Sunday
Feb102013

Franco February: ENTER THE NINJA (1985) Review

Continuing with Franco February, I decided it was time to head to America. Naturally, most of Nero’s movies are Italian, so it was kind of rare to see him appearing in anything that wasn’t from Italy. But nevertheless, here he is, and he’s not alone. He’s costarring with ninja movie veteran Sho Kosugi! In a ninja movie! Along with Christopher George as the villain! Directed by Mennahem Golan! And two other actors who were in eighties slashers! Then again, the last time something was this perfect we got The Tomb. Or Young Warriors.

ENTER THE NINJA (1985) Review

Cole (Nero) has just finished with his training in the art of “ninjitsu” in Japan and has been deemed an official ninja, much to the dismay of rival ninja Hasegawa (Kosugi). Cole heads to the Phillipines to visit his war buddy Frank (Alex Courtney) and his wife Mary Ann (Susan George), who own a considerable chunk of land. Unbeknownst to them, that land has great oil potential, so evil businessman Mr. Venarius (Christopher George) wants to drive them off to get his hands on it. Luckily, Cole is there to thwart all his plans, but Venarius has something else up his sleeve: he’s ordered a ninja from Japan to drive them off (guess who it is). Cole must then battle the ninja and Venarius’s entire corporation in an attempt to save his friend and eliminate Venarius!

Enter the Ninja is the first in a trilogy of ninja movies (the latter being Revenge of the Ninja and the supernatural Ninja III: The Domination, none of which have anything to do with each other), all starring Sho Kosugi. I had watched all of them in reverse order before and wasn’t terribly impressed. Then comes Enter the Ninja, which is just a beautiful melting pot of inane greatness that most ninja movies lack. The whole thing has this mentality where it doesn’t give a crap about things like “logic” and just has fun with it. It knows no one will ever take a ninja movie seriously (if you are, you’re doing something wrong), so all of the corny little pieces do nothing but add to the fun. A great cast helps it as well, with Nero, Kosugi (who starred in my favorite ninja flick,Pray for Death), Christopher George (PiecesGraduation Day, and many others), Susan George (Straw Dogs), Alex Courtney (Fatal Pulse) and Will Hare as Dollars, who’s probably best known for playing the scary grandpa in Silent Night, Deadly Night.

Given that this is from the director of The Delta Force, you know there’s going to be very little downtime and zero boredom. When there isn’t some great kung-fu fight going on, we get to enjoy some corny dialogue and over-the-top performances (mostly by Christopher George). As an Italian in the middle of an American production, Nero doesn’t feel very out of place and his cool demeanor gives the movie extra cool balances and acts as a nice balance to some of the vicious overacting on display by other actors. None of the actors are very “good,” but their own brand of thespianism makes the movie even more fun. Some of the dialogue is amusing too; after all, who doesn’t enjoy hearing Christopher George yell, “I want my black ninja and I want him now!”like an upset toddler?

The movie is like a mix between a ninja movie, a martial arts movie, and even a “man pushed too far” movie at the end when Nero begins laying waste to all of Venarius’s men, leading up to an epic showdown between himself and Hasegawa in a cockfight ring. In fact, all the fight scenes in Enter the Ninja are top-notch. And when there isn’t any fighting going on, there’s some sort of ninja awesomeness going on, from shurikens to blinding powder, and even some spiked balls! There’s a fair amount of bloodshed to go along with it, too. Amidst the (literally) cartoonish sound effects and the preposterous opening scene, the most awesomely stupid part is a certain death scene that’s become infamous on YouTube, due to the acting involved. It would be a spoiler to say whose death it is, you can probably guess because it’s so obvious (trust me, there are no twists in this movie).

Enter the Ninja is one of my favorite Franco Nero movies, as it combines the absurd awesomeness of a Cannon Group film with the rough awesomeness of Franco Nero. Add in a boatload of ninjas (including Sho Kosugi!), Christopher George going nuts, the creepy grandpa from Silent Night, Deadly Night, brisk pacing, and an intense score (by the guy who did the music for New Year’s Evil), and you’ve got the second best ninja movie out there. A DVD was released a year ago under the “MGM Limited Edition Collection” line of DVD-R’s, and most likely without special features. Even without that, the picture looks good and it’s still Enter the Ninja, but it deserves way better. “I want my Enter the Ninja Blu-Ray and I want it now!”

The Verdict: Enter the Ninja skims the surface of perfection, and although it doesn’t quite make it, it’s still a wickedly good ninja-filled time. And at the end, Franco Nero winks at the camera! When does the goodness end?

Score: 9/10 

Monday
Feb042013

Movie Trailer Monday: NEON MANIACS (1986)

Well,  it's common knowledge everyone hates Mondays. So why not spice up a slow day with a great movie trailer? To kick this off, I decided to start with one of my personal favorite trailers, and one of my personal favorite eighties monster movies: Neon Maniacs. Let me tell you: it doesn't get much more eighties than Neon Maniacs, as you can see by the preview. And for the cherry on top, they got Percy Rodriguez (my favorite trailer narrator) doing the voiceover!

