Monday, March 7, 2011
ultraviolent movies top twenty part one
I'm posting this thing again...Blogger seems to have gotten it into its head that it was first posted back in early January...and it wasn't, and people haven't been finding it. Hopefully, this will correct that...Part Two is the next post down.
This list may appear to be the product of an unhinged and fixated mind, but I actually have fairly catholic tastes when it comes to movies. I like all sorts of genres...as a matter of fact, I can't think of a genre that I don't like. Even though I'm not at all interested in sports, except perhaps for boxing, I even like sports movies. I love a good musical, and I'm most distressed that Hollywood really doesn't make them anymore...I always enjoyed romantic comedies, although the leads in Hollywood fluff these days never seem to have any chemistry with each other, and in order for me to get a musical or romantic comedy fix, I generally have to watch Bollywood films. All that being said, when I'm in the mood for action or horror, I like it bloody. And for those of you with similar tastes, here's a list of my violent faves...all of them really deliver, I promise you.
1.Ben Hur 1959 Director: William Wyler
Okay, some of you might be wondering why I'm kicking off this list with a religious/biblical classic that church groups used to take kids to, with reserve seating, no less. Well, the fact is that you could always get away with a lot more nastiness in biblical flicks than with other genres, hands down. Even the roughest gangster movies were never anywhere near as vicious as C.B. De Mille's stuff. If you compare the Muni Scarface, for example, with DeMille's Sign of the Cross, a kind of unauthorized version of Quo Vadis, it's immediately obvious which one of them is more in-your-face with violence, and for that matter, sex. DeMille's Samson and Delilah is chock full of ghastliness, this time in Technicolor, with wonderful bright scarlet Max Factor blood...check out the chopped meat spilling out of Philistine helmets after Samson bashes them open, or the guy who barfs up a five-foot long unbroken stream of red red krovvy when he's crushed between two fallen pillars when the temple collapses. Pretty startling.
And since it's biblical, no one could complain!
Fact is, Ben Hur was part of a longish and glorious tradition of biblical epic grue, and it far surpassed any of its predecessors in that respect. The movie was truly out there. There's this story you hear about Francis Ford Coppola running around on the Cambodia set in Apocalypse Now yelling, "more blood, more blood!" but in actuality,that story's about William Wyler, Ben Hur's director. He made absolutely sure that his very expensive film was going to be full of money shots, and the result is the most violent movie ever made in Hollywood up to that point.
Just consider what you see in this film. A lot of the heavy-duty stuff is in the sea-battle, such as the sequence of close-ups showing a galley-slave's ankle as he struggles with his chains and rips his flesh to pieces. Moreover, as far as I know, Wyler's the first director ever to use actual amputees to show mutilations...there are all these guys with bloody stumps (with bones sticking out) after the Roman galley gets rammed. There's a slave with his chest caved in...the water's all bloody...up on deck, Charlton Heston takes a torch and rolls it around in this one pirate's prosthetic face until the man's head catches fire.
Then, of course, there's the chariot race, one of the all-time great Hollywood action sequences, staged by super-genius Yakima Canutt. Amazing use of dummies getting creamed...shots of hooves hammering Massala to pulp...you can't quite believe what you're seeing. Then we have Massala on the operating table, with strips of mangled flesh hanging from his mangled arms...and finally, an extremely bloody crucifixion. Wyler's a genuinely great director, which makes everything that much more effective....exploitation is all very well and good, but when you want really choice ultraviolence, you need a real director, someone like Kurosawa, or Scorsese, or Spielberg.
So if you find yourself on Easter Sunday pining for a jolt of cinematic old-time religion, pop Ben Hur into your DVD player! It's better than a basket of colored eggs!
2. Yojimbo, 1961 Director: Akira Kurosawa
Hey, speaking of Kurosawa, here we are with the movie that changed Japanese swordfighting movies forever, and exerted a powerful influence on cinema across the globe. Kurosawa conceived of Yojimbo as a Japanese western, and western-makers in Italy and the U.S. were quick to latch onto the story and style; the first outright remake was Leone's Fistful of Dollars, and a lot of other movies, such as High Plains Drifter, were really similar...there was a David Carradine fantasy flick called The Warrior and the Sorceress , and that Bruce Willis/Walter Hill thing, Last Man Standing, was the last remake I can think of. For that matter, I spoofed the story in Samurai Cat in the Real World. Yojimbo is simply a cinematic sacrament, and everybody wants to partake.
