Archive for the Detectives Category

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: THE EXTERMINATOR (1980)

Posted in 1980s Movies, 2013, Action Movies, Crime Films, Cult Movies, Detectives, Exploitation Films, Gangsters!, Grindhouse Goodies, Nick Cato Reviews, Revenge!, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Tough Guys!, Vengeance!, Vigilantes, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on July 11, 2013 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 64:
Flamethrowers, Meat Grinders, and State Senators…
By Nick Cato

 

exterminatorposter

 Released six years after DEATH WISH (1974) but two years before FIRST BLOOD (1982), 1980’s THE EXTERMINATOR is a combo of these two classics with a dash of TAXI DRIVER (1976) thrown in. I recently revisited this on DVD, but in the fall of 1980 (when I was in the 6th grade), me and a buddy managed to get into this violent R-rated flick one Saturday afternoon at the always reliable (and now defunct) Amboy Twin Cinema, Staten Island’s best bet of being admitted when you were underage.

After an opening flashback scene set in Vietnam (which features a grisly, non-CGI decapitation courtesy of FX whiz Stan (ALIENS) Winston), we flash forward to 1980 New York City. John Eastmand (played by popular TV star Robert Ginty) works at a meat packing plant along with his best friend Michael, who had saved his life in Vietnam. When they bust a group of thugs robbing beer from an adjacent warehouse, Michael again comes to John’s aid, but the gang follows Michael home and throws him a severe beating that leaves him paralyzed. Fueled by this event, and fed up with the state of the city’s crime rate in general, John goes on a mission first to get the guys who crippled his buddy, then wage all-out war against the mob, pimps, and all kinds of low lives.

John transforms into a vigilante a bit too quickly (in the scene immediately after he visits Michael in the hospital, John already has a gang member tied up and threatens him with a flame thrower). But this is a sleazy action flick, so subtly and character build-up be damned! His arsenal includes a .44 magnum with custom, poison-tipped bullets, an AK-47, and a foot locker full of military-issued hand grenades and knives.

Minutes later, John goes to the gang’s hideout (one is played by THE WARRIORS’ (1979) Irwin Keyes), tells the girls to leave, and then proceeds to shoot one thug and take two others hostage. But his partial-heart leads to one guy surviving, and one of the hookers he let go is interrogated by Detective James Dalton (played by Christopher George), who is on the trail of the vigilante the news has labeled “The Exterminator.” Former ABC-TV news anchor Roger Grimsby appears as himself during a newscast, giving the film a real-time feel (at least if you lived in NY at the time).

With the gang taken care of, John sets his eyes on a mob boss who has been shaking his employer down for years. He does some stake-out work and manages to drug him and drag him to an isolated warehouse, where he chains him from the rafters and dangles him over a huge meat grinder, then proceeds to shake him down for money to support his fallen friends’ family. After he gets the mobster’s keys, safe-lock combination, and a promise that there are no surprises at his house, John goes out to his NJ home and is attacked by a guard dog the gangster “forgot” to tell him about. Now severely ticked, John returns to the warehouse and lowers the Don into the meat grinder, and while nothing is shown (besides shadows and chop meat coming out of the bottom), the scene is still quite disturbing. It also received the loudest cheers from the evidently blood-thirsty (or justice-thirsty?) audience I was with.

In the second most memorable sequence, John visits a hooker (ala TAXI DRIVER) who gives him info on an underground operation that exploits young boys. John shows up at the illegal brothel and quickly destroys the place by burning the owner and shooting a freaky-looking pedophile in the groin (said pedophile is played by FRANKENHOOKER’s (1990) scene-stealing freak David Lipman). The pedophile also turns out to be the State Senator from New Jersey!

In-between investigating the vigilante killings, Detective James manages to find the time to date a doctor (played by Samantha Eggar). In one scene they meet for a late-night shag session in an empty hospital room, but as things heat up they’re interrupted by an alarm: it seems Michael’s ventilator has gone off, and little do the detective or doctor realize John had come by to help his buddy pull the plug on himself. This John’s a real angel of mercy I tell ya…

With plenty of shoot-outs, a motorcycle vs. car chase scene, a goofy side-plot involving the CIA that leads to a partially head-scratching finale, a poor old-woman getting a beat-down, and a nasty scene of the aforementioned State Senator burning/raping a hooker with a red-hot soldering iron, THE EXTERMINATOR is a trashy revenge/vigilante film that has developed quite a cult following over the years. And like most NY-lensed genre films from this time, there are plenty of shots of Times Square back in all its sordid glory, complete with pimps, hookers, and glorious theater marquees that will have cinema-philes hitting the pause button to read the film titles (of course we couldn’t do this in the theater so it was nice finally seeing what was playing!).

This is a genuine blast of old-school, politically incorrect action film-fare that has almost no conscience whatsoever, and it manages to work despite its ho-hum performances from most of the actors. Too bad the sequel, 1984’s THE EXTERMINATOR 2, failed to deliver the goods.

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

John (Robert Ginty) about to make mince-meat out of a local mob boss in THE EXTERMINATOR.

John (Robert Ginty) about to make mincemeat out of a local mob boss in THE EXTERMINATOR.

 

 

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PAIN & GAIN (2013)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Based on a True Story, Cinema Knife Fights, Crime Films, Dark Comedies, Detectives, Satire, Tough Guys! with tags , , , , , on April 29, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: PAIN & GAIN (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Pain-Gain-Poster

(THE SCENE: INTERIOR of the Sun Gym. MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are working out on exercise machines)

MA: Welcome to another edition of Cinema Knife Fight. This time around, we’re getting some cardio, to get in the mood to review the new movie PAIN & GAIN.

LS: That’s funny. You told me we should go to the gym because a lot of hot chicks work out here.

(MA shushes him and then smiles for the camera)

MA: Why don’t you take a break from the treadmill to tell us a little about this week’s movie?

LS: Okay.

PAIN & GAIN is the new movie from Michael Bay, the director who gave us such cinematic “classics” as ARMAGEDDON (1998), PEARL HARBOR (2001) and the TRANSFORMERS movies. I have to admit, I’m not really a fan. But the trailer for PAIN & GAIN looked pretty good, so I was curious to check this one out.

MA:  I wasn’t sure what to make of the trailer.  I couldn’t tell if it was going to be a quirky comedy crime thriller with an edge, or just plain dumb.  Well, now I have my answer, but more on that after your plot summary.

