Sunday, January 31, 2010

Shaw Brothers Cinema: Vintage Hong Kong Movie News

I received some old Hong Kong newspaper clippings in the mail the other day and here's some of the highlights found therein. Some of the bits and pieces include some very interesting information on films both in Asia and items about movies in production in the West. One interesting note involves David Soul reportedly holding up the filming of SALEM'S LOT (1979) by constantly wandering off the set to romance various women he has invited to the set!

Anyway, these bits and pieces will be of great interest to kung fu fanatics and exploitation fans alike. First up are two images from July 21st, 1979. This first pic showcases Ti Lung and his wife, Amy Tao (Tao Ming-ming) at the 25th Annual Asian Film Festival. Both Ti Lung and likewise HK megastar, Alexander Fu Sheng won awards for their participation in the highly dramatic martial arts spectacular, THE AVENGING EAGLE (aka COLD BLOODED EAGLES) from 1978. Ti Lung won in the 'Most Outstanding Actor' category and Fu Sheng won the 'Highest Achievement for an Actor in an Action Film'. If you haven't seen this film, it's one of the best ever made and a great place to start for those new to the genre.


Ti Lung got to star alongside his wife (pictured above) in some of his independent work including THE REVENGER (1980) and EMPEROR OF KUNG FU (1981).

This next pic is from the same Awards ceremony, this being a lineup of the various winners from Hong Kong. Fans will no doubt recognize among the recipients, Gordon Liu and FIVE VENOM actor, Lu Feng, who played the Centipede in that seminal production. Pictured here, Lu Feng was the winner for 'Most Outstanding Supporting Actor in an Action Film' from the exciting and wonderfully choreographed Chang Cheh production, SHAOLIN RESCUERS (aka THE AVENGING WARRIORS OF SHAOLIN). Lu Feng is second from the right. Gordon Liu, third from the right, was on hand to accept the Award for HEROES OF THE EAST (CHALLENGE OF THE NINJA) in the 'Best Combination of International Martial Arts' category.

This next pic is from July 22nd, 1978 and features an interesting bit of news trivia on famed Hong Kong actress, Chen Ping. The then reigning Queen of Asian Exploitation, Chen Ping did many erotic thrillers and comedies as well as appearing in numerous action and kung fu pictures for Shaw Brothers studio. Some of her best and most notable movies are KISS OF DEATH (1973), THE SINFUL ADULTERESS (1974), THE SEXY KILLER (1976), WEDDING NIGHTS (1976), CRAZY SEX (1976), THE GIRLIE BAR (1976), THE OILY MANIAC (1976), THE VENGEFUL BEAUTY (1977), THE CALL GIRLS, and SHAOLIN HANDLOCK among many others.

Here we have two photos in one. The top photo showcases Ti Lung reading this particular movie newspaper while taking a break during the shooting of THE DEADLY BREAKING SWORD (1979). This clipping comes from August 26th, 1978. Below that is a mention of kung fu favorite, Meng Fei while in Taiwan shooting THE 12 ZODIAC FIGHTERS PART 2.

This next picture carries with it some very interesting information regarding a seemingly unmade production. Pictured here is Carter Wong (BORN INVINCIBLE, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA) posing with two of his students. It says he is planning to partake in a new action movie for Warner Brothers studio entitled THE BIG TOURNAMENT. The stars of which include Charles Bronson, Chuck Norris and Jim Kelly!!! Wow! An incredible list of names for that one and it's a shame that picture fell by the wayside. Also, to the left of the picture is a small tidbit regarding Ti Lung and his wish to freelance outside of the tight constraints of his contract with Shaw Brothers studio.

Ti Lung did get to make movies outside of Shaw's massive movie empire a few months after this article went to press. Some of his work outside the Shaw house are THE HEROES (1980), THE REVENGER (1980) and a film he did for first time director (and the Lizard of the 5 Venoms), Kuo Chui, with NINJA IN THE DEADLY TRAP (1984). The article above is from June 10th, 1978.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sugar Hill (1974) review


Marki Bey (Diana "Sugar" Hill), Robert Quarry (Morgan), Don Pedro Colley (Baron Samedi), Zara Cully (Mama Maitresse), Charles Robinson (Fabulous)

Directed by Paul Maslansky

After her boyfriend is brutally murdered by gangsters for refusing to sell his club, "Sugar" Hill enlists the aid of voodoo queen, Mama Maitresse to help her gain retribution. Summoning the devilish Baron Samedi from the underworld, Sugar barters her soul in exchange for the power to kill her enemies. Raising an army of zombie slaves, Sugar Hill takes out her boyfriend's killers one by one till only Morgan, the leader of the mobsters, remains to die at the hands of the supernatural avengers.

