Friday, 1 May 2020

Mo Movies May

Escape From New York (1981)
I was always indifferent to this film. I thought it was alright but didn't understand everyone's devotion to it, perhaps because I didn't see it when I was 10. I guess I've had a lil' change of heart. For a start the cast is absolutely stellar Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Isaac Hayes, Adrienne Barbeau, Harry Dean Stanton, Donald Pleasance, Ernest Borgnine, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers etc. Most movies from 1980/81 are still 70s movies and this is no exception as it's all about lost illusions in the USA after Vietnam, Kent State and Watergate. Set way in the future of 1997 when America's crime rate has sky rocketed by 400%. Manhattan Island is now an a maximum security prison where anarchy rules. Terrorists have stranded the US president (Donald Pleasance) on the Island. Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) a former special forces soldier is given a chance to have his prison sentence pardoned if he can rescue the president within 24 hours otherwise the apocalypse awaits. The movie now gets extra gravitas as there is a scene where Snake lands his plane on top of the World Trade Centre. Escape From New York is a bit of good ole dystopian action fun from back in the day when it wasn't reality. Snake Plissken's disillusion and utter nihilism is what it's all about. Plus his name is Snake Plissken.

Female Prisoner Scorpion: 701's Grudge Song (1973)
I was not expecting much from the fourth and final flick of The Female Prisoner Scorpion series as it was not directed by Shunya Itō who did such a splendid job on the first three. Then I read that Grudge Song's director Yasuharau Hasebe had been Seijun Suzuki's apprentice for eight years. He had also directed Meiko Kaji previously in Alleycat Rock: Sex Hunter (1970) & Alleycat Rock: Machine Animal (1970) where he was instrumental in making her the star of these films, not just the supporting actress that she had been in the first two flicks in the Alleycat/Straycat Rock series. So my hopes were raised and I was very excited as this was obviously a devoted and sympathetic director for Kaji. Disappointed I was not.

This might be the strangest film of the series and that's saying something. It feels the most OTT and sadistic. Nobody can top Shunya Itō's art of film and stylistic flourishes but Hasebe gives it a good crack in the final couple of scenes. The film stock colour palate in those scenes is crazy. In the opening minutes of the film the cops find Nami Matsushima (Meiko Kaji) capture her and then she escapes. Nami is rescued by Teru Kudo (Masakazu Tamura). This is a dangerous game though as she opens up emotionally to a man for the first time since the first film in the series. They have a hideout in a car wreck yard. It's not long before the duo are dobbed in to the authorities though. Kudo is captured again and again. Soon enough the insanely violent police beat a confession out of him as to the whereabouts of Nami. She is once again betrayed and is sent to prison. Is Nami going to get out of her death sentence and exact some groovy vengeance? Or is she doomed this time? While the scores were very good if quite minimal in the previous three films, this fabulous score is more ubiquitous with its heavy synth-fuzz-psych and suspenseful soundz. The best thing about 2020 so far for me has been discovering this series of films and properly discovering and fully appreciating Meiko Kaji (I'd seen 1970's Blind Woman's Curse a few years ago...). In 701's Grudge Song I think Kaji gets one entire sentence but her range of strong silent type acting is pushed to exquisite levels in this series finale. How she can convey so much meaning and emotion with one eye, while the other eye is covered with her hair, is astounding and a mystery to me.

Meiko Kaji is totally mesmerising.

Il Gatto Nove Code aka Cat o Nine tails (1971)
Dario Argento's second directing gig and it's another Giallo. Cookie (Karl Maldon) a blind man is out walking with Lori (Cinzia De Carolis) his little niece one night when he overhears a nefarious conversation from a parked car. He soon finds himself embroiled in espionage and murder. He is all too willing to become the archetypal Giallo amateur sleuth. He teams up with fellow amateur sleuth Carlo (James Franciscus) a newspaper journalist to try and figure out what all this murder malarky is all about. We get to see many shots from the murderer's point of view and close ups of hers/his/their eyeballs. We get Blow Up (1966) homages, decapitated heads, several Hitchcock references, groovy chic apartments, rooftop bars, strangulations, pipe smoking, barber shop shaves, Euro pop star Catherine Spaak's wig, death, a car chase, 70s wallpaper, a gay bar, telephones, murder, blind cooking, incest, many spiral staircases, graveyards and a peak era Ennio Morricone score. One of the more upsetting scenes is when Cookie puts his just cooked pan of bacon and eggs straight under the tap in the sink because he has sleuthing to do, what a god damn waste! The convoluted plot contains many red herrings and some absolutely hilarious mumbo jumbo science. Everyone is chasing the breakthrough formula which reveals if you have the criminal gene or not but they all keep getting murdered in the process. Just who do those murderous eyes belong to?

