Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Werewolves On Wheels (1971)

There are ideas which, on their face, seem incredibly cool and intriguing. Extraterrestrials visited ancient humanity, inspiring a polytheistic religion as well as architectural accomplishments. Dracula fires a vampire army at the Earth from his sanctuary on the dark side of the moon. A man has to cut off his demon-possessed hand and, in its place, rigs a chainsaw. Satan is a swirling, green liquid that sits in the basement of an old church. There exist points in space which contain infinity and, when peered into, the viewer can clearly discern everything in the entirety of the universe at the same time and be able to comprehend it. Whether they just get your geek motor revving or launch your mind down a thousand theoretical avenues, the sheer imagination involved in concepts like those above is the reason imagination was invented in the first place. 

This brings us to today's movie, Werewolves On Wheels. The idea of a werewolf motorcycle gang should set just about any genre/exploitation fan to salivating. Unfortunately (and all too typically when it comes to films of this sort), the actuality does not equal the hype. But this is still a movie that has something to offer film fans, if they're willing to change their expectations a bit.

The Devil's Advocates motorcycle gang like to cruise around, get into fights, get high, and cruise around (that's not a typo). Mystically connected member, Tarot (Duece Berry), likes to read the cards for other members, even though leader, Adam (Stephen Oliver), gives him crap about it. When Tarot reads Helen's (D.J. Anderson) future, he foretells a fate intertwined with the Devil. The gang visit a mountain monastery populated with satanic monks. The monks drug the bikers and the abbot, One (Severn Darden), performs a ceremony transforming Helen into the Bride of Satan. After the gang comes to, beat up the monks, and rescue Helen, they take off for the desert but become lost. During a makeout session shortly thereafter, Helen bites Adam. Soon, bikers start getting knocked off by someone with very hairy hands.

For those expecting a slam-bang lycanthrope flick, look elsewhere. There are werewolves here, and there is some blood and gore on display. Nevertheless, the film is not centered on werewolves as monsters, per se. Rather, the majority of the film is focused on the gang's search for themselves, even though they say that they reject any concept of spirituality. This is shown in the many, many montage sequences of the bikers riding down roads, usually accompanied by either the driving, catchy Don Gere score or by elegiac folk/country songs. The further the group travels, the more lost they become, until they are literally lost in the desert at one point. Since their world view is generally nihilistic, they are incapable of gaining any positive spiritual enlightenment and in fact, are made easier targets for Satan and his machinations (if the Prince of Darkness actually has any in play here to begin with). 

The Devil's Advocates don't seem to truck with any religion really, probably because the whole idea of obedience and organization in general would be antithetical to their individualistic ethos. The only organized religion the bikers encounter is that of the satanic monks, and then the only reason they seek the monks out is to make fun of them. The monks, in turn, drug the gang with wine and bread, here a play on the Catholic sacrament of Communion. Later, the monks will again use the bread and blood motif (though this time with "real" cat's blood) in their transformation of Helen into the Devil's betrothed. Helen then dances (and it must be stated here, Ms. Anderson's not much of a rug-cutter) with a python and skull in a symbolic consummation with Satan. This scene is shot with moody lighting, heavy shadows, and is edited together using dissolves, imbuing the goings-on with an eerie quality that overlaps and (seemingly) compresses time.

The acting is passable for the most part. No one flubs their lines, and the bikers all act like outlaws. They fight and bite their enemies (putting paid to the film's title, figuratively if not factually) with abandon. What I found most interesting in this aspect is that the dialogue which feels most authentic and is delivered most naturalistically are the lines that have nothing to do with the diegetic story. It's all bon mots, idioms, and ballbusting, evidently improvised by the actors. These bits create a strong sense of kinship between the gang members and consequently draw us into their world. While Anderson has not much to do in the story other than strip, strut, and curse Adam's soul, Oliver and Berry dig into their roles as agnostic and believer, respectively. Both do an adequate job limning the opposing forces that drive the film.

The cinematography is well-done throughout, and there are some nice locales/setpieces utilized. A barren, desert road is swathed in an uncanny fog. The desert itself is shot from afar, showcasing its expansive desolation, threatening to swallow the gang whole. The bikers' riding scenes are shot usually from either right in front of or alongside the riders or from a low angle, capturing the power of the motorcycles in tandem with the heat shimmering off the blacktop. Mellow, fluid shots of birds, either in flocks or solo, create a metaphor for the bikers' freedom. They can come and go as they please and soar along the highways, but eventually, they must come back down. The birds also make a predator/prey connection to the gang. Which are they, and can this dynamic change at any time?

The werewolves and the killings are handled mostly in shadow. Like with the monks' rituals, this makes the fantastical scenes more effective. There is also an abundance of slow motion employed here, and unlike with the "wedding" scene, here the device is used to expand filmic time. The horror is dwelt on at length, increasing our uneasiness. The slow motion also helps build some tension at the film's climax when the bikers react to the lycanthropic revelation. The actual makeup effects are decent. They're hardly Oscar-worthy, but I've certainly seen far worse.

I have to say (and thanks to Aaron for suggesting I review this film), I was pleasantly surprised by Werewolves On Wheels. I went into this with low expectations. Everything I have ever read about the film has been fairly negative. However, when you look a bit deeper than the surface, exploitation level, there is something else going on in this movie. Its message may be a tad muddy, weighed down with the psychedelic trappings of the day and New-Age, mystical gobbledygook, but it does give one something more to think about. At least, it did for me. 

MVT: Director Michel Levesque and co-writer David M. Kaufman's screenplay is deeper than first glance would suggest. And while there is considerable padding in the film, the story's themes support it rather than treating it like excess baggage to reach feature length.

Make or Break: The opening bike run sets the tone for the movie and introduces us to the land of the outlaw biker. If this scene intrigues you, you'll probably find something to like in the rest of the film.

