I just checked out VFW, the latest from director Joe Begos (Almost Human, The Mind’s Eye) who returns with, in my opinion his best film yet! This sweet little gritty love letter to John Carpenter, which calls back to his classic ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ in big way, is also a blood soaked love letter to some older actors/action stars of yesteryear. We’ve got icons Fred Williamson, William Sadler, Stephen Lang, Martin Kove & even George Wendt from ‘Cheers’ to make this bar room brawl even more authentic!
The story kicks off on a special birthday night for VFW bar owner “Fred” and his tight knit gang of bad ass war veterans. The evening quickly turns into wild all-out battle for their lives when a teen punk rock girl crashes their party with a sack full of ‘hype’. This new drug basically turns people into demented maniacs, with a hunger for more hype at any cost. The evil punk drug dealer, desperate to get his valuable stash back, sends his gang of gnarly addicts on a rampage to get it back. When these mutant punks on a rampage storm the bar looking for the teen, the old vets along with a younger soldier get to relive the gory glory years of war one more time. They unleash their pent of rage and fury using every weapon they can get their hands on to protect the girl and try annihilate the horde of drug addled maniacs. However these messed up punks have hype running through their veins and want more, risking anything to their grimy paws on it.
If you’re a fan of old school action flicks from the 70’s & 80’s you’re going to really get a kick out of VFW. The gore is pretty over the top, done in a such a cartoony way that people literally explode on screen. As a fan of practical fx Begos always delivers the goods with some wild splatter, he also keeps the vibe placed firmly in the golden days of the action era, with not a cell phone in sight. It also feels like an 80’s flick, with stunning neon lit sets within the walls of the cool old dank dive bar.
The real highlight of this is the cast of old codgers who do the majority of the ass kickin’. It’s absolutely delightful to see the likes of Fred Williamson & The Karate Kid’s Martin “Sensei” Kove in full on action mode as well as Stephen Lang, William Sadler and the younger soldier played by Tom Williamson. They’re all great here and give this film the cred it deserves proving age is just a number when it comes to cinematic butt kicking. I really enjoyed VFW, it’s the perfect modern midnite movie and gets so much praise for bringing in some old icons into the mix of onscreen mayhem. Check this out if you’re a fan of 70’s/80’s cult action horror flicks- And here’s to hoping VFW gets a sequel bringing even more of the bar’s patrons into the fold, hand picking some more old nearly forgotten bad asses to do some damage one last time!
Well the quarantine rages one! So naturally I’m taking advantage of the situation by watching as many cool movies as I can get my hands on! I checked out some pretty excellent Japanese movies from the late 80’s/early 90’s the other night and I won the jackpot as somehow BOTH movies delivered the damn goods! I mean that rarely ever happens when blindly grabbing two oddball movies I’ve never heard anything about.
First up was was 1988’s “Cyber Ninja”, which obviously by the title showed some true promise! This wild sci-fi action film tells the story of a cyborg ninja who’s battling an evil empire that uses giant dinosaur like robots along with a gang of robotic ninja’s of their own to wreak havoc upon a kingdom of samurai warriors. Yeah basically that’s the story, nothing fancy here just a bunch of wild action and robot ass kicking for a lean 80 minutes. There’s some cool martial arts as well and really sweet robot designs at play here that mix feudal japanese elements into their look. There’s these giants mechs in particular that have a sort of Japanese tree house melded as the control center, kinda of like a play on a Star Wars ATST walker. There’s also a ton of that ultra colorful hand painted laser/electricity/energy blasts fx that accompany the martial arts mayhem. It’s a ton of fun and it seems this was perhaps an inspiration for the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers? The movie was release by Namco, which later merged with Bandai, both famous for their video games. Cyber Ninja is must watch if you dig weird, 80’s action and fantasy stuff & was great little viewing surprise that doesn’t require your attention span to be in full swing either.
Next was 1991’s Mikadroid, also known as “Mikadroid: Robokill Beneath Disoclub Layla”. With a title like that you know you’re at the least in for something quite unusual and yeah it brings quite an intriguing little tale of terror to the screen. It’s super lean run time of 73 minutes also makes it much less of a commitment and the perfect companion to Cyber Ninja in more than one way. I’d say at it’s core, it’s really more of a horror movie, and go as far to even call it a “proto-slasher”. It follows a World War II soldier who was experimented on along with two others for a super soldier program.
