Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Maciste In the Land of the Cyclops (1961) review


Gordon Mitchell (Maciste), Chelo Alonso (Queen Capys), Aldo Bufi Landi (Sirone), Paul Wynter (Mumba), Germano Longo (Agisandro), Tullio Altamura

Directed by Antonio Leonviola

The Short Version: Mundane mythological epic has great potential, but a lousy director keeps the film from being prime matinee fare.
There are a couple good sequences and the massive chests of both Gordon Mitchell and Chelo Alonso are larger than life. The film has its fans, but coming this early in the cycle, there are far better movies in the underrated genre of Sword & Sandal pictures.

The ancestors of the evil ruler Circe plot a brutal revenge on the family of Ulysses for their defeat. The villainous Queen Capys targets the kingdom of Sadok, razing the village and kidnapping the women and children for sacrifice to the flesh eating cyclops, Polifemo. Capys has her sights set on the future king of Sadok, a small infant boy as the next to be killed. Maciste intervenes to save both the young heir and the captured women from being Polifemo's next meal.

Antonio Leonviola has directed some of the worst muscleman movies ever conceived almost rivaling the non epics from the erudite (and I mean that sarcastically) hack filmmaker, Guido Malatesta (COLOSSUS & THE HEADHUNTERS). A shame the imposing Gordon Mitchell's first fusto film was one such as this, despite the script possessing grand potential for popcorn thrills. Numerous scenes (especially action scenes) appear awkward and sometimes sluggish. Mitchell seems naive in his first outing as a super hero strongman, but outside of Chelo Alonso's magnificent chest, he's the most liveliest thing in the movie.

The action sequences are, for the most part, sloppily rendered. It's as if the participants are afraid to get into the spirit of things. Mitchell is given lots to do here such as bending bars, hurling huge boulders, fighting a lion, lifting an enormous cart from a crushed centurion and swooning over the allure of Cuban caliente Alonso. It's unfortunate a much better movie couldn't be built around these things. Mitchell only played a good guy a scant few times before assuming antagonistic personages that fit his leathery looks more than the heroic stable of mythological do-gooders occupied by the likes of Steve Reeves and Gordon Scott.

Gordon Mitchell truly lit up the screen in his second such role, the classic historical epic, THE FURY OF ACHILLES (1962), one of the best the genre has to offer. Mitchell is the epitome of intensity in that film directed by Enzo Castellari's father, Marino Girolami. A genre defining and bigger budgeted production, it showed off what Mitchell was made of and a number of similar roles followed where Mitchell was totally villainous, or something in between. Another of his most memorable sword & sandal roles was as Arminio in Michele Lupo's THE REVENGE OF SPARTACUS (1964).

Two sequences do stand out, managing to save this movie from the bowels of the 'Dis List'. One is where Maciste is suspended above a pit of ravenous lions, his only footing being two thin planks. On both sides of him are a group of slaves who must play tug-of-war for the amusement of Capys and her subordinate, Agisandro. Earlier in the film, it's obvious a stuntman is battling a lion in close quarters, but here, it appears evident that Mitchell is situated high above this pride of lions with only two thin boards keeping him from the company of the beasts.

The other impressive scene(s) are those involving the cyclops, Polifemo. Future cinematographer-poliziesco director, Stelvio Massi was a cameraman on this picture and if he was responsible for the creature scenes, they are antiquated, but noticeably effective for their time. The impression of giganticism is successfully realized during the opening moments and especially at the ending when Maciste confronts the one eyed man-eater. Interestingly, this is also the only such film in memory where the hero doesn't walk/carry off a beautiful woman as the music swells during the closing moments.

