Sunday, October 26, 2014

A LOOK BACK AT NG SEE YUEN'S LITTLE GODFATHER FROM HONG KONG


Reviewed by Steve Fenton. 

As has since become the stuff of legend, Bruce Lee had taken a working vacation in Rome to shoot location inserts of historical landmarks for his self-directed MA actioner The WAY OF THE DRAGON / a.k.a. RETURN OF THE DRAGON (HK, 1973).  While that film guest-starred (quote) “Italian Beauty” Malisa Longo in a throwaway non-speaking bit – and tit – part and culminates in an epic battle between writer-director-star Lee and Chuck Norris inside the Coliseum, bulk of the footage was actually lensed back in Hong Kong.

Directed by “M. Cardinal”/Ng See Yuen and also variously known under a plethora of alternate titles – including other such Anglo ones as LITTLE GODFATHER and The GODFATHER SQUAD – the present 1974 HK film (whose original title is 香港小教父 / XIANGANG XIAO JIAO FU), clearly took some cues from the aforementioned Lee one, and primarily seems to be an exclusively Hong Kong production which was evidently never given much of a release (if any?) on Italian soil, despite being shot in Rome and its supporting roster of domestic players.  Such sightseeing highlights as the Coliseum and the Trevi Fountain plus authentic footage of a public address delivered by the Pope from a Vatican City balcony further stress the strong Italian Connection (“…Rome was not built in a day.”).

In Hamburg, London and Paris, international dope traffickers have commissioned a clan of Mafiosi under Godfather Don Caro (Nuccio Fava, in coppola and long-coat) to murder Interpol drug enforcement agents via firearm, garrote and even an exploding attack dog (!).  After he bravely interferes with the Caro family’s Hong Kong hit, for daring to presume his martial artistry is superior to mafia might (!!), kung fu movie star Wang Liu/Wong Lei (seasoned HK MA player Bruce Liang Hsiao/Leung Siu Lung) is marked for death by the mob (“You’ll get that Chinese punk’s head on a plate!”).  In order to have an opportunity to liquidate him, they dupe Wang into jetting to Rome to star in a flick bearing the ironic shooting title “The LAST OF KUNG FU” (not!).  With all the contracts signed in more ways than one, no sooner has Wang’s brother warned him to return to Hong Kong out of harm’s way than he is stabbed to death… thus providing Wang with a much stronger motive for sticking around.  Only the unexpected advent of his production company’s insurance broker Ivy (Shirley Corrigan) saves Wang and his preteen brother Stone (Yasuaki Kurata) from being blown to bits by a bogus tourist’s booby-trapped camera.

Don Caro’s gang consists of his three sons, two of whom are adopted: peplum / spagwest fan favourite Gordon Mitchell co-stars as sadistic Duke (“The son of a top Nazi… When he was ten, he killed two negro kids!”), who openly struts around in public wearing a complete pseudo-Gestapo uniform; while Sakana (Chong Tin Bui Chiu) is the progeny of a vicious Japanese army officer!  Caro’s biological #1 son is Cani (Mario Cutini), who makes an unsuccessful attempt on Wang’s life with a silenced pistol during aforementioned papal speech and gets brained against an architectural landmark for his ineptitude.  Another bid is made on Wang’s life when a stuntman on his film switches blanks for real bullets in his prop pistol; a detail which eerily prefigures events surrounding the real-life premature death of Bruce Lee’s son Brandon, who was accidentally killed by a malfunctioning SFX firearm on the set of Alex Proyas’ The CROW (1994).  In one of the present film’s more lurid moments, Mitchell unloads a tommy-gun at Liang while laughing like a maniac; leading into an epic rooftop chase/brawl that ends with Mitchell’s dummy substitute taking a lofty nosedive from a water tower.

Toronto Chinatown handbill courtesy of Mike Ferguson.

