I have nobody to blame but myself. I mean, by now I should know that Hong Kong movies are not what they once were (i.e. good). And I should certainly know not to expect anything much from pop duo The Twins, a.k.a. Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung – I did, after all, suffer through their crummy vampire action mess The Twins Effect. So why in the Gay Blue Hell would I be interested in Protégé De La Rose Noire, their latest box office smash? Well, because one of my Hong Kong heroes, Donnie Yen, was the man behind the camera, and Donnie kicks ass. He was the action choreographer on The Twins Effect, and deserves the credit for making the mostly non-fighter cast look halfway competent. So maybe, just maybe, he could pull something out of the fire. Also of interest is that the movie features Donnie’s little sister Chris Yen, returning to the big screen for the first time since her debut in the little-known 1986 Yuen Woo-ping film Close Encounter With A Vampire. Still, I didn’t dare get my hopes too high, which is just as well because the movie still couldn’t live up to them.
I was uhm-ing and ahh-ing about reviewing this one given it’s a film with a rather high level of tween-girl appeal, and I didn’t want to tarnish my stout-yet-manly Franco Nero-in-Enter the Ninja image. But then Keith admitted to watching Red Riding Hood and I figured why not? Teleport City is after all built on inclusivity, which is the next best thing to build something on after rock and roll. So for the site’s no doubt large but silent tween girl fanbase, and anyone else who was just browsing and saw the picture of a cute girl walking away from an explosion, here it is; I Am Number Four.
As I am now, so too was I as a child: a very forgiving viewer. I’m sure there is some sort of mathematical algorithm that can predict exactly what amount of cool stuff (as defined by me) a movie has to have to make me forget the probably greater amount of boring stuff in it, but I haven’t been good at math since seventh grade, so I’ll leave it to the eggheads with their supercomputers and pulsating frontal lobes to figure that one out. Suffice it to say that my brain, caffeine and alcohol addled place that it is, has a tremendous capacity for screening out the crap in a movie and only remembering the bits it thought were entertaining. It’s the sort of mental agility that allowed me as a child and continues to allow me as an adult to squeeze enjoyment out of bloodless stones that crush others. That’s why I can watch a movie like Treasure of the Four Crowns or Ator: The Fighting Eagle and walk away, unscathed, and perhaps even mildly satisfied with what I’ve just seen.
I learned two important things from this psychotronic adaptation of Edgar Wallace’s novel, Die Blaue Hand. First, you can’t casually watch one of these Edgar Wallace movies from Danish film studio Rialto. Turn away for five seconds, and when you turn back to the television, you will be completely lost. They are so fast moving, and so insanely convoluted, that you have to concentrate on them with an intensity usually reserved for deriving the Unified Field Theory. The second thing I learned is that while quantity doesn’t equate to quality, featuring double the Klaus Kinski in your film is a sure thing. He shows up here as twin brothers, and unfortunately, that lead to the aforementioned distraction as I started daydreaming about what Crawlspace would have been like if Klaus Kinski was slinking around, peeping on…Klaus Kinski!
As the kind of pop culture savvy, switched-on individual who reads Teleport City, I assume you’re familiar with Sam Raimi’s excellent 2002 adaptation of Spider-Man. But in case you’re not or just need reminding, here’s a quick recap of the plot. Peter Parker sees the girl of his dreams being wooed by a wealthy jock with a flash car. Deciding what he needs is a cool set of wheels, he uses his recently acquired spider powers to enter a wrestling contest for money, only to see through his inaction, his beloved Uncle Ben shot and killed. The 2009 Russian film Black Lightning (produced as all Russian movies apparently are by Night Watch’s Timur Bekmambetov) uses the same plot, but asks the one important question Spider-Man left dangling; ‘what about the car? What about the car??’
Moscow, 2004. Greedy industrialist Victor Kuptsov (Viktor Verzhbitskiy, Night Watch) is drilling for the vast diamond deposits buried under the city. Despite warnings that this will undermine the foundations of Moscow and possibly kill millions through earthquakes, Kuptsov pushes ahead, but is thwarted when his giant Matrix-style tunneling machine isn’t powerful enough. The only thing with enough energy to complete the plan is the MacGuffin-O-Tron, also known as the Nanocatalyst. This device fashioned from magic moon rocks can increase the power of any normal fuel to over a million times the power of nuclear energy, or something. It was designed in the Soviet days but the project was abandoned.
In the present day, some workers employed by Kuptsov discover the lab where the Nanocatalyst was discovered. There are lots of blueprints and so forth, and also an old, black 1960s GAZ-21 Volga automobile. Seeing the chance to make a profit, they decide to swipe the car and sell it. Which may have a certain significance to college student and our nominated Piotr Parkovich, a.k.a. Dmtry, Dima to his friends (Grigory Dobrygin). Dima is contentious, studies hard, and has serious hots for the new girl, Nastya (the extremely pretty Ekaterina Vilkova, Hipsters). Dima though is constantly upstaged by his rich buddy Maxim (Ivan Zhidkov), who drives a sleek white Mercedes (one of the things that tickled me about this movie is how everyone evil drives a Merc. I’m half-expecting to find an interview where one of the writers reveals a Mercedes killed his father). Seeing his son is pretty bummed out, Dima’s Dad (Sergey Garmash, Space Dogs 3D), a poor but upstanding tram driver, buys his son… an old, black 1960s GAZ-21 Volga. Didn’t see that coming, did you?
Dima is grateful but not exactly thrilled; this is hardly the car to impress Nastya. So he hides it and tries to get the bus to college, but misses it because of stopping to help an old drunk. And on this day of all days, when nasty Victor Kuptsov is giving a lecture at the college. Dima earns some cutting remarks from Kuptsov, who trots out the old bullshit that successful people help only themselves. But his words strike a chord in Dima, who wants to make enough money to impress the girl he loves. You can probably see where this is going…
Kuptsov meanwhile is annoyed that the Nanocatalyst is nowhere to be found, only a container of previously converted super-energized nanofuel (it’s blue and glowing so you know it’s crazy powerful). From the blueprints it’s apparent that the Nanocatalyst has been built into the missing Volga, so Kuptsov sends his army of heavies out into Moscow to find all the Volgas they can. Meanwhile all is not well in the Dima household. Dima’s new attitude of only looking out for himself and trying to make as much money as possible does not sit well with his poor-but-proud Dad. When Dima Sr. intervenes in a mugging, his son berates him for risking his life for someone else, causing a deep rift between them. Kuptsov’s men observe Dad getting angrily out of the Volga, but stick with pursuing the car. And then Dima makes a startling discovery: his car can fly. Aw, man. The Russians had flying cars back in the 1960s? Way to go, capitalism.
