Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Cannibals (1980)

Classic Spanish director Jess Franco was known for making visual masterpieces on one end of the spectrum, then making absolute garbage on the other. This is partly tied to the sheer volume of movies he made! Directors in the 30s and 40s would make hundreds of films all the time, because directing was a day to day gig back then, with less emphasis on auteurs. That had all but died out by the 1980s, yet he was a staunch holdout. Cannibals (known by a slew of other titles, such as Mondo Cannibale, and White Cannibal Queen) is considered by many to be his absolute worst. Dear God, what might that entail?!...

Jeremy Taylor is an anthropology professor out on an expedition to the Amazon with his family, when disaster strikes. A tribe of savages kill and eat his wife, and kidnap his daughter, who they believe to be a white goddess sent from the heavens. Jeremy's arm is severed, but he is able to escape, and in his delirium he is taken to a hospital in America to recover. With the help of a newfound love, he is able to regain his strength, and asks the help of a rich husband and wife to finance a new expedition, deadset on rescuing his daughter and gaining revenge...

Cannibals gets off to a quick start, introducing its characters and setting showing a bloodbath, and jumping forward to the present day. Lead Jeremy tries to tell his story, but the authorities don't beleive him, instead assuming an accident must have taken place, and his traumatised mind simply made up a story. I can only imagine how the skeptical pricks would react to Sally from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. "It seems this girl was just chopping firewood when she pierced a bucket of paint, and now she thinks she saw all her friends die."

As the years roll by and we reach the present, Jeremy somehow manages to recover his memory, despite never having lost it in the first place. He intends to mount an expedition back to the Amazon, but finds skepticism. Despite this he manages to build up a team, but what he doesn't know is his daughter has been raised as the goddess and queen of the cannibal tribe.

Jeremy is an average hero  Although I deduct him points in several areas. For one, even if your family insist on coming, maybe don't take them to the cannibal region of the Amazon. The startling thing is Jeremy didn't even know it was a cannibal region until the boat's captain told him as they already reached it! Secondly is him taking along his second wife to rescue his daughter, which is just asking for trouble. And thirdly is his big guilt tripping speech to the bar patrons, calling them all cowards for not helping him in his journey...But everyone in his party gets butchered as the movie goes on, so I frankly think they were quite entitled not to come!

His new wife is likeable enough, though I deduct points from her too for deciding to join Jeremy's expedition, after his last wife was killed on one! Their chemistry is pretty lacking. There's one hilarious moment when she wakes Jeremy up in the night, and he responds with "Oh, it's you". Talk about one of the worst things you could say to your wife!

Jeremy's daughter is a non-entity. We see her as a child, then after an indeterminate period she's suddenly an adult who's fully ingratiated within the tribe. We never get to see how she feels, or what she thinks.

The rich couple are a hoot, definitely the most lively characters in the film. They seem quite mean at first, but despite their almost callous exteriors, they end up being the most endearing characters in the whole movie! Not only do they each get their moments of humanity, but they both ultimately give their lives in order to rescue Jeremy's daughter! They're funny and likeable in a way. You're never quite sure if they're all just taking the piss at Jeremy, or genuinely cheering him on, and they're so fun about it that you don't really mind, especially considering they are still footing the expedition's bill.

Despite that dope Jeremy's best intentions, the expedition is wholly unprepared. The deaths happen within the span of 10 or so minutes, just one arrow after the other. It all happens so quickly that the party never  are never able to react.

Where the movie really loses me is in its mean streak to its characters. It's enough that Jeremy's first wife dies, since that's the inciting incident, and I don't mind if a few of the expedition team get eaten. But it was a bummer watching the rich couple die after they redeemed themselves, and it was especially depressing seeing what happens after! Jeremy may escape with his daughter in tow,

I will give credit though, while the story may be depressing to the point of being unpleasant, there is nothing malicious in Cannibals. It's just such an earnestly bad movie, and it only makes you laugh. As with Franco's other Amazon cannibal movies, this has none of the animal abuse prevalent in the subgenre. Things like that really make you respect a filmmaker, regardless of how trashy the movie may be. Another thing to admire about Jess Franco is that while he may have told a few porky pies (like claiming the Necronomicon was totally real, and he'd seen it for his movie), when it came to the quality of his movies he was always honest, and openly admitted to Cannibals being his worst film.

