Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Swinging Barmaids (1975) review


Bruce Watson (Tom Brady), Laura Hippe (Jenny Malone), Katie Saylor (Susan Thompson), Renie Radich (Marie O'connor), William Smith (Lieutenant Harry White), Zitto Kazann (Zitto), Dyanne Thorne (Boo Boo Johnson), Jim Travis (Dave)

Directed by Gus Trikonis

The Short Version: It is said one man's trash is another man's treasure--and there's plenty of booty to go around in this seemingly forgotten gold nugget of 70s exploitation. A pre-ILSA Dyanne Thorne is one of the beautiful women being stalked by a Karate fightin' necrophile played by TV actor Bruce Watson in an out of nowhere, off the rails performance. Playing a sicko named Tom Brady(!),this unlucky in love and unbalanced fruitcake manages to keep it together till one of his potential victims calls him "sonny", uses the word "faggot", or indirectly laughs at him. Sweetening the deal is Biker Movie/Drive-in King William Smith as the cop tracking the killer. A well made, well-endowed production from the director of MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS (1977) and THE EVIL (1978).

A psycho killer who looks like Kenny Rogers stalks the sexy barmaids of the Swing-A-Ling Club. After killing one of the waitresses, and failing to kill another three after they catch him in the act, he shaves his face, dyes and changes his hairstyle, and ends up getting a job at the very same club as a bouncer. Oblivious to the fact the killer is in their midst, bodies continue to pile up between the employees and those connected with them. Meanwhile, a resolute police Lieutenant is desperate to bring the maniac's reign of mayhem and murder to an end.

The producer of SUPERSTITION (1982), the writer of DEATH RACE 2000 (1975), and the director of THE EVIL (1978) deliver a fantastic sleaze pizza with all your favorite toppings, and in just under 90 minutes. Low on gore (it does sport some splashy blood squibs), but high on tension and entertainment value, THE SWINGING BARMAIDS is occasionally skeevy, even if, at times, it teases more than it actually shows; this works in the film's favor. Vastly underrated, these imperiled, well-endowed waitresses are currently unavailable in a quality presentation.

Other than the barmaids, neither the film's title (including its re-release title of EAGER BEAVERS), nor its advertising evokes what the actual movie is about. Jack Hill's comedic romp THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS (1974) was a success, so possibly the producers were trying to siphon some of it for their movie. As for the contents of Trikonis's picture, it has more in common with the misogy-sadistic THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS (1974). Like their cousin, the slasher movie, these psycho killer flicks generally traded gore for an unsavory atmosphere. Both types of films used beautiful, often naked, women as their selling points; and like the slashers, they're only as good as their villain... and BARMAIDS has a damn good one.

Slasher killers live or die by how intimidating they are behind a mask. Psycho killers are almost always viewed as abundantly human, sans any supernatural aura created to mask their true identity. Since we often see the face of the latter early on, these movies rely on the disturbing qualities of the maniac in question to derive disgust from the audience. The killer of BARMAIDS is where this film excels, and much of that success is due to Bruce Watson's unhinged performance as mercurial sadist, Tom Brady!

Bruce Watson never did a whole lot outside of small screen work. If you're a fan of the original STAR TREK (1966-1969), you'll recognize him as a member of Kirk's doomed landing party (non-red shirt, too!) who succumbed to the salt monster in 'The Man Trap'. As Tom Brady, Watson is calculating, cunning, and purely evil. He's also extremely self-conscious despite being able to kick the asses of upwards of a dozen men at once. A necrophiliac (we never see this, but hear about it), he then does mock photo shoots with the corpses--posing them in various positions while snapping pictures for his repulsive collection. 

When we first meet him in the Swing-A-Ling Club, he looks like a wiry Kenny Rogers. Ordering a Virgin Mary, Boo Boo the waitress, sensing he might be a virgin himself, calls him 'Sonny'; but similarly to Leslie Nielsen in AIRPLANE! (1980), Tom doesn't like being called Sonny. Despite his insistence, the waitress continues to refer to him using that "young buck" defining appellation, ensuring she will be receiving an unwanted guest later that night.

Playing the grumpy Boo Boo is Dyanne Thorne. Her fans will be enticed to see this based on her participation alone. But don't get too aroused because her co-star credit amounts to an extended cameo. She hadn't broke out as ILSA, SHE-WOLF OF THE SS (1975) yet, so her part is reduced to victim status. This first attack sequence is very well shot. Both Thorne and Watson really throw themselves into the sequence to make it as believable as possible. The other attack scenes are just as brutal in their realism. The pool attack, for instance, is particularly grim.

