The TSL’s Grindhouse: Survival Island (dir by Stewart Raffill)


In the beginning, there was a yacht in the Caribbean.

Working on that yacht was a waiter named Manuel (Juan Pablo Di Pace).  Manuel was strong, handsome, and as sexy as a reality show participant.  He knew how to repair things.  He knew how to catch fish.  His job may have required him to serve margaritas to rich assholes from the United States but he always did it with an attitude.  Manuel was the type of arrogant working man who one would typically expect to find Giancarlo Gianinni playing in a Lina Wertmuller film.  Of course, Manuel is more interested in getting laid than leading a worker’s revolution.  In fact, just before setting out on his latest voyage, he broke up with his girlfriend.  She reacted by pointing at him and laughing evilly.  In a movie like this, that can only mean one thing: VOODOO CURSE!

And then there was Jenny (Kelly Brook) and her husband, Jack (Billy Zane).  While Jenny was the trophy wife, Jack was the American businessman who rented out the yacht for a fishing expedition.   Jack was arrogant.  Jack was outspoken.  Jack was convinced that he knew how to survive at sea, even though he didn’t.  He and Manuel took an instant dislike to each other.  It didn’t help Manuel’s cabin was right next to Jenny and Jack’s and that the sound of Jenny’s ecstatic moaning kept Manuel from getting a goodnight’s rest.

(Of course, another reason that Manuel was having trouble getting any sleep was because, at that very moment, his ex-girlfriend was dancing in a candle-filled room and apparently taking part in some sort of Santeria-related ceremony.)

Well, you can guess where this is going, can’t you?  Jack and Manuel have an argument on the boat.  Manuel gets fired and reacts by taking a towel and throwing it on a stove.  Soon, the boat’s on fire.  Jenny and Manuel wash up on the shore of an isolated island.  For two days, Manuel takes care of Jenny.  He catches fish for her.  He encourages her to swim naked in the ocean.  He yells at her, “You have a perfect ass, senora!  It’s shaped like a heart because God didn’t give you a real one!”  (If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that…)  Despite herself, Jenny starts to fall for Manuel.  Suddenly, Jack shows up on the beach!

Jack soon proves himself to be just as obnoxious on dry land as he was on the boat.  Earlier, Jenny and Manuel had buried the body of the boat’s captain.  Jack promptly digs the captain back up so he can get a change of clothes and some cigars.  Jenny is stunned that Jack would do something so gross.  Jack laughs it off as only Billy Zane can.

Soon, Jack is living on one end of the beach while Manuel is on the other.  And Jenny is stuck in the middle.  Meanwhile, Manuel’s ex-girlfriend is still dancing in that candle-filled room…

Survival Island is a movie that manages to both bad and brilliant at the same time.  In the role of Jenny, Kelly Brook gives a performance that hits so many wrong notes that it almost becomes a perfect example of outsider art.  When she should be scared, she seems to be mildly annoyed.  When she should be happy, she again seems to be mildly annoyed.  The script itself can’t decide whether Jenny is meant to be a noirish femme fatale or a repressed trophy wife.  Jenny never really comes to life as anything other than a plot device but I do have to admire the fact that, even after a shipwreck and several days on a desert island, her makeup was always perfect and her hair was always clean.  Still, considering that the film revolves around her, Jenny is a surprisingly insubstantial character.

Fortunately, the fact that Jenny is such a poorly written character almost doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that Billy Zane is in this movie and he’s exactly the type of shameless, over-the-top performer that this story needs.  There’s nothing subtle about Zane’s performance.  Jack talks to himself.  Even before they end up fighting over Jenny, Jack is always glaring at Manuel.  When he manages to catch something to eat, Jack breaks out into a wonderfully self-satisfied grin and when he suspects that Jenny may have cheated on him, he pouts like a child who has just been informed that his favorite toy was donated to the Goodwill while he wasn’t looking.  Jack’s the type of character who has a snarky comment about everything and Billy Zane is one of those actors who definitely knows how to deliver a sarcastic line or two.  Jack may be a jerk but so what?  He’s an American jerk so, as an American film reviewer, I’m required to be on his side.  Once Jack — and Billy Zane — loses it and goes crazy on that island, nothing else matters.  On the basis of Billy Zane’s presence alone, the film is a guaranteed a certain immortality.  Indeed, the main conflict in Survival Island isn’t between Jack and Manuel.  Instead, it’s between a film that takes itself seriously and a star who does not.

