Vanity Fear

A Pretentious A**hole's Guide to B-Movie Bullsh*t

Filtering by Category: 80s Action

The WWTTM Pantheon - Part One "Eastbound and Down, Down, Down for the Count"

WWTTM: A film so misconceived and obviously doomed for failure that it forces the viewer to ask one question: What Were They Thinking?!?!?

Smokey and the Bandit Part 3



After twice failing to get his hands on the legendary speedster known as Bandit, Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) has decided to retire and move to Florida with his simple-minded son, Junior (Mike Henry). Almost immediately bored, he decides to return to Texas, but before he can leave, the father and son team of Big and Little Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick and Paul Williams) compel him to make a bet. If he can make it back home from Florida in 35 hours, he wins $250,000, but if he can’t they get his badge. The Burdette’s aren’t above cheating to win, but when their roadblocks prove less than reliable, they call on the Bandit’s partner-in-crime, Cledus Snow (Jerry Reed), who seizes the opportunity to literally step into his hero’s shoes. Partnered with a hitchhiker named Dusty Trails (Colleen Camp) he repeatedly steals the plastic fish Sheriff Justice needs to have to win the bet, but he ends up letting the sheriff win, because, “You can’t have a Bandit, if you ain’t got a Smokey.”

Pertinent Details

Urban Legend: The production of this WWTTM sequel is so mired in secrecy and bad decisions it’s literally the stuff of Urban Legends and has been discussed on More on this below.

Not a Good Year: Coming off the success of the first two Smokey and the Bandit movies, Jackie Gleason’s movie career came to a sudden halt when this and another WWTTM sequel, The Sting II both bombed at the box office.

First and Last: This was the first and last feature film of Dick Lowry, who remains best known for his work on such memorable TV movies as Angel Dusted, Kenny Rogers as The Gambler, Pigs Vs. Freaks and the Mr. T vehicle, The Strongest Man In the World.

Inconsistency: The film is titled Smokey and the Bandit Part 3, even though the previous film, Smokey and the Bandit II, used Roman numerals to indicate its sequel status.

Despite the fact that many of the folks involved in its production are still very much alive, the full official story of the debacle that resulted in Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 has still never been fully revealed. The film’s failure and terrible reputation have spared the participants from ever being interviewed for DVD retrospectives or participate in Alamo Drafthouse screenings, which means the facts of what happened are still open to debate and conjecture.

The one thing everyone knows is this—when it came time to make the film, both star Burt Reynolds and director Hal Needham decided to pass and make Stroker Ace instead (an admittedly lateral move in retrospect). Co-star Sally Field, who by then had already won one of her two Oscars, also passed, as did Jerry Reed. This left only the series' Smokey, Jackie Gleason, willing to return.

In a more sensible time, this would have been enough to cancel the project and enjoy counting the megabucks the first two films brought in, but the studio and producers believed there were more dollars to be mined from the franchise and decided to try and think of ways the series could continue with only its antagonist at the wheel.

And here’s where things get murky. One thing we do know is that this teaser trailer was made:


From this we know the film was original conceived not as Smokey and the Bandit Part 3, but as Smokey IS the Bandit, but the question no one has completely been able to answer is just what exactly that film was meant to be.

Popular myth has it that—in a bizarre bit of post-modernism—the decision was made to have Gleason portray both Sheriff Justice AND the Bandit in the film. Legend has it that when they showed this version of the film to an early test audience, they were so confused that the decision was made to scrap the scenes with Bandit-Gleason completely.

Less fantastic, but much more plausible (until the above trailer was found), is the theory found in the Snopes piece linked above (a theory I personally came to on my own as I was watching the film for the first time in preparation for this post). It suggests that the “IS” in Smokey IS the Bandit wasn’t meant to be taken literally, but instead indicated that in this third film, Sheriff Justice’s situation had been reversed and he had in essence taken on the role the Bandit served in the previous two films—the chaser had become the chased and the lawmen was now the outlaw. In this case, the test audience complained not because they were confused, but because they hated the idea of a Smokey and the Bandit sequel that had no Bandit in it.

This second theory makes more sense owing to the fact that it isn’t totally fucking stupid, and—despite its popularity as a filmmaking legend—years had passed without anyone seeing a single piece of evidence that supported the idea that scenes of Gleason as the Bandit had ever been filmed. That was until a couple of years ago, when this photo appeared online:

This puts us right back at square one. Whichever version is true (and it is possible it is a combination of both), the result of the test screening debacle was that the producers managed to convince Jerry Reed to return and shoot new scenes of him as Cledus, dressed as the Bandit, driving around with an utterly superfluous Colleen Camp (who wears such a ridiculously conservative outfit, she doesn’t even seem to be there for added sex appeal). These scenes were edited into the previously shot material (which explains why Gleason and Reed never appear in the same shot during the entire movie) in a way that almost makes sense, so long as you acknowledge how hopelessly ridiculous the film’s entire premise was to begin with.

