Sunday, November 29, 2009

Shock And Awe - The Grindhouse Experience #4 (11/28/2009)

On a chilly winter evening is there anything better than the prospect of an overnight marathon of Grindhouse cinema to get your blood moving? Of course not. On November 28, 2009 Dion Conflict opened up his Conflict Archives once again to showcase a few offbeat flicks for fans of genre cinema (and confused passerbys). At this point i'm officially a Shock & Awe veteran, having gone four for four with not a minute of sleep, but this time I had to make the sojourn to Toronto from Peterborough, Ontario by my lonesome. The pilgrimage was tough, but I made it to the door by 11:30, purchased the bottomless soda (oh sweet bubbly mistress), and settled in.

Once again big shout-outs to the permissive Fox Theatre staff and Dion for putting up with some intense levels of geekiness while running on almost no sleep.

Let's begin, shall we?

The Shape Of Things To Come (1979)

After the success of Star Wars it stood to reason that other countries would take a stab at galactic space operas, and soon low budget rip-offs started to appear from Italy (Star Crash and Star Odyssey), Turkey (The Man Who Saves The World/Turkish Star Wars), and - rather surprisingly - Canada. A few years away from Videodrome, Canada was not yet on the cutting edge of science fiction, so the choice to adapt an H.G. Wells work into a special effects filled space epic might have seemed rather odd. Even odder was the choice to make it awful.

Thankfully the audience were all riding a similar mental wave during tSoTtC, since when it wasn't being ostensibly weird and silly, it could almost have been a tad boring. The oddness carried things, however, particularly during a low-gravity freak-out (with characters bumbling about in slow motion) which had the crowd rolling. The real highlights, however, were the special effects which ranged from bad (the Dalek-lite baddie robots who waved their arms ineffectively) to worse (models featuring less detail than the Star Wars lego kits I had as a kid).

The cast is full of stalwarts, including a shockingly young Nicholas Campbell (Da Vinci's Inquest), Barry Morse (The Fugitive), and a slumming Jack Palance as the evil, giant hologram loving Omus. A "cute" robot named Sparks is shoe-horned in, but I wouldn't be expecting any action figure in the near future. Entertainingly bad, and an ideal film to kick off the evening.

Mystery Film (1988)

Breaking from tradition, the mystery film went second and this time it was a doozy. In fact, this film could have served equally well as a main event, and was the first mystery film that I had actually seen previously. Now, i've been sworn to secrecy to the identity of the film, but I can say it's directed by a well known genre filmmaker, is a drug addiction allegory, has some great steadicam work from Street Trash's Bruce Torbet, and includes a mindblowing fellatio scene. I think the print was slightly cut from the DVD edition that is available, but it was good, gory fun that the crowd ate up.

Supergirls Do The Navy (1984)

And it's pornography time. As you may recall, at around the halfway point of each Shock & Awe the audience is treated to some classic hardcore porn, which has ranged from the comical (Danish Pastries), to the rather icky (Sensations), to the occasionally offensive (Mona: The Virgin Nymph). This time we're treated to a nautical themed fuck-fest featuring three nubile nymphets doing time on a submarine for extra credit. It's all played for laughs, with the "actors" throwing themselves into their performances enthusiastically, and starlet Taija Rae earning her paycheck by sucking and fucking anything that wasn't bolted down. Party favors were distributed and the audience was instructed to blow anytime that sea-men (nudge nudge) appeared on-screen. My attention started to waver during the final twenty minutes, but there were enough amusing moments around the fornicating (and a few during it) to keep myself focused.

Satanik (1968)

Based on a French comic by Max Bunker, I was half expecting Satanik to follow the pop art stylings of Mario Bava's Danger: Diabolik, but instead received a rather plodding Jekyll and Hyde variation which showed little of the energy of its comic book origins. Magda Konopka plays the scarred Marnie Bannister, who murders her colleague after he devises a way to regenerate tissue in animals - with the side effect that it makes them a tad homicidal. I guess that since she's pretty murderous from the start means that it doesn't really bother her. After her transformation into 60s hotness, she gets involved with all sorts of criminal wheelings and dealings while the police try to track her down. A great soundtrack from Manuel Parada keeps things from grinding to a halt, but it's lacks much oddness or camp and Bannister's eventual fate is a tad lazy and predictable.

Bamboo Gods & Iron Men (1974)

A nice surprise in the blaxploitation/kung-fu genre, Bamboo Gods & Iron Men features a very similar pedigree to the minor classic T.N.T Jackson, also co-written by (and featuring) Ken Metcalfe, produced by the prolific Cirio H. Santiago, and co-starring the late Filipino comedian Chiquito who gets to do a lot of the heavy lifting in the fight scenes. While that film got a lot of mileage out of the lovely Jeannie Bell, this one is all about boxer Cal Jefferson (the surprisingly charismatic James Inglehart) who, after purchasing a statue of Buddha in which some baddies have hidden an ancient Chinese secret, gets caught up in their murderous attempts to get it back. Chiquito plays his little mute Asian buddy who devotes his life to him after Cal saves him from drowning. The choreography is less than graceful, but this is a fun action outing that never takes itself too seriously. There's probably a little too much lame comic relief, but it's energetic and features some good performances from the leads. And it came at the best possible time, as it was hitting 7 am and even the most hardcore of us were starting to drift.

Of course, there's no drifting allowed during..

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

When it comes to TCM it's really all been said, but in my drowsy state what really jumped out at me was the quality of the sound-design in the film, and not just those memorable camera flashes in the opening. In a film where things are generally implied rather than shown, the sound effects (and unsettling score) provide plenty of horror - from the satisfying THUNK of hammer hitting head, the skittering of spiders in a web, to the buzz of Leatherface's trademark chainsaw things were obviously lovingly compiled for maximum creep factor. And Marilyn Burns performance is still astounding, her screams basically becoming the film's soundtrack for the last twenty minutes. Still a masterpiece, and it makes Tobe Hooper's eventual filmography that much more depressing.

Also included were trailers for Drum (1976), D.A.R.Y.L. (1985) and The Teacher (1974) as well as various odds and ends between the features.

Perhaps the most consistent line-up yet, Shock & Awe remains (as always) a communal experience for fans of trashy, cult and rare films. As we staggered into the cold air, the remaining crowd having run the gauntlet together, there was a shared sense of excitement and relief to go forth and spread the word of what we had seen. Maybe not a spiritual experience, but still appropriately religious for a Sunday morning. Highly recommended, and i'm already looking forward to the next one.


J.T. said...

How in the fuck have I never come across Bamboo Gods & Iron Men?

Doug Tilley said...

Embarrassingly, I had never even *heard* of it. But it has almost exactly the same pedigree as TNT Jackson, and I knew all about that one before I ever saw it. Maybe it's because, unlike TNT Jackson, i'm not sure if this one has some public domain prints out there.. in fact, i'm not sure what kind of DVD distribution there is at all. If I remember correctly, the 35mm print we saw might have been one of the last ones in North America.