Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Lost Boys (1987)

One thing that can get annoying when watching a movie with me is that I get wrapped up in the technical aspects.  I have wondered if this is because I have spent so much time reading about films rather than sitting back and enjoying them like others, but that's not it.  I truly enjoy watching movies, and the technical aspects that lead to visual story telling are much of my enjoyment.  I have enjoyed a number of movies largely due to decisions the director and cinematographer make, while ignoring obvious plot holes and serious deficiencies in acting.

These are not criticisms of The Lost Boys, mind you.  It's largely to set up why I remembered certain aspects of this film above others.  I saw it around the time it came out, and probably last saw it in the early 1990s.  What always struck me was Joel Schumacher's direction, from the long flying shots over the ocean and heading toward the boardwalk, the set design of the destroyed resort hotel and the creative effects as the vampires die.  It made me a fan of his, at least up to the point that he ruined the first Batman movie series.

Lucy (Dianne Wiest) has just divorced her husband and is moving back in with her father (Barnard Hughes) in the California beach town of Santa Carla.  Her boys Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) are not happy about the move, as their grandfather is rather eccentric, not even owning a television.  With nothing to do, they investigate the town's boardwalk atmosphere.

During a concert, Michael is suddenly entranced by a woman in the audience (Jami Gertz).  He follows her, only to have her take off with her boyfriend David (Kiefer Sutherland) and his miscreant pals.  He later finds out her name is Star, and confronts the boyfriend, only to be welcomed as a possible member in their gang. He follows the group to a resort hotel that was destroyed during the 1909 San Francisco earthquake, which serves as their clubhouse.  Despite Star's warning, he imbibes of what he believes is wine.

The next day he finds himself sleeping late, being sensitive to sunlight and trying to feast on Sam's blood while he babysits him.  Sam himself has had his own encounter, only with amateur vampire hunters Edgar (Corey Feldman) and Alan Frog (Jamison Newlander), who have provided him with comics explaining vampires and how to get rid of them.  Upon finding out that Michael is turning, he ignores the Frog brothers' initial advice to drive a stake into him and instead sets off on a quest to destroy the head vampire so that Michael will return to normal.

To Michael's credit, he holds back his urges to feed, which would finalize his transformation, although Star admits that she is close to giving in.  Their mother Lucy, unaware of what is happening, becomes increasingly frustrated, thinking that her sons are trying to sabotage her relationship with her new boss Max (Edward Hermann), with whom she is falling in love. 

Sam and the Frogs make things worse when, in an effort to save Michael, they enter the vampires' lair and kill Marco (Alex Winter), sparking the wrath of the surviving three.  With everyone in danger, and Michael's life hanging on the line, they plan a final standoff at the grandfather's house, using all their knowledge about vampires to take them down.

As I said, I remembered much the visual aspect of this movie over the years, as well as the punchline at the end of the film.  I had forgotten how much humor was in the movie, largely carried by Barnard Hughes and Cory Haim, although Feldman and Jamison Newlander do their part of playing the Frog brothers straight and without any type of forced irony you would see in a movie today.

The other thing I failed, thankfully, to remember is the concert scene.  It's an important introduction of Star into the story, but the way its done brings the film briefly to a crashing, unintentionally hilarious halt.  The mulleted, shirtless bodybuilder thrusting with his saxophone was a member of Tina Turner's band at the time, but regardless of whatever real music chops he has, it is a reminder of just how old this movie is now.  I really can't see that it worked back in 1987, which is another reason I am sure I put it out of my mind.

I still enjoy The Lost Boys quite a bit, but it is scenes like that and many more that, despite the fact much of the action and humor still translates, that remind me that it is uncomfortably a product of its time.  It's best viewed as a movie taking place in the time and place it does, as the styles of the time date this harder than most of the vampire movies that came before it.  Even its contemporary Fright Night isn't as brightly '80s as this.

It can be said that without this and Fright Night that vampire movies would have died a sad, withering death, as '80s horror had largely abandoned the more traditional monsters, with the exception being a sort of self-reverential comedy like Monster Squad.  For better or worse, and considering how dated the movie looks, The Lost Boys is as responsible for influencing vampire movies over the last 30 years as Dracula was for influencing them for a half-century prior.

