Monday, May 16, 2016

TRAILER TRAUMA 2: DRIVE-IN MONSTERAMA - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Blu-ray ad-copy: ‘Think the first one was yummy?  Hope you left room for seconds!’

Following their stupendous TRAILER TRAUMA Blu-ray, released earlier this year, Garagehouse Pictures returns with DRIVE-IN MONSTERAMA, an utterly mammoth 3½-hour compilation of 96 horror-themed trailers, many of which have never been seen anywhere else.  Considering the vast amount of trailer compilations released over the last couple of decades on both VHS and DVD, it’s really quite amazing just how many rarities the team at Garagehouse still manage to uncover.  Instead of listing every trailer on this disc, let’s peruse through some of the highlights.

Compiled by Garagehouse Pictures’ Harry Guerro and DVD Drive-In’s George Reis, DRIVE-IN MONSTERAMA, opens with a couple of info spots about the MPAA’s then-new GMRX rating system (“General”, “Mature”, “Restricted” and the dreaded “X Rating”), as well as “Monsters Do Have Their Place”, an animated piece highlighting the evils of Pay TV.  Right from the get-go, things begin with a rare double feature spot for George Schenck’s SUPERBEAST (1972) and Hollingsworth Morse’s DAUGHTERS OF SATAN (1972), a pair of Filipino-shot horror pictures.  This is immediately followed by Nathan Juran’s rarely-seen The BOY WHO CRIED WEREWOLF (1973), which, thankfully, will at long last make its bow on Blu-ray this July courtesy of Scream Factory.  Javier Aguirre’s DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE (1972, “The most devastating Dracula in history.”) gets a lengthy, once impossible-to-see trailer featuring the film’s toned-down ‘clothed’ version, while Vernon Sewell’s The BLOOD BEAST TERROR (1968) is marketed with considerable hyperbole under its more garish U.S. title, The VAMPIRE-BEAST CRAVES BLOOD.

Still unavailable as a proper feature release, a preview for Bud Townsend’s The FOLKS AT RED WOLF INN (1972) also shows up, which is soon followed by an excellent trailer for Jerry Warren’s – ahem – not-so-excellent FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND (1980, “Ruthless science finds no limit, no boundary…”).  Then it’s Hammer time, with a pair of hard-to-see previews for Terence Fisher’s FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1973) and Brian Clemens’ CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER (1972).  Gialli also get some solid representation, with an alternate trailer for Lucio Fulci’s A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN (1971) under its U.S. re-title SCHIZOID, while the U.S. trailer for Emilio P. Miraglia’s The NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE (1971) also appears, which is then followed by a rarely-seen AIP trailer for Massimo Dallamano’s DORIAN GRAY (1970). 

J. Lee Thompson’s still-unavailable The REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD (1975) also appears via a unique and unforgettable trailer, and although Legend Films neglected to include the trailer on their own DVD, one for Waris Hussein’s The POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY (1972) turns up here.  We’re then treated to Alfred Vohrer’s late-entry krimi The GORILLA GANG (1968), starring Uschi Glass, and then it’s off to Canada for Eddy Matalon’s bargain-bin VHS staple, CATHY’S CURSE (1977).  Of course, Jess Franco also gets some love with a very rarely-seen U.S. trailer for The DEMONS (1972) while François Legrand’s (a.k.a. Franz Antel) TOWER OF THE SCREAMING VIRGINS (1968, “Prisoners of sex trapped in a love cage!”) also appears, and is yet another feature which is still unavailable on disc.

Throughout this impressive compilation, some trailers are arranged by their analogous themes or similar titles via “word association”, which leads into numerous “house” films, including Narcisco Ibáñez Serrador’s The HOUSE THAT SCREAMED (1970) – still conspicuously absent on a decent domestic DVD or Blu-ray (although it did get released [widescreen, yet] on former format in 2007 as part of Shout! Factory’s ‘Elvira’s Movie Macabre’ line, paired-up with a full-frame print of “Ernst von Theumer”/Mel Welles’ MANEATER OF HYDRA [1966]) – while Robert Hartford-Davis’ The SMASHING BIRD I USED TO KNOW (1969) appears under the much more exploitative title of HELL HOUSE GIRLS (“You can chain-up only so much passion!”).  Despite being a VHS mainstay, William Fruet’s DEATH WEEKEND (1976), a Canadian variation of Wes Craven’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), also appears under its AIP retitling The HOUSE BY THE LAKE, and rather unbelievably, is STILL unavailable on disc, as well.  Venturing onto various “blood”-themed films, James Kelly’s The BEAST IN THE CELLAR (1970) and Piers Haggard’s superlative The BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW (1971), which were both produced by British studio Tigon, also appear among spots for the more customary but still very welcome Filipino Blood Island pictures, including Gerardo De Leon’s and Eddie Romero’s BRIDES OF BLOOD (1968).  Probably the biggest surprise here is Claude Mulot’s excellent The BLOOD ROSE (1970), which, despite getting a high-quality DVD release from Mondo Macabro, neglected to include a theatrical trailer, so it’s nice to finally see the rarely-seen one for Allied Artists’ stateside release. 