That’s really what makes Survival Island into such a slyly (if, perhaps, unintentionally) subversive film.  The movie may think that it has something to say about class, relationships, and sex but Billy Zane is always on hand to announce,, “No, this is all about watching me go batshit crazy on an island!  That’s all that matters!”  Just as how Jenny must choose between Jack and Manuel, the viewer is forced to choose between taking the movie seriously or just enjoying Billy Zane at his zaney best.

I have a feeling that most people will go with the latter.

In the UK, Survival Island was released as Three.

6 Trailers For World UFO Day


With today being World UFO Day, it seems like a good time for a special edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film Trailers!  The 6 trailers below all bring the promise of aliens to the grindhouse!

  1. Starcrash (1978)

For the record, I fully realize and understand that I have shared this trailer like a thousand times on this site.  I make no apologies!  I love this trailer and, even more importantly, I love this film!  It’s perhaps the greatest Italian Star Wars rip-off of all time.  Directed by Luigi Cozzi and starring Caroline Munro, David Hasselhoff, Joe Spinell, Marjoe Gortner, and Christopher Plummer, Starcrash is a movie everyone must see!  I was even Stella Starr for Halloween in 2014.  Unfortunately, no one knew who I was (apparently, not everyone loves Italian exploitation films that I do) but I still got a lot of candy.

2. The Deadly Spawn (1983)

When a meteor crashes to Earth, it unleashes … well, watch the trailer.  I’ve been meaning to review this movie for a while but somehow, I keep getting distracted by Lifetime.  The Deadly Spawn is a lot of fun.  It’s good nature more than makes up for its low budget.

3. Starship Invasions (1977)

This is the trailer for Starship Invasions, which Christopher Lee regularly described as being the worst film he ever made.

4. Contamination (1980)

This one was directed by Luigi Cozzi, who also directed Starcrash.  It’s also known as Alien ContaminationHere’s my review!

5. Alien 2: On Earth (1980)

Oh my God!  A previously unknown Alien sequel!?  Not quite.  This Italian sci-fi film may have been released as Alien 2 but it actually had nothing to do with the original Alien.  That said, Alien 2 is still considerably better than Alien Covenant.

6. I Come In Peace (1990)

“…and you go in pieces!”

Hah!  You tell him!  I’ve never seen this film but I love that line.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Clown (dir by Jon Watts)


Clown, a gory horror film, sucks.

I can’t say that I was particularly surprised to discover that it sucked but still, I was hoping that it would be better than it turned out to be.  That’s largely because the film itself has a fairly compelling backstory.  In 2010, director Jon Watts and his co-writer, Christopher D. Ford, uploaded a fake trailer for Clown to YouTube, in which they stated that the film would be produced by Eli Roth.  Roth saw the trailer and was so impressed that he actually did decide to produce the film.

Filming began in 2010 and the film spent a while playing the festival circuit, where it got the type of vaguely respectable reviews that are usually given to low-budget horror films made by amateur filmmakers that no one is ever expecting to hear from again.  In 2012, Dimension Films and FilmNation Entertainment acquired the rights to distribute Clown.  What followed was an agonizing wait as Clown was basically released in almost every other country in the world. except for the USA.  In fact, it wouldn’t be until 2016 that Clown would get an American release.  During that time, Jon Watts received deserved acclaim for directing Cop Car and he was hired by Marvel to direct Spider-Man: Homecoming.

As an admirer of Watts’s subsequent films, I was really interested in seeing Clown.  So, yesterday afternoon, I sat down and I watched Clown on Netflix.

