THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: Saigon Year of the Cat (1983)

At the end of 1974, as American forces withdraw from Saigon, only a few CIA advisors remain. In this strange end of the war era, one of those advisors named Bob Chesneau (Frederic Forrest, who was in another better known Vietnam movie, Apocalypse Now) is having an affair with a bank analyst, Barbara Dean (Dame Judi Dench).

Written by David Hare (The Hours) and directed by Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, High Fidelity), this Thames Television film also has a strong cast with E.G. Marshall (Creepshow), Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride), British comedian Chic  Murray, Manning Redwood (The ShiningShock Treatment) and Josef Sommer (Witness).

It’s pretty amazing the places that Hare and Frears went after this movie, which doesn’t show much of the promise that they would later display. But here it is, one of the many British made for TV movies that are all over this giant brick of a Mill Creek collection.

You can watch this on YouTube.

THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: Vladukt (1983)

Based on a true story of Szilveszter Matuska, who said  “I wrecked trains because I like to see people die. I like to hear them scream.”  Yes, the man literally orgasmed when he wrecked trains, including his most brutal crime, when he killed twenty-two people and injured a hundred and twenty when he derailed the Vienna Express with dynamite, sending the engine and nine of the eleven coaches to plunge down a hill.

Matuska reportedly escaped from jail in 1945. He may have served as an explosives expert during the latter stages of World War II. No one is sure, as he was never recaptured. Some believe that he served on the Communist side in the Korean War.

Michael Sarrazin plays him in this Hungarian/German made for TV movie directed by Sándor Simó. Somehow, Sarrazin has been in two movies I’ve watched this week.

While history claims — as stated above — that Matsuka only really achieved bliss thanks to train destruction, he sure gets a lot of action in this movie. I think what happened after — even if the film only guessed at what happened — would have made for a better movie.

The band Lard recorded a song about Matsuka in which they sang:

Remember this:
No matter how many books you ban
No matter how many records you burn
The seeds of fertile fetishes
Are planted at an early age
And somewhere out there
Someone amongst you
May at this very moment lust
For derailing trains

THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: A Minor Miracle (1983)

After everyone took the Mill Creek picks that they wanted, I jumped in and picked up the stragglers, the survivors, the movies no one else wanted to watch.

A movie with a bunch of orphans who turn to John Huston as a kindly priest and the game of soccer to save their orphanage? Why would anyone have picked anything else? And an appearance by Pele? What is wrong with all the other writers on this site?

Director Terrell Tannen edited The Boogeyman and The Boogeyman II, which was really like only directing one movie if you’ve seen the second one. He also produced, edited and second unit directed Olivia, which is one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen. I have no idea how this prepared him to make a religious soccer movie.

Between this and Victory, I have now seen two soccer movies with Pele in them. And John Huston too, now that I think about it.

THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: Intimate Agony (1983)

Somehow, the Excellent Eighties set has taken a break from showing us the best, the worst and the somewhere in between of Crown International Pictures to take us back to the days of made for TV movies, a place that this site knows all too well.

Originally airing March 21, 1983 and also known as the sexier title Doctor In Paradise, this is all about a young doctor named Dr. Kyle Richards(Anthony Geary) who is managing a doctor’s office in the Hamptons.

That sexy title is not so appropriate because this is a movie all about the heartbreak of herpes, which was the worst thing that could happen in 1983. Dr. Kyle decides to go public with the news that this town is getting more than just cold sores.

Most of the fun of this movie comes from spotting the stars amongst the cast, like Who’s the Boss star Judith Light, NCIS protagonist Mark Harmon, Robert Vaughn and Shawn Schepps, who went on to write Encino ManSon In Law and Drumline. Did you know they made a TV movie sequel to Encino Man called Encino Woman? Yep. They sure did.

You know who taught me about herpes? Paul Bartel. I think I did OK.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Panic Beats (1983)

EDITOR’S NOTE: R. D Francis first covered this for our site on June 26, 2019. I think it may have actually been the first thing he contributed. I’m excited to watch the new Mondo Macabro release of this, which is a great reason to cover this film for the site. 