And I certainly hope you were being sarcastic by calling the TRANSFORMERS movies classics.

LS: What do you think?  In the movie, Mark Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, a bodybuilder who also trains other people at the Sun Gym. He has actually done pretty well for himself, considering he spent some time in prison for fleecing elderly people out of their money.

MA:  Also considering he’s an idiot.  There haven’t been too many other lead characters to have an entire movie built around them who have been this stupid.  Inspector Clouseau comes to mind.  But this is an unfair comparison.  Clouseau was funny.  Wahlberg’s Lugo is just plain sad.

LS:  I don’t know, he made me laugh a few times. And I think that’s the point. That this really happened, even though Lugo and his guys were pretty dim bulbs.  But back to the synopsis.

Despite his checkered past, Lugo wows the gym’s manager, John Mese (Rob Corddry), during the job interview, even betting he can triple the gym’s membership or he will resign. Lugo makes good on his promise, and is climbing the corporate ladder at the gym. But he wants more.

He is also a big fan of Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong, from the HANGOVER movies), a motivational speaker who says the world is made up of “do-ers and don’t-ers” and Lugo is determined to be a “do-er.”

His plan to get the money and lifestyle he thinks he deserves involves kidnapping and torturing an obnoxious client at the gym named Victor Krenshaw (Tony Shalhoub, from the MONK TV series, 2002 – 2009), a very unlikable character who, nonetheless, has been very successful at amassing a fortune. The plan is to get him to sign over his money and assets to Lugo and his partners, since Lugo thinks he deserves the money more than Krenshaw does.

MA:  And Lugo thinks he can get away with this because, as he tells his partners, “I watch a lot of movies.  I know what I’m doing.”  That’s the level of competency where talking about here.

LS:  Once again, I think you’re missing the point.  It’s supposed to be funny.

MA:  Well, it would be funny if these guys were bumbling idiots, but they’re not.  They’re very dangerous men, mostly because they’re not too swift up here (points to his head) if you know what I mean, and they go about committing crimes like they’re experts, when in reality they’re sloppy amateurs.

And that’s the word that dominates this movie:  amateur.  Why in the world am I at all supposed to be interested in a group of guys who commit crimes who are strictly amateurs?  I really didn’t get this movie.

LS: What’s so hard to get? Don’t you ever laugh at police footage of morons who try to get away with crimes and screwing up?

MA:  Yeah, when it’s two minutes worth of footage.  But two hours and ten minutes worth of these guys?  Ugh!

LS:  I dunno, it went by pretty quickly for me.

Lugo’s partners include Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), an African-American guy who also works at the gym and who is also obsessed with bodybuilding, and Paul Doyle (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a muscle-bound ex-con who comes to the gym looking for a job. Paul has become born-again since his prison days, but that doesn’t seem to prevent him from going along with a plan that involves kidnapping and inflicting bodily harm.

The problem is, Krenshaw is a merciless jerk who won’t break under weeks of captivity and abuse, and it takes a while for our criminal trio to complete their get-rich-quick scheme. Afterwards, Krenshaw vows to get revenge, with the help of a very capable retired detective, Ed DuBois (Ed Harris). Lugo and his friends also get into some serious trouble when they get greedy and decide they want more money.

(ROCKY comes over)

ROCKY: Yo, like that’s the treadmill I use whenever I’m here.

LS: Good for you.

ROCKY:  It’s my favorite treadmill.

LS:  So?  What’s your point?

ROCKY:  Well, if it wasn’t too much trouble, I’d like to use it.  I’m training, and I came here to use my favorite treadmill.

LS:  Why don’t you go chase some chickens or something?  I’m busy reviewing a movie here.

ROCKY:  You know, you’re kinda rude.  (turns to MA)  Your friend has a big mouth.

MA (shrugs): Some people find it endearing. Anyway, I’m sure we can find another treadmill.  (turns to LS)  Hey, you don’t want to piss this guy off.  It’s Rocky Balboa, for crying out loud!

LS:  I piss off whoever I want to piss off.  It’s a free country!

MA (to Rocky):  We are in the middle of a movie review.  Would you mind coming back later?

(ROCKY glares at them for a few minutes, in stony silence, contemplating whether to pound them to pulp)

ROCKY:  You got five more minutes.  (Exits.)

LS: Go drink a protein shake or something.

ROCKY (outside gym door):  Yo, Mick.  Where did you put those chickens?

LS: Based on the true story of a crime that happened in Miami in the 1990s, PAIN & GAIN is both a crime movie and a dark comedy. The funniest aspect of the movie is that, as we already made clear, these three criminals are actually pretty dumb, and make some pretty awful mistakes along the way.

MA:  See, I just didn’t find this all that funny.  I found it painful.

LS:  Well, that’s good right? Pain and gain?

It is amazing they are able to get away with as much as they do. Their stupidity involves everything from Paul (Johnson) befriending (and being easily manipulated by) Krenshaw, when he is supposed to be keeping the man prisoner; to supposedly clever, elaborate plans that just aren’t very well thought out. As Lugo says at one point, they actually do their best work when they “wing it,” because thinking doesn’t come very naturally to these guys.

MA:  And that’s part of what I didn’t like about this movie.  It’s incredibly obvious that Paul is being manipulated by Krenshaw, so obvious that it’s anything but interesting.  The story here is just about as stupid as the three main characters.  I found this one hard to like.

LS:  Despite the fact that I wasn’t expecting much, since it’s directed by Bay, I found myself enjoying this movie. It has a good story, and some very funny moments, and the acting is probably the biggest plus going for it.

MA:  I can’t argue with you there.  The acting is all very good.  Trouble is, they’re playing characters I couldn’t stand.

LS:  Wahlberg has been in some good movies and some awful ones, but he really shines in a role like this one, and is spot-on as Lugo, who thinks he is much smarter than he actually is.

MA:  You’re right.  Wahlberg is spot-on as Lugo.  I can’t take away from his performance, because he succeeds in creating a character I couldn’t stomach.  My problem with PAIN & GAIN isn’t with the performers or the performances.  They’re all excellent, across the board.

LS:  Anthony Mackie is also good as Doorbal. But for me, some of the best scenes involved Johnson’s Paul Doyle. I really think that the man formerly known as The Rock has come a long way as an actor over the years. I find him very likable onscreen, and despite his intimidating size, he’s able to bring real humanity to a lot of his roles. The first time I really started becoming a fan was in the above-average revenge drama FASTER (2010), and while I don’t think PAIN & GAIN is as good as that movie, I thought it was a decent flick, and Johnson was my favorite actor in this one.

