The Bad Movie Report

Land of the Cheapass DVDs

Continuing the thread begun in our last update, let us continue with our examination of those shadowy budget discs hidden away in the dusty corners of stores:

Samson in the Wax Museum

Samson in the Wax MuseumWe'll get the non-kung fu entry out of the way first this time. This is another good-looking edition of a K. Gordon Murray Mexican import. Samson is, of course, El Santo, most famous and popular of luchadores, the Mexican masked wrestlers. Judging America in the 60s to be unready for an Hispanic hero, the wrestler's name was changed to "Samson, the Silver Maskman". All other names are similarly anglicized, although any written text throughout the movie stays firmly en Español. Samson enjoys a free hand with the law that Batman would envy, which is not bad for a guy who never wears a shirt in public. Then there's the Santomobile, a phat little convertible which has no perceptible gadgetry, but you just know El Santo would drive a car like that.

Wax Museum revolves around a series of disappearances - actually kidnappings, as we see in the movie's prologue - and the proprietor of the title's museum, Dr. Caroll. Though Caroll protests his innocence, even to the point of recruiting Samson/Santo to investigate, it's a foregone conclusion that the Doctor is a dangerous looney who is creating monsters for... some reason or other. Something to do with his being tortured at Auschwitz (This is likely the least efficient plan to take over the world I have ever seen). Where does Caroll get the money for his lab? Is business that good? Where did his two normal henchmen come from, and why are they working for him? I also had no idea that wax, when sufficiently heated, can melt flesh and bone...

This should have a couple of chilling scenes, but the traditionally horrid Murray dubbing dispels any tension the picture might have developed. Samson's voice, for instance, is ridiculously deep. But we do get a look inside the Santo Cave, which is more like the Santo Converted Dining Room. As is usual for a Luchador movie, the plot stops dead for no less than three wrestling matches (which, to be fair, are well-filmed and more interesting than I've seen in other luchador flicks). The fight scenes are also unusually long and involved, almost like a kung fu film without the overblown sound effects or acrobatics; my major feeling, after the movie was finished: "Man, that Samson sure can take a beating..."

Like Brainiac, Samson in the Wax Museum features a nicely clean, if slightly blue, transfer. The audio is very clear, but once again, we have a reel change/tape switch that floods the screen with snow at one point. Still, it's great, enjoyable Santo at the price.

SIGHTED: K-Mart PRICE: $4.99

Deadly China Hero

Ah, that's why people hate Wong Jing.

Deadly China HeroAlso known as Last Hero in China, it is perhaps best to think of this as the Airplane! of Wong Fei-hung movies. Jet Li once more appears as the Chinese folk hero, but his love interest Cousin Yee is written out at the very beginning of the movie, leaving Wong free to concentrate on ass-kicking. The comedic sidekicks here, Ah Foon and Bucktooth So, are far more overt than in the Tsui Hark-directed Once Upon A Time In China movies, even to the point of So possessing a set of Komedy teeth which must be seen to be believed; Wong's overcrowded clinic/school, Po Chi Lam, is relocated next door to a brothel (komedy!); and yes, this is the infamous movie where Wong Fei-hung dresses up in a chicken suit to fight a giant fire-breathing centipede (complete with bawk bawk sounds from our hero).

Still, the fight scenes are directed by Yuen Woo Ping, and seldom fail to thrill. Gordon Master Killer Liu Chia Hui guest stars as a villainous monk who is moonlighting as a white slaver - if the phrase "white slaver" can truly be used in this context - providing a much more appropriate foil for Wong than the prototypical eternally-laughing (and completely annoying) villain played by Cheung Man. References to other Wong Fei-hung movies abound, and the climax even features a return to drunken boxing. I laughed out loud several times. It's not canon, but it is fun.

Once more, we're dealing with a videotape of an HK laserdisc; subtitles drool off the sides of the screen with alarming regularity, but aren't as hard to read as in other BWF releases. Colors are a bit washed out, but stable. It's watchable, at the very least, unlike...

SIGHTED: K-Mart PRICE: $4.99

The Kid With The Golden Arm

This was my first Beverly Wilshire disc. Consequently, it was almost my last.

The Kid With The Golden Arm is my favorite of the old-school Shaw Brothers kung fu movies. Directed by Chang Cheh and featuring "The Venoms", a group of actors made popular by Five Deadly Venoms, this outing tells the simple story of a shipment of gold being escorted to an area devastated by famine; bad guys want to steal the gold, and the good guys escorting the wagon want to stop them. Simplicity itself, but the overwrought theatrics and hyper-kinetic fight scenes transform this into something more than mere chop-socky; these guys might as well be superheroes and super villains, endlessly vying for that issue's McGuffin, testing their special powers one against the other. I swear I'm going to do a full review some day.