No stranger to appearing in cheap chop-socky flicks of Italian origin, also in ’74 Gord Mitchell guest-starred in Franco Lattanzi’s frankly embarrassingly awful ‘eastern western’ TIGER FROM THE RIVER KWAI, a co-production between Italy, Thailand and Hong Kong which co-starred Thai kickboxer Krung Srivilai.  A comparative masterpiece, the year previous Mitchell had appeared in Mario Caiano’s The FIGHTING FISTS OF SHANGHAI JOE (1973).

Liang’s ever-resourceful character (“He’s famous in Hong Kong.  People call him ‘The Little Godfather’”) uses a short-circuiting electrocardiogram machine to frazzle a hitman disguised as a doctor; and stuffs another attacker headfirst into a blazing fireplace – while over-amped sizzling noises are heard on the audio track! – holding onto his victim until the body stops twitching.  Fight choreography is pretty damn good by mediocre kung fu movie standards.  Liang high-kicks a gangster (stunt actor Fortunato Arena) in the head during a parking lot altercation, and mops up the set with a pair of “Russian” surly-burlies (seasoned spaghetti westerners Claudio Ruffini and Lorenzo Fineschi, both also stuntmen) who harass him during his movie shoot, including making racist remarks (“He’s scared… he’s yellow!”).  Corrigan’s also no slouch with her fists and feets.  Liang’s secondary love interest is provided by the film-within-a-film’s leading lady Lily (the raven-haired, blue-eyed Maria d’Incoronato), whose death-screams are drowned out by hard rock blasting from a car radio.


Before you can say unexpected turnaround, Don Caro and Wang dismiss their mutual feud for the sake of a $2-million diamond deal with the Hill Gang (“I just pulled the old switch trick!”).  But vendetta ever runs deep…on both sides.  For Liang’s ‘epic’ cross-country kung fu duel with Chong, right in mid-stride the locale inexplicably changes from sunny downtown Roma to alpine Asian countryside heavy with fallen snow (!!!).  But even a razor-sharp ace of Spades can’t save Chong’s worthless neck, and it’s time for the little godfather to face the big one…


In spite – and perhaps because – of some hilarious overacting (especially from Mitchell and Cutini) which doesn’t hurt the basic entertainment value one bit, LITTLE GODFATHER FROM HONG KONG amounts to a surprisingly watchable, fast-paced and at times gleefully violent piece of trash exemplifying the short-lived crimeslime / chop-socky crossover.

Ng See Yuen also directed another obscure Italocrime hybrid, KIDNAP IN ROME (1976), whose supporting cast includes stunt-grunt Pietro Torrisi.

For those living in the USA, this is still available from Code Red.  All others have to try their luck on Ebay or Amazon since they don't offer international shipping. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

MASSACRE VIDEO'S THE NOSTRIL PICKER - DVD REVIEW


Long forgotten and never released in the US or Canada, Mark Nowicki’s The CHANGER (1988) became better known as The NOSTRIL PICKER, when it debuted on UK home video sometime in the early ‘90s.  Specialty label Massacre Video has decided to stick with this preposterous title, which in all honesty, is much more eye-popping than The CHANGER, but in a nice gesture, Massacre Video has also provided reversible cover art for each title.

Carl Zschering plays Joe Bukowski, a pathetic loner that doesn’t do a whole lot except wander aimlessly through the streets, hang out in his rundown apartment and, when he gets really desperate, even eats “beef flavor dog food” out of a can.  Obviously, his luck with women is equally hopeless (“All I wanna do is talk to ya”), that is, until he meets a homeless guy who teaches him about “morphosynthesis… a kind of spell”, which enables him to change his appearance at his own volition and “live out his perverse fantasies”.

