Friday, June 21, 2019

Jumpin' Jiangshi: Robo Vampire (1988)

By Hank Parmer

A Filmark production, produced by Tomas Tang, directed by Joe Livingstone

If there's one thing in this life on which you may safely depend, it's that a title like "Robo Vampire" is guaranteed to pique the interest of cine-masochists.

From the outset, the mind is awhirl with possibilities: Is it a futuristic new breed of vampire who preys on robots? (I'm assuming it would be after their sweet, sweet hydraulic fluid.) Or, in line with the trend toward increasing automation, could it be a robot programmed for bloodsucking? Or maybe, like the Verhoeven film that's clearly being ripped off here, what we have is a vampire who for some unfathomable reason gets cyborg-ized.

But, as a smart-guy Britisher might have phrased it, it turns out the answer is not only crappier than I imagine, it's crappier than I can imagine.

The production opens with two camouflage-wearing, assault rifle-toting Anglos prodding a Chinese prisoner through a littered, weed-choked graveyard. More evidence the groundskeepers have been slacking off: Moldering sarcophagi are haphazardly stacked right out there in the open. One of the Anglos pushes a lid back, offering us a glimpse of the occupant, who appears to have been Caribbean jerked prior to interment.

Their prisoner flinches at this grisly sight. The other Anglo tips the lid off another coffin. This deceased must have been quite the cut-up in his day: He had his final resting place tricked out like one of those nut can gags -- except with real snakes.

Anglo #2 trips and falls over backwards in his haste to scramble away from the vipers someone's flinging out of that casket. He bumps against the lid of a third coffin, knocking it ajar -- but he doesn't notice that puff of dark gray vapor from inside. (Always a bad sign, especially if the cadaver's been holding that one in for a while.)

A withered claw of a hand shoots out of the coffin, grabs the guy by the wrist and tries to haul him inside. Anglo #2 quite understandably freaks, giving him that extra spritz of adrenaline needed to tear himself loose from its hideous clutch.

Out from the casket leaps a vampire!

I should pause here to note a few differences between the Occidental nosferatu and the Hong Kong variety: For starters, this one's rigged out like Fu Manchu, which is reasonable enough, I suppose, given the location, if rather retro. Sure, his decomposing face looks like someone mashed a Greek salad in it, but that's not unknown in European vampire flicks, either. (The decomposition, not the mixed-greens-and-olives facial.)

That somersaulting through the air is a trifle unusual, although not for a kung fu actioner. It's a given  that pumping the creature full of lead won't stop him. But what's truly special is that when this vampire comes to earth, his preferred mode of locomotion is the bunny-hop.


After lifting Anglo #2 (who probably outweighs his attacker by at least fifty pounds) completely off the ground and crushing his larynx, he drops his prey's still-twitching corpse and bounces after the remaining Anglo, his arms held out in front and hands bent down at the wrists like cute little bunny paws.

While their prisoner wisely takes advantage of this goofy distraction to make tracks, the vampire puts the bite on Camo Guy #1. Really puts the bite on him, as in "rips a big chunk of flesh out of his victim's neck with his teeth". Close-up of a paltry smear of soy sauce on Camo Guy #1's neck. Freeze-frame, with title, as the vampire chews on a ragged hunk of raw yet oddly bloodless meat dangling from its jaws.
You got a little something stuck in your teeth there ...

A tragic end indeed, for the "Orange Duck Dynasty" pilot.

True aficionados of Hong Kong B-movies will instantly recognize what we have here as an example of the reputedly popular "Jiangshi" genre, but honestly, up until this moment I had no idea such a creature existed. (And I've watched a fair amount of Hong Kong B's.) The name literally translates as "stiff corpse", while the hopping is supposed to be explained by rigor mortis.

I'll even go so far as to speculate that a Jiangshi might be fairly creepy, if you encountered one in real life, unexpectedly, in the dark. Perhaps better makeup effects, cinematography and staging could have made the creatures convincingly sinister. For all I know, there might be a Jiangshi movie out there in which they're genuinely terrifying. But hoo dawgies, not this steaming pile.

(Fun fact: The traditional Jiangshi garb featured in this cheesefest is that of a Qing dynasty bureaucrat. The "stiff corpse" doesn't actually drink blood, either, but like the alien vampires in that Tobe Hooper film, they drain your lifeforce. Which suggests this legend's originators had a particular ax to grind when they dreamed this monster up, possibly inspired by an encounter with the 16th Century Chinese equivalent of the DMV.)

To continue: A speedy cruiser boat pulls up to a jetty and disembarks a dozen Chinese men, all lugging plain brown paper-wrapped packages.

