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Absolute Evil

Typical Ulli Lommel trashfest
A woman who lost her father years before when he was gunned down in a robbery gone bad, finally tracks down the hood who killed him, only to fall in love with him when he confesses to the crime. After a few days of hanging out together he proposes to her. But his former gang members want to silence the couple & stage a hit where they kill their former friend. The woman is arrested by the police but her lawyer manages to get her released without charge. When he learns that the gang wants to kill her, he takes matters into his own hands.

Ulli Lommel is a German-born director who has made quite a formidable reputation as one of the millennium's worst directors. In his heyday he made some interesting films – the 1970s art-house classic The Tenderness of the Wolves about an infamous German serial killer was featured in Time magazine at one point & Lommel's 1980 feature The Boogeyman was his biggest hit. But once the millennium came, Lommel's films became nothing more than cheap hackwork. Which is a shame for what was an interesting talent. Of his post-millennial works, the only good one (that is, the only one that was semi-watchable) was Zodiac Killer, which was disturbing enough to bypass its inherent cheapness.

Absolute Evil was one of a number of ultra-cheap serial killer-themed DTV films Lommel made with his independent production company & was one of the last films to feature legendary actor David Carradine before his death. The film is typical of many of Lommel's films around this time period with mediocre plotting, awkward dialogue & acting, some traces of Lommel's infamous 'lather, rinse, repeat' style of storytelling (where he would showcase a killing over & over again with little variation to it) & brutal torture scenes but with no gore.

The film has been slammed by almost everybody on the Internet, with attention paid to its flaws. But I have never outrightly hated Lommel's works. Sure, most of his post-millennial works have been frightfully cheap to the point of being overwhelmed by their low budget. Absolute Evil has many of these flaws & is not ever going to be seen as a good film, let alone a minor classic. What it does have is a story of forbidden love between a cheap hood & the daughter of one of his victims, only to find themselves torn apart by the hood's former gang mates. Lommel, for once, makes the film more character driven but he still has a problem with writing dialogue, with many of his characters being unable to talk coherently. Absolute Evil also has a mild brutality with Lommel's staging of a man being tortured by having his head dunked into a full bathtub looking like it was done for real. Christopher Kriesa, an actor who has starred in an awful lot of cheap B-grade action films & thrillers, makes a passable impression here as the lawyer but even he can't make the film work well enough to rate as anything more than disappointingly poor.

Gale Force

One of the better Wynorski films, but don't get too excited.
Sam Garrett, an LAPD detective, is suspended from the force after claiming that a high-profile kidnap victim staged her own abduction in order to shake down her father for the ransom. But his captain gives him a chance to prove himself – all Sam has to do is to appear on a brand-new reality TV show called Treasure Hunt where he will earn a small fee & even a chance to win ten million dollars. Along with a group of contestants, Sam is dropped onto a deserted island for a week. But the host, who is facing a large debt, has hired a group of mercenaries to prevent them from winning. The mercenaries, led by ex-Navy SEAL Jared, decide to renege on the deal & kill the host & come after the players in order to keep their theft of the prize money secret. At the same time, a massive hurricane called Hurricane James is bearing down on the island, making escape all but impossible.

I'd never thought I would see the day Jim Wynorski, one of the worst directors on the B-grade circuit, would make a decent film. Sure enough, Gale Force, a 2001 effort from the infamous hack, would prove to be a passable film despite the theft of footage from other films (the opening car chase has been lifted from Last Action Hero – look closely for a glimpse of Arnold Schwarzenegger driving the car – and the helicopter insertion is from Predator). The cynicism that populates the vast majority of Wynorski's films is also here but actually makes a favourable impression given it is mostly about actors griping about reality TV shows. Treat Williams, who had earlier starred in another Wynorski flick Crash Point Zero, makes for a good hero here & actually has some fun. Supporting him are such B-grade action legends as Tim "Jack Deth" Thomerson, Michael "American Ninja" Dudikoff & William Zabka. There were some small details that made me laugh – the hurricane is named after James Cook, the explorer who found Australia & who died on an island in the Pacific, where the film is set. On the minus side, there were traces of the spectacular lack of fact-checking that infests Wynorski's films – everything from the insane idea of hoods tossing sticks of dynamite at the hero's car during the chase; the idea of said car escaping a minigun attack from a few metres away by driving off a bridge & the idea that a reality TV show host would hire professional killers to help him escape the country by killing the players. A reasonably action-packed & funny film that is one of Wynorski's better films.

Beneath the 12-Mile Reef

Pretty decent stuff, although a little melodramatic at times.
Greek-American sponge divers Mike Petrakis & his son Tony are facing a heavy debt when their competitors, the English hook boat fishermen led by Thomas Rhys, take over their hunting grounds. They are forced to dive at the 12-Mile Reef, a dangerous spot where the motherload of sponges are located free from poachers. After Rhys sabotages their boat & steals all their haul of sponges, Mike is determined to settle the feud but when he dies from the bends after getting into trouble at the Reef, Tony has no choice but to dive at the Reef where his father & older brother died in order to save his family's honour & win the heart of his girlfriend, Rhys' daughter Gwyneth.

Beneath the 12-Mile Reef was the third film to be shot in the then-new Cinema Scope process (which entailed a 2.55:1 aspect ratio as opposed to the 1.33:1 frames that had been going strong since the beginning of cinema). Although the process would be abandoned in 1967, the success of the format enabled the 1.78:1, 1.85:1 & 2.35:1 ratios to become standard ever since. Twentieth Century Fox held the rights to the process & Beneath the 12-Mile Reef was one of their productions (although the cheap review copy I saw was the standard 1.33:1 version designed for TV & theatres that could not at the time afford to update to widescreen).

