Sunday, June 27, 2021

Shadows in the Dark (1989)

Directed by:
Bruce Seven

Diana (Tianna Collins) suffers from both massive debt, which forces her to work late nights at a sleazy, smoky strip club, and erotic "nightmares" featuring a dark and mysterious man, which are so involving she has a hard time waking up from them. "It just isn't fair. It just isn't FUCKING fair!" she shouts after hopping out of bed and rushing off to work, late again. At her club - Seventh Veil - a totally nude strip joint, the dancers are all miserable, depressed and desperate for cash. The clientele is creepy, business is slow, the tips suck ("I can make more money out on the streets!") and the asshole owner (Ed Powers) refers to them as "bimbos," "lazy sluts" and other charming names. At this particular club the girls not only dance but they also do live sex acts that include solos, girl-girl and girl-girl-girl, and usually incorporate different toys into the act like, uh, feather dusters (!?) Sometimes they even yank one of the male customers up on stage and do them right in front of the rest of the audience. Not that there IS very much of an audience at this place.

Backstage in the dressing room, Diana and fellow dancers Laura (Victoria Paris) and Staci (Bionca), congregate to bitch about their lives. Diana moans, "If I don't come up with any money by Friday, I might as well commit suicide!" But someone is listening... and it's the same man from her dreams. He - Luthor (Randy Spears) - also happens to be a supernatural, blood-drinking being with ill-fitting vampire fangs who preys upon women from the lower rungs of society he senses have given up the will to live. He's already bitten Staci on the arm when she went to serve him a drink but he's really interested in Diana because he believes she's tired of her "puny existence."

So I should probably just stop right here to let you know that this is an uncredited remake / rip-off of Katt Shea's little-seen gem DANCE OF THE DAMNED (1989), which may seem like the most random thing in the world for pornographers to copy unless you've actually seen Shea's film and then it makes perfect sense. The low-budget Dance is a talky, very set-bound production with a small cast, minimal special effects and location changes and mostly revolves around just two characters: a stripper and a vampire. That all potentially makes it something that would translate over to a shot-on-video, zero budget hardcore film fairly well. However, while Dance is well-acted, well-written and directed, multi-layered, mature and thoughtful, this one has terrible acting, extracted small patches of the Dance dialogue repeated verbatim (and not delivered nearly as well) and the first hour is almost exclusively dedicated to sex, stripper and sex-while-stripping scenes.

In Dance, the vampire reveals himself to be an immortal separate species of creature that isn't harmed by prayer, crucifixes or other religious artifacts. Only the death-by-sunlight mythology has been retained from your usual vampire lore. Here, the vampire is also a separate species of creature who laughs when a cross is thrust in his face but also can be killed by sunlight. In both films, the vampire lurks around a strip club looking for dinner and the potential victim he finds is at a low point in her life and contemplating suicide. In both films, the vampire has had it with his tired, lonely existence and is simultaneously wanting to connect with another living being and wanting to end it all. In both films, the vampire insists the stripper explain to him what sunlight feels like. And, in both films, the vampire explains his origins, how his family was murdered centuries earlier, how he ended up buried alive in the Earth for years and how he was left alone in the world to fend for himself on the fringes of society, mostly sustaining himself on animal blood.

In order to somewhat disguise the endless borrowings (which they don't do a very good job of), this film also makes "Luthor" an alien who, along with his family, fled their hostile planet centuries earlier when another alien species attacked them. They then crash landed on Earth and  he's been here ever since. Aside from that, he's basically just your run of the mill vampire. Since purchasing a can of black paint and a couple of pieces of wood or drywall likely exceeded both the talent and budget level for this, the strip club walls have what appear to be cut up and flattened trash bags or tarps taped to them.

The cast is rounded out by the overexposed, can't-miss-'em-even-if-you-wanted-to duo of Randy West (playing an obnoxious sleazeball) and a mulleted Tom Byron (whose sex scene is with an apparently one-time-only performer who calls herself "Cherri Bush"). Speaking of overexposed, 1989 was also the debut year for both Tianna and Paris, who went on to appear in over 40 adult features apiece this year alone. The script is credited to Mark Arnold, which is the first and middle birth name of Powers, though he appears on the cast list twice using both names.

