A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 569 – Danger: Diabolik

Danger: Diabolik – September 20th, 2011

As with most of our done-by-MST3K movies, this is probably my fault. I don’t know why, but every time I see a movie MST3K featured in an episode I feel like I need to buy it and have an unaltered copy. I don’t know that I ever truly planned to watch things like this and The Deadly Mantis. I just liked knowing I had them. I grabbed this one from the video store we used to work at in Pennsylvania. Can you imagine, they were selling this off? How could they?! But there it was, getting shrink wrapped to go in the used VHS bin. So we snapped it up, and regardless of who initially picked it up – me or Andy – I will take the blame here. I’m always willing to take the blame for non-MST3K versions of MST3K movies. Always.

Now, I will say that this one was special. It was featured in the very last MST3K episode and consequently, I think we’ve seen it twice. Most of the other episodes out there, well, we’ve seen them oodles of times. But it was hard to watch the last episode. I’m veering away from the movie a bit, but I’ll come back to it. I just think it’s worth explaining that MST3K was incredibly important to me when I was in my teens. I didn’t make friends easily and suddenly I had a bunch thanks to the online fan forums. Andy and I started talking because he saw a couple of tapes I was letting a mutual friend borrow. So when a bunch of the people I knew online all got together to watch the end of the show together (I think there were about 30 of us) it was hard. I cried, and I wasn’t the only one in tears. Consequently, we never put the episode featuring this movie into our VCR. Ever. I can remember tons of specific moments because I associate them with watching the episode in a room full of my friends and fellow MSTies. The line “Is that stud coming?” caught us all by surprise and I will never forget it. But while this movie is precisely the sort of cheese I adore, I do not know it nearly as well as I would like.

And what sort of cheese would that be? Why, a 1960s romp with a super suave master thief named Diabolik! It’s based on a long-running comic serial from Italy and oh, oh does it show. Diabolik himself is played by a young John Phillip Law (this came out the same year as Barbarella to give you an idea of how young) and he’s basically a criminal but the hero at the same time. He has a super secret lair where he lives with his sexy girlfriend, Eva, and he drives fast cars and has lots of gadgets and is generally incredibly clever and smooth. He steals from anyone he likes, whenever he likes. Watching this I am put in mind of a combo of spy movies like Bond the newer Mission: Impossible movies (since I don’t know the older show) and then also the show It Takes a Thief, where the hero is a master thief working for the government (a plot which has been recycled more than a few times). The big difference here is that Diabolik is really just out for himself. He hasn’t been given assignments by anyone. His illegal actions aren’t sanctioned by some secret organization. Nope. He just likes stealing stuff.

Does it really matter what the specific plot is in this movie? Diabolik steals stuff! People try to stop him! He gets away! He and Eva roll around in a spiral-shaped bed covered in money! He tries to steal more stuff! He almost gets caught! He does get caught! But maybe he’ll still get away with it! The particulars aren’t so much a concern to me. But I suppose they might be a concern to someone else. We begin with Diabolik stealing an enormous sum of money from the government using a smoke screen. An actual smoke screen, not a metaphorical one. The government and police are pretty ticked off, so they up the stakes and crack down on every criminal and illegal business they can find. Crime lord Valmont gets ticked off by that and makes a deal with the police to deliver Diabolik to them. He kidnaps Eva and uses her to try and get Diabolik (and some emeralds Diabolik had stolen for Eva) but Diabolik gets the better of him and escapes with Eva. And the emeralds. This only escalates everything and after destroying all tax records with a bomb, Diabolik is able to try and steal molten gold that the government is selling off. This proves to be his undoing and the movie ends with him trapped in his heatproof suit, having been sprayed with molten gold when the police raided his hideout.

Look, don’t try to make sense of it. It’s all ridiculous and over the top. But that’s the point. It’s supposed to be outrageous and unbelievable. After all, what good would the story of a regular thief and his not-so-daring exploits be? The character is meant to be larger than life, with his underground lair and all. Not that it makes it a truly high quality film, but a lot of the stranger stuff in it is clearly informed by the comics it’s based on. What I find strange about that is that there’s a lot of talk about dollars in the movie and when Eva and Diabolik are rolling around in their ill-gotten gains the money looks like US currency. But the movie was filmed in Rome and it’s clearly dubbed, not to mention it’s based on a series of Italian comics that weren’t in wide circulation in the US at the time. While personally, I think the movie is fantastic and fun, I can see how it might be a hard sell, given the lack of anything explaining the character’s motivations and his thoroughly anti-establishment nature. Still, I’m not complaining that it exists. I do enjoy it, after all. Not enough to put in the MST3K episode more often, but maybe since I own it un-MSTed, I’ll put that in once in a while.

