23 October 2009

Pray For Death

Pray For Death
United States - 1985
Director - Gordon Hessler
USA Home Video, 1986, VHS
Run Time - 1 hour, 33 minutes.

Just look at that huge box, now that is a thing of beauty designed by "The Art Department" no less. It's a cheap take on the 80's color splash design style but at least it mirrors the pattern from the front on the back. Nice continuity. The patriotic colors are great too considering the distributor and the story line which features Kosugi as a Japanese expatriate trying to find peace in the USA. If they'd called it American Ninja they would've made bank.
After witnessing the brutal glory that is Sam Firstenberg's Revenge of the Ninja I was sold on Sho Kosugi so I picked up a couple more of his movies including the prequel Enter the Ninja starring Franco Nero. Pray for Death had some of the highest reccomendations of all of Kosugi's films so I was very excited to find it, especially in one of these giant "please just try and steal me" boxes.
Though this tape claims a run time one minute longer than that listed at IMDB, it is still somehow possible it was edited. Unfortunately that doesn't change the fact that it was boring.

This here is a trailer for the movie "Die 1000 Augen der Ninja", alternate West German name of Pray For Death from Spannick's YouTube channel. In Germany Ninja have one thousand eyes but the trailers are still better than the movies they advertise. Now that I've posted this I suppose I'll have to rewatch it in the hopes that my memory is wrong.

21 October 2009

Limit Up

Boy was I lucky, a couple of years ago when I ordered a copy of the Anna Nicole Smith movie To The Limit the seller accidentally sent me Limit Up. Easy mistake to make, but when informed of the mishap they still sent me To The Limit and let me keep Limit Up at no extra charge!

United States – 1989
Director – Richard Martini
MCEG Virgin Home Entertainment, 1990, VHS
Run time – 1 hour, 28 minutes

In the long history of European contact with the African continent and New World the darker races have always held a frightening mystique for the white man. Unable to trust or to resist them, the dark “other” is conveniently blamed for Whitey’s own moral weakness.
Begin with naïve white girl Casey (Nancy Allen of Robocop), a country lass of sorts unfamiliar with the ways of the city. The city in question is Chicago where the Mercantile Exchange and its mountains of grain cry out to be traded with excessive gesticulation. And our country girl yearns to gesticulate, but this match made in heaven is stopped short by the subtle name and arrogant patriarchy power of alpha-male trader Oak (Dean Stockwell of Quantum Leap & Blue Velvet)

Thus, pity is suitably conjured in the forces that be and Casey’s very own Magic Negro is summoned from the inner-city ether. But Nike is no ordinary Magic Negro, she is the first self referential Magic Negro, possessing the amazing ability to manifest herself as any of the myriad racial stereotypes that lie at the very root of her inception. Thus, the last of Casey’s innocence is shed at the behest of a fast talking mammy. But Nike offers more than just broken hope, she also offers the possibility of redemption. At the price of Casey’s soul.

Surprise! Nike is actually an evil Magic Negro in the employ of a Dixiecrat Satan who sometimes likes to upset the status quo, but only in slow, plodding barely discernable steps. Casey can enjoy a little success turning the man’s world upside down, but adding the adjective white in front of man’s world and you’re upsetting the quo a little too much. America just isn’t ready for that. So Casey’s dreams are semi-realized, not through hard work and perseverance, but by superstition and reliance on a time tested hierarchy of racial dominance. Upon reaching the top of the heap Casey decides that Nike’s usefulness is at its end and declines to fulfill her side of the bargain.

And that’s okay since based upon no particular ability or work of her own Casey is now successful, famous and solidly rooted in the dominant class. She can learn her lesson with a little good natured ribbing from her new maid, Nike (see back cover).
Yep, we were just kidding, Nike really is just a regular old Magic Negro. After a brief stint of housecleaning she returns to the slums to stand around the barrel fire with her boss God, (Ray Charles, no shit) and plot their next dastardly social retrenchment.

A couple of VHS boxes I borrowed from Living On Video

17 October 2009

Fangoria 80 - Donald Pleasence

I was really wanting to post something from one of my old Gorezone Magazines instead of another Fango article, but in light of my recent post about the super crappy (but fun) Chuck Vincent film Warrior Queen, I couldn't resist this article. In that writeup I waxed poetic about the uncanny ability of Donald Pleasence to play crackpot characters. Since he's been dead for 14 years I didn't feel so bad about calling the guy a madman, but I thought it would be fair to let him express his opinion on the subject. In a form anyway.

It might also be noted that I recently said I wasn't going to post anything related to horror films for the entire month of October. In this case if you read the article, Pleasence emphasizes his strong dislike for horror films, so I feel vindicated.