Producer, Paul Maslansky tried his hand at directing with the blaxploitation horror hokum that is SUGAR HILL. One of the more curious of the black horror hybrids, it's not nearly as memorable as BLACULA (1972), nor is it as ridiculously hilarious (and that's a recommendation) as something like DR. BLACK & MR. HYDE (1976). Maslansky's sole directing credit falls somewhere in between. That's not a condemnation of the film, though. There's much to appreciate in SUGAR HILL if one approaches it in a braindead, bad film kind of way. The script is terrible and appears to have used both COFFY (1973) and FOXY BROWN (1974) as a template.

The storyline has so much potential for exploitation goodness, but falls short of being sleaze personified by what appears to have been a troubled production and a PG rating. I'm curious if the film suffered producer interference before its release as it seems there may have been some footage removed to obtain the more child friendly rating. Even with its PG rating, the movie has a fair amount of racially charged dialog typically found in these movies. One particular scene is near the beginning in Morgan's apartment surrounded by his goons. His sole African American crony, Fabulous, stands by shining Morgan's shoes(!) Morgan soon walks over to him and says, "Come on, Fabulous, you can do better than that. We'll make an honest nigra outa' you yet."

The kill scenes are choice, but are let down by happening mostly off screen. One character is decapitated, another is eaten by starving pigs, one is killed by being placed inside a coffin filled with rattlesnakes and some others are killed via voodoo. One of the strangest aspects of these sequences is Diana "Sugar" Hill, herself. Her hairstyle changes into this huge afro during the death scenes and reverts back to long wavy hair the remainder of the time. It's as if she's become a different person entirely. Either that, or it's just bad editing.

The lovely Marki Bey goes from Super Chic.... Super Freak

The star, Marki Bey, is a lovely and beautiful woman, but she's mostly forgettable in her own movie. She never made a dent in cinema and finished out her decade long career in television programs such as STARSKY & HUTCH during that shows final two seasons. She reminds me of Vanessa Williams and has an extraordinary look about her. If only she had been more charismatic (the script doesn't help matters), she could have been another Tamara Dobson or Pam Grier.

Horror favorite, Robert Quarry plays the main villain and he's not very imposing, nor intimidating. The most he can muster for his bad guy role of Morgan is a handful of offensive lines both to the African Americans in the cast and his woman, Celeste. Quarry appears lost and even doubly so when attempting a Southern accent. Still, it's great to see Count Yorga, himself in a different surrounding even if the material doesn't really suit him.

SUGAR HILL (1974) is a pretty bad movie all around. Some of the scenes look like rehearsal footage. Case in point is the beat down at the beginning. Morgan's thugs tap at...I mean kick Sugar's boyfriend, Langston, repeatedly while he's on the ground. They truly do beat the hell out of him, but the scene is so poorly executed, it becomes laughable. It's all the more hilarious once Sugar has an emotional outburst over her boyfriend's lifeless body. Another lackluster, but uproarious sequence is a "fight scene" between Sugar and Morgan's woman, Celeste. You're likely to find better brawls in a preschool sandbox.

Still, what saves SUGAR HILL are two things--Don Pedro Colley and the absolutely creepy looking zombies. If not for these two factors, the film would be a hopeless exercise in tedium. Colley, who has had supporting roles in such films as BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970) and THE LEGEND OF NIGGER CHARLEY (1972), is impressive as the lude, crude and blackly (is that a pun?) humorous Baron Samedi (they pronounce it as 'Som-dee'). Colley truly helps save the film. His entrance is especially comical looking and sounding like he's trying out as a horror movie host on a local television station. Colley devours this role and succeeds in stealing the movie away from the gorgeous Marki Bey.

The zombies are the other reason to check out SUGAR HILL. Covered in cobwebs and sporting exaggerated make up and big, bulbous eyeballs, these zombies don't eat anyone, but kill with machetes. There are male and female living dead and do make an impression often overshadowing the generally awful dialog. Another cool addition is seeing Mother Jefferson herself, Zara Cully, amongst the cast playing voodoo priestess, Mama Maitresse.

