Bishōjo to Santa Fe Rie Miyazawa began acting and modeling at the age of 11 with an advertisement for Kit Kat. Her film debut in Seven Days’ War (1988) earned
The amazing Duncan Jax made his cinematic debut in 1986 at the height of the G.I. Joe craze. The syndicated cartoon was still going strong, and the Joes even had
Before Cobra Kai Most children of the ’80s know Martin Kove as Sensei John Kreese, the ruthless ex-Special Forces Veteran who mentored Johnny Lawrence and his gang of punks. But
They say “When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.” Well, what if
Yep, it’s time for another blurring of the edges. While the eponymous gangsters in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992) are never referred to as such in the film, they have
Bishōjo to Santa Fe
Rie Miyazawa began acting and modeling at the age of 11 with an advertisement for Kit Kat. Her film debut in Seven Days’ War (1988) earned her a nod from the Nippon Academy-shō Association for Newcomer of the Year. Already a well known face, her 1991 nude photo book, Santa Fe, sold over 1.5 million copies within its first few months, making it one of the best-selling and most well known nude photo books in Japan.
Her engagement to sumo champion Takanohana dissolved, however, resulting in a period of depression and scandal, but she continued to hone her acting craft and get her life back on track. She moved to California and continued to work on stage, television, and film. In 2003, Miyazawa won her second Japanese Academy Award, this time for Best Actress in The Twilight Samurai.
The Twilight Samurai (2002)
Hiroyuki Sanada (Ringu, Sunshine) is Seibei Iguchi, nicknamed “Twilight” by his fellow samurai for his practice of running home at dusk rather than joining them for drinks at day’s end. Seibei takes his domestic responsibilities seriously, however, widowed as he is while taking care of two young daughters and his senile mother. He doesn’t have the time nor money for regular baths, let alone sake and geishas.
Seibei and his co-workers are bound to their clan by vows of honor, but their duties primarily consist of administering the castle granary. In this first installment in his Samurai Trilogy, director Yôji Yamada painstakingly recreates the world of samurai bureaucrats as it existed just prior to the Meiji Restoration. Seibei’s friend Iinuma (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) returns from Kyoto with stories of idle ronin beheading each other on the streets. During their discussion, they witness retainers training with rifles. The samurai era is clearly entering its own twilight.
Iinuma brings some other important news home to Seibei, almost as an afterthought. He has arranged a divorce for his sister Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa) from Toyotaro Koda, an abusive drunk, but the son of an influential captain and a 1200-koku samurai. Seibei earns a mere 50-koku stipend, with 20 bespoken to cover his wife’s funeral, for a net 30. He has loved Tomoe since they were childhood friends, but has always been aware that he is far below her station.
What follows is a beautiful film, rich with subtext and subtle detail. Seibei is caught between his social obligations as a samurai, obligations he would gladly give up to become a peasant farmer, and his personal responsibilities to his family. His choices are clear when the two come into conflict, and it is only when the former threatens the latter that he is forced to draw his blade once more.
This is not an action-packed samurai film by any measure, but neither is it a treacly romantic fable. This is one man’s life, narrated by one of his daughters with loving candor. There are complications and revelations which propel the plot forward, and it is clear to me why this film won an unprecedented 12 Japanese Academy Awards and received the first Oscar nomination for a Japanese film in 22 years.
The opening of Ashura is reminiscent to me of an entry in the Blade franchise. A trio of Demon Wardens ride into 16th century Edo and set about dispatching their underworld foes. Instead of vampires getting sliced and turning into cinders of ash, these foul cretins explode in gibbets of fluorescent green goo. The whole thing is garish and laughable, but that’s what you get when you bring the broad fanciful strokes of kabuki theatre to film.
After our opening sequence, we catch up with Demon Warden Izumo five years later. He has withdrawn from the conflict and is trying his hand at kabuki theatre. Izumo is played by real life kabuki actor Somegorō Ichikawa, who breaks out every crazy-eyed gaze, basso profundo shout, and sly gaze from his melodramatic stage actor’s arsenal.
He soon meets Tsubaki (Rie Miyazawa), one of the Dark Camellias (her name, in fact, translates as “Camellia”). By day, they are an all-girl troupe of traveling acrobats. By night, “they steal, but are not unjust.” During one of her nocturnal activities, Izumo accidentally comes into the possession of Tsubaki’s cherished hair pin, and discovers their fates are inextricably tangled.
Izumo isn’t the only person interested in Tsubaki’s secrets, however. She is also pursued by Izumo’s former Demon Warden partner Jaku, the Riggs to his Murtaugh. While Izumo has abandoned his cause, Jaku appears to have flipped sides entirely, seduced by promises of power.
When Ashura awakens…
…her invincible castle will float on the upside-down sky…
…and demons will have dominion over the earth.
This power is apparently going to come from the return of Ashura, the demon queen, and the unwitting amnesiac Tsubaki is a key component of this prophecy according to Bizan (Kanako Higuchi). Bizan is an oni, a demon who unfortunately bears more than a passing resemblance to Rita Repulsa. She believes that when Ashura is awakened again, the queen’s faithful servants will be duly rewarded. Once Izumo gets involved on Tsubaki’s behalf, Jaku is drawn even deeper into the scheme, and there are some none-too-subtle nods at unrequited feelings towards his former partner.
