Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Director: Ciro H. Santiago
Distributor: 23rd Century
(This review refers to the 1983 Cirio H. Santiago film, not the Bill Milling film of the same name with Erik Estrada in it. You can check out the trailer for Milling's movie HERE. The fact that I can't find a trailer on YouTube for Santiago's 'Caged Fury' must surely score double anorak points for obscurity?)
At a hidden prison camp deep in the jungles of South East Asia, some devious Vietnamese commies are kidnapping beautiful women and brainwashing them into becoming subliminally-activated suicide bombers to further their evil aims abroad. Help isn't going to be coming anytime soon, so the all-female inmates must engineer their own escape any which way they can...
'Caged Fury' really reminds me of a feature-length episode of 'Charlie's Angels' (specifically the one where they go undercover at a women's jail), only with the emphasis on escape rather than investigation. The plot is further thickened by the inclusion of a 'traitor within the group' sub-plot, as someone keeps foiling their escape efforts. Is it the whorish Honey? Perhaps the silent, semi-catatonic one? Maybe the young Vietnamese girl? The answer is kept well hidden with no obvious giveaways until the final reveal. It's probably the central narrative of interest, as the other plotlines are largely functional or too quickly resolved to be of any real interest. Even their eventual escape comes about more through luck than judgement or some carefully devised and well-executed escape plane.
As you might expect from a Women In Prison (WIP) exploitation flick, there's copious amounts of nudity, torture, molestation and rape...and even some consensual sex too! The camp commander likes to interrogate his female charges by affixing 'truth button' electrodes to their nipples (and a third electrode 'elsewheres') which seems like another contrived excuse for more gratuitous toplessness...but hey, who's complaining?
The picture and sound quality on my DVD are pretty poor, but then the DVD was dirt cheap. I believe I paid something like 50-75p for it in a bundle deal at a pound shop 'Oop North, and it comes in one of those hyper-slim cases so beloved of DVD pirates...and yet this is the official DVD, apparently. The no-frills approach is carried over onto the disc itself, with the multitude of extras such as 'Play Movie' and...erm...well, that's it! That said, the cover and disc art are really well done though. I certainly wouldn't be adverse to having a poster of it up on my wall.
Still, when all's said and done, I found this movie rather hit the spot for me. Cirio H. Santiago has done a lot better, and probably a lot worse besides, but that's the price you pay for being a genuine goddamned exploitation legend! Given the piffling price I paid for it, I can hardly complain.
Certainly WIP genre completists will find it to be a tidy addition to their collections (if they've already got everything put out by Lloyd Simandl's classily superior Bound Heat outfit, that is), but the casual punter may find it too be a little too sparse on action of either variety to seriously hold their interest. An acquired taste for sure, but most of my tastes are and this is one I'm not ashamed to admit having a taste for. It's a passable example of the genre, but by no means great. Given how cheaply it can be picked up, I'd definitely give it the thumbs up to anyone remotely interested in WIP films.
Overall, it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity...it could have been great, but instead is just OK, maybe even a little less when you take into account the sound and picture quality. Such is the nature of the low-budget beast, but on the upside, it costs virtually nothing to buy (if you can track down a copy, that is...23rd Century seem to eschew 'conventional' distribution channels, so try your local pound shop, publishers' clearance bookshop or local petrol station. Failing that, Ebay!), so what have you got to lose? Cheap and cheerful, and you get what you pay for, I guess.
You can check out another review of it here at Prison Flicks
Wednesday, 14 October 2009
Published By Heavy Metal
There are people in life you look at and think "Damn! Now why didn't I think of that?". Suffice to say, Andy Sidaris was one of them.
Sidaris made movies for men, and never made any apologies for it. His movies are typified by scores of beautiful women in and out of skimpy outfits, guns, explosions, boats, planes, helicopters and fast cars, exotic locations, buff dudes and nefarious villains. Basically, everything a growing boy needs.
Hope Marie Carlton is fully loaded and ready for action...
Given that he had already carved out an extremely successful career in television prior to making movies, there was no need for him to ever try and second-guess or appease the critics. He already knew how good he was, and thus didn't have the pressing need for validation which seems to afflict so many others. Ergo, he made the kind of movies he wanted to make, and that people like me want to watch.
