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Jiang shi shu shu (1988)
Fourth installment in the series does not disappoint!
The original MR. VAMPIRE is considered the best Chinese horror/comedy ever and it's no surprise that it inspired so many sequels and copycat imitations back in the 80s. The first sequel was gentler and more family-oriented while the second sequel really pumped up the horror elements. This third sequel is a return to the style of the original with a perfect balance of the scary and the silly. I've seen this movie four times now and it's still as entertaining as it was the first time. A real treat for HK action movie fans is seeing Yuen Wah (usually typecast as the ultra-tough bad guy) playing a VERY effeminate character. Another unique element to the movie is its comedic take on the differences between Taoism and Buddhism as the two masters try to outdo each other, especially funny during the "voodoo" doll sequence. Another profoundly silly moment has the two masters throwing food at each other which ends up with Wu Ma blowing beans out of his nose into the mouth of the Taoist. There's comedy, action and horror! Something for everybody!
Meng gui ba wang hua (1990)
Thoroughly average Chinese horror/comedy fluff
If you've seen the movie that this is a sequel to then you know how wild & wacky the Chinese horror genre can be, but there's no inspiration to be found in this sorry sequel. There needs to be a balance in the horror/comedy ratio for these movies to work and this movie is loaded with way too much comedy filler, which really isn't that comedic when there's no horror to go with it. Sandra Ng can usually be counted on to be funny in anything but she's given very little to do here. This movie has all the evidence of being a rushed production. Recommended only to diehard Chinese vampire movie completists (like me).
The Gods of Times Square (1999)
Whether you're spiritual or atheist, see this documentary!
I saw this movie last week and I just can't get it out of my head. It's a feature-length video document of all the street preachers and religious fanatics that used to hang out on 42nd Street before Disney cleaned it up. The vignettes range from scary (black militants advocating a genocidal religious war against the white man) to ridiculous (a man who thinks he's Jesus and is predestined to marry Madonna) to comical (another man dressed as a priest carries a huge stuffed Mickey Mouse into the Times Square Disney Store yelling "Mickey Mouse is the Anti-Christ!"). It's sad how this parade of humanity uses religious fervor to mask their racial intolerance or mental illness. At various times the director claims to being a Jew and then a Buddhist so it's unclear as to his origins of faith. As this video was shot around 1993-94, we get depressing footage of those grand old 42nd St. grindhouse theaters being torn down and a family-owned hot dog stand with it.
Jennifer on My Mind (1971)
A general bummer of post-60s anomie
From the writer of LOVE STORY comes another somber slice of downbeat romance as a man looking for love gets mixed up with a selfish and free-spirited blond hippy-chick junkie. It starts with her already dead and we look back on how they met and her mental decline to the inevitable overdose on heroin. The guy hides her body in his piano and then his car trunk until he can figure out a way to get rid of it. There's potential here for some dark humor but it's never really exploited as the film stays on its tragic trajectory to an ending that at least does bring closure to the story. The film has a slow deliberate pace which makes this film really boring because who cares about these people, especially the girl. The best part was an early appearance by Robert De Niro as a high-strung gypsy taxi driver which is about as far removed from Travis Bickle as you can get. See it if you love obscure counterculture cinema of the late 60s/early 70s.
Worthy but altogether different follow-up to NAKED KILLER
Advertised in some places as a sequel to NAKED KILLER, this is a much different film in style and tone but using some of the same principal cast members. NAKED KILLER had a joyful exuberance in its blackly comic tale of rival lesbian hitwomen. RAPED BY AN ANGEL is a much more grim tale of male/female relations both tender and brutal. In typical Hong Kong film fashion, the cute scenes of Yau and Yam dating are intercut with the brutality of prolonged rape in a parallel story. Like I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, the multitude of violent rape scenes make this a repellent film viewing experience while also being fascinating in its shameless exploitation of rape as entertainment, despite the use of comic relief to make this more acceptable to a wider audience. While never eroticized, what this ultimately does is trivializes the act. The film is undeniably effective but just don't expect another NAKED KILLER even though Chingmy Yau gets to play another tough chick character. Well cast and slickly-lensed, this is not a film to watch on a first date.
