FILMS OF CIRIO H. SANTIAGO
(1936 - 2008)
10 Things You Should Know About Cirio H. Santiago Before Reading The Reviews:
1) He has directed and/or produced over 100 films
2) He is better known in his native Philippines for directing westerns and musicals
3) He has a fetish for dwarves and setting people on fire
4) He has a stable of expatriate American actors that he uses in all his films
5) He has a long-standing partnership with Roger Corman
6) He owns one of the biggest film production studios (Premiere Productions) in his country
7) He recycles footage......a lot (especially in his later films)
8) He helped kick-start the careers of Joe Dante, Jonathan Demme and Carl Franklin
9) He has directed only two horror films in his long career, both stinkers
10) He films all his movies in the Philippines, although very few are actually set there
ANGELFIST (1992) - Champion martial artist Kristie Lang (Sibel Birzag) catches the murder of an American soldier in Manila with her camera and calls the American Embassy to report what she saw. Before she can hand over the film to Embassy representative Victor Winslow (Joseph Zucchero), she is viciously slashed and stabbed to death by the same black-garbed people who murdered the American soldier. Luckily, she passed the film to a cabbie before she was killed, telling him to give it to a stripper friend of hers named Sulu. Kirstie's sister, L.A. cop Kat Lang (Cat Sassoon, who has the fattest lips this side of a spousal abuse victim), travels to Manila to investigate her sister's death, but it's strictly off the books. After losing her luggage and money immediately after setting foot in Manila (this film is not an endorsement for tourism), Kat meets conman Alcatraz (Michael Shaner; BLOODFIST - 1989), who knew Kristie and offers to help Kat find her murderer (he has ulterior motives, though, like getting into Kat's tight pants). He convinces Kat to take her sister's place in the upcoming big martial arts tournament, so he hooks her up with Kristie's trainer, Bayani (Roland Dantes), and tournament promoter Mr. Carrion (Tony Carrion), who's not quite what he seems to be. As Kat begins rising through the tournament ranks (and making Alcatraz a hefty sum on side bets), she slowly makes friends with fellow tournament fighter Lorda (Melissa Moore; ONE MAN ARMY - 1993), while Alcatraz gets closer to finding Kirstie's stripper friend Sulu. Kat discovers Kristie and Lorda were working undercover with the FBI to find out the identities of members of the Black Brigade, a militant group that wants to destroy the relationship between America and the Philippines. Kat gets into deep trouble when Lorda is kidnapped by the Black Brigade and they put Kat, along with visiting American Ambassador Franklin (Ken Metcalfe), at the top of their hit list. When Victor Winslow blackmails Alcatraz to keep Kat off the trail of the Black Brigade, Alcatraz finally gets to bed Kat and decides that she's too good to deceive. He finds Sulu, recovers the film and brings the proof to the American Embassy. Lorda escapes her captors, helps Kat save Ambassador Franklin's life and brings down the Black Brigade. The Philippines is safe once again for Americans, but please use caution when drinking the water. This is director/producer Cirio H. Santiago's third time to the well telling the same story, starting with TNT JACKSON in 1975 and FIRECRACKER in 1981. The problem here is, Cat Sassoon (DANCE WITH DEATH -1991) is a terrible actress, although she has the best tits money can buy, not to mention plenty of nude scenes, including a topless fight in a bedroom that copies both TNT and FIRECRACKER. Cat, who was the daughter of hair care specialist Vidal Sassoon and sister of director Oley Sassoon (BLOODFIST III: FORCED TO FIGHT - 1993), died at age 32 of a heart attack (drugs were suspected but never confirmed) while attending a New Year's party to ring in 2002. ANGELFIST is not a very good film (the martial arts fights are clunky and badly-staged), but Santiago offers a ton of nudity (both Sassoon and Melissa Moore disrobe as much as possible and there are more communal shower scenes here than in most WIP films) and some truly demented sequences, such as when Black Brigade leader Cirio Quirino (Santiago regular Henry Strzalkowski) tortures Lorda in an icehouse by stripping off her blouse and pressing her naked breasts on a block of ice! This short, 80-minute film is light on blood and gore (just a few stabbings in the beginning), has no gunfights and nothing explodes. One gets the feeling that Santiago was on cruise control here and was taking a break from his usual shoot-em-up actioners, but the sad fact was that Santiago would go on to direct a few of these modern-day martial arts flicks and would not go back to his mindless gunplay flicks. Too bad, because he was quite good at 'em. This is a lesser, latter-day entry from Santiago that can be avoided unless you like lots of nudity (Sassoon is well-oiled in all her full-frontal shots) and the sight of lips that can best be described as "distracting". Also starring Denise Buick, Jessica Roberts, Christina Portugal, Jim Moss, Bob Larson, Sheila Lintan, Ramon D'Salva and Ronald Asinas. Available on VHS and (fullscreen) DVD from New Horizons Home Video. Rated R.
BAMBOO GODS AND IRON MEN (1974) - Fun Filipino film, a mixture of martial arts action and comedy elements. Legend says that a pouch recently stolen from the grave of a 10th Century Chinese scientist contains a substance so powerful, whomever is in possession of it can rule or destroy the world. Professional boxer Calvin Jefferson (James Iglehart; SAVAGE - 1973; FIGHTING MAD - 1978) and his new bride Marlene (Shirley Washington; DARKTOWN STRUTTERS - 1974) are visiting Hong Kong on their honeymoon and get mixed up in the whole mess when one of the bad guys places the pouch in a statue of Buddha that Marlene bought as a souvenir. The bad guy does this to insure that the pouch will make it out of Hong Kong customs and to Manila, where head bad guy, Leo King (a bald Ken Metcalfe, who co-wrote the screenplay with Joseph Zucchero, who also has a role here), plans on retrieving it and ruling the world. While in Hong Kong, Calvin saves the life of mute peasant Chow Lee (Chiquito; ARIZONA KID - 1971; JAMES WONG - 1973), who was knocked-out and thrown in the ocean by three street thugs after saving a young woman from being raped. Calvin jumps in the ocean and saves his life and from that moment on, Chow Lee (who Calvin renames "Charley") is indebted to lifelong servitude to Calvin and becomes an unwanted third wheel in Calvin and Marlene's honeymoon. No matter how much they try to ditch him, Charley says close behind them, stowing away on the ship to Manila and eventually saving Calvin's life when Mr. King's goons try to steal the Buddha (Charley's very good in the arts that are martial). Calvin and Marlene eventually welcome Charley into their lives and it's a good thing, too, because Mr. King sends wave after wave of bad guys to steal the Buddha. Charley teaches Calvin the finer points of the martial arts to go along with his boxing skills (which aren't very good when you're facing kung-fu experts) and when Mr. King finally steals the Buddha and finds that the pouch is not in it, Calvin will have to use his new-found skills when Mr. King believes he stole the pouch. Mr. King kidnaps Marlene, which forces Calvin and Charley to figure out where the pouch is and deliver it to Mr. King before Marlene is killed. Charley discovers the true location of the pouch and races to Mr. King's hideout with an inept police detective in tow to stop Calvin from making a big mistake. Everything works out in the end when it is discovered that the "powerful" substance in the pouch is nothing but simple gunpowder (powerful in the 10th Century, no so much today). Everyone, including Mr. King, have a good laugh when the gunpowder explodes in their faces, making everyone look like performers in a minstrel show. Oh, and Charley regains his ability to speak thanks to the explosion! This Filipino action film, directed by Cesar Gallardo (HUSTLER SQUAD - 1976) and produced by Cirio H. Santiago (TNT JACKSON - 1975), is a funny, if derivative, martial arts variation of THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) and bears striking similarities to director Robert Clouse's GOLDEN NEEDLES, made the same year as this. Lighthearted in tone, yet still containing bloody deaths and scenes of rape, BAMBOO GODS AND IRON MEN treads a fine line between comedy and violence and succeeds most of the time. James Iglehart and Shirley Washington are surprisingly good as the newlywed couple and popular Filipino comedian Chiquito is very funny as the mute Charley. While he's a little too broad at times and his martial arts skills questionable at best (for a martial arts master, he sure does get knocked-out a lot), Chiquito makes a good silent partner for Iglehart. There are some funny sequences between the two, such as when Mr. King's head henchmen, Ambrose (Eddie Garcia; BEAST OF BLOOD - 1970; THE WOMAN HUNT - 1972), brings the duo to a massage parlor under false pretenses, which results in some hand-to-hand combat between the parties (and lots of screaming topless women) and Charley running out of the building bare-assed. There are plenty of badly-staged martial arts fights on view, but it is the goofy comedy (especially the unbelievable ending) by the game cast, including Ken Metcalfe (who seems to be in at least 80% of the Filipino action flicks I have seen), that will suck you in. Not a good film by any stretch of the imagination (the production values are horrid and the editing and sound recording are piss-poor), but an entertaining one nonetheless. Cesar Gallardo's son, Jun Gallardo (who was Associate Director here), directed many Filipino action flicks, Including RESCUE TEAM (1983), COMMANDO INVASION (1986) and SFX RETALIATOR (1987), usually using the pseudonym "John Gale". Also starring Marissa Delgado, Michael Boyet, Robert Rivera, Leo Martinez, Zubas Herrero, Benny Pestano, Steve Alcardo and a cameo by Vic Diaz as a hotel desk clerk. Distributed theatrically by American International Pictures. Never released legitimately on home video in the U.S., but it did get a Canadian VHS release through Astral Films. Available on DVD-R from many gray market sellers, including Cinefear Home Video. Rated R.
BEHIND ENEMY LINES (1987) - Lieutenant Johnny Ransom (Robert Patrick; THE MARINE - 2006) leads his squad of soldiers deep into enemy territory during the Vietnam War. Their mission: To find American POWs and bring them back alive. After capturing a gook soldier and "questioning" him (by sticking a live grenade in his mouth), they head to an enemy camp where four American POWs are being held. It turns out to be a trap, as Lt. Ransom and his men are outgunned, overpowered and forced to surrender. The head of the camp, Tran Van Minh (scripter Joe Mari Avellana), and Russian advisor Dimitri (Robert Dryer; SAVAGE STREETS - 1984), then shoot the four American POWs point-blank in front of Ransom and his men. After a short sequence where everyone but Ransom, Jacobs (William Steis) and Keller (Morgan Douglas) are tortured and killed, Ransom escapse, leaving Jacobs and Keller behind. When Ransom gets back to base camp, he finds out that the Paris Accord has been signed, effectively ending the war. Ransom and fellow soldier Sam (Rey Malanzo; CLASSIFIED OPERATION - 1985) grab some soldiers, hop in a helicopter and assault the enemy camp, rescuing Jacobs and Keller and killing Tran Van Minh. Dimitri gets away and Ransom is seriously injured and is sent to a military hospital in Thailand, where he is tended to by old flame Terry (Barbara Hooper). Meanwhile, Sam is assigned to escort an important enemy General back to base camp. The General has switched sides and is willing to turn over a secret codebook to the Americans that contains the names of American double agents. Dimitri has other plans, though, and ambushes Sam's squad, taking Sam and the General prisoner and killing everyone else. After getting a little nookie from Terry, Lt. Ransom heads out to rescue Sam and the General, aided by Captain Dupre (Lydie Denier) and her squad of French resistance fighters, as well as Jacobs and Keller, who have a score to settle with Dimitri. They all manage to save the General and kill Dimitri (unfortunately, Sam is long-dead, hanging upside down from a tree and being eaten by rats). Keller even finds the time to romance Capt. Dupre, but when Ransom gets back to headquarters and the codebook is deciphered, he discovers that someone close to him is a traitor, which forces him to seek justice through the barrel of a gun. I didn't see that coming. This is the second of Filipino director Cirio H. Santiago's Vietnam War action flicks that he made in the 80's. Robert Patrick reprises the same role he portrayed in Santiago's first Nam film, EYE OF THE EAGLE (1987), only this time it's a starring role rather than a secondary character, as he was in EYE. Patrick, who got his start in other Santiago-directed films like EQUALIZER 2000 and FUTURE HUNTERS (both 1986), still comes off as too over-animated, yelling out his lines rather than speaking them. It would take him a few more years to find his acting groove (his breakout role in TERMINATOR 2  was basically a non-speaking role) and he would also make his mark on TV in such series as THE X-FILES and THE UNIT. Santiago offers his usual cornucopia of action set-pieces, including lots of gunfights, explosions and bloody bullet squibs. There are also some brief nude scenes, a smattering of gore (shots to the head; Sam being eaten by rats) and a good helicopter explosion (this one isn't a model). Frequent Santiago collaborator Joe Mari Avellana's script is nothing special, but the acting by a cast of Santiago regulars makes it all bearable. The stinger at the end was also a nice touch and totally unexpected. My appreciation of Santiago as a director increases every time I watch another film of his. The majority of his films may be nothing more than rip-offs of other movies, but he is a professional and is capable of turning out compact (the majority of his films run 85 minutes or less), entertaining time-wasters. Also known as KILLER INSTINCT. The next film in Santiago's Nam actioners was THE EXPENDABLES (1988), followed by NAM ANGELS (1988). Also starring Anthony East, Henry Strzalkowski, David Light, Mel Davidson, Willy Williams and Jeff Griffith. Released on VHS by Media Home Entertainment and not yet available on DVD. Rated R.
CAGED FURY (1983) - In a plot reminiscent of TELEFON (1977), this film opens with a prominent female politician receiving a mysterious phone call ("The apples are dying!") and then a package just before she is to give a press conference. She then goes into a trance, straps on a vest bomb underneath her dress and heads down to the conference, where she detonates the bomb, killing everyone. We then follow Canadian girl Denise (Bernadette Williams) as she is taken prisoner and driven to some remote camp in the Asian jungle. The warden of the camp, Van Duc (Joe Mari Avellana), tells Denise that escape is impossible, but if she does what she is told, she will eventually be released. The camp is full of young female prisoners and it becomes apparent after a short while that the women are being "conditioned" (i.e. brainwashed) to become "human bombs" to be used in situations where it would be next to impossible to use regular hitmen or assassins. All it takes is a simple phone call saying a particular phrase ("The apples are dying!") and the women don vest bombs and carry out their missions. While Denise tries to find a way to escape, Van Duc discovers that one of the women prisoners, Linda (Jennifer Lane), is actually an undercover CIA operative, so he has electrodes attached to her breasts and tortures her with electricity. Denise begins a romance with friendly guard Pram Van Tin (Efren Reyes Jr.) and he agrees to help her escape once he witnesses the after-effects of her brainwashing electric shock treatments. When Pram tries to smuggle Denise out of the camp in the back of a truck and Van Duc is waiting for them at the front gate, it proves that one of the women prisoners is an informer. But which one is it? All evidence points to Honey (Taffy O'Connell), an American who sleeps with most of the guards and spends too much time in Van Duc's office, but that would be too easy. Denise and Pram still manage to escape, but Van Duc's men are only one step behind them. After they make love in a jungle cabin, Pram is shot dead by his fellow guards and Denise is brought back to the camp, where she is tortured. All the girls are then loaded onto a train and told that they are going home, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. The train stops in the middle of a field and the guards gang-rape all the women and shoot those in the back that try to escape. The remaining women discover the identity of the informer, kill her and then take over the train, where they escape to the safety of a waiting helicopter. Are the women actually saved or will a simple phone call turn them into explosive assassins? I'm afraid only time will tell. A lot of people believe that this is Filipino director Cirio H. Santiago's best film and I can't really fault them for thinking that. While not as action-packed as most of Santiago's 80's films, it is better plotted than most (script by frequent Santiago bit player Bobby Greenwood) and probably contains more nudity than half a dozen of his other films put together. Santiago also tosses-in much more human drama than usual, especially the romance between Denise and Pram that ends tragically. There is also a mystery element as we try to determine who's the informer and it's not as easy as you think. Santiago films the mass rape on the train as a series of slow-motion shots, edited in such a way as to show the fear and helplessness in all the women's faces while the guards leer and laugh and shoot women in the back like they were shooting skeet. It's a very effective sequence, as is Pram's gunfight with his fellow guards, which takes place next to a pen of loudly-chirping baby chicks. This was also one of the few Santiago films that wasn't financed by Roger Corman. Future director Jim Wynorski (CHOPPING MALL - 1986; SORCERESS - 1994) was Casting Director here, which could explain why most of the female prisoners are, how do I say, top-heavy? Although the plot never takes advantage of the brainwashing scenario, CAGED FURY still has plenty to recommend. It's not very violent, but it's sleazy as hell. Other Santiago WIP films include WOMEN OF HELL'S ISLAND (1978) and CAGED HEAT II: STRIPPED OF FREEDOM (1993). Also starring Catherine March, Margaret Magick, Gina Alajar, Elizabeth Oropesa, Leo Martinez, Ken Metcalfe and Mike Monty. A World Premiere Vome Video Release. Not available on DVD. Not Rated.
CAGED HEAT II: STRIPPED OF FREEDOM (1993) - First off, this in-name-only sequel (originally shot under the title PRISONERS) has nothing to do with director/screenwriter Jonathan Demme's classic WIP flick CAGED HEAT (1974). The only thing they have in common is that they were both made for Roger Corman's production companies; the first one for Corman's New World Pictures (where it obtained a theatrical release) and the second one for Corman's New Concorde/New Horizons Home Video (where it went DTV). Luckily, CAGED HEAT II was directed by late Filipino genre staple Cirio H. Santiago, an old hand at these WIP films; being a credited (and uncredited) producer of such prison drive-in classics like THE BIG DOLL HOUSE (1971), WOMEN IN CAGES (1971), THE HOT BOX (1972) and THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972) before directing some WIP films himself, including WOMEN OF HELL'S ISLAND (1978) and CAGED FURY (1983). While CAGED HEAT II comes late in the cycle, it's not without its charms if you can get beyond the cheapness of the production (This film is part of Santiago's early-90's output, where boss Corman, who Santiago almost worked exclusively with during the 70s, 80s & 90s, cut budgets on all his productions across the board). The film opens with King Lim (Ramon D'Salva; LIVE BY THE FIST - 1993) being shot several times by protestors who do not like his policies of kowtowing to the American military that occupies his country. Lim's daughter, Marga (Chanel Akiko Hirai), is particularly distressed that her father has the nerve to flout his American mistress, Amanda (Jewel Shepard; RAW FORCE - 1982), out in public. When it turns out that the shooting was staged so Lim and Marga could leave the country and live in New York, a monkey wrench is thrown into the gears when Marga is arrested and sentenced to spend the rest of her life on The Rock, an inescapable maximum security prison located on an Alcatraz-like island. Lim refuses to leave the country without his daughter (and threatens to expose the American military's illegal dealings in his country), so Amanda agrees to go undercover as a prisoner on the island to break Marga out. Unfortunately, Amanda accidentally gets American tourist Lucy (Susan Harvey) arrested at the airport (she has a suitcase full of illegal porn films!), so she, too, is sent to The Rock with Amanda. The Rock's horny Warden Chen (Vic Diaz; EQUALIZER 2000 - 1986) takes an instant dislike to Amanda (after making her strip and trying to fondle her breasts, but he really has his his eye on Marga as his next sexual conquest (He says, "I never had a princess before!"). Amanda has it hard, trying to protect Lucy from butch prisoner Paula (Pamella D'Pella) and reasoning with Marga to escape with her from the prison (Marga would rather be executed than be shamed by her father's treasonous actions). After finally setting Marga straight about her father, Amanda and Marga escape the prison and run into the jungle with the help of two undercover guards. Their escape is short-lived when one of the guards (Totoy Torres, here billed as "Joe Towers" in the opening credits [but using his real name in the closing credits!] and also the Assistant Director) turns out to be a traitor and Warden Chen captures them on the beach. Warden Chen rapes Marga on the beach and hangs Amanda by her hair before eventually throwing them both back in their cells. The remainder of the film finds Amanda and Lucy trying to break Marga out of prison before she is executed for crimes against her country. Along the way, all three will suffer more degradation, including rape (both lesbian and straight), forced drug addiction and constant catfights with Paula and her gang of lesbos. Will all three live to see freedom? When King Lim dies of a sudden heart attack, everything changes and most of it is not good, both for Marga and Lucy. Amanda has to decide if she is going to obey her new orders from her CIA boss, Carl Daimyo (Ed Crick; NAKED VENGEANCE - 1985) and escape from prison alone. Don't count on it. This is a fairly by-the-numbers WIP flick which contains all the usual standbys. Director Cirio H. Santaigo and screenwriter Paul Ziller (who directed such genre films as PLEDGE NIGHT  and SNAKEHEAD TERROR ) fill this film with plenty of female nudity, shower scenes, catfights, a whipping scene and lots of rape. This is probably the biggest film role Vic Diaz had in the 90's and he looks like he is having one helluva time here, whether it is stripping and raping women in his office that contains one of the biggest bird cages I have ever seen (filled with hundreds of birds), shooting traitors and faithful guards with equal abandon or drugging women to get them "in the mood". The action scenes don't really come until the final third, but the gunfights and explosions are well-handled because Santiago was an old hand at this kind of stuff. Nothing spectacular, but entertaining nonetheless. Also starring Bon Vibar, Philip Gordon, Ronald Asinas, Manny Samson and Henry Strzalkowski as an undercover CIA agent disguised as an ice cream vendor. Originally available on VHS by New Horizons Home Video and not available on DVD. Rated R.
