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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Sledgehammer" is more than just a lousy and nearly insufferable early
80's slasher flick! This milestone in its own league marked the debut
feature of none other than David A. Prior! Who? The name might not ring
a bell to cinematic value seekers, but since more than three decades
straight now, Mr. Prior is one of the most over-active and prolific
trash directors in the business. Nearly forty bad films in thirty
years, that's what I call perseverance and dedication! And David
doesn't operate all by himself, in fact, since practically his entire
repertoire stars his hunky beefcake brother Ted. The two heroic
brothers started out with horror flicks ("Sledgehammer" and the equally
horrendous "Killer Workout"), but then quickly turned to jungle
adventures and Vietnam action vehicles probably because they realized
Ted's posture is more fit for that type of movies. Their absolute
highlight inarguably remains the phenomenal 1987 "Deadly Prey", which
is I believe a movie that everybody in the whole world needs to
But back to David & Ted's first venture into the movie industry, entitled "Sledgehammer", which is a lousy and nearly insufferable early 80's slasher flick! This shot-on-video project simply oozes amateurishness, ineptitude and total helplessness. We're talking horribly weak camera-work, a complete lack of editing, pathetic stereotype characters, limited set-pieces, atrocious acting performances, zero attempt to build up tension and/or atmosphere, insufficient plot material to fill a long feature film (resulting in a dreadful amount of irritating padding footage) and laughable gore effects accomplished with kitchen equipment! A bunch of idiots invade a countryside mansion for a weekend of booze and childish fun, but during the opening sequences we witnessed already how a woman and her lover were "brutally slain" with a sledgehammer in the same house one decade earlier. The woman's 8-year-old son vanished after the murders, but local legend states that he's still dwelling around in the area. Following the worst amateur-séance in history, the group members are butchered one after the other by a guy with a sledgehammer! Now, who might he be? Although I probably shouldn't waste any further words to this awful stinker, I would still like to highlight two elements in "Sledgehammer": the characters and the padding footage. Ted Prior is quite embarrassing as the "leader" exposing his muscled torso the entire time, but strangely enough he still is the most authentic masculine character. There's a dude called John, who looks like a wardrobe closet and doesn't have more than 2 brain cells (1 for beer, 1 for food). Whenever he kisses his girlfriend, he practically eats her entire face! Another guy, named Jimmy, clearly struggles with his sexuality. Also, his mullet and porno-mustache are hilarious. The script is extremely anti-feminist, since the three girls in the cast hardly say or do anything of significance. 85% of the film's content is pure filler, without exaggerating. Exterior shots of the house last for approximately 30 seconds, unloading the van upon arrival at the house takes up about five minutes and there's a truckload of sequences illustrating empty stairs and empty rooms. There's a pointless "we are walking in the garden together" collage (in slow-motion!) and the absolute masterwork of stretching time is a pitiable food-fight sequence. Heck, even the sole sex sequence in "Sledgehammer" is dull and overlong!
The ancient videotape of "Combat Corps" that I watched had silly Dutch subtitles and it even translated the title as "Fresh meat for seven bastards". Admittedly it sounds somewhat like an inferior spaghetti western, but this translated title pretty much covers the load, I'd say! "Combat Corps" is a typical early 70's exploitation product, in other words it's a mean-spirited, raw and barbaric film with extremely low production values and rough editing and directing. The plot is as rudimentary and derivative as can be: a band of mercenaries are on their way to a conflict in Central America and make a stop in a sleepy little town near the Mexican border. They're a bunch of despicable and rancid pigs that entertain themselves by terrorizing the intimidated local peasants and sexually humiliating their wives & daughters. When they also capture a free-spirited female hitch-hiker, her hippie boyfriend (along with one group member who's fed up with the others' behavior) has the guts to fight back. "Combat Corps" isn't suitable for many audiences, but highly recommended in case you're a fan of gritty drive-in exploitation trash. The sexual harassment sequences are reasonable unpleasant, but near the beginning there's a very cool and memorable showdown scene with a couple of bikers. In spite of its obscurity status, "Combat Corps" stars a few familiar names like Alex Rocco, Michael Pataki and Jennifer Billingsley.
