Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Shaw Brothers Cinema: Vintage Unfinished, Unreleased and Unbelievable Shaw Brothers Productions

For this edition of 'Assorted Bits & Pieces, it's another look at some rare, vintage Shaw Brothers imagery. The first bit of news is a spotlight on a film that never got finished. The filming began on two separate occasions by two different directors and a new cast of actors and actresses. The never completed film in question was called THE DRINKING KNIGHT.


Featured below from the October of 1970 issue of Southern Screen magazine, THE DRINKING KNIGHT was to be the directorial debut of former Chang Cheh assistant, Chiu Kang Chien. For whatever reason, Chiu's debut was not to be. He was relegated to being a writer for the remainder of his Shaw Brothers stint having already been a writer on such Chang Cheh movies as the modern day dramatic thrillers THE SINGING THIEF and DEAD END (both 1969) and THE DUEL (1971). He was also a writer on such Wuxia actioners as Ho Meng Hua's THE LONG CHASE (1971) and the classic Chu Yuan film, INTIMATE CONFESSIONS OF A CHINESE COURTESAN as well as the unreleased to DVD, NIGHT OF THE DEVIL'S BRIDE (1975) starring Lo Lieh for director Ho again.

Chiao Chiao was initially part of the cast of THE DRINKING KNIGHT. Chiao Chiao was in several of Chang Cheh's classic swordplay films like the seminal ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN (1967) and its sequel, the more fantastical, RETURN OF THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN (1969). She also featured in, and played one of the key roles in Cheh's superb historical drama, THE ASSASSIN in 1967. Chiao married Shaw Brothers actor, Huang Chung Shun (who often played bad guys in his films) in 1963.

Also slated to star in this unfinished production was then heartthrob, Tsung Hua. He played in a lot of Wuxia adventures as well as a handful of adult oriented erotic films. He was also a star in one of the 70's biggest HK hits, THE HOUSE OF THE 72 TENANTS (1973). Some of his swordplay movies include the bloody Chu Yuan film, DUEL FOR GOLD (1970), THE KILLER (1972) and Cheng Kang's sprawling epic, THE 14 AMAZONS (1972). After leaving Shaw's in 1978, Tsung Hua embarked on a prolific career in independent swordplay and kung fu pictures including SILVER HERMIT FROM SHAOLIN TEMPLE (1979), the ambitious MY BLADE, MY LIFE (1982) and MIRACULOUS FLOWER in 1984. He later had a career in television.

From there we jump ahead nearly a year later to the September 1971 issue of Southern Screen where THE DRINKING KNIGHT is again featured among the many movies the Shaw's had on their production slate. Apparently, in a situation similar to that of the Shaw film, CALL TO ARMS (1971), THE DRINKING KNIGHT had started over from scratch. This time, it's a totally new director and cast.

Now, another Chang Cheh acolyte, Pao Hsueh Li, was in the directors chair. A former cinematographer, Pao was an AD on several of Chang's big pictures like THE WATER MARGIN and MAN OF IRON (both 1972). Most all of his directorial work is fairly forgettable, but the man was an excellent DP. His work in this area is truly exceptional. Pao's photographic expertise can be seen in such classics as THE BELLS OF DEATH (1968), the SEVEN SAMURAI styled THE MAGNIFICENT SWORDSMAN (1968) and THE TWELVE GOLD MEDALLIONS (1970).

For the second time THE DRINKING KNIGHT attempts to get made, Yueh Hua replaces Tsung Hua in the title role. By this point, Yueh Hua was already a major star after his featured role in the seminal COME DRINK WITH ME in 1966. Hua was a great screen presence and his career lasted well over 30 years. He even got to co-star in an international co-production in an Italy/HK film entitled THE SUPER STOOGES VS. THE WONDER WOMEN (???) aka SUPERMEN AGAINST THE AMAZONS directed by exploitation specialist, Alfonso Brescia (see at bottom of page). Joining Yueh Hua in the cast was Tina Chin Fei (TEMPTRESS OF A THOUSAND FACES) and the gorgeous Wang Ping (KING BOXER). I presume since this film was never finished, the negative has since deteriorated and what was shot, no longer exists.