But there were other things going in Y on besides a very sturdy and adaptable plot. Take a look at the Jidai-Geki movies that were being turned out in Dai Nippon before Yojimbo. Inagaki's Samurai Trilogy, for example. There's quite a bit of sword-play, including the big fight at the Yoshioka Temple, but it's lacking in the kind of lip-smacking grisliness that Yojimbo serves up. Even Seven Samurai, full as it is of great action (including a early piece of slow-motion mortality) is considerably more tame. There's nothing like the little dog paddling down the street in one of the early frames of Yojimbo with a severed hand in its mouth, or the scene where the one Yakuza has his arm severed by Mifune (a scene ripped off in Star Wars) and the limb lands in close-up, stump towards the camera. There's a huge body-count, and the action generally leave you with the impression that you really just saw someone get killed...the staging is hair-raising. Mifune sustains what is probably the most brutal cinematic beating ever depicted up till that time, and the swordfight victims bleed pretty copiously. Big pools of chocolate sauce (this is a black and white film) spread out around dying baddies, and when one yakuza gets sliced, the stuff goes spraying halfway up a wall....I believe that was the first time anyone ever got to see just how high Japanese blood pressure was. Kurosawa would take the explosive decompression effect yards further in the sequel to Yojimbo, Sanjuro, in which Mifune opens up Tatsuya Nakadai with a draw cut and a giant blast of carbonated chocolate sauce swooshes out. Truly splendid. Later stuff like like the Baby Cart Movies would rise to even greater highs of gushing gore, but Kurosawa started the trend, and everyone owes him a debt of the most extreme gratitude.
3. Night of the Living Dead, 1968 Director: George Romero
When this thing first came out, no one had ever seen anything even remotely like it. It was so revolting that even exploitation specialists like American International wouldn't touch it...it got released by Trans-Lux instead, as I recall. I saw a trailer for it at the drive-in with my parents, and the coming attractions showed so much that my folks were completely grossed out and condemned the film then and there, although it looked pretty interesting to twisted little me. Went to see it at the Algonquin Theatre in Manasquan NJ...don't remember how I tricked my folks into driving me, but for some reason they did. Everybody at school had been talking about the movie, and it sure didn't disappoint. Up until NOTLD, me and my gorehound friends had to make do with relatively weak tea like the Hammer films, and stuff like Horrors of the Black Museum...oh, Black Sunday had come and gone, but for the most part, other moviemakers hadn't followed Mario Bava's lead.
But Night established a whole new standard for repulsive. The prosthetic effects were pretty primitive by today's standards, or even compared to the ones in Dawn of the Dead; but Romero was truly determined to take things as far out as he could. The cannibalism in particular was a step beyond...zombies biting flesh from smoking bones, playing yo-ho-ho with slithering guts...it was a game-changer. And the scene with the little girl stabbing her mother repeatedly with the garden trowel upset the living daylights out of me. Once again, excellent use of chocolate sauce in a black and white gorefest.
About ten years later it would all be in color for Dawn of the Dead...the movie advanced the cause of explicit violence about as far as Night did, I guess...fabulous makeup effects designed by Tom Savini. Lot of excellent head shots and splattery exit wounds...the top of the one zom's skull being lifted by the helicopter prop justified the movie all by itself. I went back and forth over whether or not to list Dawn instead of Night seeing as how it's actually loads bloodier...but I had to give the nod to Night, because it was the original, and made a bigger impression on me the first time I saw it.
4. The Wild Bunch, 1969 Director: Sam Peckinpah
I guess Hollywood filmakers felt challenged by the violence in the Italian Westerns...certainly something like The Wild Bunch would never have been made if it hadn't been for the Leone films. That being said, Bunch made it clear that the Italian boys couldn't hold a candle to Hollywood honchos when it came to serious balls-out carnage. I don't believe any Italian Western film-maker could've turned out something like the climax of WB, even if you gave him the budget. Certainly there's nothing in the works of Leone, Corbucci, or Sollima that even remotely compares.
