The Suns of Easter Island/Les soleils de l’île de Pâques (1972)

‘You know, for some time, I’ve had moments of telepathy.’

Six strangers in different parts of the world experience strange visions and wake to find a silver circle embedded in the palm of their hand. Subsequently, they are drawn to meet on Easter Island to fulfil an unusual destiny…

Curious science-fiction piece from writer-director Pierre Kast, influenced by the ‘ancient astronaut’ theories of author Robert Charroux. An unusual co-production between France, Brazil and Chile, it features a multi-national cast and some memorable locations.

Physicist Maurice (Maurice Garrel) is experimenting with harnessing solar energy, while, continents away, astronomer Norma (Norma Bengell) is trying to correlate the position of ancient temple statues to a star map. Wealthy horse breeder Alexandra (Alexandra Stewart) has mediumistic abilities and is intrigued by the pictographs carved into stone hills near her home. Entomologist Marcello (Marcello Romo) is working near Valparaiso while ehtnologist Françoise (Françoise Brion) is carrying out research on the islands of Polynesia. Helvio (Zózimo Bulbul) is a student who practises the Brazilian folk religion of Macumba. All have sudden visions that are a mixture of humanity’s history of armed conflict and the statues on Easter Island. All wake up with a small silver dot imprinted on the palm of one hand.

Bringing their scientific expertise and spiritual beliefs to bear, each tries to decode the message behind their experience, Stewart assisted by her psychoanalyst boyfriend Alain (Jacques Charrier). As the days pass, she develops limited psychic abilities, such as telepathy and psychokinesis. However, she also feels a compulsion to go to Easter Island and to be there on a specific day late in the month of May. The other recipients of the visions share this compulsion, and, as they journey to their destination, they begin to meet, get acquainted and realise that all six of them are part of something of cosmic significance.

Robert Charroux was a French author who began writing science-fiction in the 1940s but became known for his theories regarding ancient astronauts. His book ‘One Hundred Thousand Years of Man’s Unknown History’ was first published in 1963 and was arguably a direct influence on the work of author Erich von Däniken. The latter’s ‘Chariots of the Gods?’ published five years later, took these theories into the mainstream. Although never accepted by the respected scientific community and thoroughly debunked since these theories of extraterrestrial visitations in humanity’s remote past were a global sensation in the 1970s. They elevated von Däniken to the status of a household name in many parts of the world.

Unfortunately, Kast seems determined to validate these theories with his film, sacrificing all drama, action, tension and character for attempted realism. However, there’s a constant clash between the almost documentary feel and the fantastical elements that result in a dull, plodding experience instead of the sense of wonder and possibilities that Kast probably intended. This is neatly encapsulated by the opening scenes where physicist Garrel claims to be descended from a long line of sorcerers and alchemists and uses geomancy to decode his supernatural vision. This method relies on the interpretation of random numbers of pen scratches made on a page and is linked to astrology. I don’t think too many top physicists use it. The visions are a mixture of basic animation and a series of still images flashing quickly across the screen. These show violence at civil protests, soldiers, tanks and battle casualties, which include dead children.

Garrel also adopts the role of ‘VoiceOver Man’, an assignment he carries out with some enthusiasm, in the end narrating a great deal of the film, including the climax! Inevitably, the audience is left feeling like they’ve attended a lecture rather than watched a movie, an impression heightened by the film’s lack of action. Broadly speaking, each of the six protagonists is introduced, has their vision, chats about it with a friend, colleague or loved one, and then uses some aspect of their scientific expertise or spiritual beliefs to decode it and head for Easter Island. However, given that all these visions feature Rapa Nui’s famous monolithic figures quite prominently, it’s hard not to conclude that everyone could have saved time and just bought a plane ticket instead.

When the group assemble and reach Easter Island, there is about half an hour of the film remaining. Once there, they wander about a bit and indulge in listless conversations for a quarter of an hour until something finally happens. These climactic events involve everyone sitting around in a dark cave and a lot of holding hands. This might be vaguely interesting if the cast could inject some life into the proceedings. Unfortunately, all their roles are severely underwritten, with each defined mainly by their particular scientific expertise, none of which is directly relevant to the development of the story. Stewart manages to bring some personality to the table, perhaps because she’s the only one not playing an actual scientist, but her mediumistic skills and psychic powers are ultimately pointless.

However, there is one place where Kast’s film scores a bullseye, even though it would have been impossible to miss the target. It’s the location work. The statues on Easter Island have intrigued the world since Europeans first visited its shores in 1722. There have been many theories about their purpose and significance, although most modern scholars believe them to have religious and spiritual meanings. Their unique appearance and the unclear methods behind their creation led von Däniken to assign them an extraterrestrial origin. Nevertheless, placing cast members next to them makes for some wonderful images, evoking the sense of awe and possibility that the film strives for throughout but fails to approach elsewhere.

It’s interesting to note that Kast was originally a documentary filmmaker whose work in features mainly came at the end of his almost 40-year career. His work seems to have made little impact outside his homeland. As per the film’s origins, the cast was multi-national; Bengell and Bulbul were born in Brazil; Brion, Charrier, and Garrel were French, and Stewart was a Canadian. Most of them enjoyed long and successful screen careers, and Brion and Stewart are still gainfully employed at the time of writing. The same is true of von Däniken. ‘Confessions of an Egyptologist: Lost Libraries, Vanished Labyrinths & the Astonishing Truth Under the Saqqara Pyramids’ was published in 2021.

Very much a product of its time and of interest only in that regard.

The Bionic Boy/El Nino Bionico (1977)

‘You bums may end up as VPs of the biggest business in Manila.’

When a cop frustrates a crime syndicate’s assassination attempt on a millionaire business, he and his family are marked for death. The contract is fulfilled, but the man’s young son survives the attack, albeit with devastating injuries. However, the millionaire is determined to repay his debt, and the boy is fitted with some replacement parts…

A Hong Kong-Filipino production filmed in India that jumps on the coattails of the global TV phenomenon that was ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’. The star was the pre-teen Johnson Yap, apparently a Singapore-born Taekwondo expert.

