Monthly Archives: July 2017

“Ooh, Betti!” EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE ’70s Reviewed

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DVD. Region 2. Nucleus Films. 18. 

Kudos to Nucleus for finally affording a proper UK release to Mike Malloy’s documentary, which has  been knocking around for about five years now. It gets underway with an amusing sequence in which salient scenes from iconic American cop films are intercut with corresponding ones from their Italian imitators. Fair enough, it’s unlikely that anybody reading this blog will need the filone system of Italian film making explaining to them. Malloy also acknowledges that the influence has been anything but one way and allows Enzo Castellari (pictured above) to complain that Michael Winner’s Death Wish (1974) pinches from his Street Law, released in the same year. Well, the Brain Garfield novel which Winner based his film on was published in 1972… whatever, the influence that Castellari has exerted over the likes of Quentin Tarantino cannot be disputed and never has been by Tarantino himself.

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One keeps expecting to see QT pop up at some point in Eurocrime! but no, Malloy sticks to the primary sources and his doc is all the better for it. Apart from Castellari, we get to hear from Mario Caiano, Franco Nero, John Saxon, Antonio Sabato, Luc Merenda, Fred Williamson, Richard Harrison, John Steiner, Christopher Mitchum, Leonard Mann, Joe Dallesandro, Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, Michael Forest and Claudio Fragasso, among many others. It’s particularly great to see Henry Silva, the baddest ass in cinema bad ass history, still going strong. “Does Henry still look good?” Antonio Sabato asks his interviewer at one point and the answer is a resounding “Yes!”, in fact here HK’s looking spookily like you imagine Darrell Buxton might well look in his ’70s (if Darrell was a psychopathic stone killer rather than the charming chap he actually is). For a while there I’d managed to convince myself that Silva had joined the Grim Reaper’s 2017 cull of so many of our favourite personalities but here he is… live, kicking, relating humorous anecdotes (e.g. a run-in with Sabato when the latter hadn’t bothered to learn his lines) and no doubt pondering popping a cap in my presumptuous ass.

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An impressive roll call of witnesses to the Crime slime phenomenon then, though no doubt you could niggle (and some have) about who’s here and who’s been left (or opted) out…No Sergio Martino? And why isn’t Umberto Lenzi called upon to answer his many detractors? But really, what’s the point? Malloy had to work with what (and whom) he had to work with and those who did sign up aren’t exactly short on interesting and entertaining things to say about their participation in the genre. There’s a significant section on Barbara Bouchet which seems to be leading up to an appearance by BB herself, though sadly she fails to materialise. Although he died in 1989, a meditation on Maurizio Merli’s career tangent (from “guy who was lucky enough to look like Franco Nero when Nero lost interest in the genre” to “difficult” star) makes for an interesting sidebar,  emblematic as it is of Crime Slime celebrity.

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Thanks to @cosiperversa for unearthing this one. More tea, vicar?

Aside from the aforementioned Hollywood influences, Malloy addresses the domestic factors that had these films “ruling the ’70s”, at least in Italy… discontent with the explosion in crime that was the underside of “the Italian economic miracle” and fear of the regular outrages attributed to the extreme Right and Left during “the Years of Lead”. We also hear about how minor hustling criminals “facilitated” street shoots and rumours of actual mafia involvement. Actors who were called upon to do their own stunts amid live ammo relate the perils they faced during guerilla shoots where directors’ spontaneity was matched only by their lack of interest in Health and Safety (“I think I peed my pants!” confesses Silva about one such set-up). Castellari talks about the celebrated scene in The Big Racket (1976) where Fabio Testi gets rolled down a hill in his car. Fred “The Hammer” Williamson and others discuss the less hazardous but extremely discomforting business of shooting without direct sound and some of the veteran dubbing artists of the Italian movie scene finally get to show their faces while having their say. It would have been nice, though, to hear more about some of the amazing composers whose OSTs have graced this genre, the likes of Morricone, Micalizzi, Cipriani, Trovajoli, de Masi, and so on. I’ll give credit here for the bitchin’, authentic sounding OST score that Malloy has pulled together, from various contributors, for this documentary.

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… are you sure you won’t have another cup of tea, vicar?

Such recurring themes as unconscionable violence, misogyny and car chases are given due consideration and we are treated to a digression into the little studied wilderness (and sheer wildness) of Italo-Turkish co-productions. Needless to say, the all-important subject of J&B product placement rears its malty little head.

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Minor quibbles: Although the narrative does occasionally venture outside of Italy, a more Italian focussed title would have more accurately reflected its contents. Malloy does labour certain points and his much discussed flashy editing style, initially impressive, does wear out its welcome well before the end of Eurocrime!’s 127 minute running time. In pursuit of flashy cutting and graphics, Malloy does seem to have lost sight of the primary purposes of editing, e.g. tidiness and concision. Personally, I could have done without some of the animated sequences and as it stands, Eurocrime is too long and baggy to be the primer that will turn the general picture-watching public on to the poliziotteschi phenomenon. It might well recruit new converts from those already kindly disposed to such genres as giallo or spaghetti westerns. For established Crime Slime devotees, Malloy’s epic labour of love will come as joyous, indispensable stuff.

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The main feature would have been even longer if not for the fact that generous interview out takes have been bumped into the bonuses section. You also get Eric Zaldivar’s 2012 interview with Tomas Milian (an anarchic free spirit to the end) and -alongside a nifty trailer for Eurocrime! itself – 31 (count ’em!) ass-kicking coming attractions for some of the genre’s most celebrated efforts.

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Well worth your time and money, especially as Nucleus, true to form, aren’t taking the piss with their price point. Nothing, er, extortionate!

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Heads They Win, Tails We Lose… THE BIG RACKET Reviewed.

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DVD. Region Free. Blue Underground. Unrated.