Through an old record he finds in the glove box, Dima tracks down a couple of the scientists who built the car. They are now married, Perepelkin (Valeriy Zolotukhin, Night Watch) and Romantseva (Ekaterina Vasileva). Perepelkin is suspicious, claiming they could never get the Nanocatalyst to work, the project was closed down and chief scientist Elizarov (Juozas Budraitis) was fired in disgrace. Romantseva is more sympathetic and gives Dima the manual for the car. Now that he can circumvent the horrendous Moscow traffic, Dima becomes the star of the flower delivery service he’s been working for. Finally he has some cash to splash around, and takes Nastya to dinner at a swanky restaurant. He discovers quickly that she’s not the rich sophisticate Max said she was, and if she fails the next college exam will have to go back to her family in the country.
Unfortunately with great wealth comes great assholery. Dima gets into a fight with Max, and says a few salacious (and untrue) things about Nastya, which she overhears. Even worse, when he goes to reconcile with his Dad, Kuptsov’s men get there first, and the mugger Dad thwarted earlier is in their employ. Dad ends up bleeding to death in a snowy side-street while Dima sits idly by, refusing to call an ambulance because it doesn’t fit with his new ‘looking out for number one’ philosophy. He realizes too late who the victim is, Dad having already passed away.
At home with his distraught Mum (Elena Valyushkina) and little sister Tanka (Katya Starshova), Dima has the revelation we’ve been waiting for since the opening credits, especially when Tanka tells him “you’ll have to be dad now.” Using the Volga’s super-radio which cleverly doubles as a police band scanner, Dima becomes a hoodie-wearing superhero. He saves a child from a burning apartment block, foils an armoured car robbery and saves a baby in one go, even catches the mugger who killed his Dad (the mugger’s fate is not revealed, but since I don’t think Dima ever knew it was him, this isn’t too much of an oversight – I quite liked the ambiguity, in fact). He also gives the Volga a spiffy new coat of paint, and soon the people and the press are going crazy over this hero they have dubbed ‘Black Lightning.’ My favourite scene in the film is a lovely little moment that pops up about now, when Tanka asks Dima if Black Lightning is real. He says yes, but nobody knows who he is. “I think it’s Dad,” she replies. Brought a little lump to my throat, I don’t mind telling you.
Kuptsov is getting extremely frustrated with his inability to capture the car and the Nanocatalyst. He recalls the three scientists from the original project and convinces them he’s building a new version of the car to help Black Lightning in his heroic work. It transpires that Romantseva and Elizarov were in love, but because Perepelkin wanted her for himself he faked the negative results, knowing Elizarov would be fired. Meanwhile Dima deliberately fails an exam, knowing his place will go to Nastya, who is genuinely struggling. She realizes he’s not the dickhead she thought he was, but in a romantic twist of fate that is equal parts brilliant and ridiculous, ends up thinking Maxim is Black Lightning. Max being a genuine dickhead, plays along.
Back at Kuptsov’s facility, Perepelkin finds out about the plot to drill for diamonds and destroy Moscow. Now eager to redeem himself, he tries to escape and get help even though it means likely death. Kuptsov lets him go, betting that Black Lightning will show up to rescue him. Nastya meanwhile has switched her allegiance back to Maxim, admiring his apparent selflessness and heroism. Discovering this, Dima almost lets Perepelkin die just to prove Maxim isn’t the hero, but of course he can’t. “Black Lighting will be there. He has to be there,” he tells Nastya, even though he knows he’s playing into Maxim’s hands (Max is hiding in the toilet at this point). And somehow, Nastya realizes that even though Maxim is apparently the hero, she actually loves Dima.
Unfortunately Dima falls into Kuptsov’s trap, failing to save Perepelkin and losing the Nanocatalyst to the bad guy’s super, rocket-armed flying Mercedes. Kuptsov re-starts the drill with the three scientists tied to it, and Moscow seems doomed. With only his small reserve tank of nanofuel left, Dima is able to stop the drill and recover the Nanocatalyst. Kuptsov is furious and, having worked out who Black Lightning is, kidnaps Nastya, demanding the Nanocatalyst in exchange for her life. Can Dima save the woman he loves and Moscow and defeat the man ultimately responsible for his father’s death? Does a Russian bear shit in the woods?
Y’know, I could say a lot of negative things about Black Lightning. Sure, it’s massively derivative of American comic book movies; as well as the Spider-Man series, it borrows bits of Iron Man, Batman Begins (the score is identical in spots) and Universal’s legal team may have been rubbing their hands over the Delorean-like design of Kuptsov’s flying Mercedes (Universal put the film out internationally though so I assume it was OK). Dima even has a Facebook account where people can ask him for help, Kick Ass style, but I guess those movies were in production at the same time so we’ll let that one go.
On top of that, the plot is pretty thin, and several of the elements could have been fleshed out better. In particular I’d like to have seen the car given a bit more… personality I guess. I don’t mean have it talk or think for itself, but it doesn’t register on-screen the way I think it’s meant to. Partly this is down to Dima’s character never seeming to have much of a bond with it; it’s just a tool for getting the job done. I do wonder if part of this is because the special effects, while good, are used sparingly, so the flying sequences are quite brief. Hey, I doubt they had $150 million to spend so that’s understandable. I also think it’s because Grigory Dobrygin as Dima isn’t a very good actor. He’s a little too blank, is better at being a jerk than a hero, and a times is even a little creepy. The rest of the characters are pure ciphers, though thankfully filled by good actors who make them work for the most part.
And then there are those pesky action sequences. I know that in a movie about a magic flying car it’s probably silly to complain about how much of the action seems to defy physics, but there are moments where I did roll my eyes (like when Black Lightning is flying vertically upwards with another car balanced upright on the front fender – I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t work). And a little more time spent on exactly what the car is capable of would have been nice. It seems like the only difference from a normal car is supposed to be the flying thing, and yet BL seems to be indestructible, can apparently go into space without ill effects despite earlier being shown not to be watertight, and a few other things. And honestly, when it comes to super-heroics a flying car is a lot less practical than a dude swinging from a web. Take the moment where a stolen armoured car is about to hit a woman and her baby. BL shunts it from the side, flipping it over. So now it’s still moving forward at speed towards the baby but completely unable to steer. Of course it stops in the nick of time but you get the idea.
