Friday, August 22, 2014

Men Of Action... Assemble! Bolan and Remo to Battle for Big Screen Bragging Rights?

You can have your superhero movies... this was a great week to be a card-carrying Man Of Action.

First came the announcement that the grandaddy of the men's action novel – Mack Bolan aka The Executioner – was in development (again) for the silver screen. Bolan has been a property of interest in Hollywood pretty much since Don Pendleton debuted the character in 1969's WAR ON THE MAFIA.

Still chugging along thanks to a dozen or so new titles each year, Bolan has drawn the attention of everyone from Steve McQueen and Sly Stallone to Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood and even Groot himself, Vin Diesel (that one I can't see). I even have several copies of 70s-era Bolan paperbacks with a flag on the cover trumpeting its imminent arrival as a "major film series".

Alas, the film series we all wanted never materialized – I'd still love to see a young, lean Burt Reynolds in the role – and I think fans had long given up hope of ever seeing Bolan on the big screen. Then news arrived that AVATAR sequel screenwriter Shane Salerno had obtained rights to the long-running series from the Pendleton estate and was pitching a gritty, action-oriented (though PG-13) trilogy showcasing the man who basically wrote the book for The Punisher.

While the news was met with enthusiasm by myself and fellow men's action lovers/Bolan fans, I think that we all were taking a cautious, wait-and-see approach given the series' lengthy flirtations with the silver screen.

And BAM! Like Bolan taking out a warehouse of oily thugs with a trusty rocket launcher we got word that not only had the trilogy found a studio with some background in the Men of Action market – Warner Bros. – but that the project had secured A-list talent in front of and behind the camera. Warner has locked up director Todd Phillips and – thanks to GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – red hot Bradley Cooper as the lynchpins for what could be an action franchise to rival the Bonds and Bournes of the cinematic world.

Admittedly, I've grown to love Bolan – which wasn't easy after my first attempt at the character via the clunky TENNESSEE SMASH – so I'm thrilled to see him coming to a multiplex near me, in 2017-ish. (Which should coincide nicely with ER 53 featuring... MACK BOLAN!) But my initial thought upon hearing the news of A-list talent being attached to the character was the hope that maybe, just maybe, a blockbuster Bolan flick would result in Hollywood getting off their collective ass and making the movie I really wanted... a new Remo Williams/The Destroyer flick!

I've made no secret of my love for both Remo Williams (the book character) and the film REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS. In fact, our new issue – out soon! – features cover boys Remo and Chiun imagined by award-winning illustrator Neil Vokes. And if any series lends itself to our turbulent times with its blend of action, sci-fi, martial arts, politics, bromance and satire it's The Destroyer.

So color me shocked when I pulled up Facebook on my phone this afternoon as I sat on the beach and saw ER scribe John Grace crow "this is even better news than the Mack Bolan movie". Even as I shaded the phone with my hand and squinted through my sea-spray-coated specs I knew exactly what he was talking about – a new Destroyer flick was in the works!

But it wasn't just the news that Sony was planning a new Remo big-screen adaptation that got my brain going, it was the news that longtime Destroyer fan Shane Black was attached to direct a script co-written by series author James Mullaney (he co-authored #88: THE ULTIMATE DEATH and went on to author novels #111 through #131 as well as several installments of THE NEW DESTROYER series).

Though both projects are in the early stages of development – no casting has been announced for either project besides Cooper as Bolan – and it will be a few years before we see either on the big screen, this was a good week to be a fan of The Men of Action!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

SNOW JOB (1972)

SNOW JOB (1972) features a thin, transparent plot with Olympic gold medalist Jean-Claude Killy starring as a ski instructor who cooks up a plot to steal a quarter of a million dollars from the resort where he works.

He enlists his rich girlfriend (real life wife Daniele Gaubert) and an American pal (Cliff Potts) to help with the scheme and all's well until a charming insurance investigator played by Italian cinema legend Vittorio De Sica arrives to find the stolen cash.

Director George Englund takes his time with SNOW JOB's setup and heist, showcasing the skiing skills that made Killy an international star. Unfortunately, the skier is no actor and is largely outshone by both Potts and De Sica and has surprisingly little chemistry with his wife, who would disappear from the big screen after this flick.

Working from a script by first-time scribe Jeffrey Bloom (who would go on to write and direct such 80s schlock as BLOOD BEACH and FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC), Englund somehow manages to make SNOW JOB feel both languid and rushed. Clocking in at an even 90 minutes, he crams the film's best part – Enrico Dolphi (De Sica) arriving in town to investigate the heist – into the last 15 or 20 minutes while too much time is spent watching Killy and Co. schush around the mountain to Jacques Loussier's jaunty score.

