Monday, March 10, 2014

The Five Man Army (1969)

Growing up I was never a kid who got into westerns. I was a monsterkid from day one and well I still am but as I have gotten older I have branched out into many different genres of film. The spaghetti western is a genre that I had never really dipped into until recently. I was already familiar with Sergio Leone’s films starring Clint Eastwood but really wanted to check out some other lesser known titles, well lesser known to me anyway. 

The 5 amigos!
The Five Man Army stars Mission Impossible star Peter Graves as “The Dutchman”, a gun for hire type outlaw who assembles a five man team to pull off a train heist worth $500,000. The film takes place during the Mexican Revolution, a time period that seems to be a running theme in quite a few westerns from the land of pasta. Each member of the army has a special skill set which is needed for the task at hand. The army includes Nino Castelnuovo as the ex-acrobat turned thief Luis Dominguez, Bud Spencer as the strong man Mesito, Tetsuro Tanba as the Samurai (who doesn’t speak but is extremely handy with knives) and James Daly as the explosives expert Capt. Nicolas Augustus. 
Traaiiin....Train....lawd take me on outta this town.

The train not only carries it’s payload of gold but it is heavily armed with machine guns, several military troops and a cannon. The gold is going to Dictator General Huerta and the revolutionaries want the gold to help finance the revolution. The Dutchman is the man for the job but there seems to be a plan to take the gold for themselves. An impossible situation since this train has to pass through several checkpoints which really are just open fields where members of the military can see the train from afar. The five man army devise a pretty interesting plan which involves being stowaways strapped underneath the cars, quietly taking out the armed soldiers and detonating explosives to separate the troop car from the rest of the train using dynamite and metal coffers that muffle the sound of the explosions while the train whistle is blown. Sound impossible? Well it is really when you put this all into real life but we have Peter Graves on our side so this mission is possible. See what I did there? You know I couldn’t write this up without making some type of connection.
Bud Spencer fights with tiny bullets and big hands

The mission is a success and the five many army load the gold and make way to a burned out village to plan the rest of their escape. The story takes a twist as Luis decides he is taking the gold for himself but he soon thwarted at gun point by the Dutchman who then turns tail on all of them taking the gold for himself….or does he? It turns out the Dutchman is taking the gold to give to the revolutionaries as promised. The Dutchman’s wife was murdered by the Mexican army so he has vowed to help overthrow the dictator. The rest of the crew is not happy and are feeling pretty stupid until the Mexican army shows up and they rejoin the Dutchman to take out the troops. You just don’t mess with the Five Man Army!
Graves ponders his impossible mission

What really attracted me to this movie was first the soundtrack. The film was scored by the great Ennio Morricone who had scored many a Western including the Leone “Dollars Trilogy” (A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). This film might not feature his best work but it really drives the film and gives it that classic spaghetti western attitude. 

The beautiful Daniela Giordano
The film was backed by MGM who wanted Peter Graves to be in the film to help boost ticket sales. It was also directed by Englishman Don Taylor (The Planet of the Apes) which might not make it an official spaghetti western BUT the script was written by none other than the Italian maestro of terror Dario Argento! That just blew my mind because I really didn’t know that little factoid. I had probably read it somewhere at some point but my mind just couldn’t hold on to it for some reason. The following year Argento would release his debut giallo film The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970). Cinematography and editing were done by Enzo Barboni and Sergio Montanari respectively so this ends up being an Italian/American pasta fagioli that like the dish is quite tasty!

As a side note, actor Giacomo Rossi-Stuart makes an appearance in the film but is quickly dispatched via a Samaria sword. I was very disappointed too since I really liked him in Mario Bava's Kill Baby Kill (1966).

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ghosts The Still Walk (1977)

Can’t sleep? Do the hours slowly pass through the night while your body decided it’s just not going to sleep? Throw out those No Doze and whatever doctor prescribed sleeping medicines you may have, fire up the VCR and take a gander at Ghosts That Still Walk. It is guaranteed to put you to sleep in first twenty minutes or your money back!