DEMON OF PARADISE (1987) - A group of fishermen in Kihono, Hawaii are illegally fishing with dynamite when they unleash a long-dormant creature (in other words, a man in a rubber suit). After causing the fishermen to blow up their own boat, the creature then goes on a killing spree. The local natives believe that a mystical beast called Acua has returned, so they perform an ancient ritual (lots of hula dancing) to keep the creature at bay so they can continue fishing. It doesn't work. Local cop Keefer (William Steis), who use to be a sheriff in Reno, Nevada until a serial killer made him lose his edge, joins forces with visiting herpatologist (it's a reptile expert, stupid!) Dr. Annie Essex (Kathryn Witt) to get to the bottom of the killings. Complicating matters is nosey tabloid reporter Ike (scripter Frederick Bailey), who is working in cahoots with down-on-her-luck resort owner Cahill (Laura Banks) to publicize the creature's sudden appearance, so it makes the resort a popular tourist attraction. Also on the island are two criminals, Langley (Nick Nicholson) and Shelton (Henry Strzalkowski), who are waiting for a huge shipment of TNT to arrive, which they plan on selling to the local fishermen (the ones that aren't superstitious, that is). As the tourists start pouring in, the killings begin to escalate and Keefer wants to close down the resort's lake, but in true JAWS fashion, Cahill refuses and tells Keefer to do his job ("I'm not going to let anyone railroad me!"). Cahill holds a "Creature Egg Hunt", where the tourists search for eggs hidden around the resort (you've got to be kidding me!), but when Keefer and his men have a shootout with Langley and Shelton and the creature puts in an appearance and kills Shelton, all the tourists leave the resort in a panic. Keefer calls in the National Guard and they drop grenades on the creature from a helicopter. This just pisses-off the creature, as it then walks on land for the first time and traps everyone in the resort's main cabin. The creature begins picking off people one-by-one and then chases the remaining survivors to the ruins of an ancient temple, where the creature faces-off with Keefer, Annie and the National Guard in the film's explosive finale. This is prolific Filipino director Cirio H. Santiago's second horror film (after VAMPIRE HOOKERS - 1979) and it's easy to see why he didn't make any more. He stinks at it. This is basically a remake of UP FROM THE DEPTHS (1979; which Santiago produced) and it's a boring mess, with long stretches where nothing happens, followed by an explosion every now and then, followed by an appearance of the creature, which is laughable at best. The subplot about Keefer's past is never fleshed out, besides him saying "I came here to get away from this stuff!" when the murders begin to happen and then later mentioning to Annie that he is a widower (we never really know if the serial killer back in Reno murdered his wife). The film is also rather dry and relatively gore-free for a horror film. The creature attack scenes are few and far between (the sparse gore consists of after-effects of the creature attacks, like slash marks on the face and chest of it's victims), as Santiago would rather focus on the action elements of the film, like Langley and Shelton's dynamite exploits and several gunfights and explosions. Santiago could be an efficient director when faced with the right material (see reviews of FINAL MISSION - 1984; NAKED VENGEANCE - 1985; SILK - 1986), but he seems uncomfortable when it comes to directing horror. He plays it way too safe, which is probably why he didn't make more of them after this. Almost all of Santiago's action and post-nuke flicks (STRYKER - 1983; RAIDERS OF THE SUN - 1991) display more blood and gore than this film, so avoid this and watch one of those instead. Also starring Lesley Huntly (who supplies this film's only topless scene), Joe Mari Avellana (also the Second Unit Director and Production Designer), Paul Holmes, Liza Baumann, David Light, Ronnie Patterson, Dave Anderson and Joseph Zucchero. Many of them have appeared in numerous Santiago films in the 80's & 90's. Released on VHS by Warner Home Video and, like most of Santiago's 80's output, not yet available on DVD. Rated R.
THE DEVASTATOR (1985) - Deacon Porter (Rick Hill) has nightmares where he's transported back to Vietnam (in footage cribbed from FINAL MISSION - 1984) and he's fighting the Vietcong. One day, he gets a call from Elaine (Debbie Brooks), the wife of one of his soldier buddies, telling him that her husband, Marty, died in a car crash and she doesn't think it was an accident, so Deacon heads to the town of King's Ransom to investigate. Once in town, Deacon meets pretty gas station owner Audrey (future director Katt Shea) and immediately runs into Sheriff Clay Marsh (Kaz Garas), who warns Deacon that this town doesn't tolerate strangers. Elaine tells Deacon that the town has been taken over by a group of dastardly marijuana farmers and their leader, John Carey (Crofton Hardester), is not above murder to protect his crop. She believes Carey is responsible for Marty's death. Deacon begins asking questions around town, but finds everyone afraid to talk. While out on a date with Audrey, Carey and his men force Deacon's car off the road and beat the shit out of him (Casey also has the hots for Audrey). When Deacon doesn't take the hint to leave town, a couple of Carey's men firebomb Elaine's house, killing her (she burns to death in her bed), which results in Deacon chasing the two goons in his car. Deacon's car flips over and explodes, so Carey thinks Deacon is dead and his problems are over. In reality, Deacon escaped the explosion and he's about to make Carey's life miserable. Deacon contacts his old Nam buddies, electronics expert Spenser (Terrence O'Hara), explosives expert Bartlett (Bill McLaughlin) and insane muscleman Ox (Jack Daniels) and they head to King's Ransom for some good, old-fashioned payback. Audrey puts them up in a secret cabin in the woods, as Deacon and his squad systematically begin to kill Carey's men and destroy the pot crop. As more of his men end up missing, Carey's men capture Bartlett, hold him in a cell at the Sheriff's office and beat the crap out of him, but Deacon and his men pull a midnight rescue and save Bartlett. Carey kidnaps Audrey (and blows up her gas station) and uses her as bait. The finale finds Deacon, his men and Sheriff Marsh (who finally comes to his senses) battling Carey and his gang while trying save Audrey and blowing up a dam to flood the pot crop. Not everyone (both good and bad) will make it out alive. This is another one of Filipino director/producer Cirio H. Santiago's long line of 80's actioners and it's a pretty good little B-film. Even though it recycles some of the same locations and footage used in Santiago's earlier FINAL MISSION (even the main character in both films is called "Deacon", so no new looping was necessary!), these are two totally different films which can still be enjoyed if watched back-to-back. There are some similarities, namely Kaz Garas as a small-town sheriff that's neither good or bad (he tries to do his job in both films, even though he knows there's corruption all around him) and both films contain scenes where bad guys get killed by boobytraps in the woods, but THE DEVASTATOR (also known as THE DESTROYERS and KING'S RANSOM) avoids being the FIRST BLOOD clone that MISSION was, thanks to the marijuana subplot and a finale that involves trying to blow up a dam. Katt Shea (who would later direct her share of genre films, including STRIPPED TO KILL , the excellent DANCE OF THE DAMNED , POISON IVY  and THE RAGE: CARRIE 2 ) has a topless scene, there's plenty of gunfights, explosions, bloody bullet squibs, car chases and, hell, there's even a helicopter chase/explosion and some decent miniature work, all packed into a tidy 78 minute running time, so it doesn't overstay it's welcome. Say what you want about Santiago (and I've said some pretty nasty things in the past, especially his films VAMPIRE HOOKERS  and FUTURE HUNTERS ), but when he was on his game (as he is here), he was capable of turning out some entertaining low-budget flicks. It's no wonder Roger Corman funded many of his films, because Santiago knew how to stretch a buck to the breaking point, yet he could still deliver interesting, if unoriginal, product. The script is by frequent Santiago collaborator Joseph Zucchero (who also has acted in Santiago films like STRYKER , NAKED VENGEANCE  and RAIDERS OF THE SUN ), who uses the pseudonym "Joseph Sugarman" here. Another film (not directed by Santiago) made the same year as this, WARLORDS FROM HELL, has a strikingly similar plot, but is the antithesis of THE DEVASTATOR: It's a boring action film. Also starring Steve Rogers, Don Gordon Bell, Henry Strzalkowski and an uncredited appearance by Nick Nicholson as one of Carey's thugs. This film use to play quite often on TV during the late 80's and early 90's and the only U.S. home video release was a big box VHS tape put out by MGM/UA Home Video in the mid-80's. Not available on DVD. Now available on Blu-Ray from Code Red as an exclusive for Screen Archives. Rated R.
DUNE WARRIORS (1990) - New California 2040 A.D.: A group of ruthless nomads, led by William (Luke Askew; ROLLING THUNDER - 1977; FRAILTY - 2001), destroy an entire village and kill all it's occupants (including one by decapitation) in their search for water, which is apparently scarcer than oil (William's gang drive around in gas-guzzling, weapons-equipped vehicles straight out of THE ROAD WARRIOR). Hot on William's trail is sword-weilding warrior Michael (David Carradine), who wants William's head on a stick for some past transgression. William sends his head goon, the pith helmet-wearing Tomas (Nick Nicholson), on an advance mission to a village known to contain plenty of water. The first thing Tomas does when he reaches the village is kill the brother of village girl Val (Jilliam McWhirter) to show he means business. Since the local village men are too scared to take on Tomas and his small force of men, who have taken over the village, Val escapes and begins a voyage to search for some brave men to free her village from the tyranny. Val runs smack-dab into a tribe of pygmie cannibals and is saved by Michael, who drives her to Freetown, a village full of misfits and mercenaries. After watching a motorcycle jousting tournament and getting involved in a bar fight, Val and Michael recruit John (Rick Hill), Dorian (Blake Byod) and Ricardo (Dante Varona) to help Val regain control of her village before William arives in one week's time. Along the way, they also recruit shotgun-toting female warrior Miranda (Isabel Lopez), who knows about Michael's past with William, but William stops her from telling the others. Val and her five warriors regain control of her village rather easily and begin training the villagers, who are mainly farmers, how to fight in preparation for William's arrival. Val's fiance, Luis (Henry Strzalkowski), becomes jealous when Val shows an interest in Dorian, so he turns traitorous and frees Tomas, who warns William what is waiting for him in the village. William has a hard time believing that only five people could defeat Tomas' squad, so he sends an advance force to kill them, which fails terribly. William eventually recaptures the village and takes Val and Dorian prisoner, but in an incredible stroke of luck (some would say too incredible), John finds a cache of weapons and explosives hidden in a cave. He arms all the villagers and they assault the village, while Michael and William settle an old score, having a swordfight with each other in the middle of the raging battlefield. Just what was their beef anyway? Really, can someone please tell me? Is it derivative? Sure. Reminiscent of countless post-nuke flicks, not to mention THE SEVEN SAMURAI (1954)? Double check. Entertaining? Damn skippy. Director/producer Cirio H. Santiago is an old hand at churning out these Filipino post-apoctalyptic actioners, such as STRYKER (1983), WHEELS OF FIRE (1984), EQUALIZER 2000 (1986), THE SISTERHOOD (1987) and RAIDERS OF THE SUN (1991). Santiago is a competant director when handling actions scenes and DUNE WARRIORS is one non-stop action set-piece after another, with just enough exposition to connect those scenes together. Santiago follows the Roger Corman Principle (Corman financed many of Santiago's films, including this one): Keep it short (this film is barely 77 minutes long), keep it simple and give viewers what they expect, which is explosions, gun battles, martial arts fights, gore and nudity (both Jillian McWhirter and Isabel Lopez have topless scenes). Even David Carradine, who was usually just slumming around in low-budget films during this point in his career (KARATE COP - 1991), looks to be having a good time here, playing an "old timer" with an agenda. Most of the cast is made up of Santiago regulars, including Rick Hill (THE DEVASTATOR - 1985), Jillian McWhirter (STRANGLEHOLD - 1994), Henry Strzalkowski (FIREHAWK - 1992), Nick Nicholson (SILK - 1986) and Joseph Zucchero (also this film's Editor), so making this film must have been like working with family and friends (Santiago's son, Christopher, was in charge of the production and worked on many of his father's films). There's not much meat to T.C. McKelvey's (Santiago's FIELD OF FIRE - 1990) script, but it's apparent he was having some fun here, such as when John says, "Take these assholes back to the stockade......and no milk and cookies!" If you enjoy post-nuke flicks, DUNE WARRIORS is a pretty safe bet. The closing song that plays over the end credits ("Desert Heat" by The Score Warriors) sounds too much like Joan Jett's "I Love Rock And Roll" to be a coincidence. Also starring Val Garay, Bon Vibar, Jim Moss, Ned Hourani and Robert Ginnivan. An RCA Columbia Pictures Home Video VHS Release. Not yet available on DVD. Unbelievably, this has been released on Blu-Ray by Code Red as a Screen Archives exclusive in its original director's cut, with 15 extra minutes of footage! Rated R.
EQUALIZER 2000 (1986) - "North Alaska: A hundred years after the nuclear winter." The ice caps have melted and most of the potable water has disappeared. The Earth is nothing but a scorched shell and the remaining humans are ruled by a brutal dictatorship known as The Ownership, whose main base sits on top of the Alaskan oil pipeline. Those who control the oil controls the world. A faction of the rebel forces, who are fighting for a supply of oil, capture Ownership member Captain Slade (Richard Norton) during a battle and hope to use him in a prisoner exchange, but he escapes. Meanwhile, a sexy, leather-clad woman named Karen (Corrine Wahl) rips-off a group of black marketeers (who dress like Southern rebels during the Civil War), led by Alamo (Henry Strzalkowski) and Deke (Robert Patrick), and takes off with a few crates of their explosives (this was supposed to be a gas-for-explosives trade, but when the goofballs put the moves on Karen, all deals are off). This leads to a ROAD WARRIOR-type car chase, which results in Slade saving Karen's ass. Now, Slade is not only wanted by The Ownership (who think he's a traitor) and the rebels, he's also on Alamo and Deke's shit list. Karen takes a wounded Slade to her village to recover, while The Ownership recruits Alamo and Deke's gang to look for Slade. Dixon (Rex Cutter), the leader of Karen's village, has developed a multi-barreled handheld weapon called the Equalizer 2000, capable of firing bullets, shotgun shells, grenades and rockets. Slade helps refine the weapon in hopes of using it against Colonel Lawton (William Steis), a sadistic Ownership member and former friend of Slade's who has become power-hungry. Lawton and his men travel the barren landscape, killing anyone who don't agree with The Ownership rules. Lawton eventually makes it to Karen's village and a huge firefight breaks out, but Slade and the Equalizer 2000 manage to hold Lawton back until the villagers escape to safety. Once Lawton sees the new weapon, he must have it, so he orders his men to get it any way they can. Alamo and Deke manage to steal the weapon, kidnap Karen and break off from The Ownership. Deke betrays Alamo (never trust a black marketeer) and takes off with the weapon, giving it to Lawton (and paying for it with his life). Lawton uses the Equalizer 2000 to take control of The Ownership and the finale finds Karen's village joining Slade and the rebels in storming The Ownership's headquarters. After the good guys win, Slade destroys the Equalizer 2000, so no one else is tempted to take over the world. Everyone else throws their weapons into a bonfire and they all live happily ever after. Except Karen. She's dead. Excuse me while I wipe the tears from my eyes. Yes, this is another one of Filipino director Cirio H. Santiago's many post-nuke films, which include STRYKER (1983), WHEELS OF FIRE (1984), THE SISTERHOOD (1987), DUNE WARRIORS (1990) and RAIDERS OF THE SUN (1991; also starring Richard Norton). Viewers of SUN should be very familiar with this film, since many of EQUALIZER 2000's action scenes were used in SUN in a typical Roger Corman (who financed both films) cost-cutting manner. If you've seen any of Santiago's post-nuke flicks, you know what to expect here: Plenty of explosions, gunfights and chases with a minimum of plot. Nothing more, nothing less. It's interesting to note how bad an actor Robert Patrick was when he first started in the business. Besides appearing in the abysmal WARLORDS FROM HELL (1985), Patrick also starred in Santiago's FUTURE HUNTERS (1986), EYE OF THE EAGLE (1987) and BEHIND ENEMY LINES (1987), and he's terrible in all of them, screaming out his lines and mugging for the camera. He's calmed down a lot since then and has made his mark on TV (THE X-FILES [1993 - 2002]; THE UNIT [2006 - 2009]; SCORPION [2014 -Present]) and films (THE MARINE - 2006). Santiago also utilizes his regular stable of actors here. Besides the ones already mentioned, there's Frederick Bailey (DEMON OF PARADISE - 1987; also this film's scripter), Don Gordon Bell, Ramon D'Salva, Peter Shilton, Steve Cook, Bobby Greenwood, Nick Nicholson, Eric Hahn and Filipino staple Vic Diaz as Bone, a member of the spear-carrying Mountain People. Don't go in with your expectations too high and you may have fun with this film, also known as DEFENDER 2000. Santiago produced this using the pseudonym "Leonard Hermes". Be aware that the R-rated VHS version distributed by MGM/UA Home Video in 1987 is the 77 minute version and is missing nearly 8 minutes of footage, including a rape committed on Karen and a nude sex scene involving Karen and Slade (this edit cuts away just as it is getting interesting). I believe the only uncut edition is available on Japanese VHS, but all the nudity is optically fogged-out. Note: Now available on a beautiful uncut Blu-Ray from Code Red. Rated R.
