Tag Archives: Dubbed

301. FANTASY MISSION FORCE (1983)

Recommended

Mi ni te gong dui; AKA Dragon Attack

“If it sounds ridiculous, that’s only because it was.”– Jackie Chan on Fantasy Mission Force (quoted in Keith Bailey, “The Unknown Movies”)

DIRECTED BY: Yen-Ping Chu

FEATURING: Jackie Chan, Brigitte Lin, Yu Wang (Jimmy Wang Yu), Yueh Sun, David Tao, Jin Fang, Shiu Bu Lia, Ling Chang

PLOT: Four Allied generals have been captured by the Japanese. Mercenary Don Wen is hired to liberate them, and recruits a team which includes “Old Sun,” escape artist “Greased Lightning,” two kilt-wearing soldiers, con man Billy, and Lilly, Billy’s bazooka-toting on-and-off girlfriend who tags along when she hears about the cash reward. Tailed by rogues Sammy and Emily, the team encounters Amazons and a haunted house on their way to a surprisingly bloody showdown with the kidnappers.

Still from Fantasy Mission Force (1983)

BACKGROUND:

  • Director Yen-Ping Chu (sometimes credited as “Lawrence Full” or “Kevin Chu”) is the director of sixty-five (mostly kung fu and comedy) films; this is his only effort which is marginally well-known in the West.
  • According to persistent but unconfirmed rumors, a Triad-connected movie mogul ordered a hit on Jackie Chan when he decided to change studios. Jimmy Wang Yu intervened to settle the dispute, and as part of the deal Chan agreed to lend his growing star power to two of Wang’s movies (this being one).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: An ambush by ribbon-shooting ninjas? Bloody ghost hands waving wads of toilet paper? Assault of the Road Warrior-Japanese-punk Nazis? Your opinion on this one is as good as ours, and it’s likely to change many times during the movie as some new amazement pops up. We’ll just go with any shot of the assembled team: Old Sun in his top hat, Brigitte Lin in black leather with a bazooka, Billy in his white suit and Elvis sideburns, the kilt-wearing pair of misfits… as weird a group ever formed to fight an anachronistic battle against fascist kidnappers somewhere in Canada, Luxembourg, or Taiwan.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Scottish/Chinese mercenaries; toilet paper ghosts; Japanese Nazis in Chevys

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Packed with kung fu, shootouts, flying ninjas, hopping vampires, and slapstick comedy reminiscent of Benny Hill, Fantasy Mission Force is one of the only commercial entertainments ever released where you can honestly say you have no idea what will happen next. It’s a pulp surrealism masterpiece, set in a previously undiscovered movie universe at the conjunction of the Shaw Brothers, , and the Three Stooges.


Original Cantonese trailer for Fantasy Mission Force

COMMENTS: Although some reviewers are reluctant to discuss the Continue reading 301. FANTASY MISSION FORCE (1983)

300. THE TENANT (1976)

Le Locataire

“Many would attest that The Pianist is Polanski’s most personal work, given the obvious Holocaust subject matter, but look beneath the surface, and when the window curtains are drawn aside, Polanski’s The Tenant shines brightest as the work closest to his being.”–Adam Lippe, A Regrettable Moment of Sincerity

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Melvyn Douglas, , Jo Van Fleet

PLOT: Meek clerk Trelkovsky rents an apartment in Paris that’s only available because the previous tenant threw herself out the window. He takes it upon himself to visit the woman, who has just awakened from a coma; while there, he meets Stella, a friend of the pre-deceased, with whom he embarks on an awkward romantic relationship. After the previous tenant passes Trelkovsky moves into the apartment, where his odd neighbors are obsessed with keeping the grounds quiet, and finds himself slowly taking on the personality of the previous tenant.

Still from The Tenant (1976)

BACKGROUND:

  • Based on the 1964 novel Le Locataire Chimérique by Panic Movement member . Polanski co-wrote the screenplay, rewrote the main character to be a Polish immigrant rather than a Russian, and cast himself in the lead.
  • Because of its apartment setting, The Tenant is considered part of Polanski’s unofficial “apartment trilogy,” which also includes Repulsion (1965) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968).
  • The film was shot in English, but most of the French actors were dubbed over by American voice talent. (Polanski dubbed himself in French for that language’s version).
  • Lensed by Sven Nykvist, ‘s favorite cinematographer.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Unfortunately (because as a looker he’s no Dustin Hoffman, or even ) it’s the sight of Polanski in drag, particularly as he admires himself in the mirror, hiking up his dress to reveal his garter and stockings, and concludes “I think I’m pregnant.”

