Thursday, January 30, 2014

Reel Bad Cinema: Santo Contra Los Asesinos De Otros Mundos (1971) review



Santo, Juan Gallardo (Boris), Sasha Montenegro (Karen Bernstein), Carlos Agosti (Malkosh), Marco Antonio Campos (Chief O'Connor), Carlos Suarez (Dr. Bernstein)

Directed by Ruben Galindo

The Short Version: This entry in the long running Santo series is one of the cheapest looking of the lot. Working from the flimsiest of scripts, it makes absolutely no sense in its mixture of monsters and the Mob. Fans of Santo's other Martian movie mess will want to make contact with this one, too. Endearingly awful, the bargain bin blob beasts save the day, usurping the star power of the Silver masked Saint. 

Santo is called into action to solve some mysterious, gruesome murders of government officials. Victims have had their flesh stripped off the bone by what turns out to be a blob creature from the moon discovered by the kidnapped Dr. Bernstein. Malkosh, one of the leaders of a criminal organization, attempts to blackmail the world using the blobs as a tool for murder. Santo defeats Malkosh, but then his partner, Boris, has Dr. Bernstein, and more moon monsters in his underground lair.

Galindo's 1971 Lucha opus is a clear example of just how exasperated the budgets had become by this point in the series; not that they were all that expensive in the first place. The atmospheric ambiance of the 60s films were gone -- replaced by production values amounting to what looks like a few hundred pesos. By Santo standards, it's one of the absolute worst in the Silver Masked One's catalog, but is a good deal of fun because of it. By comparison, the 'Killers From Other Worlds' gives SANTO AND BLUE DEMON VS. THE MONSTERS (1971) a run for its maladroit money, yet the latter edges it out for sheer bad for your buck.

Among the lowlights (and they are legion) is Santo's fist fight in and around a cargo plane. The Saintly One trades punches with some bungling, machine gun-toting thugs that are apparently bereft of both brains and the power of sight. The scene is capped off in true knee-slapper fashion when Malkosh attempts to run Santo down in his car. Instead of using his crime fighting skills to stop him, Santo figures waving his arms around is the better option. He's promptly run over. Possibly his mask was on too tight? 

This scene and others like it have an inept charm about them that will be the deciding factor if you choose to stick with it, or hit the eject button on your DVD player. Throughout the film, the main villains goons can't shoot for shit, and some of them can't hold the guns steady when firing them. But it gets "better"!

Immediately following Santo's failed attempt at flagging down the bad guy, the unconscious wrestler is whisked away to Malkosh's private arena -- spruced up to look like a lunar surface complete with starry background -- where he's forced to fight assorted gladiators and a guy with a flamethrower. You're almost inclined to believe Malkosh is from outer space what with his golden command chair equipped with remote control switches that beam down his brawlers (they magically appear in a puff of smoke with the press of a button); and if defeated, leave this world in a hail of bullets! 

The showstopper of this ridiculousness is the fleshy colored killer tarpaulin that slurps the flesh (but leaves the clothes) off its victims; said victims aren't the least bit anxious to get away, and some of them are one step away from bursting into laughter. Looking like strips of leather stitched together with a few crewmen walking slumped over underneath, the blob monster makes the alien in THE CREEPING TERROR look like a Stan Winston creation. During the conclusion, it's a veritable blob buffet as every technician on the film end up underneath a whole slew of leather sheets.

With everything else making zero sense, the blobs are given a cohesive, if minimal backstory. They initially are mere moon rocks. Upon being exposed to air, they transmogrify into shaving cream before taking shape as the disowned sibling to the man-eating, ever growing, oozing, outer space mass that terrorized Steve McQueen and a small Pennsylvania town in 1958.

