December to Dismember: SAINT (2010)

Yultide terror from Dick Mass!

December to Dismember: SILENT NIGHT (2012)

A remake that gives a bad name to Santa slahers.

December to Dismember: ELVES (1989)

Dan Haggarty takes down the Christmas threat of Nazi elves!

December to Dismember: PUREZENTO (2005)

The Japanese take a stab at the Xmas slasher genre.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Canadian Invasion: THRILLKILL (1984)

Back in the '80s there was a point early on when I discovered that the trashy movies that I had been enjoying were - gasp! - foreign! At the time I felt that the Canadians were trying to pass themselves off as a wannabe America. Clearly they were living in our mighty shadow. I mean, they didn't have to pay to see doctors, they didn't have world-shaking political scandals and nobody gots shot in shopping malls. What kind of country is that, I ask you? Their movies were constantly pretending to be American which I felt was a little duplicitous. Not only are they suffering from an inferiority complex, but they are sneaky too!

Of course, in time I realized that they were making movies that would pander to a specific demographic in order to make wads of cash, and honestly, there is nothing more American than that. I also realized that in many respects their carefree, tax-shelter exploitation movies were not only imaginative and interesting, but in many ways more creative and interesting than many American films during an era that thrived on exploitation.

In addition, Canadian exploitation films have their own vibe. The way the filmstock looks, the framing of shots, the rather minimalist soundtracks, the generally low-key acting, all gave the films a feel of their own. While Americans were re-discovering their love of twisty thrillers in the late '80s and early '90s, The sneaky Canucks beat us to the punch with many low-budget crime outings such as Jorge Montesi's BIRDS OF PREY (1985) and this clever corker, THRILLKILL, which dares not only to exploit the crime thriller genre, but stuffs in patently gratuitous computer and video game themes.

Carly Kendall (Diana Reis) is a chain-smoking video game programmer who has been using her massive black computer terminal to create her latest game "Thrillkill" for a faceless company run by a slimy French businessman Caspar (Frank Moore). Apparently while making the game, she is also hacking into global banks and snatching thousands of dollars from each one and hiding it in a secret account.

Just before her game is to be released, she hides all of the evidence in a password locked file hidden within the game, withdraws all of the money and makes plans to spend the rest of her days south of the equator. Unfortunately for her, Caspar has figured out her plans and with the help of a couple of ruthless henchmen, go after her to get the money.

In the interest of keeping things spoiler free, I'm not going to get into too much detail about the plot, but I will say that paragraph above is genuinely the tip of the iceberg. There are so many twists and double-crosses that the only part of the film that doesn't have a twist is pretty much the last two minutes. It's pretty impressive on any level.

In addition to the sleazy boss, there is Frank Gillette (Robin Ward, who comes off as a poor man's Leo Rossi) a sleazy detective who is way too interested in the location of the missing money. Apparently he is supposed to be a charming girl-getter. How does he get girls? Oh that's easy, he shows up at the all-female "health place" (a "gym" in modern parlance) where Carly's sister Bobbie is working out and delivers one of the best flirty exchanges since SAMURAI COP (1991):
Bobbie: "Do you get all your dates this way or does tear gas work faster?"
Frank: "Well, tear gas is more effective, but usually they take one look at my knightstick and they come quietly."
Wait, what? If you are going for sleazy innuendo, I'm pretty sure "quietly" is not not the way girls want to be coming. I don't know, maybe I've just dated the wrong kind of girls.

After this exchange she bends to his masculine will and allows him to take her out to a hot dog place for some footlong franks, which he suggestively refers to as "teeny weenies". He says this about five times, just in case it didn't sink in the first four. Seriously dude, if you are going to use slimy come-on lines, you don't want to use the word "teeny". He also eats her dog and drinks her soda. This guy is supa fly!

