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Saturn 3 (1980)
Not a brilliant film, but this derivative sci-fi movie's worth a look for lovers of the cult, 9 December 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As far as killer robot stories go, this one isn't bad. It's not up there with the classics of the genre - films such as THE TERMINATOR, WESTWORLD, and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, but there are some genuinely spooky atmospherics as Douglas and Fawcett are chased around some dingy corridors by a psychotic robot. Although the set design and action seems to have been partially lifted from the previous year's popular ALIEN, this film still has enough different slants to keep you watching.

For a start, there are only three main actors in this film (apart from a supposed blink-and-you-miss-it cameo from Ed Bishop) so they have a lot of work to do between them. This isn't helped by having some major miscasting - namely the role of the film's masculine hero, Adam, being played by a far-too-old Kirk Douglas. We're supposed to imagine that old-man Douglas is capable of strenuous physical activities and getting his head smashed in to little effect. The film really needed an actor twenty years younger to fill the part. Douglas also feels a little too over-qualified for a simplistic thriller like this, as both he and Fawcett have little to do apart from fighting the unstoppable robot.

Fawcett herself is little better. I'm sure she's a good actress and all, but she never becomes more than two-dimensional here. The camera enjoys lingering on her naked and scantily-clothed body (and, more disturbingly, Douglas' too) so perhaps that's the reason for her casting. Thankfully, at least there is one effective actor on screen, a young, menacing Harvey Keitel as a murderer who eventually falls foul of his own creation. The film kicks off with Keitel murdering the real captain and taking his place (sucking him through an airlock and blowing him apart outside, quite literally), then travelling to one of Saturn's moons where Douglas and Fawcett reside. We never do learn of his past, or his motives, and this makes his character even more mysterious. Despite Keitel simply doing his patented twitchy routine, he's still very effective and a little frightening.

The killer android itself is a mixed bag. For a start, it's a good head taller than the other actors, to allow for an operator to fit inside, of course. It certainly looks good on the outside, a mixture of hydraulics, crushing pincers, and some cute little lights for a head. On the downside, it's not exactly a difficult foe to foil, seeing as it gets repeatedly pushed into pits of water, electrocuted, and disassembled during this film's length. There are some brief gory bits to add to the horror, including a decapitated dog and the robot "wearing" the battered head of Keitel, as well as cutting Keitel's hand off, but I would much rather face this slow-moving enemy than an alien or a velociraptor, for example.

I did like the ending, which is kind of clichéd but has a good bit where Douglas realises he has been partially assimilated by the robot when he discovers a hole in the back of his neck. The final destruction of the android is a huge explosion, shot by apparently throwing buckets of water about along with some body parts, and it's very arty. Please don't ask me to explain the epilogue, which shows Fawcett watching a spaceship return to Earth, as I have no idea of it's relevance. This isn't a brilliant film, but it passes the time nicely.

Norman J. Warren's shockingly gruesome British terror film, 9 December 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Norman J Warren's gory shocker is much like his other low-budget epics of the late '70s. These films all had a small cast and plenty of graphic violence. In a way I feel that Warren's name has often been overlooked by horror fans, as he is in fact a British equivalent to his Italian contemporaries like Fulci and Argento, a purveyor of graphic low-budget films. While he lacks the style and artistic flair Argento would bring to his films, Warren wasn't afraid to keep his camera running while terrible acts were perpetrated on screen. He has even been quoted as saying that people just couldn't believe this film was made in Britain, most people think of the Hammer films when you say British horror films which are much, much tamer than this gory affair.

Saying that, it's not just all about gore as the script is focused on the characters involved in the proceedings rather than just sitting and waiting for the next horrible event to occur. There is a bit of atmosphere built up in the lonely, isolated setting, and the brief glimpses we have of Satanic rituals where hooded figures slay naked women are pretty disturbing. However surprisingly enough Satanism isn't really the main theme of this film, it's more about relationships, particularly paternal evil. Both the female lead and her cousin are victims of their fathers by the end of the film, in different respects but victims nonetheless.

Warren has often been accused of misogyny and sensationalism in his films, and this is no different. While I'm not to sure about the misogyny bit (men are killed too) I believe that sensationalism can only be a good thing in a film, it makes things more exciting anyhow. From the opening scenes in this film where a demented pervert runs the point of a pair of scissors over a helpless woman's naked body you know that you're in for something different as Warren really digs into the depths of depravity. What is remarkable is that the perpetrator of these sadistic acts, Martin Potter, actually has a sympathetic character. You see, Potter has been warped by a childhood experience in which he saw his father sacrifice his own mother to try and reincarnate an evil one. Much like the central character in PEEPING TOM, Potter is affected by repressed memories of these events and deals with them in the only way he knows how, i.e. to relive them.

