June 26: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie— is 80s horror.
Midnight (Lynn Redgrave) is a horror hostess who wears low-cut outfits, makes bad puns before the movies she shows and looks like an undead mistress of, well, the night. Pretty much exactly like Elvira, which seems weird, because they could have just hired Elvira to be in this movie.
She’s fighting station owner Mr. B (Tony Curtis) for the rights to her name, who keeps throwing things in her way to screw up her life, like trying to lure away her boytoy Mickey Modine (Steve Parrish, Scanners III) by introducing him to Missy Angel (Karen Witter, Playboy Playmate of the Month March 1982, as well as Mortuary Academyand Popcorn).
Then, everyone around our protagonist — like her agent(Frank Gorshin) — starts getting murdered and all fingers point to Midnight.
This was written and directed by Norman Thaddeus Vane, who wrote and directed Frightmare. Before that, he was a contributing writer for Penthouse, working on the letter to Forum.
I really need to make a Letterboxd list of Wolfman Jack movies one of these days. He’s in this for a bit and is a welcome addition to the proceedings.
According to Stephen Thrower’s Nightmare U.S.A., this movie was a complete nightmare behind the scenes. Karen Black was originally going to play Midnight — I am so into that casting choice — with George Segal playing opposite her. Yet when she quit the film and Redgrave came on, Segal refused to be in the movie due to “agent conflicts.” As for Ms. Redgrave. she locked herself in her trailer and wouldn’t do any ADR after the film wrapped. Then Sont cut ten minutes and barely released it in theaters.
You know what? She’s awesome in this movie, acting like she’s playing for people in space, not just the back row of the theater. It’s a role that literally defines over the top. That said, she’s still no Cassandra Peterson.
What a great, three-day rally of films from Bernard L. Kowalski (thanks for allowing me to free range, Sam) as we wrap it up with a TV movie that pays tribute to a great TV series from the ’70s. To say I am stoked to review this BK entry is an understatement: the development of this tribute week to ol’ Uncle Bernie centers on this flick. And we get Kent McCord, who never got the due he deserves, some props.
Let’s roll it!
By the late ’80s, the cable networks began eschewing their UHF-styled, bread-and-butter reruns format by going for the throat of the “Big Three” over-the-air networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC — with their own, original programming. The national “superstations” TNT and USA each began producing their own TV movies (many of which we’ve reviewed at B&S), so why not the all-new basic cable and satellite network The Nashvillle Network?
You don’t remember that logo? It’s okay, most TV viewers — not county-centric — don’t remember it either.
Going on the air in March 1983, the network operated from studios on located on the grounds of the now-defunct theme park Opryland USA in Nashville. But, as with the major movie studios creating competing ripoff films for the marketplace (e.g., Armageddon vs. Deep Impact, White House Down vs. Olympus Has Fallen) The Nashville Network was beat on the air — by two days — by Country Music Television.
After the dust settled: The Nashville Network lost the ratings war.
TNN began its life as a country music alternative to Warner-Amex’s MTV’s rock and VH-1’s contemporary music formats by airing music videos; the programming soon expanded into concerts, game and talk shows, and country-eccentric movies (such as Smokey and the Bandit). By September 2000, the channel dumped their “southern” identity by ditching the “Nashville” moniker for “National” to become The National Network. Then, to the holier-than-thou, law-suitin’ and hissy fittin’ dismay of Spike Lee (“They’re stealing my brand!”), National transformed into the male-centric Spike TV in 2003. Today, you know the channel as the upper-tier cable dumping ground for all things Paramount-produced: The Paramount Network.
So, with that backstory out of the way . . . let’s polish off our three-day tribute to the films of Bernard L. Kowalksi (that began all the way back in 1956 with Hot Car Girl) and dig in to some slip-smackin’ BBQ with Bernard’s last film — and TNN’s first made-for-television movie — Nashville Beat.
Now, if you’ve been following along the Kowalski beat this week, you’ll know that his last theatrical film was the drive-in horror classic, Sssssss (1973). And, since we love our Six Degrees of Separation of actors and directors in the B&S cubicle farm: that turn-man-into-snakes-mad-scientist romp starred Dirk Benedict, later of Battlestar Galactica . . . and Kent McCord ended up on that failed Star Wars TV series ripoff’s second season, aka Galactica: 1980, as the all-grown up Boxey, aka Troy (we reviewed the overseas theatrical version of the series, Conquest of the Earth; look for it).
