Friday, December 30, 2022



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*


IRON WARRIOR, according to online sources, was made by both a different director and production team than the people who made the first two ATOR films. WARRIOR has a lot of the same loopy imagery seen in director Alfonso Brescia's cheapjack space operas, like STAR ODYSSEY. Yet there's more coherence in this sword-and-sorcery opus, which may be due to Brescia's co-writer Steven Luotto. The Brescia-Luotto abandons even the loose continuity of the first two films and designs a completely new origin for heroic Ator (Miles O'Keeffe).

Like many films of magical fantasy, WARRIOR emphasizes a generational conflict that leads the hero or heroes into their operatic destiny. Ugly old witch Phoedra (Elisabeth Kaza) seeks out two young boys playing ball in a labyrinth (standing stones courtesy of Malta's tourist attractions), and she steals one of the boys. Shortly thereafter, Phoedra is called on the carpet by her fellow sorceresses, who employ the spinning-hoop effect from Richard Donner's SUPERMAN while they rail at her. According to the backstory related by chief good witch Deeva (Iris Peynado), the sorceresses seem to have been around for centuries, guiding the destiny of mankind with the aid of a "Golden Chest of the Ages" that isn't mentioned again for a long time. Phoedra, though, gained control of a mortal kingdom and ruled it tyrannically. Later the old harridan will say that her kingdom was stolen by the "father's father" of the current king, but Phoedra also blames Deeva for driving her from power. 

Why does Phoedra wait two generations to begin her dire plot of vengeance? Since all of the witchy "sisters" seem to have prophetic powers, maybe Phoedra knows that Deeva has future plans for Phoedra's former kingdom, plans that involve the two boys, Ator and Trogar. Deeva claims in the dubbed movie to have "created" both kids, which maybe makes her sort of a "good mother" as against Phoedra's child-stealing "bad mother," though I'm not sure either one is worth writing home about. Phoedra won't tell the other witches where she's hidden the boy Trogar (whose name sounds like a part-anagram of Ator), so they remove her power to kill and banish her, though Phoedra doesn't seem very restricted in her ability to cast spells and move from place to place.

Eighteen years pass, during which time Ator grows to manhood, while Phoedra molds his brother into a skull-headed warrior, The Iron Warrior of the title. In addition, Deeva says that she's made certain that the current king of the unnamed kingdom has conceived an heir, though again she doesn't specifically say that she mothered the king's heir, Princess Janna (Savina Gersak). Deeva wanted both Ator and Trogar to be Janna's protectors, so Phoedra, knowing this, subverted Trogar to be her pawn against the reign of Janna.

Phoedra visits the court of heir apparent Janna and makes dire predictions echoing those of Sleeping Beauty's Bad Fairy, though Janna is nothing but courteous while her father wants the witch dead. Phoedra, more impatient than the Bad Fairy, brings forth the Iron Warrior, who slaughters the king's tiny number of guards while Phoedra's magic kills the king. Though the monarch manages to send his daughter away, she's next seen running along a cliffside all alone, so that she's easily captured by the Warrior and a bunch of gibbering dwarves.

It's not clear where Ator has been all this time-- certainly not at the court protecting the princess! But he's on his way there, possibly prompted by Deeva, since she later appears to him in a vision. Phoedra sees him coming, so she changes herself into a pretty young thing, so that Ator can rescue her from some of Phoedra's own warriors. Ator takes the hot babe to a cabin somewhere, and she sleeps with him, so that he'll fall asleep post-coitus. Then she sets the cabin ablaze, but Deeva wakes Ator up and he gets clear. Possibly she guides him to Janna, for Ator finds his way there just as the Warrior's minions are about to sacrifice the princess. Ator routs the dwarves and battles the Iron Warrior, who obligingly disappears for the time being.

From then on, Ator and Janna fulfill the same pattern seen in the first ATOR, running from pillar to post as they're pursued by the villain's minions. Naturally, the potential of romance blooms, and also like the first ATOR, there's a potential sibling relationship between the two youths. The script isn't hesitant to link this transgression to Ator's having slept with "the bad mother." During one of the duo's peregrinations, Ator experiences a weird vision in which he approaches Janna from behind-- though she's clad in the blue outfit of the hot babe, not her usual red garments-- and when "Janna" turns around, she has the face of Phoedra. The vision ends, but Phoedra's magic has had real effects, as the real Janna's red outfit has also turned blue, and stays so from then on.

Eventually, the twosome find their way to the hidden caverns where Deeva alone holds court. She makes various excuses as to why everything that's happened had to happen, and reveals that the Iron Warrior is Trogar. Though Deeva claimed earlier that her power was secure because she had that Golden Chest of the Ages, now she asserts that Ator and Janna must seek out the Chest in some Atlantis-sounding domain, "the Kindgom Beneath the Waves." Only with the Chest can they defeat Phoedra and liberate the enslaved Trogar.

Ator and Janna journey to the deserted city (played by the famous architecture of the island of Malta) and look for the Chest. They're chased through corridors by what seems an automated defense, a big rolling rock like the one from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, but able to change directions to chase them. The RAIDERS vibe is reinforced when the heroes steal the Golden Chest, causing the whole place to fall apart (though of course no real buildings were harmed in the making of the film). 

Then Phoedra's warriors show up to fight Ator. Janna gets in one good sword-stab at the enemies herself, and then she and Ator flee the now sinking island. Then Phoedra shows up at Deeva's cave, using her magic to freeze Deeva in a slab of ice and revealing that she already has the real Golden Chest, while Ator and Janna have a fake box holding deadly peril. She doesn't explain why she bothered sending those soldiers to the Wave-Kingdom, nor why, when Ator and Janna arrive at shore, the Iron Warrior's waiting for them. Maybe she just can't resist the irony of having brother battle brother to the death. Ator stabs his possessed brother to death and then mourns. 

Ator and Janna return to Deeva's cave, where Phoedra poses as the good witch and accepts from them the fake Golden Chest, which doesn't end up serving any purpose at all. Ator then takes Janna back to her court, but at some point Phoedra makes a switch again, sending along a fake Janna with Ator. But apparently Fake-Janna reveals herself too soon, causing Ator to go looking for Real-Janna again. Phoedra, instead of killing Janna quickly, torments her by hanging her over the side of a cliff (but only after putting her in new clothes). Ator fights more of Phoedra's mounted warriors-- the only half-decent fight-scene in the film-- and then tries to stab Phoedra to death, without success. He can't kill the Bad Mother with his blade-- and why should he be able to, since she already enjoyed his other "blade" earlier? But since the movie needs Phoedra to die, Ator suddenly guesses that the witch is vulnerable to fire, sticks a torch in her mouth (oral fixation, anyone?), and her flaming body meets the fate intended for Janna, going over the cliff. 

Then, in a tour de force of wacky resolutions, Ator finds Janna, not hanging over a cliff like before, but trussed up on a sacrificial altar again. He frees her, and as symbolic sister and symbolic brother embrace, one seems to hear the cackle of old Phoedra. Has the witch fooled the noble hero once again?

Well, no. We return to the sanctuary of the Good Witches again. Three sorceresses, only seen before in that opener yelling at Phoedra, then explain the ending for the confused viewer. On either side the witches are flanked by Phoedra (or her spirit), imprisoned in those energy-hoops again, and by Deeva, frozen in the same slab of ice in which Phoedra left her. The witches, so exultant at the triumph of good that they explain things to each other, claim that Phoedra couldn't kill Janna directly because of a limitation Deeva placed on Phoedra's powers at the film's beginning. They don't explain why Phoedra, expecting Ator's advent, left Janna where Ator could find her, but they confirm that it's the real Janna, and that if she has a witchy smile as she welcomes her hero, it's because "there is no witch like a woman in love." Good will now rule the fantasy-world for centuries to come, and the world will be better off now that both the manipulative Bad Mother and the manipulative Good Mother are out of the way.