If the notion of Gleason playing both the hero and the villain took the film in a strange meta direction, the decision to have Reed play a character “playing” the Bandit isn’t any more conventional. Just watch this scene and try to comprehend how it must have been viewed by fans of the original movies who came to this expecting a traditional sequel experience (Note: The clip isn't embeddable, so click the picture to go to the YouTube page--AND THEN COME RIGHT BACK!!!!):

As a premise, Cledus IS the Bandit is no less strange than Smokey IS the Bandit, and it puts the film in the same uncomfortable territory as the Pink Panther movies that Blake Edwards kept making after Peter Sellers died. Rather than merely glossing past Burt Reynolds' legacy in the role by recasting the part with another actor, the filmmakers instead highlight it by having a character from the other films acknowledge his transition into the Bandit persona. However, instead of placating the audience, all this does is make us even more aware of Reynolds' absence. The lesson is the same one the computer learned at the end of War Games—the only way to win is not to play the game.

Since Reed winning as the Bandit didn’t match the ending with Gleason that had been shot, the filmmakers were forced to contrive an excuse for his losing, and what they came up with is the film’s most explicit recognition of its own meta-narrative (Note: For some reason this one was embeddable. YouTube is fucked):

Without even wanting to, the film's very existence forces Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 into Charlie Kaufman territory.

The other reason why Cledus/Bandit has to lose the chase seems especially ironic, considering how quickly the failure of this film killed the franchise—Smokey needs to keep his badge in case they wanted to make Part 4 (or IV). It also allows for Reynolds’ brief cameo in the film, in which the delusional sheriff hallucinates that Reed is the actual Bandit and makes the decision to let him go rather than wither away in the Bandit-less world of retirement (Note: Click for video):

Strangely, for all of its behind the scenes mythology and utter failure to resemble anything like a normal movie, you don’t hear a lot of people discuss Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 in Bad Movie circles. Having just watched it for the first time, I think it definitely qualifies for cult status. There’s something extremely compelling about watching a successful franchise permanently self-destruct right before your eyes. There's no doubt that this was a film made for the most craven and desperate of reasons, even though everyone involved had to clearly know it had no chance of ever succeeding. For that reason it is an essential entry in the WWTTM Pantheon.

Lemme Know How It Is....

So as I was browsing on YouTube yesterday I discovered that someone had courteously uploaded the 1986 Italian movie Vendetta dal futuro (aka Hands of Steel) in its entirety for all to enjoy. Since this just happens to be the movie from which the dominant image of this site's banner originates, it seemed appropriate to post it. I've never seen it and it's at the end of a very long queue, so feel free to let me know if it's worth my increasingly valuable time.

B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part Seventeen "A Cure That Kills"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part Seventeen




Lieutenant Marion “Cobra” Cobretti is a member of Los Angeles’ “Zombie Squad”—the term used for cops who take the cases that require them to sink to the lowest depths of human society. His latest case finds him searching for the “Night Slasher”, a vicious serial killer whose ubiquity and lack of any discernable pattern suggests he might not be working alone. Cobretti and his partner catch their first break when the Slasher and his cultists fail to kill the witness to a previous murder—a tall Nordic model named Ingrid Knudson. When it becomes clear that the Slasher has an inside man on the force, Cobra takes Ingrid out of L.A. to protect her, unaware that Nancy Stalk, a cop assigned to join them, is the mole. The Slasher and his goons descend upon the small town where they are hiding and Cobretti is forced to protect Ingrid and rid the world of the Slasher’s irredeemable evil.

As a film buff I can think of few careers I find more fascinating than that of Sylvester Stallone’s. After making a good impression in a series of low budget movies like The Lords of Flatbush, Capone, and Death Race 2000 (which features my favourite performance of his career), he rocketed to super-stardom as the writer/star of Rocky, which was not only a major box office hit, but also made him only the third person in Oscar history to be nominated for both writing and acting in the same year (Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles were the two who preceeded him). He didn’t win, but at the time he seemed destined to join the pantheon of great American actors, with comparisons to Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro not being uncommon.

But then he followed up Rocky with two big flops—the union drama, F.I.S.T., and the period wrestling film, Paradise Alley, which he also wrote and directed. Fortunately, Rocky II resurrected him as a moneymaking force—enough so that the relative disappointment of the WWII soccer drama Victory had little effect on his clout, especially when Rocky III was on its way. His luck continued with First Blood, a film that gave him another iconic character in the form of emotionally damaged Vietnam vet, John Rambo, but then disaster struck in the double whammy of Staying Alive and Rhinestone.

This is the period where Stallone’s hubris suddenly became apparent and his choices grew much more questionable. Staying Alive saw him staying behind the camera as writer/director (save for a two-second cameo) in an ill-advised sequel to Saturday Night Fever. The film confirmed what many suspected after seeing his previous directorial efforts—the success of Rocky was a group effort that included the participation of director John Avidson. Working solo and with full creative control Stallone suffered from severe creative limitations, including unimaginative storytelling and a complete lack of subtext.

Rhinestone saw him attempting to stretch his legs with a light musical comedy in which he played a taxi driver who’s transformed into a country singer after Dolly Parton makes a bet with her manager. A gender reversed My Fair Lady with cowboy hats and tassels, it was the first film that clearly showed the limits of his acting abilities.

Left bloodied by the back-to-back mega-flops, Stallone performed what would become his trademark move and returned to his two most popular characters in the same year. The results, Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV, were so overtly designed to appeal to the mid-80s audience that they turned once-credible characters into living cartoons. The slide in this direction had already started with Rocky III, which featured Hulk Hogan and the hilariously menacing Clubber Lang as its villain, but that film was a virtual cinema verite documentary compared to the cold war absurdity of Rocky IV.