The film is an adaptation of Shakespeare's classic Romeo & Juliet story, which is one of the most prolifically filmed plays ever. But the novelty in this production is that it is liberally set in the American sponge-diving community & the rivalries between two opposing diver families (one Anglo, the other Greek). Sure it doesn't have the high budget of some later adaptations, but director Robert D. Webb & scribe Al Bezzerides do their best to portray a much more realistic modern-day version of the classic story.

The cast do a pretty decent job of their roles, giving a workmanlike series of performances. Gilbert Roland is excellent as the Greek divers' patriarch alongside Robert Wagner as his brash & fearless son, while Richard Boone provides able support as the opposing patriarch. The ending is also radically different from the original story, with the two lovers managing not only to heal the rift between their families but staying alive as well. Not exactly a classic film but an able adaptation of a classic play.

The Last of the Mohicans

The first adaptation of a classic novel.
The year is 1757 during the French & Indian War in the New World. The British fort of Fort Edward is being targeted by the French & their Native American allies the Hurons. Captain Randolph, a cowardly British officer decides to defect to the French after discovering that the fort is fitted with weapons that are basically useless & after his girlfriend Cora Munro, the eldest daughter of the fort's colonel, rebuffs his advances & instead falls for Uncas, the last of the Mohican tribe. The Hurons' chief runner Magua, who also desires Cora, leads the Hurons to massacre the inhabitants of the fort & kidnaps Cora & her younger sister Alice for himself. Uncas challenges Magua to a duel for the sisters' freedom.

This 1920 silent film was the first of four adaptations of the novel by Fenimore Cooper & by far the best of the bunch. It is also the most faithful of the adaptations & correctly depicts the nasty side of the war at the time. The film was originally directed by Maurice Tourneur but when he became too ill to continue, Clarence Brown stepped in to finish the production.

The film, like most other silent features of the era, is filled with pioneering shots, although it is still technically crude in some respects (this was 1920, after all – the cinema was still in its infancy at the time). The film is a bit stagy in some parts but there are no superfluous shots to be found. The acting is good & the film is reasonably exciting. The film is also watchable for the fact that it correctly depicts the New World (later to become the USA) as filled with good Indians, bad Indians, bigoted whites, romance between white women & Indians & the simple message that war is indeed a form of hell.

Behind the Wall

Mediocre ghost story
Katelyn Parks returns to the sleepy town that she had lived in the past to attend a town meeting over the fate of the lighthouse her family had owned for years after a letter invited her there. But she discovers that the letter inviting her was forged. The lighthouse hasn't been occupied since 1987 when her mother was killed by a mysterious presence that her father took the blame for. She visits the lighthouse to collect her old belongings but is warned by the deputy mayor & his developers not to cause any trouble since the lighthouse is due for a restoration as part of an ambitious plan to redevelop the site for a large golf park & ski field. She doesn't want the development to go ahead & joins the local priest in condemning it. But they don't have to cause any trouble themselves – a pair of workers accidentally open a locked door in the basement, releasing a ghost that had been after the Parks family for years & who the priest knew personally & is hiding a secret over it. The ghost proceeds to pick off the workers on the site.

Behind the Wall is a 2007 B-grader ghost story that was made in Canada during the country's boom in cheap genre works at the time. The film can be considered a sort of knock-off of the John Carpenter classic The Fog but with the story confined to a lighthouse & given the format of a slasher film.

The film is a pretty average ghost story, nothing more. The story is economical & has very little in the way of innovation for the genre at all. But it is still pretty reasonable for the horror genre & the story is still interesting although the rationale for the ghost's haunting & some of the characters' motivations are a little contrived. Lindy Booth & James Thomas do a passable job of the lead characters & Lawrence Dane is suitably grim as the old priest who has a guilty secret relating to the ghost haunting the lighthouse.

Prison Break

Pretty realistic look at 1930s' prison life & attitudes
Tuna boat skipper Joaquin Shannon is enjoying his best mate's bucks party (he is engaged to Joaquin's sister) when his own fiancée Joan's brother shows up to pass on his father's hostility to Joaquin's proposal to him marrying Joan. Joaquin kicks him out of the bar but a mysterious man kills the brother & flees. Thinking that the groom might have killed him (since he was drunk & asleep next to the corpse) Joaquin decides to take the rap. Convicted of manslaughter, he is sent to prison for ten years but told that he will get out after a year if he keeps his nose clean. Once on the inside, Joaquin does his best to mind his own business. But when a cheap thug named Red Kincaid returns to prison after a spell outside, Joaquin's life gets harder. Red decides to ruin Joaquin's hopes of parole by taunting him into a fight, which he succeeds due to Joaquin's easy temper. But Joaquin has the last laugh when he singlehandedly foils Red's daring escape attempt. Given parole at last, Joaquin tries to adjust to civilian life. But Jean's father does his best to derail his career options. When Red finally manages to escape the prison, he forces Joaquin to join him on a little boat trip to Ecuador.

Barton MacLane must have some kind of record for appearing in the most prison films. Besides Prison Break, he had appeared in the following prison films – San Quentin (1937), I Was a Convict (1939), Mutiny in the Big House (1939), Men Without Souls (1940), a different San Quentin in 1946 & finally Jail Breakers in 1955. With that kind of track record he must have had some good experience playing convicts.

Prison Break is something of a morality tale of life in prison, although the title is somewhat inaccurate – MacLane doesn't actually take part in any prison escape (although he foils one himself) & the actual successful escape takes place offscreen. Instead, it's more of a story on how a man takes some rash & very poor choices to protect his friends & finds himself in almost perpetual trouble with the law. First, his fiancée's father objects to him marrying his daughter, which causes the woman's brother to try to stop him but ends up being killed by a stranger who flees the scene. Second, he takes the rap to protect a friend he believes caused the death, causing him to go to jail for a decade but with the option of parole if he stays clean in jail, which is going to be impossible with the prison heavy after him. Third is after he gets his parole, where his fiancée's father tries to keep him out of work, forcing him into a confrontation with the escaped heavy, who is finally revealed (SPOILER ALERT) to be the man whose actions in killing the woman's brother that landed MacLane in jail. The film is not always totally convincing but is pretty realistic, MacLane does his best to make the material work & the 1930s production values add some sort of modest thriller mechanics to the film.