Anyway, after Sssssss (Who decided the title only needed six lowercase “S”; why not eight?), Kowalski returned to television — where he got his start — with multiple episodes of Perry Mason and The Untouchables, as well as Banacek starring George Peppard (more “Six Degrees”: he was in the fellow Star Wars dropping, Battle Beyond the Stars), and Columbo. In between, Kowalski developed the MGM Studios/CBS-TV series pilot for the Starsky and Hutch-precursor, The Supercops (1974), which aired on March 21, 1975, and continued the adventures of (real life cops) Dave Greenberg and Bobby Hantz. That series was quickly derailed by the (more powerful, due to Charlie’s Angels) TV production powerhouse of (Aaron) Spelling-Goldberg Production’s TV movie-to-series pilot for Starsky and Hutch, which aired on the competing ABC-TV network on April 30, 1975. And, since we love our Six Degrees of Separation of actors and directors in the B&S cubicle farm redux: David “Ken ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson” Soul starred with Kent McCord in the CSI TV series-franchise precursor (and, in my opinion, superior), the all-too-short-lived TV Movie-to-series, UNSUB (1989).
While we didn’t get around to reviewing all them (or finding copies of most of them), other post-Sssssss and The Supercops TV movies Bernard Kowalski directed are Flight to Holocaust (1977), The Nativity (1978), TV’s response to Rocky with Marciano (1979), Nick and the Dobermans (1980), Turnover Smith (1980), Nightside (1980; with Doug McClure, from Kowalski’s Terror in the Sky), and Johnny Blue (1983).
So, if you know if your ’70s TV: You’ll know Nashville Beat is the 14-years-in-the-making reunion of actors Martin Milner and Kent McCord after their successful, seven-season run on Adam-12 that aired on NBC-TV from 1968 to 1975. The final episode of that series ended in a cliffhanger, somewhat: we never knew what happened with officers Pete Malloy (Milner) and Jim Reed (McCord), as the series closed with Reed’s rookie copy readying to take the detectives exam and leave his seasoned, veteran partner and the streets. . . . Instead of NBC-TV giving us a late ’80s TV movie version of Adam-12, we got the closest thing to an Adam-12 TV movie: Nashville Beat, which was developed, produced, and co-written by McCord with the intention of becoming TNN’s first original drama series.
Milner and McCord — while pretty much the same cops, only older-but-wiser and in plain clothes — are Captain Brian O’Neal and Lieutenant Mike Delaney, both who started out like their Adam-12 counterparts: on the streets of Los Angeles. Even after his old partner left for a job as a detective in Nashville, Delaney and O’Neal remained close friends. Upon become a widower, Delaney heads to Nashville to help his old partner on a case with ties back to Los Angeles. And the case works out well, and Delaney’s heart is ready to love again with the sexy, big-haired owner (it was the ’80s, natch) of the honkytonk where O’Neal and his copy buddies hangout. So the movie ends with Delaney deciding that he just might move the kids out to Nashville to start over . . . which would set off the new series that never happened.
Meanwhile, TNN’s faux Adam-12 reunion got the folks at MCA Television (a division of Universal that supplied NBC-TV programming) to reboot Adam-12 in September 1990 to fill the UHF-TV blocks of the new, weekend syndicated programming crazy (ignited by Star Trek: The Next Generation and Xena: Warrior Princess). The syndicated revival, The New Adam-12 (1990) was cast-headed by John Wayne’s son, Ethan (who made his debut in his dad’s Big Jake). The series, which ran for 52 consecutive episodes, was cancelled after one year. No one (including moi) cared: Milner and McCord were never invited back to appear. But, we did see Milner and McCord share the screen again in a 1997 episode of Diagnosis Murder with Dick Van Dyke, playing, yet again Los Angeles police officers.
And that’s a wrap on our three-day tribute to the career of Bernard Kowalski. Discover his films with our reviews and enjoy!
You can watch a VHS rip of the home video version of Nashville Beat on You Tube. And look for our reviews of Hot Car Girl and Sssssss — this week — as we continue our tribute to Bernard L. Kowalski.
Phew. We did it! Twelve Ron Marchini films in two days. You know the drill! Yee-haw, let’s round ’em up!
