Raiders of the Sun (1992)

Raiders of the Sun (1992)‘Hey, relax, man! Take a laxative.’

In the aftermath of the nuclear war, the democratic Alpha League struggle to rebuild civilisation and maintain law and order. Their existence is threatened by groups of well-armed renegades and the conflict turns on which side will be able to acquire new sources of gunpowder…

No-one travelled into the atomic wasteland more often that Filipino director Cirio H Santiago. Even more than a decade after Mel Gibson hit it big as ‘The Road Warrior’ (1981), he was still making the trip. This time out our small budget ‘Mad Max’ is Aussie martial-artist Richard Norton (again!) who dispenses post-apocalyptic justice via his considerable brawn and arsenal of automatic weapons. But, unusually, instead of just focusing on him, we get two heroes for the price of one, and we spend a fair amount of time in the company of each on his solo adventures before they join up for the big finish.

Typically, Norton is the lone wolf, who doesn’t want to get involved. Everyone is an enemy to him, until a skirmish goes bad and he is nursed back to health by the mysterious Lani Lobango in her native village. This ‘lost’ kingdom is conveniently located in a thriving rainforest that has somehow escaped the holocaust (as rainforests do) and just happens to be sitting right slap-bang on top of a pile of explosive black powder. Of course, the Head Man wants nothing to do with Norton or his violent ways, until the villainous William Seis and his black-clad associates come a-calling.

ln the other narrative strand, we follow good guy soldier Talbot (Blake Boyd), whose homecoming is rather spoilt when the wife (Brigitta Stenberg) is kidnapped by unscrupulous warlord Hoghead (Rick Dean). Boyd infiltrates the tyrant’s gang, a process which involves a rather impractical ‘fight to the death’ while swinging from ropes. The Thunderdome it ain’t. Stenberg is worth it, though, as she’s not just eye-candy, getting free on her own and icing one of the main villains with a car. She does hand the wheel to Boyd afterwards, though, which is a bit disappointing, and not a great tactical move when you’re desperately trying to escape from a gang of well-armed cut-throats.

Raiders of the Sun (1992)

Getting a signal after the apocalypse was a pain in the ass…

This was a Roger Corman production, so it’s highly likely the split narrative was down to cost-cutting. Perhaps two crews were shooting simultaneously, as they used to do for old movie serials, or perhaps it was down to the availability of the actors, or other filming logistics. Surprisingly, some of the scale is quite impressive, especially in terms of the number of extras dodging flash grenades and jumping off rocks in the battle scenes.

At least it is until you realise that a lot of it is just footage from the director’s own ‘Wheels of Fire’ (1985) and ‘Equaliser 2000’ (1987). To be fair, it’s not that obvious, although it probably helped that both Norton and Seis originally appeared in the latter of the two older films!

Norton certainly had some good moves, and the (sadly) brief combat scenes where he uses them are the best thing in the picture. These days he’s working in Hollywood as a stunt man on such major projects as ‘Suicide Squad’ (2016) and ‘Ghost ln The Shell’ (2017). Rather brilliantly (and perhaps inevitably!), he also appeared on screen as part of the cast of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (2015).

This effort was written by old hand Frederick Bailey, who was also behind the word processor for Santiago’s ‘Future Hunters’ (1985), as well as the afore-mentioned ‘Wheels of Fire’ (1985) and ‘Equaliser 2000’ (1987), in which he also had an acting role. His story hits all the same old familiar beats, never straying far from the well-worn template for this kind of adventure. Villains only seem to have guns when it’s not inconvenient for our heroes, or simply forget to use them.

A predictable and anonymous project.

Night of The Cobra Woman (1972)

Night of the Cobra Woman (1972)‘Only the cobra could satisfy her unearthly desires.’

A young medical student working with snake venom searches the jungle outside Manilla for a specimen of the legendary Firebrand Cobra. Local rumour leads her to an isolated hacienda and a mysterious woman who seems to be strangely ageless…

lnept and poorly-made Filipino horror that was co-produced by Roger Corman’s New World Productions. The major problem with the film is a failure to embrace the concept of logic in its story development and to provide clear motivations for its key characters, their actions often being completely inexplicable. Apparently, Corman was not impressed. Having said that, the DVD version does run ten minutes shorter than the original release, which may go some way to mitigate its faults. Certainly it would explain the choppy editing, transitions often being non-existent as characters move from one location to another in the blink of an eye without any establishing shots.

