Tuesday, June 24, 2008

White Pongo

Dear God, make it stop! Please! I know I am a bad person. I do terrible things and think terrible thoughts! The Marquis de Sade doesn't make me blush, and I idolize Bender B. Rodriguez and Larry, that swingin' lounge lizard who lived above the Three's Company apartment. But even a man as evil as I doesn't deserve any more "jungle adventure" movies comprised almost entirely of bored actors pointing at grainy stock footage! The story this time: a group of explorers plunge into the dark heart of Africa in search of the fabled white gorilla, the supposed missing link between primitive ape and modern man. Except that White Pongo isn't a missing link; he's just a regular gorilla, except with white fur. Read into that whatever racial implications you will. Especially when the white gorilla is proven to be heroic and noble, and thus must defend a white woman against the advances of a nasty, brutish black gorilla.

Most of the movie is, as is par for the course, footage of someone's safari which, by now, is painfully familiar. Are we going to see that shot of an elephant raising its trunk? Check. How about a pacing leopard or something? Oh yeah, we got that, too. And when the movie isn't amazing you with the same stock footage every cheap adventure movie used, it fills itself either with shots of natives dancing around a fire or white guys walking through a jungle set. I love the theory of jungle adventure movies, but the reality is usually less than my imagination delivers. And White Pongo certainly delivers very little.

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Phantom from Space

I would call this one "another snore" if I hadn't watched it immediately after White Pongo. Compared to that slog, Phantom from Space is positively scintillating. Of course, when not judged against White Pongo, the merits of this film are far more dubious, though it gets points for having that sort of misguided and ill-communicated "important message" that so many classic (and less than classic) sci-fi films had. It also has the classic deadpan-yet-excited narrator (if you know the one, then you know the one) talking about "a case from the secret files of the Intelligence Agency, so bizarre it can't be explained!" But after that fun narration, he keeps on talking, giving us times and lat-long coordinates for a crashing UFO. And he just keeps going, making this part of the film sort of like watching the "where are you now" map on long flights. When the spacecraft finally gets around to crashing, the alien stumbles out and 1) happens to be invisible, and 2) accidentally kills someone. This results in the usual string of scenes involving guys in suits stroking their chin and talking about what to do. They really don't get around to doing much of it, but what would you expect from the makers of Killers from Space?

This movie tries pretty hard to be good, and I respect it's attempt to be thoughtful in its treatment of the "guys in suits chase the alien" plot. The alien isn't a villain. He simply can't communicate and doesn't know what the hell is going on with all the guys in hats pointing guns at him. But respecting a movie for trying to be thoughtful, and actually enjoying said movie, are often worlds apart. Such is the case with this one. It suffers, as many of these films do, from being filled almost entirely with scenes of very dull dialog delivered in a very dull fashion by very dull characters. I can roll with it, as I have an affinity for such stuff, but there's really not much here that would cause me to suggest anyone else bother. Unless, of course, you really like 1950s techno-babble delivered in monotone by guys in hats.

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Killers from Space

Wow, I forgot how bad this movie was. I mean, I knew it was bad, but I didn't remember the fact that almost nothing happens for the entire length of the film. About the only thing anyone ever remembers after viewing this film are the space aliens, who are realized by taking regular people, dressing them up in body stockings, then sticking ping ball ball halves over their eyes. They are among the least intimidating alien invaders ever to descend to earth and take up residence in a cave. The film revolves around a scientist (Peter Graves) who disappears, then can't remember where he's been. The government suspects that he was kidnapped and brainwashed or may just be a spy. Under hypnosis and a truth serum, however, he relays a fantastical tale about being abducted by the aforementioned ping-pong ball eye aliens, who want to use his knowledge of atomic sciences to complete their ultimate weapon for the conquest of earth: the ability to radiate bugs and make them larger. What follows is much footage of Peter Graves wandering through a cave set, looking at rear projection of insects. The authorities are slow to believe the testimony despite the truth serum, but when the scientist dashes off to the local power plant, he creates a surge that causes the alien base to blow up. Hooray! One of the mainstays of awful cinema.

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Project: Kill

On numerous occasions I have said that I watch all the crap films, so you guys don't have to. Well get out a big black texta colour and cross Project: Kill off your list. It is absolutely dreadful. Project: Kill is one of a myriad of crap films that Leslie Nielsen made before he found an audience as a comedic actor. Here he stars as John Trevor who works for a covert intelligence group, much like the C.I.A. He used to be one of their best field agents, but now he works as a trainer. The films begins with a group of new recruits watching a training film presented by Trevor. The footage shows an assassination attempt being foiled by an 'interdiction' agent. When I heard this in the film, I didn't know what 'interdiction' meant, so I looked it up in the dictionary. The word seems to have a few meanings, but the one that made the most sense to me was : authoritative prohibition. So I'd guess, relating it to the training film, an interdiction agent has the power and authority to stop an assassination attempt. Let's move on shall we?

Trevor goes on to state 'The only effective method of combating political assassination -- by the interception and destruction of the assassin himself.' So the so-called 'authoritative prohibition' actually means 'killing'. These agents are killers. Next Trevor goes on to explain how these new recruits will become highly trained killing machines. He says:

"YOU will be given vitamins to increase your stamina - chemical injections to expand your mental capabilities -- injections to assist you in both physical and mental control. You'll be programmed to respond instantaneously to any hidden stimulus. YOU will become a reflex -- a highly directed unit of force. YOU will be taught how to use everyday objects as weapons -- everything from a toe nail clipping to a briefcase..."

I don't know about you, but if these guys were being trained to protect me, I'd hope they were armed with more than a nail clipping!

After the briefing Trevor and his number two man, Frank Lassiter (Gary Lockwood) head into an office. Trevor has a headache. He has had enough of the drugs, and enough of the mind control. He wants to quit. He expresses this to Lassiter. Lassiter responds by picking up the phone and ordering a medical detail to come and assess Trevor. Trevor doesn't want to be assessed -- he want's out! So he clocks Lassiter over the head while his back is turned, and then breaks out of the facility and goes on the lam.