Making certain everyone understands these are drug smugglers and not some kindly souls dedicated to satisfying the insatiable demand for sex toys, one of the Anglos overseeing this operation opens a carton, removes a bag of white powder and tastes the contents. Convinced it's the real stuff, he waves the bearers on. A squad of plainclothes and camo-clad Anglo cops swoops down to nab these miscreants. But the cruiser, throttle wide open and charging along at close to five knots, manages to make a clean getaway to the open sea.

Cut to Godfather Sarducci, in a dingy basement garage guarded by heavily-armed Chinese henchmen. His two Anglo lieutenants are visibly relieved when, rather than going all Darth Vader on them for losing that shipment, their capo whines, "We've got to find a way to handle Tom, that goddamned anti-drug agent!"

I'll say this much for the guy: He should get high marks for originality, contract-wise. Your run-of-the-mill movie Mafiosi would likely go for the same old same old -- a bomb in Tom's car, kidnapping the guy and fitting him with a pair of cement overshoes. Or a drive-by hit, with hot lead spraying everywhere and a high bystander body count. But no, Sarducci intends to ask his Taoist sorcerer pal to sic his trained vampires on Tom and his men.
"...So... you gonna be havin' a big PROBLEM with dis...?" 

Betcha that god-damned anti-drug agent won't see this one coming! In the meantime, Sarducci concludes they'll need to find a new way to smuggle the heroin.

Clutching another large plain brown paper-wrapped parcel, a Chinese guy hesitantly descends the stairway to a poorly lit and even dingier cellar containing a couple of coffins resting on trestles, and three Jiangshi lined up against a wall. (They must be the new space-saver design.) Strips of paper inscribed with spells to keep the vampires quiet are pasted to the front of their hats.

Anxious delivery guy "Ken" promises he'll build them a new altar, as he throws what I'm guessing is Hell money at the vampires. Loudly surmising they might be hungry, he scatters handfuls of uncooked rice in their general direction. A man dressed in black pajamas and carrying a cooked chicken in a bowl enters the scene just in time to take some rice in the mustache.

He scoffs at his jittery compatriot's antics: "You scare too easy!"

Mustache Guy opens a coffin and adds more packets of white powder to the artistic arrangement already encircling the corpse's head with a heroin halo. He closes the lid, unaware that inside the surprisingly well-lit sarcophagus there's been an ominous transformation of this previously normal-appearing cadaver into another grotty-faced specimen with leathery blue-gray claws for hands.

While he's hiding more packets in the second coffin, 'Stache Guy parks his cigarette on the other casket's lid. His coffin nail disappears -- and in the blink of an eye reappears, stuck in the mouth of a vampire. (Mischievous little buggers, aren't they?) Finished stuffing heroin in with the second corpse, MG then turns back to find his smoke gone.

He rags on Ken, who's been busy lighting a bundle of incense while he thanks the vampires profusely for something or other. (It probably does reek down there, what with these stiffs -- and the corpses must be pretty pungent, too.) "If you wanted a cigarette," demands MG exasperatedly, "why didn't you ask for one?" -- leaving Ken scratching his head.

Ken shrugs, and decides to top up the oil in the lamp suspended above the dormant Jiangshi. 'Stache Guy discovers his chicken is now mysteriously minus a leg and thigh; he's about to accuse Ken of pilfering this, too. But when he sees his coworker standing on a chair to get at that lamp, he warns Ken to be careful: If he starts a fire, that will wake up the vampires.

Neither of these idiots has yet noticed that lit cigarette jutting from the Jiangshi's mouth. Standing on the chair, Ken's crotch just happens to be precisely positioned to get pressed against the cigarette's glowing ember when he leans forward to get at the lamp. Ken tumbles off the chair with a yell, cradling his singed wedding tackle. This was definitely not the day for him to go commando.

That partially-devoured chicken levitates out of its bowl and zooms around the coffins. Lids explode off their caskets amid clouds of smoke. The hitherto resting-in-peace spring from their coffins as Jiangshi, who launch their attack by flinging chunks of cooked chicken with incredible accuracy directly into Ken and 'Stache Guy's gaping mouths, jamming the meat down their adversaries' windpipes.

(Honest: I'm not making any of this up.)

After our wacky supporting characters cough up the chicken chunks, there follows a flurry of semi-intentionally comical kung fu shenanigans as they scrap with the bunny-hopping vampires, until Chinese Groucho arrives to whup some undead ass. Oh, okay, he only spars with them a little, then casually subdues the jumping Jiangshi in mid-rampage by slapping some more of those magic Post-It notes on their hats.

The Godfather's Taoist vampire wrangler samples one of those packets of drugs and instantly deduces the cause of all this commotion: Someone swapped the heroin with rice powder! [cue sad trombone] Well, that certainly explains everything ... If anyone out there is a Jiangshi scholar, perhaps they could fill the rest of us in about WTF just happened.