And yet… for all its many faults, I found myself going along with Black Lightning, and getting genuinely invested in the outcome. There are some nice moments throughout, and so help me I wanted to see weird, creepy Dima get the girl. I mentioned the sweet little bit with him and his sister, and I all but cheered when Dima thinks he’s sacrificing his future with Nastya to do the right thing. I am something of a sucker for comic book movies, I guess. I even smiled a little at the joke stolen from the Moore-era Bond movies, when a guy about to knock back his fifth vodka sees the flying car and swears off booze forever. So while far from a classic, I’d give Black Lightning a pass, even though it has nothing to do with the DC comics character of the same name – a black guy who shoots lightning.
And so what if they never really address why a bunch of scientists, discovering a magic new power source, would turn it into a flying car? If I had the technology and the resources I’d build that shit yesterday!
Release Year: 2009 | Country: Russia | Starring: Grigory Dobrygin, Ekaterina Vilkova, Viktor Verzhbitskiy, Valeriy Zolotukhin, Ekaterina Vasileva, Juozas Budraitis, Ivan Zhidkov, Sergey Garmash, Ekaterina Starshova, Mikhail Efremov, Dato Bakhtadze, Igor Savochkin, Sergey Legostaev, Elena Valyushkina | Screenplay: Dmitriy Aleynikov, Aleksandr Talal, Aleksandr Voytinskiy, Mikhail Vrubel, Rostislav Krivitskiy, Vladimir Neklyudov | Director: Dmitriy Kiselev, Aleksandr Voytinskiy | Cinematography: Sergey Trofimov | Music: Yuriy Poteenko | Producers: Timur Bekmambetov, Syuzanna Muazen, Pavel Ratner, Iva Stromilova, Aleksandr Voytinskiy, Mikhail Vrubel | Original title: Chernaya Molniya
The Devil’s Man is a really quite odd — not to mention staggeringly cheap — little Eurospy film from director Paolo Bianchini, the man who spoiled Superargo for everyone with his limp sequel to Superargo vs. Diabolicus, Superargo and the Faceless Giants. It’s one of those Italian genre films in which the actors walk through it as if in a dream, reacting to situations in ways that no human being ever would simply because that is either what the script required of them or because they were given no direction as to what a more sensible course of action might be (ad libbing was obviously outside the pay scale). Remember that scene in Nightmare City where the woman quite improbably stands stock still and screams while a zombie pokes her eye out with a stick just because that was what was required in order to pull off the cheap prosthetic effect? Well, I was going to say that that is representative of the degree of logic informing The Devil’s Man, but, on second thought, that at least makes sense on some level.
Like many people, I find that there are certain types of films that appeal so strongly to me on a conceptual level that I tend to cut them considerable slack when reviewing them. Often times, even the very worst of these films, like when Santo is old and fat and spends half the film driving a station wagon to the grocery store, muster enough of the elements I like to keep me satisfied. And one of my very favorite genres is the Eurospy film and the various offshoots and influenced tributaries — among them the Italian fumetti-inspired films. As we covered in some weird and convoluted fashion in our review of Kriminal and the three Turkish Kilink films, as well as Danger Diabolik, fumetti were saucy Italian comic books populated by sexy, violent anti-heroes and villains. Super-thief Diabolik became the flashpoint for a whole series of comics and related films that drew both from Diabolik and the James Bond movies. Diabolik himself was a throwback to the old pulp heroes like The Shadow, The Spider, and European counterparts like Fantomas — with a bit of Batman thrown in for good measure.
Most of the heroes and villains of fumetti did not possess super powers. They simply liked dressing up in outlandish body stockings and kicking people in the head. Needless to say, the combination of gratuitous sex appeal in the form of various Eurobabes slinking around in mod 60s mini-wear, combined with garish space-age sets and amoral violence really speaks to a sophisticated man like me. So I tend to gravitate toward these fumetti-inspired films whenever I can find them, and I’m always happy to discover new ones (such as the ones from Turkey). However, it ain’t all steak and onions, and if the 1968 fumetti film Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankhamen proves nothing else, it proves that it is possible to make a film that will disappoint even someone like me with my incredibly low standards.
Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankhamen may be infamous to some for squandering an awesome title and the lovely Lucretia Love in a movie that, in its best moments, manages to be a middling affair. To others, it is infamous merely by association. Wait, let’s backtrack. To most people, it isn’t infamous at all, because they’ve never even heard of it. But among people who keep track of movies with titles like Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankhamen, the film is notable as the debut (or very close to it) directorial effort from Italian exploitation filmmaker Ruggero Deodato.
Deodato is a man who has built his entire career on the shoulders of the controversy generated by his infamous cannibal gore films — specifically Cannibal Holocaust, a film that amazes me in its ability to be simultaneously disgusting and boring, shocking and banal. Cloaked in the taboo surrounding the film’s content — Deodato was put on trial by a prosecutor who was convinced the film contained actual human snuff footage, instead of just actual animal snuff footage — Cannibal Holocaust has passed into the rarefied airs of the best known and most infamous cult films in the world. What gets lost amid all the stone dildo rape and ass-to-mouth impaling is that stripped of these few Grand Guignol scenes of brutality, Cannibal Holocaust is a really boring film helmed by a largely pedestrian director. Hell, even with them, the movie is still kind of dull, though if nothing else, it serves as a very useful intellectual exercise for twenty year olds in film studies classes, wanting to prove how shocking yet insightful their reading of the film is. And yes, shamefully I speak from first-hand experience.
Deodato’s short-comings as a director are made more obvious when you have to watch one of his films that doesn’t benefit from several minutes of controversial cannibal torture footage. As I am a sucker, I have seen pretty much everything he’s done short of the various TV movies he directed, and then something about a washing machine full of dead people or something, and there’s really only been two times that Deodato kept me entertained from start to finish. In my younger and more formative years, I admit I was a booster for films like Jungle Holocaust and even Cannibal Holocaust (actually, I admit I still sort of like Jungle Holocaust), but once the initial gee-whiz shock wears off, you’re left forcing yourself through a really boring couple of movies.
Really, the only times Deodata succeeded for me was with the outlandish Raiders of Atlantis, which propels itself along under power of its own brain-twisting looniness, and Barbarians, a sword and sorcery clusterfuck that is as infamous for being idiotic as Cannibal Holocaust is for being disgusting and boring. I guess my big problem with Deodata is his need to intellectually justify the basest of his works by casting them as “cautionary tales” of the hoary old “who’s the real savage?” vein. Sort of like the endless string of films that teach me heroin is bad for you, or that absolute power can corrupt you. Thanks, movie makers of the world, for these news flashes. I never would have thought to question the brutality of modern man if Deodata didn’t force me to, just like I never would have dreamed that people with untold amounts of power might go mad with it until Caligula taught me otherwise. But heck, at least Caligula is funny, and it has even more film school intellectuals attempting to rationalize and justify its excesses.
