Bury Me An Angel

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“Nowhere near as good as the advertising.”

Though with a tagline of “A howling hellcat humping a hot steel hog on a roaring rampage of revenge”, how could it be? Dag (Peabody) sees her brother get blown away for stealing some guy’s motorcycle, and goes on a hunt for the killer, all the while tortured by visions of her dead sibling’s death – which is perhaps not a good move, since it lets us see how woefully inept the effects were. Accompanied by two male sidekicks, she tracks the killer down as he heads towards Canada.

This 1971 film is a rarity for an action heroine movie (and also for a biker flick), in that it was written and directed by a woman, Barbara Peeters, who’d go on to make Humanoids From the Deep. This shows itself in little touches throughout, but mostly through the heroine’s over-frequent mental anguish – the ‘roaring rampage of revenge’ never materialises much. Dag makes for an interesting heroine, determined and obstinate (she hangs on to her shotgun, even when visiting a school!), but Peabody never seems to get the tone of her performance right, under- or over-acting at random.

The best moments see the trio interacting with other people, be this taunting a midget cop, provoking a bar-brawl with locals, or being out-weirded by a witch. Apart from this, and one impressive nightmare where Dag repeatedly blasts her brother’s murderer with a shotgun, only for him to keep coming back, there’s way too much sitting around, and not enough action. Selling largely on sizzle, this is truly a classic of exploitation, and as such, deserves grudging respect – if not perhaps any further attention.

Dir: Barbara Peeters
Star: Dixie Peabody, Terry Mace, Clyde Ventura, Stephen Whittaker

Hot Wax Zombies on Wheels

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“A special level of hell should be built for those who make this kind of self-consciously ‘cult’ garbage.”

Few things are more painful than a film that wants to be cult, forgetting that such things grow organically and cannot be created at will. Witness this, which tries desperately to be hip, knowing and self-aware, but is permanently crippled by the fact that my bowel movements are more entertaining than its script. A new beauty salon opens in a sleepy town – and soon, residents are ridding themselves of “pesky body hair” thanks to its owner (Somers)…and also becoming mindless automatons. It’s up to the local exotic lingerie shop owner (Miller) to stop them, and save the world from depilation.

Okay, I look at that synopsis and have no idea what I was thinking when I bought this. Very early on, it was clear this was a mistake: possibly when the characters started laughing at their own witticisms, or perhaps when we realised the director believed sped-up footage to be the acme of cinematic humour – though anything that ended the movie sooner was fine by us. Only Somers’ enthusiastic scenery-chewing makes her scenes bearable, with the rest of the cast ranging from the uninteresting (the heroine) to the hugely irritating (her boyfriend and sidekick).

We almost turned it off 50 minutes in, but want you to know that we bravely soldiered on, so you don’t have to. The most annoying thing is, knowing that there are a thousand movies out there which can’t get distribution. This waste of film stock certainly doesn’t deserve it.

Dir: Mike J. Roush
Star: Jill Miller, Gwen Sommers, Tre Lovell, Jon Briddell

Policewomen

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“Hard-hitting early female cop flick, stands the test of time better than most 70’s movies.”

This is the kind of film Chris describes as “hokey”. I’m not quite sure what that means – the last to get the label was Deathstalker II, so I suspect it’s Chris-speak for “sucks”*. Luckily for the movie, she isn’t writing this review: I actually liked it, but spent the 70’s in the far North of Scotland, so the fashions do not evoke ‘Nam-style flashbacks. Chris denies, with some venom, ever having a pair of patchwork pants; I just find them quaintly amusing.

Anyway, if you ignore the stylings, it’s not bad. Currie plays Lacy Bond, a cop sent to crack an all-female crime ring, after overcoming the sexism of her colleagues. It’s pretty hard-hitting, with Currie showing impressive action skills (along with Jeanie TNT Jackson Bell as a gang-girl). Unfortunately, in the middle, she and a partner are sent to Catalina. Their “investigation” involves sailing, horse-riding, eating hot-dogs and falling into bed with each other, to a hideous easy-listening soundtrack; the film dies for 15 minutes as a result. Otherwise, for 1974 this is impressively feminist, with Lacy rescuing her partners, rather than the other way round, and it has brisk, crisp plotting, although it’s a shame the title gives away a major plot point.

