#206 – Anvil Strikes!

(1976, US, 104 mins) Dir Jack Blackstaff. Cast Ernest Borgnine, Ursula Andress, Bernie Mayes.

Death Wish wannabe from opportunistic Irish director Blackstaff misguidedly attempting to reposition Ernest Borgnine as an action man – not that he was entirely unsuccessful as sequels Anvil Strikes Again and Anvil in Africa will attest. It’s the usual guff as expertly parodied by the likes of Mr Kill Man – Borgnine is Dr James Anvil, wealthy surgeon, whose wife (Andress) and daughter are raped and killed (in that order) by a group of merciless street toughs when they take a wrong turn on their way home from the ballet and in whose name he vows vengeance. It would be refreshing – if you’ll excuse the tangent – to witness a film in which the lead’s conversion to vigilantism was perhaps triggered by his sense of social injustice rather than by sexualised violence being meted out to the women in his life. The reproduction of this unfortunate trope, along with the equation of class and colour with relative goodness or lack thereof, taints what would otherwise be a well executed, kinetic bloodbath albeit one that would still be plagued by characters so insubstantial that Anvil’s .45 seems unneccessary in dispatching them – he could have blown them away with nothing more than a hairdryer and an especially long extension cord should he have wished.

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#205 – Seven Deaths in a Broken Lens (Sette Morti in un Obiettivo Rotto)

(2013, It, 98 min, b/w) Dir Bruno Cattet. Cast Claudio Gioè, Laetitia Casta, Elio Germano.

A curious giallo homage/mash-up of Italian cinema history. The year is 1963 and the fact that this is the same year that Fellini’s was released is no coincidence. Claudio Gioè is blocked film director Nino Milo (done up as Mastroianni in, yes, ) following up the international sensation that was his last film, Ama LaVita with his dream project – a simple slice of life drama set in Rome. The problem? Well, for a start it’s a slice of life drama set in Ancient Rome, not it’s modern day counterpart and on top of that Milo hasn’t a story beyond that, the setting. As we join him on the set in the third month of shooting amidst the vast historical set he is so bereft of ideas that he is seriously considering the inclusion of a character from another planet. “Possibly Mars,” he says, “Or Venus. We would need to research.” Oh yes – there are also a slew of grisly murders happening in and around the film studio at night with the police – more interested in the catering than investigating – clueless. As we follow the killer at night we’re given glimpses into the myriad genre of Italian cinema, all beautifully recreated – the sword and sandal epic, the science fiction, the spaghetti western are all given their time in the sun. Soon enough Milo’s lead, the international film sensation and lust object Tutti Ripieno (Casta) has fallen to the beast and the world’s media are thick like flies on the proceedings to disturb Milo’s delicate muse. A fun affair made no less entertaining by the obviousness of it’s ending – if you haven’t figured it out already then shame on you!

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#204 – No Pain, No Gain

(1987, US, 97 min) Dir Calvin Hardwick. Cast Melvin Brewer, Harley Brewer, Jimmy Mix.

Day-Glo vampire flick set among Californian exercise nuts. Identical twin brothers Max and Hal (real life weightlifting duo the Brewer Brothers) are new in town, moving to California to ‘live the life’. They sign up to the expensive glass and steel gym around the corner from their apartment which seems perfect, filled with super buff workout buddies and tons of hot chicks. But soon enough they find out that of course it’s just too perfect as Hal starts spending all his time there, looking more and more wan and weak no matter how much working out he does. Max, of course, has to do something about this and starts investigating the surprisingly shady history of Jimmy’s Gym. Produced by Jack Pryce of Pryce Professionals as a feature length advertisement it was turned into a vampire film on the insistence of the hired director, Calvin Hardwick, a director of gay pornography turned low budget horror peddler. When it was released it was met with derision by horror aficionados – as any film that ignores one of the central tenets of vampire mythology like their aversion to sunlight without explanation will – it still found itself a cult following, especially among fans of eighties cheese and muscle-bound men.

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#203 – Rancid House

(1982, Jap, 75 min) Dir Kan Tan.

