Monday, November 28, 2022

Jiu zi tian mo (1984)

... aka: 九子天魔
... aka: Demons, The
... aka: Gau ji tin moh
... aka: Nine Deadly Venoms
... aka: Nine Demons, The
... aka: Nine Venoms, The
... aka: Venoms: Nine Demons, The

Directed by:
Cheh Chang

Soon-to-be retiring clan leaders Lord Gan (Peng Chang) and Lord Zuo (Chi-Sheng Wang) are planning on passing on their kingdoms to their respective sons, Joey Boy (Ricky Cheng Tien-Chi, who also served double duty as one of the film's martial arts director) and Gary (Chris Lee Kin-Sang), but fear they may be too immature and unreliable for such responsibilities. However, nobody has much time to really ponder any of that as a detractor, Mr. Yin (Tai-Peng Yu), is plotting against them. He gets a few of his men hired on there as chefs, has them poison their soup and promptly murders both aging clan patriarchs. Gary is injured, captured and taken to a torture chamber while Joey manages to escape into the woods. As luck would have it, the ground opens right up, Joey falls into a deep cavern and enters something called "The Black Paradise," which is pretty much just like hell and only accessible by mortal humans once every five hundred years. Colorful psychedelic lights flash as he meets "The Black Prince of Hell" (Fu-Chien Chang), who offers up his assistance... only there's a Faustian price to pay.

After swearing his eternal oath to the The Black Prince and going through a blood ceremony which involves him being impaled and spraying blood all over some plastic flying skulls, Joey is given the power of the nine demons. The demons (eight acrobatic young boys and their seductive adult female demon "mother") are housed on a skull necklace or bracelet he wears in his demonic persona, which also comes with a snazzy new gold and purple caped outfit. In order to keep the demons in check, he's given a "power plaque" and a "demon sword" and, so long as he holds onto those, the demons will obey his every wish and command. If not, well, they're a little hard to control.

Joey arrives a little too late to save Gary from getting beheaded by a guillotine, but is able to turn back the clock a bit and alter his friend's fate. The duo then take on the killers of their fathers, quickly dispatching them. They part ways and plan on reuniting at a brothel later on. Joey arrives at the establishment first and is unable to keep his demonic influences in check. His first night there, he uses gas to knock out three prostitutes and allows the demons to feast on their blood. After sparing the life of virginal Mia Flower (Ruo-Yu Liu), who's been sold to the brothel by her parents and is being set up by the madam (Yin-Shang Liu) and manager (Chang-Chi Wang) for refusing to do her job, Joey attempts to appease the demons with his own blood but the insatiable hell spawn end up slaughtering everyone in the establishment anyway.

When word gets around the village about Joey being possessed by a demon, some other folks decide to use that to their advantage. Master Law (Feng Lu, another of the film's martial arts directors), his nephew Fuji (Sheng Chiang, ditto), two other cousins and their army of goons figure that since Gary is connected to Joey, that's as good a reason as any to murder him and try to take control of his estate. Only Law's virtuous son, Roland (Chung-Yi Li), opposes what they're doing, but he's eventually caught up in a can't-win type of situation where he's faced with siding with either his evil father or the demon-possessed Joey. Thankfully, a Buddhist monk materializes in the forest just in time to help sway him on the right path.

One of the last Venom Mob-adjacent titles, this is held back from greatness by a weak script and a repetitive, nearly nonexistent plot. It's the type of film where the protagonist is set up in a conflict with another character, kills them in the next fight and then brand new evil characters are introduced immediately afterward simply to give our hero someone else to do battle with. Rinse and repeat. The absence of a strong central narrative results in a film that's episodic, fractured and not particularly compelling. However, if you're able to overlook that and are just wanting a barrage of bizarre, fast-paced supernatural black magic hokum and brainless action, you've come to the right place.

The fight scenes that take up the bulk of the time are all expertly crafted and choreographed, and fun to watch, with the physically gifted cast getting a good platform to show off their skills with martial arts, acrobatics, stunts and various weaponry. The long climactic fight atop a frozen lake and some bamboo poles is a highlight. Though the fx are certainly cheap looking, this manages to camouflage them to an extent with good use of editing and jump cuts, plus bold and unrestrained colorful lighting used throughout.

This is one of the only Venom films that crosses over into horror territory. The others are Heaven and Hell aka Shaolin Hellgate (1980) and ATTACK OF THE JOYFUL GODDESS (1983), which features most of the same actors seen here. Made for the Hong Kong Chang He Film Co., this was shot on location in Taiwan and was distributed theatrically by Shaw Brothers. It's available with both an English dubbed audio track (which is one of the worst I've ever heard!) and in its original language with English subtitles. There have been a number of DVD releases over the years from companies like Bonzai Media Corporation, Ground Zero and Terracotta Distribution.


