Monday, August 27, 2012

Cinema of Excess: Chang Cheh & His Films Part 7


The early 1970s, particularly 1971 and 1972, were incredibly busy for Hong Kong's biggest and bloodiest filmmaker. Having already deviated from the norm with a few experimental movies that yielded success and modest failure, Chang Cheh was back on track with a succession of big ticket bonanzas that would put him in good stead with audiences (and his employer) for several more years.

The staggering amount of movies Cheh would be working on would bewilder and befuddle the average film director. There was no one quite like Chang Cheh working in cinema at the time, and there hasn't been anyone like him since.

To have juggled as many movies of various sizes as he did between '71 and '72--not to mention doing preparatory work for soon to be mounted productions--it's nigh unbelievable that the man managed to wrangle the level of quality that he did.

Both David Chiang (then dubbed the Asian Movie King) and Ti Lung were the two powerhouse box office draws in Asia at the time. Ti Lung was the more muscular of the two with David Chiang being the wiry brains behind Ti's brawn. David's personality and his charisma clicked with Asian audiences and he often surpassed Ti Lung in popularity and in ticket sales.

Still, during the early 70s, both men worked best when they were together and their ever growing fanbase reflected that.

Ti Lung's first two solo outings, DEAD END (1969) and KING EAGLE (1971) failed to garner much notice regardless of the fact that the former was an unusual avant garde tragedy, and both featured Baby Queen Li Ching in co-starring roles.

Yet again, despite David Chiang receiving much critical drubbing for being too short, too thin and disorganized, he was still the strongest link in the Iron Triangle and the most popular of the two with fans.

But it must have been a bit disheartening to Ti Lung that his second solo feature, KING EAGLE, financially kowtowed to the film that debuted theatrically the following month in February--THE NEW ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN (1971); that film more than doubling the take of KING EAGLE, and featuring Ti Lung as a co-star, but in a lesser role compared with the main lead undertaken by David Chiang.

Director Chang's third film about a unilaterally challenged warrior of virtue seemed to have been born to spite the then offscreen problems the bad boy of kung fu, Jimmy Wang Yu was causing Run Run Shaw.

Desiring to do things his way without any restrictions, the trouble-making star brazenly broke his contract with Shaw Studio in March of 1970 and headed for the cheaper pastures of Taiwan (till Golden Harvest came a' knockin') where he immediately set about making movies like THE SWORD (1971) and THE BRAVE & THE EVIL (1971), two films he served as director on.

Unable to stop him making movies there, or in Japan (where Wang Yu capitalized on his famous single digit swordsman in ZATOICHI MEETS THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN), Shaw succeeded in keeping the hot-headed actor from making movies in Hong Kong till January of 1973.

For Chang Cheh to tackle a film with the words, "The New" in the title (the name of the swordsman is also different), it's almost like the studio was taunting Wang Yu; a notion that wasn't lost on Wang Yu as the actor made it his mission throughout the 1970s to attempt to undermine, or steal the thunder from whatever major production was being shot at Shaw's at the time.

He did this with his ONE ARMED BOXER (1971), a film that mimicked both Wang's directorial debut for Shaw's THE CHINESE BOXER (1969) and also Chang's ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN (1967); FURIOUS SLAUGHTER (1972) was a cheap knock-off of Chang's huge hit THE BOXER FROM SHANTUNG (1972); ONE ARMED CHIVALRY FIGHTS AGAINST ONE ARMED CHIVALRY (1974) was again taking liberties with the single armed swordsman that made Wang Yu famous; and MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1976) which not only was a no budget carbon copy of Shaw's hit THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1975), but again with the one armed character.


This thin, yet elegant and enormously popular Lady of Shaw began acting at the age of six and joined Shaw Brothers in 1967 appearing in dramas and swordplay films. Possessing a lot of male admirers, Ching Li was often associated with men of wealth and repute. Onscreen, she co-starred in a few memorable roles opposite David Chiang and Ti Lung in Chang Cheh's DUEL OF FISTS and THE ANGRY GUEST where she played the girlfriend to Ti Lung's character. She also featured among the cast in Chang's pseudo war-kung fu film THE FOUR RIDERS (1972). But it was in THE ANONYMOUS HEROES in 1971 where Ching Li really shined in the action department out of her pentagonal set of Iron Triangle movies. She played the feisty girlfriend to David Chiang's character who aided them in covertly getting guns from her warlord father's military encampment to the Southern rebels. Her role as the promiscuous wife to Chen Kuan Tai's character in Cheh's splendid classic, THE BLOOD BROTHERS (1973) is a testament to her acting ability and cinematic legacy.

Chang Cheh's return to the brooding, tortured hero was a special production in other ways aside from supplanting the temperamental star with the more accessible David Chiang.

Shaw's purchased a plot of land for around $600,000. In addition, upwards of $400,000 was spent constructing the Tiger Mansion seen prominently throughout the film.

This stunning set and the bridge accompanying it was put to good use in numerous Shaw Brothers productions including some of the international co-productions with foreign companies.

Chang Cheh's spectacular tale of blood-letting and revenge (the film contains one of the most shockingly gruesome death scenes in Shaw Brothers history and that's saying a lot!) also scored a successful release in America in the wake of FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH (1972) and the Bruce Lee films.

National General Pictures retitled Cheh's movie with the odd moniker of TRIPLE IRONS when it was unleashed on theaters here in September of 1973. Amidst the glut of so many similar movies, the gore and bad English dubbing got more attention from critics than the actual storylines.

THE NEW ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN definitely possesses a plot as well as the underlining themes of brotherhood among men; a topic indigenous to the directors oeuvre, particularly evident in his 1967-1976 period. This particular movie is one of the best representations of that form, even if the stylistically gory excess often takes precedence.

