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Monday, November 18, 2013

Ninjavember: Bionic Ninja (1986)

Bionic Ninja 1986 poster

When the average person thinks of ninja movies, director Godfrey Ho often comes to mind. Actually, scratch that. When cult/genre movie geeks think of ninja movies, director Godfrey Ho often comes to mind. While Ho is a filmmaker who is often associated with the ninja genre, it is very rarely done so in a respectable fashion. In fact, outside of a small handful of movies, much of Ho’s work is what many would consider to be so bad it’s good, and that’s an opinion that falls firmly on the nicer end of the scale. However, it’s that so bad it’s good symmetry that makes Godfrey Ho’s work in the genre so memorable. Whether or not the average moviegoer can appreciate his brand of cinema, this notoriety is a worthy achievement in my eyes.

Bionic Ninja Godfrey Ho 5

Outside of being behind many a ninja film during the genre’s heyday in the ‘80s, Ho is also closely associated with a specific brand of cut-and-paste filmmaking, wherein he would take footage from one film and splice it into footage from any number of other movies. In doing so, Ho effectively, or not really effectively, created a brand new movie altogether, ready to be packed up and sold under a veil of facetiousness. This leads us to Bionic Ninja, a 1986 release that pairs up footage from the 1984 Kent Cheng action/comedy, The Daring Kung Fu Refugee, with footage that Ho directed to give it that much needed ninja edge.

It’s the footage that Ho directed that does its best to drive the “storyline,” focusing on a secret agent named Tommy Foster who is sent to Hong Kong to retrieve a, and I quote, “top technical secret film.” And believe you me, there is nothing more frightening than a secret film, especially when it’s of the top technical variety. The top technical secret film was stolen by a group of KGB hired ninjas––because that’s simply how things work in Godfrey Ho’s world––so Tommy is in for the fight of his life if he wants to retrieve the top technical secret film and save the world from KGB/ninja domination. Or something like that.

Bionic Ninja Godfrey Ho

While this plot sounds fairly easy to follow, making complete logistical sense even, on a whole Bionic Ninja is a jumbled mess of random scenes from a Godfrey Ho directed movie about ninjas mixed with another movie that’s not about ninjas. It only takes me about 5 minutes before I am completely lost in this flick, something that happens with a fair amount of Ho’s movies. I don’t even know why I try to comprehend what is happening on screen, because it only results in a migraine inducing level of thought not worthy of my miniscule brain power.

There are portions of Bionic Ninja where my mind goes numb in a fashion that causes my soul to exit my body, look down on my physical self, and spew judgment at my movie choice for the evening. This is partially due to the complexity of the plot (of which there isn’t any) as much as it has to do with the long scenes of unnecessary dialogue, all of which come from the portions of Bionic Ninja not directed by Ho. The entire thing clearly does not fit together, so anything that isn’t top technical secret film related only works as boring and confusing. With that said, the martial arts in the scenes taken from The Daring Kung Fu Refugee are legitimately good, and exude a level of competence unsuitable to the project as a whole.

Bionic Ninja Godfrey Ho 3

But where The Daring Kung Fu Refugee delivers some solid martial arts action, it is the portions of Bionic Ninja that are directed by Godfrey Ho that truly make the film a reasonably entertaining watch. Despite his reputation as a cut-and-paste filmmaker, Ho certainly knows how to deliver the cheesy goods, something that he does in spades with his portion of Bionic Ninja.

This is especially true with Tommy Foster, who can often be seen wearing a yellow tank top with matching yellow sweatpants, complete with dirt stains on his backside. When Tommy’s isn’t busy trying to locate the top technical secret film, he rocks his days away training with the heart and ferocity of a lion. This results in some brilliant scenes of Tommy practicing his tumbling, fine-tuning his swordplay and working on his shuriken throwing skills, all of which are done in a public park. Because that’s completely legal.

Bionic Ninja Godfrey Ho 1

Seeing as Bionic Ninja is a ninja film, and a bionic one at that *SPOILER* there are no bionic ninjas *SPOILER END*, the ninjas do play an integral role in the ridiculousness that the film serves up. Here are a few examples of the ninja antics found in Bionic Ninja:

  • The KGB hired ninja clan (I could stop there) are led by the always elusive “White Ninja.”
  • Ninjas have the ability to realistically jump cut into and out of a scene at any given moment. Ninjas take a cab.
  • Ninjas take a cab without their ninja masks on, which I think defeats the purpose of being a ninja.
  • Ninjas always move in synchronized motions.
  • The final battle consists of the inevitable white ninja VS. red ninja, which is equal parts ridiculous and awesome.

Anyway, I think you smell what my ninja smoke bomb is cooking.

Bionic Ninja Godfrey Ho 7

While not coming even close to being a highlight on Godfrey Ho’s filmography, Bionic Ninja is enjoyable enough for those who enjoy the filmmaker’s work. The enjoyment of the movie comes from the hilarity that Ho brought to the table, which makes me wish he had simply made an entire movie full of Tommy/top technical secret film action. If that had been the case, we might have ended up with something closer to the insanely enjoyable Undefeatable, instead of the typical hit or miss patchwork film that Ho is best known for.