The rarities keep right on coming with a pair of Freddie Francis shockers, including The PSYCHOPATH (1966) – which still remains unavailable anywhere on disc – and TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS (1973, “Come face to face with your fears.”), which never showed up on Olive Films’ domestic Blu-ray release of the film itself.  John Hancock’s LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971) is yet another title whose magnificent trailer never showed up on Paramount’s DVD release, while Bert I. Gordon’s NECROMANCY (1972) starring Orson Welles also puts in an appearance here, as does Bernard McEveety’s The BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN (1971), a trailer which also failed to appear on Columbia Tri-Star’s DVD. 

Incredibly, this is only a tiny taster of the vast feast of goodies that awaits viewers within TRAILER TRAUMA 2: DRIVE-IN MONSTERAMA; but to top it all off (bonus!), the disc also comes with an excellent in-depth commentary courtesy of George Reis and Keith Crocker – director of The BLOODY APE (1997) and whom, alongside Reis, was the co-editor of The Exploitation Journal  – which is filled with all sorts of great factoids.  Mastered in 4K, ALL of the trailers look great, despite the age of the “various 35mm prints.”  The interior of the Blu-ray case includes a complete list of all 96 trailers, plus a brief essay by Ian Zapczynski on the allure of trailer compilations.  In addition, the disc includes trailers from Garagehouse Pictures’ first two releases, Paul Kyriazi’s NINJA BUSTERS (1984) and TRAILER TRAUMA.  Order it from Diabolik DVD NOW


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

COGS, SPOOLS & 1/2" TAPE #16 - GUNS OF HONOR VHS REVIEW

Reviewed by Steve Fenton.

VHS/Beta videotape ad-hook: ‘The Civil War Was Just the Beginning.’

Unidentified Union Rebel-rouser: “No Rebel bastard’s gonna push Union troopers around!”

‘French’ non-com, with thick Afrikaner accent: “There’s only one thing I hate worse than a wise-ahse injun, an’ that’s a wise-ahse halfbreed!”

Martin Sheen, as aging auntie-hero: “Every money-hungry bounty hunter south o’ the Pecos’ll try ta hunt ’em down ta Hell an’ back!”

Unidentified mock-‘Mexican’: “¡Adiós, gringo!”

The even shoddier “sequel” (of sorts) to TRIGGER FAST, which was shot back-to-back with it in 1993 (albeit this time directed by Peter Edwards rather than TF’s David Lister). Again based on J.T. Edson characters and likewise filmed on location in South Africa – this time out posing as Mexico – the same coproduction companies, main technical crew and cast were also involved hereon. Due to the fact that native actor Jürgen Prochnow is billed on the top line (even if he is barely even present!), some minority German production funds might well have been involved in here somewhere too.

The story is set in 1866 Mexico during the armed insurrection against Emperor Maximilian and occupying French forces. Now that the South has surrendered to the North and the American Civil War has been declared officially over, a number of Rebel loyalists – regarded as outlaws by the newly-instated U.S. Government – have fled down Mexican way. Hence, fearing a French-led incursion onto American soil, ex-Reb soldiers Dusty Fog (Chris Atkins again) and his trusty, crusty senior sidekick (Martin Sheen again) head south of the border to bring their prodigal greycoat comrades-at-arms back home to lend an assist with unifying the North and South and opposing the potential French threat. If that grandiose plotline sounds way too ambitious for a movie of such limited resources as this one had at its disposal, that’s because it most definitely is, so don’t be expecting GUNS OF HONOR to come anywhere even close to fully visualizing it… not by a long shot.