Director Yōjirō Takita (Onmyoji: The Yin Yang Master, When the Last Sword is Drawn) came from humble origins, directing Japanese sexploitation films (pinku eiga) with such classy titles as Molester Train: Rumiko’s Ass. By the time he directed Ashura, Takita had achieved considerable international respectability by receiving three Japanese Academy nominations for Best Director. The fourth time was apparently the charm, as Takita finally won the award for Departures (2008), which also picked up an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year.
Some of Ashura borders on the embarrassing, however, and more closely resembles something like Wicked City meets Mortal Kombat than Kwaidan. A particularly egregious example, which may betray the director’s pinku eiga roots, is the steamy love scene, complete with breathy groans, weeping sword wounds, a voyeuristic kabuki theater director, and more expository dialogue than you can shake a kendo stick at. I sadly think this may have played out better as a video game than a feature film.
Supporting Joseph Campbell and his thoughts on the universality of myth, the various plot turns are very predictable even to audiences who aren’t acquainted with Japanese legendry. This isn’t a subtle tale of deep thought and reflection that provides insight into the culture that crafted it. This is kabuki theatre, Grand Guignol, and comic books all thrown together onto the screen. On that level, it’s effective in much the same way that Snow White and the Huntsman is light fun for what it is.
Rie Miyazawa is not just another pretty face. Not content to be famous for simply being famous, she has become a respected actress with a diverse and impressive body of work. I look forward to seeing her again on that silver screen, and today, at WeirdFlix, we celebrate her birthday. Many thanks and best wishes always.
The amazing Duncan Jax made his cinematic debut in 1986 at the height of the G.I. Joe craze. The syndicated cartoon was still going strong, and the Joes even had their own breakfast cereal (Action Stars!). Just like the “Real American Heroes”, the world of Duncan Jax was a crazed mix of military gunfondling, super spy silliness, ninjas, and a baboon. Yep, baboon.
Unmasking the Idol (1986) is the first Duncan Jax adventure, with Ian Hunter as the secret agent / greatest ninja in the world. The story was conceived by producer Robert P. Eaton, whose own personal backstory will come back to haunt these films in a later installment. The plot is nearly incomprehensible, involving stolen gold presumably going to be used by evil ninja Scarlet Leader to purchase nuclear weapons to spark World War III. As if that wasn’t enough of a stake for Duncan, he’s also told in his mission briefing that Scarlet Leader is working with Goldtooth, the German arch-nemesis who killed his parents. That really baits the hook for ol’ Duncan.
Director Worth Keeter laid the groundwork here for his future as a director for over a hundred episodes of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and related series. He’s got some other worthy credits, including the Sybil Danning / Wings Hauser vehicle L.A. Bounty and Pamela Anderson’s debut feature Snapdragon, so I’m sure we’ll be revisiting his outstanding oeuvre again someday.
Like many James Bond films, both Duncan Jax adventures begin in medias res, with Duncan showing off during some unrelated mission. We then get our requisite mission briefing from Star (C.K. Bibby) and a gearing-up phase with Shangtai Tuan playing the Q-role as the exasperated Sato. Missions like these NEVER go off as planned, so both films feature supporting casts of miscellaneous allies and enemies for Duncan Jax to berate, scowl at, or seduce, sometimes all three.
Unmasking the Idol, curiously retitled Duncan Jack und Mister Boon,
but with the amazingly over-the-top theme song left intact
He walks the night between the wrong and right,
but he’s drawn, like a moth, to the light.
The flame grows higher, his will can fight desire,
so he walks into the fire.
Ride on the wings… of the wind… to the sun..
but not… till the game is won.
Yeah, revenge is sweet, if you can stand the heat,
and can you stay in for the run?
The masked man and the devil’s gold
is a story about to be told.
Of course, Duncan’s most trusted ally is Mister Boon, his baboon sidekick. Boon’s skillset complements Duncan’s quite well since he is also trained in ninjitsu as well as tank driving and obscene gestures. Yep, tank driving, but trust me, you have not lived until you have seen a baboon kill a man with a shuriken.
After his adventure on Devil’s Crown Island in Unmasking the Idol, Jax and Boon would return in 1987′s The Order of the Black Eagle. In his second, and sadly final, mission, Duncan Jax must infiltrate the titular neo-Nazi terrorist group with the aid of fellow agent Tiffany Youngblood and a ridiculous false mustache. Predictably, everything goes pear-shaped and our heroes must escape deathtraps and recruit allies from some conveniently located South American rebels. Each of the rebels has a cute code name and related specialty, just like the members of the G.I. Joe team. A particular standout is Spike, played by Flo Hyman, a Silver Medalist on the 1984 U.S. Women’s Olympic Volleyball Team. Sadly, Flo died before filming was completed, and the film is dedicated to her.