I suppose SNOW JOB is supposed to capture the same crackle as heist flicks like GRAND SLAM (1967) but Englund never creates much tension with either the robbery or its aftermath. If you've watched a couple of similar European "caper" flicks you're bound to see the twist coming from miles away. This was Killy's only dramatic role though he would make an ill-advised appearance as himself in the 1983 Jim Carrey dud COPPER MOUNTAIN, co-starring Alan Thicke and Dick Gautier.

Available via streaming on Warner Archive and Amazon, SNOW JOB is one of those obscure flicks that's itching for a proper remake.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

LUCIO FULCI: An Appreciation of the Italian Grandfather of Gore

Lucio Fulci would have turned 87 today. And while most gorehounds discovered his work thanks to his Golden Age of Gore that features such classics as ZOMBIE, THE GATES OF HELL and THE BEYOND, his lengthy career in Italian cinema stretches far beyond the genre in which he's frequently pigeonholed. A slightly different version of this appreciation of Fulci appeared in issue #24 of the late, lamented music/wrestling/smut/movie mag Carbon 14. 

Is it sad that I attach more sentiment to my memories of Lucio Fulci – The Italian Grandfather of Gore – than I do to my own ancestors? I suppose it isn't surprising when you consider their respective roles in my upbringing. All my grandparents were dead by the time I was a teenager, right around the time Grampy Lucio took my hand and guided me through his world of grindhouse cinema.

At the drive-in we sat in our lawn chairs, sipped cheap beer and watched GATES OF HELL (aka CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) as John Morghen got a drill through the head for being creepy, slow-witted and trusting. We cut classes at Drexel to venture to the Budco Midtown for something called SEVEN DOORS OF DEATH (aka THE BEYOND) which featured sinister spiders, nasty zombies, and another of Lucio's trademark head-scratcher endings. Good times, good times. And I haven't even mentioned the hours spent watching – and re-watching – flicks like ZOMBIE, HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, MANHATTAN BABY and NEW YORK RIPPER.

But recently, something interesting has happened – I've discovered another side of Grampy Lucio. It's like flipping through your grandparents' photo album and realizing that the loose-looking flapper or the Zoot-suited hoodlum is actually the kindly old soul who bakes pies for holiday dinners or took you to the fishing hole for a lesson in baiting a hook.

Despite a filmography that's top-heavy with juicy, paint-the-screen-red titles like those mentioned above, Fulci was quite the cinematic chameleon. After toiling as a screenwriter and assistant director on a number of Italian comedies, he began his directorial career with THE THIEVES (1959) a flop that drove him into a succession of musical comedies, a genre that had become a worldwide sensation thanks to Elvis, Frankie and Annette. The influence of the early days of the James Bond series can even be seen in the mid-Sixties spy flick 002 OPERATION MOON, which can be found under numerous alternate titles like MOST SECRET AGENTS, OH! THOSE MOST SECRET AGENTS and WORST SECRET AGENTS.

Sergio Leone's landmark Spaghetti Western A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) may have been responsible for MASSCARE TIME (1966) a Franco Nero vehicle that represented Fulci's first foray into that genre.

As the swinging sixties came to a close, the director tackled one of his most complex and intricate tales, a thriller called ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER (1969, aka PERVERSION STORY). Having been raised on a steady diet of Alfred Hitchcock and Brian DePalma, it became apparent – after a ferociously upbeat jazz-scored credit sequence – that this would be a sinister tale of murder and misplaced accusations. It's got it all – the sick wife, the creepy sister-in-law, the two medications that if switched could prove fatal, the glory-hog doctor/anti-hero, and so on.

Once our victim checks out and signs start pointing to the handsome doc, Fulci kicks it into "innocent man wrongly accused" overdrive and we're left to ponder a number of questions as the story unfolds. Who's the hot blonde doppelganger doing the striptease on the motorcycle? Why is that guy shadowing our hero? Am I gonna get some Euro-lesbian action or WHAT?!

ONE ON TOP is actually one of those rare instance where I wish the flick was longer. Things are going along nicely with Fulci delivering an involving thriller despite some wooden acting and convoluted scenes. And then BLAM! It's like there's 45 minutes missing! Suddenly, our good doctor is on death row, it's getting near gas chamber time, the culprits appear to have gotten away with murder and then twists are layered on top of surprises... all delivered by a newsman talking into a microphone! It's like a comedy sketch where they've run out of money and just tell you what happens rather than show it.

