Saturday, February 28, 2009

Azaad (India, 1978)

Dharmendra, why, during the first five minutes of Azaad, do you dress up like a cross between Zorro and one of the Three Musketeers and ride around on a white horse announcing yourself as “Azaad” while smiting evildoers, only to never do so again over the remaining two and a half hours of Azaad’s running time? Are you just trying to fuck with me? If so, nice job. Consider me fucked with.

Ah, but readers (Yes, I’m talking to the readers now, Dharmendra. I’m, done with you. Just go back to making movies in which you totally misrepresent your character during the opening minutes, which is obviously what you’re all about), I think I am wise to Dharmendra’s game. For what Azaad really is, despite being made when Dharmendra was well north of forty, is a coming-of-age story. It is a tale of that inevitable time in a man’s life when he must put aside the things of childhood, -- even if they be something as awesome as a big, floppy D’artagnan hat -- step outside of his familiar confines and into the greater world beyond, where problems cannot be solved simply by flouncing around dressed like the Scarlet Pimpernel, but rather must be pummeled into submission with big, meaty, Dharmendra-like man fists.

You see, at Azaad’s opening, Dharmendra’s Ashok is little more than a rambunctious and conspicuously over-developed village boy. He plays at being a hero in his guise as Azaad, but the degree to which his actions favor the downtrodden is purely incidental. Indeed, the way Ashok uses his brawn to influence events to suit his liking makes him more akin to the typical small town bully. So tired is Ashok’s sister-in-law/mother stand-in of these antics, that she threatens to leave him, until he himself decides to strike out on his own. Hopefully the wider world beyond the village gates will offer obstacles more in scale with his heroic ambitions than did the village, where we have so far only seen him dedicate an inordinate amount of swashbuckling razzle dazzle to the simple task of derailing a marriage between a young woman and a very old and creepy man.

And so Ashok moves to the Big City and takes a job in a factory run by Thakur Ajit Singh (Ajit). Ajit Singh has a haughty and headstrong niece, Seema, who is played by Dharmendra’s wife, Hema Malini, and Ashok is quick to fall for her. Not one to be P-whipped, however, Ashok must first, before properly wooing Seema, teach her how to be a woman by kidnapping her and forcing her to do all kinds of humiliating domestic tasks – much as Dharmendra did so charmingly with Zeenat Aman in Dharam-Veer. This treatment may explain why, by the time of Jaani Dost a few years later, wifey was playing Jeetendra’s love interest while Dharmendra was paired with Parveen Babi – which, come to think of it, would probably have had very little deterrent effect in terms of Dharmendra’s behavior.

Of course, Ajit Singh is ultimately revealed to be behind everything bad that has ever happened to anyone within arms reach of Azaad. Not only is he responsible for the murder of Ashok’s brother, but he is also keeping Seema’s father doped-up and locked away in a tower, making himself the executor of his brother’s vast fortune under the false pretext that he’s gone mental. Ajit is also guilty of having as a son Prem Chopra in one of his most hysterical performances as a craven, preening daddy’s boy. And of being a drug dealer. Ultimately all of the above puts Dharmendra in opposition with Ajit and Prem, a state of affairs which calls for much backflipping, slapstick-tinged dishoom dishoom, and, apparently, at one point dressing up in a mangy-looking bear costume.

Ultimately, and pretty much out of nowhere, Ajit and Prem let loose with the “Machine of Hell”, an elaborate death trap whose tantalizing description over at Banno’s blog lead to an uncontrollable epidemic of bloggers suddenly forcing themselves to watch Azaad even if their blogs had nothing to do with Bollywood or even movies at all. Seriously, Azaad, in addition to being covered by me, Memsaab and eventually Beth (right, Beth?), has also been the subject of lengthy posts over at The Huffington Post, Jezebel, Daily Koz, Miley Cyrus’ MySpace blog, Bob Friendly’s Fly Fishing Corner and Angry Black Bitch. I kid you not! (Okay, maybe a little.) Banno’s description of this particular set piece was also the inspiration for my post Masala Death Trap!, in which I described the spiked ball and sculpted panther head-based torture spa featured in the Dharmendra and Mithun starrer Main Balwaan.

