October 28th, 2009

HANDS OF DEATH (1974) **

When an undercover agent gets killed trying to bring down a big time opium ring, Roc Tien is called in to investigate.  He goes around beating the tar out of people and acting cool for about 80 minutes until he comes face to face with the big boss man.  It goes without saying that Roc kills him since he has Hands of Death.


I am totally unfamiliar with Roc Tien but he seems like a pretty cool guy to me.  He’s proficient during his fight scenes and has a generous amount of charisma.  Roc also directed this bad boy and he stages the action rather well, although some of the bad guys are kinda shoddy at Kung Fu.


What really knocks the movie down a notch is that it never quite knows what it wants to be.  It starts out as more or less a spy picture (it even reuses some music cues from Diamonds Are Forever) then it turns into a Kung Fu flick, then it goes back to more spy stuff.  I think if old Roc could’ve made the plot transitions a bit smoother, Hands of Death could’ve been pretty tight.  I’m still giving him the benefit of the doubt though because he’s cool in front of the camera.  I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to see another Roc flick, that’s for sure.


What I dug about the film most was the whole Hands of Death angle.  Roc kills people with one punch to the chest (or back, like in the scene where he disguises himself as a masseur and kills the guy in a steam room) but nothing is ever really made of it.  He never says, “Beware my Hands of Death!”, which I thought showed a lot of composure on his part.  This guy didn’t have to brag about his lethalness, and that was refreshing.  Having said that; I would’ve enjoyed seeing him in a flashback scene at his job interview to be a spy.  I can see it now:


Employer:  “Roc, what makes you think I should hire you over all the other applicants?”


Roc:  “Well boss, I’ve got good people skills; I can type 45 words a minute, plus I got that whole Hands of Death thing going for me…”


AKA:  The Notorious Bandit.  AKA:  The Tongfather. 

THE EVIL DEAD (1983) ****

Here’s another horror classic that somewhat hard for me to review since I’ve only seen it about a bazillion times.  I mean how can you put your finger on what makes The Evil Dead so great?  It just is.  You don’t watch The Evil Dead as much as you experience it.  They don’t call it “The Ultimate Experience in Grueling Horror” for nothing folks.


Everybody knows the plot:  Five people go to a remote cabin in the woods where they find the Necronomicon, The Book of the Dead.  They play passages from the book on an old tape recorder and awaken evil spirits in the woods that possess everyone except for Ash (Bruce Campbell).  Armed with a shotgun and a chainsaw, Ash fends off attacks from his ghoulish, white-eyed, zombified friends and tries to stay alive through the night.


Director Sam Raimi made this sucker on the cheap and gave us one of the greatest horror films of all time.  His crazy camerawork would go on to be copied in numerous films, but nobody can handle that Steadycam like The Master.  The Evil Dead also introduced the key ingredients of the franchise namely:  Scenes of possessed women floating around and telling everyone that they’ll die, the chainsaw, decapitations, and Bruce Campbell getting hit in the face with every form of bodily fluid known to man.


The Evil Dead also gave us one of the most unsettling scenes in the history of mankind.  That’s the scene when Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) gets raped by the woods.  And I don’t mean near the woods, I mean BY the woods.  On top of that we have the gnarly No. 2 pencil into the ankle scene, the part where the possessed chick bites off her own hand, eyes getting gouged out, bodies being totally dismembered, and Play-Doh faced zombies rapidly decaying until coleslaw comes out of their sleeves and demon hands emerge from their back. 


And how fucking great is Bruce Campbell in this movie?  While I prefer his interpretations of the character more in the later films of the series (you know, when he became the wisecracking know-it-all), he’s still awesome here playing the more kindler, gentler Ash.  Plus, nobody and I mean nobody can take gallons of bile to the face like Campbell.


Mostly though, the first Evil Dead belongs to Raimi.  Once he begins cranking out the scares, the movie never lets up.  It’s easy to forget just how creepy this movie is (my favorite creepy moment is when Linda starts chanting, “We’re gonna get you” over and over again), especially next to the two increasingly cartoonish sequels.  With The Evil Dead, Raimi devised one gore-soaked rollercoaster ride that deserves it’s place on the short list for the greatest horror films on the planet.  Incredibly, Raimi actually managed to top it four years later with Evil Dead 2:  Dead by Dawn.


The Evil Dead is Number 2 on The Video Vacuum Top Ten Films of 1983 list, just below Return of the Jedi and right above Scarface.


AKA:  Book of the Dead.


<Tomorrow’s Horror Franchise Movie:  Evil Dead 2:  Dead by Dawn>

TEENAGE TWINS (1976) *** ½

As I was preparing my Evil Dead review, I happened to do a search for other Necronomicon-related movies and found this 70’s XXX flick.  I had heard of the film before because it featured real life twins (Brooke and Taylor Young) having sex but I never knew it had a supernatural plot to it.  With a little more digging, I was able to find the movie itself online.  Turns out it made pretty good double feature with Sam Raimi’s classic.