Quite a lot of movies on my wish-list are merely just there because of the impressive ensemble cast they have. "Journey into Fear", for example, has an amazing cast but I guess the lack of availability and solid fan base already suggests that the film isn't a hidden cult treasure. The plot is promising enough, adapted from an early 40's novel by Eric Ambler, and that same novel already got turned into a long-feature film in 1943. That film also has a terrific cast (like Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles and Agnes Moorehead) and presumably it's a lot better than this version, which suffers tremendously from lousy editing and an overall lack of tension and credibility. The opening minutes are downright terrific, with no less than two imaginative assassination attempts in a car and in a train. They're aimed at Howard Graham (Sam Waterston), an American engineer in Turkey who just made an important oil discovery in the mountains. Because of the information in his head, he becomes a walking bullseye, so the Turkish government subtly escorts him out of the country by boat. On board, he encounters a variety of individuals that might be allies, secret agents or hired killers. Once Sam Waterston board the ship, the excitement is exchanged for a dull and needlessly talkative middle-section and the only aspect to enjoy are the veteran actors in supportive roles. Appearing as the passengers are Shelley Winters, Yvette Mimieux, Ian McShane, Donald Pleasance and Vincent Price. Especially the last two names convinced me to obsessively track this film down, simply because you know one of them (or maybe even both) will depict a formidable villain. The opening and finale are more than entertaining, but the rest of "Journey into Fear" lacks pace, suspense and integrity. The main issue is that few of the characters appear to believe the roles they play. The hero, for instance, never truly seems to have the titular "fear" for his life. He remains rather calm even though murderers may lure behind every corner and he joyously socializes with everyone on board. This is definitely a disappointment, partially also because the copy I own has bad picture quality and the sound is nearly inaudible, but hey I can scrap another Vincent & Donald movie off my list!
"La Traque" is an undeservedly obscure French drama/thriller that is incredibly tense, intelligent, compelling and unpredictable. The title, plot synopsis and awesome movie poster make you assume that this is another variant on the "The Most Dangerous Game" in combination with "Straw Dogs" or "Deliverance", but the film is much more than that. It's a dreary Sunday and a bunch of macho males gather in the countryside for an afternoon of wild boar hunting. The group of acquaintances (I really wouldn't refer to them as close friends) exists of prominent aristocrats, like a land owner and an aspiring senator, as well as middle class guys, like a pair of car mechanic brothers and a former military man. During the hunt, the Danville brothers encounter Helen Wells, a beautiful English tourist searching for a country cottage to rent during the holidays. They viciously rape the defenseless poor girl, but she manages to wound Paul Danville and flee into the forest. Although none of the other hunting party members is responsible for what happened, they all have their own dark secrets and absolutely want to avoid getting linked to a scandal. Therefore, rather than helping Helen, they decide to collectively track her down and silence her. The acts and decisions taken by the lead characters may seem illogical and revolting, but they're actually very realistic and plausible. In fact, "La Traque" is much more of a social character study instead of a rancid backwoods thriller. Real human beings are much more cowardly and self-protective than the heroes depicted in movies, as illustrated in the unforgettably bleak finale. The atmosphere of the film is thoroughly grim and depressing, with fantastic exterior locations and powerful camera-work. The all-star cast is sublime, with particularly Mimsy Farmer, Michael Longsdale and Jean-Pierre Marielle giving away solid performances. I'm not too familiar with the repertoire of director Serge Leroy, but solely based on his surefooted direction here, I already added two of his other potentially great sounding films on my must-see list.
