Posts Tagged With: Action

Train In Vain… SNOWPIERCER Reviewed.

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BD. Region B. Lionsgate. 15.

Now here’s a queer thing… I’m posting a preview of a film that makes its UK disc debut tomorrow but right around the time I post it, you’ll be able to watch Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer on Film4. Released to wide indifference in 2013, this one has, of course, been given a new lease of life by the phenomenal international success, in 2019, of Bong’s Parasite, just as artist Jean-Marc Rohette and writers Jacques Lob and Benjamin Legrand’s graphic novel saga Le Transperceneige was rescued from obscurity after the director discovered bootleg Korean editions and brought it to the silver screen as Snowpiercer. The film has been shunted into the sidings for so long that its re-emergence coincides with a new Netflix serialisation starring Jennifer Connelly, bumped up in their schedule due to the spike in demand for new TV product amid Covid confinement, which itself adds another layer of topicality to its oppressively trainbound narrative.

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Before we proceed, let’s get the gratuitous Jennifer Connelly shot done and dusted.

The remarkable thing is that Snowpiercer needed any such helping hand. This is a truly monumental slab of epic Cinema which addresses the same themes as Parasite with a similarly acute satirical eye but over a significantly larger and more expensive canvas. Nobody involved in the production puts a noticeable foot wrong but special mentions must go to DP Hong Kyung Pyo, the production design of Ondrej Nekvasil, Stefan Kovacik’s art direction, set decorator Beata Brendtnerovà and Catherine George’s costume designs. His imagination unfettered by budgets, it’s easier (and a whole lot cheaper) for a comic book artist to create such an impressive alternative reality but under Bong’s assured hand, his team match anything that Rohette has come up with. I keep thinking of Brazil (1985), no doubt nudge-nudged in that direction by the naming of John Hurt’s “revolutionary philosopher” character as “Gilliam”.

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At some point in our not too distant future, world governments finally agree on a serious stab at sorting out global warming but bungle it so badly that the Earth is plunged into an Ice Age that no living being can survive. “Luckily”, the Elon Muskesque Wilford (Ed Harris), foreseeing exactly such an outcome (or was he in some way implicated in it?) has devised a futuristic train that circles the frozen globe perpetually, sustained by the water converted from the snow it ploughs through but also by the ruthless exploitation of the plebs confined to its rear carriages, while the elite live out their first class lives in luxury and dissolution, protected from the great unwashed by elaborate security systems and battalions of thuggish guards. Mind the gap…

John Hurt, Chris Evans and Jamie Bell in Snowpiercer (Lionsgate UK)

Inspired by Gilliam and attempting to exorcise his own personal demons, Curtis (Chris Evans) leads his pissed off people on an epic battle through the train, traversing a succession of carriages with their own distinct social stratification and associated Hogarthian vignettes, gradually accepting the mantel of leadership as the bodies pile up all around him… and finally the much anticipated meeting with the superficially charming but self-evidently amoral and monstrous Wilford. Think Willard and Kurtz in Apocalypse Now… Tyrell and Batty in Blade Runner. When Curtis is offered control of the engine room, will he succumb to temptation or stay true to his revolutionary principles?

Chris Evans in Snowpiercer (Lionsgate UK)

Like Boon’s crew, his multi-racial cast are uniformly excellent. By this point Hurt just had to stagger on to a screen looking ruffled and he had your undivided attention, but special mention must be made of Tilda Swinson’s astonishing turn as the loathsome Mason. Swinson’s is a personality I’ve never particularly, er, warmed to (and her participation in that bloody Suspiria remake did nothing to break the ice with me) but credit where it’s due, this is a remarkable performance.

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A double bill of Snowpiercer and Sang-ho Yeon’s Train to Busan (2016) would go a long way towards alleviating the ennui of your next Lockdown evening. Described as a “visionary director” in the film’s publicity blurb, Bong is the biggest Far Eastern talent to cross over since John Woo and I’m genuinely excited to ponder what might be in the pipeline from him. Let’s hope he can thrive without recourse to some of the artistic compromises that were forced upon his illustrious predecessor.

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Extras comprise a handful of short teasers and the hour long Transperceniege: From The Blank Page To The Blank Screen, following creators Rohette et Legrande as they witness their neglected baby’s cinematic baptism / transformation.