Born in California and rising through the U.S. Army’s ranks to become a drill sergeant, in his civilian life, Ron Marchini earned the distinction as the best defensive fighter in the U.S.; by 1972, he was ranked the third best fighter in the country. Upon winning several worldwide tournaments, and with Robert Clouse’s directing success igniting a worldwide martial arts film craze with Enter the Dragon (1973), the South Asian film industry beckoned.
After making his debut in 1974’s Murder in the Orient, Marchini began a long friendship with filmmaker Paul Kyriazi, who directed Ron in his next film, the epic Death Machines, then later, in the first of Ron’s two appearances as post-apoc law officer John Travis, in Omega Cop.
Ron also began a long friendship with Leo Fong (Kill Point) after their co-staring in Murder in the Orient; after his retirement from the film industry — after making eleven dramatic-action films and one documentary — Ron concentrated on training and writing martial arts books with Leo, as well as becoming a go-to arts teacher. Today, he’s a successful California almond farmer.
In the annals of martial arts tournaments, Marchini is remembered as Chuck Norris’s first tournament win (The May 1964 Takayuki Kubota’s All-Stars Tournament in Los Angeles, California) by defeating Marchini by a half a point. Another of Chuck’s old opponents, Tony Tullener, who beat Norris in the ring three times, pursued his own acting career with the William Riead-directed Scorpion.
You can learn more about Ron Marchini with his biography at USAdojo.com. An interview at The Action Elite, with Ron’s friend and Death Machines director Paul Kyriazi, also offers deeper insights.
About the Review Authors: Sam Panico is the founder, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, and editor-in-chief of B&S About Movies. You can visit him on Lettebox’d and Twitter. R.D Francis is the grease bit scrubber, dumpster pad technician, and staff writer at B&S About Movies. You canvisit him on Facebook.
“Hell just froze over.” — The killer theatrical one-sheet tagline that never was to a movie that may . . . or may not . . . exist.
I’m not really sure how Sam and I are friends: while he ponders his disdain for the new Wonder Woman flick on the eve of the New Year, here I am pondering a 30-year lost Ron Marchini movie.
American martial artist champion, instructor, and author Ron Marchini fought Chuck Norris in 1964 at the Takayuki Kubota’s All-Stars Tournament in Los Angeles, California, and went on to make eleven movies. (Yes, we know that match is disputed as ever taking place, so spare us the comments.) Sam and I are reviewing them all this week — and I’ve seen them all, more than once, sans one: Ron’s follow up to Return Fire (1988), the final mission of Steve Parrish, with Arctic Warriors.
Yes, in utter desperation — and taking cues from all of the art work recyclin’ and ripoffery of the promotional artwork for the VHS boxes of my cherished Michael Sopkiw and Mark Gregory* Italian and Philippines action movies, I pinched the art work from Marchini’s Jungle Wolf(1986) and made my own retro-cheesy VHS sleeve. And yes, according to ye digital content warriors of the IMDb, what is (or should have been) Ron’s eighth film, was financed and distributed by Crown International Pictures and Film Ventures International**. Now, if we have to go into the resume of those two studios’ influences on 90 percent of our cloud content at B&S, then you need to trade in all of your Mill Creek box sets, for you have shamed us. Turn in your Blu-ray deck.
In all my years of swirling down You Tube digital rabbit holes. All of my years surfing the shelves of home video stores — with multiple memberships, mind you — and my analog archeological digs at vintage vinyl outlets and second-hand stores, I’ve never encountered a copy of Arctic Warriors. It doesn’t appear in any video guides dedicated to the preservation of ’80s action films, martial arts, or trash cinema. And this snowbound karate adventure is no where to be found on the World Wide Web. Not a photo, a poster; nary a clip, a trailer, or review. Not an off-mention on a fan’s blog-homage to Ron Marchini. For all we’ve got to go on is a blank IMDb page — a page with no art work, no stills, no character names for the actors, and no plot synopsis.
Meanwhile, I can find a wealth of information and streaming uploads on a wealth of Filipino-Rambo action retreads (we could literally do a B&S 7 day/28-film tribute week on the genre without breaking a sweat) with titles like Black Fire (1985) and Jungle Rats (1988) starring Romano Kristoff, and Ten Zan: The Ultimate Mission (1988), and Just A Damn Soldier (1988), in which Kristoff starred with our beloved Mark Gregory. You want to find more info or watch a Filipino “Awful Blood” war romp from Cirio H. Santiago (Fighting Mad), Jun Gallardo (Slash Extermintor), or Godfrey Ho (Devil’s Dynamite): no problemo, sensei. I mean, I get it: Arctic Warriors isn’t exactly Italian schlockmeister Antonio Margheriti’s Philippines-shot war romp Tornado (1983), but come on, now! There’s Filipino war-cum-karate action romps archived and digitized across the dustiest corners of the web. . . .