Clown is the story of a stupid guy named Kent McCoy (Andy Powers) who tries to save his son’s birthday party by dressing up like a clown.  What Kent doesn’t know is that the clown makeup is cursed and that, by putting it on, he’s now allowed himself to be possessed by a demon that feeds on children!  What a dumbass!  Kent tries to wash the makeup off his face but it won’t come off.  He tries to take off his rainbow wig, just to discover that it’s now permanently attached to scalp.  His wife uses a screw driver to try to pop off the red nose but, instead, she just rips his real nose to pieces.  (The family dog eats the red nose and promptly becomes possessed.)  Kent keeps telling everyone that he’s been possessed by a demon but no one believes him.  Everyone just thinks that he’s a weirdo in clown makeup.

It sounds more interesting than it is.  For all the promise in the idea of a possessed clown, Clown doesn’t do much with it.  Clown is 90 minutes long but it only has enough plot for 30 minutes.  The remaining hour is basically made up of characters repeating what we already know.  We watch as Kent learns that the clown makeup is cursed.  Then, we have to follow his wife as she does her own research and discovers that the clown makeup is cursed.  Then, Peter Stomare shows up and starts explaining to everyone that the clown makeup is cursed.  By this point, I was yelling at the screen, “I KNOW THIS ALREADY!”

Throughout the film, there are hints of the Jon Watts’s talent but, for the most part, they remain merely that.  There’s an effective scene that takes place in a jungle gym at Chuck-E-Cheese’s and occasionally, there will be a line of dialogue or a movement of the camera that actually lives up to the plot’s subversive potential.  However, especially when compared to Cop Car and Spider-Man, Clown is an abysmally paced film.  It’s also terribly acted with Andy Powers neither sympathetic nor compelling as the possessed man in clown makeup.  Not even a reliable character actor like Peter Stomare can bring much to the material.

The general rule of most horror films is that, no matter what the threat, dogs and children usually survive.  The film not only breaks that rule but it breaks it multiple times.  In fact, there’s so much blood spilled in the film that I actually found myself getting depressed watching it.  Lacking both a satiric edge and any real interest in subverting the horror genre, Clown instead comes across as being unnecessarily mean-spirited.  It’s just not much fun to watch.

When it comes to killer clowns, stick with Pennywise.

Celebrate Roger Corman’s Birthday With These 12 Trailers!


Roger Corman in The Godfather Part II

Today is a very special day!  It’s Roger Corman’s 92nd birthday!

Here at the Shattered Lens, we traditionally celebrate this day with a special edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film Trailers!  Below, you’ll find the trailers for 12 films that were either directed by,  produced by, or distributed by the legendary Roger Corman!

  1. Five Guns West (1955)

This western was the first film that Roger Corman was credited with directing.

2. The Day The World Ended (1955)

Though Corman worked in almost every type of film genre imaginable, he’s probably best remembered for his science fiction and horror films.  This was one of the first of them.

3. Machine Gun Kelly (1958)

Along with westerns and sci-fi films, Corman also directed several gangster classics.  Machine Gun Kelly is remembered as one of his best.

4. The Intruder (1962)

Corman was an exploitation filmmaker with a conscience.  At a time when other films were avoiding social issues, Corman dove right in with challenging films like The Intruder.

5. The Terror (1963)

Corman was famous for his ability to spot new talent.  His 1963 film The Terror starred a then unknown actor named Jack Nicholson.

6. The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

In the 60s, Corman was also well-known for his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, the majority of which starred Vincent Price.  With these colorful and flamboyant films, Corman showed himself to be a pop artist at heart.

7. Boxcar Bertha (1972)

In the 70s, Corman moved away from directing and focused on producing.  His ability to spot talent undiminished, Corman helped to launch the careers of the some of the important directors of all time.  In 1972, he hired a young director named Martin Scorsese to direct Boxcar Bertha.

8. Cries and Whispers (1973)

While Corman was producing exploitation films, he was also distributing “difficult” foreign-language films that might otherwise have never been seen in an American theater.  In 1973, he distributed this classic Ingmar Bergman film.  Cries and Whispers was nominated for best picture of the year, losing to The Sting.