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Robert Ginty On The Rocks… WHITE FIRE Reviewed.

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Don’t get Ginty’s goat!

BD. Region Free. Arrow. 18.

“C” grade Action Star seeks 2,000 carat diamond…

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Hold on to your hats, ’cause this is a wild one… White Fire kicks off with a man (played by director Jean-Marie Pallardy) and woman being killed in a forest (we never find out exactly why) by paramilitary types, their two children rescued and adopted by a guy (Jess Hahn) in a dodgy pullover. Fast forward 20 years and the kids have grown into Ingrid (Belinda Mayne) and Boris ‘Bo’ Donnelly (Robert Ginty). She works at a diamond mine outside of Istanbul which is run like a prison camp by an oaf named Olaf (Gordon Mitchell), who summarily executes any sticky-fingered employees. Ingrid still manages to smuggle out plenty of gems for Bo to fence to interested parties. A criminal trollop named Sophia (Mirella Banti) and her gang are trying to muscle in on the Donnelly’s action (cue some rather lively fight scenes) and things are further complicated by the discovery of the legendary White Ice, a beautiful but radioactive diamond. In the ensuing kerfuffle, Ingrid is killed (with a blow pipe dart) during a bungled kidnap attempt. Bo picks up Olga (Diana Goodman) during a bar room punch-up. She bares a vague resemblance to Ingrid, so Bo persuades her to undergo plastic surgery to complete the illusion, in order that she may enter the diamond mine and help him half-inch that hot ice. About an hour into the proceedings, Pallardy wheels on Noah Barclay (Fred Williamson) and his own gang of desperadoes as further contenders for that diamond… why deny Fred his chance to beat the kitchen sink into this already overcrowded narrative?

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Admirers of well-proportioned narrative and thespian finesse are probably best advised to steer clear of White Fire but you should be sprinting rather than running to pick up a copy if your tastes run to brainless action, ludicrous dialogue, inept dubbing, gratuitous tit’n’ ass, ’80s fashion crimes (Gordon Mitchell is probably in his bloody eighties and should never been allowed anywhere near that red jump suit, below) and random outbreaks of violence involving aikido, flame throwers, bandsaw castrations, dynamite tossing and chainsaw duelling (the sound you’re currently hearing is that of James Ferman rotating in his grave at high velocity). Action fans certainly won’t consider themselves short changed by White Fire, though I reckon its running time could comfortably have been reduced by about 20 minutes.

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If the aforementioned weren’t sufficiently outrageous for you, it’s worth pointing out that all of this sound and fury is arguably intended to divert your attention from the spectre of incest (I know, White Fire is the second Arrow release in succession where I’ve had cause to raise this taboo subject!) Bo seems very fond of his sister, punching out anybody who talks disrespectfully of her and shamelessly ogling her after ripping her towel off when she gets out of the shower. “Don’t look at me like that” she protests (a little half-heartedly), to which Bo responds: “You know, it’s a pity you’re my sister!” (?!?) You get the impression that he would soon have consummated his illicit lust, had the bad guys not bumped off Ingrid. At least he drew the line at necrophilia but subsequent scenes in which he grapples amorously with a character who’s been surgically transformed into his sister’s double (and is now played by the same actress) are pretty stomach churning.

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If this is one of his mainstream efforts, Christ only knows what stuff went on in Pallardy’s earlier skin-flicks (I’m told that he made one called Erotic Confessions Of A Lumberjack, though that sounds just too good to be true). The director, a former male model, comes across in his bonus interview as a kind of low(er) rent Jess Franco and certainly share’s Franco’s eye for free, more bang for your buck locations. He talks about how the diverse cast was assembled to attract financing from various territories and it’s interesting to learn that his “human torch” stunt in the film’s prologue was every bit as misfiring and life threatening as it looks. Other bonus materials include interviews with Williamson (expounding the familiar Gospel about Fred according to Fred) and editor Bruno Zincone. The first pressing only comes with an illustrated collectors’ booklet featuring new writing on the film by Julian Grainger.