Interestingly, for all its splatter and fury, The Wild Bunch is based on the same source material as the much more benign, indeed sweet-tempered, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Butch Cassidy's gang was called The Wild Bunch, and he and the Kid perished in a wild south-of-the-border gunfight with army troops, although they were Bolivian, not Mexican...there are other similarities, as well. But oddly, Butch Cassidy is far closer to the facts than The Wild Bunch. Just goes to show you that gory and grimy isn't necessarily more realistic.
I'd rather watch the Peckinpah slaughterfest, however.
For one thing, none of that fucking Burt Bacharach music.
Movie gets venemous real quick...the Bunch get ambushed in the middle of a bank job, and we're introduced to a whole new sort of movie gun-battle...lots of slow-motion in very quick cuts, long whorls of blood shlorping from entrance and exit-wounds. As I said, Kurosawa had used slow-mo in Seven Samurai; it figured prominently at the climax of Bonnie and Clyde. But no one had ever employed as much as Peckinpah, or combined it with such tight editing...it was both impressionistic and extremely explicit, and set a standard for ferocious gun-battles that has rarely been equalled. Even when you have Peckinpah imitators like John Woo and Walter Hill, they tend to zero in on the slo-mo; they really linger over the shots, and there's a lot of spectacle and lusciousness. But Peckinpah really gives you the sense that all hell's broken loose....you get these momentary snapshots of fantastic contorted body-language that really say it, print themselves on the brain.
After the first shoot-out, the Bunch flee down to Mexico, and get involved with the vile Mexican general Mapache, who wants them to rob an American train and supply him with the latest Browning goodies...all this sets up a final hurricane of murder that's simply a religious experience for a loon like myself. A Yaqui indian in the gang runs afoul of Mapache, who cuts his throat...the Bunchers, played by William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, (God bless 'im, the old boy only died recently, Hail Ragnar!)Ben Johnson, and Warren Oates, go out in a blaze of crimson-gushing nihilistic glory. One by one, our boys take the grips of a Browning Thirty and are blown to bits even as they peel back rank after rank of whirling, somersaulting, bullet-riddled federales. It's bonkers beyond belief, I've watched it over and over, and it was the primary inspiration for the climax of my novel Nightmare of God. And if it doesn't sound like your cup of tea, consider the words of Bo Hopkins after he's been shot to shit towards the beginning of the film:
"Why don't you kiss my sister's black cat's ass?"
5. Straw Dogs,1971, Director: Sam Peckinpah
After The Wild Bunch, Peckinpah got typecast as Mr.Violence, rather understandably; whenever he made some very nifty non-bloodbaths, like Ballad of Cable Hogue and Junior Bonner, nobody went to see 'em, except for me and my friend Sam Tomaino. Still, Sam P. really hadn't gotten all that gore out of his system, and the next time he made a really big box office splash was with Straw Dogs, a movie so mean it made one British critic despair over the whole future of cinema.
Dustin Hoffman plays an American astrophysicist who's spending his sabbatical in the small English village where his wife came from. In a twist on the usual stereotypes, the American is the too-civilized fellow and the Brits are mostly subhuman, sort of like pithecanthropoid versions of D.H. Lawrence characters, or the yahoos in Cold Comfort Farm. England is a windy, wet, crummy place, and everyone's lives are rotten and festering under an unattractive crust. Dustin tries to be friendly with the moldy lowbrow locals, but one of them, unbeknownst to Dustin, had an affair with Dustin's slutty wife, Susan George, and the goons rebuff the poor American and start piling it on, killing his cat, raping his wife, and generally engaging in an hour and a half of buildup leading up to a one-farmhouse apocalypse in which Dustin defends a hapless village-idiot (an uncredited David Warner)---who's been accused of molesting a little girl---from the foul Brit brutes. Ultimately, the movie becomes an extremely well-directed, well-acted hold-the-fort horror flick, in which the besiegers blow their own feet off with shotguns, have their guts blasted out their backs, their skulls crushed with mashie niblicks, and get giant mantraps slammed down over their heads. It all ends with Dustin, a big smile on his face, driving off with the idiot, feeling perfectly justified. Recently, while channel-surfing, I blundered onto this thing, hadn't seen it in thirty years...time had done absolutely nada to dull its fangs.
