The Silencer

starstarstarhalf

“Soft gun-porn with hidden depths. Probably too hidden.”

This is an odd little film; heroine Angel (Walden – by some reports now a ski-lift attendant) is an assassin, ordered to take out the leaders of a white slavery ring. After the first killing, she finds solace in the arms of a random guy, and you think you know where this is going: a killing, then a sex scene, for the rest of the movie. Yet this first is also about the last, from then on, the erotic thriller angle is largely ignored, in favour of her former partner George (Mulkey), who takes out any man with whom Angel forms a relationship. It’s almost like she’s working for SD-6.

The film may be all the better for this avoidance of the obvious, and certainly improves as it goes on – though after an opening credit sequence that appears to have been shot directly from the screen of a ZX Spectrum, it could hardly be otherwise. [It’s also the distinctly cheapskate method by which Angel gets her orders] Morton Downey Jr. makes a cameo, and the movie even brushes against self-reference, when one of Angel’s hits takes place on the set of a girls-with-guns movie.

Walden certainly looks the part, and there was one major surprise at the end. But the surreal, dreamy approach for which Goldstein appears to be aiming, comes off more as if the whole cast were dosed up on ketamine. Is there any reason why George is able to follow Angel’s entire life on the screen of an arcade game? It’s a rare genre entry, in that it was directed by a woman; however, it did take her eight years to make another movie. Read into that what you like…

Dir: Amy Goldstein
Star: Lynette Walden, Chris Mulkey, Paul Ganus, Jaime Gomez

Supreme Sanction

starstarstarhalf

Alias kicks back with a martini and some valium.”

Director Terlesky starred in one of my favourite guilty pleasures, Deathstalker II, but this shows he still has much to learn about directing and, particularly, scripting. There just isn’t enough going on here to sustain attention, with too many scenes taking twice as long as necessary. Swanson plays Jenna, assassin for a government counter-terrorist agency which is now creating incidents in order to get increased funding. She switches sides and protects TV journalist Jordan McNamara (Dukes), whom she has been ordered to kill – her handler Dalton (Madsen) must now take her out.

Subsequent events have given this 1999 film a creepily prescient air, and I’m always up for a good conspiracy. But neither Swanson nor Madsen ever provide the necessary energy, which we know the latter at least can deliver (though he gets the best moment, shooting the journalist, then offering him a BandAid). Faison makes a mark as Marcus, Jenna’s gadget man who avoids the usual stereotypes, but Dukes is so irritatingly whiny, it’s hard to see why Jenna chose to save him.

There are moments proving the ideas have potential, such as Jenna and Marcus disguising themselves to penetrate the enemies’ base. More of this invention would have helped enliven what is instead just marginally acceptable entertainment. The climax also relies on chief villain Ron Perlman willingly confessing all to his “helpless” captive. Guess he must never have seen any Bond films.

Dir: John Terlesky
Star: Kristy Swanson, Michael Madsen, David Dukes, Donald Adeosun Faison

Skyscraper

starstarhalf

The obvious point of comparison for Smith would be Pamela Anderson, another Playboy playmate who moved into films of doubtful quality, but any such comparison would be unfair. To Anderson, that is, who given the right role, is not actually too bad. With Smith, you get the feeling she simply has no talent, and any character would be a stretch, let alone the Shakespeare-aware, ace helicopter pilot and crackshot she is supposed to portray in this shameless Die Hard clone.

She is trapped in a tower block by a bunch of criminals who are after a computer chip which…er, well they never actually say what it does, but they clearly want it bad. Just like Brooce, she’s bickering with her other half, a police officer – “I wanna have a baby,” she whines, not long after the immortal line, “Well, excuse me for still believing in Sunday walks in the park and little babies.” It was at this point, that my sympathy for her character made its excuses and left.