It also contains some of the best vampire stakings ever filmed, all of them better than anything in True Blood, so there is that.

The Lost Boys (1987)
Time: 97 minutes
Starring: Cory Haim, Jason Patric, Cory Feldman, Jami Gertz, Kiefer Sutherland
Director: Joel Schumacher

Sunday, January 8, 2017

For a Few Dollars More (1965)

In typical Italian fashion, For a Few Dollars More was practically in production before Sergio Leone's previous film, A Fistful of Dollars, was in the theater.  That movie made Clint Eastwood, known largely at the time for his part in the U.S. television show Rawhide, an international star, and this sort-of sequel went on to cement his reputation.  It also served to resurrect Lee Van Cleef's career.

Still, this movie is overshadowed by both the preceding movie and the other one in the unofficial "Man Without a Name" trilogy, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  It does contain some elements that would be reused in the latter, and is a tighter story, though not as intricate.

Col. Douglas Mortimer (Van Cleef) is a bounty hunter.  After dispatching his current quarry, he goes for a bit more profit in pursuing "Baby" Red Cavanaugh (José Marco), only to find out that another bounty hunter named Monco (Eastwood) is after the same bounty.  Monco gets to Cavanaugh first, setting the foundation for a rivalry between the two. 

The situation is exacerbated when a dangerous outlaw known as El Indio (Gian Maria Volontè) is rescued from prison by his former associate Groggy (Luigi Pistilli), resulting in the massacre of several guards and the warden.  With a $10000.00 bounty on Indio's head, both Mortimer and Monco begin their pursuit, deducing (rightly) that Indio and his gang when attempt to rob a supposedly impenetrable bank in El Paso.

After a show of strength from both hunters, they settle on an uneasy partnership.  Monco agrees to infiltrate Indio's gang by freeing Sancho Perez (Panos Papadopulus), an important member of the gang that will make the robbery go smoother.  Monco is accepted by Indio, and tasked with taking three of his men to rob a bank in Santa Cruz as a diversion.  Monco instead kills the three men on the way, but forces the telegraph operator in Santa Cruz to send out an alert that a robbery occurred.

With the lawmen away from El Paso, El Indio's gang does hit the bank.  Both Mortimer and Monco lay in wait, but the robbers use a surprise tactic and leave town with the bank's safe.  Frustrated, Monco declares the partnership dissolved, but Mortimer encourages him to keep the agreement, joining back up with Indio and encouraging him to take his band north toward an ambush point.  Instead, Monco tries to convince Indio to go south, but the bandit decides instead to go to a different location: a small town called Agua Caliente, which is hostile to outsiders. 

It turns out, though, that Mortimer has already considered this option, and he is waiting for the bandits as well.  He helps Indio get the safe open, but when both he and Monco (separately) try to steal the money in the night, it is revealed that the robber knew all along that they were bounty hunters.  They are severely beaten, but Indio has even one more plan of his own: let the bounty hunters go, sending his men after them, knowing that his own men will be killed and, during the fracas, making off with all the money along with Nino (Ray Owens), his trusted compatriot.  What he doesn't know is that Groggy is suspicious, but also that Mortimer has more of a stake in bringing Indio down than just the money.

As is often the case with Sergio Leone's westerns, there is a general plot that contains as many twists and turns as your typical giallo film.  Both Eastwood and Van Cleef put forth strong performances, but often it is Volontè's complex performance that stands out.  Many of the sets were reused for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and will be recognizable - especially the arena where the final standoff occurs.

Also, as is normal with Leone, the filming is beautiful.  It would have been wonderful if he had ever got to really film in this part of the United States, but Almeria is often a good stand-in - except for the brief glimpses of Spanish castles and obvious Mediterranean palms.  It's still quite breathtaking, and it looks like nothing else that was coming out at the time, so much that if one didn't know the stars so well it would be hard to distinguish it from the movies of the directors Leone inspired.

For a Few Dollars More (1965)
Time: 132 minutes
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volontè
Director: Sergio Leone

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Addams Family (1991)

You may hear constantly about how my generation only had a few channels to watch.  Well, the generation before mine had even less, and at least whenever money was coming in we occasionally had cable.  But, even when we didn't, there was at least one or two independent stations in the market that played re-runs of I Love Lucy, The Andy Griffith Show, Gilligan's Island and on and on. 

