Back in 1996-1997, Scott Reynolds and I had a weekly Movie Night Ritual. I would head to his apartment, sit down with some popcorn and soda pop and enjoy a sweet, sweet movie. We would alternate weeks. The whole shebang began with me showing him Don’t Go In The Woods. He showed me The Wild Bunch. You can probably guess from those first choices that I didn’t always bring the class to these get-togethers. (Sometimes I did. I brought It’s A Gift and Brewster McCloud.) Yes, I brought The Last Slumber Party and Quisenberry’s Scream. Scott brought classy stuff and a load of blaxploitation films. One of them was Gang Wars, a film I’d never heard of, but any film starring Warhawk Tanzania has to be great. And, it turns out my prediction was right. This is an exploitation film of the first order.
If a blaxplotation film begins with a prologue sent in “CHINA 200 BC”, then you’re in great hands. Just relax. Warhawk runs a kung fu school of some sort. He and his assistant, the hot-headed Roldan, head to Hong Kong for training. Roldan digs up an ancient amulet. A demon follows them back to New York City. It hides in the subway and kills folks. And, as always, this is just a small taste of what happens. It’s like describing Moby Dick as a book about some guys hunting a whale. The main plot is important but, oh those incidentals.
Multi-racial gang wars involving awesome kung fu fighting. Dumb honky cops. A demon in the subway tunnels killing people. Gold (lame?) overalls worn during the final fight. A scene that clearly has dialogue but has funky music dubbed over it instead. Warhawk vanishing for a large chunk of the second half so we can focus on other characters. And, even the VHS getting into the fun by replaying a 30-second scene at a subway platform. Hell, Brother Theodore even shows up! The film seems willing to film anything provided it’s entertaining. That is the sign of some steamy, fragrant exploitation. Something for everyone.
What does this film have that you might enjoy? Well, here’s something: The fight scenes. All the fight scenes look very well choreographed. I know this because it looks like they just filmed the cast practicing their moves. Everything moves a bit too slow. Punches don’t connect. Blood flies from people for no reason. And, when one fight scene begins with Roldan in a mesh top, Heaven is a place on Earth.
Warhawk keeps a strong presence throughout, even thought he does vanish for quite a stretch. The man has everything. He is a Kung Fu Master. He is respected by all, the gangs and the cops. He can kick your ass up and down the street and make you want to apologize to him for wasting his time. He, of course, has an awesome lady. They get a “Day Out” montage with a sweet, sexy soul number playing over it. And, we never see the woman before or after that scene, except briefly in the end. Why should we? We can infer that she must be great by her nearness to him. There must be another film where the romance is the main story and there’s a “Kick Ass” Montage in the middle where this movie happens.
I love a film with a “We’re just making this all up” feel to it. Hell, that’s what I’m doing right here. We follow Warhawk, the demon rises, then we follow the gangs, then some demon killing, then the cops, some gang fighting, some this and that. It’s all great. Each portion is so entertaining that you forget about the other bits until they reappear. Did you ever see Nashville? It’s like that, except one has Henry Gibson and one has the Subway Demon.
AUDIO AND VIDEO
Pretty awful. I think Scott’s copy was EP. My copy is an EP copy of his. If you can imagine that. Under all the EP bother, it looks like decent low-budget 70′s film except the print is far too dark. On my copy, you can’t see what’s happening during the final subway fight. Imagine my joy when, on a Code Red DVD, I saw a preview for Devil’s Express and you can actually see what’s happening! Where’s that DVD?
I’m lucky I have this copy.
There is always another one out there. Just when you think you’re hitting the end of the line and there is no more insanity left…This weekend, I saw Gone With The Pope and reacquainted myself with this wonderful film. So, there is stuff out there, hiding away and kicking my ass when I least expect it. Thanks for finding this one, Scott. Movie Nights were awesome. Sorry about Frozen Scream.
It’s really not about the horseman. This isn’t a Sleepy Hollow remake. It’s made by the man who made Carnival Of Blood. If you haven’t seen that film, then you might not be able to catch the rhythm and feel of this film. It seems like it’s starting off with a plot of some kind. Something about an inheritance is spoken by a very serious narrator of unknown provenance. Then, we meet “the kids”.
“The kids” are a bunch of grown-ups. They might be hippies. I’m not 100% sure. But, they all hang out together. And, when one of them inherits some land with a Wild West Show-thing on it, all his friends join him and decide to try and “put on a show”! But, there is a legend on this land: The Legend of the Tamal (I think that’s what’s being said) Moon. And, the longer they stay, the greater the chance that they will be menaced by the Headless Horseman who protects the land.
The scenes that seem very ad-libbed are the sure sign of The Kirtman! The narrator who goes on menacingly is very Un-Kirtman. But, he didn’t produce or write this one. All “the kids”, I would warrant a guess, are not actors. I would warrant another guess: They are friends of the producers or there is some sort of link. The main couple, the ones who seem very square with jobs and plans of marriage, seem like actors. I think I’ve seen the guy somewhere else. But, all “the kids” (and there are a lot of them) are glorious amateurs.
