Category Archives: Cult

Fist of Fear, Touch of Death (1980, Matthew Mallinson)

Either there’s a good story behind Fist of Fear, Touch of Death’s production or it’s exactly what it seems to be, some producers got ahold of the rights to an old Chinese movie, 1957’s The Thunderstorm, starring a teenage Bruce Lee in a non-martial arts role (in fact, it’s incest melodrama), and couldn’t figure out how to make any money off distributing it as is. So in what’s both the most creative thing screenwriter Ron Harvey does for the entire film and the most staggeringly awful (arguably), the old footage becomes a “biography” of Bruce Lee. Starring Bruce Lee. Dubbed by someone terrible. It tells the story of a “karate crazy” teenage Lee bringing shame and ruin to his family because of that enthusiasm, which has its roots in Bruce’s pride in his great-grandfather… the Chinese samurai.

Because the producers also had the rights to a wuxia movie, which had already been released in the United States as Invincible Super Chan, but the more accurate English title is apparently Forced to Fight. Who knows where Harvey got the story for the dubbing in it—maybe it’s the original story, doesn’t matter. It’s really boring. And there’s a lot of footage from it. And it seems rather poorly made. Fist of Fear, Touch of Death is a martial arts cash-in without a single bit of good martial arts. There’s a moment when it seems like—if director Mallinson weren’t so shockingly inept his roles of director and co-editor—it might be good. Martial artist Bill Louie, dressed up as “Kato #2” in a grim and gritty homage to Lee’s “Green Hornet” character, who patrols New York City in a limousine, saving random woman from being gang-raped in public places in broad daylight by twenty assailants. During that lengthy, terribly paced, terribly edited fight sequences—where the background action of victim Annette Bronson trying to get her purse away from one of the bad guys is more interesting than the fighting—in that scene, there’s a moment where it’s obvious Louie’d be fun to watch in a better production.

This sequence comes towards the end of the film, after all the Bruce Lee flashbacks. They start talking about his fame and didn’t want to show any of his actual movies in case someone would sue them so instead they do the averted rape. It’s the second averted rape on the sidewalks of New York City in the middle of the day; the first one has another martial artist, Ron Van Clief, saving a random woman. The difference between Louie and Van Clief? The “saved” woman has to sleep with Van Clief to thank him, which is… not unexpected for a production of Touch of Death’s caliber.

The movie’s got this framing sequence with Adolph Caesar as a reporter named Adolph Caesar, who’s covering the 1980 World Professional Karate Organization’s world welterweight title fight at Madison Square Garden—not the main hall and I’m not confirming it’s the Hulu Theater because I already spent seven minutes figuring out the name of the organization—but all he wants to talk about is Bruce Lee. It opens with him talking to promoter Aaron Banks, real-life promoter who’s running the WPKO, so when—late in the film—there’s a fake conversation between Banks and Bruce Lee, where Lee profusely lauds Banks as the most important figure in martial arts history, you’ve got to imagine the filmmakers threw it in to get access to Banks’s event.

Banks also says Lee died from the “Touch of Death.” Or “Vibrating Palm.” It’s a secret martial arts move where you touch someone and then three weeks later they die. I think the movie says Lee died the year before, so 1979, but it was actually 1973 but whatever.

Fred Williamson shows up as Fred Williamson, his introduction being him waking up late because the hotel thinks he’s Harry Belafonte and gives him the wrong wakeup call but Fred’s still got time to bed his lady. The sixth time.

You’ve got to wonder if Williamson knew what he was in for.

When the movie finally gets to the fight… it’s terribly edited kickboxing bout. The guy who wins seems like he’s getting his ass kicked for most of the fight because of how Mallinson edits the reused footage of the fight. Though I supposed it’s possible its original footage of the fight, which is terrifying because it’s so poorly directed, especially for a televised fight.

There’s no reason to watch Fist of Fear, Touch of Death unless you’re a Bruceploitation completest or want to be amazed at how Caesar’s voice is so good you believe the nonsense he’s spewing. There’s some nice stock footage of late seventies New York City too. And the opening titles music is… the CBS/FOX Home Video music from the eighties and nineties.

But, yeah, either all the deals it took to get this movie made are either real interesting or real sad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Matthew Mallinson; screenplay by Ron Harvey, based on a story by Harvey and Matthew Mallinson; director of photography, John Hazard; edited by Jeffrey D. Brown and Mallinson; music by Keith Mansfield; produced by Terry Levene; released by Aquarius Releasing.

Starring Adolph Caesar (Adolph Caesar), Aaron Banks (Aaron Banks), Fred Williamson (Fred Williamson), Ron Van Clief (Ron Van Clief), Bill Louie (Bill Louie), Teruyuki Higa (Teruyuki Higa), Richard Barathy (Richard Barathy), Louis Neglia (Louis Neglia), John Flood (John Flood), Gail Turner (rape victim), Annette Bronson (rape victim #2), and Hollywood Browde (Fred Williamson’s girlfriend).


