Just a bunch of kung fu and horror movie reviews I wrote about 10 years ago and am just getting around to typing up...
Dead Hate The Living, The (C, 2000) As a big horror fan I’d be insulted by this, but after listening to the DVD’s commentary track, I think the people who made this were sincerely trying to make something good... they’re just not terribly skilled or creative and don’t have very good ideas. The basic plot is that some low-budget filmmakers go to an old hospital to film a zombie movie, but they find a real corpse (which looks just like Rob Zombie), and he’s an occultist with a machine that brings the dead back to life. So the filmmakers find themselves in a real zombie attack. The things that are bad about this film are hard to count, but here’s a partial list: instead of doing original things, they copy things from other horror films and pass it off as in-jokes and “homage.” This is a dumb idea for a couple of reasons, the first being that only an idiot spazz goes to a horror movie for “funny” stuff, and the other being that it just reminds you how much better those scenes were in the real movies they were ganked from. Then, there’s a zombie that has no nose. I mean, jeez, if you want to be convincingly scary, at least demonstrate a knowledge of basic anatomy and put a hole there or something. The makeup looks like nothing but makeup. The dialogue is very cliche and uninspired. Characterization is poor and unappealing and the acting is bad. It all looks cheaper than it needs to; I mean, they made movies in the 70’s cheaper than this and they looked good. There is some really horrible CGI (electrocution and zombies on fire) Also, there’s some just bonehead-fuck-dreck that basically says to the audience “You are a horror fan and therefore a dumb asshole who’ll accept anything without thinking,” such as having a chainsaw just laying around an abandoned hospital, or Jack Daniels burning like gasoline, or a zombie drooling blood all the time even though it’s long dead, and other implausibilities that are so blatant they’re insulting. I do think it’s a sincere effort and a labor of love, but they just don’t seem to understand what’s scary, good, or even basically intelligent. They have good taste in liking Fulci and stuff, but even though I wanted to like it, it was impossible. At least the DVD’s fairly cheap (and still in print for some unknown reason!) and has plenty of extras.
Watch the whole movie online here... or, better yet, don't.
Fists of the White Lotus (C, 1980) aka Hong Wending San Po Bai Lian Jiao, Clan of the White Lotus. The evil White Lotus, a.k.a. Pai Mei (the granddaddy of all of those kung fu guys with long white hair and eyebrows) massacred many of Gordon Liu’s friends and so Gordon plans revenge. Even though he trains to add crane fist to his tiger style, it’s not good enough to defeat Pai Mei, who can make himself so light that he just drifts away from the force of the blows and they never touch him. Gordon goes home and his wife makes him do women’s work, such as embroidery, so he can learn a more graceful, gentle style that would allow him to touch Pai Mei and damage him. He practices on paper dummies until he feels ready, then heads off to Lotus Mountain... but Pai Mei can hide his vital kill-spot, so Gordon can’t find it. But he may die trying... One of the classics, with Lo Lieh as Pai Mei (whose character may be better known to American audiences from Kill Bill, where Gordon Liu played him.
Watch the whole thing online here.
Grandmaster of Shaolin Kung Fu (C, 1982) aka Da Mo Shen Gong. Everybody wants a big gem stolen from a goofy drunk laughing guy, so they settle it the old-fashioned way -- by beating the peelivin’ doodoo out o’ each other. The gem triggers a laser that opens the door to a golden Buddha holding a sacred book of tricks... but it’s boobytrapped so you have to be a real kung fu master to get to it. The best candidate for receiving this “miracle” is a guy who’s out to avenge the deaths of his parents. A hermit in the golden Buddha temple trains him and gives him secret medicine. Several people in the movie have unusual hats hiding their faces, and there are weapons like birds and teapots that shoot needles. There’s also an aphrodisiac potion that makes a guy have to have sex or his blood vessels will burst, but if he has sex then his fighting powers will be destroyed, so, whaddaya do? Plus there’s an attack by a bunch of bronze statue-men, so you know what it all adds up to: maximum whacky coolstuff! Gotta love it.
Watch the whole thing online here. (Check out at least the beginning with the goofy laughin' guy... it's hilarious!)
