BRUNO MATTEI WEEK: Seven Magnificent Gladiators (1983)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We originally talked about this Bruno Mattei film back on January 1, 2019. Let’s bring it back and celebrate the barbarian films of Mattei!

What happens when Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragrasso ripoff — remake — The Magnificent Seven/The Seven Samurai with gladiators and barbarians instead of cowboys and, well, samurai? This was originally going to be Hercules, according to Variety, but Luigi Cozzi took over that one and supposedly was brought in to save this one.

The plot here — again, it’s the same movie as the other two films that gather seven heroes — is about Nicerote (Dan Vadis, a former member of the Mae West Muscle Review who played Hercules in Hercules the Invincible, Roccia in The Ten Gladiators movies and appeared in several Clint Eastwood movies), a bandit leader and his sorceress mother who makes yearly raids on a peasant village. But this year, Pandora (Carla Ferrigno, who was Athena in Hercules and also in Black Roses) and the women of the village have found a magic sword and go off to hire a hero who can use it and anyone else who can finally end the annual destruction of their homes.

Now, the mighty barbarian Han (Lou Ferrigno) wields the mystical Sword of Achilles and soon assembles a team of gladiators to help him win the day. There’s Scipio (Brad Harris, who played Goliath, Hercules and Samson in past peblum films, as well as Durango and Sabata), Julia (Sybil Danning, the real draw of this film, playing the Harry Luck Magnificent Seven character), Goliath (Emilio Messina, Lepto from The Ten Gladiators), Festo (Giovanni Cianfriglia, who played Superargo in two movies) and more.

However, you may wonder how a movie with Lou Ferrigno throwing rocks at people and Sybil Danning being, well, Sybil Danning, is so boring. It’s an amazing feat. I’ve tried to watch this twice and both times barely made it. It’s a great idea with poor execution, sadly.

You can get this from Revok.

Devil Fetus (1983)

Twelve years ago, a married couple purchased an antique vase that possessed the wife, which led to her death from demonic-driven homicide after some cloven-hoofed arrdvarkery and also her husband throwing himself out a window after he also turned into a goopy faced demon.

Now, that very same demon has fulfilled its curse and come back to possess their nephew.

This isn’t the kind of possession film that you’ve come to expect here in America. This is Hong Kong Category III sleaze where people tear their own faces off to expose maggots, where family dogs are eaten intestines first, cakes are filled with worms, real eagles get killed proving that Italy does not have a copyright on real animal violence in films which is usually my tipping point and then, a monk shoots lasers.

It also has a character named Uncle Fuk.

There is, however, no devil fetus.

Seeding of a Ghost (1983)

A black magic sorcerer is just trying to dig up some bones for his latest spell when he’s chased by a group of angry citizens, right into the cab of our hero, Chau. He lives through getting hit by the car, but tells the cab driver that he’s about. to go through some bad luck.

And just like that, Chau’s wife starts sleeping with a gambler who really doesn’t care about her, even leaving her in a bad part of town where she’s assaulted and killed, falling out a window to her death, her spirit calling to Chau via his CB radio.

That’s when Chau decides that it’s time to find that black magic dude and get some horrible, horrible revenge.

The spell that ensues is so powerful, it blows the lid off Chau’s wife Irene’s coffin. There’s also corpse sex and a monster baby sent to destroy the two villains who dared to ruin Chau’s life. And he also learns that the more magic he uses, the more his body pays the price.

Look, a ghost has sex with a reanimated corpse over a black magic altar, a tentacled demon baby runs around and a toilet blows up real good. It’s not the best movie you’ve ever seen, but it may be the goopiest, the kind of film that tells The Thing, “Oh yeah? Hold my San Miguel.”

The Boxer’s Omen (1983)

Screw the Snyder Cut. Whatever drugs the Shaw Brothers had access to, release them to the rest of the world.

After being crippled in the ring, boxer Zhen Wei asks for his brother Zhen Xiong to avenge him, which will take finding the key necessary to release their family from a horrible curse.

Simple start, right?

Buckle up, because this is the kind of movie that will make your brain bleed. Seriously and without hyperbole, The Boxer’s Omen is a phantasmagorical thrill ride into how much insanity one can pack into 105 minutes.

