Reviews written by registered user
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Under most circumstances I award films that can't be appraised honestly
a neutral 5/10 score, and there are many reasons for doing so.
Extensive cuts, abominable presentations, impenetrable dubbing,
re-editing by distributors who were too clueless to just leave the
movie alone, and content that is too oblique for traditional critical
"Dracula & Son" has all of that going wrong to begin with, and then some. Currently the film only exists -- as far as I know -- in an abominable, unfunny, disheartening 78 minute fullscreen hack-job recycled from a Columbia Pictures Home Video release from 1982. I adore Christopher Lee and have a thing for bizarre, offbeat, low budget European genre films. To say this movie sucks misses the point, however, that what we are seeing in the 78 minute English print is NOT the movie that was originally made in 1976. Until that turns up, this will have to do. Ugh.
History tells us that the film was shot in France and Yugoslavia in French with the multi- lingual Christopher Lee first speaking his lines in English on camera which he sportingly dubbed into French himself for the original 96 minute version. For whatever reason, Columbia Pictures (who picked up the movie for distribution in Britain & America) then had a voice actor re-dub Lee's voice back into English all over again when they finally got around to releasing it in the new world in 1979.
Not only that, but as seen in this English print everybody's voices have been re-dubbed by what sounds like American voice actors who liked to do tons of cocaine, thought they were unbearably funny, and got a kick out of "Young Frankenstein", with lots of dork-rod Brooklyn accents for Dracula, his nebbish son (Bernard Menez, looking confused most of the time), their fetching French love interest (sexy Marie-Hélène Breillat), and everybody else in the movie ... all of whom are obviously French, and do not look like they grew up on Flatbush Avenue. Just watching the movie for the first time is an extremely painful experience, and it's only after multiple forced screenings that some of the gags have started to become even mildly amusing.
A bit more research, however, reveals some interesting information: "Dracula & Son" is in fact Christopher Lee's final performance as Count Dracula to date. The film's basic story was apparently adapted from a novel of the same name. And this was the 2nd horror/comedy vehicle for it's co-star, Bernard Menez, for whom this was a 2nd try at mixing vampire thrills with a sex/comedy twist and starring a former Hammer Films bigwig after 1974's even more obscure "Tendre Dracula", with Peter Cushing in his only screen appearance as the Count. Which is a better film because they had less to work with, had to push themselves, and came up with more, where it seems with "Dracula & Son" they had more money, more access to locations & talents, and less disciplined results.
So I am not sure what to say about this movie. It's impossible to really judge it based upon what's left to see now after 30 years of neglect & abuse. How about this: You should probably make a point to see it for yourself, and if you find yourself not disliking it too intensely, be pleased. Hopefully someone will restore this to it's complete length, there's no way to really assess the film as it exists now. But something just tells me that even then it would still suck.
It's odd to consider that out of all the films by Hammer which have
found their way onto DVD with all of the "Making Of" featurettes and
Behind The Scenes films, nobody has bothered to re-release this nearly
definitive British television hour long special dedicated to the 40th
anniversary of Hammer From from 1987. It is absolutely essential
viewing for any horror fan weaned on Britain's finest independent film
studios, featuring priceless interview segments with not only a
grandfatherly Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee -- Hamming it up inside
of a ring of lit candles -- but many of Hammer's own best & brightest
stars from behind the camera: Jimmy Sangster, Anthony Hinds, producer
Aida Young, Michael Carreras, composer James Bernard. Even Martin
Scorcese gets a word or two in edgewise praising Hammer for many a
misspent afternoon as a youth. My own favorite segment is an outtake
from a film showing an early Hammer production in progress with good
old James Needs editing film right there on his Moviola machine. Nobody
else did it quite like Hammer, they had many imitators and influenced
many others, and this glimpse at their history will delight any fan.
Search for it on YouTube, someone's bound to have uploaded it from a bootleg tape, a copy of which I managed to acquire without even realizing it.
I usually try to avoid "defending" movies that I like. If people get it
fine, if they don't, well them's the breaks. However I too profess to
having been unsold on the charms of LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES for
ages. But now after finally having seen a restored widescreen
presentation courtesy of Anchor Bay I am convinced that one of the
reasons why the effort left me cold the first few times through was due
to the miserable, scrappy, fullscreen home video versions available
previously which excluded as much as 12 minutes of footage.