When we next meet Trevor, he has arrived in Manilla in the Philippines. This provides an opportunity for some piss-poor travelogue footage. Next, he makes his way to a villa owned by to friends from the old days. One of the men is Wagner (Galen Thompson); the other is Hook (Maurice Downs). Both men used to work for the 'agency', but Wagner lost his legs in an operation. Wagner and Hook provide shelter for the night, and provide money and transport for Trevor to move on.

Meanwhile, a rival oriental agency, headed by Alok Lee (Vic Diaz) know that Trevor is in the Philippines. As Trevor has been a part of the program for so long, they figure he is carrying a lot of valuable information around inside of his head. Lee orders his henchmen to capture Trevor alive. Complicating matters further, the agency that Trevor worked for has sent Frank Lassiter to also bring him in before the headaches and other withdrawal symptoms cause him to become too violent. The film does have it's violent moments courtesy of some poorly choreography martial arts sequences. These scenes are accompanied by equally poor sound effects.

These days, it is hard to take Nielsen seriously, even when watching an older film before his comedy turns. As a comedian, his delivery is usually dry and straight faced. So when he gets lumbered with some ridiculous dialogue, like in Project: Kill it is almost instinctive to think that this is a joke. But it isn't -- mores the pity.

The music by Robert O. Ragland is, in places, overly melodramatic, but generally it is better than this production deserves. The song, 'The Lonely World' is a pretty forgettable lounge number with flute accompaniment.

It's a shame this film is such a stinker, because there may be a good idea hiding under all the crap. When you think about the plot, of chemically controlled assassins, who work for covert agencies controlled by the government, it's hard not to compare it to the recent film The Bourne Ultimatum. Obviously The Bourne Ultimatum was good, whereas this is crap, but there is an interesting seed at the centre of this film. But one good idea, does not make a good film. You can safely skip over Project: Kill.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

The Uranium Conspiracy

Knowing that this film was produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the two men behind Cannon Films didn’t fill me with hope that this would be a quality production. Added to that, the film has now passed into public domain, so I figured this film is the bastard child that nobody wanted. But all that aside, while The Uranium Conspiracy isn’t a top tier spy film, it is certainly better than a lot of the rubbish I sit through. This is mainly due to the charismatic lead actors, Fabio Testi and Assaf Davan. Their energy keep you watching this film, when by all rights you should have turned it off.

Renzo (Fabio Testi) is a ‘soldier of fortune’; a mercenary if you will. For the last two years his employers have been Mossad, and he has been working undercover at a uranium mine in Zaire. Renzo watches everything and takes notes. He knows that something big is about to happen because a large shipment is going out, and they have received twice the usual price and it has been paid for in advance.

That evening at the Black Sheep Night Club, where topless African dancers writhe around, Renzo is engaged in a ‘stress relief’ session upstairs. He is interrupted, much to his chagrin, by his Mossad contoller, Dan (Assaf Dayan). Renzo passes on the information. Well most of it anyway. He doesn’t give names because he hasn’t been paid yet.

Dan scurries off and relays the information to his chiefs. They agree to pay the money, so Dan and Renzo meet once again, but this time in Venice. Renzo is paid and he says the buyer is a company called Asmara. They have a chemical processing plant in Salzburg, Austria.

This film can’t be faulted for it’s globe trotting quotient. In the first ten minutes we have skipped from Zaire to Venice, and now to Austria. The duo find Asmara’s headquarters, and stakeout the plant all day, seated in their car. Not a single person has entered or left the plant all day till Helga (Janet Agren) finishes her shift. As she is their only lead, Renzo decides to make contact with her (in more ways than one).

Renzo follows her and contrives to talk to her (the answers to a German crossword puzzle). But he is a fast worker, and is soon back at her place and probing her for information. She doesn’t know that much. She works alone, and takes her instructions either by telephone or fax. Her boss is a man called the Baron.

Meanwhile, Dan sneaks into the chemical plant and photographs a few documents. He finds out very little, except the signature on the bottom of the companies documents belongs to the Baron. Ultimately, Renzo and Dan have found out the same thing through different methods. But I’d guess Renzo enjoyed acquiring his information more than Dan.

Using the system that Helga described, Dan and Renzo make an appointment to meet the Baron, but Renzo pretends to be a Saudi Arabian Prince. Their ruse works, and they get into the Baron’s chateau. Once inside, they clobber a few guards and break into the safe. Inside they find the details of the yellow cake shipment. Here the trail branches into two sections. One is a paint factory in Milan, which Dan chooses to investigate. The other is a ship in Amsterdam, which is where Renzo heads.

Unfortunately for Renzo and Dan, because their investigation at the Baron’s chateau was so invasive, the Baron and his men now know that someone is investigating them and there is a information leak. They trace this back to Helga. She tells them about Renzo. Figuring that he will turn up sooner or later in Amsterdam, they drag Helga with them so that she can identify Renzo again, should their paths cross.

Naturally, their paths do cross, and this leads to a pretty good rooftop fight scene. This in turn is followed by a better motor boat chase through the canals of Amsterdam. Sure it’s nothing we haven’t seen before in movies like Live And Let Die or Puppet On A Chain but it is still well staged.

The last third of the film is set on board a freighter carrying the yellow cake. Renzo has managed to get himself captured, and Dan has taken it upon himself to rescue him. Adding to the drama, mines have been planted along the hull of the freighter by Mossad, and they are set to blow.