Point is, although these shows had come and gone before we were born, they were still part of our weekday afternoons when we couldn't go out to play.  We saw them often enough that, although there was a 20 to 30-year gap, they were still part of our culture and our memories once we began to get older.  The Addams Family was one of those shows.

Although The Munsters took a lot of inspiration from the Universal Horror films, The Addams Family was always my favorite of the two horror-themed comedy shows.  I didn't know at the time that it was taken from a comic strip.  I just knew them as a strange family that always seemed to be playing opposite day - as well as that I was having some strange idea that Morticia may have quite a few less cooties than I suspected girls had at the time. 

It has been a long time since I watched most of the series, although whenever I revisit an episode or two (usually around Halloween) I know I enjoy it even more as an adult - enough so that I will probably take some time to go through the series, faults and all.  I think I was a little more connected with the original series back at the time the movie came out, since I had many of the same problems with it at that time as I have with other television adaptations.  Like the show, however, I think the passing of the years has improved my appreciation of the movie.

Fester Addams has been out of the life of Gomez (Raul Julia) and Morticia (Anjelica Huston) for 25 years after he and Gomez had a fight.  Tully Alford (Dan Hedaya) and his wife Margaret (Dana Ivey) are invited to the annual seance to contact Fester, and accepts after noticing that Gordon (Christopher Lloyd), the son of loan shark Abigail Craven (Elizabeth Wilson), is the spitting image of Fester.  Seeing a way to pay back Abigail the money he owes as well as make a fortune for himself, they hatch a plan to pass Gordon off as Fester, having him arrive at the height of the seance.

Gomez is delighted to have his brother back, while Gordon is understandably nervous that the ruse will be easily discovered.  It pretty much is, as certain things Fester should know and ways he should behave are suspiciously absent.  In addition, the Addams' daughter Wednesday (Christina Ricci) doubts his claim to have been on vacation in the Bermuda Triangle, as it is one of her main interests.  These fears are put to rest by Abigail, under the guise of Dr. Greta Pinder-Schloss, who claims to be Fester's therapist.

While Gordon tries to discover how to get into the Addams' vault, he inadvertently becomes more attached and at home with the family, eventually helping Wednesday and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) with their gory interpretation of Hamlet for an upcoming school play.  Abigail becomes increasingly frustrated with Gordon's reluctance to go through with the plan, while Tully finds out that Fester is actually the older brother and in fact the true owner of the mansion and the family fortune.  Armed with this knowledge, and with the help of a judge (Paul Benedict) who has long suffered as the Addams's neighbor, he has the family evicted while the trio search for the way into the vault. Meanwhile, the family attempts to deal with life among normal people - until a chance comes to take their house back.

It is hard to think that Raul Julia would be gone a few years after this movie.  He is energetic, enjoying every single bit of the role that most associated with John Astin.  He doesn't try to ape Astin's performance, but rather make it his own.  Anjelica Huston does the same.  Though PG, the two enjoy a healthy BDSM relationship that could only be carefully hinted at in the show.  It's nice to see it shine through here.  Director Barry Sonnenfeld, for his first film, wisely allowed the actors to do what they do best instead of making them just hit the expected notes.

The breakout performance that everyone remembers from this movie, of course, is Christina Ricci as Wednesday.  She delivers her lines perfectly, which is great since she is given most of the best ones.  Jimmy Workman plays Pugsley with the expected exuberance, largely to balance Wednesday's cold intelligence and detachment. 

Another standout is Thing (Christopher Hart), who is given quite a few more abilities in the movie due to not having to deal with the same effects limitations as the show.  Lurch is expected to be big and grunt, and Carel Struycken seems to have that down.  Happily, Judith Malina is given quite a bit to do with Granny, making her almost as entertaining as Wednesday. 

As for the others, Christopher Lloyd seems more along to pick up a paycheck, while the others are meant to be foils for the Addamses and do their job as needed. 