I’ve got to say, however, that Azaad’s Machine of Hell makes the Main Balwaan death trap look conservative and highly practical by comparison. In fact, it’s difficult for me to even describe what the Machine of Hell, in all of its complexity, actually entails, or even what exactly the intended effect of many of its mechanized depredations are. I do know that there was one psychedelically lit chamber that looked like something out of a late Avengers episode, and that its perils seemed to derive from the fact that it rocked back and forth, dislodging millions of empty bottles from the ceiling that then crashed down both onto the floor and whatever people were unfortunate enough to be occupying the room at the time. It all looked like it would be extremely troublesome to set up again once it had done its thing, but perhaps there was some kind of automated system suited to that task, like a pin re-setter in a bowling alley, only much, much more complicated and really expensive. There was also a room that combined those two death trap staples, spiked balls on chains and an acid pit, to nice effect, and a tunnel kitted out with spinning saw blades on sticks just like in Jugnu that lead to a giant spinning rotary blade at the end. And then Dharmendra wrestled a stuffed dog and somebody said something about Dharmendra being a dog’s body deep inside.

And… what? Where was I going with all this again? Oh... okay. To tell the truth, I really don’t know what, in the end, Azaad tells us about what it means to become a man. The movie may, in fact, just be a case of someone setting out to make a movie about a man in a flouncy hat and mask and then (a) hitting their head on a rock and getting amnesia, while at the same time losing every existing copy of whatever script had been written, and hence forgetting both what kind of movie they had set out to make and how to operate a projector so that they could go back and watch the footage they had already shot, (b) losing the flouncy hat and mask or having the dog pee on them or something and not wanting to pay for new ones, or (c) getting distracted by a shiny object. You pick.

Postscript: I fell asleep halfway through Jaani Dost….

…and when I woke up, Dharmendra and Jeetendra were running around in these sort of Japanese superhero costumes and each referring to themselves as “The Lion King” while the action had shifted to a tribal area where the bad guy was using giant fishing nets to kidnap truckloads of minstrel-show natives to use as slave labor. None of these developments were foreshadowed in the ninety minutes of the film that I saw before nodding off. There was also all of a sudden a chimpanzee playing a dual role as both male and female chimpanzees who were in love. Having recently overdosed on TV news, I now, whenever I see a chimpanzee – be he in a fez and blazer or a sari – can only imagine it trying to rip my face off. (Pedro would at least shoot you first.) So, yes: Dharmendra is definitely – de-fi-nite-ly – trying to fuck with me. Personally.

Dharmendra, dude, I still love you, but it’s time for us to take a little break.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It came to bury Caesar

American International Pictures can be credited with creating a good few films that are today considered genre classics, as well as some films that are extraordinary solely for the fact that, given the circumstances of their production, they were even made at all. As far as AIP’s ventures into the Blaxploitation arena go, 1973’s Black Caesar definitely falls within the former category, while its sequel, that same year’s Hell Up In Harlem, serves as a perfect example of that last mentioned type of film. Read my full review, just posted over at Teleport City.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Election shocker: Obama out, Slumdog Millionaire new U.S. President

Amid a national wave of self-recrimination, Americans corrected the grave mistake they made back in November and named Slumdog Millionaire as their new president. This development comes on a day when millions of American husbands came home to the news that their wives were divorcing them to marry Slumdog Millionaire. While Slumdog Millionaire itself was unavailable for comment, Anil Kapoor could be seen jumping up and down and furiously trying to high five anyone within reach. As we eagerly await the Broadway stage version of Slumdog Millionaire, the TV series Dancing With the Slumdog Millionaire Stars, and, of course, Disney's Bombay Slum Chihuahua, all of us here at 4DK would like to welcome the benevolent dictatorship of Slumdog Millionaire. Hail, Slumdog Millionaire!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Love and Murder (India, 1966)

Love and Murder is a rough-edged, fast paced and ever-so-slightly sleazy little Bollywood B thriller that satisfyingly combines noirish stylistic flourishes with elements of the James Bond movies. If you're going to crib, you might as well do it from the best, and Love and Murder certainly cribs well, also pilfering here and there from the German Krimi thrillers and even Clouzot's Les Diaboliques. The addition of a classic femme fatale turn by Helen and an appearance by a mysterious killer in a skeleton suit almost compensates for the fact that the print from which the M.H. One VCD was made looks like it spent a good deal of time marinating on the bed of a stagnant lake.

