Blu Ray Review: The Big Bird Cage

The Big Bird Cage

Roger Corman’s Cult Classics

The Women in Cages Collection

Shout Factory

 

 

 

In England, ‘bird,’ is a slang term for woman, kind of like a less generic ‘chick.’  The Big Bird Cage, then, is something of a double entendre.  On the surface it is is a large sugar cane mill that vaguely resembles a bird cage, but it is also a figurative cage for ‘birds.’ Continue reading

DVD Review: Barbarian Queen

 

Barbarian Queen

Roger Corman’s Cult Classics

Sword and Sorcery Collection

Shout Factory

 

 

Barbarian Queen Amathea is preparing for her wedding when her small, grass-hut village is raided by Roman soldiers. Most of her subjects are killed, while the rest are taken for use in the gladiator arena or the harem.

The story bares a striking resemblance to the historical story of Boudica, the British tribal queen of the Iceni, who fought against the Roman occupiers.  Really, by just changing the names, this movie could have claimed to be a historical epic and gained a little credibility by osmosis; but that wasn’t their intention.

This movie is all about breasts and swords, and both of those are well represented in the film.  After the raid, Amathea heads out to find her people, picking up a few swordswomen along the way, including her sister, Taramis.  Taramis seems to have suffered some psychological damage as a result of being taken.

The women soon make it to the Roman settlement, and then strike out in disguises to track down their people.  Of course, they’re soon all captured and stripped naked in the dungeon.

Barbarian Queen makes a lot of gestures towards female empowerment, what with its warrior women taking up arms to save their loser men, but there is also a lot of abuse towards women.  The entire female cast is captured and sexually assaulted at some point int he movie.  Some people argue that scene like that are intended to show women fighting back against their oppressors, but I think it was more likely just an excuse to show them topless.

One thing I’ve noticed with all these sword and sorcery ‘B’ movies is that the sword fighting always suffers.  They don’t really have the budget to train the actors in sword technique, or to incorporate many FX like blood spurting or body parts flying off, so we end up with a mob of people flailing fake swords and hitting each other without causing noticeable injury. The exercise gets tiring pretty fast, which is unfortunate since it’s always the climax of these films.

The plot of Barbarian Queen is competent.  The protagonists have a goal, they collect the various components they need to accomplish said goal, and then they put their plan into action.  The characters are not developed much.  Lana Clarkson, as Amathea, is sufficiently queen-like in her barring and delivery.  Dawn Dunlap, as Taramis, plays the disturbed young lady well enough.

The DVD from Shout factory includes four films across two discs.  The movie is presented in anamorphic widescreen, and looks fairly good.

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DVD Review: The Warrior And The Sorceress

 

The Warrior and the Sorceress

Roger Corman’s Cult Classics

Sword and Sorcery Collection

 

 

David Carridine stars as Kain.  He’s the titular ‘warrior,’ though he doesn’t do much fighting.  Instead, his primary weapon is manipulation.  One day, he comes to the small town of Yam-A-Tar and finds the townspeople caught in the middle of a turf war between two tyrants, Zeg and Balcaz, who fight over the town’s single water well.

The movie takes place on a planet with two suns, which apparently makes water scarce.  The entire town is centered on the well, with just a few buildings around it.  I’m not sure how it supports two warlords and the innocent villagers.

The majority of the movie focuses on Kain’s scheming, and it actually works quite well.   Compared to the other movies on this DVD set, this one is just plain clever.  Kain’s machinations are complex, with not-always-predictable outcomes.  His character isn’t developed that much, but it works for him.  Firstly because he’s supposed to be a bit of a schemer and con man, so knowing too much about him would make that less effective; and secondly because he’s sort of a play on the classic western movie archetype of the ‘mysterious stranger,’ who rides into town, beats the bad guy, then moves on.

Maria Socas plays Naja, the titular ‘Sorceress,’ though she doesn’t use any magic.  Her magic credentials are limited to having a star carved into her hand, and the knowledge of how to make a really good sword.  She spends the entire movie topless, and Kain feels compelled to save her, having worked with sorceresses at his previous job.

The Warrior and the Sorceress loses steam at the end, when the Machiavellian plotting is done and generic sword fighting takes its place.  The climactic battle drags and is something of a let down compared to the character driven plot that fills most of the movie.

The DVD from Shout factory, which includes four films across two discs is quite good.  The movie is presented in anamorphic widescreen, but the print has a fair number of defects and scratches.

