Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Bullet for the General (1966)



Set during the Mexican Revolution, Damiano Damiani’s A Bullet for the General follows the bandit leader El Chucho (Gian Maria Volonte, best known as the bad guy from a couple of Leone Westerns) and his gang of thieves, as they raid trains and government facilities for guns and ammunition to sell to General Elias, who is either a Zapatista rebel or a stand-in for Zapata himself (I’m not sure which). Chucho allows a gringo named Bill Tate (whom Chucho dubs “Niño”) to join the gang, unaware that Tate is actually an assassin hired by the Mexican government to take out General Elias with a golden bullet.



Without meaning to be reductive, the most important parts of a film are probably the beginning and the end. If you can catch people’s attention at the start, and wow them at the finish, you’ve probably got a good movie on your hands, unless you really duff it in the middle. Damiani’s political Western A Bullet for the General has one of the best first 20 minutes in film history.

It begins with four men, in close up, walking along a plain white wall. They are outside, and seem to be in a bit of a hurry. They stop, and two of them hug. And then the camera cuts away, revealing that these four are bracketed by soldiers, and that a row of men are aiming their rifles. It’s an execution by firing squad, and as Tate (Lou Castel) looks on, the four are gunned down. Tate is obviously out of place--he is pale and fair-haired, clean and well-dressed. He doesn’t belong.

Unfazed by the execution, Tate walks over to the train station to buy a ticket. A small Mexican boy asks him if he’s an American, and then asks him if he likes Mexico.

“Not very much,” Tate responds.


The film jumps straight into the action when the train is attacked by Chucho’s gang. The setup is clever: they’ve basically crucified a captain of the army, placing him on the tracks. When the train stops, unwilling to crush the still-living officer, the bandits attack. A lieutenant on the train shouts at the captain, asking for orders. The captain lets it be known that the train should just move forward. The lieutenant, unwilling to let the captain die by his command, instead drops down between the tracks and tries to crawl up to the officer, hoping to free him without bloodshed. Chucho shoots the lieutenant in the guts. Then the train rolls forward, crushing the captain.

Tate, seeing his opportunity, kills the engineer, stopping the train for the bandits. He tells Chucho that he’s an outlaw, and that he was being extradited to the US to face trial. He asks if he can join Chucho’s band. Chucho agrees, giving Tate a new name, Niño (“boy”).

The opening scenes, then, go a long way to set up the movie in a concise and powerful manner. Chucho and Niño are obviously both ruthless individuals; they share a love of money and of violence that unites them, even though they are completely dissimilar in every other way. It’s clearly not going to be a story about heroes.


Now a part of the gang--including Chucho’s obsessively religious brother, El Santo (Klaus Kinski) and the charming bandita Adelita (Martine Beswick)--Niño aids the bandits as they raid government buildings in search of guns. Niño is willing to help, but he’s impatient, always pestering Chucho about meeting the General. Chucho, not the brightest bandito around, seems to take it in stride, and is only angered when Niño convinces the other men to abandon Chucho and his brother when the two of them are more interested in helping poor villagers than making money. Still, Chucho’s noble streak doesn’t last long--he, too, is in it for the pesos--and soon the gang is back together again, in time for the film’s climax.

Volonte’s Chucho is fascinating to watch; he’s wild and charismatic, and defies easy explanation, probably because Chucho himself is quite a conflicted character. There’s something inside of him--probably his background as a poor peasant--that connects him with the people, but any sort of kindness or generosity of his character is often obfuscated by his greed and rude manners. He distrusts wealth and learning and yet clearly envies it. He has to tell his brother Santo that they are giving the guns to General Elias, too embarrassed to admit that he’s selling them. That Niño is an assassin should be obvious to Chucho, and so it’s easy not to feel sorry for him, but his genuine humanity, no matter how disfigured, makes you side with the bandit against the cold, professional gringo.

Against the expectations of the genre, A Bullet for the General features a couple of strong female characters. Little is made of the fact that the first of these, Adelita, fights side-by-side with the rest of the bandits, just as though she were a man. She is clearly attracted to Niño, but her relationship with one of the other bandits keeps them apart, for a time. Adelita makes it known that she has suffered at the hands of the government and the wealthy landowners; she, more than any of the other bandits, is motivated by hatred.