If you watch this and Bunch, and still haven't gotten enough Peckinpah brutality, check out Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. The great Warren Oates plays an American down-and-outer in Mexico, who takes a commission to deliver the titular Alfredo's noggin to some bad guys...we're not sure why they want it. Alfredo's already dead, though...and other gringos are looking for the prize. Scads of folks get shot, and Warren's so extremely down-and-out that the head becomes his fly-magnet best friend....he starts talking to it. The film's that great. It's Peckinpah's ode to really hitting bottom, from a guy who's actually gotten there, his last masterpiece. But the violence, while copious, isn't quite as memorable as the stuff in Bunch and Dogs, (sounds like a cop movie) and so it's just honorable mention on this list.
6. Taxi Driver 1976, Director: Martin Scorsese
A movie's got to be really something before it gets me queasy, but Taxi Driver managed the trick...in truth, the fact that I'd just eaten a box of Goobers might've had something to do with it. But the first time I saw this seminal Scorsese flick, I got to that climactic stuff and was wondering if I was really going to whoops my cookies...or rather, my half-digested chocolate-covered peanuts.
Once again, what we have here is an illustration of the principle that it takes a really great director to serve up the choicest movie carnage. In my opinion Scorsese is one of the best directors who ever lived, and he sure knows how to murder people onscreen, particularly when it's relatively intimate one-on-one stuff. Consider the thing where Billy Batz gets finished off in the trunk of the car in Goodfellas, or again, the scene where Tommy blows Stax's brains out at the end of a long, beautifully-rehearsed single take. Movie violence doesn't get any more convincing.
Taxi Driver features young Bob deNiro as Travis Bickle, a crazy ex-jarhead whose diary ramblings are based on those of Arthur Bremer, the guy who tried to assassinate Gov. George Wallace. But in spite of the fact that Travis is thoroughly nuts, he's rather likeable...you sort of sympathize as sin-drenched unbelievably disgusting NYC sends him even farther round the bend. As depicted by Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader, the Big Apple is just squirming with worms and dripping with blood and cum...when Travis starts going on about cleansing the filthy streets to arch-phony politician Charles Palantine, I found myself agreeing with Travis.
And caught myself immediately, of course.
As the nightmare rolls on, Travis cultivates three main obsessions...he falls for blonde campaign worker Cybill Shepherd, decides he needs to kill Palantine, who she works for, and inserts himself into the life of kid prostitute Jodie Foster, thinking he's going to save her soul somehow. When things don't work out with Cybill and Palantine, Travis arms himself to the teeth and goes after Jodie's vile pimp Sport (Harvey Keitel) and two fellers who are higher up the mob food chain.
There's only been one brief bit of violence up till this point, with Travis shooting a convenience-store robber...but the big finale delivers an astounding extended horrorshow. The special prosthetic effects are by Dick Smith, who's idolized by other makeup men, for good reason...the mutilations and gore are so extreme that the movie was originally slapped with an X-rating, and only got an R after the color was toned down to a virtual monochrome.
The action commences with a classic Scorsese long take from several yards back...Mohawked Travis comes walking up to Sport and starts harrassing him, Sport gets madder and madder, flicks a lit butt against Travis's chest...and gets plugged right through the gut, a window breaking behind him, when Travis pulls on him. As Sport sinks down swearing, Travis goes into an apartment building, blows half of one mobster's hand off, gets shot (gushingly) in the side of the throat by the not-quite-dead-yet Sport, and keeps heading up the steps, now with the mutilated wiseguy hanging on him and saying "I'll kill you, I'll kill you." Travis tears free of him at the top, gets shot in the shoulder by the other mobster, and shoots that guy a half-dozen times in the face with a hideout rig he's got up his sleeve...then the first mobster grabs him again, gets a knife thorugh his mutilated hand, and has his brains blown out against a wall, as Jodie Foster looks on screaming. Sequence ends with Travis slumped in a chair, smiling at some cops, putting his bloody hand to his head and pretending to shoot himself over and over again. As you can see, I've got it memorized.