So I was quite happy to find this on DVD, some time back - when BWF was still a viable company. And I was incredibly disappointed. I should probably take it as a given that all BWF discs are mastered from VHS, but this is from a second generation tape at least. The picture is so grainy it looks like your TV screen is covered with ants and the colors smear like a low-budget acid trip. There is an attempt to letterbox the image by applying slivers of black matte at the top and bottom over the picture. Admittedly I've seen this movie enough times that if a frame is missing, I notice, and I instantly spotted the upper frame shearing off the tops of heads. Speaking of missing frames, any blood or death blows are scissored out of this print causing the soundtrack to jump - and this is a Chang Cheh movie, for God's sake! People die at regular intervals, especially if by "regular intervals" you mean "every 1.7 minutes, on the average".

I cannot tell you how many times I have, apropos of nothing, posted "Do not buy the Beverly Wilshire Filmworks disc of Kid With The Golden Arm, for it is evil! EEEEEEEEEEVIILLLLLLLLLLLL!!!" onto unsuspecting Message Boards.

So imagine my delight - and simultaneous sinking feeling of suspicion - when I found another disc of Kid - this time from NS Video, whose boxes employ the Shaw Brothers Logo; they remind me - likely for a reason - of those questionable SB tapes you'd find in better, weirder record stores and comic book shops. Questionable only because I suspect they have no real relationship with Shaw Brothers. But as the Shaw Brothers seem to have little interest in exploiting their library themselves*, I will take what I can get, and I own several of them. The image quality on the tapes were variable, but never very strong; If it is the same company, they've upgraded their source materials and equipment nicely.

The picture in this version is beautifully sharp and clear, if tending toward heavy speckles in the last reel, but that's the print, not the transfer. There is still some missing footage, but the fights are intact (and I know what's important to me, anyway). The major drop is of about three lines of expository material in the beginning, which takes an already thin plot to a state of near-transparency. The picture is from an actual widescreen source, but it's still not ShawScope, as evidenced by the cutting off of the letters on either end of "ShawScope". Sound is good, preserving some of the worst lines in dubbing history. I found this at Best Buy for $9.99 - the extra five bucks is way worth it.

Amazon offers two different discs of this, but neither appears to be this excellent version. Addendum: formerly, I had only known of NS Video's disc of Five Element Ninjas, or as we know it in the States, Super Ninjas, retitled by NS as Chinese Super Ninja. Shopping at Sam Goody's, I found many more NS discs of 70s Shaw Brothers entertainment, although at mall prices (still a relatively low $14.99). Screw The Mummy Returns, I'm pretty sure as to where my DVD money will be going for a while.

SIGHTED: K-Mart PRICE: $4.99 (bad)
SIGHTED: Best Buy PRICE: $9.99 (good)

Five Fingers of Death

I am an optimist. No, really, I am. Which is why, when I ordered the BWF disc of Kid With The Golden Arm (which is, you will recall, evil), I also ordered their copy of Five Fingers of Death. Envisioning a bag of cash with wings flying away, I popped Five Fingers of Death into my player, and was astounded by what is the best BWF disc I've seen, even surpassing the K. Gordon Murray discs.

There are actual, true blacks on the screen. The whites are blown out and have no detail in them, but the color otherwise is rich and steady. This does not look like a bargain DVD.

The Plot of Five Fingers of Death is fairly simple, yet hard to encapsulate. Those interested would be better served by checking out the review by Shaolin-trained movie critic Ken Begg. There is a tournament, and the master of a shady school is willing to kill, maim and mutilate in order to win. As no money is ever shown changing hands at the all-important tournament, this homicidal urge to win must be one of those "martial world" things, which I usually don't really understand, because the closest I ever get to being a part of "the martial world" is playing Tekken 3 with the cheat codes on.

Suffice to say, this is more an historically important picture than an actually good one. This is the flick that blew open the doors of American movie theaters in the 70s and ushered in the kung fu movie craze. Unlike a lot of "historically important" films, though, it doesn't disappoint - it's just that next to films like Kid With The Golden Arm and Iron Monkey (getting a theatrical release! Hot damn! Thank you, Ang Lee!), it just seems so - typical, so - normal.

Nice disc, though, and excellent quality for the price. Watch out for the bad guy's Three Stooges Style kung fu!

SIGHTED: K-Mart PRICE: $4.99

There are more of these discs - many more, and that's just on the shelf next to me. Hong Kong Cavalier - by night, the proprietor of The Speakeasy - constantly tells of new marvels hitting the shelves, PD versions of Death Race 2000, more cheapass editions of Kid. He posts these discoveries onto the B-Movie Message Board, thus insuring the envy and dismay of all. I will likely continue to chronicle my findings here, but I would also recommend dropping by the board to see what HKC has dug up now - and witness the cries of the damned, the rest of us who do not live near his fabulous K-Mart of Wonders in the Land of Milk, Honey and Cheap DVDs - Ohio.



- October 2, 2001