However they went a step further in a secret underground bunker to transform him into a cyborg/droid and ends up looking like something straight out of a Hellboy comic. We flash forward to 1991 to a discoclub that was built on top the hidden bunker where some electrical issues awaken the WWII super solder robot from his long slumber (I guess a real Captain America kind of thing going on here more than I originally realized). The droid heads up into the parking garage where he conducts his killing spree on the oh so stylin’ Japanese party animals after their wild nights of drinkin’ and dancing the night away.
This movie’s certainly a unique slice early 90’s cinema. It’s quite beautifully shot as well as having a pretty kick ass looking robot and some really stunning underground locations. I was hoping for a bit more from some of the kills but the strange story is the true highlight. Enough so that this little oddity by it’s end unfolds into something truly unique for it’s time and relative obscurity. Released by Toho, it was originally intended to be a full on horror film for the straight to video Japanese Market. Originally set to be a a zombie horror film having the WWII soldier an undead killer instead of a robot . The day before filming began a child murderer was arrested, who had an open passion for horror films, and it resulted in almost all horror movies being essentially blacklisted from production at the time. The film’s plot was frantically reworked into a “sci-fi” film while still keeping the basic premise intact. That all being said, the changes made I think likely added to the movie’s bizarre but ambitious plot. If you go into the movie with few expectations you’ll find a truly charming little feature that firmly lands it in a league of it’s own for the time.
I’m not real familiar with with Indonesian cinema, but last night I watched a dvd (yeah a DVD folks!!!!) I got in the mail from Netflix that’s been in my queue for well over a year. The 1984 Swords and Sorcery fantasy martial arts adventure, ‘The Devil’s Sword’ from director Ratno Timoer. I really didn’t have any expectations, in fact I was fully prepared to turn this one off after 10 minutes, however that was most definitely not the case. Nope! Instead The Devil’s Sword immediately won me over with some impressive joyfully bad choreographed magical martial arts battles taking place in a truly stunning exotic jungle location. If you’re a fan of cheezy fantasy movies from the 1980’s then this one’s gonna be right up your damn alley. It’s also alerted me to the Indonesian action star Barry Prima, maybe I’m late to the Prima party, but a quick look on Letterboxd at his filmography revealed what appears to be an overload of action, fantasy, horror hybrid gems just waiting to be leaped into.
This one has pretty much got it all, wildly stupid martial arts, sword battles, magic, monsters, babes & hunks galore! All of it 100% ridiculous, macho man Barry Prima stars as “Mandola”, basically “Rambo the barbarian” looking remarkably similar to Sly Stallone (with a smooth fully stupid dub track that seems like it might even enhance viewing pleasures). He’s also got a radical bad ass female co star, who right out of the gates lays a smackdown on a gang o’ goons & who aids the mighty Mandola in his epic quest to destroy a wicked witch, the sultry and seductive Crocodile queen! She’s indeed quite a woman and has tons of male sex servants one of them the kidnapped husband of Mandola’s female ally! She’s also got a gang of some of the worst, most idiotic looking, crocodile/human minions that really just have to be seen to be believed. Some of these fights too go on for way, way too long but in that sort of “They Live” sorta way. I mean check this out if you think I’m full of shit!
Mandola ends up on this epic quest when some of The Crocodile Queen’s assassins injure his master’s legs and he himself is forced to saw them off! The Devil’s Sword definitely doesn’t skimp on some wild gore either, limbs and heads are chopped off, accompanied by sprays of blood. There’s also a dab of indiana Jones thrown in as Mandola explores caverns filled with hordes of bats and one supremely stupid looking giant cyclops! I guess they were lucky that Indonesia is such a beautiful place, because some of the locales add a solid a layer of legitimacy to the whole experience, suddenly I’m eyeing Indonesia as a future dream vacation.
The Devil’s Sword has really energized an interest in not only the country but also in some of the wild cinema it had to offer back in the 70’s & 80’s as well as a strong curiosity in it’s main man, Barry Prima! Check this flick out, it’s the perfect watch with a case of beer and some friends to enjoy all the unintentional wackiness strewn about the screen. There’s a dvd out there that Mondo Macabro put out years ago I think you can still snatch, or hey if you’re like me just put it on the dvd by mail list from Netflix!