Pretty much squeezed out of the giallo thrillers that proliferated in the ’70s, Italian cops decamped into a cinematic genre of their own. Reflecting contemporary public angst over pandemic political and criminal violence in the 1970s (“the Years of Lead”), this particularly torrid cinematic stream can be sourced to La Polizia Ringrazia (aka Execution Squad / The Enforcers), a 1971 film by erstwhile comedy specialist Stefano Vanzina (aka Steno) that starred Enrico Maria Salerno in the authoritarian cop role and owed a fairly obvious debt to Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry, released earlier in the same year. It took Enzo Castellari’s La Polizia Incrimina, La Legge Assolve (aka High Crime, 1973) however, to really ignite the box offices. Castellari, already a veteran director of action packed, acrobatic spag-wests and war films, here hooked up for the first of many times with Franco Nero, playing Vice-Commissioner Belli, a maverick cop who’s out to close down the supply of heroin from France into Italy. If all of this sounds vaguely reminiscent of “a certain William Friedkin picture” (indeed, this picture has also been released under the alias “The Marseilles Connection”), Castellari goes so far as to as to bring back Fernando Rey as Belli’s adversary and stages a mighty familiar looking car chase, while upping the ante in terms of sheer sadism (the drug gang think nothing of cutting the nads off of those that cross them!) Later in 1973, Sergio Martino knocked out another saga of rulebook trashing cops The Violent Professionals (Milano Trema – La Polizia Vuole Giustizia) and followed it in 1974 with the similarly themed Silent Action (La Polizia Accusa: Il Servizio Segreto Uccide). The same year, Castellari and Franco Nero were back with Il Cittadina Si Ribella (“The Citizen Rebels”) aka Street Law, in which Nero’s revolting citizen strikes back against a system so tardy about protecting the citizenry that it’s virtually complicit in criminality. In The Big Racket (1976) Castellari develops his argument a step further by effectively identifying The State itself as a criminal conspiracy.

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Enzo’s mad as hell and he’s not gonna take anymore…

While some of its genre predecessors strive for gritty social relevance with plot points that paradoxically leave credibility teetering on the edge of a precipice, The Big Racket gleefully dons hobnail boots to kick the fucker right over the brink. Its in-your-face opening depicts a business premises being trashed by a rent-a-goon gang of OTT ne’er do wells. Their colourful apparel and larger than life anti-social antics clearly foreshadow the cartoon characterisations of Castellari’s apocalyptic trilogy Bronx Warriors (1982), Bronx Warriors 2 and The New Barbarians (both 1983) and The Big Racket depicts civil society as one step removed from that kind of total breakdown, with wrecking gangs roaming the city despoiling honest citizens at will. On this kind of form, Castellari makes Michael Winner look like a tree hugging Lefty!

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It’s big…

The aforementioned goons are enforcing a protection racket run by foppish Englishman (?!?) Rudy (John Loffredo). God help anyone who refuses to cough up. When one of their marks, restaurateur Luigi Gestore (Renzo Palmer) does stand up to them, they abduct and rape his schoolgirl daughter (Castellari’s own daughter, Stefania Girolami, later an assistant director on such Hollywood productions as Super Mario Bros, Dawson’s Creek, American Gothic and Empire Records, now back working for her dad). She subsequently kills herself out of shame.

Needless to say there’s a hard-assed cop keen on closing down the operation. In the absence of Franco Nero we get equally hunky Fabio Testi as Inspector Nico Palmieri. When he is rumbled investigating the racket, its perpetrators have no qualms at all about rolling a police car and its occupant into a quarry, a quite amazing sequence whose realisation Castellari discusses on this disc’s audio commentary track.

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When Palmieri gets out of hospital, you can bet your ass he’s even keener than before to kick some racketeering ass. It doesn’t hurt that his partner Sal (Salvatore Calimero) is a kung fu whirlwind who can beat up several assailants simultaneously and thinks nothing of kicking a lady racketeer in her private parts to convey the message that crime doesn’t pay!

What does cramp their investigative style is the oily civil rights lawyer Giovanni Giuni (Antonio Marsina) who continually gets the protectioneering hoodlums out of jail and protests that they are being overly harshly treated for their high spirits and roguish shenanigans: “These kids are just blowing off some steam” (?!?) is his weasel-worded rationalisation of their crimes. When Palmieri’s attempts to cut through all this bullshit get him taken off the case, he figures that he might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. Hiring the services of gentlemanly con man Pepe (a great comic relief turn from Death Wish alumnus Vincent Gardenia) he sets out to infiltrate The Big Racket. Two major set pieces ensue. The first is an astonishingly choreographed and sharply edited shoot out at a railway station, a vintage Castellari action sequence featuring all his familiar trademarks of slow-mo, multiple angles and madly gurning, machine-gun totin’ extras somersaulting through the air.

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It is here that by-standing skeet shooter Giovanni (Orso Maria Guerrini) conveniently throws in his lot with the cops as an act of civic duty… not so convenient for his family though, as the mob respond by urinating on and raping his wife, before setting fire to her (pity that wasn’t the other way around!)

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Palmieri recruits him, Pepe, Gestore and Doringo (Romano Puppo), a lifer seeking to cut a deal and get himself  out of jail, for the climactic confrontation with the gang at their annual general meeting, held in another of Castellari’s beloved disused factories. During the ensuing mayhem the supreme boss of the ever-expanding protection racket is revealed… a real non-surprise this one, it’s that smoothy civil rights lawyer Giuni. Castellari really couldn’t spell it out any clearer than this – liberals aren’t just well-intentioned but misguided wimps, they’re keen and active participants in the destruction of Society!

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Marsina, overacting frantically, spells out the Big Racket’s ambitious corporate plan in alarming terms: “Factories, restaurants, shops, hotels… if they want to stay open, they’ll pay us. In fact eventually every living individual will have to pay us. If they refuse, their gas main might blow up and take half the house with it. People will soon learn that they have no defence against the terror that we will create. Just one phone call, one threat will make them pay. Do you have kids? You don’t want to lose them? Then pay! You don’t have the money? You have a house so sell it and pay. No house? Then half your salary each month. If you want your kids to live then pay, pay! Naturally some will hesitate… so we kill a couple of children… a few examples and people will pay without question. But we’ll need to cover ourselves… we can buy anybody, politicians, policemen, magistrates… anybody at all!”