For a PG movie, there are plenty of bondage references, hints that a good portion of the family is "selectively" bred and a feeling that the family's value of human life is quite a bit different than most.  Surprising, since a lot of money went into this, and it's strange to think that just a quarter century ago studios were willing to take chances with something like this rather than pandering to the built-in audience for nostalgia sake. 

Funny and enjoyable as it is (and such a great reminder how you don't need bodily functions to carry a comedy movie), it does suffer from the fact that the plot seems to have been inserted largely as an excuse to string the movie along.  One whole segment, with Thing working an office job, feels like nothing more than a Federal Express commercial.  It also features MC Hammer's last gasp of fame as the credits run, even though it is hilarious to hear Cousin Itt (John Franklin) blasting "2 Legit 2 Quit" when he shows up for the party.

The Addams Family (1991)
Time: 99 minutes
Starring: Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston, Christina Ricci, Christopher Lloyd
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Cape Canaveral Monsters (1960)

Phil Tucker is nowhere near as well-known as Ed Wood, Jr., but he is similarly known for giving us a classic of bad filmmaking: Robot Monster.  Put a diving helmet on a guy in an ape suit and... instant movie!  To be fair, a number of 1950s monster films consisted of a few brief filmed shots, following a well-worn plot and relying mainly on narration and stock footage.

The fact that almost any cheap thing could get kids to spend their allowance on a Saturday meant that more of these cheap films received distribution than would today.  After all, quality usually didn't matter, since most of the audience was more interested in exploring each other rather than watching the film.  That said, it is a testimony to the awfulness of Robot Monster that it is still well-known today.

Tucker himself spent most of the time between that movie and The Cape Canaveral Monsters (his last) doing that decade's version of legal soft-core porn: two movies with Lenny Bruce featuring gangsters running strip clubs and a number of "documentaries" and comedies set in burlesque establishments around the world.  He spent most of the rest of his life working as an editor.

While the Lenny Bruce films are largely worth mentioning because of Bruce's involvement, it is in the realm of bad sci-fi where Tucker shined.

A couple on a beach are possessed by alien light beings, causing their automobile to crash and the man's are to be severed.  They take the arm, determined to sew it back on once they get back to the lab in their hidden space craft.

The craft is located in an artificial cave near Cape Canaveral.  As the aliens plan to make way for an invasion force, their immediate goal is to make sure all rocket tests fail so that humanity does not reach space.  Problem is, they become revealed once the male, Hauron (Jason Johnson) has his arm removed again by one of the guard dogs.  His continued incompetence annoys his companion Nadja (Katherine Victor), who constantly reminds him that he was not her first choice as a partner.

Meanwhile, Dr. Meister (Joe Chester) is frustrated with the repeated failures.  Tom Wright (Scott Peters) informs Maj. Gen. Hollister (Chuck Howard) that he believes that there may be some sort of sabotage going on.  While parking with Meister's daughter Sally (Linda Connell) and his friends Bob (Gary Travis) and Shirley (Thelaine Williams), Tom picks up static on his transistor radio that sounds like a possible transmission and begins to track it.  It fades, but they return the next night to find it.

As he does, Nadja and Hauron, searching for a replacement arm, kidnap Bob and Shirley and bring them back to the craft.  Shirley's soul is transported to their home planet, while Bob dies during surgery.  Tom and Sally find the cave, but are caught in a stasis beam and held captive until Tom, realizing that his bonds are controlled by radium, uses his watch to to break free and go for help.

With Hollister and the local police in tow, Tom leads a group to rescue Sally and stop the aliens in their tracks.

This is listed on IMDB as being a TV movie, which would surprise me for something from 1960.  The gore level is a bit much (say what you will, they did a halfway realistic mockup of the results of a car crash), while Shirley is stripped of her clothing and Sally spends most of the time hanging around the ship in her undergarments.  Not that I minded the last part, since Linda Connell, in her only role, is the one bright spot here.  She's actually sexy in a nerdy kind of way (best kind of way, in my opinion) and probably would have been able to handle a more substantial role if given better material to work with.

The dialogue between Hauron and Nadja is hilarious - more that of a bickering married couple rather than determined alien invaders.  I would mention that the hills and deserts of Florida are filmed well - except, of course, that Florida is known for everything but hills and deserts.

