Finger of Doom (1972)

6.5 out of 10
Just like the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, Finger of Doom sounds as though it is going to be one of those really cool punches that make Kung Fu cinema such fun. But, that isn't what it is though. Instead, it is a form of Kung Fu. Just like Ecky-Thump from The Goodies, or Venusian Aikido from Dr. Who, it's a made up martial art! Anyhow, what marks Finger of Doom out from say Drunken Monkey, or whatever, is that it is solely practiced by the living dead. At night. Oh, it also utilizes a set of Freddy Krueger style, golden thimbles that fire mind-controlling, poison-tipped, steel pins. One such practitioner of Finger of Doom style is Kung Suen Mao Neon. Played by South Korean comedienne, Chih Hsien Po, she is an evil, living dead, twin. Not unlike her goody-twoshoes undead sister, she studied martial arts at the Living Dead Clan Kung Fu School under Sha-fei Ouyang. Dressed head to toe in white, the foxy dominatrix, Kung Suen, seeks to subjugate men with the power of her meridian controlling pins and turn them into vampires. Then, as by day she sleeps in her coffin, she is transported about the place by her loyal band of vampiric, pale-faced, red eyed, man-slaves. However, at night she is out, about, and executing her plan for power. After all, given that the Hsueh Li Pao helmed Finger of Doom was to be her final role for Shaw Bros, she was going to go out in style. Anyhow, in the land of the living, three brothers, who are numbered one to three, paint and assemble wax and bamboo umbrellas. They were once heroes. But now, their swords simply gather dust and rust. However, when a blackmail attempt goes a bit awry, brother Number Two finds himself captured and enslaved by the evil, living dead, twin. Thus, the remaining brothers, One and Three, are forced to try and rescue their sibling. So, yet again, they must break out the swords. Nevertheless, it is all too much for the remaining brothers. Despite their skill, they are in waaaay out of their depth here. Brother Number Three ends up enslaved too. However, help will soon be at hand. You see, as luck should have it, the Living Dead Clan have dispatched the "good sister". She too dresses all in white, is carted around in a red coffin, uses the mind control pins and so on. But, this nice living dead girl, played by the even-foxier-than-her-sister, Ivy Ling Po, is instructed to temper the ambitions of her evil sibling. Though, truth to tell, given the similarity in their approach and, indeed, their very raison d'etre, the whole white hat/black hat division of labour seems somewhat redundant here. Suffice it say that, as far as Finger of Doom is concerned, it is perfectly okay to be an enslaving, mind-controlling bitch. However, ambitions of world domination are simply not cool. Period. Of course, what the film is really about is the rivalry between two supernatural sisters. This then acts as a proxy for the battle between good and evil. So, this means, of course, that Finger of Doom is sort of a horror film. It also leans towards the Gothic. As would be expected, this means that this is a film that is mostly shrouded in darkness. It also features hell of a lot of mist. This, incidentally, contributes to an extremely creepy aesthetic throughout. Indeed, if for nothing else, Finger of Doom, originally Tai yin zhi, certainly deserves praise for its ambience. You see, what we have here is a feast for the eyes. Thanks to Chi-Jui Chen and Yuan Cheng Huang, it all simply looks splendid. What is on offer rivals, or even eclipses, much of what Hammer were doing around this time. It is also far more visually engaging. Indeed, by comparison, the famous Hammer and Shaw Bros. collaboration, Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, appears a little stagey. Finger of Doom is also far less hokey all round. So, expect no rubber bats. Oh, by the way, apart from darkness and mist there are some other familiar Gothic horror signatures here. There is a devious hunchback assistant, for example. He is played by Li Tung. Also, there is a dungeon. So, as we would expect, there is an attempt at a bit of dungeon torture! However, this is no ordinary torture. Indeed it is no sort of torture at all. You see, brother Number One, played by Han Chin, is chained up. The he is forced to endure as sexy "evil twin" Living Dead girl drops her robe and stands naked before him. Bravely, though, our little soldier summons up his inner strength. He is able to resist. He doesn't look. You see, brother Number One is a gentleman. Besides, he has a crush on "good" living dead girl. So he's also, technically, a bit of a necrophiliac. However, romantic diversions here are mere secondary considerations. For, what Finger of Doom attempts to do is to successfully marry the martial arts and horror film. Sadly, however, this only partially succeeds. You see, this works as a martial arts film. Finger of Doom is blessed with decent wire-work and some excellent, high tempo sword fights. However, it really fails, spectacularly, in the horror department. For all the effort in setting the right tone, the film isn't really scary.

Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968)

4.5 out of 10
Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women is an American science fiction film. It was supposedly directed by Peter Bogdanovich. However Peter, who would go on to direct classics such as The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon, pointed out that he didn't really have that much to do with it. He shot just ten minutes or so of the finished product. The rest is taken from an older American science fiction film. This, in turn, was a re-edit of an even older Soviet film from 1962. You see, Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women is, pretty much, lifted wholesale from a Curtis Harrington movie that starred Basil Rathbone. This was the 1965 science fiction film, Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet. The film was the result of inserting scenes into a Russian movie, Pavel Klushantsev's Planeta bur. At some point Roger Corman had acquired the footage and got it dubbed into English. Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women retains much of the dubbed dialogue from the 1965 film. Except Rathbone's scenes. These would be removed, again, in order to lay the foundations for Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women. So, originally, all this, sans Rathbone and women, was actually a product of the colourfully titled Leningrad Popular Science Film Studio. Confused? Me Too! But, there's more... There's the title for a start! The film was, originally, going to be released as Storm Clouds Of Venus. But, instead, the movie promises some prehistoric women. You see, Roger Corman wanted to include them. He believed that American International Pictures would not be interested in the film unless it had some women in it. So ,Peter Bogdanovich shot about ten minutes of psychic, raw-fish eating, Venusian, mermaidlike women and their leader, who would be played by Mamie Van Doren. These were included for purely commercial reasons. Corman would also include some footage from yet another, even earlier, Soviet production!! That is Battle Beyond the Sun from 1959. However, despite the fact that Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women is mostly made up of footage from the USSR, the end result is an American production. It is also a film made with American audiences in mind. So, Corman made sure that Soviet iconography, in particular a red star on the tail of the spacecraft, was removed. Occasionally, however, the star is accidentally left in. So we can see that the crew in this are, in fact, Cosmonauts. Not Americans. Anyhow, this doesn't matter much. Because, as it happens, Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women is a bit of a gnarly mess. This is with, or without, references to the Soviet space programme. Anyhow, the film opens with contraption laden documentary segment. It is all about technology and the future of space travel. Following this we hear the voice of the director. He is our narrator. His words are supposedly of a man who, so we are led to believe, has been judged to be mad. He tells us that he is a returned astronaut. We are then, in turn, asked to judge what is real and what is not. The narrator goes on to tell a fantastical tale. This is the story of Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women. Everyone else knows the place as Venus. He then explains how an earlier space mission, along with their fat-arsed, imbecilic, Forbidden Planet style robot named "John", gets into difficulty. We are then invited to follow as another mission is dispatched to partake in a rescue. We watch as they traverse the solar system, ride around in an incredible hovering space car, tangle with killer plants, briefly get into a scrap with a pack of rubber suited dinosaurs and unwittingly kill the Pteradactyl God of the women of Venus. And to think, they called the guy mad! So, erm, well, okay, my mind is made up! But, as The Amazing Criswelll might earnestly enquire, is yours? You see, for all this mayhem, it is understandable why Corman made the film. After all, he was a master of knocking out B movie quickies. Besides, what he had got hold of here, was some really impressive space film footage. Indeed, much of it looks incredible when placed alongside so many of the American atom age cheapies. The result is a riotously wonderful, retro futurist delight, which, at times, feels almost like a prototype for the later work of Mario Bava. This is especially evident with scenes of astronauts wandering around, with their robot, inside an active volcano. Indeed, this would be great were it not for the fact that, without narration, little here would make much sense. Also, it was all very well Corman requesting that some women be added, but that then presented the problem of how these were to be integrated into the story. How could they possibly be made to interact with our cosmonauts? Here the director cheated somewhat. Because, the question is answered by simply not bothering to bring the two groups into contact with each other! At all! So our space travellers talk about the presence of people, also bizarrely suggesting that space reptiles are people too. Meanwhile, the Venusian women sense that there are demons present. But, that aside, they lead parallel lives, in parallel movies, and only interact with the artefacts of each other's world. So the Venusian women discover Robot “John”, while one of the earthlings gets hold of a Veusian rock with a face carved into it. Nevertheless, the additional scenes are compelling. They even attempt to emulate the style of the original footage. Besides, the disembodied voices and the otherworldly echo of the narration, when combined with the dubbed dialogue of the cosmonauts, actually creates something here that is strangely fascinating and surreal. A discordant soundtrack made up of an eerie whistling wind and the, supposedly, siren voices of the Venusians, only serves to amplify the delirium. If there is one failing with the film, it is that it simply takes itself way too seriously. Dialogue is functional, wordy, and laden with faux-existentialist flourishes. Also, there are far too many seemingly random, pointless, pronouncements throughout the film. The result is, pretty much, a fun-free zone. Even though the film suggest some affinity with the likes of the likes of The Queen of Outer Space, or even Wild Women of Wongo, Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women is as dry as a Sandworm's arse.