The rest of the cast all do good jobs, especially Michael Gough who begins the film as a seemingly respectable man (with a distinguished moustache, no less) and yet is totally evil and ruthless behind this mask. As for the female lead, well I wasn't too impressed with her character. Mainly because she cheats on her boyfriend with her cousin, now Potter wasn't really doing much seducing. Perhaps she was looking for consolation but it was definitely the wrong move. Her character is already a little bit crazy at the beginning of the film, talking about her "premonitions", and really she should have been able to spot what was going on a long time before she did. Yes, I am saying it's up to her.

Besides the strong characters and dialogue in the film, apart from the gore there is little else going on. The sight of some robed Satanists, their faces hidden, is pretty spooky, while the twist ending in which the central character's face returns from the dead and it all turns out to have been a dream, is a sheer stroke of genius. However it's the gore that Warren focuses on and it's just as bloody as in his other films. Most scenes involve women being slashed to death with knives although there is a really graphic eyeball piercing in there too. SATAN'S SLAVE is definitely an interesting film and succeeds in what it set out to do, shock the audiences. One to seek out for those with strong stomachs.

An unusual British horror film with lots of outre elements worth tuning in for, 9 December 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

An exciting, if superficial, slice of adventure from 1970, and in a classic contemporary '60s fashion - witness the numerous disco scenes if you need any proof of this. The film was widely advertised as bringing together the three top names in horror - Peter Cushing, Vincent Price, and Christopher Lee, but the campaign was something of a fabrication, seeing as Cushing only appeared in a tiny, one-scene role, and Price and Lee only shared one brief scene together. However, that doesn't detract from the film at all - it's a very entertaining romp, with lots of reasons to watch. One of which is the '60s ambiance, the fashions, jazz music, and everything are all very dated and therefore fun to watch.

Unfortunately, the story itself is very confusing and doesn't make much sense. The location of the pseudo-Nazi organisation is never specified (is it in this country or what?) and who works for who and why is never fully explained. However there are a number of great scenes to watch this film for. The first is the opening, where a jogger loses his leg (and the rest of his limbs throughout the film) to provide Price with his necessary materials for his research. Also, halfway through the film there is an excellent long chase scene, which starts off by car, becomes a chase through a deserted building, then through a quarry. The suspect rips off his own hand and jumps into an acid bath, how cool is that? Witness the policeman who dips his hand into the acid overact amusingly "My hand! It burns!".

This film is a lot of fun because it seems like nobody is really taking it seriously, especially Price who obviously has his tongue firmly inside his cheek here, he looks as if he's enjoying the mad scientist role a lot though and camps it up hilariously. Cushing and Lee don't have much to do, but Cushing does play the role of an army commander very well, while Lee looks dapper in his hat and with his umbrella. The blond-haired hero is played by Christopher Matthews, whom you may remember from THE SCARS OF Dracula (then again, maybe not...), and his acting is woodenly faultless. It's also fun to spot a lot of other actors in minor roles, from Peter Sallis to Yutte Stensgaard.

The rest of the cast is also good, especially Alfred Marks as the superintendent, portraying his policeman in that essential early '70s fashion (makes jokes, harsh with his staff, dedicated to his role). This is an enjoyable British film with a hammy (what else?) performance from Vincent Price and a lot of action. Prudists beware, there is an awful lot of nudity in this film, which is somewhat surprising, but 1970 was the year when things began to become less stringent. If you're feeling down then watch this film, it's guaranteed to cheer you up. A minor classic.

Alien invasions and sweaty wrestlers, 9 December 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A high-camp slice of black and white Mexican wrestling action, this forgotten Santo epic has been thankfully given a much-needed DVD release complete with English subtitles: maybe the new millennium is worth something after all! Helmed by veteran fantasy director Alfredo B. Crevenna and starring a whole cast-full of oddly monikered wrestling "legends", SANTO VS. THE MARTIAN INVASION is Saturday morning level entertainment that fondly recalls the action-packed serials of the 1930s and '40s in its naiveness and simple charm. Sure, the low budget is evident throughout the movie and the plot is less than impressive, basically consisting of lots of talking in between some well-staged wrestling bouts, both in and out of the ring. It's hardly the most imaginative Santo movie there is to see.