And yet . . . Arctic Warriors eludes my ten-figured QWERTY-grasp.
The mind races . . . Arctic Warriors. What could it be about? Is it akin to Sly Stallone’s snowbound shoot ’em up Cliffhanger(1993), with Ron thwarting a bank robbery? Does Ron evade terrorists by barreling down the slopes to ski off a cliff and escape-by-parachute like James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me(1977)? And since this film falls between the fourth — and final — adventure of Steve Parrish in Return Fire (1988) and the first adventure of John Travis in Omega Cop (1990) . . . is Arctic Warriors the lost, next adventure of Steve, or the missing, first adventure of John, with Ron out-tugging Tugg Speedman? Does Arctic Warriors shamelessly stock footage pillage Roger Corman’s snowy-disaster boondoggle that was Avalanche (1979) for added production value? Did the producers wardrobe-match Marchini and swipe all of the James Bond franchises snowmobile and ski scenes?
Considering the budget of Ron’s films, and knowing the Crown and FVI business model, we can correctly assume Arctic Warriors did not film in the Antarctic. And it was shot in-camera with practical effect and nary a snowy-CGI shot to be greened. A more probably location would be the white-capped highlands of California. Does Ron’s winter bonebreaker take place at an “arctic” ice station? Are we dealing with a hostage crisis at Ski resort in Colorado? Was the President’s daughter kidnapped from her Utah a ski vacation? Is Ron out to rescue his scientist-girlfriend, whose newly discovered cold-fusion formula can save the world?
Well, if we are to believe the digital content managers at the IMDb, the screenwriter behind this snowbound Marchini flick — in his only credit — is a filmmaker by the name of Jim Brown.
Brown got his start in the business as a first assistant camera man on The Hot Rock (1972), which is a pretty decent start, considering it was written by screenwriting legend William Goldman, directed by Peter Yates (Krull), and starred the biggest leading man of the ’70s, Robert Redford. And Jim Brown held the same job on the what-in-the-hell-is-Henry Fonda-doing-in-a-hicksploitation-flick The Great Smokey Roadblock, and Stallone’s Rocky II (1979). As an executive producer, Brown guided director Kevin Connor’s Warlords of Atlantis, aka Warlords of the Deep, starring Doug McClure. Now we know you know Kevin Connor (if you don’t, you shame us at B&S): Does the Amicus-produced From Beyond the Grave ring any bells? Motel Hell? How about The Land That Time Forgot, At the Earth’s Core, and The People That Time Forgot (also starring Doug McClure). Jim Brown also served as executive producer on the a-wee-too-late-to-the-woods slasher Berserker (1987), which earned enough of a reputation on the home video circuit for Vinegar Syndrome to reissue it to disc. And, lets keep in mind that Berserker shot in Utah — a state synonymous with white powder. Thus, Brown has the connections to shoot Arctic Warriors on location — no Les Grossman ranting required.
So, who was the director on Arctic Warriors? Jefferson Richard from Berserker? Kevin Conner? Jim Brown himself? Jim certainly had the skill set to make his directorial debut. Your guess is as good as ours: the IMBb lists no director — and we lost Jim Brown in 2006 at the age of 55 in Vienna, Austria.
As for the Ron Marchini’s supporting cast: The two leading names listed are Michael James and Thomas Striker (but never trust the IMBb’s digital packing order, as their algorithms list background actors on top, above the leads, half the time).
While the film is Thomas Striker’s only credit, Michael James made his acting debut with a support role in Stoney Island (1978). In a sidebar: That film was written by Tamar Simon Hoffs, the mother of the Bangles Susan Hoffs; both gave us The Allnighter. The director on Stoney Island, in his debut, is Andrew Davis, he of the Steve Seagal and Harrison Ford box office bonanzas Under Siege (1992) and The Fugitive (1993). James then went on to have character parts in The Fugitive and Brian Bosworth’s Stone Cold (1991).
Okay, that takes care of Micheal James.