The Uranium Conspiracy is by no means an 'action classic', but it is vastly better than I expected. The locations are the real star of the show. The travelogue feel of this film is perfect for a Euro-spy film. Scenes are shot against a swag of fantastic European locations, but it never feels like ‘hey we’re in Venice – let’s get as much background footage as we can.’ It’s more a case, of this is where the action happens to take place.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hercules And The Masked Rider

The title to this feature is a trifle misleading. Hercules And The Masked Rider is not much of a Hercules film. In fact, Hercules (Alan Steel) is not the star of this movie at all. He is simply a strongman from a troupe of Gypsies, who are drawn into the story at a later stage. And even then, he is very much in the background. It’s almost as if Steel walked onto the wrong set and decided to throw around a few objects in the background. The star of the film is The Masked Rider (Mimmo Palmara), who is very much in your Zorro tradition. Despite the misleading title, . Hercules And The Masked Rider is actually an enjoyable film.

A river divides the lands of the elderly Prince of Val Verde, Don Francesco, and the malevolent Duke of Madina. The Duke has sold half his population as soldiers and only has a few overworked men and women working the land for food and clothing. These overworked peasants, revolt against the Duke and try to flee over the border to Don Franceso’s lands. One couple, Phillippé and Delores make it across the border, but Duke follows after them anyway. Luckily Don Francesco intervenes and gives them sanctuary. The Duke isn’t happy and intends to take the couple by force, but changes his mind when Francesco’s daughter, Donna Blanca (the gorgeous as always, José Greci) arrives on the scene. The Duke is infatuated with Donna Blanca and backs down, offering the two peasants as a gift.

Meanwhile Don Juan (Mimmo Palmara) after a successful stint as a soldier in Flanders is returning home to Val Verde, and his sweetheart, Donna Blanca. But Don Francesco throws a spanner in the works, and the reunion doesn’t go quite to plan. Francesco realises the Duke of Madina is a cruel man, and a man of war. But Francesco is elderly and won’t be around to protect his people forever. His people are peaceful and would be crushed if a civil war broke out between Val Verde and Madina. In an attempt to broker a peace, Francesco wishes to marry off his Donna Blanca to Madina. She is not happy about it, but it is for the good of the people.

When Don Juan returns home, and hears of the Don’s plan, he objects quite vehemently. Don Francesco sees Don Juan’s objection as a lack of respect and casts Don Juan out of Val Verde. In fact Don Juan is banished as an outlaw.

With Don Juan out of the way, the Duke’s plans don’t stop at gaining a beautiful wife. No, he wants the lot! He wants to control both lands, so goads Don Francesco into a sword fight. Naturally, the elder Francesco is no match for his younger and more vicious opponent. Francesco is killed, and the Duke gains control of Val Verde.

Don Juan leaves the city, but in the country side adopts a new, secret identity as the Masked Rider. The Masked Rider wears a red mask, and is an amalgam of Zorro and Robin Hood. He joins a troupe of Gypsies, but before being accepted he has to prove himself worthy. This involves a fight with the Gypsie strongman, Hercules (Alan Steel). Surprisingly, Hercules loses – I told ya it was a Masked Rider movie. Once accepted by the Gypsies, Don Juan (or Masked Rider as he is now called) leads them against the Duke.

Hercules And The Masked Rider is a good little adventure movie. All the clichés are in place, but in these types of films, you expect that. In fact, you tend to notice the clichés more when they are missing. I’d love to see a pristine widescreen print of this film, as this print is pretty washed out. All in all, not a bad way to spend one and a half hours.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Assignment Outer Space

Although I'm a big supporter of Italian exploitation director Antonio Margheriti, even I'm hard pressed to be a booster for everything he does, and this early science fiction effort -- his second film -- certainly falls into that category that makes me shrug my shoulders and go, "Well, at least he made Yor, The Hunter from the Future." Rick Van Nutter stars as Ray, an irritating blowhard reporter in the year 2116 who gets assigned to travel with a space crew to a remote station. Problems arise when Ray immediately rubs the captain the wrong way, and the audience is forced to endure the ongoing sniping between these two equally obnoxious guys. The only thing that keeps this crew from deserving to be jettisoned out the airlock is Al, the black guy with snow white hair.

After the movie slowly introduced everyone, it unravels totally into a seemingly disconnected barrage of episodes that finds the crew changing course first to Mars for some emergency, then to Venus, and finally to Earth. It seems that some sort of really poorly engineered experimental spaceship has malfunctioned and is plummeting toward Earth, where the super awesome experimental engines will destroy all life. Needless to say, only our intrepid crew can save humanity from this horrible fate.

Although I love movies crammed full of outdated future stuff and speculation on what space travel will be like, Assignment Outer Space gives you very little besides that, and even I get tired of looking at rocket models and tiny spaceman figures eventually. What remains, then, is a poorly written story that never bothers itself with its own continuity and expects us to be interested in the petty bickering between space reporter Ray and the captain. This movie would actually be much better if you watched it with the sound off and just marveled at all the cool old special effects while playing some Esquivel in the background. Most of the effects are typical 50s-60s scifi stuff -- rockets that land vertically and fly through space with a smoking sparkler sticking out the butt, good stuff like that. The big special effects misstep comes when a ship explodes and, for some reason, they use stock footage of an explosion that happens on a city street with cars parked around it. What the hell???

All in all, I can get through this movie purely on the power of the goofy old effects I love so much, but really, the whole thing is a pretty boring, poorly made affair. Margheriti would go on to make a few other scifi films that also managed to be simultaneously really cool looking and sort of boring. He was better off with cannibalistic Vietnam vets and futiristic cavemen laser battles.

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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Gladiators 7

I don't know a whole lot about Richard Harrison. I first discovered him when I bought the Retromedia Terminal Force / Ring Around The World Double Feature DVD. Terminal Force is almost unwatchable (even by Teleport City's standards), but Ring Around The World has quickly become one of my Eurospy favourites.

Gladiators 7 is an earlier role for Harrison, and the film, despite there being 'Seven' gladiators is very much in the style and tradition of The Three Musketeers.