Score: 6.5/10

Monday, November 28, 2011

Episode #160: Sweet Prudence and the Erotic Adventures of Bigfoot

Welcome to a special episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week the Gents got a sneak peek at the upcoming genre film Sweet Prudence and the Erotic Adventures of Bigfoot (2011) directed by Bill Burke!!! We were happy to take a look and want to thank Bill for giving us the opportunity.

This film is special because it has a GGtMC connection as it was edited by Uncool Cat Chris, a fellow Gent!!!

We didn't get to any feedback but we did interview Mr. Burke and had a great discussion about film and his process, including some stories involving Wings Hauser and Henry Silva!!! You can find out more about the film at or follow the Facebook group by searching for Sweet Prudence!!!

Direct download: SweetPrudenceRM.mp3

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Voicemails to 206-666-5207


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Jenny Ringo And The Monkey’s Paw (2011)

Self-reflexivity (for those that don't know, the pointing out of a piece's artificiality by the piece itself) has been around for a long time. In movies, you could even say it goes all the way back to the very beginning, when Justus D. Barnes pointed his six-gun directly at the camera and fired in the closing moments of The Great Train Robbery in 1903 (lovingly homaged by Scorsese in Goodfellas). As with any art form, film itself and the processes of its production and exhibition would inevitably be incorporated into the final product and eventually become another tool in the filmmakers' arsenal. While not a standard device, self-reflexivity has been widely enough used in films that it has become accepted by audiences worldwide. So, why the history lesson for things you probably already know, you ask? Because writer/director Chris Regan's short film, Jenny Ringo And The Monkey's Paw makes extensive use self-reflexivity and intertextual devices to tell its story.

We begin inside an art film. Black-and-white footage of a man and a woman sitting on a beach, smoking (what appear to be) clove cigarettes and talking in vaguely-emotion-revealing gibberish. Suddenly, our protagonist, Jenny Ringo (Rosie Duncan) interrupts, telling us, the audience, that we need to witness her tale. We then get a brief history of Jenny and her slack-ass roommate, Gavin (Lukas Habberton). Though they're friends, Jenny needs a break and heads off to a wiccan retreat. On her return, she discovers that Gavin has come into possession of an enchanted monkey's paw and, out of desperation, wished into existence two friends to keep him company. To say that Jeff Awesome (Scott Haney) and (the dying-to-be-commented-on-by-James-Bond) Candy Gorgeous (Dominique Bull) are not nearly as nice and perfect as they at first appear would be an understatement.

When W.W. Jacobs first wrote the short story, "The Monkey's Paw," in 1902, it was intended as a parable. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. It was also fatalistic in the sense that when we try to circumvent the universe's plans for us, we only bring sorrow on ourselves. This is why no one, not even Homer J. Simpson, is capable of making a wish that won't in some way, shape, or form backfire on the wisher. Jenny Ringo And The Monkey's Paw follows in this pattern. Gavin wants a perfect friend, who then wants a perfect girlfriend, and naturally the whole affair is not about to go according to Hoyle. However, Regan's film doesn't display much of the irony that pretty much every other iteration of the story does (example: you wish for a cup of coffee, and you receive it, but it has cream and sugar in it, and you're lactose intolerant and diabetic). The supernatural aspects of the new friends (they're telepathic, for starters) feel "out of left field," but I can respect their inclusion, because when dealing with a plot device like a monkey's paw, it's (almost) anything goes. When the plot finally does comment on the underlying problems between Jenny and Gavin (located in Gavin's room), it's genuinely interesting, and I felt as if the rest of the main plot should have been in this vein.

It is impossible to think about this film without talking about stylistic techniques, and Regan and company employ a slew of them. Aside from the more embedded techniques (see first paragraph), there are also animations used to tell a story within a story (or start one anyway) and to visualize (in a very well-played pun) a theatrical principle. The Magician (Simon Messingham) who foisted the monkey's paw on Gavin in the first place does a full-on song-and-dance number with ghost dancers to illustrate the futility of Jenny and Gavin's efforts. The monkey's paw is actually from a stuffed monkey doll. There are tons of clever things going on throughout, and they help maintain interest for the runtime. And this leads me to my biggest criticisms of the piece.

It is difficult to get a movie made at all, especially with the slickness of this one. The cinematography is gorgeous. When the filmmakers allowed themselves to open up the frame. Since the majority of the film takes place in a cramped apartment, the majority of shots doesn't go wider than about medium/medium-long (and are often closer). I was yearning for some more variety in shot choice, and the tightness made me feel slightly claustrophobic. Additionally (and larger), I didn't come away with any emotional connection to the characters. This is not to say that the characters are flat or the performances bad (though they could have all been taken down about 50% in intenseness), they're just not fully-realized onscreen. In twenty-five minutes, there are so many imaginative goings-on, the characters, whose story and "lives" we are supposed to be invested in, get lost. We get hints, we almost get an emotional reveal, but we're whisked off so quickly to the next plot point, it ultimately doesn't resonate. That said, Jenny's destiny (if this is, in fact, to be hers) is brilliant not only in its manner but also in its elliptical nature.

As far as I'm aware, this is Regan's first narrative directing credit, and as a first-timer, he shows a tremendous amount of promise. I'm grateful that there are filmmakers out there willing to take chances with their work like this. Does Jenny Ringo And The Monkey's Paw always work? No, but I would rather watch an imperfect film that has the balls to step out of line a bit than a perfect one that always plays it safe.

If you're interested in hearing more about the film, its universe, and future, go on over to and sign up for the mailing list. 

MVT: Chris Regan shows that he's someone to keep an eye on in the future.

Make Or Break: The first scene sets the overall tone, and it does so quite well, right down to the non sequitur intertitles.