Other points of similarity with McTiernan’s classic action film:

  • Hero/ine crashes in through a plate glass window, half-way up the building.
  • Slimy worker tries to cut a deal with the terrorists, only to get a fatal come-uppance.
  • Bad guys are largely European types – though in Skyscraper they look pretty gay, too.

When in motion, the general execution is not so bad, and the first of these probably provides the film’s best sequence, as Smith leaps onto a window-washer’s cradle, and dangles from a cable, trying to avoid gunfire from the rooftop. Not brilliant, I admit, but compared to much of the rest of the movie, it stands out as tense and well-staged.

The script and the acting sink this one early, and it’s damned further any time Smith opens her mouth. The chief villain – associate producer Hubner – quotes Shakespeare badly, mixing in the odd Biblical quote for good measure: his performance is mercilessly skewered in one review which includes a highly amusing parody of his style. Another article, now sadly lost, spent half its time detailing a Saturday night search for a copy of the video. The other supporting characters such as the cowardly security guard are, at best, good ideas badly implemented, and at worst, pointless wastes of space (who are probably also associate producers – there’s a coincidence!).

Smith whips ’em out four times: one shower scene, two consensual sex scenes (one as a flashback, while she’s right in the middle of evading the terrorists!), and one rape – the last of these might actually have some vague relevance to the storyline, but the others certainly don’t. Her attempt at any kind of action are ultra-lame as well, presumably out of fear that any kind of sudden motion could rupture an implant. She might have been better served by trying to smother the terrorists, Double Agent 73 style.

It’s easy to imagine the pitch for this one: “It’ll be Die Hard with tits!” Given the vast number of other clones in that style made before and since, such an endeavour was probably inevitable – and in the right hands, or at least with the right leading lady, might have had some potential. Instead, the main reason to watch this is for some cheap laughs at the most woeful acting performance since the early days of Pia Zadora. Bad movie fans will likely love it; everyone else should stay clear.

Dir: Raymond Martino
Stars: Anna Nicole Smith, Charles M. Huber, Richard Steinmetz, Branko Cikatic

Savage Beach

starstarstarhalf
This one doesn’t really get going until the second half, when the search for a lost hoard of Japanese wartime gold, looted from the Philippines, leads to a remote island. There are CIA agents, revolutionaries, a left-behind Japanese soldier and, of course, our lovely heroines Dona and Taryn (Speir and Carlton) who end up there after their plane crashes in a storm. Or rather, “storm” – you can get a cheap laugh by seeing the bright blue skies as they land in the middle of a clearly hose-supplied downpour. Sidaris probably felt the need to justify their otherwise implausible strip-tease shortly after departure. Or do FAA regulation stipulate pilots must remove their tops in emergencies? Two take-offs for the price of one…

Such clunky exploitation is disappointing, but the back and forth round the island is fun, though note how our heroines’ carefully-applied camouflage paint mysteriously vanishes minutes later. Not that it impairs their concealment abilities, given the brilliant white shirts they wear. Kudos to Teri Weigel as the rebel who spouts rhetoric before, during and after undressing, giving the lie to the myth that Playboy centerfolds can’t talk and walk simultaneously. The rest of the cast, however, seem to have problems in this department, though Speir acquits herself creditably.

There does seem to be rather more blood here than usual, with some enthusiastic squibbing. However, the characters show a low level of intelligence that is, unfortunately, necessary to the plot. While I’m happy to forgive economies of scale – and, really, the film looks pretty good for the budget – it’s harder to accept flaws in the script that would have cost Sidaris nothing to fix.

Dir: Andy Sidaris
Star: Dona Speir, Hope Marie Carlton, Rodrigo Obregon, Michael Mikasa

Stacey

starstarstarstarhalf

While this wasn’t Sidaris’s first feature – he’d done The Racing Scene, with James Garner in 1967 – this was likely the prototype of the BB&B (Blood, Bullets & Babes) flicks that would become his trademark. If all the elements do not quite mesh in the way they eventually would, they are all present, mostly in the shape of Anne Randall, a former Playboy playmate who plays private investigator Stacey, and looks a bit like Heather Graham.

