Monday, October 31, 2011

But still, you can't beat that price

I love Mill Creek’s 50 Movie Packs. It’s a problem. Not that they have nothing to offer, mind you (hell, the Martial Arts set is worth it for The Impossible Kid alone). It’s just that the sheer number and variety of them couples inauspiciously with the fact that -- as I’ve just recently realized -- I am prone to purchasing them indiscriminately regardless of content.

This often occurs when I need to add a few dollars to an Amazon order to get free shipping. In the moment, the idea that I can get both free shipping and fifty more movies for just a few extra bucks seems like a deal too good to pass up, even though thirty to forty of those films will ultimately go unwatched. Not that I don’t try to justify the purchase with an initial, heroic effort to watch as many of them as I can -- a forced march that ultimately sees me consuming otherwise prohibitive anti-films in defiance of any notion I might previously have held of dignity or aesthetic standards (for instance, no other circumstance, short of brute coercion, would have lead to me sitting through The Dungeon of Harrow). For someone with any kind of obsessive-compulsive tendencies at all, one of these sets is like the ribbon you tie around the tail of a caged animal in the hope that it will exhaust itself chasing it.

Anyway, as I was saying, it was only recently that I realized that, under the circumstances just described, I would be prone to buying even the notional 50 Movie Pack pictured above. “Hmm, ‘Pure Crap’”, I would think. “Sounds dire, sure, but when you think about it, it breaks down to only pennies per film!” In honor of this sad admission of helplessness, my good friend #lowdudgeon whipped up the cover graphic above . God help me, I’m already wishing it was real!

But most importantly, readers, now that we have this hypothetical beauty, which mottled denizens of the public domain ghetto do you think should compose its hypothetical contents? I think a nice caveat would be if the inclusion of a title in the Pure Crap 50 Movie Pack would constitute a form of banishment, excluding it from appearing on any other set henceforth. (For instance, I’d love to put God’s Gun on there to prevent it from sullying any future bargain bin Western collections I purchase). But I’m not going to impose limitations on things, because limitations are not in the spirit of… well, of crap, I guess. Your suggestions welcome below.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Puss in Boots (Mexico, 1961)

As many of you know, there inevitably comes a time for every movie blogger when the big money comes calling and he or she must make the choice whether to sell out to Hollywood or continue along on his or her chosen path. Such a Faustian proposition was recently presented to my friend and colleague Tars Tarkas, and, well, you can see on which side of the debate he ultimately came down on. Not that I’m judging, mind you. You see, I too would love to get my hands on some of that sweet DreamWorks swag, which is why I sat down to write my own review of their current hit Puss in Boots.

The first thing that struck me about Puss In Boots was that the CG was of a much more hit-or-miss quality than what we’ve typically come to expect from the DreamWorks Animation team. While the rendering of the human characters was fairly convincing, the animal characters -- and especially our feline hero -- were another story entirely:

And while I assumed that the fact that everyone was speaking in Spanish was just a nod to inclusiveness and cultural sensitivity -- and that voice star Antonio Banderas would eventually revert to his charmingly accented English –- this did not turn out to be the case. It was at this point that I realized that what I was watching was not, in fact, DreamWorks’ current take on this children’s favorite, but instead the 1961 Mexican adaptation of Puss In Boots from Director/Producer Roberto Rodriguez, the guy who made all of those horrifying suitmation Little Red Riding Hood movies during the early 60s. And upon realizing that, my first reaction was to rush to the bathroom and wash the taste of corporate dong out of my mouth.

Not surprisingly, El Gato con Botas doesn’t bother itself with hewing too closely to the original Charles Perrault tale on which it’s based. At the same time, it’s almost admirable how economically it transforms what is basically the story of a cat swindling a bunch of hoity toity rich folk to enrich his master and get him laid into a Wizard of Oz style quest narrative suitable for feature treatment. Here our hero is Juanito (Humberto Dupeyron), a young shepherd boy who lives in a kingdom taken over by the tyrannical, puzzlingly orientalized ogre Federico (Armando Gutierrez). Also -- because this film, like Rodriguez’s Red Riding Hood entries, seeks to make itself as traumatizing as possible for its young audience -- Juanito lives near a horrifying forest filled with monsters.