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In Kat Ellinger’s commentary she takes issue with the whole concept of “so bad it’s good” Cinema, putting herself on a collision course with Williamson, who describes White Fire as “a bad film that’s good”. Careful Kat, you might be the fastest wordslinger in the West but in a no holds barred, dynamite tossing “jeet kune do with explosive arrow heads” showdown between you and The Hammer, there could be only one winner…

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Credited as this film’s music supervisor we find no less eminent a personage than Deep Purple’s Jon Lord (ask your grandad), though the late Hammond-meister’s supervision seems to have extended no further than mounting the eponymous theme song on a loop… and White Fire is (cough, cough) no Burn (could have gone for Smoke On The Water but hey, way too easy!)

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Virgin On The Ridiculous… BLOOD TIDE Reviewed

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BD. Region Free. Arrow. 15.

Arrow’s ongoing quest to bring you every possible Nico (Island Of Death) Mastorakis-related movie they can lay their hands on gathers pace with this 1982 effort, which Nico co-wrote (with its director Richard Jefferies) and produced.

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A doomed virgin models seaweed earrings. Yesterday.

Neil Grice (Martin Kove, just before he became a fixture in the Karate Kid franchise) and his new bride Sherry (Mary Louise Weller) sail to a remote Greek island in search of Neil’s sister Madeline, who’s been mysteriously incommunicado. They experience little trouble finding her (in the luscious shape of Deborah Shelton) but can’t persuade her to leave with them because she’s become obsessed with local mythology about the sacrificing of virgins to placate a fearsome sea monster. Neil and Sherry investigate various mysterious goings on, in the process incurring the wrath of the town elders, principally José Ferrer, who takes great exception to outsiders meddling in the Islanders’ ancient customs. There’s also a chapter of creepy nuns (presided over by Lila Kedrova) which made me wonder if Blood Tide had been an influence on the conception of Mariano Baino’s  Dark Waters (1993) though that film’s co-writer / associate producer Andy Bark assures me that this was not the case.

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Is Shelton being prepared as a human sacrifice? More pointedly, are we honestly expected to accept that a woman who’s so alluring that Craig Wasson felt compelled to fish her discarded panties out of a bin (in Brian De Palma’s Body Double just two years later) is a virgin? Yes, I know it’s theoretically possible but she’s hardly the most obvious casting choice. Such considerations are soon rendered academic anyway, as James Earl Jones’s Frye (a bang on portrayal of somebody who thinks he’s “a bit of a character” but whom everybody else regards as a total dick) dynamites the island’s undersea caverns in search of some obscure treasure and ends up releasing that sea monster. To say it doesn’t quite measure up to the Kraken from Clash Of The Titles would be a significant understatement, nevertheless it starts noshing its way through the local population, virgo intacto or otherwise.

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Ooh, scary!

Jefferies keeps this preposterous “Wicker Man with a side order of moussaka” concoction bubbling along engagingly enough (until the appearance of that risible monster) and it’s beautifully shot by Aris Stavrou (though the undersea cavern scenes, inevitably, look a bit grainy in this 4K restoration from the original camera negative). There’s a bonus interview with the indomnitable Mastorakis, conducted by one Ari Gerontakis. Although the latter is billed as an “actor / voice over genius”, this feaurette is directed by Mastorakis himself so you just know this isn’t going to be some kind of Paxman-style grilling. Instead, our man talks up his friendship with John Carpenter and his clashes with the late Don Simpson at Paramount. Just when you think he’s going to skirt around the subject of his notorious “video nasty” Island Of Death, he remembers it as his attempt to “out-Texas Chain Saw Massacre the Texas Chain Saw Massacre”. You also get a new audio commentary from director Jefferies, a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys and (in the first pressing only) a collector’s booklet featuring a new appraisal of the film by Mike Gingold.

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OK, I accept that Shelton’s character could be a virgin. But I’m still troubled by the er, over enthusiastic kissing between her and her brother after he’s rescued her from that monster. What the fuck was that all about? Shelton also sings (pleasantly enough) over the closing credits. Cor, what a gal!

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Such a pretty present for a Christmas cracker Kraken…

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See Ya Later, Imitator… Sergio Martino’s BIG ALLIGATOR RIVER Reviewed.

 

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DVD. Region Free. No Shame. Unrated.