The acting and dubbing here is hilariously bad, with the lead mumbling his way through every line. Some performers are wooden, others over-the-top, and some even do a decent job.

The gore effects are pretty good, although it is bizarre how we go into like a negative zone during each cannibalism scene. The background suddenly turns black, and there are lots of super close-up shots, to the point where it's a little hard to tell what's even happening. I also got a big laugh at Al Cliver's obviously hidden arm.

The soundtrack to Cannibals is weird in places, such as the main theme, but other bits are quite effective, like the simple tribal chants and rhythms, which build the tension, even in brightly lit scenes. And believe me the movie needs help like that, because most of these areas look paradisical than scary.

The locations are very effective. The movie hits it out of the park with the beautiful and authentic locales. The only way they look unconvincing is that some areas look a bit too curated, if you know what I mean. We're supposed to be out in the primal wilderness, yet there are big open paths, and trees planted in order.

To finish, Cannibals may be an absolutely terrible film, but if anyone could make a film as legendarily bad as this, Jess Franco's the man...

The New Barbarians (1983)

Noted Italian director Enzo G. Castellari had his hand in many genres, from crime, to action, war, etc, and notably the post-apocalyptic genre. A booming market during the 80s thanks to hits like Mad Max, Italy was quick to capitalise, and thank goodness they did, because they really did a great job taking the genre to all kinds of unseen and entertaining places. Castellari delivered to us 1990: The Bronx Warriors and its follow-up, which were more dystopian, inspired by the likes of Escape from New York. 1983's The New Barbarians however was a full-on apocalyptic adventure, and is one of the most distinct and memorable...

It is the year 2019 A.D., and the nuclear war is over. For small bands of survivors, life goes on, but even this small semblance of peace is threatened, as they are ruthlessly hunted down by the Templars, a fanatical cult dedicated to the annihilation of mankind. Opposing them is lone warrior Scorpion, with the unwanted help of his friend Nadir, and the company of a new partner. Together they discover a signal that could lead to a restored society, and must stop the Templars from finding it at all costs...

The New Barbarians grabs your attention right away with its unique credits sequence, which features a city hit by a nuclear bomb, and the process it goes through as the devastation gets worse. It's done in a really unique and interesting way, as the city doesn't just get flattened, nor burnt. Instead most of the buildings are intact. Yet we can tell this city is dying because of the growing haze, which drowns out the sunlight until the screen is bathed in blue, and the rolling fog eventually envelopes everything, until even the music comes to a crawl.

From here on the film is action-packed, having lots of fun with the setting and using it to its advantage. This is a low budget production, but uses its resources well and creates a world we can believe. A couple of the roads maybe look a little too pristine for after the bomb's dropped, but otherwise they're fine, and free of modern day vehicles! The majority of New Barbarians is set out in the 'arid wilderness', and it's great. As fitting as anything in Australia.

The story is basic but effective. The characters have their arcs and journeys, and the stakes are small scale yet large. The origin of the signal goes unexplored, which makes it all the more effective. We get just enough to whet our appetites and make us curious, but not so much to spoil the mystery. The movie is never boring either, despite its thin plot and limited locales. It also knows how to truly surprise, with one of the most jawdropping scenes in all Italian cinema!

The heroes of The New Barbarians are a distinctive bunch, living up to both titles. Scorpion is a badass, simple in all the best ways. His personality and unparalleled skills are clear right from the get-go, along with all of his cool gear. He's a real warrior of the wasteland, regularly fighting off whole gangs single-handed, and rescuing damsels in distress.

