Archive for the 'Reviews by Blake' Category

Nov

posted by Blake | November 1, 2014 | 60's b-movies, 60's movies, B-movie Reviews, B-movies, Reviews by Blake

Comments Off on Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women

I was born in 1966, so growing up as a kid October always meant two things: Halloween and a yearly reminder of the genesis of the Red Menace.  Starting in October, 1917, the Soviets under Lenin’s leadership began seizing power in Russia and would not stop until they had control a year later.  While this had dire consequences for Russia and many other nations throughout the next 80 years, it did make for some pretty decent film-making, particularly in the realm of science fiction.

Unfortunately, some of the coolest sci-fi films to come out of the Soviet era only made it to U.S. markets in butchered form, with ludicrous dubs and hamfisted cuts perpetrated by bargain-basement distribution companies.  Even worse (from an artistic viewpoint, at any rate), they often added content by schlocky or inexperienced directors, further eroding the quality of what had originally been a good film.  Such was the fate of two Soviet films that fell into the hands of the great Roger Corman and his Filmgroup production and distribution company: Nebo Zovyot (1959) and Planeta Bur (1962).  Before moving on to the film at hand, a brief intro to these two efforts is necessary.

Nebo Zovyot was directed by Mikhail Karyukov and Aleksandr Kozyr and had some of the best modelling sequences of its era, as well as an honest and fairly successful attempt to pay lip service to the scientific realities of space travel.  “Sputnik I” had reached orbit the previous year, so in the Soviet Union the space program and its possibilities was on everyone’s mind and a film about the first manned trip to Mars was just the thing the average Ivan-in-the-street was looking for.  There are some really great sequences in the original, many of which are preserved in the U.S. release.  Unfortunately, the original Russian script was very heavy-handed and painted an unflattering portrait of the space program of the “American imperialists,” so when legendary schlock-film hucksters American International Pictures acquired the rights for U.S. distribution of the film in 1962, they hired Roger Corman and film student Francis Ford Coppola to gut and “re-envision” it.  Coppola re-wrote the script, “Americanized” all names in the credits, then slipped in some cheesy space-monster footage he and Jack Hill had shot on a sound-stage in Hollywood; apparently, Coppola wanted one monster to look like a penis, and the other a vagina (not touching that one…).  It was renamed Battle Beyond the Sun and released later that year.  Corman would use footage from the re-worked version in several films of his own on a cut-and-paste basis, including Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women.

Planeta Bur is a far better film and has stood the test of time quite well.  Directed by Pavel Klushantsev, the film was far ahead of its time when compared to Western fare, and a lot of the design work in it is still as cool as it was in ‘62 (including a “space car” that looks like many of the nuclear-powered concept vehicles that had been floating around since the late 50s).  The story was imaginative, paying quite a bit of attention to scientific reality, both in space and on the surface of Venus.  The film also features one of the coolest and most complex film robots—Robot John— ever designed.  Corman’s Filmgroup acquired the distribution rights to it in 1965, then proceeded to “re-envision” it as Corman/Coppola had done with Nebo Zovyot three years previously.  The film was given to director Curtis Harrington who would also do another film for Corman, the classic Queen of Blood.  Harrington added some newly-minted scenes starring the fading and obviously-desperate Basil Rathbone and Faith Domergue who had starred in the sci-fi classic This Island Earth ten years before, retitling the film Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet.  As with the earlier movie, most traces of the film’s Soviet origin were obscured or obliterated.  Thankfully, the film was not butchered as badly as it could have been (and certainly less than Nebo Zovyot had been), but it was never released theatrically, going straight to tv.  The majority of the cut-and-paste time in Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women is from Harrington’s movie.