With that film Stallone attempted to transform his inarticulate, working-class-schlub-made-good into an out-and-out action hero. Rocky Balboa no longer fought to prove himself or to take care of his family, he fought to honor his former rival turned friend, Apollo Creed, who was murdered by nothing less than the terror of communism itself. In terms of absurd anti-Soviet propaganda, the film was in the same class as Red Dawn and Invasion U.S.A. Rocky ceased to be a recognizable human and became an unstoppable god bent on protecting capitalism at all costs.

At this point I’d get all pretentious about what Rambo: First Blood Part II was about, but I’ve never actually seen the whole thing from beginning to end, but the snippets I have seen more than back up this analysis.

Unfortunately for Stallone both sequels were massive hits. Having been responsible for the two least-subtle films ever made, he came to the conclusion that this was what people wanted and he partnered up with a small studio for three films that paid him a lot of money, but also managed to wreck his career in a way from which he has never truly recovered, despite some notable successes here and there.

The studio was Cannon, founded and operated by two Israeli cousins named Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. After breaking out with the Israeli period T & A teen flick Lemon Popsicle (a film that you’d assume was a Porky’s rip off if you didn’t know it was actually released in 1978), they gradually took over A.I.P’s spot as the pre-eminent producer of low budget genre movies, most of which had already made their money back before a single frame of film had been shot, thanks to foreign pre-sales.

But for Golan, money wasn’t enough. He wanted prestige and respect as well and decided to try to buy it by hiring Hollywood’s biggest star to become synonymous with Cannon. The failure of the second and third of the three films they would make together would eventually result in the bankruptcy of his once successful company.

Before this, though, Stallone made his Cannon debut with a cop picture he wrote that marked a clear attempt to add a third iconic character to his repertoire. Using a novel originally published by Paula Gosling in 1974 as the basis for his plot, he reimagined its male protagonist as a gun-worshipping cop whose distaste for lawbreakers made Dirty Harry look like Alan Alda in comparison.

In the novel, which was first published as A Running Duck and then retitled four years later as Fair Game, the cop hero was Mike Malchek, which didn’t come close to matching the badass cool Stallone was intent on giving the character. Instead he gave the character the last name of Cobretti, which supplied him with both a dangerous sounding nickname and the title for the film, Cobra. Interestingly, he then gave the character a feminine sounding name in Marion, which added a touch of much-needed humour to the film and served as a specific reference to the man who famously turned down the role of Dirty Harry Callahan—John Wayne (whose given name was Marion Morrison).

From the novel he took the elements of a cop protecting a woman who witnessed a violent crime and the mole who constantly leads the criminals to them, but from there he let his own imagination run wild. In the place of Gosling’s hitman, he came up with a hulking, monstrous serial killer who commands a cult of similarly insane maniacs (some of whom appear to be everyday businessmen in suits), and he turned her attorney heroine into a glamorous foreign model, which allowed for a fabulous posing/investigation montage (easily the film’s best scene) and the casting of his wife, 6’0” Danish goddess Brigitte Nielsen.

(In fact Stallone changed the plot of Gosling’s novel so much that virtually no one noticed when the same book served as the basis of the Joel Silver-produced Cindy Crawford starsploitation flop, Fair Game, just 9 years later.)

Possibly exhausted after taking on the directing chores of Rocky IV, Stallone handed over the reigns to Cobra to his Rambo: First Blood Part II director, George P. Cosmatos—a Greek born Canadian who would later direct the cult western Tombstone and who was previously responsible for the man-vs-rat Canuxploitation classic, Of Unknown Origin. In the end, all of Cobra’s virtues—eye-pleasing style, interesting mise-en-scene, exciting action—can be credited to Cosmatos’ influence and direction. Unfortunately he was working with a script and a star with two absurd agendas.

There’s a great moment in the documentary The Hamster Effect, where Terry Gilliam is talking to Bruce Willis on the set of Twelve Monkeys about a scene where his character is supposed to be knocked out by co-star Madeleine Stowe. Gilliam tells Willis how he wants to film it, but Willis argues with him, insisting that a woman Stowe’s size could never knock out a man the way Gilliam is suggesting. The argument is long and passionate and it quickly becomes clear that Willis’ reluctance has less to do with the integrity of the film than his desire to not be seen as a pussy.

It’s an insight into the behind the scenes process that explains many a terrible film (fortunately for Gilliam, he finally got what he wanted and Willis benefited by giving a great performance in one of his best movies). Many movie stars, especially in the action genre, want to be perceived as the most cool, awesome people alive and they do this without any irony. Therefore they force changes upon any script featuring moments that might humanize or lessen the awesomeness of their characters. Go back to my first B-Movie Bull-Sh*t review and you’ll find a film where Chuck Norris kills dozens of commies without so much as a scratch to show for it.

Now imagine what happens when a star who is very much of this persuasion actually writes the script himself! That’s Cobra, a film so dedicated to promoting the awesomeness of its title character (and the actor playing him) that the film instantly devolves into unintended self-parody.

I mentioned Dirty Harry before and the comparison is extremely apt (although the film’s plot more closely resembles another Eastwood picture—The Gauntlet). Like Callahan, Cobretti is a gun fetishist (his weapon has a cobra pictured on its handle and we watch him clean it with loving care the first time we see him in his apartment) whose tough stance against criminals is harshly criticized by his liberal, namby-pamby superiors (one of whom, in the film’s biggest Dirty Harry homage, is played by Andrew Robinson aka The Scorpio Killer, Callahan’s original nemesis). But if Don Siegel’s film wore its conservatism on its sleeve, than Cobra dons it like a three piece suit, culminating in the truly hilarious moment where the Night Slasher taunts Cobretti by telling him how as a lawman he’s obligated to take him in and be tried by the courts, which will find him not guilty by reason of insanity.