He Has Nothing But Kung Fu (C, 1977) aka Gong Fu Xiao Zi, Gangbusters Kung Fu. Gordon Liu (with hair) takes a shot to the head and loses his memory... but not his kung fu skills. A con-man beggar (Wang Yue) teams up with him and finds ways to exploit Gordon's fighting skill, and Gordon goes along with it because he's confused anyway. Together the two of them foil a bunch of gangsters to the accompaniment of a weird Southern-style soundtrack which includes comical renditions of "Dixie," "Rose of Alabama," and the theme from Outlaw Josey Wales. Pretty good kung fu with an interesting plot, unobtrusive comedy, solid fight scenes, and - most importantly - Gordon Liu. A fight on the beam's of a house's unfinished upper story is also a memorable highlight.
Watch the whole thing online starting here:
Invincible Pole Fighter (C, 1983) aka Wu Lang Ba Gua Gun, 8 Diagram Pole Fighter. Elaborate costume kung fu epic with Wang Yu, Gordion Liu, Fu Sheng, and other Venoms doing a whole lotta battling with spears and staffs. It starts out chaotic and bloody with a bunch of Yang brothers fighting an odd assortment of Mongol baddies, including some archers who dress a lot like Santa Claus, and others similar to Fred Flintstone! Almost all the Yangs are killed, thanks to a traitor, and there are only two brothers surviving. One is rendered completely insane, and the other (Gordon Liu, o' course, since it's a role that requires head-shaving) tries to become a monk. The temple doesn't want to take him because he's too violent, but he doesn't give them much choice. The production values are way better than usual -- it even has a budget! - and showcases some truly amazing stick-fighting. That's what they mean by pole-fighting, by the way -- there's no scenes with people standing on poles in the ground, as in some films. You have to clarify on these things... In any case, this is one of the best, and crucial viewing for any kung fu movie fan.
Whole movie online starting here.
Lady Frankenstein (C, 1971) aka La Figlia di Frankenstein, Daughter of Frankenstein, Madame Frankenstein. Cheap Italian wanna-be-Hammer-type horror with some horror vets (Joseph "Baron Blood" Cotten, Herbert "Mark of the Devil" Fux) livening things up, and Mr. Jayne Mansfield Mickey Hargitay is also around. Cotten is the Baron, and his bitchy daughter Tania (Rosalba Neri), also a surgeon, arrives at his castle, intent on taking her dad's work to new extremes. Daddy makes a hulking, bulbous-headed thing with a damaged brain and half its face burned up by the lightning that revived it. The first thing this creation does is kill him, then wanders out and kills a naked girl and some villagers. Tania decides that the only way to kill it is to build another, stronger creature to fight it. A graverobber tries to blackmail her into having sex with him, but she wants to create her own ideal sex partner by putting her father's assistant's brain into the body of a local retarded stud. Meanwhile, the monster's still roaming the countryside, killing indiscriminately. Not-bad Eurotrash with sex and gore, nowhere near up to the level of the Hammer films its imitating but still possessing a better look than a lot of stuff that was coming out at the time. And scenes such as Tania getting off on having sex with a man who’s shaking in his death throes do deliver the promised sleazy-sickness level. Readily available (almost inescapable) on cheap DVD.
Whole movie online here.
Legendary Weapons of China (C, 1982) aka Shi Ba Ban Wu Yi, 18 Legendary Weapons of China. The excellent book From Bruce Lee To the Ninjas: Martial Arts Movies calls this the greatest kung fu movie ever made. That’s debatable, and I don’t agree, but it is a really good one, even though the plot’s difficult to keep track of. Martial artists are trying to deny that the arrival of guns is nullifying the effectiveness of their fighting skills, since anyone with a gun can kill them. One teacher named Li Kung gives up his school, admitting defeat, but others hunt him and try to kill him, lest anyone believe his truth. There follows a lot of strange supernatural-tinged fights, some of which are tricked up with faked disembowelments and voodoo dolls which remote-control a fighter’s movements. It all leads up to a lengthy climactic battle utilizing at least a dozen of the 18 legendary kung fu weapons. I’ll probably have to watch it a few more times to sort out all the plot points, but since the fight scenes are so astounding, that won’t be any burden.