Even with the Deodato films I’ve enjoyed, it’s often been despite his direction, rather than because of it. Raiders of Atlantis gets by on weirdness, and on hot pink-haired Filipino Road Warrior chicks. Barbarians gets by on the astounding yet affable ineptness of its twin bodybuilder stars. Neither of these films could ever be taken seriously — unless you see Barbarians as a cautionary tale about letting annoying jugglers and mimes have free passage throughout your kingdom — and that’s probably what makes them tolerable. Most of Deodato’s other work is just as incompetent, but with the added bonus of having a pretentious moral forced in to make the film seem more palatable and smarter.
Given that Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankhamen has the title Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankhamen, and given that it was a comic book movie supposedly cut from the same cloth as Diabolik and Kriminal, I expected to enjoy the hell out of it despite a rookie Deodato being behind the camera. With any luck, his penchant for making boring movies out of intriguing topics would not yet have kicked in. Alas that being boring seems to be the core competency he showed right out of the gate, and rather than ending up being cut from the same cloth as Diabolik and Kriminal, Phenomenal is more assembled as an elementary school art class project out of the scraps left over. Against all logical presumptions based on the title and the subject matter, Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankhamen ends up being a barely watchable bore that is notable only for its ability to turn a movie about villains trying to steal King Tut’s treasures being foiled by a dude in a featureless black pantyhose mask into something fairly uninteresting.
Things start out fairly promising, as we join a drug smuggling operation already in progress. Unfortunately for our dastardly ne’r-do-wells, mysterious superhero Phenomenal has smuggled himself onto their smuggling boat, and as they approach the docks, he sets about kicking some ass. Notable is that Phenomenal, unlike most of the other fumetti heroes who made it onto the big screen, is actually a hero. Diabolik and Kriminal were thieves, and certainly not above the occasional murder. But Phenomenal is expressly on the side of the good guys, operating with the blessing — or at least with the appreciation — of the local police. Also notable is that Phenomenal has the lamest superhero outfit I’ve seen in a long time. He wears the aforementioned featureless black mask, which he somehow manages to see out of despite the lack of eyeholes, and this mask he accessorizes with…a long sleeve black t-shirt and a pair of plain black dungarees. Seriously? Diabolik took the time to buy himself all sorts of cool latex suits, and Kilink spent a whole week knitting himself skeleton themed bodystockings — and Phenomenal shows up in jeans and a turtleneck? That’s like being the obnoxious kid who shows up on Halloween wearing a cardboard box and says he’s a cardboard box when everyone else has awesome Frankenstein and Dracula outfits. Unfortunately, Phenomenal’s lame outfit pretty much embodies the thrill level of the movie as a whole.
To be fair, the opening is good stuff, and exactly what I wanted from the film. And if you, like me, enjoy it, I suggest you watch it a couple times, because that’s pretty much the last you’ll be seeing of Phenomenal or of action for a long time. The drug smuggling foiled, Phenomenal dives into the bay, and the plot proper kicks in. A priceless collection of treasures from the tomb of King Tut are on display at the local museum, so naturally security is skittish since every criminal gang in Europe is plotting to steal the treasures. Since, you know, that’s what criminal gangs spend their time doing, rather than running prostitution and extortion rackets. Seriously, when was the last time you picked up a newspaper and read the headline, “Mafia Steals Tut’s Mask! Scotland Yard Baffled!” Maybe I wouldn’t have put it past John Gotti — he liked to be flamboyant, and has a jacket made from the skin of unborn wolves (or so I was once told). But besides him, I think Tut’s treasures are safe from any gangs of guys in gold chains and jogging suits.
But they are not safe from big Gordon Mitchell, who leads one of the criminal gangs intent on stealing King Tut’s treasures. Of course, they’re not the only ones after the goods, and things are further complicated by the fact that cheap but convincing copies of the treasures were made for security reasons. Also thrown into the mix is the standard issue fun-loving, Bruce Wayne style rich guy, Count Guy Norton, played by Mauro Parenti. We are immediately lead to believe that maybe he’s Phenomenal, but of course, the most obvious character is never revealed to be the masked man — unless the film is exceptionally clever or exceptionally dumb. In the end, I’m not even sure why the film played coy with Phenomenal’s identity, as it never becomes crucial to the plot, and it never manages to make the viewer give a damn one way or the other. I will say that if you do have a secret identity and a signature costume, no matter how lame, you probably shouldn’t carry it folded neatly on top of everything else in your luggage when going to the airport.
Most of the film revolves around Gordon Mitchell’s thugs plotting to steal the treasure, getting double-crossed, and then plotting again to steal the treasure. Seriously, man, you’re a super-powerful gangster. Surely you can hire better help, or I don’t know. Beat up old people who run delis and make them pay you protection money. Or just open a casino. There are lots of ways for thuggish mobsters to get rich without having to concoct elaborate plans to steal stuff from natural history museums. But maybe I’m being crass and shallow, assuming that it’s all about the money. Maybe it’s the thrill of cat burglary, or the beauty of the objects d’art. Or maybe Gordon just wants to put on King Tut’s mask and run around town making groaning noises and scaring Lou Costello and Buckwheat. I guess I can see the appeal in that.
Eventually, Phenomenal shows up to stand on the rocks along a winding country road, where he can put his arms on his hips and laugh at people. This was Kilink’s specialty, but he usually followed it up by doing a plancha onto a gang of bad guys and starting a fist fight. Phenomenal is in it mostly for the standing around with arms akimbo. But at least our title character is finally back in the movie, leading us on what should be a wild chase across Europe and northern Africa as the various sides steal and re-steal the treasures. Unfortunately, by this point, the film has pretty much drained the viewer of any energy and good will at all, so the globe-trotting final half-hour fails to make up for the previous sixty minutes of uninspired tedium and long shots of Gordon Mitchell’s living room.
My standard disclaimer applies: I hate hating movies. Teleport City has never been about “ripping bad films a new one.” I genuinely enjoy enjoying movies, and if my taste is somewhat suspect, that’s really only bad for the people who read these reviews and then get fooled into thinking they want to watch Asambhav just because I liked it. And if there’s anything I hate more than hating movies, its hating movies I really thought I was guaranteed to like. It never occurred to me, before viewing the film, that I would be anything but overjoyed by Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankhamen. So about half way through, I was more than bored; I was genuinely distraught, like something had gone horribly, horribly wrong. “No!” I yelled earnestly and confused at the television as I watched yet another scene of Gordon Mitchell sitting in a recliner. “No! You’re supposed to be a great movie! Come on! Quit messing with me!” but by the time the credits rolled, I had to hang my head in sadness and admit that, despite all the rooting I’d done for it, despite the fact that I believed in it, Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankhamen let me down like a politician six months after getting elected on appealing campaign promises. My opinion of Deodato, already low as you know, was made even worse now that he had wandered into one of my favorite genres and stunk the joint up.