I'd already written Zorachus by this point, and it seemed to me that Scorsese was working a similar vein, albeit in a realistic non-fantasy setting...if you took Taxi Driver and Apocalypse Now and combined them, and made a sword-and-sorcery story, I think you'd get something pretty similar to my first Khymirian tale...I regard Paul Schrader in particular as something of a kindred spirit, although I don't know the guy. As nearly as I can make out, he's a Calvinist gun-nut...Taxi Driver sure seems to have been written by one.
Re Scorsese, I suppose you could argue that a couple of his other movies, namely Goodfellas and Casino should be on this list. But as great as they are---and Goodfellas is certainly the greatest gangster movie ever---neither of them is as mindblowing in the violence department as Taxi Driver, at least in my humble opinion.
7. Shogun Assassin, 1980, Director:Kenji Misumi
If you look up this flick on the IMDB, some guy named Robert Houston is listed as the director, but that's bullshit...basically, it was his idea to take two Lone Wolf and Cub movies, Sword of Vengeance and Baby Cart at the River Styx, and cobble them together. The final product works a whole lot better than you might expect, but that doesn't justify that director's credit. It does result in a virtually nonstop flood of artificial blood, though, featuring all the choicest violence from both movies, which were already extremely gruesome, and you really can't argue with that.
In case you don't know, the Lone Wolf and Cub films, also known as the Baby Cart series, feature chunky Tomisaburo Wakayama as Ogami Itto, an ex-Imperial Decapitator who's run afoul of a ninja clan, the Yagyus, I believe. In Shogun Assassin, the ninja chieftain is indentified as the Shogun himself. Refusing to commit suicide, our protag takes to the road as a killer-for-hire, accompanied by his cute little son Dai-goro, who rides in a baby cart full of hidden weapons, including a primitive machine-gun. They butcher loads and loads of people. There were six of these movies; they're all pretty amazing, and as I mentioned in my Yojimbo entry, they take Kurosawa's ball and run it way on down the field, in color. The two films that Shogun Assassin was combined from are worth seeing in their own right. But if you really want to feel like you're about to be washed out your own front door on a crimson tsunami, SA is absolutely the movie for you.
The movie is extremely good-looking...excellent color photography. Japanese movies these days are nowhere near as good visually as the early 70's stuff...don't know why that is. The action sequences these days also tend to be rather lame...but the seventies fights, again following and even improving on Kurosawa, were much more impressively imagined, very sharp and well-staged. The sword-slinging in Shogun Assassin is right at the top of the heap; it's quick, perfectly composed, and fire-hoses the screen with splatter. Heads get bisected, and chests get opened so juicily that the blood boils up, hits guys in the chin, and splashes back down; hidden killers are pried up out of bloody sand by rakes in their faces...it just goes on and on, and it's being narrated by little Dai-Goro, (an adorable kid actor who's probably even older than I am now), who's always counting up his father's victims so he'll know how many souls he should pray for. At one point, after dad has just slaughtered a couple more ninjas, he turns to the camera in his super-cute way and goes..."Three hundred and forty...five." How could you not love that? What sort of person would be so soulless that they wouldn't be completely charmed?
It's noteworthy that the Uma Thurman's kid at the end of Kill Bill is watching Shogun Assassin just before she goes to bed...nice to know the child is getting a proper education.
Incidentally, though, those Japanese folks should stop eating so much salt...maybe they wouldn't squirt quite so much when they get nicked. A papercut over there must be an occasion for raincoats...you'd see it from orbit.
8. Conan the Barbarian, 1982, Director: John Milius
This is one of my all-time favorite movies. I know a lot of Howard purists have problems with it, and if I were going to make a Conan movie, I'd probably stick closer to the source material---the film is way more John Milius than it is Two Gun Bob. However, Milius is, when it comes right down to it, a vastly better writer than Howard, as much as I hate to say it, and CTB, with all its flaws, is way better than any of Howard's stories. The characterizations are pretty sharp, the main villain, Thulsa Doom, played by James Earl Jones, is one of the best movie villains ever (he features on my Villain list), and the score, by Basil Poledouris, is tremendous, with four or five times as many separate cuts as a typical soundtrack.
