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.

James Batman (1966)

James Batman (1966)‘Listen, I’m at the hospital. I was bitten by a centipede.’

An international conference of world leaders is interrupted by a representative of the CLAW organisation. He demands that all countries submit to communist rule or they will be destroyed. The authorities recruit James Bond and Batman and Robin to fight back…

What could possibly be better than a 1960s, unlicensed, black and white, Filipino Bond and Batman spoof? Yes, the over-sexed superspy teams up with the Caped Crusaders to take on the evil Red minions of CLAW who have acquired some kind of superweapon which puts the world on the brink of destruction. Unfortunately, professional rivalry threatens to torpedo this uneasy alliance, and there are only five days before the dirty pinko commies are due to make good on their threat.

We open at a meeting of international importance, called to discuss the growing power and influence of a secret organisation that’s rapidly becoming a danger to world peace. Unfortunately, before the diplomats can form endless sub-committees and working groups, they are interrupted by an envoy from the sinister group itself. In one of the film’s most entertaining sequences, this intruder overacts outrageously, shows the assembly some stock footage of a nuclear bomb going off and disappears in a puff of smoke.

James Batman (1966)v

‘The name’s Batman…               …….James Batman.’

After that, we get our first look at our heroes; Bond, played by well-known Filipino comedian Dolphy and Batman, played by Dolphy again. He’s accompanied by Robin, of course, played by Boy Alano. And that’s all the casting information that’s available here; other actors are listed, but there’s no information on which parts they play. There’s not exactly a lot of production information available about a low-budget 1960’s comedy from the Philippines.

And low-budget this seems to be. We get our first clue of limited resources when we see how our leads are dressed. Sure, Robin’s costume is a pretty accurate representation of Burt Ward’s look from the iconic US TV Show, but Batman’s gear? Not so much. The cowl seems a good size too big for Dolphy’s head and seems to be attached to his striped(!) cape, and I’ve no idea what that symbol on his chest is supposed to be. As for Bond, he comes in a hideous check suit with matching hat! The Batmobile looks a lot like an early 1960s Cadillac Eldorado just with bigger tail fins, and it even has striped seat covers. I guess to match Batman’s cape?

The plot, such as it is, mostly consists of excuses for a lot of running about and fight sequences. These are executed with admirable energy, but are never remotely convincing, although, being a parody, it’s probable that this was intentional. Check-suit Bond has an eye for the ladies, of course, and even Bad Cosplay Batman has romance on his mind. He’s in love with the daughter of the Chairman of the conference. Unfortunately, she’s fixated on the man in the cowl, rather than the man without the costume.

James Batman (1966)

‘Holy Copyright Infringement, Batman! Is that your lawyer?’

The soundtrack also includes the classic ‘Batman Theme’ and snatches of Monty Norman’s iconic Bond music. Sure, these are arranged differently from the originals, but they’re not going to fool even the most tone-deaf copyright lawyer. There’s even an appearance by the Penguin, top hat, monocle, cigar and cane all present and correct. Unfortunately, he’s played by a tall, slim actor who makes no effort to do a silly voice.

The comedy is relentlessly juvenile and predictable, but there are a few notable moments. Robin has forgotten to pay the electricity bill, and the Batcave is in darkness, so he lights the place by putting a bulb in his mouth. The main villain has a giant hand behind his desk, which fires deadly lasers from its fingers. Batman gets a call on his Batphone from someone wanting to book a taxi. There’s also a bizarre sequence where the dynamic duo shovel olives and rice into their mouths, before a man’s hand emerges from a machine to hand Batman a banana. Sadly, the device isn’t labelled the ‘Bat-Banana Dispenser’ or anything like that. Writer-director Artemio Marquez missed a trick there.

Goofy comedy that’s going to be far too infantile for a lot of tastes. It’s difficult to spoof subjects that are arguably a spoof already and this feature would have been much more effective as a short subject.

Darna and the Giants (1973)

Darna and the Giants (1973) ‘Do you see that? That’s my brain. The most superior brain in the entire universe!’