In case you didn’t guess from all the films of his we’ve covered, we kind of love Paul Naschy around here.

Sort of a sequel and a remake of 1973’s Horror Rises from the Tomb, this Naschy effort was written and directed under his real name, Jacinto Molina. Naschy also brings back the same role he played in that movie, Alaric de Marnac.

Within moments of the film starting, Alaric is already chasing women down while in horseback and caving in their skulls with a mace. Fast-forward a few hundred years and we meet Paul Marnac (also Naschy), who brings his infirm wife Geneviève (Night of the WerewolfThe People Who Own the Dark) to his family’s ancestral home. Of course, you know that this home was built above the ruins of Alaric’s castle and that Marnac’s ancestor comes back every hundred years or so to ruin his relatives’ lives, starting with scaring Marnac’s wife literally to death.

Or was it all a ruse? Did Paul really just want to get with his younger lover Mireille all along? Is Paul also sleeping with the maid’s niece Julie? Is Alaric real and coming for everyone? Yes, yes, yes and oh yes, just wait until the absolutely gore-drenched last ten minutes,

Somehow, this movie goes from a twist and turn tale of lovers getting people out of the way to a Fulci-level splatterfest by the end of the film. Bravo!

Also, if you love the body of Naschy — and I know who you are and I think you do — he’s nude in a bathtub for your viewing enjoyment.

Naschy also played Marnac in The Devil’s Possessed. Most people would worry about typecasting. Not Naschy — he also played the werewolf by night Count Waldemar Daninsky twelve times in his career.

Mondo Macabro’s blu ray release has a new 4k transfer from a film negative, making this movie sparkle. I’m used to seeing Naschy in the grainiest of quality. This is really something else. It also includes two interviews with Paul Naschy and audio commentary from The Naschycast (Troy Guinn & Rod Barnett).

You better believe that this movie has my absolute recommendation. If I came to your house and it wasn’t in your collection, I would silently judge you.

You can now order the all-region Blu-ray of Panic Beats from Mondo Macabro or through Diabolik DVD.

Mystère (1983)

1983 is pretty late for the giallo, but hey — I’ve been trying to expand into the period before and after the major years for the genre.

Also known as Dagger Eyes and Murder Near Perfect, this film was written and directed by the Vanzina brothers, Carlo and Enrico. They loved the 1981 French thriller Diva, a film that moved away from the realist 1970s French cinema to the more colorful style of cinéma du look.

Mystère is divided into chapters, starting with a prologue, then each section is one of the four days that follows, then an epilogue. The producers demanded this happy ending, while the brothers wanted something more cynical.

Mystère (Carole Bouquet, For Your Eyes Only and the face of Chanel No. 5 from 1986 to 1997) is a high class call girl in Rome who comes into the possession of a mysterious lighter when her friend Pamela (Janet Ågren, City of the Living Dead) and one of her customers are killed over it, as inside the lighter are images of a political assassination.

Unlike the normal giallo — or adjacent giallo or whatever this is — the hero, Inspector Colt, ends up killing the assassin (John Steiner, Shock) and his bosses and then leaves behind our heroine, who ends up tracking him down to Thailand and making up with him. He was good with nunchucks, maybe?

I mean, how many movies are you going to see that somehow take the spirit of the good parts of 1970’s giallo, mix in the Zapruder film, throw in some Eurospy and still end up looking like a super expensive perfume ad?

Also — thanks to BodyBoy on Letterboxd who called out that Mystère’s apartment looks like something straight out of Messiah of Evil.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Narayama Bushikô (1983)

The Ballad of Narayama came late in the career of director Shôhei Imamura who claimed that a viewing of Kurosawa’s Rashomon inspired him to imagine that a new freedom of expression was possible in post-war Japan. Starting as an assistant to Yasujirō Ozu, he soon was dissatisfied, as he wanted to show a different take on how he saw Japan.

He left Shochiku for a better salary at Nikkatsu and became the assistant director to Yuzo Kawashima, who was known for his tragic satire. From his first film as a director, Nusumareta Yokujō (Stolen Desire), he courted controversy, unafraid to show the lower caste of Japan and frank sexuality.