Sure, your movie may have a crocodile in it, but does it have a reanimated corpse that’s been sewn into the mummified body of a dead crocodile? I don’t think so.

Then, let’s add in spiders drinking from people, demon bats, flying heads, goo, gore, gristle, black magic wizards, maggots, a sexy zombie, spiritual monk training montages, caterpillars, eels coming out of peoples’ mouths, neon magic, vomit magic, intestines and more.

You know when people use silly terms like fever dream and madness to describe a movie? They are only dreaming of a movie like this, one that takes you on a life-changing journey and repeatedly makes you wonder exactly what the hell you’re watching and just how they captured all of this on celluloid.

After making movies like this, Corpse Mania and Hex, director Kuei Chih-Hung quit the business, moved to America and started a pizza restaurant. He’s sadly no longer with us, but I have no doubt that his pizza was a messy, greasy, gooey and delicious dish that was most definitely spiked with all manner of Taoist magic and the most potent LSD known to man and demon.

The world is a better place for this movie being in it.

Through Naked Eyes (1983)

John Llewellyn Moxey really knew how to make the made of TV movie work for him. This time, he has Pam Dawber and David Soul as high rise neighbors who fall for one another when they start spying on one another via binoculars and telescope. The crazy thing is, this movie is made in 1983, and the female lead is the one that initiates the voyeurism.

Writer Jeffrey Bloom also wrote and directed Blood Beach and Flowers in the Attic. Here, he makes a tense script that brings in a killer who might just be the flute-playing Soul.

Through Naked Eyes also has John Mahoney, Donald Moffat, Dennis Farina and Ted Levine in small parts as police officers.

Much like nearly every TV movie that was made in the 70’s and 80’s, this is better than anything you’ll watch made in 2021.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Lee Majors Week: Starflight One (1983)

We ballyhooed the TV career of Jerry Jameson in our review of one of the few times the prolific director was called up to the bigs with the 1974 A.I.P release The Bat People. Jameson was also behind one of the ‘70s quintessential box office “disaster” smashes: Airport ’77, which was backed by Universal Pictures. And since this ABC-TV “Movie of the Week” was known during its overseas television and theatrical runs as Airport ’85, you know why Jameson is here . . . and where this film is heading. Of course, Lee Majors is here, and the reason he’s here is because Jameson directed Majors in several episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man. The duo previously worked together on High Noon, Part II: The Return of Will Kane (1980) and The Cowboy and the Ballerina (1984). (Jameson also gave us the TV movie knockoff of 20th Century Fox’s The Towering Inferno with Terror on the 40th Floor (1974).)

The brains behind this production is Henry Winkler — and “The Fonz” made sure John Dkystra’s contributions to the film were front and center in those promo materials. And the Airport series* of films were box-office hot in the ’70s and, as we learned from our 2020 end of the year “TV Movie Week” tribute, the Big Three networks relished stuffing their disaster hangers with a slew of low-budgeted airline action flicks**. So, Star Wars meets Airport, it is!

And to whip that pitch into shape, TV scribes Robert Malcolm Young and Peter R. Brooke didn’t take any chances in concocting their Star Wars TV cash-in: they simply pinched from the 1969 Gregory Peck sci-fi borefest that was Marooned (1969) — and changed out the “Ironman One” capsule from that film with Starflight One, an SST-styled supersonic jet successor, and the Doppelganger Rescue shuttle with the Columbia. The script also bears striking similarities to the 1982 novel Orbit by Thomas Block (Amazon Kindle), but those similarities were chalked up to coincidence and not plagiarism. And if it all seems a bit familiar, like ABC-TV’s SST Death Flight familiar from 1977, then it probably is.

As is the case with the Big Three network flicks of the pre-cable epoch, the passenger cabin is loaded with lots of familiar character actor and TV series faces, in this case we have Hal Linden, Lauren Hutton, Gail Strickland, George DiCenzo, Tess Harper, and the always game Ray Milland — who you’ll remember was in ABC-Universal’s Battlestar Galactica feature film, but opted out of the series. And yes, that is Terry “Uncle Bernie” Keiser on board — who also co-starred with Majors in Steel (1980; also reviewed this week).

