That's right, the 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down will be returning this coming Tuesday, January 5th. Because, hey, what better way is there to start off the new year than by tweeting along with your internet friends to a crazy ass movie? Our feature for the evening will be Superargo vs. Diabolicus, one of the better Italian superhero films of the 60s (see my Teleport City review here). Ken Wood stars as Superargo, a masked wrestler who retires from the ring after accidentally killing an opponent, only to be called back into action by the Secret Service in their battle against Diabolicus, a criminal mastermind. Will Superargo overcome his debilitating case of psychedelic PTSD and prove himself worthy in this effort? Perhaps this trailer will offer a clue:
The fun starts at 6pm Pacific time on Tuesday. Join us on Twitter using the hashtag #4DKMSD. A link to the complete film will be posted here. Ciao!
My plans to revive the 4DK Annual Search Term Tweet-athon this year were scuttled by the fact that both Google Analytics and Blogger no longer provide a comprehensive accounting of search terms (boo!) However, while I am thus unable to let you in on some of the misbegotten notions that have lead the confused, booze-addled and horny to wash up on the shores of 4DK, I can tell you what those people who came to 4Dk intentionally were most often seeking out—and in most cases by using search terms that matched exactly the titles of the five films listed below.
5. Tarzan & King Kong (India, 1965)
It’s easy to imagine the excited pitter-pat in the heart of the expectant genre film fan upon first contemplating the title Tarzan & King Kong and all that it promises. It is also easy to imagine the crashing disappointment experienced by that same genre film fan upon discovering that the King Kong referred to in that title is nothing more than an obese Hungarian wrestler. Fans of Indian stunt film king Dara Singh will be further crestfallen to learn that, despite Dara’s prominence on the VCD cover, it is his little brother, Randhawa, who plays the titular hero.
Still, while Tarzan & King Kong might seem like it was carefully calibrated to smash movie nerd expectations, it is actually a very entertaining picture, thanks in large part to game performance from a cast of Indian B movie stalwarts like the great Bela Bose and a pre-stardom Mumtaz (who teaches Tarzan how to do the Twist) and an enthusiastic rolling out of a wide assortment of cheesy jungle movie perils. Nonetheless, I suspect that it is the promise, and not the reality, of that title that has led so many to come to my review of the film. And, true, while many of those readers may have come away disappointed, chances are that they were not as disappointed as those who came to it using the search term “Dara Singh and Mumtaz hot sex”.
4. Haseena Atom Bomb (Pakistan, 1990)
Given that a considerable portion of 4DK’s readers come from Pakistan, it should perhaps come as no surprise that three of the five films on this list are from that country. What is surprising to me is that, while I have also covered films from Pakistan’s Punjabi and Urdu speaking regions, it is only films from the country’s Pashto region that have placed in the top five. By way of explanation, let me say that Haseena Atom Bomb is something of a standard bearer for Pashto cinema. Are all Pashto films as jaw droppingly trashy as Haseena Atom Bomb is? No, they are not. But an awful lot of them are. My 2009 review of Haseena spent a number of years as 4DK’s most read post, and it is admittedly a little sad to see her knocked off her pedestal. Still, I think you will agree that her successor is a worthy one.
3. Teri Meherbaniyan (India, 1985)
My review of Teri Meherbaniyan started as a series of drunken tweets that were mostly for the benefit of my wife, who was laid up in the hospital at the time. I think these tweets succinctly communicated the WTF flavor of the Teri Meherbaniyan viewing experience, although the film ultimately demanded much more of me, with this review being the result. The onus of Teri Meherbaniyan’s utter uniqueness rests entirely on the narrow shoulders of one Brownie, The Wonder Dog, from whose perspective much of the story is told. And be forewarned that this is no Disney-esque tale of a loyal pup making his adorable way across the countryside to be reunited with his loving family. On the contrary, it is a bloody revenge tale rife with slasher movie beats and instances of hallucinatory canine PTSD. It is wholly deserving of its place in the top five, as it is a film that will truly change the way you look at movies and, as such, exactly the type of movie that gives 4DK its reason for being.
