CANNON MONTH 2: I Go Pogo (1980)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks for being part of the second Cannon Month. There are so many movies to get to, from the rest of the films Menahem Golan directed to 21st Century’s 70s films that they distributed to the thousands of titles that Cannon owned. Trust me — there will be a third Cannon Month. This is one of the 21st Century-distributed movies and I’m kind of fascinated as to why they would have the rights.

Pogo is the cartoon character who said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Sure, it was created for kids, but it had political satire that appealed to adults. Cartoonist Walt Kelly created it and the strip was syndicated to American newspapers from 1948 until 1975, then there was a revival from 1989 to 1993 with writer Larry Doyle and artist Neal Sternecky, who eventually did the whole cartoon himself. Actually, some newspapers carried reprints from 1975 to 1982 because that’s how popular Pogo was.

Chuck Jones had made The Pogo Special Birthday Special for the strip’s 20th anniversary but fans and Kelly disliked it. Walt and his wife Selby wrote and hand-animated We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us, which was unfinished due to Walt’s poor health but the storyboards were used for the book of the same name. Finally, in 1980, this stop-motion film was made.

While this was released on VHS and played cable quite often — and Selby Kelly sold DVD on her site before her death — it has never officially been released on DVD. There was a ViewMaster set which makes sense, as the stop motion characters lend themselves well to that format.

Actually, the release of this movie is so weird. There were movie posters and ads in Variety claiming that it was to be released by 20th Century Fox. That never happened. It played once in August 1980 in New York City and its Kennedy Center debut never happened.

The stop-motion animators worked hard to ensure that the movie could be released four months prior to the 1980 election along with a promised a $1 million promotional budget and national Pogo for President write-in campaign.

Instead, 21st Century released it as a video rental through Fotomat huts — yes, this was a thing before digital cameras where you’d drive up and get your film developed but I never knew they had movies — in a plain generic Fotomat box.

On November 2, 1982 — the day of the mid-term elections — HBO premiered a new cut of the film that had narration added by Len Maxwell. This movie is really talky, so now it became even more filled with words. That’s the version that aired on cable through 1992 and that Disney Home Video released in 1984 and United American Video in 1989.

Directed by Marc Paul Chinoy, this film’s claymation characters seem a bit too dimensional when I think of Walt Kelly’s art, yet it’s still an interesting look. The strange thing is that this is based on the strip where Pogo ran for President and that was in 1952 and 1960 so the stories were nearly thirty years old by the time this movie came out, so some of the timely references are no longer so on the mark.

That said, the cast is strong, with Ruth Buzzi as Miz Beaver and Miss Mam’selle Hepzibah; Kelly’s friend journalist Jimmy Bresin as P.T. Bridgeport; Stan Freberg as Albert the Alligator; Jonathan Winters as Porky Pine, Molester Mole and Wiley Catt; Skip Hinnant (the voice of Fritz the Cat) as Pogo and Vincent Price as Deacon Muskrat.

It also has a good soundtrack featuring Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. Yet it just feels like something I’m unsure kids would be interested in, as the subtext of political commentary has become the entire story. But hey, Will Vinton has always said that The Adventures of Mark Twain was the first full-length claymation movie and this was at least five years before that.

You can watch this on YouTube.

CANNON MONTH 2: The Babysitter (1980)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was on the site for the first time on May 23, 2020The Babysitter was not produced by Cannon but was released on video by HBO/Cannon Video.

The ABC Friday Night Movie for November 28, 1980, The Babysitter was directed by Peter Medak, who was also in the chair for movies like The ChangelingCry for the StrangersZorro the Gay Blade, Romeo Is BleedingSpecies II and The Ruling Class. What an amazing lineup of films to have on your resume and such a disparate list of movies.

Dr. Jeff Benedict and his wife Liz (TV movie supercouple William Shatner and Patty Duke) have moved from Seattle to Chicago. Between their daughter Tara (Quinn Cummings, The Goodbye Girl) and the demands of housework, Liz isn’t doing so well. That means they bring in a live-in nanny named Joanna Redwine (Stephanie Zimbalist, before Remington Steele) and that’s when things go to seed.