9. Caged Heat (1974)

Jonathan Demme was another director who got his start directing Corman-produced films like Caged Heat.  Demme would later thank Corman by casting him in several of his films, including the 1991 Best Picture winner, The Silence of the Lambs.

10. Piranha (1978)

Piranha was one of Corman’s biggest hits as a producer.

11. Carnosaur (1993)

With Carnosaur, Corman showed that you didn’t need a lot of money to bring dinosaurs back to life.

12. Dinocroc vs Supergater (2010)

Corman has continued to produce films in the 21st century.  Films like Dinocroc vs Supergator not only won him legions of new fans but they also paved the way for films like Sharkando.

Happy birthday, Roger Corman!

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Gor (dir by Fritz Kiersch)


The 1987 film Gor opens with a nerdy college professor (played by Urbano Barberini, of Demons and Opera fame) giving perhaps the worst lecture in the history of underwhelming lectures.  The professor explains that there is a counter-earth, a place that he claims is known as Gor.  Gor shares the same orbit as Earth but it’s linearly opposed to Earth, which apparently makes it impossible to see.  However, the professor says that his father gave him a ring which can transport the user to Gor.  The only problem is that the professor has not figured out how to use the ring.

The students all look incredibly bored with the lecture and I don’t blame them.  Not only does the professor seem to be rambling but he doesn’t even offer up any visual aides.  He could have at least utilized a powerpoint presentation or something.  Instead, his only teaching aide is a whiteboard on which he’s written “counter-earth.”  I have to wonder what their final exam is going to look like.  “True or false.  Your professor is a freaking loon.”

(I found myself wondering what university would possibly grant tenure to some guy who thinks he owns a magic ring but then I remembered Evergreen College.)

The professor’s name is Tarl Cabot and I think that’s a good deal of his problem right there.  When you give a child a name like Tarl Cabot, you’re pretty much guaranteeing that he’s going to grow up believing that he has a magic ring that’ll transport him to another planet.

Of course, in Tarl’s case, it turns out that the ring does just that.  After his teaching assistant dumps him so that she can go on a date with another professor, Tarl crashes his car and when he wakes up, he finds himself on Gor.  Apparently, the ring only works if you crash your car or something.

As for Gor itself, it turns out to be kind of a dump.  It’s a huge desert.  Seriously, check out this counter-earth:

If Tarl wanted to see a desert, he could have just driven around Southern California and saved himself a lot of trouble.

Yes, there is trouble in Gor.  No sooner has Tarl arrived then he’s being attacked by a bunch of barbarians on horseback.  The barbarians are led by the evil Sarm (played by Oliver Reed).  Much as with the case of Tarl Cabot, I think that once you name a child Sarm, you’ve pretty much guaranteed the way that his life is going to turn out.  Anyway, Tarl somehow survives being attacked by the barbarians.  He even manages to kill Sarm’s son, which leads to Sarm declaring that he wants Tarl dead.

Fortunately, Tarl is eventually rescued by another group of barbarians.  This group is led by Talena (Rebecca Ferratti) and she wants Tarl to help her rescue her father from Sarm’s fortress.  But how can Tarl help when he’s literally useless?  Don’t worry!  The good barbarians are willing to train Tarl.  One montage later, Tarl is now a master swordsman.  Now, all Tarl has to do is dress like a barbarian and then track down a little person who can serve as a guide to Sarm’s fortress!

And what a fortress it is!  Sarm may be evil but he likes to make sure that both his guests and his slaves have a good time.  Sarm welcomes Tarl to the fortress and even tries to recruit him over to his side.  (So apparently, Sarm’s over that whole “you killed my son” thing.)  Sarm understands that the best way to recruit Tarl is with a dance number!  As Sarm laughs lustfully, the slaves put on a show.  It’s somewhat out-of-place but at least it distracts from the rest of the film.

Anyway, there’s a lot of problems with Gor but the main one is that the place itself just doesn’t seem like it’s worth all the trouble.  After spending years trying to figure out how to get to the planet, Tarl arrives and discovers that it’s basically the same desert that was used in almost every post-apocalyptic film made in the 80s and 90s.  (In fact, judging from John Carter, it’s still being used today.)  What I always wonder about this type of movie is 1) why is the other planet always full of humans who speak perfect English and 2) why do all of these planets feature a society that resembles that ancient Roman Empire?  Apparently, swords and arrows are literally universal weapons because they’re used on every planet in the universe.

