Cauldron Films has put our four movies* and as far as I’m concerned, they’re four for four.
Written and directed by Tomás Aznar, this Spanish biker/slasher/occult freakout thrilled me with every single frame. It starts with one of a group of robbers posing as a prostitute before she brutally knifes a man, then she joins three others to rob a bar.
Taking a middle-class couple hostage and holding out in the home of an old woman and her grandson, they act just like you’d expect a home invasion biker gang to behave, killing everyone in their path when they’re not screwing in churches.
Before they kill her, the grandmother prays to Satan to destroy the bikers and from there on, they see ghastly visions of her dead grandson, you know, when they’re not having sex and killing more people or being chased by Ossorio-like Templars through a desiccated chapel. Oh yeah — there’s also supposedly a fortune guarded by those very same Blind Dead-ish mummies in thecatacombs beneath the ruins.
It’s packed with menace, gore, sex and meanness — exactly the kind of Eurohorror that always played well over here. It has that glorious shot on film soft darkness that I love so much, as well as drugs, shootouts and a final twenty minutes that are a delirious thrill ride.
Más allá Del Terror was never released ever in the United States until now and I have no idea why.
You can right that wrong by grabbing a copy from Cauldron Films. The limited edition slipcase version may be sold out, but there’s another edition coming soon. We’ll update this post when that happens.
If you’re a fan of Asian cinema from Japan, then you know the name of Kinji Fukasaku. In addition to directing the Japanese portion of the Hollywood war film Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), he directed Toho’s Star Wars hopeful, Message from Space (1978), and the controversial and influential—and his final film—Battle Royale (2000).
After the international failure of Message from Space, Fukasaku set off to make what he hoped would be his masterpiece: an apocalyptic epic based Sakyo Komatsu’s best-selling novel Fukkatsu no hi, aka Day of Resurrection, intended to rival the likes of Hollywood’s A-List apocalypse pieces such as Soylent Green and The Omega Man and Irwin Allen-styled disaster films such as Earthquake and The Towering Inferno. Westerners—courtesy of their film adaptations—may also know Komatsu’s best-selling Eastern novels Japan Sinks (1973) and Sayonara Jupiter (1982), which were turned into the disaster film Tidal Wave (1973; the U.S. cut featured Lorne Greene from Earthquake) and the space opera Bye, Bye Jupiter (1984).
Upon its release, Kinji Fukasaku’s Virus was the most expensive film Japan ever produced—at $16 million U.S. It was also one of the country’s biggest box-office failures: even more so than Message from Space.
To make a return on their investment, Toho decided that the film needed to cast familiar western actors—albeit from Hollywood’s B-List—alongside their homeland’s familiar actors to successfully break into the Western markets of Europe and the United States. So an English-speaking international cast featuring Chuck Connors, Glenn Ford, British actress Olivia Hussey, George Kennedy, an up-and-coming Edward James Olmos and Canadian actor Nicholas Campbell, Henry Silva, Bo Svensen, and Robert Vaughn was assembled to star alongside Sonny Chiba and Masao Kusakari. Not only was the cast of an international persuasion, the film was shot on-location, not only in Tokyo, but in various locations in and around Ottawa, Canada, and Halifax, Nova Scotia. The film was supported by the Chilean Navy (Olmos stars as Russian-speaking Chilean), which lent their submarine the CNS Simpson for the production, as did the Canadian Navy, which lent out their submarine the HMCS Okanagan (Connors stars as a British naval officer).
The original cut of the film, which played in the Pacific Rim territories and was intended to play internationally, clocked in at 156 minutes (2 hours and 36 minutes). The film, of course, heavily features Sonny Chiba and Masao Kusakari, as their characters developed during the course of the film through a series of pre-apocalypse flashbacks to their earlier life.
Say it was too long; say it relied too heavily on its Japanese stars; or say that the film’s “blaming” the U.S. and other Western countries for unleashing a deadly pandemic—then nuclear devastation—upon the world was a tad too realistic (the scenes depicting marital law and infected bodies burnt in piles are undeniably dark) and not the dumbed-down Irwin Allen disaster epic with a happily ever after ending that Hollywood was expecting. And there was no way Hollywood was putting a two and a half-hour epic*—filmed mostly in English-subtitled Japanese—into theaters. So, instead of a full, worldwide theatrical release, the majesty of Kinji Fukasaku’s to-be crowning cinematic achievement was cut into a syndicated television version that ran at 108 minutes (1 hour 48 minutes). There’s also a third, shorter TV version that runs seven minutes shorter at 101 minutes (1 hour 41 minutes).