Though this is now available on many adult streaming sites, the only legit home video release I'm aware of is the 1989 VHS distributed by 4 Play Video. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a picture of the VHS box anywhere. The one currently being used for this has no title and pictures of actresses not even in the movie, along with a photo of a Hannibal Lechter knock-off! (By the way, if you know where I can find an original VHS box or poster scan, please feel free to shoot me a message.)


Saturday, June 26, 2021

2019 - Dopo la caduta di New York (1983)

... aka: After the Fall of New York
... aka: Fall of New York, The
... aka: Fireflash
... aka: New York - 2019
... aka: 2019: After the Fall of New York
... aka: 2019, escape de Nueva York II (2019: Escape from New York II)
... aka: Vlucht uit New York (Flight from New York)

Directed by:
"Martin Dolman" (Sergio Martino)

Thanks to the success of Mad Max (1979) and its first sequel, the even more successful and influential The Road Warrior (1981), slightly sci-fi post apocalyptic films became all the rage in the early 80s. And when I say slightly sci-fi, I mean films that take place on a futuristic planet that's been ravaged to a degree, usually by environmental damage caused by war, but still contains plenty of remnants of what once was. This is a bleak future where most buildings are wrecked and spray painted, most people look like they haven't bathed in awhile, many others have been reduced to anarchist savagery (or have been turned into mutants), resources are extremely limited, corpses litter the ground just like any other piece of garbage and the planet has been reduced to some kind of industrial scrap metal desert wasteland. There may be running vehicles, but they all look like they've just been through a demolition derby and nearly everything about life is grim, dreary and depressing.

Many countries made these films in the 80s. While New Zealand contributed Warlords of the 21st Century aka Battletruck (1982), Filipino director Cirio H. Santiago made at least a half-dozen films in this category and there were even some fairly big budget U. S. theatrical films of this stripe, like the awful Steel Dawn starring Patrick Swayze. However, Italy became the #1 country when it came to 80s Mad Max rip-offs. Why? Well, because they never let a popular idea rest until they were first able to pummel it into complete irrelevance! In just the first few years after the success of the second Max, there was the trio of Enzo G. Castellani's 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982), Escape from the Bronx (1983) and Warriors of the Wasterland aka The New Barbarians (1983), Joe D'Amato's dingy duo of Endgame (1983) and 2020 Texas Gladiators (1984), Giuliano Carnimeo's Exterminators of the Year 3000 (1983), Romolo Guerrieri's The Final Executioner (1984) and a number of others. This one has been inspired just as much by John Carpenter's Escape from New York (1981) as it was George Miller's films.

Twenty years have passed since the nuclear holocaust has reduced the planet to a "garbage-strewn radioactive desert." Responsible for all that were the Euracs, a monarchy of European, African and Asian nations. As a result of extremely high radiation levels, the human species is on a fast track to extinction as no human child has been born ever since the bombs were dropped. New York City has been turned into essentially a huge garbage dump being controlled by a Eurac military force, who've been steadily exterminating mutants and ill humans while simultaneously kidnapping the healthier ones to use in genetic experiments.

Somewhere in the Nevada desert, Parsifal (Michael Sopkiw) is some kind of semi-celebrity (at least to desert-dwelling punk kids) who gets by in life by participating in races-to-the-death for money. After winning his latest race, he's tranquilized by some men, kidnapped and flown off to Alaska. There, the former "Pan American Confederacy" President (Edmund Purdom) is in hiding and hoping humans can make a comeback in a galaxy far, far away from Earth (and far, far away from the Euracs). Rumor has it that there's one last remaining fertile woman hidden somewhere inside hostile NYC. Believing Parsifal is the only man capable of pulling off the mission successfully, the President wants him to sneak in, find the girl and then deliver her to him. In return, they'll give him a seat aboard their spaceship when they abandon Earth and start a new society on one of several habitable planets located in Alpha Centauri.