Since I've noted the many mangled plot-lines of IRON WARRIOR, a part of me does not want to rate the movie's mythicity as highly as I feel I must. But even if the story doesn't make much sense in terms of verisimilitude, there is a consistent symbolic discourse going on here, however rough. Luigi Cozzi's 1983 HERCULES ends with the unjustified suggestion that all the women who have assailed the hero are in reality one woman, but Brescia and Luotto keep the one-woman symbolism weaving through their movie like Ariadne's thread in the Minotaur's labyrinth. A few years later, Ator's director/co-creator Joe D'Amato returned to the hero for his last outing in 1990's QUEST FOR THE MIGHTY SWORD. Maybe D'Amato felt challenged by the pretenders to his barbarian throne, for he worked a lot more clansgressive elements into QUEST than were seen in his first two ATOR films. But D'Amato failed to make all the symbolic elements cohere, while Brescia and Luotto succeed. albeit in a very wonky manner. This was incidentally O'Keeffe's final performance as Ator, and he's just as much a wooden block as when he started. Savina Gersak has more range, but the acting honors go to Elizabeth Maza for her sheer gusto in the role of Phoedra-- whose name, despite the variant spelling, is surely meant to evoke the memory of one of Greek myth's most famous bad mothers.

Thursday, December 29, 2022



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

Maybe if I'd been in my grade-school years during the rise of the Filmation HE-MAN cartoon, I would have liked it no less than the actual superhero cartoons I was raised on. Yet I doubt it. I found the He-Man series a soulless, design-by-committee concept, made even less charming by the fact that even the non-toy characters were poorly conceived.

Yet when the episodes comprising SECRET OF THE SWORD debuted, I rather liked He-Man's new sister She-Ra. I don't know how much design input the toy line had on the characters, but I thought overall both the heroine and her support-characters looked better. Maybe this was because HE-MAN was slapped together as a vague amalgam of magical fantasy and clunky science-fiction. The same elements are in SHE-RA as well, but there was a better opposition of those elements. The heroine and her comrades-- a flying horse, a talking owl, an archer and a comical witch with a talking broom-- had a more pronounced fantasy-feeling. In contrast, most of the sci-fi elements were aligned with the villainous Hordak and his coterie of super-powered henchpersons (though he had a spooky witch-ally named Shadow Weaver).

The plot's pretty thin, so I'll keep to the bare essentials. Guided by a prophecy from his mentor The Sorceress, He-Man (in his "secret identity" of Prince Adam) leaves his homeworld Eternia and visits the dimension of Etheria, along with his friend-and-steed Cringer/Battlecat. All the hero knows is that he must give a second sword, one much like his own, to a heroine of that world. He's summarily captured by the forces of Hordak, under the command of an officer named Adora, who turns out to be the one he's supposed to seek out. 

As I've already given away, Adora is actually the sister of Adam, having been stolen by Hordak during an abortive invasion of Eternia-- an invasion abetted by He-Man's nemesis Skeletor. Hordak had Adora raised as an officer in his Horde just for spite, but Adora doesn't know she's on the wrong side. With just a few preachy statements He-Man opens Adora's eyes to Hordak's tyranny. Thus she proves worthy of the sword, which transforms her into the super-strong heroine She-Ra, and her horse into a Pegasus-type.

To say the least, Hordak is not pleased to have a super-powered heroine busting up his operations. He makes a stealth invasion of Eternia to get even, joins briefly with his despised former ally Skeletor, and after defeat returns to Etheria. She-Ra/Adora also decides to remain in Etheria rather than joining her family in Eternia, until the day that she expels the Horde from her adopted world.

I've skipped various incidents, but it's a thinly plotted adventure anyway. As I recall the average episode of SHE-RA was better plotted than the average episode of HE-MAN, but maybe I just liked the way She-Ra seemed to get a little bustier after her transformation.

The HE-MAN/SHE-RA CHRISTMAS SPECIAL seems more He-Man centric by far. Both Adam and Adora are in Eternia, preparing to celebrate their mutual birthday. Adam's comical sidekick Orko takes a spaceship off on a trip and ends up broaching dimensional barriers. He ends up on Earth-- incidentally, the homeworld of the twins' mother-- where it happens to be the Christmas season. Two kids, Miguel and Alisha, come across the marooned Orko and make friends with him, in addition to telling him all about Christmas.

Seeking to rescue Orko, Adora becomes She-Ra, travels back to Etheria, looking for needed resources. After vanquishing a hostile monster she must contend with giant machines called "Monstroids," which are a little better designed than the average Filmation robot. She-Ra escapes and brings the item back to Eternia, making it possible to teleport Orko back to his homeworld-- but with the two kids along for the ride. While the kids await their return, they relate the customs of the Yuletide season to everyone there, who, being good guys, are immediately won over.

The master of Hordak's horde, Horde-Prime, nurtures some strange belief that the "Christmas spirit" can interfere with his conquest of Eternia, so he sets a bounty for the capture of the Earth-kids. Both Hordak and Skeletor compete for the reward. as do The Monstroids.

There are a lot of captures and escapes, all pretty dull. Skeletor eventually secures the kids, but because he's forced to protect them from cold and wild beasts, he begins to absorb some of the "Christmas spirit." Frankly, I like Hordak better and thought his temporary conversion would've been more dramatic. But as I said, He-Man's mythology gets the strongest emphasis here.

Though the "action" in a Filmation production is spotty at best, CHRISTMAS SPECIAL is much weaker in this department than SECRET OF THE SWORD. If you like treacle in your stocking, the Special has that in abundance, but not much else.



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

Although this daffy Italian peplum-comedy only has one joke-- two 20th-century guys travel back to ancient Greece and make dumb jokes about ancient culture-- I had to give VALE mythicity-points for mining a wide variety of Greek legends, in addition to crossing over Hercules with rising Italian original Maciste. 

The two time-travelers are Milanese fight-promoters, loud-mouthed Rusteghin and submissive Comendatore, and even though Maciste and Hercules get their names in the title, this dotty duo are VALE's central characters, as well as the reason that the film doesn't fit the combative mode. Hercules and Maciste do perform various feats of strength, and they even grapple with one another for a few seconds, but they, like all of the other myth-figures-- Eurystheus, Deianeria, and such non-Hercules figures as Circe and the Minotaur-- are secondary icons.

So Loudmouth and Submissive chance upon a time-machine. They intend to go forward in time in order to find out what fights to bet on, but they goof and end up in fifth-century Mycenae, ruled by Eurystheus. quasi-brother to Hercules (Frank Gordon in his only movie performance). Eurystheus covets the hero's beloved Deianeira (Liana Orfei) and hopes to wed her. He summons an oracle with a crystal, hoping to learn that the son of Zeus has died fighting a local Cyclops. Instead, the crystal not only shows Hercules defeating the Cyclops, he also liberates two comical fishermen, played by Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia of THE TWO CRAZY SECRET AGENTS. The fishermen follow Hercules back to Mycenae and get involved in a few silly escapades to counterpoint those of the fight-promoters.

The promoters, by the way, are taken in by Eurysthesus, who doesn't really know what to do with them, though he takes custody of their time machine. Loudmouth shoots off a firecracker-- I have no idea where he gets it from-- and so impresses the Greeks a little. Later I think Eurystheus unleashes a minotaur on the hapless duo, which they escape. The English version glosses this incident with a line so weird it must have been just as strange in Italian, for Submissive says, "Is this what Greek men look like when their women are finished with them?" Possibly this was a cuckold joke, possibly not.