THE EXPENDABLES (1988) - This Vietnam War action film opens with Captain Rosello (Anthony Finetti) leading a platoon into an enemy village and destroying a munitions dump, but not before taking on heavy casualties. When the mission is completed, the only people left alive are Rosello, another soldier and a baby that Rosello rescues after he is forced to kill it's traitorous mother. Back at base camp, Rosello is informed by his Commanding Officer that no other soldiers want to work with him because every mission he leads, very few soldiers come back alive. Rosello is then ordered to lead a squad of misfits, con men and criminals on his latest mission, but first he has to get them to work together as a team. That won't be easy. This group of roustabouts have more issues than National Geographic. There's the wise-mouthed black demolitions expert, Jackson (Kevin Duffis); deeply religious Bible-thumper with the prophetic name Elijah Lord (Loren Haynes, who also wrote and sings the film's closing tune); full-fledged bigot Richter (Jeff Griffith), who looks at Jackson and says, "Apes ain't my brothers!"; hard-partying pothead Sterling (Peter Nelson); and the mysterious Navarro (Eric Hahn). Before you can say THE DIRTY DOZEN (1965), Captain Rosello is seen whipping the squad into shape in typical 80's fashion, while we watch the members try to work out their differences, especially between Richter and Jackson (When Richter says, "I smell a nigger!", it leads to a lengthy fistfight between the two). Rosello finally leads his men on their first mission: Capturing a Viet Cong Colonel (Filipino staple Vic Diaz, in a much larger role than usual) and blowing up an enemy bridge. They somehow manage to complete their objectives, but they aren't yet working together as a squad (Rosello tells his Commanding Officer after the mission, "They can't even wipe their own asses!", to which his C.O. responds, "Then you wipe for them!"). Slowly but surely, everyone begins working together as a team and learn to put their differences aside. After taking a major casualty on their second mission, Roselli decides to take his men for a night out on the town, which leads to a prerequisite bar fight with a bunch of drunken Marines (one is portrayed by an uncredited Nick Nicholson). They all get thrown into the brig, but when enemy forces invade the hospital to free their captured Colonel and take some female nurses hostage, Captain Roselli and the Expendables swing into action in what will turn out to be their most dangerous (and fatal) mission. For the first time, Captain Roselli experiences the hollow experience of victory in the face of sacrifice. This is Filipino director Cirio H. Santiago's third 80's Vietnam War film, after EYE OF THE EAGLE and BEHIND ENEMY LINES (both 1987), and while it offers nothing new to the genre (all the characters are straight out of Stereotypes 101), it still manages to be strangely compelling, not to mention action-packed. Santiago always staffs his films with his usual cast of professionals and THE EXPENDABLES benefits from it. As a matter of fact, the weakest actor here is Anthony Finetti as Captain Rosello, who is a newcomer to the Santiago universe. Nearly everyone else, from Rosello's Commanding Officer (William Steis; the star of DEMON OF PARADISE - 1987) to all the members of the Expendables, have appeared in numerous Santiago productions, sometimes taking-on leading and secondary roles and other times appearing in uncredited bit parts. That is why most of Santiago's films, whether good or bad, are at least well-acted. THE EXPENDABLES also contains it's fair share of gunfights, explosions and bloody bullet squibs as well as a surprising amount of female nudity (much of it full-frontal), way more than usual for films of this type. The script, by Philip Alderton, is generic war action stuff, but I did like the inclusion of the deeply religious character, Lord, into the mix. It allowed for a couple of unusual sequences, such as when Lord pulls his gun on and threatens to kill a naked gook prostitute when she rubs her naked body on him. He also turns out to be the voice of reason during the final attack set-piece, basically telling the rest of the gang, "Hell, do you want me leading you or do you want the reluctant pothead?" The group picks the pothead. As much as I despise organized religion in general, it's refreshing to watch a film that puts a human face to someone devoted to their god, without pandering or preaching. If you are a fan of war action films, you will probably enjoy this. This is the first film produced by Christopher R. Santiago, Cirio's son. Christoper would go on to produce many of his father's later films. Also starring David Light, Leah Navarro, Don Wilson, Jim Moss, Don Holtz, Greg Rocero, Janet Price and Cory Sperry as Strzalkowski, an in-joke to frequent Santiago collaborator Henry Strzalkowski, who had nothing to do with this film. Available on VHS from Media Home Entertainment and not yet available on DVD. Rated R.
EYE OF THE EAGLE (1987) - This film, the first of Filipino director Cirio H. Santiago's full-on 80's Vietnam War action flicks, finds Sgt. Rick Stratton (Brett Clark; ALIEN WARRIOR - 1985), Cpl. Johnny Ransom (Robert Patrick, wearing the same rebel cap he did in Santiago's EQUALIZER 2000 - 1986) and Cpl. Willy Leung (Rey Malonzo; SEARCH FOR VENGEANCE - 1984) saving a squad of American soldiers who are pinned-down by the enemy in the jungle. Sgt. Stratton fires his pistol in one hand and an AK-47 in the other, Cpl. Leung keeps the enemy at bay with his automatic rifle and Cpl. Ransom shoots his Winchester rifle from the hip. All three of them are crack shots, kill all the VC and lead the American soldiers to a waiting helicopter. We then witness a group of traitorous American soldiers, led by Sgt. B.O. Rattner (Ed Crick), invade the headquarters of Company C, laying waste to all the buildings and killing all the American soldiers stationed there. Col. Stark (Mike Monty) and Capt. Carter (William Steis) assign Stratton, Ransom and Leung on a mission to kill enemy Col. Trang (Vic Diaz) as he is traveling by train through the mountains. The trio sneak on-board the train, kill Trang and are forced to steal some enemy motorcycles and drive to safety when, for some reason, Capt. Carter never picks them up by helicopter. When the trio get back to headquarters, they make sure to voice their displeasure to Carter and then get into a bar fight with Sgt. Maddox (David Light) and his men (who were supposed to back them up on the last mission) when someone calls Leung a "gook". Meanwhile, journalist Chris Chandler (Cec Verrell; SILK - 1986) has discovered the secret location of the "Lost Command", a squad of rogue soldiers that are officially listed as AWOL or MIA, commanded by, you guessed it, Sgt. B.O. Rattner. When Chandler is discovered taking photos of the secret location, Rattner orders his men to kill her and get the film. That's not going to be easy, because Chandler's assistant, Lol Pot (Tony Beso), is also the leader of a local tribe of spear and bow-carrying freedom fighters. When Chandler makes it back to her base camp, she manages to get one radio message out before Rattner and his men appear to destroy the camp. Chandler is saved, but loses her camera and the film. When Stratton finds out that Rattner is involved, he has Chandler lead him, Ransom and Leung to the location of the Lost Command. You see, it turns out that Rattner murdered Stratton's brother years earlier and it's payback time. It looks like it's going to be a hot time in the old jungle tonight, especially after it's revealed that Capt. Carter is in cahoots with Rattner. When Rattner kidnaps and tortures Ransom, Stratton and Chandler race to the Lost Command headquarters to save him. Will they get there in time? I'm not going to pretend that this film is nothing but a low-budget PLATOON (1986) rip-off, but it's still damn entertaining. Director/producer Cirio H. Santiago, working with a script by frequent Santiago collaborators Joseph Zucchero and Nigel Hogge, has fashioned a fast-paced, mindless actioner that's basically a non-stop series of action set-pieces connected by the barest of plots. Brett Clark is stiff as a piece of one inch-thick plywood and Robert Patrick, who would appear as the same character in Santiago's next Nam film, BEHIND ENEMY LINES (1987), only this time as the lead, mugs for the camera and screams out his lines. Luckily, we don't watch these films for the acting talent and Santiago doesn't disappoint when it comes to the carnage. People are shot in the head (our trio's preferred method of disposing of the enemy), blown-up or riddled with automatic gunfire and Santiago also includes a shot of a man on fire, a recurring gag in nearly all his films. I'm still trying to figure out why Ransom dresses like a Southern rebel from the Civil War and why he was allowed to bring a Winchester rifle and a Colt pistol to Vietnam, but I suppose it's best not to dwell on such matters. Unfortunately, Cec Verrell keeps her clothes on throughout, but there's a brief shot of a topless prostitute during the bar fight. If you like war action films, EYE OF THE EAGLE is a good way to spend 82 minutes. Two unrelated sequels followed, EYE OF THE EAGLE II: INSIDE THE ENEMY (1988; directed by Carl Franklin and produced by Santiago) and EYE OF THE EAGLE 3 (1990; with Santiago returning to the director's chair). Other Santiago Nam epics include THE EXPENDABLES (1988), NAM ANGELS (1988), FIELD OF FIRE (1990), BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY (1992), KILL ZONE (1992) and FIREHAWK (1992). Also starring Nick Nicholson, Henry Strzalkowski, Willie Williams, Mel Davidson, Jim Moss and Jerry Hart. Originally issued on VHS by MGM/UA Home Video and later released on DVD by Roger Corman's New Horizons Home Video as part of their AMERICAN VALOR series. Rated R.
FAST GUN (1987) - A series of armory thefts at various U.S. military bases throughout the world leaves the government baffled as to who is involved. We learn rather quickly that people in our own government are the ones involved, but don't try to think about it too hard, because you'll end up with a migraine. We watch Nelson (Robery Dryer; SAVAGE STREETS - 1984) and his men pull off the next armory heist, only this time Nelson begins killing military personnel when they recognize him. The heist turns into a massacre when both sides shoot it out. Nelson is now wanted by the U.S. Government after they find out he has turned rogue and is stealing arms for his own purposes, rather than for his own government (there goes that damn migraine again!). Corrupt Army Colonel Harper (Kaz Garas; FINAL MISSION - 1984) must find and kill Nelson before the press gets hold of the story that Harper hired him to rob our own armories (Where's my Tylenol?). Nelson ends up in the small, secluded California town of Granite Lake, where the entire police force consists of Sheriff Jack Steiger (Rick Hill; DUNE WARRIORS - 1990) and Deputy Cowboy Phelps (Morgan Strickland). The town's crooked wheeler-dealer, Rupert Jessup (Ken Metcalfe), is an old business partner of Nelson's and they plan on selling the stolen weapons to the highest bidders, as soon as they build a secret airstrip in the forest. Too bad Nelson picked this town, because Sheriff Jack is a crack shot, as we witness him shooting three violent drug runners right between the eyes and then blows-up their attacking helicopter with just three shots of his pistol. He's also pretty good with his hands, too, as we later watch him beat the crap out of a motorcycle gang who decide to destroy his girlfriend Julie's (Brenda Bakke; DEATH SPA - 1987) bar. It seems Jack use to be a big city cop, but he left the force when he saw his partner shot in the head (he still has nightmares about it) and moved to this small town to get away from the action and violence. Bad move. It's not long before Jack and Nelson are butting heads, but both Jessup and money-hungry (but clueless) Mayor Ankers (Anthony East) interfere with Jack's duty as sheriff. One night, a bunch of Nelson's men break Jack's gun hand with a two-by-four, pour booze down his throat (Jack is a recovering alcoholic) and then loot the town. Mayor Ankers fires Jack for being drunk on duty, but when Colonel Harper shows up in town and he spots Nelson's men kidnapping Cowboy, Jack and Harper join forces to free Cowboy and bring Nelson and Jessup down. When Cowboy dies in a manner similar to Jack's old partner, Jack goes on a one-man killing spree to get revenge. He's no longer a cop, so all the rules go out the window. Pray for the bad guys, especially in the unbelievable final scene where Jack blows up a huge cargo plane with just three shots of his sidearm! This is another one of prolific Filipino director/producer Cirio H. Santiago's many 80's action films. While nothing spectacular, FAST GUN does move at a fast clip and, besides some gaping plot holes (How does Jack's hand manage to heal so fast?), it manages to keep you entertained through it's short 76 minute running time. Since this film doesn't try to break any new ground (it's strikingly similar to Santiago's THE DEVASTATOR , which also starred Rick Hill and Kaz Garas), it depends more on action set-pieces rather than plot. Scripters (and long-time Santiago collaborators) Joe Mari Avellana and Frederick Bailey never even try to explain why our own government is stealing weapons from their own armories (I racked my brain for an explanation and all I got was a splitting headache). Instead, they just layer-on one gunfight or car chase after another until we get to the conclusion, where the entire town of Granite Lake is destroyed one building at a time, as Jack, Harper and Julie battle the never-ending supply of Nelson's goons (including Santiago regular Nick Nicholson), who are armed with automatic weapons and rocket launchers. If you have ever watched a Santiago film, you know he excels when it comes to action sequences. This is just like most of Santiago's 80's output: Take off your thinking caps and just enjoy the mindless violence. Ed Carlin, the producer of such films as BLOOD AND LACE (1970), THE NIGHT GOD SCREAMED (1971) and SUPERSTITION (1982), was Executive Producer on this film. Made in 1987 but not released on home video until 1993. Also starring Frank Diaz, David Light, Warren McLean, Bill Staub, Joanne Griffin, Paul Holmes, Jeff Griffith and Henry Strzalkowski. Released on VHS by Roger Corman's New Horizons Home Video. Corman bankrolled the majority of Santiago's output from the early 70's right up to 2005's BLOODFIST 2050. Say what you want about Santiago (and I have said both good and bad), but the man has had a long, successful career in B-films. Rated R.
FIELD OF FIRE (1990) - Major Wilson (Jim Ross) is trapped behind enemy lines when his Phantom jet is shot down and he is forced to parachute into the Vietnam jungle. While VC soldiers are nipping at Major Wilson's heels, General Corman (David Carradine), assigns Sgt. Duncan (Eb Lottimer; LORDS OF THE DEEP - 1989) and his squad of misfit soldiers, Hawk (Henry Strzalkowski), Jimmy-T (Don Barnes), Senator (Scott Utley) and Jeff (Tonichi Fructoso) to rescue Major Wilson before he is captured and reveals government secrets. General Corman sends his aide, Lt. Reynolds (David Anthony Smith), a wise-ass fighter pilot, to assist Sgt. Duncan on the mission. The enemy sends a special force, led by Captain Phat (Joe Mari Avellana), who had a previous run-in with Sgt. Duncan and his men (Duncan killed a General that Phat was protecting), to capture Major Wilson before he is rescued. The enemy also seems to have knowledge of Sgt. Duncan's arrival in the jungle, like someone on our side is passing them information. This makes it very difficult for Sgt. Duncan's squad, who rescue an injured Major Wilson, but are dogged at every step by Captain Phat and his black-clad special forces. It also doesn't help that Lt. Reynolds is a major fuck-up, who at one point wears mirrored sunglasses while walking through the jungle. This alerts the enemy on their position when they see the rays of the sun reflected off the mirrored lenses. With bad weather on the way that make rescue by helicopter impossible, Sgt. Duncan and his men must traverse the jungle on foot until they get to the next pick-up point miles away. That's easier said than done, because Major Wilson is developing a case of "jungle rot" in his leg wound and it's obvious that someone is sabotaging their every move, as supplies in their backpacks end up missing and their radio is tampered with. With every battle that Duncan and his men engage in, they lose another member. General Corman becomes highly suspicious of Duncan's unlikely series of misfortunes and roots-out the traitor, who is not a member of the trapped squad, but a member of his own staff. The finale finds Duncan, Reynolds and Senator, the only squad members left alive, trying to protect Major Wilson while Captain Phat and his special forces lead one final all-out assault. Can General Corman save them in time? This is director Cirio H. Santiago's first in a series of 90's Vietnam War action films, following a string of 80's war actioners, which included EYE OF THE EAGLE (1987), BEHIND ENEMY LINES (1987), THE EXPENDABLES (1988) and NAM ANGELS (1988). If you enjoyed any of those films, you'll probably like this one, too. The script, by Thomas McKelvey Cleaver (Santiago's DUNE WARRIORS - 1990; also starring David Carradine), is basically nothing but a series of action set-pieces, where Duncan and his squad get in numerous firefights, objects and people blow up real good and so many enemy soldiers are stabbed, it's hard to keep count. That's not to say that the film is not without humor, though. There's a funny bit in the beginning where Duncan's squad gross-out a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears new recruits by eating a box-full of enemy "ears" (they're actually canned peaches), only to have Duncan stroll by and accidentally eat the real stunt ear (it's quite funny) and this touching bit of dialogue that Duncan delivers to his squad when member Hawk is killed: "You guys just remember one thing. Hawk bought it because he was showing off. Now I don't want any more of you guys dying on me, you understand? Because I take that shit personal......Now get over here and eat your lizard!" Even though David Carradine is top-billed, he appears for less than five minutes throughout the film, but then he shows up in the finale and plays a major role in saving Duncan, Reynolds and Wilson. You at first think that Carradibe is doing one of his patented B-movie walk-on roles, but he actually plays the action hero in the end, jumping out of helicopters and laying down ground fire so everyone can escape. His character, General Corman, is an in-joke to Roger Corman, who bankrolled the majority of Santiago's films, including this one. If you like war films with more braun than brains, FIELD OF FIRE should fit the bill nicely. Other Santiago 90's Nam films include BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY (1991), KILL ZONE (1992; which recycles a lot of footage from this film) and FIREHAWK (1992). Also starring Joseph Zucchero, Ken Metcalfe, Robert Ginnivan, James Paolelli, Ruben Ramos, Archie Ramirez, Steve Rogers and Aaron Wellborn. Released on VHS by HBO Home Video and not yet available on DVD. Rated R.