Director, Paul Maslansky was then associated with horror and exploitation movies having been involved with the making of such films as the Barbara Steel horror opus, THE SHE BEAST (1966), the British cannibal horror classic, DEATH LINE (1972) and the classic action devil movie, RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975). He was also a producer on the movie FIRST BLOOD (1982) ripped off, RUCKUS (1981), starring Dirk Benedict and Linda Blair. The director is probably most famously associated with the flurry of POLICE ACADEMY movies that were unleashed to theaters throughout the 1980's.

Frequently being shown in widescreen format on cable television over the last few years, this blaxploitation voodoo horror has yet to obtain a legit DVD release. This doesn't seem likely to change any time soon. Even with its curious pedigree, it never attains being anything more than merely average. SUGAR HILL (1974) is nowhere near being great entertainment, but if you like cheesy movies, than this flick will satiate your palate.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cool Ass Comedies: Neighbors (1981) review


This section is devoted to obscure, or forgotten comedies that were either overlooked, or snubbed by a movie going public during their initial theatrical run. Some have cult followings and others are just comedies that have nostaligic appeal to me.


John Belushi (Earl Keese), Dan Aykroyd (Vic), Cathy Moriarty (Ramona)

Directed by John G. Avildsen

"I swear to God, Enid, we may have to move. They're very strange people. You know after the first five minutes when you meet someone you know everything about them, you know what they do, you know their last name...we know NOTHING about those two!"

On the outskirts of suburbia, the mundane and dreary existence of Earl Keese and his family is about to be turned upside down when a quirky and bizarre couple move into the empty house next door. Over the course of 24 hours, Earl Keese is pushed to the brink of insanity and put through hell by the extraordinary new neighbors.

The Oscar winning director of ROCKY (1976) and THE KARATE KID (1984) helmed this blackly humorous comedy, one that traveled an immensely rocky road to make it to the big screen. In the beginning, though, it would seem that this film, based on a best selling novel, would be a huge success. Considering the pedigree both behind the camera (from the producers to the screenwriter and the director) and in front of it, everyone involved thought that NEIGHBORS was going to be another massive success for the SNL hit squad of Belushi and Aykroyd.

Vic: "It's a great house."

Earl: "Thank you."

Vic: "I mean mine."

The director had originally envisioned the character of Earl Keese to be played by Rodney Dangerfield, but Columbia was against it. Soon after, both Belushi and Aykroyd were signed on, but initially, Belushi was to play the bizarre new neighbor, Vic and Aykroyd was to play the mild mannered Earl. Both actors preferred to switch the roles much to the dismay of those involved that felt the film should have been left as it originally was written for the two main characters.

Vic and Ramona' dog, Baby, gets too close to the faulty powerlines

But despite much trepidation on the part of the filmmakers about the two leads switching their roles, both John and Dan were infinitely dissatisfied with the studios choice of director. It was becoming quickly apparent that the making of the movie was mirroring what would ultimately end up on screen. Only instead of two neighbors in a back and forth struggle, it became a volatile situation between two actors and their director. Belushi in particular was so incensed and furious over the direction the film was taking, that a number of people stated that the actor really wanted Avildsen dead.

"Hey, Earl! You want some of your daughters panties? They come in four flavors...banana, peach, mint and of course...CHERRY!"

Problems persisted when Belushi hated the score used in the film. He wanted to use songs from a punk band called 'Fear', but outside of hearing a punk rock tune on a radio at one point, the score by Bill Conti is as strange and eccentric as the tone of the film itself. It's an off kilter mix of bells, whistles, trumpets and big orchestra arrangements. A mega popular Bee Gee's song is also heard on the soundtrack. With so many tumultuous and problematic situations threatening to derail the production at every turn, the movie was a modest success when it was released around Christmas time in 1981. Still, compared with ANIMAL HOUSE (1978) and THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980), this third teaming of the dynamite duo of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd was deemed a failure.

I remember when I saw the commercial for NEIGHBORS I thought it was a horror movie. I didn't catch up to the film until a year or so after its release when it debuted on cable television. At the time, all I cared about was horror films and this darkly humorous story had enough creepy, yet funny moments to elicit slight overtones of the macabre. Whereas many that worked on the film felt that the two leads exchanging their originally intended roles crippled the movie, I actually thought it works to the films benefit. Belushi obviously didn't want to keep playing the 'Bluto' type role from ANIMAL HOUSE. He instinctively thought playing a much more bland characterization while his close friend, Aykroyd was playing the crazier personage would be pure genius. I think it was a good decision on both their parts. I don't think I could imagine it any other way.

