Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Film Review: RIKI-OH- THE STORY OF RICKY (1991, Ngai Kai Lam)

Stars: 4.9 of 5.
Running Time: 88 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Siu-Wong Fan (IP MAN, SUPERCOP 2), Mei Sheng Fan (YEAR OF THE DRAGON, HIT MAN IN THE HAND OF BUDDHA), Ka-Kui Ho (PRISON ON FIRE, INFERNAL AFFAIRS 3), Yukari Oshima (LETHAL COMBAT, LETHAL GIRLS 2), Frankie Chin (GUARDIAN ANGELS, TO BE NUMBER ONE), Philip Kwok (HARD BOILED, FIVE DEADLY VENOMS), and a very special appearance by Tetsuro Tanba (HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS, HARA-KIRI, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, GREED IN BROAD DAYLIGHT).
Tag-line: None.
Best one-liner: "Enough! We're human beings! HUUUMAAAAN BEEEEIIIINGS!"

"RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RICKY." Is that a typo? Is this the story of "Riki," or is it the story of "Ricky?" It doesn't really matter. What does matter is that this is a grand martial arts-prison film-adventure masterpiece from the unhinged director of THE CAT, Ngai Kai Lam. It's the Looney Tunes carried to their logical, deranged end point, and they've learned a little along the way from DAWN OF THE DEAD to BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA to every movie that's ever combined eye trauma, tight pants, and bad dubbing.


It's the kind of prison movie where every prisoner is wrongfully committed and every warder is a cartoonishly evil kung fu master. It's also the kind of movie to lay all of this on 'ya with a straight face– and that's the way I like it.
Because of my fervent commitment to film scholarship and to the use of Caps Lock in order to embody said bad dubbing, this article will boldly and eloquently try to complete, many times over, the following, near-meaningless sentence:

"RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RIKI HAS SURE GOT A LOT OF..."

#1. "...GUTS."

Yesiree, RIKI-OH has got a lot of guts, just ask Oscar, Oscar has got a lot of guts. Oscar even uses his guts to strangle Riki-Oh, prompting the deputy warden to pontificate:

"ALRIGHT! YOU'VE GOT A LOT OF GUTS OSCAR!"

#2. "...GRAVE DESECRATION."


That there is Japanese film legend Tetsuro Tanba hurling gravestone after gravestone at our hero Riki-Oh (Siu-Wong Fan), who proceeds to smash them into small pieces of styrofoam. It's part of his generic training as a "martial arts good guy." But whose graves are those? He must smash 30 or 40 of them. I'm pretty sure that must violate some local ordinance. At the very least it undermines any possible Zen ideals they were (probably) going for.

#3. "...'BASTARDS.'"
Overuse of the word "bastard" is key to any poorly-dubbed film, Chinese, Italian, or otherwise. For example: "BASTARD WHY ARE YOU GROWING OPIUM!"

#4. "...VIDEOCASSETTE TAPES."

The Cyclopic deputy-warden (pictured on the left) has got shelves and shelves of videotapes in his office. I don't know if they're supposed to be soft-core pornography or what (many of their spines appear to be decorated with scantily clad ladies), but wait a minute, maybe they're supposed to be security tapes! We occasionally see security camera footage and monitors. Maybe Ngai Kai Lam said "ALRIGHT GUYS DRESS THE SET WITH SECURITY TAPES LOTS AND LOTS OF SECURITY TAPES GUYS" and then the crew just raided their own collections, hoping that we wouldn't notice.

#5. "...SHIVS."

While technically, RIKI-OH does not have a lot of shivs, allow me to rephrase the sentence: "RIKI-OH: THE STORY OF RIKI HAS SURE GOT A WHOLE LOTTA SHIV." In one eventful scene, some prison gang justice is about to be handed down, and the above, ridiculous, serrated-war-club shiv is proffered. I don't think, in all of prison movie history from the silent COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO to BRUTE FORCE to COOL HAND LUKE to ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK– that a better shiv has ever been devised.

#6. "...GREEN SHIRTS."


I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on 1991 Hong Kong fashion, but this feels a little excessive to me. Maybe everyone was in charge of costuming themselves, and they filmed it mostly on one eventful St. Patrick's Day? That would explain why everyone seems to be drunk...

#7. "...SEQUINS."