I absolutely LOVE those gloriously enticing and typically 70's horror titles starting with words like "The House That ". These juicy titles, usually in combination with a wonderfully creepy movie poster and tagline, often formed the biggest selling arguments for contemporary low-budgeted underground exploitation flicks. Productions like these couldn't always rely on overwhelming special effects or spectacular action sequences, so an extra tantalizing title is more than welcome. "The House That Cried Murder" is a downright fantastic slice of seventies' terror, and I'm actually surprised that it isn't mentioned more often by fellow genre fanatics. The film has a terrific albeit absurd plot, original twists and unexpected surprises, delightfully over-the-top performances and most of all a uniquely macabre and ominous atmosphere. The peculiar Barbara is a spoiled rich girl who gets everything she wants simply by shouting out the words: "Daddy, I want that". With daddy's money she designed a strange isolated house in the countryside and now she has her mind set on marrying the hunky David, even though her father doesn't trust him one bit. And right he is, as Barbara catches David smooching with his ex-girlfriend Ellen on their wedding day! So Barbara stabs him in the arm with scissors and hysterically drives off in her blood-spattered wedding dress. Two weeks later, Barbara is still missing but both David and Ellen suffer from vividly terrifying nightmares. David is lured back to Barbara's dream house, where they were supposed to spend their married life together, unaware of the ghastly surprise that awaits him there. "The House That Cried Murder" is a sick and twisted tale of horror with a marvelously gruesome finale. The director exactly knows when to mount the suspense and makes great use of eerie music (although it's more like noise) and set pieces. The titular house forms an eccentric decor as well, as it looks gloomy in its unfinished state. It's a really a shame that too many sequences are so dark you can barely see what is happening. The acting performances are good, especially Robin Strasser as Barbara. She's a totally bonkers and mildly petrifying shrew, but I love her anyways
Who better than Hal Needham, notorious stunt driver and director of many good ol' boy car chase movies like "Smokey and the Bandit" and "Cannonball Run", could direct this modest but worthwhile TV-thriller with numerous crashes and exploding vehicles? The resemblance with Steven Spielberg's phenomenal "Duel" is unmistakable, but that doesn't necessarily makes this film a blatant rip-off. Both films center on a psychopath who, seemingly without much of a motive, uses his/her vehicle as a deadly murder weapon. In "Duel" it's a filthy old truck in the middle of nowhere, whereas in "Death Car on the Freeway" it's a Dodge van on the traffic-infested highways of California during rush hour (which is probably why he occasionally has to switch license plates and re-paint). William Wood's scenario also hints that the murderous van driver does have a motive, in fact. He exclusively targets attractive women alone in a car, so that must make him a misogynic and underdeveloped pig that can't stand that women grow stronger and more independent nowadays. So, symbolically, the person on his tail is a rather timid and initially insecure female journalist who just liberated herself from her self-centered husband and doesn't get taken seriously by her management, or the TV Company's management. The "freeway-incidents" are tense and spectacular, in spite of the obvious budget restrictions, which is a good thing because the rest of the film is overly talkative and somewhat dull. The crashing cars burst into flames illogically fast, if you ask me, but that only makes it more exciting. Although it's "just" a TV-movie, "Death Car on the Freeway" stars a fairly impressive number of familiar names, like Peter Graves, George Hamilton and Robert F. Lyons. Horror and cult fanatics should particularly keep an eye open for a brief appearance by Sid Haig.