Sunday, August 31, 2014

Time for the Annual Goodbye. So, Goodbye.

Between you and me, the month of August, 2014, can go @$%* itself with a crooked thorny stick, eat a big pile of cat poop, choke on it, but then live to think about what it's done. Why so angry? Lets count the reasons: One, a shredded plantar fascia in a work related incident, leading to some workman's comp hoops to jump through, which is really hard to do when your foot has essentially been destroyed. Two, my air-conditioner broke to the tune of money I simply do not have. And the tune is so great it makes financial sense to just replace the whole thing. Did I mention how hot and humid it is here? Again, either way, I ain't got the moneys. Three, a long planned return to the Riverside Drive-In for the Super Monster-Rama was scuttled not once, but twice. First, for very stupid reasons, the second, physical due to the shredded tendon. Also, turns out, I am broke. All of this, of course, is not "technically" August's fault. I'm just lashing out, and the month agreed to take one for the team. August is cool like that.

Anyhoo, so, yeah, I am definitely ready for the Annual September Sabbatical. Thus and so, I will be off the web until the calendar flips to October, where I've finally decided to take part in one of those month long Halloween movie challenges: 26 alphabetical films in 26 days. From Anthropophagus to Zombie Lake. Should be interesting. Until then, Boils and Ghouls, stay cool!

Video courtesy of artistwithouttalent.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Cannon Fodder: The Roundtable :: Trailer Park :: Charles Bronson Forgets What's Legal and Does What's Right for The Go-Go Boys in J. Lee Thompson's 10 to Midnight (1983)

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"When anybody does something like this, 
his knife has gotta be his penis." 
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When Lt. Leo Kessler (Bronson) identifies and arrests a ruthless psychopath, responsible for the brutal switchblade slayings of several women, thanks to some legal red tape, this serial killer goes free. And when his next target strikes a little too close to home, the clock is soon ticking and time is running out for our hero, who must now take the law into his own hands...

Video courtesy of MOVIECLIPS Classic Trailers.  

"If you make an American film with a beginning, a middle and an end, with a budget of less than five million dollars," said the late movie mogul, Menahem Golan, "You must be an idiot to lose money." Born Menahem Globus, the Israeli native's first exposure to filmmaking was working as an assistant for Roger Corman while he made The Young Racers (1963). After learning all he could from the low-budget shlockmeister, Golan teamed up with his cousin, Yoram Globus, and formed Noah Productions in 1964 and never looked back. And when Dennis Friedland and Chris Dewey's financially strapped Cannon Films came on the market in 1979, and Golan and Globus, affectionately known as The Go-Go Boys, bought them out and took over, the 1980s, cinematically speaking, had no clue what was about to hit them. 

For, even though several films they had produced, dating back to their Noah days, had garnered them several Academy Award nominations for Best Foreign Film, and things like Cassavette's Love Streams (1984) and Konchalovsky's Runaway Train (1985) germinated under Cannon's banner, what really buttered the Go-Go Boys bread were their exploitative A-Budgeted B-Pictures, which helped fill the gaping void left when American International went tits up and Corman's own New World Pictures, which had thrived so brilliantly in the 1970s, dried up as the market for this kind of picture shifted from the disappearing grind-houses and drive-ins to the multiplexes and home video. Basically, for every Barfly (1987), there was an Alien from L.A. (1988), Gor (1987) and The Happy Hooker Goes to Hollywood (1980); and for every Hanoi Hilton or Street Smart (both 1987) there was a Detective School Drop Outs (1986), Firewalker (1986), Ninja Hunt (1986), Schizoid (1980), or Bloodsport (1988). 

Developing a formula that soon found them producing and distributing nearly 30 movies a year, Cannon Films had the knack for cashing in on current fads both in film and popular culture, resulting in a catch-all catalog of urban and oddball musicals (The Apple, Breakin' and Breakin' 2), sword and sorcery (The Barbarians, Lou Ferrigno's Hercules movies), raunchy comedies (Making the Grade, The Last American Virgin), soft-core sleaze (Bolero, The Wicked Lady), martial arts (Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja), serial slashers (New Year's Evil, X-Ray), sci-fi misfires (Masters of the Universe, Lifeforce) and franchising out with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) and Death Wish II (1982), which brought Charles Bronson into their stable for three more sequels and a whole lot more. 