The tag-line for the DVD has inexplicably been changed to, “Before James Bond…there was Lacy Bond”. But when Policewomen came out, there had been eight Bonds released and we were already in the Roger Moore era. Go figure.

* Chris has since confirmed this, with the qualification that ‘hokey’ implies a particularly flavoured subset of suckiness…about which I’m still vague!

Dir: Lee Frost
Star: Sondra Currie, Tony Young, Elizabeth Stuart, Jeanie Bell

The Touch

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“Opens brightly, peters out into sub-Indiana Jones heroics, with some awful use of CGI.”

Yeoh’s English-language follow-up to Crouching Tiger was highly anticipated, but the end result is a disappointment. Yeoh plays Yin, the head of a family of acrobats who guard part of the key to a Sharira – a holy relic with potential for good or evil. The latter is supplied by Carl (Roxburgh), who hires Yin’s former boyfriend Eric (Chaplin) to steal the other elements needed to get the Sharira. Eric, however, switches sides, and teams up with Yin to race Carl to the prize.

It starts well: Carl has an excellent line in sarcasm, and his army of bungling henchmen provide plenty of ways to use it. And while the action scenes use an annoying ‘drop-frame’ technique, they are at least frequent. Once Yin and Eric hit the road, however, it grows steadily less interesting, among much “without good, there can be no evil” banal chatter. Yin’s kid brother (Chang), kidnapped by Carl, also becomes irritating, and it’s clear that Pau’s talents lie in cinematography (as in CTHD), not direction.

Worst of all, given a $20m budget, you’d think the climax would be more than extremely lame CGI, barely worthy of a Playstation game. Yeoh is her own best special effect, and the finale gives her little or no chance to shine. I suspect she’d have been better off taking a part in the Matrix sequels, which she turned down in order to make this mediocre action-adventure entry. Little wonder Miramax pushed the US release back to Spring 2004 – almost two years after the HK release. Do not be surprised if it quietly gets dumped to video.

Dir: Peter Pau
Star: Michelle Yeoh, Ben Chaplin, Richard Roxburgh, Brandon Chang

The Powerpuff Girls Movie

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“Rated PG, for non-stop frenetic animated action.”

Rarely have the MPAA spoken truer words than that – crack open the highly-caffeinated, carbonated beverages, tuck into those sugary snacks and sit through the equivalent of eight straight Powerpuff Girls episodes. Preceded in theatres by a startlingly unfunny Dexter’s Laboratory cartoon, the weakness here is the obvious one of translating a ten-minute TV show to feature length; going by the lack of a crowd when we saw it, few people saw the point of paying $8 for what they could get at home for free. Though this is actually less like eight episodes than one, really stretched out, covering the creation of the girls and how they came to be Townsville’s protector, taking on former lab monkey Mojo Jojo and his evil plot to take over the world through the creation of super-powered simians.

If the above seems breathless and short of full stops – so is the movie. It’s at its best when riffing off pop culture, with a host of Planet of the Apes and King Kong references – I was really expecting an “It was the beauties that killed the beast…” line at the end. The animation is rarely any better than the TV show, but this is mostly a stylistic decision and there are occasional more advanced techniques such as a CGI ball which are used effectively.

Otherwise, it’s largely business as usual, with the tiny heroic trio coming to terms with their superpowers, Bubbles sniffling a lot, etc. It’s just rolled out at greater length, e.g. a hyperdestructive game of tag which might last 30 seconds on TV, goes on here for what seems an eternity (but was probably only five minutes – blame the caffeine). And this is the problem. As the pile of dire Saturday Night Live movies shows, what works great in short bursts often becomes, if not tedious, merely average when extended to feature length.

Creator: Craig McCracken
Star (voice): Cathy Cavadini, Tara Strong, E.G.Daily, Roger L. Jackson

‘Gator Bait

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“Swamp saga is buoyantly sleazy, but sinks at the end.”