Before you can say movie of the week, Joanna has Liz drinking again and convinced that Jeff has a mistress. While that game is afoot, she’s also trying to convince Jeff that loading his clown into her cannon while wifey is passed out is beyond a good idea

This is when you fire the babysitter. That said — if they did, we would not have the next hour and change of this movie.

Before it’s over, the bodies of the last family Joanna killed — wrapped in plastic a half decade before Laura Palmer — have shown up, she’s wearing Patty Duke’s lingerie and served up a dinner of raw beef tongue. The family is lucky that they know John Houseman, who saves them all.

I have a weakness for both made for TV movies and ones where babysitters slowly drive a family insane. This movie is at the center of this magnificent cycle and must be experienced. These TV movies are exploitation films, with small budgets and insane stories, that scream at you the entire time they are on the screen.

You can watch this on YouTube:

CANNON MONTH 2: Last Rites (1980)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Last Rites was not produced by Cannon but was theatrically distributed by Cannon Releasing Corporation.

You know, vampires think they’re so smart. They’ve been pulling that Alucard scam for decades and humans haven’t figured it out. Like in this small town, where a drag race leads to two injured teens. The girl is declared deceased — she isn’t — and rushed to the A. Lucard Funeral Home. Soon, A. Lucard himself(Gerald Fielding), Dr. Cummins (Victor Jorge) and an assistant drink her blood and then stake her. Yes, the most important people in town are vamps and they’re using the locals as feeding stock.

Marie (Patricia Lee Hammond) and Ted Fonda (Michael Lally) call Dr. Cummins when her mother (Mimi Weddell) gets sick. He gives her a sedative, says she’s dead and drinks up. Then he calls in Lucard to bury the body. Then Marie decides she wants a home funeral — what kind of maniacs want a dead body just sitting at home? — so mom comes home. She could turn at any minute, so Lucard sends his assistant to stop that. Well, Ted tosses him out the window and the kindly Mrs. Bradley is now walking the night.

A low budget regional New Jersey movie — made in Vineland — that spends as much time hanging with vampiric small-town politicians as it does showing that fanged bloodletting that you expect, this movie has a blue collar take on blood-drinking ghouls.

Director, writer and producer Domonic Paris was also behind the movie Splitz and a series of documentaries including Amazing Masters of Martial ArtsBad Girls of the MoviesAfros, Macks & Zodiacs and Film House Fever. Now he writes movies like A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures.

Of everyone in this movie, Mimi Weddell — who has no lines — did the most afterward. She was already 65 when this was made, but ended up being in everything from Student Bodies and The Purple Rose of Cairo to HitchThe Thomas Crown Affair and an episode of Sex and the City.

I’m all for movies having endings like this one.

CANNON MONTH 2: Beyond Evil (1980)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Beyond Evil was not produced by Cannon but was theatrically distributed by Cannon Releasing Corporation. You can read another take on the movie here.

Architect Larry Andrews and his new wife Barbara (horror movie super couple John Saxon and Linda Day George; if these two ever had a child it would either be a demon or a gleaming golden angel) have moved to a small island off the coast of the Philippines. Del (former minor league baseball player Michael Dante; he’s also in The Farmer and was introduced to acting by John Wayne), Larry’s business partner, had promised them a brand new condo. Instead, they’re moving into Casa Fortuna, the haunted former home of Esteban and Alma Martín (Janice Lynde), who died after a fight started by Alma’s obsession with the occult.

Within what seems like minutes, next door neighbors and psychic surgery experts Dr. Solomon (David Opatoshu) and his wife Leia (Anna Marisse) warn Larry that Alma wants his young bride’s body for her own. At the same time, Barbara is luring Del into the home with promises of sex and then shoving him off the balcony.

You know what this movie needs? An exorcism. Well, it gets it.

Herb Freed is kind of a forgotten king. I mean, the dude made HauntsGraduation Day and Tomboy, which are three other movies I watch all the time. He wrote the script with producer David Baughn and Paul Ross.

You can watch this on Tubi or order it from Vinegar Syndrome.

