Friday, September 22, 2017

Video Cheese: End of the World double feature

Note: These reviews were originally written for Video Cheese, a feature of www.jabootu.net. They have been published here by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg. They've also been held back for a long time because I didn't want anyone to mistake the theme as some sort of political commentary. Given that it's Fall now, though, I think I can make the joke a connection to the change away from my favorite of seasons... Unplanned, but interesting, is that this also coincides with another date that's been set for the Rapture by people who continue to overlook the fact that scripture spells out that no human being can know the date beforehand. Anyway, on to our double feature...

HOLOCAUST 2000 (1978 - color)
   "Kirk Douglas vs the Antichrist."

    From the title, I expected a science fiction epic. What I got was a knock-off of THE OMEN!

    I've noted it before, and I'll note it again: devil movies tend to be more aggravating than entertaining, because so few of them are written by anyone with any spiritual knowledge. Because of this, I have never bothered with THE OMEN, or any of the multitude of rip-offs and cash-ins produced in the film's wake. Oh, a few such films have crossed my path, but as rule I don't go out of my way to see them. In that light, HOLOCAUST 2000 is probably the best of the lot. I had mixed feelings about it, but in general I felt it was a pretty good picture. Intriguing and well-made, with a fine cast, it keeps you interested until the end. (No pun intended!)

    The film is built around a Revelation prophesy about a seven-headed monster with ten crowns who rises from the sea in the End Times. Given power, the beast sways the nations and persecutes the people of God. This beast is followed by another beast which acts as a puppet to the first. Both are working for the Anti-christ, in a war against Israel and God's chosen, swaying the unlearned, bringing war and destruction to the world. (Fortunately, the book includes the ending, one rather happy for those who choose Christ over the world and the devil.)
Most Bible readers, myself included, interpret this monster to be a conglomeration of nations opposed to Israel.

   HOLOCAUST 2000 interprets the monster as a proposed nuclear plant to be built in the Holy Land (how exactly the construction of this plant is to bring about the end of the world isn't clearly communicated, so I guess they just assumed the audience would be anti nuclear power). As we start, industrialist Kirk Douglas is blasting clear the site for the proposed project, right in the heart of spiritually significant land.

   Prior to detonation, Kirk shows a lady reporter, Eva (Virginia McKenna) a cave discovered under the blast site, where has been found an inscription carved into the wall which is simply the Hebrew word for "Jesus."  Eva takes a picture of Kirk standing next to the inscription on the cave wall. Later, when developed, the photo shows a cave painting behind Kirk, an apocalyptic image of a seven-headed monster. The exact same image is found on a canvas painting seen in a book, a picture painted hundreds of years later by an artist who couldn't have seen the cave painting.

   Opposition to the nuclear plant is strong, and an Arab assassin attempts to knife Kirk at a party thrown to raise support for the plant. Kirk's oh-so-angelic-looking-young-man of a son intervenes and saves Kirk's life, but kills his mother in the process. Her death will be the first of a series of bizarre murders and accidents of anyone who opposes the building of the plant. Kirk finds every obstacle clearing the path to build his plant, but he also becomes increasingly concerned as he begins to see prophecy coming true....

   Honestly, I don't know how much to say, as the film is best viewed without spoilers (granted, a pretty big one is patently obvious from the start). I have to say something, though, or else I'm just slacking on my duties here.

   The cast is full of familiar faces. Adelfo Celi drops by, for example. Who will ever forget his cycloptic SPECTRE agent Emilio Largo from THUNDERBALL, still The Biggest Bond Of All? Another 007 vet seen here is Geoffrey Keen, who replaced Bernard Lee as M, after doing a couple episodes as one of M's associates. Simon Ward plays Kirk's son, given the hopelessly absurd name of Angel Cain!

   Ultimately, not too bad -though no masterpiece by any stretch. It's a rare feat to make a devil movie that doesn't insult the intelligence of Christians (which should be the target audience, if you think about it), but this picture manages to be interesting enough to hold itself. Not the greatest thriller, but well worth a view if you're looking for a more intelligent than usual 70's occult horror opus. 


   Evidently, it was issued under a number of titles. The digital antenna channel Comet ran it recently under the title RAIN OF FIRE.


FUTURE HUNTERS (1986 - color)
   "A hunt for a powerful artifact crosses the borders of several countries -and film genres."

