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Friday, February 16, 2018

Kriminal


Kriminal
1966
Umberto Lenzi

Superheroes are great and all, but supervillains are a lot more fun. Sure, there have been some successful antihero projects, but it is curious that the popularity of superhero films in the 21st century has not produced any notable supervillain centered movies. In the 1960s, Italy and France produced a slew very popular super criminals, Diabolik, Killing, and Kriminal among them. Produced for adults these comics and movies had no small amount of violence and kink.

Kriminal (Glenn Saxon) is a world-famous master thief and killer. We meet him for the first time already incarcerated and awaiting his turn at the gallows. Of course, Kriminal has things well in hand and makes his escape. Eventually, he finds himself conspiring with a wealthy socialite to steal a batch of priceless diamonds and engage in a little insurance fraud. Double-crosses abound and Kriminal finds himself not only plotting revenge on some would-be assassins but also working to stay away from the clutches of his arch nemesis Inspector Milton (Andrea Bosic). There are plenty of women who fall for his good looks along the way.

"For the last time, lady, I am not Arch Hall Jr."
Kriminal is most definitely a product of 1960s Italian genre film. It’s colorful, playful, accompanied by a smooth jazz sound, and mixes violence and comedy in equal measures. Despite all of the backstabbing and scheming from the characters, the movie retains a light touch. There really isn’t much story to the film, it is just a series of obstacles that Kriminal encounters and overcomes without so much as breaking a sweat. This does mean that things keep moving at a good pace which is vital for this kind of film.

Kriminal himself has a roguish charm about him. Glenn Saxon’s performance is stilted but he seems to be having fun with the role. One element that plagues Kriminal and is still a problem in many costumed character films today, is that he just can’t leave his costume on for more than a few minutes. Its fun to see him prowling around and knocking out goons dressed as a yellow skeleton man, but those times are few and far between.

Kriminal and the Case of the Missing Pelvis
From what I can gather the film version of Kriminal is far less dark than the comics in which he would regularly kill his lovers to protect his identity. Still, the Kriminal of the movie is without a doubt a villain. He disfigures and kills his opponents, lies, tricks, and steals all for his own gain. The film lessens the blow a bit by having his main opponents be criminals as well, but it is still interesting to watch a protagonist like this who has no interest in a redemptive arc. Kriminal and his ilk are almost the moral inverses of the suave Euro-spy icon, jet-setting, seducing and killing but for selfish reasons rather than in service of a nation.

The movie ends on a cliffhanger and is followed by the sequel Mark of the Kriminal (1968), but those have been the only two Kriminal films to come from a series that ran for over 400 issues. Kriminal is lightweight but it still should have no problem stealing 98 minutes of your time.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Little Marines


Little Marines
A.J. Hixon
1991

Steve (Stephan Baker), Noah (Noah Williams), and Chris (Steve Landers Jr.) are fresh out of school for summer vacation, so they embark on a camping trip that they have been planning. After some preparation (mostly playing dress-up), they head out. Along the way, they deal with a dog, a crabby cop, and a sleazy guy trying to sell drugs. They finally make it to their campsite, build a tent, exercise to the song YMCA and generally putter about the trees pretending to be Marines.  Noah has been depressed and keeps having flashbacks to a friend who isn’t along with them for the trip, but why?

There isn’t a plot per se in Little Marines, just a series of events that are loosely strung together. In this way, it does accurately recreate the endless feeling of summer vacation as a kid. The emphasis here is on the endless part. There is an attempt to create just the slightest edge of danger with the inclusion of a cop, a drug dealer, a bully with a paintball gun and that perennial childhood film villain... cancer. This all could work if the kids were painted as anything less than perfect flag-waving Americans, but they aren’t, so it just feels out of place.

Taxi Driver 2: The Early Years
The three main actors are inexperienced but the script doesn’t help them one bit. The only real stand-out character in the bunch is Stevie who plays the most gung-ho goofball of them. He shaves his head, fails at things, and gets (marginally) the best lines. Chris and Noah are too bland and straight-laced to of much interest. Even Noah’s mysterious flashbacks that later reveal a recently dead friend don’t give him much depth.

A run-in with a drug dealer driving a Corvette feels like it came straight out of the 1980s ‘Just Say No’ playbook. I half expected this element to come back around near the end and have the kids face off against this guy or get him arrested, but that’s far too ambitious a plot development for Little Marines. Instead, we’re given a paintball assault by a fellow named Snake (Steven Brazil), which allows the boys something vaguely Marine-esque to do near the end of the movie. In the malfunctioning world of Little Marines, this is most praise I can give it.