As I write this, Order of the Black Eagle is currently on Netflix streaming, so I predict a drinking game is in order. Stay tuned and gird thy loins. There’s really not much one can do to prepare oneself for the overwhelming awesomeness of Duncan Jax.
Before Cobra Kai
Most children of the ’80s know Martin Kove as Sensei John Kreese, the ruthless ex-Special Forces Veteran who mentored Johnny Lawrence and his gang of punks. But before presiding over the dominant dojo, Kove was busy making awesomely weird films that are often sadly overlooked. Today, to celebrate the day he fought his way free of the womb and karate chopped the delivering doctor, we’re going to take a look at three of my faves.
Death Race 2000 (1975)
In the dystopian future year 2000 (our dystopian past), the Annual Transcontinental Road Race has replaced “The Big Game” as our nation’s most popular sporting event. Unlike that NASCAR stuff or even Formula-1, the race isn’t won by merely arriving first at the finish line. Oh no. No, to score points, you’ve got to get some pedestrians under your wheels. Dick Dastardly and Muttley would be right at home.
Now, there have been some rules changes for the 2000 race, so pay attention.
“To recap those revisions, women are still worth 10 points, more than men in all age brackets, but teenagers now rack up 40 points and toddlers under twelve now rate a big 70 points. The big score: Anyone, any sex, over 75 years old has been upped to 100 points. As always, how fast you move determines how long you live.”
Oh, and if a player uses his hand in the face-off circle to get the puck to a teammate, he will be subject to a two-minute minor penalty. No, wait. That’s NHL 2013, not Death Race 2000. My mistake.
In any event, the big favorite this year (as in every year) is Frankenstein (David Carradine), but mark my words. The smart money is on Nero the Hero (Martin Kove). His lion-themed Fiat 850 Spider really roars. For the record, I’ve never bothered with Paul W. S. Anderson’s remake/prequel from 2008 or its sequels. I can’t imagine it having the biting satire or just plain wrong fun of the 1975 original.
White Line Fever (1975)
For most of my childhood, my father busted his hump driving a truck. His routes were close to home, and he never owned his own rig or had a chimpanzee sidekick, but CB culture was alive and well in our household throughout the ’70s and well into the ’80s. It is in that anti-authoritarian era that White Line Fever came rolling into theaters on eighteen wheels of vengeance.
Inspired by the gritty westerns and pseudo-westerns of legendary bad boy director Sam Peckinpah, Jonathan Kaplan and Ken Friedman penned a script about Carrol Jo Hummer (Jan-Michael Vincent), a Vietnam veteran returning home to take over the family trucking business, only to find the shipping company in the grip of syndicate goon Buck Wessler (played with sleazy relish by Peckinpah regular L.Q. Jones). Despite the utter absence of big rigs in Kaplan’s blaxploitation “vehicle” Truck Turner (1974), Columbia Pictures’ then vice-president of worldwide production was so smitten with its success that he quickly offered Kaplan the chance to bring his newest script to the big screen. The idea of replacing horses with trucks in a contemporary western went from being Peckinpah-esque to Peckinpah himself when Sam helmed Convoy (1978) just a few years later.
Martin Kove plays lead henchman Clem. As evidenced by the iconic status of Sensei John Kreese, Kove makes a great bully. He brings a meatheaded enthusiasm that almost makes you want to root for him. Clem is clearly a man who enjoys his work, and we enjoy watching him enjoy his work.
Blood Tide (1982)
When Neil Grice (an often shirtless Martin Kove) took a vacation to the Greek islands to find his missing sister, surely he didn’t expect to have a live cat thrown at him, witness a virgin sacrifice, or receive a kiss on the cheek from James Earl Jones. Yet, that is exactly what happens, though not necessarily in that order.
Deborah Shelton plays Neil’s sister, Madeline, an art historian who is busy uncovering older and older paintings in the village monastery. Despite the nuns’ imploring and begging, Madeline continues her work until the true nature of the island’s ancient religious rites lays revealed in all its tumescent glory. Yeah, we’re talking about sea monster penis.
This particular ageless sea monster has been unwittingly released from its prison by treasure hunter Frye (the sonorous James Earl Jones). This means the virgin sacrifices must resume stat, and it isn’t long before Madeline is at the top of the list. She also feels a reverse siren song of sorts from the beast and vacillates between uncontrollable lust and repulsion regarding it and her fate. In one memorable scene, she douses herself with designer perfume and runs into the sea to check her implants for leaks just like the Antediluvian girls used to do.
The whole notion of Miss USA 1970, Deborah Shelton, as a virgin historian is laughable. While this was still a couple years before her role as victim/seductress in Body Double, she had already done a trio of Greek softcore flicks that probably “helped” her land this role. There’s an awkward hint at incest late in the film that goes unexplained and only serves to make things even weirder.
Blood Tide has all the makings of a decent horror film in the Lovecraftian vein. There’s a remote island location, a sinister cult engaging in human sacrifice to an ageless creature with supernatural influence, a Shakespeare-quoting treasure hunter engaged in a bold interracial romance with an aerobic Valley Girl, bikinis, creepy old men, flying cats, and the Hebrew sirtaki. But, as you would learn from throwing eggs, flour, milk, butter, and sugar into a bowl and setting it on fire, ingredients are not enough to make a cake. You’ll just get a mess, much like this film.