The Flying Guillotine (1975)
Netflix & Amazon Prime have both just added a motherload of Kung Fu Movies. My first pick was this top chop socky flick that is more about a decapitating frisbee than kung fu choreography. The titular weapon is based on an ancient Chinese design. You chuck it like a frisbee at your intended victims head. When it lands on their head a net drops down and as the blades reach their neck you yank the metal chain & voilà decapitation. You can then retrieve the head which is neatly collected in your little net. Ma Teng (Kuan Tai Chen) the emperor's number one assassin becomes disillusioned with the ethics of his job and goes AWOL. The tyrant emperor wants Ma Teng dead for being a traitor. Let the violent antics begin. This is a whole lotta head rolling fun. Late night movie of the week.

The 36th Chamber Shaolin (1978)
I can't believe I've never watched this movie or its sequel before today considering the debut albums from Wu Tang Clan and Ol' Dirty Bastard (RIP) are two of my favourite hip hop recordings of all time. Liu Yude (Gordon Liu) is a rebel who wants to learn how to fight from the Shaolin monks so he can exact revenge upon the tyrannical Manchu government who have killed some of his friends and family. He is initially dismissed by the monks but they eventually give him a go. Liu Yude changes his name to San Te as he goes through many trials and tribulations while he trains to become awesome at kung-fu. San Te takes six years to quickly becomes an outstanding student (?!). Will San Te be able fulfil his dream with an uprising of vengeance against the Manchu government or will it all go pair shaped? Top Chop-Socky.

Flying Guillotine 2 aka Palace Carnage (1978) 
Not as good as the first instalment but it's still fairly entertaining. There's just an insufficient amount of guillotine action and decapitation. The action does pick up towards the end though. The tyrannical emperor Yung Cheng (Feng Ku) demands that the guillotines be modified and this is the film's main problem. The guillotine becomes just too overly complicated and cumbersome. Nah Lan (Szu Shih) is hired by the Emperor to train a gang of lady assassins but where do her true allegiances lie? There will be blood, heroes and villains.

10 Rillington Place (1971)
Well this is truly grim. I'd only ever vaguely heard about this film and that there was a recent BBC series remake starring Tim Roth, I think. So I took a punt. I mean how can you lose with a cast that includes John Hurt, Richard Attenborough and Judy Gleeson directed by the legendary Richard Fleischer. If you thought fucked up stories of grisly murder were only for current Netflix docu-series think again. This is an horrific and gruesome true story from London in the mid-20th century. That's not a spoiler by the way as we learn within the first minute of the film that John Christie (Richard Attenborough) is a cold blooded killer. The skint Tim (John Hurt) and Beryl Evans (Judy Gleeson) move into a flat above John & Ethel (Pat Heywood) Christie at 10 Rillington Place with their new born baby Geraldine. The Evans family become entangled in John Christie's dark and depraved world when Beryl reveals to him that she is pregnant. A Brilliant creepy vibe of morbid inevitability is created right from the get go that doesn't let up until the very end. The pacing, acting and execution here are all right on the money. This is one blood curdling and tragic tale that needs to be seen to be believed. Is this considered a classic? because it is one!

Fright Night (1985)
I totally missed this in the 80s so it was the first time I'd watched this cult vampire movie. It's certainly was not what I was expecting. The tone for a start was all over the shop. I was not expecting any sort of quirky comedy or such American cheesy 80s-ness so it took me a while to adjust. The second half is definitely better ie. I loved it when the vampire slaying began. There were some spectacular practical visual effects in these battles and death scenes that made it all worthwhile. A couple of blokes move next door to teenager Charley Brewster's (William Ragsdale) family home in suburbia. Charley thinks they might be Vampires but nobody believes him. Having not seen this when I was 13 (this was totally made for my demographic at the time), I don't think I'm going to become attached to this movie at any stage. I get that people who saw it as a teenager would have a big nostalgia for it. This is why you constantly see it being rated highly by horror enthusiasts in their 40s. I wonder if today's kids would dig it? Fright Night must have been a big influence on Buffy The Vampire Slayer. For nostalgists and Horror historians.

The True History Of The Kelly Gang (2019)
Intense biopic drama. I'm not a very good Australian. All I know about the Ned Kelly is that he was a smelly drunk bearded hipster who was a murderous thug. He was probably a bit thick too as he was captured by the coppers for killing other Johnny Hoppers. He was hanged at Melbourne Gaol where he uttered his final words "Such Is Life". That's all I know. I've never read one of the hundreds of books on his life and I didn't do Bushranger Studies for my HSC (Year 12). I saw the Ned Kelly film with Mick Jagger when I was small and recall thinking it was a terrible picture with an even more terrible lead actor. So I don't know what's true and what isn't in this flick. Were the Kelly Gang cross dressers? Was Ned bi-sexual? Was he ever sober? Did he ever hang out in the snow? Was he ever clean shaven? This was a pretty good, watchable and fantastical epic. George MacKay the dude from 1917 (2019) plays Ned Kelly and he has a magnetic screen presence, you cannot take your eyes off him. He is a bona fide old school movie star just like Rusty Crowe who is fabulous as elder bushranger Harry Power. Special mentions must go to Essie Davis as Ned's mum and Nicholas Hoult as Constable Fitzpatrick for their brilliant performances...oh and it co-stars Nick Cave's son as Ned's brother.

