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.

Hunters of the Golden Cobra (1982)

Hunters Of The Golden Cobra (1982)‘Hang on to your jollies, we’re going after him!’

Two British officers in the Philippines in the 1940s tangle with a murderous cult while trying to retrieve a relic with supposedly supernatural powers.

Cheap and cheerful Italian knock off of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (1981) with swashbuckling David Warbeck punching, shooting and quipping his way from one life threatening danger to the next in his search for ‘The Golden Cobra.’ Not only is the statue a rallying point for a sinister group of local fanatics, it’s also apparently the key to immense riches. This means Warbeck gets saddled with treasure hunter Luciano Pigozzi and his niece, Almanta Suski, whose long lost twin sister just happens to be the high priestess of these snake-worshipping villains. Also along for the ride is John Steiner’s upper crust British Intelligence officer, who provides some much needed comedic moments.

The film tries hard to deliver the same level of thrills as its (obvious) inspiration, and the paper-thin plot is little more than a vague excuse for a series of fist fights, car chases, gun battles and last minute escapes. Unfortunately, director Antonio Margheriti (working under his usual alias of Anthony M Dawson) didn’t have a Hollywood budget to work with so there is little notable stunt work or big set pieces. There’s an attempt at a big, fiery finish, but it’s more of a damp squib than anything else. And that’s the film’s main weakness. There’s no dynamism to the action on offer and a complete lack of style in the delivery.

Hunters Of The Golden Cobra (1982)

His new piece of performance art did not meet with widespread approval.

Marghetti was actually a director with a long pedigree in fantasy cinema; ‘Assignment Outer Space’ (1960), ‘Wild Wild Planet’ (1965) and ‘Killer Fish’ (1979) to name but a few of his outlandish pictures. A year after this release, he reunited with Steiner and Pagozzi for the spectacular chuckle fest and guilty pleasure that is ‘Yor, The Hunter From The Future’ (1983), but there’s little of that level of entertainment here.

The explosion of home video rental in the early 1980s was the ideal market for a project like this: put some colourful artwork on the video box, take a couple of ‘name’ actors slumming it, and mix them into a plot reminiscent of a current hit of the time. A sound business plan, but the results here are stubbornly unremarkable.

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.

The Demons of Ludlow (1983)

The_Demons_Of_Ludlow_(1983)‘Oh my god, that’s it! Efram Ludlow’s ghost is in the piano!’

A small town’s bicentennial celebrations are enlivened by the arrival of an old piano sent from England. It once belonged to the founding father of the town and his descendants have returned it as a goodwill gesture. Or was their motive something slightly more sinister?

Bill Rebane is what is rather euphemistically called a ‘regional filmmaker.’ In other words, micro-budgeted productions shot entirely on a small-town location, usually with the co-operation and sometimes the participation, of local residents. Rebane’s stomping ground was rural Wisconsin and he is best remembered amongst enthusiasts of low-budget films for his epic monster fest ‘The Giant Spider Invasion’ (1975). Although the title infers lots of outsized critters, there was in fact only one, and it bore an unfortunate resemblance to a furry Volkswagen with some legs stuck on. No matter. By the 1980s the emerging video craze meant a ready-made market for low-budget horror and Rebane dived right in.

This film tells the tale of a rural community, blighted for the last 200 years by a curse placed on them by founding father Efram Ludlow. He was packed off to England after some unspecified activities that incurred the displeasure of the local populace. Perhaps he was wearing black t-shirts and listening to heavy metal? We never really find out. Anyway, his descendants send back his old Joanna and, despite the town elders seemingly in the know about this curse thing, they put it on the stage in the Town Hall. After that, some weird stuff starts to happen, mainly involving an out of control smoke machine and some garish, multi-coloured lighting…

Things go from bad to worse when a young girl is dismembered, and there’s no local law enforcement to help. The Mayor seems disinclined to ask for any official assistance either, on the grounds that no-one can help. Apparently, this is entirely up to him! In the best tradition of ‘Jaws’ (1975), he’s worried about what all these pesky demons will do to the local tourist industry, even though there’s six feet of snow on the ground, and not even a glimpse of one single, solitary holidaymaker. Hell, the town doesn’t even seem to have any streets!

It’s easy to forget that some of the things that we take for granted today, even on low-budget projects, probably weren’t available to a filmmaker like Rebane back then. Things like a decent colour process, fluid camera movement, slick editing, and a good sound mix. All are noticeable by their absence here. But some of the other deficiencies aren’t so excusable. The ghostly piano is a white upright model, but sounds an awful lot like a harmonium, and one of the characters refers to it as such, which probably means the prop department didn’t really deliver. They also come up short with the ancient manuscript, which is a large scrap of tatty paper. We never see what’s written on it, because it’s only ever filmed from behind with characters holding it up!

The_Demons_Of_Ludlow_(1983)

‘Son can you play me a memory? I’m not really sure how it goes…’

Also there’s an obvious lack of available interiors for filming, so we get a parade of repetitious scenes, and a snail’s pace. ‘Do you know anything about that piano?’ asks nosey reporter Stephanie Cushna, to which the scintillating answer is ‘No, l’m sorry I don’t.’ End of conversation. Yes, the script is desperately poor, and never gels into anything remotely approaching logic or common sense. There’s a ghostly girl in period dress, floating pokers, some homemade gore, and sword wielding soldiers (or are they pirates?), but nothing really works.

lt’s fairly clear Rebane was aiming for something in the ballpark of John Carpenter’s ‘The Fog’ (1980) but you won’t be surprised to hear that he doesn’t even come close. To be fair, some of the cast give credible performances, including Cushna, and Carol Perry is a surprisingly natural presence as the bullying piano player, but there’s little they can do to make sense of it all.

A more fully developed storyline and a better script would have helped immensely, but the obvious lack of available resources and expertise were probably always going to be too great a challenge to overcome.

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.