Still, it’s worth watching since it’s not too often Martin Kove gets to play the lead protagonist, even if James Earl Jones does steal some of his “thunder” as the volatile treasure hunter Frye. Blood Tide is currently in the public domain, so it can be found just about anywhere free movies are offered, including the Internet Archive.
So, students take note. Martin Kove is more than just a one-dimensional villain. He brought depth to Sensei John Kreese that helped the role transcend mere antagonism and forged a truly memorable foe. I hope that you’ll take the time to enjoy some of his lesser known works. We bow deeply in respect to him here at WeirdFlix on his birthday. Many thanks and best wishes always.
They say “When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.” Well, what if Dracula bites dog bites man? I’d say that’s pretty damn newsworthy. Strangely enough, that’s also the plot synopsis for this little bit of fluff from 1978.
Summoned by the living dead, they come in the night, thirsting for human blood, led by the most terrifying creature that ever walked the earth… Zoltan, Hound of Dracula.
Zoltan, Hound of Dracula (also known as Dracula’s Dog) is the brainchild of Frank Ray Perilli, the genius behind another canine classic, The Doberman Gang (1972) as well as the cult films Little Cigars (1973) and Laserblast (1978).
After directing the surprisingly watchable thriller I Bury the Living (1958), Albert Band helmed a few forgettable films, including a couple of Gordon Scott actioners before taking the reins on Zoltan. Albert and his son Charles are more well-known as producers, going on to create genre stalwarts Empire Pictures and Full Moon Productions.
In this shaggy dog story, Michael Pataki stars as psychiatrist Michael Drake. Michael has an idyllic suburban life; a wife, two kids, a Winnebago. It couldn’t be more normal.
All of that changes once his own personal Van Helsing shows up to tell him that he’s the last living descendant of the old Transylvanian bloodline. Michael Drake, it seems, is more properly Michael Dracula. The role of resident Van Helsing, Inspector Branco, is phoned in by a very bored José Ferrer. He’s even brought a photograph of Count Drac from the old country to make the familial resemblance patently obvious, especially since it’s Pataki himself in the photo as Dracula. No idea when, where, or how someone took a Polaroid of the Lord of Vampires, but that won’t be the toughest bit to swallow in this plot.
Besides the photograph, another supposed flaw in the plot concerns how Michael could be the last living descendant of Dracula when he has two children himself. Well, perhaps that’s not an oversight, but a clue. While Michael was busy attending to the emotional needs of his patients on his psychiatrist’s couch, he was ignoring the needs of his wife, Marla (Jan Shutan). She was busy getting impregnated on the couch at home by the mailman or the like. Such a randy twist seems at home in a script by Perilli, the writer of an erotic take on Cinderella (1977) just a year before that was directed by Pataki, but it remains completely undeveloped in Zoltan. A missed opportunity, really.
As Branco warns, Michael is now being pursued by vampire’s best friend, the faithful family dog named Zoltan. Zoltan has his own dutiful servant, his former master in life, Veidt Smith. Not enough is made of this bit of role-reversal, but Reggie Nalder (Mark of the Devil) and his creepy facial scars bring their best.
What follows is an extended siege against Zoltan, Veidt, and a pack of vampiric hounds that does not exactly threaten the reputations of either Night of the Living Dead or Assault on Precinct 13. The “twist” ending manages to be anticlimactic, absurd, and downright adorable. It is all things to all people and deserves to be seen.
Pataki himself is fondly remembered (by me, at least) as one half of the Mallachi Brothers (innovators of “The Mallachi Crunch”) on the television series Happy Days. Just before appearing in Zoltan, he had a recurring role as Captain Barbera in the live-not-so-much-action series The Amazing Spider-Man. His career credits include far too many exploitation and cult films to name, making it highly unlikely that this is the last we’ll see of him here on WeirdFlix.
It might be a friend of Zoltan, Hound of Dracula…”
We may no longer be in the literal “Dog Days of Summer”, but we’re still going to “let the dogs out” one last time as we finish counting down “A Dozen Diabolical Dogs”.
I hope you’ll join us.
Yep, it’s time for another blurring of the edges. While the eponymous gangsters in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992) are never referred to as such in the film, they have the same pack mentality as their canine cousins. From the opening scenes to its bullet-riddled finale, writer-director Tarantino’s caper gone awry is a study in male bonding and vicious rivalry.
Vying for the position of alpha dog is Vic Vega (Michael Madsen) a.k.a. Mister Blonde. Vic is a career criminal whose loyalty to the Cabot Crime Family goes largely unquestioned. Fresh off a four year prison stretch in which he said not a word about the Cabots, the diamond heist would be Vega’s first “real job” back in the free world. Something must have happened to Vic in prison, however, a psychotic break perhaps, because the moment the heist goes pear-shaped, he begins executing hostages with ruthless efficiency, an act that disturbs his fellow criminals and becomes a point of no return for all.