So, the poster . . . along with the Star Wars and Airport connections says it all, right?

Distributed by Orion Pictures in the overseas markets, where it was also known as Airport ’85 and Airport 2000.

Okay, so we have the big, media-covered maiden flight for Starflight One, a hypersonic jet that can travel from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia, in two hours. Of course, there’s romance and corporate intrigue on the flight, with Cody Briggs (Lee Majors) two-timing his wife Janet (Tess Harper) via Erica Hansen (Lauren Hutton), a media relations rep with the airline run owned by, you guessed it, they ubiquitously gruffy Ray Milland. And we’ve got a greedy crook using the flight to transport some stolen gold out of the country, and Terry Keiser is on board as an equally greedy communication magnate stressed out over launching that crucial Saturn V stock footage (off the cost of Australia!) to put his satellite into orbit to corner the world’s TV market.

Uh, oh. The Saturn V goes FUBAR and the rocket debris scatters into Starlight One’s flight path. To avoid disaster, Briggs climbs the jet — and stumbles into orbital velocity. And the Starlight has no heat shields . . . thus the film’s alternate VHS home video titling as Starlight: The Plane That Couldn’t Land. So, while Dykstra’s on his union-mandated lunch break, it’s time to cue that shuttle Columbia stock footage (not once, but twice!) to deliver emergency fuel on the first flight, and some flimsy flexible conduit to save the 70-plus passengers on the second flight. Bottom line: If you want to see a very game Hal Linden drifting through a flexi-space tunnel to safety, then this is your film.

Truth be told, in spite of its low-budget, Dykstra’s effects are pretty good . . . well, those those outer space scenes of astronauts drifting about is more of the Salvage I variety, really. And more like when Battlestar Galactica: TOS tanked in the ratings and the effects went to cheesy feldercarb courtesy of budget cuts. So, sorry, please leave those “Star Wars” claims at the spacegate, Kubrick. This was certainly fun-filled when we were Lucas-drunk in our tweens and early teens, but this — unlike 2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running (which Dykstra also worked on), and Star Wars — doesn’t hold well to the test of time. But it’s still a hell of a lot better than that stranded-in-space hokum Murder In Space (1985) starring the not-even-they-can-save-it-cast of Wilford Brimley, Michael Ironside, and Martin Balsam — a detective-cum-murder mystery-in-space TV movie plotting trope that didn’t get better with the likes of Murder by Moonlight (1989) and Trapped in Space (1994).

You can stream Starlight One on Amazon Prime or through EPIX’s own Amazon platform.

* We reviewed all of the Airport movies with our “Watch the Series: Airport” feature.

** You can catch up with all of those TV movie airline disaster flicks with our “Airline Disasters TV Movie Round-Up” feature.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

WarGames (1983)

Let me tell you, eleven-year-old me thought WarGames was awesome.

Written by future Sneakers co-writers Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes and directed by John Badham*, who would gift us with the ancient future movies Blue Thunder and Short Circuit, is about a young hacker (Matthew Broderick) who unwittingly logs on to a server that allows him to simulate wargames with a computer called WOPR that really thinks that it’s time to start a nuclear war.

For many, WarGames was their first mainstream exposure** to hacking and formed the idea that one lone kid in his bedroom could take over so many major computer systems. That may be fantasy, but the real dream here is that someone that’s on his computers for weeks at a time without leaving his bedroom could score Ally Sheedy.

Shout out to Dabney Coleman in this, who continually raised the bar when it came to playing, well, Dabney Coleman roles in a variety of 80’s films. He’s one of the first actors I remember consciously thinking, “This is that guy.” Between 9 to 5Cloak and Dagger and Tootsie, he’s always dependable.

The tunnel to NORAD in this movie may seem familiar. That’s because it shows up at the end of Back to the Future Part II and is the entrance to Toontown in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

The funniest thing to me is that they made a music video for a Crosby, Stills and Nash song made for the movie but edited out. That’s what kids in 1983 wanted to see, right?

