PLEASE NOTE: The movies reviewed in From Here to Obscurity have either never been given an official VHS or DVD release, have been released on VHS but are long out of print and very hard to find, or are readily available in some form but have generally gone unnoticed by most of the general public.
Starring Pierre Kirby, Edowan Bersmea, Danny Ravebeck
Directed by Godfrey Ho
With this weekend being the American release of the long-in-the-works South Korean giant monster epic Dragon Wars (review) I decided what better time than now to dig out my old “From Here to Obscurity” column and tell you all about another deliriously incomprehensible giant monster movie from Asia made by a director known for being quite the insane hack: Thunder of Gigantic Serpent.
From what little information I’ve been able to find, Thunder of Gigantic Serpent was made in Hong Kong back in 1980, but for whatever reason it wasn’t released until 1988 – and seemingly only in parts of Europe, in some places under the alternate title of Terror Serpent. The film’s year of origin is still a matter of debate. Real obscure is this one. I do know this little known ditty comes to us from Hong Kong uber hack Godfrey Ho, a filmmaker known for splicing together random footage from TV show and movies he’s acquired in order to create truly hackneyed works of art that he then releases as an entirely new film with English dubbing that makes the typical old school Godzilla movies’ sound positively Shakespearean. Zombie vs. Ninja? Robo Vampire? Do those ring any bells?
Whether or not Thunder of Gigantic Serpent is another one of Ho’s cut & paste jobs or just one of the least lucid films ever assembled I cannot say, but I can attest that it most definitely plays like three movies in one. Movie #1 is an insipid and surprisingly violent spy film about an evil terrorist out to steal this super formula that will help him take over the world and the only thing standing in his way is an American super agent. Movie #2 is a combination Lassie-style “child with an animal for a best friend” family movie. These two storylines converge into movie #3: essentially a Japanese giant monster movie. Who was the target audience supposed to be for this?
Things get off to an auspicious start when the first scene following the opening credits is of a thunderstorm causing a massive snake-filled mudslide. This sequence has absolutely nothing to do with anything that follows.
After the brief bit of nonsense, we’re then introduced to Solomon, the world’s most dangerous terrorist, who from looking at his clothing clearly knows the softer side of Sears. Solomon is introduced shooting soda cans for target practice, another thing that doesn’t exactly evoke menace. He orders his henchmen to retrieve “the formula” and begins cackling like a madman.
Jump to the bedroom of a young girl by the name of Ting Ting or Tintin, depending on which poorly dubbed character was saying her name. For the sake of argument, let’s just call her Ting Ting. She’s sitting on her bed with a snake she’s found and knitting it a bow while trying to decide on a name. She’s rejects Fluffy and Charlie before deciding on Mozlah or Mozzler, again depending on who says it. I’m just going to go with Mozlah. How she goes from Fluffy to Charlie to Mozlah is something I’d like to know. She asks the snake if it likes the name Mozlah and (I swear I’m not making this up) the snake perks up and nods its head in approval. Take my word for it when I tell you this Ting Ting is one of the shrillest, most obnoxious, little rugrats in film history. Just wait.
Meanwhile at some military laboratory, scientists are discussing “the formula.” At no point is any attempt to actually explain “the formula” aside from it looking like a Plexiglas fish tank with some electrodes inside it. The scientists place a tiny frog inside the tank and turn on “the formula”. A few electrical flashes later and suddenly the frog glows blue and grows to the size of a small dog. The scientists celebrate. This will benefit mankind and/or the military how?
All soldiers in this film wear camouflage fatigues and snazzy red berets. Too bad they didn’t pack body armor; Solomon’s goon squad guns down everyone wearing a snazzy red beret. No one in the film can just get shot and die either. You almost never see any bullet holes or blood when someone gets shot but you will see that person have some super seizure before falling dead and/or performing an exaggerated flip of some sort. One dude will get shot in the chest by a machine gun and die doing a forward flip with a couple extra rotations into a swimming pool. Up yours, physics!
