The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Q (dir by Larry Cohen)


This 1982 film from Larry Cohen is a strange one.

Q stands for Quetzalcoatl, a winged-serpent that was once worshiped by the Aztecs.  In New York someone has been performing ritual sacrifices, flaying victims of their skin.  As a result, Q has flown all the way to New York City and has taken residence in the Chrysler Building.  She’s also laid an egg, from which a baby Q will soon emerge.

Now, I’ve always heard that it’s next to impossible to surprise a New Yorker.  Apparently, living in New York City means that you’ve seen it all.  And that certainly seems to be the case with this film because no one in New York seems to notice that there’s a winged serpent flying over the city.  Somehow, Q manages to snatch up all sorts of people without anyone noticing.  When Q beheads a window washer, Detectives Shepard (David Carradine) and Powell (Richard Roundtree) aren’t particularly concerned by the fact that they can’t find the man’s head.  Shepard just shrugs and says the head will turn up eventually.

Q is really two films in one.  One of the films deals with a winged serpent flying over New York and killing people.  This film is a throwback to the old monster movies of the 50s and 60s, complete with some charmingly cheesy stop motion animation.  The film is silly but undeniably fun.  Director Cohen is both paying homage to and poking fun at the classic monster movies of the past and both Carradine and Roundtree gamely go through the motions as the two cops determined to take down a flying monster.

But then there’s also an entirely different film going on, a film that feels like it belongs in a totally different universe from the stop-motion monster and David Carradine.  This second film stars Michael Moriarty as Jimmy Quinn, a cowardly but charming criminal who would rather be a jazz pianist.  Quinn may be a habitual lawbreaker but he always makes the point that he’s never carried a gun.  He does what he has to do to survive but he’s never intentionally hurt anyone.  In Quinn’s eyes, he’s a victim of a society that has no room for a free-thinker like him.

However, when Quinn stumbles across Q’s nest, he suddenly has an opportunity to make his mark.  As he explains it to the police, he’ll tell them where to find the serpent and her eggs.  But they’re going to have to pay him first….

In the role of Quinn, Michael Moriarty is a jittery marvel.  Whenever Moriarty is on screen, he literally grabs the film away from not only his co-stars but even his director and makes it his own.  Suddenly, Q is no longer a film about a monster flying over New York City.  Instead, Q becomes a portrait of an outsider determined to make the world acknowledge not only his existence but also his importance.  After spending his entire life on the fringes, Jimmy Quinn is suddenly the most important man in New York and he’s not going to let the moment pass without getting what he wants.  Thanks to Moriarty’s bravura, method-tinged performance, Jimmy Quinn becomes a fascinating character and Q becomes far more than just another monster movie.

It makes for a somewhat disjointed viewing experience but the film still works.  With its charmingly dated special effects and it’s surprisingly great central performance, Q is definitely a film that deserves to be better-known.

Return of the American Soldier: Americana (1983, directed by David Carradine)


The year is 1973.  The American Solider (played by David Carradine, who also directed) has just been discharged from Vietnam and is now hitchhiking across an America that he no longer understands.  When he reaches a small town in Kansas, he stumbles across a run-down carousel sitting in an overgrown field.  The Soldier decided to spend the night camping in the field and, the next morning, he sets out to rebuild the old merry-go-round.

No one in town can understand why the Soldier is doing what he is doing.  The local teenagers harass him while a silent and beautiful girl in a white dress (played by Carradine’s then-partner, Barbara Hershey) brings him a toolbox but runs away whenever the Soldier tries to speak with her.  Some of the older townspeople, led by gas station owner Mike (Michael Greene), help the Soldier by giving him odd jobs and deals on equipment and tools.   But, when the Soldier refuses to attend a weekly cockfight, both Mike and eventually the entire town turns against him.

Even with the community refusing to help, the Soldier continues his work.  Finally, the Soldier needs only one last piece to complete the restoration.  Mike agrees to give it to him on the condition that the Soldier first fight a dog.