CANNON MONTH 2: Alien Contamination (1980)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This originally was posted on August 27, 2018Alien Contamination was not produced by Cannon but was theatrically distributed by Cannon Releasing Corporation.

As a large ship drifts into New York City, you may wonder, “Am I watching Zombi?” No, you’re watching Contamination or Alien Contamination, but the similarities may be international. Both films shared the same production offices and director Luigi Cozzi (Starcrash, Hercules) was so impressed that he wanted to hire the same cast, but only ended up with Ian McCulloch.

The ship is packed with large containers of coffee, which really hide green eggs that pulsate and make droning sounds. The crew of the ship is more than just dead. They’re in pieces and the rescue team soon discovers why. The eggs tend to explode, spraying acid all over the place that’s toxic to anything human. As soon as it touches them, they explode in glorious slow motion bursts of red food color and Karo syrup.

The military soon links the green eggs with a recent mission to Mars that caused one astronaut to disappear and the other, Commander Hubbard (there’s Ian McCulloch!) to become a drunk. He joins Colonel Stella Holmes and New York cop Tony Aris (Marino Masé, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times) on the case, which takes them all the way to a Columbian coffee plantation (well, the movie was funded by Columbia cocaine dealers) and Hubbard’s old partner, who is now in the thrall of a gigantic alien cyclops (!).

Originally intended as a straight sequel to Alien, this movie enters James Bond territory at times and is not afraid — at all — to wipe out characters left and right. It also has a scene where a green egg menaces a girl in the shower, which should be frightening yet comes off as hilarious. That said, this has a loud Goblin soundtrack that makes this seem like a much better movie than it is.

But hey — who can hate a movie with dialogue like this?

NYPD Lt. Tony Aris: Jesus Christ, the whole world is going to be wiped out and all this broad’s worried about is getting changed!

Colonel Stella Holmes: Listen, Aris, if I have to die with the rest of the world then I want to have a proper dress on and clean underwear.

That’s better than the first few minutes of the film, where almost the entire dialogue is muffled. But hey — you can either choose great dialogue or awesome gore. Guess which one you get here?

Want to see it for yourself? Shudder and Amazon Prime both have this streaming and you can get the Arrow blu ray at Diabolik DVD. You can also watch Contamination with commentary from Joe Bob Briggs on Shudder.

KINO LORBER BLU RAY RELEASE: The Octagon (1980)

I can’t even explain to you the sheer madness that this movie unleashed on my elementary school. The notion of Chuck Norris fighting ninjas blew minds at a level that I believe is no longer possible.

The Octagon was distributed by American Cinema Productions, the four-wall exploitation masters who also put Chuck’s Good Guys Wear Black and A Force of One in theaters, as well as The Late, Great Planet EarthFade to BlackSilent ScreamTough Enough, DirtCharlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon QueenForce: Five and I, The Jury before going out of business. Their final release, The Entity, was picked up by Twentieth-Century Fox.

Directed by Eric Karson (Black Eagle) and written by Leigh Chapman (Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and Truck Turner, which he did as the pen name Jerry Wilkes) and Paul Aaron (who woud direct Deadly Force), this movie places Chuck into the role of Scott James, a karate champion like so many of Chuck’s characters who simply no longer wants to fight. Yet he can’t even take Nancy (Kim Lankford, Ginger Ward from Knot’s Landing) without getting her and her entire family offed by some back pajama wearing killers.

As trained by Katsumoto (Yuki Shimoda), the ninjas have been told that if they are ever discovered or captured, not only will they die, their entire family will also be extinguished. There must be some pretty great salary and 401K when it comes to being a ninja or maybe the job market in Japan really is rough.

To get some background on the killers, Scott turns to his old mercenary friend McCarn (Lee Van Cleef, who may know a thing or two about ninjas). He’s told, “If you are seeing ninja, you are seeing ghosts.”

Pulling a Paul Kersey, Scott immediately falls for another woman named Justine (Karen Carlson, Black Oak ConspiracyThe Student Nurses) whose idea of a meet cute is asking for help with her car, which is stuck in a ditch, and stealing Scott’s keys and driving off. How does he know where she lives? Why would he put up with that? No matter — they’re soon being tracking by some bodyguards who end up being McCarn’s men. That’s because Justine wants Scott to kill Seikura (Tadashi Yamashita, SevenAmerican Ninja), the ninja who sliced and diced her father. He turns her down, but McCarn is able to convince one of Scott’s friends named A.J. (Art Hindle!) to join his cause.