Embrace of the Vampire

Irritatingly conservative for a vampire softcore thriller.
Centuries after his rebirth as a member of the undead, a vampire discovers the soul of his beloved princess lover, who has been dead a long time, in the form of Charlotte Wells, an innocent virginal college student. With only three days to spare before his death approaches, the vampire attempts to seduce Charlotte & make her a vampire to save his soul.

This 1994 New Line production was one of two films that actress Alyssa Milano had appeared in right after her role in the family sitcom Who's the Boss had ended after eight years on the air, in an attempt for her to tackle more adult roles. Around the same time as this one, she also appeared in Poison Ivy II: Lily, which was a poor sequel to the Drew Barrymore cult hit that started the cable television erotica trend. Her director from Lily, Anne Goursaud, also directs this film.

Going into the film with the expectation of seeing Alyssa Milano naked & having hot vampire action, I found The Nosferatu Diaries: Embrace of the Vampire to be a very poor film. It is not entirely terrible – there are occasional moments of style & you mostly get what you asked for, with plenty of opportunities for Milano to take her clothes off (but only seeing her breasts & butt, nothing else) & to make out with both men & women (the scene were Milano visits a photography student friend's studio & volunteers for a saucy photo shoot, only to start a girl-on-girl session with the friend is probably the most hardcore the film gets) – but the problem with it is that it is not so much a vampire film than a vampire stalker film.

The biggest problem I had with the film is the same one I had with Poison Ivy II: Lily – its conservatism. Both films appear to have been made as a warning for viewers not to engage in sexual relationships outside of approved grounds – in both films, Milano plays a sweet, innocent thing who gets corrupted by an exterior force & becomes a sexpot who almost gets in over her head before sacrificing her trashy life & returning to the arms of her patient & extremely forgiving boyfriend. While the message is not particularly offensive if taken on its own, it is offensive when seen in what should have been a sexy erotic horror film. Anne Goursaud seems to be acting for the Catholic Church in some way by reversing the sexual revolution of the previous decades & advocating sexual abstinence for young people. What I really hate about the film is that on one hand it is preaching a message for women not to be sexually adventurous, yet on the other hand displaying gratuitous nudity & softcore couplings in an attempt to sell the film as erotica. This contradictory message is annoying & offensive for viewers who wanted an erotic thriller, not an anti-sex rant by what seems to be a proxy for the Catholic Church.

Crash Point Zero

Just as stupid as most of Wynorski's other works.
Former CIA rocket scientist turned antique weapons expert Maurice Hunter & his daughter Nadia have uncovered the resting place of the Tesla Death Ray device, reputed to use human brain waves to unleash enough power to destroy a small country. After dealing with a group of treacherous guides, they book passage on a private jet filled with C-grade celebrities heading to Canada. But on the way, the plane is intercepted by a larger jet with terrorists attempting to steal the Tesla weapon, aided by Julian Beck, an arms dealer who is on the chartered flight. The passengers fight back, taking down Beck & his goons while the other jet is accidentally destroyed by a mishandled bomb. Damaged in the confrontation, the passenger jet is forced to crash land in the Rocky Mountains. The surviving passengers split up – one group staying inside the fuselage for help to arrive, led by Maurice, while the other half head out to trek to civilisation. Maurice gets Nadia to head out on her own in order to reach the meeting point where a pair of CIA agents are waiting for them. Beck, meanwhile, has survived & secretly heads out to track Nadia down & steal the weapon. As night falls on the crash site, a large bear is seen near the site, hungry for human meat.

I have never seen a director as arrogant, dishonest & incompetent as Jim Wynorski. This C-grade hack from the Roger Corman stable has made more than dozens of cheap B-films, none of which managed to get more than a certain low score on the IMDb. There is a reason for this – Wynorski doesn't have any idea on how to make a good film. Don't get me wrong – Wynorski did make a couple of semi-watchable genre films in the past (the 1980s sci-fi slasher Chopping Mall & the 1997 cheapie Storm Trooper were passable enough) – but most of the time he fails to even get the basic things right. Trouble is, his films look well-polished on a technical level but that is where his limited skill ends. The problem with Wynorski's directing is that to disguise the ultra-low budgets he works with, he steals footage from other, bigger-budgeted films in order to make his films look better. At first glance it looks okay but when you realise that most of the big action & effects set-pieces are actually from recycled footage stolen from other films, that sinking feeling in your stomach returns with a vengeance.

With Crash Point Zero, Wynorski & his usual hatchet-scribe Steve Latshaw (a guy who cannot write a decent script to save his life & who probably stole elements of this script from other sources judging by the slightly better quality of the script for this one since I have seen Latshaw's other scripts & they are utterly pathetic) make a mediocre thriller filled with footage from Cliffhanger & other films that I cannot identify but am certain have been plundered by this insidious duo. The story is cobbled together from various low-grade ideas but given a certain cynicism that makes the whole thing look like a bad joke. Why are a bunch of American reality show stars, novelists & other C-grade celebrities doing together on a plane from Siberia? If the Tesla device can be tracked by a Geiger counter & is releasing massive amounts of radiation, then why are people still standing alive after spending a lot of time with the weapon in close proximity? And how does the CIA manage to keep track on the weapon's whereabouts by trawling Internet conspiracy theory websites? There are also the little things, like the simple fact that any Counterstrike fan will recognise that the machine pistols the terrorists use are actually Steyr SPP semi-automatic pistols (a copy of the Counterstrike weapon, the Steyr TMP – you know, the machine pistol with the silencer) & are NOT automatic, despite being fired by the baddies with automatic gunfire dubbed over on the soundtrack. Some of the stunts are so obviously fake that you'll be groaning in disbelief.

