Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake (1981)

Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake (1981)‘Half man, half frog and half l don’t know what.’

A young boy finds a prehistoric bone on an island in a remote lake. The local university sends a professor to investigate, and a small logging crew tangle with the old man who lives in the woods. They are looking for gold, which the hermit believes is protected by the spirit of the lake…

In the half-dozen or so years immediately following the runaway success of Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’ (1975), it seemed that every body of water in the world was inhabited by dangerous and mysterious creatures. Rural Wisconsin was no exception. Regional filmmaker Bill Rebane had already ensured his place in the hallowed halls of cult cinema by sticking carpet samples onto his Volkswagen to create ‘The Giant Spider Invasion’ (1977) and within a few years had graduated to this brew of ancient Native American myth, survival adventure, hidden treasure and frog people.

The film mostly unfolds in an extended flashback as a grown up Kelly (Glenn Scherer) explains to his girlfriend (Doreen Moze) why they are spending their vacation in a cabin on the island. So most of what we see involves him as a young boy (Brad Ellington) accompanying his forest ranger father as they helps local boffin (Karen McDiarmid) and her niece (Julie Wheaton) investigate this mysterious fossil. Things turn ugly when the nearby logging crew reveal that their not interested in trees so much as gold, and the local hermit (Jerry Gregoris) express his dissatisfaction with their scheme via the medium of his shotgun. Gregoris is the last descendant of the original Native American tribe who lived in the area and made offerings to the spirits of the lake.

Framing stories are usually a device to paper over the cracks when a film has financial issues; a fate which befell Rebane’s first picture, the dreadful ‘Monster A-Go Go’ (1965), which was eventually finished by splatter king Herschel Gordon Lewis. Here, there’s no real other evidence of a troubled production, just the inevitable abundance of chat over action, which is almost guaranteed in the low- budget arena. Most of the cast have very limited other credits; Scherer having a few small roles in higher profile projects such as ‘Cocoon: The Return’ (1988) and Alan Ross going on to write Rebane’s next film, ‘The Demons of Ludlow’ (1983). But, given that, the performances are mostly naturalistic and that helps to get the audience through the 90 minute runtime.

Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake (1981)

‘You don’t want to go there, sir! Not to the lake, sir!’

And help is needed, because the real problem here is that the film drags. Rebane conjures little suspense from various cast members wandering about in the woods, and some of the music cues are a little odd. The final reveal is also an underwhelming ‘man in a monster suit’ moment and, although I’ve seen worse, it’s not exactly impressive. The story is half-baked too, with the use of Native American mythology verging on window dressing, but the results are workmanlike if you’re not too critical.

A fairly typical example of the sort of low-budget filler that was a staple of the home video rental market in the early 1980s.

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Searchers of the Voodoo Mountain/Warriors of the Apocalypse (1985)

Searchers of the Voodoo Mountain (1985)‘Oh supreme fertility god! Master and creator of all life!’

150 years after the nuclear war, a group of scavengers encounter a strange tribe led by a mysterious woman and her high priest, who seem to have created an idyllic community. But all is not what it seems…

Grade Z jungle adventure from the Philippines that starts off looking like a Mad Max rip off but soon reveals its’ true colours as a cheap knock-off of H. Rider Haggard’s classic novel, the much filmed ‘She’! This week’s ‘Road Warrior’ is Trapper, played by an impressively wooden Michael James, who leads a ragtag gang of toughs including wise old retainer Doc and a bloke who flips his shades on and off a lot because he’s just so incredibly cool.

After the usual scratchy mushroom cloud footage, we join our heroes in the obligatory abandoned quarry and get our first clue that it’s not business as usual in this straight to VHS post-apocalyptic world! These guys are on foot, they have no motorised transport at all. l guess the film’s budget didn’t even stretch to a couple of motorcycles. Luckily, they do have the usual leather gear with studded gloves and the ridiculously huge shoulder pads. There’s a dust up with a rival gang, and they join forces with a mysterious stranger who leads them to a nearby jungle. Although water is the most precious commodity left after the Earth was scorched, apparently there’s enough here to grow a rainforest. We find out later that it’s all down to a working nuclear reactor so that’s fine.