After Bruce has managed to cunningly kill off most of his prey with veritable ease, Charles Griffith writes a fantastically taut set piece for the finale involving bloody gun play and a car-motorcycle chase; and when you have motorcycles in a Drive-in movie, William Smith can't be far away.

Easily the greatest actor in exploitation cinema history, and one of the best, most underrated actors in film of any style is William Smith. If you don't recognize the name, you will surely know the face. He fought Clint Eastwood in ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN (1980) and was Conan's dad in CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982)--two of his more famous roles. In BARMAIDS he plays Lieutenant White. Smith had a certain attitude he brought to many of his parts--particularly when he was a villain. He could do good guys with the same amount of conviction and ease. In 1973 he played a government agent in the Drive-in classic, INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS (1973), and his Lt. White is in the same vein.

Often associated with Roger Corman movies, Charles B. Griffith's script is wittily effective with its dialog and surprisingly thick with characterization while relying on the usual genre staples to make it work. 

The film isn't without a few silly moments--the obvious fake beard Watson wears prior to changing his appearance; a news reporter stupidly gives out the surviving waitresses names on live television. Other than that, there's nothing major to complain about.

During this time period, Gus Trikonis was an extremely efficient director of quality Drive-in movies. Among his credits you'll find the Philippines set chicken fighting movie SUPERCOCK (1975); the trashy, pre-COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER (1980) drama of NASHVILLE GIRL (1976); and the Southern Fried Car Crasher MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS (1977). Unfortunately, much of his work is unavailable in pristine quality for reappraisal.

On its own merits, THE SWINGING BARMAIDS is an above average thriller with just enough gratuitous moments to keep it in respectable stead with other, more salacious exploitation pictures of a similar brand. Hopefully some DVD company will option it in the near future, allowing for many new customers to frequent the Swing-A-Ling Club.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

From Beyond Television: Ultraman Leo Episode #6


Directed by Tojo Shohei

"I'll avenge Yoko-san, you damned alien!"

Officer Shirato arrives on Earth from MAC's space station to spend time with both Gen and his girlfriend, Yoko, before attending a meeting. Gen is escorting Yoko home when they're attacked out of nowhere by the alien known as Karly. The invader grows to giant size and squashes Yoko like a bug. Gen transforms into Leo, but is easily defeated by the monster. Shirato blames Gen for his girlfriend's death and lobs insults at Leo for being forced to retreat by Alien Karly. Shirato then trains intensely to defeat the monster on his own. Meanwhile, Gen furthers his own training to hone the skills needed as Ultraman Leo to defeat the new alien threat.

Primary series writer Taguchi Shigemitsu keeps things moving with a simplistic plot that's piled high with melodrama as big as any giant monster. Ryu Manatsu continues to overact terribly, if occasionally deriving some sympathy for his character during his calmer moments--particularly during the rivalry between Gen and Officer Shirato (see insert); the latter of which gives Gen hell for the death of his girlfriend. Manatsu is not a bad actor at all, he just gets far too carried away at times. He gets extra points for doing his own stunt work, though. An athlete and singer, Manatsu really does throw himself into the role. 

Gen not only gets verbally beat down by Shirato, but also by his commanding officer. One of the best dialog moments in a show drowned in action is a scene shared with fellow alien masquerading as MAC Captain, Dan Moroboshi, formerly Ultraseven. After Gen demands the Captain halt operations that may put MAC members in danger if patrolling alone, Dan scolds him as to why he's not very good at the whole superhero thing. 

These sorts of dramatic conversations are par for the course during the first several episodes wherein Otori Gen must learn some martial arts style that correlates to the method in which Leo met his defeat. Here, he has to fine tune his reaction time by kicking and punching sharpened logs that swing dangerously in his direction; and, more curiously, learning how to defeat Karly has something to do with flipping over a moving jeep. 

Basically ULTRAMAN LEO is, for the time being, a kung fu movie assigned to a Tokusatsu template. Other than an obvious KAMEN RIDER influence, LEO would change a few more times during its desperate bid to attract ratings. The series started out with average viewership, but declined steadily from there.

The downbeat atmosphere often attributed to LEO is in evidence at times in this episode, if not heavily steeped in it like the first few shows (episodes one and two are arguably among the best, and unique approaches in any Ultra series). We're barely three minutes in and we have a monster crush a woman under its foot, leading to a battle with Leo wherein he loses. If you've kept up with this series to this point, you've noticed the darker tint to the storyline. This will change later on when the plots get more erratic and kid-friendly, although these more violent episodes make a return.