This chilling vision of the future is cut short by a hail of bullets from Palmieri and co. From their vantage points they mow down most of the mobsters, though inevitably they are themselves cut down in their turn. Palmieri confronts Mr Big Smoothy Lawyer in a toilet, appropriately enough, and answers his ironic, impassioned demands for legal protection with a skinful of lead.

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Outside the factory, Rudy and a handful of surviving racketeers attempt to drive away but Palmieri’s bullets have for some reason acquired the ability to make anything they hit go up in a mini mushroom cloud… possibly a symbolic representation of the welled up power of his righteous wrath, more probably a realisation by Castellari that he had 90 minutes worth in the can and needed to wind things up, smartish.

Testi is a considerable actor but can’t do much here with a character who is little more than a cypher. We don’t learn anything much about Palmieri, other than the fact that criminals drive him into a murderous rage. He certainly does nothing effective to protect any of the people whom he eggs on to defy the baddies, all of them coming to a sticky end. Perhaps this is why Castellari’s freeze frame final shot depicts Palmieri howling in anguish, smashing his rifle to bits.

It’s no small undertaking to tackle The Big Racket!

Extras wise, as well as the inevitable trailer you get a lively, informative commentary courtesy of Poppa Castellari and his son Andrea Girolami. Nice.

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Running On Empty… BLAZING MAGNUM Reviewed

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“Ooh, I could crush a grape!”

DVD. Region 1. Scorpion Releasing / Kino Lorber. Unrated (as “Shadows In An Empty Room”).

Alberto Martino (aka “Martin Herbert”, 1929-2015) has a decent claim on being the most underrated of all those journeyman Italian directors who jobbed their way promiscuously through every conceivable genre during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Serving his apprenticeship as writer and AD on romantic dramas, adventure yarns and peplums during the 50’s, he clocked up his own initial directorial efforts in the latter genre and spaghetti westerns during the early ’60s. His epic of international espionage, Operation Kid Brother (aka OK Connery, 1967) attained lasting notoriety due to the casting of a certain Scottish milkman as its protagonist, whose sole qualification for the role was being the current James Bond’s younger brother. “Neil Connery is too much!” claimed the posters, but the general consensus was that, in thespian terms, he wasn’t quite enough and wee Neil soon went back to totin’ crates of gold tops. Thereafter Martino authored solid entries in the giallo (The Man With Icy Eyes, 1971 and The Killer Is On The Phone, 1972) and poliziotteschi (Crime Boss, 1972 and Counsellor At Crime, 1973) fields. There are plenty of films in which those two genres shade off into each other and that is indeed the case for the one under scrutiny here, but Blazing Magnum (aka Shadows In An Empty Room, Strange Shadows In An Empty Room and A Special Magnum For Tony Saitta, 1976) is particularly notable for the way that it lifts both of these filoni out of their accustomed urban Italian environment and lands them slap-bang in the middle of downtown Montreal, scoring in the process a kick-ass action triumph that graced Granada TV’s late night programming on multiple occasions during the ’80s and whose reappearance on DVD certainly hasn’t disappointed me.

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The film opens with sexy student Louise Saitta (Carole Laure) having an on-campus tiff with her professor / lover Dr George Tracer (recently deceased Hall of Famer, Martin Landau). Spurned and upset, she calls her big brother, cop captain Tony (Stuart Whitman) in Ottawa. Yep, Tony Saitta’s an Ottowan and at this point I’m going to challenge you to read the rest of  this review without “D.I.S.C.O.” playing in your head. Anyway, Louise intends to blow the whistle on her illicit relationship with the Prof but Tony’s otherwise engaged, breaking up a bank heist… Harry Callahan style, with the aid of his fetishised magnum. By the time he’s killed everyone, wrapped up the paperwork and tried to call her back, Louise is dead. Having  embarrassed Tracer with an elaborate practical joke during a swish faculty party, she downed a drink that turned out to laced with poison.

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Tony flies in with a heart full of guilt, a relentless determination to smoke out (with the assistance of cop-on-the-spot John Saxon) the lowlife who snuffed his innocent little sister… and that magnum, with which to dispense a little rough’n’ready justice. Our latter day John Wayne is predictably disgusted by the louche sexual mores of Montreal’s academic set, not only lecherous prof Tracer but Margie Cohen (Gayle Hunnicutt… strong cast, ain’t it?) and her creepy brother who eventually turns up (in full drag) dismembered in a piece of industrial machinery. How was the blue necklace he wore connected to the recent murder of an apparently respectable woman in Toronto?

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It’s while following up this latter angle that Saitta’s complacent self-image as a morally upright macho man sustains its first serious damage. Visiting a gay clubhouse on the top floor of a skyscraper, confident in his ability to shake some clues out of what he believes will be a bunch of fairies, he promptly gets the shit kicked out of him by a posse of transvestite kung fu furies… yay, even unto being put through a plate-glass window in slow motion from several different angles. While his scars heal and he reassesses his stereotypes, Margie chides Saitta for his blinkered, clichéd view of the word and indeed, the further he delves into the case, the more it becomes apparent (via a series of Sergio Leonesque unfolding flashbacks) that his kid sister wasn’t quite the little innocent abroad that he had always imagined her to be… 

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For all it moral subtleties, BM will be best remembered among Crime Slime fanatics for that LGBT kung fu show down and even more so for the truly gob-slapping car chase that takes up eight ecstatic minutes of its running time. Master stunt co-ordinator Rémy Julienne subsequently plied his trade in Bond films but this is his masterpiece, right here… topped off with a nice little gag, at that: when Saitta pulls his quarry from the wreckage of his car and demands some information, the latter coughs it up without any fuss, making one question the whole point of the delirious vehicular vandalism we’ve just witnessed, over and above keeping the enthralled viewer on the edge of his / her seat… “Pure Cinema”, anyone?