Like most ‘80s direct-to-video horror, The NOSTRIL PICKER is mostly played for laughs, and despite a nasty edge and underlying mean streak, it’s still overshadowed by its mostly lame attempts at comedy.  After mumbling some gibberish, or as he calls it, “jive-ass bullshit”, Joe inadvertently discovers his new powers, and as “Jo” (Ann Flood), the new girl in school, he quickly gains the friendship of other high school girls, which is certainly discomforting knowing his motives.  Then, out of nowhere, a lowly John Hughes-inspired montage unfolding to the strains of Schoolin’ - a suitably tacky song that most ‘80s video junkies will undoubtedly love – thankfully nullifies that queasy atmosphere as he wanders the hall, attempts to do homework, fends off advances from other guys, and yes, even picks his nose.  Later that night, babysitting with one of his “girlfriends”, they watch “Attack of the Cannibal Girls” on the local “Horror Showcase”, which eventually triggers him to kill.  Not revealing too much, his killing spree continues to escalate as a local detective (Edward Tanner) gets on the case and, in a typically contrived plot twist, he just happens to be the father of Jennifer (Laura Cummings), one of “Jo’s” new friends.  Of course, it all gets a little too overwhelming for Joe and, in another memorable moment, he gets into a scuffle with one of his potential victims using a pair of “marital aids” before getting knocked out cold.  But, even at a scant 76 minutes, this is still pretty fat through the middle, which is somewhat redeemed by the nifty and equally nasty twist ending.

Distributed by Cinevest Entertainment Group, this was a small production and distribution company headed by Arthur Schweitzer.  Under this banner, Schweitzer produced a handful of films in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, many of which, like this film, also never saw a release in the US or Canada.  Although Vinegar Syndrome (hence the VinSyn logo on the bottom right hand corner on the back of the DVD) acquired his small library of films, Massacre Video will also unleash Brett Piper’s barely released MUTANT WAR (1988), another Schweitzer production, sometime in the near future.

The most significant extra is a 20-minute interview with producer/cinematographer Patrick J. Mathews who, along with Nowicki and writer Steven Hodge, worked at CBS/Fox Home Video in the film transfer department as colorists and video editors.  This informative interview highlights the making of the film, their collaboration and certain pitfalls of making a low-budget film in the ‘80s.  Well worth the listen. A very detailed behind-the-scenes stills gallery and trailers, including one for this film, round out the extras.

Anyone weaned on this type of stuff – low-budget ‘80s trash – will find plenty to enjoy, but it’s also spirited enough to entice new viewers or, as one character sneakily remarks watching “Horror Showcase”, “It’s probably great if you’ve been smokin’ dope!”

You can order The NOSTRIL PICKER from Diabolik DVD here.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

MURDER ON THE EMERALD SEAS - DVD REVIEW


At the recent Cinema Wasteland Movie & Memorabilia Expo held on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of October, Vinegar Syndrome released Alan Ormsby’s once thought-to-be-lost MURDER ON THE EMERALD SEAS (1973 – the end title card lists the film as ‘74) as a special Cinema Wasteland limited edition DVD.  According to Vinegar Syndrome’s director of production Ryan Emerson, Exhumed Films provided the original 35mm film print and, despite some tattered reel changes, it looks surprisingly good.

Also known as The GREAT MASQUERADE BALL or The AC/DC CAPER, this odd comedy was filmed a year after Bob Clark and Alan Ormsby’s CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972) and even utilized some of the same cast members.  Revolving around The Artists and Models Ball organized by “one of the richest men in America”, Sherwood P. Gates (Roberts Blossom – appearing a year before his truly unnerving role in Ormsby’s DERANGED [1974]), this prestigious event has been marred by murder when “each beauty met a horrible death shortly after being crowned Queen of the Artists.”  In order to end this “jinx”, Mr. Gates decides to move the event onto his cruise ship, the SS Emerald Seas, but the Miami Police Department is also keen to apprehend this mysterious beauty queen killer, who, for reasons unknown, dresses as a clown.  They assign rookie cop Dave Collins (Robert Perault), but much to his chagrin, he has to dress in drag to try and lure the killer out into the open.  Will the police finally “put their foot down on Sherwood Gates Balls?” 

