Empire of Ash II (1988)

aka Empire of Ash
Article 5004 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-30-2015
Directed by Michael Mazo and Lloyd A. Simandl
Featuring Melanie Kilgour, Thom Schioler, Frank Wilson
Country: Canada
What it is: Canadian Mad Max

It’s after the apocalypse, but isn’t it always? After her sister is apprehended by a dictatorial cult of religious zealots to use for breeding purposes, a woman joins forces with a mysterious loner to rescue her.

The “mysterious stranger” in this one is one of the more blatant imitations of Mad Max that I’ve encountered in the many imitations of THE ROAD WARRIOR that I’ve seen. This one has a very low reputation (3.8 rating on IMDB at the time of this writing), but I think it’s a little better than that; there’s some energetic camerawork on occasion, some of the stunt work is decent, and it has a couple of interesting ideas. However, it really doesn’t have enough of a story to sustain the length of the movie, so we get lots of scenes of the various factions of the world (the religious zealots, a set of mutants who kidnap people for their blood, groups of ordinary people) fighting with each other for no other reason than to fill out running time. Though it seems competent at times, there’s a pall of dreariness over the proceedings; quite frankly, most of the actors come across as being bored out of their skulls. The only time the movie ever becomes fun is when a couple of eccentric survivalist veterans show up; if the movie had been built around them, it would have been much more entertaining. The movie is known both as EMPIRE OF ASH and EMPIRE OF ASH II; it was released originally under the first title, and then rereleased under the second title; maybe they figured that no one saw the first release, so who’d be able to tell that the second was the same movie? There is a real sequel called EMPIRE OF ASH III.

Eliminators (1986)

Article 5003 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-28-2015
Directed by Peter Manoogian
Featuring Andrew Prine, Denise Crosby, Patrick Reynolds
Country: USA / Spain
What it is: Action Sci-Fi

When a cyborg is threatened with disassembly by a mad scientist, he escapes and teams up with a group of adventurers to defeat his enemy.

If I were to make a list of the dumbest action cliches I know of, one that would definitely make the list is the “bar brawl”; it’s a cliche as pointless as it is pervasive. Therefore, it’s a real tribute to this film that when it pops up here, I actually laughed, largely because it serves as a truly funny punch line to a great setup. In fact, there’s a few other times when this rather silly action-adventure flick brought a smile to my face, and though it has its fair share of cliches and clunker moments, it at least doesn’t come across as a mere imitation of some other movie. If the movie had been made after ROBOCOP, I would have thought that the Mandroid character here was a steal from that, but this movie predates that one, though it’s obvious the adventurer is a Han Solo type, and the flying robot is a variation on R2-D2. This cheesy movie does have a pretty low reputation, and though I can understand why, for me it gets by having just the right tinge of self-awareness of its own chintziness. In short, I liked it, so lets call it a guilty pleasure.

Escape from the Bronx (1983)

aka Fuga dal Bronx
Article 4975 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-1-2015
Directed by Enzo G. Castellari
Featuring Mark Gregory, Henry Silva, Valeria D’Obici
Country: Italy
What it is: Action

It’s not after the apocalypse. A corrupt government in league with a corporation is performing a forced evacuation of the Bronx in order to build a new series of skyscrapers. They use brutal violence to evict those not willing to leave. The former gang members of the Bronx do battle with the corporation thugs.

The other side of Italian “after the Apocalypse” movies were those which were modeled more after ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK than from THE ROAD WARRIOR. This is one of those; it’s a sequel to 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS, and through it brings back the dull but pouty hero (who looks like a refugee from an eighties hair band), it lacks the star power of the earlier movie. The only name actor is Henry Silva, and to these eyes, he looks like he’s barely interested in anything going on around him. Most of the movie is a compendium of clumsy cursing, various people being mowed down by bullets, and explosions causing other people to somersault through the air. Those who like nonstop carnage will like this best; me, I just wish the hero had a single iota of charisma to make me care what happens to him, but such is not the case. And I don’t understand why the title is what it is when the main characters are trying their best to stay in the Bronx.

Evilspeak (1981)

Article 4932 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-19-2015
Directed by Eric Weston
Featuring Clint Howard, R.G. Armstrong, Joe Cortese
Country: USA
What it is: Bloody horror

An outcast at a military academy discovers a demonic sanctuary underneath an old church and calls forth a demon to take revenge on his tormentors.

