Sunday, June 30, 2013
Actor and Karate Champion Jim Kelly passed away yesterday at the age of 67. Born in Paris, Ky. in 1946 he won the World Middleweight Karate Championship in 1971 and soon thereafter was signed to co-star in Enter the Dragon in 1973 after Rockne Tarkington (Black Sampson) dropped out at the last minute. Even after 40 years Enter the Dragon still stands as one of the greatest pure action movies ever made. Its a credit to Kelly's screen presence, that even next to the mega-watt star power of Bruce Lee he is still highly remembered by fans for is role as Williams.
After Enter the Dragon he signed a three picture deal with Warner and starred in such classics as Black Belt Jones, Three The Hard Way & Golden Needles (all from 1974) and Black Samurai (1977). In 1975 in appeared in the western Take a Hard Ride co-starring Lee Van Clef, Jim Brown & Fred Williamson.
Friday, June 28, 2013
After doing the W.I.P. thing in the Philippines Roger Corman decided to move the basic premise (nudity, violence, exotic locale, rampaging women convicts & more nudity) to ancient Rome and in 1974 sent director Steve Carver off to Italy (along with Philippine exploitation vets Pam Grier & Margret Markov from Black Mama White Mama) to make The Arena. Women captives are forced to train as gladiators and fight alongside men until the old thumbs up / thumbs down decides their fate, until one day in their barracks the girls stage a huge food fight which gives the Romans an idea and soon we've got woman against woman (which seems to get the Romans pretty excited).
Carver even works in an ancient Rome version of the classic & oft repeated women in prison shower scene and although on a Roger Corman budget he manages to create a pretty epic (although underpopulated) feel to the movie. Channeling Woody Strode from Spartacus, Pam Grier looks fabulous as a gladiator and gets to do a pretty wild go go dance at an orgy while wearing a bikini made out of feathers (before which she was carried into the orgy in a huge gold birdcage). Also starring Paul Muller with whom Rosalba had worked previously with in 1971's Lady Frankenstein and producer Mark Damon had shared some screen time with her in The Devil's Wedding Night from 1973.
Roman version of the women behind bars shower
(with Rosalba supervising)
(with Rosalba supervising)
Pam whips 'em into a frenzy at the orgy
Rosalba (6th billed here under her Sara Bay pseudonym) plays Cornelia who acts as the evil overseer/matron to the girls and even gets to participate in the climatic Spartacus on a Corman budget slave revolt where she's killed by Pam. She would retire in 1976, so her career was winding down by this time - but as usual she has an excellent presence here (even if her swordplay is a bit weak) and looks great eagerly giving the thumbs down to wounded gladiators. Plus anytime you get Rosalba and Pam Grier together in the same movie, that's pretty exciting.
Shout Factory released this as part of their Lethal Ladies 2 collection (which also includes Fly Me & Cover Girl Models). They even added a few scenes that were originally cut from the original New World release to tighten up the running time (one of them involving Rosalba), plus there's a commentary from director Steve Carver and a featurette containing interviews with Corman, producer Mark Damon, Carver and co-star Margret Markov.
Joe Dante was the editor on this and more then likely also cut the trailer (which means that unfortunately this being set in ancient Rome, he couldn't use that exploding helicopter footage that shows up in every other New World Trailer from the 70's). Mark Damon & Margaret Markov were married after meeting on the set here, and remain a happy couple to this day.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
One of the more entertaining "girls with guns" Filipino exploitation movies to come out of the 70's and recently released on DVD by Retromedia.
Former Hollywood quasi A-lister Nancy Kwan (The World of Suzie Wong) plays Dr Tsu who hides out on a James Bond on a budget style island fortress, where she experiments on organ/brain transplants and hires her services out to millionaires all over the world who need various new parts. Excluding her lawyer & business manager Sid Haig she's staffed by an all girl machine gun totting army. In order to procure the best parts she goes after famous athletes (including a women's topless synchronized swim team !) who are kidnapped by her top agents including exploitation favorite Roberta Collins (The Big Doll House) & Shirley Washington (Bamboo Gods & Iron Men).
After a world famous (?) jai alai player is kidnapped mercenary/ex-CIA guy Mike Harber (biker flick fav Ross Hagen) and his sawed off shotgun are hired by Llloys of London to track him down for $50,000. Also popping up are Filipino exploitation regular Vic Diaz (The Big Bird Cage) as a comical cab driver & Bruno Punzalan (Brides of Blood).
Nancy's island fortress is an orgy of pulsating colors and 70's decor gone wild with clear latex operating gowns, guards in yellow mini-skirts and future experiments wrapped up in saran wrap. In addition she's got an organism machine (which you wear on your head & looks like an automobile air cleaner with Christmas lights) and her operating room has a speaker phone/intercom so Dr. Tsu can yell at subordinates & do conference calls while preforming brain transplants. Naturally as all good mad doctors do, she has the cages in the basement full of her past failed experiments (who escape at the movies climax) including a guy in ape mask and a 7' basketball player with a clear dome over his brain.