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Tooth in the wall; toilet mummy; high-bouncing head

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Take a novel by Surrealist writer Roland Topor and give the property to Roman Polanski to adapt and star in while he’s having an anxiety attack, sprinkle lightly with hallucinations, and you get The Tenant. It’s a little Kafka, a little Repulsion, a little Bergman, a little cross-dressing exhibition, and very weird.


Original trailer for The Tenant

COMMENTS: Trelkovsky—no first name—is an improbably quiet Continue reading 300. THE TENANT (1976)

277. INDECENT DESIRES (1968)

“[Wishman] seemed genuinely surprised, even skeptical, that anyone could find her work worthy of study, probably because at first glance her films often reveal such trademark low-budget production values as dodgy lighting and interiors resembling rundown motel rooms. Yet behind her economically deprived visuals lie a wealth of imagination: wildly improbable plots, bizarre ‘method’ acting and scripts yielding freely to fantasy.”–“Incredibly Strange Films

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Sharon Kent, Michael Alaimo, Trom Little, Jackie Richards

PLOT: A nebbishy pack rat finds a ring and a blonde doll in a trash can; soon after, he sees secretary Ann walking to work, then sees the image of the doll overlaid on Ann’s body. Returning to his dingy apartment, he puts on the ring and gropes the doll, and Ann feels invisible hands on her as she stands by the water cooler. The stalker follows Ann home after she leaves work, discovers she has a steady boyfriend, and takes out his jealousy on the doll.

Still from Indecent Desires (1968)

BACKGROUND:

  • Doris Wishman, who had worked in film distribution, began her directing career after her husband died at a young age as a way to keep busy. She originally began working in the brief nudist camp genre, movies that rushed to exploit nudity after a New York judge ruled that stories set within the nudist lifestyle were not per se obscene. After the fad for nudist films, and the “nudie cutie” sub-genre that grew out of them, died out, Wishman moved into the production of “roughies,” a sexploitation genre with less actual nudity but more violence and kink. She was one of the only women directing such films at the time. Indecent Desires comes from the middle of this period, which lasted roughly from 1965’s Bad Girls Go to Hell to 1970’s The Amazing Transplant.
  • Wishman’s 1960s movies were mostly shot without sound. Dialogue was dubbed in later. She often directed longtime cameraman C. Davis Smith to focus the camera on ashtrays,  potted plants, or an actress’ feet instead of the person speaking in order to make the sound syncing easier later. This technique initially confused audiences, but later became recognized as a Wishman trademark.
  • Like most of her work of this period, Wishman used “Louis Silverman” as her directing pseudonym and “Dawn Whitman” as her writing pseudonym.
  • Terri McSorley‘s Staff Pick for a Certified Weird movie.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The image of the blonde trash can doll superimposed over Ann as she walks to work. This sight is the closest thing to a special effect to ever appear in one of Wishman’s movies.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Doll-groping transient; Babs makes out with herself; nude leg lifts

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Doris Wishman made sleazy sexploitation movies marked by their strange camerawork, unsynced sound, grimy settings, amateur acting by curvy models in lingerie, odd plots, burlesque house jazz soundtracks, and a weird, pervasive sense of erotic guilt. Indecent Desires features her usual shenanigans delivered in one of her most inexplicable stories: a tale of a symbiotic relationship between a stalker, a doll, and a beautiful woman that is so context-free it serves as a fill-in-the-blank sexual parable. It’s perhaps her strangest and most disconnected plot, which makes it the perfect item to represent Wishman on the List of the Weirdest Movies of all Time.