Every scientist also gets shot dead except for one female lab assistant named Lynn who jumps into a car with “the formula” and makes a break for it. A hillside car chase straight out of an early Seventies TV cop show follows. She tosses the box out the window and ditches the car seconds later. Good thing she did, too, because the car explodes even before it goes over the side of a cliff. The goon squad pulls up and decides to go down and sift through the wreckage because they’re sure “the formula” is fireproof. They don’t even know what it looks like yet they’re positive it’s fireproof?
Ting Ting will find “the formula” on the side of the road and decide it would make a great new tank for her pet snake. Can you guess what happens next? Mozlah begins glowing, then growing and springs out of the tank 15-feet long – now brought to life through the magic of bad puppetry. Startled, Ting Ting questions Mozlah as to what happened and the snake either shakes its head or nods in agreement depending on the question. Too big to keep secret in the house, she drags the snake out to the shed with a dog leash while it makes an odd screeching sound akin to that of a tropical bird. This snake doesn’t hiss, it chirps.
You know all those kid and their pet movies where the two frolic and bond? Well, after Mozlah helps Ting Ting defeat some neighborhood boys as the sport of downhill skating (Why do their skates have tank treads instead of wheels and wear can I get a pair?) it’s off to the beach for some mind-blowing antics.
Ting Ting has a beach ball and she and Mozlah bounce it back and forth with their heads. It’s like a scene from “Lassie” on crack. The music playing sounds like it came from a late Seventies PBS kiddy show. Suddenly, they go from the beach to an abandoned shack. There’s also some Asian guy dressed like Sonny Crockett spying on them from the bushes. Inside this shack, she feeds Mozlah fruit by tossing it into his mouth from across the room. Positively surreal stuff.
Next the two of them are playing hide and seek in and around an old shack. Lightning strikes a tree causing it to topple over onto the shack that then instantly bursts into flames. Next thing you know, you’re seeing the exterior of a flaming diorama shack, a hole erupts in its side, and you very briefly see this plastic-looking snake wrapped around an obvious female action figure literally fly straight into the air to safety. WTF?!?!
Meanwhile, Solomon isn’t happy his goons failed. He’s still not giving up hope of finding “the formula” because he’s “got faith” in his #1 henchman, Billy. An evil terrorist mastermind named Solomon and a right hand man named Billy… Who can stop such evil?
Ted Fast can! He’s young, blonde, Caucasian, and he works alone, which means he’s pretty good. This is confirmed to be true in the following exchange between Billy and Solomon.
BILLY: Boss, they sent a special agent to deal with us.
SOLOMON: Who the hell is the guy?
BILLY: His name is Ted Fast. (Pause) He’s a highly trained specialist. (Pause) And he always works alone.
SOLOMON: He must be pretty good then.
How good? Ted Fast is walking under a bridge somewhere for no particular reason. A van pulls up being driven by two terrorist goons who look a lot like Hall & Oates. They spot Ted Fast despite the fact that up until this point we were given no indication that Solomon even knew what he looked like. I guess he must have ordered his thugs out to track down the only white guy in army fatigues not wearing a snazzy red beret in all of Hong Kong. They’ll prove no match for Ted Fast’s unique style of combat; he tumbles around a lot on the ground before gunning them down. Similar scenes will be randomly sprinkled throughout the movie.
Ted Fast: He doesn’t find danger; danger finds him – usually when he’s taking a casual stroll.
That Sonny Crockett-attired Asian was one of Solomon’s goons scouring the area and he tells the boss about the big snake. Solomon instantly deduces that the big snake must be tied to “the formula” and orders his men to find Ting Ting. You have to give the movie credit; it’s utterly absurd but at least it doesn’t give you time to stop and think much before it moves on to the next bit of absurdity and incoherence.
Lynn is awake in the hospital being quizzed by the military about the location of the formula. She keeps telling them where she ditched it and they keep telling her they didn’t find it. Police Inspector Chow and shows up at the hospital to speak to Lynn and the previous scene repeats itself all over. Four armed thugs arrive to capture Lynn. Solomon sends four thugs to capture an injured unarmed woman in the hospital but only two at a time to kill the super duper Special Forces guy?