I will give it to Tucker that he managed to churn this out at feature length without relying on cheats like heavy use of stock footage.  The makeup isn't bad, and it does seem like a little thought went into making this.  It is entertaining but, like his previous movies, for all the wrong reasons.

The Cape Canaveral Monsters (1960)
Time: 69 minutes
Starring: Scott Peters, Linda Connell, Jason Johnson, Katherine Victor
Director: Phil Tucker

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Vanilla Sky (2001)

Rarely does a Hollywood remake of a foreign film get any praise from the director that made the original.  While Vanilla Sky did not get overwhelming critical praise when it opened, Alejandro Amenábar, director of Abre los ojos, said that this film was a complement to his original.  Two different, but they work together.

Though it still did decently at the box office, what it did largely was confuse and infuriate a fair share of its audience.  Tom Cruise was already losing people with his continual decent into Scientology.  His involvement in the frustrating final movie from Stanley Kubrick, Eyes Wide Shut, and the overexposure of his failing relationship with Nicole Kidman were doing more than a little to wear out the welcome of what was, at the time, the highest paid actor in Hollywood.

Against this background, and against a string of mediocre films, did this come out.  And, once again, it was a remake of a foreign film directed by Cameron Crowe, who was more known for romantic comedies like Say Anything and Jerry Maguire.  Truth is, it isn't all that bad, nor confusing, when viewed these days, even if many of the concepts are rather silly.

David Aames (Cruise) is a playboy publisher who seems to have everything going for him.  At a party, his best friend Brian (Jason Lee) introduces him to a woman he recently met named Sofia (Penelope Cruz).  David and Sofia quickly hit it off, leaving Brian frustrated and disappointed, though not surprised.  The one who is most upset, though, is model Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz), who has been hooking up with David for awhile and has come to love him.

David spends the night at Sofia's, but the two do not sleep together.  Aames likes to delay his satisfaction, stringing along women until they give into him on their own, and he begins the same process with Sofia, only he begins to develop feelings for her from the beginning.  The next day he is confronted by Julie, and he agrees to discuss things with her on a car drive.  Problem is, her idea of discussing things is to commit suicide and take him with her.

Aames survives, spending months in a coma and coming out disfigured and bitter.  He is able to regain the ability to walk, but becomes more and more isolated as he believes everyone, including the board of the company he inherited from his father, are against him.  One night he goes to a club with Sofia and Brian, but makes an ass out of himself, believing that Brian and Sofia have become a couple and that the woman he loves his gone.  He falls asleep on the sidewalk, only to be woke up the next morning by Sofia, finding that she does indeed love him.

In addition, the doctors provide some good news: a new procedure will allow them to restore his face to the way it was.  For once in a happy relationship, and his grip firmly back on his company, life seems to be going well until it appears that Julie may have survived the car crash and is now stalking him.  In addition, he finds himself incarcerated for Sofia's murder, which he insists he did not do.  His court-appointed psychiatrist, McCabe (Kurt Russell), slowly begins to believe Aames that his incarceration, as well as the murder, may be a fame job instituted by his company's board in order to remove him from his position - or even something additionally sinister, centering on a company that offers cryogenic preservation in order to avoid permanent death.

I think what got most people (since, I am assuming, like me, they had not seen the original) is that this goes from some weird murder/mystery involving a sort-of manic pixie dream girl to an unexpected science fiction film.  I remember early reviews saying that the movie was confusing, but the ending rather clearly wraps everything up, as long as you take the explanation given to David at the end at face value.  Cameron Crowe has tried to say there are alternate ways of taking it, but I think he did so because he wanted the movie to have a bit more depth than it actually does.

As it stands, Tom Cruise's performance of a narcissist brought low by reality, and his inability to accept when reality cracks his fragile concept of what his world is like, is spot on.  Cameron Diaz is given some horrible, laughable dialogue, although in the end she plays crazy rather well.  Penelope Cruz played the same role in the original and manages to be mysterious as well as alluring.  That one-dimensional performance may seem like a detraction, but there are reasons for her being such a construct that are explained.  Same could be said for Kurt Russell's largely flat performance as McCabe, since it also serves a particular purpose to David.