What is the plot then? Well, I’ll do my best to explain. During the Second World War, nurses Marlene Clark and Rosemarie Gil are searching for rare herbs in the jungle when Clark is bitten by a very special snake. Gil is raped and shot by a Japanese solider (Vic Diaz), but the snake kills him and Clark uses its venom to heal her bullet wounds! Apparently, this means that both the women will live forever. Fast forward to the modern day and the two are living in an isolated house in the jungle with Gil’s deformed, aged son (Diaz, again) who got that way by making love with Clark. Ok, so far?

Nearby in Manilla, student Joy Bang is researching snake venom with local doc Vic Silayan. We don’t really find out the purpose of their research but, of course, that may have been explained in the original cut. She gets a frosty reception when she goes to see Clark so returns to the city where she hooks up with boyfriend Roger Garrett who buys an eagle because he used to have one as a pet. Later on, he goes out to see Clark on his own (why?) and is bitten by the special snake (it’s still going strong), but Clark sucks out the venom and he survives. Despite knowing what happened to Diaz when he had sex with Clark, he bunks up with her anyway. He’d only spoken with her once or twice, but, hey! I guess it was the 1970s, right?

Unfortunately, the consequence of this one night stand is that he begins to age like Diaz and the only thing that can stop that happening is the venom of the snake. But his eagle kills the snake, which means that Clark must now feed him the venom from her own bloodstream because she is now turning into the reptile in some kind of reincarnation deal. To make this change, she has to shed her skin several times over, which only happens when she has sex with random locals. All perfectly simple.

Night of the Cobra Woman (1972)

That was the last time she’d finish the night on Tequila shots…

As you may have gathered, the storyline is needlessly complicated and never sufficiently explained. If produced today, or about a decade or so later, the film could be regarded as a metaphor for AIDS or the possible pitfalls of sexually promiscuous behaviour but, of course, this pre-dated those issues and concerns. What it seems to be instead is a bizarre retelling of the Adam and Eve story in the guise of a sleazy snake monster exploitation flick (there’s even poisoned fruit just to make it clear!)

Why suggest any deeper meaning to the film? Well, writer-director Andrew Meyer has a brief, but interesting filmography. His first film was a version of Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Little Match Girl’ which was made with the participation of the residents of Andy Warhol’s Factory, the famous artist himself providing a voiceover. There’s little information on his only other feature ‘The Sky Pirate’ (1970), although it did feature Bang again and also involved Francesca Annis, who played major parts in Roman Polanski’s ‘Macbeth’ (1971), fantasy epic ‘Krull’ (1983), David Lynch’s ‘Dune’ (1984), and has made many notable appearances on UK television.

Bang quit the movie business a year after appearing here, despite having supporting roles in Woody Allen’s ‘Play It Again, Sam’ (1972) and psycho-thriller ‘Pretty Maids All ln A Row’ (1971). Somewhat ironically, she became a nurse, perhaps inspired by the scenes of lab work in this film! Clark enjoyed her greatest success in the Blaxploitation arena and also starred in ‘who is the werewolf?’ horror ‘The Beast Must Die’ (1974) with Peter Cushing. She also had a small role in the Bruce Lee classic ‘Enter The Dragon’ (1973).

Unfortunately, this is all distinctly underwhelming stuff with little claret for gorehounds to enjoy, minimal transformation SFX and a muddled and confusing plot. Unless you’re a fan of Filipino horror, this is definitely one to miss.


Ultra Warrior (1990)

Ultra Warrior (1990)‘There were even observation decks where you could watch the glow from the Zirconium gel sacs.’

As the world recovers after the holocaust, the mineral element Zirconium is vital to mankind’s continued survival. Deposits are known to exist in the radioactive wasteland known as Oblivion, but the region is occupied by warring mutant factions. The authorities send a small team in to investigate…

Hefty slice of post-apocalyptic tomfoolery cobbled together from various sources, and designed to cash in on the global success of ‘Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior’ (1981). Unfortunately, it’s about 10 years too late and several hundreds of thousands of dollars short. Getting all hot and bothered is our leading man, Max – sorry, Kenner – played by Dack Rambo (his real surname, folks!), who sweats and shoots his way through an adventure so incoherent and messed-up that it’s sometimes a real challenge to keep a handle on what’s going on.