   FUTURE HUNTERS is actually a video title, but I can't uncover the original title of the film, so it will have to suffice.

   Interesting experience. The film is mostly a collection of themes cribbed from other films, and yet the end result is greater than the sum of its parts. There's a mixture of elements from THE TERMINATOR, THE ROAD WARRIOR, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, KING SOLOMON'S MINES, Hercules, James Bond, Hong Kong action and kung fu films, Rambo, ROMANCING THE STONE, just a hodge-podge of just about anything you can imagine. Yet the film manages to be quite fresh and entertaining. I'd give it a good solid B in the action/adventure category.

   We open on a typical post-apocalypse world where bad guys drive around in old muscle cars (painted black and mounted with weaponry), who chase their intended prey into quarries, just like we've seen in 19,000 Italian movies from the 80's. And yet, this is done 19,000 times more competently than we're used to seeing. I knew something was weird when these threadbare elements were producing a shockingly gripping sequence. The first five minutes are more entertaining than the entirety of nearly every other movie I've seen use these same props. I couldn't figure out why this was the case, either, as they didn't seem to show ANYTHING that was different from all those other films.

   This opening also starts with some narration to bring us up to speed. This was done in such a fashion, though, as to make me think this were a trailer for another film before the feature presentation. It sounds like Don LaFontaine reading the ad copy for the latest science fiction epic. This intro clues us into the fact that this won't be the typical ROAD WARRIOR knock-off.

   As is genre SOP, a nuclear war has reduced the earth to a big desert with isolated tribes battling for survival. There's an evil government force that rules with an iron hand. Some rebels believe that the only hope mankind has is to return to the past prior to the war and stop it from happening. The key to this is the Spear of Longinus that pierced Christ after his Crucifixion! Somehow, wielding it will transport a man through time! Enter the one man who can save the world, a warrior named Mathew....

   The first reel or so shows Mathew's adventure as he is chased by the bad guys (Mathew has his own black muscle car, although it bites the dust when his opponents bring in tanks!) and kills off an impressive number of armed soldiers. Despite the efforts of the governing body, Mathew makes it to the ruins of an old church. There he finds the head of the spear just as the enemy forces obliterate the building. (To make their tanks more future-y, they've swiveled the turrets around and are driving the tanks in reverse!)

   Mathew wakes to find himself in 1986, in the same church, days before the nuclear holocaust that created his world.

   A young woman, Michelle, and her fiancĂ©e, Slade (a young Robert Patrick in his first film, already getting top billing some years before his star-making role as the T-1000), are examining the church, and the paintings upon its walls. Some bikers pull up, beat up Slade, and try to rape Michelle. Matthew intervenes and saves Michelle, but gets shot in the process. Before expiring, Matthew tells Michelle and Slade they must carry on his mission. And thus we witness the exit of Mathew, the coolest, but  shortest-lived action hero I have ever met. 

   That's right, Matthew was just there to set things in motion. The real story will revolve around this pair of bickering lovers!

   While game for an action lead, I note Robert Patrick is pretty green here. He'd grow into a much better actor (although some of his stiffness here may be the fault of the director), and I find myself wondering what he thinks of his first film in retrospect.

   The pair now has the spear head, which Michelle saw turn one biker into ashes when stabbed by Matthew. Slade doesn't want to have anything to do with it, but Michelle has made up her mind to honor Matthew's dying request. Although reluctant, Slade decides to tag along with Michelle when thugs try to beat her up to gain possession of the artifact.

   The spear must be connected to it's shaft and placed in direct sunlight, as the two objects on their own and left in the dark have apparently perverted their power. Evil forces are after the spear, and if they get it, so begins the nuclear war! (Actually, the spear was sought by Hitler, as he believed whomever possessed the spear would be unbeatable. It was his obsession with the spear which inspired the Third Reich's quest for the Ark of the Covenant in Steven Speilberg's RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, which in turn inspired this little adventure.....)

   Matthew mentioned a scientist named Hightower, so Michelle and Slade go to see him. They find his assistant, who tells them Hightower's exact whereabouts are unknown. So starts a journey across the world, first stop being China. 

