Monday, January 11, 2010

Dollar DVDementia

I'll buy that for a dollar! And that! And that...

Tom's Tex Avery Epiphany:
"Dollar DVDs? Must! Buy! All!"

Christ, we're in a recession and I'm getting furloughed in two days time, but priorities are priorities and when a man discovers a good $1 DVD source, well, like the '49 Gold Rush miners, ya just gotta tap that vein-o-gold nuggets! Yes indeed, one man's grimy and wrinkled dead president represents another man's ticket to Nirvana (the state of perfect peace, not the band).

Down for the Count: Dollar Bin Diving

So herein are my recent scores at the dollar store near Lexington Market. I walked in on a futile quest for underwear-of-color and there next to a row of tighty whities (all they had, alas!) was a bin of el cheapo Grade Z public domain movies. I walked out with 30 of them - and I wonder why I'm always broke (those dollars add up...).

Carry Nation: A Fiftysomething totes Thirtysomething

Almost all of them are distributed by an entity calling itself EastWestDVD who are renowned for their atrocious/misleading cover art designs. Like...

Bill and Coo (1948)
directed by Dean Reisner, cast trained by George Burton

Wow, what a find! You'd never know it going by the retardo cartoon cover art, but according to Wikipedia (a librarian's best friend!), Bill and Coo was a 1948 live-action film featuring an all-animal (albeit mostly fine-feathered) cast! Now anytime you run across an "all-(something or other)" film, it usually has direct-to-"cult"-status written all over it, be that "all-something" an all-midget (The Terror of Tiny Town), all-sideshow (Freaks), all-handicapped (Crippled Masters), all-deaf (Deafula), all-retarded (The Kids of Widney High, Adam Sandler films), all-Esperanto-language (Incubus), or what have you (sometimes all of these elements are represented; those films are usually directed by Crispin Glover!). And I'm happy to report that the all-avian Bill and Coo is no different in that regard.

Bill and Coo: this bird-brained flick is super fly!

The film was conceived by producer/comedian Ken Murray as a showcase for George Burton's trained birds (who'd previously been featured in Murray's long-running Los Angeles stage review Blackouts) and earned him an honorary Academy Award for its "novel and entertaining use of" the movie medium. The film's titular Bill and Coo are parakeet lovebirds (hmmm, in that case, this might make a good double-bill with Hitchcock's The Birds) who live in peace in Chirpendale (a miniature village build into a 15' x '30 table - the world's second smallest film set) with their fellow birds of a feather until an evil black crow by the name of The Black Menace (played by Jimmy the Crow) terrorizes the town. Though some critics think "The Black Menace" has racial overtones - citing Disney's Dumbo (1941) for depicting of minorities as members of the bird family and pointing out that the "Jim Crow" laws were named after the black bird for a reason - but I thought the Black Menace was a clear reference to Nazis and the aerial bombing of London; every time the crow attacks Chirpendale the soundtrack queues up the sound of aircraft and you see Jimmy the Crow's shadow cast over the own like a plane's wings, while the town's birds all flee into an air raid shelter called the "Fraid Hole."

Watch Bill and Coo:

Subsequent research determined that there are a number of all-animal films, though mostly shorts, like MGM's all-canine Dogville "Barkies" comedies and Hal Roach's mostly all-simian Dippy-Doo-Dads series for Pathe in the early '20s. The Dippy-Doo-Dads were trained by Tony Campanero and later appeared in Charlie Chaplin's 1928 feature The Circus. Interestingly enough, the only Dippy-Doo-Dads short I've ever been able to track down is "Orange Blossoms for Violet," which appears as an extra on disc four of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Vol. Two DVD; it's Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones' 1952 remix of the original silent with Mel Blanc voicing the characters.

Roach/Pathe's Dippy-Doo-Dads

An MGM "Dogville" barker

I also learned that the hard-to-find Bill and Coo can be found on something called Weird Cinema: 15 Freaky Flicks! (an intriguing collection from dvdatcom that includes The Terror of Tiny Town, Glen or Glenda, Wild Guitar, The Sadist, Chained For Life, Mesa of Lost Women, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, The Killer Shrews, Child Bride, Hitler: Dead Or Alive, Night Tide, Carnival of Souls, Spider Baby, and Teenagers From Outers Space). Oh, I also learned that Bill and Coo's director/co-writer, Dean Riesner, went on write some of Clint Eastwood's biggest '70s hits, including Play Misty for Me, Dirty Harry, and High Plains Drifter. And to think it all started with this bird-brained (literally!) little film.