Andy at work...or at least as near to work as being surrounded by hot babes in swimwear can ever be
"Bullets, Bombs and Babes" tells his story, in his own words and with more than a few contributions from those who've known and worked with him, from his TV days to the production of his own unique brand of action movies. It's not a 'book' as such in terms of layout, but more akin to a large magazine or fanzine (what the Japanese have taken to calling a 'Mook'), but bound in hardback like a British Annual. As I'm sure you can imagine, and are no doubt hoping, it's heavy on pictures, both in B&W and colour, and light on clothing.
If you look at this picture long enough, you'll eventually notice Julie Strain is wearing a Malibu Bay Films jacket...
It's arranged in chronological order, addressing his early life and television career, the three films he made prior to making the ones people consider as the canonical 'Andy Sidaris Films' (AKA the 'Malibu Bay' films), and then moves on to fully get to grips with the films with which he is chiefly associated with and remembered for. In short, the type of movies that 'Andy Sidaris' has become the byword for, worldwide.
Andy Sidaris: Big In Japan
Each one of these films is given a feature spread, but the real juice comes from the interviews dotted about the book. Sidaris had a lot of recurring characters over the span of the 'Malibu Bay/L.E.T.H.A.L Ladies' movies, which means a lot of his actors worked with him on multiple occasions and thus can give a real insight into the man and his moviemaking process, just as Andy and his wife Arlene are capable of sharing some interesting tidbits and recollections about them.
The ridiculously sexy Cynthia Brimhall was a Playmate back when Playboy still had standards...
Aside from the laundry list of Playboy Playmates and Penthouse Pets who've featured in his films (whose names won't mean anything to you, dear reader, as you don't look at that sort of thing on the internet...right?), there are also a number of names that (if you're a genre film obsessive like me) will ring a bell. Danny 'Robert Rodriguez doesn't make a film without me' Trejo, Pat 'Mr. Miyagi' Morita, Al 'The most killed guy in cinema history' Leong, Erik 'CHiPS' Estrada and possibly the sexiest woman to ever step before a camera, the one and only Sybil Danning.
Austria's other gift to world cinema, Sybil Danning
The book also reproduces Sidaris-related interviews and extracts from such diverse sources as Spain's 'Gotham' magazine and Maitland McDonagh's 'Filmmaking On The Fringe' (of which I will also be posting a full review of shortly...it's an excellent book), and there is a whole slew of pictures from behind the scenes, such as a particularly eye-opening photo montage of Andy himself ostensibly demonstrating to Penthouse Pet Julie K. Smith how to do a striptease and pole dancing routine. There's also a bunch of interesting pictures regarding Andy's life away from the set, hobnobbing with the likes of Gerald Ford and Hugh Hefner. As you do.
If you're looking for porn, look elsewheres. Sidaris' films, in a purely sexual sense, are best described as "(Tits and) Ass With Class". They're a distinct step below late-night softcore in terms of explicitness of sexual content, yet ten steps above in terms of plotlines, production value and execution. It's a curious niche, and to say that it is one that Sidaris made his own would be the understatement of the century.
Beautiful women in exotic locations, the Sidaris hallmark.
It's not as if nobody else could make these kind of movies, but the fact remains that nobody is making or even attempting to make these movies, and certainly not at the level of overall quality that Sidaris did it at. The fact remains, if anybody did succeed in replicating the formula, the first response you'd elicit would be 'It's kinda like an Andy Sidaris film'.
Al Leong, Gyrocopter, Bikini Babe. What more could you want from a film?
Given a choice between an Andy Sidaris flick and either of McG's "Charlie's Angels" movies, I'd have to go with Sidaris every time. I'm heterosexual, plus I like movies that are movies rather than 90-minute music video medleys.
Value for money? Yes, I'd say it's priced about right for what it is. I'd imagine most hardcore Sidaris fans will probably already have a copy, but if you're one of those who are sitting on the fence with regards to this book, or have yet to discover the works of Andy Sidaris, then I can happily give it the thumbs up. All three of them...
Tuesday, 13 October 2009
Distributed by Blackhorse Entertainment (now defunct)
Directed by Ed Evers-Swindell
In the near future, a deadly virus has decimated the Earth's surface and forced humanity to dwell underground in vast subterranean cities. When an expeditionary team fails to report back, a ragtag unit of military misfits and misanthropes (including team leader Sash and brooding anti-hero Loki) is hastily thrown together and sent topside to find out exactly what has happened to them. Scientists have developed a serum which gives limited immunity to the virus, but that deadline has passed, so the expeditionary team should (in theory) all be dead.