Murder in Soho (1939)

4.5 out of 10
Soho, London. From the window of a car we see the bright light, the glitz, the glamour, the nightlife. But not the sleaze. You see, despite the fact that Soho has had a centuries old reputation for being associated with the seamier side of life we are here solely, on this occasion, for the dancing and the clubbing. The ladies of the night, the calling cards and the Windmill Girls will remain, for the duration, within the shadows. But, despite the film offering an ever so sanitised view of the borough, what better place than Soho, with its labyrinthine streets and alleys, could there possibly be to set a British tale of sleaze, murder and intrigue? Certainly the Germans understood this! As a result, their Edgar Wallace inspired krimi films would include a Hunchback of Soho, a Phantom of Soho and a Gorilla of Soho. However, despite the potential that a location such as Soho presents, and the title of the film, on this occasion Soho, itself, remains largely unseen. Indeed, beyond a few brief moments, the film largely eschews location work altogether. So, as a result, the action is confined to a single nightspot. This, by coincidence, happens to resemble the claustrophic environment of a studio set. Except with chairs and tables arranged about the place. It also seems that, for effect, almost every major plot development ends up being punctuated by footage of people dancing, eating or drinking. It's a club, see, and film doesn't want you to forget it! But, even if this achieves little else, it allows us to cast a beady eye over the fashions, and dance crazes, of the day. So, in its own little way, at least the film is a time capsule piece. However, aside from the dancing and the drinking, the film loses focus a bit. You see, there are a lot of subplots woven throughout the narrative. Also, the addition of the career exploits of a couple of stage entertainers and a supporting love rival role for "M out of James Bond" is no more than a combination of light comic relief and soap opera type filler noise designed to extend the running time. So there is a monkey and a skit involving chopsticks and spaghetti. There is also a running gag about feeling lucky at One Arm Bandits. Guess how this one pans out!? However, while these meandering diversions mostly come to resolution, they are largely superfluous. After all, at it's heart the film is a gangster themed murder mystery. This is all that really matters. Despite the little flurries of superficial silliness Murder in Soho is, in truth, a conventional, workmanlike, though somewhat unexceptional little crime film. The star of the show is Jack La Rue. Playing to type, he portrays Steve Marco, the boss of Soho's The Cotton Club. In his top hat and tails he appears to be the very model of an English aristocrat. However, Steve is an American. But, nevertheless he aspires, like some socialite Icarus, to become a part of the British establishment. In order to do this, he intends to manage the most spiffing club in Soho, to mix with the great and the good and to have a classy dame on his arm. The classy dame of his dreams is called Ruby. Ruby is played by Sandra Storme. She has a secret. Despite his ambitions, Steve is, deep down, little more than a thug and a hood. Marco is aided in his business by Lefty, who is played by New York character actor Arthur O'Connell and Spike, played by Edmon Ryan. These, despite their formal titles, of secretary or chauffeur respectively, are enforcers. They are mobsters. It is they that kill and dispose of Joe, a smuggler who had betrayed Marco. It is they who dump his body, in an alley, off Soho's famous Greek Street. You see, what an American screenwriter Iowa's F. McGrew Willis does here, is to overturn a common trope of American crime cinema. Because, pretty much all villains in Murder in Soho have American accents, while the heroes of the piece are English. However, this may be little more than a desire, on the part of the producers, to play to the intended audience. Nevertheless, this aside, the film is not a million miles away from the classic American gangster film. This is crime cinema transatlantic style. Except, obviously, with the story relocated to London and given a Brit-noir makeover. As often seemed to be the case with English cinema of the time, everyone, aside from the Americans, appear to sound so frightfully posh. This is regardless of whether they are making Love On The Dole or, as is the case here, simply dancing girls who aspire to return to the “nawth”. It is received pronunciation all the way. Played by Martin Walker, inspector Hammond at Vine Street Station is also a bit posh. Indeed, with the bowler hat and brolly of Steed from the The Avengers, he cuts a rather dashing figure. He is the perfect city gent. But, beneath a calm, stiff, upper lip, he possessed the hard-nosed instincts of a Columbo. It is he that follows the breadcrumb trail of clues as he edges towards solving the murder. So clever is he, that Hammond even enlists the help of Ruby. The pair even lay a cunning trap involving some pearls. It works too! However, ultimately, absolutely none of this really matters a jot. For, in the end, it proves to be Marco's hubris, overreach and his weakness for the ladies, that causes his nightclubby, mini-empire, to unravel somewhat.