This movie also explores the isolation and loneliness experienced by those righteous, yet stubborn heroes who strive for fame, attain it, and then suffer devastating defeat through duplicitous methods. The hero must then endure great indignities (in this case it's not just his arm, but the loss of his one true friend, swordsman Fung [Ti Lung]; a young warrior who admires Lei Li's skill, or the skill he has left behind to be a crippled tavern worker) prior to facing insurmountable odds to accomplish his vengeful goals.

The two become friends, although Lei Li proclaims Fung is more like a brother. Having experienced severe depression through his defeat at the hands of a guileful villain masquerading as a nobleman, Lei warns Fung about a meeting with the evil Lung Er Zi (played to the hilt by Ku Feng).

However, Fung is just as steadfast to confront villainy and corruption as the now crippled Lei Li once was.

THE NEW ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN is just one of many Chang Cheh movies emblematic of Jiang Hu, the dichotomy between good and evil; corruption and redemption; an honorable code of brotherhood among men. This maelstrom of masculinity would reach its apex with the release of THE WATER MARGIN in 1972, which is discussed a bit later.

That David Chiang's character has a girlfriend (played by Li Ching, who was betrothed to Ti Lung's character in HAVE SWORD WILL TRAVEL) is unimportant where the affairs of the martial world are concerned. Just like Wang Yu's Fang Gang in the previous movies, he leaves his family at home so as to realign the balance that has been upset by the antagonists. Restoring one's honor, and retribution for the death of a brother is of greater importance.


The gorgeous Sun Wang Ping joined Shaw's at the age of 19, much to her surprise; never dreaming that she would become an actress. Of the four major females starlets associated with the Iron Triangle, she is the least discussed, but arguably the most attractive. She co-starred in three films for Chang Cheh all starring David Chiang and Ti Lung. Always as the petite girlfriend to either man, she loved David Chiang in the award winningly dark VENGEANCE! in 1970 and to Ti Lung in the gruesomely violent THE DUEL in 1971. Her role in THE SINGING KILLER (1970) is also notable. She soon took on swordswoman roles in films like DUEL FOR GOLD (1971) and THE 14 AMAZONS (1972) for other directors before leaving Shaw's in 1972, but returned ten years later to much publicity appearing in the award winning Li Han Hsiang drama TIGER KILLER (1982).

THE NEW ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN is also of importance in that the theme of the lone supreme swordsman, upon attaining success, realizes the forces of jealousy strive to destroy them; or they themselves are destroyed by their own blind ambitions, oblivious to the full strength of the forces at work around them. This was a first in Cheh's filmography, or at least the first time the subject was expounded upon in this manner.

Success is gauged by how badly you desire what you want out of life. And just like Cheh's entrepreneurial swordsmen, the success stories of those in this industrialized age are equally despised, reviled and coveted for their good business sense, ie their "good kung fu".

The aesthetics of Jiang Hu flows freely through many of Cheh's movies; almost as much, if not on par with the gore and splattered blood. This brotherhood is often mistaken for homosexuality, but it is not. If anything, it's chauvinistic, an attitude that seemed reflective of the directors own personality. The primarily male dominated expressiveness of the martial world is the directors trademark and one of several elements and innovations he put in place to change Hong Kong cinema forever.

There was another film of slightly lesser repute that was released at the close of the year. THE DEADLY DUO (1971) takes its cue from history; like some other of Chang Cheh's movies (one of the most famous examples being THE ASSASSIN from 1967).

At its core, THE DEADLY DUO is little more than a gore soaked 'Men On A Mission' movie. It's also a rather breezy 80 minutes in length. One gets the impression this was filler to satisfy the rabid cinematic needs of the HK audiences of the day.

There are no fragile significant others, nor any deceptive seductive female killers. The film was touted at the time as having an all male cast.

The plot is basically the Sung remnants making various attempts to rescue their prince from an impenetrable stronghold. Not just that, but also a treacherous bridge that is near impossible to cross. The bridge that was constructed for NEW ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN was made an integral part of this pictures plot and also provides the film with one major flub.

The critical reception given THE NEW ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN (or more accurately, TRIPLE IRONS) in America is duly warranted in THE DEADLY DUO. The gore is the star of the show. Liu Chia Liang's choreography, as usual, is superlative. Furthermore, the amount of blood and various bladed implements severing limbs and entering bodily cavities is matched only by the gleefully gruesome excess of Cheh's ALL MEN ARE BROTHERS (1975).

Both Chiang and Ti Lung are on equal ground here, working extremely well off of one another. It's just the film itself isn't very good aside from the action and bloodletting.

As far as the two actors are concerned here, one doesn't outshine the other, but instead compliments one another. The level of competition between the two was likely the reason they both ended up directing and starring in their own pictures under the watchful eye of their mentor, Chang Cheh.


Lily Li is one of the most popular lethal ladies in HK action cinema. She joined Shaw Brothers early in the game in 1964 and eventually amassed an impressive list of film credits to her name with many of them fighting roles. She co-starred in only two movies with both of Chang Cheh's box office draws, but she became closely associated with David's movies often playing his girlfriend in such films as the epic THE HEROIC ONES (1970), the David solo outing THE WANDERING SWORDSMAN (1970) and the modern day delinquent picture also minus Ti Lung, FRIENDS (1974). She eventually did many more movies for other major directors both inside and outside of Shaw Brothers studio. Some of these include exploitation flicks like BLACK MAGIC (1975) and THE OILY MANIAC (1976) and amazing Liu Chia Liang movies such as EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN (1977) and 8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER (1984).

With swordplay movies waning, it was time for yet another change. A modern setting would be explored once more, but this time with a greater degree of financial success than before.

The director had won critical accolades and a Best Director award for the modern set VENGEANCE! in 1970. April of 1971 saw the release of a gory, knife-wielding gangster picture entitled THE DUEL; a film with another modern era setting. These two films took place during the Early Republic when the last days of the Qing dynasty crumbled after close to a 300 year rule from 1644 to 1912.