The plot is simple enough; Rambo drives his cut price Max-Mobile into the desert, where he teams up with Uncle Lazarus (Ramsay Ross) and his group of peaceful mutants to fight the motorcycle thugs of bad guy The Bishop (Orlando Sacha). As a fringe benefit, one of the mutants is the lovely Grace (Clare Beresford) who doesn’t look mutated at all. Rambo’s supposed to be looking for Zirconium, of course, but after fighting beside his new friends for a while, he finds that ‘a heart joined with others beats stronger than any alien star converter.’ And you can’t argue with that.

Ultra Warrior (1990)

‘What film are we in again?’

What sets this picture apart is its ham-fisted execution. At first, it appears that this was an unfinished project, and narrative gaps needed to be filled somehow to bring it up to a (barely) feature length 75 minutes. However,  the picture began life as ‘Welcome To Oblivion’ (1990), executive produced by legendary low budget mogul Roger Corman. The film only had a very limited theatrical run and came to home video shortly afterwards under its new name. Apparently after a heavy re-edit.

What emerged is a fine example of car crash cinema. The first 10 minutes features footage seemingly sourced from multiple other Corman productions, as VoiceOver Woman gives us a potted history of the apocalypse and its immediate aftermath. Ok, we can just about accept that, although it’s all a little bewildering. We then join Rambo in a fuzzy neon 80s bar where he picks up a brunette and they have sex in his room. We never see their faces during this wrestling match (scored with lazy porn saxophone) and it appears that he’s put on a blonde wig for some reason or other. Then he’s off to Oblivion along with Totally Redundant Sidekick and Totally Redundant Sidekick’s Pointless Girlfriend.

On the way there, Totally Redundant Sidekick relates an irrelevant anecdote about a summer job working for his dad at an underwater Zirconium mine (conveniently allowing for footage from ‘Lords of the Deep’ (1989); a Roger Corman production). Soon they come across lots of explosions and action scenes (conveniently allowing for footage from ‘Battletruck/Warlords of the 21st Century (1982), not technically a Roger Corman production but he was involved!) Later, mutant babe Beresford tells Rambo about an attack on a genetics lab for no real reason (conveniently allowing for footage from some other film that l’m guessing just may have been a Roger Corman production). Oh, and yes, aliens have invaded from a parallel universe (conveniently allowing for a couple of space battles from ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ (1980); strangely enough another Roger Corman production). Do we ever see the aliens? No. In fact, they never get mentioned again. Yes, every few minutes or so, one of the characters provides some more information about the planet’s recent history and we get footage from another film. It happens so often, it starts to get seriously funny.

Ultra Warrior (1990)

I remember a time of chaos… ruined dreams… this wasted land. But most of all, I remember The Road Warrior. The man we called…oh, hang on…’

Aside from this (somewhat) fractured narrative, what else do we have? Well, not a lot, really. Uncle Lazarus is some strange green guy who lives in a box and proclaims Rambo as ‘The Chosen One’ to lead his people to the Promised Land, Corman has a cameo on a TV screen as the President of the World (or something?), we get a lot more explanatory work from Voice Over Woman (cheers, girl!) and the film ends with an obscure quote from Rudyard Kipling! All perfectly reasonable.

The film was shot on location in Peru and produced by native Luis Llosa, who went on to a brief Hollywood directing career, which peaked with Sylvester Stallone-Sharon Stone double header ‘The Specialist’ (1994) and ‘Anaconda’ (1997) with Jennifer Lopez. He also directed ‘Crime Wave’ (1989) with David Carradine, which has Beresford’s only other screen appearance (as ‘Policewoman #1’). Rambo was a minor TV star with credits on some soaps, the revival of ‘Gunsmoke’ in the early 1970s and the lead on crime show ‘Sword of Justice’ which lasted 10 episodes in 1978. He retired in 1991 after contracting AIDS and spent the last 3 years of his life raising awareness of the disease.

But almost unbelievably, there is a success story coming out of this film and it belongs to co-director Kevin Tent. He gave up the megaphone and switched to the Editor’s chair, beginning in the exploitation arena for director Frank Henenlotter on nasty stuff like ‘Basket Case 2’ (1990) and ‘Frankenhooker’ (1992). Slowly, he worked his way up to big budget projects like ‘Girl, Interrupted’ (1999), ‘About Schmidt’ (2002), ‘The Golden Compass’ (2007), ‘Nebraska’ (2013) and ‘Downsizing’ (2017). He was Oscar nominated for his work on ‘The Descendants’ (2011). He is not credited as working in an editorial capacity on this film, and I have the sneaking suspicion that he may have left it off his CV completely.