From a shelved production, we go to a film that was finished, but never announced, nor released by Celestial Pictures through IVL. The name of this movie is SHADOW GIRL, a 1971 production also featured in the September 1971 issue of Southern Screen. This one was from Taiwanese director, Hsin Chi, who had an extremely brief directing career.

In this film, Lily Li plays an invisible swordswoman, the 'Shadow Girl' of the title. The revered actress, Lily Li, got her start with Shaw Brothers in 1966 and came to prominence in Chang Cheh's movies such as THE WANDERING SWORDSMAN and THE HEROIC ONES both in 1970. Li would have one of the longest careers of the female stars in Hong Kong cinema with distinguished roles in not only the master, Chang Cheh's films, but also the productions of the famed Liu Chia Liang. Some of her best work for master Liu include EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN (1976) and SHAOLIN MANTIS (1978). Her films for Chu Yuan such as THE JADE TIGER (1977) and SWORDSMAN & THE ENCHANTRESS (1978) are also notable films. Lily Li also did films outside of the Shaw studio such as Jackie Chan's YOUNG MASTER (1980) among others.

Also featured in this motion picture is the lovely Yue Feng. She had roles in the over the top and gory actioner, THE BLACK TAVERN (1972), Chang Cheh's classic, THE DELIGHTFUL FOREST (1972) and his gruesome ALL MEN ARE BROTHERS (1973). Frankie Wei Hung is also amongst the cast. He was an ace at playing sleazy characters and can be seen in that capacity in such movies as THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1974), BLACK MAGIC 2 (1976) and FANGS OF THE COBRA (1977). SHADOW GIRL made HK407,396 at the Hong Kong box office. It was released on VHS by the Asian label, King Video. It is available through various DVD-R outlets such as fareastflix.

Now, as a bonus, we have an additional article on the international Shaw-Italy co-production mentioned above. Co-starring Yueh Hua and also featuring Nick Jordan aka Aldo Canti (SPARTACUS & THE TEN GLADIATORS, SABATA) and Malisa Longo (THE .44 SPECIALIST, CALIFORNIA). Below is a spread in Shaw's August 1975 issue of Southern Screen for this oddball and obscure picture.

The director of this film, Alfonso Brescia (aka Al Bradley) was a mediocre director of such bad movies as THE MAGNIFICENT GLADIATOR (1964) and KNELL, THE BLOODY AVENGER (1976). Working in all manner of genres, he did turn in some above average westerns with such films as .32 CALIBER KILLER and DAYS OF VIOLENCE, both in 1967.

And then, we have this, the films attractive, comic book flavored artwork for the theatrical poster seen below. Upon its release in Hong Kong, the movie only managed to accumulate HK51,604 dollars. Considering the average HK movie cost roughly $200,000 to make, this particular film lost a lot of money.

Race With the Devil (1975) review


Peter Fonda (Roger Marsh), Warren Oates (Frank Stewart), Loretta Swit (Alice Stewart), Lana Parker (Kelly Marsh), R.G. Armstrong (Sheriff Taylor), Paul Partain, Jack Starrett (gas station attendant)

Frank and Roger, along with their wives, head off on a vacation in Frank's new Recreational Vehicle. Spending the night at a secluded location, both Roger and Frank witness the death of a young girl, a sacrifice in a satanic ceremony. The four manage to escape after being attacked by a group of the satanists and go to the police. When the cops prove useless, the group decide to investigate a bit for themselves. After ignoring a warning, their lives are put in danger once more. They try to leave, but the devil worshippers aren't about to let them escape alive.