lt’s not long before they’re attacked by a tribe of dwarves in body paint who keep coming back from the dead. Obviously, the gang’s firearms aren’t really all that deadly, despite shooting what seem to be exploding smoke bombs. Actually, it turns out that the forest holds the secret of immortality, guarded by a 175 year-old Amazon Queen (Deborah Moore) who gets her strange powers from badly animated bursts of tiny lightning. Of course, she fancies James and the two of them get it on in a scene that no doubt featured prominently in the trailer. Unfortunately, this doesn’t go down well with the local high priest and things are all set for a final confrontation with the two immortals shooting laser beams from their eyes (accompanied by appropriately 1980s sound effects).

Searchers of the Voodoo Mountain (1985)

Paddington’s hardest stare wasn’t even in it…

Given the storyline, this should be a lot of low-budget fun, but the film mostly takes itself seriously. There’s little humour, and the acting is flat and disinterested. Director Bobby A Suarez is content just to point the camera at his cast and the stunt work and fight choreography are desperately uninspired. Worse than that is the lacklustre script which, despite the mix of ridiculous elements, never surprises the audience, with all the tattered story threads reaching entirely predictable outcomes.

James only had a short career in action films but his CV does include supporting roles in pictures with David Carradine, Klaus Kinski and Gordon Mitchell. Moore went onto more mainstream projects, appearing a little way down the cast in big budget biography ‘Chaplin’ (1992) and in a small role in Piers Brosnan’s ‘Bond’ swansong, the underwhelming ‘Die Another Day’ (2002).

This is a curious hybrid of a film, which you can’t help thinking was originally intended as a straight ‘She’ picture before someone thought it would be good box office to throw in a little post-holocaust action.

Unfortunately, the results provide a fairly low level of entertainment.

La Bestia Nello Spazio/The Beast In Space (1980)

La Bestia Nello Spazio (1980)‘Strange…l feel a torpor inside me’

A military spaceship crew set out for a remote planet in search of a valuable mineral. However, a rival expedition is also looking for the element for purely commercial reasons and are determined to secure it at all costs. When the two teams make landfall, they soon find they have more to worry about than just each other, as strange forces living there have their own sinister agenda…

Alfonso Bresica was an Italian journeyman film director whose low budget output typically bore the name of ‘Al Bradley’ when released in the United States. He’s best remembered now for a series of generic ‘Star Wars’ (1977) knock-offs in the late 1970s, often featuring the same cast members, usually actress Yanti Somer and sometimes John Richardson, who had played second fiddle to Raquel Welch and a pterodactyl in Hammer’s ‘One Million B.C.’ (1966). Titles like ‘The War of the Robots’ (1978), ‘War of the Planets’ (1977) and ‘Battle of the Stars’ (1978) initially provided some useful box office but, by 1980, the market was over saturated and the law of diminishing returns was setting in. However, Brescia wasn’t ready to give up yet. After all, he had all those standing sets of rocket interiors, spaceship models, and silver uniforms with skull caps. All that was needed was a fresh, new ingredient to breathe new life into the space opera, and Brescia knew just what was required. Sex.

The film opens in a bar, or, more accurately, an empty set dressed with some comfortable seating and glittery curtains. Suave Larry Madison (Vaseli Karis), Captain of the Space Fleet, hooks up with blonde Sondra Richardson (Sirpa Lane) but matters are complicated by merchant Juan Cardosa (Venantino Venantini) who boasts of discovering rare metal Anatalium. A quick bout of fisticuffs later and Karis and Lane are busy gettin’ it on under glowing red lights. It’s a lengthy sequence with full frontal nudity (her, at least) and I guess it looked good in the trailer to a certain demographic. A few twists of the story later and it’s all aboard the U.S.S. Fizzing Firework for a trip to the distant planet of Lorigon in search of the Anatalium, which is apparently great for making ‘neutron weapons.’

