October 29th, 2009


Synapse Films returns with their latest compilation of exploitation trailers.  All of the trailers come from the folks at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin Texas, who know a thing or two about exploitation cinema.  As with most compilations in this series, it has it’s share of faults (too many dumb trailers in the middle section), but it also happens to be a lot of fun.  Out of the ever growing 42nd Street line, I think I have to say this one may be my favorite.


The opening sets the tone perfectly for what’s to come.  It’s a MPAA promo designed to explain the Ratings system and it’s hosted by none other than Charlton Heston!  For some reason though, “Chuck” is delivering his lines from a tennis court.  This only adds to the bizarreness.


First up is a chunk of Kung Fu previews.  The highlights include:  A Life of Ninja, The Bodyguard (“Viva Chiba!”), and Mad Monkey Kung Fu.  The trailer that really needs to be seen is the one for Lucky Seven.  It looks like The Little Rascals Take on the Mob.  What’s so great about this trailer is that nearly all the kids look like they do their own stunts and take what looks to be a LOT of abuse.


After a few lame trailers we get into the 70’s sex genre with the likes of Danish Love Acts, Group Marriage, and Caged Virgins (AKA:  Requiem for a Vampire).  The highlight of these previews is Chatterbox (starring Candace Rialson from Hollywood Boulevard).  It’s all about a talking and SINGING pussy!  Man, I have to see that flick!


Next up is a handful of trailers for Sci-Fi movies like Message from Space (which looks nuts), Mind Warp (AKA:  Galaxy of Terror; a movie that pretty much rocks), and awesome looking Megaforce.  (“The good guys always win… even in the 80’s!”)  After a few ho-hum action trailers, we get to Stacey; a movie directed by Andy Sidaris that I’ve always wanted to see.  Boy do I ever want to see it now!  Some so-so trailers follow until we see a trio of black themed previews (Putney Swope, Norman… Is That You?, and Redneck County) that all look pretty great for wildly different reasons. 


Then comes a run of trailers that is definitely the crown jewels of the collection.  These previews are all for family films of the 60’s and 70’s.  If your sanity is intact after you see The Magic Christmas Tree and Pinocchio’s Birthday Party, you’re a strong individual.  However, I guarantee the trailer for The Secret of Magic Island will be enough to make your head explode.  It’s all about puppies and ducks fighting a “villainous space age monkey”.  What’s even crazier is that the film’s stars are all played by real animals!  Unbelievable!


I still say my favorite trailer is the one for Sorceress.  It has everything you could possibly want in a movie.  Topless Kung Fu fighting twins, magic, monkey men, zombies, giant space griffins, witches, barbarians, imps, and even more.  Vol. 5 also features vintage ads for air-conditioned theaters, BBQ, coming attractions, shrimp rolls, and hot dogs too so you aren’t constantly bombarded with nothing but trailers.  Hopefully Synapse will put the Alamo in charge of their next release!


Negaal (James Ryan) is a disgraced South African kickboxer who goes around killing kickboxing champions and stealing their belts.  When he murders David Sloan (off screen naturally, keeping in touch with the series’ roots) his good buddy Matt (Mark Dacascos) goes out for revenge.  Negaal sends another kickboxer (Geoff Mead) to kill Matt but since he has a grudge against our villain as well, they decide to team up to take Negaal down.


Kickboxer 5 had me thinking early on that it was going to be the best sequel in the series.  For starters, there is a hilarious scene where Dacascos throws a henchman off a tall building and he lands on top of a limo that his gay lover happens to be in.  Ryan quickly orders the driver to take off while the body is still on top of the car.  As the car is flying down the highway, the guy realizes his lover is on top of the roof and he rolls the window down, grabs the dead guy’s wrist, and frantically checks his pulse.


Another scene that had me in stitches was when Dacascos arrived at the South African airport and fought a couple of guys in the luggage bay, Die Hard 2 style.  Then they chase him onto the conveyor belt where he promptly kicks their asses.  The scene closes on a great note as the unconscious bodies of the bad guys revolve around the luggage carousel lying on top of the passengers’ bags.


It was here where the film stopped being goofy and fun and started being your typical by-the-numbers kickboxing movie.  I have nothing against by-the-numbers kickboxing movies as long as the people involved can do the math.  Unfortunately, director Kristine (Critters 3) Peterson needs to work on her arithmetic.  The fights scenes are all choreographed competently yet they lack the oomph of the previous entries.  Peterson also allows the flick to get bogged down during the pointless montages of Dacascos sightseeing in South Africa.