The missing 48 minutes eliminates all of the Tokyo-based flashbacks and most all of the scenes that take place at a remote, isolated Japanese station—which conveniently eliminated all of the English subtitled Japanese. While the 156 minute cut is the suggested watch—which finally seen an official U.S. DVD release in 2006; the original cut is also part of the Sonny Chiba Action Pack—you’re better off, of course, if you can only get a copy of the TV version, watching the longer of TV 108-minute cut. Sadly, the U.S. TV versions—which are now in the public domain on cheapjack DVD sets—reduce Sonny Chiba and Masao Kusakari from the “stars” of the film to peripheral characters; a heart-wrenching scene with the Japanese station making a contact with an orphaned U.S. child begging for help, is lost; Kusakari’s epic trek from a decimated Washington D.C.—which he and Svenson’s soldier tried to stop—is also deleted, which also cuts another great scene with Kusakari carrying a conversation with a burnt-out skeleton—and Jesus Christ on a cross—in a church. And whole scenes are also rearranged, most notably with Chuck Connors’s naval officer’s part not only reduced, but appearing in different parts of the film, depending on the cut you watch.
So, yeah, we’re telling you to watch the original, “too bleak for the U.S.” theatrical cut as Kinji Fukasaku intended. And it’s important to take into account that this is all pre-CGI and shot with practical in-camera effects and seamlessly incorporated stock footage, but those effects—wow, especially those showing the world’s devastated cities, including an overgrown nation’s White House—are stunning set pieces. And if you take the time to watch the original—and are able to, considering our current COVID circumstances, digest a film about a global pandemic unleashed by man’s own greedy stupidity—you’ll agree this is one of the best—if not the best—post-apoc movies you’ll ever watch**.
In a timeline that runs from the year 1982 to 1988, the apocalypse begins as East German and American scientists bicker over the deadly MM88 virus—a virus that absorbs and amplifies other viruses, making them more deadly. Of course, its creation was “accidental,” and it was stolen from a U.S. lab. Successfully recovered, the plane transporting the virus to the states, crashes, and what becomes known as the “Italian Flu,” is unleashed. Oh, and a goody-two shoes lab tech that discovered the truth behind MM88 is murdered to keep it all quiet. (Sakyo Komatsu’s based his book’s “Italian Flu” on the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 to 1920, which started in Kansas, USA.)
In a mere seven months, most of the world’s population is dead—and eventually claims the lives of Glenn Ford and Robert Vaughn (starring as the President and VP). Henry Silva (Silva, Ford, and Vaughn are excellent) is their paranoid-mad military Chief of Staff insistent that the new ARS Defense system must be armed to protect a now weakened America from a Soviet invasion. And being the crackpot that he is—after his bosses are all dead, he arms the system just before the flu claims his life.
Seven years later, all that’s left of humanity is 855 men and eight women at Palmer Station Antarctica, as the virus can’t survive in temperatures below 10-degrees Celsius. Their somewhat peaceful existence—women are forced into sexual servitude to propagate the species— is upended when it’s discovered the Soviets also have—and armed—their own ARS system—and one of the missiles is aimed at Palmer Station (because it’s a “secret military base”). Then, if the virus and the threat of nuclear war isn’t enough, the station’s seismological team discovers an earthquake will hit the U.S. eastern seaboard—and the magnitude of the quake will be interpreted by the ARS system as an “attack” and launch its rockets.
So, Bo Svenson’s Major Carter and Masao Kusakari’s Dr. Yoshizumi head off to Washington D.C. on an icebreaker to shut down the ARS. Only they’re too late: the earthquake hits and the U.S. ARS launches—and Carter dies in the earthquake rubble. Then the Soviet’s ARS counterstrikes. The world is destroyed.
And that’s how the TV movie version ends.
The theatrical version continues—with those extra seven minutes cut from the 108-minute TV version—as Yoshizumi treks south across the wastelands back to Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica, where the Earth’s final survivors—from the ocean-bound ice breaker, escaped, and successfully created a vaccine.
As far as this reviewer is concerned: Kinji Fukasaku, in fact, created a masterpiece. And, if you’ve spent any amount of time on the digitized terrains of B&S About Movies and are familiar with the later, collective schlock ‘80s resumes of Chuck Conners (Tourist Trap), George Kennedy (Top Line), Henry Silva (Megaforce), Bo Svensen (Night Warning) and Robert Vaughn (Starship Invasions), you’ll realize that they’re all very good here—and Virus gave them their last great film roles before the Italian and Filipino film industries got their low-budget hooks in them. (Nicholas Campbell and Silva later worked together on the Canux-slasher Baker County, U.S.A; Campbell was “Luke Skywalker” in the Canux-star slop that was The Shape of Things to Come; Olivia Hussey ended up in things like Ice Cream Man.)
You can watch the full-length director’s cut courtesy of Tubi. You can watch-compare to the U.S. TV version on You Tube and the VHS version on You Tube.
