The Hong Kong Filmography 1977-1997 (1999)

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The cinema from Hong Kong’s golden era is like no other. Kinetic, bizarre, graphic, violent, brutal, artful, beautiful, hilarious, the films ran the gamut. They had higher highs and lower lows then their western counterparts during this era. Highly influential on American cinema throughout the 90’s, the films were notoriously difficult to find if you even knew what to look for to begin with. The films were imported, often times through grey market companies using dodgy prints, and sold in specialty stores around the country. Sometimes you could find some gold at your local mom & pop video store but more often than not you had to go beyond the safety of your favorite store and venture out into the wide world or roll the dice on films out of shady catalogs. Still the power of the films made the hunt worth it and crossed all barriers of difficulty. Keeping the films straight was tough. A reference guide was needed big time, enter The Hong Kong Filmography by John Charles.

The Hong Kong Filmography boasts 1,100 (!) reviews of Hong Kong cinema from 1977-1997. That is a ton of films to come from a tiny island in a mere 20 years. The crazy thing is, i’m sure there are probably hundreds (or more) films that the author didn’t review during that era. The book covers traditional kung fu films, heroic bloodshed action flicks, comedies, romantic films, dramas, and even some naughty adult fare. This endows the book with an encyclopedic quality that wont’ be rivaled anytime soon. Each film has extensive notes on the writers/actors/directors etc, run times, plot summary, succinct and well written review, as well as a rating out of a possible 10 points.

The book is a pleasure to thumb through and scan the page until something catches your eye. The information contained within the pages is authoritative, heck Tim Lucas even wrote the foreword for this beast. If you’re looking into digging deeper into the wild world of Hong Kong cinema this book has you covered with plenty of great films to go out and find. To this day many of the titles covered in this book are hard to find so even after over a decade since it’s original publication it’s still a powerful tool in the hunt for quality HK cinema. You’re not just going to stumble upon these flicks on Netflix. You’ll have to dig deep to find the treasures contained within. Thankfully, you now have a guide to get you to the gold.

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America’s Deadliest Home Video (1993)

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Before I begin this review I feel that I should disclose that I write for Lunchmeat magazine, whose head honcho Josh was largely responsible for this flick being released on dvd. In fact I first heard about this flick from Josh’s glowing review in an old issue of Lunchmeat. He discovered the film and loved it only to find out that it was super rare. That didn’t sit right with him and so he’s spent years trying to get a dvd release of the movie so a broader audience could enjoy it. This is a “lost” film that thanks to Josh and his efforts can finally be seen nearly 25 years after it’s initial release.

America’s Deadliest Home Video stars Danny Donaduce. He just got a video camera and has started to make a video journal. He finds ou that his girlfriend has been cheating on him so he hits the open road looking for adventure and answers. What he finds is a criminal gang that takes him hostage and makes him film their crimes. The Stockholm syndrome starts to take hold as Danny begins to like the violent crew while being terrified of them. He has to find a way out before they tire of him and put a bullet in his head.

What makes this film’s place in history so interesting is that his film is a found footage flick. It’s the type of film that has flooded cinemas for several years and yet this one predates even the Blair Witch Project, the first found footage smash hit, and it was filmed and completed before Man Bites Dog, though it was released shortly after. The director had the right idea for the film but he executed it at the wrong time. There was no market for a film like this and I’m sure most video store patrons didn’t understand what they were watching. Instead of trying to spook out his audience with ghosts and things that go bump in the night, he was trying to shock audiences and bring real life terror to the film. It is that rare Shot On Video film that actually uses the format to the film’s advantage instead of trying to pretend it wasn’t made with a video camera. He made the video camera essential to the film’s structure.

But is it any good? I myself am not a big fan of the found footage genre. This film is nasty and has plenty of ugly character moments. The style of the film helps to put the audience in Danny’s shoes and those are pair of reeboks I would not want to be in. The robberies and shootings have a real flavor to them even if the characters are a bit cartoony. America’s Deadliest Home Video is an ugly film about ugly characters. They have no redeeming qualities. They are wolves among sheep who can commit crime with no consequences. It’s a scary thought and grim film. If that sounds like your cup of tea, by all means take a ride with Bonaduce in his wood panel van with a gang of psychos.

What Have You Done To Solange? (1972)

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About a decade ago (has it been that long?!) I went on a giallo binge. I looked up lists online and tried to knock out the best of the best. I remembered watching this flick and not having my socks blown when I saw it. When I got the Blu it was great timing, I was in the mood for a giallo and I decided to give this one another spin.