Between being Playmate of the Year in 1970, and her death in a car accident at the end of the decade, Jennings appeared in a slew of action/exploitation flicks which earned her the title “Queen of the B’s”. Despite unlikely casting as Desiree, an alligator poacher – with perfect hair and make-up, even in the Louisiana swamps – this film comes within an ace of getting our seal of approval, falling short only at the finale.

Desiree finds herself in trouble when she’s involved in the death of a local cop. His family, a bunch of half-breeds of hugely dubious morals (witness the immortal line, “What’re ya tryin’ to do, ya horny little bastard? That’s yer sister!!”), get on her trail, dragging the more or less unwilling police chief with them. But the bayous and backwoods are home turf (the title comes from her father’s habit of dragging her behind his boat as a lure!) and after her sister is murdered in truly repellent fashion, mercy is in short supply.

Rather too much speedboat footage slows the second half down, but it’s an interesting twist on the Deliverance nightmare, with rednecks being hunted rather than the hunters. Jennings doesn’t have many lines (kid bro’ is mute, so there are few chances for conversation), which is perhaps wise. However, she carries herself well, whizzing through the swamps, blazing away with her shotgun – it’s unfortunate she has to rely on assistance to finish things off, a weakness in character which is hugely disappointing.

Dir: Ferd and Beverly Sebastian
Star: Claudia Jennings, Sam Gilman, Doug Dirkson, Clyde Ventura

Pep Squad

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“High school rivalries turn murderous; one fabulous character makes this worth a rent.”

This predates both Jawbreaker and Teaching Mrs. Tingle, and thanks to being a cheap, indie film, manages to out-do them both. No studio to enforce post-Columbine political correctness here: the fight is on to be declared Prom Queen at Oak Hill High, located in the heart of Kansas. And when I say “fight”, I mean it – going head to head are Terra (Kelly) and Cherry (Balderson), but running interference is a sideplot involving the kidnap and murder of the principal. Though since his idea of fun involves molesting his students, he largely deserves it. This all builds to a murderous finale at Prom Night, at which bullets fly and flags burn.

Seeing Balderson in the credits, and realising she was a relative of the director – sister, actually – had us fearing Godfather III-style nepotism. But Balderson (bottom left) is actually the best thing in the film, lifting every scene in which she appears with venom, attitude and lines like, “I’m not insane – I’m an artist!”, as she chews up the opposition and spits them out in her wake. The rest of the cast aren’t even close to being in the same league, the most startling thing being Dreiling’s resemblance to Juliette Lewis. Without Cherry the film positively drags its feet, and the whole ‘principal’ subplot never catches light.

There is still a bunch of stuff to like: the cheerleaders practicing obscene chants; Terra’s inability to walk in heels; the Xena-like swoosh every time Cherry turns her head; spats over yearbook photos, etc. and if the film had stayed focused on the hell of high-school, it might have been more effective. As is, you’ve got one fabulous character and performance, and the rest is variably effective satire.

[The UK title is I’ve Been Watching You 2: Prom Night. Which is strange, since I’ve Been Watching You itself retitled the David DeCoteau vampire-frat-boys-in-underwear romp, The Brotherhood. The two movies have absolutely nothing in common.]

Dir: Steve Balderson
Star: Jennifer Dreiling, Brooke Balderson, Amy Kelly, Summer Makovkin

Red Sonja

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“Nice hats – shame about the movie.”

No, really. The milliner on this production deserves an Oscar, simply for providing the most amazing range of headgear I’ve ever seen. Everyone seems to have a different selection of pointy things to choose from; this civilization may have limited technology, but it’s clearly not short of hat-shops.