2. Adam Khor (Pakistan, 1991)
Another Pashto film, Adam Khor features a rampaging, sasquatch-like creature, a monkey riding a horse, and a dirt-encrusted Badar Munir rising up out of the ground like a hypertrophic dust bunny. As I noted in my 2011 review, it also contains everything that you’d expect from a Pashto film of its era, including “lots of throaty yelling, fat ladies in wet clothing dancing, and an abundance of loud gunfire and punching sound effects in places where none were manifestly called for.” It also holds a place of pride(?) in the history of Pakistani cult cinema for being the first in a wave of horror-themed Pashto action films that ultimately lead to…
1. Da Khwar Lasme Spogmay (Pakistan, 1997)
Given it appeals less to academic types than it does to couch barnacles like myself who can’t be troubled to bring even a rudimentary understanding of a film’s native language to its appreciation, Da Khwar Lasme Spogmay is mostly known on these shores as Cat Beast. I think that its wide cult appeal is due to the fact that, while it is to a large extent an almost frighteningly idiosyncratic foreign horror film, it is also something of a superhero fantasy. Director/star Shehnaz Begum’s Hulk-like transformation into a squalling cat monster is even more gratifying for the fact that she is doing so in order to maul to death a cartoonish assortment of glowering rapists and sex perverts—making for a film that is less I Spit on Your Grave than it is I Bury My Poop on Your Grave. Such is the demand for this insane oddity that I have not only covered it on 4DK, but also on the most recent episode of the Infernal Brains, the podcast that I co-host with Tars Tarkas. Of course, I am not the only person to have written about it; it has been widely covered elsewhere on the internet, and often with as much or more insight than I brought to the task--which makes me that much more grateful that my take on it has become such a reader favorite.
Any hypothetical person who tried to keep track of all of this blog's various offshoots and adjunct projects could be forgiven for suffering a kind of 4DK fatigue. That is why I have decided to give you a handy rundown of this year's highlights. Here's hoping that I have, by this effort, at least slowed the process of you becoming a glassy eyed automaton that hates me.
FUNKY BOLLYWOOD: For me, the highlight of 2015 was the publication of my book Funky Bollywood: The Wild World of 1970s Indian Action Cinema, which was released by England's venerable FAB Press on March 15th. Sales of the book were healthy and the reviews positive, but for me the best part of being a published author was the in-store events at which I was able to meet readers, answer their questions and hear their comments. The Q & A sessions at these events were lively to say the least, and I probably ended up learning as much or more from them than the audience did. This is as true for the book launch at San Francisco's Lost Weekend Video as it was for my signing at Folio Books. But my favorite event by far was the one held at the Digital Gym Cinema in San Diego, the recording of which was released as an episode of interviewer Miguel Rodriguez's Horrible Imaginings podcast. (The less said about my talk at the SF Public Library, the better.)
POP OFFENSIVE:In 2015, Pop Offensive, a show that had originated as something of a lark, entered its second year of regular monthly episodes--and with that accumulated experience came the confidence to mess with the format a little. This resulted in theme episodes like our characteristically effervescent
tributes to girl groups and Bollywood, as well as a Halloween episode that managed the unlikely juxtaposition of songs by Johnny Cash, Throbbing Gristle, and Kylie Minogue. 2015 was also the year that Pop Offensive transitioned from being an internet radio show only and hit the airwaves proper. Of course, this was a boon only to people living within a stone's throw of Oakland's Lake Merritt, who can now, thanks to our mighty 100 watt signal, listen to the show on KGPC, 96.9 FM.
TAIWAN NOIR:The best thing about co-hosting the Taiwan Noir podcast is that its host, Podcast on Fire's Ken Brorsson, has such a clear vision of where he wants the show to go--and such a sure hand in guiding it there--that I feel like all I have to do is show up and shoot the shit. Given the easy repartee that Ken and I have developed over the course of twelve episodes, that is something that is very easy and fun to do. Some of our most enjoyable episodes this year have been love fests in which we showered praise upon some of our favorites--which, of course, included crazy, effects-driven fantasy films like Feng Shen Bang, Taiwanese kaiju War God, and, in our most recent episode, The Child of Peach
THE INFERNAL BRAINS:Sadly, Tars Tarkas and I were only able to squeeze out two episodes of the Infernal Brains podcast this year. Happily, they were both doozies, including our "Space Ladies from Outer Space" episode--featuring guest Carol Borden of The Cultural Gutter--which is surely among our best and most popular ever. We also gave a typically thorough going-over to Cat Beast, a squalling Pakistani monster/superhero mash-up that appears to have been edited by a garbage disposal and scored by an air raid siren. Our plan is to be more prolific in the new year, a goal which, given this year's meager showing, seems like it should be reasonably attainable.