Based on the 1948 novel, The Perfect Round, Americana was a passion project for both David Carradine and Barbara Hershey.   They first learned of the book and its story in 1969.  Four years later, using the money that he made starring in Kung Fu, Carradine purchased the rights to the novel and set out to the bring the story to the screen.  As producer, director, editor, and star, Carradine had complete artistic control over the project.  This was both a blessing and a curse because Carradine spent a total of 8 years editing his film.  It then took another two years for Americana to finally be picked up by a distributor, Crown International Pictures.  Ten years after filming began, Americana was finally released in 1983.  Carradine was shooting new scenes up until two weeks before the film’s release, which explains why the Soldier suddenly and dramatically ages an hour into the completed movie.

Americana may be strange but it’s not bad.  In some ways, it reminded me of what First Blood would have been like if, instead of going on a rampage, Rambo had taken the Sheriff’s advice and moved on to the next town.   It has its share of pretentious moments but the overall story, about a man who, having seen so much destruction in Vietnam, now just wants to build something good, shines through.  Even if her character never makes sense, Barbara Hershey is stunningly beautiful and Carradine is effectively low-key as the Soldier.  Even Americana‘s controversial ending works as a statement about sacrifice.  Much like the characters played by John Wayne in The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Soldier’s role is to defend and improve a society that has no place for him inside of it.

If Americana had been released in 1973, it probably would have been ahead of its time.  Few people wanted to talk about Vietnam, much less go to a movie that was a metaphor for the entire conflict.  When Americana was was released in 1983, people were more interested in refighting the war and achieving victory with Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris and had little interest in Carradine’s more thoughtful approach.  Americana got pushed into obscurity but David Carradine’s vision of post-war America is still worth watching.

A Movie A Day #313: Lone Wolf McQuade (1983, directed by Steve Carver)


Chuck Norris is J.J. McQuade, Texas Ranger!

J.J. McQuade is a former Marine who keeps the peace in El Paso through a combination of karate and machine guns.  McQuade lives in a house in the desert, with only a wolf and refrigerator full of beer to provide companionship.  He prefers to work alone, even though his captain (R.G. Armstrong) insists that McQuade partner up with a rookie named Kayo Ramos (Robert Beltran).  Ramos is eager to prove himself but Lone Wolf McQuade has to work alone.  Otherwise, his nickname would not make any sense.

Things change when McQuade’s teenage daughter (Dana Kimmel) is put in the hospital by an arrogant and sleazy arms dealer named Rawley Wilkes (David Carradine).  McQuade is out for both justice and revenge and Ramos’s knowledge of how to turn on a computer proves to be helpful.  Also teaming up with McQuade: an FBI agent (Leon Isaac Kennedy), a retired Ranger named Dakota (L.Q. Jones), and Rawley’s former lover (Barbara Carrera), who now happens to be McQuade’s current lover.

The predictable storyline is not what makes Lone Wolf McQuade a classic. Instead, it’s that this movie features both Chuck Norris and David Carradine at the height of their abilities.    The whole film is directed like a grand western, with Norris and Carradine taking the roles that would usually go to Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef.  The plot may be full of holes but when these two face off, none of that matters.  Neither Carradine nor Norris used stunt doubles for their fight scenes and it makes all the difference.

This was one of the first movies to feature Chuck Norris with the beard that’s become his trademark.  Wisely, Chuck doesn’t say much in the movie and leaves most of the heavy-duty acting to his co-stars.  (Though he may be an icon of cool, Chuck has never been anyone’s idea of a great actor.)  Carradine’s performance as Rawley feels like an early version of his best known role, Bill in Kill Bill.  L.Q. Jones and R.G. Armstrong both bring their own history as members of the Sam Peckinpah stock company to the film while Barbara Carrera livens up her part with a sultry spark.  Keep an eye out for both William Sanderson and Sharon Farrell in small roles.  Speaking of small roles, Daniel Frishman almost steals the entire damn movie as a rival arms dealer.

Though it wasn’t produced by Cannon, Lone Wolf McQuade is an essential for fans of Chuck Norris.

