David Carradine in the Future Force/ Future Zone Double Feature

 

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  I was a big fan of David Carradine from when I first saw him on the “Kung Fu” television show. By 9 or ten or so, I was struck on just how damn cool he was- kickin’ major ass while roaming the land. As I got older I would catch him in genre flicks that would trickle down to Central Florida; great stuff like Cannonball! (an underrated Roger Corman- produced car crash flick with the very yummy Veronica Hamel and the funny Gerrit Graham); Thunder and Lightning (more car hijinx- this one co-starring my favorite “Charlie’s Angel” Kate Jackson), and his most famous- the giant cult flick Deathrace 2000 (with FOUR smokin’ gals in this one: the pretty genre favorite (but barely in this) Roberta Collins (who had more screen time in things like Caged Heat & Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive, and who died just last year from an OD); Louisa Moritz (who’s been in a million things like Chained Heat; Lunch Wagon and New Year’s Evil– a busty blonde with a squeaky voice who you’d recognize the second you saw her); the tall-and-sexy Mary Woronov (again, in a bunch of things from Andy Warhol underground stuff to Ms. Togar in Rock and Roll High School and the waiting-to-be-discovered lost film Get Crazy) and, my favorite of the bunch (sorry, Mary) the should-have-moved-on-to-much-better-things Simone Griffeth, who later appeared in more obscure drive-in stuff like The Patriot and Hot Target. She was a stunning woman who could really act (if not necessarily shown off in Deathrace), and apparently is still acting in local theater (in between her Real Estate day job)…

 

 

   I wanted to get in some reviews of some budget Carradine titles in honor of his passing on June 3rd and remembered that I had been sitting on a two-disc set of Future Force (1989) & the sequel Future Zone (1990); a combo set that can be found for $5 at places like FYE (courtesy of the budget DVD company Echo Bridge Home Entertainment). I didn’t know much about either title other than these were made during a low (one of several) in big Dave’s career (it would be a few years before he’d appear in the big studio flick Bird on a Wire, and 15 years before getting the title role in the Kill Bill movies), and that it was directed by David Prior- a director of low budget schlock who has a list of this type of thing as long as your arm (and he’s still at it). The box art has some Lawnmower Man- type computer graphics, suggesting something very Sci-Fi. Of course, cover art has lied in the past, but surely something with the Seal of Approval of “Caine” (Carradine and his 3rd wife Gail Jensen are credited as Associate Producers) wouldn’t DECEIVE, would it? Read on, fellow travelers…

 

 

   David stars as John Tucker, an officer of the “C.O.P.S.- Civilian Operated Police Systems” (as some helpful narration at the beginning of the movie informs, because of how bad crime has gotten by the so-in-the-future 1991 (!) the government has sold police forces the privatized corporation and now most crime has been obliterated) who ends up having to guardian angel a news reporter who’s fingered a mob boss in town (an overacting ham of a human being named William Zipp). Showing the low budget nature of the movie right off the bat- do the cops wear cool armor? Well- no. Actually, the uni consists of dark Wrangler jeans, a sky blue t-shirt under a denim cutoff vest. He does have a cool steel riot glove (ala The Glove– see my earlier blog post about that Rosey Grier/John Saxon vehicle) that gives him the strength to lift things like cars, smash meal and shoot lasers. But, being a David Prior movie, it’s carried out in his consistent, cheesy way, That is, a low budget version of a basic cable TV movie (and I know- I’ve sat through some of his other offerings, like Raw Justice (ever wondered what a movie starring Pam Anderson and the guy from Airplane would be like? Wonder no further- this is it); and Raw Nerve (with Glenn Ford reaching his absolute nadir, acting with an apparently drunk Jan-Michael Vincent and a way too sober and clothed Traci Lords) …  

 