Godfather Sarducci, with Ken and 'Stache Guy tagging along, meets with the captain of a freighter. The drug kingpin passes along the news that they're going to try another way to hide the contraband, a "variation on the body-smuggling business". The captain doesn't seem enthusiastic about that, but hey, Sarducci's the boss.

Which provides a segue of sorts to a prolonged gross-out interlude in which a scalpel-wielding woman slices open the quivering belly of a freshly-slaughtered bull, stuffs some heroin packets inside the luckless bovine's entrails, then stitches up the gash. (Beef chitlins' -- with a side of smack: So good and so good for you!)

Nighttime: A pair of Sarducci's Anglo henchmen drop by Chinese Groucho's dilapidated temple. He's eager to put one of his pets through its paces for the plainly skeptical wise guys, but first he warns these smirking newcomers to keep quiet, and not show any fear at the vampire's power. As an additional precaution, Groucho hands them wreathes of garlic and a couple of vampire-quelling spell sheets.

The Taoist employs mystic incantations and gestures, pyrotechnics and a feng shui compass with a crazily spinning pointer to roust his vampire out of his comfy casket. The creature begins to stir, but suddenly a brunette swathed in sheer white silk cerements zooms out of the night and interrupts the sorcerous proceedings.

This lady is a ghost. She's righteously cheesed at the necromancer for turning her lover into a "vampire beast", because this will prevent them from being together in the hereafter. Groucho objects: She's from the West and her boyfriend is from the East. (Is he saying their afterlife-styles are incompatible, or is he just bigoted?)

Ghost Lady then gives the audience a quick synopsis of her tragic back story: Despite having christened him with the rather Euro-sounding "Peter", the guy's parents were dead set against his marrying a round-eye. Naturally, the only course open to the lovers was double suicide. (I suppose eloping to Taiwan would have been just too much bother.) At least they could have been with each other in the afterlife, but this meddling Taoist nutball screwed that one up for them, too.

Her only thought now is for revenge! After a bout of mixed magical and martial arts between Chinese Groucho and Ghost Lady, the Taoist is clearly getting the worst of it. He tag-teams with Vampire Peter, calling him out of his coffin to fight his former lover.

"Peter, it's Christine! Don't you recognize me?" she pleads desperately.

But Vampire Peter is in Groucho's thrall, plus for some never-to-be-explained reason he's donned a rubber gorilla mask and a fright wig. Christine has no choice but to grapple with her bunny-hopping erstwhile squeeze in un-deadly combat. This time it's her turn to get smacked down, when Peter employs his supernaturally long tongue to rip her off a second story balcony. (Kinky...) Fortunately, Peter finally recognizes Christine from a birthmark on her exposed thigh -- it may be he has a poor memory for faces.

Groucho isn't pleased when Peter balks at finishing her off -- and just how do you do that to someone who's already a ghost? But his Mafiosi spectators reveal an unexpected soft side: The pudgy one with the undernourished mustache is convinced the two must love each other deeply. Once they're hitched, he's confident they'll follow Groucho's orders. Marrying them ought to be a cinch, he adds, what with the Taoist's magical powers.

Chinese Groucho grudgingly agrees to this happy solution to all their problems, criminal and romantic. He promises he'll start making the preparations for the wedding.

Which is quite a lot to take on, in addition to setting his vampires after Tom and friends. There'll be the guest list and the registry, finding a printer for the invitations, the catering -- a ghost/vampire wedding will doubtless present some unique culinary challenges -- plus the florists, and a thousand other details. At least Groucho already has a spooky run-down temple; he won't need to rent a venue.

Sometime later, the Taoist sorcerer and a couple of henchmen are cruising down a sandy lane by the seaside, in their totally inconspicuous bright red jeep. That goddamned anti-drug agent Tom and three more camo-wearing Anglos block the road. A firefight ensues, with the Taoist going to ground behind some boulders while his bodyguards take ineffectual potshots at the agents. They're soon gunned down, leaving Groucho no resort but to say the secret woid and conjure up his vampires.

First, one of his pasty-faced standard issue Jiangshi appears. It instantly dispatches an anti-drug agent with poisonous gas jets from its robe's voluminous sleeves. If that closeup is any indication, by giving the agent a case of lethally unfortunate skin.

Vampire Gorilla Peter materializes up in a tree, swings down and attacks Tom with the Roman candles hidden up his sleeves. Tom is inundated with a shower of cheap fireworks until the tree behind him explodes, mortally wounding the heroic anti-drug agent. Groucho makes a hasty getaway in the jeep.
"I think that may be his spleen, lodged in his right ear ... Anyone hungry for lasagna?"

