Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Superargo And The Faceless Giants (1968)

Superargo And The Faceless Giants

Italy 1968 colour

Fullscreen, dubbed into English

aka Il Re Dei Criminali, L'Invincibile Superman, Superargo

Director “Paul Maxwell”/Paolo Bianchini Writer Julio Buchs

Cast “Ken Wood”/Giovanni Cianfriglia (Superargo), Guy Madison (Professor Wendland), “Liz Barrett”/Luisa Baratto (Gloria Devon), Diana Lorys

Like the United States, Europe has a long tradition of pulp novels and comic strips infiltrating mainstream culture. Unlike much of the output from the States, however, their comics are usually crafted for a more sophisticated adult audience. Thus the kinky body-stockinged superhero became a staple of Euro pulp cinema in the mid Sixties during a time when Batman and Bond set off a string of pop culture explosions around the world.

Superargo was just one of many comic characters brought to the big screen, first in Superargo vs Diabolicus in 1966, and this, its 1968 sequel Superargo And The Faceless Giants. Played by “Ken Wood” aka Giovanni Cianfriglia, a stunt man and bit player in peplum and spy features who graduated to headlining spaghetti westerns, Superargo cuts an impressive figure: a red body stockinged superhero with a perfectly drawn square jaw and comic book eyes staring out from a black leather mask (is that masquerade or bondage chic?). In fact he’s almost identical to the all-black Diabolik, but then the Euro superheroes (Flashman, Argoman, Goldface, Phenomenal) are all just one differently-coloured mask away from melding into a huge amorphous ultrahero.

In Superargo And The Faceless Giants, Ken Wood makes his first appearance in a wrestling ring, and you’d be forgiven for thinking this was yet another Santo knockoff from Mexico. In fact this catch-all pulpathon looks and feels like a continental Santo film, with the added Euro flair of sub-Bondian gadgetry and ubervillains, mutant pop art excesses, ludicrous science fiction, and with some remarkably Sixties attributes: his own personal guru, a turbaned fakir named Kamir, the gift of telepathy, and the ability to focus his psychic energy to bend matter at will. Groovy.

He's called in as a freelance agent for the secret service to investigate the case of the missing champions: all world class athletes kidnapped by the clearly insane Professor Wendland and somehow replaced by the titular “faceless giants” – tallish (but not excessively so) robots with pantyhose features and Cybermen cutoffs. His sidekick Claire is also nabbed and brainwashed by the mad Professor into destroying Superargo and thus taking over the world. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut: and so it goes. You've seen it a thousand times before in a thousand configurations, and still it's as much goofy fun as watching Batman as a kid for the very first time.

Batman’s Euro counterparts may have less kitsch and more quiche at their disposal, but it's no less insane, and with its mutant surfadelia and wrestlemania in full swing, I'm sure you're going to go Batshit crazy over Superargo And The Faceless Giants. (Andrew Leavold)

War Between The Planets (1966)

War Between The Planets

Italy 1966 colour

aka Planet On The Prowl, “Il Missione Pianeta Errante”/Mission Wandering Planet

Director “Anthony M. Dawson”/Antonio Margheriti Writers Renato Moretti, Ivan Reiner

Cast “Jack Stuart”/Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (Commander Rod Jackson), “Amber Collins”/Ombretta Colli (Lieutenant Terry Sanchez), Enzo Fiermonte (General Norton), “Alina”/Halina Zalewska (Janet Norton)

Third in a four-film series Margheriti was contracted to make for US television, then desperate for cost-effective colour B-pictures, in the mid Sixties. It took a staggering three months to shoot the four films simultaneously, using different coloured clapper boards to keep track of actors and props on the constantly-recycled sets. All four films were set around a space station, hence the informal “Gamma One Quadrilogy” tag.

Not surprisingly, given the Italian film industry’s assembly line mentality and Margheriti’s own effects wizardry, the results were not only better than expected, but were deemed far superior to most of the domestic schlock-fi pictures of the time. MGM decided to release the four films theatrically, starting with Wild Wild Planet, before dumping them on the late night TV trashpit.

War Between The Planets - also known as Planet On The Prowl – recycles Margheriti’s plot from Battle Of The Planets. Earth is once again rocked by a series of cataclysmic gravitational disturbances caused, it seems, by a rogue planet. Scientists dispatch a Neutron Deflector to the donut-shaped Gamma One space station, rocked by a much smaller series of catastrophes, a space opera of the soapy kind: Redhaired Lieutenant Sanchez is attracted to angry alpha male Commander Rod Jackson, who’s reluctantly engaged to the General’s clingy and infinitely less likable daughter Janet. Luckily for the rest of mankind they keep their dramatic cocktails on ice until after landing on the Angry Red Planet, an odd duck shooting cold coagulated fat into the atmosphere from its pock-marked surface, firing remote-controlled asteroids (or, in the words of one verbose scientist, “asteroidal manifestations”), and with a single computer brain linked via a series of arteries to the living and breathing heart of the planet itself.