When it comes to reviewing these un-subtitled old Bollywood B Movies, you pretty much know by now that it's going to go one of three ways with me -- unless, of course, it's a stunt movie, in which case I'm just going to rate it based on how many times Dara Singh punches a dinosaur. I'm either going to conclude by saying that I liked the film and wish that someone would put it out on a decent quality DVD with English subtitles, that I hated it and doubt subtitles would do anything to improve it, or that the lack of subtitles made it so difficult for me to figure out what the hell was going on that I can't make a judgment one way or the other. In the case of Love and Murder, however, not only did the film's plotting seem to conform to some pretty familiar formulas, but I also had a fairly detailed synopsis that I acquired from the database at the ever-reliable Indian Filmtrade.com. So, sadly, the only thing that really muddled my comprehension was the fact that the already distressed-looking film became little more than a ghost of itself during the final reel, making it almost impossible to discern the action that was taking place.

Now, I've said before that I generally don't mind signs of age on a film; Just as old records should have their skips and pops, old movies should have their telltale scratches and fades, not to mention that seeing a film in that condition makes me feel like I'm beating the odds by being able to see it at all. Still, in the case of Love and Murder, the fact that these defects got in the way of actually following the picture was frustrating. I also have to say that the film's heavy reliance on chiaroscuro compositions and dramatic uses of light and shadow leads me to think that it would be a minor wonder to behold on a fully restored print.

Love and Murder starts with a daring night-time bank robbery that, fortuitously for the four robbers involved, takes place at the same time that some kind of wild block party is being held on the street outside. In a very nicely staged scene, the Hindi rock and roll number being played by the band crescendos just as the thieves dynamite the safe, with the tantric -- and very Laxmi Chaiyya-ish, I must say -- go-go dancing of the teenage partygoers reaching a crazed fever pitch. Unfortunately for the robbers, one of their number, Kedar, manages to make off with the plunder -- a fortune of twenty lacs -- and hightail it out of town. This does not please the robber's boss, an unseen "Mister Big" who speaks to them from behind a giant hypno-wheel with a blinking eyeball at its center, and the three remaining men are ordered to find the loot or else. Unknown to the men, their boss also assigns his right-hand woman, the dancer Julia (Helen), to tail after them and make sure they get the job done.

Meanwhile, Kedar shows up in Bombay at the home of his innocent sister Geeta with promises of a bright future ahead. Unfortunately, the other thieves arrive in town right on his heels, and Geeta soon finds her brother drowned in the bathtub. The thieves are unable to find the stolen money, however, and conclude that Geeta must have hidden it. At this point, a mysterious stranger named Ranjit shows up, surprising the crooks with his knowledge of their scheme. Made a member of the gang, Ranjit then sets out to woo Geeta, somehow managing to spirit her away to a resort called the Rainbow Hotel, which is run by Ruby, another gang accomplice. The rest of the gang is there, too, of course, and it is not long before, one-by-one, they start to turn up mysteriously murdered.

Love and Murder's musical score consists almost entirely of needle-dropped cues from John Barry's Goldfinger soundtrack, a quite common occurrence in Indian -- and Cantonese and Turkish -- B movies of this period. One departure from this is a whimsical scene that's accompanied by "Baby Elephant Walk". All of this comes off as a bit jarring, because, due to both the techniques used and the condition of the film, it looks like it could just as easily have been made in the thirties or forties, and the background tunes are often the only thing that clue you in to its true vintage. This is far from a complaint, however, because I loved how the movie combined old fashioned elements of the "old dark house" mystery genre and classic noir style with more contemporary touches, and this clash of sound and vision just served to accentuate that mix. As for the foregrounded tunes, O.P. Nayyar's song score is pleasant enough and, most importantly, provides the opportunity for a couple of great dance numbers by Helen.

