Despite passes at the superhero genre by film industries as far flung as India, Italy, and Indonesia, the perception of the superhero as a quintessentially American creation remains undimmed. This, of course, makes him an ideal target for satire. Probably the most well remembered example of this is the 1966 Batman TV series, which buttered its bread on both sides by aligning itself with the counterculture while, at the same time, selling millions of dollars’ worth of toys to kids who were too young to see its irreverence. Less well remembered, and certainly less well regarded, is Australian director Philippe Mora’s The Return of Captain Invincible, which is widely seen, even by its director, as being something of a mess. This may be due in part to the fact that, at the time, Mora’s sense of structure, pacing, continuity, and normal human behavior were still recovering after coming off his debut feature, Madman Morgan, a production that was largely at the mercy of a coke-addled Dennis Hopper.
This is the sort of movie that might spontaneously spawn during a Guitar Wolf concert. Well, this and Wild Zero of course– an oddly apt film to bring up, as the two films share rather a lot besides leather-clad rocker protagonists. It’s over-the-top, anarchic, and every frame is infused with the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll (if not actual rock ‘n’ roll; Redline‘s soundtrack is more thumping techno oriented). It also has a sweet, doe-eyed love story beneath all the engine revving and hair grease — and if you think that is somehow not in keeping with the tough, leather-clad exterior, you might not know many rockers. They are a sentimental lot at their core. Heck, Elvis wanted to be your teddy bear. And Roy Orbison! That dude was all about crying and being sad and taking advice from candy colored clowns we call the Sandman. One of my best experiences after moving to New York nigh those many decades ago was talking an autumn stroll through Tompkins Square Park past an older (than me, at the time) rockabilly couple with arms around one another, listening to The Penguins’ “Earth Angel” on a beat up old boom box. Modern rockabilly may be all about tattoo sleeves and volume, but even beneath that noise beats the heart of a romantic. And beneath all the leather, engine revving, and alien hustlers, Redline is most definitely a romantic and sentimental movie.
To the very limited extent that the German science fiction series Raumpatrouille Orion (full English title: Space Patrol – The Fantastic Adventures of the Starship Orion) is known in my own United States, it tends to be the victim of a certain unfair association. On those pitifully rare occasions when it’s mentioned, it’s seldom without being compared unfavorably to Star Trek – and sometimes even referred to as “The German Star Trek“, usually in the dismissive tone reserved for inferior foreign copies of iconic American brands. That Raumpatrouille is an imitation of Star Trek is unlikely, given that the series made its debut on German television within just two weeks of Trek’s initial bow in America (and quite a few years before Captain Kirk and company would make it to the German airwaves). And while the series does share some striking similarities with Trek, those ultimately just serve to highlight some even more striking differences.
At this point, I don’t think there is much cause to recount the ninja craze that swept the world in the 1980s (you can piece together the story from our reviews of The Octagon and Enter the Ninja). From Hong Kong to Japan, Bollywood to the United States and of course Turkey, these black-clad shadow warriors fanned out and did that really rapid baby-step ninja run into our hearts. Although the ninja originated in Japan, and Hong Kong produced more ninja films, for my money the United States was still ground zero for eighties ninjamania (many Hong Kong ninja movies were made purely to export to the United States, as often as possible, with as many different titles for the same movie as distributors could dream up). But while the US was inarguably the capital of ninja fanaticism in the western hemisphere, we were not entirely alone. In the snowy northern land known as Sweden, a man named Mats-Helge Olsson was building a sizable filmography of hyper-violent, mostly terrible action films that shocked and disappointed his countrymen. That Mats Helge would make a ninja film was inevitable. That he made two is unfortunate.
When last we saw Baron Victor Frankenstein, he was being marched to the guillotine to face a beheading for the murders committed by his man-made man, not to mention the murders in which he himself dabbled. Well, you can’t keep a good mad scientist down, and there are none better or madder than Cushing’s Frankenstein. With the help of a prison attendant who wants access to the Baron’s peculiar talents, Frankenstein escapes the execution and sets up a new identity and a new medical practice in another town. Hey, cheating death is what Frankenstein is all about, right? All seems to be going well for the doctor, who has a bustling private medical practice and a commendable public hospital for the poor. Sure he draws the ire of the local medical society when he refuses to join their ranks, but all in all, this new Dr. Stein (put a lot of thought into that one, didn’t ya, Victor? Better than Alucard, I reckon) seems to have turned over a new leaf and started working for the good of mankind. But wait…wasn’t that what he thought he was doing the last time around?