Tom's boss is so grief-stricken at the news of his death that he doesn't hesitate to let their doctor do an experimental cyborg job on his employee. In an ultra-modern infirmary equipped with a sparse assortment of vintage '50s and WWII-era electronic gear -- including the all-important plus/minus machine -- Tom gets a new lease on life. (I especially enjoyed the bit where the doc does some welding ... with a sparkler stuck in a screwdriver handle.)

As you might expect, that poster could never prepare the unsuspecting for the underwhelming reality of Tom's Robo Vampire (Killer) costume: a loose-fitting silvered coverall, with breastplate, shin and forearm guards and pointy epaulets all made of padded silver-gray vinyl, topped off by a tinted-plexiglass-visored, silver spray-painted Army/Navy surplus helmet with a padded silver vinyl skirt pop-riveted to the back and a transistor radio antenna stuck on the side.

Tom demonstrates his super-strength by gripping a pair of soldiers' helmets and lifting them off the ground -- and somehow not strangling them with their own remarkably stoutly-fastened chin straps. Then he snaps their rifles in two, picks up a BAR and fires several rounds into the center of an archery target.

(Another fun fact: Peter Weller spent long hours working with an expert from Juilliard to perfect his Robocop movements. I believe this clown may have watched a Michael Jackson video or two during lunch break.)

Chinese Groucho and Richard -- the Vatican Mob soldier who has this questionable attachment to a baggy stone-washed denim vest -- hold a quick confab. They agree someone in the gang has to be tipping off the authorities. Groucho furiously insists all the anti-drug agents must be eliminated.

Answering this plot's desperate call for padding, a pickup full of armed no-goods arrives at a small village somewhere in what we're encouraged to believe is the Golden Triangle. They bust into a church. Their leader smacks the Anglo priest (actually, Anti-Drug Agent Brown) around, demanding to know where the drugs are hidden. This man of the generic cloth swears he hasn't the slightest, but the church invaders soon locate his stash -- by accidentally jostling that unadorned but conspicuously large crucifix. It topples over, hits the floor and cracks open, spilling white powder and packets of horse everywhere. (Dammit, they just had the place swept!)

The boss orders his men to waste Brown, but at that moment Sister Mary Mayhem pops out of the back room and mows them down with her AK-47.
"Transubstantiate this, mofos!"

Anti-Drug Agent Brown tries to escape, but he's shot in the back. Sister Mary dives through a window, does a very professional tuck-and-roll -- which couldn't have been easy in that calf-length robe -- and comes up shooting. She nearly gets away, but sadly, runs out of bullets at a critical moment. Sister Mary (in reality Anti-Drug Agent Sophie) winds up a captive of Sarducci's partner in the heroin biz, the sadistic, rape-y drug lord Yung, and his band of rogue psychoanalysts*.

Back at Anti-Drug HQ, the boss has learned of Brown's death and Sophie's capture. If she breaks and tells Yung what she knows, he predicts that will mean the end of their operation! He orders an underling to arrange for her rescue. This flunky dickers a bit with a vaguely Eurasian mercenary named "Ray" (but never call him "Johnson") who ultimately settles on thirty grand for himself and the services of three other nitwits -- I mean, soldiers-of-fortune.

Godfather Sarducci makes a quick inspection of his drug bagging operation. (He certainly doesn't want another screw-up with the rice powder!) He then orders two of the baggers to come with him, providentially removing himself and a pair of precious Anglos from the premises just before Robo Tom breaks down the door.

"You're under arrest!" the cyborg informs everyone. (It's nice to know the production at least saved enough boxtops to spring for a vocoder.) The guards are momentarily dumbfounded, most likely at Robo Tom's ludicrous getup, but then they raise their Uzis --

-- and the scene does a budget-friendly shift to Chinese Groucho and Richard the vest fetishist, walking up the beach, with some more parcel-bearing lackeys close behind. The smugglers are surprised by three anti-drug agents, which just naturally means it's Jiangshi Time again. (Groucho takes his pets everywhere with him, in a black-lacquered gourd accented with yellow ribbons.) A pasty-faced vampire does its instant-jerky number on the agent who had some lines. Vampire Gorilla Peter disposes of the other two agents in his own more showy fashion.

Robo Tom clomps on screen. Peter shoots more fireworks at Tom; the cyborg agent replies with his Browning automatic rifle. The two blaze away at each other, until a lucky hit knocks Peter down. Groucho and company beat feet; Vampire Gorilla Peter evades Tom's cybernetically-enhanced marksmanship by way of some leisurely log rolling. Evidently Robo Tom doesn't do so well when it comes to leading his target, even a rather slow-moving one.