The role of Rosario is much smaller, but is a vital part of the story. When the bandits and a handful of poor, angry townsfolk come to the home of the wealthy landowner Don Feliciano, it is his wife, Rosario (Carla Gravina) who tries to deal with the situation. We watch, uncomfortably, as she tries to reason with bandits, and then moves on to threats, before breaking down completely when it’s clear that her husband will be killed. While Chucho and his men have hardly been forgiving of their military targets, this is the first time that they victimize the unarmed and the helpless. Our sympathy for Chucho is tested when he even agrees to let his men rape Rosario--an action which Niño puts a stop to.

The man who adapted the screenplay for A Bullet for the General, Franco Solinas, was a politically-interested writer with leftist sympathies. This is obviously most evident in his interest in the Mexican Revolution, which is not a neutral setting for the story, but an integral one. Clearly this is a man who sides with the Revolution. Though quick to show the ugliness of the bandits and revolutionaries, he and the director are at their most heavy-handed with the repeated use of gold as a symbol for capital and wealth. It is not a simple affectation, that Niño must shoot the General with a golden bullet--but at least that bit of imagery is acceptable. Harder to swallow is the existence, and importance, of a golden machine gun, a mechanized weapon capable of unlimited slaughter and linked to wealth and privilege by its ostentatious decoration. Even if there were some historic truth to it--even if there is documentation proving the existence of a golden machine gun during the Revolution--it’s simply too hard to swallow as a practical or realistic detail. It takes you out of the film, smacking you in the face with its inauthenticity.

That said, A Bullet for the General is one of the best Westerns I’ve ever seen, a real gem, and I’d encourage anyone to track it down and give it a try. While I’m not familiar with Damiani’s other films, this one certainly gives Leone a run for his money.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Roaring Fire (Hoero! Tekken) (1982)


Let’s see if I remember everything important: Juji is a Japanese cowboy who knows Kung Fu. Then there’s Spartacus, played by pro wrestling legend Abdullah the Butcher. And Sonny Chiba plays a magician. Who does ventriloquism. But actually works for Interpol. And Joji’s blind sister-in-law (at least I think that’s the relation) can fight like Zatoichi. And also there are Nazis, ninjas, car chases, a helicopter, bananas stuffed with heroin, a Russian boxer, a melee on the top of a moving bus, trap doors, and some other improbable stuff that I’m sure I’m forgetting. This is some wild shit right here. Seriously, Norifumi Suzuki’s Roaring Fire (Hoero! Tekken) is the movie you had playing in your head when you were a twelve year-old boy hopped up on Pixy Stix and Tab; even back then you never thought someone would be stupid enough to make it, but you always hoped they would.


Joji (Hiroyuki Sanada) is the long lost twin brother of the heir of a wealthy Japanese businessman. He was kidnapped as a child, and raised as a cowboy. Joji is told this by his (adopted) father, the kidnapper, who begins the movie on his deathbed. Then we get a montage of Joji riding his horse, lassoing stuff with cowboys, and throwing hatchets with Indians (the types of Indians that only exist in Westerns, but whatever). We, the film-going audience, realize that during the duration of the film Joji is going to have to ride a horse and lasso something and throw a hatchet at someone, and we are pleased by this development. Also, he has a pet chimp. I should probably mention that.

Joji returns to Japan, to discover that his twin, Toru, has been killed by the Hong Kong mob, that his parents are dead, and that his family’s home is currently occupied by judgmental bikini babes who take umbrage at the sassy pranks played by his chimp. So they call Spartacus (Abdullah the Butcher), who tries to beat up poor Joji. But Joji’s too quick, and he escapes! And Spartacus, thus bested, decides to become his best friend. Or something.