With the likely exception of Mario Bava, Sergio Martino took the giallo more places than anybody else would even have attempted and having given the definitive push to the American “body count” box office phenom with 1973’s Torso (which tellingly played on drive in double bills with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) he pretty much left the genre alone (barring the misfiring crime slime / comedy crossover Suspicious Death Of A Minor and a couple of variable stabs at TV giallo). There were plenty of Sexy Comedies to come and, driven by the ruthless logic of commercial production, he would continue to jump any new bandwagon, e.g. pasta post-Apocalypse with 2019: After The Fall Of New York, killer cyborgs (Hands Of Stone) or revisit any resurgent filone (see his late breaking spaghetti western Mannaja: A Man Called Blade, 1977).

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During 1978 and 1979 Martino essayed a loose trilogy of stonking Boy’s Own adventure yarns, inaugurated by Prisoner Of The Cannibal God (an H. Rider Haggard knock off with enough voguish cannibalism tacked on to see it consigned to the DPP’s dreaded “video nasties” list), continued in Island Of The Fishmen (The Island Of Dr Moreau as if rewritten by Jules Verne) and concluded via the item under consideration here, whose original Italian title translates as River Of The Great Caiman but which is also known as Big (or “Great”) Alligator, Big (or “Great”) Alligator River (as it is identified here) and in some markets the titular beasty was rebranded a crocodile…

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… but let’s not get too nitpicky about our saurians. The film’s story (co-written with Martino by ol’ Anthropophababy himself, Luigi Montefiori, among others) is an obvious cash in on Jaws but so what? What’s Jaws if not Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People with added, er, bite? Mel Ferrer is Joshua, the entrepreneur with no social conscience who’s opening a swinging hot spot on the banks of a Sri Lankan river, oblivious to the man eating menace lurking nearby. He won’t listen to the warnings of his publicity photographer Daniel Nessel (Martino stalwart Claudio Cassinelli) but Dan finds solace in the arms of Alice, a foxy anthropologist played by the luscious Barbara Bach. Literally a Starr in the making, BB isn’t the only rock star’s chick in the cast, which also includes the perpetually bikini-clad Lory Del Santo, later mother of the ill-fated Connor Clapton. Other familiar faces include black muscle dude Bobby Rhodes and (as sassy, pint-sized comic relief Minou) Silvia Collatina (best known for her subsequent role as Mae Freudstein in Lucio Fulci’s House By The Cemetery) in her screen debut. Making up the hat trick of Fish Men holdovers, Richard Johnson cameos as Father Jonathan, a missionary gone native (signified by his Catweazle wig and beard) who subscribes to the theory that the alligator / caiman / crocodile / whatever is actually an incarnation of “The Great God Kruna”.

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Aside from growing resentment about the ecological damage done to the island, local tribe the Kuma take particular exception to a member of their number being seduced by one of the holiday makers during a full moon, a time when their pagan gods demand abstinence. The two miscreants are subsequently wolfed down by Kruna himself, in day for night shots which don’t work at all on this DVD. At least the underwater work of Gian Lorenzo (Inferno) Battaglia is as good as you’d expect.

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Things are getting a bit nippy on the Sri Lankan waterways! And as for that alligator…

The great Kruna now goes on a predictable snacking rampage through the ranks of the assembled 18-30 crowd who go into overacting overdrive and swim for their lives, only to end up impaled on the spiked fences that were supposed to be keeping the critter out or reaching the shore and being butchered by vengeful Kumas (though after Cassinelli has dispatched their alligator god with a handy dandy fistful of dynamite, everybody seems to bury the hatchet with a minimum of fuss). Carlo De Marchis’s alligator looks pretty solid by the general standard of these things (until Cassinelli blows it to smithereens, of course) though like myself, many viewers will probably find the most arresting spectacle in the film that of Ms Bach, kidnapped by the Kumas, lashed to a bamboo raft and attired in a flimsy and progressively wetter shift. Nice shift work if you can get it.

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With the aid of such regular collaborators as DP Giancarlo Ferrando, art director Massimo Antonello Geleng and composer Stelvio Cipriani, Martino has here turned in a more than acceptable slice of spaghetti exploitation that would sit comfortably in a triple Lockdown bill with Fabrizio De Angelis’s Killer Crocodile brace.

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Back in the naughty noughties, Italy’s No Shame label was the best place to go for Martino films on disc and although better editions of his gialli are now available, their “Sergio Martino Collection” is still as good a source as any for some of his non-giallo offerings. Here you get a good 1.85:1 transfer, enhanced for 16X9. Extras wise, you get a collectors’ booklet, the international and domestic trailers (the latter marginally more psychedelic), poster gallery and a featurette comprising the reminiscences of Martino and Geleng. I particularly welcomed the opportunity to enjoy a good nose around the latter’s apartment, which is crammed to bursting with interesting artefacts from various points in his illustrious career.