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Meanwhile giallo fans will be enjoying the whole whodunnit format (the Mannino / Clerici writing team also scripted Fulci’s New York Ripper and Murder-Rock, among others) and such suspenseful scenes as the one in which Louise’s blind friend Julie (Tisa Farrow from Zombie Flesh Eaters, Anthropophagous, et al) is set up for a fall out of a high window. Great stuff all round. Speaking of Anthropophagous, Blazing Magnum’s one-shot DP “Anthony Ford” turns out to be yet another AKA for jolly “Joe D’Amato” / Aristide Massaccesi.

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Released (uncharacteristically late) in a flood of Dirty Harry / French Connection cash-ins, Blazing Magnum is more than just some macho exercise in vigilante bullshit… Whitman’s character goes on a real learning curve, at the end of which he emerges as a more self-aware, tolerant, all-round caring and sharing kind of dude… who’s still able to bring down a helicopter over a densely populated urban area by plugging away at it with his turbo magnum! A win-win result, in anybody’s book…

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Although not that brilliantly remastered (despite claims to this effect on the packaging), Blazing Magnum looks significantly better here than in its former incarnation as a Medusa VHS release and unlike that, it isn’t going to look any worse with subsequent rewatchings… of which it’s going to get plenty here at The House Of Freudstein.

Jeez, I can’t believe that when I first posted this review I neglected to big up Armando Trovajoli’s pulse-pounding OST… mi scusi, maestro, mea culpa!

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All That Zarjaz… FUTURE SHOCK! THE STORY OF 2000 AD Reviewed

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… wielding their gleaming tweezers, no doubt.

BD. Region Free. Severin. Unrated or BD. Region B/2. Arrow. 15.

The IPC comic Action (created by Pat Mills and published 14/02/76-11/11/77) specialised in, er, “adapting” the storylines of violent contemporary movies (Jaws, Rollerball, any amount of vigilante cop sagas) for a readership who were avidly discussing them in the playground but too young to sneak into cinemas and actually see the bloody things. In the process it garnered much hostile tabloid comment, anguished TV debate and the undying enmity of Mary Whitehouse’s National Viewers And Listeners’ Association. WHS and Menzies started getting cold feet and so did IPC, pulping the print run of issue 37 (an ultra-rare copy of which recently went for two-and-a-half grand on eBay!) and the comic lingered on for another year or so of declining sales in woefully bowdlerised shape. As a precursor to the “video nasties” witch hunt of five years later and indeed, as a social panic in its own right, the Action story deserves documentary treatment…

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In the absence of that, here’s Paul Goodwin’s 2014 documentary on Action’s spiritual successor, the rather more successful (forty years as “the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic” and still counting) 2000 AD. Mills’ new creation was seen as some kind of retreat on its inception. “Because it’s a Sci-fi comic, people thought that it would be nice and middle class…” he remembers: “Boy, were they in for a shock!” They sure were, with a continuing stress on “action” (which in Mills’ formula always equalled “violence”) and a new pantheon of iconic, anti-heroic characters such as Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, Strontium Dog, Halo Jones, The ABC Warriors and Nemesis The Warlock (2000 AD even revamped The Eagle’s venerable Dan Dare for a spell) running amok in hard-hitting strips that were Dystopianly satirical, sardonic and Sadean.

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Goodwin’s very welcome doc, adeptly handled for the most part, unfortunately kicks off with a couple of my least favourite lazy pop social history clichés, concerning the cultural climate from which 2000 AD emerged. The late ’70s was, by this account, a period of “social conflict” in the UK and the evidence wheeled out to support this trusty old chestnut is familiar stock footage of Arthur Scargill, aggro on the picket lines and bin bags piling up in the streets. OK, so working people at this time were achieving a measure of success in the struggle to advance their economic conditions by flexing their industrial muscle (nobody was going to hand them anything on a plate, where they?) and that apparently amounts to “social conflict.” By implication the current situation, in which the boot is very much on the other foot and being enthusiastically ground into the faces of the working poor, the disabled, the demented, immigrants and benefit claimants (when it isn’t pressing down on the accelerator of wealth transference to the 1% from the rest of us) must be seen as a period of relative “social harmony”. Tell it to the nurses queueing at food banks and the tenants of high-rise tinder boxes! So much for pop social history…

My other least favourite lazy cliché follows hot on the heels of the first and has it, in this instance, that 2000 AD drew its “grit”, “authenticity”, “street credibility” and any amount of other bullshit from the punk “movement” and the antidote it allegedly provided for the drippy hippy legacy of the ’60s. Well, the idea of punk as a street level / grass-roots tendency has always been laughable, considering that it was cooked up between a record industry hell-bent on cutting production costs and an elite circle of entrepreneurs who had been to Art School and thought (correctly) that they could use a dodgy strain of French academic theory (Situationism) to flog a bunch of stupid clothes to “the kids”. In point of fact, 2000 AD’s initial impact and impetus came from its adherence to the dark, taboo busting ethos of “drippy hippy” Felix Dennis’ Cozmic Comix, from which milieu the new title recruited such luminaries as Bryan Talbot, Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons.

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The pre-titles sequence’s clumsiest moment, though, comes when the voice over is referencing a “clash of cultures” and we simultaneously cut to The Clash on stage, performing some cod “political” diatribe in their customary hysterical manner. Speaking of Da Clash, during (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, Joe Strummer (aka diplomat’s son John Graham Mellor) warned us: “They got Burton suits, haha, they think it’s funny, turning rebellion into money”. The main thrust of Goodwin’s doc (which, it’s fair to say, improves dramatically after its glib introduction) is how the founders of 2000 AD overthrew the complacent likes of Eagle (which, if we are to pursue the putative punk parallels, might be cast in the infra-dig Emerson, Lake and Palmer role) and such anachronistic oddities as Whizzer And Chips, only to fall into old fartitude themselves as successive waves of young Turks arrived at King’s Reach Tower to redefine the cutting edge of comic cool, before giving way in their turn to further turks / future farts… while in the background the guys in suits continued to turn all of their respective rebellions into money.