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Executioner" a.k.a "Massacre Mafia Style" which obviously is a much more apt title was promoted to me by fellow genre fanatics as THE ultimate must-see cult exploitation classic of the seventies. It took me quite a while to track down (apparently it's also one of the most obscure cult exploitation classic of the seventies) but eventually I'm very glad that I took the effort. Not because this is such a great movie, quite the contrary in fact, but the least you can say is that "Massacre Mafia Style" is truly a unique accomplishment and definitely unequaled in terms of ineptitude and entertainment value. This is somewhat the one man project of a good old pal named Duke Mitchell. Duke produced, wrote the screenplay, composed the soundtrack, sat in the director's chair and depicted the anti-heroic lead character in this unsung grindhouse variation on the immensely popular "The Godfather". Duke Mitchell was a godfather, all right The godfather of absurdity and sheer incompetence! The film is a non-stop series of pointless shotgun assassinations (the craziest you'll ever see), altered with incredibly overlong and wannabe philosophical monologues about how traditional Italian families in America are dishonored by the mafia's vicious reputation ("you see this old woman's hands? They smell of oregano and gave us pizza, lasagna and some of the most appreciated foods in the world! But what did we give her in return? We gave her violence, death and dishonor!"). What the hell, indeed! Mitchell's character Mimi Miceli returns to the US, many years after his father got exiled. Together with his childhood friend Jolly Rizzo he intends to work his way back to the top, but he merely only succeeds in becoming an efficient hit man and raising a couple of family feuds. The opening sequences of "Massacre Mafia Style" are legendary, with Duke Mitchell and his buddy Vic Caesar strolling around an office building and liquidating everyone in sight (including secretaries, black guys with immense Afros and a crippled man in a wheelchair) to the tunes of a cheerful Italian party song. This scene as well as all the other massacres in the film, are supposed to be extremely violent and nihilistic, but they're actually downright hilarious and the complete opposite of shocking. The poor people who volunteered to appear in this mess of a movie are just standing around, not looking the least bit surprised by the sounds of screaming and heavy shotgun fire, waiting to be killed next to the elevator or behind their desk, and the next shot shows their exaggeratedly bloodied body. I have a lot of admiration and respect for Duke Mitchell, because he made this movie even though he probably realized himself that it is spectacularly awful in all possible departments, but I can only recommend this to a very limited number of people. Crazy cult fans, rejoice!
"Bridge to Nowhere" is a title of which I didn't knew it existed, but
apparently it marks New Zealand's contribution to the hugely popular
(during the 70's, 80's and still today!) sub genre of
backwoods/survival horror. I can't give a proper reason why this movie
ended up in total obscurity whereas other and similar contemporary
movies easily obtained a cult following or classic status. It's not
better than most backwoods horror movies, but it certainly isn't much
worse, so I guess it's just a matter of bad luck, not enough word of
mouth and/or saturation of the market. The concept and opening
sequences are very formulaic, with five completely obnoxious and
stereotypical eighties kids heading off in their ugly Jeep for a
camping trip near the legendary "bridge to nowhere"; an actual
unfinished building project in the middle of the wilderness. The group
of kids is extremely loud and irritating especially the
self-acclaimed leader Leon and their trip turns sour when they bump
into the eerie redneck couple Mac and Lise. Mac doesn't tolerate Leon's
lustful staring at Lise, even though she provokes it, and soon the
group finds itself relentlessly pursued by a maniac with a shotgun.
"Bridge to Nowhere" is somewhat disappointing in the blood & gore
department but does feature a handful of suspenseful moments and an
efficient use of marvelous filming locations. The three girls in the
cast are quite yummy (that is: if you dig typical 80's chicks) and the
always reliable Bruno Lawrence is a menacing backwoods-brute. "Bridge
to Nowhere" is hardly fundamental viewing, but interesting enough if
you're an admirer of the genre and/or Down Under exploitation.
*note: review title refers to Red Hot Chili Peppers song "Under the Bridge".