MA:  I have to agree with you yet again.  Johnson is excellent at Paul Doyle, and I also agree that he has a very likeable screen persona.  This role also gives him a lot more to do than in the last film I saw Johnson in, the awful G.I. JOE: RETALIATION (2013).

LS: Yeah, I’m sorry I missed that.

MA: Sarcasm, again?

LS: But of course.

MA: Sadly, this movie isn’t much better.  PAIN & GAIN is an ugly film with unpleasant characters who make boneheaded decisions.  Frankly, they have no business being in a movie that is over two hours long.

Again, I like Dwayne Johnson here, but he’s playing a character I grew tired of right after I got to know him.  Any one of these three guys might have made for a memorable stooge if some of the other criminals in the movie had some smarts, skills, or vision, but there’s none of that here.  These guys are all idiots.  It’s like watching Dumb and Dumber, and Even Dumber.

It’s like watching The Three Stooges become criminals.  Well, shouldn’t that be funny?  I don’t know.  If they start hacking up dead bodies with chainsaws and barbecuing severed hands on an outdoor grill, I’m not sure how funny that would be.

LS: I thought that stuff was funny!

Pain and Gain poster #2

MA:  You know, I wanted to laugh, and in another context I might have found this funny, perhaps if these guys weren’t complete numbskulls, or if the movie generated some style, some pizzazz.  It tries, but its attempts at being quirky are quashed by a general sense of simplicity that keeps this one from taking off.

LS: And I liked that it wasn’t afraid to get gruesome at times. But I get what you’re saying, and the movie isn’t a total success over all. But, for most of its running time, I had fun with it.

MA: I don’t mind gruesome, but in this case I just wasn’t laughing.

 (ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER comes over)

ARNOLD: I do not know why you like that big wrestling man so much. I was the Governor of California you know. I was a much bigger deal than him.

MA: That’s nice, but we’re not talking about you right now.

ARNOLD: Well, maybe you should be. I am much better than any of the new action stars. Just because I took some time off for politics doesn’t mean I’m not a big star anymore.

LS: Relax, Arnie, we’re not putting you down.

ARNOLD: And I want to use the elliptical machine. That’s the one I use every time I come to this gym.

MA: But I’m using it.

ARNOLD: It’s mine.

MA:  Could you wait just a few minutes?  We’re almost done with our review.

ARNOLD:  Let me hear you say that my movies are better than the one you’re reviewing today.

MA:  For me, that’s easy.  I didn’t like PAIN AND GAIN all that much, so yeah, I like your movies better.

ARNOLD:  I’ll be back— to use the elliptical machine.  (Exits)

MA:  Let’s not be here when he returns.  He looked a little agitated.

LS: Let’s go use the weights.

MA: Okay.

(We jump to the weight room, where LS is lifting a huge barbell over his head)

LS: Wow, I like it here in Cinema Knife Fight Land. I can lift 500 pounds without breaking a sweat.

MA: Yeah, we’re like superheroes here.

LS: Makes you think twice about going back to the real world, huh?

Anyway, back to the review. I was talking about the cast of PAIN & GAIN.

Ed Harris is another stand-out as private detective  Ed DuBois. He doesn’t appear in the movie until later on in the story, but he’s the kind of actor you can count on to elevate whatever movie he’s in.

MA:  I don’t know.  I thought Harris came into the film a little too late to be much of a factor.  I mean, I wanted to know more about him, but he doesn’t really do a whole lot here, so I can’t say I liked his performance all that much.  It’s hard to like what amounts to a pretty standard and very small supporting role.

LS:  And Bar Paly (previously in the horror film, THE RUINS, 2008) is extremely hot as Russian stripper-turned-co-conspirator Sorina Luminata, whom the boys trick into believing they work for the CIA.

I also liked the supporting cast, including Rob Corddry as gym manager John Mese, Rebel Wilson (who, after roles in movies like BRIDESMAIDS, 2011, and PITCH PERFECT, 2012, is on the verge of becoming a star in her own right) as Doorbal’s girlfriend (and eventually wife) and Emily Rutherfurd, who has some funny lines (even if she’s not onscreen very much) as Ed DuBois’s wife, Carolyn.

I didn’t think PAIN & GAIN was a great movie, but I thought it was a lot of fun, and I liked the cast a lot. This one surprised me, because I didn’t expect to enjoy this movie as much as I did. I give this one two and a half knives.

What did you think, Michael?

MA:  I think that this one suffers from a case of the stupids, and unfortunately, for me, there was nothing else about it to make up for the fact that its characters were unlikeable and its story unworthy of my time.  Even the film’s strong cast couldn’t save it.

We’ve already talked at length about the cast, which we both agree was good, so let’s get to the real culprit here, the writing.  Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely wrote the screenplay, and these are the same guys who wrote the screenplays for CAPTAIN AMERICA:  THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) and the NARNIA movies.  While I liked CAPTAIN AMERICA, I can’t say that I liked the NARNIA movies, but the point is these guys are capable writers, and their screenplay here is fine as well, in terms of dialogue and characterizations.

But the characters they create here- or at least write about—since it’s based on a true story, as we’re constantly reminded —are so difficult to like, I just couldn’t get into this one.  I found these folks unbearable to watch.  This movie should have been called PAIN AND PAIN.

I didn’t like any of the three lead characters, didn’t care what happened to them, and really just wanted to see them behind bars ASAP.  They’re a bunch of idiotic losers.  Even Dwayne Johnson’s Paul Doyle, the most sympathetic of the three, is such a sad character you just want him to go away.

That’s how I felt about all three of these guys.  Just go away!  I don’t want to watch a movie about you anymore!

And then, the guy they kidnap and steal from, Victor Kershaw, is the most unlikeable guy in the whole movie.  He makes the three demonic stooges seem like saints!  So, just who am I rooting for here?  I can’t even root for Ed Harris’s detective because he’s hardly in it.

LS: I dunno, why do you have to root for anyone? Why not just sit back and enjoy the movie.

MA: That’s a fair point.  I guess I just had difficulty enjoying a story about people who I didn’t like all that much.  I mean, if I were sitting at a bar listening to these guys talk, I don’t think I would have stayed there very long.  I would have picked up my drink and moved somewhere else.  They were just too shallow.

