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Short Circuits

Deathsport poster  
New Zealand | 1982
Directed by: Harley Cokliss
Written by: Irving Austin, Harley Cokliss, John Beech
Starring: Michael Beck, Annie McEnroe, James Wainwright, Bruno Lawrence
| 91 Minutes | Rated PG

- By KamuiX

It’s the post-apocalypse once again! This time, World War III has come and gone, a war that was fought over oil (not so far fetched anymore, eh?) Small communities have cropped up to support one another, forming democracies, growing their own crops, and raising a new generation in a harsh wasteland. Some people have a different idea of how the world should be run, and one such man is Colonel Straker, who heads a cadre of armed men and believes there needs to be one totalitarian rule, although it’s nothing more than a crusade for more gasoline. To implement this, he’s constructed BattleTruck, a heavily armed 18-wheeler that he’s not above driving straight through houses and settlements to get his point across. A young woman named Corlie travels with Straker, but against her will, and soon enough she breaks free. Straker’s men aren’t far behind, but she’s rescued by a mysterious man on a motorcycle who’s only known as Hunter (played by Heath Ledger doppelganger Michael Beck, better known as Swan from The Warriors). He’s a solitary man, so he takes Corlie to one of these encampments where he’s sure she’ll be taken care of. Straker won’t let her go easily though, and he’s on a mission to take down all of the hipp…er, peaceful people to find her. What he doesn’t realize though is these so called peaceful people may finally be ready to fight back…

Surprisingly released just a couple of weeks before Mad Max 2 (so toss those “rip-off” thoughts aside), BattleTruck doesn’t hit the bullseye it was aiming for dead-center, but for a low-budget film with little star power yet pretty grand intentions, it’s surprisingly good. It’s well acted (anchored by a suitably evil performance from James Wainwright as Straker), the locations look the part of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and the effects and stunt work are quite solid. Even the camera work, while pedestrian in most ways, throws in a few unexpected surprises, such as a handful of very nice aerial shots that you just don’t expect seeing in a small production like this.

The story is the film’s weakest point however, and while it certainly isn’t bad, it doesn’t explore many of the themes introduced as deeply as it could, leaving us with something that feels a bit undercooked and jumpy in spots; this is probably where the independent financing of the film shows through the most. Still, BattleTruck is engaging throughout, and even if it doesn’t hit all the notes promised in the first half of the film, it ends in spectacular fashion. Make sure to keep an eye out for a clean shaven John “Cliff from Cheers” Ratzenberger as well. Part of a Shout! Factory Roger Corman double feature along with Deathsport, it should be noted that Corman’s only involvement with BattleTruck was picking up the rights to it for release under his New World Pictures banner. The film is presented in 4:3, which I’m guessing is either unmatted or the intended ratio, as I didn’t notice anything that looked off in the framing. The print used was a video master, and while Shout! did say film does exist in New Zealand, the cost involved to get it wouldn’t be the best of business decisions for a cult film such as this. The video master is decent, although it looks its age and some dark scenes are quite murky. Audio fares better in a nice Dolby Digital 2.0 track that has little to no hiss. The main extra on board is an audio commentary from director Harley Cokliss, as well as a trailer for the film and a short stills gallery.

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Deathsport poster  
USA | 1978
Directed by: Henry Suso & Alan Arkush
Written by: Henry Suso & Donald Stewart
Starring: David Carradine, Claudia Jennings, Richard Lynch, David McLean
| 82 Minutes | Rated R

- By KamuiX

Any fan of Roger Corman knows full well that one of his top manifestos was that if something he produced made money, it was time to milk the premise for all it was worth. And after the massive success of Death Race 2000, he did just that, by swapping out cars for motorcycles (but keeping lead David Carradine) and whipping up Deathsport. This time we’re going all the way to the year 3000, where after a number of nuclear wars, the world has turned into a savage wasteland suitable only for fierce warriors, deranged madmen hungry for power, and horribly deformed mutants that are missing their eyelids (can’t make this shit up!) To show neighboring city state Triton that they are to be feared, Lord Zirpola of city state Helix creates “Deathsport”, a gladiator-esque battle to the death where civilians battle Helix soldiers on Death Machines (or what us unevolved call them, dirt bikes with funny silver spray-painted cardboard and aluminum glued on them). It’s time for another round of the games, and among the recently captured civilians are samurai warrior Kaz Oshay (David Carradine) and the magical Deneer (Claudia Jennings), both taken against their will. Of course Helix doesn’t know how fierce these two are, and together they win Deathsport and escape. Lucky for Lord Zirpola, his main henchman Ankar Moor (the very cool Richard Lynch) has a vendetta against Kaz, and is more than willing to track him and Deneer through the wastelands before they can reach Triton.

