CAULDRON FILMS BLU RAY RELEASE: Convoy Busters (1978)

Maurizio Merli is, for me, the face of poliziotteschi, taking on a similar role as Clint Eastwood as a judge, jury and executioner of criminals that lives by his own strict code and must follow it, no matter how much it destroys his life. Whether he’s Commissario Betti in Violent Rome, Violent Naples and Special Cop in Action or Inspector Leonardo Tanzi in The Tough Ones and The Cynic, The Rat and The Fist or out of the badge roles in Mannaja and Highway Racer, Merli comes across as a man of action and principle.

In Convoy Busters, he plays Inspector Olmi, a rough cop who uses brutish methods to discover who killed a young girl with a professional-looking slash to the throat and dumped her in the river. His case leads him to the highest chambers of the corrupt Rome government, which outs him in the crosshairs of those officials, organized crime and the media. An attempt to take him out leads to the death of an innocent bystander, which is enough for the powers that be to send him away to a small fishing town and out of their lives.

Olmi, of course, can’t shut off his need to be a cop and soon discovers that there’s a smuggling operation going down right in his new home. That’s when the real title of this movie — Un Poliziotto Scomodo (An Uncontrolled Cop) — makes more sense, but one assumes that Convoy was a big deal in  1978 and if it got more people to see this movie, then that’s the name in foreign markets.

There’s a great brawl in a bar, a helicopter chase and plenty of great scenery between the two halves of this story, which nearly feel like they give you two films. The beginning, as the girl is taken from the water, feels almost giallo.

Director Stelvio Massi was the cameraman on A Fistful of Dollars and director of photography for The Case of the Bloody Iris, as well as the director of Emergency Squad and Magnum Cop as well as two giallo, Five Women for the Killer and the berserk Arabella the Black Angel. The script was written by Stilvio’s son Danilo (who was also the assistant director), Gino Carpone (Conquest) and Teodoro Corrà (Body Puzzle).

The Cauldron Films blu ray of  Convoy Busters features a 2K restoration from the original camera negative with both English and Italian audio options as well as new featurettes like Maurizio Merli: A Lethal Hunter of Subtle Variation with tough-guy film expert Mike Malloy and interviews with Maurizio Matteo Merli and Danilo Massi, who also has a Stelvio Massi video tribute. Archival extras include the alternate Convoy Busters, interviews with journalist Eolo Capacci, Ruggero Deodato, Enzo G Castellari , Maurizio Matteo and Enio Girolami, plus an image gallery, trailer and a poster, all inside a gorgeous slipcase with artwork by Haunt Love. Get it from Cauldron Films.

JEAN ROLLIN-UARY: The Grapes of Death (1978)

The difference between a Jean Rollin zombie adjacent movie and one made by any other director should be obvious: this is going to be a descent into madness and an exploration of how the end will come not because of the supernatural or a virus, but because humankind is, well, humankind.

All Élizabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal, incredible and sadly lost way too soon and way too senselessly) wants to do is get the vineyard her fiancee Michel (Michel Herval) owns, but the train to get there soon turns into insanity thanks to a man with a boil on his neck, which near instantly destroys a woman she’s just become friends with named Brigitte (Evelyne Thomas). From there on, nearly everyone she comes upon is either covered with horrific boils, has gone insane or has already been killed.

One of those people is Brigitte Lahaie, who shows up long enough to make us think she’s going to help our heroine only leaving her to die. She then dramatically disrobes to show others that she isn’t one of the insane group of people killing everyone, only to do exactly that.

Lahaie had worked with Rollin in his adult films before making horror with him. He felt that she had a “strange presence” which turned into a sort of fascination for him. He described her as “the perfect example of womanhood” and the way he captures her in this warms my heart like when Franco would worship his Lina with his lens too. Why else would he capture her in the same way Bava did Barbara Steele when he showed her off in Black Sunday?

She was also so cold in that scene where she disrobes that she couldn’t get her lines out.

When Élizabeth finally gets to her man, she discovers that this was all his fault. He invented the pesticide and worse, he employed illegal workers so he never told the police what was happening. Now, it’s too late, much too late, with the movie ending with our heroine going mad, killing everyone around her and allowing her lover’s blood to pour all over her face.

I guess this is as much a zombie movie as The Crazies is. That’s a compliment.

DISMEMBERCEMBER: The Silent Partner (1978)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to Chris Fisanick for suggesting this movie.

Based on the Anders Bodelsen novel Think of a Number, this Daryl Duke-directed (The Thorn Birds) and Curtis Hanson-written (The Hand That Rocks the CradleL.A. ConfidentialSweet Kill) was an early Carolco film and also one of the earliest films to take advantage of Canada’s Capital Cost Allowance incentive plan, which gave production companies tax inducements to make commercial films in Canada. It’s probably the best-regarded film to ever take advantage of that tax shelter, as most are the slashers that we love.