   Carradine looks bloated and a bit tired in this- simply going through the motions. And if the flick had the least bit of fun to it, it might be easier to take. Unfortunately, it takes itself DEADLY serious, and sucks the air right out of any pace or drama it tries to set up. Tucker throws out grumpy lines to convey that he’s a bad ass: “You have committed a crime and have been found guilty. You have the right to die. If you relinquish that right, you will be placed under arrest…”. Wow- harsh stuff, huh? The only other name on display here is Robert Tessier, a big, Mr. Clean- looking guy who’s been in a bunch of Burt Reynolds films (like Hooper and The Longest Yard) as well as the Bad-Guy-who-turns-into-the-Good-Guy-and-dies-for-his-efforts personal favorite cheese-fest Starcrash, as the Boss’ right arm. Just like everyone else in here (except for the above-mentioned Zipp and Dawn Wildsmith- the ex- Mrs. Fred Olen Ray as the fellow cop with a heart and slashed throat), he seems to be acting in some kind of catatonic state…

 

 

   So OK; the acting’s kinda flat and the Art Direction is uninspired- at least there’s some nifty Sci-fi effects, right? Uh, no… sorry. Lame in that department as well. The whole movie is shot with the dingy, uninspired poor man’s karate movie look, with not a hint of fantastic elements. And the library music used (lots of bass keyboard thumping) and amped-up sound effects do not help matters; instead of helping the excitement level it’s just that much more distracting. The movie is unrated, and except for a few swear words and some after-killing blood there’s nothing too rough in this (which would have probably spiced up the very long-seeming 80 minute running time). The “Flying-Glove-of-Death” is pretty funny though; you have to wait to the 68 minute mark for that, though)…

 

 

   I’m glad that he was able to regain some level of credibility before dying (but with all the speculation on HOW he died, seems to have undone that); it’s a shame that he had to survive on low-level product like this. As I was barely unable to get through the first one, the sequel Future Zone is going to have to wait for another day for me to review it- I’m still having trouble keeping food down…

 

 

Future Force- 1 out of 5*

 

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Richard Grieco hits the acting skids in “Final Payback” (2001)

 

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   Johnny Depp is known to be pretty much the coolest guy in movies. Not only is he probably the most entertaining guy out there with his varied roles, he seems to be just a good guy (things like recording personal messages for a young coma patient; sending pieces of his wardrobe to fans; or appearing with his former teenage bandmates for a 20-year reunion just to play music). He got his start on “21 Jump Street”; a pretty successful series for the Fox Network that was suppose to launch the career to superstardom of another actor on the series- Richard Grieco, but things didn’t turn out as planned. While Johnny hooked his star to directors like Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam and Robert Rodriguez, Richard ended up with straight-to-video “mavens” like Chuck DuBus (Fish Don’t Blink); Christian Viel (Evil Breed: The Legend of Sam Hain); and David Wu (Webs). This time he picked Art Camacho, a Stunt Coordinator and sometime Director (his biggest flick to date is the recent Half-Past Dead 2), and together they unleashed Final Payback, a DTV of a slow and talky man-on-the-run versus a corrupt-police-force-out-to-get-him flick…

 

  When Grieco goes dippin’ his ink in the company well- well, no good can ever come from that apparently, and he wakes up to his girlfriend (Priscilla Barnes, in probably the most thankless role of her life) dead in her shower. Oh, and it’s a Police Chief’s (John Saxon– SURPRISE! As another cop!) wife; the same Police Chief who had ol’ Rich bounced off the force a few years earlier. He hears cops, hops on his Honda, then scoots away, causing the lone cop car following him to flip and burst into flames…

 

   Well, after THAT, you get scenes of drug dealers and users being brought in by (drum roll, please) Martin Kove, chewing scenery from here to L.A. He grits his teeth, rolls his eyes, and sucks up major to the Mayor (Corbin Bernsen, who’s few minutes of screen time must have either been as a favor to the makers of this or commanded pocket money for a weekend in Sausalito). Kove is easily the best thing in this (maybe not BEST- let’s say “most entertaining”)- Grieco could have made this his, but with his sulking, overacting and facial ticks, it’s hard to like him. His greasy hair and earring, his oily and pudgy face, his stupid leather jacket all made me hope that they’d turn the tables and off the good guy (I don’t want to give it away, but no luck). It’s kinda fun- there are some flourishes that make this not as static as typical fare (the junkie hitmen- one played by Manuel Sanchez that is a low-rent version of the great Danny Trejo; a buddy-turned-informer trippin’ out in an alley), but in the end, it’s just a fairly-good time-waster…