But I try to be positive, and so let me first mention some of the few good things Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankhamen delivers. That first scene was short but cool, with Phenomenal wearing that dress sock on his head and punching out a lot of guys. The music that accompanies that scene, and plays throughout, is far better than the movie in which it appears. Bruno Nicoli was one of the stalwarts of Italian film music, and he’s rarely not on top of his game, even if the movie for which he’s writing music leaves a lot to be desired. And although it’s too little too late, the finale is sort of fun, including a great little fight that stumbles into a women’s steam room — a scene for which there exist several stills featuring the women doing nudity. That was either done for some unseen “international” version, or purely as titillation for the promotional stills, because when the fight actually happens, the women all manage to keep their towels wrapped around them, since even a giant guy beating up a dude in black dungarees with a black toboggan pulled over his face isn’t enough to make a proper lady forget her modesty.
Not that gratuitous boob shots would have helped this movie — they just wouldn’t have hurt. But a couple fun fights and the coy promise of flesh aren’t always enough to salvage a film, and Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankhamen has more problems than can be compensated for with those meager table scraps. Phenomenal himself is an obvious rip-off of Diabolik, minus the menacing cool streak, hot girlfriend, awesome lair, and cool collection of cars. Where as Diabolik makes love on a rotating bed covered in stolen hundred dollar bills, Phenomenal seems more likely to find a penny stuck to his ass after he’s finished jerking off on the couch. He may stand like Diabolik, and laugh like Diabolik, and wear the Wal-Mart Halloween costume version of Diabolik’s outfit, but Phenomenal is certainly no Diabolik. But that’s OK since Ruggero Deodato is no Mario Bava. Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankhamen never achieves that phantasmagoric, sprawling, big budget feel that Diabolik managed without a big budget. Everything here feels small and uninspired.
The performances of the actors deserve a better movie. No one here is bad at all, though Gordon Mitchell does at times look like he’s completely forgotten he’s in a movie and is thinking about something else. Still, are you going to pick on Gordon Mitchell? He’ll kick sand in your face and steal your girl, leaving you in the lurch to contemplate purchasing a “Charles Atlas Secrets of Dynamic Tension” informational package. As Count Norton, Mauro Parenti is serviceably bland. He lacks the smoldering hotness of John Phillip Law, who played Diabolik, and the impish charm of Kriminal’s Glenn Saxson, but if nothing else, he’s too dull to be bad. It’s no big shock that he never became a big star. It’s also not a big shock that he was the producer of this film, not that I’m suggesting he made this film purely as an exercise in vanity. Lucretia Love, who shows up as a love interest/possible criminal/possible good guy, is always a welcome sight, but amid a flimography that includes Battle of the Amazons, The Arena, From Istanbul: Orders to Kill, and Seven Blood-Stained Orchids, a lump of a movie like Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankhamen tends to just get forgotten.
There are probably worse fumetti movies out there, but right now, this one is the bottom of the barrel for me. Doedato disappoints on every level and fails to deliver pretty much everything you’d want from a fumetti inspired film. It’s a shame a title like Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankhamen was wasted on a movie that can’t live up to its promise. You really shouldn’t be calling yourself Phenomenal if you aren’t.
Release Year: 1968 | Country: Italy | Starring: Mauro Parenti, Lucretia Love, Gordon Mitchell, John Karlsen, Carla Romanelli, Cyrus Elias, Charles Miller, Mario Cecchi, Agostino De Simone, Teresa Petrangeli, Spartaco Battisti, Bernardo Bruno, Mario De Rosa, Pieraldo Ferrante, Enrico Marciani | Writer: Ruggero Deodato | Director: Ruggero Deodato | Cinematographer: Roberto Reale | Music: Bruno Nicolai | Original Title: Fenomenal e il tesoro di Tutankamen
It is perhaps a sign that I’ve succumbed to the stressors of the season that I’ve been re-watching a lot of these earlier lucha movies lately. While the Mexican wrestling movies of the late 60s and 70s can be amusingly trashy, those made a decade previous exhibit an appealing hokeyness and sincere desire to entertain that makes them, for me, the ideal form of cinematic comfort food. They also, in the case of films like 1960′s Neutron vs. The Death Robots, exhibit a not inconsiderable amount of appealing, old school style
Neutron vs. The Death Robots, the second in a series of five Neutron films, was directed by Federico Curiel, one of the most prolific directors of Mexican lucha films. Working with literally every major star in the genre, Curiel helmed a steady stream of entries that lasted from the early 60s until the twilight of the Mexican wrestling film’s popularity in the late 70s, in the process providing the genre with its last box office hurrah with 1972′s wildly successful Las Momias de Guanajuato.
Like a lot of lucha film directors, Curiel seemed to lose his artistic footing a bit with the transition to color in the late 60s. As a result, many of his later films have a harsh, overlit look to them and an unimaginative approach to composition. This may very well be due to the drastically reduced budgets that directors had to work with during the genre’s waning years, which likely necessitated a reductive point-and-shoot style both for the sake of haste and to cover for the lack of elaborate sets. (One notable exception to this practice is Braniac director Chano Urueta, who compensated for his lack of materials by infusing the two Blue Demon features he directed – Blue Demon contra Cerebros Infernales and Blue Demon contra Las Diabolicas – with an abundance of bright primary colors that turned them into vivid, live-action cartoons.)
By comparison, in the case of Death Robots, Curiel — at the time still working within the relative security of the Mexican studio system, with its comparatively generous budgeting for art direction and set design, and filming in rich black and white — is clearly in his element. The director had recently completed the twelve-part vampire serial The Curse of Nostradamus, and seems to have carried the moody, gothic ambience established there over into the first three Neutron films, which were all shot by Curiel in close succession using the same cast and resources. (Curiel also had to shoot each film in half hour long “chapters”, which were then assembled into feature form — a sort of “go-around” to circumvent regulations enforced upon the studio, Estudios America, due to its affiliation with the union STIC, whose authority had been limited by presidential decree to the production of short films and serials.)