Sunday
Feb032013

Franco February: THE FIFTH CORD (1971) Review

I’ve talked about nineties giallos a lot on here, but I’ve actually never talked about the real deal. So, to coincide with Franco February, I’ve chosen a somewhat well known giallo from the golden age of Italian murder mysteries, which just so happens to star Franco Nero! Based on a book by D.M. Devine, here we have a little spaghetti shocker originally called Giornata nera per l’ariete (which translates to The Black Night of the Ram), but was retitled to The Fifth Cord when given a US release. Is this one for the books, or is the presence of Nero not even enough to save it?

THE FIFTH CORD (1971) Review

Andrea Bild (Nero) is an alcoholic journalist who’s pretty much hit rock bottom. After attending a New Year’s Eve party, one of the guests is attacked with a pipe, leaving him in a neck brace and convinced it was a murder attempt. Soon after, members of that party begin getting killed by a mysterious madman, whose trace is only marked by a leather glove left at the scene with fingers of the glove cut off according to which victim it is. Bild finds that he’s the primary suspect, so to clear his name and stop the killings, he begins digging deep into the case and uncovers a web of sex, scandals, and murder. Can he catch the psycho before he himself becomes a victim?

My attempts to find a copy of the novel this film is based on were unsuccessful, so I really can’t say anything about how faithful this movie is to the book. Even without knowledge that this is based on a novel, it’s still apparent that there are some cuts made to the story. Plot points that should have probably been elaborated on further come and go faster than Bild’s dignity as the movie progresses, and a lot of it doesn’t have too much to do with the proceedings. The Fifth Cord is directed by Luigi Bazzoni, who also directed the mind-bending (and very rare) semi-giallo Footprints on the Moon. Alongside Nero is Edmund Purdom from Italian classics like Absurd and Pieces and giallo veteran Renato Romano from Argento’s debut The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.

I guess the problem with The Fifth Cord is that it feels a little too summarized. In the end, everything makes sense, yet it still feels like there’s something missing. There’s some sort of subplot involving some characters involved in a pornography business, and when the killer is revealed, the motive doesn’t even involve it. And when looking back, a lot of the scenes in this movie are really uneventful. There are only four murders in the 90-minute runtime, and most of the dialogue pieces between them amount to nothing. Whereas in something like Deep Red, every scene between the murders builds on the clues before all the pieces come together and it’s awesome. Here, it’s Nero running around talking to red herrings until the killer is revealed. The murders aren’t very impressive either, and it isn’t helped by the near-absence of music (surprising, as Ennio Morricone was responsible, but the score here feels almost like an afterthought).

But that’s not to say this is a bad giallo. In fact, it’s quite good! The cinematography is as stunning as you’d expect it to be, maybe even more so. It’s not on Argento or Bava levels, but there are moments where I thought to myself, “That’s a really nice shot!” It’s a slow movie, but the talky scenes are enjoyable just for the visuals. I only wish the Morricone score could match it. Nero is as great as he’s ever been, and this is certainly more of an emotional role than I’m used to seeing him in. He’s a drunk, so he has a few mood swings and isn’t the most likable protagonist, but I found myself rooting for him by the end of it. Most of the other characters just serve as red herrings or cannon fodder, but that’s how it usually is. The Fifth Cord houses some really great suspense moments, like when a crippled woman is crawling on the floor in the dark and the entire time we’re just waiting for the killer to strike. Then when a child is being chased around his house by the murderer who actually attempts to strangle the kid! The coup de grace of awesomeness is the final five minutes when Nero is chasing down the killer. In a typical giallo, the killer is hunted down, unmasked, and stopped in a matter of about two minutes. But not here! Here, the two have it out in some wicked fistfights and an intense chase around a factory until the motive is revealed and the end comes.

For a movie released during the golden age of the giallo, The Fifth Cord could’ve been better. But I had fun watching it. It’s not Franco Nero’s finest hour either, but his presence and rugged charm give the movie a much-needed boost. It’s got all the trademarks of a great giallo, with striking camerawork, a good score, a surprising amount of suspense, an extraordinary finale, and Franco Nero! All the drivel in the plot gets to be a drag, though. Blue Underground put out a DVD complete with interviews with Nero and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. It’s also being re-released as part of BU’s Midnight Movies series on a triple-feature with fellow giallos Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion and The Pyjama Girl Case. I haven’t seen those two yet, but if they’re as good as The Fifth Cord, it’s worth the money. It’s an average giallo, but even an average giallo is an above-average movie.

The Verdict: The Fifth Cord serves as a successful giallo venture that’s only marred by disposable dialogue sequences and some choppy storytelling.

