Movie Reviews - Abbot White, Abhay, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Ace of Aces, Aks

Abbot White (C, 1982)
Obscure supernatural kung fu flick with dubbing that's a lot worse than usual - it sounds like it was dubbed by native Chinese speakers (the L's and R's take as much of a beating as the title character's enemies), and they didn't seem sure how to go about it because you can hear bits of the original soundtrack in the background. As a young boy, a Shaolin disciple enters a forbidden room at the top of a pagoda and, meddling around, unleashes an evil spirit called The Devil Claw, which possesses him. He grows up to be a pale-faced bald-headed killer with red eyebrows, and dresses all in white (white is the traditional Chinese color for death and is considered very ominous). He commits evil acts of rape and murder, but no one seems able to stop him since his kung fu is unbeatable, his skin is invulnerable, he can turn into an untouchable ghost form, and he can even detach his arm and launch it at his adversaries! Some of the time he's an innocent nice guy who has no knowledge of his demonic side, however, and a girl who befriends his good half helps him set things right. Weird old-school kung fu horror which was supposedly one of the most rare and sought-after titles in recent memory, until the lackluster DVD came out. -zwolf

Abhay (C, 2001) AKA Alavandhan
An Indian commando is planning a wedding because he got his girlfriend pregnant. His brother Abhay may not be able to attend, however, because he's an extremely dangerous psychopathic killer, locked in an institution. She's a TV reporter who talked them into keeping him there, so he wants to kill her for that, as well as to "save" his brother from having to marry her - he thinks she's a witch trying to trap him. He's very creepy (kinda Hannibal Lector like) and can bite chunks out of concrete and spit them with enough force to make them semi-lethal. He soon works out an ingenious plan and escapes (carrying a friend's severed head in a bag - he set it up so everybody will think he was killed and so they won't be on the lookout for him, but for the friend). He gets drugs, which lead to some weird visions (one involves Ronald McDonald, and some are animated - people become cartoons that look a lot like footage from Heavy Metal - and people jump out of signs and TVs for Matrix-style fights. Since he's schizophrenic and drugged, they manage to fit in some elaborate, surreal, effects-filled musical numbers, using his odd grip on reality as an excuse. This turns what was setting up to be a scary movie into kind of a light, silly thing... but it does alternate back into scary stuff, which creates a disturbing effect overall. A long flashback section reveals Abhay's twisted childhood, and his evil stepmother. And it comes back to modern times with a very-much-crazy car-truck-motorcycle chase involving over-the-top wrecks and explosions, and more stalking by a now-heavily-tattooed Abhay. Some very impressive filmwork here, even if there are a few shortcomings (too many musical numbers, narrative could use tightening up, and the comedic changes in tone compromise the really good terror-inducing thing Abhay had going), and overall it's a unique Bollywood film (more sex, special effects, violence, blood, and drugs than most) that you should check out. There's some absolutely ridiculous stunts, but who needs "believable" if you've got "entertaining" nailed so well? -zwolf

Abominable Dr. Phibes (C, 1971) AKA Dr. Phibes, Curse of Dr. Phibes
Strange Vincent Price classic that goes for the surreal with style to burn. Price is Dr. Phibes, a scarred-to-the-bone undead mastermind whose face is all prosthetic makeup and who speaks through a hole in his neck. He wants revenge on nine doctors who killed his wife (Caroline Munro, or at least a picture of her). With the help of his female sidekick Vulnavia, a lot of inventive gimmicks, and a definite sense of flair, he unleashes death on his enemies in the form of old Biblical curses - bees, bats, frogs, blood, rats, hail, beasts, locusts, death of the first born, and darkness. Whenever he kills one, he melts an effigy of them and then plays an organ, accompanied by a clockwork band. Price is grim, the atmosphere is weird, and the killings are gruesome, but even though it's all played (mostly) straight it's still so outlandish that it's obviously tongue-in-cheek. Somehow smacks of both James Bond and A Clockwork Orange at the same time. Must see, as is the sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again. Since Phibes's first name is Anton and he plays the organ and plots all sorts of diabolical things and loves clockwork androids, I have to wonder if he may not be a nod to Anton LaVey... -zwolf

Ace of Aces (B&W, 1933) AKA Bird of Prey
A peace-loving sculptor is shamed by his fiancé (who accuses him of cowardice) into joining up in World War I, even though he doesn't believe in the cause. He becomes a pilot and at first he has a guy in his sights and can't shoot, but then the same ungrateful guy shoots him, so he guns him down. He soon gets a taste for it which becomes a craving, and he becomes bloodthirsty and brutal... on the ground and off. Soon he's a lone wolf ace, flying solo missions and trying to see how many kills he can rack up. He loves war, to such a degree that it shocks his girlfriend when he meets her again. Then during a hospital stay, he meets a German cadet he shot down (even though the kid was only delivering a note that one of the missing British pilots was okay) and gets a dose of reality. Great combat sequences and an antiwar message; a powerful little film. -zwolf

Aks (C, 2001)
Bizarre Indian action-horror epic in which a very creepy psychotic assassin named Raghavan, who looks a little like a mixture of Jim Morrison and Glenn Danzig, is a master of disguise, quotes the Bhagavad Gita, and has this horrible wheezing laugh like "Muttley" from the cartoons whenever he does something evil. He assumes the identity of a top-ranked intelligence agent (who'd be Al Pacino if this was an American flick, so it's the Indian equivalent, Amitabh Bachhan) to assassinate a defense minister and steal some secrets, and then he kills another criminal who's amazingly even creepier than he is! Yakub only has a brief appearance but will give you nightmares anyway. Imagine Gandhi possessed by demons. Raghavan becomes the target of a huge manhunt, headed, of course, by the special agent he impersonated. He's finally caught and killed, but his spirit possesses the agent, causing him to start seeing Raghavan in the mirror. Pretty soon he's killing off the people who killed Raghavan and assaulting his own wife. People around him figure out he's possessed, but getting rid of Raghavan in the physical world was hard enough... It's kind of a horror film, at least by Indian standards (they don't do horror all that much), and there are certainly disturbing elements (Raghavan is world-class creepy; I've never seen a bad guy quite like him) but it's not really very scary, and works best as a weird crime drama. It's extremely well-made, with a dark sense of style that sometimes seems almost Argentoesque, and it has some deep subtext about the interdependency of good and evil. The musical numbers fit in better than usual. It's overlong at three hours, to be sure, but it's well worth seeing. -zwolf

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