There was little chance these puny warriors of the wasteland were ever going to challenge Max’s supremacy of the post-apocalyptic highway, but they did deliver a total train wreck of a film that just doesn’t know when to quit.

Highly recommended.

The Undead (1957)

The Undead (1957)‘So, Quintos, you have slipped the bonds of time…’

Two scientists take a streetwalker deeper into past life regression that anyone has ever attempted before. Unfortunately, it transpires that her past self was accused of witchcraft and is awaiting the headman’s axe. But the very action of regression seems to change the past…

If Roger Corman is remembered these days as a film director at all, it’s for the series of excellent low-budget Edgar Allan Poe adaptations he made with Vincent Price in the 1960s. More usually, he’s regarded as the head of his ‘New World’ empire; a producer quick to recognise a current trend and cash in with cheap films of usually dubious quality. He came up through the ‘drive-in’ circuit in the late 1950s, and always focused on how to cuts costs and maximise revenue. His autobiography (an excellent read) is called ‘How I Made A Hundred Films in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime.’

All of which pretty much goes out of the window when you watch ‘The Undead’ (1957). Sure, it was shot for a reported $75,000 in about a week on sets that used to be an abandoned supermarket. Also it was inspired by the brief public fascination with past-life regression that apparently was over almost before it had begun. But, for all that, it’s an unusual and undeniably effective picture.

The story opens with scientist Maurice Manson getting a visit from errant student Val Dufour, who has joined up with jaded streetwalker Pamela Duncan. Dufour is the movie’s first ace in the hole, a strange, slightly off centre presence that helps to sell the story’s fairly ridiculous premise. Once Duncan is under the influence of his hypnotic talents, we’re back in a medieval past where characters speak in old fashioned English and witchcraft is an accepted part of life.

If a group of 1950s B-Movie actors attempting some kind of Shakespearean drama sounds like your idea of movie hell, then fear not! Scriptwriter and longtime Corman collaborator Charles Griffith displays a surprising skill with the language, managing to capture the essence of archaic speech without blurring the meaning, and the cast seem perfectly comfortable with the dialogue. Actually, Griffith originally wrote the film in iambic pentameter like a Shakespeare play but had to rewrite when it was agreed that audiences would never understand it.

The Undead (1957)

‘Not if you were the last Imp on Earth…’

Story development is limited by the available sets, however, and frequent misunderstandings and misinformation force Duncan and hapless hero Richard Garland into a lot of ‘to and fro’ between the local tavern, the good witch’s cottage, the prison and the graveyard. The fact that there’s only so much a fog machine can obscure means the ‘outside’ settings never convince, but that adds to the theatricality of the piece and somehow allows more audience investment, even if the chemical mix on set apparently left most of the cast with breathing problems!

Despite those difficulties, it’s several key performances that sell the drama. As well as Dafour’s arrogant, obsessive hypnotist, there’s Dorothy Neumann as the good witch and Mel Welles as gravedigger Smolkin, a typical Shakespearean fool. Duncan also delivers as the heroine, particularly at the climax and in her modern incarnation. Best of all, though, there’s another powerhouse turn by Allison Hayes as wicked witch Livia, who has set her cap at the hero and won’t take no for an answer. She’s so deliciously evil and sexy that it’s a puzzle why he would fancy Duncan instead, but I guess there’s no accounting for taste. It’s a shame Hayes never made the transition into major pictures as she had real range, and was undoubtedly a considerable talent. Probably her origins in the world of low-budget films like this was a hurdle too high to overcome.

There are many reasons why this film shouldn’t work; it’s undeniably cheap, the science is wonky, and the plot unbelievable. In fact, it should be a total disaster. But work it does, even with the appearance of a cackling Satan towards the end.

Corman may have more a reputation more as a mogul these days, but a production like this shows his real substance as a filmmaker and a sense of style that foreshadows his work with Price on those Poe pictures.

A quiet little triumph.

Carnosaur (1993)

Carnosaur (1993)‘Humans are the ants crawling through their living rooms…’

A top geneticist has been working in secrecy at an underground government facility in the desert. By the time the bigwigs take any notice, her plans to repopulate the world with dinosaurs are well advanced. To make matters worse, one of her pets escapes and begins tucking into the local population.