But I guess Peter must have been just messing with Robo Tom's head, because he abruptly disappears in a puff of smoke. Tom kicks up sand with a few more rounds -- could be they need to tune up his reflexes a bit, too.

So much for the spectacular debut of this super-powered crime-fighter.

Back in the Golden Triangle, Ray and a couple of his mercenary buddies float downriver in an overloaded skiff. Ambushed by Godfather Sarducci and the usual scruffy assortment of ne'er-do-wells, they're forced to take cover in mid-stream behind an entirely inadequate clump of shrubs. Fortunately, Ray's old buddy, dapper, black beret-sporting Andy -- a remarkable number of East Asians in this film sport European first names -- shows up and wipes out most of the bushwhackers in a hail of machine gun fire, though yet again the Godfather gets clean away.

Meanwhile, drug lord Yung gets his twisted jollies by subjecting Sophie to the Chinese water torture. How ... original. With diabolical ingenuity, he's had an overhead leaky faucet installed for exactly this eventuality. (Since Sophie and the spigot are never in the same frame, cynical types might suspect the filmmakers merely intercut some footage of that dripping tap in the washroom sink.)

Back to Ray and friends: He briefs the new arrival about their mission, and shows him a photo of Sophie tied to a chair. But Ray knows Andy isn't just in it for the money, because he has a personal score to settle with Yung. Then they --

Look: Is there any conceivable reason why we should waste any more of our time with this low-rent Rambo, when there's a veritable smorgasbord of screwiness awaiting us with Robo Tom, Chinese Groucho and the Jiangshi? I think not.

Godfather Sarducci, fresh back from the Triangle and accompanied by his Anglo indispensables, watches from hiding as Robo Tom lumbers along the strand. The same beach where it seems like half the scenes in this movie were shot ... probably on the same afternoon.

Suddenly, a wall of fire (actually, more like a garden border of fire, maybe two or three feet high) springs up before our hero. Robo Tom sinks into the sand and disappears. Instead of just striding right through these feeble flames. The guy's supposed to be mostly metal now, right? Or does he have some kind of Frankenstein's monster thing going on with fire?

Whatever. The flames die down and Tom emerges from his sandy spider hole. (That's got to have put some grit in his joints.) He's immediately set upon by a quartet of pasty-face Jiangshi.

Sarducci and his henchmen watch the action -- such as it is -- while the vampires gang up on Tom. First they circle around him for a bit, inspiring much hilarity with their trademark bunny-hopping.
Caption: Ring around the robo!

They then manage to disarm our fearless Robo Vampire Killer with some coordinated gymnastic moves, but he counters with his Jedi powers: The rifle magically flies back to his hands. Tom and the Jiangshi tussle inconclusively for a few moments more, until Sarducci's soldiers put a richly-deserved end to this nonsense with simultaneous shots from a pair of LAWs.

A crude mannequin Robo Tom blows up real good. Since these gangsters seem perfectly capable of fucking Tom up fairly well on their own, why are they even bothering now with Groucho's vampires?

Not so fast: Back at Anti-Drug HQ, they've collected all the fragments of Robo Tom. The doctor ignites another sparkler with his pipe lighter and Tom's welded back together in a trice, none the worse for being simultaneously flambeed and blown to bits by a couple of anti-tank rockets.

At Chinese Groucho's hideout, it's a nice night for a white wedding. The Taoist twit makes mystic passes with an oddball sword that has a basketweave blade, while he mutters incantations and tosses flame powder at candles. The indicator on his feng shui compass points straight up. (Symbolism, anyone?) Casket lids crack open and vent billows of noxious vapor.

Groucho really ought to consider some changes to his Jiangshis' diets.

Ghostly Christine hurtles through the air, close to breaking the sound barrier in anticipation of her long-delayed nuptials with Vampire Gorilla Peter.
(Rumor has it he's a real animal in the sack!) 

(Sorry ... I always cry at weddings ...)

According to the ancient rituals governing ghost-vampire matrimony, Peter enthusiastically waggles his arms up and down as he hops about. Then again, in his place I might react in somewhat the same fashion. Did I mention that Christine's grave gown is so sheer it's almost transparent? She's not wearing a bra, either -- and it appears as if it's a mite chilly on that set.

Peter growls appreciatively. The synthesizer soundtrack switches to '80s porn mode as Christine sways and languidly beckons him to join her in a charming little ghost/vampire pas de deux. The bride skates past the groom while he bounces around and flaps his sleeves even more emphatically in what I'm certain must be the Jiangshi-semaphore equivalent of "Ohhhhh baby!"

Killjoy Robo Tom crashes the wedding just as they conclude the "patty-cake" part of the ceremony, followed by the traditional "ghost-vampire newlyweds flinging themselves to the floor for some frenzied monkey love".