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DVD Review: Deathstalker 2

 

Deathstalker II

Roger Corman’s Cult Classics

Sword and Sorcery Collection

Shout Factory

 

 

Deathstalker was not a good film in terms of story, character, or production value; but it was entertaining.  What worked in its favor was the way it fully exploited its barbarian age setting.  Usually movies of this genre are sanitized for the masses, the sex and violence is sparce, and the protagonist is given modern sensibilities when it comes to valuing life, respecting women, and having a sense of justice.

The first Deathstalker was thoroughly barbaric, he murdered, he abused women, and he only did ‘good’ when it befitted him.  He was also largely silent, which was nice, as the actor playing him, Rick Hill, wasn’t very good.

Deathstalker 2 recasts the starring role with John Terlesky taking over.  He’s a better actor, but his characterization is far worse.  The brooding, barbaric, barely-civilized animal of the first film has been replaced with a skinny, wise-cracking, roguish character.

This guy is at worse an anti-hero.  He actually helps women, just to be nice, he steals only from bad or dead people, and he actually passes up a chance to sleepy with the amazon queen just because she wants to marry him the next morning.  The old Deathstalker would have slept with her, then stabbed her if she asked for a commitment.

Everything is toned down.  The violence is less graphic and somewhat cartoony, the nudity is far less common.  But what’s worse is the attempts at humor.  It’s not just that it’s bad (though it is), the problem is that it dilutes the tone.  It has a modern tinge to it which kills the setting.

The plot of the movie is that a princess is deposed by a sorcerer, who then creates a doppelganger of said princess.  The princess escapes and seeks the help of Deathstalker to win back her kingdom.  The sorcerer, Jarek, sends mercenaries and monsters out to capture the princess (he can’t kill her because the clone’s existence is tied to hers).

The pacing is awkward.  In one scene we are introduced to a team of killers one by one, then it suddenly cuts to their fight scene, in which they’re all shooting arrows (negating the point of hiring expert killers in the first place).  There’s more emphasis in the movie on introducing these characters than there is in having them contribute to the plot.  There’s also a very lengthy scene where Deathstalker wrestles a large woman.  It goes on for about five minutes straight, which is a significant portion of the movie’s 77 minute running time.

Essentially, Deathstalker II kept the bad from the first Deathstalker and threw away the good.  It’s just as poorly made, but now lacks the exploitative elements that at least kept you interested.

The DVD from Shout factory, which includes four films across two discs (including Deathstalker 1) is quite good.  The movie is presented in anamorphic widescreen and comes with a commentary track.

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DVD Review: Deathstalker

 

Deathstalker

Roger Corman’s Cult Classics: Sword and Sorcery Collection

Shout Factory

 

 

Deathstalker is a completely uninhibited take on the sword and sorcery fantasy genre.  From  start to finish, the film is filled with graphic, gory violence and naked women.  It’s kind of like Spartacus: Blood and Sand, but with far weaker characterization and plotting.

Deathstaker isn’t much of a hero.  The movie starts out with him encountering a thief being chased by some sort of monsters.  Deathstalker kills the monsters, then the thief, then to top it off he tries to rape the woman the thief was holding captive but she gets away.  That pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the movie, both in terms of content, and characterization.  There’s not a lot of respect show for women in the movie.  Whether that’s intended to depict the barbaric nature of the world the story takes place in, or is a reflection of the mindset of the movie’s producers, I don’t know.

Deathstalker is asked by a deposed king to kill the wizard, Munkar, who stole his throne and save the princess.  DS refuses, on the grounds that helping people is stupid.  Luckily for the king, an old witch woman tells DS that Munkar has some magic items and that by taking posession of said items, he can become all-powerful.  This appeals to DS, so he sets off right away.

The witch woman occasionally does voice overs giving DS advice, one of which is to choose his allies wisely.  F#@k that, Deathstalker just takes the first three people he runs across.  The first is a decrepit creature from a cave that turns into a middle aged man once exposed to sunlight, the next is a warrior who is slightly less rape-y than DS himself, and the third is a warrior woman who fights topless for no reason.

DS and his ‘allies’ never form a relationship, they’re just kind of in the same room together.  What’s worse, they contribute nothing at all to either the plot or the mission.  In fact, they kind of get in the way.  I think their only real purpose is to provide more opportunities for sex and violence.

DS and company enter a tournament held by Munkar, the winner of which is to become his heir.

When considering a movie like this, you have to take into account its intentions.  The movie promised ample nudity and violence, and it delivered.  The plot was thin, but comprehensible.  The FX were adequate to tell the story.  The acting was wooden, but considering the characters are supposed to be uncivilized barbarians, I guess that works.