Young Sonny Lee (Yap) is on a high after his outstanding victory at a high-profile martial arts tournament. This success leads to an appearance on national television with his parents and a burgeoning friendship with timber and car manufacturing tycoon Silverio Ramirez (Subas Herrero). Unfortunately, the businessman has refused to play ball with organised crime, and the New York Office has sent enforcer William York (Joe Sison) to take over their local operation and kick him into line.

Sison orders a hit man to take Herrero out, but the assassin is dusted instead, courtesy of Yap’s father, cop Jonathan Lee (Danny Rojo). As a result of his intervention, Sison sets his dogs on the policeman’s family. One homicide by bulldozer later, Yap is an orphan and comatose in hospital with little hope of survival. But Herrero brings in the world’s top scientists who rebuild the young lad with bionic components, making him stronger and faster than before.

Copyright be damned! Director Leody M Diaz and writers Romeo N Galang and Bobby A Suarez wilfully ignore the intellectual property rights of the American ABC Television Network to fashion their own take on a bionic superhero. There had even been a ‘Bionic Boy’ on the show; a teenager injured in a landslide played by Vincent Van Patten in a special two-part story in 1976.

Appropriately, the film plays a lot like an extended episode of a US TV show, but one with a tiny budget and even less ambition. Yap’s opponents are simply faceless gangsters, and we see almost nothing of his transformation and subsequent adjustment to his newfound powers. These are conveyed with the inevitable slow-motion and mechanical noises which accompanied Lee Majors when he went into action in the original show. Perhaps the only truly noteworthy thing about the film is that Yap does actually kill people. OK, it’s not up and close and personal but one of Sison’s henchmen falls from a cliff as they fight, and there’s no way that those two guys escaped from that van before it burst into flames! This is something that wouldn’t have been permissible in Western cinema back then, and would likely still raise a few eyebrows now.

It’s semi-hilarious that the scientists can resurrect Yap at all, given his injuries. These include very extensive damage to his internal organs, multiple fractures of the rib cage, a lacerated liver, a fractured skull, a massive inter-cranial haemorrhage, a badly damaged right cerebrum and visual centre, traumatic injuries to the optic nerves and blood vessels, and he will never hear again ‘unless medical science can come up with a replacement for the entire cochlea and vestibular apparatus.’ But, as Herrero tells the boy’s dying father, ‘Sonny is in a critical condition, but he’ll be alright’. And, a few minutes later, he is!

In line with the original show, there are also some fearsome 1970s fashions to enjoy, including massive shirt collars and wide flared jeans (may they never return). One of Sison’s laughing henchmen also sports a fine ‘fro which should have got him the gig as Cleopatra Jones‘ boyfriend. It’s interesting to see that dubious styling choices went worldwide even back in the days before Instagram and Tik-Tok.

On the credit side, the scenes of Yap tangling with the bad guys are surprisingly well-staged. Of course, a young boy throwing fully-grown adults around isn’t entirely convincing, but these scenes are far better realised than they have any right to be, especially considering the threadbare resources evident elsewhere. Apart from that, there’s very little bang for your buck, with the (very) lengthy finalé consisting of little more than dozens of extras running around firing off prop guns as the forces of law and order rush the criminal’s headquarters. Surprisingly, the film was successful enough to prompt Yap and the filmmakers to do it all again barely two years later with ‘Dynamite Johnson’ (1979). However, it wasn’t a sequel, more of a reboot. Although Yap’s character name was tweaked to Johnson ‘Sonny’ Lee and the basic premise was identical, the plot sounds far more outlandish. On this occasion, Yap has an entirely different backstory and takes on a Nazi madman and his giant robot dragon!

There is next to no biographical information available on the talented Yap, and it appears that he only ever appeared on the screen in these films. Writer Suarez was promoted to director for the second effort and had already enjoyed a long career in cinema, initially working in various administrative capacities in the Filipino film industry and spending an extended period in Hong Kong. He started working as a producer in 1973 and formed his own production company four years later. He directed nine features, mainly in the action genre, including the strange Mad Max-lost kingdom mash-up ‘Searchers of the Voodoo Mountain/Warriors of the Apocalypse’ (1984).

The original Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman franchise ran for an impressive five seasons and, with subsequent TV movies, a total of 21 years passed between the introduction of Steve Austin and his final goodbye. One of the films even featured a young Sandra Bullock as a new bionic character working on the side of the angels. It was only her second screen role. Proposed remakes have been knocking around for many years, most recently featuring Mark Wahlberg, but, to date, nothing has appeared. Wahlberg’s project had been adjusted for inflation to ‘The Six Billion Dollar Man’.

A persistently underwhelming experience.

Kalimán en el Siniestro Mundo de Humanón/Kalimán in the Sinister World of Humanón (1976)

‘Professor Rataban is a little mutated right now…’

A superhero arrives in Rio de Janeiro to attend a congress on psychology. On arrival, he discovers that one of the delegates has been mysteriously decapitated and two other scientists have disappeared. After an attempt is made on his life, he finds himself going up against the schemes of a hooded supervillain…

Outlandish fantasy sequel from Mexico featuring the further exploits of ‘Kalimán, the Incredible Man/Kalimán, el Hombre Increíble’ (1972). Canadian actor Jeff Cooper returns in the title role, along with director Alberto Mariscal, but they could not recapture the first movie’s box office success, and a series never materialised.

Rio’s congress of psychology is in a spot of bother. Two delegates have vanished without a trace, and one has been murdered. Suddenly, regrets and cancellations are flooding the desks of the organiser, Professor Pheraul (Alberto Insua) and his blonde secretary, Shiomara (Lenka Erdos). So, it’s a great relief to welcome guest of honour, Kalimán (Cooper) and his pre-teen ward, Solin (Manuel Bravo). Apparently, their presence is sufficient to save the congress (whatever it was!) as no one ever mentions it again.

However, the duo barely have time to settle into their hotel before Cooper has been subjected to mind control by strong-arm man, Cabaledo (Carlos Cardán) and Bravo has been snatched and buried in a crypt on the other side of town! Luckily, Cooper is able to locate his burial spot using his telepathic abilities, encouraging Bravo to focus on the magnetic emanations that come from his body. Still, they need the help of a mysterious figure dressed in a skeleton costume before they can escape.