Darius (Richard Harrison) is a Spartan Prince who has been captured by the Romans. However the Romans do not know he is a Prince, and have him locked up with all the other Spartan prisoners, who are forced into service as Gladiators. The film opens with five of the Spartan Gladiators climbing the walls and escaping. We later learn that Darius was responsible for their escape and is to be punished. He is lead out into the Coliseum, where the Caesar and the crowd are baying for blood. Eight Gladiators are waiting in the arena to fight Darius, and they begin a relentless attack upon him. Darius fights like a lion (sorry, I had to put that cliché in), and even though he is outnumbered, he slowly cuts down the numbers against him.

Somehow he manages to survive the onslaught, but that does not mean he is allowed to live. Caesar orders the Legionnaires surrounding the arena to kill Darius. The legionnaires surround Darius and throw their lances, but each deliberately miss. The Legionnaires respect Darius' fighting ability and tenacity, and they request clemency for the brave warrior. The Caesar reluctantly agrees. Darius is freed but must return to Sparta.

Much has happened in Sparta since Darius has been gone. His father has committed suicide and Yarva is now the ruler. Those who have watched a few Peplum will know that Rulers of Ancient Kingdoms do not commit suicide. There is always a treacherous deed that leads to their downfall. And so is the case here. In fact Yarva killed the King, and one of the town's respected elders, Melong, cover it up, proclaiming that it was suicide.

To complicate matters even further, Yarva wants to marry Melong's beautiful daughter, Aglaia (Loredana Nusciak). But she is in love with Darius. Hmmm, nice little love triangle.

Darius returns home and finds his whole world turned upside down. He visits his home, and finds his family gone. The old housekeeper hands over his Father's sword and tells him to seek vengeance. Which he does, with the help of the housekeeper's son, Livius (Enrique Avila).

It's not long before the two are in trouble, when they are set upon by Yarva's men. The duo fight like tigers (sorry) and vanquish there foes, but in the skirmish, Darius drops his sword.

The sword is found by Yarva, who kills Melong with it. As it's Darius' sword he gets the blame. And more importantly for Yarva, now Aglaia hates Darius. She believes he murdered her father.

Yarva's men once again try to capture Darius, but he escapes. He decides he needs a little help. With Livius, he heads into the country to find the five Gladiators he helped free from the Romans. Naturally each of these men is a great warrior and agrees to help Darius regain his rightful position.

Gladiators 7, storywise is familiar territory for those who have watched any vintage swashbucklers, but it handles it all with a great sense of style and fun. As we've already seen in the 50 Movie Pack there are quite a few clunkers in the set, but this isn't one of them. This is enjoyable if somewhat predictable entertainment.

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Friday, February 29, 2008

Ali Baba And The Seven Saracens

There seems to be a few versions of this EuroSword flick floating around and depending on which version you find, the hero is either Ali Baba (sans forty thieves), or Sinbad (sans sailing). The most common version available appears to be Ali Baba And The Seven Saracens. The film itself is a middling affair. Some of the sets are rather fake and the dubbing into English is quite wooden. All the actors shout at each other, vowing acts of vengeance and the like. The best thing about this movie is voluptuous actress Bella Cortez, who plays Fatima. She fills her costume in a way that very few of our modern actresses could do.

The film opens in an unnamed Kingdom in the Middle East. It appears that the Kingdom is without a king, and Omar (Gordon Mitchell) is filling in as care-taker. He is answerable to the unseen Magi (wise men, I guess), and the leaders of the Seven Saracens (or districts, if you will) that make up the Kingdom. But acting as care-taker is not enough for Omar. He is an evil tyrant-type who wants nothing but total control over the Kingdom, and to sit on the Golden Throne without interference.

The Magi decree, that to find the new King, a tournament will be held. Each of the Saracens will send their leader to fight in a battle to the death. Whoever is alive at the end will be the new King. Omar, with a massive strength advantage, is the odds on favourite to claim the crown.

One of the Saracens, the ‘Mahariti’ have been without a leader for some time. Ali Baba (who may be a Prince, but it is never really explained?) has been in exile. He returns to lead the Mahariti. Omar isn’t happy about this and sends some guards to capture Alia Baba. They fail, and Ali Baba escapes, only to be found by Fatima (Bella Cortez). In, what has possibly got to be the shortest romance of all time, Ali Baba and Fatima fall in love. No sooner than they have confessed their love for each other, than they are captured by Omar’s troops, and sent to the dungeon.

In the dungeon, Ali befriends a midget named Dookie (Tony Di Mitri). Dookie, who is small enough to crawl around the air vents and secret passages in the castle, has formulated a plan to free all the prisoners in the dungeon.

Ali Baba And The Seven Saracens is pretty silly in parts but it is fairly fast paced, which is a big plus. My main problem with the film is the character of Alia Baba. Nothing against Dan Harrison’s performance, he looks the part, but the character is simply not very convincing. He falls into nearly every trap set for him. SPOILER AHEAD: And even at the tournament at the end of the film, where he represents the Mahariti’s for the crown, his victory (yes, he wins, but you knew that, didn’t you?) is really hollow. He seems to win, more from good luck rather than outsmarting his physically stronger opponent. Personally I think he a bit of a loser, but he does get the girl in the end – so what more can I say?

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Hercules Against The Barbarians

As with most of the Peplum films that are out there, there appears to be many versions of this film, varying in running time from about 90 minutes to 120 minutes. As well as differing running times, the films hero seems to change from either Hercules or Masciste, the son of Hercules. But that shouldn’t matter too much. The version I am reviewing here is the shortened American version, Hercules Against The Barbarians from, you guessed it, the Mill Creek Warriors 50 Movie Pack.

In many ways this is a follow up to Hercules Against The Mongols. Both films feature Mark Forest as Hercules (or Maciste), Ken Clark, and José Greci; and they are directed by Domenico Paolella. Unfortunately this film isn’t as entertaining than it’s ‘unofficial’ prequel.

In Hercules Against The Mongols, Ken Clark played one of Genghis Khan’s sons (Sayan), but this time he plays Kubilai. But in both films he had to sport a silly hairpiece and a droopy moustache.