Director, Starrett (left) often makes cameo appearances in his movies

Jack Starrett, one of my favorite 70's action/exploitation filmmakers, is at the wheel of this taut and risibly suspenseful action-horror classic from 1975. The melding of both horror and action was a natural marriage of styles for Starrett who had several accomplished films to his credit prior to this job. He was also a very good actor judged by his performance as the drunkard, Gabby in BLAZING SADDLES (1974) and later, as the cruel policeman in FIRST BLOOD (1982) that briefly menaces Sylvester Stallone. Some of Starrett's choice big screen releases are the blockbuster biker flick, RUN, ANGEL, RUN (1969) and the Bikers vs. Vietcong action spectacular, THE LOSERS (1970). Both star celebrated screen heavy, William Smith.

Starrett also helmed the blaxploitation classics, SLAUGHTER (1972) and CLEOPATRA JONES (1973) as well as FINAL CHAPTER-WALKING TALL in 1977 among many other credits including television directing gigs on such shows as THE DUKES OF HAZZARD and HILL STREET BLUES. RACE WITH THE DEVIL was one of the directors biggest moneymakers.

Clay Tanner (left), a regular of Starrett's, had the perfect look for his role here as one of the more sinister looking personalities. Oddly enough, he plays Jack Henderson, yet the end credits list him as 'Delbert'. He was also memorable as the abusive moonshiner, O.Q. Teal in FINAL CHAPTER-WALKING TALL (1977).

The original director, Lee Frost, was let go and Jack Starrett came in and he and producer, Paul Maslansky reshot the film from scratch. Frost worked around 3 to 4 days before being replaced, although he did retain a writing credit on the film. It took a bit of time to get Fonda to warm to both Starrett and Maslansky as both he and Oates were a bit stung that Frost had been replaced. Frost had directed such films as CHROME & HOT LEATHER (1971), THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972) and THE BLACK GESTAPO (1975) among some others.

The budget was a little over 1.3 million and it was finished a bit under that number according to Producer, Maslanksy, who had a great career in genre pictures even directing the blaxploitation horror flick, SUGAR HILL in 1974. He was a producer on such movies as DEATH LINE (1972), HARD TIMES (1974), and the science fiction film, DAMNATION ALLEY (1977). He became most famous with his association to the long running POLICE ACADEMY movies throughout the 1980's.

The beautiful Lana Parker (pictured; DARK SHADOWS) joins Loretta Swit (M.A.S.H.) among the cast

As for the film itself, the filmmakers are very successful in creating an atmosphere of dread. Once the vacationers have had their initial run in with the satanists, everywhere they go, there is a genuine feeling of unease. Whether it be a local swimming pool, or a rest stop, everyone has the creepiest faces with very sinister grins and threatening eyes. It drives home the frightening (and all too true) revelation that the devil worshippers are all around them. As the film progresses, the suspense is heightened and the violence increases culminating a string of dangerous altercations with a lot of explosive stunt work.

Peter Fonda was a danger seeker and loved doing as much of the risky stuff as possible. He does all his own riding including some of the stunts at the finale. In an interview on the disc, Fonda states everyone had a great time shooting this picture. One of the main reasons he agreed to do it was to be able to work with his good friend, Warren Oates again after two prior motion pictures, THE HIRED HAND (1971) and 92 IN THE SHADE (1975).

Warren Oates and Peter Fonda

RACE WITH THE DEVIL was the first time Fonda had done a horror film (although the previous years, OPEN SEASON comes close). It would be around six years before he'd do another one. Fonda co-starred with Oliver Reed in the troubled production of SPASMS (1981-83) about a gigantic killer snake captured in Asia and being loosed in America. Fonda had also appeared in the stunt filled car chase favorite, DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY (1974) co-starring Susan George and Vic Morrow.