The acting is slightly harder to take pot-shots at since everybody gives the production just the right tone of sarcasm & cynicism to make the grade. Treat Williams, a stand-up comedian who has plenty of experience in cheap action B-fodder such as this, gives a mediocre performance, giving the impression he'd rather be anywhere else & his constant smart-alec remarks in the film really do him no favours.

De la part des copains

Passable classic from Bronson.
Joe Moran is a fisherman who rents out boats in the south of France for holidaymakers. But what his wife & stepdaughter don't know is that he was originally Joe Martin, an ex-soldier who left his corrupt comrades to get caught after they killed a German cop during a prison escape. The gang's leader, Captain Ross, manages to track Joe down & kidnaps his family in order to force him to help them secure the money needed to escape the country. But Joe doesn't take too kindly to those who threaten his family & promptly tries to sabotage their mission.

Charles Bronson was one of the 1980s B-grade action icons, mainly due to starring as legendary vigilante Paul Kersey in the Death Wish series & some supporting roles in films ranging from the Vincent Price classic House of Wax to the likes of The Dirty Dozen. In the early 1970s, before he became a superstar thanks to Death Wish, he was making a living starring in thrillers like The Mechanic & Cold Sweat.

Cold Sweat is a pretty reasonable thriller, nothing more. The pace is a bit on the slow side, enough to show the action set-pieces as being decidedly forced. Key point being the shootout & car chase during the final third of the film – the chase takes too long for the film's pacing & is completely superfluous. There are also glaring flaws in the film's story & internal logic.

But what makes this otherwise mediocre thriller rate as passable for me is the fact that Charles Bronson, who is somewhat an underrated actor to me, gives a good performance (even though he only has one facial expression in that granite slab that passes for his face) & even has a little fun constantly thwarting the bad guys' plans. The scene where Bronson & (future wife) Jill Ireland & a doctor they abducted to treat James Mason's wounded villain are speeding to evade the police while Mason & a traitor comrade exchange gunfire while Liv Ullmann & Yannick de Lulle attempt to escape is passably exciting. This is also probably the only film you'll ever find that has James Mason speaking in a Southern accent AND Jill Ireland playing a spaced out hippie. Not to mention that this is based on a story written by legendary Twilight Zone writer Richard Matheson (who also wrote I Am Legend). Not as well known as some of Bronson's other films but if you track this down, it should make for interesting viewing.

Lancelot and Guinevere

Bloody for 1963 standards.
King Arthur sends his trusty right hand man, the knight Sir Lancelot to a rival kingdom to win the hand in marriage of Guinevere. He succeeds, but falls in love with the maiden. She marries Arthur but secretly yearns for Lancelot. After a time, they become lovers & when Arthur finds out, their friendship – sabotaged by a rival knight – becomes very strained.

Originally released in the United Kingdom as Lancelot & Guinevere, this 1963 adventure film was directed by its star, Cornel Wilde. Wilde also produces & cast his wife at the time, Jean Wallace, as Guinevere.

While not the definitive version of the Camelot story, Sword of Lancelot is still reasonably watchable. The film has some passable acting &, like most of Wilde's directorial efforts, filled with action scenes. The fights & battles are the showpiece of the film & are quite violent, even by 1963 standards. There is some passable plotting but the pace tends to drag a little inbetween the battles. Wilde & Wallace might be a good pair on the screen but they are both a little too old for their roles. Having said that, Sword of Lancelot is still a pretty reasonable Dark Ages adventure film, although I still prefer something like Under the Red Robe over this.

Tarzan's Revenge

Glenn Morris does okay as Tarzan.
The Reeds, a family of American zoo owners arrive in Africa in order to collect animals for their zoo. Patriarch Roger Reed is relishing the adventure while his wife is constantly having sneezing fits. Their daughter Eleanor is being targeted by an evil sheik who wants to add her to his collection of wives. He bribes their safari guide Olaf to lead them to a trap where he will kidnap her. But he hasn't reckoned on Tarzan, who is keeping an eye on the Reeds & is in love with her, causing complications between him & Eleanor's trigger-happy fiancée Nevin Potter, who is intent on killing as many animals as he can.

After MGM had made their three Tarzan adaptations, Twentieth Century Fox decided to give Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs a better deal & got the rights in return. But they couldn't get Johnny Weissmuller, the actor who played Tarzan in the MGM films & who was a former Olympic swimming champ, so they recruited 1936 decathlon champ Glenn Morris for the lead role. They also cast another swimming champ, Eleanor Holm, for the love interest.

The film is a rather goofy but passably entertaining Tarzan flick with some humour directed at the inept safari & some reasonable fight scenes & Tarzan grappling with lions & natives. Of course, some of the elements in the script have dated badly but Tarzan's Revenge is not too bad & does a fair job of giving some jungle escapism. Glenn Morris could manage the physical requirements of the role (he looked pretty good swinging on the vines in some scenes & is a good swimmer) but the public preferred Weissmuller so Morris' involvement in the franchise ended after this, his only turn as Tarzan. The other actors acquit themselves fairly although C. Henry Gordon's evil sheik is strictly one-dimensional & cardboard in nature.