Cobretti’s response to this is to

impale him on a large metal crane hook.

And whereas Callahan chose to throw his badge into the water after gunning down Scorpio vigilante-style, Cobretti is congratulated for his actions and gives the audience a thrill when he punches Robinson’s character in the face for being such a left-wing fag.

The two films also depart significant in the depiction of their two villains. In Dirty Harry, Scorpio is a pathetic hippy whose big plan to stop his adversary is to hire a black man to beat him up and pin his bruises and injuries on Callahan—getting him thrown off the case and earning the sympathy of liberals concerned more about so-called “police brutality” than keeping the public safe. In Cobra, the Night Slasher is played by Brian Thompson, a 6’3” monster of a man whose craggy face invokes a strange kind of handsomely charismatic monstrosity. Rather than acting alone, his character is shown to be a leader of a cult dedicated to the creation of a “new world” where the hunters rule over the hunted, but we’re never shown any reason why he would have such a following or why they would be so dedicated to him. We’re simply supposed to take their existence at face value.

And just like Cobretti’s gun, the film fetishizes the Slasher’s primary instrument of terror, a large menacing knife with sharp spikes along its bearer’s knuckles. The absurd bigness of the villain is clearly meant to prove the badass amazingness of Stallone’s character. Any wimp with .45 Magnum can kill a hippy—it takes a real man to take down a monster straight from Hell.

As frequently (and unintentionally) funny as this all is, there’s a clear sense of desperation that saturates the entire film. It would have seemed impossible after Rocky IV that Stallone could pander any lower to the public’s desire to see the clearly good battle the obviously evil, but with Cobra he managed to do just that and deliver a movie so pathetically geared to get morons to shout out “FUCK YEAH!” he might as well have ended it with a group chant of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”

That said, for all his lack of subtlety and willingness to pander to the public’s most basic impulses, his scripts almost always feature an interesting character detail or two that suggests the highly intelligent, articulate man he frequently comes across as in interviews and making-of documentaries. In Cobra I enjoyed a moment between Cobretti and Knudson at a local truck stop diner where we see her purposefully dump half a bottle of ketchup on her French fries. It's completely extraneous but reminded me of Paulie’s paintings in Rocky Balboa—another touch that suggested the work of a much better filmmaker.

Cobra ended up doing relatively well at the box office (but not enough to warrant a sequel, even though the creation of a new franchise was its clear intention), but his next film for Cannon—for which he earned the then-shocking payday of $12,000,000—was Over the Top, an arm-wrestling melodrama directed by Golan. It flopped so spectacularly that Cannon bought the rights to Stallone’s second biggest franchise in a clear bid to recoup their costs with a sure thing. The resulting Rambo III was—at $60,000,000—one of the most expensive movies made up to that time and proved to be another costly flop. The one-two punch of these costly failures resulted in Cannon’s bankruptcy.

Since then Stallone has famously spent his career starring in major flops (Stop or My Mom Will Shoot!, Oscar, Judge Dread, Assassins, An Alan Smithee Movie: Burn Hollywood Burn, Get Carter, Driven, D-Tox, Avenging Angelo) and the occasional modest hit (Cliffhanger, Demolition Man, The Specialist). After killing his top franchise with the humdrum and disappointing Rocky V, he waited 16 years before doing the one thing that kept his career going in the 80s—returning to the two characters people loved the most. The results, Rocky Balboa and Rambo, managed to earn money and even some good reviews largely on the basis of nostalgia alone. Sensing this, Stallone decided to capitalize on Gen X’s fondness for the no-nonsense action pictures of old and created The Expendables, which marked his first successful attempt at a franchise in over two decades.

For all of its many faults, I found Cobra fascinating for its part in such a tumultuous Hollywood career. Made for all of the worst reasons possible, it’s a textbook example of what happens when a superstar aims for the lowest common denominator and still manages to miss.

The Adventures of Drake Wantsum, Hollywood Stuntman

Part Sixteen


“But what the holy heck did I do to get sent to Hell, Duke? I lived a mostly good life. I went to church. I tolerated my mother. Sure I was tangentially connected to a dozen or so “accidental” deaths, but no charges were ever made.”

“Everyone’s innocent down here, pardner.”

“But I don’t want to go to Hell! There must be something I can do to stay away from here if that ambulance makes it to the hospital in time.”

“There is, Drake. You’d have to give up being a stuntman.”


“And sleeping with teenage girls.”

“Fuck you!”

The Adventures of Drake Wantsum, Hollywood Stuntman

Part Fifteen


“If I die, Duke, does that mean I have to spend the rest of eternity in this beautiful fiery Heaven?”

“This is Hell, Drake.”

“Yeah, right. Good one, Duke.”

“Do you see that guy with that moustache over there?”

“You mean, the one who looks like Hitler?”

“That’s Hitler, Drake.”

“Why would Hitler get to go to Heaven? That‘s messed up.”

“This is Hell, Drake.”

“You’re hilarious, Duke. Don’t ever change.”