An obscurity like Love and Murder probably isn't on the top of anyone's list of films to hunt down and restore, but it's nice to dream. The movie's tale of an innocent trapped in a den of scoundrels is told with enough style and effectiveness to show that, despite its poverty row roots, a considerable amount of care went into its making. To my mind, it would be nice to see that care rewarded with a little retroactive TLC. Until then, we'll just have to use our imaginations to fill in Love and Murder's gaps, while trying to get the most out of what there is left of it to enjoy.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Friday's best pop song ever

Just sorry it's too late for Valentines Day

Oh, Japanese sex movies, if there ever comes a day when I feel like I've got it all figured out, I know you'll still be there to mystify and confuse me. Read my full review of S&M Hunter, just posted over at Teleport City.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Aerial City 008 (Japan, 1969)

The marionette adventures of British television producers Gerry and Sylvia Anderson were probably nowhere more popular than they were in Japan, where the Anderson's Thunderbirds still enjoys a Star Trek level cult following to this very day. The Japanese themselves were also known to take a crack at this peculiar genre themselves, with the most widely known example being Go Nagai's early eighties puppet effort X Bomber, which was aired in the UK under the title Star Fleet. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that such series were simply an attempt on Japanese producers' parts to bite the Anderson's distinctive Supermarionation style. Japan, after all, had a long tradition of marionette theater, and also had a history of puppet-driven sci-fi themed TV series that paralleled that of their British counterparts.

The chief creative force behind such series was Kinosuke Takeda, a master of traditional Japanese puppetry who, along with his Takeda Puppet Troupe, created Japanese television's first marionette space adventure, Spaceship Silica, in 1960. He would next go on to collaborate with Astro Boy and Kimba creator Osamu Tezuka on Galaxy Boy Troop (Japanese title: Ginga Shonen Tai), which combined marionettes based on Tezuka's character designs with cell animated exteriors and action sequences. But Takeda's most elaborate effort in this arena -- and the one most clearly influenced by the Anderson's series, in particular Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet -- was 1969's Aerial City 008, a full-color series chronicling the adventures of a family living in a futuristic early 21st century megalopolis.

From the little I've seen of it, Aerial City 008 seems to neatly present the flipsides of human endeavor in much the same manner as Thunderbirds, with the technological wonders of the future being employed to clean up the messes left behind by some of the race's more ill-advised stabs at progress. In Thunderbirds, for example, you might recall that the titular rescue organization had to deal with the consequences of such crack-brained schemes as trying to move the Empire State Building on rails and launching a manned space probe to the sun. In that spirit, Operation Spring, the one episode of Aerial City that I've been able to get my hands on, chronicles the outcome of an international project that has the unfathomable goal of turning Winter into Spring. Predictably, that outcome is complete global catastrophe, with earthquakes rocking cities, hot magma vomiting up from the bowels of the Earth in all kinds of inconvenient places, and uniformed functionaries losing their shit as, all around them, sparks and steam shoot out of blinking control panels.

More close to home, the environmental meltdown has lead to an atomic cruise ship bearing the two youngest members of the series' central family, the Oharas, being trapped between two gargantuan ice bergs. It is now up to the botched project's participating nations -- each represented by a broadly stereotyped puppet representative (the Irish delegate dresses like a leprechaun and rides a bright green scooter, to give just one example) -- to combine their technological know-how to effect a rescue. Thus is a vast armada of futuristic hardware, including everything from super submarines to fanciful airships with propellers coming out of everywhere, set into action, racing against time to save the hapless passengers before the ship's damaged heating system leads to them dying of frostbite.

I have the sinking feeling that Operation Spring may be all that survives of Aerial City 008, which is a real shame, because, from what I've seen, it's an overwhelmingly charming exercise in retro futurism. Despite the dark aspects of its storyline, the show's whimsical 21st century cityscapes, neat gadgets and gizmos, and bright, candy- coated color schemes pop with all the optimism of a 1960s world's fair "kitchen of tomorrow" display. Perfectly capturing this spirit is the show's swinging, club-poppy theme tune -- composed by none other than Isao Tomita -- which would be right at home on a Pizzicato Five album.


Watch AERIAL CITY 008 (1970) | View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Masala death trap! Main Balwaan

A few days back, during a discussion with Beth and Memsaab (and House, I think you were there, too -- or was it all just a wonderful dream?) of a mysterious film that turned out to be Azaad, I mentioned my hazy, booze-addled memories of seeing a film starring Dharmendra and Mithun that featured an elaborate, Mouse Trap game-style death trap. It turns out that film was 1986's Main Balwaan. And so, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the first installment of Masala Death Trap!