Captain Fathom Vol. 1

Like Clutch Cargo and Space Angel, this is yet another example of Cambria Studio's unfathomably cheapo animation style known as "Synchro-Vox" - which we take for granted these days thanks to its resurgence on Late Night with Conan O'Brien - but at the time was a low-budget filming method that superimposed talking lips over static cartoon drawings. Though 'toon expert Jerry Beck name-checked Captain Fathom in his "Worst Cartoons Ever" list, the character design was by renowned comic book artist Alex Toth (who also designed Cambria's Space Angel and went on to do a number of stylish character designs during his stretch at Hanna-Barbera, including Space Ghost and The Super Friends), and that alone made this curio immensely pickup-able. Captain Fathom commanded a submarine called the Argonaut whose crew included Cookie, Ronnie, Scotty, and Miss Perkins, plus a tag-along porpoise named Flip. The show debuted in 1965 and Cambria cranked out 17 half-hour episodes, which were often broken up into 5-minute serial cliffhanger-style episodes on kiddie TV shows. I also grabbed Volume 3. So far I've only seen one episode, which was pretty funny as each international character's voice, like a Mexican general in the episode I saw, was peppered with the most blatantly stereotypical accents ("Si, seeen-yore!"). Oh, the disc also includes episodes of Space Angel and Clutch Cargo. Speaking of which...

Clutch Cargo, Vol. 5

Clutch Cargo was a kind of poor man's Jonny Quest - and Cambria Studio's first "Synchro-Vox" star - who traveled around the world on dangerous missions with his young sidekick Spinner and his pet dachshund Paddlefoot. I restrained myself and only picked up one volume of this series, but there were at least seven on display.

As you can see, snow-haired Clutch looks a lot like Jonny Quest's Race Bannon...

...though that glory-hole mouth with the superimposed lips makes him look like a crimson-lipped drag queen!

Colonel Bleep and Friends, Vol. 2

Colonel Bleep was the first color cartoon ever made for television and has been cited by Ren and Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi as a major influence on his own work. I can see it. Somewhere at home I think I have Vol. 1. Anyway, Colonel Bleep was an alien from the planet Futura who protected Earth with the help of his sidekicks, the mute cowboy Squeek and burly caveman Scratch (who, like Godzilla, was awakened from a sleep of several thousand years by an atomic explosion).

Watch Colonel Bleep's "Arrival On Earth" :

Diver Dan, Vol. 2

People under the age of 50 that see Diver Dan (no, it's not a Van Halen album!) can't believe that this 1960-62 series was one of my favorite shows growing up, one that was near-and-dear to me not just because it featured puppet-fish marionettes with clearly visible strings attached that smoked cigarettes (like Trigger the triggerfish) and sported monocles (like baddie boss Baron Barracuda), or because the charmless Diver Dan's main squeeze was a zaftig blonde mermaid (Miss Minerva), but because it was all so surreal...I mean, all the voice-over narrative and rhymed ("Below in the deep there's adventure and danger/That's where you'll find Diver Dan/The sights that he sees are surprising and stranger/Than ever you'll see on the land"), and the whole thing was shot through a Chinese restaurant fish tank for the low-tech "underwater effect." Years ago I scored a video containing a bunch of Diver Dan episodes from Reptilian Records and now I have this Vol. 2 DVD release from East West Entertainment that packs 17 episodes into its two-hour running time. Can't wait to while away the next snow storm watching Dan and his fishy friends Finley Haddock, Doc Sturgeon (with his delightful Yiddish accent!), Georgie Porgy, Gabby the Clam, Gill Espy, Glow Fish, Goldie the Goldfish, Hermit Crab, Sam the Sawfish, Scout Fish, Sea Biscuit the Seahorse, and Skipper Kipper. (Hmmm, one character, Diver Dan's captain, was heard but never seen, positing the question...was his skipper Captain Fathom?)

Voodoo Black Exorcist (Vudu Sangriento, 1974)
"A Manuel Cano Film"

When it doubt, paint it black. On a Caribbean island in the distant past¸ a Voodoo priest kills his lover’s husband and they are both killed for the crime. On a modern day cruise, the Voodoo priest begins looking for his lover’s reincarnation, beheading passengers along the way. Love Boat it's not!

I love that the director's name is branded iconographically on the cover of this piece of low-budget trash in an attempt to give this cheeseball Spanish zombie flick an aura of class, like the nobody director is worthy of Auteur Status alongside, say Orson Welles or Alfred Hitchcock - or even Alan Smithee! I mean, who the f**k is Manuel Cano (or Manual Dog in literal translation)? Still, with Amazon customer reviews like the following...
"Voodoo Black Exorcist" technically awful, with horrible color balance (it now comes across as various hues of aqua, pale yellow, and brown), awful acting, atrocious dubbing, plodding pacing, and a ridiculous premise."

...I kinda want to put it on in the backdrop when I clip my toenails tonight. Plus other reviews indicate that a few of the voodoo natives are actually white guys in blackface - or should I say "brown face" since several critics have inferred that the mummy character's costume design consists of nothing more than smearing shit over the actor's gauze-wrapped face! (Could this be a Spanish zombie homage to Divine in Pink Flamingos? The mind boggles...)