Now, where the casting on Arctic Warriorsgets really interesting and, based on his resume, he’s obviously the star-antagonist: James Ryan. Now, sure, we know (and kid) Mr. Ryan for the South African Star Wars abortion that was Space Mutiny (1988). But Ryan made his epic start in karate flicks alongside his friend Ron Marchini, with his leading man debut in Kill or Be Killed, aka Karate Killer (1976), and the sequel . . . oh, man, when those commercials came on TV (as with Nine Deaths of the Ninja) for Kill and Kill Again (1981) . . . we couldn’t RUN to the duplex quick enough. And, what’s this . . . friggin’ Stephen Chang from Fury of the Shaolin Fist (1979) co-starring with Marchini and James?
I don’t even need a trailer. I’m there. But the movie ain’t there.
Uh, oh. There’s celluloid tomfoolery afoot. Hey, it’s those analog hucksters at FVI: Film Ventures International, the studio that brought us the aforementioned martial arts epics Kill or Be Killed and Kill and Kill Again, and turned their $100,000 investment in Beyond the Door into a $9 million dollar box office hit. Obviously, Arctic Warriors was in production for an extended period of time, when you consider FVI closed its doors and filed for Chapter 11 protection in 1985. Meanwhile, Crown International Pictures, which produced Ron’s second film, Death Machines (1976), hung on for a little bit longer, dissolving in 1992.
So, where in the hell Arctic Warriors!
According the digital purveyors of the IMDb: DMEG, a Sweden-based film distribution company, whose resumes includes many a B&S About Movies favorites, such as Horror Express (1972), Eyeball (1975), and Cannibal Holocaust (1980), distributed Arctic Warriors overseas in 2004. . . .
And all we can do is watch this Ron Marchini fan-tribute video. Just imagine it’s snowing . . . as we ponder what might have been those 30-plus years ago in the wintery wilds of Colorado or Utah, with Ron and Stephen Chang kickin’ James Ryan’s ass — and he, their’s — up one slope and down another.
* Aficionados of ’80s action B-flicks will enjoy our retrospectives on Michael Sopkiw and Mark Gregory, both complete with review links to all of their films.
** Get the inside skinny on Film Ventures International with our “Drive-In Friday” tribute to the studio shingle.
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. He also writes for B&S Movies.
June 15: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie — is sequels!
The only thing better than a sequel is one that’s in name only. That’s exactly what The Curse II: The Bite is all about. It’s really a movie called The Bite, which was directed by Fred Goodwin, who is really Frederico Prosperi, whose only other credit is producing the nature on the loose movie The Wild Beasts.
The film came to be after the success of The Curse. Producer Ovidio G. Assonitis and his company TriHoof Investments started making this film and another called The Train, which also became an in-name-only sequel as well called Beyond the Door III (AKA Amok Train).
Our heroes are young lovers Clark (J. Eddie Peck, the star of Lambada) and Lisa (Jill Schoelen, who is one of my favorite unheralded scream queens with roles in The Stepfather, Cutting Class, The Phantom of the Opera, Popcorn, When a Stranger Calls Back and Chiller) whose cross-country trip has taken them right past an abandoned nuclear test site crawling with mutant snakes. Clark gets bit and starts to slowly mutate into a snake himself.
Luckily, Lisa has some help from a sheriff (Bo Svenson) and Harry Morton (Jamie Farr) a traveling salesman who is also a doctor of sorts. He tries to treat the snakebite and uses the wrong medication, which pushes the mutation further as he furtively seeks the couple out to save them as much as he’s trying to save himself from a malpractice lawsuit. Why is a travelling salesman also a doctor? That’s just how the world of this movie works.
Also, if you ever wanted to see a movie where Jamie Farr has conjugal relations with trucker women, come on down to Curse II: The Bite!
There are some great Screaming Mad George effects in this, as well as an astounding scene where Clark tries to use his hand in a Biblical manner on Lisa. His mutated snake hand. Man, I was screaming at the television! Stick with this movie because while it starts off slow, but it gets ooey, gooey and great by the end. And by great, the kind of great when Italian filmmakers are let loose in America. You know what I’m talking about.
This worked out so well that a movie called Panga became Curse III: Blood Sacrifice and Catacombs was retitled Curse IV: The Ultimate Sacrifice.
Before the internet, movies used to get sold at conventions and they’d give away pins and t-shirts after showing trailers. I had a Shocker shirt that I wore before the movie even came out and man, did I learn my lesson.