Distinguished alumni interviewed here include Kevin O’Neill, Dave Gibbons, John Wagner, Alan Grant, Brian Bolland, Bryan Talbot, Carlos Ezquerra, Grant Morrison and David Bishop, plus the “comic activist” (whatever that is) and historian Paul Gravett, Alex Garland (who wrote the second, superior Dredd movie) and Karl Urban (who played the title  character in that) and fan boys including Scott Ian (the guy out of Anthrax with the silly beard) and some bloke from Portishead.

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Throughout this feature the rival factions diss each other (the only subject on which there seems to be unanimity is on how much everybody despises the character of Tharg, the comic’s notional alien editor) and big up their own credentials as true custodians of the soul and spirit of 2000 AD, with frequent interjections from founder and on / off contributor Mills, the Gordon Ramsey of the comic world… this is a man whose default emotional state appears to be “seething”. Of course he has a lot to feel angry about and one of Future Shock’s ongoing refrains is how disgracefully the creative talents have been treated by IPC and subsequent publishers. Shocking enough that writers and artists were expected to surrender all copyright in their work in perpetuity for a measly flat fee (as the late artist formally known as Prince once observed: “If you don’t own your masters, your masters own you”) but when Kevin O’Neill discovered that a) his story Shok! had been plagiarised for the Richard Stanley film Hardware and b) that he was being threatened with legal action by the film company’s layers unless he disowned any rights to the story… well!!!

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Neil Gaiman admits to shedding tears over the fact that Alan Moore (the most notable absentee from the interviewees here) abandoned The Ballad Of Halo Jones because of the shabby way he was being treated. When Brian Bolland defected to DC (specifically to its Vertigo imprint) he turned out to be the first of many. The second half of this doc details the subsequent decline in 2000 AD’s mojo and flirtations with closure. After the nadir represented by its ill-advised ’90s dalliance with the “lads’ mags” demographic, the only way was up and Future Shock! closes with the comic thriving under the safe custodianship of Rebellion Developments, still sending thrill-meters into meltdown across our and other galaxies. Meanwhile popular culture (have you checked out one of those Marvel movies recently?) and the world we inhabit have finally caught up with 2000 AD … kudos to Mills and co but perhaps, on reflection, this is not something we should be celebrating!

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Goodwin deploys flashy editing, groovy graphics and metal music in a style that suits his subject perfectly. It’s a subject he loves and the reverence he clearly feels for its protagonists means that interviews are occasionally allowed to go on a bit too long. At 110 minutes, Future Shock! would benefit from a bit of a trim, with more material allowed to spill into the off-cuts which form much of the generous bonus materials. Another nice featurette has Pat Mills revisiting King’s Reach Tower – well, standing outside it – and reminiscing in its shadow.

In terms of these supplementaries and their presentation of the main feature, there’s really very little to distinguish between the similarly impressive Arrow and Severin editions that recently arrived at the House Of Freudstein. You spends your Earth money and you takes your choice…

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Borag Thungg, Earthlets!

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Assassin Screed… THE KILLING OF AMERICA Reviewed

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BD. Region Free. Severin. Unrated.

“Oh, the history books tell it, They tell it so well
The cavalries charged, The Indians fell
The cavalries charged. The Indians died
Oh, the country was young, With God on its side…” With God On Our Side, Bob Dylan.

“A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed”. Second amendment to the Constitution of The United States.

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“Drop the gun!” a cop urges Sam Brown, the superfly San Diego sidewalk sniper in 1979. The unresponsive Brown (possibly musing over the important message he claims to have brought from aboard the Starship Enterprise) is shot down, point-blank. The first words we hear in The Killing Of America are effectively its message. But as we shall learn, things are seldom as simple as they seem…

TKOA’s status as the Mondo Movie that transcends Mondo, redeeming the genre from the questionable shockumentary practices of its founders Jacopetti and Prosperi by virtue of its ongoing relevance and unflinching verisimilitude (well, keep reading…) is even more remarkable when you consider that this 1981 effort was commissioned by producer Mataichirô Yamamoto in a blatant attempt to emulate the success of that most gonzo of Mondos, Faces Of Death (1978), which had outperformed Star Wars for 13 straight weeks at Japanese box offices. “His problem was that he hired a film archivist and a guy who did Art Films” says director Sheldon Renan, describing himself and writer / producer Leonard Schrader respectively.

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Not that it’s likely FODophiles will consider themselves remotely short-changed by TKOA… Thomas Noguchi, LA “Coroner to the Stars” and inspiration for TV’s Quincy ME appears in both and establishing shots here of mortuary workers matter-of-factly going about their daily business are pretty much interchangeable with those in “Conan Le Cilaire”s memorably revolting “video nasty”. Thereafter it’s the expected mix of newsreel footage, CCTV and some original material, all (and here, in the words of the doc’s opening caption, is the kicker) “… real. Nothing has been staged.” Hm…

The other thing that sets TKOA apart from the Mondo competition as worthy of serious attention is the serious Calvinist intent of writer Leonard Schrader (The Yakuza, Blue Collar, Kiss Of The Spider Woman, Mishima) and the attention to structure imposed upon it by renowned film archivist Renan. Starting with shots of America’s geographical scope and splendour (though unfortunately most of this stuff was cut from the American release) he pursues a historical tack (which identifies ground zero for an epidemic of American violence as the JFK assassination) and progressively narrows his focus through a succession of snipers, messianic assassins and serial killers until we find ourselves face to face with Ed Kemper in his cell at the California Medical facility, hear what he has to say for himself and get the chance to reflect on what we might possibly have in common with him.