*Martin Brest was the original director for all of 12 days. His next three films — Beverly Hills CopMidnight Run and Scent of a Woman — probably erased the pain of this movie. Then he got stuck making Meet Joe Black and Gigli.

**It’s the reason for the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984. Representative Dan Glickman opened the legislation by saying, “We are gonna show about four minutes from the movie WarGames, which outlines the problem fairly clearly.” The ensuing House committee report claimed WarGames showed a realistic representation of the automatic dialing and access capabilities of the personal computer.”

Brainstorm (1983)

2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running will — always and forever — be two of my favorite science fiction movies. Douglas Trumbull did the mind-blowing special effects on the first and did the same on the second, but also directed it. And he gave us the effects in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He turned down Star Wars and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. But he made my beloved syndicated Canadian TV series, The Starlost, so all is well.

In between his special effects gigs, Trumbull developed other films in the wake of Silent Running: all ended up in “development hell.” The only one to make it out of the La Brea Celluloid Pits was Brainstorm: a film known more for the controversy of Natalie Wood dying during the course of the film’s production.

At the time of its release, Brainstorm was ballyhooed as a “cinematic event” as result of its planned release as the first film shot in Trumbull’s newly developed Showscan process (the development of the cinematography process is why he backed out of Star Wars and Star Trek) that shot 60 frames-per-second on 70mm film. Sadly, MGM back out on the plan at the last minute; Trumbull shot in the usual 24 frames-per-second on Super Panavision 70 used on other films.

Two years after Wood’s much-publicized death, the film finally opened on September 30, 1983. Even with the publicity as “Natalie Wood’s last movie,” no one went. My family went to the film as our weekly Sunday event; my parents both hated it. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times thumbed it down and gave it a reluctant 2 out of 4 stars.

Produced for $18 million, the film cleared just over $10 million in U.S. box office. Trumbull vowed to never make another Hollywood feature film again, ever. And he hasn’t. In addition to less than a dozen, self-produced shorts, he’s only, just recently, executive produced the 2018 feature-length indie The Man Who Killed Hilter and Then the Bigfoot.

Again, I am a fan of Trumbull. And I love Ken Russell’s somewhat-similar psychological thriller Altered States (1980) dealing with scientists plying themselves with psychoactive drugs and floating in sensory deprivation tanks.

But not this movie.

However, as we dig into this movie’s backstory (online) and the fact that Trumbull “quit” Hollywood as result, we know it’s not his fault. And besides: Trumbull’s influence gave us the likes of Steven and Robert Lovy’s Circuitry Man and Andy Anderson’s Interface — films which I really like, even more so (and reviewed during this week’s “Ancient Future” theme week; look for them). We’d also have to thank Trumbull for the Brat Packer sci-fi’er of cheating-death scientists in Flatliners (meh; Brainstorm is looking better to me now).

Micheal Brace (Christopher Walken) heads a team of computer researchers and engineers that also includes his wife, Karen (Natalie Wood), Louise Fletcher (forever remembered as Nurse Ratchet in 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), and headed by Cliff Roberston (Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben in Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man). They’ve invented a “brain-computer interface” that enables the recording of a person’s brain sensations, commit them to tape, then play the tapes back for others to experience. When a team member decides to get cute with the invention — i.e, have sexual intercourse while plugged in — the playback “sensory overloads” another colleague’s brain.

At that point, the financial backers of the project (in steps our character actor favs: Alan Fudge of Are You In the House Alone?, and Donald Hotton of One Dark Night fame) sees the “military applications” to profit.

As you can see by the theatrical one-sheet: Trumbull — with the taglines of “The Door to the Mind is Open” and “. . . The Ultimate Experience” — was promising us an extrasensory ride into the human brain with a 2001: A Space Odyssey twist.

Nope.

What we ended up with was the recording of “memory bubbles” by Louise Fletcher’s Lillian Reynolds’s fatal heart attack. You would think a recording of death itself — promising a “journey through hell and the afterlife and into the universe beyond” — would be, well a mind blowing, extrasensory ride. It wasn’t. At only 106 minutes (one hour and 45 minutes), Brainstorm played a lot longer, since it was boring, not the least bit mind blowing, and just a bunch of fizzy bubbles popped by romantic dramas between Walken and Wood’s estranged scientists. “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite,” denied.

