April 30th, 2008

HAWK THE SLAYER (1980) **

Hawk the Slayer was released about two years too early to fully cash in on the whole Conan craze, but it’s far from the worse sword and sorcery flick ever made.  If you’re the kind of person who thought Krull made too much sense, then Hawk the Slayer may be the movie for you.

 

Hawk (John Terry) is a cunning warrior who aligns himself with a giant, a dwarf and an elf to rescue a holy woman from the clutches of his evil brother Voltan (Jack Palance).  Voltan is hideously scarred so he hides half of his face under a steel helmet that looks like a cross between Darth Vader’s dome and the Phantom of the Opera’s mask.  (I’m sure if Palance had his druthers, he would have covered the other half of his face too.)  Like every good warrior in these sword and sorcery movies, Hawk carries around a mystical weapon that he picked up out of a medieval box of Cracker Jacks.  In this one it’s called the “Mindsword”, a blade with a glowing handle that Hawk can make float around by using telepathy.  In the end, Hawk and his brother duel to the death and we finally get the see what Voltan’s messed up face looks like.  (Answer:  A Personal Pan Pizza.)  Oh yeah, and then there’s a gratuitous set-up for a sequel that mercifully never happened. 

 

This movie seems kinda like a sword and sorcery version of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, (except it’s not very good) as Hawk and his compadres get into lots of drawn out duels that feature lots of close-ups of the actor’s eyes before they finally get down to business.  The flick is also filled with incredibly cheesy effects (Silly String and Glo-Balls are used as magical entities) that will have you rolling with laughter, and action scenes filled with so much dry ice fog that you can’t tell what the Hell is going on.  There’s also a way out of place, but highly enjoyable electronic score in there too.

 

It’s pretty bad, but it’s got enough moments of (unintentional) hilarity to keep you watching.  The scenes of Palance groveling before a Grim Reaper like sorcerer in front of a red background are pretty hilarious, but the swordfights involving the ludicrous Mindsword will have you chuckling as well.  (The final battle between Hawk and Voltan is filmed entirely in slow motion to hide the fact that it only lasts 45 seconds.)

 

Palance thoroughly embarrasses himself here and Terry ain’t much of a hero, but cult movie fans will have fun spotting Patrick (A Clockwork Orange) Magee, Ferdy (The Fearless Vampire Killers) Mayne, Catriona (The Beyond) MacColl, and Patricia (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) Quinn in small roles. 

 

Say what you will about the film’s numerous shortcomings; at least it’s paced faster than a Mexican heading for the border. 

 

Terry later showed up in The Living Daylights.     

 

Palance gets the best line of the movie when he yells at a nun:  “There is no cure for this face, woman!”

THE SKULL (1965) ** ½

 

Amicus, the main competitor to Hammer Studios for British horror films in the 60’s made a spate of horror anthologies (mostly comprised of three short stories each) that were more often than not completely enjoyable.  With The Skull, they tried something a little different by doing away with their regular formula and ventured into the realm of feature length horror.  To ensure success, they even hired such Hammer vets as Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Michael Gough to star, and even tapped Freddie (The Evil of Frankenstein) Francis to direct.  While it’s not quite up to par with some of Amicus’ other offerings, The Skull is nevertheless a breezy horror outing with a capable cast and a few memorable moments.    

 

Cushing plays a collector of occult relics who purchases the skull of Marquis de Sade from a shady charlatan.  Little does he know that the previous owners of the skull all ended up with horrible fates.  You see, the Marquis’ spirit still inhabits the skull and drives it’s owners to murder and eventually kill themselves.  Pretty soon Cushing starts hallucinating like a hopped up hippie and imagines himself playing Russian Roulette in an empty courtroom, being trapped in a room where the walls close in around him, and (of course) sees the skull floating around chasing him.  He then goes insane and goes on a killing spree.

 

Francis builds in a modicum of atmosphere to the proceedings, like the pre-title sequence in the graveyard and the scenes where the skull flies around menacing Cushing.  The shots where the skull is superimposed over the action are quite effective and the final portion of the film (which is done completely without the benefit of dialogue) is also well done.