The combination of the shadowy tones of classic Hollywood horror and noir films with the wholesome thrills of the Republic superhero serials of the 40s was a hallmark of early lucha films, and the Neutron films offer an example of the practice at its most visually sumptuous and alluring. To some extent the films even prefigure Hollywood’s current vogue for “going dark” with costumed hero tales. And Neutron could hardly present us with a better hero to receive such treatment, blessed as he is with mysterious origins, a disturbing habit of popping up unexpectedly in peoples’ bedrooms, and what one could easily be forgiven for describing as a gimp mask.
While Santo is unquestionably the most famous face in lucha cinema, it might surprise some to learn that Mexico’s most famous wrestling star almost missed the boat altogether in terms of his onscreen career — and that the genre nonetheless managed to chug along without him for the better part of its fledgling decade. Santo’s first missed opportunity for movie stardom came in the early 50s, when producers approached him about appearing in a personally tailored, twelve chapter serial entitled El Enmascarado de Plata (meaning “The Silver Mask”, an appellation with which Santo had already become popularly identified). Santo refused, and the serial was eventually released in 1952 with rival wrestler El Medico Asesino as its star, though not before the producers had exacted a little symbolic revenge by making “El Enmascarado de Plata” the name of the villain rather than the hero of the piece.
With or without Santo’s participation, the popularity of lucha libre among the Mexican public insured that masked wrestlers were going to have a pronounced presence on the country’s cinema screens. And so, throughout the 50s, a variety of fictional wrestlers and masked heroes were concocted to fill the vacuum. These included the masked luchador Huracan Ramirez, as well as more traditional, serial-inspired heroes like La Sombra Vengadora, who, while not presented as wrestlers per se, encouraged the association by way of their lace-up masks, bare chests and frequent employment of flying drop kicks.
It is to this last mentioned category that Neutron belongs. And while he did not technically beat the silver-masked one to the big screen, I think he can still be said to be a product of the aforementioned Santo gap. As for Santo, when he finally did decide to make his leap to the screen, he somewhat curiously chose to do so as a co-star in a couple of fairly inauspicious, low budget Cuban productions, both released in 1958. The following two years saw Santo’s acting career bear no further fruit, which resulted in him not making his debut in a Mexican production until his starring turn in Santo contra los Zombies, which was released nearly a year after the initial Neutron film, Neutron, el Enmascarado Negro and its two immediate sequels.
Starring in the Neutron films was a Latvian born actor and professional wrestler by the name of Wolf Ruvinskis. Ruvinskis spent a lot of his screen career playing heavies, and is probably most recognizable to cult film fans for his role as Argos, the impressively buff and ring-ready leader of the invading Martian force in Santo vs. the Martian Invasion. Three years previous to his debut as Neutron, he had appeared in Fernando Mendez’s Ladron de Cadaveres, a film that was important in the history of lucha cinema for being the first to place elements of the classic horror film within a wrestling milieu. The story of the film — which was later essentially recycled to provide the plot for the first of the Lorena Velazquez/Elizabeth Campbell Wrestling Women movies, Las Luchadoras contra el Medico Asesino (aka Doctor of Doom) — concerned a mad scientist who switched the brains of an ape and a wrestler (Ruvinskis) with predictably monstrous results. More important than the story, however, was the visual grammar employed by Mendez to tell it, which, in borrowing the German Expressionist-inspired look of the early Universal horror films, paved the way for later Gothic-tinged masked wrestler outings like the classic Santo vs. las Mujeres Vampiro and, of course, the Neutron films.
While Ruvinskis’ part in the Neutron films required him to play Neutron’s alter ego Carlos, I can’t say with absolute certainty that in all cases he appeared on screen as the masked hero himself. I will say, though, that, from seeing him in films like Ladron de Cadaveres and Santo vs. the Martian Invasion, he certainly appeared to possess the proper amount of athleticism for the role, and that there are definitely moments when it looked to me like it was him behind the character’s distinctive black, lightning bolt adorned mask. In any case, whoever played the part, Neutron definitely makes for a credibly super-heroic presence, sporting a trim, sculpted build that stands in sharp contrast to the more stocky frames of some of the considerably older, real-life wrestlers who would soon be appearing in these type of films as idealized versions of themselves. The masked man also proves no slouch in the fighting department, including among his arsenal of moves an impressive flying drop kick, as well as some fairly convincing looking fist work. (Yes, that’s right. I said “fist work”. Even though I know what associations the phrase — when thought of in connection with Neutron’s head-enveloping, black mask – will conjure.)
Now, there are a number of reasons why I have singled out Neutron vs. The Death Robots as the most noteworthy of the Neutron films. (For one thing: Best. Title. Ever.) As I mentioned earlier, it was the second Neutron film, and as such stood as the middle part of a trilogy comprised of the first three, which together tell one continuous story. However, while the first film is burdened with having to establish the many characters and conflicts that will play out throughout the trilogy, and the third film, Neutron contra el Dr. Caronte, has the chore of tying up all of the loose ends, Death Robots is largely left free of such expositional baggage to just go about the business of being an exciting little adventure yarn. As such, it is easily the most action-packed of the three, boasting a propulsive forward momentum that neither of its two, considerably more talky companion films can hope to match.
Second of all, Death Robots has a great villain, present in the first film, but given far more prominence here. Dr. Caronte is a classic movie megalomaniac, prone to grandiose, fist-shaking proclamations that never leave the audience in any doubt as to what exactly his evil schemes entail, or what his glowing estimation of his own capabilities might be, much less his withering disdain for all the haters and wannabes who, one assumes, bear some real or imagined responsibility for him choosing his current, super-villainous path. The masked Caronte also boasts an outfit that speaks of a certain career ambivalence, one part surgeon’s scrubs and one part wrestling togs, that makes for a pretty memorable visual image, especially for the way its blinding whiteness stands out against the backdrop of Caronte’s gloom-enshrouded laboratory hideaway.
And then there are the film’s monsters, the titular Death Robots, who are basically an army of faceless, coverall clad zombies — hirsute but for the encroaching male pattern baldness that each exhibits — whom Caronte appears to bake into life in a series of what look like futuristic pizza ovens. As ridiculous as they may sound, Curiel puts a lot of work into giving these silent, lumbering killers a delicious creepiness, frequently announcing their arrival in a scene by first showing their slowly advancing shadows looming up on a wall behind an unsuspecting victim.
