Movies Till Dawn: Almost Weirder Than Now

VFW” (2019, Image Entertainment) A gaggle of soused, AARP-age vets hold the line at the titular watering hole when a druglord and his zombified army lay siege to the joint in an attempt to retrieve stolen stash. Joe Begos‘ ultra-violent nod to John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13” and the ’80s exploitation titles it inspired is, as the saying goes, subtle as a flying mallet (though a light touch in this regard would have been beside the point), but benefits from its cast of character players – Stephen Lang (who also co-produced), William Sadler, Fred Williamson, Martin Kove and George Wendt (!) – who give the cartoon action some grit and spine. Image’s Blu-ray includes commentaries by Begos, his production team and FX crew and several short making-of featurettes.

“Fist of Fear, Touch of Death” (1980, The Film Detective) As contenders to Bruce Lee’s status as the king of martial arts face off at Madison Square Garden, we are treated/subjected to a barrage of flashbacks from and recreations of the late actor’s life, interspersed with vignettes featuring fellow actor/kung fu stars Fred Williamson (again) and Ron Van Clief. One of the most lunatic titles in the “Brucesploitation” subgenre, “Fist” stitches together re-dubbed footage of Lee from American TV and his stint as a juvenile actor in Hong Kong with head-scratching new scenes featuring Williamson being repeatedly mistaken for Harry Belafonte, Bill Louie fighting muggers in Central Park while dresssed as Kato, and “interviews” conducted by a tipsy Adolph Caesar; the result is a Bizarro World biography/mythology of Lee, in which he derived his love of martial arts from his samurai grandfather (!) and was killed by something called the Touch of Death. Those elements have endeared “Fist” to the grindhouse faithful (less so to Lee purists), who will undoubtedly appreciate Film Detective’s 40th anniversary Blu-ray; the disc features a 4K restoration and an amusing making-of doc featuring Williamson, Van Clief, editor-turned-director Matthew Mallison, and producer/distributor Terry Levene of the infamous Aquarius Releasing.

She’s Allergic to Cats” (2016, Giant Pictures) Mike Pinkney (played by Mike Pinkney) is a terrible dog groomer with dreams of making a tribute to “Carrie” featuring cats. Enter Cora (Sonja Kinski, daughter of Natassja and grand-daughter of Klaus), whose decision to go on a date with Mike goes not so much awry (well, it really goes awry) but, like the film itself, in a wholly unexpected direction. Writer/director Michael Reich‘s festival favorite manages to be both ineffably weird and oddly endearing; Mike’s bizarre shot-on-video artpieces and rat-infested Hollywood apartment may mark him as a fringe dweller, but his belief in his own talents, such as they are, should ring true with anyone who’s found themselves swimming upstream in their chosen field. Available to rent/buy on iTunes, Amazon Prime.

“Jungle Queen” (1945, VCI Entertainment/MVD Visual) “13 Chapters of Savage Thrills,” to quote the promotional hype for this black-and-white serial, all focused around Nazi agents’ attempts to take the continent of Africa for the Axis by seizing the legendary Sword of Tongu, and the mysterious and invincible jungle queen, Lothel (future Oscar nominee Ruth Roman), who opposes them. Universal adventure is plagued by endless expository dialogue and a surprisingly sluggish pace (for a serial), but directors Ray Taylor and Lewis D. Collins deliver the goods in the cliffhanger department with erupting volcanoes, lion attacks and human sacrifices, all culled from Universal’s stock footage library, and make excellent use of the studio’s more ornate Lost City and Forbidden Jungle sets. Roman, who later starred in “Strangers on a Train,” cuts an impressive figure (even in her unflattering outfit) as the jungle royal, and James Baskett – Uncle Remus in “Song of the South” – appears as a tribal chief. MVD’s Blu-ray features a 2K scan of the original film master.

Flesh-Eating Mothers” (1988, Vinegar Syndrome) A small-town lothario passes along a virus that turns his bed partners in a quiet New York suburb into cannibals. Low-budget horror, shot on 16mm by NYU alumni, has the usual production flaws, but also the good sense to let the whole thing unfold as a morbid goof, as evidenced by its deliberately wretched puns, gloppy gore and a loopy animated sequence depicting the spread of the virus (and despite the cover art, it’s surprisingly sleaze-light). Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray/DVD set features a new scan of the original film material, info-heavy commentary by director James Avila Martin (with “Fangoria’s” Michael Gingold) and an interview with producer Miljan Peter Ilich.

“China Passage” (1937) Vinton Hayworth and Gordon Jones and U.S. customs agent Constance Worth must determine which of the passengers on a ship bound from Shanghai to San Francisco is responsible for the theft of a valuable diamond owned by a Chinese warlord. WB programmer starts as an exotic locale action-thriller before shifting abruptly into whodunit mode and then light entertainment, complete with a shipboard marriage. At 65 minutes, it’s too brief to take issue with its shortcomings, and better to appreciate its breezy pace, hairpin plot shifts, and turns by comic pros Joyce Compton, Billy Gilbert (later the voice of Sneezy) and perennially cranky Scotsman Alec Craig; Korean Philip Ahn, Japanese/Hawaiian Lotus Long and Japanese-American Tetsu Komai handle the Chinese roles. Warner’s DVD is full-screen.

Thanks to Warner Archives Collection for providing this title gratis for review.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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1 Response to Movies Till Dawn: Almost Weirder Than Now

  1. John Smith says:

    Yes, the selection of films is just awesome. Now I will see Flesh-Eating Mothers.

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