The Hunters of the Golden Cobra (1982)

golden cobraSteven Spielberg’s classic Raiders of the Lost Ark has seen its fair share of imitators and blatant knock-offs, certainly during the early 80’s when it was fresh. In this case, we have an Italian-made knock-off that plays out like a made-for-TV film. It’s essentially a low-budget knock-off of Indiana Jones, but with only tiny fraction of the charm. It’s pretty silly on the whole, and to be completely honest, it’s not that great of a matinee film, considering how much it looks like a cheaply made carbon copy.

The film’s story, which is set in 1944, involves two textbook action heroes, an typically rugged American solider named Bob Jackson, and a stereotypically British intelligence agent David Franks. Together they’re on a mission in the Philippines to track down an ancient relic called the Golden Cobra, teaming up with a woman searching for her missing sister.

Honestly, there’s not much to say about the story, but it’s a bit jumbled and gets off to a frenetic and silly start. It’s mildly entertaining for a while, but then get into a lot of weird nonsense that seems like it was jammed into the film in order to distinguish it from Indiana Jones, which ultimately fails because the film is so much like Indiana Jones and so cliché-ridden that it’s downright comical. Even the climactic final showdown is rendered impotent by poor choreography.

The characters are pretty much plain stock characters, but they have their quirky moments. Indeed, the British character was so ridiculous that he’s actually moderately funny. However the film is ruined by some terribly bad acting. A lot of the characters come across as remarkably hammy, like they got people who don’t do much acting, and only did one take. It also sounds like they dubbed the voices over the movie. I assume this to be the case, given that the film was originally released in Italy and eventually got an English language release a few years later. I also noticed that there are a number of background characters that look like they don’t really belong in the film, like a sailor who looks a bit like John Candy.

I have to assume the film must have had a low budget, because the film looks cheaply made. I’m not sure, but I think there might have been a few cardboard props. Unique to this film, however, is that sometimes you’ll see a few scenes that are kind of like spaghetti Western scenes (specifically, these are gunplay scenes), just a lot cheesier. Everything in the film is the cheesier version of Indiana Jones, like taking a loving tribute to old school B-movie and turning it into an actual C-movie.

I’m not entirely sure if this film could have been much better, considering it’s basically a knock-off. In other words, this film was clearly pointless. I sometimes wonder why I subject my eyes and ears to films like these, perhaps so you don’t have to. Either way, if only I were paid to this.

  • Score: 48%
  • Grade: D
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The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982)

sword_and_the_sorcererposterA lot of American fantasy films back in the 1980’s essentially boiled down to Conan the Barbarian clones, and sadly this film was no exception. As implied by its very title, The Sword and the Sorcerer is basically a by-the-numbers sword-and-sorcery fantasy film, with all the tropes that one might expect, and there isn’t a lot that makes up for it either, save for one rather mediocre gimmick. It wouldn’t have been too bad as a made-for-TV movie, and might have actually been better as a TV show, but as a feature film, it is very underwhelming.

The story of this film sees the fictional, prosperous kingdom of Ehdan being taken over by the brutal despot Titus Cromwell, who uses the power of the sorcerer Xusia of Delos to take over the kingdom with little opposition. Years later, a young mercenary named Talos, who wields a three-bladed sword that can fire off its extra blades with the push of a button, discovers that he was a prince of Ehdan, and takes on a quest to help the princess Alana rescue her brother Mikah and restore the kingdom, and exchange he will have one night in bed with her.

It is pretty much typical a fantasy yarn, but if there’s anything good about it, it would be the fact that it’s only 99 minutes long, and that’s not saying much, considering the film’s meandering pace. The story is boring, but it’s not tastelessly bad. It’s the kind of writing I would probably expect from a TV show, which is a shame because I haven’t seen many TV shows like it. Not even the few interesting twists (and believe me, there are) can save a mediocre plot from the clutches of its own mediocrity. Also, the three-bladed sword literally across as a pointless gimmick. I’m a connoisseur of fantasy, and even I can’t suspend my disbelief for this, and if a sword that fires extra blades like missiles doesn’t convince a fantasy nut, you know you’ve failed.