A teacher (played by Italian fave Fabio Testi) is having an affair with one of his students. They’re on a canoe ride down a calm stream and he’s trying to convince her to do the deed. Sounds perilous I know but I admire Testi’s confidence. While said macking is going down a girl is murdered on a nearby bank. Testi’s student witnesses part of the murder and he doesn’t believe her. The mood killed, Testi goes back home to hang out with his severe German wife. He hears on the radio about the murder and realizes that his student was correct. He rushes to the seen only find out it’s another girl that goes to his school. Unbeknownst to him, he drops a pen at the scene. The police question him about the girl and find the pen realizing it’s his (apparently Testi’s pens are very exclusive, only he owns them). Now he has to work to clear his name while hiding his affair.

The setup to the film is a fairly typical giallo. You’ve got a hunky dude implicated in a murder of a pretty girl and he has to unravel the mystery before he’s thrown in the clink. Testi is good as always but for my money this isn’t is best. I know that this film is considered top tier if not the absolute best giallo by some aficionados so take it with a grain of salt when I say, I still don’t think this flick is great. The style is really lacking for one thing. When I think giallo, I think memorable music, beautiful women, elaborate kills and lots of garish colors. This one does have pretty girls and testi does drive a sweet sports car but the movie doesn’t ooze style. This is surprising as the director was the DP on several classic westerns (including A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More)  so the man knew what he was doing behind the camera. The shocker of an ending isn’t predictable I’ll give it that but lord is it shocking. For my taste it was too brutal and that says a lot.

The Blu ray looks fantastic and again has some nice special features including a commentary track with Alan Jones and Kim Newman, a nice booklet with an essay about the film, cast interviews and more. If you love this flick, you should pick up the Blu. If you love gialli you should probably grab it too. If you’ve never seen one, there are other places (namely Argento’s output) that are better places to start.

Black Mama White Mama (1973)

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Several years ago there was a flood of blaxploitation classics on Netflix streaming. Many of the heavy hitters were on the site and I dug in, watching every one I could find. Such was my introduction to Pam Grier’s early films. I got to see all of the classics, Friday Foster, Coffy, Bucktown and more. I had a copy of Black Mama White Mama on vhs for years and for some reason I never took the plunge. Then this excellent Blu ray came out and it was time to finally watch this exploitation flick.

Filmed in the Philippines, Black Mama White Mama is about a group of women at a prison. They’re all there for different reasons and of course it sucks righteously to be there. Pam Grier plays Lee, a hooker who got hooked by the fuzz. Margaret Markov plays Karen, a convicted terrorist who has ties to a group trying to overthrow the island. The local minister wants to interview both of them and so they’re chained together by the wrist and put on a bus. The bus is attacked by the terrorists and the girls get away but not into the welcome arms of the terrorists. They’re on their own, wanted, and they have to run to survive. Lee stole $40k from her pimp and has a boat waiting for her on one end of the island. $40k is some serious cash now but in ’73 it was over $200k, a serious stake for sure. Karen’s terrorist buddies are on the other end of the island waiting for her. She’s the key for the group to get a load of guns to help their revolution. Such is the conflict throughout much of the film. The girls can’t get along and inbetween being chased they’re slapping each other, fighting about which direction to go in. The local fuzz hire a ruthless outlaw tracker Ruben played by a very hairy and skinny Sid Haig. Now the girls have the cops, Ruben, and all the locals after them. It’s quite a pickle.

Black Mama, White Mama is often lauded as an exploitation classic and I won’t deny that it’s a fun flick. I personally am averse to Filipino flicks. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the film stock? Maybe it’s the lack of style often found in these films? Who knows? All I know is that they are often snoozers for me. This is the rare film that actually gets better as it goes along, moving towards a violent and climactic ending. Pam Grier looks super young here, she was only 23 when the film was released. This pre-dates some of her more famous roles and it looks it. The flick is cheap and rough but the presentation is fantastic. Arrow once again did a fantastic job restoring the film. I doubt we’ll ever see a better presentation of the film. The Blu is also has plenty of special features with interviews with the cast, a commentary track, and an archive interview with director Eddie Romero.

For my money this is not a top tier Pam Grier flick. If you’ve never watched her exploitation flicks before, watch Coffy first and maybe this one after you’ve seen four or five of her flicks. For exploitation fans that love this flick, it’s well worth picking up.

Slasher Films (2003)

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Slasher films are as integral to the history of horror as peanut butter is on a PB & J. As horror fans we’ve all seen a boat load and would probably watch a tanker full. They are a bridge that leads from gialli and nasty drive-in fare to the supernatural special effects spectaculars that dominated the mid to late 80’s. Slasher Films is a reference guide that hopes to inform us horror addicts on all the slasher films ever made between 1960-2001.