The computer game element is another one of those things where it is clear the filmmakers know about computers and video games from what other people told them second hand and just made shit up based on that. Not only does the computer talk to Carly, but after Carly has a cryptic telephone call with her boss, the computer/monolith tells her "we are watching you". A few minutes later when the paranoia starts setting in it says "do you like playing games? You have one minute to find me before I find you". Also, it has the capacity to play live-action video based games in which the player must navigate movie theater corridors using what appears to be a STAR WARS toy blaster to shoot on-screen assailants. Seemingly inspired by the 1974 live action arcade game "Wild Gunman" (not to be confused with the 1984 Nintendo pixel-based reworking of the same name), the filmmakers obviously felt, 10 years later, that the public would pay big bucks and fill an entire room with technology just to have that experience at home.

Adding to the general exploitation of the '80s arcade revolution are frequent settings in which games could be seen and heard in the background. During one suspenseful scene in a bar, you can hear the 1982 William's classic "Sinistar" roar "run coward!" on the soundtrack. These scenes also have some almost subliminal edits of video game screens with games such as the 1980 Amstar classic "Phoenix". One great scene has a victim being stalked by a killer in a dark arcade. If that doesn't say '80s, nothing does.









Probably more importantly, directors Anthony D'Andrea and Anthony Kramreither, deeply saturate the film with '80s imagery; teased hair, gold chains, digital watches, women in leotards, fast food, geometric designs, lots of night photography. Additionally, they go all in on the '80s noir cinematography and even have a shot of a security guard reading Mickey Spillane.

Interestingly this is D'Andrea's single writing credit while working as an editor. While the theme of a computer game thriller bears some curious similarities to CLOAK AND DAGGER of the same year, for a first timer, the script is surprisingly well executed. It's a shame that this didn't lead to other work as a writer, I would love to see how his work evolved into future projects, in the same way that Jorge Montesi essentially remade his own SENTIMENTAL REASONS (1981) into the superior BIRDS OF PREY. Kramreither directed a few other films, including the drive-in comedy ALL IN GOOD TASTE (1983), which had an early appearance by a 23rd billed Jim Carrey, but spent his post THRILLKILL career, producing and dabbling in acting.

In the end, I am really only left with only one question:

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Newsploitation: Bryanston makin' it rain!

Shark! Shark! Shark!  That is pretty much all you’ll hear this weekend from entertainment sites as they celebrate the 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s JAWS (1975).  Now don’t get us wrong, we love that monster shark opus (after all, it begat Bruno Mattei’s CRUEL JAWS [1995]), but we probably can’t say anything about it that hasn’t been said before.  So let’s take the time to acknowledge another birthday for a film that was brave enough to go hoof-to-fin with that blockbuster.  Yes, today also marks the 40th anniversary of release of the Satanic shocker THE DEVIL’S RAIN (1975).

Ol’ Beelzebub was always a go to evil figure for filmmakers and Satanism was big business again in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s thanks mostly to ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) and THE EXORCIST (1973).  Producer Sandy Howard must have had his finger on the pulse as the first mention of THE DEVIL’S RAIN as a potential project of his came in a December 5, 1973 issue of Variety, a few weeks before the aforementioned EXORCIST caused a phenomenon in the United States.  The worldwide tallies for that film must have certainly influenced the shady distributor Bryanston Pictures to announce in June 1974 that they were going to finance and distribute the picture with Howard.  Headed by the mafia-connected Peraino family, Bryanston had made bank on the X-rated features DEEP THROAT (1972) and THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES (1973) and were looking to expand their horizons (they would score their first massive mainstream hit in late ’74 with Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE).  Seriously, if you’re making a film about a deal with the devil who better to fund the film than the mob?  In the press release the script was credited to Gabe Essoe and Jim Ashton.  By the time the film was in production, a third screenwriter, Gerald Hopman, was also credited.

