Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Genres: Action & Adventure, Drama
This set includes Tough To Kill directed by Joe D'Amato; The Last Four Days; The Silencer; The Scorpion; Killpoint; Nine Deaths of the Ninja; Low Blow; and Tough Cop.System Requirements:Running Time: 759 minsFormat: DVD MO... more »
The stuff that filled the gaps in mom 'n pop video stores!
Brian T | Canada | 12/29/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"BCI unleashes another wave of Crown International productions lumped together in a budget-priced 2-disc collection. Some of these titles have been released previously on DVD, others have not and at least a couple should have remained as distant VHS memories.
The keeper of the bunch is Emmett Alston's kitschy 007 wannabe NINE DEATHS OF THE NINJA (1985), which appears here UNCUT for what appears to be the first time. Granted, the footage amounts to brief glimpses of female nudity and some swearing, but it's absence from prior editions was frustrating. The film stars ninja flick mainstay Sho Kosugi as an elite counterterrorism agent battling a crazed, wheelchair-bound Nazi and his Glamazonian henchbabes. Shot in 2.35:1 widescreen, the film represents the pinnacle of Alston's not-that-distinguished career: the film looks far more expensive than it was (shooting in the Phillipines didn't hurt), and Alston can block a scene reasonably well; it's his poor sense of cutting that hobbles the proceedings and obfuscates the intentional humor far too often, especially during certain fight scenes. The more important player in all of this may very well be co-producer Vijay Amritraj, who plays (poorly) a key role in the film as well. Tennis champ Amritraj made his film debut in the James Bond film OCTOPUSSY two years before this, and it's very likely he was instrumental in giving this film a Bond-ian lift, including the snappy Sheena Easton-ish theme song performed by Filipina pop diva Ivy Violan presented over an blissfully cool interpretive dance sequence wherein Kosugi rhythmically whips his sword around the lycra-clad hardbodies of three gorgeous Filipina dancers.
At the other end of the quality spectrum in this set is Carlo Lizzani's THE LAST FOUR DAYS (1974), better known as MUSSOLINI: THE LAST FOUR DAYS (aka MUSSOLINI: ULTIMO ATTO). Though it ran various lengths in various markets (109 minutes in Germany, 125 minutes in South America), the film arrives in the Maximum Action Collection in a severely truncated, fullscreen 73-minute version that drains the performances of their power and the film of its impact. By way of example, a previously lengthy sequence in which Mussolini (Rod Steiger) addresses the remnants of his brigade of fartcatchers in a party screening room is edited down to literally a few seconds, reminiscent of an old Benny Hill sketch in which the comedian illustrated the dangers of editing films for television (i.e. actors quite literally bouncing around a set from all the cutting). Earlier U.S. releases of the film, which weren't much better, ran at least 90 minutes, so one presumes this version was prepped to be shown on television in a time slot that could only serve it poorly. Better to seek out one of the longer versions of this halfways decent historical epic and tag this one DOA.
In between these two extremes is a mish-mash of half-baked direct-to-video fare from the 80's and 90's, the silliest of which are probably two Leo Fong movies. Fong was an aging, charmless actor but a decent martial artist who decided to cash in on the home video market by cranking out a slew of bland actioners to line the shelves, and developed something of a minor cult following in the process. Two of his films, KILLPOINT (1984) and LOW BLOW (1986), both directed by Frank Harris, the latter written by Fong, are included in this set. Neither is particularly good, but both offer their fair share of unintentional (and intentional) laughs.
KILLPOINT (1984) pits "dangerous" police detective Fong and ATF agent Richard Roundtree against gangster Cameron Mitchell and his stone-faced second-in-command Stack Pierce, who've stolen a load of weapons from a nearby military depot for resale to the city's gangs, who in turn use them to shoot up restaurants and supermarkets for kicks. The "high" point of the picture (or low point, depending on your POV) is Mitchell's performance, which is so detached and dazed that it's tough to tell if he's acting or just really, really plastered for much of his screen time, which is spent passively-aggressively canoodling with his pet poodle and killing those who irritate him in even the most perceived of ways, and giving Pierce plenty of reason to suspect that his boss is turning gay. Even on autopilot, Roundtree proves to be the consummate professional, delivering a solid performance that outshines virtually everyone around him.
Moving up several amplitudes on the cheese-meter is the beyond-silly LOW BLOW (1986), in which private dick Leo is hired by millionaire Troy Donahue to rescue his runaway heiress daughter from Cameron Mitchell's pan-theistic "Universal Enlightenment" cult. Mitchell calls himself "Yarakunda", has a pentagram on his cheek, a red dot on his forehead, a cross around his neck, wears big Jim Jones sunglasses, dresses like a druid and hardly ever stands up in the entire film, so you know he means business, or possibly wasn't paid enough to actually act. Oh yes, and he's also blind, which means his Godly visions are more better than yours. But Fong means business too! The sign on his office door reads: "Joe Wong, Private Investigator, Bounty Hunting, Conflict Management, Kung-Fu Fighting Lessons and World Headquarters of the Wei Kuen Do Association". (and yes, that's supposed to be funny) When he's not blasting away scumbags at his local deli ("Hey, forget the ham sandwich!"), taking down redneck purse snatchers, or deflating stereotypes about Chinese food and Asian drivers in Big American Cars, he's rounding up a motley team of specialists to aid him on the rescue mission by staging a tough man contest that attracts ninjas, kung-fu masters, hispanic knife-fighters, black boxers, redneck purse snatchers and a female bodybuilder in red panties. Really. Frank Harris' direction here is a very slight improvement over his work on KILLPOINT, but it's Fong's screenplay that saves the day, using popular contempo action/buddy movie cliches to buttress his rather loopy main story. The puzzler here is real-life Ghanian princess Akosua Busia, who squanders the goodwill she engendered in Steven Spielberg's THE COLOR PURPLE by appearing here as Mitchell's conniving, sadistic daughter-slash-wife. Fortunately, her career would survive. One the plus side, Fong kicks Billy Blanks' ass, puts his foot THROUGH another man's head, and cuts the roof off a Mercedes-Benz hiding three goons who apparently can't find the door handles during the several minutes it takes Fong to run around the car cutting the roof supports. Hilarious stuff!