After everything I've read about how insane Belushi was on the set of this movie (falling back into drugs, violent tantrums), his performance is excellent. It's totally controlled up until the end when he finally releases his pent up 'caveman' after tiring of his dead end existence.

"God, does it always shrivel up like that when you shower?"

Vic and Ramona torture him mercilessly throughout the films 90+ minute running time. Vic manipulates and lies to Earl, but then once Earl thinks he's caught Vic red handed, the situation is turned around (sometimes to a ridiculous degree) to make Earl out to be a fool yet again. Ramona constantly seduces him with the promise of sexual fulfillment before she, too, makes him out to be a buffoon at every turn.

Ramona: "He tried to pork me."

Earl: "Pork you?! WHAT?!"

Ramona: "You know you did."

Earl: "I swear...I never touched her!"

Ramona: "Well I wasn't born with your hand in my bush."

"What are you so nervous about, Earl? Afraid Vic'll think you're up here....chewing me?"

"Do they have any country fairs around here? You know, where they do things like see which bull has the biggest balls."

And it isn't relegated to the neighbors. At one point, Earl thinks he's pulled one over on his inexplicable next door socialites by locking them in his basement. What follows is pure hilarity as Earl calls a friend about a locksmith to let them out of the basement. Vic invades the conversation by listening in on the phone downstairs. This scenes features some fast editing as Vic wreaks havoc over the phone resulting in Earl finally hanging up.

Earl: "...I've got two lunatics locked in my basement!"

Vic: (Makes grunting sounds)

Chic: "What?! What did ya' say?"

Vic: (in a deep, raspy voice)"I said blow it out your ass, wimp!"

Chic: "Is their somebody on this line?"

Vic: "Just you and me, asshole!"

Earl: "The bastard's on the phone!"

Chic: "Well you called me, didn't ya'?"

Earl: "Not you!"

Vic: "ME!"

Earl: "Get off the line, Vic!"

Chic: "Who's Vic?!"

Earl: "He lives next door."

Vic: "Nobody lives next door, Earl!"

Chic: "That's right!"

Earl: "Christ!"

Vic: "Earl! Have you been drinking?!"

Chic: "What the hell is goin' on?!"

Earl: "Nevermind, forget it."

Vic: "And don't ever call here again!!"

Vic: "You just take back that cup you keep switching, Earl, or it'll be pump city!"

(referencing Ramona lying naked in Earl's bed)
Earl: "But she dropped the towel!"

Vic: "Did she drop it, or did you psychically will it to fall?"

Greavy: "That fella' Vic said you run his truck down in the swamp...said you locked him and his missus in the root cellar."

Earl: "That was kind of a joke..."

Greavy: "A joke? What the hell kinda' joke's that?" It's about as funny as a gut full a pinworms."

Earl: "Who asked your opinion anyway?"

Greavy: "Who the hell has to, ya' jack off! Just because I lay under your carpets that's inside, just because I snake your pipes and drain your cesspools, that don't make me dirt under your feet! I'm just as good as you any day, asshole! If I didn't have to do this crap for a livin', I wouldn't sell you my snot!"

A trick by Vic pretending to saw off Ramona's leg sets them free, but gets Earl trapped in his own basement. This leads to a heated conversation with a disgruntled and dirty locksmith named Greavy. Earl gets himself into even more hot water with the old man's son.

Perry Greavy: "How would you like your nuts nailed to your forehead, huh?"

It's just one catastrophic situation after another. Earl cannot win. He's the victim of a stale marriage and a distanced relationship with his punk rocking daughter. Vic and Ramona simply try to get Earl to live a little, yet he keeps fighting them till the last five minutes of the film. Earl literally leaves his family in the dust after accidentally setting his house on fire while his wife and kid are away. He takes off with the eccentric couple into the wild blue yonder to experience the reckless side of life.

NEIGHBORS (1981) was John Belushi's last movie and a difficult one to recommend especially if you're expecting something in the mold of ANIMAL HOUSE or THE BLUES BROTHERS. The third film in the unofficial Belushi/Aykroyd trilogy is the polar opposite of those movies. It's occasionally insane, but far more contained in that the entire film takes place in a dead end cul de sac. It's an acquired taste and not a laugh out loud barrage of gags that many may be accustomed to. It has moments that are hilarious, but most of the humor is subtle and very dark. If you're a fan of jet black comedy, than these NEIGHBORS are people you may want to get to know.

This review is representative of the Columbia Tri Star R2 DVD

Related Posts with Thumbnails


copyright 2013. All text is the property of and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.