 

   The flick itself is shot flat and pretty static, though nicely framed in widescreen 1:85. The most surprising thing is the lack of real stunts, but the fight scenes that are here are well-staged. This DVD is released by Digiview and can be had for a buck at pretty much every WalMart on earth. No extras, but that’s OK- I can’t picture really wanting a “Making Of” or a “Director’s Commentary” for this; nothing all that exceptional here. One last thing- for some reason most of the cursing is bleeped out (“Son of a ____”); however they left an “F-word” in.

 

 

 

Final Payback– 2-1/2 out of 5*

 

 

“7 Lucky Ninja Kids” and Earl Owensby

 

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   Earl Owensby has been referred to by others as a “Hillbilly Roger Corman” or a “Southern-fried Orson Welles”. It’s a shame to label the guy, and I don’t think that either of the descriptions really suit him- he never had the pure output of product that Corman had (I think that Earl has only had his hand in about a dozen or so feature films), and he never released anything that could be considered an artistic vision and something on par with Welles. However, he did have Corman’s drive-in sensibilities- knowing his target (basically people below the Mason-Dixon Line who like adventure, thrills and a moral thread running through their flicks) and attempting to deliver the goods. And, as Orson Welles, he could be a Jack-of-all-Trades; at different points in his career he was Producer, top-lining Actor, Director- Hell, he even built his own studio after acquiring an abandoned and half-built nuclear power plant in a small town in South Carolina (http://www.earlowensby.com/)- and this ain’t no tin-roofed shack behind an outhouse either, but a world-class facility worthy enough of the likes of James Cameron (who shot The Abyss there). The only person that I can really equate him with would probably be H.B. Halicki- the Stuntman/Director/Producer/Star of the original Gone in 60 Seconds; a self-made man who made a few flicks before tragically dying while performing a stunt in a movie he was making…

 

 

   I’ve been fascinated with him long before I ever saw one of his flicks- I had read somewhere about him (OK- actually the SOMEWHERE was in an issue of “Penthouse” that a friend of mine had snuck out of his Dad’s sock drawer. See- sometimes we DON’T lie and really DO read the articles, even as a kid) and had never thought until then the possibility of someone; ANYONE; being able to make a movie that actually played in theaters that wasn’t located in New York or Hollywood. This was a real guy making real features. The next few years I was able to catch various Owensby movies either at local drive-in’s or on TV (Wolfman– another one of his that seems to be released by all kinds of bargain DVD companies and one I have to bring up on the blog again, a true Gothic/Southern werewolf movie that must be seen to be believed; Seabo (aka Buckstone County Prison– made in the wake of mid-‘70’s badass Southern cops on a rampage like Macon County Line and Walking Tall) and Rottweiler– released to cash in on the brief resurgent 3D craze of the early 80’s). I’ve also missed out on some beauties that I have to watch; like Living Legend (his take on the whole “Elvis Presley thing”) and Tales of the Third Dimension. One of his later works (and, if I’m not mistaken, his last film to date as a Director) is 7 Lucky Ninja Kids, a movie that would appear to have been made to cash in on 3 Ninja and its never-dying string of sequels and rip-offs. I would once in awhile find this in on DVD in unexpected places like FYE but never thought of purchasing it until too late, and then when I started to look for it in earnest, it ended up going out of print and fetching as high as $50 from used movie vendors on Amazon and eBay. Imagine my surprise finding it at a Family Dollar for 60 cents (that’s what it rang up as- even though there’s a printed-on-the-cover price tag selling it for $1). Yeah, it’s packed in a cardboard sleeve, and manufactured by some outfit called Dollar DVD (don’t bother going to dollar.dvd.com; that web page is long gone), but I thought that I could risk three quarters for this obscure little item…