Through a series of events too baffling or forgettable to explain, Joji runs into Mr. Magic (Sonny Chiba), an Interpol agent, posing as a magician (for some inexplicable reason) who does a bewildering ventriloquist act (for some inexplicable, yet awesome, reason) and who tries to clue Joji in to the fact that his uncle is evil. We, the audience, know that Joji’s uncle is evil, because when Joji’s not around he has sinister conversations, shot at sinister low angles, and is usually framed by a conveniently-placed Nazi flag or a swastika. Any connection he might have to the National Socialist movement is unclear--in fact, I think this is just a shortcut to establish that he’s evil. Nazis are evil + he likes Nazis = he’s evil.

Soon Joji becomes hip to the fact that his uncle had his parents killed so that he can take over the family. Then, having gained this prestige, he intends to buy his way into politics, using the money he gains from selling the family jewels to drug lords, who will help him smuggle bananas filled with heroin into the country. And then maybe he’ll use his connections to help the Nazis (?). But that's just speculation.


To thwart his uncle, Joji has to involve himself in some of the craziest shit every seen on film. He fights a bare-chested Russian boxer, and battles ninjas disguised as monks in a scene clearly intended to mimic cartoons rather than reality. He is aided by Mr. Magic, his Zatoichi-esque sister-in-law, and Abdullah the Butcher, each of whom get at least one kick-ass fight scene in which to show of their chops. Hiroyuki Sanada is no slouch either, and at several times during the film he does acrobatic stuff that reminds you just how cool kung-fu can be.


The director, Norifumi Suzuki, is primarily known as a talented sleaze-meister, with some popular pinky films to his name, such as School of the Holy Beast, Sex & Fury, and the Girl Boss series. Suzuki is not unlike Lone Wolf & Cub director Kenji Misumi, in that he’s incredibly talented at what he does, and what he does is make violent genre films that most serious critics and movie goers would turn their noses down at. He is, however, a real artist, and it shows in a film like Hoero! Tekken, which may remind you of John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China, if that film was even more bizarre and action-packed. In the hands of a lesser director, this would come off as a terrible mess, instead of what it really is: an amazing mess.

To the best of my knowledge, there’s no official, English-friendly DVD out there of Hoero! Tekken, and I sure wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for one. This film attracts a select few--those who enjoy Kung Fu, camp, puppets, and subtitles--and so I doubt anyone’s clamouring to make it available. However, if anyone has read this far and thinks “Hey, this is right up my alley!”, it probably is, and you should seek it out. Now.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Great Silence (1968)



A young boy watches, powerless, as his parents are murdered by bounty hunters. The leader of the killers, Pollicutt--perhaps unable to kill a child--slits the boy’s throat, severing his vocal chords, so he’ll never tell the tale. That boy grows up to become a bounty hunter himself. Known only as “Silence” (guess why), he specializes in tracking down those bounty hunters who subvert the law and kill innocents in the name of justice, cashing in on their illicit and immoral behaviour. Silence’s main trick is to lure his opponents into drawing first, so he can gun them down with his Mauser in “self defence,” (ironically) subverting the law in the process.

Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence takes place in the fictional town of Snow Hill, Utah, during the great blizzard of 1899. There, due to the unseasonable weather, the starving townsfolk have had to fall into banditry to survive (though this isn’t very well explained). A general amnesty is expected from the governor, but until then Pollicutt, Snow Hill’s Justice of the Peace, is paying $1000 a head for these outlaws. This offer attracts to Snow Hill large groups of bounty hunters (called “bounty killers” in the film); chief among them is Loco (Klaus Kinski), a dangerous and sadistic man looking to cash in on the townsfolk’s desperate situation. Only Silence, famed for his antagonism towards bounty hunters, can possibly save the town.



There’s a lot you have to accept if you want to get into a Spaghetti Western, especially a Spaghetti Western that isn’t helmed by Sergio Leone. Like most of its kind, The Great Silence is badly dubbed, so that the words you hear never match the movement of the actors’ lips; furthermore, the words you hear are badly mixed in, so that they always come out as an audio close-up. All of the costumes look newly made, no matter how worn they should be, and most of the extras can only be counted on to ham it up in the worst fashion imaginable. But if you go into the film knowing this, you can soon accept it, and you should, since The Great Silence is one of the most original and rewarding Westerns out there.