“Do you see that woman talking to Hitler?”

“The one who looks like Joan Crawford?”

“That is Joan Crawford, Drake.”

“Oh my god! This is Hell! What the fuck?!?!?”

I Saw This IN THE THEATER! Part One in a Continuing Series



Brief Explanation

I was 12. Plus I was a major anti-Reagan mini-liberal who despaired the way Russians were always portrayed as villains throughout 80s cinema, and I felt honour bound to support a film that set out to break that mold. Did I mention I was 12? Blame my Uncle Doug--he paid for the tickets.

The Adventures of Drake Wantsum, Hollywood Stuntman

Part Fourteen

"Race Against Time"

“What’s going on, Duke. Am I dead?”

“That depends, Drake.”

“On what?”

“How fast the ambulance you’re in gets to the damn hospital. Every second counts.”

“Wait, so my life is in the hands of some random ambulance hack?”

“That’s just it, Drake. The people in charge of these things are real cocksuckers when it comes to irony.”

“Don’t tell me. I slept with the driver’s daughter.”


“What then?”

“Do you remember working on Moonshine County Express?”

“Wait! You don’t mean—“


“I really should have said something when I noticed she had an Adam’s apple.”


The Adventures of Drake Wantsum, Hollywood Stuntman

Part Thirteen


“Howdy, Slick.”

“Who are you? Where am I?”

“Don’t you recognize me, Drake? You doubled for me on McQ in seventy-four.”

“Duke? Is that you? But you died 2 years ago. I know ‘cause I got thrown out of your memorial service for hitting on Tatum O’Neal. I mean, how was I supposed to know she was only 15?”

“It’s me, Drake.”

“Then does that mean what I think it means?”

“That depends on what you think it means.”

“Am I in Heaven?”

“Turn around and you tell me, pardner. What do you see?”

“Fire. Lots and lots of fire.”

The Adventures of Drake Wantsum, Hollywood Stuntman

Part Twelve

"Going Apeshit"

“Hey Jerry, have you seen Drake?”

“Hi Eddie. He’s up there with Bill and Bill on the scaffold waiting for the go ahead.”

“You put him with Bill? Is that a good idea?”

“Probably not.”

“You don’t look too concerned.”

“You may not know this, but I have a daughter too.”

“Gotcha. But, still, couldn’t you have waited? This production already has one death on the books.”

“And whose fault is that?”

“Guilty, but it’s not going to make promoting this flick any easier.”

“People love those monkeys. They don’t care about dead stuntmen.”

“From your lips to God’s ears.”

The Adventures of Drake Wantsum, Hollywood Stuntman

Part Eleven

"Not What You Thought It Was"


“Yes, Drake?”

“I feel like you’re angry with me.”

“You could say that, Drake.”

“I didn’t know she was your daughter. I thought she was Bill’s daughter, and I knew he wouldn’t have a problem with it. Would you have, Bill?”

“I’m sorry, Drake, I wasn’t paying attention. What were you two talking about?”

“The time I took Bill’s daughter to that church service.”

“Are you still pissed about that, Bill?”

“She joined that cult!”

“The Catholic church is many things, Bill, but it isn’t a cult.”

“Shut up, Bill! This is between me and Drake! Goddamn pope-lover.”

The Adventures of Drake Wantsum, Hollywood Stuntman

Part Ten

“Bill Problems”

“So what’s the gag this morning, Jerry?”

“You, Bill and Bill are going to drop off that dangling scaffold.”

“Which Bills? Couch and Madden?”

“No, Madden and McIntosh.”

“And what are we doing this afternoon?”

“The shot where you guys land in the pool, but Bill has a prior commitment, so Bill will be filling in for him.”

 “Gotcha. I think Bill has it in for me.”

“Can you blame him?”

“I didn’t know she was his daughter.”

“Yes you did. I specifically told you, ‘That’s Bill’s daughter.’”

 “I thought you meant the other Bill.”

“Oh, that would explain it.”

B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part Eleven "Snap! Crackle! Flop!"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part Eleven




American karate champ/instructor Susanne Carter has come to the Philippines to find her missing sister, Bonnie. Her investigation leads her to a drug ring run by Erik, who also holds secret martial art matches where local fighters battle to the death. His champion and lackey is a blond American named Chuck. Chuck’s immediately intrigued by the other hot blond in his midst, and learns she has the black belt goods. Erik tries to convince Susanne to take part in his deadly fights, but she tells him she doesn’t think she could kill a man. Bonnie’s body is dragged from a local river, and a distraught Susanne runs straight to Chuck’s penis. Their romance proves short-lived, though, when an undercover detective tells Susanne that Chuck was the one who killed her sister. Susanne finds Bonnie’s bracelet in Chuck’s apartment and knows what she has to do. She calls Erik and tells him she’s ready to fight in his ring, so long as she can do so under her terms. He agrees, not realizing that her terms mean she will only fight her sister’s murderer. Chuck is shocked to learn that his new fuck-buddy is determined to fight him to the death. In the ring he deliberately goes easy on her and at one-point stops short when he has the chance to kill her. Susanne is not so merciful; when her chance arises, she drives two sticks into her former lover’s eyes, avenging Bonnie’s death.

