September 23rd, 2009

PIRANHA (1972) *

A dumb blonde photographer (Ahna Capri from Enter the Dragon), her asshole brother, and her uptight boyfriend head on down to Venezuela to find some diamonds.  They hire a poacher (William Smith) to act as their jungle tour guide and he immediately gets the hots for the bubble-headed broad.  He slowly goes nuts and rapes her, feeds her brother to some piranhas, and sets fire to the village.  In the end, the photographer finally gets her shit together and blows him away with his own hunting rifle.

 

Piranha is one big snoozefest from start to finish.  There are numerous reasons for this.  First off, the trio of heroes are all irritating and will get on your nerves real fast.  Secondly, the lethargic pacing will put you to sleep PDQ.  Seriously, in one scene there is a long pointless shot of a sloth climbing a tree.  This shot only exists to prove that the sloth moves faster than the plot does. 

 

The big reason Piranha is such a waste of celluloid is that we don’t even see any piranhas (save for one brief close-up during the opening credits) until 75 minutes into the damn movie.  (It takes almost an hour for anyone to even say the word, “piranha”.)  What’s worse is that there is only ONE lousy piranha attack in the whole stupid film!  (It’s hard to tell whether or not the poacher got ate by piranhas or not because the last scene is so poorly edited.)  The movie really should’ve been called “The Poacher” because that’s who does all the raping and killing.

 

Although Piranha sucked hairy masculine balls for most of it’s running time, the excellent performance by William Smith made it somewhat tolerable.  Smith is just one of those actors that you enjoy seeing no matter how bad the movie is.  His considerable screen presence and erratic sleazy behavior was enough to keep me marginally interested in what was going on.  He also does his own motorcycle stunts during the film’s lone action sequence, which was easily the highlight of this shitty movie.

 

AKA:  Piranha, Piranha!

FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE (1940) ***

Buster Crabbe returns for his third go-round as Alex Raymond’s classic Sci-Fi hero, Flash Gordon.  This time out, Flash has to stop his arch-nemesis Ming the Merciless (the infinitely awesome Charles Middleton) from infecting Earthlings with a deadly disease known as “The Purple Death”.  The sole antidote is a substance called “Polarite” which can only be found on the icy world of “Fridgia”.  That means Flash and his band of do-gooders has to take off for the planet in their plastic toy rocket ship.  Along the way, Flash does battle with Ming’s minions and gets himself in and out of increasingly precarious situations.

 

Crabbe’s plucky spirit coupled with his bland charisma (he seems like a badass version of Zeppo Marx) makes him an ideal matinee idol.  He may be pretty wooden at times, but he’s still the definitive Flash in my book.  Middleton is also great and while he acts a bit more restrained than usual, his menacing performance is still a joy to watch.

 

Sitting through all 12 chapters of this serial at once will be somewhat of a chore (heck, even the condensed 87 minute version has its share of lulls) but there are still enough moments of geeky coolness to keep you pleasantly entertained.  From the cheesy props (the ray guns look like laser pointers) to the corny effects (those exploding robots are hilarious); this serial has it all.  Most importantly, it has tons of near death experiences for Flash to narrowly escape on a week to week basis (bottomless chasms, avalanches, explosions, etc.).  Of course, Flash survives it all without even getting his hair mussed. 

 

I also liked how this Flash serial was a bit more serious than the others.  At one point Ming talks about keeping prisoners in “concentration camps”.  They don’t really make a big deal out of it, but the parallels between Ming and Hitler are there if you wanted to compare the two.  The filmmakers know that this is just a kiddie Sci-Fi serial about toy rockets floating around on strings so they keep that highbrow stuff to a bare minimum.

 

Probably the coolest thing about the whole deal for me was seeing all the stuff that George Lucas stole from this serial when he made Star Wars.  There’s the scene where Flash dresses up like a guard to rescue Dale that’s almost exactly like the time Luke disguised himself as a Stormtrooper to free Leia in A New Hope.  Also, the snow planet looks a lot like Hoth from Empire Strikes Back.  And Ming’s castle resembles Jabba’s palace in more ways than one.  (The obvious similarity:  They both feature dancing slave girls.)

 

AKA:  Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe.  AKA:  The Purple Death from Outer Space.