If Kubrick didn’t see this film and flip, I’ll eat my beard: Margheriti’s model work and set design is, for a throwaway B film, simply astounding. On the minus side, the actors wear their pancake makeup like a fat kid at a cake-off, and mouthing the words in English when your first language ain’t Inglese was a bad choice. And someone please strangle the narrator – if I hear one more minor plot point mimeographed in triplicate, I will staple my severest of objections to his chest... (Andrew Leavold)

Battle Of The Damned (1969)

Battle Of The Damned

Italy 1969 colour

Fullscreen, dubbed into English

aka Quella Dannata Pattuglia

Director Roberto Bianchi Montero Writers Roberto Bianchi Montero, Arpad DeRiso

Cast Dale Cummings (Captain Bruce Clay), “Monty Greenwood”/Maurice Poli (Corporal Marwell), “Herbert Andreas”/Herb Andress (German Pilot), Fabio Testi (Pvt. Terry Wilson)

Welcome to hell, Italian war movie style, with a spaghetti actioner from 1969 directed by journeyman director Roberto Bianchi Montero called Battle Of The Damned. Spaghetti war, you ask? Of course! You find a trend worth copying and the Italians were there first and more frequent than anyone. And while the spaghetti western was at its high point, the Italian war film – admittedly a much smaller genre with only (only!) around a hundred titles – more than held its own.

In a plot welded together from Play Dirty and Tobruk, Battle Of The Damned is the tale of an American commando suicide mission headed across the North African desert to blow up a major German fuel depot. Their leader Captain Clay (played by American actor Dale Cummings) has a hair-trigger reputation, which naturally causes concern amongst the other men (including spaghetti western staple Fabio Testi) as they move through the bleak Egyptian exteriors, their mission AND their collective sanities slowly falling to pieces before the film’s explosive (to say the least) finale.

It’s dusty, regulation action with an interesting backdrop and awe-inspiring set design for the underground finale. What more can we say other than have fun when the bullets start to fly in Battle Of The Damned. (Andrew Leavold)

The Killing Machine (1975)

The Killing Machine

Japan 1975 colour

aka Shôrinji Kenpô

Director Norifumi Suzuki Writer Takeshi Matsumoto

Cast Sonny Chiba (Mr. Soh), Yutaka Nakajima (Kiku), Asao Koike, Etsuko Shihomi (Miho)

Another film from the king of Japanese martial arts movies, Sonny Chiba. But rather than one of the myriad of Street Fighter clones like much of his Seventies output, The Killing Machine is a period film with a message: a rather cloying message of self-empowerment which gets a little much really quickly. Just stifle your gag reflex and let the skull-cracking begin.

The film opens in the closing days of World War 2. Chiba plays Soh, a Japanese soldier, killer and spy operating behind enemy lines in mainland China. Upon hearing his commander deliver the tragic news of Japan’s surrender, Soh shoots up his office with a machine gun, and yet the burning shame won’t go away. Cut to post-war Japan, and Soh is adrift in a society white-anted by American corruption: jazz clubs, youths in baseball jackets, black marketeers, and the omnipresent GIs as a reminder of the country’s ignoble defeat. The noble Soh, naturally, can’t keep his mouth shut, and cracks a few American skulls; his sympathetic jailer allows him to escape, and he heads to the countryside to start a Shaolin-style dojo, based on the techniques he learned as a spy in China.

Based on a real life Shaolin master who attempted to rebuild Japanese pride through Chinese martial arts, The Killing Machine is essentially a one-character study, thought the film touches on the two women in Sho’s life: Kiku, a young soiled innocent Soh tries to rescue from a life in the gutter, and Miho (played by Sue Sister Street Fighter Shihomi) who, along with her reluctant brother, is one of his dojo’s first pupils.

It’s always interesting to see World War 2 and the Occupation period from a Japanese point of view. But that point of view is hammered home with Chiba’s trademark ham fists and look of righteous indignation under furrowed brillo brows. I’m more interested to know how American audiences might have reacted to such pro-Japanese nationalistic fervour and glaring anti-US sentiment, and to the ever-present swastikas over their kung fu jackets (I know it’s a Eastern mystic symbol, but still…). If you’re longing for the blood and nihilism of the early Street Fighter films, you’re not alone, and that doesn’t make us bad people. Let’s just take a break from the blood and indulge Sonny at his most pompous. It’s time for Chiba Lite with the 1975 The Killing Machine. (Andrew Leavold)

Raw Force (1982)

