The Magic Blade (1976)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a freelance ghostwriter of personal memoirs and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn

Much has been written about the achievements of Shaw’s star director Chang Cheh. Here, I will give some love to their equally talented Chor Yuen who passed away in February of 2022. The Magic Blade is among his finest work, filled with plenty of wonderfully framed shots, expertly choreographed fight scenes and great acting. 

A Wuxia tale starring Ti Lung and Lo Lieh who must find a powerful weapon called the peacock dart before an evil swordsman can claim it for himself to to rule the underworld. 

Fu Hung Hsueh (Ti Lung) is a stoic and extremely skilled wandering swordsman. The story (based on the novel by Gu Lung) opens with Fu engaged in a showdown with Yen Nan-Fei (Lo Lieh) over a previously unresolved duel. Soon, their rivalry is put aside as the warriors of an unseen evil sorcerer named Yu attack Yen. Fu saves Yen’s life and the two join forces against Master Yu in a race to find the ultimate weapon…the exploding peacock dart!

After fighting more killers in a wonderful scene set up like a cinematic game of chess, Fu and Yen procure the peacock dart from its keeper. Along with the beautiful pure-hearted Chiu Yu-Cheng (Cheng Lee) the two men set off to find the elusive Yu. Eventually Fu and Chiu are separated from Yen, leaving Fu to carry the rest of the film on his deliciously broad shoulders.  

Fu and Chiu fall in love and meet many people along the way who all want the dart. Their journey is filled with as many plot twists, traps and poisoning as wire-flips and Fu gets through it all by his wits as much as his skill as a swordsman. No one played intelligent like Ti Lung. Well… maybe Tony Leung. 

The end battle with the as-yet-unseen Yu in Tien Wai mansion is a real showstopper. Ti Lung proves once and for all that he didn’t need David Chiang as a co-lead. His physicality and acting are in top form here. 

Compared to other Shaw Bros. classics, The Magic Blade contains more splatter and nudity. There’s even a quick lesbian scene at Yu’s mansion. Director Chor Yuen very wisely made sure there was something for everyone and it’s a very enjoyable movie overall. 

The production isn’t as grand as some of the older Shaw Bros. pictures, but it does appear to have had a significant budget with the sets, costumes, choreography and supporting actors all being top notch. As was often the case, the music contains cues from the original Planet of the Apes edited together with original themes and to great effect. The weapons are some of the most creative in the genre with the best being Ti Lung’s sword. It’s a very effective combination of a nightstick and spinning machete. In the hero’s hands (and director Chor Yuen’s) it is definitely a Magic Blade.

A Chinese series based on the same novel came out in 2012 and in 2015 and 2018 reports surfaced that Celestial Pictures was slated to partner with Tencent Pictures to produce a remake titled Moonlight Blade, but it doesn’t appear to have happened. In 2019 director Xu Haofeng, creator of several modern Kung Fu classics, announced he would be directing, but as of 2022 there’s no breaking news on that front. 

It’s perhaps for the best, as The Magic Blade is one of my favorite of the Shaw classics and more than worthy of repeated screenings. Best of all, it’s available for rent in pristine form on YouTube! 

THE CHRISTOPHER LEE CENTENARY CELEBRATION PRIMER: To the Devil A Daughter (1976)

EDITOR’S NOTE: You can see To the Devil a Daughter this weekend at the Drive-In Super Monster-Rama! Get more info at the official Drive-In Super Monster-Rama Facebook page and get your tickets at the Riverside Drive-In’s webpage.

Dennis Wheatley’s writing reflected his conservative worldview, as his heroes defend the monarchy, the British Empire and its class system. If you’re evil in one of his books, you either are from Satan or you’ve stood up to those ideals. As for how well he knew the occult, he was known as an expert on Satanism, exorcism,and black magic, even publishing The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult, personally picking the titles and writing introductions for each book. The series included works by Theosophist H. P. Blavatsky, Alesiter Crowley and Bram Stoker amongst many others.

He was not a fan of this movie, saying “This is disgusting, obscene, has no relationship to my book. It’s outrageous and disgraceful. And I will never again let this company turn one of my books into a film.”

I kind of loved it.

American occult writer John Verney (Richard Widmark) has been asked by Henry Beddows (Denholm Elliot) to pick up his daughter Catherine (Nastassja Kinski) from the airport. She’s had quite the life, being a member of Father Michael Rayner’s (Christopher Lee) Children of the Lord, a religious order that her mother was also part of. The group wants her back and uses black magic to battle Verney.

Catherine is set to become the human form of Astaroth when she turns eighteen and only Verney can save her from the Satanic forces of the former priest.