 

 

   Well, there’s a reason that this has fallen into obscurity- THIS ISN’T AMERICAN MADE! It’s a painful redubbing of some Honk Kong kids comedy, with skilled acrobatic kids performing antics that would make the Three Stooges wince and atrocious dubbing with clever repartee like “You dumb jerk” 50 times, and gems like “You don’t believe me? You’re an idiot! You don’t know anything! Only how to sleep!”; and “Over here I’m ‘Rocky’, but in the states I’m known as ‘Rambo’!” (the last line said by a fatigues-wearing ten year old who’s appointed as the squadron leader). The basic plot has the 7 Lucky Ninja Kids stumbling on a diamond heist and murder, but in between the idiocy of Japanese Gangsters trying to find ways to stop the meddling kids are restaurant hijinx; stuttering hitmen; tough guys trying to stand on an ice rink; a BMX bike chase; and a desk that beats up the guy sitting behind it (don’t ask). It all culminates in a prolonged warehouse fight, when, after the kids are victorious (sorry to spoil the ending) is an apparent out-take of the leaping-in-unison shot in the credits, showing the crew rushing in to goof around with the suspended tykes…

 

 

   Framed incorrectly to the right, therefore cutting off a fair-sized sliver on the right and leaving a large black band on the right, it is distracting to say the least- it’s as if the telecine operator (the guy who transfers this obvious ¾ video master to DVD) couldn’t stomach to watch this, so he started up the machine, then left for the local pub to get a few drinks in him. On top of that, it’s horribly zoomed in, easily cutting off a total of a quarter of the picture on both sides, like if you were to try to watch a movie with your face stuck right on the TV screen, and the tracking is bad, especially at the top of the screen and an occasional picture warble. The sound is very flat and has a slight hum throughout; all punctuated by the highly exaggerated smacks and cracks of all the worst Kung Fu movies of the seventies. The dubbing is (naturally) just awful, and the tinka-tinka theme song sung by the kids (“Olalala-lalalala chi chi chi”) doesn’t help matters…

 

 

   The Director listed as Chau Chen Li (I think- between the cutoff titles and the white letters on a washed out white background, it’s hard to see ANYTHING). Even though it’s aimed at kids, I’m not sure that this is wholesome Disney-esque entertainment, with lines like “Goddamn foreigners” and “What’s you problem? Go to Hell!” Also, watching the kids get punched and kicked around by adults double their size is a little disturbing. As for how Earl Owensby is tied to this I have no idea- nowhere on either the film or the packaging is his name (or ANY English name) listed. If this IS somehow his, I would guess that he was a distributor for it, but there aren’t a lot of clues that THAT ever happened, either. And after watching this 80 minutes of celluloid (that, at times felt like twice as long) I sat in a stupor, not believing what I saw so I was going to watch it again just to make sure. But you know what it’s like to suck in helium? How your voice gets funny and it cracks everyone up around you and you feel light-headed, so it wears off and you try it again, only this time it’s not as funny, and the high isn’t as high and all you end up with is a slight headache? Well, when the headache started about 5 minutes into re=watching it I couldn’t go through with it, ejected the DVD and sleeved it. Oh, and even though the date is reported as “1989”, I have to think that it was made at least 10 years prior to that, judging by the cars and scenery…

 

 

   One more thing- come to find out that “Dollar DVD” is an offshoot of the late Brentwood/BCI- Eclipse – it appears to be BCI’s ‘sub-label. They’ve released a whole slew of very old PD titles- things that have been in bargain bins as far back as the old VHS days (like Charlie Chaplin shorts; The Road to Bali and The Beverly Hillbillies that are in Public Domain). So if you find it for under a buck, consider it “fair market value”; if, however, you run into somebody asking you to pay anything more than that, tell them to lay off the helium.