Karis is in command of the Firework, of course, and is surprised to find that Lane is his new navigator, when he thought she was just a casual pickup over a glass of Uranus Milk, who told him about her recurring nightmares of a strange planet and being interfered with in the woods by a large, hairy bloke. The crew recite lots of meaningless ‘technical’ dialogue, such as ‘Alpha Angle 37 degrees, Alpha Angle’s Tangent 12’, ‘Main nozzle normal’ and ‘Insert Gyro-Stabiliser’ before our heroes reach ‘unexplored-space’ a mere minute and a half after take-off. A little while later, Karis prepares to blast two unknown spacecraft to atoms, solely on the basis that they are faster than the Fizzing Firework, but gets blasted instead. The Firework goes into a deadly spin, which is brilliantly conveyed by rotating the camera 360 degrees and having the actors pull stupid faces. But their drift coincides with Lorigon‘s axis (or something) so Karis chances his arm with some daring ‘technical’ commands that the crew keep insisting will result in their total destruction. They don’t, of course, because he’s the Captain and so brilliant at everything.

After planetfall, our intrepid crew wander about for ages, exchanging lots of banal dialogue. At first, their trusty Antalium Detector takes them through caves, then some woods, and, eventually, the corridors of a huge castle. Of course, all this is exactly what Lane saw in her nightmares, apart from the copulating horses which make all the female members of the crew touch themselves suggestively. This middle third of the film drags terribly, and it’s a little difficult to work out who were the intended audience. There’s been very little ‘action’ of any sort and, if it was aimed at the ‘adult’ market, then they would have been bored stiff, rather than anything else.

La Bestia Nello Spazio (1980)

Swivel on it!

It turns out the planet is run by the ‘mighty and unstoppable will of the great Zacor’, an ancient computer damaged centuries ago. This exposition is supplied by the planet’s ‘owner’ an 800 year old man called Onaph who, surprise surprise, is the big, hairy chap out of Lane’s nightmares.

Most of Bresica’s science fiction output consisted of cheap, generic ‘Star Wars’ (1977) replicas, so at least this film breaks that mould. Unfortunately, it’s a deadly dull offering with no fresh ideas whatsoever, other than to go full porno about 20 minutes from the end!

There is some enjoyment to be had from the repetition of tired, old space-faring clichés, I suppose, but the story develops so slowly that most audience members will understand exactly what Onaph means when, at one point, he insists that ‘time has no meaning here.’

No classic in any genre.

Equaliser 2000 (1987)

Equaliser 2000 (1987)‘A warrior without equal. A weapon without limits.’

Hundreds of years after the nuclear holocaust, the Earth has been reduced to a barren desert. Notional government is supplied by the military forces of the Ownership, but several opposing groups are struggling for possession of the most precious natural resource that remains: water.

The international success of ‘Mad Max 2’ (1981) spawned a whole industry of cheap global knock-offs that went straight to the exploding VHS market in the following decade. This particular example originates from the Philippines, although some U.S. financing was involved. This week’s bargain basement Road Warrior is Australian martial artist Richard Norton, who gets do little more than grunt, rock a leather waistcoat and participate in the endless round of slow motion car chases and gun battles that make up the vast majority of the film’s running time.

The plot, such as it is, sees Norton as a member of the Ownership’s forces who is betrayed by villain William Steis (for no particular reason) and then seeks revenge (um, for something else? Not sure really…) by teaming up with the rebel forces led by Rex Cutter. This heroic band live in The Compound (in reality, the side of a hill with a few lean-to’s and fences), and includes heroine Corrine Wahl and a workshop that contains the ordinance of the title. Norton sweats all over this weapon and turns it into a machine gun/rocket launcher so powerful that it seems mere possession of it is a guarantee of victory in any combat situation.

Director Cirio H Santiago had been here before with the seminal ‘Stryker’ (1983), ‘Wheels of Fire’ (1985), and ‘Future Hunters‘ (1986), as well as returning to the subject with his 100th, and final, movie ‘Water Wars’ (2014)! But here he seems less than engaged with the material, perhaps because the script by Frederick Bailey (who also appears) is sketchy at best, each new plot development being just an excuse for another mediocre vehicular pursuit and/or stuntmen flinging themselves into the air from rocks in an abandoned quarry. Actually, l was struggling to see any real difference between the actions of the Ownership and the rebel forces, but then perhaps I missed the subtle nuances of the prevailing political situation.