This installment's death trap is demonstrated to fine effect during Main Balwaan's opening credit sequence, during which a hapless trio of policemen are caught trying to infiltrate the hideout of bad guys Dhapat and Jacky Jackal.



First, the stairway gives out underneath our victims' feet, depositing them in the proper starting position.



At which point a giant spiked ball rolls down a ramp toward them, squishing all who are unfortunate enough not to be able to scurry out of the way.









Just to be thorough, the ball then ascends to the top of an opposite ramp, ready to make a return trip in the event that any stragglers are left behind.



For those who were able to evade the ball, there are two giant gears that descend from the ceiling to squish them. Everyone must be squished!



After which they are deposited onto a bed of spikes.



As if this torture wasn't in itself sufficiently brutal, what we next see is this:


Nahiiin!

To tidy things up, we then have a bunch of wall-mounted, flame-throwing sculpted panther heads to reduce the victim's body to ash.





Now, for those lucky enough to escape all of the foregoing, what awaits them is a devilish hall of mirrors.



Which the villain has stocked with mannequin versions of himself...



...all equipped with knives sticking out of the back to stab any overly affectionate soul who might try to hug them.



Of course, at Main Balwaan's conclusion, the combined power of Mithun and Dharmendra is enough to punch the death trap into submission...



...though not before it has taken many innocent lives, not to mention caused us at home to laugh more than we thought we ever could at the spectacle of bodies being ground to a pulp by giant busy box gears.



And thus concludes this installment. Please note that Masala Death Trap! is not a copyrighted feature of 4DK, which means that any of you bloggers out there who want to contribute your own entries should feel free, and are encouraged, to do so. Just please don't forget to include the exclamation point. That shit is essential.

A brief note (honest) on Dollhouse

Dollhouse: It's Joe 90 with boobs! I'm going to give this series the benefit of the doubt and stick with it for a few episodes. For one thing, I expect that Joss Whedon fully understands the pitfalls both of having a main character with no personality and of having star/producer Eliza Dushku play that role, and that he has more up his sleeve than was evident in the pilot episode. Dushku was great amid Buffy's large ensemble cast, but, perhaps unfairly, I'm skeptical of her ability to carry this series, especially when having to convincingly portray the wildly varying personae that the premise seems to require that her character be inhabited by. But by far the most negative aspect of watching Dollhouse -- one that's no fault of the series itself -- was the lame "come and get it, boys" promos featuring Dushku and Terminator's Summer Glau that Fox pushed at every commercial break -- as compelling an argument for me finally breaking down and getting Tivo as there has ever been. Clearly the network is aiming this series not only at horny teenage boys, but specifically at those horny teenage boys who are home at 9pm on a Friday night. I think a co-sponsorship by Kleenex and Lubriderm would nicely complete the package.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Feeling link-ish

Over on Tars Tarkas’ blog, Tars has posted a very handy overview of the Cantonese “Jane Bond” films of the 1960s, a great resource for anyone interested in that genre of delightfully rough-edged but nonetheless charming costumed heroine movies, many of which have sadly been lost to the ages. In addition to his own well-researched words on the subject (which include a review of Connie Chan’s Lady Black Cat), Tars has also linked to a number of other reviews, including ones written both by myself and by my pal Dave over at Soft Film.

And speaking of Soft Film: I’ve mentioned over one million times now my fondness for old school fantasy wuxia films in which people are shown shooting cartoon lightning bolts out of their hands, and Dave has posted a sizeable clip from the 1964 Cantonese wuxia Buddha’s Palm that consists of pretty much nothing but. I especially loved how the actors are underselling the move in this example, being all like, “Ho hum, just hold up your hand and apparently someone’s going to draw some kind of a cartoon ghost or something coming out of it in ‘post’, or whatever we call it here in 1964.” Of course, this movie should not be confused with the Shaw Brothers’ 1982 film Buddha’s Palm, which also has lots of people shooting cartoon lasers out of their hands, as well as a dragon that looks like a muppet.

Elsewhere, though I normally only pimp my own writings on Teleport City on this blog, I just have to steer you toward Keith’s just posted review of Manos: The Hands of Fate. Keith here has the last word on this badfilm classic, as well as the first, and… well, to tell the truth, he’s actually managed to use pretty much every word that could conceivably be dedicated to Manos in the course of this tour de force. Essential reading, for sure.