The giveaway line is 'We're still getting activity readings on their personal locators'...dyed-in-the-wool fans of genre cinema will know exactly what to expect!
'Infestation' hits the ground running with a prologue comprised of two terrific action sequence wherein Sash and Loki fight off members of the 'Tunnel Rats' terrorist outfit with a mixture of gunplay and fisticuffs, which then seamlessly segues into CGI jetspeeder chase throughout the labyrinthe of the underground city's erstwhile skyline (if that makes sense?) which is every bit as good as the similar sequence in Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones, and doesn't feature Hayden Christensen either! What's not to love?
Loki (Ross Evison). Could Lisa Rogers tell the difference between him and Ralf Little after a few drinks? Probably not...
Loki disobeys a direct order to abandon the pursuit of the last remaining terrorist, and in doing so causes an accident in which civilian lives are lost. He's kicked out of his job and we next find him some months later drowning his sorrows in a bar, having drifted into depression. Fortunately, his old colleague Sash has just been handed a mission which would suit a near-suicidal pilot down to the ground, and so Loki is brought out of his enforced retirement to join the team going up to the surface.
Sash is starting to regret taking this assignment on...
After the team is introduced, there's a needless but well executed sequence in which the one of thrusters on their rocket elevator malfunctions (again done with CGI), meaning they could miss their window with the automatic, override-proof vents and doors which their craft is supposed to navigate, and thus be killed. Unsurprisingly, they make it after the thruster miraculously kicks in again. Like a Bond film, you know they're not going to die (at least not this early on...) but the scene is staged in such a way that it still grabs your attention and has you wondering how they're going to find a way out of it. As such it's rather a disappointment when the answer is simply good fortune. I felt this would have been a good opportunity to add a little characterisation to the team, to see how they cope with and rectify the situation? Which one panics? Who's the aggressive one who'd rather argue than fix the problem? Who takes the lead and sorts the problem out, and how do they do it? All this sequence establishes is that Freeman, their Commander, doesn't really care much whether they live or die, but we'd pretty much gathered that already, especially where Loki is concerned.
This picture gives a much better impression of what the film is like, although I've no idea where it's from or where it's used.
The opening scenes all have that sort of bleached-out, post-processed blueish-greenish hue which seems so beloved of music video directors working with nu-metal bands and the people who made 'Saw'. Of course, when filming in an ostensibly underground location, one must limit oneself solely to artificial light sources, and it has the added bonus of complimenting the CGI sequences which are largely green on black in the style of a nightvision camera, which makes perfect sense if you think about it. It's simple, logical and it works, and it's also probably cheaper and quicker than doing it in full colour.
Once topside, the mood of the film changes somewhat, as does the colour pallette, but more importantly so does the pace. The second act is extremely slow, all the more noticeably so having come off the back of the action-packed first act. Very little happens (too little, to be frank) save for some exposition and the added problem of having to find an hidden access hatch so that they can get to the ship which will take them home before their immunity to the surface conditions expires.
I've seen bits of 'Infestation' on TV a couple of times, and every time I was compelled to switch over and watch something else. It's only now that I have seen the full film that I realise it was because I was always coming in midway through the second act. It's the Achilles' Heel of this movie.
What makes the second act appear to be even more of a dog is the fact that it is sandwiched between the first and third, which are both very well done save for a bizarre shoot-out sequence near the film's climax. It's hard to put your finger on why it doesn't work specifically...things happen, the plot advances, people die, but possibly it simply takes too much time to do so.
'Mad Dog' Maddox lets 'em have it!
Still, if you can make it through, your patience is well and truly rewarded with the third act, the highlight of which is surely Loki and the remaining survivor of the original team taking on a horde of zombies within the claustrophobic confines of the makeshift command centre, including a nifty escape into an attic that the likes of Jackie Chan and Tony Jaa would be proud of!
Overall, in terms of 'bang for your buck', it's safe to say the producers got more out than they put in. Aside from the sagging second act, this is really quite a respectable little movie. I've no doubt it could be a lot more polished overall if they had a bigger budget to play with, but as it is, and for the money that was spent, it's a creditable achievement. It's further differentiated from other films of the same budgetary ilk by some undeniable quality in terms of the music used, the impressive opening title sequence, and the CGI.
I believe this is the cover for the Asian market...it bears little resemblance to the film itself!
