Film Review: Blood Money (1974)

Also known as: El kárate, el Colt y el impostor (original Spanish title), The Stranger and the Gunfighter (alternate), Dakota (French video title)
Release Date: 1974 (Spain)
Directed by: Antonio Margheriti (credited as Anthony Dawson)
Written by: Giovanni Simonelli, Antonio Margheriti, Barth Jules Sussman
Music by: Carlo Savina
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Lo Lieh, Patty Shepard, Femi Benussi

Compagnia Cinematografica Champion, Harbor Productions, Shaw Brothers Studio, Midega Films, Columbia Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

The king of the spaghetti westerns that isn’t Clint Eastwood teams up with the king of kung fu movies that isn’t Bruce Lee. Sure, that sounds like a diss but I am a pretty big fan of Lee Van Cleef and Lo Lieh. Both men owned the 1970s in their own way, so seeing them come together is pretty interesting.

Sadly though, their talents and their team-up were wasted in this picture, which just doesn’t live up to whatever hype my mind might have had in the ’70s when this actually went down.

The film’s premise is pretty interesting though. Ho Chiang (Lo Lieh) journeys to America from China in search of his uncle’s fortune. He discovers that his uncle is dead and the only man that knows where his body is, is the one accused of murdering him, an Old West gunslinger named Dakota (Lee Van Cleef). Once the uncle’s body is found, the pair find clues that point to the fortune. This then becomes a real spaghetti western treasure hunting movie with kung fu flair. The reluctant pair must track down the uncle’s mistresses, each of whom have a section of the treasure map tattooed on their bums. Ultimately, the two men become friends and kick a lot of ass.

The problem with the movie is that the execution is poor and really kind of lazy. Van Cleef and Lieh are both solid but the script just isn’t there and everything is fairly pedestrian. This is a film that is an example of wasted potential. But then again, a studio specializing in spaghetti westerns didn’t have much experience creating kung fu pictures just as Shaw Brothers, even with their input on kung fu filmmaking, didn’t know how to make westerns. And really, I’m not sure how much input Shaw Brothers actually had, it seems pretty minuscule.

Still, if you like both of these men, this is worth checking out. It’s not a total waste but it won’t get you pumped up either.

Film Review: The Castle of the Living Dead (1964)

Also known as: Il castello dei morti vivi (original Italian title), Crypt of Horror (alternate)
Release Date: August 5th, 1964 (Italy)
Directed by: Warren Kiefer
Written by: Warren Kiefer
Music by: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
Cast: Christopher Lee, Gaia Germani, Philippe Leroy, Donald Sutherland

Serena Film, Filmsonor, Cineriz, 90 Minutes

Review:

I’ll watch anything with Christopher Lee in it. And even though he’s been in some dreadful pictures out of the 280 credits he has on IMDb, he is always a bright spot in them. This isn’t one of those dreadful pictures but it’s also not very good. It’s in a weird limbo.

The Castle of the Living Dead is also the first film with Donald Sutherland in it. He started his career playing triple duty, as he has three different roles in this. Maybe the studio could only afford five actors but they needed seven characters.

If the plot is anything, it is bizarre.

We have a group of carnival folk who arrive at Count Drago’s (Lee) castle to entertain him. What the carnies don’t know, is that he is a mad scientist that mummifies humans and animals with some mysterious liquid. The token carnival midget figures out something is shady and he tries to be the hero. Apart from a scene where the midget literally gets thrown off of a castle turret by a zombie, he does save the day in the end.

This was a film where the production was pretty much a clusterfuck. Directors changed, staff changed and it isn’t really known who should get credit for what. It’s possible that Mario Bava worked on some of the film’s special effects. However, things here certainly feel beneath Bava’s level of talent.

This is a dirty looking film with bad sound and a disorienting presentation. Scenes that I assume are supposed to be at night, are shot in daylight with a lot of shadows added in but the contrast between the darkness and obvious sunlight is strange.

The Castle of the Living Dead is only really worth checking out if you love Lee, Sutherland or gratuitous dwarf abuse. Even at ninety minutes, it is too long for a picture of its style and quality from its era.

 

Film Review: Navajo Joe (1966)

Also known as: A Dollar a Head (US working title), Navajo’s Land, Red Fighter, Savage Run (alternate titles)
Release Date: November 26th, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Corbucci
Written by: Dean Craig, Fernando Di Leo, Ugo Pirro
Music by: Ennio Morricone (credited as Leo Nichols)
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Aldo Sanbrell, Nicoletta Machiavelli, Tanya Lopert, Fernando Rey, Franca Polesello, Lucia Modugno

Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica, C.B. Films, Dear Film, United Artists, 93 Minutes

Review:

“My father was born here, in the mountains. His father before him and his father before him and his father before him. Where was your father born?” – Joe

I have never seen Navajo Joe, which is probably a crime, as I love spaghetti westerns and consider myself an aficionado of them. I especially love the western films of Sergio Corbucci and I have always been a big fan of Burt Reynolds, a man too cool for just about anyone they put him in a movie with. Also, this has one of the greatest scores that Ennio Morricone ever did. In fact, some of this songs here have been reused in other films.