A strange spaceship appears in the sky over the Philippines and shortly afterwards a rural village is attacked by giants. If that wasn’t enough, strange alien humanoids are prowling through the nearby woods and kidnapping villagers at the point of a ray gun. Fortunately, one of the locals has the power to transform herself into a superhero…

Darna is something of a pop culture phenomonon in the Philippines. She first appeared in Pilipino Komiks in 1950, although writer and cartoonist Mars Ravelo initially had the idea for a ‘female Superman’ back in the late 1930s. An early dry run at the concept in 1947 with a heroine called Varga hadn’t taken, but Darna enjoyed almost overnight success. A film adaptation starring Rosa Del Rosario was released before the original comic book serial had even finished its initial publication. Darna was a dead extra-terrestrial whose powers manifested through a human girl called Narda when she swallows a magic stone and shouts out the alien’s name. 

This film was the second in a series of four features that starred young actress Vilma Santos. The first was ‘Lipad, Darna, Lipad!’ (Fly, Darna, Fly!) (1973), a film that is apparently lost. By all accounts, Santos expressed serious reservations about taking the part when the brief nature of her costume was revealed, but was rewarded when the film was a massive domestic hit. Her incarnation differed from the original concept of the character by dropping the dead alien angle altogether and have Narda transform into her alter-ego to use her own powers.

Here, as the film begins, she is living quietly in a small, rural village with her extended family, including her grandmother and younger brother Ding (Dondon Nakar). She’s busy being serenaded by the local boys outside her window when they’re rudely interrupted by dastardly alien queen X-3-X (Helen Gamboa) doing a quick fly-by in her rinky-dink spaceship. Soon the woods are filled with strange humanoids sporting pudding basin helmets, go-go boots and just enough clothing to cover their embarrassment and stay on the right side of the moral majority. Villagers go missing, the ground shakes and trembles. Earthquakes? No. Giants, yes.

Darna and the Giants (1973)

‘I’m sorry but my heart still belongs to Allison Hayes…’

Santos swallows the stone and sets off to investigate, soaring through the air without the aid of a green-screen and with Nakar along for the ride. Gamboa and her minions have taken up residence in some caves (a favourite haunt of invading aliens from all parts of the universe) and are busy kidnapping the local population and turning them into giants. How? By using a substance obtained from what looks like one of those cutaway models used to teach human anatomy! 

And here’s where I have to make a confession. The film’s dialogue is delivered in Tagalog, which I don’t speak, and there were no English subtitles available on the print that I saw. So, it’s entirely possible that some of my questions about the story are explained quite satisfactorily in the film, but the language barrier means they escaped me. For instance, it’s unclear whether Gamboa has brought some giants with her or if she’s creating an army from the locals. If it’s the latter, it does seem that bestowing greater physical prowess on your enemies than your own forces possess may be a slightly questionable strategy. Also, it’s not clear why the giants are prepared to go rampaging across the countryside and destroy their own villages? Is it mind control? Gamboa’s cave is filled with lots of machines that go beep, so I guess so. Whatever it is, Gamboa doesn’t seem to mind. She looks like she’s having a ball as she chews the scenery like her life depends on it. 

But back to Santos and Nakar! They’re hiding out in Gamboa’s caves to see what they can find out when one of the rebellious locals is slowly impaled on a bed of spikes after trying to escape. Santos doesn’t interfere, though. She’s just watches him die. I guess he wasn’t integral to the plot. Perhaps she was just tired. After all, she does nod off for a while! Eventually, our seemingly unenthusiastic duo are captured and taken to Gamboa. She starts giving them the spiky treatment after confessing that she keeps her brain separate from her body so it won’t be affected by any physical weakness. Curiously, these lines of dialogue are delivered in English, the only lines of that language in the film. Even stranger, her brain is kept in some kind of arrangement of white boxes that look rather like an ornamental birthday cake.

Darna and the Giants (1973)Torturing Santos and Ding proves to be a tactical error, though. She suddenly remembers she has superpowers! She picks up one giant by his hair and dunks him in a volcano. She takes a church bell from a tower and repeatedly smashes it in the face of another until he collapses and she drops it on his head. Most of the giants are dressed like refugees from ‘One Million Years B.C.’ (1966), apart from a woman who has a Viking helmet, complete with horns!

It’s a strange brew, to be sure, but obviously what looks out of place to one culture is perfectly at home in another. The film even has a couple of early musical numbers, one seemingly a celebration of gardening to the tune of ‘Singin’ In The Rain'(!), the other a ballad sang by Santos’ grandmother. The vibe is generally cartoonish, but then again the aftermath of one of the giants’ attacks is presented very seriously indeed. Survivors are either hysterical or slowly expiring from their injuries. There are also splashes of gory detail here and there, and some of the climactic action involving Santos and the giants is surprisingly violent. 