While the impoverished blob monsters steal the show, the two main villains are a hoot themselves. Both Malkosh and Boris are borderline SciFi with their gadgets. Ramon Obon Jr's and director Galindo's script may have originally meant for them to be from space -- this would explain the bewildering arena bout that looks, rather cheaply, like they're on another planet. Speaking of this sequence, it supplants the usual wrestling ring matches that are always inserted in Santo's movies.

Aside from Malkosh's aforementioned command chair that beams down trident bearing gladiators and flamethrower armed automatons, Boris keeps his goons and captives in check with lethal neck bracelets. When somebody fails, a deadly gas is released from the bracelet that kills the wearer. Seeing as how imbecilic as Boris's men are, it's a wonder he has anyone under his employ at all.

The plentiful fights are poorly choreographed, and the glaring weariness of Santo and the stuntmen add to the hilarity. There's a dozen or so brawls, and most all of them play out the same way; and everybody looks so tired; it's as if the fisticuffs were all shot the same day. Santo (who looks exhausted here) rarely mixes up his routine in this one, preferring a straight right shot to the jaw most of the time. The Masked Man seems to be really decking the hell out of the extras, too. Despite their sloppiness, ASESINOS DE OTROS MUNDOS has some of the funniest fights of the entire series.

More silliness ensues when Santo, after defeating Boris, starts to slam him on top of one of the big blobs that's just sitting motionless. Apparently realizing there's about six guys crouched over under that tarp, he decides to lay him on the ground instead. Another hideously inept moment during the finale finds Dr. Bernstein trying to bypass an electric door lock on a wall for a wooden door!

The jazzy Jesus Zarzosa score sounds like it's playing on a loop, and would be great to jam to if you were stuck in an elevator. Mexi-horror fans will remember Carlos Agosti as Count Frankenhausen from THE BLOODY VAMPIRE (1962) and its sequel, INVASION OF THE VAMPIRES (1963).

If you're a fan of Ed Wood style moviemaking, than KILLERS FROM OTHER WORLDS is an excruciatingly fun south of the border equivalent. Far from Santo's finest hour, Galindo's cheapie often feels like it was wrapped up during siesta from another movie. SANTO VS. THE MARTIAN INVASION (1966) is better, but no less ridiculous. Galindo and Santo fared much better in 1976 with the surprisingly moody horror outing, SANTO VS. THE SHE-WOLVES. As low budget as it gets, this Santo pseudo SciFi actioner is nonetheless very tasty, and as loaded as a seven layer burrito.

This review is representative of the Xenon Pictures DVD

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Guillotines (2012) review


Huang Xiaoming (Wolf), Ethan Ruan (Leng), Li Yuchun (Musen), Shawn Yue (Haidu), Jimmy Wang Yu (Gong)

Directed by Andrew Lau

The Short Version: There continues to be a steady stream of Shaw Brothers remakes coming out of Hong Kong (some now threaten to emerge from America), and Andrew Lau's envisioning of Ho Meng Hua's classic from 1975 was among the most eagerly anticipated. Unfortunately, THE GUILLOTINES fails to live up to any expectations, much less the films title. Fans awaiting lots of noggin lopping will be massively disappointed -- for after the first 15 minutes (and for 30 seconds nearly an hour into the feature), you never see the famous head cleaving device again; that in itself will be the deal breaker for most. Use your head. Watch the original instead.

The Guillotines are the covert assassination unit for the Emperor. After a much sought after criminal escapes execution and kidnaps a member of the Guillotines in the process, the monarchs advisors suggest the order of hitmen be literally put out to pasture; and replaced by more devastating foreign guns and cannons. Now hunted down by their government that trained them, Leng, the last remaining of the group, has to decide whether to remain loyal to his duty or side with the man he's sworn to kill.

The long gestating remake, re-imagining, or whatever you want to call it, of Ho Meng Hua's influential THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1975) arrives in boisterous, yet lukewarm fashion from Andrew Lau. It's an $18 million bloated mess that can't make up its mind if it wants to be an action movie, or an historical drama; and along the way it totally forgets to find targets with which to show off its title weapon. Yes, it's called 'The Guillotines', but after the first 15 minutes, the exaggerated head cleaver is conspicuous by its absence. 