Raw Force

USA/Philippines 1982 colour

aka Kung Fu Cannibals, Shogun Island

Director/Writer Edward D. Murphy

Cast Cameron Mitchell (Captain Harry Dodds), Geoffrey Binney (Mike O'Malley), Hope Holiday (Hazel Buck), Jillian “Kessner”/Kesner (Cookie Winchell), John Dresden (John Taylor), Jennifer Holmes (Ann Davis), Rey King (Go Chin), Carla Reynolds (Eilleen Fox), Carl Anthony (Lloyd Davis), John Locke (Gary Schwartz), Mark Tanous (Cooper), Ralph Lombardi (Thomas Speer), Chanda Romero (Mayloo), Vic Diaz (monk), Mike Cohen

When your writer AND director is the old boy who played the Captain in The Mad Doctor of Blood Island, you may take this as an SOS call.

But fear not – Raw Force is out of its mind. In a good way, of course, but is also foaming at the mouth and howling at the moon. Imagine a film shot by Americans in the Philippines exploiting every possible angle: cannibals, zombies, samurais, white kung fu (this WAS 1982, and Chuck Norris reigned supreme!), gumby comedy, and more flesh on display than a Friday night karaoke crawl in Manila.

Executive Producer Larry Woolner used to be a mover and shaker at Dimension Pictures, who handled a few Filipino features for the Seventies drive-in circuit; Raw Force was his last hurrah, and has that weird tension between old-fashioned entertainment and what he believes the kids want to see. As such, there’s old has-beens hobbling next to young never-wills. It’s Porky’s with Sidney Greenstreet and David Carradine, and none of it meshes. But with a mess this entertaining, thank god for senile dementia.

Aging name actor Cameron Mitchell stars as the skipper of a rusty tub bound for the South China Sea and Hope Holliday is Hazel Buck, the boat’s New York jewish owner. On board are the Burbank Karate Club (actually a few no-name TV actors), plus blonde black belt champion Jillian Kessner, who had already played the lead in Cirio H. Santiago’s Firecracker (1981). It’s a motley crew on a crusty Love Boat stocked with degenerates, schmiels, and the brown end of California’s swingers circles.

Onto the ship comes Speer, a nasty German with a Hitler mustache looking for white women to steal, and his karate-kicking cronies. The ship goes up in flames, and the remaining cast and crew are adrift in a life boat before washing up on Warrior’s Island. There they discover Speer has been trading jade for his plane load of tasty-looking nubiles - Warriors Island happens to be the home of a renegade group of grinning, clapping cannibal monks who can reanimate the corpses of disgraced martial artists to do their bidding. The girls… well, they happen to be the monks’ main course.

And that’s the set up for one of the strangest kung fu horror sex comedies you will ever witness. Keen-eyed Schlock viewers will recognize the chubby features of the ubiquitous Vic Diaz as one of the head monks, alongside Mike Cohen who Weng Weng fans will recognize as Dr Kohler in For Your Height Only. All I can say right now is slip the brain into neutral and enjoy, and if you ever needed proof that the Philippines exists in a parallel universe in which our laws of taste, logic and sanity are turned on their heads, it’s this: the 1982 Raw Force. (Andrew Leavold)

The Creation Of The Humanoids (1962)

The Creation of the Humanoids

USA 1962 colour

aka Revolt Of The Humanoids

Director Wesley Barry Writer Jay Simms

Cast Don Megowan (Capt. Kenneth Cragis), Erica Elliott (Maxine Megan), Don Doolittle (Dr. Raven), George Milan (Acto, a clicker), Dudley Manlove (Lagan, a clicker)

Schlock fiends will remember Dudley Manlove as the slightly effeminate alien captain in Plan 9 From Outer Space. “Plan 9… ah yes, the resurrection of the dead!” Manlove is also in tonight’s first film playing a renegade robot, but if you’re expecting Ed Wood Jr, think again: The Creation Of The Humanoids means serious business, a dystopian vision of Social Darwinism and a philosophical musing on faith and morality. Well, it tries on its meagre resources, and because of its over-reaching ambitions, is one of the most eccentric and out-there science fiction films of the Sixties.

“It did happen,” the narrator informs us, “the Atomic War.” Over 90% of humanity is wiped out, and those left on the planet rely on over a billion worker droids to do their bidding. There’s the Clickers, freakish looking grey-skinned humanoids with pinball eyes intelligent and almost human enough to be employed as live-in lovers. They even have a pseudo-religion, a computer mainframe known to them as the Father/Mother”Then there’s the Order of Flesh and Blood, a quasi-masonic religion and secret police rolled into one, who are concerned about their dwindling control over the planet. Enter Captain Craigus, a Flesh and Blooder investigating the clickers’ plan to create a super-robot, one human enough to circumvent the Prime Law and be able to kill – or at least clone humanity out of existence.