FIGHTING MAD (1978) - Three Vietnam veterans, Russell (James Iglehart), McGee (Leon Isaac Kennedy) and Morelli (Carmen Argenziano), steal a shipment of gold bars from a U.S. military base and fence it to a man called "The Chinaman" (Vic Diaz) for a large sum of cash. Morelli and McGee betray Russell, stab him and toss his body overboard the boat they are in as they head back to the States. While Morelli and McGee establish themselves as heads of a criminal empire in Los Angeles, Russell washes-up on-shore on an uncharted island occupied by two Japanese soldiers (Joe Mari Avellana and Joonie Gamboa) that have been stranded there since World War II. They nurse Russell back to health and teach him the way of the samurai. Meanwhile, back in the States, McGee moves in on Russell's wife Jayne (Jayne Kennedy) and young son Jimmy (played by James Iglehart's real-life son). Jayne wants nothing to do with McGee, so he interferes in her life, getting her fired from her job as a lounge singer and making sure she can't get another job in any of the other nightclubs around town. Broke and penniless, Jayne is forced to move in with one of her girlfriends, while McGee and Morelli cut a bloody path throughout L.A. trying to wrestle control of all the organized crime activity. Russell is eventually rescued by some American soldiers and he returns to L.A. to look for his wife, but he finds his house empty and up for sale. After finding out about McGee's treachery with his wife, Russell begins murdering all of McGee and Morelli's men with a samurai sword while searching for his wife. Not knowing that it is Russell who is killing their men (they still think he is dead), Morelli and McGee hire some outside muscle to fix their problem. Russell finally finds his wife and when he sets eyes on his young son for the first time, he puts his revenge plans on hold just long enough to make sweet love to his wife and play with his son in the park. Russell then gets back to work, killing the outside muscle, cutting off Morelli's head and delivering it to McGee (who is missing an ear, thanks to an earlier run-in with Russell) in a box. McGee retaliates by kidnapping Jayne and Jimmy and bringing them to his heavily-guarded house in Mexico. Russell shows up, chops-off a few heads and slices into McGee's stomach with his samurai sword in the film's finale. Ah, good-old Nip know-how saves the day! Originally released to theaters under the title DEATH FORCE, this 70's revenge actioner, directed by Cirio H. Santiago (FLY ME - 1973; T.N.T. JACKSON - 1975), went through a title change in the early 80's to capitalize on Jayne Kennedy's (Santiago's THE MUTHERS - 1976) Playboy cover (the first black woman to do so) and then-husband Leon Isaac Kennedy's recent popularity in Jamaa Fanaka's PENITENTIARY (1979). James Iglehart (Santiago's SAVAGE - 1973; BAMBOO GODS AND IRON MEN - 1974) is actually the top-lined star here. There is fun to be had, especially the interaction between the two Japanese soldiers, who have been living alone together for so long on the island, they act more like an old married couple rather than soldiers. When Russell suddenly appears on the beach, you can see the jealousy in the eyes of the less-dominate soldier (Gamboa). When he accidentally dies after falling out of a coconut tree, you can view the hurt in the face of his long-standing partner (Avellana). When Russell gets rescued, the lone Japanese soldier chooses to stay behind (he even manages to kill one of the American soldiers in rememberance of the good old days) rather than face the new world. This section of the film is my favorite, as the rest of the film is standard gangster and revenge stuff. The first section of the film details the exploits of Morelli and McGee, as they slaughter a mob hangout with machinegun fire and then kill a mob bigshot and his men in an auto junkyard. The final third of the film is Russell's revenge spree. He slices and kicks his way through a cast of stuntmen until he gets even with Morelli and McGee. This contains all the regular Santiago trademarks: Bloody bullet squibs, numerous martial arts fights and a touch of gore, including Morelli's head in a box and a few pretty good decapitations in the finale. Jayne Kennedy also has a brief nude scene and delivers the film's best line. When McGee offers to be Jimmy's new daddy, she looks at him and says, "He don't need a mother like you to be his father!" Both Carmine Argenziano (Santiago's NAKED VENGEANCE - 1985) and Leon Isaac Kennedy scream out their lines shamelessly, as if everyone were deaf. The script was written by Howard R. Cohen, who also wrote the screenplays to Santiago's COVER GIRL MODELS (1975), VAMPIRE HOOKERS (1979) and STRYKER (1983). FIGHTING MAD (not to be confused with the 1976 action film starring Peter Fonda with the same name) is an OK slice of 70's sleaze. Produced by Robert E. Waters, who co-produced and wrote the 1984 female revenge actioner ALLEY CAT. Also starring Tony Graziano, Leo Martinez, Ken Metcalfe, Armando Federico, Cathy Sabino, Roberto Gonzalez, Allen Arkus, Tony Carrion, Ramon D'Salva and Ernie Carvajal. Released on VHS from Continental Video and available on a double feature DVD (as DEATH FORCE, in its fully uncut 110 minute version) with Santiago's VAMPIRE HOOKERS from Vinegar Syndrome. Rated R.
FINAL MISSION (1984) - Think about what a sad state of affairs we action fans would be in if Sylvester Stallone never starred as John Rambo in FIRST BLOOD (1982). No, really, think about it for a moment. If there were no John Rambo, about 80% of the action films that came out of the Philippines, Indonesia, Italy and even the United States during the 80's would never have been made. That's a huge cross to bear (I'm sure non-fans of the genre would disagree with me) but I. for one, am hugely greatful to Stallone. Not that there haven't been some real dogs to sit through, though. Thankfully, FINAL MISSION isn't one of those dogs. It's cheesy fun from beginning to end. The film opens with Sergeant Vincent Deacon (Richard Young) leading his men in an assault on a Vietcong camp in the jungles of Laos in 1972. After gunning nearly everyone down and blowing everything up (even chopping-off a head or two), Sgt. Deacon captures the traitorous Will Slater (John Dresden) and turns him over to the military authorities. Slater curses at Deacon, telling him that he will "see him in Hell" as he is being led away. Cut to present day (well, 1984) Los Angeles. Vince Deacon is now a SWAT team leader and we watch him nearly single-handedly take on a warehouse full of armed thugs (one of them is portrayed by an uncredited Donald Gibbs, "Ogre" in REVENGE OF THE NERDS - 1984) and saves the hostage inside. Deacon also has a beautiful wife, Jenny (Christine L. Tudor), and a young son named Steven (E. Danny Murphy). When a street gang, egged-on by Slater (who escaped from military prison and has been living on the lam), break into Deacon's house and try to kill him and his family, Deacon manages to kill most of them, which infuriates Slater. To show his appreciation, Deacon's captain suspends him from the force for being "excessive" (What?). Deacon and his family decide to spend his suspension time by camping at a lake in the mountains, where Deacon can clear his head, go fishing and reconnect with his family. Things take a sudden bad turn when Jenny and Steven are killed when the fishing boat they are on explodes, thanks to a bomb Slater placed there the night before. Now a widower, Deacon goes on a one-man mission to find the killers of his family, tearing-up bars and shoving patrons' heads in toilets looking for clues. Deacon quits the police force for good and begins putting heat on the street gangs. Slater and some gang members leave L.A. and hide out in the small town of Pinesville, where the sheriff, Warren Slater (Kaz Garas), happens to be Slater's brother. Deacon goes to his old commanding officer, Colonel Joshua Cain (John Ericson), with a piece of the detonator he found at the scene of his family's death. When it comes back that it could only have come from Slater, Deacon heads to Pinesville for some well-deserved justice. Something tells me that the peaceful, sleepy town of Pinesville is about to become very noisy. This is just one in a long line of action films churned-out by prolific Filipino vet Cirio H. Santiago (T.N.T. JACKSON - 1975; FUTURE HUNTERS - 1986; RAIDERS OF THE SUN - 1991). Santiago directed many rip-offs during the 80's, but he always found a way to put his distinct signature on them. This one opens as a straight war actioner, then turns into an urban crime drama, which then turns into a revenge melodrama. The final twenty minutes are lifted almost directly from FIRST BLOOD, as Deacon lays waste to the town of Pinesville and then Sheriff Warren and his posse hunt him down in the forest, with disasterous results. There's boobytraps, do-it-yourself bullet removal (followed by a "cauterizing the wound with a flaming log" scene) and, finally, the National Guard are called in. Unlike Rambo, Deacon begins killing everyone who crosses his path. Colonel Trautman, er, Cain is brought in to talk Deacon into giving up. Let's just say the final shot leaves no room for a sequel. What's interesting about FINAL MISSION is the way Santiago treats some of his characters, especially Kaz Garas' (he was also in Santiago's NAKED VENGEANCE , amongst others) portrayal of Sheriff Warren Slater. He is a man in the middle, not aware of his brother's traitorous war record and yet, deep down inside, he knows his brother is not quite right in the head, but he's still his brother and he'll do whatever it takes to protect him. While some may find this film a little slow in spots, I found the deeper characterizations refreshing (script by Joe Mari Avellana and Joseph Zucchero, frequent Santiago collaborators) and Santiago doesn't skimp on the nudity (every woman in this film has a topless scene), blood or action set-pieces. Sure, this is nothing but a low-budget B-movie rip-off, but it is an enjoyable one. Santiago directed THE DEVASTATOR (1985) next, which features some of the same actors (Kaz Garas again) and even recycles the same Vietnam footage (including an abbreviated shot of the decapitation) that was shown in the beginning of this film. Also starring Jason Ross, Karen Ericson, Jack Daniels, Don Gordon Bell, Willy Williams, Ken Barry and Steve Parvin. An HBO Video release. Not yet available on U.S. DVD. For some reason, the majority of Santiago's output has yet to reach U.S. DVD. Rated R.
FIRECRACKER (1981) - Director/co-scripter Cirio H. Santiago remakes his own TNT JACKSON (1975), only this time it contains much more martial arts action. Los Angeles martial arts teacher Susie Carter (Jillian Kesner; RAW FORCE - 1982) travels to the Philippines to search for her missing reporter sister Bonnie and encounters deadly resistance from the moment she steps off the plane. It's a good thing Susie is well-versed in the martial arts, because wave after wave of kung-fu fighting goons, the minions of head bad guy Erik (co-scripter Ken Metcalfe), try to kill her every chance they get. Susie soon teams up with burly bartender Pete (Peter Cooper; Santiago's STRYKER - 1983) and local kung-fu expert Rey (Rey Malonzo; CLASSIFIED OPERATION - 1985, billed here as "Reymond King") to find out what happened to Bonnie and why people will kill to make sure they don't find her. Susie finds her sister's camera and when the photos are developed, she finds a picture of Chuck Donner (Darby Hinton; MALIBU EXPRESS - 1985), Erik's martial arts champion and chief enforcer (In the beginning of the film, we see Chuck killing an opponent in the ring by impaling him on a sword-tipped pole). Susie heads to Erik's nightclub, The Arena (where audience members watch people beat the stuffing out of each other on a stage), and cozies-up to Chuck, telling him that she's looking for a place to work out. Erik is immediately suspicious and so is his crime partner Grip (Vic Diaz; Santiago's SAVAGE - 1973), but Chuck is so smitten he ignores Erik's warnings. Meanwhile, Susie bones-up on her martial arts skills by having Rey's Master teach her a new fighting technique using two wooden sticks. She also begins following Chuck as he goes about his daily illegal routine, but she is urged to stop following him by a police detective (Tony Ferrer; Weng Weng's Chief in FOR Y'UR HEIGHT ONLY - 1981), who tells Susie that Bonnie may have disappeared because she uncovered information regarding Erik's illegal drug business. This doesn't deter Susie from following Chuck and she is eventually captured by Grip, who questions her using a poisonous cobra as "truth serum", but she escapes (and throws the cobra in Grip's face!). After many close calls, where Susie must fight numerous battles, the police discover Bonnie's corpse and Susie inexplicably runs into Chuck's arms for comfort (where, in a lovemaking scene directly from the Twilight Zone, he cuts off all her clothes with knives and she reciprocates!). The loving doesn't last very long, though, as Susie soon discovers that Chuck killed Bonnie on Erik's orders (She seems to be the only one who didn't know this fact!). Susie goes on a mission of revenge and, before the film is done, she will face Chuck in the "Arena of Death", Erik's private martial arts tournament ring. This is not going to be pretty, as Rey and the police show up to deal with Erik and his thugs while Susie deals with Chuck in the ring. Chuck loses his life (and his eyes!) when Susie finally picks up her two sticks and uses them as Rey's Master taught her. While nothing more than a series of lively martial arts sequences held together by the flimsiest of plots, FIRECRACKER (also known as NAKED FIST) moves along at a brisk pace and, at 77 minutes, is not long enough to become repetitive. The beautiful Jillian Kesner, who died in 2007 of a staph infection and was also the wife of late cinematographer/director Gary Graver (she appeared in his TRICK OR TREATS , MOON IN SCORPIO  and several others), does a good job here as the high-kicking heroine who manages to survive fight after fight to get her revenge. Her standout scene comes when she fights two guys in a lumber warehouse and keeps losing articles of her clothing until she is topless, wearing nothing but panties. This is also the films bloodiest sequence, as we witness a warehouse guard knocked to the ground and impaled on a scythe, while one of the fighters purposely steps on his body, forcing the blade to bloodily thrust out his chest and one of the fighters falling head-first onto the spinning blade of a circular saw until his skull is cut in half right between the eyes. Chuck's death in the finale is (if you pardon the pun) also an eye-opener. No one ever accused Cirio H. Santiago of making high-concept, thought-provoking films, but, damn, he sure made entertaining ones with plenty of eye candy. Santiago would remake the same film a second time with 1992's ANGELFIST, starring Cat Sassoon in the role originated by Jeanne Bell in TNT JACKSON. Santiago's next film as a director would be considered his exploitation masterpiece, the WIP flick CAGED FURY (1983). Allan Holzman, the director of FORBIDDEN WORLD (1982), OUT OF CONTROL (1985) and PROGRAMMED TO KILL (1987) is credited on some prints of FIRECRACKER as "Director of Additional Scenes", including the insert of the graphic eye-poking in the finale. Also starring Chanda Romero, Carolyn Smith, Omar Camar, Don Gordon Bell and Rubiah Suparman. Originally released on VHS by Monterey Home Video and not available on DVD. Rated R.
FIREHAWK (1992) - Here's a war action flick from Filipino director/producer Cirio H. Santiago that tries to be different. During the Vietnam War, hardened chopper pilot Stewart (Martin Kove; MINER'S MASSACRE - 2002) and his crew, co-pilot Jimmy (James Paolleli) and gunners Tex (Matt Salinger; CAPTAIN AMERICA - 1990) and Bates (Vic Trevino) are ordered to escort field doctor Davis (Terrence "TC" Carson) and his assistant Li (Ronald Asinas) as they tend to wounded American soldiers behind enemy lines. During one mission, which turns out to be an enemy trap, Stewart endangers everyone's lives when he turns his chopper around to get one more shot at the enemy. Jimmy is seriously wounded by enemy fire and when they get back to base camp, Davis complains to his superiors about Stewart's behavior, but they do nothing about it. As a matter of fact, they brush-off Davis' complaints as if they mean less than squat. On their next mission, Stewart gets a cryptic mayday message on his radio by someone in a plane that mentions the codeword "Firehawk", some sort of top secret project that shouldn't be mentioned over the airwaves. A short time later, the chopper develops engine trouble and it crashes in the jungle, stranding Stewart, Tex, Bates, Davis, Li and new recruit Hobbs (Jeff Yonis, who also wrote the screenplay), Jimmy's replacement, behind enemy lines. Stewart checks the chopper's engine and notices that someone messed with the fuel line so the engine would quit working in mid-flight. It's not long before the squad begins turning on themselves, accusing each other of being a saboteur and a traitor. When incriminating evidence is found in Li's backpack, Stewart shoots him in the back several times, even if it's plain to see to the viewers that the evidence was planted. The five remaining squad members try to make it to safety, but every move they make seems to be the wrong one, as if someone is reporting their movements to the enemy. As members of the squad start getting wounded, they start wondering why there is no rescue mission (even Jimmy, back at base camp, is wondering the same thing) and Davis begins questioning Stewart's map-reading skills because they seem to be heading in the wrong direction. The questions remain: What does all this have to do with the plane code-named "Firehawk"? What exactly is Firehawk anyway? Who sabotaged the chopper? I'm afraid you're going to have to watch the film to get those answers. This is an above average war action/mystery film, thanks to a more literate script than usual for films of this type, good acting from a recognizable B-movie cast and some good action set-pieces. Some reviewers have likened this film to a jungle version of CUBE (1997), where people with different personalities must work together to survive circumstances beyond their control. While I wouldn't go that far, there are some similarities. In both films, the diverse groups are being led around like puppets and each person must use their separate talents to help the group survive. Unlike CUBE, the plot of FIREHAWK reveals the saboteur to the viewer about two-thirds of the way through, when we watch him shoot one of his own men point-blank after Jimmy steals a helicopter and tries to save them, only to watch the traitor assassinate his own man and then turn the rifle on Jimmy and the chopper. After a very prolific 70's & 80's, where director Cirio H. Santiago made dozens of action (TNT JACKSON - 1975; FINAL MISSION - 1984), war (EYE OF THE EAGLE - 1987; NAM ANGELS - 1988), post-nuke (STRYKER - 1983; THE SISTERHOOD - 1987) and even horror films (VAMPIRE HOOKERS - 1979; DEMON OF PARADISE - 1987), the demand for this type of film was beginning to dry-up during the early part of the 90's, partly due to an over-saturated home video market and partly due to cheap DTV action flicks being made in Canada. This is probably Santiago's best film of the 90's. There's plenty of gunfire and explosions, some gore (I liked the scene of a screaming wounded soldier passing by his dismembered leg, lying on the ground, as he is being carried to a waiting helicopter) and some palpable tension generated in some scenes. Hey, this isn't Shakespeare, but it's a good little actioner with much to recommend. Santiago is a much-respected director in his native Philippines. Though some of his films can be classified as tough to sit through and boring, he has proven himself to be a highly-competant director on many occasions. He has directed and/or produced almost 100 films (so far; his last directorial effort was 2005's BLOODFIST 2050) and I am a fan, but I am also very easy to please. Most of Santiago's films must be viewed with a forgiving heart, but FIREHAWK isn't one of those films. Also starring Henry Strzalkowski, Richard Curtis, Jim Moss, Rafael Soques and a cameo by frequent Santiago collaborator Joseph Zucchero, who is also this film's Editor). Originally released on VHS by LIVE Home Video. Like the majority of Santiago's output, this one is not yet available on DVD in the United States. Rated R.
FLY ME (1973) - Classic 70's sexploitation from Filipino director/producer Cirio H. Santiago (T.N.T. JACKSON - 1975; THE MUTHERS - 1976) about the romantic and dramatic exploits of three airline stewardesses: Toby (Pat Anderson), Andrea (Lenore Kasdorf) and newbie Sherry (Lyllah Torena). This is Sherry's first day on the job and she nearly misses her flight, but she manages to hail a cab in her bikini and changes her clothes in the back seat, causing the cabbie (played by genre vet Dick Miller) to nearly crash the taxi (he also refuses to charge her for the ride once they get to the airport!). On their flight to Hong Kong, Toby hooks-up with a good-looking doctor named Dave (Richard Young) and then finds out that her highly protective mother (Naomi Stevens), who is out to protect Toby's virginity, is also a passenger. When they land in Hong Kong, Andrea discovers that her boyfriend Donald (Ken Metcalfe) has disappeared. The apartment they shared three weeks earlier is now occupied by another couple and when she goes to see him at his place of business, his secretary tells Andrea that she hasn't heard from him in weeks, but that's not unusual for him. Andrea is followed and then attacked by a Chinese man dressed in black, but she beats him up with some awkward kung-fu moves. Dave and Toby try to have a good time in Hong Kong while trying to avoid Toby's meddlesome and disapproving mother (a job easier said than done), Sherry is kidnapped by Hong Kong drug dealers and Andrea makes a new friend in importer Rick Shaw (Leo Martinez). When Sherry doesn't show up for her flight to Tokyo the next morning, Toby and Andrea incredibly leave without her. Once in Tokyo (and after making love to Rick Shaw), Andrea goes to a Japanese garden to meet Donald, only to be attacked by two martial artists, which she beats up with the help of a blind man with a dart-firing cane! We then learn why Sherry was kidnapped. It seems she is a drug mule along with boyfriend Bill (Cole Mallard), but this time she only delivered half of her shipment and her bosses want the other half. Meanwhile, Dave and Toby are still trying to get some alone time, but Mama doesn't want her daughter popping her cherry with Dave (Yeah, Toby really is a virgin!). All the stories come together when Rick Shaw (Get it? Rickshaw?) confesses to Andrea that he's a British agent trying to bring down Donald, who is actually the head of a drug and white slavery cartel that Sherry was working for. Andrea agrees to work with Rick Shaw to bring down Donald and rescue Sherry. Toby's interfering mother accidentally gets herself and Toby mixed-up in a white slavery auction, where Dave rescues Toby and her mother and Andrea and Rick Shaw bring down Donald and save Sherry. Although too much stuff goes on in such a short running time (72 minutes), director Cirio H. Santiago makes the most of Miller Drake's (INVASION EARTH: THE ALIENS ARE HERE - 1988) jumbled screenplay, tossing in plentiful topless female nudity, a dollop of martial arts (kung fu sequences directed by David Chow), a couple of bloody shootouts, some comedy and, of course, plenty of softcore sex scenes. This is just a breezy, quick-moving little exploitationer that delivers what it promises: naked women, action and a multi-tiered story that ties-up nicely in the finale. They just don't make 'em like this anymore and after directing COVER GIRL MODELS (1974), Santiago went on to make more action-oriented flicks that favored gunfights and violence over the sexploitation elements. Joe Dante gets an early screen credit here as Dialogue Director, as does Jonathan Demme, who is credited with the confusing credit "Film Direction" (actually Second Unit Director). Vic Diaz puts in a cameo as crooked police inspector Enriquez. Also starring Richard Roarke, Pat Munzon, Jack Davison, Carmen Barredo, Roger Lee, Buzz Albert, Daniel Faure and Ken Warren. Released theatrically by Roger Corman's New World Pictures and never given a legitimate home video release in the U.S. (the version I viewed came from a British VHS tape). Not available on DVD, although Shout! Factory did announce this as a future DVD title until they found out that the film elements they were given were in bad shape. Who knows, maybe they will release it with a warning about the print's condition. I know I would still buy it. Rated R.