The film stands out for various reasons. First is its setting; most of us are used to seeing cowboys in dusty Frontier or mining towns, or perhaps in lush green fields in places like Montana. The Great Silence takes place in snow-covered Utah; everyone is bundled up, everything is frozen (not unlike McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Robert Altman’s 1972 Western film that seems to be the spiritual partner of Corbucci’s film). Then there’s Loco, played by the infamous Klaus Kinski. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what makes Loco so much different from so many other villains. He seems practical (he asks for help hoisting frozen corpses onto a carriage, so he can collect the bounty), and almost polite. He also looks fucking insane. Then there’s the overall mood of the film, which is gloomier even than Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.


There isn’t much to say about Silence, played by French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant. There are different theories, or rumours, surrounding the reasoning behind the protagonist's muteness. Some say that this is Corbucci playing with the trope of the laconic cowboy; if Eastwood or John Wayne, for instance, are curt, than Corbucci’s hero is going to be downright dumb. The other popular belief is that Trintignant only accepted the role on the grounds that he didn’t have to learn any lines. Either way, Silence is pretty uninteresting; not only does he not talk, he has seemingly no facial expressions whatsoever. All of his character seems to be expressed in his unique choice of gun. Unlike most cowboys, who carry some sort of six-shooter, Silence carries an automatic handgun, an 1896 7.63 mm Mauser Broomhandle. It’s his gun, rather than his silence, which sets him apart.

The last character worth mentioning is the Sheriff, played by Frank Wolff. (The love interest, played by Vonetta McGee, doesn’t do much but bring Silence to Snow Hill, before quickly falling love with him.) While the Sheriff is clearly meant to be comic relief, he’s rarely as buffoonish or clownish as some of his comedic counterparts. On the whole, he is well-meaning, but ignorant of his own situation and naïve in believing that he can make a difference. He is, on the whole, fairly noble, and one can’t help but feel that he’s the most sympathetic character in the whole film.


As unique as The Great Silence is, it’s not without its faults. Little explanation is offered for what’s happening--the reason that so many people are outlawed, and exactly how Pollicutt is supposedly profiting, is hard to grasp. In one instance, Loco digs a gun out of the snow and uses it to great effect; though we’ve seen him hide weapons in the snow before, it’s incredibly convenient (and incredibly hard to believe) that he had one in exactly that spot, and knew exactly where to look, exactly when he needed to. Some extra bounty hunters show up at near the end, and while their presence is mentioned it isn’t really explained. If you’re a stickler for a tight script, parts of the film can be irritating.

That said, anyone who’s a fan of the genre should check out the movie. It features a great villain, and while I’m not sold that Corbucci is the peer of that other, more famous Sergio (I found Django, for instance, pretty bad), he is a stylish director with a flair for filming violence. The Great Silence is a dour, nihilistic Western that is well worth tracking down.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bloody Nightmares #13: The Veil (2005)


It's fair to say that in the last five years there has been a low-budget zombie boom. Spurred by the DIY attitudes that brought us The Evil Dead and Bad Taste (along with a bit of get rich quick thrown in), every young horror fan with a group of friends and a camera have tried to make their own Night Of The Living Dead, with the results being of wildly varying quality. Thanks to the success of 28 Days Later and the remake of Dawn Of The Dead, video store shelves are littered with dozens of these films (with literally hundreds available online), with more coming all the time, meaning it's as difficult as it has ever been for film-makers to distinguish themselves. To that end, Richard Chance's The Veil is something a bit different. Filmed over a four year period on a nothing budget, shot almost entirely in black and white and running over two and a half hours, it shows a level of ambition and dedication rarely seen in low budget film-making. This ambition can come with a price, however, as The Veil is often as bloated and frustrating as it is frequently inspired.

An airborne virus has been accidentally released on a British town, turning all of the occupants into lumbering, flesh eating zombies. A group of Special Air Service agents are sent in to investigate, but rapidly find their numbers dwindling and radio contact cut off. The three remaining men; Green, Anderson and Weston, hold up in an abandoned house while zombies surround them on all sides. Fighting off claustrophobia and infighting, they have to keep it together and find their way to safety before the shuffling masses rip them to pieces.