The film at hand is actually a tremendous bargain matinee of a movie, comprised as it is of work from five different films.  In addition to the four listed above, Corman hired fledgeling director Peter Bogdanovich in 1968 to make what would be Filmgroup’s final effort.  Unfortunately, Corman had a problem: American International Pictures wouldn’t buy the film unless it had women in it.  Bogdanovich decided to film a bunch of “prehistoric women” cavorting on the beaches of Venus (it was actually Leo Carillo State Park in Malibu) and use it as an arc to tie the fragments of the other films together.  He cast former blonde bombshell Mamie Van Doren in the role of Moana, the leader of the group. Unfortunately, at age 37, Van Doren was looking less like a Hollywood Marilyn Monroe wannabe and more like a threadbare cocktail waitress shilling drinks to the hard-luck crowd at a casino in Winnemucca.  Her “career” was ten years past its peak and was already well into a long downward slide, and Bogdanovich surrounded her with younger no-names to cushion the effect, most of them looking like Malibu beach chicks he’d met at D-list parties.  He dressed them all in latex bell-bottoms, leis, and plastic sea-shells for bikini-tops, then gave them all peroxide-platinum hair and let them roam and swim Carillo in silence.  In one of his few good directorial decisions, Bogdanovich had no dialogue in his scenes, allowing the viewer to assume some wild, alien intelligence on the part of Van Doren and her posse, rather than having them speak and making such an illusion impossible to maintain.  Alas, he would later decide to add voiceovers (“telepathy”) as he thought his segments were otherwise incomprehensible, and we get the bimboesque voices of his Venusians in all of their glory.  To add to this dismal performance, Bogdanovich, himself provides a badly-written, poorly-read narration that runs from the beginning to the bitter end of the film. He was trying for some sort of Beat profundity, but he just ends up sounding like a drunken Berkeley sophomore spewing nonsense at a beach party.

To give his project some tie-in with the Americanized Soviet films, Bogdanovich constructed a papier-mache pteranodon “idol” to match one seen in Planeta Bur; this was “Ptera,” the god whom the Venusians kept close to their breasts (or their hearts…whatever), and had a large rubber Ptera made to match.  The rubber dino was a serious mistake; I had more convincing rubber dinosaurs in my toy box when I was a kid, and a couple of Bogdanovich’s amateurish close-up shots only make the effect worse (it’s no wonder that Bogdanovich would later flame out after Paper Moon, a film more notable for the profound cinematography of Laszlo Kovacs than for Boggie’s lackluster direction).

Mercifully, Bogdonovich’s segment was only about 15 minutes of total film time, lasting only long enough to prove that ‘his work was both good and original, but those parts which were good were not original, and those which were original were not good.’  And that paraphrase of Samuel Johnson best describes the entire film, with the only decent parts coming from the Soviet originals.  I found it telling that Corman’s Filmgroup folded soon after completing this dog, although Corman himself had many years of awesome projects afterwards.  Still, it’s worth an idle afternoon’s viewing, more for the value of seeing the Soviet bits or a late-career treat for Van Doren buffs than anything else.

roadside attractions

  • Five films in one
  • The sagging Mamie Van Doren
  • The People’s Committee for Science Fictionski
  • Vintage Corman/AIP
totals

0

blood

BLOOD

Bloodless combat

1

blood

BREASTS

seashells (sigh)

3

beast

BEASTS

“Ptera,” dinos, carnivorous plants

1.5 OVERALL
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Watch the FULL MOVIE of Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women

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Sep

posted by Blake | September 15, 2014 | 80's b-movies, 80's movies, B-movie Reviews, B-movies, Bad movie, Reviews by Blake

Comments Off on Surf Nazis Must Die

Recent soul-less reboots like Robocop and Total Recall have given me a very jaundiced eye towards the concept, so news that Mad Max is getting the Hollywood Reboot treatment fills me with fear and loathing even with the original director at the helm.  There is, however, one great post-apocalyptic film which I am sure will be forever safe from the grubby hands of studios  lacking originality: Peter George’s 1987 movie Surf Nazis Must Die, an abandoned child from the Troma family of fun.

The main plot centers around Murder and Revenge, while a subplot forms around a surf-gang leader’s desire for World Domination…or at least dominating the beaches of SoCal.  The majority of beach scenes were shot in Long Beach or Hamilton Beach, both being well-known SoCal surf meccas.