The famous Cuban dancing sensation, Chelo Alonso, plays against type here as Queen Capys, an atypical character in so many of these films. She starts out as evil, but eventually succumbs to the wiles of the hero. Sadly, Alonso never shakes her moneymaker as she always did in this productions. She displayed her ample and amorous talents in such films as the dramatic peplum SIGN OF ROME, the bland, but colorful THE PIRATE & THE SLAVE GIRL, the violent GOLIATH & THE BARBARIANS (all 1959) and her hot salsa role in MORGAN, THE PIRATE (1960). Alonso also lit a fire in the pants of boys everywhere with her sizzle and shake in the brutal MACISTE IN THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS (1960).

While it's not nearly as laughable as the equally absurd Leonviola mess, MOLE MEN AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1962), Mitchell's maiden torch & toga showcase is a below average fusto adventure that could have cooked with better action sequences and a spicier Chelo Alonso. Fans of the genre will likely want to see it and it's a no brainer for Mitchell completists, despite it being one of the big guys least impressive productions.

This review is representative of the Medusa Italian PAL R2 DVD. There are no English options.

Cool Ass Comics: Devil Dinosaur Edition!

This entry showcases the covers from my collection of the nine issue run of cult comic fave, DEVIL DINOSAUR, a brief series that ran its course throughout 1978.

DEVIL DINOSAUR was the creation of the prolific artist, Jack Kirby. While the series wasn't popular at all, it has since accrued a healthy following over the years. Seeing it as a kid, it jumped off the comic racks and into my hands, especially being a huge dinosaur enthusiast as a tyke.

The origin of the two main characters, Devil and his humanoid companion, Moon Boy, is revealed in the first issue. While the book no doubt is aimed to the small fry set, Kirby's simplistic stories meld science fiction with prehistory. It isn't unusual to see aliens from another world populating the panels along with our prehistoric journeymen (and monsters).

All the classic staples of caveman/barbarian movies are utilized here, sometimes sharing space with the futuristic hardware of invading alien races. There's giant spiders and ants among the dinosaurs, a neolithic giant and also a haggard witch with the power to propel Devil and Moon Boy into Earth's future circa 1978 in the last issue.

The storyline is very basic in that Moon Boy rescues Devil (then a green saurian creature) from a clan of "killer folk" who attempt to burn the beast. Moon Boy saves him and nurses him back to health, only to now find the mighty monsters hide has turned bright red, somehow giving the dinosaur an increased strength capacity.

From there, it's one kiddie matinee level adventure after another as Devil and his trusted companion confront the evils found throughout "Dinosaur World". The character also turned up in a couple issues of Marvel's Godzilla comic series, which was going on at the time. Devil Dinosaur also cropped up in various other comic books over the years in guest appearances.

Incidentally, if you were ever a fan of Hanna Barbera cartoons such as THUNDARR, or THE HERCULOIDS, than Kirby's DEVIL DINOSAUR will be right up your comic book/caveman alley. It has the feel of an animated series (apparently, it was planned for one) and also has appeal to those with a fondness of the original LAND OF THE LOST TV series.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Deadly Spawn (1983) review


James Brewster (Sam), Elissa Neil (Barb), Charles George Hildebrandt (Charles)

Directed by Douglas McKeown

The Short Version: This low budget, fan friendly monster-gore movie is one of the best of its kind possessing an aura and passion not unlike what is seen in the equally raw and savage THE EVIL DEAD (1981). If nothing else, THE DEADLY SPAWN contains one of the most riotously original alien creatures to ever splatter body parts and viscera across a silver screen.

A meteorite crashes in the woods near a secluded neighborhood. A small, unfriendly alien emerges and, after being exposed to water, begins to grow at an alarming rate. The beast and its brood take up residence in the basement of a home and goes to work making meals of each household member and anyone who happens to go downstairs.

This is 'Do It Yourself' maverick horror of the highest order and one of the best low budget horror flicks of the 1980s bearing a look and feel on the level of Sam Raimi's THE EVIL DEAD (both films opened at the same time). The 1970s and the first half of the 1980s was populated by a dedicated group of guerrilla filmmakers, a number of which went on to successful careers of varying degree. THE DEADLY SPAWN is a monster movie for monster kids and a dream project for all those involved. Regardless of the limited means at the disposal of the filmmakers, the dedication and love for the subject matter is evident in virtually every frame most particularly in the overzealous gore sequences.