A deathly serious movie masquerading as a cheap B picture, it attempts the grand ideas of a science fiction novel. What does it mean to be human – to lie, and to kill? Who or what is God, and what is a soul? It’s a distillation of the collected works of Isaac Asimov, right down to his Three Robotic Laws, with shades of Blade Runner (only twenty years before the film, and six years before Dick’s novel!). However hard it tries, however, it can’t hide its B film budget, and is dialogue-heavy at the expense of the visuals, somewhat limited to its grey sets (to match the humanoids) with startling splashes of reds and blues. Pretentious and utterly original, and with a Phillip K. Dick ending worth the occasional snooze over, we’re proud to present the 1962 The Creation Of The Humanoids.(Andrew Leavold)

Mesa Of Lost Women (1953)

Mesa Of Lost Women

USA 1953 b&w

aka Lost Women, Lost Women Of Zarpa

Directors Ron Ormond, Herbert Tevos Writer Herbert Tevos

Cast Jackie Coogan (Dr. Aranya), Allan Nixon (Dr. Tucker, camp physician), Richard Travis (Dan Mulcahey, foreman), Lyle Talbot (Narrator), Mary Hill (Doreen Culbertson), Robert Knapp (Grant Phillips), Tandra Quinn (Tarantella), Harmon Stevens (Dr. Leland J. Masterson), Nico Lek (Jan van Croft), Dolores Fuller (Blonde 'Watcher in the Woods')

What started out as “Lost Women Of Zarpa” ended up on the shelf for several years until it was bought by Ron “If Footmen Tire You…” Ormond, wrapped in extra scenes and released it as “Mesa Of Lost Women”. It’s hard to see where the old footage ends and the new footage begins – in fact every scene barely hangs together, it’s like a patchwork quilt held together by moth spit and fading hope.

It starts in a fairly straightforward fashion - two lost souls wander endlessly across the Muerto Desert as the Narrator informs us it means “the desert…of death!” before launching into a rant about the war the bipeds – that’s us pathetic humans – and the hexapods. What could he mean? Well, pathetic humans, all will be revealed soon enough…

Once rescued, the male, pilot Grant Phillips, manages to spit out his story of “supermonsters… superbugs” to an incredulous foreman, but Pepe the sympathetic Mexican is a believer. The Narrator then talks directly to Pepe and flashes him back even before Grant’s story to an earlier one: that of Dr Masterson, leading organotherapist, visiting the famed scientist Dr Aranya, in his Mesa hideout in the Mexican mountains. There he finds actor Jackie Coogan, former child actor, future Uncle Fester and now single name actor in Mesa… with a bung eye and mole the size of a German cockroach perched on his face, and his experiments in crossbreeding humans and spiders using venom from an enormous spider puppet he keeps in his closet.

The women are gorgeous, decked out in diaphanous gowns and Bo Derek wigs, but the males end up as dwarves, “puny” and “insignificant”. The wills of both sexes are controlled by Aranya, whose ambitions are (not surprisingly) to take over the world. Masterson has an attack of conscience and tells Aranya he’s insane. “Gibberish!” (not jibberish) Aranya yells back, and does something off-camera to Masterson to send him straight to the Meurto State Asylum.

Cut to the Muerto Cantina, in which rich guy Van Croft and his unimpressed fiancée Doreen watch one of Aranya’s most successful creations Tarantella do her spidery dance of seduction before she’s dispatched by a wiggy, gun-toting Masterson whose male nurse informs everyone he’s not supposed to be outside his rubber room, and is not the full tray of sausages. Masterson forces Van Croft’s group and his pilot – ah, finally Grant’s story begins! Welcome, old son - at gunpoint to fly over the Muertos Desert, only to crashland in Aranya’s Mesa that’s crawling with his experiments.

And that’s just the beginning of a classic bad (and I mean BAAAAAD) film that seems much longer than its seventy minute running time, though you’ll wish it would never end. If the preposterous narration sounds like Orson Welles reading an Ed Wood Jr script, you’re close – it’s actually Wood regular Lyle Talbot. And the Ed Wood Jr connections don’t just end there; that’s also Wood’s girlfriend and erstwhile leading lady Dolores Fuller as the 'Watcher in the Woods'. Like Wood’s films there’s a jaw-dropping weirdness and delirium about the proceedings that’s utterly addictive, and always – ALWAYS! – that fluttering, stuttering flamenco guitar in the background that’ll send you right to the Muerto State Asylum (“the asylum…of death!”). Superbugs, Superbad, Superfreaky – it’s the 1953 Mesa Of Lost Women.