That’s when Scott remembers that he’s actually Seikura’s adopted brother, having been raised by the same father (John Fujioka, once again pretty much playing Shinyuki from American Ninja or Tatsuya Sanga from American Samurai) and of course, surpassing the native son with his gaijin karate abilities.

This flashback features Chuck’s son Mike as Scott and Brian Tochi — yes, Toshiro Takashi from Revenge of the Nerds, Tomoko Nogata from Police Academy 3 and 4 and the voice of Leonardo — as Seikura.

Scott decides that he has to help, so he heads off to a ninja training school run by Doggo (Kurt Grayson, once the Tijuana Smalls cigar pitchman back when cigar ads were on TV). Doggo recognizes him and forces him to fight his entire school, ending with Scott delivering Chuck Norris-sized sidekick injuries to two fighters nicknamed Longlegs (Richard Norton, once a bodyguard for David Bowie, ABBA and Fleetwood Mac before appearing in movies like GymkataChina O’Brien and many more; he’s a 5th-Degree Shihan rank Black Belt in Goju Ryu, 8th-Degree Masters rank in Chuck’s Chun Kuk Do, 5th-Degree Black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a 10th-degree Black Belt in Zen Do Kai Karate; he was also the fight coordinator on Walker, Texas Ranger) and Hatband (Chuck’s brother Aaron).

There’s also another evil soldier named Aura (Carol Bagdasarian) that defects to help Scott, which helps because he wasn’t joining the fight and then the ninjas went and killed Justine, who thought Aura was leaidng Scott to the side of evil and went after Seikura by herself. One poison dart later and she’s out of the movie, despite seemingly being one of the leads. McCarn’s men, Scott and Aura then kill everyone in Doggo’s army and decide to go to Mexico to face Seikura.

Before that, Aura takes what we can only imagine is a molasses 2×4 mustache ride, as she realizes that if every other woman is this movie is getting killed, she may as well enjoy some assault with a friendly weapon. Some harpooning the salty longshoreman. Finding the ranch dressing deep in Hidden Valley. You know what I mean. Respectful and mutual affection between two consenting adults.

Look — Chuck Norris went to the Virgin Islands… now it’s just the Islands.

A.J. gets taken and it turns into a rescue mission, as Scott must face multiple toughs in the Octagon — yes, scream, scream when the title is said aloud! — and then Scott faces Kyo, the magically garbed ninja also played by RIchard Johnson and good lord, this may be the best fight ever committed to celluloid. What does Scott get for winning? The chance to see A.J.’s throat et slashed, but Aura is able to convinced the rest of the bad guys to turn babyface and Scott straight up nukes his adopted brother just as he’s attacked from behind, stabbing him and bringing an end to a movie that I wish went on forever.

Somehow, this movie also finds roles for Ernie Hudson, comedian Jack Carter (the mayor from Alligator) and Tracey Walter in an uncredited part. Yes, Bob the Goon in a Chuck Norris movie.

Made for between $2.5 and $4 million, this film made $19 to $25 million — never believe these money claims when you read them by the way, obviously the figure is somewhere in that range thanks to the magic of Hollywood math — this movie gets it all right. After all, “

Forty ninjas and karate fighters died in this movie. We should remember their sacrifice.

Oh man! I totally forgot that Chuck narrates a lot of the movie to himself. Doggo is not the answer…answer…answer…Oh my God! Ninjas…ninjas…ninjas…

The Kino Lorber blu ray release of The Octagon has a new 2K master, commentary by film historians Brandon Bentley and Mike Leeder as well as director Eric Karson, a making of feature, four TV ads, 4 radio ads and a trailer. Buy it as soon as you can.

Arnold Week: The Jayne Mansfield Story (1980)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was originally on the site on August 15, 2020. Happy birthday all week Arnold. You are loved, almost as much as Jayne. 