THE ANONYMOUS HEROES (1971) was the third such production. This was one of a few Cheh movies that resembled traditional westerns.

The story is about a couple of brash young men (and one girl) with nothing to lose joining the resistance against a local warlord. The plot is mostly light-hearted till the blood slinging finale when the heroes and heroine are surrounded by hundreds of rifle and bayonet bearing soldiers. This films plot line would later be refurbished into Chang's SHAOLIN RESCUERS released in 1979.

The picture is right exciting at times, but is hindered by a woefully poor sequence where a train is derailed into a lake! The behind the scenes photos displaying the miniature work looks nicely detailed, but the scale in which it is shot is on par with some of the poor quality work seen in the budget slashed Godzilla films made during the 1970s.

Location shooting took place in Thailand including the chase sequence involving the train. While the crew was there, location shooting for Chang's 'The Striking Fist', another film the director was making at the time, was undertaken encompassing twelve days before returning to Hong Kong.

Heavily promoted at the time, 'The Striking Fist' was yet another departure and grand innovation from the mind of Chang Cheh. This movie was also a modern day affair; a style of picture that was becoming increasingly popular with HK audiences of the day.

This production highlighted the heretofore unseen sights of Thai kickboxing (Ti Lung studied Thai boxing during filming), a brutal art of fighting. Cast for local flavor was Thai actress Parwarna (Liu Lan Ying) and former professional Thai boxer, Canong Daech. Having retired at 26 (reportedly the age limit for the sport over there at the time) Daech assisted on the picture for the action scenes.

By the time shooting had wrapped in mid July 1971, the picture had taken on the title of DUEL OF FISTS. It was another 'Iron Triangle' movie, with both David Chiang and Ti Lung sharing the screen together again.


Hong Kong's 'Baby Queen' is possibly the most popular actress to be associated with the Iron Triangle. Signing on with Shaw's in 1964, she quickly became an international media darling and massive box office draw in a long string of musicals and dramas. She eventually gravitated to action pictures amassing four such movies with Chang's popular double team. Having been out of commission for several months while shooting Cheng Kang's KILLERS FIVE (1969), Li's heavily hyped return was on Chang's seminal sleeper DEAD END (1969), Ti Lung's big acting debut. She followed that up with a role as the sword wielding girlfriend to Ti Lung's character in HAVE SWORD WILL TRAVEL (1969). She took a passive turn in the classic THE NEW ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN in 1971, but picked up a weapon again for Cheh's segment in the anthology TRILOGY OF SWORDSMANSHIP (1972). A short time later, she made headlines upon appearing in more risque fare and eventually retired from cinema in the early 1980s.

The gamble of integrating a Thai gimmick into the film paid off handsomely as the picture grossed nearly $HK2 million upon its release in October of '71. It was also in October that Shaw Brothers went public on the HK Stock Exchange. DUEL OF FISTS was yet another box office success added to the directors plate of moneymakers from 1971.

Apparently, the Shaw's had a good feeling about this production since a sequel was mounted after DUEL OF FISTS wrapped. Titled 'The Annoyed Guest', this even more colorful sequel took the action and location shooting to Japan in August of 1971.

Chang Cheh himself was touted in promotional materials as playing the title character. In the film, he plays a Japanese crime boss heading a syndicate in Tokyo. It turns out he was pulling the strings of the Big Boss in Thailand played by Chen Sing last seen in DUEL OF FISTS.

David Chiang and Ti Lung reprise their roles, this time heading to Japan to rescue a kidnapped girlfriend.

Highlights are the frequent and elaborately bloody action scenes and the plethora of 70s fashion. Shaw Brothers 70s productions are unmistakable for their garish set design, particularly in their modern day set movies and this one is no different.

Chang Cheh's importing of foreign talent was used to a greater extent for this movie; Yasuaki Kurata being the prime example. Cheh would use him on another picture and Kurata would quickly become a familiar face in HK kung fu movies.

Korean actress, Fan Jen-tzu was also on hand here as a Japanese fighter. She also acted in Ho Meng Hua's THE BLACK ENFORCER (1972), which shot on location in Korea back in 1969.

THE DEADLY DUO was Chang Cheh's last release of 1971. 1972 promised an even greater slate of productions with a noticeable return to swordplay features.

1972 was also a banner year for the Shaw movie moguls who likewise had an impressive number of films set to go into production throughout the year.

In addition to the films discussed here, Chang Cheh, one of Hong Kong's most powerful filmmakers, also had other pictures he was working on towards the latter half of the year. Some of these were among the biggest movies of his career as well as productions of prestige that could only have been mounted by Shaw Brothers during this time period.


The Expendables 2 (2012) review


Sylvester Stallone (Barney Ross), Jason Statham (Lee Christmas), Jet Li (Yin Yang), Dolph Lundgren (Gunner Jensen), Chuck Norris (Booker), Jean Claude Van Damme (Jean Vilain), Bruce Willis (Church), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Trench), Terry Crews (Hale Caesar), Randy Couture (Toll Road), Liam Hemsworth (Billy the Kid), Yu Nan (Maggie), Scott Adkins (Hector)

Directed by Simon West

The Short Version: This overly silly, bombastic and troubled big budget throwback is packed to the gills with aging 80s action stars and a few new ones. Very much a Chang Cheh style 'team movie', the narrative reverberates THE SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) once the action shifts to the Soviet Union. The movie is somewhat hindered by a spectacular opening that should have been the ending. It also seems to lose some equilibrium right after; wobbling around, bumping its head through a few massive plot holes bigger than the combined muscle mass of the main cast. Still, it's entertaining fluff with occasional, and welcome character nuances and moments, there's just not enough of them to keep this from being little more than a 'Big, Dumb Action Film'. The first movie has the edge in terms of narrative cohesion, while the second is louder and excessively, if intentionally stupid. Packed with muscles, sweat, big guns and bigger explosions, the cast seem to have had a grand time making this in spite of the hackneyed and hacked plot. Silliness rules the day; everything else is Expendable.