FIGHTING FEMMES, FIENDS, AND FANATICS: Despite being out of production for just over two years, this video series continues to ratchet up viewers on its YouTube Channel and likes on its Facebook page. And it's no wonder, because it's a great series, one of my proudest accomplishments during my career as a guy talking about weird movies on the Internet.
OH, AND because I still didn't feel like I was doing quite enough, I followed my 18-year-old nephew's example and got a Band Camp account, then proceeded to make a couple of my long buried musical endeavors available online. One of them is a sort of "best of" compilation of my solo work from the aughts. The other is a frequently requested live recording of my old band B Team's final show, which took place at Wolfgang's in San Francisco in July of 1983. 1983! True, you only have my sincerest assurances that neither of these suck to go on, but, when living dangerously only costs five bucks a pop, why not just take the chance?
As for what lies ahead, as blasé as a prediction of "more of the same" might sound, it is in my case an exciting prospect. Given how much I have enjoyed all of the above activities, another year like 2015 would be welcome.
This latest is the twentieth episode of Taiwan Noir and my twelfth as co-host. It is also the first in a series of episodes in which we will be addressing the mind bending Peach Kid films and their progeny, starting with 1987's Child of Peach. If you like your trippy fantasy kung fu films served up with a generous splash of urine, this podcast--which you can "stream" now from the Podcast of Fire website--is so you.
From Manila to Oslo to Monaco to Hollywood, last night's Pop Offensive once again took listeners on an international tour of world pop music at its most catchy and hip shaking. If you missed it, fear not. Thanks to Donald Trump's arch enemy, "That Internet", it is now available forever, along with every other one of our episodes, from the KGPC website's Pop Offensive archive. In addition, the playlist for the episode, which will also be online long past the time when the mountains have crumbled and the oceans run dry, is now available on the Pop Offensive Facebook Page.
The Golden Claws of the Cat Girl’s title gives it a lot to live up to, as does its superficial resemblance to Danger: Diabolik, which is perhaps the Platonic ideal of fun 1960s pop art Eurocrime films. Some who come to it with expectations based on that resemblance may be disappointed, as there are more differences between the two than similarities.
One of the key differences is that, while Diabolik is based on a comic book, Cat Girl is based on, well, a book book, in particular La Louve Solitaire (“The Lone Wolf”) by French crime novelist Albert Sainte-Aube. This was the first of a series of 12 novels that featured as their protagonist glamorous circus-acrobat-turned-cat-burglar Françoise Dilmont, which were written by Saint-Aube between 1967 and 1973. Indeed, Cat Girl first came into this world bearing the title La Louve Solitaire. That is, until someone—I suspect the Italians—decided to sex it up.
Our introduction to Françoise, aka “The She Wolf”, comes in the film’s opening scene. Looking every bit like a lady version of Diabolik in her black head-to-toe body stocking, she stages a perilous burglary that involves walking a tightrope strung high above a courtyard filled with frugging partygoers, then, ill-gotten gains in hand, making her getaway in a gleaming red Firebird. Later we learn that she is a high end real estate dealer by day, and uses her knowledge of the homes she sells her clients to rob them blind once they move in. Personally, I find this to be an implausible set-up, mainly because I live in San Francisco, where realtors tend to take all of your money up front.
The She Wolf’s next caper turns out to be a sting mounted by Durieux (Julien Guiomar, of Costa-Garvas’ Z), an official with the French secret police. Somewhat predictably, Durieux has a job to which Françoise’s talents are uniquely suited and, in return for her taking it on, will grant her freedom—with the caveat that, upon completion, she leaves the country immediately and never returns. The target of this job is a diplomat from “one of the new independent republics” who is using his diplomatic immunity to act as a drug courier for a mysterious Mr. Big named Saratoga, who, in another example of Cat Girl’s toney casting, is played by Last Year at Marienbad’s Sacha Pitoëff. Françoise’s assigned task will be to steal the diplomat’s latest package, containing 20 kilos of synthetic heroin, presumably with the intent of getting him into hot water with his boss.