This is what happens when you cross CARRIE with THE OMEN and DADDY’S DEADLY DARLING; a bloody revenge story with Latin chants on the soundtrack and deadly killer pigs. It does get quite bloody before it’s all over, but things don’t really start happening until the final third of the movie. Reportedly, the violence was so extreme that the movie had to be cut to get an R rating. The Blu-Ray I watched of this claimed that all of the gory footage had been restored, but given that the movie still runs four minutes shy of its longer running time listed on IMDB, I have my doubts. The movie is just okay; part of the problem I have with it is that the tormentors are such a one-dimensional bunch that it becomes a little cartoonish, and since the first two-thirds of the movie is mostly just the main character being tormented, it gets a little tiresome. The use of the computer seems more gimmicky than necessary, though I will admit the language translation software that is used by the computer seems to be more advanced that any modern ones. How scary it is may well depend on just how scary you find a sword-wielding demonic floating Clint Howard.

A Polish Vampire in Burbank (1985)

Article 4919 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-5-2015
Directed by Mark Pirro
Featuring Mark Pirro, Lori Sutton, Bobbi Dorsch
Country: USA
What it is: Vampire comedy

A painfully introverted vampire, after having been supplied blood by his father for many years, is forced to go out on his own and claim his own victims, but he falls in love with the first one he meets.

This movie was better than I thought it was going to be, but that may not be saying much; given the title of the movie, I was expecting the absolute bottom of the barrel. Yet, to its credit, some of the ideas are fairly decent and some of the jokes do register. Any movie that makes me smile at the company’s logo at the very top of the movie is doing something right. IMDB estimates the cost of the movie at three thousand dollars, and it looks it, and the movie is about as lowbrow as you can get, but I thought the movie’s heart was in the right place, and I rather liked it. Therefore, I found myself forgiving some of the movie’s worst aspects, particularly the way it belabors the vampirism-as-sex metaphor and its tendency to beat its running jokes into the ground. Oddly enough, one of its better aspects is one of the few ideas it lifts from the movie which inspired its title (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON), in that the main character is constantly visited by the chatty skeleton of his dead brother (played by Eddie Deezen). In the end, the movie got by on its likable qualities, and I will say this much; as bad as the movie’s title is, it’s better than the title of the fake vampire movie that appears in a theater in the movie – ENEMA VAMPIRES.

An Eccentric Burglary (1905)

Article 4912 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-29-2015
Directed by Frank S. Mottershaw
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Odd trick film

Two Chinese men attempt a robbery, but end up on the run from two policemen.

The plot description above doesn’t give a hint of the fantastic content, and except for an anomalous moment where a horse mysteriously vanishes, there’s really no fantastic content in the story as such. However, in execution, many of the characters perform stunts that are either impossible or (at the very least) very strange. The movie makes extensive use of the technique of running footage backwards, and what sets this one apart a little from some of the others is that the scenes are often performed by the actors to give the illusion that the footage is not running backwards until you reach the impossible stunt. People jump from the ground to second story windows, slide up banisters and ladders, etc. Every once in a while the backwards footage is more blatant, such as a scene where the policemen are chasing a horse and buggy and we see them running backwards. It’s a little odd and it doesn’t quite work, but it does feel different from a lot of the other trick films of the time; I think this may be the first time I’ve heard of the director, though he did have quite a few credits under his belt.

Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

Article 4869 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-12-2015
Directed by Irvin Kershner
Featuring Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif
Country: USA
What it is: American giallo

A fashion photographer who specializes in pictures that combine sex and violence discovers she has a psychic link with a serial killer who gouges his victims’ eyes out. Even worse, the targets of the killer are people in the photographer’s own inner circle…