Score: 6.25/10

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Terror Within (1989)

I would like to take a moment to chat about a tragic malady that has plagued Caucasian males for the past forty years (possibly longer, though it was only really diagnosed prominently from the 1970s and beyond). I'm talking about the White Man's Overbite. For those who are unfamiliar, it consists of the ludicrous facial expressions employed by the white male (sometimes females are equally afflicted, but these cases are far less widespread) during the act of dancing. It gained its name from the propensity of men with little to no rhythm who insist on hitting the dance floor to actually bite lightly at their bottom lip in futile concentration. 

Sadly, it is rarely commented on, except as the object of derision. An explosion of cases occurred in the disco era, when people felt it was okay to expose as much of their flabby, fur-covered torsos as possible and do things in public they would probably be ashamed of doing in private. Plus, there was lots of cocaine around, so inhibitions were at an all-time low. Nevertheless, once the diagnosis became popular, it only became more and more prevalent among white folks, right up to the present day (though this infirmity knows no true racial boundaries; for every Screech, there's an Urkel). You may have seen this disorder firsthand. You may even be a victim of it yourself. But I'm telling you now, the monster in The Terror Within has you beat by miles (and he doesn't even dance). 

After 99% of the Earth's population are destroyed by a mysterious plague (known as "the Accident"), the remainder of humanity is left to scavenge the planet's surface for sustenance. A small band of survivors subsist in an underground bunker, sending foragers topside occasionally to deal with the dearth of victuals and try to avoid mutant creatures affectionately nicknamed "Gargoyles." While trying to rescue two of their group (spoiler: They don't), David (Andrew Stevens) and Sue (Starr Andreeff) come upon Karen (Yvonne Saa), who is pursued by a Gargoyle. Bringing Karen back to their complex, it's discovered that she's with child (actually "with monster," but…), and the baby's sire is hanging out by the bunker's entrance, waiting not-so-patiently. When the Gargoyle is born, it promptly escapes into the air ducts, growing at an accelerated rate, and begins to pick off our intrepid cast, one by one.

If the plot sounds familiar, that's because it is. I counted no less than thirteen (and probably many more, if I'm left to reflect on it) "influences" on this Roger Corman production (under his Concorde banner). The most prominent citation is, of course, Alien (Ridley Scott's movie itself heavily taking from It! The Terror From Beyond Space). The monster can impregnate other species to propagate its own race, though it does it more traditionally than Alien's hermaphroditic face hugger. The creature escapes after being born, hides out in the complex's ducts, and whittles down the humans. The characters share a great many similarities as well. But the filmmakers didn't stop there. They chuck in everything from Day Of The Dead (the underground bunker/survivalist angle) to Inseminoid and Corman's own Humanoids From The Deep (monster rape/monster birth) to The Thing From Another World (the siege angle).

In this vision of a post-apocalyptic world, motherhood is something which is sought after by the survivors, and when Karen is found to be pregnant, our heroes are hopeful. The only holdout is Hal (George Kennedy), who cautions that they will have to abort the fetus at the first sign of an abnormality. So when the infant is found to be Gargoyle-spawn, it turns the concept of motherhood in this universe from a boon to a bane. Not only can human babies no longer be conceived, but the human race's new natural enemy has the power to continue its own species by exploiting the human womb. When the monster birth occurs, it does so explosively, killing the lifegiver and cutting off the chance of the mother giving birth again, as well as decreasing the faltering human population by one.

Of course, you can't have a monster birth without a monster impregnation. Though never explicitly shown, the Gargoyles force themselves upon their female victims, and this plays into the fear of rape and the terrifying vulnerability that the act creates. This fear extends beyond the physical act, because the mother is now faced with the fact that, in very short order, she will die rather violently. The creatures' "super sperm" also flies in the face (pause for laughter...) of the human males' sterility and effectuates notions of sexual impotence. The men cannot protect their female counterparts and cannot perform with them, either. To be fair, there is a love scene (though it's oddly non-explicit for an exploitation film), but it is not in the service of procreation, and since the audience doesn't really see anything, there's no way we can be sure there wasn't "failure to launch."

This future is also one of very limited resources. There are not even many animals left, and the humans are barely scraping by. There is reference to rationing food and decreasing everyone in the complex's caloric intake to fewer than one thousand calories per day. That said, to look at them, you certainly wouldn't think any of them were under- or malnourished (Kennedy being the standout example). When Karen and her impending bundle of misery are brought in, it's again brought up that everyone's rations will have to be shorn further still. The idea that food supplies are dwindling quickly is an interesting one, and an entire movie could have been built around this alone. In Thierry Notz's film, however, it's perfunctory, an expositional device to illustrate the desperation the human race is in (though none of the characters act very desperate at all, by my estimation). The film's pedigree is as an exploitation/creature feature, not a sociological thesis.

The special effects are effective, and the monster, if nothing else, is unique in its facial design. Though when viewed in long shot for any length of time, its low budget, rubber-suit origins become blatantly apparent. But this isn't detrimental to the film. If anything, it enhances the enjoyableness. It is also to the filmmakers' credit that they got a workable cast who never go too far over the top to pull you out of the movie (even Stevens' ever-present aura of smugness is thankfully toned way down) and are capable of handling loony material like this. Lastly, there is plentiful action afoot, and the film's pace is breakneck, so you never dwell too long on the faults. The filmmakers build some decent tension and escalating crosscut action going into the finale, and I was surprised at how well these climactic scenes were structured. The Terror Within is easily in the top five most derivative films I have ever seen, but damn if it wasn't just satisfying and brisk enough to keep me in my seat.

MVT: Stevens actually makes the cut as a non-smug, likeable, capable hero, and he doesn't go overboard on the angst other actors may have chewed down on.