Sound convoluted? Try watching it! Deathsport is an absolute disaster of a film, yet it easily crosses that invisible barrier and becomes completely entertaining and hilarious. First off, how can you not love a film where David Carradine runs around in a loincloth (keep your tasteless jokes to yourself!) and stabs people with a plexiglass sword? If you say you can deny that amount of awesome, you’re visiting the wrong film review site. As cool of an idea as Deathsport sounds, good luck figuring out what it all entails. What I’ve surmised is it amounts to riding around, zapping people with a laser mounted on the Death Machine (complete with phenomenal effects), and lots of explosions. LOTS of explosions. Also, I’d like to know how Kaz and Deneer manage to escape by simply riding off into the dunes after their win, while all of this is taking place in a stadium. If you can figure it out, email me and you win a cookie.

But luckily there’s a whole lot more than the five minutes we get to spend with the underdeveloped sport of death, including Claudia Jennings hilarious sensory torture sequences (why is she topless during these, yet clothed the rest of the time? Ah, the mysteries of the universe), weird LED lighttubes that apparently have the ability to electrocute you and can cause a heart attack, but create a wonderful atmosphere for a nude revue, and some of the worst editing in the history of cinema. Yet it all ends with a wicked Evil Knievel chase sequence that’s seriously well-orchestrated (in other words, stuff blows up real nice) and a one-on-one final showdown that’s moderately satisfying. Any self-respecting Corman fan needs to see this, just for the sheer inanity of it all; your brain may never be the same. Some answers however are present on Shout! Factory’s recent release of Deathsport (included in a double feature with BattleTruck that goes for about $10; get it!), which includes a commentary courtesy of co-director Alan Arkush and editor (ha!) Larry Bock. The entire film was made in only 6 weeks, including pre-production, filming, and editing, and the film’s original director Harry Suso quit halfway through because of a pot-addled David Carradine. Yes, now it ALL makes sense! It’s worth noting that the 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer of the film was culled from two different print sources: an inter-positive for the TV version, which was in the best condition, and a theatrical print to splice in the R-rated material. There’s definitely a dip in quality during a handful of scenes, but it makes for fun viewing seeing what all was cut for broadcast TV (including guys stumbling around on fire; that’s too much for free television?) Also included are a still gallery, radio spots, and the film’s original and equally amusing trailer.

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Gamera poster  
Japan | 1965
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Written by: Nisan Takahashi
Starring: Eiji Funakoshi, Harumi Kiritachi, Junichirô Yamashiko, Yoshiro Uchida
| 78 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

It’s a flying saucer! It’s a spinning Frisbee made out of stone! It’s an asteroid! No, it’s the giant space turtle Gamera! After awaking from a centuries-long sleep following an airplane crash that was carrying nuclear weapons across the arctic, Gamera heads straight for the tiny island of Japan, where all good giant monsters go to wreak havoc upon humanity. Apparently in this universe no one has encountered Godzilla yet, so the population has to learn the hard way that conventional weapons do nothing to harm the behemoth, and end up suffering countless demolished buildings, downed powerlines, and burning forests. Luckily there’s a few brains working hard on a solution, and two scientists, Hidaka and Murase, get together and surmise the only way to end the destruction is to lure the mammoth turtle into a space craft and launch him back to where he came from. But of course this all works out on paper much easier than it does in reality, especially when a young boy named Toshio gets involved and starts to realize Gamera may just be misunderstood (aren’t they all?)