The posters for this film are pretty funny, with taglines like "This dude means business so watch out when your nerves start to shatter!" and the William Castle-worthy viewer's caveat emptor "Warning - We are not responsible to [sic] any person that this film may disturb, either physically or mentally. See at your own risk":

The Voodoo Black Exorcist means business!

But the folks at Psychotronic Video Guide love this film! Here's Michael Weldon's review:
Here's a crazy mummy movie you might have missed, a Madrid/Miami production with some scenes shot in Hait, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. On a tropical island, two natives (Spanish actors in blackface) fight over Kenya (Tanyeka Stadler). During a voodoo ceremony - complete with frenzied topless black dancers - Kenya is decapitated and her (very fake-looking) head is passed around. The titles show up over NASA stock footage. A Love Boat-type cruiser contains the casket of a mummy (Also Sambrell), who can change, wolfman-style, into a "normal" scary bald man with a magic ring. He makes a shipworker his servant and pursues Kenya's reincarnation. He decapitates a man and puts his head in bed with her. In Kingston he has a man run over by a steamroller, and is interviewed on TV: "Three centuries in museums. I've learned many things!" In Port-au-Prince somebody fights the mummy with a a water hose. He kidnaps his lost love and takes her to a huge cave. His obvious double goes down in flames at the end. The music ranges from sitars to davie Allan-style guitar soundtrack rock. This movie has lots of talk and flashbacks and a fire-eating belly dancer. In my favorie scene, the mummy man is seen in a mirror, slapping a dancer around. The cameraman is clearly seen in the mirror, too. Director Cano also made King of the Jungle.

Watch the "Voodoo Black Exorcist" trailer.

Starbirds (1982)

Thanks to my Japanarama sensei Dave Cawley, I've learned to never hesitate picking up anything to do with giant robots - after all, Dave is the guy who penned the ultimate paen to them, Berserk's classic toe-tapping ditty "Giant Robots"... when I spied this DVD whose liner notes promised "pulse pounding giant robot action," 'twas a no-brainer. I subsequently learned that Starbirds is the dubbed American movie version cobbled together from the 44-episode 1978-1979 Japanese TV anime series known as Tosho Daimos, or Brave Leader Daimos. (The name Daimos is derived from Deimos, one of the two moons of Mars.) The Daimos/Starbirds toys were distributed stateside in the late '70s as a part of Mattel's Shogun Warriors line of imported Super Robot toys.

The Mattel Shogun Warrior Daimos

Here's what Anime Bargain Bin Reviews had to say: "Giant robots, bad dubbing, music from the Police Academy guy." You need more??? OK:
In 1982 several of the episodes were edited together into a 70 minute movie for TV and video distribution by New Hope Entertainment. The production duties were handled by Bunker Jenkins, the man behind the Tranzor Z version of Mazinger Z, with the same cast and crew that worked on his other anime adaptation Shadow World.

Piecing together footage from episodes; 01 ("Victory will be Ours Forever), 02 ("The Mysterious Girl Erika") and 06 ("Wipe Away Your Tears and Rise") with parts of the later additions comprising the climax. As usual character names are changed, now we have Kelly Hunter fighting off the Volarian invasion, led by Roderick, using his mighty robot Dynamo.

This movie, entitled Starbirds, was first seen in the U.S. where it was aired on the SHOWTIME network throughout the early 1980's. It made it's home video debut in the UK in 1983 where it was released by Derann a company founded in 1964 by husband and wife team Derek and Anne Simmonds. Unfortunately the company left the home video market after the introduction of the 1984 video recordings act (see Frankenstein) and Starbirds was never to reappear on the shelves.

It wasn't until 1987 that the Bunker Jenkins version reached American stores from Hi-Tops Video the same distributor that had released Shadow World a year earlier. It has been long out of print although at some point it has been re-released on $1 DVD.

Watch "Starbirds: Dynamo Vs. Speedboat Lizard":

Watch "Starbirds: Dynamo's First Fight":

Hoppity Hooper, Vol. 1 (1964)

Hoppity Hooper - not to be confused with the similar-sounding Warner Bros. character Hippety Hopper - was a 52-episode animated television series produced by Jay Ward (of Rocky & Bullwinkle and George of the Jungle fame) in 1964, originally broadcast on ABC (1964-67), originally co-sponsored by General Mills and Topper Toys, and later syndicated under the title Uncle Waldo's Cartoon Show. The recurring characters were Hoppity Hooper (a frog, voiced by Chris Allen), Uncle Waldo P. Wigglesworth (a fox voiced by Hans Conried), Fillmore (a mentally-challenged bugle-blowing bear who wore Civil War duds and was voiced by Bill Scott), and narrators Paul Frees (episodes 1-50) and William "Cannon" Conrad (episodes 51-52). Alan Reed voiced Fillmore Bear in the first two episodes before going on to become the long-running voice of Fred Flintstone.