The Karly alien has two forms. It's man-sized form looks very different from when it goes giant.  The one recognizable factor are these large spikes on each shoulder. When it's a giant monster, these spikes possess laser capabilities, emitting electrical beams that shock Leo when he attacks. The monster has a charging-bull attack, lifting Leo off the ground, and slamming him on his back. Karly's demise is similar to the previous installment's monster, Kanedoras, keeping with the trend of brutal monster deaths. Additionally, the suit for the giant version of Alien Karly looks like it's stitched together from other monster suits.

Director Tojo Shohei is behind the camera for the second of six times on LEO. Having helmed the previous episode, these two are about even in terms of entertainment value. The sentimentality is stronger in episode five, but both shows, while sharing similarities, have different writers (Shosuke Watarukai). The young children, Toru and Kaoru, intro'd in episode three, and recurring characters, have a cameo during the finale; 'You're A Man! Fire Up!' has been serious the duration, so it ends on a comical note at the expense of Japanese giant monster movie favorite, Yu Fujiki.

For the time being, ULTRAMAN LEO remains an enjoyable show before later going off the rails where the utter bizarro factor and noticeable budget cuts will determine continued viewer interest.

MONSTERS: Karly Seijin (Alien)
WEAPONS: MAC Attack Jeep (MAC Roddy); MAC Gun

To be continued in Episode 7: A BEAUTIFUL MAN'S WILL!!!

Monday, July 13, 2015

From Beyond Television: Ultraman Ace Episode #3


Directed by Yamagiwa Eizo

On patrol, Minami witnesses the sky crack open and a monster emerges. Destroying a bridge with a little boy on it, a passenger plane flies overhead and it, too, is destroyed. TAC investigates the wreckage and finds no sign of the little boy, nor the monster Minami described. Hokuto finds the yellow hat belonging to the boy which happens to have his name, Shiro Nakamori, printed on it. Hokuto locates his parents and upon meeting the boy, realizes something is wrong with him after he swipes his gun and attempts to kill him with it! It's discovered the boy has been possessed by the Yapool, using him as a host for the monster Vakishim. Luring the main TAC members away with a decoy, Vakishim is sent to destroy the TAC headquarters at the base of Mount Fuji.

The third episode of ACE holds the momentum of its predecessors, linking a lot of action to just the bare minimum of storyline. In this case, the action is scaled back slightly to make room for a recurring plot device wherein the Yapool resort to using human hosts for the Super Beasts. This possession motif--which isn't a completely new idea for the ULTRA series--is sort of a bastardized version of the relationship between the Ultramen and their human hosts. As for the M-78 aliens, they respect the innate heroism of man, using the humans as vassals to protect the Earth while martyring their own lives. The Yapool, on the other hand, use them (like the Ultra's, they will raise the dead for their purposes) to take over the Earth with no regard for other lifeforms. 

For this episode's purposes, the object of the Yapool's possession is a little boy, Shiro Nakamori. The scene where the kid confronts his parents in full-on EXORCIST mode (which hadn't even come out yet) is unintentionally comical. Instead of spitting pea soup, he spits lightning bolts. The makeup used to denote an alien presence makes it look like the boy has been playing around with his sister's lipstick and hairspray. Regarding this sequence, it reveals a gaping plot hole in the last scene that one of the Super Beast's could walk through. If you don't want to know what that is, just skip the next paragraph....

In it, TAC learns that Shiro and his parents had died in a mysterious car accident three days prior; yet if all three were dead, and their corpses are being used by the Yapool, why would the child need to kill his parents, who, as we discover at the end, are already dead?

As was noted in the review for episode two, Takamine Keiji plays the Ultra role in a different way than previous actors. Like an adolescent in a grown man's body, his Seiji Hokuto seems a bit too impulsive, maybe even unrefined to be a member of a global protection agency. When in human form, Hokuto comes off as a buffoon. Despite steadily declining ratings, kids probably liked this sort of interpretation considering the first two 'giant hero' shows were headlined by two serious portrayals; and the third with a rebellious slant. Aside from Hokuto's immature traits, there's a funny scene where he's pulled over by a policeman for FLYING drunk! This was the first of 14 scripts from Tsuburaya screenwriter, Taguchi Shigemitsu.

Akihiko Iguchi (creator of the '74 incarnation of Mechagodzilla) designed many of the mecha and monsters on both RETURN OF ULTRAMAN and ULTRAMAN ACE. The walking caterpillar creature, Vakishim, is one of his brainstorms, and one essayed by this series' primary suit actor, the late Toru Kawai. It's an elaborate, colorful monster, if a bulky suit. As per the thematics of the Super Beasts, Vakishim is a bio-mechanical monstrosity armed with a wild array of attacks. It fires rockets out of its beak and its feeler-like appendages--which also harbors flamethrower capabilities. A big horn on its head can eject and home in on a target, exploding on contact.