After pulling off a daring rescue of a Chinese political figure in Burma, Barney Ross and his band of mercenaries are hired by Church to fly into the Albanian wilderness to locate a downed airplane carrying a safe with an armed, and time- sensitive lock. The Expendables are assured this is a simple mission, but when it's accomplished, they suddenly run afoul of a European criminal cartel led by Jean Vilain who not only takes the safes contents, but humiliates the mercenaries and kills one of them in the process. Discovering that the safe contained a digital map revealing the location of five tons in plutonium, The Expendables have limited time to stop Vilain from selling off the potential weapons of mass destruction to the highest bidder.

Stallone steps down out of the directors chair and allows the guy responsible for CON AIR (1997) to take his place. Considering how well the first film flows, this wasn't such a good idea.

THE EXPENDABLES 2 starts off strongly, but steadily collapses after the films title makes its belated appearance. This explosive, and lengthy opening action sequence seems like half the budget was spent on it. It sets up the remainder perfectly; if only the remainder matched, maintained, or exceeded the boisterousness of said opening.

Unfortunately for the ending, which seems to just start without any transition, is minimal by comparison. This is just one of a few things that makes this sequel, while entertaining, not quite as good on the whole as the first film. One thing it does do better is spread things out for the mercenary all stars and the action doesn't fall prey to rapid edits and uber close ups.

While it's still The Stallone & Statham Show, the serious tone of the first is jettisoned and replaced by a goofy one filled with one-liners that, by the finale, have worn out their welcome. Some may find this pleasurable, I found it annoying as hell. For example, Schwarzenegger utters two "I'll be back's". Why? Wasn't one enough? Other characters toss about classic 80s action lines with rapidity equaling the rounds per second of the automatic weapons they use to mow down endless streams of automatons. The best line in the entire film isn't even a one-liner, but a remark Schwarzenegger makes at the end about them all being old. It's bittersweet, but touching in its irony and affection.

Some other things that are conspicuously apparent--Jason Statham carries on his tradition of whispering nearly all of his lines; Jet Li, who is third billed, bows out of the film after the extended opening sequence; Dolph Lundgren is lovably insane instead of the demented outcast of the first picture; Crews and Couture get more scenes and lines, but are only modestly expanded upon from the previous picture; Schwarzenegger, now in his 60s, rattles and shakes while firing a high-powered weapon.

One of the more bewildering aspects of this movie are how people enter and exit the narrative at random without any explanation whatsoever; which owes to some of the plot holes mentioned above. These aren't ordinary plot holes, either. These are bigger than the combined muscle mass of the main cast. You almost expect to see the intruding characters do some product placement promotion for a new protein bar or the Total Gym.

Speaking of Total Gym, the sudden appearance of Chuck Norris is simply ridiculous and takes you out of the movie; unless the intention was to hearken back to his invincible hero of INVASION USA (1985) who seemed to always be in the right place at the right time.

Aside from an hilarious joke that alludes to the legion of online Norris memes, his entrance feels sloppily tacked on. He somehow manages to single-handedly take out a tank and several dozen men carrying nothing more than a machine gun.

His reprise during the conclusion feels less intrusive since the editing cuts right to the big finish without any set up at all. As nice as it was to see him in a new movie, his addition to the cast really adds nothing to the film and wasn't necessary to the plot. It's like one of those episodes in an old television series that introduces a new character for the sole purpose of a spin off series. That's how Norris's participation felt to me.

The sloppiest moments involve the bad guys plan for extracting their destructive payload.

Once the good guys have rescued the slave laborers digging for the plutonium, Jean Vilain sets off explosives to bury them. A conveniently placed hole allows everybody to duck inside. A short time later, our heroes try to find a way out, but it's not necessary; Schwarzenegger's character, who somehow knows exactly where they are, shows up in some sort of burrowing bulldozer to free them!

Jean Claude Van Damme, who loves to meddle with movies to "make them better", plays the main villain here, Jean Vilain. Personally, I despise his movies as much as anything with Donnie "Look! I've lost my shirt!" Yen. Since VD plays the bad guy, it's a guarantee he will die at the end, so it's okay.

At the point in the film where he wants the Plutonium dug up within a three day time frame, he orders Hector to kidnap all the women and children in the village to use as slaves to speed things up. For whatever reason, his men are a bit slow to do this as seemingly a day or more passes by the time the Expendables reach this village to talk with the gun-toting, yet frightened women who are hiding their children. When they do finally show up to kidnap the women and children, they're easily killed off, yet Vilain, for all his meticulous planning, never realizes the extra hands fail to materialize. Yet, a few scenes later, the Plutonium is excavated on time, but without all the extra hands Vilain had ordered!

Speaking of Van Damme, he reportedly tweaked the finale (at Stallone's approval) to suit himself. This is akin to him stating in past films that his ass must be in frame x number of times presumably for the ladies in the audience.

Arguably the most famous example of this was his destruction of John Woo's original version of HARD TARGET by interfering with the editing process. Anyways, he trots out his old 80s repertoire of kick (notice that's singular) which he does over and over. Known for his splits and the same tired ballet sissy kicks, Van Damme would never even qualify as a second rate Occidental Hwang Jang Lee.

He also wears sunglasses through most of the movie, which is good because when he takes them off, his eyes (whether due to the lighting, the make up, or past substance abuse) seem to bug out like the aliens with the ping pong eyes in KILLERS FROM SPACE (1953), or the zombies with the protruding, bulbous orbs from I EAT YOUR SKIN (1964).