 

The biggest stumbling block is that the script (based on a short story by Robert Bloch) is way too thin to sustain a feature length movie.   On top of that, The Skull suffers from a leisurely pace and has far too many lulls in the action for it to be entirely rewarding.  If Amicus had shortened this down to about a half an hour and placed it in one of their numerous anthology movies, it could’ve made for a memorable segment.    

 

In my book though, any movie starring both Cushing and Lee (even films in which they only share limited screen time like this one) is automatically worth watching.  Both of them always deliver top notch performances, even if the films themselves come up a bit short.  Fans of both Cushing and Lee will no doubt enjoy their work here, but they’ll ultimately wish the script had a bit more meat to it.  

 

The Skull will be released June 3rd by the good folks at Legend Films who are now releasing several titles from the Paramount Pictures library on DVD for the first time.  For a complete listing of all their upcoming releases visit www.legendfilms.net today.

Z.P.G. (1972) ** ½

 

The 70’s saw a boom in science fiction films featuring dystopian futuristic societies and Z.P.G. (which stands for Zero Population Growth) was one of the few sci-fi offerings from England.  It plays like an amalgam of Fortress and Logan’s Run and while it may not be entirely successful, it contains enough interesting ideas and unique moments to make it worth a look.

 

In the future, the Earth is completely enshrouded in a hazardous haze of deadly smog, so everyone has to wear gas masks when they go outside.  People eat out of toothpaste tubes, zoos are filled with nothing but stuffed taxidermy animals, and couples use “Audio/Visual Erotica” instead of sex.  What’s worse is that overpopulation threatens the world’s food supply, so the government outlaws sexual reproduction.  Any parents wishing to have a child must go to The Baby Shop and purchase lifelike doll babies that are so realistic that they even catch colds!  When couples are found out to be hiding illegal children (people are encouraged to turn their neighbors in by being rewarded with “extra rations”), the whole family is put to death in an “extermination chamber”.

 

Geraldine Chaplin and Oliver Reed star as a couple who refuse to get their government sanctioned abortion and have to hide their baby from not only the government officials, but other baby hungry couples who want to get their grubby hands on their infant.   When they are found out by the baby police, they are locked up and targeted for termination.  In the end, the family manages to escape to the sea where an uncertain future awaits.

 

Z.P.G. is a wildly uneven but a nonetheless fascinating look into the future which is excellently realized on a low budget.  The Museum of the Past segment is easily the best part of the flick as the denizens of the future look upon such ancient relics as “gas pumps”, “dentists”, and “cats” with morbid curiosity.

 

There are a number of effective scenes like when Reed is captured by the “Library Police” who torture him for looking up “premature births” in their archives.  Or when the couple’s best friends learn about their baby and blackmail them into spending more and more time with the infant.  The special effects are kinda cheesy but they have a certain Thunderbirds-esque charm about them and don’t get in the way of the film’s overall message. 

 

If you couldn’t already tell, all of this is rather depressing and bleak, but the filmmakers weren’t out to make Starcrash here.  They actually had something to say and had a complex approach so I guess that should cheer you up a bit.  The film kinda loses it’s way once Chaplin actually births the unauthorized tot, but for the first hour or so, Z.P.G holds your attention rather well.  The performances by the two jumpsuited (Why the heck is it in all these 70’s sci-fi movies do the main characters have to wear drab jumpsuits?) leads are a bit stiff, but I guess that’s to be expected when all the people of the future are mindless drones. 

 

I could sit here and go on about the numerous shortcomings of the film, but all I gotta say is this:  Those “real” doll babies are pretty fucking freaky.  In fact, they give better performances than most of the actors in the movie!  You should check this flick out for those creepy kids alone.  (It would make a great double feature with The Sixth Day.) 

 

Director Michael Campus went on to direct the minor blaxploitation classic, The Mack next.

 

AKA:  Edict.  AKA:  The First of January.  AKA:  Zero Population Growth.

 

For more info on the upcoming Z.P.G DVD release, as well as a slew of others from Legend Films, go to www.legendfilms.net.