Equaliser 2000 (1987)

True love means never having to reload

Still, there’s plenty of bangs for your buck, a typical 1980s pounding synthesiser score, some cars with spikes on them, uniforms with shoulder pads, and no one ever needs to reload their weapons. Dialogue features such inventive gems as ‘The southern defences have to be held at all costs!’, ‘What the hell?’ and ‘You won’t get away with this!’ Emerging from the ‘We all have to Start Somewhere’ file is T-1000 and X-Files regular Robert Patrick in only his second role, here almost unrecognisable as the leader of a scavenger gang. He’d actually begun his career in Santiago’s afore- mentioned ‘Future Hunters’ (1986).

The whole enterprise is uninspired and formulaic, with only Wahl attempting to bring some life to the proceedings in a role as desperately underwritten as all the others. There are plenty of better examples of this Science Fiction sub-genre; the insane fun of ‘2019: After the Fall of New York’ (1983), the goofy incompetence of ‘The New Barbarians’ (1983), and the ridiculous hilarity of ‘Warrior of the Lost World’ (1983), all of which are a hundred times more entertaining than sitting through this mediocrity.

If you really have to see every post-nuke ‘Mad Max 2′ rip-off ever made… If you don’t, then you should really take a pass on this one.

Yor, The Hunter From The Future/Il Mondo Di Yor (1983)

Yor,_The_Hunter_From_The_Future_(1983)‘Yor’s World! He’s The Man! Yor’s World! He’s The Man!’

Yor wanders the prehistoric wastes alone, flexing his pecs, until he saves a young woman and her protector from a predatory dinosaur. He knows nothing of his origins; the only clue he has being the strange metal medallion that he wears around his neck. His quest for meaning leads him into unbelievable adventures.

Wild and wacky Science Fiction low-budget epic from Italian director Antonio Margheriti, here hiding under his usual Anglicised pseudonym of Anthony M. Dawson. Margheriti had plenty of previous form in the fantastic arena, from more ‘realistic’ output such as ‘Assignment: Outer Space’ (1961) to pop culture blow outs like ‘Willd, Wld Planet’ (1965). Here, he gives us an old-fashioned quest with a new fashioned twist; elements of prehistoric tribal drama combined with laser battles and robots.

Yor is Reb Brown, an actor who had been TV’s Captain America, and would go on to fight lycanthropes in ‘Howling II: Stirba Werewolf Bitch’ (aka ‘Your Sister Is A Werewolf’) (1985) and top-line the hilariously awful ‘Space Mutiny’ (1988). Here, he rocks a silly blonde wig, loincloth, furry boots, and a goofy expression as he struts around a desert landscape to the hair metal soundtrack song ‘Yor’s World!’ Before long he’s iced a rampaging Triceratops that threatens dark-haired Corinne Cléry and her faithful old retainer Luciano Pigozzi. Obviously, no-one knew that, despite its fearsome appearance, those particular dinosaurs only ate plants. Cléry has a question: ‘Why are all men not like Yor?’

Yor befriends the black-haired tribe, but muses on his mysterious origins: ‘It’s like a question burning inside of me, a question without an answer. Am I the son of fire?’ Cléry attempts some kind of erotic tribal dance (probably) and, although it looks a bit half-hearted, it certainly gets Yor interested. But, before he can act on his intentions, his new hairy friends are attacked by some even hairier men. Yor helps to defend the settlement by pushing over all the buildings and setting fire to everything. Nice one, Yor! But he does redeem himself by rescuing Cléry from their evil clutches by flying into a cave hanging from the corpse of a giant bat. Cléry has more observations of her own: “Yor, you’re so different from all the other men I’ve known.”

Your takes on men wrapped in bandages to save a blonde priestess, Yor kills a dimetrodon after it chews up his axe (don’t worry, Yor, it’s back in one piece in the next scene), Yor goes boating, Yor snogs the priestess. In between all the carnage, Yor offers many philosophical insights and observations. On modern technology: ‘Damn talking box!’ On tyrants: ‘You believe you’re a god, but you think like a murderer.’ On local cuisine: ‘The blood of your enemy makes you stronger.’ Of course, it all ends in a massive laser battle against the mechanical hordes of a cloaked John Steiner, who might be an illusion but, like, has to ‘physically push the button’. Well spotted, Yor!