And finally, while it might be considered unusual to link to a post that I have not actually read, in the case of my linking here to MemsaabStory’s review of Azaad there is a method to my madness. You see, I am planning to watch and review Azaad myself in the near future, and Memsaab’s coverage of the films she reviews tends not only to be very thorough, but also to include all of the best possible screen captures, a fact which in the past has discouraged me from even bothering to review movies that she has gotten her greedy masala-loving hands on first. So, as of now, I am doing my best to avoid her review of Azaad, because it really sounds like my kind of picture. I mean, from just the tiniest peek I took at Memsaab’s write-up, I can see that it involves Dharmendra dressing up like Zorro, as well as at some point wrestling with a stuffed dog and – no no no no! I’ve already heard too much! LALALALALALALA! Not listening!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A full year of the finest in film entertainment

I belatedly realized that February 6th was the one year anniversary of my first post here at 4DK. I just thought I’d take the time to mark the occasion and thank all of you for reading and contributing over the past months. Hopefully by this time next year I will have worked up the courage to watch Sompote Sands’ Krai Thong II, tracked down a copy of Batman Fights Dracula, and finally worked my way to the bottom of that formidable stack of Dara Singh VCDs.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The 10 best lucha movies that don’t star Santo

So now you’ve watched a couple of Santo movies, and you’re beginning to think that this whole lucha movie thing just may be for you – that it may, in fact, be just the thing you need to help you get your life back on track. And now you’re sitting in front of your computer in your ill-fitting homemade mask and tights thinking, “What next?”

Here’s a list of the 10 best lucha movies that don’t star Santo.

1. Blue Demon contra Cerebros Infernales (1966)
(aka Blue Demon vs. the Infernal Brains)
Though it’s unlikely that anyone behind the scenes was taking things all that seriously, it’s still true that Santo’s films very rarely gave the appearance of dealing in intentional camp. The same cannot be said for those behind this, Blue Demon’s first entry into the wonderful world of color – who included director Chano Urueta, the man also responsible for the unhinged classic El Baron del Terror, aka The Braniac. The Batman TV series is the obvious jumping off point here, and Cerebros Infernales gets right into the spirit of things with some eye-popping, primary-hued pop-art sets, a maniacally over-the-top cackling bad guy turn by the ever-dependable Noe Muriyama, and, of course, lots of go-go dancing. All of this ends up being a perfect showcase for the always game Blue Demon, who at times appears to be having as much fun as we are at home.

2. Las Vampiras (1968)
(The Vampire Girls)
Mil Mascaras hit his stride big time with his third film, thanks in large part to the participation of horror icon John Carradine, who steals the show here as an insane, scenery-chewing vampire king. Or, at least, I should say, he steals the show as much as is possible in a film that also includes a tribe of vampire girls who apparently double as a modern dance troupe, and that also features the lustrous Maura Monti as Mil’s main squeeze.

3. Neutron contra los Automatas de la Muerte (1960)
(aka Neutron vs. the Death Robots)
The Neutron series is pretty spotty overall, but Automatas de la Muerte just happens to hit all the right notes. This is in large part due to it being graced with a great villain in the person of the wrestling-masked mad scientist Dr. Caronte, as well as a great villain sidekick, by which I refer to Caronte’s freaky, uni-browed dwarf assistant-and-maybe-boyfriend Nick. And let’s not forget the titular Death Robots, a bunch of hash-faced zombies that Caronte appears to bake into life in giant pizza ovens. Add in the fact that this second entry in the Neutron saga boasts that great, black and white, part Republic serial and part classic Universal horror picture look that marks the best of early lucha cinema – in addition to action that is literally non-stop – and you have the makings of a genre classic.

4. Las Luchadoras contra el Medico Asesino (1963)
(aka Wrestling Women vs. the Killer Doctor / Doctor of Doom)
The first entry in the Wrestling Woman series – featuring the classic line-up of Lorena Velazquez and Elizabeth Campbell -- is a classic Saturday matinee thrill ride, complete with hooded villains, wild fights, and last minute escapes from spike-walled rooms. It also features a pair of women who really know how to throw down, which, for its time, was not so old fashioned at all.