Christine notices Robo Voyeur is watching. She begs him not to kill them before they've had a chance to do the necrophilic nasty -- er, consummate their marriage. Bemused by a quickie flashback to when his girlfriend dumped him, because (all together now) a cop's life is too dangerous, Robo Tom hesitates just long enough for Peter and Christine to vanish in -- you guessed it -- a puff of smoke. (Ummm ... did they just consummate?)

Ghost Lady reappears at the top of a stairway. Her magical grave garment extrudes a tongue of white satin that flows down the steps, wraps itself around Robo Tom's legs and whips him back and forth like a hooked bass. Then she leaps down and pummels him with her flying fists and feet. Hopping mad Vampire Gorilla Peter joins in, and the two of them administer a thorough beating to our crime-fighting cyborg before they triumphantly vaporize. Joined together now in gaseous state, they slip into Peter's coffin. ("If the casket's a-rockin' ...")

Our hero may not be all that effective, but you certainly can't fault his persistence.

Back at the bungle in the jungle, Sarducci leads a gang of thugs in hot pursuit of Andy's spunky assistant/subplot love interest and Ray. The two evade that bunch, but then they're captured by Yung. Water torture all round! They escape with Sophie and link up with Andy, who somehow managed to plant demolition charges all around Yung's headquarters without being noticed. The drug lord and his minions perish in a series of not particularly spectacular explosions.

Returning to Hong Kong -- he must chew up quite a bit of time commuting between town and Triangle -- Godfather Sarducci rages to a gathering of his remaining mob about his latest setback. "Now," he snarls, "I must rebuild my empire!" (Grandiose much, G.S.?)

Chinese Groucho pledges to eliminate Robo Tom and the anti-drug agents. Which is the cue for Robo Tom to be jumped by a couple of Jiangshi while he's patrolling a dark alley. Or maybe he was just looking for a place to vent some coolant. So after that encounter with Peter and Christine, heroic cyborg Tom just picked himself up, dusted himself off and slunk away? Okay, sure.

More bunny-hopping and kung fu as Tom struggles to beat down those rampant stiffies. (I had much the same problem as a teenager**.) I'm assuming from the abrupt cutaway this results yet again in a draw. Later that evening Vampire Gorilla Peter, clearly feeling frisky after all the consummating, plays pranks on Anglo couples frequenting a romantically-lit walkway, as he also carries on a game of hide-and-seek with Robo Tom.

Then Peter heads for the bright lights: He hops across the street in front of the garishly neon-lit "Club Paris", to the stupefaction of several pedestrians. Following this up with a hefty dose of more bonkers bunny-hopping, he lures Tom onto a laughably fake deserted street set.

Let the battle stupide begin!

Popping up on a balcony, Peter twirls fireballs on strings and launches them at Robo Tom. They land nowhere near our hero, and explode. (Although you do see the actor flinch when one goes off.) Then the vampire gorilla goes mano a mano with the cyborg. This continues for a couple of minutes, until a quartet of pasty-face Jiangshi appear and surround Tom, but they're quickly disposed of. Two gangland shooters show themselves long enough to get off a few rounds before Robo Tom blows them away, too.
"Think I'll pick up a sack of sliders when this is over ..." 

Ghost Christine unexpectedly turns on Chinese Groucho, first yanking him into a building with that prehensile sash trick, then dazzling him with her umbrella-fu. The Taoist destroys her parasol with the Bic lighter concealed in the tip of his magic sword, She rips the front of her gown off and tosses it at the Taoist. The silk takes on a life of its own and wraps itself around his head like a famished squid, but Groucho quickly disentangles himself. Ignoring these twin nicely pert distractions, he subdues the raging haunt by speed-painting a mystic symbol between her breasts. He must have run out of paper ...

Groucho then summons up another passel of Jiangshi, who bunny-hop around Robo Tom with exceptional fervor. Though why the Taoist thinks they'll be any more effective than the previous bunch is a mystery. Especially now that Robo Tom appears to have had his reflex and marksmanship upgrades installed, and switched to wooden loads. Shooting crosswise from the hip, he effortlessly pots the circling Jiangshi -- who evaporate in a flash and wisp of smoke when hit.

Kind of makes you wonder what all the fuss has been about. And by now that sappy sorcerer should have known that you can't keep a spirited woman down: Christine appears out of nowhere (she's quite good at that) and fatally scratches the Taoist's cheeks.

Vampire Gorilla Peter hops to the attack; Robo Tom belatedly recalls he purchased the flamethrower attachment for his BAR. It's a rather lackluster spurt of flame, but still sufficient to set the glaringly obvious dummy that's been substituted for Peter (and the rope from which it's suspended) on fire.