STRYKER (1983) **

 

What would it look like if you made a Road Warrior rip-off, changed the world’s most precious commodity from gas to water, hired a guy who looks like John Jarratt’s stunt double to star, got the man who gave you Vampire Hookers to direct, threw in a bunch of Jawas left over from Star Wars and only had the budget of about $12 hard currency? 

 

Why… Stryker, of course. 

 

Stryker, in case you’re wondering is this beefy looking dude who cruises around the post apocalyptic wasteland looking for water.  One day, he sees this chick get kidnapped and taken to an underground lair where the villain with a hook hand pushes her around.  The chick gets raped by some maniac, which leads to the great slow-mo scene of Stryker breaking the rapist’s neck while he’s in mid-thrust. 

 

So Stryker rescues the broad and heads out to the desert where he has to rescue a bunch of Jawas from the clutches of some Hell’s Angels.  Stryker then takes refuge with a bunch of beauty school dropouts wearing NFL licensed shoulder pads who tote around crossbows that match their outfits.  (These girls know how to ACCESSORIZE!) 

 

The Amazon women also protect the last remaining water reserve in the wasteland and want Stryker’s help in defending it, but he blows them off and takes a hike.  While Stryker is out taking a smoke break, he’s kidnapped by Captain Hook and gets beaten to a pulp.  Luckily the Jawas show up to save his bacon so he’s ready for the final showdown in which he guns down an entire army of Hell’s Angels with an M-60.   

 

Well we all know that director Cirio H. Santiago is in The Video Vacuum Hall of Fame for INVENTING the art of topless kickboxing in TNT Jackson, but I didn’t know he had it in him to direct a Road Warrior rip-off.  Although Stryker is far from the best post-apocalyptic action film to come out in 1983 (things get extremely sluggish once Stryker starts hanging out in the hippie commune), it does feature THE definitive US Army tank vs. dune buggy scene on record, and that my friends is worth SOMETHING in my book. 

 

As far as Road Warrior rip-offs go, it’s no Land of Doom, but it does feature a great musical score that sounds like Iron Eyes Cody fiddling around on a dime store Casio. 

 

And if you’ve got a movie called Stryker, it would be only fitting that he’d be given all the best lines like, “Everyone’s got their own highway to Hell.  You’ve got yours.  I’ve got mine!”, “You got a mirror in your mind.  Why don’t you go inside and take a good look at yourself and tell me what you see!” and “You know you’re like the clouds in the sky.  You look promising, but you’ll never give!”

 

AKA:  Savage Dawn. 

THE ATLANTIS INTERCEPTORS (1983) * ½

 

The director of Cannibal Holocaust, Ruggero Deodato was responsible for this ridiculous sci-fi action movie that plays like a hodgepodge of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghosts of Mars and The Road Warrior.

 

It’s the futuristic year of 1994 (the old future) and Atlantis has just risen out of the ocean off the coast of Miami.   The appearance of the mythical continent awakens the spirits of Atlantean warriors which are hidden inside random Florida residents and pretty soon they start dressing like extras from Mad Max, style their hair a la Mr. T and drive around on motorcycles.  These dudes are lead by a guy wearing a see-thru plastic skull mask and get their kicks by lobbing machetes into people’s skulls and strapping guys to their cars as if they were human hood ornaments.  The Atlanteans kidnap a cute archeologist and try to make her decode the secret that can return their continent to it’s former glory and it’s up to a pair of ragtag sailors to rescue her and send the Atlanteans back where they came from.

 

It takes forever for this movie to finally get going, but there was at least one excellent action sequence where the good guys endlessly pelt the punk rocker leather bar bikers with Molotov cocktails.  Other than that, most of the action is incompetently staged and incomprehensibly edited.  The miniscule budget doesn’t do the flick any favors as “Atlantis” looks exactly like Italy (imagine that) and the sets for the Atlantean inner sanctum wouldn’t have cut it on the old Star Trek show. 

 

As a whole, The Atlantis Interceptors may be one big pile of crap, but at least it’s got a great theme song (it sounds like they’re singing “Roly Poly Dance Inferno”) and features the best motorcycle decapitation via clothesline scene since She Devils on Wheels.

 

AKA:  The Raiders of Atlantis.  AKA:  Atlantis.  AKA:  Atlantis Inferno.