Parsifal finds himself unable to reject such a fine offer. Well, actually, he kind of has no other choice as they'll just execute him if he doesn't comply. He's set up with two helpers / traveling companions: Bronx ("Vincent" / Paolo Maria Scalondro), a former history professor who has a score to settle with the Euracs since they slaughtered his entire family and cut off his arm (which has been replaced by a robotic claw) and the eye-patch-wearing strongman Ratchet ("Roman Geer" / Romano Puppo). The three ride their motorcycle to Manhattan and are able to access the city via a hidden, rat-infested underground tunnel. Once there, trouble awaits around every turn, if not from the crazed mutant citizens then from the horse-riding Eurac guards and higher-ups.

Our heroes are first held prisoner by a filthy group of rat-eating mutants (the "Needle People") led by Japanese actor Hal Yamanouchi, who regularly execute dwarfs because they remind them of children. Among that clan is a hot blonde named Giada (Valentine Monnier), whom Parsifal automatically assumes is the fertile woman because, uh, she's hot, I guess? Before he can find out for sure, Eurac soldiers barge in, sink a battle axe in the leader's head and kill many of the other men. Though Ratchet manages to hide, Parsifal, Bronx, Giada and some of the other ladies are abducted and hauled off to the Experimental Center. There, the bald Eurac Commander (Serge Feuillard) rightly suspects Parsifal and Bronx are Pan-American spies and tries to torture them into confessing. Instead, he ends up getting his eyes gouged out and his captives escape. The Commander then orders Anya (Ana Kanakis) and his guards to hunt them down, with orders to capture Giada alive and kill the others.

While this was clearly bankrolled to cash in on several other then-popular films, and thus borrows many elements from said popular films, this somehow manages to transcend all that through sheer creativity. Besides, just because you're ripping off certain aspects from other films doesn't mean you can't put your own creative spins on those aspects. Just ask Quentin Tarantino. He's made a career of it. And this is, surprisingly enough, a film of some technical merit outside of just being a trashy cash-in. It's really not poorly made, shot or edited, there's plenty of fast-paced action throughout, the characters are strangely endearing, exterior shooting locations are well-chosen, some (though not all) of the art direction and costumes are good, there are lots of fun (though seldom convincing!) miniatures and the "Oliver Onions" (Guido De Angelis and Maurizio De Angelis) synth score is great.

Helping matters along nicely are a slew of interesting oddball characters. There's a commune of sewer-dwelling dwarfs led by "Shorty" ("Louis Ecclesia" / Luigi D'Ecclesia) and a clan of hairy-faced monkey mutants led by the swashbuckling (!) Big Ape (George Eastman), who's desperate to plant his "seed." Thankfully for the sex-mad simian, Melissa (Alessandra Tani), the real last fertile woman on Earth, and a virgin no less, is eventually discovered. She's been kept in a state of "hibernation" in a glass case just like Sleeping Beauty by her scientist father, who stuck her in there before the war so she wouldn't be contaminated and thus could conceivably be used to repopulate once it was safe to do so.

We also get an ultra-high-pitched sonar that causes ears to bleed and then death, multiple decapitations with a boomerang-like sword, car chases, car crashes, laser shoot-outs, a futuristic update of the old rack torture device, a backstabbing cyborg, a robot clown with a giant glowing eyeball on top of its head, rats chewing off a face, eating corpses and (unfortunately) actually get skewered and a giant replica of Picasso's Guernica at the Eurac headquarters. There's a good deal of horror grue in this one, as well, including a gory disembowelment, a face getting blown right off, eyes gouged out, eye transplant surgery, slashings, shootings and much more. On another note, is it actually possible to dislike Sopkiw? This is one guy who is so amiable and effortlessly charming that he can give mediocre line reading after mediocre line reading and you still love him, anyway.

A French / Italian co-production, this was filmed in Italy, New York City and the Arizona desert (subbing for Nevada). Co-scripted by Ernesto Gastaldi , this also features James Sampson as a mutant trumpet player and Jacques Stany as a Eurac officer. It was first released theatrically in the U. S. in 1984 under the title After the Fall of New York and made its VHS debut the following year courtesy of Vestron Video, using the same title. Later DVD (from Media Blasters, Shriek Show) and Blu-ray (from Code Red in the U. S., 88 Films in the UK) releases usually tacked the 2019 back to the beginning.

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