Van Damme also makes a serious action movie faux pas during his first interaction with Los Mercenarios. Apparently Jean Vilain didn't finish watching THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) to learn that Calvera ultimately lives to regret allowing the seven to live by humiliating them instead of killing them. But then our 'big dumb action movie' would only be around 30 minutes long.

Liam Hemsworth's character is a new, if younger addition to the Wild Old Bunch. He also gets the most exposition. And considering this is a 'big dumb action movie', it doesn't require brain cells to foresee his future in the movie.

Chinese actress Yu Nan is also new, and the sole female member of the group. She's unwanted, yet proves her worth on a couple of occasions. It's interesting to note that the IMDb's bizarre policy of placing the Chinese family name last instead of first (as it should be) is confusing on their entry for EXPENDABLES 2. They list Yu Nan as Nan Yu, but fail to list Jet Li's character, Yin Yang, as Yang Yin.

Speaking of women, EXPENDABLES 2 is a six pack of abs worth of Cheh-isms. The level of machismo on display here would make the Godfather of Hong Kong Cinema proud. EXPENDABLES 2 is all about men, muscles, guns, sweat and CGI blood.

Chang Cheh made a celebrated career out of making Oriental versions of this same type of action picture resulting in his sexual preference coming into question for it; despite Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah doing virtually the same thing. But then those guys didn't make close to a hundred gore soaked action films where women take a backseat to the men.

Outside of Maggie (Yu Nan), all the women here are virtually helpless, and Maggie herself isn't highlighted the same way as the men. She participates in the fights about as much as some of the swordswomen in Cheh's movies do.

In keeping with the Chang Cheh connection (not that one was intended, but I couldn't help but see it), The Stallone & Statham Show is highly reminiscent of Cheh's immensely successful double act pairing David Chiang with Ti Lung.

For all the "conspiracy theorists" kung fu fans who often prefer debating Cheh's alleged homosexuality instead of his movies, Stallone tells Van Damme during their disappointing climactic fight scene that if he wants to be "manned up", he's going to "man him up". It goes without saying that both men did porn--with Mr. VD appearing in gay porn--early in their careers.

Aside from being more plentiful, the action choreography is better photographed this time out allowing Thailand's Don Thai's action design to be more visibly appreciated. Cory Yuen's choreography from the first EXPENDABLES was mangled by that films editors.

Composer, Brian Tyler returns and his score makes the film more exciting and engaging at the right moments. The score is compensated by some great 50s-70s songs that fit beautifully considering the age of the cast.

And that is probably the single greatest thing about this series--it gives some of action cinemas old hands a new chance to shine; whether for the last time remains to be seen. If revisiting the memories of those 'big dumb action films' of old was the intended mission of the filmmakers, then for them, and for those who still love those movies, there's nothing Expendable about that.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bogs, Beasts & Boggy Creek: Creature Feature Classics & Aquatic Monsters On the Cheap

Movies about monsters of various shapes and sizes residing below the murky depths of lakes and swamps were the go-to topic for a lot low budget horror filmmakers back in the day. Such a film seemed "easy" enough to put together and, in some cases, proved a lucrative venture especially on the Drive In circuit for undemanding audiences.

A few of the movies on this list--14 in total spanning 1954-1982--are more high profile than others, but this was a type of monster flick I gravitated to when I was a kid. These Creatures Walking Among Us seen on this list are relegated to smaller bodies of water such as lakes, rivers and swamps.

I never lived near the ocean (well, save for my first couple of years), but a lake was more easily accessible and I guess that's why the subject matter dredged up eerie thoughts of the possibility of something not human residing beneath the dark depths of those more compact bodies of water.


One of the best of the water-logged creature features, this is a classic B/W monster movie from Jack (TARANTULA) Arnold. CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON laid the template for many other similar movies that followed in the wake of the Gill Man emerging from the murky depths of an isolated Amazonian lagoon.

The discovery of a prehistoric fossil leads an expedition into the Amazon where a scaly fish-man is found living within the title BLACK LAGOON. The crew is pitted against the beast in an effort to both capture it, and escape with their lives. However, the monster has his fish-eyes set on the beautiful lady passenger played by Julie Adams.

Despite borrowing the classic 'Beauty & the Beast' conceit, Arnold's movie was the inspiration for later movies such as the Mexican horror/musical/cowboy picture SWAMP OF THE LOST MONSTER (1957), the US-Mexican production of OCTAMAN (1971) and the first blockbuster, JAWS (1975) being the most famous example to be inspired by BLACK LAGOON (JAWS 3 also borrows heavily from 1955s REVENGE OF THE CREATURE).

Arnold's movie also lays down hints of the creature possibly intending to mate with the human woman. This plot device was used over and over again in numerous other monster movies for decades.

It's easily the classiest movie on this list and one I remember fondly from childhood. It was and still is my favorite of the iconic Universal monsters. I saw the first film on the Late Movie and its first sequel, REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955) on prime time on a school night. One of the local stations showed a 3D double feature of GORILLA AT LARGE (1954) and REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955). The second sequel, THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (1956), I caught early one Saturday morning and I remember being really sad at the end. If you've seen it, you know what I mean.


This barely talked about Japanese monster movie is basically a low rent GODZILLA but with a different monster. This time, Varan (or Baran in the original Japanese) lives in a lake and worshipped as a god to the people living in the surrounding villages. The beast is awakened through means as generic as the overall film which leads to lots of destruction.

I remember very little from VARAN, having not seen it since catching it on a Saturday morning back when monster and horror movies ruled weekend TV stations (and could be seen late at night during the rest of the week). The monster in the lake motif is eventually abandoned as Varan makes his way to the sea and a subsequent assault on Tokyo. The US version, as I remember it, was bereft of any Japanese footage outside of the monster sequences. Among the cut scenes include moments where Varan reveals he can fly!