 

 

7 Lucky Ninja Kids– 1 out of 5*

 

 

 

Flexplay and You…

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I remember seeing these first at a 7-11 a few years ago where I bought a couple of them out of curiousity (one of the Pirates of the Caribbean flicks and something else), then they seemed to disappear. I was at Staples last week and saw a big cardboard display for them, so I though that I’d cover them on the blog…

 

 

“Them” are Flexplay DVDs (www.flexplay.com) “the Time Limited DVD” and what they are- well, it’s kinda hard to say. It’s sort of like having a rental DVD, only you don’t have to return them- instead you’re stuck with a disc that “ages”; after you’ve opened it from it’s protective air-tight sleeve you have 2 days (the packaging says) to watch it before it comes unplayable. I saw that Staples were clearancing these out; they normally retail for $5 each (a bit high for a comparable DVD rental when you can go to a Redbox for $1 a night, but, you don’t have to return the disc anywhere so I guess you’re paying for convenience) but they marked all of theirs down to a buck a piece (of course your mileage may vary). I ended up buying 15 or so; different titles that interest me like The Invasion; Cloverfield; Be Kind Rewind; The Brave One (Jodie Foster– YUM!); The Love Guru, etc. They also have some TV content like Mythbusters and Dirty Jobs episodes and some concert flicks like Rolling Stones- Shine a Light, but all of their content seems to be current or semi-current- I guess you really want to buy a classic movie if you really want to see it, and not have it go ker-plunk on you for repeated viewing…

 

 

I went ahead and opened the recent Sweeney Todd for analysis. Once you open the cardboard package (they’re packed in a full-color sleeve that opens to reveal the clear pouch that contains the disc), you remove the air-tight disc packaging, cut the side off then remove the DVD. The disc itself looks like a standard DVD; it has the same heft as any other professionally produced disc, even down to the full-color silk-screened top (which seems a little wasteful- I mean, you’re just going to chuck this in a few days anyway; why go whole hog with fancy graphics on a disc that you’ve already purchased?), but if you look on the underside of it, the disc is a pretty ruby red (I think that this has changed and they’ve come up with newer technology for the “rotting” process; The Love Guru disc looks like the familiar reflective silver that are standard with regular DVDs). It goes quickly straight to the movie- no menu or extras or anything (again, in comparison to Love Guru– that has a simple Menu that allows you to choose either “Play” or “Setup”, which allows you a choice of English/French/Spanish Languages or Audio- all in 5.1). The picture was in widescreen; again, no choice (however, some of the other titles show “widescreen” on the packaging, so I’m not sure what titles they have that are NOT in widescreen)…

 

 

The picture itself is clear (if just a touch softer than the regular DVD release) and the sound is as vibrant. I watched the flick on both an upconverting DVD player on a large-screen HD set as well as on my PC and had issues with neither. I then waited two days and tried to watch on both and again, no problem- however examining the physical disc itself I noticed the inner ring of the disc was gradually turning black- the way the disc shuts itself off. I tried it two days later and was still able to play it in both the stand alone DVD player as well as the PC. On the 5th day, however the stand alone DVD player churned then stopped; I was still able to play it on the PC until about the week mark, where it finally failed to play. However as another test, I was able to copy it using (SHHhh- secret) software that allowed playback with no issues whatsoever both when I opened it as well as making another copy after a week (though the packaging does say that the discs are “copy-protected”, so either the software I have is very good or their copy-protecting software ain’t). Actually, after almost two weeks, the files on the Flexplay are viewable; what seems to derogate are the files initiated at startup. So, basically if you are not tech-y (my Parents immediately come to mind) this protection is fine; but if you want to find a way to crack it, it is easily achieved…

 

 