LS:  But that’s the point.  That these shallow guys actually got away with this crime, at least for a time, anyway.

MA:  But I also didn’t think the jokes worked.  Most of the laughs come from situations that are so ridiculously painful you can’t help but emit nervous laughter, like when Paul Doyle barbecues those hands.

LS: They looked kind of yummy to me.

MA: Any attempt at real humor doesn’t work here.  The lines and jokes just aren’t sharp enough.  When Daniel Lugo throws barrels containing dead bodies into the water and then doesn’t make an effort to make sure they go down to the bottom, I’m wondering why am I watching a movie about these clowns?

The best scene in the film is when porn king Frank Giga (Michael Rispoli) tells them he won’t do business with them because they’re obvious amateurs, and he tells Daniel that the things he says are laughable.  It’s the one scene in the movie that ring true.  And the one guy who speaks the truth in the film, Giga, is rewarded by getting his head smashed in.

LS: Maybe the truth hurts.

MA: PAIN & GAIN is a wannabe cutting-edge thriller – think Oliver Stone’s SAVAGES (2012) only without the stylish direction and edge-of your seat writing.  In that film, there were real characters and real threats.  Here there are just a bunch of idiots pretending to be criminals.

LS: Isn’t it ironic that SAVAGES was based on fiction, and PAIN & GAIN was based on magazine articles by Pete Collins about real-life criminals.

MA: You make a good point.  A good fiction writer will write solid well-constructed stories.  All kinds of weird crap happens in real life, a lot of it unbelievable, but just because it really happened doesn’t make it a good story.  And I think that’s the problem with this movie.

I can’t say that it worked as a comedy either.  The jokes aren’t very funny, the writing isn’t all that witty, and I found myself laughing only when things got so ridiculous it was easier than crying.

Perhaps I’ve missed the point of this one, and if so, I’m guilty as charged.  For me, watching PAIN & GAIN was like imagining what it would be like if The Three Stooges starred in an R rated crime movie directed by Michael Bay.

LS (doing Curly imitation): Coitainly

MA: Now, if the director was Quentin Tarantino, then that would be a different story!

LS: No argument there. Michael Bay is no Tarantino. But he’s also not as horrible as I previously thought. He is capable of making a decent movie, and PAIN & GAIN is a decent flick. But I understand your dilemma. If it didn’t work for you from the get go, then it probably felt like a long movie to sit through. I just was more receptive to it, I guess, and I thought it was a fun night at the movies.

MA: I give it one knife.

Okay, that wraps things up.  Thanks for joining us everybody.  We’re outta here

LS:  We’ll see you all again next week.

(ARNOLD returns.)

ARNOLD:  I’m back.  And I’ve brought my friends with me.  (A group of beautiful strippers accompany Arnold into the gym).  We’re ready for the ultimate work-out.

STRIPPER 1: Ready to work those abs, Arnie? (the other strippers giggle)

MA:  On second thought, maybe we’re not outta here.

LS:  I don’t think I’ve reached my target heart rate yet. It’s time to take a page out of Rocky Balboa’s playbook and chase some chicks around.

MA:  Er, actually he was chasing chickens, but I like your idea better.

(ROCKY pops his head in)

ROCKY (angrily): Yo, can I use my treadmill now?

—END—-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives PAIN & GAIN~ one knife!

LL Soares gives PAIN & GAIN~two and a half knives.

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Watches WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1964)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1960s Horror, 2013, B-Movies, Bad Acting, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Detectives, Evil Doctors!, Just Plain Fun, Mexican Horror, Mummies, Secret Codes, William Carl Articles, Wrestlers with tags , , , , , , on March 28, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1964)

bbbwrestlingposter

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

K. Gordon Murray imported a second Luchadoras (Lady Wrestler) movie directed by Rene Cordona one year after the initial series entry, DOCTOR OF DOOM (1963).  Once again, kiddie matinee audiences were treated to the adventures of a tag team of female wrestlers—Mexican Gloria Venus and the American Golden Rub—against an assortment of hissable villains and monsters.  They are once again played, respectively, by Lorena Velazquez and Elizabeth Campbell, each looking as gorgeous as in the first movie.  Their boyfriends, the pair of bumbling Mexican detectives, are also back as the WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (aka ROCK ‘N ROLL WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY) flutters across our disbelieving eyeballs.  My goodness, but this one is even weirder and crazier than the first.  And that’s sayin‘ something!  On to the story!

Oh!  According to the credits, the cast includes the Milagros India Ballet!

We start off with a bang, as a bloody man is tossed onto a city street from a speeding car.  The headlines shout (in Spanish) “Black Dragon Gang Kills Archeologist!”  A second body is tossed from a car, this time in the desert.  “Black Dragon Strikes Again!  Dr. Van Dyne Disappears!”  Yet another scientist is tortured by a Fu Manchu/Yellow Menace-type.  Another scientist is chased from his home by a carful of thugs.  He drives to the coliseum where a wrestling match is taking place between two tag-teams, Gloria Venus and Golden Rubi (whose hair has turned brunette since last time!) and two rather butch, um, ladies.  If the wrestling footage looks familiar, it’s because it was lifted from the first movie.  The wrestling gals are cheered on by their detective boyfriends in the audience.  We aren’t even five minutes into the feature, folks.

The girls go to their dressing room and discover a man lurking in the shadows, Dr. Mike Sorba, who wants to talk to Mike the Detective, Gloria Venus’s fiancé.  He informs the detective that the Black Dragon is making threats against him and the detective’s uncle.  The older scientists have discovered something, and the Black Dragon is killing and torturing all the scientists who have a certain codex.  Now, only Dr. Sorba and the uncle remain.  Well, until Sorba is suddenly killed in the locker room by a poison dart.

The mysterious Black Dragon.

The mysterious Black Dragon.

The thugs head back to Fu Man…I mean…the Black Dragon and his evil sisters.  He tells his henchmen to go after the last scientist remaining, Detective Mike’s Uncle, Dr. Tracey (from THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO?).

The group, two detectives and two lady wrestlers, drive to the uncle’s house, where Dr. Tracey tells his nephew about the codex.  The Black Dragon has half and Uncle Tracey decides to give the two wrestlers and his nephew each a third of the half he has.  A pretty blond girl has become Dr. Tracey’s ward, Charlotte.  Within minutes, Charlotte is kidnapped by hoodlums while Dr. Tracey sneaks off to get his half of the codex.