“It’s amusing… to me… to torture a cop. You can say anything you want, ’cause I’ve heard it all before. All you can do is pray for a quick death… which… you ain’t gonna get.”
— Mr. Blonde
The most infamous Mister Blonde scene is the torture of Marvin Nash (Kirk Baltz), a cop taken hostage to effect Blonde’s escape from the robbery gone wrong. Baltz had a handful of screen credits prior to Dogs and appeared in the Tarantino-written Natural Born Killers in a minor role. He has done some work in DC Comics-related projects, including an appearance in The Flash television series, a recurring role on the original Human Target television series starring Rick Springfield, and the distinction of being the only person to play a live-action version of Batman villain Clayface on the sadly short-lived television series Birds of Prey.
An ad-lib by Kirk Baltz during the torture scene reportedly stopped Michael Madsen in his cowboy booted tracks. Filmed only a year or two after the birth of his oldest son, Christian, the sputtering plea “I’ve got a little kid at home,” hit particularly close to home.
But Madsen wasn’t the only person put off by the intensity of the scene. During a screening in Barcelona, fifteen people walked out, including iconic horror director Wes Craven and special effects legend Rick Baker. Baker would later tell Tarantino that the heightened realism of the violence unnerved him and that Quentin should take it as a compliment.
“You ever listen to K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies? It’s my personal favorite.” — Mr. Blonde
With Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino began his trend of using diegetic (source) music effectively and often ironically. In this specific example, Mister Blonde turns on the radio and tunes in K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies. As deadpan DJ Steven Wright explains “Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty were a duo known as Stealers Wheel when they recorded this Dylanesque pop bubblegum favorite from April of 1974 that reached up to number five as K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies continues.”
Released on their self-titled debut album in 1972, “Stuck in the Middle with You” was initially intended to be a parody of Bob Dylan’s distinctive style. The “clowns to the left” and “jokers to the right” mentioned in the lyrics refer to a meeting Egan and Rafferty had with record company executives and producers at a restaurant in which they were mere bystanders to the negotations. A series of line-up changes, financial woes for their songwriter/producers, and tension between Egan and Rafferty resulted in Stealers Wheel disintegrating before the 1975 release of their third album. At least, by all reports, it didn’t end in a Mexican stand-off.
With this scene, Tarantino changed the way people would perceive the otherwise innocuous song forever. Madsen would return to the Tarantinoverse in Kill Bill (2003-2004) as Budd (Sidewinder), the sole male member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. Only Michael Madsen provided his voice and likeness for the lackluster 2006 video game based on Reservoir Dogs, a dubious distinction.
If you have the stomach, check out the original infamous scene below, and let me know if this little doggie’s bite lives up to his bark. Cheers!
“Was that as good for you as it was for me?” — Mr. Blonde
We may no longer be in the literal “Dog Days of Summer”, but we’re still going to “let the dogs out” two more times as we count down “A Dozen Diabolical Dogs”. I hope you’ll join us.
Dickie is a service animal, a guide dog for Emily, the mysterious blind woman who lives in the big old mansion by the crossroads.
Or does she?
There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Seven Gates Hotel
And it’s been the ruin of many a poor soul
And God I know I’m one
Director Lucio Fulci is perhaps best known for Zombi 2, his unofficial sequel to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. The Beyond (1981) superficially appears to be yet another entry into the zombie apocalypse genre, but it is actually much more supernatural and metaphysical than any mere tale of shambling undead. The premise is more akin to something like that same year’s The Evil Dead or the Silent Hill videogames.
Instead of creating his own mythology, however, Fulci draws upon the Lovecraft circle of writers and the infamous Cthulhu Mythos. The literary MacGuffin here is not the oft-abused Necronomicon of Lovecraft, but The Book of Eibon, created by his contemporary pen pal, Clark Ashton Smith. The film’s sepia-toned opening flashback sequence is set in 1927, the heyday of Lovecraftian horror. The Book of Eibon is seen here in the possession of an artist named Schweick (Antoine Saint-John).
“Woe be unto him who opens one of the seven gateways to Hell, because through that gateway, evil will invade the world.” — The Book of Eibon according to Lucio Fulci…
In a scene straight out of Lovecraft’s own short story “The Call of Cthulhu”, Schweick is attacked by a torch-bearing bayou lynch mob who think him a warlock and blame him for their ill fortune. Sadly, it seems more apparent that Schweick is guarding one of the seven doors to Hell and has indeed been to the other side and back. During this period, Emily (Cinzia Monreale, billed as “Sarah Keller”) appears to serve as an apprentice of sorts, still retains her sight, and somehow escapes the wrath of the angry mob, perhaps into The Beyond itself…
The Fabio Frizzi soundtrack helps bridge the gap from past to present and might be a little 1980s synth-heavy and dated, but it has a haunting charm all its own.