Interspersed throughout the film are six or seven different montages showing the Surf Nazis and other surf-gangs, well, surfing.  In the great tradition of horrid 60s surf films like Gidget and    How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, the film spends quite a bit of filler time showing fuzzy clips of anonymous, semi-pro surfers dressed in character’s costumes and shooting tubes.  Unlike the 60s drech, these dudes occasionally give the Nazi salute as they ride the nose and can be seen deliberately nudging other surfers off their boards—an act apparently more evil than theft and assault of beachgoers, judging by the reactions of those so treated.  Oddly, these montages were all shot on the north shore of Oahu rather than California.

The film is set “sometime in the near future,” when the California coastline has supposedly been devastated by the Big One, an earthquake that registered R8.0+ and caused at least 80,000 casualties while displacing most of the population.  In the aftermath of this disaster, the beaches south of Los Angeles have been overrun with anarchy, with police presence at zero and competing surf-gangs ruling the sands and victimizing citizens (think Beach Blanket Bingo meets A Clockwork Orange).  A note on the gangs: they definitely come from the Warriors school of cinematic gang-depiction, with their own themes, dorkey outfits, and names (Samurai Surfers, Pipeliners, Designer Waves, etc.; at least none of them are in baseball jerseys).  What makes them seem less like bangers and even more like “Pirate” extras from Danger Island is that they aren’t particularly evil or threatening; all of the gangs, including the eponymous Surf Nazis, spend most of their time either surfing, sleeping, drinking beer, or engaging in petty theft.  You would expect post-apocalyptic gangs modeling themselves on the Third Reich to be into some seriously evil stuff, but until the gang-war starts stealing cameras and threatening a pawn-shop owner are as nasty as they get.

Other than some footage taken in industrial storage yards and empty lots and some Before and After scenes of a burning building, there is little evidence of ruin; there is no real feel in the film that the characters are walking through a collapsed. There is no explanation for the complete absence of any law-enforcement or military personnel, or any type of civil infrastructure.  There are all manner of stores still open, including both surf- and pawn-shops, and for a chaotic war zone there seems to be quite a few elderly, middle-class suburbanites, pier-fisherman and other normal L.A. types wandering the beaches, complete with tourist cameras and 80s boomboxes.

One displaced family is Eleanor Washington and her son Leroy, whose home was destroyed outright.  Leroy moves Mama to a comfortable, if restrictive, retirement home and heads off to his work as a successful young oil industry worker (which we know because he wears a suit, a hardhat labeled “Chief,” and spends a good minute of film time wandering around a working pumpjack, looking confused).  Apparently, besides shops and retirement homes the Big One left the power grid and the LA-area oil industry intact, because between the pumpjack, a working offshore platform, and a functioning refinery used in the last scene, SoCal’s oil production still seems to be going strong.

In the main subplot one particular gang, the Surf Nazis, decides to try for world conqeust by either uniting or wiping out the rival gangs and securing the best surfing beaches for themselves; because, you know, like, taking over Hamilton Beach and its gnarly grinders is kinda like invading Poland and annexing the Sudetenland, right?  I mean, it’s just Tube City, dude, and Polski don’t surf.

The gang’s leader, “Adolf,” looks more like Freddie Mercury than the Fuhrer and is borderline batshit to boot.  He is supported and semi-dominated by Eva (played by 80s B-queen Dawn Wildsmith), who is as nutcase as Adolf but considerably more able, and backed by enforcers named Hook (guess what he has for a hand…), Brutus, and the intelligent but twisted Mengele, who is played by veteran B-actor, director, and punk musician Michael Sonye.  Numerous hangers-on include a pathetic, teenaged wannabe named Smeg and a gaggle of tweens who serve as an unorganized Hitlerjugend of petty thieves and pickpockets.