Look, it’s an expertly put together, well-produced effort and the acting is on the green (expect for Louise Fletcher’s overacted death scene; it’s still cringy all these years later; the chain smoking — around all of the electronic equipment — is annoying, for there had to be a better way to set up her heart attack), but the film around all of that is sub-par and it just doesn’t make it to the cup — or skull cap, if you will. (Especially the whole pseudo-comedy set up with the two security guards up against the malfunctioning robotic production line; it looks like it’s dropped in from another movie. What were you thinking, Mr. Trumbull?) So, slag me for not like Brainstorm: I can deal. Just like I can deal with those who “can’t believe” I recommended them 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running.

But, to quote our favorite, existential PhD bouncer, Dr. James Dalton: opinions vary. You may like it. And, like that other, not so existential wrestler I respect, Shirley Doe: films are funny that way.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983)

If this movie had been made a few years earlier, it would have been a Star Wars ripoff. Instead, it’s a post-apocalyptic Mad Max-influenced film and for that, I love it that much more.

To be honest, I’ve been dying to see this movie for, oh, forty years. Why did I not choose to watch it on HBO or rent it or, you know, watch it online? It’s a mystery because this is a movie that is beyond up my alley, between starring a pre-stardom Molly Ringwald to the special effects, the fact that it was in 3-D and the fact that Michael Ironside plays a character named Overdog.

Director Lamont Johnson’s career went the whole way back to TV in the 50’s and here he is making a low budget blockbuster with Ivan Reitman producing and a script by six writers, including Jean LeFluer (who was the original director when this was to be called Adventures in the Creep Zone and was also the editor of Rabid), David Preston (The VindicatorAre You Afraid of the Dark?), Edith Ray (Breaking All the Rules), Daniel Goldberg (Heavy MetalStripesMeatballsCannibal Girls) and Len Plum (Private Parts).

Three women have been taken by pirates, which sends Wolff (Peter Strauss) and his engineer Chalmers (Andrea Marcovicci, The Stuff) to Terra XI, a colony that was destroyed by a plague and internecine battles.

After his partner is destroyed — turns out that she was a robot — Wolff gets help from Niki (Ringwald) and meets up with his old friend and now rival Washington (Ernie Hudson).

Seeing as how most of the crew was fired two weeks into filming and the script and tone of the film changed as the movie was being made, what ended up on screen isn’t all that horrible. I kind of like its shaggy dog nature, as this is a perfect 3D movie in that you don’t really need much of a story, just an excuse for lasers to blast and things to be shoved in your face.

That said, this is a drive-in movie as well, which is kind of funny, because drive-in screens aren’t usually silver-coated, which means that they would have to show the 2D cut of this film.

Also, you may have confused this with Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn. We’ll get to that soon enough.

Disciples of the Crow (1983)

A year before Children of the Corn was released, director John Woodward took Stephen King up on his offer to film makers and independent filmmakers. He’d allow them to adapt any of his short stories for just $1*.

Originally appearing in March 1977 issue of Penthouse before it was printed in the short story collection Night Shift, this is the story of the darkness in a small town, particularly the cornfield.

Taking place in Jonah, Oklahoma instead of Gatlin, Nebraska in the novel, this version of the story shows more of the events that take place before a couple on the edge of divorce roll through town.

Made for a sliver of the budget afforded the Hollywood version and with around a third the running time. Disciples of the Crow is an effective slice of horror made by folks from around the very same region where the story was set. It also changes the film and instead of trying to explain exactly why things went so wrong, it takes a more chilling approach: who knows why things happen?

Woodward also appears as Bobby, the adult leader of the children who is a mix of the characters Isaac and Malachai.

I’m always a big fan of smaller budget affairs that take place in broad daylight. This would be a great example.

*Other King $1 shorts include Jeffrey C. Schiro’s The Boogeyman — not the 1980 Ulli Lomme slasher — and Frank Darabont’s The Woman in the Room.

You can watch this on YouTube.