However, this movie becomes enjoyable through the sheer energy of it all. Santo is on top form as the efficient crime fighter-cum-wrestler and gives it his all as he tackles various Martians. The Martians themselves are more amusing than scary, deciding to disguise themselves as Greek gods at one point (why?) and using their "astral eyes" to vaporise people via a poor and unconvincing special effect. Dig the impressively shiny Martian costumes, polished silver with a high collar and designed to show off the well-proportioned bodies of the wearers. The voluptuous female stars are given a wacky dance routine, but otherwise their only job seems to be to hypnotise human beings and make them do their will. The rest of the time they just stand around and look alluring. Worth watching for is the steamy close encounter between an unmasked Santo (!) and one of the Martian girls that will set anyone's pulse racing.

As for the male Martian members, they're also a funny yet impressive lot, led by fellow wrestler Wolf Ruvinskis as the stern and commanding Argo. Just check out the names of the co-stars: El Nazi, Ham Lee (the oriental Martian!), Beny Galan, even Natanael Leon Frankenstein! Despite being wooden actors, the fighters acquit themselves well with all the wrestling bouts that take place and are as fun to watch as ever. Other fun elements include the extremely poor wobbly flying saucer that appears at the beginning of the film; Santo racing against time to destroy the Martian ship whilst the Martians asphyxiate inside; the two-mask twist in the wrestling arena; the silly dialogue; and the benevolent scientist who burns away the bad guys. The rest of the running time is mainly taken up with prolonged and strenuous sweaty bouts of wrestling with the participants really giving it their all as they simulate being kicked in the face, punched in the stomach, and hauling opponents over their backs. This is a crazy, entertaining slice of slapdash Mexican cinema.

Stodgy and dull, for the most part, 9 December 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

FORT ALGIERS is one of the duller films detailing conflict with Arab tribesmen and intrigue in north Africa; LAWRENCE OF ARABIA it certainly isn't. The tale is about a larger-than-life tribal leader, played by the inimitable Raymond Burr, who decides to lead a tribal uprising against the colonalists who dare to occupy his land. Despite that premise the action is very limited and things only really kick off in the last half an hour with an impressive battle scene and extended fist fight, both of which come too little, too late.

The film's one saving grace is the lovely Yvonne De Carlo who bags a spy-type leading role, one which requires her to creep around while looking beautiful. She certainly does that well, and she's the best thing about the production; others like stock hero Leif Erickson barely get a look in, while Burr chews the scenery and was much better in REAR WINDOW. FORT ALGIERS looks and feels cheap, limited to just a few interior sets for the most part, and lacking the kind of suspense and drive that makes such films successful.

Lesser collaboration between James Stewart and Anthony Mann, 8 December 2016

THUNDER BAY is another collaboration between director Anthony Mann and star James Stewart, riding high on the success of their western collaborations such as WINCHESTER '73. This one's a less successful story about Stwart's oil man who is convinced that he's on the verge of discovering a rich bed of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, and the conflict that arises when he interrupts the livelihoods of the local shrimping fishermen.

The story isn't so bad, it's just that the execution feels dated and a bit melodramatic. For one of the first times I can remember I didn't like Stewart's character; I like the actor well enough, but his character seemed single-minded and oblivious to the feelings of others here. The pacing is slow with the story bogged down by the standard romantic sub-plots and the like, and it only really picks up with an admittedly impressive climax. THUNDER BAY is a piece of drama that's only so-so to my mind.

A Shaw sequel with tremendously fun action scenes, 8 December 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

CLAN OF THE WHITE LOTUS is a fine piece of Shaw Brothers martial arts spectacle and a follow-up to both EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN and the less well-known SHAOLIN ABBOT. The opening of the movie re-posits the climax of EXECUTIONERS before moving on to a different tale about a Shaolin monk (played by the inimitable Gordon Liu) and his grievance against the White Lotus priest, played with relish by a delightfully evil Lo Lieh.

Lo Lieh directed the movie too, in one of his rare forays behind the camera, and the result is a professional-looking film with strong cinematography and a slick pace. Lau Kar-Leung handles the fight choreography and ensures that the fights are tremendously exciting, as you'd expect from Shaw. I loved the simplicity of the story: it simply involves Liu suffering loss at the hands of the baddie, and then making repeated attempts on his life, training up each time he fails.

The mystical aspects of the fighting are portrayed very well, and Lieh's invincibility had me chuckling with delight. Liu is on top form as he always seemed to be while Lieh is simply having a ball. The bit where he's attacked in the bath is a real highlight, but the thing you'll remember about this one is the acupuncture-fu at the climax. Trust me when I say you'll never have seen anything like this before.