I came of age during the home video years and heading out every week to the various rental shops in our area to see what Hammer or Hammer related flicks we could find became a regular past time. Certain movies were relatively easy to locate but we'd always heard about this legendary kung-fu/Dracula hybrid by Hammer that was made significant by Peter Cushing's final appearance as Professor Van Helsing, the world expert on the Undead. Rumor had it that the movie involved Van Helsing tracing the elusive Count Dracula to colonial era China where he'd set up shop and acquired a taste for the local food. Hijinx awaited in the form of supernatural kung-fu battles with a band of seven specialist martial arts masters, who were of course brothers, fighting off legions of vampiric barbarians. Somehow the combination sounded like trying to mix oil with water and when I finally managed to find the meager VHS release of the film my apprehension was proved well- founded by a muddled mix of Gothic horror chills with difficult to follow chop-socky interludes. The pan-and-scan compression of the widescreen shots was dizzying, the vampire interludes were anything but the dreamy "foggy castle on a hill" variety that Hammer had become specialists in, with lots of insert shots of Peter Cushing standing around looking concerned while Julie Ege's bosoms heaved, cruelly encased in her cleavage baring tops.
It turns out however that much of this muddling and cockamamie mish-mashing was due to the confinement of Roy Ward Baker (directing the talking scenes) and Cheh Chang's (directing the martial arts scenes) marvelous widescreen 2:35:1 Techniscope photography into a claustrophobic, nappy lookin' fullscreen image. Fading of color and reduction print distortions didn't help much, and my opinion now after seeing the widescreen print is that much of the disdain aimed at the film is in fact aimed at the miserable presentations that have been available until now.
Sure, it's still a bit cobbled together. Hammer's grip on the marketplace was tenuous at best by 1974, THE EXORCIST and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD had happened and they were still banking on Gothic shenanigans to sell movie tickets. One result was the creation of these genre crossing hybrids like LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES mixing martial arts mayhem with Gothic chills, and CAPTAIN KRONOS - VAMPIRE HUNTER which effectively blended the Spaghetti Western, swashbuckling high-adventure and the Gothic nightgowns blowing in the wind. The public didn't seem to care but the result were two very charming movies that had the gall to be different, even if horror fans had moved on. Hammer was hoping to extend their life by coming up with some new series and their collaboration with Shaw Brothers productions was perhaps both ahead of its times while a year or three too late to save the company. It was a glorious failure that deserves to be seen again now that present day technology can give viewers a better estimation of the movie's intended form. It is surprisingly entertaining and compulsively watchable.
What I would recommend is that anybody who may have heard of LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES should give it a try, and anyone who had dismissed it before as a crummy home video oddity to try it again now that the original full-length widescreen version is readily available. It's still somewhat confusing if you are looking for a discreet, beginning-middle- end story progression. But when taken as it's individual moments strung together into a greater whole some of it is actually quite compelling: Slow-motion legions of the Undead riding horseback whilst slaughtering the populace & making off with all the hot chicks (the Blind Dead, anyone?), torture chambers with topless girls strapped down to a bizarre rack designed to drain their blood, the re-insertion of some amusingly clever gore shots, James Bernard's at times utterly surreal & way under-appreciated musical score recalling some of his Dracula themes while experimenting with more Eastern inspired sounds, traditional non-wire guided kung fu fights with all the bravado and forced sentiment of a classic martial arts film, and rest assured, plenty of insert shots of Peter Cushing standing there looking concerned.
Just by turning his head slightly to the side and raising an eyebrow Peter Cushing is a treat, nobody can look concerned or impart a sense of dire urgency into an audience like Peter Cushing: It may be an odd movie but it does feature some of his best work at appearing concerned and some of the urgencies that he imparts within viewers are the most dire of his career. Yeah, he was getting old and tired and probably looked upon the movie as an expense paid trip to China to help him forget the sorrow of his wife's passing. But by golly he made the movie and if he means anything to you it simply must be seen because it is his last screen turn as one of his classic Gothic horror characters. Try it again, make sure it's a widescreen version, pop plenty of popcorn, perhaps an adult beverage or two, and put down the lights. Turns out it's not a bad movie after all.
Mark my words, "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" is indeed a very silly
film, but vampire movies are silly in the first place so why not go for
broke? Hammer Films was at the end of their rope by 1973 and knew it,
so they mixed vampire hijinx with spy movie intrigue and cast Dracula
as the megalomaniac villain instead of Goldfinger. You have to give
them points for coming up with a new angle, even if the result doesn't
really resemble anything Hammer did before it -- even "Dracula A.D.
1972", which this is something of a direct sequel to.
Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing both play their next-to-last performances as Dracula and the tireless Professor Van Helsing as they pit their wits against each other for the final time ... Both would return in their respective roles once more in separate films that are even more bizarre than this one (Lee the absurd "Dracula & Son" and Cushing in the even more absurd "Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires", which also isn't as bad as you've heard), and while they are on screen together for only a few scenes fans of Hammer's production line really do need to treat themselves to this baby at least once. Though Euro Horror favorite Freddy Jones actually steals the show in a far to brief appearance as a biological warfare expert driven mad by his contract work for Dracula's SPECTRE-like criminal organization.