Make or Break: Karen's birth scene is everything you would want in a movie like this and the "Make" for me. There are copious amounts of gore, rubbery monster effects, body horror, and mayhem. What more can you ask for?

Score: 7/10

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Episode #159: Memphis Heat

Welcome to another episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week Will and Sammy cover the documentary Memphis Heat: The True Story of Memphis Wrasslin' (2011) directed by Chad Schaffler. We also go over some feedback that was sent in some time ago, it was good to finally get to some of film but trust us, we talk for A WHILE on this one gang!!!

Direct download: Memphis_HeatRM.mp3

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Voicemails to 206-666-5207


Friday, November 18, 2011

Episode #158: To Be Benjamenta

Welcome to the GGtMC!!!

This week Large William and Sammy are back together for another episode and it feels so right!!! We cover Fernando Di Leo's To Be Twenty (1978) and The Quay Brothers Institute Benjamenta (1995).

Next week we are going to try to tackle the majority of your feedback and cover a film, so thank you for being patient with the GGtMC schedule.

Direct download: To_Be_BenjamentaRM.mp3

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Voicemails to 206-666-5207


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Laughing Dead (1989)

Humor is not universal. Mel Brooks once said, "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die." He would know. He used to be very funny. However, his statement is true on several levels. Not only is humor subjective, but it's all about the ridiculousness of others' pain. Allow me to illustrate. In college, I lived in a courtyard apartment (nothing like Melrose Place, in case you're wondering) along with a gaggle of friends from my hometown. To say we were uninhibited would be an understatement. One evening, knee deep into a half barrel, one of my cohorts decided it would be funny to tear the screen door off our apartment and smash it to pieces. He thought this was hilarious. I disagreed, but the door's destruction continued and ended with a piece of wood from the frame flying up and smacking me square in the giblets. Had someone with a video camera been around, I may have been a richer man today, exploiting my pain to the masses for their amusement. Instead, I spent a week not sitting right and cursing my pal's name. And yet, had I been bystander rather than participant, I may very well have wet myself laughing (in between bouts of asking if the victim was okay, of course). Se la vie.

Father O'Sullivan (Tim Sullivan) suffers from guilt over having relations with a nun (Wendy Webb) and knocking her up twelve years ago. Nevertheless, he takes his place as host for the annual archaeological tour of Oaxaca, stuffs his misfit assortment of nonentities and types out of Central Casting on the bus, and heads south. Along the way, they pick up the aforementioned ex-nun (Tessie) and her obnoxious, foul-mouthed son, Ivan (Patrick Roskowick). Meanwhile, Dr. Um-Tzec (S.P. Somtow) sacrifices children to prepare for the party's arrival. You see, he's the physical incarnation of the Mayan death god and he is looking to pass the mantle on to the padre so he may retire. The only thing missing is a sacrifice of a certain boy by a certain man during a certain astrological occurrence to complete the transfer.

S.P. Somtow's (aka Somtow Sucharitkul) The Laughing Dead has an interesting take on religion (and this is, I think, a movie more about religion than monsters and zombies). Essentially, there is a struggle going on between ideologies. On one side is the old religion of the Mayans and on the other is modern Christianity. But what's interesting is that the filmmakers don't favor the more popular of the two. If anything, Christianity is portrayed as weak, its disciples spiritually asthenic and prone to giving in to temptation. There is also a take on New Age mysticism that takes part in the proceedings. Wilbur (Larry Kagen) and Clarisse (Krista Keim) are first shown humming comically and playing with their crystals. Yet at the finale, it's their beliefs and trappings that have more effect on the bad guys than anything else. Consequently, the film becomes about Old versus New Age, with traditional modern religion dismissed almost in its entirety.

In that same respect, the film deals with faith, the loss thereof, and rebirth. O'Sullivan has lost all faith in God, and this makes him incapable of resisting his possession by the spirit of Um-Tzec. Of course, this all began with his weakness in regards to his sexual desires with Tessie years ago. This is then reflected in the scene where Um-Tzec's assistant (Lydia Marano) first exposes her breasts to the priest and then pulls out both her heart and his and exchanges them. It's a vivid equation of sex with death, and it further cements O'Sullivan's turning away from his religion. Tessie has already been defrocked because of her pregnancy, and she has kept their son away from O'Sullivan, so the two were not only brought together but also torn apart by their religion. Their spirituality is, for all intents and purposes, dead. It's through their trial against Um-Tzec (which incidentally also mirrors the story of Abraham from the Bible in the sense that he too was asked to sacrifice his child for faith) that they are reborn (not necessarily in a spiritual sense but certainly in a character sense and a sense of knowing what they do believe in). This is made crystal clear at the end when a character states that the Festival of the Laughing Dead is about rebirth as well as death.

Bearing in mind that this film is an extremely dry (there's very little winking at the audience), black comedy, there are still some aspects I found myself puzzled by with respect to whether they were intentional or not. First is Somtow's depiction of his characters. None of them is anything even resembling well-defined, except via stereotypes. Wilbur and Clarisse are presented as New Age dupes until the end, when they realize that karma is just a word until you act upon it. Dozois (Raymond Ridenour) is the ugly American of the group with his ridiculous afro and crude jokes. His traveling companion, then, is the more refined, cane-bearing Frost (Gregory Frost). Together, the two make quite the odd couple (get it?). You will want to strangle Ivan every second he's onscreen. And we spend half an hour or better of screentime on the bus with these people. If Somtow didn't want to flesh out the characters, he definitely should have shortened our time getting to loathe them.