A bag of sequins is at one point employed in order to effectively blind Riki-Oh. Shades of BLOODSPORT?

#8. "...HIGH SCHOOL GYM DECOR."

That hideous, orangey-brown linoleum floor? The blank white walls? The doors and banisters accented with the most grotesque shade of blue in all of Sherwin Williams? Clearly all robbed from my high school gymnasium!

#9. "...SELF-SURGERY."

Riki-Oh is impervious to any injury, but on rare occasions requires forms of medical attention. As depicted above, he can even fashion a tourniquet from his own severed veins and tendons, expertly tying them with his teeth! It's kinda like 127 HOURS, but with less product placement.

#10. "...RAZOR BLADES THAT ARE GOING IN YOUR MOUTH!"



#11. "...SCHWEET, EARLY 90's HAIRCUTS."

This member of the prison-enforcing "Gang of Four" (whose preferred weapon is apparently knitting needles on elastic strings) sports a lovely early 90's skater bowl cut with bleached bangs, handsomely parted down the middle. Because, seriously, where else would you part it?

#12. "...COMPLEX HOMOEROTICISM."

Most prison movies can sorrrrt of be classified as homoerotica, whether intentionally or unintentionally– I mean, they're filled with desperate, sweaty dudes who talk dirty and take showers together. But RIKI-OH takes it to Golan-Globus levels of ludicrosity (but unfortunately without Van Damme's splits). And I applaud the distrubutors for dubbing Riki with a voice flaming enough to match his appearance!
Or, let me put it this way: RIKI-OH contains one memorable scene where a total bear named 'Zorro' binds Riki's arms with bent prison bars, announces "I WAS PROMISED SEVEN BAGS OF RICE TO TURN YOU INTO MINCE MEAT AND PUT YOU IN A PIE," and begins pounding his backside as the man-child son of the warden jumps and giggles in the foreground, shouting "GOODY!!!"

Ladies and gentlemen, now that's what I call a TABLEAU!

And look at this magnificent twink, a leading member of the prison-enforcing Gang of Four:



It's sort of like if gay, Japanese Jason Schwartzman were to portray a martial arts supervillain!

Now– full disclosure– this role is actually portrayed by a female martial artist named Yukari Oshima, but, come on, she's still playing a man, and I wholeheartedly applaud that decision.

#13. "...MANPILES."

Now this is just getting ridiculous.

#14. "...RIDICULOUS FLASHBACKS."

RIKI-OH was so happy with his lady before she leapt off a building because she was sort of cornered by some gangsters. They used to frolick together in fields and play with a remote-controlled biplane (am I having flashbacks to MOONWALKER?) and he used to wear this one schoolboy outfit that was pretty schnazzy, too, cause I guess he was in school?

He is carrying books, after all.

#15. "...FLUTE-PLAYING."
I forgot to take a screenshot of this, so just take my word for it. There is a lot of flute-playing. There is even underground flute-playing. Someone even is killed for flute-playing. Flute-playing is something to be taken seriously.

#16. "...VISUAL POETRY."


Yes, that is a human skull being demolished by a Riki-Oh fist as depicted through the radioactive lens of an X-Ray, thank you very much, and I'll bet you didn't see that in a Terrence Malick film, ya visual poetry-luvin' prissypants.

(Apologies again- see #3- to Terrence Malick).

#17. "...PIPE-WRENCH-THWACKS TO THE FACE."

Note the warden's Siberian tiger-print rug!

In one notable scene, our friend with the skater bowl cut thwacks Riki-Oh, who is encased in a weird S&M/rusty iron bar torture device, with a pipe-wrench in the face, at the very least 20 or 30 times. And still you get the feeling that this is not being done for laffs; it's being done to show the severity of the impingements on human freedom which our hero Riki-Oh is facing.

#18. "...MEAT-GRINDIN'."


And in a grand finale of blood, guts, and depravity, the meat-grinder gets his due, making the world safe again for peace-loving, green-shirt wearing, wrongfully imprisoned men everywhere. Some might say this is the most impassioned anti-totalitarian plea since DARKNESS AT NOON, but I'll go one step further. I'll say this is the most impassioned anti-totalitarian plea since CHAINED HEAT. Amen.