Once Hercules is back, the king has to cool his jets around Deianeira, though Submissive flirts with her a little anyway. At some point the time-travelers flee Mycenae, which is the point that the Maciste portion of the film begins. The twosome encounter the mymph Echo, trapped under stone, and she implores them to summon Maciste by, well, shouting his name. Maciste (Kirk Morris) shows up and frees Echo, who comically repeats the last syllable of each sentence's last word. The promoters observe Maciste's great strength and get the idea of ginning up a fight between Hercules and Maciste, which will somehow help them get their time machine.

A wrench in the gears appears: the sorceress Circe (Bice Valori) has taken a shine to Maciste. While Echo's off doing whatever, Circe lures Maciste and the promoters to her lair and tries futilely to seduce the big hunk. When he proves oblivious, she robs him of his strength. This doesn't work in the promoter's interest, so they summon Echo, who has a little catfight with Circe and then tricks the witch into transforming herself into a pig. I forget how Submissive ends up going to Mycenae ahead of the others, but somehow he also gets Maciste's strength transferred to him, so that he can survive in the wrestling-ring with Hercules for a little while. Then comes the short-lived hero-battle, and the 20th century goofs access their time machine and go home.

Of all the throwaway jokes in this episodic farce, only the ones involving Maciste, Echo and Circe prove fitfully amusing. I assign the film the function of "the metaphysical" simply because it makes use of so many familiar characters of myth, though they're only being used on the level of a "Fractured Fairy Tales" outing.



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

Director Albert Pyun passed away in 2022, but though I've not seen his entire repertoire, his best known works were confined to the 1980s and 1990s. The decline in Pyun's work was directly tied to his serious illnesses, but though his 21st-century works seem negligible at first glance, one exception was this 2010 film, a very loose sequel to the director's first movie, the CONAN-mockbuster SWORD AND THE SORCERER. The sequel-elements are fairly dubious: a handful of re-used names that don't necessarily tie to the original characters, the reappearance of the titular "sword," from the first film, and a cameo by Lee Horsley, though he's not called by the name of his character Prince Talon and seems extraneous to the plot-- more on which later.

The script is by Cynthia Curnan, a writer-producer with whom Pyun frequently collaborated in the 21st century. She may have sought to make the EMPIRE script match Pyun's own early projects, because EMPIRE is just as loosely plotted and spotty on exposition as the average Pyun movie from the 20th century. Because EMPIRE's story wanders so, it's hard to tell if Curnan meant to play off one of the most familiar aspects of the Conan-concept, in which the mighty thewed barbarian roamed from place to place, not only gutting evil sorcerers but also humping innumerable distressed damsels. EMPIRE comes close to being a commentary on the downside of the hero's inveterate wenching, for four of the five main characters of the story are such a hero's bastard offspring, and the fifth is the grown daughter of one of the hero's daughters.

Now, in the original 1982 movie heroic Prince Talon actually was not known for far-flung wenching, and he ends up marrying female lead Princess Alana at the movie's end, though there's no telling what might have happened if a sequel, promised at the end of SORCERER, had come to pass. My unverifiable theory: Pyun and Curnan considered having this much-delayed follow-up rewrite Talon's history by making him more Conan-esque. But perhaps Horsley didn't want to play that role for whatever reason, for in the twenty-years-previous prologue, Curnan creates a new character, Oda (Michael Pare), who is renowned for getting it on with assorted damsels. In fact, Oda  doesn't even stint at cohabiting with the monstrous female  vampire Xia (Whitney Able) after killing her evil father Xuxia. (The latter cognomen was also the name of SORCERER's main villain, but the two characters are not coterminous). In fact, Oda also gets Xia pregnant, but the hero courteously waits until Xia delivers her vampire-child, and then he kills Xia, seals her in a tomb, and gives the vampire-kid, later named Kara, to be raised by the rulers of Abelar.

Twenty years after the prologue, treasure hunters break into Xia's tomb, and she revives. After Xia conquers a city with her monstrous pawns (which conquest the viewer does not see), Maat, queen of neighboring city Abelar, decides that their only possible savior is Oda, the man who previously slew Xia. Though Maat is not related to Oda, her half-sister Tanis (Melissa Ordway) is told to seek out the father she's never known. The child of Oda and Xia is also still in Abelar, working as a handmaid to Maat, and she may have been intended to be a secret agent for Xia, though the script never has Kara do anything of consequence.

No one knows where Oda is, but Tanis finds out the location of Oda's only son Aedan (Kevin Sorbo). She finds Aedan in a tavern, cheating at cards and almost getting killed by a hulking warrior until Tanis intervenes to save her half-brother with her martial skills. Aedan tries to reward Tanis by groping her, earning him a knee in the balls. Eventually, in exchange for a bounty from Maat, Aedan agrees to lead Tanis to Oda. Along the way Aedan rescues a second half-sister, Malia, from prison, and the three of them go looking for the fourth half-sister (that they know of). This is Rajan, who runs a tavern and has the aforementioned grown daughter Alana. (Yes, Curnan named Oda's grandaughter after Talon's wife. Try to bring that sort of thing up at Thanksgiving dinner.)

At this point, Pyun and Curnan's money must have been running out, for the rest of the movie devolves into barely connected scenes with only fits and spurts of action. Rajan and Alana take the other three to meet Oda, but the meeting doesn't actually take place, though they do meet a character billed as "The Stranger" (Horsley), who oddly fascinates Tanis and who gives her a not-very-fatherly kiss on the mouth. Oda, though, comes back into the story, since he locates one of Xia's vampires and finds out about Xia's return, and then kills the vamp with Talon's patented projectile-sword. At some point Kara joins the anti-Xia party, and after some desultory battles with crude vampires, the heroes also run across Oda, though the meeting is entirely anti-climactic. Xia is defeated offscreen, and Oda continues his deadbeat-dad pattern by faking his death so that his children won't bug him anymore. The film concludes with the implication that there will be more "tales," but it's probably fortunate that there were not.

Though I feel sure Curnan composed her script on the fly according to all sorts of exigent circumstances, one ruling concept does unite the incoherence: the Zeus-myth. Oda is an alpha-male father whose offspring, like the offspring of Zeus, spend the rest of their lives trying to cope with their unusual patrimonies. In a strange way Aedan becomes an Oda writ small, for he's the only male in the group, followed around by four women who can't help but look like a mini-harem. Aside from Aedan coming on to Tanis, there's an odd scene in which Alana greets her uncle by holding a knife to his throat. Was there some inappropriate contact between Aedan and either his half-sister Rajan or his niece? Who knows, but-- "like father, like son."

Kevin Sorbo, the default star, is the only actor who gets a few decent lines, and he makes as much as he can of roguish Aedan. That said, if there's truth in the speculation that Pyn and Curnan couldn't afford Horsley once Sorbo was on board, I would have preferred to see EMPIRE take its original form, not least because the literal presence of Prince Talon would firm up the movie's qualifications as a bonafide sequel.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

Green Lantern got his first feature-length cartoon about two years before graduating to the "big time" of a live-action movie. Though sometimes the cartoon movie is better than the one with human actors, FIRST FLIGHT and the 2011 film are about even in terms of mythicity, despite taking opposite approaches to the comic book character. As my review makes clear, the 2011 movie follows the heavy psychologizing of the comic book in the 2000s. FLIGHT, though, seems closer to the Silver Age incarnation of the character.