Oh yeah — Duke walked off the film due to creative differences and Hanson, who had originally wanted to direct the film, took over the remainder of the shoot and handled all the post-production on the film, which is why that decapitation — no spoilers — and head in a bag show up in the film.

Miles Cullen (Elliott Gould) is a bank teller inside a large mall — Toronto’s Eaton Centre — is on to robber Arthur Reikle’s (a deranged Christopher Plummer) plan to rob his bank, so in advance of the man holding the bank up, he’s been stashing money and shorting the till. When it happens, he shorts Reikle, who is dressed as Santa, and keeps the money for himself. That should be all, until Reikle learns from the news that the bank has reported that more has been stolen than he took. He figures out the scam as Cullen makes his move — now that he has more confidence — on co-worker Julie Carver (Susannah York), who is actually having an affair with their boss.

Miles and Reikle engaged in a game of wits — and violence — that ends for a time with the criminal in jail and using his lover Elaine (Celine Lomez, The Ivory Ape and nearly Curtains before she was replaced by Linda Thorson) to get info on his rival. Of course, they fall in love and of course once he gets out of jail, Reikle brutally murders her.

Obviously, only one of these two men is going to make it out of this movie alive.

The third adaption of this story — 1970 Danish theatrical film directed by Palle Kjærulff-Schmidt and starring Henning Moritzen and Bibi Andersson and a 1972 West German TV movie directed by Rainer Erler and starring Klaus Herm and Edith Schultze-Westrum — this is one dark watch for the holidays, yet one that rewards the viewer. Roger Ebert went so far as to say that it was worthy of Hitchcock. Gould allegedly had a screening of the film of Hitchcock who was said to have loved it.

Oh yeah! John Candy is in this! I totally forgot!

DISMEMBERCEMBER: Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

EDITOR’S NOTE: I am so sorry. This was on the site on December 15, 2017.

In 1978, we had no idea when we’d see a new Star Wars. We didn’t have them every single year, like we’re all celebrating right now. No, we had our comics and toys, but no other new media. So it was with great excitement that my three-year-old brother and my six-year-old self gathered in front of the TV on November 17, 1978 to get a whole new adventure.

It’s Life Day — the Christmas of the Star Wars universe. Chewbacca just wants to get home, but the Empire is on his tail.

Meanwhile, on his home planet of Kashyyk, Chewie’s family hopes for him to be there. His wife, Mallatobuck, scans for starships and calls Luke Skywalker and R2D2. Yes, everyone from Star Wars is in this, even noted crank Harrison Ford.

She also gets in touch with Saun Dann (Art Carney from The Honeymooners? Yes. Don’t freak out just yet.) and tells him to look for Chewbacca and Han. Meanwhile, Chef Gormaanda (Harvey Korman from The Carol Burnett Show) teaches her how to cook via a hologram.

Saun brings Life Day gifts for everyone, including virtual reality porn featuring Diahann Carroll as an alien for Attichitcuk, Chewbecca’s dad. This sequence will bend your mind and make you humble. Keep the Force strong and your fast forward button handy, as the song in this scene, “This Minute Now” invites the wookiee to have a fantasy and experience the alien woman.

Let me reiterate what just happened: kids tuned in for Star Wars and got to see Chewbacca’s dad polish Vader’s helmet. He was shooting womprats in Beggar’s Canyon. Releasing the Special Edition. Dare I say, jumping to de-light speed. Communicating with Red Leader One. You know what I’m saying. And I think you do.

Han and Chewie land on the planet, but the Imperial army is looking for them. They get distracted by food and Jefferson Starship singing a song called “Light the Sky on Fire” — again, yes, I am not shitting you — while Chewbacca’s son Lumpawarrump goes to watch a cartoon.

Ths cartoon — produced by Canada’s Nelvana — is the best part of the show. This is the first appearance of Boba Fett, who acts as if he is a hero. It’s short and sweet, with stylized artwork and plenty of action. It’s the best part of the show, which isn’t much of a feat. It’s said that the animation was based on the artwork of Jean “Mœbius” Geraud at the request of George Lucas. Mœbius was part of the crew that Alejandro Jodorowsky had assembled to create his version of Dune, along with Dan O’Bannon, who helped create the effects for Star Wars. Interestingly, many believe that Lucas stole Jabba the Hutt’s design from Jodorowksy’s idea of what Baron Harkonnen should look like.