Unfairly panned over the years as nothing more than Daiei’s cheap cash-in on Toho’s Godzilla success, Gamera is actually a pretty solid, albeit damn silly, foray into the world of Kaiju. This is the only black and white entry in the series, and it works well for the film, especially in the area of miniatures. This film came 11 years after the original Godzilla, so it’s to be expected that the SFX would be better, but when compared to the Godzilla film of the same year, Invasion of Astro-Monster (aka Godzilla vs. Monster Zero), the effects are surprisingly more convincing, thanks to the decision to shoot in black and white. I’m not going to kid you and say it looks realistic, but little things like the mini tanks have a more authentic look to them than the blatantly remote-controlled vehicles in Toho’s offerings.

Adding to the cheese buffet laid out before the viewer is some hilariously awkward scenes that involve American military personal communicating with their Japanese counterparts about the dire situation. The actors, if I can be so bold and call them that, are awful, obviously reading from cue-cards and showing no emotion whatsoever. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were all under the influence during filming, making the actors in an Ed Wood film seem almost Shakespearian in contrast. Along with some kick ass monster demolition that in all seriousness is livelier than what you generally see in a Godzilla flick, and the usual hackneyed science, Gamera turns out to be a very entertaining piece of Kaiju indulgence. And now you can finally see the film subtitled, thanks to the incredible guys over at Shout! Factory, who have taken the adorable giant under their wing and given him the royal treatment. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is super clean and is simply a revelation when compared to all previous US releases. The included Japanese mono track is free of any problems. It should be noted for connoisseurs of bad dubbing that no English track is included, so you might want to hold onto your murky public domain release. There is however a commentary track with August Ragone (best name ever?), author of “Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters”. This guy is a major Kaiju geek, and any of his like-minded kin out there will revel in the info presented here. Also included is a nearly 25 minute featurette entitled A Look Back at Gamera, which includes many of the people that worked on the series over the years and goes hand in hand with the commentary with it's wealth of great info. Rounding out the extras are three photo galleries, the film’s original theatrical trailer, and a 12-page booklet which includes artwork and posters, an essay by director Noriaki Yuasa, and even a blueprint of Gamera’s anatomy! Keep it up Shout!, you’re doing a great job!

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Satan's Wife poster  
Italy | 1977
Directed by: Pier Carpi
Written by: Pier Carpi
Starring: Anne Heywood, Valentina Cortese, John Phillip Law, Lara Wendel
| 87 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

After a night that ended with surrendering their bodies to Satan, a group of women are now seeing signs of the chaos it has caused years later, namely that their daughters are realizing who their father really is. One is smart enough to kill herself, but the other, named Daria, relishes her newly found powers, and quickly starts to use them in ways that bring her a ton of devious pleasure but leads those around her into despair and pain. Daria’s mother is ready to put an end to things before they spiral out of control and consults her white witch coven as well as an exorcist about what to do. While they do have some ideas, Daria may already be too powerful for them to handle.

You know you might be in trouble when your horror film starts off with a ballet troupe (complete with tights) dancing around a field where a satanic ritual is about to go down, and as Satan’s Wife continued to barrel on with its awful dubbing, nonsensical narrative and total lack of anything actually horrific, my initial suspicions were quickly justified. Imagine melding the plots of The Exorcist and The Omen (two films I’m not a huge fan of to begin with, but that’s neither her nor there), but leaving out any of the spice or tension that moved those films along; then you’ll have an idea of what you’ll be getting into if you decide to spend some time with Satan’s Wife. Not only will you be rather bored, but you’ll also be scratching your head, as the story, while something you’ve undoubtedly seen countless times before, is laid out in a very fragmentary way. Characters come in and out of the film without much explanation or introduction, as well as acting in ways that defy all logic, such as a teacher that simply takes Daria’s unruliness and disrespectful behavior to the point where she occasionally runs out of the classroom in frustration. Um, they do have a Principal’s Office in Italian schools, don’t they?

