Tag Archives: Dubbed

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)

CAPSULE: HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB [EL ESPANTO SURGE DE LA TUMBA] (1973)

DIRECTED BY: Carlos Aured

FEATURING:

PLOT: The head of a medieval warlock possesses the bodies of young people staying at an isolated country estate, turning some into zombies and causing them to kill each other.

Still from Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Horror Rises is a worthwhile, but not quite exemplary, illustration of the tendency of 1970s Eurotrashy fantastique horror to elevate atmosphere and effect over sense and logic. Made out of equal parts camp, decadence, and incoherence, it’s a decent choice for a midnight viewing some evening when you don’t want to think too hard while getting some pre-bedtime chills.

COMMENTS: Most of the plot developments in Horror Rises from the Tomb need to be prefaced with the phrase, “for unclear reasons…”  When invited to a seance with a medium, swinging playboy Hugo suggests they contact an ancestor of his who was hanged for practicing witchcraft (and vampirisim and lycanthropy), then decapitated so his head and body could be laid in separate graves to prevent him from rising from the tomb.  The same warlock ghost has been haunting Hugo’s artist pal, dripping blood from his severed head on his canvases.  After successfully contacting the spirit, Hugo, the painter and their girlfriends travel to Hugo’s isolated country estate to go digging for the head but are waylaid by bandits, then rescued by vigilantes who execute the criminals on the spot.  Upon arriving the foursome hires village locals to dig up the head, or buried treasure, whichever they find first.  Halfway through the movie, after the cast is mostly dead or possessed, the caretaker’s daughter remembers that her father hid a magic talisman that would protect them from any evil spirits that would rise from the nearby tomb in a well.  Besides possession, the warlock also creates a mini-army of walking corpses, and when daylight comes Hugo goes to dredge up their corpses from the river (where he dumped them earlier—for unclear reasons) and burn the bodies, even though he already incinerated them the night before.  And so it goes. The storytelling is jumpy—characters are killed off before you even realize who they are—and awkward editing exacerbates the problem.  According to legend, star Naschy took anywhere between two days to a week to write the script, and it’s easy to believe.   You go into every story segment presuming it’s not going to make sense, and you’re surprised when, on reflection, there’s a hidden logic to some development.  Besides writing the script, Naschy is also credited as playing three roles (the warlock and Hugo are two of them, but somehow I missed the third one). Horror Rises gets by on atmosphere—beautiful, misty Spanish scenery; gorgeous doomed women in gauzy nightgowns; floating heads; zombies; Paul Naschy flinging his black cape about and keeping his bushy arched eyebrows flying at full mast.  There’s also a screechy organ score that is irritating but effective in keeping you on the edge.  The decadent exploitation, in combination with the disjointed storytelling and jittery editing, produces a comic-nightmarish effect typical of 1970s Eruohorrors; it’s a style that can become addictive if you give yourself over to it wholeheartedly.

The version of Horror Rises from the Tomb reviewed here is the edited, full frame version, likely compiled for television broadcasts, that’s commonly found in multiple-movie bargain packs.   This edition cuts out the abundant nudity and most of the gore (including, reportedly, heart-eating) and runs 10-15 minutes shorter than the uncut film.  The frequent edits to produce a TV-friendly, PG-rated product likely increase the incoherence factor, but given the movie’s edited in the purely expository scenes, I don’t believe the complete version makes significantly more sense.  The out of print but widely available BCI/Eclipse DVD contains both cuts of the film, along with a third “clothed” version intended for European distribution that substitutes alternate takes for some of the nude scenes but keeps the blood and guts intact.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…there was no denying the strange, unsettling otherness of this film as I watched it in a dark room, illuminated only by my portable black-and-white TV set.”–Troy Guinn, Eccentric Cinema (remembering a 1970s TV broadcast)

LIST CANDIDATE: MANOS, THE HANDS OF FATE (1966)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Harold P. Warren

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

PLOT:  Lost in the desert, a vacationing family seeks lodging from Torgo, who takes care of the place while the Master is away.

Still from Manos, the Hands of Fate (1966)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: With The Horror of Spider Island and The Beast of Yucca Flats already certified weird, it’s hard to argue that any movie could be ruled off the List solely because it was “too bad.”  But as painful as those movies can be to watch, the dreadfully dull and incompetent Manos is another kettle of stinky fish entirely.  Spider Island and Yucca Flats developed slight cult followings on their own bizarre merits, but for decades 1966’s Manos had been completely resigned to the grindhouse dustbin, only gaining notice after being featured on the bad movie-mocking cult TV show “Mystery Science Theater 3000” in 1993.  Like most misguided amateur efforts, Manos notches a few weird points from anti-naturalistic acting, incoherent editing 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 desert that’s somewhat similar to our own world, but permeated by a dreamlike offness.  The question is, is that weird undercurrent enough to overcome Manos‘ dead air?