Dacascos does what he can with the material, which admittedly isn’t much.  He does have just enough charisma to make you sorta root for him though.  Ryan’s character is far too cartoony to be a legitimate threat and the idea of stealing championship belts is kinda hokey. 


Overall, Kickboxer 5 is better than Part 3 but not quite up to snuff with the Albert Pyun directed sequels.  That is to say that it should probably be avoided unless you really dig kickboxing sequels that hardly have anything to do with the original film in the franchise.  Be glad someone wisely pulled the plug on this series when they did. 

EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN (1987) ****

Yesterday I was kinda complaining that Evil Dead 1 was hard to review.  Well, Evil Dead 2 is twice as difficult.  I mean I have seen this thing (literally) about 100 times.  You’d think I’d be able to properly analyze it by now, but no.  This is one of those movies that doesn’t need to analyzed.  It just needs to be seen.  Yesterday I described the first film as a rollercoaster.  If that’s so, then Evil Dead 2 is a G-Force simulator.


Let me clue you into how great this movie is.  This month when I’ve reviewed these horror franchise films, I’ve done so with my laptop on my lap, typing notes here and there before finally polishing up a full review.  I did absolutely nothing while watching Evil Dead 2 except just sat there and enjoyed it.  Even though I’ve seen the film a hundred times, director Sam Raimi still kicked my ass.


There are so many great scenes in this movie.  How about when Ash’s zombie girlfriend’s head falls off during a ballet number?  Then the head comes back and attacks him.  While trying to deal with that unfortunate situation (in the “work shed”), her headless corpse comes after him wielding a chainsaw.


Then there’s the classic scene where Ash’s hand gets possessed and starts hitting him with plates so he cuts it off.  Then it gets loose scampering around giving him the finger and causing him more grief.  Or how about when Ash gets trapped inside the fruit cellar with a grotesque demon named Henrietta?  (“I’ll swallow your soul!”)  Or when he slams the door on her head and sends her eyeball flying?  Or when he hacks up a possessed guy that spews green gunk everywhere?  Not to mention the scene where everything in the cabin starts laughing at him.  Or the part where the woods comes to life and attacks a chick (although not on par with the spectacular forest raping from the original). 


Then of course there's the scene where Ash attaches his trusty chainsaw to his arm stump and utters the immortal line, “Groovy!” before doing battle the witch Henrietta.  And the scene where he chops off her head before blowing her away.  (“Swallow this!”)  And that’s not even counting the awesome set-up for the sequel either.


Again, Bruce Campbell plays Ash but this time out he’s given some macho dialogue that perfectly compliments his ever-growing acts of heroism.  (“You’re going down!”)  As with the previous film, he gets every sort of blood, bile, vomit, and gunk shot into his face about every fifteen minutes and he does so like a goddamn pro.  That’s what makes Campbell so great.  I mean you don’t see Olivier doing shit like that, do you?


Then there’s Sam Raimi, The Michigan Madman who films the movie like a jackrabbit hopped up on No-Doz.  There is every kind of crazed camera shot in the book in this movie, along with a couple Raimi had to personally invent to fit his extreme vision.  The man is a fucking genius pure and simple.


Evil Dead 2:  Dead by Dawn is an assault on the senses.  It’s not scary exactly, but it’s disgusting, hilarious, and strangely enough; quite beautiful.  Not only is it one of the greatest horror movies ever made, it also happens to be one of the greatest FILMS of all time.


Evil Dead 2:  Dead by Dawn is Numero Uno on The Video Vacuum Top Ten Films of 1987.


<Tomorrow’s Horror Franchise Movie:  Army of Darkness>

KWAIDAN (1965) ** ½

Kwaidan gives us four Japanese ghost stories directed by Masaki (Samurai Rebellion) Kobayashi.  Like most anthology horror movies, it is fairly uneven and at almost three hours, it runs on way too long.  It still has enough moments of pure creepiness for me to give it a halfhearted recommendation.


The Black Hair  (** ½)  Tired of poverty, a samurai accepts a lord’s offer to marry his ugly daughter; even though it means that he’ll have to divorce his wife.  Although the marriage gives him wealth and good standing in the community, he nevertheless pines for his ex.  He eventually goes back to his first wife with deadly results.


The Black Hair is a slow-going affair that features very little dialogue and relies too much on the narrator to tell us what’s going on.  The deliberate pacing is partially compensated for by some inspired camerawork though.  While the twist ending is OK, it’s a bit one-note to really pack a punch.  It’s also a bit disappointing given the story’s meticulous build-up.