   In China, Slade picks up a sidekick played by Bruce Le (but the credits list as Bruce Li, the other Bruce Lee impersonator. One wonders what Le thought upon discovering this little boo boo). Since we're in China, the film suddenly morphs into a Chinese one. First, Slade and Le wander into a sacred temple watched over by an old master who promptly beats up both parties. Le fights back, though, and makes sure to remove his shirt so he's seen wearing nothing other than those baggy black pants like Bruce Lee wore in ENTER THE DRAGON! He even produces a pair of nun-chucks! So we get a fight scene that's pretty neat, despite it's being completely out of place! The battle ends when a sniper, aiming for Slade, takes out the monk.

   Michelle, having just finished a shower, is attacked by Chinese gangsters! (From kung fu movie to crime picture in less than a minute! They even make sure to rip open Michelle's robe and flash her breasts to make the aesthetic complete...) Slade and Le return and mop up the floor with the bad guys before they can harm Michelle. 

   Our heroes learn that Hightower has fled to Manila, and we leave China. Weirdly, we also leave Le! It was looking like he was going to be Slade's sidekick for the rest of the picture, but I guess he fulfilled his obligations by reminding us of Bruce Lee and beating up a few guys, because he drops out of the picture completely!

   In Manila, everything becomes clear. The Fourth Reich is after the spear, and they manage to steal the blade from Slade and Michelle. A bound Hightower is on hand, but he'll not survive the movie. The Nazis blow up their headquarters, taking out Hightower. Slade and Michelle escape, though, and the pair take off after the bad guys as they fly into the jungle. 

   Their continuing adventures involve Mongols, pygmies, and Amazons! (Amusingly, Michelle relates the legend of some amazon women-like warriors, but the line comes out emphasizing "woman-like" and I had a lot of fun picturing woman-like warriors. Also, ever notice that movies tend to be fond of the phrase 'Amazon women' as opposed to just saying 'Amazons'? I think Michelle would still have gotten her point across had she called the tribe Amazon-like, but what do I know?)

   Considering there's hardly a single original idea to be found here, I was pretty amazed at well it all holds together! Even the thematic style seems to change frequently, as if a number of different films were spliced together in random order. It goes from a Mad Max movie to a kung fu movie, to Hong Kong action thriller, to James Bond movie, to ROMANCING THE STONE, to Indiana Jones, and then to Rambo, then to Allan Quatermain..... It keeps you guessing what direction they'll go in next! Yet, the final result is actually a pretty entertaining picture. Weird film.

    One thing I must mention is one of the wildest continuity/editing errors I've ever seen in my long career as a videonaut! There's a scene toward the end where some characters are trying to dig through a pile of rocks, and our leading couple runs over to help them. We see the pair enter shot and move away some stones, then we cut over to the pair STILL STANDING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SET! They then step forward and begin moving the stones! It's like they were having a vision of what they were about to do!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Quick Look: CALL ME BWANA (1963 - color)

 
   James Bond was being spoofed (by his own producers, no less) before his second screen adventure began production. Filmed in 1963, CALL ME BWANA parodies a lot of elements familiar to the spy craze to come a couple years later. Bob Hope plays the author of a famous series of safari adventure journals -the source material coming from the real diaries of his long-gone uncle. Bob, as you might imagine, has about as much practical jungle experience as does Zsa Zsa Gabor! However, when an experimental spy satellite comes down in the most savage part of the African jungle, Uncle Sam recruits the hapless Hope to recover it from the dreaded Ekilee tribe. On the safari, Bob must contend with not just the perils of the jungle, but with enemy agents dogging his every step. Red femme fatal Anita Ekberg is right in his own camp, in fact! One of my favorite Hope movies, and one of the first of his 60's output that I saw on television, CALL ME BWANA is a delightful send up of the jungle genre and international relations/espionage of the Kennedy era. From EON, which produced the Bond films, the movie's poster was even prominently featured in an important scene of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.