15 October 2009

Today's Special vol. 1

Today’s Special Vol. 1
Canada – 1983 (episode “Smiles”), and 1985 (episode “Fun”)
Director – Robert Gardner, Ted Regan and Clive Vanderburgh
Morningstar Entertainment, 1995, VHS
Run time – 1 hour (30 minutes per episode)

Growing up I was just on the periphery of the satellite and then cable television age. It was just starting to pick up all the niche possibility that syndicated programming wouldn’t dare touch lest specialization alienate any demographic. Cable TV could afford to specialize because syndicated TV wouldn’t. It was an intensely abridged TV version of the industrial revolution; from broad generality to acute specificity in (some number of) easy steps. Today’s Special was a children’s show produced in Toronto, Ontario Canada, and carried by Nickelodeon for several years. In 1987 when I was watching it I hated this show because it seemed claustrophobic and creepy. Twenty-two years later it’s hilarious.

Jodie works in the children’s section of a department store doing something. She is rather attractive and does seem quite friendly and compassionate, enjoying fun group activities with. There is nothing particularly special about her except that she seems to enjoy a job that completely secludes her from social contact. Except for what she gets from her friends.

Jodie does serve as the lonely pivot around which a bizarre scene unfolds each night when her closest friend Muffy, also Canadian and unremarkable except for her status as a mouse who speaks in rhyme and possesses the ability to give life to inanimate objects that wear plaid Gatsby caps. More specifically one mannequin named Jeff. One might be inclined to wonder why he never wears different clothes. He is on display every night when Jodie takes him out of the window, so why is he always dressed the same? Are plaid vests and Gatsby caps always in style in Toronto? And why does the children's department need an adult male manequin dressed as a golf caddy? But the mystery of the magic mannequin is merely a footnote to the monolithic magnetism of Sam Crenshaw. He makes gin-blossomed security-guard grandpa look like pure celebrity. Everyone in this premise has their species gender opposite; Sam does have Mrs. Pennypacker the stockroom granny, who’s just sad and devoted to her job enough to go in for that saggy lush and his heartwarming shenanigans.

But what’s remarkable is that everyone loves Sam and goes out of their way to accommodate him as if they were fawning over a cultic guru. He seems at any moment on the cusp of choosing the lucky mother for his next commune love child or uttering some mindblowing prophecy like “Donuts with chili.” Their adoration should come as no surprise. As the chief operator of the most powerful computer system in the world, the TXL Series 4 Sam does hold sway over the existence of the entire tiny Today’s Special universe and can materialize donuts out of thin air. That’s no laughing matter even now, much less in Canada in the early 80’s.

The sexual undercurrent in Today’s Special is not funny either; This is not a euphoric spiritual halucination. Years after I was subjected to Today’s Special there was another show I watched simply because it was on TV and I was damn sure going to watch something even if it was boring. Are You Being Served? was a British sitcom in which all the employees in a department store made constant sexual innuendos. Each character in Served also had a similarly aged gender opposite and was based on the very real London department store Simpson’s of Picadilly, while Today’s Special was set in and filmed on location in an equally real Simpson’s department store in Toronto.
You cannot make this cosmic shit up.

Unofficial Today’s Special website which includes a present day photo tour of the Simpson's building.

Since there were never any DVD's and the VHS tapes online are pricier than drugs, I recommend watching this Today's Special intro sequence posted by Shikkyn at YouTube where you can also watch numerous episodes of the show.

07 October 2009

Bells of Innocence

I had to buy all of these Norris movies when I was journeying through The Many Circles of Norris Hell, but I've since disposed of most of them so I got this cover image from Amazon.

2003 – United States
Director – Ali Bijan
Good Times Video, DVD, 2004
Run time – 1 hour, 50 minutes

Two members of a Texas church, Oren and Conrad are headed to Mexico with a planeload of bibles for the peasants. "They couldn't ask for a better gift" one guy says. I'm thinking that they probably could ask you to keep your misguided gringo imperialism to yourself, or at the very least to deliver bibles in Spanish. Anyway, Oren and Conrad are joined by a third, troubled quasi-suicidal alcoholic, Jux (Mike Norris, yes, the offspring) who, after a bender the night before, is their acting "pilot".

On the way to Mexico they are forced to land in a field. A field surrounded by infinite sand dunes up every one of which Oren whines his big fat mouth. Just as I am about to press eject, they stumble upon a small prop "old west" town inhabited by stiff awkward extras (read members of the church that funded this movie). The town is evil, the mayor is even a minor demon or something, all this obviated by the fact that there is no municipal or economic infrastructure to speak of. God bless commerce, and the people walking back and forth across screen repeatedly clearly aren’t doing business, or anything else.