Desperate Cargo

Interesting but has its stupid moments.
A gang of thieves led by a former pilot named Professor Carter hijack the Trans-Caribbean Airways seaplane known as the "Caribbean Cruiser" when it is making its way to Miami. Aboard the plane, the company's purser Tony Bronson, who has been given a lifeline after getting thrown in jail for a barroom brawl after discovering that his new girlfriend is a gold digger who conned him for a plane ticket to New York, is forced to help the gang steal the safe. Carter shoots the navigator & co-pilot dead & locks the crew & passengers in their cabins. Bronson is left alone in case he might become useful. Indeed Bronson attempts to stop the crooks by stealing one of their pistols.

Desperate Cargo is an ancient crime thriller made during World War II. It is directed by William "One Shot" Beaudine, known for his work on The Green Hornet & also directing the horror-Western Billy the Kid versus Dracula. The plot is taken from a magazine serial written four years earlier.

The film is an interesting heist thriller that has some reasonable excitement but is nearly sunk by the flat dramatics & cheap comedy angle that precedes the actual hijack. The theatrics exhibited by Julie Duncan & Carol Hughes as a pair of gold diggers who con hero Ralph Byrd for a pair of airline tickets are stupid & don't serve the story too well. It is a known fact that most, if not all, thrillers during the 1930s & 1940s had comedy routines forced onto them to suit the era, something that dates them badly when seen today. In its defence, Desperate Cargo is okay when seen against this backdrop but the actual heist, when it does occur, is a bit too low-key to actually work – the robbery needed more room in order to work properly. Having said that, the film has some routine fights & the scene where Byrd sneaks out of the plane in order to open the cargo compartment & free his fellow crew while the passengers keep the criminals at bay with their captured pistol is the highlight of the film.

British Intelligence

Excellent WWII-era spy thriller based in WWI
The year 1917. Helene Von Lorbeer, a British secret agent infiltrating German intelligence & posing as one of their spies, is given the task of supporting one of their top agents, the shadowy Franz Steindler, who is working in British territory. Steindler has been responsible for the death of a British spy & has been highly successful in spilling British military secrets to the Germans. Going under the name of Frances Hautry, Helene arrives in Britain as a French refugee from German territory. Settling into the household of Arthur Bennett, a lawyer working with the British war cabinet, Hautry is contacted by Bennett's butler Valdar, who is actually a German agent posing as a British spy, although what nobody in the house knows is actually Steindler himself. Valdar & Hautry team up to attempt to assassinate the entire British cabinet but the local police, under the command of Colonel Yeats, are closing in on them fast.

British Intelligence (known in some places as Enemy Agent) is a British wartime spy thriller made in 1940 – in the midst of World War II – but actually set in World War I. It is a remake of a 1930 film, which in turn was based on a play named Three Faces East.

Not much of a fan of WWII-era spy thrillers, I was expecting this to be an average affair. But the film surprised me. It is taut, very suspenseful & had more twists than a bag of pretzels. The film is also filled with good acting, particularly from Boris Karloff, who plays a triple agent working for the Germans. The film might have been set in WWI but there are tell-tale signs of its era – at the end Leonard Mudie delivers a monologue claiming to hate war but saying that it is necessary in case any tyrant arises who threatens world peace – a clear reference to Nazi Germany & its evil tyrant Hitler.

The film is quite unusual in that its pace is quite fast for a spy thriller – at little over an hour long it doesn't overstay its welcome & the climax with Karloff caught & trying to escape, only to become a victim of his own side's Zeppelin bombs, is exciting enough to make this a good example of the 1940s wartime spy thrillers. It might not be a masterpiece but it is definitely better than something like Submarine Alert, which came out around the same time.

Yeti: Curse of the Snow Demon

Average monster hokum.
A plane carrying an American college football team crashes in the Himalayan Alps, killing half the passengers. The few survivors find that there is almost no chance of rescuers finding their position so two of them head off to find the plane's spare radio, which is some distance away. As their food supply is severely limited, they are forced to ration their food to last for the next couple of days. Time passes & their food runs out. They are then racked with debate over whether to use the bodies of their dead teammates as food to survive. But that is not the least of their troubles – once night falls, they discover that they are not alone – a yeti is roaming the area, intent on feeding itself.

In the past few years, there has been a rise in the number of cheap B-grade monster films, many of which use ridiculous ideas like crossbred animals like Piranhaconda, or insane yet ingenious ideas that no normal A-grade studio would even entertain, like Ghost Shark & the recent Asylum-made Sharknado phenomenon of late.

Yeti: Curse of the Snow Demon is a production by American World Pictures, a B-grade studio specialising in cheap genre-related action & monster films. The director for this project is Paul Ziller, who had earlier done the likes of the cheap generic action film Bloodfist IV: Die Trying starring Don "The Dragon" Wilson as a repo man taking on terrorists. Also making their presence felt is Ona Grauer, an actress who had starred in Uwe Boll's craptacular adaptation of House of the Dead.

For the first half-hour Yeti seems like a reasonable & in parts interesting disaster film where a team of football players crash-land in the Himalayan Alps & are forced to make brutal decisions in order to survive. While the actors don't always convince of their characters' motivations (Adam O'Byrne, who reminds me of the Australian politician Bill Shorten & is just as slimy as his lookalike is), they tackle their roles with sincerity, making the drama intriguing.

But once the monster reappears (it had showed up in a pointless prologue that takes all the mystery out of the film), the film reverts to a standard monster movie. The Yeti is depicted by a reasonably convincing suit & some cheap CGI, making itself into a decent threat & a passable monster. But the story has some lagging plot holes & some of the action set-pieces don't always convince. The Yeti manages to survive being shot, speared & set on fire, finally being dropped to its death in an improbable climax. The epilogue, showing that one of the 'dead' characters is still alive, only to fall victim to another Yeti in the area, is also pointless & detracts from the film. Ziller manages to keep the action going but his mediocre directing skills hurt the film's chances of making a good impression. A once-over for monster movie fans.