Ninjavember

This Ninjatastic review is in conjunction with NINJAVEMBER, a special ninja themed blog-a-thon hosted by the menacing yellow ninja, Karl Brezdin. Head over to the deserted island ninja training camp known as Fist of B-List to keep up with all the ninjacentric goodies to come!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Salute Your Shorts: The Haunted Doll’s house (2012)

The-Haunted-Dolls-House-2012

After a wealthy man purchases an antique doll house from a pawnshop, he learns that the doll house has a dark history when it comes to life late one night. The doll house reveals a tale of deception and betrayal that involves a family who, driven by greed, helps their grandfather reach his final destination with a bit of poison. As one would expect, doing such a horrific thing can only lead to the family being forced to pay for their sins.

Based on a short story by M.R. James, The Haunted Doll’s House is brought to life by Stephen Gray using a mixture of live action and stop motion animation. In it’s 11 minute runtime, The Haunted Doll’s House succeeds in providing a silently creepy and gothic atmosphere, which specifically comes from the fantastic stop-motion animation used to bring the inhabitants of the doll house to life. However, outside of the stop motion work, the short falls, well, short in terms of its conclusion. The finale has an anemic feel about it, and the lack of a satisfying ending leaves behind a feeling of disappointment.

Regardless of its failed finale, The Haunted Doll’s House is worth a watch if you enjoy good stop motion animation. If that’s the case, give it a watch below, and please let me know if you find the ending to be as lackluster as I do.

Salute Your Shorts 2.5

Monday, November 4, 2013

Roger Corman’s Horror Classics Vol. 1 DVD Review

Roger-Cormans-Horror-Classics-Vol.-1-DVD-review

Film Chest Media Group recently released a Roger Corman triple feature on DVD, and were kind enough to send me a copy to take a look at. Roger Corman’s Horror Classics Vol. 1 features three of Corman’s better known horror films–The Terror, Dementia 13 and A Bucket of Blood–all of which have received a brand new restoration from the original 35mm prints. The set is presented in widescreen with an aspect ratio of 16×9 and are in 5.1 stereo (except for A Bucket of Blood, which is mono).

All three of these Corman classics are in the public domain and readily available to watch online as well as being included in any number of Mill Creek sets, so it’s not as if getting your dirty paws on these movies is all too difficult. With that being said, the draw of this set is the fact that the films are restored, which might be a huge selling point for some horror fans.

Bucket of Blood Old 9.57

Pop Flix’s release of A Bucket of Blood

Bucket of Blood New

Roger Corman’s Horror Classics Vol. 1 release of A Bucket of Blood

Bucket of Blood Old 28.18

Pop Flix’s release of A Bucket of Blood

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Roger Corman’s Horror Classics Vol. 1 release of A Bucket of Blood

I personally relish the world of uber cheap bulk DVD releases as the price/amount of movies vs. their picture quality tends to lean towards the former end of the scale for me. However, I fully support a nice restoration, and seeing a public domain movie be shown some love is quite the commendable effort in my eyes. Anyone can cash in, but not everyone is willing to put forth the effort to give these films their do justice.

Now, does this translate well with Roger Corman’s Horror Classic’s Vol 1? Well, the answer to that question is mostly. The Terror, A Bucket of Blood and Dementia 13 were indeed given a digital restoration, and while the films might be the best they’ve looked on home video, this collection isn’t quite the best it could be.

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Pop Flix’s release of The Terror

The Terror New

Roger Corman’s Horror Classics Vol. 1 release of The Terror

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Pop Flix’s release of The Terror

the terror new 1

Roger Corman’s Horror Classics Vol. 1 release of The Terror

All three films certainly look much cleaner, clearer and have richer quality to them, and the widescreen presentation certainly makes for a nice improvement over the releases that I have seen (key words being “I have seen”). With that said, I do see signs of DNR (digital noise reduction) work on all three movies, which as seen in the screen grabs strewn throughout this post has negatively affected some of the film’s fine detail.  

Dementia 13 Old 17

Pop Flix’s release of Dementia 13

Dementia 13 Old 17 new

Roger Corman’s Horror Classics Vol. 1 release of Dementia 13

Dementia 13 Old 2830

Pop Flix’s release of Dementia 13

Dementia 13 new

Roger Corman’s Horror Classics Vol. 1 release of Dementia 13

DNR does drive some videophiles crazy, while others seem to be okay with it. Personally, I’m not a big fan of it, but I can deal with minor DNR, and it certainly isn’t a break for me in terms of this release. All three films featured in Roger Corman’s Horror Classics Vol. 1 do indeed look good, especially when you consider that all three of these movies were made on a very low-budget. Furthermore, I appreciate the fact that Film Chest took the time to show these movies a little love and care, giving them an overall solid release that fans of these films should enjoy.

*All of the comparison screen grabs are taken from my personal copy of Pop Flix’s Roger Corman Drive-In Collection, a set that contains ten films on four discs.

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