The book covers over 250 films and is pretty exhaustive in it’s listing of slasher flicks. Thumbing through I found several films that I had never heard of before which is always a treat. The first twenty pages or so are dedicated to information about slasher films as a sub genre. A bit of history, a bit of classifying what makes a slasher and what doesn’t, it’s a good crash course if you’re new to the genre. If you aren’t, there isn’t much in there that you don’t already know.

As I said the book does a good job of creating a big reference guide to the genre but there is a glaring problem with the book. Each entry consists of a complete breakdown of the plot of each film, instead of supplying a simple synopsis. This means that if you read each entry you could possibly spoil the whole dang movie. The commentary about each film is very minimal. Usually a short paragraph consisting of a few sentences. That’s all the analysis you’re going to get. Historically relevant information is also omitted so if you want to know more about each film (like connections to other films via the writer, director, or actors) you are usually out of luck.

Because of this I can’t recommend this book unless you’re willing to skip the entire description of the film and go straight to the minimal review of the film. This could have been a fantastic book if only each film was given a few sentences to run down the synopsis and then several paragraphs about why you should or shouldn’t watch the film and maybe a little background on it. Let’s be honest, it isn’t as if slashers are usually that complex. “A killer wearing a hockey mask stalks camp counselors, killing them one by one using unique ways of dispatching them.” Boom, I just summed up a few Friday the 13th’s in one sentence. The review sections are very succinct and in many places I agree with the review, I just wish there was more of it and less spoilers.

There are a handful of books dedicated to slasher films, I would do some exploring about those ones first before I laid down my cash for this one.

The American Marital Arts Film (2004)

 

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When it comes to film books you can find just about any subject within the horror genre covered, same goes for Sci-Fi, and any number of foreign countries are covered but American martial arts films of the 80’s and 90’s are an under represented area of cinema that The American Marital Arts Film book tries to give it’s due.

Growing up in the early 90’s I watched plenty of direct to video and low budget action flicks. From Dolph Lundgren to Van Damme, to the faceless clones trying to cash in on the successes of big budget action fare, I watched a heap of the stuff. That being said I now know that there were some big blank spots for me and over the past couple of years I’ve been trying to make up for that. I’ve watched films from lesser known martial arts stars like Billy Blanks, Gary Daniels, Cynthia Rothrock, Don Wilson, and more. I was excited to see that this book covers, in detail the work of these unsung heroes.

The American Martial Arts Film aims to be a comprehensive guide that is organized by historical importance.  The history of the martial art film is covered as well as some very early examples in American cinema and television. The book also details what was happening in the country at the time in order to give the films historical context. This context at times however becomes overbearing and unnecessary. I would have preferred if it was scaled back a bit as in certain sections the author makes mention of moments in history that have little bearing on the discussion of film and seem more like an opportunity to air a grievance.

The book is split up by decade which in theory sounds like a good idea. The problem is the decades are subdivided by particular actors. The actors’ entire filmography is then discussed, even the films that weren’t produced within the decade in question. For instance, you’ll find Steven Seagal in the 80’s despite the fact that he only made one film in the 80’s, the rest were released in the 90’s and yet they are all found in the chapter discussing the 80’s.

That being said the book is thorough. Each film is discussed and critiqued and each actor is given a brief biography. The book hits it’s stride in the chapter dedicated to the 90’s. This is where you get detailed information about many unsung heroes of direct to video action. I myself found numerous films that I’ll need to check out along with some actors that I previously had little knowledge of. This is the section that I will be referencing in the future for sure. It’s really neat to open a book and find sections dedicated to Cynthia Rothrock and Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Jalal Merhi. If you haven’t heard of them, you should pick this book up. I would love a book solely dedicated to late 80’s and 90’s direct to video action films. A guy can dream can’t he?

 

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Rage of Honor (1987)

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Sho Kosugi is at it again in this film from 1987. Directed by Gordon Hessler who previously directed the Kosugi film Pray for Death (1985), and who would direct Kosugi in the future alongside Christopher Lee (!) in Journey of Honor. Once again the film was produced by Trans World Entertainment. Again Kosugi does the fight choreography as well. This film however is not the strongest in Kosugi’s filmography or Hesslers.

Kosugi plays Shiro a Japanese cop on the hunt for some seriously bad international drug dealers. He’s married to his job and is constantly thrown into dangerous situations (and we wouldn’t have it any other way), but his lady doesn’t like it. She leaves Shiro which breaks his ninja heart. She’s then kidnapped by the same drug thugs that he’s after along with his good buddy Ray. Shiro must then infiltrate the jungles that hide the drug lord’s operations in order to save his lady his buddy and take out the trash.