The plot is far from simple: Count Dracula is alive & well in his Undead state, living (or, not) in London where he commands a sect of Satanists fronting for a global syndicate bent on unleashing a plague on humanity that will ultimately deprive Dracula of his supply of shapely office girls upon which to feed. Without any fresh donors to resurrect his corporeal state from a glass vial filled with his ashes or dehydrated blood -- depending on the needs of the script -- he will finally find eternal rest. Or something like to that extent. One of the sad things about the manner in which this film has been dismissed is that it actually dares to depict Dracula as a creature with actual plans rather than a Simple Simon existence of sucking human blood & unleashing his revenge against those who trespass on his property.
But the results are admittedly somewhat difficult to take seriously. Or rather if you DO insist on taking it seriously what you are confronted with is a bizarre turkey of a modern day vampire thriller with motor cars and subway trams, police inspectors, bell bottomed fashion babes and secret agent operatives firing chirping silencer equipped automatic weapons mixed with the Gothic hullabaloo of Satanic blood sacrifices, vampire babes chained up in basements, and Dracula lurking in the shadows. The mixture of themes is jarring if you are used to the foggy castle on the hill approach but one thing is for sure: The movie is never boring, moves at a brisk pace, and allows it's lead actors some impressive scenes that almost work.
Redemptive moments are found in another grand show by Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, who's uncanny ability to look concerned and impart dire urgency on those whom he addresses never wavers for a second. Perhaps this speaks best for the talents of Cushing, who like John Carradine can make even the most ridiculous dialog sound completely on the level. There are also some interesting touches like the depiction of modern skyscrapers framed as Gothic castles, strange costuming for the bad guys consisting of cave man vests over "A Clockwood Orange" inspired coordinated polyesters, and an orchestrated rock music soundtrack that sounds like it may have influenced David Bowie's "Diamond Dogs". Or rather he ended up with a similar sounding creation at any rate.
One bit of consternation for fans revolves around the film's availability on home video. There is a common misconception that "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" (and it's Americanized re- release title, "Count Dracula & His Vampire Brides) has lapsed into public domain leading to an overkill of low-budget DVD & video releases over the years of a widescreen laserdisc version. Anchor Bay Entertainment's excellent DVD has since gone out of print and even that version features an assembly of the film that was subjected to BBFC pre-release cuts that have never been restored. Yet it's the best that one can do, look for a used copy maybe or their still quite passable VHS pressing, it's available for a few dollars and is an actual digitally remastered anamorphic widescreen transfer from the original elements.
6/10: You really can't call yourself a Hammer fan and not give this one a chance, and can rest assured that it's OK to laugh.
It's impressive to see how well Gerry Anderson's assorted
Supermarionation projects have held up over the years. The Thunderbirds
were always my favorite of the batch and this, their first feature
film, is still an impressive, majestic entertainment for all ages --
even if it sort of misses a few of the marks that made the show such a
I'd always wondered about that: Here was the first big screen adventures for the clever motorized puppets that made Anderson's shows so special, and the film seems to abruptly forget who the real stars were. It wasn't the puppets themselves but the marvelous rocket powered machines they flew. Just like the U.S.S. Enterprise was the real hero of "Star Trek", the Thunderbird machines themselves were the "stars" of Anderson's show, and yet they get surprisingly little screen time in their big epic cinematic debut.
Instead, the focus of the project is the Zero-X, an ungainly interplanetary rocket ship that was introduced in an effort to bridge the gap between "The Thunderbirds" series and Anderson's followup, the much more grown up and dark "Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons", a show that I never quite warmed to. In THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO the Zero-X and it's crew of astronauts is sent to the first manned voyage to Mars, where about all they do is manage to rile up the local populace of "Rock Snakes" who proceed to hurl fireballs at the Earthlings and chase them off. The ship would be back in the Captain Scarlet series to do more or less the same thing, according to the Wikipedia pages devoted to the Anderson franchises, with the movie's big set of Glenn Field Spaceport also playing a recurring role.
Meanwhile, the Thunderbird crafts themselves serve more as a Greek chorus to usher in the action of the film as they first escort the Zero-X into Earth orbit after a scurrilous sabotage attempt by the series' running villain, the Hood. And then they are brought back in for the conclusion where the Zero-X develops the inevitable malfunction that triggers the traditional Thunderbirds race against time to save the astronauts trapped on board from certain doom. All of it ends in another big colossal Gerry Anderson explosion that wipes out an entire (evacuated) town after some appropriate puppet heroics messing about with the power cables while the standard Thunderbird cast watches from a distance with great concern.