While Kinski is nude in this movie — and fourteen years old, which is pretty upsetting even if she had been topless already at the age of twelve — Lee is not. That was his stunt double Eddie Powell. Also: Klaus Kinski turned down the lead, saying that he may have had no issue being in a film where his daughter was fully naked, there was no way he’d stay sober.

If you’re in the mood for more Dennis Wheatley, Hammer also made The Devil Rides Out.

CANNON MONTH 2: The Demon Lover (1976)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Before Menahem Golan took over 21st Century in 1989, it had existed since the mid 70s, as Tom Ward and Art Schweitzer formed the company as a film production company and distributor. It also owned most of Dimension Pictures’ films when that company went into bankruptcy in 1981. 21st Century also released many films on home video on their own label Planet Video as well as Continental Video. The first movie they released in theaters was an import, The Three Fantastic Supermen, before putting together some of their own movies. As I finish out the second — but by no means the final — Cannon Month, I’ll be covering some of 21st Century’s most interesting movies. This was originally on the site on January 22, 2020.

Also known as The Devil Master, Master of Evil and Coven, this movie purported to tell you the whole truth — finally — about demons. It seems that demons are kind of like the kids left behind in my small hometown, stuck drinking in bars, doing drugs and balling because there’s nothing else to do but rot.

It comes from the team of Donald Jackson — yes, he of the Roller BladeRollergator and Hell Come to Frogtown fame — and Jerry Younkins, who only made this film. It was shot close to my wife’s hometown in Jackson, Michigan.

MIT graduate students Jeff Kreines and his girlfriend Joel DeMott, along with soundman Mark Ranc, shot a video diary while filming this movie, entitled Demon Lover Diary. It details the film falling apart as its being filmed. However, it’s been alleged that the incompetence and infighting shown in this video were all made up to get publicity for the film. But who can say? Any movie that ends with Ted Nugent’s guns being fired directly at the filmmakers is totally worth a watch. Kreines and DeMott would go on to co-direct the documentary Seventeen while Kreines would be a cinematographer on the documentary Depeche Mode: 101.

As for the actual film The Demon Lover, it’s all about a group of teenagers hanging around a cemetery that gets involved with a Satanic priest named Lavall (Younkins) who conjures up a demon from hell that looks like an ape that kills all of them. That’s pretty much the entire movie, right there, minus some scenes of the upper class dabbling with the occult that go absolutely nowhere. Oh yeah — there are also disco, nude sex slave and kung fu scenes just to ensure that this regional wonder got to play on some screen, somewhere.

Also — Younkins severed a finger at work to pony up the $8,000 to make this movie, so that pretty much explains why he got to do pretty much anything he wanted. He’d go on to write Combat and Survival Knives: A User’s Guide and wears a black glove throughout to hide his missing digit.

According to L.A. Weekly, the filmmakers so loved The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that they “initially consulted director Tobe Hooper for info on film stock, hired Chain Saw cinematographer Daniel Pearl until their money ran out, solicited original Leatherface Gunnar Hansen for a two-day top-billed cameo, and eventually played the Lyric Theater on 42nd Street in New York City, whose marquee can be glimpsed sporting the Chain Saw title in a famous shot from Taxi Driver.”

Damian Kaluta, one of the protagonists of the film, is played by Val Mayerik, who is also one of the creators of Howard the Duck. I’d assume that’s his art on the poster as well. The name of his character Kaluta comes from 1970’s comic book artist Michael W. Kaluta and many of the names in the film are also derived from comic and horror icons of that era, like Detective Tom Frazetta (painter Frank Frazetta, who designed most of Fire and Ice), Officer Lester Gould (Chester Gould, creator of Dick Tracy perhaps?), Profesor Peckinpah (director Sam Peckinpah), Elaine Ormsby (Alan Ormsby of Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things), Alex Redondo (Filipino Swamp Thing artist Nestor Redondo), Susan Ackerman (Forest Ackerman, of course), Charles Wrightson (Berni Wrightson, who drew the comic for Creepshow), Jane Corben (Richard Corben, who created Den from the Heavy Metal magazine and movie, as well as the painter of the poster for Spookies), Garrett Adams (Neal Adams), Janis Romero (George Romero) and Pamela Kirby (Jack Kirby).

This movie also features early special effects work by Dennis and Robert Skotak, who would go on to work on movies like Escape from New YorkAliensTerminator 2: Judgement Day, Mars Attacks!Galaxy of Terror and so many more.

While this movie is junk — enjoyable junk that I will force people to watch — there’s a lot to be learned from it. Isn’t that what loving movies is all about? Actually, it’s also what the occult is all about too: the secret messages lurking behind the veneer of what seems like nothing.