Françoise is portrayed by Daniele Gaubert, a French actress who was undergoing something of a career renaissance at the time, having recently returned to the screen after a long absence. This absence was occasioned by her marriage, in 1963, to the son of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, a marriage that was coming to a messy conclusion by the time of Cat Girl’s release. That her public’s hearts had grown founder of her during this period is evidenced by her sudden elevation, upon her return, from supporting to lead roles. It was during the years surrounding Cat Girl that she would star in some of her most well remembered films, including Paris N’existe Pas with Serge Gainsbourg and Radley Metzger’s Camille 2000. Four years later, in 1972, she starred in the caper film Snow Job, on which she met her second husband, skier Jean-Claude Killy, who would remain with her until her death from cancer in 1987.
To her portrayal of Françoise, Gaubert brings little of the cocky joie de vivre that we tend to prefer in our altruistic bandits and, as a sex symbol, comes off as more sullen than sultry. This may have been the point, of course. After all, Francoise is performing her daring do under duress from The Man here, and has every right to be po-faced about it. There is also the matter of her being portrayed from the start as something of an ice princess who cares only for money, which sets the stage nicely for the moment when she starts to find her heart being melted by her leading man. In any case, this puts the onus upon the elements surrounding Gaubert to give Cat Girl its pop. Among these are playful mod-era touches like Francoise’s tricked-out subterranean bachelorette pad (another nod to Diabolik) and a couple of scenes of hipsters go-go dancing to twangy pop music. There is also Francis Lai’s sleek Euro-jazzy score and, lest we forget, the game performances of Gaubert’s supporting players.
Among these is Claude Chabrol favorite Michel Duchaussoy (This Man Must Die), who plays Bruno, an agent with a gift for lip reading who is assigned to be Françoise’s partner in her mission. This mission essentially involves Françoise and Bruno being parked in a hotel room across from their suspect’s embassy. Here they exchange flirty non sequiturs while spying on the diplomat’s office, waiting for him to receive the shipment of heroin. Finally, in a very Rear Window inspired scene, Francoise, after accessing the embassy’s upper floors by trapeze, rifles through the diplomat’s office as Bruno watches anxiously through a telescope.
Much like in Rear Window, the diplomat makes an unexpectedly early return and tries to shoot Françoise, only to be taken down by a sniper’s bullet from Bruno. Her job now done, Francoise hightails it to Geneva, only to find herself being pursued by two of Saratoga’s psychotic henchmen, Silvio and Hans—the last named played by Jacques Brunet in what would be, were this a German Eurospy film, the Horst Frank role.
The Golden Claws of the Cat Girl was one of only two theatrical features directed by Edouard Logereau, who worked extensively in European television. Logereau brings an assured hand to the task, but what he should really be credited for is being so keenly aware of the tradition within which he was working. Not only am I referring here to the aforementioned Hitchcock riff and the familial nods to Danger: Diabolik, but also to the repeated scenes of Françoise Gaubert, clad in a black cat suit, scampering across the rooftops of Paris. These are an unmistakable homage to Louis Feuillade’s classic serial Les Vampires, in which actress Musidora traversed those rooftops in much the same fashion--scenes that were payed similar homage by Olivier Assayas in his 1996 film Irma Vep.
Another thing that is striking about Cat Girl, Alongside Logereau’s genre savvy, is just how violent it is not. The shooting of the diplomat aside, there are no onscreen deaths until the film’s last few minutes, and those are not dwelt upon. The film also lacks the rote action set pieces—car chases, fist fights—that dot the typical Euro-thrillers of its era. In place of them are the scenes depicting Francoise’s burglaries, which are all accomplished with live stunt work, rather than the rear projection of cheesy process shots you might expect. In other words, they look refreshingly real, and as such can be forgiven those odd moments when the camera fails to hide the masculine proportions of Francoise Gaubert’s stunt double.
In the final tally, The Golden Claws of the Cat Girl’s cosmetic resemblance to Danger: Diabolik does not serve it well, as it lacks that film’s giddy irreverence and excitement. It is nonetheless a very enjoyable film in its own right, marked by solid performances from an accomplished cast, a glamorous setting, and a screenplay with a fair share of unexpected twists. In my case, it also appeals due to the fact that I am currently house shopping. It amuses me to think that one of these skinny, nervous women who insist upon showing me houses I can’t afford might be a thrill-seeking cat burglar in disguise.
Funky Bollywood is available from all of your favorite online booksellers, and also Amazon. If your loved one is extra fancy, you can still purchase a special signed and numbered edition directly from the FAB Press website. Get it today and start planning your New Years day marathon of classic Bollywood "dishoom-dishoom!"