Here’s where I upset a good chunk of people by saying that outside of his TV movies, the first Freddy and The People Under the Stairs, I dislike just about everything that Wes Craven ever did. His films feel pretty lazy to me and like the work of someone who had no interest in doing horror. Shocker is another cash-in on his part, an attempt to make a new slasher villain who, well, acts pretty much exactly like Freddy Krueger.
Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi) is that killer and he starts the movie by killing off Heather Langenkamp, pretty much using that whole old wrestling logic of jobbing out someone else’s archrival just to get over a new heel who will never really draw like the original. He also kills the entire family of Lt. Don Parker (Michael Murphy), except for his foster son Jonathan (Peter Berg, yes, the man who would go on to direct Friday Night Lights).
For some reason, Jonathan and Horace have a mental connection, which doesn’t help when the murderer kills the football star’s girl Alison. However, the dream world — umm, yes, this is not an Elm Street movie — leads Jonathan to Pinker who is executed in the chair but ends up escaping, just like House 3 (AKA The Horror Show). Or Prison. Or Destroyer. They all came out before Shocker.
In another example of “because horror movies,” Jonathan is Pinker’s son and the villain has sold his soul to Satan to keep killing via electricity, which is not as cool as getting to sniff Satanic cocaine like the similarly themed El Violador Infernal.
This is the kind of movie where you get bored and instead play spot the cameo of people like former Alice Cooper guitarist Kane Roberts or Ted Raimi or Dr. Timothy Leary.
Of course, no Wes Craven non-blockbuster — well, it did make triple its budget — would be complete without an excuse. This time, it’s the MPAA’s fault for cutting out all the gore.
Shocker was probably best known in my teenage years as providing the soundtrack in which Megadeth covered Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” as well as a title song from The Dudes of Wrath, a metal supergroup made up of The Dudes of Wrath, a supergroup composed of Paul Stanley and Desmond Child on vocals, Vivian Campbell and Guy Mann-Dude on guitars, Rudy Sarzo on bass, Tommy Lee on drums and Michael Anthony and Kane Roberts singing back up. Dangerous Toys also submitted a song about the movie, so there’s that.
Micheal Fischa made his feature film debut with the oft-Mill Creek box set-programmed horror comedy My Mom’s a Werewolf. For this next film he went ’70s retro-blaxploitation with this oft-run HBO’er that stars that genre’s Richard Roundtree (Killpoint) and ex-NFL’er Jim Brown (Take a Hard Ride). And for you fans of the ABC-TV daytime soap General Hospital, there’s Anthony “Luke and the Ice Princess” Geary (who got his first B&S review with the TV Movie Intimate Agony) as their co-star.
Rick and Melissa are a pair of high school (bi-racial) lovers who strive to get out of their inner-city hell rife with drugs, crime, and poverty. Then Rick — upon the gang-related death of his brother — he rejoins his old gang to avenge his brother’s death by a rival gang. He’s arrested, natch, and now Melissa falls under the spell of Anthony Geary — the school’s clandestine, heroine-pushing guidance counselor. His supplier: Jim Brown. And when Melissa can’t pay her drug debts, she’s becomes Brown’s crack hoe-cum-sex slave. And that leaves Roundtree, who, if you haven’t figured out by the theatrical one-sheet, is the cop out to take down Geary and Brown.
Is it any good? Well, it’s Cannon Films good . . . whatever that means. It’s sleazy, then campy in places, then brutal, and pretty trope-ridden when it comes to the portrayal of Hispanics and blacks and their territorial gang wars. But the direction from Michael Fischa is alright and the acting from all quarters is serviceable. But this ain’t no Chuck Norris Cannon flick . . . and it certainly ain’t up the to quality of the requite gang flick, The Warriors. But for being a retro-blaxploitation flick, Crack House hits all of that genre’s tent poles. Oh, and yes . . . that is Angel Tompkins from the soft-sexploitationer The Teacher (which we reviewed as part of our Howard Avedis tribute this week, so look for it).
Next up for Fischa: Death Spa. Oh, do we love Death Spa around here; the asparagus! What a way to go for a third film — from a horror comedy, to a blaxploit’er, and then to a late-to-the-game ’80s slasher with a freaky scene that deals in stinky sparrow grasses.
The VoicesInMyHead You Tube page comes though again with a copy of this Micheal Fischa obscurity, which, it turns out, is easy to find on DVD as of late, thanks to MGM issuing it in a digital format.