Automatically it isn’t the most original storyline. The 80’s were saturated with similarly plotted films. It’s almost as if the screenwriter Robert Short dug through a hat full of clichés. That wouldn’t be a problem, in fact it could be a plus, but the film lacks oomph for lack of a better word. The action is well executed and we even get some over the top ninja action, though to be honest, not much. The problem is the film feels like was made for no real purpose. There’s a distinct lack of passion going on and it really hampers the vibe of the film. It feels like the budget was lacking and so was the enthusiasm. Maybe everyone was really hungry and wanted to grab a donut and the only thing in their way was making this pesky movie? The film takes place in multiple locations around the world so one would think that the exotic locations would make the film feel more impressive but instead it just looks cheap. I love Kosugi and he puts in a performance that matches any other film. He goes full tilt and I appreciate that about him, the problem is the film just feels stagnant and dull.

The presentation of the film however is fantastic and I wouldn’t expect anything less from Arrow. If you’re new to Kosugi, Revenge of the Ninja or Ninja III: The Domination are better places to start. Rage of Honor is not a terrible film it’s just a bit lackluster. It’s head and shoulders above Black Eagle so there’s that. I was hoping for more bonkers over the top action but instead the film feels middle of the road.

The Mutilator (1984)

The Mutilator

Arrow has been spewing out fantastic movies at a breakneck speed ever since they crossed the pond to dispense goodness with us colonists. It’s astounding how many titles they’ve churned out in such a short time, all stacked with extras and restored from the ground up. The Mutilator is one such title that they’ve give the royal treatment. It’s a film with a history of being very difficult to find. It has been released on vhs and dvd but both formats went out of print quickly. The elements themselves were lost for a long time thus rendering the film neutered. Arrow rescued this obscure slasher flick and wiped it clean for our viewing pleasure.

The Mutilator is about a killer who butchers young people. Isn’t that every slasher though? Let’s dig a little deeper. The film begins as Ed jr. is cleaning Big Ed (his dad)’s guns for his birthday. Tragedy strikes and Ed jr. mom is killed. Big Ed loses his marbles. Fast forward to the present and Ed jr. is having a fall break party at his dad’s sweet condo at the dunes. He’s brought five of his friends, including his ball breaking, kung fu flipping, virgin girlfriend. They party like true animals: they eat a bland meal, drink cheap beer in moderation, play monopoly, and frolic on the beach. Blandest party ever. Anyway it isn’t long before Big Ed starts hacking up the kids one by one.

I’m not going to lie, having never seen this film and lacking the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia, this one was kind of dull. The characters weren’t very interesting and didn’t do any naughty stuff. Their partying was too chaste and their characters too bland. It took 35 minutes to get to the first kill (after the shocker of an opening), and the movie is only 86 minutes long. The kills however are very inventive and graphic as hell. In fact, they become more graphic as the movie goes on, slowly ramping up for a stunner of an ending. The Mutilator is a film that gets better as it goes and if you can hang with it, rewards with plenty of the red stuff by the final act.

The film looks absolutely fantastic. Gone are the notoriously dark scenes where it was impossible to see what was going on. The film looks totally brand new and pristine. Knowing the film’s past it is amazing how great everything looks, including the often excised gore. The disc is once again stacked with bonus material from commentaries, to a mini doc about the film, a supplement about the music, and a whole bunch more. If you’re a fan of The Mutilator, this is the disc you have to own.

Young Rebels (1992)

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For many of us bad movie hounds, Samurai Cop is on Mt. Olympus along with Miami Connection, The Room, and Troll 2. The film is one of my personal favorites. I’ve seen it at least 4 or 5 times and will probably unleash it on any unsuspecting friend that I can in the future. Samurai Cop was not the sole film from director Amir Shervan though. He directed a handful of films in the states after having a successful career in Iran where he made a dozen or so films. Let that sink in. Samurai Cop was one of the last films he made. As far as I can tell, the further into his filmography you go, the less coherent his films become. Young Rebels was never released in the states. It had a brief run in France on vhs but as far as I know, that was it. For years I have dreamed of the day when I would get to see it. Thanks to Cinema Epoch, the distributor for Samurai Cop 1 & 2, as well as another Shervan film Killing American Style, I finally got my chance.