Having seen very few recent (as in the last ten years) HK movies, the likes of Lau's update is doing little to change that. Essentially a Hollywood style picture loaded with computer graphics and a cast of young skinny kids, the humanity and air of horror Ho Meng Hua amassed for the original is nowhere to be found. It's as emotionally barren as some of the rural landscapes they shot the film in. Lau's movie does manages a grim tone, but little else. THE GUILLOTINES is more concerned in shoveling a massive mount of pomposity in your face than it is in formulating a story laced with severed heads and characters you give a damn about.

Nearly every sequence in this movie contains some form of photographic trickery including a variety of dissolves and speeding up and slowing down of the film. Additionally, fight scenes (the few you get) are shot and rapidly cut in such close quarters it's difficult to see what's happening at times. In its favor, the film does breath a few moments of epic scope, but these are wasted on nationalistic monologues and political pandering. With its pedigree and how it was marketed, viewers expect an action film, but do not get one. If you've seen the trailer, than you've seen all the bits with the title head loppers. The filmmakers apparently thought the best thing for the movie was NOT to showcase the Flying Guillotine in its own movie.

Since there's not much else worth talking about in regards to the picture, let's discuss the weapon itself since you see so little of it in the film.

Ho Meng Hua's 1975 movie introduced arguably the most terrifying martial arts movie weapon ever devised. Allegedly a real creation from ancient Chinese history, no known historical accounts detail what the weapon looked like. Entirely fabricated to suit the film, the weapon itself is a fascinating creation; and one that looks entirely operational. The weapon itself, and its practicality was featured on a 2011 episode of The Discovery Channel series MYTH BUSTERS.

The popularity of Ho's movie initiated a string of similar head cleavers, with varying degrees of success. THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1975) remains the most believable, and stylistically impressive. Shaw Brothers released their own clone in the form of THE DRAGON MISSILE in 1976, and again directed by Ho Meng Hua. Jimmy Wang Yu famously co-starred the weapon (a dime store edition of it) in his ONE ARMED BOXER 2 aka MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1976); he used a variation of it again in his DEADLY SILVER SPEAR from 1977. Also from '77 is another FG clone seen in THE GREATEST PLOT from director Au Yeung Chuen. A more closer approximation appeared in THE FATAL FLYING GUILLOTINES (1977). Not to be outdone, the Shaw's produced a genuine sequel to their original -- a severely troubled production that began in 1976 and didn't surface till 1978 -- THE FLYING GUILLOTINE 2. Ho Meng Hua directed the weapon once more in his Shaw 'B' exploitation flick, THE VENGEFUL BEAUTY (1978) -- a quasi-sequel that takes place within the same time frame of the '75 original.

This new 2012 incarnation is a radically modified design. Via animated drawings during the credits, we see the evolution of the Guillotine to its final stage in Lau's movie. Considering the CGI trickery available, the allure of going overboard is simply too great, and the Guillotine ends up about as SciFi as you can get. The method by which it's activated goes far beyond any realism, not to mention its operation goes explained -- unlike the original movie. It's launched via a moon sickle-shaped sword. The actual guillotine blade is wrapped, chain-like, around the forearms and shins of the thrower. Some unexplained alien technology is all I can come up with as to how the blade suddenly finds itself spinning rapidly along the curved sword; and once thrown, it acts as a sort of heat-seeking missile; zipping around corners with the greatest of ease somehow finding its target every time.

The Guillotine Squad, in their intimidatingly dark, metallic attire become outdated in the new film once the Emperor becomes entranced with foreign guns and firepower. They are then ordered to be annihilated to erase their ugly history and connection with the hierarchy. In turn, the group members are hunted down in much the same way Ma Teng (Chen Kuan Tai) was in the '75 production. The difference here is you actually cared about Chen Kuan Tai's character. Ethan Ruan is Leng the main Guillo-thrower, but his character name should have been Lao Zi as his face rarely moves, looking very tired and sleepwalking through the entire thing. There's one woman among the group -- dressed as a man, no less -- which does little to discern the black-clad individuals since they all look the same in their semi-androgynous way. 