Gelateria (2019, Christian Serritiello and Arthur Patching)

Once it’s clear directors Patching and Serritiello are going to be able to keep Gelateria going, the question becomes how can they possibly end it. The film opens with a lone figure on a rocky beach, yelling into the sea. The water has sound, the yells don’t have sound. Given how the film ends… it’s possible the whole thing’s circular to that first scene, possible it’s not. Doesn’t matter. Probably.

The first half of Gelateria is an absurdist walking tour of art venues, starting with Serritiello going to old friend Jade Willis’s concert. Serritiello’s so good it’s weird to think of him as the director too. He’s what gets Gelateria the initial buy in. He’s just staring at the unseeable woman across from him as he narrates from a journal; Serritiello’s really good at the regarding for the camera bit, he’s taking it seriously, the film’s taking him seriously.

So, I guess it does make sense he’s one of the directors too.

Anyway. Serritiello is going to that Jade Willis concert. The film still hasn’t established how absurd it’s going to get, not until after Willis yells at Serritiello for abandoning him and the dialogue’s not great. Then all of a sudden the film breaks the established narrative distance and mixes it up on the floor and looks up from Serritiello’s position (on the literal floor) and the world is totally different. Willis, who’s quite good, is taunting Willis, egged on by onlookers, and the film begins to establish its boundaries.

Serritiello is going to run along in a bit and look into a barber shop, where there’s a great bit with two customers on the phone. It’s nonsensical but excellent because of the acting, which seems to set Gelateria on steady ground only to immediately go shaky again. Turns out Serritellio’s passing the film off to a third customer, Daniel Brunet. His phone call is about hiring someone to speak Italian during his party on a yacht.

Serritiello, Willis, the other phone actors, they were acting. Brunet is mugging. It’s an immediate problem.

Brunet’s party turns out to be a five person affair in what appears to be a double bed cabin. It’s silly and if Brunet weren’t exaggeratedly odious it might even be funny. Things immediately improve when Simone Spinazze shows up. He’s the Italian hired to speak Italian for the amusement of Brunet and his guests. Once he’s done being made spectacle for terrible WASPs, Spinazze goes to work waitstaff at an art show. That sequence, which is where it becomes clear the film can keep up this momentum, ends in singer Joulia Strauss shooting someone.

She then runs out, gets into a waiting getaway car and speeds off with accomplice (and the other director) Arthur Patching. If it were a different kind of film, there’d be something to look at with Strauss actually having used the art show as a cover to perform a hit.

Anyway.

After Patching stashes Strauss in a safe house with the requisite birds (go with it), he then runs into Carrie Getman, who’s out bird-calling at night, passing the film off to Getman. When then get Getman’s sequence, which is basically her life set to a terrible self-help tape.

Take a breath, only halfway in.

Though actually the second half, which starts with a phenomenal animated sequence is all about how an artist ships her paintings off to a gallery on a remote island and then the gallery never gets in touch so she goes to investigate. There’s bingo involved, a hamburger joint, and avant-garde community theater. It’s all fairly awesome as far as the “plot” goes, with some excellent supporting performances in this section.

Unfortunately, the artist protagonist is played by Patching and Serritiello in drag as a grey-haired British lady. They alternate, which doesn’t matter much as they don’t get any significant dialogue, with Patching probably doing it more? Though the character gets introduced with Serritiello.

I mean, it’s fine for the absurdist comedy thing and all but it might have been funnier if they’d played it, well, straight. Especially given the acting possibilities for the outrageous odyssey through this sleepy little town.

Gelateria looks great, moves great, sounds great (Jack Patching’s score is excellent). Given the directors wrote, edited, photographed, and starred, it’s definitely all thanks to Patching and Serritiello—with major props to Tiago Araújo’s animation; the animated sequence is just what it needs to be to bridge the sections of the film. The film—running just over an hour—is one hell of a sprint. It never slows down, never tires, always kept moving smooth thanks to the directors’ masterful editing.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written, directed, edited, photographed, and produced by Christian Serritiello and Arthur Patching.

Starring Carrie Getman (Eleanor), Tomas Spencer (PC George Hartree), Christian Serritiello (Zbigniew), Jade Willis (Tom Rigby), Simone Spinazze (Giovanni), Arthur Patching (Alfie Dunn), Daniel Brunet (Julius Row), Joulia Strauss (Joulia Strauss), Julie Trappett (Priscilla), and John Keogh (James Flannigan).