Look out behind you!

Started in 1980 and released in 1983, this was and still is an amazing feat for purportedly around $30,000 (Bohus put it at a little over $50,000), shot on weekends and managing theatrical distribution in the end. Truly there will never be another time such as the era in which THE DEADLY SPAWN was shot. Filmmakers these days are too preoccupied with video game graphics to invest in the actual art of prosthetic design. The creation of the toothy alien beast on display here is a testament to the genius of artisans working in movies back in the day who were well aware of their limited means turning dust to gold in the process. Basically a gigantic mass of teeth and slime, this nasty, flesh hungry, outer space monstrosity is easily one of the most original silver screen space creatures to ever splatter onto reels of celluloid.

The script is peppered with a lot of nods to 50s science fiction, but the splatter is poured on so thick, you're likely to miss them the first go round. For such a minuscule budget, the effects artists manage some magnificently juicy gore sequences the likes of which you won't find anymore. THE DEADLY SPAWN excels in this department. There is also a successful attempt at creating interesting characters, but these are totally overshadowed by the spectacularly over the top blood and gore. A highlight is the attack on the vegetarian women's party. In it, an army of baby spawns launch an attack while the ladies have lunch. The squirmy, slug like monsters then proceed to lunch on the ladies.

THE DEADLY SPAWN has since went on to be quite the cult hit with horror fans and a handful of Hollywood personalities. Seeing the creature on the poster artwork is enough to garner itself curiosity and attention. The old VHS big box release from Continental made sure to zero in on slobbering renters hungry for horror with its lurid front cover. Towards the end of the 1980s, a sequel was announced with a number of the first films crew being involved. Touted in horror magazines as DEADLY SPAWN 2: METAMORPHOSIS, the film wasn't really a true sequel, only the similarities in the monster designs and that many of the makers behind the original returned. It finally emerged in 1990 and was a worthy follow up with an increased budget and even more ambitious effects work.

One of the more pleasing aspects of the movie is the sheer love for the genre in general. The bulk of the movie takes place in a single location and the little boy in the house is a monster movie buff. He's viewed as being strange because of his hobbies, yet he's the one character in the movie who is able to grasp what is going on and deal with the alien in an effective manner. Populating the kids room are a plethora of monster movie posters such as THE GREEN SLIME (1968), THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969), THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK (1958), THE MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS (1958), THE SPIDER (1958), TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) and FRANKENSTEIN (1931). Some of the magazines and books populating his shelves are pieces I still own, so that part of the film will likely warm the hearts of monster kids everywhere.

It's not out to win any awards, it's simply there to entertain and in the most energetically gruesome fashion possible. The makers of THE DEADLY SPAWN put a lot of effort into this tiny budgeted flick about a mouthy monster with a big appetite and also one that grows rapidly when exposed to water. The last shot is especially ambitious and promises an even bigger threat about to make mince meat out of the surrounding countryside. If you enjoyed, and still enjoy the manic approach, ingenuity and the look of Raimi's THE EVIL DEAD, than this modest monster opus may SPAWN a similar place on your horror viewing calendar.

This review is representative of the Synapse DVD

Friday, March 18, 2011

Black Magic With Buddha (1983) review

image: HKmovie database


Chen Kuan Tai (Chin Ben), Candy Yu (Annie), Lo Lieh (Exorcist Master), Linda Chu (Ben's sister)

Directed by Lo Lieh

***NOTE: A Divix copy was the source of this fairly brief review. I am unable to do images at this time.***

Ben and his old master descend a cave in some remote location and uncover a coffin housing a mummy. Upon removing the brain from the corpse, his elder master hands him a flask of holy water and instructs him to send the demon brain back once he has been granted but a single wish. Building a shrine to the great brain and being greedy, Ben uses the powers of the pulsating mass for other wishes including murder. For each extra wish, the brain becomes enraged and must be fed. Not wishing to undertake the plane trip to the jungle to return the brain back to its home, he buries it in his backyard. This causes even more problems.

