February 9th, 2009

THE DEVIL’S SWORD (1984) **

The evil Crocodile Queen raises her henchman from out of a mountaintop to stop a wedding.  He floats around on a rock, crashes the wedding, kills just about everybody who RSVP’ed and kidnaps the groom so that he may pleasure the Croc Queen.  Our hero, Mandala (Indonesian action superstar Barry Prima) arrives on the scene and teams up with the bride-to-be to rescue her man and to find the titular sword; the only weapon that can slay the Queen.  Along the way, Mandala fights “Crocodile Men”, battles a one-eyed monster and cuts a bunch of Indonesian extras to ribbons.

 

The Devil’s Sword is kinda like a low budget Indonesian Conan rip-off (instead of a villain that controls snakes, we get a villainess who controls crocodiles).  It’s chockfull of nutty action scenes, swordfights, and Kung Fu fighting yet somehow it never completely worked for me.  Sure it was fun for the most part, but the swordfights are all more or less the same and the flick’s general WTF charm eventually wears off after awhile.  The Devil’s Sword pretty much shoots its wad early on and since it runs a pretty steep 101 minutes; it’s just not able to sustain the giddy weirdness it promised in the first half of the film.

 

That’s not to say the flick doesn’t have some good stuff in it.  There are death by crocodiles, decapitations, leg amputations, and people who get cut in half and reattach themselves.  Prima is pretty good in the lead and his dubbed voice is good for a laugh or too.  Unfortunately for me, the music in this movie sounded almost exactly like the ringtone for my cellphone so I kept constantly looking at my phone throughout the movie; which really started to irk me after awhile.

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987) * ½

This review goes out to my buddy Ryan Kenner who has his own action movie review website (http://www.geocities.com/pistolsblazing85/MoviesInTheAttic.html) who sent me an email demanding more Dolph Lundgren reviews.  I’ll pretty much do anything for my fans, so Ryan, this is for you.  Hope you like it as I got plenty more Dolph flicks en route from Netflix…

 

If you were a boy-child of the 80’s like me, you played with Masters of the Universe action figures (unless your parents were specifically breeding you for a decidedly un-hetero lifestyle; that is).  I loved sitting on the floor playing with He-Man Skeletor, Orko, Man-At-Arms and Teela in my Castle of Grayskull playset while simultaneously watching the Masters of the Universe cartoon.  As much as I loved He-Man, my all time favorite Masters of the Universe character was Stinkor; a kind of mutant half-man half-skunk that literally smelled like a real skunk.  I have to congratulate the toy exec who thought THAT one up.  (“Hey guys, let’s make a toy that smells like a SKUNK!”)  Only in the 80’s…

 

Anyway, Masters of the Universe was the big-screen version of the He-Man action figures/cartoon/Marvel comic book.  I never saw it as a kid because my internal BS monitor knew it was going to be bad.  Even at nine years-old, I knew that if it was made by Cannon Films you know that the budget is going to be about seven bucks, so you shouldn’t expect quality of any kind.  And speaking of cheap, He-Man (Dolph Lundgren) and Co. only spend about 15 minutes on their home planet of Eternia before a dumb ass wizard named Gwildor (Billy Barty) zaps them into present day California.  (Which is much cheaper than filming in Eternia I suppose.) 

 

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.  What happens is Skeletor (Frost/Nixon’s Frank Langella) imprisons the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull.  He-Man and his buddies try to rescue her but have to escape to another dimension using Gwildor’s “cosmic key”.  They end up in California where a dumb chick with dead parents (Courtney Cox) finds the key and she and her keyboard playing boyfriend try to make music with it.  (“It must be one of those new Japanese synthesizers!”)  This predictably gets Skeletor’s attention and he rides into California on what looks to be a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day float and he kidnaps He-Man and takes him back to Eternia.  In the end, He-Man finally gets his mitts on his sword, says his catchphrase “I HAVE THE POWER!” and kicks Skeletor’s ass.

 

In short, it’s He-Man In Name Only.

