The Hard Way is a straight-forward men-on-a-mission film in which Miles O'Keeffe leads an army of three to take on Henry Silva's endless supply of enemy troops. It's stripped down to the point where there are barely five lines of dialogue in the whole thing (and that's not an exaggeration), although the few lines that are there include such gems as 'Let me tell you something. I like killing people.' There are a couple of standout moments, such as a unique method of destroying a helicopter without the use of weapons and O'Keeffe surviving a house collapsing on top of him, but otherwise it's scene after scene of twenty or so bad guys running into a field then being gunned down by O'Keeffe and his pals. For about 90 minutes. Which is obviously awesome.
Here's some man vs. helicopter action:
Death Force is a martial arts/blaxploitation thriller in which James Iglehart is double-crossed by his gang and dumped in the ocean.
Washed up on a nearby island, he is nursed back to health by two exiled Japanese soldiers who agree to train him to be a Samurai. Meanwhile his former colleagues are back in the US and using their newfound fortune to build a criminal empire.
None of this is particularly well handled and there are some bizarre moments including a musical interlude and a taxi driver character who ends up hanging out in Iglehart's bedroom despite only having met him in the previous scene. But it gets points for a coherent narrative and decent structure, plus there were some good fights thus proving that films with Death in the title are usually a good bet.
You can watch the whole film here:
In between the above we occasionally caught moments of Once Upon a Time in the West on TV, reminding us of what proper films look like.
Gor is a fantasy adventure film based on the first of John Norman's infamously misogynist series of novels. It had everything you'd want from an un-PC 80s fantasy film including clumsy sword fights, midgets, awesome headgear and Arnold Vosloo in a pink jeep (every film needs Arnold Vosloo in a pink jeep). Other than that it was fairly slow-moving but was saved from being completely dull by Oliver Reed's awesome performance as a hedonistic bi-sexual warlord. Reed was clearly enjoying every minute and wore a variety of stupid hats which I'd really like to believe he was still wearing in the pub after each shoot.
We spent most of the film looking for Jack Palance who featured quite prominently in the credits but didn't seem to be present in the actual film. In the end we convinced ourselves that either a) Palance was playing a man with a beard and was therefore unrecognisable b) either a very young Palance or perhaps his son was playing a young soldier who looked vaguely like him or c) there is more than one actor called Jack Palance. Then 5 minutes from the end Palance turns up, beaming at the camera like he's been there all along. Turns out this was all set-up for a sequel Outlaw of Gor which I now obviously need to see.
Here's a trailer, complete with awesome hats:
The Evil is a typical haunted house film in which Richard Crenna and Joanna Pettet buy a huge house in the middle of nowhere and recruit a bunch of young students to help them fix it up. Only the house has other ideas.
This was actually pretty good, and even pretty scary in places. The actors were good, the effects were awesome (and I mean genuinely awesome) and it managed to sustain a pretty creepy atmosphere throughout. There was some amusement to be found (especially with one character called Dwight who appeared to have wandered on set from a western) and there were some odd plot points, but otherwise it was pretty engaging. There was also an awesome cameo from Victor Buono as the Devil and a really chilling scene in which all the characters bar one are possessed and about to do something rather disturbing with a corpse.
Here's a trailer:
Afterwards we all agreed we had watched a good film by mistake. That was about to change.
Number One with a Bullet is a buddy-cop action film which pairs a womanising, trumpe- playing, starfighting Billy Dee Williams with a wise-cracking Robert Carradine who has family problems, plays guitar and eats raw steak straight from the pack. This is a good example of the kinds of dangers you face when attempting a film marathon like this one.
The ideal film is one that is so bad it's funny. Sometimes one may choose a good film by mistake (like The Evil). This is okay, it just means exchanging 90 minutes of amusement for some cinematic enlightenment. Sometimes one may choose a film that's so bad it's not funny. This too is okay, and usually means everyone makes up their own plots instead. But the worst type of film to watch is one that is average. Number One with a Bullet was definitely average (okay, by most peoples' standards it would be below average, but making a weekend like this work requires a uniform lowering of standards and a deliberate disregard for the usual signs of quality). Never bad enough to be funny, too slow-moving and derivative to be any good, by the end of its 97 minute running time (another rule broken - never watch anything over 90 minutes long) the explosions and extreme body count of The Hard Way seemed like a distant memory.
For a minute it seemed like we may give up hope and watch some TV instead. The point of the whole exercise was called into question. What were we doing? What was the point of all this?
Luckily we remembered why in the first few minutes of the next film.