-Sean Gill

Side note: the Augustus Gloop-esque evil ninny son of the Warden (shown here greeting the Deputy Warden by affixing used chewing gum to his forehead)

deserves special mention, as does his propensity for junk food and wearing Jack-O'-Lantern pin buttons and bow-ties. I could probably write an entire article on this kid... but I didn't. Ah, well.

Friday, April 22, 2011

This Sunday at 9 p.m. in NYC– the GIANT EASTER MESS!

Sunday, April 24 at 9:00 p.m.
at The Bowery Poetry Club
308 Bowery (Between Houston and Bleecker).
F train to 2nd Ave, 6 to Bleecker.
$10 General Admission.

As part of our ongoing residency at the Bowery Poetry Club: Junta Juleil Theatricals, Rachel Klein Productions, and Bluebox Productions proudly present the GIANT EASTER MESS, featuring performances by Jillaine Gill, Libby Emmons, Sean Gill, Rachel Klein, Mike Porsche, Scooter Pie, J. Michael Gray, Mary Sheridan, Kerryn Feehan, Abby Lee, Christopher Burris, Lola Luscious Monroe, Megan O'Connor, Jimmy Pravasilis, Courtney Jansen, Nick Paglino, Lawrence Jansen, Creamed Stu, Jody Christopherson, Ali Ayala... and many more! And as a special bonus, you'll get to see me doing my much vaunted "Freddy Kruger album bass solo" routine– (as hinted at under the "Elm Street Dreams" song review HERE.)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Film Review: ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK (1988, James Signorelli)

Stars: 4.5 of 5.
Running Time: 96 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Elvira (aka Cassandra Peterson– of MOVIE MACABRE and ELVIRA'S HALLOWEEN SPECIAL), William Morgan Sheppard (HAWK THE SLAYER, THE KEEP, MAX HEADROOM), Edie McClurg (FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF, NATURAL BORN KILLERS), Susan Kellerman (BEETLEJUICE, THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE), Jeff Conaway (GREASE, TAXI), Daniel Greene (FALCON CREST, HANDS OF STEEL), William Duell (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, THE HAPPY HOOKER), Joey Arias (BIG TOP PEE-WEE, DRUNKS), Kurt Fuller (WAYNE'S WORLD, THE RUNNING MAN).
Tag-line: "Here comes Elvira... There goes the neighborhood!"
Best one-liner: "Hey, nice jacket. Who shot the couch?"

ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK dares to ask the question– "Can a movie be assembled entirely out of one-liners?"– and boldly answers with a resounding... YES!

For the uninitiated, Elvira (aka Cassandra Peterson) hosted the Vampira-esque horrorshow MOVIE MACABRE for local L.A. station KHJ in the early 80's, wowing audiences with valley-girl aphorisms and ludicrous sexual innuendos.

The character of Elvira is a likable, delightfully self-centered cultural artifact not unlike the 'Pee-Wee Herman' persona of (her close friend and fellow-Groundling) Paul Reubens. In fact, in tone, ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK often closely resembles PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE (but with heavy doses of PG-13 ribaldry), and in my mind, that's a good thing.

Both concern themselves with a weirdo-fishes-out-of-water roaming a cartoonish Americana, both were created and performed by kitsch-luvin' virtuosos, and both employ zany non-sequitur humor in a rare, non-irritating manner. [And as an added bonus, you can see Cassandra Peterson in PEE-WEE as the zany biker mama.]

ELVIRA is also a 1980's New World property (a Roger Corman stomping ground), which furthermore means it will be charmingly low-rent, but with the same manic energy which brought us such latter-day classics as HOUSE, DEAD HEAT, HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN, and HEATHERS. Basically, New World and Golan-Globus had a stranglehold on the finest 1980's party movies this side of the Atlantic. So fasten your seat-belts and grab your beers– here's ten things to love about ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK:

#1. Elvira's Macabre-Mobile.




Oh yeah! Almost as good as Pee-Wee's bike. And everybody in the 80's had to have a vanity plate. Not quite as good as Stallone's AWESOM50 in COBRA, but still a fine showing. Supposedly Elvira has hung onto the Macabre-Mobile and drives it around for special appearances to this day.

#2. The town of Fallwell, Massachusetts, whose moralistic elements... DECLARE WAR ON ELVIRA!