When I first saw that this film starred Urbano Barberini, I assumed that it was going to turn out to be an Italian production.  (In the late 80s, there were several Italian films that featured barbarians fighting in post-apocalyptic landscapes.)  However, it turns out that Gor was a South African production, co-produced by the legendary Harry Alan Towers and directed by an American named Firtz Kiersch.  (Kiersch also directed the first film version of Children of the Corn.)  That said, the film itself is so ineptly dubbed and the production values are so low-budget that it would still be easy to mistake Gor for a film directed by Bruno Mattei or Claudio Fragasso.

Because he’s so badly dubbed, it’s difficult to really judge Barberini’s performance as Tarl Cabot.  At the very least, he looks good with a sword in his hand and he’s cute — if never quite believable — when he plays Tarl as a neurotic physicist.  However, Barberini can’t really compete with Oliver Reed, who devours every inch of scenery that he can find.  Reed bellows and laughs and appears to be drunk in almost every scene in which he appears but at least he seems to be having a good time.  Reed is also required to wear a silly helmet in most of his scenes and I sincerely hope that he got to take it home with him.

Oliver Reed isn’t the only familiar face to pop up in Gor.  There’s also Jack Palance.  Palance only shows up for about two minutes and he looks rather confused as he discusses his plan to conquer the world.  (Apparently, Palance returned in Gor‘s sequel.)  For two minutes of screen time, Palance managed to score himself third billing in the opening credits of Gor, above even Oliver Reed!  Way to go, Jack!

Anyway, Gor is a pretty stupid movie.  I appreciated the random dance number but otherwise, it’s fairly dull and only occasionally enlivened by Oliver Reed’s refusal to go gently into that dark night.  I’m going to guess that films like this were popular with filmgoers who saw themselves as real-life Tarl Cabots and who spent their spare time thinking, “Nobody will laugh at me once they see me with a sword!”  I caught the film yesterday on Comet TV, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite channels for watching bad movies.

 

The TSL’s Grindhouse: No Way Back (dir by Fred Williamson)


Jesse Crowder’s back!

You may remember Jesse Crowder as the super cool and unflappable private detective from Death Journey.  Jesse was a Los Angeles cop but now he works independently.  There’s literally nothing that Jesse can’t do.  Ride a horse?  Ride a motorcycle?  Slow motion kung fu?  Jesse can do it all and he usually do it without bothering to button up his shirt.  Jesse is such a badass that he can kill more people in the time it takes for him to light a cigar than most people will kill in their entire lifetime.

The 1976 film No Way Back is the second Jesse Crowder film.  Once again, Fred Williamson both directs and stars as Jesse.  Williamson is in almost every scene of the film and when he’s not killing bad guys or having sex or just posing with his shirt off, he’s listening to people talk about what a badass he is.  In short, No Way Back is a vanity project but it’s a vanity project with a sense of humor.  Watching the film, you get the feeling that Williamson knows that No Way Back is kind of silly but, at the same time, he’s having fun and he wants everyone watching to have fun too.

No Way Back‘s plot involves a missing man and a lot of money.  Henry Pickens (Charles Woolf) worked at a bank but, one day, he grabbed a briefcase full of money, jumped in a car driven by his girlfriend (Tracy Reed), and disappeared.  Everyone was shocked but you know who was really shocked?  His wife!  Mildred Pickens (Virginia Gregg) and Henry’s brother both want to know to where Henry has vanished.  They hire Jesse, perhaps finding solace in his catch phrase: “You pay the bill, I’ll deliver it.  Legal, illegal, moral or otherwise.”

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t take long for Jesse to figure out that Perkins is in San Francisco.  Jesse lights his cigar and heads for the Bay City.  However, Jesse isn’t the only one looking for Henry Pickens.  There’s also a gangster named Bernie (Stack Pierce) who is determined to get the money for himself.  Much as in Death Journey, it doesn’t matter where Jesse goes or how he gets there.  As soon as he arrives, he people are trying to kill him.  Unfortunately, for them, no one can kill Jesse Crowder.