The characters aren’t too convincing either. The hero of the story comes across as the producers’ attempt at creating a knock-off Han Solo and failing. Given that the man playing him, Lee Horsley, had plenty of experience as a TV actor, his character might have worked better on TV than on film. I can say the same thing for the other characters, who seem to have been written rather lazily as clichéd stock characters. The acting is fairly decent, but it’s the at least they’re trying kind of acting, and it’s not that hard to tell in this film.

The special effects aren’t too bad, but they aren’t exactly stellar either. The film looks and sounds like a made-for-TV production, just with a bigger budget than most. The music sounds rather generic, but then, the action scenes have the same quality, with an added air of ridiculousness. How am I meant to believe that the hero, after being crucified, can muster up the strength to free himself without causing unbearable pain to himself? All in all, while not a terrible disaster of a film, it certainly wasn’t very good either, and it seems more like a disservice to a genre already stuffed with cheap genre films.

  • Score: 58%
  • Grade: D

Liquid Sky (1982)

liquidskyReleased during the height of the new wave era, I thought this artsy peacock of a sci-fi film would be rather interesting, and to be fair it was, but it wasn’t necessarily a good film. It’s essentially a Warholesque art film with an edgy avant-garde ethos in mind, attempting to channel the eerie, coldly futuristic sci-fi films of the 1970’s. It’s quite experimental in nature, and certainly has the makings of a cult film, but while the idea for the film sounded good on paper, it wound up being a rather disjointed, trippy mess in practice.

The film takes its title from the word people in New York used in the ’70’s and ’80’s to refer to heroin, a recurring drug throughout the film. Though it might not seem like it, the film does have a plot. Set in New York City in the early ’80’s, the story revolves around invisible aliens who land their spaceship atop the roof of a drug dealer named Jimmy and his lover Margaret, a promiscuous fashion model. They came in search of opiates like heroin, but eventually found the pheromones released in the brain during orgasm more preferable, and start feasting on Margaret’s casual lovers. The bizarre series of events that ensue are observed by a woman living across the street, an androgynous male role model, and a German scientist working to solve the mystery.

This sounds like a rather interesting premise, and it wouldn’t have made a bad sci-fi novel, but the problem is that the film moves a rather slow pace, with a disjointed plot in tow. A lot of the story seems to have been buried in drugs, sex, low-grade special effects and hip new wave fashion. In other words, it’s a prime example of a film that’s more style than substance, not that the substance made a whole lot of sense.

The characters weren’t terrible, and in fact, I liked Anne Carlisle’s dual role performance (which, in retrospect, might have been cast due to the film’s low budget), but I found that most of the characters acted like high school kids in a drug-induced clique. Sometimes the characters were a bit soft spoken, and Anne’s performance might have been a bit corny at times, but in an overall sense, at least the acting wasn’t terribly campy.

Right off the bat, this is a film that focused more on how it looked and sounded than the writing and acting, but on a budget of only $500,000, it looks as if it might have looked great in 1972 rather than 1982 (it may yet have had a shot of edging out the competition back then). The costumes actually like quite nice, even if they can be a little too over the top. The special effects make the film look like you’re looking at the film while doped up on drugs, but most interestingly, they’re mainly used when the aliens are looking at the human characters, and conveys the sense of psychedelic overwordliness. Too bad this wasn’t the 1960’s, otherwise it would have been a smash hit.

If anything was a miss, it was the music, composed on a Fairlight CMI. The opening song, which is repeated throughout the film, sounds like a bad video game track from the late 1980’s, but at least you’ll get used to it. The rest of the soundtrack actually conveys a nice atmosphere, but I still get the impression that the producers cut corners everywhere, and the end result, suffice it to say, is a less than stellar film that falls well short of its dreamy goalpost.

  • Score: 61%
  • Grade: C

The Ninja Wars (1982)

Iga_ninpochoThis next film was a very interesting choice for me. As far as foreign action films go, this film was quite a good one, with its blend of historical fantasy and martial arts action. Of course, since the film doesn’t have subtitles (or more accurately, because of my failure to find a dubbed or subtitled version), it is quite difficult to follow the story, but I gave it a try.