Most of the same stars all return here, although other than for the dusty-dustered Atkins (“The name’s Fog. Dusty Fog” – Yep, he actually repeats this same introduction from the first instalment!) they mostly seem to be playing different characters this time out. That is to say they’re playing basically the same characters as before – even right down to their same costumes – only this time some of them seem to have different names. As before, there are simply way too many guys all playing at antihero. After only getting to participate in a single shootout, Sheen (“Oh God, I’m gettin’ old!”) stops a belly shot and is laid-up (i.e., put out to pasture) for the remainder of the running time. And, despite his name receiving prominent billing right in the opening credits, American actor Corbin Bernsen is literally nowhere to be seen in the entire film! Instead – and I kid you not – we get a ‘lookalike’ (!?) posing as the actor! Top-billed Prochnow – who is only onscreen for a few minor scenes – plays a Reb sergeant with a black dog named Boris (who was seen killed in the first film; go figure!). An unappealing pretty-boy in a black leather coat plays a so-called Mexican-Indian halfbreed known as “The Cuchillo Kid,” whose namesake is a big Bowie knife (“I’ll slit you from your groin to your throat!”).

The same problem of too many cooks also applies to the villainous faction: which includes a smarmy French army captain named Bourdeaux and his sadistic subordinate, along with a sombrero’d, poncho’d (quote) “Yankee half-Mex” named Giss (Frank Notaro). Everybody – Reb, Yankee, Frenchy and Mex alike – is out to get their hands on a contentious shipment of lever-action Winchesters which are mentioned a lot but never actually shown (which is perhaps a good thing as, within the film’s historical timeframe, the repeating rifle hadn’t been invented yet, so might have appeared as a conspicuous anachronism!).

Logically enough one presumes in a nation whose government had up until only recently fully supported a racist Apartheid régime, supporters of the Confederacy of Southern States are here depicted as heroic characters, albeit antiheroic ones. Union sympathizers on the other hand are uniformly presented as arrogant, troublemaking louts. In this movie, anybody wearing a bluecoat is considered the enemy: which means both the Northern American and French troopers (as trusty Dusty says, “...blue always looks better with a splash o’ red” [i.e., blood]). ‘French’ troops are all played by thickly-accented South African actors, presumably because the casting director figured if they sounded ‘foreign’ enough nobody would notice the difference anyway. The only black person briefly glimpsed throughout is a male labourer who politely addresses whitemen as “Sir” in-between lugging sacks of grain on his back. Just about the only performance with any real enthusiasm to it is the bald, fat, white character actor (Bill Flynn) playing Almonte, hearty leader of the bandit revolutionaries, who – without really looking very Mexican at all – actually manages to fake a fairly natural-sounding Hispanic accent.

While largely shot with live sound, certain scenes – especially those involving an aging Confederate general (Bernsen’s uncredited ‘body double’!?) – seem to come with post-synchronized dialogue. There are plenty of mindless, chaotically-staged shootouts; including one with our heroes cornered inside an adobe jailhouse. Two scenes involving female nudity stay strictly above-the-waist. A totally gratuitous one in which a thug beats-up a screaming topless woman as an overture to (off-screen) rape is right out of a US “roughie” western.

It all has that generic veneer of slick but lifeless sub-mediocrity so common to cheap direct-to-TV / video filler product. Originally made for airing on cable television, even on VHS tape copies the screen periodically fades to black to allow for convenient insertion of commercial breaks. Not that one imagines too many K-Tel Veg-O-Matics or Craftmatic Adjustable Beds went out the door on account of this dud. Indeed, certain types of infomercial might very well make preferable viewing! However, that said, regardless of its shortcomings in dramatic/aesthetic (etc.) areas, GUNS OF HONOR does stand as a fascinating example of tawdry cut ’n’ paste filmmaking at its most desperate. Hell, despite the drubbing I give it above, I actually enjoyed it a lot! J


Notes: Just for the record, the principal cast also includes Gerard Christopher, Todd Jensen, James Van Helsen, Janine Denison and Tertius Meintjies. Stunt coordinator / horse master on the production was Gavin Mey.

Monday, May 2, 2016

COGS, SPOOLS & 1/2" TAPE #15 - TRIGGER FAST VHS REVIEW

Reviewed by Steve Fenton.

Corbin Bernsen as the malicious Malick: “Blood or money; it’s all the same to me...”