Shocking Dark, also known as Terminator 2, is a mockbuster that can’t even decide what it is ripping off. The film was advertised in many countries as a Terminator sequel, yet it’s basically a remake of another James Cameron film, Aliens, with identical plot points and even characters. The whole thing is so derivative that the film was not even allowed a release in the United States until nearly thirty years after it was made. Although Bruno Mattei manages to eke out a few good scenes, the film as a whole is a waste of his talents.
Shocking Dark follows a rescue mission into the heart of near future Venice, which has been abandoned in the wake of an environmental disaster. A scientific expedition by the totally Tubular Corporation has gone missing, and the “Megaforce” is sent in to retrieve them, unfortunately without the help of Barry Bostwick on a flying motorcycle. The soldiers, accompanied by a female scientist and a corporate apparatchik, soon find that the scientists were wiped out by Venice’s new inhabitants, a race of mutants.
Pretty much every character in this film is a carbon copy of a character from Aliens, only far less likable. For example, Geretta Geretta of Demons and Rats: Night of Terror plays a blatant knock-off of Vasquez, right down to similar-looking clothes and a headband. Even worse is the dime store version of Ripley who serves as our heroine. While actress Haven Tyler is dressed up to look like Ripley, the film removes everything that made Sigourney Weaver’s character entertaining – her compelling back story, her courage, and even her competence. At one point, the Ripley analogue gets several people killed because she keeps pushing the wrong button to open a door while the monsters are attacking. This lack of charm extends to the other characters, to the point that even the Burke analogue manages to be less likable than Paul Reiser’s sleazy executive (something of an accomplishment when you consider that Reiser’s own parents nodded with approval when first seeing their son’s character die in Aliens.)
The film also suffers from some major plot issues, starting with the fact that the origin of the mutants is not adequately explained. It’s stated that the corporation was behind the disaster that ruined Venice, but their role in creating the monsters is only implied. Furthermore, the writers paint themselves into such a corner at the end that they have to insert a deus ex machina to avoid a downer ending. It’s bad when your ending is the equivalent of Adam West Batman pulling some miracle gizmo out of his utility belt.
However, Mattei’s skills as a genre director allow him to pull a few good scenes out of this garbage. For instance, the opening credits give a convincing portrayal of an abandoned, decaying Venice, a rather impressive feat given that Mattei was obviously just shooting parts of Venice from a boat in these scenes. Furthermore, some scenes set in tunnels underneath the city have a genuine aura of dread and suspense, a product of Mattei’s skill at using lighting to create a somber mood previously displayed in Women’s Prison Massacre.
The film also boasts a one-scene wonder in Clive Riche, who plays the deranged scientist Drake, the lone survivor of the first expedition who is under the control of the mutants. Riche appears to recognize that he’s in a piece of crap and compensates for it by chewing every piece of scenery he can lay hands on. Unfortunately, he only appears in two scenes early in the film.
The movie starts as researchers discover that the natives are practicing voodoo, so they kill the priest, who places a curse that brings the dead back to life before he dies. Only a young girl named Jenny (soon to be played by Candice Daly, Liquid Dreams) survives thanks to an enchanted necklace her parents gave her.
Years later, she returns to the island to find out exactly what happened. And she isn’t alone — she’s brought a gang of mercs with her. There’s Tommy (Don “The Dragon” Wilson!), Dan (Jim Gaines, American Ninja), Rod and Louise, Rod’s girlfriend. And then there are also some hikers — Chuck (played by 80’s gay porn star Jeff Stryker), David (Massimo Vanni/Alex McBride, who is in a ton of Italian exploitation as an actor and stuntman) and Mad — who have found the underground temple where the curse was originally created.
Of course, they bring the curse back and David is eaten and Mad killed. Rod soon gets bitten and ends up killing his girlfriend. David comes back and kills Dan. Seriously, our cast is pretty much cannon fodder. Tommy volunteers to stay behind and blow the base up to take out the zombies as Jenny and Chuck run back to the cave.
There, Chuck is attacked and killed by zombies while Jenny removes her protective necklace and becomes a super zombie that can rip out its own eyeball and survive. And then, Fulci style, the movie just ends.
The cave set looks a ton like the sets of City of the Living Dead. And the movie really jumps all over the place. But does any other zombie movie have as catchy a theme song as this? Alright, does any zombie movie not called Return of the Living Deadhave a song this good?