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Short clip from Indecent Desires

COMMENTS: Whatever her filmmaking talents, or lack of same, Continue reading 277. INDECENT DESIRES (1968)

223. MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966)

“A cult of weird, horrible people who gather beautiful women only to deface them with a burning hand!”–original poster tagline for Manos, the Hands of Fate

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Harold P. Warren, John Reynolds, Tom Neyman, Diane Mahree

PLOT: After making a wrong turn on a family vacation, Mike and Maggie and their daughter Debbie find themselves lost in the Texas desert. As night falls they discover a lodge and its mysterious caretaker Torgo, who reluctantly agrees to let the family stay the night. As the night wears on the Master and his wives awake, while Torgo develops an obsession with Maggie.

Still from Manos, the Hands of Fate (1966)

BACKGROUND:

  • Director Hal Warren, a fertilizer salesman from El Paso, had a yen to become an actor, and met and befriended screenwriter Stirling Silliphant when the latter was in El Paso scouting locations for the television series “Route 66.” Warren made a bet with Silliphant that he could make his own horror movie. He scribbled out the initial outline to Manos on a napkin at a coffee shop.
  • Manos was filmed with a hand-wound 16mm camera that could only shoot 32 seconds of footage at a time. There was no live sound and all dialogue was later dubbed in by the principal male actors (Warren, Reynolds and Neyman) and one uncredited actress voicing all the female roles.
  • John Reynolds, who played Torgo, was a heavy drug user who was often high on LSD on set. He committed suicide months after shooting concluded, before Manos‘ debut.
  • Manos had been completely resigned to the grindhouse dustbin, almost never screened on television, only gaining notoriety after being featured on the bad movie-mocking cult TV show “Mystery Science Theater 3000” in 1993. (Manos became one of the show’s most popular episodes).
  • For most of its history Manos was available only in scratchy second generation prints with visible defects; many fans believe that the murky visuals add to the film’s outsider appeal. In 2001, cameraman Benjamin Solovey found a pristine work print of the movie  and crowdfunded a digital restoration of the movie, which he released on Blu-ray (via Synapse films).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: There is a brief moment when all of Manos‘ bizarre characters share the frame at the same time. Arms outstretched, as always, to display the scarlet fingers lining the inside of his coal-black cloak, the Master points to a shivering Torgo, while two of his nightgown-clad wives pirouette towards him and drag him onto the stone altar, his massive knees pointing towards the nighttime sky. In her review of the film’s opening night, the local El Paso film critic refers to this as the scene where Torgo is “massaged to death.”

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Torgo’s knees; wives’ nightgown brawl; who the heck is ‘Manos’?

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Like most misguided amateur efforts, Manos notches a weird points from anti-naturalistic acting, incoherent editing, strange dubbing, and negligent continuity.  In the case of Hal Warren’s sole feature, the staggering ineptitude magnifies the movie’s strange little bumps until they become looming mountains; the story takes place in some uncanny west Texas wasteland that’s similar to our own world, but permeated by a dreamlike offness.


Clip from Manos: the Hands of Fate

COMMENTS: Manos: the Hands of Fate demonstrates an important Continue reading 223. MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE (1966)

CAPSUE: NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT (1970)

Les Cauchemars Naissent la Nuit

DIRECTED BY: Jess Franco

FEATURING: , Colette Giacobine, ,

PLOT: An exotic dancer in a psychologically abusive lesbian relationship thinks she’s going insane when she has vivid recurring nightmares in which she kills people.

Still from ghtmares Come at Night (1970)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The simmering erotic atmosphere of Nightmares is either tedious, or hypnotic, depending on your outlook; but either way, although there are some dreamy moments, it’s not good enough to make the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies on its merits, nor weird enough to warrant inclusion despite its flaws.