The fall of 1974 saw the momentum pick up on the project.  On October 25 it was announced that Robert Fuest signed on as director.  Hailing from the UK, Fuest certainly had the credentials at this point to do a satanic shocker as he had previously helmed AND SOON THE DARKNESS (1970) and the two DR. PHIBES films with Vincent Price. November saw announcements of the supporting actors signed including Eddie Albert and Keenan Wynn.  On December 19, it was announced that William Shatner had been signed for a lead role.  December also saw producers Jim Cullen and Mike Glick head to Mexico to scout locations in Mexico City and Durango.  Also announced in this blurb was mention of the casting of a Broadway actor in his first film role; some dude named John Travolta.  The production was scheduled to begin on January 27, 1975. Early in the new year on January 3 the company announced their final casting acquisition – Ernest Borgnine had been signed to play the head of the cult.  And to ensure authenticity on the subject matter, they hired occultist and Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey to be the “technical advisor.”  The production shot for five weeks on a budget of approximately $1.5 million and wrapped filming on March 3, coming in just one day over schedule.  The most amazing thing is on April 29 it was listed in Variety that the film had secured a PG rating.  So the turn around was just a few weeks.  Gotta love the old independents that could get a flick from start-to-screen in five months.

Since it came out in the ‘70s and that was a billion years ago, there is a lot of confusion online about when this film first came out.  You’ll see July 1975, August 1975, and October 1975.  Truth is Bryanston got the film in theaters regionally and the first area THE DEVIL’S RAIN unspooled for paying audiences was in theaters in St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri on June 20, 1975.  Bryanston was so impressed by the film’s success that they took out advertisements in Variety and Box Office magazine crowing about the haul during the first five days.  Unfortunately for them, they were gobbled up as the melting minions proved no match for Spielberg’s shark.  The company again took out an ad in Variety in August 1975 boasting about the film having made $8,735,000 in its first 45 days of release.  The sound you hear is Bruce the Shark yawning (JAWS had made over $100 million – an all-time record in those days – by that point).  Regardless, THE DEVIL’S RAIN still found its audience and is considered somewhat of a classic of the genre today.  It is definitely the world’s best melting Satanists film of all-time.

JAWS leaves THE DEVIL'S RAIN in its wake:



Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Defective Detectives: CONCRETE COWBOYS (1979)

Much like football stars turned actors, county music stars make for some entertaining filmmaking in the '70s and early '80s. I'm not saying they are great actors, but like football stars, they may only be good for one chord, but it's usually a highly entertaining one. Oddly, this rule of thumb does not extend to basketball stars and rock stars - though I make an exception for Gene Simmons because he picked some interesting films to be in, if you can get past the fact that he is a conceited, pompous, fan-gouging, nut-bar. Err.. what was I talking about? Oh yeah, country music stars.

Take Kris Kristofferson, probably the best example of country singer turned actor, playing memorable characters in everything from the obvious choice of western (1973s PAT GARRET AND BILLY THE KID) to the surprising choice of neo-noir (1985s TROUBLE IN MIND). While the subject is wide open for debate, for my money Jerry Reed runs a close second.

Reed, a Georgia born epitome of a suthun' good ol' boy, dropped out of high school and signed his first recording deal at 17 years old. Like so many others he suffered a string of flops before he moved to Nashville and made a name for himself - with a stint in the army in between. He was given a boost by the legendary Chet Atkins and became a star in the '60s, even doing some pickin' on Elvis' 1968 comeback album in which he covers Reed's own "Guitar Man". So what would be the next step in his career? Movies of course!

Reed kicked off his silver-screen career with the under-appreciated Burt Reynolds outing W.W. AND THE DIXIE DANCEKINGS (1975). Even though he had been writing music for TV shows and movies since the mid-'60s, he never appeared in something until then. After a slight misstep, stretching his range by playing the villain in GATOR (1976 - and I'm not dissin' the movie, just saying), Reed stuck with the charming, happy-go-lucky, bullshittin', wisecrackin', beer-drinkin', fist-fightin' redneck persona that according to some was not really much of an act.

In 1979  Reed took the next logical step as an actor and moved into the world of the small screen with none other than the mustache man himself, Tom Selleck.

Spanning only a mere eight episodes (including the movie), the pilot for the series CONCRETE COWBOYS starred Reed and Selleck as a couple of country bumpkins from the wilds of Montana. The pair are attempting to get to Hollywood via their thumbs with J.D. (Reed) lookin' to "drink all the beer and love all the women," while Will (Selleck) is content with spending his free time reading encyclopedias. After getting in a brawl over a rigged poker game and tearing down the entire auto shop on the heads of the crooked sheriff and his boys, the modern cowboys hop a freight train. Next stop Hollywood! ...or not.