But, our three intrepid heroes are stuck there, so mongoloid Oren staggers around town, loud fat and cringingly friendly. Jux fawns over a little girl who reminds him of his deceased daughter. Conrad, I don't know what that loony fucker is up to, I think he's trying to seem smart and really "together," like the moral anchor to Oren’s charisma ball & chain. The town invites the three amigos to a harvest festival (read “Halloween is evil”) where they are given boozy tropical punch, and the children start playing satanic chanting games. Clearly, you’re either with us or you’re openly worshipping the devil in the streets.

Our three "faith based" heroes escape the demonic rituals to the home of Michael; Michael the archangel; Michael the Archangel played by stringy old homeless Chuck Norris. With the help of some banal faithy hard-rock theme music Michael mumbles something about the three of them being sent to Ceres to save it.

There is a stereotype of crass American tourists in which, unwilling to learn even some of the most basic local language, they yell English in people’s faces. The less the natives understand the slower and louder the Americans yell. Evangelists have embraced this principle because redeeming Satanists requires a similar narcissistic arrogance. The eviler folks are the louder and simpler you need to yell about the love of Jesus to make any progress. Actually, I hear that all foreigners are evil, so it follows.

05 October 2009

Warrior Queen

Warrior Queen
United States - 1987
Director – Chuck Vincent
Vestron Video, 1989, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour 19 min.

Long before I fully understood the unstoppable social force of the behemoth Barbarian genre I fell victim to the allure of the Warrior Queen cover art. At the vulnerable age of 14 this was no surprise. The film however, was a shock to the system, something I was not prepared for. It was like being an ignorant heathen and stumbling into a full throttle religious ritual. It took some time for me to come to terms with the subsequent viewing experience, and a full six years before I was willing to experiment with barbarians again. To be perfectly honest, Warrior Queen is more of traditional sword and sandal picture than barbarian per-se since it is set in the Roman Empire, but the latter term is more appropriate to the abruptly crude content.

In retrospect there was no reason not to take this film at face value, but I can now understand why such a solidly built exploitation powerhouse as Sybil Danning is looking profoundly bored in her role here. What should be a mildly arousing display of young nubile nakedity for sale in a Pompeiiean slave market becomes somehow simultaneously uninterestingly natural and painfully scripted. Part of this is the disturbing lack of dialogue, but mostly it’s the mechanichal disinterest of the camera, as if somehow group coitus is an everyday experience and warrants no special presentation.

But that’s why I wanted to see this movie, because it is special, particularly at 14! It’s not everyday that we get to see Tally Chanell (Vincent’s Slammer Girls) stripped naked in a slave market and sold to a brothel with a giant cock-n-balls obelisk in the foyer. Nevertheless it’s all shot with the grainy clinical expose feel of a 70’s porno film or one of those German “What Your Daughters Are Really Doing” movies. It’s not a narrative but a series of vague threats.

It’s not nonsense either; Nonsense would infer the intention of sense that had failed, but this is a collection of asensical tableaus. Naked people being sold; sweaty guys arm wrestling; people fucking in a harem. No wonder I was traumatized. Judging by the way the women nibble at a their partners like week old corn on the cob, these people feel a bit violated and directionless too.

Suddenly, enter Donald Pleasence (Will Penny, THX1138) who navigates this emotional desert with magical grace. He has always been a strangely convincing loony character actor, but in Warrior Queen his neurotic gibbering is an astrolabe of precise genius that guides him through these shoals of garbage. I can see now that Pleasence is simply a man driven into the safety of his own head by the world’s inability to understand him. He was not a character but simply himself.

Sybil, Rick Hill of Deathstalker 1 and 4, and Tally Chanell commiserate outside Vesuvius' jurisdiction.

Warrior Queen is a Pentecostal tent revival in which the principal actors are dismissively set loose to improvise, move, act, maybe even speak in tongues, should the spirit somehow move them. Alas, only Pleasence, possessed by his own strange demons masters this movie. Practically oblivious to all the other uninspired parishioners, he flits about in his own world having a grand old time while reality literally crumbles around him in climactic Vesuvian footage (which Chuck Vincent stole from Italy’s 1959 Steve Reeves vehicle Last days of Pompeii.)

October is Horror Month

October is the month that Halloween likes to live at and so it is often used by film media of all varieties to focus on horror films. That is good, I like horror movies.

However, in order to be the contrarian that I fancy myself for the sake of it's sheer charismatic appeal, I shall adhere to the Dead Kennedy's philosophy on the season (mostly in justifiably making fun of the Misfits.)

"But what's in between
Where are your ideas
You sit around and dream
For next Halloween

Why not everyday,
Are you so afraid?
What will people say?"

Therefore I promise to jettison all the Dogdamned horror movies all month long, in any context. I'll stick to children's fare, romantic comedies, gun-happy-strippers, whatever; as long as it isn't horror. And on that note, I ask you to bear with me as I begin a new semester at school. I will post as often as possible, but the nature of my studies demands dedication nearly equal to that of garbage film.