Inevitably, the SFX are a little primitive. Santos taking to the air is more convincing than ‘Turkish Superman’ (1978) or even the iconic ‘Puma Man’ (1979), but you still won’t believe that a girl can fly. The giants are simply tall actors filmed from ground level while the fleeing crowds are shot from above. Forced perspective allows the two different groups to share the frame with giant legs up close to the camera and actors running about in the distance. It’s not good, but I’ve seen a lot worse. Extra fun is to be had when the giants shrink back to normal size and the actors sink slowly down and disappear beneath the edge of the frame. 

Darna and the Giants (1973)

‘A vote for me is a vote for boots, not shoes!’

Playing Darna did not hurt Santos’ career. Despite her slight frame, she throws herself into the hand to hand combat with admirable enthusiasm and her high kicks are quite impressive. Nevertheless, the results aren’t that credible, and a gymnast was likely used for some of the more dynamic manoeuvres. But Santos went from strength to strength anyway, appearing in over 200 films and becoming the most awarded actress in Filipino film history. In later life, she married a high-ranking politician and she is now Mayor of Lupo City!

Technically limited, occasionally baffling, this is still a fun, goofy ride. And any film that separately credits the two individuals who supplied the leading ladies with their boots must be worth a look.

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.

Brides of Blood (1968)

Brides_of_Blood_(1968)‘It’ll be a lot easier to practice crop rotation with this new irrigation system.’

Blood Island in the South Pacific was on the edge of the nuclear bomb testing area in the 1950s and was the recipient of reallocated natives from the more affected regions. Ten years later, a research scientist and his party arrive to check for the possible effects of residual radiation and find the flora and fauna prone to strange mutations. The natives are also sacrificing their women to a sex-starved monster.

Trashy exploitation horror from the Philippines that launched a brief cycle of films and provided a second career for American actor John Ashley, who looks a bit like Elvis and had starred in ’Dragstrip Girl’ (1957) for American-International Pictures. Here he’s working for the peace corps, hitching a ride with stoic scientist Kent Taylor and his buxom wife Beverley Powers (brilliantly billed as ‘Beverley Hills’.) For reasons never explained, Taylor is completely indifferent to his wife’s obvious physical charms, preferring instead to collect cockroaches and other bugs. Frustrated, she enjoys rough sex with one of the crew on the boat, and isn’t exactly subtle about trying it on with the local landlord, played by Mario Montenegro. Ashley falls for island girl Eve Darren, and isn’t best pleased when she’s strung up topless to face the randy attentions of the mysterious jungle beast. Killing isn’t the creature’s main priority; basically it’s just a side product of his rather aggressive bedroom manner.

It was probably by chance that the producers hit on this cheerful winning formula of ‘nudity and blood’. They were probably not the first to do so; American director Herschell Gordon Lewis had certainly brought the gore, and Hammer Films and other Euro-Horrors had certainly mixed the elements, but much of it had been left to the imagination. Not that either element is particularly excessive here (although I suspect the version I saw was probably cut), but sex motivates all the action. This is never more obvious than at the end of the film when, rather than run the credits after the villagers go all ‘Frankenstein’ with flaming torches, instead we get another five minutes featuring a horny tribal dance. This is seemingly just so that two of the leading characters can finally get it on.


Oh dear…

In terms of execution, the results are rather patchy, verging on the inept. The jungle monster resembles a man swathed in foam rubber painted by a 5-year old and is about as frightening as a large muppet. The cast keep straight faces when wrestling with trees (just why are they attacking people?) and facing a large, hungry moth on wires; although it’s always possible that this not-so special effect was filmed separately.

Tatty it may be, but the film was successful enough to start a series; beginning with ‘The Mad Doctor of Blood Island’ (1969), although it was not a direct sequel. Ashley became both the star and the producer, and it was in the latter role that he enjoyed the biggest success of his career. lf you could find him, maybe you could hire him. Yes, he produced TV’s ‘The A-Team’ and also delivered the iconic opening narration.

Location filming may have given female lead Beverley Powers the taste for island life, as her last known location was Hawaii. Her job? An ordained minister. Wonder if her previous career comes up in conversation at church socials?