Time Of The Apes (1974/1987)

Time Of The Apes

Japan 1974/1987 colour

Fullscreen, dubbed into English

Directors Kiyo Sumi Fukazawa, Atsuo Okunaka Writers Sakyo Komatsu, Kouji Tonaka

Cast Reiko Tokunaga (Catherine), Hiroko Saito (Caroline), Masaaki Kaji (Johnny), Hitoshi Omae (Cabinet Minister Bippu)

Time Of The Apes was originally a kid’s TV serial from 1974 that ran for 24 episodes before American distributor Sandy Frank took the shears to it and carved up a ninety minute feature that miraculously seems as long as every one of those 24 episodes.

It opens with two little wholesome tykes, Johnny and Caroline, on their way to visit their kindly Uncle Charlie, a friendly and disturbingly benign scientist, at his laboratory, where his experiments in “cold sleep” involve the freezing and thawing of monkeys, and ultimately human beings. Uncle Charlie’s cute monkeys in cages and on the surgical tables take on a more sinister edge when a volcano erupts, and the children and their chaperone Miss Catherine are forced into freezer pods – only to be thawed out God knows how many hundreds of years later. And the figures doing the unfreezing are not scientists in monkey suits – they’re monkeys in human suits!

The human intruders are considered a threat by the angry Police Chief Gaybar (do you think he might be angry about his name? Hmm….). And so begins an endless chase to Green Mountain and beyond – Gaybar’s police goons versus the humans, with the help of the last human rebel Godo (cue love interest for the teen Miss Catherine) and an overly trusting spider monkey-child in a striped shirt named Pepe. There’s a flying saucer, a talking computer, and a whole planet load of question marks – how? For whom? And ultimately – why, oh Monkey God, why?

Yes, it’s a retarded riff on the entire Planet Of The Apes film series, but with jokestore masks so cheap the mouths barely move, so that the actors have to shake their heads or fists during their dialogue. And what exquisite dialogue! Redubbed in the same hamfisted and blatantly offensive way Sandy Frank Americanized his Gamera the Flying Turtle acquisitions, and with the same obnoxious voices, thus rendereding the child actors even more unbearable. “I don’t want to killed by a monkey!” screams little Johnny – not if I get to you first. It’s like that film Idiocracy, with an emphasis on “idiot” – the 1987 reworking of the 1974 Time Of The Apes. (Andrew Leavold)

No Blood No Surrender (1986)

No Blood No Surrender

Philippines 1986 colour

Fullscreen, dubbed into English

Director Rudy Dominguez Writer Ernie Ortega

Cast Palito (Samson), Panchito, Max Alvarado (Mayor Mercado), Ernie Ortega (Police Chief), Ruben Ramos, [uncredited] Fernando Poe Jr

Third-tier comedian Palito (that’s Tagalog for “matchstick”) was just one of many familiar faces from Filipino films of the Seventies and Eighties, a former vaudeville performer usually in bit roles in Fernando Poe Jr and Tito, Vic and Joey movies. In a country renowned for its far-from-subtle humour, his schtick was simple – like a taller and much, much thinner Weng Weng, his anorexic frame cast him as a human dishrag or walking corpse, usually with a bandage around his head. Not surprisingly, the walking corpse routine never got old – or in two words, “Comedy Mould”.

In the mid Eighties, when Palito was well into his fifties, he finally made it to star billing in a series of parodies of Hollywood hits. Following a stint supporting Redford White in the First Blood riff Johnny Rambo Tango (1985), Palito would become the Philippines next stick-thin Sylvester Stallone in not one but TWO Rambo clones, in which Palito would run around the Filipino jungle, arms like twigs, clutching an enormous hunting knife, and a rocket launcher that’s twice his width!

In No Blood No Surrender, Palito plays Samson, a mysterious Vietnam vet wandering into a small town looking for the daughter of his dead army buddy Hercules (Samson? Hercules?). Immediately he raises the ire of Mayor Mercado (played by Filipino supervillain Max Alvarado) who, with his private army of goons, wants to take the daughter’s house away from her. He’s driven out of town several times, only to return madder than ever. Samson’s former commander (popular comedian Dolphy’s sidekick Panchito, playing the Richard Crenna role) comes looking for him, and explains away Samson’s insane rampage (“I trained him…ex Vietnam”). ‘Nam may have been hell, but the Philippines is worse – much worse – with an angry stick insect on the loose.

Imagine the horror of an action fan settling down to watch Palito’s apocalyptic redux of First Blood. No Blood… is an apt name, and not just because of its corpse-like connotations; it can’t make up its mind if it’s a spoof or the real deal, and although the film has its fair share of gun battles and explosions, and an unbilled cameo by Fernando Poe Jr as “famous actor Sylvester Stallone” (!!), it fails as both. It does however work on a much higher, more surreal level, whereby the innate weirdness of Filipino goon comedies such as this and Weng Weng’s movies leave you floored, slack-jawed and wanting more.