These events are the work of the fiendish mastermind, Humanón (Milton Rodríguez), resplendent in an ensemble of scarlet robes, pointy hood and sunglasses. He’s busy mutating scientists into ‘Zombie-Tronics (take that spellchecker!) These are human slaves mutated by the addition of animal brains (or something?) Anyway, they obey Rodríguez and his agents without question, roar like lions and burst out from the trunks of parked motor vehicles. Rodríguez keeps them in cages outside his HQ, where they are looked after by elderly, whip-wielding lieutenant Perfecto (a wildly over-acting Alonso Castaño).

On the docket for a future experiment is Insua’s daughter, Juarina (Angelina Fernández), and the professor is being blackmailed as a result. The same is true of his assistant Erdos, whose husband was the man who was beheaded before Cooper’s arrival on the scene. What kind of hold can Rodríguez possibly have over her then if he’s already dead? Well, his head was never found; let’s leave it at that. After the usual round of assassination attempts, escapes and captures, this ragtag group find itself trekking through the jungle under the guns of Cardán and his Zombie-Tronic troopers on their way to a deadly rendezvous.

The character of Kalimán was created in 1963 by Rafael Cutberto Navarro and Modesto Vázquez González and was the star of a popular radio show. He was a mystic and adventurer with martial art skills and mental powers such as telepathy. The show was so successful that a tie-in comic book was published that ended up running for over a quarter of a century, although it reached the peak of its sales in the mid-1960s when editions were selling around three and a half million copies. As the comic book’s title included the phrase ‘The Incredible Man’, Marvel sued the makers in 1974, alleging infringement on their ‘Incredible Hulk’ property. Marvel lost the case, but the proceedings may explain why this film has a 1974 copyright date but did not reach theatres until November 1976.

This film has all the ingredients for a cult classic, and there are some wonderful moments of hilarious insanity. Most of these come courtesy of our evil megalomaniac, of course, whose costume alone is likely to provoke laughter. The scene where he berates underling Castaño for daring to think for himself is a comedy classic, and such moments compiled into a trailer would make the film look unmissable. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many examples in the finished article, and the flat-footed direction of Mariscal lacks any dynamism or style. It’s often hard to tell whether the film is a knowing parody or a serious adventure, and there are more than a few dull stretches to get through.

Care was taken to be faithful to the accepted lore surrounding the character, though. Kalimán never had a specific origin, although it was suggested that he was an Indian foundling raised by a prince and part of a dynasty who wandered the world delivering justice for the goddess Kali. Despite this, he was always depicted as caucasian, even in the comic books. So the casting of Cooper in both films was not inappropriate, and actor Luis Manuel Pelayo dubbed all his dialogue. Pelayo had played Kalimán in the radio series, which provided continuity.

Although the previous film had been a big hit in Mexico and had enjoyed some distribution in Latin America, it seems that the sequel was never released outside its homeland. The English name given for this review is my literal translation of the Spanish title. No further episodes followed, and the character became embroiled in a series of court disputes concerning ownership rights. A third film was announced in 2011, but it wasn’t until four years later that all the legal difficulties were resolved. However, no new film has surfaced in recent years.

Cooper began his screen career in the early 1960s on network television, playing supporting roles on shows such as ‘The Alfred Hitchcock Hour’, ‘The Virginian’ and ‘Perry Mason’. A move to the big screen resulted in only a handful of assignments, such as an uncredited bit in the Western ‘Duel At Diablo’ (1966) which starred James Garner and Sidney Poitier. Work picked up a little after his Mexican exploits in the early 1970s, and he starred as the lead in martial arts film ‘Circle of Iron’ (1978) with Christopher Lee and David Carradine. Unfortunately, it did not prove to be a launching pad for greater things, but he did snag a recurring role as Sue Ellen’s psychiatrist for 19 episodes of CBS super soap ‘Dallas’ in 1981. He retired from the screen in 1986 and died in 2018.

Some great moments of cheesy insanity make for a fun watch, but it could have been so much more if the filmmakers had truly embraced the silliness of it all.

Missile X – The Neutron Bomb Incident/Teheran Incident/Cruise Missile (1979)

The years you spent at the embassy in America must have eroded your brain.’

A Russian missile test is disrupted by armed men, who massacre everyone and steal the weapon. In Teheran, an American agent is killed, and his replacement suspects that the death is linked to the peace conference about to take place nearby. Then his Russian counterpart reveals that he has trailed the stolen missile to the city. The two agents combine their forces to find the warhead…

Drab and lifeless multi-national spy shenanigans with listless direction, a dreary script and an over the hill cast wearily going through the motions. A West German-Italian-Spanish-American and Iranian co-production, primarily filmed in the latter country when it was on the brink of a real-life revolution. A fact that is immeasurably more interesting than anything that ended up on the screen for the paying audience.

This week’s ‘Bond on A Budget’ is American veteran Peter Graves as Alec Franklin, flying into Teheran to investigate the death of a colleague. Not only are the circumstances decidedly fishy, but there’s also a high-level world peace conference taking place less than 100 miles away. In the best tradition of Eurospy adventures of the long-gone 1960s, it’s a solo gig because why send in a crack team to deal with a potential threat to world security when you can entrust it to one guy in his early fifties with just a handgun for company? Yes, this is pretty much a gadget-free zone.

It’s not long before Graves hooks up with his Russian counterpart and old friend, Konstantine Senyonov (Michael Dante), who is looking for a cruise missile recently heisted from a test site near the Caspian Sea. As per usual in these kinds of doings, the main villain needlessly reveals himself by telling his minions to knock off Graves, but, of course, it doesn’t go well. His ruthless killers are entirely unprepared for our hero’s fighting moves which are about as slow, clumsy and awkward as his age might suggest. Cleaning up afterwards, Graves finds a poker chip from a casino owned by the Baron de Marchand (Curd Jurgens, fresh from his underwater lair in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (1977)) and decides to check it out.