The film's focus is mostly on a set of teenage twins (hence the title) who experience each other’s orgasms.  There is Hope (Brooke Young) who is the slutty one and the aptly named Prudence (Taylor Young), the virgin (although she does let people eat her out).  When their stepfather finds the Necronomicon, he reads about an incantation in the book that can stop the girl’s psychic connection.  All it takes is having an orgy inside of a pentagram.


The sex scenes are poorly shot and edited but they are more or less hot.  At least contain more variety than most pornos of the day.  There’s a scene where Prudence masturbates using the Bible, a girl-girl scene with the sisters in their bedroom (where a Mick Jagger poster is prominently displayed), two-girls-one-guy (mother and daughter no less), two-guys-one-girl, anal (“Oh no, not in my ass!”), and the gang bang at the end. 


What really makes Teenage Twins stand out is it’s mean attitude and surly demeanor.  When Hope finds her mother cheating on her stepfather she blackmails them into letting her join in.  (“I’m going to fuck your lover mother, and you’re going to watch!”)  Or when Hope chides her sister for being a prude and says, “Eat that trucker’s cum from my pussy!”  Dialogue like this more than makes up for Teenage Twins’ lack of polish.


Like in The Evil Dead, the Necronomicon is bound in human flesh but otherwise it looks like a textbook.  The book is mostly just an excuse to get people together in the living room to read it so they have sex on the sofa.  I don’t see anything wrong with that.


Brooke and Taylor aren’t much in the acting department because they constantly flub their lines.  Both of them however can fuck like bunnies.  The Young sisters seem to actually enjoy the fuckings they get, which is more than you can say for a lot of 70’s porn actresses.  The score is also better than your average porn because it incorporates big band sounds and synthesizers along with the usual wa-chic-a-wa-ka music.


Overall, you got lots of fucking, a short running time (67 minutes), incest, and a cameo by the Necronomicon.  How can you go wrong with that?  The Young sisters returned two years later in Double Your Pleasure.


AKA:  Teenage Tarts.  AKA:  Twin Tarts.  AKA:  Young Tarts.


Gert (Goldfinger) Frobe stars as a police inspector whose fishing trip is put on hold when he has to solve the murder of an Interpol agent.  Turns out a nefarious crime syndicate is rearing it’s head on his turf and he’s got to put a stop to it.  In the end we learn that the presumed dead criminal mastermind Dr. Mabuse (Wolfgang Preiss) is alive and using an army of mind-control prisoners to do his bidding.


The Return of Dr. Mabuse has some patchy pacing yet it still has it’s moments.  There is an effective death by flamethrower (the fire stuntwork is excellent), a body tossed in an acid bath, blind men are run over, and one-legged men are strangled.  (This Mabuse fella really hates the handicapped apparently.)  The film is rich in atmosphere (the cruddy black and white photography is actually an asset) and Frobe gives a good performance too.


On the downside though, the movie is way too episodic for it’s own good.  Frobe goes to question a suspect, Mabuse kills them, Frobe gets irritated.  Repeat.  This gets a little tiresome after awhile and prevents the film from really cutting loose. 


The Invisible Dr. Mabuse was the next in the series.


AKA:  In the Steel Cabinet of Dr. Mabuse.  AKA:  In the Steel Net of Dr. Mabuse.  AKA:  Phantom Fiend.  AKA:  The FBI vs. Dr. Mabuse.  AKA:  The Phantom Meets Dr. Mabuse.

ROBOT PILOT (1941) *

I knew I was in trouble when Forrest Tucker’s name appeared THREE times in the opening credits.  (“Forrest Tucker in… Robot Pilot… Starring Forrest Tucker… Forrest Tucker as Jerry Barton.”)  The biggest mistake about the movie though is that I kept watching it.


A scientist invents a remote controlled toy airplane and all of a sudden he thinks he’s hot shit.  He tries to sell his idea to the government who puts his technology into a real airplane.  When that crashes, it’s back to the drawing board.  While the scientist tries to perfect the formula, his trusty pilot (Tucker) tries to woo some bitchy broad.  In the end, a spy steals the plane and takes off but the scientist dude is able to use the remote control to bring him back down so the Feds can get him.


You’d think if you were making a movie about spies trying to get their hands on a top secret remote control plane, it would be filled with a lot of spying and stuff.  Unfortunately, most of the flick is filled with lame-ass scenes of Forrest trying to romance that damn dame by forcing her to do a lot of housework.  And man, did it ever suck.  The only part of the movie that’s worth a damn is the WTF cameo by Billy (High Plains Drifter) Curtis as a judge.


Most movies made around this time had a lot of negative African-American stereotypes.  Robot Pilot features some pretty bad Mexican stereotypes, so you can tell that it was at least trying to be different.  The gratuitously unfunny comic relief Mexican who brays like a donkey is pretty awful and the way the white folks treat him is even worse.  “All Mexicans are named Pedro!”


Director William Beaudine did everything from The Ape Man to Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla; from Billy the Kid vs. Dracula to The Green Hornet.  He was nicknamed “One Shot Beaudine” because he only used one take to film his movies.  One shot was too many for this flick.


AKA:  Emergency Landing.