COMMENTS: It is bad enough to be constantly plagued by nightmares, but imagine—horrors!—if those nightmares were also directed by Jess Franco. They’d be poorly lit, out-of-focus, and go absolutely nowhere. This is the position poor Anna (voluptuous Diana Lorys) finds herself in. Not that her regular existence is vastly superior: even in her waking hours, she’s still trapped in a Jess Franco movie. Anna is in an unhealthy relationship with her Lady Svengali lesbian lover, Cynthia, who promises to make her a star but spends more time sleeping around and slapping her around than getting her gigs. Anna has nightmares where she kills men while birds fly around inside the house, then wakes up with actual blood on her hands. She thinks she’s going insane. She reveals her story to her psychiatrist in a long flashback that itself dissolves into more dream sequences. Whether its from intentional disorientation or merely sloppy scripting, the loopy storytelling of Nightmares does effectively create a situation where at times you aren’t sure whether the protagonist is dreaming, or whether what’s happening is supposed to be occurring in the present or in a flashback. Like a good bit of Franco’s oeuvre, Nightmares was made in a rush, and the movie frequently seems improvised. The short parts featuring cult actress Soledad Miranda were probably originally intended for a different film entirely (she watches the action from a window near Anna and Cynthia’s manor home and is never appears in the same frame as any of the principals). Franco’s directorial choices are frequently bizarre, and it’s often hard to locate the line between incompetence and experimentalism. For example, when Cynthia meets Anna for the first time, she proposes to make the stripper into a model: they carry on the conversation, but, because it is a flashback, Anna is simultaneously narrating the meeting in voiceover, recapping the conversation in real time as we listen to it. Later, while Anna and Cynthia are making love for the first time, Franco zooms in and out of focus seemingly at random, choosing to spend a lot of time on blurry closeups of the top of his actresses’ heads—it’s as if he’s suddenly handed the camera to a small child, or a monkey. At other times, his arty photography is more purposeful. When Anna and her psychiatrist talk in their car, he shoots the doctor from the side so his features appear normally, but films Anna head-on through a sunny windshield, so her visage is diffuse and otherworldly, as if she’s trapped in a separate reality. Nightmare‘s strangest sequence is, without a doubt, Anna’s narcotized, eight-minute striptease routine. She lies on a divan before a red backdrop next to a marble statue draped with white furs and very, very slowly removes her clothes while a tenor saxophonist plays Ornette Coleman licks over slightly out-of-tune piano chords (you know—strip club music). The strangely depraved atmosphere of this scene could believably have inspired ‘s “red room” sequences in “Twin Peaks,” although Lynch, of course, took that extra step of actually having things happen in his dream sequence. For an extra dollop of oddness, Franco announces this scene by having Anna explain that the cabaret owner had instructed her to “keep the audience’s attention for as long as possible with a strip that seemed to last forever.” In other words, not only is Franco padding his film, he’s brazenly rubbing his viewers’ noses in the fact that he’s padding the film. This slow-as-molasses, narratively confusing movie can be strangely hypnotic, if you’re in the right mood or very drunk, and there are nude women onscreen at almost all times, if that’s your thing. It seems obvious that Franco assumed that nudity would carry the movie and he could do pretty much whatever he wanted with the rest of it; the results are so peculiar that it’s unclear whether he was utterly indifferent about the effect he was creating, or completely enraptured by his own creativity.

Jess Franco directed nearly two hundred movies in his forty-five year career, most of them sleazy exploitation pieces, so it’s no surprise that almost all of them feel rushed. In 1970 alone he directed three other features besides this one, plus a forty-minute short. It may be hard to believe but, as bad as Nightmares is by any measure of conventional filmmaking, this movie is arguably Franco working at near the peak of his abilities.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It all comes together in Franco’s characteristically dream-logic-beholden way, the plot holes and pacing bumps smoothed over by the film’s low-key eroticism and semi-surreal atmosphere.”–Casey Broadwater, Blu-ray.com

LIST CANDIDATE: TOYS IN THE ATTIC (2009)

Na pude; Na pude aneb Kdo má dneska narozeniny?

DIRECTED BY: Jirí Barta

FEATURING: Vivian Schilling, Douglas Urbanski, Forest Whitaker, , Joan Cusak (US dubbed version)

PLOT: When the doll Buttercup is kidnapped by a plaster head, a teddy bear, a marionette knight and a mechanical mouse must journey to the other side of the attic to save her.