Rather than play the tables, Graves gets chatted up by Jurgens’ flirtatious girlfriend, Nina (Carmen Cervera) and also zeroes in on the establishment’s manager, Stetson (Robert Avard Miller), who seems to be on the outs with his boss. Meanwhile, in his backroom laboratory/secret headquarters, Jurgens has stashed both the missile and renegade Russian rocket man, Professor Nikolaeff (John Carradine, waiting patiently for his paycheck). Dante has brought comrade Galina (Karin Schubert) to deal with the missile once they find it, but the clock is ticking because Carradine needs less than 48 hours to get the warhead into position.

It’s hard to know where to start with a film that has so many issues. The setup isn’t without some potential, but the story develops into a tired old rigmarole of intrigue and half-baked action that has rarely been regurgitated with such an apparent lack of enthusiasm. One of the major problems is the casting of our leading man. Yes, Graves had led the IMF through more than 100 successful assignments on the original ‘Mission: Impossible’ TV show, but he looks far too old for this kind of role here. Roger Moore was a similar age when he finished playing Bond, but he was far better preserved than Graves, who looks almost a decade older than his actual age. This is a problem in the action scenes (such as they are) and in the bedroom when he spends some quality time with Cervera. There was less than 20 years between them in reality, but the age difference looks to be so much more.

There are much bigger problems, though. Director Leslie H Martinson was a veteran filmmaker who had racked up a long list of extensive television credits on many primetime series, often orientated towards action, including nine episodes of ‘Mission: Impossible’ in the early 1970s. He’d also helmed the occasional film, such as ‘PT 109’ (1963) and the movie version of ‘Batman’ (1966) from the Adam West TV show. He was an experienced director. However, almost every scene here is so devoid of pace, creativity and energy that it’s almost like watching scenes being acted out in early rehearsal rather than a finished film. Similarly, the flat editing leaves the gun battles and fight scenes dead on arrival, and the poor dubbing of the robotic supporting cast is almost comically wooden. Finally, Alberto Baldan Bembo’s score is so poorly integrated with what’s shown on the screen that it seems likely that it was written for another project entirely.

However, there may be some mitigating circumstances. The film reached West German screens in February of 1979 but wasn’t released stateside until December. This version credits legendary low-budget filmmaker Ted V Mikels as the ‘US producer’, and he also gets a story ‘adaptation’ credit. He’s probably most familiar to cult movie enthusiasts as the creator of ‘The Astro-Zombies’ series and other films such as ‘The Corpse Grinders’ (1971) and ‘Blood Orgy of the She-Devils’ (1973). It’s impossible to know what post-production tweaks he may have made to the film, but it might explain some of its technical deficiencies.

A series of crippling strikes and protests paralyzed Iran for a few months before the Shah’s retreat into exile in January 1979 and the revolutionary fighting that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power. There is no evidence of that kind of disruption in the finished film, so it’s likely that it was shot in the earlier part of 1978. We do hear a repeated radio broadcast – in English – concerning the Ayatollah’s activities in Paris, and there’s also a line of dialogue that mentions him by name. However, it is delivered by an actor with his back to the camera, and there’s an immediate cut away afterwards. Given that the Ayatollah didn’t move to Paris until November 1978, it’s likely that all these references were added in post-production. Perhaps they were part of Mikels’ ‘adaptation’ for the US market as he tried to give the film some air of topicality.

Graves wasn’t finished with the spy game, of course, returning as Jim Phelps to head up the small screen revival of ‘Mission: Impossible’ in 1988. He also turned down an appearance in the big-screen reboot with Tom Cruise when he discovered that Phelps would be revealed as a traitor. Sadly, Jurgens died in January 1982 from a heart attack and looks distinctly unwell here. He’s very red-faced at times, hobbles about on a stick, and some of his dialogue is a little hard to understand.

Carradine was on a bad movie roll, his previous big-screen excursions being ‘Doctor Dracula’ (1978), ‘Vampire Hookers’ (1978) and ‘The Bees’ (1978), producer Roger Corman’s execrable cash-in on ‘The Swarm’ (1978). Some better projects followed in the early 1980’s such as ‘The Monster Club’ (1980) and ‘The House of Long Shadows’ (1983), but there was still time to fit in Jerry Warren’s hilariously atrocious ‘Frankenstein Island’ (1981).

An almost impossibly dull plod through over familiar territory, delivered by all concerned as if they already had one foot on the aeroplane home. Simply dreadful.

Murder In A Blue World/Una Gota de Sangre Para Morir Amando (1973)

Murder In A Blue World:Una gota de sangre para morir amando (1973)‘I can always be sure of myself with my new gold Panther underwear.’

In the near future, pioneering doctors are carrying out medical research to subdue agression in delinquents after a crimewave involving gangs of youths. Meanwhile, a serial killer is at work, targeting young men and leaving the police few clues…

Unsatisfying, unfocused social satire that was a French/Spanish co-production from writer-director Eloy de la Iglesia. Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971) was obviously the principle inspiration/touchstone here, but whereas that film was a shocking examination of the nature of youth and violence, this film is likely to provoke yawns more than anything else.

Prize-winning nurse Anna (Sue Lyon) has a secret. She likes to take young men back to her big house, have sex and then perform a non-regulation heart operation with a scapel. Oblivious colleague Jean Sorel would like the first part of that experience, but she’s not interested and he’s busy curing teenage hoodlums with extreme electo-shock therapy anyway. Destined for the operating table in one way or another is Chris (son of Robert) Mitchum who has fallen out with his gang mates over some missing money.

Murder In A Blue World/Una gota de sangre para morir amando (1973)

‘Hang on a second…Jack’s just chased Danny into the maze…’

The film begins with some heavy-handed satire on advertising and consumerism, courtesy of some fake TV ads. Of course, there’s comic potential in that but the humour is broad and obvious. One of following scenes sees Mitchum’s gang pull a home invasion much in the manner of Malcolm McDowell’s Droogs in some other film I could mention and with pretty similar (if not so graphic) results. In case we miss the Kubrick reference, the family on the wrong end of it were about to sit down and watch ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971) on their big screen TV. Subtle. 