Lynn doesn’t give Billy the answers he wanted so he removes his sunglasses in a manner that only someone truly evil could. This was apparently the unspoken signal for the other three goons to just start beating the crap out of her. Inspector Chow saves the day. I wasn’t aware that the Hong Kong police normally carried Uzi’s, but hey … Like Ted Fast, Detective Chow also has a special method for winning gun battles: sneak up behind a guy, get his attention, and then shoot him the moment he turns around. Okay, so not exactly the most heroic way of taking out a criminal, but whatever works.
Lynn then breaks down and confesses her sob story. Turns out she was in on it all along, working for Solomon to help steal the formula. Not only is this subplot completely unnecessary, it makes absolute zero sense. No matter since this is pretty much her last scene in the movie.
The army General, who for some reason has chose this particular occasion to swap out his uniform and snazzy red beret for a business suit, is at Ting Ting’s house questioning her parents about having seen or come across anything unusual in the area. Ting Ting overhears this conversation and realizes the jig is up. Mom and dad are horrified by her giant snake, Solomon and company show up to commit some terrorism, and Mozlah saves the day with some tail fu. Billy still manages to nab Ting Ting. Mozlah gives chase. Oh, and Mozlah is now bulletproof for reasons unknown.
But wait, the terrorists have actually set a trap for the snake because they’re psychic, I guess, and fully expected it to chase them into this field out back. What is the trap? Why they’ve set up a few metal stakes in the ground in a rectangular shape with metallic wires attached so that Mozlah will slither right into the center and get electrocuted. This backfires on them when the electricity causes Mozlah to grow even larger. Mozlah, roaring like an elephant now, does some super-sized tail fu on a couple of hapless henchmen and then Ting Ting rides off on the snake’s back as if it were a pony.
Next we see Mozlah the snake will now officially be Godzilla-sized. Solomon must have had a back-up plan in case a gigantic snake showed up because how else does one explain the fighter plane he orders in? Silly becomes even sillier as the attack plane proves to be a model Cessna that fires lasers. Still no match for giant tail fu though.
Ting Ting gets nabbed by Billy again. Cops… Car chase… Gun battle… As Billy speeds towards the city, Ting Ting yells for Mozlah to save her. Despite being miles away, it hears her and takes off into the nearby river to give chase like Lassie.
Cut to Ted Fast back in his office calling the general and to tell him to break out the army because a giant snake is now on the loose. How does he know about this? He must really be that good.
A major difference between Mozlah and Lassie: Lassie never indiscriminately killed innocent people and destroyed tons of infrastructure when trying to rescue Timmy. First casualty: a bridge and everyone on it. Second casualty: a passenger train on another bridge. Third casualty: a dam is destroyed. Tens of thousands Hong Kong civilians appeared to have been killed in the ensuing flood.
Back out to some country road where Ted Fast comes strolling by on one of his many nature hikes and casually approaches the only other guy on the street, a guy he recognizes as one of Solomon’s men. Ted beats the hell out of the guy and demands Solomon’s whereabouts.
Back in the city, Ting Ting continues screaming for Mozlah to save her. If I were Billy I swear I would have shot her by now just to shut her up. Guess who arrives by water and begins trashing the city Toho-style? To be perfectly honest, the effects here are pretty decent, though this really is a movie made in the 1980s with effects that look straight out of the 1960s. I will say that giant-sized Mozlah is still more realistic looking than the Reptilicus marionette.
A close-up of a still picture of a tank with an explosion effect added to the gun barrel is what passes for attacking tank action. There’s cheap and then there’s this. They must have blown the film’s budget on all those snazzy red berets.
Billy sees a news report about the giant snake heading in his direction but doesn’t care because he’s convinced the military will kill it first. He’s clearly never seen a giant Asian monster movie in his life. Ting Ting then finally gets on his nerves to the point that he slaps the hell out of her. I know I shouldn’t be cheering a grown man smacking around a small girl, but good for him.