FUTURE HUNTERS (1986) - Cirio Santiago, the prolific Filippino director, comes up with another cropper that tries to imitate many of the popular mainstream action films. This one mixes in equal parts of MAD MAX (1979), THE TERMINATOR (1984), RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) and ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) with wildly uneven results. The prolog, set in the year 2025, finds Matthew (Richard Norton) roaming the nuked-out land in search of the Spear Of Longinus, said to have killed Jesus during his cricifixion. Matthew finds the spear and touches it, which transports him back to 1986. Matthew is shot and mortally wounded as he saves Michelle (Linda Carol) and Slade (Robert Patrick, who would later star as the evil T-1000 in TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991) and replace David Duchovny on THE X-FILES [1993 - 2002]), an archaeological couple, from an evil biker gang. During his dying breath, Matthew tells the couple that they must return the spear to its' rightful place in order to avoid future Earth's nuclear destruction. With the spear in hand, Michelle and Slade are chased across the world by modern day Nazis, led by the evil Fielding (Ed Crick) and Bauer (Bob Schott), who plan on using the spear for world domination (what else?). Along the way, Michelle and Slade must face kung-fu fights (courtesy of Chinese action star Bruce Li), numerous gunfights, an exploding helicopter, a plane crash, a band of marauding Mongols, jungle traps, a dwarf tribe (a Santiago staple) and a civilization of Amazon women before they can complete their quest. Originally filmed as THE SPEAR OF DESTINY in 1986, it took three years to find a release and it's easy to see why. The screenplay is hackneyed and full of gaping plot holes that a train or good sized elephant could fit through. The action scenes (there are many, some of them "borrowed" from earlier Santiago action/sci-fi epics) range from good to poorly executed (especially the rockslide in the finale). As an actor, Robert Patrick makes a serviceable action hero. He speaks his lines as if he cannot believe what he is saying. It would take him a few more years to discover his acting groove. The only saving grace is lovely Linda Carol, who is not afraid to get into the middle of the rough stuff and get her hair dirty. You can also catch luscious Linda in REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS (1986) and CARNAL CRIMES (1991). To sum it up, FUTURE HUNTERS is no better or worse than Santiago's other films. That's not saying much., but I have to admit that I am a fan of 90% of his films. An Avid Home Entertainment VHS Release. Rated R.
HUSTLER SQUAD (1976) - Disappointing Filipino actioner that plays like a cut-rate female version of THE DIRTY DOZEN (so much so, in fact, that it was released on VHS in England under the title THE DIRTY HALF-DOZEN). During World War II, Paco Rodriguez (Ramon Revilla; THE KILLING OF SATAN - 1983) and his army of freedom fighters try to infiltrate a Japanese stronghold on the island of Correbalas, only to discover that the Japs were expecting them. After watching all his comrades being viciously slaughtered (by gunshot, bayonette or, in one extreme case, beheaded [it goes by so quickly, you'll need to replay the scene frame-by-frame to get the full effect]), Paco barely escapes with his life. A stubborn American general (an extended cameo by Ken Metcalfe; THE WOMAN HUNT - 1972) wants to capture that stronghold at any cost (he even threatens to send his second-in-command to the island if he doesn't come up with a viable solution quickly), so Colonel Blake (Joseph Zucchero; SILK - 1986) orders Major "Stony" Stonewell (John Ericson; FINAL MISSION - 1984) to find a way to sneak onto the island and kill some important Japanese generals and admirals that will be visiting the stronghold soon. At first, Stony and Paco are stymied on how to infiltrate the island, but when an Australian woman beats the crap out of both of them in a bar fight, they come up with the brilliant idea to use "broads" to pretend to be prostitutes and make their way to the island as concubines for the visiting Japanese dignitaries (everyone knows how those Japs love their white women!). With the help of Lt. Jennifer West (Karen Ericson; John's real-life wife), Stony and Paco pick four women: death row inmate Rose (Nory Wright), terminally ill Anna (Johanna Raunio), rape victim Sonya (Lisa Lorena) and prostitute Cindy Lee (Lynda Sinclaire), to "volunteer" for the mission. First the women have to be trained in the finer arts of combat (both weapons and hand-to-hand) and how to be high-class hookers (Cindy Lee has the upper hand here and offers to show the rest how it's done). After the girls go through extensive combat and prostitute training, Colonel Blake (insert M*A*S*H joke here) still isn't convinced that they can perform their mission ("Women cannot overpower men!"), so he talks the General into calling the mission off. The girls change the General's mind when they single-handedly overpower all the men on the base (including a very embarrassed Colonel Blake), leaving them tied-up in their beds. The women and Paco then leave their base in Australia and parachute onto the island, where Paco and his freedom fighters assist the four women into joining a brothel run by Madam Colleen, which is frequented by the Japanese occupied forces. The girls are immediately picked by the horny Japs and are taken to the stronghold, where they go to a party and each are assigned as a concubine to their own visiting Japanese dignitary (Anna ends up in the bedroom of an understanding, Harvard-educated Japanese Admiral and Rose, the horniest of the bunch, ends up with a Nip General who prematurely ejaculates!). In the finale, the girls begin killing their targets on the inside while Paco and his freedom fighters stage a major assault from the outside. When the smoke clears, only the terminally ill Anna survives, as the rest of the women and Paco die in a hail of bullets. Oh, the irony of war! For a Filipino action flick, HUSTLER SQUAD is pretty slow-moving and uneventful except for the violent beginning minutes and the final twenty minutes, where the girls perform their mission. What happens in-between is pretty standard stuff, as we get to know Stony, Paco and the women, view their strenuous training regimen and watch various romantic interludes, especially between Stony & Jennifer and Paco & Anna. For a film that is so female-eccentric and full of sex talk, there is very little female nudity on view. Even during the prostitute training sessions, the women wear big white bras and granny panties, so those looking for a lot of lurid female flesh are bound to be disappointed. The violence on display is of the standard bullet squib and knife-stabbing variety, but I get the feeling that some of the more violent aspects of this film (including two decapitations) have been severely edited. Director Cesar Gallardo (BAMBOO GODS AND IRON MEN - 1974) tries his best, but the screenplay (which goes uncredited, but it has Ken Metcalfe's signature moves written all over it) takes far too long to get to the action. There are some interesting aspects here, especially the relationship between Paco and the slowly dying Anna and the fatalistic finale, but there's way too much dead air for the viewer to really get emotionally involved. Also known as COMMANDER STONEWELL. Produced by Cirio H. Santiago and Bob Waters. Filipino staple Vic Diaz puts in a cameo as a horny Japanese officer. Originally released on VHS by United Home Video and available on DVD from BCI Eclipse in two different double features: One with WILD RIDERS (1971) as part of their "Starlite Drive-In Theater" series and another with SUPERCHICK (1972) as part of their "Welcome To The Grindhouse" series. Both are now OOP and are taken from the same fullscreen print that is full of emulsion scratches and annoying audio drop-outs. Rated R.
LIVE BY THE FIST (1992) - Former Navy SEAL John Merill (Jerry Trimble) is about to ship out on a tramp steamer when he runs into four thugs raping a woman. He tries to break it up, but ends up knocked out after he kills one of the rapists. When he wakes up, he has a bloody knife in his hand and the woman is lying dead nearby, her throat cut. Merill is convicted of murder and is sentenced to spend the rest of his life on a remote island prison. Once on the island, Acosta (Vic Diaz), the prison warden, tells Merill and the other new prisoners that escape is useless and to prove his point, he shows them the half-eaten corpse of a prisoner that tried to escape, only to end up as shark bait. Almost immediately, Merill is attacked in the shower, but he manages to fight them off. Merill is put in a cell with wise, old Uncle Coronado (George Takei), a long-timer who takes Merill under his wing. He'll need the help, because a lot of people in the joint want him dead, including Alvarez (Romy Diaz), who was friends with the rapist Merill killed. Alvarez has his Asian inmates attack Merill constantly, so Warden Acosta assigns Merill to the all-white motorpool, run by white supremacist Sacker (Ted Markland). When Merill saves a gook prisoner from the wrath of Sacker and fellow missing-tooth mate Greasemonkey (Nick Nicholson), he also becomes enemies with the white population. Uncle Coronado tells Merill that Warden Acosta and his right-hand man Vargas (Roland Dantes) are under investigation by a group called Human Rights International, headed by Helen Ferris (Laura Albert). It seems there have been 29 deaths in the prison in the last two years and one of Uncle Coronado's friends stole a ledger that proves that the Warden is stealing funds from the prison, but his friend was killed before he told Coronado where he hid it. If Merill can find the ledger and turn it over to Ms. Ferris when she arrives in one week's time, he stands a good chance of being freed. Merill eventually finds the ledger, but the Warden tries his best to kill him before he has the chance of putting the ledger in Ms. Ferris' hands. Good thing Merill is a champion martial artist, because both the white and Asian prisoners assault him on a daily basis. Can Uncle Coronado unite all the prisoners before a full-blown race riot breaks out? It looks pretty grim when the Warden gets Sacker and Alvarez to start a riot just as Ms. Ferris arrives at the prison, but Merill steps in and dishes-out some much-deserved justice to all the guilty parties just in the nick of time. This is the first of Filipino director Cirio H. Santiago's trio of actioners he made with non-actor Jerry "Golden Boy" Trimble in the early 90's , the others being ONE MAN ARMY (1993) and STRANGLEHOLD (1994). Trimble is a terrible actor, but he is a decent martial artist. He still gets hit more than any martial artist I have ever seen in films (see if Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme would ever be allowed to take so many punches to the face and body as Trimble does here), which at least makes his character much more vunerable than you would normally see in these B-films. STAR TREK's Mr. Sulu, George Takei, is the "name" actor here and his character is the same type of person that was patented so well by the late Mako in many films; namely, a wise, sage old man who is the voice of reason. Takei is fine here, but I especially liked the performance of Filipino staple Vic Diaz as Warden Acosta. This is one of his biggest roles in the latter part of his career and he's appropriately slimey as a man with no morals. LIVE BY THE FIST may remind you of countless other prison films (especially LOCK UP , starring Sylvester Stallone and Van Damme's DEATH WARRANT ), but it's a fast-paced low-budget actioner with plenty of fights and some bloody carnage. Also, at 78 minutes long, it doesn't overstay it's welcome. Also starring Steve Rogers, Jim Moss, Berting Labra, Ramon D'Salva, Archie Adamos, Joseph Zucchero, John Crank and an uncredited appearance by Santiago staple Henry Strzalkowski as the cop who arrests Merill in the beginning of the film. Available on VHS & DVD from New Horizons Home Video. Rated R.
THE MUTHERS (1976) - The Muthers are two female pirates, Kelly (Jeanne Bell; TNT JACKSON - 1975) and Angie (Rosanna Katon; THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS - 1974), who lead their all-male crew robbing and plundering pleasure cruises and yachts of their goodies on the high seas ("Muthers" is also the name of their pirate vessel, a three outboard motor-powered speedboat equipped with stationary machine guns and mortars). When Kelly's sister, Sandra, runs away from home, Kelly and Angie set out to the island of Santo Domingo in search of her. After getting into a bar fight, Kelly and Angie are informed by a government official that Kelly's sister was kidnapped by white slaver Montiero (Tony Carrion), who kidnaps unescorted women, holds them prisoner on his coffee plantation and uses them as slave labor (among other things). Kelly and Angie agree to go to Montiero's plantation as undercover prisoners in return for the government looking the other way regarding their pirate activities. Once on the prison plantation, Kelly and Angie meet prison trustee Marcie (Trina Parks; DARKTOWN STRUTTERS - 1974), who clues them into the rules of the plantation. Marcie also informs Kelly that Sandra escaped from the plantation two days earlier and has not been caught...yet. The girl that Sandra escaped with is caught and everyone watches as Montiero has her strung-up by her hair with her hands tied behind her back. Montiero's mistress, Serena (Jayne Kennedy; FIGHTING MAD - 1978), who use to be a prisoner on the plantation, slowly becomes friends with Kelly and secretly begins helping Kelly and Angie escape, especially after they unsucessfully try to escape on their own and end up in a hot box (not to mention getting Kelly's adoptive father killed when he tries to help them escape). As if things weren't tough enough for them, Kelly and Angie's old nemesis, the dreaded pirate Turko (John Montgomery), is on the warpath and is killing all their friends and associates on the outside as he tries to find out their location. When Sandra is recaptured and killed, Kelly makes it her mission to make sure Montiero pays for it with his life. Kelly, Angie, Marcie and Serena escape from the plantation (Marcie is bitten on the breast by a cobra during the escape and Serena sucks out the poison), but it all turns out to be a set-up by Serena and Montiero. The girls still manage to escape and hook-up with their pirate crew, where they get into a gun battle with Montiero and his guards. When Turko and his crew suddenly appear, it's a free-for-all that many will not survive. This strange mixture of WIP (women in prison) and pirate themes comes courtesy of Filipino director/producer Cirio H. Santiago and, quite frankly, it doesn't make for a good mix. For a film that spends much of it's time at an all-female coffee plantation/prison, there is precious little nudity (just an all-too-quick prerequisite shower scene when the girls arrive at the plantation). What we do get is plenty of scenes where our two heroines get into lots of hinky martial arts fights and it's rather obvious that stunt doubles were utilized most of the time. There's also far more dialogue than usual for a Santiago film (script by Cyril St. James, from a story by Santiago, who uses the pseudonym "Leonard Hermes") and precious little action. While it is a pleasure to watch four beautiful actresses play off of each other, Santiago never fully takes advantage of putting them in truly exploitative situations, like long naked showers, catfights and, most importantly, long naked showers. While the final gun battle is violent (Jayne Kennedy's death on a suspension bridge is memorable), it takes forever to get there (the film's running time of 82 minutes seems twice as long). I get the feeling that Santiago was slumming here, as he really doesn't seem to have his heart in this film. This film just rambles along and is full of so many missed opportunities (like long naked showers), I just wanted to cry. I expected more from Mr. Santiago. With this exceptional cast of beautiful actresses, he should have made a gem of an exploitationer. Instead, THE MUTHERS is a yawner that only perks up when Jeanne Bell's nipples are visible through her tight shirt. It ain't often enough, folks. Santiago made the PG-rated EBONY, IVORY AND JADE (another film full of missed opportunities, also starring Rosanne Katon) the same year. Also starring Sam Sharruff, Ken Metcalfe, Bill Baldridge, Rock Monti, Robert Miller and Dick Piper. Originally released in one of those great big boxes by Continental Video. There are some DVDs of this film floating around, but their legitimacy is highly questionable. Rated R.
NAKED VENGEANCE (1985) - Now don't get me wrong here: I find a lot of director Cirio H. Santiago's films to be average (and slightly above-average) at best, but he must have been taking hallucinogens here because he has turned out a perfectly crazy rip-off of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978), maybe even outdoing it in sheer sleaze factor alone. Carla, a commercial actress (Deborah Tranelli of DALLAS [1978 - 1991] fame), watches as her husband is gunned down by a creep he tried to stop from raping a girl. She leaves New York City for her home town in the country and is savagely raped by five townies in her parents house. When her parents come home and see what is happening to their daughter, they are shotgunned by the gang and then kill the local retard, making it look like the retard did the killings. Thinking that Carla is dead, they leave the house and go to a bar and get drunk. Of course Carla is not dead, just in a catatonic state and she is brought to the hospital. The local sheriff (Bill McLaughlin, who walks around with an expression on his face like he was sucking on a lemon all day), doesn't quite believe the story and wants to question Carla on what really happened. Her doctor refuses as Carla fakes amnesia while picking off her attackers one-by-one. She lops off the dick one one of them with a knife and, just to make sure he suffers more, attaches a grappling hook to his chest an has his boat drag him out to the middle of the lake to bleed to death. Another one has a car dropped on his body as she steps on the gas and has the tire rim cut off his legs. The leader of the raping pack, Fletch (Kaz Garaz, who played a sheriff in the 1996 remake of HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP), who is the town's butcher, knows who is doing the killings and decides to form a posse (the whole town seems to be full of torch-weilding hicks) and trap Carla in a house and burn it down. Thinking Carla died in the fire (she didn't), Fletch goes about his business in his butcher shop only to be surprised by Carla, who cuts off his fingers with a meat slicer, plants a meat cleaver in his back and then blows his head off with a shotgun. The sheriff declares that Carla is dead and the killings are over. The next time we see Carla is back in New York City, getting even with the punk who killed her husband. This is grand sleaze which never slacks off its premise, which is highly unusual for a Cirio H. Santiago film (FUTURE HUNTERS anyone?). The film moves at a brisk pace and is never boring. It was released in both R-rated and Unrated editions, the Unrated edition showing more of the gang rape and lingers more on the bloody violence. Guess which version you should track down? (NOTE: It seems that 35mm elements of the Unrated Version seem to be lost since the only place on the entire planet where the Unrated Version was available was the United States. Every other country got the R-Rated version on VHS.). Mr. Santiago has directed over 100 features (many for Roger Corman) and is highly-regarded in his homeland of the Philippines. I consider NAKED VENGEANCE to be his crowning achievement. A Lightning Video Release which has been long OOP. This is another film crying out for a DVD release (If Unrated elements are ever found). Also starring Ed Crick, Nick Nicholson, Terrence O'Hara, Henry Strzalkowski, Joseph Zucchero, Don Gordon Bell and a cameo appeareance by Carmen Argenziano (HELLRAISER:INFERNO - 2000 and STARGATE SG1). Also known as SATIN VENGEANCE, but I've never seen it released under this title. Unrated.