Huang Xiaoming plays Wolf, the man the Emperor wants dead. The Chinese Kung Fu Jesus in the film, he's the most interesting character of the lot. He's also the only main male character you never see randomly balling his eyes out. For such an elite group of hardened, highly trained assassins, the Guillotines are just as prone to shedding tears as they are blood. These are sensitive Guillotines, you see. Wolf is their main target, though. He's the leader of a group of pacifist rebels (referred to as Herders) that wander around the countryside seeking freedom and spreading the gospel. Wolf sees visions, too; and upon being taken to his execution, vow to return to set his people free. There's also quite a bit of politicizing about the government and its tyrannically oppressive methods that lead to civil unrest and uprisings.

There's so much of everything else that's lacking that leads one to believe the filmmakers totally forgot what sort of movie they were making. Sadly, the filmmakers abandon the potential for popcorn greatness a modern upgrade of the classic head-slicer could deliver. In its defense, Lau's movie possesses a grim tone much of the time, bolstered by Edmond Fung's cinematography. Doubly troubling is with all its boisterous bells and whistles, the film just sits there when it should move. The constant barrage of flashy editing and camera tricks quickly becomes annoying -- likely leading to viewers familiar with the source material to eject this bloated misfire from their DVD player and watch the original instead. Now there's an idea!

Hong Kong cinema nostalgia fanatics will get a mild kick out of seeing former big screen bad boy Jimmy Wang Yu in a small role as the trainer of the head lopping, imperial special forces. It's a curious bit of casting since he was in the second most well known FG flick and not the Shaw original.

Less interested in being an entertaining action movie, THE GUILLOTINES aspires to be something in the vein of an artistic historical drama. Dotted with a few action scenes and an out of place title weapon, Andrew Lau's big budget epic fails to satisfy anyone in the end. Grossly disappointing. Unless you absolutely have to see it, don't worry about holding onto your head, just hold onto your money. 

This review is representative of the Well Go USA DVD.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

From Beyond Television: Ultraseven Episode #21



A cargo ship has gone missing at sea and the Ultra Guard are sent to investigate this newest disappearance. They report to General Yamaoka (Kenji Sahara) that witnesses saw what looked like the famous WW2 Battleship Yamato rising from the sea. Furuhashi and Amagi set off underwater in the Hydrangers and find some sort of flying saucer shaped like a starfish. Meanwhile, the weapons-laden Yamato-like warship surfaces once more and engages the Ultra Guard in a massive fire fight. Learning that the alien Yamato clone will self-destruct, Ultraseven flies into action.

This is possibly the single most plotless episode yet. There's mostly action and little else -- which will be fine for most viewers. The plot point that the cause of the attacks at sea are from a metallic weapon in the shape of the Battleship Yamato is an intriguing one. Once this ships origin is revealed, it's just one explosion after another. It's still a good deal of fun, though.

The monster Iron Rocks is possibly the most bizarre creature thus far. Essentially an alien robot that built itself out of spare parts of scrap metal from sunken vessels, the battle sequence in a harbor between Iron Rocks and the big guns of the Ultra Garrison is exciting and filled with lots of explosions and those unmistakable Japanese sound effects.

There's some new Ultra Guard weapons seen here, too. The Hydranger's are the scientific organizations own submarines. They don't seem to function much differently than regular subs, but they have a sleeker, more futuristic look to them. They're also painted a much darker shade than the silver colored subs of ULTRAMAN (1966-1967). The Pointer is also shown to have rockets hidden within that are fired against Iron Rocks during the finale.