The Woman of the Snow (***)  Two woodcutters walking in a snowstorm take refuge in an abandoned shack.  During the night, a pale-faced banshee kills one of the guys but spares the other dude’s life on the condition that he never tells anyone about her.  He later winds up meeting a cute chick and they get married and have a family.  Then he makes the unfortunate mistake about telling her about the banshee.


This story has the benefit of some effective imagery (Love those eyes in the sky!) and an overall creepy atmosphere.  Too bad the ending is more than just a little predictable.  Despite that, along with being a bit too similar to the previous story (a man wrongs a woman with tragic consequences), I still liked it quite a bit.  This segment was later more or less remade as the gargoyle story in the Tales from the Darkside Movie.


Hoichi the Earless (***)  A blind balladeer named Hoichi specializes in songs of war.  One night he is visited by a ghost of a soldier who leads him to a cemetery where his dead brothers-in-arms demand to hear him sing about the battle they died in.  Hoichi’s friends get worried that he spends all of his nights in a graveyard singing to ghosts so they hire a priest to paint magic spells all over his body to keep the spirits away.  Unfortunately, the priest forgets to paint Hoichi’s ears and the ghosts rip them off.


Hoichi the Earless is the best story of the lot and is rife with stylish (almost theatrical) touches.  The battle sequences are colorful and the scenes inside the graveyard are appropriately eerie.  That said, it runs a bit long and has a few too many sluggish passages in between the cool stuff.  The ending is still pretty tight though.


In a Cup of Tea (**)  A guy reads an unfinished story about a feudal lord that is haunted by a face he sees in every cup of water he tries to drink.  When he finally says “Fuck it” and drinks the water, the ghost comes out of the cup and messes with him.  The story ends abruptly but then the guy reading it starts seeing faces in his water too.


The narrator tells us in the beginning of this story that some tales are left unfinished for one reason or another.  Kobayashi should’ve kept this story unfinished and left it on the cutting room floor.  While the concept of the face-in-the-water is sound, the decided lack of a decent ending winds up derailing this tale.


Kwaidan is a bit of a mixed bag.  The film features some impeccable costumes and impressive sets and I admired the craftsmanship it took for Kobayashi to capture his vision on screen.  However, this flick could’ve really benefited from some tighter editing (especially the first and third segments).  If you don’t mind the staggering length, Kwaidan should still fit the bill for anyone who likes a good ghost story.


AKA:  Kaidan.  AKA:  Ghost Stories.  AKA:  Hoichi the Earless.  AKA:  Weird Tales.

ONIBABA (1965) ***

An old woman and her daughter in-law make a living by killing wayward samurai, tossing the bodies down a big hole, and selling off their belongings.  Another guy starts helping them with their little enterprise and pretty soon he’s getting into the daughter in-law’s pants.  The old woman gets jealous in a hurry mostly because it’s been ages since she’s had the Sausage Special and she promptly throws herself at him.  The guy says no way Jose and keeps poking the other broad instead.  One day while the two lovebirds are frolicking in the fields, the old hag kills a samurai wearing a white demon-faced mask.  She then puts on the mask to frighten her daughter in-law into chastity.  The shit hits the fan when she realizes… THE MASK WON’T COME OFF!


The thing that surprised me about Onibaba was the copious amount of nudity.  Even though the flick is a black and white Japanese movie from the mid 60’s, it featured more bare female breasts than most 80’s sex comedies.  Sure, it was mostly the old woman who showed off her goodies but still; titties are titties.  (I wouldn’t go so far as to call her a GILF or anything but those things were perky enough for my tastes.)  Not to be outdone, the daughter in-law even gives us a brief glimpse of her bush too. 


Nekkid babes aside, I also have to commend the film for the scenes where the lethal ladies murder the men.  They had a certain kick to them and were fairly brutal in tone.  I also greatly enjoyed the moody drum-driven musical score.


For the most of it’s running time though, Onibaba is pretty dull.  Things liven up considerably once the mask comes into play but unfortunately that isn’t until around the 2/3 mark.  BUT… I will say that the ending is a real grabber and more than makes up for the pokey paced first and second acts.  I’ll tell you one thing; you won’t find me donning freaky looking samurai masks any time soon, that’s for damn sure!


AKA:  Devil Woman.  AKA:  The Demon.  AKA:  The Hole.  AKA:  The Ogress.  AKA:  The Witch.