Dr. Tracey digs the codex from between bricks in an abandoned house and splits it into thirds as planned.  He disburses them in the girls’ lockers and a post office box.  Meanwhile, The Black Dragon uses a flashy machine and injections to brainwash Charlotte to hate the ones she once loved, and she’ll do exactly as he orders.  His sisters are impressed (although one speaks with a Natasha Badinov Russian accent; who knows why?).  Under the Black Dragon’s influence, Charlotte returns to the scientist’s house.  First, the foursome split up, following clues to find the thirds of the codex.

So far, no one has explained the what or why of the codex.  Everyone just wants it badly.  And the Black Dragon has bugged the house, so he has sent his thugs to intercept the heroes before they find the hiding places.  Golden Rubi and her boyfriend are captured. Luckily, Gloria Venus and her detective follow and everybody brawls.  The thugs get away with that part of the codex.  The Black Dragon decides to set his judo-expert sisters against the two wrestling broads.

All sorts of shenanigans occur until our heroes have one part of the codex and the Black Dragon has all the rest.  Black Dragon bets all his parts against the one in a tag-team match between his sisters and our gal wrasslers, and it’ll be held in public in the coliseum.  Seems a lot easier than just calling the police and arresting the gang.  Yeah, right…

They must have waited a few days and advertised, because the place is packed for the judo vs. wrestling match.  I swear, during the crowd noises, I heard someone shout, “Andelay!  Andelay!”  And we get the pleasure of watching four women in tight clothing beat the crap out of each other for a good eight minutes.  Hey, there are certainly worse ways to spend eight minutes.

Of course, Gloria Venus and Golden Rubi win the match.  The Black Dragon gives away the codex (well, he’s a bad guy with honor, don’t ya’ know), and just as he was going to be arrested, his sisters judo chop their way through the cops and break him loose.  The Dragon hatches a plan to follow the good guys to wherever the codex leads them and get…whatever the hell is the goal.  Coherency isn’t given a second glance in this flick.

Our heroines snap into action.

Our heroines snap into action.

The codex leads the group (and The Black Dragon and his henchmen) to Tezomoc’s Burial Ground, a witch doctor who can change his shape, just like the moldy mummy in DEATH CURSE OF TARTU (1966).  As the professor reads the translated codex, we get to watch a flashback to Aztec times that shows a maiden who was to be sacrificed to the gods and the witch doctor who saved her by carrying her away.  The lovers were found and returned to the temple where the man, Tezomoc, was buried alive and required to maintain a vigil over his lover’s burial ground and the gold breastplate placed over her chest.  And, yeah, the tomb is cursed if the breastplate leaves the grounds.

The tomb is easy to find (did no one ever spot the ninety foot pyramid above it?), and the group fumbles around in the dark for what seems like three and a half hours.  Finally, they find the temple.  As they are about to read the breastplate, a tomb opens and Tezomoc pops out like a dusty Kate Moss.  It’s extremely skinny, bony, and hideous.  Bullets can’t stop it, and it moans, stretching its mouth open so wide it looks like its cheeks could split.  It also turns into a bat, which is really hard to wrestle.  “Look, Loretta, he’s a vampire now!”  Who’s Loretta?

Will our heroes translate the breastplate and send the mummy back to the land of the dead?  Or will the Black Dragon and his minions find it first and get the treasure?  Is there ever any doubt?

K. Gordon Murray’s dubbing techniques for his Mexican imports lend a tone of the surreal to the proceedings.  Being one of the first to dub movies into English from another language, he hired a sound technician from Disney, Manny Fernandez and a bilingual writer, Ruby Guberman, to change the words coming out of the characters mouths.  Instead of trying to make a literal translation, the team attempted to match the lip movements as closely as possible, which resulted in pretty good synchronization, but truly bizarre phrasings.  An example from tonight’s film: “Now, just as the Dragon heard this, and what motives he has have yet to be explained, he hunted down all the others and he tortured them without pity to get them to reveal who had been designated to guard the records.”  Whew!  What a mouthful.

WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY isn’t as much fun as its predecessor, DOCTOR OF DOOM.  We don’t even get to the Aztec Mummy until the seventy minute mark, and then, despite the title, the mummy is on the side of good.  The pacing is all over the place, too.  Sometimes, this movie flies by at a lightning pace, and at other times the characters get so bored they stop all forward plot motion and play cards.  I am not kidding.  And where in the world was the Milagros India Ballet?

Beware Tezomoc, the AZTEC MUMMY!

Beware Tezomoc, the AZTEC MUMMY!

Still, we get lots of wrestling, beautiful women, fun gadgets, the Yellow Menace, judo-chopping twin sisters with different accents, crummy dubbing, and a creepy mummy.  It’s still worth a gander, even if it doesn’t rise to the heights of silliness of the first movie.

I give WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY two and a half breastplates out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

ALEX CROSS (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cop Movies, Crime Films, Detectives, John Harvey Reviews, Just Plain Bad, Murder!, Prequels with tags , , , , , , on October 23, 2012 by knifefighter

“Alex Cross” … It’s Utterly Unwatchable
Movie Review by John D. Harvey

Sigh …

Honestly, I like movies. I have in the past written positive movie reviews, though I wouldn’t blame you for thinking otherwise based on the skewering that I gave TAKEN II a couple of weeks ago, and now ALEX CROSS in the following paragraphs.

I’ll say this, though. As much as I disliked TAKEN II, it’s practically a masterpiece compared to ALEX CROSS. With that in mind, if you don’t feel like reading any further than this paragraph, then that’s fine. I won’t be hurt. Just because I lost 90 minutes of my life watching ALEX CROSS, it doesn’t mean you need to lose the next several minutes of your life reading about how much I hated it.

So anyway, ALEX CROSS attempts to reboot a neglected franchise based on thriller/mystery author James Patterson’s novels featuring the brilliant Detroit  police detective/psychologist, Alex Cross (now played by Tyler Perry). Previously, Morgan Freeman occupied this role in ALONG CAME A SPIDER (2001) and KISS THE GIRLS (1997). Directed by Rob Cohen (better known for his THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise films), ALEX CROSS is sort of origin story. But it’s also a police procedural, and a serial killer thriller, and a buddy cop movie, and it even tries its hand at a bit of comedy. Who cares? It is essentially a failure regardless of genre or marketing category.