Fulci's 1970s output jumped all over the cinematic map, ping-ponging between thrillers (LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN) and Dario Argento-influenced giallos (DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING and the haunting THE PSYCHIC) to westerns (FOUR GUNMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE) and horror comedies in the wake of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (DRACULA IN THE PROVINCES).

The success of 1979's ZOMBIE – which established Fulci as the premier Italian gore film director – was due in large part to the success of George Romero's landmark DAWN OF THE DEAD (1977). Produced in association with the legendary Argento, Romero's flick ignited Italy's Spaghetti Splatter industry and ushered in the grisly gorefests that would keep grindhouse fans and drive-in patrons glued to their seats for years to come.

But that didn't stop Fulci from detouring into strange and unexpected territory. 1980's CONTRABAND pulls back on the gore reins while setting up a tale of naïve smugglers who resist influences to get them involved in the drug trade. Fabio Testi stars as Luka, a family man/smuggler who enjoys a good life while throwing cops off his trail with exploding boats loaded with rubber dummies.

When a shadowy underworld figure known as The Margliese starts applying pressure to the heads of the crime families, Fulci shines and the flick perks up. There's an uncomfortable sequence where a chick gets her head set on fire for trying to pass bad drugs and when the villains kidnap Luka's wife the body count rises, double crosses ensue, surprise revelations are, um, revealed and the master paints the screen red in the gory shootout finale. Occasionally confusing but frequently entertaining, CONTRABAND is an unexpected crime-thriller with enough action and sadistic gore to keep viewers interested.

The period after CONTRABAND represents Fulci's landmark era of horror cinema. CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) would be a "greatest hits" reel for most directors of the time and 1981's THE BEYOND is one of the most haunting (and gory) masterpieces of horror cinema. While HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981) is no match for the genius of THE BEYOND, it's still an effective and creepy take on haunted houses – with a zombie thrown in for old times sake. MANHATTAN BABY and NEW YORK RIPPER (both 1982) veered into the then-popular slasher genre but received limited distribution and lukewarm receptions at the time.

Between 1983 and 1984, Fulci helmed two more out-of-left-field projects: the futuristic actioner THE NEW GLADIATORS and the sword-and-sci-fi "epic" CONQUEST. Though they would represent his last efforts outside the horror genre, both flicks are intriguing and entertaining in their own way.

Pre-dating Governor Schwarzenegger's THE RUNNING MAN by several years, THE NEW GLADIATORS mines the fertile post-apocalypse genre for a tale that mixes equal parts social commentary and barbaric sports flicks like DEATHRACE 2000 and ROLLERBALL. Due to slipping television ratings, the World Broadcasting System has resurrected the idea of gladiators for 'The Battle of the Damned'. In a nutshell, a dozen convicted killers battle it out with the survivor receiving their freedom.

To goose the ratings, Cortez (the guy running the whole shebang) decides that he needs a people's champion. So, they hire Drake (played by Jared Martin, later seen on the syndicated 'War of the Worlds' )... a pasty-faced, sunken-chest ween we're supposed to believe is the world's greatest 'Death Bike' champ. He's in prison for the murder of the guys that offed his young bride. Along for the ride is Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, who (I hope) amassed a small fortune acting in these things.

As expected, 'The Battle of The Damned' is the flick's price-of-admission highlight – competitors get gouged, set on fire, decapitated (in loving Fulci slow-mo) and generally abused. Like THE RUNNING MAN, THE NEW GLADIATORS features a mission to knock out a satellite, a maniacal man in charge, framed competitors, a "people's champion" and more.

While NEW GLADIATORS lets Fulci deliver social commentary with the bloodletting, CONQUEST is nothing but a good-time genre-splicing mish-mash that will either entertain or enrage you. Grafting snippets of the sword-and-sandal genre (think CONAN) with a certain well-known space opera, CONQUEST has it all. If by "all" you mean: a bevy of chimp/wolf creatures that are like the third cousin of Chewbacca, twice removed; female actresses that are either topless, covered in blood, drawn and quartered, or all of the above; cascades of blood; a couple decapitations; and, who can forget the "arrows" that appear to have been created by scratching the negative with a paper clip!

Fulci would direct a baker's dozen of theatrical and TV flicks – give or take – after these final non-horror outings, though none met with the acclaim of THE BEYOND and ZOMBIE. In March of 1996, just weeks before beginning pre-production on THE WAX MASK (eventually helmed by effects guru Sergio Stivaletti), Fulci died as a result of a diabetic attack.