Yor, The Hunter From The Future (1983)

Yor! He’s The Man!!

The model work and SFX are incredibly variable, with everything from the ridiculous giant bat to a cave flood that is surprisingly well realised. The dinosaur battles feature practical models, and those are stiff and unconvincing, with tongues being the only obvious moving parts. The fight scenes and choreography aren’t exactly a triumph, either, with villains regularly attacking our hero one at a time, but, then again, I’ve seen a lot worse.

Cléry came to fame, or perhaps notoriety, in the title role of the erotic movie ‘The Story of O’ (1975) and had been a ‘Bond Girl’ in ‘Moonraker’ (1979). Pigozzi was a veteran of Italian cinema, whose long career included appearances in Westerns, Thrillers, Police Procedurals, Eurospy movies, and horror pictures for cult director Mario Bava. Steiner also appeared for Bava in the underrated ‘Beyond the Door II/Shock’ (1978), which was the master’s final film.

It’s hard to dislike a movie that cheerfully crams in dinosaurs, androids, cavemen and spaceships, and it would be dangerous to incur the wrath of Yor by doing so. After all, he is The Man.

Just remember: this is Yor’s World. We just live in it.

Gor (1987)

Gor_(1987)‘Hey, isn’t there an easier way to get to the realm of…um, where are we going?’

A mild American college professor is transported to the savage fantasy world of Gor by a ring that his father left him when his car hits a tree. He arrives in the middle of a massacre, carried out by the warriors of Sarn on a peaceful village. Throwing in his lot with some of the survivors, they travel in search of the ‘Homestone’ that Sarn has stolen, the only thing that can return the professor to his own world.

John Norman’s sword and sorcery epics (33 volumes and counting!) were all over bookstores in the 1980s. A mixture of Edgar Rice Burroughs fantasy with philosophical discussion (apparently!), they were much criticised at the time for their gender politics. Norman (real name John Frederick Lange, Jr) was a devotee of Nietzche and believed in individual prowess rather than collective co~operation. He also felt that a woman’s place was to be subservient to her man, and would ‘find herself’ in such a role and actively come to enjoy it. So, not a great feminist then! Publishers Ballantine Books were apparently quite happy to rake in the proceeds from this minor literary phenomenon but, perhaps fearing more controversy, did not approve of them being filmed. But author Norman found a legal ‘work around’ and the first film adaptation went into production in the mid-1980s.

So what is it like? Do we have an edgy, thoughtful meditation on the roles and relations of the sexes that provokes debate and disgust in equal measures? Err…no, not really. What we get instead is a cheap, generic, by the numbers, sword (no sorcery) adventure that is about as mystical and deep as a wet weekend in Rochdale. The plot is a collection of clichés that you’d hoped you would never see again; the hopeless hero who takes 5 minutes to become a master bowman and an expert with a sword, the comedy relief dwarf who saves the day, the big bully in the tavern fight sequence, the slave rebellion led by our hero, the best friend’s heroic sacrifice, etc, etc.

The acting doesn’t help much either with Urbano Barberini bland in the lead role and Oliver Reed hamming it up in a silly metal headpiece as the villain. Hollywood veteran Jack Palance is also along for the ride, seven years after he chewed up the scenery on seminal fantasy crapfest ‘Hawk The Slayer’ (1980). Four years after this Palance won an Oscar for ‘City Slickers’ (1991), but even that didn’t give his career too much of a shot in the arm. Perhaps producers had simply seen him involved with too many projects like this. There’s another familiar face in the scenes on Earth: Arnold Vosloo, who took over from Liam Neeson as ‘Darkman’ and later starred in the title role of ‘The Mummy’ (1999).