This time, Cross tracks an artistically-inclined killer nicknamed Picasso (Matthew Fox), who is one of many dimensionless stock characters in this film. There’s also Cross’ loyal, wise-cracking partner, Thomas (Edward Burns); a slick but untrustworthy foreign businessman (Jean Reno); and an oafish police chief (John C. McGinley), who of course, at one point, dismisses Cross from the case at the most critical moment (because we’ve never seen *that* in a cop movie before).

There’s not much of a plot beyond that. Picasso kills someone, and then Alex Cross and his team are on the case, and then they track him down via unlikely, and not clever or original, clues. Honestly, most of what you’ll see in ALEX CROSS is a litany of tropes and clichés that you won’t see in a modern thriller unless it’s an over-the-top comedic spoof. This is not an over-the-top comedic spoof.

As far as the acting is concerned, most of the performances are phoned in, lackluster, and predictable. Tyler Perry’s take on Alex Cross is ham-fisted and incongruous.  Matthew Fox (who had better be happy that he still has LOST checks showing up in the mail) overacts the serial killer role with a twitchy, kooky, psycho-eyed intensity. I mean, this guy couldn’t wait in line at the deli without everyone knowing that he’s got bodies buried in his basement.

ALEX CROSS‘s action sequences are equally abysmal. The fight scenes are particularly annoying because there is so much “shaky cam” (to conceal talentless fight choreography) that it looks more like it’s the cameraman that’s getting beat up.

And finally, there’s the ending, which I suspect was written up on the back of a cocktail napkin at the end of three-day whiskey binge by someone with massive head trauma. It makes no sense. It’s rife with plot holes large enough to accommodate an aircraft carrier. It’s … just … dumb.

In conclusion, don’t see ALEX CROSS. It’s dreadful.

Rating: ZERO KNIVES.

ALEX CROSS
RUN TIME: 1hr 41min‎‎
RATING: PG-13‎‎
DIRECTOR: Rob Cohen
WRITERS: Marc Moss and Kerry Williamson
CAST: Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, and Ed Burns

– END –

© Copyright 2012 by John D. Harvey

John Harvey gives ALEX CROSS ~ zero knives

Transmissions to Earth: CELLAR DWELLER (1988)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2012, B-Movies, Comic Book Movies, Demons, Detectives, LL Soares Reviews, Monsters, Supernatural, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , , , , on October 18, 2012 by knifefighter


Transmissions to Earth presents:
CELLAR DWELLER (1988)
By L.L. Soares

As CELLAR DWELLER (1988) opens, we go back to 30 years ago, when a comic book artist named Colin Childress (Jeffrey Combs) is drawing some pages of a monster comic book. Looking for some evil-sounding dialogue, he searches through the pages of an ancient book of spells for something cool, and when he says one particular spell aloud, the demon he’s drawing becomes real, as does its woman victim. He grabs the artwork he was working on and sets it on fire, and the monster screams and dies in front of him. Unfortunately, Childress sets himself on fire by accident, and dies as well.

In present day (30 years later), young artist Whitney Taylor (Debrah Mullowney) comes to the house, which is now a bohemian art school called the Throckmorton Institute of Art. Whitney is obsessed with the old EC-style comic book that Childress drew called Cellar Dweller – which looks a lot like old issues of EC’s Tales of the Crypt. Somehow, she convinced the “board of directors” to accept her on as a student, even though the school’s headmistress, Mrs. Briggs (Yvonne De Carlo, who most people know as Lily Munster from THE MUNSTERS) looks down her nose at someone who wants to be a comic book artist and admits, if it was up to her, she never would have accepted Whitney as a student.

Mrs. Briggs gives Whitney a tour of the place, introducing her to the other students, including Phillip Lemley (Brian Robbins), an abstract painter; Lisa (Cheryl Ann Wilson), a performance artist; Amanda (Pamela Bellwood) who is making “video verite” art with a clunky video camera (that looks ancient now) and Norman Meshelski (Vince Edwards) who thinks he’s some kind of detective and wants to be the next Raymond Chandler (he writes using an old manual typewriter, and likes to act out scenes, so I guess this is a writer’s colony, too). During the tour, they pass a locked door which Mrs. Briggs explains leads to the cellar, where Colin Childress allegedly killed an innocent woman and then set himself on fire 30 years before, but Whitney is sure he wasn’t guilty.  Mrs. Briggs tells her the room is off limits.

The school is a weird mixture of an artist colony and a school. There are classes and critique sessions, but most of the time, the students just make art in their rooms in this house which is in the middle of nowhere with no television or other distractions.

The monster in CELLAR DWELLER is hungry indeed!

Right off the bat, Whitney and Amanda resume their old rivalry (they were enemies in their previous art school), but some of the other students aren’t so bad. She strikes up friendships with Phillip and Lisa. Whitney is also not a fan of Mrs. Briggs, who looks down on her and is clearly in cahoots with Amanda to discredit her.

When Whitney hears strange noises coming from the basement, she goes down there, even though she was told not to, and finds a bunch of Childress’s artwork and supplies (including that old book of spells, called “Curses of the Ancient Dead”). Despite the fire 30 years before, you couldn’t tell it by looking at the basement, which appears to have been untouched by the blaze that killed Childress.

Whitney insists on being allowed to live and work down in the basement, where her hero once drew his comics. At first, Mrs. Briggs is furious that Whitney went down there when she was told it was off limits, but she eventually relents, letting Whitney have the basement as her personal studio. But she also has Amanda film Whitney down there when she’s not aware – part of some weird scheme to doctor footage to make it look like Whitney is a plagiarist (which doesn’t make a lot of sense).

It’s down in the basement that Whitney’s work becomes more passionate, and we realize that what she draws begins coming true when she draws a page where Amanda is attacked and killed by the demon we saw in the beginning – and it really happens! In fact, the demon starts to kill off everyone in the house, one by one, until Whitney realizes what is going on. After a while, she doesn’t even have to draw the pages for them to happen for real – the pages begin to draw themselves! And the demon begins to gain more and more control over its existence in our world.

Will Whitney be able to stop the hellish monster before it kills her and all her friends? To find out, you’ll have to find a copy of CELLAR DWELLER.

Beware the CELLAR DWELLER!