Still from Toys in the Attic [Na Pude] (2009)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Trust the Czechs to take the basic notion of Toy Story (the private lives of toys when their owners aren’t around) and turn it into a creepy stop-motion parable about totalitarianism wherein a head and his army of vermin kidnap a doll and attempt to brainwash her. Sure, it’s a bit weird, but apparently Czech children are into “weird”…

COMMENTS: It seems lazy and obvious to describe Toys in the Attic as 50% Toy Story, 50% , but that’s exactly the way it plays out. The movie, which takes dusty Communist-era toys and knick-knacks and brings them to creaky life, splits the difference between sentimentality and nightmarishness straight down the middle. The tale begins by introducing the retired playthings’ domestic life, as mother-figure Buttercup prepares breakfast for the other toys: a mechanical mouse with button ears, a battered teddy bear, a wooden Don Quixote marionette who speaks in rhyming couplets, and some sort of nutty clay homunculus with a pencil nose and a bottle cap hat. Their first act of business is to roll a die to figure out who has a birthday that day; the cake’s candle flames are simulated with a cascade of colored tinsel. The toys then each march off to their daily jobs (for the knight Sir Handsome, this involves slaying an inflatable dragon; when his pencil lance pierces its hide, a monkey nurse pops out and patches the beast up). Meanwhile, the bust of a Head spies on the happy toys via an eyeball embedded in a slithering hose, and their storybook existence is shattered when a little girl finds Buttercup and accidentally leaves her in the area of the attic controlled by the Head. The Head, whose existence in the household is never rationalized, is a magnificent creation, spookily realized by a live actor (which ironically makes him an alien creature in the artificial stop-motion world). He’s a bespectacled apparatchik with spies everywhere and a voice like Steve Martin’s “wild and crazy guy.” Besides his “snakey eye,” his minions include a house cat who goes undercover as an old man, a scorpion with eyeglasses and a  mustache, and a chorus line of rotten potatoes with Rockette gams. And there’s even more weird stuff along the journey, including a floods made up of pillowcases and garbage bags, watches that inexplicably turn into black holes, and a celebratory disco feast thrown by the Head. As in Svankamjer’s animated worlds, the animated objects here are antique and distressed: it’s a world of recycled tin cans, rusty nails, and unfinished furniture. There’s a nostalgia for the perishability and endurance of handcrafted things. Besides the Svankmajerian stop-motion, traditional animation also pops up in unexpected places throughout the film: when Buttercup opens a hand-drawn window in the attic, she sees a bird drawn in a kid’s cartoon scrawl pecking and flying about. If you’re looking for a “logical” explanation, I think that the movie could be understood as an imaginary story made up by the little girl who discovers the old toys to entertain herself on an otherwise dull afternoon at grandma’s house. The film has that loose, improvisatory, anything-can-happen quality of “make believe” stories that children tell themselves, before adults channel their narrative understanding into predictable logical corridors. (For similarly crazy, but brighter-toned animated Eurokiddie fare, check out Belgium’s A Town Called Panic). There’s a narrow window for American kids to enjoy this. With the eyeball-on-a-stalk peering into secret places, it’s too frightening for very young kids, and many older kids will be put off by its anti-Pixar sensibilities, its drab color palette and its overall foreignness. Adults, of course, can enjoy it at any age.

Jirí Barta began making animated films in the 1970s, but Na Pude was only his second feature-length effort (the first was 1986’s Krysar, AKA The Pied Piper of Hamlin, which is currently in our reader-suggested review queue). He had not made a movie for twenty years before this one. Vivian Schilling, who voiced Buttercup, also wrote the English translation, directed the American voice actors, and designed a new title sequence. Schilling was previously best known for writing and starring in the laughable 1990 Joe Estevez sci-fi snoozer Soultaker. Ms. Schilling, consider yourself redeemed.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…easily earns a capital-W for weird.”–Matt Pais, Redeye (contemporaneous)

146. HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE (2004)

“I love the animation, ’cause it’s very magical and very… fantapsychological?”—12-year old Josh Hutcherson (who played Markl) on Howl’s Moving Castle

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, , Billy Crystal, (US dubbed version)

PLOT: Sophie is an 18-year old girl who works in her mother’s hat shop in a kingdom where wizards exist alongside flying airships. One day a witch strides into the shop and curses the girl, turning her into an old woman. Sophie runs away from home and finds work as a housekeeper for the wizard Howl, who lives in a magical wandering castle powered by a captive fire demon.