A Movie A Day #241: Distant Justice (1992, directed by Tôru Murakawa)


Inspector Rio (Bunta Sugawara) is visiting Boston for the first time.  When his wife accidentally photographs a drug deal in process, his family his attacked.  Rio’s wife is killed.  His daughter is kidnapped. When Rio goes to the local police, he gets no help.  It does not matter that Chief Bradfield (George Kenendy!) is an old friend of his.  Bradfield is on the verge of retirement and he knows that almost every cop in his precinct is corrupt.  The drug syndicate is so powerful that even the local politicians (represented by David Carradine in the role of Joe Foley) are in their back pocket.  Rio is told to go back to Japan but instead, Rio wages war on the Boston syndicate himself.  With the help of one of Boston’s only honest cops (Eric Lutes) and Bradfield, Rio sets out to rescue his daughter and get justice!  Distant justice!

Distant Justice is a typical low-budget 90s action film.  Bystanders get shot, bad guys get blown up, and there’s a shot of someone screaming as he plunges to his death.  The problem with Distant Justice is that it totally wastes David Carradine in a nothing role as a crooked politician.  If Carradine is in a movie about a cop seeking vengeance on a drug lord, Carradine either has to play the cop or he has to be play the drug lord.  If he is cast in any role other than that, the movie has to be considered a failure.  George Kennedy is his usual likable self (Kennedy built one of the longest careers in the movie on pure likability) but even that cannot make up for not taking advantage of having David Carradine as a member of the cast.  Distant Justice is a missed opportunity.

A Movie A Day #98: Crime Zone (1989, directed by Luis Llosa)


Welcome to the future.   To quote Leonard Cohen, it is murder.

The police state of Soleil is engaged in perpetual war with the nation of Frodan.  In Soleil, being rich means living a life of carefree decadence while the poor struggle to survive from day to day.  Criminals are routinely executed on live TV and the government forces women to work as prostitutes, servicing only the rich and powerful.  When Bone (Peter Nelson) and Helen (Sherilyn Fenn) meet, they break the law by falling in love.  Desperate to escape to the legendary paradise of Frodan, Bone and Helen accept an offer from the mysterious Jason (David Carradine).  If Bone and Helen agree to commit a series of crimes, Jason will help them escape Soleil.  Bone and Helen soon become the two most wanted criminals in Soleil but Jason may not be what he seems.

David Carrdine’s performance is typically strange and Crime Zone has a few interesting ideas but the main reason to see the movie is because of the performance of a pre-Twin Peaks Sherilyn Fenn.  As Helen, Sherilyn Fenn is sexy, tough, and always better than the material that she was given to work with.

Executive produced by Roger Corman, Crime Zone was an ambitious project that did not have the budget necessary to reach the heights of Blade Runner, Mad Max, A Clockwork Orange, or any of the other dystopian science fiction films that it tried to rip off.  Crime Zone was filmed, on location, in Peru but that mostly for a budgetary reasons.  Since almost the entire movie was shot on cramped and dark sound stages, it could have just as easily been filmed in West Baltimore.  To its credit, Crime Zone has more on its mind than a lot of the movies that Corman executive produced in the 1980s but the main reason to see it will always be Sherilyn Fenn.

Everybody Goes Home!: P.O.W. The Escape (1986, directed by Gideon Amir)


Pow_the_escape_posterP.O.W. films were all the rage in the 1980s.  For a country just starting to get back its confidence, refighting the Vietnam War onscreen was a way to deal with the lingering trauma of that conflict.  In Rambo: First Blood Part II, Sylvester Stallone asked, “Do we get to win this time?” and for a while, the answer was yes.  By sending action stars like Stallone and Chuck Norris to rescue American soldiers still being held captive in Asia, we would win this time (if only in our dreams).

P.O.W.: The Escape (also known as Behind Enemy Lines and Attack Force ‘Nam) is one of the many P.O.W. films that was produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus during their legendary time at Cannon Films.  In place of their usual star, Chuck Norris, P.O.W.: The Escape stars David Carradine as Col. James Cooper.  Cooper is a U.S. Airborne commando who, in 1973, is sent to North Vietnam on a special missions to rescue the soldiers behind held in a POW camp.

Why has Cooper been selected for this mission?

As one officer puts it, “Aside from being the best, he’s got one rule and it’s never been broken.  Everybody goes home!”