On top of this, every character says whatever is on their mind to people they just met. The worst offender is Laurie (Premika Eaton), and that also goes to her acting chops (she gets the B.E.M. Award for this movie). O'Sullivan makes no bones about telling people that he has no faith and even cries out to heaven in front of perfect strangers for its restoration. I kept thinking that, since Somtow was a writer and musician prior to this stint, his inclination was to tell rather than show what the characters are going through, thus the expositional and overwrought dialogue. However, when looked at as a humorous dissection of horror films (or just melodrama in general), their tropes and motifs, you can see the comedic value of his writing. If that's what he intended. The problem is that the viewer is always left with an uncertain feeling whether they should be laughing at the film for its intentional or unintentional humor. 

The bits of humor that are intentionally comedic do work fairly well. The "giant" monsters at the end engage in what is essentially a slap fight. Our heroes have to engage Um-Tzec's undead hordes in a game of Mayan basketball. O'Sullivan puts a fist through a woman's head in an explosion of grue. A man's decapitated cranium arcs through the air and lands in a basketball net. Um-Tzec comments that he'd like to become an investment broker. But since everything else in the film is played so po-faced (or slyly un-commented-on) it leaves you up in the air. Sure, you're still laughing, but are you supposed to be? Either way, The Laughing Dead is still better than a chunk of screen door to the nards.

MVT: The special effects by John Carl Buechler. They're squishy when they should be and creepy when they should be. Even though they're definitely shoestring level, they make trudging through the rest of the film almost worthwhile.

Make or Break: If you ever wanted to know if zombies could be 'ballers, wonder no more.

Score: 6/10

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Octagon (1980)

Directed by Eric Karson.

Ninjas, terrorists, assassins, and mercenaries. Where do I start? How about with Scott James (Chuck Norris) - a retired World Karate Champion who's approached by an heiress (Karen Carlson) regarding a potential job as her bodyguard, but is subsequently lured into a dangerous situation involving terrorists who are being trained at a Ninja training camp called The Octagon by his estranged Japanese half-brother, Seikura (Tadashi Yamashita). Iconic tough-guy actor Lee Van Cleef plays McCarn - a militant rightist who leads a group of American mercenaries in a battle against terrorism, so you can bet he comes into play somehow when the shit goes down.

Once Scott realizes that there are Ninjas running around (the Ninja were thought to have been a long-forgotten thing of the past, mind you), he spends a good chunk of the movie trying to find them with hopes that he can infiltrate their training camp, but seeing as they're Ninjas after all (ie. stealth and hard to find), his search becomes complicated. That is, until he meets and teams up with a woman named Aura (Carol Bagdasarian), who actually trained at The Octagon and later deflected from the group of terrorists. Aura's an interesting character in that there weren't a lot of women being portrayed as tough, female-Rambo type characters in mainstream American cinema at the time. Considering THE OCTAGON was written by a woman, it's safe to assume that this strong female character was no accident.

Not to jump the gun or anything, but I did like THE OCTAGON a lot. However, it's not to say that the film is without flaws and mind-boggling WTF moments. First of all, one thing I never understood about the heiress character, who attempted to hire Chuck Norris as her bodyguard, is why she was a big deal in the first place. She was obviously so important that people apparently wanted her dead, or were at least willing to go out of their way to threaten her, but it turns out that she only inherited a publishing company. According to this woman, she started receiving threats because people wanted her to change certain editorial policies. Huh? I'm sure I must have missed something, but I went back a couple of times to learn more about her and still couldn't find anything. Also, actress Karen Carlson has a few scenery-chewing moments in the film which are quite amusing.

Another strange element to the film, or rather an odd trait of its lead protagonist, is that Chuck Norris's character hears voices. Well, just his own voice, but it almost comes across as this hidden psychic ability that he's tapped into. Throughout the film we hear Scott's thoughts out loud, but we hear them as these really slow whispers with some sort of creepy vocal effect added on, and sometimes his thoughts even warn him of impending danger, which we see during the film's initial Ninja attack (a WTF sequence in and of itself). But perhaps the most unusual thing about film is its structure. The plot tends to jump around on numerous occasions, which is fine and somewhat interesting in terms of how non-linear it is for a presumably accessible Action movie, but what's frustrating is how the characters are established. More often than not, someone will be introduced and you're not quite sure what it is exactly that this person does in the big scheme of things, but then it ultimately (and gradually) makes sense as the story unfolds. Don't get me wrong, I love movies that don't insult their audience's intelligence and feel the need to explain everything, but in this movie's case, it was kinda confusing at times.

As far as the eponymous Octagon, there are certain things about it that are a bit silly, but for the most part it's also quite fascinating in terms of how it looks and how it ultimately comes into play during the film's third act. And what I mean by "silly" is that the terrorists who show up there to train are the most un-Ninja group of people I've ever seen, for lack of a better term. Most of Seikura's trainees look like a bunch of hicks and ex-cons, and it becomes quite obvious not long after they're introduced that most of them don't know how to fight. Overseeing the training with Seikura and is this film's Boba Fett: a crimson-hooded Ninja named Kyo (shown on the film's poster). Played by Aussie actor/stuntman Richard Norton, Kyo is a silent character who occasionally steps out of the shadows to discipline some of the more lackluster trainees at The Octagon. In one scene, he disarms a froggy student and turns his own weapon against him in the blink of an eye. According to director Eric Karson, he slowed the footage of this scene down during production, watched it frame by frame, and was still unable to figure out how Norton did this maneuver so quickly.

Make or Break Scene: Easily the fight scene involving Richard Norton (as Kyo) and Chuck Norris towards the end of the film. Honestly, it looks a bit too choreographed at times, but nonetheless it still looks really good. One of the reasons I love this fight scene as much as I do is how long it's drawn out. Kyo is basically a "mini-boss" of sorts and another obstacle that Chuck Norris has to get through before he faces Seikura, but the scene is treated as if Norton's character were the main villain in the film. What sealed the deal was the impressive fire stunt at the end of the scene.

