Friday, November 16, 2018

The Batwoman

The Batwoman (aka La Mujer Murcielago)
René Cardona

Professional wrestlers are going missing and then washing up on shore quite dead. A medical exam shows that they all have tiny puncture wounds where their spinal fluid has been extracted. Lady luchador and part-time superhero, Batwoman (Mauri Monti) is called in to solve the case. Meanwhile, the villainous Dr. Williams (Roberto Cañedo) is the one behind the deaths, all in
the hope of making a killer fish-human hybrid he names Pieces. Will Batwoman solve the mystery or is she next in line to be transformed?

From a surface look, this film is obviously looking to cash-in on the popularity of Adan West’s Batman series from the same era. Batwoman is a wealthy socialite, who fights crime, is highly skilled, and has a few gadgets. She's also a luchador. Her mask and wrestling suit are well within copyright violation territory. Unlike Batman (I assume), she dons a skimpy bikini and cape ensemble when she is out fighting bad guys. The plot  makes even less sense than your average 1960s Batman TV episode but it is the kind of thing that is right at home in a luchador movie.

Batwoman reviews her last date.
What The Batwoman doesn’t have is the camp energy of the 1960s Batman. It plays out with a pretty straightforward narrative that barely shows a hint of humor or self-awareness. Many times Santo and other luchador movies are saved by the fact that their outlandish narratives are delivered with a straight face, but in trying to emulate material that is decidedly not serious it feels like a detriment in this case. Mauri Monti is beautiful but she doesn’t have the on-screen charisma that makes a character like The Batwoman engaging to watch.

The Batwoman isn’t a complete failure, there are some fun moments to seek out. Batwoman acts in a very non-Batman fashion when she wields a gun or throws acid in the face of the evil Dr. Williams. Pieces, the killer fishman, is a nice bit of costuming that functions as a wet-suit from some underwater action, and also looks just fine lurching round on land. He looks kind of like an aquatic Sleestak. I love how Dr. Williams makes a tiny Pieces that he places into the ocean to make it grow to human-sized, like those grow toys you leave in a dish of water overnight. The film could have used more fun details like these. Because this is nominally a luchador movie, there is a little bit of wrestling, but thankfully it is kept to a minimum so as not to destroy what little momentum the story can summon.

The safeword is Igor.
The Batwoman had potential but it never really manages to generate much in the way of excitement and laughs (intentional or otherwise). I would say if you are hardcore luchador fan or interested in Mexican genre cinema, it might be worth checking out once, but for everyone else there are much better (or delightfully worse) examples out there.

Sidenote: It is still a million times more watchable that Jerry Warren’s Wild Wild World of Batwoman (1966)

Friday, November 9, 2018

True Game of Death

True Game of Death
Steven Harries, Chen Tien-Tai

Ah, Bruceploitation, it battles Naziploitation for being the lowest rung of exploitation sub-genres. Made entirely to capitalize on the untimely death of Bruce Lee, and the public’s undiscerning hunger for kung-fu in the 1970s, these films would cast someone given a similar stage name (Bruce Li, Dragon Lee, etc.) and have them actually playing Bruce Lee (or the nearest equivalent). The films would often directly involve Bruce Lee’s actual death in the plot. Tasteless to say the least, but there are still some boundaries to cross here and True Game of Death happily does it.

Opening with scenes from Bruce Lee’s real funeral, True Game of Death announces its intentions  as a crass cash-in on a real-life tragedy. A mysterious narrator informs us that there is a “New actor who looks quite like him.” This fellow is Hsao Lung (Lung Tien Hsiang) and he doesn’t just look like Bruce Lee (actually he doesn’t look like Bruce at all), he acts like him and dresses like him. Lung is also prone to having dreams about Bruce Lee which look mysteriously like long clips from Bruce Lee films edited in to fill up some time.

"Hsao Lung here for Action Slacks™."
True Game of Death wanders around from fight to fight as a gang tries to coerce Lung to be in their movie, they even force his girlfriend, Alice (Alice Meyer) to poison him, which results in a scene of him writhing around and dying in a grotesque parody of Bruce Lee’s actual death. This is the low point for True Game of Death, but it is also its most memorable scene. Shortly after this, the not quite as dead as we thought, Lung is back in action and fighting to rescue his girlfriend in set-piece after set-piece, the last one cloning the level by level battle of Game of Death, but for much cheaper of course.