Also, the movie is a grade-a fix for fans of movie mayhem. The talents of Milius's favorite stunt director, Terry Leonard, get exploited to the hilt in a series of extremely dangerous-looking gags involving heavy, genuine, edged weapons, horse-falls, and copiously filled blood bags. This stuff would be handled digitally today...but they did it all in the camera back in 1982, and the result is vastly more meaty-looking and whumpf-worthy than contemporary hacking-up.
Those were the days of High Adventure!
Screenplay isn't based on any particular Conan story, although it lifts elements from a couple, and borrows Thulsa Doom from Howard's Kull series, which preceded the Conan series. We have our young Cimmerian seeing his parents murdered by Doom (Conan's drop-dead gorgeous mom gets it in one of the screen's all-time coolest beheadings), and after he receives a bunch of implausible asiatic training as a pit-fighter, he's freed by his master, and hits the vengeance trail. Joining up with the deadly archer Subotai (Milius's surfer bud Gerry Lopez), amazonian Valeria (Sandahl Bergmann), and a nameless nutty mound-tending priest (Mako), he tracks Thulsa Doom to his snake-cult hideout, which is full of murderers in armor and idiot hippyshit return-to-the-earth types, who long for "Nothingness," which is to say, being used as stock in the ghastly green soup enjoyed by Doom and his inner circle.
Up till this point, the violence hasn't been too explicit...even that great mom-decapitation was actually beautifully understated. But when Conan, Valeria and Subotai penetrate Doom's orgy chamber, the gore starts to come sloshing out big time. Subotai and the Valeria go round the sides while Conan plays cleanup down the middle...Gerry Lopez and Sandahl look real good in their fight scenes, and one schmuck in particular gets the full treatment, being doubled over and beheaded in the film's second great decapitation...it's real meaty and convincing and very well staged. In most movie beheading, you get the impression that the head's just being knocked off, but here you have a real sense of the sword passing through the neck..if you watch it in slow motion, you can see a little white pin retracting into the neck-stump, allowing the head to fall off just as the sword strikes.
Schwarzenegger doesn't look as sharp as his goombahs, unfortunately...an ideal movie Conan wouldn't be a lumbering refrigerator type; he'd give you the impression that you were watching a human airplane propellor. But the guys he chops do seem like they've been gashed but good, kind of a challenge when said baddies aren't wearing much...if you look close, you can see one open his own white-wrapped belly with a razor blade just after Schwazenegger's sword passes.
All this mere prelude, though..Valeria gets shot with a live-snake arrow, and Thulsa Doom leads his forces in an assault on Conan and Subotai in the burial mounds where the priest hangs out. This is where the film really ascends to cinema-slaughter Valhalla. Terry Leonard's work is front, center, and awesome...after a splendid build-up, which includes a wonderful monologue by Schwarzenegger (this was the point at which I concluded the guy was going to be a real star, although my friends were skeptical) our heroes get busy with heavy honking axes, spears, arrows, swords, and a great big booby-trap with a spiked swing-arm. Conan and Subotai canalize the villains into kill-zones and rub them out one by one in a series of fabulous gory gags. You just gotta grin when Doom lackey Thogrim (Sweyn Ole Thorssen) gets impaled on the booby trap, the business end bursting out through his back in a giant blast of blood; but even more luscious is Conan's final duel with Rexor (Ben Davidson), in which Conan whacks him repeatedly with his hand-and-half sword, each stroke opening a juicy bloodbag and splashing out a crowd-pleasing eruption of incarnadine syrup; at the end of the fight, Rexor topples like a red glistening falling tree, and we get a final shot from his point of view as he collides with the ground, one last splash flying up out of his chest at the impact, right in front of Conan...it's one of the most iconic images of movie ultraviolence that anyone's ever dreamed up.
Doom takes off...realizing his operation's completely compromised, he gathers is horde of horrible hippies and plans to dispatch them to murder all their parents, their leaders, all who would call themselves their judges. But just before he can quite give them the word, Conan comes up...barely missing a beast, Doom launches into into an argument about how he actually did Conan a favor by murdering his folks...after all, Conan derived a great deal of strength and purpose therefrom. But Conan doesn't fall for this snake-cult-oil, and we get the last of the film's classic melon-amputations...Conan chops Doom on the shoulder, then really sets up on him, hacks through his neck, and hurls the head down the steps at the hippies. The sound effect as the head bounces down is very well chosen. I suspect they used something like a big bouncing overripe cabbage. Doom's followers disperse, sadder but wiser...Conan contemplates his next adventure.