Not only was Fonda fond of doing stunts, he also had little reservations about laying next to a rattlesnake during the tension filled attack inside the RV. The satanists have hidden two rather large snakes inside their house on wheels. Fonda is trapped on the floor right next to one of the venom filled creatures. Even though the snake was defanged and its mouth tied shut, it was no doubt a harrowing moment for the actors and especially Fonda who was mere inches from the rattler.

Warren Oates was one Hollywoods most distinguished character actors and a favorite of Sam Peckinpah. Oates can be seen in such movies as RETURN OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1966), DILLINGER (1973), the hilariously offensive sequel to MANDINGO, DRUM in 1976 and the comedy classic, STRIPES in 1981. He played the role of Sgt. Hulka, one of many memorable portrayals the actor would undertake during his long career.

Genre fave, R.G. Armstrong

R.G. Armstrong, had a similar career in Hollywood and is of particular interest to genre fans considering the wealth of horror films he appeared in. Everything from the spaghetti western, MY NAME IS NOBODY (1973), to BOSS NIGGER (1975), to THE PACK (1977), to EVILSPEAK (1982) to CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984), this is but a small sampling of Armstrong's dozens upon dozens of credits.

The score by Leonard Rosenman is another attribute that makes this film so enjoyable. It accentuates the growing sense of horror experienced by the characters. His score recalls the soundtracks he did for several of the PLANET OF THE APES sequels as well as the magnificent horror score he did for John Frankenheimer's silly, but suspenseful monster flick, PROPHECY (1979). Fans of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) will spot Paul A. Partain among the cast. He played Franklin Hardesty in Hooper's seminal horror movie. Originally to be called CIRCLE OF FIRE, RACE WITH THE DEVIL suits the film a bit better considering its tone as it encapsulates both the action and horror aspects inherent in the script. The film has also been tapped for remake status over the last few years and it looks to become a reality by next year.

RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975) is a hugely enjoyable chase/horror movie loaded with a growing air of tension and stunt filled action. It was a big hit for 20th Century Fox during the summer of 1975 and has enjoyed a cult following over the years. It benefits from assured and confident direction by the great Jack Starrett as well as some fine performances from everyone involved. Those who haven't seen it, should go the extra mile to catch up with this runaway cult horror favorite.

This review is representative of the Anchor Bay DVD

Reel Bad Cinema: Blood Bath (1975) review


It doesn't matter who stars in this one, but the mother from EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND and P.J. Soles are in this hilarious mess of a movie!!

Directed by Joel M. Reed

A group of socialites involved in a horror production by a creepy director have dinner together and exchange tales of terror and extreme hilarity.

From the director of BLOODSUCKING FREAKS (1976) comes this turkey of titanic proportions. It's an anthology horror comedy flick. It's difficult to tell if the makers intended to make something this damn hilarious, but judging from the fascinating commentary track, Reed was well aware his tongue was lodged inside his cheek. Watching this thing one gets the impression they were going for a darkly humorous attempt at capturing the old EC comics flavor. But this gallows humor falls way short of being witty. Instead, it's just plain ridiculous and unintentionally funny.

"Quiet! You're gonna act like that, I just won't turn you on anymore!"--You'll just have to see the damn movie

If you've seen Reed's other films, than you know kind of what to expect here. It's nowhere near approaching the misogynistic level of depravity found in BLOODSUCKING FREAKS, nor is it as dreadfully boring as his Nazi zombie opus, NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES (1981; not to be confused with the Bruno Mattei favorite, HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD from 1980). Reed's movie has poverty row production values, but is nonetheless ambitious, if hopelessly stupid. Probably the best bit of trivia about BLOOD BATH is that Sylvester Stallone went to audition, but Reed lost his resume!