Puns, innuendos and the above mentioned double entendre is just one such example of the lowbrow humour that pervades much of the film.  Originally conceived as a comedy and similar in concept (on a tenth of the budget) to Mel Brooks’ then-current, but still unreleased films, BLAZING SADDLES (1974) and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974), MURDER ON THE EMERALD SEAS is just as much a spoof on past Hollywood cinema – this time it’s silent films.  Keystone cops out of a Mack Sennett production, animated title cards, a score right out of the ‘20s courtesy of Michael J. Valentino and broad caricatures typify much of the film, although this time, it’s all mixed together with elements from Bruce Kessler’s The GAY DECEIVERS (1969) and typical ‘70s sleaze.  At one point, Dave is sent to Charm School and learns how to “regard himself as a creation and not a freak” and to “move with grace”, but then at the Ball as Faith Cummings (his new identity), he accidentally takes a piss standing up as a perplexed Mr. Gates catches him in the act.  Of course, in another typically clichéd but funny moment, Mr. Gates still hits on him despite his “strong grip”.  But Mr. Gates has bigger problems than gaining the affections of Faith, his mobster buddies including Vito Veto (Lee Sandman) and Paco the Paranoid (John Di Santi) are also on board the Emerald Seas and need his help. 

From L to R: Paul Cronin, Roberts Blossom and Robert Perault.

Shot in Miami, Florida, much of the nudity and sleaze in this current version (including the great opening) were most likely added at a later date to help improve the marketability of this barely released film, which didn’t seem to help and the film sank into obscurity just the same.  Directed by “Frank M. Grinter”, these additional scenes could have been the work of Brad F. Grinter, a fellow Florida exploitation filmmaker responsible for Veronica Lake's last film FLESH FEAST (1970) and the mind-boggling BLOOD FREAK (1972).  Of course, its just speculation, but it wouldn’t be surprising.  The names are just too similar to casually dismiss.


The killer about to strike!

Although this was Robert Perault’s first film, he’s actually pretty funny in that naïve sort of way as he slowly uncovers the main culprits of this whacky whodunit and, yes, he looks completely ridiculous as a “Spanish senorita” in the film’s climatic beauty pageant.  Roberts Blossom is easily the most accomplished actor in this ensemble piece and, after his work with Alan Ormsby, he became a fairly successful character actor in such Hollywood blockbusters as Steve Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1978), Don Siegel’s ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979) John Carpenter’s CHRISTINE (1983) and the mega-blockbuster HOME ALONE (1990) as Macaulay Culkin’s creepy next door neighbour Old Man Marley.  In keeping with its Florida roots, the rest of the cast is comprised of locals that have appeared in numerous low-budget flicks of the period.  Gay Perkins as Sherwood’s girlfriend appeared in William Grefe’s The HOOKED GENERATION (1968) while Dick Sterling, as charm school director Gregory La Salle, also showed up in another Grefe film, MAKO: THE JAWS OF DEATH (1976).  One of the more interesting cast members was character actor John DiSanti, who went on to appear in Bob Fosse’s LENNY (1974), Dom DeLuise’s HOT STUFF (1979) and as J.J. “Gross Out” Gumbroski in Ken Wiederhorn’s ANIMAL HOUSE (1978) rip-off KING FRAT (1979).  Anya Ormsby (as Dave’s confused girlfriend), Paul Cronin (as Casey, a fellow cop) and Jeff Gillen (as a dim-witted scapegoat) all appeared in CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS a year before.  Also look for ex-Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller as a beauty pageant judge and comedian Henny Youngman at a local fleapit bar in one of the silliest cameos ever. 

Properly shown in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this limited edition DVD has a print run of 500 copies and may become available via Vinegar Syndrome’s website at a later date, so check periodically.  Also, check out Chris Poggiali’s essential Temple of Schlock for further information on this now, thankfully, recovered film.


Paul Cronin and Robert Perault trying to be inconspicuous.