While the very mention of his name conjures up images of flesh-eating zombies, sharp implements to the head and visions of the afterlife, don't let Lucio Fulci's rep as the Grandfather of Italian Gore fool you. Check out the surprising and unique cinematic detours that dot his impressive filmography.

Monday, May 19, 2014

THE STABILIZER's Arizal Dead at 71

Plenty of genre icons have left us in recent months but this one will probably not get much digital ink.

Sutradar Arizal – simply credited as Arizal – died at the age of 71. I had no idea who or what an Arizal was until good pal and Cinema Arcana honcho Bruce Holecheck introduced me to the magic and majesty that is THE STABILIZER. An Indonesian action flick starring Brian May lookalike Peter O'Brien, it's such a magnificently enjoyable slice of sinema it's nearly impossible to put it into words (though one of these days I'll try).

Arizal also directed such actioners as AMERICAN HUNTER (another over-the-top winner starring Chris Mitchum), FINAL SCORE (Mitchum again) and DOUBLE CROSSER, not to mention a number of other Indonesian flicks I won't pretend to know anything about.


Friday, May 09, 2014

CALL GIRL OF CTHULU (2014)

Baltimore filmmaker Chris LaMartina's old school horror comedy CALL GIRL OF CTHULU gets both the "horror" and the "comedy" spot on in this gory riot inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft.

A virginal artist falls for an escort, unaware that her butt cheek birthmark is her ticket to being the bride of Cthulu. Chock full of gore, grue, boobs, blood and laughs, CALL GIRL harkens back to the days of plucking a classic like BRAIN DAMAGE, THE CONVENT, FRANKENHOOKER or one of the BASKET CASE flicks off the video store shelves.

Coming to video (hopefully later this year according to the filmmakers) but try and see it on the big screen with a raucous, trash-loving crowd. Look for a full review in Exploitation Retrospect #52.


Thursday, May 01, 2014

June 3rd is Ralphus Day! BLOODSUCKING FREAKS Comes to Blu-Ray!

Gasp!

Few films of the VHS era ever spoke to me quite like Joel Reed's hysterical BLOODSUCKING FREAKS (aka THE INCREDIBLE TORTURE SHOW).

Thanks to its softcore antics, seedy veneer, absurd plot, outrageously ridiculous gore effects and over-the-top acting from everybody involved it never fails to entertain.

And now it's coming to home video in all its sleazy, re-mastered glory!

June 3rd is officially Ralphus Day as Troma releases (unleashes?) a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack featuring:

  • High-Def Transfer from the Original Materials
  • Widescreen 1.85:1 Presentation and Dolby 2.0 Stereo
  • New Bonus Features including interviews with Eli Roth and wrestling star Chris Jericho (?!)
  • A Never Before Seen Deleted Sequence 
  • And, a Original Title Sequence for Sardu, Master of the Screaming Virgins
July brings a 30th anniversary Blu-Ray Edition of THE TOXIC AVENGER but as great as that flick is (and it definitely put Troma on the map) it can't hold a candle to BSF for me.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

ER Lives, Upcoming Shout Factory Action Double Bill, Weng's Chop 5 and More

While waiting out a torrential downpour here on vacation I decided to use my free time to check on the ER blog and discovered it had been a shocking two-plus months since I'd posted an update.

Granted, I have the usual annual excuses like my January through April work schedule to go along with some personal events, but I'm still surprised I hadn't posted anything in more than two months.

Things seem to be starting to return to "normal" and ER 52 is even nearing completion despite an intended release date of Fall 2013 (I always tend to be a little optimistic on those print dates) – hopefully you'll all think it was worth wait.

Anyway, just wanted to pop in, let you know we're still kicking and drop a few pieces of news and notes while I drain some PBR and watch the really large palm tree outside wave back and forth in the storm...

Brian Harris, Tim Paxton and Co. have released another issue volume of the mighty Weng's Chop and it's a doozy. But don't take my word for it. Jason Beck of Post-Modern Trashaeology has a great review of the new issue (complete with a nice shout out to ER and his review of issue 51).

Speaking of Tim Paxton, the longtime zine fixture has relaunched his MONSTER! zine and has already produced not one, not two, but three (!) installments of the latest incarnation of the influential and informative publication.

Need a little action in your life this summer? Shout Factory has announced a Blu-Ray featuring Jim Brown and Christopher George in I ESCAPED FROM DEVIL'S ISLAND plus the Lewis Collins SAS vehicle THE FINAL OPTION which I remember from its days in heavy rotation on PRISM. The flicks will be available as a Blu-Ray double bill or part of a DVD quadruple feature which also includes SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL and Tony Anthony's TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS.