Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cool Ass Cinema Book Reviews: "Your Kung Fu's Good" Edition!


By Dr. Craig D. Reid

288 pages; softcover; Color; 2010

Over the years there's been a nice sampling of books devoted to the loyalists of the martial arts film genre. The movies have been both loquaciously lauded by dedicated fans and mightily maligned by critics who refuse to understand there's more behind these movies than rampant fight scenes. One of the most celebrated and key components of the genre has been missing in North American territories in such a glossy package--The treasure trove that is the Shaw Brothers film library. Now that's not to say Dr. Reid's book is strictly on Shaw Brothers, there's yet to be a book devoted to that crucial crux of martial magnificence.

All the photos found herein are still photos from a long list of Shaw Brothers productions many that have yet to be released stateside. The book covers not just Shaw Brothers movies (although it's a major focal point), but also indy features and martial arts films from Japan and America. As much as I am impressed with such a meticulous endeavor, I am also slightly disappointed with it, but not to the point I would discourage anyone from buying it.



Reid has taken a laborious approach to writing his book by including extraneous information such as the percentage of the fights in a film, the amount of fights, the length of the fights, the number of training sequences, the length of the training sequences and so on and so on. This level of minutiae is extraordinary and will likely be most appreciated by those who only care for the fights in these movies. Reid refers to this complex key system as martialogies. I found it to be both unnecessary and interesting at the same time, but more the latter than the former. It's definitely a different take towards the material and no doubt there will be those who will find this a vital addition.

The major downside for me with this lushly put together compendium is that you never get the impression of whether or not the author enjoys the films he is discussing. Reid does however provide historical background information and a lengthy synopsis that details the entire movie, but nothing by his own estimation in the way of if the films discussed are any good. Still, Dr. Reid is anything but ill equipped to produce such a massive endeavor as a detailed catalog of kung fu flicks considering he is a doctor, a martial artist and has lived in Taiwan and met many of the actors and technicians featured in this very book. With such a huge undertaking, mistakes are unavoidable and there's some here, but the total package is what's most important and Reid's book is a monumentally essential tome for both casual and cognizant fans of the Kung Fu/Wuxia genres. Undeniably one for the shelves.

From veritable superlativeness on a subject surrounded in a mystique of misunderstanding, we move to one of, if not the very first English book "of note" written on the subject....


By Richard Meyers

284 pages; softcover; B/W and color; 1986, (2001)

I'll try to hold back with any verbal mud slinging towards Ric Meyers (I've never met him, but seen him at the horribly put together Lo Mang Expo; he may be a very nice individual otherwise) and the bizarre onslaught of made up information (he does contribute articles to the outrageously fabricated tabloid WEEKLY WORLD NEWS after all) that rivals the wildly erratic tales of Chinese choreographer/director Robert Tai Chi Hsien and focus more on his book. This volume first made its appearance on the market under the title FROM BRUCE LEE TO THE NINJAS: MARTIAL ARTS MOVIES in 1986 less about 30 pages from this current printing. That edition also had contributors Amy Harlib and Bill and Karen Palmer. This revised edition from 2001 has only Meyers name on the cover. In an odd bit of self promotion, Meyers even reviews his own book on amazon.

The book covers the history of martial arts and the various styles. It's not too in depth, but enough that one gets a feel for the material. The emphasis is on Chinese kung fu movies with almost equal breadth given to Japanese samurai features and a small portion held over for those inferior American martial arts actioners. Those seeking pictures will find them in abundance here with the assorted over-sized images randomly placed throughout. The subject may be a modern martial arts Hong Kong film, but the adjoining photos will likely be a B/W image from a Shaw Brothers production, or some other kung fu flick.

For the time, this book was definitely a must own as there was little in the way of similar material in this form, or even available photos for the films discussed inside. Your general opinion of the author may, or may not come into play as to a purchase (that he's considered "America's foremost expert on Asian action movies" and referred to as "the dean of martial arts film experts" is a crime against humanity). Still, if you can find it cheaply, or if you're a curious and casual new fan to the genre, I hesitatingly recommend the book. Since this volume was released, there are far better books on the subject (Bey Logan's HONG KONG ACTION CINEMA for example and primed for a future review), but Meyer's "effort" should be noted for appearing at a time when there was little to nothing else to reference to. It's a keeper, but only for its vintage and that it covers other aspects of the martial arts aside from the movies themselves.