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The structure and thrust of TKOA command respect, even where one might find oneself disagreeing with Schrader’s argument. For example he fetishises the slaying of JFK (difficult not to, I guess) but it’s unlikely that Sitting Bull and Geronimo, were they available to offer their opinions, would agree that American cultural violence was conceived in the room of a book repository or on a grassy knoll in Dallas, TX on 22.11.63. The Zapruder footage, duly trotted out, never loses its impact (though it’s interesting to hear Renan’s observations on the shocking condition that the original film had been “conserved” in), likewise the casual brutality with which South Vietnamese police chief Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executes  Việt Cộng member Nguyễn Văn Lém in the street. There’s further familiar footage of Bobby Kennedy’s death (and a mind-boggling interview with his killer Sirhan Sirhan, who offers: “I wish that son of a gun were alive… I’m not mentally ill, Sir, but I’m not perfect either”), the shooting of Ronald Reagan and crippling of George Wallace, protestors gunned down at Kent State, dramatic trial footage (the Manson family, Ted Bundy) and helicopter shots of Guyana littered with dead followers of the Reverend Jim Jones (scenes of Jones gurning idiotically as he does a wacky snake handling dance are particularly creepy, given what was to come)… and on and on…

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A Central Park vigil for the murdered peace activist (when it suited him) John Lennon suggests the potential for positive social change, until the dulcet tones of narrator Chuck Riley close the proceedings with the claim that two people were killed at the vigil and that “while you watched this movie, five more of us were murdered. One was the random killing of a stranger.” Sweet dreams, everyone.

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You might already be aware of this forbidding documentary from the Severin gang’s earlier DVD edition, when they were trading under the name of Exploited. They’ve hit the ball out of the park once again with this super spanky Blu, which not only serves up the main feature looking and sounding better than ever before, but incorporates as extras (aside from the expected trailer) Renan’s audio commentary plus interviews with him, editor Lee Percy and Mondo historian Nick Pinkerton (who’s been working about as hard as the Sevs on making sure that TKOA is finally seen where it’s most needed, i.e. the USA!) Along with the outstanding documentary they worked on, Renan and Percy’s contributions to this release represent something of a primer for any aspiring documentarian on how to set about making one, but be warned… both admit the adverse effects that making TKOA had on their own mental well-being.

As if all that weren’t enough, this edition includes an alternative Japanese cut of the doc, lasting 20 minutes (!) longer than the US version. Much of the additional material comprises a paean to the American way of life and some of its critics have speculated that Yamamoto felt obliged to somehow “soften” the film’s message out of some misguided sense of politeness. One could just as well argue that these glimpses of the American dream serve to throw the atrocities that litter the rest of TKOA into sharper relief… a legitimate approach, though not one which consistently comes off. There’s an endless sequence of clean-limbed young Americans relentlessly tossing frisbies, roller skating and generally pursuing wholesome leisure activities that almost has you wishing you were back in the morgue among all those cadavers. We also participate in a training exercise during which rookie cops must make split second decisions about whether to shoot or not. The Manson section in this version is prefaced by material about Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme’s attempted assassination of President Gerald Ford in 1975. We also witness Muhammad Ali talking down a would-be suicide, suggesting that celebrity doesn’t always have to be a malign end in itself, in stark contrast to one Robert Smith, who blew away innocents “to get known… I just wanted to make a name for himself”.

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Though far superior to the Mondo movies with which it is traditionally bracketed, even the original cut of TKOA is (like Sirhan Sirhan) not perfect.  There’s a sequence about the lives of social marginals on Hollywood boulevard that doesn’t really go anywhere and I’ve always felt that the addition of comic piano music to some of the footage detailing Richard Hall’s three-day ordeal at the hands of aggrieved bank customer Tony Kiritsis  (above) struck a jarringly bum note. I was further disheartened to learn from Renan’s contributions to this set that he dubbed dialogue over the shooting of the strutting Sam Brown that would tend to support the police’s (contested) version of how that lethal incident went down. Once a film maker has admitted to one such falsification … who knows?

Still, TKOA stands as disturbing yet compelling piece of work whose power hasn’t been diminished by one jot over the passing of the years. On the contrary… Pinkerton says he’s tired of hearing that TKOA is “more relevant today than it’s ever been” but come on Nick, if something looks, sounds and feels more relevant than it’s ever been, then it’s probably because it’s more relevant than it’s ever been. Some things really are as simple as they seem.

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Core Baby, That’s Really Free… THE ORCHARD END MURDER Reviewed

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The Perils Of Pauline…

BD/DVD Combi. Regions B/2. BFI. 18.

The latest release from BFI’s Flipside imprint (“which rescues weird and wonderful British films from obscurity and presents them in new high quality editions on DVD and Blu-ray”), Christian Marnham’s The Orchard End Murder (1980) garnered shedloads of Eady Levy money during the early ’80s on account of its outings as a program filler for the likes of Dead And Buried (originally) and A Nightmare On Elm Street (which is where I dimly remember catching it, or the last reel or so of it, first time out).

This 50 minute thriller, set in 1966 and allegedly based on a true case, follows the fatal misadventure of one Pauline Cox (Tracy Hyde) who gets bored watching her new boyfriend (Mark Hardy) playing cricket on an idyllic village green and wanders off into the lush Kent countryside in search of distraction, only to meet her end in that eponymous orchard. A real pippin in her summer dress, Una Stubbs hairdo and Mary Quant eye lashes, Pauline is quite scrumptious as she moves among the bowers, indeed she proves irresistibly a-peel-ing to the local sex killer (OK, enough of the apple gags already). We’re led to believe that’s this is going to be the creepy, hunchbacked local station master (prolific character actor Bill Wallis), who improbably lures her into his garden of unearthly gnomic delights for a cup of tea…