In 1981, we are introduced to our protagonist, Liza Merrill (Catriona “Katherine” MacColl). Liza has just inherited the Seven Gates Hotel in “The Big Easy”. The restoration efforts aren’t going well, and the accidents and bodies don’t take long to pile up, especially once “Joe the Plumber” (Tonino Pulci) starts tearing down basement walls in a city notoriously known for being under sea level.
Fulci uses the Symbol of Jupiter as a recurring Elder Sign, having it displayed prominently on the basement walls of the hotel, in the Book of Eibon, and even carved into Schweick’s own flesh. While it may serve as a charm against evil, there are other clues that actions to undermine the guardianship of Schweick and Emily are underway. Liza finds a creepy servant rummaging around her room “looking for keys”. In another bit of obvious symbolism, Liza encounters Emily and her dog Dickie on a bridge, where Emily begins to warn her about the dangers lurking under the hotel.
As the story unfolds, Dr. John McCabe (David Warbeck) begins his own investigations into the deaths and the mystery surrounding the hotel. There are numerous clues that Emily isn’t all that she appears, and things begin spiraling out of control, blurring the boundaries between the lands of the living and the dead.
If the end of this scene is to be believed, the human ear is a soft tortellini stuffed with blood. Tasty.
Lucio Fulci may have set out to create a metaphysical chiller, but his investors saw the dollar signs attached to the zombie craze and had other plans, forcing him to shoehorn in a zombie apocalypse that doesn’t gel well with the rest of the film. It feels like the bastard offspring of John Carpenter’s The Fog, In the Mouth of Madness, and Prince of Darkness, though it’s obvious both Carpenter and Fulci were influenced by Lovecraft and similar material. The end result feels more like an ode to eye trauma than a deep philosophical discussion of the nature of life and death.
Fulci’s departure from conventional zombie tropes and his desires to pay homage to French surrealist playwright Antonin Armaud have obviously confused many gorehounds, leading to a number of strange theories and misconceptions. I’ve seen a synopsis that refers to Schweick’s attackers throwing lava at him. Where a New Orleans lynch mob would acquire lava is anyone’s guess, but it is clearly quicklime or lye, both readily available to rural working class folk of 1927. The film has plenty of clever touches to draw conclusions from, but I’ve seen some “explanations” that involve creating entire backstories and sets of rules for Schweick, Emily, and the hotel that don’t bear any resemblance to the material actually in the film.
There is also an annoying trend of playing apologist for the film’s obvious flaws. While The Beyond contains more than its fair share of creative imagery and does a decent job capturing the mood of doom and dread prevalent in Lovecraft and his peers, Fulci makes a couple of creative choices that don’t really lend themselves to easy explanations.
After a foreshadowing scene in which a doctor doesn’t notice that his brainwave gadget (looks like an oscilloscope) is registering brainwaves on corpses, our protagonist clearly can’t get a grasp on the fact that every time he shoots one of the living dead in the skull, it stops attacking him. He goes through a frustrating routine of headshot-body-body-body-body-headshot without taking any time to aim at the shambling horde. There’s also a glimpse of him trying to reload by dropping a shell down the barrel, but by that point, the stupid train has already left the station.
Attempts by fans to explain this behavior as “nightmarish” and “surreal” are obfuscating the issue. Nightmarish would be guns that don’t work, zombies that aren’t locked into a stumbling shamble, shifting and unreliable perceptions, or living dead that simply don’t die from headshots. Fulci’s surrealist vision isn’t the explanation for a hospital sign that reads “Do Not Entry”. Occam’s razor slices straight to laziness.
“And you will face the sea of darkness and all therein that may be explored.” — The Book of Eibon
Okay, so some real life intrusions and a frustrating WordPress update have resulted in an unplanned one month hiatus. We may no longer be in the literal “Dog Days of Summer”, but we’re still going to “let the dogs out” three more times as we count down “A Dozen Diabolical Dogs”. I hope you’ll join us.
Lucky is the Barrys’ new family dog. After his predecessor Skipper is unceremoniously run down by a big black station wagon, a creepy old produce merchant rolls up and just happens to have a litter of pups in the back. All of the Barrys were predictably distraught, but none more than Bonnie (Kim Richards long before she became a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills), who has had her tenth birthday party absolutely ruined.
But once Bonnie holds lil’ Lucky in her arms, she can’t resist. He becomes a welcome addition to the family, but not everyone’s convinced. As their housekeeper Maria (Tina Menard) tries to explain, “I don’t know what it is. It’s like a cheell. He gives me a scary feeling all over. Please, Señor Barry, get another cute puppy before the kids get too much attached to heem.”
Of course, Señor Barry (a delightfully deadpan Richard Crenna) don’t cotton to Maria’s Old World superstitions. At least not until a year later, when Lucky tries to hypno-hump him into sticking his hand into a spinning lawn mower blade.
Next thing you know, the kids are painting with blood, the dog is slowly chasing the missus (Yvette Mimieux) through the house until she turns into a skinny-dipping seductress, you’re hanging out in New Age bookstores with old ladies in Snuggies, and all hell is literally breaking loose. Before you know it, you’ll all be listening to KISS and playing Dungeons & Dragons.
