Friday, March 21

Some quick thoughts on Raiders of the Doomed Kingdom (1985)

A band of Thai mercenaries embark on one last mission to save a general after the Fall of Saigon. Posing as Chinese Red Guard, they infiltrate a compound and regain the general only to be given chase. Racing to the shore, while picking up several female soldiers, they escape on a fishing boat with their pursuers in toe. The jungle island both parties reach happens to be a leper colony, and while the horribly disfigured inhabitants are friendly, they become pawns in the ensuing battle. Now the mercs must dig in for their lives against a Red Guard commander who just doesn't relent.

Joseph Lai's International Finance Development Films & Arts is a Hong Kong production company known among trash aficionados for their streak of '80s kung fu, ninja, and action flicks. The studio's output was so cheaply made that scenes were often liberally "borrowed" between several films. To stretch their dollar, minimal new footage was then shot and built around this pre-existing material. Although sometimes different territories saw different versions of the same film tailored to their region. The studio likely assumed their generic pap screened in dime theaters all ran together. Who's going to notice that same throwing star fight repeated across three flicks anyway?    

Raiders of the Doomed Kingdom is one of their action productions which are always delightfully nonsensical and extra exploitative. Just to get this out of the way, the already shaky story falls apart after they reach the island and the characters essentially fall into either good or bad guys. Our lead, Sergeant Cobra (Sorapong Chatree), is only that due to being more well kept than the other good guys. Everyone being terribly dubbed also doesn't help performances.

The production feels larger in scope than other IFD flicks, with several impressive sequences, including protesters storming the U.S. Embassy in Saigon and hundreds of defectors trying to leave. To this end, writer Godfrey Ho tries to use what at least sounds factual to the period in history. Ho also infuses some political sentiment with a sour depiction of the nationalities involved, including Americans, except for the Thai mercs. In a surprising showing of gender equality, a pair of women soldiers are given the final showdown with the Red Guard commander instead our male hero. Cobra instead fights a trader within his troop, but I'm still unsure at which point the guy turned bad among the incoherence of the final reel.

Of course, most aren't going to give a shit about these aspects, and instead focus on how brutal Raiders frequently is. We get disturbing newsreel of Vietnam atrocities, bodies mowed down, jungle traps, decapitations, knife fights, and even an overlong and rather graphic scene of cunnilingus. Raw mayhem substituting for plot is something IFD specialized in. Almost as if the studio was trying to make up to viewers who tried to apply logic. Finally, as a callback to IFD's cost-cutting, when the droning score quiets, pieces stolen from First Blood (1982), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), and Tenebre (1982) are heard.

There's only a few VHS releases of the movie worldwide. Amazingly a U.S. VHS release is floating around, from "Atlantic Film & Video", but it's very scarce. The Danish, Finnish, Greek, and Japanese also saw English-language tapes, but the Finnish is severely edited. Both the Greek and Japanese releases are also in 1.85:1 widescreen. I have the North American and Greek (pictured below), both appear uncut, with the Japanese arriving shortly. I'll post my findings/impressions upon receiving it.

Monday, March 3

Some quick thoughts on Adam Chaplin (2011)

After the horrific immolation of his wife at the hands of disfigured mob boss Denny (Chiara Marfella), Adam Chaplin (Emanuele De Santi) calls upon the dark to assist in his quest for vengeance. With the aid of a demonic cherub that spawns from his back, and the superhuman strength it grants, nothing will stand in the way of his revenge.

Originally, I was going to talk about the state of slow decline and then immediate death of Italian horror cinema over the past thirty years. Yet with Adam Chaplin all that bittersweet history doesn't really matter because despite being of Italian origin, it bears little resemblance to the country's previous horror output. It's something more akin to the hyper-gory anime Fist of the North Star occurring in the world of Hobo with a Shotgun in Italian language.

Aside from fountains of grue, Chaplin's most impressive aspect is how director De Santi, who filled most of the production's roles, conceals the budget with technology unavailable at this level of filmmaking a relatively short time ago. Much digital image manipulation was employed to hide the smallness of sets while minimal CG acts as enhancement to the practical effects without replacing the abundance of gore. In contrast, fellow Italian Massimiliano Cerchi relied so much on terrible graphics with his Flight to Hell (2003) that it might be the worst horror film to ever come from the country.

The screenplay, also by De Santi, wisely chooses to give background to the characters of Adam and Denny. This adds weight to their feud; however, there's still many questions, like Denny's own dark pact, and the film's post-apocalyptic world remaining unexplored. Adam's demonic companion, an imp insidiously driving his bloodlust, is a great touch that's again short on any answers. Though this lack of explanation isn't crippling since everything plays like the pages of a pissed off indie comic book.

The gore effects are the biggest attraction as Adam's flesh-shredding strength leaves faces brutally dismantled and limbs ripped asunder. An apparently new blood polymer was created for the film with much more "sling" on impact, so splat blooms look less watery while never approaching reality. If you're a gorehound, you'll love this mayhem, but the parallels to the gory battles in Fist of North Star border on theft. Many of the action shots are lifted wholesale from the anime series. This wasn't by chance as short clips from the anime are seen in the DVD's supplements.

So Adam Chaplin isn't some grand return of Italian horror. It's just a lot of fun that's more interested in the ride than specifics. The self-billing as "goriest movie ever" is debatable though. I'd still consider Peter Jackson's Braindead (Dead Alive) (1992) as the pinnacle of gory wizardry. The attention to character development pushes this one among the best splatter flicks I've seen along with The Story of Ricky (1991) and Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone (2001). The clearly passionate De Santi might impress further with a more ample budget and it'll be interesting to see if he works with production company Necrostorm again. you dare tread upon the staircase?

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