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… but it turns out to be his hulking, dim-witted side-kick Ewen (future Casualty stalwart Clive Mantle), with whom he’s got an “Of Mice and Men” kind of thing going on. Ewen doesn’t just tell Pauline about the rabbits, he bashes one to death on the table where she’s taking tea and promptly skins it. Initially repelled, Pauline – whom we’re clearly intended to view as “a bit of a goer” – rapidly warms to his muscular presence. Perhaps his rabbit casserole is off the menu but this girl might just be able to find room for his tongue in cider. She acquiesces to his initial advances only to pull away abruptly, announcing that she’s off to reunite with her boyfriend. Hell hath no fury like a dim-wit spurned and Pauline’s resistance crumbles when Ewen strangles her with one of her stockings before secreting the corpse under a pile of rejected apples (knowing how they feel, I guess)…

OK she dies (not far into the picture) but this revelation really isn’t much of a spoiler, given the film’s title. The balance of it concerns the exact nature of the relationship between Ewen and the station-master, also their farcical attempts to dispose of Paula’s body (interrupted by Ewen’s periodic retrievals of it so he can play house with his dead dream girl). Director Christian Marnham describes TOEM as a black comedy and I guess, if anything, I’d liken parts of it to some of the more eye-watering moments from Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972).

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Marnham benefits from a solid cast and some tremendous camera work (witness the impressive opening crane shot) from Pete Walker’s favoured cinematographer, Peter Jessop, beautifully rendered in the BFI’s characteristically spanky BD transfer. Praise is also due for Sam Sklair’s vaguely jazzy, occasionally Goblinesque OST.

By mining myth, fairytale and folklore (allusions range from the Garden of Eden to Little Red Riding Hood) Marnham parlays, from his humdrum albeit beautiful setting, a passion play of some considerable emotional power, unearthing the pagan processes that lurk beneath the pastoral platitudes of vicars consuming cucumber sandwiches on neatly manicured cricket greens. The film’s tacit condemnation of Cox’s free loving ways (consistent with the contemporary “have sex and die” ethos that then had people queueing around the block to see slasher movies) and the way she does seem to lead Ewen up the garden path before he cracks and kills her, plus the film’s apparent concern to elicit some sympathy from us for sex killers and necrophiles, all make for dodgy sexual politics more troubling than anything in Dead And Buried. In the event, the BBFC extracted a mere 2/3 of a second (!) from TOEM (Marnham remembers it being picketed by feminists, though) while Gary Sherman’s film went on to become, ludicrously, an offical “video nasty”. Go figure…

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Needless to say, this disc comes complete with an impressive set of extras. While TOEM was the first film appearance for both Mantle and (uncredited as a policeman) Rik Mayall, it was the last (whatever it says on IMDB) for David Wilkinson (as Mark Hardy’s piss-taking cricketing buddy). Now working in distribution, Wilkinson looks back on the vagaries of thespian fortunes during a 13 minute interview and admits “I fancied Tracy… we all did… but she wasn’t having any of it”. The still very desirable Ms Hyde gets a similar amount of time to ponder the ups and downs of the actor’s life (she was prematurely touted for stardom after taking the juvenile lead in Warris Hussein’s Melody aka S.W.A.L.K. in 1971). Hyde has nothing but good things to say about her experience on The Orchard End Murder, which she cites as a cautionary tale for young women.

Chris Marnham, who cuts (shall we say) quite a theatrical figure, talks interestingly for half an hour or so about The Orchard End Murder and although it failed to lift him out of the commercials milieu, he announces that he now has two feature projects ready to go. He also gives a brief introduction to his 1970 short (included as another of this disc’s extras), The Showman.

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Ah yes, The Showman… just when I’d convinced myself that the eager BFI beavers who turn up wacky bonus material for these Flipside releases could never top the rocking vicar and his chapter of Christian bikers in their release of Don Sharp’s Psychomania here comes The Showman, a profile of the astonishing Wally Shufflebottom and  his travelling Wild West Strip Tease Show… if that doesn’t sound like a rattling good night out to you, you’re probably reading the wrong blog here. Scantily clad go-go dancers shake their money makers enthusiastically to the tinny strains of Gary Glitter’s Rock And Roll while Wally (literally) drums up trade from the passing ’70s clad thrill-seeking reprobates. Mrs Shufflebottom (once a trapeze artiste but now clearly built for ticket booth duties rather than flying through the air) takes their money and we enter with them to witness further non-PC delights as Wally unleashes volleys of knives (some flaming, some not), axes and tomahawks around the dancing dolly birds’ semi-naked forms… that’s entertainment!

Commenting on the logistical difficulties of making this documentary milestone, Marnham reveals: “We blew just about every electrical supplier in the village of Billericay”… wow, talk about going above and beyond the call of duty!

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“He Forced Me To Drink Ribena!”… RETURN OF KUNG FU TRAILERS OF FURY Reviewed

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Ooh, that’s gotta hurt!

BD. Regions A/B/C. Severin. Unrated.

No sooner have you stuffed your face with chop socky than you start fancying another helping… lucky you, because Severin have followed up their riotous Kung Fu Trailers Of Fury anthology with the imaginatively titled Return Of Kung Fu Trailers Of Fury. In conjunction once again with Bristol’s The Cube cinema collective, the Sevs have left no Coming Attraction unturned to bring you another golden harvest of 35mm trailers from the heyday of Hong Kong martial arts mayhem… that’s 35 trailers, which will take up approximately 134 minutes of your couch potato existence. Happy days!

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I was particularly pleased to re-acquaint myself with the spaz attack stylings of Ka-Yan Leung in the see-it-and-still-don’t-believe it cannibal kung fu comedy Thundering Mantis. Under a considerably more uptight regime than currently prevails at Nottingham’s Broadway cinema, the esteemed Steve “Nelly” Nelson and I were almost chucked out for laughing our asses of during a screening of this one. I’m open to suggestions, on the strength of this trailer, about what other reaction could possibly have been more appropriate.