Nadir is a cheeky guy, and a wise mentor, trying to teach Scorpion about the power of victory. He's armed with a futuristic bow and arrow, with many fun goodies attached. Many a Templar loses their head thanks to him!

Love interest Alma doesn't have as much personality, not speaking much, but she's a nice presence. She's also useful too, never just sitting around doing nothing.

The villains are just as great. Fanatically religious, and believing mankind to be a pestilence that caused the apocalypse, the Templars see themselves as holy warriors cleansing the Earth. Lead antagonist One is a menacing figure, psychotic and cold, with flashes of insanity. His lieutenant Shadow is more pragmatic. He has self-aware moments, but doesn't care, choosing to continue with this life. And then there's Mako, who's just flat out crazy, and ready to take control for himself.

One of the more interesting aspects of the film is Scorpion's relationship with the Templars-He used to be one! At some point in the past he was initiated into the group, but fell out with them, beating One in duel, and earning the legendary status as the only man he is afraid of. One is obsessed with bringing Scorpion back, not just to kill him, but to humiliate and make him submit. The 'understanding' between them can be seen in scenes like Mako's failed attack, where Scorpion says "If One sent him, this is my answer. If he didn't, it's my warning.".

It makes you wonder, was Scorpion once a blinded zealot, who overcame this senseless bloodlust? Or perhaps the Templars began as a benevolent group to protect others, only to be perverted as they saw more and more carnage, and lost their faith in humanity.

The effects in The New Barbarians are cheesy, but great. Sure, it might not be entirely convincing here and there, and some shots might look more like mannequins than others, but overall it's nice. The action and stuntwork is all really well done too.

The costumes are absolutely ridiculous in the best ways possible, from groin straps, to boob bubbles (sadly we see none in action), and a suit of unthreatening yet useful plexiglass armour. The hairstyles are something special too. Hairdressers clearly survived the apocalypse, as the Templars all have fabulous locks, bangs, and bouffants, not to mention dye jobs. They mesh well with their identical uniforms, and while they're always amusing to look at, they also don't take away from their villainy.

The vehicles are a lot of fun too, from the buggies, to the bikes, the cool rigs, and Scorpion's swanky car! There's a level of effort and consistency that I appreciate. Everything looks like it's a part of this strange world.

The cast here do great. Giancarlo Prete is a decently charismatic lead, while Anna Kanakis is a pretty co-star. Fred Williamson adds plenty of charm and sly fun to the movie. Knowingly goofy, but taking it seriously enough for us to care. George Eastman is a great villain, as always, menacing and creepy. Also good are Enio Girolami and Massimo Vanni as his lieutenants. And lastly there is little Giovanni Frezza, a memorable (if fleeting) staple of Italian cult cinema. He has a hilarious role and makes the best of it, with a sense of childlike enthusiasm that wavers between psychotic and adorable.

Genre film titan Claudio Simonetti does a wonderful job with the music, crafting a score that manages to be fun, light, while also ominous. His use of mechanical sounds are great too, such as the ambient beeping, as if from abandoned signal stations.

The New Barbarians is a great time to be had. You honestly can't have more fun with post-apocalyptic cinema than you can here. Good on Enzo Castellari for always delivering a good time, and never being afraid to be weird or daring...

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Demir Pençe Korsan Adam (1969)

Turkish pulp cinema was a booming industry during the 60s. While it couldn't hope to compete with Hollywood's output, they tried their best with what they had, and provided much entertainment to the locals. Now, 50 odd years later, these films have found a second life among foreigners, much to the amusement and embarrassment of Turks, knowing full well these may be the only Turkish films these people see...

Arch-criminal Fantomas has returned to Istanbul with a vengeance! He is determined to retrieve some stolen microfilm, but standing in his way is the hero Demir Pençe. Together with his sidekicks Mine and Uncle, plus a vengeful cop, they fight valiantly against the evil Fantomas, in the name of their beloved country...