I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the titular gentlemen of The Gentlemen’s Guide to Midnite Cinema. Without them, it’s entirely likely that I would have lived my life without any knowledge of Peter O’Brian. And while that life would have been passable, filled at is with adventure and willing mod girls in mini-dresses and films in which Bruce Lee look-alikes fight Popeye in Hell, it would not have been complete. Lying on my deathbed, the final breath escaping from my gnarled maw, I would suddenly become aware of an emptiness in my soul — an emptiness shaped like a muscular guy with a huge permed mullet. Luckily, that hole has been filled, and I can shuffle off this mortal coil more occupied with my previous deathbed plan — making sure my final words are “avenge me!”
You know what I love? I love that “post apocalyptic rollerskating movie” isn’t a description of a movie, but instead of an entire genre. Granted it’s a genre created almost entirely by a single man, but when the man is dedicated and prolific enough, suddenly you have a whole section in the old time video store with sun-bleached VHS boxes on the shelves dedicated to movies where women on rollerskates gingerly navigate the rubble-strewn parking lots of post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, which is invariably going to be referred to as Lost Angeles, as it has been in so many of the crappy direct to video post-apoc films from the 1980s. It’s the DTV post-apocalypse equivalent of the DTV L.A. gang war movies, which inevitably go, “Los Angeles…City of the Angels.”
In 1958, Dracula would return in name but not with the familiar face of cinema’s best-known and most beloved Dracula, Bela Lugosi. Bela would return to the screen several times as a vampire, but never again as Dracula. So Dracula returned in Return of Dracula without Bela, and Bela returned in Return of the Vampire, without Dracula. Granted, Return of the Vampire pushes Bela’s character, Armand Tesla, as close to Dracula territory as it possibly can without getting slapped with a lawsuit, but that’s all part of the fun of vamping in the aftermath of Universal’s 1931 landmark Dracula, to say nothing of the need to occasionally satisfy/pay the estate of Bram Stoker. And Dracula or not, Return of the Vampire feels like the legitimate sequel to Dracula, even if intellectual property says it isn’t. Disentangled from all that, however, we are still left with an exceptionally enjoyable horror film with a unique setting and interesting lead character.
In the wake of the success of Universal’s 1931 shocker Dracula, there were many attempts to continue and/or cash in on its success, but for one reason or another, Universal itself was never able to capitalize on Dracula the same way it did when it turned both Frankenstein and The Mummy (and later, The Creature from the Black Lagoon) into franchises. Even in the later monster team-up House of… films, Dracula was at best a supporting player, even when his name was in the title, and the vampire prince of darkness didn’t really interact with the other monsters (or the main storyline). The fact that Dracula was so closely identified at the time with Bela Lugosi, and that Lugosi himself never returned to the role (at least in an official capacity), probably hindered Dracula from becoming the same sort of series as did the other Universal monsters. But where Universal failed, others were ready to step in and try to hitch their wagon to the Dracula gravy train…err, or some metaphor like that. Dracula liked gravy, right?
I’ve got a weird fascination with superhero movies from places other than the USA. Since X-Men (2000) and particularly Spider-Man (2002) demonstrated the possibilities of adapting comic books with a previously unthinkable level of faithfulness to the source material, superheroes have become a staple of Hollywood’s output. And with cash tills ringing in spades for all manner of four-colour-inspired heroics (as I write, The Avengers is already the third-highest grossing film of all time and still in theatres), it’s no surprise that overseas producers began to wonder at the possibilities. Some looked to their local comic properties for inspiration, such as with Hong Kong’s ‘a bit like Batman but played by Michelle Yeoh’ effort Silver Hawk. Elsewhere, filmmakers just borrowed wholesale from American films, as with Russia’s ‘Spider-Man with a flying car’ Black Lightning, or Thailand’s ‘Spider-Man… actually just Spider-Man’ cash-in Mercury Man. And of course Bollywood, boasting the biggest film industry in the world, was hardly going to miss out.