Imamura saw himself as more of a cultural anthropologist than a filmmaker and was all about being an iconoclast, even starting his own studio and pushing for projects that would fail, having to make small films for most of the late 70’s and early 80’s due to Kamigami no Fukaki Yokubō (Profound Desires of the Gods), a deeply personal film that took a year and a half to make and wasn’t seen as a success at the time.

By the 1980’s, Imamura was able to mount larger-scale movies, including this one, a remake of Keisuke Kinoshita’s 1958 The Ballad of Narayama.

A key member of the Japanese New Wave, Imamura is one of the few directors to keep making films through the 21st century and the only director from Japan to win two Palme d’Or awards (for this movie and The Eel).

My grandmother died last month. I’m not telling you that out of a need for sympathy, but to tell you where my head was while watching this movie. It’s about ubasute, which is translated as abandoning an old woman, which was the ancient Japanese practice of carrying an infirm or elderly relative to a mountain or other desolate place and leaving them to die.

You may think that this is a barbaric practice. But in our world of modern medicine that keeps people alive well beyond the time that they should be deceased, I wonder sometimes that we keep people with us for so long that it becomes torture. I don’t have the answers but I’ve tried to keep an open mind as I watched this movie, sometimes overflowing with emotion.

In a small Japanese village in the 19th century, Orin (Sumiko Sakamoto, who Imamura cast in two other of his movies, The Pornographers and Warm Water Under a Red Bridge; she won the Japanese Best Actress from Nihon Academy for her performance in this film, as well as a kiss from Orson Welles) realize that at the age of 69, she is but months from having to go up the mountain to die. She’s of sound mind and body, but doesn’t want to be like the old men who fight every step of the way, screaming that they want to stay alive.

Over the next year, we see her life, whether it’s the negative of young people referring to her as an old witch or the positive, where we see her fix the problems of the village, help her son Tatsuheito (Ken Ogata) to find a wife and set things right before stoically going on to her death in the snow.

As we see the lives of the villagers, we also see nature intrude, whether that’s through the birds in the trees or the snake that is always near, even in moments of incredible joy.

How strongly did Sakamoto believe in this role? She extracted four of her teeth just to play the scene where Orin smashes out all of her teeth to convince her family that she must die.

Beyond Sakamoto’s awards, this movie also won best film at the Japanese Academy Awards numerous best actor awards for Ogata, who played Sakamoto’s son, a best supporting actress award for Mitsuko Baisho, best sound and an excellence in cinematography award.

This is a film of juxtaposition, of the lowest and most base of humanity in contrast with ones that will sacrifice everything. Moments of sheer beauty stand hand in hand with scenes of violence and pain. It’s a heartbreaking film yet one that reaffirmed my belief in life, in the cyclical nature of death and rebirth. And it is by no means an easy watch.

You can find The Ballad of Narayama on the new Survivor Ballads: Three Films By Shohei Imamura set from Arrow Films. This is a must-buy, as each film demands to be part of any film lover’s collection. You can get yours from MVD.

Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction (1983)

Man, if I love one thing, it’s movies where Dennis Weaver fights with his son over college and life choices. Somehow, I watched two in the same week, but Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction is the kind of movie that transcends just one reason why I watch made for TV movies and moves into the magical world of drug warning films.

I mean, this is a movie where McCloud goes crazy for the nose candy and flips out repeatedly. If that doesn’t make you want to watch it, why are you even on our page?

Eddie Gant (Weaver) used to be the number one real estate agent for ten years in a row, but now, he’s struggling to sell and not even considered to be a partner. He’s forced into a dead market and wonders how he’ll survive. Meanwhile, he feels distant from his wife Barbara (Karen Grassle, Little House on the Prarie) and his son Buddy (James Spader!) is letting him down by not going to college.