Chamber of Horrors (1966) review


Patrick O'Neal (Jason Cravette), Cesare Danova (Anthony Draco), Wilfred Hyde-White (Harold Blount), Philip Bourneuf (Inspector Matthew Strudwoick), Laura Devon (Marie Champlain), Wayne Rogers (Sgt. Jim Albertson), Tun Tun (Senor Pepe De Reyes), Tony Curtis (Mr. Julian)

Directed by Hy Averback

The Short Version: This sadly obscure horror movie pilot for an aborted television series has finally found its cult film home on DVD. Highly recommended to Gothic horror mavens, it gets better with subsequent viewings. Lively performances, an en-gross-ing storyline and an exceptionally bombastic score hit all the right horror notes.

Ladies and gentlemen, the motion picture you are about to see contains scenes so terrifying the public must be given grave warning. Therefore, the management has instituted visual and audible warning at the beginning of each of the Four Supreme Fright Points. The Fear Flasher is the visual warning. The Horror Horn is the audible warning. Turn away when you hear the FEAR FLASHER! Close your eyes when you hear the HORROR HORN!

Jason Cravette, a homicidal maniac, is finally captured, aided by a trio of amateur criminologists who also happen to be the proprietors of 'The House of Wax', a wax museum in Baltimore that specializes in serial killer exhibits. Cravette manages to evade the hangman's noose, but is presumed dead in a freak accident losing a hand in the process. Some time later, Jason returns to take revenge on those who condemned him to death using assorted lethal blades attached to the stump where his hand once was dismembering various body parts from his victims.

Long available in grey market editions, this enjoyably macabre film was originally a proposed pilot for a mystery-horror series that was eventually deemed too horrific for television and ended up as a theatrical feature. The show never happened despite the last scene setting things up for the next "episode". The movie itself is quite good with lavish sets and good performances all around. The character of Cravette and the fog enshrouded locale gives off a 'Jack the Ripper' vibe, only this butcher who takes "mementos" from his victims, uses a gorgeous tavern girl from New Orleans as his unwitting accomplice.

The opening scene starts things off on a ghoulish note as our villain, Jason Cravette forces a priest at gun point to marry him to the woman he's just strangled to death. The necrophilic implications are clearly in evidence and Cravette's even visits a brothel where he desires his trick to pretend she's dead. Patrick O'Neal expertly pulls off this sadistic persona although the scene where he severs his hand defies plausibility.

What with the grisly storyline, you'd figure there'd be some gore on display. The violence and bloodletting is minimal, but does possess an air of grimness akin to the Hammer Films of the period. Those fans who can accept such a presentation with little in the way of onscreen brutality and viscera are the ones who will get the most out of this movie. Others will likely be bored with it all. Still, the musical score by Bill Lava is quite good and risible. Incidentally, some of the sound effects heard in the film will be recognizable to fans of Warner Brothers cartoons and how suitable that Lava would be the music composer considering his lengthy credits doing the music in hundreds of cartoons for Warner and DePatie-Freleng.

The scenes in the wax museum are a highlight of the movie and contribute heavily to its appeal. The owners of said establishment relish in the waxen depictions of villainy and psychotic murderers. In fact, it's their waxworks of Jason Cravette that reveals him to still be alive once an eyewitness identifies the dummy visage. The film also has William Castle styled gimmickery in the form of the 'Fear Flasher' and the 'Horror Horn'. These sounds and sights precede the killings as well as the tame sequence where Cravette cuts off his hand.

While the look and cast successfully capture that unique British horror feel, it's odd seeing Wayne Rogers here as the determined cop on the case, Sgt. Albertson. Rogers will be instantly recognizable to viewers as Capt. John McIntyre from M*A*S*H. He was also in the incendiary television movie ATTACK ON TERROR: THE FBI VS. THE KU KLUX KLAN (1975) that was based on a true story. The recently deceased Tony Curtis has a cameo role as a card player. He's not credited, but his appearance is possibly down to helping out someone involved in the production. William Conrad does the opening narration.

Tony Curtis in a cameo appearance in the CHAMBER OF HORRORS

While it never veers into outright gory territory, CHAMBER OF HORRORS (1966) is occasionally trashy, although extremely tame by today's standards. It's definitely worth watching for lovers of horror that takes place in a period setting. It's a shame the proposed TV series never got off the ground. The proprietors of the 'House of Wax' showed lots of promise.

This review is representative of the Warner Brothers double feature DVD paired with THE BRIDES OF FU MANCHU (1966)

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