Finding themselves in Nashville, J.D. calls up a guy named Lonnie (Randy Powell of DALLAS fame) that he met once while blind drunk. As luck would have it, Lonnie is going out of town on business, but invites the boys to stay at his condo and drive his car while he's away. All they have to do in return is pick up a package for him. As it turns out Lonnie's car is a '73 Corvette C3 rag-top and his condo is a swinger pad with all of the amenities including a CCTV in the bedroom. J.D. marvels at it all saying "lookit that couch, it'll take you all week to sit on it."

Of course things get complicated quickly after they pick up the brown-paper parcel from a bus station locker and a shady character starts following them. Adding to the intrigue, a woman named Kate (Morgan Fairchild) shows up looking for Lonnie, who she believes to be a private investigator, to look into the disappearance of her sister Carla, who is presumed dead. Will wants nothing to do with it, but J.D. lights up when Kate hands them one thousand dollars to look into it. Says Will, "we ain't detectives!" To which J.D. replies, "neither is Jack Lord or Buddy Epson!" Can't argue with that logic.

So begins their trek to discover what happened to Carla by interviewing a number of characters around Nashville, each with their own story about their perception of the woman who may have been a conniving manipulator hell-bent on being a star, or another beautiful belle being eaten alive by the big city. Yes, it's a Southern-fried gumshoe outing with shades of RASHOMON (1950) and COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER (1980). Say what you will, but I got cashmoney that says you've never run across that high concept before.

During their investigations, they visit a country wax museum run by The King of Country Music Roy Acuff, meet up with Ray Stevens and Barbara Mandrell at the original Alleycat Club, get shot at, crash into a police station, get into a fist fight at a floating craps game, get thrown in jail, get chased out of the Opryland Hotel, put the moves on an aging cathouse madam and finally end up following the trail to (fictional) country music star Woody Stone (Claude Akins).

Directed by Burt Kennedy, who seems tailor made for the project, and written by celebrated Hammer Horror veteran Jimmy Sangster, who moved into TV during the '70s dabbling in redneck television with the likes of his other country TV mystery movie THE MUSIC CITY MURDERS (1979). this pilot really shouldn't be as surprisingly entertaining as it is considering all of the talent on board. Unfortunately for Reed, Selleck decided to move on to other projects (including MAGNUM P.I. in 1980) with Geoffrey Scott and his mustache (of DARK SHADOWS fame) taking over the role of Will, to the disappointment of all concerned.

In spite of Selleck struggling with his southern twang and seemingly attempting to impersonate Burt Reynolds' signature laugh, he made a great straight man for Reed's fast and loose charmer. The series lasted only seven episodes, which is a shame as it should have been a hit given the pilot that got the ball rolling. The episodes, to my knowledge, have never been released on video, except for one that was packaged with the pilot on VHS as RAMBIN MAN and RAMBLIN MAN 2. The retitling of the pilot as RAMBLIN MAN was released several times by different companies sporting cover art that seemed to want to eschew the fact that Jerry Reed was top billed and one even including the image of a black Porche for no apparent reason than to give the impression that it might be some sort of MAGNUM P.I. spin-off that everyone seems to have missed. Though, if that is the case, wouldn't you put, I don't know, maybe a red Ferrari on the cover? Eh, details, details.

While this signaled the end of Reed's TV acting career, it certainly isn't a failure in anything other than ratings terms. Matter of fact, it is better than your average TV pilot with plenty of on-screen talent and another of Reed's catchy theme songs (this one being "Breakin' Loose") that, like so many, doesn't seem to have ever been released. Don't feel too bad for Reed though, as 1981 saw his return to the big screen as a hit man in the Robin Williams and Walter Matthau team up THE SURVIVORS (1981). What? No, I don't know what you are talking about. There is no such thing as SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT 3.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Newsploitation: Giving More Time to ANOTHER 48 HRS. (1990)

Often dismissed by critics and audiences as simply a cash in, ANOTHER 48 HRS. is actually a fine sequel to the original film and features some of the best action captured by Walter Hill during his career.  It leaves one to wonder what it could have been had Paramount not slapped it together so quickly to regain some box office momentum and actually developed it properly.