You can watch this for free on Tubi or just check out the highlights below.

 

SYNAPSE BLU RAY RELEASE: Massacre At Central High (1976)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This originally ran on the site on October 28, 2019 but has been updated thanks to the blu ray release from Synapse. It has a high-definition 1080p remaster scanned, transferred and supervised by director Renee Daalder, as well as audio interviews by Mike White from The Projection Booth Podcast with cast members Andrew Stevens, Robert Carradine, Derrel Maury and Rex Steven Sikes, as well as an interview with Daalder, conducted by writer/horror historian Michael Gingold. You also get Hell In the Hallways, a new making-of documentary as well as trailers, TV and radio spots and a still gallery. You can get it from MVD or get the limited edition steelbook from Diabolik DVD.

23 years before Columbine, Massacre at Central High would predict not just violent school shootings but the rise of disaffected teenagers. It was directed by Rene Daalder, a Dutch writer and director who would go on to pioneer motion picture technology and virtual reality.

David is the new kid at Central High, but he already knows Mark (Andrew Stevens), a friend he has helped in the past. Mark relates that this place is a country club, but you need the right friends. Friends like Bruce, Craig (Steve Bond, Travis Abilene from Picasso Trigger) and Paul, who rule the school.

After watching these three bully — that’s putting it mildly — the student body, including beating up nerdy Spoony (Robert Carradine), deaf librarian Arthur, the poverty-stricken Rodney and the overweight Oscar as well as assaulting two girls named Mary (Cheryl Rainbeaux Smith!) and Jane (Lani O’Grady from Eight Is Enough), David has had enough.

David and the bullies are on a fatal collision course, particularly after our protagonist starts making time with Mark’s girl Theresa (Kimberly Beck, Roller Boogie, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter). One night while he’s working on Rodney’s car, the three kick out a jack and cripple him.

That’s when David goes slasher villain and takes them out, one after the other. Bruce’s hang-glider flies into a power line, Craig is tricked into diving into an empty swimming pool and then Paul’s van gets pushed off a cliff.

Now, the formerly bullied are the bullies and attempt to form alliances with David, but they keep dying off too. Arthur’s hearing aid takes him out. Oscar’s locker explodes and so does Rodney’s car. And Spoony, Mary and Jane are set up to look like they did it all when a rockslide and some dynamite kills them off.

Mark and Theresa know that David is the one who did it all, so they attend the school dance that he plans to destroy, refusing to leave. David then takes the bomb outside, where it explodes, making him a martyr hero and keeping the blame forever on Spoony, Mary and Jane.

Writer-director Rene Daalder was recommended by Russ Meyer, for whom the young man had previously worked for as a cameraman. That may or may not be the reason why this movie was released as Sexy Jeans in Italy, complete with pornographic inserts that are obviously not the same actors. I’ve seen it and have to tell you — it’s disconcerting.

This is a brutal and uncompromising film that would go on to inspire Heathers while sadly presaging the world we live in. Of note, the director intended for gravity to kill nearly everyone and no adults to appear in the movie, like some demented version of Peanuts.

CANNON MONTH 2: Savage Weekend (1976)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This movie was first on the site on November 10, 2021.

While it wasn’t released until 1979, the movie that became Savage Weekend — also The Killer Behind the Mask — started as The Upstate Murders. That means that it predates most of the commonly accepted “first” slashers like Halloween and Friday the 13th.

It was acquired by the Cannon Group — one of the few slashers they put out along with Silent Night, Bloody Night*X-RayNew Year’s Evil and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, although I can make an argument for CobraHero and the Terror and 10 to Midnight being slashers and I consider Schizoid Americanized giallo — and had a budget of $58,000.

This is a slasher with the most ridiculous of conceits — everyone comes to upstate New York to see a new schooner — but it also has a heroic gay character (Nicky, played by Christopher Allport, who was in both Jack Frost movies and ironically killed in real life by an avalanche) and a woman escaping a bad marriage which seemingly has followed her. Also, since the aspect ratio got screwed up, the boom mic is a frequent co-star.

That said, it has a sewing needle through the head, someone accidentally killed by a bandsaw when the wrong light switch gets turned on, a hanging and an Upstate New York Chainsaw Massacre. It’s not perfect — it’s barely even worthwhile — but at least director/writer got to go on and make the much more interesting Schizoid, which has hot tub therapy sessions, scissor murders, Donna Wilkes being in love with her father Klaus Kinski and a love scene where Kinski has sex with a stripper against a hot water heater.