MVT: Chuck Norris. It's gotta be Chuck. He roundhouse-kicks Ninjas into oblivion in the film, and he also played an important role behind the scenes with the fight choreography and stunts along with his brother Aaron (who also stars a small part in the film).

Score: 6.5/10

THE OCTAGON leaves much to be desired when it comes to pacing, and, as I said earlier, it can be confusing at times and a little hard to follow, but the Ninja aspect of the film makes it unique in terms of Chuck Norris's filmography at the time, and it also provides for a great aesthetic (seriously, how could you not love Ninjas?). Ominous hooded figures running around at night and leaping out of the shadows is much more interesting than seeing a bunch of plain-clothed henchmen hopping out of pick-up trucks. If you happen to check out the Trinity Home Entertainment DVD, there's a surprisingly in-depth talking-head featurette on the making of the film, which I highly recommend checking out (after you've seen the film).

Friday, November 11, 2011

Episode #157: Just McCormickin' the Brinn Loaf

Welcome to a very special episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week, Large William and Sammy had work obligations and are both destined for HorrorHound Weekend in Cincinnati, so good friends of the show...Cinemasochist Justin, The Brinn from Hammicus, James McCormick from Criterion Cast and cineAWESOME and the one and only PickleLoaf from Silva and Gold stepped in to get an episode out for the Gentle-Minions!!!

They cover Night of the Running Man (1995) directed by Mark Lester and starring Andrew McCarthy and Scott Glenn.

Direct download: GGtMC157.mp3

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Megaforce (1982)

Let's face it, to the world at large comic books were considered kiddy fare before 1986 (and to many are still considered so to this day). They were marketed specifically to children, and if you weren't below the age of fourteen and you read them, there was something wrong with you. But as far as the non-geek world is concerned, 1986 was a watershed year for comics. It's when they "grew up." The two titles responsible are familiar even to many people who have never even read a comic. They are, of course, The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. Naturally, there were comic books that tackled more adult topics prior to the existence of these two books. Green Arrow's sidekick, Speedy, was discovered to be a heroin addict back in the 70s. The horror and crime comics published by EC in the 50s led directly to the establishment of the Comics Code Authority (though this was spurred more by the desire of several competitors to put EC out of business and grab a larger share of the market than the offensiveness of the actual material). Let's not forget the whole underground comix scene that sprang up in the 1960s or the entire culture of Tijuana Bibles going back as far as the 1920s. 

Yet to the uninitiated (and the purveyors of pop culture in general), comics are nothing more or less than "the spandex set" (never mind the films based on comics they may have seen and probably enjoyed like Road To Perdition, A History Of Violence, or Ghost World). Going back to the serials of the 40s and 50s with Captain Marvel, Batman, the Phantom, and so on, the focus of comic books onscreen has primarily been on superheroes and their garish adventures. The stories required little in the way of sophistication since their sources were deemed largely unsophisticated themselves. This isn't to disparage these early efforts, since it's predominantly their sense of fun and innocence that made them enjoyable in the first place. And though we may view them through a campy prism today and laugh at what may have enthralled us in our youth, they still manage to do what they set out to do in the first place (i.e. entertain).

Colonel Duke Guerera (Henry Silva) and his destructive tank brigade have been a thorn in the side of General Byrne-White (Edward Mulhare) and Major Zara (Persis Khambatta) for too long. Enter Commander Ace Hunter (Barry Bostwick) and Megaforce, "a phantom army of super elite fighting men whose weapons are the most powerful science can devise." Enlisted to lure Guerera's forces across the border and secure him as a prisoner, Ace concocts an elaborate, three-tiered plan to capture his old friend (their animosity began after an allegedly stolen Zippo) and bring him to justice.

Despite the advertising surrounding it, Hal Needham's Megaforce is not a superhero movie, nor is it based on any comic book of which I'm aware(as a matter of fact, I don't think there was even a comic book adaptation of the film). Still, this is, I must say, a fun little romp and extraordinarily family friendly. I don't think there's a single curse word or fatality in the entire film (with the exception of a few stuntmen who dump their motorcycles, but they're all accounted for by the end). This is complete fantasy from start to finish. Megaforce's headquarters are located in a mountain and contain cutting and bleeding edge weapons from around the world as well as those devised by their resident dork, Professor Eggstrum (George Furth). There are holographic projections (okay, one projection, but it's a nice one), laser cannons, and motorcycles that fly. The countries involved in the plot's skirmish are fictitious, and it's impossible to tell whether they're supposed to be located in the Middle East or Central America. They're just two countries that have issues with each other.

The treatment of women in the film is, to be fair, dichotomous. Zara is an officer in her country's armed forces, so she's presented as a strong woman at first glance. However, we later find out that she's also related to a high-ranking politician, and suddenly we're not so certain that her status was gained through her own determination or via political favoritism. Zara asserts herself by insisting that she be included in the upcoming mission, so Ace and his team test her to see if she's qualified. After a lengthy sequence where she does indeed prove herself worthy, Ace let's her in on the joke; She's still not coming on the mission, but it sure was fun watching her jump through hoops (I suppose for his and his men's amusement). Naturally then, Zara is attracted to Ace. She is, after all, the only woman in the entire movie. By turns, we're shown that she's a strong, independent woman and then shown that this is still very much a man's world, and women are second fiddles. This sort of thing is nothing new in film (and probably even more prevalent at the time this was made), but here it just feels forced and contrived, as if the thought of strong female characters are in themselves a joke, but we'll humor them for a spell, and they'll not only like it but be even more attracted to the guys behind it afterward. I've never understood this attitude in popular culture.