Federico’s grueling program of taxation has driven the entirety of the kingdom’s inhabitants to the point of starvation, with the King and his family being no exception. Having leached away all of the royal family’s wealth, Federico next demands by way of tribute that the King turn over to him the young Princess Dora (Rocio Rozales), so that she may be married off to the ogre’s cloddish, Mini-Me-like son Babuchon. Juanito -- who, after a chance encounter with the Princess, has become quite smitten -- wants to prevent this from happening, and when he comes upon a magical old lady who lives in a TARDIS-like tree stump, his chance presents itself.

The old lady, who introduces herself as “The Lady of Time”, presents the nonplused Juanito with a tiny swashbuckler's outfit (look, much is made of the boots, but it should be remembered that there are also a jaunty feathered cap, a cape, and a sword involved) and tells him that, when he finds the one who can squeeze into them, he will have found the hero capable of vanquishing the ogre. Juanito then heads home to find that his father, who has suffered an accident while out in the woods searching for him, is on his death bed, and is promptly cast out of the house by his two nasty brothers, who don’t care to compete with him for the meager inheritance. As an afterthought, they toss the family cat out after him.

In keeping with the original story, the cat, fearing that he will be abandoned -- and at this point played by an actual cat -- then suddenly finds his voice and tells Juanito that he could be of great help if he only had some badass, cat-sized swashbuckling gear. We next get a shot of what looks like the unhappiest cat in the world, uncomfortably kitted out in that very gear, before a magical transformation takes place and the cat is no longer played by a real cat, but by a somewhat scarifying cat costume.

That costume is inhabited by the little person actor Santanon, who also starred in the Red Riding Hood films as the Wolf’s disturbingly masochistic skunk sidekick. Santanon -- who also went by the title “El Enano Santanon”, or “The Dwarf Santanon” -- made his name in these costumed animal capers. But if you want to see his face, that’s him in Santo and Blue Demon vs. The Monsters, playing Waldo, the cackling dwarf assistant to the mad scientist Doctor Halder.

Yeah, that's the guy.

As in the Red Riding Hood films, Santanon does not provide the voice for his character, which in this case is instead provided by radio and voiceover actor Julio Lucena, who was also the Mexican voice of Barney Rubble, Dick Dastardly and Top Cat. (Maria Eugenia Avendano provided the skunk’s voice in the Red Riding Hood films.) Of course, if you are an American reading this, none of that information is relevant, because any familiarity you might have with El Gato con Botas would stem from the efforts of K. Gordon Murray, who distributed English dubbed versions of all of Rodriguez’s fairy tale movies to American television and kiddie matinees, ensuring that U.S. children of the post-Eisenhower era would grow up just as haunted by them as their Mexican counterparts.

Like La Caperucita Roja, El Gato con Botas combines competent commercial filmmaking with an occasional telltale shoddiness. While its bright colors and some of its fanciful sets are suitably beguiling, its animal costumes, which very well could have been made for the production, nonetheless look like they’ve been sitting in mothballs a bit past their expiration date. Those previously exposed to the Red Riding Hood films are also likely to recognize a sort of “house look” thanks to the many reused sets and props. Furthermore, Sergio Guerrero’s songs, though inoffensive in themselves, become weaponized once sung by grown men squawking in cartoonish children’s voices.

And yet the spectacle of watching a non-costumed supporting cast that includes serial lucha movie tough guy Nathanael “Frankenstein” Leon interact, and sometimes even fight with, these scruffy football mascots (which eventually come to include a human-sized rooster) never, ever gets old. This, combined with a number of other surreal trappings, makes El Gato con Botas one of those movies that doubles its value by serving as both the viewing experience itself and the drug that you need to take in order to enjoy it. Meow!