Burt Reynolds plays Joe, a Navajo badass that wants to avenge the slaughter of some of his people and his woman. He tracks the killers and finds that they are taking advantage of a desert town and that someone in the town is working with them. He offers his services to the citizens at one dollar a head, to be paid by each person in town. The town is reluctant to pay Joe and realistically, if Joe is just planning on getting revenge, he should just go for it. But I guess making some money isn’t a bad thing. He gets mixed up with a local woman of Navajo decent but ultimately, only cares about his dead love. Navajo Joe is a true drifter with revenge in his heart. He’s got no time for love, only time for justice served with a hearty helping of lead.

Corbucci, one of the three Sergios of Spaghetti Westerns, made this film just after Ringo and His Golden Pistol and his most famous classic Django. This is a film that carries on the quality that Corbucci westerns were known for. While it isn’t quite the masterpiece that Django was, it is still a balls-to-the-wall violent action epic that will leave you satisfied. Revenge stories are great and adding in Burt Reynolds was a pretty cool touch, even if Corbucci didn’t know how great the man would become, as this is very early in his acting career.

The action sequences were well shot and very fluid. I liked the fighting style of Reynolds’ Joe as he slithered around the dirt and in and out of the train, killing off scumbags in the process. The film’s action was well choreographed, unique and interesting.

Navajo Joe is a good western and after seeing it, it would have been cool if Reynolds and Corbucci did a few more. I liked Reynolds in this role a lot and this played really well, mainly because the script was good and Corbucci is just a great director that probably deserves more credit outside of his preferred genre.

Film Review: Keoma (1976)

Also known as: Django Rides Again, Django Returns (both US informal titles), Desperado (US cut version), Keoma: The Avenger (US dubbed version), Coolman Keoma (West Germany video title)
Release Date: November 25th, 1976 (Italy
Directed by: Enzo G. Castellari
Written by: Mino Roli, Nico Ducci, Luigi Montefiori, Enzo G. Castellari, Joshua Sinclair (dialogue – uncredited)
Music by: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis
Cast: Franco Nero, William Berger, Olga Karlatos, Woody Strode

Uranos Cinematografica, Far International Films, 101 Minutes (original), 85 Minutes (US cut version)

Review:

“I need to find out who I am. To give the simplest of my actions a reason. I know by being in this world has some significance, but I’m afraid that when I found out what it is, it will be too late. In the meantime, I’m a vagabond. I keep traveling. Even when the earth sleeps, I keep traveling… chasing shadows.” – Keoma

Who doesn’t want to watch a movie where Franco Nero and his chiseled visage and dreamy eyes take on the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth as a badass gunslinger? Okay, he isn’t Jesus of Nazareth, he is Keoma, but damn, he looks like some sort of spaghetti western Messiah here to save us from mundane and derivative spaghetti schlock. I mean, it’s like Jesus and the original Django had a baby and gave him tight pants, a cool hat and some big guns. Never has a man looked so manly, so pretty and exuded some sort of mystical sexual fire by simply standing within the frame of scratchy and grainy celluloid.

I’ll admit, I have never seen Keoma, even though I am a big fan of Nero and spaghetti westerns. Now that I have, it is pretty high up on my list of Nero gunslinger pictures. Man, he is so damn good in this and his gaze is chilling when he needs to communicate that he’s coming for your ass. Franco Nero just has a presence and never has that presence been as strong as it is here, even if he isn’t spraying down dozens of evil soldiers with a giant Gatling gun yanked out of a casket.

The film is directed by Enzo G. Castellari, a guy not necessarily known for quality but known for having a real sense of style and accomplishing a lot with very little. The man made magic with the 1978 film The Inglorious Bastards, a film that inspired Quentin Tarantino to “borrow” its title. He also did the extremely low budget but impressive 1990: Bronx Warriors, a sort of Italian ripoff of Walter Hill’s classic The Warriors.

Keoma is damn good for what it is. It isn’t just a throwaway spaghetti western in a sea of similar films. It is ballsy and gritty and showcases the great Franco Nero in his best kind of role. It is also one of the best films Enzo G. Castellari ever directed.

Film Review: Le Samouraï (1967)

Also known as: The Samurai (worldwide English title), The Godson (US dubbed version and Australia)
Release Date: October 25th, 1967 (France)
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Melville
Written by: Jean-Pierre Melville, Georges Pellegrin
Music by: François de Roubaix
Cast: Alain Delon, François Périer, Nathalie Delon, Cathy Rosier

S.N. Prodis, 105 Minutes

kinopoisk.ru

Review:

“I don’t like forcing the pace to extract confessions or get information. I’m very liberal, a great believer in the liberty of the individual… in people’s right to live as they choose. Provided that the way of life they choose harms no one else… and is contrary to neither law and order nor public decency.” – Superintendent

What happens when the French and the Italians get together, take a bit of American film-noir and a bit of Japanese jidaigeki and meld them together into one solid thing? Well, you get this incredible film that gives us a character that is part noir-esque hitman and part drifter samurai.