No one told me this was a crossover with Nail Gun Massacre (1985).
Little Marines feels like what would happen if Stand By Me (1986) was made for $10 by someone who had never lived on Earth. Little Marines isn’t funny or dramatic, it is just aimlessly weird. Throw in some weird jingoistic overtones to the whole thing and you end up with a confounding yet horrifically watchable mess of a film. This is the magic of this era of home video, what would have probably been a half-assed YouTube video now, was at the time a full-fledged production despite every reason for it to not exist at all.

What? There’s a sequel?

Friday, February 2, 2018

Overlords of the U.F.O.


Overlords of the U.F.O.
1976
G. Brook Stanford

In the 1970s UFOmania encountered a big resurgence. That meant there were people looking to make some money off off the public’s interest in the paranormal. Sure you could take the time and effort to put together a script, build sets, make some UFO models and hire actors, but that can cost a lot of money. It was much cheaper to slap together a “scientific documentary” made from stock footage and interviews with people who may or may not have a clue what they were talking about and string it all together with some barely coherent narration.  There were a number of these films released dealing with all manner of phenomena, Bigfoot, ESP, and of course aliens. Overlords of the U.F.O. holds the dubious honor of being probably the worst of the lot.

"I left my dignity somewhere around here."
Overlords of the U.F.O. starts out simply, it rambles through various UFO sightings without much rhyme or reason. It raises the question of why there has been no government confirmation of such widespread phenomena. It even goes so far as to blame NASA and Skylab for covering up the truth. This is all pretty standard stuff for UFO documentaries, a little dash of mysterious aliens mixed in with government conspiracies to hide it all.

The low energy first half of the movie in no way prepares the viewer for the mind-boggling oddity of the second half as all (admittedly low-effort) attempts at rationality make way for the revelation that UFOs are in fact vehicles from another dimension by the way of some aliens from a planet called Ummo. Somehow this all has to do with an alien invasion of Spain and then sham artist/psychic Uri Gellar gets involved for reasons that are still unclear.  This whole mess is happening because Earth is causing ‘spacequakes’ with our nuclear weapons and the aliens don’t like this one bit.

Dolphins also play into this. I'm still not sure why.

All of this nonsense is tossed at you by a constant droning narration The few interviews during the film are stiff and dull. There are also voice-over dramatizations of things that probably were never said during moments of pointless stock footage. This is a movie that could be much improved by turning off the sound and playing your favorite Hearts of Space episode. Perhaps the best things about the whole film are the abstract images and spacescapes that occasionally flood the screen. It gives all the incoherent rambling a slight psychedelic vibe.

"That wasn't a clay pigeon you were shooting at, pal."
There’s a good chance you could walk away from Overlords of the U.F.O. much dumber than you were before viewing it. It is a sloppy and poorly made faux “science documentary” that is much more interested in throwing out wild claims than actually trying to document anything. If you give in and just let the absurdity of it all wash over you there is some entertainment to be found here. Just remember that Uri Gellar restarting watches with his mind has nothing to do with flying saucers from another dimension.

I'm pretty sure that's Gamera.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Unashamed: A Romance



Unashamed: A Romance
1938
Allen Stuart

Although movies flaunting the benefits of nudist camps would really blossom in the 1960s, thanks to increasingly relaxed obscenity laws, there were a few early outliers. In general, these films served to showcase plenty of nude bodies under the guise of preaching about the benefits of naturalism. From my limited experience of these movies, most nudist camps consist of volleyball, naps, and monster attacks. There are no monsters to be found in Unashamed unless you count suicide and an undertone of racism. Not exactly elements I expected to encounter in this normally cheery subgenre.

Rae (Rae Kidd) worries that her boss Robert (Robert Lawton) is too stressed. She convinces him to visit a nudist camp where she is a member. Her invitation holds another motive as she uses this as an opportunity to get close to him. Despite her doctor’s protest that the relationship will never work because she isn’t white, she tries anyway. Robert takes to the lifestyle after a little trepidation and it seems to do him a lot of good. He and Rae grow closer, and things are going along swimmingly until a beautiful blonde criminal on the run ends up at the camp too…

Don't ask.
A nudist camp movie has one primary job and that is to deliver some nudity. Unashamed is no slouch there and the fact that it was created 1938 makes it a trailblazer of sorts. The film was banned throughout the country and could only have been seen in private and illegal showings for some time. Of course, it’s all pretty tame by today’s standards but that is to be expected.