Like hundreds of Filipino-made films of the Eighties, including Johnny Rambo Tango, the film was dubbed into English and successfully sold overseas to the ever-hungry, ever-mewing VHS market. Another enterprising local producer attempted to go to the well a third time and cast Palito as Ram-Buto or “Ram-Bone” – unfortunately for all concerned, the well was dry, and Palito stayed on the local film industry’s hamster wheel. Jonrox Films gave him a shot at filming another of his popular characters the following year, James Bone: Agent 001 (1987), this time directed by No Blood…’s Ruben Ramos. I heard a rumour James Bone and Weng Weng appeared in a film together for Weng Weng’s producer Peter Caballes, but when I finally tracked down Palito in Manila to ask him, he couldn’t recall for sure (no doubt due to the Philippines' collective amnesia when it comes to their own cinema). He does remember doing numerous vaudeville stage shows with Weng Weng throughout the Eighties, where the sight of an anorexic beating on a midget would have been regarded as "champagne comedy". Palito is to this day STILL starring in Filipino movies, still on the hamster wheel, and still beating the same “walking corpse” schtick. (Andrew Leavold)

The Horror Of Party Beach (1964)

The Horror Of Party Beach

USA 1964 b&w

Fullscreen, filmed in English

Director Del Tenney Writer Richard Hilliard

Cast John Scott (Hank Green), Alice Lyon (Elaine Gavin), Allan Laurel (Dr. Gavin), Eulabelle Moore (Eulabelle)

This is a film I used to read about as a kid in the Medved Brothers’ Fifty Worst Movies Of All Time AND in a photo comic that was everywhere in the Seventies – shame the movie wasn’t. The Horror Of Party Beach is the companion film to Curse Of The Living Corpse, filmed back-to-back by director/writer Del Tenney and released as a double bill to huge business on the teen drive-in circuit. It’s a low-budget riff on the then-popular Beach Party movies starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funacello, with all the essential elements: surf tunes, bikinis, a Von Zipper-less bike gang, the obligatory sand kicked in the hero’s face, and salty corndog one-liners like this:

Beach Babe: “Do you like bathing beauties?”

Surf Jock: “I dunno, I never bathed one.”

There’s all this PLUS the added attraction of some of the dopiest looking gill-things to emerge from a creature feature. It’s tempting to see early echoes of Jaws – but only if you squint like this and wish real hard.

It starts, appropriately enough on a beach, and a love triangle between scientist-surfer Hank, his lush of a girlfriend Tina who’s decided any daylight hour is cocktail hour, and Hank’s boss’ daughter Elaine who’s quietly waiting in the sidelines for Tina to fall off a coral reef – or something like that. Everyone else is ignoring the psychodrama for a sandside danceathon to swinging surf do-whop band The Del Aires, whose deliriously awful repertoire includes the film’s signature tune “Everybody Do The Zombie Stomp”: “Just slam your foot down with an awful bomp. It's the livin' end!” GENIUS.

On the other side of the bay, spilt toxic waste washes over the ocean floor, where a skull (from a pirate skeleton, perhaps?) suddenly grows tissue and limbs – not to mention gills and a sail-fin Mohawk – and rises out of the shallows looking for human blood. Looking like a bulldog-guppy crossbreed doing the Chicken Dance, it could possibly be the only amphibious zombie serial killer in filmdom, featured in an amphibious zombie serial killer Beach Party musical. Not impressed, Medveds? Then hitchhike one-way up your own wazoos.

A pre-hangover Tina’s the first in the creature’s ping pong ball gaze, and before long it’s breeding, either splitting in two or (shudder) by other means. Elaine narrowly misses a pyjama party that turns into a sorority house massacre, while her father and no-longer-mourning beau check their Grade 3 textbooks for possible solutions. Meanwhile the body count rises (though no State of Emergency is called – how convenient!) and the would-be b&w gore is piled on in a coy, early Sixties kind of way. Which makes it more cute than disturbing, more nut-wrenching than gut-wrenching.

It’s preposterous, for sure, and not just because of the fake sciento-babble and bla-bla-rama used to prop up the flimsy excuse for a plot. Most inexplicable is the African-American maid Eulabelle (played by an actress named Eulabelle!), a suspicious sort armed with fuzzy voodoo dolls and who, with her Aunt Jemimah togs, eye rolling, mispronounciatin’ and exclaimations of “Lordy, lord!”, almost single-handedly put the Civil Rights movement right back to the 1860s.

Tenney’s next feature from 1964 sat unreleased on the shelf for seven years, until exploitation showman extraordinaire Jerry Gross paired it with I Drink Your Blood and retitled it I Eat Your Skin. A lurid bookend for a lurid, if unfortunately brief, career, but one that will no doubt be remembered for one film:1963’s The Horror Of Party Beach.