Score: 7/10

Saturday
Feb022013

It's...FRANCO FEBRUARY!

It's time for OC101's first themed month! Hopefully this won't turn out like the colossal screw-up that was "A Very New World Year," but that was a terrible idea in the first place, so I don't think it will! This February, we honor one of the manliest men alive. If you looked up the word "badass" in the dictionary, you would find his name in its place. An exploitation god. Italian superstar. Born Francesco Sparanero, but most commonly known as...

Awwww yeeeeaaahh! It's Franco February suckers! Yes, for an entire month, I will focus on the works of Italian action star Franco Nero and review four (or more, if time allows) of his works spanning across different genres and subgenres. The man has been in lots of great (and not so great) exploitation flicks from the late-sixties to the eighties. And with those piercing blue eyes and that wicked facial hair, he really presents a striking film presence that you won't forget. And no, I will not be talking about Die Hard 2. This is OBSCURE Cinema 101 people.

Friday
Feb012013

What's In A Number? 555 (1988) Review

Oh boy, more SOV “goodness.” I will say 555 had some balls concerning its marketing campaign. The title, while bland, is somewhat intriguing just because it may be the only horror movie title consisting only of numbers. Then there’s the decision to put the tape in a pink VHS box, which has to be one of the bravest (or stupidest) decisions in all of marketing. Also, that great tagline: 'Viewing may cause damage to your brain cells!" And, the main draw of the movie, that fantastic decapitation they slapped right on the cover. How could anyone resist?

555 (1988) Review

In a coastal town, someone dressed like a sixties hippie is killing off anyone he finds having sex. A hard-nosed detective and his partner are put on the case, but consistently find dead-ends no matter where they turn and keep running into a tough female reporter who wants to help them figure out who’s killing everyone. They eventually find out that every five years, during the fifth month, for five days, this wacko comes out in different cities and continues his murderous rampage. Can they catch him before he goes into hiding for another five years?

Like most SOV movies, 555 isn’t very good. But, it’s better than most of its kind. And, once again, the movie’s biggest weakness and greatest strength is really just its incompetence. Yet again, it seems like everybody put their all into the making the film despite the obvious limitations, and it’s really not too painful to watch unlike others from the same year (Cannibal Campout). In fact, there are some really good things to be said for 555, as well as the typical amount if negative things, but when all is said and done, this really isn’t that memorable.

While this is pretty much your average police procedural/slasher movie, 555 contains some interesting ideas that distinguishes it from similar fare. The look of the killer is original, despite looking incredibly cheap (dig the fake hair and shirt), and his habit of engaging in a little necrophilia after a murder isn’t something commonly found in slashers from this time. The body count for this one isn’t too high either (9, I believe), but I felt the spacing between them was good and it wasn't just 45-minutes of dead air followed by seven murders in five minutes. There’s definitely a good amount of blood, and the effects are alright considering the movie’s budget. And, I might add, the decapitation does not disappoint. In fact, it’s probably my favorite death from any SOV slasher so far.

Sadly, 555 falls prey to many of the bad things plaguing others of its kind. There is a good amount of bloody bodies, but a lot of the movies is focused on the police investigating the murders. Thankfully, these parts aren’t too boring thanks to the lead detective who’s impossible to take seriously. He acts like he's the toughest cop in the city and has a really short temper, and goes off for no reason a lot. It’s a lot like watching David Campbell’s character from Killer Workout, only with less entertaining insults. He also looks like what would happen if Paul Scheer and Michael Ironside got stuck in a teleportation pod together and morphed into a single entity. The tough-as-nails female reporter was also fun, but I wouldn’t say she was “easy on the eyes,” which makes the scene where she seduces a red herring really uncomfortable! Some typical so-bad-it’s-funny moments occur when the killer pulls a knife out of a victim followed by the squeak of Styrofoam, a reverse-motion neck slice, the detective's office that's obviously a set, and a killer whose identity I managed to guess in the first four minutes of the movie (a new record for me!). 

555 really isn’t that good; thankfully, it’s not really that bad either. I would say this is definitely one of the best SOV horrors floating around (really think about that before watching). There really isn’t a whole lot to say about it because this is pretty standard stuff. It starts the way you expect it to, and ends the way you expect it to. Indie releasing company Massacre Video put out what looks to be a really good DVD of the movie containing liner notes, interviews, an image gallery, trailers, and reversible art. It can be purchased on the Massacre Video website (www.massacrevideo.com). If SOV horror is your game, this is one you should definitely pick up. It’s a crappy movie, but it’s a crappy movie with a cool killer, over-the-top characters, terrible acting, a lot of heart, and a nifty decapitation.

The Verdict: While it can be a tedious affair, this movie sits near the top of the SOV horror mountain, so that’s got to count for something. I give 555 the appropriate rating of…

Score: 5/10

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