The film is exceedingly well made, and those with a taste for Anderson and Derek Meddings' particular brand of mechanized miniatures combined with animatronic puppetry will of course be delighted by the results. Non-fans of the series will probably be entertained as well, and there is even an amusingly clever musical interlude featuring Cliff Richard Jr. that feels like it was added for the hell of it. Well, why not? Especially if the Thunderbirds aren't really going to the focus of the proceedings. To a degree it really is just an extended episode with the Tracy family, the movie assumes viewers having a certain familiarity with the Thunderbirds' universe and usual devices. Explanation is tossed aside in favor of just getting to the action, and for a puppet movie there's plenty of it, even if the wrong machine is the one that gets the majority of the attention.
If it sounds like I'm annoyed by this rest assured that I adore this movie, used to get a genuine kick out of horrifying an ex-girlfriend with it from time to time, and it is indeed quite true that to really appreciate how majestic of a production it is you need to see it in the full widescreen -- something that's a bit of a pickle, since the film was shot in an ultra-wide 2:74:1 Techniscope ratio that may not come across adequately on even a contemporary widescreen TV display (a fact not helped by the DVD being presented in a 2:35:1 16x9 ratio, and the older VHS versions show a miserable pan/scan compression that utterly ruins the widescreen compositions).
It's still a treat however, boys over the age of about six will find this to be more addicting than Coco Puffs, and before you know it they will be clamoring for the "Thunderbirds Megaset" featuring all of the original full length TV adventures. And then they'll want to see Captain Scarlet, and Stingray and Supercar, and eventually UFO & Space: 1999 ... AND WHO COULD BLAME THEM? It's some of the most miraculous "family" entertainment ever devised, with even a downright grownup left turn with Anderson's under-appreciated JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN. More than forty years later the material is still fresh and vital and capable of winning over new audiences with their positive, upbeat vision of the future where technology and humans work together to save the world. The kids might be a bit confused by all those rocket fumes though -- hardly a "green" vision of tomorrow, but then again this was the 1960s we were talking & about nobody gave a damn back then about a little jet fuel being consumed.
7/10: You KNOW you want your own copy. Say you got it for the kids and she'll let it pass.
I love European made westerns and agree with critic Roger Ebert when he
describes them as "the new old west". The vistas are different, the
faces are different, and the approach to making them is different, even
if the plots/stories/characterizations usually turn out to be the same.
Which is actually a somewhat amusing contradiction: In spite of how
different they are compared to Americanized/Hollywood westerns they
have a kind sameness to them that's quite reassuring to fans of the
genre. One can almost always count on having the quota of classic
spaghetti elements accounted for, and the interest comes from seeing
how the various directors, writers, composers and performers arranged
the usual elements.
In spite of what a wretched movie it probably is on a formalistic level, THREE BULLETS FOR RINGO appealed to me immediately for a lot of reasons that don't have a lot to do with the film itself, starting with when it was made: 1965 - 1966, during what might be called the "experimental" era of the genre. There is no doubt in my mind at any rate that spaghetti westerns are a genre unto themselves, quite separate and different than the Hollywood John Wayne approach. 1964 - 1968 is a particularly fascinating period from the genre's history because the conventions that would coalesce into the "classic" form of the genre were still being established. Examples of the form from that era have a sort of daring recklessness to their execution that is different from the more mature forms that are regarded as the classics of the genre. The high water mark in the development of this genre are probably Sergio Leone's THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966) and more importantly ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968), after which Italians no longer necessarily had to prove that they could make an epic western on the same plane of artistic consideration as the John Ford favorites, even if the approach to how they were being made is decidedly different.
So THREE BULLETS FOR RINGO is an example of the genre when it still was evolving from just another offshoot of B grade genre cinema into an art form of it's own, and has what I'd call a typical mid 60s edginess to it that you just don't find in spaghetti westerns after 1968. The cowboys still dress in color coordinated costumes and their grime level isn't emphasized. The interior sets are garishly decorated and lit. The use of exterior locations is minimized, and there is an air of artificiality or make believe to the production that reminds me of playing cowboy as a kid rather than some pithy artistic vision. In many ways THREE BULLETS FOR RINGO has more in common with a classic era episode of "Star Trek" than it does THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY even, which was released in the same year.
There is a different aesthetic sensibility at work here that seems more closely related to the Italian/Spanish sword & sandal Peplum film craze, a first impression borne out by the fact that THREE BULLETS FOR RINGO stars two of the Peplum craze's biggest matinée heroes: the late Mickey Hargitay and big, grinning Gordon Mitchell, who gets to play the town sheriff for a change. Director Emimmo Salvi also got his start as a production designer and writer for sword & sandal potboilers, while composer Armando Sciascia's musical score has little or nothing to do with the stylized approach of the genre heavyweights, i.e. Ennio Morricone. Instead there's a kind of cheapness to the film's execution that is less concerned with making epic impressions than in just filling 90 random minutes.