Later on, we see Lyon don a series of disguises so she can hang around in hotel bars and pick up men in the finest 1970’s lounge suits. When she takes them home, she plays cassette tapes of Strauss waltzes (‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968) – nudge, nudge, wink, wink) before she seduces them. In case it happens to have slipped your mind, Lyon was also Kubrick’s ‘Lolita’ (1962) and to make sure you remember that, on a couple of occasions we see her reading Nabakov’s original novel and the book gets a nice big close up. Subtle.

Surprisingly, having said all that, there are a couple of moments of actual quality here. A shot of Lyon walking through a storm of leaves in a blood-spattered white dress is terrific, and there’s a wonderfully prescient auction scene. What’s on the block? Some of Alex Raymond’s original ‘Flash Gordon’ artwork from the 1930s! In a time when film merchandising had yet to create a collector’s marketplace, it’s a spot on prediuction. Unlinke the continued use of cassette tapes. 

Murder In A Blue World/Una gota de sangre para morir amando (1973)

‘Do you want my eyes wide shut or what?’

The main problem here, however, is the story; a real hodgepodge of ideas and plot threads. They do come together in the film’s final act but, by then, it’s far too little too late. The cast seem strangely detached from the material (perhaps that was intentional), but none of them are vaguely interesting or sympathetic so the audience has no reason to care. Just pity the unwitting audience member who thought they were getting the Kubrick film when this was marketed in some territories as ‘A Clockwork Terror’!

Given the right material, Lyon could deliver a fine performance. See that little Kubrick film and John Huston’s ‘Night of The Iguana’ (1964) if you need proof. However, she looks all at sea here. Sorel, a veteran of many a Giallo film, is merely smug and Mitchum so laidback that he’s almost horizontal. Fair enough, that worked for his Dad, but Mitchum Jr doesn’t have anything approaching that level of natural charisma. At least this was a step up from ‘Bigfoot’ (1970) though. But then again what isn’t? Mitchum twice ran for Congress; in 2012 and again in 2014. On both occasions, he was unsuccessful. Rumour has it that his poor record on Sasquatch rights was a significant factor.

Blunt, obvious satire which tries the patience more than the funny bone.

N. P. Il Segreto (1971)

N. P. Il Segreto (1971)‘Now we’ll experiment by putting in some trash, but we could comfortably use human or animal excrement.’

An engineer has perfected a device that will automate all industries and eliminate the need for a human workforce. He is kidnapped, brainwashed and set free to wander the streets with no memories or identity…

Curious science-fiction piece from Italian writer-director Silvano Agosti that tells a story of seismic societal change. Unfortunately, it’s delivered in such a wilfully obscure and oblique manner as to leave any potential audience indifferent and frustrated.

Engineer N.P. (Francisco Rabal) heads up GIAR, the ‘Industrial Group of Reunited Enterprises’ and he declares an end to the world of work. His new machines will completely eliminate the need for manual labour. The workers will be freed from their toils and given a share of the incalculable profits that his new innovations will bring. His announcement means a round of TV interviews and meetings with very important people, including leaders of the priesthood. Unfortunately for Rabal, these prove to be thugs in disguise who kidnap and brainwash him, erasing all his memories.

N. P. Il Segreto (1971)

‘Putting a political agenda ahead of entertainment in a film? Don’t be ridiculous.’

Now it might reasonably be assumed that these villains are representatives of the captains of industry, who are desperate to retain the status quo. And that might be so, but we never find out. The film is not big on specifics. In another odd development, he’s left on his own and freed by a man in a raincoat. After some sleeping rough and dumpster diving, he is then recaptured (by the same people?) and forced to sign over all his work to them (apparently he can still remember his signature!)

While incarcerated, Rabal is declared a fatality in the plane crash that kills his children and their nanny. His wife Ingrid Thulin (‘Wild Strawberries’ (1957) and several other films by Ingmar Bergman) attends his funeral, which is the kind of big-budgeted affair generally reserved for heads of state. After that, his captors let the speechless Rabal go, and eventually, he gets taken in by Irene Papas (‘The Guns of Navarone’ (1960)) and her family in the poor part of town. His original reforms are pushed through, and they are all relocated to specially constructed housing zones where no-one has to work, and everyone lives on government handouts.

Ok, where to begin? The film is not big on dialogue and, although a lack of exposition can sometimes be refreshing, some information is required to keep an audience on board. For a start, how is Rabal’s perfect new society supposed to work on an economic level? All we see of his ‘machines’ and ‘process’ is some guff about recycling, and the only evidence we see of societal change is that Papas’ family move to a nicer neighbourhood and have nicer things. There are some scenes of mass street protests, but the point of these is never really explained, although Agosti probably should get credit for some fine guerilla filmmaking here. Sure, a few figures in the foreground of certain shots are holding up banners with messages relevant to the film but, given the massive scale of the crowds involved, these are highly likely to have been real political marches with a few members of the director’s crew photobombing the frame.

N. P. Il Segreto (1971)

‘You think so? Gregory Peck could kick your ass.’

There are also so much more basic storytelling issues. Rabal is supposed to be dead, so why would his captors release him back into the world? Why not just kill him for real? Ok, he doesn’t remember who he is, but isn’t someone going to recognise a world-famous man who has appeared regularly on TV and had a funeral attended by hundreds? Apparently not. Also, why do all that to him in the first place? His reforms come to pass anyway.

And now we come to the ending. This is a potential spoiler (and I say ‘potential’ because the climax is deliberately ambiguous), but if you don’t want my interpretation of what the ending may mean then best stop reading now.

The brief demonstration of Rabal’s process in the early part of the film focuses on a ‘Butterfiy’ device. This seems to be a method where organic material can be extracted from any kind of garbage and turned into food. It’s recycling to the ultimate; hell, one boffin even remarks that human and animal excrement can be used. So, taking ‘Soylent Green’ (1973) to another level, then? Soylent Brown, perhaps? If you’re at all familiar with the 1973 big-budget Hollywood movie starring Charlton Heston and Edward G Robinson, then you’ll know where I’m going with this.

Having said that, it’s just a possible interpretation of the final scenes, and I can find no evidence that there was any litigation filed by the makers of this film with MGM over their far more famous production. Yes, that film was based on a novel (the superb ‘Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison) but the twist ending was not in the source material. In fact, by all accounts, Harrison hated it.