Critics consider "The Traffic Zone" - a parody of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone - to be the series' best episode.

Watch "The Traffic Zone" :

Captain Nemo and Friends, Vol. 1 (1975)

This was a series of five-minute cartoons produced in Canada in the mid-1970's telling the story of Captain Mark Nemo and his young crew, Christine and Robbie, in their nuclear powered submarine, the Nautilus. It was shown Stateside on CBS' Captain Kangaroo show.

Gabby (1941)
directed by Dave Fleischer

Using a patented technique in which the animation is traced over live-action footage, the Fleischer brothers, Max and Dave, spun-off "Gabby" - a character originally introduced in their 1939 feature Gulliver's Travels - in his very own short feature collection. The Fleischers made eight Gabby shorts in total. Also featured are five early Fleischer shorts, including the 1938 Oscar nominated Hunky and Spunky.

Asterix and Cleopatra (1968)

I've never seen an Asterix cartoon, though I loved the diminuitive Gaul and his obese pal Obelix when I read the comics for high school French credits. Asterix and Cleopatra is a 1968 Belgian/French production that was the second Asterix adventure to be made into a feature film and the first to spoof the 1963 Liz Burton epic turkey. It was overseen by Asterix comic creators Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. A live-action version of this adventure, Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleoptara, was released in 2002 (naturally, like every film from New Gaul, it starred Gerard Depardieu).

Flash Gordon (TV series, 1954)

This is from the 1954-1955 TV series starring Steve Holland and shot in West Berlin, where the rubble provides an eerie reminder of the post-war ruin - and a perfect sci-fi landscape. Includes three episodes: "Deadline at Noon," "Race Against Time," and "Forbidden Experiment." According to Wikipedia:
Steve Holland starred in a 1954-1955 live-action TV series which ran for 39 episodes. The first set of episodes had the distinction of being filmed in West Berlin, less than a decade after the end of World War II. Later episodes were filmed in Marseille, France. In this series, Flash, Dale (Irene Champlin), and Dr. Zarkov (Joseph Nash) worked for the Galaxy Bureau of Investigation, approximately 1200 years in the future. The actual timeline was established in one episode, "Deadline at Noon", in which Flash, Dale, and Dr. Zarkov went back in time to Berlin in the year 1953. Flash & co. traveled in the Skyflash and Skyflash II spaceships. The series was syndicated, appearing on stations affiliated with the long-defunct Dumont Network, and many other independent stations in the United States. It was recut into a movie in 1957.

The Phantom Empire (1935) (12-part serial)

What a concept, a sci-fi western with starring Gene Autry that mixes robots with cowboys. Is it any wonder why this serial merits inclusion in Michael Weldon's Psychotronic Video guide? Here's the Psychotronic review:
"This 12-chapter Mascot serial is pretty great and has similarities to Flash Gordon (which wasn't released until the next year). It's easy to find and has been released by at least five video companies. Gene Autry stars as himself (the singing-cowby star of the Radio Ranch radio show). He falls into a hole and discovers the futuristic, subterranean city of Murania underneath his ranch! (The funny-looking robots with flamethrower hands and metal top hats had first been used in the 1933 musical Dancing Lady, with Joan Crawford.) Dorothy Christy is the evil Queen Yika, and Wheeler Oakman is the high chancellor. With Frankie Darro as Frankie, Betsy King Ross as Betsy, and Smiley Burnette. Feature versions are called Men with Steel Faces and Radio Ranch. It's also on the video series Saturday Night Serials (Rhino) with three other serials."

Goes for $15 bucks on Amazon; advantage (for a buck): me.

Watch "The Phantom Empire" trailer :

Fearless Hyena (1979)/Fearless Hyena 2 (1983)
Martial Arts Double Feature

Late '70s flicks starring a young Jackie Chan doing more mugging than fighting - and currently out-of-print! Already had these in big, clunky '80s VHS cases, so figured I'd go for the compact convenience of this two-fer deal. 1979's Fearless Hyena was the first film directed by its star Jackie Chan and follows the conventional "You killed teacher!" plot structure of its time by having our happy-go-lucky hero spend most of the film training (a la his similar "laborious training films" like Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagles Shadow) and learning "emotional kung fu" (or emo-kung-fu, for short) from his uncle as he gears up for a big finale showdown against villain Yen Chuen-Wong (Yen Shi-Kwan of Once Upon a Time in China fame). You see, masters of emo kung-fu style will find added strength and endurance while seemingly going bonkers, either breaking down in tears (perhaps of boredom from all that training!) or laughing hysterically - like a (fearless) hyena!