Dick Lowry has worked in made-for-TV movies for some time, working on many projects with Kenny Rogers (The GamblerThe Coward of the County) and connected movies like In the Line of Duty and Jessie Stone, as well as the Project ALF TV movie reunion and Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again.

Based on the Martha Saxton book Jayne Mansfield and the American Fifties, this is — at best — a fictionalized accounting of her life. John Wilson’s book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made.

Arnold Schwarzenegger — four years before The Terminator — plays Mansfield’s second husband Mickey Hargitay, who is telling a reporter the story of her life. Mansfield is played by Loni Anderson, who is perhaps the worst person — outside of bust line — to play her. She just seems wrong, from how she approaches the role to look. Maybe she identified with Jayne, seeing as how she started as a sex symbol and struggled to get her intelligence across. I’m not really sure, but it just doesn’t work.

Ray Buktenica plays her manager Bob Garrett. Buktenica was best known as Benny Goodwin, the rollerskating toll-booth working boyfriend of Brenda Morgenstern on Rhoda. Also in the cast are Kathleen Lloyd (who memorably is killed by The Car as it flies through her kitchen window) as Carol Sue Peters and G. D. Spradlin, who mostly plays cops in movies, as Gerald Conway.

Jayne Marie Mansfield is played by Laura Jacoby, who beyond being in Rad is also Scott Jacoby’s sister. The younger version of the character was played by Deirdre Hoffman, Anderson’s daughter.

If you look close enough, Lewis Arquette — the man whose loins gave the world Rosanna, Patricia, Alexis, Richmond and David — shows up as a publicity man.

There were no fact checkers in 1980. After all, how can you explain a movie that purports to tell the life story of Mansfield report that she was 36 when she died when the truth is that she was 34? Or that Jayne is shown making Las Vegas Hillbillys which is supposed to be a Western, which it is not, much less the fact that it was made two years after she and Mickey were actually divorced, yet they are married here? Shouldn’t that be The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw? And while we’re on the matter of facts, how great is it when Jayne is getting a new convertible sometime in the mid-1950s, you can clearly see a 1980 Honda Civic roll by?

Much like how Jayne is dying to play the lead in The Jean Harlow Story, Valerie Perrine wanted this role. Surely she would have done better than imitating the worst vocal tics of Mansfield and none of the brains behind the glamour. Also, of all people to narrate this movie, Arnold in 1980 would not be the person I’d pick.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Stigma (1980)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was originally on the site on October 22, 2018.

Sebastian has become possessed and now has the power to make his thoughts come true. Somehow, all that allows him to do is relive his past lives again and again.

Director José Ramón Larraz also worked in comic books, as well as helming the films Symptoms and Vampyres.

The film starts with Sebastian learning that his father has died and his mother feeling free and ready to start her life all over again.

It turns out that Sebastian was born with a veil of skin covering his face, which is a symbol of psychic power. That may be how he knew that his father was dead before anyone told him.

Also, Sebastian has issues with women. He puts off anyone who wants to be with him and gets upset when his mother kisses another man. Learning that his father was with a whore when he died, he declares that all women are whores. His mother answers by slapping him.

Sebastian and a girl who is interested in him, Marta, end up kissing but he forces himself on her until his lip begins to bleed. At confession later, a priest tells him that wishing evil is the same as doing it. What does this have to do with Marta being dead now?

An old woman named Olga remembers Sebastian from the past as he has a vision of hanging himself. Olga awakens her granddaughter Angie, sure that something bad is about to happen to Sebastian. There seems to be a romantic triangle between him, Angie and his brother Joe.

Sebastian ends up recording his mother having sex with her new lover. This upsets him so much that his shower is filled with blood and his vision of a ghost woman makes his lip bleed again.

That love triangle I mentioned above ends up with Angie and Joe having sex. Yet Olga thinks that Sebastian and Angie have an attraction too. She’s worried about the danger that he brings. While on a ferry with Angie, Sebastian sees the ghost woman again. He confesses to Angie that when he thinks of someone he hates, he makes them die and his lip bleed — that’s his stigmata. He also can see himself from the outside of his own body and he probably killed his father.