NAM ANGELS (1988) - This is Filipino director Cirio H. Santiago's remake (or rip-off, if you prefer) of Jack Starrett's THE LOSERS (1970). During the Vietnam War, Lt. Calhoun (Brad Johnson; the LEFT BEHIND series) and his squad are ambushed by the enemy in the jungle, forcing them to take cover in a cave that happens to contain a fortune in gold dust. Hopelessly outnumbered and ready to make their last stand, Lt. Calhoun and his men are suddenly saved when a flurry of arrows appear out of nowhere and kill all the enemy soldiers. A tribe of natives (including a topless woman) brandishing bows and spears then attack Calhoun and his men and only Calhoun and double agent Trinh (Archie Adamos) are able to escape to safety (by swinging across a waterfalls on a rope). It turns out the tribe is controlled by a "Roundeye", a Colonel Kurtz wannabe called Chard (Vernon Wells; ENEMY UNSEEN - 1989), who takes two of Calhoun's men prisoner. When Calhoun gets back to base camp and explains to General Donipha (Ken Metcalfe) that he wants to return to the jungle to save his men, the General tells him that he has no men to spare, but if Calhoun (who only has two more weeks left to serve in the military) can come up with an alternate plan, he will gladly sign-off on it. While sitting in a bar wondering what he can do, Calhoun spots four Hell's Angels getting into a bar fight (what they are doing in Vietnam with their Harleys is never explained). Calhoun gets the bright idea to recruit the Hell's Angels, led by Larger (the late Rick Dean; RAIDERS OF THE SUN - 1991), to head out into the jungle to save his men. Rather than tell them about Chard and the natives, Calhoun entices them with tales of the gold dust instead. They bite, hook, line and sinker and, together with mechanic Hickman (Kevin Duffis), who replaces their Harleys with Yamaha dirt bikes (the Angels nearly shit bricks at the thought of riding them), they helicopter behind enemy lines, hop on the Yamahas and begin the mission. Almost immediately, they come under enemy fire, but the Angels prove to be proficient killers, with both guns and knives. The Angels suffer their first casualty when member Turko (Romy Diaz) has his arm blown off by riding his motorcycle over a landmine and he dies. They learn to respect both Calhoun (who is the Indiana Jones of rope manipulation) and Hickman and actually begin to operate as a team. Things turn bad when Chard captures the three Angels, but Calhoun and Hickman save their asses, along with Calhoun's two captive squad members. The Angels abandon their gold quest and instead fight alongside Calhoun as they battle Chard and his bloodthirsty natives. The finale finds our unlikely heroes trying to make it across a rickety, broken wooden bridge, while Chard, the natives and even the VC (who show up with tanks!) try their damnedest to make sure they don't make it across to the other side. If you've seen any of director Cirio H. Santiago's other Nam action flicks, such as EYE OF THE EAGLE (1987), BEHIND ENEMY LINES (1987), THE EXPENDABLES (1988), FIELD OF FIRE (1990) and FIREHAWK (1992), you know what to expect here: Lots of gunfights, explosions galore, gore (including the aforementioned arm removal, slit throats and arrows through the neck), some brief nudity and, of course, Santiago's patented "running man on fire" gag. This one also contains plenty of motorcycle stunts and some unexpected humor, such as when the remaining Angels stand over Turko's grave and Calhoun asks them to say a little something out of respect. The best they can come up with is when member Bonelli (Mark Venturini) thanks Turko for making the surviving members shares of gold a little larger! An interesting side note is that when the real Hell's Angels heard that this film used their name without permission, they successfully sued and won a fairly large cash settlement. It didn't help that Rick Dean's character was named "Sonny Larger", which sounded too much like the name of real Hell's Angels founder Sonny Barger to be a coincidence. NAM ANGELS (a.k.a. HELLS ANGELS IN VIETNAM) is a fast-paced, if derivative (it's basically THE LOSERS with a little bit of APOCALYPSE NOW thrown in for good measure), war actioner that delivers what it promises: Motorcycles, machine guns and massacres. Also starring Jeff Griffith, Eric Hahn, Tonichi Fructuoso, Leah Navarro, Ruben Ramos and Frederick Bailey. Originally released on VHS by Media Home Entertainment and available on VHS and DVD from New Horizons Home Video as part of their AMERICAN VALOR series. Available on Blu-Ray from Code Red. Rated R.
ONE MAN ARMY (1993) - When interest in his post-nuke and Vietnam War actioners began to wane in the early 90's, director/producer Cirio H. Santiago switched to making modern-day martial arts flicks. Unfortunately, these films are Santiago's most anemic, thanks to ever-shrinking budgets and a severe lack of star power, especially in his choice of leading actors. This is one of the worst of the bunch. Martial arts teacher Jerry Pelt (Jerry Trimble) is called back to his hometown to attend the funeral of his judge grandfather. As soon as he enters his birthplace, he notices that the town has changed (for one, it's now full of Filipino extras) and it's not for the better. Jerry hooks-up with old girlfriend Natalie Pierce (Melissa Moore; Santiago's ANGELFIST - 1992), who informs him that the town has been taken over by a man named Sidney Sharperson (Paul Holmes), who has ties to organized crime and smuggles illegal aliens into the country to work for slave wages in his fields. Jerry finds evidence that his grandfather may have been murdered for discovering the illegal alien smuggling operation, so he sets out to find definite proof. It doesn't help that the corrupt sheriff, Pat Boze (the late Rick Dean; Santiago's RAIDERS OF THE SUN - 1991), is a childhood enemy of Jerry's, who dogs his every move. When Natalie, who is a lawyer, suggests that Jerry runs for sheriff, he initially rejects the idea, but after a series of deadly "accidents" in town, Jerry decides that running for sheriff is probably just what this county needs. Natalie is shot and wounded by a couple of motorcycle helmet-wearing thugs while taking a topless dip in a lake with Jerry (who are now lovers again), so Jerry, along with his grandfather's intelligent German Shepherd "Hank" (played by "Yup", who shows a wider range of emotions than the leading man), begin to tear the town apart looking for the shooters as well as picking up support from the townspeople who are sick and tired of all the corruption. When Sharperson tries to bribe Jerry, Natalie secretly records the conversation and has a radio DJ (Henry Strzalkowski) broadcast it. Thanks to the recording, Jerry easily wins the election and, with childhood pal Eddie Taylor (Dennis Hayden), begins cleaning up the town. Eddie, it turns out, is not such a good friend after all, as he's a coke addict and is on Boze's payroll. Eddie kills his wife Pilar (Yvonne Michelle) in a coked-out haze, knocks-out Jerry and sets the house on fire. Thinking Jerry is dead (He's not. Hank drags him out of the burning house.), Eddie takes over as sheriff and brings Boze and the other corrupt cops back on the payroll. When Jerry finds out that it was Eddie who killed his grandfather, he goes on a one-man murder spree, killing everyone (including Boze, who shoots Sharperson in the back for slapping him in the face one too many times) until only he and Eddie (who has kidnapped Natalie) are left. The first thing you'll notice about this film is how one-note champion kickboxer Jerry Trimble is as an actor (Trimble has the fastest kick ever recorded, clocked at 118 mph). Trimble is simply terrible and has the emotional range of a rock, which makes me wonder why director Santiago used him as the star of two other films, 1992's LIVE BY THE FIST and 1994's STRANGLEHOLD. The second thing you'll notice about the film is how many times Trimble gets hit in the face every time he gets into a fight. For someone so proficient in the martial arts, he certainly takes more than his fair share of the punishment. I'm still trying to figure out if that's a good or bad thing. Santiago tries to keep our minds off the film's gaping plot holes by tossing as much female nudity at us as possible (Melissa Moore has several nude scenes, as do most of the women here), but the sad fact is that Trimble (who is married to actress Ami Dolenz [TICKS - 1993; PUMPKINHEAD II: BLOOD WINGS - 1994]) is not able to hold up his end as an actor and the normally wild Rick Dean (Santiago's NAM ANGELS - 1988; NAKED OBSESSION - 1990) is much too subdued here. The only humor comes when Jerry and Eddie go to break-up an illegal martial arts tournament in one of Sharperson's bars, only to find a bingo tournament instead, thanks to the traitorous Eddie tipping-off Sharperson in advance. The fight scenes are fairly lively and somewhat bloody but, all-in-all, this action flick is average at best, thanks to Trimble's non-existant thespian talents. As with most of Santiago's films, this was financed by Roger Corman and clocks in at a scant 79 minutes. Originally known as KICK & FURY. Also starring James Paolleli, Peter Shilton, Joseph Zucchero, Nick Nicholson, Ramon D'Salva and Bill Baldridge. Available on VHS and DVD from New Horizons Home Video. Rated R.
RAIDERS OF THE SUN (1991) - Another Philippines-lensed post-nuke action flick from the prolific Cirio H. Santiago (whose other post-nuke films include STRYKER - 1983, WHEELS OF FIRE - 1984, THE SISTERHOOD - 1987 and DUNE WARRIORS - 1990), which recycles footage from Santiago's EQUALIZER 2000 (1986). After the "Insurrection" is won by the good guys, Brodie (Richard Norton) is sent by his Captain (Nigel Hogge) to search for gunpowder, which is in short supply in this futuristic society (in most post-nuke films, it's usually water or oil). In his search, Brodie runs into town leader Vera (Brigitta Steinberg) being kidnapped by Hoghead (the late Rick Dean) and his gang. Brodie teams up with friend Talbot (Blake Boyd), who is also Vera's husband, to rescue Vera from Hoghead and his gang of miscreants. Complicating matters is Brodie's old nemesis, Colonel Clay (William Steis), who joins forces with his brother Hoghead and set out to steal what little gunpowder is left at the Captain's headquarters. Brodie and Talbot save Sierra (Lani Lobangco) from the clutches of two mutants, when Brodie discovers that she is a native of a legendary place called the "Gate To The Sun", where "black powder" is plentiful thanks to a large potassium mine there. Brodie and Talbot think it would be best if they split up at the next town. Talbot will go undercover in Hoghead's gang looking for his wife and Brodie and Sierra will go to her village where Brodie can collect some gunpowder and bring it back to headquarters. With the help of a group of dwarves (a recurring theme in nearly all of Santiago's post-nuke films) from Sierra's village, Brodie (who is injured protecting the little people) and Sierra make it to the village. Hoghead and his gang go to the Captain's headquarters, where they kill the Captain and steal most of their gunpowder. Talbot is initiated into Hoghead's gang in a cheapjack MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1985) imitation, where he has to fight Gonzo Gonzales (Ned Hourani) while they are swinging on ropes. Colonel Clay makes it to Sierra's village and Brodie and the villagers must protect the village's huge potassium mine from the invading forces. The finale finds Brodie (who has fallen in love with Sierra) fighting arch-nemesis Coloney Clay in hand-to-hand combat and Talbot and a freed Vera battling Hoghead (who actually wears a hat made from a hog's head!). When Sierra ends up dead by Colonel Clay's hands, Brodie brings the gunpowder back to headquarters, where the final battle between good against evil takes place. Cirio H. Santiago (T.N.T. JACKSON - 1975; VAMPIRE HOOKERS - 1978) shot this low-budget flick for frequent backer Roger Corman's Concorde-New Horizons production outfit and, while it does follow all the standard post-nuke conventions (plenty of explosions, tricked-out cars and lots of gunfire), it's not without it's charms. Rick Dean is a hoot as Hoghead and the script, by frequent Santiago collaborator Frederick Bailey (DEMON OF PARADISE - 1987), gives him all the best lines or, maybe he ad-libbed them and Santiago kept them in because they were better than the script offered (He says to one of his men, "Don't you wear my hog hat because, if you do, I'll fuckin' know!"). Richard Norton (CROSS FIRE - 1987) has very little to do here except fight or fire a gun. The secondary characters are more interesting. Talbot has to pull a $100 bill out of a glass cage with a cobra in it to buy a drink and Vera's jailer Meatball (Ernie Santana), a huge bald black man, eventually becomes Vera's friend and helps her escape. Also on hand are Nick Nicholson as Colonel Clay's always-laughing right-hand man Ackerman and the tribe of dwarves. C'mon, admit it. Dwarves make you laugh, don't they? Especially when they talk in a funny language and dress in funny clothes. RAIDERS OF THE SUN is nothing special, but if lines like, "Hey, relax man. Take a laxative!" tickle your funnybone and scenes of senseless death (including a couple by flamethrower) gets your blood boiling, you may like this short (80 minute) action film. Also starring Henry Strzalkowski, Paul Holmes, Joseph Zucchero and Robert Ginnivan. A New Horizons Home Video Release. Rated R.
SAVAGE (1973) - Early 70's action film directed/produced by Filipino stalwart Cirio H. Santiago, one of his very first to get a U.S. theatrical release (through Roger Corman's New World Pictures). Jim Haygood (James Iglehart of Santiago's FIGHTING MAD - 1978) works as a mercenary for the Filipino Army, capturing rebel guerillas and turning them over to Major Melton (Ken Metcalfe; THE WOMAN HUNT - 1972) and the Filipino government for "interrogation". Jim gets a conscience when he finally realizes that the men and women he turns over end up dead or raped and he snaps when one Filipino Major brags about sharing a female rebel (that Jim captured) for sex with the rest of his men. Jim breaks the Major's neck and ends up in the slammer, but he escapes and looks for help from two American showgirls: Amanda (Carol Speed; ABBY - 1974), a dancer, and Vicki (Lada Edmund Jr.; RAPE SQUAD - 1974), a knife thrower, who both work in a local cabaret. When the two women are visited by a horny Filipino Minister of Defense (Santiago regular Vic Diaz; EQUALIZER 2000 - 1986; LIVE BY THE FIST - 1992), it leads to a series of events where Vicki is captured and tortured (with an electric prod to her vagina) by the government and Jim and Amanda escape, only to be captured by the rebel guerillas when their jeep runs out of gas. Jim proves beneficial to the rebels' cause when he saves their ass by diverting enemy fire (he radios-in to the Army and has them shell their own troops!), so the rebels accept him and Amanda into the fold. The first thing they do is break Vicki and rebel leader Flores (Eddie Guitierrez) out of prison while disguised as firemen. Flores and female rebel leader China (Aura Aurea) are still a little reticent in trusting Jim, but his vast military experience and street smarts soon wins them over. Eventually, Jim becomes a leader of the rebels and devises a plan to capture the Minister of Defense, but a traitor in their ranks may spell doom for the rebel movement. The finale takes place at a radio station, where a pirate broadcast goes out to all the citizens exposing government corruption, while Jim and the rebels defend the station until the broadcast is complete. The traitor, along with some good guys and gals, are killed in the ensuing battle, but the rebels live on to fight another day. This mixture of action and exploitation elements gels quite nicely under Santiago's steady hand. There's a ton of nudity on view (even some full-frontal), as well as plenty of gunfights, explosions and even a dollop of gore. The script, by Ed Medard (possibly a pseudonym for Santiago), also has plenty of political and racial intrigue, as it seems to compare the rebels' plight in the Philippines with that of the Civil Rights movement in America. James Iglehart (who also starred in the Santiago-produced BAMBOO GODS AND IRON MEN ) does a good job here as an angry black man (the Filipino government even goes as far as to label him a "black savage") who shares a lot in common with the rebels and teaches them techniques he learned back on the mean streets of America. Santiago, whose other 70's films include FLY ME (1973), TNT JACKSON (1975), THE MUTHERS (1976), WOMEN OF HELL'S ISLAND (1978) and VAMPIRE HOOKERS (1979), also has the good sense to break up the action and political intrigue with numerous scenes of female nudity and nearly every woman in the cast gets the chance to display their assets. Not everything about this film is taken seriously, though, as there are a few comical scenes, such as when Vicki interrogates an enemy soldier with her knife-throwing talents or when Vic Diaz gets a phone call in mid-cunnilingus from Ken Metcalfe. This is also the earliest example of Santiago using his trademark "man on fire" gag, a stunt he would use in nearly all his later action films. Sad to say, no midgets, though. All-in-all, SAVAGE (also known as BLACK VALOR and THE TECHNICIAN) is a dated, but entertaining, film from the anything-goes 70's. They don't make 'em like this anymore. Also starring Sally Jordan, Rosanna Ortiz, Harley Paton and Marie Saunders. Originally available on Bingo Video (under the BLACK VALOR tag) and not available on DVD. The print I have is a nice fullscreen print on DVD-R under it's original title from gray market seller Trash Palace. Rated R.
SILK (1986) - Filipino director Cirio H. Santiago strikes again. Cec Verrell (HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN - 1987; TRANSFORMATIONS - 1988) stars as beautiful no-nonsense cop Jenny "Silk" Sleighton, who we first see chasing and killing four theives, two who jump on a moving train with Silk close behind. The next time we see her, she's breaking up a drug deal between seller Frampton (Mike Monty) and buyer Carnahan (David Light). Silk shoots and kills Frampton (she doesn't believe in taking prisoners), but Carnahan gets away. Silk and fellow detective Tom Stevens (Bill McLaughlin) go to court to watch a criminal named Haskell (Don Gordon Bell) be prosecuted for murder, but when a key witness refuses to identify him, a mistrial is called and Haskell is released. Stevens is devastated because a conviction meant his appointment for Councilman would have been sealed, but Silk gets his mind off it by making sweet love to him. Carnahan's boss, Austin (Peter Shilton), threatens to kill him for dealing drugs (Carnahan was freelancing the drug deal, which jeopardizes Austin's business of creating new identities for violent criminals), but Carnahan has a list of all Austin's clients, which he threatens to use if harm should come to him and it saves him from being killed (for now). Silk and Detective Yashi (Joe Mari Avellana) are assigned to a case of a murdered body found at the banks of a lake and the more they investigate, the closer they get to Austin. Silk has a more important problem, though. It seems someone is murdering criminals who have recently escaped justice on technicalities. The killer not only murders them, he also cuts-off one of their ears as trophies and the deeper Silk digs into the cases, the more it looks like her lover Tom is responsible. When Carnahan is killed by two men, his girlfriend turns over the list to Silk. Tom is there, too, and when he sees the names on the list and hears a description of Carnahan's killers, he knows it's two old Nam buddies of his, Tyler (Nick Nicholson) and Vernon (Ronnie Patterson), who are now on Austin's payroll. Tom really can't do anything about it since he's also a killer and they know it (Tom use to cut the ears off his gook victims back in Vietnam). As Silk begins interviewing the people on the list, Austin orders a hit on her. Silk has to find a way to stay alive, bring Austin down and deal with her lover being a cold-blooded killer. Set in Honolulu, Hawaii, but filmed in the Philippines (it's all those Filipino extras that give it away), SILK has a fairly complicated plot for a Cirio H. Santiago film. The script, by Frederick Bailey (who also co-stars as Detective Brown), juggles several plots at once and manages to generate some real suspense, even if it's hard to keep score sometimes. Cec Verrell (who has the same facial features and stark blue eyes as Meg Foster) is steely cool as Silk (When Austin says to her, "I don't know why they call you Silk.", she shoots back, "Because I'm so fucking smooth!"), who would rather shoot and ask questions later. Everyone she comes up against ends up dead (whether it be by pistol, shotgun or flaming car wreck) and the only time she actually shoots to wound, she ends up being taken hostage. Director/producer Santiago turned out dozens of these little actioners during the 80's (see reviews for FINAL MISSION  and THE DEVASTATOR ). Most of them were forgettable war actioners (EYE OF THE EAGLE - 1986; NAM ANGELS - 1988), but every once in a while, he was capable of churning-out something halfway decent and watchable like this. Make no mistake, this is low-budget stuff, but Santiago is a professional who knows how to squeeze the most out of a meager budget. SILK's 83 minutes fly by quickly, as there are gunfights, car chases and explosions galore, not to mention a cameo by Filipino staple Vic Diaz (we actually get to hear his real voice here, as he is usually dubbed by someone else). Santiago made a sequel, titled appropriately enough SILK 2 (1989), which unfortunately did not star Cec Verrell. Instead, Monique Gabrielle (ANGEL EYES - 1993) took over the role. Also starring Henry Strzalkowski, Rex Cutter, Joseph Zucchero and Joonie Gamboa. Released on VHS in the mid-80's by MGM/UA Home Video and still awaiting a DVD release. Now available on uncut Blu-Ray from Code Red as a Screen Archives exclusive. Rated R.