From what I could gather, a fortune teller has predicted that whoever marries the beautiful Ukio shall rule the world. Naturally, she attracts the attention of men vying for power, but none more so than the voraciously power-hungry Lord Donjo. Only the ninja Jotaru can stop him, but he must fight Donjo’s team of servants.

If you’re watching the original non-dubbed version, the main ways to follow the story are to either read up the synopsis on the Internet (which won’t serve you well), or pay attention to the way the characters act. You’ll see a lot of crazy sights in the film, including a ninja who attacks by spewing vomit which turns into foam (and who said you couldn’t be creative?), a magic soup that makes people horny (at least I think that’s happening), and a mannequin of Ukio that simply loses its head (it even looks like a mannequin’s head in the film).

Honestly, I thought it was really good despite not being able to fully understand what on Earth was going on. It’s the spectacle that was the most entertaining part, and that ultimately is how films like this can defy the language barrier. I also liked the acting to a certain extent. Of course the lines are all spoken in Japanese, but it was nice to hear the original language, and it’s certainly better than having a poorly translated dub over the original film (though that actually might have generated some accidental humour). Still, it would have been nice to have the option of subtitles available.

The film has very good production values on its side, with some really nice special effects from start to finish. I find that the film’s setting is very aesthetically pleasant, and most of the props look very good, though there are a few practical effects, such as the aforementioned mannequin head, look a bit fake. Apart from that, the visuals are very well-done. The action scenes are very well choreographed as well, with amazing fight scenes throughout the film, but there aren’t too many action scenes. There’s a nice mix of plot and action, in a similar fashion to other fantasy films, but I find that this film has a certain kind of character that makes it unique.

I actually like this film quite a bit, although I do think that there are ways in which there’s room for improvement, and I do wish I could have found a quality English dub. Other than that, I enjoyed the film very much, and would recommend this film to any film enthusiast looking for something different.

  • Score: 74%
  • Grade: C

Cat People (1982)

Cat_People_1982_movieRight from the beginning, this film seemed like a very interesting film, and in all honesty, it is. I’ve heard that this is a loose adaptation of an older film of the same name, but I’m not here to compare the two, especially since I find this one more interesting. This film tries its best to be a different kind of horror film, with a narrative centring on a kind of mystique, and with an approach that emphasizes on skin rather than blood. That being said, however, despite the director’s best efforts, the film finds itself in a bit of a bind in terms of direction. As a horror film, it’s way too subtle to yield any direct chills, which would have worked well alongside its subtler fare, but its biggest problem is the plot.

It opens with a scene that shows a woman being sacrificed to a leopard, and eventually transitions into the modern day setting, and for a time, the plot is pretty hard to follow. Eventually, you start hearing about the race of werecats, which explain the various leopard-related killings seen throughout the film, and even then, it’s a good concept, but it’s not executed very well. In this regard, I think this is because the film hides too much of what you might need to know. On the plus side, the film paces itself for long enough to create a level of intrigue that drives the plot forward. In a sense, the film is driven by mystique, and it’s filled with surprises along the way, including the film’s unexpected ending.

The characters deliver good performances, but they don’t do a lot to grab attention. The film’s two lead characters, however, outperform all the others in the film, delivering splendid performances that are often as slick as the feline forms they often assume. In a way, this illustrates the overall character of the film – slick yet animalistic. This quality is also illustrated in how the film presents itself. The production values are fairly standard stuff for their time, but the film truly shines when day turns to night. The film also sports a lovely electronic soundtrack that creates a nice atmosphere for the film. Of course, the film opens with the signature song “Cat People”, composed specifically for the film by David Bowie, whose music and vocals set a haunting mood for the opening scene of the film.

One other thing that interests me about the film is its blending of horror with erotic fiction. This approach attempts to bring out a sense of primal, animalistic energy, and this was even reflected on the film’s tagline (“an erotic fantasy of the animal in us all”). I’d say they’ve accomplished this with a lot of subtlety, to the point of it being artsy. I could also argue that the film’s use of nudity as a primarily symbolic element is another accomplishment, especially as it is contrasted with the sudden gore scenes. It’s very stylish and artsy, but it suffers because it’s too subtle, and if you look at it seriously, it tends to come across as quite ridiculous softcore porn.

  • Score: 68%
  • Grade: C