5. Ladron de Cadaveres (1956)
(aka Body Snatchers)
This classic is pretty much lucha cinema ground zero, not a star vehicle for an established wrestler, but rather a densely atmospheric horror film set in the gritty world of lucha libre. As such, it established the unique combination of tones that would so successfully serve Santo and others during the genre’s golden age. Not only that, but the film – as directed by Fernando Mendez – is beautifully shot, overloaded with stunning black and white compositions and thrilling, expressionistic plays of light and shadow.

6. Blue Demon contra las Diabolicas (1966)
(Blue Demon vs. the Diabolical Women)
Honestly, how could anyone get enough of Blue Demon contra Cerebros Infernales? And so, here we have what is essentially part two, obviously shot back-to-back with the first film, with the same cast and many of the same sets, as well as the same commitment to color, camp, and wall-to-wall go-go dancing. Needless to say, it’s the type of second helping that there’s always plenty of room for.

7. Las Mujeres Panteras (1966)
(aka The Panther Women)
I’ve ragged on this film in the past for being less of an entry in the Wrestling Woman series than it is a fake Santo film. The ladies – who this time around include Ariadne Welter in place of Lorena Velazquez, in addition to the returning Elizabeth Campbell – end up losing a lot of screen time to a very familiar seeming, silver-masked character by the name of the Angel. Still, once you put expectations aside, this ends up being an extremely satisfying genre entry, with all of those qualities that distinguished the best films from lucha cinema’s mid-sixties heyday. The Panther Women themselves, in classic fashion, are a band of supernatural sirens with a centuries old grudge to settle with mankind, and, as such, continue the fight in the genre’s inexplicable and ongoing battle of the sexes, undertaken elsewhere by such estrogen rich enemies as vampire girls, sexy female aliens, witches, harpies and, as seen above, just plain old diabolical women.

8. Enigma de Muerte (1968)
(aka Puzzle of Death)
Mil Mascaras is back. And so is John Carradine! This time Mil is an Interpol agent trying to root out a band of escaped Nazis who are hiding out in a carnival disguised as performers. It turns out that their leader, played by Carradine, is the clown. Oh, the irony! I’m of the firm belief that Nazis make for some of the best lucha movie villains, taking up a solid second place right behind monsters, and Enigma de Muerte further compensates for its lack of supernatural beasties with some thrilling, circus-themed action sequences and, of course, Carradine’s dependably over-the-top performance.

9. Los Vampiros de Coyoacan (1973)
(The Vampires of Coyoacan)
I can’t believe that I’m including a movie that stars Superzan on this list. But, really, it’s Mil Mascaras who’s the headliner here -- a fact which serves to make Superzan, in his sparkly head-to-toe superhero uniform, look all the more ridiculous by contrast (and hence more hilarious). This is definitely the best that the Agrasanchez crew had to offer, thanks in large part to it’s inclusion of a gnarly-looking, bat-faced vampire and his army of midget mini-vamps. Worth watching alone for the horrible bat transformation effects, which the filmmakers might have wisely kept to a minimum, but which, thankfully, they chose to place liberally throughout as if they were the secret weapon in their arsenal of razzle dazzle. Otherwise, Coyoacan approaches the considerable charms of some of the better of Santo’s seventies horror films (such as Santo y Blue Demon contra Dracula y el Hombre Lobo), which, considering the source, is pretty impressive.

10. Las Luchadoras contra el Robot Asesino (1968)
(Wrestling Women vs. the Robot Assassin)
Compiling this list has made me realize just how much I enjoy the Luchadoras films. Perhaps that’s partly due to the fact that their stars – in this case Malu Reyes and the fiery Regina Torne, marking a complete turnover in casting from the first film – are not athletes, but rather professional actors, and, as such, not only project a more easily accessible charisma, but also require more outlandish set-ups to compensate for their inability to contribute any credible ring action. This particular entry is essentially a remake of the earlier Las Luchadoras contra el Medico Asesino, though one that also borrows liberally from the Avengers episode “The Cybernauts” (especially with regards to the appearance and behavior of the titular killer robot). That this was the first Wrestling Women film to be shot in color makes things that much sweeter, as the explosion of comic book colors on display compliments the overheated action perfectly.