The Lemon Grove Kids Meet The Monsters (1965/69)

The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters

USA 1965/69 colour

Directors Ray Dennis Steckler, Peter Balakoff Writers Ray Dennis Steckler, Jim Harmon, Ron Haydock, E.M. Kevke

Cast “Cash Flagg”/Ray Dennis Steckler (Gopher), Mike Kannon (Slug), Carolyn Brandt (Cee Bee Beaumont), Don Snyder (Don), Ron Haydock (Rat Pfink), Herb Robins (Chooper #1)

Steckler was one of those film guys out on a limb in the Sixties: a film-literate writer-director AND professional cameraman for hire, a real hands-on auteur who preferred working under guerrilla conditions with his trusted family of cast and crew, and with a laissez-faire method of working which allowed him to work without a completed script, sometimes changing the course of a film half-way through shooting. As such, he had complete autonomy which allowed his almost stream-of-consciousness stories to flow unhindered. Always grounded in genre and B-films, however, he had a framework on which to pin these flights of fancy, and at least wrapped in a recognizable package to sell to distributors.

Steckler was also a child of the Forties, and grew up on the charming comedies of the Bowery Boys, and spent much of his adolescene aping Leo Gorcey’s on-screen mugging. On the set of Steckler’s 1965 feature Rat Pfink A Boo Boo, he and actor Mike Cannon, who did a very passable Huntz Hall, concocted the idea of doing a Bowery Boys tribute in colour, and with a mere $2000, filmed the first of three half-hour shorts shown separately in theatres, and later packaged as a feature called The Lemon Grove Kids Meet The Monsters. “The Lemon Grove Kids” (c.1965) evokes the innocent spirit and goofy slapstick of the Bowery Boys to a T - or B - from the sped-up silliness, title cards, cartoon rumbles, and the overgrown Lemon Grove Kids themselves led by Steckler, odd-looking at the best of times but here veering off into Neverland with his ham-streaked, grimacing performance (using his usual screen credit “Cash Flagg”) as Gopher.

Filmed several years later, Short Number Two features Mrs Steckler, Carolyn Brandt, in whiteface and fangs in The Lemon Grove Kids Meet The Green Grasshopper And The Vampire Lady From Outer Space, and kicks the trio into a new hybrid of Christmas pantomime, home movie, live spook show, and Monkees-meets-Sid and Marty Krofft kiddie TV weirdness. Number Three, The Lemon Grove Kids Go Hollywood (also 1969), is by far the weakest, and instead of Hollywood, goes as far as Steckler’s back yard. Famous actress CeeBee Beaumont is kidnapped by a pair of baddies, and it’s up to Gopher to prove he’s leading man material and save the day. Steckler pitched this as a TV pilot and would have made hundreds of further Lemon Grove shorts if given the opportunity.

It’s hard to work out who exactly his intended audience was: the kiddie matinee crowd, the freak scene (of which we’re all clearly members), or Steckler’s extended family and friends, which comprise most of the cast and crew. Steckler’s then-wife and constant muse Carolyn Brandt appears as the alien Vampire Lady AND reprises her role as actress CeeBee Beaumont from Rat Pfink A Boo Boo; there’s Ron Haydock, Herb Robbins from The Thrill Killers, and even Steckler’s kids! And if there was any doubt over the boundaries of Steckler’s self-contained filmic universe, Gopher stumbles through the ending of Rat Pfink, and discovers CeeBee Beaumont’s on the payroll of Steckler-Morgan Productions. It’s the fine balancing act of knowing and naïve, of homage and parody, of purist and personal, that takes Steckler to a unique level of B-film auteurs. (Andrew Leavold)

The Revenge Of The Lady Fighter (1973)

The Revenge Of The Lady Fighter

Philippines 1973 colour

Fullscreen, dubbed into English

aka Buhawi, Revenge Of Lady Fighter

Director “Junar”/Jun Aristorenas Story/Screenplay Greg B. Macabenta

Cast Virginia, Rolando Gonzalez, Teroy de Guzman, Ernie Ortega, Rudy Rolloda, Ruben Ramos, Palito


After a small village is attacked by a gang of vicious bandits, one of the village women, Rosa, is saved by mysterious martial arts master Ming, who offers to teach the men of the village the art of unarmed combat. Initially sceptical, Ming soon persuades them by punching a few of them and tossing them around a little. As they train themselves to fight, however, the bandits are scheming to return to their village and plunder it once more.


Ming gives the men of the village some medallions - symbols of their loyalty, righteousness, and transformation into a fully-trained fighting force - and makes them promise never to use their skills for evil or revenge. And sure enough, when the bandits return, they get a severe beating and run crying back to the chief goon. "We'll kill the men, women and children. They will all pay for this," he vows. Although armed with huge machetes, the bandits are no match for the villagers, and even Palito gets in on a little monkey-style kung fu action. However, the villagers break their vow and, egged on by head villager Nardo, kill off the remaining bandits, despite Ming's protests, with only good-guy Lewel refraining from the bloodshed. "He was an enemy, yes. But he could no longer fight you. He was begging you to spare his life," moralises Rosa.