If you haven’t gotten around to seeing the wonderful new documentary Machete Maidens, I will forgive you if you stop reading this and do so immediately. From the same filmmakers who gave us the equally awesome Not Quite Hollywood (about Australia’s 70s/80s exploitation film boom), Maidens is devoted to the low budget exploitation films made in the Philippines during that same period. Watching it will delight anyone who cares even a little about low budget genre filmmaking, although I would advise that you avoid my mistake of doing so in an airport while waiting for a flight, since virtually every film clip shown in the film seems to have at least one naked woman in it.

Among these many, many naked women was an attractive blond lass named Jillian Kesner, whose appearance was justified thanks to her starring role in a Roger Corman production directed by Filipino filmmaking legend, Cirio H. Santiago. In the clip that appeared in the film, Jillian was shown exercising her karate skills while clad in only a pair of white panties. Needless to say, this made me want to see Firecracker very much. Fortunately for me, the good folks at Shout Company (whose recent spate of Corman releases represent the best thing happening in home video at the moment) allowed the film to make its DVD debut this month in a set that also included the butt-kicking babe flicks T.N.T. Jackson and Too Hot To Handle.

And having just watched the film, I can happily report that it didn’t let me down. But then, that’s because I wasn’t expecting anything close to resembling a good film. That’s because Santiago is much like a Filipino Jesus Franco—his legend has everything to do with his productivity and ubiquity and nothing to do with the actual quality of his films. Even at their best, his films kinda suck. At their worst, even Roger Corman worried they might be unreleasable—although that didn’t seem to stop him.

(According to the commentary on Maidens, Joe Dante--the director of Gremlins--insisted that Santiago’s Cover Girl Models was the worst film he saw during his tenure as Corman’s trailer editor.)

The best that can be said for Firecracker is that it’s pretty coherent and always in-focus (claims that can’t be made for every Santiago effort). In fact, there are actually three very entertaining scenes in the film. The problem is that two of those scenes actually fuck up what negligible plot the film manages to have.

I’ve already mentioned the scene where Susanne kicks ass without the benefit of clothing. It comes just after the scene where Eric the drug dealer invites Susanne to fight in one of his secret matches. She tells him she doesn’t think she can, and then the movie cuts to her getting out of a cab—apparently on her way home.

As she walks down the street, she catches the attention of two street thugs, who decide to get their rape-on. Instead of kicking their butts, as you would expect a black belt karate expert who’s just been offered a chance to engage in deadly combat for cash, she instead runs like a pretty blond girl in a completely different movie. As she runs, her skirt becomes snared on a fence, forcing her to abandon it. Thus unclad, she makes it into a factory where she begs a security guard to help her. He does his best, but is soon killed by the thugs. They chase her around the building, where a similar wardrobe snare-up causes her to abandon her top. She manages to fatally dispatch one of her wannabe rapists with a circular saw, while his buddy slices the front half of her bra in two. Now topless, she finally starts to fight the guy the way we kinda expected her to in the very beginning, and eventually takes him down.

All in all, it’s a pretty great exploitation movie moment. The problem is that it was clearly added to the film after the movie had already been shot. The evidence is pretty insurmountable, starting with the fact that it’s the only scene devoid of a single Filipino actor (including the cab driver, who's very clearly a white dude), which suggests to me that it was shot in the States. That and the fact that it seems a bit too competently done for Santiago to have been responsible for it.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the scene didn’t feature Susanne acting completely out of character. Before this we’ve already seen her take on dangerous dudes without breaking a sweat (including one scene where she grabs a deadly snake and flings it at Vic Diaz, the guy who played the gay prison guard in The Big Bird Cage), so it’s impossible to dramatically justify her decision to flee in this instance. That said, it does make sense from a production standpoint, since the only major drawback of filming Kesner without her clothes on is that it becomes impossible for the dude in a blond wig who’s been doubling all of her previous fight scenes to do so here. For that reason her fight choreography had to be kept to a minimum since she had to do all of it herself.

Even worse, though, is how the scene totally screws up the little bit of a character arc Santiago and co-screenwriter Ken Metcalfe (who also plays Eric) managed to come up for her. In the scene just before this one, we see Susanne tell Eric she doesn’t think she can kill someone, a declaration I suspect was supposed to pay off in the final fight with Chuck, where she dramatically proves she can and without remorse.

Unfortunately the added(?) topless fight scene ruins this by showing us Susanne killing someone immediately after she said she couldn’t. Because of this her killing Chuck (played by Malibu Express's Darby Hinton in a very fun and moustachy performance) at the end of the movie doesn’t feel as significant as it should and robs the moment of much of its potential impact.

(Speaking of the scene where Susanne kills Chuck, it does seem weird that Santiago and Metcalfe chose to make him so reluctant to fight her. Based on what we’ve seen of him, his genuine affection for her seems out of character and—oddly—makes him seem more sympathetic in a scene where we should just want to see him straight up murdered. Ignoring his attempts at mercy does make Susanne more of a badass, but it also makes her seem like a dick. It’s definitely a problem we’d never see in a Chuck Norris movie.)

The other questionable scene might have been part of the original production, but that still doesn’t justify it. In it Susanne has just identified her sister’s body at the morgue and runs to Chuck to take comfort in his arms (and cock). What follows is an extremely long and bizarre sex scene where four minutes (in a 77 minute movie) is spent showing the two of them cutting off each other’s clothes in real-time detail.