The starfish shaped UFO that resides beneath the waves is never explained, nor much at all about the aliens themselves, save for Iron Rocks. Presumably the Mimy Seijin has a beef with Earthlings much like every other Japanese Seijin from other galaxies. The UFO itself emits some sort of sleep-inducing bubbles followed by a seemingly impenetrable force field. This alien spacecraft is just there, serving only as a means to cram as many mecha and miniatures as possible in the 25 minutes allotted.

Seven even shows off some new abilities. He does this windmill maneuver where he leaps into the air and spins around rapidly. He then unleashes a sort of cyclonic energy beam followed by the Emerium Beam -- a stream of lasers fired from the center of his helmet.

It doesn't make a lick of sense, but it's the sort of action oriented episode you hoped to see when you were a kid. Some might be disappointed Seven doesn't fight a bonafide monster, but the slew of explosions, flying sparks, and the sight of Seven in chains before unloading a light show on Iron Rocks is delightful compensation. The next episode goes back into darker territory with a storyline about alien spores impregnating women as hosts for an alien race!

MONSTERS: Iron Rocks; Mimy (Mimi) alien
WEAPONS: The Hydranger #1 and #2; Ultra Hawk #1 and #3; The Pointer

To be continued in Episode 22: THE HUMAN RANCH!!!

From Beyond Television: Ultraseven Episode #20



Dubbed title: THE QUAKEMAKER

The Ultra Guard have reports of earthquakes in the area, but there's something strange about them. Meanwhile, two female racers on their way to a rally find an unusual rock just as another tremor shakes the ground near Aosawa Mountains. Moroboshi and the others seek out Dr. Iwamura to help investigate the peculiar quakes in the area. They also find the two girls. The strange rock cluster they found turns out to be Ultonium -- an element found at the Earth's core. The Ultra Guard then board the Magmalizer to burrow below the Earth's surface in the hopes of finding the answers behind the surge of earthquakes.

This alien invasion plot (aren't they all?) is actually a pretty good show thanks to the cranky Dr. Iwamura character and some cool cliffhanger moments. Between the elder doctor and his younger assistant, Dr. Sagaki, you know at least one of them is not of this Earth. This new intergalactic threat apparently wants to cripple the planet by removing all the Ultonium rock found at the center of the Earth to cause it to collapse on itself.

Pretty much all the main Ultra Garrison members get equal screen time for this one; and that cool mecha, The Magmalizer, makes its second appearance here after debuting in episode 17. The crew inside the burrowing machine are put in more peril than they were last time when they're threatened with being covered up by flowing magma.

The final fight between Ultraseven and Giladoras is well staged on an impressively dark set beset by harsh winds and inexplicable snow that pours down suddenly. The fight ends with the same sort of graphic monster violence that capped episode three. One neat aspect of this fight is in the ostentatious way in which Seven uses his Eye Slugger. The Shaplay Seijin dies rather brutally, too. The monster deaths will get more spectacularly gruesome as the series continues. You'll see more limbs and heads severed, and even a throat slitting(!!!) whose arterial spray bathes Seven's upper torso.

Unfortunately, the Giladoras monster is one of the more clumsily designed kaiju of ULTRASEVEN. The creature has these bulky horns around its head that intermittently glow red for reasons that aren't explained -- possibly to do with the magma under the crust from where the beast emerges. The costume itself is extremely baggy; and somebody had the bright idea to not give the beast any front legs -- it scurries around on its knees ramming Seven with its head!

Overall this is an average show enlivened by a few points of interest. The inclusion of two women race car drivers is unnecessary, and adds nothing to the storyline. This is one of the few episodes I remember vividly when the series aired in my neck of the woods back in the early 1990s.

MONSTERS: Shaplay Seijin, Giladoras (Giladorus)
WEAPONS: Ultra Hawk #s 1, 3; Magmalizer

To be continued in Episode 21: PURSUE THE UNDERSEA BASE!!!

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