When the villagers return home that evening, flushed with victory and booze, Nardo attempts to drag Rosa away and have his wicked way with her. After Ming beats up the unruly mob, Nardo sneaks up behind him and stabs him in the back with a machete. Ming dies with a warning on his lips: "This evil thing is just the beginning..."


With Palito looking on and wincing from time to time, Rosa begins training herself to avenge Ming's death, including some King Boxer-style iron palm training, and the classic 'mediating under a waterfall' bit that no martial arts training montage is truly complete without.


Meanwhile, Nardo and his gang invade a house in the woods and relieve it of all its money and valuables; it has an armed guard, so they were probably ill-gotten gains anyway. They then hijack a bus, which seems less justifiable, as it doesn't seem to be full of drug dealers or anything. Clad in black uniforms, they are now known and feared as 'The Black Gang'.


Lewel, who is now a policeman, and Rudy (who I don't remember being in the film before, but the film itself seems to think otherwise, so who am I to argue) meet Rosa and Palito in the woods and get down to some light exposition. It seems that Nardo's gang has recently incorporated some other band of goons, and that Lewel has been charged with the task of tracking them down in Bicol. Rosa offers to come with, but Lewel tells her it's too dangerous. Exposition over.


Lewel and Rudy find members of Nardo's gang in the woods and try to take them in, but they put up a big stinker of a fight, and both Rudy and Lewel are wounded. Rosa shows up in the nick of time, though, and beats Nardo's man into the ground in the film's most exciting and sustained fight scene so far. Just as she's about to deliver the fatal blow, Lewel reminds her that killing goons just isn't cricket, so she makes do with taking his medallion from him.


Rosa then sets about putting an end to Nardo and his criminal shenanigans, making her way, in classic kung fu style, up to the final villain as though climbing on a ladder of severely battered goons...


One interesting thing about this film is that the villains which our heroine is forced to confront are the same people who, in the start, were themselves the helpless victims of rapacious bullies; not exactly standard fare for a martial arts revenge picture, although you can see a similar thing going on in Tyrone Hsu's 'The Assignment'. Nardo's gang even wear the medallions given to them by Ming, highlighted by their black outfits, which seems a deliberate mockery of Ming's values and a twisted inversion of everything he tried to teach them.


The fight scenes aren't as well-conceived or as crisply executed as they are in their Hong Kong counterparts; in the first half of the film, before Rosa joins in the fray, all the fights are big rollicking stuntmen brawls, but they're good fun nevertheless. Once Rosa gets her fu on, however, the fight scenes improve by several hundred percent, as Virginia, an experienced action star, brings not only a practiced athleticism to her fights, but also a kind of intensity bordering sometimes on desperation. Her hunger for revenge is palpable, and her frustration at being denied the satisfaction of killing is quite persuasive.


The Revenge of a Lady Fighter doesn't seem to be the original title; the Hong Kong distributors, M/S Mirabelle International, have clearly added the red title cards (the first of which reads 'Revenge of Lady Fighter', while the second more accurately reads 'The Revenge of the Lady Fighter') to the title sequence, so it's not clear yet what the original title was. None of the films listed in the available information online seem to match, and the only review I can find is a disapproving little squib in German. Even the year of release is no better than an educated guess. Another curiosity we can probably thank the HK distributors for is that the film opens with a scene that occurs chronologically much later in the film. This is presumably to get the attention of the audience and reassure them that there will, in fact, be a lady fighter somewhere in the film, and that in the course of the running time, she will exact a certain amount of revenge. This counter-intuitive technique of hooking the audience with footage taken from the last third of the film was much loved by Sandy Frank, who distributed a lot of of Toho and Daiei monster films in the sixties and seventies.


Directed by 'Junar' (Jun Aristorenas) and starring his wife Virginia, The Revenge of the Lady Fighter is a thoroughly entertaining film, and a surprisingly obscure one. Despite the arguably regional bursts of humour from Palito (and another comic actor I haven't identified), this is a supremely exportable film which could have played anywhere there was an audience for martial arts revenge films. Incredibly (considering this is the husband-and-wife team behind Batwoman and Robin Meet the Queen of the Vampires), there are no wild leaps of improbability or savage assaults on credulity, there are no eyesores of low production value, and even the dubbing, although heavily accented, is intelligible and rarely silly (although I did smile somewhat when the police chief told Rosa "I am clothing you in the authority of the law"). So it's hard to imagine why even among fans of kung fu films this is a practically unknown film, as it's a solid pleasure to watch. (Robert Harkin)