Nancy seems to have been having great fun in her role and there's a couple of well done car chases considering the budget - plus you got Ross chewing up the scenery, lame kung-fu, PG rated nudity, a cockfight and girls firing machine guns.
Retromedias's DVD is loaded with features and comes with a nice anamorphic transfer (it probably hasn't looked this good since it left the camera), a commentary by director Robert V. O'Neil, 8mm on the set home movies, scenes from the European cut, stills, trailers and footage from the never competed sequel Warrior Women, plus an interview with stuntman Erik Cord.
Sunday, June 23, 2013
One of the more wacked out crazy weird horror movies to come from a major studio in the 70's, this was probably the closest thing an American movie ever came to emulating the wacked out crazy weird atmosphere of the Italian horror films of the period (in particularly Lucio Fulci). Helmed by jack-of-all trades 70's & 80's director (plus Charles Bronson fav) Michael Winner and based upon a then best selling (but now forgotten) novel by Jeffery Korvitz. Winner (who recently passed away) was responsible for such classics as Death Wish (1974 - plus parts II & III !), The Mechanic (1972), The Nightcomers (1971) & The Stone Killer (1976) among others - without forgetting 1976's Won Ton Ton : The Dog Who Saved Hollywood.
Mixing together elements of Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist and the whole 70's devil worshipping genre along with the classic "gates of hell" plotline & some Fulci The Beyond/City of the Living Dead vibes, The Sentinel kneads all these elements into a big gooey mess and then throws it against the wall to see what sticks. Although a bit less on the gore level then its Italian cousins it still has its share of genuine creepiness and plenty of "What the...!!" moments.
The main plot concerns model Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) who rents an old brownstone apartment in Brooklyn from real estate agent Ava Gardner that contains the usual assortment of eccentric tenants, including Burgess Meredith channeling Ruth Gordon from Rosemary's Baby and lesbians Sylvia Mills & Beverly D'Angelo - who in her first major role displays a surprising amount of nudity (along with a 45 year old Sylvia Mills). Plus in the top floor apt. a blind gaunt zombie like priest (played by gaunt zombie like John Carradine) forever sits and stares out the window.
Alison has some issues, including a couple of past suicide attempts. The first one happening when she was a young girl after breaking in on her elderly father invloved in ménage à trois involving a couple of prostitutes and copious amounts of birthday cake and the second time when her boyfriend's (Chris Sarandon) then current wife committed suicide. Seems the wife's suicide was a bit suspect and this leads to police detectives (Eli Wallach & Christopher Walken) nosing around. Also lurking around in the plot are a couple of priests (José Ferrer & Arthur Kennedy) who are part of a group of defrocked priests. Turns out the apt building is a gateway to hell (ever notice how many gateways to hell there are in 70's horror movies) and every so often a new guardian (the current one being the blind priest) has to be chosen to watch over the expressway to hell portal.
After attending a weird birthday party for Burgess Meredith's cat along with the other tenants Alison learns that all the other apts. in the building (save for the blind priest) are supposedly empty and it turns out all the people she thinks are living there are all infamous dead murderers. Later that night she investigates noises in the now deserted apts above her and in one of the movies more startling scenes stabs her recently deceased (and moldy looking) father. Afterwards of course no body is found, but later a body does turn up in another part of the city and Alison starts the "am I going mad ??" phase and dealing with disbelieving friends.
The plot unfolds with bunches of bizarre sequences with the climatic parade of minions from hell being a real jaw dropper. Winner caught a lot of flak at the time for this sequence as along with the movies excellent make-up effects by Dick Smith, real people with actual deformities were also used (shades of Tod Browning & Freaks). Filmed entirely on location in New York City ($350.00 rent for that brownstone !?!) and it remains one of the most unforgettable horror excursions of the decade.
Almost as interesting as the movie itself is watching the veritable parade of big name stars and up and comers. Along with vets like the above mentioned José Ferrer, Arthur Kennedy, Ava Gardner & Burgess Meredith and plus Martin Balsam all doing the "I can work for two days and knock off a couple months mortgage payments" you also have sightings of Tom Berenger, Jeff Goldblum, Jerry Orbach (sporting a porn stash), Deborah Raffin, along with Walken & D'Angelo plus the great Sylvia Miles & Eli Wallach. Richard Dreyfuss can be spotted as an extra and ESPN sports guy Len Berman plays a real estate agent. This things got more "Hey look who that is" moments then a 70's disaster movie.
Anyone who's watched 70's horror movies (i.e. Burnt Offerings) can see the ending coming for miles away and as the two leads Raines and Sarandon are a bit flat, with Raines in particular sometimes having the acting range of old comatose priest John propped up in the window. But it can be said that her character's motivations do fit in with her sometimes dead pan delivery. The two leads however almost take a back seat to the other bizarre characters and the bat shit crazy plot. The Sentinel is one of those movies you most likely won't forget for awhile and any movie with Sylvia Mills & Beverly D'Angelo as naked cannibalistic lesbians, Ava Gardner, Christopher Walken, a portal to hell AND John Carradine has to be pegged with a least 3 *'s. This was one of ten (!) movies from 1977 that John Carradine appeared in (plus one cartoon voice-over).