I’m not really sure who these are marketed for; I would guess first and foremost would be the casual movie viewer who’s not a collector (and therefore wouldn’t want to own a DVD for repeated viewing) and who doesn’t want to go to the trouble of either joining a local video store (like Blockbuster) or something online (like Netflix), or doesn’t want the trouble of repeatedly going to a Redbox for renting then returning or incur the expense of Pay-per-View on their local cable systems. This seems like a very specific niche, though, and I’m not sure how long the company is going to stick around (a recent look on their site shows some even newer titles available, so maybe Staples just wanted to get out of the pre-recorded DVD market) with all of the viewing options available. You can purchase these on the Flexplay site as well for $4.99 each with free shipping. One more thing that is a bit disturbing is the waste factor; the disc covers mark these as “recyclable”; however, you have to go on their site, register the UPC codes individually (limit 5 at a time) then they’ll send you a pre-paid shipping package to return to them. It seems a bit too much work to be “eco-friendly”; this also doesn’t allow for the cardboard sleeve these are sold in, so this may bother you if you have those kind of concerns. At the $1 price-point I would recommend these easily; anything above that for a title that you would consider watching more than once then I would be more apprehensive…

 

 

Flexplay (in general)- 2-1/2* out of 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carmen Electra IS an “American Vampire”

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   I was GOING to review American Vampire (released in 2006 from Digiview Entertainment and, apparently, known in some parts as An American Vampire Story) but I can’t bring myself to do it. I spent a whole buck on the DVD and feel like I was cheated for 97 cents- it is totally unwatchable, and I turned it off after 15 minutes (and you are talking to someone who’s seen thousands on movies and have only walked out of two of them- (9 to 5 and Time Bandits). It has Adam West- the Original (and still the best) “Batman”; Sydney Lassick (the uber-creepy guy who basically upstaged Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and creeped out Carrie in “Carrie”) and the afore-mentioned Carmen, but it is just so bad that it can’t be believed. It’s basically about kids at a beach house vacationing, who get more than they bargain for when they run into some hot blood-suckers. And it’s not bad in a Plan 9 kinda way- like in a nuclear meltdown disaster. PLEASE- for the sake of sanity for you and everyone that you know and love, approach this movie ONLY with a HASMAT suit and Teflon tongs…

 

 

   …it’s THAT bad…

 

 

American Vampire– ZERO out of 5*

 

 

R.I.P. Ray Dennis Steckler- King of the Cheapies

 

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   Ray Dennis Steckler was probably the cheapest filmmaker out there (with apologies to Ted Mikels and the late Andy Milligan), and having passed away January 7th I figured that a few words would be in order…

 

 

   Just in my teens, I saw my first Steckler movie (and his highest-budgeted at $38,000)- The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies at one of the last Saturday Matinees that was still around in the late ‘70’s in Orlando. I had already loved crappy movies as a little kid; my Mom and I shared very little in the way of interests but we would park ourselves on the couch to watch Tampa’s Channel 44’s “Creature Feature” With Dr. Paul Bearer and his absolutely gonzo double features. But “Incredibly” was something else- my first real “cult” movie; before I would trek religiously to Midnight Movies at least weekly to catch Rocky Horror; Heavy Metal or Dawn of the Dead. From then on I would look for any of his cheesy-yet-fun movies any time they would (very rarely) play on late-night UHF TV, and even called him (after lots of microfiche and out-of-town-phonebook research at the local library) just to let him know that I was a fan (he was curt but semi-appreciative before brushing me off with a quick “Good Luck, Kid”)….

 

 

   Eventually I was able to catch most of his films on VHS and later on DVD and became hooked by most of his 60’s output- The Thrill Killers; Rat Fink a Boo Boo (which was SUPPOSE to be titled Rat Fink AND Boo Boo but when the titles were made for the movie someone in the lab goofed and he didn’t want to spend the extra movie to correct them!) and especially Wild Guitar, which is an amazing rags-to-riches rock and roll story…

 

 