Truthfully, it’s a fun scene, but it comes far too late in the film. By this point the only possible reason Susanne hasn’t made the connection between her sister’s death and Chuck’s drug dealing shenanigans is because she’s a complete idiot. Had the same scene appeared earlier in the film, this wouldn’t have been an issue, but at that moment in the picture it’s utterly ridiculous.

But as troubling as these scenes are, I know exactly why they’ve been included. It’s because without them, the film would come in at less than 70 minutes long and—much more importantly—would be robbed of all of its nudity.

The result, then, is an already questionable film undone by two of the three scenes that marginally justify its existence. Leaving only one utterly unspoiled moment of perfection. "And what," you ask, "would that be?"


B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part Nine "Deeds Not Words (Or Deeds)"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part Nine




The desert country of Something-or-other (seriously, the geography of this movie is completely fucked) is under siege by a military dude named Duke Guerera. Without any other option to stop him, the attractive Major Zara and prissy General Edward Byrne-White turn to the world’s best last defense—Megaforce! Secretly funded by each of the world’s free nations, Megaforce only accepts the best of the world's best, which apparently includes a redneck named Dallas, and a bunch of ethic folks who aren’t given enough screen time to show any discernable personality (except for the Shakespeare quoting, Vivaldi listening, Rubic’s Cube solving African-American member, who’s rejection of traditional black stereotypical behaviour is obviously meant to be hilarious). We’re told that there are no ranks in Megaforce, everyone is equal save for the commander, Ace Hunter, who happens to have a history with Guerera. Ace and Zara quickly grow fond of each other, and even though she proves herself to be worthy of joining Megaforce, he refuses to allow her to accompany them on the raid against Guerera. The Zara-less raid appears to have been successful, but Megaforce learns that if they attempt to leave Something-or-other by land, their crossing the border will be considered an act of war by Someone-who-can-declare-such-things. This leaves the dried lakebed as the only place their bombers can land and pick them up, but Guerera is there waiting for them. In order to live to see another day, the good ole’ boys of Megaforce are going to have to do some quick thinking and extra cool motorcycle riding!

If you read the above synopsis you might have reasonably felt that I left something out—mainly an actual plot capable of sustaining a 96-minute movie. You’re not alone. When I finished revisiting Megaforce—which I hadn’t seen in its entirety in decades—I was shocked by how little story had actually been told. The entire movie breaks down into the following acts:

Act One – We’re introduced to Megaforce.

Act Two – Megaforce completes a four-minute mission (there’s an actual timer on the screen when this happens).

Act Three – Megaforce escapes from the bad guy’s country (without actually accomplishing anything beyond killing the guys in that one four-minute mission).

The brainchild of stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham, Megaforce is what happens when a man utterly devoid of self-awareness or irony is allowed to become a major force in Hollywood. There’s a picture in his recent autobiography (which I dissected at length at Bookgasm) of an ad he took out after the opening of Smokey and the Bandit II, in which he’s shown sitting on a wheelbarrow filled with money, clad in a collared shit, unbuttoned to expose his hairy chest and gold chains.

So, yeah, he was a major asshole, but—as the comical wheelbarrow full of cash would suggest—he was a successful asshole. Prior to Megaforce he had managed to catch the interest of a public weary of 70s cinematic innovation with the two Smokey and the Bandit movies, Hooper, and The Cannonball Run. Most canny observers, however, would note that these four films all had something besides Needham in common—star Burt Reynolds. In fact, Needham’s lone failure up to that point had been The Villain, a Western comedy made in the style of the Chuck Jones Warner Brothers cartoons, which Reynolds took a pass on. Clearly, Needham’s career depended on the patronage of his good friend and former housemate.

And even though Needham lacked introspection, he clearly wasn’t an idiot. Watching Megaforce it becomes painfully obvious that he developed it as another Reynolds vehicle. The moments that actually come closest to working in the film are the light comic exchanges Ace shares with Zara, Dallas and--strangely--the villainous Duke, in which Reynolds onscreen voice screams out so loud it rattles your back molars.

But, as he had been with The Villain, Reynolds appears to have been smart enough to recognize a disaster in the making. This is pure speculation on my part, however, since Megaforce rates only the following mention in Needham's book:

The first time I was supposed to meet with Al Ruddy, who produced my Cannonball Run movies and Megaforce, was at Nate & Al’s, in Beverly Hills.

So the actual development and production history of the film are completely unknown to me. That said, Needham is not what anyone would call a closed book. Given what we know about him, the whys and the hows of the film aren’t at all difficult to imagine.

For example, it’s abundantly clear that the main reason Megaforce exists is because of Needham’s raging, rock hard boner for anything with an internal combustion engine. In fact, the cost of the machinery on display in the film is the only possible explanation for its $20 million budget, which sounds like nothing today, but was an extremely significant investment in 1982, especially for a film with no significant above the line costs.

The problem is that Needham clearly wanted cars and cycles that he could ride around on himself, which meant that none of the fantastic futuristic fighting vehicles look all that fantastic or futuristic. The one time in Needham’s career where he demanded some measure of verisimilitude was in the one project where an utter disregard for reality would have been most appropriate.

As someone who has absolutely no interest in motorized vehicles, I’m not the right judge when it comes to determining the awesomeness of Megaforce’s gas-fueled raison d’etres, but I do know that despite clearly being designed with toy shelves in mind, I didn’t know any kids who played with Megaforce toys in 1982. This link to images of the toy line, does an excellent job of explaining why. The fact that they felt compelled to release a toy version of the fucking pickup truck that Dallas and hilariously-educated-black-dude pick up the Major and General with is seriously messing with my brain.

