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The Panther Squad (1984)
Slapdash Video Euro Trash
I pity the video rental store customers who, looking for something fun to watch on a slow night in the mid 80s, saw this sexy box cover with Sybil Danning holding a machine gun, got excited, read on the back that "the Panther Squad gives you non-stop action", and believed it.
Even connoisseurs of trash are likely to feel let down by this one. After a promising opening credits target practice montage set to a fun rock song called "Tough and Tender", Panther Squad goes limp and lazily smirks its way through a series of lame gags, sub-Dolemite fight choreography, and lifeless acting to a mildly amusing end sequence involving an easily whipped world takeover attempt and a cheesy laser that makes a Jeep disappear. A chintzy flick like this one really needs to slather on the exploitative elements in order to hold a viewer's interest, but Panther Squad is sadly and uninterestingly barren of any gore or nudity.
Danning lacks the charisma to carry such lackluster material, and Jack Taylor, a familiar face from European horror films like The Vampires Night Orgy and Pieces, looks bored throughout - though this is apparently intentional and supposed to be humorous - and his absentminded spy character effectively sums up the film's merits when he observes, "Things move pretty slowly around here." Panther Squad is clearly intended as camp, but at times one wonders where the winking, unfunny play ineptitude ends and the real lack of behind-the-camera talent takes over. Case in point: the villains are supposed to be wacko anti-pollution terrorists, but in one scene we see a group of them riding in a car that's putting out blasts of thick, black smoke. Is this a joke, or was the production just that cheap and shoddy? I'm still not sure.
Fans of filmmaking on the Mikels or Sloane level might be able to tolerate this, but all others are advised to avoid. As of writing, unloved VHS copies of Panther Squad are cheaply available.
Shen dao liu xing chuan (1977)
Colorful Kung Fu Noir
The Green Jade Statuette, plotwise, seems to be a loose kung fu take on The Maltese Falcon, with various villains and fighters vying for the titular object. I'm only a casual martial arts fan, didn't know any of the actors going into this film, and wasn't initially excited, but found it rewarding viewing in the end.
Stylistically, The Green Jade Statuette is typical of old school kung fu films, but the more substantial plotting and character development distinguishes it somewhat from the run of the mill, with mysteries running the course of the film and enigmatic characters whose motives take shape only gradually.
While too many kung fu films feature fairly generic battles between hotheaded men who seem to break into furious violence for no particular reason, The Green Jade Statuette boasts fights which will increasingly matter to the viewer, rather than simply being gratuitous. The final three-way duel at the Buddhist temple is especially involving and picturesque.
The previous reviewer's complaint about the merciless cropping at the sides of the Ocean Shores video also goes for Tai Seng's DVD release, unfortunately. Still, I would recommend this film to old school kung fu fans who are willing to sit through a little more plot than usual.
Shou zhi ao chu (1981)
Kung Fu Executioner is one I sought out after seeing two other Billy Chong vehicles, the must-be-seen-to-be-believed gonzo horror oddities Kung Fu Zombie and Kung Fu from Beyond the Grave. Kung Fu Executioner is much more conventional and has nothing of the insane feeling of those, but remains a decent showcase for Chong's boyish charm.
In some ways, this is a silly chop socky remake of The Godfather, with a family receiving an unwelcome offer to buy into a drug importation scheme and suffering the consequences of refusal. Other parallels include an attack on the elderly patriarch in an open market, followed by a further attempt on his life in a hospital.
This family, however, instead of an Irish consigliere, has adopted a black kung fu fighter, played by the able Carl Scott. Also, while all of this is apparently supposed to be taking place in the 30s or 40s, any illusion of this is destroyed from the outset by the 70s flare collars and other anachronistic fashions.
Fans of schlocky martial arts films of this period will no doubt find themselves at home. Men get angry and punch and kick at the drop of a hat or sometimes even fight with their friends for fun. I don't know the name of the man playing Shima, but he seems to be the villain in almost every kung fu movie I see. There's also a fair amount of gore for this genre, though it looks more like the sweet and sour sauce at your local Chinese buffet than anything that would ooze out of a human being.