Jackie gets all emo against Yen Shi-Kwan

The English language dub is laughably atrocious (making Jackie sound like Mick Jagger), adding yet another layer of kitsch to the already goofball humor. Click here to watch a particularly painful/"funny" cross-dressing scene - if you dare!

1983's sequel Fearless Hyena 2 is universally panned as a stinker, however.

Of course, every time I see Fearless Hyena it makes me think of a crazy library patron, Sixth Sensei (aka The Bruce Lee Guy), who was obsessed with hyenas and martial arts. I wonder if his insanity started with this film? I can still recall the day he threw us for a loop when he asked the (non-rhetorical) question: "Who do you think would win a fight between a hyena and a long-necked weasel?" (I had no preparation for this sort of speculative-query "research interview" from library school! Unbelievably, it never came up in my coursework!) Sixth Sensei (so-named because he had a sixth sense for hearing voices in his head) always went with the hyena in these fantasy death matches; when later he thought up fights between human martial artists, he always picked Jackie Chan over everybody else - except Bruce Lee (he wasn't called "Bruce Lee Man" for nothing!) - because, as he put it, "Jackie Chan is kinda sneaky like a hyena - he kid around and then snap at you like a laughing hyena!" I miss Sixth Sensei!

Tattoo Connection (1978)/Ninja Turf (1985)
Martial Arts Double Feature

Tattoo Connection (aka Black Belt Jones 2: The Tattoo Connection) stars Jim "Blackbelt Jones" Kelly, Bolo "Chinese Hercules" Yeung, and Sing "Head Crusher" Chen in a story about a stolen diamond in Hong Kong. (Kelly and Yeung had, of course, previously appeared in Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon.) In Ninja Turf (aka Los Angeles Streetfighter), a young Korean immigrant in Los Angeles encounters difficulties when he refuses to join the all Korean gang at his High School. In both thought-provoking narratives, chop-socky hijinks ensue. Amazon reviewer chumcitymark praised Ninja Turf for having "...everything you're looking for. Really bad lighting. 30 year old guys playing high school kids. Totally awesome action. Drugs. a horrible script and Philip Rhee!" (San Francisco native Korean-American martial arts phenom/director/producer Phillip Rhee starred in the Best of the Best film series.)

A Gathering of Heroes (1973)/Kung Fu Rebels (1978)
Martial Arts Double Feature

A Gathering of Heroes stars Sing "Head Crusher" Chen. According to web site Kung Fu Cinema, "Chen co-starred in many Shaw Brothers films, mainly as an extra or a villain role. He was also perhaps known for his films with fellow karate expert Yasuaki Kurata in films like RAGE OF THE WIND (1973), A GATHERING OF HEROES (1973), and GOLD SNATCHERS (1973). As opposed to kung fu film stars like the late Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Hwang Jang-Lee, Chen had a bulky figure and would be more ferocious in his fight scenes rather than relying on flashy technique. His use of a technique similar to Eagle’s Claw would earn him the nickname “Head Crusher” as he tends to use this move in the films to kill his opponents a lot of times. Chen would also work as a fitness trainer and a martial arts instructor in the Hong Kong prison system while working in films."

Kung Fu Rebels stars Chang Mei & Wang Ching in a story of Kung Fu rebels taking on an unstoppable killing machine, the Iron Villain.

Return of the Kung Fu Dragon (1976)/
Return of the Street Fighter (1976)

Martial Arts Double Feature

Ah, the "Many Happy Returns" double feature spectacular. Return of the Kung Fu Dragon (Ju Ma Pao) once again stars Sing "Head Crusher" Chen. One sci-fi obsessed fanboy likened it to a Flash Gordon serial with a finale similar to Return of the Jedi (another return motif?) and a villain with a ZZ Top beard that doubles as a weapon. Here's a review from the web site The Action Mutant Reviews:
There’s trenchant dubbing, worse editing and the martial arts is not exactly on the level of Yuen Woo-Ping (or a hung over Yuen Woo-Ping…with one arm & a limp). Funny thing is none of those matters, for at merely 83 minutes, RotKFD rolls with all of those horrible, schlock trappings & makes for a fun time killer. A few bizarre touches are worth the mention, such as the running joke involving the evil ruler being constantly subdued by having his Pai Mei style beard always tied into objects, a la shoestrings. Or the Bjork-looking midget (Hsiao Wang) that I swore was an old woman at first & had me confused right up to his (her?) last scene. Fortunately, there was no Crying Game theatrics here. Speaking of theatrics, there are enough elaborate (yet cheap) sets & insanely gaudy costumes to go along with the operatic grandeur the flick builds up. It’s total costume melodrama, with over the top death scenes & corny dialogue galore and enough unnecessary plot twists thrown to show that the effort is there. And the costumes…good gravy, the costumes! One of the male heroes dresses like a centurion you would find in a Vegas casino, a bad guy has a big red bow in his hair & the Bjork midget looks like an Indian that wandered off of the Bonanza set! Everything is thrown into the cauldron for this one (dig the magic mirror & the burning gravel!), which means there are enough crudely imaginative elements to make Return of the Kung Fu Dragon strangely viewable at best. That is, if you’re a hardcore Fu junkie. If you’re a normal person, you might take a pass on it.