Indeed, even the comic book of the sixties takes more time to get Earthman Hal Jordan accustomed to his new role as a superhero whose ring can conjure up almost any force or weapon through the use of its malleable green energy. The movie spends about ten minutes establishing Jordan's profession as test pilot, and hinting at a romantic relationship with his boss Carol Danvers. Then Jordan's flung into a cosmic adventure by a dying alien who bestows his power ring upon Jordan, informing the Earthman that he's now a "Green Lantern," one of many such crusaders spread throughout the galaxies. Not once does Jordan even contemplate whether or not he wants to take on this new responsibility, and when other members of the Green Lantern show up, questioning the validity of their dead comrade's bequest, Jordan is not slow to claim this new destiny. He departs Earth so quickly that he doesn't even do anything to account for his absence to his employer.

Almost certainly the writers pursued this course because they wanted to introduce, as quickly as possible, the very involved mythology of the Green Lantern Corps and their perceptors The Guardians of the Universe. These immortal beings created the crusaders' power rings and the power-giving lanterns for which they're all named, and for centuries the Corps has kept order in the endless inhabited galaxies. In the original comics, the green power of the rings is vulnerable to the color yellow, but in the interest of creating a major menace, here the Guardians are said to have isolated a "yellow element" from the Great Battery on their planet Oa. Now some unknown plotter seeks to acquire that yellow element in order to eliminate the Corps from the universe.

Jordan, in addition to taking about two seconds to affirm his desire to be a superhero, takes even less time reacting to his first contact with the five alien crusaders who take him to Oa to meet the Guardians. All five fall into distinct physical categories-- Big Hulk-Lantern "Kilowog," Hot Babe-Lantern "Boodikka," Parrot-Beak-Lantern "Tomar Re," Chipmunk-Lantern "Ch'p," and Lobster-Skin-Lantern "Sinestro." None of these alien presences throw Jordan for any kind of loop, nor does journeying to Oa and meeting the immortal Guardians. All that said, the writers do a decent job of keeping the various heroes distinct from one another, and even Sinestro-- whose repute as a major antagonist to Jordan is well known to comics followers-- seems just to be a somewhat gripey functionary devoted to doing his duty. The script follows a reboot of the Silver Age concept by having Sinestro be one of the aliens who trains Hal Jordan to be a cosmic cop, though events move so quickly that Jordan never really gets trained, except on-the-job. 

For a space-opera traversing numerous planets, FLIGHT actually succeeds as a police procedural, and the script even kept me from guessing the identity of a mole in the Corps. Still, even a complete stranger to the Green Lantern mythology is likely to guess that Sinestro is somehow behind the plot to capture the yellow element, if only because he's the least likable Lantern. In contrast, Jordan is the representative of Earth, so even without formal training he excels all the alien Lanterns in foiling Sinestro's schemes and saving the universe. 

Though characterization is skimpy, at least the interactions are not as facile as the psychologizing of the 2011 GREEN LANTERN, and the animated medium is very favorable to finding novel ways for the Green Lanterns to use their unique powers. Action-scenes are above average, and the only voice-actor who doesn't work well with his character is Michael Madsen, playing a raspy-voiced Kilowog. I find it amusing that FLIGHT uses as a side-character Arisia Rrab, who in the comics becomes Hal Jordan's "underage-but-not-really" girlfriend. Arisia also appeared in an episode of JUSTICE LEAGUE and in GREEN LANTERN:EMERALD KNIGHTS, both of which, like this DTV, make Arisia into just another Corpsman, with no reference either to her age or any romantic attachment to Hal Jordan.



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

Hanna-Barbera's 1968 WACKY RACES was a concatenation of almost every type of joke-category the company ever used-- hillbilly humor, Stone Age humor, horror-humor. So it's fairly inevitable, and maybe even appropriate, that when H-B began mining jokey horror in the SCOOBY DOO franchise, they figured out a way to inject car-race humor into one of the Scoob-shows.

WEREWOLF was one of three SCOOBY DOO TV-movies which dispensed with the mystery-solving angle of the original series, as well as dumping Fred, Daphne and Velma. Scooby, Shaggy and Scooby's obnoxious cousin Scrappy are the stars of all three, though WEREWOLF adds a little feminine interest by giving Shaggy a rare girlfriend, one Googie, never seen before or since.

Every year Count Dracula holds a "Monster Road Rally" in which several monsters compete. Though some of these are generic fiends like a mummy, a skeleton and a pair of witches, the group includes a version of Frankenstein and his bride, a Jekyll-Hyde type oddly named "Jackyll and Snide," and a swamp-monster who doesn't look like DC's Swamp Thing but uses the exact same name. The only monster not represented is the werewolf, and the only werewolf available decides not to compete any more. For some reason Dracula just can't stand not to have a werewolf in the race, so his vampire bride "Vanna Pira" (who talks about the race-prizes the way Vanna White announces Wheel-of-Fortune prizes) finds a new subject for werewolf-dom in America, none other than Shaggy Rogers. 

WEREWOLF breaks down into two equally dull plot-movements. First Drac sends his goony (and unfunny) henchmen to the U.S. to make sure Shaggy turns into a werewolf, and then to get him, Scooby, Scrappy and Googie to Transylvania. Then, once the vamp-lord has cudgeled Shaggy into participating in the race (in exchange for the promise to lift the werewolf curse), Drac turns into Dick Dastardly, desperately trying to make sure that no matter who else wins, Shaggy loses. This development makes Drac the fall guy to assorted slapstick gags, all very dull except to tykes who've never seen them before. (This film is very much directed at little kids; in 1988 we're a long way before the SCOOBY franchise began to mine meta-humor.) The other monsters and their race-cars are pretty stupid, with two exceptions. One fiend is a King Kong riff whose initials are "G.K." and I won't spoil the joke by revealing what the letters stand for. The other is Vanna Pira, who adds to Drac's miseries by uttering various "dumb-girl" remarks, in keeping with 1980s jokes about Vanna White's perceived lack of intelligence. 

Most SCOOBY movies are repetitive in one way or another, but WEREWOLF is one of the worst. The script doesn't even make a token effort to establish the rules for making a mortal into a werewolf, and it's so Shaggy-centric that Scooby and Scrappy barely have anything to do. Googie gets a little more action at the opening, when she thinks Shaggy is simply being childish when he begins wolfing out, but during the race-segments she and Scrappy just serve as pit-crew to Shaggy and Scooby's race-car. It's a shame because the script's basic situation had a little more potential. For instance, Vanna Pira repeatedly claims that she thinks Were-Shaggy is cute. What if she'd promised to betray Drac to help Shaggy overcome his curse, but only if he became her lover and rejected Googie? That would have added a little spice to all the vanilla shenanigans, at least. As it stands, WEREWOLF's only distinction is that it was the last story in the Scooby-franchise to use Scrappy Doo as a regular character.

As one often sees in monster-mashes, the only monsters that make WEREWOLF a crossover are Dracula and Frankenstein, However, I could argue that "Mister Snide" is still basically Mister Hyde, and that this is one of the times that a name-change doesn't change his essential identity with the original model. This stands in marked contrast to "Swamp Thing," who has the same name as the DC Comics monster but displays no other points of commonality.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022



FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological, sociological*

I hadn't intended to watch two jungle-girl films this morning, but I watched the second of the two first because I got the impression that there was only one film starring jungle-heroine "Gungala," given two different titles. Unfortunately, though there was a subbed version for the second film available to me, the first one, GUNGALA-- VIRGIN OF THE JUNGLE, was only in untranslated Italian.