Six-String Samurai (1998, Lance Mungia)

Released in 1998, Six-String Samurai makes the big move of using a very familiar piece of music from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack (Misirlou, which is also the music on the Pulp Fiction trailer) during a big action sequence. It’s not a bold move, because Samurai hasn’t got any boldness. It even walks back being tough enough to kill kids, which turns out to be a major bummer later on; but it’s a big move. You lift from a popular movie you’re not directly referencing but you’re desperately hoping has gotten audiences ready to give your lesser effort a pass. I also wouldn’t call it a courageous move—director Mungia is awkwardly safe—but it’s not something you see every day. A movie “homaging” a four-year old film with a straight face. I mean, it works in spoofs… maybe they were hoping it’d go far for them in Samurai, which isn’t a spoof but has the ingredients to be one.

While the plotting is sort of good—Samurai isn’t (but always seems like) an adaptation of a wacky but good indie comic from the late eighties or early nineties—samurai rock and rollers, all sorts of different gangs—cavemen, a bowling team, musical guests the Red Elvises, a heavy metal death gang, some Soviets—a post-apocalyptic setting. Maybe British, commenting on the U.S. but not well, instead just going for whatever works in the moment. Mungia and lead Jeffrey Falcon wrote the script, which is mercenary for its occasional laughs; if it were a Muppet movie, it’d be amazing, which is kind of hard to explain but also not. If Six-String Samurai were a bunch of Muppets and a human kid, it’d be amazing. The dialogue’s for a Muppet movie. When the death metal gang starts talking to each other like it’s “Fraggle Rock,” you can see the missed opportunity.

But until the end, it seems like Samurai might make it to the finish line. Only it doesn’t, because it’s got a bad ending where it turns out Mungia isn’t just nodding to… get ready… Kurosawa, Leone, Coen, Tarantino, Rodriguez, Lucas (as in George), he’s also got a whole Wizard of Oz thing he wants to throw in for momentary effect. Again, not ornate or committed enough to be desperate, but pointless. Mungia’s desperate to homage.

So it’s kind of weird how well he directs about forty percent of the action scenes. While Mungia doesn’t make a good kung fu movie or a good Western, he does make one hell of a samurai epic. When Falcon’s out there slicing and dicing, it’s some great samurai cinema. Shame Mungia can’t shoot a sword duel, but it’s only one of so many shames. Some of the problem with the action is James Frisa’s editing. It’s one of those cases where Mungia does things wrong, Frisa does things wrong, then they enable each other on other things gone wrong. Samurai does a lot with slow motion to cover Mungia not actually being able to direct the action and it gets really tiresome. Compounding it… Frisa’s editing isn’t good. It’s a vicious circle and usually keeps Samurai from accomplishing anything. Save those samurai action scenes—and just the action parts, not the setup or wrap-up. Mungia fumbles those parts like normal.

Kristian Bernier’s photography is good throughout. Lots of wind in the film in the first, which works to great effect. Unfortunately, as the gale mellows, lead Falcon—playing Lone Wolf—accepts Cub Justin McGuire.

Though—and it’s weird because it came out before–Samurai has a much better story for Star Wars: Episode I than Star Wars: Episode I has for itself.

Anyway.

The problem with Samurai and what ultimately does it in is McGuire. It’s very hard to cast a good kid lead in an adventure movie for all ages, it’s harder to cast one for an R-rated action movie… there’s no shame in not getting it right. Sadly, Mungia and company get it not just a little wrong, they get it astoundingly, increasingly wrong. Though if they were really making the movie and thinking it was fine—which seems to make sense, given how not good Falcon’s line deliveries get (and appear dubbed much of the time—his stunts are great, he was a stuntman)–but to not see what McGuire’s doing to your movie….

It’s like having an adorable little puppy who’s so annoying you want to kick it.

But there is an odd sincerity to the McGuire character, the young orphan who needs protecting and ronin Falcon’s the only one available–but it’s still bad and it’s not a cloying addition. It’s the film’s biggest swing and the resulting miss is what breaks Samurai’s last string.

Maybe if Falcon were a great lead but he’s not even a good one. Samurai is impressive for its creators’ tenacity and ability to get investors, Falcon’s physical movement, the samurai action, and the photography. The rest… nope.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lance Mungia; written by Jeffrey Falcon and Mungia; music by The Red Elvises and Brian Tyler; director of photography, Kristian Bernier; edited by James Frisa; production and costume designer, Falcon; produced by Leanna Creel; released by Palm Pictures.

Starring Jeffrey Falcon (Buddy), Justin McGuire (The Kid), Stephane Gauger (Death), Clifford Hugo (Psycho), and Kim De Angelo (Mother).


Eegah (1962, Arch Hall Sr.)