What could be better than 3-time Oscar nominee Diane Ladd breeding dinosaurs from chicken eggs laid by young blondes in an early 1990s Roger Corman schlockfest? Well, as it turns out, almost anything really!

This is dreary stuff indeed, with a premise so contrived and ridiculous that the script doesn’t even bother with a great deal of pseudo-scientific gobbledygook to explain it. Instead Ladd just pontificates a lot about how awful humans are and how great the dinosaurs were. In typical low-budget fashion she was obviously only available for a few days filming so never leaves her lab and has only limited interaction with the rest of the no-name cast. A lot of the other main characters never meet each other either, so the story doesn’t so much develop as fragment into a series of vaguely related scenes almost randomly stuck together.

The SFX are truly laughable as well, ranging from a desperately stiff and unconvincing ‘full size’ creature to a selection of gory hand puppets used for close ups. This does make for some laugh out loud moments, of course, but they are few and far between, and the audience is left adrift in a sea of dull mediocrity. Nods to George A Romero’s classic ‘The Crazies’ (1973) only highlight the production’s deficiencies, and attempts to add a layer of authenticity by inserting very official looking ‘time & place’ captions at the start of every scene are completely doomed.

Carnosaur (1993)

Carnosaur’s table manners left a little to be desired…

Ladd bares up as well as she can, and she is handy to have around when you’re laying an egg, but her climatic scenes must rank as a career low, and rather a humiliating experience for this respected actress. Elsewhere, a lot of the burden falls on the shoulders of nominal hero Raphael Sbarge and pretty, young environmental activist Jennifer Runyan. Unfortunately, it’s hard to care about two such underdeveloped characters, which becomes a serious liability at the supposedly hard-hitting climax.

Lengthy scenes in a local diner feature the usual assortment of generic stereotypes favoured by lazy (or ‘in a hurry’) scriptwriters, and we’re treated to some truly idiotic, unrealistic dialogue. Our scaly anti-hero also squares off against construction vehicles at one point in a tired nod to the climactic confrontation in ‘Aliens’ (1986).

Corman was only executive producer, leaving ‘on the job’ chores to writer-director Adam Simon (‘Body Chemistry II: Voice of A Stranger’ (1992)) with help from Darren Moloney, whose only other directorial credit to date is ‘Andomina: The Pleasure Planet’ (1999). The whole mess was apparently taken from a novel by John Brosnan, who was also involved here.

The fact that the film came out in the months following worldwide smash ‘Jurassic Park’ (1992) was obviously a complete coincidence. Even the fact that one of the advertising lines was ‘It’s no walk in the park.’

Sequels followed.

Up From The Depths (1979)

Up From The Depths (1979)‘Hell, no! First we’re going to the sporting goods store to get something lethal!’

A drunken sea captain and his nephew sucker tourists with tales of lost treasure off the coast of Hawaii. Meanwhile, an undersea quake has unleashed many unknown species of fish from the unexplored depths. Unfortunately, one of them is a bit peckish.

Welcome to the wonderful world of low-budget filmmakingl First; pick a popular film to ‘re-imagine’. How about ‘Jaws’ (1975)? Next; import a couple of American ‘stars’ for name recognition value – in this case, Sam Bottoms from ‘The Last Picture Show’ (1971) and Susanne Reed from…um, ‘Beyond the Bermuda Triangle’ (1975). Next, find an exotic location which you can get for a song because the film will provide local businesses with a lot of free publicity. Finally, make sure you have someone who can provide some state of the art monster FX. Or, failing that, a bloke who can do it really cheap. And you’re set.

The only problem with the above process is that it rarely results in a decent movie. Here, the results are truly appalling. It’s hard to know where to begin, but perhaps the obvious place to start is with our giant, prehistoric, aquatic menace. All we really see of the creature is some fins above the water, apart from a brief shot of something that looks like a refugee from a particularly cheap fairground ride. So unimpressive is it, that all the scenes of underwater carnage are actually spliced-in, blurry footage from ‘Piranha’ (1978)!