But Caronte’s crew is not comprised entirely of Death Robots. There is also his assistant Nick, a bowlegged dwarf with a fearsome unibrow, who — in both the Spanish and English language versions of the film — is dubbed with a strangled, high-pitched voice that makes him sound like a constipated muppet. Caronte generally treats Nick like a sort of fetish object, even referring to him at one point as his “good luck charm”, and the two have a tendency to walk hand-in-hand as they tool around their lair. As with the Death Robots, Curiel brings all of his cinematic flair to bear on the task of accentuating the odd and disquieting nature of this character’s appearance, and is especially fond of using Nick’s height as an excuse to shoot scenes by angling up from his eye level, all the better to take advantage of the impressive, three-leveled set that stands in for the Doctor’s laboratory. In fact, it is during those scenes with Nick, the Doctor and the Death Robots in Dr. Caronte’s laboratory that Neutron vs. The Death Robots most seems to spring to life, giving you the clear sense that it is in the more spooky aspects of the film’s world that Curiel most feels at home.
Death Robots begins by briskly recapping the events of the first film by means of a handy television newscast, and in the process reintroduces us to the series’ recurring cast of characters. That film strove to create an air of mystery around Neutron’s identity by providing us with three leading men, each of whom could ultimately be revealed – and at various times were hinted to be – the masked hero’s alter ego. These three included Ruvinskis in the role of playboy Carlos; biologist Jaime, played by Armando Silvestre; and popular television commentator Mario, played by Julio Aleman. Several years later, Aleman would get his own chance to play a masked movie avenger, in the flatly ridiculous Rocambole series, which took a Fantomas-like 19th century French pulp character and turned him into a Batman-style hero complete with a risible costume featuring a chest emblem of a giant arrow pointing downward into his trunks.
Carlos and his two handsome buddies seem to be inseparable, working out and showering at the gym together and, even, by appearances, living together in the big mansion that Jaime inherited from his dad, a scientist who was killed in the first movie. But lest you get the wrong idea, all three men also share the same love interest, Nora (Rosita Arenas), a singer at the popular nightspot La Roca. Nora’s choice of vocation affords the filmmakers plenty of opportunities to pad Death Robots running time with musical numbers, and not just Nora’s, but those performed by her fellow nightclub performers as well. Some have complained that these interludes only serve to slow the picture down, but, personally, I like them; Curiel employs the same noirish play of light and shadow evident elsewhere in the film in capturing these numbers and, as such, I think they provide Death Robots with a nice touch of B movie glamour.
Rounding out Team Neutron is Dr. Thomas, a European scientist who also seems to live in the house with Carlos, Jaime and Mario, and who keeps a pretty impressive laboratory filled with blinking control panels there to boot. Dr. Thomas is played by Grek Martin, aka Jack Taylor, aka George Randall, an American expatriate actor who, after relocating to Spain, made his living by appearing in quite a few European and Mexican genre pictures over the course of his career. The former included a healthy(?) number of films for Jesse Franco, including Bare Breasted Countess, French Emanuelle and Porno Shock, among others. Martin/Taylor has a sinister quality that has you continually expecting him to be revealed as the bad guy throughout the Neutron pictures, even though he never is. Or I should say, technically he never is, since in the third film Dr. Caronte uses black magic to transmigrate his soul into Dr. Thomas’ body.
The first Neutron film concluded with Carlos unmasking himself as Neutron to his friends. However, at some point between the production of that film and Death Robots, it was decided that it was best to keep the whole “who is Neutron?” gimmick going, and so we begin Death Robots with all of the characters having conveniently forgotten the whole incident. As a result, we go back to the earlier movie’s routine of having everybody intermittently accusing one another of being Neutron, while having occasional clues dropped by the filmmakers implicating one or the other of them as the hero’s alter ego. It would contribute a lot to the general air of fun that the film sustains if you hadn’t seen the first film — or if you hadn’t read all of the spoilers in this review.
The MacGuffin that drives Dr. Caronte’s actions throughout the first three Neutron films is a device somewhat confusingly referred to as the Neutron Bomb. In this context, one might expect this to be a bomb that only kills Neutron, but it is instead a spiky metal ball that emits a gas that dissolves everyone within a certain radius. The rather heavy-handed efforts of Caronte and his associates to get their hands on the bomb’s formula in the first film resulted in all of the scientists responsible for its creation — including Jaime’s father — being killed in one way or another. And as we catch up with Caronte in the opening moments of Death Robots, we find that he has had little Nick exhume those scientists’ corpses to further his evil scheme. The Doctor has since removed the brains from those corpses with the intention of combining them into one super-brain, which he will control and communicate with via an infernal machine he has created for the purpose. In order to do so, however, he will need “LOTS of blood”, and so the Death Robots are sent forth to find some hapless citizens of Mexico City to exsanguinate.
Unfortunately, Dr. Caronte’s worst enemy turns out to be his own egomania, as his insistence upon leaving a distinctive coin at the site of each murder quickly alerts Team Neutron to the fact that he is far more not dead than he appeared to be at the end of the last film. Soon Neutron enlists the gang in helping him set up a sting operation of sorts to capture one of the Death Robots, with the plan being to then follow the thing back to Caronte’s hideout. With his disembodied super-brain having filled him in on the necessary ingredients for the bomb, Caronte is now having the robots raid local chemical warehouses for the materials, and it is at one of these that Neutron, along with police Inspector Lozano (Rodolfo Landa), makes the catch. Things fail to go as planned, however, because as soon as the targeted Death Robot realizes it is being followed, it commits suicide by pulling off its own head — in what I probably don’t need to tell you is Neutron vs. The Death Robots‘ crowning moment of awesomeness.
Eventually Caronte gathers all of the materials he need to make the Neutron Bomb, but then decides that he needs Dr. Thomas to help him assemble it. Thus Neutron’s primary task becomes defending Thomas against Nick and the Death Robots’ repeated attempts to abduct him. Meanwhile, all of Neutron’s three possible alter egos still find plenty of time to hang around La Roca, watch an assortment of musical numbers in their entirety, and simultaneously hit on the understandably put-upon Nora. This all comes to an end when Caronte succeeds, not only in kidnapping Thomas (by employing a Death Robot disguised as Neutron!), but Nora, as well. Thus, by bartering Nora’s life, is the villain able to strong arm Thomas into helping him.
Once the bomb is completed, Caronte initiates a somewhat harebrained extortion scheme that involves having the bomb placed in a flight bag that Nick, disguised as a miniature cab driver, then stashes among other pieces of luggage on a baggage cart at the Mexico City airport. This, of course, sets the stage for the old suitcase switch-a-roo, and an innocent couple, mistaking the bag for their own, ends up grabbing it and heading off home. This leads to a hilarious series of scenes in which Neutron, the cops, and the Death Robots alternately barge unexpectedly into various citizens’ homes looking for the case. One imagines that the acting abilities of the bit players involved were taxed to their limits as they attempted to portray the reactions of normal people to having their homes invaded by either a bare-chested man in a black wrestling mask or a dwarf accompanied by a contingent of long-haired, faceless zombies.