* We discussed, extensively, those epic “intermission” films of the ‘60s and ‘70s in our review of the 2021 release of the Australian film Rage.
** We discuss a few of our ’70s apoc favorites with our “Drive-In Friday” tribute to Hollywood’s A-List Apocalypse.
Remember when they had crabs in the grocery store and you’d stare at them in wonder until realizing that people were going to bring them home and boil them while they were still alive? Yeah, your childhood can die pretty quick.
Don’t expect something out of Guy N. Smith’s crab novels. No, this is by the same people who brought you Flipper, Jack Cowden and Ricou Browning (yes, the man who was The Creature from the Black Lagoon). Do expect to spend much of this movie’s running time waiting to see the creature and not getting to see as much of it as you’d like.
I mean, if you’re going to spend $1 million on the crab, show the crab.
Why would you, as a scientist, test groth hormone on a crab? I used to date a professor who was famous within insect study circles for the research she had published about how bug brains act as radio wave receivers. She’d often cut open their heads, dye their brains and then research how they acted. I would tell her the dangers of experimenting on insects and messing with nature, as she didn’t grow up with a steady diet of 1950’s science fiction and 1970’s ecological horror movies. So if the bugs ever come, cut our heads open and experiment on us, you can blame her.
Also, all of that paragraph is much more exciting than Island Claws.
We’re flying to Florida for this film, a Fred Olen Ray directed effort that features Buster Crabbe — yes, the original Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers — as Sheriff Kowalski, a man who must battle the mutants who rise from the swamps when a meteor lands.
This isn’t near the movie that Ray’s follow-up, Scalps, would be, but there’s still lots of fun to be had. It was originally going to be about giant leeches, but then it turned out that those monsters would be too expensive. Zombies, however, are relatively cost-efficient.
Shot over eight weekends for no money, this has zombies eating gators. Really, we should not want more out of life. This should be satisfying knowledge, knowing that giant apex predators face off with the shambling redneck dead and a geriatric former space opera hero is here to save every one of us one more time.
Also, as I’ve learned from Shock Waves, I’m all about watching zombies rise from the dirtiest of water, so that is also a reason to watch, if you have similar predilections.
John Waters is from Lutherville. Don Dohler was in the next neighborhood over in Perry Hall. Together they made some astounding movies on a small scale that remain influential within their very specific genres. Waters is the Pope of Trash. Doehler was more on the side of comix, horror and science fiction.
Writer, teacher and film historian Donald Leifert plays the dead body of Eric Longfellow, which has been brought back to life by an evil spirit — that’s all the reason the movie gives — and starts roaming suburban Baltimore and choking the life force of people into his body.
Fiend stayed unwatched for years, which is a shame. It’s a blast with basically no story to get in the way, just a monstrous force out to kill everyone.
Doehler didn’t just shoot this in his hometown. He shot it in his house. This is lo-fi regional horror, which is pretty much all we love around here. At one point, people made movies because they wanted to, not because Amazon monetized content. Watch this and dream back on better days, like, well, 1980.
Psychotronics are a conspiracy theory that believe that “government agents make use of electromagnetic radiation (such as the microwave auditory effect), radar, and surveillance techniques to transmit sounds and thoughts into people’s heads, affect people’s bodies, and harass people.”
This film uses that term and ended up inspiring Michael J. Weldon to create his magazine Psychotronic Video, which sought to discover and get the word out about movies that the mainstream ignored.
Chicago barber Rocky Foscoe — what a name! — has discovered that he has psychotronic powers that he uses to blast his wife and create enough of a problem that a SWAT team — and government agents that want to use him for their own dark agenda — have to be called in.
Produced completely out of the studio system, shot entirely in Chicago and self-financed, The Psychotronic Man is the very definition of a regional film. As a result, you can watch this secure in the knowledge that no matter how dangerous the stunts look or how great the downtown settings are filmed, they were all done with no permits.
Writer, director, producer, editor and star Charles McCrann made this low budget — but hey, it played USA Network — movie where drug crops are sprayed with chemicals and turn growers into zombies. That’s a novel idea and this movie started a subgenre of zombie films all about rednecks.
McCrann was a Princeton University and Yale Law School grad, senior vice-president of the Marsh & McLennan Companies financial services company and worked high up in the World Trade Center, where he sadly died on 9/11.
Under that suit and tie, you would have found the heart of a horror movie fan who finally got to make his own movie. It’s not the best zombie movie you’ve ever seen, but hey, John Amplas (Martin) and Judith Brown (The Big Doll House) are in it. It also made the grade as a legit video nasty.
“Shake hands with danger/ Any guy oughta know/ I used to laugh at safety/ But now they call me… Three Finger Joe.”