1989 was a particularly brutal year (by entertainment industry standards) for Eddie Murphy.  COMING TO AMERICA (1988) had been a huge success for the actor, giving him enough clout for Paramount to let him handle nearly everything outside of craft services on his next feature, HARLEM NIGHTS (1989), which filmed in the spring of ‘89.  Unfortunately, beginning in August 1989, Murphy’s name was in the trades seemingly daily after Art Buchwald filed a lawsuit regarding AMERICA in 1988.  As the suit went forward in 1989, Murphy and several of his people were deposed and it made headlines week after week.  It is hard to say this impacted the box office of NIGHTS, but when that film opened in November 1989, it only did so-so (by Murphy standards).

Times were also tough (again by entertainment industry standards) for director Walter Hill.  He hadn’t had a massive hit since the original 48 HRS. (1982) and he was still feeling the sting from RED HEAT (1988) – with Schwarzenegger and Jim Belushi trying the 48 HRS. formula – turning out to be a big budget flop for Carolco. He returned with the much smaller (and excellent) crime-drama JOHNNY HANDSOME (1989), but that also fared poorly.  Prior to helming this sequel (his first), Hill had spent most of 1989 prepping a biker pic for Carolco called AMERICAN IRON, working on TALES FROM THE CRYPT, and negotiating to remake the Japanese comedy (!) A TAXING WOMAN (1987).

This is when ANOTHER 48 HRS. enters the scene.  Just two weeks after Paramount released NIGHTS, they made an out-of-nowhere announcement that Murphy was reteaming with Walter Hill and Nick Nolte for the sequel.  Not only that, they said it would begin filming in January 1990 and hit theaters in June 1990 with a budget rumored between $30 to 50 million dollars.  If you know anything about big budget filmmaking, that is freakin’ insane. The thought process from the studio was probably to bolster what had been a disappointing 1989 (only one Paramount title – the third Indiana Jones movie – made it into the box office top 20 that year) with a big name in a familiar situation. With a script by three writers – Jeb Stuart, Larry Gross, and John Fasano (yes, the filmmaker behind THE JITTERS and BLACK ROSES) – filming began as promised and lasted until April 1990.  Murphy even suffered an injury while filming the nightclub shootout, but soldiered through as they finished a few days ahead of schedule in mid-April.  So, yeah, they were still shooting up to six weeks before the film was scheduled to come out.  Post-production must have been hell.

When all was said and done, Hill turned in cut that was nearly two-and-a-half hours long. Paramount refined it and brought it down to two hours.  “Wait,” I hear you say, “the version I saw in theaters was only 90 minutes.”  Yup, in a true stroke for brilliance, the studio decided to cut an addition 30 minutes out of the film just weeks before it hit theaters.  Now you can understand why there are three credited editors on the film.  Sadly, to this day, none of the nearly hour worth of footage has appeared in any home video format. Yes, because no one wants more action and Eddie Murphy.

Not surprising since it was the only big release that weekend, ANOTHER opening in first place with a haul of just over $19.4 million dollars.  This was the third biggest opening of Murphy’s career, behind BEVERLY HILLS COP II (1987) and COMING TO AMERICA (1988) with $26 million and $21 million, respectively. Unfortunately, it topped out in the U.S. at $80 million.  A fine sum by a normal person’s standards (and far bigger than the original), but Hollywood isn’t filled with normal people. Because it didn’t crack $100 million in the U.S. like the aforementioned entries in Murphy’s filmography, the film was deemed a “flop.”  Yes, despite having made Paramount over a billion dollars up to this point, they were disappointed.  Murphy would actually take a break for two years after this film.  So, yeah, slapping a movie that cost tens of millions of dollars together in a matter of months might not be the best idea. The ultimate irony here is that Paramount ended up having the biggest film that summer in the fantasy-romance (and non-sequel) GHOST (1990), which only cost them $22 million dollars and went on to make $500 million worldwide.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Barely McKenzie: LES PATTERSON SAVES THE WORLD (1987)