Meanwhile, Ted Fast is back in his office sitting at his desk (WHAT?!?!) and calls up Inspector Chow to inform him that Billy has Ting Ting held hostage in the Starlight Building skyscraper downtown. No point with a movie like this to even bother asking how he knew this or how he got back to his desk so fast. I’m also not going to ask how Inspector Chow magically teleported to the building that the snake has begun encircling upwards in a serpentine-like grasp.
Billy is about to do the world a favor and silence this annoying little girl once and for all when Inspector Chow barges in. Judging by the fixed position his body drops dead in, either rigamortis set in instantaneously upon being shot or Billy chose to die while dancing “the robot.” Chow grabs Ting Ting and now it’s a mad dash to get out of the building before the Air Forces goes all King Kong on her pet snake. Once again, she starts screaming Mozlah’s name non-stop. Shut up!
For some reason whenever Mozlah takes a direct hit it lights up like a glow worm. A pilot finally decides to go all kamikaze and rams his jet right into Mozlah’s head causing a huge explosion that decimates the top of the building and sends Mozlah’s corpse crashing to the ground.
Ting Ting runs over and goes into full-on Susan Lucci overdrive begging it not to die. As reality sets it, the little bitch throws the temper tantrum to end all temper tantrums, blaming everyone – mom, dad, the cops, the military, etc. – for conspiring to kill her beloved pet snake, the one responsible for the deaths of untold thousands. She finally collapses into her mother’s arms sobbing hysterically. Inspector Chow then lectures the General about the dangers of scientific experiments that tamper with nature and that they should learn to “trust their local constables”. Say what? Then Inspector Chow punches out the General for costing so many people their lives. Sure. Why not?
But the movie isn’t over because there’s still one last issue to resolve. Ted Fast, now wearing what looks like a snazzy red baker’s hat and the uniform of a fast food seafood employee confronts Solomon in a parking lot leading to a Mexican standoff. Fast even tells Solomon to “make his day.” So, of course, they drop their guns and have a kung fu battle instead. Solomon, the sneaky bastard he is, snatches up one of the guns off the ground and is about to kill our hero when Ted “He must be pretty good then” Fast flings his puffy red beret at him as if it were a ninja star to knock the gun out of his hand and then shoots Solomon right through the heart. Ted Fast kicks his snazzy red beret into the air, catches it, turns, and walks away. He takes all of about two steps when the movie abruptly cuts to a red title card stating that this is “THE END”.
What the hell did I just watch? It wasn’t good but it was definitely something.
2 out of 5
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The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger
Written and directed by Derek Nguyen
Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.
Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.
Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.
Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.
Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.
The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.
Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.
The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.
Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.
Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse
Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins
Written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson
Directed by Peter Howitt
Let me preface this review by stating right off the bat that I’m a huge Gina Carano fan, and will pretty much accept her in any role that she’s put in (are you going to tell her no), regardless of the structure and plausibility behind it, and while that might make me a tad-bit biased in my opinions, just accept it as that and nothing more. Now that I’ve professed my cinematic devotion to the woman, let’s dive headlong into her latest film, Scorched Earth.
Directed by Peter Howitt, the backdrop is an apocalyptic world brought on by the imminent disaster known as global warming, and the air has become toxic to intake, generally leaving inhabitants yacking up blood and other viscous liquids after a prolonged exposure, unless you’re one of the privileged that possesses a filter lined with powdered silver. Filters of water and the precious metal are in high demand, and only true offenders in this world still drive automobiles, effectively speeding up the destruction of what’s left of the planet. Carano plays Atticus Gage, a seriously stoic and tough-as-nails bounty hunter who is responsible for taking these “criminals” down, and her travels lead her to a compound jam-packed with bounties that will have her collecting riches until the end of time…but aren’t we at the end of time already? Anyway, Gage’s main opponent here is a man by the name of Thomas Jackson (Robbins) – acting as the leader of sorts to these futuristic baddies, the situation of Gage just stepping in and taking him out becomes a bit complicated when…oh, I’m not going to pork this one up for you all – you’ve got to invest the time into it just as I did, and trust me when I tell you that the film is pretty entertaining to peep.