Young Rebels is about a crime boss played by G. Alexander Vidrion (Killing American Style), who deals drugs and hates everything and everyone. His son, played by Robert Z’dar, one of his enforcers. The Crime boss hates him too. Our studly hero of the film Charlie has a younger brother that borrowed money from the boss and he owes big time. The only way he can get out of debt is if he has Charlie fly a helicopter to mexico to transport two drug kingpins to the states. Charlie shrugs his shoulders and agrees despite the risk. The deal goes sour with the two kingpins ending up dead. Now the crime syndicate is after the brothers and they have to fight back to survive! There’s also a subplot involving dirty sheriff’s deputies that are in on the take, and the oblivious Sheriff who always needs a nap played by Aldo Ray.

Watching Young Rebels was like putting on a comfortable pair of pants. They fit just right, you know what to expect, and even if they’re rough around the edges they still look good too. I love Robert Z’dar. If you’re reading this book and you’ve made it all way to this review I don’t need to tell you that. He often got the shaft in his films, playing bit parts with little or no lines. In Shervan films, he’s always a prominent character worthy of his scenery chewing delivery. He more or less plays the same character that he did in Killing American Style and Samurai Cop. He’s a bad guy member of a gang, a formidable foe who knows how to rock a button down shirt with only one button at the bottom. Joselito Rescober who played the ridiculous waiter in Samurai Cop (and the flight attendant in Samurai Cop 2) as well as the doctor in Killing American Style plays our hero’s Mexican friend. He’s got a sweet little pony tail, mustache, and a shirt that looks like a shower curtain. Tadashi Yamashita (American Ninja, The Octagon) plays a martial arts teacher who got put out of business by the crime boss when his property was sold. He teams up with our hero to give the film some martial arts flair. At one point in the movie the Mexican and Pilipino ag workers that apparently work for the crime boss (because cocaine isn’t profitable enough, produce is where the money is at?) go on strike. He has his goons shoot them all. Nothing really happens with that. It just sort of floats through the movie and then disappears like a nasty fart. The movie could have easily been called Blue Balls. There are several strip teases and almost sex scenes in the movie that get interrupted by another character. No one gets laid in the movie though Robert Z’dar tries hard and almost does the dirty with two different strippers, including one strange scene involving Z’dar slapping a stripper while she bites him. It’s weird and sleazy just like this movie.

The film uses variations of the music in Samurai Cop which is also a welcome treat. To be honest I liked the music in this one better would possibly even listen to it if it were put up on spotify.

I’ll be the first to say that I don’t think it’s as bonkers as Samurai Cop but it is better than Hollywood Cop and Killing American Style. It’s less competent and more action packed. Killing American Style was his attempt at making a suspenseful film and just ended up making a sleazy flick that’s tough to laugh at due to the attempted rapes in the movie. This one is chock full of shoot em up action and good old fashion fist fighting. I can’t wait to watch it again.

Pieces (1982)

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When I was a kid roaming the aisles of my local mom & pop video store I used to always look at Pieces. It had some very provocative cover art that suggested it was gory, filled with nudity, and the box proclaimed You don’t have to go to Texas to have a Chainsaw Massacre! Talk about world class ballyhoo. It was some time later that I finally got to see the movie and was not disappointed. I snagged it on VHS at a sale and I still have it to this day. To say this Blu ray set is an upgrade on that vhs is like saying an aircraft carrier is sorta big.

Pieces is a Spanish horror film about a killer who kills young women at a college most often with a chainsaw. He wears gloves, a fedora, and a long black cloak when he does his killing making the film arguably a Giallo. It’s up to a plucky student and a cigar chomping cop to figure out who the killer is and stop him before he kills the whole student body.

What can I say about Pieces? It’s a rip roaring horror film from a different age. It out does most American slashers made after it with it’s sheer volume of grue and body count. Rare is a film that uses a chainsaw despite the mainstream audience’s unfounded belief that it’s a common cliche. Not so. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film, especially of this vintage, that used a chainsaw more and more graphically. This one goes all out to throw the red stuff in your face. It’s also filled with nudity of the female variety and a smidge of male nudity for good measure. The soundtrack is very Goblin-esque. The film overall is a fast ride at just over 80 minutes long it never has time to get boring. This is exploitation film making done right. Every promise is delivered on and the audience is left in shock. What a wild flick this is.

The Blu Ray set is fantastic. Grindhouse went all out with this. The film was restored in 4k from vault materials. It looks fantastic. We get two different versions of the film, the original U.S. uncut version and an extended Spanish cut of the film. You get the soundtrack on cd featuring music by Stelvio Cipriani, Carlo Maria Cordio, and Fabio Frizzi. Audio commentary by Jack Taylor, interviews with the director and Paul Smith, a documentary called 42nd Street Memories, extensive liner notes, and more. It’s a stacked release. This is the definitive release of the film for collectors.