The Last Grenade (1970)
Smolders and Fizzles
The problem with The Last Grenade isn't so much that it's bad, but that it disregards audience expectations. It isn't unreasonable, after all, to expect a movie about mercenaries to contain a fair amount of action. The Last Grenade, however, devotes at least as much attention to a none-too-convincing romantic subplot as to the central rivalry between the characters played by Baker and Cord.
Cord's slightly mad villain is more charismatic than the decidedly unheroic hero, but receives too little screen time to keep the tension going. Even his demise is somewhat of a letdown, with the viewer unaccountably robbed of any explosive, bullet-riddled showdown between the rival groups of mercenaries, so that instead we're given an almost mannered climax that's more of a joke than a catharsis, dramatic music cue notwithstanding.
In less British hands - say, Don Siegel's or Sam Peckinpah's - or maybe John Boorman's or David Lean's, this might have been an unqualified winner; as is, however, it's only a minor, watchable, but ultimately disappointing and mostly actionless actioner.
Mutant Hunt (1987)
Hunt for This One at Your Own Risk
Mutant Hunt is a movie I've wanted to see ever since learning of its existence - admit it, the title is irresistible - only, of course, to be disappointed by what a turd it inevitably turned out to be. From Tim Kincaid and the team behind Breeders, this follow-up fails to live up to the already low expectations aroused by that tacky but fun exercise in sci-fi cheesecake. Where Breeders was dopey, decently paced, and filled with quality nudity, Mutant Hunt is dopey, dull, and just barely weird enough to keep it from being a total waste of time.
The script is lame, the fights are drab, the heroes have all the charisma of musclebound Ben Steins, and after the goofy energy of the opening scenes, Mutant Hunt sags into an apparent indifference to itself, droning along and tugging at the poor viewer's patience until the 76 minutes feel more like 120.
Saving this one from utter abomination, thankfully, are the unintentional humor and gooey effects attendant upon the pack of cheap, zombie-like titular creatures, who are actually lumbering Terminatoresque cyborgs on dope that supposedly makes them sex maniacs, though this aspect of their villainy is never really exploited. They're slimy and fairly disgusting to look at, which is nice, but I did find myself wishing the plot and porno-level budget had given them more in the way of havoc to wreak.
Copious Nudity, Campy Screams
If that's what you're looking for, you'll find it in Breeders, a classic of oozy 80s video sleaze. Turning on its head the horror convention that sex means imminent death, the title creatures here target virgins only for their jollies. Luckily for them, New York City seems to be populated pretty plentifully with model-quality maidenheads.
Director Tim Kincaid previously made gay pornographic films, but here displays a welcome and unashamed willingness to linger over the female form (just wait until you see the breeders' Alienesque love nest at the end, with several naked and moaning victims wallowing in white slime). Charmingly cheap as the monster effects are, and however shoddy the script might be, you have to give the people who made this credit for added production value in gourmet flesh - even if the alleged virginity of most of it is dubious.
Breeders moves along at a fairly nice pace, doesn't overstay its welcome, and gives trash lovers what they want. Go in without overly high expectations and have fun with it, maybe as a solid second-rate second feature on a late night double bill with C.H.U.D. or Syngenor.
Tou qing ke (1985)
Superior Ninja Kicks
Although the opening prologue sequence seems incongruous with the rest of the film, City Ninja doesn't quite fit the profile of the typically abominable cut-and-paste Godfrey Ho style ninja Frankenstein product with Caucasian actors inserted later. It's actually fairly decent, with fast pacing, respectable fight choreography, and relatively coherent storytelling.
The two heroes, if that's what they are, are boxers involved with Chinese and Korean gangsters all seeking a necklace with a Swiss bank account number on it. No character in City Ninja emerges as a clearly defined hero, however, and almost every man seems to be out for his own personal gain. The ending, consequently, lacks the upbeat feeling and payoff accompanying most kung fu climaxes, and is actually somewhat of a downer.
While Richard Harrison is nowhere in sight, devotees of bad ninja movies shouldn't be bored, as City Ninja offers its share of treats in that department, with ninjas exploding, flying up out of the ground, swooping from trees, attacking from underneath a bridge, and lobbing colored smoke bombs. There's also a lot of melodrama, funny bits of dialog, and fun and generous sexy scenes.