The Master of The Flying Guillotine aka The One Armed Boxer vs. The Flying Guillotine (1976)
So after watching the above Flying Guillotine movies Mr Tarantino turns up on the Pure Cinema Podcast talking about Kung Fu movies. He states that Master Of The Flying Guillotine is the only flying guillotine film worth watching. He is wrong of course. The guillotine here is a much more compact version of the one in The Flying Guillotine (1975) but it's just not used efficiently or sufficiently during this flick. There are only a few decapitations which was disappointing however if you can get past that fact this is a brilliant Chop Socky movie. For starters the soundtrack is pure fucking gold. It's a Krautrock fest featuring Neu, Kraftwerk & Tangerine Dream. Neu on a 70s kung fu soundtrack!? This is the best use of Krautrock since Can's great tune Mother Sky was featured in Jerzy Skolimowski's film Deep End (1970). The One Armed Boxer (Jimmy Wang Yu) runs a kung fu school and is invited to a martial arts tournament. The competition features an incredible array of duels spotlighting different styles of martial arts which have to be seen to bee believed. The Indian fighter for instance has crazy go go gadget extendible arms, one dude stands on the tips of knives etc. Fung Sheng Wu Chi (Kang Chin) turns up at the event to assassinate The One Armed Boxer. Let the battle begin and what a sensational set piece the rest of this picture is. This film's title should always be known by its alternative name as it makes much more sense ie. the perfectly apt The One Armed Boxer vs. The Flying Guillotine.

One Armed Swordsman (1967)
This film apparently revolutionised Hong Kong cinema. It was the blockbuster of its day breaking box office records across Asia. This is fucking epic, action packed and suspenseful. The direction (Chang Cheh), set pieces and overall visual aesthetic are stunning. Jimmy Wang Yu stars as the titular character. While this is bloody swordplay at its finest it's also about romance, revenge, honour, existentialism etc. The One Armed Swordsman Fang Kang was orphaned when his father sacrificed himself to save his master teacher Qi Ru Feng (Tien Feng) at The Golden Sword Kung Fu School. In gratitude for this heroic feat Feng brought up Kang. Even though Fang Kang's arm was chopped off by Feng's belligerent daughter Qi Pei-er (Pan Ying-zi) he still one day returns to the school to defend his master from a rival gang of nihilistic swordsmen. This posse have been tinkering away at designing innovative new weapons to counter masterful swordsmanship and have thus become superior assassins. Will the One Armed Swordsman be able to overcome The Long Armed Devil (Yeung Chi-hing) and his disciples of evil? On the soundtrack front there's a tune that sounds like a cross between freakbeat, Ennio Morricone and the Velvet Underground that was very cool. This chop-socky classic lives up to its reputation.

Return Of The One Armed Swordsman (1969)
Bloody sword fights! Once we get past the talky exposition at the beginning  of this sequel the splendiferous action really picks up momentum that rarely lets up until the climax. The Eight Demon Swordsmen challenge The One Armed Swordsman Fang Kang (Jimmy Wang Yu) and all surrounding rival kung fu schools to join in a duelling competition and they will not take no for an answer from anybody. This ain't gonna be no martial arts tournament. It's a nefarious invitation to a blood bath for all of the eight demon school's rivals. The inventiveness of weapons, stunts and sword fights here are next level and this was made in 1969! Director Chang Cheh really ramps this flick up to full tilt compared to the original. These big, bold & bloody battles are astonishing. Wrap your eyeballs & ears around this movie from the legendary Shaw Brothers studio. 

Creature With The Blue Hand (1967)
It's been said many times before that the German/Danish Krimi films were a precursor to the Giallo movies and who am I to disagree because this Edgar Wallace story had me flashing back to a 'batshit crazy' Giallo Slaughter Hotel (1971). Both films not only have Klaus Kinski in a main role but they are both set in mansions with Knight and weapon artefacts. Both flicks have asylums and sexy shenanigans although this isn't anywhere near as sexually graphic as Slaughter Hotel which sometimes goes by the title Asylum Erotica. Mainly though both films have a killer on the loose and bodies piling up. Creature With The Blue Hand also has proto-slasher stylings such as a body count, a disguised murderer, many shots taken from the killer's point of view and the killer's weapon is a hand of knives (Hello Freddy Krueger). Dave (Klaus Kinski) escapes from an asylum and returns to his family mansion to prove he is not an insane killer. Dave quickly takes on the identity of his identical twin bother Richard (Klaus Kinski) who seems to be missing. An absurdly convoluted plot develops in the labyrinthine mansion with many a red herring not unlike a giallo film once again. Special mention must got to the suspenseful Euro-crime-funk score which will have your toes tapping. While this may not be a great (it's alright) film it has to be seen to put into context its influence on the evolution of several sub-genres of horror movies.   

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