There’s also lots of tiresome comedy involving Bottoms, his drunken uncle and the proprietor of the local hotel, and far too much pointless chat in general. Apparently, all the dialogue was synched in post-production by a few of the cast, heroically trying to recall what was said at the time. Director Charles B Griffith was better known as a writer of low-budget epics for uber-producer Roger Corman (surprisingly only involved as U.S. distributor here). Instead, ‘on the job’ production duties were assumed by Cirio H. Santiago, better known as the director of such cult ‘classics’ as ‘She Devils In Chains (1976)‘ and ‘Stryker’ (1983) and whose work has been championed by grind house junkie Quentin Tarantino.

Up From The Depths (1979)

Be afraid…but very…oh, ok, please yourselves…

Different locations stand in for Hawaii (damn those filming permits!) and the last 20 minutes transform into all-out knockabout comedy as the hotel owner puts a bounty on the fish and everyone wants to get in on the act. The climax, when it comes, is literally a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moment, which falls completely flat. But it’s hard to care by then anyway as the story has been moving with all the pace of an asthmatic snail with no sense of direction.

Sharp-eyed viewers may manage to spot R Lee Ermey in a tiny bit part. It was his first role, but l’m assuming he did manage to strike up a on-set friendship with leading man Bottoms. As an ex-marine, Ermey was perfect to be involved in Sam’s next picture as a technical adviser, as well as appearing on screen in the final cut. The title? Oh, a no-budget bit of forgotten nonsense called ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979)! A few years on and Ermey was hired in a similar capacity by Stanley Kubrick for ‘Full Metal Jacket’ (1983) but, of course, ended up actually playing the role of the merciless drill sergeant instead, and taking home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

But there is one thing the filmmakers did get right here. Exactly right. The advertising. The tagline is brilliant ‘Your Vacation is about to End!’ and the poster is clear, striking and to the point. Quite exciting, in fact. It must have suckered many a poor punter into wasting a few dollars on this zero budget atrocity.

The Bees (1978)

The Bees (1978)‘Are you saying that this chemical of yours will turn the bees into homosexuals?’

Shady businessmen smuggle African killer bees into the U.S. for some reason or other connected with making a lot of money. Shockingly, they escape and begin a reign of terror in the cities. Three top scientists (no one else was available) attempt to come up with a way to combat the deadly aparian threat.

Irwin Allen’s ‘The Swarm’ (1978) was creating a big buzz (I am so sorry) in the film industry in the late 1970s. He had a big name cast and a big budget so a fine spectacle was guaranteed. After all, he’d enjoyed runaway box office success with a string of big disaster movies; ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ (1972), ‘The Towering Inferno’ (1974) and ‘Earthquake’ (1974). So, given that, a few cheap and cheerful knock-offs of his latest project were inevitable. And they don’t come much cheaper and cheesier than ‘The Bees’ (1978), a true classic of no-budget, rip-off filmmaking.

Toplining the ‘action’ is John Saxon, a familiar face from many a midnight movie, and a more than capable actor. He’s best remembered these days for facing off against Bruce Lee in ‘Enter The Dragon’ (1973) and playing Heather Lagenkamp’s dad in the original ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ (1984). Here, he’s the top boffin in charge of mankind’s defence, ably assisted by the lovely Angel Tompkins, and insect expert John ‘Where’s My Paycheque?’ Carradine (349 acting credits!) Unfortunately, it’s not only flying killers they need to worry about; the criminal forces responsible for the whole mess are still lurking in the wings. As the devastation increases, it’s a desperate race against time, and the rapidly expiring budget.

This really is a train-wreck of a film, lurching from one clumsy, awkward scene to the next; whether it’s military aircraft stock footage, smears of dirt on the camera lens masquerading as mankind’s stripey nemesis, endless scenes of exposition in the lab, or unconvincing fisticuffs courtesy of our generic villains. Even minor human interactions seem ridiculously forced and stilted, with the dialogue as atrocious as that in ‘big brother’ picture ‘The Swarm’ (1978) – but sadly not as hilarious. The three scientists endlessly explain the basics of their work to each other (wouldn’t they know?), and it turns out that Carradine can talk to the bees like Dr Doolittle. Perhaps they like his lazy attempt at a German accent.

The Bees (1978)

Somebody clean the camera lens!

Not surprisingly this was a ‘New World’ production from b-movie legend Roger Corman, but even he must have cringed watching the results here. Director Alfredo Zicarias went on to make horror flick ‘Demonoid’ (1981) next. It was not well received. Saxon and Carradine ploughed on regardless and, by this point in her career, Tompkins was mainly this week’s ‘damsel in distress’ on numerous network TV shows anyway.