The Veil is, if nothing else, a significant achievement. While most microbudget horror is short on suspense and struggles to reach the 90 minute mark, Chance and crew tell their story effectively while pouring on significant amounts of atmosphere. Aided by a terrific soundtrack, and some smart, punchy direction that rarely lets things slow down, the film works on a level that even hollywood productions sometimes have trouble achieving. The crew was obviously unwilling to cut corners during production, and their efforts pay off in creating something unique

The choice to film in B&W was likely one of necessity. Different cameras and lighting set-ups likely created an inconsistent look to the film that is evened out by the lack of color, though even if it was planned from the beginning it ends up being a smart move. This doesn't feel like a hand-held Blair Witch knockoff, but like a real film that evokes memories of Romero's original Night Of The Living Dead while still feeling modern. One scene has a character shooting out the lights, bathing a room in darkness as some zombies approach. The only lighting comes from some persistent lightning outdoors and the muzzle flashes from the guns, and though it's a simple effect (and goes on a little long) it's very effective and a highlight. Even when the lighting is less effective, it's generally not difficult to tell what is going on, which is helped by some great editing which takes advantage of the numerous camera setups which increases the cinematic look of the proceedings.


Unfortunately, while the editing of the individual scenes is well done, the editing as a whole is where the film runs into trouble. It's just too damn long. Forty-five minutes could easily be shaved from the runtime without losing anything significant, particularly from the sometimes endless scenes of the soldiers mowing down zombies as they enter the house. While these scenes increase the sense of danger that these men are living with, they also are simply too frequent and become tiresome. We're also faced with several flashbacks throughout the running time, and while they effectively serve to illuminate the backstory and give the film a few more settings, the transitions into the scenes are often confusing.

Speaking of confusing, the other major flaw of the film is having the three main cast members spend almost the entire film wearing gas-masks. While i'm sure this decision was made out of necessity (since the actors played multiple parts and are also crew members), it also serves to make distinguishing who is who virtually impossible. While this may be by design, it makes for an irrirating viewing experience, particularly when combined with difficulty in understanding much of the dialogue in the film. The actors all have strong British accents, and it appears that little of the dialogue was dubbed in afterward, so we're left with a lot of lines that are difficult to make out. There is little dialogue in the film as a whole, and it never gets to the point where things are too confusing, but it does make some of the twists and turns in the plot difficult to keep track of.


The acting of the three leads is fine, though again hurt by the muffled sound, but I was quite impressed with the zombie acting in the film. Some effort was made in making up the zombies (though, it sometimes vears into "oatmeal face" territory), but it's their ability to lurch around and lunge when close to their victims which make them most effective. Add to that a wide variety of looks (and the near constant moaning on the soundtrack), and it isn't difficult to believe that the house is being surrounded by throngs of the living dead.

The special effects are equally impressive, and feature some great gory fun, particularly a chainsaw attack which owes a bit to the work of Peter Jackson. Gunshots are achieved usually through camera tricks and a few unconvincing digital blasts, but there also appear to be actual replica guns and blanks utilized in a few scenes. There are plenty of vicious headshots and spurting blood (though these are not Romero zombies which go down from a destroyed brain), and while not a gorefest the film-makers never appear to be holding back.


A mention must be made about the terrific soundtrack which features music from the bands Halo Ego Trip, Quartet, and incidental music from the director. Reminiscent of both John Carpenter's minimalist scores as well as the atmospheric soundtrack to 28 Days Later, it serves to maintain and build the film's tension while rarely overwhelming the action onscreen. It's quite memorable, and deserves a release in its own right.

Mill Creek/Pendulum Pictures were right to only squash four films onto the third disc of their Bloody Nightmares collection, keeping The Veil from devolving in a pixelated mess. The film is presented full-screen, and while the image is sometimes dark and grainy, it's only in the final twenty minutes that things get a little difficult to see. As with many films in this collection, I noticed a few digital glitches throughout, but it's nothing that can't be ignored.