Notice I haven't mentioned the story, and that's simply because the story really isn't even important. There's some nonsense about desperadoes being paid in gold for a kidnapping and the hidden deed to a ranch or something equally uninteresting. The plot does have a gimmick, however -- an important aspect of the spaghetti approach -- which is that hero Mickey Hargitay finds himself blinded at one point and must figure out a way to avenge a murder without being able to see who he's shooting at (an idea that had already found form in Sergio Corbucci's first spaghetti western MINNESOTA CLAY from 1965, and would find it's ultimate expression in the Tony Anthony/Ringo Starr vehicle BLINDMAN in 1971). And like a good Peplum there is an abundance of what might be termed horror movie elements, most noticeably the repeat use of a wolf call in the background that lends an eerie edge to some of the nighttime scenes.
The Peplum connection is further established by what is essentially a Veil Dancing scene, which in a sword & sandal would be the scene where the hero is treated to wine and victuals by the evil king/queen while his/her troupe of dancing young nubiles perform for their pleasure. Here it's a tribe of local peasant Mexicanos, but its essentially the same thing and as usual the scene serves as a bridge to set up a sequence of torture or suffering. There is an ordeal for the hero to undergo and he must summon his inner resolve to survive, and then nurse himself back into fighting shape for the big climactic showdown.
If none of this sounds particularly original you are correct, though that is half of the appeal of these things in the first place. What makes this one interesting is that it was working to establish that formula rather than simply relying on it, and along with the Corbucci film mentioned above is probably an excellent example of the spaghetti western in it's toddler years, just learning to walk on it's own.
5/10: Available from Wild East Productions on a splendid widescreen DVD release of the full original 100 minute version.
The first fifteen minutes of this odd little Russian/Vietnamese made
movie -- which I found under the title COORDINATES OF DEATH -- are
riveting. A group of North Vietnamese Army cadre making their way down
the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Vietnam War are attacked from the air
by American Huey helicopter gunships. It's almost a perfect reverse of
the exhilaration of the rightfully famous helicopter attack sequence
from APOCALYPSE NOW ... Heavy casualties are inflicted on the NVA
group, stuff gets blowed up real, real good, women and children and old
men are killed along with the heroic NVA troopers, all of it witnessed
by an American singer tagging along who traveled to North Vietnam to
see the war first-hand from the side of the communists, and give the
film a running plot device.
We are then treated to a My Lai Massacre inspired sequence by a group of American & South Vietnamese troops -- wearing Soviet Russian camouflage uniforms, D'oh! -- as they recklessly careen into a village in their jeeps like the Bad Guy Gang from a cheap western and wantonly decimate the population in a cringe-inducing display of violence that makes the similar scene shown in PLATOON seem gentle by comparison. This is complete with inappropriately amusing footage of another Yankee helicopter gunship crew guzzling beer and mowing down anything that moves with their miniguns and heavy caliber automatic weapons. So far so good: I had always wondered how Charlie would have thought about being blown off the face of this earth, and it turns out they didn't like it too much.
Then the plot kicks in. Young NVA Sapper Fong is returning from the Soviet Union on a Russian freighter which violates an American Navy enforced embargo of Haiphong Harbor. The freighter is ordered to stop and allow an inspection of their cargo but the Russian captain says damn the torpedoes, full ahead. The ship is attacked & sunk by U.S. Navy jets as it enters North Vietnamese waters, who blow up the town on shore for good measure as well. Meanwhile, heroic North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gunners manage to shoot down what appears to be half of the U.S. jets carrying out the raid, the crashes of which are very effectively staged: If that's model work it's some of the best I have ever seen.
Wouldn't you know it but Sapper Fong's housing complex is destroyed in the raid as well, killing his child and providing the first of several tearful, heartfelt scenes of crying and hugging and consoling, while ominous music drones on in the soundtrack. North Vietnamese leaders decide that the bombing must be retaliated for and the sapper officer along with a group of other idiots are sent out in explosives rigged boats to assault a target that is never shown. Meanwhile, the women & childrenfolk watch helplessly from the shore, crying out in disdain as the sapper boat squad is blown off the water. Sapper Fong's boat is of course not hit because by now he and his Russian sailor buddy -- along with the American singer -- are the stars of the film and if his boat had been blown up the movie would have been over.