Revenge (which has a few other titles including Street Law and Vigilante II) is a 70s Italian thriller with Franco Nero as a wimpier version of Charles Bronson in Deathwish. The film opens with a montage of violent robberies, culminating with thieves setting fire to Nero's house. Unluckily for him, he is then involved in a bank robbery in which he is taken hostage and beaten up before being left for the police. When the police don't look like they're going to be doing anything about this anytime soon he takes the law into his own hands. Sort of.
The problem here is that while Bronson went straight for the guns, Nero decides instead to befriend a criminal then use him to incriminate the others in an elaborate frame. Only when this fails (and we're now halfway into the film) and he is kidnapped, beaten up and thrown off a cliff (in a rather excellent stunt) does he take things to the next level. Even then, Nero's character never quite becomes an all-out action hero and remains nervous, hesitant and often terrified throughout. He spends most of the final shootout cowering behind cover as his friend is shot repeatedly a few feet away. Which would be fine, only I couldn't help thinking 'What would Django do?'
There is something interesting about this character who really wants to take revenge but physically isn't really able to do so. I imagine that should any of us attempt anything like this in real life we would all be more Franco Nero than Charles Bronson. Unfortunately this gets a bit lost in the ludicrous plot and over the top action sequences, so what remains is a film that really should be a lot more fun than it actually is.
Also, why is Franco Nero dubbed with an Italian accent when everyone else is dubbed American? I'll probably never know...
Here's a trailer, with awesome music:
Final Terror is a slasher film in which a group of forest rangers and their teen proteges head out into the woods to build a dam only to be hunted down by an unseen lunatic.
First impressions were that the film was due to have a bodycount that would surely rival The Hard Way. There were a lot of characters (some with familiar faces including Darryl Hannah and Joe Pantoliano) which in a slasher film usually means an abundance of victims.
The film follows typical slasher structure for the first half hour - crazy person in the woods, characters going missing, a couple murdered while having sex - but then something interesting happens. The large group of survivors get organised. There are a few stupid moments, including one character deciding that being stalked by a killer is the perfect time to get high on mushrooms, but there is a distinct lack of 'I'm just going over here to this really dark part of the woods on my own and no I don't need help I'll be right back' moments. Rather than wandering aimlessly for hours being picked off one by one they form an actual plan. And the plan works.
Ultimately this fails in the same way Revenge fails - there's a reason we have so many genre conventions and that's primarily because they help make the film entertaining. It's boring when all but a couple of people survive a slasher film. But at the same time it is refreshing to see something a little bit different.
Again, the whole thing is online if you're interested:
Bronson Lee, Champion is a typical seventies martial arts film starring Tadashi Yamashita as...Bronson Lee, champion.
Bronson Lee is awesome, but when his cowboy hat doesn't appear to convey this appropriately he decides to prove it to the world by winning an international karate tournament. Unfortunately he's left things a bit late and all the countries already have representatives. That's no problem for Bronson Lee, who decides the simplest solution would be to provoke the current Japanese contestant into fighting him for the right to take part in the tournament. This is how he does it:
Unfortunately the Japanese contestant has gangland connections who don't take too kindly to this and it turns out that the tournament is the least of Bronson Lee's troubles. I am describing the plot in great detail because I'm not sure what else to say other than it was a good film to watch at 2 in the morning.
Jungle Heat is a Vietnam film with Sam 'Flash Gordon' Jones (helpfully playing a character named Gordon in case we forget that he's Sam 'Flash Gordon' Jones) training a group of recruits for a rescue mission. I think that's what was happening anyway.
After the initial and rather cliched training sequence in which the recruits are trained to disarm landmines and race jeeps against Flash Gordon the story became a bit more erratic. Jones disappears for most of it, as do the recruits and instead we follow another group of soldiers battling a group of sadistic rebels. It was all fun and games until someone set fire to a live rat.
This was obviously quite disturbing and completely unexpected, but worse than that it called into question whether what followed was actually fake or not - some of it looked very real indeed (although part of that was the poor quality of the footage). There was the prisoner who had metal shackles driven through the palms of his hands but managed to escape by basically ripping his hands apart. There was the final battle in which a man was literally sawn in half and another was decapitated. And then this happened (WARNING: this really is quite disturbing!):
Proof that you never quite know what you're letting yourself in for with trash cinema.
So what have we learnt from all this?
Okay, nothing, but it was a good laugh and there were definitely a few surprises. If you want an alternative opinion keep an eye on Dave Brook's blog as he's planning on doing his own write-up soon.