Cool Cat, by Dan Leissner

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“Sex, drugs and funk ‘n’ soul, in a throwback to the future of action heroines.”

My review of this is somewhat delayed, because the book spent two months inside what remained of our car, after a nasty accident on the freeway. It was finally rescued, and the next chance I got was actually on a plane going to Las Vegas – fortunately, it appears as though the book was not cursed, and I survived that trip intact. Chris actually got to read this one first: she made note of Leissner’s frequent usage of the word “Undulating”, to describe everything from the landscape to the heroine’s figure. Me? It’s a good word, one you don’t get to use too often, so more power to him there. The heroine in question is Cat Warburton, the semi-estranged daughter of an industrial tycoon, who works as a secret agent for an agency of uncertain origins. Her intended vacation goes awry, and she finds herself knee deep in a plot involving black militants, white supremacists and – this’d be a spoiler if it weren’t mentioned on the back cover – aliens from outer-space. She’ll need all her talents, if you know what I mean, and I think you do, to survive.

It’s clear the style is intended to reproduce pulp potboilers of an earlier year: it’s never made clear what era it’s set, but I’d say mid- to late-70’s, if pushed. It’s equally cinematic though, set to a Motown-esque soundtrack, and half the fun is working out who’d play the various roles: Charlize Theron for Cat? Or Uma Thurman? Sybil Danning, twenty years ago, would have been perfect. Though whoever it’d be, would have to be entirely comfortable with their body, since there’s hardly a scene where Cat is not showing more or less flesh. That brings me to one of the odd points: there’s an awful lot of sadistic torture scenes, almost all the victims being female characters – this sits uneasily with the generally liberal viewpoints on sexual liberation, drugs and race.

However, qualms about such sequences aside (and the elderly matron beside me on the plane seemed quite intrigued by them), the plot does also career a little too far out of control towards the end. The whole “alien” angle seems superfluous at best, and I’d probably have preferred it not be invoked at all, since the rest of the plot stands on its own quite nicely – it feels as if Leissner doesn’t have enough faith in his own script. Still, as soon as I picked it up, I was hooked, and even once I got off the plane, was reading it every chance I could get. It’s enormous fun, and Cat is a great heroine, whose skills are beyond compare: she’s smart, strong, independent, and capable of kicking your ass, with or without weapons. Exactly the kind of heroine, Hollywood would never be able to cope with, in fact.

By Dan Leissner
Publisher: Midnight Marquee, $20.00
The book is available on Amazon.com

Mr. Hell

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“Twenty-five minutes too long, despite some nice concepts.”

Sometimes, you just have to sit back and let the DVD sleeve do the talking. “The notorious serial killer, Harry Eugene Loveless AKA Mr. HELL roamed from town-to-town and job-to-job, brutally murdering his victims, with the demonic intention of removing the ‘windows to the soul’ – their eyes! Mr. HELL mutilated Dr. Karl Matthews at a government laboratory where biological weapons were secretly being developed. The daughter’s precocious daughter, Tyler, who discovered her father’s body with his eyes missing, was then pursued by Harry through the lab’s subterranean tunnels. During the chase, Harry was accidentally destroyed by toxic industrial acid, and his remains flowed into a storage container. Was this the end for Mr. HELL?

Fourteen years later, we find a grown-up Tyler, now a security guard at the lab soon scheduled for demolition. during the lab’s closing process, incompetent waste removal workers unwittingly release Harry’s toxic essence. Mr. HELL is back, and on the hunt! Complicating matters, a group of mercenaries led by Dominique Horney, invade the laboratory to steal a hidden vial of deadly bacterium to sell to terrorists. This small private army may be prepared for a few security guards, but not for Mr. HELL! As for Tyler, will she survive the band of professional killers and defeat, once again, the diabolical butcher, Mr. HELL?!”

Phew. Enough going on there for two films at least. And that’s the problem: they’d have been better off dealing with the entire first half in a five-minute flashback, but it drags on and on – Chris bailed for the Land of Nod before the mercenaries turned up. I stayed conscious…well, mostly, but it was a struggle, not least because of the horrible performance by the grown-up Tyler (Morris), who is thoroughly unconvincing. Scoggins is better, and there are a number of other, decently-strong female characters, for which the makers deserve credit – it’s nice to see the heroine in a horror film not needing to be rescued. However, just about every other aspect is inadequate, from the special effects through dialogue which is far too often trying to be clever, rather than genuinely smart to an atonal score that grates horribly for the vast majority of the time.

Most low-budget horror films do keep their running time as short as possible; cheaper that way. Mr. Hell run 102 minutes, which is positively epic for the genre. They should have let Mr. Hell – sorry: Mr. HELL – loose on the script to slice ‘n’ dice it, as it’s in serious need of tightening. The ‘deadly bacterium’, for example, is no more than a Macguffin, thrown away for the benefit of a poor ‘melt’ effect at the end. With better writing, and a better lead actress, this could have lived up to the potential of the synopsis. Unfortunately, it only does so very sporadically, and despite our love for the genre, I can’t recommend this overall.

Dir: Rob McKinnon
Star: Amy Morris, Jett Texas Elliott, Larry Cashion, Tracy Scoggins

Beautiful Beast

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“The Beast is yet to come…”

Debate raged over this one. Chris reckons lead actress Shimamura was, at some point, a man. I’m not quite so convinced, but the mere thought certainly gave the sex scenes here an added edge of creepiness. Given the lengthy such sequence which occurs about five minutes in, I feared this was going to be no more than an itty-bitty titty-fest. Fortunately, after getting that out of his system, director Ikeda (Evil Dead Trap) settles down and delivers a gritty bit of nastiness, occasionally teetering on the edge of sadistic.

Ran (Shimamura) comes to Japan, and makes an immediate impression by assassinating a Yakuza boss and his associates, while they dine in a restaurant. Escaping the scene, she hides out in the restaurant owned by Yoichi (Yamato), and thanks him for covering for her with her body. About three hours later – or maybe it just seems that way – she moves on with the rest of her mission, which is to extract revenge on those responsible for the death of her sister. To this end, she works at the same hostess club as her late sibling, and waits for opportunity to present itself. However, the remaining target (Hakruyu), aware of his peril, kidnaps Ran’s friend Chun Li, and uses her to lure Ran out of the darkness.

The results are clearly inspired by the Zero Woman series, also about an angst-ridden hitwoman, and certainly have their moments. The finale, unfortunately, is not one of them, where instead of the bullet-propelled shootout against an entire Yakuza gang, we get something a lot less entertaining. The movie also features one of the most extreme instances of a boom-mike appearances that I have ever seen [it’s when Chun Li returns to her apartment to pick up some cash. At least, I think it’s a mic, since we couldn’t come up with any other credible suggestions]. Otherwise, however, it was less soft-pornish than we feared, and is played straight up and down, with the gangsters appropriately boorish, yet not stupid. More action would have helped, yet not without its merits. But if anyone can confirm or deny Chris’s theory about Shimamura, we’d like to hear from you…

Dir: Toshiharu Ikeda
Stars: Kaori Shimamura, Hakuryu, Takeshi Yamato, Takanori Kikuchi