A flawed but excitingly ambitious entry in the zombie genre, Richard Chance's The Veil may be a bloated & unwieldy mess, but makes up for it with sharp direction and interesting visuals. Casual viewers may be scared away by the black & white photography and epic running length, but for patient genre fans there is a lot to love here. Worth checking out.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Fair Game (1986)



Jessica (Cassandra Delaney) lives and works on a wildlife preserve in the outback. She runs afoul Sonny, Ringo, and Sparks, a group of ne’er-do-wells who drive a big scary truck and shoot kangaroos. Sonny? He’s the brains of the operation. Ringo? He’s liable to do some crazy stunts. And then there’s that halfwit Sparks. He seems to be a mechanic. Or something.

When Jessica tries to involve the local authorities, hoping that they’ll reprimand or punish the baddies in some way, she’s sent packing. Soon the battle escalates, until Sonny, Ringo, and Sparks tie Jessica to the front of their truck, rip her clothes off, and drive her around the outback. Then its personal. Jessica pulls herself together, and decides that there’s one clear path before her: kill every last one of those motherfuckers.



Mario Andreacchio’s Ozploitation, rape (?) and revenge flick is one of the more palatable offerings of the genre. It certainly helps that Cassandra Delaney (the future Mrs. John Denver) isn’t hard on the eyes. Basically, the film does a good job of escalating the conflict between Jessica and the trio of bad guys, until it’s clear that she has no choice but to take lethal action (and that she’s justified in doing so). The film pretty much never slows down (except for the occasional nude scene), and it never brings in new characters to distract from the main conflict, which is something it should be lauded for.

To give you some idea of what you're getting into, Fair Game features bad guys who seem straight out of Mad Max, driving around the Wolf Creek outback. Jessica, who until running into these thugs is a mild-mannered, uh ... wait, what does she do? She seems to be in conservation. Anyway, the point is, she's an amiable sort. And then she gets pushed too far...


Of course, Fair Game is famous (to the extent that it is famous) for a single scene: the aforementioned scene where Jessica gets strapped to the hood of a big ass truck, stripped down, and driven around the Outback. It’s hard to believe that the actress would go for it--and, as far as I can tell, it actually is Cassandra Delaney. And even if it isn’t, it’s one brave stunt double. This is the sort of scene that you can only find in exploitation films, and it’s the reason the genre is so, uh, vibrant.

Fair Game does have some things working against it. Chief among the films detractors is its terrible, terrible score, which reeks of all that is bad from the 80s. It’s hard to get into the action when some synthesized pop music is your backdrop. Seriously, it’s worse than some 80s John Carpenter scores…and that’s saying something. It might also surprise a few to learn that the acting in Fair Game is also a weak point. Go figure.


Unlike many movies of its kind, Fair Game doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth. Most similarly-themed movies are pretty sleazy, but this one--despite its subject matter--remains a bit more light-hearted and easy to swallow. The stunts are pretty great, and who doesn’t like watching a big truck smash things? Not I. And the big pay off really works--when Sonny, Ringo, and Sparks get their’s, they get it good.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bloody Nightmares #12: I Dream Of Dracula (2003)


There are many things painfully wrong with Jim Haggerty's no-budget vampire horror-comedy I Dream Of Dracula, but perhaps the most crippling is that it simply isn't the least bit fun. Technical and performance issues aside (and there are plenty of both), the horror portions have no sense of suspense or tension, and the comedy is almost totally ineffective. Characters are presented as broad caricatures that barely resemble human beings, and the humor is so broad it feels like the audience is being bludgeoned with a shovel. I'm not going to criticize someone for tossing a fart joke into the mix, but the comedy here wouldn't elicit guffaws from even the most simple minded teenager. It's a plodding 75 minutes, occasionally spiced up with nudity, that is totally forgettable.


The plot centers around Priscilla (Michellina Shaffranski), a young woman who has been having dreams of vampirism and has started to believe that she is a reincarnated vampire named, um, Prunella. Her husband Roger (Jae Mosc) suggests that she see her psychiatrist friend Jeanette, but secretly Jeanette and Roger are having an affair and are hoping these dreams could lead to Priscilla being locked away for good. Eventually some gothy, usually naked vampires show up (while occasionally hanging out with Satan, who apparently spends most of his time in a tent) to kill random folks or talk awkwardly with plastic Halloween fangs in their mouth. Things sputter to a close with Priscilla staring awkwardly with her mouth open for eternity before everyone dies. The world's laziest police investigator decides to close the case and Prunella goes off into the night. Good for her.