But the actors do deserve a lot of credit here. Mainly for the climactic scenes. Saxon keeps a completely straight face (or perhaps he was just dying inside?) when delivering his ‘big’ final speech, and Tompkins screams ‘You have to listen!’ with some conviction. When the bees address the United Nations. Yes, you just read that correctly. When the bees address the United Nations.

Wretched stuff. I loved it.

Planeta Bur (Planet of Storms) (1962)

Planeta_Bur_(1962)‘According to quotes from the Smith corporation, the cost of building a highway to the ‘Sirius’ is 37 million dollars’

Three Soviet spaceships are approaching Venus on the first expedition to the planet when one is hit by a meteorite. The two remaining crews go ahead with landing but local conditions and the wildlife prove to be quite a problem.

The Russians had jumped out in front in the space race with the launch of Sputnik, and film director Pavel Klushantsev had reflected that triumph with his film ‘Road To The Stars’ (1958), a semi-documentary that traced the history of rocketry but also speculated on the future of space exploration. This included an orbiting space station and a mining colony on the moon. It turned out that project was merely a dry run for Klushantsev’s first step into full-on dramatic science fiction, here depicting the trials and tribulations of the first manned expedition to Venus.

Unfortunately, our heroic cosmonauts don’t get it all their own way. Far from it. One of their ships is destroyed just before going into orbit by a pesky meteorite, and things don’t work out so well on the ground, either. One of the crews is stranded in a cave while their robot has a strange mental episode, and the other finds itself attacked by a large plant with tentacles and some annoying lizard men. There’s other life on the planet’s surface too in the shape of a Brontosaurus, and a very strange wailing that sounds like a woman. Worst of all though is a large rubber pterodactyl, which looks like a distant relative of that other triumph of SFX muppetry ‘The Giant Claw’ (1957).


The robot had lost his head completely.

Now, all this may not sound impressive, but there is some real quality work here. Although the film is not remotely accurate in its depiction of Venus given what we know now, the film provides a surprisingly convincing alien landscape. The rocky surface is rendered in rusty browns and deep reds, constantly in turmoil from volcanic action and extreme weather. Yes, the flora and fauna are corny, but the ambience is other worldly, and the ruins of a higher civilisation now underwater is a nice touch.

Similarly, the spacesuits, helmets and spacecraft interiors are mechanistic and functional, a world away from the tinfoil and motorcycle helmets of some of their Western contemporaries. In fact the suits look a lot like the ones in Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’ (2012). Disappointingly, however, the film’s on rather too familiar ground when it comes to its attitude toward the only female member of the expedition. She gets to stay behind and man the homefires in one of the orbiting craft.

Legendary B-Movie producer Roger Corman liked what he saw and bought the film for U.S. distribution; only he replaced the female cosmonaut with actress Faith Domergue (‘It Came From Beneath the Sea’ (1955)) and added Basil Rathbone at Mission Control with footage shot on the same set (and probably at the same time) as that for ‘Queen of Blood’ (1966). Spliced in with the Russian actors and an English soundtrack, it became ‘Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet’ (1965) and was unleashed on the unsuspecting American public.

But that was not the end of the film’s long journey! Rather brilliantly, it was re-cut yet again as ‘Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women’ (1968); this time featuring 50s blonde bombshell Mamie Van Doren leading a group of hot, young Venusians in seashell bras who worship the rubber pterodactyl thing. These inserts were shot by Peter Bogdanovich, who was Oscar nominated only 3 years later for ‘The Last Picture Show’ (1971).

This slice of Russian science fiction is pleasingly practical in many ways, and provides an intriguingly alien off world atmosphere. However, the characterisations of the protagonists are paper thin, and the drama is often derailed by its more dated, and goofier, aspects. But it’s serious tone is a pleasing antidote to the ‘creature features’ that tended to still dominate the U.S. scene at the beginning of the decade.

Beast From Haunted Cave (1959)

Beast From Haunted Cave (1959)‘Screaming young girls sucked into a labyrinth of horror by a blood-starved ghoul from Hell.’

A criminal gang pull off a gold heist in a North Dakota ski resort, but the dynamite they use as a diversion in an abandoned mine annoys the strange creature living there.