It all leads to a savage gun battle in the desert.  Fred Williamson jumps up on a horse, unbuttons his shirt, and rides across the screen.  People are betrayed.  People get shot.  Fortunately, no one can touch Jesse Crowder…

Anyway, No Way Back doesn’t really make any sense.  If you happen to watch this film (and I saw it on YouTube), just try to keep track of why Henry stole all of that money in the first place.  However, the plot isn’t really that important.  This film is all about Fred Williamson beating up gangsters and walking around without a shirt on.  It’s a dumb action movie but it never pretends to be anything different and the film’s total lack of pretension is enjoyable.  That’s always a good thing.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Bucktown (dir by Arthur Marks)


Welcome to the town of Buchanan!

It’s a small Southern town, popularly known as Bucktown.  It’s a town where you can literally get anything, as long as you know who to pay off.  Upon arriving, don’t be surprised if a little kid approaches you and asks you what you’re looking for.  He can get it for you.  That kid had connections!

The population of Buchanan is almost entirely African-American but all of the cops are white.  Under the leadership of the redneck police chief (Art Lund), the cops have turned Buchanan into their own private kingdom.  If you want to do anything in Buchanan, you have to be ready to pay the cops for protection.  Refuse and you’ll get arrested.  Continue to refuse and you’ll probably end up getting shot.

Obviously, someone needs to clean up Buchanan?  But who!?

How about Duke Johnson (Fred Williamson)?  Duke’s brother owned the hottest nightclub in Bucktown, Club Alabama.  Or, at least he did until he announced he wasn’t going to pay anymore protection and he ended up getting gunned down by the cops.  When Duke arrives in town, he thinks that he’s just going to stay long enough to attend the funeral and sell his brother’s bar.  However, when Duke find out that he has to wait 60 days until he can sell the bar, he decides to stick around.  Not only does he move in with his brother’s former lover, Aretha (Pam Grier), but also reopens the Club Alabama.

Soon, the cops are coming around and demanding their share.  However, they quickly discover that no one tells Duke Johnson what to do.  Like all good action heroes, Duke has friends all over the country.  He places a call to Roy (Thalmus Rasulala) and soon, Roy, TJ (Tony King), and Hambone (Carl Weathers) show up in Bucktown.  They quickly wipe out the corrupt police force.  The local citizens are so happy that they make Roy the new police chief and his men the new police force.

Unfortunately, that turns out to be a mistake.  Apparently, giving some totally random dude complete and total authority to enforce the law in whatever he sees fit isn’t always the best way to handle things.  Roy and his men quickly become just as corrupt as the old redneck policemen.  The only thing protecting Duke is his friendship with Roy but even that is endangered when T.J. decides that he wants Aretha for himself.  T.J. decides to turn Roy and Duke against each other.  It all eventually leads to an epic fist fight, with the winner earning the right to remain in Bucktown…

(Of course, you may be wondering why anyone would want to remain in Bucktown as the place is kind of a dump, regardless of who’s in charge.)

Released in 1975, Bucktown is a pretty basic action film but I liked it because it appealed to all of my anti-authoritarian impulses.  There have been so many movies about what it takes to clean up a town but there haven’t been many made about what actually happens after all of the corrupt cops and greedy businessmen have been kicked out.  Thalmus Rusulala was great as the charismatic but dangerous Roy and Tony King, a favorite of Italian exploitation fans everywhere, was an effective villain.  Pam Grier doesn’t get to do much but she does the best with what she’s provided.  Of course, the entire film is dominated by Fred Williamson, who may not have been a great actor but who had an undeniable screen presence.  Williamson struts through the film like the hero of stylish Spaghetti western.

Bucktown is an entertaining 70s action film.  Though it doesn’t deeply explore any of the issues that it raises, it still deserves some credit for raising them.  If nothing else, it’s a film that shows why Fred Williamson retains a cult following to this day.