Unlike other Toho monster epics in heavy rotation on TV in the late 70s/early 80s like GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, RODAN and MOTHRA, VARAN did nothing for me, making little to no impression on this then impressionable mind. Varan was subsequently brought out of retirement for a very brief cameo in Toho's overrated DESTROY ALL MONSTERS in 1968.

OCTAMAN (1971)

This lower than low budget throwback to 50s monster flicks was written and directed by Harry Essex, the screenwriter for CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. Shot on what had to have been a few bucks and some pocket lint, OCTAMAN is essentially a color version of BLACK LAGOON with a bit of GORGO (1961) thrown into the mess. During the 70s there was a slew of cheaply made flicks that were a step up from home movies and OCTAMAN is one of them.

As bad as some of these movies are, there's an undeniable charm especially in that in those days, virtually anybody could make a movie and get it out into theaters and eventually on television. It's also intriguing to see the beginnings of artists careers (in this case it's ape and monster maker, Rick Baker) that would eventually go on to much bigger things. I never saw OCTAMAN on TV, but did catch shots of it on the immortal IT CAME FROM HOLLYWOOD (1982) and also behind the scenes images of it in Fangoria magazine such as the photo insert from Fangoria #35.

The painted box art on the Video Gems videocassette proved to be better than the movie itself after I rented it. Aside from it being a nicely constructed piece of early work for Rick Baker, the monster suit would have been better served in a Japanese Tokusatsu show.


Here's another trashy, mostly forgettable, lake-laden creature feature. I saw it on the great and long gone WGGT-TV 48 on a Saturday afternoon. Just hearing that title, "The Blood Waters of Dr. Z, today at 12 on TV 48, The Great Entertainer!", was an attractive proposition to a little boy. I mean, could you imagine if the advertiser had used the films original title, "Zaat, today at 12 on TV 48, The Great Entertainer!" What the hell is Zaat?!

This is another one I remember very little from aside from the walking catfish monster menacing the local townsfolk. The movie was recently released on DVD and, shockingly, on Blu ray in a 2-fer special. Considering how horror was maturing with far more adult oriented material during the 70s, the Florida lensed DR. Z was a throwback to the more kid friendly monster flicks of previous decades.

The plot such as it is concerns a mad scientist who turns himself into a walking catfish monster and gets revenge on those who mocked his bizarre formula for turning people into a walking dinner delicacy. And that's pretty much it.

It's a (baby) step up from a Larry Buchanan movie (who has a flick on this list), although my opinion may change once I see it again. But I am finding more times than not, when a movie disappoints you as a child, it's unlikely to ingratiate itself upon you in adulthood.


Charles B. Pierce's runaway success is of the Bigfoot school of monster movie; that style of creature feature likewise being unmistakably popular in the 1970s.

Back then Everybody Was Bigfoot Sightin' left, right and center. This might have been one of the reasons behind this films wildly peculiar success. Not only that, but Pierce's modestly moody monster flick is anchored by being based on a true story; as can be attested by its promotional materials and assorted other ballyhoo.

Watching it now, it's perplexing how this thing raked in over 20 million dollars. I assume its 'True Story' status was responsible for much of this? BOGGY CREEK very well may be the earliest antecedent to the style of filmmaking that was popularized with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT in 1999.

Something about it captivated audiences at the time as this blurb from a 1973 Box Office magazine ad writes, "THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK continues to break box office and concession records in 9 out of 10 engagements played. We'd say a lot more but frankly, success speaks for itself. All we want to tell you is THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK has captured the imagination of theater-goers everywhere and we've got the figures to prove it's a box office smash."

There's really no plot to speak of aside from a narrative that unfolds in a documentary style complimented by faux interviews with people who claim to have seen the Boggy Beast. The film is also peppered with simulated encounters between the monster and various locals.

Some scenes have a permeatingly creepy ambiance, and the thick, dank aura of the swamp settings does wonders for them. Aside from that, there's very little of substance here. Possibly the most fascinating thing about this movie is witnessing life within a smaller than small town as well as those living out in the boondocks.

The creature isn't very convincing, but a few shots manage to scrounge up genuine suspense (particularly a scene where a little boy encounters the creature in the woods). Definitely a product of its time, this sort of DIY moviemaking has died out and been supplanted by equally cheap modern pictures, but with little of the ingenuity that enabled this antiquated product survive for so long.


This was one of several movies that took the concept of BOGGY CREEK and ran with it. The production was apparently modeled on Pierce's monster smash hit being told in flashback and with narration revolving around a story about a creature living in a bottomless lake. Here though, it's a young man spending a weekend with his girlfriend and relating the story of an ancient fossil he found, as well as encounters with an Indian worshiped god monster from when he was a little boy. Instead

of a guy wearing a shaggy, rug-like costume, we got a guy in a skin-tight, amphibious looking get-up. The photo to the right gives you a better look at Rana than the actual film does.

The first time I saw this was in the mid to late 80s on USA Network's Saturday Nightmares program that came on at 8pm. I also later bought the VHS tape that bore this title (see below). Troma acquired the film at some point and re-christened it CROAKED: FROG MONSTER FROM HELL; a stupid title for a film that looks nothing at all like Troma's own in-house productions.

Like BOGGY CREEK, the acting is underwhelming, yet the settings are great; if only the onscreen action matched the surroundings. The SHAFT like music and stock Shaw Brothers kung fu movie library tracks are definitely unfitting and the special effects by 'Spectacular Effects of Atlanta, Georgia' are anything but spectacular. In its favor, there's some great shots of mist shrouded lakes, a bit of gore, some so-so suspense and a monster that, when he isn't puking up frogs, is looking for a human mate.

For a kid, this sort of monster flick will do the trick, although you'd likely fare better with Rebane's more well known GIANT SPIDER INVASION (1975). Cheri Caffaro(!), the leggy star of the GINGER series and TOO HOT TO HANDLE (1977) is listed as an Associate Producer on the end credits for this Wisconsin lensed creature feature that looks like it was shot in the 70s, but bears a copyright date of 1981.