Director John Carl Buechler, who also gave us such movies as TROLL (1986) (not be confused with its sequel – in name only – the camp classic, TROLL 2), as well as FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD (1988) and GHOULIES III: GHOULIES GO TO COLLEGE (1991), was also in charge of the mechanical and makeup effects for CELLAR DWELLER (his credits as a Special Effects guy way outnumber his credits as a director, including doing effects for everything from GHOULIES, 1985 to Stuart Gordon’s FROM BEYOND , 1986, to DR. MOREAU’S HOUSE OF PAIN, 2004).  The monster effects for CELLAR DWELLER are actually kind of cool, despite the low budget. The demon/monster of the title looks like the product of stop-motion animation at times, and at other times looks like a mixture of makeup and animatronic effects. The monster looks a little stiff at times, but is above-average for this kind of stuff.

The script by Don Mancini (who also wrote practically all of the Chucky movies, starting with the original CHILD’S PLAY, also from 1988) is incredibly silly. The whole concept of what Whitney draws coming to life has been done before, and here seems pretty goofy, in the way it completely defies logic. And there really aren’t any scares to be found.

The acting is okay.  Lead actress Debrah Mullowney (who would later be billed as Debrah Farentino) is actually quite striking and does a decent job, despite the silly dialogue and laughable motivations she has to convey. Mullowney started in television and CELLAR DWELLER was her first feature film. She later appeared on such shows as NYPD BLUE and the SyFy Channel series EUREKA.

You might remember Brian Robbins from TV shows like HEAD OF THE CLASS (1986 – 1991). He went on to become a producer and director, most recently directing the Eddie Murphy comedy, A THOUSAND WORDS (2012).

As for the rest of the cast, you might remember Pamela Bellwood (Amanda) from the 80s prime time soap opera DYNASTY, and Vince Edwards, who plays the most annoying character, the private eye wannabe Norman, became a TV star in the 60s with doctor shows like BEN CASEY (1961 – 1966)  and  MATT LINCOLN (1970 – 1971). Yvonne De Carlo, probably the biggest name star in CELLAR DWELLER,  appeared in tons of Hollywood films of the 1940s and 50s before becoming a household name in THE MUNSTERS TV show (1964 – 1966).

Don’t go into CELLAR DWELLER expecting something serious or compelling, but it is an entertaining little flick if you’re open to low-budget 80s horror films with more than a touch of camp.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

Meals for Monsters: THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (1971)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, Cult Movies, Detectives, Jenny Orosel Columns, Meals for Monsters, Sherlock Holmes with tags , , , , , on April 3, 2012 by knifefighter

MEALS FOR MONSTERS: THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (1971)
Movie review and recipes by Jenny Orosel

I’ve wanted to write about THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (1971) for a long time.  Up until recently, though, the meal would have needed to be ramen noodles.  It’s a rarity: the DVD will run you an average of a hundred dollars, and even a videotape costs about twenty.  However, Netflix just added it to its instant watch library.  To celebrate that this masterpiece can finally be easily seen, I dedicate this month’s column to George C. Scott’s finest role.

Scott plays Justin Playfair, a judge who, upon the death of his wife, had a mental breakdown.  He believes he is Sherlock Holmes.  He dresses the part, acts the part, lives and breathes Holmes’s life.  All his brother has to do to gain access to Playfair’s fortune is have him declared legally insane.  Should be an easy task for someone so delusional.  So he enlists the help of Dr. Mildred Watson, beautifully played by Joanne Woodward.  After the initial shock that his Watson is a woman, Playfair drags her along his quest to find, and finally defeat, Moriarity.  At first she agrees, fascinated by a “classical case,” but Watson eventually becomes enamored with Playfair’s kindness and enthusiasm.  Along the way, they collect clues, aid distressed citizens of New York City, and begin to fall in love.  Is there a real Moriarity after him?  Is Playfair really insane?  And does that matter?

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS is as close to a perfect movie as I’ve seen.  The actors, although superstars, fade so well into their roles that it doesn’t take long to forget that you’re watching the same guy who played PATTON (1970), or the woman who played the doctor in SYBIL (1976).  The script has some of the wittiest dialogue I’ve encountered, and there are many laugh-out-loud moments.  And considering that I normally despise romance movies, this little love story is enchanting.  The clumsy gestures Playfair and Watson make toward each other is not only relatable, but recognizable.  They are so painfully human that, especially for people who never felt they were completely normal, we can see ourselves in their stumbles and eventual successes.

Now that I’ve gushed like a drooling fangirl, it’s time to create a menu for this movie.  Sherlock Holmes drinks tea.  Makes sense, as he’s British and all.  But simply brewing up tea would be much too dull for THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS.  Instead, I created a Holmes Cocktail:

THE HOLMES COCKTAIL

Ingredients:
2 parts Earl Grey tea
1 part rum

Directions: Sweeten to taste (sweetener isn’t necessary if you don’t normally take your tea that way.  But if you prefer your brew with a little sugar, adjust the sweetness as you would normally for non-alcoholic tea).

A running gag throughout the movie is what a horrible cook Watson is.  Despite her lack of skill, she is determined to cook dinner for Playfair.  Much to her embarrassment, she burns the soup on the stovetop.  In honor of her, I present:

SOUP FOR PEOPLE WHO CAN’T COOK

Ingredients:
1 pound ground beef
1 package frozen mixed vegetables
1 small can diced tomatoes
2 large cartons beef broth
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Season the meat with salt and pepper.  Brown the meat until there is no pink left.  Drain the fat.  Add the vegetables, tomatoes and broth.  Bring to a boil.  Enjoy.

Watson isn’t the only person to be charmed by Playfair.  The local librarian has befriended him, and allows him full access to the library any time he needs, for as long as he needs.  After being abandoned by Watson and burying himself in his work, the librarian consoles Playfair with a jelly donut.   What better dessert is there than that?

QUICK JELLY DONUTS

Ingredients:
I tube refrigerated biscuit dough
Vegetable oil
1 jar jelly (pick your favorite flavor)
Bowl of sugar

Directions: Heat about two inches of oil in a pot until it bubbles when a wooden spoon is placed in it.  Drop in biscuit dough, three or four at a time depending on the size of the pot.  When it browns, flip it over (should just be a minute or two).  When golden on both sides, remove from oil and toss in the sugar.  Place on a rack to cool.

While the donuts cool enough to handle, warm the jelly on low heat until liquid.  Poke a hole in the donut with a knife, and fill with jelly using a turkey baster.

A bit of trivia about THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS: yes, this movie is where the band got its name.