Such is the premise of Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978) a made-for-TV supernatural chiller that aired on CBS Halloween Night some 34 years ago (damn, I feel old).
Lucky, as it turns out, is a barghest, “a creature of another world and another time according to those who believe. It’s a demon who appears in the form of a dog. It’s a monstrous thing, a goblin dog with huge teeth and claws. Monstrous. It only appears at night. The demon dog, the black dog, the dog of darkness, sometimes he runs with backward-pointed feet. Sometimes he is ablaze. Sometimes he is headless, but even a glimpse of the beast in his true form will send a man to a hell.”
Even with all of his infernal machinations, Lucky is still helpless to resist chasing a frisbee. Strangely enough, that ISN’T the weakness Mike Barry exploits to defeat this corruptor of his suburban paradise. No, instead he’s got to go to Ecuador like a true Lovecraftian protagonist and get his research on, talk to an old dude in a cave (Victory Jory), that sort of thing.
But hey, don’t let me spoiler the whole amazing odyssey for you. Check it out on your own. A little taste lies below.
Moses Gunn from Homicide: Life on the Street still takes the crown.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the creepy riff that is repeated ad nauseam in this film. You only get a taste of it in the trailer. Wee-oo wee-oo waaaah! It reminds me of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, another ’70s fave, but apparently it’s the work of Artie Kane (Eyes of Laura Mars).
Director Curtis Harrington hated this movie due to the constraints of its low budget, but I have more than a little nostalgia for it despite all its hokiness. There are plenty of instances where sound and photography make something out of nothing. The scene where housewife Betty is alone with the dog and a series of unnerving noises is a decent precursor to such frugal fare as Paranormal Activity and its ilk.
Please join us for the rest of these infamous “Dog Days of Summer” as we count down
“A Dozen Diabolical Dogs”.
When it comes to henchmen, you can certainly do worse than an anthropomorphic bulldog.
Barry (voiced by Mark Hadlow) is the loyal minion of Bletch (Peter Vere-Jones), the owner and director of The Feebles Troupe. But what the funk is a Feeble?
Meet the Feebles (1989) is Peter Jackson’s second full-length film and his thoroughly demented tribute to Jim Henson’s beloved Muppets. The film follows the efforts of the Feebles to land a network television time slot for The Fabulous Feebles Variety Hour, but where Kermit the Frog had to deal with demanding stars, a prima donna pig, and general incompetence, the Feebles are plagued by every vice known to man and puppet.
Bletch has his flippers in a number of other business interests besides the Feebles, all of them illicit. In the scene below, he sends Barry and Trevor the Rat (Brian Sergent) to pick up an overdue shipment of drugs from Louie (Mark Wright), a courier employed by the notorious crime boss Mister Big (no relation to the “rock supergroup” of the same name). Things do not go as originally agreed, and the situation takes a decidedly violent turn. Enjoy!
(would-be drug use, violent death, murder).
I love the sound effect for Dennis eagerly snorting a line. Clearly a voice-over.
Barry joins Bletch in an assault on Mister Big’s dockside operation, including a scene with puppets driving a Morris Minor through another gigantic puppet. No human actors appear in the film, though Abi the contortionist is a humanoid Indian mystic puppet. He spends most of the film trying to get his head extricated from his posterior. Rectum? It nearly killed him.
A couple months back, I had quite the internal debate over including this little Kiwi gem in my countdown of “Bizarre Movie Musicals You Have to See to Believe”. After all, it’s not every day you see a fox puppet wax rhapsodic about the appeal of anal intercourse.
At least I hope it isn’t.
As seen in the clip below, Sebastian (Stuart Devenie), against the express wishes of Bletch, tries to save the Feebles production with his signature song, blissfully unaware that Heidi the Hippo (also voiced by Mark Hadlow) has had a psychotic break backstage and gone on the rampage with a machine gun.
Also, a rampaging hippo with an M60.
Please join us for the rest of these infamous “Dog Days of Summer” as we count down
“A Dozen Diabolical Dogs”.
Another horror comic adaptation in our countdown, the vampire hunter Blade first appeared in Tomb of Dracula # 10 (1973) by Marvel Comics. Blade: Trinity (2004) is the third film in the franchise and the last to star Wesley Snipes as the Daywalker. Snipes was so unhappy with writer/director David S. Goyer and New Line Cinema that he filed suit in 2005, claiming he was unfairly denied $3.6 million of his salary despite being one of the film’s producers. Snipes also had a lot to say about why Blade: Trinity didn’t perform as well as previous installments, throwing blame at Goyer, New Line, Ryan Reynolds, and Jessica Biel. Pac-Man was not named in the suit nor grievances, but we’ll get to him in a moment.
Blade’s opposition this time around is Dracula himself, going by the less recognizable alias of “Drake” and played by Dominic Purcell (Equilibrium). Despite his misgivings, Blade is assisted in his hunt by the Nightstalkers, a team of junior vampire hunters led by Abigail Whistler (Jessica Biel). Even though Abigail is the daughter of his mentor, Blade cannot take her or her partner Hannibal King (Ryan Reynolds) seriously, perhaps because Hannibal doesn’t shut his mouth for more than seven seconds at a time. In predictable fashion, they’ll have to earn his trust and approval by kicking vampire ass.