   Wild Guitar stars the fleshy-faced Arch Hall Jr. as the hayseed “Bud Eagle” a starry-eyed rock-and-roller with nothing but 15 cents in his pocket (he can’t even afford tax on his meal at a diner), a crummy guitar, a giant blonde pompadour and a dream to make it big in Hollywood. Ten minutes after arriving he meets the pretty blonde Vickie (Nancy Czar), who, as luck would have it, is just on the way to her big break- dancing on a TV Variety Show. After her jiggling and writhing, the singer who’s suppose to follow her gets so nervous that he bails, so a stage hand at the urging of Vickie (who, by the way has never seen her new friend sing), lets ol’ Bud go out there to sing- and after tripping onto the stage, regains his composure and belts out a song that, at the end of it, has the girls in the audience go nuts. This gets the attention of a sleazy Producer Mike McCauley (played by his real-life Dad Arch Hall Sr.), who insists that he A) “Call me Mike”; and B) will handle everything. Well, he does and HOW- soon Bud is a huge star on national tours and records but only has a rented apartment, six new suits and a shiny guitar to show for his efforts as fatherly Mike is cookin’ the books and pocketing a chunk ‘o change. After more drama Mike suddenly gets smart and, with a scheme that could only be dreamed up in a movie where someone becomes a national superstar after only being in town for eight hours or so, ends up with the money and the girl (and a recalcitrant Mike seeing the error of his ways). That this was made in glorious Black and White at a cost under $30,000 in 1962 is truly astounding, and a personal favorite of mine as a junk-food movie…

 

 

   Ray’s output slowed down in the 70’s on, and the dozen or so movies he did make weren’t quite as fun (he even delved into hardcore porn for awhile) but were even cheaper (it’s said that he never spend anything more than he did for “Incredibly Strange Creatures”!). He ended up getting a divorce from his wife (and featured performer) Carolyn Brandt, opened a video store and make the occasional movie until he died of heart failure in early January…

 

 

   As for his output on DVD- you can find a great sample of his best work on 2 boxed sets readily available at places like Amazon or Best Buy for under $20 each: “Midnight Movie Collection”- which collects Strange Creatures…; Rat Fink A Boo-Boo (probably my second-favorite of all his movies); The Thrill Killers and The Lemon Grove Kids (Ray’s take-off of The Bowery Boys with him as the lead “Kid” and looking very much like Huntz Hall); and “Midnight Movie Collection 2”, which has his more recent works like Blood Shack; Body Fever; and his almost-silent soft-core horror dual features The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Slasher and The Las Vegas Serial Killer. Each movie is on their own disc and cased individually, all with commentaries by the engaging Steckler as well as interviews and promotional materials…

 

 

   Don’t wanna spend 20 bucks? Break open the piggy bank and spring out 4 quarters and head to your nearest Walmart; Dollar Tree or check cashing store; ‘cause you’ll probably find Digiview Productions DVD of Wild Guitar there (along with a 2nd great feature The Beatniks; another singer-plucked-from-obscurity feature (this time from a dirty beatnik gang) starring a pre-“Big Valley” Peter Breck acting particularly crazed). Granted, the picture isn’t the silvery- B&W you would find on a carefully restored Criterion disc, but some movies, like Ray’s, can be enjoyed through the splices and scratches just fine- thank you very much. RIP Mr. Steckler- I just wished that I had the chance to shake your hand or have something signed; that would have been a true honor …

 

   PS- One more way to get his movies would be through his web site (http://www.raydennissteckler.com/) but I’m not sure if the Store is operational now that he’s passed- at least you would know if it IS that some of the money would be going to his family…

 

 

   Wild Guitar– (4* out of 5)

 

 

 

Night of the Sharks & The Glove

 

 

   Today is a Double Feature disc from Canada- Quality Special Products (no website available- the on-screen name is Quality Video, Inc.) is a typical bargain DVD and CD provider that, for all I know, is still in business. I’ve seen their product in various places, from FYE to CVS (where I picked this DVD up) and they seem to specialize in music compilations mostly (Bob Marley; Jerry Lee Lewis) that are either re-records of original songs or live Greatest Hits discs, but also carry Public Domain (PD) movies, or, in this case, borderline- as I’m not sure that either of these movies ARE in Public Domain. This could be a case of maybe just VERY CHEAP licensed product (the Company seems to be crossing their “T” and dotting their “I”s even when it comes to their packaging; they’ve even given credit to the copyright owners of the photos they used of the stars on their case cover)…

 

 