I remember the media attention the movie received when it was first released in the late seventies, but I hadn’t thought about it for years until it popped up on my hunt list. It was only then that it occurred to me that the plot premise made it sound like an American version of the Italian “giallo” movie. As such, it is rather disappointing; though in some ways the movie is concerned with style, the direction is actually rather bland and ordinary for the most part. I do remember it being rather odd at the time that the theme song for the movie was being sung by Barbra Streisand though she didn’t appear in the movie (I gather this is the only movie where she does this in which she didn’t star). From reading the trivia section on IMDB, I discovered that she originally was intended for the title role, which eventually went to Faye Dunaway. Having seen it now, I wish Streisand had played the role; though I’m not a big Streisand fan, she would have brought a certain moxie to the role that would have made the title role a lot more interesting than it is here, and though Dunaway gives a professional performance, it’s not an inspired one and the character is rather dull. On the plus side, there’s a few good performances from Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif and Rene Auberjonois, and there’s a couple of interesting plot elements; I particularly like that the movie plays up the fact that when Mars is having her psychic visions, she is blind to her own environment. However, the script is weak; there are some scenes that seem silly and forced, and I felt it became glaringly obvious who the real killer was. The script was originally written by John Carpenter, but was rewritten later without his involvement. I’m afraid this one didn’t really work for me.

The Egyptian Mummy (1914)

Article 4847 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-13-2015
Directed by Lee Beggs
Featuring Lee Beggs, Constance Talmadge, Billy Quirk
Country: USA
What it is: Comedy

A young lover is distraught because he doesn’t have enough money to marry the woman he loves. However, when the woman’s father offers a large sum of money to someone who can provide him with an Egyptian mummy so he can test an elixir of life, the lover hires a bum to portray the mummy.

This silent comedy short has two shots at fantastic content; the mummy and the elixir. As you can tell from the description, the mummy turns out to be a fake, and as it turns out, we never find out if the elixir really works or not. Well, at least the movie flirts with fantastic content, and skinny Joel Day looks pretty cadaverous as the fake mummy, so it’s close enough to get by. Overall, this one is pretty amusing, though I do find it pretty hard to swallow that our hero is able to sell the mummy, invest the gains into the stock market and get ten times his return in about ten minutes (maybe this is the real fantastic content). This one is not bad.

Ego zvali Robert (1967)

aka My Name is Robert
Article 4835 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-28-2015
Directed by Ilya Olshvanger
Featuring Oleg Strezhenov, Marianna Vertinskaya, Aleksey Dranitsyn
Country: Soviet Union
What it is: Science fiction comedy

A scientist creates a robot in his own image in the hopes of sending him to Vega. Since he wants the robot to be an accurate reflection of a human being, he sends the robot out into society to become more like them. Complications ensue.

I’m rather reluctant to pass judgment on this one. To my mind, it has a strange, low-key vibe to it that seems just a bit off. However, this strange vibe may well be the result of the English subtitles not really being able to effectively translate jokes and humor from another culture; frequently, I found myself wondering if I wasn’t getting the jokes because they were untranslatable. Still, there are moments that come through in this exploration of the difference between robots and human beings; for example, I really liked the explanation given for the robot’s fascination with children’s toys. Certain moments stand out in the movie; there’s a memorable scene where the robot attends a theatrical production, as well as one where another man is mistaken for the robot. Some of the humor is of the obvious “robot taking things literally” type, but mostly it’s trying for something more subtle. Though I’m not sure I can say I entirely appreciate the movie, it does have enough points of interest to merit a viewing.

Equinozio (1971)

aka Equinox
Article 4733 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-10-2015
Directed by Maurizio Ponzi
Featuring Claudine Augur, Paola Pitagora, Giancarlo Sbragia
Country: Italy
What it is: Strange psychic Sci-Fi

A virus causes men to have memories of past lives, but women are not affected. When it is concluded that from this that only men reincarnate, it has repercussions…

This movie was almost ready to go to my “ones that got away” list when a copy turned up. Unfortunately, my copy was in Italian with French subtitles, and though I’d dredged up a few clues to what was going on in the movie (a man’s ESP mistaken for mental illness, a rebellion of women against men), I was quite unable to piece together what was going on in the movie until I found a short description that connected the various pieces of the puzzle, which I’ve paraphrased in the plot description above. Still, even with that to help me, I don’t feel I can really pass any judgment on this one; too much of what’s going on is tied up in the dialogue for me to adequately follow the story. Unfortunately, there’s not much on a visual level to make the movie particularly appealing, so I didn’t get much pleasure out of that. Therefore, there’s little I can do on this one rather than cross it off my list and hope that someday an English translation will allow me to give it another chance.