Christopher Atkins, trying-on his damnedest Clint Eastwood: “Whose blood? Y’know, a man oughta think real hard before he gambles with stakes he can’t afford to lose.”

Ron Smerczak as Malick’s head henchman, Tring: “No, I ain’t the Marshal. But around here, I is the Law! ...Hope you’re as fast with that gun o’ yours as you are with ya mouth!”

Jürgen Prochnow as Jack: “Damned [sic] him ...the dirty bastards!”

US vidbox copy: ‘...all-action, trail-blazing adventure set in the post-Civil War West...’
           
...But actually shot in the southeast – waaay southeast! – in South Africa (produced in association with Safritel [Johannesburg] and Lluniau Lliw [Wales]). Not surprisingly, no doubt as much for political as for geographical reasons, the film’s South African location goes unmentioned in the credits (at the time of its production in 1993, Apartheid had yet to be officially abolished; that didn’t happen until the following year. Tellingly enough, TRIGGER FAST didn’t see a domestic North American video release until July of ’94, mere months following the oppressive 30-year regime’s final downfall). In addition to S. African monies, the production was jointly co-bankrolled by both US and British companies, making this a real cultural mishmash indeed. Its script was based upon Brit western writer J.T. Edson’s bestselling series of pulp western novels starring “The Floating Outfit” (this made-for-cable filmization directed by David Lister was released in many Anglo territories as THE FLOATING OUTFIT: TRIGGER FAST, but under the above shortened title on North American videotape).

The setting is the ‘American’ post-war South, 1865. For being late with his “taxes,” cattleman Jack Newman (German-born Prochnow, who here at times evokes Gordon Mitchell), finds several head of his beef killed by poison weed which has been introduced into their waterhole (“...dirty bastards...”). Freida LaSalle (Walker Brandt) is a young lady rancher also victimized by exorbitant taxes imposed by local would-be monopolist land baron Brent Malick (Bernsen), who heads a gang of U.S. (i.e., Union) Army-appointed cutthroats. For his master’s defiance, Malick’s marauders shoot Boris down like a dog (which is most appropriate, because he is a dog), then torch the Newman homestead to further emphasize their point. Before vamoosing, head Yankee henchman Tring (Smerczak) pops three or four bullets into Prochnow: hence, so much for our top-billed star, at just over seventeen minutes into the movie!

Playing one Jackson “Old Devil” Baines, Martin Sheen appears puffy-cheeked and out-of-his-element/comfort zone under week-old facial overgrowth and dusty rawhide. Having been drawn into Newman’s feud with Malick, before disappearing for the duration himself, the second-billed Sheen summons gunslinging Rebel war vet Dusty Fog (!) to save both the ranchers and a few dollars more on casting costs. Malick’s malchicks serve Miss Freida with an eviction notice and she is given only seven days to pay-up in full five years’ worth of back taxes. Leave it to trusty Dusty and his two saddlebum chums to throw-in their lot with the damsel-in-distress.

Everything herein mostly appears synthetic, from the affected accents to the way supporting actors wear their hats and period costumes. However, to help take our minds off all the incongruities, our leading lady enjoys (as do we!) a topless bubble bath in a horse trough. Naturally, co-star Chris Atkins and his other young guns just happen to ride up before she’s had proper time to towel herself off. Atkins may know his way around the West and a Winchester, but he sure as shootin’ can’t pronounce Mexican names worth guano (for instance, he addresses his own ethnic sidekick as “Mig-well,” while Miss Freida calls him “Mig-hayle”; but at least somebody gets it right in time for the end-credits!). Such pronounced mispronunciation has seldom been heard since another South African pseudo-spaghetti, namely THREE BULLETS... FOR A LONG GUN. To make matters worse, Miguel looks about as Latino as Kyle MacLachlan and sounds completely gringo, even while speaking in his ‘native’ lingo (“Si... Adiós, señorita”). His paisano down at the saloon betrays his own national origins only by saying “greeng-ko” a couple of times. When Miguel asks him, “Do you ever worry about me?” for some reason Dusty answers “Only when you’re behind me!” (one presumes that Migwell might well be – for wont of a better word – a ‘backshooter’?).