This is an odd film. Events proceed in a very standard linear fashion, and it is always clear what is happening on screen, it just doesn’t make logical sense in the context of the wider story.

There are some interesting themes here, but there’s never any real opportunity to engage with the film.

The Tramps In The Planet War/Brazilian Star Wars/Os Trapalhões Na Guerra Dos Planetas (1978)

The Tramps In The Planet War/Brazilian Star Wars/Os Trapalhões Na Guerra Dos Planetas (1978)‘Hey guys, I found a bangerine tree.’

A group of four friends are forced to spend the night in a remote, isolated spot after escaping from a gang of thugs. During the dark hours, a UFO lands nearby, and the occupant asks the quartet for help in his fight against a tyrannical galactic overlord. Initially reluctant, they are persuaded when the alien prince offers them each their weight in gold…

Os Trapalhões were a four man Brazilian comedy group, whose name could most closely be translated as ‘The Bumbling Ones’ but was generally given as ‘The Tramps’ in the English language. They had a hit TV show that ran from the 1970s to 1993 in their native land, episodes apparently consisting of short sketches showcasing the kind of physical humour practiced by The Three Stooges. When ‘Star Wars’ (1977) became an instant, global phenomenon, it was an obvious target for parody and, by this point, the group already had four movies under their belts, including a comedy version of ‘Planet of the Apes’ (1968).

The Tramps In The Planet War/Brazilian Star Wars/Os Trapalhões Na Guerra Dos Planetas (1978)

🎵Dale a tu cuerpo alegria, Macarena
Hey Macarena!🎶

The film begins with a wacky five-minute carchase. It’s not the perfect way to introduce our heroic quartet, but it will have to do. There’s Renato Argao (the leader), Dede Santana (second-in- command), Mussum (a black man), and Zacarias (who wears a bad wig and speaks like a baby). That’s about as much character development as you get. The chase features repetitive visual gags, very little dialogue, and action that’s alternately speeded-up and slowed down, all accompanied by lots of wacky noises on the soundtrack.

Hiding out in the woods, our zany quartet meet handsome alien Prince Flick (Pedro Aguinaga) who dresses like Luke Skywalker but gives off more of a Han Solo vibe, especially given his sidekick Bonzo; an incredibly tall man who wears a dog mask and speaks backwards. Aguinaga needs some help with defeating evil overlord Zuco (Carlos Kurt) who wears a costume and helmet that would get any self-respecting 20th Century Fox executive reaching for the nearest lawsuit. The dastardly villain has kidnapped the Princess Myrna (Maria Cristina Nunes) and is demanding that Aguinaga hand over half of this electronic brain gizmo so that he can rule the galaxy (or something). The Tramps spring heroically into action, especially when Aguinaga promises them fabulous riches in return.

The Tramps In The Planet War/Brazilian Star Wars/Os Trapalhões Na Guerra Dos Planetas (1978)

‘I don’t know if I’m going to make it home for ‘Life Day’ at this rate…

Making landfall on Aguinaga’s homeworld (some sand dunes that looks a bit like Tatooine), our heroes are immediately ambushed by some creatures that look a bit like Jawas. The resulting fight features lots of repetitive visual gags, very little dialogue, and action that’s alternately speeded-up and slowed down. During one of the slowed down moments, we can clearly see that one of the aliens is wearing training shoes. Everything is accompanied by lots of wacky noises and disco music. The sequence last more than five minutes.

Afterwards our conquering heroes pair up with four alien space babes, who seem under the strange impression that these four middle-aged losers are kings from another planet. Naturally, it’s straight off to the nearest nightclub (not a cantina), where Aguinaga interrogates some guy in a back room and The Tramps commandeer the jukebox so they can throw some crucial shapes on the dancefloor with their new girlfriends. Yes, we get a full, unbroken three minutes of them grooving to some inane disco number with various extras standing around in joke-shop alien masks. But these extra-terrestrials don’t like disco (boooo!) and another fight breaks out. It features lots of repetitive visual gags, very little dialogue, and action that’s alternately speeded-up and slowed down. All accompanied by lots of wacky noises. Who’d have thought it?

The Tramps In The Planet War/Brazilian Star Wars/Os Trapalhões Na Guerra Dos Planetas (1978)

 ‘I find your lack of a lawsuit disturbing.’

Eventually, we get the big face-off between good and evil, i.e. the Tramps, Aguinaga, his dog faced buddy and the space babes vs. Kurt and his massive horde of about ten people. The inevitable fight breaks out. It features lots of repetitive visual gags, very little dialogue, and action that’s alternately speeded-up and slowed down. And it’s accompanied by lots of wacky noises and disco music!

Argao got hold of a freeze ray in the nightclub car park earlier, and he uses it every 30 seconds or so when one of the good guys is in trouble and we need another hysterical gag. Also it gives him the chance to kick big bad Kurt in the butt. Over and over again. Every time he does, there’s a hilarious ’boing’ noise on the soundtrack. This sequence goes on for ten whole minutes! My friends, it’s a riot. I had to have surgery afterwards because my sides had split.

Hideously shot on videotape, this no budget monstrosity was apparently aimed at small children, even if some of the ‘jokes’ seem a little adult from time to time. Obviously, it’s not meant to be taken seriously, but there’s really nothing that can excuse such a travesty of the cinematic art. Can it even be classed as a feature film? lt’s more like a series of amateurish, improvised skits held together by the barest whisper of filmmaking technique and SFX that look like they’ve been cobbled together on a workbench in someone’s back room. Individual scenes are padded to beyond ridiculous length; often featuring little spoken dialogue, static visuals and backdrops so crude they seem to have been designed with the sole purpose of making your eyes bleed.

It’s excruciating. Still, it is better than the ‘Star Wars Holiday Special’ I suppose.

Signals – A Space Adventure/Signale – Ein Weltraumabenteuer (1970)

Signale - Ein Weltraumabenteuer (1970)‘Twitting a little girl that is what you’re into.’