 

I loved the cartoon and the toys, but this movie just fills me with venom.  WHY in God’s name does a He-Man movie have to take place in California?  (Answer:  To further line Golan and Globus’ pockets.)  Seriously, how hard would it have been just to film the flick out in a desert somewhere and pass it off as Eternia?  I mean that Grayskull set is actually pretty cool looking; couldn’t they have just set the whole movie there?  NOOOOO… instead we get a lot of stupid scenes where He-Man interacts with various idiotic Southern Californian types.  ARGH! 

 

Masters of the Universe just doesn’t much feel like a He-Man movie to me.  While He-Man, Skeletor and Evil-Lyn somewhat resemble their plastic counterparts, Teela looks like a reject from Thunderdome.  Of Skeletor’s henchmen, only Beast-Man is a real character, although one guy does look like Trap Jaw a little bit.  (Where’s Stinkor when you need him?)  Plus there is no ORKO!  There is only this Gwildor idiot who gets on your nerves in every scene he’s in… and he’s in just about every scene! 

 

The moronic teens also wore thin on my nerves and the gratuitous dumb ass cop (James Tolkan from Back to the Future) made me want to strangle somebody.  And the less said about the scene in which Skeletor wears a golden crown that makes him look like a disco version of Galactus, the better.  To further save on money and add to the movie’s woes, Castle Grayskull is just a cheap looking matte painting and looks pretty terrible too.

 

I tried to like Dolph in this movie.  It’s not his fault that he sucks.  With his perfectly coifed mullet and perpetually blank stare, Dolph is pretty much a non-entity in the film.  The mortal sin the movie commits is that it never really gives He-Man anything to do and at all times, he seems to be stuck on the sidelines while all the other menial supporting characters hog the spotlight.  Langella gets to ham it up but his performance is a thankless one since he’s buried behind tons of latex.  Meg Foster, with her magnificently blue eyes does a fine job as Evil-Lyn; although like He-Man she just kinda hangs out for most of the movie.

 

Things I DID like about the movie:  The laser gun battle in the music store, the scene where He-Man flies around on a hovering surfboard, Bill Conti’s Superman-ish score, and any brief scenes that actually took place on Eternia.  Director Gary Goddard later went on to direct the live action segments for the Terminator 3-D ride.

 

Over the past couple of years, Hollyweird keeps threatening to remake He-Man.  Make them stop.

EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977) * ½

I’ve always been a big Bert I. Gordon fan and have a special place in my heart for his Giant Fill-in-the-Blank Running Amok Movies of the 50’s such as The Amazing Colossal Man (Giant Man Running Amok), Earth vs. the Spider (Giant Spider Running Amok) and Beginning of the End (Giant Grasshopper Running Amok).  Unfortunately what works in the 50’s doesn’t exactly work in the 70’s.  The proof is in such Gordon dreck as Food of the Gods and this turd.  It’s all about Giant Ants Running Amok.  At least in Food of the Gods you had a little bit of variety because there were ginormous wasps, worms, rats, and even CHICKENS (!) running loose.  Here you only get giant rear-projection screen ants.  Bummer.

 

Joan Collins stars as a real estate swindler who shanghais a couple of interested property developers into going onto an island off the coast of Florida to start up a new resort.  Since radioactive material has recently washed up on the shore, that means there are giant ants lurking around waiting to gobble up the land developers.  The people that survive the initial attacks wind up in a small town where everybody acts rather odd.  Turns out the ants are controlling the populace using pheromones and aim to brainwash poor Joan too.

 

Empire of the Ants is genuinely pathetic in just about every way.  While the first ant attack scene is good for a chuckle, the unintended laughs dry up pretty fast as Gordon films each giant ant encounter in the same dull fashion.  Gordon mixes scenes of “real” and rubber ants haphazardly and all of the “optical” effects are goofy at best and shoddy at worst.  Although the repetitive nature of the film is somewhat livened up once the people make it to Ant-Ville, Gordon even drops the ball on those scenes too.  You can get some satisfaction out of seeing Joan Collins getting eaten by a giant ant, but that’s about all there is to recommend this canker sore of a movie about.