Eventually the bomb is recovered and taken to Thomas’s lab to be diffused. Here Dr. Caronte makes an unexpected appearance, leading to a protracted smack-down between him and Neutron that, after a break for a bit of chasing around, has its windup in Caronte’s hideout. At this point, we get an example of that classic exchange in which the villain exhorts the hero to join him, with Caronte telling Neutron that together they “could be invincible” and Neutron, of course, voicing his staunch refusal. This dialogue goes on for quite some time, and the great thing about it is that Neutron and Caronte never once pause from furiously beating the shit out of one another while delivering it, with the result that what sounds like an argument between two people sitting across a table from one another is heard as the participants flip and hurl one another all over the room.
Unlike in Neutron, el Enmascarado Negro, no reveal of Neutron’s identity is made at the end of Death Robots. In fact, pretty much every aspect of Neutron remains shrouded in mystery, other than the obvious – i.e. that he works out a lot, likes to expose his nipples to open air while having his head encased in nylon, and lives to smote evildoers, though not necessarily in that order. Basically, we experience Neutron as the other characters in the film do, only seeing him when he shows up to do his job and never being privy to what the behind-the-scenes of being Neutron is all about. This extends to us not knowing just how Neutron always knows exactly where and when trouble is going to pop up. Unlike with Santo, we don’t get to see him tooling around in a laboratory served by live feeds from cameras seemingly placed randomly all over Mexico. All we know is that he shows up in the nick of time, and does so pretty much without fail.
And if there was one bone I’d pick with Neutron vs. The Death Robots, it would be that one: That the predictability of Neutron showing up — completely without explanation — whenever peril arises ends up robbing the film to some extent of drama and suspense. In a couple of cases, Neutron arrives so swiftly on the heels of the Death Robots that we don’t even have time to register the threat. On the other hand, though, I think that this is in part a result of the film’s approach to action being more about velocity than build-up, and scenes such as those certainly do contribute to an air of breathless excitement — almost as if we are watching a story projected directly from the brain of a sugar-addled eight-year-old boy who’s caught up in the excitement of recounting the action of the cartoon he’s just watched.
Dr Caronte would return for one last go around, in Neutron contra el Doctor Caronte, in which he would battle a gang of foreign agents for possession of the Neutron Bomb and engage in the aforementioned black magic shenanigans before being unmasked and served his final comeuppance at the film’s conclusion. After that, Neutron would disappear from Mexico’s cinema screens for several years, until 1964, at the height of the lucha movie boom, when the character would be revived for two one-off features, Neutron contra los Asesinos del Karate and Neutron contra el Criminal Sadico. With the exception of Ruvinskis in the title role, gone would be the earlier films’ cast of regular characters, as would be director Curiel (German import Alfredo B. Crevenna — another ubiquitous presence during the heyday of lucha cinema — would take the helm instead). As a result, these titles lacked the dense, spook show atmosphere created by Curiel for the earlier films and, as such, had little to distinguish them from the typical Mexican wrestling fare that was being produced at the time. An unfortunate revamping of Neutron’s mask — which, if anything, made it look even more gimp-like — did nothing to help matters.
Soon thereafter, four of the Neutron pictures, including Death Robots, were picked up and dubbed into English for American television (a fifth, unrelated lucha film, El Asesino Invisible, was also included in the package under the revamped title Neutron Traps the Invisible Killers). These would become staples of Saturday afternoon TV at roughly the same time that K. Gordon Murray’s dubbed versions of the Santo films were hitting the U.S. airwaves, with the result that — in the USA at least — Neutron garnered nearly as high a profile as Mexico’s number one Luchador.
Of course, in Mexico it was a different story. Though that is not to say that Neutron didn’t have some cultural impact of his own. The initial trio of films spawned a fumetti-style series of Neutron photo comics that, for a while, competed on the country’s newsstands with Santo’s own popular comic, and, in later years, both the Neutron name and classic mask would come to be adopted by some real-life practitioners of lucha libre. Still, the enormity of Santo’s fame — not to mention that of his closest competitors, Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras — nonetheless consigned Neutron once and evermore to the category of also-ran.
That their hero was something of a second-class citizen in lucha movie circles does not, however, take away from the fact that the early Neutron films, and Death Robots in particular, are excellent examples of their genre — better, in fact, than many of those films that starred Neutron’s more well-known competitors. In fact, to my mind, there are few films that, when combined with a suitable quantity of alcohol, could provide a better cure for the blues, holiday or otherwise.
Release Year: 1960 | Country: Mexico | Starring: Wolf Ruvinskis, Julio Aleman, Armando Silvestre, Rodolfo Landa, Rosita Arenas, Jack Taylor (as Grek Martin), Ernesto Finance, David Lama, Roberto Ramirez Garza | Director: Federico Curiel | Writer: Federico Curiel, Alfredo Ruanova | Music: Enrico C. Cabiati | Producer: Emilio Gomez Muriel | Also known as: Los Automatas de la Muerte, Neutron the Atomic Superman vs. the Death Robots
The mid-sixties were a time of increased experimentation and political outspokenness for filmmakers in Czechoslovakia, thanks to the increasing relaxation of government censorship that peaked in 1967 with the sweeping reforms of the Prague Spring, and which came to a crashing halt with the Russian invasion the following year. Of the films produced during that brief renaissance, Vaclav Vorlicek’s Who Wants to Kill Jessie? is far from the most radical or subversive. But it is just possible that viewing it would have been enough to convince the CCCP standard bearers back in Moscow that the Czechs were having entirely too much fun for their own good.
Con Licencia Para Matar (aka With License to Kill) is the second of a pair of films featuring Las Tigresas, a trio of catsuit-wearing female secret agents for hire. The first Tigresas film, Munecas Peligrosas (aka Dangerous Dolls) was a barely-there affair, with just enough of a plot on which to hang its numerous instances of padding. Con Licencia Para Matar, by contrast, would seem to be packed with enough plot for the both of them, complete with two competing sets of villains, including a beatnik scientist with a trio of super-powerful, green-faced androids at his command, and a blonde bombshell revolutionary who conceals her true designs under her cover as the owner of a posh go-go club. Despite all of this business, the film still manages to devote plenty of time to what seems to be the Tigresas films’ first order of business, that being the inclusion of lots of random musical numbers and scenes of the Tigresas lounging around their well-appointed bachelorette pad in various stages of undress.