*I realize that this film is a Dewey-Friedland Cannon release and not Golan-Globus. That said, Golan-Globus distributed Graduation DayDon’t Go Near the Park and The Hills Have Eyes Part 2, but did not make them.

CANNON MONTH 2: 2076 Olympiad (1977)

How rare is this Cannon movie? Not only can I not find a place to watch it, I can’t even find poster art for it.

Here’s what I do know, thanks to director James R. Martin, who posted this on IMDB in 2008:

2076 Olympiad is an unrated film, reviewed in Chicago by Variety. By today’s standards, it would probably be an “R.” There was a year-long fight with the MPAA about a rating that is a story by itself. It was my first attempt at making a fictional feature-length film.

2076 Olympiad was picked up by Cannon Pictures originally and previewed in a number of locations, but did not do well up against a similar comedy Groove Tube that came out at the same time. There seemed to be room for only one. We got the film back from Cannon and tried another distributor, Cambridge Films, and they previewed it in a couple venues including George Town in DC. Ultimately we got the film back from Cambridge as well.

The film is essentially a mockumentary and satire of television coverage of sports and the Olympics in the year 2076 when even sex has become a sport. It is presented as 90 minutes of TV coverage complete with commercials, promos, news, and PSA’s. The main hosts for the events include Sandy Martin (no relation) and another commentator who sounds like Howard Cosell. Other actors in the film have gone on in the industry.

In 2076, no one actually has sex anymore, they transmit their emotions electronically to machines that create simulated non-explicit images of the encounters for replay.

2076 Olympiad had its moments but it was episodic and needed a unifying character or plot to tie it all together. The humor is bawdy, and there is some nudity but no explicit sex. Probably if there had been the film would have been more successful. As it is the film’s humor is mostly slapstick and sophomoric but entertaining at times. Looking back it could have been edited a lot tighter.

It was shot in 35mm, in Philadelphia in two weeks. The budget was small bthe ut production value was very good and the film looks like it had much higher budget.

I transfered the 35mm film to video in the early 90’s but the video master and 2 VHS copies have been lost. I have 2 35mm release prints and am thinking about doing another transfer to a digital format for DVD if there’s enough interest to warrant the cost.”

James seems to be still alive and if he is — get in touch with me. I need to know more.

Another poster remarked that Martin taught at Columbia College. I have no idea as this is his only movie.

In the year 2076 — well, obviously right? — the Olympic Games are sponsored by companies and the broadcast rights have been sold to a sex channel, which that the top sports are all sexual. So yes, there’s the idea. Why wasn’t it called 2069 Olympiad? Well, I do know the Olympics are every four years and this was made in 1976, but let’s sell this movie.

Sandy Martin, who plays Shiela, has had quite the career with her most famous role being Grandma in Napoleon Dynamite. John LaMotta, Boris in this movie, was the lead in One More Chance, which was Sam Firstenberg’s first movie. He’s also in Firstenberg’s Revenge of the NinjaNinja III: The DominationBreakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo and American Warrior, as well as playing Trevor Ochmonek on the TV show ALF.

There you go. 2076 Olympiad. The ball is in your court, Mr. Martin.

CANNON MONTH 2: Secrets of a Superstud (1976)

What was it with Cannon buying all of these British softcore movies? Also known as It’s Getting Harder All the Time and Naughty Girls on the Loose, this movie was also filmed with hardcore scenes, which was quire the scandal at the time in England.

Shot as Custer’s 13, it’s the story of Custer Firkinshaw (Anthony Kenyon), the owner of Bare Monthly magazine. He’s surrounded by centerfolds and attractive officer administrators, but when his uncle Charlie dies, he has to battle the lawyers and his family to get his fortune. It turns out that Custer has to marry and have a child in three months or lose everything. To keep track of him, his aunt Sophie (Margaret Burton) hires private detective Bernie Selby (Alan Selwyn, one of the movie’s directors and writers).

Here’s where the fake science comes in: Custer has had so much sex that he only has 13 “units of sexual activity” left. Loads? Or times to have sex? Does he die when he finishes 13 times? Anyways, his aunt sends all manner of women after him to milk him in the hopes that he never has that kid and she can keep the money for herself.

Director Morton M. Lewis also directed the mythical Sylvester Stallone porn The Party at Kitty and Stud’s— it exists but it isn’t really porn — and produced Secret Rites and Suburban Wives. His uncredited co-director, Selwyn, also wrote Keep It Up, Jack. Gerry Levy provided additional dialogue and he wrote Horror House, parts of The Crimson Cult and the film he directed, The Body Stealers.

It’s not great, but I have yet to see a British sexploitation movie that is.