Still from Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

BACKGROUND:

  • The movie was loosely based on the children’s novel of the same name by English writer Diana Wynne Jones.
  • Miyazaki had announced his retirement from directing feature films after 2001’s Spirited Away, but stepped up to complete this project after the original director quit over creative differences.
  • One of the major changes from the novel is that the action is now set during a senseless war. Pacifist Miyazaki added the war subplot to express his anger at the United States-led invasion of Iraq.
  • In the Japanese version the same actress (Chieko Baishô) voices both young and old Sophie; in the English dub the duties were split between Emily Mortimer (young) and Jean Simmons (old).
  • Howl was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Film (losing to the Wallace and Gromit feature Curse of the Were-Rabbit).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Obviously, it’s Howl’s moving castle, as clinking, clanking, collection of caliginous cartoon junk as ever animated. The castle is a random assortment of turrets, gangways, girders, smokestacks, and bat wing fins, with cottages attached at various points, lurching along precariously on mechanized chicken legs like some replica of Baba Yaga’s hut commissioned by a mad steampunk billionaire.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Take witches and wizards and place them inside a world with low-tech Victorian technology, and you have a steampunk fantasy. Now, filter that peculiarly Western brew through Japanese sensibilities, and add in Hayao Miyazaki’s flair for spectacle and childlike surrealism, and you end up with a story containing so many strata of magic that it approaches the casual incoherence of classic folk tales.


Disney American dub trailer for Howl’s Moving Castle

COMMENTS: Although set in a mythical European milieu—the picturesque cobblestone streets and red-trousered dragoons with handlebar Continue reading 146. HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE (2004)

CAPSULE: RETURN OF THE KUNG FU DRAGON (1976)

Ju Ma Pao

DIRECTED BY: Yu Chick-Lim

FEATURING: Polly Kwan (as Sun Kuan Rin Feng), Cheung Lik, Li Chung-Chien, Hsiao Wang

PLOT: A teenage princess learns kung fu so that she can return from exile inside a magic mountain to claim her kingdom from usurpers.

Still from Return of the Kung Fu Dragon (1976)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This colorful costume fantasy martial arts adventure brandishes a couple of bizarre characters, a convoluted epic plot containing a couple of unintentionally surreal digressions, and editing and dubbing problems that sink below even the usual low standards of the genre. With their warriors flying through the air and doing improbable double backflips while delivering stuttering threats in dubbed English, almost all of the 1970s chopsocky movies are at least a little bit weird; this one contains enough extra strangeness to qualify as a noteworthy movie of its type, though not enough to challenge for a place on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies.

COMMENTS: Ah, , the weirdest of the martial arts! You never see a devotee of judo using her martial prowess to put her hands all over a street vendor’s stock of steamed buns, or a karate master hanging out with an red-nosed androgynous dwarf who looks like Bjork’s stunt double. Even American kickboxers look dignified by comparison. But it’s the on-the-cheap craziness of the comic book kung fu inspired by Bruce Lee’s Seventies box office success that makes this short-lived but demented sub genre so lovable. Return of the Kung Fu Dragon is, at the same time, one of the most ambitious and the least competent of Taiwan’s action offerings of the period. There’s a childishness to the gaudy presentation, with the bright colors and wizards and princesses and invisible dwarfs, which suggests that Dragon may have been aimed at Taiwanese kids, although of course in the US it played drive-ins and UHF “Kung Fu Theater” venues rather than kiddie matinées. Dragon is constantly throwing so many new characters and twists at you that, if the story wasn’t ultimately such a generic rightful-ruler-returns-from-exile-to-depose-tyrant affair, it would be nearly impossible to follow. Much is made of certain plot devices—e.g. a magic jade dragon staff that somehow allows the evil interloper to finally attack the peaceful island kingdom—that simply disappear later in the tale. The editing doesn’t help the continuity: the aforementioned staff is seen in closeups alternated with shots of a bunny running through the underbrush (to show, we eventually gather, that the wizard is ambushing a hunter as part of the invasion scheme). The schizophrenic editing serves the castle-storming sequence well, at least, as the camera cuts from one individual melee to another and captures the chaos of battle. But even here there are odd inserts, such as when an archer shoots a flying man (?) out of the sky. Neither character was seen before that shot, and neither is seen after. The most jarring moment comes in the middle of the film, when one of the characters, who has taken time out for some martial training, suddenly starts popping into frame, high-kicking in front of a Chinese chess board backdrop, then disappearing. We assume this expressionistic sequence means to stress the analogy between learning to fight and intellectual tactics. But immediately afterwards, another set of characters stumble upon an actual game board set up in the middle of the wilderness—and when their evil imperial pursuers find them the ensuing battle is a stylized kung fu/chess hybrid. It’s that kind of movie; the disdain for realism is amusing and refreshing, but it can also be frustrating and disorienting. Dragon‘s wild cast of characters include, among others, two princesses (well, one is a fake princess who’s also referred to as “the Black Girl” for reasons that are never explained) and an evil usurper who’s given to highly inappropriate bouts of maniacal laughter. The chief bad guy is a wicked old wizard with a beard so long that he has a servant girl whose sole job is to carry it around for him twenty four hours a day; but, he’s not even the weirdest character. That honor goes to the comic relief, an effeminate dwarf with bizarre ponytails and a red nose who can turn invisible (although we in the audience can see him perfectly well whenever he does). In the eyes of the filmmakers, of course, all of this plot and characterization was just necessary filler and carrier for the fight scenes. They are frequent and energetic and, although they lack the athleticism you’d see in some of the better Shaw Brothers productions of the period, they should satisfy chopsocky fans. All in all, Kung Fu Dragon is a frantic, somewhat disorienting experience that should appeal to gonzo martial arts fans; if you’re not already a devotee of the genre, or if you require a plot that makes sense, you should stay far away.