If Cannon Films had three crown jewels in their film empire, Bronson would be one of them, Chuck Norris the second (Delta Force, Invasion U.S.A., and the Missing in Action series), and Sylvester Stallone would be the third (Over the Top, Cobra). Maybe four jewels if you wanna count The Dudikoff (Avenging Force, Platoon Leader). And who wouldn't

Anyhoo, as I said, Bronson's first reprisal of vigilante Paul Kersey marked the beginning of his collaboration with Cannon Films. Seems Golan was so pleased with the box-office of Death Wish II and the draw of its star he immediately sent out feelers to producer Pancho Kohner and Bronson, offering to help finance or distribute whatever they wanted to do next. Kohner and Bronson had been working together since St. Ives (1976) and they had been trying to secure the rights to author R. Lance Hill's The Evil that Men Do for several years and pitched that to Golan. However, Hill asked for too much money and Golan withdrew the offer. But while one hand pulled away, another was extended. He still wanted to make a movie with Bronson, just not THAT one. 

What followed next was a somewhat dubiously comical sleight-of-hand at the Cannes Film Festival, where Kohner pulled a potential title, 10 to Midnight, completely out of his ass, and then he and Golan, with just a mere notion of a film, started belching out buzzwords to impress potential buyers until the right combination of 'action', 'danger', "breasts', 'revenge' and 'Bronson' sealed the deal. Now all they needed was a script -- any script, and they found one lying around back in Los Angeles called Bloody Sunday, penned by William Roberts, and just scratched off the title and scrawled 10 to Midnight over the smudges. Roberts had penned The Magnificent 7 (1960) but had recently fallen flat on his face with The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981). He'd also worked with Bronson before, writing the deliriously wonderful Sushi-Western, Red Sun (1971), which co-starred Toshiro Mifune. To direct, Golan brought in another frequent Bronson collaborator, J. Lee Thompson, who had helmed the equally delirious JAWS knock-off, The White Buffalo (1977), and would go on to fire off most of Bronson's Cannon output.

Aside from his close association with Bronson, Thompson was probably best known for The Guns of Navarone (1961), Cape Fear (1962), and for polishing off The Planet of the Apes franchise with Conquest of (1972) and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973). (Thompson had been slated to direct the original POTA but scheduling conflicts with Mackenna's Gold scuttled this.) Before making 10 to Midnight, Thompson had just finished filming the Stalk 'n' Slash staple Happy Birthday to Me (-- where legend has it his producers had to rein him in when their director went a little gore-happy during the signature kills). And while I was keenly aware of the Slasher Movie overtones in the similar Chuck Norris vehicle, Silent Rage (1982), where our hero basically takes on Michael Myers and battles him to a draw, it wasn't until this most recent viewing where I finally realized how much of a genre mash-up 10 to Midnight was. Even more so than Silent Rage, really.

Yeah. On the surface, 10 to Midnight is a Bronson revenge piece, but Thompson and cinematographer, Adam Greenberg (who had been with Go-Go Boys since the Lemon Popsicle days and would shoot The Terminator next for James Cameron), shot and cut the film like a horror movie to great effect. Mind you, this 'great effect' was unabashedly and extremely sleazy, as the film is highly misogynistic, jammed packed with equal-opportunity nudity, with helpless, cowering women (either sluts or pure innocents) begging for their lives before being carved up like flank steak by our knife-wielding psycho.

Speaking of which, though he appears to be just an off the rack, Poor Man's Jan Michael-Vincent, Gene Davis is actually quite good as our mentally disturbed serial killer, Warren Stacy. Inspired by real life monsters Ted Bundy and Richard Speck (the character even drives a VW Bug), the decision to have Stacy commit his atrocities in the buff was most probably done to add another layer of sleaze to the proceedings as the audience becomes intimately familiar with every square inch of Davis' posterior; but, if you think about it, in the days before DNA testing, the move is actually pretty savvy, forensically speaking, leaving no blood spatter or trace elements to link him to the crime -- unless, say, somebody planted some. Say, hypothetically, some veteran, world weary cop who believes the law no longer serves to protect the public but to provide loopholes for people like Stacy and their skeevy lawyers to exploit. And, say, he steals some of the victim's blood from the lab, breaks into Stacy's apartment, and smears it on some of his clothes. 

"You go in that courtroom and forget what's legal and do what's right," says Kessler, who kinda reminded me of Lucas Davenport, the lead character in author John Sanford's Rules of Prey and its sequels; Davenport is also veteran cop, who was willing to bend the rules and plant evidence on the obviously guilty party to get them off the streets before they kill anybody else. (To be fair, both in the movie and the novels, the omnipresent audience/reader is keenly aware of the undeniable guilt of the perpetrator. In real life, things are never quite that concretely simple.) Thankfully, Bronson hadn't quite gotten around to mailing in this kind of role yet. And he brings a touch of humanity and cynical levity to the role, especially when he gets to spout out Freudian twaddle on the perverted modus operandi of the killer or wave Stacy's Ronco Pocket Vagina under his nose, hoping to rile him into a slip up during an interrogation.  