Before that can happen, however, Hannibal gets himself caught by Danica Talos (Parker Posey deliciously playing against type), the vampire who had previously turned him. By the time Trinity opens, Hannibal has already been cured of his vampirism by the retrovirus introduced in the first Blade film. Danica is joined in henchperson duties by her brother Asher (Callum Keith Rennie), and Jarko Grimwood (professional wrestler “Triple H” in his feature film debut).
Oh, and Pac-Man. Wait, what? Who is this Pac-Man?! Pac-Man is a vampire Pomeranian, created by “porting the vampire gene into other species”, as explained by Asher. See him in action below. I think the clip contains all of his screen time. If not, by all means let me know, and I’ll see if I can round up every last frame of this little guy’s cinematic career.
14-year-old who just discovered profanity. But hey, Parker Posey.
Gotta love the bit where Grimwood blows a flame ring like Godzooky.
Okay, so in my humble opinion, a vampiric Pomeranian is somehow NOT the strangest creative choice made for this film. That honor goes to writer/director David S. Goyer’s decision to make the fictional city setting bilingual, patterning it after Montreal (English and French) or Miami (English and Spanish). His choice for second language? The constructed language of Esperanto, created in 1887.
Signs around the city are depicted as being in both English and Esperanto. Hannibal King is even seen watching the old black-and-white film Incubus (1966), starring William Shatner in one of only two movies filmed entirely in Esperanto. A similar gimmick was used in the 1997 science fiction film Gattaca where public service announcements were made in the presumed state language of Esperanto, to evoke a kind of generic Orwellian multicultural New World Order. I don’t think it was particularly effective in either case, since I discovered both uses as trivia and didn’t key into it while watching either.
C’est la vie/Such is life/Tia estas vivo.
Please join us for the rest of these infamous “Dog Days of Summer” as we count down
“A Dozen Diabolical Dogs”.
Major William Rogers is the new director at the Elmridge Home for the Blind. With over twenty years of military experience, he is determined to run the facility as efficiently and economically as possible, even if it means shutting off the heat at 20:00 hours (8:00 p.m. to you civilians) and cutting back on food rations.
As the officer in charge, Major Rogers (Nigel Patrick) is certainly not going to sacrifice his own comfort. Paintings adorn the walls of his office. His lunches consist of steak and wine. And when he cannot finish his steak, he feeds the scraps to his Belgian Malinois, Shane.
Shane is a good dog. Shane protects his master from the ungrateful residents. As spokesman George Carter (Patrick Magee) tries to explain, blindness makes their other senses more acute such that the subpar food is intolerable, scurrying insects can be heard all around, and the cold bites like a wolf. Major Rogers is unmoved. Shane is there to make sure such complaints do not become threats. Like Shane, the residents of Elmridge should learn not to bite the hand that feeds them.
“Blind Alleys” is the fifth and final story in the horror anthology film Tales from the Crypt (1972), based on the notorious EC Comics series of the same name that thrilled children and horrified parents, teachers, shrinks, politicians, and clergy. Freddie Francis directed the film for Amicus Productions, one of several portmanteau films the studio produced, and the third for Francis. He would go on to direct a fourth, Tales That Witness Madness, for World Film Services, often mistaken for one of the Amicus series. Despite directing mostly horror flicks, Francis worked as director of photography on a wide variety of critically-acclaimed films including The Innocents, The Elephant Man, and Glory.
After one of their number dies from the director’s callous neglect, the residents begin plotting their revenge. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, but Shane figures prominently into the cleverly devised scheme. Major Rogers doesn’t “see it coming”, and most likely, neither will you.
Sir Ralph Richardson (Doctor Zhivago) appears as the hooded, mysterious Crypt Keeper, issuing a dire warning to begin each of the film’s segments. His portrayal is stiff and lifeless, unlike the wisecracking punster that appeared in the comic book and subsequent HBO television series. It does fit the tone of the overall film, however, and deftly avoids the pitfall of camp.
Here is the film’s climax in all its vengeful glory, running a little over 10 minutes. Enjoy at your leisure.
The story was later adapted for the television series episode “Revenge is the Nuts” with Anthony Zerbe (The Omega Man, The Dead Zone) playing facility director Arnie Grunwald (closer to the Gunner Grunwald character of the comic story). The sleazy sexual angle that is almost requisite in the comic series is restored here for HBO with the quirky but cute Teri Polo (Meet the Parents) playing the target of Grunwald’s unwelcome and unsubtle advances. Bruno the dog is also closer to Brutus as depicted in the panels above, but all in all, the TV adaptation doesn’t have the same pathos as the Freddie Francis film. It never conjures sympathy for Teri Polo and Isaac Hayes the way that Patrick Magee and company do with their grim determination.
Please join us for the rest of these infamous “Dog Days of Summer” as we count down
“A Dozen Diabolical Dogs”.