Shake Hands with Danger is perhaps the best industrial training movie about Caterpillar equipment that I have ever seen, twenty transcendent minutes.
“Glenn knows the risk of striking hard against badly chipped metal, but he’s wearing safety glasses and there’s a macho thing involved here. Glenn doesn’t want his friend to sneer at him for being overly cautious. So, Glenn shakes hands with danger.”
What makes it even more amazing was that this is directed by Herk Harvey, the same man whose 1962 Carnival of Souls influenced so much of the horror that would follow, most importantly Night of the Living Dead. Harvey spent most of his career making movies just like this, films with titles like Pork: The Meal with a Squeal and Case History of a Sales Meeting.
This movie has real practical effects in that big machines are really crashing and breaking and destroying bodies in their wake. Sure, the song — written by Jim Stringer, John Clifford and Charles Oldfather Jr.* — is silly, but the film is effective.
“Shake hands with danger/ Take the chance that you won’t fall/ You’ll save yourself a minute/ But you may damn well lose it all!”
Herk Harvey had a great perspective on the movies that he made. He said, “I took a vacation and shot Carnival of Souls in two weeks. I’ve been to festivals and people always ask, “How come you made only one film?”, and I say, “Hell, I’ve made over 400″.”
*Charles Oldfather was the son of a high administrator at the University of Nebraska who has a building named after himself on campus. He taught every course at the University of Kansas School of Law and was the University Attorney. He also is in this movie acting, which he did in local productions, and one assumes that he met Harvey in that capacity, as the director also taught at Kansas University.
Roger Ebert said, “This movie is embarrassing. There’s no invention in it, no imagination, no new comic vision, no ideas about what might be really funny — instead of just dope-funny, something to laugh at if you’re in the bag anyway.”
Variety called it “a laborious disappointment in which the freshness has vanished and the laughs come few and far between.”
As for me, I’ve been watching it for forty plus years and laughed out loud before I even knew what a drug was.
There’s less of a story than just meandering around in search of something, which is usually a source to gain marijuana. It’s all about the gags along the way, like Chong playing his guitar so loudly that flowers die, travel down Sunset Boulevard, get abducted by aliens and do stand-up before Paul Ruebens calls the police (his line, “I think they’re Iranians!” has been censored for years, ADR’d to say “I think they’re hippies!”).
Evelyn Guerrero plays Donna, the name she uses in most of the Cheech and Chong films. The first Latina to pose for Playboy, she’s also in The Toolbox Murders and was married to Pat Morita. Bob McClurg — who founded The Groundlings — and his wife Edie — who is hilarious in every bit part she got — are in this, as are other Groundlings like Gary Austin, John Paragon (Jambi!), Phil Hartman and Cassandra Petersen (Elvira!).
Plus, Rita Wilson is in this, as are Lupe Ontiveros (Selena), Faith Minton (Big Mama in …All the Marbles), John Steadman (Papa Jupiter’s dad in The Hills Have Eyes), Michael Winslow (Police Academy), Jake Steinfeld (who did the exercise show Body By Jake, as well as playing the killer in Home Sweet Home), Paul “Mousie” Garner (whose vaudeville career stretched back to being one of Ted Healey’s Stooges) and Marcus Chong (who was Tank in The Matrix and is Tommy Chong’s adopted son).
Strangely enough, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi were filming The Blues Brothers on the same lot and when they visited, Tommy Chong turned over the director’s chair to Aykroyd for the scene where Chong urinates from out of his window.
I can totally see why some people would hate this movie and I have no defense why I love it. Sometimes you just have to enjoy things.
In between playing one of America’s most beloved teenagers and directing its favorite movies, Ron Howard took several against type roles. This is one such example, as he plays Leon Cybulkowski, who puts his brother Joseph (Mickey Rourke!) out of his misery as he asks to be killed instead of living out his life as a quadriplegic.
Director Jud Taylor started his career as an actor before becoming an in-demand director of TV movies. Some of his best-remembered films include Revenge!, The Disappearance of Flight 412, Search for the Gods (which has Kurt Russell and Stephen McHattie seeking ancient astronauts), Out of the Darkness and The Great Escape II: The Untold Story (he was an actor in the original).
Based on the book Act of Love: The Killing of George Zygmanik by Judith Paige Mitchell, this NBC TV movie originally aired on September 24, 1980. It’s an emotional watch and Howard is pretty decent in it. It also has Robert Foxworth (the voice of Ratchet in the Transformers movies), Jacqueline Brookes (The Good Son), David Spielberg (Christine), Mary Kay Place (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman), Chris Mulkey (Hank Jennings from Twin Peaks), Pat Gorley (Kiss My Grits) and David Faustino in his first acting role.