Sunday, November 27, 2022

Intruder, The (1975, 2017)

Directed by:
Chris Robinson

It doesn't happen too often that a film takes over 40 years (!) to get a proper release, but that appears to be the case here. After being completed back in 1975, this was privately screened on at least one occasion, but shelved soon after that. Someone then stuck it in a storage facility in the Mojave desert and everyone forgot all about it. Its existence wouldn't even be discovered until the 2010s and it finally made its DVD and Blu-ray debut in 2017 courtesy of Garagehouse Pictures. While it's always interesting when a previously unheard of film is unearthed and released, the fact it had to be dug back up in the first place after such a long hibernation automatically raises a red flag. Clearly had this been an excellent movie or a memorable movie or perhaps even a passably decent time waster someone out there would have released it when it was first completed, right? Seeing how this has several well-known actors, it could have at least been sold to television and played as late night TV filler, eh? 

Sadly, all of my initial suspicions turned out to be correct. This simply isn't a very good film and it falls into that unfortunate realm of being both hopelessly formulaic / forgettable and just too cheap, tame and by-the-numbers to really cut it on any front. Its lack of exploitative elements would have made it unfit for a drive-in theater run and there were plenty of movies made specifically for TV back then that were far better.

A man named Axel Lubin supposedly died in a plane crash in Colombia and a cache of gold went down with him... only that doesn't appear to be the case. Sure, Axel hasn't been seen since the reported plane crash, and the gold hasn't been located yet either, but there's a chance he'd hidden the gold at his remote, swampy island mansion prior to dying. If he did indeed die. They never did find his body. At the behest of one of Axel's associates, Henry Peterson, a group of relatives and others tied to Axel are invited to the island. They're dropped off there by Captain Jennings (Mickey Rooney), who's murdered in a lighthouse shortly after he leaves, and then meet up with attorney McGowan (John Orchard), who's been left in charge of explaining things. Though he claims Peterson has possession of the gold and plans on splitting it between them all equally, the shady lawyer may instead be in on some kind of scheme. However, Peterson is m.i.a. when they arrive and an off-screen predator starts making short work of the cast over the next few days.

Director Robinson, who also plays the main role, produced, wrote and financed this and thus is primarily responsible for the film's various failures. For starters, his screenplay is extremely poor. Each of the characters are not only devoid of personality but they're also almost completely devoid of any kind of backstory to make them interesting. Who are these people even? You won't have a clue, and apparently neither did Robinson. The film does such a poor job of establishing them, we don't even learn how most of them are even connected to Axel in the first place. And because we don't know the first thing about any of the people involved, we also never care about the poorly-structured mystery nor who the killer is nor why he / she / they are killing everyone.

Among the fodder up for slaughter are a handful of name performers; namely our star (playing the heroic Reardon), the aforementioned Rooney, Yvonne De Carlo (playing the unpleasant Miss DePriest) and Ted Cassidy (in a surprise role). The budget was just 25,000 dollars, which likely explains why De Carlo and Rooney are the first two killed off (both were only hired for one day of shooting). Cassidy (Lurch from The Addams Family TV series) shows up later in the film but has a bit more screen time. That then leaves us with a mostly unknown cast of Florida-based performers of varying degrees of talent, many of them carry-overs from Robinson's previous films Catch the Black Sunshine (1972, aka Black Rage or Charcoal Black) and Thunder County (1974 aka Convict Women or Cell Block Girls). While both of those films are just as bad, they somehow managed to get theatrical and home video distribution, unlike this one.

Rather generously referred to as a "proto-slasher" by some viewers, this doesn't really qualify as such any more than, say, Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians (an obviously inspiration) would. The murder scenes - involving an ice pick, a pitchfork, drowning, electrocution, getting thrown out of a window, etc. - are all very tame and mostly take place off-screen. Some prowling killer POV camera shots are thrown in, which has led to some of the slasher comparisons, but this isn't really "proto" anything. It's merely a poorly-done rehash of other, better mystery films. Probably a good time to also point out that genre critics should quit behaving as if slasher flicks invented the killer POV shot. These have frequently been used in genre films as far back as the silent era!

Phyllis Robinson (formerly Yarwood), wife of you-know-who, gets to play the female lead, Miss Daniels. She also poorly telegraphs the fact she's somehow involved in the murders by showing little to no emotion whenever corpses are discovered. Patricia Hornung (formerly Roeder), who plays the timid Miss Lewis in a terrible blonde wig, was the wife of professional football player (and eventual NFL Hall of Fame inductee) Paul "The Golden Boy" Hornung. Soon after appearing in this, she separated from her husband and co-wrote the lurid tell-all paperback The Season inspired by her life as a pro football wife. She was last seen doing an interview and nude pictorial in a 1982 issue of Oui magazine. The only other cast member genre fans may recognize is George DeVries, who'd starred in the 1968 sci-fi cheapie Mission Mars alongside Darren McGavin and Nick Adams, as Jeffrey. For the record, many of the cast members are incorrectly labeled on other websites.

Sticking out like a sore thumb in this otherwise staid production is the presence of a couple of hilariously bad martial arts fight scenes (!) which were choreographed by co-star / "grand master" Warren Siciliano, who also happens to weigh about 300 pounds! Still, in a film where we're basically left grasping at straws to find anything remotely memorable or entertaining, that's appreciated.

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