Unfortunately, it would turn out to be the Milius-free Conan the Destroyer, which was much lighter on the violence, didn't have any nudity, and was crammed with shitty comedy relief (whereas the first movie is frequently genuinely funny). Destroyer only made half as much as Barbarian, and that was the end of the series. Milius was getting set to do another installment a few years back, but the fucking suits pulled the plug on it at the last moment, which just confirms Milius's prescription for Tinseltown: "There should be a vast bloodletting, a Night of the Long Knives."
9. The Road Warrior, 1982, Director: George Miller
As I believe I've noted elsewhere, 1982 was just the best year ever for fantasy and SF movies. Along with Conan, you had Bladerunner, Wrath of Khan, E.T., Tron, and last but not least, The Road Warrior. Warrior is a perfect example of how something can really stand the test of time, in the sense that decades and decades can go by, and no one can top it...when it comes to motorized chases, no one's ever approached the standard set by the climactic sequence.Given the sheer mind-numbing quantity of car chases we've all sat through, you'd think that someone would take up the gauntlet, say, "I'm going to beat that!" really figure out what made the sequence so great, and truly apply themselves. But no one ever seems to. It's just demoralizing...when the car action starts, I simply tune out, because I can just tell that it's going to suck.
You encounter this suckage, by the way, in movies that cost skazillions more than Warrior did. I believe George Miller made the thing for a couple million Australian bucks (although that was way more than he'd spent on the initial kick-ass installment in the series, Mad Max). But the priceless commodities he did have going for him were a great visual sense, an unerring instinct for showing the audience exactly what it wanted to see, and a burning desire to put things on the screen that no one had ever seen before...oh, and a bunch of Aussie stuntmen with no apparent interest in preserving their lives.
Miller made a pantload worldwide on Max Max, and should have...putting that aforementioned much bigger budget to excellent use, he went and made a sequel that's considerably better than the first film. But even though Road Warrior is supposedly a followup, it doesn't seem to be quite set int he same world...in Max, there was no reason given for the societal decay, while in Warrior, there seems to have been a world war over oil...in the third movie, Beyond Thunderdome, there was, apparently, a nuclear conflict.
But whatever. In Warrior, we're much farther along the road to sheer barbarism, and the story is set out in the desert somewhere, instead of along Australia's coast. Gangs of football-padded vikings are roaming around looking for victims and fuel...a guy who seems to be Max Rocketansky from the first flick discovers a heavily-defended oil-drilling facility that's hemmed in by marauders, led by the horrible Lord Humongus, and his maniacal henchman Wez. Max gets inside and finds that the folks there are planning to break out, although they need a big tanker to haul their fuel...Max knows where one is, makes a deal for some gas, and goes and gets the tanker. He doesn't plan to drive it, just deliver it and leave, but ultimately he winds up behind the wheel in that chase I've been raving about.
Up until this point, we've been treated to some pretty heavy-duty shit, including a boomerang into the skull, severed flying fingers, and a particularly awful head-butt enhanced by a flash from a single frame of blank film. But the final sequence ups the ante considerably. Bodies get sucked beneath tractor-trailer wheels, guys on motorcyles get sucked under too, and we see it in slow-motion, from under the tanker...marauders swarm all over Max's cab, and get shotgunned in the face and the crotch. Human figureheads mounted on grilles get splattered against the back of the trailer, and in a jaw-dropping moment, one of the barbarians gets pitched off his motorcycle, goes flying through the air, and has this end-over-end spin imparted to his body as he clips a piece of wreckage that's sticking up...the camera follows this KaRAYzee when-the-muse-says-frog-I-jump stuntman all the way to the ground. Cars get smashed by the truck, and completely disintegrate...the final bit of business features Max turning the truck around, just as Wez comes up over the grille, just as Lord Humongus comes up over a rise on his Apocalyptic terror jalopy...the resulting impact is more 3D than 3D. A friend of mine, who'd somehow fallen asleep, woke up just in time to see Wez lunge into view...she screamed, and the image literally pitched her against the back of her seat. It's one of my favorite moviegoing memories.