In closing, I’d like to make clear that I’m far from seeing myself as being above the occasional enjoyment of a slick, CG animated 3D blockbuster -- nor, all ribbing aside, do I fault my friend Tars for occasionally writing about them. But, as dazzling and entertaining as some of those films may be, they can never be as singularly weird as a movie like El Gato con Botas, and become less capable of being so the more our screens are deluged with similar product. Sure, Rodriguez’s movie doesn’t strive for inclusivity by transparently including elements aimed at pleasing both kids and adults, as these contemporary movies are so often praised for. Instead, there is much within El Gato the intended appeal of which -- to young or old, man, woman or child -- is tantalizingly mysterious.

And that’s an opacity I can roll with; I don’t need to be flattered by you, while engaging in it, trying to show me the gears turning behind the process of entertaining me. I’d much rather be wondering what the fuck is wrong with you.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Friday's best pop song ever

Sisterhood of the traveling skull mask

As Skeletons in the Closet month rattles to a close over at M.O.S.S. headquarters, I feel I'd be remiss in letting the round robin of reviews pass by without re-posting my 4DK take on the Indonesian sword and sorcery adventure Neraka Lembah Tengkorak to Teleport City. In few other cinematic ventures will you find more sexy women wearing crude skull masks. If you missed the review the first time around -- or if you'd just like to refresh your memory -- you can check it out here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Vampire Doll (Japan, 1970)

Vampire Doll -- for enemies of brevity also knows as Fear of the Ghost House: Bloodsucking Doll -- is the first of a trio of vampire films produced by Japan’s venerable Toho Company during the early 1970s, each of which was directed by Michio Yamamoto and co-written by Ei Ogawa. These films have come to be known as the “Bloodthirsty Trilogy”, although the links between them are more thematic and stylistic than arising from any connective story elements.

The story in this case begins with Sagawa (Atsuo Nakamura) arriving at the spooky, remotely located mansion of the Nonomura family with the intention of paying a visit upon his fiancé Yuko (Ukiko Kobayashi). Unfortunately, Yuko’s equally spooky and remote mom (Yoko Minakaze) informs him that, during his absence on business, Yuko has died in a car accident. However, during his night spent at the mansion, the grief stricken Sagawa has an unexpected encounter with Yuko, though she does seem to not quite be herself.

Skip forward a week, and Sagawa’s sister Keiko (Gate of Flesh’s Kayo Matsuo) arrives at the Nonomura home with her boyfriend Hiroshi (Akira Nakao), having not heard from her brother since his departure. Mrs. Nonomura tells Keiko and Hiroshi that Sagawa left after that first evening, but after finding evidence to the contrary, the two decide to fake car trouble and stick around to Scooby-Doo the situation out. In the process, they stumble upon all kinds of ghostly goings on, as well as the requisite dark family secrets, before finally coming face to face with the spectral, bloodthirsty Yuko herself.

Though Japanese folklore is not without its fair share of blood drinking critters (the Kappa, for example, is said to suck the blood of an animal out through its anus!), the idea of the vampire as an undead human with a taste for the red stuff appears to be one wholly imported from the West. Because of this, Vampire Doll to some extent comes across as a catalog of transplanted tropes from European and American gothic horror films, with those tropes given novelty by their placement within a Japanese milieu. These include everything from the Nonomura’s sinister deaf mute servant, to the ceaseless “dark and stormy night” ambience, to the Nonomura house itself with all of its cobweb covered tchotchkes (among which, in the most blood-curdling touch of all, appear to be a couple of Hummel figurines). This last strains credulity enough that the filmmakers felt duty bound to have it remarked upon in the film, with Hiroshi at one point mentioning that the mansion is “an authentic foreign-style residence”.