You see, upon inheriting a home (and a book of 'recipes') from her Great-Aunt, Elvira moseys into Falwell (Jerry, anyone?), where her brazen and zany behavior turns the town... upside-down! Town leaders, including FERRIS BUELLER's Edie McClurg and WAYNE'S WORLD's Kurt Fuller, initiate a crusade against the 'salacious' Elvira,


who, through incendiary behavior and inadvertant misadventure alike


has offended and incensed the community at large. The persecution of Elvira reaches a logical end point worthy of Maria Falconetti. (Well, not really).


Dreyer didn't need no marshmallows

#3. All of this, of course, may or may not culminate in a geriatric orgy whereupon viewers will never be able to cleanse themselves of the image of Edie McClurg mounting an elderly gentleman, or William Duell (from ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S nest) having mustard licked out of his ear by a voracious Pat Crawford Brown.


#4. The obligatory fix-em-up montage. As I've written before, in the 1980's, if the conditions for a "makeover" or a "shopping" montage do not exist, a "fix-em-up" montage must take their place. First off, Elvira is already Elvira. So we don't need a makeover. Second, the majority of the film takes place in Fallwell, Massachusetts; I'm not sure what Elvira would want to buy there. Thirdly, a fix-em-up montage provides ample opportunity for Castellari-worthy asscrack.


#5. Baby Elvira. I don't feel the need to elaborate.


#6. Elvira's FLASHDANCE.


Black leg warmers, a stunt double-Elvira doing backflips, and a finale which channels CARRIE: what more could you want out of life?

#7. Elvira and her new beau's predilection for generic "Beer"-brand beer.

You can sorta tell from this picture.

I'm guessing it had to do with some kind of exclusivity agreement Elvira had with Coors, a brand which she'd been hawking most magnificently. I hope one day to tackle some scintillating commercial reviews based on the relationship between Elvira and "the Silver Bullet."

#8. Punk Poodle makeover.

Okay, I lied: there was a makeover montage. But it was a dog, so maybe it's kind of a gray area.

#9. David Lynch is a fan. Er, well, I have deduced that David Lynch must be a fan. I have three Exhibits aside from the fact that it's a colorful, episodic, Americana-luvin', bizarre tract somewhat in the vein of WILD AT HEART (1990). Exhibit A: the villain is the wondrous, Shakespearian William Morgan Sheppard, later cast by Lynch as the ultimate string-puller, 'Mr. Reindeer,' in WILD AT HEART.

WILLIAM MORGAN SHEPPARD WILL WEAR A VEST-ROBE THING

Exhibit B. One of William Morgan Sheppard's sidekicks (pictured on the left, having a beer poured into his lap by Elvira) is played by Frank Collison,

who Lynch also later cast in WILD AT HEART as 'Timmy Thompson' (seen at the weirdo motel campsite with Dafoe, John Lurie, Jack Nance, & Pruitt Taylor Vince).

Exhibit C. David Lynch chose ELVIRA's director, James Signorelli, to helm the only non-Lynch-directed episode of HOTEL ROOM, a post-TWIN PEAKS prime-time effort.

So maybe it's a bit of a stretch, but I think that when ELVIRA hit theaters, David Lynch took note.

#10. The finale. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK ends with a little song n' dance.

Upon a cavernous Las Vegas stage, Elvira wows the audience with her sheer showmanship, twirling a flowing, batwing-shaped cape and surrounded by pillar-vases. Go-go boys dressed as derby-wearing devils drape themselves across an enormous spiderweb and leap about to accentuate the lyrical beauty of Elvira's generic pop song, which goes something like "Heeeeeere...Iiiiii...Ammmmmm!"

Elvira holds a tarantula toward the camera's fish-eye lens and kisses it,

and the song segues into "The Elvira Rap," which sounds a lot like that rap-break in Blondie's "Rapture." Some random, non-devilish back-up dancers emerge from the trunk of a car and

the devil-men whirl in unison

and the trunk guys' eyes leap out of their sockets due to the sheer Elvira-tude on display.

Finally, the pièce de résistance: Elvira's loopy, childish grin betrays her genuine excitement as we build to a nipple-tassle-twirling finale set to a surge of notes from an uplifting 1980's rendition of a Bach fugue.

It ascends (or is that 'shimmies up?') such a fully-committed summit of ludicrosity and PG-13 depravity, that I (and the gods of kitsch) are forced to bow down and award nearly five stars.

-Sean Gill