Monday, May 25, 2015

Devil Dynamite (1987)

... aka: Devil's Dynamite

Directed by:
"Joe Livingstone" (Godfrey Ho?)

Oy vey! Here's yet another incomprehensible mess from Filmark International, this time involving a silver super hero, drug lords, gamblers and hopping vampires. Large chunks of the movie were swiped from a 1979 crime drama called The Casino Giant (aka City of Vengeance or aka Duel in a Gambling Den) as well as a second film called The Stunning Gambling, made in 1982. Most of the rest of the footage was made by one "Joe Livingstone" who may be producer Tomas Tang or may be Hong Kong cut-and-paste master Godfrey Ho or may be someone else entirely. Reference books and most websites credit Ho with the direction, so I will be listing him as such too unless I hear definitive proof to the contrary. Not just content with borrowing from two other films, much of the same footage used here was also seen in another Ho / Tang hack-job called Ninja, the Violent Sorcerer, which credits director "Bruce Lambert" and is listed on IMDb as being released in 1982 but was probably slapped together sometime later (a Hong Kong film database claims 1987). Yes, this is all confusing as hell but that's par for the course with nearly all of the output from Tang, Ho, Filmark, etc. Maybe one day someone will figure this all out.

And while we're on the subject of confusing, all of this spliced together and re-dubbed footage boasts three completely different plots simultaneously running parallel to one another, never really gelling together and all duking it out for our attention. There's no winning this particular battle, though, None of this makes a lick of sense. There's lot of fighting and numerous WTF moments sprinkled throughout, but this doesn't really cut it as a good bad movie. It's mostly just confusing, senseless, frustrating and just plain boring to sit through.

Using a voodoo doll, American drug lord Ronald has managed to put a Taoist priest under his spell and forces the man-of- the-cloth to tend to four hopping, blue-faced vampires who become more and more powerful with each drop of human blood they consume. These karate- fighting bloodsuckers can appear or disappear at will and are only kept in check with a piece of spell paper attached to the forehead. Meanwhile, "gambling king" Steven Cox (Kuan-Hsiung Wang) has just been released after ten years in prison and has vengeance on his mind. Steven wants to get back at Madame Mary (Elsa Yeung) aka "the bitch who betrayed me," for not only getting him arrested but also helping to destroy his previous marriage and driving his wife and kids away. Mary is now engaged to a young, apparently not-very-observant policeman named Louie (Lau Seung-Him), has taken over his home and casino business and is now known as "the queen of the underworld."

Elsewhere, a man named Alex (Suen Kwok-Ming) is living a double life as a crime fighter named "Shadow Warrior." Decked out in a baggy silver outfit, silver boots and silver motorcycle helmet, Alex battles not only the vampires, but also the evil priest, the American mob boss and their black-clad ninja henchmen, all of whom are working for Mary. So who is Alex working for? Well, apparently a guy named Mr. Ivers (Chung Tien Shih), his yellow-robed Taoist "master" and Steven Cox... I think. There's lots of double-crossing and even double-crossers being double-crossed, characters flipping allegiances and a bunch of people running doing things that don't necessarily make any sense. It's impossible to keep track of all of the characters and what they're up to. I'm not even fully convinced the people responsible for dubbing this understood what was going on.

Also thrown into the mix are a bunch of annoyingly-dubbed kids playing vampire games, a hidden case of gold buried on the beach that numerous characters want to get their mitts on, an "anti-sorcery mirror," long scenes of the Taoist cutting his hand, bleeding into a bowl, playing around with fire and sparklers (which I guess is the "Devil Dynamite" of the title) and conducing vampire training sessions, tons of random fight scenes and some laughable dialogue ("Do unto yourself what others want to do to you... CUT YOUR BALLS OFF!!") There's also one scene that is repeated in its entirety two times for no apparent reason. At the very end there's a fun fight sequence between some of the more colorful characters but it's too little too late by that point. The entire cast listing in the opening credits is fake, though martial arts fans may recognize "Lady Kung Fu" Angela Mao Ying in about 30 seconds of the recycled footage.

To my knowledge, this was first issued on VHS here in America on the Star Classics label in 1990. IMDb claims it was released before then by TransWorld, who also released numerous other films from these same people, like DIAMOND NINJA FORCE (1988) and The Vampire Is Still Alive (1989), but I can find no evidence of that. In 2006, BCI / Eclipse released it on DVD as part of their "Eastern Horrors" collection. That set also includes the similar and equally awful, though slightly more fun, ROBO VAMPIRE (1988).

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Evil, The (1978)

... aka: Cry Demon
... aka: Evil
... aka: Evil Below, The
... aka: House of Evil

Directed by:
Gus Trikonis

This is an unexceptional, though decent, little haunted house / devil flick with some cool moments. Hoping to eventually open up a drug rehabilitation center, Dr. Caroline Arnold (Joanna Pettet) and her atheist husband C.J. (Richard Crenna) purchase the huge, run down Vargas House. According to the Realtor who shows them around, the 200 room estate has been abandoned for quite some time and has such a blood-soaked history that townsfolk unsuccessfully attempted to have it demolished. It all has something to do with the original owner disappearing and the fact the plot of land was dubbed "The Valley of the Devils" by the Native Americans who lived there long ago, but the couple decide to ignore local legends and get to work restoring the old building. They draft a handful of friends, including a psychology professor (Andrew Prine), his college student girlfriend (Mary Louise Weller), a construction contractor (Robert Viharo) and three former patients (Lynne Moody, Cassie Yates and George O'Hanlon Jr.), to help and it isn't long before the house starts living up to its bad reputation.