What is unexpected is the attempt at a serious drama that emerges from all the frolicking and light romance. It is tough to watch Rae’s efforts to romance Robert slowly crumble away as he takes a liking to Barbara (Lucille Shearer). It feels unfair that Rae’s doctor is proved right and that Rae is cast aside because she is not white. It feels like Robert doesn’t even consider a serious romance a possibility. He never explicitly says that, but his actions prove otherwise. Things take a surprisingly grim turn in final moments (still all nude of course).

I'm no archer, but this seems potentially painful.
The acting is what you would expect from a production that had to rely on performers who were both cheap enough to hire and willing to get naked in front of the camera. Nobody is exactly terrible here, and in fact, Rae Kidd comes across as quite earnest and charming, but no one lights up the screen with a brilliant performance either. I get the impression that everyone involved did try and treat the material with some level of respect.

Unashamed: A Romance is an unusual entry in a tiny subgenre. It aspires to be a serious drama and a showcase for naked bodies but is only marginally successful at both. I never expected to see a maudlin nudist camp movie, yet here one exists.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Supervan


Supervan
1977
Lamar Card

Watch your donkey… smokey’s gonna getcha.

In the 1970s the tricked out custom van promised a way to escape, to show off, and create a little rolling den of pleasure where you could indulge in all the sex, drugs, and easy listening soft rock that you could bear.  Splash some art on the side with a wizard riding a tiger and you have all the makings of a fad turned minor subculture that is ripe for exploitation through some quickly thrown together movies. Supervan tosses in an extremely mild science-fiction element in the form the actual Supervan itself, but really this is just a surface element in a film that is almost entirely surface.

"So what do we do here at the van-in?"
"You're looking at it."
Clint (Mark Schneider) is a young man who really wants to “do something” with his life. He falls under the impression that driving around in a fancy van is just that thing. He decides to take his van 'The Sea Witch' to The Invitational Freak-Out Van-In. Along the way, Clint rescues a young woman, Karen (Katie Saylor), from would-be rapist bikers. This noble acts gets The Sea Witch smashed up in a car crusher, but have no fear, a nearby radical van designer has just the solution, Supervan! Supervan is a solar-powered vehicle complete with lasers and way too many windows. Clint immediately squanders this gift by calling it Vandora.

If you want a plot, I’d look elsewhere. Actually, I would avoid the vansploitation genre entirely (see Mag Wheels (1978) for another example).  If you are here to see some vans and a little slice of 1970s ephemera then dive right in.  Once Supervan assembles its characters and they arrive at the Van-In, the film is mostly vignettes of various counter-culture types hanging out. There is even an odd cameo by author Charles Bukowski during a wet t-shirt contest. I can only assume Bukowski was in the neighborhood at the time and decided to show up. It is pretty fascinating to see a lot of homemade van paint jobs, there is a kind of simplicity and earnestness to it all especially in the face of a modern age where everyone strives to be as slick and professional as possible.

It's as ugly as it is impractical.
Supervan is filled with broad comedy populated with bungling authority figures and savvy kids out to just have a good time.  I imagine the ideal audience was supposed to be too stoned or busy making out to notice that nothing is very funny here. Mentions of rape and homophobia during the film have aged even worse than the van culture. Viewing Supervan as a time capsule of the  1970s means taking the amusing and the terrible, but both of these elements seem a little mean-spirited for such an easy going film.

Make no mistake, Supervan is hot garbage. The acting is bad, the plot is non-existent, and it looks terrible. The vans are kind of neat though. For all its flaws Supervan offers no commentary just a snapshot of a moment that could have been lost over time, but was it a time worth remembering?

Friday, January 12, 2018

Pulsebeat


Pulsebeat
1985
Maurice Tobias

Roger’s Gym is small work-out den that is failing thanks to the underhanded interference of the larger Rejuvenarium. While Roger (Daniel Greene) struggles to keep his business afloat, he also strikes up a romance with a new instructor, Annie (Lee Taylor-Allan). Finally, Roger and Annie see a way to save their business by rebranding as Pulsebeat and winning the local Aerobics competition creatively titled ‘Aerobithon.’

