Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Vampirella (1996)


This was directed by Jim Wynorski, whose schlock films usually involve a lot of topless women, but this has nudity; that's a surprise because the title character is all about sexuality. Based on a character by Forrest J. Ackerman, Ackerman also produced and has a cameo, plus there's a character named "Forry Ackerman." Wynorski also gave himself a cameo, plus small roles for Angus Scrimm and John Landis. This stars Talisa Soto as the daughter of victims on a vampire planet, who comes to Earth seeking vengeance on the fugitive killers, led by Roger Daltrey, who is hiding out as a rock star. The film doesn't know what it wants to be; it's schlocky (the acting is often way over-the-top), but sometimes it tries to be a horror film. It's a passable time-waster.



Monday, August 20, 2018

Special Feature: Ransom for a Dead Man ("Columbo" episode)

This post is part of the Lovely Lee Grant Blogathon, hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews and Angelman's Place. You can find links to more posts there, including two more on this episode of "Columbo" from 1971. Here's one.




I was rather surprised to see that this episode of "Columbo" was the first item to have three people sign on to review for the Lee Grant Blogathon. I saw this when it first aired, back in the first season of the show, before people did impersonations of him with the catchphrase "oh, just one more thing..." and have seen it a dozen times since; it has four of my favorite actors: beside Peter Falk as Lieutenant Columbo and Lee Grant as the villain of the week, it has Harold Gould as the inspector in charge of the kidnapping and Patty Mattick (who I had a serious crush on and who did more than a dozen TV shows before her acting career disappeared) as Grant's step-daughter. There are several small problems with the episode that have always bothered me and, since Columbo says several times - and even in this episode - he's always bothered by small details, I've decided to out-detective the detective. Throughout, I refer to Lee Grant's character Leslie Williams as "Grant" and Patricia Mattick's character Margaret Williams as "Patty," because that's how I think of them.


The title gives away the plot and the very first scene is Lee Grant cutting letters for a note and splicing together part of an audio tape. She then commits the murder, so the whole story is to be how she gets caught, not finding out whodunnit. When she shoots her husband, there are yellow flowers in a vase in the foreground; these flowers do not wilt by the end of the episode, which is at least several days later (in real life, murder investigations rarely take less than a year). She then removes the body - no blood stains, though this gets explained later - putting him in the trunk of a car, driving him to a cliff and throwing him over. As is pointed out later, her husband is a tall man, so this would be an arduous task for her. She does it in heels.


The first time we see Columbo, he's at the door of Grant's mansion, looking for a pen he's dropped in the dark. Grant tries to help, suggests getting a flashlight, etc. and later on Grant states that she believes Columbo fakes his shambling and fumbling to get people to let their guards down. What should be asked: What did you need to get a pen out for in the dark? Where's the paper you would write on? Can't this wait until morning? At the very end of the episode, Grant drives back to the mansion in the dark and you can see that there are lamps on either side of the door and one can easily see everything on the ground. Either that's a continuity error from day-for-night shooting or we've gone from new moon to full moon, suggesting it's been two weeks (and those flowers should be dead).


We now get the scene where the phone rings and it's the supposed ransomers. Columbo immediately finds a problem: Grant doesn't ask her husband if he's okay, as anyone would do (unless, of course, they know the answer). I'd like to point out some other problems. Have you ever been robo-dialed and had a recording greet you? You know immediately, in most cases, even with 2018 technology. How many hours of tape would she have had to record to get the words she needed and where did she get them? This second question may be answered by what looks to be a Dictaphone in her (their?) office, but tapes are rarely interchangeable on devices. Splicing tapes so that you don't hear the edit is very hard to do on reel-to-reels [admittedly, the last time I tried to do that, this show was new and I was in grade school] and, even then, people change the pace, tone and timbre of their voices between recordings. Even weirder, the phone call isn't tracked; it's short, but there's no attempt made.


We now get a scene of Grant in a courtroom, where she shows how capable she is by successfully making an objection to testimony we don't hear because she's having a conversation with someone else. Multi-tasking, thy name is woman. Being a trial lawyer, she's going to know what Columbo needs as evidence.


The ransom note came with an aerial map and instructions, showing that the "kidnappers" were familiar with her ability to fly a plane and with the area and with her husband's schedule. Already this would narrow my focus to his wife. Grant says that there's no one who would want to see her husband dead, eliminating most of the possibilities and the only other person who stands to inherit money is the step-daughter, conveniently away at boarding school in Switzerland. When the body pops up, Grant's the only real candidate.