I don't think I missed much, though. It starts off with two thieves in Africa, attempting to steal a diamond from the fetish of a neighboring tribe. The two have a falling out and the skinny guy shoots the fat guy. Much later, three Europeans mount an expedition into that area of Africa. One is a heavyset fellow, Wolff, who may be the same guy who was shot, while the second is a guide named Chandler and the third is a hot young blonde woman, Fleur (Linda Veras). Two online reviews claimed that the trio were looking for uranium but I didn't see any of them doing scientific things. (And how many lady scientists go by a name like "Fleur?")

After the threesome listen to local legends about a mysterious female spirit named Gungala (Kitty Swan), they bungle around in the jungle for a while, and then run into the jungle virgin. Wolff promptly shoots at her, and she runs away with a superficial wound. Natives then capture all three Europeans, tie them to stakes, talk to them for a while, and then-- just let them go. The hunters go back to hunting whatever they're looking for, while Gungala watches them from hiding. She sees Fleur exchange a little spit with Chandler, and Gungala's curiosity is clearly aroused, among other things. After a fair number of talking-head scenes, Gungala comes into the group's camp, clearly hoping to have sex with Chandler. Wolff shoots her once again, and this time, it's clear that what he wants is a big diamond on her necklace, which I must assume is the same as the one from the first part of the film. I doubt the film even explained how she obtained it. Wolff, for his part, proves himself a bad shot once again. Gungala, again just superficially wounded, revives and calls up a band of leopards and lionesses to rip Wollf to pieces (offscreen). Then she reclaims the necklace and runs off. As Wolff dies he relates to Chandler and Fleur the origin of Gungala: that her father's plane crashes in Africa with her on board, and that though the father died the little girl grew to womanhood among the animals. There may be some other points of interest in his revelations, but it's such a dull film I don't know why anyone would care.

VIRGIN's director/co-writer Romano Ferrara had only a very short cinematic career, and aside from the Gungala series I know him best for the above-average Eurospy flick SPY IN YOUR EYE.

In contrast to almost all of other Euro-jungle films of this period, VIRGIN's sequel GUNGALA THE BLACK PANTHER GIRL-- directed by Ruggero Deodato and only co-written by Ferrara-- boasts an opening in which we see a modern African city with people living modern lives. A narrator tells us that the main action of the film will be in an "Africa of our dreams," which is a nice touch.

The film finds an adequate excuse to re-unite the jungle waif with explorer Chandler (though the character is played by a different actor this time). Viewers learn Gungala is a potential heiress, so her late  father's company wants to find her, in order to settle the division of her father's estate.The company hires Chandler to escort a small expedition into the area where the Black Panther Girl holds sway over a still-savage tribe, the Bakendas.  In addition to Chandler, the expedition includes Gungala's cousin Julie (Micaela Pignatelli) and another jungle guide, one Morton, with whom Julie had an earlier affair. Thus, for once a European expedition doesn't plan to despoil the tribes of their resources. Gungala herself wears a huge diamond necklace, which makes a taboo presence to the Bakendas. At one point, Julie covets the rock, but the gem is not the primary motive for the adventure

This time a devious, unnamed Arab fills in for greedy Europeans. The guy's got some grand scheme for a "united Africa," though he may only be using this as an excuse to filch the huge diamond at the first opportunity. He's seen briefly at the opening but mostly fades out for the first half of the film. 

On the way to the country of the Bakenda tribe, Julie comes on to Chandler, but doesn't completely cut off Morton from her affections, and she shows some jealousy of the men's pursuit of the jungle girl even before she's met her wild cousin. Then the Bakendas attack, slaughtering the bearers and stealing most of the expedition's supplies. The surviving whites make camp, but this doesn't stop Chandler from venturing alone into the jungle. This time when he meets Gungala, the two of them enjoy a mild romantic tryst, despite the fact that Gungala can only communicate in hisses, growls and whoops, like the animals in whose midst she was raised.

When Chandler gets back to camp, Julie comes up with the bright idea of impersonating Gungala to get clear of the natives. She dresses up like the panther girl, but she doesn't have the identifying diamond. Conveniently, Gungala gets caught in a native-made spring-trap, giving Julie the chance to swipe the big diamond. Julie runs off, hoping to deceive the natives into giving them supplies. Morton, however, won't leave the panther girl to the natives, who may no longer esteem her once she's lost the diamond. He cuts her free and Gungala runs away. However, when Morton gets caught by the hostile natives, she frees him with the help of her animal friends. 

Gungala takes Morton to her jungle home and, after she introduces him to some of her animal friends, she canoodles a little with Morton. Usually if Italian jungle-moves have a good girl and a bad girl, the good girl is true to her first love while the bad girl will do anybody. I don't know if the writer intended it, but the effect is as if he were saying that Gungala and her cousin Julie inherited the same horny genes. Anyway, the jungle girl and the civilized man, despite sharing no common language, cavort on the African veldt, and Morton, who doesn't intend to capture Gungala as his bosses ordered, gets her to pose for photographs. Though the panther girl clearly has idea what Morton's doing, she responds to his attention by striking poses anyway.

Then Morton and Gungala find out that the Bakendas have captured both Chandler and Julie, and that the Arab has talked the tribesmen into sacrificing Julie, specifically because they think she's the hitherto taboo Gungala. Morton asks the panther girl to intercede and she breaks up the sacrificial ritual by riding into the village on the back of an elephant. The Arab escapes with Gungala's diamond, but just as his tribal accomplice says that he's realized the Arab means no good for Black Africans, the Arab steps into quicksand. Morton arrives too late to save the malefactor, but does recover the diamond. He arrives back at camp, where Chandler has taken Julie, apparently immobilized by pre-sacrificial drugs. Julie comes out of her trance just as Chandler and Morton get into a fight about who's going to return the diamond to Gungala. The natives attack again, but this time Gungala repulses the Bakendas with an army made up of elephants, leopards and chimps. Morton, Chandler and Julie all escape in a boat, but Gungala has eyes only for Morton as the film ends with her romantically pining on the river-shore.

The original Gungala film was both directed and co-written by Ferrara, but even though I couldn't follow the dialogue I found its mise-en-scene pretty dull. Yet PANTHER, directed by Deodato and only co-scripted by Ferrara, was much more entertaining, and I think that even without dialogue I'd have still responded positively to all the sheer number of melodramatic incidents, which may be the result of plot-tinkering by Deodato. None of the actors distinguish themselves in this derivative escapism, with the exception of Kitty Swan. She's as dull as the others in VIRGIN, but in PANTHER her performance is appealing, putting across the innocence of the Biblical Eve, communing with the simple beasts of her realm, and yet also showing when necessary the dynamism of a jungle queen. No, Gungala doesn't slug full-grown men like Sheena, but she has a couple of scenes where she swings on a vine so as to kick bad natives in the face-- and she does have an unquestioned rapport with four or five species of jungle-denizen, who come to her defense in approved Tarzan-fashion. So while VIRGIN is no better than any other Euro-jungle flick, PANTHER stands as one of the three best, alongside 1968's EVE and a selection I've not yet made since most of these movies are so torpor-ific. 

Sunday, December 25, 2022



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

I'm sure there are dozens of bad animated features littering the streaming services, just so that parents can plop their kids down in front of reasonably safe kid-fodder. I almost never look at any of these, but the copy for WITCHMAS said something about a bunch of monsters unleashed by the titular witch, name of Selma. (Selma? Like the famous bridge or the infamous sister of Marge Simpson?) So I recognized my duty as compiler of monster mashes and watched it out of the corner of one eye.