Return of the Street Fighter stars the iconic Sonny Chiba, who was badder than old King Kong and meaner than a junkyard dog. Need I say more?

Goose Boxer (1979)/Jaws of the Dragon (1976)
Martial Arts Double Feature

Director Tommy Lee's Goose Boxer (aka Shaolin Tough Kid) is billed as a "Kung Fu Comedy," which is usually the mark of a real dog (as the Chinese, like Germans, are not exactly known for their sense of humor), but in Martial Arts Movies: From Bruce Lee to the Ninjas (1985), author Richard Meyers ranks it #9 in his list of the "25 Best Kungfu Movies." According to Meyers, Goose Boxer is "One of the best. Charles Hueng plays a hapless bumpkin who just manages to survibe all sorts of crazy goings-on as a maddened White Crane killer tries to flush out his enemies. It would be difficult to describe the charming combinations of training, fight, and comedy sequences which make this a top tape for any martial arts library, but how about this for a try: The hero mistakenly uses a sex manual to learn kungfu and flabbergasts the villain with such styles as 'Pushing the Cart Upstream' and 'Rowing Upstream.'"

As for director James Nam's Jaws of the Dragon (aka The Fierce One), one IMDb reviewer fanboy effused:
This movie is awesome. If my VCR was broken, and one tape was stuck in it that I had to watch over and over again, this would be the tape. If you can find this movie, which you probably won't be able to, you should definitely buy it and savor every second! (You even get to see some girl's boobs while she's in the bath tub.) If you enjoy intense kung-fu, unnecessary use of slow motion, white VW Beetles, and continuity errors, this movie is for you, sucka! In closing, a quote from Black Beard. "Get me the heroin...ALL of the heroin."

OK, I'm sold!

Watch the "Jaws of the Dragon" trailer:

Rivals of the Silver Fox (1982)/Return of the Scorpion (1980)
Martial Arts Double Feature

Two chop-sockys starring "The Human Tornado," spin-kicker Casanova Wong, who was a former taekwondo champ in the South Korean Army. Don't know much about these titles..."Philip Kao directs himself in the martial arts action film Rivals of the Silver Fox. Kao plays the Silver Fox who, in addition to being a master of Iron Body and Flesh Piercing Kung Fu, has total control of his bodily organs. The fox infiltrates a Shaolin Temple that houses 18 bronzemen." - All Movie Guide. Other sources suggest this is a Godfrey Ho film. Hal Erickson at All Movie Guide describes the other film: "Beware the sting of "The Scorpion" in this martial-arts opus. Having proven his mettle in previous set-tos, the Scorpion returns to his home turf. This time his foes think they're ready for him. They're wrong as usual; the Scorpion cleans everyone's clock with his kung-fu knowhow. Yang Pan Pan, Lan Men Wei and Phillip Ko head the cast."

Ninja and Dragons (1982)/Shadow Ninja (1980)
Martial Arts Double Feature

I wonder if Ninja and Dragons is really Ninja in the Dragon's Den, the 1982 film by legendary Hong Kong director Corey Yuen. I hope so!

Shadow Ninja (aka The Killer in White, The Killer Wears White) is supposed to be a kung fu Training Day with a great fight at the end between the cops and a killer who wears white pajamas. It was produced by Jim Brown, the former NFL running back turned action star.

Made for Each Other (1939)/Of Human Bondage (1934)
Director John "Don't Call Me Oliver" Cromwell Double Feature

Made for Each Other stars Carole Lombard, James Stewart, and Charles Coburn while Of Human Bondage, the first Hollywood adaptation of a W. Somerset Maugham novel, stars Bette Davis (whose performance was nominated for an Oscar), Leslie Howard, Frances Dee, and Kay Johnson. You can't go wrong with that kind of talent on hand.

His Girl Friday (1940)/My Dear Secretary (1949)
A Workin' Gals Double Feature

Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday is a classic; it's Rosalind Russell's best ever role, one of Cary Grant's best, and its Ben Hecht/Charles MacArthur/Charles Lederer-penned script is filled with more non-stop snappy banter than today's text-messaging La-La Land imbeciles could muster in a lifetime. I've never seen My Dear Office Assistant (in today's parlance), but I like Laraine Day, so worth a look, if only to see Kirk Douglas tackle romantic comedy.