The movie starts off with Genghis Khan and his Mongol army invading Poland. Actually we don’t see the invasion, only lots of Mongols, waving spears of horseback. The narrator tells us the Mongols have suffered their first defeat. We are also told that Hercules has fought alongside the Polish, like a ‘tornado’. And when we finally clap eyes on Hercules, he is being thanked, slapped on the back and sent on his way. The opening seems like a bit of a ripoff to me. We hear of a great battle but don’t see it.

Hercules is heading back to Arminia (Jose Greci), his fiancé, but before he arrives, strange things are happening in her village. Firstly a woman, Arias (Gloria Milland) is being chased by an angry mob. They accuse her of being a witch and want to burn her at the stake. She finds refuge in Arminia and her father’s cottage. However, he protection doesn’t last too long, as a band of Mongols arrive and kidnap Arminia, and kill her father. Arias is left arrive, and blamed for the atrocity. The mob quickly pick up their flaming torches once more and tie Arias to a stake. But just before going up in flames, she is rescued once more, this time by Hercules.

It is determined that the Mongols have taken Arminia to the city of Tornapol, where she is being held captive by Genghis Khan (Roldano Lupi). Naturally enough, Hercules and his new lady friend, Arias, set off in a bid to rescue Arminia.

The real villain in this movie is Kubilai (Ken Clark). Kubilai is a vicious piece of work, prepared to kill anyone who hinders his ascension to power, including his father and his brother. His malevolence is shown when he stabs one of his lovers in the heart after she has learnt too much about Kubilai’s plans.

At times, Hercules Against The Barbarians veers into Tarzan territory. Hercules battles various rubber creatures during his travels including a giant python, and a crocodile. Forest makes an admirable attempt at making the croc fight seem real, but cannot overcome the glaringly fake rubber reptile.

For me, Hercules Against The Barbarians is a weak entry in the Sword and Sandal series. Forest is not my favourite Hercules. He takes the role far too seriously and always looks to be in pain. At best the Hercules films are the antecedents of the swashbuckling films of the thirties and the forties. Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power always had a cheeky smile. Not so Forest. He is workman like in his approach.

On top of that this movie is fairly slowed paced and drags between action sequences. There is one sequence that is worth mentioning though. It is in the palace of Genghis Khan, and we are treated to an array of ‘regal’ entertainment, including oriental dancers spinning plates on sticks, and acrobats spinning and tumbling over giant flags as they are swirled around the room. The entertainment culminates with Hercules and one of Genghis Khan’s warriors fighting to the death in a gauntlet of (rubber tipped) spears.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Goliath and the Sins of Babylon

Goliath and the Sins of Babylon is one of the better peplum films I have watched recently. This is due to two reasons. The first is the cast, and the second is that it seems to have had more money thrown at it than most.

The film opens in the town of Methra, which is under the control of the Babylonians. Each year, as a tribute to their rulers, the Methranites send thirty young virgins to Babylon. As the girls are being rounded up, one of them tries to escape. Three soldiers capture her and man-handle her roughly. This doesn’t go over too well with Goliath (Mark Forest). He steps in and makes short work of the soldiers.

A midget (or a little person, if you prefer) who is hiding in a barrel strapped to a pack horse warns Goliath that more soldiers are on their way. I don’t know why Sword & Sandal epics have this fascination for ‘little people’ - they just do. And now, I must admit, if I see a S&S film and it doesn’t have a comic relief midget, I don’t feel I have got my money’s worth.

But back to the story. Goliath doesn’t seem too perturbed that more soldiers will come after him. The ‘little guy’ on the other hand, is worried, and runs off to tell two burly pals that Goliath is in trouble. The two guys happen to be Xandros (Giuliano Gemma) and Alceas (Mimmo Palmara). The three men team up and plan to overthrow the Babylonians.

At the top I talked about the budget and the cast. Expanding upon that, the money was put to good use, firstly on a ocean battle, where two ship engage in a bit of pirate style warfare, and secondly on a chariot race. The race isn’t up to the standard, or provide the level of excitement as the race in Ben Hur, but then again, what would? As for the cast, the main actors are all pretty good. In other reviews I have been farely scathing in my assesment of Mark Forest’s acting ability, but have to admit that he is pretty good in this. He is ably assisted by Giuliano Gemma and Mimmo Palmara. All three get a fair amount of screen time, and each has individual battles and opponents to overcome. Gemma comes off particularly well, displaying a degree of acrobatics that was never showcased in the Spaghetti Westerns that he is so famous for. With three male leads, unfortunately the female lead, José Greci doesn’t get much screen time. Of course, she still looks great though.

One of the highlights of the film is when the villain of the piece has captured Goliath and is about to torture him. Goliath is tied to a table which sits under a roof with holes in it. Housed in each hole is a spear, which is attached to a length of rope. When the connecting rope is cut, one of the spears drops down from it’s hole above. When the villain forces Xandros and Alceas to cut the ropes, it’s a waiting game as each spear falls. Which rope will release the spear that will kill Goliath?

I am far from an expert on peplum films. With each film I see I learn new things. Some of the ones I have seen so far, have had me wondering why the genre was so successful – but then I stumble on a film like this one, which was obviously made at the peak of the genre’s popularity, and it all becomes clear. At there best, peplum movies are damn good fun. They aren’t boring. And they don’t have to have poor visual effects and rubber monsters to entertain. This is one of the good ones.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Mesa of Lost Women

Listen closely to that theme song. I hope you like it. Because it's going to play through the entire movie, almost non-stop. Anyway, this is one of those "must-see" titles that forms the basic foundation of any solid b-movie structure, and though you may wonder at times how the hell it managed to garner such a reputation, by the end of the film, the reason is clear: it has an awesome title.