Saddled to this old warhorse, new partner Paul McAnn (Stevens) is smeared with a liberal brush (-- his father is a sociology professor at Berkeley, for cripesake), who is only there to, one, be completely spineless to help justify Kessler's tactics, and two, provide a love interest for Kessler's daughter, Laurie (Eilbacher). One of the genuine pleasures of the movie is the battered and weathered but still standing relationship between the Kesslers. (The scene in the hospital cafeteria with the quiche/pie conundrum is a hoot.) Luckily for Laurie she wasn't our hero's love interest because their life expectancy in a Bronson movie is even shorter than a Federation away team. Daughter or lover, in the end, it really doesn't matter because the main reason she's even here is to give the killer something personal to focus on and amp up the tension for the climax. 

See, thanks to the efforts of Stacy's lawyer (a wonderful glorified cameo by Geoffrey Lewis), who bluffs and bullies McAnn into investigating his client's claim of a frame-up, the blood evidence is tossed, the charges against Stacy are dismissed, and Kessler resigns in disgrace. It is interesting that even though McAnn discovered the truth and confronts Kessler, we never know for sure if he would've perjured himself to protect his partner. Judging by the script, odds are he would have, but before he can or is forced to, Kessler falls on his own sword and fesses up to the DA and the judge. But in true B-Movie fashion, this turn of events backfires on our villain. Because now, freed from things like due process and jurisprudence, Kessler is now in full vigilante mode, turning the tables on Stacy as he, in effect, stalks him just as he had stalked his victims. 

Tragically, also in standard B-Movie fashion, stirring Stacy up like this also triggers another horrific murder spree with a staggering amount of human collateral damage when he goes after Laurie at the nurses dormitory, slashing all of her roommates to death in a salaciously brutal fashion. (One of them played by Kelly Preston, billed as Kelly Palzis, another by that gal form Michael Jackson's Thriller video. One should also note at this point that Golan and Kohner seemed to be more than happy to let Thompson fling around as much blood and grue as he wanted to. Which he did. A lot.) When Laurie manages to escape this bloodbath, Stacy runs after her; and this harrowing foot chase comes to an unintentionally hilarious conclusion when Kessler, somehow, manages destroy the laws of physics, bending both space and time to his will, to not only catch up with them, but to somehow get ahead of them! Thus, with Laurie safe and the killer caught red-handed, Kessler listens, horrified, as Stacy gleefully lays out his insanity defense that will eventually get him back into society where he'll start all over again. What happens next, when Kessler objects, should come as a surprise to no one. 

Bronson's quip as he *ahem* punctuates this objection, and the gob-smacking execution of it, helped pave the way for the tongue-in-cheek, .475 caliber urban renewal of Death Wish III - V. And lets face it, this entire movie is a flimsy, rambling and ramshackle concoction of stacked circumstances so Bronson can eliminate the villain with justifiable prejudice. Of course, the audience isn't repulsed by the execution of his prisoner, they're too busy cheering. And given the context of the slayings, it's hard to call this film fun but it kinda is, morbidly so, for all the wrong reasons. And on top of the Death Wish franchise, the Go-Go Boys would send Bronson and Thompson back to mine this same vein in Murphy's Law (1986), Messenger of Death (1988), and Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989). 

I believe it was Keith Allison over at Teleport City who first wistfully pondered the notion that all of Cannon Films output was part of the same cinematic universe, meaning Paul Kersey and Leo Kessler occupied the same urban streets as Ozone, Turbo and Special K; where James Braddock might've served with Jeff Knight and Mike McNamara; or Matt Hunter shared a city with Joe Armstrong and John Eastland; and while space vampires were invading London, a super ninja was massacring a shit-load of cops on a golf course somewhere in America. This, is the greatest idea of ever. Alas, this notion was never explored cinematically. What I do know, however, is Mark Hartley is following up his wonderful behind-the-scenes documentaries, Not Quite Hollywood (2008) and Machete Maidens Unleashed (2010), which focused on Australian and Filipino exploitation movies respectively, with Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014), which takes a look at the rise and fall of the Go-Go Boys and their film empire. 

Yeah, sadly, by the close of the decade, after a couple of high-profile flops and over-extending themselves with the purchase of Thorn-EMI Screen Entertainment, Cannon Films broke apart against the breakers of bankruptcy. At this time, personal beefs also found Golan severing ties with Globus, as well. And after several failed attempts to start a new solo production company in the 1990s (where he most notably failed to get a Spider-Man movie made but, even more sadly, managed to get Albert Pyun's Captain America made and released), and a brief but doomed reunion with his old partner, Menahem Golan was still at it, producing films up until 2007, and then kinda faded away until his death earlier this year. 