Just a reminder to everyone out there, if you’d forgotten or ever wondered who’d win in a fight between Star Trek’s Spock & Wolverine, I’m here to remind you there is a definitive answer! Yep back in 1996, X-men did indeed meet Star Trek in a one shot comic book crossover and well, just take a look!
I finally got a round to checking out 1989’s ‘Saga of the Phoenix’, the wildly entertaining sequel to ‘The Peacock King’ from cult classic Hong Kong director Lam Ngai Kai (Riki-Oh). If you’re a fan of ‘Riki-Oh’ I highly recommend checking out the director’s other work and while ‘Saga of the Phoenix’ isn’t as shockingly violent, it’s easily just as wild and crazy as anything he’s ever done. In the sequel we follow once again, the exploits of the two magical monks Lucky Fruit and Peacock but more so this time the “Hell Virgin” Ashura who in the last movie caused some major problems, almost destroying mankind as we know it while under the enchantment of the devil. Ashura though still loves the mortal world and eventually is granted permission to live there for 7 days, only if she makes a promise to stay out of any mischief that might interfere with the human world. She gladly accepts and quickly hunts down a weird gremlin creature named “Genie” when arriving on Earth. Peacock, Lucky Fruit and 3 bad ass nuns are also then sent down to chaperone her visit, but of course the wicked “Hell Concubine” has other plans, to send her evil minions there as well to try and corrupt her once again.
Though I’ve heard many seem to think this one is more “kid friendly”, probably because the gremlin character “Genie”is focused on quite a bit. Though we follow Ashura and him running around Hong Kong in the 80’s having fun (which I totally dug), it’s still got plenty of downright bizarre scenarios to behold that I think places it in a league all of it’s own and quite a worthy sequel. There’s also the inclusion of a brother and sister human duo that befriend the main characters and the brother just happens to be a madcap inventor of an inter dimensional time machine. Go figure! There’s a few hints of romance and of course the three nun protectors all decide to go for a dip in the human’s swimming pool after their outfits get shredded in battle, donning swimsuits for the first time in their rather “sheltered” life. There’s also some pretty perplexing plot choices surrounding the character of Genie that just kind of have to be seen to be believed. The character which is a mix of puppet and stop-motion animation has got plenty to do here and is given more than his fair share of moments to shine and even scare.
Sure there’s a lot going on here in a movie with an admittedly flimsy plot, the good thing is that the majority of it all is one helluva good time. Bleeding sweet 80’s fashion & locations, outrageous characters, wild sets, puppets, stop motion animation, giant monsters and plenty of neon lasers to behold, it’s hard not to at least be enamored by all of the eye candy. There’s also a splash of martial arts action thrown in the mix to keep the action going at a steady pace from Lucky Fruit and Peacock. Sure there’s lot’s of logic issues with the plot & the dialogue (translations likely) can be a bit incoherent at times but there’s more than enough outrageous charm throughout to easily satisfy fans of directors like Steven Speilberg, Sam Raimi & Peter Jackson’s 80’s and early 90’s work.
If you’re a fan of weird 80’s fantasy, action & horror you definitely need track down The Peacock King & The Saga of the Phoenix. It’s jam packed with all the things I love so much about that era of film making. Lam Ngai Kai (aka Ngai Choi Lam) is easily the best cult director out of Hong Kong for the time, it’s a shame he completely disappeared from film making after 1992. Perhaps he decided his body work couldn’t be topped? Thankfully he’s left behind a truly unique legacy of outrageous films that have yet to be explored by a huge portion of American cinemaniacs.
So way back in 1988 Hong Kong had their own awesome version of Robocop, an ass kickin’ lady cyborg named Maria! Yes, the action/sci-fi flick ‘I Love Maria’ aka ‘Roboforce’ is easily one of the best 80’s movies I’ve seen coming from that region of the world since I started going down the rabbit hole of odd ball Hong Kong cinema a while ago. I must admit, a lot of Hong Kong films during that era are usually pretty hit or miss, many with confusing, nonsensical plots & often weird slapstick potty humor that likely loses something in the often rudimentary english translation provided. However ‘I Love Maria’ definitely hits the right beats on the humor, action & plot to make it stand out as not merely a foreign remake of Robocop but a uniquely charming little sci-fi adventure all of it’s own. The plot’s indeed pretty outrageous, but to a large degree that’s what makes it a so much damn fun. It’s also filled with some memorable characters that at the end of the day, leave you with some warm fuzzy feelings about friendship & the importance of true camaraderie. So what’s it all about you ask?