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You Betti? You Bet! A SPECIAL COP IN ACTION Reviewed.

 

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A Special Cop In Action aka Italia A Mano Armata  (Italy, 1976). Directed by “Franco Martino” (= Marino Girolami).

Even by the generally bleak standards of Italy’s “Years Of Lead”, Turin is having a particularly bad day when this one kicks off. It’s not enough that bank robbers get away scot free after killing a security guard, but adding insult to injury, a schoolbus load of kids is taken hostage by a bunch of low-lives that fashion forgot. “It’s as though the criminal classes are trying to set a new record!” But hey, do you honestly think for one minute that Inspector Betti (Maurizio Merli) is going to let this kind of shit go unchallenged? “I’m bad tempered all right…” admits the meanest maverick moustache in the Italian police force: “… with a certain type of criminal, I lose my self control!”

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Nobody does “righteously pissed off” like Maurizio Merli… just watch how his bobbing adam’s apple belies his steely, inscrutable eyes as Luisa ( the lovely Mirella D’Angelo in only her second screen appearance) agonises over her kidnapped kid brother. Having attempted to reassure the schoolkids’ nearest and dearest, Betti dons a Saturday Night Fever type white suit, gathers his men and follows the kidnapping case to Milan, teaming up with old colleague Arpino (Raymond Pellegrin), who’s looking forward to his imminent retirement so that he can spend more time fishing, playing with his grandkids, etc (immediately shortening his odds on making it to the end of the picture).

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The kids are hidden in a disused mill but lead kidnapper Mancuso (Sergio Fiorentini) has a strange idea of laying low, i.e. going out and attempting to rape a passing cyclist. When she points the cops in his direction they manage to rescue the kids… most of them, anyway. Luisa’s kid brother does not survive the ordeal so she has a bit of a hissy fit at Betti then agrees to go out with him. As she would. They spend a bit of quality time together and Betti tells her that he hates criminals because one of them killed his dad, also a cop. Yeah, that would do it…

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As the investigation of the bank robbery plods on, things get a bit episodic. There are a few fair-to-average car chases (“I think you should take up motor racing…” “I get enough kicks as it is!”) and Betti demonstrates his disregard for the rule book by slapping some crims around. Eventually undercover agent Fabbri (Massimo Vanni) clues Betti in that the current crime wave is attributable to Albertelli (John Saxon), a mobster upon whom no charge can be made to stick but who still resides, in Bettie’s articulate formulation, “at the top of my shit list”. For his trouble, Fabbri’s night out disco dancing is rudely interrupted when he gets lashed to the bumper of a car and driven around till he’s dead.

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Everybody’s talking about Albertelli but Saxon spends a minimal amount of time actually on screen, no doubt saving the production a fistful of Lire. When he does turn up though, he’s wearing an impressive pair of swinging loon pants. He contrives to frame Merli for an extrajudicial killing and our man is soon banged up in a slammer full of dodgy geezers just itching to settle some old scores against him. Needless to say, anyone foolish enough to try anything gets their criminal ass conclusively kicked. Then the judges arbitrarily agree to quash Betti’s sentence and the action relocates again to Genoa for the climactic confrontation. Albertelli gets his, Betti gets Luisa but a Get Cartereque shock ending ensures that this is the final entry in the Inspector Betti trilogy (begun by Girolami’s Violent Rome, 1975 and continued in Umberto Lenzi’s Violent Naples, 1976)… Merli would  be back as identikit irascible Inspectors Tanzi, Murri et al. In some markets those guys were rechristened “Belli” to cash in on the popularity of Betti’s “shoot first, worry about the ethics of it later” credo. Really, there was no belli end to the bloody things…

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Marino Girolami (best known for directing Zombi Holocaust and being Enzo Castellari’s Dad) kicked in a  few contributions to the Poliziotteschi genre (as to so many others). In the same year as this one he made Rome: The Other Side Of Violence , produced with the involvement of 20th Century Fox. He’s not in the same league as Lenzi, Massi, Damiano or indeed his own son when it comes to this stuff but A Special Cop In Action is mid-cycle, run-of-the-mill, reasonably entertaining Crime Slime that will occupy an hour and a half of your Covid quarantine pleasantly enough and with Franco Micalizzi composing /  Alexander Blonksteiner conducting the OST, you know your ears are going to be in for a treat while you check out Merli’s handsome mug running the gamut of emotional expressions from angry A to brusque B.