Project: Kill

Pedestrian spy thriller
John Trevor leads a top-secret military program called Project: Kill which turns soldiers into elite bodyguards through use of mental conditioning & drug therapy. Tired of the constant injections & concerned about the program creating assassins, Trevor defects from the program & flees to Manila. His second-in-command Frank Lassiter is sent to either bring him back or to eliminate him if he refuses to comply. At the same time a Hong Kong arms dealer named Alok Lee gets wind of Trevor's defection & decides to track him down in order to force him to help with Lee's plan to set up a parallel program to train the perfect assassin.

Years before he became one of the world's best-known comedians & the master of the deadpan (and creating the immortal reply: "I am serious… and don't call me Shirley"), Leslie Nielsen was a modestly accomplished serious actor who starred in various thrillers (I loved his performance in CREEPSHOW). In Project: Kill he stars as a former soldier turned master warrior who gets sick of the hypocrisy & abandons his program for the quiet life.

With the exception of Nielsen's performance, everything about Project: Kill is pedestrian to the point of acute boredom. The story is one-dimensional & filled with poor plotting. The majority of the cast are poor, particularly Gary Lockwood, who makes a decidedly wooden hero & Pamela Parsons as the useless adviser. Vic Diaz delivers some minor enthusiasm as the villain but his role is too slight to make much impact to the storyline. The action scenes, consisting of bland, unexciting & poorly set-up fights & a rather pathetic attempt at a car chase, are boredom inducing. Nielsen is the only high point, with his dangerously unpredictable character's attempt to flee a life he did not want making some minor headway in an otherwise unexceptional & painfully poor thriller.

Tarzan and the Trappers

Average ex-TV pilot
Tarzan must deal with a group of illegal trappers, an expedition to a lost city in search of treasure & a hunter attempting to hunt him down as the ultimate prey.

Tarzan and the Trappers was a 1958 attempt at making a new stab at a Tarzan franchise. This feature was cobbled together from three episodes of an unsold TV series & edited together to resemble a proper film. However it didn't entirely work. The episodic nature of the film's plot can be blamed for the lack of conviction or even adding anything new to the franchise. But the actors do a fair bit of work to sell their otherwise one-dimensional characters to the viewer. Gordon Scott makes a passable Tarzan & even gets the iconic yell right but the remainder of the cast are hovering between mediocre & downright stilted. The action scenes are hampered by the low budget & the motivations for the villains are sketchy at best.

My Outlaw Brother

Really poor Western trash.
Denny O'Moore arrives in the Texas / Mexico border town of Border City, where he wants to surprise his brother Patrick, who has been away for the past eight years claiming to be running a silver mine. But he quickly discovers that Patrick has actually been the right hand man of the notorious bandit "El Tigre", who has been waging a campaign of violence & robbery in Border City & their stronghold of the Mexican town of San Clemente. He agrees to join Texas Ranger Joe Walter in order to travel to San Clemente to apprehend El Tigre & to try to convince Patrick to return home without disgrace. But what they don't know is that Patrick's involvement with the gang runs deeper than what they initially suspected.

My Outlaw Brother is a rather poor Western made in the early 1950s, a time when the genre was getting a slight boost after war films were starting to wane following the end of the war a half decade before. At the time of the film, colour was beginning to become more common, although for budget reasons most B-grade films were still shot in black & white.

Director Elliott Nugent clearly has no flair for Westerns & treats this like a mobster flick with a little comedy element thrown in. The dreadfully daft comic relief of the main star Mickey Rooney (who still looks like a teenager despite his age) really grates on the nerves, although he does prove to be the best actor in this cast. Robert Preston makes a bland hero while Robert Stack is purely one-dimensional as the heavy in charge of the thugs, who disguises himself in an atrocious wig & dark face paint & speaks like a cheap two-bit gangster. The film is filled with some really pathetic shootouts, daftly-thought-out romances & a ridiculously easy to figure out end twist which has Robert Stack revealed as the Mexican thug El Tigre after being outsmarted by Preston. A disgrace to the Western genre & a poor waste of celluloid.

Drums in the Deep South

A modest Civil War classic
The year is 1861, on the eve of the American Civil War. In Georgia, Atlanta, cotton plantation owner Braxton Summers invites two of his former West Point classmates, Clay Clayburn & Will Denning, to dinner with him & his new wife Kathy (who was formerly in love with Clay). But before they can eat, war is declared. Fast forward to 1864 & Will & Clay are fighting on opposite sides of the war. Clay, now a major with the Confederates, is picked to infiltrate the same area & find a way to sabotage a Union railway & cut off supplies to the Yankees. Placing three cannons on a mountaintop, Clay & his team of volunteers manage to blow up the tracks & a couple of Union trains passing through. They are so good at keeping the area locked down that Will, now an officer in the Union army, is sent in to prevent any further damage. Kathy, who is still living in the old mansion (Braxton has been captured by the Yankees), tries her best to help her former lover fight the enemy. But Will & Clay, who are still best friends, each don't realise that the other is in the area.

William Cameron Menzies is legendary in the field of production design for Hollywood's early era. Having won awards for his work on such films as 1924's The Thief of Bagdad & of course his magnum opus, Gone with the Wind, Menzies was so good at his job that when the chance came to finally direct a film himself, he jumped at the chance.

With Menzies at the helm, what was essentially a B-grade film made on a limited budget instead looks like a big budget production. It doesn't have the same resources as something like Gone with the Wind but Menzies makes it feel about as large with his resourcefulness.