Bostwick and Silva are both magnetic as all hell in the film. I've always regarded Bostwick as a master of comedic timing, and I've never found him less than enjoyable onscreen (he has an affability about him, I don't know). Still, the material here is hardly up to his skills, but he does manage to elevate it in several instances. Nonetheless, someone really should have stepped in with regards to his look. Between a coiffure of Hasselhoff-ian stature, Dan-Haggerty-inspired facial hair, a powder blue bandana, and a lycra jumpsuit that leaves little to the imagination, it would be hard to take him or the film totally seriously, even if it were intended as such. When I saw ads for the film in comic books at the time, I always thought he was James Brolin. My bad, but Brolin was in The Car (which I had seen), while Bostwick was in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (which I hadn't). Silva fares better, costuming-wise, and the man showcases his adeptness at humor here. But when these two share the screen, their chemistry together is undeniable. They're not quite on the level of Reynolds and De Luise (also Needham mainstays), but they're a joy to watch work off each other.

Since Needham made his bones as a stuntman, it's only fitting that his films would contain a large component of stunt work and effects. Even if we discount the possibility of some of the things these machines can do, when they do them onscreen, it's almost always thrilling in a spectacle sense. Say what you will about the level of juvenilia in much of the man's work, but Needham knows how to stage and shoot action. The night raid that begins the mission is solid enough to appear in a movie of today and still captivate. Needham's films are also comprised of a lot of "guy talk." His characters are friends of the closest variety, and consequently their relationships revolve around banter and ballbreaking bred through their deep familiarity. This element reinforces the light-action feel of the film, and ultimately that's what the audience is left with – a pleasant bit of fluff that isn't out to rock any boats but instead blow them the hell up (and blow 'em up real good). Well, all right, there aren't any boats in the movie, but you get the picture.

MVT: Barry Bostwick has charisma to burn, and it's on full display here. Even though Ace pulls a few jerk moves, particularly in regards to Zara, Bostwick's performance makes him forgivable and finally likeable (though Zara's fondness for him still baffles).

Make or Break: The night raid is a terrific action setpiece, and it is executed with dynamism and a tightly-constructed energy. Good stuff.

Score: 6.5/10

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

DVD/Blu-Ray Picks Of The Week - 11/8/11

Sammy's Pick: THE COLLECTOR (Region 1 Blu-Ray; Sony/Image)
Go back and listen to our episode where we cover The Collector in detail to get the skinny on the Gent's thoughts but know this...The Collector is a great film, it has a fantastic performance from Terence Stamp and it is a gorgeously shot film from director William Wyler. MUST OWN here folks!!

Amazon Review
High-Def Digest Review

Aaron's Pick: BLUE VELVET - 25th Anniversary (Region 1 Blu-Ray; MGM/20th Century Fox)
It's been proven that David Lynch is simply not for everyone, but BLUE VELVET is one of his most accessible films despite still being pretty fucking weird, and in my opinion it's without a doubt a classic of American cinema. The late great Dennis Hopper turns in one of his most memorable performances in BLUE VELVET as Frank Booth - one of the scariest and most psychotic villains to ever grace the screen.

Amazon Review

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bonus #35: Interview with Danny Peary

Welcome to another episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week Rupert presents an interview from 2010 with one of his big-time cinematic heroes, Mr. Danny Peary. Danny is the writer of many fantastic film books including Cult Movies 1, 2, & 3, Cult Movie Stars, Alternate Oscars and the amazing Guide for the Film Fanatic. Rupe credits Peary with truly turning the tide of his taste in films at a younger age and influencing him to want to study film in college. He still refers to Peary's books regularly(they contain a lifetime's worth of movie recs). All his books come with a big recommend from us here at the GGTMC. Check them out! (he has also written many books about baseball which are also worth looking at too)

Direct download: IntDPRM.mp3

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Flesh Eaters (1964)

Necrotizing fasciitis is some truly scary shit. Essentially it's an infection that rots away your flesh (hence the nickname "flesh-eating bacteria"). What it actually does is annihilates skin and meat through the release of toxins into a particular area and then spreads if not treated. While most people who contract this heinous (you can read that "high-anus" if you wish, I know I do) have some pre-existing condition (i.e. diabetes, immunosuppression, and so on), sometimes it affects people who are, by all accounts, in good health. This is, I think, what terrifies most people about the illness, that they are not necessarily out of harm's way just by being healthy. Now, I'm not sure if Arnold Drake, the writer of Jack Curtis's
The Flesh Eaters, had ever heard of necrotizing fasciitis or not, but the premise makes for a cracking good pulp horror film.

Aboard a luxury boat, Fred (Ira Lewis) and Ann (the beautiful Barbara Wilson) engage in some light grabassery. But when Fred steals Ann's top and jumps overboard with it, Ann is forced to follow for the sake of her, um, modesty. Within seconds the water seethes and smokes, and Ann comes up with handfuls of blood (read: Bosco). The bathing beauty is overcome and goes back under for good. Meanwhile, grounded seaplane pilot, Grant (Byron Sanders), is hired by souse actress, Laura Winters (Rita Morley), via her assistant, Jan (Barbara Wilkin), to fly them to Provincetown. Needless to say, the flight has some hiccups, and Grant is forced to land in the ocean just off a small, seemingly-deserted island. Also needless to say, the island is indeed inhabited by the shifty-eyed, Teutonic-toned scientist and amateur Udo Kier impersonator, Professor Bartell (Martin Kosleck). When Ann's fully-intact skeleton washes up on the shore stripped of all flesh, our hapless travelers quickly savvy to the fact that there's something in the water which would love to make a meal of them.