   The first one- Night of the Sharks (1987) (or, it’s proper title: La Notte Degli Squali) is an Italian (how would you have guessed from its original title?) crime thriller that is SO BORING that I fell asleep in the middle of it. It takes a special movie to have me zone in the middle of it (the last time I did that watching a movie was Pokeman 2000) and this is it. The only reason I woke up was when I nodded off I fell head-first into the keyboard and the constant “DING-DING-DING-DING” of my head resting on the keys shook me awake. Treat Williams (who, God love him, is clearly doing this for the lira), who at one time actually made decent movies (remember Prince of the City?) is a retired fortune hunter who comes out who ends up seeking revenge on the guys that rubbed out his brother (he double-crossed some corporate-types and is carrying an audio CD (!) with incriminating evidence). The other names in the cast, like Christopher Connelly (who also isn’t above working for anyone willing to pay him no matter how bad the script) and Antonio Fargas (HUGGY BEAR- do I need to add to that?) are slumming, but at least enjoying the all-expense paid trip to the Dominican Republic. This is filmed in typical Italian-style; with grainy photography and almost every shot ending in a zoom- and a trick ending that, even if you DO fall asleep, you will see coming from 6 miles away…

 

 

   The Glove (1979) was made by Ross Hagen, a character actor who mostly played baddies and still appears in the occasional Fred Olen Ray flick. He’s made other movies (he was the Producer and actor of Bad Charleston Charlie, which was a favorite tape of mine until my crappy VCR I once owned ate the tape) and still directs, but this one is his crowning achievement. The always great John Saxon stars as a divorced ex-baseball payer-turned bounty hunter who gets 20 grand if he hauls in escaped con Rosey Grier (and does it all while wearing velour jogging suits). Oops, one thing- the con is wearing a specially-designed riot glove that allows the wearer to smash through anything, like doors and cars. Watching Rosey (playing a con with heart- even though he smashes the shit out of prison guards) in full riot gear beat up a car is so cool that the DVD producers use it as a blurb before the menu. Now THIS is what an exploitation flick is supposed to be! It’s all over the place- its got action, comedy (like gay bail jumpers) action, heart-warming scenes of Dad and daughter, meat-cutting footage, and gratuitous poker playing . It also has an all-star character actor cast, including Keenan Wynn, Nicholas Worth, Joan Blondell (in her second-to-last roll), Aldo Ray, Jack Carter, Hoke Howell and Michael Pataki. Why this movie isn’t more famous (or being remade like other less-worthy movies nowadays) I don’t know, but it needs to be. I think that it’s got the type of tone that movies made in the “Blaxploitation” era had, which may make it seem slightly dated, but it really suits it. I caught this late night on HBO in the early 80’s and was pleasantly surprised that it was as good as I remembered it. And don’t forget the song- you will try but you won’t be able to: “You can’t escape, the kiss and rape, of the GLOOOOVVVVeeeee”…

 

 

   The disc is a flipper (one movie on both sides) and the box art is pretty cheesy (the spine doesn’t even list the movies, only the names of Treat and John, so if someone is perusing your DVD collection looking for one of these movies, they’re going to have to know who starred in them). The quality of the prints is VHS transfer but fairly clean- late-night UHF-quality (though The Glove is the better-looking of the two and might be from a film print). Sharks runs 87 minutes and is PG-13 (blood); The Glove clocks in at 92 minutes and is definitely an “R” because of its heavy violence. One thing unusual that you’ll find when you pop this puppy into your player is some voice-over narration- “Welcome to this Interactive versatile disc… Blah Blah Blah”… instructing you on how to actually WORK a DVD by using your remote to select your Option (in case you never have used basically any kind of electronics before) -VERY annoying. The jazzy saxophone and flute music at the menu is a particularly dumb choice- its very out of place. Extras include Chapter Selection; short Biographies; a Movie Review (naturally they select a good one for each film) and a Trivia Quiz (you WERE paying attention, right?). I would pick this up just for The Glove, but its your money so spend it as you’d like…

 

 

  

   Night of the Sharks– 1* out of 5

 

   The Glove– 3-1/2* out of 5