Absolutely absurd and undeniably enjoyable trash about an evil, heavy breathing brain that grants wishes, but with disastrous consequences. Lo Lieh, the man with the FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH, directs this outlandish Indonesian lensed horror flick that attempts to, and succeeds in reaching new heights of ludicrousness; at least till the holy grail of gory Hong Kong hokum, THE BOXER'S OMEN (1983) splattered theaters a few months later. What keeps this movie with the most ridiculous of scenarios interesting is that, outside of the last ten minutes, it's played totally straight. Once Buddha comes down to Earth surrounded in a FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981) opening credits sequence light show, Lo Lieh's Exorcist Master is "joined" by the 'God With the Four Faces' to bring down the 'Brain Devil', which has consumed Ben with the help of about a dozen brain beasts. Covered in some kind of egg sac, Ben emerges a walking brain monster and confronts the two wizards.

Chen Kuan Tai plays totally against type in this one and the scenes where he's praying to this obscenely heavy breathing, blood caked brain are a riot despite the serious air the filmmakers are aiming for. Lo Lieh, whose only other notable directorial effort was the Shaw Brothers production, CLAN OF THE WHITE LOTUS (1979), is apparently channeling his past glories in some of his Shaw Brothers horror outings such as BLACK MAGIC 2 (1976) and HUMAN LANTERNS (1982), only here, he opts for a good wizard complete with white fright wig. Incidentally, a scene in a disco plays that "Don't Let Go" song that's also heard in both Wang Chung's MOBFIX PATROL (1981) and George Romero's CREEPSHOW (1982).

Sadly and inexplicably, BLACK MAGIC WITH BUDDHA has yet to make an appearance on DVD, but was released on VHS tape and VCD at one point. It is surely the only movie on the planet where a bloated, breathing and glowing brain assimilates over the face of a Mona Lisa painting backed by cues taken from Ridley Scott's ALIEN (1979).

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Boys Next Door (1985) review

THE BOYS NEXT DOOR 1985 aka KILLER'S HOLIDAY (working title)

Maxwell Caulfield (Roy Alston), Charlie Sheen (Bo Richards), Patti D'Arbanville (Angie), Christopher McDonald (Det. Mark Woods)

Directed by Penelope Spheeris

The Short Version: A gloomy look into the lives of two young social outcasts heading into the black hole of self destruction--one is an angry, ticking time bomb and another, a confused follower, the very definition of ambivalence. Both embark on a weekend that ignites the fuse and explodes in a murder spree by films end. Noted documentarian, Spheeris delivers a provocative story that is all too real and could come out of any decade.

After high school graduation, Roy and Bo, two outcasts among social circles at school, decide to have a wild weekend in Los Angeles. A deep, seething rage begins to boil within one of the teen boys that eventually erupts in ferocious violence that soon leads to murder. The two young men end up on a senseless murder spree till they're finally cornered inside a mall after hours.

What with Charlie Sheen's recent Oscar worthy performance on television and print in recent weeks, this picture serves as a grim portrait of the future Charlie, a man with little sheen and even less personality. Strangely mirroring the similarly plotted BADLANDS from 1973 (and that film starred Charlie boy's dad, Martin Sheen!), this 80s teenage meltdown is a strikingly potent portrait of two teens succumbing to the effects of societal damnation. Two spree killers in training (more so Caulfield's character than Sheen's), both Roy and Bo begin their rapid burnout upon leaving for the City of Angels. The film foreshadows Roy's proclivity for violence very early on when they've invaded a graduation party. A pretty young girl is standing all alone as Roy watches her with a piercingly evil look that barely contains the rage that will shortly boil over into bloodshed.