After noting that the seat of the deceased's car was moved up, suggesting the size of the killer, there's talk of the missing keys. There's a nice brief red herring later involving keys and I won't give it away here. The question is: what became of the keys? There's a scene where Columbo refuses a ride home from the airport (he has no way back, but this gets ignored) and he breaks into Grant's padlocked locker, where he finds nothing. This scene is needed by the plot to remove a possibility of where the keys went, but the scene makes sense only in retrospect. Also, Columbo has no problem figuring out the combo, by listening to the tumblers - this would not have worked in real life.


Now let's get to the bag problem. When they have the ransom ready, Grant says she already has a bag ready and she pulls it out of her desk drawer. It's exactly the right size. Who has a new, empty, large handbag in their desk, where there's obviously little else? It's important that her bag is used, because her plan involves switching it for an identical bag which she had hidden in her locker at the airport. When she tosses the empty bag out of the plane, it gets recovered by the police who, of course, find it empty and assume the "kidnappers" have taken the money. Columbo's concern is that they didn't take the bag, but took the time to take the money out of it. This is a kidnapping; the FBI would either have put a tracking device in the bag or exploding dye packs (the technology wasn't as good then, but they had it). My concern is: how did they find the bag and how would the "kidnappers" have found it? Even if they had planned well, a bag tossed from a plane into the wild at night would be a nightmare to find.


Columbo mentions his wife and how he can annoy her. He's not wearing a wedding ring. He mentions his wife a lot later in the series, but I don't think we ever see her or hear her on a phone. She's something of "Rumpole of the Bailey's" she-who-must-be-obeyed. Peculiarly, Peter Falk was married when this was shot, so he had to intentionally remove his ring to play the character; whether he continued to do so in later episodes, I don't recall.


Patty watches "Double Indemnity" on television, the most famous film noir about insurance fraud, which immediately brings comparison of Grant to Barbara Stanwyck (not as hard-boiled, by half) and Falk to Edward G. Robinson (less energetic, but on a par). If there's any doubt about how Patty feels about Grant, there's a slap at a funeral; the fact that Columbo uses this enmity says a lot, none of it good, about his character. It's this daughter who supplies the motive for her stepmother killing her father: boredom. He tests this out when talking to Grant, when she talks about how her husband was so perfect that no one would want to kill him; she inadvertently has eliminated motives for anyone but herself.

Though Grant changes outfits several times during the episode, Columbo wears the same trench coat (which will be a constant throughout the years) and either identical or very similar suits, shirts and ties. If you look, he changes shoes at least once; he has clunky work shoes in one scene and rather nice oxford wingtips in another - I expect the latter were from Falk's own collection.

There's a scene where Grant demonstrates the phone that's part of her "perfect crime." It's interesting to note that in the scenes where she makes a phone call, it's from another phone on her desk a few feet away, though there's no explanation of multiple lines. Columbo later uses the same technology to briefly trick Grant, apparently to see her reaction, as there's no other reason (unnerving her didn't get her to spill the beans). Late in the episode, Patty tricks Grant with a recording device, which is a confusing scene; it drops from the ceiling with strobing lights and you're not sure what it is, plus it casts doubts on the phone recording as an only possibility.

At one point, Columbo states that the weapon used was a .22 caliber, shot upward at 45 degrees, which he says means 1) It wasn't a professional 2) The killer wanted to be sure the bullet wouldn't exit the body 3) The killer was seated 4) The killer was familiar to the deceased. There are several problems with his reasoning; for one, if the man had been lying down, perhaps asleep, the angle is meaningless. There is no mention of there being a gun listed among the items in the house at the time of the investigation, which seems odd. "Do you own a gun? Is it a .22?" seems reasonable questioning. At the very end, Patty shows up with a gun, which looks like a .22 and the viewer gets confused; where did it come from?

Spoiler: Grant gets caught by using the ransom money. Amusingly, they're at the airport restaurant, where Columbo ends up not having the money to pay the bill when he's holding hundreds of thousands of dollars. The waitress seems nonplussed. Because Grant invited Columbo, she should be paying, but of course it's unlikely she'd break a $100 for a small tab, so she wouldn't have dipped into the ransom for that.