I also picked up, as gifts to give to the uninitiated, additional copies of the following cult items, which I was surprised/delighted to see buried beneath the DVD bins:

Evel Knievel (1971)
directed by Marvin J. Chomsky
(Alpha Video)

Trash classic starring George Hamilton as Evel Knievel, "the last American Gladiator" (he's surprisingly good!) and Sue Lyon (best known for her role as the 16-year old sexpot in Stanley Kubrick's Lolita) as his wife Linda Knievel. This made-for-TV movie came out at the heightof Evel's fame and much of it was filmed in Butte, Montana, where the daredevil stuntman was born. The highlights of the film - besides Hamilton's over-the-top, ham-fisted but effective performance - have to be the real archive footage of Evel Knievel, including even the infamous jump/wipeout at Caesar's Palace on Christmas Eve, 1967. And, of course, the freeze-frame ending with that glorious jump over the Grand Canyon! See also Scott Huffines' tribute this film in his "Scott's Obsessions" episode of Atomic TV.

Watch George Hamilton's inspiring "Evel Knievel" speech:

The Curious Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird (1953)
directed by Paul Grimault

This Digiview release is the English-dubbed U.S. version of the 1953 French film La Begere et la Ramoneur (also known in the UK as The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep) by the French animator freres Paul and Pierre Grimault. It features great British voice work from Denholm Elliot, Claire Bloom (Anouk Aimee was the voice in the French version!) and Peter Ustinov as the title character, Mr. Wonderbird. It allegedly had a great influence on the founders of Japan's Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki (who references the film in The Castle of Cagliostro and The Castle in the Sky) and Isao Takahata.

In his IMDB review, Iconophoric comments, "Imagine discovering a prime Disney feature from their hot 1937-1947 period moldering in the dollar bin, unheralded, let slip into public domain. That's the thrill-- and sadness-- you get from just a few minutes of this obscure French cartoon from 1952." Iconographic goes on to say: "I have heard it said that this film...was an influence on some fine anime directors, and I don't doubt it. It's surreal, sweet and beautiful. It's a pity this film has wound up teetering on the edge of extinction. It is one of the most unique, witty, stylish and strange cartoons you will ever see. It's nothing less than a masterpiece of world animation, deserving more exposure and respect. I would hope KINO or the Criterion Collection will get a presentable copy of this together for posterity; a full restoration isn't too much to ask for this film."

In 1966, Paul Grimault retrieved the rights and negatives of the 62-minute 1953 film, redrew existing scenes, and added new footage; this new, digitally restored 87-minute version was released in France in 1980 as Le Ro iet l'oiseau (The King and the Mockingbird) and won the Prix Louis Delluc award. Unfortunately, this expanded French version remains unavailable in the U.S.

I'm a Boy with a Problem

You'd think 30 DVDs would be more than enough to hold me, but I'm a boy with a problem: I'm a cinemaniac - a vidiot-savant who just can't stop accumulating cheap DVDs!

Boy with a Problem: Too Much Stuff!

To make matters worse, two days later I went to the Rainbow Car Wash on German Hill Road in Dundalk to get my car cleaned (after three years of neglect, it was time!) and while waiting for my car to pass through spotted...more DVDs! What a collection! They had used copies of titles like the Mexican cult horror classic Brainiac for a mere $5. Thank God I already owned that one (I recall using clips from it on an old Atomic TV episode, "Mexican Mayhem Madness"), but I simply could not resist picking up Buster Keaton's The Saphead (1920) for a fiver!

I'd be a sap to pass this one up!

OK, maybe The Saphead (1920) wasn't directed by Buster Keaton, but it does represent his first feature film starring role - the one that established him as a star in his own right and not just a sidekick stuntman in Fatty Arbuckle two-reelers. Good thing I passed on getting a wax job - I think a Kino Video remastered classic is a better investment in the long run.

Chin up! You'll get through your screeners!

Big Lotta Love

But further down the road a trip to the Merritt Boulevard Giant to buy some spotted dick (no, it's not some Michael Jackson memorabilia - it's that sponge pudding the Brits eat) meant passing by the Big Lots store and - resistance was futile. These were not dollar DVDs, but the more pricey $3 variety - still about the price of a draft beer and the pleasure lasts longer. And while Big Lot has its share of dreck (countless copies of Gigli are always on hand), there are a number of real finds to be found here. My scores there were:

I Walked With a Zombie (1943)/The Body Snatcher (1945)
A Val Lewton Horror Double Feature
(WEA/Warner Bros.)

Given current events with the tragedy in Haiti, how could I resist picking up Jacque Tourneur's Haitian voodoo classic I Walked With a Zombie? It was surely kismet. This was the film where I discovered Lewton favorite Theresa Harris...

Theresa Harris

...a beautiful African-American actress who, even when playing maids, never was written as subserviant but always shown with dignity and as an equal - especially in the pre-Code Baby Face, where she's not just Barbara Stanwyck's maid but her friend as well. Harris was somewhat of a Tourneur regular, also turning up as sassy waitress Minnie in Tourneur's Cat People (1942) and also Out Of The Past (1947). But she was probably best known as Josephine, the object of Eddie "Rochester" Anderson's affections in the Jack Benny film Buck Benny Rides Again (1940). The Harris and Anderson pairing clicked so well that they were reteamed in the same roles in another Benny comedy, Love Thy Neighbor (1940).