Approaching the orbit of Jupiter, spaceship Ikarus receives some strange signals, apparently originating from the gas giant and possibly indicating intelligent life. Moments later, the ship is hit by a swarm of meteorites, and contact with Earth is lost. A mission to investigate their fate is mounted and reaches the region almost a year later…

East German/Polish co-production directed by Gottfried Kolditz that was at least partially inspired by ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968). Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic milestone didn’t spawn all that many imitators, simply because recreating its amazing visuals took a serious budget. Still, the Eastern Bloc had a long-running love affair with cerebral science-fiction, and the model work and SFX realised here are certainly acceptable for the era when the film was made, if not in the league of Kubrick’s masterpiece.

Starship Ikarus is an exploratory vessel, reaching the orbit of Jupiter on a mission of scientific discovery. The crew start picking up strange radio signals that seem to indicate an intelligent origin, but joy is short-lived as disaster strikes. The ship is attacked by that scourge of 1950s fictional astronauts: the deadly shower of meteorites. We see the damaged ship start to break apart, and, back on Earth, the vessel is presumed lost with all hands.

Senior astronaut Commander Veikko (Piotr Pawlowski) puts together a followup mission with the spaceship Laika. This seems to be a controversial enterprise for some reason, although we never really find out just why. The only obvious problem would seem to be his choice of crew. There’s veteran Gaston (Helmut Schreiber) who is approaching his 25th year in the space program (too old), and Pawel (Evgeniy Zharikov) who may be too emotionally involved because his irlfriend Krystina (Karin Ugowski) was on the Ikarus. Also along for the ride are genius radio man Konrad (Alfred Müller), new girl Juana (Irena Karel) and medical doctor Samira (Soheir El-Morshidy) among others.

Signale - Ein Weltraumabenteuer (1970)

‘Should I fire the photon torpedoes, Captain?’

The film’s major problem is that none of these characters are remotely interesting. Sure, Schrieber is a little bit of a prankster who has a built a trashcan robot, Müller is a genius but vaguely unpopular, and Karel is the new girl, but that’s about it. The only mildly interesting character beat is when hotshot Terry (Gojko Mitic) fakes hesitation during an EVA to boost Zharijkov’s faltering confidence.

This lack of engaging characters becomes a serious problem because they only reach the scene of the Ikarus disaster with about a quarter of an hour of the film remaining, and director Kolditz has little offer in the way of philosophical insights along the way. As might be expected, there are also problems with director’s vision of our space-going future. The interior of both spaceships is massive, with apparently enough room for every member of the crew to have a cabin bigger than my current living space! The predicted technology on display also looks very dated when viewed from almost half a century later. Control panels favour large knobs rather than push buttons or keyboards, paper readouts are consulted, and the crew make notes in logbooks with what look suspiciously like ballpoint pens. Obviously, that can be forgiven to some extent, and Kolditz does have a good stab and recreating some of the zero-gravity shots from Kubrick’s masterpiece, but that’s not nearly enough to keep the audience engaged.

Signale - Ein Weltraumabenteuer (1970)

🎵Oh what a feeling, to be Dancing on the Ceiling🎶

There’s also a rather strange sequence where the crew celebrate the anniversary of Schrieber’s quarter-century in space by showing him a short animated film that they’ve created about him. This wouldn’t be so odd if it weren’t happening with barely half an hour of the film remaining! Shouldn’t we be working our way towards some sort of a climax by now?

When we do reach the remains of the Ikarus, it appears that the meteorites have fused with the metal of the ship, rather than passing right through it. This might be scientifically possible for all I know, but it would have been nice to have some kind of explanation, even a spurious one. Again, some of the plot points in the later stages lack clarity, but that could have been down to the English subtitles on the print that I viewed.

Serious-minded 1970s science-fiction from the Eastern Bloc was always a cinema about ideas, rather than action, and it’s an approach to be applauded. Unfortunately, there’s a distinct lack of them here, and that makes for a seriously dull experience.

The Laika takes 300 days to reach its destination and, by the time the credits rolled, I felt like I’d lived through every one.

Mister Superinvisible/L’inafferrabile invincibile Mr. Invisibile (1970)

Mister Superinvisible (1970)‘Each molecular combination can always be related to the intensity of the various components of its structure.’

Industrial spies target a research laboratory searching for the cure for the common cold, but the blame falls on a top biochemist when an experimental virus goes missing. He’s unable to refute the allegation until he accidentally consumes a potion sent to him by a colleague from Nepal and becomes invisible. With his newfound superpower, he sets out to track down the real culprits…

Is there a lamer science-fiction movie sub-genre than the ‘invisible man’ comedy? The darkly funny moments cooked up by Claude Rains and director James Whale for ‘The Invisible Man’ (1933) really should have been the beginning and the end of it. Unfortunately, many filmmakers have gone back to this (dry) well ever since. Here, our old friend Antonio Margheriti (as usual credited as Anthony M Dawson) tries his hand at the pump and comes up as empty as everyone else.

Work at the Geneva Research Institute is a hoot for Doctor Peter Denwell (Dean Jones). He’s brilliant but eccentric; driving an old 2CV and feeding his shaggy dog a plate of eggs and bacon at the breakfast table. Even wackier is colleague Ignazio Leone, who specialises in creating exploding eggs for some reason (obviously closely related to germ research). But, worse than all this wackiness, our hero is also socially awkward; completely tongue-tied when he tries to confess his feelings for beautiful colleague Irene (Ingeborg Schöner). She’s also in the sights of slimy corporate yes-man Harold (Gastone Moschin), so Jones needs to get a move on, or the rich oaf will beat him to the punch.

Mister Superinvisible (1970)

‘You… you imbecile. You bloated idiot. You stupid fat-head you.’

Things get even worse for our clumsy but loveable hero when Virus D is found to have been stolen during a live television broadcast. This new strain is a combination of all the cold germs known to mankind, and there’s bound to be tears before bedtime if it ‘falls into the wrong hands.’ Jones is blamed for the lax security in his lab and is facing the old heave-ho when his helpful lab monkey adds a little pep to his afternoon coffee.