If you don’t have Netflix, it’s worth dropping eight bucks for one month just so you can see THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS.  If there’s any movie that deserves a bigger audience, maybe with a Criterion release, it’s this one.  At least we finally have the option of seeing it, if only on a digital view.  And what better way to celebrate than settling down for a nice, easy meal and a movie with someone you feel a great affection toward?  And afterwards, maybe go fight some windmills.  Because, although it’s likely they aren’t giants, they just might be.

© Copyright 2012 by Jenny Orosel

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou – BLACK EYE (1974)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, Action Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Blaxploitation, Crime Films, Detectives, Hammer Films, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , on February 2, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

BLACK EYE (1974)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk-till-dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable—then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

Fred Williamson was a famous football star, playing for both the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs.  He was also one of the first black action heroes, a muscular, lithe, handsome presence onscreen and off.  He was a hit with the ladies, but he didn’t degrade them in his pictures.  Nicknamed ‘The Hammer’ in his gridiron days, he could fist fight with the best of them, and even better, the cat could act.   The Hammer was nobody’s whipping boy.  Instead, he built a long career by playing smart guys, detectives and cowboys and gangsters with real soul.  Williamson was first noticed in the TV show JULIA, co-starring with the lovely Diahann Carroll.  This was followed by a string of classic blaxploitation films, including HAMMER (1972), BLACK CAESAR (1974), HELL UP IN HARLEM (1973), THAT MAN BOLT (1973), and THREE THE HARD WAY (1974), where he shared billing with two other hot African Americans, Jim Brown and Jim Kelly.  A textbook classic of its kind, THREE THE HARD WAY is a wild ride, but it’s been seen by everyone and is readily available.  You all know I would find something else to discuss here, right?  You bet your sweet…Shut your mouth!

BLACK EYE (1974) is like a Sam Spade plot gone horribly left of center.  In it, Williamson plays Shepherd Stone (natch), a down-on-his-luck private detective with little money in his pocket and an office in the back of a local pub.  He’s been thrown off the force, see, because he kept beating up pushers.  His beautiful girlfriend who lives downstairs (played by the luscious Teresa Graves—a regular on LAUGH IN, she later starred in the TV drama GET CHRISTIE LOVE and the movie OLD DRACULA-1975), is a bisexual who’s started dating an older white woman who owns a modeling agency, played by the great Rosemary Forsyth (SHENANDOAH-1965, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE?-1969  and 2001’s GHOSTS OF MARS).  After interrupting the girls in flagrante, he shamefully returns to his run-down apartment.  But first, he hears a noise in the flat of his neighbor, a hooker who has several side businesses going.  When he investigates, he finds her dead, and an Aryan/Nordic type of man attacks him with a gold-tipped walking stick,  the top of which is sculpted into a dog’s head.  The blond man gets away, and our hero calls the cops, who promptly ask him to help them on this case.  You know, since he’s already involved and all.

Shepherd Stone is also asked to look into the disappearance of a young girl by her father, played by Richard Anderson (FORBIDDEN PLANET-1956 and he was Oscar Goldman on THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN).  These two cases lead Stone to a sordid porno studio, sordid parties of the very rich, sordid broken-down carnivals, and the local church where the girl was last seen.  The church is run by a slimy preacher who may or may not be running a cult, but is certainly running some kind of scam.  Meanwhile, everyone wants the gold dog cane that the blond killer had in the hooker’s apartment.  Once owned by a famous silent film star (BLACK EYE opens with cool silent black and white footage of this actor, making me wonder if I was watching THE ARTIST (2011) again), this cane has been used to smuggle pure heroin into the country.  But by whom?  And who’s willing to kill for it?  The crooked preacher?  The porno producer?  The old gay man who collects movie memorabilia?  Soon, bodies are piling up everywhere Stone turns, the cane gets stolen twice, and everyone beats up everyone in several nifty bare knuckle brawls.  Complete the picture with a decent, bouncy car chase through a bodega slum, lots of sexual innuendo (“You’re a woman.”  “I’m a whole lotta woman!”), a mass baptism scene complete with a hundred hippie Jesus freaks, and a few good twists to the plot by the end.

Fred "The Hammer" Williamson in BLACK EYE.

BLACK EYE (he’s black and a private eye, get it?) was directed by Jack Arnold.  Yes, that Jack Arnold – the director of such classics as THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954), IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953), THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), and TARANTULA (1955).  Arnold’s career went south after the 1950s, and he was relegated to directing television shows like PETER GUNN, RAWHIDE, and (say it ain’t so) GILLIGAN’S ISLAND.  In the 1970s, he directed several blaxploitation features, including BLACK EYE.  It’s a long strange journey, but he still keeps the pacing fast, the dialogue snappy, and the people beautiful, baby.

Our feature was written by Mark Haggard (director of THE FIRST NUDIE MUSICAL-1976) and Jim Martin.  It’s not Shakespeare, or even Hammett, but it’s a fun little flick that plays a little dirty while still maintaining a PG rating.  If the plot seems overcomplicated, that’s because it is.  I’m still not sure how one woman fits into the whole bizarre plot, but it doesn’t take away any enjoyment from the movie.  In fact, the whole convoluted thing goes down easy with the popcorn and beer.  Dashiell Hammett himself once claimed he never knew who killed one character in THE MALTESE FALCON (1941).

And this isn’t a writer’s picture, or even a director’s.  This one belongs to the walking charisma that is Fred “The Hammer” Williamson.  With those hangdog eyes, those long sideburns, and that just-eaten-the-canary grin, he is a hero for the time.  He doesn’t use a lot of slang, and he only fights when he must (or when he catches a dope pusher in an arcade), and he’s entirely on the side of the cops, so he doesn’t really fit into the blaxploitation hero paradigm of the early 70s.  He isn’t a pimp or a crook or a gangster.  He’s just a regular Joe, fighting the man to get an honest day’s pay and fighting a predatory lesbian for his woman.  In fact, the whole matter-of-fact handling of the bisexual and lesbian characters in the movie is very evenly handled, surprisingly advanced for its time.  BLACK EYE doesn’t judge.  It’s just the facts, ma’am.  But The Hammer rises above it all and makes it much more enjoyable than it ever should be.  Williamson’s still acting.  In fact, he has four movies scheduled to open next year, including a remake of the brutal 1982 movie, FIGHTING BACKLong may the King reign!

BLACK EYE is available in a nice print from Warner Archive on DVD.

I give BLACK EYE three sordid porn studios out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

Fred Williamson hangs out with some hippies in BLACK EYE