Unfortunately, this is largely the best thing about the movie. Nielsen, before getting buffed-up and implanted, doesn’t have the physical presence to carry off the role. On its own, this wouldn’t be fatal to the film, but she is woefully short on the emotional intensity which could have compensated (c.f. Hudson Leick) – she makes Arnie look like a talented thespian. The purpose for her revenge against Queen Gedren (Bergman – who turned down the title role, showing remarkable foresight perhaps) is glossed over so rapidly that it has no impact either, and the pointless and extremely annoying kid made me wish that the talisman stolen by Gedren would suck the entire universe out of existence. Way too many riding-riding-riding shots too, accompanied by one of Ennio Morricone’s less memorable scores.

Good stuff? Er…the fight between Sonja and Gedren at the end is actually pretty good, and you wish Sonja hadn’t spent the first 90% of the movie having to be rescued all the time. The only other saving grace is that it isn’t quite as bad a comic-book adaptation as Tank Girl. But how could it be?

Dir: Richard Fleischer
Star: Brigitte Nielsen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sandahl Bergman, Paul L. Smith

Femme Fatale

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“Stylishly-shot but largely uncredible thriller, with a lame twist befitting bad soap-opera.”

Odds are you won’t see the key twist here coming, but on the other hand, it renders the preceding hour almost redundant. This sums up the entire film: as an exercise in technical style, few directors are as good at camerawork as De Palma, yet little here withstands scrutiny, despite an abundance of smoke, mirrors and Romijn-Stamos. She plays Laure, a jewel thief who cons her partners out of $10m in diamonds, then is lucky enough to fall into another identity. Seven years later, they get out of jail, still miffed, and she’s now married to the American ambassador. When paparazzi Bardo (Banderas) exposes her identity, she instigates a complex plan to play her various problems off against each other.

You have to admire De Palma’s guts: large chunks are without dialogue, and what’s spoken is mostly in subtitled French. It’s almost as if he wanted to piss off a typical American audience, not least in a finale so audacious, it almost invites you to come and have a go, if you think you’re hard enough. However, too often the style is pointless – a split-screen, except nothing of significance occurs on either side – and the twist remains a copout on every level.

While at best a borderline entry in the action heroine genre, femme fatales have a long, dishonourable history, going back to before women got to kick butt. Pointedly, the film opens with Laure watching Double Indemnity; both psychologically and mentally, she punts Bardo’s ass into 2008. This isn’t great art, and neither Banderas nor Romijn-Stamos were unjustly overlooked for Oscars, but any film where the heroine says, “You don’t have to lick my ass, just fuck me” has guilty pleasure potential.

Dir: Brian De Palma
Star: Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Antonio Banderas, Peter Coyote, Gregg Henry

Murders Made to Order

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“Leading contender for least helpful DVD sleeve of all time, for a reason.”

Look at the picture. Note the complete lack of an English language title; I’ve heard of directors taking their name off a movie, but never the film’s name. Also notice the undeniable presence of Cynthia Khan: she is in the film for the first three minutes (in a scene lifted from Nikita), then vanishes without plausible explanation. It’s almost as if she quit the movie after one day, being replaced by Shaw, but they kept the footage shot of her.

There’s a lot going on that makes no sense, but it’s forgivable since we only discovered later that this is a sequel to Sting of the Scorpion, which we hadn’t seen*. The heroine is Maggie, a cop released after two years in psychiatric care because she shot her boss, blaming him for the death of her boyfriend. He sends her undercover to infiltrate a gang responsible for a string of mob-related murders, a task which includes shooting herself up with drugs. Then, as revenge for Maggie’s attack, he hangs her out to dry.

A lot of this is wildly incoherent, badly-staged or just plain dull. However, Shaw provides a cold-hearted performance that is occasionally very effective, in a Jade Leung kinda way, and there are some moments which border on genius. For example, as Maggie comes off the drugs, a fanlight casts spinning shadows on her body, to fabulous effect; once she’s down, the fan spins slower. Shame the scriptwriter, director and voice actresses doing the post-synching were nowhere near as talented as the DP.

* – We did have it on DVD, but on sitting down to watch it, found the box actually contained the wrong film! Wouldn’t mind, except we already had a copy of Mission of Justice

Dir: Lee Kwok-Lap
Star: Maggie Shaw, Waise Lee, Lester Chan, Fennie Yuen