Sep 6 2017

Code 7, Victim 5! (1964)

Another of producer Harry Alan Towers’ travelogue-esque tax write-offs masquerading as a creative project (see: Five Golden Dragons), the overly punctuated Code 7, Victim 5! casts five-time Tarzan Lex Barker as Steve Martin — neither the wild-and-crazy comedian, nor the Godzilla journalist, but an American private dick.

Apparently having left the “ain’t gonna play Sun City” pledge unsigned, Martin is summoned to South Africa by copper magnate Wexler (Walter Rilla, Dr. Mabuse vs. Scotland Yard) to investigate why the millionaire’s faithful butler has been murdered, and by whom — well, other than by men wearing cheap, Bozo-esque party masks. I’m not spilling, but the answer might have something to do with an old group photo of POWs, in which both Wexler and his no-longer-loyal servant are pictured.

With utilitarian direction from Robert Lynn, he of the rare espionage anthology Spies Against the World, the Technicolor Code has a lot going for it, beginning with a cold-blooded murder and a car chase down the winding roads that hug the cliffside — and that’s just the first 10 minutes! While we’re on the subject of huggable curves, because no Towers production of the era would be complete without offering two handfuls of lovely ladies, Martin gets a love interest in Wexler’s Danish secretary, Helga (Ann Smyrner, Reptilicus).

As if all those escapist elements weren’t enough, we also get a bare-knuckle brawl (in which Martin’s hair color magically changes from shot to shot, as Barker’s stunt double earns his pay), a shootout in underground caverns, a gorgeous underwater sequence (in which our scuba-geared leads are menaced by spear guns and a shark) and — for local flavor — a mondo-style bar scene featuring swarthy and shirtless gentlemen performing ill-advised tricks with needles and swords to the delight of drunken Caucasian tourists.

Narratively unremarkable, the film nonetheless delights as it plays — as should every international whodunit that cares enough to stage an ostrich stampede. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Sep 4 2017

Ghost Month (2009)

Watching Ghost Month kind of feels like it takes that long.

The rather rote horror flick finds young Alyssa (Marina Resa, Roadside Massacre) fleeing an abusive boyfriend and finding work as a housekeeper in the desert home of one Miss Wu (Shirley To, Crank: High Voltage), a Chinese woman who lives with her elderly aunt. Little time passes before spooky things start happening around the place, and Miss Wu blames them on the spirit of her former maid.

In the same haunted-house realm of The Grudge, that angry specter keeps popping up, in several scenes with scares so telegraphed, William Castle would have superimposed a countdown clock in the corner. If one of the ghost’s forms looks like a science-class skeleton with a wig on its head, well, that’s because it is. The movie has an extremely low budget, some of it going toward some computer-animated effects that fall under “decent enough.”

Ghost Month’s story is too bare-bones, unenhanced by the Chinese “rules” Miss Wu relates (and from which the flick earns its love-it-or-hate-it title), but its chief problem is the all-around amateur acting, particularly by Resa, who resembles a poor man’s Jennifer Connelly both physically and in performance, making for a rather unappealing (and thus, unsympathetic) lead. If Connelly couldn’t keep us interested in Dark Water, how could Resa be expected to here?

One can admire writer/director Danny Draven’s persistence in even getting the film made, but not the end result. For proof that the man is capable of better work, plant your tongue firmly in cheek for the marginally better DeathBed or Reel Evil, his bid for a found-footage breakthrough. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Sep 2 2017

Amsterdamned (1988)

Somewhere, under the 25 miles of canals that twist through the capital city of Holland, lurks a serial killer in a scuba suit — shades of The Snorkel! People of Amsterdam, you are Amsterdamned.

In this minor gem of Dutch genre cinema, writer and director Dick Maas, reunites with Huub Stapel, the satanic Santa of his 2010 Christmas horror film, Saint Nick. Here, Stapel is the good guy: Eric Visser, a single dad and Amsterdam’s top police detective. Visser’s work on the case begins when a boat full of tourists can’t help but make icky contact with the corpse of a hooker, left dangling from a bridge. That the glass-topped watercraft cannot come to an immediate stop, causing the body to be dragged ever so slowly over horrified passengers, like a mop held by a lethargic janitor, lets you know Maas isn’t above introducing a streak of wicked humor into a thriller that is played largely straight, despite that exploitable title.

Clad head to toe in black synthetic rubber, the killer projects sleek menace as he makes waves through the city on his stabby spree. Although the movie is a tad too long at an hour and 54 minutes, it more or less moves swiftly through the paces of a procedural, replete with red herrings and last-act twists. Midway through Amsterdamned, Maas impressively stages its best sequence: a high-speed boat chase through those narrow canals lined with innocent members of the public on each side. While not quite on the hair-raising level of The French Connection or Bullitt, the extended scene — something of a knockout — generates a sizable wake of fun that elevates the material surrounding it. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Sep 1 2017

The Mini-Skirt Mob (1968)

Traveling rodeo star Jeff Logan (Ross Hagen, Avenging Angel) has just lassoed a different kind of filly: a purty new wife! Her name is Connie (Sherry Jackson, Gunn), and the couple is still in the RV-rockin’ honeymoon phase when a lithesome figure from Jeff’s past pops up.

It’s his ex-girlfriend, Shayne, for whom he was not crying to come back. With perfectly coiffed blonde hair unbecoming of a Honda hellcat, not to mention belies a nail-tough demeanor, Shayne (Diane McBain, Wicked, Wicked) is the leader of the she-devils on wheels who call themselves The Mini-Skirt Mob.

Still harboring quite the lady boner for an nonreciprocal Jeff, who left any bad-boy longings in the dust, Shayne won’t let the two lovebirds alone. In fact, with an assist from Lon (Jeremy Slate, The Centerfold Girls), she’s rarin’ to split them asunder. Why, if she can’t have him, no one will — except the Grim Reaper!

I can’t speak for you, reader, but having two beautiful women fight over you? To the death? I can relate.

Shot in the arid Arizona desert by House of the Damned’s Maury Dexter, The Mini-Skirt Mob is one of the more toothless biker pics to emerge from the era when they actually were in vogue. Despite a significant plot point’s commonality with Lee Frost’s comparatively ballsy Chrome and Hot Leather (they also share space on the official DVD), the AIP offering feels like adults playing pretend — not that there’s really anything wrong with that when you’re revisiting the bones of a long-expired genre. McBain’s villain is presented more as someone to be jeered, rather than feared, as if a catfight is bound to break out at some point. And it does.

The most interesting element to The Mini-Skirt Mob is in its casting of two supporting characters, giving The Bad Seed child star Patty McCormack a grown-girl part as Shayne’s sassy sister, and future Repo Man Harry Dean Stanton an early film role as bad boy Spook, perpetual drunk and dangler of bikini tops. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Aug 31 2017

Reading Material: Lights, Camera, Game Over!: How Video Game Movies Get Made

As revenue generated from video games rivaled — and eventually eclipsed — that of motion pictures, Hollywood executives have been eager to reclaim some of those plunked quarters by adapting arcade and console favorites into movies. It wasn’t always the more-regular occurrence it is today, and the results have been messier more often than not, and both those points make Luke Owen’s book on the subject a fairly fascinating chronicle of coin-op/cinematic synergy.

In Schiffer Publishing’s Lights, Camera, Game Over!: How Video Game Movies Get Made, the British-based Owen offers detailed production histories of 11 key adaptations — well, okay, 10 adaptations, plus Adam Sandler’s two-bit flop on 8-bit nostalgia, 2015’s Pixels.

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