September 20, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Piranha Part Two: The Spawning

August 7, 2011

Piranha Part Two: The Spawning

I bought this movie as a companion piece to our Shark Week this year based on little bits of information I knew about it even though I had never seen it before tonight and had never seen the movie it is supposedly a sequel to. The DVD we purchased proudly bore a sticker on the cover claiming that it was “From the director of Titanic and Avatar,” which amused me since I knew it was a cheesy movie about rubber fish on strings attacking people. How could I pass such a thing up?

Now I had known that the original Piranha movie was produced by the inimitable Roger Corman and I had thought somehow that this movie was as well. It made sense in my head that James Cameron would have gotten his start directing under Corman in the same way that Ron Howard did. Sadly it appears that I was mistaken. This movie was produced by, co-written by, and co-directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis – which looks to me as though it has to be an anagram for something because no way is that a real name. (Okay – so it’s Italian and he’s a producer of schlocky Italian horror movies, although if he had one more ‘t’ in his name it would be an anagram for “A good vision is tits” which seems to be his motto.)

This movie shares more in common with seventies Italian “breastploitation” movies than with the cheesy gorefest I had been expecting. I guess after watching so many made-for-TV shark movies in a row I was unprepared for a film that starts right out with a couple getting naked in a submerged wreck for some scuba-sex before they are eaten (mostly off camera) by the creatures from the title. Not that I’m complaining. Before we get to the actual plot of the movie there’s a fair amount of gratuitous nudity and if I had owned this as a thirteen year old my right arm probably would have fallen off. Sadly, the breasts only temporarily distracted me from the fact that this is a pretty badly flawed film in general.

Flaw number one is the painful comic relief. The movie is set on a resort island and the local hotel (on the eve of their annual spawning festival, when they gorge themselves on migrating fish or something) is filled with a colorful array of caricatures. There’s a gold-digging young woman who wants to snare a doctor. There’s an annoying couple who make a lot of noise about how completely besotted they are with each other. There’s the pair of nudist women on their boat who decide to raid the resort’s kitchen to resupply their yacht. There’s the skeevy cougar who wants to have sex with one of the resort employees. There’s the dynamite-fishing hick and his mute son who add local color. It’s a nauseating group of characters, and frankly a lot of the fun of the movie is waiting for them to get eaten. (I have to admit that by the end of the movie I was somewhat disappointed that not all of the annoying characters died and that some of the more sympathetic ones did.)

Then there’s the lead characters. A marine biologist woman has a job at the resort working as a dive instructor, which nets her a free suite at the hotel which she shares with her son. Her ex-husband works for the local police. One of her scuba diving students is a sleazy stalker who spends most of the movie trying to get into her pants – and eventually succeeds. What’s never adequately explained is why Anne the dive instructor has broken up with Steve the police chief in the first place. Aside from his kind of manic episodes where he pretty much accuses her of killing a woman at the morgue he seems like a nice enough guy, and clearly they both dote on their son (who spends the entire movie working as a cabin boy for a foppish moron with an improbably well endowed daughter.) I guess he needs to be out of the picture so that Tyler can have his sleazy way with Anne.

Part of my confusion with this whole plot, and I’ll admit that I tuned out for vast sections of it, was that the only actor I really felt was worth watching at all was Lance Henriksen as police chief Steve. He feels sometimes like he’s playing two different roles since he has to be the skeptic who stands in the way of Anne’s investigation but he’s also the hero at the end of the movie who goes out to save their son when the fish start eating everybody on the island. It’s confusing to me, but – again – I wasn’t paying very close attention. Furthermore, their son Chris doesn’t seem to be in much danger of anything except being trapped in a boat with a scantily clad teenager who barely fits in her top – not a fate most teenagers would want to be rescued from.

Another odd thing in this movie is its score. I don’t know quite how to describe it. It has a vaguely classical feel to it with occasional bursts of electric guitar, and it never blends very well with the visuals. It also is poorly edited – cutting abruptly at the end of some scenes or fading in and out awkwardly. It almost feels like a temp track at times, but no, that’s the actual score.

What saves this movie is the piranhas themselves. Flying piranhas on strings. Piranhas that squeak like styrofoam when they’re above water and warble amusingly when under water. They’re always shown out of focus or in extreme close up (with a few exceptions) because they are not in any way articulated (except for their flapping wings in some shots.) I don’t think their jaws even move. When they attack people the actors have to hold the fake fish against their necks and smear themselves with fake blood to simulate being eaten. It would seem that the piranha of this movie have mastered the skill of leaping directly at a human’s jugular and that’s how they kill most of their victims. They remind me of nothing so much as the deadly rabbit from Monty Python’s Holy Grail – except that they’re less convincing.

I suppose that this is a fun enough movie. It’s stupid, badly dubbed at times, and filled with annoying characters, but many of them get killed by hilariously cheesy flying fish. That makes things alright in my book. Just don’t claim that this is a James Cameron film, because it has very little in it that feels like it bears his mark at all. Except maybe Lance Henricksen crashing a helicopter. That feels like the Cameron I know and love.

August 7, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 1 Comment