With a title translating to Iron Claw Pirate Man, Demir Pençe Korsan Adam promises to be a silly time, and it certainly lives up to that! It's part of the Turkish superhero scene, where masks are optional, human life is cheap, and the men get kidnapped just as much as the women.

The plot here is fairly basic stuff. A supervillain is after a macguffin, and the heroes try and stop him. In any other kind of movie it's be a pretty thin excuse for a story, but here it's exactly what you expect. A few punch-ups, cheesy dialogue, superfluous stripteases, and more. The film has a slight patriotic streak too, but nothing too cheesy, barring the amusing ending.

There are a few twists and turns. Nothing major, but enough to keep things varied, even though you usually know what'll happen. Naturally Fantomas always gets away during his encounters with the heroes, but it doesn't happen too much, and never feels frustrating. It's good in a way, because it means the film's not over yet.

Despite being a z-grade pulp film, Korsan Adam actually looks quite well-made! Not to say Çetin Inanç was always a bottom-of-the-barrel filmmaker, but when your CV includes such 'gems' as Turkish Star Wars, multiple Turkish Rambo's, and the odd Kilink film, that's not exactly an 'inspiring' bunch. Korsan Adam however not only has plenty of imagination, but also enough money or DIY sklls to back it up. This much is apparent from the very first scene with Fantomas, and his fancy viewscreen monitor.

The heroes are a rough, tough duo. Demir Pençe and his sidekick Mine go in all guns blazing, possessing a 'Let's kill 'em all and let God sort them out' attitude towards human life. Mine proves herself just as strong and competent as the male hero, and is never a damsel. Demir meanwhile has no qualms with seducing the ladies for information, and going to bed with them! One wonders if Mine is aware of all this, and if she has a gun trained on him making sure he doesn't actually go all the way.

Uncle meanwhile is the comic relief. An older guy who tags along, he's not much help in a fight, but he does manage to help out in a few good ways! Then there's Yıldırım, the brother of a fallen cop who previously worked with Demir Pençe. At first he seems like he might be a little shifty, perhaps even Fantomas in disguise! But he soon proves himself to be a staunch ally.

Where the heroes got on my nerves was when they kidnap henchwoman Gülgün and convince her to spill the beans. She's terrified Fantomas will kill her if she does so, but Demir insists she'll be safe and protected...Then 5 minutes later she's found in the same spot unguarded, by Fantomas and his gang, who kill her. Whoops! Also, for a guy who's impossible to find, Fantomas would've come right to the heroes if they had just waited in the shadows!

The heroes have some neat costumes, and wear them quite a bit, though the masks come and go. No cares about using their identities to protect their loved ones. After all, the friends and family of superheroes get kidnapped all the time anyway, so why hide it? These Turks are smart!

Fantomas is a great villain. Diabolical, violent, untrustworthy, and always possessing a new scheme for world domination. At the rate he murders employees it's a wonder anyone works for him! And that's not even getting into the ones who die in shootouts with either the police/local superheroes or rival crime syndicates (despite his guaranteed protection).

Onto the main henchmen. Behçet is an iron-mitten wearing lieutenant, while Fantomas's moll Gülgün is sure of her place, but falls afoul of her boss. And last up is the Countess/Princess, who Fantomas immediately goes gaga over. Despite his assurances to his current girlfriend, you just know he'll throw her off like an old rag, and sure enough he finds the perfect excuse.

Fantomas's villainous headquarters is a mansion by the Bosphorous, patrolled by guards all dressed in matching F shirts, wielding machine guns. Because nothing says "I'm a law abiding citizen and definitely not Fantomas" than monogrammed henchmen!