Spheeris and scripters, Glenn Morgan and James Wong (FINAL DESTINATION, BLACK CHRISTMAS remake), manages to build the character of Roy as a Frankenstein Monster created by a broken home and shunned by everyone around him save for his best friend, Bo. There's one minor sequence prior to the LA Massacre that clues the audience in to a possible catalyst to Roy's emotional detachment. Roy has a father who'd rather entertain the company of a beer and a small television than talk to his son. What makes this brief scene of note is that as Roy prepares to leave their small trailer home, he talks to his dad as if they have something resembling a bond. We hear a voice that's presumably his dad's, yet his lips never move. It's Roy saying the words he expects, or wants his father to say back to him. We see a close up of his old man's face with its blank stare lost amidst the TV blaring back at him. Roy then closes the door behind him never to return again.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I bet Charlie Sheen (left) has maintained this same expression for what is going on three decades now.

Charlie Sheen is the more "stable" of the two. He's the "Chester" to Caulfield's "Spike" (the bulldog and terrier duo from Looney Tunes Cartoons). Bo is a mischievous troublemaker, but shows little to no interest in predatory stalk and kill machinations. Bo is a follower who disapproves of Roy's actions, but reluctantly goes along with things till the end of the movie. Having brutally beaten a gas station attendant, murdered a homosexual, stalked and cold-bloodedly executed a young couple and another woman, the rebellious, lost and disturbed duo are chased and cornered inside a mall. Upon realizing there's no way out and nowhere to go, it's judgment day for the two friends and Roy's rage intensifies leading to a coda that is both poignant and powerful.

The films final shot echoes the opening montage of B/W serial killer photographs that play over the credits. The very first scene of Roy and Bo drawing a mock chalk line on school property also bears an ironic resonance that crops up during the final moments. When the film begins, these opening moments set a downbeat, horrific tone that is quickly and deceptively undermined by several minutes of footage that could fit in with any teen sex comedy. Immediately after the deadly duo set off for LA, things take an increasing turn for the worse as the violence escalates, spiraling out of control. Nicolas Cage bowed out as Bo, but later regretted not taking the part. Crispin Glover also tried out for the part and his audition ended up being more insane than the role Roy, the true maniac of the duo. Interestingly, Martin Sheen went to the premier and got up and walked out after the couple get murdered in their car. He proclaimed his displeasure for his son participating in the movie despite the elder Sheen starring in the similar BADLANDS (1973), a film based on spree killer Charles Starkweather and his very young lady partner, Caril Fugate.

This New World production is easily one of the best movies from the company after Corman sold it in the early 1980s. The film didn't do much business and never received much of a release, but found a home on late night cable stations like HBO (which is where I first saw it in 1987) and on VHS. Maxwell Caulfield (GREASE 2) steals the show as the angry, mentally unstable Roy Alston. His slow regression into a murderous rebel without a cause is a captivating portrayal emanating a dangerously unpredictable aura. Sheen, in light of his current obnoxious, clueless tirades has recently taken on the personality of his on screen friend, Roy. But as Bo Richards, he could be Roy's savior, but is content to go along with things till late in the film. One gets the impression Bo holds both admiration and fear for his deadly friend. Only after things go horribly awry during Bo's tryst with a tipsy gypsy does he finally reel his friend in, albeit far too late.

Fantasy fans will recognize Kurt Christian as the gas station attendant. He had roles in such movies as HORROR HOSPITAL (1973), THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974) and SINBAD & THE EYE OF THE TIGER (1977). Penelope Spheeris will likely be best remembered for her DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION trilogy (especially the first two) and WAYNE'S WORLD (1992). Incidentally, WAYNE'S WORLD is a comedic extension of her previous documentaries showcasing the deterioration and decadence of youth lost in an angry world trying to find their place amidst the mud and blood. The same holds true with Spheeris' THE BOYS NEXT DOOR--the title signifying the next generations murderers could be living next door to you. Recommended for 80s cinema buffs and those with an interest in films about serial, and or spree killers.

This review is representative of the Anchor Bay DVD

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