Long criticized for his emphasis on quantity over quality, I think Richard Kraft, a music supervisor for Golan and Globus, summed things up best when he compared Cannon's production pipeline to a bowel movement, and whether what fell into the toilet sunk or floated was irrelevant because the Go-Go Boys would just flush it and make another one. It's an absurdly appropriate metaphor. Yes, they made shit. And it was wonderful. Gloriously so. 

This post is just one part of Cannon Fodder: the Celluloid Zeroes latest Roundtable Tribute to mark the recent passing of Menahem Golan by celebrating The Go-Go Boys, Cannon Films, and all the Cineturds they left in sandbox that clogged the video aisles back in the 1980s. Please follow the linkage below as this tribute continues: 


10 to Midnight (1983) Cannon Group :: City Films :: MGM / EP: Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus / P: Pancho Kohner, Lance Hool / D: J. Lee Thompson / W: William Roberts / C: Adam Greenberg / E: Peter Lee-Thompson / M: Robert O. Ragland / S: Charles Bronson, Lisa Eilbacher, Andrew Stevens, Gene Davis, Geoffrey Lewis, Wilford Brimley

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Fractured Flickers :: Murder Set-Pieces II :: The Joy and Terror in the Aisle in William Hyuck and Gloria Katz's Messiah of Evil (1973)

In a tale that rings all too familiar in the world of independent schlock filmmaking, the money ran out on the production crew before Messiah of Evil could be finished. To try and salvage it, while the investors squabbled over shares and losses, director and co-writer Willard Huyck and producer and co-writer Gloria Katz managed to *ahem* 'abscond' with the work print of their film, edited it together as best they could, and started shopping it around to several distributors, looking and hoping for some completion funds. And when this proved futile, they returned the negatives to the investors and walked away, figuring they'd never see it in the light of day or a darkened theater any time soon -- if ever.

Luckily, calmer heads prevailed and it was decided that some profits were better than no profits at all. Thus and so, even though the climax was never filmed, Messiah of Evil was re-edited for a third time (-- by Scott Conrad, no less, who would cut Rocky next), leaving us with a plot that either makes no sense whatsoever or is intriguingly ambiguous, depending on your patience for such things, and finally released to theaters nearly two years after filming wrapped under several different titles, including the rather blunt, Dead People.

Made with an graphic artist's eye and a deliberate film school keen, this tale of family skeletons, witchcraft, and cannibal curses from beyond the grave is alternately filtered through a Benzedrine buzz or a three Quaalude haze, making Messiah of Evil a visual delight with it's mesmerizing pop-art production design and vivid color schemes that, for the record, predates Argento's Suspira by nearly five years. And in the middle of it all, are two outstandingly ambient murder set-pieces that really leave an impression on the viewer both in style and in substance. We already covered the Clean Up in Aisle Five segment last time; so now, let us move to the Fox Theater, where Joy Bang (no, really), finds herself ensconced in a mini-homage to Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1964):

Though I didn't include any vid-caps of what our captive audience was watching (once more consisting of out-of-work aerospace engineers and their spouses), the majority of inserts were from the final conflagration and raging inferno of Bernard Girard's Gone with the West (1975), a slightly tetched-in-the-head Spaghetti-Os western, which features James Caan as Sonny Corleone-Wales, Stephanie Powers as Charo E. Coyote, Aldo Ray as Snidely Whiplash (-- where we find out what he's been doing when he's NOT terrorizing the citizens of Hard Times), and Sammy Davis Jr. as the gunslinger, Kid Dandy, who gets most of the attention, here. 

According to the filmmakers commentary on the highly recommended Code Red DVD, this sequence had to be shot twice in two different theaters when the first proved too cavernous to light properly, rendering the footage too murky to use. And, quite hilariously, in the original work-print, Huyck and Katz had cut in scenes from a trailer for Vincente Minnelli's The Band Wagon (1953), which they rescued from a garbage can.

And even though our two main players behind the scenes went on to do Howard the Duck (1986), again, cannot recommend their first feature film enough, Boils and Ghouls. Go forth and watch this. Now!

Messiah of Evil (1973) V/M Productions :: International Cine Film Corp. / EP: James P. Graham, Alan Riche / P: Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz / AP: Alan R. Howard / D: Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz / W: Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz / C: Stephen M. Katz / E: Scott Conrad / M: Phillan Bishop / S: Michael Greer, Marianna Hill, Joy Bang, Anitra Ford, Royal Dano

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