The concoction turns out to be an invisibility potion sent from a colleague in Nepal. Hilarious hi-jinks follow, including a scene where Jones sabotages a restaurant date between Schöner and Moschin. Later on, he tracks down the missing virus to the Museum of Magic run by Mamma Spot (Amalia de Isaura). She happens to be Moschin’s mother, and he was the thief all the time! Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather!

It’s quite obvious what the production was going for here: a family-friendly Disneyesque comedy. They even imported Dean Jones to star; as he’d done similar duty for the House of Mouse in ‘That Darn Cat!’ (1965), ‘The Ugly Dachshund’ (1966) and ‘Monkeys, Go Home!’ (1967). Most famously, he’d co-starred with Herbie the Volkswagen Beetle in ‘The Love Bug’ (1968). To drive the point home, they even partner him with scene-stealing shaggy dog sidekick Dylan. And, to be fair, Jones’ likability is the film’s main asset, although there’s no denying that Schöner makes for an appealing heroine. Veteran character player Luciano Pigozzi also delivers his best silly Peter Lorre impression as one of the villains, and that’s mildly amusing. Once or twice.

Mister Superinvisible (1970)

The costume party was not a success…

The real problem here is the script: a lazy, lifeless tramp through all the usual ‘invisible man’ comedy beats. Margheriti tries hard to inject some energy into some of the later scenes, but it amounts to little more than the cast turning up the volume on their line delivery and running about frantically.

The restaurant scene has some possibilities at tickling the funny bone but goes on way too long, and the SFX when Jones is partly visible are atrocious. Of course, the implications of Jones’ work being utilised as a superweapon aren’t addressed in any serious way, and neither is the animal experimentation going on in the labs. Just where is Leone getting hundreds and hundreds of eggs? A battery farm? I think we need to know.

Margheriti didn’t have much experience with comedy (at least not intentionally!), being more at home with serious, if sometimes outlandish, material. 1960s science-fiction epics like batshit crazy ‘The Wild, Wild Planet’ (1966) and more conventional ‘War Between The Planets’ (1966) were followed by Giallo thrillers and ‘Killer Fish’ (1978) with Lee Majors, before he peaked with ‘Yor, The Hunter From The Future’ (1983). Pigozzi appeared in many of his films, and together the two carved out long careers in the twilit world of cult cinema.

All told, not a very entertaining experience. Jones and the cast do their best with what they have, but it’s precious little.

In The Dust of the Stars/lm Staub Der Sterne (1976)

In The Dust of the Stars (1976)‘Akala, l am going to blast the pilotron.’

After a six-year journey, a spaceship makes a crash landing on an alien world. The crew’s mission is to answer a distress call but the planet’s inhabitants deny making such a broadcast. This seems a little odd and tensions increase when the expedition discover that their emergency landing was no accident…

Science fiction from the Eastern Bloc in the 1970s is generally remembered for a cerebral approach that considered the psychological ramifications on humankind of future technological developments, and similar issues cut from the same cloth. So, it is rather unusual to find an East German space opera from the same period. But here it is; a band of heroic brothers (and sisters) travelling the universe and encountering a despotic ruler (the flamboyant Ekkehard Schall), his dastardly lieutenant Ronk (Milan Beli) and squads of their faceless guards and soldiers. There’s also a peaceful alien race, represented by Mikai Mereuta and Aurelia Dumitrescu, who are being forced to mine something or other in dark caverns at the point of a ray gun.

Commander Akala (Jana Brejchová) and her merry band from the planet Cyrno have travelled across the galaxy to Tem 4 on their mission of mercy, aided by comfortable couches and paper readouts from their onboard computers. After a narrow escape on landing, they are met by a slightly odd-looking truck and are taken to meet the bearded Beli. This conflab takes place in a highly impressive great hall where everyone gets their own comfortable couch (obviously, essential furniture in the silvery space future). Unfortunately, Beli and his flunkeys just find their visit highly amusing. Rather miffed that they’ve come all that way for nothing, Brejechová and co retire to their ship, but science officer Suko (Alftred Struwe) is more than a little suspicious of the locals.

In The Dust of the Stars (1976)

🎵 Well she ain’t no witch and I love the way she twitch – a ha ha 🎶

Aware that they need our heroes to leave on good terms (or further visitors may follow), Beli invites them to a party and this  provides the film’s highlight as it revealed that Tem 4 is actually Planet Glam Rock! Yes, it’s the super ’70s version of the future, where everyone wears sparkling silver, facepaint and very wide flares. And women do vaguely suggestive things with snakes.

Unfortunately, it’s back to the plot all too quickly, as Struwe goes on a secret reconnaissance mission, discovers that the real native population are working in the mines and the inevitable rebellion ensues. The only surprise is the fairly downbeat conclusion, although it’s hard to be that bothered by it, given that we’ve been given very little reason to have an emotional connection with any of our protagonists.

Although the story is predictable and generic, that would not be a dealbreaker if director Gottfried Kolditz delivered it with a sense of style and humour. Unfortunately, save for wonderfully over-the-top villainous turns from Schall and Beli, everything else is pedestrian at best. Our brave heroes are faceless ciphers and the action scenes are flat and lifeless. The only sequence with any real merit is when Brejchová first meets Schall in his den; a mirrored room with disembodied heads and yet more snakes. It’s vaguely unsettling and a glimpse of what the film could have been if a less conventional approach had been adopted.

In The Dust of the Stars (1976)

‘A secret agent on Mars? Sign me up. asshole!’

Kolditz, who also co-wrote, went on to direct science-fiction obscurity ‘The Thing In The Castle’ (1979). Brejchová was a Czech actress, who had already enjoyed plaudits earlier in her career but when on to her greatest success with comedy-drama ‘Beauty In Trouble’ (2006). She was also once married to muti-award winning director Milos Forman, who is best known for ‘Amadeus’ (1984) and ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1975).

It’s always tempting to draw a political parallel with films originating from the Eastern Bloc at this time in history, but this just appears to be an attempt at delivering a slice of popular entertainment, albeit lacking in the necessary swagger and fun. Not all of the story’s threads are neatly tied at the climax so it’s possible that a sequel was planned but it’s little surprise that one failed to appear.