SILK 2 (1989) - In this seqiel to 1986's SILK, police detective Jenny 'Silk' Sleighton (Monique Gabrielle, replacing the original film's Cec Verrell) and partner Sgt. Chris Meadows (Bon Vibar) are first seen assaulting a group of Palestine terrorists that have taken over the Israeli Embassy in Honolulu, Hawaii. When one of the terrorists shoots one of their hostages in the back of the head (we see the bullet exit out of the front of the head, blowing out the poor guy's eye socket), Silk and Chris enter the building and quickly kill the terrorists (Silk's weapon of choice is a sawed-off shotgun) before any more hostages are harmed. Crooked museum owner Hancock Gish (Jan Merlin) sets up a fake robbery where he has his men switch a briefcase containing the "Four Scrolls Of The Temple Of Immortality", valuable ancient Japanese artifacts that were supposed to be on loan to Gish's museum. Gish hangs the four phoney scrolls in his museum thinking no one will be the wiser (he intends on keeping the originals and collecting the insurance money when he has the fake ones destroyed in an explosion), but when art expert Tony (Peter Nelson) spots them as fakes, the shit hits the fan. Tony calls Japanese art collector Kashi Hashimura (Joe Mari Avellana) and tells him about the fakes. Kashi contacts his old friend Chris, tells him about the fake scrolls and asks Chris to investigate. Chris, who is about to retire from the force, begins digging into the theft on his own time and nearly gets killed by two of Gish's goons, Trent (Robert Ginnivan) and Dodge (Jim Moss). Chris needs help, so he informs Silk what is going on and they follow Trent and Dodge onto a boat, where Chris is wounded and taken prisoner and Chris has to jump overboard to escape, but not before she grabs one of the real scrolls. Silk's superior, Captain Henry Sharp (Ken Metcalfe), tells her that she is off the case, but we know better, don't we? When one of Gish's goons tries to kill Silk while she is taking a shower, she is forced to kill him (Gratuitous exposed breasts kung-fu alert!). When an exchange of Chris for the scroll goes horribly wrong and Chris is stabbed to death by Trent, Silk grants Chris' dying request and travels to the island of Kona to return the scroll to Kashi, where she meets Tony and a young woman named Holly (Maria Claire), who will both play an important role in Silk's life in the next few days. Trent and Dodge try their best to kill Silk and retrieve the scroll, but she is always on the ball. Gish kidnaps Tony and Kashi in the finale and plans to blow them up, along with his museum and the fake scrolls and collect his insurance money, framing Tony and Kashi as terrorists. Silk and Holly show up in the nick of time and save the day, retrieving the real scrolls, rescuing Tony and killing Trent, while Kashi restrains Gish as they both blow up in the explosion. Those expecting the same fun experience as the first film are bound to be disappointed because returning director Cirio H. Santiago cast the wrong woman in the leading role. Monique Gabrielle (ANGEL EYES - 1993) may look great naked (she has a couple of nude scenes, including a really blurry slow-motion sex scene with Tony), but she's not much of an actress. Her monotone line readings are simply awful and hamper the film's overall effectiveness. She's a major distraction. Santiago offers a bit of major gore in the beginning of the film, but unfortunately fails to follow through, as the rest of the film is relatively blood-free and predictable (script by Robert King, who also wrote the screenplays to the creepy horror film THE NEST  and the martial arts actioner BLOODFIST ). While there are a few gunfights, martial arts sequences and car chases, it by no means measures-up to Santiago's usual action standards. Even the big explosion in the finale is an obvious miniature and there is a severe shortage of Santiago's usual overabundant use of bloody bullet squibs. This 76 minute flick is pretty terrible and I am usually very forgiving when it comes to Santiago's films. Skip this and watch the original instead. Also starring Henry Strzalkowski, Jeff Griffith, Archie Ramirez, David Light and Joseph Zucchero. Available on VHS from MGM/UA Home Video and not yet on DVD. Rated R.
THE SISTERHOOD (1987) - It's post-nuke time again and you know what that means: Lots of gun battles, chases and explosions with the barest of plots to hold it all together. Two women, Alee (Rebecca Holden) and Vera (Barbara Hooper), members of a group of legendary Amazons called The Sisterhood, travel on horseback through the scorched post-apoctalyptic landsacpe on a rescue mission. They are one their way to free their fellow Sisters from imprisonment by the evil Lord Kragg (Kenneth Peerless), who is holding them in a dungeon and plans on using them for world domination. You see, each member of the Sisterhood has a magical power, like the ability to shoot laser beams from their eyes or heal wounds with the touch of a hand, so Lord Kragg figures on using their powers to defeat all the other nomadic tribes on Earth. Alee and Vera are being followed by warrior Mikal (Chuck Wagner) and his men. Mikal wants Vera, since she has the power to heal. With her by his side, he cannot be killed in any battle he's in. Mikal and his raiders destroy a village and he kills the young brother of stablegirl Marya (Lynn-Holly Johnson), who has the ability to speak with her pet hawk. Marya joins forces with Alee and Vera and she swears to get even with Mikal for her brother's death. As the female trio are on their way to free the Sisterhood, Vera is captured by Mikal, so Alee and Marya work together to rescue her. Mikal and his men bring Vera to a camp run by the evil Lord Jak (Anthony East), where Mikal joins forces with Jak and his men. Alee and Marya have a run-in with a caravan led by Lord Barak (Robert Dryer), but Barak turns out not to be such a bad guy and everyone settles their differences amicably. Alee and Marya then run into a tribe of horribly-scarred scarred mutants and, as they are fleeing from the mutant horde, they find a cave that contains a bunker full of automatic weapons, explosives and an armored vehicle that has been sitting there before the "Great War" between the United States and Russia (talk about a stroke of good luck!). Alee and Marya use their new wealth of goodies to first free Vera and then head-off to save the rest of the Sisterhood. As the trio storms the village where the Sisterhood is being held captive, Mikal discovers that one of them is actually his sister! The mystical female goddess of the Sisterhood appears in the finale to unshackle all the women and transport them to safety, away from the cold hands of the male population. Mikal follows them on his chopper, the only man who has the Sisterhood's best interest at heart (I guess Marya has given up on making him pay for her brother's death. Maybe she just forgot.). Yes, this is another of prolific Filipino director/producer Cirio H. Santiago's 80's post-nuke flicks (which includes STRYKER - 1983; WHEELS OF FIRE - 1984; and EQUALIZER 2000 - 1986) and, yes, it doesn't make a lick of sense but, damn, it sure is entertaining in an absurd, brain-dead sort of way. Santiago creates his own future Earth where spears, swords and horses co-exist with guns, rocket launchers and armored personnel carriers. Each has their place in this futuristic society and each has their advantage. Unlike most post-nuke films (including the remainder of Santiago's), this one doesn't concern itself with oil or water or a lack thereof. THE SISTERHOOD is about a battle of the sexes. In this future society, women fall into two distinct categories: They are either sex slaves or strong-willed, independent individuals. No gray areas here; everything is either black or white. Of course, this being a Santiago film, both types of women spend a lot of time in various states of undress, except for the chaste Lynn-Holly Johnson (ALIEN PREDATORS - 1984), who never seems to take her clothes off in any film she's in (I'm beginning to think she's actually a man!). Robert Dryer (Santiago's FAST GUN and BEHIND ENEMY LINES [both 1987]) takes the prize here as the weirdest character. His Lord Barak speaks with a Boris Karloff-like lisp, which makes him seem like a bad guy but, as we soon find out, he's a very reasonable man. I also like the twisted logic used here (script by Thomas McKelvey Cleaver, screenwriter of other Santiago epics like DUNE WARRIORS and FIELD OF FIRE [both 1990]), especially concerning Mikal. Even though he murders innocent people (including Marya's pre-teen brother), he's allowed to live in the finale based solely on the revelation that Alee is his sister. Innocent victims be damned! Santiago also offers some gore (swordplay violence, various slashings and impalements and a hand being lopped-off), lots of explosions and two of his trademarks: pygmie cannibals and his patented "running man on fire" gag. In other words, your typical Santiago action flick. If you like his other films, you're bound to like this one, too. Also starring the usual Santiago regulars: Henry Strzalkowski, David Light, Jim Moss, Peter Shilton, Willie Morales, Warren McLean and an uncredited Nick Nicholson. Originally available on VHS by Media Home Entertainment and now available on a beautiful Blu-Ray from Code Red. Rated R.
SPYDER (1988) - Millionaire industrialist Roderick Pendleton (Paul Holme; ZOMBIES: THE BEGINNING - 2007) lost his son Kevin when he was shot down while flying a mission over Vietnam in 1965. Pendleton never gave up hope that his son is still alive, so he hires a guy named Sid Friedkin (Michael Vlastas) to train a bunch of mercenaries on his Hawaiian estate to rescue his son if he is still alive (they stage a phony raid on a fake POW camp, using illegal immigrants as the VC and firing live rounds, killing them all!). To milk even more money out of Pendleton, conniving Friedman hires junkie Jeffrey Stokes (Derek Williams) to pretend to be a rescued POW (he is actually an Army deserter) that spent time in the same prison camp as Kevin, falsely verifying to Pendleton that his son is still alive. Pendleton falls for the ruse hook, line and sinker and gives carte blanche to Friedkin to spend whatever it takes for a rescue attempt. The only problem is that Jeffrey figures out that he's about to be murdered by Friedkin's mercenaries and escapes, so he must be found and killed before he can spill the beans to Pendleton. We then switch to Los Angeles, where cop buddies Lee Stokes (Ronald William Lawrence; EYE OF THE EAGLE 2 - 1989), Jeffrey's younger brother, and Brad Spyder (Blake Bahner; LETHAL PURSUIT - 1988) break up a major drug deal. After a short car chase and shoot-out, Stokes is shot in the leg and Spyder tosses a crooked ambassador's son off the roof of a highrise building. After being chewed-out by his Captain (John Dulaney), Spyder heads to Stokes' house, only to find out from his wife Nancy (Meski Gelahun) that he is heading to Hawaii after getting a frantic phone call from Jeffrey, who everyone thought died in Vietnam. Spyder catches up with his partner at the airport, but Lee tells him to mind his own business. We know that's not gonna happen. Jeffrey is being hunted down by Friedkin's head goon Ed Skinner (Gary Rooney), who kills both Jeffrey and Lee in a hotel room shootout and plants half a kilo of heroin in Lee's room to make it look like a drug deal gone wrong. Of course, Spyder doesn't buy it and heads to Hawaii, where he has to deal with hard-ass Police Chief Bill Akida (a badly-dubbed Vic Diaz), who makes Spyder's investigation more difficult than it has to be. Friendly uniform cop Ted Kanaka (Henry Strzalkowski) helps Spyder in his investigation, which leads him to Jeffrey's drug dealer Weasel (Louie Del Castillo), who informs Spyder (after some "friendly" persuasion) that all roads lead to Roderick Pendleton. Spyder confronts Pendleton and his daughter Karen (Roxanne Baird) and learns to whole sordid story about Kevin. As Spyder starts piecing the puzzle together, attempts are made on his life (Kanaka is killed by a bomb planted in Spyder's hotel room) and he is nearly killed by Skinner. Spyder joins forces with Karen when her father is kidnapped by Friedkin and Skinner and held for $5 million in ransom. In the finale, Spyder and Skinner have a bare-knuckle fight to the death, while Friedkin shoots it out with the cops after callously killing Karen. With nothing left to live for, Pendleton flies a helicopter into a building, killing Friedkin and putting an end to this whole sordid affair. This is a fast-paced, but horrifically acted, Filipino actioner, Executive Produced by the late Cirio H. Santiago (his son Christopher was Associate Producer here) and directed by frequent Santiago actor/collaborator Joe Mari Avellana (FIST OF GLORY - 1991). The action scenes are well-choreographed and bloody (especially the hotel shootout), but the film is nearly ruined by the non-acting talents of Blake Bahner (a martial artist-turned-actor who had a very short film career) and Roxanne Baird, who are just simply awful (They keep stepping on everyone's lines and the dialogue scenes have a "one-take" feel). The screenplay, by Steve Rogers (SUDDEN THUNDER - 1990; TRIPLE IMPACT - 1992), is fairly complex for a cheap actioner, but the lead actors are unable to pull it off convincingly. While watching this film, a severe case of déjà vu overwhelmed me, until I realized that I already saw much of this footage in a later film called BLACK BELT II: FATAL FORCE (1993). Executive Produced by Roger Corman (in true cost-cutting fashion), BBII is nothing but a slightly-edited version of SPYDER (which never had a U.S. home video release) with some newly-shot wraparound footage directed by Kevin Tent (a respected film editor who also directed new scenes for Corman's piecemeal film ULTRA WARRIOR , one of the worst examples of re-use of film clips from several Concorde films to make a "new" film). SPYDER is a violent, blood-soaked film, but, technically, it is very sloppy, as are the production values. This has the look and feel of a porn film, with acting to match. American expatriate actor Nick Nicholson puts in a cameo as a bartender in a pool hall. Since this was never available in the U.S., the print I viewed was sourced from a Dutch-subtitled VHS tape. Not Rated.
STRANGLEHOLD (1994) - Tired and cliched actioner that is nothing by a cheap knock-off of DIE HARD. Congresswoman Helen Filmore (Jillian McWhirter; DUNE WARRIORS - 1990) travels to Malaysia to take a tour of the newly-opened American chemical plant Chemco, only to find herself and the American Chemco executives taken hostage by terrorist Gerald Richter (Vernon Wells; KING OF THE ANTS - 2004) and his band of black-clad goons. Richter demands twenty-five million dollars for the safe return of the Congresswoman, but it becomes clear that he is only using this situation as a front for something more devious. Luckily for the Congresswoman, she brought along ex-CIA operative Ryan Cooper (Jerry Trimble) as a bodyguard. Cooper breaks free and leads the Congresswoman, Chemco executive William Atkins (Bob McFarland; NOT LIKE US - 1995) and Chemco employee Pete Olo (Archie Adamos; NAM ANGELS - 1988) through the plant's labryinth-like structure as they fight a never-ending supply of Richter's men in their quest to reach safety. It turns out that Richter was actually after Chemco's top-secret new nerve gas called KZ7079 and, once he gets his hands on it, he unleashes a small cannister of it at an innocent crowd of people who have gathered outside the Chemco plant, killing them. He then demands fifty million dollars or he will uncork more of the nerve gas in a major city, threatening to kill many more people. The rest of the film details Cooper's numerous battles with Richter's men and, finally, with Richter himself, as he tries to stop the nerve gas from being dispensed. Cooper must also rescue the Congresswoman again when it is revealed that William Atkins is actually on Richter's team. After blowing up the Chemco plant and getting away with a large amount of the nerve gas, Richter escapes on a freighter with the Congresswoman as a hostage (After killing two of his own men after they try to rape the Congresswoman, Richter then takes his turn and gives it a go!). Never fear, because Cooper isn't far behind. Expect lots of ass-kickings and explosions. This is the third, and final, actioner that Filipino director/producer Cirio H. Santiago made with martial artist/non-actor Jerry "Golden Boy" Trimble (LIVE BY THE FIST  and ONE MAN ARMY  being the other two) and it is definitely the worst of the trio. While the other two were nothing to write home about, STRANGLEHOLD is a tepid affair at best and the fact that it took three people (Mark Evan Schwartz, Brendan Broderick and Rob Kerchner) to write the generic screenplay speaks volumes on how desperate this film really is. It's nothing but a series of badly-staged gun battles, martial arts fights and chases, none of them particularly exciting or bloody. It's pretty clear that at this stage in his career, director Santiago was running on fumes and delivers a film that lacks any vibrancy or life. It didn't help that Roger Corman, who financed the majority of Santiago's films, forced Santiago to make this film on a budget that wouldn't feed a hungry family at dinnertime. Most of the film takes place at either the same boiler room set (filmed at different angles) or at a boardroom where the American government representatives (including Santiago staples Ken Metcalfe and Henry Strzalkowski) endlessly discuss what to do about Richter and his demands (They, of course, end up doing nothing and only serve to pad out the film's paltry running time). We all know how bad Jerry Trimble is as an actor (he also looks like he packed on a few pounds since ONE MAN ARMY), but the usually reliable Vernon Wells is simply horrible here and looks like he's coke-out or high on meth. This is quite possibly Santiago's worst film ever and even though it's only 73 minutes long, it's a chore to sit through. A total dud from start to finish. Santiago would go on to direct only a handful of films after this (2005's BLOODFIST 2050 is his last as of this writing), but he is still active as a producer. Also starring James Paolelli, Tony Carreon, Joe Sabatino, Joseph Zucchero (also this film's Editor), Jim Broome, Paul Holmes and Ramon D'Salva. Available on VHS & DVD from New Horizons/New Concorde Home Video. Rated R. NOTE: Sadly, Cirio H. Santiago passed away in 2008 and his last film, WATER WARS (co-directed by Jim Wynorski when Santiago passed away in the middle of filming), is still looking for a U.S. home video distributor. Word is, that as the films stands right now, it is unsalable (From what I heard, lead actor Michael Madsen looks drunk as a skunk throughout the entire film and the different styles between the two directors is highly obvious). When even Roger Corman can't sell a film, you know there has to be serious problems with it, but eventually everything makes it to home video.
STRYKER (1983) - After the final nuclear holocaust, the Earth is a dry, scorched shell and water is in short supply (Why does this sound so familiar?). Whoever controls the water controls the world. Lone wolf Stryker (Steve Sandor; TRAINED TO KILL U.S.A. - 1973) saves a young woman named Delha (Andrea Savio) from a pack of bandits, who are after her body and something more important (more on that later). She pays Stryker back by stealing his ROAD WARRIOR-inspired car and taking off without him. He travels on foot with new pal Bandit (William Ostrander; RED HEAT - 1985), who was sent to retrieve Delha and bring her back to Trun (Ken Metcalfe; FAST GUN - 1987). After giving water to a tribe of dwarves, Stryker and Bandit catch up with Delha (Stryker has a gas shut-off switch in hiis car), only to watch her being taken away by the men commanded by the evil Kardis (Michael Lane; CODE NAME: ZEBRA - 1986). It seems Kardis and Stryker have a history, as flashbacks reveal that Kardis killed Stryker's wife years earlier. Stryker was able to get some payback by chopping off Kardis' left hand (he now sports a stylish hook in place of his hand), but Kardis escaped before Stryker could finish him off. Delha knows the secret location of an underground spring full of potable water and both bad guy Kardis and good guy Trun would like to know where it is. Stryker and Bandit steal one of Kardis' water trucks and use it as a diversion to sneak into Kardis' compound. Kardis, who's compound is running out of water (He cuts back on water rations to his own men and completely cuts-off rations to his wounded, declaring, "Water is only for those that are productive!"), tortures Delha for the location of the water (three of his men strip and rape her), but before she can say anything, Stryker and Bandit save her and escape. This, of course, pisses-off Kardis to no end. Stryker and Bandit take Delha to Trun's camp (Turns out Trun and Stryker are brothers), but when they get there, they find that Trun has been kidnapped by Kardis' men (we watch one of Kardis' henchmen, played by an uncredited Nick Nicholson, piss on Trun's face as he's buried up to his neck in the sand). Stryker and Bandit lead a raid on the remote outpost and not only save Trun, they also save the tribe of dwarves we met earlier in the film and get some unexpected help from a tribe of crossbow-weilding female Amazons. The Amazons are actually protecting the secret spring (which is located in a remote cave) and once Delha tells Trun where it is, he turns out not to be so different from Kardis. Trun and his men rule the cave with an iron fist, much to the chagrin of Stryker (Who says to Trun, "You have a mirror in your mind. I think you should look in it!"), who leaves in disgust. When Kardis attacks the cave, he captures a departing Stryker and puts the hurt on him really bad. The dwarves appear to rescue Stryker and they all return to the cave for a final battle. When the battle is over, God rewards the winners by making it rain for the first time since the nuclear bombs fell. God is funny sometimes. This is the first of Filipino director/producer Cirio H. Santiago's many post-nuke films and it is probably his best. Other films in Santiago's post-apocalyptic palette include WHEELS OF FIRE (1984), EQUALIZER 2000 (1986), THE SISTERHOOD (1987), DUNE WARRIORS (1990) and RAIDERS OF THE SUN (1991), but STRYKER edges them out for one main reason: Unlike those other films, Santiago had to start from scratch. All those other films contained recycled footage, but this film isn't afforded that luxury. The script, by Howard R. Cohen (the scripter of other Santiago films like COVER GIRL MODELS , FIGHTING MAD  and VAMPIRE HOOKERS , as well as director/writer of other genre films like SATURDAY THE 14TH , the belated sequel SATURDAY THE 14TH STRIKES BACK (1988) and SPACE RAIDERS ), is pure ROAD WARRIOR hokum (just substitute water for oil), but Santiago tosses-in so many chases, gunfights, martial arts fights and nudity, you can't help but be entertained. Santiago also supplies more gore than usual, including decapitations, dismemberments, slashings, bloody bullet squibs and some splattery gunshots to the head. There is also a slight attempt to give Stryker an emotional core. When Stryker watches the three goons raping Delha, he flashes back to his wife's rape/decapitation and he loses it, punching one of the rapists in the face until all that's left is a bloody pulp. When Delha tries to kiss him later on as he leaves the spring, all he can muster for her is a hug, his wife's memory still burned in his brain. Hey, it's not much, but it's more than you usually get in films of this type. Besides, watching a tribe of dwarves (a Santiago trademark) running around with blowguns and talking their own special brand of gibberish is what makes Santiago's films so special. It's outlandish, but he somehow makes it work. Also starring Joseph Zucchero, Julie Gray, John Harris III, Monique St. Pierre, Michael DeMesa, Catherine Schroeder, Tony Carrion and Pete Cooper. Originally released on VHS by Embassy Home Entertainment and not yet available on DVD, unless you count the terrible print used for the DVD compilation GRINDHOUSE EXPERIENCE VOLUME 2 (the entire collection is bootlegged). Rated R.