The story is a passably moving tale of a woman caught between two best friends fighting on opposite sides in a war that will end with one side losing badly. James Craig & Barbara Payton both make a good couple & Payton's willingness to spy on her captors in order to help her old flame sabotage the enemy's supply train is both brave & ultimately reckless. The film has one flaw & that is the lack of funds to make the battles look anything but cramped, but Menzies does his best with the limited budget. He even manages to throw in a couple of reasonably exciting moments, with Payton trying to signal Craig while a Union soldier searches for her & Craig's first attack on the enemy train. The cast make the most out of their roles & the film's unusually high production values elevate what is essentially a low budget Civil War drama into a modest war classic.


Ridiculously bad monster flick.
A meteorite crashes into the ocean off the coast of Tampa, Florida. A parasitic organism that was contained in the meteorite infects several fish, of which one is caught & turned into sushi. The sushi is sold to & eaten by Val, the duty manager at the "Castle" nightclub in Tampa. As the night goes on, she becomes infected by the organism, which sprouts a tentacle out of her neck & turns her into a zombie. The zombified Val then prowls the closed nightclub, picking off the workers & turning them into zombies.

Timothy R. Martin is a special effects wizard who worked on such films as the Spider-Man films & (ironically) the prequel of the John Carpenter classic The Thing, which came out shortly before this "effort".

It is obvious that Martin, who wrote the script, directed the film & designed the monster seen here (& appears as the nightclub's DJ), has been heavily influenced by his work on The Thing 2011, But while that film was a reasonable prequel to what is considered as not only John Carpenter's best film but also a sci-fi horror masterpiece & the Citizen Kane of monster movies, Parasitic is nothing but a cheap borefest that utterly fails to entertain in any way (although the creature effects are passable enough, particularly the monster in the end).

It is probably an unwritten rule that most films by visual effects wizards branching out into directing almost always end up as terrible films (the exceptions to this are Stan Winston's Pumpkinhead & Tom Savini's remake of Night of the Living Dead – although I also enjoyed the Strause Brothers' Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem somewhat). In this case, the rule holds true. Martin has failed to observe the cardinal rule of monster films – the monster must support the story, not replace it. Outside of the creature effects, which conveniently allow the lead actress to walk around topless with a rubbery creature on her chest & a phallic tentacle sprouting like a giant zit out of her neck, the film is terrible. The story is simple to the point of crudity, the zombie attacks are predictable & biologically illogical, the acting is non-existent & the film's compact running time is filled with a bunch of idiots having boring conversations about boring topics. You can get a feeling of how low this film is aiming for when you have the opening credits play out over the central character putting her clothes on & the conversation early on which is inaudible but relayed by (purposely) badly-written subtitles that are heavily expletive-ridden in order to give a cheap laugh. It is obvious that Martin needs to forget about making his own stories & concentrate on his day job – providing visual effects, nothing more. What a waste of effort.

Tarzan and the Green Goddess

Cheesy reedit - needs more running time to clear up a few things.
Tarzan holds a gypsy-themed party at his Greystoke estate after returning from an expedition. He gets an old Gypsy fortune teller to narrate the story of his latest adventure. Along with Major Martling, Tarzan tried to retrieve the Green Goddess, an ancient Mayan relic that is being used as an idol by a small clan of worshippers in the Dead City in Guatemala. An unscrupulous explorer has stolen the statue in the hope that he can use an ancient secret formula hidden in it to manufacture a super-explosive that has the potential to change warfare forever. Tarzan & his companions get into various situations in order to stop the formula from getting into the wrong hands.

Tarzan and the Green Goddess was a feature-length (at only 72 minutes long) reedit of some episodes of the old serial The New Adventures of Tarzan. It featured a good performance by Bruce Bennett, who plays Tarzan in a rather unique fashion – this is the only time on film that you see a Tarzan who speaks English articulately & appears to be well-educated (although his Tarzan yell sounds like a stoned coyote). As far as the rest of the feature is concerned, the original serial was far better. It omits the spectacular theft of the idol & instead has plenty of cheap theatrics & cheaper action scenes. Although the scene where Tarzan faces off with a lion was slightly exciting, the rest of the film was one-dimensional & the idea of the hero going to all the trouble to obtain the secret formula only to have his female companion burn it in the end was kind of stupid. The worst aspect was the villain, played by Ashton Dearholt, who made a pathetic & often-put-upon villain.

Bulldog Courage

Mediocre Western.
Slim Braddock, a mine owner who was cheated out of his mine by Williams, a shady businessman, becomes a bandit, robbing any stagecoach that carries Williams' ill-gotten profits. Williams sends a posse out to kill him. Slim is fatally wounded but manages to save his son Tim from the posse. Years later, Tim takes up his father's fight & tries to save a family from ruin by protecting their mine from Williams' plans to demolish it.

To be honest, I'm not much of a fan of Westerns. Aside from a few notable exceptions – the Sergio Leone spaghetti Western trilogy & the likes of Rio Bravo and anything Clint Eastwood makes – the genre has been highly limited in what kind of story it could tell about life on the Wild West. And the stories that it did manage to tell were highly simplistic & followed an unfairly rigid pattern of clichés.

Bulldog Courage is a minor effort from the early days of the "talkie" – the 1930s to be exact. The story is nothing more than a simple Robin Hood-style tale that is heavily clichéd & almost completely one-dimensional. That said, there are some minor high points in the production – everyone gives a passable performance, particularly Tim McCoy, who excels in the dual roles he is given & Paul Fix is hilariously daft as the jittery demolitions expert hired by the villain to blow up the mine. The biggest bugbear I had with this flick was the el cheapo DVD's poor quality – the film ends abruptly with a shootout that is unresolved (probably due to poor quality of the original master copy).