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The Poughkeepsie Shuffle, Reshuffled. BADGE 373 Reviewed.

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Sonny Grosso (l), Eddie Egan (r).

BD. Indicator. Region B. 15.

In 1962, New York cops Sonny Grosso and Eddie Egan masterminded a massive drugs bust, seizing a (then) record haul of 112lbs of heroin. How they got it was chronicled in a 1969 book by Robin Moore, entitled The French Connection. William Friedkin read the book and was very impressed, especially with the maverick figure cut by Egan, reimagined as Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and played by Gene Hackman in the subsequent Academy Award winning film of the same title (1971). Egan himself played “Doyle”s superior officer and there was also a small role for Grosso. Both were credited as technical advisors and, obviously feeling that films about cops walking the mean streets of NYC were a cushier career option than actually walking them, proceeded to advise on / appear in several subsequent movies. Grosso took a small part in the following year’s Ocar winner, The Godfather, as one of the guys who assassinates Sonny Corleone (alongside Randy Jürgensen, another former cop who followed a similar career trajectory, clocking up roles in The French Connection, Friedkin’s Cruising with Grosso again,  Philip D’Antoni’s The Seven-Ups and the film under consideration here).

158_BADGE_373_BD_2D_packshot_72dpi_1000px_transp_720x.pngHoward W. Koch’s Badge 373 is another highly fictionalised account of Eddie Egan’s “exploits” (as they are styled in his writing credit). This time Robert Duvall plays the Egan character (“Eddie Ryan“) and Egan himself plays his boss Scanlon, who spends most of his time trying, in vain, to get Ryan to toe the line. Ooh, the irony…

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We first make Ryan’s acquaintance during an attempted sting at a Puerto Rican night spot, where he pursues a runaway suspect to the roof, only for the latter to fall to his death. Ryan is is handed a disciplinary suspension but when his partner is bumped off while continuing their investigations into hispanic crime lord Sweet William (Henry Darrow), Ryan disregards Scanlon’s order to stay on the sidelines and goes after his man. Among many other scrapes, this involves him in an epic vehicular chase that is clearly intended to invoke the one in The French Connection but with the twist of Ryan driving a commandeered bus. At the end of this sequence the bad guys make a point of smashing his gun hand after which he pushes himself, Django-style, in preparation for the ultimate showdown with Sweet William (who’s shipping guns to a projected armed uprising in Puerto Rico), a showdown given added urgency after Ryan’s girlfriend Maureen (Verna Bloom) has also been offed.

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Pete Hamill’s screenplay doesn’t do Egan any favours, making no bones about his casual racism. At the same time, the hispanic characters and their daily struggles are sympathetically presented and although Sweet William (below) is a palpable bastard, he gets a final soliloquy in which he rails about the white “justice” system that turned him into one, making some valid points that Ryan can only answer with bullets. J. J. Jackson’s smoky salza score compliments DP Arthur Ornitz’s sweeping Manhattan vistas beautifully.

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Indicators limited (to 3,000 copies) edition UK Blu-ray Premiere comes with a 36 page collectors’ booklet, trailers, TV and radio spots and image galleries. In the featurette Welcome to Fear City, Randy Jürgensen remembers the life and career of Eddie Egan and discusses their experiences in the film industry. In Lethal Enforcers, film critic Glenn Kenny contributes a useful guide to the American maverick cop genre of the ’70s, which I found particularly enjoyable when combined in a double bill with Mike Malloy’s Eurocrime! documentary.

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Move Like Jagger… THE ANNIHILATORS Reviewed

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This is what you want…

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… this is what you get. Try not to shoot each other, boys.

BD. Arrow. Region B. TBC.