That said, Vampire Doll quite obviously does not hold itself to all of the rules of Western vampire films. For instance, going by those rules, it’s difficult to say exactly what Yuko is. She slashes the necks of her victims with a knife before drinking their blood, rather than biting them, and, if I understood the third act reveal correctly, she is meant to be under some type of state of hypnosis. Whatever the case, though, there’s no denying that Yuko -- with her blank, iridescent eyes and unearthly smile -- is creepy as fuck. Yamamoto most excels in creating a horrific atmosphere when she’s on screen, and never fails to highlight her presence in the most disturbing manner possible.

Undermining these legitimately unsettling elements within Vampire Doll are those others that fall decidedly within the realm of high camp, chief among them being the comically overwrought performance of Kayo Matsuo as Keiko. Cushing excepted, it’s generally true that the protagonists of horror films tend to be their least interesting characters, usually serving as exemplars of the fact that, while virtue perhaps makes one ideally equipped to battle the forces of evil, it also tends to render one something of a dullard. Unfortunately, so outmatched is Keiko that she can’t even face up to her evil battling duties, and instead leaves all the heavy lifting to Hiroshi while she engages in all manner of bug-eyed, “feets don’t fail me now” histrionics. On top of that, Riichiro Manabe’s harpsichord heavy score tends to oversell things by half, and as a result fairs poorly in the inevitable comparisons to James Bernard’s work in Hammer’s Dracula films, which are an obvious influence here.

In other aspects, though, Vampire Doll measures up to its Western inspirations quite nicely, thanks in no small part to the scrupulous production design of Yoshifumi Honda and the ornate Tohoscope compositions of cinematographer Kazutami Hara. Also working in its favor is a hysterical pace that sees all its spook show trappings crammed into a terse 70 minutes. Once you’re dumped out the other end of this frantic spook ride, the impression your left with is that of a balance of genuine scares and tongue-in-cheek “boo” moments of the type ideal for low-investment Halloween viewing, best savored between mouthfuls of candy and answering the call of the demons at the front door. All in all, a nice, mildly exotic alternative for those not up to the umpteenth viewing of House on Haunted Hill.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Night of the Skull (Spain, 1976)

[This review is part of the M.O.S.S. inaugural Round Table, Skeletons in the Closet.]

There are two unfortunate givens for those like myself who work the unforgiving cult cinema beat on the internet. One is that you will eventually have to review Zombie Lake. The other is that you will eventually have to review a film by Jess Franco. While the first of those trials I have happily put long behind me, the other still looms ominously on the horizon. You see, because Franco only wrote the screenplay for Zombie Lake -- and because acceptance of that fact requires that you also sign off on the idea that Zombie Lake had a screenplay at all -- you can’t count fulfillment of the first given as a twofer.

Of course, this also means that, as it is with Zombie Lake, an awful lot of people have written about Jess Franco films on the internet. And because the internet is known to conduct snark at a rate and volume twice that of praise, a loud plurality of that writing is pretty negative. This makes the prospect of addressing one of his films all the more a subject of dread for those of us yet to cross the threshold. Yet, for me, I sensed the time had come when my contribution to the inaugural M.O.S.S. Roundtable -- an examination of the lofty cinematic tradition of grown adults running around in skull masks and skeleton suits -- came due. With my usual investigatory rigor, I ran searches of the terms “skull” and “skeleton” on Netflix and voila!: Franco’s 1976 thriller Night of the Skull (aka La Noche de los Asesinos) leapt out at me like… well, like a scary Halloween skeleton, of the type, perhaps, that you might buy at Walgreens.

Of course, it has to be said that Franco has his share of fans along with his detractors. And for them I think part of his appeal is the same juvenile impulsiveness that makes his films so hit or miss. As a director, Franco follows his muse wherever it takes him, no matter how well that serves the goal of making a film that is coherent or even watchable. And when the inspiration isn’t there, he has no problem with handling things in the most perfunctory and slapdash manner possible. (Also, as Keith has pointed out, Franco is a notorious lone wolf, which removes from the equation any equal collaborators who might rein in his more imprudent tendencies.) These indications of a personal artistic vision make it difficult to dismiss Franco as a hack, even if the term “auteur” rolls no more easily off the tongue where he’s concerned. And it can’t be denied that his approach often bears some interesting results, albeit ones that frequently have to be sifted from a surrounding preponderance of narrative flotsam.