In the early eighties Kan Tan, director of the mostly offensive and fairly popular Apartment Lust and Zoom Lens series, found himself regarded as nothing more than an also ran. His scheme was to channel his unpleasantness into what he imagined would be his definitive filmic statement before taking his own life and fortunately for him his plot backfired – the vile and shoddy Rancid House found itself an audience and not just locally either. An aspirant British distributor called Phil Roget caught the film on a stopover from the Philippines and immediately negotiated the rights for the burgeoning UK video market where the gross schlock of Lucio Fulci et al was going over a storm. Unfortunately for Roget his title was released in 1984 just as the Video Recordings Act was kicked into play and was immediately banned. Once the laws were relaxed in the early 2000’s it was finally released but without much fanfare. If your idea of a good time is to watch a trio of schoolgirls try to survive a night in a house with scabbed walls and a basement full of pus where they can’t sleep for five minutes without being hosed with maggots or assaulted by invisible molesters and flying razor blades then be sure to check out the shoddily transferred copy currently being plied under the Electric Video Company name – all Tan’s attempts at depravity are hilariously undercut by his own ineptitude to create a film of unmissable craptitude.

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#202 – Song for Bibi

(1978, Swe, 97 min) Dir Lasse Hallström. Cast Viveka Vong, Liv Ullmann, Molly Gold.

After the success of ABBA: The Movie and before his ascension to the height of mild-mannered Hollywood prestige, Lasse Hallström was commissioned to make this, the official Eurovision film. Then unknown and now forgotten singer-songwriter Viveka Vong plays herself, a simple country girl whose only dream is to sing her songs of love and peace to as wide a world as she can. Luckily for Vong former Eurovision champions ABBA hear her song when passing through town between gigs and before she can say Boom Bang-a-Bang she’s on national television competing to be that year’s entry. Needless to say she goes through to the main event and I don’t think that I’m spoiling anyone’s fun when I reveal that she ends the film triumphant despite the best efforts of her Irish rival Erin O’Eire (Gold). Song for Bibi was a minor hit in the day but for reasons unknown it’s been mostly forgotten and is all but erased from Eurovision history. This is a shame as it’s as much campy fun as you would expect and production’s pretty high-end too – enough money has been flung at it for Liv Ullmann to have been roped in as Vong’s voice coach, her Bergman collaborator Sven Nykvist hired as cinematographer and the “Swedish Edith Head” Elsa Nöggin employed for the fantastically bonkers costumes.

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#201 – Cat Elvis

(1986, Bel, 75 min) Dir Benoît Poolberde.

Documentary set amongst the world of competitive cat shows where Remy Bescreay has an ace up his sleeve – his fat feline called Elvis, who will sing and dance to the songs of his namesake. Okay, so it’s not really singing – Elvis merely goes WAOW rhythmically to the music though he does, to his credit, wiggle his hips in a reasonable imitation of the King while appearing to tolerate the wearing of a white sequined jump suit. For the films’ first half it seems as though mockery is the order of the day with footage from the 1984 Belgian National Cat Championship in Ostend doing little to dispel this notion with the camera focussing exclusively on the strangest of the competitors in both looks and behaviour. The back half of the film though, with Remy and Elvis in Tokyo for the International Feline Showcase, digs a lot deeper when Elvis becomes ill and Remy’s love for his cat, which goes beyond his use as a performer, comes to the fore and what begins as a showcase for easy laughs becomes a vessel for heartbreak.

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#200 – Fabulous Two Hundred, The

(1935, US, 98 min, b/w) Dir Gerard Handley. Cast Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Stacy Burch.

Showbiz comedy and the one and only Hollywood picture from British director Handley. Gable plays smooth manager John Jackson who is put in charge of the popular dance troupe of the title when their previous manager leaps from his hotel room window rather than continue managing them. Immediately he spots the source of the problem – strong willed lead dancer Natasha Rudolph (Loy). Jackson figures that if he can cow her he’ll have the group on hand but this proves easier said than done. A fine, breezy film whose production didn’t run as smoothly. Life imitated art when Handley butted heads with Gable on set, becoming so enraged in the course of one argument that, according to witnesses, he pulled the hat from his head and tore a strip from it with his teeth. In a further turn of grim irony Handley would later fall to his death one night from his hotel window under mysterious circumstances while in the midst of filming 1962’s Christmas in February. His body was discovered in the bushes below the next morning when no one was able to satisfactorily explain why he was dressed as Henry VIII.

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