CANNON MONTH 2: Slumber Party ’57 (1976)

I always wondered, as a child of the 70s, why everyone cared so much about the 50s. Now, as an old man in the 2020s, I wonder why everyone cares so much about the 80s. Time is a flat circle.

Director William A. Levey made some wild movies. There’s Blackenstein for starters. How about the Harry Novak movie Wam Bam Thank You Spaceman? Or The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington? Not enough? How’s Skatetown U.S.A.? Or another Cannon movie, Lightning, the White Stallion? Hmm? Well, let me ask you, have you seen Monaco Forever, one of the first Van Damme movies? Or Hellgate, a rape revenge occult back from the dead movie with Arnold Horshack as one of the leads?

He also wrote the story for this movie (actor Frank Framer did his only scriptwriter on this), a tell-all about how some 50s girls lost their virginity. That said, this isn’t a Her Secret Garden movie. It’s still a softcore sex romp for guys, as evidenced by the sapphic barnyard scene and underwater camera that gets all the angles, like a pervert at an Irving Klaw camera club. Oh yeah, there’s also a scene where the girls discuss how much they like when their dads spank them.

I don’t want to be high and mighty here. After all, I can appreciate the charms of the leads: a very young Debra Winger, even before she was Wonder Girl in that backdoor Wonder Woman pilot, and in her book Undiscovered, she will only say of this movie “A cigar-smoking agent had signed me while I was waitressing, but that only resulted in a blue movie.”; Noelle North from Carrie and Blood Song; Pamela Wood — Janet from Terror at Red Wolf InnSuperchick herself Joyce Jillson, Bridget Holloman from Evils of the Night; Mary Appleseth of Planet of the Dinosaurs and most essentially, Cheryl Rainbeaux Smith, the sadly lost former Runaway who was in everything from Lemora and Caged Heat to Massacre at Central High, the Michael Pataki-directed softcore Cinderella and Vice Squad.

If you want a movie with Joe E. Ross playing his Car 54, Where Are You role as well as near wall-to-wall nudity — as well as a drive-in scene where the kids go to see Cauldron of Blood which wouldn’t come out for thirteen years after this — well, here it is.

CANNON MONTH 2: Little Girl… Big Tease (1976)

Sixteen-year-old Virginia Morgan (Jody Ray) has been kidnapped by two men — J.D. (Robert Furey) and Dakota (Phil Dendone)– and her high school economics teacher Alva Coward (Mary Mendum using the alias Rebecca Brooke; she’s also in Cherry Hill HighThe Groove Tube and Joe Sarno’s Confessions of a Young American Housewife). All three of them end up in bed with her, whether by force from the musclebound Dakota, being seduced by Alva or falling for the leader, J.D. Actually, young Virginia ends up getting into a poly relationship — a quad — with all of them and has no intention of going back to her rich daddy.

The disturbing part is that Virginia acts as if she’s not even near puberty, despite having a boyfriend, and the movie ends as the cops find her left behind all tied up and we see a montage of every single one of her sex scenes as she hugs her father, then the camera zooms in on her innocent face.

Director Roberto Mitrotti mostly made documentaries after this. While this movie may think you’re about to watch something on the level of The Candy Snatchers, this seems to stick more to softcore than a movie out to upset you.

CANNON MONTH 2: The Zebra Force (1976)

Oh man, this movie.

Lt. Claymore (Clay Tanner) had his face scarred, lost his voice — he has a robot-sounding one now — and his right arm lost thanks to Vietnam, but now that he’s back in the U.S., he’s gathered his old Army friends to either get rich quick or clean up the neighborhood or both — he makes them flush heroin down the crapper and says, We’re not in this to hurt society but to rid society of some of its scum and of course we reap the profit.” — by having them wear masks that make people believe they’re black when they’re white and rob the mob.

Yes, this is the plot of the movie.

To make it even stranger, the masks are really just black actors playing the role and then when the mission ends, they take off the mask and are white actors.

Then, a mob boss named Salvatore (Anthony Caruso) hires Carmine Longo (Mike Lane) from Detroit and teams him with his best assassin Charlie DiSantis (Richard X. Slattery) to take out the Zebra Force, which is as problematic a name — and movie — as you can get.

Writer, director and producer Joe Tornatore did acting and stunts before this movie, choosing it as his debut. He also made a sequel in 1987, Code Name Zebra, and also was behind Grotesque, one of the oddest horror movies I’ve ever seen.

Somehow, RC Cola paid to have their product all over this film. I can only imagine how they felt when they watched it. I’d like to imagine a packed screening room full of soda pop executives and their families just stunned into absolute madness.