Ace shows off a weapon's cache of his own; the neatest being the Ultra Neo Barrier (see above), a square-shaped shield of energy that repels a monster's attack. The Slash Ray (thrown from the right hand;see insert at bottom) is similar to a shuriken, but with explosive results. The Ace Spark stops Vakishim, momentarily freezing him till Ace can sever his head with the Ace Slash, a buzzsaw shaped laser attack.

The battle between Ace and Vakishim is fast-paced and well choreographed, filling the screen with somersaults, throws, and optical effects. Prior to the big battle, Vakishim's attack on the TAC base affords viewers a chance to see some of the Defense Force's other weapons. A variety of rockets and heavy artillery are unleashed on the Super Beast. The interior set with the Mt. Fuji painting is a striking backdrop to the action as opposed to the usual blue background.

For the time being ULTRAMAN ACE is a strong superhero show. The tone is even lighter than before, but as the series progresses, the eccentricities become more profound with violent monster deaths mingling with what is ostensibly kiddie-tainment. The show throws some curve balls later on, but till then, it's a fun ride getting there for those with affection for rubber suit action.

MONSTERS: Vakishim; Yapool (dimensional image)
WEAPONS: TAC Falcon; TAC Arrow; Electro Cannon

Sunday, July 12, 2015

From Beyond Television: The Return of Ultraman Episode #9



Directed by Ishiro Honda

Intending to spend time with Aki and her little brother Jiro on his birthday, Goh is assigned to fly to New York to pick up a new weapon created by the MAT branch there, a Monster Sonar Scanner. MAT member Minami disobeys orders and secretly takes Goh's place. Flying back from New York, Minami encounters a typhoon, causing his MAT Arrow to crash on an island where he's rescued by some scientific researchers. The team of scientists explain they've been there investigating possible monster activity and this new sonar device will prove useful. A search of the island reveals a hibernating rock creature living within a cave. Minami suddenly falls ill so Goh, feeling responsible, must get a serum to him in time before he expires from any one of three possible fates--tetanus, an unstable island, or a giant, rampaging monster.

This episode is a nice, compact, mini-adventure from famous GODZILLA director, Ishiro Honda. It's nothing overly spectacular, but it makes use of its limited format and screen time by providing a good bit of exposition with a handful of cliffhanger scenarios. One of these is the expansion of the relationship with Goh and Aki, and also her little brother, Jiro. RETURN OF ULTRAMAN was sort of the bridge between the story-focused ULTRASEVEN and the superhero theatrics of ULTRAMAN ACE, KAMEN RIDER and others. It blended the two and frequently blended them beautifully. It's one of, if not the single reason this series remains so memorable among fans of the genre.

There had been a subtle hint of a possible romance in the previous ULTRASEVEN, towards the end of the series, but it remained largely ambiguous. RETURN OF ULTRAMAN introduced a fairly blatant, burgeoning relationship between Hedeki Goh and Aki Sakata (played by the adorable Rumi Sakakibara). Kids didn't care about mushy stuff mixing with their monsters, so it's never allowed to turn into a full-on romance, but it's there, adding an emotional layer of identification this genre isn't known for.

Masaki Inoue made his screenwriting debut with this episode, only penning one other towards the end of the series with the 49th installment. Inoue was likely best known for being the primary writer on the wildly popular 70s show, the KAMEN RIDER series and its spin-offs.

Aside from the light touches of love blooming, Inoue crams more than enough action elements to keep kids and the youngsters of the grown up sort entertained for 25 minutes. You have Minami getting seriously ill on the island (this one is poorly written as Minami seems gravely sick one moment then fine the next); MAT having no available aircraft for Goh to rescue him (this affords us a look into MAT's hangar deck), so Goh jumps in there to get his hands dirty to get one of the Arrow's operational for flight; and there's the plot device of an earthquake (or some other cataclysm) that's used to bring an end to the free-for-all.

The featured monster is this rock-like creature named Dangar (played by Toya Takanobu). Designed by Ikeya Senkatsu, this beast, with his mace-like, single-clawed hands, has no beam or flame attacks. Dangar does have monster dreadlocks around its head that act as some sort of power source. Once U-Jack rips them off during the rambunctious final battle, Dangar is easily put away. To add a bit of spice to this impressively choreographed fight, earthquakes and explosions erupt around the combatants amidst volleys of judo throws, flying kicks, and Karate chops.

This was Ishiro Honda's fourth of five U-Jack episodes he directed. Honda got the series off with a big bang in the opening two-parter, a weak showing with episode seven, a stronger entry with this installment, and he returned to close out the series with episode 51. 

WEAPONS: MAT Arrow #1, #2, MAT Gyro

To be continued in Episode 10: DINOSAUR EXPLOSION DIRECTIVE!!!

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