Harvey Korman shows up again, then the Empire shuts down the planet Tatooine. We return to one of the best parts of Star Wars, the Mos Eisley Cantina, where we meet the owner, Ackmena (Bea Arthur from The Golden Girls. Yep. Bea Arthur.) and Harvey Korman shows up again! And Richard Pryor is there, too!

Then, in defiance of the Empire’s curfew, Ackmena sings “Good Night, but not Goodbye” with Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes, the cantina band. If you can make it through this part of the special, you must have a high midichlorian count. Of note, Greedo is in the bar showing no ill effects of being shot at first, as well as one of the rats from The Food of the Gods.

Chewbacca’s son runs from the Imperial troopers but is saved by his father and Han. Then, everyone goes to the festival at the Tree of Life. Everyone appears and a song about Life Day, which somehow has the same theme as the Star Wars theme, is sung by Princess Leia (Fisher demanded that she be allowed to sing in this special). We sit through b-roll of the original film and then see the wookiees eat dinner.

This has never been broadcast again or sold, as George Lucas sees it as a major source of embarrassment. Then again, he created the prequels, too.

If you’re wondering why the wookiees speak only in their native language and it’s never translated, thank Lucas. He fought for this against the wishes of writer Bruce Vilanch. Yes, that Bruce Vilanch. This means that for minutes at a time, all you hear are yells and grunts instead of English.

But this wasn’t the last Star Wars Christmas project. In 1980, Meco Monardo, who recorded the amazing combination of disco and science fiction entitled Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk, created Christmas in the Stars, an album that found C-3PO and R2-D2 travel to a droid factory that makes toys for S. Claus. It’s also the first audio appearance of Jon Bon Jovi, singing on the song “R2-D2, We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

If you truly love Star Wars and the holidays, you have so many other ways to spend your time. Don’t give in to the forbidden fruit that is the Star Wars Holiday Special. My brother and I had no idea of the horrifying monstrosity we’d face back in 1978. Imagine the feeling Grand Moff Tarkin had watching the Death Star explode, except our pain went on for two hours. Two hours is a long time when you’re three and six.

It hasn’t gotten any better with age. In fact, it’s all curdled with time, like a glass of Thala-Siren milk that’s been left out overnight.

Avalanche (1978)

Corey Alan directed a ton of TV, 1971’s The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio and this Rock Hudson-starring disasterpiece in which the much beloved actor plays ski resort owner David Shelby, a man who owns a ski lodge so we can all totoally identify with him. He also invites his ex-wife Caroline Brace (Mia Farrow!) to visit in the hopes that he can convince her that he’s a changed man.

His opposite is Nick Thorne (Robert Forster), an environmental photographer who knows that that David has built his resort where he shouldn’t. One look at the title of the movie should tell you what’s coming next. When Caroline battles Nick over being a control obsessed freak all over again, well, she ends up in Nick’s arms just in time for David’s business partner’s plane to crash into the mountain and send the snow into everyone’s lives.

The end of this movie — after so much destruction and loss of life — is really all about Mia Farrow choosing between Rock Hudson and Robert Forster. I mean, what else should this be about?

Originally budgeted at $6.5 million, producer Roger Corman cut that amount –will the shocks ever end? —  before shooting began in Colorado. There’s plenty of styrofoam for snow, which is kind of obvious. It was still the most expensive movie that New World ever made.

You can watch this on Tubi.

ARROW VIDEO SHAW SCOPE VOLUME 2 BOX SET: Five Superfighters (1978)

A kung-fu expert named Ma (Kwan Fung) is meeting local masters and teaching them that his abilities are the strongest and by that, I mean that he keeps kicking the ass of hapless fighters. Three of those fighters and their master are destroyed by him and they lose their faith in their skills and seek out a new master to teach them how to get revenge.

From learning crane style to a kicking lesson from a bean curd seller and discovering the skills of pole fighting from a fisherman, the three students expand their skills while their teacher alternates between drinking and becoming a sword fighter.

This might not be the finest of the Shaw Brothers movies, but even an ordinary film from this story is extraordinary by comparison to a normal film.

ARROW VIDEO SHAW SCOPE VOLUME 2 BOX SET: The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

If American audiences know director Lau Kar-leung and star Gordon Liu for anything, it would be this movie. A lot of credit for that goes to the Wu-Tang Clan, who referenced it in an album title and have as many alternate names for one another as audiences do for this movie (The Master KillerShaolin Master Killer and Shao Lin San Shi Liu Fang).

Liu Yude (Liu) has been radicalized into the rebellion against the Manchu government, which ends when General Tien Ta destroys his school and then kills not just the students, but their friends and family as well. On the run, he goes to the Shaolin temple in the hopes of learning the fighting skills he’ll need for revenge.