COMMENTS:  Abraham pleaded with God to save the city of Sodom from eradication via brimstone, if he could find only a few good men inside the city limits; similarly, I won’t condemn Manos as a completely worthless endeavor if I can ferret out just a few good things about it.  A brief recital of Manos‘ cinematic sins, however, makes the judgment look dire for this microbudget brainchild of a fertilizer salesman from El Paso, Texas. The issues begin with the film stock itself: Manos was shot with a hand-wound 16 mm camera that could only capture thirty seconds of footage at a time.  The camera was probably intended to be used by families making silent vacation films, and the results look exactly like home movies from the 1960s, complete with barely adequate, dull coloration and hazy definition.  Since the Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: MANOS, THE HANDS OF FATE (1966)

CAPSULE: SAMURAI PRINCESS [SAMURAI PURINSESU: GEDÔ-HIME] (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Kengo Kaji

FEATURING: Aino Kishi, Dai Mizuno

PLOT:  In a timeless mystical forest, a rape survivor takes on the souls of her eleven

Still from Samurai Princess (2009)

dead sisters and becomes a cyborg to avenge them.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Samurai Princess is a relatively unambitious attempt to cash in on the biohorror/splatterpunk formula established in Meatball Machine (2005); fans of this stuff will be probably be reasonably entertained, but newcomers would be better off checking out the aforementioned Meatball Machine or Tokyo Gore Police instead.

COMMENTS: In a few short years, the works of an incestuous group of Japanese writers/directors/FX gurus have created a new Japanese splatterpunk formula focusing on slim but fantastic storylines; extreme, absurd gore effects; and the modification of body parts into bioweapons.  This phenomenon is only five years old, but it’s already reminiscent of what happened with Troma: the studio had a hit, and spent the rest of its existence remaking The Toxic Avenger over and over under different names.  Samurai Princess is a lesser entry in this new genre, and at times it feels like the square peg of the splaterpunk formula is being forced into the round hole of a gentler, more reflective fantasy.  The idea of a justice-seeking living vessel infused with the souls of eleven raped virgins feels like an old Japanese legend, but making that instrument of vengeance a cyborg with detachable boob-bombs is a faddish approach that doesn’t click.  The movie’s setting—a primeval forest haunted by brigands, loners and mad scientists, a place that’s even “out of Buddha’s jurisdiction”—is promising.  It’s a place out of time; the kimonos and katanas suggest feudal Japan, but there are plenty of anachronisms like chainsaws, cameras, and novelty sunglasses with blinking Christmas lights on the frame.  The cast that romps through the forest is nicely bizarre: besides the main character (who’s neither a samurai nor a princess), there’s one mad doctor who collects body parts to build “mechas,” a rival cyborg-building maniac with a pair of female sidekicks who speak in unison, a Buddhist nun with Continue reading CAPSULE: SAMURAI PRINCESS [SAMURAI PURINSESU: GEDÔ-HIME] (2009)

59. THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS (1961)

“There’s a rare kind of perfection in The Beast of Yucca Flats — the perverse perfection of a piece wherein everything is as false and farcically far-out as can be imagined.”–Tom Weaver, in his introduction to his Astounding B Monster interview with Tony Cardoza

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Coleman Francis

FEATURING: Tor Johnson

PLOT: Joseph Javorsky, noted scientist, defects to the United States, carrying with him a briefcase full of Soviet state secrets about the moon. Fleeing KGB assassins, he runs onto a nuclear testing range just as an atom bomb explodes. The blast of radiation turns him into an unthinking Beast who strangles vacationers who wander into the Yucca Flats region.

Still from The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)

BACKGROUND:

  • The Beast of Yucca Flats can always be found somewhere on the IMDB’s “Bottom 100” list (at the time the review was composed, it occupied slot #21).
  • All three of the films Coleman Francis directed were spoofed on “Mystery Science Theater 3000“.
  • Tor Johnson was a retired Swedish wrestler who appeared in several Ed Wood, Jr. movies. Despite the fact that none of the movies he appeared in were hits, his bestial face became so iconic that it was immortalized as a children’s Halloween mask.
  • All sound was added in post-production. Voice-overs occur when the characters are at a distance or when their faces are obscured so that the voice actors won’t have to match the characters lips. Some have speculated that the soundtrack was somehow lost and the narration added later, but shooting without synchronized sound was a not-unheard-of low-budget practice at the time (see The Creeping Terror, Monster A-Go-Go and the early filmography of ). Internal and external evidence both suggest that the film was deliberately shot silent.
  • Director Coleman Francis is the narrator and appears as a gas station owner.
  • Per actor/producer Tony Cardoza, the rabbit that appears in the final scene was a wild animal that wandered onto the set during filming. It appears that the feral bunny is rummaging through Tor’s shirt pocket looking for food, however.
  • Cardoza, a close friend of Francis, suggests that the actor/director may have committed suicide in 1973 by placing a plastic bag over his head and inhaling the fumes from his station wagon through a tube, although arteriosclerosis was listed as the official cause of death.
  • The film opens with a topless scene that lasts for only a few seconds; it’s frequently clipped off prints of the film.
  • The Beast of Yucca Flats is believed to be in the public domain and can be legally viewed and downloaded at The Internet Archive, among other sources.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Tor Johnson, in all his manifestations, whether noted scientist or irradiated Beast; but especially when he cuddles and kisses a cute bunny as he lies dying.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Coleman Francis made three movies in his lifetime, all of which were set in a reality known only to Coleman Francis. His other two films (The Skydivers and Night Train to Mundo Fine [AKA Red Zone Cuba]) were grim and incoherent stories of despairing men and women in desolate desert towns who drank coffee, flew light aircraft, and killed off odd-looking extras without finding any satisfaction in the act. Though his entire oeuvre was more than a bit bent by his joyless outlook on life, his natural affinity for the grotesque, and his utter lack of attention to filmic detail, this Luddite tale of an obese scientist turned into a ravening atomic Beast survives as his weirdest anti-achievement.


Trailer for The Beast of Yucca Flats with commentary from director Joe Dante (Trailers from Hell)

COMMENTS:  Touch a button on the DVD player. Things happen onscreen. A movie Continue reading 59. THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS (1961)