True Game of Death is cheap looking and feels like it was edited with a brick. The dubbing is so terrible it almost becomes an art form, my favorite being a gang member who inexplicably speaks like Dean Martin. The fight choreography is often passable, but, I’ve never understood why Brucesploitation films never cast anyone who actually uses Jeet Kune Do, Lee’s actual style. If I had to pick a favorite element of True Game of Death, it is the infectiously funky bass riff that plays through the entire film.

"This is not the true game of death that I signed up for..."
True Game of Death is the bottom of the Bruceploitation pit, so it might be worth watching just for that fact. If you are planning on watching it for any other reason, I can’t in good conscience recommend it, there are far better kung-fu films, and there are (help me) much better Brucesploitation features out there. True Game of Death exists purely for atrocity tourism, but in an age of film when CGI versions of deceased actors are being resurrected for appearances in multi-million dollar franchises, it might be in good company.

Friday, November 2, 2018

31 Nightmares!

For the month of October 2018, I wrote a mini-essay on Freddy Krueger and the Nightmare of Elm Street phenomenon. Here are all 31 in one place for you the enjoy for the first time or for the reoccurring nightmare you just can't shake.

31 Nightmares

  1. Welcome to Prime Time, Bitch!
  2. Bastard Son of a 100 Maniacs
  3. This is God
  4. I'm into Survival
  5. What Kind of [CENSORED] Runs Around in a Christmas Sweater?
  6. We Have Special Work to Do Here, You and Me.
  7. Help Yourself, Fucker!
  8. No Screaming While the Bus is in Motion!
  9. I'm Going to Take Him Away from You...
  10. It was Just Something that the Kids Say to Keep the Boogeyman Away.
  11. In my Dreams, I am the Wizard Master.
  12. We Make House Calls.
  13. I'm Standing in the Night Alone, Forever Together
  14. You Are All My Children Now.
  15. We Saw Elm Street and Man it was Def
  16. In Dreams... I Am Forever!
  17. Welcome to Wonderland...Alice
  18. Faster than a Bastard Maniac! More Powerful than a Loco-Madman!
  19. You Can Check In but You Can't Check Out
  20. Kids... Always a Disappointment
  21. Oh, Right. You're Gonna Be a TV Star.
  22. I'll Get You, My Pretty! And Your Little Soul, Too!
  23. Every Kid Knows Who Freddy is. He's like Santa Claus... or King Kong or...
  24. All Day Long I've Been Seeing that Guy's Weird Face...
  25. All Day Long I've Been Seeing that Guy's Weird Face...(Part 2)
  26. I Think the Only Way to Stop Him is to Make Another Movie.
  27. No. It isn't You. He's Scarier. He's...
  28. He May Get the Blood, but I'll Get the Glory...
  29. You Smell Different.
  30. Now I'm Playing with Power!
  31. Every Town has an Elm Street!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Every Town has an Elm Street!

Freddy Krueger was and is still my favorite horror character. He can be frightening, repulsive, amusing, or even embarrassingly silly. Beyond that, he occupies a whole mental playground for the viewer. What is my dreamscape like? If I had dream powers, what would they be? The whole Nightmare on Elm Street franchise straddles typical pop cultural consumerism and the deeper personal element of what lurks in our own nightmares. It’s a tribute to the longevity of the character that even 34 years later, a small cameo on a sitcom generates interests and sparks talk another film.

Even doing a short essay every day there is still more plenty to talk about:  Movies influenced by A Nightmare on Elm Street,  his modern video game appearances, the joy of dressing up like Freddy on Halloween.  Freddy left an indelible mark on pop culture.

Thank you, Robert Englund and Wes Craven for getting it all started. Thank you fans for helping to keep Freddy alive. Thank you, Freddy Krueger, for not murdering in my sleep….yet.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Now I'm Playing with Power!