With the return of the cult icon Hugh Keays-Byrne to international screens as Immortan Joe in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015), we decided to talk about some of his other film roles. You'd think we'd want to talk about some of the great films he has appeared in over the decades like STONE (1974), MAN FROM HONG KONG (1975), CHAIN REACTION (1980), or BLOOD OF HEROES (1989). That would be too easy when there are films like LES PATTERSON on hand. Quite possibly the biggest Aussie disaster since the 1899 destruction of Bathurst by cyclone Mahina.

Native Australian actor and writer Barry Humphries started his career with the creation of the hugely popular comic strip "Barry McKenzie", a biting satire of the ocker mentality (sort of an outback redneck), that turned into a cultural phenomenon which glorified the ockers, much to the chagrin of Humphries. Of course, I'm sure Humphries couldn't have been that irritated with it as it lead to his TV character comedies (Edna Everage being the most well known outside of Oz) and two very funny feature films THE ADVENTURES OF BARRY MCKENZIE (1972) and BARRY MCKENZIE HOLDS HIS OWN (1974), both directed by Bruce Beresford.

A Barry McKenzie strip from November 1966

Apparently Humphries decided that after a long string of successful outings he was done with all that and created a feature film based on his other attack on Aussie culture, Ambassador Les Patterson. I should point out that while some of his work comes off as good natured ribbing, Humphries did not intend them to be. In interviews he has expressed his contempt for Australia and was genuinely hoping to make people angry. Perhaps he finally succeeded in that goal.

After being fed a couple cans of beans in an attempt to sober him up, Australian Ambassador to the United Nations, Sir Les Patterson (Barry Humphries) delivers a drunken speech on the finer points of Oz, saying "we've got more culture than a penicillin factory!" These pearls of wisdom are only interrupted by a massive flatus that conflagrates setting Shiek Mustafa Toul (Garth Meade) ablaze.

While the Prime Minister of Australia, Bob (Paul Jennings), is in the midst of tearing Les a new one, he gets a call from US President Rivers (an uncredited Joan Rivers). Apparently Shiek Toul is the ruler of the small, but pivotal Arabic state that is about to accept help from the Russians to oppress the masses. The US is looking to support a military coup, installing a suave Colonel Richard Godowni (Thaao Penghlis) to the throne and securing the sales of military hardware. To this end, President Rivers demands that Patterson be promoted to the ambassador to Abu Niveah, thus ensuring a catastrophic breakdown that would allow Godowni to take over. A surprisingly complicated set-up for a movie that kicks off with an exploding fart joke.

Of course, upon arrival, Patterson discovers that Toul has plans on torturing him to death and asks if he has any last words, to which Patterson replies "Too right I do! My your balls turn into bicycle wheels and backpedal up your ass!" Much like Patterson's wingtip platform shoes, this Aussie insult was dated in 1987 and was actually used to much funnier effect fifteen years prior in one of Bazza's "authentic folk songs" in first Barry McKenzie film.

The coup is assisted by Godowni's right hand man Inspector Farouk (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who as it turns out is having an affair with the local embassy man (Andrew Clarke) while wearing make-up and tassles. Yep, as George White pointed out during a Facebook discussion of Keays-Byrne's RESISTANCE (1994), this is in fact the way you have never wanted to see him.

After the coup is successful, Patterson runs into a French scientist, Dr. Charles Herpes (Henri Szeps), who has discovered an antidote to an obscure virus that makes people swell up into a mess of squirting pustules before they die. Patterson convinces him that they could make a bundle by infecting the world with the virus and then presenting the antidote to much acclaim... and cash.  Unfortunately this plan is cut short when Godowni secretly makes a pact with the Russians who steal the virus with the plan to destroy America by selling them infected toilet seats. I'm probably making this sound more highbrow than it really is.