I will say WITCHMAS is ideal if one just wants noises and images playing in the background, because it's so under-animated that it makes Hanna-Barbera look like Warner Brothers. Witch Selma takes a page from Jack Skellington and plots to overthrow the holidy of Christmas so that she can make it over in the image of Halloween. There's zero story sense and zero characterization, but the copy was correct; Selma does attempt to enlist various monsters into her scheme, including some gnomes (one strangely named Candycane), a very thin mummy, a zombie, and a very short Dracula. None of them do anything but deliver a few lines, but yes, WITCHMAS counts as a monster-mashup.  The main characters are a bunch of Santa-elves who wander around blathering about stopping Selma but doing almost nothing until the "climax," in which one elf talks Selma out of her plan. (?) 

The only thing close to a witty line appears when the zombie complains that his type of monster is too much in demand these days. But even then the incompetent writers miss the chance to have his cohort the mummy make some envious remark. I think the elves appeared in other original films from the same studio but I couldn't sustain any interest in any part of this folderol.

Saturday, December 24, 2022



FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological, sociological*

Here's yet another chopsocky directed by Geoffrey Ho that isn't significantly more demented than other kung fu films of the time, and which actually has a reasonably linear plot, just like both THE DYNAMITE SHAOLIIN HEROES and GRAND MASTER OF SHAOLIN KUNG FU. 

There's a dollop of sociological myth in the initiating actions of greedy landowner Hu (Martin Chiu) trying to exploit his tenant farmers. But this setup serves solely as a motivation for Hu to slaughter the father and mother of a resisting family, the Lees. Two brothers escape. Chin-Tai the oldest boy, after witnessing his parents' deaths, simply runs away, and when he next re-enters the story as an adult, viewers learn nothing about what happened to him out in the world. Chin-Tung is more fortunate: the family's nanny takes him to a neighboring village to be raised by an unrelated family. As for the Lee's one daughter, Hu capriciously decides to raise her as his own child, unaware of her true parents' fate.

Fast-forward twenty years, and young adult Chin-Tung is first seen having a kung-fu duel with "Shirley" (Cheryl Meng, sometimes billed with the first name Kitty). Chin-Tung's offense is that he referred to Shirley as "sister," which raises her ire because she doesn't think of Chin-Tung as a "brother." The broad implication is that the two may have been raised together, and that, even if they knew they weren't real siblings, Chin-Tung can't really think of Shirley as anything but. In any case, Chin's driving obsession is to gain revenge for his slain parents. The script doesn't say who taught kung fu to the two non-siblings, but Chin-Tung has reached the age that he can no longer shirk his duty to seek vengeance. 

Problem is, Hu didn't hang out in the vicinity, but moved off when he'd made his pile off the backs of the peasants. Chin-Tung initially plans to leave alone, but Shirley tags along in boys' attire. Coincidentally, as word-of-mouth takes the duo ever closer to Hu's current location, Chin-Tai homes in on their mutual nemesis at the same time. 

Meanwhile, over at Hu's new digs, we see that Hu has indeed raised the former Lee girl as his own daughter under the name Chu Cheng, and he's taught her some kung fu as well. This plot-thread suggests that she might end up defending her father against her actual brothers, and indeed there is a minor dust-up between Chu Cheng and her oldest brother Chin-Tai. But her character is quickly sidelined, and she's not present for the climactic battle. For that matter, Chin-Tai is taken out by Hu's henchman Ma. Ma has a weird "magnetic sword" with which he can throw off an opponent's balance by attracting any metal on their outfits, and he does so with Chin-Tai's metal necklace, setting the avenger up for a killing blow. Later Chin-Tung and Shirley come across the dying man and the two brothers become aware of each other's existence just before the older sibling dies.

Though no one seeks out a chopsocky for strong drama, the plot does focus most of all upon the gradual (though completely chaste) romance of Chin-Tung and Shirley. Being away from their common home causes the young man to become more aware of Shirley as a woman, and he even projects his own erotic feelings in the form of fearing that some of Hu's rowdies may rape her. Thus, the hero doesn't really prioritize finding his lost sister as he does hooking up with the woman he's thought of as his sister.

Dragon Lee is one of the better Bruce Lee-imitators, and he projects good charisma in the midst of his fights, particularly the concluding one with "bad father" Hu, wherein Martin Chiu provides a formidable menace. Cheryl Meng executes her fights efficiently enough, but in the acting department she's nowhere near even the middle-level divas like Lily Li. Since Hu is neither a scientist nor a sorcerer, there's no accounting for the provenance of the magnetic sword, or for a kind of badly-explained "strength belt" Hu wears. In the context of other chopsockies with such gimmicks, I tend to think they're meant to be rudimentary extensions of the period's science rather than innovations, and so I judge them as uncanny devices. SHOWDOWN shakes out as a good time-killer with a minor psychological myth at its core.



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

Writer-director Nick Nostro, who gave the first Superargo film a fair amount of visual panache, did not return for the second and last outing of the crimson-clad wrestler-hero. Both the new director, Paolo Bianchini, and the new writer seemed to have done better in their careers with spaghetti westerns, for this is a pedestrian if competent masked crusader flick.

In the first film Superargo already has a bulletproof costume and a superlative, Doc Savage-like control of his physical abilities. Bianchini and company at least make the effort to up the game somewhat. When a new menace threatens and the helpless spy agencies need a savior, they seek out Superargo (Ken Wood again), and find that he's been studying the mystic arts with Hindu instructor Kamir (Italian actor Aldo Sambrell). The ex-wrestler now has such powers as telepathy and levitation, and the latter makes possible the film's best scene, in which the heroes, trapped in a chamber filling with poison gas, simply float their way above the gas!

The new menace begins with a number of missing athletes, who re-appear as lobotomized slaves of an evil genius, Professor Wond (Guy Madison). Wond has no more characterization than previous villain Diabolicus, and I'm not sure Wond even has a definite world-conquering plot in mind as he sends his "faceless giants" (actually, fairly tall men with no expressions) out to assault his enemies. It doesn't take Superargo and his sidekick long to identify Wond, but once they do, there's no talk of having a local army raid his base. The two heroes just wander from place to place, being attacked by the robots. In the middle of the film, Superago becomes a scientist and invents an electronic gun that disrupts the cyborgs' hearts, but later he forgets the gun and he and Kamir just whale on the robots over and over. I commented that Superargo generally conformed to the pattern of the simon-pure altrusitic hero. Yet at the end, after the red retaliator defeats the pathetically unskilled professor in a fight, Superargo promptly tosses the evildoer into a pool of deadly quicksand. 

Bianchini conforms to one pattern of the first film: a good girl and a bad girl. Superargo's previous girlfriend is gone without comment, but he gets a new squeeze (Luisa Baratto) in the course of his peregrinations. She ends up with him at the film's conclusion, in which it sounds like the wrestler may hang up his mask for the charms of domesticity. But the bad girl is more interesting. Whereas a viewer couldn't be entirely sure about the feelings of the villain's henchwoman in DIABOLICUS, But this time the bad woman, played by Diana Lorys, forms an unquestionable passion for the lithe hero but ends up dying accidentally, just another "tainted woman" despite lending the crusader some aid in the end. Indeed, because the fights are pretty dull, Lorys provides the film's only good performance with her breathy passion for the stolid Superargo.

Friday, December 23, 2022



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological, sociological*

Before rewatching this famous flop, I chanced across some imdb review in which the writer opined that this version of the Marvel Comics shield-slinger was at least better than the two made-for-TV Captain America movies from the late 1970s. I loathed director Albert Pyun's film when I saw it in 1990, possibly in a second-run theater since records suggest it never got a full release in the U.S. However, today I'd admit that though CAPTAIN AMERICA is a bad film, it's at least trying to emulate better films, even if it falls on its face at nearly every turn.