The Master: Max (1984)
"A ninja does not betray his destiny. You will die."
These are lines uttered by the antagonistic ninja played by Sho Kosugi (Revenge of the Ninja) in this episode of The Master, a dose of classic television kitsch from the 1980s, that golden decade of ninja schlock.
Western star Lee Van Cleef is miscast but still cool as the only occidental American ever to be trained as a ninja. He's returned to the U.S. to locate a long-lost daughter and along the way he meets freewheeling, van-driving Timothy Van Patten (notable as the scariest punk in Class of 1984), joining him in combating an evil real estate developer (Clu Gulager from Return of the Living Dead) looking to put up a mall on Demi Moore's father's land.
Fast-paced, easy-going viewing, and fun in innocuous 80s fashion, the show features exotic ninja weapons, the expected ninja wisdom, and the absolutely obligatory scenes of ninja martial arts training. For the curious, this episode is included in Mill Creek's Ninja Assassins DVD 10-Pack along with some other glorious ninja crapola.
Ninja Phantom Heroes (1987)
For Hardcore Bad Ninja Movie Fans Only
There are more outrageously entertaining Godfrey Ho movies than Ninja Phantom Heroes, but those who have come to appreciate the man's unique vision will find more of the same to enjoy here. Mostly cobbled from a Chinese gangster potboiler, the movie's actual ninja to non-ninja screen time ratio is pretty paltry. Even the somewhat dull segments have a usually unintentional charm, however, with more than enough silly dubbing and odd dialog to keep bad movie warriors watching.
Among the highlights are a brief fight between a drunk white guy and three goofy Chinese guys; a guy throwing a cup of tea in his own face; any scene involving the characters "Baldy" and "Fatty"; gratuitous evil Chinese gangster chuckling; stick-wielding motorcyclists attacking a car; revenge accompanied by the line "You dirty rat"; and, of course, the obligatory disappear-and-go-poof ninja henchmen.
Potential victims, I mean viewers, should be aware that the version of this movie available as part of Mill Creek's Ninja Assassins 10-pack, confusingly retitled Ninja Empire (also the title of a different Godfrey Ho movie), is only 78 minutes long, whereas another version apparently runs 90 minutes. Frankly, though, since most people will be glad when it's over, it probably doesn't even matter.
Huang jin dao shi (1992)
Flawed But Worthwhile Chinese Ghost Comedy
More of a straight comedy than a horror comedy, Mad Mad Ghost is much more concerned with daffy laughs and social issues than with scares.
Lam Ching Ying is a Taoist priest who, along with his bumbling disciples, moves into a house haunted by a ghost couple: a meek, traditional woman and her abusive husband. Lam helps her rid herself of the brute, and takes her on as a sort of teaching aid in order to help develop his students' ghost-battling skills.
Meanwhile, the easily scared ghost lady works on becoming a more formidable ghost, and also emancipating herself as a woman. None of this is as serious as it sounds, however, with the students constantly behaving in ridiculous, unpious ways and the ghost lady going shopping, visiting a disco, and taking on a new Madonna-inspired persona.
Another current running through Mad Mad Ghost is Chinese patriotism. Lam, in some of his introductory lecturing, explains that the ancient Chinese view of the universe has a "scientific" basis equivalent to Einstein's Theory of Relativity. European chess, he later adds, also has its origin in a Chinese game.
There's also a definite anti-Western feeling to the film. Two woodenly villainous men posing as missionaries wanting to rent Lam's house are actually only interested in a stash of gold buried in the courtyard. At the end, when the two of them start blasting the house apart with machine guns and calling everybody "Chinese dogs", one of them remarks that it's "as exciting as the Vietnam War."
A sometimes awkward mix of several styles and thematic concerns, Mad Mad Ghost isn't completely successful. The ghostly spousal abuse, for instance, while played as comedic, comes across as overly brutal considering the tone of the film. The laughs are hit-and-miss and almost always of the dumb, mugging variety. There's also some cheap and very visual toilet humor, which may turn off some viewers. For the brave, however, Mad Mad Ghost ought not to be a complete waste of time, as it does have an often infectious energy and somewhat likable cast of characters.