As for Night of the Skull, it’s a mystery, which on first consideration would not seem like the best fit for Franco’s elliptical style. But when one considers the flaky internal logic and dreamlike atmosphere of the typical Italian giallo, there’s room for optimism that things might work out okay for those of us obligated to watch it. However, Night of the Skull, while boasting some gialli-like elements, is in fact more of a gothic mystery in the “old dark house” vein, which renders thing a little dicier. For starters, the Victorian setting largely prohibits those jazzy flourishes that are so often the saving grace of a Franco film, such as his signature psychedelic nightclub sequences.

What Night of the Skull does have, though -- and which makes it ideal for my purposes –- is a guy running around in a skull mask who is both heavily featured and central to the film’s plot. This gentleman is our killer, who is offing his victims in accordance with a passage, detailing the punitive nature of the four elements, which is found in a made up tome called “The Book of the Apocalypse”. These thematic murders require quite a stretch in some cases, one that Franco doesn’t really seem bothered to make. For instance, one victim, tied up on a rock by the seaside, writhes around for a bit before expiring unconvincingly. Later she is said to have been “killed by the force of the wind”, even though it didn’t appear to be all that windy at the time and, barring being strapped to a jet engine or the wind bearing large chunks of architecture as in a tornado, that can’t actually happen.

All of the aforementioned murders are filmed in dim lighting and are virtually bloodless, which is one of Night of the Skull's primary disappointments. On top of that, the sex and nudity is near non-existent, even though the ever-willing Lina Romay, Franco’s partner and muse, is on hand in a central role. Instead, the director languorously rolls out a “greedy heirs get theirs” drama that is, despite some unexpected turns, pretty pedestrian. We start out with the murder of Marian family patriarch Lord Archibald (Angel Menendez), which is followed by the inevitable gathering of the deceased’s assorted scheming and ungrateful siblings, spouses and offspring for the reading of the will.

Among this group we have most of the usual suspects, including a couple of twitchy servants (Luis Barboo and Yelena Samarina), a dissolute black sheep cousin (William Berger) and the alcoholic second wife (Maribel Hidalgo) who is hated by all and sundry. In a more unusual turn, there are also among the bereaved a his-and-hers set of adult illegitimate children (Lina Romay and Antonio Mayans), who, previously unknown to each other, begin an affair that is only by a later plot twist (spoiler!) revealed to be not incestuous, even though that comes too late to prevent the “ick” factor from setting in. Once the blood begins to tastefully and moderately spill, we also have the arrival on the scene of Major Oliver Brooks (Alberto Dalbes), a renowned Scotland Yard inspector whose jurisdictional authority is a bit suspect given that the film is putatively set in Louisiana -- and more obviously shot in Spain.

Night of the Skull’s credits claim as its inspiration John Willard’s The Cat and the Canary, while in turn mistakenly crediting that famous stage play to Edgar Allan Poe (other sources suggest that Franco was inspired by a book by Edgar Wallace, which sounds a little closer to the mark). Whatever its patrimony, the story manages to be both complex and internally consistent -- with a resolution that, if not too surprising, at least makes sense – and if that’s all you ask from your mysteries, you’ll be happy. As for its direction, looking on the plus side, Franco does a professional job of laying out all of the various plot mechanics in a coherent and linear fashion. On the negative side, a coherent and linear Jess Franco, in my experience, is a Jess Franco who’s not all that invested, and hence the film lacks the unpredictable digressions and directorial quirks that might have otherwise made it less sleepy viewing.

I’ll admit that it’s a little disappointing that, having resigned myself to riding the wave of Franco’s insanity, I came upon him in such a restrained mood with this film. Yet it’s just such unpredictable dips and lapses, set alongside the manic peaks and detours, that have earned him his reputation as the frustrating and maddening director that he is. Consistency is one thing, but it perhaps speaks more highly of Franco that, whenever one dips blindly into his massive 180 film filmography, one truly doesn’t know what they’re going to come up with. In the case of Night of the Skull, what one comes up with is a fairly boring and conventional film, but the fact that that in itself is somehow shocking speaks volumes.