Though I'm not exactly more forgiving these days, I can see how badness sometimes arises from exigent circumstances. One of the earliest departures of the film from its source material is that Captain America is not the first "super-soldier," and the super-soldier serum, the creation of Italian lady scientist Dr. Vaseli, gets a trial run on a young Italian boy. This boy grows to become The Red Skull, so called because the serum mutates the flesh of his face (but only his face). Back in the day, I was greatly offended that the script would capriciously change Marvel's archetypal German/Nazi villain into an Italian character, and one who doesn't even choose to be evil of his own will. Now, however, I realize that the writer was probably presented with the exigent circumstance that the film was mostly going to be shot in Croatia, and that Croatian locations were easier to pass off as Italian than as German.

Doctor Vaseli takes exception to the tactics of the Italian Fascists and flees to the U.S., where she works on a better version of her serum for the Americans. Thus The Red Skull (played in adulthood by Scott Paulin) and Steve Rogers (Matt Salinger) grow to adulthood around the same time-- which loosely resembles the story of the comic-book villain's origin-- until the fateful day that Rogers is selected to be the recipient of the serum. The transformation takes place, and as in the hero's comics-origin, an assassin for the other side slays the scientist so that there will be no more super-soldiers. However, one new wrinkle is that one of the American military men in attendance, one Fleming (Darren McGavin), is a mole. Thus after Rogers is trained for his new destiny as the embodiment of American ideals, Fleming betrays the hero's first mission to the Red Skull. When the Captain invades an Italian installation to prevent a missile attack on the U.S., the Skull is ready for the intruder and beats him down handily. The villain ties the hero to the missile and sends both rocketing away to blow up the White House. Captain America can't get free but he manages to redirect the missile away from Washington D.C, so that it flies all the way to Alaska. Instead of blowing up the hero, the missile crashes in such a way as to put the hero into deep-freeze. 

Oh, almost forgot: somewhere in the Captain's rushed rise to herodom, he acquires a girlfriend, Bernie. The character's name comes from Cap's comic-book girlfriend of the 1980s, but she's really based on a 1960s continuity in which Cap had a 1940s girlfriend, Peggy Carter, more on which plotline later.

So, while Captain America sleeps out the rest of the war, the Allies win the conflict anyway. If Red Skull does anything else to hinder the Allies, we never learn of it, but at some point he simply goes undercover and aligns himself with a Mafia-like crime family. He has plastic surgery so that he simply looks like a guy with lots of facial scars, and he sires a daughter, Valentina (Francesca Neri) who becomes a formidable hitwoman. The Skull's killers assassinate Martin Luther King and the Kennedy Brothers, but when his employers want new President Tom Kimball slain as well, the villain decides he'd rather brainwash the politician instead.

Explorers de-thaw Captain America, and the papers carry the news of his revival. Instead of his getting quarantined by the military for months, the hero easily escapes a simple hospital (where some of the Skull's thugs attack him, unsuccesfully). He meets a reporter (Ned Beatty) who helps him with some of his transitioning, and then goes to find Bernie. The old girlfriend is now married and has a grown daughter, Sharon. (In the sixties continuity, Sharon Carter, designed to be Cap's sixties romantic interest, was the sister of Peggy.) Not much later, the Skull's men track Cap to Bernie's residence, but he's not there, so they kill Bernie. Cap gets on the trail of the Skull both to avenge his former love and to liberate the kidnapped President, who just happens to be the grown version of a young lad who witnesses Cap's missile-mission from afar. Somehow Sharon forces her way into the hero's mission, despite having no combat skills, though she eventually has a short fight with the Skull's daughter. As for the Skull, the revival of his old enemy seems to revive his passion for explosive schemes, as he's readied a nuclear bomb for launching. The President, whom the Skull never gets around to brainwashing, escapes and helps Cap and Sharon overcome their enemies.

Though there's nothing intrinsically wrong with this complicated script, Pyun, his scripters and the people behind the cinematography and fight-choreography are not equal to bringing to life the Sentinel of Liberty. Pyun had essentially begun his career with an imitation, coming out with a "mockbuster version" of CONAN THE BARBARIAN, THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER, but despite that film's defects, it was at least competent in duplicating the sword-and-sorcery tropes. With CAPTAIN AMERICA, the model used by Pyun and his scripters is clearly that of Richard Donner's 1978 SUPERMAN. But every time Pyun and company try to say something meaningful about the ideals represented by Captain America, they fall on their collective faces with their phony-baloney gestures. For one thing, their Captain America doesn't even get a chance to rack up a reputation as America's hero. Instead, his first and only mission is only a qualified success, and even then, no one but the audience knows that he averted the White House's destruction. Not exactly "living legend" material. 

The romantic subplot is just as malnourished, and it seems to get forced into the story because every hero is supposed to have a love-interest. When Lee and Kirby introduced Sharon Carter, they may have intended to develop some melodramatic tempest when Peggy found that her sister was in love with her former boyfriend, though Sharon's creators didn't follow through with that plot-thread. But since there's no time for any actual romantic moments, one never knows if Sharon thinks it's weird to be hanging out with a youth-preserved version of her mother's boyfriend.

Matt Salinger tries to look meaningful or courageous according to the mood, but his face always has the expressivity of a block of wood. Scott Paulin spends little time in Skull-face, and once he's just a scarred mobster-type, he plays the villain with a serpentine flair and a twisted sense of poetry about his own evil. It's not the ideal version of the durable super-villain, but at least the actor doesn't embarrass himself here. Everyone else goes through the motions, but they've got little to work with, since the problem is that Pyun and the writers have given the actors flat, simple characters to inhabit.

For the rest of his career, Pyun showed himself to best effect when he confined himself to pure, headlong action narratives, as evinced in 1995's NEMESIS 2 and in 1997's John Woo-inspired MEAN GUNS. The main significance of CAPTAIN AMERICA-- appearing on some international screens a year after the 1989 BATMAN-- is that one sees what would have happened to the superhero genre had it never been transformed by creative types like Richard Donner and Tim Burton, who sold the public on the idea that the genre could produce more than casual, ill-conceived hackwork.

Thursday, December 22, 2022



PHENOMENALITY: (1-3)*marvelous,* (4-5)*uncanny*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

Since the majority of these lucha-flicks have mad science of some sort, I'm assigning them the cosmological function. I do so with some reservations, since I only watched two English-language versions of the five Neutron films, while the other three were in their makers' native language of espanol.

I did see all five in dubbed-English versions way back in the 1960s. But while there are a lot of dubbed or subbed Santo movies floating around, the Neutron dubs seem more elusive. That said, I got the urge to re-visit the series after reviewing EL ASESINO INVISIBLE, which in the U.S. was falsely marketed as being a Neutron flick, though the superhero-wrestler of ASESINO didn't even look like "el enmascarado negro." At first I thought I might just review the two dubbed versions available and leave the others till later. But frankly, the third one in particular seemed so slipshod that I doubted this series would ever get circulated in full. So I'm including my impressions of the three undubbed Neutrons.

The first three films in the series are all directed and co-written by Frederico Curiel, whose most enduring credit may his screenplay for 1962's THE BRAINIAC, a slow-moving horror movie with a visually impressive monster. Neutron the Atomic Superman (who despite his hyperbolic title is just a tough guy) is similarly the best thing about his films, or rather his outfit is. He wears a black mask, gloves and trousers, leaving his arms and hairy torso bare. I don't think performer Wolf Ruvinskis, a Latvian immigrant to Mexico, was especially good in the stunt department, but he certainly looks tough as he wades into four or five guys at a time.