The last major characters are the professor and his daughter. As the creator(?) of the microfilm, he's No. 1 on Fantomas's list, but Demir Pençe is able to bravely rescue him...Before he is promptly re-kidnapped, because protecting people and keeping promises is not Demir Pençe's forte. The poor professor ends up facing a sticky end, after he makes the mistake of taking Fantomas at his word. I thought his daughter would be safe, but she ends up with a grisly fate too! Her dying felt completely unnecessary, and didn't make much sense either. It just felt like a depressing excuse for more carnage.

The acting here is all fine. Demir Karahan is a fun lead, as is the pretty and spunky Nebahat Çehre. Danyal Topatan is fun as the comic relief, while Yıldırım Gencer is your typical intense cop. Necati Er does a great job as Fantomas, masked for almost the entire picture, while Behçet Nacar is a good lead henchman. There are plenty of gorgeous women on display too, from Feri Cansel, Aynur Aydun, and Gülgün Erdem.

The fight choreography is dynamic, and while none of the hits probably actually connected, most look like they do, and you're frankly not paying attention when the action is this fun and fast-paced.   shootouts   The climax is the movie at its most entertaining, since we know all bets are now off. It's Fantomas's defeat that's the most cathartic, because of his ultimate fate! It's not what I was expecting, and definitely a satisfying end for the masked menace.

Also present are a few dances, and not only are they sexy, they're surprisingly skimpy! Those Turks know how to put on a good show.

The score is great listening. It's groovy, with a few lively dance beats, and enough James Bond tracks to keep things thrilling. We also get some pieces from western cinema like The Magnificent Seven. Not everything is lifted, and the original pieces all get the job done too.

The direction here is very good! The action is all staged well, as are the chase sequences. There are some really creative shots throughout, including a multi-storey fight sequence. One shot with birds in the climax looks really good! I wonder if it was a happy accident, or deliberate. I'm impressed either way.

Demir Pençe Korsan Adam is perhaps the quintessential Turkish pulp film. It's a great introduction to the genre, and lots of fun in its own right. If you come into this expecting a big-budgeted Hollywood picture you'll be disappointed, but if you know to expect the opposite of that, it can be fun in an ironic way, or seen totally sincerely. Either way it's neat...

Jane Bond 008: Operation Karachi (1971)

There's some discussion these days about whether the character of James Bond should be genderswapped (for the record, I disagree, and think he should stay the same, and if anyone wants a female spy, they should just make a new character, like I do). If only people knew that Pakistan and Iran had already beaten them to the punch by over 40 years! That's right, before the official 007 series had even reached its 10th anniversary, out came this genderswapped variation...

Jane Bond is a special agent of British and Pakistani origin, and is dispatched to the city of Karachi to foil a mad villain's plan for world domination. Along the way she enlists the help of a hapless taxi driver, who falls head over heels, and is determined to fight with her...

Operation Karachi is a real disappointment of a movie. If you're familiar with Turkish pulp films, then you can have a pretty reasonable idea of what you're in for, but even on those merits, the movie just isn't as fun as it couldn't been. But where it really fails is in the main concept! Jane Bond 008?? She's barely in the thing!

There is very little story to speak of. The film is predominately made up of characters running from point A to B, or B to A  and it all feels a bit directionless. The climax is ok, but nothing special. It's so unremarkable I didn't even realise it was the climax until the credits rolled. The villains are dispatched without much fanfare, and the whole thing's a bit boring really.

The defacto main character is not Jane Bond herself, despite what lies the title may tell you, but is instead a random taxi driver. In any other film he'd be the useless comic relief sidekick, but because he takes up such a dominant position, he's actually quite a capable scrapper. He's also a hopeless sap, as he fells head over heels for Jane after only 5 seconds, and after she is kidnapped repeatedly over the course of the runtime, he is there time and time again risking his life to save her.

Speaking frankly I'd say the movie does a pretty shitty job of showing off Pakistan. All it does is show off a few barren roads. This is made all the more frustrating because the movie is actually filmed in Karachi! Most zero-budget Asian films do a poor job of overseas locations because they're trying to make Anatolia or Khunduz look like the Daintrees, but here they had access to the location, but make it look like crap.