Big Leap Forward appears to be a satire about HK TV ethics (“It’s new! It’s real! It’s funny!”) with pilfered Morricone music serving as its “original” sound track. It’s got Jimmy Wang-Yu but zero kung fu. The Story Of Chinese Gods (“China’s first full length colour animation feature… 3 years in the making”) is a cosmogonical cartoon caper. Aside from those, most of the films featured herein concern different ways of duffing people up a treat, be it in period costume or “modern” (the trailers date from 1973 to 1984) street wear.

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When they’re not trying out game changing new stances on each other, the protagonists of these things sometimes find time for more amatory physical pursuits. We are advised that Yellow Faced Killer features “another sterling performance from Sylvia Chang… is she good girl or is she very bad?” Well, she has a scene in bed with the ineptly dubbed and perpetually überhairy Chuck Norris, so there’s your clue. Elsewhere, Bruce Li gets some racy love scenes in Bruce And The Iron Finger (hang on, are you sure that’s his finger?) The Owl, an oriental Robin Hood type, also manages to get it on with a comely Maid Marianne equivalent. The Bomb-Shell is graced “with a special appearance by soccer star Hugh McCrory!”, who enjoys a close encounter with a sexy bird in a see-thru nightie. “He forced me to drink Ribena!” complains another lovely. What a cad… what an out-and-out bounder!

The Invincible Super Guy claims to be “China’s first film in Sensurround” and that might well be true, but personally I found myself more far intrigued by the antics of a crack team of kung fu eunuchs (“their victims will die for sure within 48 hours!”) and the exploits of the even deadlier six cymbal fighters (“the clashing of their cymbals confuses them. Their limbs get numb and they’re terrified to death!”)

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The concept of disability discrimination doesn’t seem to have really caught on in ’70s Hong Kong. After breaking the fan formation in Along Come The Tiger, Chow Wang Dao dishes out a kung fu whuppin’ to The Invincible Hunchback and in Kung Fu Master Named Drunk Cat (above) we are promised “John Cheung vs The Midget… Funny!” “Sharon Yeung Pan Pan vs Three Killers! Charming!” continues the blurb for this one… “Each kick, each hit, is filled with laughter!” Presumably when Ms Pan Pan kicks some hapless dude and he falls face first into a pile of dog shit we are supposed to find it “Funny!” and “Charming!”

Now we’ve touched on the non-PC nature of these films, it’s worth pointing out that the “humorous” stereotyping of gay characters in Shaolin Invincible Sticks is exactly the kind of thing that gets people writing angry letters to Dark Side magazine. This one also serves up some memorable dialogue exchanges (“Your hands are not nimble… you are not entitled to be our descendent!” “It is unreasonable of you to expel me out!”)

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“Aargh – dude, you could at least have washed it this morning!”

Two In Black Belt (above) is a kung fu versus karate duel (“Girl in danger… Severe!”) In Bloody Mission: “They kill viciously for fame! And they can’t control themselves!” White Haired Devil Lady was shot in some pretty amazing mountain locations (“Fates not yet made… the moon is sad!”) Revenge Of The Shaolin Kid aka Masters Of Death showcases “Chi-Kuan Chun and his Dragon-choking legs! Chan Sing and his petal-shattering palms! It’s good! It’s charming!” The Super Kung-Fu Fighter (“The nine labyrinth traps! The caterpillar claws formation!”) is “directed with confidence by Sun Yung”. In Snuff Bottle Connection (below) we are introduced to “The spear that can puncture your throat! The kung fu virgin child that stuns the Westerners!”

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Almost as common as people kicking each other around the head in these things is the frequency with which soundtrack music gets pilfered. The Young Avenger pinches Morricone’s idiosyncratic score from Duck, You Sucker! to baffling effect … all totally authorised, I’m sure. Jean Michele Jarre’s atmospheric back catalogue is ransacked for The Guy With Secret Kung Fu (“Watch Mang Fei with his deadly monkey pole! They fight the real life Invincible Hunk!”) and The Bomb-Shell  (“The creepy art of spiritual fighting! Did he get his dementia from watching too much TV?”)

Black Guide comes with a barrage of punchy shout lines (“They are cruel and senseless! But Kim Jin Pal will not falter! It’s a showdown between kung fu and violence! Fast paced! Fast action! Few dialogue! All action! Villains from different countries, with their different brands of kung fu!”) and the strident sounds of Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Parts 1 & 2. Is King Crimson’s Robert Fripp (who successfully sued the producers of Emmanuelle for their misappropriation of Part 2) aware of this?

One Way Only offers “Hong Kong style romance? Nice! Natural comedy? Tasty! A new style of comedy? Unique!” and here’s its protagonist’s recipe for romance, Hong-Kong style: “The longest nose and the largest chest. That’s my stamp of approval on a woman!”

The Old Master, apparently, has “still got it at 76”.. cue unfortunate geriatric disco dancing sequences. Silent Romance is a live action manga that claims to be “more James Bond than James Bond” and then there’s Gambling For Head (make sure you don’t blow all your money!)

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Crazy Horse And Intelligent Monkey (above) boasts: “A fight among four tigers to right the wrongs! Chi Kuan-Chun with his deadly horse fists! Candy man charms her with looks and her kung fu”. The Instant Kung Fu Man (“Northern kung fu coming out of nowhere to impress”) features the insensitive observation: “Your armpit stinks… I can’t stand it!”

… and on and on it goes…

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Once you’ve enjoyed these you have the option to watch them all over again with an audio commentary from kung fu clever dicks Ric Meyers, Frank Djeng, Greg Schiller and Rick Stelow… if, that is, you can hear their sage comments above the uproarious laughter of your drunken mates.

“Family entertainment for the year of the lamb!” boast the coming attraction for Itchy Fingers and ROKFTOF is indeed jolly fun for all the family – my nearest and dearest are still hopping around The House Of Freudstein, in stitches as they attempt the Iron Finger Toad Stance from The Guy With Secret Kung Fu.

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Severin’s ROKFTOF is a more than worthy follow-up to their original kung fu trailer anthology which will also serve to whet your appetite rather nicely for their upcoming Bruceploitation documentary. Bring it on, gweilos!

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