To call Le Samouraï “unique” is a bit of an understatement.

The film starts by following Jef Costello (Alain Delon) into a jazz lounge. He murders a man there and is seen by a few witnesses, as he makes his escape. Suspects are rounded up by the police, Jef being one of them. The lounge’s resident piano player recognizes Jef but she doesn’t dime him out to the police. Jef then goes to get paid for the hit but he is double crossed and shot by his contact. Jef escapes but now he must uncover who it is that hired him and why his contact shot him, all while evading the Parisian police that are closing in on him and his girlfriend/alibi, Jane.

While this entire film is enhanced by rich and astounding cinematography, the film truly comes alive during the cat and mouse chase scene between Jef and undercover cops through the Paris Metro system. This is a superb sequence and one of the best cat and mouse games ever played out on celluloid. Jef is aware of his surroundings and the game being played and outwits and stays ahead of the law trying to get their hands on him.

This film has style and it has a great tone to match. The characters are cool, the places are cool and the film, itself, is really friggin’ cool. I put this up there with Tokyo Drifter as one of the coolest motion pictures I have ever seen. Strangely, they both came out around the same time, are both foreign films (from different countries) and both have a lot of narrative and atmospheric similarities. In fact, I’m going to have to watch these two movies as a double header one night.

Alain Delon is an attractive man but he plays the role cold and with a dead pan look on his face in every scene. He is too cool for emotion and he doesn’t need his looks and a sexy smile to generate charm and charisma. While he has a few women in his life, over the course of the film, like the jidaigeki samurai hero of Kurosawa films, he is a man of his own and drifts in and out, never getting too attached. However, in contrast to the cinematic samurai, Jef does succumb to his affections in the final moments of the film. But who can fault the French? They really are romantics.

Le Samouraï is damn close to being a masterpiece. It is fine in every aspect of filmmaking and is a great homage to its influences. While it taps into film-noir and jidaigeki, it also taps into a giallo style, which the Italians were yet to fully unleash on the world.

Film Review: Caltiki – The Immortal Monster (1959)

Also known as: Caltiki, il mostro immortale (Italy)
Release Date: August 8th, 1959 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava, Riccardo Freda
Written by: Filippo Sanjust, Riccardo Freda
Music by: Roberto Nicolosi
Cast: John Merivale, Didi Perego, Gerard Herter, Giacomo Rossi

Galatea Film, Climax Pictures, Lux Film, 76 Minutes

Review:

“The garden is filled with monsters!” – Policeman

In a nutshell, this was an Italian ripoff of The Blob. However, it is so much more than that and actually stands on its own with the extra elements it introduces into the story.

This film’s “blob” is some sort of ancient monster that feeds off of radiation. It is all tied into Mayan mythology and the film gives us some cool sets and architecture because of the Mayan spin on The Blob story.

This film gives us wacky science, multiplying blob creatures, cool sets and it carries a 1950s Tiki vibe, even if it set in Mexico. Back in the day, movies didn’t really care about cultural authenticity. I mean, this film has black people playing Mayan descendants and as far as I know, Mayans just look like badass Mexicans and not a Caribbean voodoo tribe.

Caltiki is co-directed by Mario Bava, which I didn’t even realize until I popped the movie on. This was early in his career and just before his big breakout with 1960’s Black Sunday. It is blsack and white and doesn’t have the colorful giallo look that he would become famous for.

This is a cheesy and hokey movie but it is well crafted and better than you think it would be. It’s not a horror classic but it’s a fun ride, flies by and is far from dull.

Film Review: Castle Freak (1995)

Also known as: Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak
Release Date: November 14th, 1995
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Dennis Paoli, Stuart Gordon
Based on: The Outsider by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Jessica Dollarhide, Jonathan Fuller

Full Moon Entertainment, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I didn’t kill her, I fucked her, Okay?” – John Reilly

Anything that brings the Re-Animator team back together, usually ends with pretty good results. This is the one and only time that it didn’t. I loved the three Re-Animator films and From Beyond but this was pretty friggin’ awful.

Even the acting of Jeffrey Combs, who I usually love in everything, was just off the mark and a bit over the top. Barbara Crampton was fairly decent but not as good as she was in those other films. Jessica Dollarhide, who was only in this movie and had a few TV credits, was actually the high point on the acting side.

The plot, like the other films featuring this director and his cast, was taken from an H.P. Lovecraft story. The film is missing that insane otherworldly feel of the other films though. This is also missing the comedy. Essentially, what we have here is a serious attempt at creating a horror film from a crew that were maestros of really dark comedy movies. It just didn’t work on any level.

The score was exceptionally bad, which was surprising since the man behind the music, Richard Band, worked with this troupe before with fantastic results.

I’m not sure what was wrong with this movie. It was the one time that these people didn’t create magic. It is just so out of tune with their other work that it’s baffling. Maybe it has to do with Full Moon putting out the film, as they’ve made mostly schlock for decades.

Castle Freak unlike this group’s other films, is completely forgettable.

The makeup was decent though.