Joe confronts Sebastian about the issues that he’s having in school, so Sebastian thinks of him dying in a car crash. Angie believes that he is evil, but he says that he has no control. Once he realizes that someone is going to die, it’s too late.

Here’s where things get really bonkers: Sebastian keeps seeing the ghost woman, so he talks with Olga. She hypnotizes him and he remembers where he killed Marta. He then goes into his past lives, where he sees his sister, who looks exactly like Angie. They have sex and he awakens in a panic as his father had become angry with him.

While he doesn’t want to see Olga again, Sebastian uses tapes of her seance to calm himself. Soon, he is visiting the setting for his dreams in real life and has more visions of his past inside them. Angie comes searching for him and he shows her where people died in the building as he starts to bleed from his lip.

That’s when we go back into the past again, where he has sex with his sister again and his father criticizes him. When his sister is engaged to be married, he becomes depressed. She doesn’t even think of him any longer and he can’t forget her or stop disappointing his father.

That’s when he uses an axe to kill his parents, then starts making love to the maid. He decides to strangle her instead, then remembers many other girls that he is killed. A mirror breaks and he begins to bleed from the lip as we return to the present and he listens to the seance tapes.

I honestly had to read several sites to make sense of what happens in this movie. It’s long on style, short on substance and yet it has a unique doom feel. I was pretty forgiving of its narrative issues, but your mileage may vary. I was interested to see what would happen next and it had enough verve to keep me watching.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Superman (1980)

Raja, like his entire family, is a devotee of Lord Hanuman, which explains the H on his costume. When he was a child, his father Raghunath Rao wanted to offer the family’s prized jewels during Hanuman Jayanthi. Three thieves steal them and kill Raja’s mother and father, orphaning the family. Raja prays to Lord Hanuman for a way to achieve revenge and is gives him superhuman powers. He receives no answer, so he stabs himself in the stomach and bleeds all over the statue of the deity, which finally brings him the answer he seeks.

Over the years, Raja gets his revenge, but the hard part comes when his sister Lakshmi becomes pregnant to Mohan, the son of Maharajm who is the third thief, a man who even hires a sorceress to destroy the hero.

So yes — absolutely nothing like Superman.

This movie also has attack elephants. And sumos. And twenty karate fighters.

A Superman that kills for revenge sounds like something that Zack Snyder sails the seas of mayonnaise to, but this movie is definitely more entertaining than anything he’s ever done and cost less than an hour of his craft services.

Like seriously, Superman fights a demon and then straight up snaps the bad guy’s neck.

You can watch this on YouTube.

DEATH GAME: Viciosas al desnudo (1980)

The third time that Death Game would be made happened not in America but in Spain.

Vicious and Nude is a cultural remix of that American film, casting Jack Taylor — whose career started on The Jack Benny Show and went from Mexican horror (the Nostradamus films) to Jess Franco films (Nightmares Come at NightFemale Vampire), giallo (The Killer Is One of 13), Spanish horror (The Ghost GalleonThe Vampires Night Orgy), Paul Naschy movies (Dr. Jekyll vs. The Werewolf) and stuff like PiecesConan the Barbarian and Edge of the Axe — as Juan, a married writer with a gorgeous home and great family.

Just like the first two films that inspired this movie — Death Game and Little Miss Innocent — this all changes when he picks up two young women that ruin his life. Here, however, the film is inspired by both Charles Manson and Dr. Seuss as they’re called Hippie 1 and 2 (Adriana Vega and Eva Lyberten). Even wilder is this movie takes the nihilistic ending of Death Game and ups it to challenge Thelma and Louise by eleven years.

I also further broke my brain by synching this movie up with Eli Roth’s Knock Knock remake as Cathy from Cathy’s Curse looked on with scorn.

Director and writer Manuel Esteba made mostly adult and horror films — surprise, he’s on our site — like Horror Story, the gravity disaster film Spectrum (Beyond the World’s End)Bloody Sex and El E.T.E.y el Oto, which IMDB claims is about an alien meeting Spain’s youngest psychopath.

I feel that Death Game is an essential film and while this one isn’t in the same class, I always find it so wonderful to explore how another part of the world interprets the same story. Here’s hoping you feel the same.