While Carano’s acting still needs some refining, let there be no ever-loving mistake that this woman knows how to beat the shit out of people, and for all intents and purposes this will be the thing that carries her through many a picture. There are much larger roles in the future for Gina, and she’ll more than likely take over as a very big player in the industry – hey, I’m a gambling man, and I’ve done pretty well with my powers of prognostication. With that being said, the thing that does hold this picture back is the plot itself- it’s a bit stale and not overly showy, and when I look for a villain to oppose the hero, I’m wanting someone with at least a shred of a magnetic iota, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything with Robbins’ performance – his character desperately needed an injection of “bad-assness” and it hurt in that particular instance.
In the end of it all, I’d recommend Scorched Earth to fans of directionless, slam-bang wasteland pics with a touch of unrestrained violence…plus, Gina Carano is in it, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, feel free to skate on along to another piece of barren territory.
Looking to get your butt kicked in the apocalypse with extreme prejudice? Drive on up, and allow me to introduce you to someone who’ll be more than happy to oblige.
The Good Friend Book Review – A Slasher Story for the Facebook Generation
Written by Marcus Sabom
I’m not usually a big fan of murder mysteries, but Marcus Sabom’s novel The Good Friend has certainly done a lot to make me reconsider my stance on the genre. Sabom, who is currently turning the book into a film, appears to have a real gift when it comes to keeping the reader on the edge of their seat
Usually, if you were told that a book contains an ensemble cast of four central characters instead of one main protagonist, you’d probably lose interest right away because we tend to connect with singular point of view characters more than we do with ensembles. However, Sabom proved me wrong in this regard, because each of the four leading women in The Good Friend were such engaging people with such real problems that I never felt like there were too many characters and plot threads to keep track of.
To give a brief overview of our four principal players, we have Sarah, who wants to be in a meaningful relationship after her asshole boyfriend dumps her, Alana, a slightly older woman stuck in a loveless marriage with a manipulative husband who tries to turn her kids against her, Megan, who has to deal with crazy stalkers, and Rita, who is traumatized by a vengeful psycho named Caleb after he attempts to belittle and humiliate her.
With this being a book set in modern times, they naturally use social media to broadcast their problems to the world. Now, we all know about the dangers of chronicling every step of our lives on social media, but Sabom takes things to a whole other level. Because after the aforementioned women post about their troubles on Faceplace (which is basically Facebook, but with a name Mark Zuckerberg can’t take legal action against), a masked killer begins to permanently put an end to their man problems. Whoever the knife-wielding psycho is, he’s clearly a mutual friend of all the women, because he obviously looks at their posts.
One of the only male characters in The Good Friend who wasn’t a complete asshole was Detective Jack Miller, a cop investigating the case of the misandrous serial killer. Miller is described as occasional leaning towards antinatalism, the belief that people should stop reproducing because the human race should not continue to exist. I’ve also always believed that human beings should stop reproducing because we are beyond saving, so I’m glad that Sabom was able to tap into an area that deserves far more open discussion rather than being a social taboo.
The book itself is just under three-hundred pages in length and uses relatively large text, so most readers will probably get through the whole thing in about three days. Whilst the prose was certainly easy to digest, there were a number of errors and typos that would be painfully obstructive to most of us, the most obvious being that it confuses the phrase ‘couldn’t care less’ with ‘could care less’, which, as you know, means the exact opposite.
However, if you’re looking for a easy to digest murder mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Good Friend is certainly an ideal recommendation. At the very least, the book should teach you not to make negative posts about people on Facebook or other social media sties, because a knife-wielding killer might be looking at your status.
An easy to digest slasher story that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Good Friend serves as a perfect reminder of the darker side of social media.
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