Adolf calls a conference between the gangs and manages to bully them into following his nominal lead.  They will pay some tribute to the Surf Nazis and respect the boundaries of each others’ beaches, allowing Adolf and his followers to focus their energies on victimizing the populace, drinking beer, and surfing.

One day, one of the little Hitlerjugend tries to snatch a purse from an elderly woman on the shoreline, only to be foiled by Leroy Washington out for a jog at the beach.  Adolf witnesses the event and decides to take revenge, ordering Hook to deal with him.  Hook emasculates Washington with his custom-edged hook, and the next scenes show Mama Washington ID’ing the body and making “arrangements,” then agonizing in a chapel about God’s Will.  Doing a little self-investigating at the shoreline, Mama overhears Smeg bragging about the killing to a couple of beach-bimbos; she pressures him into coughing up the identities and details of the Surf Nazis and, presumably, their rivalries with the other surf-gangs.

Having nothing left to lose, Big Mama vows revenge and initiates a “Final Solution” of her own.  She goes to a pawn-shop, telling the owner, “I wanna buy a gun…but I’m more interested in something that’ll shoot the head off a honky at 20 paces.”  She ends up leaving with a Walther P-38 (an ironic touch on the director’s part as the 9mm P-38 was the primary sidearm of the Third Reich), a box of ammo, and a grenade.  She also begins a series of covert actions which turn the surf-gangs on each other, shattering the fragile truce between them and leading to the deaths of all rival gangs and the loss in battle of Brutus.

When the dust settles after the Beach of Long Knives, the surviving Surf Nazis retire to their graffiti-enhanced bunker to rest and recover; but Big Mama has other plans.  In the light of early dawn, Mama rolls a grenade down into the bunker which comes to rest right next to Hook’s soon-to-be-non-existent head.  The grenade detonates and, in another ironic twist by the director, Adolf and Eva become the ones who survive the Final Bunker Scene; Hook and Mengele are now riding the tails of Hell-bound Bings.  Laughing in maniacal triumph, Mama roars off on a motorcycle, only to be pursued by Adolf and Eva in the gang’s shark-themed van.

After a chase, Mama manages to corner them in the part-yard of an oil refinery, getting off some shots before they escape in a very bad directorial cut.  Suddenly, the fleeing pair are stealing the boards of two hapless surfers and paddling into the bay.  Mama uses her 9mm charms to convince a fisherman to follow them in his powerboat.  After a pass or two, the boat runs directly over Eva, demolishing her board and leaving her severed head bobbing amongst the debris.  On the next pass, Adolf kills the boat’s owner with a throwing knife, leaving Mama to struggle with the controls.  Just as she regains control, Adolf appears over the fantail and tries to stab her; Mama is aware of him, however, and shoves the barrel of the Walther down Adolf’s throat, gagging him.  Just before she squeezes the trigger, she delivers one of the best B-grade, pre-mortem one-liners ever: “Taste some of  Mama’s home cooking, Adolf!” She blows out the back of his head and his corpse goes overboard as she laughs.

Final scene: Mama rides off on her motorcycle, laughing.  The End.

While this film suffers from bad photography, poor special effects, and a badly-written script, it does have some good points: a dark sense of humor; some of the old ultraviolence (and speaking of which, Hook is used as a vehicle for a few visual references to Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange); rather interesting performances by Sonye and Wildsmith (I said “interesting,” not “good”); a decent helping of 80s surf lingo, and a far better soundtrack than I would have expected.  While it is not in the league of Troma’s greatest triumph, The Toxic Avenger, it is still well-worth the time invested; if you’re in the mood for some sand and surf, it sure as hell beats watching Frankie and Annette.

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roadside attractions

  • Breasts, ‘boards, and beer
  • Pistol Packin’ Mama
totals

5

blood

BLOOD

Mengele licks the blood of a rival off his knife-blade

5

blood

BREASTS

Covered and uncovered, including Wildsmith’s

0

beast

BEASTS

Not even a dead jellyfish in the shore-break

3.5 OVERALL
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Watch the trailer to Surf Nazis Must Die

trailers

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