This is a lifeless, talky snoozefest executive produced by the legendary Roger Corman. It’s pretty typical of his late 1950s output; a small cast, plenty of chat and not a lot of action. For the first hour, the gang just bicker amongst themselves; the actors able to breathe little excitement into cardboard characters and predictable interactions that are well signposted in advance. Also the heist is laughable at best; the resort’s entire population clearing out to go look at the mine, leaving the bank completely unguarded. And just what is a whole lot of gold bars doing in their small bank anyway?

The monster was designed and operated by Chris Robertson, who also takes the role of the bartender at the local tavern. The effects were certainly never going to win any awards, but they are passable, given the small budget. Lead Michael Forest appeared in hundreds of films all around the world and also enjoyed a good career doing voice work for animations. Heroine Sheila Noonan most notably appeared in Jerry Warren’s ‘The Incredible Petrified World’ (1957) and ‘Ski Troop Attack’ (1960), again for Corman. Her participation in the latter film teamed her again with Forest, Frank Wolff, Richard Sinatra and Wally Campo, who all appear here. Coincidence? Not really. In typical cost-conscious Roger Corman fashion, the two films were shot simultaneously!

Beast From Haunted Cave (1959)

‘Do you come here often?’

This was director Monte Hellman’s first picture and, although his subsequent credits aren’t numerous, he’s remembered now for cult ‘road’ picture ‘Two Lane Blacktop’ (1971) with Warren Oates; a film similarly devoid of much action. Later on, he was an executive producer on Tarantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’ (1992).

Some of the climactic cave scenes are surprisingly effective but audience patience is likely to have evaporated by then and the film forgotten almost as soon as the final credits have rolled.

TNT Jackson (1974)

TNT Jackson (1974)‘You want it black, you got it black!’

When TNT Jackson’s no good brother disappears in Hong Kong, she’s on the first plane out. It turns out he became involved with the local drug barons and ended up on the wrong end of a kung fu punch. This is bad news for the mobsters as TNT is a one mama massacre squad…

Jeanne Bell was one of the first African-American centrefolds in Playboy and enjoyed a brief movie career afterwards, even appearing in Scorsese’s ‘Mean Streets’ (1973). This film was her only leading role and it’s not surprising. She wasn’t terrible in front of the camera by any means but she lacked the personality and presence of contemporaries Tamara Dobson (‘Cleopatra Jones’) and Pam Grier (Foxy Brown). Of course, it didn’t help that her starring vehicle was a no budget slice of ham-fisted exploitation, mostly shot in the Philippines.

The original script was penned by actor Dick Miller (‘A Bucket of Blood’ (1959)), who is familiar now from many cameos in big budget horror and science fiction pictures. He had a long association with producer-director Roger Corman, who provided some of the financial backing for this, but completely rewrote Miller’s script. Filming was handled by veteran director Cirio H Santiago (‘Stryker’ (1983), and ‘Caged Heat II: Stripped of Freedom’ (1984) among many others). Santiago’s work has recently been championed by Quentin Tarantino as classic examples of ‘Grindhouse’ cinema.

TNT Jackson (1974)

‘Watch it! That one almost hit me!’

So, is this an enjoyable example of mid-70s ‘Blaxpoliation’? Not really. It’s the sort of film where TNT asks one person for directions and then gets jumped a few moments later by half a dozen Kung Fu goons. For no apparent reason. Indeed, most of the dialogue scenes are chopped short so we can get on to the next action scene. As a result the storyline is incoherent, but the basic plot so simplistic that it’s not hard to follow.

But there are some compensations. TNT has a great attitude; she’s permanently pissed off at everyone. That means we get some great dialogue, which Bell handles pretty well. “TNT working for the pigs?” she snarls at one point. Unfortunately, a film like this stands or falls on the combat sequences and, being charitable, these are pretty poor. Awful, in fact. Bell is plainly not a martial artist and her climactic face-off with co-star Stan Shaw (who was) is shot mostly from overhead in an effort to disguise the introduction of stunt doubles. The problem is that the doubles don’t have any great moves either! In fact, it’s all so underwhelming that at one point we cut to another fight between two of the lesser characters.

This is exploitation cinema at its most basic. I wasn’t exactly expecting a complex narrative, but this story is as simplistic as it gets. The film was obviously shot quickly and on the cheap and it has a relentless atmosphere of casual sleaze. All the characters know Kung Fu but don’t seem to know it all that well.

TNT did not return for further adventures.