The film then changes gears to examining the fates of a group of surprisingly well fed American POWs who are brought before a mockingly gleeful bunch of international journalists for a press conference, where each of them spills their guts and speaks of the regret they have for allowing themselves to have gotten involved in the war in the first place. These sentiments are portrayed as happening naturally with no coercion at all (and in clear violation of the Geneva Accords' commandments on the treatment of POWs, D'oh!), and the orgy of fictionalized American regret is capped off when the young singer touring North Vietnam picks up her guitar to sing a mournful folk ballad backed by a slide show of destruction & death wreaked upon the North Vietnamese people by the U.S. military.
It was at this point that I switched the movie off so I could think and read about it a bit more in an attempt to understand exactly what we are looking at. The film is an impressively budgeted collaboration between Vietnamese and Russian filmmakers from 1985 at the height of the Cold War. These were not independent artists but official employees of both communist countries who were essentially making a propaganda piece extolling the virtues of Vietnamese communism and their Russian allies. Not that there is anything wrong with that, just check out John Wayne's THE GREEN BERETS for an American made production extolling the virtues of our armed forces in Vietnam as officially sanctioned by the U.S. government. I would even go so far as to say that TARGETS OF DEATH is probably the more artful and convincingly made of the two films, and some of the battle footage has a rugged authenticity to it that is quite compelling.
So it's not a "bad" film, but at the same time it's propaganda, with a sort of gratuitous overkill to it that is problematic. The beer guzzling helicopter gunners are actually so over the top that they border on a parody; They become the film's Greek Chorus, ushering in the various atrocity segments. But the human element of the movie is way overdone -- the whole production is an extended "War Is Hell" segment -- and like the John Wayne film there is an overkill level to the message that reeks of manipulation, and as such the highest score it can be awarded is a neutral rating. As long as one can keep that in mind it's worth seeing for devotees of Vietnam War flicks, and would make an ironic double bill with THE GREEN BERETS to say the least.
5/10: Available on a DVD release that can actually be found on Amazon.com when searched with the title TARGETS OF DEATH.
Interesting effort here by the usually predictable Hammer Studios, best
known for all those low budget Dracula movies with Christopher Lee and
Frankenstein movies with Peter Cushing. Hammer actually worked in a
number of genres during their heyday, with spy films and crime
thrillers, wartime potboilers, pirate escapades. They had already
crossed their usual horror motifs with a heavy dose of science fiction
with their "Quatermass" series, but for whatever reason Hammer never
made a traditional looking western, even though some of their principal
talent had contributed to a couple. Too bad, I am sure they would have
had an intriguing go at it.
This was their compromise, a clearly 2001 inspired concoction mixing some of the more obvious elements of a western -- six guns, saloons, claim jumping gunslingers, a fetching damsel in distress, a cynical hero -- with the then familiar trappings of science fiction space epics. Space suits instead of cowboy attire, moon buggies instead of stagecoaches, and a lady moon sheriff who packs twin pistols in holsters attached to her thigh-high Go Go boots. Whatever. The idea was viable enough for Peter Hyams to revisit in a more sober manner with 1981's "Outland", a subtle remake of "High Noon" set at a mining complex on one of Jupiter's moons.
The blend of genres will either go over well or create profound disbelief, as is evidenced by the film having been enshrined in Mystery Science Theater 3000's hall of fame of parody screenings with all those annoying, smug comments from the dorks in the front row superimposed on the screen. The film is silly enough in itself without their schtick (I'm not a big MST3K fan, sorry), and just as with Elvira, just because they choose to send up a given movie that doesn't mean it may not have some redeeming parts.
This one does, mostly in an endearing willingness to try anything, and for Hammer what was actually a pretty significant budget that let them pull off some ingenious little effects sequences. My favorite touch are the little Moon Fargo buggies, which sure are radio controlled models in the long shots, but by golly they have a sort of charm about them that belies their phoniness. We forgive because in the context of the kind of entertainment we are looking at, namely 1960s European made science fiction, they work just fine.
The story isn't much, but then again the whole show is in the production design, which as others point out apes Apollo era technologies as much as it does a 2001 inspired antiseptic, shiny rubberized look. Some may poke fun at the silly hairstyles and clumsy looking costumes, I say they fit in perfectly with the movie's aesthetic. There is even a healthy dose of realistic science thrown in alongside such recurring SF themes as artificial gravity, miniature space colonies, and foxy babes who casually strip down to their space age underwear once the air conditioning gives out.