Freddy made his way on to notebooks, t-shirts, toys, candy, and even his own novelty album. So it’s natural that he would find his way into a video game or two back during his heyday. Slasher icons have a rocky history with video games systems, Michael Myers and Leatherface both had their own terrible Atari 2600 games. Jason Vorhees received a Nintendo Entertainment System game that was also awful but nostalgia seems to have repaired its reputation a little bit.

Freddy Krueger’s NES game is largely forgotten, mainly because it isn’t very good. It does feature some innovative elements, such as four simultaneous players, and a waking/dreaming mechanic. The plot is lifted from Dream Warriors (1987); characters are looking for Freddy’s bones to bury him, occasionally falling asleep where they have to battle Krueger and a host of monsters. It is a platforming game with graphics that were sub-par even for something from 1990. The combat is either difficult to the point of anger, or too easy. The original concept for the game was to play as Krueger and have you murder kids who were looking for your bones. That sounds a lot more fun, but of course ‘concerned parents’ wouldn’t allow such a thing to exist.

Even more obscure is Freddy’s outing in a game for the PC and Commodore 64. This is a top-down combat game where you chose a Dream Warrior to do battle with Freddy and rescue the others. Each character has his own power that is roughly equivalent to characters from the movie (Kincaid has a power punch. Ok. Nancy can stop time. What?). Like the NES game it has it’s easy parts but then it grows to be insanely difficult. Still, it feels like a lot of effort was made to be true to the movies in an era where games weren’t as interested in fidelity to the source material.

Monday, October 29, 2018

You Smell Different.

In the 21st century, it seems like all the iconic horror heroes of the 80s have gotten the remake treatment. They might have been professionally made and had their good moments but none of them really managed to capture what made these characters memorable.  Perhaps they were too slick, and lack some of the grit. In the Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), the film does offer some new ideas but traps them in narrative that is just another remake.

One of the keys to the longevity of the Nightmare films and other big name slasher movies was their modular nature. Every film allowed you just plug in some new characters, a plot by Freddy and then go. Nightmare, by its nature, had slightly more intricate plots than say, Friday the 13th, but the end result was always killer vs. prey. So why remake the first film? Anyone unfamiliar with Freddy isn’t going to care, and anyone who is a fan will just be annoyed.

The film isn’t a complete loss, Jackie Earl Haley’s Freddy is menacing and weird. His look is a much more realistic take on what a burn victim looks like, it makes it more difficult to read his expressions which in turn gives him some distance as a character. The idea of staying awake eventually resulting in micro-dreams where Freddy can get you is a nice touch and something that could have really been expanded on.

The 2010 Nightmare on Elm Street was a misfire, but it appears one that won’t put Freddy down for long as Robert Englund has expressed interest in doing one more film.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

He May Get the Blood, but I'll Get the Glory...

Fans had been clamoring to see Freddy Kreuger battle Jason Vorhees for a good decade, ever since Jason Goes to Hell (1993) ended with Freddy’s claw pulling Jason’s mask into the Earth. At first, pitting these two against one another sounds like a simple matter, but Freddy and Jason really occupy different narrative spaces. Jason is a killing machine that bulldozes his way through other characters’ stories. He’s a walking morality play, there to punish people for their transgressions. Freddy, on the other hand, weaves himself into the lives of other characters. He is as often interested in corrupting as he is in killing someone. Jason very much occupies a visceral world of meat and blood. Freddy exists somewhere ephemeral that becomes real. How do you get them together? We’ve seen Freddy in the real world, but does Jason Vorhees even dream?

With that in mind, Freddy vs. Jason (2003) had a tough balancing act: tell a coherent story with two very different characters, and do them enough justice to keep fans engaged while not totally alienating someone who didn’t know the ins and outs of both killers. Of the two, Jason gets the most rewriting to make the story work. He’s more sympathetic and he’s afraid of water, but Jason is mostly a blank slate of a character so if there was a sacrifice to make this was probably the best place to do it. I think the most important thing the film keeps in mind is that Freddy fighting Jason is inherently kind of goofy and it treats its subject matter accordingly.

The ultimate question is who really won?