While Joe Zito was filming Invasion U.S.A. for Cannon in Atlanta, with a $10 million budget and Chuck Norris in the starring role, another action film was being made just down the block… Charles E. Sellier Jr was shooting The Annihilators (1985) for Roger Corman’s New World outfit, with a considerably less starry (albeit interesting) cast and predictably meaner financial resources at his disposal. Zito’s film made something in the region of seven and a half million dollars profit and was, until 2007, MGM’s second highest selling home video title (only Gone With The Wind kept it off the top spot). As for The Annihilators, well…

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The action commences with a crack team of American special forces operatives socking it to the slopes in Vietnam. Apparently nobody questioned this kind of thing back in 1985… nobody at New World, anyway. It definitely occurred to somebody that the local park setting of these shenanigans wasn’t entirely convincing, so we also get a bit of actual ‘Nam stock footage, some of it looking suspiciously similar to that used in the title sequence of Antonio Margheriti’s Cannibal Apocalypse (1980).

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The Atlantan cannibal outbreak depicted in that classic has thankfully now subsided,  only to be replaced by the scourge of gangs such as The Scorpions, The Turks, and The Rollers. It’s the latter, led by (I kid you not) Roy Boy Jagger (as played by Paul Koslo, arguably the oldest and bushiest coiffed gang banger in Cinema history) who enter the grocery store of Joe Nace (Dennis Redfield), one of the special forces guys we saw in the film’s opening but now confined to a wheelchair, to have a word with him about the resistance he’s been organising to their protection racket. This involves groping and fatally stabbing one of his female customers and beating his head in with a steak tenderiser. Perhaps Charlie Bukowski and his buddies are, after all, still living and dining in the area? Whatever, Dekalb County has definitely seen better days…

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Swept aside by the simple act of annihilation… murder! (Nice hair, Roy Boy.)

Obviously a fan of such Vet Vigilante opuses as James Glickenhaus’s The Exterminator (1980) and Patrick G. Donahue’s Kill Squad (1982), Colonel Bill (Christopher Stone) decides to reconvene his crack ‘Nam team to seek justice for their buddy. Ray Track (Gerrit Graham) is now a successful yuppy but years behind a desk have left him just itchin’ for action. Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs (as martial arts ace Garrett Floyd) is a happily married man, possibly seeking atonement for the part he played in Death Wish (“Mugger in Park #2… uncredited”). Woody (Andy Wood) has been fighting a losing battle with the bottle since being demobbed, but a mission to clear the scum off the streets (plus the prospective love of a good woman) is exactly the kind of motivation he needs to turn himself around.

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Like a cut-price Seven Samurai, the gang conduct crash courses in martial arts for the besieged citizenry and – even more crucially – teach them to knock three times on the nearest worktop, drainpipe or whatever, whenever threatened by bad guys. Sorry, I couldn’t resist it…

 

These tactics are improbably successful in degrading The Rollers’ power base but Colonel Bill ups the ante by hijacking their latest drug shipment, prompting Roy Boy to walk up and down the high street with a flame thrower, demanding his dope back. Faced down by a bit of a drainpipe tapping, he commandeers a school bus a la Scorpio in Dirty Harry (1971) at which point the kids he’s been grooming as future Rollers turn on him… jolly good thing, too. During the narrative wrap up, the ongoing mystery concerning the identity of the squad’s intelligence handler in Vietnam is finally revealed… as if you could give an actual rat’s ass!

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Despite its magpie borrowings from all of them, The Annihilators is no Seven Samurai, it’s no Assault On Precinct 13… it’s not even The Exterminator… but it is a cheesey urban Western, so very cheesey that its elements probably have to be stored at or below 35 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. From those elemental chunks of emmental, Arrow have fashioned a nice 2K restoration, whose extras include an in-depth examination (a little too in-depth, probably) of the boobs’n’blood stabbing scene that the BBFC excised from previous editions, new Graham Humphreys art work and interviews with Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs and David O’Malley, an erstwhile collaborator of the late Chuck Sellier (below).

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O’Malley talks about Sellier’s unlikely involvement in the Grizzly Adams movies and a series of “Chariots of The Gods” type speculative schlockumentaries and suggests that he didn’t really like introducing any element of confrontation into his films. Those viewers for whom The Annihilators doesn’t really live up to its title (we’re promised “heat on the street” but those sidewalks barely get tepid) might well see the justice of this observation… Sellier must certainly have got out of the wrong side of the bed when he dreamed up the Daddy of all the Killer Santa flicks, the ultra mean-spirited Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984).

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