There are a lot of strange background details, largely technology that most definitely did not exist in 2001 that Aames seems to have, that also make sense within the context.  Still, it feels like, though Vanilla Sky is an okay film, that many of these details are, once again, to give it depth that it really doesn't have.  In the end David has to accept reality in one way or another, but it never really feels like he learns anything from his experience other than, ultimately, his vast amount of money really does help him get whatever he wants.  Maybe that is why Cruise could play him so well.

Vanilla Sky (2001)
Time: 136 minutes
Starring: Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Kurt Russell, Jason Lee
Director: Cameron Crowe

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Eagle Shooting Heroes (1993)

Rarely is the solution to raising money for the movie you are making, once it goes over budget, is to make another movie.  Such is the tale behind The Eagle Shooting Heroes.  Famed Hong Kong director Kar-Wai Wong was trying to finish his movie Ashes of Time, and rushed production of this one, using the same cast members, in time for the Chinese New Year celebrations.

I have not seen the other film, but both films take inspiration from Louis Cha's novel The Legend of the Condor Heroes.  In this instance, it goes for parody.  Again, I find myself at a bit of a disadvantage not knowing the source material, but this is light-hearted and strange enough to overcome that problem.

The evil Ou-yang Feng (Tony Chiu Wai Leung) and his cousin (Veronica Yip) attempt to usurp the throne of a kingdom, but the king refuses to give up the royal seal.  After being tortured, the king admits that his daughter (Brigitte Lin) has it.  Ambushed by Feng, she manages to escape on her magic horse in search of her kung-fu master in hopes of finding a way to defeat Feng.

Frustrated in his pursuit, Feng has the royal sorceress (Maggie Cheung) provide him with magic boots that allow him to fly.  However, he loses one of them and crashes, while the lost boot gets stuck in the head of a the returning master (and lover) of the Quanzhen Clan, led by Chou Po-tung (Carina Lau).  Seeing the princess remove the boot from his master's head, he and the other men of the clan pursue the princess for revenge.

Meanwhile, the princess reaches her destination, where the master pairs her with his apprentice Yao-shih (Leslie Cheung), who immediately falls in love with her, much to the chagrin of the woman he has been training with for years.  She sneaks off to kill the princess and win Yao-shih back, but runs into a beggar king named Hung Chi (Jacky Cheung), who claims to be her cousin and arranged betrothed.  She brushes him off, leading Hung Chi to attempt to kill himself.

The result of Hung Chi's suicide attempt is to survive, but only after knocking Ou-yang Feng unconscious as the latter tries to climb up from the branch he landed on.  A fight commences in which Hung Chi tries to get Feng to kill him, but Hung Chi's reflexes are too good to allow himself to be killed.  After Feng accidentally poisons himself, the two set off to town to find a doctor.

To further complicate things, the princess's fiancée, Tuan (Tony Ka Fai Leung) is told by his master that he can achieve immortality, but only by finding his true love and having them say, "I love you," three times.  He begins his search for a woman with three sixes on her chest that will prove to be the one, and breaks off his engagement with the princess.

The princess and Yao-Shih head to White Bone Cave, where the Book of Yin is hidden and protected by three monsters.  They must retrieve the book, learn the way of the Yin Kung-Fu and destroy all 9 pots in the cave in order to become invincible and win the kingdom back.  Problem is, Feng is also after the book and, after a fateful night spent at the inn, all parties arrive at the cave.  Feng is able to trick the monsters into turning the book over to him, and returns to the palace to put his knowledge to use.

To defeat Feng and save the kingdom the rest of the heroes must band together and use their combined skills.  Even that may turn out to not be sufficient - but they also may have some help from an unexpected source.

This is a quick-moving film ensemble film that doesn't spend a lot of time belaboring the plot, but instead provides a number of great comedic action sequences that are choreographed by Sammo Hung.  Since it is parody, they really amp up the ridiculousness that can come from wire fighting sequences and the mystic mumbo-jumbo used to justify it.  Almost everything is "mystical," "heavenly" or "magic," and most of it has hilarious results.  For instance, one move called "Three Flowers Bloom" reverses time and space - unfortunate for Tuan, who is at the time trying to relieve himself.