When the rescue mission goes awry, Cooper is himself captured and sent to the POW camp.  He gets his fellow prisoners back into fighting shape and, when the cowardly Sparks (Charles R. Floyd) challenges his leadership, Cooper reminds him of who the senior officer in charge is.  When the camp commandant, Vinh (Mako), offers to help Cooper escape in return for Cooper helping Vinh reach the United States, Cooper simply responds with his name, rank, and serial number.  When Vinh threatens to kill the prisoners unless Cooper helps him, Cooper agrees on one condition: “Everybody goes home!”

When Sgt. Johnston (played by perennial action sidekick, Steve James) learns of the plan, he argues that “Everybody goes home is a slogan, not a religion!”

“Speak for yourself,” Cooper replies.

Even, if like Sparks, they betray you and run off with a cache of gold, the religion of Everybody Goes Home means that no one gets left behind.  Even if it means having to trek through the jungle and going over a waterfall in a canoe, everybody goes home.  That is something that Sparks only comes to realize as he watches a prostitute undress and starts to have flashbacks to earlier scenes in the movie.  Suddenly, Sparks understands that everybody goes home and it gives him an opportunity for some last minute redemption.

Even though it is not as well-known as Missing in Action or First Blood Part II, POW: The Escape is enjoyably mindless entertainment in the legendary Cannon style.  As the world’s least likely paratrooper, David Carradine gets to show off some sweet kung fu moves.  By the end of the movie, Carradine is literally wearing an American flag.  Nothing about POW: The Escape is subtle but what’s important is that “Everybody goes home!”

ATTACK-FORCE-NAM-1986-600x455

Film Review: Safari 3000 (1982, dir. Harry Hurwitz)


Christopher Lee and Mini-Me

Christopher Lee and Mini-Me

Ever seen that episode of AVGN for Darkwing Duck on the TurboGrafx-16? It starts off with the Nerd going through numerous games that you know are bad just by the title. Moon Ranger, Kid Niki, Dudes With Attitude, Deathbots, and Mad Max for the NES. They’re clearly bad games, but there just isn’t enough material to work with for a proper episode of the show. Safari 3000 is the cinematic equivalent to those reject games. However, since I suffered through it, now you must hear about it. And yes, I borrowed that sentence from Necessary Roughness (1991).

As you can see from the picture above, Christopher Lee is in this with a mustache, leather outfit, and a Darth Vader helmet. Why the Darth Vader helmet? I have no clue. Why does this little guy follow him around? No clue, but he does jump off a building near the beginning of the film. Why? I found out there is a movie called Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills (1997) today so I don’t even know how we still exist, let alone why he jumps off the building.

So what is Safari 3000 about? There’s some sort of race in Africa and several teams are going to compete. Christopher Lee and the little guy…wait, of course, it’s a reference to The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)! That’s also why his name is Count Borgia in order to reference the Hammer Dracula films.

Well, there are other teams. I saw one that is clearly supposed to be two Japanese guys, and another made up of Italians. There are also two ladies who are listed as the American Housewives team in the credits. I’d find it offensive, but it’s an apt description because at the beginning of the race they say that while their husbands go to Vegas, they go to race cars.

David Carradine and Stockard Channing

David Carradine and Stockard Channing

This movie gets to the race pretty quickly, which is good. Channing convinces her superior at Playboy to let her go to cover this race with Carradine as her driver. What follows is promising with some laughs. They get across a partially broken bridge with a little trick driving. A local African guy gets angry at them, pretends to be unable to speak English, then leaves them alone when they give him a fancy camera. Then he promptly turns around, perfectly describes the camera to his buddies, and takes a shot of of his friend.

Trick Driving

Camera!

Camera!

Smile!

Smile!

However, after that it just gets boring. The main problem is that there isn’t enough cutting between the different racers to get us excited or keep us engaged. Nor does enough happen to Channing and Carradine for us to feel them bond the way the movie wants us to believe they do.

In the end, you get a few laughs. You get to see some wildlife. Then the movie ends and you move on. In my case, to the next movie.

Winning, one way or another