Even with a rather large amount of nudity, including a perverse scene that involves mother and daughter locked in battle with no clothes, Satan’s Wife isn’t as exploitive as it would have you think. The problem is that there aren’t any actual exploitive situations at all throughout (except for that just-mentioned mother/daughter fiasco); it’s a run-of-the-mill story with a ton of naked flesh crowbarred in so it can attempt to pass itself off as something more than it truly is. Luckily there is a saving grace to be found if you do find yourself trudging your way through this, and that’s the score courtesy of Stelvio Cipriani, probably best known for his work on a handful of Mario Bava’s later films. Here he borrows liberally from the Goblin blueprint, with a ton of ambient, bizarre experimentation that really sets a mood that the actual film just cannot match. It’s interesting to note that both this and Suspiria came out in the same year, and Cipriani’s score is quite similar, so I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that this was released a few months after Suspiria’s success (information I can't seem to find out). MYA Communication’s DVD release is just about as exciting as the film, with a print that’s obviously been sourced from video. The print itself appears to be in rather good shape, but coming from VHS, you can imagine this is full of washed-out colors, murky night scenes and digital noise. There are also rumors swirling that this may be missing a couple of scenes, but I haven’t seen any firm confirmation one way or the other. Audio is available in both Italian and English mono, but there are no English subs, which is a shame since the English dub is quite offensive. That said, the English track is actually in better shape, with only a couple of tape warbles to contend with, while the Italian track has a ton of background distortion. There are no extras whatsoever.

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The Internecine Project poster  
UK | 1974
Directed by: Ken Hughes
Written by: Barry Levinson & Johnathan Lynn
Starring: James Coburn, Lee Grant, Harry Andrews, Ian Hendry
| 89 Minutes | Rated PG

- By KamuiX

Robert Elliot, a well-respected economist, is about to get a huge promotion in the form of advisor to the president. While his former girlfriend, reporter Jean Robertson, thinks he’s sold out, she doesn’t know the half of it. Up until now, Robert’s been working as a secret agent and doing things that definitely aren’t on the up and up. Due to his impending rise among the ranks, the four people that work under him need to be taken care of so they can’t reveal his criminal activities. Not wanting to get his hands dirty, Robert decides to manipulate all of them into killing one another. Surely this can’t go off without a hitch…can it?

Having not even heard of The Internecine Project before it arrived for review, I was pleasantly surprised with what a quality film about murder, deceit, and espionage this turned out to be. The film is a confusing affair for the first 25 or so minutes as faces and names of characters fly at you quickly and motivations and alliances are hard to keep track of. Once the core plot of the film starts to reveal itself however, things start to click into place and become very clever, offering more than one “A-ha!” moment. The film manages to create some great tension too, despite that the extent of Coburn’s action in the second-half amounts to sitting and waiting for telephones to ring. That probably has to do with how flawlessly the whole plan is set into motion; it’s all rather cunningly done, and while it may be a little far-fetched, it’s undoubtedly entertaining and fun to see how the events unfold.

The direction on hand is pretty subdued, letting the story and action do the talking, but there are a few slick, albeit tongue-in-cheek, techniques that pop up now and again, highlighted by some Mission Impossible inspired dramatic close-ups of all involved complete with their character’s name typed along the bottom of the screen. All of the actor’s go a great job in their parts, and while many may be more accustomed to the names of James Coburn and Ian Hendry, the real highlight is Harry Andrews, who plays a woman-hating, cat-hoarding maniac that doesn’t need anything but his bare hands to eliminate his target. The Internecine Project is much better than you’d expect out of a film that has seemingly fallen off the face of film history and is definitely worthy of any thriller fan’s attention. Scorpion Releasing keeps on doing their amazing work on presenting quality films that have been undeservingly shoved into a corner to collect dust, and offering them up with great quality and care. Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the print used is in great shape, and while certain scenes can be a bit grainy and there are a couple instances of color discrepancies, there’s very little in the way of any damage and overall there’s not very much to complain about. The mono English track is free of any problems and sounds quite good. The big extra here is a 30-minute interview with writer Jonathan Lynn, who’s probably best known for directing Clue. He tells some interesting stories about working with Barry Levinson (not the one you’re probably thinking of), the changes that were made to his original script, and how he’d like to personally direct a modern version of the film, which I actually think isn’t so bad of an idea. Actress Lee Grant shows up in a very short interview where she basically just tells a story about not being able to sleep while working on the film. Lisa Coburn (James Coburn's daughter) provides an audio interview about her father, his legacy, and how much he loved working in film. Rounding out the extra features are trailers for this and other current and future Scorpion releases.

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