Sunday, June 13, 2010

Revenge of 3-D: COMIN' AT YA! (1981)

The Summer of 1981 saw the first 3-D hit of the ‘80s. A decade earlier Ferdinado Baldi and Tony Anthony had teamed up for the first time to create the “big” budgeted western BLINDMAN (1971) which was intended to be a comedy film following the success of THEY CALL ME TRINITY (1970), but when finished, took on a more serious tone with tongue-in-cheek moments. This formula suited the duo well and became an international success, paving the way for two more westerns from the pair, GET MEAN (1976) and COMIN’ AT YA! (1981).

On his wedding day H.H. Hart (Tony Anthony) has his ceremony interrupted by a pair of filthy bandit brothers who shoot up the wedding party, leaving Hart for dead and stealing his bride to be. After recovering from his bullet wounds in record time, Hart sets out on a path for revenge. Hooking up with a wandering old man who seems to know an awful lot about Hart’s quarry, Hart discovers that the brothers Pike (Gene Quintano) and Polk (Ricardo Palacios) are notorious white slavers who conduct raids on US/Mexican border towns to steal women to sell to brothels and Mexican army officials. Hart manages to capture the super-sleazy, obese Polk, tying him up and leaving him to be eaten by mangy rats, then successfully raids the villa, freeing the women, only to be captured by Pike in the process. All of this culminates in a showdown in a ghost town.

It’s worth noting that it has been reported that US distributor Filmways Pictures cut a sequence from the opening of the film that sets up Anthony’s character as a reformed outlaw. I haven't been able to find any evidence backing this up, but it's something to keep an eye out for. Lloyd Battista, the third part of the Baldi/Anthony team, writing all four of their collaborations, freely plunders the riches of his own themes used in BLINDMAN with the villains being a pair of sadistic brothers with woman issues (the younger brother, again, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and again involved in a rape relationship), a whole mess of captive women (all of whom are in their knickers), a drunken feast at which the women are displayed, and stuff blowing up for no reason.

Some have accused Baldi of creating a thinly-plotted excuse for a massive variety of 3-D set-pieces, and they would be partially right. COMIN’ AT YA! does feature a truly stunning array of 3-D effects, many of which are repeated in sequence to deliver more bang for what is essentially very little bucks. In addition to spears, knives and arrows (courtesy of a Native American member of the gang), guns and hands are Baldi’s favorite things to have bust through the screen. You can imagine the brainstorming sessions that must have been held while they sat around trying to figure out how many different 3-D gags they could come up with.  In a sequence where Pike and what’s left of his gang are waiting for Hart in a ghost town with his wife as bait, the gang members idly wile away the time by throwing things into the audience such as darts, playing cards and even an apple is peeled with the peel dangling out of the screen. In one sequence Baldi even falls back on his old school roots and delivers a menagerie of rubber bats on fishing-line to torment a room full of captive women (rubber creatures on strings is, or was, one of the Seven Deadly Sins of 3-D filmmaking. A cheap 3-D effect that helped kill 3-D twice). On the other hand, 3-D is used to great effect during a scene where Hart is peering out from under the wooden sidewalk to shoot one of the slavers in the crotch.

Even so, this could have easily been a straight-forward spaghetti western and a modestly entertaining one to fans of the genre, but it wouldn’t have been the surprise hit that it was raking in $12 million in the US alone. If that number seems low by today’s megabudgeted standards, just remember that the US distributor Filmways Pictures  no doubt paid something in the five figure range for the US rights. I imagine they would have been happy to pull in 10% of that figure. While COMIN’ AT YA was a modestly budgeted western to say the least with only a handful of locations and a tiny cast, Baldi is no piker in this arena and uses every nickel to his advantage, even splurging on extra filmstock to create quite a few atmospheric slow-motion sequences.

Granted some of the slo-mo is for extended 3-D effects (such as beans being spilled out of a burlap sack, gold coins cascading out of Pike’s hands onto Hart’s face, etc), even 3-D blood squib effects, but the scene in which Anthony’s character is skulking in the shadows while is bride is being simultaneously bid on by white slavers and being molested by two potential buyers is incredibly effective, building tension and adding “depth” to a scene that would not have the same punch if played flat and normal speed. In addition to that, Baldi sets the stage for his 3-D assault with an incredibly inventive opening credit sequence (which also serves to pad the running time); Hart walks through a set interacting with various props that have the credits printed on them and in one way or another pop out of the screen in 3-D. It is my opinion that all 3-D films should have credits like this. It’s interesting that instead of creating a trend, subsequent 3-D films (including TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS [1983]) went with a less enthusiastic approach with titles that were either in 3-D relief or simply floated above the action.

Though I can’t imagine why, somehow I missed seeing this in the theater, but I seemed to be the only one. All of my friends and acquaintances went to see it and we’re ridiculously enthusiastic about it. People who would never usually watch a western, much less a foreign one, raved about how awesome it was. Seemingly the only person who was unimpressed was Roger Ebert, who complained on television about the misogynistic violence and having an infant’s bare ass was shoved in his face. While it may not be the best western or the best 3-D movie ever made, it is solidly entertaining and paved the way for the second of a planned trio of 3-D adventures, THE TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS.

Last year a promo video was released for an announced re-issue of COMIN' AT YA! which would be awesome news, except that they've bewilderingly decided to give it a SIN CITY (2005) make over and added part of the BLINDMAN soundtrack. Here's the video, draw your own conclusions.

Moments of Clarity:

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