As an outsider, he is turned away until the chief abbott has mercy on him. Yet a year later, Yude is now San Te and begins working his way through the 35 training chambers that each monk must complete. The top chamber is too much for our hero, where he must recite Buddhist philosophy from memory, so he begins on the bottom, amazing everyone at becoming the master of 35 of the chambers in just six years.

After numerous battles, he finally defeats one of the elders and announces that his goal is to create the new 36th chamber, one in which ordinary people will be given the skills to defend themselves. The temple officially banishes him but only does so to allow him to go back into the ordinary world and continue the revolution and stopping Tien Ta.

“The wall may be low, but the Buddha is high.” With dialogue like this, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin shows that the journey to master oneself through fighting skill is not even about the actual fighting. It is mastering emotion and going inward to better oneself. The war is often with ourselves.

ARROW VIDEO SHAW SCOPE VOLUME 2 BOX SET: Invincible Shaolin (1978)

When you see that Chang Cheh has made a movie, you realize that you are about to see an above and beyond film. Invincible Shaolin is the story of General Pu (Lung-Wei Wang) trying to destroy both the north and south Shaolin schools through trickery. He invites Pao Sen Tsao (Lu Feng), Su Fong (Sun Chien) and Yang Chung Fei (Chiang Sheng) from the north and their equals from the south to battle one another in a demonstration. The north wins, everyone goes away as friends and then the General kills the southern students and gets out the word that there is a civil war between the Shaolin schools.

The southern master Mai (Chan Sen) finds three new students — Ho Ying Wu (Kuo Choi), Chu (Lo Meng) and Mai Fong (Wei Pai) — and with his dying words inspires them to go on to get revenge which just so happens to be on Sun Chien’s wedding day.

The north and south schools finally battle again in one of the most blood and gore-drenched fight scenes that I’ve seen in a Shaw Brothers movie. Chests are torn open, spears pierce bodies and the villains appear to take advantage of the bad blood that they have engineered between the Shaolin.

As always, Chang Cheh’s themes of brotherhood, valor and betrayal are what moves the story and the fighting is quite strong thanks to the talents of the Venom Mob. What an incredible movie.

Unknown Powers (1978)

Directed by Don Como (World of the UnknownThe Unknown Force), this is three episodes of a canceled TV series that had Jack Palance, Samantha Eggar, Will Geer and Roscoe Lee Brown as the hosts.

It’s your typical mid-70s paranormal BS, except then there’s this credit that says “All of the following scenes were filmed within the guarded confines of the People’s Temple in Los Angeles, The Reverend Jim Jones presiding” and you see footage of people being healed there and you realize that this was made and aired before everyone went to Guyana and well, you know what happened there.

There’s also a guy who was going to kill himself, went to a psychic and learned that if he gets stigmata, he finds oil. You can’t tell me that There Will Be Blood is more entertaining than that.

Psychic surgery. Talking to snakes and goats. Needles going through arms. Martial artists who claim that they can channel their powers into lying on beds of nails which in no way makes you good in a fight. Palance in a turtleneck. As always, Eggar provided her own wardrobe. A couple that built a pyramid over their bed to have better sex. Spitting up ectoplasm. Talking to plants. All the drugs.

People used to say that doing Ripley’s Believe It or Not was the down part of Palance’s career and he was like — imagine his voice — “I’ve done way worse, friend.”

You can watch this on Tubi.

CULT EPICS BLU RAY RELEASE: The Last Romantic Lover (1978)

Directed by Just Jaeckin, this film has magazine editor Elisabeth (Dayle Haddon, Sex With a SmileSpermula) having a contest to find the greatest lover in the world with each of the selections getting to spend quality time with her. One of those men is liontamer Pierre (Gerald Ismaël), who works for a destitute circus run by Max (Fernando Rey).

This movie may be less thought of than Jeackin’s Emmanuelle yet it’s a worthwhile film. Perhaps less overall sex, sure, but it still has an erotic charge and more of a romantic story. If you had The Playboy Channel in the 80s, there’s a good chance you probably saw this. And hey — Dalila Di Lazzaro (Frankenstein 80, the female monster in Andy Warhol’s FrankensteinThe Pyjama Girl Case, the headmistress in Phenomena) plays herself!

The Cult Epics blu ray release of The Last Romantic Lover has a new 4K HD Transfer from the original 35mm negative supervised by cinematographer Robert Fraisse; audio commentary by Jeremy Richey, the author of the book Sylvia Kristel: from Emmanuelle to Chabrol; interviews with Just Jaeckin and Dayle Haddon; a presentation at the Cinematheque Francaise and trailers. You can get it from MVD.