So the story is that a man and a woman are picked up in the Mexican desert, half-delirious and ranting about destroying giant spiders. The man then recounts his most recent adventure, in which he becomes the hostage of a seemingly insane man who takes a group of people on a jaunty sightseeing tour to a mysterious mesa, where they promptly crash their plane and discover that the mesa is not unpopulated. A local mad scientist has spliced woman DNA with spider DNA, creating a sexy race of nigh unkillable female slaves who tend to perform sexy dances in the nearby cantinas. For fun and to round out his mad scientist shtick, there are also some dwarves and some giant spiders.

This one is pretty fun. Starts slow, but once it picks up, the movie becomes increasingly cracked in the head until it reaches the stratospherically loopy conclusion. Bombshell Tandra Quinn's slinky nightclub dance remains the signature moment in the film, and that alone is worth the price of admission. That the movie throws in evil dwarves and giant spiders for good measure is just an act of magnanimity. Plus, the crazed Dr. Aranya (oh what are the chances that a guy named Dr. Spider would go on to perform mad experiments involving spiders! That's almost as ironic as a guy named Dr. Freize getting super freezing powers) is played by Jackie Coogan, who would go on to play Uncle Fester. Make no mistake about it, Mesa of Lost Women is one of the greats of bad 50s B cinema for a reason. Watch it on a double feature with The Horror of Spider Island for all your sexy spider related needs.

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White Gorilla

Oh man, a couple days ago, was I making fun of Lost Jungle? I take back everything bad I said about that movie, because it was a thrilling spectacle compared to White Gorilla, a horrible film assembled out of the bits and pieces of an old silent serial with some new footage of guys lying on cots thrown in for good measure. It's yet another movie where a haggard dude stumbles into a camp and tells a story about how he got all tattered. So begins endless narration over old silent film footage of a jungle adventure film with no adventure involved, unless you consider watching guys in pith helms crouching in trees to be adventurous.

Writer/producer Harry L. Fraser also wrote an old serial called Perils of the Jungle, and most of the footage in this film comes from that. Guys in safari gear squat in the bushes and watch stock footage, which includes lots of elephants and a little white feral child-god who rides around on an elephant trunk in the most awkward looking position imaginable. Eventually, a black gorilla fights a white gorilla, and the racial implications are laughably obvious. Crash Corrigan plays both the hero and the gorilla the hero fights. The entire things seems like the people writing it forgot what they were writing about ten minutes in, and then just started making up a new film, but forgot that one, too. I know I hard a time remembering it as I was watching it. This was almost dumb enough for me to reminisce longly for Queen of the Amazons.

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Lost Jungle

Oh man, here we go with another jungle adventure. And since this one stars famed lion tamer Clyde Beatty, you can bet that at least half, if not more, of the movie's running time is going to be scenes of a dude with a whip and a chair messing around with lions. But before we get to that, let me ask a question: how can a jungle be lost? I mean, I can understand being lost in a jungle, or there being a lost something inside a jungle, but how do you lose a whole jungle? It seems to me that, even in the era of travel by dirigible, the losing of a jungle would go something like, "Hmm, where did that jungle go? Oh, there it is; that giant green patch that covers half of Africa." Anyway...

We open on, you guessed it, scenes of Clyde taming some lion and tigers while the junior Bowery Boys look on. In between scenes of lion taming, we get our plot: Claude's girlfriend wants to marry him before she sets sail in a clipper ship with her dad, but he's too busy taming lions to notice her advances, at least until the boat she's on gets shipwrecked. Now Clyde must spring into action to rescue her and bring back some more lions and tigers to tame, all while being oblivious to the fact that his assistant, Sharky, is trying to kill him. Once in the jungle, there's something about a lost city, but mostly, it's just scenes of people sitting around a campfire until Clyde shows up to crack a whip and tame the local wild man-eating lions.

This is better than most crappy jungle adventure movies, if for no other reason than most of the animals are actually present on set rather than represented by characters pointing at or walking in front of grainy stock footage. This lends an air of excitement and danger to the film that is absent from most other films of this type. Plus, when Clyde steps in to grapple with surly tigers and lions, he's really standing there with surly tigers and lions, and when those animals get fed up, they tend to let everyone know. Still, one old fashioned lion taming act might be thrilling in a movie. But Lost Jungle sees no reason to stop at one.

So if you like scenes of tigers balancing on top of rubber balls while bears do somersaults and a guy cracks a whip and wields a chair, then this is the movie for you. Because at just over an hour, I think about forty-five minutes of the movie is lion taming scenes. Fifteen minutes is people walking through a jungle set, and five minutes is Sharky staring menacingly. It's much more watchable than many other Poverty Row jungle adventures, but that's not saying a whole lot. But you might as well watch this one, because short of a good Tarzan movie, jungle adventure movies tend not to get any better. At least there's no lengthy elephant stampede, and they don't bring those wisecracking kids from the beginning along to Africa.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I Eat Your Skin

This movie has one of those classic titles that were the bread and butter of the Halcyon days of drive-in movies. How can you not go see a movie called I Eat Your Skin? Well, I certainly can't go without seeing a movie called I Eat Your Skin, especially if it comes to me courtesy of Del "Monster of Party Beach" Tenney. Tenney's movie was originally called Voodoo Bloodbath, but when the movie got picked up to fill a double bill with I Drink Your Blood, the movie where a kid feeds a bunch of hippies some meat from rabid animals, causing them to turn into foaming-at-the-mouth cannibals, Tenney's tropical island zombie adventure became I Eat Your Skin, even though no skin is actually eaten.

The movie is about a writer, his wife, and some assorted others who head out to the menacingly named Voodoo Island, where they run into a mad doctor who has been transforming the locals into bug-eyed, oatmeal-faced zombies under the auspices of trying to cure some disease. Many scenes of white people staring into the jungle while ominous voodoo drums play ensue, until zombie hell breaks out in the final minutes (an assault on the science lab which is vaguely reminiscent of the final assault in Lucio Fulci's Zombie, only much less intense and interesting).