Eegah is a rather bad, rather weird, and yet spirited budget King Kong picture—with a prehistoric Southern California caveman instead of a giant ape. Sure, there’s the teen idol aspect to it, but once the film commits to damsel in distress Marilyn Manning madly crushing on survived since the Stone Age Richard Kiel and the film basically then being about Manning and dad (director Arch Hall Sr.) trying to keep Kiel preoccupied so he doesn’t remember to rape Manning… okay, maybe it’s a little bit more than just a budget King Kong. Though Kiel running amok in riche South California in search of true love Manning has an almost earnest quality to it, especially since Manning’s actual boyfriend (Arch Hall Jr., son of producer-director-costar Hall Sr., natch) is kind of a dipshit. He’s a wanna be blond Elvis in 1962, complete with band; he gets three big numbers in the film… maybe more actual songs but three showcases. The first act of the film plays like a promotional video for Hall Jr.; hey, he can “sing” and he can “act.”

Though it’s probably unfair to get on any of the actors for their performances because the whole thing is looped, presumably by the original cast but who knows; the sound person didn’t, you know, record the sound. Hall Sr. probably should’ve paid a little more. Though maybe the dubbing gives Eegah some of its charm… also maybe not. It’s never entirely clear if the film has charm or just seems like it ought to be charming. Because of the dubbing, it’s impossible to know what Manning’s original intent was during the attempted rape scene. It’s literally contradictory and very rough. In the middle of this silly pseudo-monster movie (but biblically accurate, the film reminds a couple times) there’s this plot development about the impending sexual assault, then the actual sexual assault (with daughter Manning sacrificing herself to save father Hall Sr., so, there’s something there too)… and it never gets dealt with. Other than Manning mooning for Kiel because she realizes what a lamer she’s got in Hall Jr.

Even though Hall Sr. kind of gets that Manning is hot for Kiel. And Hall Sr. is vaguely creepy around Manning. Though it seems more like a budgetary problem than anything actually creepy… wait, no. There’s a scene where Manning wants to pamper Hall Sr.; they’re being held captive by Kiel and Hall Sr.’s ego is bruised. He’s a famous adventure writer and this caveman who survived thanks to sulfury water is one upping him and about to rape his daughter. So Manning gives Hall Sr. a shave.

That shave leads to Kiel wanting a shave and Manning realizing without his hundreds of thousands of years old caveman beard, Kiel’s kind of hot in a giant way.

Kiel’s “dialogue” consists of grunts and gibberish, frequently saying “Eegah,” which convinces questionably competent adventurer Hall Sr. its Kiel’s name. Because he goes around saying his name to himself. And go around he does. When Kiel’s chasing the heroes in their dune buggy—the film’s very big on Hall Jr.’s dune buggy. It’s a shock he doesn’t have a musical number while driving it, though I suppose he does do an expository monologue about dune buggies during their ride, which is also something. There are occasions where Eegah is almost accidentally good, like when Hall Sr. gets dropped off by helicopter—or maybe it’s just because it’s cool to see “M.A.S.H.”’s Korean landscape again–and it’s this intense, silent sequence of shots, with Hall Sr. no doubt calling in some favors. In lieu of good sets or complex shots or… tripods, Hall Sr. has helicopters and really nice cars and….

Oh, crap. I forgot the swimming sequence.

So while Hall Jr. sings a song about another girl—all of his songs have a girl’s name in them, never Manning’s, because he wants her to think he’s a player—Manning swims around and twirls off the crappy water slide in the country club Hall Sr. got permission to shoot in. Or didn’t get permission. But it’s a long song, long swimming sequence, weird swimming sequence. One can only imagine Hall Sr.’s “swim sexy” direction to poor Manning.

So, yeah. There’s some icky stuff to Eegah, especially if Manning is supposed to be sixteen.

The film’s weird. And often terrible in amusing ways. It’s impossible to take seriously in pretty much every way. Unless you’re interested in early sixties Southern California visuals. Or for examples of how not to light people on location. Vilis Lapenieks does some stunningly inept lighting.

Eegah is one of those movies where you wonder if the making of stories are better than the movie, but it’s still weird enough to be amusing. The weird also covers some of the iffy material. Though… the third act does actually have a lot more potential than the film realizes. I can’t believe I forgot about the third act.

There’s this fight scene between Hall Jr. and another band member. The other band member wants Manning. There’s like a dance off before the fight, with Hall Sr. and some other old guy standing there commenting on it pseudo-obliviously….

It’s all just so strange. It’s ineptly produced, with terrible sets, yet it still manages to be weird in ways unrelated to being too cheap or not, you know, good. Eegah’s sort of bewitching. And sort of not.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Arch Hall Sr.; screenplay by Bob Wehling, based on a story by Hall; director of photography, Vilis Lapenieks; edited by Don Schneider; music by André Brummer; released by Fairway International Pictures.

Starring Marilyn Manning (Roxy), Richard Kiel (Eegah), Arch Hall Jr. (Tom), Arch Hall Sr. (Mr. Miller), and Lloyd Williams (Mr. Kruger).