That’s when his work pals Robin Barstowe (Pamela Bellwood, who was in everything from Dynasty and Cellar Dwellar to Airport ’77) and Bruce Neumann (David Ackroyd, who shows up in all manner of great TV movies like Exo-Man and The Dark Secret of Harvest Home) get him set up with them big flakes and that 70’s mustache of Weaver starts twitching. He’s selling luxury homes, aardvarking with his wife like he hasn’t in decades and even ignoring his pal Mort (Jeffrey Tambor, who never really looks young), even blowing past the guy when he plans on killing himself so he can get another envelope of yeyo.

Look for a really young Tasha Yar — I mean, Denise Crosby — as a bank teller as Eddie goes bonkers and starts pulling money out of his kid’s college fund so he can get one more score.

You know, people don’t talk about Paul Wendkos enough. Between this movie and his other films like The Mephisto WaltzThe Death of RichieThe Legend of Lizzie BordenHaunts of the Very Rich, Good Against Evil and so many more, I’ve always enjoyed his work. He also did several Gidget movies in the 60’s, if you like seeing Sally Field on the beach.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Golok Setan (1983)

Barry Prima was one of the biggest stars of Indonesian cinema, appearing in several  Jaka Sembung movies which were adaptions of a comic book, including Jaka Sembung (The Warrior), Si Buta Lawan Jaka Sembung (The Warrior Against Blind Swordsman), Bajing Ireng Dan Jaka Sembung (Jaka Sembung vs. the Ninja), Jaka Sembung Dan Bergola Ijo (Jaka Sembung and Bergola Ijo) and Jaka Sembung Dan Dewi Samudra (Jaka Sembung and the Ocean Goddess).

Also known as The Devil’s Sword, this is based on another comic and has a sequel as well, which is called Mandala Dari Sungai Ular (Mandala from the Snake River).

Once upon a time, as they say, an old man found a meteorite and forged it into a sword. Then he hid it until the time was right for its use. That time seems like right now, because the Crocodile Queen is kidnapping all the men of the village and turning them into her sex slaves, while still allowing them to steal women of their own.

Our hero floats around on a rock and has laser beams that can come out of his hands.

Our villainess is the only person in this whole country willing to admit that she gets horny.

Our monsters are goopy, gory and awesome.

And the sets? You’ll want to live within them.

For some reason, my week of sword and sorcery has had plenty of crocodile-themed enemies in it. I hope the universe isn’t trying to tell me something.

You can watch this on YouTube.

D.C. Cab (1983)

D.C. Cab was one of the first videos I ever rented from Prime Time Video as a kid and it’s got a great cast, which is probably what got me to grab it. Beyond Mr. T., you have Max Gail from Barney Miller as the owner of the cab company, Adam Baldwin as the son of his best friend who comes to help, Charlie Barnett (who actually won the SNL job over Eddie Murphy but was too nervous to come back for a follow-up; he sadly died of AIDS at the age of 41), Marsha Warfield from Night Court, a pre-Politically Incorrect Bill Maher, Gary Busey (speaking of politically incorrect, little to none of his dialogue could be in a movie made today), DeWayne Jessie (who literally became his Otis Day character and toured with that name), Paul Rodriguez, Whitman Mayo (Grady from Sanford and Son), the Barbarian Brothers (making this one of two Barbarian Brothers movies that Kino Lorber releases this month), Bob Zmuda,  Bloodsport director Newt Arnold, Jill Schoelen (the crush of all teen crushes), Timothy Carey as a maniac who calls himself the Angel of Death and Irene Cara as herself.

It’s directed by Joel Schumacher, who either does movies that are remembered for the right reasons like The Lost Boys or movies that are remembered for the wrong reasons like Batman and Robin.

This is the ultimate hijinks ensue movie, as each character gets a moment and a little story of their own. It’s not a great movie, but it’s certainly a fun one, which sometimes is even better. The story is as simple as the boys of D.C. Cab against the city government and the Emerald Cab Company. Seriously, that’s pretty much as deep as it gets, but these are the kind of movies that you find yourself watching every time they come on cable, right? Do they still come on cable?

I’m happy to have this movie in my collection. It’s a great reminder of the time when you could find something like this movie on the rental shelves.

You can get this from Kino Lorber, who has just released it on blu ray.