I Eat Your Skin is most often described as being boring, even though it's a short film. And while it's no thrill-ride, I found that I quite liked the movie, certainly more than I'd been lead to expect I would. It's well-acted even if the characters are broad, and there is a lot of energy even if very little is happening. Plus, it has a swinging score. The zombie make-up is pretty bad, but there has certainly been worse, and this is another film cut from the pre-Romero "zombies are enslaved locals" cloth pioneered by White Zombie. It's certainly no White Zombie in terms of quality or inventiveness, but even without being a classic, I Eat Your Skin entertained me.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Medusa

One kind of forgets that there was a point in history when George Hamilton was famous for actually doing stuff, as opposed to just standing around and having a weird tan. Medusa features a young Hamilton as an American cad in Greece who gets on the wrong end of a substantial Mob debt. Mobster Cameron Mitchell has cut George plenty of slack because he kind of likes the young rakehell, and because George stands to inherit more than enough money to both pay off his debt and pay off plenty of potential future debts. But when word gets out that George may be loosing out on the loot, Mitchell pushes him to track down the people in charge of the will and encourage them to make sure all is well. When those people start turning up murdered, things get ugly for poor George, who expresses remorse for his murderous side projects by doing things like crouching in the corner of a shadowy room and staring off into the distance as he sits on a ride in a playground on a bleak day. Only his sister stands besides him, though Cameron Mitchell seems to be a pretty decent friend when he's not forced to beat George up to collect on the debt.

This movie was pretty boring. Hamilton is surprisingly effective as the young cad, hamming it up a bit in spots -- but what are you going to do when you're opposite Cameron Mitchell? Compared to him, Hamilton is positively understated. Hamilton's sister is played by the gorgeous Luciana Paluzzi, the murderous Fiona from Thunderball, and Gordon Hessler -- fresh off directing a number of Edgar Allen Poe films for AIP but long before he directed Pray for Death starring Sho Kosugi -- is behind the camera. Still, a solid cast and crew can't make up for a terribly meandering plot that never seems to have any point. It never gives us a reason to give a damn about anything that's happening. When it's revealed that the murderous George Hamilton might not be the murderer after all, it should be a big revelation. Instead, it's delivered via a throw-away line you will miss if you nod off -- and believe me, you will nod off. Worth watching if you want to see George Hamilton emoting or Cameron Mitchell with his shirt off, but beyond that, there's not much reason to bother with this lackluster crime drama.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Country Blue

Fulfills the 1970s law that all country-related movies had to star Dub Taylor in a dirty t-shirt. It's basically a drive-in exploitation version of Badlands or Bonnie and Clyde, with two young folks on the run after a botched bank robbery. The film does strive to be something a little more, with some interesting arty techniques and some attempts at message (for example, the protagonists are cool with the black people, even in 1970s rural south Georgia -- actually filmed around Tallahassee). It doesn't entirely succeed, but it's also not entirely boring. Dub gets to play it pretty serious, instead of just having to cackle and jig dance and whatever else he was often seen doing. The leads are sort of vacant, but I'm pretty sure they're doing their best to mimic the acting style in Badlands. It works in a lot of ways like a rural version of a blaxploitation film, meaning that you get to see a lot of guerrilla style "on the street" (or the dirt road) slice of life footage, which I always think is cool (though not as cool here as just watching Fred Williamson walk around Harlem for ten minutes). Pretty good music here, too. All in all, not a great film, but surprisingly worth the time it took to watch it.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hercules Against the Mongols

The year is 1227, and the infamous Ghengis Khan has died. His power has gone to his son Ogadai, but his three other sons squabble among themselves for the scraps, always looking for an opportunity to elevate themselves through whatever means possible. And that is the basis for much of this film, which features Ghengis' three backstabbing sons trying to outmaneuver one another. Enter Maciste, or is it Hercules? Exactly what Hercules was doing alive in 1227 AD is a mystery.

We first meet Hercules as he is strolling through 13th century China. While Hercules is in China, the Mongols are kicking up a lot of dust in Europe. Ghengis Khan's sons are busy trying to oppress the masses when along comes Maciste, who must have walked from China. Maybe he did that thing the Incredible Hulk used to do where he could jump really high and far to cover long distances in a short amount of time.

Hercules kicks some Mongolian tail, then befriends the beleaguered population of eastern Europe. The sons of the Khan are annoyed that this beefy Greek has strolled thousands of years into the future to spoil their fun, but they are torn asunder over what to do with him. The obvious answer is "kill him." One of the sons decides it would be better if he tried to be buddy-buddy with Hercules and get him on the Mongol side. After all, no one really ever failed to benefit from having a demigod behind their cause. Plus, you know, they're just two beefy tough guys with a lot to tell each other about protein shakes and the finer points of Mongolian wrestling.

So they manage to capture Hercules, or rather, he sort of just walks up to them and gets captured after his tactic of going, "Hey, why not call off the conquest of the world?" doesn't pan out the way he planned. So the main Mongol puts Herc is chains but is generally pretty nice to him, hoping that Hercules will join him after the Greek hero learns a little more about traditional Mongol puppet theater and that throat singing thing.

Hercules gets to fight in a tournament, because all peplum films must have a tournament. If he wins, he gets to chose either his own freedom or the freedom of a captured European princess, who of course instantly falls madly in love with Hercules. The plan was for Herc to kick ass on the first two evil brothers but then throw the fight for his friendly captor, thus making the others look like dolts while the other one looks all cool and tough. Hercules gets carried away though and just kicks everyone's ass, thereby winning the freedom of the princess but not winning any points with his captors.