I'll say this for the movie though, it's got a good runtime in its favour! If this were Indian it'd probably verge in 3 hours, but the Persians must prefer normal film lengths, and so it's a comfortable 90 minutes. Still too long for such a movie? Maybe, but when you're acutely aware of how much worse it could be, you take what you can get.

Operation Karachi was directed by Reza Fazeli. It was also written by Reza Fazeli. And this is probably a coincidence, but it also stars Reza Fazeli. Whether this whole production was a bit of a vanity or ego trip is up for debate. I won't give a concrete answer myself, but I will say: If I was making a movie about Jane Bond, I probably wouldn't make myself the lead, and have the beautiful main actress be hopelessly in love with me.

It's hard to tell, but acting here seems pretty basic. Just decent performances. A little annoying here and there, but generally tolerable. Rakhshanda is a pretty lead, and may have made a cool super spy in a better film.

The music is made up of a few Bollywood style ditties that play every now and then, which are alright, and at the least never dull.

Every review I read of Operation Karachi said that it did not live up to its potential and was an all-round disappointment. I went in with an open mind, hoping to disagree with these assessments, but I can only concur with them. It's a pretty lousy picture. Better quality and subtitles would improve things a little, but not by much, I can't imagine. Avoid, or watch at your own risk...

Sunday, June 27, 2021

The Bride of Vernon (2011)

Calvin Dyson is known as a youtuber of all things James Bond, and he's certainly a great content creator! I've watched quite a few people over the years, and my interest in them has come and gone, but he really seems like one to stick around, and produces top notch videos. He is also an animator, and creator of a stop motion comedy film, much to my surprise!

Vernon van Dyke is a friendly mad scientist in the north of England, trying hard to realise his dream of resurrecting the dead, and creating a bride. To no avail, as his experiments keep failing. Then one day, after a date gone somewhat wrong, he finds himself urgently needing to succeed, or else his life will be meaningless...

The Bride of Vernon is a super enjoyable little treat. Only 15 minutes long, it manages to pack in a complete story, that leaves you wanting more, but never has you feeling unsatisfied.

The film has a charming sense of humour, with a touch of black comedy, but never too much. It's always the right balance. A highlight is the date-It's jawdropping how badly it goes! On one hand Vernon really shoulda been watching where he was looking! But on the other hand, Mary did totally distract him. But then again, who keeps sodium hypochloride in the kitchen, ya dope?

Bride of Vernon is a fantastic looking film. The characters all have that DIY look to them, in a good way. They may not look like super polished million dollar creations, but they're not bad at all, and have life to them, especially thanks to their fluid and believable movements. The environments are all stellar too, from the stylish laboratory, complete with a thunderous rooftop (reflective with water), the spooky cemetery, and Vernon's brightly lit and homely kitchen. The rooms never feel empty or barren, with many little objects throughout, such as a nifty record player.

There's a small amount of computer effects, and they mesh well, never feeling like egregious CGI in a classic film.

I adored all the little touches too, from the names on the tombstones, to the book Mary's reading (The Last Man, by Mary Shelley! Nice to see at least someone appreciates it), and the classic "A good cast is worth repeating" motto at the end.

The soundtrack, comprised of a few archive pieces (courtesy of [Chopin]) fit very well with the action, and help build the atmosphere. They're also balanced well too, never drowning out the dialogue.

The cast here is a surprising one for a short student film! There's comedy actor Dan Clark, David Schofield, and Katherine Parkinson! As an Aussie I hadn't actually the faintest idea who the first two were, but I recognised her voice instantly. They all do fun jobs, and despite their dialogue being recorded months apart, you'd never know!

Overall, The Bride of Vernon is an extremely enjoyable time! It's just a shame there haven't been any more stop-motion efforts from Dyson, although goodness knows he's not been idle, still delivering great content in one form or another...