The three Curiel flicks follow a rigid template that might have been partly borrowed from the 1938 serial THE LONE RANGER. In that chapterplay, five different stalwarts are suspected of being the Masked Man, and the serial concludes with an unmasking once the trouble is over. All three Curiel scripts focus on a lovely young woman named Nora (Rosita Arenas) and three young swains who all court her but are good friends with one another. The first film, NEUTRON THE BLACK MASK, may be suggesting that one of the three men is Neutron, who has no origin and has already set up shop as local superhero before the movie starts. I can't be sure, though, since this was one of the non-English flicks. In addition to this possible "who's-the-hero" schtick, Curiel burns up time with a lot of talky scenes and night-club performances, since Nora happens to be a professional singer. Not only has Neutron been around for a time, so has his arch-nemesis Doctor Caronte, a mad scientist who dresses all in white in contrast to Neutron's ebony attire. Caronte lusts to obtain the secret of the "neutron bomb," which may or may not have something to do with his enemy's cognomen. Unlike most mad scientists, Caronte can actually hold his own against his more martial opponent, and on top of that he has a cackling dwarf assistant and a small army of shaggy-haired zombies. Aside from all this potential, though, Caronte still seems like a weenie.

Possibly the first film didn't do that well, since it was another two years before the producers made the follow-up in 1962. However, after that a Neutron movie came out annually for the next three years. NEUTRON VS. THE DEATH ROBOTS, which I saw dubbed, recycles most of the same tropes of the first film. The "robots" of the title are just a new collection of Doctor Caronte's zombies, and although Caronte has his best fight with Neutron here, overall ROBOTS is pretty dull. Nora, the boys and the night-club performers all put in their time once again.

I saw the last Curiel film, NEUTRON VS. THE AMAZING DOCTOR CARONTE in a dubbed form, but damned if it wasn't harder to follow than any of the undubbed versions! I think Caronte discovers some sort of magic spell by which he can transfer his mind into the body of another scientist, possibly with the object of getting hold of the neutron bomb formula. Neutron appears to get killed, but we find out later that Caronte's holding him prisoner. Another guy, I think one of the three swains, dons Caronte's costume and fights brain-swapped Caronte. 

Nora and her boyfriends go bye-bye for the fourth film, NEUTRON VS. THE MANIAC though we still get night-club performances for some reason. Inheriting the director's chair is one Alfredo B. Crevenna, a journeyman with an impressive sixty-year career that includes a number of recognizable Mex-horror films and the last two Santo entries. Though there are still a number of talky scenes, Crevenna is far Curiel's superior in terms of staging dramatic scenes, and Neutron gets three solid fights while he's trying to stop a weird slasher-killer. This was undubbed, but I got the impression that the slasher is a put-up job by a schemer and his henchmen. No mad science this time, but I can't call this one psychological since I didn't follow the dialogue. Beauties Gina Romand and Rita Macedo prove easy on the eyes, and Chucho Salinas, who played the comic relief in the first two Luchadoras films, essays a near-identical role here. Measured though the choice may be, MANIAC is the best of this quintet.

The final film in the series, NEUTRON BATTLES THE KARATE ASSASSINS, is again directed by Crevenna, though KARATE is not as visually distinctive as MANIAC. Like MANIAC the final Neutron eschews a lot of wild scientific inventions; this time the crusader faces a band of assassins who only execute their victims with karate blows (hence, conforming to the "weird society" trope). In addition to the script reverting to too much talk and not enough action, with or without Neutron, there are also too many scenes in what I guess are supposed to be dojos, though they just look like regular boxing gyms. Chucho Salinas plays the same comic relief as in MANIAC, while familiar faces Ariadne Welter and German Robles do their best to add a little charm to the tedious proceedings. 

Maybe because Neutron's outfit makes him look like "rough trade," the producers might have done better to involve him in darker, more violent adventures. As it is, he just comes off as a rather colorless Santo imitator. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2022



FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

For some reason Italian filmmakers included the words "gold" and "seven," either separately or together, in about a half dozen sixties movies. The title TARGET GOLDSEVEN means absolutely nothing to this movie, and possibly the West German title above, something about an "atom-alarm," would be closer to the subject matter.

Alan Milner (Tony Russel) is assigned to investigate a uranium theft by the criminal organization "The Snake." (Eurospy movies almost never come up with good villains, and here we see them just as inept in naming crime rings.) While Milner pursues the usual clues, the audience gets to see the sanctuary of the Snake-mastermind "Mister Otis" and what he's doing with the stolen nuclear material. In the movie's one departure for expectations, Otis's scientists are trying to concoct an anti-nuclear serum that will immunize people from fallout poisoning. This actually sounds like a good thing, but the script never extrapolates how the crooks are going to exploit their invention if they perfect it, so that part of the plot goes nowhere.

Everything else follows the usual template. I'll credit one-shot director Alberto Leonardi and his writers will giving the audience a fair amount of sex and violence early in the picture, even if the sex is just Milner canoodling with a lady golf pro on the green. The fights and his later lovemaking with female lead Erika Blanc are okay but unremarkable. Russel is charming when needed but he's far from the most impressive of the Eurospies. As if to make up for the underwritten nature of the lead female's role, Blanc's character gets to be a little unpredictable at film's end, escaping Milner when he makes the mistake of lowering his guard. GOLDSEVEN is a little better than the worst but nowhere near the best of its kind.



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

In an online reference I can no longer find, I read the allegation that SILVER HAWK was based on an old Hong Kong superhero comics-character from the forties. I don't find this hard to believe, since in every way the superheroine seems like a new iteration of the trope of the wealthy parvenu who fights crime in a costumed identity. In this case, the motorcycle-riding Silver Hawk, guardian of "Polaris City" (which is to Hong Kong as Gotham City was to New York) is also famed magazine model Lulu Wong.

This film was something of a return to form for Michelle Yeoh, having also played a high-kicking superheroine about ten years previous in the two HEROIC TRIO films. She has to spend a lot of time leaping around kicking bad-guy butt while smiling insouciantly, and she does both quite well. Though she fights some generalized crooks, her main opponent is American businessman Alexander Wolf (Luke Goss), who wants to steal the chip technology of a Hong Kong scientist, with which Wolf plans to control people's minds. Wolf has a small army of henchmen and two major, colorfully-garbed enforcers, played by Michael Jai White and Bingbing Li, and Silver Hawk burns up a lot of time in big splashy battles with this duo before a climactic battle with their bionically enhanced boss.

Lulu Wong never voices an explicit motive for battling crime in a costume, but one presumes that she formed the urge to fight evil while training in a martial arts academy as a child. In Lulu's flashbacks to this period, we see how she forged a deep friendship with a young male student, her "first love" as it were. She meets his twenty-something self early in the film, now calling himself by the punny name of "Rich Man" (Richie Jen), and guess what? He's the new head of the Polaris police department, and he's sworn to apprehend the vigilante Silver Hawk. The script plays the conflict between Rich and his quarry for broad comedy, with Rich being the butt of the joke as against the far more skilled lady superhero. Late in the film he finds out who she is, and the film turns slightly more serious as he's conflicted between personal feelings and official duties. Not surprisingly, he ends up teaming up with the vigilante to stop Wolf, and the film ends with a very light suggestion of budding romance.

The conflict between cop and vigilante is the film's primary sociological myth, but there's no sense of any opposition to Silver Hawk fighting crime because she's female: "girl power" has already won its war in this movie. There's also a dollop of kung-fu wisdom in some of the flashback scenes, but nothing exceptional. The big fight-scenes are well done though a trifle mechanical, and the comedic interaction of Rich and Lulu was SILVER HAWK's most enjoyable asset.