Whole movie online here.
Make Them Die Slowly (C, 1981) aka Cannibal Ferox. This sleazy gorefest is the most infamous and (arguably) the sickest of a very sick genre -- the Italian Cannibal Movie. The curious packed 42nd Street grindhouses for years to see this, based on a poster promising that it's "Banned in 31 Countries!" (yeah, well, people in Burkina Fasa and Turkministan probably had other things to do anyway), and a trailer that was based on a catalogue of atrocities. The hype carried over into the video stores, when the oversized box covered with warnings made this (and the similarly-packed Buried Alive) into "dare ya to watch that" events. For better or worse, this is a definite legend, along with the similar (and at-least-equally-as-nasty Cannibal Holocaust), infamous not only for wallowing in disgusting gore effects, but also for killing real animals. Some anthropologists researching the "myth" of cannibalism venture into the jungle, where they unluckily meet up with some criminals who have been torturing the natives and really pissing them off. Then the natives catch up to them and go for revenge. That's the basic plot; what really drives the film is the grubworm chewing, intestine-gnawing, castration, brain-eating, eye-gouging, dismemberment, and hanging a woman by hooks skewered through her tits. And don't forget the carved-up corpses, the bamboo traps, and sadistic cruelty in general. The effects are spare-you-nothing graphic and aren't bad (but they aren't amazing, either -- you can see the base of the strap-on dildo that gets chopped off, for instance), but what's really unsettling is the general mean-spirited tone of the whole thing, the apparent delight in dwelling on extreme unpleasantness... not the least of which is the indefensible animal-killing, which even the Italian-Cannibal-Movie-demographic doesn't really want to see. You won't find many more films as sick as this. Actor John Morghen, on the DVD's commentary track, even says "No one should watch this, it's horrible" a few times. You'll likely hate yourself, but if you're in one of the countries where it's not banned, you may want to exercise your freedom...
Screaming Skull, The (B&W, 1958) A man brings a new wife to his decaying old estate after the death of his first wife. Soon after arriving, she starts hearing strange things at night, and keeps finding skulls all over the place. The husband thinks that the groundskeeper -- who’s a bit touched in the head and obsessed with his late wife -- is trying to scare them away. But it becomes clear that something even more underhanded is going on... but maybe the supernatural is involved after all. There’s a veiled ghostly figure that’s pretty eerie, and lots of skulls popping up and rolling down stairs. Some people toss this film off as silly, but it does have a moody atmosphere and can be effective if taken in the right spirit. It won’t scare you enough to cash in the free life-insurance policy offered at the beginning, but if you play along it’s not bad. Good drive-in - now late-movie - fare, which can be scored on DVD for pennies; cheap copies are everywhere.
Whole movie online here.
Snake and Crane Secret (C, 1976) aka She Hao Dan Xin Zhen Jiu Zhou, Secret of the Dragon. It’s not that big a secret, considering this is one of the most widely-available kung fu movies on DVD. I’ve seen various versions everywhere, almost always for a dollar. Some evil Chings are going around killing innocents, while some resistance fighters try to keep them from getting a book of snake and crane fighting styles, since it contains a list of the resistance fighters. A betrayed fighter goes in pursuit of a traitorous spy who’s working for the Chings, and who tried to kill two little boys about ten years before, after framing and murdering their father. Now the boys are separated, grown, and masters of kung fu. One of them is good enough to be a smartass about it. He usually uses crane style (complete with chirping sound effects, y’know, just like a crane doesn’t make). The main bad guy practices strikepoints on human skeletons he keeps in a dungeon. Finally the brothers are reunited (they know each other due to the old you-each-have-half-of-a-jade-medallion trick) and they team up against the evil (and fancy!) Ching warlord. Somewhat hard to follow and lackluster, but it’s decent kung fu.