Ruth Douglas (Caroline Howe) is the grandmother of Mark Douglas (Matt Boston). She has brought Mark to psychiatrist Dr. Sills (Rita Crafts) to try and get help for Mark because he is having episodes of seizures and migraine headaches. Mark has an odd episode on the first visit where he thrusts his hand into a glass case to try and acquire an old Indian relic on display in the Dr.’s office. This then leads to a session of hypnotherapy with the Grandma Ruth for some reason. During the session we learn of Mark’s grandparents’ nightmare vacation out in the desert in the family Winnebago. 
Grandma sleeping.....something you will do too.
What follows next is truly sleep inducing as Grandma and Grandpa Douglas ride around the desert being the good ole God fearing grandparents that they are. As they pass through the desert they are assaulted by some unseen force which makes the keys in the ignition jiggle around before taking control of the camper. They swerve around the road for a good fifteen minutes before stopping. And by fifteen minutes I don’t mean Hollywood fifteen minutes, I mean an ACTUAL fifteen minutes of watching old people pretend they are being tossed around in a moving camper. At the end of the ordeal Grandpa decides that having a salad will make everything better. Really he says this, I am not joking. 

Ruth! Stop this crazy thing!
As they recover from their “frightening” ordeal they are then assaulted by more paranormal activity as rocks and boulders begin to make their way across the desert to try and cause harm to the elderly couple. So now we are subjected to a good ten minutes of rocks, rolling end over end, forever taking their sweet time to make it anywhere remotely close to the camper. They finally make it out and to the campgrounds to try and enjoy their vacation. Unfortunately while at the campground, Grandpa decides to climb up on the top of the camper to fix the air conditioning. While he is up there the camper mysteriously starts up on its own and takes off with Grandma inside all a flutter and Grandpa hanging on top for dear life. So now we get even more swerving, old lady tossing and old man pretending to be hanging onto the top of the camper……another 5 or 6 minutes worth of this until the camper stops and Grandpa has a heart attack. By this time you are really pretty much ready to turn this thing off but for some reason it beckons you to stay seated. Either this or you have fallen asleep and won’t wake up until the tape stops and rewinds itself.

Another moment of sleep.
It also turns out that Mark’s mother is an archeologist who has been studying the ancient Indian tribe that was indigenous to the area. The same desert area that Grandma and Grandpa were experiencing their paranormal activity. Mark’s mother has unearthed several Indian mummies from one of the caves and decides to get into their heads. She makes subconscious contact with them which causes Mark to become possessed by the Indian spirit. Mark then starts to experience out of body experiences and demonstrated plenty of odd behavior which of course sparked the visit to Dr. Sills. The astral projection sequence is probably the best part of the movie and is filmed in an eerie way that is kind of creepy but certainly doesn’t save this film by any means. The movie is just flat out boring and a chore to sit through. 

While asleep leave your body and find another movie to watch.
So anyway after Mark’s out of body experience his legs are rendered paralyzed and is confined to a wheel chair. Dr. Sills realizes that Mark is somehow possessed and lost his astral body to that of the spirit of the Indian who seems pretty pissed off. They make a special trip to the desert and bring Mark to the entrance of the cave. Here we find the mummies laid out on funeral pyres and somehow they catch fire and the spirit of the Indian returns to the mummified body and is forever set free while Mark gets his astral body back and he hugs his Grandma. The End. 

 I really don’t know what more to say. This movie was boring. Just boring as boring could be and I really hoped for some type of demonic show down at the end, which technically happened but there was no fanfare at all. Just some shots of Mark staring at the pyres and bam! All is good. This was one of those titles that I thought the cover art looked cool. I liked the title of the movie and had hoped that it was a diamond in the rough. Alas, tis no treasure to be found here, only a sleep agent. 

For some reason I can't get Blogger to load the trailer so here is the link....sleep tight!