Then again, maybe you can only destroy gorilla-form Jiangshi by burning them in effigy. Why not? Makes just about as much sense as anything else in this film. Lone survivor Robo Tom stomps through the smoke and flaming piles of Jiangshi residue.

The End.

And while we're on the subject of flaming piles, this movie spawned not one but two sequels. Is there anything I could possibly say that would top that?

* Okay, I did make that last one up.

** Yes! I've. Made. The. Stiffy. Joke!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Happy Father's Day

By Bill S.
It's Father's Day, and as always, we celebrate the occasion by remembering TV and Movie dads who make us grateful for the one we had. This year I thought I'd take a slightly different approach, by focusing on one TV show, and honoring a film actor who excelled at playing questionable dads. I'll call it the "RiverDuvall" edition.

The men of Riverdale.  An insane mix of Beverly Hills 90210, One Tree Hill and Peyton Place (with just a smidgen of Twin Peaks sprinkled in), Riverdale is one of my favorite current guilty pleasures. (To give you an idea of just how far it strays from the old "Archie" comics, the reigning male sex symbol is Jughead, owing mainly to the casting of Cole Sprouse.) Just about every parent on the show is a hot mess in one way or another, with the exception of Archie's dad Fred (one reason among many why Luke Perry will be sorely missed). Among the show's terrible dads...

Clifford Blossom (Barclay Hope). The father of twins Jason and Cheryl, he earned his money supposedly by selling maple syrup, but that's just a front for drug trafficking, including a substance known as "Jingle-Jangle" (an in-joke reference to a bubblegum pop hit by The Archies). When Jason found out, Clifford killed him. Once his secret was known by the town, he committed suicide. Barclay Hope returned to the series to play Clifford's twin brother Claudius, allowing to play a terrible uncle.

Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos). Don't ask my why I know this, but Mark won the "Choice TV Villain" prize at last year's Teen Choice Awards. Veronica's dad is the richest man in town, and it turns out he's a mob boss intent on owning all of Riverdale. Which is pretty much what we all suspected although in the comic book, although there he didn't have washboard abs and teeth that outshine the sun.

Hal Cooper (Lochlyn Monro). I'd have to recap three seasons worth of storylines to describe how evil Betty's father was, but I'll just bottom-line it for you all: he turned out to be the serial killer known as "The Hood" who'd been terrorizing the town. Which really put a strain on his relationship with Betty.

Edgar Evernever (Chad Michael Murray). The leader of a creepy religious cult known as "The Farm". With the help of his teenage daughter Evelyn, he lured otherwise sensible people into joining by hypnotizing them into believing they were seeing deceased loved ones...and then harvesting their organs for sale on the black market. Edgar's inclusion on this list is debatable though, since we eventually find out that Evelyn is neither a teenager nor his daughter, but actually his wife. Well, one of them anyway.

A while back, I devoted a Mother's Day column to actress Jessica Walter, who played quite a few terrible moms in her career. This year, I thought I'd single out an actor for his portrayal of bad dads: seven time Oscar nominee Robert Duvall. Of course in his six decades long career, he's played a wide variety of memorable characters. Yet it's surprising how often he earned a spot on the Bad Dad list. Among them:

Lt. Col. Wilbur "Bull" Meechum in The Great Santini.  Probably the movie character who leaps to the front of our minds when we think "terrible dad", Bull was a bully, a racist, homophobic, sexist and seemingly incapable of showing any warmth. Who could forget the scene where he bounces a basketball off his son's head? Most of the characters are afraid of standing up to him, which is why we're grateful for his daughter Mary Anne (Lisa Jane Persky), who uses humor to undermine his authority and call him out on his crap. My favorite scene is the one in which she jokingly claims to be pregnant, describing the father, "Rufus", as  a negro, intellectual, pacifist homosexual: "You'll get to like him after awhile, Dad. Dwarfs are easy to like, especially when they're cross-eyed!" Bull is not amused.

Mac Sledge in Tender Mercies. The role that won him an Oscar. Mac is a once famous country star who destroyed his life with hard drinking and hard living. He gets a second chance in life when he meets a young widow with an eight year old son, quitting drinking and finding Jesus. Which is all very nice for him, but what about the people he left behind? He hasn't had contact with his teenage daughter, Sue Ann (Ellen Barkin) in many, many years, and when she tries to re-connect with him, he barely makes any effort. He won't even sing the song he sang to her when she was a child--her one fond memory of him--he pretends not to remember it. (The song in question is "Wings of a Dove", which every country singer knows) Later, we learn the girl has died in an automobile accident. This is heartbreaking for us, and we only saw her for a few minutes. But Mac doesn't seem to register any grief about it. Which is not the case for his ex-wife, Dixie (Betty Buckley). In a movie where everyone--especially Mac--keeps a tight reign on their emotions, Dixie wears them on her sleeve. If Mary Ann called out her dad in The Great Santini, Dixie fills that role here. She suffers a breakdown following Sue Ann's death, and, from a hospital bed, lays into Mac like nobody else would. We'd have liked to see her smack him (he used to knock her around, which why they split up). But I guess her words packed enough punch, because by the end of the movie he's finally able to admit how senseless his daughter's death was. Which means that, just maybe, he won't screw up things with his stepson.