I thought Beyond Thunderdome started out okay, but completely disintegrated once it got to the kids...re latter-day George Miller, my favorite movie was Babe, Pig In the City, which was one heavy-duty horror film that must've had a lot of kiddies heading for the exits. But back in the magic summer of '82 George had us pinned to our seats, and Road Warrior is still the chase-film to beat.
10. A Bullet in the Head, 1990, Director: John Woo
Anyone who knows me will tell you I'm a huge fan of Hong Kong New Wave movies. Long about 1982-83, there was this big change in the way they did things over there, and HK became the Ancient Athens of exploitation cinema. It was a true golden age. You had Jackie Chan, Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam, Johnnie To, Ching Su Tung, Jet Li, Stephen Chiao, Bridget Lin, Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung...ah Hell, I could just go one and on. Things kind of petered out after 1997, although the Hongkies are still doing some good work...but for about fifteen years there, that little island was positively radioactive. And if there was one guy whose work came to stand for the entire explosion of cinematic brilliance, I think you'd have to say it was John Woo.
He was the bullet ballet man, an amalgam Melville, Walter Hill, and Peckinpah...he'd kill off the entire population of Hong Kong in one movie, and all of Asia in the next. And everyone would have at least one good bullet-squib on them...if they didn't have seven or ten. His work was copied pretty slavishly by any number of Hollywood hacks, but they never seemed to realize what was good about it; they'd have the stuff where two or three guys were pointing guns in each other's faces, and guys flying through the air, and all that hoo-hah, but they never understood the sadism and the splatter; or the fact that Woo would generally have some really smart idea that informed each action sequence, as in the flowerpot gunfight in Better Tomorrow, or that amazingly long complicated single take you have in the hospital in Hard Boiled. Ultimately, when he got to America, the suits wanted him to deliver their own shitty idea of what a John Woo movie should be, and made him tone tone the stuff that was genuinely good.
Oh well, he's back in China doing good work again...take a look at Reign of Assassins if you get the chance.
Now oddly enough, he was never as big in HK as he got to be overseas, at least if you can judge from the boxoffice. His huge hit was Better Tomorrow; but The Killer was a flop, so was Hard Boiled, and so was his personal favorite, A Bullet in the Head. Frankly, I'm not surprised by Bullet's lack of success...it makes A Better Tomorrow, and even Hard Boiled and The Killer look positively friendly by comparison. Indeed, if you stack it up against The Deer Hunter, which was an obvious influence on it, it completely blows Cimino's flick out of the water. It's that harrowing. No kidding.
Movie seems to be an unofficial prequel to A Better Tomorrow.After a credit sequence featuring I'm a Believer, we're introduced to Jackie Cheung, Tony Leung Chu-Wai, and Waise Lee as three buddies who decide to skip out of HK and make a fortune selling antibiotics in the Saigon black market during the Vietnam war. But they get way more than they bargained for when they cross the ganglord who runs the Chinese rackets in Nam...driven out into the countryside after a spectacular gunfight in his nightclub, they're swiftly captured by the Vietcong, who entertain themselves by forcing them to shoot other prisoners in the head. It's very much like the first Russian roulette sequence in Deer Hunter, except that it's gorier, more intense, goes on much longer, and makes more sense. It's exit-wound city, and profoundly terrifying...there's no nonsense about talking the VC into letting them have extra bullets, and Tony Leung actually wastes a several of the other prisoners. The only reason any of our guys survive is that American gunships descend on the commie hellhole; even so, Jackie Cheung gets wounded and is screaming, and Waise lee shoots him in the back of skull to keep the VC from discovering them...Cheung survives, but he's turned into a drooling psycho vegetable who does hits in Saigon.
The movie's gone downhill by this point...in a ridiculously short time, Lee returns to Hong Kong, becomes a big wheel in a corporation, and Tony Leung goes after him to avenge Jackie Cheung. Tony and Waise have a big senseless action scene at each other that's quite the waste of time...the filmed should've been wrapped up back in Nam. But for about the first three-quarters, Bullet in the Head is one of the most frightful action/war films you'll ever see. Woo's quite right to be so proud of it.