So the vicious “Hero Gang”, is a downright nasty criminal terrorist organization (I know odd name for the gang then huh?), hell bent on wreaking all out havoc upon the streets of Hong Kong with their unstoppable killer robots: Pioneers 1 and 2! While Pioneer 1’s a giant hulking armored unit, Pioneer 2’s been modeled after “Maria“, the Hero Gang’s devious second in command. When Pioneer 2 gets damaged during a secret assassination mission, it’s taken into the custody of a curious hi-tech weapons inventor employed by the police force named “Curly”. He secretly repairs & reprograms her with new coding that triggers changes to her logic center. Pioneer 2 begins to develop her own unique heroic personality and soon Curly finds himself caught in the middle of a deadly battle against The Hero Gang. Banding together with a drunken ex-gang member named “Whisky” & “T.Q.”, a bumbling news camera man, the four of them embark on a dangerous mission with the fate of Hong Kong in the palm of their hands!
‘I Love Maria’ is a must see for fans of odd 80’s sci fi, the three main human characters have some great chemistry together, one of which is cult director Tsui Hark (Detective Dee, Double Team, Once Upon a Time In China), who hams it up thoroughly as the heroic alcoholic ‘Whisky’. The special effects work is pretty stunning as well, especially when it comes to Maria battling the ‘Pioneer 1’ robot. They bash though walls, fire rocket launchers for their arms and fling eachother around like rag dolls on the streets of Hong Kong. They never skimp on spectacle here either as there’s a plethora of explosions, Hi-tech weaponry, martial arts battles, car chases & of course awesome robot beat downs to behold here. There’s also a pretty interesting duo of villains, the brother & sister leaders of The Hero Gang who also happen to be in love. Throw in “Mr. Vampire” himself, Lam Ching Ying in the mix to showcase his always amazing kung fu and you’ve got yourself a frenetic sci-fi action flick here that never lets up.
That all being said the real star of the show is clearly the charismatic cyborg Maria, who not only lights up the screen with her robotic butt kicking but also with her curious charm. A largely forgotten rad 1980s female action hero that more people need to discover. Hunt this one down, especially if you dig over the top, 80’s, sci-fi action stuff that really fires on all cylinders: unique characters, stunning practical fx, sets, locations and just pure cybernetic mayhem a’ plenty . Stick around all the way through the end credits as well, where you’ll some of the sweetest scenes of the movie. Someone needs to jump on releasing and cleaning up some of the amazing Hong Kong horror/sci-fi stuff out there from the 80’s & 90’s, there’s so many forgotten, rarely seen gems for fans of cult cinema in the USA. Until then this one’s actually pretty hard to find, but definitely worth the effort!
I headed out to the local video store the other night (yeah in Portland we still got an amazing one called Movie Madness) to rent some movies, just like we used to do back in the good ol’ days. Let’s face it folks, sometimes it’s nice to take a break from the bland streaming services like Netflix and physically roam around a video store in hopes of stumbling across something entertaining. I decided this time I’d check out some new stuff I haven’t seen streaming out there.
First up was ‘Gags The Clown’ a movie I’d wanted to check out for quite some time now, being a Wisconsin native for much of my life & knowing this horror flick takes place in Green Bay (a place I’d personally hung out so many times in my teens & twenties) made this a no brainer rental. The cover art alone is pretty awesome and would look lovely gracing an old VHS.
Anyway I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a giant fan of “found footage” horror movies and it’s been pretty played out these days in my opinion at least. But in this case I was lured in mainly because I’m just downright intrigued by movies made in ‘The Dairy state’. So the idea of ‘Gags’ was inspired by the whole creepy clown roaming the streets in real life viral video phenomenon a few years or so back. The interesting thing here is that creator of ‘Gags’ actually took advantage of this using his character to supposedly fool local Green Bay residents and the local news to report on it, eventually gathering up some worldwide interest in the creepy clown. A pretty brilliant marketing move to say the least. Continue reading