DAY 22 — BEASTS OF BURDEN: One where a horse/donkey/mule/ox, etc. (or a jungle cat?), is doing some serious work.
Sam, the head honcho at B&S About Movies, speaks a lot of celluloid truths: one of them is that Donald Pleasence really will take anything for a paycheck. Now, Ross Hagan, we know that he always takes everything offered. But wow . . . why is the stunning Nancy Kwan, here? Well, when times are tough and a buck is a buck, you sign on the dotted line for a ripoff of The Most Dangerous Game* — only set on a hunter’s private island. To that end: Donnie is our big-game hunter (and entrepreneur, race car driver, archeological temple restorer, etc.) who brings a killer leopard to his private island, turns it loose, and starts his hunt. Oops! Don’s daughter, played by Nancy Kwan, with her Texan squeeze, played by Ross Hagan, show up for an unexpected visit. Or something or other. . . .
Yeah, in the tradition of William Girdler’s Grizzly, we sort have a Jaws ripoff, here, or as we like to say, a “Bastard Pups of Jaws,” with a killer leopard on the loose, gnawing its way through its cast . . . like one of those killer dog flicks (which we explore in full, with our “Ten Horror Movie Dogs” feature) starring Joe Don Baker, David McCallum, and Richard Crenna. Yep. Just like a William Girdler flick — be it Grizzly . . . or Abby or Project: Kill or Day of the Animals or, hell, The Manitou, which, even though it’s based on a best-selling novel, is still a cash-in on The Omen — Night Creature, aka the poor leopard who was captured by ol’ Donnie and dumped here, doesn’t have an original spot on its hide.
But wait . . . it’s an all black leopard.
Eh, all I know is that Lee Madden, he of my beloved biker romps Hell’s Angels ’69 (1969) and Angel Unchained (1970), is knocking out his second horror film of the triple-threat that takes Charles Manson, washed-up studio contract players, aka “Hags,” and Jesus Christ to exploitation task with The Night God Screamed (1971).
Sadly, even with my fandom for those entries in Madden’s resume, I’ve never made the effort to seek out his sexploitation-action romp about three girls running their own brothel with The Manhanders (1974), which is an oversight that only a Mill Creek public domain box set can correct. I will not, however, ever . . . never, subject myself to Mr. Madden’s final film, Ghost Fever, for I have no desire to see a movie with TV’s George Jefferson as its star. (Besides, Madden knew a real dog when he scratches the fleas: he took the Alan Smithee credit.) Anyway, after Angel Unchained, this is Madden’s second and final writing credit, which, again, serves as his second and final horror film after — IMO — his best film, The Night God Screamed.
Speaking of movie wisdoms: Bill Van Ryn of Drive-In Asylum loves films — such as Prey — where nothing happens. But I don’t even think the Ryn can handle these maddening Madden reels of nothingness. Thankfully, someone took the time to cut this meandering, 83-minute snore fest into a 13-minute edit. Yeah, its like that: 70-plus minutes of this film isn’t necessary to get to the point of it all.
However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you something about the film.
Well, it’s not — in spite of the “Donald Pleasence of Halloween” plug — a horror film: this is pure a thriller . . . with no thrills nor suspense. And the leopard is just a regular, run-of-the-mill leopard: it’s not possessed by Satan or injected with any manipulated DNA strands. The poor leopard is just sacred — after it’s capture from its jungle home in Thailand — and dumped into a foreign habitat. Wouldn’t you be pissed off after being drugged and caged and dumped in a foreign wood? Man encroaches on the animals’ environment, but the animal is the “monster.” So either kill it or capture it, for the tourism trade can’t suffer.
And suffer the animal does.
We are in the middle of Thailand and shooting on the sly, so PETA wasn’t on site, and it’s 1978 pre-CGI, so yes: We have ourselves a vile-as-fuck Ruggero Deodato joint of the who-gives-a-fuck-about-spider monkeys-and-river turtles variety, for we need the cat to do what we need it to do before we loose “the Golden Hour.”
Then there’s the not so “magical” cinematography.
Here we are, in the middle of one of the most exotic lands on the friggin’ planet, and yet, Lee Madden managed to make Thailand look like a shot-through-cheese cloth fucking mess. Even the Nancy Kwan, Jennifer Rhodes, and Russ Hagan (as our resident Texan-styled tour guide, natch) sub-plotted love triangle is an utter bore. Oh, but out-sucking the lover’s plot is the POV-cat stalking, which is out-sucked by the voice over narration required to thread the travel log footage into non-coherency.
Everything in this movie sucks. Shame on Lee Madden for snookering a film studio for a free Thailand vacation as a poor leopard suffered for it.
Don’t pay a time for this offense to cinema. Watch it for free on You Tube — if only to scratch another Donald Pleasence flick off that must-watch-everything-Donnie-ever-did watch list.
* We run down the “human death sport” genre in our review of Elio Petri’s sci-if pop art’er, The 10th Victim.