to look after Sam and that requirement trumps everything else. You are awesome GERTY. HAL could learn a thing or two from you.

The look of the interior sets is quite interesting. It's obviously inspired by the white, functional aesthetic of 2001: A Space Odyssey but it looks grubby and lived-in, proving what I've always thought about these sterile, all-white interiors: They must be a bitch to keep clean. The technology looks bulky and dated, almost retro-futuristic. Most of the monitors look like CRT screens instead of LCD panels. Maybe I'm just picky but I found it a little distracting, like the film was trying too hard to replicate the look of older science fiction films, but overall it was a good compromise between spiffy futurism and working-class functionality. Much of the exterior stuff was done with models and it ends up looking way better than if they'd spent it on CG.

Here on in it's spoilers up the ass, so stop reading if you haven't seen it. Okay, is he gone? Just between you and me, what the fuck is up with that guy, he hasn't even seen Moon? I know, right? Anyway, clones. What I liked about the way they revealed things was that it wasn't done Shyamalan-style, whipping the sheet off the big twist with a drum roll and an orchestral sting. I've heard people say it's too easy to guess but I think they are missing the point. The twist comes relatively early and leaves plenty of time to contemplate what it means in context. Using it show the conflict between the "young" Sam and the "old" Sam was a clever way of illustrating how he had grown and changed after three years of isolation. Sam Rockwell gives several great performances.

I was a little disappointed to learn that Sam(s) had only been up there for 15 years or so. There must be some serious quality control issues if things are going so wrong this early in the operation. I was expecting that Sam had actually been up there for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, firing the energy canisters back to an Earth that is long since cold and dead. That would explain why he couldn't contact anyone on Earth, which brings up another point. If you're going to build a bunch of jammers for long range communications so Sam can't contact Earth, why have long range coms accessible to him at all? Just put in some dummy software. What kind of morons are running this evil corporation?

Okay, so maybe if the human race had been wiped out the film would probably have a bummer of an ending, but I'm not sure how his escape plan was supposed to work anyway. I think these canisters are pretty important so no doubt he'll be discovered (and probably killed) by a Lunar Industries Retrieval Team a couple of minutes after he lands. Either that or he lands in the middle of the ocean and drowns before he's picked up. Plus I'm pretty sure that someone back on Earth must have noticed that an extra clone had been woken up. Someone must be monitoring their status, it's not like they're pop tarts.

Anyway I'm being kind of nitpicky here because this is a pretty great film. Probably isn't going to change your life but it can sit proudly alongside the other films I've mentioned. I've heard complaints that it's too derivative of other science fiction films and I can definitely see that, but intelligent science fiction films are as rare as fuck these days so I'm willing to give it a pass due to extenuating circumstances.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Thirst (1979)

Dame Edna... nooo!

Here is another Australian horror film that I liked. I don't know how much longer this hot streak can last. It starts with a great opening scene: A woman suddenly wakes up in a Gothic crypt straight out of a Hammer movie. As she screams and pounds on the door, begging to be let out, some mysterious voices discuss her "conditioning", one of them stressing that her "sanity is close to breaking point". Flashback to a week ago and we discover her name is Kate Davis (Chantal Contouri) a successful ad executive with an awesome 70s pad who spends her time rolling around in front of her big open fireplace with her hairy boyfriend. After discovering a mysterious cartoon of blood in her fridge she is kidnapped by an international secret society and taken to a remote compound called The Farm.

There she is confronted by the sinister Mrs Barker (the great Shirley Cameron) and Mr Hodge (Max Phipps). They tell her that she is a direct descendant of Elizabeth Bathory and thus part of a royal vampire bloodline. Naturally they can't kill her, all they can do is try to get her to accept her destiny. Mr Hodge wants to marry her and merge their bloodlines but I don't know how he can hope to compete against the 70s machismo of Kate's boyfriend. He doesn't even have an awesome mustache.

Not only that, The Farm is actually a blood processing plant, like a dairy. The "blood-cows" wander around in a drug-induced stupor, occasionally corralled into a factory where their blood is drained, processed, packaged and shipped around the world. It's a great and really creepy idea. There's even a funny part where a tour guide cheerfully touts the factory's high levels of hygiene and blood purity to some vampire tourists, who snap away with their cameras happily. You know vampires would be pulling this shit if they were around today, the fuckers. Obviously Kate doesn't respond well to this information, so after a failed escape attempt they begin a process of systematically toying with her and breaking her down mentally so she succumbs to her instincts.

They begin by locking her in a crypt and when that doesn't work they drug her into a hallucinogenic state and try to brainwash her. Some really good dream sequences follow. A romantic picnic with her boyfriend is spoiled by a blood-filled chicken drumstick. She tries to have a drink only to find the mug filled with blood. She tries to relax with a hot shower at home and what do you think comes out? Blood, and lots of it. Soon she finds herself locked in a library while an enormous beast (the "thirst") tries to get in from outside, shaking the walls and knocking over furniture. This seems to do the trick and they think their conditioning has taken, but when they release her to the outside world she immediately chows down on a co-worker and tries to bite her boyfriend. Dang, time for some more conditioning.

I'm not sure exactly what powers the vampires in this movie have, except for extreme assholishness. They make some vague references to power and eternal youth but the vampires in this film seem just as susceptible to fatal injury and the ravages of age as normal humans. Blood drinking for them just seems to be, as they put it, "the ultimate aristocratic act". They don't have any of the traditional vampire weaknesses either and sunlight doesn't do shit, they don't even sparkle. They don't have fangs and have to wear falsies, but even then it's only for special ceremonial occasions. I loved this grounded, realistic approach but then they have to ruin it by giving the vampires a cheesy red-eye effect whenever they are about to feed.

The movie runs out of steam a little towards the end and the plot gets a bit muddled but it's a great concept with some really good scenes. Performances are generally good and there's a few notable actors I haven't mentioned such as David Hemmings who is a sympathiser to Kate's predicament and Henry Silva who's spectacular death is a highlight of the film. Even Patrick (Robert Thompson) appears as one of the senior vampires, and like that film this one was produced by Antony Ginnane. He financed quite a few low budget Australian horror films in the 70s and 80s. It's directed by TV veteran Rod Hardy who does a good job here and it's got a soundtrack by Brian May who scored every Australian film ever and is not the guy from Queen.

Thirst mixes Gothic atmosphere with a grounded and scientific approach to the vampire myth, resulting in a solid film that works on multiple levels. Also you get to see Chantal Contouri's boobs in one scene. I thought it was pretty good.