Under the Red Robe

Minor film starring a silent film legend.
France, 1622. The master duellist & assassin known as the "Black Death", Gil de Berault, accidentally finds himself on the wrong side of the Cardinal when he unwittingly violates the Cardinal's edict on duelling by challenging a man who claims he cheated him. Sent to the gallows, he is saved only by the Cardinal's instruction in return for a secret mission – to capture the rebel Duke of Foix & bring him to the Cardinal's chamber to be executed. Along with a master pickpocket named Marius, Berault heads into Foix, where he cons his way into the Duke's castle as an injured guest. But his mission heads into complication when he falls in love with Lady Marguerite, the Duke's feisty sister.

Conrad Veidt was a legend in the early years of cinema – the actor who played the creepy somnambulist Cesare in the horror classic The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, the French king Louis XI in The Beloved Rogue & later in Casablanca. What is amazing about Veidt is that he excelled in both silent cinema & the new-fangled "talkies" of the 1930s. Here, he stars as a master assassin & spy who finds his loyalties tested by going onto a mortal mission to save his neck by offering another.

Under the Red Robe is something of a minor (obscure, to be exact) film in the 1930s but the miracle of the digital age has given the film another kind of afterlife on the DVD format – indeed I picked it up on a DVD multipack. The film's plot is okay, if nothing particularly special but it is Veidt himself who makes the film passable. His character's persona – alternating between cold duty & polite manners – is proof that the actor is a legend. Helping him in the mission is the film's dialogue director, Romney Brent (who himself does a good acting turn, making an effective comic relief) & Annabella as the love interest.

Submarine Alert

Poorly written spy caper.
During World War II, Nazi agents operating in the US have managed to steal a top secret radio transmitter that could broadcast signals in near-stealth conditions. Using this invention, they direct a Japanese submarine off the US coast to make attacks on Allied shipping. The FBI decides to spring a trap – they get a noted radio technician fired from his job in order to use him as bait. Sure enough, the ruse works. The tech is approached by the Nazi agents for repair work when their transmitter breaks down. The tech, helped along by a female FBI agent as an insurance plan, attempts to sabotage the Nazis' plot to bring down Allied oil tankers.

Submarine Alert is an old spy thriller from the early 1940s, when World War II was in full swing. The film was part of a large array of B-budget spy thrillers designed to get the public on the Allied side. Of course, the problem with many of these films at the time was a shortage of original ideas & poorly written scripts.

Submarine Alert is one of these poorly-written spy capers. The film is reasonable enough for a once-over & has some rudimentary suspense but the story is sabotaged by not having enough thought put into it. The FBI's plan to get a radio technician fired so he can lead them to the Nazis' illegal shortwave transmitter was a dumb idea – wouldn't it be better to get the hero to play along with the plan instead of having him strung up as bait? The characters are drawn up to stereotype & the various chases & shootouts don't hold up too well in today's age. The el cheapo DVD print seen here is in terrible condition – the transfer's high contrast makes reading the opening credits near on impossible so you won't be able to get much information from it.

The Gray Man

Interesting account of a real-life serial killer
Albert H. Fish is a prolific serial killer who targets young children, killing them & eating their bodies afterwards, who haunted New York City in the 1920s. He cons his way into a poor family's home & kidnaps their young daughter, pretending to take her to a birthday party. He takes the girl to an isolated house where he kills her & eats her body. When she fails to return, the family calls in the police. Missing Persons Unit detective William King dedicates himself to the case & attempts to track down Fish. But Fish is an exceptionally clever killer & the only thing that stands in King's way is Fish's deteriorating mental state.

This is a retelling of one of 1920s America's most infamous serial killers. While many aspects of the story shown here are fabricated for the narrative's sake, the fact remained that Albert H. Fish was a menace to society at the time.

The film does a good job of recreating 1920s' America, right down to the buildings & shop-signs (where you could get a soda for only 10 cents!) & the attitudes of the society at the time. Also of note is the fact that the limited forensic resources of the era allowed Fish to kill & eat as many children as he ultimately did & that the detective in charge of the case nearly lost his sanity chasing down the killer. The film is not perfect, but director Scott Flynn manages to make a passable detective yarn & in part an insight into how such a deranged mind could wreak as much havoc as he did at the time. Patrick Bauchau dives deep into the Fish character with fearless abandon, portraying a disturbed mind who was partly shaped by the bad childhood he experienced in the orphanage he grew up in (the ghostly pale boy that appears in some scenes is meant to be a symbol of Fish's lost childhood). For the supporting cast, Jack Conley is solid as the detective after Fish while Silas Weir Mitchell, who Steven Seagal fans will remember as the militia's second in command in the uber-flop The Patriot, does his role as Fish's unwitting son well. The only flaws in the film were the portrayal of the dead girl's mother as a complete attention-seeking buffoon & the somewhat slow pace but the film remains a reasonable entry in the thriller genre.

Dangerous Passage

Another day, another cheap thriller.
Joe Beck is about to leave Central America in order to journey to Texas so that he can collect a large inheritance from his late grandfather. But after leaving his lawyer's office, he is attacked by a stranger. Surviving the attack & a little shaken up, Beck decides to forgo the first-class trip he had already booked & books passage on a run-down cargo ship that will be heading the same way. But what he doesn't know is that he had picked the wrong ship to travel on – a ship that will prove to be quite dangerous. And he is not the only person out to claim the inheritance.

Another day, another cheap film noir from the 1940s (it seems that the decade had Hollywood churn out this kind of thing with reckless abandon). Dangerous Passage is pretty much a standard feature of the era. The film has a reasonable concept but is quickly sunk by the poor script-work allocated to the production. Daniel Mainwaring proves to be a mediocre scribe, judging by the fact that not much in the film makes any real sense. Why is Robert Lowery's character being attacked all the time? Why are his lawyer & an imposter so determined to get the inheritance? And can someone please tell me why the steward is murdered & why the ship is being forced to hit the rocks? Aside from that, the acting is passable, although the poor script leaves the actors high & dry with a slew of one-dimensional characterisations.

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