TNT JACKSON (1975) - TNT (Jeanne Bell) travels to Hong Kong searching for her missing brother (who we see is killed in the beginning). As soon as she gets into town, she gets into two big fights where she shows her martial arts prowess (she breaks on guy's arm with a sickening snap and a gusher of blood). TNT believes drug smuggler Sid (Ken Metcalfe, who also co-wrote the screenplay with genre actor Dick Smith) is involved in her brother's death so she goes undercover as a spy to find out the truth. She cozies up to Sid's right-hand man and muscle, Charlie (Stan Shaw), who sticks up for TNT when Sid thinks she's involved in a series of drug hijackings that are seriously hurting Sid's business (it's actually Charlie who is doublecrossing Sid). Sid doesn't trust her (and rightfully so), so he sends Elaine (Pat Anderson) to keep an eye on TNT. Elaine gets caught spying on TNT so she knocks Elaine out and takes her captive. She then finds out that Elaine is an undercover government agent who is deep in Sid's operation. Elaine and TNT agree to work together to bring Sid down. Sid sends Ming (Leo Martin) to beat the information out of TNT, but she turns the tables and beats the shit out of Ming and his men (while topless, the film's highlight). When TNT finally learns that Charlie was responsible for her brother's death, she goes on a one woman vendetta to bring him down, not caring that doing so will interfere with Elaine's plan to arrest Sid. Elaine has TNT arrested, not knowing that Sid has discovered Elaine's deception. It's now up to TNT to break out of jail and get justice for everyone. Although labelled as blaxploitation, TNT JACKSON really isn't because there are only two black people in the entire film (if you don't count TNT's brother in the beginning). Besides one white woman (Elaine), it comes as no surprise that Filipino director Cirio H. Santiago (who has almost 100 films to his credit, including NAKED VENGEANCE - 1985 and FUTURE HUNTERS - 1988) fills the screen with Filipino actors and locations. Jeanne Bell (POLICEWOMEN - 1974) is an OK actress (and looks great naked) but it is apparent that in many of the fights scenes a male stunt double in an afro wig was used. The scene where she fights topless is memorable (and was spoofed in Quentin Tarantino's JACKIE BROWN - 1997), even if the fight choreography is awkward at best. There are a few bloody scenes, especially when TNT puts her fist through Charlie's stomach until it exits out his back, but mostly it's just martial arts fights. The print used for the Dollar DVD release is a total mess. It looks like it had a long life running through projectors as it has plenty of emulsion scratches and is missing quite a few frames during reel changes. It's like you're watching the film at an actual grindhouse, minus the smell of ass and sticky floors. This is a pretty entertaining flick if you can get past the weak martial arts fights. Roger Corman was the uncredited executive producer. Also starring Chiquito, Imelda Ilanan and Max Alvarado. A Dollar DVD Release (actually a Brentwood subdivision). Rated R.
UP FROM THE DEPTHS (1979) - It's pretty hard to imagine that this pitiful excuse of a monster film actually got a theatrical release back in the day, but what's even harder to imagine is how poorly it turned out considering the talent in front of and behind the camera. An underwater tremor unleashes a bloodthirsty creature that threatens the lives of a small Hawaiian island (actually filmed in the Philippines). When shark heads and other body parts of sea creatures wash ashore on the beach of a once-popular seaside luxury resort owned by Mr. Forbes (Kedric Wolfe), he blames it on the nephew/uncle team of Greg (the late Sam Bottoms; HUNTER'S BLOOD - 1987) and Earl (Virgil Frye; BOBBIE JO AND THE OUTLAW - 1976), who run a charter boat operation that cons the paying customers of Forbes' resort into going on phony underwater treasure hunts. When Forbes' pretty assistant, Rachel (Susanne Reed), witnesses the creature killing one of her friends and can't get Mr. Forbes to believe her, she joins forces with Greg (who witnesses the creature killing one of his rubes [played by Filipino staple Ken Metcalfe]) and ocean biologist Dr. Whiting (Charles Howerton) to find a way to stop the monster from killing more innocent people. Mr. Forbes tries his damnedest to keep word of the deaths from reaching the ears of his customers or the press, but that becomes next to impossible when human body parts begin washing ashore. When the creature attacks and kills several more of the resort's tourists, Mr. Forbes offers $1000 and a week's stay in the Presidential Suite to any tourist who bags the creature. Of course, all the tourists automatically disregard the bloody attack the night before and greedily take to the ocean en masse to kill the monster. When the tourists (Many of them too drunk or too stupid beyond believability) prove not up to the task, Greg uses the now-dead Dr. Whiting's body as chum (!) to entice the monster before blowing it up with explosives. Too bad that the viewer couldn't get as swift a death as the creature, because we'll have to keep the images of this film in our brains for the rest of our lives. This horror film, directed by Charles B. Griffith (screenwriter of the cult classic LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS  and director of such films as EAT MY DUST  and DR. HECKYL AND MR. HYPE ), is so bad, it almost reaches a new plateau of awfulness. It's a movie that is so shitty, I felt I had to wipe my ass after watching it. Nearly every technical credit is sub-par, including editing that looks to have been performed by someone going through detox, post-synch dubbing that sounds like it was recorded in a closet, and a monster that looks so ridiculous, I can't imagine how anyone in the cast kept a straight face when looking at it (imagine a shark with a couple of extra dorsal fins glued-on to it's body, done with the technical ability of an Ed Wood flick). Maybe it's because the cast realized when they got on set what a crap sandwich they signed themselves onto, as everyone looks and acts like they just got back from a loved one's funeral. The screenplay, by Alfred M. Sweeney (credited to Anne Dyer on posters and ad mats), is just a jumbled mess of horror clichés with no connective tissue, as sequences jump from one scene to the next without making any sense. People in this film do the most idiotic things imaginable and I let out an audible groan when all the tourists took to the ocean to kill the creature for a measly thousand bucks and a free week's stay at the resort (even the tourists that were injured the night before!). It's this type of contempt for the audience that makes this film a contender for the worst JAWS rip-off of all time (and, yes, I'm taking DEVIL FISH  into consideration). Producer Cirio H. Santiago must of thought so, too, because he tried to redeem himself by directing a remake, DEMON OF PARADISE in 1987, but you know that old saying, "You can't polish a turd" had to come into effect, making DEMON one of the worst films in the late Santiago's long list of directorial efforts. UP FROM THE DEPTHS is an inane and slow-moving 85-minute piece of crap, which deserves all the bad vibes you can muster. Really, it's that bad. Also starring Denise Hayes, Chuck Doherty, Helen McNeely and Randy Taylor. Originally released theatrically by Roger Corman's New World Pictures and then on VHS by Vestron Video. Not available on DVD. Thank your lucky stars. Rated R for one scene of topless nudity. The blood and gore are practically non-existent (the bloodiest it gets is the sight of a torn-off arm on the ocean floor).
VAMPIRE HOOKERS (1979) - You know when you hear dialogue such as, "Coffins are for being laid to rest, not for being laid" that you're not watching an intellectual film. John Carradine plays the Walt Whitman-quoting head of a coven of female vampires who disguise themselves as prostitutes and lure their tricks to an underground lair in a graveyard, where Carradine and his group (including veteran Filippino actor Vic Diaz, who farts in his coffin) drain them of blood. When two sailors (Bruce Fairbairn and Trey Wilson) lose their commanding officer after he is picked-up by a vampire hooker, they go looking for him and end up battling Carradine & Co.. This Philippines-lensed film, directed by action/horror stalwart Cirio H. Santiago (NAKED VENGEANCE - 1985; DEMON OF PARADISE - 1987), is played strictly for laughs. At least I think it was, but since I didn't laugh, I could very well be wrong. Vic Diaz spends most of his screen time crying (he wants to be a vampire but can't stand the taste of blood), farting (and inhaling the vapors) or chasing our two heroes around a graveyard, while Carradine quotes poetry and the hooker/vampires spout lines like, "It's not murder. It's dinner." Our two heroes don't fare much better in the dialogue department as they have to speak such cringe-inducing lines like, "That cemetery is full of dead bodies!" (Well, let hope so!). This one-joke film is stretched to an unbearable 80 minutes and, if it weren't for the frequent female nudity on view, I would have turned it off after Diaz's first gas attack. There's also some risable post-sync dubbing (it seems about 50% of the film is dubbed) even though it's plain to see everyone is speaking English. It also has a long orgy scene (where the female vampires keep their panties on) intercut with Carradine killing a rat with a crossbow and making Diaz drink it's blood. The uncredited end title song has lyrics that go, "They're vampire hookers and blood is not all they suck." That's about as funny as it gets here, folks. This is one of those films that everyone has heard of but few have seen. There is a reason for that. It stinks. Also starring Karen Stride, Lenka Novak, Katie Dolan and Lex Winter. Also known as CEMETERY GIRLS, SENSUOUS VAMPIRES and NIGHT OF THE BLOODSUCKERS. A Continental Video VHS Release. Available on a double feature DVD with Santiago's FIGHTING MAD (as DEATH FORCE, in its fully uncut 110 minute version) from Vinegar Syndrome. Rated R.
WHEELS OF FIRE (1984) - This is the second of Filipino director/producer Cirio H. Santiago's post-apocalypse series of films that he made during the 80's, all of them unrelated. Like most ROAD WARRIOR rip-off, WHEELS is about a loner ex-cop, this time named Trace (Gary Watkins), riding around a barren landscape in his rocket-powered car and getting into all sorts of trouble. After bailing his sister Arlie (Lynda Wiesmeier; EVIL TOWN - 1985) and her boyfriend Bo (Steve Parvin) out of trouble (Bo nearly gets his ass blown off [literally!] when he moons a rival gang), Trace must again try to save his sister when bitter rival Scourge (Joe Mari Avellana; here billed as "Joseph Anderson") and his gang of motorcycle and dune buggy-riding misfits kidnap Arlie (they tie her topless to the hood of a car, which makes for quite the sight!) and bring her back to base camp, where she is raped by Scourge and then given to his men to be gang-raped (Bo is also raped by Scourge's men and then dragged behind a car, forcing Trace to shoot him to put him out of his misery). Trace gets some help in his quest to save his sister from black leather-clad female warrior Stinger (Laura Banks; DEMON OF PARADISE - 1987) and her pet falcon. Stinger is also after Scourge for reasons of her own, but both she and Trace get sidetracked when Stinger is captured by a tribe of cannibalistic white-haired dwarves called the Sandmen (Hey, no Santiago film is complete without dwarves!), who live (where else?) under the sand. Trace saves Stinger and a telepathic girl named Spike (Linda Grovenor) from being the Sandmen's next Happy Meals and they continue on their journey. They pick up another member when they save a mute midget named Mud from some mutants and then drive to a village occupied by crackpot Whiz (Joseph Zucchero) and his followers (Whiz is building a "rocket", which he plans on flying his followers to a better planet, although it's obvious to any sane person that this rocket will never achieve lift-off, especially since parts of it are made out of wood!). Trace leaves everyone behind in the village and sets out to rescue his sister on his own, but he is captured by Scourge and tortured. Stinger, Spike and Mud lead a friendly squad of fighters (who belong to a government group known as "The Ownership") to save the day, leaving a freed Trace to face-off with Scourge. Not everyone, both good and bad, will make it out alive. This is totally entertaining junk from start to finish. Not only does Santiago offer us non-stop action, gun battles, explosions, car crashes and weird characters, he also has co-star Lynda Wiesmeier go topless for 90% of her screen time. That alone is worth the price of admission. Santiago, whose other 80's post-nuke actioners include STRYKER (1983), EQUALIZER 2000 (1986) and THE SISTERHOOD (1987), never takes frequent collaborator Frederick bailey's cliché-ridden script too seriously, although there is a scene later in the film where Trace has to watch sister Arlie, who has been raped by nearly all of Scourge's men during her captivity, beg for something to eat from her captors, offering her body for a morsel of food. This is as close to pathos as this film gets, because the remainder of the flick is a series of action set-pieces, where Trace and his new partners get in and out of trouble. Trace likes to burn his victims to a crisp with his portable flame-thrower, giving Santiago ample opportunities to showcase stuntmen running or doing high falls while on fire, one of Santiago's signature trademark moves in nearly every action film he made during the 70's, 80's & 90's. As a matter of fact, WHEELS OF FIRE (a title which apparently refers to Trace's car-mounted flame-thrower) contains all of Santiago's signature shots: Fire, rape, explosions and little people in funny costumes (The dwarf actor who plays Mud [who is not listed in the credits, even though he has a sizable role] wears a rebel cap, probably the same cap worn by Robert Patrick in EQUALIZER 2000!). C'mon people, what's not to like? Clark Henderson, the director of the god-awful WARLORDS FROM HELL (1985) and the good SAIGON COMMANDOS (1987), was Production Supervisor here. Also starring Jack Daniels, Nigel Hogge, Don Gordon Bell and Henry Strzalkowski. Originally available on VHS from Vestron Video and available on Blu-Ray from Code Red. Rated R.
WOMEN OF HELL'S ISLAND (1978) - Here's a lesser-known film from the busy Cirio H. Santiago. It's a pretty standard WIP (Women In Prison) flick about a bunch of innocent (and not so innocent) women who are kidnapped and brought to a remote jungle camp where they are stripped, vaginally-inspected and told they will be used as "sexual playthings for the bad guys". The camp, it turns out, is a training facility for assassins and as the butch camp leader explains to her financiers about the assassins, "They're not robots. Sex is a need, like food." The new girls are housed in a huge cave where some of the veteran prisoners give them the skinny on their situation. They are enclosed in an electrified fence and surrounded by jungle, which is full of swamps and boobytraps, so escape is next to impossible. Every night, the camp's sadistic warden (Ken Metcalfe), picks certain women to be used for "room service". They are cleaned-up, injected with an aphrodisiac and taken to "The Resort", a building that contains rooms with nothing but beds, where they make love to the assassins. If you don't come when the warden calls your number, he simply shoots you point-blank in the chest and picks another woman. The aphrodisiac eventually messes-up the women's nervous system, causing them to go crazy or suicidal (one girl blows her head off with an assassin's pistol and another jumps out a window to her death), which is why new women are brought to the camp regularly. Three women try to escape, but one is shot in the back, one is blown-up when she steps on a land mine and the last one is recaptured and thrown in a "Hot Box" (a steel box buried in the ground) as punishment. Some of the new girls begin to dig an escape tunnel, but the veteran prisoners tell them that they are wasting their time. Meanwhile, the fiance of one of the newly-kidnapped girls, Cindy (Bernadette Williams), puts the heat on the American Embassy to find his girlfriend. That's when we find out that two of the recently abducted women are actually undercover agents, but they have yet to contact their superiors with their location. Some of the veteran prisoners try to force their way out by taking the warden hostage, but it all ends rather badly when all but one, Maggie (Kerry Nichols), are massacred in a hail of automatic gunfire. Maggie is then strung-up and whipped within an inch of her life. The warden then rapes Cindy, but she grabs his knife and slices off his wang. The warden kills Cindy with a couple of bullets to her chest and has the camp doctor re-attach his penis. The finale finds the remainder of the women escaping en mass through the tunnel and trying to make it to a waiting plane, while avoiding enemy fire and a pissed-off warden. Slow-moving and uninvolving, this exploitationer from prolific Filipino director Cirio H. Santiago (THE DEVASTATOR - 1985; SILK - 1986) is too lethargic for it's own good. The script, by Santiago regular Ken Metcalfe, is full of missed opportunities and gaping plot holes (If you dig a tunnel in the jungle, how far do you have to dig before you make it to safety?) and the film's snail-like pace gives the viewer plenty of time to reflect on the deficiencies. Another major problem is that we know precious little about these women, so it's hard to get emotionally involved in their plight, even when they are killed. All good WIP films give a little backstory to their characters, so we can sympathize with them when they are put in peril. There's none of that here, so when the women are killed (especially the massacre after the warden is taken captive), it's just like watching background characters taking a bullet. There's no resonance. Santiago does throw in a lot of nudity and bits of gore (impalements on spiked boobytraps, bloody bullet squibs, castration), but without someone to identify with, it all rings hollow. That's interesting, because Santiago produced such WIP classics like THE HOT BOX and THE BIG BIRD CAGE (both 1972), so he should have known better. (The less said about his THE MUTHERS  and CAGED HEAT II: STRIPPED OF FREEDOM [ 1993], the better.). Santiago would finally do the WIP genre proud when he directed CAGED FURY (1983), which many people think is his masterpiece. I wouldn't go that far, but it's much better than this one, which was filmed under the title HELL HOLE and is also known as ESCAPE FROM WOMEN'S HELL HOLE. This film has a copyright of 1984, but it was actually filmed in 1978. Also starring Ingrid Greer, Nanette Martin, Rosemarie Gil, Joe Mari Avellana, Bill Baldridge, Sherry Greenwood, Nigel Hogge and Victor Ordonez. A Shine Home Entertainment VHS Release. The only DVD of this film is from those thieving bastards at Videoasia, as part of their TALES OF VOODOO series (Volume 1), under the title HELL HOLE. The VHS is actually the preferred version. Not Rated.