Plus even better is Boris Karloff in Robert Wise's The Body Snatcher, which is based on Robert Louis Stevenson's story.

Creature Comforts America - The Complete First Season (2008)

Creature Comforts America is a series from the creators of Wallace & Gromit and the original UK series Creature Comforts. Like the Brit version, "Everyday people" are interviewed on various topics and then their interviews are turned into animated interviews with strange creatures. The series aired on CBS, but only three of its six episodes aired before the show was pulled. All of the episodes, including the unaired ones, were aired on the Animal Planet channel in April and May 2008. My friend Cody worked on this and loved the experience, so I had to pick it up to see what all the fuss was about.

Funny Games (2007)
directed by Michael Haneke
(Warner Home Video)

Michael Haneke's American remake ofhis own film with Naomi Watts and Tim Roth. Worth a look.

Living In Oblivion (1995)
directed by Tom DiCillo
(Sony Pictures Classics)

Cult film that airs frequently on the Sundance Channel...a darkly comic indie film looking at the darkly comic world of indie filmmaking, with just about every filmmaking "type" sent up, spoofed, and hoisted on their own petard. And what a cast - Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener ( a personal fave!), Dermot Mulroney, the always-excellent James LeGros, and little person Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent, Death at a Funeral), a mini-me man who can act alongside the best of the big boys.

Innocent Blood (1992)
directed by John Landis

A vampire flick with Don Rickles! I love this film, which is one of the better vampire comedies and stars a very sexy Anne Parillaud fresh off her breakthrough turn in La Femme Nikita (1990). I've never forgotten vix-vamp Marie (Parillaud) explaining her omnivore's poly-palate taste for blood ("Some nights you feel like having Chinese, other nights Italian") or the scene where mobster Robert Loggia bashes comedian Don Rickles' head in with a phone - for some reason it always makes me laugh and I think the only thing that would top it would have been having Loggia screaming Rickles' trademark zinger "Hello Dummy!" while beating his brains out!

Bitter Moon (1992)
Directed by Roman Polanski
(New Line Home Video)

I have it on tape somewhere, but it's a Polanski with his then hottie tottie partner Emmanuelle Seigner (Frantic), plus Kristen Scott Thomas, Hugh Grant, and Peter Coyote. Amy hates this movie ("Ugh! All the characters are horrible and bitter and - oh I hate that movie!") and while it's not his best...still...Emmanuelle Seigner!.

Emmanuelle Seigner: Hard to resist

Somewhere in my long dormant libido's archives I recall being aroused by her garters-and-stockings seduction scene, which is well-worth three bucks.

The Spirit of '76 (1990)
directed by Lucas Reiner
written by Roman Coppola & Lucas Reiner
(Warner Home Video)

David Cassidy, Lief Garrett, Devo and Redd Kross all in one movie? Plus Olivia d'Abo? Essential! I already own this kookie back-to-the-future-style cult flick, but had to grab this extra copy as a potential stocking stuffer for my friends who are as yet unenlightend to its wonders. The highlight for me is seeing the McDonald brothers, Jeffrey and Steve, from Redd Kross do their Southern Cal airhead schtick. Bonus: Great '70s soundtrack (naturally!) highlighted by Redd Kross' "1976" and my beloved Dickies doing "Spirit of '76."

And there you have it, pop culture voyeurs: the confessions of a consumate conspicuous consumer who is now feeling a sort of Hipster Buyer's Remorse in the wake of the Haiti earthquake tragedy (full disclosure: I sent an immediate relief donation in) and my silly, non-essential purchases. Now I know the depths of self-loathing that surely Jeffrey Dahmer must have felt when, sated after the thrill of the hunt and the rush of a score, he saw the fruits of his labors staring at him on the leftovers shelf of his fridge.

Still, 38 movies for $56 bucks ain't too bad a deal in today's economy. (And I won't even mention the movies I picked up from Criterion during their 50%-off sale over the holidays, which are still shrink-wrapped and starring at me in my towering DVDs-To-Watch pile that stops just short of the ceiling...)

Damn. And just this morning an Amazon package arrived, containing the long unavailable Japanese comedy Supermarket Woman (Supa no onna, 1996), starring the charming Nobuko Miyamoto, which completes my Juzo Itami collection. Must! Stop! Now!

Stimulating the economy one DVD at a time

Related Links:
I'll Buy That for a Dollar! (Accelerated Decrepitude)
Tom's Big Score (Accelerated Decrepitude)
Cheap DVDs (Accelerated Decrepitude)

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