I actually couldn't care less about lame Kung-Fu movies; however I am strangely fascinated by insignificant B-movies that assemble impressive ensemble casts even though everything else about it absolutely sucks. "Jaguar Lives!" is a terrific example of this, if there ever was one. This is without a doubt one of the dumbest, most redundant, most intolerable and dullest flicks ever made, but would you look at that cast! The titular hero is a total nobody and remained a total nobody even though this dud was supposed to launch his acting career but would you just take a look at the names surrounding him! It's like an unofficial James Bond reunion where only the coolest people received an invitation: Christopher Lee, Donald Pleasance, the stunningly beautiful Barbara Bach, Joseph Wiseman and just for fun's sake Woody Strode and John Huston. The issue, however, is that all these great people only appear for a mere couple of minutes and I bet all my money that none of them had a clue what this movie was about. The whole thing is just a dire excuse to showcase Joe Lewis' admittedly smooth Kung-Fu moves (watch him kick two naughty villains off their bikes at once in impressive slow-motion) and to travel around the most dreamy exotic locations in the world to tell an inexistent story about an international drug network. Moreover, the identity of the criminal mastermind is so goddamn obvious straight from the beginning that the attempts to hide his face or cover up the sound of his voice are downright hilarious. Donald Pleasance clearly had a fun day depicting a cartoonesque South American dictator, but the rest of them are just performing on automatic pilot and appear to be clinically dead. The explosions and car crashes look incredibly amateurish and Ernest Pintoff's direction is as uninspired as can be. Somehow this turkey received a beautiful and luxurious DVD-release even though it hardly deserves such a treatment. There are far better contemporary cult flicks out there that sadly remain stuck in obscurity. But hey, if you want to have a good laugh or wish to pointlessly kill off a couple of your brain cells, you can't go wrong with "Jaguar Lives!"
Perhaps "Schellebelle 1919" doesn't entirely deserve a flawless 10/10
rating, but I still wholeheartedly want to give it, simple because this
is the most enthusiastic, spirited, imaginative and courageous
cinematic project ever undertaken in Belgium. To start with a bit of
background information: the film is the result of an entire village
collaborating with each other. It's not the work of a professional
production studio, but the accomplishment of devoted volunteers with
the welcome financial help of local companies sponsoring the project.
Acknowledged actor Johan Heldenbergh happens to live in Schellebelle
(which is located in East-Flanders, close to Ghent) and he provided a
script and co-directed the film with the help of the town's mayor
Kenneth Taylor (who did do some TV-work previously). But Heldenbergh
didn't claim ownership to play the lead role and, in fact, the only
famous in Flanders at least faces you will see in "Schellebelle
1919" are those of actors and actresses appearing in minuscule and
insignificant cameo appearances. The actual cast exists of anonymous
and everyday Schellebelle villagers, either members of the local
theater club or randomly appointed volunteers! This set up alone makes
the film totally unique, especially because most of these amateurs give
away stupendous performances, and then let's not forget these people
also still have a wondrously endearing and powerfully compelling story
to tell as well!
Admittedly the plot of "Schellebelle 1919" is somewhat clichéd, predictable and overly sentimental towards the end, but I guarantee that you won't be bothered by this for a single minute. It's a story of family love, unconditional friendship, ordinary middle-class heroes, processing war traumas and even a story about good versus evil. Whilst fighting for their country in the hellish trenches of World War I, father and son Van de Velde receive a letter from teenage daughter Coralie stating that their beloved wife and mother died from an illness. When they return home in 1919, the son depressed and the father struggling with alcoholism, they learn that Coralie single-handedly took custody over 25 (!) orphaned children in their family farm. Now that the war is over, local authorities insist to transfer the children to an orphanage and the corrupt mayor Slosse has put his greedy eye on the geographically interesting Van de Velde farming estate. Coralie and her brother Casimir are ready to fight back, with the help of all the youthful but toughened children. "Schellebelle 1919" is a masterful achievement, with a nearly authentic contemporary post-WWI atmosphere (like beautifully sober photography, great costumes and an astounding soundtrack) and numerous sequences that will genuinely send cold shivers down your spine. The kids are guaranteed to break your heart (and water your eyes) and particularly little Frans' life story is very saddening. Lately Belgian cinema receives a lot of international recognition and respect, thanks to such films as "Broken Circle Breakdown" and "Rundskop", but personally I prefer this kind of modest but integer and noble little movies.
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