The aerobicsploitation microgenre seems like an inescapable result of the 1980s. It is filled with neon, synthesizer music, and sweaty heaving bodies. We live in an era that really fetishizes the 1980s and overstates how prevalent those elements were, but movies cashing in on the aerobics fad often come near to realizing the pastiche.  While Killer Workout (1987), Hell Spa (1992) and Death Spa (1989) throw horror into the mix, Pulsebeat is more of a straight-forward sports film with some light romantic subplots. Well, one of these subplots is much more stalkery and gross than the other but that’s the 1980s for you.

"You got a chest hair right there, pal!"
At its heart, Pulsebeat is about an underdog sports team (or in this case aerobics gym) facing off against a much larger, wealthier, and better-equipped team (or in this case a resort spa). It also contains the usual clinched platitudes about believing in yourself and pushing past your limits, just in this case instead of baseball or karate it's about guy pedaling on an exercise bike to an excited crowd.

Daniel Greene, the star of one of my favorite movies, Hands of Steel (1986) stars as Roger. He’s given a bit more depth than I expected out a film like this, he has his aspirations, his love interest, and even a role model in the form of a former body-builder turned sword-and-sandal movie star. Greene isn’t going to wow anyone with his performance but he shows that’s got more in him than just his grim-faced outing as Paco Queruak.

Far creepier is Alvin (Bob Small) an accountant who becomes a fitness buff. He takes a fancy to a woman at Roger's Gym (Alicia Moro), hears a rumor that she is a prostitute and decides to stalk her. It all results in a meet-cute and romance, but it feels gross and weird despite the movie’s insistence that it is all mildly funny.

It's as exciting as it looks.
The real stars of the movie are the numerous workout scenes set to rocking synth tunes that often skirt close to being recognizable hits but swerve away just in time to avoid paying royalties. I’ve never been to an aerobics class, but the ones on display in movies seem more like highly choreographed dance numbers that everyone picks up immediately. Pulsebeat is no exception. There are also plenty of sweaty bodies grinding and writhing across the screen. For all its shortcomings, Pulsebeat is an equal opportunity voyeur when it comes to lingering on male and female bodies.

Pulsebeat is a serviceable enough film designed to exploit a popular fad of the time. It’s never quite funny or sleazy enough to really be notable, but keeps up the pace and delivers some sweaty entertainment.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Night Caller from Outer Space



Night Caller from Outer Space (aka The Night Caller aka Blood Beast from Outer Space)
1965
John Gilling

Three scientists observe an object falling from space. They track it down, expecting a giant meteorite, but instead only find a small white sphere. Soon after they bring it back for study, the sphere and something much larger than was contained within disappear. Women begin vanishing in London after setting up an interview from a number listed in the newspaper. Could these two things be related? Of course, they are, I just want to know how an alien figured out how to place a want ad in the local paper.

This in no way seems suspicious.
Night Caller from Outer Space falls back on the well-worn trope of aliens showing up on Earth to steal human women. It is a plot device the lends itself to various levels of sleaze, but this film handles it about as tastefully as possible. There is still an adult element at play, especially in a scene set in a pornographic bookshop that not only has plenty of nudies on the well, but also a proprietor who is coded as homosexual, a daring element for an SF film in 1965. The fact that the alien menace is eventually presented as more sympathetic than any of its unwitting victims is strange but not unexpected in light of the underlying misogyny of the premise.

The film is a low budget affair but makes the best of its limited resources by keeping the alien contained in the shadows save for a single clawed hand. It instead concentrates on the human side of the events, as scientists attempt to unravel just what is happening and how it is achieved. Night Caller from Outer Space even manages to create an interesting SF conceit with a sort of dimensional relay from the aliens’ home base. Still, it feels like a race of beings capable of such a feat would come up with a better plan to regrow their population.

The black and white photography helps considerably with setting a moody tone and overcoming some of the visual shortfalls of a low budget production. There are some excellent scenes set in the shadowy streets of London, and the alien invader’s office feels spacious and antiseptic in such a way to create the feeling that something is off-kilter. Those hoping for a big reveal of the true face of the alien are in for a disappointment, but if you are a fan of films from this era, you should know not to rely on the special effects.

Wicker Man 2000
Night Caller from Outer Space is an evenly paced, unassuming SF film. It is fairly reserved in the face of such a lurid premise, which might make it dull for some, but there is some subtle treasure to be found here. I can’t imagine this being at the top of anyone’s list of SF films from the 1960s, but it is entertaining and even mildly surprising at times.  Give it a ring.