Caroline begins seeing images of a man's silhouette cast in bright light around the home and other signs of evil forces at work but, before anyone can leave, C.J. accidentally disrupts a hatch on the cellar floor and the home decides to seal itself up and then unleashes a deadly supernatural force. Fireplaces light themselves, furniture moves all on its own, the strong smell of sulfur fills the air, a pet dog becomes vicious and attacks and people start turning up dead in a variety of ways. To make matters worse, the doors shut and become petrified and the glass on all the windows has become unbreakable, so there's no way out. Other developments arise involving the ghost, a diary, an ancient crucifix, a charred corpse hidden in a dumbwaiter, a possession and special guest star Victor Buono ("You insignificant speck of vomit!") in a memorable 11th hour appearance.

Though not a great film by any means and not particularly original or all that scary, this is a fun and entertaining enough flick which entertainingly crossbreeds two popular horror subgenres (the haunted house film and the Satanism film) and does so in a fairly interesting way. There are a variety of mostly bloodless killings in this one including several bizarre electrocutions, a fall down a staircase, someone getting sucked underground, someone being set ablaze by fire shooting from a fireplace and, during the bloodiest moment, a hand being nearly cut off with a circular saw. Best of all are the special effects, which are surprisingly well done and effective for the time, in particular the moments when the cast are yanked around, dragged on the floor, pushed, smacked and lifted into the air by an unseen force. The actors are all decent and the shooting locations and art direction are really good, too.

Filmed on a modest budget of 700,000 dollars, this was released theatrically by Roger Corman's New World Pictures, was issued on VHS by Embassy in the mid 80s and then later on laserdisc under the title House of Evil. In 2010, Shout! Factory included it on a double feature DVD as part of their "Roger Corman's Cult Classics" collection, where it's paired up with Twice Dead (1988).


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Shakma (1990)

... aka: Nemesis
... aka: Panic in the Tower

Directed by:
Tom Logan
Hugh Parks

Baboons are known for many things: Their high-pitched shrieks, their big, bald red asses, having powerful jaws and sharp teeth that they often like to flash to scare away threats and potential predators, being one of the largest and most aggressive members of the primate order and, last but certainly not least, the sheer glee they exhibit on the off chance they're put in a situation that allows them to slaughter bland collegians indulging in painfully geeky pastimes like Dungeon & Dragons. Considering how wild and frenzied baboons can be when they're all wired up, it's surprising how very few horror films have utilized this animal over the years. There's of course the safari park scene in The Omen (1976) where baboons attack Lee Remick's car, but that was just one isolated scene in the film. The nowadays seldom-watched IN THE SHADOW OF KILIMANJARO (1986), which was supposedly based on a true story about 90,000 starving baboons going on a murderous rampage in Kenya in 1984, may have been the first horror film to center entirely around the baboon, but the film was a major flop. And then came Shakma, which was a low-budget limited release that did most of its business on TV and video throughout the 90s.

There isn't much need to delve into the plot too thoroughly (a good thing because there's isn't much plot), but it's basically yet another horror tale about science gone awry. When he's not busy lecturing and playing childish games, Professor Sorenson (Roddy McDowall) is tinkering around with animal brains in an attempt to reduce aggression. His latest victim, er, subject, is a baboon named Shakma. After waking up from a surgery that was supposed to calm the savage beast, Shakma is even more vicious than ever before. Sorenson instructs a few of his students to put the animal down. They shoot it up, stick it in a room and then decide to put off cremating it for another day so that Sorenson can perform a necropsy... and then it's game time!

A handful of young medical students; Sam (Christopher Atkins), his girlfriend Tracy (Amanda Wyss), Bradley (Tre Laughlin), Richard (Greg Flowers) and Gary (Robb Morris), along with Richard's teen sister Kim (Ari Meyers), then decide to use the upper floors of a six story research facility to play some silly fantasy role-playing game utilizing a computer, walkie talkies and magic crystals (i.e. rocks), with Sorenson acting as "the game master" and a 1500 dollar bounty for whoever wins. Every door in the facility is locked, the alarm system is shut off and only a small handful of keys are distributed among the players, which must be earned by finding hidden scrolls. In other words, once they're locked in, it's not gonna be easy to get out. Shakma, of course, turns out to be not so dead, destroys nearly every animal in the lab and then begins murdering and partially eating the players one by one.

This one has its fair share of flaws. The dialogue is kind of lame, numerous characters do the most moronic things imaginable just to ensure they'll die, a large amount of time is spent showing people wandering down hallways and walking up and down the stairwell and it's extremely annoying that no one just busts out a window and starts screaming their head off until the police arrive (or even just barricade themselves in a room until help gets there). No sir! These people just needlessly and brainlessly make themselves vulnerable to attack throughout, which nearly had me screaming at my TV at times. And yet, despite all that, I still kind of enjoyed the film. It's rather simple, but in a good way, and the directors are at least able to balance out the violence (several of the baboon attack sequences are excellent) with genuinely suspenseful moments. The finale is also both clever and surprisingly grim.

Most of the actors are at least tolerable but the real star here is the aptly-named Typhoon the baboon, who is currently being robbed of having his very own page on IMDb. I may have to remedy that oversight one day. Typhoon was such a ladies man that no menstruating women were allowed on set or else he'd go crazy and, to get him to go buck wild and start attacking the doors, a female baboon in heat had to be placed on the other side. It was noticed later on that the "star" had a highly- visible erection during these 'rage' scenes, which had to be airbrushed out by the studio before the film could be released!

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