Return of the Kung Fu Dragon is in the public domain in the U.S. and can be viewed at the Internet Archive, among other Net sources. I viewed it on Mill Creek’s fun Martial Arts 50 Movie Pack Collection, which also contains the action oddities Kung Fu Arts and Ninja Champion.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Everything is thrown into the cauldron for this one (dig the magic mirror & the burning gravel!), which means there are enough crudely imaginative elements to make Return of the Kung Fu Dragon strangely viewable at best.”–Joe Burrow, The Action Mutant Reviews (DVD)

LIST CANDIDATE: REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE (1973)

AKA Caged Virgins

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Mireille Dargent

PLOT: Two lesbian killers dressed as clowns flee the law and wind up in the hands of a vampire who needs virgins to perpetuate his race.

Still from Requiem for a Vampire (1973)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: One of the problems with evaluating Jean Rollin’s fantastique vampire films is that none of them really stick out; each film contains a similar non-plot exploring Gothic iconography and exploiting French models’ nude bodies. It’s almost as if Rollin spent his lifetime shooting one long montage of erotic vampire-themed scenes and arbitrarily edited them into individual movies. Requiem for a Vampire starts out as one of the director’s weirder and artier efforts, but just when the movie goes totally porno on you and you think you can write it off, Rollin whips out the vagina bat, and you’re right back where you started.

COMMENTS: Requiem for a Vampire was Jean Rollin’s first (and only) movie to be dubbed into English and theatrically released in the United States, under the sleazy (but somewhat accurate) title Caged Virgins. It’s a lot of fun to imagine confused 1970s horndogs fuming at the drive-in or grindhouse as they watch Requiem‘s first thirty minutes, which are mostly dialogue-free scenes of two fetching girls wandering around the gorgeous French countryside dressed as clowns.

Frustrated sleaze patrons might have assumed they’d been tricked into watching some sort of Bergmanesque existential art film and left in disgust; but if they stuck around for the movie’s second act, they were rewarded with lesbian lovemaking, whippings, a dungeon full of naked women in chains repeatedly groped and violated, and, of course, that unforgettable vagina bat torture. Even more than most Rollin films, Requiem seesaws between sensationalized sexploitation and earnest eeriness, mixing brilliance and shoddiness together until you’re not sure which is which. After our lesbian clowns (it’s important to stress that the anti-heroines in this movie start as lesbian clowns) escape from the law, they wander across a meadow to a tranquil stream. They gaze into the water and suddenly it turns milky white, then blood red. It’s a delightfully strange moment, cleverly edited so that you don’t realize until later that what you’ve seen is the ladies washing off their clown makeup in the creek. That’s Rollin being brilliant, but soon after comes a scene where one of the pair accidentally falling into an open grave that is soon filled in by two gravediggers, who can’t see the girl in the miniskirt and sexy white knee socks lying on top of the coffin despite staring directly at her. She is somehow able to hold her breath as they fill in the grave with six feet of earth, then wait for her companion to dig her out. This is the type of impossible scene that suggests not so much deliberate surrealism (of which there are no other examples in the film) as a sloppy indifference to logical cause and effect.