Refreshingly, the CGI is actually used fairly sparingly, which is quite a rarity these days. The only moments it is jarringly bad are the end of the opening chase sequence and a couple of the explosions at the film's finale. Other than that it is extremely well done, especially when one bears the miniscule budget in mind. You'll see a lot worse in one of the Sci-Fi channel's made-for-TV movies or an Asylum flick, for example (not to knock or disparage either of them in any way, just using them as a frame of reference).
The effective and judicious employment of the CGI could perhaps act as a metaphor for the film as a whole. It never makes the fatal mistake of trying to cram too much in or overreaching its limitations to the extent that it makes them too glaringly obvious. It's not bogged down by too many subplots or ancilliary characters, and whether this is due more to budgetary constraints or the filmmakers simply be very disciplined and trimming the unnecessary fat is ultimately irrelevant. In short, it works.
The DVD is not exactly overloaded with extras...there's a commentary track and scene access, and that's it. However, the commentary alone is worth more than its weight in gold (yes, I'm aware DVD commentaries have no physical weight per se, but I'm mixing metaphors here!). It's brutally honest, self-deprecating and hyper-critical, and fully acknowledges all of the problems with the film that I had identified while watching it. It also provides a lot of eye-opening insights into a number of things I hadn't noticed. Evers-Swindell states at the beginning that people who buy this DVD will fall into one of two groups: those with an interest in low-budget filmmaking, and those who will be taking the DVD back to the store tomorrow and asking for their money back. As you may have guessed, I class myself firmly as the former.
US cover, I believe...something of a '28 Days Later' riff if we're honest.
Truth be told, it's something of a low-budget filmmaking masterclass, so much so in fact that producer Stuart Fletcher is one of the feature interviewees/case studies in The Guerilla Filmmakers handbook, alongside such notables as Jake 'Razor Blade Smile/Evil Aliens/Doghouse' West, deltacinenomophile Neil 'Dog Soldiers/Descent/Doomsday' Marshall (Infestation cover blurbee, no less!), Edgar 'Shaun of The Dead/Hot Fuzz' Wright, the guys who produced Saw, Blair Witch, Open Water, and some guy called Christopher Nolan, whoever he is. That's some pretty fast company in anybody's book.
Perhaps Evers-Swindell is correct in his assertion regarding audience reaction, that 'Infestation' will prove to be the archetypal 'Marmite movie'...you'll either love it or you'll hate it. If you, like me, love no-budget genre cinema (which I'd assume is the reason you're here reading this) then you'll likely get a kick out of 'Infestation'.
On the other hand, if you prefer your movies in the multi-million dollar, overblown orgy of CGI with some gangsta rapper in the token black role contemporary Hollywood moviemaking paradigm, then 'Infestation' will come as something of a cinematic culture shock. You'd probably be better off waiting until the Hollywood braintrust tires (read: totally exhausts) of remaking/reimagining/remixing films and instead adopts the musical mixing technique known as the 'Mash Up' and applies said technique to 'Aliens' and 'Day Of The Dead'.
(While we're on the subject of throwing together film franchises, how much cooler would 'Alien vs. Predator' have been if they'd called the sequel with the hybrid creature 'Alienator', thus spawning a hybrid franchise and giving us a cooler name than 'Predalien'? Lighting it so people could actually see what was going on would have been a big plus too, I feel.)
In terms of value for money, I got my copy of 'Infestation' off of Ebay dirt cheap, so I feel it represents excellent value, especially given the gut-spilling commentary track. If you see it at a price you feel happy paying, my advice would be to go for it. At the moment, it seems many of the titles that were being distributed by the now defunct Blackhorse Entertainment are popping up for some pretty high prices simply due to the relative rarity factor, so you might have to do some digging to turf a copy up at a reasonable price. In my opinion, it is well worth the effort in doing so.
Failing that, 'Infestation' does sometimes crop up on Movies4Men late at night, but this is a cut version whereas the DVD presents the film in all its uncut and gory glory.
All told, it's another one that is going to be finding itself a permanent home on my 'keep' shelf (the Vatican Library of low budget genre cinema, I tell you!). If you have any interest in low budget movies and the makings thereof, then this one is an education and a half. You might also be interested in checking out the three-part 'Making Of Infestation' BTS (inexplicably not included on the DVD version I have) on Evers-Swindell's own YouTube page, although it's nowhere close to being as near to the knuckle as the commentary track...