Comanche Blanco/White Comanche (Spain, 1968)

Sometimes the temptation to fudge thing a bit is great. In the case of White Comanche, to describe it as “William Shatner in a Spaghetti Western” presents an equation so perversely attractive that it takes all my strength to resist making the factual oversight that would allow me to put it forward. But, alas, I am fettered by my principles, and White Comanche, being a Spanish production with no participation from the Italians whatsoever, technically cannot be called a Spaghetti Western. However, it does, along with all Spaghetti Westerns, fall squarely within the Euro Western category, and as such follows most of the conventions of same. Except in the area of having good music, that is. The music is actually quite terrible.

White Comanche is a bit of a cult item with a “so bad it’s good” reputation. Still, though it is artless, cheap and poorly written, it’s no better or worse than a lot of Euro Westerns whose directors were named neither Leone, Solima or Corbucci, and who were rather just working men churning out product to satisfy the demands of a Western-crazy European movie audience. Nonetheless, there is the presence of The Shat, who reliably delivers all the wanton scenery chewing and baffling acting choices that anyone tuning into this one for a good chuckle could hope for. Ironically, however, this particular context ends up having a surprising kind of normalizing effect on him. It’s as if, ugly duckling-like, Shatner’s bizarre acting style has finally found its true home in the world of post-dubbed Euro cinema, where odd, halting speech patterns and sudden brief explosions of dialog that end as abruptly as they started are commonplace.

Here Shatner famously plays a duel role as twin brothers, one a lone gunfighter named Johnny Moon (you have to wonder if Shatner and the producers had visions of sequels dancing in their heads: Johnny Moon: If You Live, Shoot!; Hang Your Boots High, Johnny Moon, For Tomorrow You Die!; Five Coffins for Johnny Moon, etc.), the other the murderous White Comanche, Notah. It seems that the two brothers are half-breeds who were forced onto the reservation as children. Eventually Johnny broke away and joined the world of the white man, while Notah became addicted to Peyote, leading him to become a wild-eyed messiah figure intent on leading his tribe to domination over the “pale eyes” and all other tribes.

This above would seem like a very late sixties conceit, except for the fact that, as White Comanche presents him, there is nothing anti-heroic about Notah in the least, and he is instead presented as being pretty much a bad egg through and through. As such, his tendency to kill and occasionally rape those white people he comes into contact with ends up creating a bit of a problem for Johhny, who, like him, looks exactly like William Shatner. Wearying of having to constantly evade arrests and lynching attempts intended for his brother, Johnny finally comes to see a showdown with his wayward sibling as inevitable. Meanwhile, we have a subplot about two warring outlaw factions and that hoary old business about cowardly townsfolk slowly finding the courage to take up there own defense through the efforts of a noble sheriff.

Playing that noble sheriff is Joseph “nothing will ever change the fact that I was in Citizen Kane” Cotton, here at the midpoint in his colorful adventures through European genre cinema, and, as usual, giving a far more surefooted performance than the shaky material deserves. For fans of such cinema, Shatner’s presence is granted further novelty by him being fitted with a leading lady in the form of Argentinean actress Rosanna Yanni, one half of Jesus Franco’s Two Undercover Angels, who I enjoyed here more than in Franco’s Red Lips movies for the simple reason that she was dubbed with a less annoying voice.

Ultimately, White Comanche lets us down the most by giving us far too much of Shatner as Johnny Moon and far too little of Shatner as Notah. For it is in the role of the White Comanche that Shatner, face painted and inexplicably speaking in a clipped Fu Manchu accent, really lets his singular gifts shine. It’s a spirited, if entirely non-credible performance, something which the hair and makeup department gives Shatner very little assistance in improving upon. As wild-eyed and drug-addled as he may be, Notah is still the only Comanche who makes regular trips into town for a haircut, because he sports the exact same young Republican ‘do as his brother. This clued me in to why Shatner didn’t go on to have a career in Euro Westerns. He has an antiseptic quality to him that makes me doubt the patina of grime necessary to being a true lone Spaghetti Western gunslinger would ever stick to him.

White Comanche is not a good film, and, while I didn’t hate it, I would only recommend it to Shatner obsessives (among which I don’t count myself; I only made it through about ten minutes of that creepy talk show of his) and Euro Western completists. Then again, the copy I found in a Mission Street junk shop only cost me a buck, and if you can get it for the same price – and have ninety irreplaceable minutes to spare our of your oh, so preciously brief time on this Earth – you could do worse. There. See what I do for you people?