Who ya got?

I admit that I've been putting off writing my entry in the current M.O.S.S. Round Table, and the reasons for that will likely be more than apparent once I've finally gotten around to it. In the interim, I thought I'd contribute to the Halloween-y vibe over at Teleport City by contributing a review of another one of Lam Ching-Ying's delightful vampire action comedies from the 80s. (My earlier review of Lam's Mr. Vampire can be seen here.) Vampire vs. Vampire is especially fun because it pits Lam's venerable Taoist priest character, who usually finds himself up against hopping vampires of the Chinese variety, against a Euro vamp in the tradition of Hammer's Dracula, albeit one who looks a little like a young Nick Cave. Read the full review here.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sher Khan (Pakistan, 1981)

It may be true that time is cruel to lady film stars, but it’s never as cruel as the industries that employ them. Take, for example, the case of Punjabi superstar Sultan Rahi, who, throughout his career, blew through a series of favored leading ladies, all of whom putatively outgrew their charms as Rahi continued to go strong. And keep in mind that Sultan Rahi looked like this:

Further keep in mind that this picture of Rahi is from 1981, when he was entering the fourth decade of his astonishing 600+ film career. And, had he not been killed in 1996, he would no doubt still be going strong today as a scowly, pointy bag of bones.

Prior to 1981, one of Rahi’s frequent female co-stars was the actress Aasia, who appeared opposite him in his breakthrough blockbuster Maula Jat. Aasia’s retirement in 1980, after only a ten year run in the industry, left a vacancy that was ultimately filled by one of Rahi’s most enduring and influential leading ladies. That leading lady was Anjuman, who had begun her career in Urdu language films, but transitioned to the Punjabi film industry for her debut opposite Rahi in Sher Khan.

Sher Khan turned out to be one of Rahi’s biggest hits, enjoying a record-breaking theatrical run that, in the process, catapulted Anjuman to stardom. As a result, the actress became, along with Rahi and his screen nemesis Mustafa Qureshi, an essential part of what was considered at the time to be a surefire formula for success within the Punjabi film industry -- a formula that guaranteed that, over the next ten years or so, very few Punjabi films would be made that didn’t feature all three stars, and in virtually identical roles each time. For Anjuman, this amounted to 117 films opposite Rahi, many of which were so similar in content that they could each be considered installments in a seemingly never-ending meta-narrative.

But Anjuman achieved more during her time in the spotlight than simply filling the female-sized absence at Rahi’s side. With films like Hunterwali, she also established herself as an action hero in her own right, displaying a rough-and-tumble physicality that was previously unheard of in Pakistani cinema, where the heroines of action films were typically consigned to the role of adoring cheerleaders for their macho leading men.

Having now seen Sher Khan, I can definitely say that Anjuman stands out in it, and that that’s a pretty impressive feat, given that she has a lot to compete with. No intimate, small scale narrative is this, and so packed is the cast that none of our three top billed stars are able to muscle their way on screen until after the first twenty minutes or so. In the interim, we’re introduced to the title character, Sher Khan (Iqbal Hassan), a bandit who, after an abrupt reassessment of his wicked ways, decides to leave everything behind, with “everything” including both his former gang and his wife and two small kids. Rahi, I believe, is meant to be playing the adult version of Sher Khan’s son, and the prologue features a young actor who does a fantastic job of channeling the star, making for an uncanny portrait of Rahi made mini:

As you have probably already guessed, I watched Sher Khan without the aid of English subtitles, and so it presented itself to me as little more than an impenetrable procession of different pairs of men yelling at each other. Of course, given the type of film that it is, one need only be patient until the narrative fat boils down to a rivalry between Sultan Rahi and Mustafa Qureshi with Anjuman in the middle. The three actors are clearly in the full bloom of mega-stardom here, and are each, delightfully, given screen introductions that are thunderously iconic. In fact, Rahi -- who here basically reprises his Maula Jat role, gandasa and all, albeit under the name “Sultan” -- gets what is by far the most over-the-top intro I’ve yet seen him receive, with every hysterically pitched signifier in the Punjabi cinema arsenal put to the task of communicating that his arrival on the scene is indeed a very big deal (yes, there are lots of thunderclaps):

As for Qureshi, who plays an imposing police captain, we see all of the activity in a bustling town square go into freeze frame as his feet trod purposefully by, and get a weird POV shot that incorporates his sunglasses before finally seeing his face:

Anjuman, fittingly, is introduced in song, standing atop a horse-drawn carriage as she vivaciously mouths to playback singer Noor Jehan’s vocal, followed by a romp through the fields accompanied by a chorus of colorfully dressed mutiyars. Anjuman’s character is a classic screen siren, both charmingly assertive and sassy, which unfortunately results in her being frequently slapped by her male co-stars. There’s also a bit where Mustafa Qureshi insists that she constantly keep one eye covered for some reason. I accept that this last is likely one of many mysterious behaviors on display –- like people dragging their beds into the middle of the road, for instance -- that are only made mysterious by my ignorance of Punjabi culture.

That said, for many of us, the cultural hurdles will come early in Sher Khan, specifically in an opening scene where a leering bandit breaks into a family’s home and tries to make off with their teenage daughter. We see the father pick up a pair of scissors, and fully expect him to attack the bandit, but instead he hurls the blade into his daughter, who breaks free from her captor and runs tearfully into her father’s arms, only to die soon after from her injury.

Against such a backdrop, one appreciates that much more the few glimmers of female empowerment provided by Anjuman’s moments on screen. Beyond providing the eye candy in a generous supply of song and dance numbers, she also takes a very active part in a couple of the physical brawls, and even has a major role in saving the day in a scene where Rahi is held captive by the bandits. Furthermore, there’s a shockingly palpable amount of chemistry between her and the usually severe Rahi, who displays what looks like genuine desire upon first meeting her and even cracks a smile on a couple of occasions. Despite the obvious misogyny on display elsewhere, one can almost see how a woman with the power to breach such an intractable edifice might seem formidable indeed to the men around her, and worthy of the overzealous efforts expended toward containing her energies.

Another thing that struck me while watching Sher Khan -- particularly in an opening scene of the bandits terrorizing a village that is intercut with stock footage of various jungle animals stampeding -- is how, while perhaps not artfully made, these Punjabi action films are certainly very adept at creating a persistent sense of nerve-jangling anticipation. I also noted to what a great degree the movies were composed in the editing room, utilizing quick cutting techniques that would not become common practice in the West until a couple of years later (and which would be widely bemoaned by highbrows for evidencing the pernicious influence of MTV). A later scene similarly cuts between shots of Rahi and Mustafa Qureshi fighting and stock footage of two fighting lions. Though, somewhat puzzlingly, they are female lions (perhaps the only footage available?), I definitely got the point, and was further driven to wonder whether such a cinematic blunt instrument as this really required subtitles after all, or indeed any appreciation for the formal niceties of plot.

As for Anjuman, she would make the last of her many screen appearance opposite Sultan Rahi in 1995, having been gradually replaced by the younger actress Saima, whom Rahi was rumored to have secretly married. She nevertheless soldiered on in her career, braving both public razzing over her weight gain in the late 80s and industry resistance to her refusal to recede into character roles, but would ultimately retire in 2000. In the interim, Rahi was murdered -- in what is often referred to as an “assassination” -- on a road outside Gujranwala, bringing to an abrupt close an era of Pakistani cinema which it could be said he almost single handedly defined. Still, however imposing the man’s legacy, stars like Anjuman are notable not for having shared in his light, but for shining despite his long shadow.

Mustafa Qureshi: He likes kittens, just like you do!