Now we're talkin' prime 'B' movie beef right here in what amounts to arguably the best of the Bigfeet flicks. Miles away better than BOGGY CREEK and better acted, this one is told straight. No docu-re-enactments here. Also, this hairy humanoid is one pissed off pseudo-primate. He's not quite as angry as the gut slinging, dick ripping yeti of NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1980), but definitely not a graduate of the 'G' rated school Boggy Creek's beast hails from.

Director Joy N. Houck Jr. was behind such trash as NIGHT OF BLOODY HORROR (1969) and the underrated NIGHT OF THE STRANGLER (1972). CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE is one of his best films (even though pickin's are slim) and the participation of Jack Elam and Dub Taylor help immensely. Also, Houck manages to create some reasonable suspense on occasion. The monster scenes are well shot and the sound effects of the creatures snarls and roars are choice. However, when we finally get a good look at the beast, and despite his deep voice and super strength, we're talkin' the Rick Astley of Bigfoot monsters. His size doesn't exactly equate to his bad temper and freakish strength.

The title recalls CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) and of course the plot lifts wholesale from BOGGY CREEK, but with a lot more onscreen success. Even the BLACK LAKE's director's name closely resembles BOGGY's Arkansas 'Fouke' monster! Yet again, the local flavor adds a lot and some nice country tunes complete the package. The way the film ends, it leaves things open for a BLACK LAKE 2 which, sadly, never materialized.

It's not perfect by any means, and definitely drags in the middle, but within a sub genre not known for classy pictures, CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE is at the top of the hairy man heap.


One of the most widely seen 'C' pictures on this list, William R. Stromberg's monster movie is about a meteor crashing into a lake and unleashing a dormant plesiosaur to wreak havoc on swimmers and two hillbillies who spend a chunk of the films running time bickering with one another.

Dave Allen, Jim Danforth and Phil Tippett worked on the picture and the special effects consist of stop motion animation and a large sized mock up head that doesn't resemble the animated beast all that much.

I first saw this, or more accurately, I saw the ending of this on WNRW-TV 45 one Saturday afternoon. The sight of a gigantic aquatic dinosaur battling a snow plow about popped my eyes out of my head. The film continued to elude me and seeing a photo of the mock up of the creatures head in an early issue of Fangoria only piqued my interest more; especially in that it took a few years before my mom would even consider buying me an issue of Fangoria!

Around 1987, I got several VHS tapes for Christmas including THE CLOWN MURDERS (1976) (with John Candy), LONG WEEKEND (1978), MONSTER (1979) and THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER. I did like the film, but everything that led up to that finale didn't quite match up.

Like seemingly all these 'Monster In the Lake/Swamp' movies, CRATER LAKE MONSTER is something of a family affair. Bad movie buffs will find much to keep them preoccupied what with the plethora of pitiful performances and insomniacs will have a perfect cure for sleep deprivation. The film does have one helluva good poster though!


When JAWS ate up hundreds of millions of dollars in ticket sales, the beaches and other bodies of water weren't safe from all the sharp toothed critters chomping and gnashing at the bit to munch on human flesh. From Japan came this monstrosity, a Toei studios abomination that was hyped as being this big budget production. You'd never know from all the marionette special effects and stiff monster mock ups present in this horrendous movie.

The plot is non-existent dealing with a young paleontologist returning to his childhood village to find a plesiosaur believed to be living beneath a lake. Somehow or other, the monster knew he was coming as mutilated and half eaten bodies of humans and horses begin turning up (nestled in trees in some instances!). A few scenes of JAWS are duplicated amidst a rather high quotient of gory violence. Speaking of the bloody effects work, more money seems to have been spent on that aspect of production than everything else.

In its favor, the fog encrusted lake sequences aid in scraping up a modicum of tension prior to the cast members being gobbled up and their viscera strewn here and there. The opening five minutes show a lot of promise, but the remaining 87 fail to keep that momentum going.

Towards the end, a near immobile Pteranadon shows up leading to a monumentally crappy battle of the dinosaurs that causes a volcanic eruption. I first saw a portion of this GOREgeous mess on USA Network and later on VHS under its US title of LEGEND OF THE DINOSAURS. I have no clue what movie the artist was watching when designing the Italian poster seen in the insert. For the curious, a review of the film is HERE.

BOG (1978)

This is the sort of 'Do It Yourself' filmmaking you just don't find anymore. Another 'Lake Dwelling Monster' flick, this tacky obscurity has a little bit of everything. The acting is actually good, a punchy and moody soundtrack and a 50s throwback plot. On the negative side, the films editor seems to have been inebriated at the time; the script is jam-packed with nonsensical scientific gobbledy-gook and numerous lines of dialog appear to have been flubbed and no re-take was called for. Even worse, the monster is irrepressibly laughable in its design when we finally get a good look at it. Prior to this, some of its victims look up into the air as if it's Kong sized, while 7 feet or so is more like it.

Basically our Bog monster is awakened from his thousand months slumber by a guy fishing with dynamite. After killing two women at the beginning and dwindling even more cast members, veteran actors Gloria DeHaven and Marshall Thompson toss about random scientific terminologies to keep viewers confused in between monster attacks by our bloodsucking bog beast. Meanwhile, Aldo Ray flubs lines and drinks a lot as the sheriff. Screen tough guy Leo Gordon is also briefly in this mess, too.

If that weren't enough, we get moody scenes of a woods dwelling witch woman (also played by DeHaven!) and her retarded, redneck Yoda sounding sidekick with whom the former has a connection with the snarling, water-logged monster. All bets are off once the creature is seen in full view despite the cameraman having trouble holding it still. The cherry on top of this banana split of a rib-tickler is a love song entitled 'Walk With Me' that warbles on during the opening and ending of the movie, and wedged in during a kissy scene doubling as a "sex" scene between DeHaven and Thompson.