The two scenes discussed above, plus the long dungeon orgy with its clumsily staged and repetitive rapes, all occur before the title vampire is even properly introduced; once he makes the scene he turns out to be a tragic, passive and defeatist immortal who’s easily outwitted. The guy needs virgins to fulfill his evil plan, and he thinks he’s lucked out when he finds two lesbians who’ve never known the touch of a man; surely there is no simple trick the girls could pull to avoid a fate of eternal damnation, is there? With its cornball vamp plot and acres of abused nude flesh, Caged Virgins had obvious appeal as an exploitation export, but its arthouse pacing, stylistic experimentation and a disregard for logic that offended even drive-in patrons ensured that it would be a flop. Today, it’s a great introduction to Rollin for vintage horror and sleaze freaks, who will find that this film “delivers” more than the auteur’s artier efforts.

Like almost everything else, Rollin had an uneven approach to sex scenes. He shoots nude bodies with the eye of an artist, but his attempts to shoehorn nudity into his stories are often laughably awkward. The placement of the sado-orgy in Requiem for a Vampire makes some narrative sense, but a sudden ten minute sex scene (the most explicit in Rollin’s softcore catalog) plopped into the middle of a brooding terror tale that’s been only mildly titillating up to that point is tonally jarring, included at the producer’s insistence. The sex scenes sold the film to the American market but got it totally banned in Britain. Then, it was released in the UK in a cut version (even today, the officially sanctioned British cut of the film is missing six minutes of sex and torture). Brit film fans rightfully complained about the censorship, but ironically, the cut version probably produces a more powerful experience, as the dungeon depravity is hopelessly fake and repetitive and generally detracts from the Gothic atmosphere.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this faintly surreal sex-vampire movie achieved a minor cult reputation thanks to its blend of vampirism and sado-eroticism.”–Time Out Film Guide

CAPSULE: JESUS CHRIST VAMPIRE HUNTER (2001)

DIRECTED BY: Lee Demarbre

FEATURING: Phil Caracas, Maria Moulton, Murielle Varhelyi

PLOT: The Son of God recruits retired Mexican wrestler “Santos” to help him defeat the

Still from Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (2001)

vampires who are preying on Ottawa’s lesbian population.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  It’s defiantly odd, but not consistently funny or entertaining enough to rank among the all-time greats.  If you saw any two-minute stretch of JCVH selected at random, you might be convinced that this was a work of camp genius; but string 45 such segments together, and the comedy value runs a little thin.  It’s a hard movie to peg: in its own way, given its low budget, its a sort of masterpiece, and at the same time it’s sort of a disaster.  I think that if it had offered us one less overlong kung fu battle, and one more song and dance number, it might have had a shot at exalted weirdness. Ultimately, though, just as the tone is more irreverent than blasphemous, the style is more zany than weird, and that should keep it off this particular List.

COMMENTSJesus Christ Vampire Hunter is a stew of pop-cinema leftovers, mixing kung fu with horror, Mexican wrestling and even scraps of blaxploitation, all seasoned with a hint of sacrilege.  Like all peasant cuisine, it will be comfort food for many, but offend some refined palates—it’s definitely an acquired taste.  The technical aspects effectively evoke the feel of late seventies/early eighties exploitation movies, with drab urban cinematography, sound obviously added in post-production, and even a cheesy “waka-waka” funk theme as the heroes cruise down the highway. The action scenes are a problem here: for one thing, there are too many, and they’re too long. They’re just competent enough to remind us that they’re not quite up to snuff; Phil Caracas’ Jesus shows reasonable high-kicking athleticism, but he’s no action hero, and it would have been funnier and more endearing if he’d been clumsier. At any rate, the movie can’t be accused of false advertising. The campy/sacrilegious title scares off the squares and the fundies (though it’s obvious the filmmakers are clearly fans of JC’s philosophy of love and tolerance, if not proponents of his divinity). More to the Continue reading CAPSULE: JESUS CHRIST VAMPIRE HUNTER (2001)