Even for fans of low-budget cinema, this one is a little tough to get through and the fault has to be laid at the feet of the director. Haggerty gives one of the film's most amusing performances at the promiscuous Gunner, but as writer and director he's rather lost. Any camera movement is rare, and when it happens it's either shaky hand-held, or irritatingly jerky pans (someone should have greased the tripod a little). There are several scenes with a visibly dirty lens, which is particularly distracting during some of the endless dialogue scenes. I will give Haggerty credit for putting in a judicious amount of nudity, but vampire babes are no substitute for a coherent plot. And, I have to be honest, the female vampires are nasty looking. Even unclothed.


Acting is pretty poor across the board, though Shaffranski is obviously trying hard in the lead, and Jae Mosc hams it up effectively in a role that consists entirely of having a funny wig. The vampire ladies have to battle against fake teeth when giving any dialogue, so i'll cut them some slack. Anastasia Bosakowski-Chater gets the prize for most irritating actress for playing a bed-ridden Van Helsing who shouts nonsense throughout. She does get a surprisingly long vomit scene however.

Lighting and sound specs are decent, but special effects amount to some fake blood slathered on a few necks. Michael Keller provides a reasonable, though unmemorable, score.

Image quality looks fine, though again there are compression artifacts in any scenes with movement (of which there are few). There are dropped frames and glitches in a few places, but nothing particularly distracting.


I Dream Of Dracula certainly features dreams (in fact, the opening dream is shown in its entirety twice), but unfortunately Dracula is nowhere to be found. Hopefully Haggerty used this film as a learning experience, as in recent years he's been very productive in indie horror. Few laughs and no scares make for a dire viewing experience, and this one is definitely better ignored.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Crazy Thunder Road (1980)



Oh no! Japanese outlaw biker gangs are thinking of forming a union! No more inter-gang warfare? No more fun, I’d say! And so would Jin and his delinquent buddies in the Mabiroshi biker gang. They decided to buck the system by continuing to kick ass and raise hell! When the rest of the biker gangs decide that enough is enough, and try to put Jin and his crew down like a bunch of rabid dogs, one of the founding members of the Mabiroshi biker gang steps in. His idea: to set the young punks straight by enlisting them into his ultra-rightist militia.

Chaos ensues.



Crazy Thunder Road is punk, not just because the writer and director, Sogo Ishii, is a punk musician, but because it embodies the punk spirit: it’s low budget, it’s angry, and I doubt anyone involved really knows how to play his instrument--er, act. But that’s not what’s important. Something like Mad Max meets Sid and Nancy, the important thing about Crazy Thunder Road is its DIY attitude, which infuses the film with its unique spirit.


Ishii envisions Japan as an industrial wasteland, where biker gangs roam the streets unchecked, and the only alternative to the biker lifestyle is, apparently, joining a militia. The only characters who don’t represent either option are Ken (the former leader of the Mabiroshi gang) and his girlfriend; they speak about their love in printed intertitles, and spend a lot of time in bed. So, the alternative seems pretty dull.


Jin isn’t a hero, by any means, but he’s a pretty good punk protagonist: he’s petulant, angry, and largely disagreeable, but you can appreciate him to the extent that he refuses to back down or change, for any reason (even good ones). His obstinacy leads him and his friends into various fights involving knives, chainsaws, automobiles of all shapes and sizes, and eventually guns and bazookas that seem to shoot flares or, in many instances, nothing at all.

So, shit explodes (though not very dramatically), bikers bleed (though it looks like bright red paint), and people die. It isn’t quite as exciting as it sounds. Some of the acting is very bad, and it was shot on 16mm film stock that looks grainy and worn--though it does add to the film’s aesthetics. Things don’t make a lot of sense, lots of subplots seem to be dropped before they begin, and then everyone’s dead. Oi! Oi! Oi!