Snake In Eagle's Shadow (C, 1978) aka Se Ying Diu Sau, Eagle's Shadow, Snake and the Eagle's Shadow. Possibly trying to follow the laws of nature, an eagle claw master (the amazing Hwang Jang Lee) is out to completely eradicate the snake fist style of kung fu, and he kills every snake fist practitioner he comes across. Meanwhile, poor Jackie Chan is washing floors at a martial arts school and being used as a punching bag. He's miserable (and pretty helpless) until an old man he tries to help in a street fight starts training him... in guess which style? It's kind of familiar ground, since it's Siu Tien Yuen, the same old man who trained him in Drunken Master. He's the last living master of snake fist, and he teaches Jackie, who combines it with things he picked up from watching his pet cat, and he becomes The Wrong Guy To Mess With. Decent kung fu with very good fight sequences, including an impressive game of keep-away with a bowl, and there's comedy but it's not overbearing.
Whole movie online starting here.
Snake in Monkey's Shadow (C, 1979) aka Hou Hsing Kou Shou, Snake Fist Vs. The Dragon. A young fishmonger's assistant falls down on the job because he's more interested in trying to learn kung fu than delivering fish. When he delivers stale fish he gets beaten up and (literally) treated like a dog. He finally gets a job cleaning up at a dojo where they teach drunken technique kung fu, and makes friends with a monkey style expert who looks like an Asian Barry Manilow. Then a couple of snake-fist bad guys show up and kill both teachers, and our hero learns how to avenge them by watching a monkey fighting a snake (which is cut out of the DVD version for reasons of animal cruelty) and trains hard (but briefly) and combines his knowledge inot that coolest of all styles -- drunken monkey! Check it out.
Whole movie online starting here:
Stigmata (C, 1999) Oooo, baby, the Catholics like this movie 'bout as much as they like aborted babies wearing condoms, or little boys who tell! And when something ticks off the church, that's usually a sign it's at least worth checking out. Okay, there's this girl, right? And she's an atheist and everything, but she gets a dead priest's rosary in the mail from her mom (gee, thanks, mom!) and soon begins exhibiting all the wounds of Jesus. Pretty graphically, too -- big gushing nail-holes in her wrists, etc. This kinda messes up her job at the hairdresser's and really cuts into her social life, because every time she goes out, whip marks tear open on her back, or thorns gouge her head. A priest is sent to investigate, and that's when you know this is really an Exorcist imitation, just like they made in the '70's! (Remember Beyond the Door, The Tempter, House of Exorcism, all that good stuff?) Soon she's writing on the walls in ancient Aramaic, rolling her eyes back, growling in tongues, levitating, and bleeding all over. But, she's not possessed by the devil... she's here with messages from Jesus, saying that churches are useless! Needless to say, the church finds this Jesus fella blasphemic... Music-video style art (blood drops in water, flashes of crucifixions) and loud chaotic techno music pack most of the shock-scares in this one, and that's a cheap way to go, but overall it's a pretty decent, well-done, interesting flick that works as sort of an infomercial for the anti-church Gospel of Thomas (which was conveniently left out of the canon). The special effects are fortunately not the lame CGI stuff, and they enhance the plot, rather than replace it. Not outstanding, but possession flicks are always welcome.
Strangeland (C, 1998) aka Dee Snider’s Strangeland. Dee Snider, who, with his bands Twisted Sister and Widowmaker, brought you some of the worst lame-ass heavy metal in history and made the whole genre look stupid, now brings you horror movies. Luckily he’s a little better at this than he is at music, but then he’d just have to be. Snider wrote this film and stars as Carlton Hendrix, aka “Captain Howdy,” a nihilistic body-modification freak who uses internet chatrooms to lure people to his house so he can torture them to death with body-piercings. He gets caught, put in a mental institution for four years, and then released, seemingly cured. Some angry parents try to kill him, though, and reawaken his Captain Howdy side, leading to more mayhem. No classic, but I’ll give the guy credit for coming up with an original and bizarre (as well as timely) concept, and Snider is pretty menacing and very weird-looking. But, he’s still destined to only be the second-scariest Captain Howdy in movie history... but considering he got the name from The Exorcist there’s no shame in that. Fairly gruesome effects work.