The story bears more than a slight resemblance to Malibu Express (below), except with the sexes swapped out. Here, the PI is a she, called in by a rich invalid to investigate the shenanigans surrounding her extended family, and soon discovers an employee is banging one relative and blackmailing her gay husband, among other unpleasantness. He soon turns up dead, and there’s no shortage of suspects. Stacey finds the camera set-up he used to get the blackmail material, and retrieves a couple of rolls of undeveloped film [Yeah…that pretty much dates the film, right there!]. However, when the bullets start to fly in her direction, she realizes that someone wants to prevent the prints from being seen, and is prepared to stop at nothing towards this end.

Stacey is actually pretty cool: perhaps more so than some of Sidaris’s later heroines, the script makes it clear that she’s both smart abd capable of taking care of herself, with or without a gun. She also drives, very fast, something showcased in the final chase, pitting a race-car against a helicopter – it’s undoubtedly contrived, but the speeds on view are undeniably impressive. If they’d done a movie version of Honey West, this might have been kinda like it, though Stacey does take her top off with rather more frequency than Ann Francis would ever do.

That’s perhaps the result of this being a co-production between Sidaris’s production company and Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, each putting up half of the $75,000 cost. The production values are good, and there’s some surprisingly enthusiastic blood-squibbing going on. If some elements appear to have strayed in from Agatha Christie, and the supporting cast are entirely forgettable, there should be enough going on to keep the viewer interested, and I’ve seen an awful lot worse come out of the 70’s drive-in market.

Dir: Andy Sidaris
Star: Anne Randall, Alan Landers, James Westmoreland, Anitra Ford

Scorpion’s Revenge

starstarhalf

Scorpion’s Revenge is an understandable, if not really helpful, retitling of a film called Sasori in USA; as this suggests, it attempts to add an exotic flavour by setting things in an uncivilised and/or dangerous locale. Foreigners are, after all, inherently evil, and do far worse things to our women than we ever would. This isn’t new: many of Roger Corman’s 1970’s WiP movies were shot in the Philippines, albeit partly for cost reasons.

During its first half, Revenge is largely an identikit job, wheeling virtually every staple of the genre into play. Heroine Nami Matsushima (Yohko Saito) is sent to prison for killing her boyfriend with a car-bomb. Of course, she’s innocent (they always are), and soon finds herself facing the horrors of jail life. These include vicious guards, a predatory lesbian who resembles Jamie Lee Curtis, her innocent friend in the cell next door, and frequent showers. All of these are common WiP ingredients – except, obviously, the need for someone to look like Ms. Curtis. Even the Bible-quoting warden comes from Reform School Girls, where the role was memorably played by Sybil Danning, herself a graduate of the classic Chained Heat. But this incestuous plagiarism is okay: you always know where you are with a WiP film.

Revenge romps through this at high speed in a mix of English and Japanese, until it all gets too much for our heroine to bear. She escapes with her friend, Yuko – who turns out to be blind, though it took me half-an-hour to realise this. This is a great pity, since the film then completely loses its way: while the prison genre offers plenty of scope for entertainment, the wandering-aimlessly-round-a-desert genre is trickier and has been largely avoided (Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout being the obvious exception).

They eventually reach familiar ground, and that’s more than can be said for the movie, which spirals spectacularly down from this point. Nami discovers the truth about her boyfriend’s death, Yuko goes out for revenge against those responsible for her incarceration, and the resulting plot twists are so ludicrous and badly executed, they kill the film dead. The absurd climax does at least explain half the title, but the contrast to the opening 40 minutes suggests some people are better off cannibalising other movies.

Dir: Daisuke Gotoh
Star: Yohko Saito, Shizuka Ochi, Kristin Norton, Tetta Sugimoto