This is first and foremost an exploitation movie, and that fact becomes readily apparent within the first couple of minutes. Both Fred and the camera ogle Ann as she sunbathes, and once her top is stolen, we're treated to lingering moments focusing on her bikini-bottomed-only back. When Ann is attacked, there's not just a trace of blood for effect. No, her hands are loaded with dark, viscous life's blood. The name of the game here is flesh and blood, and, while there's no explicit nudity, the filmmakers come up with all sorts of reasons to display their actresses' pulchritude. Jan has to strip off her shirt to bind Grant's leg. Later, she struts around in her bikini, because her clothes are wet or dirty or something (frankly, the reasoning is moot). Laura flounces about in the sort of tops that gave horny men the inspiration for both torpedoes and the 1959 Dodge Royal Lancer (the name itself a double entendre). She also sports some semi-opaque black tights that would make Ann Margaret blush.

On the sanguinary end of the equation, the film is fairly graphic in its depiction of violence. When Grant accidentally dips his calf into the infested water while saving Laura from her own stupidity, the chunky after effects are dwelt on at length. And when Bartell digs into the meat with a knife to extract the feasting flesh eaters from Grant's leg, the camera does not turn away. Later, a character is eaten from the inside out, and that chocolate syrup-y blood gushes out past their entwined fingers. As the film reaches its bonkers ending, blood itself plays an integral part. 

Herschell Gordon Lewis's seminal Blood Feast had come out one year prior to Curtis's film, and was heralded as the first gore movie. The Flesh Eaters was (if I'm not mistaken) written about three years prior to Lewis's opus and isn't quite up to the Grand Guignol levels of splatter struck by Feast, but it certainly has its mind on the same things. And while both films have an unmistakable veneer of sleaze about them, in my opinion Curtis's is a little more shudder-inducing. The reason is because it was shot in black and white. While Lewis's opus was touted as "more grisly than ever in BLOOD COLOR," it's the verisimilitude afforded Curtis's film by the monochromatic film stock that has a greater impact. It feels like an old newsreel, and the (mostly) flat lighting helps emphasize this aspect.

Writer Drake is best known amongst geeks for his comic book work. He co-created some of the more offbeat characters of the 1960s (and that's saying something, when Jimmy Olsen was engaging in shenanigans with and/or getting engaged to gorillas almost constantly). Most famous are the Doom Patrol and Deadman, but my favorite was always Stanley and His Monster (the reasoning should be apparent if you read my War In Space review). I don't know if Mr. Drake was ever involved with the sort of low brow/high adventure magazines that littered newsstands of the time ("Man's Conquest," "Man's Adventure," ad infinitum), but this film is suffused with those same pulp trappings. Our hero is lantern-jawed, always willing to stick his neck out for a dame, and leery of shady, foreign-accented strangers and hippies. There are sadistic overtones prevalent throughout, and there are even direct references made to Nazi experiments. The beauty is that the filmmakers don't try to disguise any of this as anything other than what it is. It's like a "sweat mag" at twenty-four frames per second.

The film's effects are hit-or-miss quality-wise, but they always achieve the desired result. The miniature flesh eaters were rendered apparently by scratching directly on the film's emulsion. When we later see them a bit bigger, they're obviously rubber-flappingly fake, but their bulbous, alien appearance is truly creepy. Bartell's "solar battery" is clearly constructed of large sheets of construction paper over plywood, but it seems to belong here. The roiling water inhabited by the creatures is a simple dry-ice effect, but it works. 

The thing that holds the film together, though, is the writing. The story is built on very basic, clear-cut conflicts. Even though, the characters themselves could never be accused of being well-rounded, they all inhabit their archetypal roles to the letter. Meek Jan must stand up to her browbeating boss. Laura drinks out of depression and her need to be the constant center of attention. Grant has to protect his female companions from threats human and inhuman. Bartell messes in God's dominion out of greed. This is not high art, nor is it needlessly complex. Like The Ramones' modus operandi of two or three chords stripped down to the bone and executed like a musical blitzkrieg, The Flesh Eaters is a straight-ahead gore/horror movie that is all the better for its total lack of frills and pretense.

MVT: Arnold Drake takes the MVT on this one. His imaginative, traditional storytelling skills set and maintain a fun, satisfying tone throughout the film.

Make or Break: The prologue scene with Fred and Ann is the "Make." It contains everything great about this movie in just a few minutes. From T&A to gore, horror to mystery, this is a tight set-up to a truly gratifying monster movie.

Score: 7.75/10

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Episode #156: Seven Beauties on Main Street

Welcome to another episode of the show you have come to love...The GGtMC!!!

This week our show is programmed by listener Tyler for his donation to the Program for Japan initiative and he chose Seven Beauties (1975) directed by Lina Wertmuller and The Shop on Main Street (1965) directed by Jan Kadar and Elmar Klos. We want to thank Tyler for his selections and thanks for the donation!!!

Direct download: Seven_Beauties_on_Main_StreetRM.mp3

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DVD/Blu-Ray Picks Of The Week - 11/1/11

Sammy's Pick: COPLAND (Region 1 Blu-Ray; Miramax/Lionsgate)
I am picking this up on Blu because A. I think the film is pretty great and B. I wanna see De Niro's porno-stache in HD. All kidding aside, Copland was bally-hooed because Sly put on 30 or 50 lbs for his role in the film and it was his return to "real" acting or something but the truth is, the film has a great cast filled with heavy hitters. Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta (great in this film), Robert Patrick (another porno-stash)...its just packed and the script is solid. It has some flaws but for fans of modern westerns this film is a MUST OWN!!!

Amazon Review

Aaron's Pick: MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED (Region 1 DVD; Dark Sky/MPI)
I haven't seen it yet, but this documentary about Filipino exploitation movies looks to be a good time. It's directed by the same guy who did the excellent NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD documentary and features talking-head segments with the likes of Roger Corman, Brian Trenchard-Smith, and John Landis (always a great interviewee to watch) to name a few. I hear it's not as good as NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD, but I'm sure it's still an informative and interesting watch for fans of obscure and absurd exploitation cinema.

Diabolik DVD