Fortunately Herpes has sent the antidote (or as Patterson puts it "the anecdote") to his sister, a drag lounge act in a revolving restaurant. When President Rivers discovers what is going on she shouts "I want Herpes! I wan't Herpes badly!" As if that wasn't funny enough it is actually recycled from a previous scene. I don't think I need to tell you that doing this joke twice doesn't make it any funnier.

Dame Edna is also thrown into the mix, here posing as the leader of a group of feminist housewife emissaries, the "Possums for Peace", when in fact she is an undercover CIA badass. Another good idea handled so clumsily by Humphries, you'd think Tom Brady deflated his balls.

This hot mess culminates in the revolving restaurant of which the speed has been accidentally ramped up to max by a mischievous koala bear, allowing for food to be smashed into faces and numerous tuxedoed waiters bearing silver trays of food to be comically knocked off their feet. Yep, we are getting a slapstick scene that was running on fumes thirty years prior. Hell, even Mel Brooks subtly mocked the cliche in BLAZING SADDLES thirteen years prior. This setpiece allows for an exchange between Edna and one of her "Possums for Peace" group in which Edna says "I think it is the San Andreas fault!" which gets the reply "I thought it was somebody's fault!" Oh the pain, the pain!

This pre-Austin Powers bumbling Bond satire is mainly just an excuse for a string of quite possibly the most forced humor in the history of cinema. The jokes feel like they were hastily written the morning of the shoot. Some even seem unfinished. In one scene Edna is told she will be put up in "the Hotel Sodom" and she says "like Sodom and Gomorrah?" to which the reply is "not quite." This is followed by a shot of the hotel sign that reads "Hotel Sodom". What happened there? Did Humphries lose the rest of that joke in a poker game or was the punchline the fact that the neon sign reads "Sod Hot" in the background of a later shot?

In one scene, that is possibly the funniest in the entire film, Patterson gives some money to a street beggar, saying "Australian dollars!" The beggar spits on them and says "do you have Mexican?" (ummm, in 1987 everyone knew what a peso is, but whatever). There are a couple of mildly amusing gags, but that is the closest we ever to a clever joke. More importantly he is managing to insult three countries in a single two-line joke, which has to be some sort of record. To be fair Humphries attacks everybody, but just doesn't do it in creative way as he did in BARRY MCKENZIE. For example, the Irish are targeted in a throwaway gag that features a man in thick glasses who puts on a pair of headphones the wrong way. You could use this gag with any nationality and it still wouldn't be particularly funny. If you want to see the Irish skewered, look no further than the UK series FATHER TED (1995), where priests are depicted as lecherous, diseased, alcoholic, dimwitted, vain and greedy, but with a razor-sharp wit.

Even worse, there is a scene in the White House where President Rivers is being shown an image of the virus, to which she says "it's horrible, it's like a little Vincent Price!" Hey, hey, hey! Say what you want about the Irish, but you leave Vincent Price out of this!

Directed by the other downunder George Miller (sometimes credited as T. George Miller), known mostly for TV work, but also credited with THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER (1982) and THE NEVERENDING STORY II (1990), does a fair job of presenting the material. Unfortunately with gags that would make an eight year-old groan, it's hardly his fault that the film comes off so poorly. Humphries has expressed embarrassment over this movie in our modern era, but I hope it's not because of the rampant politically incorrect content and more for the fact that this clumsy mess was written by a man whose name was once uttered in the same breath as pommy bastards such as Spike Milligan and Peter Cook.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi Vey!: RESISTANCE (1994)

With MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015) roaring into theaters this weekend, we figured we’d get something post-apocalyptic up for review.  Using our hive mind, Tom and I both ended up watching the Australian film RESISTANCE (1994) on the same evening without mentioning it to each other.  As they say great minds think alike…and apparently ours do too!  What led us both to this film is it was co-directed by Hugh Keays-Byrne, the great Brit-by-birth-Aussie-by-career actor. Keays-Byrne is legendary in the Mad Max universe for his portrayal of the villain Toecutter in the first film and – in one of the coolest casting moves by a director in the last few years – returned to the series as new villain Immortan Joe in FURY ROAD.  So seeing his version of a bleak Australian future was definitely interesting.  The end result was also, uh, interesting.