Boxer from Shantung sequel and re-tread, 8 December 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

MAN OF IRON is Chang Cheh's direct follow-up to his classic BOXER FROM SHANTUNG and once again features Chen Kuan Tai in the leading role, although for obvious reasons he plays a different character in this film (but still one much the same as his role in the first film). The story is set no less than 20 years after the events of the first movie so the setting is more modern day, which allows for some fun action scenes involving death by car and a bit where a motorbike is driven through a window.

The predictable story is the worst thing about this feature; it's merely a re-tread of the first film's plot but without any of the style or originality. Kuan Tai turns up in a part of Shanghai ruled over by vicious gangsters and soon finds himself subjected to threats and then violence by those he threatens to muscle in on. Peripheral characters are killed, Kuan Tai takes time out to romance Ching Li, and it all builds to a ferocious fight-filled climax. Bolo Yeung has a nice supporting role as a chief henchman who gets endlessly beaten up.

Thankfully MAN OF IRON is an action-packed film which helps to take your mind off the limitations of the plot. Kuan Tai has never been cooler than when wearing his high-collar leather jacket and the bad guys carry these foldable long knives which are truly wicked. The fighters are fast, bloody, and fantastic, and the best is saved for a wide-scale climax that deliberately references that of BOXER OF SHANTUNG with a few key differences (for one, it's set outdoors). The melodrama is heaped in and the violence is through the roof, so Shaw fans will be in their element.

Wall-to-wall nudity and little else, 8 December 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

THE GAMES GIRLS PLAY is an oddly-plotted British sexploitation directed by Jack Arnold, of all people; yes, the same Jack Arnold who directed CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN back in the day along with many other 1950s sci-fi classics. It appears that he'd fallen on hard times by the 1970s, because THE GAMES GIRLS PLAY is definitely a sub-standard work that even fans of this much-maligned genre will struggle to enjoy.

The story is about the daughter of an American diplomat who arrives in the UK and is immediately enrolled at one of those fantasy girl's schools that only ever seem to exist in the movies. She's soon corrupted the minds of her room-mates and the quartet of girls go out into the world to seduce unsuspecting men, a situation that eventually causes a diplomatic scandal.

This is pretty much a pitiful production that offers wall-to-wall nudity and nothing much else. Christina Hart is a feisty presence as the lead character but has very little to do other than take her kit off; the scene-stealer is the incredibly voluptuous Jill Damas who also seems to bag the film's most important part. If you like seeing attractive '70s starlets naked then this is the film for you as that's pretty much all it has to offer. The men fare much less better although there's some fun to be had from seeing Hollywood character actor Ric Young (KISS OF THE DRAGON) in an early role as a Chinese ping pong champion; a shame his character is mired in the usual thoughtless racism prevalent in the 1970s.

A bit of a bore, if I'm honest, 8 December 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

SANTO IN THE HOTEL OF DEATH is a somewhat lacklustre outing in the Mexican wrestling franchise. It's a typical crime/mystery/thriller film with good black and white photography and not-bad acting from the cast, but putting Santo in the title is a misnomer. He's hardly the star of this movie and in fact his role amounts to little more than an extended cameo.

The film starts off pretty slowly and in familiar territory. Everything seems to be going well at a luxury resort with the usual music numbers to keep everybody entertained. Before long we see a body floating down the river in a well crafted chill scene and then things get more complicated. A body appears in the hotel pool and in a scene worthy of a giallo film, a bloodstained female corpse is found in a bathroom – the film's strongest moment and not something you'd expect from early '60s cinema.

It turns out that some people are looking for hidden gold beneath the hotel. One of them, a mad scientist, has gone berserk and is turning people into wax dummies in a nod to MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM. Santo is eventually called in to investigate and takes down a few crooks and blackmailers. Soon afterwards he appears to be captured but it turns out to be one of his buddies in disguise. The ending sees Santo chasing the scientist through underground passages and is almost exactly the same as in a later, colour Santo film I saw called SANTO VS DOCTOR DEATH.

The acting is passable but the film suffers from a dearth of action that makes it slow paced and heavy going at times. There's only a single wrestling match to break things up (Santo tackling an adversary nicknamed the Black Shadow) and about two other fight scenes, including the climax. It's interesting to watch and see how the seeds of the successful series were sown here, but for the most part, SANTO IN THE HOTEL OF DEATH is a bit of a bore.

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