At first sight, co-star Atkins looks a lot like Italo spaghettvet “Rick Boyd”/Federico Boido (elsewhere, a tertiary Union gangmember purely coincidentally resembles Nello Pazzafini). Rather than any conscious dramatic contrivance, Atkins’ laidback, laconic exterior (“My name’s Fog. Dusty Fog”) is more attributable to his basic inability to act the part with much conviction. The son of a Texas Ranger, not only does Dusty carry two guns slung backwards in his belt, but his trigger-fast fingers noticeably ‘itch’ (i.e., wriggle) to intimidate his opponents before every confrontation. When Malick’s men attempt to re-brand the posthumous Prochnow’s unlawfully repossessed cattle, Atkins sticks the smoking iron in a rustler’s face, then bellyshoots the wildly overacting (non-)Mexican.

Boss heavy Bernsen (“Damn Yankee!”) puffs on a fat cigar and speaks as though he’s got 57 miles of barbwire stuck in his craw; but his slicked-back performance beneath a stiff fedora and silk waistcoat might better fit into a modern gangster pic. In an uncomfortable development that may well have had something to do with the movie’s part-Apartheid origins, it is Rebs who play the antiheroes (“No damn Yankee’s gonna force me off my land!”); leaving the damn Yankees to fill most of the non-sympathetic roles. Beneath his on-again / off-again Confederate accent (“The bastard wouldn’t dare!”), Bernsen’s onscreen kid bro Jeb (Jeremy Crutchley) sounds and looks suspiciously like an English Gary Oldman wannabe. Screenwriter Paul Matthews’ contrived ‘tough’ talk (e.g., “You just cost me three good men!” – “Well then, I guess they weren’t that good”) rarely has its desired effect, instead provoking misplaced horse laughs. One saloon rowdy takes so long winding-up to clobber another with a whiskey bottle that the guy only has about a week to jump outta the way... but doesn’t.

Another problem – trying to lend a 96m. feature the epic sweep of, say, a LONESOME DOVE – is an excess of characters, with about six different ‘alpha male’ actors, including Gerard Christopher and Todd Jensen, all vying for top antihero slot (see also C.T. McIntyre’s low-budget 1990 US oater BORDER SHOOTOUT, which shares a similar “too-many-cooks” issue). About an hour in, still another late-coming young gun arrives to further dilute the broth. Most of the film’s derring-do is reserved for these lower-priced (and -aged) players. Simply because of their baby-faced boyishness, none of the many junior protagonists come across as very threatening (as Sheen says, “You sure are the sorriest-lookin’ bunch I ever did see”). Due in large part to their greater age and acting experience, the Malick and Tring characters (latter not unlike some escapee from R.L. Frost’s 1969 “roughie” western THE SCAVENGERS) exude far more menace; although Bernsen’s sudden transition to bullwhip-cracking madman / wannabe brother-killer is much too perfunctory to convince and provokes snorts of amusement rather than shocked gasps.

The Cain-slew-Abel conclusion (“I didn’t think you could do it...” – “Why not? I’m your brother!”) recalls the similar one in “Sidney Lean”/Giovanni Fago’s far superior genuine spaghetti western VENGEANCE IS MINE [Per 100.000 dollari t’ammazzo, 1967], starring Gianni Garko and Claudio Camaso as half-brothers involved in a volatile love/hate relationship that doesn’t end well for the latter). In the present film, blazing-orange photography of torched barnwood recalls analogous imagery from such real spaghettis as Giulio Petroni’s DEATH RIDES A HORSE (Da uomo a uomo, 1966) or “Anthony Ascott”/Giuliano Carnimeo’s HAVE A NICE FUNERAL, MY FRIEND (Buon funerale amigos!... paga Sartana, 1970). And there’s as many gratuitous bare siliconed breasts on display here as in Jim Wynorski’s T&A western HARD BOUNTY (1995), which is cheaper-made but better (and not necessarily just because it’s all-American, either).

All this and Boris the mutt too, a kind of distant bastard grandpup of Lassie and Rin Tin Tin. Speaking of dogs, that seems like the ideal place to end this...


Notes: Music by Shuki Levy and Stephen C. Marston mostly stays in the background and could have used less (i.e., zero) synthesizers and a big pinch of garlic; some twangy guitars and whistling (etc.) in the mix might also have worked wonders, although there’s only so much can be done to improve weak material like this. Co-producer was Hollywood’s Saban Entertainment, who frequently import low-cost foreign-made TV fare into North America. The even worse sequel was GUNS OF HONOR, which I’ll be covering next time.