Still, a bad movie buff will have oodles of fun with this mind numbingly retarded exercise in bad acting, bad special effects and even worse storytelling. You'll laugh and you'll cry at the absolute ludicrousness of the whole thing. While the entire film has a cheerfully goofy charm, nothing prepares you for the sheer amount of guffaws induced by the brilliantly asinine fourth story. But first, the tales in order of their appearance--

First off is this non horror yarn about a professional hitman whose latest target may prove to be his undoing. This is an odd story to start off a movie entitled BLOOD BATH, but there is a doomed woman that is seen taking a bath prior to being snuffed out by the hitman. This entry, while not horror, has a slight EC flavor to it by way of poetic justice during the closing moments.

The second story deals with an unhappily married bookworm who seeks an escape from his wife with the help of a mysterious gypsy. She gives him a magical talisman and proceeds to wish for what any normal red blooded American man would ask for--to partake in the Napoleonic wars of the 19th century. This one makes little to no sense and may have just been done to add a little flavor by having a half baked segment in a period setting. This one has the blood courtesy of a bloody severed mannequin leg and arm.

The third tale of terrible is actually pretty funny, but not because of anything found in the script. Here, a Scroogeish loan shark gets locked in his own vault with the ghost of Earl Simmons, a dead man who lost his car to the stingy money lover. When we first meet the ghost he just stands there shouting, "BooooooOOOOOOOOO!!!!" for a minute or so till we get any actual dialog out of him. Turns out Earl can't get "upstairs" till he gets his car signed back over to him(???) If not, he'll haunt the man for the rest of his life. This one has a pretty grim finish.


Yes, that's Doris Roberts (right) from EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND

Conrad! You've been a bad boy!

If this is a "kung fu school", why is everyone wearing Japanese gi's?

That brings us to the biggest joke story of them all. This one involves a greedy American student of Shaolin charging exorbitant amounts of cash to teach that which shouldn't be taught. Proficient in the "Nine Ultimate Secrets of Self Defense", he wants to learn the tenth, but it comes at a price. This segment contains the absolute WORST attempt at "choreography" I've ever seen. Not since the 'A Fistful of Yen' mini movie in THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE (1977) has their been such a downright sidesplitting short featuring kung fu.

The "fights" are the pits and the participants make no attempt whatsoever at looking believable. The whole idea that the secret sect would learn of the traitorous student teaching outsiders by way of a newspaper with the headline, "Kung Fu Master Opens Supermarket" is nonsensical in the extreme and probably intentionally so. Also, the meeting between Phil and "Chung, servant of Lam, the strongest fighter of the Wang School" has the two sit down and share a feast of American style Chinese food(???) complete with egg rolls just prior to the big duel with Lam(e).

Are you kidding me?

Then comes the above mentioned big "duel" with the armless and legless Lam(e), or whatever the hell his name is. The actor that says his name is dubbed in a fashion not unlike the Asian scientist in ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES (1977) and it's difficult to ascertain just what he's saying with the Elmer Fuddian delivery. In addition, the way the other "actors" pronounce 'Shaolin' gave me the giggles. It reminded me of Rudy Ray Moore's articulation of Shaolin as 'Shalon'. Here, two different individuals pronounce the famed temple of hundreds of kung fu flicks as Showlin(???) and Shaylin(???).

And that's P.J. Soles being terrorized by Conrad

From there, we get the bizarre wraparound that ties in with the dreamlike opening showing the director getting married to the Devil's daughter. At the end, we see the director's son, Conrad, hidden and locked away from prying eyes. When the creature breaks out, kills a few people and briefly menaces P.J. Soles, it looks amazingly like 'Three Fingers' from the WRONG TURN movies.

I first saw BLOOD BATH on Elvira's Movie Macabre back in the mid 1980's where it got frequent showings. It didn't appeal to me then and it doesn't appeal to me now, not in the good movie sense, anyways. Taken as the goofy trash it truly is, one will definitely have a fun time with this one, especially the last two tales. Proceed at your own risk if you're expecting anything resembling a good movie, though. This one's strictly for trash collectors and bad movie buffs.

This review is representative of the Subversive Cinema DVD (RIP)
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