Mr. Childers in Sling Blade. He's not the main villain in the film--that would be Dwight Yoakum's scuzzball character Doyle. In fact he's barely in the film. But as the father of this film's protagonist Karl (Billy Bob Thornton), he was an abusive creep, who may even be responsible for his son's brain damage. He's definitely responsible for the death of his second son, who was born prematurely and was, according to Karl, "no bigger than a squirrel". He gave the baby (wrapped in a bloody towel) to Karl (then about six or eight years old) and told him to "get rid of it", which Karl, afraid of disobeying him, does by burying the baby alive.

Euliss "Sonny" Dewey in The Apostle. Sonny arrives in the Bayou of Louisiana to start a new church and preach the Gospel. His natural charisma brings in a lot of followers--he even wins over a construction worker (Billy Bob Thornton) who'd planned on knocking the church down. He also becomes a local celebrity, appearing on the radio.

Oh, did I happen to mention that the reason he's really in Louisiana is to flee a murder charge in Texas? See, after showing up at his kid's little league game, he beat his wife's lover with a baseball bat, leaving him in a coma (he eventually dies), and attempted to drag his wife home (by her hair), scaring the crap out of the kids. He leaves town, dumps his car in the lake, and destroys all evidence of his past life. When his wife hears him on the radio, she notifies the police, who show up at the church during the service. He asks them to wait until it's over, then proceeds to give a long, long sermon (it's like a filibuster) but finally turns himself in.

Judge Joseph Palmer in The Judge. When he becomes the suspect in a hit and run accident, he seeks the help of his attorney son Hank (Robert Downey, Jr.). One problem: Hank is reluctant to take the case, because he's convinced the judge is guilty. That probably tells you all you need to know about him. (Although Hank does change his mind once he finds out the attorney appointed to his father is Dax Shepherd.)

Robert Duvall is now 88 years old but as far as I know, isn't retiring. He could probably keep playing terrible dads when he's 100. I'm rather looking forward to seeing him, at 100, bouncing a basketball off his 80 year old son's head.

Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there!

Friday, June 14, 2019

When Luvs Become Whatevs

[Borrowed from Sheri's Facebook page]

A deconstruction of the Luvs commerical I have seen 4 million times while watching Tubi streaming TV:

First Child: A mom is interviewing a babysitter. She dismisses the nice applicant with ten years of experience and a Masters in Child Development with a snide "But no Ph.D?", then asks if she can record her on the nanny-cam hidden in the teddy bear.

Second Child: the same mom, now slightly older, hands a baby to a heavy metal teen who has just entered the house, saying "Here's a list of numbers, food is in the fridge, and Bobby likes to paw jewelry, so you might want to lose the nose ring."

The narrator informs us that the parents of second children are more likely to buy Luvs - presumably because they are cheaper, and a diaper is a diaper. "Live and learn and then get Luvs".

But what ad is really telling us is that parents of first kids are anal and annoying. But by the time they have a second kid, parents don't care anymore, and willingly give their kids to random strangers and possible drug fiends. Second kids: ask your parents about this.

Also, we notice that there is no sign of that first kid in the second scene. We can only assume that the tightly-wound mom did something terrible before she lived and learned. But you make the call.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Slumgullion Episode 62: John Wick Meets the Mummy!

Jeff, Scott, and Mary talk about the best movies to watch while you quietly weep and eat ice cream on the couch in your sweatpants, and Mary explains that no, they're wrong, because 1999's The Mummy is the greatest comfort film every made. Then the New Movie Crew checks into The Continental to discuss why John Wick 3 is basically the James Brolin TV series Hotel, except everyone's a murderer.

Oh, and Benevolent and Protective Order of Belarussian Assassins has the worst ticketing system since Delta Airlines.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Post Friday Beast Blogging: The "Welcome to the Factory" Edition

MOONDOGGIE: Ah, hello. You caught me just as I was about to pose for my Andy Warhol-like portrait. Excuse me...

MOONDOGGIE: There. Nailed it.

What do you think, Shadow?

SHADOW: (Sigh) Well...

SHADOW: I know art when I see it. And I ain't seenin' it.