I first saw a preview for this on some VHS tapes like SHOCK WAVES (1976) from Prism Home Video back in the late 80s. The preview was rather exciting and succeeds in making the movie look good. I finally found it in a then newly opened video store in town and it was my first rental at that establishment. Fortunately for enthusiasts of terrible movies, BOG is anything but good. The requisite shock ending promised BOG 2 which apparently is still slumbering.

PIRANHA (1978)

One of the best 'Creature In the Lake' movies. Instead of a single man in a suit, we get hundreds of piranhas ingeniously operated off camera with rods and brought to life via camera speed and memorable 'gobble, gobble' sound effects when folks are being fed upon.

And there's a plot! From John Sayles no less! Outside of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, this Roger Corman produced horror picture is easily the most well known, or widely seen movie on this list. Often lumped in as a JAWS rip-off, Joe Dante's career went through the roof after this mightily entertaining motion picture showed that man-eating fish weren't confined solely to the salt water dwellings of the ocean.

PIRANHA was so popular, it got a sequel, a proposed second sequel that never materialized, two remakes and a sequel to the remake. Also an Italian variant called KILLER FISH was produced in 1979 from Antonio Margheriti with a staggeringly high profile cast.


Remember Elvira's Movie Macabre? Of course you do. MONSTROID was one of many horror hemorrhoids showcased on the Mistress of the Dark's two hour time slot.

This is a bizarre US-Mexi-mess that corrals James Mitchum and John Carradine for a plot about another lake dwelling beast that infrequently pops its hand puppet head out of the water (complete with a fleshy Fu Manchu type 'stache) and munches on the locals. The filmmakers would have you believe this was a true story, too, even going so far as to provide dates and everything.

I'm not sure how Mitchum and Carradine were convinced to be in this, but the latter gets off light considering his screen time as a superstitious priest is limited. Philip Carey, Capt. Parmalee from the classic western series LAREDO, was also duped into appearing in this crusty crab of a movie. Italian western star, Aldo Sambrell is supposed to be in this thing, but I don't remember seeing him.

The stuff between the monster attacks threaten to put you to sleep, and if you're knocked out, you'll miss out on the exciting conclusion wherein we get a long look at a large monster float bobbing in and out of the water during a duel with a helicopter and James Mitchum with a handful of dynamite.

Reportedly, the film took nearly a decade to see the light of a movie screen brought on by a flurry of behind the scenes problems. The picture is forgettable, with nothing to recommend it. I would like to know just who came up with the wonky MONSTROID title. The film does have one saving grace, though.

The poster designs are incredible. One such design (see photo to the right) even seems to try and cash in on the wild success of LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK. A shame this film, and others like it, couldn't come close to duplicating the thrills designed by their talented promotional artists.


To cult film lovers the name Larry Buchanan has the uncanny ability to send shivers down ones spine as well as send skin to crawling for his regurgitating many of the world's most atrocious horror-monster movies ever made. If you've seen high camp crap like ZONTAR, THE THING FROM VENUS (1966), MARS NEEDS WOMEN (1967), CREATURE OF DESTRUCTION (1967), HELL RAIDERS (1968), IT'S ALIVE! (1969), or MISTRESS OF THE APES (1979), you have some idea of what you're in for with the $40,000 crapfest THE LOCH NESS HORRIBLE. And like other monster flicks on this list, this here is yet another family affair.

It's about the search for Nessie, Scotland's legend of the Loch; only here, it's a US locale poorly standing in for the fabled Scottish body of water. The creature (in regards to actually seeing it) is almost a guest star in its own movie as there are other subplots sloppily tossed into the narrative. There's a search for a sunken WW2 German plane, a crazed Scotsman skulking around believing WW2 is still going on, and a dinosaur egg taken from the bottom(?) of the lake that pops in and out of the narrative.

Nessie is something of a hero here, "fighting back" as the trailer puts it, against those who would harm the lake or her egg. The special effects aren't so special, with Nessie looking anything but menacing with her cute facial features and blow up beach toy design. The STAR WARS Tie Fighter sound effects subbing for Nessie's roar do nothing but make things even more hilarious.

Furthermore, we only ever see the neck and head being raised up and down pretending to bite into people or drag idiots "trapped" in their sleeping bags off into the lake.

Amazingly, this micro-budgeted wonder got regular airings on both USA Network's Commander USA's Groovie Movies and Saturday Nightmares. It's in the running to be the worst movie on this list, but it's met with stiff (haha) competition from some of the other pictures. It's easily one of the funniest movies celebrated(?) here, if not the worst. The poster design is another example of more attention paid the promotional materials than the actual movie.


Wes Craven, then best known for violently savage horror pictures like LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) and THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) (and also brooding semi-slashers like DEADLY BLESSING [1981]) toned things down a bit for this live action version of the popular Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson DC comic book.

This movie is different from the others on this list in that the title creature is the hero. The human characters are the real monsters which include the likes of Louis Jourdan, LAST HOUSE's David Hess and Nicholas Worth. Harry Manfredini delivers yet another FRIDAY THE 13TH sounding score to hone in on the horror aspect and there's some violence that is a bit strong for a 'PG'. The movie seems to divide fans of the genre with many preferring the livelier, but far stupider sequel RETURN OF SWAMP THING (1988). I didn't get to see SWAMP THING in the theater, but did catch it on HBO and enjoyed it quite a lot.

The kitschy effects work do make this an enjoyable little movie even if the violence kind of designs this as a movie for big kids instead of little ones (the international version approves of that assertion!). Adrienne Barbeau, armed with her raised eyebrow and two big "guns" will no doubt stir feelings within adolescents as she often did to me when I was 7 to 8 years of age. If you can find it, the international version gives you more Barbeau boobage and additional nudity during a birthday sequence.


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.