Movies Till Dawn: The Saturday Morning Strange vs. Strangler

Stunt Rock” (1978, Kino Lorber) Australian stuntman Grant Page (playing himself) lands a TV gig in Los Angeles, where he parties with cousin Curtis Hyde and his bandmates in Sorcery while courting starry-eyed reporter Margaret Gerard. Brian Trenchard-Smith‘s oddball actioner has a devoted cult following thanks to dizzying footage of Page’s extremely dangerous and haphazardly coordinated stunts (a fire trick that goes awry is particularly alarming) and Sorcery’s act, which combines Dio-style fantasy trappings and arena-sized pyrotechnics in small venues. Both are astonishing enough to disguise the fact that “Stunt Rock” is plotless – there’s intonations of romance with Gerber and actress Monique van de Ven, and a scurrilous manager (played by “Eating Raoul” and LA Weekly scribe Richard Blackburn), but “Stunt Rock” exists to showcase its adrenaline-junkie leads; in that capacity, it’s a monumental success. Kino’s Blu-ray includes bemused commentary by and interviews with Page, Gerard, and Trenchard-Smith (the latter two are now a married couple), as well as convos with producer Marty Fink and Sorcery guitarist Smokey Huff.

Ninja Badass” (2020, Bayview Entertainment) Midwestern dolt Ryan Harrison’s desire to join the Ninja VIP Super Club is tempered when its leader, Big Twitty (Darrell Francis), kidnaps Harrison’s pet store clerk crush (Lisa Schnellbacher); deciding that the ninja way remains the best path to rescuing his inamorata, Harrison trains with faux sensei Steven C. Rose, who warbles tunes by Vince Johnson (the composer of Joe Exotic’s delirious musical excursions) between sadistic lessons. The humor in this low-budget comedy directed, written, produced, and edited by Harrison (who also handled the Video Toaster-level VFX) is delivered with a cluster bomb approach, blanketing the viewer with hillbilly ephemera, rubber regenerating arms, inept slo-mo fights, and the frequent sight of Harrison sans clothing; the mix of deliberate corn and kitchen-sink surrealism places “Ninja Badass” somewhere between “Police Squad!” and “Kung Pow: Enter the Fist.” Harrison runs out of gas before his picture fully unspools, but there’s enough to amuse and befuddle before most viewers’ patience wears thin. Bayview’s Blu-ray includes deleted and extended scenes, commentary by Harrison, and a complete music video for the atrocious “I’m a Ninja Now.”

Scarf Face” (2022, (IndiePix Films) Rather than focus on the obvious exploitative elements of competitive eating – the modern equivalent of diving donkey shows and goldfish-swallowing contests – directors Joseph Ruzer and Sean Salter devote their energies to the personalities behind the gross spectacle, which proves far more compelling and affecting. The crux of “Scar Face” is promoter George Shea, who sought to fashion hot dog-eating competitions into a legitimate sport through relentless, WWE-stye promotion; that approach lends legitimacy to his events (which are aired on ESPN) at the alleged expense of his “athletes” – a motley collection of endurance-minded types, attention hounds, and pure weirdoes – who are reportedly expected to show absolute fealty to Shea or risk expulsion. “Scarf Face” follows one such fallen favorite- Takeru “Tsunami” Kobayashi – while also addressing apparent grievances by other competitive eating stars and even the food-related deaths of two competitors. What begins as a carnival-style expose morphs smoothly into a cautionary tale about the pursuit of fame; Indiepix’s DVD includes extended sequences (a gyoza-eating content), commentary by the filmmakers, and additional interviews.

Strangler vs. Strangler” (1984, Mondo Macabro) Already sagging under a seemingly ceaseless and pointless wave of crime, the city of Belgrade becomes the unwitting host of not one but two stranglers – a hapless, mother-obsessed flower seller (Tasko Nacic) who dispatches women that refuse to buy his wares, and a teenage garage rocker (Srdan Saper) who becomes not only a copycat killer but also a hit songwriter with a tune inspired by Nacic’s crimes. Serbian horror-comedy by co-writer/director Slobodan Sijan touches on any number of subtexts – the ineptitude of the police (here embodied by a Clouseau-styled cat fancier), the desperation inherent to the pursuit of fame, public appetite for grisly news – with a careful balance between frantically absurd/surreal humor and genuine creepiness. Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray – a vast improvement over bootleg and TV prints – includes an interview with Sijan and commentary by critic Dejan Ognjanovic and filmmaker Igor Stanojevic

One Armed Boxer” (1971, Arrow Video) The late, great Jimmy Wang Yu departed the venerable Shaw Studios for Golden Harvest to write, direct, and star in this outrageous martial arts actioner. The plot is well-worn material – Wang Yu’s tough fighter takes on a corrupt rival martial arts school that eliminates his fellow students and master, a plot covered one year prior by Wang Yu in his groundbreaking “Chinese Boxer.” But what distinguishes “One-Armed Boxer” are the baroque flourishes added by Wang Yu: in a nod to his popular One-Armed Swordsman character for Shaw, Wang Yu loses a limb to the rival school’s Legion of Doom, a motley crew of murderers that includes experts in judo, taekwondo, a Yoga master and two Tibetan monks. Naturally, Wang Yu not only survives their assault but subjects himself to a masochistic training sequence that leaves his remaining arm with the super strength needed to take on all of the bad guys in one frenzied, grenade-laden, blood-spattered finale set to a four-on-the-floor score of heavy library tracks and unauthorized use of the “Theme from Shaft”) (Wang Yu would take this entire scenario one step further into the strange with its sequel, “Master of the Flying Guillotine“). Undeniable classic kung fu entertainment for old-school grindhouse heads and first-timers alike: Arrow’s Blu-ray includes commentary by historian Frank Djeng, English-language credits, and a respectful 2001 interview with Wang Yu, whose legendary career is also paid homage by a barrage of trailers for his other martial arts films.

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 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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