The film opens with a declaration that “the time is now” and explains how the people are rioting, the country is bankrupt, and martial law is in effect.  The bulk of the film takes place at the isolated Ithaca Flour Mill, run by the seedy (haha) Strickland (Bogdan Koca).  It is harvest time and Natalie (Helen Jones) has returned to her hometown with Wiley (Robyn Nevin) to get a temporary job in the fields/factory.  However, Ithaca forewoman Jean (Lorna Lesley) informs the workers that she only has room for fifteen people versus last year’s fifty, due to Strickland cutting a deal with the government to use prison labor.  This creates a conflict for Jean as well as her husband, Autrey (Sam Toomey), is currently locked up in one of these government work farms.  The dusty town is filled with all kinds of odd characters including Natalie’s family (that lives a tribal, off-the-grid existence) and Peter (Keays-Byrne), a drunk who bootlegs grain alcohol and has a dark political past.


What no one in the town knows is that the Government has passed the “Emergency Powers Act” and soon the place is surrounded by spike strips, huge tanks, a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears soldiers, and some downright bloodthirsty mercenaries.  When Autrey and another local boy escape from the prison camp and are killed by the soldiers, Jean decides she must team up with Natalie to offer a bit of the film’s title.

One of the problems with the film is I unfairly went into it with the Mad Max series in mind.  This was obviously helped by the VHS cover (see above) which depicts a tattoo-clad woman sporting an AK-47 seemingly ready to deliver some justice and seeing Aussie legend Grant Page listed as the stunt coordinator.  Unfortunately, this is a bit more Sad Max than Mad Max.  If you are waiting for the moment where the people rise up and take it to their military oppressors, you’ll be waiting a long time as that doesn’t happen until the 90 minute mark and lasts all of five minutes.  Such delayed pathos doesn’t really help when you keep thinking something is about to go off.  For example, after Autrey is killed, I thought that Jean was going to go off. Instead she decides to just go back to work and then pack up after she gets fired.  Later she illegally reclaims his body and the military stomps down to his funeral pyre…to politely ask a soldier to point out who stole the body and then do nothing.  It is a film that just doesn’t seem to get going, which is a shame as there are lots of fertile ideas.  For example, Peter’s activist past is brought up and you get the feeling he was tortured, but the filmmakers never delve into it (or even continue on with his story once he is identified by the Government).  It definitely has a us-versus-them mentality, but sometimes things are a bit too on the nose (like when someone screams at the military guys “fuckin’ animals, fuckin’ terrorists!”).  I assume the script was partially improvised as the final screen credit goes to The Macau Collective.  What the film does do pretty well is creating this little town and the characters that inhabit it.  That might just be down to casting regular folks who play themselves, but that works well.  Another aspect where the film is really stunning is the widescreen cinematography by Sally Bongers.  Sadly, the VHS copy I watched is full screen.  To make it hurt even more, the tape opens with a widescreen trailer that showcases the film’s gorgeous look in capturing these desolate locations.

What is interesting is watching the film and trying to imagine it as a prequel to MAD MAX (1979).  When I looked at it that way, it was kind of interesting.  The George Miller universe is open to literally millions of pre-energy crisis stories and it isn’t hard to imagine a scenario like this going down in the lead up to Miller’s dystopian future.  Adding to that is the fact that Keays-Byrne cast several of his co-stars from MAD MAX (1979) in supporting roles.  This hits home the best when we have Vincent Gil – who co-starred in MAD MAX (1979) as The Nightrider – as a gun-happy mercenary named Bull.  It’s not hard (and kind of fun) to imagine this character as a pre-war version of (or maybe the father of) his earlier character, creating a scenario to show how he became the lawless gear-head.  At the same time, doing that is a complete disservice to this film as it is not an action packed spectacle like Miller’s films.  There is one chase scene and a couple of big stunts.  As it stands, it is for Mad Max fans curious about Keays-Byrne behind the camera and Aussie film completists only. Hey, wait, that is us (said in unison 3000 miles apart).

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