Newly re-released by Warner's on a double movie DVD along with the equally long overdue "When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth". Couldn't recommend them more, beats the crap out of anything currently projecting onto screens in empty theaters at the cineplexes in any event, and just stupid enough to warrant repeat casual guilty pleasure viewing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Must say that I am not just pleasantly surprised by how GOOD of a movie
William Grefe's IMPULSE was, but I am also profoundly annoyed at all of
the smarmy, self-gratifying negative bomb reviews I have encountered
that have given this very satisfying little low-budget Florida made
regional psycho killer shocker a bum rap. My best guess is that those
who were writing these reviews didn't understand what they were seeing,
or went in expecting something different than what they got. Instead of
reviewing the movie they saw, they stubbornly commented on what they
had expected to see, namely current A-list star William Shatner in a
respectable, well-budgeted, high profile project that catered to
expected formulas of entertainment.
IMPULSE does not. It does not follow any standard of film-making that I can think of. It is completely unconventional in nature, highlighted by a low budget that forced those involved -- including Shatner -- to resort to their resourcefulness, guile, and wits. The result is a tightly wound little ball of paranoia who's inherent creepiness belies the usually benign PG rating. This truly is Captain Kirk as you have never seen him before, other than maybe that episode where he gets split into good and evil halves and starts goosing his busty Yeoman. As a matter of fact, cross that performance with the episode where a psychotic former lover switches bodies & consciousness with Kirk in an effort to take over the Enterprise, and you pretty much have Shatner's disturbing, unexpectedly effective performance as a deranged, psychotic grifter who targets wealthy single women with his sometime partner, Karate Pete, hilariously played in cameo by Harold "Oddjob" Sakata, minus his steel brimmed hat from GOLDFINGER.
Sure, it's only natural for critics of low budget potboiler films to point out the "depths" that the two stars had "sunk to" when accepting these roles, and indeed William Shatner has never hesitated to cringe, grimace, and snarl with disgust when asked about IMPULSE, which was at one point re-released with the obscenely suggestive title WANT A RIDE, LITTLE GIRL? Gnarly to be sure, but that's actually a line of dialog from the film and has nothing to do with what you might think: William Shatner does NOT play a pedophile, but at one point does indeed have to match wits with another little nutcase who just happens to be an 11 year old girl. The way he delivers the line is as a taunt to a psychopath, not a pervy come-on, so forget it.
The plot itself by overlooked B movie horror writer Tony Crechales (THE ATTIC, BLOOD MANIA) is so convoluted, twisted, and tightly wound that to try and explain any of it does the sum of it's parts a disservice, since they amount to far more than their whole. This is a great example of a movie that was better than it had to be, and one that will defy the expectations of even the most seasoned & jaded viewer. Many of whom like myself probably dismissed the film because of it's PG rating, but rest assured there are a couple of genuine howler moments -- plus a lot of somewhat sleazy little touches -- that would have assured an MPAA R rating if the film COULD have been made today. And I say it couldn't, certainly not with the ridiculous preoccupation with Political Correctness and formulaic screen writing that seems to embody contemporary film-making.
Nobody would have ever thought this movie was a good idea today, probably not even in 1974, which is of no surprise seeing who made it: William Grefe, a B movie maverick best known for such delightful cinematic trash cans as THE WILD REBELS, the snake horror epic STANLEY, and MAKO: THE JAWS OF DEATH, widely regarded as perhaps the original low- budget JAWS ripoff. Grefe was notorious for working outside of the Hollywood norm of his era and produced films of striking originality and breathtakingly bad taste, and IMPULSE might actually be his masterpiece for putting William Shatner in a pair of polyester slacks and a bright red muscle shirt, buying candy for his date and her psychotic 11 year old daughter the morning after the young tyke watched him murder someone. And he knows she saw.
To appreciate garbage like this you have to appreciate that not all art is necessarily meant to be in good taste, and that as MacLuhan points out, a culture's attributes are best represented by it's second rate artists. This is a cheap, somewhat scummy drive-in oriented grade B horror movie that just happens to feature William Shatner as it's lead psychopath. To conclude that it should amount to anything more than that is to miss the point of low budget drive-in oriented trash cinema. It wasn't meant to win Oscars or have cultural impact, it was meant to sell popcorn and hot dogs and soda pop, amuse it's audience for 80 odd minutes, and be forgotten by the time you get home. What makes IMPULSE special is that some of it is quite remarkable, and anybody who sees it will have a hard time shaking it from their memory just because of who William Shatner is.
Shatner's career was in a shambles in 1974 when IMPULSE was made, and the film is often cited as the point when he scraped the bottom. He was more or less broke and living off his second wife at the time, a then dishy young babe named Marcy Lafferty, whom he pulled his weight to get a bit part as the sexy hotel clerk. Desperate for the work he took this role as a risk and obviously poured his heart & soul into his interpretation as a psychotic spree killer ... and by golly he isn't completely convincing as a mommy-obsessed homicidal lunatic. Highly recommended, and impossible to dismiss.
7/10: Beware of the cheapo DVD release, it utilized a language censored television print. Too bad.