Up next we have TOP COP (1990) a DTV knockoff cop thriller that leaves no cliche unturned in its bald-faced desire to emulate Hollywood police thrillers on an Arkansas shoestring budget. To say the least, location filming adds nothing to the production value unless you live in Arkansas. You have to give writer-producer Helen Pollins (whither she?) credit for drafting a screenplay that, with a Big Studio spit shine and top-drawer professionals on both sides of the camera, might have made a standard low-tier Joel Silver production for the era, or perhaps even a TV pilot. But when you're stuck filming in Arkansas with a cast of unknowns and amateurs and a very low budget as director Mark Maness is here, trying to emulate the big boys is a losing game that makes everyone look a little silly by comparison, no matter how reasonably swift your pace or how capable your screenplay, or who you bribed for a few crane shots. The top cop of the title is Stephen P. Sides, a gap-toothed Bob Seger lookalike with a long-haul truck driver's ass who violates all sorts of laws in at least two states to bring a smug drug dealer (Len Schlientz) to justice, losing his partner along the way and being paired with a rookie just like in a million other movies. Pollins' dialogue ranges from "I'm too old for this shit" to "You guys are dead. You just don't know it yet" and is indicative of everything Hollywood was paying top dollar for at the time--except to Pollins, I guess. The action even builds to a big setpiece climax, but since this is Arkansas, it takes place in a junkyard and requires the villain to suddenly become very very stupid in his quest to take down our hero. Overall, a failure, but a failure worth watching to see what amateurs can do even when they think too big for their wallets.
The newest film in this set, SILENCER (1992), is a good-looking but dreadfully pretentious LA FEMME NIKITA clone fronted by the beautiful but bland Lynette Walden as an assassin with a shady past drawn reluctantly back into the game of death, using her body and her gun in equal measure to blast away an assortment of society's vermin (including Morton Downey Jr.), and being stalked by her sadistic, lovestruck ex-partner (Chris Mulkey). The heroine receives details, as does Mulkey surreptitiously, about each mission on a video game console in an arcade via horrendous graphics that were dated back in 1992 when I first saw this. Otherwise, the production values are "look-at-me" slick, but more common for the time period than the filmmakers might have realized, and even a little obvious, with plenty of smoky atmosphere, designer sunglasses replacing character depth, artsy closeups of eyes and lips, and other affectations used solely because they look cool. This one hasn't aged well at all, though it is presented here in widescreen for the first time, I believe.
He may have beaten Chuck Norris in a real life match, but the inevitable film career of Dutch karate champ Tonny Tulleners began and ended with the utterly conventional SCORPION (1982), a popular VHS title back in the early days of that format--no doubt in part due to it's eye-catching poster design (which also graces the front of this DVD collection)--and a title previously released by Rhino in the early days of DVD. Tulleners is a seasoned intelligence agent assigned to protect an airline hijacker-turned-informant. When the hijacker's pals attempt to silence him but instead silence Tonny's childhood pal (Allen Williams), Tonny goes on the warpath through a series of just-above-average action sequences supervised by the legendary Dar Robinson. Director William Riead was one of the few people of his era to parlay a career reporting TV news and cranking out "Making Of" documentaries for major Hollywood studios into feature film projects, but his handle on the material is strictly pedestrian: the visuals ain't bad, but location shooting in Holland, Hawaii, Spain and California distracts from the workmanlike construction of the piece.
The collection wraps up on a high note, provided you watch it last: the testosterone-soaked Italian adventure picture TOUGH TO KILL (1978, aka Duri a Morire) from the notoriously uneven Joe D'Amato, here working in fine form to craft a balls-out trashy, gory thriller with mob hitman Luc Merenda joining a group of vicious mercenaries on a misson in Africa in order to collect the secret bounty on the head of one of men on the team. When the others sniff out Merenda's agenda, all bets are off and the men turn on each other in order to be the one who claims the big prize. Characters are extremely well drawn, particularly for a D'Amato film, with Donald O'Brien turning in a career-high performance as the military-trained leader of the group, and the one who turns out to be the nastiest mother of them all when the going gets rough. The print used here is a grimy mess, most likely sourced from VHS, but that can't disguise the sublime swagger of the film itself, nor the delightful kicker that wraps up the proceedings. The same print was previously issued on standalone DVD by Stallion Releasing, but for the money and quality, you're better off getting it here.
All in all, this is an average set in an ongoing series from BCI, all presented widescreen except LAST FOUR DAYS. Films are crammed two-per-side on two DVDs, which may present compression issues for those who are bothered by such things. No extras, nor should you expect any at this price point. Others 8 Movie Collections include SCHOOL DAZED, DRIVE-IN CULT CLASSICS, AFTER DARK THRILLERS. BCI has since reissued several titles from these sets in the ongoing DRIVE IN CULT CLASSICS line (the new catch-all title), subsequent editions of which (Vol. 2-4) have spread eight features across four discs, resulting in much nicer picture presentations.