There's a scene where Columbo rides in a plane piloted by Grant. The sparse ground they cover is all suburban tract housing now. Columbo agrees to go to another locale with a murder suspect, without calling the office to say what he's doing or calling home to tell his wife he'll be late.

Oh, just one more thing...

The method Columbo uses to catch the killer, if he hadn't had someone else do the dirty work for him voluntarily, would have been close enough to entrapment for a lawyer as good as Grant to avoid conviction. He also bets that the killer, who killed her husband for money, won't kill her step-daughter to keep the money. That's just wrong.
 ................................
As I got through the review without photos, let's see how many outfit changes Lee Grant has in this episode.













Sunday, August 19, 2018

Vampire Whores from Outer Space (2005)


This has vampires. And they're whores. And they're from outer space. Other than that, there's a lot of redneck jokes and back alley abortion jokes (and the latter gets pushed pretty far). You can see the crew in a lot of shots and it is technically very poor even for a zero budget horror comedy.



Saturday, August 18, 2018

Vampire Hunter (2004)


This film was made in the 1990's for a few thousand dollars and then transferred from VHS to DVD for re-packaging with other films for those who want to buy10-50 horror films in the hope of finding something good. A vampire kidnaps a woman who is then rescued by a martial artist. There's a long 1980's-style training montage. The dialogue is hard to make out because of poor quality.



Friday, August 17, 2018

Twin Dragon Encounter (1984)


Irish-Canadian identical twin martial artists with killer 1980's mustaches... do I really need to say what they do? They fight bad guys and save a girl. There's the song (Fight for Your) Right to Fight by Billy Butt. There's lines like "Confucius say: when fighting truckers, nail the suckers." The fight scenes are quite good, but the constant slo-mo is wearying. It's obviously low budget, but it's consistently entertaining (both intentionally and unintentionally) for 70 minutes; there's 7 or 8 minutes of recap at the end tacked on and a weird "Star Wars"-like crawl at the start. There was a sequel, but I haven't seen it.



Thursday, August 16, 2018

Turkish First Blood (1983)

aka Vahsi Kan

Featuring the star of a lot of Turkish remakes of action films, this follows the plot of "First Blood" pretty closely... eventually. There's a motorcycle gang and zombie rapists at the start, but that weirdness gives way to a more standard plot. There's a lot of violence and gore and some pretty good action scenes; intermixed with this are odd angles and cuts, conversations that seem cut off in the middle (sometimes maybe in the middle of a sentence) and occasional weird things that might make more sense to a Turkish audience. It's either better than "Korkusuz" (Turkish Rambo) or I'm getting used to these films.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie (2012)

aka Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie
There are people who like this movie; I am not one of them. Roger Ebert, who compiled his bad reviews into a book left this one out "because I have standards." The title guys had their own show, which I'd not heard of before seeing the film and you can see that they're used to short skits, because this has a lot of dead time between funny scenes. The guys lose a billion dollars (of Robert Loggia's character's money) making a movie and then start working in a mall. They managed to get cameos from John C. Reilly, Will Farrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jeff Goldblum, Will Forte and others, but none of them are worth seeing. The main thing you'll recall from this - if you see it - is a guy taking a bath in shit inter-cut with people inventing sex positions. It tries to be weird and subversive and to mock anything you might want to see in a film; it just fails to do so.



Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Thunder Ninja Kids III: The Hunt for the Devil Boxer (1991)

aka Thunder Kids 3: Hunt for the Devil Boxer, aka Thunder Ninja Kids: Hunt for the Devil Boxer





This is a Godfrey Ho mashup of a Chinese hopping vampire film with some added ninja footage. There's no thunder, the kids aren't ninjas, there's no hunt, the devil is not a boxer and it's not the third film of a series, but otherwise the title holds true. Caucasian actors turn Asian. There's a terrible UFO. There's a baby bottle full of blood. There's a blonde guy with a fake black mustache. There's guys in red ninja garb. There's a kidnapping and rescue - I think (that would suggest a plot). As far as mindless action goes, it's okay and, as far as Godfrey Ho films go, it's not bad at all.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Thunder III (1988)

aka Thunder Warrior III
This film rips off "Walking Tall," "Billy Jack" and "First Blood" and manages to not bring anything new to the genre of Native Americans fighting back films (like, say, "Angry Joe Bass.") It's a sequel to "Thunder Warrior" but is so cheap they didn't even budget for the whole title; you know it's cheap when bazookas are replaced with baseball bats and sheriff Bo Svenson is replaced by John Phillip Law. This time the local rednecks destroy Thunder's RV park, so he gets revenge, including blowing up a gas station (which may be repeated footage from the first film). There's some silly reaction shots and there are miniature sets with obvious toy cars. The other Native Americans just disappear when action scenes occur. It's mindless action, poorly done and occasionally entertaining.