People always gawk at me with incredulity when I tell them how much I
enjoy European made westerns, specifically Italian spaghetti westerns.
They ask, how can you make a western in Italy, of all places, and I
tell them that I can do it even one better: Most of them were actually
filmed in SPAIN and on soundstages back in Rome. They are 100% "fake"
in terms of what most people might call "authenticity" and are more
like playing cowboys when you were a kid. All they needed was to find
the right looking locations (Almeria, Spain does quite nicely), rustle
up some horses (plenty of horses in Europe), dig up the costumes +
weaponry (ever hear of a props department?) and find the writers,
producers, and directors with enough vision to cobble together an
interesting little story + frame it properly, and there you go. Just
like playing cowboy out back in the sandlot, except it's grownups and
they film it.
With that out of the way, BEN & CHARLIE is a marvelous example of the "later period" of spaghetti westerns that came after the idiom had been established as a form unto itself. By 1972 the Italians had proved without a doubt they could make fine, sweeping westerns on the same level of effectiveness as the John Ford and Howard Hawks classics (see ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST for more information). So they were freed up, as it were, to sort of muck around trying to find new ways to make the form work, and one of the tangents they used was the comedy/slapstick approach, best epitomized by the "Trinity" films with Terence Hill and Bud Spencer. While the variant may not have caught on as strongly here in the new world, TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME was the highest grossing spaghetti western in Europe so naturally other Italian writers, producers and directors decided to have their own go at making more light hearted efforts.
BEN & CHARLIE is particularly effective because it eschews some of the more, shall we say, absurdist approach for a bit of grimness here & there, and boasts an impressive collection of talent both in front of and behind the camera. Genre favorite Giuliano Gemma -- best known for his "Ringo" spaghettis -- and seven foot tall George Eastman -- best known as a cult horror movie star -- are absolutely wonderful as the titular characters. Instead of sneering, laconic gunslingers these two are a pair of confidence hucksters traveling the old west doing their best to avoid an honest day's work. Gemma is the brains of the duo, a shyster galore who can turn nearly any mundane opportunity into a chance to scam a few dollars out of somebody. And Eastman is the brawn of the two, a big hulking sinister looking pistolero who unwittingly finds himself on the lam with Gemma with the always delightfully evil Aldo Sanbrell hot on their trail ... Eastman may be more associated with horror, but one of the movie's most laugh inducing segments finds him bone-dry thirsty and penniless leaning against a bar while mugs of fresh, foaming beer are passed back & forth. Doesn't sound like much? Watch Eastman's face. He is an overlooked genius of comic timing.
The supporting cast is also made up of heavyweight names from Italian gene cinema: good old Franco Fantasia, the deliriously sexy Marisa Mell, Luciano Catenacci (Max Lawrence, to all you Mario Bava fans), Nello Pazzafini, Roberto Camardiel, Cris Huerta, Luis Induni, the ever reliable George Rigaud, and my hero Giacomo Rossi-Stuart. I wish I could suggest an Americanized/Hollywood cast of analagous nature ... The names & faces will be instantly familiar to anyone who's seen more than two or three of these things. The whole affair is directed with restrained artfulness by genre veteran Michele Lupo, who had cut his teeth with spaghetti master Sergio Leone in the sword & sandal Peplum genre, with a gifted young cameraman named Aristide Massaccesi (better known to horror & Euro sleaze fans as Joe D'amato) provides the goings-on with a certain visual flair that is quite intriguing. The film was also masterfully written by George Eastman himself along with heavyweight name Sergio Donati, who also had worked with Leone on both FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and, yes, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.
Leone's influence is directly homaged in a scene lifted from THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, where the filthy, flat broke Gemma pays a visit to a gun dealer and connives the guy into loading a pistol for him and looking carefully down the barrel to make sure he could see the bullet. You can make up the rest of the scene I am sure, which is a device seen as recently as THE TERMINATOR; Gemma even flips over the CLOSED sign on his way out the door, directly referencing Eli Wallach's message for one character in particular to keep his mouth shut. The film is filled with such moments and as Uncle Roger Ebert himself has pointed out, westerns pass or fail based on the strengths of their individual moments rather than necessarily relying on a specific story. The scene may be somewhat derivative, but then again ALL westerns are somewhat derivative once you get down to it, with horses, six- shooters, saloon brawls, gorgeous damsels, quick draw duels. It is the approach that differentiates one example from the other, and the approach here is amusing, witty, involving, and downright entertaining.
8/10: Available on DVD from Wild East Productions and both a must-have addition to the library of any devotee as well as a great addition to the collection of the novice. And downright entertaining to prove diverting to any fan of movies regardless of what kind they are.
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