And then there's this sleazy guy who pretends to be her most faithful servant when, in fact, he is a villainous traitor working with the Mongols to kill whitey and make Hercules looks like a coward. It all results mostly in Hercules kicking a lot of Mongol ass and then strutting around heroically. At the end of the day, it has action, drama, muscles, spear-throwing, hearty laughing a-plenty, more action, and plenty of other good stuff. Throw it all in the stew, sprinkle with a healthy dose of men in loin cloths and women in revealing outfits, and you have a recipe for one fine night of entertainment.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Hercules vs. the Moon Men

With a name like Alan Steele, you're bound to become a Hercules. That's one of those names like Bart Savagewood or Rock Slabchest. Along with Kirk Morris, Steele (born Sergio Ciani) was one of the few Italian-born actors to find success as a leading man in the sword and sandal genre. Bodybuilding had yet to catch on Italy the way it had on America's West Coast, so homegrown stars were generally relegated to the ranks of second fiddle or "skinny little buddy." Steele was an exception, and that allowed him to work his way up the peplum food chain (high in whey protein). He began his career in 1959 with a small part in Hercules Unchained, and later appeared in Samson (1961), Fury of Hercules (1962), Samson and the Slave Queen (1963), and The Rebel Gladiators (1963) before hitting the big-time with a starring role in 1964’s Hercules Against Rome. That same year, Steele made what is probably his best-known sword and sandal film, the strange Hercules Against the Moon Men, which once again attempted to blend the worlds of ancient fantasy and science fiction by having Herc face off against a bunch of slow moving rock monsters from outer space.

It starts off pretty well, as a meteor lands on Samar Mountain, causing a volcano to erupt. Shortly thereafter, the residents are forced to offer their children once every third full moon to this "hungry mountain of death." Apparently this is under the orders of the Moon men. In one of the opening scenes, we see a door open up on the side of the mountain, while Roman soldiers push in the wailing sacrifices. The Moon men want to take over the world. If you lived on the moon, you'd consider relocating as well. Sure it looks cool and everything, but after you visit the Sea of Tranquility for the millionth time, you'd probably start dreaming about things like lakes, trees and waterslides. And since you'd have grown up there, the novelty of doing those astronaut leaps would have worn off after a while. So yeah, screw the moon.

The Moon men have organized these sacrifices of Earth virgins mostly just for shits and giggles, and being a man of righteousness, or at least a man in need of some asses to kick, Hercules won't stand for such injustice, especially from a bunch of out-of-towners. The Queen of Samar, however, is in cahoots with the moon people. Hercules tries to get the citizens of Samar to revolt against the queen, but the subjects are too cowardly to follow. After fighting some soldiers and throwing around some boulders, Hercules is invited to the Queen's chambers. Seems that she has a powder that "makes men look at her with eyes of love." She gives it to Hercules, and...he laughs at her as only Hercules can laugh. No pansy powder can control Hercules' emotions!

At the same time, the planets align in a red-tinted display of all hell breaking loose. Will Hercules defeat the Moon men and make Samar safe from extraterrestrial terrorism? Will the peasants and soldiers rise up against the evil queen? Well, hell yeah. In the meantime, we get lots of fights, lots of oiled chest close-ups, and Hercules strapped to a big spiky crusher thing. Not only does Hercules have to fight evil soldiers, he also gets trapped in a chamber full of rushing water and has to fight the Moon men, which are big slow-moving rock formations who encircle him and try to crush him. When he meets the head of the Moon men (who is decked out in a cool silver skull mask and cape), it takes one punch to knock him down. Guess that'll teach him a little something about gravity, huh?

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Colossus and the Amazon Queen

Born Edmund Holovchik in June of 1928, Ed Fury gave himself a tough sounding name and went on to a successful career as a fitness model during the 1950s, and by fitness model I mean he was in lots of photos with compositions like, "Ed is naked and tangled in a fisherman's net. Ooo, be a sexy merman! Be a sexy merman!". His acting career started on the stage, and he later moved into small roles in films like Athena (alongside Steve Reeves). In 1960, he packed his bags and set sail for Italy, where he made his sword and sandal debut in the wild peplum comedy Colossus and the Amazon Queen. It's a clever film, playing off many of the gender cliches already emerging in the genre. The women perform tasks most often associated with men, while the men all run around like a bunch of howling fops. It’s also one of the only peplum films to feature a hero who shouts, "Yahoo!" in a high-pitched voice.

The film decided to have some fun with things by turning everything upside down while also delivering the sexiest -- yet most feminist (as feminist as these movies could be) -- peplum adventure there had been. The city of the Amazons is a subversion of everything people expected from peplum. Effeminate men prance around and swap tips on getting the whites whiter when doing laundry. When the women come home, the men all giggle and run home to engage in arguments with their wives in which the wife complains that the men don't understand the value of a hard day's work while the men whine, "You think cooking and cleaning all day isn’t work?"

Eventually, some marauding pirates threaten to upset the Amazonian society, and the two sexes must unite on equal ground in order to combat this common enemy. Fury is great as a way goofier hero than peplum was used to, and Rod Taylor (who would make b-movie history by appearing in the superb films The Time Machine and World Without End before hitting the big time with a starring role in Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller The Birds) manages to provide comic relief that is actually funny as he sashays around with delight in order to lead the dames along and get himself a little nookie.

Many people have analyzed the homoeroticism of the sword and sandal genre then patted themselves on the back for their clever insight and reading of homosexual tendencies boiling just below the surface of the film. Given that many of these films contain greased-up, stripped-down muscleman heroes bent over a table covered in spikes and whipped mercilessly by some foppish henchman, revealing to people that there may be some homoerotic shades to the films is about as insightful as revealing that Pink Floyd's The Wall is about a guy going insane and is “really cool to watch while tripping.” Of course, none of the heroes were expressly homosexual. They still lusted heartily after the ladies, even if they also loved a good grappling session. Athletes will slap each other on the ass after a good game, and gladiators will slick themselves up with sweat and oil and do that Spartacus handshake where you grasp your buddy firmly by the forearm and slap him on the back. As with all things in peplum films, the underlying message is simply, "Relax, buddy. Don’t worry about it. Here, let work that tension out of your lats."

Fury starred in a few other sword and sandal films, including Ursus in the Land of Fire (1963), Samson Against the Sheik (1962), Ursus in the Valley of the Lions (1961), and The Mighty Ursus (1961). Obviously, the guy was really into Ursus.

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