Sunday, August 12, 2018

A Thief in the Night (1972)


Okay, I think I've finally hit the end of the fundamentalist Christian films I'm going to cover and it happens to be the grandaddy of them all, the sequels of which I've already covered. A wayward young woman starts noticing signs that the Biblical end times are coming, but doesn't change her ways. The Rapture happens; driverless cars crash, a lawnmower runs with no one to push it. A minister who wasn't brimstone and hellfire enough finds that he, too, is left behind (hey, "Left Behind" would make a great title... in 2002). People get the government ID Mark on the forehead and hand, as prophesied (apparently). There's about 2 dozen sermons, a dozen songs - and this was before Christian music had it's own genre to ignore - and not a lot of action in 80 minutes. There's a sketchy youth pastor and an EMT seemingly doing a Humphrey Bogart impersonation, but no one to either hate or cheer for. Instead of being scary, the early stages of Armageddon are dull. Also, only white people are seen in heaven.



Saturday, August 11, 2018

3 Dev Adam (1973)

aka Three Giant Men, aka 3 Mighty Men, aka Turkish Spider Man, aka Captain America and Santo vs. Spider-Man
The fun of this one comes from having a working knowledge of Marvel superheroes (and Mexican wrestling films) and seeing all of that subverted. Spiderman in this is a villain; the film starts with his having a woman buried in sand up to her neck and then having her hit by a boat propeller. Spiderman also runs a racket where he burglarizes houses - for exactly one item of no great value - and then has them auctioned off, where he buys them back with counterfeit money. He strangles someone in a shower and then impales two people having sex in another shower. He has someone killed by having his face eaten by a rat (played by a guinea pig). To the rescue comes Captain America and El Santo [I will pause here to let you have that sink in] plus the girlfriend of one of them. There's a lot of fight scenes. For reasons never explained, Spiderman seems able to bilocate and come back from the dead. If it matters, the film quality is atrocious, as there wasn't a complete copy - the first few seconds come from a copy subtitled in Greek, rather disorientingly - but that seems to add to the shoddy charm.



Friday, August 10, 2018

Teen Knight (1995)


By now, I've learned that "Canadian production shot in Romania" means "looks good, but cheap-ass snorefest." There's a bottle cap contest where the winner gets to go to a medieval village run by androids (stolen from "Westworld") and the kids are mostly brats who need to learn a lesson (stolen from "Willie Wonka") and there's a freak storm that changes things (stolen from "Jurassic Park") and they get transported back to the 14th century (stolen from "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court") and then nothing happens for a long time. They have to defeat the bad guy, of course, and find their way home and they do so. Romanians faking British accents is amusing for a few minutes and the rock-bottom CGI is amusing for a few seconds.



Thursday, August 9, 2018

More sharks

Sigh. What's to say?

Saltwater (2016)
aka Atomic Shark
 There's also another film from 2016 called "Atomic Shark," which I haven't seen.

Mississippi River Sharks (2017)
5 Headed Shark Attack (2017)


 I've also seen "Two-Headed Shark Attack" and "3-Headed Shark Attack."

Trailer Park Shark (2017)
This one's not as much of a waste as the others. Tara Reid's in it.

 
 
 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Sweet Prudence and the Erotic Adventures of Bigfoot (2011)


This, unexpectedly and remarkably, is a good film! It's a soft-core erotic film shot in a nudist camp, with a cast of veterans in the porn-lite field. Two women seek to get evidence of the existence of Bigfoot and to get laid and those two goals get met at the same time. There is a surprising amount of Bigfoot erotica out there and recently a politician had a scandal involving his fondness for it, so it's been in the news. This has some intended humor; while the jokes are quite lame and obvious, the timing is good and I was amused (and pleasantly surprised). There's some bad effects, particularly involving a side-story involving the Loch Ness Monster, but it's better than the budget would suggest. As I said elsewhere, "If you get aroused by Jack Links ads, this is your 'Citizen Kane.' If you've ever watched a porno and thought 'This could use Bigfoot,' this film's for you."



Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Suroh: Alien Hitchhiker (1996)


Ten minutes into this dog, I started working on a sudoku puzzle to pass the time. There's a long intro where a guy tells his beliefs about aliens. Then an alien comes. Then it gets all psychosexual in a way that you hadn't considered, as the alien happens to be gay and causes orgasms telepathically. With effects and costumes that would be poor for an elementary school play, this is 74 minutes of tedium.



Monday, August 6, 2018

Surfer: Teen Confronts Fear (2018)

aka Surfer© Teen Confronts Fear


What can you say about a film that mistakenly puts a copyright symbol in its title? It's a Christian propaganda documentary about a kid who nearly dies surfing, but the mystical pull of the ocean and a spectral electricity octopus lead him to shoot the curl of his destiny, while paranoia and the military... well, I got lost about then. Writer/director/producer/composer Douglas Burke also gives himself a major role with a 12 minute monologue. This seems to have only showed briefly in one theater in California and I wrangled a view online from someone who seems to have filmed the screen on his phone, so I can't comment on the look of the film (and I probably had my identity stolen). The acting is about as bad as one could imagine, with a truly embarrassingly bad depiction of a handicapped man. It'll be on DVD some day, I'm sure.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Superman (1980) and Superman (1987)

Having covered the Indian "Return of Superman," I tracked down two different "Superman" films from India, neither of which seems related to it.


1987 Indian Superman


This is pretty much a remake of the 1978 American Superman film done with zero budget, in Hindi, so you can sort of follow it even though it's not subtitled. The special effects are mostly stolen and the new ones are ludicrous - such as making him look like he's flying by moving the camera and rear-projecting scenery of the film being ripped off. It's really long, even by Bollywood standards, and not worth sitting through for the silly bits. There's a distaff motorcycle karate gang. There's breakdancing (after all, it is 1987). There's a comedy relief character. There's songs, but not full-on Bollywoodized.




1980 Indian Superman


This one's better, or at least stranger, and in Telugu (I think). It's a revenge film with musical numbers. There's some elephants, a child assassin, some really big guys with axes and it moves along briskly, if somewhat incoherently, as I didn't have subtitles. It's cheap, even by Indian rip-off standards.









Friday, August 3, 2018

Steel (1997)

aka Steel Man



I reviewed "Kazaam,"Shaquille O'Neal's better-known film, so I guess I have to do this one, which is worse. Based on a comic I've never read (I think Steel comes from the death of Superman), our hero designs weapons that are being sold to bad people, like street gangs, rather than people who should have them (er, no one). So he decides to weld himself a suit of armor; now let's think about this by itself - how heavy would a steel suit of armor for a 7'1" guy be?! and why doesn't it cover half of his face? and how mobile would he be if and when he got it on? and is there any way he could be anonymous at that size? Also in the cast are Annabeth Gish, Richard Roundtree (there's a "Shaft" joke), Judd Nelson as the villain, Ray J, Charles Napier and Hill Harper, so this could be useful in a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game. The plot is silly and contrived and the performances look like it was more fun to make than watch. It's bad, but it's not very enjoyable, even when making jokes about how bad Shaq was at free throws - which is an actual plot point.



Thursday, August 2, 2018

Star Worms II: Attack of the Pleasure Pods (1985)

aka Star Prison
Retitled and released by Troma, this is an incoherent mess whose plot involves guys stuck on a prison planet trying to escape and needing "fire gems" to use a laser weapon (I think), which leads to a lot of bickering. There's some stuff in the prison, mostly involving a warden having sex with an inmate. This isn't a sequel to anything, but there's a narrated intro to make you think it is. I'm not sure there's an actual movie in this.



Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Starrbooty (2007)



There are few things more tiresome than a drag queen who thinks she's hilarious - an opinion I've formed only after watching a lot of drag queen films for this blog. RuPaul stars in this, a feature made using bits from three shorts made decades earlier (which may explain the Jerry Falwell joke, in 2007). Secret agents try to stop evildoers who are selling body parts taken from kidnapped prostitutes. There's a lot of porn actors in this and a lot of male nudity, often for comedic effect. For rabid fans of RuPaul only.