And, this is where the other film comparison slides in: The Howling: New Moon Rising. Clive Turner’s Valentine to the people of Pioneertown. That film has a plot, it has a lot of plot, but it moves and shift and vanishes under the weight of all the appearances by Turner’s friends and buddies…and all the little in-jokes (Dicktheria, anyone?). All those strange moments that everyone in the film laughs at that the viewer needs to watch multiple times just to sort out what the hell is happening.
Curse Of The Headless Horseman feels exactly like that, except not as well-shot. “The kids” are, generally, very vaguely defined. There’s the two showman guys, the “mystical” gal, the older couple who seem grounded, the slightly fey guy, the guys and gals that never quite get defined…they’re all here. Skippy, Jimmy, Bella Sue, Ron, “The HoDaddy!”, Dick Vermillion, Jennifer Brown and the Torrential Twins. And, they go on and on. They goof around, dance, do some comedy and keep the whole pace of the film off balance. When you think things should be swiftly moving towards the climax, people are still doing their party pieces.
Now, I love this movie. I think it’s full of joy. It’s people having a good time. Hanging out and goofing around in some of the cheapest looking shots ever. Look at those credits! Brilliant. It’s the fact that the film looks like a very cheap early-70s film coupled with the strange freeform feel of the characters and their stories. From the Wild West stunt men who seem to be real Wild West Stunt Men to the strange appearance by Ultra Violet to the ramblings of Solomon the “Old” Caretaker with his strange makeup to the cover of the Bob Dylan song being sung during the scene where the man is sexually assaulting his “girlfriend” behind the Stagecoach, the movie has it all. A focus, however, is required.
Carnival Of Blood should definitely be watched first.
“It is Beginning Again!”
“Enjoy the sunshine! Relax! Wander about. Soon it will be night! And there will be a Moon…a Special Moon.”
Like The Last Slumber Party, if you’re not paying full attention, this film looks like incoherent ramblings where nothing happens for long stretches. But, focus…focus. And, it’s all there. And, it’s bitchin’. Every single day things just keep getting bitchin’.
Some movies stand on their own. Some need the context of what’s happening around them. Sometimes, rarely, films need context that’s even further out. Ten minutes talk with the producer/writer of this film would clear everything up. I don’t want to have that conversation.
I think I knew that they’ve made movies this goofy across the 20th century. I just never really stumbled across one. When I watch very old films, I’m generally after classics or a film by someone whose work I know. Devil Monster is probably one of the clearest, purest examples of the kind of thing we love at Bleeding Skull. Untouched by irony or any trends of its time (apart from pure, sweet exploitation), this film darts along doing something absolutely astounding, head-shaking or just plain Loony every single minute of its just-a-little-over-an-hour running time.
San Pedro or San Pietro is the initial setting. Robert loves a gal. But, she loves Jose. Jose went missing some time ago. So, Robert joins his Dad on a “tuna trip” to search the South Seas and find out what happened to Jose. And, they travel. And, they meet natives and they fight the Devil Monster and it’s a constant burst of odd invention that resembles your Grandpa’s version of A Night To Dismember. A film cobbled together from all over the place to reach feature length.
First off, it’s all post dubbed and the soundtrack is so disasociated that I almost think that someone added the dub in years later. From their outfits and hairstyles, I think early to mid-30s. But, I’ve seen 1946 listed as the year of production. The footage with humans was not shot in 1946. It feels like some sort of “Young Man’s Adventure” that has gone straight to Insane Town. Maybe it’s filmed in 1946 but set in the 30s?
Second, and this is the kicker, there is a lot of stock footage. A lot of stock footage. Once they hit the sea, there is a long, long stretch of Robert narrating travel footage. He talks and talks. And, oddly enough, we see some topless native girls, which is, frankly, surprising. Most of this footage seems to have been shot silent. I mean, silent as in “Silent Movie Era”. Just the way people move in the footage…they are at the same speed as silent films.
You know in Night Of The Zombies (Italian) when we see stock footage nowhere near the actors but the actors are supposed to be right there? This film does that…Footage of South Sea Natives hanging out is shown and Robert concocts all sorts of stories around their “interaction” with them. A man is shown waving madly at the camera and it becomes an invitation from a tribal chief to watch people swim. Then, we go to the underwater (or outside the aquarium) camera. Even though it’s all underwater, Robert knows the exact details of everything that’s happening.
More than half the film is stock footage. I would say that trumps Jungle Hell. The movie has its own plot and tells its own story but it’s all joined to the wonderful stock footage in one big Stew of Adventure. After a time, especially in that first barrage, the sheer audacity of all the stock stuff is astounding. Who would have watched this? Someone who wanted to see bare breasts for a few seconds? Possibly. But, I like to think that there was someone like me back then. Someone who was wandering into theaters hoping that they’d see something really, really strange. Dale Burlap? Dave Bouffet? Have you seen this movie? Did you love it?
AUDIO AND VIDEO
Looks and sounds terrible. But, who cares? At some points, whole chunks of the film are missing as Robert’s narration hops ahead bit by bit. Where’s my Blu-Ray?
I have the tape from SWV. There is a montage of their titles at the beginning and at the end. That’s it.
Insanity of the Finest grade, as fine as my first pair of long pants. This movie appeared in my life, left me dumbfounded and then asked me to watch again. They were really as nutty then as we are now. Thank God for exploitation.