A Quick Look: THE MISADVENTURES OF MERLIN JONES (1963 - color)


   Given that Disney stars helped create the Beach movie, it seems only appropriate that Walt would offer his own take on the material. Annette and fellow Beach regular Tommy Kirk took the form to more academic surroundings in at least four episodes of The Wonderful World Of Color. These episodes, in turn, were edited into a pair of feature films: THE MISADVENTURES OF MERLIN JONES and THE MONKEY'S UNCLE. The second film even brought in the Beach Boys to do the title tune with Annette. These films were every bit as charming as one could hope for, and set the groundwork for the Dexter Reilly movies of the early 70's. In our first adventure, Merlin Jones (the scrambled egghead) happens onto a process for mind reading and thinks a murder plot is afoot! The second film finds our hero trying to develop a flying suit. (On a personal note, I finally found both films on those rare white-case cassettes from the 80's. THE MONKEY'S UNCLE I actually found at a local general store! Sadly, the store recently burned to the ground. Providently, nobody was hurt. The dedicated videonaut, however, will be saddened to hear that a number of rare Disney videos did go up in smoke.) Both films had new title tunes recorded by Annette Funicello. You'll hum them for days after you hear them.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Quick Look: MAN'S FAVORITE SPORT? (1965 - color)


   MAN'S FAVORITE SPORT? is another delightful comedy, this time starring Rock Hudson as a fishing expert who has never actually been fishing. When obnoxious promoter Paula Prentiss suggests Rock's entry in a big fishing tournament, the boss thinks it's a wonderful idea. Rock soon finds himself in the unfamiliar surroundings of nature, trying to catch a winning fish based on his book-learning rather than practical experience. Paula tags along, and nearly drives Rock crazy before he has a chance to fall in love with her! Super fun stuff, with a number of gags that really drive home the charm -such as Rock literally running on water when he finds himself standing next to a bear. Norman Alden steals the show as a conman Indian who puts on a Tonto routine for the tourists. Miss Prentiss is absolutely adorable (in an often irritating way), and this was the first film in which I saw her. Worth a look.



A Quick Look: 8 ON THE LAM (1967 - color)


   8 ON THE LAM was, I think, the first Bob Hope movie I taped off of one of the movie channels back when we got one of those small, digital dishes, after a three year or so drought without broadcast television. (Things sure changed in those scant three years, good movies like this had become frighteningly hard to find on the tube.) Hope plays a bank employee with a house full of kids he can barely afford. One day he discovers a money clip filled with cash. After nobody has claimed it for an acceptable time, he begins to spend the wad on his family. Unfortunately, it's right at this time that someone frames him for skimming from the bank! The family is soon on the run, and the fun takes off! Shirley Eaton is Bob's girlfriend, Phyllis Diller his house-keeper (probably Diller's funniest work is found in this picture), and Johnathan Winters is the befuddled cop trying to track Bob down. Jill St. John also stops by to play the girl who knows who's really responsible for the missing bank notes. A swell picture, tons of fun. Might make a fun double bill with the Hope/Frankie Avalon/Tuesday Weld vehicle I'LL TAKE SWEDEN.

A quick Look: THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT (1965 - color)


   I was surprised at how difficult it was for me to find a good shot from THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT, given it's fairly well known (or was for many decades due to fairly regular television rotation). Charming Space Age comedy finds brilliant scientist/industrialist Rod Taylor falling for Doris Day, one of his employees. Unfortunately, everybody else is convinced that Day is an enemy spy! Quite the cast in this one, including John McGiver, Edward Andrews, and Eric Fleming. Dick Martin plays Taylor's skirt-chasing best friend, Paul Lynde the suspicious security man, and Dom DeLuise is the cuddliest spy on the block. Arthur Godfrey makes his feature film debut. Robert Vaughn has the best celebrity cameo ever put on film! A delightful picture!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Quick Look: THE LONG, LONG TRAILER (1954 - color)


   For all intents and purposes, THE LONG, LONG TRAILER was the feature version of I Love Lucy. In it, Desi and Lucy get married and buy a gigantic trailer home so the two don't have to live apart whenever Desi is on assignment as a construction engineer. The complications of owning such a massive rig make the perfect launch pad for comedy. The film also features some amazing scenery in splendid Technicolor. The film was a massive success, as you might imagine, and another Lucy/Desi feature was short in coming. Unfortunately, FOREVER DARLING, originally written as a Groucho Marx vehicle, lacked the charm of THE LONG, LONG TRAILER. The film didn't fare as well financially, which was a blow to Desi -the film was his first as a producer. The couple would split in a few years, preventing any further features as a team. No longer restricted to the grind of television scheduling, Lucy made a come-back in pictures (frequently opposite Bob Hope, with whom she'd worked before) before again plunging into the smaller screen. Reportedly, Desi and Lucy remained close despite the end of their marriage. I believe I heard that Desi would even do audience warm-ups before filmings of The Lucy Show in the 60's.