Severin has the definitive release of this, complete with interviews with Daly (recorded before she died in 2004), Stryker, Fragasso and Drudi. You even get a CD of the soundtrack. What are you waiting for?
EDITOR’S NOTE: This originally ran on our site on June 7, 2018. I absolutely love this ridiculous movie to the surprise of no one.
“Venice before the year 2000. Squares, museums and churches. Tourists crowd the streets. Venice is threatened by the high tide. The seaweed is killing the oxygen in the waters and the putrid waters are corroding the foundations of the city. This is Venice today. What will happen tomorrow?”
Say what you will about Bruno Mattei, but the dude knows how to grab you from the first frame of travelogue footage!
The film starts in a control room, where a bunch of dudes in grey and yellow futuristic jumpsuits watch a research base and most of Venice fall into chaos, as one guy keeps screaming that there are mutants everywhere. There are no survivors, just chunks of videotape that they watch.
Basically, if this feels more like Aliens than the Terminator rip-off you were expecting, buckle the fuck up. While this movie was released as Terminator 2, Mattei and his cohorts Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi, who activated their Wonder Twin powers of insanity to create Troll 2, refuse to stop at covering one film. Oh no — this movie is too strange for that.
They decide to assemble a team — the Mega Force! — to investigate and they bring Sara, a scientist, along to find the diary that has the answers to this breakout. Samuel Fuller from the Tubular Corporation asks to come along, just like Bishop. The fact that two of the members of the team are Geretta Geretta and Tony Lombardo from Rats: The Night of Terror are all the reason I needed to purchase this. The even more amazing fact that Geretta is playing a tribute version of Vasquez from Aliens is the icing on this slice of exploitation tiramisu.
Geretta’s first line is “Alright you bunch of pussies, I’m back and I’m kicking ass!” Then, we watch one of the kinda sorta Space Marines on Operation: Delta Venice practice his nunchakus with his back to the camera. Come on dude — work the hard cam. Also: the Mega Force’s base looks like a high school locker room. Also also: they are not Megaforce.
There’s a member of the Mega Force that has long blonde hair and wears Oakley glasses and a red bandana. I love him already. Geretta’s character, Koster, then starts to yell about Italians being allowed on the mission and gets into a racially motivated fight with another crew member. Mega Force! Get it together!
If you haven’t picked it up yet, I love this fucking movie. This is why I watch Italian low budget genre films all wrapped up in one messy package. The acting is either way too intense or has stilted line readings, sometimes within the same sentence. The costumes are laughable. And the action is everything you wish there was more of in other films without pesky things like character development and a plot to get in the way.
Every time I worry that I’ll never find a film like 2019: After the Fall of New York or 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Italian filmmakers surprise me with something wonderful. All you need are some vests, bike helmets and soccer pads and a fancy synth score and you have a futuristic army ready to do battle with whatever the hell the bad guys in this movie are.
The Mega Force finds a bunch of people inside the alien eggs, but those people beg to be killed before grabbing and choking Koster. Soon, the aliens or mutants or whatever they are decide to throw people around and kill everything in their path. If you love movies where people fall to their deaths, this should be in your collection.
If you thought there wouldn’t be a Newt character, you aren’t watching much Italian cinema. Yep — in the midst of all this craziness, a small child has survived.
The best scene in the film has the soldiers all trapped in a room and the scientist vainly trying to open the door by pushing the left button. Clearly, there is a button on the right, too. She ignores this and keeps jamming the left button like someone trying to make the elevator get there faster. Finally, after screaming, monsters blowing up and much death, someone finally tells this brilliant scientist to just push the button on the right. Holy shit — this movie is awesome.
I have learned many things from this movie. No matter what language you speak, your scream sounds pretty much universal. You can fire a Franchi SPAS-12 one-handed and accurately hit a target. And while I previously was taught that seaweed is really algae and algae helps provide much of the Earth’s oxygen, in the world of this film this is not true. Basically — fuck science!
I wonder — was Samuel Fuller named for the director? Why is Venice the center of the world? And why, when I knew this was also called Terminator 2, was I so surprised and elated that the Bishop character was also a Terminator?
Finally, the ending — if you think that they’re not gonna get time travel somewhere in this wedding soup…just wow.
If you come to a party at my house in the next few months, chances are that you will be forced to watch this movie while I scream like a maniac and laugh my ass off. You have no choice but to comply.
Of course, Severin put this out. Grab one now — don’t delay! You can also watch this on Tubi.