Sunday, April 09, 2006

Tales of Voodoo, Vol. 4

This was my WTF purchase of the month. I’ve been curious about this line of DVD’s for awhile. The case sports the logos and cover art from the Tales of Voodoo comic book, published by Eerie Publications in the 60’s and 70’s. Eerie Publications (not to be confused with Warren Publishing’s Eerie magazine from the same period) put out an especially gruesome line of horror comics known for their brutal violence and over the top art. The back cover of the DVD carries artwork from a “Monster Club” ad that ran in comic books in the early 70’s.

When I first saw these DVD’s I didn’t know what to think. Presumably this material has fallen into the public domain and the enterprising folks at Videoasia thought those lurid gross-out comic covers from yesteryear would make dandy promotional art for a line of obscure international horror flicks. The films themselves have been slightly retitled for this collection, presumably to make them more palatable to horror fans, though neither film actually fits comfortably into that genre, and despite the Tales of Voodoo title, there’s no voodoo to be had here.

Temple of Hell: Ark of the Sun God (onscreen title: Ark of the Sun God) (1983)
This Italian/Turkish co-production is directed by Anthony M. Dawson, a.k.a. Antonio Margheriti, maker of such films as the excellent and eerie Barbara Steele film Castle of Blood (1964), and the Pasta Land Chunkblower classic Cannibal Apocalypse (1980), among many others.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the film stars Italian horror film legend David Warbeck. Not all of his movies are classics--I recently watched Warbeck’s Panic (1976), which totally bites--but his presence in Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond has earned him many cool points. Also noteworthy is the appearance of character actor Luciano Pigozzi, who appeared in several other Margheriti flicks, as well as the Mario Bava films Baron Blood and Blood and Black Lace.

Warbeck plays Rick Spear, a cat burglar of some repute who has business in Istanbul. While attempting to steal a rare artifact, Spear is caught and recruited by Lord Dean. The plan is for Spear to locate the Temple of the Sun God, the presumed resting place of Gilgamesh, a king who was half man and half demon. Dean wants Spear to enter the temple using the aforementioned artifact as a key and steal a jeweled scepter. The Brits are concerned about the political implications of the scepter falling into the wrong hands. Unbeknownst to anyone, though, the room is bugged, and the exchange is overheard by an Arab prince and his henchmen, members of the Demons of Gilgamesh who want the scepter for their own purposes.

What follows is kidnapping, murder, gun play, car chases, Indiana Jones-style archeology (particularly in a very Raiders-esque snake pit sequence, and a rather modest tarantula attack), and various other acts of daring do on the part of our hero. The action scenes are fun, though sometimes they seem randomly placed, and their order in the film could probably be rearranged without much trouble.

Little attempt is made to disguise the James Bond connection. While wearing his black cat burglar clothes, Spear very much resembles Sean Connery. He comments to Lord Dean, “Why didn’t you tell me this job called for Roger Moore?” Even Spear’s girlfriend Carol is more often than not referred to as “Pussycat,” possibly a reference to Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore character from Goldfinger. The entire third act just screams Indiana Jones, right down to the snake pit scene and the Arab sidekick who resembles John Rhys-Davies’ character from Raiders.

Not a masterpiece, but a fun little bit of hokum. The picture is grainy, but watchable, though a few night scenes are hard to make out. The image is letterboxed, but info seems to be lost on the left and right sides of the screen.

Cannibal Curse (onscreen title: Curse)(1987)
Yikes! Tales of Voodoo? More like Tower of Babel. This one has some serious issues. First, the English subtitles of this Hong Kong-made film are cropped off the bottom of the screen, leaving subtitles in an Asian language which I can’t identify (Mandarin? Cantonese?). Periodically, the English subtitles shift back into frame, only to have them drop out again moments later. Perhaps even more inexplicable though, is the audio. At first I thought the left and right channels were out of synch with each other, but it appears each channel carries a separate translation in a different Asian language.

Obviously, following the plot was challenging. What we have here (I think) is a tale of love and reincarnation. Maria’s lover Roberto is murdered by Maria’s abusive husband. The star-crossed lovers meet again forty years later. Roberto appears to be reincarnated. Maria is either reincarnated or immortal. Who can tell? It’s such a mess. I can’t even nail down a genre for this one. There’s some kung fu, gratuitous nudity, a battle between good and evil sorcerers, and that holy grail of exploitation film features: crazed dwarves in loincloths. Despite the title, though, there is no cannibalism.

A movie that should only be attempted by the heartiest of film buffs.

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