Gor_(1987)

Ollie had taken ‘Dress Down Friday’ a bit too far…

But there’s plenty of combat, right? And that’s what we’re here for, isn’t it? Sword fights, fisticuffs, stunt work? Well, yes, there is plenty of swordplay, but it’s laughably inept. Perhaps the filmmakers were going for a clumsy kind of realism that you might get in real life when handling heavy weapons? Hmmmm….maybe. But it simply looks as if the participants have almost no idea what they’re doing and are trying very hard not to hurt each other by mistake. Early on Barberini slays Reed’s son, but all we see is a shot of a stuntman falling from a horse and Barberini standing there with a bloody sword, looking slightly puzzled. Join the club, mate.

And what’s all that stuff about our hero’s father and that mystical ring? And how can the Homestone send him back to Earth? Haven’t a clue, and neither had the filmmakers apparently.

Rather incredibly, a sequel followed, ‘An Outlaw of Gor’ (1988), but I suspect it was actually shot back to back with this one, and crawled out later. Perhaps when the producers thought that everyone had forgotten about this. Why do I think that? Well, Palance only turns up for the last 5 minutes here, and his appearance is a blatant set up for a sequel. There was a different director, but most of the surviving cast returned. What’s it like? I don’t know, I haven’t seen it yet, but apparently it’s even worse than this. Wow.

Desert Warrior (1988)

Desert_Warrior_(1988)‘You and Cortaz will get married so we can have some children who are not contaminated.’

After World War 3, what remains of the Earth is a devastated wasteland, poisoned by radiation. Some scientists have managed to remain unaffected in an underground complex, but the impulsive daughter of one of their leaders becomes a prize fought over by warring tribes out in the wilderness…

A one-eyed Lou Ferrigno saves the world on his motorised tricycle! Yes, it’s the original Incredible Hulk himself flexing his pecs whilst teams of stunt men dive off cliffs and smoke bombs go bang. This Italian cheapie wants so badly to be ‘Mad Max’ but is doomed to fail, not least because the production only has about half a dozen cars, and none of them seem capable of doing much more than 30 miles an hour.

Ferrigno is Zerak, who fights a nasty, oriental man in a tatty, cut-price Thunderdome on behalf of his tribal chief, whose actually more interested in finding an uncontaminated woman to knock boots with. Just for procreative purposes, of course. After all, the future of the human race is at stake, ain’t it? And things are looking up when spoilt blonde Shari Shattuck and her boyfriend quit the scientists lair to travel across ‘The Zone’ (just some desert really – oh, and a quarry!) We don’t really know why she makes him take her on this trip, and he is killed almost at once, but she’s the heroine so let’s just forget about it. It doesn’t matter. Taken prisoner by bandits, she’s rescued by Ferrigno, who sports a nifty eye patch and not much else. The electricity between them leaps off the screen immediately. Well, let’s pretend it does, anyway. In reality, they look at each other a little bit.

Desert Warrior (1988)

Bom To Be Mild

At Science Central, her father petitions the ruling council for a rescue, but they’re not keen. In fact, they make one lame-brained decision after another. The Security Chief has ‘Stupid Generic Villain’ stamped on his forehead and everyone looks like an ice cream man because they all wear white (they’re not contaminated, see?) Next door in ‘The Zone’, lots of smoke bombs go off, and stunt men jump off hidden trampolines and get machine gunned. To a pounding synthesiser score, of course.

Films like this stand or fall on their action scenes, but these are unimaginatively staged and very repetitive. Ferrigno doesn’t bring a lot of presence to the leading role, and Shattuck is an unsympathetic partner. The plot disintegrates over the last half hour into total stupidity, as the chief scientist discovers a treatment for radiation poisoning which he tries out on Ferrigno. This consists of using some kind of hand-vacuum to suck all the gunk off his face. Will it work? Will everyone realise they should be working to together to rebuild the world as brothers, after an ‘inspiring’ speech by our hero? Or will the camera pan slowly across a field of broken corpses because ‘we never learn’? Will Ferrigno and Shattuck walk off into the sunset together for a really, really long time? Or will we be left to contemplate the futility of existence and the inevitability of mankind’s coming oblivion? I couldn’t possibly comment.

This is really quite feeble stuff; a few familiar ingredients thrown hurriedly together to create a dull, generic ‘entertainment’ that trades on the name and reputation of its star without making much of an effort to do anything else.