The DVD from Shout factory, which includes four films across two discs (including Deathstalker 2) is quite good.  The movie is presented in anamorphic widescreen and comes with a commentary track.

 

Blu Ray Review: Battle Beyond the Stars

Battle Beyond the Stars

Shout! Factory

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the Seven Samurai in Outer Space, according to Roger Corman, and that’s a fair assessment of it’s plot set up.  Akir is a planet of pacifist farmers, caught off guard when Sador and his army arrive and demand their crops.

Being unable to defend themselves, the Akir send a young man named Shad off to hire some mercenaries.

And so he does.  He collects a nice assortment, a pretty scientist girl, an assassin, a cowboy (named ‘Cowboy’) a lizard man, some little hot guys, five clones, and a warrior woman in a bikini played by Sybil Danning.

Shad and company return to Akir, and an epic battle ensues.

There’s really not much to say about the movie.  At the end of the day, it’s a low budget rip off of other movies.  That said, it is fun.  Seven Samurai recast with assorted aliens makes for a lively movie.  Each of the mercenaries is given their own story arcs.  They all have their own motivations (revenge, adventure, etc), which give sufficient justification for their actions, but are not deep enough to create any real drama.

The special effects (directed by James Cameron) are quite impressive considering the budget.  The spaceships are small models t hat look fairly good.  The costumes and prosthesis look are good, but the makeup is caked on (this is probably one of those things that high definition brings out).

Battle Beyond the Stars is pretty much what I expect and want a B movie to be: imaginative, a little wacky, and fun.

The Blu Ray from Shout! Factory, part of their Roger Corman’s Cult Classics line, features the same excellent audio and video quality the rest of their Corman titles have.  Extras include commentaries, interviews, and features.

 

Blu Ray Review: Piranha (2010)

Piranha (2010)

Dimension Films

 

 

 

 

 

The back of the case says, “Sea, Sex and… Blood!”  It takes place on a lake, so no ‘sea;’ there’s no actual sex, but a fair amount of nudity; as for the blood?  yes.

This remake of the Roger ‘King of B Movies’ Corman’s film of the same name from 1978, shares little similarity in plot,  but does explore the same theme of topless young ladies being nibbled by angry fish.

The setting is Lake Victoria, a tourist-trap town overrun with college kids on spring break.  Jake Forester is a high school student that wants to join in on the fun, but is cock-blocked  his mom (also the town sheriff, played by Elizabeth Shue (giving the role far more credibility than it requires)), who gives him the onerous task of babysitting his little siblings.

His responsibilities fly out the window when he meets Derrick Jones, played by Jerry O’Connell  (Sliders), or more specifically, Derrick’s busty model, Danni.  Derrick, a sleazy, Girls Gone Wild-type of video producer hires young Jake as a location scout.

All of this would be leading up to a silly teen sex comedy, were it not for the prehistoric piranhas that were released from an underwater lake by an earthquake.

There are two main arcs to the movie.  The first focuses on the sheriff-mom slowly unraveling the mystery of what’s killing people on the lake, and then discovering just how big the problem really is.  There’s a good build up of tension, and just the right mix of kills and fake-outs to keep you guessing at any given moment.  This is the gore focused arc

The sub plot with Jake and Derrick Jones is basically the breast focused arc.  There’s a poorly developed side story about Jake and a girl-next-door, who he insists isn’t his girlfriend (but we’re all supposed to know that he loves her) except we’re really given no reason to think that he does care about her, or any reason why he would.  What really makes the Derrick arc is Jerry O’Connell.  He so commits to the role, that it’s down right compelling.  He’s not just an erratic pervert, he’s also manipulative and violent; he could have made a decent villain if it weren’t for the piranhas.

This is one of those movies that delivers exactly what it promises.  The gore effects deserve special mention, a combination of makeup and cg create some stunning, and believable images of half eaten bodies.  It’s probably the area most improved over Corman’s original.

There was actually not as much nudity as I would have expected.  There’s a lengthy naked swimming scene shot underwater, but it’s so processed it kind of looks like computer animation, which detracts from its effectiveness.

Director Alexandre Aja manages to make an exploitation movie that doesn’t feel sleazy.  It really captures the feel of Corman’s ’70s – ’80s films, and the lighthearted fun that made them so watchable.

Piranha is much better than it needed to be, and much better than most directors would have done it.  The production values are great, and the cast is made up of people hired for their acting ability (the film opens with an awesome cameo, by the way).

I watched the 2D Blu Ray, which looks and sounds very nice.  It includes a bunch of features and a commentary.