Robot Holocaust (1986)
Watch this movie for the performance by Angelika Jager!
Director Tim Kincaid made other entertaining and campy films in NYC during the 80s like BREEDERS and BAD GIRLS DORMITORY (a favorite) but neither of those contain a performance as memorably bad as Angelika Jager. Speaking English with a heavy (French?) accent and trying to be menacing while wearing a long feather boa in her hair, Jager gives a performance of transcendant awfulness that should be treasured by bad cinema addicts the world over. Just try to keep a straight face as Jager tries to actually act while trying to remember her lines as us in the audience try to even understand the nonsensical dialogue through her heavy accent. Amazing!
Riot on Sunset Strip (1967)
Another attempt by AIP to exploit 60s youth culture
See this film for the performance footage of legendary bands like the Standells and Chocolate Watchband and also for future Eurotrash starlet Mimsy Farmer's LSD freakout dance. Other than those highlights this film is dragged down by too much melodrama which was all too common in the string of Juvenile Delinquent films in the 50s. The Hippies are represented as drunken, riot-prone thugs and rapists while the Establishment are seen as uptight squares who fully endorse conformity through police brutality. Aldo Ray as the police captain and a nightclub owner represent the sensible side of the Establishment while a small band of well-spoken college-educated Hippies represent the sensible side of the Counterculture. What's always interesting in these 60s exploitation films is how the older generation businessmen like Arkoff and Katzman view the youth culture of the time. Director Dreifuss himself was 60 when he directed it, so what you're seeing is a distorted view of youth through older eyes which gives these films the camp appeal they have today.
Cliche-filled old-school Italian-American splatter
This is the film most famous for being sued by Tom Savini for using his name to sell it when he said he never actually worked on it but was just a consultant. The gore effects are very much in the over-the-top ultra-graphic Savini style with various axes being the weapon of choice. This film wallows in now-familiar cliches like the killer's psychosis stemming from a childhood trauma, except this time it was about the child's father instead of the usual mother complex. Another difference from the norm is that the final victim is a small boy rather than the usual screaming woman. But then there's the scene where a babysitter gets mysterious phone calls then decides to take a shower and hears noises downstairs that I've seen so many other times. I'm sure in 1980 there was still some surprise left in these scenes but they've been copied and parodied so much in 20 years that they've taken on a camp appeal that's fun to revisit. Also very interesting and historical was the classic footage of New York City back when it was a real sleaze-pit. The acting is not always great and the psycho lacks much in the way of screen presence but this is a much-recommended throwback to the days before slasher thrillers had to be post-modern and self-referential to get an audience.
Cannibal Mercenary (1983)
What if Herschell Gordon Lewis directed an Asian war film?
Was APOCALYPSE NOW or THE DEER HUNTER a big hit in Thailand? Add some really bad English dubbing and lots of kung-fu movie sound effects and you've got this adventure-horror hybrid. It's a horrors-of-war exploitation film that takes the violence inherent in warfare to absurd extremes. Besides the usual bullet hits and sharp-spiked jungle booby traps you get limb chopping, decapitation, penis stabbing, eye gouging and a spike to the head followed by brain eating (hence the title). One hungry guy even eats the maggots off of a decomposing corpse! Blood flows and spurts to such ridiculous lengths that it's hard not to laugh at the cartoonish brutality on view here. The video box says: SO REALISTIC -- THIS FILM MAKES "PLATOON" LOOK LIKE A FAMILY OUTING! I can't argue with hype like that!
Sei donne per l'assassino (1964)
Might I say it's a bit overrated?
I recently revisited this movie on DVD after not having seen it for many years and also after seeing many of the other Bava titles that Image has released on DVD during the past couple years. I expected to be more impressed with Bava's use of colored lighting and shadow. I thought that BLACK SABBATH had more impressive visual style. This movie is also a case of style over substance as the mystery isn't very involving and the acting is adequate at best. But the music score is wonderful and the murders are surprisingly vicious by 1964 standards. I bought the DVD so I will revisit the film again soon and maybe it'll grow on me as did LISA AND THE DEVIL, Bava's later foray into arty experimental horror cinema.