There are musical sequences, gender-bending, jokes of questionable taste and garish colors all over.  I loved it, even though I'm sure there was quite a bit that I missed since I am not familiar with the actual work which they are satirizing.  As a person who loves Hong Kong action films, this doesn't matter so much.  Many of the conventions they make fun of are a part of the Wuxia genre, so it still works.

The Eagle Shooting Heroes (1993)
Time: 100 minutes
Starring: Leslie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung, Tony Chiu Wai Leung, Tony Ka Fai Leung, Jacky Cheung, Carina Lau
Director: Jeffrey Lau

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Knives of the Avenger (1966)

Mario Bava is largely known for his horror films, and rightly so.  It was largely he that set the foundation for Italian horror, as well as for giallo suspense films.  That didn't mean that, like most Italian directors, he didn't take on jobs for hire from time to time.

Knives of the Avenger was toward the end of production, but it was running over budget and causing a headache for the studio.  After firing the original director, Bava was brought it to complete the film.  Instead of just completing it, he rewrote it and refilmed it in the course of three days. 

The result?  A halfway decent blending of sword and sandal adventures with the sensibility of a spaghetti western.

Viking princess Karin (Elissa Pichelli) is warned by her tribe's soothsayer to flee with her son Moki (Luciano Pollentin).  Karin's husband Arald (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) has been gone for three years, and is feared dead when his ship was sunk off the coast of Britain.  Seeing his chance, Hagen (Fausto Tozzi) returns from exile to claim the Arald's throne, as well as Karin for his wife.

Karin leaves her royal digs for a farm in the country.  One day, Helmut (Cameron Mitchell), a wandering warrior arrives looking for food and lodging.  She initially refuses him, but then decides to let him stay after he defends her and Moki from two of Hagen's henchmen.  He begins to be a father figure for the boy, teaching him how to use a bow and throwing knives, the latter being Helmut's preferred weapon.  He also begins to fall in love with Karin, but she rejects him, believing that Arald may yet return.

She reveals to him that Hagen was exiled after killing the wife and child of a king named Rurik, whom had recently become allies with her father due to her marriage with Arald.  The murders result in Hagen's exile as well as Rurik's vengeance upon Karin's family, culminating in her father's death and her rape at the hands of Rurik himself.  In the end, Rurik decides to spare Arald and concentrate his revenge on Hagen himself.

Karin never saw Rurik's face, but Arald did - and that is revealed to be Helmut, who may also be Moki's true father. 

While Hagen decides to further press his marriage demands on Karin, Rurik decides to challenge him.  Hagen escapes and kidnaps Moki.  However, Arald does in fact return and, after briefly battling with Rurik, the two ally to rescue Moki and put an end to Hagen once and for all.

IMDB says that the total budget for this film was $75000.00, but I am wondering if that was just what was invested for the three days that Bava spent filming and post-production.  It is obviously on a shoestring, but the sets are not bad, even if the costumes seem a bit laughable at times.  There is a fair amount of cheese, especially in the dubbing.  I am wondering if the sets were already built and not included in the final budget, or if they did what a lot of productions did and reuse material from previous films.

As for the story itself, if you substitute "reformed gunfighter" for "ex-Viking king with throwing knives," you can pretty much guess what you are in for.  There are two saloon fights - the first one not a knock-down drag-out affair, but instead one of those Mario Bava moments that make even a cheap, by-the-numbers production like this stand out.  It largely takes place in the dark, with Hagen and Rurik exchanging knife throws. 

The second is more traditional, but involves Rurik and Arald going at each other in such a manner that it results in them going out the back wall, down a hill and, finally, having to face each other on the beach before coming to terms.  This is also one of the places I think the lack of a budget helped: the swordfights are largely laughable affairs, but the fist fights seem like there wasn't too much time for rehearsal and that many of them may have accidentally landed.  I have a feeling that after three days what little everyone got paid was probably spent on bandages and slings.

Despite everything that should be (and is) wrong with the movie, I found it highly enjoyable.  Not a required watch by any stretch unless you are a Bava fanatic, but I wish more b-movie films of this type were anywhere near as fun.

Knives of the Avenger (1966)
Time: 85 minutes
Starring: Cameron Mitchell, Fausto Tozzi, Elissa Pichelli, Giacomo Rossi Stuart
Director: Mario Bava