To my eyes, the cars, trucks, and cycles, look like nothing more than expensively retooled cars, trucks, and cycles, which by itself does not a movie make. Ruddy and Needham (who both receive screenplay credits along with Bob Kachler, James Whittaker, and Andre Morgan—yes, Megaforce has five credited writers) try to make them seem cooler than cool by adding lasers and special paint jobs that do this:


But the lasers are barely used and the special paint thingee is never brought up again after Dallas demonstrates it (clearly none of the five writers are up on their Chekov). And, beyond the cars, the rest of the film barely rises above that of a TV movie. One reason it's impossible to figure out the film’s geography (beyond the incoherent screenplay) is the fact that the entire film was obviously shot in the same desert location, which just happened to be right next to Las Vegas, Nevada. (I’m guessing the decision to shoot there might have been connected to Needham’s deserved reputation as a dude who loved to par-tay!) Megaforce’s base is nothing more than a few large rooms and an unconvincing matte painting. And the non-driving effects range from the cheesy to the infamously hilarious.

The result is a very expensive film that looks little different than similar projects made with a tenth of Needham’s budget. It doesn’t help that Needham films with the eyes of a stuntman, not a director. Many of the stunts in the film are presented as events, rather than as part of the overall narrative. Personally knowing how difficult they are to pull-off, he isn’t able to cut them apart like a better filmmaker would.

Of course, none of this would matter if Megaforce had an exciting story filled with interesting characters, so the fact that it doesn’t is the true source of its failure. I’ve already described the film’s strange lack of story—it ends at what would be the halfway point of a modern action film—but the cast and characters also deserve some attention.

Unable to lure Reynolds into their trap, Ruddy and Needham went a fascinatingly different direction. Seven years had passed since Barry Bostwick had played Brad in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when he was cast as Ace Hunter. He had spent those years jumping from TV to Broadway, where he specialized in musical theater. This made him an odd choice for an action movie hero, but there are moments where you can see why he got the job. Ironically, they’re the same moments that make it clear Hunter was supposed to be played by Reynolds.

Thanks mostly to his own douchebaggery, people today forget that Reynolds had an easy light comic charm onscreen that was often surprisingly self-deprecating. It’s this quality that Bostwick brings to the part, and in some moments it almost works, but he’s brutally handicapped by the film’s bizarre costume and grooming choices. The first moment we see him, he’s shown wearing a blue headband that makes him look like Olivia Newton-John’s gay brother. This is exacerbated by his beard and blow-dried hairdo, which must have looked ridiculous even in 1982 when such things were marginally forgivable.

It’s largely because of Hunter’s appearance that many asshole critics such as myself suggest that the film has a secret gay subtext. It doesn’t help that Bostwick’s most famous onscreen role featured him dancing around in women’s lingerie, but as much as I would like to pursue this line of thought, I simply have to conclude that this is more the result of Needham’s cluelessness than any hitherto undiscovered latent tendencies—the film’s camp quality is actually the result of Needham being so resolutely, unironically masculine that he was simply unequipped to notice how gay the (presumably) gay costume and hair team conspired to make his star appear.

This is the only way to reconcile Bostwick’s appearance with the inclusion of Edward Mulhare’s General Byrne-White, who is portrayed as exactly the kind of fussy, uptight, British dude who Needham would determine was probably homosexual (you can just tell by the way he has Mulhare look concerned about his luggage).

Xanadu’s Michael Beck plays Dallas, and is convincing enough as a redneck yahoo anyone who hadn’t seen The Warriors would assume he was cast to type. The rest of the Megaforcers somehow manage to seem distressingly interchangeable, despite the attempt to cross a wide swath of ethnic lines.

Persis Khambatta (the late Indian actress, best remembered as the bald alien chick in Star Trek: The Motion Picture) is the film’s only significant female presence (which is another reason for some to make the gay subtext argument) and is clearly there because someone reminded Needham there has to be a girl in there somewhere. Her romance with Hunter takes up a large portion of screen time, even though it ultimately goes nowhere.

As the “villain” Henry Silva isn’t actually allowed to do anything villainous, which kinda sucks the tension out of the movie. The worst thing we seem him do is cheat at chess, which is probably something a typical Needham hero would do in the same situation. The film takes pains to establish that he and Hunter were once friends, and their big scene together is actually the best moment in the movie, but it has no place in a cartoonish action picture where the concepts of good and evil should actually matter. Guerera is very much alive at the end of the movie. When we last see him, he shouts at his escaping friend that they’ll meet each other again.

This is the first clear sign of the obvious fact that Megaforce was intended to become a major franchise, but we’re given absolutely no reason to want to see these two friends/rivals meet again. Especially since we didn’t actually see them do anything here the first time!

That said, Hunter’s escape from Guerera and his tanks results in Megaforce’s most infamous scene, which Needham and Ruddy clearly thought was going to be the most amazing thing anyone had ever witnessed on film. I could spend the next half hour trying to describe it, but I’ll just let you watch it for yourself instead.


So, yeah, that happens. I’d end this here, but special mention also has to be reserved for the film’s final shot, which I admit goes a long way to tearing my “Megaforce isn’t intentionally gay” theory to shreds.

This is how Hal Needham ended his major action opus, folks

Need I say more?